Obey without doubt, kneel without question, and know that the shadows will provide
The world has largely forgotten about the Fae and the atrocities committed during the Queen's War. To the humans, halflings and gnomes the fae have become the stuff of legend and anciet history. Their crumbling castles dot the lonely expanse between cities and the magical relics they've left behind are further reminder of an age long passed. However; the dwarves and elves know better. The memory of these long-lived people runs deep and many of them were old enough to have seen first hand the devastation wrought by both sides. To them, the fae are not legend but a foe almost fully vanquished in a bitter struggle for survival.Almost vanquished...
The dwarves sealed away the most dangerous of the fae artifacts behind powerful runes and enduring steel vaults, yet even then the magic within these objects still called out to their creators. Hidden within the darkest recesses of Tairos are those that would reclaim what rightfully belongs to them and the dwarves stand ready to rebuke them at any cost. Meanwhile, the elves watch the ebb and flow of what little magic remains in the Leylines with great curiosity and an ever-growing concern. A familiar touch is seeping into the tides of mana again, one that hasn't been felt since the days of the Autumn Queen. Both of these wardens are sensing the same thing no matter how they define it... the return to power of the Shadow Court.
The Serpents' Dance
Early in the Autumn Queen's ascension it became obvious that her revolution would be short lived if it meant fighting against the countless noble houses, guilds, secret societies and scheming usurpers. Sharing rule would dilute her authority and wiping out these threats would only embolden others to take their place. Instead, the solution to this swarm of biting gnats neither to wave the flag of surrender or bring down a hammer upon them. The Autumn Queen wove a web to ensnare them; one made of lies, treachery, blackmail, and promises of power. So complete was this jumbled knot that her enemies didn't realize that it was in fact a noose placed artfully about their necks and ready to hang them all at a moment's notice.
Some of the most astute among the nobility were able to see the tangled and fragile knots their Queen was tying but they also were wise enough to know there was little that could be done. Bucking against these invisible shackles would lead to house turning against house, open war, the scuttling of generations of wealth, and that's without consideration for any contingencies the Autumn Queen may have laying in wait.
So began the Serpents' Dance. An unspoken contest of wills among the fae houses and guilds whose goal was not to topple her autocracy but position themselves for success against each other. This continued all through her reign and even during the fae war against the kingdoms of Tairos.
The reward for loyalty above and beyond simple fealty to the crown was admittance to the Shadow Court. Officially, no house or guild was recognized as above the others. They were all given dominion only over their own holdings but in truth special privilege was allotted for those given a place in the Queen's Shadow Court. This took the form of preferential edicts in their favor, access to additional Manacite and magical artifacts, larger personal armies, and other such boons.
Shadows Brought to Light
During the closing years of the Queen's War when the tides of battle were turning against the fae the existence of the Shadow Court could no longer be hidden. The Queen was becoming increasingly cruel, vindictive and spiteful toward her enemies and their impending victory. Daily matters were falling more and more toward the wayside and if not for the Shadow Court all of the fae infrastructure other than that dedicated to the war effort would have collapsed into itself. Even the direction of the war would become their responsibility. As the Queen's plan became more focused on scorn and bitter revenge the Shadow Court was tasked with managing smaller conflicts, managing captured territory and developing long-term strategy. All the Queen could concern herself with was razing cities to the ground and setting loose her Jaberwock upon the kingdoms that rejected her.
Many among the Shadow Court were planning to sue for peace with kingdoms of Tairos and even join with them in bringing the Autumn Queen's reign to an end. Had the events of The Queen's Rebuke not occurred so suddenly than history may very well have turned out differently for the fae.
However, this was not meant to be. Instead, the existence of the Shadow Court was exposed and the armies of Tairos could not help but see them little more than the Queen's secret hand. After the Rebuke those that survived were marked for death just as the rest of their kind was. Within a few decades the Shadow Court became the stuff of legends, one of the many myths associated with the vanquished enemy that nearly brought Tairos to ruin.
A Shadow in Tairos
The Halflings have a saying. "All a shadow needs to triumph is for the light to turn its back for but a moment". This could not be more true of the Shadow Court as well. In the long years between the Rebuke and today the scattered houses that survived the fae purge have rebuilt. They've sought each other out, settled old differences and united under a singular ideal... a return to the days of fae ascendancy.
Rumors speak of the new and deadly alliances being forged by court diplomats who travel to places like Harrowhold, the markets of theBlack Thorn Society the Butcher Yards, the old ruins of Skyrir, the Blood-dimmed tides to the west and perhaps most tragically and predictably... Melanthris.
The Shadow Court has no intention of allowing history to repeat itself. The future they are forging will not belong to one mad Queen but to all their people. Under the watchful eye of the stewards of the fae, of course. Every bright future requires both architects to build it and gardeners willing to prune the chaff.From left to right: Curator of Secrets, Pact Keeper, Tomorrow's Proxy, War's Tallyman and Cipher of Miracles
While each house, guild and organization that makes up the Shadow Court has their own way of functioning there are a few commonalities they all share.
While they all have their own forms of personal defense each is responsible for contributing to the Shadow Court's military needs. So far, there have been few situations requiring an army of any size to be raised. The Court prefers this as large scale military actions by an organized fae threat could be the spark that unites their enemies too soon.
Agents. This is the preferred means of accomplishing the goals of the Court. small groups and individuals with exceptional skill or power. Every faction has their own coterie of loyal servants but the truly prized among them have been made to see the value in serving something greater than a single master.
When the Queen's empire crumbled so too did the illusion of equality. Many of the houses and guilds within the Shadow Court greatly eclipse their contemporaries in scale, scope and raw magical potential. The rulers of these groups are the ones responsible for knitting the Shadow Court back together and helping spare the handful of fae left from the torch of Tairos' exterminators. From these houses or guilds come five exemplars of the fae people, five who were there during the final days of the war, five who saw first-hand the death of their peoples' dream. They now lead the Shadow Court as a whole and upon their shoulders falls the future of the Fae race.
They use extravagant titles born from the inspiration they reaped from cultures and worlds harvested long before Tairos. Some covet the prestige and power afforded to these five, such is the jealous nature of all fae. Though most see them as a mixture of celebrity, prophet, and demagogue. They are known simply as the High Lords and most often referred to by their individual monikers such as:
Tomorrow's Proxy- Also known simply as Lord or Lady Proxy. This position is often seen as the most senior even among the other High Lords. The Proxy is tasked with directing the future of the fae race via everything from simple infrastructural decisions to grand schemes involving the downfall of nations. The current Proxy of Tomorrow is Lady Amalia of House Kullen.
Curator of Secrets- This role is filled by the most cunning, manipulative and perceptive of fae. The Lord (or Lady) Curator gathers the secrets of both enemies and allies alike. As such they are the spy master, the expert in all matters of intrigue and also the blade in the dark that seeks out the disloyal. The current Curator of Secrets is Lady Rose of House Crowcoil
War's Tallyman- The Shadow Court has always believed that war was an opportunity to display not only combat prowess but also an adherence to a very fickle form of honor. The Tallyman of War is thus equal parts gentleman and general, though the exact definition of both those traits has varied from individual to individual. Orgastus Lycenius Berris holds the position of Tallyman. His name is as pompous and extravagant as all of those chosen by the toad like Saudra-tai, a strange fae species from a distant corner of reality.
Cipher of Miracles- The fae have often chosen to victimize those to whom magic seems less like an arcane science and more like a gift from some unfathomable divine font. The Cipher of Miracles exists to perfect the fae mastery of magic so that it can be most effectively used in the reaping of mana from new worlds. That often means perfecting the efficiency of Manacite, giving birth to innovations in the tapping of Leylines and of course the invention of new magics to deploy against their enemies. The current Lord Cipher is Baltus Gyre, the Hierophant of the Circle of Nod, an obscure fae cult dedicated to the study something called the Black Expanse.
Pact Keeper- Part diplomat, part explorer. The role of the Pact Keeper is to manage existing alliances and forge new ones with fae and non-fae alike. They are experts in planar cosmology, terrestrial cartography, linguistics, history and the function of The Gates. These talents are put to use seeking out alliance within other realms while brokering peace between the many factions of the fae. The current Keeper of Pacts (also known as the Lord Pact Maker) is Marshal Black. Black is not from any noble house or guild but rather lone scientist of sorts who's never been seen without his mask.
Bring the fae race back to power and stave off any attempt by the other mortal races to exterminate them