Somewhere beneath the Realm of Shadow . . . passing below and hidden by time and the ancient origins of the Universe . . . . is a echelon of Reality that does not conform to the rigors of physics or metaphysics.
Alas, it seems the subject is one that holds no interest for most esoteric philosophers or arcane practitioners-- after all, what evidence is there that the realms below hold any meaning above?
Within Amber or the Courts of Chaos, there are few serious studies of the potential of Shadow, let alone UnderShadow. Reality is so much more compelling than the mallable stuff of Reality's own reflections and echoes. What has more value than what is Real? Those things of Shadow lack some essential substance and are less Real for it. And certainly, what lies beneath Shadow is beneath consideration.
Unless one has looked into the Well of Darkest Night . . . or stood at the edge of the Abyss and seen the gaping wound of Reality . . . or perhaps fallen between the Shadows in a drug induced haze that negates Order. Yes. Then, one might start to question the foundations that our living Universe is built upon.
Once . . . once there was a great following of people, a House, a dedicated Order that kept the knowledge of the oldest times. That safeguarded the small steps of civilization in an oral tradition that spanned each culture's collapse back into Shadow and obscurity. A Learned Order of Scholars. A people of bright minds and dedication to older powers. Even before the Courts of Chaos, nearly to the beginning of Sentience, this lost Order had passed on the deep knowledge of the origins. The place of Beginning. Now they are no more. Destroyed by that which must ever seek to pull down the strength of Sentience. Destroyed with such cunning and subtlety, that the entire range of champions of the Universe, yes even the Courts of Chaos have barely marked their passing. They are gone now, and so is the knowledge they kept. They were often known as the People of the Shroud.
Curse the Wyrrm in the name of the lost Shroudlings.
Still, knowledge destroyed can be reclaimed. The Wyrrm can not forbid genius, can not prevent invention.
What has been lost can be found again, as it was long ago. Seek out the deep knowledge. Turn your back on comfort and power over others. These are for lesser beings. Go back. Back to the Beginning.
Many, one could almost say all, of the largest, most critical features and phenomena of our universe are grounded in the UnderShadow. The UnderShadow is as much a part of Reality as is Amber or the Courts. It is the echelon of Reality that the Shroudlings called the Shrewd.
And since that honored people are no longer able to tell us why . . . we are left to conjecture and speculate.
Shrewd. It translates thus: keen insight; discernment; cunning; penetrating; dangerous. This is language's modern equilvalent. Note that all these things speak of Sentience.
The UnderShadow is not a mere interesting effect, or a puzzling oddity of the expansive universe . . . it is key to the enigma of Sentience.
If Shadow is the source of Substance, then the Shrewd, the UnderShadow, is the source of Sentience. If the universe had only ever developed as far as the UnderShadow, still it would have had Life and Sentience.
Indeed, those arcane travelers who dare penetrate the UnderShadow do find extremely interesting realms therein. Some much like Shadow, especially near to the boundary with Shadow. Go deeper, things begin to become more difficult to understand. Normal frames of reference are left behind. Our minds begin to relate the surroundings by use of symbols, images dredged up from within our own Ordered minds.
Journey there. Deeper. Look. Is this a land where colors do not exist? And further on, why is there no sound? And here before you, are these the ghosts of your dead kinsman? No. Probably not.
Your mind is being over-stimulated by this environ. Perhaps too much psyche can be a liability here. Certainly, not enough endurance will be even more important.
Deeper still, what is that strange feeling that you are being watched? Is it your imagination that you feel pressure on the boundaries of your mind?
And once you have found your way into UnderShadow-- how do you leave? Pattern does not work here. Neither does Logrus. Trump? No. The cards are not even cold. And this is not Shadow, arcane tricks go awry, the rules seem near impossible to fathom. UnderShadow refuses to shift and flow at your will-- it seems to have byzantine currents of some kind, just below the threshold of tactile sensation. Pressure continues to build. It feels as if to go any deeper would flatten your conciousness to paper thinness. The surroundings are like unformed dreams or half-remembered fancies of childhood. Populated by ghosts, imaginary beings and sad-faced sleepwalkers.
But there are other beings in the UnderShadow. It is not only a backdrop of uncompleted dreams. There is Life, and there is Sentience. No, it is not an easy place, not comfortable, not rich in pleasures or Substance. But there are beings there. Sometimes you can spot them if you look quickly and carefully. The too-knowing eyes of that pink statue, the smothered grin of the Cheshire Cat on the fireplace mantel, or the tip of the head from the nude man in top hat dancing on the ceiling near the chandelier.
Call them, Denizens. It will do.
They are more aware of us, than we are of them. They do not believe that we are phantoms. No.
They believe that we are comfortable . . . rich with everyday treasures of a scope they can only imagine. They believe we are wasteful . . . and ungrateful wretches that take the sustaining powers that act as foundation to our own Shadow Reality for granted. They believe we are ignorant . . . lazy . . . that we do not understand what real hardship . . . what real adversity is. Perhaps they are right.
Well. Some of them give us a little more credit than that.
The ones that talk to you. Try to tell you things. Try to help you find your way home.
The UnderShadow. How strong are the boundaries between Shadow and UnderShadow? Don't you think we should find out? What might that knowledge cost? What are you willing to lose?
UnderShadow Extremis: fragment of a pertinent conversation