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What are shadar-kai?
Once fey creatures like the rest of their elven kin, shadar-kai exist in an unnatural state between life and death. Bound to serve the Raven Queen, most devote their lives to disseminating her will, venturing between the Shadowfell and the Prime Material Plane. Many see the shadar-kai as a reflective manifestation of the eladrin, a dismal numb shadow to the bursting emotions that shift with the seasons.
While some shadar-kai have fair features and appear more human, most resemble blighted elves in an endless struggle between life and death. Their bodies are typically slender and athletic, and most stand around the same height as a human. The most unsettling quality is perhaps their lack of emotion, an unfortunate side-effect of their prolonged exposure to the Shadowfell. As a result, the shadar-kai are often bitter, gloomy, disturbed, yet motivated creatures whose souls undoubtedly touch the darkness.
Their disposition matches their alabaster to dark grey skin, with coal-black hair framing a dusky sallow complexion. Shadar-kai have penetrating dark eyes that lack the white outer coating and clear pupil most other humanoids possess. Many also decorate their bodies with various piercings and purple-inked tattoos. As creatures of the Shadowfell, their shadows appear deeper and darker than other beings, while surrounding darkness hums about them as if reaching out.
While within the Prime Material Plane, shadar-kai often seem youthful and agile. However, returning to the Shadowfell reveals their cursed state. Their bodies appear withered from countless ages and plagued by swollen joints and coarse skin that only adds to their corpse-like visage. Many choose to wear masks to hide their decrepit state from others and deceive enemies or potential targets.
Where do shadar-kai live?
Though not all shadar-kai bind themselves to the Raven Queen, the majority who do typically organize their societies in a manner that best suits their goddess's objectives. As a result, most shadar-kai build their dwellings within the Shadowfell near the Raven Queen's divine realm, the Fortress of Memories. Over time, these communities became meritocratic, a society based on power gained through one's prestige.
Also known as the Plane of Shadow, scholars believe the Shadowfell to be a plane of existence that has emerged within various cosmological models. Over the centuries, its name evolved to include the Shadowland, the Demiplane of Shadow, the Shadow Deep, and simply Shadow. Despite the plane's purpose and aspects transforming over time, many believe the Shadowfell has always been a darker manifestation of an alternate plane. Like the Feywild, the Plane of Shadows echos the Prime Material Plane in the Forgotten Realms. However, unlike the wild beauty of its counterpart, the Shadowfell is bleak, desolate, and overrun with decay and death.
Explorers unfortunate enough to encounter shadar-kai culture describe it as grim and predatory. The strong seek to stay atop their social structure and will do what they must to ensure their distinction. Regardless of their posturing, as descendants of elves, shadar-kai are not mindless savage creatures. Though decidedly more dark and tragic, many communities maintain ancient elven rituals and celebrations as a reminder of their distant relatives.