While the first part of this article covered bubbles, this second part will deal with the more commonly-used shadow realms.
Shadows and Bubbles
To an outsider, a shadow realm looks pretty much the same as a bubble. They’re inaccessible except via magic, you usually get there by walking through a portal, and they often have the same fantastic, bizarre architecture. While shadow realms and bubbles might be visually similar, however, they’re metaphysically quite different.
A shadow realm is an image, or ‘shadow’, of a particular place in conventional reality. Unlike a bubble, a shadow realm exists in the same space and time as the location it mirrors, but the process of creation shifts the two locations slightly out of phase: they share positions, but can’t interact with one another.
Your Very Own Shadow Realm
Shadow realms are grown rather than built: the mage sets the process in motion and lets the shadow realm develop on its own. Although a shadow realm starts off as an image of the place it copies, the growth process causes it to change: there’s no way to be quite sure what the shadow realm will look like when its done (and poking your head in early to check how it’s doing is usually a bad idea).
What a shadow realm grows into depends both on the magical resonance of the chosen location, and on the personality and magic type of the creator. A grove of trees might become a light and airy wood , a dark forest with a dense overhead canopy, a single massive tree rising up into the sky, an impenetrable jungle, a maze of living wood, or just about anything else. In most cases the shadow realm bears a definite imprint of its creator, but the way in which that imprint takes shape is unpredictable. Once the shadow realm’s growth is complete, it can be accessed and used normally.
You Can’t Get There From Here
Metaphysically speaking, shadow realms are much closer to our world than bubbles. Sometimes, they can be close enough that the barrier becomes thin and almost permeable – images and impressions filter through from one to the other, causing passers-through to see shadows where nothing should cast them, or feel an unseen presence. There have even been cases in the ‘closest’ of shadow realms in which people’s condition and actions align them sufficiently with a shadow realm to slip through the barrier without a spell, though such events are rare.
In most cases, though, the only way to access a shadow realm is via gate magic. Gating directly to and from a shadow realm is possible (if dangerous), but the accumulated risk means that most mages who plan to regularly travel to and from a shadow realm will construct a focus. By far the easiest way to do this is to create a link between the shadow realm and the place it mirrors.
Bursting the Bubble
Shadow realms have several advantages over bubbles. First, they’re easier to reach – a proper focus allows safe and regular travel between a shadow realm and its linked location, and constructing such a focus isn’t significantly more difficult than making a gate stone. Second, they’re much easier and safer to create. It takes an entire team of master mages to create a bubble, and the process consumes a vast amount of magical energy, which in turn allows much more opportunity for things to go wrong. By contrast, it’s perfectly feasible for a single mage to create a shadow realm on his own. The result may be slightly unpredictable, and it won’t be fast, but for any mage with limited resources it’s a much more practical option.
By far the biggest selling point of shadow realms, however, is their stability. While bubbles have a nasty tendency to become inaccessible or simply vanish, the organic way in which shadow realms are grown ties them closely to Earth. A shadow realm can last for centuries – more than enough time for the realm to outlive its creator. It’s common for a mage to guard the secret of access to his personal shadow realm so well that after his death, his successors are unable to reach it (and in some cases may not even be aware that it exists). It is widely believed that there are countless thousands of such ‘lost’ shadow realms hidden throughout the world, invisible and almost undetectable, waiting to be rediscovered once again.