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The Shadowlands (see below for other names and denotations) are the realm of Death, an infinite plane where the souls of deceased mortals go to be reborn, serve, find peace, do battle, or endure endless torment. The Shadowlands exist on the edge of reality, separated from the physical universe by a barrier known as the Veil, and consist of an infinite number of diverse afterlives sustained by the flow of anima from the recently dead. Mortal souls who cross the Veil between life and death arrive at the Eternal City of Oribos and are judged by the Arbiter, who then assigns them to the afterlife that suits them most, the largest and most significant of which are ruled by a pantheon of Eternal Ones and powerful orders known as covenants, each with its own unique role in maintaining the ecosystem of the afterlife.
Until recently, the nature of the Shadowlands was obscure, with the living knowing the realm only as a cold and nightmarish place of labyrinthine spiritual planes. While many believe that souls of the dead languish in the Shadowlands forever, others hope their souls will go on to a brighter place.Kyrian Watchers known as spirit healers decide when it’s time for a mortal soul to pass into the Shadowlands. When a soul crosses the Veil between life and death, it is shepherded by the kyrian to the Crucible atop Oribos so that they can be judged by the impassive Arbiter.
All of the soul’s contents—deeds, misdeeds, thoughts, accomplishments, and failures—are laid bare before the Arbiter, who then judges in a mere instant and sends the soul through one of the gateways in her chamber to one of the infinite realms of the Shadowlands, the largest of which are ruled over by powerful covenants—powerful orders who have existed since the Shadowlands were shaped long ago, and who bear sacred duties to help maintain the afterlife’s ecosystem. Each of the primary afterlives is overseen by one of the immensely powerful Eternal Ones who together make up the Pantheon of Death.Each soul brings with it a vital force known as anima, the product of all of the soul’s experiences and actions in life. Anima is the lifeblood of the Shadowlands, making trees grow and rivers flow and is the source that’s drawn upon to conduct the magic of death. Great souls—both good and evil—have a lot of anima, while those who have lived humbler lives have less.
Four of the realms—Ardenweald, Bastion, Maldraxxus, and Revendreth—are especially vital to the functioning of the Shadowlands. However, there could be infinite afterlives, some small and tailored to a single person while others are vast and full of either splendor or torment. All interpretations of the afterlife held by mortal cultures are possible somewhere within the Shadowlands.All of the realms of Death were created from the First Ones’ realm of Zereth Mortis, tucked away in the fabric of the Shadowlands itself.
Between each realm is a cloudy space known as the In-Between which was once rich with streams of anima connecting the different domains, but the current anima drought has caused the realms to become cut off from one another, breeding fear and mistrust among the inhabitants.
Souls are not necessarily permanently stuck in their assigned afterlives. When the machinery of Death functioned the way it was supposed to, souls who had completed obligations in one realm sometimes had the opportunity to travel to some of the other realms of the Shadowlands.
The Shadowlands transcend all worlds and realities, as evidenced with Soulbinder Nyami and the loa being able to use their power on alternate Draenor.All alternate versions of the same mortal are more or less part of the same being, such as in the case with Draka, using an analogy of a rope with different threads which can be pulled off, but which “at some time come together to make that rope” and eventually come together as one being in the Shadowlands.
When a soul is called from the afterlife, it is free to roam the material realm if it is not restrained within moments of its arrival. Mortal souls that cross over and are brought back do not appear, however, to retain defined memories of what they experienced in the Shadowlands.
Time is perceived differently in the Shadowlands. Time and Death are not related, as Death is about eternity and not linear time. Time is a construct of order and structure, but circumstances in the Shadowlands are more chaotic. To a soul in the Shadowlands, it can therefore feel like eons have passed since their arrival whereas only a few months or years have elapsed in the world of the living, much like a dream in which a significant period of time can seem to pass even though one has only slept for a few hours.
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