From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
"We've always been there. Ever have that feeling you're being watched when you know you're all alone? How about that thing sometimes seen at the edge of you're vision that vanishes when you turn to look at it? That's us."
The following is a report created by members of the Midnight Squad on the entities known as "The Shadow Folk" requested by the hero, ██████████████.
The entities are known as the Shadow Folk or Shadow People. Unfortunately their reclusive nature has made any relevant information scarce. Physically they are often described as either being a shadow cast with no apparent source or a black smoke or mist like mass with the ability to shift between these two appearances.
The Shadow Folk vary in shape, ranging from amorphous to the form of various animals to humanoid. In humanoid form the creatures often take forms colloquially referred to as the "Hat Man", a humanoid figure described as wearing a hat and coat, and the "Hooded Man", described as either a human lacking an apparent head and/or neck or a cloaked individual.
There are several theories on the origin of the Shadow People. The primary theories are as follows.
1. The Shadow Folk are residual impressions of living and dead creatures with a spiritual presence of any sort as form of ghost. If this is true it would not be inaccurate to compare them to an after image of sorts. This is most supported by the repetitive phantom behaviors some have been observed engaging in. However at the same time it can be argued that they are preexisting entities that merely mimic behavior they observe.
2. The entities are far older than the earth itself and were born out of the primordial chaotic darkness that was created when the universe was formed. This is best proven by the widely ranging abilities and behaviors of some shadow entities and the fact they have been in existence for quite some time. However the creatures seem much weaker than this origin would suggest.
3. The Shadow Folk are embodiments of humanity's primal fears or negative emotional energy in general. This is most evidenced by the fear aura they produce and behaviors that seem to only serve the purpose of terrifying a target. The main argument against this is that what few sapient Shadow People exist are not automatically malevolent and that they are capable of feeding on emotions other than fear.
The entities have been ascribed a wide range of powers and abilities by various groups. Though in nearly all cases, intangibility, invisibility, and what has been most commonly dubbed a "fear aura" are referred to, the creatures causing a sense of foreboding and dread when observed. In most cases there has been a strong desire to run away from the offending entity reported. It appears this is purely an empathic ability and sufficiently strong willed or psychically shielded individuals are unaffected. Additionally only the actual presence of a shadow person triggers this, photographs and drawings produce no effect.
Shadow Folk will usually flee if attacked or confronted in anyway. This should not be taken to mean the creatures are harmless as they are animavorous predators and will violently attack an assailant if cornered.
The Shadow Folk are animavorous (life force eating) and empathic though rarely are they reported to attack humans and animals directly. It is theorized that they passively absorb excess life energy at all times explaining why they are so rarely seen feeding. In the event of a Shadow Person attempting to feed on oneself, the most effective deterrent is a sufficient discharge of positive energy or the proper magics, This will most likely not kill the offending entity unless an exceedingly large amount of power is used, rather the intent is to merely cause enough pain to force the Shadow Creature to release it's prey.
Based on their behavior it is believed that the majority of Shadow Folk are non sapient and only possess animal like intelligence and reasoning. We believe this is the mostly likely why it has been so difficult communicate with them.
As mentioned before the Shadow Folk appear to be mostly non sapient. While most are animal like in behavior, a few show signs of intelligence. Attempts to communicate are still quite difficult. It is believed that intelligent Shadow Folk intentionally try to act no different than the majority of shadow entities to hide themselves. Evidence suggest that sapient Shadow Folk are more powerful. Whether this is due to being inherently stronger by nature or simply having the intelligence to better make use of their abilities is unclear.
In the past few decades a somewhat disturbing trend has been occurring. Reports of sapient Shadow Folk are not only increasing, but sapient Shadow Folk show some unusual abilities. Sapient Shadow Folk have complex and nigh perfect shape shifting. This has led to a rather disturbing theory.
Sapient Shadow Folk appear quite adept at passing for normal humans and hiding themselves. We theorize that the Shadow Folk are not experiencing a sudden influx of intelligent forms of their species, but instead that they have been hiding among humanity all along and are only revealing themselves now because the current era of super humans allows it. If this is the case there's no telling how many of them there are hiding amongst humanity.
As a warning the number confirmed Sapient Shadow Folk so far could be counted on one hand and we know even less about them than we do the much more common non sapient type. We have no idea if they have a single cooperative motive or if they act independently of each other. What we have seen is a wildly varying temperament among them, some being apparently benevolent while others show signs of severe psychosis. The only thing common among them seems to be the desire to not draw a large amount of attention to themselves. There is also indication that sapient forms may be able to control non sapient Shadow Creatures.
We advise one not engage intelligent Shadow Folk until we know more about them and if there is any hope of future diplomacy it would be best not to antagonize them intentionally.
"This world is but a playground."
To most Ash comes off as cheerfully affable. Of course this hides a much more sinister motives.
It's not that Ash sees himself above human ethics and law, but rather they simply don't factor into the equation when making decisions. His actions are based almost solely on how entertaining he believes something to be rather than any sense of duty or necessity. He also has a tendency for Machiavellianism and lying even when he has nothing to gain from such actions.
Views on Humanity
"They love, hate, fear, and desire like us, but never forget they are below us."
"They're what makes this realm so interesting."
"...and they taste like pork."
While he does believe humans to be inferior he is not without his sympathies for them. How could he not? He has lived among humans for thousands of years. Going so far as protecting humanity as a whole from forces that would seek to enslave or destroy it when necessary. Though the mentality in this is along the line of keeping what he sees as food and entertainment alive, after all to him a world without humans would be far less interesting. At least that is what he tells himself. If Ash were to ever genuinely think something or someone wanted to enslave or destroy the world as a whole he would not respond kindly.
Ash's true age is unknown, his interactions with humanity extends back at least several thousand years. As such he does not have a 100% accurate memory of himself. He is very much aware of this and in fact sees this a blessing to help guard against boredom with existence.
Late 5th Century
It is during this time that he was present in Cimerora. His form then was that of a young girl in her mid teens, her clothing being plain for that time except for a unusual tattered red cloak and going by the name, "Rufa".
Any time traveling heroes or villains to this era would most likely not recognize him. The Ash of this era is willing to let her guard down around the time traveling "foreigners", but the native Cimeroran citizens only know Rufa as a local street urchin.
Rufa isn't actually aware any non natives to the era are time travelers and she most likely wouldn't believe anyone who told this to her.
World War One:
"The smell I'll always remember, blood combined with mustard gas mixed with burning hair and flesh... euphoric."
During World War One Ash assumed the form of a young man in his late teens, taking the name Samuel McKinley and fighting for the British army, he intentionally limited his abilities to make it a challenge, to him there would have been little entertainment in simply ripping through normal soldiers like paper. The squad he was assigned to never did figure out his true nature though at times they had the sense something was off about him. Samuel McKinley was eventually listed MIA a few months before the end of the war.
"You need someone dead? I'm you're man, word of warning though, don't ask about my methods."
During the prohibition era, having headed back to the states after the war, Ash took the name John Gallo working as a freelance hit man for the various crime families in Paragon, as with World War One he intentionally limited himself to the physical abilities of a normal human. During the late twenties he began harassing the Circle of Thorns, killing a number of its minor members. Eventually they retaliated, having quickly found out what he was, he was bound and banished to one of the Nether Realms in 1928.
Return to Earth:
"I think I'm going to like this new world."
In October of 2008 a group of young inexperienced mages attempted open a portal to the Nether Realm in a misguided attempt to grant themselves greater power. Fortunately for Ash he was near the portal when it opened, seeing his chance to return to the mortal realm he quickly stepped through. As the portal closed behind him the young mages realized their error. Ash showed them no mercy, slaughtering them and then quickly fleeing.
PPD investigators would later determine what had actually occurred but were unable to track Ash. Meanwhile, taking the forms of numerous people, Ash began to observe the people of the new era over the next year. He found that super villainy could be quite entertaining. At first simply assuming to appearance of various members from the Skulls, Hellions, Outcasts and various other gangs of Paragon. He came to realize it was no longer necessary to hide his true nature from mortals. After all beings like Ash had become quite common place and it would be quite dangerous to limit himself as he once had since he would now have to deal with super humans. Adopting the name of Ash Dunkel he began a new identity as a super villain.
Powers and Abilities
Ash sustains himself by feeding on emotion and life energy, he does not necessarily have to feed on the life energy of humans or even animals for that matter, he is just as able to take it from plants and fungi. Its just that animals and humans provide a great deal more sustenance than plants. This isn't at all healthy for his victims, and can kill them if he takes to much, however in cases of partial feeding victims tend to recover with no ill effects.
Ash is capable of also feeding on emotion and it acts akin to a recreational drug to him. He literally gets drunk on it while feeding and for several hours afterward. Since he actually experiences the emotions he feeds on, he rarely feeds on negative emotion such fear or sorrow, preferring positive ones such as love or joy. This has the side effect of stunting a victim's ability to feel whatever emotion he's draining temporarily.
His ability to feed on the energy of living beings is always active to a degree, feeding off ambient energy around him. When forced beyond his limits his body disperses, unable to hold itself together, yet he continues to passively absorb energy of anything in the area until his body naturally reforms. Just how long this takes varies and depends largely on how active an area is with life. Example, being dispersed in the middle of the Arctic tundra would take decades perhaps even over a century for him to reform. Whereas being dispersed in the middle of a lush jungle would only take a few hours at most.
Negative Energy Manipulation and Control
Ash is capable of controlling negative energy for use as weapon, tearing at his enemies body and soul, as well as defensively, weaving illusions or by forming tendrils of it to restrain enemies.
Strength and Speed
The heaviest he has ever been observed to lift was slightly over a ton, however this act was quite a strain on him and seems to be close to his upward limit. In terms of speed he tops out somewhere between 35 and 45 mph. His reflexes and reaction time have also been observed to be well beyond that of normal humans.
Intangibility and Invisibility
In relation to his shape shifting and control of nether energy Ash possesses the ability to render himself invisible to avoid detection and become intangible to pass through barriers and avoid damage.
He can render himself intangible and invisible for very long spans of time, perhaps indefinitely if necessary, though he has difficulty doing so when interacting with physical objects. He typically uses this in combat or for hunting when he needs to feed.
Shape shifting and Regeneration
Ash is capable shifting his body into a myriad of forms and without apparent regard for conservation of mass. However he has never been seen to take on any form smaller than that of a fly or bigger than that of a large horse (both of these did possess appropriate weight though), suggesting that he has limitations on size.
Ash assumes both male and female forms. However technically he lacks sex and gender (at least his true form does) and usually adopts gender mannerisms of whatever sex he is currently in the form of. He prefers people use gender pronouns appropriate for whatever form he is in at the time with "he" or "him" used as gender neutral when necessary.
Umbra Form: His true form, a mass of shifting darkness, can trigger an extreme sense of terror and dread, especially in baseline humans. Viewing photos or drawn renditions of it do not seem to have this effect.
Sennex Form: This form is that of a pale old man in his late sixties to early seventies, he speaks in a low gravelly voice when in this form. Closer inspection suggest this is simply a much older version of his Vir form.
Femella Form: This form appears as a young woman in her early twenties, she speaks in smooth mid pitched voice when in this form.
Vir Form: A man in his mid to late twenties, a few individuals alive who were involved in organized crime of the twenties have recognized this form as that of John Gallo.
Related to his shape shifting Ash is capable regenerating injuries ranging from minor injuries such cuts and bruises to severe ones such as severed limbs and bullet wounds
Miscellaneous and Weaknesses
Ash also possesses heightened senses and the ability to detect beings' auras as a natural ability of his race. Since he is not a creature of flesh and blood he is simply not vulnerable to mundane toxins or disease, though magically based ones are capable of affecting him.
Over the years Ash has spent a great deal of time studying various topics, the most important are a knowledge of demonology and magic. He his also an accomplished actor easily getting in character of the various forms he has taken.
Ash has several weaknesses his enemies may exploit if they learn of them, he is most vulnerable to magic and positive energy based attacks. As mentioned above his ability to drain emotion is actually intoxicating to him and renders him somewhat vulnerable as result. It is also possible to overwhelm his regenerative ability forcing him to retreat and feed. In theory it would be possible to banish him back to the nether realm but would require knowledge of the proper spells and that he be restrained while the banishment ritual is being enacted.
Ash has acquired a wide range of artifacts and souvenirs from his travels. Most of these are rather mundane or have limited or non existent practical use. His collection is stored in a small pocket dimension he has access to and can be called upon at just about anytime. The most useful are as follows.
Liquid Emotion and Life
"Drawing, storing, mixing emotion and life is an art form. Humans have fine wine. I have this."
Ash feeds on emotion and life, because of this he has learned to collect and store it for later use if necessary. Pure emotion and life are little more than energy and thus have no physical form. To be stored it has to be bound to a substance as it would simply dissipate other wise. Purified water is the preferred choice as it is edible without adding other substances that might alter the effects.
Most notable of these is "Ash's Special Blend". As he puts it, something guaranteed to set off a state of mania and hedonia in anyone. The formula has changed repeatedly over the centuries as Ash has improved it and changed his preferences. Currently he states it to be five parts rage, three parts joy, two parts lust, and one part sorrow, though won't give any more information than that.
These devices appear as a roughly base ball sized dodecahedrons composed of clear quartz with a single Sig rune carved into one of it's faces. The devices are designed to passively absorb emotional energy. To open and close a collector the Sig rune face is tapped twice by a living creature. The open state is indicated by the Sig rune being raised while the closed state is indicated by it being recessed.
In the open state the device will gradually accrue any excess emotional energy it comes in range of regardless of what it happens to be. As a result collectors can be filled with a jumbled and possibly useless mess of random emotion if left open to long while being exposed to different things. Ideally the devices are used when only a single dominant emotion is present, however it is possible to force the device to absorb only a single emotion but this requires the user concentrate on the specific emotion desired. Effectively the user's will acts like a filter. The devices are capable of storing very large volumes of emotional energy. when containing a sufficient amount of energy they glow dimly with the color varying based on the contained emotion.
In it's closed state the device ceases to absorb emotion and will store it so that it can be drained at a later time. This can be done indefinitely. If a collector contains any emotional energy in it's closed state and it switched to open, it will immediately release all of it's stored energy. Obviously when allowed to store very large amounts of energy and switched to the open state it can have very unpleasant results for the person opening it. This is intentional to prevent someone without the proper equipment or abilities from gaining use from it in a practical fashion.
Specialized magical devices or someone with the proper abilities can siphon emotion from the devices to be refined and separated for varying purposes. The devices are designed to passively absorb emotion, however the device can be forced to absorb emotion aggressively as a repurposing of the filtering ability. The devices are not intended to be used in this manner. While the end result can be very much like what one would get from a creature or device that could forcibly absorb emotion. The collectors are not designed for this and can be easily overloaded and shattered doing this. The result is comparable to too much current being forced into a battery.
Water of Lethe and Mnemosyne
"It isn't as though my latest banishment was fruitless, I didn't simply sit around waiting for someone to open a portal. To explain everything that happened in that eighty years would take quite awhile, but whats most important is what I brought back, Omniscience and Oblivion."
Ash carries with him two vessels containing water collected from the Lethe and Mnemosyne rivers. Lethe causes one to forget all one's knowledge and sense of self and Mnemosyne grants all knowledge one has forgotten giving perfect recall no matter what the means used to bring about memory loss. It is said that Mnemosyne can grant the ability to remember past lives or even omniscience in sufficient amounts, of course it is unlikely Ash has with him enough for the latter. Ash currently sees no reason to use the waters for himself, though he believes they could have utility in the future.
Upsilon Beta 9-6 (Praetoria)
"We've watched since their ancestors first came out of the trees. I am not going to watch them die out. They need us."
The Shadow Folk of Praetoria seem much more uniform in their behaviors. The Hamidon Wars and the severe human depopulation that resulted caused the Shadow Folk to take a much greater interest in ensuring the continuation of the human race. The Shadow Folk have done well in hiding themselves and Emperor Cole is largely unaware of them.
Ash of Primal earth has currently had no direct contact with his Praetorian counterpart. Praetorian Ash goes by the name Ivo Blake. Ivo appears to be much more benevolent, though doesn't seem to be interested in fighting for or against Cole directly. Ivo's main concern is preservation of the human species in general. As a result he has fought both the Loyalists and Resistance to further this end.
Zeta Gamma 13-23
"N-No not talking about it anymore. Miles of the worst road you can imagine."
In this reality anyone with even the slightest connection to nether magics or negative energy finds their powers becoming significantly stronger but at the cost of slowly being driven insane and reduced to little more than a psychotic monster willing to attack anything that comes near them. This has affected everything touched by or drawing it's power from negative energy, be it hero or villain. The Shadow Folk of this reality are numerous in the extreme and far more aggressive than their Primal Earth counterparts.
A few months after his return to Earth he discovered Portal Corp. Curious as to the existence alternate dimensions, he signed on with them part time as Charles Durleth, a human with a natural affinity for nether magics. The first year under Portal Corp's employ was an interesting experience for Ash but nothing that he was unable to handle as Derleth. That is until was assigned to a newly discovered world, Zeta Gamma 13-23.
The portal opened in Brickstown near Zigursky Penitentiary. Ash and the team he was assigned to immediatly began their exploration, but found this reality's Paragon eerily devoid of living plants or animals. What corpses were found lacked any sign of disease and only rarely had any physical trauma, in the form of claw and bite marks. Every dead animal, human and plant they came across showed a complete lack of decomposition. Ash had his suspicions, noting that the state of the bodies was very similar to victims of animavores.
When a person is killed via having their body drained of life energy, it isn't just the person that is drained but also every bit of flora and fauna living on and in the person. Without any living microorganisms present decomposition does not occur. Normally this means that the corpse just rots at a somewhat slower pace since it is quickly colonized by bacteria and fungi from the surrounding area, but for the complete lack of decay seen on Zeta Gamma 13-23 to make any sense it would mean that the entire area had been drained as well, rendering it sterile.
Ash did not speak of this out of concern that it might reveal what he was. The team continued searching for clues as to what had caused this. One of them found a news paper, the date marked June 7th 2002. The paper mentioned an invasion of "living shadows", mass evacuations of population centers, and many of the world's heroes being corrupted by some unknown force. The team quickly decided to return to Primal Earth before they encountered any remnants of the "living shadows".
As they returned to the portal a large black mass descended on the team, splitting off into numerous shadow creatures. Ash attempted to control the creatures but found they would not respond to his commands as they would on Primal Earth. The creatures ignored Ash and quickly killed the entire team but not before one of them gave the order to close the portal to prevent any danger to Primal Earth, trapping Ash. Charles Derleth and his team were all listed missing in action. All access to Zeta Gamma 13-23 has been prohibited as a result of the incident.
When Ash had first arrived in that reality, he had noticed something did seem "off" but was unable to determine what it was. He soon found the effects of that dimension were just as potent on foreigners as it was to the natives. Ash was slowly driven into psychosis by whatever destroyed that world. Fortunately Ash was eventually able to leave Zeta Gamma 13-23 several weeks later using repaired Portal Corp technology. However Ash was not the only thing to escape.
It was shortly after this that several incidents of unexplained murders and deaths began to occur in the residential areas around King's Row, some victims appearing as though they were mauled by some large animal while others lacking any apparent signs of physical trauma as though they simply had the life ripped from their bodies. To the casual observer these deaths and murders didn't seem to have any links and no gangs or villains were found in connection to them. To those knowledgeable these bared all the hallmarks of rabid Shadow Creatures.
Sapient Shadow Folk generally leave each other alone but will police their own when something gets out of hand and very much prefer it this way. They were quick to respond to the incident in King's Row covering up what little evidence pointed to Shadow Creatures. The deaths and murders ended less than a week after they began and just as mysteriously. The entities that had escaped from Zeta Gamma 13-23 were quickly dealt with, most were destroyed while a few were captured for study. One of those captured was a half starved and barely lucid Shadow Folk with the alias Ash Dunkel.
Over the next couple of months, Paragon's Shadow Folk were able to piece together what had happened by studying the captured feral Shadows and and from the accounts of a recovering Ash. The Shadow Folk are deeply concerned about the potential of what happened to Zeta Gamma 13-23 to spread to Primal earth, however there has been great reluctance to do anything beyond study the captured feral Shadow Folk and monitor King's Row and the surrounding area, due to the fear of another incident.
It appears that what ever caused the corruption of negative energy based creatures can't spread from being to being, rendering the ferals safe apart from their violent behavior. So far none of the captured ferals have shown any sign of improvement of their condition. Whether or not they will ever recover remains to be seen.
Ash's insanity has diminished to the point that he can act with normality, however there do seem to be some lingering effects, primarily in the form of paranoid and agitated behavior. The Shadow Folk believe these are merely indirect after effects that will heal with time. Ash's experience with Zeta Gamma 13-23 has given him an extreme aversion to traveling between realities in any form and will adamantly refuse to anyone who suggests it.
((Have fun with it!))