From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Shadow Branding, or Stuck On You: The FAQ
What is shadow branding?
"Shadow branding" is a ritual used by the leaders among Jizoku no Himitsu to reward and/or punish various ninja and willful shadows.
How is it a reward and/or a punishment?
It can grant a large amount of power to an individual, but it also can have a great cost to said individual.
So, what's the process?
First, you need a real live human being. Second, you need an independent shadow. Then by using magic, you essentially blend the two together creating a unified whole. Depending on the desired outcome of the ritual, it can be as simple as putting your subjects in a candle-lit room, or it can be as complex as creating a mystic pattern through use of Sanskrit and Kanji rendered in calligraphic format.
What's an "independent" Shadow? For that matter, what are these Shadow servants flitting about the ninja HQ, anyway?
Okay, just like you and I have shadows, there's also Shadows. The spellcasters from the ninja clan found a link between the shadows cast by just about everything and a sentient force that exists and links all shadows.
So, it's like the negative energy that you see a lot of defenders, Skulls, and scrappers use?
It's one and the same, really.
So, getting back to the Shadows, what is it about the "independent" ones?
Often, a shadow servant will be summoned up by a high-level channeler of this negative energy. Mind you, this servant isn't always happy to be taken away from whatever it was doing. Well, there's this little thing about Shadow servants: they're part of a group mind, the sentient force I talked about earlier. If you summon one of these servants regularly, it will split off from the group mind and have a will of its own. It becomes an independent Shadow. Mother Aoi's family has found dozens, if not hundreds of these creatures since her family's founding. Many of the original Shadows still act as retainers to the Maehara family, the head family of Jizoku no Himitsu.
Well, if there's a great sentient force behind the Shadow, how does it react to the independent creatures?
It mourns the loss of each Shadow as if it had died, for the independent Shadow has found itself cut off from its family and its parent. The Maeharas made a pact with the Shadow to take care of its "lost" children, and was granted special gifts in return.
It's a win/win situation, then?
So, how does the ninja family take care of these creatures?
The Shadows are assisted by Jizoku no Himitsu in finding a purpose in the world, and by helping them feed in order to exist.
What do Shadows eat?
Souls, mostly. Without an attachment to a human body (like our shadows) or an attachment to the sentient force, independent shadows have to feed on life energy. A starving Shadow will drain someone's soul in no time flat. Usually, though, an independent Shadow will feed in small amounts. Quite often a Shadow will offer its help to a human in order to find a host. It replaces the human's original shadow, and gives them access to the shadow's knowledge. The Shadow will also do many little things to help its human host, such as assisting with grooming, finding car keys, helping navigate in the dark and such. Without a host, though, a Shadow must feed in far more dangerous manner. It must drain the soul and life energy from its victims by force. If the Shadow is particularly hungry, it will feed on the soul all at once.
No, it's quick and painless. The victim doesn't even notice it. The soulless body is often used by the Shadow for a while afterward, allowing it to live as a normal human for a little while. The Shadow will tire quickly of the novelty, though, and leave the body to its fate.
Okay, we know what the independent Shadows are, then. What do they have to do with this shadow branding process? The personalities of the human and the Shadow will merge to an extent, depending on the ritual used.
So, what does the process look like?
Basically, a light source is used by the human as a focus to keep them distracted from when the Shadow merges. The light source is used as a trap for the unlucky Shadow. The ritual bends the Shadow towards the light, causing it great pain.
Where does the human come in?
The human who is holding the light source is often used as bait and as a refuge for the shadow.
A Shadow without a host will try to force itself over a human shadow to stop from being dragged into the light. Once the shadow opens itself up to try to absorb the host's shadow, the branding process begins.
How does that work?
An "opened" Shadow is vulnerable to branding. When it attempts to fuse with a human, the branding ritual takes its energy and permeates the human's life energy with it. This also adds the sum of the Shadow's knowledge to its human bearer. It also has the side effect of obliterating the Shadow's personality. A shadow-branded individual will find himself knowing many things from first-hand experience, even if such experience never happened to the human before.
So, someone born, say in 1980, can suddenly find himself remembering a day of courtly intrigue in 1214 and react as if he'd actually been there?
Right. It all depends on what the Shadow has learned during its independent existence.
So, it's a pretty easy ritual, then?
No. The human and the Shadow are wracked with pain during the branding process. The Shadow's pain comes from losing its sense of self, the human's pain comes from the Shadow trying to tear its way out of the human's body.
Is it ever fatal?
No human has died from it. During the ritual, you may wish you had died, though.
This is where the powers come in?
Right. It depends on a bunch of factors, the main ones being the personalities of the Shadow and human, the amount of power being doled out to the human, and the amount of control placed upon the recipient.
What do you mean by "amount of control?"
Shadow branding does give its recipient new powers, but Mother Aoi also gains some amount of control over the recipient if desired. She is able to use the recipient's senses to gather information and can also control their body if so desired. In some cases, she disallows the use of control, preferring only to use the recipient as a spy camera.
What if she doesn't like you?
Then you'll be putting on a life-size puppet show, with Mother Aoi pulling your strings.
That sounds kind of hot.
It's more a death sentence than anything even mildly fun.
Forget I mentioned it.
Done and done.
So, this surveillance and control is why it's both a reward and a punishment?
Yes. The caster and/or Mother Aoi can determine how much power the recipient gets and how much control they'll exert. If you're truly trusted, you'll be given lots of power and no control. If you're untrustworthy, your power will be limited and you can kiss your independence goodbye.
Wait, if this thing obliterates the Shadow's sense of self, doesn't the sentient Shadow force get ticked off?
Not particularly. The Shadow has a mind of its own and a will of its own, so it must be responsible for its own actions. The Maeharas will care for and protect the Shadows, but if a Shadow turns on them or fails them, they're punished like anyone else in Jizoku no Himitsu: slowly and cruelly. The sentient Shadow force understands this.
Also, some Shadows no longer wish to exist, or wish to fulfill a higher purpose for the group and will volunteer to become a human's shadow brand. It is uncommon, but not rare. One historical account in the Maehara family records recalls that a Shadow who had fallen in love with a genin requested to be branded upon her in order to give her the abilities needed to complete her missions.
So now that you're branded, how do you know what powers you'll get?
You look at the brand, the physical mark left as a reminder of the Shadow. This often forms a "tattoo" of sorts under the skin of the human recipient. By reading the tattoo and examining the recipient's personality, you can often tell what they'll get. For example, a ninja known for having a slowly-building temper and a brand of flowers and vines will likely have some kind of plant and fire powers. It depends many other factors, but the personality and tattoo are often very accurate in power determination.
Shadow branding is, in summary, a power-granting process with a great chance of losing control of your very self?
That's it in a nutshell.
Who are the regular users of the ritual?
The only two people known to do such things so far are Mother Aoi and Tetsukane. There are others as yet unknown who also have access to this. Mother Aoi, as leader of the group, though, has final authority to tweak things as she sees fit.
Who else has gone through the process?
Mother Aoi has used it on her son, the Cobalt Claymore, in order to turn him into Whispering Typhoon. He managed to break the control thanks to the help of dozens of other heroes during the Typhoon Warning event and return to Paragon City to take up his identity as the Cobalt Claymore once again.
What if there's a question that I don't see answered here?
Well, you could always ask Mother Aoi, but you may not want the answer.