How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Eberron
In biology, classification allows us to distinguish one living thing from another. This becomes more complicated when one living thing lives within another. Are they parasites or symbiotes? Symbiotes generally have a beneficial relationship with their host, like the birds who clean mites out of rhinos’ skin. Parasites generally have a detrimental relationship with their host, like the tapeworms who occupy the colon and, if not treated, will kill the host. But there are times when the distinction is blurred. The Umbragen are one of those cases.
When the giant race fell from grace, the elven races of the world escaped as fast as they could. The elves escaped to Aerenal, the feskano took to the sea, and the Umbragen went underground. These drow had been used to hardship, but Khyber posed new and dangerous risks. Illithids, beholders, and other monsterous races hunted them and kept them from important resources. The drow realized they needed an edge. Their greatest mystics formed a council, discussing the magical powers common beneath the surface. The discussion quickly centered on the most prolific thing in the realm: darkness.
Drawing on the rituals and myths of the Dark Six god, the Shadow, the drow called upon the spirits and living power of the shadows of Khyber. These spirits had mostly wandered aimlessly throughout the ages, but the offer of an entire race was too tempting. Finding their most powerful candidates, the shadows bound themselves to the drow’s souls. Thus the Umbragen were born. The transformation was quick and dramatic. In the first few months, wave after wave of Umbragen hunter squads pushed back what had previously been unbeatable foes. Though the supremacy did not last long, it was enough to establish their race as an equal among the races of Khyber.
Those who had not bonded, though, saw a change in their powerful brothers. They seemed less friendly, less loving. The wizards soon confirmed these suspicions: the shadows slowly ate away the hosts’ soul. Part of it stemmed from the enormous power of the first candidates. The shadows had never tasted this kind of power, and they drank deep. The second came from the candidates’ age; their bodies were not accustomed to the bonding. At this point, the elders had a serious decision to make: give up the shadows, saving their souls, but dooming them to extinction, or bond the shadows to their young children, and hope the adaption would lessen the symptoms but retain a majority of the power. With a heavy heart, they chose the latter.
Now, every Umbragen goes through the binding process as they enter adolescence. Though it slows the atrophy of their soul, if an Umbragen ages enough, their soul completely vanishes. To be fair, most Umbragen, in their constant vigilance to defend against the evils of Khyber, usually never get to that point. But the effect is still considerable. Umbragen tend to be ruthless and less considerate of others. Some would even call them evil, but this goes too far. Thousands of years of hard living has made leisure and romance a luxury they cannot afford. In exchange, Umbragen have protected the surface world from considerable threats, and they hold dominion over a significant portion of Khyber (relative to their power).