Shadowlands - The Concept

The idea that there are an infinite number of alternate universes certainly isn't a new one, and neither is the concept of having all those infinite variants collapsing in on one another. It's well-traveled ground, particularly in speculative fiction. If I had to trace the inspiration for my own use of the idea in the original Shadowlands story, Aspect, I'd probably look first to the 'Adventures of Luther Arkwright' graphic novel by Bryan Talbot, which I read only a few weeks before beginning 'Aspect', and then, farther back, to Michaela Roessner's excellent novel, 'Vanishing Point', a dog-eared copy of which is sitting on my bookshelf staring me in the face as I write this. It's not a new idea, but it's certainly a fascinating one, as I think can be demonstrated by how quickly one small story on my part turned into a shared universe. The archive has been growing steadily, and I hope it continues to do so; this is a situation where there truly are infinite possibilities.

The Story

The beginning point for Shadowlands is what could be termed a second 'gathering of the Twelve', set not long after the canonical Twelve Saga in the X-Men books. At that battle, as at the first, Apocalypse steals the powers of the Twelve - now eleven, with Apocalypse possessing the body of Scott Summers - but this time, something even more catastrophic happens, something that even manages to overshadow that first heart-wrenching loss.

Somehow, perhaps by a misuse of the chrono-variant component of the Twelve's merged powers, perhaps by something else entirely (the why of the situation, even though secondary to the situation itself, is one of the biggest mysteries of all), reality is torn apart at the seams, and every alternate universe in the multiverse begins to collapse into one another. The distortion manifests as reality shifts, where the fabric of space-time rips open to reveal different dimensions, some indiscernible from one another, others so different that even the laws of physics no longer hold true. At first, the shifts come slowly, in discernable patterns, but eventually the patterns begin to break down, and the change becomes constant--and often, deadly. As the distortion worsens, time as a linear concept ceases to exist.

In the Shadowlands, a shifting world composed of an infinite number of alternate realities, there is an equally infinite number of any one person. Characters from the countless timelines where that second battle with Apocalypse never happened can coexist right beside their counterparts from timelines where it did. The battle itself was echoed again and again across the multiverse, sometimes so similiar that the variations are invisible, sometimes wildly different.

The Twelve themselves, centers of the disturbance, are slowly falling victim to a gradual, but inexorable psychic 'merging' with their alternate selves. As the shifts continue, even those members of the Twelve from timelines where the battle never happened slowly become aware that the chaos is somehow their doing--and slip, inch by painful inch, into irretrievable madness.

But they are, of course, the key to repairing reality.


These guidelines have been revised more times than I care to recall, and I certainly can't rule out the possibility of future revisions - one of these days, I am going to have to make up a rough sort of timeline for the series, after all - but this is how they stand at the moment. 

  • Shadowlands may not involve any original characters (save for those written into the stories by their authors), or even any particularly original ideas (see the Concept section above), but this setting, its backstory, its rules and its name are my invention. Please do not post a Shadowlands story without first asking my permission. Now, what does this involve... ?
  • Not much. Basically, contact me before you post. Feel free to contact me before or during the process of writing, as well; I'd be delighted to help you with your fic and answer any questions you have about the concept or the 'rules'.
  • Stories set in or around the Oasis, or involving Oasis characters, especially need to be run by me first. The Oasis is the central plotline of the Shadowlands series, and although there is room for wider participation, there are a lot of pre-established events and characters that you'll need to know about if you want to write an Oasis fic. Yes, folks, this is the one part of the Shadowlands that does have a continuity. ;) 
  • To answer a question I'm often asked, non-X, non-Marvel, and even non-comics characters are more than fair game. It's part of the beauty of the concept. There have been a number of superb fics involving characters from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, for example. I'd be intrigued to see other 'worlds' and other fandoms brought into the series.
  • Shared universe or not, the Shadowlands has rules that have to be followed if you're writing fic you want to see archived here. If you send me a fic that conflicts with ongoing plot threads within the wider series or breaks any of the rules of the Shadowlands universe, and refuse to make the changes I suggest to repair these problems, I'll ask you not to post it under the Shadowlands name. I also probably won't archive it. That said, here's the sort-of FAQ to date.

Shadowlands 'FAQ'

  • I'm writing a Shadowlands story, and I want my characters to be able to affect the Shifts. Is this possible? Only in certain circumstances. Only the Twelve and a few other extremely powerful psis/reality warpers/sorcerers can affect the shifts, and even they are limited to doing it on a local level. In the series as it currently stands, Franklin Richards has the ability to affect the shifts on the highest level, stabilizing the local area around him to create the Oasis, but to do so takes the bulk of his attention and energy. He's unable to leave, or the whole thing will fall apart. Therefore, look at it this way; if the character you're writing about is not a member of the Twelve, and has power levels anywhere short of 'creating a pocket universe in his little blue ball', the chances of them being able to affect the shifts at all is low. The chances of them being able to create any kind of sanctuary, like the Oasis, are virtually nil.  Any sort of technological fix is also not possible. You can't create a mechanical shield against the shifts.
  • Do the shifts come in any sort of pattern? If so, has it changed over time? Is it just 'space' shifting, or time as well? The shifts started out slowly, coming intermittently, and took some time to build to the point where the world was constantly shifting. At which point, there was no pattern at all. Time doesn't start to break down until years into the Shadowlands, and by then, pretty much everything is unpredictable. You can set a fic at any point in time; most thus far have been set during the period of constant shifting, but I'd like to see more exploring the early days of the shifts and the period in which time itself is shifting.
  • How do people move through the shifts? You can walk across a shift line/shift wall, but if you're caught in the path of one as it rips open, getting out of the way before you wind up decapitated or dismembered is generally a good idea. ;)
  • How big are the shifts? It varies. Again, this is something that's entirely random.
  • What do shift lines look like? You can see across a stationary shift line, but when they're in motion, they're more like opaque curtains (this is somewhat tentative at this point, but seems to be the practice that most authors follow)
  • I've heard that the members of the Twelve go mad. Why? For a couple of reasons. They go mad not just because of the psychic blurring with their alternate selves, but because of the temporal residue they pick up in traveling and manipulating the shifts.
  • How do you know what kind of shift is coming at you? The Twelve are sensitive to whether an approaching shift is hostile or not. A few other characters do have good instincts for traveling in the shifts; for example, Domino's probability powers translate into a sort of instinctual knowledge of which way to jump. The same might be true for precognitives, or people with enhanced senses, but it would be, again, a very rough, instinctual sense of what was coming, and no control, one way or the other. 
  • Is communication across shifts possible? Telepathy is sometimes effective across shift lines, sometimes not. Otherwise, no; when you're in a different shift, you're in a different world. Depending on whether or not the shift is stationary and the shift line is transparent, you could be able to see someone on the other side, but you wouldn't be able to speak to them. 
  • Is there anything controlling the shifts? There may or may not be an intelligence behind the shifts (this is one of those mysteries that have yet to be solved. Whether or not it's true is for me to know and you all to find out...;)
  • What happens if there's a shift where the Earth isn't there?   Basically, if you don't have some way of protecting yourself, you die.
  • What crosses a shiftline, and what stays on the same side? A person can walk across a shiftline. Anything else depends on what kind of a shift it is. If there's some constancy, if it's the same place in one shift as it is in the shift that rolls across that spot, certain features may stay the same. For example, if there's a house there in both shifts, the house will still be there, although it might be a little different in one than in another. More often, though, the shift will change the territory it crosses. There are also what you might call 'floating' shifts, which are fragments of entirely different locations. These become much more common as the shifts get worse and reality breaks down completely.
  • How far up and down do shifts extend? The shifts stop somewhere around lunar orbit. They extend downwards to the earth's core. Suffice to say, this does sometimes cause earthquakes.

Well, that's all I can think of, for now. If you have a question, let me know, and I'll almost certainly add it to this FAQ, which is very definitely a work in progress. All submissions to the archive must be made in HTML--just basic HTML, mind you. I'll do the specific formatting quite happily. :) I reserve the right to reject submissions that violate the terms of service of our webhost, as well as any other submissions I might decide are inappropriate, for the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph or any others that may arise. All stories can be sent to me at this address .

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