Chapter zero: The Prologue
-‘The shadow choir sings a silent song,
Of screams and cries now long gone.
The shadows remembers, and tell their tale,
Where swords and bows and daggers fail.
Perhaps when the hidden song is free.
Will the red hand burn and come for thee.’-
“You illiterate, inbred sack of SHIT! Get your FUCKING HANDS OFF ME!!!!”
A youth roared, ignoring the pain in his chained writs, still hammering against the cold metal, opening up his flesh even further. “You hearing this, boys? This little shit thinks he can order us around, as if he is in any position to.”
He feinted a mock surprise whilst a fist grabbed the boy’s hair in a strong grip, holding him in place for his co-workers to laugh at, his free hand slowly raising a wooden stick above his head, bringing it down like lightning. “DON’T…YOU….EVER….TALK…BACK…YOU…FUCKING…SLAVE…”
Each word was punctuated with a body blow, leaving the boy’s already scarred flesh open like a torn sack that was spilling its contents, letting blood flow from the wounds. One of the other guards grabbed the boy by the arms and pulled him along, laughing at the scene that had just happened right in front of him. “Move that worthless ass into the room. The doc doesn’t have all day....”
Beatings were common, but a subject soliciting a beating through stubborn defiance was not. The other subjects fidgeted in their cells, trying to watch the drama unfold without raising their eyes beyond shin-level. Although their eyes were not watching the scene, their ears had no choice but to listen, listen as a young boy was fighting against his oppressors and howling like a banshee, shouting curses that would offend even the roughest sailor. They did not react to it, nor would they ever. They knew how quickly that roar of defiance would turn to weeping and howling. They knew because it had happened to them as well, as it would again in the future. Several shivered when the howling began, remembering their own pain and feeling it as well. Some even howled with the youth, feeling his pain and experiencing in person as their last hope in humanity left their souls, leaving them vacant.
Some time later
Two gruelling hours had been spend, or had it been three? The youth was still panting hard, unsure whether it was because of the pain or the uncertainty if there was to be more administered. He forced himself to remember that little question, knowing it would keep himself sane in this place, or at least as sane as possible. There were two guards staring at him, occasionally whipping blood of their boots and gloves, seeing as they happily joined in with the ‘doctor’. A lock of the doctor’s grey hair fell free from its pomade slick and flopped into his face as he stood looking down at him. The doctor’s perfect black silhouette towered over the youth’s bruised carcass now displayed in spread out features on the cold steel table. The man glanced over to a young female who sat in a corner of the room, making notes of anything the doctor was saying. She looked relaxed and at ease, no doubt picked to work in this hellhole because of those exact traits. Her hand moved the quill on paper, delicately, as if she was an artesian that needed to prove herself.“CASE SUMMARY: Subject 529-a, male, appears to be of human heritage and guessed to be roughly thirteen years of a-“
He stopped when the fresh spittle and blood marked his face, originating from the boy’s lips that were now drawn in a sneer. “Twelve you phallus craving, necrotic leper’s arse!”
He barked, preparing another dose of spit before he was silence by a gloved fist against his temple, courtesy from one of the guards. “Twelve years of age, and survived the first ten sessions.
Based on the results of the HWP-IIV, Subject 529-a possesses cognitive ability that falls within the superior range, scoring at 249-IPS instead of the earlier 121-IPS. This single score, however, does not accurately reflect his abilities because of the significant variability among his test scores. There is a statistically significant 23-point difference between sessions six to ten, hinting at several unknown factors. Further study of the subject demonstrated that he exhibits developmentally above appropriate levels of attention and concentration throughout the several evaluations. He did, however, report difficulties in maintaining his concentration and becoming distracted by unrelated thoughts during the evaluation. This demo-“
Another droplet of spit hit the doctor, this one even redder than the other one. “YOU TRY YOUR MEMORY WHEN YOU HAVE CEREBRAL HEMORRHAGE CAUSED BY A PRICK WIELDING A FUC-“
He was cut off abruptly once more, this time by a rounded wooden object that slammed into his stomach, stealing any breath he might have contained in his lungs.
The doctor calmly cleaned his cheeks with a piece of cloth, swabbing away the droplets of blood and saliva before he continued with his little summary. ”Subject is appeared to have multiple lacerations, fractures in his right hand, and a small head injury when he was brought in. His external injuries were noted by the staff and a brief description was also provided. Remarkable was the fact that the pupils were dilated and somewhat over responsive, carrying a yellow hue around the pupil. In former records it was shown that the subject originally had blue eyes, as did his forefathers before him. This indicates that recent injections have taken effect and are currently holding, even without further tissue injections. Side effects are near to non-existent compared to the other subjects who have made it through the first nine sessions. These are surprising discoveries, seeing as the subject had been seen earlier as a lesser individual. I have extracted several vials of marrow from within the subj-“
He stopped talking when the boy began to chuckle, softly, almost as if he was the only one in on a large joke. The nearest guard quickly stepped closer, hand already wielding the wooden mace, holding it up above his head. He stopped when the Doctor raised a hand, too interested in this new development.
The scene struck the doctor as an unforgettable vignette. A power transfer was beginning, and the boy’s scarred laughter echoed it, sending ripples of uncertainty to all of the other individuals in the room. “I’m lesser? You are even beyond nothing to me. You’re bags of scarlet dribble that I will slice open and channel your effluvium onto the dry ground, letting you bathe in it. Maybe not you – maybe him, or him, or even her.”
He said calmly, using his voice to point at all in the room, all the participants of these vile experiments. “Maybe all of you, even the ones pulling your strings, it’s not important now. This I swear; I will never forgive, not even the slightest of offence. Yes, some things will fade and disappear from my memories, yet I will never forgive it. Every offence here is burned into my soul; my very essence will be a list of all of your atrocities. And I swear, if I survive this place and you, I will send you all to hell before me. I am your damnation and I am NOT LESSER! I am above you in all things. Now grow provoked by your shortcomings and set lose these inbred cretins, letting them bless me with sweet stupor.”
He then stared defiantly at the doctor before his eyes went wide and his body went limp, another cranial wound clearly visible.
Thirteen years later.
The cold rain lashed against the windows, seemingly never ending, creating muddy pools along the streets of Lorale. It had been raining most of the day, and rain had continued almost non-stop within these two weeks. The rain did not fit the mood inside the room, inside the mansion. Many of the gathered nobility and figures of state were up and about, chatting with one another and enjoying the pleasantries of this evening. A group of exotic dancers were lined up on the right, a fire eater from the black lands was displaying his tricks on the left and in the centre was an intricate colour combination, expensive fabrics swirling around as people danced to the best of their abilities to match those fiery colours they so proudly displayed. Tonight was a night of pleasantries, seeing as a treaty had been made between the human kingdom of Lorialis and the Orcinium empire. Several Orcinium delegats were gathered here as well, gathered mostly amongst themselves, yet occasionally chattering with human figures of state.
Unbeknownst to them was a figured shrouded in darkness, occasionally gazing at them from the shadows. The unquiet mind studied the starlit sky in its demise. To the east, planets and constellations dimmed. He revelled in the barrage of equations his mind was producing, threatening to overwhelm him before he reined it all in, keeping it in check, keeping it focused on what was important. He inhaled deeply before he spoke, voice deep and commanding, as if the entirety of life and the universe had waited eons for this one moment to come to fruition.
A voice from the shadows said suddenly, drawing the ears of every soul in the room. Some had heard the voice before, during a similar situation, now burned into their hearts. Those that recognised the voice were quickest to leave the dance floor, followed later by those that did not. The man known as Ruyinius simply stood frozen in place, unsure what was happening, slick grey hairs frozen in place. His brethren stood beside him, all warriors in the Orcinium emprire despite being delegates. From several directions doors could be heard opening, followed by the sounds of metal armour clattering, signalling that the household guards had entered the room. Their eyes quickly scanned the room, all trained warriors in their own right, although some more tested than others. The household guards screened the room and spread out whilst the Orcinium warriors simply held their position, producing hidden blades that were illegal to carry to such an event. Apparently some of them had been informed of the recent rumours in this land, hearing of some shadowy assassin that commoners had named ‘the red hand’.
The room held its breath, silence wrapping around them with the exception of the occasional mutter from guards or the clanking of their metal garments. That all changed when shadow themselves suddenly descended from above, landing in the centre of the ballroom in a swirling motion. The presence before them appeared to be more spectre than living, large tattered cloak swirling around him, ending in strips that flowed almost lifelike in the air, like tendrils from some hellish plain.
The movement eventually stopped as the creature rose upwards, no longer crouched, displaying an impressive height for the average human, yet slightly shorter than a Orcinium warrior. Its features were mostly hiding thanks to his cloak, yet underneath it they could see a strange metal armour that looked somewhat bronze, although he moved much to light-footed for it to be made out of that.“Ruyinius Orcias….”
He said suddenly, mouth hidden by fabric, yet the sheer intensity of his eyes betrayed the feral expression of his lips. He gazed straight at his mark, not needing more than a second to find him in the crowd. There were several spears pointed at him now, although from a fair distance and close enough to the two guards who had brought a crossbow with them. They looked hesitant, no doubt having heard what had happened at the last sighting of the Red hand.“A myriad of souls cry out in anguish at your continued existence, demanding the same fate that you bestowed upon them. Before this night has come to pass, so shall your judgement be. I am your fated judge and executioner, the living embodiment of the six hundred and twenty four, the souls you used as a stepping stone to achieve something that wasn’t meant to be grasped. I am the harvester that lays claim on your unholy actions, I am the red hand that will tear you from this world.”
Ruyinius Orcias was forced a step backwards, somewhat unsure what had driven him to do so, either the man´s deep and threatening voice or the fact that he had used the number six hundred and twenty four. It chilled him to the bone to hear that number, having barred it from his mind a long, long time ago. He was still considering his options; fight or flight, yet his discission was made for him when the shadowy man slowly cocked his head upwards, allowing Ruyinius to peer beyond the tip of his hood, letting him see that the assassin carried aureate eyes, eyes that took in nothing but it’s mark. The second Ruyin noticed those eyes was the second he ran, dragging with him his armed companions and shouting for the guards to kill the assassin. In the back of his mind he knew that he had lost right here and there. He knew it because he was one of the few people still alive that knew the full extent of what this assassin could do.
He rushed with his companions to the door and kicked it open, noticing in the corner of his eyes how the red hand moved, swirling left and right, dodging the first two bolts as if he knew where their trajectories would be and returning with bolts of his own, fired from some mechanical slot on his arms. The men who dared to move closer were sliced to ribbons when the assassin pivoted on his feet, sending his cloak outwards and letting the edges of it cut open exposed flesh and veins. In the few seconds it had taken for Ruyinius to reach the door the assassin had already taken down four armed and trained men.
Fifteen minutes later
The man rushed as fast as he could, one hand clutching his wounded leg, feeling the small metal bolt bite into his rectus femoris, causing excruciating pain. He ignored it to the best of his ability to do so, eyes just focused on the large structure in front of him, a shy three minutes jog. The building would be his salvation; the Orcinium embassy. Within it were more soldiers and a sense of security within its strong stone walls. He was the last of the group that had been at the party; the six companions he had brought with him were now all bleeding out or already succumbed to eternal stillness. The first two had died the minute they had decided to stop and face the assassin, thinking their natural strength and athletic build would tip the tide in their favour. They had not even had time to register the throwing knives, nor the acidic liquid that followed afterwards, turning them into screaming figures that had little purpose in live beyond howling and screaming.
Ruyinius wasn’t sure how the other four had died, seeing as he had kept his mind on nothing but running, occasionally hearing someone fall behind him or the screams and pleads for help as someone was dragged into the shadows. He forced himself to move faster, yet his leg felt like dead weight, slowing his movements and making his breathing slower and slower. Finally he fell to his knees to gasp for air, eyes widening when he noticed a pair of boots slowly moving up to him, coming from the direction he had been running at. He didn’t need to see the bronze like metal trims to know it was the assassin, his whole soul was screaming it. He forced himself to straighten his back, at least stare defiantly at the creature who would kill him shortly. He wasn’t going to let someone break his will, his own hardness that had allowed him to slaughter innocents, experiment on the living and poison his competitors to archive what he wanted. He was a commoner who had fought his way to a position of power the nobility only dreamed of. He would not break, not now. So he whipped his gaze upwards and dared to gaze at the assassin.
And break he did.
Cold predatorily eyes gazed back at him, making his figure seem taller than was possible and ethereal in a sense. They slammed down so harshly, so overwhelmingly, that any strength of will that Ruyinius possessed was shattered on the spot. The pain in his leg increased tenfold, the fatigue doubled and any hope of a quick death had left him at that second, leaving only despair in its wake. “So… this is it… this is where I die?”
He inquired, yet truthfully already knowing the answer. There was a instinctual way to go about these sort of things, some primal code that told you how to behave in your final minutes, if he even had so long. “You are here to kill me, are you not, boy.”
He said, shaking from the sudden cold as the assassin drew near, cloak flapping in the wind, making his appearance almost ghostly and terrifying, even with the knowledge that the man before him was flesh and blood. “No.”
The assassin said calmly, watching, observing. “I killed you a few minutes ago when my bolt imbedded itself in you rectus femoris and tore open your femoral artery. Guessing from the lack of colour on your face, the loss of mobility in your wounded leg and the tremors in your other limbs, I estimate that you have roughly two minutes before you bleed out completely.”
He stated calmly, continuing his observations of the bleeding man in front of him. Ruyinius felt his body shivering, yet at the same time also noticed the shouting and sounds of movement. A few people had opened their windows to stare at the commotion in the street and from the embassy came several Orcinium soldiers, sprinting as fast as they could. “A painless death?”
Ruyinius asked, not sure why he had earned such a thing considering what he had done to the other man. He was about to ask more when he heard the assassin speaking again. “No… The bolt had imbedded itself in your muscle, yet you tore open the vein by continuing to use it. You killed yourself. I am merely hear to observe and wait, wait for the final few seconds of your life and then act, sending you down to hell in a orchestra of violent screaming and flailing of limbs.”
The assassin then slowly moved his right hand towards the wounded and kneeling male, spreading out his gauntleted palm and fingers whilst the left hand pulled on a string on the gauntlet, creating a ticking sound before suddenly an immense heat began to rise. The once cold metal of the gauntlet was now the temperature of a roaring hot fire, basking the palm side of the gauntlet in a red hue, like some demonic hand that had suddenly revealed its true nature, at the same time the wind around them picked up, slamming cold air at them, making the wraithlike cloak of the man truly come to life, letting it dance in the wind like it was possessed, whilst the cold air hissed against the flaming gauntlet, creating a thick steamy cloud. Ruyinius knew at that moment why the creature he had created was called the Red hand. He knew it perfectly and cried honestly, before tears turned into soul wrenching screams as he burned his hands trying to get the fiery gauntlet from his burning face.
A few hours later
The man turned his gaze away from the scene, not wanting to look at the body any longer. It was still in a kneeling position, permanently now that rigor mortis had set in, keeping the body in this state for a while. The face still gave of some faint traces of heat, producing small clouds of heated air now and again, as if the soul itself was still screaming.
The civilian witness reports he had collected for his supervisor were…. Sketchy at best, seeing as most of them claimed to have seen a spectre, even a local guild master had seen the event and had described it -‘A demon appeared from the shadows, features so abhorrently spectral that it was nothing shy of a wraith. The mere sight of this creature from hell was enough to sap the strength and life out of the murdered man, leaving him weak and bound to that place by some supernatural force. Then, something happened that no man should ever have to see, let alone be faced to endure. His hand became hell itself, cloaked in fire as it charred the man’s soul within his body, boiling him from the inside and leaving just the red hand mark upon his visage.’
- Along with other vague descriptions. He shook his head and walked away from the scene, heading towards his companions and comparing notes. Sixteen people had been killed this night, all within half an hour, if witness reports were at least accurate on this part.
He wasn’t surprised to hear that a task force was set up to counter this assassin, nor that several Orcinium inquisitors had demanded they be a part of this as well. After all, one of their senators had just been brutally killed in the middle of a crowded street, although reports claimed he was ‘reaped’.