The Hand of the NIght
A couple of things about Evil…
Evil is extremely important, otherwise what would Good amount to? Without that point of comparison, we would have no relative position on anything. Some might argue that that would be a Good thing. But there you go again, compared to what? I suppose that perhaps the comparison point for Good should really just be Bad, but really, Evil sounds way better doesn’t it? To say somebody is Evil definitely puts them into a category of personality that is far more specific than Bad. It’s like saying a tree is green and just leaving it at that. Point being, there are better words for certain situations.
Another thing is that Evil people don’t really see themselves that way. To them, they're just a misunderstood Good person, with a different set of values. Which isn’t to say that they’re just opposites and that they see Good people as Evil. No, in fact, they would probably be the ones to argue that there is no such thing as Evil, because they couldn’t possibly see themselves that way. Or maybe they just don’t care. That could be the case, too.
At any rate, no matter which way you look at it, Evil was very much afoot in the world. The heroes and folk mentioned so far are attributing the slow, painful disintegration of life to ‘bad times’. Recently, the wiser of those around are starting to suspect that it is more than that. That there must be some reasonable explanation for the blight that seems to engulf the world. That is why the Grand Council of Rill is being convened. To try to get a better understanding of the state of things and then, through effort of body or will or knowledge or all three, change things for the better. Pretty vague objective.
Unbeknownst to that group of do-Gooders though, there was another element at work. An element that, although they themselves did not create the deteriorating state of affairs known as the Dark Shadow, were determined that it should go on. For there is an element of mankind that will always find a way to benefit from the troubles of others. Both economically and politically, they feed off the weak.
When word of the Grand Council was spread about the lands, there was already a group in place ready to interfere with this plan because another aspect of Evil is that it quite often is accompanied by high intelligence and cunning and not just a little prescience. This ‘group’ that I speak of calls itself The Hand of Night. They are a collection of well-positioned men and women that control a quite a bit of the wealth and power in the five kingdoms. One might think they owned most of it, if you were to list their various assets on a long, long ever-growing scroll.
Think of it as a sort of cult of acquisition. Since the Great Shadow had started to descend upon the land, they had recognized the phenomena as what it was and were determined to not go under with it but to use it to their advantage and profit from its horrible effects. Assembling in small cells in each of the major towns of the kingdoms, they would elect a representative to lead them and ensure that each of them got their proper share of the spoils. By anticipating the next major disaster, they were therefore able to position themselves in such a way as to profit by it. They had become quite wonderful at this actually. They invested heavily in medicine, armaments, military units, technology and the like and any other branch of commerce that could be maneuvered in bad times. And their combined assets assured them of reaping the absolute greatest potential to be had.
Now those elected representatives were meeting together in a tiny corner of a remote, rarely traveled region of Rundersgrip. Not unlike the Grand Council, they too were attempting to formulate a plan. A plan to counteract any advances by the Council and their notion of ending the blight. For even though they, themselves, often fell victim to the blight, pursuing their own interests was still more favorable than sitting around waiting for something bad to happen.
There is a castle in that remote region, an old wreck of a building, long since abandoned and forgotten on the side of a windy hill surrounded by bogs and swamps. The sense of decay that invades the area makes for a perfect setting for The Hand of Night. Nobody would come their way and they could devise their scurrilous plans in privacy. Granted, it wasn’t as nice as their personal abodes, but they had fixed the place up quite well and on the inside, at least, the castle, known to the few locals in the area as Throgmorten, was quite well appointed.
In the main hall of the castle Throgmorten, a group of about fifty members of The Hand were assembled and were awaiting the arrival of their leader, or as they called him in the parlance of The Hand, The Fist. Originally, this position had been voted on by the various representatives of The Hand, but for the last few years, the most recent Fist had consolidated his power (usually by having any opposing member killed) and he now ruled with complete authority. The Fist was now the wealthiest among them. Primarily because beside his own treacherous business in the world, he took a healthy stipend from the treasury of The Hand. And a very large treasury it was, located down below the castle in the vast catacombs, lined with the tombs of an ancient line of the Rundergrip royals from a long-passed dynasty.
In the dim, dank atmosphere of the castle, only mitigated slightly by the soft glow of the flickering smokey wall sconces, a chill breeze seemed to always be tickling around your feet.
“I’m going to wear thicker leggings next time,’ said a thin, glowering man standing near a table set with fruit and breads and wine. ’It’s always the same here. I’m going to catch my death one day.”
His companion, a squat, fat ugly little man munched on a piece of cheese. His face was covered in bits of food held in place by soggy fruit in his beard. This man was Alberto Grootly (yes, that Alberto Grootly), and that he was a representative to this council of despair wasn’t really that surprising. He had spent his entire life taking advantage of the poor. Even before the Great Shadow. To him the Great Shadow was merely a market fluctuation. A really long and enticingly predictable one.
“Don’t notice it myself,’ Grootly noted. ’Never have felt the cold much.”
“Well, that’s because you have extra layers of yourself to keep you warm,’ hissed Simeon Lock. “I’m ninety percent bone and it only takes a hint of a chill and I’m in absolute agony.”
“You exaggerate,” said Grootly.
“One day, when I’m moaning in my bed and blue with the blains, I’ll have you over and you can see for yourself the anguish I go through.”’
“I’d enjoy that. Please have me over at the first opportunity. You paint a marvelous picture,’ Grootly said, with a smirk.
Lock was going to retort to that joke at his expense when a hush fell over the room and the great oaken doors at one end of the hall swung open, pushed by two extremely large and armed guards. A moment later, The Fist quickly entered the room.
He was quite a huge man himself and given that he wasn’t wearing any armor at all and still seemed as big as the behemoth guards in front of him gives you an idea of his actual size. He had on a long black robe fringed with red velvet and the emblem of The Hand of Night emblazoned over his heart. The robe was held close with a purple sash from which protruded the hilt of a jewel-encrusted dagger. On his head, he wore a bright red skull cap. He was followed into the room by a large, slim dog that was a sort of an off-white colour with one large brown spot on his chest. He had a jewel-encrusted collar, and this seemed to sparkle and light up the one good eye he had. He trotted along patiently beside his master.
The two carried on into the hall and climbed the steps to a small structure containing what amounted to a pulpit such as you would find in a common church.The assembly moved forward and formed several solid lines close to the pulpit.
The Fist stood behind the rostrum and gazed out over his brethren. His black eyes glistened and his mouth was slightly agape as his breath wheezed in and out. He had a bit of a breathing problem. In a Good person this would have been merely an unfortunate medical issue. In The Fist it seemed like a natural extension of his personality. The dog made himself comfortable beside the dais. In the silence of the hall, the only sound, besides The Fist’s ragged breathing, was the low moan of the dry winds outside.
“My friends,’ he began, almost in a whisper. “It seems we have a bit of a problem.”