The Iron Gods: Wretched Hand of Justice

PROLOGUE

          CouatliThe pistol’s hollow clack announced the absence of ammunition. Jhavin furiously threw it away and drew his magical curved saber in less than a second. But it took that same amount of time for the monster to sink its poisonous fangs into his forearm. Jhavin refused to cry out, and swung his free fist and clobbered the four-legged abomination’s skull, but still the creature would not unclamp its jaw. So the fighter switched the saber in his other hand and split open the hound’s neck, right along the spine. It yelped loudly, then released Jhavin’s arm and leaped aside, struggling to keep balance. But Jhavin would not allow it to recover. He spun over to the beast and slashed at it with his blade and when the creature tried to bite back desperately, he swung and jumped over it as easily as a jaguar leaps over its prey and ended the creature’s life with an ample sweep.

          Landing on one knee, he waited tensely. When he was certain that not a sound or a movement disturbed the ancient ruins, he sighed and relaxed his body. He glanced about the dozen corpses littered at his feet and noticed that they carried nothing of significance or importance to him. He collected his empty laser pistol and hung it at his belt, opposite to the ornate saber and sneered, knowing that he would not find any energy cells in these damned ruins.

          He then noticed a peculiar arched doorway, the exact doorway that he was instructed to find by Patriarch Adalbert and Friar Ulric. The doorway – carved out of black obsidian – lead him to a small round chamber, darker than night itself and stiller than death itself. Jhavin knew this spell, an unnatural curtain laid by the presence of liches and demons. But the demons guarding this place did not know about the biotic implant in his eyes which allowed him to switch to a particular type of vision that penetrated the opaque darkness.

          The chamber hosted nothing but a broken pillar. Chained to the pillar was she – the Apostle of Vanguard, the child bred for the sole purpose of hosting the Spirit of Vanguard once she came of age, the child that Jhavin had been sent to find. She lay on her side, spent and unconscious, but Jhavin’s implants allowed him to detect her bodily heat, meaning that she was still alive. He kneeled before her and tried to wake her, but to no avail. He then checked the iron chains and noticed that they were rusted and shabby enough to be split open by a more powerful blow. He stood up and drew his saber and swung to hit. A loud thud and a show of silver sparks announced the release of one of the four chains binding the girl’s limbs to the pillar. Two seconds later, two more chains gave way but when he was about to strike the fourth one, time suddenly slowed down.

          Incredulously, Jhavin stared as his hand moved unbelievably sluggish. The action that should have spent less than a second took ages to consume. He shifted frantically through four types of vision until he noticed the thin fog wrapped around his fingers and saber.

          ‘You may take her, Jhavin of Sargool, the Wretched Hand of Justice’, a disembodied whisper shrieked into his ear. ‘You may take her and walk out of here with her, but we will find you again. And then we will make you utter the Words once more!’

          In a flash of a second, the ghostly face of a yellow-eyed demon appeared before him but vanished quicker than a forgotten thought. The next thing Jhavin knew, his saber fell upon and destroyed the last of the girl’s chains. He braced himself for an attack and switched vision after vision, but nothing happened. Everything was quiet and even the magical darkness had lifted. He sheathed his weapon and quickly picked up the girl, heaving her on his shoulder and felt a jolt of pain from the gashing bite wound received earlier.

          He walked out of the ruins, carefully, scouting for the mysterious voice’s avatar, but found nothing. He raced back to the Citadel of Ortandt and made his way through the maze of metallic streets to the Oratory of Justice, where the Patriarch and his acolytes would surely be expecting him.

          Inside the massive stone edifice, surrounded by a few members of the clergy, he laid the girl gently on a white bed and made room for the priests to perform their healing magic and bring the girl back to her senses. She fluttered her eyes open and drew a deep breath, startled by her new surroundings. Before her mind could command her to stand up and run, she calmed herself when she recognized the yellow and gray embezzled robes of the Order of Justice. But she did not recognize the dark stranger who stood in front of the Patriarch, nodding to every hushed question, but not uttering one word. She poked her head up to get a better look at the stranger, but the verbal objections of her healers drew attention on her, including that of Jhavin. She felt pierced by his unusual orange eyes and she appraised that he must be Karinean, judging by his bronze skin and dark hair, but his chiseled traits and lean built betrayed distant elven lineage mixed into his human descent.

          Jhavin suddenly turned to the Patriarch and nodded, then left the room, clutching a bloody wound on his right arm. As the High Father made for the exit himself, she stretched out a weakened hand and tugged at his robes. Patriarch Adalbert turned around and leaned over her, calm and warm.

          „What is it, Chosen Child?” he inquired. „Are you well?”

          „I am, Patriarch”, she managed to mumble. „Who was he?”

          The High Father smiled and clasped her frail hand in his.

          „You do not know who he is? He is the one who saved you, Chosen Child. He is Jhavin Rovnovah, Jhavin the Slayer and the Wretched Hand of Justice.”

          The name meant nothing to her. But she never knew much of the outside world, having spent her years inside the Court and Library of Vanguard.

          „But… why does he not speak?”

          „He has been forced into a Bond of Silence”, the Patriarch answered simply.

          At least that was something she knew. A Bond of Silence was a vow taken by those who had sinned gravely and it was held upon them until the sinner had done enough deeds to redeem himself.

          „How… what is a man such as he guilty of?”

          The Patriarch grew solemn and his voice became grave.

          „He has dared to speak at Larthien using the forgotten Tongue of the Vaeleri. His voice shook the marble towers and crumbled the crystal arches of the Oracle.”

          She gasped, shocked by this new knowledge. The Vaeleri and their customs had been shunned, outlawed and hunted nearly two hundred years ago, their practices and witchcraft banned in the civilized worlds and even in the Outskirts and Barren Wastes..

          „But fear not, Chosen Child. He has brought you to safety, and that is all that matters now.”

          He put her hand to his forehead and uttered a short prayer. The Patriarch then stood up slowly, a concession to his old age, and made for the exit, leaving the priests to finish their magical tasks.

 (Artwork: Vlad Radu)