Shadowheart, Black Blade of Destruction

Prologue: City of Hell

The air was filthy… just like the rest of the city. A putrid stench of rotting matter, along with choking clouds of smoke that blocked out the sun, was always present in this accursed god-forsaken place. The tall, mile-high buildings cast ominous and overpowering shadows that crushed the spirit of those living below, in the slums that seemed to go on forever.
The entire city was dark, everything in it stained of gray and black from the constant pollution, and corroded by centuries of acid rains.
If Hell had suddenly risen and claimed a piece of the Earth, then it couldn’t possibly have looked as decadent, depraved and vile as this hideous city. The sun hadn’t even set yet, but the usual sounds were already echoing in a demented cacophony. Roaring engines, screeching tires, crashes, the caractheristic noise of glass shattering… and the occasional sirens and gunshots, along with screams, desperate screams, echoing from homes, shady bars and dark alleys.

Nobody actually cared about the unfortunate souls that were caught by the ghouls that prowled the night. Nobody would look twice at the barbaric scenes all around them. The city was ruled by the corporations, whose leaders had the so-called authorities in their hands. Most of the police force was just as corrupt, doing dirty favors to the rich while leaving the population to fend off the criminals by itself. There wasn’t a single day without murder, rape, destruction… The city was worse than a jungle, it was indeed a nightmare of concrete, steel and tin foil. Gangs roamed the streets, violence was rampant, but nobody cared. The rich slum lords and CEOs partied every night in their impregnable towers, built with the wealth they had made from years of exploiting slave labor. Some of them lived like feudal lords, making their own laws in their property, and they even kept private armies ready to slaughter anyone in their way.

In the meantime, pollution was on a constant rise, and disease took its daily toll. The rich people didn’t care, of course, since they owned almost all of the medical facilities and labs, but the general population died by the thousands, some with their lungs completely charred, others poisoned by toxic waste, and a few others abducted and used as experimental subjects in grim secret laboratories. Those who were lucky ended up being used as toys, forced to sate the lust of their captors until they grew tired of them and got a new one. Of course that meant they’d likely get killed, or even sold for body parts.

Everyone would do whatever they could to scrounge up a little more, even if it meant desecrating another man’s corpse. Nobody valued life anymore, and the newspapers were filled with grim tales of mass suicides. Of course the truth about the atrocities commited by the wealthy was carefully hidden, but such acts were also commited by the general population so often, there was still plenty of material to write about. The media, of course, tried to milk every macabre tale to exhaustion, doing absolutely anything to get the ratings up a couple of lousy points.

In the middle of all this, people had no faith, no one to believe. Like a priest had written centuries before their time, in a work titled “St. Anthony’s Sermon to the Fish”, they literally ate each other.

In one of the filthy alleys of this wretched gutter, another caractheristic scream could be heard. Another girl or woman was about to have her intimacy violated by one of the rabid mongrels that prowled the shadows. She was terrified, but did her best to fight back. Her blue eyes were wide open, and her long black hair was a mess. She was wearing an average-looking outfit, with a white shirt and a blue skirt, which she obviously regretted having picked that morning. In desperation, she struggled, and her bravery earned her a violent blow to the face.

The mongrel grinned, droolling in anticipation. His cruel dark eyes were all over her, filled with malice, and he was already moving closer. Strangely enough, he didn’t look like the average street thug. In fact, he was wearing a brand new set of expensive-looking clothes and had a gold watch and a clean haircut. Next to him was a teenager who looked a lot like him, but was wearing ragged jeans and a filthy t-shirt.

“What did I tell you?” the teenager said to the man “There’s so many of them, nobody will give a damn… and you don’t even have to pay them!”

The man grinned, pulling the girl by her hair. She was panicking, without knowing what to do.

Suddenly, the shadows around them stirred, and something even darker appeared to emerge from within. A deep breathing sound chilled the two would-be rapists as they turned around, startled.

“Who’s there?” the man asked.

Then, a pair of dark eyes suddenly appeared, more terrifying than anything they had ever seen. That cold, piercing stare promised nothing but death. The dark eyes were like glowing windows to hell, surrounded by an even thicker shadow. Suddenly, that dark alley was unbearably cold, and an inhuman growl echoed across it, shattering their hearts like cheap glass. Then, without warning, the shadow rushed to meet them, and they were pierced by cold metal. The man was the first to fall, run through the heart, and then cut to ribbons. The shadow kicked him before he could even fall, knocking him into an open trash container on the other side of the alley. The filthy teenager that, like a jackal, had been acting as an accomplice, was next. First, he suddenly noticed that his genitals had been sliced clean off, replaced by gushing blood. Then, cold darkness replaced his arms. Finally, his head flew clean off, leaving a trail of blood as it fell.

The girl looked at the scene in silent terror, as the shadow then moved towards her. She shivered at the sight of those merciless and apparently bodiless eyes, but the shadow seemed to merely examine her.

“You were lucky…” a voice suddenly told her, as if emanating from the darkness itself “Leave this wretched pit, and find a place where you can live in peace. This city is black of heart and soul, but I will paint it red.”

The voice chilled her heart and made her hair stand on itself. She fainted with a weak whimper, collapsing on the ground over a pile of old papers.

Chapter 1: Blind Dawn

Another cold morning came, filled with the stench of rotting corpses from the nocturnal clashes between gangs. The sun was barely seen through the permanent clouds of dust and smoke, as the hellish factories and transports kept going in their metallic rattle. A few sirens were heard as usual, from ambulances carrying a couple of rich people who’d had too much to drink in the latest party, as well as a few police cars that appeared to be escorting them. Typical. Even as packs of vandals ransacked a few stores in the slum areas, the police forces were more concerned with protecting the people who bribed them on a daily basis.

A gust of wind swept the city’s skyline, dragging muffled screams, along with the usual sounds of drivers with massive hangovers, shouting curses as they rammed each other off the hole-filled roads. A few traffic cops desperately tried to bring some order to the colossal chaos, but most of them gave up after five minutes of loud horns and scampered off to the nearest bar to get soaked in alcohol. Their lives were little better than those of the average citizens, despite the rampant corruption. The corporations enforced hundreds of so-called ‘protection taxes’, which were little more than gangster-style extorsion. On top of that, they controlled every fertile plot of land, mine and water source in the area, which enabled them to dictate the prices for practically everything. As a result, most people could barely survive. Some of them managed to find jobs, working for the same corporations that sucked them dry. Slaving away for a handful of bills at the end of the month, which inevitably ended up back in the pockets of the CEOs. Of course, given the situation, there was no way of stopping crime, except exterminating the entire population. Desperate people were capable of commiting the worst atrocities, just to make it through the day. Many people lived like ghouls, hunting helpless people and animals in the dark maze-like streets. They acted like animals, tearing the flesh of their still-living victims and eating it raw. Even the rest of the slum dwellers feared them, with good reason. Occasionally, corporate security forces would storm the slums, looking for these ghouls. They also took the time to knock some doors down and harass the citizenry, confident in their impunity. Many women and even children had been abused or beaten, and it was said that they reveled in strangling men in their own intestines. They were as hated as the ghouls, and even though the corporations tried to keep a tight hold on weapons, contraband guns were commonplace.

Somewhere in the slums area stood what appeared to be an old fallout shelter from imemorial times, made of solid concrete and with a plated door - something quite rare in the slums. Its size was difficult to determine, since the few who had any knowledge of such ancient things believed that it also contained underground chambers. Such a strange edifice was regarded with a mix of fear and reverence. The corporations made sure that only the individuals with any use to them could get an education, condemning all the others to a life of ignorance, making them easier to oppress and manipulate.

The interior of the facility seemed almost pleasant, compared to the hell outside. The thick gray walls and air filters seemed to keep the pestilence at bay, allowing whoever lived there to shut himself away from the world and temporarily forget the horrors that took place at his very doorstep. The place looked sad and cold, despite the relative comfort it offered, but anyone would rather live there instead of enduring the slums, even for a few seconds.

A pair of eyes suddenly opened in a dark bedroom, as a figure awakened from a troubled sleep. Quickly getting up, a skinny young man faced the light of his nightstand and turned off the alarm clock. Seven thirty, not a second more. He cast aside his white sheets and got up in an instant, rubbing his eyes a bit. He was wearing a simple-looking black undersuit, and his hair, although not very long, looked like something wild and unruly. It was darker than ebony, with some spiky areas that made it look like a wolf’s.

The bedroom was plain, with a simple bed, a chair, a desk and a few bookcases, something rare in this area of the accursed city. The closet seemed to have built into the wall to make more free space. He opened its aluminum door and pulled out a black sleeveless jacket with several pockets, along with a holster belt and a pair of kevlar leggings and a large bulky pistol that looked like it could blow an elephant’s head off.

He then reached for an ammunition belt and stuffed it into one of the jacket’s pockets, before taking everything and heading towards one of the metallic doors of the compartment. He went into a small bathroom and, after a few minutes, he walked back out, wearing the jacket and leggings, with the gun in the holster and a dark smile on his face. He then put on a pair of black army boots and black gloves, before heading out of the bedroom.

He then walked into a small corridor with a few more doors, and headed to the first on his left. A small kitchen awaited him, outfitted with a small stove, a microwave and a fridge. He grabbed a few things from the stocked shelves and was soon making some cheese toasts and tea. He decided to eat while watching the latest news on TV, and so he grabbed a tray, where he placed his cup of tea and a plate with the toasts, and headed back to the corridor, taking the door in front of him.

This chamber had a pair of average-sized lamps set on tall supports that hung from the walls, and a few more that seemed to have been built into the structure. He sat on his large dark blue couch with the tray on his lap and looked for the remote control, turning on an old-looking TV set.

As he was about to watch the news, the doorbell rang. Quickly putting the tray down on the floor, he bent over and pulled something from under the couch. His right hand was now holding a sheathed sword that almost felt warm to the touch. Without making a sound, he moved to the entrance hall and looked at the surveilance screen. He saw the familiar figure of an old man in even older brown clothes, who was leaning on a staff. His left ankle was wrapped in bandages, and there were a few scars on his wrinkled face. His deep blue eyes were truly tired, but there was something wise and serene about him. His white beard was long and messy, and there was a look of sadness about him.

The young man walked back into the living room, placed the sword back under the couch and went to the kitchen, returning to the door with several average-sized metal boxes that felt warm to the touch. He opened the door with a smile.

“It’s good to see you again, Mr. Kerath. How are you doing?”

“Can’t complain… things are worse by the day, but at least we’re still alive.” the old man repied with a hint of sadness in his voice.

“Why don’t you come in and relax a bit? You look so tired…” the young man said, inviting him with a gesture.

“Oh, you’re too kind, son. I’d love to stay a little longer and chat, but… well, the kids are sick again, and… I don’t think they’re going to make it this time.”

The young man noticed the elder’s tears and lowered his head in sadness.

“Damn this city…” he cursed under his breath.

His face then lit up in a slight smile, something that seemed quite rare.

“But I was expecting this to happen. It was only a matter of time, and I’m glad I was able to prepare these.” he said, suddenly revealing a few cardboard boxes that were lying right next to him.

The old man was surprised, just as he knew he would, and his tears stopped for a moment.

“You went through the trouble of preparing those… I… I don’t know what to say…” he said with tears threatening to fall again.

“I don’t need to tell you to make good use of them…” the young man said, handing him the boxes with a smile. “And if anyone else falls ill or needs some decent food, don’t be shy. I’m here to help. Don’t waste your sewat and blood with those corporate pigs.”

After making sure the old man was able to carry the boxes by himself, he walked out, locked the door and escorted him down the block. The elder then disappeared into one of the countless slums in the area. Satisfied, the young man returned to his fallout shelter, and to his breakfast.

After making sure that the bulky plated door was securely locked, he divided his attention between the cheese toasts and the news. A familiar alley was now being displayed, as a reporter commented off screen.

“The mutilated bodies of Jonathan Karlyle and his younger brother Derek were found this morning in a macabre crime scene. It appears that they were violently slashed with an extremely sharp object.”

The young man chuckled darkly as his dark eyes watched the rest of the news bulletin. As usual, the media and the authorities only cared about the case because the victim happened to be a businessman. Businessman… the very word made him snort. Likely a slave dealer, an organ smuggler, or perhaps a drug dealer. In such a decadent and depraved city, it didn’t matter what kind of person you were. As long as you had heaps of money, you were treated like a god.

As one of the many incompetent and corrupt police sargents appeared on screen giving his usual ‘we’ll catch whoever is behind this’ speeech, he couldn’t help laughing at such foolishness.

“Idiots… You are nothing but worthless pawns…”

That night, as the same predators prowled the streets, there was another stench in the air, added to the rest. The shadow knew it well. It was the stench of fear. The shadow had killed many times before, and it would do it again until either that corrupt society crumbled or the world ended. Silent and unseen, it almost flew between rooftops, suddenly changing its direction and merging with the other shadows all around it. Suddenly, another scream, this time from an apartment building in the so-called middle class area in the second ring of the city.

In theory, middleclassmen lived better off than the slum dwellers, but in reality, they were still slaves. These were the elite, specialized workers that kept the corporations moving forward, but they were nothing more than leashed dogs. The CEOs handpicked them to carry out precison work in their facilities, and then took all the credit for their scientific breakthroughs. Although some middleclassmen were happy that way, some hated the corporations, and were even rumored to be plotting against them. Corporate security forces sometimes carried out random arrests, to remind the middleclassmen that, despite their relative comfort, they were not truly free. Now, the shadow sensed that one of these slaves was at fault, preying on someone weaker, as always.

In a towering apartment complex, somewhere in the middle floors, the shadow heard unmistakable sounds. Breaking furniture, screams, a falling body and vile insults. And then, clear as daybreak, another scene that inspired the shadow’s indignation.

An office worker, still in his tasteless brown corporate uniform, was savagely beating a woman, while a couple of little children watched on, powerless to do anything. There was blood all over the carpets, and the woman seemed to be seriously hurt, but he wouldn’t stop.

“You bitch!” he shouted, knocking a flowerpot down and breaking it to pieces “You do what I say! If I want it, then you shut up and give it to me!”

The children seemed to be only five or six years old, and there wasn’t much they could do. Still, one of them, a girl with reddish hair, green eyes and freckles stepped between him and the woman. The man looked at her and knocked her aside.

“You little brats! Is this how you repay me? I’m the one who puts food on the table!”

He then turned back to the woman, who was almost unconscious, her silk dress torn and stained.

“This is all your fault! You’re turning them against me!” he yelled even louder.

Then, the little boy, who looked a lot like the girl, stepped forward and looked at him in the eye.

“You bastard! You’re not our dad!” he protested, kicking the man.

Just as he was about to strike the boy down, every lamp in the house suddenly exploded with a loud pop. Darkness quickly crept into the room, making the air suddenly feel unbearably dense. And then, an even darker shadow appeared in front of the window, with its glowing dark eyes filled with rage and death. Then, the voice came, chilling and terrifying, like the devil’s own.

“Let’s see how brave you are… when you’re up against someone who can fight back!”

Shadowy claws gripped the man, piercing his chest on several spots. He then seemed to be hurled through the air, right to the edge of the window. Then, the darkness seemed to trace a crescent along his height, and he fell, vertically cut in two. The children were scared and held on to each other, but the shadow threw the bleeding carcass out the window and just looked at them for an instant.

“He will not hurt you again… ever.” the shadow whispered, somehoe a tiny bit less chilling than before.

The woman managed to get back on her feet, and looked at the shadowy form as it moved towards the window.

“Wh… who… are… you…?” she faintly asked.

The shadow turned around and looked straight into her eyes.

“Nobody…” it replied, before vanishing without a trace.

Two loud crashing sounds echoed in the night a split second later. The woman and the children rushed to the window, and saw a grim scene below. One of the severed halves of the man had flattened itself on the sidewalk, while the other had crashed straight on his car, which he had bought by starving her and the children for years. Maybe the shadow had done more than stare at them, but in that moment, despite what they had just witnessed, they felt happy for the first time in years.

During the rest of the night, several other screams were heard, and the shadow answered their call with merciless haste. Two drug dealers, a gangster and some street thugs would trouble the innocent no longer.

The dealers were caught spreading their poison, and the wrath of the blade was upon them as they fired their guns at random. Guns wouldn’t do any good against the shadow. The gangster, as usual, was trying to extort money from a defenseless family, and practically tearing their house down in the process. The neighbours would probably take days to find all of his pieces. The family he had been threatening also received an unexpected treat to help them stay alive.

In the next morning, the stench of blood on the streets was even stronger, and some people in the corporate towers already shivered at the tales of a vengeful shadow that prowled the night.

Oblivious to all that, the same tired old man made his way to the fallout shelter once again, with a smile in his wrinkled lips. For a moment, the weight of the years didn’t seem to matter, and he felta great tranquility for the first time he could remember.

The young man with the dark eyes was waiting for him, with a sleepy look on his face. The elder walked to him and almost cried again.

“They’re all better now!” he said to him with relief “I don’t know where you learned to prepare those things, but you’re a lifesaver! They look better than ever.”

The young man smiled, and suddenly felt a slight weakness in his legs. He leaned against the side of the doorway, trying to keep his eyes open.

“I’m… glad things turned out so well…” he said, suddenly realizing how tired he was “And how’s everything else?”

“The patrols seem to have lost their interest in this area. No doubt, they must be getting afraid of something. Their loss is our gain though. But I heard rumors about a strange creature… nobody knows what it looks like, but it always finds evil… and cuts it down with no mercy.”

“Reminds me of the superheroes from the old comic books.” the young man thought out loud.

The old man just nodded.

“Well, I hope we can count on your visit a bit later. The kids wanted to thank you themselves.”

“I’ll be there, don’t worry.”

As soon as the elder left, the young man went back inside, locked the door and yawned loudly, dragging himself into the living room. He crashed on the chouch and turned the TV on, but as usual, there was nothing decent to see. He couldn’t help laughing as he came across another news bulletin, this time about the man who had been found cut in half. He was happy to know that no one had dared to accuse his wife of the deed, which was obviously above her strength, but soon his thoughts turned elsewhere. The city around him was oppressive, insidious, and sometimes it almost felt like a giant pit of evil that sought to swallow everything around it. In the old days, if people didn’t like living in a particular city, they had the choice of leaving and trying their luck elsewhere. But now, the monstrous megalopolis seemed to stretch on forever, and its outer perimeter was blocked with mile-high walls. Nobody talked about the outside world, except for a few elders who told tales of monstrous creatures, even worse than the ghouls in the slums.

His thoughts then turned to the endless streams of pollution the factories churned out every single day. He wondered what kind of damage such substances had done to the environment, that would have made the previous generations hole themselves up in massive urban complexes like this one.

“If pollution did ruin the outside, why did they choose to keep making the same mistake?” he thought “Greed, of course… I’ll bet they were too attached to their bloodstained money to spend anything with the environment… and the people they exploited.”

His thoughts were cut short, as sleep finally set in. He closed his eyes and dozed off, without even having time to turn the TV off. He had a long and restful slumber, and in the middle of it, a strange dream took form.

He saw himself standing at the edge of a huge cliff, overlooking a burning city below. The tall skyscrapers collapsed loudly, burying their inhabitants under mountains of rubble as the rest of the population fled. But some did not flee. Instead, they took the chance and started looting the abandoned shops and ruined buildings, murdering whoever got in their way, and often getting into skirmishes among themselves.
Then, the flames rose, swallowing the looters, and there was a loud groan that seemed to come from the ground. Without warning, the dead rose from every crack and hole, every cleft and fissure, and after devouring the last of the living, they threw themselves into the flames.

He suddenly woke up, realizing that he’d almost overslept. Feeling refreshed, he jumped to his feet, mentally reviewing the path he needed to take. He wasn’t expecting any trouble along the way, since the people in that area were mostly peaceful and hard-working families, trying to make an honest living despite the hellish conditions. However, those were troubled times, and he reached for the blade under the couch and strapped it to his back. hoping he wouldn’t need it anytime soon. He turned the TV off, tossed the remote on the couch and walked out, locking the heavy door once again.

The outside air was heavy and hot, even though it was the peak of winter. It didn’t make much of a difference, since the constant pollution on a global scale had completely derailed the weather patterns and the climate as a whole. He kept his sight low as he surveyed the surroundings. Makeshift homes of tin, wood and scavenged bricks were all around him, along with tents made of old cloth and covered with plastic sheets. Ragged people were constantly moving up and down the street, while some of them tended to small sections of earth where whithered vegetables managed to survive.

What got to him the most, however, as he strolled down the unpaved street, was the strength he felt behind each pair of tired eyes that met his own. Unlike most areas of the slums, where people often sank into despair and turned on each other, his neighbours somehow managed to keep going, scavenging what they could from ruined buildings, long abandoned by their original inhabitants. The rest, they tried to grow in the few untainted plots of land they could find, occasionally trading on the black market for much-needed medical supplies. A few of them had managed to gather enough money to buy electrical generators, but most of the area was lit by torches and campfires.
Here and there, he noticed a few small groups, sitting at doorsteps, chatting as if they didn’t have a single worry in the world. He couldn’t help smiling a bit, fascinated by their resilience and their will to live.

Some children ran by, chasing what appeared to be a ball made of rags. Then a handful of men walked by, carrying long metal staves and small helmets that looked like reforged pans with wire straps. They were wearing thick foam pads over their ragged clothing, covering their chest area. This was doubtlessly one of the many citizen militias that had formed over the years, ragtag bands that tried their best to protect their fellow man from the ghouls, criminals and crazed corporate mercenaries that tended to storm through other less defended areas. It was widely known that the strongest men and women from the middle class area were often recruited into corporate security forces or became freelance mercenaries. Even though they were despised by the elites, and treated little better than the rest, they blindly obeyed their every command. When one of the corporations wanted to seize a new plot of land to build more towers, they were sent in to drive the inhabitants out by any means necessary. As if that wasn’t enough, some of them ventured into the slums during their free time, hunting the local inhabitants like wild game.

Frowning at the disgusting images that suddenly popped up in his mind, he moved on, mentally wishing that the militias wouldn’t be pushed into a fight. Foam pads and makeshift weapons would do little against full body armors and automatic weapons, and the corporate mercenaries often used even more inhumane devices. He remembered the time one of their squadrons had thrown a corrosive gas bomb into a heavily populated area. People running and screaming as their skin and lungs liquified, the makeshift homes melting away, the cruel laughs of the armored men, hiding behind their numbers and guns.

Despite the troubled times the city was going through, the trip across the cold streets was peaceful and uneventful. A few more people had already heard rumors of the shadowy figure that prowled the night, but most thought they were just drunkards’ tales, and didn’t pay much heed.

The young man soon came across what appeared to be the ruins of an old underground parking lot. Judging from the noise that was coming from the interior, there were probably a handful of families living in the vast tunnels. A few people looked at him and warm greetings followed. Even though his mood was quite somber, to say the least, he couldn’t help but smile. These people couldn’t care less about the machinations of the corporations. All they wanted was to live in peace.

Several hours later, after trying to dismiss his neighbors’ gratitude by belittling his actions, the young man returned to his fortified lair, just as the last traces of sunlight that managed to pierce the black clouds painted the sky red.
There was something in the air which made him feel uneasy. He walked slowly, with a sleepy look on his face, tired from endless days of hard work. He took a deep breath, trying to stay awake, and as he got closer to his home, he could feel the shadows around him. He closed his eyes for a moment and heard thousands of whispers in the background, distant echoes of life throughout the grim city.

“I wonder what future these people will have…” he thought, rubbing his dark eyes as he kept going. Eventually he was home once again, but even as he lay down on his bed, his mind was elsewhere, far away, in distant and dark places. This feeling of expanded consciousness was almost overwhelming, and it often made him feel exhausted. Turning his thoughts to the people who lived in his immediate surroundings, and then to all the slum dwellers, he felt an emptiness on the inside. He felt that perhaps the people needed not hope, but the strength to fight back.

Sleep’s hold finally became too strong, and he fell into a deep slumber.

Meanwhile, somewhere in one of the corporate offices, a group of scientists were meeting with the main executives. Several men in expensive suits, with cruel looks in their eyes were looking at security recordings on a large plasma screen, while the scientists took notes and pointed out some peculiar details. In those recordings, which seemed to be a compilation of several events, they saw the shadows thickening around people with evil intentions, and the slaughter that followed. Corporate security employees, mercenaries, street thugs, rich men who thought they could do whatever they wanted, all of them savagely and mercilessly cut to shreds and torn to pieces in a heartbeat, screaming in terror, or more often, simply frozen in place. And the shadowy form was always too blurred for the observers to make anything out of it. It seemed almost like a supernatural thing.

“Well…” one of the executives said “What do we have here? None of the thugs from the slums would be able to kill so efficiently, and the choice of targets is most peculiar.”

“Indeed sir.” a scientist agreed “We’ve checked law enforcement records, and it looks like all of the victims were felons of some sort. Violent thieves, murderers, and most of all, rapists. All of them killed in a few seconds, always at night.”

Another executive frowned, as he saw footage of four men in expensive suits being cut to shreds in a dark alley.

“Whatever this creature is, it clearly has no respect for our authority. We need to make an example of this one, before the scum from the slums starts getting ideas.”

One of the scientists frowned.

“All the people he killed were a bunch of heartless bastards.” he thought “But it looks like you’re afraid of him. After all, many people in high places go on the same kind of debauchery as the rapists he killed. You’re afraid someone may finally be able to stop you from doing as you please, aren’t you?”

The scientist’s eyes had a malicious glitter, as he imagined the consequences of all this. Meanwhile, as he was lost in his own thoughts, the other scientists started debating their theories on what that creature might be, practically trampling each other with conflicting arguments, until one of the executives got up from his chair.

“Enough! We’re paying you to find solutions, not to go around trying to prove that everyone else is wrong! We want to know who’s out there defying our authority.”

That night, the shadow claimed even more lives. At a feverish pace, it stalked through the dark corners of the city. The first to fall were a pair of hyped teenagers who had tied up an unconscious girl and dragged her out of the nightclub they were in. Just as they prepared to have their filthy way with her, the shadow rose from the depths, with nothing but death in its eyes.

This was becoming a grim routine of sorts, the shadow thought as it sprung into action. Its mere appearance had already stunned the bastards, and now it would take care of the rest. An inhuman fury burned in its depths, and it struck without mercy. Two sets of claws darted from it and seized their necks in a steel crushing grip. As their necks crackled, the shadow felt a grim thrill, delighted in making sure that the world would be rid of those two. Terrified as they were, they never stood a chance. The shadow’s death filled eyes watched their agony, and then it tightened its grip even more, snapping their necks. Finally, the shadow tossed them to a corner of the alley, as if simply disposing of trash bags. It then turned to the unconscious girl, and its black blade cut the ropes in a split second, which was also the time the shadow took to disappear. The girl was found hours later by the city’s incompetent security force, which was too busy acting as lackeys of the CEOs to think about harassing her.

However, this was merely one of the shadow’s many appearances on that night. In another section of the city, street thugs were robbing a small grocery store. A group of people from the neighborhood were already getting out of their homes, armed with pipes, boards and whatever else they could find. They knew better than to expect any help from the so-called authorities.

Unfortunately for the ragtag defenders, the thugs were armed with a few handguns, and the skirmish didn’t go too well. Two men were shot dead on the spot, and the others scattered, taking cover under piles of debris and broken concrete slabs that littered the area. The thugs decided to save their bullets, and instead of continuing the firefight, they kept going towards the store, knocking the makeshift wooden building’s door down. The owner, a tired-looking old man whose clothes and face looked only a little less miserable than those of his neighbours, was quickly roughed up and thrown into the broom closet. The thugs then started ransacking the place, looking for any valuables they could find. Suddenly, a chilling breeze went through the shabby boards that made up the walls, and the thugs hesitated for a second. A shadow appeared at the door, and its mere presence snuffed out the candles on the battered wooden counter that were shedding a tiny bit of light on the place. Everything went dark, and the thugs, startled, pulled the old man out of the closet and their leader pointed a gun at his head.

“Who’s there?” he shouted “Don’t try anything stupid, or we’ll wax this geezer!”

A chilling and somber voice echoed in reply.

“I was hoping you’d say that…”

The old man’s eyes widened, as he saw a dark form moving in the shadows at inhuman speed. In a split second, dark claws burst from its hands, slashing at the thugs with deadly accuracy. Their leader was the first to fall. First, the shadow chopped his arm off, followed by his legs and neck. Then the others dropped like flies, gutted, stabbed and mauled.

Hearing the thugs’ horrible screams, the defenders rushed into the store, where they beheld a truly macabre scene. Their lifeless bodies were unrecognizable, scattered and cut to pieces, lying in pools of blood. The shopkeeper was on the ground, with his eyes wide open, unable to get up from the shock.

“Holy crap!” one of them said, looking at the mess.

“Do you think it was that shadow again?” another asked, having heard tales of the strange creature.

The shadow was already on the other side of the city, looking into a child’s bedroom in a tall building. It had been planning to stalk around and look for more prey, but the sobs had caught its ear. Now, it was hesitant to move on.

“Kids will be the death of me…” it thought, phasing through the window. He hesitantly looked around and moved closer.

“What’s the matter, little one?” it asked in a slightly less terrifying tone than he was used to.

Startled, the girl looked up and stopped crying for a moment.

“My parents…” she whimpered “I hate them!”

The shadow noticed that her body was covered with bruises and burn marks. In a split second, the death glare returned, and the being walked towards the door.

“Stay here, little one. I’ll take care of them.” it growled, opening the door.

The shadow came across a small corridor, and then a living room. The girl’s parents, who seemed to be more of the mindless middle class scum that worshipped the corporations while treating their own children like animals, appeared to be drinking.

“I swear, that girl is a useless piece of crap!” the mother spat in an acid tone. The excessive makeup and obviously fake hair color made her look grotesque.

“You got that right!” the father replied, showing the manners of a pig despite the suit he was wearing. “If it wasn’t for her, we could afford a bigger house and more booze!”

Those words made the shadow snarl like a wild beast. Charging into the room, it blasted the door to pieces, and in a split second it was savagely beating the couple.

“YOU… FILHTY… BASTARDS!” it roared at them as it punched their faces over and over again “YOU… MAKE… ME… SICK!”

The couple screamed and squirmed, but the shadow’s rage only grew.

Leaving the girl’s unworthy parents in a pool of their own blood, mangled and broken, the shadow returned to her room.

“Your parents have been punished. This is no place for you.”

Both the shadow and the girl vanished in a surge of blackness. She felt as if being taken through the air of that dark night, but she wasn’t scared at all. She suddenly found herself in front of a large house, surrounded by a tall and sturdy metal fence. An elderly man, who looked like a monk, came out and greeted her with a smile. He looked tired, with plenty of wrinkles on his forehead, and only a few gray strands of hair left. He was wearing modest brown robes, spotlessly clean. His blue eyes had a friendly glitter, and he looked quite pleased to have company.

“Hello, little one” he said.

“Where am I?” the girl asked.

“This is a special place… When parents are mean to their children and don’t deserve them, the shadow punishes them and brings the children here. Come in, come in. I’m sure you’re going to enjoy meeting your new family. We’ll help you forget all the nasty things they did to you.”

The shadow watched from above as the girl calmly followed the old man inside.

“Good old Jean…” it thought “I may be good at killing, but family life just isn’t for me.”

After a few more fights, mostly against street thugs, the shadow felt dawn approaching, and vanished into the air. In the morning, the newspapers were filled with tales of its deeds, along with macabre pictures of its victims. It was a double victory in some ways, since these killings might scare the remaining criminals into leaving innocents alone.

At high noon, back in the old fallout shelter, the same tired dark eyes opened slowly. The dark-haired young man was feeling quite relaxed, and in a few minutes he was eating a light meal and watching the latest news. As reports of yet another nocturnal slaughter filled the screen of his TV, he unsheathed his black bladed sword and took a good look at it. The hilt was silvery, shaped like a dragon’s head, and the blade came out of its open mouth, steady, straight, and incredibly sharp. He smiled as he noticed that the sword still looked brand new, even though it had been in his possession for his entire life. He closed his eyes, looking into the past, and seemed as if about to doze off. However, he stumbled across the wrong memories… He remembered screams, gunshots, the hissing of gas coming out of cannisters… and then, an explosion, and everything went silent. He quickly opened his eyes, twitching slightly, and directed his attention to the TV once again.

“Not this again…” he cursed under his breath “Not now…”

The next few hours were uneventful, but the young man was pale and felt quite nervous as he chased those thoughts off his mind. He ended up falling asleep out of sheer boredom, as the news networks went on about the mysterious killings for the thousandth time in a row. He suddenly found himself far away, in a place unfamiliar to him. It was dark, and the air was damp and cold. He couldn’t see much, but he had the feeling he was in a large cave, deep underground. He kept going, clenching his sword, and his steps echoed with an eerie sound. After a while, he saw a dim light ahead, and came across an ample chamber. A strange figure was in its center, bound by massive chains. It was wearing a spike covered armor with cloven gauntlets, both black as the night, covered with dark silvery metal plates in some places. The plates were covered in strange runes, throbbing with power, but the creature was unable to break free from the massive-looking chains that were wrapping its arms, legs and neck. Then the young man noticed that the creature had a pair of large wings, with creepy black feathers. They looked mistreated and sore, but the being didn’t show any sign of suffering. Instead, he could tell it was filled with rage. A massive sword was lying on the floor just a few steps ahead of it, as if taunting it in its impotence.

“Who are you?” he asked the winged being.

The creature looked straight into his eyes in a feral glare. Its voice shook the ground and the air all around it.


Another voice echoed in the chamber, thunderous and yet serene.
“It is not yet time for you to rise… Keep striking fear into their filthy hearts, and when the time is right, you will know.”

His surroundings suddenly warped and bent, and he found himself back to reality. He nervously looked around, and suddenly he heard the unmistakable sounds of gunfire coming from outside. He reached for his blade and dashed out, just as a group of terrified people ran screaming past his door. Many of the makeshift homes were on fire, and the street was filled with charred corpses. A squadron of corporate mercenaries was heading towards the people, armed with flamethrowers and machine guns, and wearing military-grade armors, ornamented with an italic red 7 and a star.

“So they’re back to their old dirty tricks, eh?” he thought “Very well then… A workout wouldn’t hurt.”

Melding with the shadows, he scanned the squadron with his piercing gaze. Then, as they moved closer, his entire body was covered in blackness, and he lunged forward, slashing at them with unspeakable fury.

The mercenaries stopped dead on their tracks, and many of them were instantly sliced to bits with inhuman accuracy and precision. The ones that were scattered and witnessed the scene dropped their weapons and ran away screaming. Discarding his still bleeding victims, the shadow gave chase, vanishing and reappearing at a startling rate. It suddenly materialized in front of another group, and with a swing of its blade, it traced a black crescent-shaped form that darted through the air, slicing through flesh, metal and bone. Before they even hit the ground, the shadow made a tremendous leap and darted towards yet another squadron. Sticking its claws out, it aimed another attack, jamming them in the eye sockets of two mercenaries and running them through their skulls with ease. As their brains spilled all over the ground, the shadow’s claws receeded, and drawing its blade once again, it unleashed a furious spin attack that blurred everything around it and tore through its remaining enemies.

As death moved among them, dancing in the shadows, the local inhabitants just watched on, paralyzed. The destruction that was being brought upon those who sought to murder them was comforting in a dark and twisted way, and they found themselves admiring the shadow and its power. The last mercenaries fell to the ground with sickening sounds, and the ragged locals noticed a gruesome display of blood and entrails all across the blackened earth. The shadow stood still, surprised at their reaction, and its eyes widened as it saw what they did next. Those hopeless wretches, who only a few moments ago seemed doomed against the might of the mercenary squadrons, were flooded with a strange sensation. Those men, women and children, once desperate and exausthed, now started bowing before the shadow as if it was a being from above. Laying their weapons down before it, they lowered their heads as if their eyes had been seared by the sun, and some of them were soon chanting eerily.

“Death, death, death!” their voices hummed “Death’s shadow walks among us!”

The shadow suddenly realized what its outburst had done. It could feel the rage and bloodlust of the people, flaring so intensely it was almost painful to its senses. It had fed them the blood of their oppressors, and now that they had tasted it, they found themselves wanting more. Their hate almost matched the shadow’s own, and as it understood what it had done to them, it simply stood there, watching in mute surprise.

Chapter 2: Blackfeather, Rebel Wind of Hate

For the first time in ages, the shadow was caught by surprise. It had never seen such bloodlust in the people it had saved in its path of destruction, and it didn’t know how to react to this situation.

“What are you doing?” it hesitantly asked “Aren’t you… afraid of me?”

A young man with dirty and unruly brown hair stepped forward, and the shadow noticed the many scars upon his body, along with a missing eye. The one he had left had an odd glitter, and a tear ran down his bloodstained cheek.

“Why would we fear you?” he replied “You’re probably the only one who gives a damn about us all…”

The shadow clearly blinked, and the death that had flared in his eyes just a few moments before was replaced by a confused expression. So far, it had acted on instinct, hunting down those who threatened innocents, and never expecting any recognition. That was the dark being’s quest, and it had never given much thought to how its actions were perceived.

The shadow then recognized a tired old man in the middle of the crowd. The man returned its gaze and stepped forward.

“Thank you…” the old man said, hesitant at first, but with growing confidence “I don’t know exactly what you are, but… I know what you’ve been doing out there, punishing the bastards who make everyone miserable. And I thought superheroes were a thing from old comics…”

“You are… mistaken.” the shadow replied “I am no hero.”

“The people you have saved would say otherwise. I don’t know where you came from, or what you’re planning to do, but… you’re probably the only hope for people like us.”

The shadow blinked at the remark, stunned by its intensity and surprised by the fire in the old man’s eyes.

“The people will want to call you something…” the old man continued “They’ll want to know the name behind all this, who to thank to…”

“My name was taken from me long ago, old man.” the shadow replied bitterly as it placed its obscured hand on its chest “You have a shadow before you, with a heart filled with hate and vengeance.”

“Shadow… heart.” the old man muttered

“Lord Shadowheart!” the crowd roared.

Suddenly, the shadow felt something at the edge of its perception. It immediately knew what was happening, and the shadows around it gathered and flared, temporarily blinding the people. When the shadows subsided, the being was gone. The people weren’t surprised, and the old man looked at the sky and smiled for the first time in ages.

“Go ahead… make them all pay. Now we have something to look forward to.”

This call would almost have been a welcome distraction, since it provided an excuse to end the puzzling situation, but on the other side of the city, another innocent was suffering, and the shadow was already enraged once again. In a dark room, possibly a basement, a little girl was tied to a bed, her dress torn in several places. A couple of men were standing by the sides, whipping her and getting their filthy hands all over her as she cried in pain and terror. Suddenly, they were nailed to the walls by shadowy claws, and then their bodies were cut open in several places, their bowels almost leaking out as their blood sprayed all over the place. Now it was their turn to suffer, and the shadow was so blinded by rage, it took this execution to new heights of grim creativity. As they bled helplessly, it slashed at their limbs with vicious fury, but precisely enough not to hit any vital spots. Then, as they screamed their throats out, it plunged its claws into their bellies, tearing at their organs. Another set of claws emerged from the surrounding shadows and ripped their genitals off. Then, slowing down a little to make them scream and suffer as much as possible, it grabbed their intestines, twisted them and started pulling them out. At thtis point, their screams became inhuman as they realized what was going to happen next. The shadow wrapped their intestines around their necks, tying them in knots and tightening them until they couldn’t breathe. Then, just to be sure, it tightened them even more as they struggled and gasped.
As they choked to death, the shadow procceeded to beat them viciously, crushing every bone in their bodies while still making sure they’d stay alive to endure all the pain. Finally, it turned its back on them as they agonized, untied the girl and took her away, delivering her at the shelter where it had placed other mistreated children. The same man was there and took her in, and as the shadow darted away, it heard the man comforting the still terrified girl.

“And you wonder why I chose you to look after these kids…” the shadow thought.

A little less feverish intensity, a little less brutality. Now, it’s an assault upon the senses, which blots out any kind of loftier sympathy readers might feel.

Well well, a review at last. I’ll keep your opinion in mind. I admit I’ve been exaggerating a bit, but that’s what happens when I pour my anger into this stuff. ^^;; In a way, Shadowheart deals with rapists and thugs in his own personal way, drowing their evil in his own darkness. Without wanting to spoil what’s coming next, all I can say is that he’s in for a few surprises.

I admit I’ve been exaggerating a bit, but that’s what happens when I pour my anger into this stuff. ^^;; In a way, Shadowheart deals with rapists and thugs in his own personal way, drowing their evil in his own darkness.
I’m sympathetic to what you’re going for–the hero, darkened by events and circumstances beyond his control, who still perseveres in opposing the source of such ills. In truth, I like the more melancholy and thoughtful segments. I recommend softening your narration a bit. It’s not necessary for every event to be an intense encounter, for this merely callouses a reader’s sensibility. Also, the story is very focused. Some focus is desirable, but it’s best to balance focus with realism. That is, keep in mind that life doesn’t occur as one existentially critical event after another. Put the protagonist in some more ordinary situations, and imagine how he would react. A mark of talented author is the ability to make normal events as enjoyable to read about as exciting ones.

With this last act of vengeance, the shadow vanished once again into the night, knowing that the terror inspired by its actions would make others think twice before repeating the acts it had punished. Dawn came slowly, and didn’t bring much light, but the raven-haired warrior had other things on his mind as he awakened in his fallout shelter. His sleep had been reasonably peaceful, but he was still tired as he rose from his bed and made a simple light breakfast. His face looked pale, and the skin around his eyes was darkened, but he was already used to that. However, his thoughts were restless. For the first time in a long while, he didn’t feel the usual grim satisfaction as he watched the latest news about the mangled corpses the incompetent authorities had managed to find. His mind was focused on something else. He couldn’t stop thinking about the way he had felt as his neighbours beheld the carnage on the streets and flocked to him. He knew their faces, and despite his bitterness and rage, he was taken aback by the way his anger and bloodlust seemed to have intoxicated them.

“Damn…” he thought as he checked his black blade “Those thugs, corporate pigs and corrupted cops threaten them more than anyone, but they’re good people…”

It was true that he had little more than hate in his heart, and that all he cared about was returning all the pain that was inflicted upon innocents day after day, but it still pained him to see the way things were going. They were good people, and he felt that if they started heading down his path, they would lose themselves. With a sigh, he sheathed the sword, turned the TV off and returned to his room. Turning to one of the bookcases, which was filled with various books, he glanced at them with a sad look on his face. They ranged from comics to bulky tomes that seemed to have been printed centuries before his time. Some of the comics featured an angry-looking man on the cover, with a black shirt ornamented with a skull. Others had a strange figure, covered from head to toe in a strange suit and wearing a red cape. Several chains were wrapped around its arms and legs, their ends attached to spiked weights, and it was wearing cloven gauntlets. These comics filled a whole shelf by themselves, and in the one below were several more, featuring a man in a dark outfit that resembled a bat. The other shelves contained books with sinister-sounding titles, such as Crime and Punishment, Days of Wrath, Death Walks Among You and a few others. There were also plenty of martial arts and military strategy books, and a couple about the nearly extinct art of swordsmithing.
Slowly, as if afraid of what he was looking for, he opened a concealed drawer on the base of the bookcase. From within he took two bulky tomes, one that looked somewhat old, and had parts of its cover burnt, and another that looked almost new. He carried them both to the nearby desk and opened them slowly.
The new tome appeared to be a scrapbook, filled with newspaper clippings from articles about the shadowy creature’s grim deeds, the failed investigations by the incompetent authorities, and detailed accounts of the state the corpses of its victims had been found. After looking at a few pages, he closed it with a look of disdain upon his face, and turned his attention to the other book.
The old tome was a photo album, which seemed to hold pieces of family history ranging a couple of centuries. It seemed to have been pulled out from a fire, but the pictures were miraculously intact. Skipping most of the pages, he looked for something near the last few of them. He eventually found an all too familiar image. Before him was a picture of a young happy-looking couple, standing in front of a beautiful white villa, surrounded by a garden. They were wearing simple day-to-day clothes and holding a small child in their arms. The man had short black hair, a neatly trimmed and almost imperceptible beard, and eyes of an odd variety of blue. He was wearing glasses with a simple gray metal frame that stood in contrast with the white shirt and blue pants. The woman had green eyes and amber-colored hair, and a few freckles around her nose. She was wearing a short-sleeved red shirt and pants of the same color. The whole scene was peaceful, and by looking at the picture, he almost felt as if he was there.
Then, suddenly, he arched forward, clenching his chest in pain. As he removed the top of his black undersuit, his thin chest was exposed, revealing the average-looking muscles that anyone would expect. However, there was a large dark scar on his chest, right over his heart, that looked almost as if something had been torn out from there.

The young man writhed in pain, accidentally knocking the books off the table. Stumbling backwards, he felt his hate burning on the inside, eating at him, twisting him even more. Then, in his mind, he heard a voice like his own, but cruel, furious, spiteful.

“What the hell are you doing still there?!” the voice shouted at him “Those bastards out there aren’t going to stop just because you’ve killed some of them! Get out there and finish the job! Kill them all! Kill them all! Spill their blood and entrails, slice them to bits, snap their worthless necks! Drown this world in blood!”

Hit by a sudden chill, he collapsed, his limbs twitching as he struggled to stay conscious. He could feel there was something wrong with him, but there was nothing he could do. The seizures intensified, and soon he was trashing about, nearly knocking some of the furniture down. Then, all of a sudden, an eerie, dark wraith-like shriek echoed from within, his voice completely altered. Fangs grew out of his mouth, then he felt his muscles hardening, and he soon found himself with a menacing set of claws. Confused, he tried to control his movement, but this time, he realized he could not. The dark power within his heart, fueled by his hate, rage and pain, was going out of control. Without knowing what he was doing, he ran towards the shelter’s door, opened it violently, and simply started running aimlessly as his body randomly transformed.

His neighbours, his few friends, were still outside, celebrating the unexpected victory, and they all looked at him in shock, as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Now, they knew his secret, the reason why he kept to himself and usually spent most of the day in his home. Their jaws dropped in awe, but they too felt that something was wrong. A small crowd gathered and tried to keep up with him. Some kept trying to get his attention, asking him if he was all right, but he simply couldn’t hear them. Eventually, he started going too fast for them to follow, leaving the slum areas and dashing into one of the buffer zones that esparated them from the middle-class sector of the city. A few guards at the checkpoint raised their weapons at such a bizarre sight, but, before even he realized what he was doing, some of the dark energy gathered in his hands, and he found himself hurling it at them. To his surprise, both of the guards were struck by it and their bodies exploded, spraying blood and guts all over the ground. But he was already far away, moving so fast he was beginning to rip chunks of asphalt off the ground in his wake.

His powers were still out of control, manifesting themselves in strange new ways. Something strange seemed to be growing on his back, but he wasn’t sure what it was. At the same time, the dark energy started engulfing him, surrounding him and stirring like a black flame. His senses were even more heightened than he was used to. He could hear the heartbeats of every living creature in the city, feel the stench of their flesh, and sometimes, he could have sworn he had brushed the thoughts of a few. Then, he felt a familiar sensation. Leaping into the air instead of melding into the shadows as was his habit, he landed in yet another dark alley.

“Some things never change…” he managed to think amidst the chaos that had gripped his mind “What’s it going to be this time, rapists or thugs?”

Instead of the usual scenes, however, he saw something that surprised him. Three thugs lay dead in the alley, their corpses slashed and mangled, almost as if they had fallen by his hand. However, there was something different. They had been pinned down to the walls by a series of odd blades, and they had deep vertical cuts that went from their necks all the way down to the bloody stumps where his genitals must have been. Pulling one of the blades out, he examined it incredulously.

“A kunai…”

He then heard screaming coming from nearby. Dashing through other back alleys, he saw another peculiar scene. A dying man was lying against a pile of trash bags, with his body severed from the waist down. There was a large cut in his belly, and his intestines were spread across the floor. His eyes had been gouged, his tongue cut, and the word RAPIST had been carved on his chest.

“What’s this…? Could someone be copying my methods? But… why?”

His thoughts were interrupted by a whooshing sound, as something darted out of the shadows, heading towards him. Finally getting a grip on the dark energy, he completely shrouded himself with shadows, and the projectile went harmlessly through him, hitting the wall behind. He quickly looked at what had been thrown at him, and realized it was a kunai, just like the ones he had found on the corpses. Quickly turning around, he lunged at the spot it had been thrown from, his claws ready for anything. In a split second, he hit his targed, and foud himself pinning someone against a wall. However, he was surprised yet again. Before him was a figure in a black ninja-like outfit, completely covered except for the eyes. Its build was a bit lighter than his, and he felt something odd about it. Then, he stared into those eyes, and found two blue orbs, icy, menacing, with a glare almost as murderous as his own. He was taken aback, as if there was something familiar about those eyes, and strangely enough, the figure had the same reaction. Hesitantly, he unmasked the figure, revealing a face that he instantly recognized.

“YOU?!” he asked, incredulously.

The figure before him was a young woman, with long black hair that had remained hidden from his sight until he removed the mask. Her face had an expression of surprise, and her eyes were quite different from what he had seen last time. He remembered one of the countless alleys where he had appeared like a vengeful ghost, and the face of a terrified girl as her assailants were about to force themselves upon her. He remembered her shock as he’d slaughtered them, and the way she had fainted at his sight. However, her eyes were different from last time. There was something dark and cold about them, an icy glare that was only surpassed by the surprise at her current situation.

“You…” he said, unsure of what to do.

Then, surprisingly enough, the girl smiled at him. It was an eerie, somber smile, almost like a savage grin.

“I was hoping to see you again” she said “I knew it was a matter of time.”

His eyes widened as he heard those words.

“You mean you’re not going to pass out on me again?” he said raising an eyebrow “And why would you want to find me, of all people?”

Then he saw something else in her eyes, something that greatly disturbed him. The same death glare that had terrorized his enemies countless times, the same darkness and murderous intent.

“Why, to thank you, of course!” she replied in a dark tone.


By that time, he had already relaxed his grip, but the whole situation was completely unexpected to him. Most of the people he’d helped were terrified at his sight, and some had even run away as if they’d seen the devil himself. But instead, the girl seemed to be delighted to see him. Memories of the bloodlust he had seen on the slum dwellers after the battle against the mercenaries quickly came back to his mind.

“Yes…” the girl finally continued “I wanted to thank you for showing me how the world really is, how the people are. I had been living a sheltered life, like a fool, being fed all sorts of lies about this putrid society. By my appearance back then, you could tell I was one of the so-called middle class kids. Oh, how I loathe that term now. They are nothing but slaves, obsessed with money and getting the upper class’s attention and favor. They’re pathetic slaves indeed.”

“I… That’s exactly what I think. They’d even sell their own mothers if that would make them more popular with those pigs in high places.”

“You don’t know half of it. Do you know what my parents did when they found out I was the one those bastards had tried to rape?”

“They cowered in fear?” he asked with contempt.

“Worse. They were terrified of being blamed for those deaths by the pigs’ family. They were afraid to have a corporate death squad kicking down their door. So they tried to GIVE me to them as a slave, just to save their worthless hides! Cowards! What kind of parent would do that?!”

He simply nodded, knowing how cowardly the middle-class people could be when it came to upsetting someone from the corporations.

“And what happened then?” he asked “Since you’re here, standing in front of me, dressed like a ninja, and pretty much killing thugs, I’d say something happened along the way.”

“Oh yes, it did indeed.” she replied bitterly “I killed them. I slit their worthless necks even as they tried to beat me up to make me accept the fate they wanted to impose on me. I took a knife and… I made them pay!”

His eyes widened again. The girl seemed to be a match for him in terms of murderous intent. Still, he was a bit shocked. She was slightly younger than him, and hadn’t seen half of the horrors he had witnessed, but he could tell her heart had been darkened by the way she had been treated.

“Unbelivable… Well, I should have seen it coming. I’ve seen parents beating up their little kids, or starving them just so they could save enough to buy fancy cars and clothes for themselves… but this takes the cake.”

“Yes… This experience certainly made me question everything I believed about this society. All that propaganda really gets to you, but the truth sweeps it all aside. I know my parents are quite dead, but I’ll never forgive them for what they tried to do. As for the pigs who trapped me and so many others in a lie while they treat everyone like toys… I want their heads!”

As she said that, she stepped forward, getting uncomfortably close to him.

“And… how do you plan to do that?” he asked “The way you killed those guys over there… did my darkness pass on to you or something?”

“If it did, I guess I have even more reasons to thank you.” she replied with a savage grin “Now, my eyes are open. But I don’t know if I can do the things you do. I’ve always been agile, so I thought about putting it to good use. After getting rid of those degenerate pricks some would call parents, I managed to get a small home in the mercenary district. I’ve been honing my skills day and night so I can become stronger… and now that you’re here… maybe I can ask you for a little favor.”

“And what would that be?” he asked, wondering what was going to happen next.

“I don’t know what happened on that night, but ever since you killed those bastards in front of me… I’ve felt… different. Stronger, tougher, and quite merciless. I’ve already taken down a few of those scumbags that prowl this area, and I feel it’s so easy to kill… easier than I’ve ever imagined.”

“So what do you want from me? You seem to be adapting quite well to the darkness.”

“That’s just it… I’m not.” she replied “I have my agility, and all the hate inside has made me considerably stronger, but… I can’t meld with the shadows like you do. I can’t grow claws to tear through those bastards, or disappear the way you do.”

He stared at her for a moment, and then laughed darkly. He slowly stepped forward and extended the shadow claws once again.

“Do you think I want anyone else to be like me?” he asked in an inhuman tone, sounding like a demon “Do you have any idea of how I came to be? Do you presume to understand what drives me, what makes me what I am? Foolish child! The darkness in me would make any mythology sound like a kid’s tale.”

His eyes were empty once again, glaring death and destruction. His rage became something palpable, expanding around him and chilling the air. She was scared once again, and shivering, she doubted her course of action for the first time.

“Why do you think I fight and kill?” he growled.

“Because you hate the scum of the earth?” she hesitantly replied.

“Hate isn’t enough to describe it, girl. I want them all dead. All of them! I want to drown the living trash in its own blood, make its puppeteers pay for every drop of blood they’ve shed, every dream and life they’ve destroyed! This is my ultimate goal, and nothing else matters. Would you really have the strength to follow such a path? The willpower to control darkness instead of becoming its pawn? The eagerness to turn rage into power, power into vengeance?”

The girl didn’t know what to say for a few moments, but then she managed to cast aside the terror his presence inspired, and looked straight into his eyes.

“You you hate the living trash, as you call it, then why do you bother saving their victims? Why not just let them die or put them out of their misery yourself?” she asked defiantly.

He raised a finger, as if about to reply, but then he realized he was the one who didn’t know what to say this time around.

“What’s the matter?” she asked sarcastically “Did the evil shadow run out of witty catchphrases?”

“Grrrr! Don’t be silly, girl. I have no reason to harm those who have done nothing wrong. I may be evil and twisted, and enjoy the rush as the bastards see their death coming in the blink of an eye, but why would I sink to their level by harming innocents?”

“If you can go on such a frenzy and still remain in control, then why couldn’t I?”

“That’s not the only thing. Why would I waste my time training you? First of all, some things can’t be taught, and secondly, why would I want to haul you around? I work alone.”

“Fine!” she said, exasperated “I will kill them all, with our without your help. Or do you think you’re the only one with that kind of hate welling up inside? Even if I can’t use my darkness like you do, that doesn’t mean I’m useless. Their blood is mine!”

He noticed the bloodlust in her gaze returning and growing to new levels, surprised and curious. He had never seen anyone else so full of hate, and for a moment, he felt quite uncomfortable.

“I have better things to do.” he finally said “Do whatever you want, but don’t get in my way.”

Without another word, he vanished into the shadows, leaving the girl standing there, still clutching her deadly feathers of black steel.

“Wierd girl” he thought as he made his way to a familiar place “The last thing I need now is groupies. Still, I’m surprised someone so frail actually had the guts to take on those piles of festering excrement.”

Then, he emerged at his destination. He was standing right in front of the building where he had left the mistreated girl whose parents he had adequately punished.

He took a long look at the building, feasting his tired eyes on the odd architecture. This was one of the last remaining churches in the city, a relic from old times, back before the people had surrendered their lives and their very souls to the selfish, ravenous urge of material greed, forsaking all ethics and morality in order to gather as much money and power as possible. A few years before his birth, the corporations had begun expanding uncontrolably, cutting themselves off from the legal system through bribery, deceit and threats. Eventually, they had become powerful and wealthy enough to build their own cities, where only their elite was allowed to enter. While the CEOs and stockholders had prospered, millions of workers had suffered under a ruthless exploitation regime. Around that time, they had already begun recruiting slave labor in undeveloped countries and setting up colossal factories in places where human rights were not enforced. After that, everything had gone downhill. The corporations had eventually bought their way into public administration and purchased entire cities from the governments. By that time, there were already several thousand companies operating throughout the world. Eventually, they had started squabbling over territory, resources and laborers, and things had escalated into a bloody conflict. When the dust finally settled, most of the corporations had been gobbled up by a more reduced number of powerful groups, forming the first megacorps.

This old building, this so-called church, was one of the last remaining testemonies of an age long past. Its simple, pristine white marble structure was elegant in its modesty, with several small windows placed in strategic locations to allow as much sunlight in as possible. A massive oak door, engraved with delicate figures, kept the horrors of the world away from this little sanctuary. In recent years, a tall fence had been raised, with barbed wire all over its structure. It was a necessary sacrifice in his opinion, since the thugs that now prowled the streets had no regard for religion. To them, nothing was sacred, and everything was just another source of profit or entertainment.

The dark being looked at the majestic golden cross on top of the roof, shining defiantly despite the grim darkness of the sky. He could also see an old belltower, long silent and covered with vines. The cross itself stirred old memories inside him, but he roughly pushed them aside as he stepped forward and knocked on the door.

A few moments later, the same elderly gentleman opened it. This time around, he was wearing a full set of black clothes with a white collar. His hair seemed to be a bit longer, covering the whole top of his head, and he also had a short white beard. At the sight of the creature, he smiled, welcoming him in with open arms.

“Welcome!” he said, gently pulling him in by his shoulder “I was wondering when you would visit us again.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t come in earlier, Jean. A few… unexpected events took place.”

The interior of the building was comfortable and well furnished, despite the troubled times. Several large benches were neatly arranged throughout the main hall, facing an old wooden podium where a large brown tome was resting. The priest led him to another room, past a small white marble altar, and opened another door, revealing a modest cabinet with a desk and a few chairs. The place was full of stuffed bookshelves, and there were many tomes lying around, scattered in many piles wherever there was room. Whatever space still remained in the walls was covered with pictures, some of them quite old, but others so clean and shiny they had to be brand new. Pushing a few tomes aside, the priest sat behind the desk, and the dark being took a seat in front of him.

“No matter how many times I come here, I still can’t seem to get used to the irony of it all.” the young man said, as the blackness that covered his body gave way to his true appearance “I believe your predecessors would have called me a demon.”

“It is of no consequence, my friend” the priest replied “You do a lot more for the people of this world than any preacher. The children are particularly fond of you.”

The young man raised an eyebrow at the remark.

“The children? If anything, I would have expected them to do whatever they could to forget me. The mere sight of me has driven many people mad.”

“Only those who had reasons to fear you. As for the incidents that delayed you, I would imagine they were related to that battle in the slums.”

“Yes… those damn corporate mercenaries never learn. The more I kill, the more show up. I’m still trying to figure out if they’re stupid or plain suicidal. I would never allow them to get their hands on that land.”

The priest smiled again, noticing a hint of genuine concern amidst the hate and anger in the young man’s voice. Jean Chevalier was the only remaining member of a once bustling religious community that had existed in the city for several years, and he had seen many things. Some of them had made him question his own faith, and driven him to sadness and despair. However, the appearance of the dark avenger that was now before him had changed things a lot. Before he had emerged, the corporations seemed invincible, and free to do as they pleased. Now, however, the people felt there was someone standing in the way. Jean had initially been intrigued by the dark being, wondering what his arrival would portend. Shadowheart’s violent actions had a clear pattern to them, and the priest had decided to investigate them. Having eventually run into the dark avenger in a stormy night, the two had felt a strange resonance. Over the next couple of months, they had become friends, sharing stories and thoughts. Jean Chevalier was one of the few people Shadowheart felt he could actually call a friend, despite the fervent admiration he had gained in the hearts of the oppressed population.

Shadowheart frowned and made a sad and bitter expression.

“Don’t waste your kind words on me, Jean Chevalier. I know who and what I am, and there’s no place for me in front of your so-called god. I do all this out of hate and desire for vengeance, and there’s no turning back from the darkness. Still, I will gladly face hell, if it means that no one will have to go through what I’ve endured.”

Jean looked at him without averting his gaze a single time. He could feel the pain behind such words, and had the feeling that the young man was just barely holding up together. He noticed as his expression changed in a split second, before reverting back to the bitter visage he usually wore.

“If god won’t accept you” he replied “Then at least you’ll be able to take the fight all the way to hell, my friend. And thousands of years from now, when all this is more than forgotten, the very angels will still be ashamed, for while they sit up there in their arrogance, you’re the only one who’s doing any good down here.”

This reply made the young man blink and stare at him in surprise. In his eyes, the people who still clinged to the old religions would probably be real fanatics about it. Then again, Jean was different from everyone else, just like him.

“Surprised?” the priest asked.

“I don’t know how priests were back in the day, but I don’t think any of them would say those things. They’d probably try to run a stake through my heart or drown me in that so-called holy water as soon as they saw me.”

“Well, child… all the horrible things that have happened over the last decades have made me question my faith several times. I still believe that there are good people out there, but… the powers from above seem to have abandoned us. I still adhere to the old principles, but I think it’s up to people like you to change things… If only I was a bit younger…”

“My powers don’t go that far…” Shadowheart replied. “But you could probably use another lifetime much better than me.”

Jean smiled at the remark and grabbed a small book that was lying on the desk.

“You almost sound like you seek your own destruction. Maybe it’s time I reminded you of the other side of things, the one you insist on ignoring.” the priest said, getting up. He walked through the door, and Shadowheart followed him, intrigued. Jean led him to an ample inner garden, filled with trees and various plants, many of which were covered with flowers. The sounds of children could be heard, as a bunch of them ran past them, laughing and playing happily. A timid light was shining upon the place, making it seem unreal, like another relic of the past.

“Children” he called “come here. We have a guest.”

Suddenly, many children of various ages came running from behind the plants and the various corners of the garden. They were all wearing plain clothes that appeared to be very well preserved, despite a few signs of use. They just stood there, looking at the two, and whispering among themselves. Then, a few moments later, three more children showed up, two boys and a girl, completely soaked and laughing like crazy.

“What have I told you about jumping into the fountain?” Jean said. “You could catch a cold, you know.”

The children just giggled, since Jean was more amused than upset and couldn’t frown at them.

The children then looked at Shadowheart, and greeted him with big smiles, watching their every move with great interest. He recognized most of them. Time and again, he had found abusive parents mistreating their children, killed them in a fit of rage, and brought the children to this place so they could grow up safe, well nourished and free from the taint of the rest of the world. Part of him felt pleased at Jean’s remarkable work, and he wondered how much more abuse they’d be enduring if he hadn’t intervened.

“You’re doing a great job, Jean.” he said hesitantly, unwilling to betray any emotion.

Before he could say anything else, the children swarmed him like crazy, holding on to his arms and legs. Some of them even started climbing his back before he could react. He was surprised, shocked even. Meanwhile, the older children just watched on, smiling.

“Wh… what are you doing?” he asked, looking around, embarassed.

Jean placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled.

“These children you see here are all familiar with you. They all remember the way you saved them, and how miserable their lives used to be. They look up to you.”

Unable to say anything, he just looked at them with an empty gaze. He felt strange, as if a part of him he didn’t know had suddenly come to life and pulled the ground right from under his feet. He felt dizzy, and the children noticed and quickly got down from his back, trying to help him stay up. Then it happened again. He felt the same searing pain in his chest, the same burning ache that had taken over when he had gone through the old photo album. He gripped his chest and started shivering again. Jean caught a glimpse of a small liquid glitter at the corners of his eyes before he collapsed.

Cast into a world of nightmares once again, the somber avenger gazed upon a sea of blood, filled with the ruins of countless cities. As he stood on a pile of broken corpses, he laughed darkly at the devastation, and as some of the corpses suddenly burst into flames, he laughed louder, feeling the stench of death. Suddenly, a massive black shape appeared beneath the surface of the red sea, and a deep voice echoed in his mind.


Suddenly, he opened his eyes and found himself on a comfortable bed, as Jean and a few children watched him. Relieved to see him awake, the children wanted to get closer, but Jean stepped forward.

“Children, our guest needs some time to pull himself together. I’ll have to ask you to wait outside.” he said calmly.

The children were doubtlessly disappointed, but they left quietly and closed the door behind them. Jean then pulled a chair closer to the bed and sat there.

“You don’t look so good.” he said, looking at the deep black circles around Shadowheart’s eyes.

The somber young man returned the glance with a mad grin.

“I should feel better soon enough…” he replied with a dark chuckle as he melded into the shadows and vanished. A few minutes later, he returned, laughing like a maniac, his claws soaked in blood.

“Having fun again, I see…” Jean said, blinking.

“They had it coming… and I was eager to try some new methods… I think it would be… interesting to make their torment last as long as possible.”

“Their torment was well deserved, I’m sure.” Jean replied “But right now, I’m more concerned with your condition. What happened to you? One second you looked fine, the next one you just passed out. Are your… powers out of control? Or is this another side effect you didn’t tell me about?”

“Honestly… I have no idea. The more I kill, the stronger I seem to get. Sometimes my powers grow so much I need a little time to adapt. But this has never happened before.”

Suddenly, he remembered the strange dreams he’d been having.

“Oh, there’s one more thing…” he added “I’ve been having some pretty vivid dreams of death and destruction… rivers of blood, everything burning… and a voice telling me to release it.”

Jean appeared to be lost in thoughts for a few moments, running his hand over his chin.

“Hmmmm… Most peculiar. Even considering what you do out there, I think there’s something odd about such dreams.”

Suddenly, Shadowheart just looked at him with empty eyes and a vacant expression. The shadows roared and shrieked as they gathered around him, and he started hovering above the ground.

“What’s going on?” Jean asked, alarmed.

There was no response. Hovering past him, Shadowheart made his way to the garden, and without warning, he changed into a black mass and darted straight up. Then, he spread through the sky, his consciousness suddenly amplified beyond even what he was used to. For the next thirty minutes, blood-curling screams could be heard all over the city, as countless victims fell. In his apparent transe, the only thing on his mind was death. He kept on killing until there was blood overflowing from every dark alley in the neighbouring area, and then, all of a sudden, he descended back to the garden and collapsed again, although this time around, the shadows did not subside, and isntead enveloped him even more intensely. Jean tried to help him up, and as he did so, Shadowheart stared right into his eyes.

“I see it… and it is beautiful…”

“What is?” he nervously asked.

“Death… in all its glory. Now I understand… everything is perfectly clear. I’ve been biding my time for too long. I am much stronger than I thought, and I hunger for blood. Barricade the doors and windows, and keep the children inside. I have a world to flood with blood and gore.”

Meanwhile, in an underground corporate research facility…

In a dark room, a group of scientists were working around the clock to accomplish the objectives established by their employers. They were tired, some also indisposed, but it had been decided that there would be no rest for any of them until their work was done. While a few of them were working on various computers, others were carefully mixing dangerous substances, and a few more were standing in front of a strange plexiglass tank in the middle of the room. Inside it was the figure of a man, thin and almost completely hairless, with an unusually large head that had been carefully shaved and a strange mark on his right forearm. As he floated there unconscious, breathing in the water with an oxygen mask, the scientists discussed the strange orders they had received.

“Maybe they’ve lost it this time…” one of the scientists said “I mean, come on, this kind of proceedure hasn’t been carried out in what, forty years? How are we supposed to know what we’re going?”

“Doesn’t look like we have a choice.” another replied. “That’s what we’re being paid for, and you know how they get when you can’t keep up.”

The first scientist shivered at the rumors. A few of his colleagues had mysteriously disappeared when they failed to develop a special toxin on time, and the corporation had denied their very existence when he asked about their whereabouts.

Chapter 3: The Hunt Goes On

Rising over the grim scenery in a fluid shadow form, Shadowheart looked at the towering corporate buildings with a scowl of contempt. He intensely hated their inhabitants for their constant abuse, as did everyone else in the slums. As he glared at the towers, several images filled his mind. Squadrons of mercenaries firing automatic weapons on slum dwellers, demolition teams blasting makeshift homes with their inhabitants still inside… Flames, screams and death all around him. Every time he called upon his dark power to change his form, he could hear the screams of countless victims, helpless souls cruelly torn from the flesh, often horribly abused. He was truly carrying all the death in the city with him. The emptiness he felt was like a bleeding wound.

“Let’s see how you like having someone kicking YOUR doors down and dragging YOU to die…” he thought, descending towards one of the towers. This one, with a large logo with gears and the name Kalkata, had a rough, gray façade made of cold metal, and it rose like a shining dark spire. A pair of guards in gray armored vests were standing at the door, each of them armed with a machine gun with laser sight.

“This is going to be so much fun…” he thought with a dark chuckle. Dusk was already setting in, giving the area an eerie look. Completely undetected, as always, he crept through the ground until he was right beneath them, and then, suddenly and silently, he rose from the shadows, his dark claws tearing right through them. As they screamed in terror, he grabbed them by the neck, driving his claws deep into them as he threw them against the wall until he heard their skulls cracking. Satisfied, he roughly and unceremoniously dropped them to the ground, leaving them do die as he shattered the building’s glass doors with a mere gesture.

The receptionists inside were scared silly at the noise, and ran off to the restrooms, locking themselves in. As Shadowheart made his entry, terrified people in business suits started running around, screaming and trying to get to the emergency exits. More guards ran in and started shooting at him. He laughed darkly and loudly as all the bullets went through his shadow form, ricocheting on the walls.

With a cruel laugh, he impaled two of the guards on his shadow claws, and spat on them as they gasped for breath, blood pouring from their wounded entrails. Not yet satisfied, he used them as maces, swinging them at the others. Every time he hit his targets, the helpless men screamed in pain and terror, each blow cracking their bones and making them lose more blood. And then, with a heavy swing, he hit two of them on the head. A loud cracking sound was heard and they fell motionless.

“Pathetic weaklings…” Shadowheart said with contempt. He then threw the two men to the ground, pinned them down with his power and drove his claws into their chests, ripping their hearts out.

Fifty bloody floors later, Shadowheart found himself in a large office. An executive in a business suit was sitting at an elaborate and massive-looking desk, trying to look calm despite the horrible screams he had picked up in the intercom over the last few minutes.

“Interesting. So you’re the one who’s been making all that ruckus.” the man said, sipping an amber-colored drink.

“And who might you be? The fool behind the other fools I just put down?” the shadow asked in a chilling tone.

“Not quite.” the figure replied calmly “I’m the head of the… Strategic Operations department.”

“You mean the hired guns who go around murdering people, so you can get your hands on the land and keep the rest intimidated?” Shadowheart spat.

“No. Nothing of the sort.” the figure said, sipping the drink again. “That’s beneath someone of my standing. I’m more into… selective termination.”


“Precisely. You have been giving all the major corporations a huge headache. You manage to wipe out entire squadrons in a second, and then you walk away completely untouched. I have to admit that your nature is… intriguing.”

Shadowheart chuckled darkly.

“So I finally got the swines’ attention, did I? So what? At least now they probably have an idea of who they’re dealing with. But they still won’t stop… unless I make them. Now what do you want? Make it quick. I have no time for games.”

“To put it simply, I’m somewhat puzzled. Although there is a certain pattern to your… activities… I still haven’t been able to figure you out. What exactly do you want? What do you expect to gain from all this?”

Shadowheart chuckled louder, sending a chill down the man’s spine.

“You still haven’t figured it out, have you? You corporate types are all alike, only thinking in terms of gain. No matter how much you have, you always want more. Wealth, power, luxury, dirty pleasure… that’s all you care about. How simple-minded.”

“And what do you care about? You seem to love killing thugs in the middle of the night. Is that what you are? Just another vigilante who can’t sate his bloodlust?”

“Spare me the judgements, human. You want to talk about bloodlust? What about all the people your kind has killed? What about all the thugs that are allowed to run free so the people will cling to your ankles for protection?” Shadowheart spat, swinging his dark claws to the side.

“Ah… I see it now…” the man said with a cynical smile. “The classic defender of the people. How cliché. So this is basically about making yourself feel better and gaining their attention, is it?”

“I don’t care what they think.” Shadoweart said in a dark and chilling tone as he stepped forward. “But the living trash must be wiped out. One by one. They are a blight, a festering pestilence. And your kind is the worst of the lot. Acting all respectable while your hands are tarnished. You are the reason why the living trash has been allowed to prosper. You have set up this entire system to ensure that you remain in power, and you don’t care about the consequences.”

“What difference does it make? Such a state of affairs was inevitable. It all begun long before you and I were even born. This is the natural evolution of human society, and I am merely playing my role and trying to grab what I can like everyone else.”

“Pathetic. You can’t even think beyond that greed. You people are all alike, so self-centered and futile. No matter how much you gobble up, you’re never satisfied. You are parasites.”

“Are you quite finished?” the man asked with a sigh.

“My words are wasted on your kind. Any last words?”

“Well, I do have something you might be interested in hearing.” the man said, trying to sound as calm as humanly possible in the face of such a being.

“Speak.” the creature said in a dark and unsettling tone, his black-bladed sword already in his tight grasp.

“I know that someone of your… peculiar nature… is after something specific. If you just wanted to cause death and destruction, you’d probably have leveled the whole city by now. And judging from your actions, I’d say it has something to do with the corporations. Correct?”

“Perhaps. So what?”

“Cross-referencing all existing records, I’d say that your activities only started… around three years ago. Judging from your size and shape, you can’t be much older than… twenty.”

“And?” the shadow asked with impatience. There was something about this line of thought that had caught his attention, and his piercing stare locked onto the man’s eyes.

“There were several black ops projects around twenty years ago. Robotics, induced mutations, new power sources… but nothing on the occult, and you look like something straight out of hell. The corporations did a good job getting rid of religion, but there are still plenty of superstitious fools who’d mistake you for the devil himself. I say that something happened to make you the way you are.”

“What difference does it make? You haven’t said anything remotely interesting yet.”

“I’m not entirely convinced of your… supernatural nature. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were more of an abandoned experiment that somehow managed to escape.”

“So that’s what you think, human?” Shadowheart said with a dark chuckle. “That I have to be something made by man? That it’s the only possible explanation? Oh, I was changed… but not the way you think. It was indeed through the actions of man that I became what I am, but your pathetic corporate experiments had nothing to do with it. Your greed, pettiness and jealousy, on the other hand…”

He slowly edged closer, his eyes promising nothing more than death. With a steely grip, he pinned the man down against the chair.

“Tell this to your corporate friends. I am not something they can control. I cannot be swayed, and I will not rest until every last one of them is dead. For I am not something of this world.”

Without another word, he vanished into the shadows and returned to his lair. He watched the news for a few hours, laughing at the way the reporters badgered some corporate executives for answers, only to get pushed back by their bodyguards. Those images were followed by a report on a strange cult that had apparently popped up. Worshipers of a supposed god of retribution appeared on the screen, gathering at what appeared to be a ruined church in the slums. A few reporters stepped closer, attempting to ask a few questions. One of the reporters managed to get a few words out of one of a tired-looking old man who had a defiant look in his eyes despite the wear of years of hardship.

“What’s going on in here? What’s this all about?” a male reporter in his forties asked.

“We are gathered here to pay our respects to the Dark Avenger, Lord Shadowheart.” the man said with conviction.

“Who is this Lord Shadowheart?” the reporter asked.

“Lord Shadowheart is the Dark Avenger, the Shadow Lord. He prowls the night, returning the pain caused by evildoers, delivering them into the jaws of death. He is invulnerable, beyond harm, and he will not rest until he has brought death and destruction to those who would harm us. He will not stop until we are free.”

“Oh shit…” Shadowheart thought as he watched. “What are those maniacs thinking? What do they take me for?!”

“Does this Lord Shadowheart have anything to do with the killing spree that has been going on for around three years now?” the reporter asked.

“None can hide from his wrath.” the old man replied. “Walls and steel are nothing to him, and those who have sinned against their fellow man, who have been murdering, stealing and enslaving as they please will be turned to dust.”

“Strange times breed strange beliefs…” the reporter said to the camera. “Channel 37 News, signing off.”

The transmission ended, and as the rest of his crew prepared to leave, the reporter exchanged a few words in private with the old man.

Shadowheart sighed heavily, staring blankly at the screen for a moment.

“They’re going to get themselves killed at this rate…” he thought out loud, resting his forehead on his right hand. “The corporations destroyed religion for a reason, and they know they’re the main target. They won’t tolerate this kind of organized dissent. Damnit! I should have killed those bastards from day one, but I keep getting sidetracked…”

With a heavier sigh, he got up from the couch and stepped into his room. He looked around for a second, and then pushed one of the bookcases aside, revealing a small safe with a keypad lock. He sighed again and slowly typed a series of numbers.

5… 11… 1605…

Chapter 4: Soul Hunter, Experiment Alpha

In a large underground facility, somewhere beneath one of the corporate towers, a group of scientists were busily working on complex machinery. A few technicians were hauling containers filled with chemicals into the chamber, squinting at the instense brightness. White walls, white flourescent lamps, and a sterile environment. Everyone was wearing masks, labcoats and gloves, and the only access point was through an airlock.

In the back of the room was a large glass tank, filled with a strange green liquid, and in that liquid, a strange being was floating. It looked like a man, but incredibly thin, with a slightly oversized head and large eyes. Its hands were slender, with long, thin fingers, and its head was completely shaved, revealing several dilated veins. This figure was wearing an oxygen mask and had several tubes all over its body, connected to its circulatory system.

“Bring in the nanites!” One of the scientists said. He was handed a vial with a strange liquid that looked like mercury, and poured it into a container next to the tank. Other strange chemicals were poured into other adjacent containers at the same time.

“Do you think this will work?” Another scientist asked.

“It has to. Our heads are on the line. Our employers want results.”

“I wonder what we’re getting ourselves into… Who knows what this thing might do?”

“It’s a risk we have to take. Our employers will not be satisfied until the defiance to their reign ceases.”

“Yes… But how exactly do you hunt a shadow?”

A few hours later, the chamber was quiet. The scientists gathered in anticipation as they prepared to activate the nanomachines and awaken the sleeper. At the push of a button, his eeries eyes opened with a crazed look, and he started screaming, holding his head.

“What the hell is going on?!”

“The mutagens and the nanites have caused a brain overload!”

“Stand back!”

The machinery in the room started rattling, and smaller objects started falling all over the place. The tank started cracking and then burst into billions of fragments. As the water gushed out, the strange man stumbled out in a daze, and everything was still once again.

In an almost solemn act, he slowly opened the metal door and removed a black book from the safe. Next to it was a metal box, which he reached for next. He paused to look at them for a moment, before carrying them to the desk. He sat there for a while, as if trying to decide whether or not he should touch them any further, before slowly opening the book.

The book seemed to be a few decades old, but was in impecable condition. There wasn’t a single crease or stain on the pages, and the black cover was spotlessly clean and without the tiniest speck of dust. Whoever had written it had also treasured it like a relic and kept it safe at all times. As he looked at the first page, he slowly plunged into the world it spoke of. The first entry of what appeared to be a journal was dated over fifty years before his time. It seemed to be an account of a revolution sparked and orchestrated by a mysterious masked figure who had become an avatar of freedom.

In his state of fascination, he was no longer in the hideous megalopolis that devoured life, but in another place, in another time, far away. As he went through the pages, he remembered the stories he had heard when he was still a child. He remembered the countless times he had already read the book, and how he had found something new each time.

As the hours went by, dark clouds gathered in the blackened sky, and a noxious rain started falling over the entire city. This was no ordinary rain. It was like the acid rains that had plagued cities in the twentieth century, but far more concentrated and deadly. Left unchecked, it would eat through stone, metal and flesh. It would inflict excruciating pain when touched, and it had already claimed several thousand lives, reducing homeless people to bleached bones in a matter of hours. Those who had been foolish enough to drink it, either out of desperation or by accident, would die even faster, poisoned by the myriad hazardous chemicals that had been released into the atmosphere for untold decades.