The tyranny of civil law is a reflection of the tyranny of natural law. In breaking the laws and systems built by mortals, I shall break the laws and systems built by gods. All shall collapse, and be unmade, and then the Shadow shall again be Enthroned.
And in the dark of sleep, back before there were such things as dreams, a voice descended from beyond the skin of the world. "Look about yourself," it said, "You toil and suffer. You steal because the alternative is death, and are punished because the world would rather see you dead than allow their precious law to be subverted. But does the law deserve preservation? If the law would kill you, then why bow to it?"
"Vassar is gone, and the Throne of Dreams lies Empty. But still we exist. Still we persist. There shall always those who are destitute, those who are hungry, those who are desperate. The tyranny of law and societal order shall always make more of us, no matter how great our losses. The Tyrants need be victorious forever, we need taste victory but once. And so we persist. Though our god is dead, we shall forever be the Hand of Shadow."
Before we can properly begin, a mention must be made of the Hand of Shadow. Much has been said about this coalition of criminal-priests, but little is truly known. Cutting through rumor and myth, they seem to be a criminal-priesthood, which integrates and adapts local criminal elements to serve its own ends. As such, it has been able to spread over much of the world, their capacity to adapt to first fill holes in local criminal elements, and then subsume them, allowing for maximal growth with minimal expenditure.
Because the Hand of Shadow is spread out over much of the world, and because its guiding spiritual philosophy abhors rigidity and structure, the Hand of Shadow is heavily decentralized, with regional and local subdivisions having high degrees of autonomy. The organization, such as it is, is nominally lead by those surviving Powers which had been chosen directly by Vassar
to lead its forces during the War of Shadow, they generally delegate the day-to-day leadership of the organization to High Temple, a council of criminal-priests dedicated to the service of Vassar, who represent the different branches of the organization from across the world. Members of the High Temple are called, fittingly, Priests of the High Temple, or less formally, High Priests. It is the responsibility of the High Temple to decide on general policy for the Hand, oversee the operations of the branches, and conduct the Hand's most sacred rites.
Branches officially recognized by the High Temple cover very large regions, and blend together near the borders. Each branch is composed of smaller subdivisions called temples, which either coalesce around urban population centers, or sprawl over rural countryside. A given temple may or may not actually have a proper temple building to call their own—most have only small shrines. Each temple is led by a coalition of priests dedicated to Vassar, who choose one of their number as an official leader, who in turn elect their branch's representative on the High Temple.
Local temples of the Hand of Shadow ingratiate themselves with the local criminal element, providing religious services and blessings for thieves, marauders, and smugglers, as well as selling information, organizing larger-scale jobs, and supporting fences. To receive these services, criminals usually have to swear the Oath of Subversion, binding them to the Hand's overall mission and declaring themselves lay members. Criminals are not required to swear this oath to operate, and many choose not to without consequence, but they do so without any of the boons the Hand could provide.
Lay members can ascend to become priests of Vassar, and that is where all said priests come from, but it is a rare occurrence. The priests are very careful about who they allow into their ranks, and lay members generally don't care for the further obligations that come with entering the criminal-priesthood—the laity are only required to keep the Hand's secrets, and to provide an offering to Vassar from one of their jobs every new moon, whereas he priests are generally occupied by performing religious rites and ceremonies, and giving blessings, in addition to their own assorted violations of the law.
The primary goal of the Hand is the subversion of natural law and the restoration of Vassar
. To this lofty end, the Hand propagates and orchestrates the violation of mortal law, so as to subvert the authority of mortal institutions, which ritualistically corresponds to the subversion of divine authority. To that same end, the Hand also seeks to advance civil strife, to disrupt the harmony of the social order, and will seek to advance even such strife that came about independently.
The Hand of Shadow possesses is a global network of individuals with skill-sets honed for illegal activities. This allows for the Hand to orchestrate essentially any criminal act anywhere in the world. This network also brings in copious amounts of information, giving the Hand a very clear picture of global events—moreso even than most governments.
Additionally, the Hand has profited considerably through criminal enterprise, and so has amassed large quantities of wealth in a diverse array of currencies and goods. However, much of this is dispersed throughout organization, controlled by the many temples, and as such can be difficult to mobilize the entirety of the Hand's wealth. Also, the Hand has no means to produce goods to replenish those which are expended, they much all be purchased, and all potential sources of monetary income available to the Hand bring its agents directly into conflict with law enforcement.
The Hand of Shadow was born out of what remained of those forces aligned with Vassar after the War of Shadow. After the Enthroned Shadow was destroyed, many were hunted down and killed, and many of those who survived abandoned their cause. Those who remained loyal to the slain god knew that, in order to persist in the face of their opposition, they would have to go into hiding. Most of all, those who had been imbued by Vassar with a portion of its power would be most recognizable to those who were hunting them, and could not effectively lead—instead, in time they would flee into the Dreaming, a new level of reality that had been made from Vassar's divine form by its killers.
The structure of the Hand was born from all these necessities, and its decentralized, adaptable structure allowed it to adapt and grow by exploiting vulnerabilities and opportunities available to a more rigidly organized syndicate. In time, its growth would encompass most of the world. However, aside from that growth, the Hand maintained a holding pattern over the centuries, as its enemies took especial care to counteract their metaphysical attempts to destabilize reality.
The doctrines at the core of the Hand find their source at the War of Shadow. A prophet called the Enthroned Shadow claimed to be the avatar of a primordial god called Vassar
. They possessed incredible magical power, able to violate the laws of nature at a whim. The area over which it spread this mystical defiance spread throughout the war, until their ultimate destruction
The Enthroned Shadow tapped into dissatisfaction felt by the underclasses of many societies to win as many people as possible to its side in the war. In this the most fundamental tenet of the Hand's religion was born: opposition to tyranny, both of law and of nature. The oaths and rites of the Hand generally draw on the symbolism of actions taken by the Enthroned Shadow, and its lieutenants, during the War.
In the beginning, there were four primordial identities, each of a unified body
. Three of these chose to make the world of themselves, and so perished. The one which remained was Vassar
, called also the Swirling-Shadow, which defied against all bonds and constraints, taking whatever forms it desired.
In time, it came to be the aim of Vassar to liberate this world from the confines of natural law, that it might know true freedom. To this end, it incarnated in the body of a mortal avatar, the Enthroned Shadow, also called the Living Throne. The delineation between Vassar and the Enthroned Shadow, where the god ends and the avatar begins, is unclear, and most worshipers hold little true distinction between the two.
Following the destruction of the Enthroned Shadow at the end of the War of Shadow, Vassar was transformed into one of the World-Weary, a ravaged and tired husk of an old god, like its original peers. Its followers thence began calling it the Empty Throne.
Tenets of Faith
The sole tenet that unifies the entirety of the Hand of Shadow is thus: Oppose Laws and Tyrants. All Laws and Tyrants, without exception.