The three most gruesome characters
黑 (hēi; black) - represents a permanent tattoo on the face to mark someone as a criminal
取 (qǔ; take) - represents a hand grabbing an ear cut off a defeated enemy to use as a battle trophy
央 (yāng; beg) - represents a man inside a torture device called a cangue (木枷) that prevents him from reaching his mouth with his hand, and thus being compelled to beg others to feed him
Note that nowadays these are completely normal characters used in context in non-gruesome ways, such as:
That cat is black.
I’m here to pick up my bike.
I’d ask a favor of you.
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