It was early morning when Harn Frass was aroused from his monotonous paperwork by a thumping knock at his office door. “Come in!” He shouted, placing his quill neatly on the writing table before him.
The door swung open and his deputy, Victor, strode confidently in, his new Minoc Deputy badge shining resplendant on his shirt.
“Very nice” Commented Harn, pointing at the badge.
“Thank thee! Victor’s smile lasted only a moment, before a solemn expression spread across his face. “Sir, pressing news brings me to thee, concerning the disappearance of that Witherton fellow several weeks ago...”
Harn motioned for him to sit, and Victor promptly did so before he began.
“A man came to me last night, while I was working the night shift. His face was ashen white, ‘twas though he had seen a ghost. The fellow told me he was walking along the mountains Northeast of Minoc, when he made a gruesome discovery. There were the remains of a human body, although he dared not move closer, he could tell it was badly decomposed and indeed had been there some time.” Victor grimaced as he recounted the tale. “I have arranged for you to meet with him this very afternoon, near the bank at 5 o’clock.”
“Very well, I shall be there...” Said Harn, his voice ebbed away as if deep in thought.
“That is all I have to say for now sire.”
“Very well.” Replied Harn, though Victor knew he was paying no attention. He barely noticed the deputy slip back out of the room, gently closing the door behind him.
“Victor!” He bellowed suddenly. The door swung open and the startled deputy scurried back before him. “You have neglected to tell me this fellows name?”
“Ilaco sire... the man’s name was Ilaco.”
* * *
‘I imagine that poor fellow was quite traumatised by the whole ordeal’ Harn said quietly to himself, as he dug through his paperwork. Pulling out a neatly folded scroll, he took quill in hand, and scribed his name at the bottom. “A commendation on behalf of the town of Minoc” He read aloud. “Mayhaps this will cheer him up.”
Harn strode through the backstreets of Minoc, avoiding the hustle and bustle of the busier main roads. The smell of baking was thick in the air, eminating from the nearby tavern he oft frequented, but avoiding the lure of The Barnacle’s find food and ale he made his way to the Bank of Minoc. Outside its huge wooden doors was a proud looking man, sitting atop a large horse.
“Ilaco?” Said Harn.
“At your service sire” Came the reply, the man nodded his head in agreement.
“Would you mind taking me to the scene in question?"
Ilaco pulled a tattered spell-book from a satchel harnessed to his mount, and uttered a few words. A magical gate opened before them, casting a pale blue light across the cobbled street. He gathered his horses reins, and stirred his steed into movement, passing swiftly through the gate, closely followed by Harn Frass.
The air cleared and Harn found himself standing besides a dense woodland, at the foot of a great mountain. A great hind stared at him for a few moments, before bolting into the thicket and out of sight.
“Tis here, sire.” Said Ilaco, pointing towards a small patch of gravel closeby. Harn could see a shadowy form, his view obscured by some leafy foilage.
“I will not go closer.” Ilaco commented, his face expressing the dismay of what he had already seen. “I understand” Replied Harn, as he made his way closer.
Harn had seen many corpses in his time, but this scene would haunt him for many years to come. A gasp escaped his lips as he came closer to the patch of gravel. Tangled in a small bush were some human remains, which had clearly been savaged by wild creatures since the time of death. No flesh remained on the bones, which gleamed white in the afternoon sunlight, and the expression on the skeletal face, with mouth wide open, was a mask of agony. On the forehead was a small patch of skin that had not been touched by any animal, and this skin bore a symbol, burned deep into the flesh with ghastly precision. ‘My skills in forensic evaluation are not that of Victor’s, he shall have to analyze this body to find out more’ thought Harn as he picked up a leather backpack nearby. Beneath it was a book, its cover faded by sunlight.
Harn opened the book slowly, as being exposed to the elements had no doubt made it very fragile, and he blew away the dirt that clung to it. The title read “Witherton’s Journal”.
“What was that?” shouted Ilaco, still standing in the same spot.
“Oh...nothing, nothing at all...”
Harn handed the certificate of commendation to Ilaco on their journey homeward, which delighted the man as Harn had expected. The two of them parted company with a few quiet words, both had been subdued by the ghastly scene.
* * *
Victor set to work that night, taking a small band of men and a wagon to retrieve the remains. All men were quiet for the entire duration of the trip, the only person to utter a word was the carriage-driver, as he led the horses through difficult terrain.
Harn was busy at his office, flicking through documents on previous murders, in the vain hope of finding a clue. ‘It may not even be a murder, the poor fellow may have tried to negotiate a faster route over the mountain, and simply tumbled to his death’ he whispered. The fairly shallow incline of the rocks nearby cast doubts over this theory, which also did nothing to explain the strange marking found upon his forehead, a marking that seemed to resemble the old Britannian runic symbol for the letters ST.
Victor’s arrival broke Harn’s deep concentration, and he looked up at the deputy. “I have conducted a brief examination of the remains sire… we do indeed have a murderer on our hands.”
“How can you be sure?” Inquired Harn.
“Because the rear of his skull was missing sire, a huge head wound was inflicted with a strange weapon. The markings around the hole show it was done with extreme force, and a similar marking around the rib cage indicate a second blow, perhaps to test if the man was truly dead.”
“Good work Victor.” Nodded Harn, the deputy spinning on his heel and hurrying out of the office to resume his work.
Harn reached down into a drawer and pulled out the book he found at the murder scene. He placed a candle nearby and opened the first page, peering intently at the neat handwriting within…
I have not yet managed to work out whether I am being followed, or whether I am just being a paranoid fool. I find myself scurrying along, checking behind me every few minutes, and taking the least obvious trails I can. I almost hope I am correct, lest this awful change of route be in vain.
Today I have certainly heard strange noises, heavy footsteps, and low growlings. I fear I am losing my mind. I have considered returning home, for I fear this journey may bring nothing but my own demise… but for now I shall continue. I simply cannot let my discovery go unexplored, and I know not who to trust with the information I have aquired. I have kept the book hidden on my person, if someone will get hold of it, then I shall have to be taken too!
Whilst considering one of the many riddles within these ancient pages, I believe I may have finally made some progress. Today whilst sitting besides a stream it dawned upon me that Valaari may have been even more cunning than I first believed. What if he is using a system, within the riddles themselves, what if the very words he hath scribed paint a picture of their own, and the meaning of the verse is only a part of the truth?
...or mayhaps my mind is just too active. I have scarse seen anyone for days, and already miss the crowds of Minoc.
For some strange reason I feel this book doth speak to me in ways I cannot begin to explain, it leads my mind on journeys afar, through field and forest, across desert and ocean. The tale must begin elsewhere, I shall change direction tommorow. The mountain Valaari refers to is most likely not this one after all. I am a fool for being so narrow-minded. This is the only mountain-range I know of, and just because I found the book nearby does not by any means infer that this is the mountain in question. Though slight the progress I have made, ‘tis progress nonetheless!
Tonight I will make one last trek up this mountain, just to keep my own peace of mind. Im probably a fool for coming here in the first place. I find myself saying the word ‘Gulatheen’ over and over, why this is mentioned so often I still know not. I realise it is linked with travel, as it has been found etched into the stones near Moongates, markings that were carved by ancient hands, and whose significance has been lost with time. Forgotten as the place Valaari speaks of, within the lands that were never found.
The remaining pages were awash with blood, and no meaning could be grasped from the few visible letters. Harn closed the journal, and sighed as he placed his head in his hands.
Where would he begin his search? He knew not. The markings on the corpse had to be significant, but this significance may only be realised once the location Witherton was searching for is found… Perhaps somebody knew of his discovery, and were willing to murder him in order that his research was not continued…
“Baffling” Uttered Harn under his breath as he blew out the candle and rose from his desk.
From the Town Cryer - The Journal of Ultima Online