There’s a message is written in large, sloppy red letters on a crumbling wall at the edge of the settlement of Uten. You ask a passer-by about it, and are told that it gets washed off and written anew each morning, but no one knows who’s doing it or when.
Today, the message reads:
“Night is approaching and our game has been played, solve it as quick as you can and come to my aid #ignite”
You stare at it for a while, perplexed. You’re not sure how to pronounce the “#” or what it means – the older people call it the “lost letter”, a symbol of the great gaps in humanity’s knowledge following the apocalypse. It litters late-period old world texts, hinting at the great and unknowable enlightenments of the gods who walked the earth in those former times.
You turn around and are about to leave the site when you see a hunched figure out of the corner of your eye, reading the message. Her eyes are brimming with tears.
You ask the woman why she’s crying.
“These messages…” she whispers. “Th-they are about my son.”
“What do you mean?” you ask. “Is your son the one putting them up?”
“No, no,” she replies. “They took him. Now they put these messages up every day. They do it to taunt me.”
You don’t understand, and your facial expression makes that quite clear.
“They truly are cruel,” the mother continues. “They say there’s a secret hidden in these messages. They say the messages tell where my son is. Every day they move my son to a new place, and every day they put up a new message. If I can decode the message and come to where my son is, they say, then they will give him back to me.”
You look at the message for a few moments. “But I don’t see how this message could give the location of anything.”
“Such is the depth of their cruelty. They steal everything you have, and then they give you false hope. They present the meaningless as meaningful.” The woman exhales deeply and physically slumps down. “I’m going mad trying to solve this. My son… is probably dead already. This world has already taken my last three children.”
You look at the mother’s dead eyes. You can’t imagine the depths of her pain. Your own mother… you can’t remember her. Your father was always silent on the subject, would always change the subject to one of his stories about marauders or giant birds.
You look back at the message. You know it’s not meaningless. You know that this is MM’s latest challenge, the one the priestess of the Sacred Journey to the Heavens told you about. But you didn’t realise MM and whoever he’s working with would go this far.
“I’ll help,” you say to the woman, putting on your most resolute look. “Tell me what the other messages were.”
Maybe MM isn’t the one who kidnapped the child. Maybe he just has inside information on the kidnappers, and this is his roundabout way of helping this poor woman. But then, how much do you really know about MM?
The woman hands you a crumpled piece of paper. A series of messages are written on it, with dates and locations next to each. The current message appears at the bottom.
“And… I also found this near the wall,” the woman continues, handing you a second, smaller piece of paper. This one appears to be mostly burnt up, but you can see some fragments scrawled on it in a nigh-illegible handwriting.
You think you saw a slight spark in the woman’s eye as she
handed you the second paper. But you’re not sure.
At the location given by the puzzle, you find a manor house. In its day, this house stood grand and tall, the pride of some wealthy landowner’s country estate. Now the paint has peeled, the roof has almost fallen in, and the walls which once surrounded it have crumbled almost to dust. You pick your way through the remains of these walls and soon come to the main house.
You don’t know what you’ll be up against inside, so you quickly decide that the only way to play this is with stealth. The front door is obviously a no-go, but you soon find an open window in an obviously deserted room of the house. Carefully, you climb through the window and land noiselessly on the other side.
Once inside, your ears are immediately perked to the sound of a low, machine humming, coming from further inside the house. You edge open the door of your room, careful not to let it creak, and check left and right before darting into the hallway.
You make your way through tangled hallways, some original, some newly created with large sheets of corrugated iron for walls. As if anticipating unauthorised entry, the current occupants of this manor appear to have purposefully created this complex maze to throw intruders off. You navigate slowly and carefully, mapping the whole thing out in your head, doubling back as you come to dead ends, and all the while carefully listening for the direction of the humming noise.
The corridors grow tighter and the air staler. There’s barely enough room to move without turning your body sideways, but the noise is so loud now that you’re certain you’re almost at the end of the maze.
You round a corner and the maze finally opens up. Gleefully, you bound into the centre of this new room and stretch your arms out in its abundant space.
“Happy to be out of there, eh?” asks a voice, freezing your blood instantly. “I know the feeling, nearly got stuck myself.”
You recognise that voice. Standing in front of you, just to the side of a plain wooden door on the other side of the room, is the so-called Archpresident of Eden, Milford Buchanan.