Object 189

The Holder of Justice

In any city, in any country, go to any mental institution or halfway house you can get yourself to. When you reach the front desk, ask to visit someone who calls himself "The Holder of Justice". Should an appraising look appear on her face, she will hand you a small gardening spade and a dog's leash. You will be led to the institution's basement where the attendant will gesture to a trapdoor in a dark corner.

Enter the trapdoor and climb the ancient wooden ladder down into the subbasement. Once your feet touch the earth below, the trapdoor will slam shut and seal itself. You will emerge in a small earthen room dimly illuminated by a small candle on the far wall. Do not touch this candle, lest it goes out; it is all that is preventing this room from being plunged into pitch blackness... and this room's fell inhabitant can only sleep with the light on.

On the wall opposite the candle, you will see an old window frame cut into the soil. Approach the window. If you see your reflection, you are safe to open the window and climb through. If you see no reflection, dive through the window as quickly as possible, for the creature who calls this room home has stirred and is ready to turn the light off and starts its day. It is hungry, and your soul is on the breakfast menu.

Once through the window, you will find yourself in a gargantuan subterranean cavern with small leafy plants growing in clusters as far as the eye can see, lit by a series of large braziers sticking out of the ground. Unless you have a serious masochistic streak, avoid looking up at all costs, for above hang the rotting and skeletal corpses of countless thousands of babies, their umbilical cords used as nooses. You will see gaunt, haggard-looking men in the distance, stooped at the waist, tending to these plants. Should one collapse in the middle of the field, don't bother rushing to his aid, for it is already too late. Besides, he will be back, as none can die here - not permanently, anyway. Any who meet their fate in this place become the property of the Holder, their souls forever consigned to tending this macabre garden. Keep moving: the farther you are from these haunted souls and their eternal work, the safer you will be.

You will feel a nudge at your shin. At your feet will be a small wire-haired terrier, wagging his tail happily and panting at you. He is to be your companion on this most unfortunate of quests.

Should you hear the beginnings of a tiny scream, quickly clamp your hands over your ears. If you survive, then now that you were quick enough... At least, you were this time. You would be wise to rip part of your shirtsleeve off and roll them into balls to stuff in your ears in hopes that they will be enough to keep the screams at bay, for your task is to find and harvest one specific mandrake root in this field, and all of the legends about them are, unfortunately, true. Put as much distance between yourself and the nearest harvester as possible, for to hear the screams of a mandrake means instant death.

The root you are looking for will not scream when you dig it up, so you will be safe from death on that front. Unfortunately, there are countless thousands of plants in this field and you only have one dog to sacrifice and one life to freely live. I would get started if I were you, as the clock is ticking; the Holder is not the only inhabitant of this cavern, but he IS the only one safe from his housemate. Every hour, on the hour, a huge beast comes forth to feed on the harvesters in the field. If you are unlucky enough to observe its entrance, you'll notice that the other hunters ignore his presence despite the fact that they are being slaughtered en masse. They have already died at least once and know that they will be back. I would advise you to put as much upwind distance between yourself and this beast as possible when you find your hiding place, for it has an excellent sense of smell and loves fresh meat.

Should, by some miracle, you find the correct mandrake plant without dying, pulling it up will reveal a hole in the ground with a ladder that extends some fifty feet below into a smaller cavern, lit by two lanterns. In the center of the cavern will be a small wooden table with two chairs. On one chair sits an elderly man with a wisp of white hair atop his head, bedecked in opulent robes.

Do not sit in the other chair, no matter how tired you are from your task, for if you do, the man will leap across the table with superhuman speed and rip out your throat.

The man will notice your presence and look up at you with a scowl; he does not appreciate being interrupted, and will not tolerate your presence for long.

You must quickly ask the man on, and only one, question: "What did they do wrong?"

The man's eyes will sparkle with sudden understanding and he will proceed to explain the history behind the infant corpses in his garden above. You see, mandrake roots will only grow underneath the area where an unrepentant murderer was hanged. Millennia ago, the man started his garden by hanging the perpetrators of unsolved homicides in his garden, but through trial and error found that younger victims created sweeter mandrake roots. Currently hanging in the cavern above are all the babies throughout history who were born from complicated pregnancies which caused the death of the mother.

Many a man is outraged to the point of tears by this man's tale. Showing sadness is considered weak and, as a result, the man will rush forward and snap your neck at the slightest hint of grief. What you must do is rush forward and grab the opposite chair, heft it into the air, and swing it with all your might, breaking it across the top of the man's head. He will crumple to the ground, incapacitated and nearly dead.

Now, you must carry his corpse-like body up the ladder and into the cavern above. The harvesters will stop their work and watch you with hope in their eyes. Do not disappoint them. You will notice a noose already prepared for the man. Slip his neck through it, tighten it, and release. A cheer will go up among the collected workers as the man's neck snaps. His death will free the souls of the harvesters and babies, and before long you will find yourself alone in the cavern with the hanging Holder. The ground around you will be clear, the plants having shriveled and disintegrated. Below the man's corpse will be a single mandrake plant, glowing an ethereal blue. Dig it up without fear - it owes you. Once extracted, the root will begin to sing a beautiful, haunting melody and you will feel yourself at peace. Set the root down and meditate for roughly five minutes. When you open your eyes, you will find yourself at the kitchen table of the place you call home. The mandrake will be sleeping soundly. Listening to its song now will provide rest and cure all but the most serious wounds.

The mandrake root is Object 189 of 2538. It will wail in agony when they all come together. Will you be there to hear it?