Sunday, 12 February 2012

Seawell: the lighthouse

  The lighthouse compound is like a small fort, with a wooden palisade surrounding several huts and leading out to the lighthouse itself. There’s no sign of smoke and no obvious damage to the compound; on the other hand, there’s no sign of activity either. They head down and knock at the gate. Nothing. A push shows that it’s open, and they quickly find that it’s been forced. The sandy ground doesn’t show much, but there are some scuff-marks. More strikingly, the compound is shockingly empty. The supplies, tools and livestock that should be here are prominently absent, and all is quiet except for the crooning of gulls overhead. Even the barracks is empty, and storage chests lie open on the floor. All eyes are drawn to the lighthouse, whose door swings gently in the salty breeze.

  The Professor, Morgan and Lawson wait in the compound to guard the horses, worried that something might be lurking here. Fhastina is the stealthiest, disdaining armour, and she pads upstairs as silently as the night. There are sinister dark patches on the steps, leading up into a room on the second floor. She beckons Elefthenea after her, and the two elves stand listening. There’s not a sound, but a faint and unwelcome scent tells them what’s inside. Pushing the door carefully open, they find six bodies piled in a heap. Boxes seem to have been stacked up against the door, but lie toppled nearby. They don’t care to examine the bodies too closely, and there’s little need, but crossbow bolts produce plainly from some of them. A bare arm sprawled across the floor looks curiously charred. Not even Raylin can do anything for these poor souls. It seems unlikely that anything’s still lurking here, and they hurry upstairs to examine the light itself. Before they even reach it, the scent of oil rises strongly to their nostrils. Glass crunches under their feet as they step into the room, and find both the lamps and the mirrors shattered.

  Peering from the top of the lighthouse, they see the dunes and scrubland stretch out around them. About a mile away to the east, a tall spindly structure seems to sprout from the shoreline. It’s too far to make out what it is, but neither Fhastina nor Morgan has seen it before. That seems like the most obvious spot to investigate next. They decide to approach warily, circling around through the scrub to avoid detection.

  They quickly fettle a repair to the compound gate, and Morgan remains behind with the horses, watching from the top of the tower for any hostile approach. The others strike out through the undergrowth, crouching and even crawling when necessary. Unfortunately, neither the Professor nor Lawson is particularly subtle, and their voices carry rather well on the sea breeze. Only a warning from the owl circling far above gives them time to duck back into the bushes as someone approaches. Watching for a while, they see two figures walking slowly along a rough trail, heading vaguely towards the camp. They seem watchful and wary, and carry weaponlike objects by their sides. Hoping to reassure them, Elefthenea persuades Mr. Barky to trot slowly out of cover; only a wild animal, after all!

  “Yes, one of those dune wolves one reads about,” mutters the Professor.

  The figures pause and watch the wolf as he pads softly through the dunes; then one of them smoothly raises a weapon to its chest. Before anyone can react, there is a faint distant click, and an anguished howl splits the air, before Mr. Barky scrabbles off into thicker cover, a crossbow bolt protruding from his right shoulder. A shout of triumph follows.

  Everyone grabs for a weapon. While Fhastina and Lawson begin scurrying round for a better angle of attack, the civilians leap to their feet with crossbows raised and Rayling bellows a furious order to stop. Suddenly confronted with three armed opponents where a stray wolf used to be, and having just discharged their crossbows, the figures gawp in amazement for a moment; then they turn and bolt into the undergrowth, and are quickly lost to sight. Nobody feels like shooting down a fleeing opponent, and the figures aren’t headed for the tower, at least for the moment. Raylin points out that, unlikely as it seems, they might just have been hunters. Nevertheless, it’s time to get a move on in case anyone raises the alarm; just as soon as they make sure Mr. Barky is still in one piece.

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