Mr. Barky is in a sorry state, but still mobile. Luckily, the bolt is fairly easy to remove. They decide to leave him in the undergrowth here, keeping watch for anyone following them and nursing his wound.
Lawson cautions against too much hurry in case of an ambush, so they proceed at a swift stride, keeping fairly close to the dunes to minimise their exposure. Down by the water’s edge, they notice considerable amounts of worked wood washed up alongside the usual natural debris. Fhastina’s sharp eyes spot a body sprawled unmoving in the rocks; after a hurried debate they decide to keep going, anxious to investigate the tower before any alarm can be raised. They keep a close watch behind them. Approaching the tower, they notice that the nearby landscape slopes up considerably, so the dunes form a backdrop to the tower; from the sea it would be quite hard to notice it was even here. The Professor sends Cedric soaring ahead to wheel over the tower, but senses nothing more than mild irritation at still being awake in the daytime. It should be safe to approach.
The tower is a tall, rather ramshackle wooden construction, though none of them have the engineering skill to deduce more than that. It seems to be built around a single central pole, nearly sixty feet high, and mostly consists of stairs and ladders spiralling up around it to a platform at the top. There is brief discussion about who should go up first, until Lawson sighs resignedly and starts to make his cautious and creaking way up the tower, shield raised against any unexpected attack. Elefthenea keeps a watch on the dunes, while the others follow Lawson. As they ascend, they realise that the central pole is a single treetrunk, which has many symbols in crude Draconic carved lightly into its bark, not deep enough to cause any harm. Raylin isn’t familiar enough with lizardfolk beliefs to make much of them, but they seem definitely devotional in nature. At the top they find a bronze dish nearly two metres across, tightly secured to the tower and full of wood ash. Combined with the massacre at the lighthouse, it seems conclusive evidence that wreckers are at work. They hurry back down and discuss the matter with Elefthenea. She examines the tree and quickly deduces that it must have been very old. It must have come from some distance into the forest; there’s only scrub nearby. Fhastina has a look around, and though the sand is soft and shifting, she manages to discern a vague trail where people have come to and from the tower over the dunes.
The next question is what to do about the wreckers’ tower. They’re keen to put it out of use, but the problem is, how? The Professor is keen to burn it, but there’s no fuel left in the bowl. In any case, even if they could get it alight, the column of smoke would attract attention from miles around; though it would certainly slow down the wreckers even if they do rebuild it. Raylin suggests simply tipping the bowl from the top, but Fhastina points out that it would be a pretty noisy impact and they’re still trying to be discreet. In any case, what’s to stop them simply dragging it back to the top? At last they decide to leave the place for now, and come back to it if necessary. Since there aren’t any guards here it shouldn’t be too difficult to destroy later. They drag the reluctant Professor away and go to examine the body on the shore, leaving Lawson on watch.
The corpse turns out to be a fairly nondescript man in common sailor’s garb, who looks like a Culchite, though apparently not one local enough to have escaped the reef. The body has clearly been in the water for at least a day, and is in a bad state. Fhastina drags it above the tidemark and Raylin says a few prayers over it, before removing the man’s sea-charm necklace in case they can locate his family. There’s not much else they can do for him now.
Unwilling to venture over the dunes in case they run into an ambush, they decide to retrace their steps to meet up with Mr. Barky. The wolf is pleased to see Elefthenea again, and seems somewhat better after his rest. They head out to the point where they met the wreckers’ patrol, and check the trail. It seems that the wreckers were following an established patrol route a little distance away, and came to investigate when they heard something suspicious. The trail shows repeated passage of small groups over a number of weeks, though it’s not well-worn enough to be a proper path. Since most of the prints are heading roughly towards the tower, they decide it’s a circular route and decide to proceed parallel to the tracks, keeping a wary eye out for the wreckers they met earlier. However, about half an hour has passed, so it seems most likely those men have returned to their base.
The land is scrubby and provides moderate cover, but they move quietly and carefully to minimise the risks. They're pretty stealthy, except for the noise of Elefthenea fussing over Mr. Barky's injured leg. The wolf exudes a long-suffering air curiously reminiscent of the one worn by Lawson. Cedric turns his head backwards from his position on the Professor's shoulder to peer back at him. Mr. Barky shoots him a look that the observant passer-by, with a little knowledge of lupine psychology, might venture to translate along the lines of “elves, eh?”. After few hundred yards, Elefthenea looks up long enough to spot a disturbed area nearby and they head off to examine it. There are signs of a scuffle here, with snapped branches on the bushes, and the confused marks of both booted and lizardfolk feet. A broken javelin is embedded in the ground. Apparently the wreckers have had some trouble with the locals. Raylin suggests that the vandalism they’ve seen might explain the antagonism.
“Perhaps that tree we saw was some kind of totem pole,” offers the Professor.
“We might be able to return it, and... improve diplomatic relations,” suggests Elefthenea, who is more used to the wilderness than discussing politics. “And you know, that’s another reason why it’s probably not a good idea to burn it.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” he agrees, a little begrudgingly.
A little further on, there is a break in the undergrowth due to sandier soil, and Fhastina notices the earth has been disturbed. On closer inspection, there are a number of spots that seem to have been dug up recently. They are portentously person-sized, and unmarked. They briefly wonder whether these are human or lizardfolk graves, as nobody can remember what it is lizardfolk do with their dead. In the end, they decide it doesn’t matter much. A skirmish has occurred and someone won; this seems like the closest spot where it would be easy to dig graves. Digging them up wouldn’t really help the adventurers decide what to do next.
By this stage, Raylin is quite keen to try and contact the lizardfolk. If there’s animosity between them and the wreckers, perhaps they could help her group, or at least give them more information about what’s going on. Fhastina, being a soldier, is rather more cautious. If the lizardfolk are hostile to hominids, they might not get much chance to explain themselves. They decide that it’s a good idea in principle, but would need careful handling. For the moment, they choose to keep following the tracks and see what they can learn.
As they reach a point that Elefthenea guesses is roughly parallel to the wooden tower, more patrol routes begin to fork into the one they’re following. Examining the tracks, they decide that they’re probably near the origin point of the patrols. Most likely, groups of wreckers come out of a base and split off into several different routes, probably looking out for lizardfolk. The unified trail passes into a hillocky region with a fair bit of cover. Stealth is now a crucial matter. Elefthenea and Fhastina, being the sharp-eyed elves, start to slip forward and sneak through the undergrowth to the top of one of the rises. As they arrive, they see a clearing has been made in a little glen, with the undergrowth hacked back and burned clear. In the centre is a small camp with a sturdy wooden fence around it.
“They’ve cleared the bushes so nobody can sneak up on them,” whispers Fhastina. “It’ll give them time to sound the alarm before anyone can reach the fence.”
Their position gives them a reasonable view, but the fence and camp buildings make it hard to make out much detail without venturing into the open. The buildings seem to be simple bivouacs or tents reinforced with branches, perhaps to stop them blowing away if the sea breezes get too strong. There are four or five figures visible around the camp, all of whom seem to be armed. A couple are working on the fence, and another doing something with a heap of crates and boxes; salvage from a wreck, it would seem. Chickens peck and scratch around the place. There are presumably pack animals somewhere in the camp as well; the mules from the lighthouse compound were missing. The two elves circle around the camp to get a better look, and notice two figures leaving a shelter and heading off out of the camp along a patrol route. Judging from the size of the camp, there could be anywhere from ten to twenty residents, and it must have taken quite a few to build the camp and tower in the first place. They slip back to their comrades without apparently attracting any attention.
“Tents?” says the Professor. “Those burn very well. How are we off for flaming arrows?”
There is a brief pause, while everyone looks sternly at the gnome. Elefthenea explains that it’s not really clear how many wreckers there are, but they’re clearly ready to defend themselves. Of course, it’s hard to say how many are actually in the base, and how many are on patrol. If the men they disturbed earlier have returned to the camp, perhaps they’re all out searching for the adventurers.
They fall to debating what to do next. The four main options seem to be destroying the tower; attacking the camp; trying to waylay one of the patrols; and trying to contact the lizardfolk. Raylin favours the latter, since she’s much more comfortable with diplomacy and discussion than with fighting people. None of them are especially keen on launching a frontal attack on the camp before they know much more.
“History tells us that in battle, smaller numbers of attackers are generally unsuccessful,” points out the Professor.
At the moment, even if the bandits know they’re here, all they’ve seen are two figures possibly associated with a wolf: who knows how they’ll interpret that? They might just have been hunters annoyed at the wreckers trying to pinch their kill. However, taking any drastic action will certainly tell the wreckers what’s going on, which means burning down the tower may not be the best strategy. It seems that the next step is to watch the patrols and see if there’s a good opportunity to eliminate one...