It was the second day after the party had descended from the mountains into the desert, that they saw the line of watch and signal towers in the distance. These sentinels marked the old Ralulee frontier, but were now within “the disputed lands.” Under the terms of The Dunes’ Peace they were to be abandoned, and the party truly hoped that the sultan was keeping his side of the agreement.
As they neared the first, a five story stone structure with a signal glass on its summit, the wind began to pick up.
“A storm is coming,” Maya observed.
“But look how blue the sky is,” Wilberta countered.
“A sand storm,” Maya corrected.
“I hate those,” Seymour said absently. “You can’t breathe in them.”
Under the circumstances, not even Breena could object to Gwendolyn picking the lock of the building. Seymour, Maya, and Gwendolyn then stepped it to have a look around. The ground floor was much more spacious than it seemed from outside. In fact, it offered more than enough room for their horses.
The stone floor was covered with a thick layer of fine sand which seemed to confirm that the structure was indeed abandoned. As the trio beckoned the others in, some small grey creatures darted across the floor.
“What are those?” Wil exclaimed.
“Scorpions,” Maya replied distastefully. “I absolutely detest scorpions. Be careful, they sting,” she said as she crushed one under her shoe. The others followed her example, and it was deemed safe to lead the horses in.
By this time the wind had really started to gust, raising large clouds of dust. Thilda closed and secured the door against the coming onslaught.
Once the animals were tended, the companions headed for the spiral staircase leaving Thilda on watch below.
On the next level they found a kitchen and messing area. A stone cook stove was on the wall opposite the landing, and a large rustic wood table with twelve stools stood in the middle of the room. The remaining wall space was lined with shelves and cupboards, most of which were empty except for a thin layer of sandy dust as fine as talc.
One cabinet, however, held a few bottles of wine and oil; and a peg beside the doorway held two goatskin bags of stale but still drinkable water. A drawer produced a few papers which Breena and Maya determined to be requisition forms and inventory lists.
The third level proved to be a barracks room. A dozen bunks and an empty weapons rack were its key features. Here and there a few discarded papers of a personal nature littered the floor. A torch logo with the Ralulee words: “Fifth Signals,” adorned one wall.
Wilberta gave each bunk a thorough search and found a small medallion of smokey quartz caught in one of the frames.
“Look at this,” she said holding it up for the others to see.
The crystal was carved into the shape of a winged female figure. It seemed rather stylised with the feminine curves just a little too exaggerated.
“It’s cold,” Wil said. “This entire bloody country is hot, but this stone is cold.”
“Let me see,” Breena said.
She took the piece and examined it carefully. It had an odd feel to it, but as to why, the “White Ones” were silent.
She started to hand it back to Wilberta; but Wil said, “No, you keep it.” Breena put it into her side pouch.
The company found that the fourth level was a storeroom. It was virtually empty, though there were a couple of empty urns of lamp oil left behind.
Finally they arrived on the signal platform. It unlike the other levels was accessed via a hatch through the floor. The wind was really buffeting the tower by now, and the entire landscape beneath them has hidden by great clouds of blowing sand.
“We better get below,” Gwendolyn said.
Just then, Breena noticed a small shelf built into the base of the lamp and signal mirror. On it were two brown bound books. She grabbed them and joined the others going downwards and pulled the hatch tight behind her.
The storm lasted for two days, and leaving was out of the question. This was really taking its toll on their provisions, especially water.
While they waited for the storm to abate Breena and Maya worked on translating the Ralulee books. The first was a signal book. There were clear hand drawn diagrams of mirror positions and instructions on flash durations on the right hand pages. The corresponding meanings on the left hand pages had been blotted out with thick black ink, however.
The other book was a general instruction book for the use of the lamps, and some non-critical information about the network of towers. Then they saw it. There was a well near the third tower to the east of them.
It would be yet another delay, but if the storm continued they would have no other choice.
Friday Flash Fiction picture prompt above
This post is out of sequence in the series, but is written now as this was the perfect prompt to inspire it.