Chapter 5: The Tower of Terror
Craig groaned as the sun’s light began to shine across his face, before rolling over to bury his face in his pillow once more. A weight suddenly landed on his back, and the feeling of partially drawn claws began kneading into his back.
“Five more minutes…” Craig grumbled into his pillow.
“Get up. Feed me… then get out.”
With an almighty heave, Craig rolled over knocking Ninja onto the floor.
“Here I thought you could fend for yourself… you’re getting fa-”
“What!?” hissed Ninja, pouncing back onto the bed, one paw raised towards Craig’s face.
“Fabulous. You’re getting more and more fabulous. Now move if you want feeding.”
“You took your time.” Ninja said with a harrumph, before leaping off the bed and sauntering into the kitchen with his tail held high.
Craig grumbled as usual, rising to prepare for the day ahead.
“You’ve been working very hard these past two weeks since the… incident in the sewers. In recognition, I have decided to give you the opportunity to go on a solo mission out of the city.” Rachael said giving Craig an appraising look.
“Thank you, ma’am. I won’t let you down again.”
“You’ll be heading to the port town of L’Akaroa; their famed lighthouse went out two days ago and nobody who has investigated it has returned. It sounds like some sort of magic is involved. I trust you to use your judgement and resolve this issue; however, I do not want a repeat of your last big mission. If the danger seems too much, send word back to me and we’ll arrange reinforcements. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes ma’am. Crystal.”
“Excellent. Here are your papers. Your ship leaves in two hours, I suggest you make your way to the docks.”
Craig stepped off the ship enjoying the fresh air after having spent the past couple of hours down in the ship’s hold, reading up on L’Akaroa and its lighthouse. Unfurling the map he’d been given on the ship, Craig quickly traced the route from the port to the city square. It was a small town, so Craig figured the chances of getting lost were slim at best, and so he headed into town, map rolled back up in his pocket. Twenty minutes later, he strolled into what could only be the square. Smiling, secretly pleased with himself, he began heading towards the largest building in sight; the town hall, when the feeling of someone’s hand on his backside made him freeze.
“What kind of sleazy person wou- oh!” he spun around, jaw dropping open in surprise.
“Who’re you calling sleazy boo?” laughed Melissa, grabbing Craig into a tight embrace, one of her hands sliding down his back.
“Keep your hands off me you hussy.” Craig laughed and he hugged her back. “Well let me have a look at you… you’ve cut your beautiful crimson locks.”
“I don’t miss the hassle of shoulder-length hair, though it’s taking some getting used to. What d’you think?”
“Radiant as ever, dear heart. What are you doing here?”
“I’m attending an inventors convention, you know those of us who follow the way of Artifex can’t resist the chance to show off our skills. I was hoping to get some photos of the famous lighthouse but…”
“But it stopped working a couple of nights ago, and nobody knows why…”
“And how by the gods did you know that?” asked Mel, cocking an eyebrow.
“The mayor requested help from the Oakland Academy, as everyone who’s investigated so far has disappeared, so they suspect magic is to blame. I’ve been given this opportunity to prove my worth… flying solo for the first time.”
“Heh. Nothing at all love.” She chuckled.
“I was just heading to the town hall to check in with the mayor. I’d love to spend more time with you before I have to head back though. Maybe after I sort this we could-”
“You don’t really think I’m going to let you go off by yourself do you? I’ve got your back.”
“It’s too dangerous. Besides, this mission was given to me to do alone.”
“It’s safer and more sensible to take in backup. Besides, I can take care of myself. You worry too much.”
Craig sighed, realizing that he had no chance of talking her out of it.
“Come on then. Just try not to cause any trouble, will you?”
“Who me?” she winked. With one final pinch of his backside, the two headed to town hall.
“We’ve sent two guards and one of the maintenance staff to investigate… we’ve heard nothing back at all.” The mayor gave them a concerned look. “I fear dark powers are at work and without a resident mage in our community anymore…”
“It certainly sounds like something supernatural is occurring; I can’t imagine anything else that would seem quite so ominous. Regardless, I’m here to investigate the cause and, if possible, resolve the issue for you. With your permission, I’d like to get underway immediately.” said Craig, ignoring the butterflies in his stomach.
“Yes, of course. If you head out the north exit and continue up along the cliff, you’ll arrive at the base of the lighthouse. You can’t miss it. Here’s the key and the papers you’ll require for the guards to let you through.”
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Mayor. I will return with news as soon as possible.”
“Thank you. May the gods watch over you both.”
“It’ll take us close to an hour to reach the tower; I wandered up yesterday to have a look but was turned away before I got there. Now that we’ve got permission, we can finally get up close and have a look…. don’t worry; I’ll save the photos for after we’ve solved the problem.” Mel laughed seeing the look on Craig’s face.
“I appreciate your restraint…” Craig smirked. “Now, seeing as we have an hour to kill… what’ve you been up to for the past couple of months? I want all the gossip.”
“Oh, it’s just been business as usual. Although… I did have an interesting encounter with a nymph.”
“Do I want to know?” Craig asked, cocking an eyebrow at her.
“You know you do. It all started when I was wandering in the North Wood to take some pictures of the lake…”
“…well that was an unnecessary amount of detail.” said Craig, shaking his head in both disgust and amusement. “I’m afraid my stories of the past few weeks have been much darker and not nearly so… titillating.”
“You certainly do seem to have grown up a little these past couple of months…. I want to hear everything, and I mean everything.” said Mel with a knowing look.
“Good thing we’ve got a bit of a walk ahead of us then…”
“I leave you for two months and you nearly get yourself killed by an old crone… you are a concern sometimes.”
“Some things never change…”
The two laughed together as if it had only been a couple of days since they’d seen one another, rather than months.
“Here we are…” said Mel gesturing up at the lighthouse. “…after you.”
“Thanks…” muttered Craig as he walked past her and up to the door. Drawing the key from his pocket, he placed it in the lock and turned it. It jammed.
“Put some muscle into it!” said Mel looking over his shoulder. With a grunt Craig turned the key forcefully, swearing as it snapped in the lock throwing him off balance.
“Well… that was clever. What do we do now?” she asked Craig as he threw her a dirty look.
“When it doubt, I magic.” Craig waved his hand over the locked and whispered. “Akete Kudasai.”
A gentle shimmer radiated forth from his palm, causing the lock to glow for several seconds before the distinct clicking of the lock opening sounded.
“Age before beauty dear…” said Craig opening the door, and gesturing Mel through.
“Thanks…” she said throwing Craig a filthy look of her own. He just grinned.
The duo entered the ground floor of the lighthouse; it was large, round, stone and barren. The two shared a look that simply said: be careful. Side by side the pair crossed the room and began ascending the large stone staircase the spiralled up around the side. Emerging cautiously onto the second floor, the pair stopped at the sound of crying echoing around the room.
“Tsukue ni Nare!” Craig whispered, transforming his ring into his staff, holding it defensively before him.
“Is that… footsteps?” whispered Mel, throwing Craig a concerned look. Craig closed his eyes and listened closely. Barely detectable beneath the sound of crying was the echoing of footsteps coming either up the stairs, or down the stairs towards them. Craig’s grip on his staff tightened. Slowly the footsteps died away suddenly. Nodding towards the next flight of stairs, the two moved cautiously along, their guards raised. They ascended the stairs and emerged on the third floor to find the crying suddenly stopped; the room was dead silent, the air heavy. Surveying the room the pair noticed that everything was pristine; as if somebody had just come along and cleaned everything obsessively. Neither daring to speak, they cautiously moved up the next staircase and onto the fourth floor where they froze in surprise.
“Well I’ll be…” murmured Craig, more to himself than Melissa.
“Yeah… this could be fun…”
The entire fourth floor was frozen solid; ice glinted all over the floor and up the staircase on the far side of the room, several large icicles hanging precariously from the ceiling, while several more rose jaggedly from the floor.
“Let’s take this slow. Follow the wall around, and be careful.” said Craig giving Mel a warning look.
“You worry too much.”
“Yubiwa ni Nare!” Craig incanted, reverting his staff to its ring form. The two then slowly moved out onto the ice, awkwardly shuffling and sliding along the walls. Minutes agonizingly slid by until Craig finally began to slide confidently towards the foot of the stairs.
“By the-!” cried Melissa as she slipped and landed flat on her backside. Craig turned around and laughed as she began to flail back up to her feet. She sat solemnly on the ice and shot daggers at him with her stare. Craig laughed so much that he hit the bottom stair backwards and toppled painfully onto his own backside. Melissa started laughing herself, as she awkwardly scurried along the ice on all fours.
“That’ll teach you to laugh at me.” she smirked as she reached Craig sitting on the bottom step.
“How about we crawl up the stairs? I’d rather not risk slipping back down them… this is getting dangerous.” said Craig throwing Melissa a questioning look.
“Let’s do it. I’ve always been better on my knees anyway.”
Shaking his head with a chuckle, Craig began crawling up the stairs slowly, Mel close behind. Finally the two emerged onto the fifth floor, just to be sent staggering back to the top of the stairs by a howling gale. Grabbing each other and ducking down to avoid being thrown down the stairs, the two began to slowly battle their way through the wind toward the far side.
“Two steps forward, one step back…” Craig muttered through gritted teeth as the two reach the stairs, where the wind suddenly dropped away leaving them panting and exhausted. “I don’t know what’s causing this but… we’d best be careful.”
Melissa just nodded as the two dragged themselves up the stairs, breath heavy. They staggered out on the sixth floor just as the flames lighting it guttered out, leaving the room pitch black.
“Take my hand.” whispered Craig as he extended his hand behind him.
“They’re not my hand sweetie…”
Craig coughed awkwardly and lowered his arm until Mel grabbed his wrist.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Let’s do it…”
The two slowly began making their way around the room, Craig’s hand running along the wall so they wouldn’t get lost in the dark. Something solid caught his foot, and Craig cursed loudly as he fell forward, Mel releasing his hand in order to stay upright.
“Are you alright?” her voice floated from the darkness behind Craig, who grumbled.
“Fine. I was trying to conserve my mana, but there’s no point if I get us killed before we find out what’s happening.”
“Save your strength; I’ll light the way.” whispered Mel.
“Que la lumière soit!
A softly glowing sphere of purple-white light flickered into being between her outstretched hands and floated into the air, lightly illuminating the room.
“The light of creativity… why didn’t you do that in the first place?” asked Craig as he inspected his knee, bleeding from the chunk of rock he’d tripped on.
“For the same reason you didn’t magic up a light. Now stop whining and let me see your leg.” She said coming to kneel next to him.
“It’s just a little bloody; save your strength for now.” Craig said standing up, circumventing the now visible mounds of rubble as headed towards the stairs, an unimpressed looking Melissa in tow. Finally the two emerged on the seventh floor, which was clearly lit and utterly abandoned save for a single body in a guard uniform, slumped by the foot of the stairs. Rushing over Craig dropped to his knees, wincing in pain as his wounded knee smashed against the stone tiles. Suddenly the guard lunged forward, knocking Craig onto his back, claw-like fingers raking his already injured leg. Craig lashed out with his other foot, knocking the guard back, scuttling back along the ground in horror at the sight of the guard’s dead eyes.
“Zombies…” whispered Mel is disgust.
“Tsukue ni Nare!” cried Craig as he re-summoned his staff.
“Mahoutsukai no Osu!”
The shockwave burst forth from the staff as the guard-turned-zombie charged him, staggered backwards into the wall as Craig levered himself back to his feet. With an inhuman roar the guard zombie charged again, but this time Craig was prepared. Levelling his staff he cast his spell.
“Kaminari no Kougeki!” The bolt of lightning blasted the zombie square in the chest, blasting clean through and taking a small chunk out of the wall behind him.
“Nice shot babe.” said Mel as she rushed over to him. With a groan, Craig dropped to his good knee, then onto his backside. Mel kneeled down next to him and held her hands palm open above his injuries.
A gentle purple-white light enveloped her hands and spread slowly down to Craig’s bleeding leg. He took a sharp intake of breath as the magic flowed upon him, the wound gently tingling as the pain faded and the skin knitted itself back together, leaving naught but faint red marks when the wounds had been.
“Thanks love.” Craig muttered, annoyed at his own weakness as he pulled himself to his feet with her hand. “Seems like things are going from bad to worse… stick close, and don’t let your guard down no matter what.”
With a nod of agreement, Mel followed Craig up the stairs to the eighth floor of the lighthouse which was filled with a heavy swirling mist.
“I can barely see you in front of me.” whispered with her hand on his shoulder.
“Stay close. We’ll move quickly, but cautiously around the walls again.”
The two set off and after a few minutes Craig kicked the bottom step, swearing as he slammed his palm against the wall to keep his balance. They ascended the staircase and soon the swirling mist was beneath them, though both with shivering slightly from the dampness that had soaked into their clothes.
“I’ve never been so moist in my entire life…” Craig shuddered.
“Speaking of… did I ever tell you about the time I- by the goddess!” exclaimed Mel as the two emerged into a jungle.
“I don’t… this looks like it stretches on for days. I don’t know what kind of magic this is, but whatever it is… it’s powerful…” said Craig as his eyes took in the magnificent sprawling jungle before him.
“No walls to follow this time… what do we do?”
“We aim straight across and just keep walking… and hope for the best.”
“Well that’s reassuring…”
Shrugging it off, the two began wandering across the grass, weaving in and out of trees and they headed, as far as they could tell, in a predominantly straight line across. Minutes slowly crept by until the duo no longer had any idea how long they’d be walking, or where they were in relation to either exit.
“I’m so unfit…” panted Craig as he sat down on a large flat rock, beneath a willow tree.
Mel just gave a tired laugh and said nothing as she began observing their surroundings.
“Can you hear water?” she asked looking at Craig, who frowned in concentration.
“It sounds like a river or… a waterfall.” Craig’s eyes lit up somewhat at the idea. “Come on!”
Groaning, Melissa pulled herself up and followed Craig as he followed the sound. After a few minutes the pair reached a small lake with a beautiful waterfall cascading into it.
“It’s beautiful…” said Craig, eyes filled with wonder.
“It looks like there’s a cave near the top… maybe that leads out of here.”
“We can only hope…” said Craig wandering around the lake, eyes glued to the waterfall. Eventually the pair of them reached the cave nearby, and entered. Following the slope upwards it eventually turned into stairs.
“Jackpot.” laughed Craig, tiredly dragging himself up and into the top floor of the lighthouse.
Standing before the open deck stood a woman in a ragged white dress, her blonde hair knotted and messy… and she was entirely translucent. She turned to face Craig and Melissa as they emerged. Her eyes once a beautiful ocean blue, were bloodshot and angry. Idly she turned a cloudy crystal pendant over in her hands, saying nothing.
“Ho there spirit. We mean you no harm.” whispered Craig, raising an empty palm to face her.
“He promised he would return to me… HE PROMISED!”
Craig and Melissa flinched as her screams reverberated through the air like a sonic shockwave.
“Who promised?” Craig asked, his knuckles whitening from the pressure he was putting on his staff.
“My husband… he said he would come back… he said his lighthouse would guide him home… HE LIED TO ME. FOR A HUNDRED YEARS I HAVE WAITED. HE LIED TO ME!”
Craig shot Mel a worried look, not sure how to proceed. Mel just shrugged back, equally unsure.
“Why have you trapped people in this lighthouse? Restore it so we can save other people from the pain of losing their loved ones at sea.”
“They didn’t even bring his body back. As I have suffered, SO SHALL THEY!” screamed the spirit, causing Craig to grit his teeth in pain.
“I don’t think we can calm her down… we may have to banish her…” said Mel with a sad look. Upon hearing this, the spirit turned to look at Mel for the first time since they’d arrive.
“Such a pretty face… perhaps he’ll come back to me then… your body… GIVE IT TO ME!”
With a flash of light the spirit distorted and hurtled towards Mel in a shimmering spiral of ghostly light. Shoving her behind him Craig raised his staff parallel to the ground and desperately incanted.
“Mamori no Tate!”
His shield flared into existence with mere seconds to spare as the spirit slammed into it with a resounding crackle, before bouncing back and reverting to her humanoid form.
“Mahoutsukai no Osu!”
Craig released a shockwave through the spirit; her body wavered briefly but she remained otherwise unaffected. She surged forward, a pale hand sliding into Craig’s chest. He gasped in pain as a cold deeper than anything he’d ever felt gripped his heart. Crying in pain he desperately swung his staff. There was a flash of blue light as the crystal at the tip of his staff connected, and the spirit hissed staggering back. Groaning began to echo as the spirit’s eyes flared blood red. From the back of the chamber two corpses shambled forth, one in commoner’s clothes, the other is a guard’s uniform.
“Hi no Dama!” shouted Craig as he swung his staff, releasing a ball of fire into the first of the zombies, sending it staggering and enveloped in flames. Wasting no time Mel stepped past Craig towards the spirit, overriding his protest.
“Repose en paix.”
A gentle yet warm purple-white light surged forth from Mel’s outstretched hand, enveloping the spirit who instantly froze, staring daggers back at her.
“Your husband is gone; it’s time you were as well.” Mel whispered, her eyes filled with sympathy.
“Go spirit. I am sure he is awaiting you on the other side.” said Craig eyes also sympathetic.
The spirit’s rage dissolved in an instant, and a single tear rolled down her pale white cheek as she faded into the beyond, the crystal pendant dropping to the ground with a clink, the zombies collapsing too as he magic faded.
“Remind me never to get in your bad books…” Craig said with a smirk.
“I can exorcise the spirit from a lighthouse, but I can’t exorcise the smartass out of you.” Mel smirked back.
With a chuckle Craig approached the large mirror in the centre of the chamber, picking up the solar crystal from the ground next to it he reinserted it into the depression for it, where it began to glow.
“Mono ga Naore!” Craig incanted with a wave of his hand, the cracks in the mirror shimmered and melded back together into a whole. Repaired, the mirror reflected the light of the solar crystal out of the tower and into the approaching night beyond, illuminating the skies once more.
“I think you should have this.” said Melissa as she draped the crystal pendant over Craig’s head. “It’s enchanted quartz; the clear crystal will fill with smoke when danger is near. You have more need of it than I do… trouble just seems to find you.”
Craig ignored the wink and said nothing, just shaking his head.
“I suppose we better head back down and let the mayor know that the lighthouse is safe once more.”
“Yes, but first things first…” said Mel with a mischievous grin.
“Can’t vanquish a tormented spirit without a selfie, right?” Craig asked rolling his eyes.
“You love it.” laughed Mel pulling him in close as she fished out her camera, taking a photo of the two of them with the sun setting out the balcony behind them.
“One more… for old time sake.” said Craig separating himself from Mel and sticking his staff between his legs. With a sigh, she took the photo.
“You love it.” he winked.
“Come on.” she laughed. “There’s much celebratory wine to be had tonight.”
“Yes, yes there is. I need to head back to Oakland tomorrow, so let’s make this night count.”
“I fully intend to.” she winked at him, and make the most of the night they did.
Chapter 6: The Dreaded Direwolf & The Mystic Managerie: http://craigsimagination.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/myfacc-chapter-6/