"Go and see, go and see! It's daytime, they won't be out yet."
Nadya lurked in the doorway for a moment and finally stepped inside. She didn't want to break off from the others, being interested in making it home alive, so when Roman began climbing the stairs, Melantha behind him, she followed them.
Roman's wizard-keen senses warned him that danger lurked above. A latched door met them on the landing. The three of them looked at one another, and then he opened the door and looked inside. There was one window, covered with oiled paper, letting in a dim ray of light that revealed a bed, with a figure lying on it, and a leg on the floor. The place smelled like something had rotted there, but a long time ago. He had the impression that there were other things in the room, around the bed, out of sight.
"What's there?" the widow asked in her cracked screech.
"You got a candle or something?" Melantha called back.
"What do you see?"
"Nothing to concern yourself over," Roman assured her.
Melantha trotted downstairs and got the candlea bare inch of smelly tallow in a cheap tin saucer. Roman opened the door again and looked. He could make out a chest of drawers, more of the figure on the bed and the one on the floor, little more than skeletons. Something was moving around the corners of his vision. He backed out and closed the door again.
"What's in there?" Melantha whispered.
"I don't know."
"Nothing good. Something's moving. Bodies. Vague impression of being bad."
"Possible. Would you like to take the chance? I ask merely for information," he added politely.
Letting him lead didn't seem to be getting them anywhere. "Yeah, all right." She took the candle from him and went into the room. She looked around, saw the bed and the bodies. Looked up. Five black forms like huge cockroaches scuttled for a moment, disturbed by the light. They spread their batlike wings and launched into the air. Two of them attacked her companions, while three surrounded her. One dived toward her face, but as she dodged the second, the third swung around her. Its proboscis sliced through the old leather armor and into her back, and the thing settled down to feed.
The Widow Zovma was screaming downstairs. Melantha waved the candle toward the one attached to her, hoping to scare it away, but succeeded only in putting out the light. Nadya grabbed the one nearest her and smeared it across a good-sized swathe of wall, putting her hand through it in the process. Roman swung his staff at the one flying near his head and missed it. One of his feet went through the floor in a cloud of sawdust, and the creature's dive missed him as he lurched abruptly.
Melantha was weakening rapidly from blood loss. She grabbed at the thing on her back, but it squirmed out of her grasp. Another one dove at her, but failed to penetrate her armor. Nadya squished another one of the things between her huge hands. Roman took another futile swing and missed. Melantha swung her sword blindly at the thing on her without any result. Nadya lunged across the room to try to get it off of her, but missed in the darkness, and then one of the things fastened onto her. Another missed Roman as he yanked himself free of the floor.
Just as she was at the point of passing out, Melantha finally managed to skewer the creature. Blood dripped freely down her back, most of it hers, as Roman swung his staff at the one on Nadya and succeeded only in getting yet another of the things attached to his own back.
The smell of blood filled the air. Nadya flung herself at the wall in an attempt to smash the thing, but it was too agile. Already injured by their encounter with the horned things earlier that day, she toppled over, unconscious. Melantha missed the thing as well. It launched off of Nadya and buzzed around the room angrily, so she went after the one on Roman and hit. It fell to the floor, where it was promptly and thoroughly stomped on. The circling one landed on Roman for a moment, then lost its nerve and flew away out the window.
The two of them stood panting, swaying weakly in the dim late afternoon light. Nadya groaned.
"What's happening up there?" the widow called.
"Um, nothing?" Roman replied.
"Are you dead?"
"No," Melantha told her, somewhat surprised about it. She went to the window and cut away the oilskin, letting in some real light, and went over the room quickly. The man in the bed had obviously been dead for quite some time. So had the dark-clothed man at its foot. The late thief had a rusty old dagger on him, a set of corroded lockpicks, and a pouch. Inside the latter were four lumps of some yellowish stuff, maybe uncut gems? There was also a small parchment scroll. Roman looked over her shoulder as she opened it; it looked like a map. It claimed that if you went three days west, into the Foamfire Valley on the Night of Fire, near the great boulder at the Singing Falls, you would see a foxfire showing you where the treasure was.
That was worth almost getting all her blood sucked out, Melantha decided immediately. The Night of Fire was less than two weeks away, and was notorious for wolves and vampires, among other things. There was nothing else of interest in the room, so they went out to the landing to tend to Nadya. The Widow Zovma lunged past them as they came out of the room, and embraced the skeleton on the bed, weeping and calling his name as she kissed his skull. Melantha shrugged and went downstairs to see if there was anything worth taking, but came up empty.
The widow came back to reality after a while and gave the group ten silver pieces, half of the savings that had been squirreled away in the upper story. They got Nadya back on her feet and spent a few minutes in the widow's parlor, making plans. They were all in pretty poor shape after their little adventure. First things first, they divided up the silver; since she had gotten hurt the most, Nadya got four and the others three apiece. Roman took a look at the yellow stones in the better light downstairs and declared them to be amber. Baron Haladane had a monopoly on the gem, and guarded it jealously, so it could only be sold to his representatives. Roman knew people he could talk to; Melantha trusted him enough to let him take the smallest chunk to show them and find out how much it was worth.
That left the map, but they weren't sure what to do about that yet, and agreed merely to think it over until they could meet again.
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Copyright © 2000 David Twiddy et al