"Thank you for giving us back our temple! It was here the whole time, and we never knew!"
"The door was hidden, overgrown; it was only by chance that I noticed it," Roman said modestly.
Over the next few days they... waited. Kant and Vineleaper bickered. Kant told stories about the strange places he'd been and the things he'd seen. Melantha paid attention; she liked stories. Vineleaper didn't have many, but he was a centaur, which was fairly unusual for the area, and interesting in its own right. Kant also spent a lot of time talking about the big break that he knew was waiting right around the corner, and the opportunities he'd been cheated of in the past. When he wasn't talking, he was willing to spar with Nadya a bit and teach her some of the moves he'd picked up over the course of his career. One night he got drunk on the local grog and made advances toward Melantha. Never having entertained the idea that she might be attractive before this, she had no idea how to handle it, and settled for edging away until he got the hint. Roman found himself obscurely pleased by the latter.
Kant tried to apologize the next morning. "Really, I'm sorry, I don't know what that was."
"I think it was probably the booze," she replied forthrightly.
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess you're right."
"That's okay." She suspected that this development was going to need some thought.
Roman did some asking around. One thing that he'd noticed was that no one seemed to have any idea what the treasure was supposed to be. Just that it was there, and that the Night of Fire would reveal it.
The villagers continued their creepy ways. Sometimes one of the travelers would wake up at a sound in the night and see them walking around without light, apparently engaged in chores. They appeared obsessed with the temple; there was always a crowd inside and another waiting, day and night.
The adventurers continued to explore the ruins. They found the outlines of the old keep, and some long-rusted helmets and spearheads.
"Whatever happened here was hundreds of years ago," Melantha sighed. "Maybe these people aren't human; maybe they live a really long time?"
"It's possible," Roman shrugged.
"Or maybe they're just naturally stupid."
"I have an odd feeling about them."
"I think we should probably keep watch at night"
The eve of the Night of Fire arrived at long last. Kant had seen the effect before, and informed them that it was rather difficult to see the slender pillar of foxfire. He had a plan that involved the five of them spreading out to make sure the entire area was covered.
During the day, there seemed to be an awful lot of villagers in town, more than they had ever seen before. Kant and Vineleaper didn't seem to notice; they were fully concentrated on finding their treasure.
Maybe we should not split up tonight, Melantha thought as sundown approached. Purple streaked the sky as the sun slowly vanished. The first quarter moon rose through the clouds.
The villagers lit no fires that night. Nadya dug through her pack and handed garlic and holy water around to her two companions, and kept a torch at hand.
"What is up with them?" Kant asked quietly, coming over to the trio. "They've been strange all day."
"Did you ask?" Melantha inquired.
"I will." She grabbed the nearest villager's arm; the woman stared right through her with glazed eyes, shook herself free, and walked away to speak with another, although no sound came from her moving lips. "O-kay... we're not splitting up, guys. I don't give a damn about the plan. This is creeping me out."
Nadya pointed without speaking. Through the trees, buildings were appearing. People were coming out of them, apparently solid but all with those glazed eyes. Watching their actions, it looked like high noon o of an ordinary day in Threshold. The market appeared, and people carried on trading and talking, all without sound. The old walls appeared, with men patrolling on them. They cast no shadows in the moonlight.
"I wasn't expecting this," Kant admitted.
"A few days ago, I saw a woman," Roman said. "This was during the day, for a second I swore she had no shadow, but I looked again and she did. I'm starting to get a really bad feeling about this." He sensed no threat, despite the overall strangeness, but it was undeniably spooky.
A stream of the phantom villagers was headed for the rediscovered shrine.
"Well, as long as they're ignoring us, I guess it's okay... I hope." Melantha tried to return her mind to business.
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Copyright © 2000 David Twiddy et al