"This is the part where I think we might want to make sure our stuff is ready to go if we need to," Nadya remarked. "I don't feel too awfully threatened, but this is some really weird stuff going on here, and it seems it might be wise."
"This is a little stranger than I was expecting," Melantha nodded.
"Look! Above that house!" Vineleaper pointed up. Over one the newly appeared houses a column of foxfire appeared. Melantha immediately forgot about packing.
"Well, they're not bothering us, and the treasure is there...." Kant looked uncertain.
"I say we go for it," Roman judged. "But not too fast."
"We don't even need to go for it tonight, now that we know where it is," Melantha suggested.
"It may not be there tomorrow," he pointed out.
"He's right," Kant agreed. "Let's see what we get."
They headed in that direction. None of the villagers appeared to see them, although they were solid to touch. The house was small, one story, with a nice tiled floor and a fire lit in the hearth and several people, one woman keeping an eye on the turning spit. They talked with one another animatedly, silently.
Vineleaper used his hooves until the tiles cracked, and the others went to work with their shovels while the phantom family moved around them. It was more than a little surreal. Nadya stood guard. A neighbor phantom came to the door and talked to the woman at the hearth.
Five feet down Roman's pick hit something harder than dirt with a shattering sound, and something fell. After a bit more excavation it grew clear that there was a room down their, the ceiling of which they had just broken through. When they lowered a torch, gold gleamed back from the darkness.
"Quick, hurry up!"
They enlarged the hole. There was gold disk with jewels embedded in it, on what looked like a table. The room wasn't very large.
"I'm probably the lightest," Melantha volunteered. They lowered her on a rope. She landed next to the table, which turned out to be a large wooden cube covered with carvings. The disk was set into the top somehow. The walls and ceiling were tiled, all carved with the same runic designs. She relayed this to the others. There didn't seem to be anything dangerous. Kant climbed down as well.
Melantha touched the cube gingerly, goggling at the sight of all that gold. It was solid. Roman joined them, searching his memory for any indication of what this thing might be. It certainly looked like it might be magical, and all that rune-writing was suggestive, but it brought nothing to mind. The three of them stood staring at the cube. None of them seemed in a hurry to grab it, despite the wealth it represented.
"Well, shall I try to pick it up?" Kant said. He sounded nervous.
"Your funeral," Roman replied.
"Them's the risks, boys. Want to get to get the gold, gotta take the risks." He rubbed his hands together and took hold of the disk, lifted.
Beneath it lay a smooth, shallow depression in the wood, with a small hole in it.
There came a soft, inhaling sound. The top of the cube exploded as a figure smashed free, its skin a ghastly purple-green, wild grey hair, talon-like hands and fangs leaving no doubt as to its nature. Glowing red eyes illuminated the room.
All three of them screamed. The vampire seized Kant by the head. Roman fired off a Magic Missile, but the creature didn't seem to notice it at all. Nadya reached for her holy water, but splashed Roman instead of the monster. Vineleaper was shouting, "Kant! Kant!"
Horribly, the adventurer's face grew wrinkled and shrunken, then his skin crumbled and revealed bone
The others scrambled frantically for the rope. Nadya heaved them up. Melantha and Roman fumbled for their holy water as the vampire finished off Kant and leaped up to grab the tiled edge of the hole. The phantoms continued their silent meal. Both vials missed. The vampire finished climbing up into the room.
Vineleaper didn't have any garlic and sensed himself the next target. He bolted. The vampire moved faster than thought, landed on the centaur's back and wrenched his head around gruesomely. The other three abandoned their acquaintance to his fate and dashed through the phantom-crowded streets toward the temple. There was a large group of villagers outside the shrine, apparently singing. The three forced their way through the press in a panic, saw the vampire bounding towards them.
They made it into the temple. A service was going on, a bloodless phantom bird being sacrificed in smokeless phantom flame. The vampire stopped at the door. They could hear its hissing; if they looked out the door they could see the thing, surrounded by happy singing phantoms. It did not look happy at all.
They spent an incredibly uncomfortable night in the temple, listening to what was waiting for them. Nobody talked or slept much.
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Copyright © 2000 David Twiddy et al