With the first rays of dawn, the phantoms began to dissolve. The vampire, of course, was gone as well. When the travelers poked cautious heads out of the temple door, the town was gone again. The house that had held the "treasure" was a crumbled ruin once more. They passed Vineleaper's remains with a shudder.
The "real" villagers were still there, going about their tasks. They looked at the three oddly.
"Greetings," one said in their strange accent. "Who art thou?"
They exchanged a look. "Travelers," Roman said firmly. There was no point in trying to explain, he suspected.
"We have had no visitors here for many years," the villager informed him. "Please, come in peace, and share our food."
"Thank you. I think we'll be leaving... maybe."
"Yes," Melantha agreed, the hair standing up on her neck. "Yes, we have to be on our way." The house they had sheltered in was still there, and their donkey. "This is really creepy. Are they under a curse, or something?" she wondered.
They didn't linger. On their way out of town, they noticed that bushes had overgrown the temple door again. A hole Vineleaper and Kant had dug in their explorations was gone as well.
"All this way and no treasure," Melantha sighed.
"We found treasure, I'm just not willing to go back for it," Roman replied.
"It's daytime," she pointed out. "We could dig down through the rubble."
"If you really want to, I won't stop you. It's not as important to me."
"What the hell'd you come out here for?" she demanded.
She sighed in frustration.
"Fine, go back to your cotillions. It is daylight, if the vampire's down there, we might just kill it while it's sleeping, the odd ray of sunshine," Nadya put in. "Or we could just run with our lives intact."
"I'm willing to go with the group decision," Roman told them.
"Let's at least go look at the pile of rubble and see what we find."
They returned to the house they had been in last night and did some digging. They found a few tiles in the remembered pattern, and kept going into the hidden room. The destroyed cube was there, but the gold was gone.
"Damn!" Melantha muttered. There was no sign of the vampire, either. Perhaps it had taken the treasure away. "We should probably get well away from here by nightfall."
"Yes, let's," Nadya agreed with a yawn; it had been a long night.
"Where we gonna go?"
"What if we decided to go downriver and cross the water?" At least the vampire couldn't follow them then.
"Sounds like a plan." She wondered how far vampires traveled.
They traveled downstream that day, and reached Arscova the next. They stopped there for the midday meal and to discuss their next move. Disappointed though they were with the results of their foray, none of them was interested in returning to Threshold immediately.
"Your folks are going to kill you, right?" Melantha asked Roman. She had 11 silver coins now; not enough, not when she had no idea how far she was going to have to go. She would have to return to Threshold at some point, of coursethere was something there she needed. But that was going to be the last time, if she had anything to say about it.
"Yeah, I'm dead," he sighed. "I'd rather go back and face the vampire." He was going to have to go back anyway, of course; they'd be sending out search parties. Maybe he should send a letter.
"I did tell my parents not to be expecting me for a month," Nadya shrugged.
"I wish I had your parents," Roman muttered.
Melantha shook her head. "Mine have probably forgotten I ever existed."
After considerable discussion of their options, they decided to continue south to Kelvin. It was a larger town than Threshold, and bound to offer some kind of opportunity. The main alternative would be to strike out into the wilderness, which would certainly offer adventure (and perhaps even money), but was not a course they felt confident of surviving. Roman sent a letter to his parents to reassure them of his well-being, and after a night's sleep disturbed by only a few dreams of vampires, they were on their way once more.
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