"Shit!" He started reburying the stuff. She looked the guy over as he approached; he was only carrying a staff. Her father had his club ready.
"Dad..." she hissed warningly.
"We should get out of here, now! They might be bandits. Here, help me bury."
"He doesn't look like a bandit," she said dubiously, kicking dirt into the hole.
"They know where the chest is, we'll have to fight 'em!"
"There's nothing in it any more, dad," she pointed out patiently.
"We'll have to fight 'em!" he repeated. "Quick, get the chest back up!"
"Hurry up, we need to get the sword out."
"Why don't you stay here, and I'll go talk to him. He's not even armed."
"Here." He handed her the sword. She took it, somewhat awkwardly.
Roman saw the girl walk over toward him. Despite the sword, she didn't look threatening, mainly exasperated. He stopped walking, however, and let her approach.
"Hello! Good day!" he called cheerfully.
"Good day," Melantha said warily.
He hesitated. Whatever they were doing really wasn't any of his business. "Are these mushrooms yours?" he inquired. It didn't seem likely, given their dress and unclean state, that these people owned much of anything, let alone fields of magic mushrooms, but it never hurt to be polite.
Melantha was slightly nonplussed. "No, no. Take all you want." She sized him up, decided she could take him if need be, and relaxed a little.
She retreated to rejoin her father.
"What'd he say?"
"They just want some mushrooms, dad, calm down," she muttered, keeping an eye on the young man.
"Like hell! They just happen to come upon as we're digging up the treasure? And they're looking for mushrooms?!"
"Yes," she sighed. "They're weird mushrooms, all right?" She wouldn't have bet that they were edible herself, but whatever.
Nadya heard a snorting sound from the bushes. She'd heard it once before, with her friend the ranger. He wasn't here now. This was bad. She cleared her throat and began to say something
Two of them charged out of the woods, very fast. They didn't look like any animal any of them had ever seen. Low-slung, they were covered with fur that began burgundy on their front halvesthe same as the mushroomsthen streaked to silver on their hindquarters. They had odd, circular snouts and horns that curled forward dangerously, and big purple eyes like an insect's.
One of them slammed into Melantha's father, half-trampling him under its clawed feet as he struggled weakly to free himself. Roman cast a Magic Missile; the beast yelped in pain as the spell struck home, and a long proboscis snaked out from its snout.
The other one charged Nadya; she crouched defensively before the horns crashed into her armored midriff, knocking her off her feet. Saliva dripped onto her from the strange mouth. Fortunately, its claws weren't very sharp. She stabbed at its head, but it snaked aside.
Melantha's father was clearly badly wounded. Her first clumsy attack attempt missed the creature completely. Her second cut its head off.
The one on Nadya tried to gore her, its claws making a horrible screeching noise against her mail. Roman ran over and swung his staff at it, but it was a glancing blow that did nothing, so he used his remaining Magic Missile spell. Melantha hesitated, glanced at her father, and joined the other two in battling the second beast. It left Nadya alone and charged Roman, who threw himself out of the way as it passed. His guide sprang up and stabbed at the thing, but her timing was off. Melantha missed, as well, but they had it boxed in among the three of them.
It sprang at Roman, claws extended, but fell short. He gave it a solid blow with his quarterstaff. It fell, tried to get up, and collapsed, senseless.
Melantha's father did the same thing. She ran over to him. "Dad? Dad?" He needed a cleric. "Hey, you!" she called to Roman. "Give me a hand." She tried to get him up to her shoulder, but quickly realized that moving him like that would only worsen his wounds. "I don't suppose you know any healing magic?"
Roman did not, but he did have some training in non-magical medical techniques, and he made some crude bandages from his own clothing.
"By the way, my name's Roman Kiprusoff," he offered.
"Melantha. Guess it's a good thing you came through when you did."
The large woman dusted herself off and joined them, watching over Roman's shoulder. "Well, I'm the one who brought him here; my name's Nadya."
"You guys really looking for mushrooms?" Melantha asked skeptically.
"Yes, actually," Roman told her, giving her a speculative look. Her name wasn't Traladaran, and she didn't really look it either, although given the coating of filth it was rather hard to tell.
They would definitely need to get her father back to town; Nadya and Melantha cut some saplings to made a rough stretcher. The latter eyed the stuff that had been in the chest and decided it would be a good idea to bring it back. She put the armor on, awkwardly, along with the sword. It felt weird. Roman hastily picked a dozen of the mushrooms and put them in his bag, and then they hurried back toward the river. Her father muttered half-consciously about "getting them."
"Mom's going to kill me," Melantha mumbled. "Maybe him, too."
"So, what brought you and your father so far out into the forest?" Roman inquired eventually, walking next to Melantha, who had the back half of the stretcher. "If I may ask."
"Nothing important," she replied shortly.
"Ah. Right then. I often find myself wandering aimlessly into the forest; it's a very relaxing pastime, don't you think?"
Melantha wondered if he might be crazy. He seemed nice enough, and trustworthy.... "Thanks for helping me get him back to town, and all."
"No worries, happy to help," Roman breezed.
"So, you're a wizard, huh?"
"Student," he admitted. "Home for the summer."
"Never met one before. Wizards don't hang out in Dog Alley. Amazing, that."
"True, I don't. Good eye." Roman had heard of Dog Alley. People didn't go there if they wanted to come back. "So, you... live in Dog Alley?"
"Want to make something of it?" she said mildly.
"No, just never met anyone who lived there. Knew a couple people who died there," he added under his breath.
The group's appearance late that afternoon caused some discussion in the logging camp, and then they crossed over to the island. Roman paid for the trip. Nadya gave him a pointed look and cleared her throat.
"Throat all right?" Roman inquired. "We are going to the cleric, we should have that looked at."
"I was just thinking of our prior arrangement."
"Yes, more than fair, excellent deal."
"Now might be an appropriate time to close that deal."
"I dare say we should get this man to the cleric first."
"You know, I bet you'd enjoy carrying the end of the stretcher...." She tapped her foot impatiently.
"Can we have this conversation later?" Melantha suggested. She was worried about this cleric business. It was going to be expensive. She had the little bag of gold, but there wasn't that much there, and it was literally all the family had. On the other hand, her father was in a bad way, and might very well die without real help. And then where would they be? Possibly better off, a nasty inner voice remarked.
Near the dock was an onion-domed Church of Traladara, and they carried the stretcher toward it. A muscular acolyte greeted them at the gate.
"Yes? How can I help you?" He looked at the stretcher. "Ah, this man needs aid!"
"I lay hands upon him, and call upon the Immortals! Halav, Petra, Zirchev, attend me!" There was a faint humming sound. Melantha's father looked better immediately. He groaned and sat up. "Blessing of the Immortals upon you."
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