Spacer Encounters 5
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    "You okay, dad?" Melantha asked, a bit anxious still.
    "That will be a gold piece," the acolyte intoned serenely.
    She winced and dug through the bag from the chest, handed it over.
    "May the Immortals bless you." He bowed slightly.
    "I think they just did." For whatever it was worth.
    "What'd you do that for?!" her father wanted to know, leaning on her as they walked away. "That was a whole gold piece!"
    "He saved your life, dad."
    "I'd have been fine."
    "You were coughing up blood the whole way here."
    "Was not."
    "Right." Melantha sighed and wondered how she was going to explain this to her mother. She was going to need help getting him back home even now, that was clear. She looked at him, looked at their two companions, and hesitated.
    Nadya noted her uncertainty and said, "Here, let me help your father."
    It would be impolite to let the women do everything. "And allow me to graciously offer my services." Roman bowed.
    "You could graciously offer me the two silver pieces you owe me," Nadya grumbled. The day had turned out very differently than she had originally planned, and she thought he might try to weasel out of it entirely. It would be embarrassing, to say the least, if she returned home empty-handed. Roman handed the coins over with fulsome expressions of gratitude.
    "It's this way," Melantha indicated the direction, and the four set off down Island Road, toward Dog Alley.
    Nadya at least had her size and her armor; Roman felt like a chicken on a fox farm. The fact that he was obviously a wizard was of some help in deterring unwanted attention, at least, but they stirred up a lot of lively conversation as they made their way through the narrow streets.
    "It's Dirtywhore and the old noble," someone noted, using the nickname the street had bestowed on Melantha (the second half of which, at least, was entirely inaccurate). If there was one thing Dog Alley residents couldn't stand it was people putting on airs; they'd sooner cut out their own tongues than use any of the Ailarions' highfalutin'-sounding given names.
    "They've got a wizard with them, what the fuck's up with that?"
    "I don't know."
    "She's got a sword. Where did that Dirtywhore get a sword?"
    "Look at the size of that one...." And so on.
    Dog Alley was fairly unique in lots of ways, and one of them was the packed-in nature of the houses. In the rest of Threshold, town ordinances decreed a certain distance between buildings, and most houses were surrounded by a small plot of land, usually with a kitchen garden and maybe a goat or a couple of pigs. In Dog Alley, everything crammed in tightly. There were a couple of two-story buildings, at the head of the street.
    "Aaaeiiiee!" someone shrieked, and ran out into the street towards them. Widow Zovma again.
    "Ignore her," Melantha told the others. "She's crazy."
    "You!" the widow screeched. "Ailarion! Where did you find him! Where did you find him!" She pawed at Roman. "You can help me, wizard!"
    This was new.
    "In my house there are evil spirits!"
    "Yes, ma'am?" His eyes watered a bit at the smell of her.
    "You must help me!" She whacked at him with her cane. "It's the only right thing to do! I'm an old lady, please help me. I can't take it much longer." Her voice faltered.
    "We really must get him back to their house...."
    "There's money up there," the widow whispered. Melantha's ears pricked up; this was part of one of the many versions of the story she had heard. "My husband's money is up there, and if you get rid of the evil spirit, I'll give you some of it. But not before!" she added sharply.
    "We'll think about it," Melantha promised. "We have to get my dad home before he falls over and starts bleeding again."
    "Old fool!" She whacked him with her stick as well and went screeching back into her house.
    It wasn't a description his daughter could argue with. Melantha explained, "The story is that she killed her husband, and his spirit's wandering around upstairs, the place is haunted. She might be crazy." On the other hand, dogs and occasionally human bodies had been found in the area, drained of blood.
    "You guys don't want to meet my mom...."
    Too late. She was standing in street and saw them coming. "What!?" she shouted immediately. "Where have you been old man!? Where have you been, old fool?" She hit him.
    "Stop that, old woman!"
    "Get in the house!"
    "I won't!"
    "You will!"
    He kicked her. "Silence!" Then he groaned.
    "What happened to you?!"
    "None of your business."
    "What do you mean?! You're my husband, of course it's my business! And who're these two? Your lordship," she added, taking in Roman's clothes.
    Melantha gave her companions a fixed, embarrassed smile. "They helped out."
    "At what?!"
    "Get in the house, woman," her father snapped.
    "I don't like this one bit.... I'll get in the house when I feel like it, old idiot!"
    "No, you'll go now!"
    "No I won't!"
    They more or less dragged each other inside. Melantha sighed and shook her head. At least she hadn't asked about the armor and stuff.
    "Back home safe, then?" Roman said in a tone that suggested he was entirely willing to pretend that nothing unpleasant had happened at all. "Great."
    "Cheerio, and all that... thank you both," she told them awkwardly. "I can see you guys back to the right side of town, so you don't get mugged."She figured it was the least she could do. "You guys helped us out of the forest, we can help you out of...."
    "... Dog Alley," Roman finished.
    "Yeah. It's not much, but we like it. Well, no, actually we hate it."
    "Ah." He couldn't think of anything to say. His curiosity had been piqued by a number of things, including the Widow Zovma, who peered at them from her front window as they passed. He paused. "Would there be any harm in speaking to the old woman?"
    "I've never heard about her hurting anybody," Melantha shrugged. Except maybe her husband, in his sleep.
    "Any objections from the two of you? I would like to talk to her."
    Nadya shrugged.
    "Well, I had this appointment to have my nails done..." Melantha drawled. They followed up toward the door; which creaked open as they drew near.
    "Come in, come in! I'm so glad you decided to help me!" She beckoned them inside. The stairs were right in front of the door, leading up to a landing with another door; off to the side was a parlor outfitted as a bedroom, and in the back they could see a kitchen. The entire place was coated in a heavy layer of dust.
    "They're up there." The old woman pointed up the stairs, speaking in a whisper. "I hear them at night. I'm always afraid they're going to come downstairs," she nearly sobbed, "but they never do. Very quiet, during the day. And at night...." She made a scuttling sound. "Do you have magic that can banish demons?"
    Melantha gave Roman an expectant look.
    "I honestly don't know that I can help you," he explained to the widow. "I just wanted to learn what the problem was. I may be able to help, I just don't know. I don't know the problem."

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