An adventuring party is like a rock band, each member bringing his or her own unique sound to the collective whole. A champion or fighter may stand in front, her wailing axe cutting a line through the crowd. A cleric or wizard might hide off to the side, out of the spotlight, but filling the room with atmospheric effects, a veritable wall of sound. A witty rogue may dart about the stage with precise choreography, delivering pointed accents to her allies' riffs. But it's the bard that ties the entire ensemble together, the drummer who keeps everyone on the beat, making each of his bandmates' parts shine. Lem, the iconic bard, is Pathfinder's Ringo, and his friends certainly get by with a little of his help!
Enjoy the following piece of short fiction from James L. Sutter in the next entry into our series of Iconic Encounters—brief vignettes of the iconic characters showcasing the myriad stories you can tell with Pathfinder Second Edition.
The three harpies circled the ruins, raining threats, darts, and excrement in equal measure.
"Oh yeah?!" Lem dodged another grotesque barrage, releasing the knot of his whirling sling as he went. The bullet shot from the pouch, smashing into the leader's jaw and dropping her to the cobblestone plaza. "Bring it, birdbrains!"
The remaining harpies—a male and a female—screeched and retreated as far as the crumbling arcade, putting the ancient pillars between them and further slingstones.
Valeros cursed as one of his few remaining arrows shattered against the masonry. He nocked another. "At least we've got them on the run."
And then, like fetid angels, the harpies opened their mouths and began to sing.
The notes seemed too pure for the fanged maws that made them—high and clear, without any trace of the harpies' usual hunting shriek. Their haunting refrain echoed across the plaza.
Lem snorted. "Ah yes, natural minor—very spooky, very exotic. But you'll have to do better than that if—"
Next to him, Valeros took a staggering step forward, bow lowered and eyes rapturously blank.
"Oh come on!" Lem grabbed at the warrior's wrist, only to be shoved aside as Valeros broke into a stumbling run toward the grinning harpies. "Seriously?! They don't even have lyrics! What about rhyme and meter? Clever wordplay?"
Merisiel dodged in front of Valeros, barely managing to parry a club swing that would have taken his head off. "I don't think he's interested in an artistic education right now, Lem!"
"What else is new?" But Lem tucked his sling away. Drawing his flute, he clambered up the side of the temple entrance and perched atop its crumbled stones. Around him, the harpies' song filled the air, heavy with magic.
Lem pursed his lips. "Not a bad riff," he conceded. "A little simple, but you've got to start somewhere." He raised the flute. "Now let me try."
He played. At first, it was just notes—a quick trilling ascension to make sure he had the right key—yet it was enough to kindle his own magic. The spell swirled inside him as he found the groove, perfectly matching the harpies' melody.
For a moment, he almost didn't want to follow through. There was an infectious quality to the harpies' song—not the magical compulsion pulling Valeros to his doom, but the familiar pleasure or playing with other talented musicians. The harpies were talented, in their way. Under other circumstances, he would have loved to lose himself in the collaboration, feeling their tones resonating through his chest, their harmonies raising the hair on his arms and toes. Instead, he let that desire feed his magic, swelling toward a vast, impending crescendo.
Hearing their own song echoed back, the harpies looked over at him in surprise.
Lem waggled his eyebrows and triggered the spell.
Power flowed through him, surging into his lungs, coursing down into his fingers. It was still him playing, but now it was as if he'd played this particular piece a thousand times, his body moving through muscle memory, faster than conscious thought. His flute dove away from the melody line, threading through the piece like dolphins playing in the surf. And where he played, the harpies' song changed: his tones altering their chords, his notes filling their silences, each revision robbing their performance of its power. He blew harder, and the magic found their song's most crucial notes and inverted them, playing ghost notes that somehow crashed into the harpies' own and canceled them out, sucking both tones from the air.
The harpies broke off their faltering song. Screaming in outrage, they stooped and dove toward the bard, claws and clubs extended.
Valeros's arrow caught the female in the shoulder, sending her tumbling from the sky. Merisiel's dagger was a second slower but twice as sure, lancing through the male's throat and killing him before he even had a chance to fall.
Lem let the magic fade. Pulling the flute from his lips, he stared down at the fallen harpies with genuine sadness.
"Sorry," he said. "You were good, but my friends are kind of a tough crowd..."
If you liked this week's Iconic Encounter, you won't want to miss next week's exciting entry. Until then, Pathfinders, if music be the food of love, play on!