Pathfinder fans have been tracking Harsk, the iconic ranger, for years now, but he's finally revealed himself and he's armed for bear! 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.
Harsk had to admit, they'd had him stumped.
It'd been obvious what had happened in the village. The stench of blood and death had hung in the frozen air, fresh from corpses that hadn't even finished freezing. And there'd been no question as to where the raiders had gone: one set of wagon ruts, heavily laden.
But the tracks—the tracks hadn't made any sense. Each corpse sprawled in a wedding-dance swirl of boot prints, but they were all the corpses' own prints. Every one of them, slain fighting a foe that left no trace but bloodshed.
He'd been headed into one of the ransacked houses to boil himself a pot of thinking tea when he remembered the story he'd heard at the trading post, of magical white-furred slavers called wikkawaks who slid light as ghosts over the snow. On impulse, he'd passed by the hearth in favor of the house's salt pot. He'd carried it outside and shook it over the snow, and suddenly there they were: a flurry of deep tracks, just like the folktales said.
Now he crouched among the stones of the mountain pass, white bear pelt blending with the snow as he gazed down at the three slavers and their caged victims.
There was a time when he would have ended it here. Put them down with his crossbow from the shadow of the rock. It was the prudent move, as efficient and mechanical as the bow itself.
He still did it that way, when he had to. Yet in recent years he'd found himself more and more reluctant to unsling the machine. Killing that way felt too detached. It felt like cowardice.
Which was ridiculous. A wolf felt no guilt over striking from darkness, no shame in hunting with the pack. Only humanoids were stupid enough to forego the advantages nature granted.
He dropped loudly into the middle of the camp, axes in hand. Rough voices shouted in alarm.
His brother had once said that in a battle, you had to fight as if you were taking on the whole army yourself—watching everywhere at once, ready to attack or be attacked from any quarter. And that was true as far as it went. You needed to keep your eyes open.
But it was also badger scat. You didn't hunt every deer in the forest. You singled one out, ran it down, and did what needed doing.
He chose the one in front, figuring it for the leader by its necklace of human ears. He drew back his arm, letting the rest of the world fall away as that snarling face filled his vision. The bond of predator and prey.
The hatchet flew. At the last moment, the wikkiwak managed to snap its shield up. Crude pig iron shattered beneath the force of dwarven steel.
But Harsk was already moving, axe coming in low to take the creature's leg off at the knee. He dove beneath a wild swing, free hand snatching up the fallen hatchet, and rolled to his feet, burying the weapon in the monster's chest.
One down. The world stuttered back into focus, revealing the two remaining slavers. They spread out, trying to flank him, but they came on slowly. Cautiously.
For the first time that day, Harsk smiled.
If you liked this week's Iconic Encounter, you won't want to miss next week's exciting entry. Until then, Pathfinders, may your enemies always be favored!