Merisiel took a deep breath, held it, then let it out slowly as she tried to relax, her arms balanced, palms up, along the chair’s slender armrests. It wasn’t working. Her belly remained tight and crawling with gutwasps—the nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach that the church of Calistria called “the tingle you get ‘fore the trick is all set.” But this was no complex prank or long-planned vengeance that had the wasps doing their thing. It was something, Merisiel forced herself to remember, that she’d brought entirely upon herself.
Not that bringing nerve-wracking situations on herself was anything new either.
There was the time she’d crawled head-first into that narrow crevice at the base of that giant anvil-altar after Harsk had mentioned how worshipers of Droskar supposedly stashed treasures under the immense shrines.
Or the time that Valeros had challenged her to a drinking contest on that long trip to Absalom. And who could forget Lem’s face when she took him on with that dare to climb to the top of a Hellknight castle’s tower to swap out its flag for a set of ogre undergarments?
And of course, there was that stunt she’d pulled when she’d first met that cute cleric up in Sandpoint; when Merisiel had thrown herself into the thick of a fight against a pack of ghouls in order to show off that there was more than one way to destroy undead uprisings.
Thinking back on those antics did the trick, and Merisiel sighed in relief as the gutwasps settled down. After all, the cache of magic potions, scrolls, and talismans she’d recovered from the under-anvil stash ended up saving the day not long thereafter when those smoke-bearded undead guardians had risen up against them, hadn’t they? (Never mind the fact that it was the pilfering of the temple treasury that likely got their attention in the first place.)
And good, old Valeros sill thought she’d won the drinking contest fair and square and bragged about her fortitude to anyone who’d listen. (As far as Merisiel was concerned, some quick sleight of hand on the drinks was only playing to her strength anyway—it was only cheating if you got caught!)
And those insufferable Hellknights had the heraldry redecoration coming. (More to the point, everyone she told the story to agreed that ogre garments looked better on a Hellknight flagpole than any dull, old flag!)
And as for that ghoul-slaying gambit, the fact that Merisiel knew those filthy, old ghouls wouldn’t be able to paralyze her didn’t make the stunt any less risky. She’d managed to avoid any serious bites, but after finishing off the last of them with a dagger to the dome, she’d emerged completely covered with claw marks and a bit dizzy from blood loss. Of course, the dizzy only got worse when the cute cleric swooped in to catch her as she stumbled and began to heal up her wounds. Merisiel had been tempted to kiss her there and then, but those pesky gutwasps had gotten in the way. Still, she must have made an impression on Kyra, since that first kiss came not so long after. Better than the dragon’s whole treasure horde, that moment!
Illustration by Valeriya Lutfullina. The heartbond ritual and a dozen more can be found in the Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide, available July 30, 2020.
And just like that, all the work she’d done to banish her jitters went out the window. Just thinking of Kyra had brought back the gutwasps. Merisiel couldn’t help but wonder, was the woman she loved experiencing the same jitters herself, one room over? She couldn’t imagine it. Kyra was always so calming, so stable, so confident. And for that matter, the church of Sarenrae probably didn’t call it gutwasps anyway. Maybe… sun-gut? Angel ache? Dawnflower jitters? The healy heaves? The last notion brought a giggle to the elf’s lips, and the nervousness in that titter startled her. She reached down to give her weal ribbon a rub, but of course that didn’t help; she’d given the yellow and black Calistrian ribbon over to the high priestess for use in the ritual.
Merisiel was out of the chair then, pacing the length of the room as she ran over her part in the ritual in her head. Here, surrounded on all sides by Sarenite art and iconography, she couldn’t help but feel inadequate. What place did an elf with no family, a thief and a smuggler, a part-time worshiper of the goddess of trickery, vengeance, and pleasure, have in a place as beautiful as this? What place did she have at the side of one of the most kind-hearted and understanding people she’d ever met? Merisiel pushed those doubts aside, reminding herself that, while she’d spent most of that night a week ago building up her courage to suggest she and Kyra take part in a heartbond, Kyra had surprised her by making the suggestion herself. This whole plan wasn’t technically Merisiel’s own, despite the months she’d taken researching the ritual and preparing for it. Kyra had been the first to suggest it, after all.
Merisiel’s nervous thoughts kept returning to the what-ifs of the pending rite. She and Kyra, as the focus of the magic, would only be secondary performers in the ritual, but that didn’t mean that their part in activating the magic wouldn’t be important. She knew that Kyra would be performing her part of the ritual using her knack at knowing the right thing to say, but Merisiel had to rely upon her skill at knowing the ins and outs of society as a whole. As with any ritual, there was a potential for backlash, but the descriptions of the jitters and shakes and dulling of wits that struck those who failed to perform a heartbond properly didn’t seem all that much worse than the gutwasps she was already dealing with.
And of course, if all went according to plan, they’d have more than a cherished memory of the declaration of their love for each other—they would be connected on a level even deeper than before, able to sense each other’s proximity, to share their thoughts and hopes, and would never feel alone. Merisiel had assumed Kyra would want to seal the ritual with traditional matched rings. In preparation, she had actually purchased jewelry for the first time she could remember (plundered or stolen rings just seemed wrong in this case), only for Kyra to suggest using Calistrian weal ribbons to symbolize the bond. Kyra must have taken Merisiel’s shock for something other than speechless love, since she’d hastened to add, “Since you’ve pushed to have the ritual performed by my church, it just made sense for there to be an element of yours involved.” Or at least, that’s how Merisiel assumed the sentence would have ended if she hadn’t stopped it with an impulsive kiss.
A knock on the door brought her pacing feet and her racing thoughts to a standstill. “The high priestess is ready for you,” came the acolyte’s voice.
“Okay!” Merisiel answered, blushing as she heard that nervous tremble in her own voice. She took a breath and stepped toward the door. She could already hear the music swelling, could even hear Seoni chiding Valeros to “Quiet down—here they come” from the far side of the door. The gutwasps were back and worse than ever, and as Merisiel opened the door, she marveled at how her hand, normally so steady, so precise, was shaking.
And then, as she stood at the edge of the room, only vaguely aware of her friends gathered (mostly) silently along the walls, she saw Kyra framed in the opposite doorway. And a moment later, as Kyra’s lips moved, Merisiel heard her beloved’s voice whisper in her ear. If the ritual was truly successful, they’d both be able to speak to each other with their thoughts, but for the moment, Merisiel knew that Kyra had cast the cantrip herself.
“Here we go, Meri! You look amazing! Hope I don’t mess this up—I’ve got a raging case of gutwasps!”
With those words, Kyra effortlessly soothed Merisiel’s nerves, and with her whispered reply, words meant for Kyra alone, they strode into the room together.
About the Author
James Jacobs is the Creative Director for Pathfinder. He's been helping to shape and create the world of Golarion and the Pathfinder RPG from the very start, with his adventure, "Burnt Offerings," introducing gamers around the world to the joys of goblin songs, the lurking menace of the runelords, and the dangers of drinking hagfish water. James maintains an ongoing AMA thread on the paizo.com forums which currently contains more than 75,000 posts.
About Iconic Encounters
Iconic Encounters is a series of web-based flash fiction set in the worlds of Pathfinder and Starfinder. Each short story provides a glimpse into the life and personality of one of the games’ iconic characters, showing the myriad stories of adventure and excitement players can tell with the Pathfinder and Starfinder roleplaying games.