Lem cleared his throat, and Merisiel guiltily ceased fiddling with her dagger, giving her full attention to the halfling standing on the table in front of her.
“Now can we get started with my plan?” he asked.
The two adventurers were holed up in a tiny inn in Almas, and thanks to Lem, every inch of their room was covered in paper. Books sat in high piles on the room’s only table, alongside spent ink bottles, quills, and, of course, sheets and sheets of parchment. But it wasn’t the pages of transcriptions and doodles on the table that concerned Lem now, so much as the ones displayed upon the wall.
It was essentially a collage—sheets and scrolls to match the scraps around the room—pinned precariously between the chamber’s two sputtering torches. Every inch of paper had notes, names, commentary, and observations scrawled across them, and most of these were pinned beside illustrations that Merisiel had to assume were related. A few maps and blueprints, charcoal rubbings, and pictures torn from books—but most of the images were clearly quick sketches of people, in Lem’s familiar style. The only structure to these focal points came from a handful of strands of crisscrossing, multicolored yarn, pinned down from picture to page and beyond, intersecting here and there like a haphazard spiderweb. It looked like the kind of thing a mad servant of Rovagug might call art—but to her, it just seemed like a cry for help.
“So,” he asked, lifting his bushy eyebrows. “What do you think?”
Merisiel took a deep breath, before finally asking the question she’d had since first boarding a ship for Andoran.
“What is all this about, Lem?”
To his credit, the halfling only faltered for a moment, a flash of disappointment as he scratched at the side of his head and his eyes flitted back and forth between his “plan” and the elf he’d roped into helping him with it. He lowered his hands, nodded, mumbled something under his breath so low even Merisiel’s keen ears couldn’t hear it clearly, and then met her concerned gaze with a solemn one of his own.
“As I said…I believe that there is a ring of Chelish spies at work here in Almas, a secret conspiracy of infernal agents subtly working to influence Andoren politics…and we are the only people who can stop them.”
“No, I mean—what does all this have to do with ambushing a Chelish spy?” the elf asked, shaking out a few loose strands of her long silver hair.
She glanced up at the wall again. She supposed now she could understand a little bit more of it; most of the map-scraps involved the border between Andoran and Cheliax, and there were a few infernal symbols and sketches of Hellknights. At least Lem’s paranoia made sense—he’d been raised a slave in Cheliax, after all.
“It all started,” Lem said, and there was a flash of performance in his tone, the spark of heraldry that usually only came out in the midst of battle. “When an old friend from the Bellflower Network reached out…”
The halfling indicated one of the doodles pinned to the wall. He began to speak at length about his old friend, a former slave, who had noticed certain Andoren merchants seemed to be making double their usual shipments…and all of them suspiciously close to the Chelish border.
“Her intel of course connects to Step Six of my plan,“ he poked at a different section of the wall. “Wherein, hopefully, any decoy Chelish caravans have already been waylaid by members of a certain halfling ‘legitimate business organization.’”
Merisiel was still seated, but she was trying to appear fully invested, even as her fingers fiddled with the dagger hilts protruding over her shoulder from the brace on her back.
“Legitimate…” she murmured, then brightened. “There’s a halfling mafia?”
“No,” Lem said, frowning. “But just in case, don’t ever mention them again.”
Without missing a beat, he charged back into his plan, jumping from point to point across the papers with no truly discernible pattern. One moment he’d be explaining how he’d mapped out town guards’ patrol routes, then he’d leap to a note about the weather along the border.
Although Merisiel had only just arrived in Almas, Lem had been lurking in the city for over a month. He’d eavesdropped on merchants and mercenaries, paid off Chelish expatriates, and pumped sympathetic Andoren warriors for intel—usually in disguise. The little bard had been busy with every manner of espionage at his disposal, and all of it had been for the sake of building an excruciatingly elaborate plan that, at least as far as Merisiel could tell, really only amounted to “ambush.”
The rogue felt her attention straying. Trying to keep her mind occupied, she flipped a knife around deftly, using its deadly point to clean beneath her fingernails. She grimaced at some of the filth she found there, and hastily wiped the dirtied blade off on the closest scrap of parchment.
Lem hadn’t noticed, still jabbering excitedly:
“…and thanks to the help of that poor hellspawn trader—no friend of the Chelish, unsurprisingly—we know exactly which coach our suspected spy will be driving.”
Merisiel looked up at him. “So then we catch it, and stab them?”
“No, no, no,” Lem said with a sigh. “We will already be lying in wait, assuming we leave tonight. Remember Step Thirty-four?”
Merisiel failed to subdue a groan.
“What?” asked Lem, blinking, genuinely perplexed.
“It’s just…” Merisiel trailed off awkwardly. She began digging her knife through some folded-up parchment, gently scoring the wood beneath.
“Where did I lose you? Step Fourteen, with the carriage switch? Or Step Twenty-nine, where Valeros and Kyra help us rig traps at the abandoned border checkpoint?”
Lem was pointing down at the table with a frown, where his friend’s knife was digging nervously into the parchment. Merisiel’s cheeks actually reddened a little as she saw that she had indeed scratched a line over a few scrabbled words, including “western border” and “abandoned checkpoint.” She cleared her throat and casually spun the knife before plunging its blade fully into the wood of the table, as if to say, “I meant to do that.”
“It’s not the, uh, overall plan, Lem,” she started, sighing. “Clearly you’ve been busy as a bugbear at a baby shower, but it all seems a bit…convoluted?”
The halfling gaped at her
“It just seems like it doesn’t require thirty-four—“
“Thirty-seven,” Lem interjected.
“—Thirty-seven steps! And we’ll follow you on all of ‘em. But doesn’t it all add up to: hide, wait, and then jump ‘em?”
Merisiel gestured toward the madcap collage of yarn, paper, and pictures, the books and debris strewn about the room, and finally, at Lem. The halfling was working himself into a lather over concocting the perfect scheme, when—at least as far as she was concerned—all they really needed was a head start and a little luck.
She rose from her seat, shaking her head softly, trying to meet his eyes under his mop of blond hair.
“You’ve planned enough,” Merisiel said, her tone steady and confident. “We’re ready.”
“Meri, this is Cheliax—it’s serious. If I’ve missed even one detail, misunderstood or forgotten one scrap of information—“
“You haven’t!” the rogue declared with an assuring smile, clapping her hand to his shoulder. “I mean, look at all this! You’ve thought this through from every angle.”
She deftly snatched blades from her dagger brace, and, one by one, with impossible swiftness, she tossed them at the wall—each one landing home on an illustration.
“We leave now—“
“We stay ahead of the spy—“
“We meet Kyra and Valeros—“
“And we stage our ambush before they cross the border.”
THUNK. THUNK. THUNK.
Lem looked at the circle of daggers embedded in the wall, watching as Merisiel strode over to the plan, withdrawing her knives one at a time. By the time she’d finished and turned back, he was grinning along with her. For the first time since the planning began, the halfling seemed like his old, confident self.
“I think you’re right,” he said with a cocky little grin. “I have thought of everything.”
Lem reached onto the table and plucked Merisiel’s last dagger from its resting place, tossing it back to her. She caught it deftly, and the two of them set about gathering their gear, ready to set off without looking back.
Unnoticed on the table, the scrap of paper Merisiel had been stabbing, no longer pinned, unfurled from the many folds and creases it had earned. Around the scratches, stains, and bits of under-fingernail dirt, text was clearly visible, a note hastily passed on to Lem by a terrified hellspawn trader—
“Along the western border, you’ll pass a single abandoned checkpoint…”
And beneath it, previously obscured by the parchment’s folds, the words continued—
“Avoid it at all costs.”
About the Author
Ryan Cady writes comics and horror fiction - with credits from Marvel and DC and everywhere in between. His critically acclaimed space horror series, Infinite Dark, recently concluded a two-volume run at Image Comics, and you can read his latest webcomic, Wolfsbane, for free on LINE Webtoon. Find him on twitter @rycady, where he rants about Star Wars, food, and TTRPGs.
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.