Pathfinder fans haven't had as much time to get to know the iconic goblin alchemist, Fumbus, as they have our other iconic characters, but that doesn't mean he isn't up to the same shenanigans as the rest of the crew. He might be new to the mix, but he's far from free of high-stakes adventure. We had initially not planned on doing an Iconic Encounter for Fumbus, as he didn't have an Iconic Evolution video to accompany his story, but after the rest of the series was so well received by the community, we decided to complete the set with a piece for all twelve iconics, not just those carrying over from first edition. While this is the last Iconic Encounter for now, we've loved putting them together, and the door's always open for more of them in the future. In the meantime, enjoy this piece of flash fiction from James L. Sutter showing the sorts of stories you can tell with Pathfinder Second Edition, available August 1!
Maybe it was the way they were holding him—upside down with a knife to his throat—but Fumbus was starting to get the impression that the wererats didn't want any pickles.
It didn't make any sense. Fumbus was usually pretty good with rats. At first, they'd scratch and bite, like all wild, furry things, but typically all you had to do was give them a bit of food and convince them you weren't going to eat them, and pretty soon they'd calm right down.
At which point you would eat them—because they were rats. But they didn't need to know that.
These rats, however, hadn't even listened to Fumbus's offer of a handful of his best pickled grubs. Maybe it was because they were only rats when the moon was full. The rest of the time, they were humans, and who could say why humans did anything?
It had all started innocently enough. Fumbus had been making his monthly infiltration of the docks, looking for information about Droven—a necessary bit of sneakery, ever since the harbormaster had banned him from the docks. He normally wouldn't have spent much time searching the wererats' ship, as it was too small to have taken Droven to the far-off lands Fumbus imagined the Pathfinder must have left for. But they'd been loading barrels full of salt pork, and everyone knew salt pork was just pig-pickles. Fumbus hadn't been able to resist stealing a taste.
When he'd popped the lid, however, there'd been no delicious strips of salty pig, only a fine, dusty powder. Fumbus had leaned in to give it a sniff, and nearly lost his grip on the side of the barrel as the suddenly overpowering scents of bitterbark and redroot stabbed him in the brain. He'd swayed, the world going dark and tingly, and then both he and the barrel had been falling sideways.
When his head eventually cleared, the world was still the wrong way around, thanks to the wererat holding him up by his feet. They were inside the wererats' ship, the sailors all growing long snouts and fur as they tore through Fumbus's pack, yelling about the Harbor Guard and rival gangs and something called "grit." He'd tried to make his pickle offer, but the one holding his legs had cuffed him so hard he almost passed out again.
Now the captain threw down his pack and whirled on him, long incisors gleaming yellow in the lantern light. He was a big rat, wearing an unnecessarily large number of knives, and leaned in so close that Fumbus could smell the wine on his breath.
"Who are you working for?" he demanded. "Who sent you to spy on our operation?"
"No one!" Fumbus shook his head hard enough that he almost lost his goggles. "No one sent me!"
"I don't believe you." The captain reached down into Fumbus's pack and pulled out a sealed glass vial. He held it up, the claws of his free hand digging into Fumbus's cheeks as he yanked the goblin's head around to face the potion. "If you're not working for anyone, who gave you these?"
Fumbus squirmed, but there was no escaping the wererat's grip. "Nobody! I made them!"
That drew a surprised laugh from everyone present. The captain gave a wide, grotesque grin.
"You made these." His tone said everything. "A goblin alchemist."
"It's true!" From his inverted position, Fumbus glared up at all of them. "I know things—secret things! I brew magic!"
The captain leaned back and crossed his arms. "If you're an alchemist," he drawled, holding up the vial, "then what does this one do?"
Fumbus stared for a moment, then answered truthfully. "It makes light. Lots of it. But you have to shake it."
"Really?" One eyebrow quirked upward. The wererat pursed his lips thoughtfully, then gave the vial a hard shake.
Fumbus hadn't been lying—that mixture really did make light. And heat. And a delicious, smoky smell as both potion and captain exploded into flames.
The wererat holding Fumbus's feet jumped backward, releasing his grip. Fumbus hit the deck and rolled, coming up with his pack before the flames could set off any more of his concoctions—or worse, boil his pickles.
In an eyeblink, he was up the ladder to the main deck. Sailors shouted and scrambled after him, but he dug into his pouches as he ran, coming up with a half-prepared starter bottle and a handful of ingredients. With a practiced motion, he jammed the reagents into the bottle, judging the right proportions by feel and smell, and lobbed it into an open hatch.
Fire bloomed beneath the foredeck, drawing screams from those trapped below.
It wasn't quite enough, though. While several sailors raced to douse the flames, others pursued him down the gangplank, through the maze of crates waiting to be loaded.
He considered throwing another fire flask, but already the dock's fire bells were tolling. He'd come to like living in Absalom and didn't really want to burn down the entire harbor. At least not before Droven came back.
He needed something different. As he ran, he yanked bottles and pots from his pack, flicking open the stoppers to taste each one, trying to find what he needed. Acrid meant guano, which was a fine base, but the tangy toadstool juice wouldn't do at all...
Behind him, filthy claws scraped against Fumbus's pickle-barrel pack as the lead rat lunged, just barely missing flesh.
In desperation, Fumbus upended another flask into his mouth. Its contents fizzed and frothed across his tongue.
Perfect! Ducking around an assembly of loading carts, he withdrew another of his starter bombs, spitting in just the right amount of bubbling liquid. With a flick of his flint, he lit the fuse—
And held it. Here on the docks, everything was too open. But if he could just find the right spot...
There—a gate in the seawall, opening onto a crowded promenade where formerly carousing sailors now gawked at the flames or raced to save their ships. Fumbus zagged toward it, skidding past a shocked guard, and tossed the flask backward over his shoulder.
It exploded in a thick cloud of roiling smoke, engulfing the pursuing rats. In that moment of blindness, Fumbus ducked between the legs of passing longshanks, disappearing into the crowd.
He kept running for two more blocks, making sure no rats had followed, then turned uphill, clambering up a rain barrel and onto the roof of a sagging tavern. From a perch near the chimney, he looked out at the docks, where flames now rose from half a dozen ships.
Fumbus sighed. Now the harbormaster would really never help him find Droven. He'd probably have to avoid the whole district for weeks, at least. And it wasn't even his fault! He didn't mean for everything to end in fire. It was just something that sometimes happened—like lightning storms or burglary. There was nothing to be done about it.
But he had to admit, it was kind of pretty.
Leaning back against the chimney, he rested his head against cold bricks and watched the flames curl skyward.
That concludes this series of Iconic Encounters. For more short fiction set in the world of Pathfinder, check back next week for the first in our Tales of Lost Omens series, detailing the sorts of adventures you can set in the Age of Lost Omens! Until then, Pathfinders, may your bombs only explode when and where you want them to.