The goblin, Fumbus, came bounding out of the palms onto the beach with something in his hands raised triumphantly high.
Valeros had to repress the urge to pinch his brow and sigh. Whatever the excitable alchemist was on about, Valeros did not share his enthusiasm, and had a sinking feeling that was not about to change.
He had already chipped the blade of his sword beyond a whetstone’s help hacking down a half-dozen mahogany trunks for a raft; his mood wasn't going to be improving anytime soon.
“Reagents!” Fumbus skipped up to Valeros to show off his discovery. As soon as they got near Valeros’s nose, there was no mistaking what the blackish seed-sized pellets in the goblin's hands were.
“Eeuughh!” He reared back out of smelling distance. “Don't shove it my face, you—” Valeros thought back to all the innumerable goblins who had cursed at him to think of a word to really express his displeasure, and then gave up on it. “We're already up 'reagent' creek without a paddle as it is.”
Fumbus giggled and dropped the bat guano into the patched-up grog barrel lying amid the hundreds of other tide-tossed fragments from their reef-broken ship strewn across the beach. After a moment of rubbing his hands together, the goblin cackled hysterically in a way that Valeros had come to associate with imminent explosions.
“I get it! I can speak Taldane!” Valeros called after him, but the goblin, mercifully, had dashed back into the waving blade-bushes that marked the edge of the jungle, presumably toward the source of more nocturnal leavings.
He was as puzzled at Fumbus’s grog barrel as he was at Fumbus himself. Merisiel had challenged him to a drinking contest over that same barrel earlier that evening, back when they were all still on the same Arcadia-bound vessel. The voyage had been so long and tedious that he'd forgotten his two rules of drinking contests: one, never getting into a drinking contest with someone several centuries older than you; and two, never get into a drinking contest when there wasn’t more on the line than bragging rights. The problem with drinking contests was that no matter who wins, the next morning you’re both losing, and neither of you can remember who won anyway. Drinking was supposed to be fun, not a competition, after all.
Fumbus and Valeros make the most of the tools at hand in this illustration by Firat Solhan from Pathfinder Guns & Gears
The last memory he had was of the white-haired, black-eyed elf’s face going all fuzzy. Then, all of a sudden, everything was salty, wet, and getting dark fast—in that order. It took all his strength to kick his armored body upward, toward the sun shimmering above him on the ocean's surface; it took all his wits to keep from crying out and filling his lungs with seawater.
The bay of this seemingly uninhabited island was choked with the wrecked detritus of the brigantine, and every once in a while, the tides disgorged a passenger or sailor that Valeros recognized when they were onboard, and alive. Thank the Accidental God that all his friends had survived the wreck; sadly, they appeared to be the only ones.
That is, except Fumbus, whom Valeros had not realized stowed away on their vessel back in Absalom until the goblin popped out from beneath a coil of beached rope with a sputtering cry that scared him half to death. The self-taught alchemist soon began collecting random crap—literally—and filling his reclaimed cask with it.
Valeros had no idea what Fumbus was making, and once again found himself wishing Seoni was here to tell him. Everyone else had fanned out to look for food or friendly locals, and he had been left behind, as per usual, to do the grunt work because he had the muscles. He had spent several hours picking out, cutting down, and pruning the logs, then laying four side-by-side near the water’s edge—to make the completed raft easier to launch—then two under and above those at either end as pressure bars. By the time he was pulling down vines from trees, he was contemplating selling his soul for a drink, any drink—even water! The sun had had several hours to bake him inside his own breastplate. He felt like an engorged sweat sponge.
He thought he had grabbed the sturdiest vines he could find, but when he tugged the binding for the two front crossbeams together, the cord snapped in half, and he dropped on his backside in the sand.
Loud laughter behind him brought him to his feet, drawing his wrecked sword more from pique than caution. The goblin had finished whatever contraption he had been working on, having lashed on a conical nose to the top of the barrel with some of the vines Valeros had set aside for his raft.
“Okay, you!” Valeros pointed his sword at the lashed-together barrel. “This is what we call 'antisocial behavior.' I tore down those vines for my raft. I am trying to save our lives by getting us off this gods-forsaken island. You are yelling things in my face and stealing my stuff! Those vines are mine by right!”
He stepped toward the cone-headed barrel, but Fumbus bared his sharp, tiny teeth and leapt in front of him. “No no no no no!”
Valeros sighed. “You know what? You win. I’m sick of this yesterday. I'm gonna go lie down on the ground over there. Maybe when Kyra returns, she can tell me what's going on. But I find everything you do unfathomable.”
He retreated up the beach to the shade of the palms, dropped down onto his back, and prayed for a swift death
The goblin’s head loomed into his field of vision. The makeshift goggles the alchemist wore magnified his eyes so they bulged like magic orbs.
“Do you want to see?” Fumbus whispered without prompting and unscrewed a scroll case he kept slung across his back
“Um, no. That's alright. You really don’t need to...” But Fumbus was already pulling out a complex diagram, unfurling it on the fighter’s chest. Valeros raised his head far enough to see that it depicted a barrel, not unlike the one Fumbus was messing about with at the moment. Various incomprehensible symbols had been scrawled across it, but one in particular stood out: the word “Droven” bearing the look of a signature more than footnotes of a technical schematic.
“Droven showed Fumbus how to make something like this once,” the goblin said. “With better supplies, and different reagents, but I can make it work.”
Intrigued, Valeros sat up on his elbows and studied the chart. “Your old half-orc buddy? You miss him a lot, don’t you, Fumbus? We’ve all lost friends, little guy, and I know it can be hard to move on.” He felt suddenly guilty for giving the goblin such a hard time.
“Droven is lost,” Fumbus blurted with a surprising ferocity. “But he can help us even when he’s missing!
Fumbus ran down to the barrel halfway down the beach, tugging Valeros’s arm to follow. “Come, come! Make this way!”
“For Cayden's sake, Fumbus, I just laid down!”
When they reached the barrel, Fumbus snapped two shards of flint together, and a spark sprung to the oil-slick wick Valeros now saw dangled from one side. It began to fizzle and shorten.
Fumbus gesticulated wildly at the cove below. “Into the sea it goes, unless you also want to explode!”
“Oh, those kind of 'reagents!’ Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”
With a curse, Valeros hefted the sputtering barrel on his shoulder and threw it as hard as he could down the beach. It bounced and arced into the water, floating out several yards…
Suddenly, Fumbus threw up his arms, blocking his face, and Valeros copied him, just as the barrel exploded into a massive waterspout that shot straight up into the clear blue sky and dropped a curtain of seawater onto their heads, along with a shower of springs, cogs, and steaming twists of metal. He managed to grab a bronze tentacle out of the air before it landed on his head.
An overturned clockwork vessel bobbed in the surf, semi ovoid and in the shape of an octopus’s head. Half of its grasping tentacles were severed and sputtered with silvery light. Some still grasped chests and gold statues and other valuables the apparatus had been trying to loot from the wreck on the ocean floor.
Stumbling out one of the shattered bulbous portholes where the octopus’s eyes would be came the apparatus's operator, pale Chelaxian skin bleeding and satin finery shredded from numerous miniature shrapnel wounds.
“Nice reflexes,” Fumbus said, nodding at the clockwork limb Valeros was still clutching.
Valeros laughed mirthlessly. “Lying in wait for hapless ships to come by then scavenging their cargo, eh?”
The Chelaxian coughed up seawater and tried to swing a boathook-like weapon in his general direction, but Valeros didn’t even bother drawing his sword. He backhanded the submariner across the face with the bronze tentacle and knocked him flat on his back in the surf.
Valeros placed a heavy boot on the man’s chest, pushing him into the soft, wet sand. “You just let me know when you’re ready to tell me everything I want to know about whatever scam it is you’re running here.”
“And where our friends are,” Fumbus demanded.
“Yeah! Tell us what you know about them, too!” Valeros glanced back at the treeline. The rest of his party had been gone an unusually long time.
The Chelaxian spat. “The others will have taken care of them by now. I was just sent to dig through the wreckage, but the others got to have…a lot more fun.”
“Got another barrel like that in you, Fumbus?” Valeros frowned. “I have a feeling this chump and his metal contraption are going to be the least of our worries.”
About The Author
Fred Van Lente is a New York Times bestselling writer of comics, prose, and gaming, including the Pathfinder: Fumbus one-shot successfully Kickstarted earlier in 2021. His short story “Neversleeps” was shortlisted for Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. In addition to playing Pathfinder 2e, he’s currently running Call of Cthulhu 7e and Fallout 2d20 campaigns in Brooklyn, NY. He’s on Twitter and Instagram as @fredvanlente and you can sign up for updates on his upcoming projects at www.fredvanlente.com.
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.