It’s strange how quickly a life-changing period spanning years can be replaced by what was once normal. Droven was certainly happy to be back in the field undertaking a Pathfinder mission again, and even happier to have an opportunity to deploy some of the gadgets and weaponry he’d created during his long exodus in Arcadia. He’d even lent his latest weapon, a gun that could create portals, to his partner for the exercise, a clever halfling freelancer from Cheliax who’d come highly recommended by a fellow Pathfinder.
The mission itself was fairly simple. There were reports of a large wolf or canine monster attacking travelers and caravans on the road between Absalom and Otari, a small port town on the western half of the Isle of Kortos. It was almost too simple, and in another place and time, the Pathfinder Society likely wouldn’t have sent a veteran agent still settling in after a long and dangerous journey abroad, but Otari was home to several friends of the Society, and perhaps just as relevant, it often served as a secondary destination for shipments too valuable to the wrong people to bring in through Absalom’s more closely watched ports.
So here Droven found himself, his entertaining companion playing a tune as they walked the forested highway on their way to Otari. As always, Whirp accompanied him, the quirky construct mostly doing what it was designed to do, staying by Droven’s side so the half-orc could readily access the tools it carried, but occasionally wandering off to examine a flower or dew drop on a leaf. Droven had disassembled, reassembled, and repaired the goblin-shaped construct countless times over the years, and he still had no explanation for Whirp’s strange moments of seeming sapience, curiosity, and self-direction. There was some magic interwoven with the clockwork devices that powered Whirp. Perhaps over the years of journeying through Arcadia, Droven’s one-sided conversations with the construct had made some impact on these arcane forces, granting Whirp a tiny spark of personality. Droven still carried on these conversations. While they drew the occasional odd look (once convincing a passing goblin to join in and look to their mechanical counterpart for a response that came in the form of an awkward hug and offered crowbar) most of Droven’s friends and peers had grown used to them and occasionally spoke to Whirp themselves.
On the evening of their second day out from Absalom, they finally encountered the creature they’d been sent to deal with. Droven was dozing by the fire, Whirp standing at his side and staring intently at an owl perched in the branches above, when their halfling companion whispered magically into his ear from his own hiding spot. “Barghest!”
Droven snapped awake; those years traveling on his own had sharpened his mind and reflexes. Drawing his hammer and putting his back against a nearby tree, he whispered back. “So not a wolf? Unfortunate.”
The same calm that always accompanied moments of stress descended once more over Droven. Later, when the fighting was done, his knees would shake and his eyes would water, but for now he was fully in the moment, the fire of his orcish blood fueling his analytical mind and sharpening his thoughts for the task at hand.
The barghest lurked just beyond the range of the firelight, its batlike ears and hunched shoulders faintly backlit by the leaf-shrouded moon. Droven made a mental note to recommend the halfling for future work; even his own eyes, capable of navigating lightless tunnels and moonless nights with relative ease, could barely make out the creature. Droven doubted he would have noticed the monster had he been on watch, let alone correctly identified it under these conditions.
He hoped their plan worked. Whirp was to leap in front of the threat, then scurry through a portal created by the experimental gun he’d given the halfling. Hopefully, the beast would follow Whirp through the portal, putting itself right in line for a thunderous blow from Droven’s hammer. Of course, they’d made the plan expecting a creature of animal intelligence, not a deadly fiend capable of critical thought with its own repertoire of magic.
Before Droven could propose a new tactic, Whirp began acting on the original plan Droven had modified the little construct to perform.
Illustration by Biagio d'Alessandro from Pathfinder Guns & Gears
Whether it was an intentional battle cry or merely the sound of the clockwork gears rattling throughout his small frame, it nonetheless signaled the start of the fight. Whirp’s body sparked for a moment before an explosive gout of flame vented from his chassis, launching the construct directly in front of the barghest. For Droven, an eternity seemed to pass as construct and barghest stared at one another, though it was likely no more than a few seconds. With a second “Whirrrrrp,” Droven’s clockwork companion lurched away, dashing through the woods as tools clattered out of the compartment on its back. Droven made a mental note to add a leather flap to the top of Whirp’s built-in toolbox even as he pressed tighter against the tree, hoping the barghest had failed to notice him or had forgotten him chasing after Whirp.
The plan worked to perfection. The halfling opened a portal next to Droven’s hiding spot before opening another in front of Whirp. As Whirp dashed through the eldritch opening, the barghest sped right behind it. As Whirp exited, Droven swung, his hammer whistling above the construct’s head even as the barghest’s snout cleared the portal. With a thunderous crunch, the barghest popped back out of the entry portal, its head lolling weirdly on a broken neck. Droven looked away from the barghest’s death throes, uninterested in exposing himself to another creature’s agonized final moments, and nodded to his halfling companion. A good plan, or at least an effective one, cleanly executed without injury. As much as Droven would have liked to say, “without negative consequences,” he realized that would be an inaccurate assessment. Somewhere scattered among the leaves and roots of the roadside forest, Whirp had lost an expensive and worrisome number of the inventor’s favorite tools.
About The Author
Michael Sayre is a designer at Paizo who previously worked on the Organized Play team. He’s also a prolific freelancer, having contributed to numerous Paizo books and publications from other publishers, such as Lost Spheres Publishing, Rogue Genius Games, and many other companies in support of the Pathfinder RPG and other table-top game systems.
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.