As the white-bearded man casually strolled across the rainy courtyard, shadowy figures kept pace with him atop the buildings surrounding the square. The older man didn’t seem aware of the dark shapes stalking him, first from a distance, then closer, along his path. Nor did he show surprise when the ruffians stepped out of the shadows, blades glinting. The tallest of the black-clad figures spoke with a low growl.
“Shouldn’t have gotten involved in War Hounder business, old man. We don’t like folks asking questions about our dealings!”
“Well,” Ezren thought to himself, “it’s about time.”
Though confident in his preparations, the wizard still summoned some basic defenses as the War Hounders cautiously approached. A mage’s armor was, in his opinion, properly made of magic. He layered a shield spell atop it for good measure.
One of the ruffians flung a dagger at Ezren as the rest moved to cut off his escape routes… which he had no intention of taking.
“I’ve been trying to get your attention for some time,” Ezren said calmly as the knife bounced off his arcane shield. Unsurprisingly, the War Hounders ignored him. Ezren knew they were aware of his wizardly training and understood their desire to take him out quickly. If this had been a remotely fair fight, they’d be doing the right thing.
Ezren did his best to avoid “fair” fights, though. A fair fight was the result of poor research, and he prided himself on his scholarship.
His two fastest attackers were a scarred human and a dwarf; each wielding sword and dagger. Ezren reviewed a range of possible replies before settling on a simple lightning cantrip. Not fully powered, something in the mid-range he knew they’d survive. He wanted to deliver a message and getting the dead to deliver messages was more… problematic.
Ezren concentrated on the essence of lightning as he performed word and gesture to express that essence. Electricity jolted from his open hand, arcing first to the human and then the dwarf. Neither was quick enough to avoid his spell. The dwarf fell to the ground, flopping about like a fish trapped in a tide pool. The human grunted and raised his sword… as Merisiel’s thrown dagger buried itself in the back of his skull.
Ezren was not so foolish as to provoke a guild of thieves without backup, and it was gratifying to see the remaining War Hounders look stunned at Merisiel’s dramatic entrance. A moment later, it was Ezren’s turn to be surprised as a fifth War Hounder, a cloaked woman with two long daggers, launched herself between Merisiel and the fallen dwarf.
The situation was still in hand… for now.
Illustration by Tomasz Chistowski from Pathfinder Lost Omens Absalom, City of Lost Omens.
“I know you can’t answer my questions.” Ezren’s sounded calm as he turned in place, his cane held high to ward off the two-handed sword blow from the War Hounder who’d been trying to sneak up behind him. “But when you flee back to the Pyramid of the Dog, I want you to deliver your master a message.”
The cloaked woman began dragging the dwarf’s twitching body back into the shadows, tiny sparks of electricity continuing to bound off him across the worn road’s shallow puddles. The attacker with the greatsword swung it again, trying to cut Ezren in half with an attack powerful enough to force the wizard to expend his arcane shield to counter it. Merisiel threw another dagger into an apparently empty space… and the empty space grunted and spattered blood on the street.
“I’d have sent a courier requesting an audience, but none seemed willing to deliver my message, and I haven’t had any luck with public notices.”
Ezren formed a new eldritch concept in his mind, and colors sprayed out from his cane, hitting the greatsword-wielder full in the face. The attacker’s eyes took on the same rainbow colors, and the scoundrel dropped his sword as he staggered away unsteadily. The cloaked woman finished dragging her fallen comrade out of sight, and Merisiel positioned herself to watch his back.
Ezren turned slowly, scanning the open square. The blinded War Hounder was wandering aimlessly but could become a threat again within a minute or so. The woman and dwarf were out of sight but could potentially be maneuvering to make another assault. Merisiel would warn him if that were to happen. There was another man…
At the edge of the square, a man clad in brown and green lurked in the shadows. His drab clothing actually blended into the backdrop of Absalom’s Puddles District better than the pure black of his compatriots. He was bald with a full beard. He studied Ezren with a stern expression, single dagger in hand, though he was well out of stabbing range. The War Hounder could, of course, throw his blade. Or perhaps he knew some occult secret with which to blast Ezren’s mind.
Trusting Merisiel to handle any other unforeseen threats from behind, Ezren turned to face the bald man.
“You are, I take it, in charge?”
The bald man waved a hand in casual denial. “I wouldn’t say that. We aren’t strict in terms of rank or command, you see? More accurate to say I’m wise enough not to be on the front line when confronting a wizard of your… reputation.”
Ezren nodded in acknowledgment, though he suspected the bald man had no idea who he was or what reputation he might possess.
“May I assume,” asked Ezren, eyes still scanning for the missing dwarf, “that if I were to ask you to carry a message to the oldest and wisest of the War Hounders, you could see that it was received?”
“I’d be delighted.” The bald man looked anything but delighted, but Ezren believed his message would be delivered.
As Ezren was about to reply, the War Hounder who’d dropped the greatsword snapped out of his befuddlement. He looked back and forth between the wizard and the bald man. Merisiel was nowhere to be seen, but Ezren knew she was nearby. He kicked the dropped greatsword toward his assailant who, upon receiving a nod from the bald man, picked up his weapon and rushed to stand beside his ally.
“I would very much like to know,” said Ezren with as much iron as he could put in his voice, “what became of the papers and effects of Nessian. Further, I represent a buyer who would pay well for them, if they remain in War Hounder possession.”
The bald man tried to look impassive, but his eyes showed a hint of surprise. Then he nodded again, and gestured for the larger warrior to head out of the courtyard.
“I assure you, that message shall be delivered.”
And with that he followed after the taller man, both of whom were quickly enveloped by shadows.
Ezren smiled as he headed back toward the inn he was staying at in the Foreign Quarter. He made sure to walk slowly so he could easily be followed, trusting Merisiel to prevent further assaults. He suspected when the War Hounders attacked him again tonight, they’d bring someone who could answer his questions.
And tonight at the inn, he and Merisiel wouldn’t be alone to receive them.
About The Author
Owen K.C. Stephens is a veteran of the tabletop RPG industry with more than 20 years of experience, including being on staff at Green Ronin, Paizo, and Wizards of the Coast and being the publisher of RogueGeniusGames.com. He has worked on numerous RPG lines, including being co-author of the Star Wars Saga Edition RPG and Design Lead for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. You can support his writing and free content production at Patreon, and follow him at his blog, on Facebook and on Twitter.
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.