They’d landed on a port moon to rehaul their ship before rendezvousing with the rest of the Pact World diplomatic team on a newly discovered world called Sigerro. A routine enough stop, but then, even in Near Space, the routine could quickly turn to excitement.
Zemir and Raia, part of the command team, were sent to find upgraded Drift drives for their ship. The thought was that Raia’s eye for tech would aid in finding the best equipment and Zemir’s tendency to bend chance might allow them to purchase it at a low price.
The technomancer and witchwarper debated the differences between their respective talents while perusing the port’s open-air markets.
“Our methods differ only in scope. You use your gifts to push technology,” said Zemir, tossing another faulty circuit board into a display case, “whereas I use mine to push reality.”
“Your scope may be wider,” said Raia, examining some drive schematics absently. “But my tech produces more reliable results.”
“Reliability is irrelevant. In the end, we seek the same thing—the new, impossible, the interesting. Is how we do it so important?”
“Some would say the ‘how’ is the most important part of all,” Raia answered, smiling. It was an old debate between friends, one they’d cheerfully had over drinks in many a space port.
“Perhaps you’re right,” said Zemir quietly. Raia recognized that faraway look. One day she’d learn the cause of Zemir’s periodic melancholy.
Before Zemir could say more, the market fell eerily silent. Everyone around them stared upward. Zemir and Raia joined them, and watched as the moon eclipsed the sun, and all went dark.
Soon after, the chittering squeaks and clicks began.
“I recognize those sounds,” said Raia. “Grioths.”
“What, this far in Near Space?” asked Zemir.
“They get closer every year,” said Raia sadly. She found grioths a fascinating formation of life. It’s too bad so many of them were in the monstrous grip of Nyarlathotep, for their voidglass technology and biology was quite interesting and could be put to great use in the Pact Worlds.
Her thoughts were interrupted by holes opening in the moon-eclipsed sky. From these shadowy portals descended a wave of winged terrors. The grioths’ silhouettes looked like thousands of bats with arms and legs—all of which held glittering weaponry.
The technomancer and the witchwarper watched the marketgoers flee. In silent agreement, both stood still amid the chaos, knowing they could hold off the grioths and allow these citizens to get to safety.
Several grioth raiders noticed the two holding their ground and broke off to attack them. Raia picked off one with a single blaster pulse while Zemir stared at another and muttered. Suddenly, the grioth’s wing seized and it plummeted to the ground. That left three more, who charged in a whirl of chittering squeaks and gleaming, deadly glass.
A fourth landed in front of Raia and swiped at her with its giant, clawed hand.
“No,” said Raia calmly, stepping back and raising her hands. She felt composed, as though in a simulation. She had spent the better part of the afternoon familiarizing herself with the tech around her, and now she simply had to put it to work, albeit for a new purpose.
As the grioth tried to grasp her again, she cast a spell with a word and a gesture. Behind her, the vast engine powering the veranda block rumbled and cracked. Suddenly, as though it were a puppet pulled by the technomancer’s strings, it unleashed from its casing and wrapped the grioth in an unbreakable embrace of steel and coiled wire.
Zemir watched his friend fight and wondered how best to aid her in the dance. He was no slouch with a blade, but with so many opponents, more help was needed.
What if, perhaps, another portal opened? One to a world filled with bright sunlight? Zemir pondered the possibilities and adjusted probabilities as though inputting calculations into the ultimately unknowable machine that was the universe. Calculations that, due to his training at the institute, he sometimes knew the outcomes for.
A bright portal to a sun-filled world opened, a world with—yes, perfect—a swarm of apari constituents, who poured from the portal, angry and hungry. The grioths shrieked at the light, some clutching their faces as its very photons pierced their psychic defenses. At Zemir’s direction, the apari swarm crashed against the grioths like a wave, instinctively trying to strike back against invaders who would darken a world.
Illustration by Mirco Paganessi from Starfinder Galactic Magic
“You will all perish for the glory of our dark master,” whispered one of grioth invaders with a harsh rasp. Before he could say more, he was overwhelmed by the swarm of apari.
He could have run—but he wouldn’t. Helping Raia made it worth it; knowing that, in some small way, Zemir had adjusted his account, paying back what he’d done wrong. He might never be able to atone for leaving his friends in that other reality, might never be able to get them back (though another part of him still wondered about this) but here, now, at least he and his friend Raia could save each other.
Together, weaving reality and technology with threads of magic, the technomancer and witchwarper beat back the remaining two grioth attackers, their martial prowess no match for the pair’s magical mastery.
“We have to get to the ship,” said Zemir once they had a moment to catch their breath. “I can open a gateway there, but I’ve expended a lot of power and can only take myself.”
“Go. I know you won’t leave me behind,” said Raia. For some reason, Zemir looked inexplicably sad at that.
“I will come back for you,” Zemir promised gravely. He stepped through the portal and was gone.
Raia waited, holding glowing sigils and technical weapons in the dark marketplace. From the chittering and squeaks, she knew another squad of grioths was inbound. With all the tech around her, Raia knew she could hold them off, but not indefinitely. She just hoped that Zemir would get back with the ship in time.
About The Author
Patrick Hurley has had fiction published in Galaxy’s Edge, Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, Abyss & Apex, New Myths, Arcanist, Aurealis, Frozen Wavelets, The Overcast, and The Drabblecast. He is a 2017 graduate of the Taos Toolbox Writer's Workshop. In 2018, he was a finalist for the Baen Fantasy Award. Patrick lives in Seattle and is a member of SFWA and the Dreamcrashers. He still can’t quite believe he has the good fortune to also be an editor at Paizo.
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.