|It's strange what the mind will do when faced with a significant trauma. Some people scream or fight, others retreat inward, still others flee. As Droven's storm-tossed ship was flung into the air only to crash and shatter upon the rocky shoals of Arcadia's coastline, he found a strange calm settle over him. Even as a wooden spar tore free of its rigging and smashed apart his arm, he found himself calmly analyzing the situation.
Clearly, the expedition was a failure. He couldn't find any of the other Pathfinders who had boarded ship with him, though for some reason he couldn't seem to see out of his left eye anymore, so maybe they were nearby. The ship was clearly a loss, though. Even if its frame were somehow dragged ashore and enough of its crew survived to sail it home, the islets they'd crashed upon seemed unlikely to provide the timber necessary for repairs.
As Droven considered the likelihood of the ship even being repairable, another surge from the screaming winds and waves cast the battered wreck into the air once more, this time flipping the ship complete over. Droven's last thought as he sank beneath the waves was that repairs definitely weren't going to be an option.
Much to his surprise, Droven awoke sometime later. His mouth was parched and dry and he still couldn't make anything out through his left eye. Attempting to lever himself to his feet revealed that the arm that had likely saved him from a crushing death earlier was now incapable of supporting his weight. Worse, it seemed very likely to become a painful liability in short order.
Realizing that he had little time to spare, Droven spent the rest of the day confirming that he was alone on what he discovered to be a small islet, part of a chain ringing a larger bay between him and the continent of Arcadia proper. For supplies, he found only a half-empty wineskin and some brine-soaked hard tack. As he washed the salty biscuits down with stale wine, Droven found himself musing. "Whoever came up with the saying 'any port in a storm' almost certainly never saw that storm or this 'port'. Ah, well. Am I a Pathfinder or not? There is an unexplored horizon ahead and if I'm to live, I'll need to find a path from here to there."
Twisting the fingers of his right hand into the sign of the key, holy symbol of Abadar, god of civilization, Droven invoked one last blessing to his lost compatriots. "May your works stand forever in the First Vault as testament to your skills and may the god that suits you each best watch over you. And if you have already claimed your final reward, do me a favor and distract any sharks between here and the coast. It'd be a shame to survive such a wreck only to feed the fish."
His prayer complete, Droven grabbed the largest piece of wood he could find in the wreckage for floatation, bound his shattered arm in a tattered sling made from linen he suspected was once part of the wrecked ship's sails, and began slowly swimming to shore.
Each stroke was an exercise in pain and every lapping wave seared his wounds with salt water, but somehow he reached the shore. He tried to stand and walk as the wooden plank ground into the beach, but he made it only a few steps before collapsing in a heap. As exhaustion weighed his eye shut, he thought he saw leather-booted feet moving towards him. Clinging to the optimism that had allowed him to shrug off pain and prejudice throughout his life, he hoped they belonged to someone friendly. Or at least, interesting.
Droven's rescuer was a half-orc man named Darv, older than Droven by many years and with gray staining his long black hair. Darv and his family were from the Illani Plains, many miles to the northwest, but had settled here after a dispute with another nomadic clan had threatened to turn to violence. Darv was a gunsmith, skilled in the crafting of firearms both like and unlike those Droven had occasionally seen make their way to Absalom from Alkenstar. Darv's son and son-in-law, Joach and Nadkym, operated a small smithy, where they forged armor, clockwork prosthetics, and other mechanical devices on par with, and often superior to, anything Droven had seen produced at Absalom's Clockwork Cathedral.
Darv had been forced to amputate Droven's arm to save his life, and Joach and Nadkym had already begun work on a prosthetic by the time Droven fully came to his senses and recovered enough from the wreck to move about. With nowhere to go and nothing but time on his hands, Droven joined them at the forge. Much of Droven's knowledge of alchemy was useless here, so far from the plants and reagents with which he was familiar, but his keen mind was quick to unravel the secrets of clockwork mechanisms and forging techniques. He was able to assist in the construction of his new prosthetic arm, adding modifications to assist him in adventuring when the time inevitably came that he felt well enough to begin seeking a way back home to Absalom.
The healing process, as well as acclimating to his new arm, was a slow affair, filled with long and painful days of careful physical therapy to rebuild his strength and renew his coordination. Droven spent much of his free time tinkering with a clockwork construct. "What exactly do you have there?" Darv would ask each day. "All it does is whirp and spin around while looking like a goblin that fell in a smelting vat!" And each day Droven would reply "It reminds me of home, and an old friend. Plus, one day I'll find a way back to Absalom and I can't expect your family to accompany me on such a journey! I'll need company."
Darv's constant references to the clockwork's "whirping" stuck, and the little mechanical device—primarily a toolbox but one with an unusual propensity for offering assistance without being asked—was soon known as Whirp to everyone, including Droven.
As Droven's inquisitive mind devoured everything Darv and his family could teach on the subject of clockworks and forge techniques, the Pathfinder eventually realized that the time had come for him to seek a way back to Absalom. As he packed a backpack with supplies, Jaoch and Nadkym presented their departing friend with weapons they had forged for him in secret: a hammer integrated with a variety of useful tools for repairing Whirp, and a finely crafted dagger. Darv gave his young friend a pair of armored boots and an admonition. "The soles on these will take you a good while to wear out, my friend. If you still haven't found a way back home by the time they're worn thin, come back here, instead. You'll always have a home."
With a nod and a smile, Droven and his new companion, Whirp, began their long search for a way back to his home in Absalom, starting by heading toward the land Darv and his family had spoken so fondly of—the Illani Plains.2