The Skankpipe Scavvies got pretty chewed up following their run-in with the space marines (turned out to be scouts actually), with 4 scavvies getting killed in the course of 2 battles. With no stash to recruit new members it was time to retire the Skankpipes and write up a new gang. I'd tried the massive barbarian gang approach and now I wanted to try the complete opposite; a small team of supertechno Spyrers. I needed a way to introduce the new gang and the perfect opportunity presented itself: Where do Spyrers hide when they're not hunting? The Ash Wastes. Where do the leaders of disbanded gangs wander off to? The Ash Wastes. Enjoy.
The End for Fritch
Ehlict Ran Lo carefully set his fighting claws by his side as he straddled a pile of bricks. Tapping at his wrist controls he closed a pressure valve, stopping the flow of web-fluid from the insect-like carapace on his back to his webspinners. He pulled the malleable tubing from the connecting nipples on his left 'spinner and sticky fluid drained to the bricks below. Sighting down the length of the tube, Ehlict saw web-fluid residue clinging to the inner walls of the tubing, hardening in the humid air of the underhive. Ehlict reconnected the tube to a second nipple on his carapace and opened a valve. Cleaning fluid sprayed out the open end of the tube, carrying the offending residue with it. After a few short bursts he checked the tubing again and satisfied, reconnected it to the webspinner, reopened the web-fluid valve and vented the air from his 'spinner. The delicate spyrer weapon was ready to be used in battle once again.
As he began to repeat the process with his right 'spinner a hulking form approached the bottom of the brick pile. Ehlict did not acknowledge the presence but continued his work, fully focused on the maintenance of his equipment. The figure raised its arm and aimed the attached bolt-launcher directly at Ehlict.
"You should have been there, Ran Lo," the deep, loud voice was filled with menace and enthusiasm, "I was this close to our target. He could not face me in single combat with honour. He needed the help of his brothers to hold me back. If not for them I would have crushed the life from his body." Paham Greim punched his open palm with a heavily armoured fist. These were not the sophisticated weapons Ehlict Ran Lo carried, they were savage weapons meant for overwhelming force to be applied to one's enemies in the simplest way possible. They fit Paham's personality . . . like a glove, Ehlict smirked.
"There is no such thing as honour here, Paham. Do not confuse these people to be anything like us. We are not here to fight honorably, we are here to practice on these scum so that when we do fight with the fools of the Spyre, we will win!" Ehlict said with cold conviction. He knew that penetrating Paham's beserker-like mind with such thoughts was an exercise in futility, but he could not resist the attempt. Paham was here at his behest, and it irritated him that the walking hill of destruction didn't understand the reasons why. Paham came to the underhive for one reason only, and that was to kill; he couldn't seem to focus beyond that.
"When exactly were you planning on doing any practicing yourself?" Relis Ty challenged from across the courtyard. Ehlict swore silently to himself; the contentious bastard must have the ears of a sump bat. The winged spyrer was seated with the other two members of their party; Shellian Ko'Iron and Ehlict's own brother Ahlan Ran Lo.
Relis Ty was clearly going to make life difficult for Ehlict on this hunt. His house was currently out of favor with Helmawr and he constantly looked for opportunities to increase his power in the eyes of others. On the trip down from the Spyre Relis had continually questioned Ehlict's actions: 'How many levels down are we now? Is this the safest route? Didn't we enter this dome already? Do you know what's up ahead?' Ehlict suspected that Relis intended to lead his own hunts after this trip, and was pumping him for information.
"I will hunt when our defenses are properly prepared," he spat. The fools had set out almost immediately after they had arrived at their base camp, not even waiting to investigate their surroundings. They had been lucky to escape without serious injury from their attempt to kill a gang leader. Ehlict had remained behind, angry at their impetuousness, checking their stashed gear by himself. The rad emitters were still operating from the previous Ran Lo hunt, nearly 3 seasons past, keeping unwanted guests from scavenging their camouflaged defenses. Someone had been here though. The Screamers had been stolen from their hiding places under the rubble, leaving the hunting party at greater risk to predators during rest periods.
Relis laughed as he walked across the open courtyard, Shellian and Ahlan following behind. "What defenses do we need? Our suits protect us while we sleep and the locals think this is a Rad Zone and won't come anywhere near it." He was subtly trying to wrest control of the group away from Ehlict. Ehlict could not allow that to happen.
"You were lucky, Ty," Ehlict emphasized the family name, "Our presence here will now be suspected. Did you manage to kill that gang leader? Or anyone, for that matter? Your naïve enthusiasm may have put our group in jeopardy. The Ran Lo's have led underhive hunts for three generations with good reason: we know when to strike, when not to and how to return above the Wall safely. Who are you to say we should conduct the hunt otherwise?"
"Not every hunt must be choreographed from start to finish, Ran Lo," Shellian stepped forward. "We made sure we weren't followed. There haven't been any Spyrers here recently, so the gang's tale may not be believed."
Ehlict could hardly believe this was the same woman he had recruited for the trip. In the Spyre she had consistently rejected the endless parties and games that most young nobles frivolously wasted their lives on and kept her opinions private. He had suspected she contemplated her peers with disdain and that she would make a viable candidate for the hunt. Now that she was here, she seemed to have come alive with new self-confidence.
When Ehlict had planned this expedition he had carefully chosen his party members. He had thought that Ty would be easy to manipulate, eager as he was to add some small honour to the much-stained family name. Unfortunately he was nowhere near as cooperative as expected. Shellian had been the one whose motivations remained unclear, and whose reactions were the most unpredictable. It seemed she would not follow him so blindly after all. Thankfully, controlling Paham was as simple as pointing him at something he could destroy.
The last minute addition of his own brother to the team was what bothered Ehlict the most. Ahlan had stood there grinning in a hunting suit identical to his own as the party was just setting out for the Wall. "I thought I'd join you on your little journey, dear brother," he had said flippantly. "Mother simply insisted I watch over you while you were away." Ehlict wasn't able to prevent Ahlan from going as the other party members had immediately welcomed him to the group. Simple math dictated that more hunters meant greater safety in the underhive. Ehlict reflected that it was at that moment that his control of the group had begun to slip away.
Ahlan was impetuous and dangerous. He could only be here for one reason; to challenge his brother for future leadership of the family. The underhive was the perfect place for a second- or third-born child to rise to prominence in the family hierarchy. If an older sibling happened to die on the trip, who would prove it murder? Certainly not the members of competing noble houses. No, Ehlict did not like the way things were turning out at all.
Outnumbered three-to-one and probably four, Ehlict was forced to relent. "Very well, I extend my congratulations on your spectacular entrée to the underhive. Please see to it you don't get us killed on your next escapade." Ehlict knew when to give way, and when to push. He was a natural manipulator and would find a way to regain control of the group.
"Quiet, I just heard something," Relis whispered. His intent demeanor convinced the others to hold still. Long seconds went by without a sound from the surrounding darkness.
Bricks slid across bricks in the distance. Ehlict picked up his fighting claws and slowly reseated them into his glove sockets. The spyrers began to spread out along the edges of the courtyard.
*scrabble clink thump*
Rocks and bricks were tripped over; closer this time. Ahlan climbed quickly and silently up the ruined edge of an ancient building. Paham stepped behind a wall, flexing his armoured fists. Shellian charged up her mono-molecular sword and hefting her mirror shield, sidestepped to the outskirts of the courtyard. Relis stepped into the shadow of an overhang and folded his metal wings around him, the wings shifted colors to match those of his surroundings. He was all but invisible in full view of the approaching sounds.
Ehlict stood atop the brick pile and knew that this would be his chance. He would face down this intruder openly and reassert himself as leader of the group.
*thud scrabble clink*
A dark form entered the courtyard . . .
Fritch stumbled on some loose bricks and barely caught himself before he fell to the ground. He kept his eyes locked on the middle distance ahead, not watching for the obstacles at his feet. Somehow, his immediate surroundings seemed far away to Fritch, as if it were all blanketed in a haze; yet buildings 3 blocks away seemed sharp and detailed. He was searching for something, he couldn't remember what it was at the moment but he knew that it wasn't here. He felt compelled to keep moving until he found it. He shuffled forward on the uneven ground with mechanical steps. Somewhere in the back of his mind Fritch knew he was being reckless, traveling across the underhive alone in this state, but he just couldn't bring himself to care.
When he had returned to the scavvy base camp with Skrock and the remains of his warband no one had said a word. No one would meet his gaze or walk near him. It had gone badly. Very badly. The attack on the guilder slave-train was supposed to have been a crowning achievement for the Skankpipes. They had already struck a blow against the guilders unlike any scavvy band before them. It had seemed inconceivable that that blow could be turned against them. The ambush had fallen apart almost immediately. Shells and Wings had fallen quickly to the slave-train watchdogs, the accursed Delaque. Skrock had been pinned to a bulkhead by massed gunfire, halting his potentially devastating advance. It was almost as if the Delaques had been ready for the Scavvies. Their plan had worked so well the first time, against the caravan with the mysterious archeotech. Why did it fall apart so badly when the same plan was used against the slave-train? It hardly mattered that Wretch had made it through to the slave-train with the precious Guilder badge. Without the support of his scavvy brothers he had broken and fled, dropping the badge somewhere along the way.
Fritch had known that the blame was his. He had failed his duty as Boss. He had lost too many of his followers through bad decision-making. The Skankpipes could have snuck up on the slave-train at any time and released the slaves with subterfuge, rather than attacking in force. The remnants of the Skankpipes would follow him no more. Oh, Skrock would probably always be loyal to him, but the support of the hulking Scaly would not be enough. If his people no longer trusted him, he must do something to regain that trust. Something.
Something was wrong. Fritch stopped short inside the entrance to a rubble-filled courtyard and studied his immediate area for the first time since he had walked out of the scavvy camp. The courtyard was silent, as if the underhive creatures that continually stirred in the dark places knew that death was about to strike. There! To one side of the courtyard atop a pile of bricks stood a insect-like monster in full view! Long hideous claws extended from its human-like arms. It was looking right at him, studying him with large emotionless eyes. Fritch could not believe he had not seen it before. What a fool he had been! To walk so heedlessly through the underhive was an open invitation for danger!
Fritch took a small step backwards, the slight sound of the pebbles shifting underfoot betraying his fear. The creature began to climb down the brickpile towards him. Fritch turned to run back the way he came, drawing his autopistol as he spun. The pebbles slid beneath his feet and he stumbled, cursing. He could hear the monster moving faster now and looked over his shoulder as he regained his feet. He caught only a quick glimpse of the humanoid-like creature leaping across the courtyard before something hard struck the side of his face and he fell to the ground again, the dark underhive spinning in circles around him.
"Hah! Did you see that? One punch dropped this flea. Not much to him is there?"
"Watch it! He's still moving!"
Fritch could hear voices approaching. He tried to rise, but couldn't quite work out which way was up. He could see shapes moving around him and wavering severely, pointed his autopistol at them. An armoured fist swept the gun from his hands with ease.
"Does our flea still have a bite? Well, we can take of that!"
A shadow loomed over him and too late Fritch tried to avoid the blow. The fist crashed into his face, knocking him flat to the hive floor.
"Wake up, little flea. Wake up."
Fritch tried to open his eyes and lightning jolted through his skull. The slightest movement sent shocks through his system. He felt light-headed, his bones ached and he needed to lie down. Slowly, painfully, he opened his eyelids and looked into the face of a large, grinning man wearing elaborate armour. Behind him were a couple of hivers in strange gear and . . . two of the insect-creatures! Fritch instinctively tried to jump back at the sight of them and was held in place by some sticky substance. He couldn't move his arms or legs, he was enveloped in the stuff! It was holding him immobile against the wall of the courtyard. Fritch weakly tried to struggle against the viscous matter and only succeeded in becoming further entangled.
"Now, now little flea. Ehlict has you well trapped in his web. No use struggling, you aren't going anywhere," the big man said mockingly.
"Leave him be, Paham," one of the insects said as it stepped closer.
Fritch realized it wasn't a monster at all, it was a hiver in an insect-suit like he'd heard … the … Spyrers … wore. Fritch giggled dementedly. Spyrers. He had told the Guilders (which had turned out to be Space Marines) that Spyrers were comin' for Fritch and he had been right! Oh, he wished he had never invoked their name, for now they had him and would take their revenge. The armoured Spyrer stepped away from Fritch at the spider-like Spyrer's command.
"What are you laughing at, little man?" the Spider-spyrer said as it walked up to him, "Do you find something about your situation amusing?"
"Spyrers … comin' for Fritch," he chuckled insanely to himself.
"I think you'd better pay attention if you want to live beyond the next few seconds, Fritch," the Spider said as it brought its claws up to his neck. Fritch fought down the urge to laugh. He knew he would not live for much longer. No one had ever escaped alive once a Spyrer caught them. Fritch knew this was the end for him.
"Where'd you come from, Fritch?"
"Scum-, Scumtankers, back that way." Fritch offered, gesturing with his head back the way he'd come from. Pain seared behind his eyes. He knew it was no use witholding information from Spyrers. He knew he was dead, he didn't see any reason to be tortured as well.
"You all alone, Fritch? What're you doing out here in the Rad Zones?" A winged Spyrer stepped up alongside the Spider one.
"Just wanderin', lookin' fer something."
"I'll do the questioning, Relis. Keep out of it," the Spider said, coldly staring down the other Spyrer.
The winged Spyrer stepped back grinning, "Oh, by all means, conduct your methodical interrogation."
"And what would that be, exactly?" the Spider asked, turning his attention with uncomfortable intensity upon Fritch, "That you were looking for?"
"Guilder badge." Fritch blurted out the first thing that came to his mind in an effort to get the Spider to back away from him just a little bit. He succeeded; the Spyrer lowered his claws and stepped back in confusion.
"Guilder badge? Why would you be looking for a guilder badge out here?"
"We-, uh, I stole it from guilders to get tech-box back." Fritch was improvising now, but the beginning of an idea was forming in his head.
"You. Stole a guilder badge. By yourself."
"Maybe I get little help, but guilders stole tech-box. I get it back." Fritch hoped he could convince the Spyrers to release him to look for the badge, giving him an opportunity to escape.
"What type of tech-box are we talking about here? Tools, bionics, medi-kits?"
Fritch was stuck, he didn't know what that box had been good for exactly. He just knew it was valuable. What would Space Marines want with a box from the underhive anyway? The Spider grew impatient, and raised his claws again.
"What type of tech, mutant?"
"Fancyscannerweapon." Fritch spit out, "Tells you where all your enemies are hiding, even behind steel walls." Lump had said that the Space Marines had seen him, even through the air vents, with some kind of tech-gear.
"A scanner?" the Spider seemed uninterested. "Who else lives around here, mutant?"
Fritch was worried now, the Spyrer hadn't taken the bait. "Not too many. Most live closer to Ash Hole. Safer." Fritch giggled a little.
"Which House warbands, fool? Who fights for blood in these domes?"
"Treacherous Delaque run like dogs for Guilders." Fritch hated the Delaque. They had been the downfall of his leadership of the Skankpipes and now he was going to die because of it.
"I think we've already run into them," said the winged Spyrer, who had never stopped listening to the conversation. The other Spyrers seemed less interested in Fritch since the Spider had started questioning him and had moved off across the courtyard.
"And you did yourself proud," the Spider replied. Fritch wasn't sure what was going on, but these two didn't seem to like each other. "Who else?" the Spider turned his gaze back to Fritch.
"Uh, 'Fists of Man'. Emperor-worshipping fanatics. They afraid of Fritch. Fritch beat them good." Fritch remembered the only other house he had fought against, early in his career as a Scavvy Boss. The rest had been guilders, hired scum, bounty hunters and the accursed Delaque.
"Sounds like Cawdor," the winged Spyrer opined.
"Or possibly Redemptionists," the Spider countered. "This is what we're looking for. We don't just attack the domes randomly. We choose our victims with care. The Redemptionists and Cawdor are too emboldened by their Emperor-worship. They think they are invincible and don't know how to fight with any subtlety. They only know how to attack, they are not practiced in defence. They shall fall to us easily."
Fritch felt some relief. Finally he had provided the Spyrers with something they wanted. Maybe they would keep him alive longer if he kept giving them useful information. The two Spyrers had turned away from Fritch to join the others at the far side of the courtyard. Maybe he could still escape.
"Paham. Target practice," the Spider said as they reached the others.
"Goody. Say 'bye bye' flea," the armoured Spyrer said in a greedy voice as he raised his his arm and pointed at Fritch.
"Noo!" Fritch squealed as miniature missiles launched across the courtyard and exploded all around him.
[Order of Battle]
© 1999 Dan Roberts
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