For my Podcast, I have been trying to introduce players to narrative gaming, as I think it’s something that reading a manual doesn’t necessarily teach. I have decided to augment that effort by including occasional short stories narrated by me. This is the first story in the series, so grab a protein bar and a bottle of wild snake and settle in by the refuse fire for a tale set in the lowest of the low, the sump bottom, where only the brave and foolish dare to tread…
Leeria was bored. She’d been free climbing down the side of an ancient and massive pipe for hours, and she still could barely see the shimmer of the sump sea below. It was treacherous work, climbing down, but her crew was up to the task, having explored every inch of the underhive tunnels they had grown up in as girls. They often said, there wasn’t a place planetside they couldn’t get into, given enough time and planning. Bored, climbing was boring, gotta find something to do.
“Aye, Dresher?” Leeria shouted up at her oldest friend. “Wot you want?” She heard back, dresher was a few hundred feet up, directly overhead.
“I was thinkin, aint no harm in playing a little oopsie daisy now, innit?”
“You wanna throw live grenades around on the side of a ruined pipe? You mental?”
“Maybe, but I bet you can’t get one past me anyhow, so no harm when you think about it” She smirked, knowing that the taunt would goad her friend to try, even though it was dangerous.
“Fine, you got me, bomb’s a way you slag, catch it or we’ll all be getting to the bottom a bit faster than expected.” A ball in freefall came down to leeria’s right, and she stretched out her hand, only just catching the frag grenade and quickly disarming the fuse. Adrenaline coursed through her veins as she secured the now deactivated explosive in her pocket, giggling “Too fast for you lady, the god empress herself has blessed Me!”
“Funny word you got for luck, sis,” yelled Nora, one of her other companions.
The hours passed slowly in the descent, but by nightfall, or what would have been nightfall were any surface light penetrating this deep, the 5 women reached the bottom of the pipe, a 2 foot wide ledge a scant 5 feet up from the noxious sump liquid churning at the very bottom of the hive. If the fighters hadn’t been wearing respirators, the air would be enough to send any one of them to the bottom, unconscious in seconds, and dead within a minute, assuming they didn’t fall into the noxious waters.
“You got the map dearie?” Dresher asked as she slid down to sit on the ledge, rubbing her tired hands and peering at her oldest friend’s pocket.
“Aye, don’t worry, this is fresh intel, wouldna climbed all this way if I wasn’t certain.” Leeria said with a tone of annoyance. Sure, she sometimes forgot her respirator for missions that needed it, and yeah a couple times she’d lead them on a wild goose chase, but this was different. This was their big shot.
New Escher gangs often form as a consequence of close friendships, each subsequent generation forging bonds that tend to supersede loyalty to the gang their cut their teeth in. Once one of the girls in a clique gained enough experience and stature to make it on their own, they tended to split and seek out new territories to make their name. This was the inevitable cycle that kept the gangs of house Escher ever growing, ever honing their skills in conflict with each other. Leeria was second in command in the Dusk Rippers, having split from her previous affiliation with the Silver Raptors when Ana, the Leader of the Dusk Rippers had one day had enough of their former leader’s condescension and walked away. Once part of a force that numbered in the dozens and ran chems and numbers all across the mining dome of Boretown, the splitters had left their old home behind nearly a Terran year ago. Initially only 4, they had since doubled their numbers, but while they often found work, it was small potatoes, and unfulfilling.
When the trading post got word of a big score in the sump zone, Leeria had to take the opportunity. Ana wasn’t up for the trip yet, she’d lost the lower half of her left leg in an otherwise successful daytime robbery, and was still recovering from the surgery they’d spent most of the gang’s remaining creds on to replace it. Ever eager to prove herself and help establish the gang, Leeria had taken her food money and cajoled the trader eating a protein bar at the trading post to spill his story. And what a story it was. A large, undisturbed nest of Necromundan giant spiders. Hundreds. A veritable fortune’s worth of venom, let alone the riches they could get for the talons and eyes. And god empress, if there were eggs…
The trader had seen them himself too, this wasn’t just some second hand tall tale, he’d been down in Krok Falls, a settlement about 3 miles of tunnels and a few hundred feet up another pipe, when he’d upset a guilder by beating him at cards and gotten himself tossed into the perilous waters. Lucky for him, a particularly intense waste flow had diluted the toxic liquid to a stinging mixture that left him covered in rashes and caused his hair to fall out, but hadn’t been strong enough to do more than superficial damage. As he floated down the river of waste, he eventually caught himself on a ladder and climbed up to a ledge not too different from the one Leeria now sat perched upon. Trying to find his way back up hive, the man had nearly become a meal, encountering the rare and deadly spiders in their nest.
There was a clank of Leeria’s heavy stubber as Vek, the gang’s only juve, lowered it into Leeria’s lap.
“Good work, skrag, not a scratch on it. When you climb back up without the stubber, it won’t be so hard”
“Yeah, you sure you can handle it down ere? I can keep it for ya if the kick is too much?” Quipped the little one, full of blind confidence that bordered on foolishness.
“How bout this” Leería sneered back, “if you outlive me, then the guns yours, it’ll skip right past Dresher and go to you. But I suspect I’ll be singing over your grave long before I meet my end.”
With all 5 of the climbers on the ledge, they began the careful work of creeping along the ledges, following the twists and turns of the sump river as indicated by their map. They’d be to the map’s destination in under an hour, with minimal fuss along the way, only stopping to joke and hurl insults at one another when the feeling struck.
As they turned down the broken gate that serves as a threshold for the spiders’ domain, Leeria took a moment to check her gun. She signaled for the others to do the same, taking their safeties off and getting ready. Necromundan giant spiders are a horrifying sight. Weighing as much as a large dog, sporting enormous venom injectors, and a leg span of several feet, one of these creatures was enough to ruin an Underhiver’s day, let alone dozens. Let alone hundreds as the frightened trader claimed to see.
Leeria hoped his eyes were playing tricks on him. She knew with the proper deployment of her arsenal, and perfect coordination among her fighters, she could exterminate a fairly large nest, but even then, probably not hundreds. Ideally, they would flush out a score of them and collect the carcasses before more came, allowing them to bring in a sizable bounty without depleting the nest for future expeditions. An established nest of giant spiders was the sort of thing a gang could grow rich on quickly, leap frogging their local rivals in the pecking order.
As they prepared to enter the nest, the women grew quiet. No more banter back and forth, no more speech at all, their interactions now all in hand signals, which were second nature to any Escher by the time they were fighting age. The most eager to prove herself, Vek volunteered to be the first to enter the nest. She slid through a hole in the side of the bulkhead and looked around.
“There’s bones ere, and web, looks legit” she whispered up to her companions. A few seconds later, she hoped out of the hole and covered her ears, a small charge detonating in the Cavity she’d just occupied. Standing back, Leeria readied her stubber, training the large gun at the hole, her companions training lasguns and laspistols in the same fashion. And for a moment, she wondered whether they’d been too credulous, too quick to believe the stories of some man who barely had the sense to keep himself alive. But several minutes of waiting paid off, with the first of the spiders exploring the disturbance emerging from the hole, feelers sensing for who or what had caused the explosion. Leeria let rip a burst from her machine gun, *brap* and several slugs struck the creature in its soft body, ripping through its exoskeleton and sending ichor splattering on the wall and floor with a satisfying *pop*. The next two fell just as easily, wandering out of the tunnel and taking devastating injuries from the stubber fire. There was another pause. Two of the gangers holstered their pistols and began stripping the valuable bits from the spider carcasses, minutes passing by as they waited for more. When they did come, this time it wasn’t one by one, no, the spiders clearly smelled their fallen kin and waited for overwhelming numbers before attacking again. The *brap* of stubber fire rung out again as the first spider sprinted from the hole, all but one of the potent slugs missing wide, she only managed to hit one of the legs. Her comrades quickly put it down with lasfire, but behind it, 5 had already emerged and began to sprint for the gangers. Leeria felt the anxiety well in the pit of her stomach. Not too many. But another part of her, a part of her that wanted to be legendary, urged more of them to come. As her girls killed the emerging creatures, she continued to plug round after round into their hole, thinning their numbers but not stopping the tidal wave of creeping death, covered in coarse black hairs, chittering as they ran to their deaths. But, after successfully gunning down more than 2 dozen of the spiders, Leeria’s plan hit a snag. The stubber’s barrel was glowing red, but the spiders kept coming, so she continued to fire. White. Suddenly, *thunk* the barrel bent under its own weight, and a round lodged itself in the steel. Hell. Not going to be firing that again without a trip to the ammo jack for a new barrel. She dropped the burning hot stubber and immediately drew her stiletto sword, charging forward to continue the slaughter.
Her fighters had been slowly backing away from the hole, trying to avoid getting flanked by the incredibly fast spiders. Nothing to worry about, she thought, only to immediately regret her hubris as Likii, one of the lasgunners, had two of the monsters scale her body and sink their enormous fangs through her flak armor and into her flesh. Not good. Even if the gang had the creds for an antidote to the spider poison, there was no time to administer it, with the remaining 4 fighters needing to back further up to deal with what at this point started to feel like endless waves of the beasts. Skrag this, Leeria thought, and she pressed the detonator she’d clipped to her belt. A bomb just on the other side of the entrance exploded, weakening the foundation and bringing the ceiling down on the bugs and the gangers alike.
Ringing in her ears, Leeria pushed rubble off of herself, and she tried to regain her bearings. The light of her shoulder mounted glow globe showed the air choked with dust, and massive chunks of ceiling covered the floor. Probably went a bit too aggressive choosing the size of the charge on that one, she thought, but then, the price for estimating too low would’ve been far worse.
“Dresher!” She shouted, hoping to find her friend, “Dresh tell me you aint been brained by an empress forsaken rock, you’re too good to die like that.”
“Aye,” her friend said, her voice nearby but muffled, her hand suddenly emerging from a pile of debris, “but Nora weren’t so lucky.”
“Fuck,” the loss of two of the gang’s numbers in this excursion would bring a rage from Ana, even if they managed a big score. “She dead or just missing?”
“‘Ead’s got a length of rebar straight through out the other side. Aint no getting up from that.”
Fuck. She’d hear an earful about her own bomb killing one of their best shooters. Still, 3 dozen venom sacks would more than make up for the loss. “Vek, you little shit, you still alive?” She asked, hoping dearly the youngest of their number hadn’t been killed by her bomb, too. “Why in the name of the god empress didn’t you say you was blowing the hole, Leer?” Vek spat back. She crawled to them, her leg bleeding extensively, but she didn’t complain about the injury. “We gonna get this score or just grouse about things going pear shaped?” The girl was tough, she’d go far yet, if she was well enough to handle the long climb back up anyhow.
Leeria felt around for her stubber, finding the strap and pulling the damaged weapon over her shoulder. She found her sword too, and sheathed it, pulling a smaller blade from a sheath on Nora’s chest and making quick work of stripping the valuable parts off the spider carcasses and packing them away in her backpack. She quietly kept count to herself as she went. A dozen, two dozen, 3 dozen, 4. Maybe the trader hadn’t been seeing things, there were easily 80 of the things carcasses in the tunnel, with empress knows how many crushed in the spider hole. She’d been reckless choosing the size of her explosives, but her timing couldn’t have been better, there was no way her fighters could’ve taken on the entire nest. Now, next time they wanted to hunt here, things would be more challenging, but with the creds these spoils would bring, they could afford to mount a properly armed expedition.
As she filled her backpack and the other two filled theirs, they grabbed what they could of their kin’s equipment and backtracked out of the tunnel. After patching up Vek’s leg a safe distance from the nest, they worked their way back to the long climb to home. The 3 of them set about the arduous work of scaling the ancient tunnel walls, working hands into cracks and crevices to use as handholds. About halfway up, they stopped in a little alcove to rest their tired hands and gloat about the biggest score of their young lives. Each pack had thousands of creds worth of parts. They’d earned more in a day and a half’s journey than they’d made in the previous year. As they set to climbing again, Leeria thought she saw movement on the wall below. Seeing things, she thought to herself, it’s too dark to make sense of any of it anyhow. But she was right to be concerned, for rapidly climbing to meet the 3 gangers was a living wall of giant spiders. As the mob closed the gap, Leeria began to hear the soft patting of their feet on the walls, and the chittering of their jaws.
“Empress protect us” she exclaimed as she realized how quickly the bugs were gaining on them. Securing her hold with one hand, she let loose a string of shots down at the approaching horde. “Might as well be pissing on them, the good that did” Vek exclaimed, trying to mask the fear in her voice with humor. The bugs would be on them in minutes now. “Hey Dresh,” Leeria said solemnly, “This was my score, I gotta be the one to finish it”
“Like hell” her friend replied back, “I aint leaving you to die in the sup, sis.”
“Then you planning to die with me?” Leeria said back, curtly, fiddling with the grenades on her belt. “Only way I can see any of us making it out is me blowing the pipe section, even if you two climb as fast as you can, you might not be clear of the damage.”
“Leer, I can’t leave you here to die like that.”
“You can. You will. Because you know it’s me or all 3 of us, and there aint no sense you dying too.”
“This isn’t fair, leer, you’re all I got.”
“Not all, love, not all,” Leeria grinned, holding out a pack worth more than her life many times over. Dresher took the bag, threw it over her shoulder, and took a moment to consider her friend. “I wish we had more time.” They pressed their foreheads together, long their favorite way of saying goodbye. “I love you Dresh, tell Ana I died being brave. And tag that idiot Rugman’s shop one more time for me, will you, I always hated that prick.
“Don’t say you love me too, boss,”
“Aye what have I told you about stowing the lip every now and then”
“Here,” Leeria slid the strap of the heavy stubber down her arm and held it out to the girl, “guess you outlive me after all.”
As Vek and Dresher climbed away, moving quickly in hopes of being far enough from the explosion that the pipe wouldn’t collapse out from under them, Leeria climbed down to meet the spiders, firing her pistol down at them pointlessly, shouting insults. As her voice started to fade and her silhouette met the roiling tide of arachnid flesh advancing upwards, there was a series of pops, then an even louder explosion. The frag grenades had set off her melta bomb. The force of the explosion send a shockwave up the shaft, shaking the two remaining climbers. The held on tight, and waited, hoping the pipe wall held. The rumble of the wall bellow the crumbling was a brief and intense roar, but within a minute, the tunnel had returned to quiet, with no sign of the advancing horde below.
The two figures climbed for the next 3 hours in silence, unable to find the words to describe what had just happened. Ana would be furious at first when they told her. Her top enforcer, the gang’s best shot, and Likii, the only decent cook among their numbers, all lost. But when she saw what they’d made it out with, well, the gang wouldn’t be hurting for personnel or gear for that matter, for long.
“First thing I’m doing,” Vek laughed, as they reached the top, “Is paying for a hot shower and an hour with the prettiest girl at the bar.”