Ben Tunken sat on the hillside overlooking the Wiretap nests. The Thrask watched the brilliant lights bloom in the distance with his spyglass, suppressing the urge to yawn. Another day, another boring assassination meant to look like an accident.
Ben hadn’t always killed people for money, he’d actually gone AWOL out on his second tour in the military when he saw how bad he had it, and paid some smugglers to bring him to the Outer Spheres.
Take a little military training and some required animal handling spells from the Inner Sphere, and move out to the Outer Spheres, and he was practically a god. With a mental flick of the wrist, he could make a horse break someone’s neck, a beloved dog go for the jugular, or a cat kill an infant while the parents slept.
Although he’d never quite had a job quite like this one. Hundreds of targets, and rather than anyone in particular, a percentage: sixty percent.
Ben didn’t see many light flashes coming from the northwest side of the valley, so he drew the thin thread of mana from the environment and reached out, feeling the underdeveloped minds of the spiders in their nighttime torpor. He sent a wave of adrenaline, stoking the fight-or-flight instinct of the spiders in that area, and rousing them from their sleep.
Just like a painting, a swath of color bloomed on that part of the valley as the spiders reacted violently to the intruders.
Maybe I should aim for a perfect score, Ben thought as he directed a Wiretap’s attention to a retreating group of children, where it pounced on them, breaking the group apart and killing one young man outright.
Speaking of children. He glanced beside him at the two young monkeys with their tiny jaws and pointy, bulbous noses.
“Maggie didn’t say anything about babysitting,” He said gruffly.
“You don’t have to worry about us, big guy, You’ve got your job, we’ve got ours. We can handle ourselves.” The little golden haired one said, sending him a seductive smile. Ben would have appreciated it if she didn’t look like a long-nosed baboon.
“And what is your job?”
“Seems fairly obvious.” The bigger monkey said, his eye peering into the scope on a crossbow that was almost bigger than he was.
“You’re here to kill a high percentage, and we’re here to make sure one specific person joins them.”
“Ah,” Ben said. He had been wondering what they were doing here with such a tremendous crossbow when he had already agreed to do the work.
“Do you care?”
“I do not.” Ben replied, dropping the issue.
“How did you get all the spiders to attack?” The golden haired monkey asked. “It’s uncanny.”
“I burned a secret blend of herbs, upwind of the valley a few hours ago,” Ben lied. “It puts the spiders on edge.”
“Simple,” The bigger monkey said, nodding without looking away from his scope. “I like it.”
“You really do have a way with animals, Ben. Are you sure the Dentons couldn’t retain you full time?”
“Sadly, I’ve got a rather unique face here on Earth,” Ben said, carefully tiptoeing his mana past the slumbering entity in the center of the valley to sow chaos on the opposite side.
For an instant, he brushed up against it. its sheer malice and hunger made the hair on the back of his neck stand up, as dreadful as if some omniscient being had a personal vendetta against him: Knew everything about him and didn’t sympathize one little bit. It made it hungry.
In that momentary contact, he felt its dreamlike trance begin to melt through his mental defences at an astounding rate before he pulled away.
Ben kept a straight face as he inflamed the aggression of the spiders on the far side of the valley, keeping his breathing calm.
“what about your face?” the small monkey asked.
“Oh, my enemies would find me easily if I were to stay in one place.” Ben said.
The larger monkey was silent, staring down the scope, watching the shimmering web on the north-west corner of the desert valley.
“How about your flares?” Garth asked. “Can we use them to get around the swarm?”
“No. By this point they’re starting to diffuse through the entire nest. Not a swarm anymore. We’ve probably only got a couple minutes before they start stumbling on us a couple at a time.”
“Can we go through the wall?” Alicia asked, knocking on the web-reinforced dirt. It might as well have been concrete.
“Normally I’d say no,” Tad said, glancing down at Alicia’s monumentally expensive rapier. “But this is one of those situations. Give it a shot. The side wall has a better chance of being connected to something.”
Alicia took the length of adamantium on her waist and jammed it through the wall with a grunt before she began sawing through, her blade moving at a snail’s pace.
“I’ll check for the babies.” Garth said.
“Careful not to look…appetizing.” Tad said.
Garth took a few steps further into the tunnel, keeping his eyes open for spiderlings. After a short turn, he saw them: a loose mess of spiderlings, some hibernating, some wandering around. A few of them turned to gaze at his light source.
On the ground was the massacre of dead spiderlings that had been eaten by their siblings. The pool of bodies was clumped in one spot, forming a perfect line that stretched from one side of the tunnel to the other.
It seemed there hadn’t been a single spider that had chosen to go further than that point. Or maybe they weren’t able to.
Garth held out a hand and send a gust of poisoned wind out, sending all the spiderlings to eternal sleep. With their tiny systems, they were particularly easy to poison.
At least I can make it safe under here without stirring up too much trouble. Garth didn’t think he could nail down the big one long enough to take it out of commission without arousing suspicion, but a bunch of babies dying of malnutrition happened all the time in nature.
Still, there was always a chance some of the spiderlings resisted, or were sheltered from the wind, and wound up biting one of his team-mates. It would be best if they simply got the hell out.
Garth checked the tunnel one last time then turned back, where Caitlyn was wrapping a bandage around Tad’s scalp and Alicia was busily sawing through the wall.
“How’d it look?” Tad asked.
“Seems like they’re asleep, all tuckered out from eating each other.” Garth said.
“Thank the gods for that.” Tad said, relaxing against the wall.
Caitlyn finished the bandage and leaned against the wall herself, both of them careful not to get within range of the hole in the ceiling.
Garth glanced over where Alicia was working, and decided to speed things up.
“May I?” Garth asked, stepping up beside her.
“You can have Guile when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” Alicia said, continuing her fevered sawing at the web-reinforced wall.
“Not what I meant,” Garth said, closing his fingers down around hers. Alicia stiffened for a moment before nodding, and the two of them began forcing the blade through the compacted dirt at a prodigious rate.
As they worked, Garth could feel the warmth of her body against his own, her shoulder and hip pressing against him as they sawed. With a bit of focus he was able to shut out his hyper awareness of the pretty girl beside him and focus on the task at hand. Just barely.
A minute later, Alicia muttered, “You smell nice.”
“It’s a Gift.” From Beladia.
Alicia snorted, and kept sawing.
Once they were through, Alicia took a step back and kicked, hard. The two-foot circle of wall peeled open, dangling on the other side by a few uncut pieces of web.
“Alright, lemme take a look. Don’t wanna go losing your head.” Tad said, taking Caitlyn’s makeup mirror on the end of a spear and scanning the opposite side of the wall for spiders.
“It would suck all kinds of ass to jump through here and have a bunch of the little ones fall on our heads.” he muttered, tongue slipping out of his mouth as he concentrated.
“Looks clear.” He turned back. “Fast as possible. Me, in and left.” He pointed at himself, then motioned to the hole. “Then you,” he pointed at Alicia. “In and right.” He pointed at Caitlyn. “In and left.” He pointed at Garth . “Go in backwards. You’re watching our asses.”
“Three, two…” Without hesitation, Tad threw his spear and jumped through the hole in the wall, coming to his feet and breaking left, Alicia hot on his heels and breaking right. A second later, Caitlyn jumped through, her feet catching on the wall. She pushed herself to her feet and raised her gun in an instant, going toward Tad.
Garth backed up to the hole, spear lifted, eyes trained on the hole in the ceiling. He made out a single bulbous eye just barely visible over the edge of the burned web, watching him.
Garth kept the spear between them as he gave the creature the finger, feet scraping against the floor as he eased his way backward toward the hole. Once he was there, he lifted his feet and plunged backward, supporting himself with the spear and trying to get through as quickly as possible. That was the vulnerable part. Surprisingly, the spider didn’t go for him. the bulbous eyes disappeared as if they’d never been there. Catch you later.
Predators seem like they’re smart, like they’re toying with you…That’s just natural selection carrying on the most brutally effective hunting methods.
Garth heaved a sigh of relief as he came to a stand in the center of the group. They were still going to have to deal with the monster on the way out, he realized.
Something to look forward to.
Tad led the way, until they came across a section where the floor slanted upward, leading up into the web above them.
“Here’s the exit,” he said, pointing at the ramp. “The murder hole, where they come out to snatch their prey or defend their territory.”
“Isn’t there a big spider waiting for us on the on the other side of this?”
“Yeah, but it’s not that smart.” Tad said. “Assuming we trick it, we might just go home today.”
“How do you plan on tricking it?”
“Ever play with a cat? I figured I’d make another decoy, let it take it, then stab it, oh, about seventeen or so times.
“Where are you gonna get another decoy?” Alicia asked.
“Thought I’d use my armor.” Tad said, unbuckling his breastplate.
“Use mine,” Garth said, stopping him. “You need that armor to keep all the blood inside you.”
A few minutes later, Garth was standing there in his underwear, feeling the cool night air crawling up his back.
Were he not supremely confident that none of these spiders could hurt him, he wouldn’t have offered to let Tad use his armor. Garth made sure he was wearing force armor, and Bark skin though.
I’m not totally crazy.
On the end of Tad’s spear was a makeshift man, a boiled leather cuirass with arms and legs filled with wadded clothing and a lumpy head packed inside the hood.
“♪I’m just a normal, everyday, unsuspecting huuuman.” Tad sang softly to himself as he watched the web. He lifted the head of the dummy up to the web and jostled it a couple times to make sure they had the Wiretap’s attention.
“♪ Sure hope no giant pain in the ass, tackles me on the way out of this here neeest.”
Garth carefully peeled the edge of the web back while Alicia watched their back.
Tad wiggled the dummy, making it march up the ramp and into the dim light of the stars.
There was a rapid drumlike sound an instant before a blur of pale white screamed in from the left. The wiretap tackled the dummy at breakneck speeds, slamming it to the ground. The plan worked perfectly, but the angle of the spider’s strike slammed Tad’s spear handle into his ribs and snapped the wooden pole off.
“Gah,” Tad grunted as he was driven to his knees. “Get it.” he groaned.
Garth rushed forward with the last remaining spear, toward the creature slamming foot-long fangs through his armor.
The spider saw the strike coming and ducked before skittering sideways at a speed nearly too fast for the eye. Jesus, that’s-crap! Just as Garth thought the monster was retreating, it pounced forward again, knocking his spear aside and going for his delicious Garthmeats.
Garth was barely able to drop the spear in time to catch the two fangs plunging toward him with his hands.
Way closer than I wanted to be! Garth thought as the creature’s hairs broke off and folded against Force armor.
“Hold on!” Alicia shouted, running forward, swinging with her rapier. Did anyone ever tell her that it’s a stabbing weapon?
The spider skittered to the side, and Garth’s death grip on the monster’s fangs took him along for the ride, roadhauling him ten feet in the blink of an eye.
“Get it to hold still!” Garth heard Caitlyn shout. all he could see was fangs and weird mandible things and deadly white hairs.
Piece of shit, Garth thought.
With an effort of will, Garth snapped the two fangs in his hands off and pushed the spider away.
It reeled back, screeching loud enough to bust eardrums.
Clack, clack, clack! Garth heard the sound of Caitlyn’s gun.
Several holes opened up on the creature’s carapace, and one of its largest eyes burst. It shrieked, shivered and lunged for Garth again. Alicia stepped up beside him with his spear and caught the monster on the crossguard.
“Thanks. One second.” Garth lunged forward, the creature’s bladed talons unable to pierce his spellwork. Garth slammed into the creature’s abdomen, knocking it backwards and stabbing it wildly with its own fangs.
Phosphorous hairs popped under him by the dozen, forcing Garth to retreat from the extreme heat. Unfortunately for the spider, none of them penetrated Garth’s Force armor, and they were all still resting on the creature’s abdomen. Those hairs caught more alight, and the spider thrashed on the ground as a large portion of its internal organs cooked.
“That sucked.” Caitlyn said. “I know for sure now. The Williams are crazy.”
“Are you okay?” Alicia asked, glancing up and down Garth’s unmarred body, eyes lingering a bit longer than necessary.
“I got lucky,” Garth said with a wink.
“Go team.” Tad grunted, cradling his broken ribs. “I think my drugs are wearing off.” He stooped to pick up the cocooned lizard he’d thrown out earlier. “Let’s go back to camp. I’ve got some more there.”
“Is it always this bad?” Alicia asked as they turned away from the valley.
“Hell no. I thought we were home free after the first one. This was like the perfect storm of suckage. They shouldn’t have been that fast either. Didn’t wanna worry you guys, though.” Tad said as he limped along.
“Didn’t wanna worry us? What was that about not dying a virgin?” Alicia asked with a raised brow.
“Is that an offer?”
“Shove it, Tad.”
Garth was walking along beside them, chuckling, when a whizzing impact made it difficult to breath.
Garth came to a fraction of a second later, sliding along the scratchy desert floor, his armor spells destroyed, and his chest cavity crushed by a half-inch bolt comprised entirely of adamantium.
Garth only saw about an inch of it sticking out.