A Warhammer 40,000 Orks fanfiction by David Crowe
Chapter 9 Hunters in the Hills
Chapter 9 Hunters in the Hills
"Oi, SkagNet, yer sneaky git!"
SkagNet froze on the spot. He knew that voice and dreaded the face he knew was lurking behind it. GorGoff NarGrim, the Goff Warboss, the inestimably dangerous and undeniably lethal undisputed leader of the Waaagh! himself was addressing SkagNet, personally, by name…again. This time SkagNet missed the luxury of a minefield between them.
"Where're you sneaking' off ta dis time?"
SkagNet's tired old brain turned over in his thick boned cranium searching desperately for a reasonable lie, any story, any excuse that would loose him from the ever tightening grip of the warboss. In his desperation he almost made silent appeal to Nurd to come up with something smart but his innate orkish pride refused to allow such an affront before the paragon of orkishness that was GorGoff.
"Da hills… Boss." he snivelled in abject failure, still unable or unwilling to turn and look.
"Fought you'd skulk away off an' get lost out in da big rocks didja?"
SkagNet heard the massive clanging steps and grimy sucking pistons of the warboss' mega armour thump toward him so he turned to at least anticipate the inevitable if not fatal blow.
"Fought you'd 'ide out der an ambush da Oomies dat tried ta get roun' be'ind us?”
"I… I fought… I mean I woz jus'… Boss, I… "
"Quit your zoggin’ snivvling your paffetic Bloodaxe sneak an' do your job!” GorGoff levelled a steel fist the size of a truck wheel at SkagNet's head causing the old runtherd to snap out of his terror induced stupor. He jumped to it with a will.
"at once Boss! Sure fing Boss. You can coun' on me Boss."
He had no real idea of what exactly his job according to the Warboss was. All he knew for sure was that he was going to do it.
"an' anuver fing." GorGoff interjected. “I 'eard dat Weirdboy Wotizface.”
GorGoff almost landed his second attempt to slap some sense into the old fool. Luckilly for SkagNet a four foot wide steel fist is an easy thing to see coming. Even with only one eye. The back-swing alone nearly unbalanced the furious warboss.
"Yes… 'im. E's been poppin' up 'ere an' dere an' taken' lads off wif 'im. Last I 'eard 'e woz out in dem 'ills an 'e 'ad a bad turn. Came over all Waaagh! sick an’ killed a buncha ladz. Some of dem woz my boys see. A couple o' my lads made it back an' tells me allaboudit. Course I smacked 'em up good-an'-proppa fer leavin' in da frust place."
Skagnet was losing his focus. Was GorGoff getting at something? Was he just ranting about his rival or was this some sort of "job"?
"soooo… " SkagNet winced."You wan' me ta look fer Waz… " he swiftly corrected himself "dat Weirdboy… " he paused for admonishment. "in dem 'ills" he continued, "an if I sees 'im… " SkagNet eyed the trembling fist of GorGoff warily "I'm ta…” how should he put it? SkagNet pondered. “Giv‘im yer best." he euphemised meaningfully.
The full purport of the finished statement struck both orks simultaneously with surprising uneasiness. Although not a race to shy away from a little murder in general every ork knew that the assassination of a wierdboy was cultural heresy. GorGoff may as well have asked SkagNet to paint himself pink and run away from a fight. Still, they each concluded, it was as the only way. GorGoff NarGrim was the undisputed leader of the Waaagh! was he not? WazzBad NazKop was a charismatic weirdboy who's cult was growing and drawing more and more eager boys into its dangerously unpredictable and self destructive circle. It was no way to win the Waaagh!
SkagNet was too old and wily to be sucked into the weirdboy's madness like other younger orks might be. A weirdboy's power was augmented by the hyped-up psyches of the orks surrounding him but SkagNet's lowdown sneaky cunning, and that of his gretchin charges wouldn't add to the weirdboy’s power, wouldn't be noticed. He was the perfect candidate; there was no question about that. The only question was which of them had really thought up this scheme of low down treachery? SkagNet suspected he knew the right answer.
"Great idear Boss!"
SkagNet spun on his peg-leg and made a clean break of it heading for the high ground before GorGoff, or his hulking power claw had anything more to add to the conversation; the logical conclusion of which, SkagNet knew, was that GorGoff was a coward and a traitor who would sooner hire an old Bloodaxe to do his dirty work than face the awesome raw power of WazzBad himself.
GorGoff watched the old ork limping away, almost enthusiastically he thought. How typical of a Bloodaxe; only too willing to jump at the first opportunity to switch sides and take up with the enemy against his own greenskin race.
"Dirty zoggin' turncoat cowards." GorGoff muttered as he turned his back on SkagNet and his gretchin, shifting his gaze back to the front line. His forces were already set to repel the pathetic daylight advances of the humans but once night fell again…
"Den I'll 'ave sum fun wif 'em."
* * * * *
SkagNet was in his element. Stalking the upper passes of the lower rocky foothills his blood sang with the hunt. Smudge followed his example ducking and weaving in and out of cover now scouting ahead, now covering the rear. Smirking plodded along merrily. The satisfying crunch of gravel under his heels told him his hearing was at last returning, that and the sound of SkagNet’s gruff tuneless humming. He grinned at the old runtherd with his usual benign indifference and for the first time SkagNet actually smiled in return.
They were on the trail of a band of frenzied orks. Not a difficult trail to follow on account of the nose bleeds common to Waaagh! energy infused orks, and the litter of spent shells from their enthusiastic skyward burst of gunfire. Not to mention the occasional vomiting fit of the Wierdboy that left greasy bubbling acidic messes here and there, and of course the odd headless corpse. As had occurred back in the market, the event that had signalled WazBad’s ascent to Wierboy Warphead status, when the raw psi-energy built up in a crazed boys head to dangerous levels sometimes it would simply explode. SkagNet crouched over the latest “head-banger” and tasted a toadstool which had sprouted from under its arm pit.
“We’s gettin’ close.” He announced.
“It’s sweet boss” Smudge was sucking the cap of a similar fungus.
“Nu ones is sweet.” SkagNet explained “takes a coupla nights ta get propa stinky.
More if it’s a real full Naz like we ‘as t’night”
Smudge devoured the information and the toadstool with equal relish, while Snikkit tore at the dead ork’s bullet belt.
SkagNet moved on but just a few paces on the trail vanished. No bodies, no vomit, no spent shells or even tell tail blood trails. Not even so much as a discarded knucklduster. The dusty gravel trail was undisturbed and fresh as steaming grox dung and SkagNet was stumped.
“Maybe dey jumped Boss” Nurd was hovering at his usual distance between earshot and the reach of SkagNet’s stick. SkagNet leaned over the rock skree on one side of the path looking down into the valley below with an inquisitive eyebrow raised.
“Not jumped down dere.” Nurd tried to hide his plaintive disdain of the ork’s dull mind. “Da weirdboy. He made ‘em all jump. Teleport like.”
SkagNet looked miffed. Nurd rolled his eyes and resigned himself to the only means of communication left to him. “’ere we go ‘ere we go ‘ere we go” he sang with flat dead pan resentment. A flash of realisation flared in SkagNet’s red eye and Nurd shuffled off to be smart somewhere else. He knew better than to expect gratitude by now.
“WazzBad made ‘em jump…” SkagNet muttered. It was bad. He had heard of this sort of thing before. Wierdboys were capable of transporting a whole mob of orks from one end of a battlefield to the other in the blink of an eye. The trouble was they often had very little control of when or where or how far even. Control was not a common facet of the Wierdboy mentality. SkagNet kicked a rock off the edge of the path with enough savage force to send his loose ragged leather boot hurtling after it. He was furious. He felt cheated. A full night’s stalking wasted. His prey vanished into the warp without a trace. Leaving him and his boys high and dry alone in these Gorkforsaken hills like a lot of…
SkagNet paused. They were alone, in the hills, as he had wished. Just like he had planned, he corrected himself. He cocked a half smile at his own genius. He’d given both GorGoff and WazzBad the slip. Not to mention that insufferable mekboy GrodMek. He was the Boss up here. These were his hills, his own stomping grounds. He began to gruff a low throaty guffaw. Banditry and ambush, booby traps and covert ops! A long and devious career flashed before him as he rubbed his flabby jowls in thought. Waaagh! SkagNet, he mused. I wasn’t too late. The eastern horizon was lightening and SkagNet surveyed his position. He dumped his rucksack on the ground and produced a roll of netting wire and some of the humans knobbled hand bombs.
“Unkie!” he growled. “Haul me stuff up dat slope an’ set up camp.”
He indicated a steep incline rising nearly three times his height to a hollowed out cave-like dent in the rockface. Tossing the heavy bag at Unkie he turned his attention to the job in hand.
“Now we is gonna learn some real Bloodaxe work!” he beamed.
Smirking and SkagNet and all the others were smirking.
* * * * *
SkagNet explained the mechanism to Smirking for the fifth time. Smirking understood enough of the concept by now to let the matter drop but Nurd suspected that SkagNet just enjoyed the teaching of dirty tricks too much.
“Da Oomie comes by an’ steps on da wire.” He demonstrated with his unshod foot.
“Da wire is attached to da Bomb” he looped the end of another wire into the pin of another looted frag grenade which he lodged between some heavy rocks on the side of the track.
“an when dis bit comes out..” he jangled the metal ring with a grimy claw
Den we jumps down from da camp an bangs ‘em on da ‘ed an nicks der stuff.”
Smirking smirked with evident delight. He liked the bit about jumping out and surprising the unsuspecting victims of SkagNet’s ambush. Nurd rolled his eyes. He had practically schooled SkagNet in the successful application of the trap himself. The boss had obviously done it before but was stumped for lack of a pair of trees to tie the trap between.
Unkie had set camp up in the hiding place and was trying to catch some sleep as the dawn had broken some two hours before. Slakka with his keen day vision was posted a little higher up at a point where he could overlook the track on the side from which they had approached. Nurd felt that Slakka’s eyes might better serve overlooking the other direction but that was to be Smirking’s job and he didn’t want to contradict the boss, especially as it would probably result in his reassignment to the same task. As it was he was to wait in the hide out with Unkie, Snikkit, Smudge and SkagNet and judging by Unkie’s snoring that was the place to be.
They were all awoken by a loud blast. SkagNet jumped to his feet, one of them anyway, and was stunned to be staring a human in the face. A startled looking man in a tall spindle legged machine, standing in the midst of smoke and dust clouds below but with the pilots cab exactly on a level with Skagnet’s own elevated position.
“Enemy!” the man yelled, as if a round of exploding frag grenades at his vehicle’s ankles hadn’t been confirmation enough. SkagNet blinked stupidly.
Smirking squinted sleepily over the large roadside boulder he had been sheltering behind. The blinding wash of the sun was momentarily blocked by a second passing vehicle, not unlike the first which had woken him. Judging by the noise of stomping metal feet and the gigantic silhouette flitting between the sun spots of his seared retinas Smirking could tell that whatever they were he was glad to be hiding from them. He shielded his eyes with both hands, peeping through slatted fingers as it moved away; a huge, metal, two legged bird-like thing with a giant, wedge shaped head and an alarmingly large gun strapped to the side, following its partner in the direction of SkagNet’s ambush.
Curiosity warred with self preservation as Smirking tip toed out of cover stalking after them as they disappeared around the corner of the rock wall. A moment later a series of blasts preceded a scattering of dust and gravel from around the bend. Smirking held his breath and, still squinting through his fingers dared a peak around the corner. The sun wasn’t so harsh around the bend, the rocks casting the dusty track in shadow. A cloud of dust hung around the legs of the bird in front. It was now a little further downhill and some distance away. The rearward bird however was only a few paces beyond the bend and it was massive. Not so strong and well built, he thought, as the ork walking vehicles he had heard of; The Deffdreds and Killa-Kans. They were things of huge destructive capability, he had been told; Towering over the battlefield like great beasts of fire and slaughter. These things were more like really big squig-foul, with far fewer teeth, though admittedly rather stompy looking and nonetheless well armed.
A sudden explosion of gunfire ahead caused Smirking to drop on all fours and crawl for cover. Blinded again in the sunlit road and spitting out dust he clambered up against the rock wall and froze in terror of certain death.
SkagNet dropped flat and rolled to the back of the ledge as laser bolts angled up into the rock wall above his head showering him in hot rubble debris. Luckily the weapon was lower than his elevated position and the human couldn’t get an angle on him. He glanced round. Unki was rifling his pack, looking for slugs for a large shotgun lying split over his lap. Nurd was keeping his head down but his eyes up. Smudge looked nervous, cornered and frantic. Suddenly Snikkit sprang from the ledge in a frenzy of feral violence. He lunged for the human in the cockpit blade and teeth bared, bounced off the plexiglass of the vehicle's windshield and disappeared down into the billowing dust beneath.
SkagNet collected his wits. In the momentary lapse of gunfire and falling rocks he spotted a shape in the rocks above, a large stone, black against the pale blue sky poised to let fly. He hoped it was Slakka and not another human. Unki snapped the shotgun shut and shifted into a ready stance. Smudge twitched and wriggled uneasily. Nurd didn’t move.
A dull thud of crumbling rock below told SkagNet that either Slakka had missed the humans, or the human above him had missed his ledge. Another round of heavy laser fire sprayed them in dust as the wall above him took another pounding. The trace of impacts was leading up and away now, toward Slakka’s look out position. SkagNet gave Unki a grim nod before grabbing the other two grots by the scruff. Unki took up a firing position and let loose with an impressively loud if otherwise ineffective blast from his shotgun as SkagNet barrelled over the side a grot under each arm. They hit the ground in a heap.
Curiosity was again winning the battle for Smirking’s attention. Having gotten out of the accursed sunlight which had been spoiling his view he was now watching the scene unfold nicely framed between the legs of the rearward vehicle. From his slightly elevated position he could see Unki kneeling on the ledge and pouring fire down at the enemy like any proper green-skin should and with as much accuracy as his race were known to possess. Slakka had gone; either hiding from the Multi-laser rounds or off looking for another suitably large and loft-able object.
Suddenly a deafening roar erupted from the vehicle right in front of him. Smirking threw himself prone, hands over his ears and bum in the air. The thunderous barking auto cannon masked an alarmingly close rhythm of footfalls which seemed at first to surround then recede behind him as the vehicle backed up the hill trying to get a better angle into Unki’s flank. Smirking dared a glance ahead and then behind realising with abject terror that he was now somehow right in the middle of the fire fight. He ran.
SkagNet had landed on something soft but he was upside down and one of his arms was trapped under and behind his back. Smudge groaned from somewhere under there. Nurd was already up and fumbling at SkagNet’s belt trying to release the thick rusty iron buckle which held his whip. Now that the initial dust cloud was clearing SkagNet could see Snikkit clinging to the left leg of the lead walker gnawing at a hydraulic tube in a savage frenzy. SkagNet twisted his bulk and pushed himself upright. A sudden rattle of impacts above told him that Unki was taking some flack. Unki dropped from the ledge immediately after, at least what was left of him. SkagNet stared stupidly at the mess.
“Oi! Boss!” Nurd was slapping him and then he was handed one end of his whip; the wrong end SkagNet noted.
“We ‘as ta trip ‘em” Nurd screeched over the din.
SkagNet snapped to attention and grabbed both grot and whip. He tossed Nurd like a bolas in one direction and holding the other end of the whip made to loop around the closest leg of the nearest walker. Las fire flew in crazy arcs around their ears as the pilot struggled to get them under his firing arc. Nurd flew round like a grappling iron looping the right foot and holding on for grim death. SkagNet stumbled in beside Snikkit on the left and dragged him off the leg. He introduced the wild flailing thing to the end of the pilot’s access ladder and continued to apply Nurd’s plan. Nurd secured the big end in the complicated joints of the vehicle’s foot and jumped clear of the fray. He watched as Snikkit clung to the outside of the pilot’s cabin banging on the glass and stabbing at the armour with futile rage. SkagNet rode on the left foot now, unbalancing the vehicle’s step somewhat and tightening the whip as best he could. Nurd chuckled with malevolent glee as the hapless human pilot tossed the cab to and fro in an attempt to shake the feral grot on his windshield and the tethered bird danced like a headless squig-foul, or perhaps one with a really big head.
SkagNet was getting dizzy. He hadn’t expected this to take so long but he couldn’t give up now. Partly because he had somehow managed to tangle himself up in the ever tightening whip. In a moment of absurd clarity he saw Smirking pass by. He was running with his hands clutching his ears and screaming as he fled. He was not smirking.
At last the whip tore and snapped. The vehicle jerked and Snikkit tumbled to the ground beside Smudge who was just now making a sluggish attempt to move. SkagNet was suddenly raised on the vehicle’s foot to an alarming height and came down with a sickening squelch. Smudge looked much as his name suggested as the walker stepped back to engage the enemy with its multi-laser. The second walker opened up first with a burst of auto cannon fire on the now detached enemy and SkagNet broke. Dragging Snikkit by the drawers he shuffled in under the firing arc of the multi-laser. The Auto-cannon was silenced while the targets were obscured between the legs of its partner and with a last desperate lunge Nurd was scooped up and together all three of them tumbled and skidded down the skree into the valley below amid a hail of fire which fell further and further behind as they fled for their lives.