Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Story Continues


Star Wars Imperial Assault


Mission 1


"Truth"

I have often found myself searching.... searching... searching for the definitive perfect solo game.

I think, since the advent of the computer, in truth, a lot of on line blogger gamers are, in fact, soloists by default definition. Traditional  hobbyists who play lots, either with friends or at a local club (or clubs.. plural.. for the more adventurous gamer who don`t mind driving) don`t tend to hang about on line that much. They are too busy playing, or painting their miniatures up for the next game session or club match: or are busy preparing for their next comfortable and leisurely home game with family or/and friends. On line `loitering` simply doesn`t factor into the equation of what they consider being part of the hobby proper. By logical extrapolation, it thus falls to reason that the majority of bloggers spend the bulk of their time on line talking about their hobby (in some form  or another), because on line blogging attracts a lot of people who.. for various reasons.. don't have a ready-made pool of `live` friends to game with; thus rendering them unable to share the hobby in a face to face social interaction.

So soloists seek the perfect game (an imperfect game leads to a slight feeling of dissatisfaction and even disappointment in their own pursuits and endeavours). It`s a bit like a gaming Holy Grail. Sadly (sadly to me) the hobby has changed a lot over the last couple of decades. I don`t see it as having improved, merely` dummied down` a bit for a more throwaway society... only go onto some other blogs out there and you will find I am not alone in this thinking. Solo gaming has existed a very long time. I can remember it existing in a publically aware condition even as far back as 1973, when Don Featherstone wrote "Solo Wargaming" to a clamouring and appreciative hardcore knot of battle loners. And for Don to have written this book there must have been a demand stretching even further back .  Certainly I was enjoying solo wargaming as far back as around 1968, because I wrote it in my first ever diary, as a kid.

Back in the day, solo gaming meant you had to put in a lot of work to bring a game alive. Sites like "Campaigns of General William Augustus Pettygree" is a perfect example of putting in a lot of effort to reap amazing rewards of personal satisfaction - and the admiring respect of fellow gamers.

http://generalpettygree.blogspot.ie/

Sooo, nowadays most people pick a game and all that game`s expansions (not for long because they invariably pick up another, and another, and another, but still.. let`s stick with this analogy for the time being): but really, you are getting a funnelled linear progression game, designed to make you `buy into it` and spend progressively lots more money with the company selling the product. And for what? a simplified game which never-quite-fulfils the Grail yearning in your innermost heart. No game of this type ever will.. otherwise you`d see people picking up Zombicide or Tallisman, or Command and Colours, and sticking with it rather than always looking for the next best thing. If you want a game you can immerse into (and stick with) for years, you should perhaps be taking up Bolt Action, or Black Powder, or Judge Dredd or.... anything which is more a genre system rather than a fluffy shiny thing in a box. Anything with guts to it will endure: anything which doesn't - simply won't.

So this leads me on nicely to Star Wars, and namely Fantasy Flight Games Imperial Assault and their rather enormous and large role playing game based on the same ethos.. i.e. the Star Wars franchise of films, animation, Expanded Universe books, graphic novels, and audio narrations. Star Wars is an epic telling of a vast story: far too big to be told in a single lifetime in fact. And if any one game company out there has got it right, without a doubt, that company is Fantasy Flight Games.... twice in a row in fact: First with their huge rpg, and later with their thematic miniatures (skirmish and campaign) table top board game. But I don't play either straight out of the book. I combine the two games to become a framework for retelling my own stories, my own adventures and epic sagas. Some of them aren`t even epic.. merely tales about smugglers and low level Jo Blogs type characters, trying to survive and scrape out a living in a chaotic world of futuristic high or low fantasy endeavour.

The following is a little tale I customised into a simple little game, and tells the story of four ordinary low-ish level heroes... people who decided to stand up and try and make a difference. What is the mysterious plague which has swept across this back water dust bowl planet, decimating life and causing the entire system to be quarantined and off limits to all interstellar space travel?

Believing the answers may lie within the computer data banks of a top secret Imperial instillation, located on outer fringe of the Spireward Desert (close to where the Imperial ship crashed, nearly one year ago), these four heroes decide to infiltrate the base, by force, and steal the (no doubt) encrypted files, escape.. and reveal (to the public) the insidious truth they suspect lies hidden within the Imperial computer archives.

A daring Smuggler named Jyn Odan: a hard faced, but strikingly handsome woman with an axe to grind against the Empire and the so called `Grand New Order.` Gaarkhan the Wookie.. and ever faithful companion of Jyn Odan, loyal and steadfast in his devotion to his friend. Gideon Argus, a civil rights romanticist and suspected dissident, waging his own private war in the name of the (growing) rebellion. And finally Diala Passil.. a Togrutu (similar to Twi` Lek but with four head tails): a quixotic would be Jedi of questionable pure motives and an unspoken, mysterious past. These four companions discover the location to the secret Imperial base and determine to break in and steal the vital information they seek to discover and release to the public.

So that`s the easy bit.

Next, they have to make their plan work!



The Game

The Imperial Garrison stand ready and waiting in the confined enclosure of the lush hydroponic garden area: the obvious means of entry from any would be encroacher.


Now then, here is the predicament. The rebel heroes (let`s start calling them that, because whether they realise it or not, that is what they are doing, helping the rebellion to unmask the insidious dealings of The New Order) are hoping they have the element of surprise and can burst in upon the Imperial garrison using the extreme element of surprise. That`s the theory, but I wanted to factor in a few random elements of my own just to make sure (on the day) that it all went down that way.


That`s the beauty of using FFG`s role playing game dice... especially when combined and used alongside the Imperial Assault game and dice as well. This allows an amazingly diverse range of possibilities for the gamer, the games master.. or the solo player, to dip into and resolve even the most compelling set of conundrums.

In this case I figured in setting up my `ambush` initiative check dice pool, I would set the difficulty as easy (just 1 purple Difficulty die). 
The heroes themselves would be throwing 2 green Ability dice, and only needing to roll one success to succeed in achieving total element of surprise, as anticipated. All pretty clear and straight forward so far, I thought. However just to be sure it is a well planned ambush after all, lets upgrade one of the green Ability die to a Yellow Proficiency die (giving an even greater chance of scoring a success symbol or multiple successes even. Next, let`s give the Rebel heroes an additional blue Boost dice, so represent all the intelligence information gathered by their spy network (let`s hope their network is on the ball): and finally I need to throw a small spanner in the works, and include a single black Setback die into the dice pool.. to represent the fact the Imperials are meant to be elite soldiers. This will give them a slight margin of hope that their superb training might help them to react and defend themselves before being completely overrun. And so the first dice pool of the game is created. It really is as simple as that to set up. Let`s see what I rolled.


Wow, never let it be said that dice are immutable and without a sense of the ironic. Okay straight away we can see that, incredibly, the heroes only managed to roll 2 success (burst) symbols. The big Yellow Proficiency die and the blue Boost die both somehow managed to land with a blank face showing - so no help (or hindrance) there. This just leaves the Imperials to try and defend themselves, and look.. wow, we see 2 triangle Failure symbols displayed. 2 successes and 2 Failures, of course cancel each other out, so end result is no gain and no set back: hmmm the ambush isn't exactly going by the book so far. But look again closely, we`re still not quite done yet. So far all the dice in pool have either cancelled each other out or landed on a blank (no effect) face up. This leaves just one last symbol showing, and *gulp* it`s in the Imperial`s favour. On the Purple Difficulty die, we can see a round shield shape: this is a Threat symbol, and represents a negative side effect or/and consequence on either a success or a failure. Since this is the only remaining symbol out of the whole dice pool, after all other considerations have been factored into play, it means the Imperials have not been surprised and in fact, it looks like they were ready and waiting for the rebel scum.

Looking through the core Edge of the Empire rules book, I scoured for some examples on how best to resolve this situation. Fortunately, the 450 page core rule book is a massive font of information and helpful assistance. Yeah, end of the day it was pretty clear. The rebels had NOT achieved the element of surprise and in fact, the Imperial Stormtroopers had the initiative... and not the attackers at all.

The rebels burst into the hydroponic garden. And face off against a stoic row of ready and prepared Imperial Garrison Elite. "um guys, I think... they know we are coming." said the tall Jedi woman in her soft exotic eastern accent: not without a comic touch of ironic humour.

Both sides stand off a few paces from one another and time seems to stand still.

"Can we talk about this boys?" The Jedi quips.
                               
Suddenly, someone reacts... a young Imperial officer - eager for promotion: "Shoot them!" Blaster fire starts spewing towards the rebels, and all at once, the Imperial garrison are shooting at the rebel intruders. Bursts of murderous energy crash into Jyn Odan, the smuggler woman, and in a single round of combat, is reduced dangerously low in health. Her Soak (defence/armour) did little to stop the expert shooting of the veteran white armour clad soldiers. In return fire using her skill "Hair Trigger" Jyn manages to draw her pistol and shoot a rapid succession of counter fire, dropping a trooper on the spot.. where he stood; (as a final action) the woman darts into cover provided by a nearby wall, and hurriedly applies a stim-pack to her wounds (6 health - 6 damage +2 stim-pack recovery = 2 wounds left).

My Imperial Assault core box set comes with 34 finely sculpted miniatures. I painted them all in two sittings (few hours each day). I`m a fast painter, and have never been fussy about painting my lovely `toys` and like to see them set up and being played with, rather than fussing over how they look. I think mine look fine anyway, and isn`t it better to play than not to play?



A series of good rolls from the Imperials sees one of the rebels dangerously close to being knocked out of the fight. A single trooper goes down in a return crossfire.

An Imperial probe droid is activated, and floats menacingly towards the intruders. Gaarkhan (the Wookie companion of Jyn), seeing his friend injured, sees red and flies into a Wookie berserk rage, charging the probe droid with a wild rush of fur and muscle. The creature swings his vibro axe with all his might and... CLANG! roars in dismay as his blow all but bounces off the metal armour of the floating machine (a single wound is caused, the rest is lost in Soak from the droids thick armour plating). But thankfully, Diala uses her honed Jedi like skills to leap into the fray.. bounding in right beside the Wookie, and deals destruction with her electronic vibro pole as she lashes first left the right with deadly accuracy and precision. The Probe Droid is chopped down, and collapses on the ground next to the fallen trooper.


Gideon (the last rebel hero still to activate) spots the Imperial officer making towards a computer terminal. He realises that man must be stopped: or all hell could break loose here: the security doors locked down, or reinforcements bought in. Using Tactical Manoeuvre, Gideon rushes forward... weaving his way through the fight, until he has a clear line of sight to the young officer.. just as the officer`s fingers are poised over the terminal and are about to access it. Gideon shoots his blaster pistol, and the grey clad Imperial man flails to the ground.

With precision aim, Gideon gets his man!


I make a dice pool, a simple pool of two green Ability dice, and a single purple Difficult die. The results are clear. A success... a negative (to cancel each other out), two Advantage symbols and one Threat (one of the Threat and one Advantage cancel one another out... still leaving one Advantage to the rebels).


Gideon shouts over the noise of blaster fire. For a moment in surprise, both sides stop firing. " It doesnt need to go down like this.. give it up fellas!" The two remaining Stormtroopers look about them and see all the rest of their number is lying on the ground and either groaning or not moving. Looking to each other, in mutual silence, they lower their blasters, deciding surrender and to live to fight another day, is the better part of valour. Jyn limps to the Imperials.. pushes them to a corner, and proceeds hurriedly to bind and lash their hand together. "Don`t move from this spot!" she warns them menacingly.


Gideon glides to the computer terminal and proceeds to slice into the machine, desperately trying to break the security protocols and access the terminal. Gaarkhan and Diala rush down the corridor to the door at the far end, hoping to secure it in case any fresh Imperials enter the scene.

The roll is simple. Two dice. A big 12 sider Proficiency die to represent Gideon`s skill as a slicer. But a horrible big Challenge dice (also a 12 sider) to represent the security encryption of the Imperial computer terminal itself.

So basically, a straight forward opposed roll check is made.




Wow, a glorious Triumph.. what a success: and a blank face on the Challenge die: so no help for the computer terminal there. Gideon slices the terminal with total ease, and finds the information he is hoping for. His face clouds over and a slight open mouthed expression betrays the shock at what he discovers. "It was the Imperials wot done it!"

"What, Gid?" Jyn looks aver at him, confused. 

"Did what?"

"they engineered and released the bloody zombie virus on this planet, that`s wot!"


"Rwwaaaarr!!  Awwrrrw!!"


The quixotic Jedi looked over at Gaarkhan a moment.


"I agree with the Wookie.... time to go."


________




Broadsword and the Beast

Part 3

Sasha was close now. She could feel it in her bones: from the creeping dread that climbed from the nauseous knot in her stomach towards her tightening throat, to the inner voice that screamed at her senses to run.

But Hanko had said this was the way. Coming to her late as she entertained and caroused herself towards drunken stupor. The old woman was a shadow of her former self… especially now that her brother was gone, killed by the hand of Blades.

So Blades hadn’t destroyed the zombie after all! The raw fact was slow to sneak into Sasha`s befuddled mind. Why would she lie? Surely she had destroyed the creature? But Hanko`s presence at Hairy Mary’s suggested otherwise. If it was anyone else, Sasha would have been tempted to disbelieve it. She would have given them a clout round the ear for bothering her when she was deep in her cups and warned them to `wise up`. But this was Hanko: community elder of Jo`s Gap, and not one to make up stories or take fright over every moving shadow that couldn’t easily be explained by the cool light of day.

“Near the Toxic Sump.” The old woman had insisted. “My Jo saw it when he was out bagging in the Old Mines past Raggy Gap, he said it had the rot!”

“Why did you come to me with this Hanko?” Sasha asked. Her heavy gothic accent accentuated by the copious bowls of `second best` swilling in her belly.

Hanko had looked down at the ground and would not meet her eyes. “Well, with Blades still missing I thought…….” She trailed off.

But Sasha understood full well what Hanko was implying. Blades had taken a party of girls on a routine mission a week ago and had not been seen since. None of them had. Speculation was rife within the gang and spreading fast, but Sasha was doing what she could to quell the gossip. Sasha also knew that if Blades truly was gone, ambushed and lost in some terrible fight, Sasha was next in line to lead the Amazons.

Scouting parties had gone looking for Blades, but the Boss was always so secretive about everything… no one had a clear idea where they had been heading when Blades led the small team out. Talk had been spreading, despite Sasha`s efforts to avert it, and some were saying that Blades had sold out and was gone for good. The most common rumour being circulated was that the Boss had found a hidden stash and had taken a few trusted warriors with her… had done away with the others when the treasure was secure and was now top side enjoying fine foods, sipping cocktails and being waited on hand and foot by docile oil scented male slaves, all hung like donkeys and ready to fulfil her every whim at a single command from their new silken robed mistress.

No! Not Blades style and Sasha knew it. Whatever had delayed her friend and leader was not a sobering thought and one that upset the tall ganger immensely. “Blades had never been gone this long before, not without word.”

So Sasha had gone up to Hairy Mary’s to get drunk, away from prying eyes. She had been surprised to see Hanko turn up when she did. But even more surprised by what she had to say.

***

Now Sasha paced the trails alone as evening fell and the glow globes spluttered and dimmed to dots of pale white light, to reflect the passage of the Moon as the passion planet moved across the night sky, high above Top-side… way out of reach of the deeps below.

Whatever this thing with the Zombie was all about; Sasha would sort it without bothering the rest of the girls. In fact, they need never know.

Shadows caused eerie shapes to loom like hidden monsters. `This is close to where Catz fell, ` Sasha reflected, chastising herself for not having stopped off at Gloryhole to fetch a few weapons from the stash. The Testing Ground was a sore bone of contention with the Amazons. Uncharted and contested by many of the local gangs that roamed here,the region: A no-man’s land, and notorious haunt of many predators that hunted in the deeps.

Sasha gripped the pommel of her great sword a little more tightly.


 The Game:

Sasha found signs of the undead thing all right. Blood and foul smelling gunk from the rot infested creature made it fairly easy to pick up its trail. Through the Bad Lands and across the Phoenix Ring (an ancient pillared motorway, now deserted and overgrown… hanging dangerously above the ground, twisted and decayed) through derelict deeps and oozing pits of toxic lava and heat sinks. Eventually, she found herself at a part of the Barrens she did not know, and crawled through some ancient derelict town and made her way along a remains of a moss and weed ridden highway.

A circular iron access port that steamed slightly lay half open on the path ahead of her. There was more slime on the rusted metal and Sasha knew she was close to her prey.
Dropping down into an ancient sewage tunnel, Sasha crouched where she had dropped and allowed her eyes to adjust to the gloom.

Light! A dim green glow was illuminating the whole tunnel system, due to the phosphorous moss that clung to the walls all around. From somewhere ahead Sasha could hear the echoing sound of gurgling water trickling through pipes, but there was no other noise to disturb the eerie sub-light.

She was in a wide passage leading left and right. Ahead of her, situated pretty evenly along the wall were three features: two doors and a third narrow tunnel leading away into darkness. Sasha observed that the air smelled foul from the direction of the tunnel, and the dirt had recently been disturbed along the floor towards where the right hand door lay.

Sasha crept towards the middle way and listened carefully at the door.


Move 1

From the other side of the door, Sasha suddenly felt an over powering sense of evil. Her death lay that way… every instinct in her body screamed at her not to open the door and see what was beyond. But suddenly the skull shaped metal handle on the portal started to turn, creaking loudly with rusty vocal emphasis.

Making the Amazon throw some dice for her dread filled heart, she failed her morale roll by 1: and I decided to make Sasha run away fast for a whole move, back towards the man-hole cover she had recently dropped down from.

Above her, the iron grate rasped and groaned as it was pulled and slid noisily over the opening: cutting off all effective way of escape in that direction. With a loud clang! The metal slipped into place: and a leering face looked down at her through a small grille.

“Hanko?” Sasha`s called up in astonishment. 

“Hanko! For God`s sake open this Grate and let me up…. something’s coming.” Sasha`s voice cracked, betraying her terror.

“Yes I know.” The old woman called down, quite calm and collected.

“Hanko?”

“The Master will enjoy you…. bitch.” Hanko called down matter-of-factly. Enthusiastically: almost cheerfully.

“Hanko…no

From behind her, Sasha could hear the groans of the restless dead as they moved and crawled towards her. Empty ones were appearing from the gloomy passage on the right, and all round her from low holes in the walls that she had not spotted earlier.

A face appeared beside Hanko`s, through the grille: weathered, slant eyed…. A native Iroquois scout?

“Death to all Amazon.” He smirked coldly, boldly, confidently….cruelly. The voice of a man passing sentence. The voice of a man who holds no doubt his words of prophecy will see fruition. The face had a striking resemblance to ratty.


Move 2

Something small flapped towards Sasha out of the darkness of the roof and slashed at her face with sharp claws, drawing blood from her cheek with steel like talons and digging flesh from her neck with its needle sharp teeth. Poison coursed through her body and she crashed to her knees with sudden paralysis. 

The pet Quasit flew back to the ceiling with a shriek of triumph.

Dimly, Sasha was aware that there was squealing coming from behind the left hand door…. sounding like pigs. But the scent that was being beaten into the wind that direction indicated a herd of blood incensed Maws, all clamouring to get in on the kill.

The Empty ones shambled forward all around Sasha. Soon they would be on her. 

Overwhelming her in weight of numbers and tearing into her flesh with their decayed teeth and clawed fingers.

Sasha succeeded in her resist toxin (poison) roll and dragged herself to her feet, flailing her sword over her head to feel its balance. But as she turned, her eyes lock with ….. it!

“Oh my God no!” She whispered aloud.

Sheer shock and utter horror filled her eyes, and her mouth fell open in silent parody of a scream.

The thing before her merely raised a hand and pointed a bony finger towards her. Suddenly her throat constricted. Her limbs felt heavy and an unnatural tiredness washed over her mind, forcing her to stand still and watch as the dreadful scene unfolded around her. 

The Master...... the Lich!

Move 3 & 4

The zombies clamber all over Sasha, biting, scratching, clawing deep chunks from her flesh. Literally eaten alive, Sasha`s last shocked and traumatized thoughts were spent trying to wonder why Hanko had led her into this horror filled blood soaked trap?

    

The empty stare, emotionlessly cruel as they dip their hands into soft yielding flesh.



Article by Steve

Saturday, 16 September 2017

" IF YOU HEARD HALF THE STORIES ABOUT THIS JABBA THE HUTT, YOU'D PROBABLY SHORT CIRCUIT "

So continuing on with my rather ambitious project, I have completed my Jabba the Hutt model, this model is straight out of the box with no conversions..just painted. 


He was painted with a glazing method to give the look you see in the movie. I may well make his throne/dias for him to sit on yet, but keep him removable to be able to place him on his gaming base.


" THEY LOOK LIKE MOULDY PIGS "

The title of this section was what I first thought when I saw the Gamorrean Guards in Return of the Jedi.. not that I dislike them. In the Jabba's palace expansion box you get 4 of these models - though to keep production costs down they are all the same model, this would not do for me, as I wanted variety and in the short time in the movie they appeared you see them armed with a variety of weapons, and also some unarmed at all.


With this in mind I converted 3 of the models from the box set to depict some of the other variations seen in the movie, other than their bases these are now finished.

" WEEQUAY "

In the expansion you also get 4 Weequay models, again they are all in the same pose and outfit. Same as with the Gamorrean Guards I wanted variety. All the different Weequay in the movie are dressed differently as well as using different weapons, so I converted 3 of the models to look more like their movie counterparts. You'll notice 2 are holding no weapon at the moment, this is due to me waiting for the Hired guns pack to arrive to utilise the weapons.. and the heads are going to be used on two of the band members.


It was after finishing the conversions and looking at them all nicely painted, when I suddenly  remembered that I was going to use one as the band drummer, so a quick scour on ebay and I now have another two on their way to correct my mistake.

 " FASTEST HUNK OF JUNK IN THE GALAXY "        

I know the phrase is referring to the Millennium Falcon, but it's a cool phrase and is very apt for my current build.

Yes I have started the 28 mm scale version of the Outrider, first using a piece of salvaged hardboard, I scaled up the layout that I showed last time: yeah, I had to make a few alterations as the outline didn't match the FFG x-Wing version, and also hadn't accounted for where the support struts for the landing gear would go. But hey, it`s coming together I think.


 Once I'd cut the shape out, the next step was to cut and glue plasticard formers underneath, to give the distinctive shape of the outrider.

Once these had set hard (used no more nails, a strong bond.. but takes a while to dry) I then filled in between the gaps with builders foam.


After leaving the foam to set for 24 hours, I then proceeded to cut off the overflow with a saw, going careful to avoid the plastic formers. This is where I'm currently up to, next will be shaping the foam with a sander; then the real fun starts as I begin to skin the underside.

Until Next Time Have FUN!


Dave

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The World Above: Part 2



(Two weeks later)


The floor raced towards the rider, yellow glow globes casting harsh shadows across the wings of the great beast. The rush of air and the thin hum of the wind through sleek feathers could be heard as the eagle landed, smoothly and with barely a jolt.

The roof top was a lonely, humourless place: and archways leading into various tunnels looked like dark and hungry mouths ready to devour anyone who stepped unwarily down their gullets.

These multi levelled honeycomb of hives thrust upwards towards the sky, and were a vast metropolis of towers, walls, passages and bridges. A place where even an Iroquois tracker would have difficulty navigating, unless he knew the area extremely well.

Fingering his twin bolt fed pistol, to a passer-by Aldus Harkon would have seemed to be simply scratching an irritating itch under his coat. But he watched the eagle rider closely. An impressive-looking man; Aldus was known for his caution, and had survived many hitmen merely because of his intrinsic paranoia.

`Ready sir? ` The rider wore Blackis colours and spoke with a mid-deeps lilt.

Aldus recognized him. ` You’ve come up in the world. ` Aldus returned his hand to the cane lying across his lap.

`Yes sir, used to work on the old industrial level… at Tinkers? Brother went down-deeps: I was recruited up. Saved the foreman from a Kingpin assassination attempt. 
`
`Made your masters proud, no doubt. `
Aldus smiled thinly and with utterly no sincerity.

The man saluted smartly, the merest trace of rebellious spirit showed only in the tick that winked dangerously from the corner of his eye. But when he spoke his voiced was light and friendly.

` Laffilka Airship should be landing shortly sir. `

Just at that moment the sleek, beautifully built flying ship appeared suddenly out of the darkness and proceeded to land on the wide roof top. The sprung metal runners skidded briefly, only to be muffled by the hot rushing of steam, as the elemental power of the craft decompressed the air about it in a loud sucking in noise. Almost immediately a throat-searing belch of fumes hit Aldus full in the face. He inhaled deeply, painful though it might be - this landing tower would soon be witness to the biggest deal of his life.

Aldus dusted down his coat and stood, cane in hand, poised near the edge of the mile high precipice. About him, dwarves and men struggled with ropes and pulleys, prepared magnetic clamps and clung to the side of the craft as though at any second the whole thing would lurch forward and toss them out into the night sky, down through the noxious clouds to land a bloodied pulp on the jagged cliffs so far below. Elemental Airships had a mind of their own and were precocious at the best of times, it was said.

Aldus loved Sharn. If you were strong willed there were places for you. Places to find greatness, places to make a life for yourself in a great city almost bursting with the pressure of countless tens of thousands of souls.

 If you were cast of iron like so much of the city, you could go far. Aldus stepped closer to the edge of the tower walls. Wind battered him, slapping him hard in the face, stinging his old, cunning eyes. Peering out into the night air, he breathed deeply. A freshness, unknown to his sickening body, filled his lungs. The stars in the sky, every one of them.. a new solar system, were each a place for those of iron to reach greatness.

Aldus hacked hard into the front of his teeth. Sliding the phlegm about his mouth as he manipulated it with his tongue until it met his approval, large and heavy. He leaned forward and cast the spit from his mouth. The dark yellow globule dropped into the rushing winds and was swept around and backwards into the gusts. Now part of him would travel into the outlands, carried perhaps for tens of miles before it dropped upon the deep waters of The Hilt, or maybe among the leafy greenery of the King’s Forest… the winds were precocious.

Aldus smiled within.

` Sir! ` The eagle rider screamed into Aldus’s ear above the roar of the elemental power, with one hand he was struggling unsuccessfully to calm his mighty winged mount. ` The hunting party is waiting in the craft. `

Aldus nodded and began the short walk towards the smooth end of the lift-off path where the Airship lay, his misshapen body moving with surprising grace.

The beaming face of a young pilot smiled down through the ornate-glass piloting windows. He waved and Aldus shook a hand in recognition.
Attendants, covered in grime and soot, rushed about the craft pouring foam-water onto fire spots caused by the intense heat of the drive elemental. Meanwhile, superstitious priests moved in to consecrate the machine’s safe landing with oils and unguents.

Amidst the flurry of movement, a staircase was lowered from the ship` s side, its gradual release incongruous with the speed of the attendant workers.

Four body suited figures: two boys and two girls, leapt from the access-port. Only a robed man, leaving the ship last, bothered to use the stairs. This, Aldus Harkon knew instantly, was Terrak Ran Lo.

The sage old man walked gracefully towards Aldus, his grey hair and groomed goatee - painted red in parts, waved stiffly in the relatively secluded breeze of the tower rooftop.
About him the youngsters leapt and shouted, slapping one another on the backs. Their combative prowess was immediately noticeable as they aimed mock kicks and lashed out at one another, pulling short with bladed weapons mere muscle spasms from one another’s faces.

` I must apologise - ` Terrak Ran Lo began.

`Scared as a cess rat! ` The young pilot from the ship grinned at Aldus like a big dog, nodding his shorn head and revealing tattoos with the kill marks of a seasoned hunter.

` Aadon, you oaf! Try learning to fly… you’ll tear the craft to pieces if you come down like that every time. ` A woman in tight fitting body suit: dark, lacquered braid curled tight in the customary manner of the woman warriors of Rashiek, spat the words out at her companion.

` Does it matter... what about the thrill? ` Aadon retorted with a wide smile.

The other youths all laughed at this.

A huge boy, a head taller than those about him came over to Aldus. ` Call me Takarr. Thanks for making this hunt possible, Mr. Harkon. `

` Don’t mention it, ` Aldus replied. ` You should thank Lord Terrak for having the sense to come to me. `

` You can guarantee that everything will be in place by the time they get down there? ` Terrak Ran Lo asked, his voice calm and commanding.
Aldus nodded and replied. ` Yes, as long as they keep to the schedule they’ll be having the hunt of their lives. `

` You’d better hope so, Mr. Harkon, ` the dark haired woman said snootily as she stepped forward. ` You’re being paid a small fortune to make sure we have good sport. `

` I’ve had ten years experience dealing with the Underdeeps. Just over two miles below us I have over thirty seasoned contacts; I have another forty spread throughout the deeps and lower city. I’d like to think that my dealings with these scum has proved me with enough insight to know when something is worth it. ` Aldus smiled silkily at the young woman.

` Excellent, ` the woman purred and spun on her heels. ` The mice will be in trouble tonight. ` she gloated… her voice as soft and as cold as ice on a frosty winter’s day.


***              ***            ***               ***

High above the Underdeeps and the lower city, the air was cold. High above the Deeps you cannot breathe for lack of atmosphere. Amongst the clouds is where Sharn`s towered peaks lie.  This is where the souls of the dead will travel. This is where they gather: moaning voices on the wind, driven to vibrate upon metal and stone structures like ghosts, as the ceaseless gales attack the human made dominance in an endless chorus of lifeless sound.

This is where the four winds blow, scattered like shards of glass. Scattered souls that bear no memories…..


Blood!


Blood ran down Blade’s face. She could feel it sliding down her chin, charting a course past old scars, through the valleys of new wounds: dripping through the cleavage of her breasts. Blades reached her hand up to her face. She might as well have attempted to lift a stone plinth. She let her limb fall to the ground again. Slow waves of red washed the murky puddle of water she half lay in.. as her eyes misted over again.

High above the Deeps, you cannot breathe for lack of atmosphere, but down here, the air was always fetid and scented with the filth of thousands.

Blades drew a heavy breath into her lungs. It fell short and sunk only deep in her throat. She dragged her hand across the ground, feeling for something, anything that could help.

Her hand came across something soft and moist. Feeling up it – a small ring, piercing stone cold skin. Tattered cloth. The small face of a girl, eyes open. Big round eyes like a cat.

Kitty.

Kitty was dead!

Blades snatched her hand away. Blood rushed to her head. She rose to her feet pushing hard so that she fell away from the corpse. She staggered forward and fell upon a cushion of flesh. Arms slick with someone else’s blood. Underneath her she could feel the cold grip of death. Someone was beneath her. Dead. Blades rubbed at her eyes, grit tearing at her pupils. For each layer of blood she wiped off, another would arrive – hers or the corpse’s, she could not tell.

` Spit! ` She groaned, rolling off the corpse in panic.

Blade’s limbs struck at the ground, each fist striking in search of a dry place, the metal and stone floor, something clean, not slick from the carnage. Somewhere where there was no blood. A fist ricocheted off a metal case. Pain shot up her arm, sending spasms across her shoulder and shooting tendrils of needle-sharp pangs through her flesh. Blades ran her fingers over the mesh texture of the case, searching for a sign. 

She flipped the case over and felt again. Small cross-hatches, like the mesh of the walkways she knew were about her. The criss-cross ended abruptly; a smooth disc lay in the centre of the case, medical cross engraved into its surface.
Blades flipped the small medicine case open and rummaged inside it with trembling fingers. She swallowed the contents of files, wrapped bandages about her wounds. Took a hypodermic, shook it and was rewarded by the slosh of the liquid within. She had to stab four times before she found a vein. Arm rushing with the warmth, Blades fell back… and continued falling into darkness.


In her death like sleep there was heat. In the darkness the whistling sounds of the wind as it howled through the tunnels drifted away. Blades rolled around. The painkillers, like the hands of a lover, held her tight and ran their fingers about her body. They sank deep into her flesh. Deep into her soul. They traced patterns across her back, spelt words she could not understand. Rubbed drug induced thoughts through her tired brain.

Kitty was dead. She’d come from the streets of Sharn. Wandering alone, had wanted to join a gang, needing to find a meaning for the suffering she ran from. Couldn`t have been more than sixteen. Dead so young. Half a life is more than none. Half a lie.


Blades rocked into consciousness. A lie


Somewhere there was a lie.


She snapped her eyes open and looked about her. Smoke still rose from potholes in the ground. Glow globes still buzzed and swung from the platforms above her. Beside her lay the snapped leather and metal belt of the medi-kit plundered of all its contents. A few bright red stim needles lay scattered about on the ground. Blades carefully picked these up and secreted them down the side of her boot.

Something bit sharply into her ankle. She struggled with the boot and removed a hard white card… Guild credentials. The lie was unravelling itself. Blades regarded herself in the sheen of an effluent pool. Her leggings were torn, and deep gashes carved their way through her flesh. Her hair, once dyed blue and purple, was a deep dark brown, nearer her natural colour.

Blades had fallen close to Bekka, Bekka the Harvester they called her. Blades stared over at her corpse. Deep bullet hole pock marks had cracked open that seemingly impenetrable body of hers. Hundreds of hours of weight-lifting, cast aside like a rag doll. For so many Bekka was the paragon of Underdeeps womanhood: in control, strong, with a mind of steel. A dozen mortal wounds had stolen away her life.

Beside Bekka lay her weapon, its kill markings still as bright as the day they were scored. The day they had captured that heavy blaster gun from a rival gang, had been one of their greatest. The off-world weapon, and ammunition too; was an incredible prize! It had been a victory that had led them through every bar in Deep Town. They`d got drunk on Second Best and collapsed on the bar-room floor.

Katz had been with them that day….. the memory bought back bitter emotions that Blade`s preferred to keep buried. Katz was gone: as dead to her as Bekka and Kitty. Blades shrugged the thoughts of her sister aside.

From the signs, a story unfolded; the blood-sprayed walls, laceration wounds to her dead comrades. They had come to ambush someone. It should have been simple. A mistake? They took it too easy? Something had gone wrong. Desperate faces, terrified eyes – the dead faces betrayed much. Bekka, her augmented half-elven eyes and powerful weapon would have given her the drop on any assailant. By the ruby scores sunken into her flesh, perhaps she had been the first to go. A trail of light imprints in the earth belied some rapidly moving assailant. Blades slowly rose and staggered forwards, hand clutching delicately at her leg. With each step the wound tore open a little.

The imprints led to the body of a stranger, wired into a still pulsing fighting suit. Bloodied mat of hair, disgorged eye sockets. The medical enchantments that had once filled places on her magically enhanced battle suit lay torn on the ground. The stranger was young, Kitty’s age perhaps. But unlike the dead Amazon, judging by her attire, this youth had never known hardship before in her life… bladed gauntlets still moist with blood from the kill hung by her side.


***           ***                   ***                ***

` Blades! ` A scream from behind her. She spun around, a hand held crossbow at the ready. Kitty was holed up behind a rock, the crack and flash of black-powder fire erupting all around her. Kitty kept her head down. Blades scanned the smoke filled tunnels for her assailants. Somewhere above them, at the narrowing of the walls several scaffold walkway levels up… text book bottleneck. They were surrounded.


` Blades, hel..  - ` Kitty gargled into silence.


Blades spun to catch sight of her comrade. A dark figure stood over where Kitty had been hiding. Unashamed, he held a part of the young Amazon over his head like a trophy.

` Son-of-a-…! ` Blades threw herself towards the figure that was now dancing about Kitty’s shredded remains.


With cracks of weapon fire, splintered girders, plascrete wall sections spewing dust into the air… the Gang leader hurled herself through the haze and fell upon the figure: shot her crossbow, dropped it to the ground and proceeded, with her knives, to unleash a swathe of destruction upon this unknown enemy. The figure leapt, lightning fast, and threw itself towards her, sharp blades like cleavers dripping wet.

Blades spun about, anticipated her assailant’s speed and clipped him. Right arm a mangled pulp, the figure swept hard with its left. A blade sliced across her leg. A sharp pain and sudden dizziness rushed over her. She rolled through the filth, the dirt clogging the wound. Blood rush stemmed to a trickle. The figure darted to one side and tumbled across the ground, its suit pumping stimulants into its dying body. Blades swept at the oncoming figure’s head. Her timing was perfect, like spearing a sump eel; Blades timed the blow to anticipate the movements of her attacker. Her blade caught on the augmentation about the figure’s head and its battle suit spluttered into a death rattle, as magical armour plates.. and drug enhanced implants.. were ripped like a severed windpipe from its body. Both Blades and her attacker crashed to the ground. The Amazon responded in a split second and thrust a blade into the suited assailant’s chest. Rolling a complete 360, she reached for, reclaimed, and reloaded her crossbow and took sniper’s over-watch on the battle field, using cover from her newly concealed position to mask her presence. Using a bent girder to brace her arm she peered into the darkness for targets.


` Help me. ` A voice nearby called out.



***                ***              ***                 ***


` Help me. ` A voice nearby called out. Blades awoke. She had fallen by her bladed attacker’s body. Her arm lay draped across his carcass. The battlefield was silent, her head and leg bandaged. Blades reached into her boot and pulled out some more stims… swallowed them and felt almost immediate relief from the nutrient drugs. The tiny red pills nearly came up again; internal bleeding somewhere, forcing the medicine up. But Blades rubbed her throat, making sure they were digested. Her head cleared slightly and she focused on her situation once more.


` Olaana? ` The voice was weaker now.


Blades staggered to her feet and moved towards the noise. Crumpled at the base of a rubble strewn plascrete wall lay another suited figure. A woman, young… Kitty’s age again. Dark hair tied in braids hung from her head; a crossbow bolt sticking out of the middle of her chest, wept tarred blood.

` The mice, Olaana, the mice fought back. ` The woman groaned.

Blades watched silently. The woman flapped uselessly at a respirator hanging limp at her side. Blades followed the stench of conduit cords as they wrapped their way about the woman’s suit, back to their starting point at the base of her skull. Her face mask was torn and conduit fluid from the cords ran past her brow, across her open eyes… which did not blink but stared with white pupils into the air.

` Damn suit’s got me so high on stimulants that I’m having trouble dying. Olaana? ` The woman looked straight at Blades but her eyes made no sign of recognition.

`Yeah? ` Blades mumbled, leaning back against a giant girder.

` I – I can’t see. ` The woman’s voice broke into a faint sob.

` I know. ` Blades sank to the ground, painfully rubbing at her leg.

` Thank The Blood of Vol it’s you. I thought you were one of those Underdeeps freaks. The delirious woman continued.

Blade’s paused, mind raced. ` No, they’re all dead. ` She said, looking intensely at the dying woman as she spoke.


` We won? ` The woman sat forward slightly, the effort caused her to gasp.

` Yeah. ` Blades mumbled.

` You going to get a head? Take it back? ` The woman asked, smiling despite her discomfort.
` Why would I want to do that? ` Blades crouched before the woman and silently levelled her crossbow at her.

` You’ve done it every other hunt. `

Blades blinked. The woman remained still, and the Amazon regarded her in silence for a while.

 Greasy effluent from a walkway above dripped onto Blade`s boot and startled her for a second. The thin hiss of boiling water was the only noise to be heard in the deathly gloom of the horrors about her. Tainted rain began to fall and drip through the narrow gaps in the monstrously deep chasms of the old disused sub levels of the city, rain that had travelled for nearly a mile from the open sky above. Somewhere near the surface, factories were resuming a new shift, emptying spent coolants into the levels below.

` Remember that time we came down and fought those scum at the ash falls? We herded them into that field of razor grass. They were so desperate they ran through it… remember? `

The woman chuckled with gargled mirth, and a wracking fit of coughing stopped her talking for a while. Blood appeared on her lips.

` Like a pack of mindless sump rats… Only one came out the other end… Lost so much blood he couldn`t even pull the axe from his belt… Easiest hunt… we ever had. ` The woman’s voice was getting weaker.

` This one was bad. ` Blades whispered.

` The worst. Wish I’d never come. It was meant to be easier… fun… the pain’s still burning 

Olaana… I can still feel it through the pain repressors….Olaana? They won’t wait at the ash falls for long. You should go… or you’ll never get back. `

Blades rocked on the balls of her feet where she crouched - dizzy.

` Olaana? ` The woman reached out towards Blades. `Hold my hand? `

Blades remained still for a moment. She looked over her shoulder at her butchered friends. Her gang, her responsibility.

` Olaana? `

Blades reached out her hand and took hold of the woman’s. It was soft, scarless. Blades stared at it in silence.

` Why was it so hard? They have nothing. No training, faulty weapons. They’re animals. Barbarian scum with no right to kill us. We`ve got noble blood. We own this damn city from highest peak to lowest sub-level. They should be thankful we came down here and put them out of their misery… Harkon promised us an easy hunt. 
`
Blades released the woman’s hand.

` Olaana?  I don’t want to die. ` The woman broke down into tears.

Blades stood up and cast her eyes back over the battlefield. Harkon: Blades remembered that name. She turned and limped away leaving the woman coughing up fresh blood, as thick as tar.

` Olaana? `


` Go to hell... bitch! ` Blades called over her shoulder.



***               ***                  ***                ***


Who’s Aldus Harkon? ` The half-elf asked.

` He’s our contact from top-side, Bekka. ` Blades voice echoed through the tunnels as they strode towards the site of the planned ambush.

` And it’s a House Warlock shipment? ` Bekka asked, strapping tape about her thick, tattooed arms.  Blades had always admired her strength in the face of the rat scars she suffered as a child.

` That’s right, he’s paid us in weapons, right up front, to take care of the shipment so that he can offer to finance the deal instead. Least, that’s what he told me. `

` Sounds complicated. `

` Top-siders tend to be. ` Blades wrinkled her nose like she’d smelt a bad stink. ` Kill their own mothers if it paid well. They’re worse than mutants… we’re here. ` She turned around to face her gang... Seven! Hmmm, I should have bought more of us. Blades silently chastised herself. But the plan had been put together so fast; she had not had time to gather more muscle. ` Take your positions. We’re in a bottle neck, so they won’t be able to run. ` Blade’s colleagues moved swiftly but silently down the ladders and ramps into the dried up canal.

Sometime later, the air still. ` Blades? ` Bekka whispered, looking her square in the eyes. `` You trust this Harkon? 
`
` I….. ` An explosion silenced Blades. Rubble flew high into the air. Conduits burst and threw gas into the tunnels.


` Ambush! ` Kitty yelled from down in the bottleneck.

` The Warlocks know. ` Bekka screamed.

` No – top-siders! Look! ` Blades pointed to a girder high above them. A figure clad in a dark battle bladed suit. ` Sniper! Get down. ` Blades yelled to Bekka.

Blade’s muscle toned companion ignored her. Bekka braced herself against a plascrete block and let rip with her heavy repeating black powder bolter. Hot lead spewed from the ejection chamber, igniting small chemical puddles about Bekka`s legs. The top-sider dashed along a thin girder at full speed.

Bolter balls rang after it but failed to make a hit.

` Get down Bekka. ` Blades shrieked over the noise.

Below her, Blades could hear the screams of her Amazons being cut down.   ` Harkon, you bastard! ` She growled and leapt forward into the bottleneck. She took up cover behind a jutting girder and looked up the lip of the rise above her. So much fire power. She mused silently.
` Bekka, you coming? ` She called over the loud noise of the heavy weapon. ` Bekka? ` The noise stopped. A splinter bomb rolled down the embankment.

`Bekka! `

` Help me! Blades. ` Kitty screamed across the battlefield.

` Our heavy’s down! ` Blades howled, trying to be heard above the ricochets. `Retreat! ` Blades looked over to Kitty. She was pinned behind a bolder. Blades looked up the embankment, slipped and slid as she tried desperately to pull herself up.
 ` Look out Bekka, `Blades called. ` There’s a splinter bom…!`


BANG!


Blades scrambled through the smoke to the top. ` Bekka? `

A back pack lay by the discarded weapon. The explosion had ripped the ground about her as a hundred tiny pieces of shrapnel from the bomb blew outwards. Blades peered through the haze. A large figure was lumbering towards the sniper’s position.

` Bekka! `

Blades followed as Bekka began her ascent towards the sniper. Blades pressed her back up against the tunnel bulkhead and dragged the heavy weapon towards her. Feeding the ammunition over her thigh, she braced a foot against a boulder. Gripping the weapon between her arms, she pulled the trigger. Massive shudders shook through her arms and shoulders. Blades dragged the gun around to the sniper’s position. She let the shots ring about the Tower. ` I hope that gives you some cover, ` She puffed as she struggled to stop the weapon spinning loose.  Within a few seconds the ground around her feet was alight as tiny chemical pools of fire flared in the gloom.

Blades paused and drew breath, watching stunned as the battle continued. Smoke plumes burst from the battlefield, and more of her companions dropped. Thin bursts traced their life fluid through the air. Chips of rubble rose and fell with each new barrage.

They were being taken apart.

Blades ears stopped ringing, thin trickles of blood gathered in them, the only reminder of the weapon’s ferocity. She looked skyward in an attempt to mark Bekka`s position. The girders and walkways rose like an industrial cliff face. Bekka was nowhere. Bursts of light, small arms musket fire flared in a recess above her. Blades craned her neck to see further into the darkness. With unearthly poise never granted in life, Bekka burst out of the darkness through a curtain of hanging chains and spun for a brief moment, like a classical dancer, on the precipice… and fell. Bekka`s body curled into a ball, childlike, before crashing into the battlefield below Blades.
` Bastards! ` Blades screamed as she saw for the first time the face of the sniper: a thin man, wired skull cap linking him to a body suit of angular metal pieces and bladed edges. Blades grabbed hold of a new belt of ammunition and began ramming it into the gun.

The man leapt after Bekka`s body. As he fell he unfurled thin metal meshes, joined from his wrists to his arms. Rather than drop like a stone as she expected, he glided on a liquid wire belt caster.. rapidly towards the gang leader, unleashing bolts of burning light in her direction as she struggled to aim the heavy weapon at his slender form.
Links of ammunition fed into the heavy gun and finally it kicked into life. The winged sniper dropped faster towards her, darting between walkways and platforms. Blades reeled and pulled the trigger, letting the weapon throw her backwards as she attempted to follow the sniper’s movements.


White hot fire rained about her from the sniper’s off-worlder laser weapon, though to the Amazon it seemed the world was suddenly full of magical fireballs. Scald marks dripped blood from the molten metal as tiny splinters seared her skin.
Blade`s black powder weapon rang about the layers of steel above her, bursting through platforms, cables and piping. The sniper landed gracefully on a platform above her and lowered his weapon in her direction, like a viper spying a mouse for the first time.

Blades pushed hard against the girder and threw herself onto her back. The heavy bolter crashed down on top of her. Inside her chest something snapped. A burst of blue-green light impacted where she had lain. Aching all over and bleeding on the inside, Blades aimed for the structural supports of the walkway above the sniper. Her weapon thundered into action again, releasing burning hot metal at the supports. A second later and the walkway came crashing down. The sniper looked up for a brief moment. Blades no longer saw him; she didn`t have the time. Flipping the heavy weapon onto its end, Blades huddled about its base and prayed. The walkway smashed through the platform on which the sniper was standing and continued downwards towards her. The girders and grated walkways crashed about her, knocking hard into the heavy weapon and smashing into her body.

Blades opened her eyes. The gun remained upright. The sheets of iron, mesh barriers and steel girders had fallen about her, the weapon keeping the heaviest pieces from crushing her. The bloodied ganger pulled the trigger and let the weapon carve a way out of the rubble.

The battle was going badly in the gorge below. Most of Blade`s people had fallen back into a large crater. Blade`s scanned the horizon for signs of the gang’s assailants as she climbed down the embankment. Crista, one of the gang veterans, sat spread legged and slumped upon the ground. Blades reached forward to feel her pulse. Crista looked up, bloody-droplets coming from the corners of her eyes, and shook her head.

` Spit! I’ll get you outta here. ` Blades whispered.

Crista shook her head again and her eyes widened. Blades snapped Crista` s repeating crossbow from the ground and threw herself to one side. In an instant, an explosion burst into Crista`s body and the concrete about her. Blades was showered with sharp flints and washed in crimson. The gang leader rolled over, struggling to remove a steel shard from her side. The figure lumbered forward… a man in a massive suit of meshed-plate armour, oversized arms and shoulders, providing protection to all but his head. Fibre cables were attached to the base of his neck.  Massive gloved fists clicked and snapped as he walked forward, like a pianist preparing to play. Blades ripped out the shard and pulled the trigger of the crossbow. It was light compared to the heavy blaster, and she over-compensated for recoil. Her shots ran wide and the armoured man rushed her. Blades pulled the trigger and held it down letting shot after shot impact into his chest.

` Die! ` Blades screamed.

The man lumbered on, uninjured.

Blades swung the crossbow at his head. Its shoulder stock caught him across the temple, gashing a wound open above his eyes. The man slapped the weapon out of Blade`s hands and lunged at the Amazon before she could fling herself aside. He wrapped his arms about her and lifted her off the ground. He breathed hard into her face. His breath was young, untarnished by years of filtered air. His steel blue eyes were all she could see beneath his combat mask; they blinked at her.

The man’s arms flexed and Blade`s spine was racked with pain. She slapped at the pouches on her legs, trying to get a hold. The armoured man bounced her hard to strengthen his position, and Blade`s hand slapped at her leg again. She had it…. but her back spasmed, her head rushed blood and the battlefield spun.

Blades looked down into the face of the man, the blood from above his head running into the seamless cracks in his impenetrable armour. His eyes narrowed in strain. She smiled. His eyes widened in surprise. Blades brought her hand into view and opened it to reveal the grenade she held.
With her head spinning, she punched her hand deep into the fibre cables  about the man’s head. She felt her hand slip down past his sweated shoulders. She pushed hard with her legs, trying to throw herself to the ground. The man struggled to pull her in two. An explosion burst inside the suit and Blades was flung back against a bulkhead. The suit remained untouched, but the man inside it could no longer be seen.

Blades pushed forwards against the bulkhead, a jarring pain running up the length of her arm. The battlefield was silent. She shook her head; perhaps the explosion had unsettled her. She staggered forwards towards the crater where she had last seen her comrades. She lifted her head and in that instant her cover burst apart, dust and smoke replacing her protection. The Amazon lunged forward, running blindly through the smoke towards the position she’d last seen her gang. The ground burst open beneath her feet – her assailant was persistent. Her feet collided with a fallen girder. Half-falling, she crested the crater lip. Blades tumbled over, fortune rather than precision, timing, throwing her out of the way of another psionic fire ball. A twisted wrist and broken rib later, and Blades reached the base of the crater. Her stomach, almost giddy with fluid depravation, ran molten hot at the sight of carnage before her eyes. Her gang, some of them with weapons half drawn, lay dead: lacerations and deep red bruising, the signature of their killer. The script was fluid, deep lines intersecting others with deadly precision.

` Blades! ` A scream from behind her. Kitty lay prone, barely concealed behind a rock. She was now the focus of the barrage of weapons fire. Similar blast pattern, same angle of fire. There was one more assailant. No, there were two: rising up from behind Kitty, unfurling like a giant insect, was another attacker.

Spines stitched in to a lacquered body suit, with two piston pumped blades attached to gauntlets on each arm. The top-sider rose like a mantis about to strike.

The young ganger pinned down by enemy fire, could do nothing but remain in her position, fumbling with her long fighting knife. The suited fiend drew towards the young woman and seemed to envelop Kitty like a vampire fastening to its prey. An arc of blood rose slowly into the air. Blades ran forwards, drawing her knives at the last minute to engage with Kitty’s slayer. The battle was brief. Wounds were exchanged, but Blade`s melee skills were more than a match, even for the combat simulation trained top-sider. The spiney suited figure lay broken on the ground, pierced in both kidneys by the sharp and deadly blades of the berserk Amazon warrior.

Blades scrambled up a crumbling set of stairs, desperately trying to get herself out of the firing line. She scanned the bulkheads, recesses and cables of the catwalks and the burnt-out shelters of the bottleneck about her. An air filter ground into action in one of the bulkheads, throbbing dust from the ground up into the air. A slow wind began to pull past her head. Blades paused in silence.

Closing her eyes, she trained her ears first to the noise of the hissing, ruptured pipes, fizzing glow globes and stirring debris. Then two other noises… noises that might give away her attacker’s elusive position. The footsteps sounded faintly in her ears, barely audible.

Blades remained still. Her head swam and her body ached. She had little time left and would have to make her stand quickly. Hundreds of these seconds would pass every day unnoticed. Now in the stillness of the final conflict they seemed to be glorious hours, dense and full of promise.

Blades waited.

There was a clink of a weapon grating on metal behind her.

Releasing all the tension from her body she dropped like a marionette with its strings out. At the exact same moment an energy blast rocketed over her head from another fire ball. Blades swivelled on the mesh flooring and kicked a foot into the abdomen of the advancing top-sider.
It was a woman, curving black stealth suit and long braid giving Blades clues to the identity of the masked attacker. The woman’s speed was unnatural. Augmented legs kept on pushing, knocking Blades from her precarious balance and sending the woman flying high over her head. They both collided, hard with the metal floor.
The attacker’s left hand seemed to crackle with electrical charge, some sort of magical weapon, Blades surmised. The Amazon rolled across the concrete as it was carved up behind her. Pulling a grenade from her leg, she pulled its pin and let it follow the course carved by the plasma blast that had recently followed her, and for the very first time in her life, Blades was glad she knew a little about tech made weapons, because that knowledge was saving her life right now. She made a mental note to thank Sasha next time she saw her… if Blades survived this day.

The woman leapt high over the grenade’s path. The timing was off. The grenade exploded and Blades was thrown back, the top-sider flung after her. In an awkward moment, afforded only by chance, Blades hit the ground seconds before the woman from top-side landed on top of her. Their combined weight caused the broken mesh on which they lay to creak alarmingly. A sudden movement and they`d both plummet to the ground.
Blades stared into the eyes of the woman from above. In another life they may have been sisters. For a brief, alien moment they were cast together, their blood intermingling, the danger of the situation something they shared.

The woman did not speak: a quick intake of air the only noise she made. Blades looked to her side. Through the mesh she could make out the shouldering battlefield below. A rivet popped out from where the mesh was anchored to the walkway and spun away towards the ground below. The woman gingerly raised herself off Blades. Her eyes darted from the Amazon to the popping rivets and back again towards her enemy.
Blades looked back at the ground, calculating. Deciding. She flicked the sharp blade she still held in her right hand and severed the mesh in one sweeping thrust. They both dropped through, accelerated as they plummeted. Blades lost her grip on the woman. Neither of them screamed as they hit the ground.



***             ***             ***              ***


` I thought the fall would kill me. ` Blades stopped walking away, turned and faced the woman from top-side with a grunt.


` I thought the fall would kill me Olaana. I fell with one of the prey. No regard for her life. Like an animal. She let us both fall to our deaths. `

` You’re… you’re still going to die… `

` Yes. ` The woman’s voice was unnaturally calm now. ` The suit will try and repair what it can but its fighting a losing battle. Soon the stimulants will no longer stop the pain. If it’s damaged, it will try and knit my skin to its circuitry. It’s happened to others down here. `

` I’ve heard the stories. ` Blades lied.

` The pain is meant to… ` The woman’s eyes widened slightly.

` What is it? ` The Amazon blurted out.

` It’s starting. ` The woman punched her own arm in agony. The pneumatic pistons on the right arm. Damn! Nnghh. ` The woman punched harder, frantic.

` Let me see. ` Blades punched the top-sider`s fist from her wound. A deep wound had cut into the arm of the woman. The arcane off-world circuitry was attempting to repair both flesh and steel, stitching bone to gears.

` Nnaaaaagh!! ` The woman`s scream was something unnatural, alien.

` Get out of the suit! ` Blades shouted, hands fluttering over her.

` Olaana! `

` Out! ` Blades pulled the woman forward and begun tugging at the magnetic locks that fastened the suit together.

` My access code. It won’t open without it! `

` Call it out. Free yourself! `

` That’s against the laws. 
`
` You’re going to die. `

` Olaana, promise you w…  Nngh! ` Pain forced the woman`s words to stop.

` Alpha-two-five… ugh…twelve. `

The magnetic claps hissed open. Blades unwrapped the cords, pulled the skin tight fittings and unplugged implant interfaces. The woman slid out of the bloody suit like a new born from its placental sack. Her right arm was a mass of machinery and muscle.

` Olaana…` the woman moaned.

` Here, take these. ` Blades pushes some of the stims into the woman`s mouth. ` They’ll help with the pain. `

The woman went still. For a moment the Amazon thought she was dead. Then the top-sider spat the stims out again. The red colouring from the pills was indistinguishable from the blood in her spittle.
` What? ` Blades looked down at the top-sider.

The woman said nothing.

` You know. ` Blades said grimly. Her words hung in the silence.

` You’re the woman that fell with me. Their leader. ` The woman sneered in a wracked voice.

` That’s right. `

Suddenly the top-sider flapped her hand about the ground for a moment and came up with a stretch of pipe. She swung wildly at Blades. Stunned for a moment, Blades didn`t move. The pipe caught her on a knee. Blades fell backwards.

` Stinking Underdeeps rat! ` The woman strained, blood coursing from her wounds. The veins on her temples ran hot, her face contorting in pain.

 ` You’re nothing better than an animal; you’re filth to be trodden on by your betters. Thought you could buy your salvation with kindness huh? `

` No, ` the Amazon snapped back. ` I’d rather you died like the rest of your kind. Slowly. Let you bleed to death… alone and in the dark. You killed my friends. `

` As did you. `

` We were set up. `

` So were we, this was never meant to be so hard `

` You thought the ambush would be yours. How are you different from me? I hate your kind and you hate mine! `

The woman flopped back in the dirt, spent and out of breathe.

Blades stood slowly. She regarded the woman`s damaged body. At the suit. At her dead friends. At the pathetic irony that melded her and this woman together, as surely as the machine-melded arm that was intertwined with her injured enemy.



***               ***                ***               ***


Aldus Harkon stood on the edge of the Tower, staring out into the night sky for the second evening running. The city below him was lit up by thousands of lights from the twenty four hour furnace of life. Higher up, the lights jutted out from the ornate towers, hanging bridges and intricate walkways. City lights. Star lights. There were almost as many tiny points of light emanating from Sharn as there were stars in the sky. Aldus could almost imagine he was staring into a lake.

Aldus spent a lot of time staring. He let his mind wander on these occasions to stop boredom from seeping in and addling his brain. He spent a lot of time waiting. But that was part of the job description. He needed the time to mull over and orchestrate his deals. It was during all the time that he spent thinking that he first realised that the highest price was not always the fastest way to the topmost towers and aristocratic heights he aspired to.

Protection, security, special handshakes and powerful patrons were far more useful in the long term.


In the sky above him, Aldus saw one of the stars move. He brushed his lank, greying hair out of his eyes. Minutes passed. The star grew until Aldus could make out the Ran Lo symbol on the Airship’s nose. The glow globes marking the area where the craft would land were green now. Aldus Harkon sat and watched, reassured to see the shuttle arrive.

Smoke billowed as it settled on its landing gear and jets of steam poured from conduits. The stairs lowered and a lone figure stepped out of the hatch. Aldus recognized the hunter from earlier. Mono-molecular sword sheathed at her side, swagger in her step, braided black hair. Moving slowly; she had been wounded. And her companions, where were they?

Aldus walked forward, rubbing his fingers, slightly nervously.

` Welcome home. ` He bowed severely before the woman, then came up grinning, ` I hope the hunt was as successful as I promised. ` Aldus’s smile was wolfish: it was the smile of a man who expected soon to be very rich for services rendered.


` The hunt, Aldus Harkon, ` Blades replied, ` has only just begun. `


________________


I thought maybe you might like to see some of my favourite collection of miniatures, these photos are quite old some of them, but will give you the jist of what my wonderful, deadly Amazon warriors look like. They are one of my first gangs I ever used in the game (originally for a D&D game I was running back along), and I included them in my campaign story to show you how easy it is to use any models to help bring your games to life, using the Imperial Assault and Edge of the Empire miniatures and rpg rules.

The Temptress

Katz

she was stunning, acrobatic, loved animals, dexterous and bow sharp, and everybody loved her. She was a terrible flirt with the men (and some of the other women, if truth be known), but had a terrible temper if pushed to anger.

She will be sorely missed as a character in my long standing campaign: but as happens in all the best games from time to time, eventually some of your favourites simply die or get killed off…


C`est la vie!

Yooshie, veteran warrior and trusted clanswoman

A Short history lesson of the Amazoni Clans of the Sharn:

Many years ago, probably too far back for the Amazoni to count with any accurately because for the most part, they are illiterate! There was a Pirate vessel (a Void Jammer) containing many tens of slaves, which came to these waters to trade. Now, these slaves were not just ordinary people: they had been hand picked for (they say) a Prince’s prime breeding stock, with which was expected to produce an heir.

But as the slavers travelled the long and often dangerous paths of the deeps,   slowly winding their way down towards the sunken city of Sharn Port to conclude their trade… they were ambushed by bold thieves and a terrible fight ensued. Somehow, many of the women managed to escape in the confusion and fled deep into the tunnels and mountain caves that comprise the Underdark.

So terrible had been their ordeal at the hands of the pirates, who had - for the most part - repeatedly and mercilessly used the women for their lustful pleasure: and so cruel had been their treatment at the hands of these evil men, that those who survived the vigorous trials the Underdark inflicted on them, became tough, hardened warriors… veterans of the deeps who scorned the company of men for the most part, except when they needed or wanted to use them to procreate (often accompanied by elaborate and sophisticated mating rituals, tied in with nature`s seasons).

The women had all been snatched and torn away from their homes: a land far away and over the seas, from a part of the fabled lost world, called Amazonia in their own tongue. Even today, the two remaining clans call themselves Amazons, and are both revered and often feared by those who dwell in the Underdark.





Blades (played by Hils)

Kitty

Tribal Earth Mother )o(


Article by Steve