This story actually featured originally in an article for Fanatic Online Magazine last Christmas - however, since I fancied sharing the story without the Necromunda gaming advise accompanying it, I thought I'd post it here. I'd like to dedicate this thread to the Christmas advent calender I saw on sale today, nearly 3 months before Christmas Day...



The door to the bar burst open, the howling gale outside slamming it against the wall to its side. An icy chill blew through the building, forcing its occupants to reach out to catch their drinks before they fell. Some were too slow, and the harsh sounds of broken glass resounded over the noise of the wind, before the fragments of bottles and booze were swept along the floor too.

Stood within the doorframe was the shape of a young man, two holsters clearly displayed, and with a large thick coat billowing theatrically behind him. The glow of the lamps outside were at the man's back, casting a shadow over his face and adding to the mystery of his identity. News travelled fast in Squatter's Hole, especially concerning the arrival of outlanders, but none could recognise the outline of the intruding warrior.

The man paused in the doorway a moment longer to make his entrance more dramatic, but a sudden gust of wind caught around his cloak and nearly floored him. Swaying to regain balance, he quickly scuttled into the bar and desperately slammed the door shut.

He turned to face the assembled inhabitants of the bar. The room was completely silent as each man glared at the newcomer angrily.

“Sorry,” Laxx mumbled quietly.

A few seconds of uneasiness passed, before the occupants went back to their drinks. A trio of Goliath punks in the corner continued to eye Laxx menacingly, but eventually they too went back to their private conversation. Laxx sighed slightly, deciding to attribute their pacifism to his intimidating manner. Although, in all likelihood, he was simply so green that killing him wouldn't be worth risking the attention of the Watchmen. He scanned the tavern for the man he was looking for, but couldn't find a match. Discretely drawing a photo from his long coat, he double checked the face with the boozehounds, but still came up with nothing. He sighed and made his way to the bar, sidestepping the drunk Orlock heavy coming the other way, and catching the attention of the nearest barmaid.

The ugly young wench stepped opposite him, regarding him with distaste.

“What you having?” she grunted in a vaguely feminine voice.

“Whatever's cheapest,” Laxx answered, remembering his rapidly deteriorating credit supply.

She shrugged. “Puswater it is,” she answered, reaching down for a filth-encrusted glass beneath the bar.

Laxx waited patiently for the woman to finish pouring his drink. Eventually she handed the glass to him, and he took a tentative sip. The drink was the foulest he had ever had, with a lingering taste of both alcohol and urine.

He spluttered as the woman began to walk away to another customer waiting to be served. Dropping the glass down, he reached out and grabbed her.

“I need something from you,” he quickly whispered.

She eyed him up and down and shook off his grip. “I'm out of your price range, kid,” she answered.

Laxx shuddered but carried on regardless. “No, I need your help. I'm trying to find a man called Lucas Holt -”

“Never heard of him,” she answered honestly, and Laxx passed her the photo.

She glanced at the image and laughed. “You mean Loopy Luco?” she clarified.

“You know him?” Laxx exclaimed, his heart leaping. “Where can I find him?”

“Don't see ought in it for me,” she dismissed, and he rolled his eyes, slipping her a few Guild Tokens clumsily.

The barmaid pocketed the tokens and pointed in the direction of the far corner, where the man Laxx had been looking for solitarily gulped his drink down, safe within the shadow of the staircase behind him. “Right there,” she smiled in fake sweetness, and he snatched the photo back bitterly.

Cursing under his breath at being short-changed by the girl, Laxx negotiated the obstacles of the drinking hole and approached the man's table. One hand clasped around his drink and another hovered over his holster. The man seemed not to notice.

“You are Lucas Holt,” Laxx stated as he reached his target's table.

Loopy Luco looked up once and right back down to his drink. “Frag off,” he articulated.

Laxx had come a long way to get to this point. He'd turned his back on his home in Hive City, forsaking his Moma, Papa and girlfriend by doing so. Everything he'd had there had been left behind so he could go on this mad hunt for Rick, and he sure as hell wasn't going to give up now.

“I don't think so,” he answered, far more confidently than he felt. “I'm going to stay here, and you're going to answer my questions.”

“And why would I do that?” Luco answered, shifting his weight so his bolt pistol holster was clearly visible.

Laxx considered his options and quickly began to think through a few alternatives. “Because the next round is on me,” he promised.

Luco grunted, extending his feet to push aside a stool from under the table. Laxx graciously accepted the seat, as Luco signalled for another bargirl.

“Where you from?” Luco quizzed.

“Hive City. Van Saar.”

The old veteran grunted again. “You don't look Van Saar.”

“Neither do you.”

Luco glanced suspiciously at his younger counterpart. “I have my reasons. As, I'm sure, do you.”

The bargirl arrived. “What're you two boys having?”

“Whatever's most expensive,” Luco responded cheerfully. Laxx groaned inwardly, waving his hand to show he was fine with what he had. Luco drained the last of his drink and handed the girl his empty glass, whilst Laxx stared into his Puswater glumly.

The bargirl left, and Luco span back to face Laxx. “You have until I finish my next drink. What do you want?” he insisted.

“I'm looking for a man called Rick Narlon. I'm told that you were the last person to see him before he disappeared.”

Luco shook his head. “Never heard of him.

Laxx raised an eyebrow. “Would you prefer I cancelled your drink?”

“Alright, so I do know him. Who's asking?”

“I'm Laxx Narlon, Rick's brother. I've spent the last six months trying to find him.”

Luco nodded as the bargirl returned with his drink - a bottle of comparatively refined brew. The veteran fighter snatched the bottle from the girl, taking a swig and savouring its taste, before waving the girl away.

“You look like Rick,” he said eventually, with a slight smile. “Except scrawnier.”

“Do you know where he is?”

Another draught. After this, Luco put the drink down and spoke slowly and seriously. “Rick's dead, Laxx. I'm the only one left.”

Laxx's heart sank at this news, and he felt a moment of crushing tragedy and despair. But the sensation soon passed. He'd presumed the worst months ago.

“How?” he asked Luco quietly.

The warrior shook his head. “You wouldn't believe me if I told you.”

“Try me.”

A smirk. “You think I need someone else laughing at me? You don't want to know the truth kid. Pretend Rick died in some heroic gunbattle.”

Luco went to lift his drink again, but Laxx reached out and grabbed the bottle first.

“Tell me,” he insisted. “I've come so far, I have to know. Please, for Rick's sake.”

Luco paused before shrugging, taking one more gulp and beginning his story.

“Tell me Laxx,” he said. “Do you believe in Phanta Claws?”

* * * * *

Kreg smiled grimly as he blasted the Cawdor fighter over the balcony, his stubber roaring as he turned to face the next immediate threat. A pair of the youths in red and blue robes rounded the corner, raising their handguns unsteadily. A few volleys from Kreg's gun sent them scrambling into cover, and he ran after them, relishing the chance to blow them to bits. As they ran round the side of the building, he saw the nerves of the Juves had been broken entirely, and that they were literally running for their lives. Even though they were longer a threat, Kreg put a shot into the back of one fighter's leg anyway.

He turned back to the main battle, peering over the balcony he'd sent the first Ganger toppling over. On the ground level, where fighters on either side desperately lurched from one section of rubble to another, the battle between his Van Saar gang and the enemy Cawdors seemed to hang in the balance. Mad Chad was busy bullying the new kid into drawing the fire of the enemy snipers opposite. As he kicked the Juve out into the open, the crack of lasgun fire opened up, and the kid ran terrified to the opposite side of the dome. With the marksmen distracted, Mad Chad casually stepped round the corner and opened fire with his bolter, downing the first sniper before a volley of high calibre autocannon ammo sent him diving back into cover.

A firefight between the two gangs had engulfed the upper levels of the ruins, but this was more one-sided - the Redemptionist wannabes would never beat the best of Van Saar in a shooting match. Kept safe by the covering fire of their friends, Kreg watched as Rick and Luco carefully stalked across a walkway leading to the last Cawdor stronghold. The two men gripped pistols and melee weapons, large fearsome axes and mauls with as much care demonstrated in their manufacture as all of Van Saar's equipment. Kreg's sharp eye noticed that there was only one other way that the Cawdor scum could escape from their tower - the second walkway a few metres away from him. He smiled briefly, noting the arrival of Sharpeye Bill and Armourer King with a curt nod. Gesturing to his two followers, he crossed the roof's perimeter to the nearby walkway and stealthily evaded across it.

Hakrah's Cawdor devotees had noted the closing of this trap, and immediately turned their fire on Kreg and his men. He dropped to the floor and let the stream of laser beams and solid ammunition sail overhead. Bill was too slow though, taking several shots to the chest that punched him off his feet effortlessly.

Kreg heard the sound of screaming and chanced a look upwards. He frowned - it sounded as though Hakrah's men had got stuck in close combat, but Rick and Luco were still a few yards away from them. Who were they fighting against?

He put the confusion from his mind as his two boldest fighters got stuck in, swinging their weapons around their heads as they took on the three Cawdor in front of them. Seeing his chance to lead from the front, Kreg scrambled up and dashed forward, drawing his chainsword and flicking the activation stud. A Cawdor Heavy stood in his path, and through the gold mask Kreg saw the doomed man's eyes widen. Granted strength by the impetus of the charge, Kreg swung his chainsword vertically downwards, sawing through the autocannon barrel clumsily raised to block him, and into the Heavy's torso.

He searched for his next target, but could find none. He turned right and saw Rick bludgeoning the last of his opponents, whilst Luco scanned for other threats. Kreg frowned again - he'd expected a hard fight to take the tower, but not it seemed deserted. An eerie calm fell upon the battlefield, and he wondered why he hadn't heard anything of the fight with Mad Chad and the Cawdor gangers below.

“Where is everyone?” he voiced, baffled.

He heard a feral snarl that made him yelp in fear, and turned to see a creature out of his worst nightmares. The monster wore a vaguely humanoid form, but its gigantic size and animalistic eyes were decidedly inhuman. Massive raking talons reached from its outstretched hands and bare feet, each sharp enough to tear through solid adamantium. For the slightest moment, Kreg imagined the faintest outline of a bushy white beard and red bobbly hat, but before he could regard the creature any longer it attacked.

It came for him first, and Kreg rolled aside, dodging the first swipe and blocking the next with the side of his chainsword. The fiend leapt back and noticed the other men drawing in around it, hissing at them evilly. It dived to strike at Armourer King, ripping across the fighter's leg with one claw and tearing out a huge chunk of his midsection with the other. The unfortunate warriors fell, and the monster was there, cackling malevolently as it ripped out the throat of its prone victim.

Kreg came to his senses and fired his stubber, missing by a fraction. The beast ignored him and went after the other two, roaring in bloodlust. Luco bottled it and ran back across the walkway, whilst Rick attempted a desperate but foolish last stand. He swung his axe, but the monster batted it aside; Rick came back with the reverse stroke, but it merely grabbed hold of the weapon by the shaft and wrenched it from his hand. Kreg and Rick fired with their pistols simultaneously, and the mutant howled in pain, but before either man could act again it retaliated by slashing its talons across Rick's face. He fell and did not rise, blood pouring from his mutilated features and covering the tower floor.

Enraged by the death of his employees and friends, Kreg drew back his chainsword and charged at the monster. It grinned in anticipation, ducking beneath Kreg's high strike and knocking aside his pistol. The beast's move had been a casual one, designed to divert the stubber as Kreg fired another shot, but such was its strength that the gun was sent toppling out of the leader's grip. Taking his chainsword two-handed, Kreg bellowed as he swung the chainsword back and forth with ever more elaborate strokes. The monster backed away slowly, fearing the swirling blades of the weapon, and he raised the motorised blade above his head as he prepared to smash it down onto his nemesis.

Kreg felt a sudden jolt of fear as he rammed the chainsword into the low walkway above, struggling in vain to retrieve the weapon. He was too slow; in that slightest moment of distraction, his inhuman opponent slashed its talons twice across his torso, before plunging them deep into his neck. Kreg gurgled, his hold on the chainsword slipping away as the life seeped from his body. For one last moment he got a full glimpse of his killer's face, smiling grimly at the unbelievable sight before him.

Phanta Claws brought its bearded face to within an inch of Kreg's own, gurgling as it hissed in mutilated Low Gothic.

“Merry Fistmas,” it snarled, as it wrenched the claws from the deceased leader's neck forcefully.

* * * * *

Laxx continued to stare at Luco incredulously. At least now he knew how Luco had earned the nickname “Loopy”.

“You're saying that my brother was murdered by Phanta Claws,” he clarified. “As in the fictional children's character?”

Luco, who had already begun to drink again, slammed the bottle down and glared at Laxx furiously.

“I was there,” he hissed. “I was there the day that monster killed Rick, and Kreg, and a lot of other good men. I saw it all, and I swear upon the Golden Throne itself that what I saw that day was anything but the work of fiction.”

He leaned in closer to Laxx, and started to whisper menacingly. “You've heard the stories, haven't you? Tales of a creature from the dawn of the Imperium, impelled by the Primarchs themselves to fulfil its murderous task? It makes two lists, they say. The first one's the good list, and if you're on that you're safe, it can't touch you. But if not, then you're in trouble. Once you end up on Phanta Claws' kill list, that's it, game over. There can be no escape from those blood soaked talons and razor sharp teeth, nor from its animal intellect. The ultimate huntercreature, driven mad by an insatiable desire for its one true release - the thirst for human blood.”

Luco smiled evilly, and Laxx sat back unnerved. For the slightest of moments, he imagined he could hear a voice carry upon the chill wind outside and he shuddered fearfully.

He looked around the bar and his nervousness turned to terror.

He hadn't imagined the cry. Around the tavern, the other patrons looked to the doors and windows, listening for the monstrous howl of a creature millennia old. Strangely enough, only Luco seemed unafraid, and Laxx turned back aghast to the storyteller.

“I shouldn't have run,” Luco recounted bitterly. “I should have known then that there could be no escape. Only now, at the end, do I realise the truth. He's written his list. He's checked it twice.”

“Phanta Claws is coming to town.”