“The trap was set.”
Set in the darkest depths of the underhive, Gordon Rennie’s Necromunda short story Rites of Passage sees five young juves of House Orlock braving the dangers of Hive Bottom as part of a ritual that will see them emerge as men…if they emerge at all. Hidden amongst the shadows and bolstered by fearsome technologies, something is stalking the five of them, something much worse than the rival gangers that they expected to face. If any of them are to survive, it’s going to take more than just bravery and a loaded laspistol.
Like The Demon Bottle this is another small scale story, but where it differs is how it introduces the idea of a single powerful, technologically superior threat – which reminds the reader that Necromunda stories are still set in the 40k universe. Sure, most of the time the worst an underhiver will have to deal with is a knife in the back, but occasionally they’ll also be faced with a web-slinging, toxin-injecting, barely human horror monster. Life is BAD in the underhive. Despite some rather stilted dialogue, this is a gripping, vivid and well constructed story that’s dark as sin but thoroughly enjoyable. Don’t expect a happy ending.
It’s hard to know how to consider some of these Necromunda stories given how few there have been, relatively speaking, compared to the glut of 40k stories over the years. Can any Necromunda story be considered a classic, under the circumstances? Considering that the main draw of Necromunda as a tabletop game, for many people, was its cinematic nature…I’d say this comes as close to attaining ‘classic’ status as any. There’s something delightfully cinematic about the story of five youths being hunted through decaying urban ruins by a single terrifying hunter.
Now that should come with a caveat – this isn’t exactly the most original story. It’s not hard to see the influence of films like Alien or Predator (not to be confused with Alien vs Predator…oh, no) on the premise here, but then the Games Workshop settings have always drawn heavily from elsewhere for inspiration. Despite the obvious influences this is good enough to stand on its own, but it’s also got enough of a grim 40k tone going to ground it in the setting and avoid being a pastiche of the genre.
At this point I usually ask whether the story this fit with the setting as it stands these days, but this time it’s a bigger question than that. It’s not just whether it fits in with other Necromunda stories, but also how it compares with other stories set in the 41st millennium as well…
[SPOILER ALERT – skip the next paragraph if you really don’t want to know what the hunter actually is…]
Interestingly, I’d say this is darker and harder than most Necromunda stories…which actually makes it feel like more of a 40k story of its time. In fact, with less of the underhive weirdness than some Necromunda tales, it’s not far off a modern day 40k story as well. The descriptions of the Spyrer that’s hunting them (a rogue Malcadon, if I remember the different types correctly) hold up remarkably well even compared to things like how Space Marine armour is described these days, and the focus is less on the underhive or the gang structures of its denizens than the emotions and experiences of the characters. It’s arguably a little more gruesome than a lot of modern 40k, but I don’t think it would feel too out of place if it was published now!
As for how to get hold of this story, it has an almost identical publication history to The Demon Bottle, with the only difference being the issue of Inferno! in which it was first published. This one was included in issue 4, back in 1997, before being republished in the Status: Deadzone anthology a few years later in 2000, followed by the Necromunda Omnibus 1 in 2011. At the time of writing the Necromunda novels are all available from Black Library as individual ebooks, but sadly none of the anthologies have had the ebook treatment.
That may change as we get closer to the rumoured re-release of the Necromunda tabletop game, otherwise your best bet is probably to try and find one of the anthologies second hand. A quick glance at Amazon shows a few copies of Status Deadzone listed from £4 + P&P, although the omnibus doesn’t seem to be available even on ebay at the moment…so a lucky visit to a second hand shop might be your best bet for that one. Either that, or drop Black Library an email to ask them to reprint it as an ebook…if enough people ask, they might do it!
I hope you enjoyed this instalment of Forgotten Texts. If there are any classic Black Library stories that you would like to put forward for a review, please do let me know, and likewise if you’ve got any comments or feedback. Next week it’s going to be a grim tale of life in the Empire, as we return to the old Warhammer world.