Swarm Host
rating: +4+x

Hundreds of venomous spiders opened the doors to their cages and crept up to greet Dantius as he entered the basement.
Jets of silk and digested protein slung across the narrow hallway, burning the cloth to his coat as he passed by his excited pets. One jumped on his back, tugging his collar as if to ask for breakfast, if there was any.

Indeed, Dantius had brought the spiders a meal. Someone squirmed as Dantius dragged them along inside a garbage bag. They, too, were subject to the acid silk fired by Dantius' spiders, but the acid only burned through their flesh. Their skin had not been as adapted to it as his.

"Careful", Dantius had to shoo away a brood of twelve from his quarry, lest they make a premature meal out of Skirn Cell's latest prisoner. As the spiders left, another one followed him. It was a light brown Giant Solpugid, with yellow, black and white patches on its abdomen. There was a mesh of metal hooks where its jaw should be, and it was missing a leg.

Dantius called this spider 'Hook', after the Peter Pan villain, since both had been eaten by a crocodile.

Dantius arrived at the end of the corridor, took out a key to enter the room adjoining it, and closed it shut. Small spiderlings crept through the walls and watched as Dantius opened the sack, revealing a fresh-faced Eastern European man in a business suit.

He sat the man down as two spiders immediately got on his captive, exuding web from their spinnerets, binding him to the chair. In one swift move, he removed the tape covering the man's mouth.

A torrent of foreign insults greeted him, quickly followed by another swift move - a blow to the man's gut.

Dantius spoke. "Imran Žukauskas. Do you know where you are?"

Imran replied with another torrent of insult, which was again followed by a cruel hit to his abdomen.

Dantius spoke again. "I saw you speak fluent and clear English when you talked with your fellow Croatian cousins in the poker club. You are a rich and privileged salesman. There is no need for you to lie to me."

"You deserve to be hanged and gutted for your crimes. What do you have against my company?" Imran said, cursing the scrawny redhead interrogating him.

Dantius replied. "Money. Funding for my bosses. An access point to one of the largest illegal arms manufacturers in the Balkan region. And a backdoor into its largest supplier of anomalous weaponry, Mister Imran." He paused, looking at Imran's reaction to decide where to go next.

"You have no idea what anomalous weaponry is, you asshole. You don't know who supplies my company, and you can't possibly hope to contain my wares without destroying your own men as a result."

"Oh, couldn't I?" Dantius retorted. He bent his left shoulder briefly to show the 'sickle-and-eye' insignia of the Psychotronics Division. Imran's eyes narrowed.

"Who are you working for?" Imran asked.

Dantius took a moment to take out his vaporizer. "Are you familiar with the Chaos Insurgency?"

Imran's anger melted into terror. "Them?!" Imran yelled. He struggled vainly against his silk prison. "Alright, you win. I will give you anything if you let me live!" He begged to his captor. "Anything at all. The company, the guns, everything, just let me out of here!"

Dantius stayed silent for a moment to 'light' his e-cigarette.

"Don't play games with me. I have never dealt with the Insurgency before, but my friends have. If you want something, I will gladly give it to you. I have spies working in the Latvian government! I have access to a Kleidaria artifact in Serbia! You see? I can be your ally!"

Dantius chuckled amidst huffs of apple cider-flavored vapors.

He spoke. "I appreciate your openness. Very well. What do you want?"

"Safety and my business' freedom. That is all." Imran said.

Dantius chuckled. "Is that all?"

Imran nodded.

The spiderkeeper chuckled. "Fine. If that is all, it will be done." He took out a small knife and began cutting the silk net apart. "In exchange for your company's support, your business interests will be protected."

Hook tapped at Dantius' neck. Dantius smiled, put Hook on his open palm, and brought him to Imran's mouth. The refugee struggled momentarily before Hook pried his lips apart and stuck to his tongue.

"I will be upholding our deal. I will release you." Dantius said, a diabolical smirk printed on his face.

"But I suppose you didn't state who would be released with you."

He took out his vaporizer, holding the front end, and pushed the glowing red butt downwards to squash Hook onto Imran's tongue. A bright red acid spilled all over and into his throat, charring his mouth with black.

"Haaaargh!", Imran choked on the alien liquid and the spider bits still clinging to his throat. Hot, sweltering flashes of pain immediately took over the initial sting of fiery bile, starting from his stomach and spreading through every vein in his body, and finally concentrating inside his head. It was impossible to breathe. He could feel the legs of a billion spiders emerge from inside him and touch his head, touch his mind, and implant another alien thing inside his brain. That was the last thought that entered Imran Žukauskas' mind.

The first thought that entered Mung Fionggio's mind, as Imran Žukauskas, was quite different.

The theory had worked as planned. Perfect. The altered spider brood could successfully store a living human consciousness, and be able to return it to a human body through a new host. And by the smile emerging from Imran's acid-charred lips, Dantius deduced his study was a resounding victory.

"Doctor Fionggio, I feel justified to present you the honor of being the first murdered scientist brought back to life by my work." Dantius bowed at the senior researcher wearing the European businessman's skin as his very own.

Fionggio swallowed something and inhaled deeply. "It is good to taste my brood's silk again."

Dantius nodded. "I have been ordered to recall you first by our Commander. Before you were killed, you knew sensitive information on a cold-case mission we are now reviving. If you prove useful now, the Commander told me to give you this."

Dantius took apart the vaporizer, fingering a hidden packet filled with blue liquid. He showed it to Fionggio.

"SX-Ninety-One." Mung said quietly.

"The Broodmaker. With this, you can restart our cell's finest program and restore Skirn Cell's might in the Insurgency." Dantius grinned, treasuring the last time he used the serum: when Dr. Fionggio and Skirn's scientists were being hunted by their enemies, Dantius escaped, and used the serum on plenty of his fellow colleagues' corpses. He had a working brood in days, and took them with him hiding. Hiding, until the threat subsided and Skirn silently regrouped in the rubble.

Fionggio took a good while staring at the serum. Admiring what terror it brought back in his day. How acid bled into their minds. 'The Spider Plague of 2004' was the keyword enemy commanders would use when they discussed how to attack the Insurgency, fearing the same swarm coming after them, infesting them and turning their offensive inwards, back to the heart of their bases.

It would be a truly moving sight to see it in action once again.

"Dr. Meros." Fionggio called his once-junior to attention. "I am sincerely proud of your efforts to renew this project and bring this region once more into Skirn Cell's iron grip, but it cannot be done. Skirn has been diminished, and while your efforts could rouse some conflict, I'm sure our adversaries have grown more powerful in our absence."

Dantius sighed. "Yes. Much of Skirn has fallen. Perhaps it is too late."

Mung replied. "Yes, and no. Perhaps it is not too late, but too soon. Our numbers are limited, but what is manpower when you have an entire swarm of loyal, fearsome creatures? All we need is to bolster our flock while the rest of Skirn rebuilds, and when the time is right, we will re-join the Cell and once again bring our enemies to heel."

That was a good thing to hear. Dantius already thought about how Skirn would rise again from its death, like the buds of young spiders rising from the skin of its host. Slowly, slowly, swelling and subtle, until it reaches up, claws to the sky, and pops out to grace its host with its rebirth.

"We will need more of our fallen researchers to further synthesize your well-done research, Doctor Meros. Once they return, we may begin serious experimentation in earnest."

Dantius' face lit up, but only slightly.

"Would you like to know what Skirn has been doing recently, after some convincing of mine?" Dantius asked Mung, and the two walked to another room in the underground level, accompanied by another large family of spiders, until they reached the entrance to a far wider room than the one in which Imran had been kept. It was dark, and the air was thick with spider musk and sweat and blood. Dantius opened the doors and turned the light fixtures on.

Inside, there were people, wounded and gagged, lining hospital beds on each side of the room. Some were still screaming into their gags. Most were asleep, but none were dead. Pale and scarlet-speckled spiders either skittered weakly along their arms and necks or dug themselves into their skin like lice, keeping their hosts alive with their venom.

Mung's eyes widened at the handful of people covered in silk and being fed by spiders.

It was an almost peaceful view to watch.

Dantius loosened the collar on his shirt. "These are prisoners. Defectors from Skirn, hunted down and beaten. They have betrayed you before, but after today, they'll be the most loyal servants Skirn will possess." He picked up a glass box and handed it to Fionggio. It was filled with golden Solpugids, each submerged in crimson fluid inside small capsules. Dantius went to the side of a bedridden former agent.

"You do the honors, Doctor Fionggio." Dantius said, lightly running his pale, veiny fingers down the agent's cheek. His hand's blood vessels seemed to enlarge, carrying something glowing inside.

Dantius smiled. Mung watched on as millions of tiny, tiny spiderlings slowly crept from under Dantius' skin and spill into the agent's face, flooding the body with a skittering, dark green mass, before he turned to face the body of what will soon be one of his old comrade's.

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