Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers
The Gray Tiger
Part 1 <> Part 2 <> Part 3 <> Writing the Story of "The Gray Tiger"
The Gray Tiger
“Every once in a great while,” he remembered Daksha Ram telling him, “a Fighting Tiger willfully ignores or defies his sacred duty. Perhaps he murders civilians or allows civilians to be murdered. Perhaps he hunts a sacred animal or allows others to do so. Perhaps, as you have, Sudra Patel, he fails to uphold a holy vow.”
He tossed his sack and waterskin aside.
“The Fighting Tigers are organized into two castes: Jatis Ghuyarashtra and Jatis Mahaduyana, one based in the south of Veda, one in the north. When a Fighting Tiger does not carry out his sacred duty, then he is no longer worthy to be a member of either caste.”
He shook off his sandals and shrugged his way out of his tunic. His wound had already sealed itself.
“Instead, he joins a third, secret caste of Fighting Tigers, known of only by the two Rajas and their closest advisors. He becomes a Gray Tiger, and lives alone—in exile—as best he can.”
Naked, he began donning the gray power armor for the first time. The trunk and loin pieces first, plugging in the cables to the access ports in his chest and shoulders.
“You shall become a Gray Tiger, Sudra Patel. And a Gray Tiger—harijan, untouchable—you shall remain.”
Then the legs and boots. Then the arms and gauntlets. He activated the power pack and flexed, getting the feel of the armor.
“You may choose suttee—suicide by immolation—but it will not wash away your failure. Your next incarnation would also be harijan.”
The armor was lighter, less bulky than the suit he wore as a Tiger of Rudra, a Tactical Space Marine. The power pack was smaller. The armor was not designed to protect a Marine for centuries of battle.
“Yet there is a way you could regain your place in Jatis Ghuyarashtra.”
The armor was designed to last only one mission.
“What that way is, you must discover.”
He clamped the helmet on.
Daksha Ram had let him keep his old weapon, as a reminder of what he had been. He opened the sack that he had kept by his sleeping mat all these years and loaded the plasma gun. It thrummed in his hands as he activated it.
the Gray Tiger, began to run.
The carcass was yellow and furry and covered with spots. The animal, a type of burrowing avian, hit the ground with a wet splat—blood seeping from dozens of splinter rifle wounds—as the two Dark Eldar accompanying Jheste dropped it. Eklavdrah looked up from where she and the others were still enjoying Commissar Acosta.
“What took you so long?” she demanded. “And what is that thing you’ve brought back?”
“Tormyll is dead,” he said, as the two Dark Eldar went back to the Raider to help the pilot unload Tormyll’s armor. “This creature was carrying off his garments, probably to use as a nest.”
“Well, I think this mon-keigh is dying. Hurry up and give him another stimulant. We’re not done playing yet.”
“I think it would be better if we left at once.”
“Why? The sun won’t be up for hours.”
“I’m not worried about the sun.”
“And I’m not worried about the other mon-keigh,” Eklavdrah snapped. “So Tormyll managed to get himself killed—probably fell on his own knife, the cretin—and one of the mon-keigh ran off. Maybe he’ll be kind enough to round up the rest of his tribe and come looking for us.”
“Or go off and warn the Tigers.”
“What Tigers, Doctor? You said they were all gone.”
“I said most of them were gone. Some of them are still here.”
“I’m not afraid of them, Doctor.” Behind her, Vlondrhyll giggled as Acosta let out a weak cry.
“And just so you know, while you’ve been off hunting around in the bushes for Tormyll, I’ve been doing your job for you,” Eklavdrah continued. “He’s stubborn, this one. He hasn’t told us much, but he has said that all those mon-keigh in front of the fortress are recruits for a new army. Brand new recruits.”
“So they don’t even know which end of a weapon to hold,” Jheste muttered.
“Exactly. Now why don’t you be a good doctor and take up where I left off?”
“I’ll make sure he stays alive for at least a few more hours—after we get him loaded on the Raider.”
Eklavdrah scowled and her hand strayed to her holstered splinter pistol.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Jheste snarled. “You said you didn’t like it here—kill me and you’ll stay on this planet until the Tigers come home. Besides,” he added, his tone softening, “you can continue playing on the way back.”
“Oh, all right. Just make sure he doesn’t die too soon.” Jheste nodded to the Raider’s pilot, and he headed back to the skimmer.
Jheste bent down over Acosta. The mon-keigh was in bad shape, bleeding from scores of tiny cuts. Probably bleeding under his skin as well, Jheste thought. He is a stubborn one. Jheste removed a small vial from one of the many pouches under his robes. Most of his kind would be dead long before now.
Acosta opened the eye he had left and looked at Jheste. Beneath his silver mask, the Haemonculus smiled. Jheste showed him the vial. “Open wide,” he said. “This will be incredibly painful…”
Acosta tried to spit at him but there was no moisture left in his mouth. Vlondhryll held Acosta’s mouth open as Jheste poured the greenish liquid in. Acosta gasped hoarsely and shook as the elixer instantly took effect.
“Now get him aboard the Raider,” Jheste snapped, “and hurry up.”
went white as the Raider exploded.
Sudra dove out of the way as shards of envenomed metal shredded the patch of high grass where he had been standing. He rolled, the plasma gun steaming in his hands, half-crouched, and took a quick look before he ducked back down again. The Raider was burning like a white star, turning the plain bright as day and igniting the dry grass. He had killed the pilot and two others aboard the Raider, but now the rest were after him.
There was a high keening sound and the grass around him disintegrated as the Dark Eldar with the splinter cannon fired blind, seeking a target. Sudra tumbled again, stood, and vaporized the Scorpion’s head. As he ducked and ran, he saw a female Scorpion point in his direction and scream in rage.
Quick as cats they came, springing through the grass, weapons firing. Splinters bounced off his armor as he ran, crouching, toward the flames from the burning wreckage. That should confuse them for a second or two, he thought. What enemy in his right mind would run into a fire?
It worked. When he stood up again, mere yards from the burning grass, the Scorpions had their backs to him and were searching in vain for him. He fired twice and two more of them died, so fast that they had no time to scream.
Suddenly he was wreathed in flames as the grassfire swept over him. He hardly even felt the splinters ricochet off him as he ran further into the fire and plunged out the other side. He rolled to smother any part of his armor that might have caught fire and hid in the grass. He checked the temperature display inside his helmet: a little higher than normal but no damage done to the armor. He checked a similar gauge on the side of the plasma gun: high. Too high. The weapon was dangerously close to overheating.
The flamespirit within my gun needs a few moments to compose itself and not release its anger too soon, he thought, as the Dark Eldar ran around the grassfire. “Sadly, old ally, I cannot give you any rest.”
He stood, fired
again, and another Ozone Scorpion was consumed. Then they were upon him,
blades stabbing, snarling like beasts.
The Raider’s explosion had knocked Dr. Jheste flat on top of Commissar Acosta. Hissing pieces of metal fell around them as the transport burned, a searing white fountain in the middle of the dark plain. Jheste sat up. Yes, I’m fine, thank you, he told himself. And our patient?
Under Jheste’s drug, Acosta was fully conscious and staring at the Haemonculus in helpless fury. “I kept telling that wench Eklavdrah that we should be going, but does anyone ever take their doctor’s advice? Of course not,” Jheste said.
The grass nearby was burning and in minutes they would be caught in the fire. Jheste began freeing Acosta, yanking the stakes out of the ground. Acosta shrieked in agony and swung at Jheste with the wet pulp that remained of his left hand. Jheste barely dodged the blow.
“My, we are feisty, aren’t we?” Jheste mumbled, and jabbed Acosta with a special syringe he always kept ready. The Commissar screamed again, thrashed for a few seconds, then flopped back, losing all voluntary muscle control.
“Look, you’re bleeding all over the place again,” Jheste scolded. He smeared a coagulant ointment over the part of Acosta's flesh where the stakes had pierced him. Then Jheste began dragging him away from the fire. From the other side of the flames, he heard metal crashing against metal as the rest of the Scorpions entertained themselves with their attacker.
“Uff. You’d think with all the fluids you’ve lost that you would be lighter,” Jheste said, and dropped Acosta. Jheste knew that fire doubles in size roughly every 30 seconds, so he hoped he had another minute or so before he would be in immediate danger again. He pulled the webway portal—a little silver box—from the pouch where he kept it and entered the code. A huge, purplish tear opened in the fabric of reality behind him.
A high screech made him turn his head. A frantic, flailing figure was running through the fire, its limbs sheathed in flames. Eklavdrah, he realized. What is—?
Behind Eklavdrah, through the flames, came a charging Space Marine, his armor rent in many places. In one hand he held a plasma gun. In the other, a Dark Eldar combat knife.
what any Dark Eldar in his situation would do: he gave the controls of
the webway portal another twist and dove through the purplish tear to safety.
Though he was wounded in several places, Sudra kept running. Ahead of him was some kind of shimmering purple light, almost like a small cloud that hovered near the ground, and the burning Sybarite was running for it. Sudra knew he wouldn’t catch her. He ran out of the grassfire, stopped, and leveled the plasma gun. Suddenly, he saw someone—a human—in the line of fire.
Probably dead already, but can’t take the chance, he thought. The Scorpion ran into the purplish light and vanished. That was all right. All of the other Dark Eldar were dead. “A trapped Tiger is the most dangerous Tiger,” he recalled, from his days as a Scout. The Scorpions had learned that too.
There was no time for congratulating himself. The grassfire was still spreading; now, in the heart of the dry season, it might consume millions of acres before finally burning out. Sudra dashed to what was left of Commissar Acosta. Alive still. Somehow.
“I have you,” he told Acosta, in Imperial Gothic. He knelt and began hoisting Acosta across both of his shoulders.
Then the air began to shimmer. Something like a huge metal insect was materializing out of the purple mist. A gleaming silver and blue machine that floated in the air. Two horrid claws opened and closed spasmodically. A long tail, tipped with a pair of black guns, curled over its back.
lowered Acosta to the ground and stood over him as the Ozone Scorpion Talos
caught sight of him. Its glistening steel mandibles twitched in anticipation.
“You told Lynatharr you wouldn’t take along your Talos,” Eklavdrah said. She flinched at his touch as Jheste smeared more ointment on her burns.
“I lied,” he replied. “I often do. Speaking of which, we’re not going to tell our dear Archon what happened back there on Veda, are we?”
“Don’t be stupid,”
she growled. “Ow! Give me another shot.”
With the flames creeping up behind him, a wounded man at his feet, and a nightmarish living weapon in front of him, Sudra felt oddly calm.
Yes, this is how it shall all end. Krishna be praised for sending me into the wilderness. I may no longer be a Fighting Tiger, but I am pleased to die like this.
He raised the plasma gun and fired off two bolts at the Talos. The first bolt vaporized its right claw, the second hit it just below the tail, incinerating the thin, naked corpse of the human boy plugged into the metal monster. Then Sudra started to run, back into the flames.
He had expected it to keen in agony or shriek with rage, but the only sound that the Talos made was a low thrumming as it floated after him. Then there was a piercing whistle as the tail sting fired a veritable typhoon of razor shards at him. One shard struck him in the leg, nearly severing an artery, and Sudra went down in the burning grass.
Fighting off the pain, he checked the temperature gauge on the plasma gun. It was all the way at the top.
As the Talos
glided near, remaining claw poised to rip him to shreds—or perhaps to have
him take the naked boy’s place—Sudra sat up and fired the plasma gun for
the last time.
Some things never change, Sudra told himself. He was sitting by himself at one end of the ship’s cabin. At the other end, newly-inducted Scouts—Tigers of Puchan—were boasting loudly to each other about how many Orks they would kill as soon as the ship landed on the desert planet of Auros IX.
“I cannot wait until we get there,” one of them said. The nameplate on the breast of his armor read Kazi. “All I need is a tall hill, some cover, a crate of ammunition, and my autocannon. The rest of you can stay back at the barracks and have something to stay warm.”
“Stay warm?” one of the others asked.
“It’s cold on Auros IX—didn’t you read the packet they gave us?” Kazi replied.
“Of course I read it. I didn’t see anything in there about Auros IX being cold,” the other Scout—Mehdi, it read on his nameplate —replied.
“Well then you’re ugly AND stupid,” Kazi said, and the others laughed.
“Well, you talk too much,” Mehdi sneered.
“Maybe so, but everybody knows Auros is cold.” Behind Sudra, a compartment hatch opened. “Am I right?” Kazi asked, turning to Sudra. The other Scouts gaped in horror.
The Scouts’ Sergeant entered the cabin. “I heard that,” he snarled, jabbing a finger at Kazi. “You’re not allowed to speak to him. You should know that. For your sake, don’t ever do that again.”
“Yes, sahib,” Kazi replied, bowing before the Sergeant. “I shall not speak out of turn again.”
“I will discuss terms of your discipline with you—and the rest of you—later,” the Sergeant said, glancing at Sudra. “After we have landed.”
“Yes, sahib,” they answered. Underneath his helmet, Sudra smirked. Under the stern frown of their Sergeant, the Scouts were silent for the rest of the flight.
The last shot had destroyed the Talos—and Sudra’s plasma gun as well. The weapon’s escaping flamespirit had taken its revenge on Sudra, severely burning his right hand as the gun melted. But Sudra was a Space Marine and even after that wound and the many others he had suffered from the Dark Eldar, he had still been able to sling Acosta across his shoulders and run. And run. And keep on running. All the way back to the Fighting Tiger fortress.
Acosta lived, and a few days later, the First Vedic Regiment of the Imperial Guard left for Armageddon. Daksha Ram had sent out patrols, but no more Ozone Scorpions were found. And now Sudra was on his way to Auros IX, where the Fighting Tigers were bogged down against the native Orks.
The Thunderhawk landed on the pad and the hatches opened. Sudra was the first to step out. Sensors in his newly-restored armor told him that the air was indeed cold, and laden with a fine red dust. Behind him, the Scouts were filing out, bravado evaporating as they realized that they were actually here on a world where so many Tigers had already died.
“I beg your forgiveness, sepoy,” their Sergeant whispered to Sudra, as they came down the ramp. “Young Kazi is unruly and lacks the proper respect for tradition. He disgraces me. I can assure you that never again will he speak to a superior without being spoken to first. None of them shall, after I am through with them,” he added, glaring back at his squad.
“I would be failing my sacred duty if I did not accept your apology,” Sudra replied. The Scout Sergeant bowed deeply and began barking out orders to his charges.
In his yellow
and brown armor, Sudra Patel, Fighting Tiger of Rudra, headed off to rejoin
the squad he had not seen in 13 years.
Like what you've seen? Then vote for the Jungle in the "Top 100 40K Sites"
© Copyright Kenton
Kilgore May 2001
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers