Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers
Part 1 <> Part 2 <> Part 3 <> Part 4
He had faced death before, of course. As a Dark Angel Space Marine he had fought on scores of worlds, in hundreds of battles, against thousands—millions, really—of enemies. He had been wounded so many times over the centuries that most of his skin was covered in scar tissue.
But death had, as far as he had seen, almost always been quick: a blow from an Ork choppa, the slash of a Genestealer’s claw, the pulse of an Eldar Starcannon. He had seen fellow Dark Angels crushed under tons of stone as a wall had collapsed, or been instantly dissolved in pools of toxic waste. Once, while fighting outside the hull of a space hulk, he had seen a stray micrometeor shear off Brother Absalom’s arm below the elbow and watched him implode from the sudden change in pressure.
He remembered what his instructor, Sergeant Dillon, had told him and the other Initiates so many years ago: "You’re not men anymore, you’re Space Marines. If something is going to kill you, it will kill you quickly. The stuff that would kill a man slowly—you’ll live through that…though, at the time, you might wish it DID kill you."
But despite what Dillon had said, Cruz was dying slowly, and he didn’t like it at all.
The chronometer built into the wrist of his armor had shattered—as he had—when he had fallen off the cliff, but he was fairly sure that it had been a standard hour or so since he had last tried to crawl forward a few more inches. Gritting his teeth, he started to pull himself along with his one good arm—the other was broken in several places—and thought to himself, Six inches. Let’s go six inches this time. Not too far. Not too far at all. Just six damned inches. And maybe another six inches after that.
to haul himself eight and a half inches before his strength failed him
The first thing Kshatriya Rashna Marga was aware of was the piercing light of Khrell’s twin suns. He winced, raised a hand to block out the light, and realized that the eyelenses of his armor had cracked from the impact. The second thing he was aware of was the pain in his head—it felt like a rat was inside his skull, trying to eat its way out.
He rolled over, onto his stomach, and felt a sickening sensation of vertigo sweep over him. He kept his eyes closed and recited verses from the Rigsamayajur Mahaduyana until the dizziness and nausea eased.
Rashna Marga raised his hands and felt his helmet. There was a large dent, almost the size of a man’s fist, on the left side, and the comm relay was smashed. “I thank thee,” he whispered, to the helmet’s spirit. “Once again, I owe a debt I cannot repay.”
He slowly opened his eyes. He was lying on the stony edge of the riverbank, in a small pool no more than two inches deep. Vishnu preserve me, he thought, but I am fortunate. Had he fallen three yards to his right, he would landed on a boulder the size of a Rhino; three yards to the left, and he would have been swept away by the surging river, drowning as water gushed through the cracks in his orange and black power armor.
Of course, good fortune was also aided by skill. Rashna Marga had held onto the Dark Angel and had let the enemy commander absorb the brunt of the impact. He looked up; the edge of the cliff was more than 900 feet above him but it had only taken perhaps 8 seconds to hit the rocks below.
He sat up, wincing this time at the pain from his legs and back. He was sure that he had broken several ribs. He removed his helmet and was not at all surprised to find the inside spattered with his blood. He gingerly touched the side of his head. A bad wound—but I will live, I think.
The Dark Angel would not have been so fortunate. Rashna Marga looked around but could not see the corpse of his enemy. Perhaps he had fallen into the river—perhaps he lay out of sight behind a boulder. No matter, he told himself, he could not have survived.
to rest for awhile and regain some of his strength. Then he would go and
make sure his enemy was dead. One couldn’t be too careful.
Well now, this is REALLY unpleasant, Master Cruz thought to himself.
He smiled grimly under his helmet. The Dark Angels were proud of keeping—and uncovering— secrets, but one secret that Cruz had always kept was his dry sense of humor. It had always been with him, as a boy on the pampas of Neuvo Esperanza; through the grueling training as an Initiate; through the fearsome battles against Orks and Traitors and Eldar; through all the horrifying secrets he had learned as a member of the Deathwing. Whatever new trial or terror he had faced, his humor had been there to sustain him.
Still, there was little to laugh about. He was plainly dying—the pain was almost unbearable even when he didn’t move, and was pure agony when he did. Worse, he had no idea what had become of his Brothers—or their mission.
The mission. Blessed Emperor, he thought. Somehow the Tigers had learned that the Dark Angels would be here on Khrell—maybe we’re not as good at keeping secrets as we like to think, eh? he asked himself.
The comlink in his helmet was giving him only static—broken, he wondered, or are any of the others in range? There was no sense in calling out: the top of the cliff, where the Tigers had attacked, was too high and the rushing river too loud. None of his Brother Marines would hear him even if he managed the strength to shout. Still, he had to do something. "Never give up," Dillon had told him. "Never. Never."
He thought of how Dillon had died, years ago: the Ork Warboss crushing the life out of him as he fired his bolt pistol again and again into the monster’s face until both of them fell dead on the desert sand. Never give up. Never. If Dillon had fought and died by that code, surely Cruz could too.
His body was broken but his mind still worked. First, he needed to contact his squad—if all had gone well, they had fought off the Tigers, accomplished their mission, and were searching for him. If things had not gone well—well, there were other options. I was inducted into the Deathwing for more than just my pretty face, he told himself.
crawling again, inch by painful inch.
Khrell’s twin suns had slipped further down the sky and shadows were beginning to fill the gorge. Rashna Marga came to his senses again. He had intended to merely sit for a while and regain his strength, but at some point he had blacked out again. The pain in his head was worse instead of better. And there was no sign of the other Tigers—undoubtedly, they thought him dead, and no Fighting Tiger was worth abandoning a mission for. He picked up his helmet and noticed—again—that the comm relay was smashed. Perhaps I can repair it. He set to work, using the tools and some spare components he kept in his backpack.
He had been working for a long time—how long, he didn’t know—when he heard the faint scrape of metal on rock. He whirled, springing to his feet—and immediately everything threatened to grow dark again. Huge black spots appeared before his eyes and he felt himself falling. He steadied himself and drew his bolt pistol.
It was the Dark Angel. Somehow, he was still alive, and had crawled out from behind the large boulder nearby. The Dark Angel looked up through his cracked helmet and said, in Imperial Gothic, “Give me a minute before you shoot me. I just got here.”
shot him anyway.
The bolt pistol went off and Master Cruz winced, waiting for it to smash through the faceplate of his helmet, bury itself in his skull, and explode, blowing his head clean off. Instead, the bolt glanced off the side of his helmet, ricocheted off a boulder, and disappeared somewhere over the river. The Fighting Tiger fell to his hands and knees and feebly tried to stand back up. His limbs collapsed under him and he crashed to the stony ground, where he lay, panting, eyes clenched shut.
“That was very rude of you, hombre,” Cruz said. “It took me all afternoon to come out from behind that rock. The least you could have done was to give me a moment to regain my breath.”
The Tiger growled in a language Cruz didn’t understand.
“The same to you, doubtless.”
The Tiger had a nasty head wound that was still bleeding, hours after they had fallen. Cruz reached for the dispenser on his belt and selected a krak grenade. He waited until the other man seemed to recover, then spoke again.
“If you really want to kill me, Senor Tigre, go right ahead. However, I think that perhaps you hurt yourself in that fall too. And I think that if your striped friends could save you, they would be here by now. As would have mine. So it seems we are alone together, and if either of us are going to get out of this gorge, perhaps we should stop fighting for a moment or two.”
The Tiger opened his eyes and glared at him, then fumbled for his bolt pistol, which he had dropped as he fell.
“If that’s what you want, Tigre,” Cruz replied. He held up the grenade. “I’m dying anyway, but even so, I’m sure I can toss this krak grenade four meters.” A lie, given his current condition, but perhaps the Tiger would believe it. “That’s about how far away from me you are.”
The Tiger gripped his bolt pistol but did not raise it.
“Perhaps you are open to reason. I am Ramon Cruz. And you?”
The Tiger said nothing.
“Apparently, the reputation of politeness that you Vedics enjoy is ill-earned.”
The Tiger snorted. “My name is Rashna Marga.”
“Well now that we are acquainted, perhaps we can start thinking on how to get out of here.”
“What makes you think I care if I get out of here? What if I wish to bleed to death here, content that I have killed my Chapter’s enemy?”
“Well, I have seen you fight, Senor Marga. You are a credit to your Chapter. And I think you are worth more to them alive than dead. I am honored that you think so highly of me, but if I were you, I would not settle for killing me when an entire universe of more worthy foes awaits. My arm is getting tired—should I just throw this grenade and put an end to this? If you are content to die for your Chapter in this way, why should we waste any more time?”
“I have died many times,” Rashna Marga said, cocking the bolt pistol again. “I am not afraid.” Cruz waited for him to fire again.
Just then, Rashna Marga’s helmet comlink came to live as it lay there on the stones a few meters away. A squawk of static at first, then garble. The Tiger hesitated. His pistol still trained on Cruz, he glanced back. Much too far away for him to reach.
“If you still want to shoot me, go ahead,” Cruz said. “But as for me, my arm is getting tired.” He lowered the grenade. “Why don’t you go answer your comrades?”
Rashna Marga didn’t move for a moment. Then he holstered his bolt pistol and started—slowly—to get to his feet.
And then, through
the comlink, the screaming began.
Veteran Sergeant Anhurada was afraid.
It had been many years since she had been afraid. As a Tiger of Kali, she had fought in countless battles against brutish Orks, diabolical Dark Eldar, and loathsome Genestealers. She had witnessed— and committed—what others would consider heinous atrocities and had done so with no more emotion that one might display upon watching the stars come out at night. Yet now, Anhurada was afraid.
The other Tigers of Kali were dead. She ran through the blasted forest, vaulting over fallen tree trunks, heedless to which way she was going. She had long ago dropped her jumppack—it had smashed when the creature threw her against the ground. Her left arm was broken—pulverized, really—and she held it tight against her side, ignoring the pain as the bones ground together.
“Sivaya. Sivaya. Come in, Sivaya,” she called, as she ran, into her helmet comlink. “Sivaya, come in.”
Still no response. She kept running.
“Sivaya. Sivaya. Come in, Sivaya. This is Veteran Sergeant Anhurada.”
She crashed through the underbrush, the only sound in the silent forest.
“Sivaya, where are you?”
"I found them already," the metallic voice said, and then the thing was standing there, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. It held an orange and black helmet, soaked in blood, in its claw. "And now I’ve found you again."
Veteran Sergeant Anhurada, Tiger of Kali, did not allow herself to scream.
Like what you've seen? Then vote for the Jungle in the "Top 100 40K Sites"
© Copyright Kenton
Kilgore December 2000
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers