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“Sivaya, this is Rashna Marga, come in, Sivaya.”
“Anhurada, this is Rashna Marga. Do you copy?”
A spike of static. Then silence again.
“Anhurada, this is Rashna Marga. Come in, Anhurada.”
Rashna Marga sat down, propping himself up against a small boulder. Walking a few steps had drained him and he felt a small ball of fear in his stomach. The others—what of them? Are they all gone? What has happened to them? He took off his helmet and injected himself with another stimulant to stay awake.
I am hurt much more badly that I first thought, he realized, and my condition has not stabilized.
“Please believe me when I say I take no pleasure in the loss of your men,” Cruz said.
Rashna Marga snorted. “I will say the prayers for each of them. And then I will kill you, Ramon Cruz—and I will take great pleasure in that.”
“If that’s what you want. But perhaps the geneseed of you and your comrades is too valuable to leave here in this forest. And in any event, who will tell your Chapter Master what really happened here? Who really killed your men?”
“You had more Dark Angels here—as I had suspected. They killed my detachment.” Scowling, Rashna Marga drew his weapon again.
“There were no other Dark Angels. If I am right, what killed your men is what brought us here in the first place.”
Rashna Marga cocked the bolt pistol. “You are lying. But then, that’s what you bastards do best, isn’t it?”
But still—something troubled Rashna Marga. Those screams—they were not just cries of agony. He had never heard Tigers—or anyone—die like that. Even over the damaged comlink, those screams had had been full of pain and fear and terror—and they had been short. Too short. As if something had somehow cut them off.
Rashna Marga lowered the pistol. “I will let you live a few minutes longer, Cruz. Tell me about why you Dark Angels are here.”
“First, can I interest you in a way off this planet?”
Rashna Marga raised his weapon again. “I said—”
“Senor, there will be plenty of time later. But if we do not hurry, what killed your men will find—and kill—us.”
“You are afraid to die?” Rashna Marga asked.
“I am afraid to die while my enemy—and now, your enemy, too—still lives after all these years.”
Rashna Marga said nothing for a moment. Then he put away his pistol. “All right. I’m listening.”
“Your ship—can you not reach it?”
“No,” Rashna Marga replied. “The Garuda is out of reach of my helmet com. And my emergency beacon was smashed in the fall.”
“How long before they come searching for you?”
“They will not. If something has happened to the other Tigers, the Garuda will return to Veda.”
“Ah,” Cruz said. “That is unfortunate. But I expected as such. My emergency beacon is working, I think. I have activated it to recall the ship that brought us here. So far, the ship has not responded. Perhaps you can take my beacon and reconfigure the frequency to the one your ship uses.”
“It is certainly worth a try.” He knew that the Garuda had attacked the Dark Angel ship and driven back into the Warp, but there was no sense in telling Cruz that. Rashna Marga rose—slowly—to his feet. The canyon became dark for a moment, then his head cleared. He went slowly, arms outstretched to keep his balance, and sat down with a gasp beside Cruz.
him a small module. “Here it is. Hurry.”
Evening came quickly—Khrell rotated on its axis every 17 standard hours. The forest became more and more dark as the shadows grew. The creature lurched on, well pleased with itself. It had never killed these striped Marines before but had found the experience exhilarating. The memories it had absorbed from them told it that they had fought some Dark Angels earlier, and the thought that no more were about saddened it. It had been a very long time—almost 10,000 years—since it had killed any Dark Angels.
It had been a very long time that it had done much of anything, actually. Idly, it wondered if his old rival, Paddock, was still alive. It had much to repay Paddock for, starting with the millennia of incarceration within the space hulk.
But first it had to get off this planet. Surely these Tigers and Angels had to have a starship somewhere in orbit—or perhaps even here on the surface?
It trudged on, searching. Sometime later—how long, it did not know—its communications scanner detected a scrambled signal. It stopped and summoned its energies to access the frequency and decipher the code.
“Garuda, this is Rashna Marga,” a voice said, “Our mission has failed but a prisoner has been taken. I am injured and require immediate assistance and evacuation. Transmitting our coordinates to you now.”
Another voice replied, “We hear and obey, Rashna Marga. Receiving coordinates. ETA is 84 standard minutes.”
Wonderful, it thought to itself. How wonderful. Its internal thought engines triangulated the source of the transmissions and cross referenced them with all the geography that it had learned in the months since the crash had freed it. Not far.
The ancient horror started moving again, a growing anticipation filling it. In a few minutes it began to sense the psyches of the two surviving Loyalists—soon it would be within teleport range of them. And then, the ship would arrive—and it would kill those Marines too. And then—
If it still had a face, it would have smiled. And then, it thought to itself, then a whole universe awaits. I will integrate my systems into the ship’s and I will go anywhere. I will truly be free again. And there is so much to catch up on. But first—
to hurry, its metal-shod strides quickening, its ancient pistons churning.
“If your ship does not reach us in time,” said Cruz, “will your Chapter investigate what happened here?”
Rashna Marga smiled grimly. “My Chapter is busy elsewhere.”
“Ah, the war on Auros IX. I have read the reports.”
Rashna Marga’s eyes narrowed. “How did you know about that?”
“The mobilization of an entire Chapter is a hard thing to hide, even in space,” Cruz replied. “We Dark Angels take pride in learning secrets. And we always keep tabs on our foes.”
Cruz noticed that he could no longer feel his legs. Maybe that’s a good thing, he thought. At least the pain is gone. He looked down and noticed that his good arm was trembling. He felt curiously detached. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. Not his dead comrades, not the mission, not the idea that he was slowly dying at the bottom of a stony gorge somewhere very far away from Neuvo Esperanza.
“Do you know why I’m here and not on Auros IX with the others?” the Tiger said.
“Of course I do. You’re Rashna Marga, the Tiger who stumbled across a clue about an old enemy of ours. You’re the one we abducted and mind-siphoned. And that was wrong.”
Cruz extended his one good hand. “I am a member of a select group of Dark Angels. We found out that you had been aboard that space hulk and had seen something there that might lead us to a Chaos Sorcerer named Zechariah. So we abducted you and interrogated you and then mindwiped you so you would not remember. And I am sorry.”
Rashna Marga looked at Cruz’s gauntleted hand like it was some sort of loathsome alien insect. “Were you there? Did you do these things to me?”
“No. I was not.”
“Then your words mean nothing, Dark Angel. And even if you were there, your words would still mean nothing.”
Cruz lowered his arm. “If you want revenge, you already have it. You’ve killed my men and you’ve killed me, too. There’s nothing more you can take from me. But you’re dying too, I think. Your days of hunting Dark Angels are over. So if you cannot have more vengeance, and if you will not take my apology, what more can you have for yourself? When will you be satisfied?”
They said nothing for a while.
“This Sorcerer—Zechariah—tell me more about him.”
“An enemy from the earliest days of the Dark Angels. We had pursued him for centuries. There was a rumor that another Chaos Sorcerer had defeated him in a duel and marooned him aboard a space hulk. The same space hulk that you and your Tigers blundered across three years ago. The insignia you found suggested it.”
“And using what you took from me, you determined the space hulk’s course. Followed it here.”
“As did you,” Cruz said. “But we were after Zechariah.”
“Why? Why was he so important? Why hunt him for so far, for so long?”
Cruz could feel his chest tighten. He felt cold. How much longer do I have? Does it matter anymore? “You tell me, Tiger. Why hunt an enemy so far, for so long?”
From the darkness
of the river, something exploded beneath the surface. A huge spray of water
drenched them. And Cruz knew he had mere moments to live.
red, then white from the heat of re-entry, the Garuda re-entered
the atmosphere of Khrell. The air was clear and the winds docile; beneath
his orange and black helmet, pilot Raaman Dursha smiled. They were making
excellent time. Indeed, they would be early.
Zechariah the Damned, Sorcerer, whispered a brief prayer of thanks to the powers of Chaos as the teleportation spell materialized it at the bottom of the river, displacing thousands of gallons of water with its sudden arrival. Any other Sorcerer, even one bearing Terminator armor, would have been swept away by the rushing current. But Zechariah was not like any other Sorcerer. It was something much greater than that. Its armored bulk held it in place, immovable, until it decided to raise its titanium foot and take a step. And then another.
On shore, Rashna Marga injected himself with the last of his stimulants and spared a glance at Cruz. His head lay against the cold, wet stone and he was shuddering uncontrollably. Not from fear, he knew. Yama beckons to him, he thought. He had seen other men die this way. Many other men.
The surface erupted again and the ancient gray bulk of the Dreadnought appeared. Dozens of red lights—its eyes—fluttered madly across its faceplate like horrid, glowing moths. Its left arm ended in a taloned claw that clenched and unclenched spasmodically. Its right arm ended in the corroded barrels of two autocannons, weapons older than the ancient Fighting Tigers Chapter itself.
The thing tittered, a ridiculously obscene sound for something so monstrous. “Hello, kittycat,” it said, well-pleased with its cleverness.
If I had a medal for each time one of you Traitorous filth made jokes like that, Rashna Marga thought, and fired his bolt pistol at Zechariah’s faceplate, where the red eyes buzzed and swarmed. The Tiger nearly fell over from the recoil of the shot as it ricocheted harmlessly away.
It lumbered forward. “Step aside, now, kitty. I’ve had enough fun with your kind today. It’s him I want,” the Sorcerer-Dreadnought said, its voice harsh and grating with a strange, halting accent. Dimly, Rashna Marga found himself surprised that it spoke Imperial Gothic.
Rashna Marga stood his ground and fired again. Again, the shot bounced off. Zechariah began to giggle. Its heavy, clawed feet pulverized riverstones as it came closer.
One thousand one, the Tiger counted to himself. He knew he had perhaps ten more seconds to live. One thousand two.
Rashna Marga aside with a slap of a cannon barrel. He heard someone screaming
and knew, this time, that it was him. A new pain—huge, and white hot, worse
than any he had ever felt—erupted inside his trunk. He did not feel himself
slam into the rocks nearby.
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Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers