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Tales of the Tigers

Traveller of Both Time and Space: Episode 15 
Talwar Chakram’s prayer by Patrick Eibel

Synopsis:  Relieved of command for leading his detachment of Fighting Tiger Space Marines into disaster, Shamshir Talatra was marooned on a desolate world that had served as a base for Red Corsairs Chaos Marines. After battling hostile aliens and falling into a fissure, he met Raja Sabeer Ansari, another Fighting Tiger, who had been sent by Inquisitor Varman Kumar to rescue Shamshir Talatra. After wandering through a series of tunnels, Shamshir Talatra emerged on another planet: his homeworld of Veda. 

After walking for several days, Shamshir, Sabeer, and their tiger guide, Panja, arrived at a shrine to the Fighting Tigers’ founder, Shiva Nagordarika. There, “Sabeer Ansari” revealed himself to actually be a rakshasa—a shapeshifting daemon—sent by Kumar to bring Shamshir Talatra back to Veda. Though “Sabeer” attempted to kill him, Shamshir Talatra used the newly-rediscovered Scepter of Shiva and Pelt of the Great Man-Eater to summon other rakshasas and ghostly Great Tygers to aid him. Tempted by “Sabeer” to use these new weapons and allies to reclaim his position within the Fighting Tigers, Shamshir Talatra has followed Kumar’s previous advice and made “the wrong choice.”

Two red suns were rising over the rocky hills as Raja Shamshir Talatra and the Fighting Tiger bike squadrons he led swept down toward the Traitors’ camp, an ill-defended collection of dilapidated huts and shacks pieced together from panels of scrap metal. As the Tigers bore down on them, two guards— Marines formerly of the Howling Griffon and Black Templar chapters—rose groggily, obviously drunk, from their small campfire and fired off a few ineffectual rounds.  Shamshir Talatra drew his sword and decapitated the former Howling Griffon. Next to him, the woman warrior Veteran Sergeant Rajinder effortlessly disemboweled the other Red Corsair with her double-headed halberd. 

Roused by the noise, more Red Corsairs—deserters from scores of Space Marine Chapters—lumbered into view. A few raised their bolters and fired. Some rushed forward, thinking to meet the bikers’ charge. Some fell back toward the center of the camp. Others stood, weapons half-raised, looking around in confusion. As was typical for many Chaos Marines, these had rejected discipline when they had rejected the Emperor, and now they would pay for their laxity. 

Several explosions went off simultaneously in and around the camp. Ahead, Fighting Tiger Scouts were kicking down doors and filling the hovels with bolter rounds. Rhinos were surrounding the camp and Fighting Tiger Tactical Marines were dismounting and gunning down any Traitors in sight. 

“Fire at will,” Shamshir Talatra snarled into his helmet mic, and the three squadrons accompanying him fired into the misguided Red Corsairs running towards them, blowing off limbs and heads and blasting gaping holes in torsos and abdomens. The few Corsairs that had stood their ground and fired were now falling back to the relative safety of the camp. Raja Shamshir Talatra and the other bikers followed the fleeing Traitors. 

Nearby, behind a large boulder, the great tiger Panja licked his paw, rubbed his ear with it, licked the paw again, rubbed the ear again, cleaning it. The Marine in yellow and brown armor beside him watched and waited.

“All right,” Shamshir Talatra said, rising to his feet. “Let’s go.”

Drawing the Scepter of Shiva, the Pelt of the Great Man-eater hanging over his armor as a cloak, Shamshir ran in a half-crouch, wary of any Corsairs that might be about or stray rounds flying from the camp ahead. Panja loped after him. They made it to the edge of the camp. Shamshir Talatra looked around; only dead and dying Corsairs. He heard the squeal of tires and the gunning of his old bike as not far away, his former self roared off, alone, in pursuit of Traitors. 

They should be here any second now, he thought, if I remember Bahl’s report correctly

The chronometer alarm in his helmet beeped, displaying the time. On cue, a yellow Rhino with brown stripes rumbled forward, its top hatch open and several Fighting Tigers peering out.

Shamshir Talatra and Panja stepped forward. “Halt!” Shamshir Talatra cried. “Change in plans, men!” The Tigers of Rudra seemed startled to see him and the tiger, but nevertheless bowed their heads as the sergeant disembarked.

“Not too close, Sergeant,” Shamshir Talatra said, pointing to the ground. “Right about there is a buried mine with enough charge to take out a Land Raider.”

“Thank you, Raja,” the Sergeant said, looking suspiciously at the ground. “How did you know that?”

“I read a report,” Shamshir Talatra replied. A report that described how you and your men died in this assault. Drive over that mine. No survivors. Nothing left of the tank but bits of scrap.

“We would have rolled right over it if you hadn’t been here. You’ve saved all our lives.” He bowed again. “What is your command?” 

“Pashood, isn’t it?” Shamshir Talatra said. “Sergeant Ahmt Pashood?”

“Yes, Raja,” the sergeant replied.

“Sergeant, I need you and your men to come with me. We need to redeploy to another sector.”

“As you wish, Raja,” Sergeant Pashood said, signaling to his men to re-board the Rhino. “We and our vehicle are honored by your presence.”

“Thank you, Pashood,” Shamshir Talatra told him. “You’re a good man. Let me come up front and give your driver the coordinates.” 
 
 




She stood in the control room—now a converted command center—of the mine. Around her, Marines hurried to obey the orders of Acting Raja Chandramatie Bahl, who was finishing the last-minute preparations before the enemy arrived. Spyvids within the mines showed the Ogryns, armed with tools and stones, at their posts, ready to fight to the death should the enemy—as it was want to do—attempt to attack from below, tunneling through the ground. Other spyvids at the perimeter of the mining camp strained to see into the icy, near-airless dark of the planet’s surface, from whence the enemy might also come.

She looked out the window into the eternally-black sky of RS 19. From here, the star Regulus Secundus, the center of this system, was a mere white dot. Somewhere in the dark, orbiting Regulus Secundus, was Veda, ninth planet of this system and home to her and the other Fighting Tigers. But from here, millions of miles away, Veda was invisible, too small to see. 

Talwar Chakram began to recite the Prayer of Fortification from the Rigsamayajur Ghuyarashtra: 

My armor is thick, my armor is strong
The alien cannot penetrate it 
My mind is pure, my mind is strong 
The alien cannot weaken it 
My weapon is true, my weapon is strong 
The alien cannot escape its power
“Memsahib?” a voice asked. Talwar Chakram opened her eyes. “Memsahib,” the Sergeant said, “they have come.”

In her brown and white Terminator armor, Talwar Chakram tromped to the closest vidmonitor, which showed hundreds—no, thousands—of misshapen, mutant Termagants spilling across the icy plain, headed directly for this building and the entrance to the mine. 

Silence in the room. Then, Chandramatie Bahl asked calmly, “Any news of reinforcements from Veda?”

“No, memsahib,” someone answered.

“Any response from our supposed-Eldar allies? The Tiger Eyes and the Screaming Jaguars?”

“No, memsahib,” someone else replied.

“Note that and send it to Khandar Madu,” Chandramatie Bahl said, “with my earnest recommendation that we consider those alliances to be broken. Very well,” she said, “mobilize the men to their posts. We are under attack.”

She is afraid, Talwar Chakram realized, but does not show it to her subordinates. I was right to believe in her. She will be a good Raja. 

Talwar Shakram lowered her skull-like helmet into place. “With your permission, I will lead the defense of the perimeter,” she said.

“The fighting is sure to be the fiercest there,” Chandramatie Bahl replied, “and the recruits have never fought this enemy before.”

“Then that is where I am most needed,” Talwar Chakram replied, activating her crozius arcanum. She glanced up at the vidmonitor again. As the Tyranids approached, the full range of deformities that they possessed could clearly be seen. Hive Fleet Ravana had spent centuries ravaging various deathworlds near the Regulus System, absorbing the most monstrous characteristics of the species they had consumed. The images on the vidmonitors were a nightmare of chimerical creatures with twisted limbs, multiple heads, and bizarre combinations of plants, mammals, reptiles, and insects. 

“If they get too close, evacuate,” Talwar Chakram said, as she headed for the access hatch. “You are too valuable for us to lose.”

“Thank you for your advice,” Chandramatie Bahl said, “but I will stay with my Marines.”

“Goodbye, Raja,” Talwar Chakram said, stepping through the door. 
 
 




The Rhino’s occupants—all but one—were used to the loud chugging of its engines and the shaking as it rumbled over rocky ground. Panja the tiger stood, leg splayed, claws extended, snarling, his ears flattened. Shamshir Talatra smirked. The other Fighting Tigers maintained a respectful silence.

“Raja,” the driver called, “I have reached the coordinates you have given me, but perhaps there is some error…”

Shamshir Talatra came forward and looked out the viewslit. “No, that’s it,” he said, patting the driver’s shoulder. “You’ve done well. Stop for a moment and open the side hatch.”

No sooner had the access hatch slid open than Panja leapt out, shaking himself. “Raja, the tiger…” Sergeant Pashood began.

“It’s all right,” Shamshir Talatra assured him. “He knows where to go.” He turned back to the driver. “Just follow Panja and guide us in, please, nice and slowly. It will be a little tight in some spots, but there’s plenty of room. Panja and I hiked through there.”

“I hear and obey, Raja,” the driver said, turning on the lights and rolling the Rhino into the mouth of a cave in the side of an enormous cliff, the tiger leading the way. 

Shamshir Talatra checked his chronometer again. Plenty of time, he thought to himself, smiling. All the time in the world
 
 




Mogtu, the former Black Spider Marine, swung both his axes, crisscrossing where Khadarsh’s head should have been. Khadarsh was too fast, however, ducking out of the way and charging, shoulder lowered, into his enemy. Both of them crashed to the stony ground, the Black Spider—red paint covering his shoulder-pad insignia—jamming his axe handles into Khadarsh’s neck. Khadarsh bellowed in pain, and the moment’s hesitation was all his foe needed. The Black Spider rolled and leapt to his feet, the ring of other Red Corsairs flowing around them, simultaneously trying to watch the fight and avoid being hit by an errant swing.

Khadarsh had also bounded to his feet. He stood sideways, left hand pointed straight up and out, towards his opponent’s horned helmet, his right hand—holding a knife—tucked by his side. For a few seconds, each stood there, panting with the exertion: the fight had already been going on for almost half an hour. Khadarsh’s neck throbbed where Mogtu had struck him, but he certainly wasn’t going to show any pain in front of his rival. Or his men. 

Then Khadarsh was moving again, sliding forward, hand still extended, knife-hand making circles in the air. Mogtu swung an axe again, trying to slice off Khadarsh’s left hand, but once again, the former Hawk Lord was too fast. He dove forward, rolled, sprang to his feet, as Mogtu backpedaled and the other Red Corsairs retreated—all except two of them.

Zykl and Dmtyr grabbed Mogtu from behind, pinning his arms, wrenching his axes from his hands. Mogtu struggled, but he was tired and wounded from previous blows. Khadarsh grabbed the chin of Mogtu’s helmet and stabbed his knife through the breathing grill. For several minutes, Mogtu thrashed in the arms of Khadarsh’s henchmen as horrid, wet gurgling noises and spurts of blood escaped through the gash in his face grill.

When his enemy finally went limp and slipped to the ground, Khadarsh turned to the other Red Corsairs. “Does anyone else want to question me?” he demanded. “Anybody else think they should be in charge?” 

None of the forty made a reply.

“If it wasn’t for me, you’d all be dead by now!” Khadarsh roared. “The Tigers would have hunted you down and killed all you. I got us out of that surprise attack!” he reminded them. “I found that canyon for us to hide in! I found you food and water when you didn’t have any. I’ll get us off this planet, somehow. And you weak sons of whores question my orders?” He kicked Mogtu’s corpse and a fresh spray of blood spattered his armored leg. 

“Now get finished packing up this camp,” he snarled. “We move out in twenty minutes!”

Zykl handed his master a waterflask. Khadarsh sniffed it—one couldn’t be too careful—downed it, gave it back to him. If Zykl took any offense at Khadarsh’s suspicion, he did not show it.

“You’re right, of course,” the sorcerer said. He was more than a foot shorter than Khadarsh and the others. He wore brown robes, his head wrapped in a scarf against the cold. “They would be nothing without you,” the sorcerer continued. “They’re wrong to question you.”

“Of course,” Khadarsh growled. The sorcerer had wandered into camp two days ago, asking for food and shelter in exchange for service. Khadarsh had let his men draw lots to see who got the pleasure of pulling off the sorcerer’s limbs. The winner had advanced no further than four steps towards the sorcerer before his blood had literally boiled within him, bursting every vein and artery and causing his eyeballs to explode from their sockets as the rest of his fluids had sprayed out of him like a fountain. After that demonstration of the sorcerer’s powers, Khadarsh had granted him the dead Marine’s rations.

“Yesterday, you said we were close,” Khadarsh said. “How much farther?”

“Not too far,” the sorcerer said. “A few more days’ travel, I think.” He coughed into his scarf. Khadarsh’s eyes roamed across the forty-odd Red Corsairs as they worked, stowing their gear and breaking down the hab-enclosures. “They will follow you for a few more days, I assume?” the sorcerer asked. 

“Anyone who steps out of place again will wind up like him,” Khadarsh said, pointing at Mogtu’s corpse. “They know that, now.” 

“Of course,” the sorcerer agreed. “Just a few more days, and I’ll be able to cast the auguries. As soon as we’re in the right place, it will only be a matter of time. Although, it would help if you told me more about what I’m supposed to find for you.”

“Clavius brought us to this planet because he had heard there was a pathway among worlds here. That from some secret spot on this damned place, one could travel anywhere in the galaxy.”

The sorcerer nodded. “Yes, you told me that already. But what is this ‘secret spot’ supposed to look like? Is it in a building? Is it some sort of geographical feature?”

“I don’t know,” Khadarsh admitted, shaking his head. “Clavius didn’t know, either.”

“And yet you came out here and have been looking for it—whatever it is—for a long time, heh?” the sorcerer asked. 

“I didn’t question my superior,” Khadarsh replied. “It would be better for you if you don’t, either.”

The sorcerer bowed deeply. “I meant no offense, master. I am only trying to learn as much as I can so that I may be of assistance to you. You have been very generous.”

“If there is such a spot, and we can find it,” Khadarsh said, “then we can go anywhere, do anything. Be free to plunder and kill as we wish. Be free.” 

“I understand,” the sorcerer said. “Once we’re in the proper location—where the magical energies come together—then, when the stars are aligned, I can begin the spell that will tell us what and where this ‘pathway among worlds’ is.”
 
 




“GET DOWN!” Librarian Chandramatie Bahl shouted, seconds before dozens of Tau Devilfish rocketed over the Fighting Tigers’ positions. All of her warriors obeyed—all but one. Chandramatie Bahl sprinted for Apothecary Pradeep Ramdhari, still laboring over his charge. Bahl rounded the corner of a burnt shack, only to see a burst cannon fusillade rip him to pieces—as Bahl’s psychic abilities told her it would. Too late, she thought, thankful that the gods had sent her a vision of the attack this night, angry that they had not sent it soon enough so that she could save Pradeep’s life. 

Chandramatie Bahl pulled off what was left of Pradeep from the shattered ruin of his patient, Raja Shamshir Talatra. For an instant, her mind probed his: he was still unconscious, but otherwise stable. Pradeep’s devotion and sacrifice was not in vain—not yet, anyway. 
She flicked her chin to depress the comm-switch in her helmet. “Sergeant Rajinder, report,” she ordered, then winced as screeching feedback filled her ears. Jammed, she realized, flicking her chin again to kill her communicator. But how? In 5,000 years, no foe had ever isolated and disrupted the Tigers’ communications—yet now, one had. 

Shaking her head, she sat cross-legged on the ground beside Raja Shamshir Talatra and began concentrating. Instantly, her psychic abilities, honed by decades of instruction and meditation, revealed to her the position and physical well-being of every Fighting Tiger within several miles. She “saw”—as if using a psychic form of radar—the location of every Tau unit and gleaned a rough idea of their capabilities and battle plan. 

Breathing deeply and calmly, she began to levitate even as the Tau began another attack run. She ignored the pocpocpocpocpoc of the burst cannons, the whine of the seeker missiles, the tremendous explosions from the Hammerheads’ railguns. She psychically reached out to the mind of every squad leader, first abjuring them to stand firm and remember their vows to the Sleeping Emperor, then simultaneously giving each of them their orders. 

As one, the Fighting Tigers of Veda began their counterattack. 

Devastator Squads and Tactical units devoted to long-range fire homed in on the more numerous, lightly-armored Devilfish. As each craft plummeted to the ground, bike and speeder squadrons finished off any Tau that ejected into the night air or staggered weakly from the wreckage. Rhino-mounted Tactical Squads ambushed dismounted Fire Warriors and Pathfinders. 

Chandramatie Bahl lowered herself to the ground. “I beg pardon, my sweet lord,” she whispered, as she gingerly lifted Raja Shamshir’s limp hand and removed the Ebon Blade, the ancient symbol of Ghuyarashtra, the southern continent of Veda, the Tigers’ home world. She rose to her feet and spotted two Tigers nearby. 

“Guard the Raja,” she commanded. “None of the enemy approach him unless they first step over your bodies—understood?” 

“Yes, Memsahib,” one answered. 

“You honor us, Memsahib,” the other added, bowing. 

Pressing a stud on her belt buckle, she ignited her jump pack and bounded into the air. As she did, three squads of white-armored Assault Marines rocketed towards her. Chandramatie Bahl and the Tigers of Kali, twenty-seven strong, leapt across the burning remains of the Corsair camp. 

The two Fighting Tigers turned their attention to their fallen master. “How is he?” one asked.

“He doesn’t look good,” the other said. “I heard that he will not last the night.”

“He’ll be all right,” a familiar voice said. Shamshir Talatra, Panja, and Sergeant Pashood’s squad stepped out of the darkness. “Please come with me,” Shamshir Talatra said. 

The two men looked at their fallen Raja, then back at Shamshir Talatra, disbelief on their faces.

“It’s hard to explain,” Shamshir Talatra said. “Kumar tried to tell me once, but I didn’t understand it then. I’m not sure I understand it now. But I need you two to come with me.”

“Our orders—” one began.

“Who is Raja?” Shamshir Talatra asked. “Me, or Chandramatie Bahl?”

“You are, of course,” the second one answered, bowing deeply. After a moment’s hesitation, the first nodded and bowed, too. 

“We hear and obey, Raja,” the first Marine said.

“Thank you.” He turned to Sergeant Pashood. “Have you been able to contact Sergeant Karanth and his unit?”

“Yes, Raja,” Sergeant Pashood replied. “They are en route and will be here momentarily.” 

“Good.” If I remember correctly, Karanth and his men were hit by Devilfish fire and died a few minutes from now, he thought, checking his helmet’s chronometer. He looked up and watched Chandramatie Bahl singly-handedly destroy a Hammerhead with a melta grenade. She’ll make a good Raja, he admitted. Talwar was right to choose her.

More explosions as the Devilfish made another run over the camp, this time missing Sergeant Karanth and his squad of Tactical Marines. “Let’s go!” Shamshir Talatra yelled, sparing a glance at his former self, lying wounded on the ground. 

He turned to Panja. “We need to go farther back and farther out.”
 
 





This is…unsettling, Talwar Chakram thought.

The storm bolter in her hand twitched again and again, effortlessly killing scores of Termagants as they swarmed ever-closer. Behind her, standing atop the pyramid-like entrance to the mine, dozens of Fighting Tigers emptied their magazines into the invaders, staining the white ice of RS 19 with purple and black alien ichor. 

Hundreds of Tyranids died every minute, paying dearly for every inch of ground they took. Yet Talwar Chakram did not anticipate victory. Not when so little had gone as planned. Not when the foe was not what she had expected. Not when it seemed that the aliens were toying with them.

Talwar Chakram had fought and defeated Tyranids before. They were simple to understand: they rushed with a mass of bodies, defying their opponent to kill enough of them before the rest swept over one like an ocean wave. But these monsters—these were different in more than just their mutated appearance. Grinding through the deathworlds near the Regulus system had sharpened the aliens’ wits. Theirs was not the typical swarm that Talwar Chakram had anticipated. No, not at all.

The Tyranids of Hive Fleet Ravana had thousands of “little bugs,” of course—Termagants and Hormagaunts and Ripper Swarms—but also had many, many Warriors, some of them with wings. It also had quite a few Carnifexes. Most surprising, the Tyranids had a balanced force: to be sure, they would ultimately rely on their close combat prowess, but they also had a generous amount of ranged weaponry.

It was that ranged weaponry—and the skill with which they had used it, early in the battle—that flummoxed Talwar Chakram so. The Tyranids had selectively targeted and uncannily struck down most of the Tigers’ support vehicles. Gone was the Vindicator that Talwar Chakram had envisioned blasting huge holes in the Tyranid ranks. Gone were most of the Land Speeders that Talwar Chakram had been counting on to flank the aliens. Gone were the Razorbacks and Rhinos that would allow the Marines to outmaneuver their enemy, retreating if necessary to take better positions and continue the fight.

Where were the Genestealers and Lictors and Raveners that Talwar Chakram had thought would dig through the soil and attack the mines? Her comlink told her that all was quiet underground, the Ogryn workers oblivious to the battle above. Where were the Gargoyles, where the Zoanthropes, the Biovores? Nowhere. This was not the foe that she had expected.

So though the icy soil was littered with Tyranid corpses and more were added every moment, Talwar Chakram could not shake the feeling that the monsters had them exactly where they wanted them. 

Her fears were confirmed when a gooey seed pod fired from a Hive Tyrant exploded into hideous plant-like life atop the pyramid, killing several of her men. Emboldened, the chittering Termagants and Hormagaunts rushed forward, to slash and stab and slay.

Talwar Chakram raised her crozius and the sergeant of the Scout Squad behind her signaled to her recruits. Bolt pistols were unholstered, knives and swords and axes were drawn. The ancient servos in Talwar Chakram’s Terminator armor ground slowly at first, then pistoned faster as she thundered into a charge, a screaming prayer to the death goddess Kali ripping from her throat.
 
 





“Ha! Another one!” Fighting Tiger Scout Kazi boasted. He tipped the smoking barrel of his autocannon towards his face and kissed it. In the valley below him and the rest of his squad, dozens of Ork buggies sat, burning, their crew dead or fleeing. A few buggies—no more than six, Kazi counted—were turning, wheels skidding, and zooming back the way they had come. 

“Yes, yes, you’re wonderful,” Mehdi, one of the other Scouts, sneered. “What would we do without you?” 

Kazi grinned and loaded another shell. “Let’s see if I can pick off that one at the front. I’ll bet you two—”

“At ‘em, ladz!” a gruff voice snarled, and a dozen Blood Axe Kommandoes, their faces and fatigues smeared with red dust, sprang from behind the nearby boulders. Bellowing like apes, they charged, firing their shootas and sluggas, killing Scout Sergeant Vasr and wounding Kazi in the chest. He fell to the ground, bleeding profusely.

“Stand fast!” Mehdi screamed, fighting to keep the terror he felt out of his voice. He swung his bolter around. Shrieking, the Kommandoes were ripped apart by a hail of fire—but it did not come from the Scouts’ guns.

Advancing behind the Orks were almost twenty Marines in yellow-and-brown armor. “Attend to those men!” Shamshir Talatra ordered, and a Marine with a medipack rushed forward. The Scouts fell to their knees when they saw who it was. 

“What are your orders, Raja?” Mehdi asked.

“Your time on Auros IX is done,” Shamshir Talatra said. The war will go on another two years, anyway, he recalled. “You’re all being promoted.”
 
 




Night again. This was the fourth night since they had set out. Four days and nights of trudging through narrow gorges and across almost-perfectly flat plains marred here and there by cracks and fissures in the earth, past bubbling pools of acid and across dreary dust plains. “Begging your pardon, master,” said the sorcerer, wrapped tightly in his robes against the cold night wind. “But shouldn’t we be stopping soon to camp?”

“We’re not stopping until we reach the caves,” Khadarsh said, loud enough for all the others to hear, too.

“I see,” the sorcerer sighed. He was not and never had been a Space Marine, but he had, nevertheless, kept up, without complaining, with the Corsairs on their arduous trek. 

“You’re certain this is the way?” Khadarsh demanded.

“Of course,” the sorcerer replied. “The auguries told me so. I am certain that the caves are where I said they’d be. Just a few miles ahead.”

“Once we get there, we’ll finally find what Clavius was looking for,” Khadarsh said. “What Huron sent him to find. The pathway between worlds.”

“If I’m wrong,” the sorcerer noted, “you’ll kill me, I presume.”

“Of course,” Khadarsh replied.

They walked on for awhile until someone growled, “Where in hells are we?” The last few days, they had gotten braver after dark, when it was harder to see who was speaking. 

“I know where we are,” Khadarsh said, not bothering to stop or turn around. 

“What about something to eat?” someone asked.

“What about something to drink?”

“Where are we going?”

“He doesn’t know—” 

Khadarsh whirled, and the men halted. “Who said that?” he bellowed. “Who said I don’t know where we’re going? Which one of you worthless pieces of filth opened his reeking mouth?”

Silence.

“You cowards make me sick,” Khadarsh snarled. “There’s not a single man among you. Not one of you has the guts to stand up for yourself.”

Silence.

“Now come on,” Khadarsh demanded.
 
 




The world of Veda was under an attack the likes of which it had never seen before. Defense lasers and siege guns at the mighty maths, or fortresses, fired endlessly into the sky, hoping to bring down the battle barges in orbit or the hundreds of drop pods that rained from them. Villages burned. Commoners fled into the mountains and jungles, carrying their meager belongings with them. And after them thundered white-armored giants that not long ago had been Knights Templar Space Marines, before they had foresworn their service to the Emperor and remade themselves into the Warband Bloodcomet, slaves to Khorne the Destroyer.

“There it is!” yelled Erizzar, pointing to the bunker built into the side of the mountain. Anti-plant bombs dropped by the Bloodcomet’s modified Thunderhawks had defoliated the mountain—and thousands of square miles of jungle around it—and revealed the Fighting Tiger hold. The task of Erizzar and his Berzerkers was to plant the melta charges, breach the bunker, and kill anyone they found inside.

The bombs placed, the Chaos Marines sprinted back to safety, and with an explosion that literally shook the very earth they stood on, the titanium gates were blasted into scrap.

“Swords and sidearms!” Erizzar bellowed, and his men roared and hurtled forward. As befitting a warrior of Khorne, Errizar was the first one into the smoke and dust of the explosion—and was the first to be cut down, his head cleaved from his shoulders by a glowing green scimitar that seemingly appeared from nowhere.

The rakshasa that had once assumed the form of Sabeer Ansari chuckled in its throat as it swung again, catching the Marine following Erizzar in the abdomen. The stomping of the Bloodcomets’ feet and their warcries had turned into the clash of weapons on armor and the screams of the dying. In moments, the entire band of Khorne Berzerkers had been hacked to pieces by the rakshasas, large and small, that outnumbered them four to one.

Nearby, Shamshir Talatra looked into the sky and watched more drop pods slam down a few miles away. This is really it, he marveled. I’m really here. The invasion of Veda. The “Shindering of the Templars.” Almost 4000 years ago. Ancient history.

“Your enemies are defeated, mighty Raja,” the rakshasa that had posed as Sabeer Ansari said, bowing. The other daemons had vanished, taking the corpses with them for feasting. “Your prizes await you inside.”

“Watch your mouth,” Shamshir Talatra growled. He turned to Sergeant Pashood. “Keep a close eye. There might be more Berzerkers on the way.” He turned back to the rakshasa. “You first.”

Undaunted by the smoke and debris, the daemon sauntered into the dark armory, Shamshir Talatra and Panja following warily behind him. “Right this way, Raja.”

“How do you know about this place?” Shamshir Talatra demanded. 

“There is no secret on Veda that the rakshasa do not know,” the daemon replied. 

Shamshir Talatra switched on his shoulder light. Here was a vast vault, carved from the side of the mountain. Inside were weapons, armor—and a dozen unmoving giants. Gleaming, mechanical tigers, armed with cannons and rockets and crushing metal jaws.

“In my time, none of the Tigers know about these,” Shamshir Talatra admitted, running the light up and down and along the shining bronze robots.

“An experimental weapon program,” the rakshasa said. “Begun by Shiva Nagordarika, your founder, shortly before the Warband Bloodcomet attacked Veda. All prototypes were destroyed in the war, before they could be deployed. A shame. Many Fighting Tigers could have been saved by their use.” The daemon smiled. 

“How did the Bloodcomet Marines know they were here?” Shamshir Talatra demanded. “Did your kind tell them?”

“You summoned me by the Scepter and commanded me to help you build an army,” the rakshasa replied. “I led you here, thinking the Bronze Tygers would be useful to you. If they are not, we can return to your present.” The daemon shrugged.

“They’ll do,” Shamshir Talatra replied. He switched on his communicator. “Sergeant Pashood, send in the Scouts: we’ve found powered armor for them.” 

He turned back to the rakshasa and pointed to the robots. “Tell me how you activate them.”
 
 




Chaplain Talwar Chakram grunted as she swung her crozius arcanum again and again, each blow killing a Hormagaunt. Around her, the Scouts were faring well, their swords and pistols felling aliens by the score, while losing few of their own. Two more mutated gaunts crashed into her, claws and fangs doing nothing more than scraping paint off her armor. She swung her storm bolter, hitting one monster in the head, knocking it to the icy ground; she crushed its spine with her heavily-armored boot. She smashed the crozius arcanum through the ribcage of the last Hormagaunt as if the Tyranid were made of glass. 

“Form up! Form up!” she shouted, and suddenly was knocked to her feet, a horrible burning, biting, stinging pain in her thigh. Looking down, she saw that a devourer worm had penetrated her armor through a crack inflicted earlier. Breathing deeply to mitigate the pain, she pulled a small knife from her belt and drove the blade into the wound, killing the frenzied living ammunition before it could burrow deeper into her, possibly severing a major artery or vein.

“Memsahib! Look out!” one of the Scouts called. 

She rolled—not an easy thing to do in the bulky Terminator armor—and a winged Tyranid Warrior, armed with claws and talons, crashed to the ground where she had been. Alien and Marine rose to their feet simultaneously. Talwar Chakram spared a glance behind the monster to see that a Carnifex—armed with talons and two devourers—was lumbering into a charge. So that’s where the shot came from, she told herself.

And then the Warrior was upon her, and she had no more time to think.
 
 





“There,” the sorcerer said, pointing to the side of an enormous cliff. “That’s the entrance to the pathways. That cave, there.”

“That’s it?” Khadarsh asked. “That’s the way in?”

“Yes, that’s one of the entrances,” the sorcerer said. “There are others, scattered here and there around this world. This was the closest.”

“Look at this,” Zykl said, squatting down. Khadarsh joined him. “Bootprints—standard Marine power armor, Mark VII. And here,” Zykl said, pointing to something else. “Rhino tread. No more than a few hours old, I think.”

“Probably no more than a few minutes old, if my timing was right,” the sorcerer replied. 

As Khadarsh leapt to his feet and drew his pistol, a green glow erupted all around the Corsairs. Then things neither human nor Marine stepped out of the glow: tiger-headed daemons, large and small. First dozens, then scores of them. The rakshasas smashed their swords and spears against their shields and roared and howled and stamped and chanted.

Bolters ready, Shamshir Talatra, Panja, and the former Fighting Tigers emerged from the cave. “Any man who surrenders, lives,” Shamshir Talatra said. “Any man who resists, my daemons have him. I swear on my honor.”

Several of the Corsairs raised their arms in surrender. The others didn’t move.

“What in hells are you doing?” Khadarsh snarled, whirling about. “Shoot them!”

“Who should we shoot first?” Zykl asked, his eyes never leaving the frenzied daemons.

“Sergeant Pashood, confiscate their weapons,” Shamshir Talatra ordered. 

Shoving the sorcerer aside, Khadarsh charged, drawing his combat knife. Shamshir Talatra drew his pistol and fired twice, both shots hitting Khadarsh in the chest. The former Hawk Lord dropped his weapons and fell to his knees, blood spurting from him. 

“GodsDAMN!” he gasped.

Shamshir Talatra stepped forward and slashed the Scepter of Shiva across Khadarsh’s neck, near-effortlessly decapitating him.

The Corsairs that hadn’t already thrown up their hands did so. Pashood and his squad gathered their weapons. 

“What about your promise to us?” the rakshasa that had been Sabeer demanded. 

“Take him,” Shamshir Talatra said, nudging Khadarsh’s corpse with his foot. “And then go, until I summon you again.”

“One Traitor? That’s all you give us?” the rakshasa growled. Hungrily, he eyed the Corsairs. Several other rakshasas yammered in agreement.

“That’s all I give you—for now,” Shamshir Talatra said. “Do as I say!” He held up the Scepter, and the rakshasas bowed their heads. 

“Yes, Raja,” the rakshasa that had been Sabeer replied, head bowed as well. “We hear and obey.” Three smaller rakshasas ran forward, two grabbing Khadarsh by his ankles, the third scooping up Khadarsh’s head and gnawing on a cheek as they ran back towards the others. Then all of them vanished.

“What happens to us?” Zykl asked.

“You’re Corsairs, enemies of the Imperium and the Fighting Tigers,” Shamshir Talatra said. “What do you think happens to you?”

“You swore on your honor that if we surrendered, we would live,” Zykl replied. 

“Then it’s a good thing that honor means something to me, doesn’t it?” Shamshir Talatra said. “There was a time when it didn’t. 

“All of you are deserters and traitors,” Shamshir Talatra continued. “Outcasts and renegades. But none of you—so far as I can tell—are marked by Chaos. So perhaps you aren’t too far gone.” 

Zykl fell to his knees. The other Corsairs followed him. “We will serve you, Raja. We swear, on our honor.”

“You broke your oaths to the Emperor—what makes you think I believe you’ll keep an oath to me?” Shamshir Talatra asked. 

“We swear,” Zykl answered.

“We’ll see. At the old camp—the one your master Clavius ran—I cached Fighting Tiger armor and weapons. It’s not far—we’ll go and dig them up, and you’ll use those, from now on.”

“And then what?” the sorcerer asked, bowing. He drew back his hood. “What then?”

It was Inquisitor Varman Kumar.
 
 

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