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Tales of the Tigers
Tigers Eternal
Part 1 <> Part 2 <> Part 3

The character of Ferin Ironhammer was created by Patrick Eibel

Tigers Eternal (Part 1)
From the voyage logs of the Venerable Dreadnought Ferin Ironhammer, servant of the Great Wolf Logan Grimnar; Eighty-Ninth Entry. 

I had been told that it did not snow often on Bray, only once every few years, and when it did, as it had on the final day of battle, it fell in a light dusting of amber powder. Gods, the Eldar (or, in my native tongue, the alfir) were numerous that day. I was mortal then, though—as an Iron Priest—different from my brothers, and that day I stood within the forward compartment of the Thunderwolf, Keric Quicbrand’s Land Raider. Though we were in the center of the fighting, so thick was the Thunderwolf’s armor that it was strangely quiet inside. We did not hear the shurikens patter off the hull, nor the screams of the dying, and even the nearby explosions of the Dark Reaper rockets were only muffled thuds. 

Keric Quicbrand had honored me by placing his prized vehicle under my care. My thralls and I had thoroughly tested the Thunderwolf and I was to continue monitoring the machine spirit's systems and to repair any damage it sustained. I watched as the tank opened fire with lascannon and heavy bolter, cutting down more of the Guardians. Yet they kept coming. Outside, the entrenched Grey Hunter packs that defended the Thunderwolf fired as one. Still more Guardians fell, but still they kept coming.

All readouts were normal as the machine spirit prepared the guns for another volley. I spared a glance at the main viewscreen and saw even more Guardians approaching, and behind them, two Falcon tanks. As I watched, a squad of Howling Banshees in purple and white armor disembarked from one Falcon, a squad of Fire Dragons in purple and red from the other. The Aspect Warriors sprinted after the Guardians as the Falcons moved to engage the Thunderwolf from opposite directions. And of course, there were still the damn Dark Reapers on the ridge opposite us. We had killed several of them with our lascannons but many more remained. Though they were no threat to the Thunderwolf, they were taking a terrible toll on the Grey Hunters.

Typical alfir trickery: multiple threats from all sides. The only answer was to refuse to play along with this game. I had the Thunderwolf’s driver request assistance and was told that several Fighting Tiger units when en route. 

“Bring all guns to bear on each Falcon in turn,” I ordered. “Once the first is destroyed, attack the second. Then return our attention to the Dark Reapers. The Fire Dragons are slow and have short-ranged weaponry; once we are done with the Reapers, we will deal with them.”

The machine spirit did as it  was told. As both Falcons converged on us, we spun left and fired, obliterating one in a huge explosion. Flaming shards of whatever those milksops used for their vehicles rained down on some of the Guardians below and they died instantly. The other Falcon fired on us and—incredibly—there was an explosion somewhere deep within the Thunderwolf. Displays went red or went offline altogether. For an instant, all I could hear were roaring flames. The interior hatches sealed shut automatically to minimize the damage, but somehow I knew that, in seconds, we were going to die. 

“Get out!” I yelled at the driver, but he was already opening the emergency hatch. The driver and I made it out as a second explosion, smaller than the first, sent a jet of superheated gas through the forward compartment, vaporizing my thralls. The shockwave threw me several yards away, to crash face-first onto the frozen ground. 

My artificer armor was unscathed, of course. I got to my feet and brushed the amber snow, like sand, out of my eyelenses. Flames shot from the Thunderwolf’s hatches. The driver  was unharmed. Looking up, I saw the surviving Falcon fly off. 

The driver followed my gaze. “Cowardly sons of whores,” he muttered.

“Sons of whores they may be,” I replied grimly, “but they are not cowards. They think their work here is done.”

And I was starting to believe that they were right. Only a few Grey Hunters remained and the damned alfir Guardians in their gleaming purple armor kept advancing—and behind them were the Aspect Warriors. Where were those Fighting Tigers? We drew our weapons and ran for the Grey Hunter trench to stand with them for the inevitable final assault.
 
 



“Lord Ferin? Lord Ferin? We have arrived.”

My companion, the Rune Priest Horsa Drachenbane, had roused me from the Deep Memories. My mind returned from the Battle of the Two Fangs to the present, where I stood on the bridge of the starship Munnin. 

“How long have I been remembering?” I asked.

“Days. I would not have woken you if you had not asked me to do so as soon as we arrived.”

“Good man,” I replied. “Is all well?”

“Yes. The Tigers have given us permission to land but have warned us of a large storm, with high upper atmosphere winds and poor visibility, over the area.” Horsa smiled grimly. “I told them our pilots are well-trained for such weather—and much worse.” 

“Quite right,” I said.

As I have with my other entries, I will, for the benefit of the ignorant, briefly tell of myself, my men, and my mission. I am Ferin Ironhammer, once an Iron Priest in the Great Company of Harald Stormwolf; now I am a Venerable Dreadnought. For the last 38 years, my men and I have been on a mission of exploration, searching the area near the Galactic Core in search of the riches of the lost dvergar, known to most as the Squats.

As I had mentioned in my last entry, we had recently set out for the Angrboda Nebula at the outer fringes of the Maelstrom. None know this area better, I had been told, than the Fighting Tigers of Veda, so I had decided to call upon their wisdom, trade for supplies, and allow the men some respite. I had only encountered these Tigers once before, 4,000 years ago at the Battle of the Two Fangs on Bray. En route to Veda, the Tigers’ home planet, I had been accessing those Deep Memories, a long and difficult process because I had stored them away long ago—and had no previous desire to remember them. 

As the Munnin arrived above the planet, we saw that virtually the entire eastern hemisphere, our destination, was swathed in storm clouds. We descended in three Thunderhawks in the middle of a monsoon, which, I was later told, is a heavy rain shower that lasts for weeks at a time. No wonder their world is so green. 

We arrived at the fortress—with all its white marble, it looked more like a temple—of  Raja Khandar Madu, on the continent of Mahaduyana. Strange names, but I had heard the like before. My men removed their helmets and relished in the downpour as we left our ships and strode to meet the Tiger honor guard assembled to greet us on the landing pad. Though I can no longer feel the rain, even the sound of it pattering off my metal frame was pleasing. The Tigers, their orange and black armor glistening in the rain, seemed indifferent to the weather. 

One of their number, her armor white in place of orange, stepped forward and bowed deeply, her left hand covering her forehead. “I am Khandar Madu, Raja of Mahaduyana, and I bid you welcome.” Most of my men frowned in confusion. They had never seen a woman Marine before, though I had at Bray. But even I had never seen any commander, Marine or otherwise, greet visitors in such fashion. It was unnerving, and from the murmurs of my men I knew many of them also found it so. 

She straightened and extended her arms, her hands cupped, thumbs lightly touching the tips of her middle finger. The whole greeting was apparently some sort of ritual. She waited—blue eyes fixed on me, red hair drenched from the rain—for a response. 

“We thank you for your kind greeting,” I replied. If my booming, mechanical voice was unpleasant to her ears she made no sign. “And we are honored to visit at last the home world of our steadfast comrades. I am Ferin Ironhammer. My men and I are exploring this area of space and would welcome your hospitality.” In our tongue, I barked out, “Ulfir! Sverden af Ulfvati ap ti!” and one by one my men laid their swords at her feet, just as if they swearing fealty to the Great Wolf. This seemed to please her and reassured my men that despite her strange display she was to be treated with the highest respect.

“Let us come in out of the monsoon,” she said, “and let preparations be made for a great feast. Our history tells us that the last Wolf Lord who visited us, Keric Quicbrand, was fond of roast babirusa and ginger beer. Perhaps your men shall enjoy it as well as he did.”

Gods, I thought, as we walked through the cleansing rain, how can this woman Marine know that? Keric Quicbrand and his ship had vanished into the Warp, never to be seen again, during our retreat from Bray. His name was now known only to the most-learned Wolf Priests—and to me, of course. But even I had not thought of him for, I ashamed to say, hundreds of years. Yet this woman knew his favorite foods from his time on Veda, well before the battle. How was that possible?

Apparently my companion, Horsa Drachenbane, shared my thoughts. “Mighty Raja,” he asked, shouting above the downpour, “how is it you know our lord Keric Quicbrand so well, when he has been lost to us for almost 40 centuries?”

She smiled thinly as we entered through huge adamantium gates into the fortress. Having been an Iron Priest, I knew that the gates would not rust, but I wondered how the Tigers protected the surrounding stonework from the constant humidity and moisture. I would have to ask—later. Raja Khandar waited to reply until all of us had come into the antechamber, where more Tigers stood at attention. “We possess an extensive written account—in poetic form—spanning every facet of Fighting Tiger history. Every world visited, every battle fought—every guest welcomed. We forget nothing. Ever.

“To do so would be to betray Fighting Tiger tradition. And once a tradition is established, we almost never abandon it.”
 
 



At the feast, Raja Khandar introduced me to her advisor, Zaghnal Maratha, their most-learned Tiger of Brihaspati—which I later discovered was their term for Librarian. Though I was an Iron Priest and spent most of my mortal years toiling within the Fang, I have encountered many members of other Space Marine Chapters and know something of their organization. Of course, I consumed nothing at the feast—how can one who is more machine than man eat mortal food or drink mortal beer?—but I long ago rid myself of any bitterness. It made my heart sing to see my men take such pleasure in our hosts’ generosity. They had roast babirusa, a six-legged boar-like animal considered a delicacy because its shell is strong enough to repel bolter fire, as well as ghalla, a large, flightless bird native to Ghuyarashtra, Veda’s southern continent. Vegetables and fruits unknown to us abounded. Serving girls brought garlands of purple and orange blossoms for my warriors. Musicians played with pipes and drums and strange stringed instruments. The beer stung my men’s throats; the scent of the wine was thick and musky.

The hall was filled with hundreds of Fighting Tigers. All the Marines—Wolves and Tigers—sat together, cross-legged on large red cushions, eating with their fingers from jade bowls resting on low, marble tables. I stood apart, at the end of the hall, and watched. How drab our grey armor looked in this colorful place, the white marble walls hung with delicate silks of green and orange and pale red. How easily the Tigers and my Wolves talked and joked and laughed together, as if they all were lifelong friends. 

Not everyone participated. Beside each arching doorway stood a Tiger in white and black armor from head to toe—female warriors, I knew. After a while I beckoned Zaghnal Maratha to join me.

His hair was almost white but he was not old; were it not for his orange and black armor he would have looked like any of my Grey Hunters. “I hope you are enjoying yourself, Old Wolf” he said, speaking loudly to be heard over the din. 

“Indeed,” I replied. A small serving girl—she could have been no more than ten winters old—approached me fearlessly, bowed deeply as Raja Khandar Madu had, and presented me with a blossom wreath. I hesitated for a moment, but Zaghnal nodded slightly. I extended my claw arm, and the girl slipped the garland over a talon, bowed again, and went to fetch wine for one of my men. I raised my claw gingerly, rotating it to offer my photoreceptors a good view of the garland. What a strange place this was. So beautiful, so serene, so unlike the harsh lands of Fenris and all the thousands of battlefields I had fought upon. 

“Ironic, is it not?” asked Zaghnal Maratha. “How many Orks have you dismembered with that claw? How many Traitor tanks have you pulled to pieces with it? Yet now a child comes and hangs blossoms on such a terrible instrument of death and does so with no more fear than any other duty she performs.”

“You are a thinker,” I replied, “and perhaps a poet.”

He smiled. “I thank you, Ferin Ironhammer. I believe that is the highest compliment anyone has ever given me.”

I felt foolish standing there with a garland hanging from my claw but somehow I could not bear to rid myself of it. Instead, I asked him, “Why is it that those Tigers in the white armor do not join us?” I asked.

“The Tigers of Kali do not feast. As daughters of our death goddess, it is their dharma, their sacred duty, to always stand ready to do her bidding. They are different from the rest of us Fighting Tigers in more than just sex. Rich food, festive music, the company of friends: these are all meaningless to them.”

“They live now only for battle?” 

He smirked. “No, they live now only for slaughter. A subtle but important distinction.”

I looked around the hall and saw Raja Khandar Madu; with her flame-red hair and black and white armor, she was easy to find. She too was seated cross-legged upon a cushion, talking and eating with Horsa. “Your leader wears the armor of a Tiger of Kali, yet she feasts with us. How is that?”

“Raja Khandar still serves Kali—as we all do to some extent—but because she is our leader she has a different dharma to uphold. Just as Raja Surya Ashoka made the Wolf Lord Keric Quicbrand welcome, so too must Raja Khandar make you and your men welcome. To not do so would violate untold centuries of Fighting Tiger tradition.”

“I am beginning to understand that you Tigers place great stock in tradition,” I said. Something about Raja Khandar was beginning to trouble me. I adjusted my photoreceptors to increase the magnification of her image; I isolated my audioreceptors to filter out all sounds in the hall except her voice. She urged Horsa to sprinkle some golden spice—saffron, she called it—on his food and when he did, she laughed heartily at the amazed expression on his face. Evidently it was very good. I readjusted my sensors. 

“I thank you and your Raja for all you have already done for me and my men. But if I could ask one more thing of you, it would be to show me to my chambers, for much I have seen and learned today and I would rest and think awhile.”

“Of course, Old Wolf.” We left the feast and said nothing as we strode through the marbled passages, down many flights of winding stairs, to the crypts below. Guards stepped aside and adamantium doors ground open as we entered the place where the Fighting Tigers kept their Dreadnoughts, whom they call Tigers Eternal. 

I had expected a barren, cold place with featureless cells, like the crypts at the Fang, but instead, it was a long hall, lit by hundreds of candles, with a high, arching ceiling. The armor of each Tiger Eternal had been forged with all manner of ornamentation: clawed feet and hands, headpieces with tiger ears and tiger eyes and mouths with sabretoothed fangs; some even had tails. All of them were smaller than me, and their parts were more rounded, less angled. Most were painted orange with black stripes; a few were white and black. They stood motionless, all of them dormant, their backs to the wall, facing each other across the hall. Above each Dreadnought was a painting of how they appeared in mortal life; engravings on the wall next to each Tiger Eternal told, doubtless, their histories. At the feet of each Dreadnought were dozens of lighted candles and gold platters with offerings of fresh food. Instead of being a dreary crypt, the whole place was like a shrine.

“As with your Chapter, I am sure,” Zaghnal said, “only the greatest heroes—such as yourself, doubtless—can earn the honor of transcendence and become a Tiger Eternal. We have prepared a place of honor for you at the end of the hall, next to Raja Surya Ashoka, who—with Raja Shrendi Vashtar—rebuilt our Chapter in the dark days following our defeat by the forces of Chaos and our humiliation at the hands of the Ultramarines.” His eyes were fixed straight ahead and he seemed resentful and angry, though I knew that those events happened many years ago, perhaps even before I was born. My unease grew but I said nothing.

He brought me to the end of the hall and I turned and stood, as did the others, with my back to wall. On my right was Raja Surya Ashoka. I would have given much to speak with him, but like all the others, he was dormant. 

I knew enough not to protest as Zaghnal Maratha knelt before me and lit the candles that had been placed there. He ritually raised the golden platter laden with food, then left it on the floor at my feet. I was glad when he stood and left without speaking, his echoes of his metal boots fading until the hall was quiet.

Keric Quicbrand spent years on Veda and I had heard that he loved it here, but to me, this world and its people were as alien as the Qollzon moon we had recently explored and the snake-like Watheri that had infested the caverns beneath its surface. Suddenly, I remembered that I was still wearing the garland on my claw. I dropped it on the golden platter—what damned foolishness! Who ever heard of letting perfectly good food spoil in front of Dreadnoughts that hadn’t moved in years? It certainly wouldn’t happen on Fenris, but honor demanded—to a point—that I accept their hospitality. I resolved that the next day I would have Horsa begin to collect the supplies in earnest—no, I would do it myself. I would have Horsa ask about the Angrboda Nebula, thus sparing myself from having to listen to more Vedic twaddle, and we would prepare for the next leg of our voyage.

But still the image of Raja Khandar Madu gnawed at me. At least now I would have the time and the quiet to think properly. Perhaps I would return to my Deep Memories.

When a Marine becomes a Dreadnought he gains more than just an armored shell and enough weaponry to slay a company of Guardsman: he also gains an extensive memory bank. The human mind can only hold so much knowledge, recall only so many experiences: if you doubt me, try to remember the names and faces of all the people you have ever met. But a Dreadnought can remember everything, and only damage to the Deep Memory banks, stored at the heart of our armor, can make us forget. That is not to say that our remembered knowledge is easily and quickly recalled: we Dreadnoughts are built to be strong and invulnerable, not swift. Indeed, when many of my kind “sleep” they are, in fact, recalling ancient times. 

Dimly, I was aware of the candles before me burning low as I thought back, over 4,000 years, to the Battle of Bray….
 
 
Next page: Part 2 of Tigers Eternal 
Next page

Part 1 <> Part 2 <> Part 3

Related Pages
Fighting Tigers Glossary and Pronunciation Guide
Themed Army Idea: Ferin Ironhammer
Raja Khandar Madu
Zaghnal Maratha

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