A Sacred World, Part 1

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming novel Stray Cats, about the adventures of a cat named Pimmi across nine worlds, one of which will be familiar to visitors to this site. 

If you like 40K fiction (and/or cats), I think you'll like this, which incorporates a lot of Jungle lore, with adjustments made to avoid infringing on Games Workshop's intellectual property.

Chronology: 14.038.379

Sector: Udaipur <> System: Bagha <> Planet: Vedah

Like many other cats on this hot summer afternoon, Pimmi is napping in a patch of sun when the Kurindans come to end the world.

A shrill keening from high above jerks her awake. The kitten cringes, head tucked, ears flat, eyes following those of the thin boy sitting next to her on the cracked stone steps of the shrine, forgotten by almost all. A silvery shimmer, streaming white smoke, screams from the empty blue sky, spinning a flawless spiral for a second or two. Then it smashes into the village in the shallow valley below, a thundering explosion as the ground shakes. Pimmi’s heart beats a single time, and then the shockwave of the strike knocks the boy atop her as the scores of other cats who live here scatter.

She wriggles to get free, to run, to hide, but the boy wraps her, covers her, ignores her claws and her frantic flailing as clods of earth, chunks of rock, shards of wood plummet over and around them. In the village, a few hundred yards away, houses, shops, barns, warehouses crumple, collapse. A cacophony of ruin and destruction, the lowing and bleating of stricken, dying livestock, and the screams. Hundreds of screams, of the boy’s people.

The rain of debris ends quick as it came. Still clutching the small black cat to himself, the boy sits up, sees. A huge dust cloud billowing hundreds of feet into the air, black smoke of newborn fires flowing up after it. Pimmi writhes, but he holds her legs together so that she can’t escape.

He staggers to his feet. “Mama….”

A rasping, mechanical voice. I WILL SAVE HER, IF I CAN.

The boy whirls; Pimmi goes still against his thin, bare chest. A giant—more than twice the boy’s height, orange armor blazoned with dozens of curving black stripes—stepping nigh silently from the underbrush of the jungle about them.

RUN AWAY, the giant says, AS FAST AND FAR AS YOU ARE ABLE. Its striped helmet dips, green eye slits settle on Pimmi for a moment before going back to the boy. TAKE THE CAT.

Impossibly quick for its size, the giant sprints down the hill, into the valley and toward the village, vanishing into the jungle again, and the boy starts running the other way. The cat squirms free, tumbles from his arms, lands on her feet, dashes as fast as she can after the giant.

“Pimmi, stop!” The boy hesitates. “Pimmi!” Goes after her.

People—many of them hurt, bleeding, burnt—running, panicked, screaming, into the jungle; Pimmi and the boy weave through them. “Mama!” the boy calls. “Mama!” Ahead, wood snapping, the crash of metal against metal, bestial snarls. Again and again, the sound that this once-serene world, far from the galactic center, had not known for centuries: gunfire.

The cat and the boy come to his mother’s shack, now little more than a pile of kindling. “Mama! Mama! Are you in there?”

Pimmi creeps through a hole in the splintered wall, then under the palms used for the roof, and over and around the broken beams that used to hold it up. “Mama!” the boy calls again. “Are you hurt?”

There is little light, but Pimmi’s eyes can see. There is hardly space to move, but Pimmi’s whiskers find the way inward, until she comes to her, the boy’s mother. Crushed under a rafter, broken, bleeding, her breathing faint, fainter with each one.

“Mama!” Pimmi hears him yanking up palm branches, throwing them aside, to reach her. The cat feels something flutter weakly within the woman. Pimmi licks her hand, once, twice, and senses that she has brought the woman a moment’s comfort when there are few moments left.

MOVE. The mechanical voice again, and suddenly, Pimmi’s eyes shrink to slits as the sun appears over her. The striped giant, pulling up an armload of house timbers as if they were no more than a sheaf of reeds. Pimmi hops aside.

The boy clambers across what’s left of the wreckage. Cradles he woman who once cradled him, holds her on his lap, presses her head against his breast. The giant turns from the boy’s wails. Pimmi waits, watches impassively. Her kind cannot know pain as deeply as his kind can.

From behind them, stone grinding on stone as something stamps toward them. The creature is no taller than a man, and stands on two legs that bend backwards at the knee. Four arms, each with two elbow joints, ending in prehensile claws. Two crocodilian heads on a single squat neck, a short but thick tail spiked at the end. Smooth, purple scales, like worn river rocks, as its hide. Sputtering white light dripping like tears from the five eye-nubs on the center of each head, more white light slopping from its jaws, filled with teeth of jagged black glass.

Pimmi’s back arches, hair rises, ears flatten and she hisses, shrinking away. As the monster springs, the giant steps between them, an armored fist shattering one of the thing’s stony skulls, another fist punching through its torso and out its back, spattering liquid light. The giant tosses the creature to the ground as almost a dozen more of them appear from around one of the few buildings still standing.

GET OUT OF HERE, the giant says, but if that was meant her or the boy, Pimmi doesn’t know. The giant reaches behind its back, unslings a rifle as long as the boy is tall. With every bolt of searing blue-white fire, another monster explodes into sprays of light and glassy shards. Still, the boy does not leave his mother, and Pimmi does not leave him.

From elsewhere in the burning village, scores more of the creatures, screeching, swarm to the fight, firing crude carbines whose slugs are nothing more than rain against the giant’s armor. Standing almost atop Pimmi and the boy, the giant’s gun fires again and again, but the monsters keep coming.

SKANDA, STAND WITH ME, the giant prays. Slinging the rifle across its back, it crouches, claws of white plasma—so bright that Pimmi winces—crackling from each metal fingertip.

And then the monsters leap upon it, biting with obsidian fangs, slashing with stone talons, kicking with clawed feet. The giant impales the first, takes both heads of the second, cuts in half the third, slices off each arm of the fourth, disembowels the fifth, all in seconds, giving no ground. The giant keeps fighting until all of them lie lifeless in hunks and broken bits, smashed statuary spattered with white quicksilver.

The claws dissipate as the giant turns to the boy and the cat. WHY DID YOU NOT RUN WHEN I TOLD YOU TO?

The boy says nothing.

ANSWER ME.

“I won’t leave her.” Strokes his mother’s hair. “She’s all I have.” Pimmi nuzzles his arm, marks him as hers. Purrs.

The helmet retracts into the shoulders of the armor. A slit-eyed man, brown of skin like the boy, several long, black stripes tattooed down one side of his bald head. “What is your name, boy?”

He looks up. “Rajeesh, sahib.”

“‘Rajeesh’ what?”

“Kumar, sahib.”

“‘Kumar.’ Of course.” The man looks left, right, all around. Most of what’s left is burning. “It is not safe here.” Hefts the rifle again, looks up into the sky. “More of them will come.” Back to the boy. “The other villagers have left. You need to leave, too.”

“There’s nowhere else for me, sahib.”

“No family in another town?” The boy shakes his head. “No uncles, aunts?”

“I have no one, sahib.”

“Then you will come with me.” Holds out an armored hand to the boy.

The boy shakes his head, holds his mother tighter.

“There is nothing you can do for her,” the slit-eyed man says, “except live.”

Pimmi nuzzles the man’s outstretched gauntlet. Purrs.

The slit-eyed man crouches, his armor’s joints wheezing. “Your friend Pimmi says she wants you to.”

The boy looks up, wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. “How do you know her name?”

“She told me.”

“She can’t tell you. She’s just a cat.”

“Now, she tells me that you are being rude. Do as I say. Let me help you.”

Together, they gently lower his mother to the ruined floor of the shack. They stand, and the boy covers her with a frond that used to be part of their roof. “Will you…” the boy starts.

The man nods. A flicker of flame from the palm of his left glove. The boy turns, steps away as the fire consumes her. Looks instead at the smashed pieces of the monsters. Picks up a lump, throws it against the ground, cracking it. Picks it up again, throws it again, and this time, it splits in three, shining white goo seeping from each bit.

“What are they?” the boy asks.

“Kurindans,” the slit-eyed man with the striped tattoos says. “They are here to kill our people.”

“What are you?”

“A Fighting Tiger. I am here to kill them.”

 

* * *

 

“What sort of a name is ‘Pimmi?’”

Trudging along a jungle path up a mountain not far from the village. Overhead, kalpaka branches sway as the brachiating sbarna monkeys chatter in annoyance at the intrusion. Eyes fixed on the trees, Rajeesh holds the black cat tight against him in a jute sling. Pimmi doesn’t know if the monkeys—three-eyed, their scabbed skin sparsely covered in a dull green wool—would try to harm her or the boy, but like him, she fears and hates them.

“I made it up, sahib.”

“She is your pet?”

“No. She lives with her brothers and sisters and cousins at the shrine of Gdon, where you found me. I like to visit them, when I can. She’s my favorite.”

The tattooed man grunts, the footfalls of his armored boots only a soft wdd wdd. Here in the deep shade, the slits of his eyes are wider, and his nostrils twitch from time to time. The monkeys hoot their insults, but stop at the edge of their territory as the three depart it. Pimmi is glad to be rid of them.

“Mama doesn’t believe in the Fighting Tigers, but I always did.”

The giant says nothing.

“She says they’re just stories, that there aren’t any.”

“Not here.”

The boy loosens his grip on the sling, and Pimmi languidly extends a leg, stretches a paw, claws out. “Where are they?”

The man stops, cocks his head. Listens. Pimmi hears only the buzzing warbles of the makarasa birds. He shrugs, starts walking again, the boy following.

“The other Tigers—where did they go?” the boy persists.

“Off this world.”

“There are other worlds?”

“Ten for every nightstar you can see, and a dozen more for each you cannot.”

“And they went there in ships that sail past the skies?” The slit-eyed man nods. “How many worlds have you been to?”

The man doesn’t answer.

“Are the rest of the things they say true?”

“What things?”

“That a Tiger is stronger than a hundred men, and that they’re warriors for the Sleeping Brahman, and that they kill rakshasas and monsters from the Outer Dark, and that their armor can’t be broken, that divine Kartikeya himself makes their weapons, and that—”

“All true. And that we eat small boys who talk too much.”

The boy lowered his head. “I apologize, sahib.”

“Stop calling me ‘sahib.’”

“Yes, sa—Yes. I hear and obey.” Hesitantly looked up, but the giant kept his back to him as they walked. “What should I call you, o Fighting Tiger?”

“Five-Thirty-One,” the giant said.

“‘Five-Thirty-One?’ I don’t understand.”

“It is my number.”

“You don’t have a name?”

“Not anymore.”

“You used to have one?”

“Yes.”

“What was it?”

“It no longer matters. When I was made into a Fighting Tiger, they took out of me the parts that I would not need anymore. My appendix was one. My name was another.”

“I…I don’t know what an appendix is, sa—Five-Thirty-One.”

“Let us hope you do not need to learn.”

The boy considers this. Then: “Where did you come from, in the jungle? It was as if you came from nowhere. Were you just—”

The slit-eyed man raises his gauntleted hand as Pimmi yawns. “We are boring the cat.” Her eyes close.

The boy looks down at her, then to the giant’s back again. “How can you tell? You’re not even looking at her.”

“We are not called ‘Tigers’ because we play pretend.”

“Wha—” the boy starts, but then a shrill keening noise, from high above, growing louder. A muffled PMFFF and the jungle floor trembling beneath their feet.

“They are coming,” the man says. Another whistling screech, closer, louder, another impact that shakes the ground and sways the trees. Another. “More pods, like the one that hit your village. Each with more of them.”

“More of the Kurr…Kurray—”

“Kurindans. Aliens—but you would call them ‘monsters’—from someplace past the Outer Dark.” Another shriek, another pod crashing into this world. “Slaves of the Lights.”

“‘The Lights?’”

“Extra-dimensional, plasma-based entities. Malevolent, of course.”

The boy wrinkles his brow. “They’re…bad?” The giant nods. “How can light be bad?”

“Light that lets one see is good. Light that blinds is not.” Hurries his pace; the boy hustles to keep up, jostling Pimmi. “If I tell you again to run a certain way, do it.”

“Where are we going?”

“The Durga.”

“What’s that?”

“The fortress of the Fighting Tigers.”

“We’ll be safe there?”

“No.”

“No? Why not?”

The giant ignores him.

“How can a fortress not be safe?”

Another impact, closer than the one that hit the village. Thick, curved claws extend from his massive boots, anchoring him to the bucking ground, and he grabs the boy as the boy grabs Pimmi. Helmet sliding into place, the giant hunkers over the boy, a deluge of dirt and rocks, splintered branches, shattered tree trunks pounding him, the roar and crash of it the only sounds in the world, and to Pimmi, it seems to go on forever.

It does not. The Tiger straightens, debris falling off him as the boy starts to stand. From close—too close—something—many somethings—crashing through the underbrush, and the already-familiar shrieking. Pimmi pops her head out of the jute slings. Dozens of Kurindans charging fast—too fast—through the jungle, toward them.

GO BEHIND THAT TREE. Pimmi tucks herself as deep as she can into the sling as, crouching, Rajeesh runs to the closest one, flattens his back against, slumps out of the way of the giant as he steps half into cover, firing the plasma rifle lefthanded, incinerating one, two, three, four Kurindans. Sheltering behind their own trees, the aliens shoot back, carbine rounds embedding in the trunk where the boy hides, or again bouncing off the Tiger’s armor. He keeps firing, never missing, each shot killing another of them.

“Five-Thirty-One!” Rajeesh shouts. “To your right!”

The striped helmet slightly swivels; Pimmi, too, pokes her head out to see. A score or so Kurindans, flanking them, already readying their weapons. A rectangular panel at the giant’s waist slides open, a dozen steel spheres—each the size of the boy’s fist—depending there. As the Tiger keeps firing at the aliens in front, he plucks a sphere—a mere pebble in his gauntleted hand—holds it out, let it go. Instead of falling, it flings itself into the cluster of Kurindans and explodes, obliterating them, Pimmi and the boy flinching against the heat blast as the jungle ignites.

Brownish-gray smoke billows into the air as flames leaps from tree, birds, rodents, monkeys, insects fleeing. Still, the Tiger stands, still the Tiger fires again and again. When a Kurindan darts behind a tree, thinking to elude him, the giant simply targets the trunk, his rifle blasting through it as if there were mere air between the gun and its target.

Yet still more Kurindans, seemingly numberless, come, their fusillade striking a vital part of the tattooed man’s weapon. Sparking, shuddering, screaming, the rifle gushes superheated gas. GOBARA, the Tiger curses, holding it away from himself as the gun automatically powers down before it can melt. He drops it to the ground, retrieves a pistol as long as the boy’s arm from a compartment in his left leg armor. Keeps firing, keeps killing.

Her heart hammering inside her, Pimmi hears, smells, feels the flames creeping closer, beginning to encircle them. Still she crouches in the sling, staying with her boy, though every wild instinct within her wants her to flee and not stop, to leave the others to their fate.

“Five-Thirty-One! Behind us!”

The boy ducks, cradling Pimmi, as dozens more of the Kurindans open fire from the rear. The giant pivots, blasts several of those behind him, pivots, blasts several in front. Pivots, fires, pivots, fires, again and again, but the aliens steadily advance.

They are too many, Pimmi realizes. Soon, they will have him, and the boy. And her.

Rajeesh bolts upright, grabs two steel spheres from the warrior’s waist compartment as bullets ricochet off the armored man’s legs and back, inches from the boy.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

Murmuring a prayer to Agni, the boy holds out the spheres, lets them go—and they fly into the Kurindans behind them. White-orange eruptions consuming the monsters and the trees, shaking the ground beneath Pimmi, Rajeesh, and the giant.

“I’m saving our lives!”

The compartment’s panel zings shut. DO NOT TOUCH THOSE!

The Kurindans in front of them charge, shooting as they come. The giant secures the pistol in his leg armor, steps out from behind the tree, both hands extended out. Flame streams from his palms, melting the last of the Kurindans, fusing them into molten blobs that screech and scream as they tumble, sizzling, to the ground.

The fire surrounds them, Pimmi realizes. They have survived the creatures, but there is no escaping the burning jungle.

GET UP, he tells Rajeesh. Lights along the rifle flicker to life as it powers on, leaps to his outstretched hand. He slings it on his back, gathers the boy and Pimmi against his chest, his gauntlet uncomfortably hot. Metal clanging as panels and vents on his armor open, his helmet tips up—and then the three of them rocket into the air, jets on his rear armor roaring.

They arc up, up, hundreds of feet over the burning rainforest, the plumes of smoke mere ribbons beneath them. Up, so high that the village where Rajeesh and Pimmi have lived all their short lives is but a smoldering dot. Up, so high that the cat and her boy wheeze, struggling to draw breath as they look down upon the snow-covered mountain and the Durga, the stone fortress of the Fighting Tigers, there.

Micro-jets along the giant’s armor spurt on and off, tiny dribbles of flame for a moment or two, slowing, adjusting, angling their fall. The jungle grows larger, greener, the mountain closer, greater, the air thicker, easier as they waft down, down, until the giant’s armored boots settle gently into the snow that the boy has only ever seen as a bit of white in the distance.

“It’s cold,” Rajeesh says, rubbing his thin arms as the warrior sets him down. “How can it be so cold?”

The helmet retracts into the shoulders of the slit-eyed man’s armor as he trudges toward the titanic fortress. The boy follows. Pimmi pokes her head from the jute bag, shivers at the cold she has never known. The fortress is domed, windowless, doorless, an ugly, brooding gray place, much different from the warm, colorful, airy shrine where she was born and spent every day until this one.

“You can fly!”

“No, the armor makes assisted jumps.”

“Why didn’t we fly before, instead of walking through the jungle?”

“I was conserving power—just like I was conserving the grenades you took.”

“They were all around us!”

“You were in no danger.”

“They were shooting at us!”

“They were shooting at me. You would have been fine if you had stayed down.” The giant reaches the fortress wall, touches a blank space on it. A rectangle the size of a palm leaf lights up white.

“What’s that?” the boy asks.

“The way in.” He leans his face closer, eyes thinning to slits in the harsh light as it plays across his face. “Anurodha anumati Sepoy Pamca-Tirisa-Eka prabesa karata.”

“What are you speaking?”

“It is High Mahaduyanan, a language most of our people have forgotten. I am asking the Durga’s sentry program to let us inside.”

A buzzing from the rectangle. Prabesadbara manjura kara hayani. Haya Sepoy Pamca-Tirisa-Eka harijan.

“What did it say?”

“‘No.’” He frowns, considers. Then: “Ghosana ibhenta bilupti—Kurinda. Anurodha pratyahara kara jata Harijan asthayibhabe.”

The light pulses. Punahsthapana Sepoy Pamca-Tirisa-Eka. Prabesa anugraha.

A seam appears in the middle of the stone fortress wall, lengthens top to bottom, widens, rumbling like distant thunder as the gargantuan gates grind upon.

“Why is it letting us in? What did you say to it?”

“I told it that the world is coming to an end.”

The boy squeezes Pimmi against himself. “Is it?”

“Yes.”

Look for Part 2 of “A Sacred World,” coming soon!

 


 

You all know me as a gamer. I started playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 1981 (and recently started a new campaign). I started playing Warhammer 40K in 1987, with the “Rogue Trader” edition. I started this website in 2000.

But my passion has always been writing sci-fi, fantasy, and horror short stories and novels. I started in 1975, when I was in 4th grade, and I pretty much haven’t stopped, aside from taking a break in the mid-1990’s, when I was working two and three jobs at a time, raising a child, and going through some rough times in my personal life.

In 2012, I published my first novel, Dragontamer’s Daughters, which I re-released in 2015 in a revised edition. In 2014, I published Lost Dogs, of which Stray Cats is a sequel/spinoff. In 2018, I released This Wasted Land.

Along the way, I also put out Our Wild Place, a children’s picture book (with photos and considerable assistance from Jungle Guide Patrick Eibel); and Hand-Selling Books, a non-fiction how-to guide to help authors sell books in person.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Stray Cats. I’ll have more posted soon, but if you’d like to find out more about it, or read another section, you can do that here. 

 

The holidays are rapidly approaching, and books make great gifts, so if have a sci-fi/fantasy fan you’re shopping for (or you just want something for yourself), you can get all my books in softcover and for Kindle here. 

Thanks for reading this, thanks for visiting the Jungle, and if I don’t see you before then, have a happy Christmas and a joyous New Year’s!