Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers
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We passed through several airlocks with adamantium doors. The thermoreceptors in my armor told me that the air was getting colder. “Nonetheless, we know that finding recruits for new Fighting Tigers was never easy. Our star system is isolated from the rest of the Imperium by the Maelstrom and the Galactic Core, so travelling to other systems to find recruits was dangerous and impractical. And the High Lords of Terra have always reserved our allies, the Kenteans, for the regiments of the Imperial Guard. So the Tigers have had to rely on the native people of this planet, but we Vedic are not like you Fenrisians. We are peaceful people: farmers, not warriors.
“After we were defeated by the Warband Bloodcomet there were scarcely 200 Tigers left. The Traitor Marines had butchered millions of Vedic civilians, so recruits were even harder to find. In desperation, we recruited women to serve as Space Marines.”
“I had heard something like that,” I said, “and I think I know why you continued that practice all these years. Your Raja told me that once you Tigers begin a tradition, you never end it.”
“It is true that we are loath to give up any tradition,” he replied, “but that is not the only reason.” We entered a small decontamination chamber and the door sealed behind us. Zaghnal Maratha entered a number code on the wall’s keypad and radiation, visible only to my photoreceptors, flooded the room, cleansing us.
“Some say that only one man in a thousand is fit to be a Space Marine,” he said, as we waited through the cleansing. “Others say that it is only one man in ten thousand. In any event, Rajas Surya Ashoka and Shrendi Vashtar were determined that once we were up to full strength we would stay at full strength, forever—through purusha.”
The radiation ended and the door before us opened. We entered a marbled vault full of busy slaves and guarded by more Tigers. Though I am no Wolf Priest, I recognized the equipment. “This is where you implant the geneseed that turns initiates into Marines,” I said.
“Correct, Lord Ferin. I am sure the Space Wolves’ facilities are similar, so I won’t bore you with a tour. Let us go through those doors opposite and I’ll show you something you do not have at the Fang.”
We approached another adamantium door and he entered another number code on another keypad. The doors slid open to reveal a long corridor with more guards in orange and black armor. “If you mean to show me where you Tigers keep your geneseed—”
“I do not. And please lower your voice.”
We passed several sealed doors; only darkness showed through the small window of each. “The guards at the feast wore white and black armor, yet here all the guards wear orange and black,” I said, adjusting my volume controls to speak as softly as I could.
“The Tigers of Kali are forbidden to guard what we keep here.”
I was about to ask him to explain when we stopped at a door. Again, Zaghnal Maratha entered a number code on the keypad and the door silently slid open. The room beyond was dark. “Quietly now,” he reminded me.
Girls, none of them older than the servant girl who had given me the garland of blossoms, slept in rows on floormats. Zaghnal Maratha pointed out one near the door, where we stood.
Her hair was cut short but there was no mistaking its color. Zaghnal Maratha crept into the room, silent as the animal whose colors he wore, and took a wristband from the girl. He brought it to me and I read the name there.
Khandar Madu. 32nd incarnation.
“This girl is your Raja’s daughter?” I asked.
He shook his head and replaced the wristband. The sleeping girl stirred for a moment, half-opened her blue eyes, then closed them and rolled over again. We left, the door silently sealing shut and locking behind us.
“Like many other Chapters, we neuter all of our initiates as part of the ancient rites of transformation from Man to Space Marine. No, as our Chapter was rebuilding back to full strength, Rajas Surya Ashoka and Shrendi Vashtar ordered our Tigers of Savitri, whom other Chapters call Apothecaries, to take extensive tissue samples—blood, bone, muscle, nerve—from every Fighting Tiger and include these in the main geneseed depository. And even before new Marines are needed—”
“—you grow them here,” I finished. “You Tigers are cloned warriors.”
“Exactly, Old Wolf.”
“So that girl is your Raja’s clone?”
I was silent for a moment. Then I said, “Show me more.”
We moved deeper into the complex, past more locked doors, past more guards. Zaghnal Maratha told me that the cloned children were created in the geneseed lab, grown in artificial “wombs,” and nursed by slaves. As soon as they can walk they begin their training to become Space Marines, with half of their time spent in developing their physical skills, the other half in learning volumes of Fighting Tiger history, philosophy, and tradition. He explained that the cloning in no way lessens the time needed to create and train Space Marines, it merely ensures that the Tigers will have fit recruits. Idly, I wondered if all Fighting Tigers were so annoyingly talkative. But I let him continue.
We came to another roomful of sleeping children, boys, several years older than the girls we had seen before. “In there,” he said, “is my next incarnation.”
“Will he be a Librarian, like you?”
“We have tested him, but he does not have the ability. The cloning process is not perfect. Uncontrolled variations appear from time to time. Perhaps you have heard of Khandar Madu’s counterpart, Raja Shamshir Talatra, who, in his present incarnation, has red eyes and a portwine stain on his head. This current incarnation of mine,” he said, tapping himself on the chest, “is the only ‘me’ to have possessed psychic powers. But rest assured, we scrutinize each clone thoroughly and make sure that any variations—”
“—mutations,” I said.
“—are not harmful.”
“And if the mutations are harmful?”
“Then, of course, we terminate that incarnation and begin again.”
“I see. Your Chapter obeys the Codex Astartes—”
“—most of it, anyway,” he said.
“Most of it, then. Do you keep your numbers to 1,000 or less, as the Codex dictates? It seems to me with all this cloning you would soon have enough Tigers to fill every chamber in this hall.”
“Come with me,” he said.
We came to a large, cold chamber filled with a dry mist. Hundreds of cryopods were lined in rows, a frozen Space Marine initiate in most of them. “As you stay with us, Old Wolf, you will find that there is but one of each incarnation who has become a Fighting Tiger. When my clone, for example, has reached a certain level of growth and training, he will be brought here, to sleep in suspended animation until this current incarnation,” he said, again tapping his chest, “is killed. Then he will be awakened and will become a Tiger of Puchan, a Scout, to serve the Emperor once more.”
“Indeed,” I said. “On Bray I spoke with a Tiger of Kali; Sita Gupta was her name. Could she be here?”
“Let us look,” he said, and we walked slowly up and down the rows, pausing here and there to scrape a bit of frost off a nameplate or peer through the small windows of the cryopods into the faces of the sleepers.
Sita Gupta was indeed here. Her hair was black and worn long, but the most striking change was her face. No Ork axe had taken either of her eyes. She was almost beautiful, but even in sleep there was a cruel harshness to her features.
“On Bray, she was Khandar Madu’s commander,” I said. “When she awakens, will she lead Khandar Madu’s next incarnation again?”
“Possibly, but not likely. Though we Tigers live again and again, we are not held to the same roles. Just because Sita Gupta was a Veteran Sergeant in one life does not mean she will be one again in the next. Khandar Madu’s current incarnation is the first of hers to become Raja. In my previous lives, I served in Tactical squads, in Devastator squads, even once as a Tiger of Tvashtri, a Techmarine like yourself.”
I forced myself to laugh. “Let us leave these sleepers here to their rest, Zaghnal Maratha, and I shall ask you one more question.”
We began to walk back the way we came, past locked doors, past guards. I was silent for a long time. Finally, I stopped.
“Has not the Ecclesiarchy forbidden cloning? Have they not condemned it as an act of Chaos? Have you not heard of the thrice-cursed Clonemaster, Fabius Bile?”
Zaghnal Maratha gave a thin smile. “You said you had only one more question, Lord Ferin.”
I moved between him and the wall, blocking any escape that he could hope to make. “How foolish of you, Zaghnal Maratha, to show me all this. Did you think that I would remain silent, having seen what I have seen? We Space Wolves hate Chaos with every fiber of our being. Recall that we destroyed Prospero, the homeworld of the Thousand Sons. Did you think we could not do the same to Veda and your Fighting Tigers?”
His face was grim. “You insult us by questioning our loyalty to the Emperor. You fail to remember all that we have suffered at the hands of Chaos.”
“Often it is that those who fight evil would use evil means in their struggle—and in doing so, become the thing they intended to destroy.” I leaned closer. “You Tigers have deluded yourselves long enough. Everything about this place reeks of Chaos, though you know it not. The arcane rituals, the beautiful architecture, the bountiful food, the colored tapestries, the self-indulgent poetry you call history,” I sneered. “You dabble in cloning and imprison children for whatever decadent perversions you can create and dare try to tell me some fanciful yarn about ‘incarnations’ and ‘past lives.’ I should have known the first time I ever saw one of your blasphemous ‘woman Space Marines’ that you Tigers may have once served the Emperor, but you certainly do not now. Is it any wonder that your ‘Chapter’ has suffered greatly against the followers of Khorne? Every last one of you, including that whore you call ‘Raja,’ is a slave to Slaanesh.”
He said nothing. “When I return to Fenris,” I continued, “I will tell Great Wolf Logan Grimnar everything I have learned here. He will muster the invincible companies of the Space Wolves against this place, lovely as it is. We will burn this fortress to ash, destroy your precious library, obliterate your shrines to your ‘Tigers Eternal.’ We will carry off these children you have violated and allow them to serve out the rest of their lives as our slaves. We will hunt your sacred tigers, the ones that—I have heard—roam the jungles outside these walls, and we shall mount their heads in our halls and drink beer from their hollowed-out fangs. Everything you effeminate, servile Tigers have ever built, we shall destroy. Your Chapter was almost annihilated by a bunch of Khornate scum: what possible hope do you have against us of the First Founding, we who fought alongside the Emperor in the Great Crusades?”
I laughed long and loud. “You Tigers and your world are doomed, just as the Thousand Sons and their world were doomed.”
“Master?” Several of the Fighting Tiger guards were approaching. The photoreceptors mounted on the rear of my armor saw that one of them bore a meltagun. From behind, at such close range, he could not help but destroy me with a single shot. “Forgive us for intruding, Master Zaghnal,” the Marine continued. “May we be of some assistance?”
Even now, these Vedic were infuriatingly polite. I made no move, spoke no words, but waited for Zaghnal Maratha to show his true stripes.
“The reputation of boldness that you Space Wolves enjoy is well-earned,” Zaghnal told me. “But ‘boldness’ is perhaps the wrong word: you spit on our hospitality, you accuse us of being traitors, and you threaten us with extinction. Perhaps ‘rudeness’ is a better word. Or perhaps, best of all, ‘foolishness.’ For consider that you stand here in the heart of our fortress, alone and outnumbered, beyond any help from your beloved Fenris or even your Chapter Brothers sleeping upstairs. Were we truly traitors, Lord Ferin, I would never have shown you our secret, and even if I had, we would now melt you into slag where you stand and slit your men’s throats as they sleep. And never would your Great Wolf hear your accusations against us, and never would they know of our treachery, until we saw fit to reveal our perfidious nature to them.
“But we are not traitors. I am sorry if we have offended you, Lord Ferin. You must, of course, do what you believe is right. As must I.”
He looked past me, to the guards. “Return to your posts. We have displeased Lord Ferin and he and his men will be leaving us tomorrow. Instruct the servants to prepare for their departure.”
As the guards turned away, Zaghnal Maratha returned his steely gaze to me. “You say the Ecclesiarchy has banned cloning and condemned it as an act of Chaos. Ironic, is it not, that a Space Wolf, of all people, would presume to lecture anyone about following the edicts of the Ecclesiarchy. Wouldn’t you agree?”
I laughed again, long and loud, and this time I meant it. “Forgive me, friend forever,” I boomed. “You and your Tigers are no traitors, and well now do I know it, though for my men and my Emperor I had to put you to the test before I could believe it. You are quite right: a traitor would never willingly reveal those secrets, nor would a traitor allow me to take those secrets from this hallway and thus doom your world. Let me take back my harsh words, which I never meant, and let us remain friends, wise and patient Tiger. Let me beg your forgiveness, for you spoke truly: I have been an ungracious guest in your beautiful home, where your people meant only to welcome us and give us respite.”
“It is my dharma to accept the hearfelt apologies of a friend, no matter how much they have wounded me, and so I shall. You suspected that we were not traitors, but took the risk and allowed us to show that we were. In the same way, I suspected that you did not mean what you said, but took the risk and allowed you to show that you did. I am glad we were right in our suspicions. It avoided much unnecessary bloodshed.”
“You are an honorable man, Zaghnal Maratha, and brave as well to take such a risk.”
“Not so brave, as the risk was not great. You see, we Tigers do not find you Space Wolves half as fearsome as you imagine yourselves to be.”
He smiled and
we laughed together as old friends should.
We stayed on Veda for three of their weeks, and in time I understood how Keric Quicbrand could come to love this world. It is a large, wild place, full of mystery and power, and if I live another 4,000 years I may never fully understand it or its people.
Khandar Madu and Zaghnal Maratha, with their honor guard, came to see us off as we boarded our Thunderhawks. I ordered the others aboard before I made my farewells to the two Tigers.
“We are glad that you came to us, Old Wolf,” Khandar Madu said, “though it saddens us to see you go. We entreat the Brahman, the Sleeping Emperor whose dreams shape the universe, that you find the riches you seek and return in glory to your icy world. Pass along our sustained oaths of friendship to your Great Wolf, and if you fall somewhere far from home, know that we shall join the hunt to recover your remains and avenge your death.”
“I thank you for all you have done for me and my men,” I replied, “and I thank you even more for your forgiveness. Though I have no right, I would ask one more thing of you.”
“Granted, of course,” she said.
“I begin to understand purusha,” I said, “the cycle of birth and life and death and rebirth that you Tigers have submitted to. And Master Zaghnal has patiently explained to me how none but your Librarians remember anything of their former lives, and that each Tiger must learn again what they knew in the past; hence the reason for your detailed history. Yet I am still confused about the Tigers Eternal who slumber beneath your fortress and to whom you have built elaborate shrines. How do they fit in? Your Raja Surya Ashoka, who welcomed my lord Keric Quicbrand—does another of his incarnations serve here, somewhere within these walls? Or does he wait, frozen with the other initiates, for his turn to rise and begin the final training?”
“Like you and the other Space Wolf Dreadnoughts,” Zaghnal said, “our Tigers Eternal were once the greatest of heroes, whose deeds forever affected our Chapter. Though we have built shrines to them, in truth only one honor is great enough to bestow upon them: the honor of nirvana.”
“Another strange word from a strange land,” I said.
“Nirvana,” he continued, “is a release from purusha. For them, there are no more incarnations. They have earned a rest, an eternal rest if they so desire, though many of them choose, from time to time, to return to this existence and share their wisdom with us or fight alongside us. Thus, there are no more clones of Raja Surya, nor of Shrendi Vashtar, nor of Shiva Nagordarika. And if Raja Khandar and I obey our dharma, our sacred duty, and serve our Chapter as best we can, perhaps in some incarnation we too will be worthy to achieve nirvana and end the burden of purusha.”
that time,” Khandar Madu said, “we shall serve. And hunt. And fight. And
we shall do so forever, life after life, if the Brahman wills it, for in
a sense, all of us here on Veda are tigers eternal.”
As our Thunderhawks blasted away from Veda I watched that strange green world grow smaller and smaller.
“You spent much time alone with the Vedic,” the Rune Priest Horsa Drachenbane said to me as we reboarded the Munnin. “What did you think of them?”
“I pity them,” I said, “for they are damned.”
“Damned?” he asked. “I saw no signs—”
to Chaos. I shall speak no more of it now, but I tell you this: rejoice
in the knowledge that all we suffer for our Emperor has an end. For if
what I have learned is true, the Tigers’ suffering never ends. And they
have chosen it to be so.”
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© Copyright Kenton
Kilgore May 2000
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers