"Just what we needed. Something else to kill us in this Emperor-forsaken desert."
- — Howin Smythe, Huntmaster
The Sand Tiger is a xenos species and a ferociously dangerous ambush predator native to the world of Vaporius on the far edges of the Heathen Stars in the Koronus Expanse, a parched, bronzed world dotted by brilliant (and poisonous) turquoise and cyan seas. The world is mostly desert, vast stretches of sand and dust broken by jagged mountain chains. The Sand Tiger makes its home amongst those inhospitable stretches of wasteland dunes.
Anatomy and Behaviour
Roughly half the size of a man, the Sand Tiger is a ferocious and solitary predator. Its semi-silicate physical composition allows it to survive the nearly waterless environment it lives in, going for Terran months or even years without any liquid besides that which it can take from its prey. The Sand Tiger is an ambush predator, burying itself in dunes two to three metres below the ground. Once it has dug its burrow, it agitates the sand around it with its powerful digging claws, loosening it. Then it waits, using a multitude of bristling hairs along its back to sense minute vibrations in the desert sands. If an individual is unfortunate enough to walk over the place where the creature is buried, it sinks into the loose and shifting sands, the Sand Tiger hastening its descent with further frantic digging. Soon the prey finds itself in a conical pit with the Sand Tiger's hungry maw at the bottom. The creature descends on its prey and shreds it with its claws and circular, tooth-ringed orifice, draining it of bodily fluids before eating the choicest bits of meat and leaving the rest to rot beneath the sands.
The Sand Tiger prefers to wait for its prey to fall into its trap before attacking. It savagely tears into anything that ends up in the pit it has dug, only fleeing if severely wounded. If the prey escapes the pit trap, a hungry or enraged Sand Tiger pursues them away from its nest. In this case, it prefers to burrow underground to attack from beneath the sands, but runs on open ground if need be. Prey is often scarce in the desert, so a Sand Tiger may pursue a target for dozens of kilometres before giving up. If, on the other hand, the Sand Tiger's prey attacks it from a particularly advantageous position (for example, from the lip of its own pit with ranged weaponry), the creature flees quickly, burrowing into the sand to escape attack. The Sand Tiger is an ambush predator primarily, and prefers to avoid a straight-up fight.
Flesh and Crystal
Despite the ferocious and elusive nature of the creature, the real draw for Imperial game hunters and adventurers is rooted in the Sand Tiger's semi-silicate nature. The creature's skeleton is composed entirely of translucent, rose-tinted crystal, comprised of a molecular structure that no member of the Adeptus Mechanicus has been able to replicate. The haunting beauty and utter rarity of a Sand Tiger's skeleton makes it an exquisite and highly-valued trophy. A single tooth or claw is incredibly valuable -- a complete skeleton could buy a Fury Interceptor.
The risk one takes to kill these beasts while leaving the skeleton intact only increases their value. Even if the skeleton is unharmed in the effort, removing it from the flesh is also an effort as the two bond on a near-molecular level, possibly part of how the crystalline bones are formed. Attempts to grow the creatures in captivity have failed so far, as even those captured and bred on Vaporius itself to ensure nothing is remiss in the special sands or atmosphere have still proved useless for exploitation. The beasts grow normally, but never form their signature silicate endoskeleton, only soggy bones that easily break into segments of pulpy flesh.
Tales from Vaporius
One of the more popular stories told by voidfarers well in their cups is the tale of Magos Du'Bane. The Thulian Explorator is said to have travelled to Vaporius, where he became enthralled by the biological makeup of the wildlife there. The semi-silicate nature of certain native creatures such as the Dwellers in the Heights interested him, but the crystalline skeleton of the Sand Tiger truly fascinated the Magos Biologis. He spent weeks in the cities of various Vaporian Priest-Kings, boring them to no end with his experiments and postulations.
Finally, desperate to be rid of the tiresome Tech-priest, one of the Priest-Kings sponsored an expedition into the deep desert, so Du'Bane might find specimens. The tales all agree that Du'Bane found Sand Tigers, and became convinced that he could use a sonic amplifier to resonate with their crystal bones, drawing them from great distances to the machine. The last anyone heard of him, he was travelling into the deepest dune seas, seeking a suitable site to test his device. His arranged transport finally departed without him, but curiously was later paid the balance of the agreed-on fee along with a substantial bonus.
Of course, most assume this is simply a story, designed to prise a few free drinks from the gullible in the Calixis Sector eager for tales of the fearsome and dangerous Koronus Expanse. Some hold it contains a measure of truth, however, and several expeditions have nearly been organised to seek out Du'Bane's last resting place. A Sand Tiger lure would seem to be a guaranteed way to make immense profit -- if one ignored the danger of hundreds of ravenous predators converging on his location.
- Rogue Trader: Koronus Bestiary (RPG), pp. 22-23