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First Founding (2011), p84 — Death Guard

"In the embrace of great Nurgle, I am no longer afraid, for with His pestilential favour I have become that which I once feared: Death."
— Kulvain Hestarius of the Death Guard

The Death Guard are a Traitor Legion entirely steeped in the power of Nurgle, the God of Plagues, their very essence the epitome of all that vile Chaos Power stands for. Their bodies are hives of filth and decay, their flesh eternally rotting away even as it is renewed by the ceaseless process of death and rebirth. Once, however, the Death Guard were the strongest and most resilient of all of the Emperor's Legions, the inheritors of the Primarch Mortarion in whose genetic image they were created.

Mortarion grew to maturity on the world of Barbarus, a planet steeped in a toxic miasma where the human population cowered in the dark lowlands, fearful of the overlords that preyed upon them from their mountaintop keeps deep within the fog. History does not record who or what these beings truly were, but it is certain they were more than, or at least other than, human. For one, they were able to breathe the deadly gases that make up the atmosphere, getting ever more deadly the higher the altitude, but they are said to have displayed other abilities too. The abominable masters of Barbarus were somehow able to enslave or dominate the flesh of the dead, and they preyed upon the cringing natives in the valleys below, ever needful of raw material to fuel the endless wars they fought against one another.

The infant Primarch was raised by one such overlord, who taught him the ways of war, yet would not answer his questions regarding the people who dwelled in the lowlands. When Mortarion defied his master and descended through the fog, which as a superhuman Primarch he could breathe, he found people, like himself, if weaker and existing in perpetual terror of the overlords who preyed upon them each night. Though they were initially suspicious of him, Mortarion proved himself one of their kind, and moulded them into an army that at first defied the hunting parties of the overlords, and then turned the tables upon them. At length, the only one left was he who had been Mortarion's master, residing so high in the toxic strata that not even Mortarion could pursue him.

When the Emperor came to Barbarus, the people greeted him as their saviour, yet Mortarion was jealous and resentful of the adulation heaped upon this perfect stranger. Though his people could see that the Emperor was the Primarch's sire, he himself saw only the differences. Where the stranger was noble of form and tanned of skin, Mortarion was pale and gaunt. When he refused to join him, the Master of Mankind issued Mortarion a challenge - if the Primarch could defeat the last overlord of Barbarus, the Emperor would depart. If he could not, Mortarion must accept his fate and join the Great Crusade.

Mortarion accepted the Emperor's challenge and ascended into the toxic clouds, higher than he had ever travelled before. At length, he reached the grim keep of his former master and raged for the overlord to face him. Yet, even the Primarch's superhumanly enhanced body could not withstand the toxic atmosphere, but as he succumbed, he saw the golden figure of the Emperor step between him and the overlord, entirely unaffected by the poisonous air. With a single stroke of his mighty blade, the Emperor felled the last overlord, and Mortarion acceded to his fate.

Once the Primarch was united with his Legion, it was found that the Death Guard, as they became known, were amongst the most resolute and resilient of all the Legions. Mortarion's warriors were ever to be found at the centre of the battle line, their strength and determination the inheritance of their Primarch, making them the unbreakable core of any army of conquest. When the Horus Heresy plunged the galaxy into civil war, the warriors of the Death Guard found themselves becalmed in the warp and assailed by warp-born plagues so virulent that not even their legendary resilience could withstand them. Soon, the entire Legion was beset by a sickness that bloated their bellies with corpse gas, caused flesh to slough from their bodies and made these strongest and toughest of warriors into crippled wretches assailed by delirium. Though none can say exactly what forces acted upon the soul of the Primarch of the Death Guard, whether he was already damned or whether he made his pact in some state of fever, he must have called out for deliverance, and his call must have been answered. When finally the Death Guard Legion's fleet emerged from the warp, its vessels and its warriors were entirely changed. The once-gleaming white and grey armour was stained with filth, and the noble warriors were transformed into walking hives of death and abomination. Worse still, the "Plague Marines" of the Death Guard were now hosts for the most virulent afflictions that their new patron, the Plague God Nurgle, could concoct. Condemned to a deathless state of decay, the Death Guard would spread their pestilent diseases the length and breadth of the galaxy for the greater glory of Chaos.

For Ever After

With the ending of the Horus Heresy, the Primarch Mortarion led his Legion into the Eye of Terror, and while others had splintered into countless warbands, the Death Guard remained largely whole, thanks in no small part to their legendary strength and resilience. Mortarion led them to a world that would become known simply as the Plague Planet, which he moulded into a new and despicable form, making it a virtual copy of Barbarus.

To this day, Mortarion's Death Guard launch their assaults through the Cadian Gate and into the galaxy beyond, sometimes in large bodies and at others lending strength to allied forces. Wherever they travel they spread the joyful, exuberant poxes of Nurgle, gifting those who would know eternal life with the choicest of the Plague God's blessings. The Death Guard is known to be active in several warzones in the Jericho Reach, though so far only in relatively small numbers and acting as adjuncts to larger forces. There have been numerous occasions when previously unknown plagues have swept the defence lines of otherwise static fronts, followed hours later by an overwhelming enemy advance. Many amongst the crusade's high command ascribe such instances to the Death Guard, and are fearful of what vile diseases they might concoct next.