Mortarion (also known as the Death Lord, The Pale King, or the Reaper of Men[17a]) was one of the original twenty Primarchs. He was given command of the Death Guard Legion on the arrival of the Emperor to his world of Barbarus but turned to the forces of Chaos during the Horus Heresy.
Before the Coming of the Emperor
The only consistent information regarding Mortarion and his homeworld come from a single source: the Stygian Scrolls of Lackland Thorn, a historian and polymath attached to the explorator fleet that discovered Barbarus.[6b]
Mortarion crash landed on the world of Barbarus. He came to rest at the site of a huge battle fought across a vast plain. All around him were strewn the bodies of the dead and dying for miles in all directions. Barbarus was constantly covered in a poisonous fog and the mountains were ruled by fierce warlords. The normal humans, dropped off millennia before, were forced to live in the lowest areas of the planet, amidst the choking fog. They were condemned to an endless life of servitude and were in constant fear of those who moved above them.[6b]
The winner of the battle in which Mortarion had landed was the greatest of the warlords. He was revelling in his victory until the silence was shattered by the scream of a child. It is said this warlord walked the battlefield for a day searching for the child, not stopping once until he found it. For a moment he considered killing the child, but he realised that no human should be able to breath at this height, let alone cry out. He considered what he had found, and then bundled the child up and carried it from the carnage. He now had a son, something he had craved for years despite his dark magical powers. The warlord christened the child Mortarion, child of death.[6b]
The warlord tested how high the child could survive in the poisonous atmosphere of Barbarus and then erected a massive wall of black iron. He then moved his mansion past this to keep it from the child. Perhaps he knew the child was better than him and that one day he would come for the warlord, or perhaps he was afraid of the small child able to breath where no other of his kind could. Whatever he felt, he trained the child in his image. He taught everything of warfare to Mortarion. He was constantly at the front fighting against all of the other warlords' armies, sometimes of undead humans, sometimes of more daemonic creatures. Mortarion was still human though, and he sought to know of those who dwelled below the layer of fog. After witnessing the Overlords hauling captive humans away for torture and experimentation[17a], Mortarion escaped from his holdings and descended the mountain, the warlord bellowing after him of his treachery and that to return would mean death.[6b]
As Mortarion descended, he began to realise he had found his people. He smelt the scent of food for the first time, he saw people unobstructed by the fog and for the first time he heard laughter, real laughter, not that of the victorious warlord's. He realised that the prey that the warlords fought over was his own people, and with this came a sense of hatred and he vowed to give them justice over their oppressors.[6b]
His acceptance into the community of humans was not easy. He was seen as just another monster from above them, and this was quite true due to his appearance. He had pallid skin and hollow, haunted eyes and he terrified most of the inhabitants. He may have been feared, but Mortarion bade his time and helped get the meagre harvest in and was generally a useful and productive member of the society, more than most were. Eventually, the time he had waited for arrived, a way to prove himself in the eyes of his fellow humans.[6b]
A lesser warlord had arrived with his shambling undead legions and began to carry off those they could for their master's plans. In the ensuing Overlord Wars the peasants fought back as best they could, but they only had fire torches and farming implements to defend themselves. Each of them had fought many times like this during their lives and it was all they could do not to run, let alone put up an effective counter manoeuvre. Until, that is, Mortarion himself joined into the fray. He strode above his fellow humans, dwarfing all around him. He used an enormous two handed scythe and charged into the ranks of the enemy with the hatred that had been building for years before and drove them from the village. The warlord smiled and withdrew to the poisonous area above, unaware of the primarch's amazing respiratory abilities. Mortarion dispatched the warlord and his place among the villagers was sealed.[6b]
As Mortarion grew he taught the villagers all he knew of warfare. Word of his knowledge and exploits spread and people came from far and wide to learn from him. Soon, villages were becoming strongholds and the villagers were more effective defenders. Eventually, Mortarion began to move from village to village, teaching along the way and if need be, defend the settlements. His ultimate vengeance was always denied to him because of the fog that prevented the humans from pushing home their attacks.[6b]
Mortarion then recruited the strongest and most resilient of warriors from the villages he went to. He formed them into elite units and drilled them himself. He turned blacksmiths from tool-working to weapons-making when time allowed and had them craft armour. He also armed his warriors with crude air filtration apparatus. It is said that the next attack that descended from the mountains above was repulsed quickly and Mortarion, leading his Death Guard, as they had become known, followed them into the fog above, massacring the remaining forces and killing the warlord. For the first time in history, Mortarion had led the people into the toxic fog and survived. Mortarion continued to improve the breathing apparatus and campaigned ever higher into the fog. The constant exposure to the toxins hardened his warriors, a useful and transferable skill retained by the Death Guard.[6b]
The Unification Struggle
Only the top of the mountains denied him access. After hundreds of battles and wars, there was just one inaccessible mansion, one which Mortarion knew well, the one where his adoptive father resided. Mortarion returned to his village, confident in the knowledge that he would return for his final battle. When he returned, there was word of an amazing visitor who brought promises of salvation. The mood of the primarch darkened. His final battle had been building for years and he was not happy that someone else would share his glory.[6b]
People say that Mortarion flattened the wooden door to the banquet room and he found the elders and a stranger who was their opposite in every way. Where they were gaunt and pale skinned, the stranger had bronzed flesh and a perfect physique. The connection between father and son immediately formed and was plain to see, although Mortarion knew nothing of the link. The stranger challenged the young primarch to capture the last mansion alone, but if he failed he would join the stranger in total obedience. Mortarion turned away and began the ascent to the final mansion, that of the man he had called father, alone. He marched to the top with the anger given by years of building hatred for the final warlord. He climbed higher than he had ever gone before, ignoring the increasing toxins.[6b]
When the confrontation came, it was mercifully short. Even the hoses of his suit began to corrode and rot down and Mortarion was gasping for breath. The last thing he saw was the overlord walking towards him to fulfill the promise he had made years before. Then, the stranger stepped between them and, defying the fog, killed the warlord with one mighty sweep of his sword[6b]. When Mortarion had recovered he bent his knee to the stranger and pledged his service. Only then did the stranger reveal himself to be the Emperor of Mankind and Mortarion's father. He then was given command of the fourteenth legion of the Space Marines, the Dusk Raiders.[Needs Citation]
It was said that Mortarion brought his relentlessness to the Death Guard legion and they followed his ideals. He only ever found friendship in two other Primarchs, Night Haunter and Horus. So close did Mortarion and Horus become that the ever watchful Roboute Guilliman of the Ultramarines and Corax of the Raven Guard approached the Emperor with concerns as to where Mortarion's loyalties lay. The Emperor waved it aside with a hand gesture; loyalty to Horus was loyalty to the Emperor[6b]. Meanwhile, Mortarion was frequently critical of Magnus the Red over his use of Librarians and was one of the chief voices to ban Psykers among the Astartes Legions at the Council of Nikea. Mortarion expressed a hatred of all things related to the Warp, and felt betrayed when he managed to sneak into the Imperial Palace and discovered the Golden Throne under construction. However after Malcador explained that the purpose of the Golden Throne was to remove mankind's need of the Warp, Mortarion was put more at ease. Mortarion also clashed with other Primarch's who he felt had upbringings far easier than his hell on Barbarus, particularly Sanguinius, Jaghatai Khan, and Fulgrim.
Like Perturabo, Mortarion proved bitter over his perceived sidelining and under-appreciation by other Primarchs during the Great Crusade. Jaghatai Khan remarked that besides himself, Mortarion was the only Primarch whose deeds and history were not well known to the greater Imperium. Mortarion even proved critical of Horus' promotion to Warmaster, agreeing that while Horus was the best choice the Emperor's decision to name a Warmaster in the first place had been a mistake. Mortarion predicted that only strife between the Primarchs would rise if the Emperor were to abandon the Great Crusade personally and used Horus as his proxy.
Horus found Mortarion more difficult to bring to his cause than either Angron or Fulgrim, and for a time it seemed the Warmaster may have failed to convince the Lord of the Death Guard. However, Horus at last found a chink in Mortarion's armor; he was beginning to see the Emperor as having been corrupted with power and now was just another tyrant drunk with power. Indeed, Mortarion had become disgusted with what exactly the Emperor was, considering him a Warp-tainted "aberration" like his tyrant adopted father. Horus also used Mortarion's distrust of the Warp to his advantage, arguing that the Emperor had used the Warp in the creation of the Primarchs. Horus eventually used these doubts to bring Mortarion to his cause.[6a] Mortarion led his Legion in their betrayal of the Imperium at the Battle of Isstvan III and Drop Site Massacre. He later came to blows with Jaghatai Khan on Prospero after failing to convince him to join with them in rebellion. During the fight the two Primarchs were able to challenge the other, with the Great Khan proving faster and the Death Lord proving more durable. Following the battle, Mortarion abandoned his pursuit of the White Scars and instead began a spiteful purge of the systems surrounding Prospero. During the purge, Mortarion encountered a Daemon possessing the body of a woman and was forced to kill it using his innate psychic abilities despite it being against Imperial (and by this point, his very own) dogma. Realizing that the Emperor had lied to him about the Empyrean, Mortarion vowed to master it.
Mortarion next appeared during the Battle of Dwell, summoned by Horus alongside Fulgrim to aid him in gaining the powers of the Emperor on Molech. During their meeting, Mortarion survived an assassination attempt by Shadrak Meduson, who assaulted the Primarchs with a trio of Fire Raptors. Later in the Battle of Molech, Mortarion sacrificed several of his Deathshroud warriors to allow for the resurrection of Ignatius Grulgor.
By the time of the Battle of the Kalium Gate late in the Heresy, Mortarion's forbidden knowledge had grown considerably. He experimented with both Xenos and Chaos artifacts, vowing to remain pure through understanding. At this same time he was tasked with Horus to find and destroy the White Scars, who had been harrying the traitor lines since the events on Prospero. Mortarion was initially reluctant, but was moved by Horus' declaration that he was the only Primarch the Warmaster still could rely on and was eager to settle the score with the Khan anyway. In the subsequent Battle of Catallus, the joint Death Guard-Emperor's Children fleet led by Mortarion cornered the White Scars fleet at the Dark Glass artifact. But as Mortarion boarded Jaghatai's flagship, the Swordstorm, he discovered the ship abandoned save for a contingent of suicidal Sagyar Mazan warriors. Worse still for the Primarch, the reactors of the Swordstorm had been set to overload and the Khan had since evacuated to the Battleship Lance of Heaven, which was leading the escape of the loyalist fleet into the Webway. Unable to escape thanks to the Sagyar Mazan and the vessels reactivated Void Shields, Mortarion led the massacre of the Scars suicidal rear guard while directing his fleet to combine its fire and reduce the Swordstorms shields. When the shields were depleted shortly after he personally killed Torghun Khan, Mortarion barely teleported off the Swordstorm before it exploded. Following the battle, Mortarion realized that his divided fleet had hampered the war effort and ordered Eidolon to find Calas Typhon and his splinter fleet.
Fall of the Death Guard
After these campaigns, Mortarion received orders from Horus to make for Terra. Mortarion rejoined the primary Death Guard fleet under Calas Typhon, who was battled the Dark Angels fleet in a campaign of misdirection in the aftermath of the Battle of Perditus. On Ynyx Mortarion and Typhon reunited, and their whole fleet set course of Terra for the coming battle. Upon Typhon's advice, Mortarion would make the journey inside the Terminus Est as opposed to the Endurance. However, Mortarion found his once-beloved brother Typhon changed, and once their vessels were inside the Warp the First Captain framed all of the fleet's Navigators. Accusing them of agents of Malcador, Typhon had his Grave Wardens execute all of the Navigators but assured Mortarion that he and his trained specialists could navigate the Warp to Terra. Mortarion's distrust of Typhon intensified as the Death Guard became afflicted with the Destroyer Hive. This plague transformed the Death Guard into bloated mutants, unable to die by any means. No cure was found, and it seemed the Death Guard was doomed to something as petty as disease. After Mortarion himself became infected, he confronted Typhon aboard the Navigator's station on the Terminus Est.[17b]
Mortarion accused Typhon of treachery, and the First Captain replied that he had indeed lied to his Primarch but for a greater purpose he would come to appreciate. Enraged, Mortarion engaged Typhon in a duel, with the First Captain's psychic abilities allowing him to hold off the Primarch's attacks for a time. However, Mortarion eventually prevailed and struck down Typhon with his scythe. Due to the Destroyer Hive, Typhon quickly came back to life. Mortarion then revealed his trump card: unleashing the deformed Ignatius Grulgor from his confines. Grulgor strangled Typhon to death, fulfilling his oath to Mortarion to kill the First Captain. However, Typhon quickly came back to life, and both the First Captain and Daemon laughed as Mortarion realized he had been betrayed. With no more options and overcome by the Destroyer Plague, Mortarion began to hallucinate that he was back on Barbarus attempting to endure the toxins of the mountains to reach his father's fortress. He heard the voice of Nurgle, stating that without his submission he and the Death Guard would be doomed to this torture for all eternity. However, with submission would come new unparalleled endurance and power. Mortarion simultaneously experienced himself before the Emperor after his failure to kill his father, and finally snapped. He pledged himself to Nurgle and the torture ceased.[17b] According to a Daemon known as The Remnant, Mortarion had allowed Typhus to corrupt the Death Guard as he saw no other path for the survival of his sons.[23a]
What emerged from the warp bore little resemblance to what had gone in. The Marines' once gleaming armour was corroded and shattered, barely containing their bloated, pustule covered bodies. Their weapons and armour were powered by the energies of Chaos and they became known as the Plague Marines, although they would still use the name Death Guard. During the Siege of Terra Mortarion was the last of the traitor Primarch's to appear in the Sol System. The Lord of Death appeared aboard the Vengeful Spirit, his putrid stench sending all but Horus, Abaddon, and Tormageddon into convulsions. True to his earlier pledge, Horus let Mortarion's Death Guard be the first to land upon Terra. During the battle on Terra he oversaw the siege of the Western regions of the Palace, spreading plague and misery wherever he appeared. Unlike Angron and Fulgrim, he did not even attempt to penetrate the Emperor's psychic shield around the Palace. During a war council he mocked Perturabo for not fully embracing Chaos but nonetheless allowed Typhus to work with the Iron Warriors Primarch as part of a ritual to weaken the Emperor's psychic shield of the Palace.[19a] Mortarion next met with Magnus in order to discuss an attack on the Colossi Gate, revealing to his brother that he hated his current Daemonic visage and was in constant pain. Magnus helped Mortarion control his new abilities, allowing the Primarch to regain his lost composure. Grateful, Mortarion immediately organized an attack on the Colossi Gate that Magnus would use as a screen while he infiltrated the Imperial Dungeon.
Sometime before his eventual battle with Jaghatai Khan, Mortarion assaulted the Marmax Bastion alongside Typhus but was met by Nathaniel Garro. Garro rejected his fathers offer to return to the Death Guard and instead challenged Mortarion to a duel, buying time for Euphrati Keeler to escape. While Mortarion initially toyed with the warrior to humiliate him, after taking a wound he became enraged and struck the warrior down. Mortarion declared he would turn Garro into an undead puppet to serve him for eternity, summoning a great host of flies to convert him into a Nurgle abomination. However, thanks to the Emperor's power being infused into him by Keeler, Garro was able to fight Mortarion back for a time but was still ultimately no match for the Daemon Primarch's power. Garro died, but not before giving Mortarion a painful wound in his neck with the broken shard of Libertas.
Following the withdrawal of Perturabo and the Iron Warriors from Terra Horus gave Mortarion the Lion's Gate Spaceport, which he turned into his own personal headquarters. However, this was assailed in a massive counterattack led by Mortarion's old foe Jaghatai Khan, leading a force of White Scars and Imperial Army. During the fight for the Spaceport the 2 Primarch's once again came to blows. Faced with Mortarion's new Daemonic endurance and strength, the Khan was brutally beaten down and nearly defenseless. However, he was able to find a weakness in the Death Lord with his pride. Jaghatai Khan scolded Mortarion for being weak and giving into the powers of the Warp, while he himself had resisted the temptations of Chaos and remained true to the Emperor. Mortarion flew into a rage, which the Khan took advantage of to launch a second wave of dizzying attacks that overwhelmed the Primarch. In the end the badly wounded Jaghatai Khan was impaled on the blade of Mortarion's scythe, but simply pulled his body along its length to get face-to-face with the Death Guard Primarch. The loyalist Primarch decapitated Mortarion, who was banished into the Warp in a massive explosion similar to that of a Vortex Weapon. Later the Khan's badly wounded body was recovered by Imperial forces.
After Horus was defeated, Mortarion reappeared and claimed the Plague Planet in the Eye of Terror as his new base. He shaped it so well that Nurgle promoted him to Daemon Prince. Mortarion got what he wanted, a world of his own. He ruled over a toxic death world of poison, horror and misery, with his own position ironically mirroring the one his monstrous step-father had held on Barbarus. He had come home.
Following the Heresy, the ascended Mortarion shut himself off from the affairs of the Materium. Seeing the Materium as petty, his interest leaned towards the Great Game. He was rarely seen even by his own subordinates on the Plague Planet, leaving the Death Guard to conduct campaigns on its own as warbands. However, he still appeared in galactic affairs on a number of occasions.
In 901.M41, during the Battle of Kornovin, Mortarion killed Geronitan, Supreme Grand Master of the Grey Knights. Geronitan's subordinate, Kaldor Draigo, assaulted the Daemon Primarch and spoke the true name that the Emperor had originally intended for him. His physical form devastated and his spirit sent to the Immaterium, Draigo carved his forebear's name into the Daemon's heart, an insult Mortarion has never forgotten.
After Roboute Guilliman was resurrected in the closing days of the 41st Millennium, Mortarion sensed his brother's rebirth. Guilliman's return sparked Mortarion's interest in material affairs once more, and for the first time in 10,000 years he decided to lead the whole of the Death Guard in a renewed campaign. In anticipation he created 7 new diseases with the Hand of Darkness, one of which was a blindness-inducing plague that swept through Ultramar. Only Guilliman's presence could cure the sickness. Later, Mortarion personally led a massive invasion of Ultramar in what became known as the Plague Wars. Mortarion massacred the population of entire worlds in an attempt to goad Guilliman to battle. During that campaign, Mortarion appeared during the Invasion of Konor where he led the Death Guard in an attempt to break through to Macragge itself. The Daemon Primarch later aided Typhus and Ku'Gath in their trap against Guilliman on Parmenio but was foiled by a mysterious young girl who may have been a Living Saint.
Mortarion's plan against Guilliman reached its climax on Iax, luring his brother there in cooperation with Ku'gath, who created a deadly disease known as the Godblight which was capable of killing even a Primarch. Mortarion and Ku'gath both ignored orders from Nurgle himself to move to the Scourge Stars due to the new War in the Rift, with even Typhus abandoning his Primarch to follow the Plague God's will. Mortarion still believed himself not a slave to Chaos, and sought to transform Ultramar into an extension of the Garden of Nurgle.[22a] On Iax, the two Primarchs came to blows, but Mortarion was able to emerge the victor thanks to his Daemonically-enhanced strength and resilience. Administering the Godblight, Mortarion attempted to goad his brother down the path of corruption by stating Nurgle could save him from his agonizing death. When Guilliman suddenly reawoke and channeled the power of the Emperor directly, Mortarion fled before the power of his Father.[22b] According to Rotigus, both Mortarion and Ku'gath have earned the displeasure of Nurgle for their insubordination and failure.[22c]
Appearance and Wargear
During the height of his powers as a servant of the Emperor, Mortarion was described as having an ashen, hairless face. He was extremely tall and thin and wore a heavy collar around his throat that constantly emitted wisps of poisonous air. He wore a grey cloak over his personalised suit of brass and bare steel power armour known as The Barbaran Plate. He carried a huge, hand-crafted Shenlongi energy pistol at his side called "the Lantern." He also wore a string of globe-shaped brass censers which contain poisonous gases from his homeworld which were utilized as Phosphex Bombs. His signature weapon was the Manreaper Silence, a battle scythe a foot taller than him.
The Deathshroud are his personal bodyguard. Two accompany him at all times and are never more than forty-nine paces from his side. They are marines who are listed as killed in action and then wear a mask for the rest of their lives so that only Mortarion may know their true identity. They carry their own Manreapers, copies of the primarch's weapon proportionate for their hands.
Mortarion's name comes from the Latin word Mors, meaning death.
- 1: Index Astartes: Death Guard (White Dwarf 264 (US))
- 2: The Flight of the Eisenstein (Novel) by James Swallow, Chapter One, pgs. 28–29
- 3: White Dwarf 150 (UK)[Needs Citation]
- 4: Codex: Grey Knights (5th Edition) pg. 38
- 5: Codex: Chaos Space Marines (6th Edition) pg. 22
- 6: The Horus Heresy Book One - Betrayal
- 7: Horus Heresy: Collected Visions, pgs. 347–349
- 8: Mortarion's Heart
- 9: Scars (Novel)[Needs Citation]
- 10: Daemonology (Short Story)
- 11: A Thousand Sons (Novel)[Needs Citation]
- 12: Vengeful Spirit (Novel)[Needs Citation]
- 13: The Path of Heaven (Novel)[Needs Citation]
- 13a: Chapter 7
- 14: Gathering Storm: Rise of the Primarch Part 2
- 15: Dark Imperium (Novel) Chapter 10
- 16: The Lords of Silence (Novel), Chapter 5
- 17: The Buried Dagger (Novel)
- 18: The Lost and the Damned (Novel) - Chapter 15
- 18a: Limited Edition Artwork
- 19: The First Wall (Novel) Chapter 7
- 19a: Chapter 10
- 20: Dark Imperium: Plague War (Novel) Chapters 24-27
- 21: Saturnine (Novel) Part 1 Chapter 5
- 22: Godblight (Novel)
- 23: Warhawk (Novel) - Chapters 24-27
- 24: Garro: Knight of Grey (Novella) - Chapter 6
- 25: Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned, pgs. 256–257
- 26: Codex: Death Guard (8th Edition), pg. 23 — The Chronicle of Virulence: Rust and Ruin