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Warhammer 40K: Barbarus – Cradle of the Death Guard

6 Minute Read
Dec 7 2020

Even the soured corrupted hearts of the Death Guard have a soft spot for home – the blighted planet Barbarus.

Barbarus was the homeworld of the Death Guard prior to the Horus Heresy. It was the planet on which Mortarion landed and was of such a poor atmospheric quality that even Mortarion could not breathe at the top of its mountains.


Barbarus was a Feral World which orbited near its dim yellow sun. The atmosphere was thick with virulent gases and a constant fog was spread across the planet. This made it a very dark, dismal place of night with short, shadowy days. Only below the fog could humans survive, in the valleys and low plains.

Beings immune to the toxic fog survived within the toxic cloud and built great grey keeps in the mountains. The higher beings began to use the humans as slaves and spread terror among them, what these creatures were is not certain. After landing on the world, Mortarion eventually led the citizens of Barbarus in a revolt against the mountain rulers, toppling them before joining with the Emperor.


Mortarion Arrives on Barbarus

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.

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.

The winner of the battle in which Mortarion had landed was the greatest of the warlords. He was reveling 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 realized that no human should be able to breathe 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.

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 breathe 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. Eventually, Mortarion escaped from his holdings and descended the mountain, the warlord bellowing after him of his treachery and that to return would mean death.


Barbarus Fights for its Freedom

As Mortarion descended, he began to realize 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 realized 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.

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 meager 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.

A lesser warlord had arrived with his shambling undead legions and began to carry off those they could for their master’s plans. 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 maneuver. 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.

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.


Scions of Barbarus: The First Death Guard

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 armor. 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.

Soon the Emperor would arrive, reunite Mortarion with his Legion, and continue the Great Crusade. Barbarus would continue to supply aspirants to the Death Guard Legion. However, the betrayal of Mortarion and the Horus Heresy would doom the world.

Post Heresy

After Horus was defeated, Mortarion led his forces, in an ordered formation, back to the Eye of Terror. Mortarion claimed the Plague Planet as his new world and it is ideal for launching attacks on the real world. 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. He had come home.

After the Horus Heresy and the commencement of the Great Scouring, the loyalists subjected all worlds associated with the Traitor Legion’s to Exterminatus. Barbarus was among the worlds destroyed by the vengeful Imperium with Virus Bombs. A contradictory source states that it was destroyed by the Dark Angels shortly before the Siege of Terra with Cyclonic Torpedoes.

Notable Features

On the surface of Barbarus was the Wall of Memory, where the names of every Space Marine of the Death Guard legion killed during the Great Crusade were carved.

~ Knowledge is power – guard it well.


Author: Larry Vela
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