The Pallid Procession
The Grave and the Cradle
As the Chapter took its fateful journey through the treacherous pass leading into the Halo Stars, it was buffeted and shaken by the turbulence of the warp. After more than a month withstanding the storm, near the heart of the fleet, the strike cruiser Reilios, home of the 6th company, began to list out of formation. Within its hull, disarray. The ship’s Gellar Field was failing and the Immaterium was claiming it. Surfaces of the decks and bulkheads warped and bubbled, crumbled and cracked, changing material in an eyeblink. Bodies were transfigured and twisted. Entities of the Empyrean stalked the corridors. Amid the screams, coughs, and sounds of battle against apparating demonic entities, there were also murmurs of pledged loyalty, and while most stood and fought, there were some that bent the knee.
The rest of the fleet continued receiving horrific transmission from the Reilios for hours, until at last it was pulled from its course and violently ejected from the warp stream, pulling a smaller vessel from the Explorator’s fleet with it, both presumed destroyed. But they survived. The two ships emerged from the Warp together, far from their destination, but mostly intact. Functional, but not unmarked. Both ships bore what appeared to be the accumulated wear and corrosion of centuries in the void without maintenance. The emblems and icons of the Chapter and the Imperium that had adorned the cruiser had crumbled or burned away, replaced instead with symbols of a different allegiance; the trio of circles that represent the Plague Lord, Nurgle. Every living soul aboard both vessels had been changed; a price paid for survival, and for Johin Mahlur’s failure.
Composed of everything from scout vessels and pleasure yachts all the way up to battleships and space hulks, there are more weapons, artifacts, and secrets in the Processional than on some of the oldest hives of the Imperium. The orbiting vessels come from every age and beyond, and from civilizations human and xenos alike. There is far more hidden among these ships than the emerging warband can hope to uncover on its own. The Reilios and the Demittor, the Mechanicus forge-barque that had succumbed with them, moved to orbit alongside the Processional, only to see the ships surrounding them to part of their own accord, leaving room for both heretic vessels. Entering orbit, the heretics began their explorations. To further reflect the changes to themselves and their ship, the heretic Astartes renamed their corrupted Strike Cruiser “Pursuer of the End.”
Over the course of years and decades that followed, the corrupted survivors explored and cannibalized the surrounding ships, while the tainted Mechanicus dragged multiple vessels together to build a dark, floating forge. The Astartes and their subjects refitted and repaired a handful of other ships, and began to launch scouting missions into the dark corners of the Halo Stars and towards the Asperos Astra’s original destination. When at last they found the Manifest Frontier, the loyalists’ newfound home, they set about watching them, dispatching agents into their midst to observe, and planting new seeds of corruption in the hearts of their wards. A handful of the choicest recruits were spirited away back to the Processional, where they joined the ceaseless salvage and restoration effort on the various wrecks. Others are outfitted with scout ships and sent into the darkest corners of the Frontier, pursuing secret objectives.
The Processional now has pockets of activity throughout its orbit, some ships having been returned to full functionality to serve the heretics' naval and transport needs, while others have little more than flickering engines and lights full of whispers, some new and some ancient. The bulk of the work done in the Processional is carried out by undead, whose living masters push them ever harder to prepare the ships for their destiny. Still less than a fraction of its potential has been uncovered. The secrets and power it contains are of extreme importance to certain members of the Immaterium. And what is important to them is important to the Pallid Procession.
The bulk of the warband is composed of the surviving crew from the Pursuer and the Demittor, who command zealots and cultists that have been spirited away from the colony worlds of the Manifest Frontier. Supplementing their lack of numbers are great hordes of undead, raised by means of pestilent sorcery. While the Procession exercises its powers quite liberally to cull and harass the colonists, it is also very cautious in it’s approach to tempting away other Marines of the Asperos Astra. It is rarely worth the risk to commit substantial forces against the Chapter’s established defenses, but probing strikes against convoys and isolated outposts can sometimes yield new “recruits.” With great care, the Procession has slowly and subtly grown, and they continue their implacable advance with all the inevitability Nurgle’s children are known for.
Advancement among the Astartes within the Procession is at the sole discretion of the Black Warden, Calvera, and hinges on much the same kinds of deeds expected of the mundane mortals in their service: providing information. As the Procession scours the Manifest Frontier from its heaviest fortifications to its darkest unexplored corners in search of the hidden power they desire, the favor of their master is reserved for those who provide the most valuable intelligence.
Lacking the numbers of elite (or even particularly coordinated) troops found among the Asperos Astra and the colonist militias, the warband compensates using waves of undead chaff to draw enemy attention and absorb fire. These hordes are composed of both simple reanimated dead, as well as more robust zombies created with an iteration of the Walking Pox known in the Frontier as the Withering Pox. The walkers created by the Withering Pox often appear shriveled and emaciated, rather than the typical swollen and pustule ridden form of pox walkers, but are still possessed of a frightening density that makes them deceptively hardy. While the pox walkers are usually gathered into their own hordes, it is not unusual for some to be mixed among the simpler plague zombies, where they are difficult to pick out until they are already upon the foe and their unexpected strength and ferocity is too late to stop.
With the tide of undead at the front, the Procession’s firepower, borne primarily by the undead members of the 6th, can then be brought to bear with minimal interference. Their focused fire is used to target perceived weak points in their target’s defences, creating greater opportunity for the hordes to break through and overwhelm defenders. More entrenched enemies are ideally faced with too many shambling corpses to be able to contribute meaningfully to the battle.
Using the frontal assault as a distraction, the sorcerer leading the force will take advantage of the chaos sown by the pressing hordes to slip through a vulnerability in the enemy defence, whether discovered or pre-prepared, to accomplish the Procession’s main objective, or to fall upon an unsuspecting enemy flank with psychic fury, taking them off balance and leaving them all the more exposed.
The Procession are especially dangerous in the void, where they take full advantage of the endless supply of gutted and abandoned vessels bestowed on them by their master. Fireships and ramming leave wide openings for boarding, both in direct assaults with their massed hordes and by stealthy insertions of sorcerers and their champions. To date, only moderately sized vessels, no larger than the Pursuer have seen use in actions against their enemies.
The humans with real standing in the Procession are more often than not spared from brutal combat service; they are far more valuable to the warband as information gatherers and fomenters of dissent. These select and faithful few operate primarily as solitary agents, searching the Frontier for whispers of the power the Procession seeks, while laying the foundation for new cults.
Above most humans, but somewhat distinct from the structure of the Procession are the acolytes and magi of the Demittor, who have combined the gifts and knowledge of their patron with their existing technological prowess in order to keep the Procession equipped with arms and ammunition. As is typical of their kind, most of them would rather spend their time uncovering the secrets and archaeotech in the treasure trove that is the Processional, but they can be relied upon to outfit the warband according to its needs, and occasionally even take to the battlefield.
Of the heretic astartes themselves, they are loosely divided into thirteen strike teams, each led by one of the original traitors from the Pursuer. These bands organize themselves largely as they see fit, and carry out the missions specifically given them in furtherance of the Procession’s goals. Their leaders, referred to as Augers by their lessers, each have varying degrees of influence over the powers of the Warp, due mostly to pacts struck during the fall of the Reilios. The more proactive among them have begun to approach the power of true sorcerers, but all have potent gifts they may bring to bear.
Commanding the warband’s operations on the material plane is the grim figure known as Calvera, the Black Warden. It is unknown what his exact involvement was in the fall of the 6th Company, but he was the most senior among those who turned, to say nothing of his authority as a Warden of Souls. What had once been an indomitable will as a Warden of the Asperos Astra has now turned toward the dark, entropic designs of the Plaguefather. Under his direction the Procession has harried both the Asperos and the Nonaveridis across the length and breadth of the Manifest Frontier, striking almost without consequence at places thought impervious to assault. Calvera himself takes counsel from none, save the greater daemon that relays the Plaguefather’s wishes. Only a handful of the original heretics are privy to this entity’s nature, but it is known to be the creator of the Withering Pox. To those of the material plane, the being is named The Graywhisper, and is one of the unifying subjects of worship among the various plague cults birthed by the Procession.
And then, somewhere at the edge of the Procession’s structure is the enigmatic figure known most commonly among them Pallid Preacher. Even within the warband, no one can confidently claim understanding of this creature’s nature. He often appears at settlements a few days, or sometimes mere hours before the arrival of warband hordes, raving abstractly to the inhabitants about the merits of death and the waiting afterlife. On more than one occasion the preacher’s unsettling sermons have been answered with bullets. While in some places he escapes, in others he, or at least something like him, has been reported killed. Still he appears on the frontlines, heedless of any number of deaths.
Through their cults and, to a lesser degree the mad ministrations of the Preacher, the warband spreads its belief in death as the greatest gift, a liberation from the worry and pain of life. An afterlife awaits the worthy, a second life, which in reality is no more than being revived by one of the zombie plagues to further “spread the word.” Among the cults of the Procession, there is no greater aspiration, and the sorcerers within the warband are honest in delivering this gift to their disciples upon death.
Nurgle’s purpose for the Procession among the Halo Stars is known only to the heretic Astartes and a select few of their most devoted followers. Under the daemon’s guidance, they are convinced that somewhere in the Frontier is an artifact capable of animating the entire Processional of the Damned. If found, it would create a fleet the likes of which the Imperium has seldom seen. One which could visit death and devastation upon an entire Segmentum.
Call: “Every step closer!”
Answer: “Closer to the grave!”