The Deathshroud, known as the "Pale Harvestmen," the "Scythes of Nurgle" and the "Eyes of Mortarion," are the elite warriors of the Death Guard Traitor Legion who serve as the Daemon Primarch Mortarion's elite warriors. Every one of these plague-ridden Heretic Astartes are redolent with a miasma of fear and menace. Such a reputation is richly deserved. Swollen with unnatural power, the Deathshroud tower over their enemies. Rusted gauntlets and squirming tentacles clutch huge battle scythes known as Manreapers, cursed weapons that slice heads from shoulders and limbs from torsos with every swing. Clouds of plague flies boil around the Deathshroud, while vile smog spills from vents in their armour to choke and blind their foes.
The warriors of the Deathshroud are sublimely skilled, whirling and striking with a speed that belies their massive, distended frames. Yet it is not merely their abilities in battle that make them so feared. The Deathshroud are the handpicked champions of Mortarion, his dark emissaries, and wherever they go they bear the authority of their gene-sire with them. They rarely speak but to convey Mortarion's commands, and when they do so their voices emerge as a rattling hiss. The Deathshroud fight in ominous silence, uttering no battle cry and rising to no challenge, embodying the faceless, wordless onset of inescapable death as their shadows fall across their enemies.
During the Great Crusade and Horus Heresy eras, the Deathshroud were the elite Space Marines of the Death Guard Legion who served as the Primarch Mortarion's mute Honour Guard. Great secrecy surrounded this elite cadre. Their numbers were chosen from amongst the ranks of the Death Guard Legion and each member was singled out and personally selected by their Primarch for the bravery and valour they had displayed in combat. Once chosen, the selected Battle-Brother would foreswear his former life as a common rank-and-file Astartes of the XIV Legion, and would swear binding oaths of secrecy as a new member of the secretive Deathshroud. Each member of the Deathshroud would be listed as killed in action to allay any suspicions as to their true identity, and they would forever conceal their faces behind heavy enclosed helmets, masks or hoods. Each Deathshroud Astartes' identity was known only to their Primarch himself, even after their deaths.
The Deathshroud wore Artificer-crafted Cataphractii Pattern Terminator Armour of the highest quality, which presented a foreboding appearance. Like their Primarch, each member of the Deathshroud wielded a large Power Scythe known as a Manreaper. It was the Deathshroud's sacred duty for at least two of their number to never stray more than forty-nine paces from Mortarion. These stoic warriors' presence was quite intimidating as when not in motion they would stand uniformly at attention, still as statues. But in battle they were equally frightening, for whatever the odds, they always moved inexorably towards their target, as unerring as the automated killing machines employed by the Legio Cybernetica. Their fate after the end of the Horus Heresy remains unknown.
In battle, when not fulfilling their role as their Primarch's bodyguards, Deathshroud squads consisting of two to ten members were typically used to assail the most heavily defended objectives on the battlefield and secure them for the advance of other allied forces. Deathshroud squads sometimes made use of Land Raiders as transports in order to achieve this role.
"Even whilst we fight, we watch.
Even whilst we kill, we judge.
Mids't war's full fury, still we see.
Midst all your guards, still we strike.
We are the Death Lord's icy gaze.
And we are his reaping blade."
- — Oath of the Deathshroud
Mortarion still recruits the Deathshroud in this same fashion, but their battlefield role has changed since his ascension to daemonhood. Now the Deathshroud are his representatives, his iron gauntlet that can be extended to shield or to crush. Though the Deathshroud often still fight at Mortarion's side, bands of them are also despatched to form honour guards for Death Guard Chaos Lords, Plague Surgeons and other Champions of power and importance. Their presence is a mixed blessing at best. The Deathshroud will fight with all their skill and strength in support of their assigned Champion, and prove to be an undeniable asset in battle. Yet all the while the Deathshroud are judging upon their master's behalf. If the Champion is successful, the Deathshroud depart at battle's end, leaving as silently as they came. If their charge fails in his duties, however, the judgement of Mortarion is swift, deadly and utterly inescapable.
- Khorak - Veteran Sergeant Khorak and his squad had the privilege of serving as part of their Primarch's silent honour cohort during the Istvaan V Drop Site Massacre and as such took part in numerous counterattacks against the first wave of the Loyalist assault. The most bitterly fought of these were against the leading edge of the Salamanders Legion attack, where pure flame met noxious chem-cloud in a confrontation that left many Death Guard, but many more Salamanders, slain. At the height of the massacre, Squad Khorak fought beneath the gaze of their Primarch himself, and were girded to redouble their bloody efforts and to redouble them again. In the face of such redoubtable power, not even the elite of the Legiones Astartes could stand.
- Codex: Grey Knights (5th Edition), pg. 15
- Codex Heretic Astartes - Death Guard (8th Edition), pg. 40
- Horus Heresy: Collected Visions, pg. 229
- The Horus Heresy - Book One: Betrayal (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pp. 129, 263
- The Horus Heresy - Book Two: Massacre (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pg. 49
- Flight of the Eisenstein (Novel) by James Swallow, pp. 19-20, 30, 57, 59, 67, 72
- Forge World - Death Guard Deathshroud Terminators