"Humanity has reached a dead end! It no longer has the means to sustain itself in the stars. Blind to its own limitations it kills the children that hold the key to its future. We are those children and the future is ours!"
- —Broadcast to Loyalist relief forces by the rebels during the Tranch War
Rightly regarded as the cause of one of the most dangerous threats to the stability of the Calixis Sector in recent years, the Pale Throng is a mutant Chaos Cult whose origins lay on the bleak and oppressive world of Tranch. There it led the wave of bloody uprisings that ignited the infamous Tranch War, whose aftermath still lingers to plague many worlds in the Malfian and Adrantian Sub-sectors to the present day.
No subtle cult or hidden conspiracy, the Pale Throng is a crazed and degenerate congregation of shambling horrors and decayed and sickening witch-breeds guided by sinister mutant overlords. Its only goal is to throw off the shackles of its oppression and visit bloody vengeance in an apocalyptic rebellion to destroy the Imperium and ultimately seize control of the future of mankind. Born on a world now made infamous for war and suffering, the Pale Throng has since created and inspired revolts on dozens of worlds across the Calixis Sector and beyond. But perhaps greater than the danger that this amorphous army of monstrosities possesses -- in terms of the threat to civil order -- is the fact that the Pale Throng and what it represents has become a blasphemous rallying cry for the twisted and disaffected. It has grown to become something of a heretical ideology that offers easy answers to the weak and feeds on the resentment and anger of the oppressed -- a rebellious whisper far harder to stamp out than any mere physical foe.
The Tranch War
Tranch is a minor Hive World whose ruling elite, the Oligarchs of Tranch, maintained the output of their furnace hives by the use of a massive, enslaved mutant population and a downtrodden worker underclass kept in check by brutal controls and oppression. So harsh were their methods that the Oligarchs became a byword for tyranny. Such was the arrogance of the Oligarchs, and their confidence in their bloody-handed rule, that they did not dream the mutants and the worker underclass could mount more than the weakest challenge to their enslavement. Nor did they consider it foolish to leave the mutant population largely alone, contained in the lawless deeps of the Soot Warrens that descended into the bowels of Tranch's hive cities. After all, their reasoning went, they would always need a large population to meet their production demands, and the huge level of fatalities inherent in their industrial process required a steady stream of replacement workers.
For long standard centuries, matters in the furnace-hot darkness beneath Tranch's hives worsened, and murmurs of discontent started to echo among the vast masses whose lives of brutality, poverty, and misery left them little to lose. Meanwhile, hidden in the deeps, an increasing number of the Tranch–born mutants displayed a tendency towards witchery and wild psyker talents. Unknown to the Oligarchs, a group who called themselves the Shroud Masters sprang up amongst the mutant population. It remains unknown whether they were newborn in the sweltering blackness of the Soot Warrens or if they slipped in unnoticed from elsewhere, but swiftly their power grew and they began to make preparations to bring down Imperial rule on Tranch and bathe the Oligarchs' realm in blood. Those the "Shrouds" recruited to their cause they called the "Pale Throng" -- an apt description for the numberless ranks of those that toiled in the sunless depths of Tranch's hives.
The rebellion began with a sudden ferocity, as if a lit fuse had reached a powder keg, and the forces of Order were beaten back, surrounded, and slaughtered. Hordes of twisted freaks, including powerful witches and horrors, rose up to overwhelm and butcher the hive's population, carving a bloody path through the upper hives. Within solar weeks, a Hive World of billions spun out of the Imperium's control and saw millions dead. A full scale counter-insurgency operation was launched by forces drawn from across the sector, ultimately crushing the Pale Throng's rebellion in a conflict that would become renowned for its savagery and cost in lives. The progress of the war on Tranch and the Imperium's largely pyrrhic victory is a matter of recent history, as are the ongoing policing actions trying to bring the now largely ruined Hive World back fully into the fold of Imperial rule. As for the Oligarchs and their tyranny, they have been consigned to bitter history, as those that did not fall in the rebellion were purged by the Imperium for their evident dereliction of rule.
These facts of the Pale Throng's existence and the Tranch War's horrors are widely known. What has remained secret is the extent to which these shifts in the tide of violence on Tranch were the product of the great intellect, skill, and sickening use of Warp power wielded by the Shroud Masters that allowed them to control their forces as if they were part of a single body, as well as divine their enemies' purposes and so bring the Imperial forces to near-collapse. Were it not for the implosion of the Shroud Council and the subsequent fragmentation of the rebel forces, Tranch may well have fallen before the Imperium could respond fully. Ultimately the loss of their overlords crippled but did not destroy the mutant forces, and the years of horror and bloodshed ground on, leaving Tranch the scarred and violated place it is to this day.
Operation Bellerophon: The Destruction of the Shroud Council
Operation Bellerophon was an ultra-secret operation mounted by elements of the Inquisition's Ordo Calixis at the outset of the Tranch War. The aim of the operation was, by means both subtle and violent, to decapitate the uprising and break the unity of the Pale Throng. After the first disastrous phase of fighting, it became clear that the rebels were led by a group of shadowy overlords called the Shroud Council. There were also indications that several, possibly all, of the Shroud Council were rogue psykers of considerable power. The elimination of the Shroud Council was deemed a high priority, and agents chosen by a number of Inquisitors were deployed to locate, infiltrate, and destroy the Shroud Council in order to decisively weaken the rebels' unity.
Just how this objective was accomplished remains a secret and the cause of some murmurs of discontent and controversy within the Holy Ordos. Rumours persist of radical doctrines of engagement and the use of proscribed weapons, unstable psykers, and even mutant "cat's-paws" by the Inquisitors involved. Regardless of the truth of such scurrilous tales, Operation Bellerophon was a guarded success, the Shroud Council disintegrated with several of its members assassinated, while the rest ripped the council apart in a paranoid rage of recrimination and savage attempts to seize control. Thus the Shroud Masters crippled the very rebellion that they had started. It was reported at the time that all the Shroud Masters had died in the culmination of Operation Bellerophon; however, subsequent events have shown this report to be inaccurate. After the war, Shroud Masters (or at least would-be successors to that title) have been reported working their malice still in the depths of Tranch's Soot Warrens or masterminding revolts on other Imperial worlds, although never in such numbers or concentrated power.
Influence of Chaos
The possibility as to whether there was any direct involvement of the taint of Chaos or a wider occult conspiracy within the Pale Throng during the Tranch War remains a mixed and contradictory picture, open to much debate among the Holy Ordos. What seems clear is that during the initial uprisings on Tranch, several of the smaller witch-cults drawn into the Pale Throng did have daemonic taint in their ranks. In addition, at least one malefic cult concealed among the Oligarchs took the uprisings as an opportunity to work its own ills. But, the conclusion that has been drawn is that there was no systematic Warp-worship or widespread use of daemonic ritual encountered in the war, simply reckless hatred, unremitting savagery, and the horrors of the mutant and the witch unleashed.
Tenets, Goals and Heretical Beliefs
At the heart of the Pale Throng is a reciprocal hate for the Imperium's own abhorrence of the mutant and the psyker. Behind this simple hate is another subtler ideology that (flawed though it may be) guides the propagators and masters of the Pale Throng to create rebellion after rebellion across the stars. Theirs is the belief that the future of mankind belongs to the mutant and the psyker ascendant, and to achieve that ascendancy the Pale Throng must rise up and smash the Imperium's rule by any means necessary. This deeper motivation is based in a belief in the superiority of the mutant. The cult's higher circles believe that the future of humanity is as a psychic race. The Pale Throng not only denies that the mutant is a twisted abomination, but believes that the mutant is a manifestation of mankind's metamorphosis into something greater, something of beauty and purpose, and humanity's passage to this new life form is to be embraced. The mutant (from the cult's outlook) is superior to the mundane human in any number of ways, sometimes stronger, sometimes able to survive the worst of conditions untouched, and more. The mutant is superior, and because of this, it is the mutant that will inherit humanity's future.
Expressed in simple terms to the brutalised and ignorant masses of Abhumans, subs, and other outcasts that toil under crushing oppression, the Pale Throng's ideology offers the prospect of liberation and revenge. It promises an end to their sufferings and, most importantly, a sense of acceptance and an end to the shame and stigma that Imperial culture heaps upon them at every turn. This ideology is a heady and dangerous mix, one that appeals to both the downtrodden and the malign, whether they seek only an end to their pain or an excuse to inflict such pain on others.
To many of its adherents, this creed translates into a spiteful sense of self-deluded superiority over the loathed masses of humanity untouched by mutation, which justifies their grievances against the faceless powers of the Imperium. This hubris is amplified a thousand-fold among the cult's wyrdlings and witches, who see those "blunts" untouched by the psyker's gifts at best as a natural enemy, and at worst as little more than playthings and cattle to be toyed with, used, and destroyed at whim. For many at the cult's higher echelons, the Pale Throng's Shroud Masters, mutant demagogues, and petty warlords, this is a creed worth risking all for and is the price of a victory in the coming war between human and mutant.
Doctrine of the Psychic Ascension of Mankind
To the Pale Throng, the psyker is no foul "witch" to be abhorred but a wielder of power more subtle and profound in nature than any normal human can comprehend. This particular heresy is not a new one, but a viperous idea that has flared up time and again in the Imperium's history. According to such beliefs, to witness the gift of the psyker is to glimpse the future where man may re-order the physical, re-sculpt flesh, and see the true hearts of all. These then, the Heretics claim, are the gifts of an evolution of human form that the Imperium loathes and fears. These Heretics believe that the Imperium fails to comprehend the truth -- that psykers are the foreshadowing of the magnificence that awaits the human race once it has ascended to its true potential.
From the beginning, one of the Pale Throng's greatest vulnerabilities has been its tendency towards internecine conflict and schism. On Tranch during the uprising, the sheer power and commanding presence of the Shroud Council was enough to hold the disparate mutant gangs, sub-cults, and witch factions together, at least for a time, in deadly united purpose. But in smaller revolts and other uprisings, various groups and individual leaders often fall into open conflict over their particular "truth" of the Pale Throng, their own fitness to lead, or thanks to their own paranoia and often inherent insanity. This instability can lead to a catastrophic failure of leadership in the face of Imperial enemies, leaving the Pale Throng open to manipulation by other, often darker forces.
The Pale Throng has been linked to scores of mutant rebellions across the Calixis Sector and beyond. Some are simply the razing of an industrial outpost for the loss of a few hundred souls, while others have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands. In the aftermath of the Tranch War, petty revolts and unrest sprang up on scores of worlds in the Adrantian and Malfian Sub-sectors, occasioning massive crackdowns and a great loss of life. But these troubles have not been an end to the matter, as the Pale Throng and its imitators have risen repeatedly on other worlds to trouble the authorities.
On Sepheris Secundus, the name of the Dionides Mine was expunged from records following a rising of the Pale Throng so powerful that, despite the damage it would do to the planet's production, the mine was collapsed by atomic charges. In the purge that followed, any amongst the planet's serfdom who had a connection with the area, however tenuous, was executed. Rogue psykers, intent on ramming Fenksworld's orbital docks, commandeered the heavy ore barge Borombarst, causing it to be destroyed by orbital defences. The subsequent investigation blamed the crime on the Pale Throng's infiltration of the population of Abhuman "subs" used to work the system's asteroid mines.
On Baraspine, a Pale Throng-style revolt by the mutant castes used to tend the wind-blasted Impellor Towers that dot that world's barrens threatened to plunge the hive cities into darkness. The Baraspine rising was later revealed to have been backed and instigated by a secret malefic sorcerer cult, the Ghol Voluptara. The cult used the anarchy and distraction caused by the insurrection as a cover for a series of dark rituals which were only prevented by the combined forces of the Adepta Sororitas and the ruling executive's household troops. From these gross acts of terror and destruction to the whisper of a witch-kin at work in the depths of the Scintillan underhives, there are a thousand signs that the threat of the Pale Throng to the Calixis Sector is not at an end but perhaps merely beginning.
Anatomy of a Pale Throng Revolt
At the centre of all of the most dangerous uprisings where the Pale Throng has been involved is one of the infamous Shroud Masters. These sinister overlords select mutant populations that they consider ripe for rebellion and instigate an infiltration of that population, be they labouring in mines or chemworks or festering in the wastelands and rad-pits of the underhive. With the Shroud Master often comes a following of other witches and mutants, such as Tranch-bred witch-kin, veteran killers, and covens of wyrd diviners. Once in place, the Shroud Master and his minions begin to spread the name and creed of the Pale Throng amongst the local mutants and dregs. At this point, any resistance or rival mutant leader is crushed or assimilated into the Pale Throng. However, the Shroud Master is not above dealing with underhive criminal elements and other cult groups in order to trade for arms or extend his reach where his twisted followers cannot go.
The Shroud Master and his retinue bring with them tactics and methodologies developed and honed in the nightmare conflict on Tranch. Chief amongst their tactics is the "sudden onslaught" where they simply unleash all of their fury at once, including psychic atrocities, rampaging hulks, waves of abominations, suicide attacks, bombings, and unrestrained bloodletting. Such attacks often serve to conceal and divert forces away from the Shroud Master's true targets. The destruction generated by these tactics can be immense, especially if the Pale Throng is swollen by large numbers of high-grade rogue psykers. If this initial phase is successful, the Pale Throng rapidly attempts to consolidate its gains by fortifying and defending the areas it has seized, using them as the basis to fight a wider guerrilla war.
If large swathes of territory fall to the Throng's hands, an orgy of looting and reprisals will often follow, with unfocused acts of barbarism and the enslavement of such unfortunates who do not carry the mutant's mark often being the norm. However, the Pale Throng has a very poor track record in holding ground, due in the main to its own lack of cohesion. The clashing egos of its commanders and the fact that most of the Throng's rank-and-file are little more than ill-conditioned, ignorant rabble serves to tear apart what victories that it may gain.
When faced with superior Imperial forces, the Pale Throng's defeat in any particular theatre of conflict is largely inevitable, particularly if its leaders and rogue psykers can be neutralised. However, this can present its own dangers. If defeated but not annihilated, the Pale Throng will often fragment into small packs of rebels and marauders fighting their own petty wars. Thus the rebellion can prove hard to finally put down, short of exterminating every twist, sub, and dreg in evidence -- a solution favoured by many Inquisitors and Adeptus Arbites marshals of a Puritan bent.
Witches, Rebels, and the Damned: The Forces of the Pale Throng
The original Pale Throng was a loosely grouped mass of mutants, Abhumans, and rogue psykers, brought together by the will of the mysterious Shroud Masters. Numbered within the rebellious movements that the Throng has fostered are all manner of mutants, Abhumans, and malcontents, ranging from the deformed twists and subs that labour in the dark recesses of the Imperium's industries to utter abominations and insane rogue psykers of shattering power:
- Shroud Master - The Shroud Masters are the hidden masters of the Pale Throng who stand behind its activities, fomenting rebellion and gathering twists and witches to their cause. Once joined in common purpose, their brief moment of unity was enough to nearly destroy a world. Though many were killed when their council tore itself apart, many also escaped to pursue their interpretation of the Pale Throng's dogma. It has also been theorised that new Shroud Masters have risen to take up the dogma of the dead and bring it to the mutant throng. All Shroud Masters are mutants and psykers of the utmost potency, guided by a complete hatred of the Imperium and a belief that mankind must evolve in order to survive.
- Witch-kin Infiltrator - The Witch-kin are a horrific, grey-fleshed mutant breed, originally from the depths of the Tranch Soot Warrens who possess subtle psychic abilities and a taste for human flesh. Bred in the utter dark of the deep warrens, a Witch-kin is a hairless, spindle-limbed, emaciated thing, with unblinking black eyes and an impossibly wide mouth concealing row after row of needle teeth. Sly, murderous, and above all hungry, the Witch-kin were objects of terror for the Imperial troops deployed on Tranch during the rebellion of the Pale Throng. Using suggestive psychic powers and a strange ability to seem almost normal until they are within touching distance, they infiltrated camps in order to pluck away Imperial Guardsmen -- their victims later found dismembered and stripped to the bone by gnawing teeth. As the Shroud Council shattered, many of its members took coteries of Witch-kin with them to be used in uprisings and horror campaigns across the sector.
- Twist Hulk - Twist Hulks are a catch-all term for the largest and most brutally powerful mutants among a sub or Abhuman labour caste. Often bulking near an Ogryn's build, their ferocity is usually such that often even their fellow mutants will keep them chained and bound between their labours, or shun them and drive them into the wastes if they prove too dangerous. Many are subject to the most abominable mutations with natures closer to that of feral beasts than men. Throughout the Tranch War, Twist Hulks (also known as Brutes and Rippers), were used as the shock forces of the Pale Throng. Gathered from the depths and slaved to the Shroud Masters' will, they were unleashed in the close confines of the Soot Warrens where their incredible strength and fury would leave scores of troops as nothing more than bloody pulp. Twist Hulks, the largest of the mutant kin, are found in every dark and polluted hole of the Imperium. Ever since the Tranch War, they have formed part of most Pale Throng uprisings, often driven to frenzy and madness by their masters and unleashed to wreak destruction in the initial phase of a revolt.
- Psychic Abomination - Psychic abominations are the nightmare potential of psychic power given form. Unsanctioned psykers, often mutated, their psychic powers are raw and terrifying and wielded with insane malice. During the Tranch War the Shroud Council unleashed psychic abominations to destroy entire formations of troops deployed into the Soot Warrens, burning flesh and making men turn their weapons on one another. Even after its disastrous fragmentation, the Pale Throng has continued to draw these walking apocalypses into its ranks and use them as weapons in the opening stages of a rebellion.
Ordo Hereticus Departmento Analyticus Threat Briefing
The Pale Throng is a known threat currently subject to the full attentions of the Holy Ordos and the Adeptus Arbites, subject to a general and ongoing purge. Following its first and greatest act of insurrection, the Shroud Council was shattered and the loose alliance of witches and mutants that followed it reduced to a fragmented shadow of itself. This, however, has not meant the end of the Pale Throng (nor indeed the troubles on Tranch), and there have been full-blown Pale Throng-inspired uprisings on worlds spread across the Calixis Sector and even beyond.
The various uprisings' only connection to each other (that the Inquisition is aware of) is the sometime presence of a Shroud Master and the name of the Pale Throng. As far as the Inquisition is aware, there is no real coordination between the Shroud Masters, and many within the Ordos believe that most hold their fellows in the greatest enmity, a fact which has served to make the disparate cult harder, rather than easier, to purge. While the Inquisition knows much about the methods, ideology, and past activities of the Pale Throng, it remains ignorant as to the number and identities of the surviving Shroud Masters, a situation which has undoubtedly helped the Pale Throng survive as a threat to the stability of Imperial governance. But the Holy Ordos are determined that in time they will hunt down every Traitor, witch, and malcontent. Even the name of the Pale Throng shall be slain, burnt from the pages of history just as surely as its members will burn in the Witch Hunters' pyres.
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 52-60