"To our eyes, human existence is filled with hopes, desires, nobility and weakness. To see mankind through their eyes is to see the corn waiting for the reaper's scythe."
- — Inquisitor Herrod, A Discourse on the Enemy Beyond
The Vile Savants are horrific daemonic manifestations of the diseases that have claimed mortal lives. They are clad in the putrescent remains of the flesh such victims once wore, and are avatars of plague and destruction. They appear as figures wearing sealed containment suits that are slick with filth and beaded with moisture like sweat on fevered skin. Inside, there is nothing but putrefied liquid flesh and writhing vermin, held together by the sagging structure of the suit.
The daemonic forces that motivate them drive their stumbling, boneless limbs on with macabre and implacable purpose. A palpable aura of utter horror and rotting miasma surrounds them, and to simply be unfortunate enough to witness these awful things is terrifying. Worse still is to hear their buzzing voices inside one’s head or become the subjects of their experimentations in the death of flesh.
The Vile Savants are a Warp-spawned disease made flesh, sent to wrack worlds with suffering and drag them into festering ruin. There are no followers to their cause, no fanatics, and no deluded fools worshipping a false god, only the restless dead claimed by their plagues marching to the will of the daemon. Legend among the worshipers of the Ruinous Powers has it that they were born of an unholy union of contagions unleashed centuries ago in a forgotten war.
It said that in the distant past a great hospital voidship was sent to tend the outbreaks of sickness and plague occurring as a result of the constant wars around the Eye of Terror. However, as well as alms and healers, it secretly carried another deadly cargo, an arsenal of dreadful weapons -- biological agents, necrotic poisons, and alien fevers collected from a hundred worlds.
Legend has it that this great ark of salvation, whose name has been lost to myth, suffered a breach in its Geller Field while traversing the Warp close to the Eye of Terror. In the moments that followed, the powers of the Warp shattered the protective stasis of the deathly vault and sank into the viral samples aboard, filling them with unholy life and consciousness. The horrors that were unleashed quickly overwhelmed most onboard and sent a thousand screaming souls into oblivion.
The medicae personnel trapped aboard faced a far darker fate indeed, as a daemon virus possessed them and made them its own flesh. With this, the Vile Savants were born, embodiments of unfeeling, indiscriminate death unleashed by the Warp to wage a silent, implacable war against all life.
The Savants themselves are hideous to behold, reeking and defiled bio-containment suits filled with bubbling rot that stumble on, boneless and implacable, silent as death itself. These foul entities are possessed of the skills and knowledge of their long-dead occupants coupled with a malign Warp-intelligence and the occult might of the daemons of rot and pestilence. They are consumed by hatred for all that live and breathe and have the most horrific means of enacting their war of annihilation.
The contagion that animates them is their dark harbinger, spilling out through the Warp and infecting a single individual whose despair and morbidity attracts it from worlds away. From there, it spreads as plague, the infection running rampant and preparing the way for the Vile Savants to emerge, wreaking their vengeance and showering Mankind with the gifts bestowed on them by Nurgle, the Lord of Decay.
The Vile Savants are daemonic entities who require no scheming mortal agents. They do not plot or foster nests of Chaos Cultists, nor do they answer a Sorcerer's summons when called (unless it suits their purpose). While other cults may spread like a disease, the Vile Savants are literally a Warp-spawned contagion. They spread and multiply through the flesh of reality just as mortal viruses spread from organ to organ, choking its host with sickness until it fails and collapses. The Vile Savants have a single and consuming desire: spread their contagion and kill until nothing is left alive. These horrors cannot be bargained with, reasoned with, placated, or diverted from this task.
The Ordo Malleus believes that this most unholy contagion is the design and will of the Ruinous Power called the Lord of Decay, known to some as Nurgle, Father of Plagues and Bringer of Despair. As Warp entities, they serve to embody several types of daemonic contagions that are categorised by the Ordo Malleus as the Fydae Strain of the Zombie Plague (named after the area of the Calixis Sector where they were first encountered).
The Savants themselves are little more than murderous vessels, avatars of these hell-sent plagues. Each stage of a Fydae outbreak cycle escalates the amount of death and horror until it has reached such a weight of destruction that the barriers between realspace and the Warp can be breached, the dead walk, and the Vile Savants come to claim their master's prize.
The Restless Dead
Outbreaks of various strains of Zombie Plague or incidents where the dead have been known to rise as a result of a Warp-spawned rift, fell-technology, or necromantic witchery have been known to the Imperium for millennia but are thankfully comparably rare. In recent solar decades, however, the sectors and worlds of the Segmentum Obscurus have seen a marked upturn in such incidents linked to disease cults and the ancient enemy.
The involvement of the entities known as Vile Savants in the outbreak of these awful plagues is likewise a new development and a dangerous one. They bring a malign intelligence to these events, making them far harder to combat or contain. The Inquisition's Ordos Segmentum Tabernacle believes that the Vile Savants are responsible for various outbreaks of plague and the massacre of settlements, voidships, and cities across the Segmentum Obscurus occurring in the Calixis, Mandragora, Medusan, and Ixaniad Sectors.
Of particular concern to the Conclave Calixis is that in the last 50 standard years there have been five confirmed contacts with what has been named the Fydae Strain (after the Sutter's Rock outbreak) of the Zombie Plague in the Calixis Sector.
Inquisitorial Threat Briefing
The Vile Savants and the Fydae Strain contagion are a threat not simply because of the destruction that they cause, but because the Inquisition fears it is geared to some greater dark design. It is the considered opinion of the Inquisitorial Conclave Calixis that it is only thanks to the gift of the Emperor's providence and the valiant actions of His servants that there has not already been far greater loss of life at their hands in the sector.
All of the Inquisition's Ordos must be ever-watchful for the reappearance of this threat and take whatever action is needed to confound and destroy them wherever and whenever they are encountered. It is also the duty, particularly of the Ordo Malleus, to further pursue these terrible creatures and learn of their nature and limitations so that they may be more effectively countered in the future, as the threat posed by the Vile Savants is not only severe but perhaps eternal. They are truly the disease that walks, always searching for a time and place to surface, whose only goal is suffering and death.
Carrionates and Warp Zombies
Although far from the most common of the Inquisition's foes, the walking dead have long been known as a blasphemous foe of the Imperium, dating back to the Great Crusade. Animated at the behest of fell sorcery or creations of the darkest of the psyker's arts, such creatures can make for powerful and loyal servants. Forbidden science can also bring a twitching carcass to a semblance of hungry life.
The Fydae Strain Zombie Plague
Exposure and Chance of Infection:
- Skin or tissue contact with the body of the infected: 5%.
- Skin or tissue contact with infected blood or internal body tissue from the infected: 30%.
- Bite or wound from infected individual: 50%.
- Ingestion of heavily contaminated material (i.e., water where plague dead have lain): 50%.
- Deep wounding by an infected individual (i.e., a wound from a bite or mauling): 75%.
Incubation Time: Varies between 10 solar minutes and five solar days.
Effects: If the victim is infected, he is racked by an intense fever and green marks blossom on his flesh, which quickly withers and sloughs away. The victim also begins to vomit foul blood. These symptoms last for approximately a solar hour. After an hour, the victim is gripped by violent spasms and dies in agony, but may later return as a Plague Zombie. During this time, medicine cannot save the victim but exorcism might, though this will likely leave the victim in a precarious state.
Pathology of Corruption
Like any disease, the contagion of the Vile Savants follows a particular pathology and path of infection.
First Stage: The Occult Infection of Subject Zero
The cascade of events that culminate in the arrival of the Vile Savants begins with the infection of a single person. How this first infection occurs is not known for certain, as the ways of the Chaos Gods are fickle, but the Ordo Malleus believes it may be some deep and dark lesion within a person's spirit that calls out to the contagion and it responds to that call.
If true, it would be a dark and macabre despair of such singular depth and malice that it resonates in the Warp and calls the disease like a moth to a flame. While the exact means of infection are confined to theory, the Inquisition has had several confirmed cases from which to establish how the contagion progresses once it has infected its first victim.
At first, the only sign is a period of intense fever and terrible nightmarish visions that passes in a matter of solar hours and leaves the host apparently in perfect health. As healthy as the person seems, his soul is now lost and he has become a fever that walks and a vessel for unholy disaster in the shape of the Fydae Strain of the Zombie Plague. Utterly infectious and yet outwardly healthy, he ignorantly goes about his life, not knowing that the contagion inside him is tainting all he comes in contact with.
Thus, the carrier spreads the contagion with a thoroughness that could never be achieved by obviously sick individuals. It is with this subtlety that the Grandfather of Fever shows his genius and his beneficence. This first subject will never be touched by any disease or sickness ever again, but will infect and doom all he meets and so is destined to stand at the centre of a storm of pestilence and see all he cares for dissolve and decay. In the terminology of the Ordo Malleus and the Ordo Sepulturum, this blighted individual and most damned of souls is named "Subject Zero."
Second Stage: The Colonisation and Spread of Contagion
Once Subject Zero has unwittingly begun to spread the contagion, as time progresses, so will the spread of the plague at an ever-accelerating rate. Unlike mundane diseases, the arcane contagion spread by Subject Zero can take solar weeks or hours to claim its first lives, dependent on its fickle daemonic nature.
It is as if the disease itself is patient and willing to wait to spread to as much of the populace of a locale as possible before it begins the next fatal stage of its life cycle. However, if tempted by a particularly choice group of victims (such as medicae personnel) or the threat of discovery, it will suddenly erupt with full force. Its hunger to kill may drive it to full outbreak sooner rather than later as the daemon will not be denied its feast.
Once the disease begins to manifest fully, it presents as a wild and vicious mixture of symptoms ranging from bloody flux, vomiting, and murderous fever, blooming strange green marks on the skin and the rapid necrotising of flesh, all finally resulting in a spasm-wracked death usually within solar hours of the disease's first symptoms manifesting.
Once the first lives have been claimed, matters accelerate and worsen rapidly. Hundreds, even thousands may die within solar hours, causing mass panic and civil disorder and straining any authority's ability to cope to the breaking point.
Third Stage: The Walking Dead
In this stage, the disease does not simply attack the bodies of the infected but moves to overwhelm the few threads that keep humanity together in the plague's aftermath or may contest its decaying dominion. Rising from their graves, the plague dead walk in search of the living, the daemonic plague driving their corpses like the many cells of a single vile organism.
The walking dead fall on the living, hunting them down implacably, and each person they kill rises to join them in turn. As the walking dead multiply, wild terror and anarchy is the natural consequence unless the Inquisition, the Imperial military, or some other powerful force can step in. Short of total cleansing with fire and faith, there is now little that can be done to avert the next stage of the cycle, save contain it with brute force and merciless purpose.
Fourth Stage: Cometh the Vile Savants
Once the dead have risen in great numbers, the hour of their masters' arrival has come. At the centre of the outbreak, in a silent, dark place bathed in death and despair, reality falls apart to the buzzing of flies. The Vile Savants step through into reality, and in their wake come the daemons of the Lord of Decay. The number of Vile Savants that appear is dependent on the extent of the contagion's spread.
If a great city is consumed by the contagion and the walking dead numbers are legion, dozens of Vile Savants may come, while the death throes of a small settlement may bring a single savant to perform its final rites. As manifestations of the contagion itself, the Vile Savants can command the throng of walking dead, wield diseased powers of the Warp, and consume life like a hungry cloud of locusts. With a deliberate will at the centre, the walking dead begin to destroy any remaining resistance and a disaster becomes a horrifying war.
The Fifth Stage: Disintegration and Proliferation
The final stage of the contagion's cycle occurs only if the Vile Savants are victorious and have brought their targets to ruin. With death and decay holding limitless dominion, the walking dead begin to collapse, their flesh putrefies, and the air is filled by the buzzing of bloated corpse flies. In this perfect garden of decay, the Vile Savants move about, harvesting the outpouring of death and decay and sampling the changing contagions born by the outbreak.
Not all are killed, however, as a few people are allowed to survive and the Vile Savants do not seek them out -- for Nurgle needs life and flesh upon which to work his wondrous diseases and requires witnesses to bear testament to his all-consuming power. Finally, the Vile Savants step back through the hell that made them and wait until the next outbreak, wherever and whenever it may be.
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 145-151