Although tiny compared to the unimaginable expanse that is the Imperium of Man, the Solios Nebula still covers a vast area of space in the northern regions of the Pacificus and Tempestus Segmenta, its tendrils penetrating deep into the heart of no less than seven different sub-sectors. Powerful, eddying currents within the warp around the Nebula make travel difficult between Segmenta at this point, and the worlds around its rim have thus become something of a galactic backwater. The area has limited strategic value and few threats besides a handful of systems infested by the omnipresent Ork menace, meaning that Imperial Navy assets and Guard Regiments tend to be quickly relocated to more important or volatile combat zones, such as the Eye of Terror in the north.
The Nebula itself is sparsely populated with a handful of dead and dying stars, their powerful gravity wells drawing all manner of debris and galactic refuse into several vast asteroid fields within its borders. Empty of any resource useful to the Imperium, these fields have ever been a haven for pirates, rebels and fugitives, and for rogue traders and merchants dealing in items prohibited by the Adeptus Terra. It is believed that there are at least several dozen bases used by these miscreants hidden within the Nebula, either space stations or facilities carved into the rock of the larger asteroids.
Towards the end of the forty-first Millennium, as Imperial military strength in the area has become less and less, such rebellious elements have become more and more bold, as have raiding parties of several xeno species. The Imperial response has been limited to the occasional Navy patrol along the Nebula’s border, the Commands of both Segmenta simply unable to spare the forces necessary to properly cleanse it. Without such aid, the people of the worlds around the Solios Nebula have come to watch the skies above them with fear.
Two hundred and thirty-seven years prior to the present day, a battered vessel appeared on the augurs of one of the largest asteroid pirate bases within the Nebula. It was immediately identified as an Astartes Strike Cruiser, though all traces of Chapter insignia had been scoured from its scarred and pitted hull. Despite the ship’s appearance, the crews of both the station and of the several smaller vessels docked there were understandably nervous, fearful of the Imperium and its finest warriors. Turrets and weapon systems were brought on line, all eyes watching for the slightest sign of aggression.
The cruiser hung unmoving in the void, but at the same time, unnoticed by the frightened defenders, an equally ragged Thunderhawk Gunship drifted out from behind a nearby asteroid. It coasted on minimal power towards the base, finally making contact with the airless surface. Immediately, more than two dozen Astartes clad in mismatched grey power armour spread out across the asteroid, quickly targeting and taking possession of power generators, weapon controls and the main docking bay. The weapons that had been aimed at the Cruiser were turned on the other ships, crippling the unsuspecting vessels with the first salvoes of fire. Suddenly, the Strike Cruiser came to life, repositioning itself to watch over its heavily damaged opponents, even as it disgorged a pair of Thunderhawks that moved at a stately pace towards the main dock. As they arrived, the blast doors slid aside, opened by the Marines within. The transports set down, and another fifty Astartes in similar grey armour poured out, led by a single giant wearing Tactical Dreadnought Armour. Talek Varn had come to the Solios Nebula.
The inhabitants of the station trembled, sure that the Emperor’s justice had finally come. It had not. Varn had one of his men patch his vox into the station communications net. He introduced himself, declaring that the worlds of the Solios Nebula were now under his protection and that those who would serve him loyally could live, and reap both material rewards and glory. Varn added that those who refused were free to leave, though it was clear to all from the glint of savage madness in his eyes that such a departure would likely be via the nearest airlock.
Whatever Varn’s original intentions as to the worlds around the Solios Nebula, it has become clear in the intervening centuries that he is little better, perhaps even worse, than the pirates and rebels he first claimed to oppose. Though his first actions were against the other stations within the Nebula, it would seem that these strikes were intended simply to destroy his future rivals and to secure the weapons, armour plating and shield generators needed to further fortify Varn’s own base of operations. Now strongly entrenched within the Solios Nebula, Talek Varn has turned his attention to the worlds on its borders. The protection offered by him comes at a high price, a tithed tribute from each planet or system under his watchful eye. Should such tribute not be offered willingly, it will commonly be taken with brutal force, setting a frightening example for a 'chastised’ world’s neighbours.
A noteworthy example of such cruelty occurred on the Agri-world, Feraxus II. The Feraxians, having suffered a poor year’s crop, refused to pay Varn’s tithe and gathered their people together behind the safety of the walls of Feraxus’ only city, with more than sixty thousand Planetary Defence Force and militia troopers ready to fight against his reavers. With typical Astartes efficiency, the Iron Gods bypassed this defence, instead quickly capturing several of the world’s orbital batteries, followed by a lightning raid that took control of the Planetary Governors command post. The governor and his staff were summarily executed, but in his rage, Varn went further. To punish the people of Feraxus for supporting their Lord’s foolish plan, he demanded that every third member of the defence force should have their eyes plucked out, so that their lack of figurative vision would be matched with literal blindness. This insane demand, backed as it was with the threat of the total destruction of the city by orbital bombardment, could not be ignored. With no choice but to comply, over twenty thousand brave soldiers, each a volunteer, each knowing that they would never see their families and friends again, marched to the Feraxian parade grounds where dozens of unwilling doctors and surgeons had been gathered. For a day and a night, the broken people of Feraxus lamented and the pirate lord watched coldly as his vile commands were carried out. Since that black time in their history, though the Feraxians hate Varn more than they ever did before, never again have they dared to refuse him his rightful tribute.
His view of the Imperium at large and of the Emperor himself appears to be one of indifference and even contempt. However, that is not to say that Varn has turned to the worship of the Dark Gods of Chaos, as he is equally scornful of them and their deluded followers. Rather, he believes in just two maxims; that only strength truly determines what is right, and that whatever a man can take, hold and keep is lawfully his. Varn’s long term goals are somewhat unclear, but it would appear that his primary focus in life is simply the advancement of his own power and glory.
Talek Varn’s followers take their name from one of their first exploratory raids out of the Solios Nebula, on the Feral World of Ksergha IV. The superstitious and primitive tribespeople, who had never before seen the mighty warriors of the Astartes, called them ‘iron gods’ due to their inhuman size and strength, and their total imperviousness to the hunter’s crude spears and slings. It is said that the name appealed immediately to the pirate lord’s ego.
In battle, the Iron Gods organization is far more fluid than that of a typical Codex-following force. The forces of Talek Varn are experienced veterans of countless conflicts. Each warrior is well equipped with bolter, bolt pistol and chain blade or axe. Marksmanship, skill at arms or proven loyalty is rewarded with the gift of more esoteric weaponry, such as plasma or melta guns or power blades and fists. Several units are equipped with heavier weapons to provide longer ranged fire support, but these are primarily simpler armaments such as heavy bolters and missile launchers that are therefore more easily maintained. Each squad is typically led into combat by one of Varn’s own retinue, a favoured champion who will fight at their head and ensure that their lord’s orders are followed to the letter. A single squad formed of the most loyal of these veteran warriors is permitted the greatest honour of all, to fight beside their master as his personal bodyguard, equipped with the finest arms and armour Varn has at his disposal.
The Gods’ combat doctrine appears to focus on short ranged firefights and close quarter combat. This is perhaps primarily due to their propensity for ship-to-ship boarding actions, Talek Varn’s view being that any vessels travelling within his realm are as much in his debt as the worlds, and therefore just as due to pay him homage.
Early in the history of the Iron Gods, Talek Varn led his reavers against a small convoy of ships travelling along the border of the Solios Nebula. The ships were bearing the cog badge of the Adeptus Mechanicus and carried in their massive holds medical and technical supplies that, if successfully taken, would enable the Iron Gods to keep on fighting for several years. However, what Varn found aboard the lead vessel proved to be a far greater treasure. The command ship’s gun servitors and Skitarii guards fought fiercely to begin with, but when it became clear that the Astartes could not be stopped, the defenders suddenly put up their weapons and retreated to a final position outside the bridge. Varn and his men were understandably surprised, and even more so when the ship’s commander opened a vox link to
The Magos is a small, wizened man, whose body is riddled with countless bionic enhancements, spidery servo limbs carrying the myriad blades, saws and drills that are the tools of his trade. Octavius firmly believes himself to be Varn’s intellectual superior and that he must one day surely be the inheritor of the pirate lord’s little empire. However, he knows that he lacks Varn’s brutal charisma and the sheer force of personality needed to command a force as unruly as the Iron Gods. Hence, he is content to wait, biding his time and building his strength. In the meantime, he cannot help but take every opportunity to direct thinly veiled slights and slurs at his hated master, knowing himself to be safe from Varn’s prideful rages because of his unique position.
However, Talek Varn is far more intelligent than the Magos gives him credit for, and is well aware of Octavius’ machinations. While Varn despises ‘the worm’ for his skulking ways and snidely delivered barbs, at the same time he enjoys the mental sparring matches between them, revelling in the challenge of outsmarting a clever opponent. There are some among the Iron Gods that say that it is for this reason, as much as the need for Octavius’ specialized skills, that Varn has allowed him to live as long as he has.
In reality, the two men are far more similar than either would care to admit; both thoroughly disenchanted with the thankless role a vast and uncaring Imperium saw fit to give them, both now seeking nothing more than to claw what they can from a dying galaxy before madness and death overrun all.
For the Planetary Governors and Navy Captains around the Solios Nebula, the Iron Gods are the most fearsome threat imaginable. In the opinion of more than a few among their number, Varn’s demands of tribute are not excessive and that it costs far less to simply pay him and thus be safe from his cruel retribution. Further, when his requests have been met, Varn has provided his strength to these worlds when needed, most recently helping the hives of Talathi Prime to eradicate a Genestealer cult that had infiltrated their home. Whether Talek Varn was moved to act by some vestigial sense of honour or loyalty, or simply by egotistical fury that one of ‘his’ worlds had been attacked, is uncertain. Whichever is true, local support for the Iron Gods grew significantly because of it. However, the execution of the Governor of Talathi Prime shortly afterwards by Inquisitor De Corte has meant that few planetary lords are now willing to request Varn’s aid openly.
However, while it would likely be galling for the master of the Iron Gods to hear, the truth is that all his actions register as little more than a pinprick against the Adeptus Terra. In the aftermath of Abaddon’s thirteenth Black Crusade, the ongoing wars around the Armageddon system against Waagh Ghazghull, and the newly emergent threat of Hive Fleet Leviathan; Talek Varn and his followers are less than nothing. The Imperium’s view is that the Iron Gods may be safely ignored until such time as sufficient strength can be spared to crush them utterly. While this is probably a correct assumption, the Lords of Terra must be careful. The power of Talek Varn grows with every year, and if no action is taken against him, the Imperium may one day find itself with another Huron Blackheart firmly entrenched deep within its borders.
In his time ruling over the pirates of the Solios Nebula, Talek Varn has made many enemies. Foremost among them must surely be Lord Admiral Griev of the Imperial Navy, a veteran commander seemingly obsessed with destroying Varn and all those who follow him. Why Griev is so compelled to act against Varn is uncertain, but many speculate that for a man like the Lord Admiral, whose whole life has ever revolved around duty and unbending discipline, the very existence of a force
That Griev has been allowed to continue in his vindictive quest at all is largely due to the patronage of another servant of the Imperium, the shadowy figure of Inquisitor De Corte. Although only recently given the full rank of Inquisitor, De Corte is a shrewd and thorough investigator, and is convinced that the Iron Gods are a far greater threat than many of his peers realize. Much of the Inquisitor’s fear stems from his belief that he has discovered a pattern in many of the items taken as tribute by the pirate lord in the years since the desertion of the traitor Magos Octavius. De Corte feels sure that the ambitious master of the Iron Gods has put his Mechanicus ally to work sourcing and building a compact genetics laboratory complete with its own cloning facilities, with the obvious goal of replicating Astartes gene seed. Even more worrying to De Corte is the possibility that this goal has already been attained, as several of the Iron Gods most recent raids, on worlds such as Ksergha IV and the hives of Cordis VII, have been accompanied by unconfirmed reports of the abduction of a handful of prepubescent male children. De Corte’s many critics claim that the young Inquisitor’s theories are absurd, that there is not the slightest chance that Talek Varn could have gained the power to create warriors of the Adeptus Astartes, and that De Corte is simply trying to make more of his first assignment than is truly there. However, in the unlikely event he should be correct, the threat posed by the Iron Gods may prove to be far greater than any of the servants of Terra ever realized.
The individual genetic legacies of Talek Varn and his reavers are a matter of much debate among Imperial scholars. Some believe Varn’s prideful attitude marks him as a son of Rogal Dorn, whereas others suggest that his savage ferocity and disrespect for authority indicate that he must be a scion of either the White Scars or Space Wolves. However, the simple truth of the matter is that Varn could have been recruited into the ranks of the Adeptus Astartes by any one of the many hundreds of Chapters currently in existence. Similarly, whether his original followers hail from the same Chapter as their master, or if he perhaps gathered them from across the breadth of the Imperium before he ever came to the Solios Nebula, is equally unknown.
Whatever the case, neither Varn, nor any of the Iron Gods, is known to have divulged the truth to anyone outside their own ranks; nor are they ever likely to. The pirate lord knows that there is only one thing that could ruin his dreams of carving out an empire at the heart of the Emperor’s realm – that even a single Chapter should turn its full attention to the Iron Gods before he is ready to face them. Thus, he is vigilant that none of his followers should ever reveal anything about their individual histories that might bring the vengeful anger of their former brethren down upon the Solios Nebula.
“Blood and glory!”