They were formed toward the end of the Age of Strife, when the Emperor judged that it was the right time to make his presence known. He needed some advantage over the warlords, barbarians, and other would-be world rulers, and so he created twenty regiments consisting of hundreds of genetically enhanced soldiers wearing simple powered armor. Because the Emperor's symbol at the time was a thunderbolt, and this symbol was prominently displayed on the chestplate of the armor, the armor came to be known as Thunder Armor and the warriors who wore said armor were called Thunder Warriors.
The Thunder Warriors were devastatingly effective and quickly became icons of the Emperor's armies; just the threat of the Thunder Warriors' arrival could convince a warlord to surrender, and those who refused quickly learned that the Thunder Warriors' reputation was not exaggerated. According to the fluff, they were even more physically powerful and ruthless than the Space Marines. But NOT more so than the Custodes. However, this said, according to the novella The Last Church, a massed Thunder Warrior formation could shoot all at once, and create a noise 'like a thunderstorm had suddenly sprung into existence', and mow down four or five men at once in that opening salvo. So yeah, make of that what you will.
And yet, for all their successes, the Thunder Warriors were not perfect; because the Emperor was busy running the Unification Wars, fending off attacks from his neighboring warlords, and lacking the resources and expertise of Mars, he and the few scientists he had working for him were forced to cut corners, and so the Thunder Warriors were all unstable in one way or another. None of them could be counted on to last long, as either their minds or bodies gave out at unpredictable intervals, and there wasn't yet the technology available to give them a lifespan longer than the average human's. This was suitable for fighting the barbarian human armies of the Age of Strife, but not for the long, star-spanning campaign of the Great Crusade that the Emperor set as his next goal, so as soon as he had enough territory to set up a secure laboratory and enough scientists to man it, he set to work on the next generation of warriors: the Primarchs. Some of their defects were intentional, as the harsh conditions of Terra meant that they were psychopaths that the Emperor did not want to use forever. They were not what he envisioned as the defenders of humanity, so he saw no great loss in giving them an expiration date and quietly slaughtered the few remaining once Tera was firmly in his hands. Ironically, if He had made a few more regiments, or at least kept the survivors, He may well have defeated the Machine Cult on Mars (who are behind everything and needed to die) and all the grimdark the Imperium now deals with would be at a minimum instead of up to eleven. Hind sight is twenty-twenty.people who care about them even less than the Emperor did. Or you can read The Outcast Dead, which won't give you any new information on what they're up to (it's their only appearance as actual characters, and it's the one in which they steal the Progenitor gland and then disappear into an ambiguous ending) but will give you a very solid look at what they're about.
The first badass granddaddy of all Space Marines and Thunder Warriors who would make Girlyman and Dante envious for his existence. He was known to win lots and lots of battles for the Emperor, survive dozens of suicidal fights in which countless Thunder Warriors (who are stronger than space marines) would die, especially the last battle in which he barely made it to victory with his comrade. The Emperor, knowing the Thunder Warrior's limited lifespan would not serve any good for his future conquest, decided to abandon the Thunder Warriors by arranging an utter betrayal with Arik that would make Horus look like a saint. As a result, Arik was forced witness the killing pretty much all his surviving comrades while, on paper, it would be reported that Arik and the Thunder Warriors had been honorably slain during the last battle. Despite the betrayal, Arik had no sense of hatred towards the Emperor, for he knew that Thunder Warriors would only serve as an impediment to their future cousins.
Anyway, Arik would later hide among Terra's population with his large, obvious body and become the Kingpin of Terra. He started out in the Petitioner's City of the Imperial Palace, gang raping his way up the food chain with his only remaining Thunder Warrior buddy, Ghota (who, as described in The Outcast Dead, is an overgrown, cantankerous motherfucker with eyes like the rage zombies from 28 Days Later, apparently a side effect of the Thunder Warriors' painful physical degradation) and at least thirty other survivors, until he was effectively the big cheese of gangsters. Calling himself Babu Dhakal (or at least everyone else called him that... the man was crazy, but he wasn't crazy enough to address himself in the third person), Arik expanded his control until it encompassed Drugs, bitches, gambling, weapons, and even toilets--the absolute madman! He would go on to control criminals and heretics alike, causing the Adeptus Arbites to rage quit because they couldn't handle Arik's near swaglord level reputation and rampant (to the point of being fucking psycho) badassery.
Fortunes came to him when he found a secret lab inside a starship, buried within Terra. This, coupled with the scientific knowledge he somehow got from the Emperor, would help him to genetically modify and increase his life span (but not really enough to keep him alive -- until the Horus Heresy came around).
The Outcast Dead incident
When heresy first became a thing that happened in the Imperium, Arik managed to get a functioning Progenoid Gland from one of the outcast dead space marines (it's unclear which one, but they probably didn't mind too much--being outcast and dead and all). He was able to extract at least some of the information he needed to replicate the gland, and was then able to plant a functioning copy he had created within his own body, as well as Ghota's. Since GW never expanded their storyline, we can assume that either they have successfully outlived the Emperor and become more rapey, pillagey, and space piratey than the Dark Eldar, or that the result of all their careful work was that they up and turned into uber powerful heroes of the Imperium... we have no idea. They may have just settled down on Terra.
Arik Taranis Facts
Despite being outdated and retired, Arik has demonstrated some epic Primarch-level shits:
- Arik decoded the geneseed with in some dirty drug lab, which something only the Emperor is capable of out of every living thing in the galaxy. He could probably be the greatest Apothecary in the Imperium, next to The Emepror and Eldar goddess Isha.
- He knocked down "Azurite Tower" during the unification war, as well as earning a tons of fucking countless title.
- He survived the deadly last battle that nearly wiped out his army, meaning he gets shit done even if it almost killed him.
- His Thunder Warrior subordinate Ghota can fight 5 elite astartes to a stalemate even killing one of them, yet Ghota bow to Arik like he is some sort of lesser being.
- Atharva, one of the outcast dead and a powerful Thousand Sons psyker observe Arik and commented that he has: "aura too bright to look upon. His presence had a gravity all it's own, demanding all attention and fear." and he "could barely stand to turn his psychic senses on him for fear of being overwhelmed.". Keep in mind only the Emperor and the Primarchs has that kind of aura, yet Arik, a Thunder Warrior has that kind of aura surrounding him.
Encounter with the War Hounds
During the Great Crusade, there was a prison break where a group of renegade thunder warriors has broke free of the asteroid prison on Cerberus. The Emperor did not like that and sent an army of War Hounds, who would become the World Eaters, to crash their prison buttsecks party. Having bored themselves with maiming and killing prisoners not worthy of their challenge, they found themselves some Thunder Warriors grouping up in a defensive position. Instead of just showering bullets on the surviving Warriors like a
more sensible less manly Legion might have, the War Hounds rushed in and engaged them in close combat. But Thunder Warriors are basically mini-Primarchs without the immortality, and they were able to claim 4 to 5 Marine kills in melee for each Warrior. After 5 hours of carnage and RAEG of old vs. new, some Marines in orbit got bored and decided to join the party, but the party was already done and left nothing but Thunder Warrior corpses, lots of War Hound corpses, and a lot and lots of blood.