Today delve deep into the gene-seed mysteries of the Vlka Fenryka, the Space Wolves – gifted and cursed in equal measure.
Gene-seed is used to grow the artificial organs that distinguish an Adeptus Astartes from an ordinary human, and helps alter the human’s biology to accept the implanted organs. Gene-seed is a Space Marine Chapter‘s most precious resource and is conserved by extracting the progenoid glands from fallen Battle-Brothers for return to the Chapter’s fortress-monastery.
Several Chapters have unique gene-seed flaws that cause differences in their Marines’ physiology and behavior. These differences can be merely cosmetic (for instance, all Death Spectres are albinos), while others can have drastic effects that are either a blessing or a curse (or both) for their Chapters, such as the Space Wolves.
Some Chapters’ gene-seed is inherently more stable than others, and variations in certain Chapters’ methods of implantation have resulted in further degradation in some cases. The gene-seed of the Ultramarines is considered the most stable and thus they are the most preferred source of gene-seed for creating new Space Marine Chapters.
Canis Helix History and Properties
The Canis Helix is a mutation of normal gene-seed that gifts the Wolves with enhanced abilities beyond even those of other Space Marines, including hyper-acute senses of smell and hearing, elongated canines that can dent plasteel, and leathery, resilient skin. It also enhances the Wolves’ ferocity in battle, but carries a dangerous risk of turning a Space Wolf into a bestial monster, if he fails to control his feral side. This risk accompanies the Wolves throughout their lives, and is known as the Curse of the Wulfen.
The Canis Helix is the first and most essential component of gene-seed implanted into Aspirant Space Wolves, during the final stage of their initiation. During the Test of Morkai, the Aspirants drink a formula containing the Helix from the Cup of Wulfen and undergo a violent transformation: their bones split and buckle, thick hair sprouts from their bodies, and they revert to a bestial state where they hunger for raw meat and blood. One of the most important aspects of the Test is that the Aspirant show himself able to keep this bestial side under control, even while making his way through the Fenrisian wilderness in harsh conditions. Those that fail to do so become Wulfen, and remain in the wild. If the Aspirant returns to the Fang, he is implanted with the remaining components of the Wolves’ gene-seed, which stabilize the effects of the Helix. Although this procedure is extremely hazardous, these remaining components are ineffective unless the Canis Helix is implanted first.
As Wolves grow older and more experienced in battles, the Canis Helix causes additional transformations: their hair turns grey, their fangs grow even longer, their skin becomes even more leathery, and, in some rare cases, their eyes turn yellow. A Wolf who reaches this stage is considered fit for elevation to the rank of Grey Hunter.
In some Wolves, the Canis Helix leads to the development of a brooding, malignant demeanor, which makes them unfit for the camaraderie normal to a Wolf Pack. These Wolves traditionally become Wolf Scouts.
By the time a Wolf is considered fully mature, the Canis has caused their fangs to grow to their fullest possible length and their hair to grow long and grey, at which point they join the ranks of the Long Fangs, the chapter‘s long-range heavy weapons specialists.
No matter how old or experienced a Wolf grows, many of them are never entirely free from the risk of the Curse, and risk reverting to their bestial state in moments of great stress; for this reason, part of the duties of the Wolf Priests is to watch over their brothers in battle, and remind them of their better instincts when they are in danger of succumbing to the Curse.
The Canis Helix is at once the Wolves’ greatest strength and their fatal flaw; because the Wolves’ gene-seed is inherently unstable, the Wolves’ first (and possibly last) attempt to create Successor Chapters was a complete disaster. When the Legion was divided after the Horus Heresy, a new chapter, the Wolf Brothers, was created. The Wolf Brothers were intended to be the first of many Successor chapters, but quickly succumbed to the Curse of the Wulfen and scattered. Thereafter, the Wolves all but abandoned their hopes of copying themselves.
In M32, Thar Ariak Hraldir, the Wolf High Priest of the Space Wolves was conducting experiments, which he called “The Tempering” to control the instability of the Canis Helix, and believed he was close to succeeding. However, his laboratory was destroyed by Magnus the Red during the Battle of the Fang. Magnus, afraid that the Wolves might succeed in proliferating, made a point of destroying the lab and killing Hraldir before moving on to assault the heart of the fortress.
The Tempering was a controversial project, and was thus a closely guarded secret within the chapter. It had the approval of Wolf Lord Vaer Greyloc and the Great Wolf, Harek Ironhelm, but the venerable Bjorn, when he learned of the project, was outraged and called it a betrayal of their primarch, Leman Russ. Had Magnus not destroyed it, Bjorn said, he would have done so himself. Even a mortal kaerl of the Wolves, Morek Karekborn, thought the prototype Space Marines he saw in Hraldir’s lab looked terribly unnatural and lacking in the feral potency he was used to sensing from the Wolves. Hraldir also admitted that he had not yet been able to stabilize his test subjects to the point where they could survive on their own, though he believed he was getting close. It is thus uncertain whether the Tempering would have succeeded even if Hraldir had completed his work.
The new breed of Space Marines, the Primaris, have a greater level of genetic stability than those of their standard cousins. As a result, they have avoided many of the severe defects and flaws of Chapters such as the Space Wolves while retaining their quirks and unique benefits. The chance of genetic deviancy for Primaris Marines is a mere 0.001%. In addition, they are physically larger and stronger thanks to the Sangprimus Portum, which gives them genetic material more potent than standard Gene-Seed descended from the Primarchs.
“There are no wolves on Fenris” ~Magnus the Red