We were born in the Fenrisian snow.
Twin boys dumped out onto the coldest rock in the Imperium, in a time of winter’s bitter fall.
Born to the warrior-queen Rena, who, the story goes, barely took time away from battle to bring her sons into the world before going back into the bloody carnage, leaving us to be raised by attendants, teachers and priests.
And Maddoc, of course. The old, one-eyed warrior with a beard the colour of dirty snow who taught us to hunt, fight and sing and drink. And who protected my brother when most would have left him for dead where he lay. Maddoc the Right Arm, who even in his old age, and half blind, could have taken the head of any man or beast, but who took both of us in as his own.
I don’t pretend to know the will of the Allfather or the reasons for the turning of the world, and so I can’t guess why we should have been born of the same blood, on the same day, to the same woman, and yet be so different.
One boy who burst into the world with a roar, as though ready to take up an axe and charge straight into battle. The other, wet and whimpering like a beaten pup.
Arun, who would be Jarl, and Fallow the Runt.
Our mother was every bit the glorious, bloodthirsty and brutal Valkyrja of the songs and legends, but she was not completely heartless. If she had been, my little brother would never have made it home that day.
With her back against a fallen tree and her boots deep in the snow, she gave birth to us, then wrapped us in furs and carried us back to camp. She handed the first bundle to her oldest, most trusted general and told him, ‘This is your priority now. Teach him everything.’
When she gave him the second child she just said, ‘Don’t let it die.’
Maddoc cursed her that day, for when he unwrapped the tiny, wadded up clump of fur and saw the babe within, he knew that he would surely fail. It would be dead, he thought, by morning. He would have killed for his queen, and he would have died for her if she’d asked. But keeping this baby alive might be too much even for him.
The Runt, as he would come to be known, was not just small and feeble, and too blue. His left arm was mangled and hung limp at his side.
Our mother’s latest pretty, young husband, Lief, had taken to studying the ways of the priests. He had potions and punishments, but no answers. Neither did Søren, the battle-worn Seer my mother favoured.
One muttered incantations and brewed potions. The other chanted incantations and cast his runes. They agreed only that whichever of them cured the cursed boy would win favour with the Queen. About everything else they argued and fought.
Yet, none of it made any difference. My brother’s arm stayed limp.
By the time of my seventh winter, I was already bigger and stronger than many boys older than me. Maddoc had been teaching me since the moment I could lift one to use sword and axe, and to hold a shield. I loved it and learned quickly. I was my mother’s son. Hungry for battle, eager to prove myself and win honour. Maddoc would laugh as I railed against him with a wooden sword. His laughter only made me more determined to bring him down.
He was so big and strong, and had fought for so long that, in my child’s eyes, he was like one of the Vlka Fenryka. I had heard so many tales, songs and sagas of those legendary heroes of Fenris – the demigods of our world – and I would pretend that I was Blackmane and he was Grimnar as we fought.
‘One day,’ he would say to me. ‘Maybe.’
‘You’ll see. When I’m bigger, I’ll fight with the Rout. Then I’ll come back here and you’ll wear the sharp side of my blade!’
Near the end of my eighth year, as the long winter returned and the fighting slowed, Maddoc had left me to practice, bringing my wooden blade against a tree wrapped with hay bails and twine. A perfect foil for my energy. I could fight all day and the immense pine would never fall.
Then something hit me across the side of the head. I stumbled and turned, raising my weapon, but no one was there. No stone or branch lay close and nothing had fallen from the tree. Then a sudden sharp pain in my leg made me fall to my knees. Nothing had struck me. What was happening? I couldn’t explain how, but I knew, deep inside, my little brother was in trouble. So I ran.
Through the trees, feet sinking into the fresh drifts of snow, still gripping my timber sword, helmet on my head and thick furs across my shoulders, I ran, calling his name. All the way to the clearing.
Arun the favourite, Arun the future Jarl, Arun the Protector. Of course I was jealous of him. Envious of the attention, and of his skill and strength. Even as a small boy, I understood that he would have everything he ever wanted and I would die somewhere in the dark, alone and uncared for and no one would even notice.
Except Arun himself.
Perhaps the hardest truth of all for me to bear was that, along with the other gifts the Allfather had bestowed upon him, Arun was generous, kind and possessed a big heart. Especially with me.
For every favour he was granted by one of our mother’s attendants, he would grant me one too. Every time someone brought food for him, he shared it with me. Every time he was called to visit a family or to watch a fight, he would take me. I spat his name more than I spoke it, but how could I not look up to him. I tried to hate him, but could not. He was the other half of me. We were tied together with an unbreakable bond.
But even he didn’t know that while he was training with Maddoc, I was training too.
As children, much of our lives were spent away from home. Wherever my mother made camp with her conquering army was where we would stay. We went wherever Maddoc went – and Maddoc the Right Arm was wherever the battle was. But whenever the snow grew too deep and the wind too cold, we were home. In Kaldahl. Our village was naturally fortified, built into a mountainside. Behind it, a sheer rock face, and in front a fortified wall of enormous tree trunks.
During the months at home, at any opportunity, I would sneak away to the clearing, taking a branch or an axe handle or whatever else I could find, and I would work until my feet were frozen and my hands raw. I would lift rocks with my one good arm, or build snow creatures, then beat them to death. I would battle imaginary foes, alone and away from anyone who might stop me or judge me, or laugh at my flailing.
My left arm was useless, and I was small and prone to sickness. But I had something that Arun did not. I had the ferocity of the overlooked. I was determined: I would show them all.
At night, the clearing was a place of duals, parties, or sacred rights. It was outside the walls of the village, but close enough to be safe and under Rena’s protection. Perfect for me: far enough from home that no one would bother me, but not so far that I couldn’t get back quickly if I needed to. There I was, swinging at an imaginary opponent and blocking make-believe blows, using the broken end of a spear as my sword. I was parrying and thrusting the way I’d seen Maddoc teach my brother. That’s when they came.
Three of them. Brothers. All a little older than me and a lot bigger. Farmer’s sons with broad shoulders and strong, calloused hands.
‘Runt,’ one of them growled.
I dropped the handle. I knew what was coming and that fighting was useless, so I did the only thing I could. I put my good arm up to protect my face. I was ashamed of how I looked, ashamed that they had caught me, ashamed of the fear I felt.
One of them – I don’t know which because my eyes were closed – threw a rock and hit me flush on the side of the head. I fell sideways into the freezing snow. Another picked up the spear handle I had dropped and thrashed me hard across the leg.
They were laughing. One kicked me in the back.
‘Your name is Runt!’
‘Say your name, Runt!’
They chanted, ‘Runt, runt, runt,’ as they kicked me.
‘Say your name!’
And then I heard his voice. ‘Fallow,’ he called. In the distance but coming fast. My brother. My saviour.
Those boys heard it too, but they were so full of hatred and blood lust that they welcomed him. They had no idea what he could do. Or what he would do for me.
The fight – if you could call it that – lasted seconds. Arun was screaming as he burst out. ‘FALLOW!’
He leapt and swung his wooden sword in a wide arc. He punched and stabbed and kicked, consumed by anger, and the oldest of the brothers fell quickly. He was on his side in the snow, bleeding red into the heavy white blanket that covered the ground, crying in agony. Both legs were broken. Arun turned on the other two.
One of them ran. Arun stopped short of killing the other only because the boys’ father had heard the shrieking and found a way to pull him away. The man might have turned on Arun, except that nobody – not even a wounded father – would dare lay hands on the son of Rena of Kaldahl.
Afterwards, under the light of the stars, each of us nursing a sore head, covered in pelts and drinking weak ale by the fire, Arun told me that he had felt my pain. The head, the leg, when the brothers had kicked me in the back. He had felt it almost as if they’d been doing it to him.
‘How could it be, brother?’
I shrugged, then, because I couldn’t explain it. But I understood. I had sensed it before him, and now I knew it to be true.
We were bonded.
When you hurt one of us, you hurt the other.
The day before our fourteenth birthday, the Wolf Priest came.
For most in Kaldahl, it was the first time they’d seen any of the Sky Warriors and it was awe-inspiring and terrifying in equal measure. Demi-gods who descended in a flying machine near as big as our village. The first we knew of it was the roar of engines overhead. My mother’s husband – as dim-witted as he was handsome – thought the sky was falling.
Mothers rushed small children into huts, there were shouts and cries of panic. Most, though, grabbed a weapon and rushed to the wall. They had no idea what the threat was, but for the warriors of Kaldahl any threat could be beaten with cold steel.
Only Maddoc and Rena knew what this was. Maddoc bellowed orders and brought calm. Rena wore her crown, cloak and sword. She was a vision of regal pride as she strode through the masses – her people – to greet the visitors.
As the smoke and swirling snow cleared, a heavy, iron gang-plank opened, clanging against the rocky ground. The Wolf Priest marched from his ship and up the winding path to our wall. He was flanked by four giants. Every footfall shook the very mountains. Their pale blue armour was battle-worn and each of them carried a short barrelled gun the size of a man’s torso, and a massive, ferocious chainsword maglocked to each hip.
Standing beside my mother I couldn’t believe what was happening. Until that day, Maddoc had been the most impressive man I had ever seen.
Then my mother did something she had never done. Something almost as frightening as the arrival of the Wolf Priest. As she met the group of giants halfway up the path, she went down on one knee and bowed her head. Maddoc the Right Arm did the same, and then the rest of us followed. First my mother’s army, which filled the path behind her, and the ramparts and the streets inside the walls; then the villagers, servants, slaves and children. Everyone on one knee to greet the visitors from the sky.
The world had seemed full of whispering voices until my mother spoke.
‘Welcome,’ she said. ‘You honour us. Anything we have is yours.’
Of the five, the Wolf Priest was the only one without a helmet. His head was shaved to the skin, his face lined, his nose long and bent in the middle. He had a thick, black beard and animal pelts layered upon his mountainous shoulders. His armour was black and brass, and kneeling there in his shadow, I have never felt smaller.
‘You know why I’m here?’ he asked. His voice the rumble of thunder.
‘I do,’ replied my mother.
‘And who do you nominate?’
Rena stood, dragging me up with her by the shoulder. ‘My son.’
The Wolf Priest looked down at me, his grey eyes scanning as if he was reading my thoughts.
‘Strong,’ he said. ‘Physically at least. But there’s something…’ He frowned.
‘He is up to the challenge,’ said Maddoc.
The Wolf Priest grunted his disdain. What were we to him? Mere mortals. They said that the Warriors of the Rout lived for centuries, so this Priest must have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of villages and towns like ours. Thousands of hopefuls wanting to face the challenge and claim a place in their number. I was just one more.
We fed them and gave them ale and mead, though they took it in their ship – not deigning to spend time with us. And then, as the sun started to set and the shadows grew long across the snow, we met in the clearing.
As darkness falls on Fenris, men and women come to life. That’s when the stories and songs start. It’s when the first flushes of drunkenness and the cool of the evening bring colour to cheeks. And when fights break out. The clearing, and the forest surrounding it, were full of the sounds of laughter and challenge and singing. There was excitement about what might happen, fear and respect for the mighty visitors, all of us aware that if they wanted to, those five could wipe us out with ease.
I walked with Maddoc and mother. Maddoc was speaking, but I barely heard his words. Fires dotted the clearing, keeping people warm, and giving us enough light to see by. As I made my way through the crowd to the centre, I could see them, towering above everyone else. The Wolf Priest, his armour reflecting the flames, and beside him, one of the Vlka Fenrika.
The Sky Warrior had removed his ceremite, and stood stripped to the waist, holding a staff. Without the sky blue plate he seemed even bigger. He towered over the humans behind him. His muscles bulged and twitched. He stood completely still, but every inch of him seemed to still be moving. Every sinew was taut. He was an animal ready to pounce.
‘Did you hear me, boy?’ It was Maddoc. ‘You have been preparing all your life for this. You are ready.’
I wasn’t afraid of death, if that’s what the Allfather had planned for me. If I was defeated and died at the hands of one of the Vlka Fenryka, what more glorious death could there be for a warrior? I welcomed the fight. I was eager to challenge myself, and if I must lose, then I swore I would make my mark on his flesh before I did.
This was my destiny. This was my path and I would walk it without fear.
I had been to battle. I had fought and killed men. There was blood on my axe and on my shield, and I was almost as tall and broad as my mentor. I looked into his one eye now. ‘Don’t worry, old man,’ I said. ‘I can beat him.’
Maddoc grabbed my shoulder in his fist. ‘This is not a scrap against some farmer or tired soldier. You won’t have an army around you, or me by your side. This will be you against him. A God. All you have to do is survive.’
‘I can do it,’ I said and raised my axe, thinking of nothing now except the fight. Relying on instinct and training.
‘Do you understand what this is?’ the Wolf Priest asked me. He hadn’t moved.
‘You know that if you fail here, then you will never get another chance.’
‘So be it.’
The Wolf Priest stepped back and villagers leapt out of the way to avoid being crushed under his boots.
The circle had been made, and now it was just the giant and me. When he leapt, it was like lightning. I barely saw it, and he was on me, bringing his staff down hard towards my head. I lifted my axe just in time, blocked the blow, ducked and moved, turning so he was never out of my sight.
He prowled the perimeter of the circle. Then he moved again. His speed was incredible and it was all I could do to avoid a blow that would surely have killed me where I stood. He spun and struck again and again, never giving me the time or space to set my feet, or hit back. With every withering assault that I blocked, I felt like I was getting slower. I could not stop him.
His staff crashed into my sword, over and over and over, forcing me back. I knew, any second, one of these blows would get past my guard.
I ducked and moved again. Danced out of range. He came once more. I moved. He charged. I blocked. We turned this way and that. He was a violent storm that never let up, drowning me. He swung low, and then high, then low again. Every time I just managed to escape. He didn’t sweat, he wasn’t breathing hard. For him, I could tell this was easy.
Finally, he gripped the staff with both hands and tried again to bring it down on my head. To finish me with a single, crushing strike.
That’s when I saw it. The tiniest gap. The smallest chance. It took him a moment too long to bring the staff up.
Maddoc had lied to me. The Wolf was quick, and he was strong. But he was not unbeatable.
Instinct and training. He would be expecting me to parry again. He assumed I would try to lift my sword above my head to block, as I had done so often. But with both his arms raised to bring down the killing blow, I stepped forward and crashed my full weight against the giant’s kneecap. He stumbled.
Now I pressed my advantage. I swung at his exposed belly.
Too late. He blocked easily. I swung again, and this time the snarling beast didn’t just parry, he smashed the axe from my fist. He threw his long staff to one side and, with one hand, faster than I could blink, grabbed me by the throat and lifted me high.
‘Enough!’ The Wolf Priest stepped into the circle. ‘Time is up.’
The giant growled and dropped me to the cold, hard ground. It was over. I had lost.
I hadn’t been afraid of death, but this was worse. I had been saved only by the Wolf Priest. Shown mercy because I was weak. This would be my shame.
‘No!’ I stood and threw down my shield. ‘Let us finish this. I’d rather die in battle than have you interfere. At least let me fight!’
The Wolf Priest laughed. ‘Don’t worry, little one. You’ll get your chance. I don’t know if Toke here was tired, or if you were too quick for him, but I’ve never seen anyone land a blow like you did.’
He turned to my mother and to the crowd. ‘Be proud, people of Kaldahl. Arun, son of Rena, has passed this test. When the time is right, we will come for him.’
It was a full year later when the Sky Warriors returned. The noise of the ship, the stomping of boots, the regal welcome. All were exactly as they had been the first time. There was still the fear and the whispers. This time, though, there were two big differences. When the gangplank fell, a lone Astartes walked the path to the village. And unlike the first time the demi-gods had chosen to grace us, now no one was surprised. Least of all my mother.
A kind of peace had found the valley and the land beyond. The kind that settles on conquered territories like snow in the lowlands: fragile and temporary.
The great skjaldmær and feared Queen to her people – the new and the old – Rena, had fought and won. Maddoc had fallen at last in her final push, but by then he had served his purpose. Her favoured son, Arun, had grown to be a fine young warrior. Fifteen years old. Tall and broad. The equal of any man, he was powerful in every way.
So when the small ship came down from the heavens and landed beyond the walls of Kaldahl, and the crowd left the mead hall to see what was happening, Rena, my mother, barely raised an eyebrow. She had waited for it, and finally it had come.
Just as they had before, even the old and weary, the battle-trodden and world-wise, came to see the mighty blue-armoured behemoth sent by Russ himself, the whispers said.
He was glorious. Even Maddoc the Right Arm – the greatest warrior in a lifetime, and the biggest mortal man I had ever seen – would have been as a child to him.
Many knelt and started to pray.
His ceremite plate was decorated with pelts and wolf skulls. A mighty, double sided axe hung at one hip, his sky-blue helm from the other. His long, knotted hair was the red of autumn leaves and most of his scraggly beard matched it, although there were streaks of grey too.
We had all been in awe of the Wolf Priest, yet this one seemed even more impressive.
He stooped to enter the great hall, and once inside he filled up the space, so that it somehow felt crowded. Søren, Lief, Arun and my mother were all there. And me. I stood by my brother’s side, but no one had realised. Or so I thought.
‘This is the boy,’ my mother told the giant. She pushed Arun forward. ‘You may take him. He will wage war with you and win battles for you and belong to you. He will grow to become one of the great ones.’
The giant looked at me then. His scarred face turned and his bright eyes saw me for the first time. He looked puzzled. ‘What is that?’
‘His brother,’ Rena told him without pause. ‘He goes too. They’re inseparable. Since the day they were born, if there is one, there is the other. If you take Arun without the other, you won’t have all of Arun. It’s like … two for the price of one.’
It was true. Even now, under the hard stare of the ferocious, bearded Wolf, terrified as I was, I would not leave my brother. I had grabbed his belt and he had his arm around my shoulder.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ the giant asked me.
For the first time in my life I could not speak. For so many years, jokes and songs and jibes had been my most reliable weapons, and in this moment my mouth opened but no words came out.
‘It’s always been like that,’ said Arun. My twin brother. My protector. He stood tall, his shoulders back. Fearless, even in the face of this colossus. ‘His other arm is good. Strong. And I will fight on his bad side. Fight well enough for both of us. Take us with you.’
The giant’s face split into a wide smile.
‘So be it,’ he said. ‘Come on then. Two for the price of one indeed. You have a name, runt?’
‘Fallow,’ I told him. ‘What’s yours?’
‘I am Sigurd. Say goodbye to your mother. It’s time to go.’
But my mother had already turned away. There were more important matters for the warrior queen to deal with now. She had done her job. She had given her best and unloaded the extra weight at the same time – a good day.
Sigurd Wolfsbane was our teacher, our master, our reckoning. ‘Most of you will die before you receive the Canis Helix,’ he told us every day. ‘And those who don’t die in the trials will probably be torn apart in the change.’
One-hundred of us were chosen. One-hundred-and-one if you included Fallow. But no one did. Not for a long time. Not until he forced them to.
At first it was the sheer size of everything that made our eyes water and our ears ring. The hold of the massive ship, the enormous Space Marines themselves, the overwhelming emptiness of space. I remember seeing Fenris fading into the distance through a small window, growing smaller and smaller until it was just a dot. A speck of dust on the glass. Then it disappeared. This planet that had been so big that I couldn’t imagine ever seeing all of it was now so small that it barely mattered.
Then there was the food, the physical pain, the fighting. Waking in the middle of the night to do battle with one another, and then being pushed to the very limits of our endurance in a thousand different ways. The strategy sessions and tactical training. It was almost too much to bear. But seeing Fallow force his way through it made me stand taller. He inspired me.
Since that day in the woods, so many years before, we had been connected to one another. When he had too much mead, I got drunk. When he hit his head, mine ached too. We knew, I think, all along that this would be the thing that ended us. Together we were twice as strong, but we also had double the weaknesses.
If you fell, you failed. That was it. No warnings, no second chances. You were taken away and never seen again.
I saw the way they looked at Fallow. Most assumed he would be first out. But I knew two things: that he was much tougher than he looked, and that if he went, then so did I. So we did as we had always done. Through an unspoken pact we each made sure that the other survived. One day at a time, we made it through.
As we worked and battled, he grew strong. His wiry frame filled out and his good arm came to be worth two in a brawl. He was happy. And I was too. This had always been what we’d dreamed of.
Sigurd developed a liking for him. Every day he pushed Fallow and shouted and told him, ‘You will die today, Runt!’ But every time Fallow succeeded, every test he passed, Sigurd would smile that broad, warm grin that we had first seen back in the great hall of Kaldahl.
It took a year. When Fallow and I were sixteen years old, and the one-hundred had been whittled down to thirty, the final trial took place.
We made landfall on a planet I didn’t recognise. It was only later that I realised it was Fenris. We were home. After a year on a ship, knowing only fake, blue light and smelling only blood and sweat and oil, it was like stepping out into Valhalla. Each of us breathed it in and filled our souls.
Before we could face our final trial – the Test of Morkai – there were two more rites of passage. The second of these would be through the fabled Gates, but we would have to earn the right of that challenge first. Through victory in battle.
This, then, was the test. The thirty remaining aspirants were divided into two teams: the attackers and the defenders. Tac – a bear-sized boy that I had become friends with – led the attacking group. The game was simple. There were rules, and there was an objective, but in the end it came down to this: we kill all of them or they kill all of us.
We had no weapons except those we could find and fashion from the forest floor. Fallow, me, Tac and the others made camp and forged a plan.
This was it – we fight and we win. Or we die and everything we had survived over the past year was for nothing.
Tac fell first. His size couldn’t save him and neither could I.
I remember little after the moment that I saw him topple. Years of going into battle had taught me to keep moving forward. There is no time to mourn or grieve. That can be done later. If you stop – even for a moment – you die too.
So I killed and killed. With Fallow beside me, I raged and murdered everyone who stood in my way.
When it was done, I stood upon the stone that we had been told to capture and looked around at the bodies. My fallen brothers with their skulls split open and limbs bent at angles that the Allfather never intended. Blood covered my face, clogged my nose and matted my hair. Fallow knelt beside me, alive and unhurt, but exhausted.
The hours just before sunrise are the coldest on Fenris, and, as the blood slowed in our veins and my breath came out as clouds of steam, I noticed a pain in my side. Fallow stood, his good hand covering his ribs, blood oozing through his fingers.
‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘No idea. Stabbed with a broken branch, maybe.’
‘It’s a scratch,’ Sigurd said as he stomped up behind us.
We had won. The four of us that remained – the valiant – would be taken in front of the Council of Rune Priests.
‘That was the easy part,’ Sigurd told us.
We had done everything they asked, we had come through the Gates of Morkai, and now the Rune Priests would deny us.
‘We will suffer the final test!’ I demanded.
Sigurd was gone now. Through the Gates of Morkai there was only the Council of Rune Priests. I thought I was ready. Søren had coached me as a child. He had guided me and brought me to the very edge of what I thought possible. But Søren was, after all, just a man. He cast runes and drew spells, but he was the mortal mage of a kingdom that was a lifetime ago and many light years away from here.
I couldn’t tell if they were speaking to me or if they were inside my mind and scratching the words directly into my brain.
Until that moment I believed I had endured torment, but it was nothing compared to the pain of their words.
‘My brother and I have earned the right.’ I was standing. I thought I was. And I tried to sound like the Jarl I was destined to become. Was that right?
The world was dark. So pitch black that I couldn’t know for sure which way was up.
‘Interesting,’ said the voice.
Then there was nothing. This was part of the test, I realised. I was alive, and aside from aching ribs, there was no real pain. That meant that, wherever he was, Fallow was okay too. I focussed on breathing. Nothing more. I would not panic or try to flee. I would wait and conserve my strength. If the teaching of Søren was of no use, then what Maddoc had made me learn would be.
‘Very well,’ the voice said after an eternity. ‘We have decided. You will drink from the cup if you win.’ And then a feeling as though a hand that had been gripping my head, clamping it in place, suddenly let go.
My eyes blinked open.
I was standing in the middle of a clearing. My clearing. I was home again. Melted snow had been pushed to the edges to create a circular arena. On the far side of the piles of melted snow – trees. A forest that went as far as the eye could see.
In my hand, an axe. The weight of it felt good. This was the kind of test that I wanted. No one in my head. No grating words. Just my steel and flesh against someone else’s. My strength against theirs.
‘Oh no.’ That voice behind me.
I turned and saw Fallow. ‘What’s going on?’ I asked.
From the edges of the battlefield, blue clad figures walked toward us. Giants. Space Marines as big as Sigurd, wearing the armour of the Vlka Fenryka, but cloaked in robes and furs, and with runes of red and green glowing bright in their helms and on their weapons.
If they expected me to be afraid, I was not. I stood back-to-back with my brother, ready to defend him. They would kill me if they desired, but I would not beg, and I would not fall without a fight.
My poor brother was always the favourite. Since the day we were born, he was bigger and stronger and braver than me. But he was never the smart one. I knew straight away what they would ask us to do. It was the only possibility.
As the Rune Priests came I readied myself for it.
There were twelve of them.
‘Are you ready?’ they asked with one voice.
‘I am,’ I said.
‘We sense that you have always known the truth. But your brother still does not.’
Arun looked at each of them in turn, desperate to show what he could do. Determined to get what he had come here for. His destiny. He would drink from the Wulfen Cup, take the Canis Helix and ascend to the ranks of the Sky Warriors.
Only I knew better. As the Priests had already said, I had always known.
‘What are they talking about?’ Arun asked me.
‘Are you not starting to see it, brother?’
‘I see only a field of battle and a dozen Rune priests. Who do we fight?’ He was shouting now. Even he could begin to see what was coming.
‘We fight each other, Arun.’
‘Arun,’ said the Priests. ‘The only way for you to drink, to become what you must be, is to kill the other half of you.’
‘The other half?’
‘There it is, brother. The truth of it. Where we see two, there is only one. Only one baby was born in the Fenrisian snow that day.’
‘Why do you lie?’ he screamed. ‘We are brothers. Twins! Why do you lie?’
‘Sometimes you are Arun,’ said the Priests. ‘Sometimes you are Fallow. Even we can not see who came first. But in the moments when one half of you needs the other, he is there.’
‘No!’ cried Arun. ‘We are bonded!’
‘It’s true. Arun. I am you. You are me. When you are hurt I feel pain. When I feel joy, you laugh. We are one.’
‘You can’t make me do this!’
I let my axe drop to the ground and knelt down on the cool, damp grass. I breathed in the air of Fenris. ‘We are two minds who share one body. That can’t be. And they won’t tell us this, but if we fight and I win – we both lose. I can not receive the Canis Helix because it will destroy me, so the Priests will not let me go on. They have looked inside our minds and deemed you worthy. But before you claim your birthright, you have to kill me.’
The Priests were silent. Waiting only to see what would happen.
I closed my eyes. ‘It has to be you, brother. My Arun. My protector. The best of me is just you. Do it quickly. At least I will die at the hands of a mighty warrior. A man who will become one of the demi-gods. You will walk with Logan Grimnar and Ragnar Blackmane. Let me walk with the Allfather.’
About the Author
Steve Joll is a former journalist and children’s television show presenter who now works as a breakfast radio host in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. He’s married with 3 great kids – all of whom are convinced he loves his Space Wolves almost as much as he loves them.