RP Carnivorous


Resident Witch
Staff member

The forest was silent. There were no birds, not this late. There were no animals, not this close to the paths. The ground was covered in a thick, fluffy layer of snow, and the two ghuls moved through it in relative silence. Their movements weren’t loud– they were designed to move in sand, and snow was fairly close– and they managed to keep above the thick snow walls. Aliyna had told Nasir they were going to visit an old friend of her’s, but hadn’t given much detail about it.

Aliyna had found Nasir when he was sixteen. His ghoul genes had kicked in all on their own, and his parents thought he was cursed. They had kicked him out, and it had been three weeks before he got hungry enough to attack a person. He was lucky it had been Aliyna who had found him, then. Another ghoul, like him, but one much older. They had no relation to each other, but Alyina knew his family, and had promised his many times great grandfather she’d help any of his descendents who turned, whether willing or accidental.

He had been very lucky that Aliyna had found him.

Neither of them wore their sunglasses this late at night, when their vision was better utilized for seeing in the dark. Neither of them needed jackets, but wore them anyway, for appearances. It was better than being asked questions. Questions were bad for their kind. Once people started to notice you, when they started asking questions, they started to notice you, nasir had learned.

Sunglasses all the time you could write off as photophobia. But nails that cut through flesh like a knife through paper were questioned. Not being cold when it was sixty degrees out was fine. But eyes that were clouded over like the dead were questioned. There was only so many oddities you could have, so many times you could move in a creepy way, before people noticed you and questioned what you were.

Meta humans had been a blessing to them. Ghuls were older than metas, by several centuries, but metas were far more acceptable. They had a wide range of powers, and ghuls could write their own abilities off as being a strange meta. But that didn’t include their ravenous hunger. That, they kept under wraps. Because after all, what prey population wanted to be faced with one of it’s predators.

One of. According to Aliyna, there were more human predators. Apparently this old friend of hers was one of them. She hadn’t told him a name for either the man himself or the thing that he was, but Nasir was ready for something like them. Human in appearance, maybe with some physical warning signs, but generally beautiful as long as they were well fed.

That was one of their general tools, after all. Beauty, even if their eyes were most often fucked. Being beautiful helped you lead prey to secluded places. It helped you to blend in better. In general, it was helpful to be beautiful.

“How much further do we need to go? We’ve been walking for hours.” Nasir stopped for a moment to shake snow out of his boots.

Aliyna smiled and laughed, a soft and lilting sound. In an equally gentle and misleading voice, she answered him. “He should be nearby. Don’t worry. It’s not much further.”

Nasir sighed and continued to trudge along through the snow besides her. He had a feeling that this was going to be a long night, and already he was getting tired. Well, as tired as something that was technically dead could get.
Zhashagi had stood for a long, long time.

This migration path was well-traversed. Not this time of year. If food passed him this time of year, it was not on the migration path. When the winds carried their scent to him, he would move, breaking his feet from the layers of snow and mud to creep closer. He was fast when nature demanded, but nature did not demand it around this path. Around this path, prey had so far to travel that he could move with slow grace.

Camouflage was his blessing. No more did he sit before the campfires of his people and seem beautiful to them. No more did he stalk strange prey of stranger lands, taking advantage of their inexperience in his wood and enjoying the chase. No. While once Zhashagi was a sleek hunter, fast to swoop and break his prey apart, he now stood as a heron in the reeds, waiting. Eternally waiting.

His skin was roughened by the elements, the winter and summer storms that blew down the trees around him. His hair had turned thick and iron grey, tangled like strange moss, and over his head branched antlers that grew larger and more broad every winter. He wore leathers – taken with gratitude when they were finally worn through. He moved in summer to treat the leathers, to wash and bake and texture them until they were as old tree bark. Now in winter the cold left them rough and brittle, more convincing to the unwary. To those that could not scent the earthy mint and distant death his body carried.

He hibernated in winter. Standing tall or bent double, his mind drifted into ancient dreams, or even more ancient silence, on still nights like this. The wind would tell him when prey was coming, though prey was rare in the dark of still winter nights.

What was coming, the wind said, was not prey. It smelled old, like dry leather. It smelled of death, blood, rot. But it did not smell of mint. It smelled of earth, sand and deep, dry soil. He had not smelled one of these for a very long time. It smelled of herbs and spices. And now, the wind said, there were two coming.

Ghoul, they called themselves. Strangers that came with the foreign prey. They did not respect the old ways. But they were not born to harsh winters and dense forest. When he was young, he hunted them, the dream of a ghost in the snow. The others who were as he was, hunter, snowy-owl, had done the same, though each had been responsible to their own territory.

Now their number was limited. It was good, he often thought, that few or none at all became as he was. Not all had lived to hide among the trees, residing between sleep and wakefulness until a warm body passed under the tree with the man’s face. Their rarity meant that the prey were eating well. It meant less competition.

It meant loneliness.

They were coming closer. The dry-rot smell of desert came closer, and Zhashagi could hear their soft steps on the snow. One was ancient, nearly silent, nimble. The other was young and clumsy, stepping too deep here, brushing a tree there. The old one should know better. His memory ached from disuse. His hibernation was disturbed. They were not welcome here. Was the old one showing the young one why?

A high, shrill whistle echoed into the air, as if to answer the question without encountering the unwelcome visitors to his forest. A deercall, but with enough volume to carry over vast miles. It would frighten away prey, or bring them nearer in their panic, but he was not seeking prey tonight. This territory was claimed. The ghouls were not welcome, while they were far enough that he could not distinguish them. If they stayed he would break his feet from the earth and hunt them as he did of old, when he was smaller and more fierce. Surely the old one remembered that. If it did not before, it should now.

The scream pierced through the air in a way that left Nasir shaken. He didn’t like that sound, whatever it was. When he turned to ask Aliyna if she knew what it was, she was already sighing. “He does not remember. Maybe he will remember this. Pay attention, now, Nasir. This is important. You need to learn how to do this.”

He frowned, his brow knitting together in confusion. But before he could ask her what she meant, he watched as she took in the deepest breath he’d ever seen and then let it out. When she let it out, it was as a twisted scream. There was a base to it of a loud, echoing groan, but whistling over the top of it was a sound like a bird screaming. It wasn’t as unsettling to him as the whining deer call had been. In fact, despite the fact he knew it was horrific, it was almost comforting to him.

It echoed out through the silent forest in response to the loud whistling sound of the other being. Nasir was surprised by how far it did seem to echo, filling the wide empty space. It wasn’t as loud or as piercing as the scream of the other, but it was still loud. He looked at her with something akin to awe on his face as the sound died on her lips. She looked away, her cheeks flushing a little in the pale moonlight.

Aliyna started forward again, her short black hair flowing out behind her. He watched her for a moment before taking off after her. She turned her head slightly and began to talk over her shoulder. “My friend is what we call a wendigo. He is very old, older than even I am. You must be respectful. We are trespassing in his territory, and he has every right to kill us if he does not remember me. Be on your toes.”

Nasir’s eyes widened a little as he listened, but he was quick to nod. He scampered on ahead and caught up to her, and she promptly looked back ahead of them, avoiding eye contact. That dampened his spirits a little, but he pushed through it with a smile. “What’s your friend’s name?”

“Zhashagi. He is very old. One of the oldest wendigos left, as I am aware. There haven’t been many young ones in the last few centuries. Because of that ghuls have been able to move further north than we did before.” Aliyna slowed down, and so did Nasir. There was a look on her face that said she was scooping out the place. Her eyes were narrowing, and she closed them, listening in to the world around them.
His cry was met with a familiar sound, like a cicada and a dying wolf singing together. A shrieking groan that did not belong in the winter forest. The sound stirred something in his memory, and something else in his heart. His memory advised caution; he had heard it before, this sound, this particular sound. But his heart was louder as it began to bleed, flooding him with ice cold anger that these might challenge him on his territory. The desire to rise, to move, to kill, filled him for just a moment.

Until the wind shifted again, and he knew for certain their direction. They were coming on the migratory path, as prey would. A trick? An ill-planned one. They were coming as prey would come, and they did not expect to be treated like prey. The growing anger started to rouse his mind from its long slumber, kicking it awake like a lazy hunter. Like the lazy hunter, it took some time for it to come around entirely while being screamed at. But there was distance. There was time.

Zhashagi could hear them now, soft voices on the wind. The voices were musical, foreign, in a language he once knew. He learned it from a preything, when he needed to learn the thoughts of prey. The memory came alive behind his closed eyes. Yellow hair, white skin. Tough flesh from outdoor hunting and trapping, but sufficient. Heavy. And afraid when white teeth met white skin. He sighed at the memory, as the cold fury faded, as it often did, into cold hunger. It chewed on him as outside frost never could.

He swallowed the memory away, a soft interruption to the otherwise still night. Ghuls were not good for eating. Old flesh, rotten leather even when their faces were beautiful, when they smelled of healthy earth and distant herbs. The young, noisy one that moved too much smelled of wood and spice with a touch of old amber. His scent covered the other one’s sufficiently that Zhashagi needed to wait until the wind told him they were closer to try to identify it.

Patience, however, was Zhashagi’s gift, the gift of every skilled hunter. His mind was coming to life, and soon he would have an idea, a plan. He did not yet open his eyes; his leathers and skin would hide him in the dark from them, but should they come bearing lights, they would shine back from his face as clearly as the stars shone in the sky.

He remained, as he had for many moons, still and silent. Wide awake, as he had not been, but waiting.

Aliyna opened her eyes and pressed forward, following the winding path. Nasir struggled to move as easily as she did, though he felt almost more comfortable moving through this overflow of snow than he did on regular ground. She had told him the reason for that was because they were creatures of the desert, creatures of sand. In ancient times, they had lived in caves and wandered the sands looking for people who had died from the heat. But now, they didn’t need to do that. With modern travel, they could live anywhere.

While Nasir still stumbled a bit and had to work his way through the snow, trying to stay above it, Aliyna moved like she was born for it, her feet finding just the right place as she slid them over the snow. She didn’t sink. She didn’t struggle. She just moved with grace. God he hoped he’d be that good, one day.

Despite the darkness, it was as bright as day used to be for him when he was a child. He remembered what that was like. He remembered the brightness before it became blinding, before it pierced his vision like knives driving into his brain. He remembered the sun before the sunglasses. But now, the night was just as bright and beautiful. The stars burned and twinkled like dozens of lightbulbs, lighting up the world. Everything was sharp and beautiful in their twilight of night.

“So what exactly is a wendigo?” He was trying to make small talk. Anything to banish the creepiness of the forest around them. Forests felt… not exactly wrong. But claustrophobic. They were hard to see in because there was something blocking their vision everywhere they turned.


“Wow. Very descriptive.”

Aliyna smiled softly and gave him a sideways look. “You will see. It is hard to explain what they become in words. But they used to be people. That is important for you to know. There aren’t many anymore, because unlike us, they do not just… become this at a certain age. They must eat flesh first. Only then do they become this.”

Nasir nodded, feeling a pang of jealousy. To have not become this, to have remained human and blissfully unaware of what he was… “I thought that you said we could become ghuls by eating people instead of just by default.”

“It happens. Mostly now, they’re just like you. We all live in a world where that desperation isn’t as prevalent. But unlike us, wendigo are not turned from just being born. There are few of them, now. Unlike us. We are steady. We continue to be many. We find each other and we care for each other because we all remember the pain of becoming this. I do not know if wendigo do this.”

“I see. So they’re like. A different breed of us?”

“We’re almost there. Try not to upset him. Even I can’t fight an old wendigo, and I’d hate to lose my friend.” She didn’t answer him. He frowned but kept moving. There didn’t look any different from the last mile and a half of trail. It was still forest, along a snow-covered path. But, he did smell something faint. There was something out here that smelled almost like mint.
The young male was noisy. It filled the night with loud questions, answered by the softer voice. The words still did not make sense to Zhashagi, though his memory stirred more with every passing moment. Closer, ever closer, the hated stench and useless words crept toward him. Feet landing too heavily in snow. And a scent under the spiced wood that itched the back of his mind. Sweet. Fruit, almost.

Female, the wind told him. The second ghul was female. Her voice moved the old memories, hands searching for something in dry soil. Her scent – her voice – they had met before. Zhashagi did not understand how the foreign monster had survived him in the past, let alone why it would return.

They were nearly under his branches, now. They were not quite in reach. He could not stalk them; in the quiet forest, it would only warn them. He had given enough warnings. Now, and in the past. Still they came. Did they think he grew weak in age? In hunger?

Zhashagi opened his eyes, but kept them narrowed into the darkness. The starlight cast long shadows in the trees, and the moon lit up the snow that covered his feet, casting the whole forest in the glow of the spirit world. His iris, his pupil, and his sclera were almost all the same pitch black as the looming trees, as the shadow of his own skin. His muscles creaked like old wood as he pulled them tight, waiting for his eyes to adjust enough to make out features of the two figures in the dark.

The young one was foolish, but it would be more dangerous than the old one, which would hang back and let him exhaust himself. Had he not wanted to give himself away – or remembered he had a voice to use – he would have snorted. A century from now he would be able to tear them apart and strew them about as a warning without so much as a broken bone. But the young one, at least, he would hear coming. The old one would hide behind, disguise herself with his scent and sounds. Zhashagi needed to keep his eyes on that one. Especially if they had met before, and she had somehow escaped his wrath.

Aliyna stopped again, this time closing her eyes completely. Nasir watched her as she slowly opened them back up, watching the moonlight as it reflected off her once brown eyes, now grey and cloudy with age. She smiled, then, a soft smile with no teeth. She took a deep breath through her nose. He copied her, scenting that mint once again. It was much closer now.

“Zhashagi? I can smell you, but I do not see you. Are you stalking us? We do not come with the intent to threaten or harm you. We are simply here for conversation.” Nasir’s gaze sharpened and he started to spin, looking for the being that Aliyna seemed to think was hunting them. He spun and paced around her, looking out into the night.

She didn’t move, however. She stayed perfectly still, and after a few moments of him fumbling through the snow, looking for whatever “friend” might be threatening them, she reached a hand out and touched his shoulder. He swallowed and stopped moving. She shook her head at him. He wasn’t supposed to be looking. She wanted him still. That much he understood from the gentle look in her eyes.

Nasir relaxed his muscles and moved back to her side. His teacher and only friend looked around them casually. She hummed softly and then called out again, “Zhashagi, I know it’s been some time, but don’t tell me you’ve forgotten me again. Aliyna Karim? We spent almost twenty years in the same territory, surely you remember me still.”

She stepped forward into a patch of moonlight and looked around, allowing the light to highlight her face. Her wide nose and thin brows were highlighted, and her silky short black hair looked almost like a rainbow-slick. She was still smiling, turning her head to face every direction slowly. Nasir realized she was allowing her friend to see her face, so he would come out.
The female addressed him just as they came into his reach. The idea that he would stalk them confused her, at least in her tone; but it seemed to be expected by her scent. Her scent, sweet and rich, full-bodied and full of unnamed fruit.

He knew her scent.

He knew her voice, soft and flowing.

And as she stepped into the moonlight and turned, he at last saw her face. His eyes had always been his worst sense, the last to find what he searched for in the dark. But it took his sight to know her. He had tensed again as they stopped with their backs to him, prepared to easily eliminate the infant ghul where it stood. But her face. Her face at last called the lazy hunter to wakefulness, and he knew her, though he knew when her face had been cast in firelight.

“Aaaah liiii nahhhh…”

His voice was reedy and rough, sorely unused. He exhaled the name, letting it carry to their backs like his deer-call as he stirred his limbs. The permafrost cracked audibly as he lifted his feet. His nostrils flared to search the air for fear, and his dark eyes, now open entirely, shifted from her to the child.

“Ahlienah, Kaaarrreem,” he said to her, his voice still painfully slow with the patience of an ancient ambusher as he searched his tree-hollow memory for the words in their shared language. “Hwat…. Isssss… sspawn? Isss…. yours?”

He lowered his arms from the canopy, his fingers twisted past recognition into spindly imitations of branches, still strong as the wood they appeared to be. He fell to his knuckles, showing the front-heaviness that was not apparent when he was silently stalking. His legs themselves bent oddly, the joints between ankle and foot and knee and hip misshapen to become more effective in the deep winter snow. His face, beneath the matted, mossy beard, was still his own; also weathered and twisted by hunger and winter, yet human outside of the glassy black eyes. His eyes sought out Nasir’s, looking for the younger ghul's gaze. Seeking submission from the trespasser that was not Ahlienah Karreem.

While Aliyna didn’t even flinch, Nasir stumbled and fell to the ground. His eyes were wide as he took in the tree as it began to move before processing that it was in fact a giant man. The man was well over ten feet tall, and his body was gnarled and withered like a frozen tree. But no, he was no tree. He was most definitely a man, and one who was now staring Nasir down expectantly.

Aliyna turned to look at him, where he had fallen back in the thick snow. She gave him a look and huffed. Her arms crossed as she turned to face him. “Stand up and be respectful. We’re in his home. Do not disrespect him. Introduce yourself.”

Nasir swallowed hard and pushed himself back to his feet, but he kept himself bent forward in a respectful, and submissive half-bow. He understood now, the reason she wouldn’t explain what he was. There were no words. How could you possibly explain something like this to a person and expect them to understand? His eyes followed the heavy and huge branching crown of antlers from his head up. Then, Nasir snapped back to his senses.

“R-right, sorry! My name is Nasir Fakhoury. It’s an honor to meet you, Zhashagi.”

Clearly satisfied, Aliyna turned back to the ancient-looking giant with the beetle-black eyes. She gave her own bow, a hand pressed to her chest and the other circling out wide from her chest in Zhashagi’s direction. “The spawn is not mine. He’s my ward, but he’s not of my blood. I took him on as a promise to Zayn. Do you remember Zayn? You might not, you only met him once. Nasir is a new ghul. I needed to introduce him to a wendigo as part of his education.”

She stood up a little straighter and held her hands on her hips, clearly visible. Her body language was open and easy, and Nasir tried his hardest to emulate it. He placed his own hands in his pockets and tried to relax as he straightened back out. But his eyes remained wide grey and milk disks, unable to shake the shock and the unease.

This thing, this wendigo, was making him quake. There was something about it that left him deeply uncomfortable. How could Aliyna be so at ease with it? How could she stand so close to it and not flinch away or express discomfort? How was she not immediately repelled?

Then, she turned back and gestured for him to come closer. He eyed Zhashagi up, then looked back at her. He shook his head just the littlest bit in denial, and her lips pursed. “Oh come on, Nasir. He won’t hurt you, so long as you’re respectful and stay relaxed. He’s my friend. Come closer.”

While he slowly took steps forward, she turned her head back to the giant wendigo and she smiled softly. “Sorry about him. He’s very young.”
Zhashagi felt his joints pop, his muscles creak and stretch and burn, as he raised one hand to step towards the infant. He raised his shoulders above the ground with the branching arm to remain above the ghul's head. It was not right to lower himself to where his neck could be broken in the presence of a stranger.

Ahlienah seemed to care for the stranger, however. He felt their bond, their joined presence. The infant mimicked the ancient as a kitten would its mother, a wolf would the pack. Foreign animals were so much like those that dwelt among the trees. And yet, so different. The foreign cub spoke, and Zhashagi’s nostrils flared. The fear would not go away, carried to him on its dry breath. Ahlienah should control him, control his fear with her calm. If not, then what came next was its own fault.

But Zhashagi was wintekowa. His mind held a special place for fear. For chase. If he did not press, then he would act against his nature. The very idea never occurred to him, not after so long. He leaned closer to the ghul-child, eyes never blinking.

“Nahhh ssseer.” He tasted the foreign name on his tongue, slowly tilting his ancient head as though his ancient antlers (which had long since ceased their annual shed) were too heavy for his neck to hold. “Nahsseeeer…Ffffokh hhhho rrreeee.”

He swung his head toward her, turning it back to its natural angle. “I…no. Not… remember Ssaaan. This? Noooone…. Old Oooness… sspaare Nahseer Fokhorree. Issss…. Thisssss… education?”

Unable to recall the word he looked for, he replaced it with the one she had used. The meaning was close, but it irritated him that it was not the same. It irritated him that he did not remember Zane. He should remember. He once prided himself in remembering all his long life, deep in the last Song before his Change. Ahlienah would know he remembered once. She would know he was growing weak. Was she…

No. She was not. She was his friend, his old friend. They had shared fire and food. He remembered the sensation the way he had once remembered flashes of the deep winter song. Warmth, friendship. There was a hollow in his chest where those should be. Hunger and cold now filled it. Except for now, when he looked at her face, and when he swung his head back to loom over Nahseer. There was a spark in the hollow, too weak to banish the deep-set winter where his soul belonged, but enough to rouse old emotions and thoughts.

At least now he remembered why he tolerated Ahlienah.

Aliyna smiled sharply at Zhashagi’s attempted words. Or at least, at what she thought were his attempted words. She could be wrong in her interpretation. But he was right. None of the other Old Ones would have spared Nasir. “Yes. I’m teaching him the reason we don’t come North. The reason why we stay south of the borders. Why Minnesota is off limits.”

She looked back at Nasir, where he slowly trudged forward. She could smell it cutting through everything else- his fear. That wasn’t good. If the kid ran, she wouldn’t be able to save him. But Nasir did seem to trust her enough not to run. Or maybe he just liked her that much. She didn’t want to think about that, though. It left a pang in her chest that she didn’t want to admit she felt.

“Nasir, you need to stop being afraid. Fear is part of the wendigo’s hunting triggers. If you’re afraid, it could make Zhashagi want to hunt you. And i can’t save you if he does, nor will I try to.”

The kid looked at her with slightly wide eyes, but then he shut them tight. He started to breathe, and on his breath came the scents of their shared homeland, though he had never been there. The dryness, the spice, the smells of a homestead near the desert, but mixed with that scent of wrong decay. Decay that wasn’t editable. The scent by which ghuls knew each other.

“He’s very… big.”

“Again, Zhashagi is my friend. My oldest friend. He knew me and sheltered me when wendigos wanted me dead. He sheltered me when my own people would fight over territory. When we were all in the north, desperately trying to survive. He sheltered me and even fed me at his fire. He will not hurt you, as I care for you. Now calm yourself and come here.”

With her words, she could smell the fear ebbing away from Nasir. She could see the tension in his shoulders begin to fade, could see his body relax. Finally, he swallowed, and when he opened his eyes again, the fear was gone, replaced by what could have been determination. He strode in even and long steps over to Aliyna’s side, and she gave him an approving smile.

“Now then. Zhashagi, we were hoping we might be allowed to sit with you, to be in your presence while I explain why we do not engage with wendigos. If you would prefer we leave, we can do that. It has been ten years since my last visit, so I thought it was due. I would tell stories of our time together, if that would please you.”

She had turned her attention back to the slow giant, the living tree who her friend had become. She smiled softly up at his black as night eyes. It had been like this almost every time she had come to see him since the first time he had begun to look like a tree. Since the first time he had looked so tall. She thought to the piece of antler carving that sat in the back of her van, the intricately carved coyote that he had made for her and given to her just before she had gone south.

Every time, he would forget her. Every time, he would remember the moment he saw her face. And they would sit together for a day or two, talking, before she’d leave again. Just long enough to get his mind working again and remembering. And then she would say her goodbyes and she would return in another ten years. She had a distinct feeling she was one of the only things that he actually remembered, and even then, it was fleeting. But she was ever the same, eternally unchanged thanks to her curse.

It helped. At least, she hoped it was helping.
Nahseer lost some of the fear-smell as he came closer to Ahlienah, somewhat confident in the ancient ghul’s protection. He lost the bowing posture, though that did not matter to Zhashagi the way it might to one of their old ones. Should the ghul-spawn misstep, Zhashagi could kill him easily. The fear-smell was warranted.

But so was the safety with Ahlienah. Zhashagi could feel that Ahlienah understood Zhashagi more than he understood his own self, anymore. He knew much, but not the things he used to. He knew the migration paths, the tear of flesh in twisted hands. He knew fear and the fastest route of chase – and the longest, should he desire to stir his ancient bones. He knew the wood, the trees and their kind. But he did not know their names. He did not know the words screamed by food. Nor did he always care. He did not know the name of the path, the settlements it connected. He did not even know the names of every scent that he had captured in his centuries in this state.

He did not even know Ahlienah without seeing her, without knowing all of her except her touch. The knowledges he had were not the knowledges that mattered to Ahlienah. Or to Nahseer. They knew more than him about these things. He did not like that, but he did not find himself angry with them. He had the knowledge he needed, and Ahlienah would share anything more.

She was his friend. Or he was hers. He was her oldest friend. He remembered the feeling that friend evoked, even if he did not remember the words to define it. He listened to her words, to how she spoke, to the soft sound of her voice in the winter night. He remembered that he had heard her voice before, but he could not remember what it had said. He remembered her face in the firelight without even remembering the season.

But it helped. She helped, by coming. He remembered her coming before, and that was enough.

“That…. woooould pleeeessss… meeee, Ah-lie-nah.”

Slowly, as Zhashagi did all things, he settled. He leaned down on his knuckles, then settled back to sit on the snow, crossing his legs and resting his great branching hands on his knees. He sat first; this was his territory, it was his right. By the action he invited the others to follow, or not. A deep breath of cold air filled his thin chest. The exhale whistled like an unwelcome wind in an open window, filling the expectant silence with the winter chill.

Good. That was good. Aliyna waited for Zhashagi to sit before she made any moves to do so herself. She knew the rules, long engraved into memory, of how to deal with wendigos. Specifically, how to deal with this wendigo.

She remembered when his hair was still partly black, when his face was clean-shaven, and when his antlers were smaller. She remembered that twinkle in those black eyes. And it was with those memories that she sat down on a fallen tree next to where Zhashagi had made himself comfortable, staying close to his presence. It was with those memories that she took in a deep breath and began to recount the first time she had ever smelled that mint in the air.

1688, Somewhere in the Woods

The small ghoul walked through a quiet white world. The snow was difficult for them to walk through, especially in the stupid skirts she had to wear to blend in with the settlement. She’d much prefer to be wearing trousers or leggings, to be free to move easily through the woods. The snow was like the sand she played in growing up, and yet so unlike it. But she still moved across the snow with more ease than the men back in the village, almost graceful despite the boots that constrict her feet.

Aliyna hated being there, in that village. The trip across the sea had almost killed her, and then the people who had brought her had all but abandoned her after the death of the one who had refused to say her name. The one who thought he could put his hands on her, and that she would be defenseless against him. She had shown him just how wrong he had been. He had been her first meal after their arrival.

But now, now she was stuck in this small settlement, in this barely-a-village, and they knew something was wrong with her. They knew she didn’t eat. Some of them had begun to whisper names, names that weren’t right. “La Sorcière”, they called her. The Witch. None of them knew she was a monster, a creature that only ate the bodies of the dead, and sometimes the recently deceased. If they knew, they would have come after her months ago.

She was running out of food, however. Not many people meant not many bodies. That was why she was out in the woods, struggling her way through the snow in her many skirts. It was better if she could find a body alongside this side of the trail than if she started to decay. The villagers would know then, for sure, and then she would be chased off into the woods, or worse.

Regardless of all that, she needed to eat.

And she had just caught the scent of blood, carried to her on the wind with the smell of smoke. A campfire, at least two people, judging by the mint and the barley scents, and one of them was injured. But there was something off. The smell was off. There was something else in the air, something complex. She could smell fear as well, that high level of adrenaline. But that wasn’t what was off. No. The wind told her as it came to her in the pitch dark that one of the people at the campfire was likely a cannibal. But it wasn’t like her, and it wasn’t just a person who ate other people. There was something else.

Something that made her stomach twist.

Still, the cold and the dark were starting to take their toll, and she needed to warm up before her body temperature got too low to move. So she moved through the snow, following her nose and the faint glow of light.
Zhashagi, the Trapper, was having a very good night.

He had returned to a pit-trap set just earlier that day to find a decently sized French settler inside, a trapper in his own right. A foolish trapper. He had been in there just long enough to begin to fear the long, cold winter night without fire or food. Idiot had dropped his pack at the top of the hole. Zhashagi had a few guesses at what he had planned to do in the clearing, given the state of his trousers.

That did not deter Zhashagi, however. Feigning kinship, he had drawn the hunter from the hole, before breaking the wrist given to him as a friend and letting his eyes turn pure black. Fury had seasoned the sudden terror as the Frenchman realized that the trap had not been laid by accident too close to the path. The Indian legends were well known even to the foreigners. Legends of starving madmen who fell upon their own kind like raving demons.

He had run for a long, long time. They were far from the hole that Zhashagi would re-cover when he finished his meal hibernation. But his fitness from years in the wild had been his downfall, because he did not collapse from exhaustion – his leg had caught on a root, and his ankle had twisted in such a way that, as Zhashagi investigated it in his hands, it had broken long before he tore it off.

He took the time to build a fire, however. He did not like it when the winter claimed his meals’ heat before his teeth could. Seated upon a fallen log, he warmed a new cut of the trader over the open flame. Not quite roasting it; his food was best consumed raw. The fear was still strong in the blood that way.

Not strong enough to hide what was coming, however. Zhashagi, called the Trapper, could smell the scavenger on the welcome winter wind. Dry air and earth, foreign herbs and unstoppable decay. He knew what was coming. He knew its name, or the name of its kind. He looked up from his flames, his eyes still the black of the unforgiving sky, as the dying trapper whimpered behind him.

“Come, bold little ghul,” he chided, in the French they often shared. A laugh was in his voice, and he smiled with yellow teeth that reflected the firelight. The high winter song was upon him, and he knew no fear from foreign scavengers. “Why keep so far away? Come, come closer. Come, sit with me. Come, be afraid, but come sit. Come. I am in a forgiving mood.”

She froze the moment the voice echoed through the trees, calling out to her in the French she had learned when she had been traded as a slave. The twist in her stomach became a pitfall for a moment. She had trespassed too close, and now she felt ice in her desert blood. She took in a deep breath of the scents of the forest, the mint that she now smelled so clearly, and the bloody barley. It cleared the ice out of her and she moved carefully, slowly, jerkily, through the freshly trodden snow and into the clearing.

She kept her head low and her eyes from locking with his. She knew some tales of what lived in these forests, but the French settlers had always been hesitant to talk around her. So while she knew of a native cannibal monster that lived in the woods, this wasn’t what she expected.

The man was easily the tallest being she had ever seen in her life. And the full crown of antlers on his head only added to his imposing height. He was thin, but not unappealingly so, with strong features and a sharpness that seemed to seep through every part of him. His hair was two-tone, touched as it was by the color of sand or snow. His hair was beautifully wild and free, and long. Far longer than her own choppy waves, still growing out unevenly from the close cap of black silk she used to wear it as. She let her eyes follow the beadwork of his deerskin jacket up his sturdy-looking shoulders and met his eyes for just a moment. Just long enough to see the three distinct rings of black that made up his eyes. The whites were black, and his pupils were blown, and the iris was barely visible as a sliver of brown-black between them.

She looked back down at his moccasins and let her eyes trace the beadwork on them. She had seen other natives of these lands, though only in passing and from a far enough distance. Never this close. He wasn’t pretty, or handsome, but he had a uniqueness, a natural beauty to him, that would have made him attractive in her home. If it wasn’t for that sharpness that seemed to permeate the very air around him, that was.

She kept her skirts raised in her hands so her boots could find purchase. She hated the clothes she currently wore. They were French in fashion, and nothing at all like the clothes of her Egyptian home she so missed. They weren’t even the trousers and leggings she wished she could be wearing. They were tight and constricting and as she slowly sat down at his fire on a fallen tree across from him, they pooled around her in an almost ridiculous manner. Too many damn skirts.

She stayed quiet, swallowing back any words that came to her lips. This was his home, clearly, his territory, and she was just a lost little girl. She swallowed as the smell of blood reached her nose again, as well as other scents that identified the nearby body, the body she couldn’t see. It was fresh, but she hadn’t eaten in weeks. Her body had already begun to lock as she moved. Her eyes were already so white that the irises and pupils could barely be made out. Her skin was already turning grey underneath its natural coppery tone. Even just the scent of fresh blood was making her mouth water.

What was that that he had called her? A ghul? The word was deeply familiar to her. Wasn’t that what her mother had called the cannibal tribes who lived out in the desert when she explained why she wasn’t to go too far into the sands? Wasn’t that the word her father had hurled at her when she had begun to be ill every time she took a bite of food?

“A ghul. Is that what I am? Is that the word?” Her voice was soft as a feather when she spoke, full of the lilt of her accent, full of the gentleness that existed in her peaceful heart. She didn’t want to fight, and she didn’t want to cause trouble.

She was just hungry.