The entire woods seemed to be holding its breath as Fey followed Glenn away from the nest. Together they crested a hilltop that overlooked the rest of the forest, about a quarter mile away. If there was an opportune time for him to kill her for trespassing on his land without upsetting the younger packmates, this was it. Fey tensed up as he came to a stop and turned to face her.
“So, now are you going to tell me what’s really going on?” he asked.
Fey wasn’t sure whether to be relieved, or more tense than ever. “I need your help, Glenn. It’s Clueless. She…She’s not normal.”
“Clueless?” Glenn asked with a raised eyebrow.
“The skinwalker I brought with me,” she clarified, her cheeks burning with secondhand embarrassment. “When I found her, she was being kept by a human as a pet. I Awakened her and got her away from her owner, but she…well…Clueless is a pretty accurate name, it turns out.”
“How old is she?” Glenn asked.
“Three, I think.”
“So, in dog years that would make her about twenty one. The same as you, I believe.” Glenn looked toward the nest, even though it was too far away to see. “After spending that much of her life as an animal, it’s only natural that she would have trouble adjusting to true sentience.”
“I know,” Fey sighed. “That’s why I was hesitant to Awaken her at all. The whole trip here, I’ve been trying to teach her how to be a skinwalker, but she just keeps reverting to acting like a dog.”
“She just needs time.” Glenn turned to her and smiled. “Remember when Norrin first joined the pack?”
“Don’t remind me!” Fey said, but she couldn’t help but laugh. Norrin was wildborn, conceived by a bear-walker father and a normal bear mother. When Glenn had Awakened him, it had taken him time to come to terms with the changes as well.
“But Clueless is in another league,” she went on, the smile fading from her face. “She might get better with time, but I don’t know if she’ll ever be…you know, normal.”
“Normalcy is overrated,” Glenn said, sitting down with his back against a tree. “But you knew that already, being you and all.”
Fey laughed again as she sat down across from him. Glenn had always known how to lighten the mood in even the most serious of situations. It was part of what made him such a great alpha.
“I know you’ll take good care of her,” she said, looking out over the forest. “If anyone can help Clueless, it’s you.”
Glenn frowned. “Fey, you can’t leave her here.”
Fey jerked her head back toward him in shock. “W- What?”
“I’m happy you came to visit, Fey. The whole pack has missed you.”
“Not Ember,” Fey muttered.
“But that doesn’t mean you can just dump your packmates on us.”
Fey opened her mouth to argue, but nothing came to mind. She had Awakened Clueless, after all. That made Clueless her responsibility, whether she liked it or not. Those were the rules and, she realized, she had been incredibly naive to think she could just show up unannounced on Glenn’s doorstep and hand her off like an orphan to a nun.
But she didn’t want to be an alpha. That was why she had gone Tame in the first place!
“Now, don’t give me that look,” Glenn chastised her, and Fey realized she had been glaring at her old alpha. “I can’t take her off your hands, but I can give you advice on how best to take care of her.”
Fey sighed and nodded. “Thanks. Between her and the monsters that have been chasing us—”
“Hold on a second. Monsters?”
Fey froze. “Damn it, I knew I was forgetting something!”
Glenn fixed her with a hard stare. “Tell me everything.”
And so Fey recounted everything as best she could, leaving out Zave’s involvement and any reference to living in the human world.
“They could change shape, Glenn,” she insisted, “but they weren’t skinwalkers. I have no idea what they are, but they’ve been on my and Clueless’ trail this whole time!”
“And you came here?” Glenn demanded, rising to his hooves.
Fey blinked in surprise. “I thought that—”
“I have children here, Fey! You just said that they’ve been hounding you across the country. You didn’t stop to think they’d follow you here too?”
Horror washed over Fey as she realized what she had done.
“Oh God,” she whispered, her whole body starting to shake. “Oh God, oh God, what have I done?”
“If they’re really hunting skinwalkers, you’ve led them to a buffet,” Glenn snapped. He was pacing now, his hooves sending up tiny puffs of dust with every step. “When will they get here?”
“I- I don’t know.” Fey looked away so that he wouldn’t see the tears of shame running down her face. “Glenn, I’m sorry! I didn’t know what else to do. I don’t even know what these things are!”
Glenn paused and brought a hand to his chin in thought. “Men turning into monsters. Antlers. An insatiable hunger for flesh. That sounds like…but no, it can’t be!”
“What?” Fey asked with dread building in her stomach.
Glenn fixed her with a cold glare. “Wendigos.”
“Wendigos?” Fey echoed. “I’ve never heard of them.”
“They’re monsters, just like you said,” Glenn replied, resuming his pacing. “Humans who have eaten the heart of a skinwalker.”
Glenn nodded. “Possibly the most horrible thing anyone could ever do. It turns the human into a monster—a monster with incredible strength and a nearly endless lifespan, but it’s also cursed with a neverending hunger. They have to consume the flesh of another human once a month, or they’ll starve. As long as they do that, they’ll never die. Any wounds they’ve suffered over the past month will be healed.”
“They’re weak to fire,” Fey put in. “That’s how Za…how I killed the ones who attacked us last time.”
“Yes, that lines up too, but…” Glenn shook his head in bafflement. “It can’t be! They have to be something else!”
“How could it be anything else?” Fey demanded. “Like you said, everything matches!”
“Because there have been no wendigos for thousands of years!”
The emotion in Glenn’s voice made Fey take a step back in shock. When he saw the look in her eye, Glenn sighed and forced himself to calm down.
“There was a war,” he said after taking a deep breath. “Over a thousand years before the first settlers came to America, these lands were populated by skinwalkers and what would eventually become known as the Native Americans. Back then, we actually lived alongside the humans. But then one of the tribes was given forbidden knowledge. They slaughtered innocent skinwalkers, consumed their hearts, and became wendigos. To them, the benefits of their new monstrous forms were worth the constant gnawing hunger that came with it.
“The war wiped out more than half the land’s population, both man and skinwalker, but eventually we used the wendigos’ one weakness to drive them back: fire, the great purifier. But wiping them out wasn’t enough. We had to make sure they would never return. So as the human tribes struggled to rebuild after countless years of slaughter, we did what we had to do.”
“What did we do?” Fey asked, enthralled despite herself.
Glenn closed his eyes. “We lied to them. Wendigos are created by consuming a skinwalker’s heart. We spent the following years feeding them new stories, ones that said that wendigos were created by eating human flesh. And in the process, the skinwalkers were forgotten. Some legends remained, most of them lumping us in with the wendigos as if we were monsters as well, but it had the intended effect. As long as humanity didn’t know the secret to creating wendigos, then wendigos would remain a nightmare of the past. A horrible nightmare, but one that we had already awoken from.”
Fey took a minute to let the story sink in. “But, if the wendigos are all gone…then what’s been chasing us?”
“I don’t know,” Glenn said, giving her a wry look. “Maybe we’ll find out when they show up.”