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Rite of Winter

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The man wakes up in a clearing, surrounded by sharp crags on all sides. There’s snow up to his waist and falling in big clumps from the cliffs above, and his toes feel numb.

Numb. His boots were missing, and that alone was enough to piss him off. He’d been wearing them 24/7 since the day he finished making them.

The man looks around, trying to find his boots or a way up out of the clearing.

Instead, he sees a young girl standing on one of the crags, glaring down at him.

She’s so small, she can’t be more than 10, which means she’s probably a member of the tribe across the river.

The man waves his hands, trying to draw her attention, but it’s unnecessary. She’s been watching him this whole time and she gestures broadly at the clearing.

Her fingers and toes are bloody and chapped, just like the edge of the man’s shirt. Did she...drag him here?

She gestures again, talking in the sign language the little girls use in place of talking. /Look around/.

The man didn’t know what he was supposed to be looking at. The clearing was big, barren, probably isolated, not unlike the Ritual Place.

Ah. He thought that girl looked familiar. She was one of the candidates for last spring’s ritual.

The little girl nods, and does a twirl on the crag.

The man’s eyes widen.

He was losing feeling in his feet.

He had lost feeling in his feet hours ago.

He had been walking in the same mindless circle in the snow for ages, but every time he looked up at the girl on the cliff, she’d twirl again.

The blood from his feet was staining the snow.

He wouldn’t last long at this rate.