It was snowing, just as always in her darkest dreams. The wind gusts made Sen shiver. Her furs were frozen stiff and they did little to keep her warm in the unprotected plains.

“Cold, ma, cold!” she cried. Her mother looked down and said something she couldn’t quite hear over the howl of the wind. Strong hands held her steady from behind and pressed her on despite her protests. She moved forward, but her whole world was defined by the the biting cold.

In the distance, she saw the glimmer as she always did. The fire seemed so far away as it flickered then disappeared behind the blowing snow. “No!” she screamed silently, wanting to point and direct the group there. Warmth, safety, life was so close, but nobody else saw it. She turned to say something to mother, but no words came out of her mouth.

They continued walking, as they always did, under the night sky. They kept going despite the cold, despite the fatigue, despite it all. Stopping meant freezing to death, but it was becoming impossible to continue. The man in front of her was the first to collapse, as always. His mate stopped and sobbed with grief. She dropped the baby she was carrying, the one that had stopped crying two days ago. Her body sheltered him from the wind as she shook him. He didn’t respond at all to her shouts and shaking. Sen recognized the scent, the one she feared, that came when spirits left the body. The others told the woman to get up and keep moving, but she wouldn’t listen. Tears froze on her face as the rest started moving again.

Sen knows now that her father was the next to fall, although she never saw him. She only understood this after she realized the hands prodding her forward were gone. Only mother’s reddened eyes gave any hint that anything had happened. Mother never looked back, not once, after that time. They pressed onward, the only thing they could do. Sen wanted to scream, but the howling wind stole the breath from her.

One by one, the others fell or gave up and stayed with their fallen loved ones. Sen’s mind and soul had become numb as her body was; she took almost no notice of the death around her, only noticing the terrible smell she would understand only after this horrible experience.

In the end, it was only her mother and Sen left. During the darkest part of the dream, her mother fell and gave a cry of pain. Sen stopped and touched her mother. Looking up with pain in her face, Sen’s mother set her face and stood up again. “You must live,” her mother said, struggling to her feet and pushing Sen onward.

The sun was just rising over the mountains by the time they saw the sea. The unfreezing waters were moving, flowing, roaring as they walked closer. When the sun’s light finally touched them, it was too much for Sen’s mother. Falling without a sound, it was the last time she would move.

Sen was now alone, all alone. The light of the sun could do nothing to help her. She was cold, hungry, sleepy, and exhausted. She then felt an overwhelming heat flood her, as if she were on fire. She fell to the ground, desperately yelling as loud as she could manage.

Luck was with her that morning so long ago. Nif was out, her old bones aching too much to sleep and her thoughts too restless to sit in the cave. One of the hunters, Jor, was with her; he was up early in restless anticipation of the day’s activities. He heard the little girl’s feeble yell and they both went to investigate.

When they found her, they approached carefully. Nif made some comforting sounds, but Sen was too lost to be afraid anymore. Frowning at the mother’s body, the old mother picked Sen up and wrapped some of her warm furs around her. She said some words to Jor as she walked back to the cave quickly. True warmth flooded Sen’s body and she started to shiver violently. Fatigue overwhelmed her and a dreamless sleep followed.

Her eyes opened and she was on the rock floor outside her sleeping furs. Nif stood over her. “Sen, calm. It good, it good,” she said in a soothing voice, stroking Sen’s hair. “Only a dream.”

She looked around. It was the cave she knew as home, five winters later. She looked up at Nif.

“The bad one,” Sen said. “So cold.” She looked around for her furs that she had thrown off herself during the dream.

“Get warm,” Nif said as she prodded Sen toward her bedding. “You are good.”

Sen snuggled into her furs and shivered involuntarily as she closed her eyes. Thoughts of her new family and the comfort they brought her finally eased her troubled mind until she finally fell back to sleep.


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