It was the first snowy morning after her sixth birthday when Lara met the Raven and witnessed, for the first time, a Skin sacrifice.
After slowly counting to ten, she opened her eyes and stepped away from the tree. “Ready or not, here I come, “ she shouted, looking at the snow-covered woods in all directions, as she tried to find any clues left by her playing partners on their way to hide.
There should be a path, she thought, focused on the sea of white, trying to make up a trail. There were prints everywhere from their previous game, but she didn’t get discouraged. Gathering her skirt, she wobbled to the closest trees around the playground.
All the snow fell from this one, she observed, slowly advancing through the icy forest.
She stopped when she heard a creaking noise. “Alex, is that you?” She listened attentively, but there was no answer.
She didn’t get farther than a few steps before hearing it again. She looked up. The raven hopping on a frozen olive branch stopped moving.
“Hello, birdie! Want to help me find my friends?” Her face lit up with wonder. The raven twitched its head to one side, then the other. Lara noted, fascinated, how it pushed a pile of snow with its head. She smiled as it landed before her feet. “I’d love to stay and play with you, but I need to find the boys. See you later.” She waved her little hand and continued walking.
After three steps, she heard its caw, followed by wings beating.
When she turned around, the raven flew in her direction. She tried to duck in a panic, but the sneaky bird snatched away her hat while she hid her face in her hands. She opened her eyes again on her knees as the bird landed in front of her.
“Hey! Why did you do that? Give back my hat,” she pleaded with it, heart beating vigorously. The bird twitched its head, looking at her with its little black eyes, then hopped away through the trees, still holding her hat on its beak. “If you help me find them, I can stay and play with you for a little.” Lara got up and hobbled slowly behind it. The raven leaped a bit further, pausing from time to time.
Do you want to show me something?
The bird disappeared through the opening under a frosty cluster of bushes.
Her eyes lit up at the thought of adventure waiting for her. She got on all fours and crawled under. When she emerged on the other side, her hat lay in the middle of a clearing, the raven beside it.
She tried to dust the snow covering her white coat, but it had already melted. Her hair had gotten wet, which her mother wouldn’t like. She wore it loose and adorned with a single braid, as customary for a Longbraid girl of her class.
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