Part One

"Don't cling to me, I swear I can't fix you.

Still in the dark, can you fix me?"

Weight of the World, Evanescence

Chapter One

I exhale. My frosty breath curls around itself, forming a small white cloud that hangs in the air before vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. I'm used to the cold by now, but without the elk fur lining the inside of my tent, it would be impossible to survive. At least I am comparatively warm in here.

Yet my blood still turns to ice as my hand moves over the cracked, yellowed piece of paper beneath me. Everything significant that happens in our village needs to be written down for our records. The dull pencil in my shaking hand manages to scribble out my message:

December 10th: Kaya Bane disappears for six months. Presumed dead.

The short note is all my trembling fingers can bear before I am forced to drop the pencil. I can't do this. It rolls off my lap and clatters to the ground.

I leap to my feet and kick back the wooden stool I sit on. My hands close into fists around the paper and, in a fit of violence, I crumple it up and toss it across the tent. After staring at it for a moment, waiting for the adrenaline in my veins to subside, I try to regain my composure and pick it up again. Smoothing it out, I calmly slide it into the folder where it belongs with the other loose sheets containing our records and history.

Done. I don't have to look at it anymore.

I know it's been six months. Everyone wants me to get on with my life now. They don't say it but I can sense it. At least they feel like I should be putting more effort into getting it together. But what they don't understand is that being abandoned isn't something you can get over in six months. They think she's dead. That's the explanation I was forced to write. But until they find a body and true evidence, the only logical explanation in my eyes is that she left.

I feel a hand on my shoulder and turn to see my father looking down at me. He is a tall man with a face that always seems to carry a lost expression, and dark gray eyes that spill his emotions. Although the gesture is supposed to be a comforting one, it has the opposite effect on me. I never liked his eyes or his emotional weakness. I view it as inferiority.

"Hey… we gave her all the time we could." The sound of his gentle words aggravates me, "But you know the rule. After a person has gone missing for six months… we need to give them some kind of explanation." I hear pain in his voice, as if he too struggles with admitting that she's gone for good. And yet I can't say I can summon any sympathy for him.

Shrugging his hand off, I hide my glassy eyes from him and wipe my cheek. Without responding, I push back the tent flap and step outside.

Everything becomes still, as if the people of our village have been frozen by the arctic winds. But they don't stop in their tracks because of the cold. They are all looking at me. Even the children stop playing and now stare at me frozen in mid-run, all of them knowing that I, as the person in charge of the records, just had to declare my own mother dead.

Their eyes follow me, full of pity. But I don't want pity. I want my mother. And I want them all to just go away and get back to their lives instead of entertaining themselves with mine.

My upper lip curls into a snarl and I glare into the crowd, taking a threatening step forward, "What are you looking at? Get lost!"

With some reluctance, the crowd disperses, and the villagers' daily activities resume. For now, I've scared them into avoiding me, although I have no true power here. Anger is all I have. It's the only way to make people leave me alone. I'll never let it go.

"That's not how you should treat your people." My father follows me out of the tent, his calm voice coming from behind me. The sound of it grates on my nerves.

"I'm not the compassionate leader. That's your job!" I snap, "I'm an orphan, and I want to be alone now." I don't even stop to take in the expression of his face before I storm off, leaving camp to take solace in the woods.

I'm not really an orphan. My mother's not dead. I know it. I can feel it in my gut. But she's not here, and although I have my father, he might as well be dead too.

I storm through the woods and ignore my long hair getting tangled in branches as I think about how dedicated he is to the village. Because he's always too busy attending to everyone else, I tend to be forgotten. For a long time now I've officially seen myself as on my own, whether I like it or not. I always say I don't like people, but maybe that's because the loneliness hurts, and I like to pretend I'm okay with it.

I stop at a clearing where I have a perfect view of the sky and on instinct I look up. There is no sun. The sky is usually cloudy and gray, reflecting my emotions. I stuff my gloved hands in the pockets of my coat and my toes curl inside my boots, digging into the bottom of them and feeling the hard-packed snow beneath. A lump forms in my throat. I'm not planning on it, but my mouth opens without my permission and before I know it, I'm yelling.

"Where the hell did you go?! Did you follow them?! Did you really think it would make a difference?!" I'm screaming at no one, but it still makes me mad that no one answers, "Or did you just want to get away… don't you even care about the daughter you left behind?" Pain rips across my chest and I clutch my heart, as if I can contain it to keep it from spreading, "Don't you care about me?"

The howling wind carries off the sound of my voice, but the echoes return to me unanswered. I stand there for a long time, hoping that maybe there would be a response if I wait a little longer, but the silence eventually becomes too much to bear. I return to my trek through the woods.

"Screw it… I don't need you anyway…" I mutter.

Tonight the announcement will be made official, though everyone knows already. They've all been waiting with bated breath, counting the days just as I have, to see if Kaya Bane would ever return.

I wasn't the only one who looked up to her. I wasn't the only one who thought she was the one that really led the village. My father is nothing without her. Nothing. And now it's all going to fall apart.

It's dark when I know that I have to return. I see the smoke signal in the sky that marks the beginning of the meeting. I struggle with myself, considering not showing up. I almost don't, until I decide that I am being weak. Weakness is the last thing that I want to show, but my legs are heavy and I have to drag them back to camp, hardly convincing myself.

I scarcely make a sound as I arrive on the scene of everyone gathered around the large campfire. My father stands at the center, turned orange in the glow of the flames. I am the last one here out of the thirty people in our group. Looking for a place to disappear into the crowd, I end up choosing a fallen spruce log at the edge of camp instead, avoiding contact with anyone.

My father's worried eyes follow me, burning a hole into the back of my head. He doesn't know how to hide how lost he is truly feeling, and he wants me there with him. However, when he discreetly waves me over to stand beside him at the center, I pretend not to see him, fixing my eyes on the ground instead.

I will not be his crutch. That was my mother's mistake, and now he is weak. And now she is gone.

The seconds tick by, time passing in agonizing silence while my father clears his throat and looks at the ground, occasionally lifting his eyes to glance at the group. I want him to speak already so that I can leave. I want him to stop being a coward. But it takes him too long to say something. At least when he does, I appreciate the fact that he doesn't waste time on ceremonies, and I'm glad that the announcement doesn't take too long. If it were drawn out and overly emotional I wouldn't have come for sure.

"Kaya went missing exactly six months ago today." He begins, clearing his throat, "I'm not sure why she left, but after losing five people in the last two hunting trips it is possible that she went after them to find them." He rubs the back of his neck and his voice changes pitch. He's nervous, but I swear if he breaks down I'm leaving. I pray that he doesn't. "She always did hold onto the hope that they were okay somewhere… but if we're going to be realistic, we are forced to conclude that she wasn't successful and that she is most likely dead. We haven't found a body, but out here that isn't likely in any case."

We all know what he's talking about. As if on cue, everyone turns to take in the vast wilderness around us. The thick forest of evergreens is a labyrinth, well known for its secrets. People who disappear in it are often never found again. There are too many things that can happen to a body; it can be eaten by wild animals, buried in a blizzard, or perhaps it lies inaccessible at the bottom of a treacherous cliff. No one was expecting a body, but I'm glad we don't have one. It means there's still hope.

My father turns to look at me now but I return my blank stare to the ground. I've started to make a crater in the snow with my boots absent-mindedly. I pretend to be very interested in it.

"Lilith is now in charge of keeping track of our records, taking her place." It's not an achievement or anything to be the mighty keeper of records, but it's a necessary announcement I guess. I still wish that he didn't have to point me out in front of everyone.

Their stupid eyes are staring at me again. I make no eye contact with anyone, my cheeks burning with embarrassment and rage. If they're expecting me to say anything they'll be disappointed. They should know better.

The silence continues just as before, and my father offers no further comments. The moment has reached its point where, if left to continue, it would become emotional. I know that neither he nor I wish for that. A few people are already sniffling, hit with the realization that one of the strongest, most loved people in the village is now gone forever. It wouldn't be long before someone would want to say something touching about her. But I won't be there for it.

It's time for me to go now. My tent is on the other side of the crowd so that I'm forced to walk through them to get to it. They all part ways to let me pass as soon as I rise to my feet, knowing me well enough that they understand getting in my way would be hazardous to their health. My father seems mortified, but he's not allowed to follow, and I don't care that I'm leaving him alone to deal with it all. I keep my head low and my footsteps fast, and disappear into the only place in the world where I can feel truly safe.

I don't even bother to pull off my boots as I fall to my knees and drag myself onto the pile of elk fur that I call my bed. I block out the rest of the world by curling up into a ball, letting my thick hair form a suffocating barrier between the air and my face. There's no chance of anyone coming in here now. This place is mine and mine alone. And here, in the darkness and the solitude, I don't need to put up walls. And here I can cry.

So I cry. I cry until my face is soaked in tears, and until the icy air freezes them to my cheeks. I cry until the pounding headache in my temples makes me dizzy, until the burning hole in my heart becomes numb. And then I drift off into fitful sleep.

A/N: This is the revised version of this chapter. No changes were made to the actual story. All I did was tweak some of the wording and I made my writing a little bit stronger, improving the narration. I have revised the first 11 chapters before moving onto anything new.

As of 12/21/2014 all revisions have been made and new chapters are on their way!

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.