| She awoke feeling the harsh cold biting her flesh. She opened her heavy eyes slowly, and a sea of white lay before her, surrounding her. The white went on for miles, extending as far as her vision. Her mind was muddled – she took in her surroundings hazily, feeling slow and confused. A slight nausea swirled in her stomach, causing bile to rise in her throat as she realized the lack of any civilization around her. A few frozen flakes drifted across the plain, white surface, landing on her skin and melting into tiny dewdrops. Dimly, she realized her clothes were gone; it registered in a faraway part of her brain. Beth went to brush away the tickling trail of moisture; she realized her hands and feet were bound behind her, rubbing painfully against some kind of wooden stake. She began to scream. Her voice echoed across the snow, lonely and fading away into the darkness of the night.
Figures began to emerge from the darkness as she writhed against her restraints, lighting old-fashioned lanterns and approaching her almost in a reverent, respectful fashion. As they lit their lanterns, more and more people became visible, flickering into the light almost instantly. They wore heavy cloaks. Relief flooded Beth as she saw them coming in their small circle of illumination and she called for help, struggling against the wooden post she was bound to. The figures remained silent, keeping their heads lowered, increasing in number as they came closer. Soon, a mass of hooded people surrounded the naked female, standing silently in a circle. Their lanterns made a warm circle of light, enveloping Beth and the figures. Beth fell silent, watching them in confusion and wonder, staying still. Her mind still struggled to catch up to her situation, and she felt as though her thoughts were behind a thick cloud of smoke.
“We are gathered here on this all important day!” A figure stepped forward, becoming visible by the dancing fire in the lanterns. His booming voice caused Beth to jolt against the wooden pole, whipping her head to his direction. He wore a different cloak then the others: a velvet crimson one. Some kind of silver clasp glinted in the light, secured at his neck. His face was exposed, and Beth cringed away from his piercing gaze, feeling the intelligent madness within his eyes. The man ran his gaze over her body hungrily, and his lips formed a crazed smile. The man turned back to the crowd of people, his cloak stirring the top layer of fluffy snow and making it rise.
“Today, we offer this sacrifice to Aurora! May she always bless us with the light of Dawn!” The group offered a reply in a tongue Beth couldn’t understand, bowing their heads again. The hooded figures never wavered from their circle, standing still, allowing their lanterns to illuminate the woman. A sinking feeling settled into her bones as she realized these people weren’t going to help her. She renewed her struggles against the ropes and screamed louder, the cold air filling her lungs and burning.
“Let it begin! Let us usher in a new Dawn together! Aurora, hear us! This is our offering to you!” The man’s voice somehow managed to boom over Beth’s screams. Several hooded figures came forward from various parts of the circle, leaving gaps. They opened their lanterns. Each one took a small branch from their cloaks and lit it from the flame within. Carrying them triumphantly forward, they approached Beth.
Frenzied, Beth began to sob, twisting her head back and forth, searching for any means of release from her bonds. Blood dripped from her wrists as the skin was rubbed raw from the ropes, and splattered into the snow. The figures still advanced, bending now, holding their flames to a carefully made bundle beneath Beth’s feet. The paper and the tree bark in the fire pit caught quickly, and Beth yelped as the heat touched her toes. Tears began rolling down her face, drying quickly in the growing heat and smoke. The cloaked firestarters backed away, rejoining the circle, and the group began to chant in the strange tongue, led by the man in the red cape.
The flames quickly grew, licking Beth’s body hungrily. The tongues of flame scorched her skin painfully, making it feel dry. She imagined her skin peeling away in the flames, burning easily like a page from an aged book. She cried out in pain, looking upwards to the sky for release.
Above her, tendrils of lights swirled in a pattern of greens and blues. Beth saw them as she looked upwards away from the flame; they curled above her head, centering over her body and the orange flames that were quickly reaching towards the sky. The cult clapped and danced with growing vigor as the lights swirled overhead, still chanting. The northern lights reached down towards Beth and she screamed, feeling the flames now scorching her breasts painfully. She inhaled deep to scream again and blessedly the smoke consumed her; she went limp against the pole, unconscious.
The chanting continued long after Beth was gone. It continued as she went from unconsciousness to death. It continued as the lights swirled and danced over her body, seemingly becoming its own entity. It continued as the new dawn rose and the sky matched the color of the bright flames, and it continued until there was nothing left but ashes and a pile of scorched bones.