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Every step I take is one step closer to death.

Hiking through the dense underbrush, I try to calm my frayed nerves and control the fear threatening to overwhelm me. Twigs and tendrils of ivy grab at my ankles as I continue to forge ahead, forcing me to wrench away from their skeletal grip. The sunlight is fading, signaling the end of another day, but this is no ordinary day.

A loud crack pierces the air. I freeze in my tracks, my breath catching in my throat. Whipping my head around, I try to locate the source of the sound. My heart pounds in my chest, the erratic rhythm painful. These woods are full of predators, some animal, some monster, but the worst… human. Taking a deep breath, I listen to the surrounding woods: birds chirp, insects hum, and small animals scurry about as if they have no care in the world.

Lungs burning, I force myself to continue walking. I didn't collapse three weeks ago when this whole fiasco started and I won't give in now. My family needs me to be strong.

The trees become sparser as I approach the edge of the forest. My shoulders slump when I pass the tree house we used to play in so many years ago. Any other day when I'm this close to home after a long day of hunting, I'd smile, breathe a sigh of relief, and perhaps look forward to dinner. Today there will be no raucous family meal, no solace in entering the peaceful village, and nothing to smile about.

The villagers will be awaiting my return, skulking in the shadows, desperate to catch a glimpse of the walking dead girl.

I've dealt with the whispers and pointing for three weeks with my head held high, my anxiety hidden behind a mask of indifference. I don't want them to see me like this, trembling in fear, broken. They've taken everything I am, every hope, every dream I've had for the future and smashed them to pieces with little hope of salvation. The townsfolk of Verdane decided my fate and they chose death.

The elders told me being Chosen is an honor. Either they are ignorant or apathetic. Every five years for the last twenty, a teenage girl has been chosen by the town, via secret ballot, to undertake this dangerous quest, never to return. Perhaps if the elders had to forfeit their lives instead they wouldn't be so quick to label it an honor, they'd call it what it is… a sacrifice.

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