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The first time I encountered the snow maiden, I had just turned ten years old.
I had run away from home. In the excitement of my younger brother being born, and the anger of my older brother being caught stealing, my parents had forgotten about my own birthday. I had been replaced, I thought, and this time I decided to run away for real. Not just to the shed out back, or to the school where I played hide and seek with our friends. I packed myself two meals, a change of clothes, and I left my home. I walked until the village gates, and then walked some more. I walked past the farms, and away from the trails to the shrine or mountains. I walked far away from the safety of the village. I walked into what I knew was the domain of youkai, but I didn't care. I just wanted to run away, as far as I could go.
By the time the sun began to set, I was already hopelessly lost. I had no idea where I was. I didn't know of any landmarks or features I could use to get my bearings. All I saw around me was short grass, tall trees, and great mountains. I sat down to eat the food I had brought, and as the sun set and the winter night began to replace it, I grew cold. The clothes I was wearing were too light. I took out the spare clothes I had brought and wrapped them around myself to keep warm. It was then that I started to panic. With the night came darkness, and with the darkness came fear of what lied beyond the pale moonlight. My imagination ran wild with tales of youkai, and the horrific fates of those who encountered them. I began frantically running, searching for anything that I might be able to use as shelter before the last glimmer of light faded. To me, in that moment, a hollowed tree trunk looked like the inviting arms of my mother. I regretted running away as I holed up inside it, and slept through the night unharmed.
The next morning, it began to snow. The cold winter didn't care that I was out here. As the snow began to blanket the ground, I was no longer able to even tell what way I had come to get here, and my mad dash the previous night cost me all sense of direction. I finished the last of the food I had brought, and left the comforting shelter that the tree hollow p
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