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The forest was a maze of melting snow and fog.
The gray of the soil lay in contrast against the white stacks of solid ice surrounding each tree trunk. Celeste dug her boot against a hefty coat of winter long snow. Her fingers, now damp and cold, marked where the white surface touched the leather. Winter has left them as the frost touched the soles of her foot.
Celeste never liked the cold. She had to drag herself out of bed into the woods miles away from the comfort of a fire lit home. But as she dragged her boot against the damp woodland floor, a familiar calm enveloped her.
Her lip twitched forming a smirk on her lips as
Celeste knew what the passing of Winter meant.
She walked passed the frozen roots of the century old cypress and grazed its trunk with her fingers. Light peeled against her lashes as flecks of sun blinded her. She squinted her eyes smiling against the warm ray of the sun.
Her knee rested on the stone studded river bed letting the frozen top crackle against her weight. She cupped a good amount of crystal water the kind her callused hands would allow and sipped the cold liquid. She could almost feel spheres of ice touch her nose. She flinched to the unexpected kisses of ice planted on her skin where the frozen liquid touched.
Spring has come and so was the Reaping.
She finished the remaining icy water on her hands before she whisked them dry. Still damp and dripping wet, Celeste's fingers grabbed on to her bow hanging on the satchel she brought, its leather straps straddled against a tree branch. She propped the weapon on her shoulder, grabbed the arrows made of elm lying on a tree trunk and marched home.
There was no time to waste, she and her sisters have to search for a buck to hunt.
Every year, she'd look forward to the end of Winter only to be preoccupied in the preparations for the break of spring marked in an annual celebration called the Reaping. Each pack is allowed a full day to hunt the woods within the premises of their territory. For the Grimlakes, the region spanned the Gray Woods up to the bank of Lake Caelum. In the case of her household the Reaping meant a competitive sport of who can hunt the heaviest whitetail deer. With only a few of them participating including her sisters, they were open to hunt multiple fowls each and the woods would still be full of them. The Reaping, however, differed from a pack with a greater number of household.
Celeste once joined a Reaping with the Cornans where victors of the game were the contender who could hunt a chosen prey the fastest. Days prior to the competition, a buck is sought, marked, and is set free back into the woods as the Reaping commences. The participants were only given the breed and the scent of the chosen fowl. Then, they'd hunt it down.
She could recall how the sunlight stung her skin that day. The humid terrain proved to make the hunt difficult. She hovered the forest beneath the blistering heat with other contenders seeking the same prey. She had met a lot of wolves along the way, which made that Reaping all the more memorable.
But there was one wolf she dreads to remember. Celeste was so close to the marked buck when a wolf devoured it before her. Its fur a striking silver, a mixture of black and white, where hazel eyes peaked through bands of black framing its face above dark hungry lips housing its sharp fangs. His energy was overwhelming, Celeste could only stand on her paws as she watched as the beast ruthlessly savored the animal.
The man only brought the antlers back to the clearing and a patch of deer skin where it was marked. The victor, that year, was Torryn Burnwood.
A mess of old fallen twig snapped beneath Celeste's feet as she emerged from the woods to the pathway to Grimlake house. The entrance emerged from the woods where a small moat lay below a bridge to a patch of grassy lawn to the humble doorway. Some of Celeste's friends thought it was magical. But she could only stare at it the entire day and it'll just be plain old doorway.
The humble manor stood above the stone cliff where Lake Cealum lay below it. The tide didn't allow much waves to crash against the stone, she barely heard the sound of the wave. Perhaps the lake was still frozen.
The doorway lead to stone walls forming living quarters for its inhabitants. And at the top of the corner tower showed the Grimlake crest etched in stone. It was an oak tree.
"Did you freeze to death?" Margaux emerged form the entrance carrying her cat. She was still in her nightgown as she shivered to the cold morning air.
"Almost," Celeste answered.
"That's a disappointment," Margaux went back inside giggling as she shut the door behind her. The wooden door snapped back open revealing Clara in her fur coat rubbing her swollen belly. In her hands a cup of black tea. Celeste could smell it from where she stood. She nodded her head and took the drink.
"Haven't popped yet, dear sister?," Celeste giggled. She landed a kiss on her older sister's cheek as she finally went inside to the warmth of their home.
"She lives!" Willow came running down the stair case to the receiving hall in a see through dress.
"Shut up, Willow. And do dress up!"" Celeste could hear her sisters grunt at the display of Willow's nakedness. Celeste threw her coat at her half naked sister who just laughed in return.