She had been wrong.
Gods, how wrong she had been.
The forest was silent, its inhabitants of fur and feather tucked away within its deep embrace, little hearts fluttering to the rhythm that surrounded them.
A quiet melody of winter surrounded them, crystallizing each and every breath they expelled.
A shift in the air, the quiet thud of flesh meeting hard, unforgiving ice.
They stirred ever so slightly, tiny ears pricking as a ghost darted past their lairs of wood and dirt. But she passed them without as much as a flick of an ear, her movements nothing more than a noiseless black and white film.
Cynthia kept running, her paws made of snow and ice, her coat consisting of the Moon and something wild.
Her body ached, her muscles whimpering in pain as she continued to push them, yelling at them to withstand the pain for a little while longer, for a few more moments.
Nostrils flaring, she leaped over another fallen tree, the fur of her belly brushing against the ice coating its ancient surface.
She landed with ease, her thick paw pads absorbing the impact without protest.
She was bred of the winter-- bred for the bite of cold, the sting of ice, the numbness of snow. Her thick, shaggy coat protected her from the weather, and her paw pads kept her movements silent, allowing her to run and stalk on fields of crisp snow.
But she was tired, her movements sloppy and uncoordinated.
Snow and ice and dead vegetation crunched beneath her as she went.
The sack clenched between her teeth swung wildly, moving right and left, threatening to dump all of its contents onto the ground.
She had to be quick; she couldn’t waste any time.
Lunging over an iced-over pond, its surface glowing obsidian in the moonlight, she let out a huff of relief when the bag stayed intact.
The air clouded around her muzzle, a stark mist against the looming darkness.
It wasn’t far now...
Jerking off to the right in a wide arc, she flicked back her paws, making sure to kick up the snow and frozen dirt with her claws.
After making another few false trails here and there to throw off any possible trackers, Cynthia lifted her head high, clenching her jaws even tighter around the knot pressing down on her tongue.
She came to an abrupt stop, snow spraying from her legs and paws as she dug her claws into the earth.
The night closed in on her, surrounding her body with icy blackness. The moon was merely a sliver in the sky, Her holy light piercing through breaks in the trees. Rays of moonlight speckled the forest, ripping through gaps between twisting branches and gnarly tree trunks.
Not a single creature stirred, their little minds trapped within the fist of hibernation and the false sense of security that their little hides offered them.
Little to their knowledge, a predator armed with strength, speed, intelligence, and two-inched claws lurked right beside them, golden eyes scanning the vast plain of trees and snow like a hawk.
Her ears pressed forward, listening for the slightest sign of human life...
No matter how hard she looked, and no matter how many times that she had done this, she was never able to locate the exact location of the cellar.
And she supposed that that was a good thing if even she couldn’t find where Katrina was hidden.
Her nostrils flared, her eyes and nasal passage burning as she sucked in a lungful of air, her barrel chest expanding.
Still clutching the bag with her jaws, Cynthia cocked her head, brought up her front left leg, and stomped it down hard, once, twice, then three times.
She moved, trudging through the snow with silent steps, her ears and eyes straining for the slightest sound, the slightest movement.
She stepped up to a barren tree, her eyes burning holes into its surface, surveying its surface for the slightest hint of claw marks-- four jagged gouges that had chipped away the tree’s bark.
It had been faux; she had made those four gouges with a clean razor blade a year back in an attempt to deter any wanderers from hanging around.
Jagged lines in trees were the telltale signs of a bear’s presence in an area, and many wolves, no matter how powerful or fierce they were, never wanted to tangle with a bear.
It was a faux that had been working wonders. It had even kept the higher ranking wolves away.
And, true enough, as she lifted her head a bit more, there they were. Four lines running along the tree’s side met her eyes; they were as realistic and terrifying as a grizzly’s very own makings.
The cellar was definitely around here somewhere.
Specifically, it was right beneath a tree surrounding the gouges.
Now, she only had to find the tree, which was no big hassle because all she had to do, was count twenty-five trees left of the gouges.
Five fast raps against the metal trapdoor were all Cynthia needed before she dropped the bundle of food and clothes from her jaws, and shoved her wolf out of her mind with a swift growl.
Fur melted into flesh in the blink of an eye, her paws lengthening and narrowing into hands with fingers, her tail shrinking into her spine, her muzzle pulling back into her head and neck.
Cynthia knelt in the snow, her bare skin exposed to the elements that blanketed her, calling forth goosebumps that spread along her body like wildfire. The moonlight speared through the branches, sending rays of light to her skin and the snow around her, setting the landscape into an atmosphere of sparkling whiteness and mysterious, silent darkness.
Brushing the snow away with the back of her hands, she let out a harsh breath, white mist billowing from her mouth and nose as the cold bit into her hands.
“One second, Kat.” Cynthia breathed, brushing more snow off the cellar door.
Her jaw ached, barking with pain.
Where was the damn lock?!
Silence met her ears, but the quiet sound of knuckles thumping against metal reassured her that Katrina was well and okay.
Hungry, but okay.
When her fingers found the two handles that laid flat against the metal doors, she looked over her shoulder, eyes scanning the white and black that was of night and winter.
Two lovers, forever entwined in the fate of season.
And there wasn’t a soul in sight.
She grabbed the bag with one hand, brought it up to her mouth, and once again placed the knot between her teeth.
Pain erupted, nearly blinding her...
And, as she pulled the cellar open, warmth greeting her as eagerly as the little pup that had been waiting for her, she looked out into the world one last time.
She swung her legs into the cellar’s opening, her feet dangling just above the abyss that would lead her down to her little sister, someone that she had to hide with her life...
Snow continued to fall from the heavens-- a state of frozen animation, suspended in the heavy, dense air.
Cynthia, using her aching hands, descended into the warm cellar, the cold of the metal ladder biting into the flesh of her hands. Reaching up and closing the cellar doors when she was deep enough in the passageway, then locking them, Cynthia grabbed the bag from between her lips and fisted it in her free hand.
Katrina stood beneath her, staring up at her with large brown eyes. Her pale cheeks were flushed, her pert nose ruby red from the sudden cold, but even then, she grinned up at her.
The chill of the metal ladder bit into her hands and feet as she descended down into the warm, cozy cellar.
Cynthia couldn’t help but smile down at her, pushing past the pain that the expression of greeting, of joy, brought her.
“If we have enough time, once you finish your dinner,” Cynthia smiled gently once her feet connected with the floor. “You can go out a play a little bit. It's snowing, and really, really pretty.”
Just like all of the other times that she had arrived, little Katrina already had a sweat-shirt, panties, a bra, and sweat-pants in her arms, allowing Cynthia to quickly put clothes on; since she had to leave quickly, she hadn’t had time to stuff extra clothes in the bag for herself. All of the clothes and food in the bag, was for Katrina.
Katrina’s round face lit up, her mouth pulling into a wide, beaming smile. "Really?!”
But, immediately after Katrina had giggled with excitement, she fell still, her wide eyes zeroing in on the bruises littering Cynthia’s face and body.
Her split lip throbbed, matching the pulses of pain that radiated from her swollen eye, cracked ribs, and broken nose.