PROLOGUE

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RAVENNA HARBORED a strong hatred toward all things cold

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RAVENNA HARBORED a strong hatred toward all things cold.

Sprinkles of snow fell in front of her, covering the weathered stones beneath her feet and tickling her cheeks. Only the moonlight illuminated her surroundings, glimmering between the tangled branches of the naked forest around her. With a disgruntled sigh, she tugged the edges of her tattered cloak closer together and continued further down the ancient road. "Only a bit longer," she coaxed herself and tried not to shiver.

The road rolled over another hill and then forked, with the right pathway leading directly through her village. She quickened her pace. The wooden rooftops poked over the snowy horizon line, encompassed by the gentle glow of candlelight.

As she approached the village, a strange feeling stirred within her stomach.

Ravenna slowed to a stop in the center of the main road and looked around. There didn't seem to be anything different about the market. An array of stone shops and homes clustered along the sides of the road, decorated with vibrant tapestries. The homes were dark and quiet with sleep. A mixture of candles and torches lined the street, encircling the massive fountain several feet in front of her. The road split into two and curved around the fountain. She moved along, tracing her fingers across the snow that covered fountain's flat stones.

When the road returned to its original form, she stopped again. Her home stood in front of her. The windows were dark, which struck her as odd. Mother always left a candle burning when Ravenna traveled after dark.

She pushed the front door open and stepped over the threshold. An icy chill rushed to greet her. With a grunt, she shivered and drew her shawl even closer around her. The wooden door thumped shut behind her and she scowled. "Mother?"

There was no answer.

"Mother, I've returned," she called again and shuffled further into the house. Her gaze flickered over the main floor. The kitchen looked bare, striped of its warm rust colored curtains and the trinkets their family had hoarded over time. The gathering room seemed to be of similar shape, its chairs covered in a fine layer of dust. The fire-pit was damp with melted snow and misuse.

Ravenna's stomach twisted. "Mother?"

Her hand touched the small wooden rail that trailed upward, along the side of the staircase. The weird anxiety that clawed at her insides made her hesitant. She looked around the main floor again and then started slowly up the staircase.

The second level opened into a small hallway. Two doors marked the entrance to the bedrooms, and Ravenna immediately started toward the one that belonged to her Mother. She knocked. No answer.

She pushed the door open and poked her head inside. The bedroom was completely engulfed in darkness, with only a sliver of moonlight seeping through the curtains. Ravenna reached to the side, toward the dresser she knew sat directly to her right. A candle sat atop it, coupled with a box of matches. She lit the wick and then moved further into the bedroom.

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