Chapter One: Home of Hostility

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Two Years Ago.

   Winifred Smithson's hometown existed on the edge of obscurity and infamy.

   One always knew where it was on a map, but nobody ever sought it out. Most knew that it was a place to be avoided. Really, it used to be a farming town like any other. "Home of Prosperity" written in faded writing on the local saloon's sign like the lingering touch of a ghost. Something that was, but didn't stay. The town was home to frequent droughts and fires, with the odd good season that brought in enough income to survive but not enough to ensure a life outside of just that. The fact that her father's home remained standing was nothing short of divine interference, though pestilence still managed to slip through the floorboards and made a home in her father's lungs once the snow had fallen.

   Over the winter, Ol' Man Smithson let out his last breath, leaving a sobbing Winifred to scream down the hall for her uncle, Joseph, the following morning. With her father's heart and soul being put into that home, and his soul eventually being the only thing left behind for his efforts, Joseph and Winifred decided to remain there. With her father's remains buried on the property in a private, two person funeral, Winifred felt inclined to agree that leaving the property for gang hideouts and looting didn't sit right.

   Not that there wasn't the threat of that, regardless.

   Her hometown was avoided mostly because the low population and lazy eye of the law that remained in town allowed a good number of the darker parts of society to hide in the cracks and dark parts of the old buildings. Her uncle, a stuffy and book-learned man, hated the town with a rather fiery passion and it was usually Winifred who, unfortunately, had to take up the job of actually spending time within town limits once her father's health prevented him from doing so. Uncle Joseph was a rather frail looking, more comfortable with numbers and money keeping than doing what needed to be done to keep them afloat.

   Stocking the pantry and cupboards, taking in whatever new livestock or horse that came into the town's possession? That was on his niece's shoulders like it was her father's.

   She caught a lot of stares and grumbles, old and exhausted men reminding her of where they expected her to be. Yet, someone had to keep the family alive, including herself. Sometimes amused, sometimes frustrated, she often commented on how she wished she had an easy life, staying inside all day. Some took that in stride, some didn't. Most people in town, however, she liked avoiding conversation with altogether.

   So, Winifred couldn't help the crawl up her spine as she walked up off the main stretch into the center of town toward the general store. Her and the owner were familiar enough, she made it routine to come in every second week during the summer when money was a little easier, sometimes monthly in the winter. He always regarded her with a small smile and nod, didn't talk much and she often found herself not minding.

   However, this time there was someone else in there.

   The man stood in the corner of the shop, not looking up from where he was looking at the label on a whiskey bottle. He stood a good head above her and the shop keep, his clothes as dark as the lights were dim in the shop. Winifred took in the back of his duster coat, the patchiness to the dark brown hair at the back of his neck. There appeared to be some sort of scars or marks running up the back of his neck and down the side, stopping hair growth.

   She had never seen him before. In a town like this, she would have noticed.

   Her dark eyed gaze moved toward the shop keep, who met her own with an unreadable expression. However, he didn't seem too tense. So, with a small sigh, she wandered over toward the counter.

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