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Dawn

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Dawn had just broken over the snowy horizon of SC and sleepy patrons of the Six Mile Inn were hustling in for breakfast. Five of these early risers consisted of two men and three kids. The two men were called Storm and Tender. The three kids were Johnny, Mary and Edward. Storm and Tender were the very first to rise, already sitting at their favorite table. Their meal was little more than meat-flavored water, but it was something to fill their stomachs. Tender was particularly hungry because he was up even before Storm was. The reason for this was because he had been in the process of trying to barter for a new coat. He ended up with a locket instead of a coat but he figured that the locket might be worth something in the future, so why not? It was a decently sized locket too. Inside was a picture of a man and a woman. According to the boy who had given it to him, the people had both died on the Oregon Trail and the only reason the locket had been recovered at all was because somebody had found it and hung onto it even after he and his caravan had decided to return to the east instead of risking another day on the westward trip.

The next to come down was little Johnny. He walked down the stairs slowly, dark circles under his eyes. It wasn't a lack of sleep that caused this dead look in him, Johnny had always been odd and grim. He was an incredibly quiet and grave little child and his face and posture said it all as he walked over to Storm and Tender and took a seat beside them.

"Hey, Johnny boy!" Storm greeted him by ruffling his incredibly short hair. Johnny only nodded back up at him. A soft cawing echoed the hall and a crow flew down from the rafters and onto Johnny's shoulder. Johnny patted the thing and fed it a bread crumb that he'd been saving in his pocket. He gave the bird a small smile, a rare smile. The bird cawed again.

"How did you sleep?" Tender asked. Johnny's only reply was a shrug, but Tender knew what it meant. "Yeah. Me too. I don't even have good dreams anymore, but at least that means there are no nightmares. I don't see much of anything when I sleep."

"I don't see much of anything when I'm awake," Storm joked, gesturing to the totally white world outside of the Six Mile Inn.

"True," Tender laughed.

His laughter was interrupted by another young figure descending the inn's stairway. This time, it was a girl. It was Runaway Mary.

"Good morning," she said shyly as she took her place between Tender and Johnny. Her faithful bulldog was ever at her heels. It barked twice as she sat down and she smiled at it, caressing it with a real warmth. The other three at the breakfast table smiled slightly. Mary was probably the kindest, gentlest and sweetest of the Marked. If anything, she shouldn't have even been amongst their sinful gang. Her only crime had been a wet ladder. Her murder was an accident. She shouldn't have been here. But God was cruel and Mary had ended a life. That was enough for him to deliver his divine wrath upon her head, as evident by the scarlet scar on her inner forearm.

Mary didn't mind anymore, though. True, the guilt of killing her father and leaving her two sisters never truly left her, but she had since stopped feeling so miserable. She had resigned herself to a life at the Six Mile Inn and, all things considered, that life really wasn't so bad. At least she still had her bulldog. And besides, the life she led before the Six Mile Inn (and after her accidental murder) hadn't been the best. To be a starving little girl on the streets was one thing, but to have to look after a dog (for the option of killing him never once crossed Mary's mind) and to have to deal with an icy summer was another. She might have frozen over had Tender and Storm not found her lying in the gutter. When they saw her mark, they offered her a home and some food. Mary hadn't left since.

"Good morning," Tender and Storm responded as the girl sat down. Johnny waved.

"How has the morning been?" Mary asked politely. She played with the fraying lace in her nightgown.

"Cold," Storm and Tender said in unison. Mary offered them a dry smile.

"What else is new?" she asked. She partook in breakfast which was one stale loaf of bread and more of that meat-flavored water. Mary dipped some of the bread into the "soup" and ate. Once she was finished, the scraps went to the dog who lapped it up hungrily. She chuckled at it.

"Poor, hungry, baby," she sighed.

"Don't talk about me like that!" Tender joked. Mary laughed again.

Then finally, the third and last child made his entrance. Despite being a child, though, he liked to consider himself and adult.

"Hello travelers!" he called as he pushed the door to the Six Mile Inn open. He, unlike the other four, had not come from a bed in the inn. Instead, he had come from his own bed back at home. Although he was guilty of murdering his younger brother and his mother knew this, she was still forced to house him because she had no concrete evidence and she couldn't just kick her son out of the home, especially not in a time like this. Edward was only 10, after all.

"Eddie!" Tender and Storm greeted the hotheaded killer as he slid into a chair between the two of them. His play sword, his murder weapon, was still strapped to his hip. Briefly, the two men wondered what his mother thought of this. She was still looking after him, but did she love him? Some mothers would love their sons no matter how evil they turned out, but others might tremble in fear or lash out in disgust. Neither man knew how Edward's mother had coped.

"Lovely weather, eh?" he snorted as a loud gust of wind blew by.

"Lovely," Tender answered with equal sarcasm and then he pushed part of the stale loaf over to the boy. The boy lit up and took himself a chunk. As he sank his dirty teeth into the stale bread, Mary's bulldog could be heard growling. It was clear it didn't trust Edward, a fact that amused all of them in attendance. Often had Tender and Storm told Mary to only wed the man that her dog could actually tolerate. So far, that had been a resounding zero men. Mary wasn't sure if this relieved or saddened her. In response to the growling, though, Johnny's crow cawed until the dog fell silent. Had the bird told the dog to shut up? It would've been interesting to hear what the animals said to each other. The humans, for all intents and purposes, were lacking in the conversation, all of them quiet even though only half of them were eating.

So the little breakfast party was complete, everyone present and accounted for. The meal was gross and the weather was terrible but this was normal for the early risers. Instead of complaining, when they had nothing else to say, silence was settle over them and they would continue to watch in silence as dawn continued to break over the snowy horizon of the Six Mile Inn.