Chapter 2

At the very edge of the forest near Hearthaven sat a group of seven young men. They were all bandits. They all wore dusty brown clothing or leather garbs. They had an assortment of guns and blades on their person. There was one man who stood out among them. He looked to be in his early twenties, and even so he looked to show a lot of grit and character. He had a skinny body; his face was rather lithe to match it. His beard was thin and scruffy, just like his torn leather clothes. He had a belt slung over his shoulder that held his sword. He carried the least amount of weaponry of all the men. A cavalry saber and a six-shooter revolver hidden in his coat.

"Ey. Neph." A bulkier man asked him, grabbing his attention. "How long we gonna just sit around on our asses!" He looked displeased, to say the least. "I want some action! This town is just some shit backwater place! We could just plow through em all and take all the shit we want!" Neph adjusted his orange headband on his head. "Look, we're thieves. We're not killers. We're not going to just go around killing people Beuran." He stared menacingly at the huge man, who only stared back. "Fine.. We'll just wait until night… We'll see how long YOUR attitude keeps all of us alive though." Beuran backed off with a huff, sitting down on the grass. He mumbled some curses and leaned against a tree. With him taken care of, Neph nodded and looked to the rest of the men. "I'm gonna go take a look around. Maybe there will be somewhere else we can wait rather than in the middle of a damp forest." No one seemed to care. Neph was obviously the leader of the small troupe.

"Fuck. I can't believe how bloodthirsty that guy is." Neph guided himself over large roots and rocks. He sat down to catch his breath for a minute when he heard the faint noise of rushing water. "Water? I could use a drink." Neph pushed through the thick brush to find the clear, ice cold water. "Ah.. That looks refreshing." He dunked his head into the water to have a greedy drink of the pure liquid. It was deliciously good. "Ahh!" He breathed in while surfacing. He saw his headband flowing downstream. "Aw hell.." He uttered against his bad luck. He started to follow it. The water was just above his knees so it wasn't terribly deep. He was about to snatch the headband out when it slid off the edge of a waterfall. "Shit!" He leaned forward to see where it went, but couldn't see down that far. "Well.. It's gone now! Damn it!" He turned to take a step away but lost his footing on the slippery rocks. He felt himself hit the water and a blunt pain shoot through his head. He began falling while being pounded by the heavy flowing water above him. The next thing he saw was blackness, floating. Everything was just gone.

Snow was feeling quite refreshed. She had cleansed her hair of flour and dirt using a new soap given to her by a friend. Her hair felt quite silky now, it was one of the few luxuries she was allowed. She now relaxed in the water, floating gently in the pond. She shifted when something brushed past her foot. Her clothes? No. It was an orange piece of cloth. She lifted it from the water to examine it in detail. It appeared to be a bandana. When she wondered where it had come from she heard a man's scream, followed by a great splash. The water washed over her, making her flinch in surprise.

"Ah?" She saw an odd looking young man at the base of the waterfall. She cocked an eyebrow. Why would anyone jump into a waterfall? That was dumb. When Snow got closer she saw something familiar. Blood. The red liquid flowed through the crystal water, tainting it. She got closer and turned him over onto his back on a big rock. Whoever he was he was out cold, and had a very nasty cut on his head. Snow tugged him to the shoreline of the pond and used a piece of her shirt to act as a dressing for his head. He needed to get him back home quickly, her mom could probably sew up that gash for him. She wanted to hurry before evening hit and before he lost too much blood. She quickly dressed and tried lifting him. For a skinny guy he was pretty heavy! She took off most of his leathery clothes, also removing his gun and his sword from his person. Who was this guy? Why was he carrying such things? Snow knew now wasn't the time to ask questions, he needed medical attention.

Snow lifted him as best she could. In the end she had to half drag and half carry him home. Each step seemed tougher than the last somehow. He kept snaring on tree roots and rocks. She cursed the forest's jagged terrain. It hadn't taken her long to get to the waterfall but it took her hours to navigate back while carrying a dying man over her shoulder. She was suddenly thankful for the job at the mill. She worked hard every day, and her efforts rewarded her with bigger muscles.

The pair had just woken up, wondering where Snow had gone. They knew she had been here, the water bucket had moved. "Mila. Go wait on the porch for your sister." Ruby asked politely with a tone of worry in her voice. "She should have been home by now!" Just as Mila was about to reply the door creaked open, demanding the attention of Mila and Ruby.

"Ugh.. Hey you two.." Snow heaved a damp, bloody man through the door with a great pull of effort and collapsed into a seated position, wiping her forehead. Mila just sat there in shock, wondering who the strange man who was just pulled through the door was. Ruby had gotten up from her seat. "Oh my. Who is this? A friend of yours?"

Snow rolled her eyes and chuckled. "Well… He fell on me while I was bathing." She looked at him. "Well not on me… But in the same pond." She looked to her mother. "Mom, can you stitch up his head? I'll get some water."

"Of course dear." Snow's mother could stitch a wound quite well, and went about her business dutifully. "Unng.." The man groaned, seeming to come to his senses near the end of the stitching. "Hold still now dear, you've quite a nasty gash on your head." Ruby smiled. "Eh? Where I am? What the.. Fuck? Happened?" He sounded more than just confused. "Just you relax, Snow here will explain everything."

The darkness of night sheathed over the town, allowing Hearthaven to enter slumber for the evening; however, faint lights on the border of the forest cast a mysterious glow at the edge of the town…