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The Nutcracker of House Dunston

“Diana of Dunston?”

I look up from my crouched position on the deck of the large sailing vessel. A burly Orc looks down on me, his lip slightly curled to suggest his contempt for my kind.

“Diana of Dunston?” he repeats.

I stand to try and look the hulking male in the eye. I don’t even come up to his chin. All around me, refuges huddle together and do their best to survive the harsh elements
of the open ocean air.

“I’m Diana of Dunston,” I say with a little nod. My knees ache from being hunkered down for so long. Waves of ocean spray vault over the sides of the sailing vessel and keep
us all perpetually damp. I must look quite the sight right now.

The Orc gives a little snort, grasps me by the arm, and begins pulling me toward the upper navigation deck. A tall, regal looking beast of a man gives me a toothy smile as we
approach. His dirty brown teeth shine with gold and silver caps.

“This be her, Cap’in,” the Orc says with a grunt and flings me to the ground in front of him.

The man beast bends over and looks me square in the eye. Something about the way he looks at me makes me uncomfortable. I ready myself in case he tries to take what most of
the men on this ship want.

“So you’re Diana of Dunston…” he says with a wide grin.

I stand and take a deep breath. My chest expands and, as expected, the captain momentarily loses his concentration down my cleavage.

“That’s what I said, you oaf. And you are?”

The captain snaps back to reality and gives me a little snarl. These faux slavers always take issue with someone speaking to them on equal terms. “I am your better, young
miss. You’d do well to remember that.”

He takes me by the arm and drags me toward the side of the navigation deck.

“Welcome to the Shining Land. Perhaps in future, you’ll better remember your place in society when talking to superiors.”

I suddenly realize what’s about to happen. I try to wriggle free of his grasp, but to no avail. With a little exertion, he tosses me over the side of the boat.

The ocean swallows me whole. Fortunately, due of my upbringing on a small island, I’m well equipped to handle my watery surroundings. A large trunk slams into the water above
me moments before I breach the surface. I shall always count myself lucky for this. If the crew had waited to toss my belongings overboard a few seconds later, they most
likely would have struck and killed me.

The refugee ship makes for open water again as I cling to the sides of my floating possessions. May the gods see to the needs of the poor souls still left on that barge.

My body aches as I struggle to pull my large chest from the ocean. It leaves deep grooves in the sand as I distance myself from the salt water. Where is a good man when I need

Exhausted, I collapse under the shade of a large tree. Gods above and below, this is a beautiful land! Lush vegetation laden with flowers and fruit stretches out as far as the
eye can see. A few of the small woodland creatures come to gawk at the bedraggled visitor on their shoreline.

My eyes are heavy with the day’s activities and they slowly close.

I awaken with a start. The sun is low on the horizon. I didn’t mean to sleep the entire afternoon away.

Turning to my chest, I reach toward the magical locking mechanism. Chips and scuffs on the wooden exterior betray the fact that my transporters did not altogether honor their
promise to leave our things unmolested. Unfortunately for them, this lock only opens for me.

The magical seal responds to my touch. A moment later, my chest pops open like a jack-in-the-box. A grin spreads across my face as I retrieve my matching daggers, the blades
shimmering with an enchanted glow.

My travel rags are still damp as I wriggle out of them. “You can have these, Shining Land. A gift from me to you,” I say as I kick the poorly made clothing away from me.

My battle garb feels so good against my skin. The well-worn leather is a little looser than I remember; perhaps I lost more weight than I thought during the voyage. I make a
mental note to eat freely for the next few weeks. I’ve always been proud to be a shapely woman and I see no compelling reason to stop now. Surely the men in this untamed place
will appreciate my assets as much as they did back home.

My weapons silently slide into their custom sheaths. I tie my headband into place and start to feel like my old self again. Whipping out my daggers, I thrust, slash and leap
about the beach. This place will shortly come to fear me.

My stomach growls. I dig around in the remaining contents of the chest and produce a piece of dried honeycomb. It has a funny smell to it. I shrug and toss it over my
shoulder. With one smooth motion, I fling one of my enchanted weapons toward the shoreline trees. A moment later, the dagger returns to my hand as a clutch of fruit drops to
the sand in front of me.

The sun sets as I finish licking my fingers. I have no idea what this fruit is called, but it’s delicious!

A sudden chill sends several shivers up my spine. The day’s heat is almost gone.

My strength somewhat renewed, I begin sprinting into the moonlit forest.

The more distance I put between me and the shoreline, the happier I feel. The Shining Land, as it was called by those from across the sea, has not failed to disappoint. Even
at night, my surroundings are full of life and beauty. Glowing eyes follow me as I dash through the undergrowth, deftly dodging low hanging tree branches and easily vaulting
over stoney outcroppings.

I finally pause to catch my breath. Even in the low moonlight, I can tell that this would be a fine place to build a home. I allow myself to drift along in this daydream until
a burst of distant spell light shocks me back to my senses. Straining toward the source of the blast, I’m able to make out the muffled sounds of combat.

I feel a grin begin to spread itself across my full lips. I hadn’t dared start something on the voyage, lest I incur the wrath of the entire crew all at once, but here in this
fresh new land, well, I felt eager to begin my infamy.

I wrap the darkness around my body and speed toward the altercation. The screams become louder and the lights of magic intensify. I somehow manage to smile a little wider.
With any luck, all the participants will destroy each other and leave me a field of bodies to loot and plunder.

Everything suddenly goes quiet and dark as I finish my approach. To my disappointment, only a single body lies smoldering in the moonlight.

A male Elf lies in a pool of his own gore – a scorch mark on his chest and face telling the story of his demise.

My fingers expertly find their way into his many pockets. I frown to myself. Not so much as a fleck of gold. Someone has beaten me to the punch.

“Do you speak the common tongue, rogue?”

The voice startles me. I whirl around and fling a flair spell toward the darkened outline of a female standing off to the side.

A beautiful women with flaming red hair is illuminated. Her face is stone cold. Surely she is the one that bested the fallen Elf.

“I do,” I say in answer. “I hail from across the sea. You sound as though you do as well.”

She bows to me, but does not smile. “I am Marla of the Scarlet Rose.”

I return the bow, but grin like a fool. The Scarlet Rose was known the land over for being extremely wealthy.

“I am Diana of the house Dunston.”

Marla scowls. “Come to the Shining Land to pollute it with your common filth?” she asks.

The smile fades from my face. My first day in a new world and I’m already being reminded of my low station? I had hoped for much better. Perhaps I’ll reflect on this a little
longer while I’m stripping the redhead’s well-crafted armor from her cold, dead body.

The knight-mage levels her sword at my head. “The Scarlet Rose will see that this place remains a land of promise by cleansing it of all lower forms of life and station!”

I raise my glowing daggers in response. “And I will preserve this land by seeing to it that all mankind are treated equally. Those who think themselves above the rest… will be
cut down!”

Marla enters a battle stance. “May the lower gods of filth receive you happily at the end of my blade.”

I laugh loudly at her bravado. “Come closer, little noble. I’m going to warm my steal with your blood!”

In unison, we crouch and leap toward each other – our instruments of death outstretched.
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