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Beauty & Blood

"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 one?

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 woman 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 is 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.


  • I wipe the sweat from my brow during a lull in our battle. Marla looks like she appreciates the breather as well. By my reckoning, we have been dueling for close to fifteen minutes now. Neither of us has managed to land a crippling blow yet, but that's not for a lack of trying. That scarlet rose armor is bulky and makes her attacks easy to dodge or parry, but it's also withstood all my attacks thus far. I hate going for the head, especially one as beautiful as hers, but it might be my only option at this point.

    Marla blows a lock of moist hair from her face. "You have demonstrated some skill, cur. Lay down your arms and I will show mercy. The Scarlet Rose is always willing to mold raw talent."

    I sweep back my own sweaty tresses. I'm going to need a bath after this.

    "You're not so bad yourself, Red. Tell you what? Give up now and let me ride around on your shoulders loudly proclaiming myself to be Queen of the land, and I'll let you live. What do you say?"

    The scowl returns to her face and she raises her sword again. "I made you an honorable offer, you sewer rat – and this is how you reply?"

    I give her a silly smile and stick out my tongue. "I'm sorry, I meant to say, 'I'd love to join you'. That way I could slit all your order's throats as you slept!"

    "You will watch your tongue when you speak to me!" Marla shouts as she charges. "Or I will remove it and proudly wear it as a trophy!"

    She launches her sword towards me in a wide arch. I narrowly evade the attack by bending backward, allowing the blade to hum just past my face. Rolling to the side, I slash at her leg. Despite my blade being enchanted, her armor easily absorbs the blow. Marla recovers and thrusts her sword downward. I open my legs and her blade pierces the earth not far from my nethers. I give her a dirty look.

    "You are a squirrely one..." she mutters as she struggles to pull her weapon out of the ground.

    "Better that than a dead one!" I shout and slash at her face. My dagger catches the edge of her cheek and draws a thin line of raw flesh.

    The knight-mage screams as blood begins to seep from the shallow wound. "My face! I will feed you to the dogs!"

    I'm unprepared as the frenzied redhead leaps on top of me and pins my wrists to the ground. Ordinarily I would relish rolling around with another beautiful woman, but these circumstances are less than ideal. Her leverage combined with the weight of her armor have me at a serious disadvantage. Try as I might, I'm unable to wriggle free of her grasp.

    "You will know pain for this insult, little rogue. You will not have a proper burial – your lifeless corpse will be hung from a tree for the birds to peck at!"

    I'm watching the blood dribble down her face. I hope she doesn't start bleeding on me. I just had this tunic laundered.

    "And just how will you accomplish that, Marla of the Scarlet Rose? By shouting me to death?"

    The armored woman's eyes find the sword half buried in the earth beside us, then move to the dagger in my left hand. What is she hoping to do?

    "Let's see how you like it!" she hisses and suddenly pulls my wrist upward. The tip of my weapon grazes my cheek. I use the redhead's slight imbalance to roll her off me. Bracing my legs against the side of her armor, I manage to break her hold and push away from her.

    We quickly get to our feet. Marla has a cruel smirk on her face as I touch the side of mine. Blood colors the ends of my fingers.

    "Looks like we have matching souvenirs from our battle now, sewer rat."

    How dare she!? Just because I reduced her beauty didn't mean she had to reduce mine too. What a petty and childish move. I feel my cheeks begin to redden with rage. However, I also feel the events of the last several hours beginning to take a serious toll. I think we will have to continue this dance another day.

    "Watch your back, Red!" I sputter through clenched teeth. "This isn't over!"

    "Until another day then, gutter filth," she says and gives me a half salute with her sword after plucking it from the earth.

    She turns her head as I disappear in a flash of light and smoke. I move as quickly as I'm able. The rogue escape spell only cloaks us for a few seconds – knowledge that we prefer to keep to ourselves.

    Somehow, running through the dark forest doesn't seem as appealing as it did a half an hour go. The warm liquid running down my cheek has really killed my mood.

    The tell-tale sound of a babbling brook pricks my ears and before long I'm kneeling at its side. An illumination spell casts a purple hue all around me. I scowl at the woman with a bloody face staring back at me from the water. That wound is going to leave a mark!

    I double up my fists and scream with rage. Marla of the Scarlet Rose has just become my arch nemesis.

    I gingerly press clay into the wound to staunch the bleeding.

    I am physically and mentally exhausted. The thought of making camp is too much for me to bare at the moment, so I retrace my steps back to that blasted shoreline. Removing the rest of the contents from my old trunk, I curl up inside on top of some damp burlap and close the lid. I'm going to be stiff in the morning, but I don't care. For the moment, I'm safe and warm enough to slip into unconsciousness.

    My dreams are full of more violent clashes between Marla and myself. Despite our best efforts, neither of us are ever able to find victory over the other. Sometimes we meet for a pre-arranged duel. Sometimes we happen upon each other while unprepared and scrap like a pair of cats. Sometimes we fight over a lover. It matters not.

    I'm suddenly jarred awake by a thump and a pain in my side. Muffled voices and distant music barely penetrate my sealed sleeping quarters.

    I reach up and place a finger on the inside portion of the magical lock. As expected, my chest springs open and I'm suddenly blinded by morning sunlight.

    Sitting up, I'm surprised to find myself on top of a bargaining table on a busy medieval street. Men and women of many stations hurry about in their everyday fashion. A handful of men on both sides of the table gasp in fright and fall over backward.

    "We... we didn't know you was in da box, miss," one of the townsmen whimpers.

    "A thousand pardons, m'lady," another offers.

    "Where am I? How did I get here?" I demand.

    "This be the township of Springvale, m'lady," an old woman crackles and give me her best curtsy. "My boys found ye and ye things on the beach this morn'n. We thought they was bits'n bops from a pass'n ship or the like."

    Okay, fair enough. These look to be nice folks from a low station that could probably really use the few coppers they would get for the things I was willing to leave behind, so I decide not to take issue with the situation.

    I stand and stretch. The old woman's boys generously offer to help me down and I graciously accept.

    "Thank you all for the ride to town then. Everything you found now belongs to you," I say with a bow.

    "Oh, do ya mean it, miss?" one of the younger boys asks, his eyes lighting up with delight.

    I wink and rustle his straw-like hair a little. Without another word, I turn and begin walking down the dirt street. The family smiles and waves goodbye to me. If everyone in Springvale is as nice as these folks, I think I'm really going to like it here.

    A few men and women of a high station dressed in expensive silks and magical ornaments float by with their noses in the air.

    Now I know I'm going to like it here. I wonder which direction their treasures... er... I mean their homes are?

    The sudden sting in my cheek causes me to pause and grit my teeth.

    I wonder if this town has a bar? I need a stiff drink. It must be almost noon after all.
  • "Another, Miss?" the barkeep asks with a slight frown. The look on his face tells me he thinks I've had enough.

    I give him a tipsy smile and shake my head. That was a mistake. The whole tavern starts to slosh side to side and the next thing I know the wooden floor is rushing up to say hello to my face.

    I vaguely remember two men dragging me outside and dumping me on the cobblestone. How I woke up in a mud puddle outside of the town is anybody's guess. So much for Springvale's kindness.

    I feel for my weapons and smile with relief when I find their matching tangs. At least those townsfolk aren't a bunch of crooks. If I had tossed myself out of the city, I would have stripped myself naked. Wait... that didn't sound right. Well, you know what I'm trying to say.

    The sound of approaching footsteps pricks my ears. As a reflex, I wrap myself in shadow and hobble as best I can behind a nearby bush.

    Two men crouch behind the other side of the bush and speak in harsh whispers.

    "Dat's it, boss. Springvale. Defenses are minimal, just like I said."

    The second man is silent, as if he were assessing the situation. "Well done," he finally says. "Gather the rest of the boys. It's time we made ourselves known in this region."

    Intriguing. These sound like my kind of people. Still though, not all thieves are thick – so perhaps I'll just keep my distance for the time being.

    The two skulk off into the woodland. I follow at a safe distance. Good thing too... I think last night's bender is starting to back-up on me. I think I'm going to be sick.

    The afternoon sun shines brightly as my thieving brothers step into a dense thicket. I sit and watch. No movement. Curious, I creep forward.

    The dense foliage swallows me and chokes out the sunlight. This place must be spelled. Nothing could be so naturally dark.

    Groping in the blackness, I finally find the outline of a cave leading into the mountain. I'm starting to like this thieves' guild more and more. They have a most excellent hideout!

    I inch forward one step at a time. Eventually, a dim light can be seen ahead of me with the low echo of muffled voices. Peaking around a corner, I see a tall man surrounded by a host of miscreants. His features are partially obscured by his hood. He holds a torch in each hand, which he holds high in the air.

    "Hear me, ye scum and filthy braggarts! The time has come for us to let loose the grogs of war and claim the goodie-two-shoes-village of Springvale as our own!"

    All the shadowy figures raise their weapons in the air and give a roar of approval.

    "Their high and mighty shall be brought low, even to the dust! Let their tinkling trinkets of gold and silver be ours!"

    More shouts of approval.

    "And bring me the head of their mayor – Fufu Bartholomew!"

    "Down with Fufu!" someone shouts.

    "The mayor will bow to us!" shouts another.

    "Springvale will fall to our might!" I shout.

    Everyone stops and looks my direction. I meld into the shadows and chastise myself for getting carried away. The group exchange looks, shrug their shoulders, and carry on.

    "Make ready, lads and lasses!" their leader shouts again. "This night, let battle be joined!"

    The group gets overly excited. Some start to dance, some start to drink, and others start to spar. I'm pretty sure Springvale will be nothing but ash come tomorrow morning.

    As quickly as I can, I navigate back out into the afternoon sunlight. Another hour or two, darkness will come and with it, my best chance to loot a few of the Nobel's homes. There's nothing like an invasion to distract the high and mighty. Those high-minded fools will leap at the opportunity to defend their precious town – and when they do, I'll be digging through their treasure rooms.

    My face is actually starting to hurt from smiling too much. I think that cut on my cheek might be bleeding again, but I don't care. After tonight, I'll have some fool stitch me up with gold thread!

    As I'm making my way back to town, I come across a lily pond. I give myself a sniff and determine that it might be time for a bath. Stashing my clothing under a nearby bush, I lower myself into the cool water.

    "I'm going to have to remember this spot," I murmur to myself, "this is just what I needed."

    The sound of a horse coming my way suddenly makes me question my last statement. Quick as I can, I maneuver behind a clump of cattails.

    The horse comes to a stop not far from me and I hear the rider dismount. Just my luck. Hopefully he just wants a drink and will soon carry on.

    The sound of armor being removed followed by a splash of water dashes that hope. It seems I now have a bathing companion. A smile smears itself across my face. I wonder if he'd like a little company? I'm in a good mood and could be convinced.

    I stand to display what I have to offer and push my way through the reeds to announce myself.

    A woman equal to my beauty stands from the water in front of me – a wound on her cheek matching my own. She narrows her eyes and looks me up and down.

    "Diana!" she hisses.

    "Marla!" I hiss back.

    "Filthy little gutter rat – even in my bath you vex me!"

    "I was here first, you 'high and mighty' waist of space!"

    We begin circling each other in the shallow waters. I not sure that either of us really wants to do this in our current state, but never-the-less, here we are.

    "How is that little souvenir I gave you from our last battle, dog?" Marla asks with a cruel look in her eye.

    "About the same as the one I gave you, sweetie," I reply with a scowl.

    She takes a step toward me. "Shall we test each other in these waters? No weapons. No armor. Just strength vs strength?" Marla reaches forward, her fingers spread with invitation.

    I smirk. "I guess this would be the truest test of raw ability, wouldn't it?" Without another word, I reach forward and intermingle my fingers with her own. Gripping each other's hands tight, we struggle to overcome each other.

    Marla grunts as we splash around in the pond. "Not bad, sewer rat. You keep yourself in fine condition."

    I return the grunt and smile at the ridiculousness of the situation. "You're stronger than I imagined, too. I would have thought you'd have all your fancy servants do all your training for you."

    The sound of more horses approaching causes us to quickly revaluate our duel. Releasing each other, we sink into the waters up to our necks and hide.

    A band of my brothers thunder past our bath.

    "Marauders!" Marla says with a harsh whisper. "I will crush you another time, sewer rat. Springvale may be in danger!"

    "Looking forward to it, Sweetie," I whisper back and give her a pinch on the bum just to be cheeky.

    "You'll pay for that," she murmurs as she hurries toward her horse and armor.

    I watch as she quickly dresses, mounts and rides off after the bandits. "Oh Marla..." I mutter as I pull my clothing on, "how I'm going to relish the day I murder you."

    The sun is low on the horizon as Springvale comes into view. I quickly climb a tree not far from the main road to get a better view.

    Marla paces in front of a small company of The Scarlett Rose. She holds a torch high above her head as she shouts instructions to the men and women under her command. If I had a bow and arrow right now, I might be able to nail the back of her head.

    I get comfortable on my tree branch. It shouldn't be long now.

    An hour passes and night falls. My back is starting to hurt. What's taking so long? I scan the road leading to town. Nothing. No movement. No torches. Nothing.

    The Scarlett Rose continue to patrol the street in pairs. Two of them actually pass directly underneath me every fifteen minutes. I consider delivering 'death from above', but figure I should keep a low profile if I'm going to do some looting later.

    Another hour passes and I'm ready to give up. I'm stiff and sore from crouching in this stupid tree and it seems that my brothers have abandoned their designs to over-throw this little backwater village.

    Dropping to the ground, I groan and rub my legs. I guess I'll just see if they'll let me back in the bar. I've still got a few coins left. If I wake up tomorrow in another mud puddle though, I'll burn this place down myself!

    Glancing over my shoulder at the darkened road to Springvale, I suddenly see a lone torch come into view.

    "Ah," I murmur to myself, "I think I see an opportunity to gain a couple more coins for later. I might just rent a room tonight after all."

    Melding into the darkness, I quickly approach the lone figure.

    A funny little man with a beard and sandals comes into view.

    "Hello there, little rogue," he says as I approach.

    I'm taken off guard. How did he manage to see me when I was cloaked?

    "You don't want to be here right now," he continues with a smile and reaches into his pocket.

    Something about him makes my stomach turn. Despite his kind, almost jovial demeanor, there was something off about him.

    "Ever seen one of these, kid?" he asks as he produces a large glowing coin. "Be off with you now. Like I said, you don't want to be here."

    My heart starts to pound a little and I decide to heed his advice.

    He watches as I run into the darkness and hide behind another tree. He laughs and shakes his head for some reason.

    Why is he so creepy?

    He holds up the coin so I can see it again and smiles some more. A feeling of dread grips my heart. He tosses the coin in the air.

    In an instant, the strange little man transforms into an enormous monster! I'm filled with horror as a creature more horrible than my worst nightmares begins advancing on Springvale.
  • *standing applause*

    I was hooked on this story from the get-go. Great job. 
  • Ms. Diana of Dunston is 100% rogue...

    Great work!  :)

  • Enjoyable read, at some point I was waiting for the next 'Diana of Dunston' sentence :3
  • Really nice, this Diana of Dunston is now stuck in my head... like a curse or what ? xd
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