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Cursed Lands - Jayn

Chapter Text

Jayn takes in a deep breath, feeling the cool, damp air enter her lungs. The stars above glow dimly. The moon shines brightly down the land. And the dead are having their fun - precisely the reason she's inside her tent, rather than outside in the fields. They're lovely, she's sure, but loveliness has a way of betraying people.

That said, she peers out occasionally, getting a look at the beautiful way the moonlight dances off of the misty haze. It distracts her from the thoughts that have been plaguing her.


She jumps at the shout. Was someone really out there? Why? Why would they deign to be out and about on a full moon?!

"Oy!" The shout comes again, louder. It's a human male, she deduces, and he sounds quite distressed.

She's never been one to abandon those to ask for help - even if indirectly. She picks up her weapon, just in case, then steps carefully out of her tent and rushes in the direction she'd heard the voice come from. "Hello? Is anyone there?" she calls out.

A figure comes running forward, towards her, and then the man drops to the ground, breathless. He wears armor, displaying an emblem that shows loyalty to the human empire. But what would he be doing out here?

After a moment of silence, where the man just gasps for breath, she reaches down and helps the man stand.

"Thank you, miss...?"

"My name is Jayn," she supplies.

The man nods. "And I am Reginald. Private Reginald, Grimoire's third division."

Jayn looks over the man carefully, a concerned frown on her face. "Are you injured?"

"I don't believe so," Reginald replies. "But I can't say the same for my comrades."

"Your fellows, are they-"

"We were given orders to retreat," Reginald interrupts, "but I was separated from my squad in the mist."

Jayn nods in understanding. "Well, we should try to reunite you with your squad."

Reginald looks at her skeptically. "Do you know this area?" she asks.

"It's not my home, but I know it well enough not to run into trouble. I can't guarantee that we'll find your squad mates, but we won't get lost."

Reginald nods in understanding, but he's still frowning. "Unfortunately, I dropped my torch as we fled. Do you have a torch?"

Jayn blinks. "Torch?" she repeats. "No. Why, do you expect your fellows to be carrying torches?"

Reginald looks appalled that she would think to ask. "Of course."

"The moon is out," Jayn says petulantly, pointing upwards for emphasis. "If your eyes have adjusted to the darkness, and I hope that they have by now, you'll see farther by the light of the moon than by the light of a torch. Besides, torches are unwieldy things - more likely to blind you than to shine a clear path on a night like tonight."

Reginald pauses, as if to consider this. "Our squad always has at least two active torch bearers," he eventually says.

"Well then, I don't suspect we'll have much difficulty finding them."

And without letting Reginald argue with her, she marches off into the fog. She hears Reginald following her, a few paces behind.

The fog grows thicker and thicker as they venture closer and closer towards that castle, but it's easy for Jayn to pick out familiar things or landmarks through it, even still. It takes her less than a minute to spot glowing torchlight in the distance. "Do you see that glimmer of light?" she asks, pointing it out to the soldier.

"Yes," is all Reginald says. It takes great effort for her to not roll her eyes.

"Looks like we found your friends," she explains in a careful tone.

Reginald nods weakly. "Let's hope so."

Jayn quickens her pace and follows the light. "Call out to your friends," she says to Reginald over her shoulder. "They might not take kindly to the sight of a stranger right now."

Reginald nods at that, and calls out, "Ho!"

A new voice responds, "Who goes there?!"

"Sergeant Thomas, it's me!"

Jayn and Reginald are now close enough for this 'Sergeant Thomas' to recognize him. "Reginald?" he says.

"Yes, sir." Reginald runs forward, meeting his squad.

Thomas sighs, and places a firm hand on Reginald's shoulder. "Thank the gods you're alive. What happened?"

"My torch went out and I became lost in the mists. Fortunately, I chanced upon this traveler who was able to guide me to you."

It's then that Thomas notices Jayn's presence. He smiles kindly at her. "Thank you for returning my man. To who do I owe the pleasure?"

"My name is Jayn," she says. "I was just passing through these parts. And I suggest that you move as well. This is not the night to loiter about."

"Aye," Thomas says with a grave nod, "we've abandoned our mission and are on the retreat. Can you lead us out of these mists?"

Jayn gives a comforting smile, and nods. "Indeed I can," she says.

With that, she begins walking, and the entire squad of human soldiers fall into step behind her. Evidently, Thomas isn't comfortable with silent marching, because he quickly strikes up conversation with her. "Are you familiar with this region?"

"I know it well enough. This isn't my first time here," she says.

She can sense Thomas's frown as he says, "What could have brought you here more than once?"

"I've spent quite a bit of my adult life working as a merchant," she says. "In that time, I've found one key ingredient to being a successful merchant. And that is to be willing to travel where other merchants wouldn't dare to set foot. It gives one less competition to work with, you see."

"Well, we certainly appreciate your assistance," Thomas says.

Soon enough, they've made their way out of the fog and up to where Jayn's tent is pitched. "Well, here we are," she says. "Is there anything else I can do for you gentlemen?"

"Thank you for getting my men out safely. I appreciate your help," Thomas says. "But I wonder if I might impose on you once more."

"I did offer," Jayn says. "Name it."

"I lead a squad, but we are part of a much larger force," Thomas explains. "An entire company, in fact."

"A company... That's one hundred men?"

"One hundred and twenty," Thomas corrects.

Jayn frowns at that. One hundred and twenty men... "What are all of you doing out on a night like this, if I may ask?"

"This foggy mist that covers N'Mar is unnatural," Thomas says. "The council of Grimoire believes that there is sinister magic behind it. We were sent to investigate, with the castle being the focus of our attention." He sighs, a frown coming to his face. "My squad became so ensnared in the fog that it seemed futile to press on, and so we made the order to retreat and regroup. We made it out unscathed, with your help. But... I am forced to wonder if perhaps other platoons weren't so fortunate."

Jayn interrupts Thomas before he can continue on, "I will help you. I assisted your private in finding your squad, I can assist your squad in finding your company."

Thomas visibly relaxes at this. "Thank you," he says. "Your kindness will not be forgotten. I'll do everything I can to ensure that you're rewarded for your efforts."

"I need no reward," Jayn says. "All I ask is that you and your group follow my instructions and judgments exactly. Can you do that?"

"Your judgment in these fields is likely much more sound than my own," Thomas says.

"First of all," Jayn says, "I need your men to extinguish their torches."

One of the soldiers shouts, "That's preposterous!" almost before she's even done speaking.

Thomas, on the other hand, calmly asks, "Why do you need us to put out our torches?"

"Because the torches will only light the ground a few feet in front of you," Jayn explains. "If you're hoping for your vision to go further than that, you should do it using light you've already been given." She pointed up to the moon. "Your eyes will adjust to the dark if you put out your torches. They're more hindrance than help."

Thomas nods, and turns to his soldiers. "Do as she says. Extinguish the torches."

The torch-bearers look at each other, then begrudgingly obey.

"Next," Jayn says, "the way you march is a bit problematic. Marching single-file is fine if you're hoping to conceal numbers. But if we encounter anything troublesome, we'll want to look numerous and intimidating. We need to look like we can do them harm. So marching in rank formation would be our best bet."

Thomas nods again. "As you wish."

"And finally. There are many beasts in this land, I'm sure you know. Being quick to attack, however, is not always the best way to respond. If we run into some kind of resistance, I must ask that you allow me to decide how your crew responds. Can you allow me this?"

"As I said, I'll have to trust your judgment."

With her criticisms over and done with, Jayn gets on with the problem. "You said your fellows were headed in the direction of the castle, correct?"

"Yes, indeed."

"Well, then, let's get to it. They won't find themselves."

Jayn marches into the mist once more. Thomas and the others follow after. As she looks to her left and right, Jayn is pleased to see that the men have taken on a proper rank formation.

A gravelly moan breaks this pleased feeling, however. She stops walking. "Do you hear that?"

Thomas nods.

"It sounds like zombies," Jayn says. "Perhaps six, maybe more. Have you encountered any of them before?"

"No, we haven't... We were warned that we might encounter the formerly dead in this field, but we never came face-to-face with any of them."

Jayn nods. "Well, you're about to. Zombies are mindless beasts. It would be good to dispatch them now. Otherwise they may follow us. Are you and your men ready for battle?"

"Ready," Thomas confirms with a determined nod.

Jayn nods, and she and the soldiers ready their weapons.

The zombies are fairly easily defeated. Jayn watches as the last one falls to the ground with a pain-filled shriek. The sound makes her heart jump.

"Well, that was a great deal easier than I expected," Thomas says, drawing her from her thoughts.

"Zombies are dangerous in numbers," she notes. "But individually, they're not much threat. Which is why I suggested we dispatch them now, or their ranks would have grown more abundant, and more dangerous to deal with." She turns the direction they came from. "We're deep enough in that my tent is barely visible in the distance. Can you see it?"

Thomas and the others look. "Indeed, I can," Thomas says.

Then, Jayn points to an oak tree, mere feet away from where they stand. "This is the largest landmark we'll be able to encounter for a while. If any of you should get lost or separated as we move forward, make your way to this tree, then return to my tent. Understood?"

The men all nod in agreement, and then Jayn continues leading them.

It's not long before they see the dancing light of moving torches in the distance. She points it out. "That looks like the rest of your company."

Thomas, however, frowns in concern. "That doesn't look like enough men to be the entire company... And look, they're moving away from the castle. They must be on retreat."

"Want to find out what they're running from?" Jayn asks. But it's not a question, and Thomas seems to understand that, because he simply continues following after her.

Soon enough, they meet up with the retreating soldiers. "Ho there!" Thomas calls out.

"Sergeant Thomas!" one of the soldiers cries out.

The retreating soldiers come to a complete halt. Thomas and Jayn both scan the crowd. There are about twenty soldiers - enough to constitute a single platoon. "Where is your commanding officer?" Thomas asks.

"I was serving under Sergeant Coburn," the first soldier says. "He was killed in action."

"I'm part of the fourth platoon," another soldier says. "Our sergeant was also killed."

"Where's the captain?" Thomas asks, but he seems to know the answer he will receive.

The soldier looks down at the ground. "Also dead," he says, confirming it.

Thomas whispers a curse, shaking his head. "What the hell happened out there?" he asks, to no one in particular.

"We encountered... Something. Men started dying," the soldier says. "I heard someone yell the order to retreat, and we made our way out with all due haste."

Thomas looks over the small crowd of men. "You twenty men are all that escaped...?"

"To my knowledge, sir."

"Well, let's get the hell out of here," Thomas says. "Jayn, can you lead the way back?"

Jayn nods. "I'd say the sooner we get moving, the better."

She turns towards the direction of the oak tree. But as she begins moving, she feels pinpricks at her skin. She shivers. "Do you feel that?" she asks, wanting to ensure that it's not only her.

Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, Thomas says, "So it's not just me?"

"There's something bad coming this way," Jayn warns.

And then, before anyone else could say anything, a figure appears in the mist. Whoever it is seems to be advancing quickly - not by running, though. He seems to be floating. "Get ready," Jayn warns. "Those of you who still have your weapons, get them out. Make sure whoever this is knows you have them. Get ready to stand your ground."

"Do as she says!" Thomas shouts, pulling out his own sword.

Jayn hears more than sees blades being drawn, more focused on the figure in the mist. Her brow narrows with hardened resolve.

Eventually, the figure stops in front of them. "Hello there, interlopers," he says with a casual grin. His fangs are on full display.

A vampire.

Not common, but not exactly unheard of for N'Mar.

The vampire looks over the group, left, right, then left again, then settles his gaze on Jayn. She meets his gaze evenly, reading him quite easily. His eyes lack the confidence that his body seems to hold. He snarls and flashes his fangs just as she thinks this - and yet she still sees no confidence. Her calm expression, as a result, does not waver. "Unlike you," she says calmly, "I won't bite. Well... Maybe. I might be lying."

The vampire seems unsure of how to respond. Luckily, he doesn't have to. Jayn immediately gestures to the group of soldiers behind her. "Perhaps I need to point out the obvious," she says. "I have thirty men at my side. There is only one of you. If you want a fight, we'll give you a fight. But for your sake, I think it'd be best if you went on your way."

"Thirty?" the vampire repeats with a flat expression. Then, he grins. "I think I can manage that."

Before Jayn or anyone in her group can ask questions, or run away for that matter, the vampire kneels down, and places a palm on the ground. A glow radiates from his hand, and the ground around him begins shaking. It's not long before it breaks, and then a ghastly hand breaks through the soil. Then another. And another. And another.

The men behind Jayn gasp as ghouls lift themselves from the ground.

"Now, if I recall correctly, you were just offering me a fight," the vampire points out, casual smile on his lips. "I'd like to take you up on that."

Well, the men standing behind Jayn are nothing if not entirely brave. Not one of them runs in terror. Jayn grins, and rushes to slice down the very first ghoul.

Partway through the fight, the vampire sees fit to begin speaking. He dodges a hit from Thomas, then says, casual as can be, "I killed all your friends back at the castle." He grins even wider. "Scores of them, slain in seconds. Now I'm going to kill you. With my army of ghouls, thirty men is nothing to me."

Jayn laughs as she yanks her weapon from the slain body of a ghoul she's just killed. "I doubt that very much," she says. "You don't have the look of a vampire who's just killed scores of men." She turns to the vampire, eyeing him tauntingly. "If killing thirty men truly is nothing to you, then why haven't you done it yet? Come now, or I'm going to start thinking you're all talk."

Eventually, while the others focus more intensely on the ghouls, Jayn focuses on the vampire. It's not long before she finally, finally, knocks him to the ground, and points her weapon at his face. He flinches back, and that moment of fear, that moment of hesitation is all it needs for his concentration on the ghouls to break. They all fall to pieces. Jayn grins, and pulls her weapon away as a flash of realization comes over the vampire's face.

"You might want to go away, now," Jayn says casually. "Before I decide to really kill you. Unlike you, I'll actually follow through on that threat."

The vampire lets out a low growl. But he stands, and gallops off into the night, the mist quickly concealing his form. Thomas kicks at one of the ghouls on the ground. "What are these, Jayn?" he asks, catching her attention.

"Lifeless husks," she says. "Puppets, in a sense. They can't do anything without a master to control them." She looks in the direction that the vampire ran off in. "He was powerful enough to summon this many. I knew that would be a problem, whether or not he could truly control them. So I distracted him well enough that he would drop control of them completely. Make sense?"


Jayn nods. Then, she leads Thomas and the other soldiers through the mists once more, back to her tent.

And there, someone is sitting, almost seeming to be waiting for her.

"Who are you?" Jayn immediately asks the woman.

She stands, holding herself proudly. "My name is Karen," she says. "I'm an Amazon from the west."

"What brings you here?" Jayn asks.

"I saw a group of human men fleeing near the gates of the castle of N'Mar. It looked like they encountered something dire out there. I came to look for survivors." She looks behind Jayn, silently appraising the soldiers. "I take it that these are all that remain of the group I saw...?"

"How is it," Jayn says, instead of responding, "that you were able to see what happened?"

"Well, I didn't see everything," Karen says. "The fog was thick. Too thick for me to fly in and land. So I came out here."

Jayn blinks. "Fly? Land?"

"I came here by griffon."

It's here that Thomas sees fit to argue. "But griffons are forbidden to fly in the lands over the human empire!"

Karen smirks over at the man. "Relax, soldier. Our treaty with the human empire allows the council of Grimoire to approve the use of griffons for non-military ventures," she says. "I was on my way to Grimoire on a diplomatic mission when I saw your men under attack."

Thomas let out a groan. "You'll have to answer to the council for this," he warns.

"I intend to do exactly that," Karen says. "I was headed in precisely their direction. And the events I observed will no doubt be of interest to them as well. You and your men are headed back to Gimoire as well, I trust?"

Thomas's hostility all but drains, and he slumps a bit as he lets out a sigh. "Yes," he says. "Our mission is over. We've nothing left to do but report back to the council."

"Dwarf," Karen speaks, quite obviously referring to Jayn, "you should head back to Grimoire with these men. I believe the council will want to hear your report of the events as well." Jayn blinks, and before she can even respond, Karen is already continuing, "I'll fly ahead to report to the council. You should make your own way there with all due haste."

"Hold up," Thomas says, frowning over at Karen. "What authority do you have to report directly to the council?"

"I already told you," Karen says, sounding exasperated. "I'm Karen. The queen of the Amazons."

And with that, Karen turns on her heel and marches to her griffon, which Jayn now sees is waiting on the other side of her tent. "Once I get to Grimoire," Karen says over her shoulder, "I'll let them know to anticipate your arrival."

And with that, Karen easily hops onto her griffon, and takes off into the night.

There's a brief silence, and then, Thomas says, "She's right, you know. You should come back to Grimoire with us. You've done me and my men a great service. I'll do everything I can to see that you're recognized for your charity."

Jayn sighs. "I told you, no reward is necessary," she says. "However, I suppose I'll go, anyway. If only to ensure that you lot can make it there safely."

It's clearly a joke, and the entirety of the soldiers all laugh.

Chapter Text

Once arriving in Grimoire, Thomas insists on leading Jayn towards the council chambers, despite her continued insistence of not needing a reward. She's left to wait outside the chambers, and soon enough, a man with a beard and robe emerges. "You're Jayn, is that right?" he says, looking her up and down.

"Yes, I am," she says.

"Sergeant Thomas has told us what you did," the man says. "We'd like to inquire on a few points."

With that, Jayn is led into the council chambers. She finds it to be a circular room, with seats all around its perimeter. Said seats are filled with people Jayn presumes to be council members. However, the room happens to be too dimly lit for her to make out any faces.

The leader, who happens to have been the man who led Jayn into the room, speaks first. "The council has a few questions for you, not the least of which is this: how is it that you happened to be camping in the fields around N'Mar last night?"

"I am a merchant by trade," Jayn says. "It's in my nature to spend time in locations that others find to be unpleasant. The more unpleasant a place is, the less likely I am to find other merchants - which means less competition. In addition, the paths with fewer merchants tend to be safer. Fewer merchants, fewer ruffians and brigands."

"That is an interesting business philosophy," the council leader says, "but it doesn't explain your presence in the fields around N'Mar."

"There are certain dwarven houses in the land of Hammerhands that have a vested interest in monitoring activity around N'Mar," Jayn explains. "There are a few outposts that exist around the periphery of those fields, and they're lightly staffed. However, the outposts are stocked with the bare minimum of amenities. They have bread and water to keep them alive, and they're compensated quite generously, but they have very little in the way of anything else. They crave for the finer things, and I deliver it to them."

"So, you're familiar with the terrain and territory around N'Mar," the council leader sums up.

"Yes, sir, I am."

"Our understanding is that you were also successful in repelling an assault by a vampire," the council leader mentions.

"In a manner of speaking, yes," Jayn says. "But I didn't do it by force. I acted as though I would, but I could see in his eyes he had no real intentions of actually killing me or your men. He might have summoned enough ghouls to do so, but it was a show. Nothing else. Even if he had been able to kill us with them, they would have needed to be controlled individually. I simply focused my energy on him, and made it appear as though I was ready to deliver the final blow. Once he thought himself defeated, his control over the ghouls was lost, and he posed very little threat."

"It seems you have a certain talent for outsmarting vampires..."

Jayn smiles at the praise, but shakes her head. "I wish I could say it were so. But the truth is, without your men there to fight against the ghouls that the vampire had summoned, I wouldn't have been able to do such a thing. They are the reason I was able to chase him off."

A man sitting near the edge of the room lifts himself from his chair. Jayn's eyes are drawn to him. He's rather old, with a beard that nearly reaches the floor. "Apolimesho, you wish to speak?" the leader asks.

The man, Apolimesho, nods. "I would like to request the council's permission to speak with Jayn privately. There are certain questions I'd like to ask her that I believe would be poorly suited to a wider forum."

The leader frowns, but gives a nod in consent. "You have permission to speak to the subject privately-" Jayn isn't sure how to feel about being referred to as a 'subject'... "-but you do not have the authority to make promises on the council's behalf." His eyes turn to Jayn, then. "Jayn, you must realize that in questioning you, Apolimesho does not represent the interests of the council. Understood?"

"Yes, I understand."

Apolimesho then escorts Jayn out of the council chambers, and into a smaller room within the building. When they arrive, Apolimesho turns to towards Jayn. "I'd like to ask you some questions," he says. "These are questions with no right or wrong answer. I will think no less or more of you based on your responses. I simply wish to discover what kind of person you are. All I ask is that you be completely honest."

Jayn nods, and he begins his questioning.

"What do you believe makes someone a great leader?" he asks.

"Cooperation," is Jayn's response. "If you can't cooperate with others, you're not suited to be even a follower, much less a leader. You'd be better off being alone."

Apolimesho nods. "Which is more important? Getting a result that produces the most benefit, or a result that produces the least harm?"

Jayn blinks, and considers that seriously. "The least harm," she eventually determines. "Benefit is nothing if you end up hurting people to get it."

"If working cooperatively with others to accomplish a goal, which is more important - making sure everyone does their part to ensure the success of the mission? Or making sure everyone gets recognized for their contributions?"

"Everyone doing their part is more important," Jayn says. "Otherwise the mission risks not succeeding, and then getting recognized doesn't even matter."

Apolimesho nods once more. "You are in a familiar place, and you see a stranger looking lost and confused. What is your first response?"

"I would observe them first," Jayn says. "I would want to help them, certainly, but if I don't know them, I should try to ensure that they truly are lost rather than being a brigand or a ruffian."

"Suppose you are tending to someone who is sick. Which is more important to their recovery?"

"Compassion and good bedside manner. Of course, that includes giving them medicine when necessary, but just giving them medicine and leaving them alone won't do any good for their health."

Apolimesho hums and strokes his beard. "I see," he says. "I have no more questions." After a moment of silence, he says, "If I had to guess, I'd say that patience and dependability are your greatest attributes. You seem like the type who is at her best when supporting other individuals. Your docile nature may strike others as a sign of weakness, but your subtle and elegant manner may ultimately rule the day, even if others don't see it at first."

Jayn is unsure of how to respond to that. Particularly the part about her being docile.

If only Apolimesho knew...

"Let us rejoin the council," the man says, before she can even say anything.

With that, Jayn is led back into the council chambers. As soon as the two of them enter, Jayn sees Karen, standing at the center of the chamber and addressing the council. She and Apolimesho stand by the entrance and simply observe.

"What happened at N'Mar was tragic," Karen says.

"More than half of an entire company died at the hands of those devilish beasts. It was a massacre," the council leader says.

"And that's all the more reason to redouble your efforts," Karen says.

The council leader looks appalled. "That's insanity," he says. "Scores of men are lying dead, and your response is to send more men out? We can't throw more lives away. We didn't send a company of men out there to fight a war. They were there to gather information."

"The mists surrounding N'Mar expand with each passing day," Karen says. "If something is not done about this, the mists will envelop Grimoire by the end of the year. Other lands, including the domain of my own people, will be soon to follow."

"We have neither the military, nor the political capital for total war, and that's what another battle at the gates of the castle will lead to." The council leader glares at Karen. "The men who died were not there to start a war. They were sent to gather intelligence."

Karen scoffs to herself. "And what good is that intelligence if you're not prepared to do anything with it?"

"The mission was a failure. We are no closer to discovering what is behind those creeping mists."

"What happened last night was an anomaly," Karen insists. "Your mission could not have been more poorly timed. You picked the night of a full moon."

"The night of a full moon is when visibility is at its best," the council leader says defensively.

Karen looks at the council leader with some semblance of disgust. "The night of a full moon," she says, "is when the vampires are at their strongest and most numerous. The night of a full moon is when the gates of the castle open, and the vampires leave to feed."

"How is it that you came to know this?"

"As I said, the growing mists around N'Mar are a growing concern for the Amazons as well. We have been flying surveillance missions over those fields for many moons. All, of course, to further the shared interests of both the human empire and the Amazons' domain."

"Why did you not relay this information to the council?"

"My people have reported everything we know to the council through proper diplomatic channels. If that information failed to reach you, you have only your own bureaucratic inefficiency and political idiocy to blame."

Those words only seem to infuriate the council. The leader scowls at Karen. "Stay your tongue, woman," he says. "You may be a queen in the Amazons' citadel, but you stand before the governing body of the human empire."

"I speak only the truth," Karen says in a saccharine sweet tone. Then, in a flat-out vicious tone, she adds, "Ignore it at your own peril."

"You've said your piece," the council leader says in a near snappish tone. "We require time for internal deliberation. All non-council members, please exit to the waiting chamber. We'll report back once we've reached a decision."

Karen turns and leaves the council chamber. Jayn follows after her.

"So, dwarf," Karen says, turning towards Jayn. "I don't believe I ever caught your name."

"I'm Jayn."

"How did you get mixed up in all this mess?" Karen asks. "I presume you have no ties to the human empire."

"You would actually be wrong on that front. One of my adoptive parents is a human," Jayn says. "But for how I got mixed up in it... I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, I suppose, the right place and the right time. Depending on how you look at it."

Karen frowns. "What part of this would you consider good fortune?"

"Well, I was able to help the few men that escaped the incident at N'Mar..."

"Ah, that's right," Karen notes. "You were escorting them out. How's that worked out for you since?"

Jayn gives an awkward cough. "Well, I suppose the council considers me a person of interest. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing..." She trails off and doesn't say anything more.

"Those council elders, they know nothing," Karen says with a scoff. "Actually, I take that back. They do have some awareness of what's going on. And that makes their stupidity all the more infuriating."

Jayn blinks. "How do you mean?"

Karen scowls. "There's foul magic afoot at the castle of N'Mar. It's shrouded in mist, and horrors befall anything or anyone caught in it. The mists that cover those plains grow with each passing day. It spreads the defilement of death across lands that were once home to the living, but it also seems to imbue the dead with an uncanny sort of undeath, unlike any we've seen before."

"Aren't walking corpses and skeletons already pretty uncanny?" Jayn asks.

Karen shakes her head. "We've long thought that these sorts of reanimated undead beasts were nothing but flesh and bone possessed by the instinct to kill. Early scouts described them as seeming to act of their individual volition. They seemed...hesitant."


Karen nods gravely. "There are some spirits that seem to still possess something of a soul, but lesser undead, like zombies, are merely animated flesh. They don't flinch. They don't feel fear, or any other emotion. And yet we've heard rumors that seem to contradict this."

"Have they been confirmed?" Jayn asks.

"Unfortunately, it's hard to confirm rumors of this sort. Most of these reports came from people who were understandably traumatized by the experience. That kind of reaction is understandable, but it can also lead to false reporting. But even if the reports of undead acting of their own will are false, we are still left with an undead menace and N'Mar's creeping corrosion. Something has to be done." Her gaze narrows, but Jayn knows the fury isn't directed at her. "The council knew this, and so they did something. They sent a company of soldiers to investigate, and most of those men met with a grisly demise. That's terrible, but it should be evidence that, now more than ever, it's time to act. It's time to strike decisively, and yet still they tarry, talking of political feasibility." She sighs. "I'm prepared to lend them the support of my own fighters, but only the human empire has the resources needed to fight this battle."

Before Jayn can come up with a response, Apolimesho comes out of the council chamber. Karen and Jayn both turn to face him. "The council has reached a collective decision about what their action will be on this matter."

"What is that?" Karen asks.

"The council took special interest in your remarks regarding what you've observed of the castle gates during the full moon. If we're to mount an invasion, the council believes it would be best to do it at this time."

Karen clicks her tongue. "That's absurd," she says. "Fight the vampires at their strongest?"

"This isn't a full-on assault," Apolimesho corrects. "The council believes it would be best for a few individuals to sneak in and gather what information they can. The belief is that we can't effectively wage war when we have no clear idea what it is that we're fighting."

"So, they're assembling a task force?"

"No. They're authorizing you to assemble one."

Karen barks out a false, mocking laugh. "The council is foisting this task upon me? Assembling a task force in the span of a single lunar cycle is no small task, and while I have a vested interest in this matter, I also have my own domain to run. I am a queen, if the council hasn't forgotten, and internal affairs consume the bulk of my time."

Apolimesho nods in understanding at that, but doesn't respond. Instead, he turns to Jayn. "Jayn, the council has taken special interest in you, as well. Specifically, they are impressed with your knowledge of the lands surrounding N'Mar, and your heroic efforts to rescue the survivors of the catastrophe by the castle." He raises one brow. "It's our understanding that you are one who pursues wealth in the trade of goods."

"That sounds about right, yes."

"I wonder if you might be persuaded to offer your services to us instead. The council would like to hire you to oversee the creation of a group that will infiltrate the castle during the next full moon."

Jayn blinks in shock. "So... You want me to take on a stealth mission, is that right?"

"We don't know what kind of resistance you'll face. You're better equipped than any of us to answer that question."

Jayn purses her lips. "I... I would need a small team. I would need dedicated fighters."

Apolimesho shakes his head. "The council doesn't believe it's politically feasible to risk the lives of more human soldiers when so many have been slain," he says. "Recruiting the individuals who will join you is part of the task that's being presented to you."

"This isn't what's needed to deal with the crisis at N'Mar," Karen warns. "Not even close."

Apolimesho meets her gaze evenly. "Karen, I'm aware of your disdain for the castle. And if I am completely honest, I have little fondness for their ways. Being a member of the council myself, I am fully aware of the extent to which politics have mired their ability to function as a ruling body." Then, he turns to Jayn. "However, it's for precisely this reason that I encourage you to look favorably on this chosen course of action. Jayn, if you choose to accept this mission, you will have almost complete autonomy. The council will not need to approve your actions. You can fill your team with absolutely the best soldiers, rather than being bogged down with officers who are seeking only to further their own political career. Imagine if personal or institutional schisms played no role in the formation of your team. Elf, dwarf, Amazon, imagine if you could have a team of them, all working in a tightly-knit unit to achieve a common goal." After a moment of silence, he sighs and turns back to Karen. "The council is deliberately avoiding involvement. Karen, I realize it's easy to look at this as a bad thing. But I see it as more of a blessing than a curse."

A moment of silence passes, then Apolimesho turns back to Jayn once more. "I do not mean to make your decision for you," he says. "Ultimately, the choice is yours. But I believe that you are the best chance that we have of overcoming the challenge that is the sinister magic that lives within the castle of N'Mar."

"You... You're asking me to assemble a team of fighters, starting with nothing," Jayn points out. "That's going to be a bit difficult, surely you realize?"

"Yes," Apolimesho says, nodding. "I'm sorry. But I suspect Karen would be willing to advise you in your recruitment efforts."

"Will I have access to any other resources?"

"Alas, with all the past years wars, the council can offer little financial help. Still, the council is prepared to offer a modest budget of 50 gold coins each day until the next full moon, by which point you should have assembled your task force."

"That's not much, but I'm sure I'll be able to get by with that," Jayn says with a sigh.

"Indeed, I'm sure you will," Apolimesho says. "Perhaps, if you impress the council, they may be willing to offer more generous support in the future. In the meantime, that gold will have to suffice to cover your expenses. Of course, any treasures or riches you happen to discover in the course of your recruitment or exploration missions would be yours to keep. It is a common adage that fate has a way of rewarding intrepid explorers."

"Or to be more accurate," Karen adds, "the places that most people consider too dangerous to explore tend to have more valuables yet undiscovered."

"Success would also give you quite the reputation. I'm sure someone as shrewd as you could figure out a way to parlay that reputation into some sort of wealth. Or perhaps you see fame as its own reward," Apolimesho adds.

"What do you think, Jayn?" Karen asks.

Jayn holds herself as tall as she can. "Well, isn't it obvious? I won't stand by and allow whatever's happening at N'Mar to continue any further than it has to. It won't end well for me or anyone else in this land. I accept."

Apolimesho smiles at that. "Your answer pleases me," he says. "Jayn, as I said, you have a large degree of autonomy in how to approach this mission. The particulars of how you will assemble your team are left for you to decide."

"Jayn," Karen says, "since our goals are coincident, and you're assembling a team of fighters, I'd be remiss if I neglected to offer you assistance. I have obligation in the domain of the Amazons that prevent me from accompanying you on your journey. But I can pick out one of my warriors to assist you in your mission. Please, come to the citadel when you have the opportunity, and we can discuss the matter at greater length."

"I will, thank you," Jayn says, smiling at Karen.

Karen smiles back, and then walks away, presumably in the direction of her griffon.

Well, if she's planning to fly, Jayn thinks, then I should get started in that direction, too. She'll surely be there long before I will. She bids a polite goodbye to Apolimesho, and promises once more to take care of everything before leaving Grimoire.

Chapter Text

The path to the Amazon citadel is narrow and terrifyingly treacherous, as Jayn soon learns. They certainly know how to ward away invaders. The craggy rock path makes it fairly easy to follow the narrow path, but the uneven surface forces her to constantly adjust her balance. Certainly not the type of terrain an army of invaders would want to attempt to walk over.

The fortress soon comes into view. The high walls and imposing towers nearly make her turn tail and run away. It's quite intimidating - as much so as an inanimate structure can be, anyway. Well, she knows she's found the right place, at least. Only the Amazons would have such an impressive citadel.

"Stop right there, dwarf."

A voice from above makes Jayn stumble, before freezing entirely. She looks up, slowly, and sees an Amazon woman perched up on a rock spire, with the blade of a sword pointed down at her.

"What business do you have here?" the Amazon asks. "What's your name, dwarf?"

"I'm Jayn. I'm-"

"You're here to see the queen," the woman interrupts, voice flat.

"Yes, I was about to say that..."

"The queen has been expecting you."

With that comment, the woman leaps down from the spire, and lands gracefully next to Jayn. Jayn can't help but think that if, had the woman wanted to land while stabbing the blade into her chest, there wouldn't have been anything she could do to stop her.

"Best not to keep the queen waiting," the woman says. "Follow me."

"Do you have a name?" Jayn asks.

"Not that you need to know it, but my name is Leena."

Leena keeps her back turned to Jayn as she walks, and Jayn ends up having to quicken her pace to keep up.

The sound of shifting rocks is heard, and Jayn looks up. Another rock spire, with another Amazon woman perched on it. Looks like Leena was the first of many. That, or perhaps she wasn't the first - just the first one to make herself known to Jayn.

"Are they all sentries? The women watching us from the rocks?"

"They're sentries, but they rotate," Leena replies. "It's an Amazon warrior's duty to keep vigilant watch over her domain, and every warrior-in-training serves time on watch duty."

"So you're a warrior-in-training?"

"No, I'm a trainer. Many of the women that you see above were once students under me."

"None of them are currently your students?"

"No. Since I was promoted to captain of the guard, I've had more pressing matters to attend to," Leena says.

"So, you're no longer a teacher, then?" Jayn asks.

"I still teach," Leena says. "But I have only one student. The queen's daughter."

Jayn blinks, a little stunned to hear that. "The queen has a daughter?" she asks.

Leena's contempt is clear as she says, "Of course she does. A monarchy is only as strong as its bloodline. And as the young princess's teacher, it's my responsibility to help ensure the strength and integrity of that bloodline."

Jayn frowns a little. "I hope you don't mind my questioning. I'm very curious about all this..."

"I've no particular fondness for conversation," Leena admits, "but I'd have to have an incredibly thin skin for something as simple as a question to bother me. We're still quite a ways from the citadel. If you'd like to fill the silence with questioning, then go right ahead."

"If you're sure, then there is something I'd like to ask you," Jayn says. "Why do you refer to humans as, well... 'Humans'? Aren't Amazons human beings, too?"

"We're not the only ones," Leena replies. "Have you ever met a nomad? But to answer your question... I guess it all started when the human empire formed years ago. Many of us started to call them just 'humans', and it became widespread."

"I see," Jayn says thoughtfully. After a moment of silence, she decides to keep talking. "So, Leena. Captain of the royal guard. How did you attain that title?"

Jayn can sense the proud smile on Leena's face as she says, "I was deemed the best woman for the job."

"That sounds... Meritocratic," Jayn comments.

"How else would you do it?" Leena asks. "Appoint someone who's not the best person for the position?"

Jayn frowns at that. "No, of course not. I mean, at the very least, I think that's always what we'd like to do. Have the best person for the job, I mean. But sometimes, the question of who is the best isn't always an easy one to answer."

"We have combat trials that do a fine job of answering that question for us," Leena responds. "Of course, combat trials are anything but easy."

Jayn blinks, and looks at Leena warily. "Combat trials only test combat readiness, though. What about leadership? How do you determine the best leader?"

"Those strongest in combat are strongest in all challenges they face," Leena says. "That is the way of the Amazon."

"How do you justify that notion?" Jayn asks. "I would think that somebody surviving a combat trial only tells you how good they are at killing..."

"You're wrong," Leena says bluntly. "But you have a pretty face." Jayn's cheeks flush darkly at the compliment. "And I know that outside of the Amazon domain, girls with pretty faces aren't always held to the highest standard of reasoning." Oh, okay, never mind... Jayn frowns, blush gone. "So I'll explain it to you, and maybe when you go to sleep tonight, you can do so feeling a bit smarter than when you woke up."

"Now wait just a-"

"Have you ever seen a grand musical ensemble?" Leena interrupts. "They're quite popular among dwarves and humans of the upper echelons."

"I've seen a grand ensemble once, yes. One of my brothers dragged me to it. I believe I was sixteen, so about ten years ago... I fell asleep about halfway through, though, so I don't really remember much."

"But you are familiar with the concept, yes?" Leena asks. "A single musical composer conceives, in his mind, a musical symphony, and through some form of notation, he creates a score which is distributed to a large group of musicians, who then rehearse the piece and perform it in tandem under his guidance."

"That sounds about right, yes."

"Now, you said that you saw a live performance," Leena says. "Which of those performing was the most skilled of the musicians?"

"I just said that I don't remember much," Jayn points out.

"Make a guess, then."

Jayn sighs, and thinks about it. There had been flutists... Trumpeters... Percussionists... She tries to remember what her brother, Zayn, had said about the musicians. "Um... The composer?" she guesses. She remembers him going on and on afterward about how impressive he'd been to create such beautiful music...

"Now, why say would you say that?" Leena asks. "Many people performed, many of them wielding various instruments, yet you decided that the man who held no instrument was the most skilled musician among them. Why is that?"

Jayn frowns and ducks her head. "Honestly, I'm just going to tell you what my brother said when our parents asked us how it was, because I know nothing of music. But... 'He was incredible. He directed all of those musicians at once. He knew exactly who could do what with their instruments, and made sure to make full use of each musician's ability.'"

Leena hums. "Based on your brother's words, would you suppose that, if the composer took up one of the musician's instruments - say, a flute - he would have been worse or better than the original player?"

"Um... Better?"

"Precisely," Leena says. "To be the world's greatest ensemble flute player requires the mind of a composer. And to be the world's greatest warrior requires the mind of a leader."

"I... See."

"Being a great warrior is about more than knowing how best to swing a sword," Leena informs. "Being a great warrior requires practice, dedication and discipline. A great warrior can look a foe in the eyes and understand their disposition, their confidence, and their level of competence. A true warrior has presence, and can strike fear into the hearts of her foes with a roar, or lull them into a false sense of security by faking a vulnerability. A great warrior knows when to strike and when to feint, when to advance and when to retreat, when to act and when to be reactive. A great warrior possesses not only deftness of hand and foot, but also charisma, wisdom, and strength of will."

"And those are all the qualities of a great leader," Jayn says.

"You learn quickly, Jayn," Leena says. "Perhaps I was wrong to dismiss you as nothing more than just a pretty face."

"Was that meant to be complimentary...?"

"I meant it neither as applause nor slight," Leena says. "You merely surprised me."

"Well, I never expected an Amazon warrior to know much about the theory of symphonic musical performance... What kind of warrior are you, exactly?"

Leena gives a laugh at that comment. "You don't get to be captain of the Queen's royal guard without being in some way exceptional. My talents extend beyond my prowess in combat, and I'm hardly the only of my kind to be skilled in multiple disciplines. Keep your eyes open, and you just might find that we Amazons are full of surprises."

Before Jayn can come up with anything else to ask, Leena then says, "We've arrived. Let's go meet the queen now."

"Ah, Jayn. You took your time getting here," Karen says as Jayn and Leena enter the queen's chambers.

"Well, I did have to walk," Jayn points out.

"Ha. I suppose I do have you at a disadvantage, being that you don't have wings," Karen says, a smirk tugging at her lips.

"Well, you don't have wings, either," Jayn says. "At least, not that I can see. You have to borrow them."

Karen lifts a hand and hides a laugh. "You know, Jayn, I'm glad that you've managed to catch me in a better mood than the last time we met. I apologize for any prior rudeness. Being forced to share company with humans always puts foulness in my temper." She smiles brightly at Jayn. "If your skills as an errand-runner are as good as your sense of humor, I believe that you and I will get along famously."

Jayn raises an eyebrow at that. "Am I just an errand-runner?" she asks.

Karen hums. "You're an emissary of the council of Grimoire. Your job is to ingratiate yourself to various people who can assist in furthering the interests of the human empire. That involves doing a lot of favors for people. So yes, I'd say you're an errand runner." She gives Jayn a nod. "Of course, I'll do what I can to support you. Our goals are shared, after all. Though the humans are in a great deal more immediate peril than the denizens of my domain. To that end, I'd like to have one of my best accompany you. I see that you've already had the chance to meet Leena."

"She escorted me here," Jayn says, "per your instructions, I presume. We exchanged a few words along the way here."

"Well, you're assembling a task force, and that means you need fighters. Leena is one of the best."

Leena frowns at this. "My queen, serve at your pleasure. However-"

"Don't misunderstand, Leena," Karen quickly interrupts her. "I don't mean for you to accompany Jayn on her diplomatic exploits. Those are tasks for her and her alone. You're still captain of the guard. You have responsibilities here in the citadel. However, when the time comes, Jayn will need the company of fighters to invade N'Mar under the cover of darkness. At that time, you will be available to assist her."

"So, until that time, I'm to serve in my capacity as captain of the guard?" Leena asks.

"Yes. Your normal duties will be uninterrupted," Karen says with a nod. "That being said, I do hope that you find time to spend with Jayn before your big mission. If you're able to properly assist each other in combat, you'll need to learn to trust each other. Leena, make yourself available to Jayn. Of course, this is solely at Jayn's discretion..."

Jayn nods, and turns towards Leena. "I agree," she says. "We should find time for some combat training - it would be good for both of us to learn how the other moves in battle."

"Train together, yes," Karen says. "That is certainly time well-spent. But please, Jayn, I hope you'll take the time to get to personally know Leena. Sometimes, getting to know someone as a person can be the fastest way to forge a bond of trust. And having that bond of trust can be critical when locked in battle. You'll be recruiting many allies. Learn to trust them, not only as combatants, but as people." She nods towards Leena. "You can come to the citadel any time you wish to speak to Leena. I'll be certain that she has time for you." Jayn nods at this, and then Karen continues, "I'll also be available. If you need any suggestions or tips on where to locate potential allies, I can offer you some potential leads."

"I may have to take you up on that offer," Jayn says. "Thank you for meeting with me, Queen Karen. And Leena, I look forward to getting to know you better."

"Good luck, Jayn," Karen says, as the dwarf turns and leaves the room.

She has to consider where to go from here.

Chapter Text

That night, Jayn thinks endlessly about her options. Where to start her search, she wonders? Undoubtedly, she'll have to ask Karen for help. The woman is certainly more likely to have some leads or two than Jayn herself. Perhaps one of her siblings, though...

No. She doesn't even know where those three are, all three of them off traveling the distant lands themselves. Even if she is able to find them, a letter would surely arrive far too late for her to be able to do anything. And there is surely no guarantee that any one of them would know where to start looking in the first place. She can see Zayn, maybe, having some idea, given what a people-person he is, but Anzaria and Lethonel would likely look at her like she'd grown a naga tail if she were to ask their help.

So, Karen is her best option.

Jayn approaches the Amazon queen, feeling as though a large weight is on her shoulders from the way that the women in the room stare at her. True, none of their blades are pointed at her, but she doesn't really know how to act around a queen, certainly not an Amazon one, so this is more than a little unnerving, even if Karen seems amicable enough.

"Hello, Jayn," Karen says. "What business brings you here today?"

"I was hoping to make use of the offer you made," Jayn says. "You said you had leads for possible recruits I could make?"

"Indeed I do," Karen says with a nod. "What kind of ally are you looking for, exactly?"

Jayn considers this for a moment. She'll want someone tough, someone who can stand up to a bit of fighting - especially if they are going against vampires. "I'm looking for someone tenacious and steadfast. Someone who won't give up if the going gets tough."

Karen hums. "Tenacious and steadfast," she repeats. "I do believe you've just described a dwarf."

"Should I take this as a compliment or insult?" Jayn asks with a raise of her brow.

"Compliment, of course. Like you said - you won't give up if the going gets tough, right?"

Jayn shrugs off the comment. "Any particular dwarf you had in mind, then?"

Karen's face falls, and she shakes her head with a sigh. "Unfortunately not," she says. "My suggestion would be that you head to Hammerhands and ask around. See what you can dig up. Someone with your natural charisma will get far more information from direct inquiry than I could hope to discover from the various reports that make their way to me." She shrugs. "Besides, are you not a dwarf, as you've just pointed out yourself?"

"I am, but I was raised by a human and an elf in Grimoire for a while," Jayn explains. "I have little, if any, connection to anyone from Hammerhands."

Karen pauses. She opens her mouth to speak, likely to ask about Jayn's family situation, but she quickly closes it - a fact which Jayn is incredibly thankful for.

When the silence passes on for a few more seconds, Jayn asks, "Where exactly in Hammerhands do you think I should begin looking? Do you have any connections with noble houses I could make contact with?"

"The best connections that you'll find in Hammerhands are the ones out on the street. Don't trust a noble to tell you what the common men already know. Go to where the workers loosen their tongues."

Jayn takes her meaning quite quickly. "A pub, then?"

"Sitting in pubs and listening for rumors isn't normally the kind of fact-finding I would encourage. But when it comes to the dwarven lands..."

"Point taken," Jayn says with a nod. Even she is aware of what other races say of her and her race's sobriety - or rather, lack thereof. And while she may have cause to be offended, she has yet to meet a dwarf other than herself who has never touched at least one ale in their lifetime. "I'll head off to Hammerhands and see what I can find out, then."

Karen nods. "Keep an open ear," she says. "Make friends. Help can sometimes come from where you least expect it."

Jayn can't help the wry smile that comes to her lips. "Are you speaking from experience?"

"Maybe I'll be ready to answer that question some day," Karen responds. "For now, you've got business to do."

"Indeed I do," Jayn says. "Off to Hammerhands, then."

She was glad that she was used to walking such distances in such short amounts of time - given her profession. Else this trip might have just been an impossible one for her.

And yet, as she thinks about where she's about to go... Her stomach churns. Memories bubble up.

Jayn... What did you do?

She leaves the queen's chambers, and lets out a shaky sigh. But that's the only emotion she allows herself to show.

...For now.

Chapter Text

By the time Jayn arrives in Hammerhands, the sun has long set in the sky. Perfect time to go rumor-chasing at a pub.

As she walks down the cobblestone streets, scanning the buildings for one such building, her eyes catch one something interesting. Three males, huddled around... Something. One of them feels her stare, and narrows his eyes. "Eh, what are you looking at?"

Even from here, Jayn can smell the alcohol on his breath. She does her best not to react at the horrid scent and says, "Nothing at all. I was just passing by."

The other dwarf rolls his eyes. "Well then, keep walking."

Jayn shrugs, and decides that whatever the men are looking at, it's not something she'll risk her life over. She turns and begins to shuffle away. Wasn't there a pub in this direction...?


A distinctly feminine cry cuts through the air and hits Jayn's ears. She freezes in her place.

One of the other male dwarves snaps at the woman who just cried out, "Shut up, you dumb bitch!" Then Jayn hears the sound of skin hitting skin - a slap - followed by a soft whimper.

The dwarf from before notices that Jayn has stopped moving, because he says, "I don't think that you want to mix yourself up in this business. Just turn around, and walk away."

However, Jayn has never, ever, been able to let this sort of thing happen. She can't let an innocent woman get hurt at the hand of one, let alone three, drunken men.

She spins, nostrils flaring as she looks the male dwarf in the eye. "Get your hands off of her," she says, her voice shaking with anger. "Now."

"If you feel that strongly about it, why don't you come and make us?" one of them sneers.

She was more than happy to do that. Jayn storms up and drives her fist into the nearest dwarf's face, sending him toppling to the ground. She then turns to the other two dwarves. She sees the girl she'd heard - being restrained by one of the other males. She tackles the first one, sending him off-balance and falling to the ground. She then kicks him in the chest before turning to the final dwarf. He releases the woman, kneeling down to pick a rock up off of the ground.

"Oh, we'll be having none of that," Jayn snaps. She delivers an impressive - in her opinion - spinning kick, sending the rock flying out of his hands. He looks at her, shocked and terrified, then starts cowering on the ground.


Jayn turns to the woman, who looks at her like she were an angel sent from heaven. "Are you alright, miss?"

"I think I'm alright, yes. Do you have a name for me to thank you by?"

"I'm Jayn."

"I owe you a debt of gratitude, Jayn. My name is Dasyra."

Jayn smiles. "No debt necessary, Dasyra. What were these men bothering you about, though?"

Dasyra holds out a small, glittering piece of jewelry. "This brooch of mine," she says. "One of them spotted it and claimed I had stolen it."

"Well, that's just-"

"Watch out!" Dasyra cries out.

The warning comes just a moment too late. A sharp impact hits Jayn's jaw and sends her tumbling to the ground. "Arrogant little bitch," a familiar, angry voice says. One of the dwarves from before. "Don't start a street brawl unless you know how to deliver a knockout punch."

Then, another, quite unfamiliar voice comes to Jayn's ears. "That was a cheap shot."

Jayn lifts her head, her spinning vision barely allowing her to take in the sight of another male dwarf, looking quite unimpressed with the one who just knocked her to the ground.

"Who the hell are you?" said dwarf asks.

"My name's Galan," he says. His eyes narrow, and he shifts the hammer - which Jayn just now notices - that he's carrying over his shoulder. "And I don't take kindly to those who prey on the weak."

The angry dwarf sneers. "And I don't take kindly to those who stick their nose in business that isn't theirs." He pulls out a few daggers, brandishing them towards Galan. "This lady here already made the mistake of joining a fight they had no business in. Don't make it your mistake as well."

"So, you have weapons," Galan notes. "Let's see if they can match up to my hammer."

"Come on boys, let's show this fool what we're made of," the angry dwarf says to his companions. The other two of them lift themselves to their feet and pull out their own weapons - a large axe and a spellbook, respectively.

Jayn attempts to lift herself to her feet, but the attack she suffered was quite a strong one. That man knows how to throw a punch. She falls to the ground, her legs unable to support her weight.

"Looks like that punch got the better of you," Dasyra says. "Hold still for a moment..."

She kneels down next to Jayn and places her hand on her forehead, mumbling a chant that Jayn can't really hear. Then she pulls back, looking at Jayn carefully. "Can you stand now?"

Jayn feels as though all the pain has been lifted. She has absolutely no trouble lifting herself to her feet. She looks to Dasyra, and finally notices the staff at her side. "A healer, huh?"

"That's right," Dasyra says with a nod. She points the staff towards the apparent leader of the dwarves who attacked her. "We should probably help this Galan fellow, hm?"

Jayn nods, and turns towards them. "You like to pick on the weak, I take it," she says. "But now that there are three of us, are you ready and willing to take us on in a fair fight?"

"I was born ready to beat down little pigs like you," the leader snaps. "Bring it."

Jayn feels a familiar, dangerous fury burning inside her. She's more than ready to 'bring it'.