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Friday, July 01, 2005

Datrina and the Return of the Liche Lord

After the mysterious disappearance of her intrepid cousin, Thurvan, the call to retrieve the sword of his clan of dwarves, the singing sword of Shanana, has fallen on the thick shoulders of Datrina, the she-warrior of the hill clans. Following a reliable lead that the sword had been removed to the Grotto of Gambari'ith, Datrina makes her journey through the plains of the City-States of the Seafaring Men.

While passing through the capital city of Lorinthania, she observes the display of the royal crown and scepter of his majesty, Regent Billiar, on public display to commemorate the Holiday of Champions. The sight of the fine craftmanship of such precious jewels and minerals has overwhelmed Datrina's mission and inflamed the natural greediness of her tribe. However, it proves to be too much of a risk as her late night heist attempt is foiled by the City Watch. Given the vanity of the City Dwellers, their general disaffection with dwarves, and the special occasion, the verdict is swift and without appeal -- death by mortal combat.

In the city gaols, Datrina is brought before the Commander in charge of the dungeons and pits. "You look hardy enough to be entertained by your fate, sow. Apparently, the Regent is particularly upset with any attempt at touching the royal emblems, so much so that he wants to have your combat staged as the only show of the day. We normally finish off riff raff like you en masse, holding combat in all fifty pits at once and clearing out as many prisoners as possible. As far as the Captain of the Watch is concerned, you would just be slain along with many, many other prisoners on that schedule, given the inconvenience of staging shows and keeping prisoners alive longer than necessary. But as I understand it, both being sporting and callous men, they settled the issue on the mere toss of a coin."

"And then what was the outcome?", Datrina clipped, letting the 'sow' comment bounce of her beard.

"Not your concern really," the officer replied listlessly, "your end is the same either way. Only I am obliged to tell you that you have a chance" (and here the man snickered) "to go free by defeating your opponent. Just know that the match ups for prisoners tend to be severely disproportionate."

Back in her stinking cell and shackled, Datrina had been cursing herself and her goddess for letting her nature up-end her mission, when the room became even more dark than it was and a cold chill and sulfuric stench filled the air. Before her amazed eyes appeared the the visage of Abinidaz, the terrible Liche Lord, as if woven out of the very fumes of dust in the air and his laugh was terrible and made her beard bristle.

"So your greed has ensnared yet another of the dwarven clan," laughed the undead nightmare, "and yet again provided me with entertainment to quench my eternal boredom. For all my power, I cannot produce on my own any relief from my ennui, nor resist the sweet amusement when it inadvertently comes my way. Your clan is my grave enemy (as well as my nourishment), and yet how can I fail to provide the means for more of such folly."

"So I am undecided about what to do, to either watch as you greet your inescapable doom or release you to possibly entertain me another day. But to sweeten my enjoyment, I will let the controllers of the games fix my decision. If they decide to have a special show featuring just you, I will let you escape. But if they have several executions as they normally do, I will not interfere with what happens. I will also tell you that if I do decide to facilitate your escape, my price will be the sword of Shanana. If I assist you, you will not find the sword in the Grotto of Gambari'ith." And with that and a final laugh, the Liche Lord melts into the brick walls of the cell.

As Datrina pondered her evening visit, she thought, "Whether he assists me or I escape on my own, I cannot turn away any opportunity to recover the clan-sword. I must do it if I can, both to redeem my foolishness and to free our clan from dishonor."

Soon enough, the day came when Datrina was to face her sentence. Since each cell was individually linked to its out arena by a tunnel, Datrina could in no way tell if many were to face death that day or just herself. She was no further helped to tell from the features of the open arena itself or from manner of dress and customs of the spectators. Being no aficionado of human culture, there might as well be princes or paupers in that audience. The only thing that she could see all too clearly was a giant half-ogre, four times tall as she, and armed like a full gladiator, with a clean battle axe in one hand and a 'cat-o'-nine tails' in the other, while she had been 'armed' with nothing but papyrus armor and a piece of dowelling. No sooner had she a chance to take in the situation when the gong blared indicating the commencing of the 'contest'.

Twirling the whips over his head and swinging the axe skillfully, the gladiator-beast howled, "Bother not to think of the non-existent chance of getting by me to that narrow exit portal behind me and freedom. Better to just surrender yourself to me and receive a quick and painless death!" With that, the wickedly grinning creature shouted out his bone chilling battle cry -- "Hoody Hooooooo!" -- and lunged forward toward the helpless Datrina.

But as the creature came to her, his cry was cut off in mid "Hoo" and his face suddenly went sour. His skin began to pale (as much as an ogre's skin can pale) and he stopped in his tracks. He immediately dropped his weapons and tried to grab his chest under his breast plate. The creature was in clear pain as his heart clearly seized up on him. In another moment, the creature fell forward, writhing on the ground, and became for all practical purposes paralyzed. As suddenly, the crowd was on its feet, boo-ing, catcalling, and stomping their boots. But Datrina did not bother to wait or respond. She immediately leaped over the ill-fated gladiator's body, ran through the exit portal, and escaped the city through its underground sewer lines. She was not about to give the Watch the opportunity to back away from their promise when her 'victory' might be a matter of interpretation.

After assuring herself that she was not being pursued by the constabulary, Datrina returned to her original course. Following the way into the ancient ruins in the woods on the far side of the City-States, she eventually came to a pavilion of magnificent and mysterious beauty. No one knew how it was that the arrangement flowers and shrubs were so well maintained since no gardener was ever detected, yet the rosetta design left the strong impression some invisible intelligence maintained the wonderful site. And surely enough on the edge of the garden where it meet the hillside, an ivory and mahogany structure, carved with the symbols of the Forgotten Lords of the Earth, was inset into the terrain. Surely, this was the Grotto of Gambari'ith. And looking inside, resting on top of a raised ivory tablet, was what could only be the sword of Shanana!

Question: Should Datrina take the sword?