An old woman, tired and alone, stood in front of a stone altar. The set of her back was imperiously high and proud, but she could not keep her shoulders from sagging or her head from drooping periodically, out of sheer exhaustion. Her white hair was close-cropped and she was dressed in a plain linen robe, spotted with brown bloodstains on the sleeves and chest. The oblong room in which she stood was lit only by a flickering candelabra positioned near the wall behind her. Atop the altar in front of her was a wide silver bowl, filled with clear water. She was staring intently into the water and muttering under her breath, in words that only a handful of people would understand. She had been looking into the placid, unchanging surface for hours. If she saw anything in the water now, it was surely only illusions conjured by her weary mind…
Finally, Nuhmudira snorted in disgust and frustration and looked away from the water vessel. Turning from the altar, she called out, "Brizinna!"
A door opened in the far end of the room and a younger woman, dressed in much cleaner linen robes, shuffled in. She had the pale blue skin of a Viamontian and her hair was a bright, almost shocking red. As she came in she snuck a glance at the older woman, standing suspended in her bubble of candlelight with her altar and scrying bowl, surrounded on all sides by darkness, and she couldn't help shuddering at the image as she averted her eyes and knelt in submission.
"I am here to serve, teacher," the younger woman murmured.
Nuhmudira sneered. "Oh, stand up, woman. I didn't pull you out of the Varicci's college of royal finger-wagglers so you could scuttle around on your knees, bowing and scraping to everyone who's older or more learned than you."
Embarassed, Brizinna stood up with what dignity she could muster and asked, "What would you have of me, teacher?"
Nuhmudira gestured. "Come. Stand here, opposite me." Brizinna quickly complied, and came to stand on the opposite side of the altar from her leader and mentor. She stood silently, looking off into a point in space just above Nuhmudira's left shoulder, not daring to meet the powerful mage's gaze. She was aware that Nuhmudira was watching her, seemed to be studying her, almost like a cat studying a wounded bird before pouncing.
"Give me your hand, Brizinna," Nuhmudira said, in a soft and soothing voice. Brizinna extended her right hand, palm down, and watched with fascination as Nuhmudira took it into her own right hand. She had expected the elder sorceress to have rough, callused hands, but her touch was warm and comforting. She watched as Nuhmudira turned her hand over so that her palm faced up. She belatedly realized that she was being lulled into a trance, could almost feel the spell working on her, looked into her teacher's face and saw lips moving and forming near-silent syllables that were…
She was broken from her stupor by a flash of pain in her palm, followed by a gush of warmth that enveloped her whole hand. She gasped at the pain and belatedly noticed the bronze knife in her teacher's free hand... A free hand that was wrapped in bloody white linen. Nuhmudira had pacified her senses only to cut her palm open, and now her blood was dripping in hot pulses into the silver bowl.
Nuhmudira released her hand, almost as an afterthought. "There are strips of cloth to bandage your palm with at the base of the altar," she said. Her voice was absent-minded and distant, with not a hint of remorse or regret for wounding her student.
Shocked, Brizinna sought out the linen strips as directed, and wound them around her palm until she had bandaged it securely. She couldn't keep the sense of betrayal out of her face as she sought her teacher's eyes.
Nuhmudira was staring into the bloodied water with an expectant grin, when she finally thought to look at Brizinna again. Her lip curled with contempt when she saw Brizinna's hurt expression.
"Did you think blood magic just meant other people's blood, young girl? You have much to learn about the Radiant Blood if you thought the path to mastery would require no sacrifices of your own."
Nuhmudira looked down into the swirling blood and water and grinned triumphantly. Brizinna looked into the bowl and watched with horrified fascination as the blood seemed to drain out of the bowl and the crystal-clear water started to cloud over, turning opaque, and then starting to display an image…
"Some of the Old Ones have grown finicky, and prefer the taste of blood unwillingly given," Nuhmudira said in a conversational tone. "Perhaps they have tasted my own blood too often, and would not give me the power I needed to defeat that old fool's warding until they got a taste of your fear and pain. Or perhaps they simply wanted the taste of a younger, fresher life." She almost seemed to leer at her student.
Brizinna shuddered, but could not look away from the image taking shape in the bowl. It resolved itself into something recognizable… something that looked like a skeletal corpse in a grey robe, reclining on a throne carved from stone. At first she thought Nuhmudira was scrying another crypt to loot for Empyrean artifacts. But then the corpse moved, and seemed to stare directly at her. There was a malevolent light in the skull-face's eye sockets, and she knew she was face to face with one of the great undead lords of Dereth.
She heard Nuhmudira's throaty laughter from across the altar. "I have you now, my lord of bones."