Portal into Dereth, a magical land of adventure. It is here that travelers find themselves thrust into danger, or embraced in beauty. This column recalls the voices of some whom are living, loving and dying, while waiting for… Asheron’s Call.

I stared at the open bookcase for a moment, wondering if it was wise to step through. Funny how something so clearly dangerous and foolhardy, can seem so reasonable to the mind at moments like this.

I had come to be standing at this hidden corridor by taking a trip to Lytlethorpe this very morning

Lytlethorpe was a lovely town of green rolling hills. I had been talking to the Town Crier, the cool wind blowing past us, causing his robe to flutter. It was twilight, that magical part of the day.

I had just passed him a mug of cider when he said, “It would seem that hunting is back in season.” I nodded as I glanced at the sky and felt the pull myself.

The urge to hunt, to roam, to venture out and sleep under the stars was irresistible. I told him I agreed and sipped at my own mug of cider. I laid some pyreals in the Criers hand and he leaned closer

“I’ve seen more people running around with those bone and gristle bows recently. I have a friend who uses one of those ghastly contraptions. It’s unsanitary if you ask me.”

I chuckled at the finicky crier and swigged the last of my cider down. I bid him good night and headed to the General Supplies shop to speak to Cemcera, the Shopkeeper. I was going to gather some provisions for a hunting trip of my own.

I stepped into the shop pausing to let my eyes adjust to the darkness. The warmth of the fire drew me closer and I held out my hands to the orange embers.

“Hail Cemcera!” I said with a grin as I approached her.

“Welcome to my shop.” She raised her hand in a friendly wave and we spoke a bit as I looked over her goods. The shop was filled with unpacked crates and barrels, and I expected a good selection.

I was to be disappointed. She didn’t have much, but I picked up a couple more apples and some flasks of water. She thanked me and I smiled as I asked if there might be a bed for rent. She said I could use the one upstairs, and I retired after paying her a few pyreals extra for her hospitality.

It was a comfortable room, despite the crates, and I stripped off my armor and sat before the fire, sipping some water before retiring. I could feel a cool gust of air from an open window in the corner, and was glad the bed was so close to the fire. Winter was coming, and we all had the urge to hoard before it hit. I got into bed and closed my eyes.

In the morning I put my supplies in my backpack and headed southwest out of town. I had been in towns too long lately and it felt good to get out and stretch my legs.

The grasslands began to reveal the patchy sandstone ridgeback of the hills. The terrain was uneven and choppy, with rocky outcroppings. There were hollows of sand, blown here from the Gharu’ndim lands to the west.

The creatures around these parts were easily dealt with, and mostly simply ignored by those of my experience. After a time, I began to get hungry and stopped to fish an apple from my pack, when an Innocuous Doll attacked me.

While the creature didn’t hurt me, it was an annoyance and so I took up my bow, drew back an arrow and killed it. I approached the body of the doll, but was distracted by a dust devil, which caused the sand to dance to my right. I squinted as the whirling cloud overtook me. I held my hand before my face, the small grains of grit scraping my skin.

Once the sand had passed I rubbed the particles from my eyes and caught a glint off in the distance between two dunes. Curiosity got the best of me and I ran towards it. I lost it for a moment as I dipped between two dunes, but caught sight of it again as I reached the peak of the next one.

It was a Mansion!

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I didn’t remember hearing of one out this way, and I headed toward it at a run. I didn’t get far. I quickly crouched down in the sand, spying three Zharalims between the Mansion and myself. I wondered what they were doing out here. This area was filled with small, weaker creatures. To see some level 105 creatures here was surprising.

I was unbuffed and only level 70. I knew I could take them one at a time, but could I separate them? I calculated my situation a moment. From this angle they wouldn’t be able to see me, and the wind would blow the sound of magic away from them. I brought forth my orb and chanted the magic words, covering myself in level IV protection spells, and adding strength to my skills and weapon.

I peeked over the ridge. They had not moved. My heart was pounding as I raised my bow and drew back the string. Soon, I would either be in the mysterious Mansion, or at my lifestone.

I took aim at the Zharalim closest to me, drew in my breath, my eyes closed to mere slits… and released the arrow. It flew true and hit the Zharalim in the arm.

It was a solid hit, but still did little damage. He let out a bellow and headed for me. I fired again, hitting him once more before losing him in the dunes. He crested the peak and threw a spell at me, singeing my arm. I growled and shot three more times.

He dodged my arrows and I cursed the waste as I saw them splinter as they struck the sand. He was upon me, and we fought in close quarters.

At last he lay at my feet, dead. I grimaced as I reached out to search the body. He held nothing of interest and I withdrew my orb. Perhaps I could give myself an advantage. I targeted one of the remaining two and muttered the words to the spell.

“Cruath Quasith!” I raised the orb and threw the magic toward the Zharalim. He resisted at first, but the spell finally stuck. He was imperiled. It was only a simple level four spell, but it gave me an edge. As I suspected, the other turned and ran at me. I quickly threw another spell and thankfully it stuck first try!

I whipped out my bow and began firing at the two Zharalims that were hungrily devouring the ground between us. I was lucky that the magic seemed to be working, and my arrows dug deeper into their flesh, bringing cries of rage from them.

One dropped dead into the dust mere steps from me, while the other’s weight hit me hard, knocking me backwards and doing my leg damage. I grunted in pain as I raised my bow again, gritted my teeth and fired point blank into his chest.

A hollow moan issued from his lips and he sank into the sand… dead… at my feet. I lowered my bow, crumpling to my knees, and drew quick deep breaths, my chest heaving. I closed my eyes and willed the pain in my leg to calm itself before I struggled to my feet again. I searched the bodies and slowly headed to the mansion, hoping to take refuge there and patch up my leg.

I fully intended on finding the mansion unoccupied, so was surprised when I saw the ownership crystal aloft and turning. I was more shocked to discover who the owner was! None other than Nuhmudira owned this mansion.

I was much more cautious now as I entered the front door. I could see no one home, but did not wish to be caught unprepared. I downed a healing potion before I searched the mansion, room by room. I found that her taste in furnishings was much like the rest of the inhabitants of Dereth. In fact, everything seemed quite normal.

This surprised me. I had heard Nuhmudira was bloodthirsty and evil, yet this was hardly different from any other Monarch’s Mansion in appearance. She even had a cabbage patch outside. I headed downstairs and found the portal to the dungeon. Here, at last, surely I would find the proof that Nuhmudira was the beast we all thought.

I armed my bow and stepped into the portal, expecting to find guards to battle with. I was to be disappointed! Once through the portal, I found no guards, no blood, and no signs of wickedness. Instead I found books, lecterns, libraries. She did display trophies of different kinds along with the books.

This looked more like the house of a scholar then a beast! I looked through the books, hoping to find something more forthcoming. I was thumbing through one on a lectern when I heard a noise behind me.

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Was that the bookcase that moved? I pushed against the lectern and it moved, and once more the noise behind reached my ears. YES! The bookcase opened to reveal a secret passageway!

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This is how I came to be staring at the gaping maw in the wall, and convincing myself that it was reasonable to enter it.

I quickly made up my mind, dashed through the open hole in the wall and into the darkness as the bookcase closed. I stood motionless in the darkness for a moment, listening. The smell was overpowering. The combination of swamp and old slaughterhouse odors assailed my nostrils.

I dug into my pack, not hearing any sounds of others in the darkness, and pulled out my torch. I lit it, and holding it high I began my descent into the bowels of Nuhmudira’s dungeon.

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The walls looked damp, and the staleness of the air was suffocating. I heard a sound ahead and paused.

The sound was half snake, half lizard… Sclavus! At the bottom of the ramp, Se and Aste Sclavus, who took no time in attacking with their claws bared, greeted me. Those in the distance hurled war magic at me. I raised my bow and thanked Asheron and the Triple Mother that they were not strong Sclavus.

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I was soon looking at a pile of bodies about my feet, and trying to draw deep breaths of the repugnant air. I looked through the bodies, searching for anything of importance, but found nothing.

The hall intersected into four directions. I decided to check out the hallways to my right and left before going forward. My first choice, west, led to an unlocked gate, behind which was a room where bodies lay rotting. There were piles of straw on the floor and cobwebs hung in the corners. One corpse was completely turned to a skeleton, the others were in various states of decay.

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I found no identifying marks or items, and could do nothing for them, and so I left them in peace. I headed back to the intersection and then down the east hallway. It led to a door, which was unlocked. I opened it and entered a bedchamber.

There were two beds, some tables, a chest, a journal and some chamber pots. I picked up the journal deciding to read it later, and headed back to the intersection. Now the south passage. It was not to be that easy however. At the junction I was met with two Essa Sclavus.

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Their magic was stronger, and I felt their stings before laying them to rest and stepping over their bodies to enter the large room to the south. More Sclavus attacked and I soon had an aching string finger. I was busy rummaging through the bodies when something caught my eye.

I could not quite make it out, but there was something in the center of the room, under an archway. I stood slowly, the hair on the back of my neck stood up on end, and I approached what looked like a table. I sucked in my breath as my eyes finally registered what they were looking at.

I ran forward and gently placed my fingers on the wrist of the Gharu’ndim that lay before me on the table. He was gone. The table was slightly raised at one end, where his feet lay, and there was a trough carved out at the far end, where his head lay.

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It was designed to have the victims head fall back, exposing the throat. Below the trough was a catching basin for collecting blood. Now everything made sense and I inspected a wound on his neck. His blood had been drained. His skin had an ashy pallor, and his eyes… his eyes stared off into the distance, blank and bright, causing me to shiver.

My eyes gazed about the room as if for the first time and I saw the large pots in the corners. The horror rose up in my head as I realized that those where not chamber pots in the bedroom, nor were these. I walked to one corner and looked to verify the awful truth. They were filled with blood!

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NO! NO! It could not be true! I ripped open the journal I found and begin to read what she has written on its pages. There in her own hand she speaks of sacrifice, youth, and strength! By the Mother, I look at the date of the journal… Portal Year 13… she has been doing it for over 20 years!

I turned to look again at the poor soul who was the latest victim. My heart filled with rage and I stormed from the room, slaughtering the Sclavus that awaited me in the passageway. My magical protections were leaving me and I cared not!

I shot again and again, stepping on the fallen bodies in disgust. How could they allow themselves to be used in such a way? I found my way to the top of the passage, and saw a candle on the wall that opened the bookcase when turned.

My stomach turned as I walked back into the light of the room beyond the bookcase. I paid no attention to where I was walking, and suddenly found myself in a room I had not seen before. On the table below a tapestry was a chalice, and two perfect pyreal bars. In one corner there were smaller jugs that held blood. Stacked against the wall were more perfect pyreal bars.

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I wondered, was this where she sat to drink the blood of her victims? There was a small table in the middle of the room with a book on it. It was written in a tongue I did not understand, but looked like it could be a ledger.

I suddenly found I could take no more of this bloodlust, and I recalled to town, then headed to Tou Tou, to bathe in the hot springs and hopefully remove the stench of Nuhmudira, and her Mansion of Blood.

Join us next time as another voice from the land of Dereth reaches our pages!

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