We have to work fast, though. He would be ignorant of specifics and of our plans and too busy to investigate, but there was no way of calculating how long that would last. She slipped out of her full sleeved tunic and covered her torso with a low cut, tightly laced leather bodice. It brought her best assets to bear in an impressive display of creamy smooth flesh. How fortunate for her that I was really very much elsewhere.

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Van Richten, another one of those dark books? How do you manage to sleep at night? Rudolph van Richten smiled gently at Mrs. Heywood and made a self-deprecating shrug by way of a reply. She had a careful round hand and took pride that every letter and number should be easy to discern.

It also took a bit of time, but on slow days such as this it gave her ample opportunity to gossip with her customers. Van Richten was a particular favorite with her, and she always made a point of bestowing a little extra effort upon him. Sometimes he would share the most amazing stories of his many journeys in the world, which were very welcome, since she had not seen much of it after setting up her modest book business in Mordentshire some twenty-five years ago.

Just as she was about to ask if he had any future plans for travel, a man pushed through her shop door setting the little bell above to ringing. Both Van Richten and Mrs.

Heywood made a study of the newcomer, who was rather a surprise. Van Richten was typical of most of her clientele, a scholarly sort, well-mannered, more interested in older, esoteric books in languages she had never heard than in anything new. This other fellow was big and loutish looking, dressed for a long journey rather than the paved streets of a city.

His clothes were of thick wool and leather, worn and travel-stained. He carried dust-caked leather saddlebags over one shoulder, and they looked heavy. He turned suddenly, surprising them in their stare. There was a haunted, guarded look in his red-rimmed ice-blue eyes. Off the main thoroughfare, its leaded diamond-shaped front windows lent it a closed appearance, but the door was always open to anyone curious enough to bother giving it a push. Not many like this rough-looking stranger had ever bothered.

He was as out of place as a plow horse at a racing meet. Still watching the new man, Van Richten responded to her comment. It was about legends and lore, containing stories about nasty creatures and other things Mrs. Heywood would rather not think about. The title, in lettering that was not native to Mordent, was stamped into it with real gold leaf, though time and use had caused much of it to be worn away. You only have to know how to correctly use it so as not to hurt yourself or others.

I want no truck with magical books. True magical tomes are extremely rare and almost always traded exclusively between those who have trained in their use. I suggest you break off doing that. Otherwise how will I tell who might find it of interest?

He made it sound impatient. Do you want me to stay? Heywood considered the offer, then shook her head. Van Richten, his own purchase tucked in the pocket of his coat, reluctantly took his leave. The other man had apparently been waiting for this, but made no immediate move toward the front counter.

Heywood patiently picked up her latest knitting project, a striped scarf, and prepared to work on it until he was ready to talk to her. It was all part of the game of buying and selling. Neither party dared show too much eagerness lest it adversely effect the price of the product. Heywood was very good player. The man finally replaced the book he had been pretending to flip through-he had been holding it upside down until finding a page with pictures on it-and made his way to her front counter.

She gave him her cheeriest smile. I suppose when one travels one also collects souvenirs-" she gave the saddlebag a significant look, hoping he would take the opening.

Might I inquire as to whether you have any you wish to sell? Apparently so, for he fixed her with a gap-toothed grin. May I see? He gave her a long, piercing stare, then broke away from the counter to look out the windows.

The street that she had watched day in and out for the last quarter century was still very much in place, lined with other small shops and their customers, as ordinary as it could possibly be. He snarled at the sight like a restive bear, then rounded on her. Heywood did not join him in his fit of merriment, and he shut it off quick. I found it. That is, I found it when my gran passed on, very sad I was. Laying the rectangular shape on the counter before her, he cut the string with his belt knife and pulled the cloth wrapping away, revealing a thick volume.

But even before that happened Mrs. Heywood felt a distinct chill closing over her. Another dark book. She looked at it, her heart beating very fast, then took a deep steadying breath to try to quell her nerves. Its leather cover had once been red in color, but age had deepened it to a rusty brown.

You could only judge the original shade by bits of it trapped in the cracks of its spine. Like dried blood, she thought, and firmly suppressed the shudder that wanted to take her.

She studied it for a very long time, biting her lower lip before giving the man a sharp look. The more you can tell me, the better. The truth is, I never got my last bit of pay. Perhaps several hours. There is a very reasonable victuals shop at the end of the street.

Many-er-gentlemen in a similar line of work as yourself gather there to socialize. Perhaps you might even hear of another noble needing to fill a vacancy in his guards.

Run away? He finally removed his saddlebags from her counter and left, not without a few backward glances-and nearly bowled over Dr. Van Richten who was coming into the shop again. Milos grunted with mild disgust and left the shop, shutting the door behind him with more force than was probably necessary. The moment he was out of sight Mrs. Heywood whisked out a dusting cloth and put it to swift use. Her workplace in order again, she now faced Van Richten squarely.

She realized, much to her consternation, that he had his back to her. He was peering out the window, apparently following the progress of her latest customer. Heywood, but I seem to have forgotten my receipt," he said abstractedly, not turning around. Guilty as charged, good lady. He started to reach for it, but checked himself. The lettering was very ornate and old, of a style that had been in brief use in Barovia some fifty years earlier, brief because it was so ornate as to be nearly impossible to read.

Van Richten opened the cover. The inside script, on a different kind of paper, was much more legible, with lines of firm black ink marching across the pages. Its style was of a quite unique sort and very puzzling to her. There were unbound pages as well. The paper was very thin and fine, as was the nib of the pen used, but, the handwriting was the same. It was as though the writer had put those in after the binding, and at first glance they did seem to be addendums to the main text. Van Richten read aloud the first of them from the very front of the book: I, Strahd of Barovia, well aware that certain events of my reign have been erroneously recorded as "history," do hearby set down an exact record concerning my war with Azalin of Darkon.

Many versions of what happened exist, and all are inaccurate over one point or another, but this is the one true accounting of… He stopped and swallowed, having gone very pale. He was always so cheerful and confident, and to see him like this was most alarming. He took command of himself and tapped a finger lightly against the page.

There was an earnest light in his eyes. But the puzzle is how anyone who learned to write some four centuries past was able to put that writing on such relatively new paper. He was all but quivering, like a hunting dog catching a scent.

And do such a clumsy job of it? Even an apprentice bookseller would be able to spot this one. Whoever did the forging made a thorough job of it, but they botched it on the age of the paper. Might I borrow it for the day and look it over? It was left with me in good faith, and until I buy it from that man I can hardly sell it to you. The whole thing?

What if I closed the shop up for the rest of the day and you read this book to me? That way we both get what we want.


I, Strahd, The War Against Azalin

Van Richten, another one of those dark books? How do you manage to sleep at night? Rudolph van Richten smiled gently at Mrs. Heywood and made a self-deprecating shrug by way of a reply.


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From an early age, Firan demonstrated a keen intelligence, marked with a distaste for his fellow men and their deviation from discipline and order—a revulsion that manifested itself in self-loathing several times for his own perceived weaknesses. As a youth, Firan seems to desire control over others and of himself above all else, although he also is given to angry outbursts and quick decisions which he later comes to regret. Even into his later lichhood and rulership status, these attributes recur, painting the portrait of a ruler demanding fealty and promising order, but secretly and constantly frustrated by the failings of his fellow men and of himself. The only family member he loved without reservation was his younger brother, Irik. Where Firan was quick to anger and slow to forgive, Irik was the opposite.


I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin

Ravenloft is a fantasy horror setting of Dungeons and Dragons. Strahd Von Zarovich has been trapped by the Mists that surround his land of Barovia for far too long. He seeks a way to free himself from their embrace and hopefully escape the fate that has trapped him. Calling himself Azalin, Strahd realizes that this person may be able to help break the bonds and allow for his escape.



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