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.

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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. Her leather trousers fit her like another skin. Whatever you do, do not look him directly in the eyes. They had used them on past missions, but Nanje still gave a start.

Talk to me. That goes for everyone. From this point on, not one word. Inner security was good, but not outstanding, which accounted for our being able to magically penetrate it. Whether he chose to take her or not was less important than the few moments of distraction she would provide for the rest of us. His awareness was much greater than that of an ordinary mortal, and he just might be able to see us if he was particularly perceptive. As for hearing and even smelling us, the rings had that added protection incorporated into their magic.

They could not hide all sound or scent, but should adequately dampen them enough for us to accomplish our task. We were fairly safe, so long as we remained quiet. He seemed wrapped about with a thick muffling fabric that blunted hearing and dimmed sight.

A decided disadvantage for us both. During the briefing I had suggested a covering story about presenting a good luck charm on behalf of her unit as a gift for the general.

Apparently - and this was confirmed by the fugitive Darkon mercenaries - it was something of a tradition in this land. What he did with the bodies I had been unable to discern. He was careful not to let them rise again. The sentry and two other fellows came close to question Nanje, who smiled, played with her hair, swayed her hips, and laughed teasingly at their bad jokes. One man was sent back to the tent to make a consultation with his immediate superior about the situation.

Within a very few minutes word was passed to let her come closer. He bumped once into someone, I think Kelab, but everyone kept quiet. The last check was at the entry to the huge tent, when Vychen himself made a brief appearance. He looked out the door flap, inspected Nanje once, and grunted a gruff affirmative before going back in again. Nanje flashed a provocative smile at the sentries and lifted the flap high to enter, then paused for another exchange with them, talking humorous nonsense, and otherwise doing an excellent job of flirting.

She gave us all ample time to duck in ahead of her. The interior was larger than my castle study, and divided into sections. The front area was meant for work with its traveling desk and litter of papers; the inner portions where he had to sleep were heavily draped with many thick layers of curtains forming a tent within the tent, its object to keep all hint of sunlight from reaching him.

Whatever excuse he gave his human servants for being indisposed during the day was probably bolstered by hypnotic control. He was at his traveling desk with two of his senior staff, paying no attention to Nanje whatsoever. As she was marginally in uniform with the identifying scarf she offered a salute none of them bothered to return.

This was the main weak point in my plan: how long it would take Vychen to dismiss his people that he might have some privacy.

It was the one thing I could trust about his condition: in order to keep his secret he had to feed away from prying eyes. I had a limited amount of time, and if he was busy with business for too much of it the potion would wear off, trapping Darl and the others in the enemy camp without my leadership to get them out.

Their safety did not concern me, but the success of this raid did. Nanje, growing impatient herself, began humming softly. I could barely hear her, but Vychen did. He looked up once with some irritation, and Nanje took the opportunity offer him a smoldering smile and lick her lips. She did make eye contact with him, but at this point all the power of influence was on her side. His irritation vanished, smoothing into quite another expression altogether.

I recognized it, having keenly felt it thousands of times myself: hunger. With that particular beast now fully wakened he would find it hard to concentrate on anything so mundane as battle plans. Within a quarter hour he dismissed his people and offered Nanje a cup of wine. She accepted and expressed great admiration for her surroundings, allowing him the opening to invite her to see the rest of his tent.

While they made small talk and he pointed out this treasure or that, I made Darl head toward the back, Cylla still holding to his belt. There were no candles here, and he could barely see by the faint light seeping in from the front.

The flap moved again all by itself, and I knew at least one other of our group was inside with us. It dropped back into place, and Darl stood waiting and holding his breath in pitch darkness. The feeble mutterings of his consciousness went very still. Perhaps some part of him understood the utter necessity of letting me have complete control at this point.

I increased my hold until I almost seemed to be Darl. Cylla let go of my belt and stood tense next to me. I knelt and quietly opened the pouch, drawing out a soft felt pad about an inch thick that fit comfortably into the palm of my hand. Next I brought forth a tightly stoppered bottle, followed by a velvet bag. I passed the latter to Cylla and heard the faint chink of metal as she reached inside. My hand froze over hers to keep her still.

She got the idea and stopped making noise. I straightened, bottle in my left hand, the pad in my right. Vychen, speaking low, and Nanje, laughing seductively, finally came to his sanctum. She thought to bring a candle and made appropriate sounds of appreciation at the sights there.

The floor was covered with many layers of carpets, a broad bed stood off to one side, similarly overlaid. Beneath all he would probably have his well-hidden earth-lined coffin.

He was a big, powerful-looking man, with heavy features and dark eyes like hell pits. Nanje looked pathetically fragile next to him. He smoothed it away from one side of her throat, a slow, lingering touch. I knew he would be able to sense the pulse of her veins, feel the warm rush of the life surging beneath his fingers and be excited by it, distracted. I saw it in his face as he began to succumb to the irresistible summons of hunger and desire.

Soon he would be blind and deaf to everything but the sating of both appetites. Nanje put her candle down on a small table and tilted her head back allowing him to bend low for a preliminary kiss. Her back was still to him so she could not see the budding of his fangs. He was past the flirting stage.

Instead of answering, his arms went around her, hands exploring her body. She squirmed and gave out with a moan, but her expression was of utter disgust. Probably her inner voice was frantically telling her there was something wrong about him, even if it could not say exactly what that wrongness might be.

I eased around to place myself behind Vychen and hoped that the others were ready. We had to move soon while he was involved with Nanje, but not so far along that she would be unable to help us. But I bumped into someone, not hard, but enough to make a noise. Vychen snapped alert, looking around. He sniffed the air and a growl began deep within him. Though the bottle had been carefully prepared and cleaned Vychen must have caught a telltale whiff of its contents. But he was suspicious and turned her roughly around to face him.

He fastened his fierce gaze upon her. Why are you really here? Now or never. I yanked the stopper clear and slopped the contents all over the pad, much of it spilling onto my hand as well.

The overpowering stink flooded the room in those few seconds. Vychen let go of Nanje, but before he could do anything else I leaped forward and slammed the soaked pad hard against his nose and mouth, hauling him back with all my strength.

It was like trying to pull down an oak tree. He roared and grabbed for me, hands like clubs, then choked as the first expiration of the burning fumes from the liquid seared deep into his lungs. The roar turned into a scream of outrage and pain, but I held the pad in place for dear life, not trusting the thick tapestries to muffle all sound from his guards.

Cylla had the wit to remove her ring so the others would see her and stay out of her way. The shrine had long ago been a popular place for pilgrims coming to pay homage to the gods there.

Much of that faith was gone from Barovia - I did not encourage the people to religion - but the symbol yet had power within it for the likes of Vychen. Cylla deftly slipped the chain over his head.


I, Strahd, The War Against Azalin

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.


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. Criticisms: 1 War. For war to be in the title of the novel and not have been the focus of the story is rather odd.


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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. Firan pursued his studies and thirsted after knowledge, but occasionally displayed an inability or ignorance of the potential repercussions.



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