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Published by Harsh Rawat

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Published by: Harsh Rawat on Jul 25, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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his living hand, now warm and capableOf earnest grasping, would, if it were cold And in the icy silence of the tomb,So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights That thou would wish thine own heart dry of bloodSo in my veins red life might stream again, And thou be conscience-calm’d—see here it is—I hold it towards you.
John Keats
This Living Hand 
y name is Dr. Rudolph vanRichten. By my background,I am a scholar and a doctor.As I was growing up in theland of Darkon, I believed itwas my destiny to heal people, to treatsicknesses of the body with the herbalcures I learned from my grandmother.Yet Fate flaunted my beliefs. I suffereda personal loss of such gravity, was forcedinto an act of such trauma, that my entiredirection in life was forever changed. Eventhough it still pains me to recall, it is im-portant for the sake of what will follow torecount those unhappy events here.My life in Darkon was placid, enjoyable.I was married to my childhood sweetheart,a golden-tressed girl named Ingrid, and Ithought my joy was complete when Ilearned that my young wife would soonbear a child. I still remember the birth of my son, whom I named Erasmus, meaning“beloved” in a little-known tongue, as oneof the happiest days of my life. He pos-sessed the radiant fair looks of his mother,and from me he inherited a quickness of mind and a sense of honor that set himapart from other children.For fourteen summers Erasmus wasmy pride and joy. And then, tragically, hewas taken from me—not by the arms of death, but by purely unnatural agents. Myson was set upon by Vistanithe gypsieswho wander the lands and travel thestrange Mists—and swept away. When Ireturned home and found him gone, mypanic-stricken wife bewailed the circum-stances of the dangerous people who hadstolen our child.I swore an oath to myself that I wouldnever rest until Erasmus was freed fromwhatever unholy fate possessed him. Leavingmy affairs in the capable hands of my under-standing Ingrid and committing my future tothe search, I set off in pursuit.The details of my journey are immate-rial here. The trail was cold and difficult tofind. Suffice it to say that I finally trackedthe Vistani caravan to the domain of Barovia. Erasmus was not with them, but
extracted his whereabouts from the gypsyleader. They sold my son, I learned, soldhim into servitude, to a local landownerwho styled himself “Baron Metus.” I hur-ried to the home of the Baron and de-manded that he return my sonimmediately.To this day, I still recall my first glimpseof Metus. He was a tall man, slender andgraceful in his movements. His pale facewas fine of feature, and his eyes were asblack as pools of ink. As he heard mydemand, his thin, expressive lips curled in asmile that could only be described as ex-ceedingly cruel. He laughed coldly andturned his back on me. His minions escortedme from his property.I camped that night just outside thewalls surrounding Metus’ land, and dark-ness and despair enfolded me. But then,around midnight, Erasmus came to me!He had evaded the Baron’s soldiers andclimbed the wall. He had something horri-ble to tell me.I think that I knew the truth even beforehe spoke the words, as soon as I saw theivory pallor of his face under the moonlight,as soon as I glimpsed the dark pits that werehis eyes. The words he uttered only con-firmed what I already knew.My son was dead.Yet still he walked! Life in death, deathin life—such was his destiny. The Baronwas a vampire, and he had passed on thatdark gift to my only son! I wept there inthe night, cried the inconsolable tears of aterrified child.But the worst was yet to come. My sonhad something to ask of me. The dark gifthad only recently been given and histhoughts still ran in the patterns of amortal mind. He felt more kinship with
, T
But first on Earth as vampyr sent, Thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent, Then   ghastly haunt thy native place, And suck the blood of all thy race.
—Lord Byron
me, with the living, than he did with theBaron and others of his kind. But, he toldme, he could feel those old patterns of thought slipping away. Soon, he believed,the horror he felt for his condition wouldfade, and he would forget what it was liketo be a mortal. He would become a mon-ster like the Baron!And so Erasmus begged me to savehim from this fate. He begged me to de-stroy him, right then, that very night. Hehad even brought with him a sharpenedwooden stake and a mallet with which topound it through his chest!I doubt that anyone can ever truly un-derstand the torment I suffered. My sonwas dead; in my mind I knew that to betrue. But here he was still, standing beforeme, speaking to me. How could I find thecapacity in my heart to kill him? And howcould I not? How could I damn him to aneternity of torment?For several hours, as the moon sank toward the distant horizon, we talked. We re-lived together the joyous times we hadshared, the poignant memories. We cried to-gether. And then, as the harbinger of dawntinted pink the sky, Erasmus van Richten layhimself down upon the bosom of themeadow and wordlessly handed me thestake and the mallet. Our gazes met for onelast time, then he closed his eyes and com-posed himself as if for sleep.I positioned the point of the stake overmy son’s heart . . . and brought down themallet. With each blow, the agony in myheart could have been no greater if thestake had been sinking into my ownbreast. When it was done, I lay beside thebody of my son and wept again. I weptuntil the first rays of the sun touched hisyoung body and reduced it to ash.It took all the effort of my will to not liedown beside the dust that had been myprecious son and slip into the darkness of death. Only the thought of Ingrid, waitinganxiously at home, prevented me fromtaking my own life. I turned my back onthe horror and bent my steps to the weeks-long journey home.But I found that horror followed me—infact, preceded me. When I reached myhome, I found my beloved Ingrid dead! Therewas a note from Metus, stating that matterswere now in balance. I had taken somethingfrom him that he valued—I can only pre-sume he meant Erasmus—and so he hadtaken from me something that I valued.It was at that moment, as I knelt weep-ing beside the cold, white body of mybeloved Ingrid, that my destiny wasturned. I had always prided myself on myability to rid the body of disease orpoison. Now I knew that this was as noth-ing compared to the importance of rid-ding society of a most evil “disease andpoison.” On that terrible day, I sworemyself to a new career: the pursuit anddestruction of those creatures such as theone that had taken my son and wife fromme, that feed on the body of society as acancer feeds on the body of man. And Iswore that my first quarry would beBaron Metus!It has been almost three decades sincethat fateful day. Over the intervening years,I have learned much about my quarry,about the enemies that threaten us all.Today, I feel my advancing age and Ican sense the chill wind of mortality blow-ing through my soul. It is time to pass onwhat I have learned, so future generationsmay pick up the stake and mallet when Iam forced to lay them down. Thus, I amsetting pen to paper in the hope that thistome will preserve what I have learned atsuch great cost.Remember: The fight against creaturesof darkness is a difficult and often painfulone! But it is a
fight, and one that
be fought. If this work inspires butone person to follow in my footsteps, thenI have succeeded and my life’s work hasnot been for naught.
Editor’s Note: Game applications of Dr.Van Richten’s guide appear at the endof each chapter, in gray-screened text. Forexample, Van Richten discusses the inhu-man speed of vampires in Chapter Two,“Vampiric Powers,” so vampire movementrates appear at the end of that chapterwithin a gray-screened block of text.

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