Night Masks - By R. A. Salvatore

Chapter One
The large fighter shifted uneasily in his seat, looking all about the nearly empty tavern.

"Not so busy this night," the slender, I drowsy-looking man across the table remarked.

JL He shifted back lazily in his seat, crossed his legs in front of him, and draped a skinny arm over them.

The larger man regarded him warily as he began to understand. "And you know all in attendance," he replied.

"Of course."

The burly fighter looked back just in time to see the last of the other patrons slip out the door. "They have left by your bidding?" he asked,

"Of course."

"Mako sent you."

The weakling man curled his lips in a wicked grin, one that widened as the burly fighter regarded his skinny arms with obvious disdain.

"To kill me," the large man finished, trying to appear calm. His wringing hands, fingers moving as if seeking

something to keep them occupied, revealed his nervousness. He licked his dried lips and glanced around quickly, not taking his dark eyes from the assassin for any length of time. He noticed that the man wore gloves, one white and one black, and silently berated himself for not being more observant.

The thin man replied at length, "You knew Mako would repay you for his cousin's death."

"His own fault!" the large man retorted. "It was he who struck the first blow. I had no choi - "

"I am neither judge nor jury," the puny man reminded him.

"Just a killer" the fighter replied, "serving whoever gives you the largest sack of gold."

The assassin nodded, not the least bit insulted by the description.

The little man noticed his target's hand slipping casually into the hidden pouch, the fitchet, in the V cut of his tunk, above his right hip.

"Please, do not," the assassin said. He had been monitoring this man for many weeks, carefully, completely, and he knew of the knife concealed within.

The fighter stopped the movement and eyed him incredulously.

"Of course I know the trick," the assassin explained. "Do you not understand, dear dead Vaclav? You have no surprises left for me."

The man paused, then protested, "Why now?" The large man's ire rose with his obvious frustration.

"Now is the time," replied the assassin. "All things have their time. Should a killing be any different? Besides, I have pressing business in the west and can play the game no longer."

"You have had ample opportunity to finish this business many times before now" Vaclav argued. In fact, the little man had been hovering about him for weeks, had gained his trust somewhat, though he didn't even know the man's name. The fighter's eyes narrowed with further frustration

when he contemplated that notion and realized that the man's frail frame - too frail to be viewed as any threat - had precipitated that acceptance. If this man, now revealed as an enemy, had appeared more threatening, Vaclav never would have let him get this close.

"More chances than you would believe," the assassin replied with a snicker. The large man had seen him often, but not nearly as often as the killer, in perfect and varied disguises, had seen Vaclav.

"I pride myself on my business," the assassin continued, "unlike so many of the crass killers that walk the Realms. They prefer to keep their distance until the opportunity to strike presents itself, but I" - his beady eyes flickered with pride - "prefer to personalize things. I have been all about you. Several of your friends are dead, and I now know you so well that I can anticipate your every movement."

Sclav's breathing came in short rasps. Several friends dead? And this weakling threatening him openly? He had defeated countless monsters ten times this one's weight, had served honorably in three wars, had even battled a dragon! He was scared now, however. Vaclav had to admit that. Something was terribly wrong about this whole setup, terribly out of place.

"I am an artist," the slender, sleepy man rambled. "That is why I will never err, why I will survive while so many other hired murderers go to ear|y graves."

"You are a simple killer and nothing more!" the large man cried, his frustration boiling over. He leaped from his seat and drew a huge sword.

A sharp pain slowed him, and he found himself somehow sitting again. He blinked, trying to make sense of it all, for he saw himself at the empty bar, was, in fact, staring at his own face! He stood gawking as he - as his own body! - slid the heavy sword back into its scabbard.

"So crude," \feclav