Night Masks by R. A. Salvatore




  I HAVE TWENTY SKILLED ASSASSINS

  AT MY DISPOSAL.…

  Aballister held up a small, bulging bag and shook it once to show the others that its thickness came from many coins—gold, surely. Dorigen understood the bag’s significance, understood what it would buy for Aballister, and for Bogo as well. Bogo had come from Westgate, a city hundreds of miles to the northeast, at the mouth of the Lake of Dragons. Westgate was notable as a bustling trade town, and it was known, too, for a band of assassins who were among the cruelest killers in Faerûn.

  “Even your Night Masks will have a difficult time striking at our young scholar, whether he’s in Shilmista or has returned to the Edificant Library,” Dorigen asserted, if for no better reason than to take some of the bite out of Aballister’s icy demeanor concerning his son. For all that she hated Cadderly—he had broken her hands and stolen several magical items from her—Dorigen simply couldn’t believe Aballister’s viciousness toward his own son.

  “He is not in Shilmista,” Bogo replied with a grin, his brown eyes flashing with excitement, “nor in the library.” Dorigen stared at Bogo, and her sudden interest obviously pleased the young wizard. “He is in Carradoon.”

  “This is pure sword and sorcery reminiscent at times of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series.”

  —Don D’Ammassa on Promise of the Witch-King

  “… breathes new life into the stereotypical creatures of the milieu: the motivations of his villains make sense without violating the traditions of the game. His heroes face dilemmas deeper than merely how to slay their foes. Salvatore has long used his dark elf protagonist to reflect on issues of racial prejudice … and this novel is no exception.”

  —Paul Brink, School Library Journal on The Thousand Orcs

  R.A. SALVATORE’S

  THE CLERIC QUINTET

  BOOK I

  Canticle

  BOOK II

  In Sylvan Shadows

  BOOK III

  Night Masks

  BOOK IV

  The Fallen Fortress

  BOOK V

  The Chaos Curse

  The Cleric Quintet, Book III

  NIGHT MASKS

  ©1992 TSR, Inc.

  ©2009 Wizards of the Coast LLC

  All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

  This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or unauthorized use of the material or artwork contained herein is prohibited without the express written permission of Wizards of the Coast LLC.

  Published by Wizards of the Coast LLC.

  FORGOTTEN REALMS, D&D, Wizards of the Coast, and their respective logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the U.S.A. and other countries. Other trademarks are property of their respective owners. Hasbro SA, Represented by Hasbro Europe, Stockley Park, UB11 1AZ. UK.

  All Wizards of the Coast characters and their distinctive likenesses are property of Wizards of the Coast LLC.

  Cover art by Duane O. Myers

  eISBN: 978-0-7869-5434-6

  640-25328000-001-EN

  U.S., Canada, Asia, Pacific, & Latin America, Wizards of the Coast LLC, P.O. Box 707, Renton, WA 98057-0707, +1-800-324-6496, www.wizards.com/customerservice

  Europe, U.K., Eire & South Africa, Wizards of the Coast LLC, c/o Hasbro UK Ltd., P.O. Box 43, Newport, NP19 4YD, UK, Tel: +800 22 427276, Email: [email protected]

  Visit our web site at www.wizards.com

  v3.1

  To Aunt Terry, who’ll never know

  how much her support has meant to me.

  Contents

  Cover

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Prologue

  Chapter One: Placid Fields

  Chapter Two: Mopping Up

  Chapter Three: Heartfelt

  Chapter Four: A Long Time to Dawn

  Chapter Five: Home Again

  Chapter Six: A Beggar, A Thief

  Chapter Seven: The Maze

  Chapter Eight: Unnecessary Evils

  Chapter Nine: Evil Visions, Evil Deeds

  Chapter Ten: Professionals

  Chapter Eleven: What the Shadows Say

  Chapter Twelve: Mortality

  Chapter Thirteen: The Stooge’s Stooge

  Chapter Fourteen: To Capture A Soul

  Chapter Fifteen: A Good Day to Die

  Chapter Sixteen: Scramble

  Chapter Seventeen: Mentor

  Chapter Eighteen: Reflections on the Water

  Chapter Nineteen: Sorrow and Divine Joy

  Chapter Twenty: I Telled Ye So

  Chapter Twenty-one: Pikel Bait

  Chapter Twenty-two: Striking Back

  Chapter Twenty-three: An Offer He Couldn’t Refuse

  Chapter Twenty-four: Layers of Treachery

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  PROLOGUE

  The larger man regarded him warily, beginning to understand, and asked, “You know all in attendance?”

  “Of course.”

  The burly fighter looked back just in time to see the last of the other patrons slip out the door then added, “And they have left at your bidding?”

  “Of course.”

  “Mako sent you …”

  The weaker man curled his lips in a wicked grin, one that widened as the 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 unease. He licked his dry lips and glanced around, not taking his dark eyes from the assassin for more than a heartbeat. He surely noticed that the smaller man wore gloves, one white and one black, and must have silently berated himself for not being more observant.

  The thin man replied, “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 ch—”

  “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 that characterization.

  The little man noticed his target’s hand slipping casually into a hidden pouch in the V cut of his tunic, above his right hip.

  “Please, do not,” the assassin said, and the fighter stopped and eyed him with surprise.

  “Of course I know of the knife you keep there,” the assassin said. “Do you not understand, dear dead Vaclav? You have no surprises left for me.”

  Vaclav paused then protested, “Why now?” His ire rose with his 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 around him for tendays, had even gained his trust, to some degree, though Vaclav didn’t even know the man’s name. The fighter’s eyes narrowed with further frustration when he further contemplated that notion and obviously realized that the assassin’s frail frame—too frail to be viewed as any threat—had only helped win his trust. If the man, now revealed as an enemy, had appeared more threatening, Vaclav never would have let him get so close.

  “I’ve had 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 t
he killer, in perfect and varied disguises, had seen Vaclav.

  “I take pride in my craft,” 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 around you. Several of your friends are dead, and I now know you so well that I can anticipate your every movement.”

  Vaclav’s breathing came in short rasps. The assassin could imagine what was going through the fighter’s mind: Several friends dead? And a weakling openly threatening him? He had defeated countless monsters ten times that one’s weight, had served honorably in three wars, had even battled a dragon! But he was scared. Vaclav surely had to admit that.

  “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 early 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 Vaclav, and he found himself somehow sitting again. He blinked, trying to make sense of it all. 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,” Vaclav heard his own body say.

  He looked down at the figure he had come to wear, the killer’s weak form.

  “And so messy,” the assassin continued.

  “How …?”

  “I have not the time to explain, I fear,” the assassin replied.

  “What is your name?” Vaclav cried, desperate for any diversion.

  “Ghost,” answered the assassin.

  Ghost lurched over, plainly confident that the seemingly androgynous form, one he knew so well, could hardly muster the speed to escape him or the strength to fend him off. Vaclav felt himself being lifted from the floor, felt the huge hands slipping around his neck.

  “The … ghost … of who?” managed the desperate man. He kicked as hard as his new body would allow, so pitiful an attempt against the burly, powerful form his enemy possessed. Then his breath would not come.

  Vaclav heard the snap of bone, and it was the last sound he would ever hear.

  “Not ‘the ghost,’ ” the victorious assassin replied to the dead form, “just ‘Ghost.’ ”

  He sat then to finish his drink, thinking how perfect the job had been, how easily Vaclav had been coaxed into so vulnerable a position.

  “An artist,” Ghost said, lifting his cup in a toast to himself. His more familiar body would be magically repaired before the dawn, and he could take it back then, leaving the empty shell of Vaclav’s corpse behind.

  Ghost had not lied when he mentioned pressing business in the west. A wizard had contacted the assassin’s guild, promising exorbitant payments for a minor execution.

  The price must have been high indeed, Ghost knew, for his superiors had requested that he take on the task. The wizard apparently wanted the best.

  The wizard wanted an artist.

  ONE

  PLACID FIELDS

  Cadderly walked slowly from the single stone tower, across the fields, toward the lakeside town of Carradoon. Autumn had come to the Southern Heartlands and the few tress along Cadderly’s path, red maples mostly, shone brilliantly in their fall wardrobe. The sun was bright and warm, in contrast with the chilly breezes blowing down from the nearby Snowflake Mountains, gusting strong enough to float Cadderly’s silken blue cape out behind him as he walked, and bend the wide brim of his similarly blue hat.

  The troubled young scholar noticed nothing.

  Cadderly pushed his sand-brown locks from his gray eyes then grew frustrated as the unkempt hair, much longer than he had ever worn it, defiantly dropped back down. He pushed it away again, and again, and finally tucked it tightly under the brim of his hat.

  Carradoon came within sight a short while later, on the banks of Impresk Lake, surrounded by hedge-lined fields dotted with sheep, cattle, and crops. The city proper was walled, as were most cities of Faerûn, with many buildings huddled inside against ever-present peril. A long bridge connected Carradoon to a nearby island, the section of the town reserved for the more well-to-do merchants and governing officials.

  As always when he came by that route, Cadderly looked at the town with mixed and uncertain feelings. He had been born in Carradoon, but didn’t remember that early part of his life. His gaze drifted west past the walled city to the towering Snowflakes then to the passes that led high into the mountains, where lay the Edificant Library.

  That had been Cadderly’s home, though he realized that that was no longer true, and thus he felt he could not return there. He was not a poor man. The wizard in the tower he had recently left had paid him a huge sum for transcribing a lost spellbook—and he had the means to support himself in relative comfort for a time.

  But all the gold in the world could not have provided a home for Cadderly, nor could it have released his troubled spirit from its turmoil.

  Cadderly had grown up, had learned the truth of his violent, imperfect world—all too suddenly. The young scholar had been thrust into situations beyond his experience, forced into the role of hero-warrior when all he really wanted was to read of adventures in books of legend. Cadderly had killed a man, and had fought in a war that had blasted, torn, and ultimately tainted a once-pristine sylvan forest.

  He had found no answers, only questions.

  Cadderly thought of his room at the Dragon’s Codpiece, where The Tome of Universal Harmony, the most prized scriptures of the god Deneir, sat open on his small table. It had been given to Cadderly by Pertelope, a high-ranking priestess of his order, with the promise that within its thick bindings Cadderly would find his answers.

  But Cadderly wasn’t sure he believed that.

  The young scholar sat on a grassy rise overlooking the town, scratched at his stubbly beard, and wondered again about his true calling. He removed his wide-brimmed hat and stared at the porcelain insignia attached to its red band: an eye and a single candle, the holy symbol of Deneir, a deity dedicated to literature and the arts.

  Cadderly had served Deneir since his earliest recollections, though he had never really been certain of what that service entailed, or of the real purpose in dedicating his life to any god. He was a scholar and an inventor and believed wholeheartedly in the powers of knowledge and creation, two very important tenets for his Deneirrath sect.

  Only recently had Cadderly begun to feel that the god was something more than a symbol, more than a fabricated ideal for scholars to emulate. In the elven forest Cadderly had felt the birth of powers he could not begin to understand. He had magically healed a friend’s wound that otherwise would have proved fatal. He had gained supernatural insight into the history of the elves, not just their recorded events, but the feelings, the eldritch aura, that had given the ancient People their identity. He had watched in amazement as the spirit of a noble horse rose from its broken body and walked solemnly away. He had seen a dryad disappear into a tree and had commanded the tree to push the elusive creature back out—and the tree had heeded his command.

  There could be no doubt for young Cadderly: mighty magic was within him, granting him terrifying powers. His peers called that magic the Grace of Deneir, saw it as a blessing, but in light of what he had done, of what he had become, and the horrors he had witnessed, Cadderly was not certain he wanted that power within him.

  He got up from the grassy rise and continued his journey to the walled town, to the Dragon’s Codpiece, and to The Tome of Universal Harmony, where he could only pray that he would find some answers and some peace.

  He flipped the page, his eyes desperately trying to scan the newest material in the scant heartbeat it took him to turn the page again. It was impossible. Cadderly simply could not keep up with his desire, his insatiable hunger, to turn the
pages.

  He was finished with The Tome of Universal Harmony, a work of nearly two thousand pages, in mere moments. Cadderly slammed the book shut, frustrated and fearful, and tried to rise from his small desk, thinking that perhaps he should go for a walk, or go to find Brennan, the innkeeper’s teenaged son who had become a close friend.

  The tome grabbed at him before he could get out of his seat. With a defiant but impotent snarl, the young scholar flipped the book back over and began his frantic scan once more. The pages flipped at a wild pace. Cadderly couldn’t begin to read more than a single word or two on any one page, and yet, the song of the book, the special meanings behind the simple words, rang clearly in his mind. It seemed as though all the mysteries of the multiverse were embedded in the sweet and melancholy melody, a song of living and dying, of salvation and damnation, of eternal energy and finite matter.

  He heard voices as well—ancient accents and reverent tones sang in the deepest corners of his mind—but he couldn’t make out any of the written words on the pages of the book. Cadderly could see them, could feel their meanings, but the actual lettering slipped away.

  Cadderly felt his strength quickly draining as he continued to press on. His eyes ached, but he couldn’t close them. His mind raced in too many directions, unlocking secrets, then storing them back into his subconscious in a more organized fashion. In those brief transitions from one page to another, Cadderly managed to wonder if he would go insane, or if the work would actually consume him.

  He understood something else then, and the thought finally gave to him the strength to slam the book shut. Several of the higher ranking Deneirrath priests at the Edificant Library had been found dead, lying across that very book. Always the deaths had been ruled having been the result of natural causes—all of those priests had been much older than Cadderly—but Cadderly’s insight told him differently.

  They had tried to hear the song of Deneir, the song of universal mysteries, but they had not been strong enough to control the effects of that strange and beautiful music. They had been consumed.

 
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