Arol enterred the tavern as quietly as he could. He didn't like this section of the city, but he really didn't see as to there being any other choices. This tavern was where the merchant had arranged for their meeting. As much as he hated it, he had to go here. Otherwise, he would never be able to afford to get out of the city, as both Arol and new bride must.

All this was running through Arol's head as he stepped into the tavern. It was as plain as the look of distress bordering on disgust on his face as he glanced around the bar, looking for me. The slight bulge on his hip showed that either he brought the goods or he planned on double-crossing me. Arol, however, was not a malicious man. Such a pity that he had made the mistakes that brought him here tonight.

He found my table quickly enough. Breathing a deep sigh of relief, he approached and sat down in the seat opposite me in the dark booth. He nervousness screamed its existence as he sat across from me, tapping his fingers on the table. He nearly jumped when I called the waitress over to get us some meat. The waitress left and returned with a platter of spiced meats for each of us. As she smiled and left again, I turned back to him.

"Where is it?" I asked, going directly to business.

"Show me the payment first," Arol responded, his voice belying the tough facade he tried to show.

I produced the small pouch. I pulled the drawstring on the bag and let its contents of a few dozen small gems spill out onto the table. Arol drew in his breath sharply at the sight. It was the agreed upon price, but I doubt the child of a peasant had ever seen such wealth in his life.

"The sword?" said I, referring to his end of the bargain.

Never taking his eyes from the jewels in from of him, he reached beneath his worn cloak and produced a magnificent shortsword. The blade shone with its sharpness even in the dull light of the tavern. The hilt had a few gems set within, paltry things to the untrained eye, but priceless to an expert. The gems, however, drew one's eyes away from the several runes carved into the hilt and blade. Again, paltry to the untrained, but it radiated power to those who knew what to look for. I reached out to take a hold of it. Arol kindly obliged.

Arol scooped up the gems and placed them in his pouch. As he rose to leave, I motioned him to stop. Sitting back down, he looked at me curiously.

"Sit," I said, producing a bottle of wine that had been on the seat next to me. "We have a platter of fine food and fine wine. Sit, and enjoy the meal. I will tell you about myself."

Arol sat and began to eat some of the meat. His hunger was apparent, so I poured him a glass of wine to wash down the spices that burned his palate. He thanked me as he finished his glass.

"What is your name?" asked the youth, ignorant of dealings such as ours. I decided, however, to indulge him. I removed my knife from its sheath and showed to him

"I've had this knife for as long as I can remember. It is made out of a dragon's tooth. It is the only link to my past that I have. I never knew my father, but I think this was his. My mother died before I could speak, so I never learned what my name was supposed to be. Orphaned and on the street, I made a name for myself. Longtooth, they call me. They named me after my knife.

"I suppose you can't understand what it's like to grow up alone on the streets of the city. To survive, one must be willing to do anything, and I mean anything. I turned to picking pockets early. After 11 summers that I remember, I was a thief extraordinare. I could walk into a crowd and walk out rich. But always there was someone bigger. They would take from me the gold and gems for my "protection". The bastards."

As he sipped another cup, I sheathed my knife and took out a gem of the purest quality. I let the torchlight of the tavern shine in every facet as I held in before him. He stared at it, entranced, as I continued.

"Since before I can remember, I liked gems. Somehow, their beauty just always entices me. It is that enticement that led me to my first burglary. I sneaked into the jewel shop late at night and filched a few gems, all without getting caught. By now I had a small reputation. People started coming to me with jobs, with gold or favors as payment. By my 15th summer, I was working almost every night on one job or another. The theivery didn't make me anymore happy, but it kept my belly full and me alive. Then one night, something went wrong.

"I was employed to sneak into a merchant's house and procure some items of interest. My emplyer had told me that the merchant had left. He had not. I snuck into the small mansion, avoiding the guards, but I ran into the merchant just where I was supposed to get the items. As the merchant was about to scream for help, I react. Drawing my knife, I threw it and got him in the throat. He collapsed without a sound. Shaken, I took back my knife, grabbed the items and ran.

"When I rendevoused with my employer, I was half-way tempted to kill him too for endangering me. He approached me and smiled. He then told me that he had planned it all along. He doubled my pay as a result. I realized then that there's more money in assassination than there ever was in burglary. It had been felt... wrong to kill, but I could live with feeling wrong. I couldn't live without food."

Arol still stared at me, enraptured. He still hadn't peiced things together. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost. I decided it was time to cast aside the masquerade.

"Recently, I was approached by a man. He was a very rich merchant. He told me a story. It turns out that his daughter had run away with a little peasant boy. That had angered him, but had that only been it, he would simply let her bespoil herself if she wished. He didn't care for her at all. What he did care about was that she took a priceless sword from him when she ran away. So he hired me. I was to retrieve the sword and kill both his daughter and her lover to send a message that he would not tolerate theft of his property."

Arol started shaking before I was finished. He looked around for something, anything to stop the killer sitting across from him in a dark tavern in a run-down section of the city. I was almost amused by his franticness, but again the pity surged with his ignorance of his fate. I pushed them both away as I calmly told him of his death.

"Don't even try to attack me. You would be dead before you moved an inch. But you're dead already. The wine you drank was poisoned. I would say you have about enough life left in you to make it to your house and see your wife one last time before you die. Run."

He took my advice and bolted out of the tavern. He ran through the streets, the poison slowing his steps and blurring his mind. He managed to find the house that his wife was in before he died. Enterring, he smelled the thick iron smell of blood.

Frantic he ran from room to room, searching. He finally found her. Slipping in blood, he fell without the strength to rise again. Looking up he saw her. Her throat had been slit and she was left lying on the ground, near where he fell. Crawling on his side, tears rolling freely, he pulled himself close enough to kiss her lips one last time and caress her face before the void claimed him.

Emerging from the shadows, I placed the gem I showed him within his pocket. Maybe somebody who cared might find the bodies. The gem should pay for a funeral, not the pretty glass peices I gave him in the bar.

I had trailed him through the streets, and watched from the shadows of his house as he spent his last moments. At the scene of such love, something shifted within me. I ignored it. Somewhere, deep inside me, I wondered if I mourned for the two lovers who I killed, who's only mistake was being born in the wrong families. For an instant I wondered. For an instant.

I pushed aside the emotions, just as I always did. When I died, there would be no mourners. I will be killed like how I killed them. There will be no records of my passing, no fond memories of friends. That is the life I lead. I am alone. I have always been alone. I always will be. That is just the way things are.

I faded back into the shadows.

By Quazi 9/19/99