Sira was going to kill him.
That was what she decided as she crouched on the edge of the building, her thoughts as dark as the shadows that cloaked her body. She watched as Gwevor–the man who’d betrayed her family–walked below her, oblivious to the furry hovering above him. It would be simple to jump. Sira could almost hear her blade sliding into the vertebrae of Gwevor’s neck, killing him even as her boots drove his corpse into the ground. Then she’d dispatch the guards walking beside him. She’d continue on, pursuing every last soul on these forsaken grounds until she reached their leader. It would be so easy.
Zarto’s voice held her back. The common thug will kill out of compulsion, the petty criminal because it’s necessary, but a Master Thief needs no such recourse as their existence is never known.
Besides, Gwevor could do more damage dead than alive. Until her family’s honor was restored, Sira couldn’t risk putting such a permanent card into play.
Gwevor vanished from sight along with his guards, unaware of how narrowly he’d escaped death. Rage nearly chocked her and it took all of Sira’s willpower to tear her gaze away and refocus on the layout of the grounds.
Fallow Reach was the headquarters of the East Division Guard who patrolled the Flat Lands to insure that the Pale Kingdom wasn’t taken by surprise from their closest neighbor, the Kingdom of Underwood. Aside from a scattering of lone villages, there was little reason for thieves to be out here. As a result of that–and being a military fort–Fallow Reach was a novice thief’s dream come true. Rough stone walls, narrow alleys, and tiered buildings made it laughably easy to get to anywhere within the complex.
Sira stood. She pulled her hood forward, insuring that her pale blond hair was covered. Her vivid green eyes remained fixated on a tower that rose in the distance. In the twilight hour the structure was cloaked in gloom and barely visible. Most thieves struck in the dead of night to make full use of the cover of darkness, but this particular time had its advantages. It was close enough to night to still conceal a person, but near enough to dawn that motion at a window wouldn’t instantly draw suspicion. As Sira watched a lit candle was placed on a window sill of the fifth floor. It was placed on the right.
Sira took off. She raced along the edge of the roof, keeping her strides short and even. When she reached the edge of the building she leapt, sailing across empty air. Sira got a brief glimpse of the muddy ground far below before she landed on the opposite roof. She crouched briefly to insure her balance and moved on.
The mid-summer heat made the air feel like thick cotton and it wasn’t long before Sira broke into a sweat. She ignored it, focusing instead on leaping from roof to roof, angling her way closer to the tower. Within a few minutes she reached her final stretch, a rectangular building the creeped past its brethren.
Sira leapt onto it and slowed. She slipped her gloved hands–which were missing the finger tips–into adjacent pouches on her belt. She removed them and shook her hands, shedding excess powder. A dark grey concoction of her own making, it allowed Sira to get a better grip on walls, leaving behind little residue. Whatever marks it made would degrade within five minutes of contact with the air.
Brash, ruff voices barreled down the street along with the heavy clank of metal. It was one of the first patrols and they were heading in Sira’s direction. She couldn’t afford to stop, not with her narrow window of opportunity.
Sira raced forward even as she placed her feet as quietly as possible The patrol was close enough that she could hear snippets of conversation. The edge of the building was ten feet away. This would be close.
Sira launched herself off the edge of the building, arms outstretched. She grabbed the stone wall, pulling her legs up just as her body swung into the tower. Her boots got there first, hitting the wall with a soft thump. Sira winced but remained silent. She clung tightly to the tower and glanced down.
The patrol she’d heard turned onto the street and headed Sira’s way. A dozen men in armor, they marched along in two orderly rows, their apparent discipline marred by lewd discussions of several serving girls. Their captain said nothing. A grizzled veteran who looked like he’d seen it all, the man appeared to be wishing that the day was already over. Sira watched them. The men marched down the road, passing directly under her without glancing up. They turned onto a street that lead to the stables and vanished.
Sira returned her attention to the wall and started to climb. In less than a minute she reached the window that was below and to the right of the one with the candle. She tested it. It was locked. Sira pulled a thin strip of metal from her boot and slid it beneath the window pain, directing it toward the locking mechanism. It gave with a slight snick. She returned the metal strip to her boot and opened the window. Sira slipped in as silently as a wraith, shutting and locking the window behind her.
“Took you long enough,” a deep voice said. “Perhaps you’re loosing you’re touch.”
Sira turned to see Rentel, another Master Thief, lounging against the opposite wall. Clad in dark clothing like herself, Rentel had allowed his hood to fall down around his neck, revealing a face that made most women swoon. Sira wasn’t sure if it was the smoldering heat in those dark blue eyes, or his sensual lips, but she’d seen him use both to devastating effect on more than one occasion.
“I was about to ask you the same question,” she replied. Were you taking your sweet time, or did you forget your instructions?”
“Neither,” he replied. “I passed by a maid in dire need of attention, but unable to reveal myself, I watched her wander about, looking for someone to ease her loneliness.”
“Of course you did,” Sira replied dryly. “Because hitting on every harlet in your immediate vicinity while working is acceptable.”
Rentel strode forward until they were inches apart. His intense gaze sparked a slow burning sensation in her stomach that flowed outwards. Sira gave him a sultry smile and he chuckled.
“You know,” he said quietly. “Business doesn’t always have to be separate from pleasure.”
This time it does, Sira thought.
“Come. We have work to do.” Sira headed down the stairs. “I trust that you cleared the tower as well as the entrance.”
“Of course.” Rentel’s voice floated over Sira’s shoulder, the only indication that he’d followed. “It’s sole purpose is to store weapons and gear in need of repair by slack jawed recruits. There were a couple on the top floor by the way.”
“You took care of them?” Sira continued down the stairs. They were almost to the cellar.
Rentel snorted. “Of course. Spiked their drink with what you provided and they’re sleeping like babes. Satisfied?”
Sira opened the cellar door, pushing it with her fingers. It swung forward soundlessly. She strode forward, hearing Rentel shut the door behind them. By the time he got back to her, Sira had the trap door opened. She leapt in and started walking.
“Slow down Sira.” Rentel closed the entrance behind them and hurried to catch up. “It’s not like making your way in pitch darkness is easy.”
“We’re on a limited time table,” Sira replied. “And I have these tunnels memorized.”
Rentel snorted, but said nothing. Sira focused her attention on their path, marking it off in her mind. The tunnels were part of an old ruin that had existed long before the rise of the Pale Kingdom. Many had either been destroyed or closed off when Fallow Reach had been built, but a few had been maintained by the guard in the event that the fortress was ever invaded.
Sira forced herself to stand upright despite the heavy stone walls that pressed down on her. The thick air slid across her skin, bringing with it the scent of mildew and stagnant water. A cobweb caught on her finger. Sira flicked it off and kept going.
Ten minutes later they arrived at a pair of moss-slick steps that led to a grooved section of wall. Sira reached the top of the steps and pulled a hidden latch. The wall slid back with a soft scrape, revealing a closet complete with shoes, clothes, and a suit of armor.
Sira strained her hearing. Nothing. She snaked out her hand and pushed the door open far enough to see inside the room. It was empty.
“I thought this was supposed to be quick,” Rentel muttered.
“Speed must be tempered with caution,” Sira replied. She slipped past the object without disturbing them and stepped into the room. “And close the entrance while your at it.”
“I’ll close it if you stop quoting Zarto,” Rentel said, even as he complied.
Sira ignored him and focused on their surroundings. The trappings of extreme wealth permeated the room. Thick velvet carpets, rich tapestries, and ornately decorated furniture was arranged with military precision. For Sira, it was of little importance as the true value–and her goal–lay within the vault built into the other side of the wall. A large metal door, it could only be opened by a series of levers on either side pulled in the correct sequence. They were to far apart for one person to manage which was why she’d inlisted a partner.
Sira gestured Rentel to the set on the righ. She headed to the ones on the left, staying far enough from the dying embers in the fireplace that her shadow wouldn’t flicker against the windows. She reached her set of levers just and Rentel reached his. He nodded and she pulled the first one.
It gave with a soft snick. Rentel pulled one on his side and Sira did the same. They went back and forth for several minutes, alternating their actions. Sometimes a single lever was pulled and sometimes several. Some were pulled up while others went down. It reminded Sira of those complicated dances that she’d learned as a girl where working in a dizzying tandem was required, and one misstep would prove fatal.
After what felt like an eternity the vault opened with a slight snick. Sira grabbed the door and pushed, putting her weight behind it. It wasn’t until Rentel joined her and heaved. With a muffled groan the value door swung open, revealing the interior.
Ten by fifteen feet, the vault held little. Several bags of coins, a few antique items, and stacks of documents lined the sparse shelves. Sira made her way to the back of the vault where a marble pedestal had been placed. An ebony box lay upon it, inlaid with silver and precious gems. Ancient writing that she didn’t recognize had been carved onto the lid.. Sira opened the box far enough to see that the jewel–known as the Star of Twilight–was still inside. She closed the lid before the gems iridescent light could spill forth and draw Rentel’s attention.
Sira slipped the box into a satchel slung over her shoulder. She readjusted it, insuring that it was concealed by her cloak, before turning around. Rentel was already standing by the door, one of the sacks of money tied to his belt. Sira scowled.
“Do you want us to be caught,” she demanded.
“Relax Sira,” he replied. “I’m quieter than you think and no one will hear us, considering where we’re going. Not to mention, it’ll make your theft look like an accident, rather than an act of deliberence.”
Silently, Sira cursed, both because Rentel was right and because he’d realized how important this item was to her. He may even have figured out that this wasn’t a typical job. All the more reason to leave.
Sira slipped past him. They shut and locked the vault before leaving. Not through the hidden entrance, but out the door that led to the buildings interior.
Sira shut the door silently and glanced around. They were in a long hall, barely visible by the candles burning in their holders. Despite the weak light, she could see the doors that occurred at regular intervals. This entire hall belonged to one man and it would be at least ten minutes before the servants showed up–longer before the owner did. If they hurried, no one would see them.
Sira slipped down the hall, spotting and avoiding areas that creaked. Rentel was almost as stealthy, the faint clink of silver excluding him from utter silence. It really wasn’t that loud, but Sira had to clench her hands to avoid snatching the bag off Rentel’s belt.
“So,” he said, as they reached the lone door at the end of the hall. “What’s in the box?”
“None of your business.” Sira heard the faint sound of voices from beyond, but it was to be expected. “You know the Thieves’ Law as well as I.”
The Thieves’ Law was actually a series of laws that governed their trade. Truthfully, they were little more than suggestions, but were followed to keep things civil and the first was abundantly clear; Know only what you need to for you’re own profit. In their world there were times where the less you knew the better. Rentel seemed to either forget that, or not care.
And he kept talking.
“Doesn’t mean I’m not curious.” Rentel tried to open the door, but Sira beat him to it.
“Curiosity killed the cat,” Sira countered.
She opened the door and slipped into another hall. Unlike the one preceding it, this one had neither doors nor stairs. There were a series of windows on the left. Designed to so that they looked upon the room below without themselves being seen, they were perfectly situated for spying.
“That’s an old wives tale,” Rentel said, walking beside her. “For women that have nothing better to do than talk.”
“Then you should fit right-”
A deep, booming voice interrupted her. Sira whipped her head around to the windows where the voice came again.
“Gwevor, my friend! How good of you to come.”
Sira strode to the central window and peered into the room below. A dining hall greeted her where soldiers milled about. Most were either wrapping up their meal, or already leaving, but Sira didn’t care. She only had eyes for the two men in the center.
The first was Gwevor, who bowed to a man clad in light armor and furs. Rings adorned his fingers which glittered in the torchlight. Rich mahogany locks cascaded from a strong, well formed face that Sira might’ve considered handsome–if she wasn’t busy cursing him to the Void. His name was Altan; Guard Captain of Fallow Reach, second son of the House of Xaft, and the bastard whose plot had nearly ruined her family.
Sira had a familiar, nearly overwhelming compulsion to leap down there, blade in hand, and kill the two men–damn whatever happened to her. But if she did that, the box and its contents would remain within Fallow Reach.
Her family would be destroyed.
Sira watched the two men converse, undoubtedly speaking about the stolen item in the vault. They’d probably go and check on it soon. The two Master Thieves need to be long gone before then.
Rentel peered over her shoulder. “Friends of yours?”
“Forget about it.” Sira stepped around him and headed for the skylight. “Let’s just go.”
“That’s a remarkable level of restraint,” Rentel said. “Considering what Lord Altan did to your family.”
Sira paused. She slid on the balls of her feet until she was facing Rentel. He stared at her.
“Care to repeat that,” she said quietly.
“I’ve known for years, Sira,” Rentel told her. “You’re name is common in the Merchant Quarter, but not common enough. And its our trade’s business to know about the nobles of the Pale Kingdom.”
“Our business,” Sira asked. “Or yours?”
She approached Rentel, a flirtatious smile on her face. Rentel leaned against the wall and shrugged his shoulders, his eyes never leaving hers.
“Can’t it be both? I kept you’re secret because you wanted it that way. Plus, you’re not the only person with a grudge against the Xaft family.”
“Is that so,” Sira asked, a playful note in her voice.
She stopped just in front of Rentel who reached out and grabbed her. Sira let him, molding herself around him. Desire sparked within her, fanned by the heat she could feel in Rentel’s body. Sira ran a finger along his jawline, letting her eyes shine with the same level of hunger. Rentel pushed himself off the wall so that he could pull her closer. The hand on her back slipped down to her butt, sending an electric shock up her spine. Rentel slipped his other hand into her hood to cup her face, sliding his thumb over the sensitive spot behind her jaw that only he knew. The effect caused Sira to straighten as a tight, pleasurable sensation ran through her body. She smiled, letting her hand resting on his stomach to drift lower. Rentel gasped and she chuckled.
“I’m still waiting for an answer,” she breathed into his ear. “Or perhaps you’re hoping for gratitude, so that you can bed a noble.”
“Haven’t I done that already,” he asked.
Sira took his lips in hers. An explosion of taste burst across her tongue. Her senses sharpened and Sira became hyperaware of everything, especially where Rentel touched her. Sira’s effect on him was similar. Rentel pulled Sira more tightly to him, burying his hand into her carefully arranged hair. He pressed his mouth tightly against hers and pushed Sira backwards until she hit the wall. Sira ignored the box pressing into her back and held Rentel’s tunic as he touched her in every way he knew.
The two of them broke away from each other, each breathing hard. Sira watched as Rentel struggled for control, clearly fighting the urge to kiss her again and perhaps, to go farther.
“By the Eternal Light,” he said. “You’ll be the ruin of me Sira.”
“That is true,” she agreed. “Which is what makes this unfortunate.”
Sira shoved Rentel away and kicked him. The blow took him in the chest, driving him backwards. He hit the window ledge and fell through. Sira dashed forward just as Rentel crashed into one of the tables. It snapped, sending a hail of food into the air. Plates and goblets clattered to the ground, spilling their contents amongst the shocked soldiers. The bag of silver Rentel had been carrying broke, scattering silver across the floor.
An utter silence descended on the hall. Gwevor and Lord Altan–who’d been on their way out–turned to stare at the commotion. Rentel groaned.
The shout from their captain prompted the other soldiers to action. They swarmed Rentel who disappeared beneath a mass of armored bodies. Sira turned and broke into a jog. Five feet from her exit she jumped. Sira pushed off the wall and grabbed the lip of the skylight. With a grunt she pulled herself up and opened it, clambering onto the roof. She took a quick stock of her surroundings and took off.