Sira slid the window to her rented room open and slipped inside. It was sparsely decorated with a threadbare bed, a single chair, and her pack. Just the type of place a traveling worker would be given. The first faint stirrings of movement drifted through the air. Most would be the inn’s staff preparing for the day, while some of the residents would be rising to leave early.

Sira moved to the foot of her bed and crouched, drawing her knife. With quick, efficient movements, she pried the nails from the floorboards, careful to leave no signs of damage. She picked up the board, revealing the space beneath.

Sira quickly disrobed and placed her clothing and other items in neat piles within the space. The satchel went last. She was loath to let it out of her sight, but it would not do for it to be discovered during a potential search, least of all in her possession. Sira placed the floorboard back over the hole and used the hilt of her knife to push the nails back into place. When she was done, their was no sign that the floor had ever been disturbed.

Sira crossed to the bed where a brown mop of hair stuck out just beyond the rumpled blanket. She pulled it back to reveal a whig sitting atop a pillow and several folded sheets. She slipped the knife under her pillow, exchanging it for a threadbare sleeping gown. The cloth slid roughly against her skin as she slipped it on, but wasn’t untowardly uncomfortable. The whig followed, concealing her pale hair and giving her a radically different appearance.

With her disguise complete, Sira rearranged the covers and slipped into bed. Despite being up half the night, she was strumming with impatience. The Pale City was nearly four leagues away. If she didn’t get back by nightfall, then her family was doomed, and this excursion would’ve been for nothing. Sira forced herself to remain calm. She’d planned this job well and would get back in time. Besides, it would be at least two hours before she could leave without suspicion and she’d need her strength.

Sira turned on her side and watched the first faint rays of dawn slip through her window. As she closed her eyes and snuggled deeper into the bed, her mind drifted back to Rentel.

The two of them had met almost a decade prior, shortly after her mother’s death. Sira had been stealing for a few years at that point. It had been a way to exercise some control over her life when everything was dictated to her by her father. At that point however, it had been a way to inflict pain on others. Sira went for items that couldn’t be easily hid, targeted people that wouldn’t necessarily be cowed by her noble status. Her actions may have eventually come to her father’s attention if not for a fateful theft.

A man named Zarto Yursel–a well known garment maker–came to the family estate, having been hired to produce new outfits for the entire family in preparation for the upcoming Yuel Ball. While there, Sira had overheard servants whispering that Zarto was courting a young merchant’s daughter from the Emerald Isles, and that he’d recently purchased a very expensive diamond necklace for his soon to be bride.

That night Sira set out. She’d subtly coerced the location of Zarto’s house from Evin who’d been strutting like a peacock since the Lady Felicia had promised to see him after he’d given her a dress made by the same man. Sira had arrived at the house around midnight. A two story house of white granite with a high wall and thorn bushes growing at the spiked tops, it was designed to deter thieves. That didn’t stop Sira who managed to climb the wall, carefully get over the top, and slip to the ground.

The back door to was meant to be a challenge. A complicated series of locks greeted Sira, made by the most skilled workers in the city. If you didn’t pick them in the right order the locks would seal themselves. If you were especially unlucky and the locks had been enchanted, you’d be frozen in place until a sorcerer could be retrieved to free you. Sira, would studied locks such as these extensively, smile. She’d pulled out her set of lock picks and within half an hour got the door open.

She’d tiptoed inside, sticking to the darkest shadows as she moved about. Sira knew that Zarto was most likely home and that the jewel was either in his sleeping quarters, or in a safe located somewhere in his house. Sira decided to check for a safe first. Remembering that her father had a small one in his study, she’d made her way toward an open door not far from the kitchen. A work room based on what she could see, there were also rows of books. When Sira entered she spotted a safe in the far corner, partially obscured by a window curtain. She moved toward it.

What Sira hadn’t realized was that the window that belonged to the curtain was open which was unusual considering the winter chill that lingered in the air outside. She’d been halfway across when a shape rose from behind the desk. Sira had instinctively lashed out. She’d tackled the person, hitting the desk before they both tumbled to the ground. Items crashed around them. The person, a boy she saw, shoved her off and grabbed something from the floor. A brief flicker of moonlight had revealed a diamond necklace. Sira had been outraged. Someone was stealing her mark!

Sira tackled the boy. She got on top of him and began punching wildly. The boy held up one hand to ward off her blows while the other clutched the necklace protectively to his chest. He managed to grab one of Sira’s arms, halting her strikes. He planted his feet on her stomach and heaved. Sira flew over his head and landed on the floor. She rolled back to her feet and grabbed him, but the boy didn’t go down. They struggled for several minutes, grappling with each other, but neither gaining an advantage.

Without warning Sira was lifted off of her feet. Her cloak bit into her neck as she was pulled upwards. Struggling and squirming, she came face to face with the man she’d intended to steal from. Zarto Yurel. Fear clawed at her stomach as she realized that she’d been caught. Sira’s only consolation is that the other boy–who was also being held by his collar–who’d be punished as well, although as a noble, her punishment would be less severe.

As it had turned out, that wouldn’t be her fate, nor the boy whose name Sira would later learn was Rentel. Zarto was a Master Thief, one of the few individuals who’d elevated their trade to an art form and who frequently were hired by the noble families who constantly jockeyed for power and leverage over each other. There would be victim had been impressed by the skill they’d shown and wanted to train both of them to be Master Thieves. They’d accepted. Over the next three years Sira and Rental had trained together. Sira wasn’t sure if Zarto didn’t recognize her from her family’s estate, or if he decided to keep her noble status to himself, but he never suggested that she was anything that what she claimed–an orphaned child apprenticed to a shop owner in the Merchant Quarter. Rentel–who’d grown up in the slums–took the story at face value.

Over the next three years the two of them trained together, developing a strong attraction to each other. Rentel was different than the parade of noble men that Sira had seen. Confident in himself without needing to prove anything, blunt, and who saw woman as more than living ornaments–he’d developed an irreversible hold on Sira’s attention. When she was sixteen and had completed her training by breaking into an unbreakable vault, she’d taken Rentel back to her hideout to celebrate. They’d been drinking wine when he’d kissed her, awakening feelings inside Sira that she’d never thought she had. It hadn’t taken long for them to get to her bed and they’d been lovers ever since.

A sharp pang pulsed near her heart, drawing Sira’s attention back to the present. She rubbed her chest slightly and sighed. Even if Rentel hadn’t been a commoner, her father would never have approved of a union, not unless it brought a substantial political advantage. When Sira married, it would be at her father’s decree, and–as a result–she’d wanted to hold onto Rentel as long as possible. Which made what had happened unfortunate, but necessary. She couldn’t risk a connection being made between Lady Sira Ta’hareen and Sira the Master Thief. If Rentel had kept his mouth shut, he’d be here now.

And Sira would have someone to warm her bed.