It was supposed to be a nice, straightforward job. Go in, get the prize, get out.

Anyone who tells you it was simple doesn’t know a blasted thing. That place had a small army of guards, the best locks money could by, and despite our best efforts, nobody was sure what other tricks might be there. But that’s why they sent me. Maybe some others can open those fancy locks a little faster, or know a bit more about this or that sort of trap, but I had the softest step in the Silken Glove bar Tarvenarr herself, and she’s no locksplitter. I haven’t met a lock yet that I couldn’t open in time or a trap that I couldn’t figure out, and I’ve got just enough magic that even those traps I can deal with. And it isn’t all that long ago that I was lifting purses in the market, and doing quite a good job of it.

So, while the Chancellor was out of the city on business, I went in – ideally to get the job done, since it was the best opportunity we had, but failing that, to case the place. With the Chancellor gone, the guards gone complacent, and the Festival pouring a little more booze into them than normal, if I couldn’t pull it off now, it just might be impossible.

There were lots of guards, yeah, but they were predictable. Slipping past them wasn’t too hard, as long as I paid attention. The first real snag was when I went in through the stable-yard and found that the lock had been picked. Whoever had done it was good, and hadn’t left any visible traces, but opening a lock with a key doesn’t leave one of the tumblers stuck in place. Picking it, on occasion, might – but open it with a key and you’ll almost certainly shake it loose without ever knowing it was otherwise.

So someone had picked this door, probably recently. Haste suddenly became more pressing on my agenda.

I’d got as far as the Chancellor’s vault when I heard movement – soft, stealthy motion. Human ears wouldn’t have caught it; mine barely did. I pulled away from the door and into the shadows, and then my competitor appeared. Black cloth hid everything but brown eyes, and was just barely snug enough to identify a human female. She set to inspecting the same door I’d just withdrawn from.

I knew what she’d find, though. I took a chance, and crept forward again.

People can do odd things when startled; even a thief might cry out. So I made sure to cover her mouth first, and was vindicated by a soft noise against my palm. “If you don’t want every guard in the place to find us,” I said, “both those locks need to open at once. Nod if you understand, and I’ll let you go.” And after a tense moment, she nodded.

And none too soon; the patrols would be back this way soon. I went to the other side of the door with my picks, to the other lock some seven feet away. I’d been planning to wedge one open and give it a magical twist when I was ready with the other, but if I could avoid using magic, so much the better.

I worked my way through seven tumblers, felt the cylinder start to turn, and paused to look over. Before I could figure out how best to phrase a query, two things, in order, caught my attention. The first was the clank of boots and the rattle of mail coming down the hall; second, her hand shifted slightly, and she looked my way.

I only need one hand to turn a torque wrench. The other I held up, quickly counting down from five. The moment the last finger curled in, I gave the wrench a twist, heard it click and a matching one from the other side, and pushed the door slightly ajar.

The hinges were well-balanced and well-oiled. It didn’t even make a creak as I pushed it open enough to allow passage. I thought about stiffing my unexpected helper, but if the guards found her, all she had to do was say I was in the vault and I’d meet the headsman with her.

So there we were, locked in the vault. That didn’t worry me; when the bell tolled for the change of guard I knew there’d be an opportunity to slip out, even if the entrances would be a nightmare. But that wouldn’t be for hours yet, and I had a rival in there with me.

“I don’t know who sent you, cat,” she hissed into my ear, “but if you’re here for the deed we’re going to have a problem.”

“Keep your paper,” I said. “What I’m after has a bit more sparkle to it.” One thing I’ve learned is to never go for documents if you don’t have a buyer already; it’s just not worth it.

So that was that. The Silken Glove brought back Lady Caneldi’s diadem as we’d been asked, and the Silent Step snagged the deed to the Clearwater Meadery. And there we were. Trapped for the next four hours. Hoping some cautious steward didn’t check on the place in the meantime.

“You’re shaking,” she said, touching my shoulder.

“I’ll deal with it,” I snapped back. If she thought a bit of nerves made me too weak for the job…

“That’s not what I mean,” she soothed. Her hand slid over my chest, smoothing down my fur, and may the Dark Lady steal my eyes if it wasn’t a lover’s touch. “We might as well distract each other for a while, hmm?” And she stroked over my loincloth in that same inviting way, finding me already responding.

Well… that was another beast entirely, wasn’t it?

There was even a huge pile of silks in there. A bit haphazard for a bed, but the deep blue offset her pale skin and golden hair nicely, even in the vault’s dim light. And there was plenty for me to sink my claws into when it came time to slide into her, puncturing a few more layers each time I shot into her sex. Why worry about the silk? No thief was going to take something that bulky.

And when she convulsed around me, gripping my shoulders – well, I almost thought she’d grown claws herself.

That little interlude, and a few more like it, passed the time quite nicely. Though I don’t think the Chancellor’s going to like finding the deed and diadem gone, and his silks rumpled, torn, and distinctively stained.

Still, we worked well together, Kyleena and I. In more ways than one.

So forget the official story. That is how the Glove and the Step first started collaborating. The first steps in the alliance that’s got this whole city in its collective pocket happened right on that blue silk in the Chancellor’s vault.

Maybe I’ll have someone buy it from him some day. If she hasn’t.