Year of the Scorpion
by Luna

Chapter One: Hijinx

"One, two...three! Got it!"

Kirine Syrille sighed in obvious pleasure as the safe opened. It was a warm July night in the Imperial City of Northtown, and she was inside the lavish mansion of Count Dusell, relieving him of his late wife's priceless jewelry. For Kirine, there was no better way to spend the evening.

Her younger brother Dorian, however, was having considerably less fun. "C'mon, Kirine. Just hurry up. This is an occupied house, you know."

"Which makes it all the more fun."

"To some people. Not all."

"Oh, Dorian, don't be such a spoilsport. If you're not having fun you shouldn't even come with me. Where's your sense of adventure, anyway? If I stuck to robbing empty houses, it would be too easy, and, therefore, boring. Like I always say, there's nothing like a good challenge!"

Pulling open the safe door, her emerald-green eyes lit up in admiration at the sight of the gems. There were diamonds, rubies, pearls, aquamarines, and her personal favorite, opals. Those she would keep, for they were cut exceptionally good. She'd pop the rocks and fence the rest of tonight's haul. And what a great haul it was, indeed. Loading the jewels into her bag, Kirine carefully closed the safe. "Okay, worrywart. How much time do we have?"

Dorian checked his watch. "About three minutes."

"Good. Let's go."

Leaving the way they came, the two thieves crept out of the mansion and climbed into hover-limo they'd arrived in. Kirine insisted on riding in style.

The next day, she slipped into her disguise to fence the jewelry. Her long, straight black hair was hidden under a curly blond wig, her creamy white skin camouflaged under thick tan foundation. She changed her green eyes to brown, and heavily padded her slim five foot nine frame.

"Ah, Dora! Always nice to see you!" The jeweler eyed what he thought was her real figure appreciatively.

Dora was the name she'd chosen for the persona she adapted when fencing gems. It would never do to use her real name and appearance, since she came from a prominent family on Gold Isle. Her parents may have been dead, but she and Dorian were still well known.

"Hello, Mr. Baretz. Nice to see you too. It just so happens I've got some prize rocks for you today."

"Really? Well, that just makes my day!"

The look in his eyes told her what else would make his day. Trying not to shudder, she laid the previous night's haul on the counter.

"Wowee! Those are some beauties you got there, love. How much you want for them?"

"How's a cool five million sound?"

"Four."

"Four point nine."

"Point five."

"Point seven."

"Done."

Collecting her money, Kirine strolled out of the seedy shop. Within minutes she was on a ferry back to Gold Isle. Once home, she removed her disguise and put on a long, loose black t-shirt and green leggings and flopped down on the luxurious couch on the balcony of her bedroom overlooking the lush gardens of the Syrille family estate.

She'd turned thief at seventeen, when her parents had died in a boating accident. A sudden storm had come up while they were enjoying the waters just off the island, and their yacht had capsized. Unbeknownst to anyone, Cecil Syrille's excessive gambling had depleted the family fortune, leaving Kirine and Dorian orphaned, penniless, and deep in debt. To save herself and her brother from being homeless as well, Kirine took up thievery and, in a few month's time, had made enough to pay off the debts and support them for the rest of their lives. She could stopped then, but she had discovered a talent, and a deep love for the life of a thief, so she continued on. That was seven years ago. She was now an expert thief, taking on the most daring heists. She was no ordinary thief, though. No, she was far more creative and ambitious. She considered it an art, a fine one that those practicing it must be careful to keep refined and never stoop to things like picking pockets. To her, such things were low, petty, unimaginative.

Kirine took a sip of the iced tea the maid had brought up, then settled back down and closed her eyes. It was a nice day, not too warm, with lots of cool breezes. Lying in the shade, she breathed in the sweet fragrance of the orchids and gardenias growing below.

"Mail's here, sis."

"Anything interesting?" Kirine asked, not even bothering to open her eyes.

"A party invitation."

"Uh, I don't think you heard me, Dorian. I wanted to know if there was anything INTERESTING." Growing up here on Gold Isle as the daughter of a rich nobleman, she had had quite enough of the stuffy parties thrown by rich aristocrats here. She only attended a few sporadically to keep up her image as a pampered, slightly eccentric socialite, so as not to tip anyone off about her preferred "nightlife." Plus, it was a great way to scope out potential targets.

"Oh, I think you'll find this one fascinating."

"And why, pray tell, is that?"

"Because it's a masquerade party at Lady DeRinne's."

"Countess Rosalie DeRinne?" Kirine sat up straight, interested now. "What night?"

"The thirty-first."

"Ah, the night I was going to hit her house. Well, this certainly is an interesting twist. I'll just have to rob her during the party."

"You wouldn't!"

"I would, and I will. I love surprises, I really do. This should be the most fun I've had in months. I can't wait!"

Weeks later, Kirine sat in her room, getting ready for the party. She would be going as a sorceress, wearing a long robe made up of lots of sheer, shimmery, floaty layers of blue, green, and purple. Her long hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail that fell to below her waist, with many shorter layers hanging free to frame her lovely face. An orchid perched above her left ear, and a black silk half-mask completed the outfit.

Dorian was going as a Dark Stalker. He was taking his fiancÚ, Sharlene Faris, who would be dressed as the Water Elemental Undine. Kirine's only escort, however, would be the burglar's tools concealed in her cleverly sewn costume.

Dorian rapped on her bedroom door. "It's time, Kirine. Are you ready?"

"In a minute," she called. She put on the necklace and earrings she'd made from the Count Dusell's opals and joined her brother.

Slade Scorpio was bored. He still had another half hour to kill before he snuck into the Countess's bedroom and relieved her of her jewels. He had a feeling it would be one of the longest thirty minutes in his entire life. With good reason -- this was probably the most dull party he'd ever been to. He'd only come to rob the hostess, which only made it more boring, because he was impatient. And time plods by when you're not having fun.

Barely restraining a yawn, he glanced around at the other guests. As usual, they were all pretty much the same-a bunch of stuffy, pompous snots who probably spent their days counting their money. Dullsville, Slade thought with distaste. Total dullsville. They're all the same.

Or maybe not. As he scanned the crowd, he spotted someone he'd often heard about, but never met -- the eccentric young heiress Kirine Syrille. He'd always wanted to meet her, but had never been able to. She was a beautiful, intelligent woman, always traveling and seemingly richer after each trip.

Impatiently checking her watch, Kirine was dismayed to find that she still had twenty-five minutes to go before she looted Countess DeRinne's safe. The party had proved to be as excruciatingly dull as all the others she'd been to throughout her entire life. Nobody here was the least bit interesting. Of course, she hadn't really expected otherwise.

"Excuse me?"

Kirine turned around. A tall man with dark brown, almost black hair and pale blue eyes was standing there. He was dressed all in black, and wore the same half-mask she did. "Yes?" she inquired.

"May I have this dance?"

Kirine smiled flirtatiously. "Why, certainly." He took her hand and led her to the dance floor.

As they danced, Kirine found herself being more and more hypnotized by her partner. She couldn't tell exactly what he looked like because of the mask, but something in his eyes mesmerized her.

They danced again and again, until she realized it was almost time. Politely excusing herself, she hurried off, leaving her partner confused.

In the darkened bedroom, Kirine took out her burglar's tools and went to work on the safe. Within a few minutes she'd broken the lock. Opening it, she at first could only stare at the treasures inside, particularly a necklace of gorgeous emeralds set in platinum. Those she would definitely keep.

Slipping soundlessly into the room, Slade was surprised to see that his lovely dance partner was busy robbing the safe he had planned to break into right now. But instead of being angry, he was quite amused at the situation and decided to make the best of it.

"Someone's been very, very naughty."

Kirine whirled around to see the man she'd danced with standing behind her with a devilish smile on his face. For a moment she panicked, but then it hit her.

"Me?! What about you? You're not supposed to be in here either! What are you doing?" "I was supposed to be robbing the Countess DeRinne's safe, but you obviously beat me to it. But since it would be a shame to leave empty-handed, I'll just take this for my trouble."

Reaching past her, he plucked something from the safe. Kirine's eyes widened as she realized what it was: the emerald necklace she'd coveted.

"Hey!" she protested. "Give me that and take something else. I was going to keep that!"

"Sorry, my love, but no can do- it's my favorite piece of the collection. Take this as compensation, though."

He then kissed her, slow and hot. Then he let her go and slipped out of the room. Recovering, Kirine fumed.

"Why, that stuck-up goon!" she hissed as she emptied the rest of the safe into her costume. "The nerve of him, thinking a little kiss will compensate for something that valuable!"

She left the party, hoping to catch up with him, but he was long gone. Frustrated, she got in her hover-limo and went home.

Don't worry, she told herself as she climbed into bed. You'll get better jewels. You will.

The next day, she told Sharlene about her encounter.

"Oooh!" Sharlene gasped. "It sounds exciting. Not to mention wonderfully romantic."

"Romantic?!" Kirine exclaimed, incredulous. "There was nothing romantic about it. That stupid, selfish, conceited jerk actually thought that his kiss was adequate compensation for those jewels! I still can't believe the nerve of that blowhard!"

Sharlene gaped at her. "Are you for real, Kirine? You'd rather have jewels than a kiss?"

"You can't WEAR a kiss, or sell it. They have no monetary value at all."

Sharlene shook her head, disgusted. "That's it. I've heard enough. You are without a doubt the most unromantic person I have ever met."

"Ask me if I care."

"No thank you, Coldheart, I won't bother- I already know the answer. Come on, Dorian, or we'll be late for lunch with the Woodlins," she called. The two left the house. Kirine just sat there. Sharlene's words had stung her. "Coldheart"? she thought. Am I really cold? No, I can't be. I just can't be. I can't.

Oh, well. Romance didn't really interest her anyway. She was too young to be tied down. She still couldn't believe that Dorian was going to get married in a few months. At twenty-four, she couldn't even begin to imagine herself in any kind of serious relationship. He was a year younger than her, and he was going to tie the noose!

Weird, she thought. I'm surrounded by weirdos. Oh, well, at least my life is pretty normal.

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