Year of the Scorpion
by Luna

Chapter Two: Burglarizing For Dummies

"Hmm...might be a problem...Ah, yes! Perfect!" Kirine cooed as she pored over a map of Thanatos's mansion in Southtown. She was planning to break into it in a few days. The evil Imperial sorcerer didn't have any jewels, but he had weapons. A collection of rare, valuable ones that he kept in a secret bunker below the manor. If Kirine could get her hands on the weapons, she would rake in a veritable fortune.

She wasn't going to sell them to a weapon shop, heavens no. Too obvious. She would sell them to the Kingdom of Lorima.

The Kingdom was currently engaged in a bitter rivalry with the Empire, and it was only a matter of time before war broke out. Although an Imperial citizen, Kirine favored the smaller Lorima.

Lorima consisted of two provinces, Tasnica and Pandora, and the capital city of Mandala, which nestled high in the Lofty Mountains between the provinces. The people and their leaders were righteous and good, as opposed to the ruthless, greedy Empire. Kirine was no paragon of virtue herself, but she wasn't evil, either. As soon as she could, she was leaving Gold Isle for a better town. She wasn't sure where she would go, exactly, but she wasn't staying here, that was certain.

Ah, well, back to the here and now. She'd break into Thanatos's weapons storehouse on Friday night. Today was Tuesday. The heist would be completely planned out by Thursday, if she would stop daydreaming.

"Ah, yes, this is it. I should have no problem now."

Slade smiled at the computer screen. Using his considerable skills as a hacker, he'd just successfully broken into Thanatos's private files. The combination for the locked door into the bunker where he kept rare old weapons was staring him in the face. Now it'd be a cinch to get in. All he had to worry about was not being beaten to the treasure by his new rival. It would be a real bother if that happened again. He was planning to sell the weapons on the black market, to the highest bidder. Then he'd use some of the money to make an anonymous donation to Lorima. He lived in the heart of the Empire, but he had no love for the corrupt organization.

In its rivalry with Lorima, the Empire definitely had the advantage. Lorima may have had slightly more advanced firepower, but the Empire had size on its side. Besides Northtown, Southtown, and Gold Isle, there was also the gorgeous capital of Eryn Dior, where the Scorpio family mansion stood. And then there was Sodoh Continent, in thesoutheast corner of the world. There was a beautiful underground city there, as well as the Grand Palace with the Tree Palace atop it.

It was a cool night in late September. A gentle wind was blowing, and the full moon rose high in the sky. Its pale, silvery light shone in the small, high windows in the hall leading to the weapons storehouse.

"Mmm, mmm, mmm." Kirine hummed to herself as she carefully punched in the combination. As usual, she was enjoying her moonlit heist. As usual, Dorian was not.

"Why, in the name of Mana, must you do such weird heists?"

"They're not weird, Dorian, they're creative. Honestly, brother dear, what kind of thief would I be if I just picked pockets? A common, petty one, that's what I'd be. But by being imaginative like this, I have become the queen of thieves."

"Well, could you hurry it up?" Dorian shifted uncomfortably.

"I shouldn't even be doing this, so close to the wedding. Sharlene would never forgive me if I couldn't marry her because I was stuck in an Imperial prison."

Kirine rolled her eyes. "Jeez, you are hopeless!" She made a face. "Not to mention whipped. Don't try to deny it. And I'm appalled that you think there's the slightest possibility we'll get caught. After all, you're with the world's best thief."

"Second best."

The two whirled around to see a tall, dark-haired man dressed all in black standing there. He stepped forward into the moonlight, and Kirine caught her breath, for he was extremely good-looking. He smiled devilishly, and it hit her just who he was.

"You!" she gasped. "It is you, isn't it?!"

His smile widened. "Why, yes it is. I'm glad to see you remember me, Kirine. We meet again."

"How did you know my name? No, never mind that. I don't even want to know. But I do want to know what you're doing here."

"The same thing you're doing here - relieving Thanatos of his weapons. But it appears that you have once again beat me to it." He paused. "You know, now that I think about it, we were never formally introduced. Slade Scorpio, world's number one thief, at your service."

"Number one? Ha! You wish!"

"I know."

"My, my. I see you're as stuck-up as ever. Just so you know, that little kiss was hardly compensation for those gems."

"What?!" Dorian exploded. "He kissed you?!"

"Dorian, not now," Kirine groaned. This was so not the time for him to go into his overprotective little brother mode. "Let's just find out what it'll take to get Mr. Scorpio out of here."

"Call me Slade, please. And since I came all this way and put so time and effort into planning this, there's no way I'm leaving without some of those weapons. Now let's finish opening that door."

Kirine entered the rest of the combination and the door slid open. The three entered silently and began to take their picks. Something glinting in the moonlight caught Kirine's eye. She looked over to see a sparkling silver and platinum glove with sharp spikes on the knuckles sitting on a marble stand. Entranced by it, she walked over to get it. But before she could, Slade scooped it up and slipped it into his long black duster.

"Hey!" she hissed. "I wanted that!"

"Too bad. Here, I'll give you something better, though."

He kissed her again, this time a little longer. Then he was gone, disappearing into the now darkened hallway.

"That, that conceited buffoon!" she fumed. "The nerve of that goon! Can you believe that stuck-up creep?!"

"No, I sure can't," Dorian lied, hiding a smile.

A few days later, Kirine was once again relaxing on her balcony when Dorian came out to announce the arrival of the day's mail.

"Is there anything good this time? And I DON'T want to hear about any stupid party invitations. I will not go to any more of those damn things ever again, for any reason."

"No, no invites. Just a letter for you." He slipped it into her hand and left.

Sitting up, Kirine opened the letter. Her lips parted in surprise as she read it. It was an invitation to a private dinner party at Slade's mansion in Eryn Dior. A shiver went through her as she thought of him. She would never admit it, but she secretly enjoyed the romantic tension between them. She barely knew him, but she already knew that she had never met, or would ever meet, anyone quite like him.

So, to go or not to go? Silly question, really. What choice did she have but to obey the instincts that were telling her to go after this opportunity and not look back?

Kirine walked up the path to the entrance of the beautiful Scorpio mansion with a feeling of anticipation growing in her. She wore a black slipdress, with a long, button-down black and green dress over it. Her hair was pulled back as usual, in a sparkly green scrunchie. Her trademark opals and black boots completed the outfit.

She was met at the door by the butler, who led her up the staircase on the right to a small dining room. Inside, Slade was waiting. "Welcome. I've been waiting for you."

Kirine looked confused. "Um, where are the other guests?"

"There are no other guests. I wanted to see you, and you alone."

"You're a grade-A large weirdo, you know that?"

"I've been told that. Many, many times."

"Join the club. So, why did you invite me here?"

"There's something I want to talk about with you."

"Really? What is it? Or do you even want to talk at all? Do you just want to give me more ‘compensation?'" Kirine sneered.

"As much as I would enjoy that, it's not the reason. Actually, I invited so that we could discuss a business arrangement."

"What do you mean?"

"You're an expert thief. I'm an expert thief. If we worked together, we could be unstoppable. What do you say?"

Kirine had to admit, it sounded intriguing. Slade would be a better partner than Dorian, who was quitting in a couple weeks anyway when he was married. And there was the fact of the romantic tension between them, which would make their partnership very interesting.

Kirine smiled mysteriously. "Tell you what. I'll think about it over dinner. Agreed?"


The first course was soon served, Lullabud salad with Steamed Crab. Then the main course, roast Rabite with wild Mushglooms. And finally, Pumpkin Bomb pie for dessert.

Over it all they traded stories about their many adventures. Slade, Kirine was surprised to learn, had taken up stealing under similar circumstances at the same age, only two years prior to her. His compulsive gambler father had been murdered by one of the many people he owed colossal debts to. His mother had then jumped off one of the two balconies in the front of the manor, rather then face poverty. The debts depleted the entire Scorpio fortune, leaving the newly-orphaned Slade penniless. To make back the money, he turned to thievery, only to find that he had a gift for it, as well as an enjoyment of it. The rest was history.

"An excellent meal, Slade. I don't suppose you'd be willing to let me ‘borrow' your chef?"

"I don't suppose so."

"Oh, well. But anyway, I've thought over your proposal, and well, I've decided to accept."

"You won't regret it."

Kirine smiled. "Yes, I have the distinct feeling that you're right. I have something to ask of you, however."

"What's that?"

"That you be my escort to my brother's wedding in a few weeks."

Slade returned her smile. "I'd be delighted."

The wedding took place on October 13, and a Friday no less. People fretted about bad luck, but it went off without a hitch. And to Kirine and Slade, that was a shame, because it would have been more entertaining with a small disaster or two. As it was, it was frightfully dull.

Bored stiff, Kirine scribbled a note on a napkin and slipped it into Slade's empty glass. He was busy wishing the newlyweds the best, and wouldn't notice her leave. The ceremony had taken place inside the Syrille mansion, and the reception was being held out here in the gardens. Making sure he didn't see her, she slipped away.

Returning to his seat, he noticed a napkin with writing on it stuffed into his glass. Intrigued, he pulled it out and began reading. It was an invitation from Kirine, to meet her in the hidden gazebo in the garden.

Kirine stood up as he entered the gazebo. She looked radiant in her dark-green bridesmaids dress, the only nice bridesmaids dress he'd ever seen. "Hi. I've been waiting for you."

"You wanted to see me?"

"Yeah, I did. Come sit next to me."

He did as he was told. Kirine leaned forward.

"This reception's been awfully dull, hasn't it?"

"Yes. Yes it has."

Kirine smiled and leaned closer. "Why don't I...compensate for it then?"

She kissed him, and he returned it. Thus, their partnership was sealed.

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