Chapter Four: Seeds of a Plan
"Okay, this is what we want," Kia said as they went over the plans again. "We need battle strategies, weaknesses, technology reports, and who to watch out for."
"Well, for starters stay away from Sheex," Slade grumbled.
Kia laughed. "We'll be sure and do that. You too. Be careful while you're there, eh? The world depends on this."
"We know," Kirine replied.
"All right then. Mana be with you."
"You know, we should have someone to take care of this stuff for us," Kirine commented on their way back to Northtown.
"What do you mean?"
"You know how we have cooks and maids and butlers? Well, sorta like that. People hired to steal for us, kinda like we hire people to cook and clean for us."
"Don't you enjoy doing it ourselves?" Slade asked.
"Well, sure, but if this little operation is successful, it'll be too dangerous to keep doing our jobs ourselves, since we'll be so notorious. If we have people do them for us, it'll be a lot safer."
"Just think about it, okay?"
When they arrived in Northtown, they immediately presented Sheex with the false information Kia had given them. They also pretended to have changed their minds about their allegiance. Sheex was so pleased with the info and their declaration of loyalty that he gave them a week of freedom before he sent them back to Mandala to retrieve more info.
They spent it packing up everything they wanted from Slade's mansion and sending it to wait for them in Mandala. Dorian and Sharlene helped, packing up the Syrille mansion on Gold Isle and sending the stuff to Mandala. They also withdrew all their money and flew to Mandala to deposit it in their banks. Dorian also rented a large townhouse in the mountain city, for them all to live in till they could build new mansions.
They dismissed all but the most loyal of servants, sending those few to meet them in Pandora. Then they would all head up into the mountains.
"Have you heard that they're building some sort of fortress on Sodoh Continent?" Sharlene asked as they ate breakfast the day before they planned to leave.
"No, really? What's it for?" Kirine inquired.
"I don't know. It's gonna be big, though. Emperor Vondale himself is overseeing the construction, along with two of his top lieutenants, the warrior Ghastra and the sorceress Faria. They made everyone in the Underground City move to the other provinces."
"So there'd be room for the people working on it. Only people living there now are workers, scientists, planners, engineers, and of course Vondale, Ghastra, and Faria."
"What of Thanatos, the Emperor's top lieutenant?" Slade asked.
"He stayed here, in Eryn Dior," Dorian told him. "The Emperor put him in charge of the city in his absence. Plus, he thought it would be better for his health."
"His health?" Sharlene asked curiously.
"Yes. People have been saying for the last year that he's not well, and it's true. I saw him last week, and he looked like a walking corpse - literally. His face looked just like a skull."
"Huh. Sounds like his thousand years are almost up," Slade remarked.
"Huh?" Kirine hadn't heard this before. "What do you mean, his thousand years?"
"Thanatos is an ancient sorcerer who sold his heart to the underworld in exchange for immortality. By doing so, he became a demon. And since the essence of demon is an entity, not necessarily a form, he lost his human body and was forced to steal someone else's. Every one thousand years, he must do it again. His powerful life force keeps it alive for that long, but near the end its demonic energy also disintegrates it quicker than age would. Judging by what you told us, Dorian, I'd say it's almost time for the Bodysnatcher, as ancient texts refer to him, to steal a new body."
"Ick." Kirine shuddered. "What an awful thought. Just think, he could snatch the body of someone we know and we'd never be able to tell."
"No, that's wrong," Slade corrected her. "When Thanatos steals a body, you're not looking at the person it was. You're looking at the thing that killed them. All humanity is gone."
"Even creepier," Sharlene declared. "Yuck. I hope something happens to him before he can do that again."
"I wouldn't hold my breath," Slade said dryly.
That night, Kirine and Slade entered Sheex's palace and disabled the security with the codes he'd trustingly, foolishly given them. Then they began making their way to the info center.
"Kirine, I've been thinking," Slade whispered as they once again crept through the dark, silent halls.
"About my idea?"
"Yes, well, that and something else. If we make it out of this I want to get married as soon as possible. What do you say?"
"I say not till we finish our new house, buster! There's no way you're carrying me over the threshold of a rented Mandala townhouse."
"So that'd be a yes, then?" he asked wryly.
"Ha ha. Oh, look, here we are."
Entering the room, Slade quickly retrieved the information they wanted, this time putting it on a disk. Slipping it into their bag, they left. As they exited the room, Slade spotted something written on a nearby door. "Excuse me, I'll be right back," he said as he disappeared into the room.
"Are you nuts?!" Kirine hissed. "Get back here! We haven't much time!"
A moment later, he reappeared with a weapon in his hand and a grin on his face. "Unfinished business," he whispered. Kirine's eyes widened as she recognized the javelin they'd originally come here to steal. After what they'd gone through to get it, the reward had better be worth it.
The next day, Sheex, completely unaware of what had gone down the previous night, wished them well and sent them on their way to Mandala, Dorian and Sharlene following discreetly behind.
Kia was very pleased with what they had brought her. After accepting her generous reward of 35 million GP, they set off for the Water Palace to claim that reward.
"Excuse me, can I help you?" Luka, the keeper of the Palace, walked toward them.
"Yes. We came to return this, actually." Kirine held out the javelin.
Luka looked down at it with some surprise. "Goodness, that's not mine."
"No, it belongs to Undine, the Water Elemental. She lives in a cave under the little waterfall right next to this palace. You'll have to return it to her. Thanks anyway, though."
"No problem." They waded through the shallow water to the cave and went in.
"Halt! Who enters my cave?" Undine appeared before them.
"Kirine Syrille and Slade Scorpio. We came to return this weapon. Luka said it was yours." Kirine handed her the javelin.
"Ah, yes. Not really mine, though. I'm just keeping it for the Mana Knight."
"I won't know until he comes. Now then, I suppose you want the reward promised?"
"If it's not too much trouble."
"It's not. You see, the reward is the ability to use my magic."
"What?" Kirine wasn't sure she'd heard right.
"Yes indeed. Kirine, you shall have my attack magic, Slade my healing/enhancing magic." A bright blue light flashed around them, then was gone. "Now you have my magic. All your descendants shall be able to use it too."
"How did you -"
Undine smiled. "I just know. Now, use your new powers wisely, children, and may Mana be with you!" With that, she vanished.
"Thanks," Kirine said tightly to the empty cave. Once they were out of the cave, she let him have it.
"Magic powers?!" she shrieked. "You mean we went through all that crap for some stupid magic powers?!"
"Now, Kirine, hold on," Slade said. "We might be able to use them someday, you never know. And we finally got out of the Empire, didn't we?"
"Yeah, well, it would have been a lot easier if we had just left, instead of going for that damn javelin!"
"There was no way we could have known it would end up like this," he reminded her.
"Oh. Right." Kirine sighed, her anger deflated. "Oh, well. Let's just go home and plan our wedding, not to mention our army of thieves."
"We still haven't decided what to call it."
"Yeah, you're right. What should we call it? Hmm, how about the Double-S Army? No, wait, that's stupid. Sounds like a farm. What do you think?"
"Since my last name, and yours too soon, is Scorpio, how about the Scorpion Army?"
"Hey, that's good! I like the sound of that. The Scorpion Army. Perfect!"
And so, the Scorpion Army was born.