Chapter Five: Formation and Realization
The mansion was finished in August. They built it in the huge forest between the Lofty Mountains and Tasnica. In September they were married.
"Are you excited?" Sharlene asked as she and Kirine got ready.
"Of course. How could I not be? I'm also a little scared, truth be told."
"Of course you are, I was too." Sharlene leaned forward. "So, I guess you really did think it was romantic, didn't you?"
Kirine blushed. "What? Oh, um, yeah I did. I just didn't want to admit it."
Sharlene laughed. "Sounds like you. You always were the stubborn type." They smiled at each other. They'd known each other since they were kids, when Sharlene's family had come into money and moved from Southtown to Gold Isle. Kirine had been the first person to extend friendship to the shy younger girl, and they had remained friends ever since. Dorian, of course, had always had a crush on the pretty blue-haired girl, and five years ago he'd finally gotten up the nerve to tell her how he felt. Fortunately, Sharlene returned his feelings, and they'd quickly fallen in love, and were now married, for almost a year now.
Sharlene smoothed her pale blue bridesmaid's dress over her growing stomach. She was five months pregnant, and the baby was due in January. She bit her lip. "You think I look okay in this? I mean, this is your day and I don't want to take any of the attention away from you, and this is pretty conspicuous."
"You look great," Kirine assured her. "Besides, even if you take some attention away, you're welcome to it. You know how I hate being fawned over," she said with a laugh.
"Oh, yeah," Sharlene replied, giggling. "Remember your sixteenth birthday party? How the three of us ran away and hid in the gazebo?"
"Yeah, that was fun," Kirine reminisced. Considering it was the last birthday she'd celebrated with her parents -- they'd died days before her seventeenth -- she should remember it with some sadness, but she didn't. Her parents had rarely been there for her and Dorian. They'd rarely been in town, period. Always traveling, whether on business or pleasure. Mostly pleasure, considering how fast her father had gambled away the Syrille family fortune, and that was no small sum. They'd loved that yacht more than they'd loved her and her brother, so Kirine thought it morbidly fitting that Cecil and Erina Syrille went to their deaths aboard it.
Sharlene touched her shoulder. "Are you okay? You look like you're miles away," she remarked.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm okay," Kirine replied, shaking off the sad memories. Her cold, lonely childhood was over, and today was the beginning of a warm, happy future.
The wedding was beautiful. Kirine walked down the aisle with a smile on her face that matched Slade's at the end. They said their vows, and then Slade put a gorgeous ring of small diamonds circling an opal on Kirine's finger. Then he kissed her, and then it was time for the reception.
They danced the first dance, and then Dorian made an announcement.
"Everybody, your attention please," he said over the mike as he stood with the band they'd hired. "In honor of my dear sister and her new husband, and their new army, I have composed a very special piece of music. I call it ‘A Curious Happening' or, if you prefer, ‘Scorpion's Theme'. Hit it!"
The band began to play some very catchy music (you know what music). When it was over, everyone clapped. Kirine stood up. "Dorian , that was wonderful, thank you. And very danceable. Let's play it again, shall we?"
"My pleasure. Okay, everybody, one more time!" Dorian struck up the band once more, and they played the music again.
After that, everyone headed to the buffet table to get some food. Slade's excellent chef had prepared dishes from all over the world. There was seared Silktail from the Great Forest, deviled Eggatrice from the Lofty Mountains, and Marmablue stew all the way from the Moon Palace. There was also Captain Duck pate, Eggplant Man parmigiana, and lemon-broiled Dinofish. For dessert, they could choose from Nitro Pumpkin pie, Blue Drop pudding, or Trap Flower tarts. It was truly a feast of fine delicacies.
Afterwards, everyone went back to their homes so that the newlyweds could be alone. Happiness was finally theirs, and they wanted to enjoy it as much as possible.
Not everyone shared their happiness, though. Sheex was extremely unhappy that the two thieves had slipped right through his fingers. He knew now that the information they had given him was false, and he cursed himself for not seeing through their act. They weren't loyal to the Empire, not one bit. They'd used him, had abused his trust to steal Imperial secrets and probably sold them to Lorima. He swore to himself that he would get revenge.
To try and get his mind off it all, he decided to go visit Faria on Sodoh Continent and see how the Mana Fortress was coming along.
"Sheex! What a lovely surprise! Welcome, welcome!" Faria rushed forward to embrace him, which he gladly returned. She was a very beautiful woman, with her deep auburn hair and expressive aqua eyes. Unfortunately, she was also something of a tease, and seemed content to deny Sheex over and over. He was very frustrated, and yet would never give up trying to win the heart of his good friend, no matter how impossible that goal seemed sometimes. She gave him a small kiss and pulled back to look at him. "How are you? And what brings you here?"
"I'm fine, thank you. And you shouldn't even have to ask why I'm here - you already know the answer."
"You mean, you came all this way just to see me?"
"Darling, I would venture into the Pure Land just to see you. Now, why don't you make this trip really worth it?" He leaned forward to kiss her, but she pulled away.
"Later, Sheex! Right now you have to see the Fortress. It's incredible! Come, this way!" Grasping his arm, she pulled him along in the direction of the construction. Sheex gritted his teeth. Later. It was always later. He wondered darkly if "later" would ever become "now." At the moment it didn't seem too likely.
However, he forgot about his romantic woes when he got inside the Fortress. It really was incredible, as Faria had said.
"Look at that view. Isn't it breathtaking?" she whispered as they stood over the power section.
"It really is," he replied. "And very romantic, don't you think? Come now, how about that kiss?" He leaned forward again, but once again she rebuffed him.
"Cripes, Sheex, is that all you ever think about?" she asked as she pushed him for what felt like the millionth time. "I swear, you are so single-minded!"
"Only when I'm around you, sweets," he replied in a deceptively light tone as he tried to control his anger and frustration. He wanted to scream at her for being such a damn tease, but he knew it wouldn't get him anywhere. Well, actually it would. It would send him right back to square one. So he swallowed his fury and forced a smile.
"Well, if that's it, I suppose I'll be heading back. Thanatos doesn't like it when I skip work to go traipsing about." Now that he had failed to stop two dangerous thieves, it was especially important not to tick off the old demon. He was lucky the guy had decided to give him a second chance and not fire him. Now was the time to prove himself.
"Really?" Faria pouted. "Don't you even want to see my new apartment first? It's even better then my Northtown home, believe it or not." She leaned forward with a seductive smile on her face. "If you stay a bit longer, I may even give you that kiss."
With that being offered, how could he refuse?
When he got back later, somewhat satisfied because she had indeed given him the kiss (though nothing else, to his disappointment), Thanatos was waiting for him in his house with a scowl on his skull-like face. Though a demon himself, Sheex couldn't help but be repulsed by the figure before him. He also couldn't believe that Thanatos had traded his body for immortality. Sure, the power the ancient demon got was very attractive, but to Sheex it just wasn't worth losing your body and having to steal a new one every thousand years. The contract he'd signed a century ago let him keep his own body and gain immortality and the ability to change his shape. So rather than being a bodysnatcher, he was a shapeshifter.
"And just where have you been that was more important than your responsibilities here?" Thanatos inquired.
"I was, uh, overseeing the construction of the Mana Fortress," he replied a bit uneasily. It was only a partial lie. He had gone inside the Fortress, and seen the construction. "It appears to moving along right on schedule. A little ahead, actually." He gulped, hoping that the geezer wouldn't guess that he was omitting some things.
Apparently the explanation satisfied him, because his hideous face twisted into a gruesome smile. Sheex reflected that if he smiled any wider, his rotting skin would probably rip right off his bones. He repressed a shudder and thanked Mana that he was spared such a revolting sight.
"Ahead of schedule? That is wonderful news, indeed, my boy. My sincerest apologies for jumping to the wrong conclusions."
"An honest mistake," Sheex replied, praying the demon wouldn't grin. "Easily forgiven."
"Good, good. Now then, I see I shall have to keep sending you down there to make sure they stay on schedule, won't I"
Now Sheex grinned. "It would be my pleasure, sir."
"Excellent! Now I'll leave so you can pack."
"Yes. You'll leave tomorrow. I'll call the Emperor over the Veedio phone so that a suitable apartment can be prepared for you. Would you like one next to your friend Faria's?"
"Indeed I would."
"Then you shall have one. Oh, I should mention you'll be working mostly with her."
This was getting better and better. "I will do my best, sir."
"Good." Thanatos turned to leave, then paused in the doorway. "Oh, and Sheex?"
"See that you don't fail us again." With those ominous words, he exited the mansion. Sheex swallowed hard and prayed that fate would let him obey those orders.
In November, the Scorpion Army was up and running. Kia called them to hire them to steal some weaponry from a storehouse in Southtown. They sent their two best hirelings to do the job. It was a success. The Scorpion Army was a success.
In between work, the trainees were trained to be the best at the new mansion. After their first few successful jobs, work began to pour in and they were constantly busy. Kirine and Slade were ecstatically happy, both with their army and each other. They had no way of knowing it was the calm before the storm.