Year of the Scorpion
by Luna

Chapter Six : Fall and Rise

"Have you located them yet?"

"Yes, sir, I believe they are living in Mandala."

"Good, good. Very good. Excellent work."

"Thank you, sir."

Ignoring the man, Thanatos got up and began to pace the halls of his mansion, trying to ignore the pain it caused his increasingly fragile joints. His body was falling apart, he knew. Soon he would have to take a new one, or he would perish. But, that was the price one paid for immortality, and the power he had.

It wasn't enough power, not by half. But soon, with the completion of the Mana Fortress, he would have enough. He would command supreme power. He would be a god, and he would rule the world. First things first, however. He first had to take a new body.

Smiling, though it hurt to do so, he stopped and gazed at the city below. For the past several decades, he had been searching for the perfect host. One born in the shadow of darkness, and raised in the light of Mana. And now he had found that person.

He smiled wider, tearing his rotting skin slightly.

He knew who he wanted.

He knew who it would be.

Dorian Syrille.

Who was, at the moment, celebrating the birth of his daughter on the other side of the world in his new Mandala mansion.

It had been completed in early October, just in time for his and Sharlene's anniversary. They had moved in immediately, and held a huge party to celebrate both occasions. Now they were celebrating another.

"She's beautiful, isn't she?" Dorian asked.

"Yes, she is," Kirine said, smiling as she admired her new niece. "What are you going to call her?"

"I don't know." Dorian turned to his wife. "Sharlene, what do you think we should name our daughter?"

"How about Alisa?"

"Alisa Syrille, very nice. Well, then, she shall be Alisa."

"It's a lovely name," Slade commented. He looked down at the squalling blue-haired baby. "Suits her."

"It does, indeed," Kirine agreed. They all smiled at each other, not knowing the immense danger they were in.

Or that the world was in. The Mana Fortress was nearly complete. Soon, the Emperor would activate it and it would rise into the sky above their world, a floating display of the Empire's supreme power.

The activation would break the seals on the eight seeds in the eight Mana palaces around the world. The Fortress would use up a lot of Mana, and had the potential to seriously harm the world. Of course, the Emperor cared little. His only concerns were owning the world and crushing Lorima.

Over the next two months construction continued uneventfully. The Scorpios and the Syrilles lived peacefully. The war between the Empire and Lorima was in a strange holding pattern, with both sides waiting nervously for the other to make a move. Neither wanted to, of course. Lorima was uneasy about the Empire's quietness, and feared that they were working on some new weapon. They didn't want that weapon turned on them now, so they waited to be sure it was safe to strike.

The Empire, of course, didn't want any disruptions that might derail the Mana Fortress construction. So they laid low and kept building, deciding their best course of action would be to wait until their Fortress was complete and then use it to crush Lorima once and for all.

One day in mid-March, Sharlene brought little Alisa to visit Kirine and Slade. Dorian was in Pandora at a meeting to discuss war plans. He'd joined the Lorima army when they moved there, and had been made a top adviser because of Kirine and Slade's work for them. Today he would be meeting with the King of Pandora, the King of Tasnica, the King of Mandala, and Kia, who'd been promoted to commander of the Lorima army for her work with the Scorpion Army. They would decide whether or not to attack the Empire.

"Ooh, she's grown since I last saw her," Kirine said. "And so cute!"

"Looks like you," Slade commented to Sharlene, who beamed. "Why, thank you! She really does, though."

They had a nice visit, then Sharlene left after lunch. Slade went back to training the recruits, and Kirine continued recording their exploits, both on paper and on Veedio. Their wedding had been recorded on Veedio as well.

Later that day, a few hours after dinner, Sharlene came back, looking very worried.

"Kirine, Dorian never came home. I think something's wrong."

"Wasn't he at a meeting in Pandora?"

"Yes, but it was supposed to be over hours ago. He should be home now. It doesn't take that long to get from Pandora to Mandala."

"Yeah, but you know how meetings are. They never last as long as they're supposed to. Trust me. He should come home sometime tomorrow. Or, just like a man, he'll be home later tonight and demand his dinner at once."

"Excuse me?"

They turned to see one of the servants standing there, holding some sort of package. "Yes?" Kirine inquired. The servant stepped forward. "This just came for you," he said, handing her the package. When he left, Kirine opened it up. Inside was a Veedio.

"Why would someone send you that?" Sharlene asked, confused.

"I don't know," Kirine answered. "But I'll find out in the morning. I'm just too tired now." She looked at her longtime friend sympathetically. "You should get some sleep, too. Tell you what. If he's not back by tomorrow morning, we'll go to Pandora. Does that sound good?"

Sharlene nodded. "Yeah. Besides, what choice have I? Goodnight."

"Goodnight." The two friends hugged each other, then Sharlene was on her way. After she left, Kirine looked at the Veedio again, then went to bed.

The next morning, while Slade trained the recruits and she waited for Sharlene to come, she remembered about the Veedio. Pressing play on it, she watched in horror as Thanatos appeared on the small screen and informed her that he was holding Dorian in the abandoned Scorpio mansion in Eryn Dior and that if she wanted to save him she'd better get there immediately. She obeyed.

Arriving at the mansion, she found no one waiting for her at the door. Entering, she checked all the rooms until she found Thanatos in the heart of the mansion. Behind him stood Dorian in a kind of trance.

"Welcome, my pretty," Thanatos greeted her as she walked up the stairs to meet him.

"Cut the crap, Thanatos," Kirine snapped. "I'm here like you said to be. Now what do want in exchange for Dorian?"

"Absolutely nothing, my dear."

"Nothing?" Kirine was bewildered. "Then you're just going to let him walk out of here?"

Thanatos laughed. "You misunderstand me," he replied. "He's not leaving here. I didn't call you here to rescue him."

"Then why did you call me here?" Kirine was growing more uneasy by the second.

"So that you could watch him become my new body."

"Your new-" Kirine's voice trailed off and her eyes widened as she recalled her conversation with her brother, Slade, and Sharlene a year ago.

"Don't be sad for me, Kirine," Dorian said suddenly. "My sacrifice is a noble one, for the good of the world. Thanatos merely wishes to restore Mana, not destroy it. But he can't do it without a body, and I'm the only one suitable."

"What did you do to him?" Kirine shrieked. "That's not Dorian! He would never say such a thing!"

Thanatos laughed. "You're right, of course. I have him under my mind control. If it makes you feel any better, the process won't hurt him this way."

"I'll tell you what would make me feel better," Kirine hissed.

"And that would be?"

"Killing you!" she screamed. She summoned Undine and cast Freeze. Suddenly Dorian's body jerked as he broke free.

"No, Kirine, don't!" he exclaimed. "That'll only-" He was cut off by the spell regaining control.

But it was too late anyway. Chunks of ice rained down on Thanatos, badly damaging him. He fell to the floor gasping and groaning.

"Aaaugh!" he grunted. "Must...hurry. This up!" With a last gasp he collapsed. Kirine watched as his corpse coalesced into a strange black mist. The mist rose up and seemed to flow into Dorian. His body jerked, convulsing in small spasms, then stopped. He stood straight up and opened his eyes.

Kirine realized then that Thanatos had been successful. Her brother's warm, friendly green eyes were now cold and inhuman. Slade's words from that morning came back to her : When Thanatos steals a body, you're not looking at the person it was. You're looking at the thing that killed them.

It was true. The person before her looked like Dorian, but it wasn't. A horrible demon wore his face.

Suddenly the demon in Dorian's body laughed. "Guwa, ha, ha," it laughed. "How wonderful this new body feels! If the owner were still alive I'd thank him for taking such good care of it!"

"No! Kirine screamed, tears running down her pale face. "That's not true! He's still alive! Come on, Dorian, you can do it! Fight him! He hasn't won yet!"

Then she heard her dear brother's voice, whispering in her ear.

"I'm afraid he has, Kirine," he whispered. "He's much too strong for me. I can't fight him. But you can. Kill him, and I'll be able to rest in peace."

"No, please," Kirine begged. "Please fight him. Not just for me, but for Sharlene and Alisa."

"I wish I could," he replied. "I wish for nothing more than the strength to take my body back. But I don't have it. I'm finished, Kirine. Just know that I love you, and tell Sharlene and Alisa that I love them. Goodbye, my dear sister. Goodbye..."

"Dorian!" Kirine screamed. But he was gone. She turned and looked at Thanatos with murder in her tear-filled eyes. "For that, I am going to kill you!" she exclaimed.

"Uh-uh! I don't think so!" Thanatos waggled his finger at her. "I didn't just take this new body so you could destroy it! Ta-ta, my pretty!" With a wave of his hand, he was gone.

It was quite a while before Kirine could compose herself enough to go home.

A couple weeks later Kia and the King of Tasnica came to them seeking the services of the Scorpion Army.

Apparently, what Dorian had discussed with them and the others that fateful day had been a plan to seriously hurt the Empire when it activated the Mana Fortress. It had been Dorian's idea, and Kia and the King felt that since it was sort of a last wish, that it should be carried out.

"Now, what exactly does this device do?" Slade asked as they discussed the plan.

"It will be planted on the Mana Fortress," Kia explained, "and when the Fortress is activated, Sodoh Continent will sink into the ocean. It will also reseal the Mana Seeds. The only way for the continent to rise again would be if the Fortress went back into the sea, and all the seals were broken manually one by one. It would sink back into the sea if the Fortress were activated again. Of course, by that time," Kia said with a wicked smile, "Everyone in the Underground City and the Grand Palace would already be fish food."

"Sounds like a good idea to me," Slade remarked. He turned to Kirine, who sat staring straight ahead. "How does it sound to you?"

She didn't say anything, just nodded. She was still in shock over losing her brother.

Slade turned back to Kia. "Then that's it then," he said. "We'll send some people there soon to install the device." Kia nodded and left with the King.

"Hey, watch it! Don't fall!"

Sheex and Faria were on the ground floor of the Grand Palace. An hour earlier in the City she had finally given him what he wanted, and now they were celebrating by running around and playing in the Palace like children. The place was completely empty. Everyone was in the City, sleeping. Everyone but them and the Emperor. He was alone in the Mana Fortress, checking the activation to see if it would work for the official rising the next day. He would activate it, then lower it again for the ceremony.

Faria giggled. "Oh, come now. Cut loose and have fun. I don't care if I get a little wet."

Before he could answer, the Grand Palace started shaking. "What's going on?!" Faria exclaimed.

"Hell if I know," Sheex replied.

Suddenly, out the window he saw the land around the Palace sinking into the rising water. "This place is sinking!" he yelled. "Come on, we have to get out of here!"

They raced toward the entrance and pushed open the huge double doors. The water was already a foot high. Wading through it, they ran to the stairs and hurried up. Faria slipped on the wet steps and fell on her face. Sheex pulled her up and they kept running.

They ran all the way to the top, where the Tree Palace sat. Below their feet the continent was rapidly sinking into the ever-rising water. The City was long gone, Ghastra and everybody else with it.

Faria shivered. Her clothes were wet, and it was a cold night. She looked at the rising water. "What do you think could make something like this happen?" she asked, moving to stand at the edge.

"Damned if I know," Sheex answered. "But I'll bet Lorima had something to do with it. Hey! Don't stand there! It's dangerous!"

"No, it's not," she replied. "The shaking stopped."

As if on cue, the Grand Palace shook violently. Faria lost her balance and toppled over the edge.

"Faria!" Sheex yelled. He rushed forward to grab her, but it was too late. A few seconds later she hit the water. He could see her about ten feet below him. "I'm coming down!" he yelled to her.

"No!" she screamed. "It'll kill you too! Don't jump, Sheex, or you'll join me in a watery grave! Save yourself and live to avenge me! Take care of Corven for me! Good-"

Her voice was cut off as the suction dragged her under. She didn't come back up, and the water continued to rise. Sheex just stood there for a moment. Then he ran inside the Tree Palace and shut the doors tightly, praying to every dark deity he knew that they would keep out water. He also silently thanked Mana that the builders of this place had decided not to put windows in this part of the palace. And that it was sealed off from the rest of the palace, thanks to it's being built first. There had been talk of connecting it to the Grand Palace, but that would obviously have to wait now.

As Sheex waited, he thought about Faria's last wishes. She'd asked him to avenge her, and to take care of the son she'd had by her late husband. If he made it out of here alive, he would try his hardest to fulfill those wishes. After all, there was no telling how high the water would rise. He could open the door and meet the ocean depths.

After a while, the sinking stopped. Cautiously, Sheex opened the door. To his surprise, no water greeted him. He stepped out to find that the Tree Palace now stood on a small patch of very wet land. Using his Veedio phone, he called Thanatos and had him send a ship to pick him up and take him back to Northtown.

The first thing they did was to send Lorima a message that they would be taking Mandala by nightfall. Two hours later, at dawn, they responded by launching missiles at the Imperial capital. Eryn Dior was completely destroyed except for the Scorpio mansion.

Not long after, a man wielding the Mana Sword smashed the Mana Fortress and the Emperor with it. This resulted in some destruction around the world.

Most of Pandora was destroyed, leaving only the King's castle. For weeks the populace lived there while a new city was constructed. Afterwards the old castle was abandoned and fell into ruin.

Tasnica survived with only minor damage to the kingdom. But Mandala was hit the hardest. Only a fraction of it remained. The mountain city never really recovered, becoming instead a small, isolated mountain settlement. With it's capital gone, Lorima eventually split. Tasnica and Pandora became their own kingdoms, though they remained allies over the centuries.

Northtown became the capital of the Empire following the destruction of Eryn Dior. After the Fortress disaster, the Empress and Thanatos banished Sheex, blaming him for most of it. For a thousand years they waited - Thanatos for an Emperor who wished to finish what Vondale started, Sheex for a chance to avenge Faria. It wasn't until Emperor Vandole that they got what they wanted, along with Fanha and Geshtar, the descendants of Faria and Ghastra.

"So, it's over then?" Slade and Kirine stood at the window of their house, watching the snow fall outside. Kirine shook her head.

"No. It's not over. Not until Thanatos is dead. Not until he pays for what he did." She turned to him with tears in her eyes. "Someday, Slade. Someday we or our descendants will strike him down. Then Dorian can rest in peace." She started crying.

Slade put his arms around her and just held her. He didn't want to tell her, but he knew deep down it was over. For them, anyway. Their part had been played. When this new peace was shattered -- and he knew it would be someday, because time, after all, flows like a river, and history repeats -- it would be time for someone else to take the stage.


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