Year of the Scorpion
by Luna

Chapter Four : Secrets and Lies
From yesterday's truths
Remain filth and stench.
-Marina Tsvetayeva, "Beware"

Geshtar stumbled drunkenly down the hallway, a silly grin on his face and a bottle of yet more wine in his hand. It was late, but he held out hope of getting lucky with Fanha. She hadn't responded to him earlier, but he was much more drunk now and had repressed. Or just forgotten.

He paused as he reached her door. "Fanha?" he whispered. No response. He leaned against the door, more for support than anything else. "What in Mana is she doing in there?" he whispered. "Sounds like she borrowed one of my Veedios. Without my permission! Well, she's about to have my company, so I guess it doesn't really matter." He pushed the door open.

And gaped at what he saw inside. A strangled sound escaped his throat as he stared at the couple. Sheex heard him.

"Close the door," he growled. "Now. Before I have you for a midnight snack!" He snarled something in a language Fanha couldn't understand.

Geshtar's eyes popped wide open. "Watch your language!" he snapped.

"Just get out before I eat you!" Sheex snapped. He growled angrily at Geshtar, who got the message finally and left.

For a moment he stood outside the door and listened to the two resume their activities. His face was hard and angry. He wondered what he could do with this. Then it came to him and he smiled. Grinning, he headed off.

"Thanatos!" The ancient sorcerer whirled to see Geshtar stagger in. "Don't you have something else to do?" he inquired. "Like pass out?"

"This is more important!" Geshtar snapped. "I caught Sheex and Fanha together!"

"Doing what, exactly? I don't have time for games. Do you realize what time it is?"

"Things! With each other! And, for some reason, syrup!" He shuddered. "Even I'm shocked. You see, she had her -"

"Enough!" Thanatos growled. "I'm not interested in the lurid details."

"But, it's more interesting that way! You see, he was -"

"Stop!" Geshtar could feel the glare from behind the mask. "If you utter another word, I will make you eternally sober and resistable to women. Do you understand?" Geshtar numbly nodded. "Good. Guards!" Four soldiers stepped forward. "Yes, sir?" they said. "I want you to bring me Sheex and Fanha at once. Do not tell them why. Just bring them immediately. No delays! Understood?" The soldiers nodded and left the room.

Sheex and Fanha lay in bed, happily curled up together and drifting off. That's when the soldiers burst in.

"Get up. Thanatos wants to see you at once."

"But, we're not even dressed," Fanha protested. "Let us at least -"

"No time for that," the leader replied. "Just get up and come with us."

It looked like they had no choice. Wrapping the bedsheet around themselves, they reluctantly complied.

They were led into Thanatos's room. The sorcerer turned to them. "So glad you could make it," he said dryly. Then he cocked his head. "Why, Fanha, what is that on your arm? It almost looks like....chocolate." Fanha blushed bright red and wiped her arm on the sheet.

"Sir!" Thanatos turned to see some soldiers coming in through the other door. They were dragging someone with them. "What now?" he asked, irritated. This was not his night.

"We caught these thieves rummaging around." They pushed the two in, their hands tied behind their backs.

"Really?" He stepped toward them. He seemed to more interested in one than the other.

Kirine shivered. She recognized the terrifying figure before her. All too well. Her green eyes widened with fear as he advanced on them, staring at her from behind his horrible skull mask. Then, he abruptly turned to Slade.

"And just what were trying to steal, might I ask?"

"You can ask, but you won't get an answer," Slade replied. The soldiers snickered, then shut up as soon as the mask turned their way.

"Very well, then. I'll ask your accomplice, then." He stepped closer to Kirine. "Now, then, suppose you tell me what you're doing here."

She raised an eyebrow. "You actually think you'll have an easier time prying information out of me?" She sounded almost amused. Inside though, she was getting more and more scared. That was all too familiar....

"Oh, I have my ways." Reaching up, he began to remove his mask. Kirine shook with fear. What horrible face was he going to reveal? And why?

She found out as he took it off. Her mouth fell open as she stared at a face she hadn't seen in seven years.

"Dorian!" she gasped, her eyes filling with tears. She started forward....then stopped. No...this wasn't her brother. It had his face, but it wasn't him. The green eyes that stared back at her were too cold, too...dead. This was nothing but a cruel trick.

"You monster!" she rasped, tears sliding down her pale cheeks. "How dare you cast a spell over yourself to make it look like you're him! Tormenting me like this!"

Thanatos chuckled. "This is no spell, Kirine. This really is your brother."

"That's impossible," she whispered. "You yourself gave me his ashes."

"So gullible," he said disdainfully. "Don't you know how easily that can be faked? What I gave you were the ashes of a nameless vagrant off the streets."

"What?!" she gasped. "What...what's going on here?"

"Isn't it obvious? This is your brother's body. His soul, however, is dead. I now own this body."

Kirine couldn't speak, trembling with grief and rage. Unable to bear seeing his face, she glanced away. Her eyes widened as they fell on the embarrassed couple standing behind Thanatos. She didn't know their names, but she knew who they were - the couple she had walked in on accidentally before. She started to turn red as she saw the syrup still on them.

"Incidentally," Thanatos said, interrupting her thoughts, "you'll be interested to know, Slade, that the last thing your lover's brother did before I killed him was to kill your parents."

"What?!" Kirine gasped. "Dorian would never do something like that!"

Thanatos smiled at her, striking terror down into the very core of her. "He would if he was under my mind control, which he was." He looked at Slade. "I had originally intended to take your father's body, but my young pawn's methods were far too messy."

"Why?" Slade managed. "Why?"

"Your father was a foolish man," Thanatos said cruelly. "He gambled against me and lost. Then he thought to cheat me. His last thought."

"What about my mother?" Slade demanded. "Why did you have her killed? She never did anything to you."

"She was there," he said simply. "She saw what happened, and therefore couldn't be allowed to live to tell what she saw."

The couple reeled at these revelations. All of a sudden, all the pieces were coming together to form a terrible picture that neither wanted to see. The date of their loved one's deaths was no longer a coincidence....

Kirine felt as if her heart had been ripped right out of her chest and ground into dust. The pain and shock were overwhelming. She'd thought her world had shattered seven years before. Now it was ashes that were rapidly scattering in the wind. To think that this horrible thing had been inhabiting her brother's body all this time. Her stomach wrenched, the lies making her sick. And to think that before he'd died he'd brutally butchered the parents of the man she loved. Her stomach heaved again. Slade....would he still love her now that the horrible truth was out?

Across the room, even Sheex and Fanha were reeling at what they'd just heard. They knew Thanatos was evil, but they hadn't thought he was capable of such horrid things.

That poor girl looks like she's ready to die along with her brother, Fanha thought. Despite the predicament of her own situation, which had yet to be dealt with by Thanatos, she couldn't help but pity Kirine. No one deserved to be hurt like that.

"Well, enough of the past. On to the present." Thanatos smiled cruelly. "You never told me why you were here. Tell me now."

"We came to steal military secrets," Kirine said dully, completely defeated. "Lorima offered us a lot of money to do it."

"Isn't that fascinating. What a lovely turn of events."

"How so?" Slade asked tightly.

"Because I've wanted to send someone there to do the same thing. Now I know how." He smiled again, though it had no effect on Kirine now, for she was too far gone in her pain to notice. "Kirine. You will go to Mandala, and steal Lorima's military secrets. Understood?" She merely nodded, speech beyond her grasp at that point.

"What about me?" Slade asked. "You wouldn't send her alone, would you?"

"Dear me, no." His green eyes glittered evilly. "Sheex, here, will escort her."

"What?!" Sheex growled. "Are you nuts?!"

"Now, now." Thanatos turned to face the furious demon. "You'd have been separated from your...friend here anyway, and it would have been for longer. So be grateful I'm going easy on you. You'll leave in the morning." His expression was almost a smirk as he looked them over. "Do dress before you go, though. I doubt Kirine would be too thrilled at traveling with someone in that attire." Sheex glared at him but said nothing. He knew it would only get him in deeper.

"Now," Thanatos said, "why don't we all get some sleep? You two have got a busy day ahead of you." He smirked at Sheex and Fanha. "Or should I say, why don't we get some real sleep?" The couple glared at him.

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