Year of the Scorpion
by Luna

Chapter Five : Trickery
Before you ask for justice. Make sure
that you won't get it, just by accident.
-Paavo Haavikko

They left for Mandala, capital of the Kingdom of Lorima, around ten in the morning and arrived there two hours later. Sheex and Kirine didn't say a single word to one another the whole way over.

It was even colder in Mandala than in Northtown. Ice crunched under their feet as they walked. The chill wind whipped their hair around, and every so often a snowflake fell from the dark gray sky.

As they walked through the streets, they heard someone whisper "What an odd couple those two are." Kirine flushed. Sheex said nothing but looked extremely angry.

Kirine gulped. She was afraid of him, very much so. She'd heard all kinds of rumors about him, and had no doubt that several of them were true. She wondered if she was safe, traveling with a demon. Especially one who seemed to be so dangerous.

They passed someone nutty enough to be out trying to sell flowers. "Hey!" the seller called. "Mister! You wanna buy something for your pretty girlfriend?"

Sheex whirled. "What did you say? Were you talking to me?"

"Ah, yes sir. Come, buy your girlfriend a present. Cheap!"

"Do not say that again," Sheex warned him.

"Why not?" The guy was clearly confused. "You are such a lovely couple."

Sheex transformed into an Aegagropilon then. "This is why not," he growled, looming over the terrified man. "Don't say that again or I will make you my lunch. Understood?" The man nodded, then sprinted away.

Returning to human form, Sheex walked back to Kirine. "Shall we go, then?" he asked, his voice still tight with anger.

"O..okay...fine...with me," Kirine stammered.

"Are you okay?" Sheex looked at her curiously.

Kirine swallowed hard. "I'm fine!" she replied quickly, composing herself. "Just dandy." If she couldn't hide her emotions, she could at least bury them deep down where they couldn't affect her anymore. She'd learned how to do that seven years ago, when her grief and fear started to hinder her ability to steal. "I'm kinda hungry. Do you think we could go get something to eat?"

Sheex nodded. "Fine by me." They headed towards a restaurant, Kirine cautiously trying to keep her distance, without looking like she was trying to keep her distance.

They sat down and quietly ate. Then the dessert came : hot fudge sundaes, covered in chocolate syrup.

Kirine turned bright red. There was no way she could eat this nonchalantly. "Uh, I, I'm not really....I'm too full to eat this, take it back," she stammered. The waiter looked at her strangely, but did as she said.

Sheex was oblivious to her discomfort, as he was too busy thinking about the previous night. Shaking himself free of the memories, he picked up a spoon and tried to eat. His thoughts of that night distracted him, though, and he gave up.

Kirine fidgeted nervously. She'd been scared of him before, but now....She shuddered. Seeing him turn into that, that thing, had been terrifying. She'd never known anyone could do that. And over such a small thing....wellll, not that small. That guy's assumption that they were a couple had been pretty irritating. Though....She glanced at her companion. It was a natural assumption, actually. They were traveling alone together. And Sheex was very good-looking....She blushed at the direction her thoughts had taken.

Looking around the crowded restaurant, she saw someone who looked like an old friend of her parents she hadn't seen in years. That brought back memories of the time she'd listened in on a conversation between her parents and some of their friends. The topic had turned to the differences between humans and demons. One of her mother's friends had claimed that demons had....that they....she couldn't even finish it in her head. But her escort had proved it right, she thought, remembering what she'd witnessed.

Kirine winced. What was going through her head? That had been quite a shock last night, seeing him and that woman, covered in syrup. What in Mana was she doing thinking such things? Must be going insane.

"You want to go?" Kirine looked up to see Sheex looking at her. "I'm done here. Are you?" She nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm finished." She got up, and so did he. They exited the restaurant together.

As they walked away, through the city streets, Kirine spotted someone who resembled her brother. She stopped, just staring. Until now, she hadn't really registered the horrible information she'd received last night. Now it was finally sinking in. She started to shake as the grief overwhelmed her.

"Kirine?" Sheex touched her arm. "Are you all right?"

"No," she replied in a choked voice. "I'm not. I never will be. What he did..." She started to cry. Burying her face in her hands, she sobbed out her pain, right there in the streets. Some people stared at her, but she was totally oblivious.

Suddenly she felt Sheex slip his arm around her. "It's okay," he murmured. "It's okay. You'll be okay."

Composing herself slightly, she stared up at him with tear-filled eyes. "Why are you being nice to me?" she whispered.

Sheex smiled sadly. "Not all demons are heartless and cold." His thoughts again went to Fanha, waiting back in Northtown. He missed her. A lot. He was so lonely without her. He hoped she was waiting for him....

Kirine snorted, momentarily forgetting her pain. "Yeah, you proved that last night," she laughed.

Sheex froze. "What did you mean by that?"

Oh...crap. She hadn't meant to say that. She gulped. "Ah, I, I mean you seemed pretty, er, angry. That's not, um, cold."

Sheex looked her in the eye. "Is that really what you mean?" She could tell he knew somehow that she wasn't telling the truth. Must be another demon thing....

Kirine winced. "Okay...fine! I saw you together last night. I didn't mean to, though, I swear!"

Sheex frowned. "You saw me and Fanha together last night?"

She nodded. "With the...syrup." Her normally low voice squeaked on the last word. Her face began to redden again. So did Sheex.

"I wouldn't have told, I swear to you," she said in a rush. "Unlike your lecherous co-worker." She wrinkled her nose in disgust.


"The green-haired guy," she supplied.

Sheex frowned. "Geshtar? He told Thana - he told about us?" he amended, not wanting to upset her by mentioning that name. "How'd you know?"

"I don't, actually, I'm guessing. Judging by how he was leering at Fanha the whole time."

"That so?" Sheex smiled, a deadly smile. "Thank you for that information. I'll remember that when we get back."

"No problem." She had a feeling this Geshtar was really going to be in for it when that happened.

The night air was particularly biting as Kirine broke into the building that housed Lorima's military information. She had a sinking feeling as she did so. It made her sick to be doing this. She had no real loyalty to Lorima, knew no one there, but it was horrid to be selling it out to the organization that had destroyed her life and that of her brother's. And Slade's.

Calming herself, she walked silently through the darkened halls towards where what she had come here for was. She pushed the door open and walked in with a heavy feeling in her heart.

As she broke into the computer files that held what that horrid sorcerer wanted, an idea came to her. What if she could tamper with the files so that they'd be useless? She could have a small revenge. And, hopefully, by the time her treachery was discovered, she and Slade would be safely away from the Empire. And Thanatos...

"Do you have it?" Sheex asked as she came towards him out of the fog. She nodded. "Yes," she said quietly. "Let's go." They started walking, back to the hotel they were staying at. In the morning they would go back to Northtown. It couldn't come too soon for either.

All that night, Kirine couldn't help but feel guilty. About what she was doing. She felt like she was betraying Sheex, who'd been so nice to her. She felt bad, no, terrible.

Stop it, she told herself firmly. That's silly. I'm doing the right thing. If I'm betraying anyone, it's Thanatos. She shuddered, unable to bear even thinking his name. That monster....Besides, Sheex works for him. He may not like him, but he does nevertheless. And this won't even hurt him, anyway. So there's nothing to feel bad about, she said to herself. Nothing.

When they returned the next day, Thanatos was pleased with her work. He let her go, with Slade. The two returned to the Scorpio mansion. Not a word was spoken between them, from the moment he was let out of the Imperial prison they'd kept him in, from the moment they arrived at the house.

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