Previously: The House of Argus
If there was anyone in Outworld not worried about the upcoming Tournament, it was the Emperor's daughters.
The twin princesses, Kitana and Mileena, had already won more tournaments for their father than they could count. Kitana had personally led numerous sieges to multiple realms and was a renowned military commander.
Mileena...not so much.
The "Pink Princess", as she was often called, was the impulsive, hot-headed, hot-blooded twin. Born a few minutes after Kitana, she was believed to favor the Emperor the most, both in temperament and in appearance. Beneath her famed pink veils, Mileena had an infamously, monstrously wide mouth full of fangs. She also had a reddish amber color where the whites of her eyes ought to be.
Other than that, she was identical to Kitana, a beauty exalted across the realms, much like their mother had been. She was tall, with pale golden skin and long black hair. The "Blue Princess" was also cooler-headed, which is why even though her father never loved her, he did prefer to use her for diplomatic purposes.
Kitana was the heir presumptive to the throne of Outworld. Not only was she born first from the Emperor's only wife (and one true love), she was competent and commanded respect. So when she strode through the Imperial Palace in the capital, she moved as though she already owned the place, and that it was just a matter of time.
Kitana loved neither her father nor her sister, but she still dealt with them daily. She briefed her father on military matters every morning over breakfast, and trained hard with her sister in the courtyard every afternoon into the evening. Outside of that, she avoided them like the plague.
Today, however, marked a rare occasion: Kitana went to visit Mileena in her chambers.
The younger princess was taking her evening bath. Unlike Shang Tsung's island or the Edenian estates in Lei Chen, the Imperial Palace was a dusty, mammoth-sized stone relic from bygone millennia. After the annexation of Edenia, the Imperial family had done what it could to restore it, but it was too expensive and there simply weren't enough resources.
The princesses still lived in luxury; they draped their walls with embroidered curtains and covered their floors with rugs and furs. And between the two, they had more slaves than they could count.
Mileena's slaves were bathing her now, massaging her feet, combing her long hair, and pouring steaming water over her skin while she blissfully lounged in a large wooden tub.
The slaves feared Mileena, but they feared Kitana more and never questioned her orders. They were up on their feet and fleeing the room before their mistress could protest.
Irritable, Mileena barked, "I'm in the middle of something, sister."
"Mileena," Kitana sighed, "you're old enough to bathe yourself."
Mileena leaned back into the water, grumbling, "Defeats the point of being a princess."
"Have you met the new ambassador?" Kitana asked, sitting down on a nearby wooden stool. "The one from Netherrealm?"
"No," Mileena irritably blinked, picking up a sponge to scrub herself. "Why do you even care?"
Kitana snorted, shaking her head. "Typical. This is why Father never puts you in charge of anything."
Mileena rolled her eyes. "What's the issue?"
"When have we ever hosted an ambassador from the Netherrealm, Mileena?" Kitana demanded. "Why would Quan Chi send one now?"
"The Tournament is coming," Mileena shrugged. "The tenth one no less. He never thought we'd make it this far, but now he's come to his senses."
Kitana's eyes narrowed. "I sincerely doubt that."
"Then what do you think is happening here?" Mileena sighed, wanting her attendants to return.
"I have no idea," Kitana confessed. "But we need to keep a watchful on them, whoever they are." After a moment she suggested, "I suppose we could send Skarlet to watch her."
"Doubt it," Mileena chortled, stretching her legs out from under the water. "These days, she's permanently attached to Father's hip."
Kitana was clipped. "All the more reason to do it. I don't like how close Father and his newest pet have gotten. Nitara tells me he no longer visits his harem, and that he recently gifted Skarlet a large roll of red silk from Lei Chen." She scowled. "I suspect she thinks she can replace Mother."
"Who cares?" Mileena yawned.
Kitana stared her, ever amazed by her sister's short-sightedness. "You know," she said in low, dangerous voice, "there are people who still don't believe we're his daughters."
That caught her sister's attention; Mileena's red eyes suddenly met hers and their gazes locked.
"Shang Tsung--who literally delivered us from our mother's womb--has never acknowledged us as the trueborn daughters of the Emperor," Kitana continued coolly. "General Reiko is another, General Kotal...even our mother's own bodyguard Sheeva repeatedly remarked that we both look and act nothing like our Father."
"Shokan bitch," Mileena growled.
"Indeed," Kitana agreed curtly. "Now imagine if father remarried and began producing new children." She tilted her head slightly. "Surely you can understand how that would be a problem for us."
Finally, Mileena was appropriately tense and focused. "What do we do?"
"Usually, you and I compete with each other for Father's favor," Kitana began. "We've been doing it for centuries."
"For all the good it's done me," Mileena bit out. "You're still the heir."
"Indeed," Kitana nodded, "but if you've been paying attention, you'd realize that Father doesn't really like the idea of either of us succeeding him. For not only would he have to die in that scenario, but his legacy would be in the hands of the daughter he doesn't like--i.e., me--and the daughter can't do anything right."
Mileena was losing patience. "So what do you suggest?"
"Divide and conquer for starters," her sister shrugged. "We need to distract our detractors. It's something I've been working on for while now. Sheeva was sworn to protect our mother, then later us. Suffice to say, we can protect ourselves now. I'm sending her back to her people; I think she'll like that."
"And the others?"
"Jade is returning to Lei Chen," Kitana recounted aloud. "She's agreed to take Kotal with her and he won't object because it'll mean more alone time for them. Since Reiko helped me put down the Tarkata filth during their last pathetic attempt at rebellion, I'm awarding him lordship over Makeba."
Mileena's brow furrowed. "Makeba?"
"It's a dusty nothing of a village on the side of a cliff," Kitana snorted, "but he'll be too busy setting up his household out there to care what goes on here."
"And Skarlet?" Mileena blinked. "You can't exactly ship her off somewhere. Daddy won't like that."
"No, which is why my original suggestion stands," Kitana blinked. "I don't trust Quan Chi; I will never believe the arrival of his ambassador is a good omen. I'll keep Skarlet occupied with sniffing out their true intentions; she's good at that."
"Which will leave Daddy free to remember his dearest loving daughters," Mileena smirked.
Kitana snorted. "Indeed. I suppose we can dine with him in the evenings as well as the mornings." She shuddered at the thought. "We'll have to find yet more ways to take his mind off his pet."
"We could always have Nitara dance for us," Mileena giggled. "Daddy likes that."
Next: Blood Secrets