The House of Argus
If you'd told Delia just a few centuries earlier that she'd be here, in this house, living with her late husband's bastard, she would've laughed in your face before setting you on fire.
The Argus in estate was the envy of the city. It was by far the largest residence, with the most resplendent gardens in all of Lei Chen. That last part was Rain's idea.
When her sons Taven and Daegon first insisted upon him coming to live with them, she'd been skeptical. After all, he was a living reminder of her husband's "mistake". She'd hoped that if he kept staying with the Edenian commoners, he'd eventually be forgotten. Or if he somehow wound up at the Imperial Palace, he'd say the wrong thing to the Emperor and get flayed alive.
But as fate would have it, the young man grew on her rather quickly. He was highly intelligent, with a strong aptitude for magic, as he easily bent the elementals to his will. His command over the rains in particular had been a great boon to the agricultural industry in Lei Chen, increasing the family's wealth drastically within a single year.
He learned other mystical arts from Delia quickly, mastering abilities her own sons never could. And unlike his brothers, Rain was a man of immaculate taste, with a singular eye for beauty. True, his tastes were rather expensive, but by indulging him Delia also rediscovered her own love for silk clothes, fine wine, Edenian art, literature, and cuisine. After years of surviving as an Outworlder, she was finally able to live as herself once again.
|Francoise Yip as Delia|
Indeed, if one paid a visit to the House of Argus, they'd have no idea they were still in Outworld. Even the servants were full-blooded Edenians.
Indeed, it was one of the ways in which they'd consolidated their power in Outworld, for despite all their "friendships" with other Outworld nobles and royalty, the Edenians of Lei Chen only married other Edenians. They employed other Edenians first before even glancing at anyone else.
And thus developed the "insufferable Edenian" stereotype, though it was rumored Edenians deliberately behaved insufferably to lower their desirability to other races. Rumor or not, one thing was true: non-Edenians didn't want to marry them either.
Delia turned to see Rain coming towards her, waving a roll of parchment. He was such a handsome young man, with long black hair and clear golden skin. He looked every bit a prince in his flowing silk robes.
He handed her the parchment. "It's final."
"Shang Tsung agreed?" Her eyes were wide as she skimmed the old sorcerer's letter, noting his impeccable handwriting. "But we demanded so much!"
"You were right," Rain chuckled, shaking his head. "He really doesn't want me to marry Kitana. He's willing do anything to stop it."
She closed the letter and looked back up at him. "We must delay this marriage for as long as possible. When Tanya arrives, she'll stay in a separate room, and we'll need to keep her occupied."
"How long do you think we can keep the old sorcerer and his ward out of our business, Mother?" Rain asked, eyebrow raised. "If Tanya and I stay unmarried for too long, it's going to raise...questions."
Delia snorted. "We've kept him out of our business for decades already, remember? He has no choice but to focus his attentions elsewhere." She cocked her head to the side. "After all, the Tournament is coming."
|The Forbidden City doubling as Lei Chen|
Qali hated Outworld and generally avoided the realm altogether, and had managed to do so for almost two centuries. But this tenth Tournament between Outworld and Earthrealm had everybody on edge, so now she found herself getting sucked back into the toxic politics of it all.
To be fair, Lei Chen looked nothing like what she remembered; it was a lot bigger, a lot cleaner, and much better organized. Even the walls were taller, and apparently painted now.
It was evening when she arrived; everyone was heading home as the sun slowly faded from the sky. She was beginning to see what other people meant about the so-called "insufferable Edenians"; literally every one she was passed was swaddled in silk and smelling of perfume. They held their heads high and only address people of similar or high social standing.
Qali rolled her dark eyes. She was in dusty traveling clothes, burgundy-dyed leather pants and top, with a matching hood. She couldn't open a portal straight into Lei Chen; she had enter a backdoor one in a southern desert. She looked and smelled of the road, and was ignored thusly.
The Argus family estate was shining proof of this. Qali couldn't recall the last time she'd witnessed such lavishness; it was jarring. Even the servants were clad in very elegant linen robes, while she stood at the entrance hall like a beggar. Yet no one was rude to her; a servant greeted her with a bow and escorted her to where Delia was sipping tea on a balcony, overlooking the gardens.
"Lady Qali has arrived," the servant announced politely, before leaving the two women alone.
Qali glanced after the servant, her eyebrow raised. She'd never been called that before.
"Qali," Delia greeted, beaming and gesturing for her to sit.
"Delia," came the emotionless reply, as Qali accepted the seat.
"Tea?" Delia offered, pouring before Qali could accept. It smelled so fragrant, and a dark, rich flavor. "Dinner will be served soon," Delia assured her, "but you relax beforehand. I had the servants make up a room for you and run you a bath."
"I got your message," Qali blinked, her tone flat.
"Indeed," Delia nodded, suddenly remembering she couldn't small talk her way with this one. "Qali, the Tournament is coming."
"I know," Qali snorted irreverently. "Everybody knows. It's all they can fucking talk about."
"I know you hate Outworld," Delia continued. "We all do, to be frank with you. But if the Emperor wins this last Tournament...you're just going to end back up here."
Qali paused. She hadn't allowed herself to think of that. "There are other realms," she countered.
Delia gave a compassionate smile. "Netherrealm? You want to join Quan Chi's creepy collection of concubines? Chaosrealm? Enough said. Seido is beautiful and civilized, to be sure; in fact, the current lord of Lei Chen is from Seido. And like his home realm, he is a rigid and infuriating man.
"Yes, yes," she raised her hand, when Qali would interrupt. "There other realms to explore, but they are distant and unknown, even to the Emperor. I know you hate it here, but not enough to venture out into the unknown."
Qali was defiant. "Earthrealm might prevail."
"The Emperor will never let it go," Delia shook her head. "He will issue a new challenge. Shang Tsung will find a loophole and Outworld will invade--you know these people, dear. They're barbarians."
Qali sighed. She was weary from travel and didn't want to give in to her anxiety about the future. "What do you want, Delia?"
"You're Edenian," Delia said warmly, gently. "You belong with your own kind. Now, I know we have disappointed in the past, but as you can see, things have change." There was a sudden hard tint to her voice. "We are powerful now."
"I still don't understand what you want from me," Qali pressed growing irritable.
"To come home," Delia reiterated. "You can have a house right here in Lei Chen, be surrounded by Edenian friends and family. There's more than enough to go around." After a pause she added, "My youngest son is to marry Tanya. Remember Tanya?"
Qali snickered. "She's still alive?"
"Shang Tsung taught her well," Delia nodded. "She's now a beautiful, intelligent, powerful young woman. But like you, she's been away from her people for a very long time. She'll need a friend who understands her when she arrives."
Qali sneered. "You mean a spy."
"No," Delia shook her head honestly. "There's no reason to spy on Tanya. She's not the threat to us. But I do want her to be happy here, and I want the same thing for you. Edenia might be lost to us, but in Lei Chen, she is found."
Qali knew there had to be more to it, but she was too tired to argue. "Fine," she said. "I'll stay...for now."
Next: Royal Storms