The Sorcerer's Ward

Previously: Nine Generations

Bangkok, Thailand
Earthrealm

To be fair, it had been the perfect day.

They met at a coffee house; as always, Tanya was the one who got approached. After stalking her prey from the shadows and learning his habits, it took only one moment in the light for him to come to her.

Shang Tsung always sent her to places where he knew she'd stand out, and Bangkok was no different. Curious about "foreigners", the young man wanted to know her name, and if she was from America. They always assumed she was American. Tanya was long-legged with dark brown skin; she favored a look of luxury, wearing golden colors and expensive jewelry. And, of course, she sounded American.

They introduced themselves over iced coffee. He had just come from training; he specialized in muay thai, and after mansplaining martial arts to her, he not so subtly bragged about his accomplishments. And there were admittedly quite a few. Not only had he won several competitions as far back as his teen years, but now he was a trainer who also did films.

Tanya kept him talking, which was easy and required no form or enchantment. Men liked to talk about themselves to women, and this one was no different. The conversation dragged on until the coffee house closed and the sun sent down, so he asked her to dinner. Naturally, she said yes.

He took Tanya to a nice restaurant where the servers wore black aprons and there were candles and white cloths on the table. The windows were floor to ceiling, giving a beautiful view of the city. He ordered a white wine while she got a glass of the pinot noir. He ate the vegetable Gaeng Daeng Gai, while she had a spicy green papaya salad.

They drank well into the night, he becoming far more drunk than she. In fact, when he asked Tanya if he could go back to her hotel room, she was still perfectly sober.

The white bedding was now soaked with blood, all the way through to the mattress. Tanya rolled out of bed, naked and splattered. She padded across the cold floor to the shower where she scrubbed him from her body beneath a full blast of hot water. Showers were one of her favorite things about Earthrealm; long after she was clean, she simply stood and let the water run over her until it went cold.

Stepping out of the shower, she dabbed her body lightly, marveling at her physique in the full-length bathroom mirror. He'd either failed to notice her body was also toned and strong, or like most men, he noticed but didn't care.

Anyways, she shrugged to herself, we both got what we wanted tonight.

Hair and skin still damp, she exited the bathroom, casually saying out loud, "I know you're here."

"Good," her uninvited guest replied, standing over the blood-soaked bed. "I want you to know I'm here."

Masked or unmasked, she'd recognize Sub-Zero anywhere. He was a handsome, long-haired man with pale brown skin and frosty blue eyes. As always, he had a calm demeanor, with a low, pensive voice lightly tinged with sarcasm.

"Do you always sleep with your targets?" he asked, half-mocking, half-curious.

"No," she replied honestly, using a second towel to dry her long black braids. "But at least mine stay dead."

Sub-Zero frowned slightly. "So do mine."

"Not this last one," Tanya shook her head. "You took his arms when you should've taken his head."

He stared at her. There was a flicker of doubt in those blue eyes, as his replied, "Not possible."

"Oh, I assure you it's quite possible," Tanya smirked. "Not that it matters, him being armless and all. Still...it's quite an amateur move, don't you think? I mean, you've been doing this for centuries, Bi-Han. Is that the problem? Are you getting old?"

"Get dressed," he growled at her, his jaw tight. "The portal will open soon."

"Don't worry," she snickered, tossing the hair towel aside. "I promise to keep this just between us."

***

When Tanya was told she was to be Shang Tsung's ward, the only thing that kept her from running away was the sheer grandeur of his lifestyle.

Earthrealm had its perks and conveniences--this was true. Hot showers in expensive hotels. Upscale restaurants. Iced coffee and internet.

Every time she went on a mission, there was a part of Tanya that dreamed of casting a charm to conceal herself from prying eyes, so she could permanently move and live out her life as a vapid socialite in a big city somewhere.

But then the mission would end, the portal would open, and she would return to the ancient and exquisite splendor of Shang Tsung's island.

As a child of Edenian nobility, Tanya was no stranger to nice things, but the old man took opulence to an entirely different level. He had his own private island in a place between realms, where the sun shone on beautiful beaches, and where he'd built an extravagant palace with courtyards, gardens, and even waterfalls. He had hundreds of servants, some of whom were monks.

The sorcerer didn't bother with guards.

It was after sunset on the island when Tanya and Sub-Zero returned. A warm wind blew in the from the sea beneath the deep blue sky, and Tanya's ears were caressed by the familiar sound of waves.

The old man was enjoying his two favorite pleasures these days, tea and music on the beach. He had the servants pitch him a tent, lay out some rugs, and light the lamps so he could lounge and listen to his favorite musicians.

On the surface, Shang Tsung appeared a kindly old man with a shaved head, dark eyes, and tanned skin. He had a soft, polite voice (when he was in a good mood), and was generally quite laidback. Centuries of conquering realms for the Emperor had done him good, allowing him enormous wealth and privilege.

"You were successful," he cheerily greeted the pair. It wasn't a question. It was never a question.

"Yes, my lord," Sub-Zero greeted humbly, with a bow. Having been his ward for what felt like an eternity now, Tanya was long past such formality.

Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa as
Shang Tsung

"The journey was fruitful as always," she said simply, coming to lounge on the chaise next to him. A servant immediately poured her a cup of tea, while Sub-Zero remained standing, hands clasped behind his back. 

"Excellent!" the old sorcerer grinned. "Now we can talk your next assignments. Bi-Han," he called, "I need you to go to the capital."

Bi-Han raised a dark eyebrow. "My lord?"

"A little bird told me there's a new arrival at the Emperor's palace, an ambassador from the Netherrealm, of all places."

Tanya laughed aloud before stopping herself. Eyes wide, she gasped incredulously, "You're serious."

"Quite," Shang nodded.

"Quan Chi has come to Outworld?" Sub-Zero asked, also disbelieving.

"Oh, no, no," the old sorcerer shook his head. "There's not enough fire and brimstone here for him to come himself. No...I'm told he sent another."

"Since when does Netherrealm have or even need an ambassador?" Tanya snorted, sipping her tea. It was already cool, and easy to drink quickly.

"Since the Tournament is coming," Shang replied, and this time, there was a subtle edge to his voice. "Quan Chi, I'm assuming, predicts victory, and wants to get close to the Emperor beforehand."

Tanya laughed again. "Quan Chi and the Emperor despise each other."

"Which is why Bi-Han is going to the capital to assess the situation," Shang Tsung reiterated, looking back at his tall warrior. "See, I don't for a second believe that Quan Chi is actually happy for us. The last thing he wants is for Outworld to annex yet another world, especially a jewel like Earthrealm."

Tanya's humor dimmed. "You suspect sabotage."

"Oh, I expect it," the sorcerer flashed a razor-sharp grin. His tone lowered as he turned back to Sub-Zero. "I don't know who this 'ambassador' is, nor the exact details of their mission, but if they get too close to the Emperor, you know what to do."

"My lord," Sub-Zero bowed.

"Then off with you," the sorcerer waved, summoning an oval portal of blue and purple light. "Report back soon."

When they were alone, he turned to Tanya, snaking his around her waist and lightly patting her hip. "I have news for you."

"Oh?" she raised an eyebrow, holding out her cup so a servant could refill her tea.

"For the past several months, in anticipation of the Tournament, I've been in talks with the House of Argus. You remember the youngest brother, Rain?"

Tanya visibly shuddered. "Unfortunately. The last time you invited that family to this island, he complained about the food, the wine, the rooms, and was rude to all your servants."

"Mm, that's the one," Shang nodded. "You are to marry him."

Tanya felt her stop as her stomach turned to lead. For a split second, the sorcerer thought she would throw up.

"Shang," she rasped, when she finally regained her voice. "No...not him. Anyone but him."

The sorcerer maintained his smile, but his eyes burned like coals. "My dear girl, I can assure you that in a realm like Outworld, you don't just want 'anyone but him'."

Tanya cringed. "Why do I even have to marry? It's so archaic."

"Because your fellow Edenians have become annoyingly influential over the years," Shang begrudgingly admitted. "You see, while I was busy expanding the empire, they were setting up in Lei Chen, building their orchards, finding gold mines, even producing silk...among other fineries. The House of Argus, in particular, has slithered their way into every noble house in Outworld, and now that I'm finally, fully aware of them, it's too late to root them out." He paused before grittily adding, "They've made 'friends'."

Tanya scowled. "I still don't see what this has to do with marriage."

Shang Tsung attempted to explain. "The late Empress--may she rot--originally promised Rain he could marry the Princess Kitana. Not only is Rain an Edenian prince in his own right, his father was an actual god." Shang gave a small smile. "Surely, you can see why I'd never allow such a union. It took all my scheming just to get to the Emperor to stall for as long as possible. Since the Empress died--again, may she rot--I approached His Majesty about canceling the betrothal altogether. Of course, that's when I realized just powerful the Edenians have become."

"So I was offered up instead?" Tanya chortled, slightly pulling away. "I'm to be his consolation prize?" She paused, suddenly wondering something. "Kitana is a princess and I'm a nobody by comparison. How did you even get that pompous narcissist to agree?"

"By promising him a dowry even the Emperor can't afford," Shang replied seriously, locking eyes with her.

Tanya's eyes widened in shock. The old sorcerer was not known for his generosity. "You really don't want him to marry Kitana."

"You should prepare yourself," the old man sidestepped. "I told the servants to start packing your things."

"And what exactly is my mission in Lei Chen?" she asked pointedly. "Do you want me to watch him?" She briefly perked up. "Do you want me to kill him?"

"I want you to be a good consort," Shang shrugged. "I want you to be the beautiful, charming young woman I raised, and do whatever you can to make him happy."

She scoffed, "You mean distract him."

"Believe me, Tanya," he assured her with a smile that didn't reach his eyes, "it's in all our best interests if that family is kept far from the throne."

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