THE DRAGON'S JAWS
written by Victar, e-mail email@example.com
Victar's Archive: http://www.victarfanfics.com
"It is really hard to conceive of just how big a dragon is.
I can tell you that it could eat me, perhaps without the need for a second bite... I could let you
know that, at the shoulders, it was around eighteen feet high and much, much longer than that.
But, until you've seen one up close, you just can't really imagine it."
-S. K. Z. Brust,
I have just come from a long and costly war to determine
the fate of our entire world, and all who live within it. It is my duty to write this record of the
internecine events as best I may, for the knowledge of forthcoming generations.
The roots of the conflict reach back to over five hundred
years ago. The Shaolin Tournament for Martial Arts itself is much older than that, at least two
millennia older, perhaps nine times that, perhaps more ancient still. Some believe that the
Tournament, in cruder form, predates the founding of the White Lotus Society of the Shaolin
Order, of which I am a humble member. For many, many centuries, the Tournament was an open
contest meant to bring honor and glory to all who sought to test themselves by competing within
Then came the shape-shifter.
His name was Shang Tsung; his intentions, wholly foul.
Cursed by the gods, hated by men, he artificially prolonged his own life by using his unholy
sorceries to steal the lives and souls of others. He wrested the Tournament from its Shaolin
patrons and sought to pervert it to his evil ends. A virtuous and noble Shaolin monk named Kung
Lao did reclaim the Tournament, but only for a short span of years. Then Shang Tsung
overpowered and murdered him, with the aid of a monstrous protégé called Goro.
The Tournament has remained in Shang Tsung's immortal and corrupt hands ever since, until
barely this year, when I took it back from him.
I did not succeed wholly by myself. I had the aid of six
other warriors, some of whom had motivations more worthy of esteem than others. I do not know
how many of them survived the chaos that ignited and ran rampant the instant I vanquished Shang
Tsung. Before his withered frame fell all the way to the floor from the spine-crushing impact of
my last and most critical kick, his decadent palace began to quake and crumble, as though his
sickly vitality had been holding it together all these centuries, instead of mere brick and mortar. I
barely escaped alive. The only other person I saw leave the disaster was John Carlton, who has
since done me the kindness of providing me with transportation back to the Honan Province. I am
currently on the last leg of the return journey to my home, the Shaolin Temple, where I shall be
able to rest, return to the simple life of a fisherman, and devote myself to properly rewriting a
more detailed chronicle of all that has happened.
Shang Tsung himself is dead. He must be. When I defeated
him in single combat, I also broke his mystical power, so that he could no longer protect his
already enfeebled body from the ravages of time and decay. That surely must have killed him,
even if his island fortress had not caved in on itself like a dying horse that can no longer carry its
master. Goro is also dead. I disliked instigating their slaughter, but it was necessary; Shang Tsung
had been planning to unbalance the cosmic Furies and summon forces that would have remade the
world's surface into a demon-ruled pit of eternal darkness. He had to be stopped. I derive no
satisfaction from his eradication; if anything, all I feel is a wash of relief that at long last, the
nightmare is over.
[signature, Liu Kang]
The nightmare is not over.
I received a warning today. The first sign that something
was amiss came when a stratospheric mass of dark, roiling clouds engulfed what had previously
been a clear sky. Day passed into night within the space of half a dozen heartbeats, and yet the
hour of the clock had barely waned into early afternoon. I did not need any training in
weather-lore to know that there was something unnatural about the impending storm. A single
lightning sparked so brilliantly as to mimic the brightest sunlight, forcing me to shield my eyes,
and a sudden, unbroken stream of heavy rain drenched me instantaneously. (I was very glad that I
carry this scroll within its own waterproof case, because the slightest exposure to the surging
elemental forces would surely have destroyed it.) Thunder reverberated and echoed from all sides.
There was a second flash of lightning, and then a god materialized before me.
So, Raiden had also survived the Tournament.
He appeared in the form of a mortal man, though his
blazing white, pupilless eyes and the occasional snakelike trickle of electricity skittering about his
seven-foot body marked him as something significantly more powerful... and more menacing.
Despite the thunder that never completely quieted while he spoke to me, I could hear his sharp,
alternately crescendo and diminuendo "voice" burn itself into my brain with perfect lucidity. I am
not certain that he "spoke" to me entirely by means of ordinary sound alone.
He departed without preamble, and so, too, departed the
storm. If not for my sopping wet clothing and the smell of fresh rain in the air, I might have
mistaken the entire experience for a bizarre waking dream. I remember the general content, if not
the precise phrasing of the warning: Shang Tsung is alive. He has the support of a powerful
patron. And he wishes to lure his enemies into a second Tournament set in the Outworld, a place
that exists beyond the space and time within which ordinary mortals dwell. Worse still, Shang
Tsung has not abandoned his previous scheme to unbalance the Furies and doom humankind to
eternal darkness. I, personally, am in great danger.
I do not want to believe any of it. I am too weary to
consider entering a second Tournament; how long has it been since I endured the horrors of the
last one? It feels like barely the extent of a few short days, even though I know better. Sometimes,
when I close my eyes at night, I can still smell the scent of fresh blood and hear the screams of
men and women dying in agony...
Could Raiden be lying? I have never trusted him. When he
participated in the first Tournament, he came across as arrogant and uncaring about the
well-being of "lesser" living creatures. On the other hand, could competing in mortal form and
experiencing the emptiness of death have given him a sobering lesson in humility? Why would he
want to lie to me, in any case? What would he have to gain? I cannot know for certain whether he
was telling the truth. Psychological analysis is all but useless upon a god.
I carry an ill feeling within me. The storm is gone, but an
ominous wisp of dusky cloud cover remains visible, just above the far horizon of the pathway
Home has become the gateway to Hell.
A horrible thing has happened to the people who have been
like members of my family to me, ever since my parents died and my elder brother disappeared to
parts unknown. I know how the tragedy came to pass, but I still have difficulty accepting what
has taken place. The last time I saw them all, I had just sworn to enter Shang Tsung's Tournament
and defeat him. The last time I spoke to Master Wu, I said to him: "I will not fail... that is my
I wonder what his severed head thinks of my promises
I must start again.
The morning after Raiden delivered his warning, I hastened
up the pathway to the Shaolin Temple at a much swifter pace. Ordinarily, I would have needed
two more days of travel to reach it, but I was so uneasy that I had resolved to arrive by sunset. At
one point, I caught a glimpse of a tiny corner of the Temple's roof. It looked normal enough at
first glance; then, I noticed that there were an unusual number of birds circling the vicinity. I could
not tell what precise avian species they were, but their large, wide wingspread set them well apart
from ordinary songbirds or migrating seabirds. They appeared to be hawks, or else...
I suddenly did not want to continue my speculations.
Instead, I redoubled my pace yet again. I was sprinting so briskly that I nearly crashed into the
first living human being I had seen since bidding farewell to John Carlton.
"Out of my way!" I snapped, simultaneously attempting to
step around the person who impeded my progress.
"Wait," he said, interposing himself directly in my path. I
tried to brush him aside, but he was fully prepared for the attempt and had braced himself to block
me. One of his hands clasped my shoulder, and he fixed me with a direct glare. Only then did I
recognize him. My eyes narrowed slightly.
"You," I growled.
"Is that any way to greet your old friend Kung Lao?" he
rasped in reply.
There are many phrases I could use to describe the last
living descendant of the Great Kung Lao: younger Shaolin brother, yes; fellow scholar of the
White Lotus Society, most certainly; rival student of martial arts, of course; but... "old friend"?
Well, I suppose that is not truly inaccurate, all past animosities aside. We have long been on more
or less friendly terms, although we have had our differences. Our last meeting in particular had not
gone smoothly. I remember it well. It took place a short time after I had announced my intentions
to defeat Shang Tsung and reclaim the Shaolin Tournament from his evil grip.
"I was the first to ask permission to compete in Shang
Tsung's Tournament! Why did Master Wu grant your petition when he denied mine?" he had
demanded of me, with his usual bluntness. Kung Lao never was one to mince words.
"Who am I to fully comprehend the wisdom of the
Master?" I told him, bringing my palms together and bowing my head in the traditional
"Don't give me that. You've always 'comprehended the
wisdom of the Master' better than I ever have, so stop acting so damn holy and tell me!"
"'The admission of one's own shortcomings, is a first step
to transcending the limitations of the self,'" I quoted, or perhaps paraphrased, from our mutual
"Gods curse you, Liu Kang, you know I deserve a straight
"I would like to suggest that you might venture to ask me
with the proper politeness. Perhaps that will bring you more success than invoking the wrath of a
With very slight amusement, I contemplated what a curious
spectacle it was to watch him endeavor to control his temper. It took him ten whole seconds to
regain enough self-composure to grit his teeth and say, "Elder Shaolin brother, please enlighten
me upon this matter." It was not the politest phrasing, nor was it spoken in the most courteous
manner, but it was probably the best I could have hoped from him, at the time. Besides, he did
have some cause. He most likely would not have behaved so rudely to me (or any other Shaolin
brother, for that matter) under ordinary circumstances, but Master Wu's decision to permit only
myself to enter the Tournament had doubtless come as a severe blow to him. Here was the one
chance to avenge his great ancestors, and he had to watch it pass him by.
"First, you know full well that I am the elder and more
advanced in my studies of the martial arts. Given that the Master is unwilling to risk more than
one Shaolin brother's life in the forthcoming Tournament, I am the logical choice. Second, I am
more expendable than you. Should the worst come to pass, I have an elder brother who could
carry on my family's name-"
"-not that you or anyone else knows where he is-" Kung
"-whereas you are the last of your line. Someone must
preserve the legacy of the Great Kung Lao; who will do so if you die?"
"And if I continue to live here, cowering within safe walls
while my ancestors' murderers roam at large and wreak havoc, then how could I possibly be
worthy of bearing the hundred thousandth fragment of any legacy at all?"
"You have heard once why you must remain here. I will
not repeat myself."
"You haven't answered my question."
"If you were to leave the temple and follow me to the
secret location of the Tournament, then there would be little I or anyone else could do stop you."
I wonder, in retrospect, what caused me to point that out? I can no longer remember. Was it that
I understood his agitation and sympathized with his predicament, or was it simply that I was
losing my patience with him and no longer cared?
"No, elder brother; I cannot hound your trail like an
honorless thief. I shall enter the Tournament either by your side, or not at all."
"So be it, then," and with those parting words I left him for
the road that would carry me to my destiny. I could feel his eyes fixed upon my back until the
Temple itself became hidden behind the summer vegetation and highland peaks. For all I knew, he
might have remained standing in that very spot, looking at where he was last able to see my
dwindling form, for the rest of day and the length of the night. I suppose he was waiting for me to
turn around, come back, and tell him that I would welcome his entrance beside mine into the
Tournament, after all. Ridiculous. If more than one of us had entered the Tournament, we might
have been forced to fight or even kill one another, and what benefit could have come from
He would have just slowed me down anyway.
"Leave me be!" I snarled to Kung Lao, although my sudden
hostility was more the product of pent-up worry rather than any actual resentment of his desire to
restrain me. He now had a surprisingly strong grip upon my right wrist. I could have escaped it in
an instant, and concurrently incapacitated him with a severe strike to his temple or his exposed
floating rib, but it is against the code for one Shaolin brother to needlessly instigate physical
conflict with another. "I must check upon the welfare of our brothers!"
"There is nothing you can do for them, Liu Kang," he said,
without slackening his grasp in the slightest. "Please. You must listen to me." His voice carried a
slight quiver to it.
"Speak quickly, then!"
"You may wish to sit down for this. You see-" he paused,
licking his lips. It took me a moment to realize that Kung Lao, always so direct and
uncompromisingly straightforward with his words, was for once trying to break his message
"Do not hesitate upon formalities. Tell me, or let me go.
"A terrible thing has happened. There is nothing you can do
to change it now. And I have overheard that Shang Tsung has laid a trap for you within the
Temple; if you go in there, he will be able to sense your presence and-"
"What 'terrible thing'? What are you talking about? Shang
Tsung is dead! I killed him myself!"
His attempt to speak faltered.
"Damn you! What must I do to make you-" I abruptly
stopped speaking when I noticed his eyes. They were unusually red, and puffy. The last dying rays
of sunlight sparkled upon two thin, all but invisible trails from the inside corner of each eye down
across his either cheek. He had very recently been... crying?
"I'm sorry," I whispered. "Please forgive me." His head
inclined somewhat, and he raggedly took in a shuddering breath. He voiced his next sentence
flatly, dully, without looking at me or showing of any trace of emotion.
"I am the only survivor."
Panic engulfed me. Acting upon years of conditioned
reflex, I rotated my ensnared wrist so that its inner edge lay against the weak point of his clasp,
where his thumb and index finger touched. Then I freed my hand with an ungraceful wrench and
bolted in the direction of the Temple.
"Wait!" Kung Lao called, but I paid no attention to him. I
had completely forgotten his earlier warning about a trap, and I had to know whether his
harrowing words were true.
The Temple was in ruins. Parts of it were still burning,
although the fires were in the process of receding to embers and ashes. The "hawks" I had spotted
earlier were actually carrion feeders, which had flocked to the Temple in great numbers. No
wonder, that; there was plenty of fresh carrion strewn about for them to gorge themselves
corpulent upon. Death was everywhere. The gutted, impaled, and decapitated corpses of my
brothers surrounded me. A few bodies bore marks of being burned or tortured to death. The
familiar smells of blood and decomposition pervaded the air. Also present were the odors of urine
and defecation, stemming from the involuntary relaxation of the body's bladder and sphincter
muscles once life has fled. Some of my brothers had been cut down with weapons in their hands;
still others had apparently been taken completely by surprise. None had been spared, not the
lowliest acolytes through priests of high rank...
"Master Wu," I mouthed silently, and dashed inside. More
blood and death stained the Temple's entry corridors. The Master still sat upon his elevated dais in
the Great Hall, flanked on either side by ceremonial watch-fires... or rather, most of him did. His
neatly severed head rested in the middle of the left fire. It made poor fuel, at best; the flames had
died to the point where they barely engulfed it. For a moment, I almost thought that his charred
face wore a serene expression, but then again my mind could have been playing tricks upon itself.
At least he had not suffered.
Cruel, scornful laughter sounded from behind me. I whirled
to confront Shang Tsung himself. He appeared in a new, much more youthful incarnation than
before, but there could be no mistaking his features, his soulless eyes, or his malicious voice. Two
others were at his either side. One was a green-dressed ninja, whom I recognized as Shang
Tsung's personal bodyguard (how had either of them survived the last Tournament?); the other
was an unfamiliar mockery of a human being, with long spikes for teeth and pieces of metal
embedded in his arms.
"I was wondering when you would show up," Shang Tsung
remarked, with a grin that was more sneer than smile.
"MURDERER!!!" I screamed, and flew at him with the
most powerful kick I could summon. It did not connect, even though my aim was perfectly true. I
passed right through the seemingly corporeal image of the wizard and painfully collided
with the stone column just behind him. I was fortunate not to break any bones.
"Did I mention that you cannot harm this astral projection
of myself and my comrades?" he mused, his countenance dripping with false benevolence and
charm. I slowly endeavored to stagger to a standing position, aching from my failed attack.
"Unfortunately for you, the reverse is not the case. Please do allow me to demonstrate." He
snapped the fingers of his right hand, and the green ninja leaned forward, lowered his mask, and
spat at me with the eerie, hissing sound of acid mixing with water. Even if I had fully recovered
from my impact into the column, it would have been difficult to dodge the vile, olive mass of
inhuman saliva; I am fast, but so was the green ninja, and his projected image was very close. I
could not even raise my hands into a proper guard position swiftly enough. The spittle landed
upon my chest, where it hissed and itched and seared like a brand. I could not suppress a brief cry
During the fleeting instant in which I glimpsed the green
ninja's face, I believe that I saw it alter to resemble the guise of a Reptile, with blood-red cat's
eyes. But then he replaced his mask as swiftly as he had lowered it, and the unmasked half of his
countenance once again seemed to be that of an ordinary man.
"I could kill you right now, if I wanted to, and there would
be nothing you could do to stop me," Shang Tsung remarked, pleasantly. He might as well have
been discussing the weather. "Or would you like Baraka to present you with another
'demonstration'?" He gestured with one hand, indicating his other companion as he said the name
"Baraka." The grinning humanoid flexed his hands, causing the high-pitched sound of
metal upon metal as the keen blades of two long swords extended from the implants in his either
arm. He crossed the blades in front of his chest and stared at me in sadistic anticipation. I ignored
Baraka, who was clearly nothing more than just another killer in Shang Tsung's employ, and
directed the sharpest taunt I could think of to the sorcerer himself.
"So, are you afraid to fight me on equal terms? Fearful that
I'll crush you a second time?"
He laughed again. "Oh, I do so enjoy your sense of humor.
In fact, I was just going to invite you to participate in a new Tournament. I shall be in it too,
naturally, and if you do well enough then you just might have the chance for a rematch
with me." He said that as if to imply that he had defeated me during the last Tournament, and not
the other way around. "You will come, of course?"
"You bastard! Make yourself solid, and I'll fight both you
and your hirelings right now!"
"No," and his false veneer of friendship slipped a little.
"You shan't goad me into giving you an unearned chance at me. Your opinion of me means
nothing when I know better. Now be quiet and listen. I arranged the destruction of your pitiful
temple in order to prove to you that there is no place you can hide. If you refuse to enter my
tournament or try to run from me, then no matter where you seek to lose yourself, I shall find you
and again send Baraka and his legions to slaughter everyone around you."
"The only one of us who seeks to run and hide is y-"
"BE STILL!" he shrieked. I seemed to have touched a
nerve. "I shall come for you by the shore of lake Kioh Lung, to transport you to the Outworld, in
precisely one week! Be there or suffer the consequences!" There was a flash of light and a puff of
smoke, and then Shang Tsung and his two associates were gone.
"Liu Kang, my elder brother, you are an idiot," came Kung
Lao's even and measured voice from behind me. "Did you not wonder why all the bodies were
those of our brothers, and only our brothers? We attempted to mount a defense when the attack
came. We could not touch a single one of them, any more than you could touch Shang
"Then you were listening to our entire conversation?"
"What is your point?"
A dark thought occurred to me. "How did you escape?
How is it that you are still alive, when everyone else is dead?"
"I hid. And if any of the others had been smart enough to
hide with me, more of us would have surviv-"
Before he could finish speaking the insult to the valor of
our martyred brothers, I dealt him a backfist strike squarely to the right side of his face. He had
not been expecting it. Perhaps I'd put a little more force into the blow than I had first intended,
because his head whipped sharply to the left, and he crumpled backwards to one knee, twisting
the ankle of his other leg underneath him. A sanguine trickle of red dripped from the right corner
of his mouth, where his own teeth had cut into the soft flesh of his inside cheek. From deep within
me, something cried no, this is wrong, you shouldn't be quarreling with one another at a time
like this, but I ignored it.
"You," wheezed Kung Lao, "are still in shock." Then he
limped away, without making any effort to wipe the slowly oozing drops of blood off his face. I
did not move from the spot upon which I stood for a very long time.
I suppose I shall have to apologize to him later.
A week. I have only a week to prepare. Less than that,
really, since transporting our brothers' remains to the crypt beneath the Temple took Kung Lao
and myself an entire day. We would have preferred to cremate them first, but I did not have the
time and neither of us had the resources to build up and properly control a great enough fire. It
has also taken precious time for me to write down what has happened. I suppose that I could have
delegated that task to Kung Lao, but not just yet. I will eventually, though. He will have to stay
behind and take care of this scroll anyway.
A short time ago, I greeted the thought of a second
Tournament with horror, but now I think I do not fear the idea so much. Anything that gives me
the opportunity for revenge upon Shang Tsung cannot be all bad. I must use the intervening time
to prepare, to condition myself, to hone my skills and perhaps even learn a few new ones for the
struggle ahead. I no longer feel the least bit tired. I've been going without sleep for the past
couple of nights.
Kung Lao tried to talk to me tonight, about some matter or
another. I think he was urging me to rest for a little while, or something. I had no time to listen to
him. When he tried to get me to pay attention to whatever he was saying by touching my
shoulder, I bent his arm into a painful lock and flung him to the stone floor, causing a bruise over
his left scapula. He left me alone after that, although I can sense that he continues to watchfully
observe my self-directed training. Doesn't he have anything better to do?
The need to train drives me. I practice, I study, I've
stopped eating food and drink save for a few flasks of water each waking day. I do not sleep
unless I collapse in the middle of my techniques or my patterns, and even then I simply begin
where I had left off as soon as I resume consciousness. I pray for the spirits of my ancestors to
possess me and show me the way, and perhaps they do. Skills and capacities that would have
daunted me only days before flow cleanly through me now. And they are all so simple...!
It is not enough.
I have not learned enough to ensure the success of my
quest for vengeance upon Shang Tsung and his ilk. I need more power. I need an edge. There are
only three more days...
Kung Lao tried to persuade me to break my fast today. I
didn't hit him, but I did tell him in graphic detail what I would do to him if he did not leave me
alone at once, and take his turgidly-prepared, vomit-inducing "offering" with him. I am busy
meditating on a problem, and the problem is my lack of power. I cannot afford any more of his
Only two more days. In desperation, this evening, I have
been tearing through the wreckage of the Temple, looking for anything that might possibly be of
use to me. My path crossed Kung Lao's once; he was trying to scrub our brothers' bloodstains
from the entry corridors. As if anything could ever restore these ruins to the merest semblance of
their former glory. I honestly don't know why he bothers to remain here at all. He darted out of
sight before I could order him to get his carcass out of my way, which was good.
No aspect of the Temple is too mundane for my search. I
have lifted floorboards and looked under them, I have ripped apart closets full of garments, I have
taken every clay vessel from out of the Temple's modest food-preparation facilities, shattered
them, and examined the shards. I don't know precisely what I am searching for, only that it must
be somewhere within the Temple's blackened walls. I must find it. I must. It-
Temple library. Of course. Why didn't I think of it before? I
don't know, I just stumbled into the passage leading toward the library by chance, after
systematically incinerating every inch of the carpeting in the Great Hall.
I have to find them. The records. The forbidden keys. Now
I know what I have been looking for: the secrets that Master Wu himself refused to teach me...
well, not me personally, he refused to teach them to anyone who would not swear, on pain of
death, never to use them. Doesn't that sound ludicrous? I've never questioned his wisdom before,
but I see its flaws and follies clearly now. What is the point of learning something if one is never
going to use it? I know the secrets are written down somewhere, and I shall shred to tatters every
book and scroll in the library until-
-no. It isn't right to needlessly destroy volumes of
knowledge. Articles of luxury are one thing, but records of historical significance are another. I
may as well rip up this very scroll. No, no, no, I don't know what possessed me to write that.
Yes, I do. Vengeance. I have to find the Forbidden Scrolls;
I need them to avenge myself and my brothers upon Shang Tsung!
The matter could be moot. The way to the library is
barricaded. Probably at Master Wu's orders, to preserve the library's contents from falling into the
hands of Shang Tsung and his pet vermin. It doesn't matter. All that matters is getting around the
barrier. By any means I have to use. I have attempted to kick the heavy barricade, or shatter the
closed doors with my fists. The gateway remains immovable, and I think my left hand is bleeding.
Damn! There must be some way to get through. I can't use fire; the risk is too great that the
flames would spread to the Forbidden Scrolls. I have to think!
I finally took a 400-year-old a sword from the Temple
armory and used it like an ax to chop my way through. It took much longer than I thought it
would have. I feel weakened... I suppose that is because I have been driving myself into a frenzy
of activity with no food, very little water, and very little sleep. It can't be helped; I have no time to
rest now. I've finally found them. The Forbidden Scrolls, the ones that neither I nor any member
of the White Lotus Society other than Master Wu himself had access to before, are now mine to
They make no sense at all.
The writing is shaky, draft script, looking as if it were
dashed off in very great haste. That makes them hard enough to read. What I fear even more is
that my mind is simply unable to grasp the ideas of which the Forbidden Scrolls speak. A great
deal is written in them of "transformation," "metamorphosis," and power, so much power... and I
cannot comprehend it! Out of desperation, I am striving to memorize them word for word, in the
hope that their true meaning will reveal itself to me even if I become separated from them. One
more day. I have only one more day.
Kung Lao appeared from out of nowhere as I sought to
memorize the twenty-fourth line of text. He started talking to me. I couldn't make out what he
was saying. Something about Shang Tsung. His tones were garbled, I couldn't hear. And I didn't
have time to listen. I stood up, approached him purposefully, raised my right arm-
"Liu Kang, my elder brother," he began quietly, and the
sudden change in his speech from murky to transparently clear struck me so greatly that I halted
in mid-motion. "I have forgiven the first injury upon me because I know you are driven mad with
grief for our lost brothers. I have forgiven the second because you are my elder, and the first to
defeat Shang Tsung since my own ancestor did so, five hundred years past."
He shifted position, presenting me with only the guarded
edge of his body. "Do not attempt to physically harm me a third time."
There was something very different about his bearing. His
apparel reflected and intensified the distinction. He was no longer dressed in the traditional robes
of our order; his new vestments included a gathered pair of slacks, their cuffs tucked well into a
pair of tight black, nearly knee-high boots, and a loose, sleeveless vest covered by a second, sable
vest upon his torso. All together, they offered him the same, streamlined freedom of movement
that my own apparel gives to me. Both his forearms were tightly bandaged. His eyes were hidden
beneath the shadow of a wide-brimmed black hat that he wore slanted, and held in place with a
chin strap. There was something odd about the silvery edge of that hat's brim, but the scarlet
character traced upon his sable vest distracted my attention. The character clearly represented
In short, he wore the livery of a warrior.
I demanded to know what he was doing in that ridiculous
getup. He dismissed my question with a terse shake of his head and softly asked why I was
studying the Forbidden Scrolls. I was too exasperated and fatigued to explain the matter to him,
so all I said was that if he had come for the Scrolls, he would have to reclaim them from my dead
"Never, elder brother," he whispered, and departed. Just
like that. I wonder what the hell is wrong with him, anyway.
I fell asleep while studying the Scrolls by candlelight, and
my dreams showed me things that my waking mind could never have grasped. I awoke in the
middle of the night, enlightened and mysteriously anxious. Something had roused me, something
other than my usual determination to remain awake so long as I do not collapse in place from
exhaustion. I left the library and strained to hear what it was: Sounds. Voices. I crept outside,
around the back of the Temple, to investigate.
They were so scruffily dressed, haggard, and mired in
poverty, that what else could they have been? Here was the chance to test myself, to learn once
and for all whether I had truly prepared enough to enter the upcoming Tournament. I tried to
keep my center balanced in a state of emotionless calm when I presented myself to the four of
them, but I could not shake a newfound streak of anticipation from coloring my thoughts. For the
first time I could remember in a long while, a smile curled my lips.
"You may not enter here. This is a holy place, and I shall
not let you defile it," I told them, still smiling. "Leave, or else I shall have to make an example of
you," I continued, abruptly realizing how greatly I would relish the opportunity do so.
I heard some muttered whispers among the group of them;
all I caught of it were the phrases "He's deranged!" and "No, let's go." Then the tallest one
(presumably their leader) turned away from the group and asked, "Who are you?"
There was a day and age when I would have said aloud my
name in response to such a question, but no longer. The veil had been lifted from my eyes; for the
first time, I could clearly see that scum like him did not deserve to know. "Your death," I told
him, warmly, "if you do not depart. Now."
"Kill him," the leader said. His followers didn't seem to
want to obey his orders, though; the three of them were all carefully backing away. I heard the
rustle of vegetation and the muted cry of some animal behind me. The leader cursed and withdrew
a long knife from his threadbare coat.
This was the moment I had been waiting for.
Before he could point his useless weapon at my body, I
summoned the Power, the Transformation, the Metamorphosis, call it what you will; it is known
by many, many names. I could see the delicious terror in his face as futilely tried to defend himself
with the knife. The attempt did him no good. I destroyed him.
It felt wonderful. It was so... gratifying.
Is this the Power that poor Master Wu was afraid of? Is
this something that the Great Kung Lao demanded to be stricken from the syllabus of his
followers five hundred years ago? Is this that which is supposed to be so terribly deleterious to
practice? How silly. I finally have the edge I need. I'm not any different for having used it, or for
being ready to use it again. I am writing this next to the shore of lake Kioh Lung, and whenever I
pause to look into the water, I see the same reflection as always.
I am waiting for evening to come. Shang Tsung will appear
to transport me to the Outworld any minute now. And then I'll kill him, no matter who or what
tries to get in my way. Even if it's an entire damn Tournament. I'm looking forward to fighting my
way up through the Tournament ranks, to that promised rematch with Shang Tsung and his allies.
I yearn to experience the thrill of mortal combat once more. And I hunger so greatly for
vengeance upon my enemies... upon all my enemies...!
I am ready for the next Tournament, now.
I guess I'd better finish this.
The moment I first spotted Liu Kang dashing up the path
back to our home, I could tell that he carried scars. Not ordinary physical scars, I mean; despite
his lightning quick pace he moved like a man carrying a great burden. I do not know what horrors
he had to endure during the earlier Tournament, but they must have been terrible indeed. And of
course, the shock of our brothers' murder has hurt him greatly. I would be a fool not to expect
that. My fear is that his pain is so great, so overpowering, that it is changing him into someone I
cannot recognize. His self-induced starvation, sleep deprivation, and general physical abuse of his
own body make me uneasy enough, but it is more than that. Much more. The Liu Kang I used to
know never would have gone upon such a destructive rampage throughout what is left of our
beautiful Temple, breaking pots, shredding artwork and clothing, and generally destroying
everything in his path without even knowing why. The Liu Kang I used to know never would
have so much as threatened me in the least manner, let alone actively breaking the Shaolin code
against interpersonal violence. And the Liu Kang I used to know never would have
disobeyed the ancient and express prohibition against any of the White Lotus Society using the
power of the Forbidden Scrolls, never.
Damn him. I don't think he fully understands what the
Forbidden Scrolls are. I tried to explain their sinister nature to him; it was like attempting to
illuminate the finer subtleties of Han Dynasty poetry to a rock. The Scrolls are the written
embodiment of the Transformation of one's own quintessence, and the literal Metamorphosis of
one's form and physical abilities. They are the secrets that form the core of Shang Tsung's
power... Shang Tsung, the shape-shifter, who can put on the body, skills, and identity of another
as easily as I might put the hat of my ancestors upon my head.
Does that not seem so terrible, at first? Think. If one no
longer possesses a single identity, but rather many; if one can warp one's being to become any of a
thousand creatures, be they benevolent or malefic, be they of godlike intelligence or entirely
mindless; then, what becomes of one's self? What happens to a single ego when it is suddenly a
multitude? What ingot of the mind and soul can long endure the strain of being artificially forced
into the molds of countless other minds and souls? The Forbidden Scrolls have remained
forbidden for so long because of what they do to anyone insane enough to tap into their
blasphemous power. Shang Tsung was not the first to become corrupted by the secrets of the
Scrolls. There have been others before him, other misguided fools who brought the curse of the
gods upon their own heads, because they dared to tamper with the Laws that restrict us to be
nothing more than what we are.
Those Scrolls are evil things. I have never understood why
Master Wu suffered their continued existence. When I beseeched him to obliterate those damnable
Scrolls, he tried to tell me that "knowledge is neither good nor evil in and of itself," and that "it is
only the manner in which knowledge is used that brings benevolence or suffering." I disagree.
There are some types of knowledge that are purely evil, if only because they always bring
suffering regardless of how they are used. Liu Kang left those profane Scrolls behind when he
departed the Temple, so that I've finally been able to incinerate them, and disseminate their ashes
from the edge of a rocky outcropping for good measure. But the damage has already been done.
Liu Kang knows their secrets.
I worry, I fret, and I have been doing a great deal of
thinking this past week. A query, or three: if Shang Tsung could have "astrally projected" a legion
of killers to destroy our Temple all this time, then why hadn't he done so long since? Why doesn't
he just continue eradicating all his enemies (for I know that he has many more enemies than just
Liu Kang and I) in the same manner? For that matter, why spare Liu Kang's life?
It must not be that simple. I think Shang Tsung was lying
when he implied that he had arranged the massacre solely to prove that Liu Kang could not run
from him. Liu Kang has never been one to run from his duty, or his destiny, and Shang Tsung
knows it. No, I can feel the workings of a deeper plan, a Machiavellian plan that supersedes mere
retaliation or hatred. It may not even be Shang Tsung's plan that I sense... what I mean to say, is
that I fear that Liu Kang is being manipulated into using Shang Tsung's own Secrets, in a fruitless
effort to fight fire with fire.
There is more. I am convinced that it is not as easy as
Shang Tsung pretends to create "astral projections." How much energy must it require to contort
our world's Laws of physical interaction in such an anomalous manner, even momentarily? The
cost has to be high. Very high. I doubt that he is the one, or the only one, who works the
tenebrous crafts that allow him to do it at all. Liu Kang has written of a "warning" about Shang
Tsung's "powerful patron." That can only mean that some greater evil presence is backing that
soulless bastard's plans... or, more likely yet, using Shang Tsung as a pawn in its own diabolic
I am frightened. Barely twelve hours ago... and perhaps,
also, a lifetime ago... something happened that burned into my mind that this was all no frivolous
matter. The event, in its own way, was more ghastly than the mass murder of my comrades. I
awakened during the early morning, rousted by apprehensive instincts and frightful nightmares,
and I could hear the faint sound of voices outside. Did the voices belong to "looters"? Perhaps. Or
perhaps they were merely travelers. Our temple is fairly remote, but it is not completely isolated
from the surrounding world.
As I silently drew close to them, careful to hide my
presence and keep to the shadows in between the pale rays of predawn light, I saw Liu Kang
approach four of them openly. No one spotted me. I watched, and waited... and saw that Liu
Kang was unaware of a fifth traveler, circling in on him from behind. When the leader of the
group gave the order for the fifth traveler to kill my elder brother, I interceded by casting my hat
at the throat of Liu Kang's would-be assassin. Its brim lodged firmly in his trachea and he went
down, sputtering and choking; perhaps I'll tell you about my hat sometime. Liu Kang never
noticed that I'd saved his life.
Then darkness descended across my eyes, and I saw the
Liu Kang, my friend, my elder Shaolin brother and, since
the massacre, the last living person I could liken to family... changed. He must have used the
Secrets of Shang Tsung; nothing else could explain his hideous metamorphosis. His body warped
and spasmed in the space of less than a single breath; scales grew over flesh, and bones elongated
into sinuous curves; until there stood not a man, not anything remotely resembling a man, but a
gigantic horned dragon with eyes of yellow fire and teeth of jagged obsidian. The beast... I cannot
bear to think of it as my elder brother... the beast lowered its crested, crocodile's head toward the
screaming leader of the travelers. The doomed man tried to defend himself by waving a knife at
the monster's imperviously armored underbelly, a pathetic effort that was too little, too late. The
dragon's jaws snapped shut, and its victim's head, arms, and torso disappeared within them,
though the bloody stumps of his legs continued to stand, mysteriously balanced in place. Then the
dragon's form shifted and shrank back to... to the appearance of someone I used to know.
I could not for the life of me shake the demented thought
that at least Liu Kang was finally breaking his fast.
I don't know what to do. No, that is not true; I do
know what to do, and what is more, I am doing it. I have followed Liu Kang into the Outworld. It
was not difficult to sneak unnoticed through the dimensional gateway that Shang Tsung left
behind after he met Liu Kang at the shores of lake Kioh Lung; as I may have mentioned before, I
am more practiced than most Shaolin in certain arts of concealment and invisibility.
When I stepped through the Portal to the Outworld, this
very scroll lay at my feet. It rested upon a paper-thin stone square flecked with traces of dried
blood (the blood of what creature, and what became of it?), where it had been carelessly dropped
by a man who once treasured written words nearly as much as he treasured human life. I am
saddened. And scared. And angry, furious at Shang Tsung for what he has done to my elder
brother, and to all my brothers. I am more furious at him than I have ever been over the murder of
Perhaps that is the difference between myself and Liu
Kang, and why I have remained immune to the temptation of the Forbidden Scrolls while he has
not. I grew up with anger and rage. I had to learn how to control my emotions the hard way. I
had to learn to live with the acrimonious knowledge that Shang Tsung had brutally murdered my
ancestors, and that there was precious little I could do about it. Liu Kang, on the other hand, has
never before had to endure the searing bite of blood hatred eating away at his heart. He was
always a little too pure, too strong in his noble convictions, too serenely beyond such petty
failings, and there used to be a time when I envied him for it. But now, he is confronted with
genuine, unrestrained grief and rage, and he has not had enough past experience in learning how
to deal with emotions of such raw potency. That, I think, is why his thirst for vengeance drives
him to the breaking point and beyond, whereas I do not and never shall allow my own thirst for
vengeance to rule who I am.
There is little more I can add. I would keep this scroll on
my person if I could, and write down future events as they take place, but the risk is too great that
I might die and its knowledge would be lost forever. So, I shall seal it once more within its
element-proof container, and hurl it back through the Portal. With luck, someone will eventually
find it and preserve it. I dearly hope that Liu Kang and I will make the contents of this scroll
redundant by returning alive to tell our respective stories in person, but I must necessarily be
realistic about my expectations.
I go now to enter Shang Tsung's loathsome new
Tournament, to avenge the death of my great ancestors, and perhaps... just perhaps... to try to
save the soul of a friend. The way shall be perilous. I fear that I may have to do battle with
supernatural creatures of terrifying power and hideously malevolent intent, be they gods or
monsters, demons or devils, Shang Tsung or his cryptic patron...
I may have to fight against Liu Kang himself.
May the spirits of my ancestors guide me.
[signature, Kung Lao]
end of The Dragon's Jaws