From a young age, two boys had grown up together in a hidden Shaolin monastery, dedicating themselves to learning and mastering the martial arts. The truth of the Realms and the reality of Mortal Kombat was slowly revealed to them, however, and they eventually departed from their Shaolin home to search out and join the secretive White Lotus Society. Upon discovering the White Lotus hidden in the mountains of China, believed to be Henan Province, they redoubled their efforts. Soon, the two realised that only one of them would be chosen as champion to represent Earthrealm. Though their friendship was never compromised, both pursued this goal with single minded determination.
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The younger of the two, Kung Lao, grew into a peaceful man but one obsessed with his legacy as the last descendant of the Great Kung Lao and honouring that memory by avenging his defeat and slaying Goro. The elder, Liu Kang, never sought the glory of triumph: rather he viewed victory in Mortal Kombat not as a prize to be sought, but a duty to be borne.
It is not known when the legendary Outworld combatant Bo Rai Cho took up residence with the White Lotus Society, but it is known that he trained Liu Kang for the Mortal Kombat tournament. Liu left the Society for an extended period of time to train with Bo, who had been considered a mythical figure amongst the White Lotus. His training, including mastery of techniques such as the Dragon Kick, leading to Liu being chosen as the representative of the White Lotus Society for the decisive tournament in the series of Mortal Kombats between Earthrealm and Outworld. It may be that the contest was ultimately decided in combat between Liu Kang and Kung Lao.
If Liu Kang, or another Earthrealm warrior, failed to defeat Prince Goro, then Shao Kahn would be victorious and the invasion would begin. So confident were Shang Tsung and Goro that they even invited Raiden to take mortal form and participate in the tournament himself: as a God, he could not die but his defeat at the hands of Goro would be the ultimate humiliation of Earthrealm’s great Protector. Lao, was an exceptional warrior in his own right but accepted the decision of the White Lotus Society and acknowledged Liu Kang’s skills.
Shujinko, along with the Native American shaman Nightwolf and Takahashi Kenshi, had also planned to journey to the tournament but Shujinko was waylaid during his quest. It is not known why neither Nightwolf nor Kenshi attended the tournament.
As was tradition, Liu journeyed to a port in Far East Asia where Shang Tsung’s Nethership was docked to bring the Earthrealm challengers to his island to participate in the tournament. On the Nethership, Liu intervened in an impromptu fight between Kano, who had snuck aboard the ship with hopes to loot Shang Tsung’s palace and evade Special Forces capture, and Johnny Cage, an action movie star determined to prove that his otherworldly abilities and exceptional combat skills were legitimate. This would lead to a close friendship between Liu and Cage, despite their contrasting personalities.
Upon arriving on the island, the two became close allies, and later friends, with Sonya Blade, who had tracked Kano to the island. Sonya’s squad, including the grievously wounded Jackson Briggs, was captured and used to blackmail the young lieutenant: she would have to compete in the tournament or face execution along with her entire squad. Kano participated in the tournament of his own free will, hoping to obtain a vast fortune should he succeed or to loot Shang Tsung’s famous treasury for funds to revive the Black Dragon as a power.
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Present as a bodyguard of Shang Tsung but able to take part in the tournament by virtue of his Earthrealm birthplace was Sub Zero, though the misanthropic Lin Kuei remained separate from the other warriors. Shang Tsung contracted Sub Zero accompany him to the next Mortal Kombat tournament, to serve as one of his bodyguards. Sub Zero agreed, but harboured plans of his own: to assassinate the sorcerer, a contract the Lin Kuei had previously been entrusted with. It is unknown who arranged for that contract, but it is suspected that it had been Quan Chi, in retribution for Shang Tsung’s deception regarding the Temple of Elements. If Sub Zero ensured his survival throughout the tournament and then assassinated him thereafter, he would fulfil both contracts.
Stalking his quarry from the shadows, having been promised that slaying his murderer would slake his lust for vengeance and release him from hell, was the ninja spectre Scorpion, his rage burning brighter with two years in torment to dwell on his death.
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The last Saurian, Reptile, was also present as he had been detailed as the personal bodyguard of Shang Tsung by Shao Kahn, as well as being entrusted with being the Emperor’s eyes and ears on the island, but it is unknown what role, if any, he played in the tournament.
Rumours persist that Shao Kahn’s latest creation, an amalgam of thousands of souls into one being known as Ermac was present during the tournament but his presence cannot be attested until later in our story.
It is unknown what the brackets of the tournaments were or who faced who, but it is known that, although many died, by the time Liu Kang had emerged victorious under the guidance of Raiden and earned the right to face Goro, Kano, Sonya, Cage, Scorpion and Sub Zero had all been defeated yet still lived. Goro, flush with confidence after a near half-millennium of domination, looked upon the young Liu Kang and thought his victory assured. Taking advantage of complacency and using his unparalleled martial skills, Liu Kang emerged victorious, retrieving the red headband Goro had taken from the Great Kung Lao.
Furious at Goro’s overconfidence and defeat, Shang Tsung challenged Liu Kang as a former champion. It is unknown if he had always intended to do so or if his victory over Liu Kang would have overruled Goro’s defeat immediately and allowed Shao Kahn to invade Earthrealm as if Goro had triumphed. In his rage, Shang Tsung also ordered all the forces he at his disposal to slay the warriors of Earthrealm. Working together, Blade, Cage, Kano, Scorpion and Sub Zero successfully held off the hordes of Masked Guards long enough to allow Liu Kang to face Shang Tsung when Goro, having recovered from his defeat, reappeared. In a blind fury, the mighty Shokan began to brutalize all those within the reach of his arms, friend and foe alike. It took the combined skill of Blade, Cage and Kano to match his fury, driving Goro back from the throne room to the Pit.
Liu ultimately defeated Shang Tsung, though he spared his life, as he had Goro’s. Despite his extraordinary skills, Liu Kang was not a bloodthirsty man or a man who necessarily enjoyed battle, fighting instead out of obligation and duty to Earthrealm: he thus refused to kill defenceless foes, even when such foes were the enemies of Earthrealm.
Following Liu’s victory, Shang fled from his island with Reptile shadowing him, casting a spell upon it as he did. The island began to crumble under a massive earthquake and was wracked by huge tsunamis, causing large portions of it to sink beneath the sea. Goro, who had come close to killing his three adversaries several times only for the trio to save themselves thanks to teamwork, was on the bridge spanning the Pit when it broke and collapsed. As he fell, he grabbed Blade and Kano and brought them screaming down with him into the mist below with the lethal spikes waiting at the bottom.
Cage held onto the precipice with his fingertips, his grip slowly loosening until Raiden swept from the sky and grabbed Cage, whisking him away from danger. Liu Kang also made good his escape, likely through the aid of Raiden. Sonya’s squad was massacred, with only Briggs fighting his way free. The remaining Earthrealm warriors believed Blade, Kano and Goro dead but in fact, before they had hit the spikes that lined the bottom of the Pit, the instability caused by Shang Tsung’s spell had opened a portal in mid-air, which transported the three to the Living Forest in Outworld.
Fleeing the collapsing palace, Sub Zero was finally accosted by Scorpion. As the palace crumbled around them, they again engaged in brutal combat, fire and ice dancing amidst the ruins of the island. Finally, Sub Zero was defeated and was burned to death by the hellfire of Scorpion. With his foe dead, Scorpion returned to the Netherrealm, believing his blood debt paid and expecting to soon escape the clutches of the Netherrealm. Sub Zero’s soul, as had been foretold by Raiden, was damned to the Netherrealm.
Next week, Shao Kahn will tire of trusting the conquest of Earthrealm to his subordinates and the Chosen One will face The Emperor for the first time!
The History of Mortal Kombat, Chapter 6: Enter the Dragon