Sub-Zero marched through the halls of the Lin Kuei palace towards the Grandmaster's chamber, as was customary before embarking on a mission. As he approached the chamber, he passed his red-clad clanmate, Sektor, as the latter exited the chamber, no doubt embarking upon a mission of his own. The two warriors exchanged a nod of acknowledgement and good fortune as they passed each other.
Sub-Zero entered the small, round chamber of the Grandmaster, coming to a stop as he stepped upon the black half of the yin-yang symbol adorning the marble floor before the Grandmaster's throne. He bowed before dropping to one knee and bringing his clenched left fist into his open right palm in a respectful salute.
"At ease, Lin Kuei Warrior." The crimson robe-clad man spoke in a commanding, yet somewhat familial, tone. Sub-Zero looked up into the eyes of his master. It was neither friendship, nor love that the Grandmaster's tone and steely gaze conveyed; but rather, respect. Respect for the abilities of the man the Grandmaster regularly praised as the clan's most cunning and mighty warrior. Respect that was well-earned.
Outside of the fact that he was Sektor's father, little was known of the Grandmaster's history or personal life; not even his name was known to any but his son, whose loyalty was rivalled only by the cryomancer's. Then again, that information, though mysterious and alluring, was ultimately irrelevant; the clan members needed only obey the Grandmaster, not befriend.
"Are you prepared for your mission, Sub-Zero?" the Grandmaster asked, confident of the answer.
"Yes, Grandmaster," the assassin replied respectfully. "I depart soon."
The mission in question was the assassination of the Outworld sorcerer, Shang Tsung. A year ago, following the incident with the fallen Elder God, Shinnok, and the death of Sub-Zero's nemesis, Scorpion, Shang Tsung had journeyed to the Lin Kuei compound to personally deliver an invitation to Sub-Zero; and invitation to compete in the next Mortal Kombat tournament, which was now mere days away.
Mortal Kombat was an ancient ritual established by the Elder Gods themselves to protect smaller realms, such as Earthrealm, from being swallowed up by the ever-growing domain of the Emperor of Outworld, Shao Kahn. If the emperor wished to seize control of another realm, his warriors would have to best those of the defending realm ten times in a row. Outworld currently held a nine tournament streak thanks to the unequalled might of the four-armed Kuatan prince, Goro.
With Shao Kahn's victory so close at hand, it was a total mystery as to why the sorcerer had approached Sub-Zero to extend an invitation to compete. He was under no obligation to select warriors to represent Earthrealm. In addition, Shang Tsung was desperate to atone for his failure the last time Outworld had been on the cusp of supreme victory, making his motive an unsolvable riddle.
There was also the enigmatic figure that had hired the Lin Kuei to assassinate the sorcerer. Not only were their identity and motive unknown, but it was rather convenient that both an invitation and a mission had been brought before the same clan. The invitation would be a valuable cover for Sub-Zero's presence on the island, but there were so many unknowns on both sides. The most likely explanation was that this unknown party desired to see Shao Kahn's forces thwarted for their own purposes and they had opted to hired the clan that had defeated the similar Netherrealm sorcerer, Quan Chi. Another possibility had arisen: that Shang Tsung himself had hired Sub-Zero, but again, his potential motives for such an act were uncertain.
Sub-Zero and the Grandmaster had discussed these mysteries at length once the request had been made. Both were confident that Sub-Zero could accomplish this mission, but caution was advocated by both.
"Very good," the Grandmaster replied. "I will await news of your success once the tournament concludes."
"Thank you, Grandmaster. With your admission, I would see my brother before I depart."
"As you wish," the Grandmaster nodded in agreement.
Likewise, Sub-Zero nodded in a deep bow before standing and leaving the chamber. As he walked back down the hallway he had just passed through, Sub-Zero caught sight of a dark-skinned clanmate adorned in black and yellow.
"Cyrax," Sub-Zero said as he came to a stop before the other man.
"Sub-Zero," Cyrax bowed respectfully. "Tundra is training with Smoke in the courtyard," he disclosed, already aware of Sub-Zero's destination without need of an explanation.
"Thank you, my friend," Sub-Zero said with a bow before continuing on his way.
Upon entering the courtyard, Sub-Zero spotted his brother sparring with his friend. Tundra was almost as adept with his cryo powers as his brother, making Sub-Zero proud to see him clad in his own ice-blue garb.
As he approached the duo, it was the grey-clad warrior that noticed him first. Following Smoke's gaze, Tundra found his brother approaching and held up a hand to tell his friend to stop the match. The two shifted from their battle stances as Sub-Zero nodded towards the bowing duo.
"At ease, Kuai Liang," Bi-Han said warmly. "Smoke, may we have a moment?"
"Of course, Sub-Zero," Smoke replied with a respectful salute before stepping away.
"It is time?" Kuai Liang asked.
"Yes," Bi-Han responded with a nod. "The sorcerer's ship will arrive soon. But I hear you have your own mission to depart for soon."
"Indeed, Brother," Kuai Liang replied, unable to fully contain his enthusiasm. It was understandable, of course. This would, after all, be his first solo mission in service to the clan. "Perhaps someday, we can undertake a mission together, Brother."
Bi-Han smiled beneath his frosty face mask. "I eagerly await that day, Kuai Liang. But you must first regale me with tales of your first mission when I return."
"Of course, Brother," Kuai Liang acknowledged, bringing a clenched fist up to his chest in salute. "And you as well."
"As you wish," Bi-Han chuckled, mirroring his brother's action.
"Be safe, Brother," Kuai Liang said after a moment, Bi-Han finding his brother's confidence in his abilities encouraging.
"Always, Brother," Bi-Han replied with a smile and a pat on the shoulder. Kuai Liang matched this with a hand of his own and an assured nod.
With that, Sub-Zero turned and left the courtyard, marching through the large oaken doors at the front of the compound. He had his target and he had his pretext. He would travel to Hong Kong, where Shang Tsung's Nethership awaited for those brave or, indeed, foolish enough to risk their lives - their very souls - in the Shaolin tournament.
Sub-Zero spared one last glance back across the bridge towards the massive mountaintop temple, shrouded and concealed by an almost otherworldy mist. A strangely pronounced, ominous feeling welled up within him, as if he might never see this place again.
"Ridiculous," he chided himself, reminding himself that, not a year ago, had he slain the mighty sorcerer, Quan Chi, and outwitted his Elder God master. Sub-Zero had the skill and the power to bring Shao Kahn's servant to his knees. The only question was, how many other competitors would he have to shatter before he reached his quarry?
He marched onwards, prepared to place his life on the line to bring honour to his family and clan, but completely ignorant to the spectre of his past that awaited him... in Mortal Kombat.
This piece was inspired by a thought that occurred to me while writing my rereview of Mortal Kombat (2011). I realised that the games have never depicted the two Sub-Zeroes interracting as Sub-Zeroes.