"It is good to see you, Syzoth my friend."

Reptile was greeted by the serpentine sorcerer upon his arrival at the Flesh Pits. Thanks to Shinnok's alliance, Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn were once again allied, granting Reptile's true master access once more to the subterranean shafts of gore that had birthed so many unnatural atrocities.

"I have a unique proposition for you. With this vast alliance Shinnok has established, I have been granted access to the Flesh Pits once again. As you can see, this place is not quite as large or versatile as it once was, thanks to the restoration of Vaeternus, but it is still fit for my purposes, if a little slower than I would like. Regardless, you stand here now as evidence of what can still be achieved with the pits."

As the sorcerer stated, the lab looked rather baron, compared to how it was when last he had seen it during the Invasion of Earthrealm. The equipment Shang Tsung had commissioned or created himself remained present, if a little worse for wear due to the years of disuse or intentional sabotage. A few of the pits - wells built into the floor that were lined top to bottom with slick fleshy gore - remained present, while the rest had seemingly been hollowed out. The holes remained, but the flesh that gave them their name had been cleanly stripped away.

A few splotches of reddish-pink (or green, in one case) viscera could just about be spotted at the bottoms of these otherwise barren pitfalls, which Syzoth recognised as the sorcerer's attempts to recreate the old pits that had since returned to their realm of origin. Reptile had little doubt that Shang Tsung intended to reclaim them from the Moroi once he had acquired the power awaiting the victor in the battle to come - and that the sorcerer would not need to bother asking him to come along to seek his revenge against Nitara, who had apparently been elected as the realm's new queen.

"Now, there is much to do, so I will get to the point. You see, there was a project I had in mind quite some time ago. I simply lacked the knowledge to make it work at the time. By the time I did, however, you had disappeared from the public eye and I myself was killed by Raiden soon after. But we are both alive now, both together. Tell me, do you know what became of your original body?"

Syzoth, currently distracted by a pair of bloody black high-heeled boots resting on a nearby table, shook his head as he met Shang Tsung's gaze.

"I found those in one of the pits, no need for concern. Although they may prove useful for my next big project. Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself. You will understand why I am so eager in due time. Anyway, your old body remained mutated into its dragon king form long after your soul had departed from this world. And as it turns out, this mutation had one major benefit. Do you know what that was?"

Again, Reptile shook his head.

There was a distinct twinkle in the sorcerer's eye as his grin grew wide. "The increase in mass. I essentially melted it down into a mass of flesh to create your new body, but that required only around half of it. With the remains, I can create another body. And while this body could be reserved as a backup for you in case you wind up mutilated in the coming battle, I propose an alternative: I could give you a brother."

Syzoth tilted his head. "A brother?"

"Oh, I imagine you would prefer a mate and, were this any other race, I could do that. But my knowledge of female saurians is limited, and this flesh will not last forever. We can hold out in hopes of finding an existing female, dead or alive, and use her as the basis, at the risk of the flesh rotting and becoming unusable. Or we can move ahead with giving you a male companion to aid you in your quest to find said female."

Reptile took a moment to contemplate the decision. In theory, a female created from his own flesh would essentially be a clone, and he doubted even Shang Tsung knew the potential issues that could arise from such a union, having only base incest to draw knowledge from.

And, of course, the time limit was another issue. Some form of preservation might be possible, but Reptile had learned from the sorcerer that such methods ran the risk of spoiling the material in other ways. While two males could not continue the Saurian race, they could perhaps work together to find a pure-bred, as Shang Tsung had suggested. But then, what were the odds that such an outcome were possible? No one had seen any trace of the Saurians outside of Syzoth in so long that it was entirely likely that he really was the last one. It may be better to start the race over...

Reptile had an idea.

"And what of Mileena? The half-breed. Isss she not ssstable, all these yearsss later?"

Shang Tsung fixed his servant with a look of uncertain calculation before responding. "...You propose the use of another race's females to complete the genome."

"Isss that possssible?"

"Hmm. I see no reason why not. However, I must emphasise the obvious: this would not be a pure saurian as it would with only your flesh. Mileena, as the prime example, is neither truly Edenian nor Tarkatan. Were she to reproduce... I doubt even the Elder Gods could predict what abomination might crawl out of her womb. Perhaps the seed of one race might wipe out the DNA of the other, or it may not even be possible for her to reproduce at all. But, alas, we lack the time to pursue such an experiment before this project's timeline ends. We can attempt a crossbreed, but I must once again insist that you be one-hundred-percent sure that this is what you wish."

For Reptile, last of the Saurians, there was no need for contemplation.

"Do it. Create a half-breed. An impure sssaurian isss better than none."

"Indeed," the sorcerer grinned. "I will require some time to discern the ideal candidate race before we proceed, but that shouldn't be too difficult. By the time we march on Edenia, my friend, you will have your companion. And then, the real experiments can begin."

It took only a few weeks for Reptile to once again be called to the Flesh Pits. This time, Kollector was also present. The naknadan had proven invaluable in the sorcerer's project by assisting in the capture of a female tarkatan. Initially, the plan had been for Shang Tsung to exert his influence over Mileena to have her lure one to the trio, but she was preoccupied with doing Shao Kahn's bidding and seeing to her own tasks. As such, a good old-fashioned abduction was in order. Once she was brought to the Flesh Pits and placed under a holding spell, she acquiesced to any and all demands the sorcerer presented.

Kollector spent much of his time bringing food for the tarkatan to restore her strength each time blood or flesh was extracted from her body. Normally, the disappearance of a single tarkatan might go unnoticed but this one, she explained when prompted, was the mate of one of Baraka's top lieutenants. A brief excursion in the female's form later and her partner was convinced she was assisting Mileena with secret operations for a few weeks, freeing the real one up to assist in the creation of this new saurian.

Tarkatan had been chosen as the secondary race for a number of reasons. First was the similar bone structure to a saurians - particularly the jaw. Shang Tsung had faced some troubles melding such features with Edenian physiology back when he created Mileena and lacked the raw materials to produce so many duds this time. Second was the animalistic nature of the two races. While lacking the bloodlust of tarkatans, saurians did share a number of other instinctual traits that, again, helped with the blending of the two races, as many of Shang Tsung's other experiments had proven. And third - although the sorcerer would not admit it and Reptile could speculate it to be a motive - the natural docility of tarkatans that had made Mileena such a useful tool for whomever she had served would make for a valuable asset for the sorcerer. And Reptile was hardly in a position to complain about this intended dynamic.

There had been a few unexpected complications early on, and so Reptile and Kollector were once again dispatched to find other female materials of other races. Most were from Outworld but some special opportunities presented themselves as they followed leads that led them to Edenian spies, a wandering Chaosrealmer, even a few stranded moroi that Reptile took great pleasure in reducing from a group to an individual. Once the raw materials were brought into the lab and bound to assist the sorcerer, the procedure was finally able to move along smoothly.

Now, Reptile was ushered into the lab by Kollector, who was to ensure that the experiments remained a secret from all but the three conspirators. As he cross the lab and passed the sorcerer's unconscious 'assistants', Syzoth briefly pondered what was to become of them, but they were quickly forgotten as his attention shifted to the waiting sorcerer and the results that lay before him.

Reptile had been present for many of Shang Tsung's unveilings, most recently with Skarlet. As with many of the successful abominations that had been birthed in this chamber, the creature that awaited her future partner's arrival was laid out on a slanted, fur-covered slab. Unlike the usual, however, a white sheet had been lain across her body, as if to maintain her purity, preserving her form for Syzoth's eyes only. This sheet made two things immediately apparent: first, the sheet was spattered with green saurian blood, and second, her body was constructed in that same perfectly curved shape as Shang Tsung's other female creations. The man clearly had his type, but Reptile wasn't about to complain about it.

"She is ready," said Shang Tsung as Reptile approached.

She certainly looked saurian, her face covered in green scales that matched his own, a snout that drew air in before expelling it through her jagged toothy mouth. The teeth and jaw looked a little larger than his, closer to those of a tarkatan, but even so... she was the most beautiful thing Syzoth had ever laid eyes on, even with the long, silky black hair uncharacteristic of both races that grew from her scalp. Whether another of Shang Tsung's preferences or a side effect of the multitude of haired races included in the mix, it was impossible to say. And it wasn't unattractive enough for Reptile to both mentioning.

"Now, we need only infuse her with life." The female saurian was already breathing, of course, but this was not true life in the eyes of a master of souls. Reptile had often wondered how exactly Shang Tsung obtained souls for his creations - were they recycled from the dead, or freshly created by him? Regardless, some sort of green energy flowed from the sorcerer into the sleeping form of Syzoth's bride-to-be.

Her eyes shot open with a sharp intake of breath, her back arched like she were being struck by the Thunder God's lightning. Her eyes, he could briefly see, were the perfect shade of yellow with deep black slit-like pupils. This beautiful detail quickly gave way to the same unearthly green glow that briefly overtook Shang Tsung's own eyes each time he stole the soul of another. After a few moments, the glow receded and the female slowly sank back into the slab, as if settling down for a nap.

"And with that... she's alive."

Reptile barely noticed the sorcerer's words, so transfixed as he was by this creature's bewitching beauty - a beauty that was soon stolen from him as her body shifted into transparency. It was slightly less effective camouflage than Reptile's own, but minor defects such as this were to be expected with this sort of operation. What couldn't be expected, however, was that she was very much unconscious as she did this. While the use of many abilities while asleep was as possible as simply walking in one's sleep, saurian camouflage was an ability that required concentration to maintain and was instantly dispelled if the user fell into unconsciousness. So how, then, was she capable of utilising this power entirely in her sleep?

Shang Tsung had evidently noticed the same oddity as he said, "Curious. Could this be a more evolved version of your camouflage to keep her safe in this vulnerable state?"

Before either could properly ponder the possibility, her form began to shift further still. Only this time, her transparency remained the same. Instead, is was her physical form that changed. She was growing bigger, both in height and musculature. The sheet was stretched out as her shoulders grew out, becoming broader, while her chest shrank away. The bottom of the sheet that had only just covered her feet slid away as they grew larger and pushed away slightly as her legs lengthened. Even her hair, now as transparent as her body, receded into nothing, leaving her bald like a real saurian. By the time the shifting was finished, she was taller, more muscular, less curvaceous, and more...

"This is... unexpected," Shang Tsung stated, lifting up the sheet in total disregard of any sense of decency to confirm his suspicions. He didn't verbally confirm what he saw, but his stunned expression - one Syzoth had rarely seen on the sorcerer's face - said it all.

"How isss thisss possssible?" Syzoth demanded.

"I am as baffled as you are, I assure you. The gender of the raw materials has minimal effect on the physical form. I used females primarily for hormonal balance, reproductive organs and the like, not the shape of the body. This... should not be possible."

"What did you do differently?"

"I performed the procedure as I always do. It is possible that saurians are somehow uniquely incompatible with other races, but the early tests suggested no such thing."

"Then how?"

"I don't know! Just give me some time to think!" Shang Tsung snapping at one of his followers was a rare thing. He was easily one of the most composed individuals the saurian knew. This spoke volumes about his current mental state.

Thinking was not on the table for long, however, as the same stretching and compressing sounds that had filled the chamber during the saurian's transformation once again took hold. Expecting a further mutation, both men were taken aback as every change that had befallen the transparent creature before them slowly began to reverse itself, leaving her exactly as she was mere minutes ago, as if the entire thing had been a shared hallucination.

Wasting no time, Shang Tsung took a nearby syringe and jammed it into a space between her scales to draw out blood. For the first time throughout all of this, she began to awaken from the sudden pain, but was compelled back into slumber with a word from her creator as he rushed to some nearby apparatus to conduct some test or other on the sample. Syzoth could only stand idly by, saying and doing nothing while the sorcerer worked to find out what was happening.

In the end, there was no clear cause, nor any solution.

This creature simply shifted between male and female forms in due course. Initially, it occurred with frequency, but became less so over time. The saurian did tend to remain in the female form for longer than the male one, for what it was worth. But regardless of form, it remained transparent, seemingly unable to render itself visible again.

And the saurian was not allowed to remain conscious, kept suspended in one of the cylindrical pods scattered about the lab to avoid any mental degradation from this unexplainable circumstance. Syzoth remained on-hand to assist however he could, leaving Kollector to perform any other task Shang Tsung required, including the typical spying operations conducted by Reptile.

Eventually, Shang Tsung gave up. His work was at the cutting edge of his field; even the Moroi had never gone as far with Flesh Pit experiments as he had. The closest approximation would be the cybernetics experiments in Earthrealm, and those were hardly comparable. After briefly contemplating seeking out one of those cyborgs to gather information from them, he opted to simply stop. The experiment had mostly succeeded - the creature he had created looked saurian and had green blood pumping through its veins, and that would have to be good enough. There was nothing to gain from leaving it suspended in a tube for eternity. As such, he opted to let it out. That way, it could be useful, so long as its mind didn't collapse from contemplating its own existence. If such a thing happened, he could easily dispose of it and chalk it up as a learning experience.

He had one last experiment to perform to try and give this creature some form of stability, however. Shang Tsung was a master shapeshifter. It was an art he had learned, but it was one few others across the realms had. Thus, he posited, there may be something in his own physiology that might have granted him a unique edge in mastering it. As such, he took a sample of his own blood and used the blood arts he had learned to bond that blood with the creature's own, hoping it might at least allow some influence over when these gender shifts occurred.

Adorned in a simple tunic, oversized just enough to not tear when it next shifted to male, the saurian was finally allowed to fully awaken. It was confused, naturally, but the presence of Reptile and the women whose blood and flesh had been used to forge its own - it's 'mothers', essentially - helped to keep it call. At Shang Tsung's bidding, the women helped the saurian to learn language and also helped pick out its name: Kiriankha, the name of the Zaterran capital at the time the realm was invaded by Shao Kahn. With the help of these women, Shang Tsung and Reptile were soon able to give Kiriankha instruction to help it control its shifts.

The shifts were more frequent during its sleep, but still common while awake. With time bought by Kollector and the women completing tasks assigned to him to keep his infernal masters content, Shang Tsung was able to teach Kiriankha the fundamentals of shifting one's shape. Through this education, the nightly shifting mostly ceased and the waking involuntary shifting stopped entirely. Soon, all that remained in the curriculum was to master shifting at will.

Kiriankha, perhaps due to still being unclear with certain choices of language, proved difficult to educate in this subject. This only added onto Shang Tsung's already existing frustrations with how much time he had been forced to dedicate to this project over anything else. In a fit of anger, having finally reached his limit, he yelled at Kiriankha. What occurred next, no one could have predicted.

The air around Kiriankha grew cold and, in a panic, a blast of frigid air exploded out of its (currently male) body. The air forced both Shang Tsung and Reptile to jump back to evade the effect of this familiar technique. One of the donors, an Edenian spy, was standing close by when this happened and, unprepared for what was to come, wound up caught by the frigid wind and became encased in a fine sheet of ice. Those spared this fate had only seconds to take in the sight of this woman, frozen on the spot as if attacked by Sub-Zero, before Kiriankha disappeared from sight in a burst of flame. This, too, was familiar to the two men.

Kiriankha was soon found by the moroi donor, who found it curled up behind one of the cylindrical tubes, now entirely nude but transparent, as smoke arose around it. First thinking this to be more hellfire, Shang Tsung pushed the moroi away from Kiriankha as he approached, only for it to completely turn into smoke and drift away elsewhere. By the time Kiriankha was found again, it had shifted into its female form and was surrounded by some emerald aura.

This time, Shang Tsung allowed Reptile and the women to handle the matter while he took notes on what he had seen.





It could have been a coincidence, but the sorcerer recognised each of these powers. In fact, he had used all of them himself in recent years. As he contemplated how this had all come to pass, he noticed the still frozen Edenian and decided to release her from her frozen prison. He allowed her to hold onto him while she regained her composure and he began to reach a hypothesis.

Once Kiriankha was calmed down and convinced that it wasn't going to be attacked, the donors took it to Shang Tsung's workside bedroom deeper in the chamber to get some rest. Reptile approached once this was done. The sorcerer answered the question before Reptile could ask it.

"I do have a hypothesis." Some sort of mystical screen showed the side room where the others were being handed drinks by Kollector. "I was aware that one of them was long-descended from the dead Cryomancer race," he elaborated, pointing to the human woman in the blue dress, which made Syzoth realise the dresses were colour-coded so that the sorcerer would not need to use up his precious mental processing power to memorise their faces. Others were dressed in red, pink, yellow, purple, black, grey - almost every colour of the rainbow. If each of these were as reflective of their abilities as the one in blue was...

"They are resssponsssible?"

"In a sense, yes. As am I, I believe. My ability to shapeshift, although only intended to help Kiriankha gain some control over its own power, may have unintentionally unlocked latent powers from the blood of the donors as well. And what a collececiton it is. Of course, I doubt all of these powers come from them, but I've little doubt that my blood interacted with theirs in a most unique and unexpected manner. This creature we have created bears powers similar to at least four other warriors, but possibly more. This will bear further testing to find out exactly what this one is capable of."

"What kind of tesssting?" Syzoth asked defensively, which the sorcerer picked up on.

"Nothing you need worry about, my friend. I simply intend to begin an education program centred on the abilities of every fighter I have ever taken the form of to test Kiriankha's abilities. Thus far, we have seen what I imagine is only a portion of what they are capable of. Of course, I leave the teaching of saurian abilities in your capable hands. You may even be able to teach them to turn off their cloaking ability. And we will need to settle on a codename for them to go along with 'Reptile'. I am thinking 'Khameleon'."

The more the sorcerer spoke, the more his enthusiasm shone through. It was a rare sight, to be sure, but Syzoth couldn't help but feel his infectious excitement influencing him as well. He nodded his agreement with the sorcerer's suggestion.

"I am truly inspired by these results, Syzoth. What say you and I keep an eye on Onaga in the battle to come, hm?"

"And gather up more flesssh to give thisss one more sssiblingsss."

Shang Tsung's grin was wider than Syzoth had ever seen it. "I knew we were on the same wavelength, my friend. In fact, I recently came into some information regarding one of our 'allies' in this conflict. Our old friend Kano informs me that the Red Dragon is experimenting with human/dragon hybrids."

"More fodder for the Flesssh Pitsss."

"Exactly my thought. They may no longer be pure, but the Saurian race will soon be plentiful. They will be dragons. They will be humans. They. Will. Be... Alive!"

The alternative title is: "The Necromancer's Project". I opted for one centred on Reptile to emphasise which of Shang Tsung's many projects this is.