"You have brought dishonor upon this temple."
One Shaolin warrior stared down the other, their gazes locked in heated contempt.
"I? No. It is you who have brought this dishonor. To hell with you and your ancestors."
"No one talks about my ancestors that way!" Kung Lao roared, squeezing every bit of melodrama out of the line for all its worth as he struck an impressive-looking pose. Releasing a high-pitched (and terribly over-acted) battle cry, he lunged (but not before flipping in mid-air) at Liu Kang, who was armed with a pair of nunchaku. Kung Lao's friend failed to suppress a grin as he swung his weapon around impressively, blocking one of his partner's false punches.
The two went on with their Hollywood sparring match before they were interrupted by a voice from the side.
Still smiling, both fighters turned to look at their teacher, who wore a less-than-amused expression.
"Since you two are obviously taking your training so seriously," Raiden reprimanded them in a tone of voice that was unusually flat for conveying sarcasm. "Perhaps you would not mind cutting your session short and cleaning around the monastery instead?"
His suggestion earned a series of audible groans from his students.
"Lord Raiden, please," Kung Lao protested, leaning forward with his hands on his knees to catch his breath. "Can we not afford to take a break for just one day? Besides, we have guests."
"I am aware of that," Raiden retorted dryly. "It would seem Johnny Cage's presence has rubbed off on you two."
"What Kung Lao means is that surely we are not expected to spend all of our time training as usual when we have visitors to entertain?" Liu Kang rushed to his friend's defense. The two gave each other an understanding glance as Raiden seemed to mull their excuse over.
"…Very well, then," Raiden concluded, still seeming displeased. "If you two would rather tend to your visitors today than train, so be it. I expect you to push yourselves twice as hard tomorrow."
He was cut off by a loud whooping cry from the next room, which passed easily through the screen walls of the temple.
"Speak of the devil," Kung Lao muttered softly as they recognized the voice of the boisterous actor.
Looking back at his students, Raiden nodded in the direction of the sound as a cue for them to go investigate.
Their practice session cut short, Liu Kang and Kung Lao did as they were instructed, leaving the training room and entering the hallway. Stopping to listen for the noise again, they heard another excited cheer from the room two doors down.
Liu Kang slid open the screen door and saw the aforementioned actor sitting at the head of a small circle on the floor, flanked on both sides by Jax and Nightwolf. The other two, however, did not seem as pleased as Johnny, judging by the looks on their faces.
Johnny, still in a jubilant mood, looked up to see who had decided to join them.
"Hey!" he greeted Liu Kang and Kung Lao, who stood in the doorway with slightly confused expressions. "If it isn't the sweet and sour super duo."
Kung Lao laughed off the remark as Liu Kang walked over to their circle to investigate. As soon as he could see over Jax, he noticed a set of playing cards on the ground.
"Place your bets, buddy," Johnny quipped as he took the cards from his opponent's hands and began reshuffling the deck. Liu Kang's eyes grew wide as he realized why Johnny was in such a good mood.
"Johnny, I don't think it's a good idea to be playing these kinds of games here," Liu Kang warned him. "If one of the other monks walks by…"
"Let 'em walk all they want," Johnny cut him off. "We're not doing anything wrong. Just a friendly game of chance between buds. Right, guys?" he asked Nightwolf and Jax, who in return gave him blank, disgruntled glares.
Johnny ignored them as he continued to shuffle the deck. Kung Lao entered the room after his friend, and Jax and Nightwolf shuffled aside to make room for their companions. However, Liu Kang declined taking them up on their silent offer just yet.
"I thought you came here to experience 'the real China,'" Liu Kang reminded Johnny, echoing his words from when they had last been together as a group and Johnny had relayed his vacation plans. "This is how you plan to do it? Sitting in a temple playing go-fish?"
"We have the next week to see the sights," Johnny argued, dealing the cards. "Take it easy. I'm on vacation!"
"Yeah," Jax grumbled, taking his hand. "And somehow, me and the others always seem to get dragged into it."
"Oh, yeah," Kung Lao remarked, remembering that they had brought someone else with them who was currently not present. "What happened to Sonya?"
"We were gonna play strip poker, but she walked out, so there wasn't really a point," Johnny joked, earning a humorless glare from Jax. He continued to deal the cards in silence as Liu Kang and Kung Lao finally decided to take their seats.
"All right!" Johnny cheered them on their decision. "Party time!"
"Excuse me," somebody asked as they poked their head in through the door that Kung Lao had forgotten to close after him when he entered. They all turned to see Raiden giving them a disapproving look, and Liu Kang looked at his friend with an expression fearful at the thought that they had been caught.
"I sincerely hope you are not doing what I think you are," Raiden reprimanded them, looking directly at Johnny, who he safely assumed was the king of operations here.
"What do you think we're doing?" Johnny retorted nervously, obviously not wanting to face Raiden's wrath over a stack of cards, which he had frozen from dealing.
"Something that I would be completely justified in bringing an end to on temple grounds," Raiden responded, crossing his arms. "May I ask what it is exactly that you plan to gamble?"
"Just our pride," Johnny responded, hoping the joke would take the edge off of Raiden's flaring temper.
Again the thunder god seemed to think his words over. The group on the floor waited silently for his verdict, unable to read his face but rigidly still anyway in an attempt not to provoke him. Contrary to what they had expected, however, Raiden just made an expression that signaled he thought Johnny's answer had been benign enough.
"All right," he commented surprisingly nonchalantly, stepping back out of the room. "Back in an hour."
He shut the screen door behind him without another word, and the subsequent roll of thunder that echoed throughout the temple indicated that he had teleported elsewhere. Johnny let go of his held breath as Jax chuckled at his expense.
"Thought that was about to get ugly," Johnny joked again as he finished dealing the cards. "So, how do you guys play? Texas Hold 'Em or Omaha?"
Liu Kang and Kung Lao gave each other blank stares as if Johnny had just spoken Greek.
"Uh…" was the only response that came out of either of them.
Johnny's smile drooped slightly before he waved his hand dismissively.
"First timers, huh? No problem," he assured them, collecting the cards again. "Let's start with something easier. You guys ever play BS?"
Again Johnny received confused stares from the Shaolin warriors.
"It means exactly what you think it does," Jax warned them dryly.
"Forget about him," Johnny told them, shuffling the cards again out of habit. "Basically, it's like this; everybody gets part of the deck, whoever has a two puts it down, or puts down as many twos as they have, and then it goes in numerical order from there, and you gotta call what you put down, like 'One three,' 'Two jacks,' or whatever."
"So why is it called BS?" Liu Kang asked apprehensively, earning a chuckle from his friend for his naïve comment.
"Because you can lie about what you put down," Johnny answered. "If you get caught, though, you gotta take the whole stack. If you're telling the truth, then the guy that called you out takes the whole thing instead. Got it?"
Both of them nodded unsurely. Nightwolf, however, spoke up out of irritation.
"Come on, man," he lamented. "This game's for middle schoolers."
"It'll help them build a poker face," Johnny tried to justify himself. "You'll see. All right, heads up."
With that, Johnny began dealing the cards.
"BS!" Johnny called out, much to Liu Kang's dismay as he took the gargantuan stack of cards. It was almost impossible to hold them all in his hand in a way that would allow him to see them all at once. It had been ten minutes since they had started, and it had become painfully obvious how new to the game he and Kung Lao were (although to Kung Lao's amusement, Liu Kang was the worst).
"Sorry, man!" Johnny apologized in between fits of laughter. "Better luck next time!"
"I don't get how anybody is supposed to win at this," Liu Kang grumbled as he tried to fan his cards out. He now held virtually half the deck, and while Kung Lao's hand was noticeably not much smaller, they both paled in comparison to the other three, who held less than seven each.
"You win by being sneaky," Johnny retorted. "You gotta stop making your emotions so obvious."
Liu Kang's jaw tightened at Johnny's accusation for making it seem like Liu Kang was one to give in to his emotions easily. His stoicism was renowned, even throughout the temple. Johnny was the one always itching for a fight in Liu Kang's eyes.
"You know what your problem is?" Johnny continued, catching Liu Kang off guard. "You always tell the truth."
"Johnny's right," Jax agreed, much to the others' (including Johnny's) surprise. "I'm sorry, Liu, but honesty is not the best policy here. You gotta learn to fib sometimes."
Liu Kang looked at them, confused, but after giving it some thought grudgingly realized that they were right. Initially, he had stuck to telling the truth at all times, figuring he couldn't get caught that way. His hand had proven lucky, until Nightwolf had (supposedly) put down a three, forcing Liu Kang to lie to keep the game going. He smacked himself mentally as he realized his hesitation must have been a huge red flag to the others. He should have known four was bad luck.
"Don't sweat it, Liu," Johnny attempted to cheer him up. "You'll have plenty more shots at the rate you're going."
The others continued to laugh at Liu Kang's expense as they finished their game.
"Four kings!" Johnny exclaimed proudly, slapping his cards on the floor. "Suck it!"
The others looked at him strangely, giving each other swift aside glances. Johnny calmed down from his celebration for long enough to register their expressions.
"What's the matter?" he asked them, looking around.
Scanning their faces, he locked in on Nightwolf, who was tapping the top of his hand unsurely with apprehension.
"What is it?" Johnny demanded. "Huh?"
Nightwolf looked at him briefly before glancing at the others, almost as if for permission.
"What?" Johnny goaded him. "You think I'm lying? Go ahead. Check."
Suppressing a smirk, Nightwolf slowly reached for the stack in the center of the floor, not taking it immediately. He scanned Johnny's expression carefully, but the actor simply gave him a cocky smirk and a condescending glare from above his sunglasses. Nightwolf obviously had reservations (A/N: Get it? /racism) about calling Johnny's bluff at this point, but soon cast his doubts aside and checked the top of the stack. Much to his chagrin, Johnny did indeed put down four kings, forcing Nightwolf to take the stack as Johnny continued to lambast him for his poor decision.
"What!" Johnny barked, clapping obnoxiously in his friend's face. He most likely would have continued to celebrate had not someone opened the screen door at that moment.
"Am I interrupting?" Sonya said as she looked around the room, giving a small wave to Liu Kang and Kung Lao.
"Nothing to interrupt," Jax responded as he looked at Johnny, who continued in his gloat fest.
"Well, I just thought that by the time I came back the douchebaggery levels would have gone down a bit," Sonya replied. "Should I come back later?"
"Nah," Nightwolf said, ignoring Johnny as the actor continued to mess around by jabbing his fingers in Nightwolf's direction for no discernible reason. "This is probably as good as it's gonna get."
"Figures," Sonya responded as she closed the door behind her.
"Care to join the game?" Kung Lao offered her.
"What game?" she inquired, judging by the number of cards in the Shaolin's hand that she had a pretty good shot no matter what they played.
"Well," Johnny cut in, finally dropping his victory dance over Nightwolf. "We have six players now. New game?"
The others agreed immediately, bombarding an unsuspecting Johnny with suggestions.
"Bridge," Nightwolf suggested.
"You need four for that," Jax corrected him.
"Blackjack," Sonya offered.
Johnny snapped his fingers and pointed at Sonya.
"That," he said quickly, picking up all of the cards and shuffling again. "Let's go with that."
"Do you guys know how to play?" Nightwolf asked Liu Kang and Kung Lao, who had recovered from initially being stunned by the barrage of suggestions from the other players, all of which were completely foreign to them. Kung Lao shook his head for himself and Liu Kang.
"Basically, you collect cards and try to get as close to 21 as you can," Johnny explain, dealing the first cards around the circle. "I call dealer."
"Shocker," came Jax's dry reply.
"What happens if you go over?" Liu Kang asked.
"I think it's called a 'bust.' It means you lose," Kung Lao answered unexpectedly, earning surprised looks from around the circle.
"What?" Kung Lao replied to their stunned reactions. "We're not completely ignorant of card games. We've seen people play before."
Many in the group were instantly ashamed of their assumption. Johnny attempted to cool the atmosphere down, in his own way.
"Nice," he complimented Kung Lao, placing the deck next to himself. "All right. First-timers, so keep the cards face-up."
Everyone immediately flipped their cards over, save for Liu Kang, who wasn't comfortable with his streak of luck as of late. However, he did what he was told and kept the cards face up.
"Let's do this!" Johnny barked as he took the first card for himself.
The others in the circle moaned in dismay as the victor threw his cards down. Fujin shook his head in disbelief.
"How do you win eleven times in a row?" he asked Raiden as the white-eyed deity collected his winnings from the pile in the center of the table.
"Practice, my good friend," the thunder god replied calmly. "Contrary to popular belief, the house does not always win."
"But that is how the game works," the fire god to their side commented. The earth god nodded in agreement.
"Not if you know how to beat the system," Raiden responded nonchalantly.
"Whatever," the water goddess retorted as she collected the cards in order to deal them again. "Do not get cocky."
"I believe I am justified," Raiden snapped back as he twirled around a trinket from the pile of past offerings and tribute the other gods had bet.
"Do you not have somewhere else to be right now?" a disgruntled earth god grumbled as he put his head down on the table.
Raiden looked to the horizon; from the intradimensional table where they sat, the deities had a panoramic view of Earthrealm's skyline. Raiden had expected their game would have ended after a round or two, well before the sun even dipped behind the mountains; the crescent moon now hung in the cloudless sky well above the horizon.
The thunder god restrained himself from releasing an ancient profanity.
"Well," Raiden stammered, hastily collecting his new belongings into his cape-turned-makeshift-handbag. "I think we have all had fun here tonight, now if you all will excuse me..."
He was gone in a brilliant flash of blue light, leaving Fujin and the others to contemplate their next game.
"21!" Liu Kang exclaimed, spreading his cards out for all to see. The others either whooped in amazed joy or groaned in disappointment.
"Wow, Liu," Sonya said, admiringly. "You really picked it up quickly."
"Well, it's just math," Liu Kang responded as humbly as he could, which was difficult with Johnny's shocked face only feet away from him to mock. The actor shook his head.
"Whatever," Johnny responded, waving his hand. "One more round across the circle. Nightwolf, what's your call?"
The Apache warrior looked around unsurely. Finally, he tapped the floor in front of his cards.
Johnny dealt him a five, putting Nightwolf two past twenty one. Everyone groaned and laughed at the shaman's expense.
"Does anybody else think it's weird that the Native American sucks at card games?" Johnny chastised him, causing Nightwolf to throw his cards angrily at the actor.
Just then they heard the screen door slide open onto their circle; all turned to see Raiden standing in the doorway.
"All right," he said, gesturing to Liu Kang and Kung Lao to stand up. "That is enough for tonight."
His harried appearance prompted Jax to look at his wristwatch.
"Damn," Jax muttered as he noted the time. "It's been way over an hour. Where have you been?"
Although Raiden's expression was normally difficult to read, the others couldn't help but notice his jaw go rigid as he seemed to contemplate a response to that.
"Fujin and the other gods required my help in an urgent matter," Raiden told them. "But it is over. Come on, you two."
Liu Kang and Kung Lao dejectedly gave their cards back to Johnny as they stood up to follow their teacher out of the room.
"Don't sweat it, guys," Johnny called after them, shuffling the deck. "New game tomorrow?"
"You need to get your ass out of this temple tomorrow," Kung Lao snapped playfully, earning laughs from everybody else in the circle and an impatient glare from Raiden.
"All right," Johnny agreed. "I guess it's good night for now, then."
"'Night," Kung Lao and Liu Kang said in unison as they followed Raiden out of the room, shutting the door behind them. A few moments of silence passed before Johnny spoke up again.
"...So how about that game of strip poker?"
This was the last one-shot I could get out before school starts. :D Originally, I wasn't going to do a part showing what Raiden did while he was out, but it came to me suddenly and I went back and threw it in. So, yeah.
Enjoy the rest of summer while you guys still can. :P I'm out.