Once every generation, there is an ancient tournament known as Mortal Kombat. This tournament was created to save the Realm of Earth from the dark forces of Outworld.
At least, that was its original concept…
One by one, the women woke up on a sandy beach. Fa Mulan was the first to open her eyes and stand upright, staring in shock around her.
Not only was she in a foreign place, but the beach was littered with naked women…including her. Mulan crossed her arms over her breasts and frowned as the others began to yawn daintily and awaken. What was this place? Why were they here?
And who were these other women?
A blonde stood up and stretched, oblivious to her nakedness. She yawned again, then waved a hand at Mulan. "Be a dear and get me some tea."
Mulan scowled at the girl. "I'm not your servant."
The blonde looked surprised. She blinked at Mulan for a moment, then turned to the next girl – a short, arabic girl with long black hair. "Be a dear and get me some tea," the blonde repeated.
The shorter girl gave the tall blonde an irritated look. "What makes you think I'm your servant?"
The blonde looked confused. "Why else would you be in the princess's bedroom?"
The shorter girl's hands curled into claws, as if she wanted to scratch out the blonde's eyes. Mulan couldn't blame her. She moved forward to separate the two women, when the arabic girl announced, "I'm a princess too, you idiot!"
"I am too," announced a squeaky-voiced girl with short black hair. She wiped tears off her face, obviously distraught. "My name is Snow White."
Dumb name. Mulan glanced at the others. "Are you all princesses?"
One by one they nodded. There was a redhead, two blondes, a quiet girl with a brown ponytail, the girl with the short black hair and the high voice, the short arabic princess, an extremely tall Native American princess with long, flowing hair, and herself.
Except, Mulan wasn't a princess. Not that she was going to tell them that. "Well, so we're all princesses and we're all naked on this beach. Anyone have a clue as to what is going on?"
The ponytailed brunette raised a hand and stepped forward. "I'm Belle. I um, read a lot. And this sounds a bit like we've been pulled here somehow. By magic forces."
"Magic!" said one of the blondes, covering her mouth in horror. "But magic is evil!"
Snow White began to weep again.
"Not necessarily," Belle said and grimaced at Snow White's crying. Each sob sounded like a mouse being stepped on. "I'm sure there's a logical explanation for this. Like a fairy curse. Maybe we just need to figure out how to break the spell?"
"Or a genie," said the short princess thoughtfully. "I have some experience with genies."
"Those are your logical explanations?" Mulan shook her head. "You all are crazy. This is crazy."
"NO," boomed a voice. "THIS IS MORTAL KOMBAT."
Demonic guards appeared on the beach and escorted the women into an underground arena. Mulan thought briefly about fighting, but she didn't know where they were, and the guards were too many, so she chose to wait and bide her time.
To her surprise, she was separated from the others and installed in her own private (albeit small) chamber. A yellow dress with a blue bodice was laid out for her. She put it on, and tied a red sash around her waist. The material was silky and rippled around her feet, the bodice a thick brocade. Expensive clothing – a princess's clothing.
So what was she doing with it?
A gong sounded in the distance. Now clothed, Mulan found her curiosity returning. She scanned the room to see if there were any sorts of weapons at hand. A quick search of the room found a string of firecrackers. She tucked them all under her bodice and arranged the red sash so that the bulk of the fabric hid them.
The guards were nowhere to be seen, so she left her room, slipping on a pair of sandals and heading down the long underground walkway to the arena. The other women were trickling out as well, dressed in equally unusual outfits. Jasmine (who she had learned was the Arabian princess – all the women had exchanged names before parting) was dressed in a billowy, glittering green top and matching pants. A few steps behind her, tall Pocahontas wore a short, fringed buckskin dress and a blue necklace. She'd eschewed shoes entirely.
Belle reappeared in a simple pink dress and a dark red cloak, lined with white fur. Given the warm temperature of the tunnel – even underground – it seemed like a strange idea.
"That cannot possibly be comfortable," Mulan observed as they walked.
Belle shrugged. "At least I can see where I'm going." She gestured at Snow White. At least, Mulan assumed it was Snow White – the girl wore an enormous neck ruff that obscured her head. "She can't see behind her at all. Don't worry about me."
She had a point. Mulan observed Snow White as the princesses entered the arena. The girl's bodice was so tight that she seemed to only take shallow breaths, and she definitely could not see behind her. It was, however, a very pretty, fashionable ruffle.
If you were into that sort of thing.
The princesses entered the arena and stood in the center, staring around them. Floodlights covered the center floor of the arena, and it was impossible to see if anyone stood in the shadowy stands. Mulan felt her sandals fill with grit, which made walking hard, so she slowed her pace.
"WELCOME TO MORTAL KOMBAT," boomed a voice. No speaker stepped forward. "IF YOU WISH TO RETURN TO YOUR OWN WORLD, YOU MUST FIGHT. IF YOU FIGHT, YOU MUST WIN. ONLY ONE SHALL RETURN."
Sure enough, Snow White began to cry again. One of the blonde princesses – Aurora – flipped her long hair and gave the others a distasteful look, as if she found the entire process beneath her.
At Mulan's side, Jasmine murmured. "I can think of someone I'd like to fight."
"Same here," whispered Mulan. It was a little obvious that Aurora had been born with a silver slipper on her foot.
"THE FIRST THAT SHALL FIGHT TO THE DEATH SHALL BE…CINDERELLA AND SNOW WHITE."
Snow White gave a low little moan in her throat and dropped to her knees in the sand. Mulan expected Cinderella – the tightly contained blonde in a sparkling blue dress – to react the same, but her expression was blank.
"EVERYONE ELSE, LEAVE THE FIELD."
The voice was irritating, grating in Mulan's ear. Something about it sounded wrong…as if it were trying to be deeper than it truly was. She frowned up at the dark, shadowy stands but could see nothing. The other princesses were exiting the field, so she followed them, leaving only the two chosen combatants in the midst of the arena. "What's happening?" said Jasmine to Mulan, pulling up beside her.
"I think we're supposed to fight each other," Mulan responded. "It sounds like an elimination match."
Jasmine wrinkled her nose and stared out at the two princesses on the sands. "A fight to the death in order to go home?" She glanced over at Pocahontas. "Are you going to do this?"
Pocahontas looked out on the battlefield, then back to the princesses watching in the stands. "I do not like this at all…but I like the thought of staying here even less."
She had a point. Mulan leaned forward, watching the fight.
"I do wish he'd quit yelling in our ears," muttered Belle, to the other side of Mulan.
Mulan was about to agree with her, but the fight started, and she leaned forward to watch instead. Down in the center of the arena, Snow White and Cinderella circled each other slowly. Snow White continued to dash tears from her eyes, but Cinderella leaned low in her sparkling dress, her gloved hands flexed into claws. They circled each other once, twice.
Then, Cinderella sprang with a swift kick, glittering skirts flying as her slippered foot connected with Snow White's jaw.
The other princess screamed and dropped to the sandy floor, blood gushing from her mouth. The hard, intense look in Cinderella's eyes increased, and she went after her opponent, jerking on her oversized collar and dragging her across the sand. Snow White slapped feebly at Cinderella's hands, but it was no use – the other princess meant business. The collar was jerked over Snow White's head, blinding her. As she flailed, Cinderella dropped to the ground and rolled, her grip still on Snow White's collar. Propelled by the motion, Snow White went flying across the arena with another squeaky cry.
"Oh my," said Jasmine.
"It's almost not fair, is it?" said Pocahontas. "The squeaking one does not know how to defend herself."
It was true, Mulan acknowledged. One of the princesses was obviously more adept at fending off attackers than the other. As she watched, Cinderella stalked to the far side of the arena and pulled something from a shelf – a broom. She snapped it across her knee, and the broom-head went flying, leaving a long, jagged stick. With a grim fierceness in her eyes, Cinderella began to stalk her opponent once more, glittering skirts swaying, her white gloves tinged with blood.
"I don't know that I can watch," said Belle, and covered her eyes.
Mulan watched. She couldn't tear her eyes away. She watched as Cinderella backhanded Snow White, dropping her to the ground again. And she watched as Cinderella leaned over her opponent, raised the broken broomstick high, and jammed it into her opponent's chest.
It was over in a flash. Jasmine made a choked sound in her throat.
"I'm not looking," chanted Belle, her hands covering her eyes. "I'm not looking. I'm not looking."
On the field, Cinderella kicked sand over Snow White's twitching corpse. Then, she straightened her gloves and patted the tight upsweep of blonde hair on her head. Her expression was calm, if flinty.
"I am glad I did not fight her," Pocahontas said, watching the guards clear the body off of the sands.
"WINNER," said the mysterious voice. "CINDERELLA." The princess returned to the stands to wait next to the others. As Mulan watched, Princess Aurora stepped away when Cinderella moved too close.
Not that she blamed the blonde one bit.
"NEXT FIGHT – MULAN AND ARIEL."
Jasmine turned to her with wide eyes. "That's you!"
"I am ready." Mulan's heart skipped nervously, but she stepped forward. She was strong. She was trained as a warrior. She could beat the nervous-looking redhead that was moving out onto the sands ahead of her. She could do that. And then she could go home.
Defeat was not an option. She was the only one here trained as a warrior. The others stood no chance.
Across from her, Ariel blinked her eyes repeatedly, her hands buried in the billowing, pink skirts of her gown. She bit her lip and stared at Mulan, looking soft and shy.
I will not feel regret, Mulan told herself as she took a warrior's stance directly across from the girl. It is kill or be killed, and I shall kill. The long, silky yellow skirts of her dress were obnoxiously long, and she took a moment to tear off a long strip around the bottom, shortening the dress to a fighting length.
"BEGIN…" said the voice. "MORTAL KOMBAT."
Mulan stood, the length of yellow fabric in her hands. Ariel took a step back, then reached into her skirts.
A fork. She threw it with vicious accuracy at Mulan, all signs of the soft and shy princess disappearing. Mulan ducked, rolling to the ground in surprise. As she watched, Ariel pulled another fork from underneath her skirts and hurled it toward her opponent. This one struck, burying itself in the flesh of Mulan's thigh.
"OW," she yelled, jerking it out of her thigh. Blood gushed. She grabbed the length of fabric that she'd stripped off of her dress. She could wrap the wound with it, cut off the bleeding–
Another fork whizzed past her head.
That did it. Time to shut this one down, and fast. Ignoring the blood streaming down her thigh, Mulan grabbed the length of fabric and wrapped each end around her hands. She chased after Ariel and pushed her down in the sand, on her belly. Then, straddling her, Mulan wrapped the fabric around the girl's neck and pulled back, tight.
Ariel choked. She dropped the forks in her hands and began to claw at Mulan's hands, trying to free herself. But Mulan had been trained as a warrior. She was stronger than the other princess, and she could not be moved. Ariel flailed for several minutes, then her movements slowed, and she eventually went limp on the sands.
"WINNER," boomed the voice. "MULAN."
The next bout flew past in a blood-filled, sandy blur. Jasmine was chosen to fight against Aurora. It was an ugly fight – Jasmine had some sort of experience with combat, and she punched and kicked Aurora into the sand time after time. There was slapping. There was kicking. There was more slapping. There were curses hurled at the other princess's face. Each time, though, Princess Aurora would get up and attack again, which impressed Mulan. Not that it did any good. Jasmine would just knock her into the sand again.
And just when Mulan thought Aurora could take no more, the blonde princess collapsed and did not get up again.
"WINNER," announced the voice. "JASMINE. NEXT FIGHT, BELLE AND POCAHONTAS."
"Oh dear," said Belle, looking up at the statuesque Native American princess next to her. She barely reached Pocahontas's shoulder. "I don't think I'm going to win this one."
Pocahontas said nothing, simply walked out onto the arena field.
Jasmine patted Belle on the back as she walked out. She looked sad as she glanced back at Mulan. "Shame. I liked her."
Mulan did too. But that was how this thing worked. It was terrible, and it was Mortal Kombat.
Whatever that was.
Belle paced on the sands, her cloak billowing out behind her. She had pulled the hood over her face, so it remained hidden in shadow. Pocahontas, opposite from her, stood tall and proud, her long legs extending for what seemed like forever under the shorter skirt. Whereas Belle was all soft curves and billowing cloak, Pocahontas seemed hard and proud. Strong.
Belle was right – she did not stand a chance.
Or so Mulan thought. No sooner had the fight begun than Belle pulled a candlestick out of the confines of her cloak and sparked it with a lighter. When Pocahontas swung at Belle, the smaller princess was able to duck. She swung back, touching the candle to Pocahontas's hair. The taller princess screamed and began to bat at the flames, and that gave Belle an opening. She touched the candle to the Native American princess's hair again, then her dress, the fringe that dangled from the skirt. In a panic, Pocahontas dropped to the sand and began to try to smother the flames, and Belle conked her on the back of the head with the candlestick.
One more hit to the back of the head, and Pocahontas was down for good.
"WINNER," scratched the voice. "BELLE."
Belle rejoined the others in the stands, wiping her cheeks. "I didn't want to have to do that."
"It was you or her," Jasmine said, putting an arm around the cloaked girl's shoulders. "Had to be done."
"Did it?" said Mulan, unhappy. She watched as they removed Pocahontas's body from the battlefield. "What is the point of any of this?"
"What do you mean?" Jasmine turned to look at her. "If we want to go home, we have to fight."
"Is it worth it?" Mulan said, watching Belle shiver under her cloak. "What happens if we all kill each other? We just go home and try and forget about this? Forget about everything?"
"NEXT FIGHT, BELLE AND CINDERELLA."
Belle gasped and shook her head, the hood falling back. "Not again. Not me."
Jasmine let her arm drop. "I'm so sorry, Belle."
Cinderella was already stalking out on the grounds, her sharp blue eyes scanning the arena. Mulan knew what she was looking for – another broom.
"I think we should change the rules," Mulan said in a calm voice. She glanced up at the stands, high up to where the booming voice seemed to emanate. The one that dictated how the fights should go. "I'm going to go find that voice. Do you think the two of you can hold off that one down there?" She gestured at Cinderella on the field.
"Shouldn't be a problem with the two of us," Jasmine began. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going after whoever is running these games," Mulan said, tightening the sash that served as her belt. "I'll see if he likes having the tables turned on him." She glanced over at Belle. "Do you still have the flint you used to light the candle?"
Belle handed it over.
"NEXT MATCH," the voice repeated, "BELLE AND CINDERELLA."
Jasmine moved forward and impulsively kissed Mulan on the mouth. "Be careful."
That was…surprising. But not entirely unwelcome.
"I will." Mulan touched her cheek and then darted through the dark, empty stands. A quick glance down at the field showed both Belle's red cloak moving into the light, as well as Jasmine's green clothing. They would be fine without her. Cinderella might be crazy, but the two of them together could handle the blonde.
Now by herself, Mulan made her way through the dark stands of the arena. They were empty – even the demonic guards had long left the area. She climbed up and down the tiered bleachers, but saw no one. Where was the voice coming from?
"ONLY TWO IN THE ARENA," the voice called out shrilly. "YOU MUST FOLLOW THE RULES."
There, to her right. Mulan turned and slunk through the stands, searching the shadows for a figure. No one. She paused at the top, frustrated, and glanced back down at the battlefield. Jasmine and Belle and Cinderella still circled each other, the figure in blue diving for the other two on a regular basis. Mulan watched Belle – seemingly soft and fragile Belle – dance out of the way. They were fine.
Pulling her gaze away from the combat field, she began to pace around the top of the arena, when her wooden sandal caught on something hard. She glanced down – an iron ring attached to a trap door lay at the top of the stands. Perhaps this was where the voice was coming from? Without hesitation, Mulan tugged it open.
Under the trap door, stairs descended into darkness.
Mulan swallowed, flicked the lighter on, and moved cautiously down the stairs.
The room immediately got cooler, as if she were descending into a basement of some sorts. The stairs led downward in a narrow run and then…stopped. Her sandals touched the floor and she paused, holding the lighter aloft and glancing about her.
It was a small, dark chamber. At the far end, a tiny figure stood before a lit-up switchboard. He leaned forward and yelled into a microphone. "ONLY TWO IN THE ARENA." From this side, his voice sounded high and squeaky, and he stomped a tiny foot. As he leaned in, Mulan could see a pair of round, black mouse ears atop his head.
A mouse? Was he the one behind this?
"Who are you?" She called out.
The mouse whipped around, his small features contorting in a grimace. "You're not supposed to be back here!"
With that, he launched himself at her.
Mulan side-stepped, tripping over her wooden sandals as the mouse smacked against her wounded leg. She fell to the floor. The lighter skittered out of her hands and across the room, plunging her into darkness. She got up on her knees and tried to get her bearings, only to have something heavy launch against her body, knocking her back to the ground again. Gloved hands wrapped around her neck.
She panicked. The hands were oversized for a mouse, but still large enough to choke the breath out of her. Mulan scrambled to her feet, trying to shake off the mouse, but he wouldn't budge. His hands remained locked around her throat, and breathing was impossible. She couldn't get him off her back or release his hands.
"You bitch. You're ruining my competition," he snarled in her ear, the voice high and squeaky. "For that, you're going to die."
Like hell she was. Mulan pitched backward, slamming her back against the wall and pinning the mouse. He squeaked, but did not release her. Again, she slammed him – and herself – against the wall, trying to get him to relax his grip. Still nothing. The world was starting to get faint around her.
In a last, desperate move, Mulan crashed into the switchboard. The microphone knocked to her feet and the board began to spark.
The mouse's hands relaxed around her neck and he leapt off of her. "You bitch! You've ruined my soundboard!" She could hear him curse under his breath, his feet slapping on the ground as he dashed over to it.
Mulan crawled over to the far wall, pressing her back to it and coughing, trying to gain some breath in her lungs again. She rubbed her throat, gasping. Something hard pressed against her backside and she pulled it out. The lighter! Her hand felt along her waist – the string of firecrackers was still there, tucked in. She pulled it out quietly, an idea forming in her mind as she watched the mouse type away, cussing as he tried to repair the damage.
He wasn't paying any attention to her. Perfect.
With the string of firecrackers in her hand, she crept up behind the mouse. And when he opened his mouth again, she grabbed the top of his head and braced his body against hers, cramming the string of firecrackers into his mouth.
She bashed his head into the keyboard again, to shut him up. It dazed him – she used that to her advantage. Taking the microphone cord, she wrapped it around his mouth once, twice, locking the firecrackers in place. Then the rest she wrapped around his skinny mouse arms, pinning them down. He was helpless.
He was hers.
She flicked the lighter on and touched it to the string of firecrackers, half hanging out of the mouse's mouth.
He realized what was happening as soon as the firecracker wick began to hiss and sizzle. The mouse's eyes widened and a muffled scream began to build in his throat.
"Mulan wins," she grinned at him. "Fatality." And she dashed up the stairs and shut the trap door behind her.
No sooner had she slammed the trap door shut again, there came a muffled boom and a wet splat that echoed in the arena, through the microphone.
Mulan collapsed to her knees, rubbing her throat and breathing hard. It was done. They were safe.
A hand touched her shoulder and she glanced up. Jasmine and Belle stood over her, smiling. Belle's face was swollen on one side and she had a massive shiner. Jasmine looked a little better for the wear, but she limped and carried her weight on one leg only. There was no sign of Cinderella.
"I found who put this together," Mulan said in a scratchy voice, and rubbed her throat again. "He tried to kill me, so I took care of him."
"It's just us three left," said Belle. "And with the game stopped, I guess we aren't going home."
"Doesn't look like it," agreed Jasmine, offering Mulan a hand up. She didn't sound that upset over their fate. "The demon guards have disappeared too. It's just the three of us left here on this plane."
"So what do we do?" Mulan staggered to her feet.
Jasmine reached out and brushed a strand of hair off of Mulan's face, her touch gentle. She smiled as Belle put her hand around Mulan's waist. "Is it truly so bad if it's just the three of us here, alone? Belle and I have been talking and…I think we can be happy, if you are happy."
"There's fruit trees near the beach, and we can set traps for small game," Belle offered. "And I read a book on how to build a tree house."
Just the three of them? Alone together? Remembering Jasmine's kiss, Mulan leaned toward Jasmine and returned it, her lips meeting the other princess's waiting ones. It was as good as she had remembered – the arabic princess's mouth was soft and smooth under her own. She liked that. But what about the other princess?
Just then, Belle's hand slid a bit further down off of Mulan's waist and caressed her backside. Mulan guessed that all three of them were content with exploring a new relationship, then.
"I'm in no hurry to get home," said Mulan, putting an arm around each girl's waist. "This could be the start of a grand new adventure."