Author: Guede Mazaka
There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room—more than enough for the blade to play about in.
* * *
In wei chi there are a thousand and one ways to surround and be surrounded, to flank and divide. Sky has trained himself according to this—his spear does not follow the smooth curving swoops of calligraphy, nor the high spins and twirls of dancing, nor the shimmering chords of music. It moves according to the straight crossing lines of the board, the sudden unexpected closing of a ring of stone markers. It goes four ways at once, and does not hesitate from striking the center. It strikes in a thousand and one directions, in a thousand and one worlds.
But he only lives in one.
Some nights he will watch the color of his tea stain ever darker and remember how scarlet a drop of blood, loosed from a hard-kissed lip, looked beading upon the whiteness of her cheek. Then he pours out the fragrant amber liquid so it turns stale on the thirsty planks and runs into the gnarled knots of them, so like the enraged, horrified, despairing face of what had once been his best friend. And the rim of the cup is a thin steel line of white in the darkness, a sword-edge blunted.
Some days he will sit hands tucked into sleeves in a shadowed corner of the marketplace and listen to news of daring and heroic countrymen whom he has never met, never even glimpsed, but whom he yet feels nearer to than even the whores leaving their faint perfumes in his bed, the prefect curiously watching him from the other side of the road. He will turn his fingers tighter around his spear and listen to the slight alteration in its hum, as if he were not single but part of an army as great as Ch’in’s, with spears a-plenty around him to take up the same song. There are three parts to it, and he wonders whether this woman is as beautiful as the unwavering unbending melody, whether this man is as nuanced and compassionate as the softly modulated chords. Whether he is as careless and ruthless and free as the notes of the sprightly countertune interweaving about the edges of them both.
And sometimes on the cusp of day and night Sky will stare bleary-eyed at the board, shuffling and reshuffling a deck of fifty consecutive moves in his head, and he will remember a violent blotch like the black chip in the side of the marker he will lift in a few short seconds. A shattering mistake, a fatal hesitation, and the incomprehensible distance of those who have exiled themselves from the people in favor of the land. His fingers will tremble and he will watch the worlds bleed shivering into one, where there is only the attack. Where there is only forward, forward to erase that rupture in harmony that is slicing out the ground from behind him, though he was miles away and did not see the one true move that is ending it all. Though he does not know what blows were struck, what wounds were inflicted, and he does not dare risk the chance of stealing back to know the truth, to learn the strategy that handed one country to another.
He does not wish to know.
Whichever world he traces out in his mind, on the board, the end result is the same. And so the straight and direct way remains the best. He holds to that. He believes he sees it in the prefect that sits with him and talks softly and pushes his markers so swiftly across the board to devastate—or to merely cripple—within a quarter of the time that Sky would take. That Sky had taken, in the days when he sat to map out all the different paths to victory. But now his vision doubles and his head aches and his breathing rings hollow; but now he slices away all the other alternatives and chooses only the single all-ending blow.
He hopes there will be no room, this time, for further play.
His head aches and he has to close his eyes.
He does not finish the game.
He cannot. Now.
* * *
If you use what is limited to pursue what has no limit, you will be in danger.