Author: Guede Mazaka
Black around white, white around black. The last time Broken Sword saw Sky, the white won.
He played only one game with the man, but that game began with a chance glance through a half-open gate of rusted iron and ended with the whisper of leather sliding over steel. One game was all that was needed; perhaps the secret of swordsmanship links like the pieces of a woman’s necklace to the art of calligraphy, but the secret of Sky lies within simple stone counters. They can be arranged in a multitude of ways, countless patterns that nevertheless boil down to attack and retreat, feign and strike, surround and withdraw. The sound of their sliding over the board is unmistakable, as is the sound of Sky’s spear when it sings.
Sky does not follow the swordsman’s path, which is direct and swift as the arrows of Ch’in. He stalks the outside, pacing the borders and piercing them with the precision of a surgeon’s needle. Vanishing like the gwai of murderers and unhappy women that drift through the many, many ruins Ch’in has left in its wake. When Broken Sword first sensed the man’s presence, it was as a stirring that drew a tight circle about him.
The spearman is clever, and uncouth, and cynical in his arrogance. He raids alone while Broken Sword and Flying Snow remain behind Zhou borders, locked together in their failure to understand the changes being wrought in the land, in them. He rides ahead of that famed wave of black that is Ch’in’s army, lined up on the horizon.
Once, near the end of that game, Sky made a fatal error in his positioning of his marker. Unbelieving, Broken Sword seized the advantage and ended the dance of two weeks.
He thought Sky had allowed him to win. His pride was stung and he challenged Sky, who never could turn down one.
Later, when the moonlight had stroked across the floorboards to hide Broken Sword’s bruised hips and ribs and forearms with dappled shadows, Sky rose. He picked up his discarded robes and then paused, lifting his hand to run fingertips beneath Broken Sword's chin.
“I know that I will always lose, no matter what the outcome of the next game is. The final one has long since been decided,” Sky said, thumbnail pressing a tiny crescent of pain into Broken Sword’s upper lip, hair loosed like a woman’s so it flowed into Broken Sword’s own. Then he smiled. “But I like to play. And it is the play they remember most and best.”
Broken Sword remained disturbed for months, till the daughter of a general and a hero asked him to draw his sword. Then he quieted--but now...
Now he makes crosshatches with the black ink and brush tipped with white horsehair, and he wonders what Sky knew. What Sky knows. Broken Sword wonders what game he had played, after all.