Chapter 40

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written by kakashi


The sun had set and bathed the mountain tops around Kunlun in a fiery red afterglow, but Shao Wan had no eyes for the beauty around her. She sat brooding over a solitary game of Weiqi. She knew how to play, but Demons tended to scoff at this game: it was for boring scholarly types with no warrior's skills and ambitions. She had never had the patience to sit still for long, but now, she was at a boring, scholarly type of place, with no weapons of her own and no powers to speak of. Suddenly, playing Weiqi seemed like one of the more exciting things to do, especially since the Princesses were not around.

She enjoyed their company, but they were far from being equals - Shao Wan felt like her age was an unsurmountable barrier between them. The two girls were bright-eyed youthful creatures full of possibilities. Even though she knew they both were carrying their own heavy burdens, they had their lives before them. She felt a pang of regret every time she saw them giggle together or when they almost exploded from joy - one more obvious in her emotions than the other - when they mastered a martial arts technique she had taught them. It was like a distant echo of a life she had once lived, one that was forever gone now.

Shao Wan played against herself for a while, pretending her opponent was Mo Yuan, having him play and lose badly; but arguing with herself was far less enjoyable than arguing with the real God of War and she grew quickly bored of the imaginary him.

Just when her sour mood was about to take a turn for the worse, a white figure appeared at the far end of the hall with a broom in his hand.

"You there! Play Weiqi with me!" she immediately shouted.

The white figure stopped and bowed and said something unintelligible that sounded apologetic and probably was an excuse for why he couldn't play with her.

"Come here this instance," she commanded. Being forced to sit on this mountain with a bunch of men - or rather, many boys and one man - was bad enough, but even worse was how busy they all pretended to be when it was more than apparent that they had in fact very little to do.

The boy approached and she recognized him - it was the uptight one who kept cooked her fish though she had clearly expressed her preference for meat. His eyes flitted nervously from side to side, as if he were hoping to be saved by someone.

"How may I serve you, Shimu."

"Sit down and play." She cleared the board, pushing the white stones in his direction.

He swallowed, looking at his broom with an apologetic expression, and then sat down across from her.

"I will begin," she declared and set her first stone on the now empty board.

He timidly followed with his first stone, putting it in the opposite corner.

And so they played. Her opponent was nervous and not an expert player and she took great care to glare at him viciously to intimidate him further. Even so, she had to pay great attention - she had hardly ever played and losing at a simple game against a virgin boy was not something she ever wanted to experience.

As the game progressed, Shao Wan could not help but marvel at the simplicity, yet infinite cleverness of it. When the player placed stones close together, they supported each other and avoided capture. Placing stones further apart helped to surround a larger area more quickly, but left deadly weaknesses. Spending too much time looking at the small-scale tactical side of a confrontation meant missing the larger picture, which led to defeat. And yet, if one set up patterns of safety or executed attacks without caring to examine and adapt to the changing situation, it was equally likely that one would lose. The key to success was to find the right a balance between expanding rapidly and consolidating gains, between attack and defense, between strategic planning and tactical flexibility - invaluable lessons for any warrior.

"How long have you studied here?" she asked the boy.

"80'000 years, Shimu," he answered with a polite dip of his head.

"By the rotten teeth of Taowu! And he still has things to teach you?" she exclaimed.

"Of course! Shifu's wisdom and knowledge are infinite."

Pfft. As if. A know-it-all he certainly was, but infinite knowledge? Nobody had that.

"Don't you want to do great things on your own?"

"I do not understand your meaning, Shimu."

"Rule a kingdom?"

"I am truly happy here. Shifu is like a father to me. There is no kingdom for me to rule."

Shao Wan scoffed.

"We are very good strategists," the boy continued, quite eager all of a sudden, "but as Generals, we seek to apply our knowledge to prevent future wars, not to fight them. Warfare is almost always the option of last resort. Wit trumps weapons."

She pondered that for a while. It was what Mo Yuan always claimed, and apparently, he taught his boys the same. Winning a war without shedding blood was not the Demon way, but considering how badly the Demons had lost the last war, how much blood they had shed in vain, and how weak they had become afterwards, there seemed to be some wisdom in this.

Thinking about the mistakes she had made as a general to the detriment of so many suddenly made Shao Wan realize with a sinking feeling that she had misplaced one of the stones on the Weiqi board five rounds ago. It was a grave mistake - if her opponent saw it too, he would be able to deal her a great blow. She reached out to move it.

"You cannot move this stone, Shimu!", the boy piped up in alarm.

"I know how to control territory, boy. I used to be the Demon Overlord way before you even were an idea."

"I must insist very respectfully, Shimu. You cannot move this stone anymore, it is against the rules."

Shao Wan glared at the boy, but he lifted his chin defiantly and stared back. "This is not up for negotiation, Shimu."

"You stick to the rules all the time, do you?"

"It is the honorable way, Shimu. I would only break the rules to save Shifu or one of my brothers. And you, Shimu, now that you are Shifu's family."

Family!? She felt great discomforted all of a sudden. Mo Yuan should have told them their marriage was not real! Honorable fools, all of them.

And yet, she had something on this mountain she had never before realized she was missing - a sense of security. The only other time she had been able to rest without fear of being killed in her sleep had been at Father Immortal's school. In the Demon realm, there was no loyalty and no trust amongst those with power, only competition that never ceased. Without Fong Hung to guard her back, it would be tough once she returned.

It was possible, Shao Wan thought, that certain traits like extreme loyalty and the willingness to self-sacrifice predestined the Celestials to be the leaders of the realms. Maybe such things gave them a strength no Demons would ever possess. Maybe it meant they could never be beaten.

She wondered what it would feel like to grow up trusting everyone around you. She had always thought this kind of trust a weakness, but now that she had lived here for a while she realized it was a source of great inner strength. Mo Yuan had it - of course, because he had always had everything, from the moment he had entered this world as a babe. The boys on this mountain, they all had it too and Mo Yuan was the source of this trust. She had heard the tales of why Qing Cang had been able to start the Ghost War that led to Mo Yuan's temporary demise. The fool had rushed to the Ghost Territory to free two of his disciples - one of them the Fox woman, disguised as Si Yin.

She also knew he had rushed to the Demon Territory to help her. Why he had done such a reckless, stupid thing had recently become clear to her. Her general boredom at least afforded her ample time to reflect: The three guests on his mountain ... all of them had considerable value. Li Ying was the sister of the Demon clamoring for war, the perfect hostage. Yan Zhi and the child in her care were both the true successors to the Ghost throne. And she, Shao Wan, was the one Demon all the other demons looked to.

The Celestial Bastard was always strategizing, day and night. Shao Wan was sure it was no coincidence that such strategic power was amassed in the God of War's hands at this very moment, even though fate had ultimately been the one to afford him this opportunity. It galled her a great deal that she was just a stone in his game like the others, but since he had finally started her control lessons recently, she was confident she would be able to leave the Mountain quite soon and free herself of his influence in time. If he didn't have her Feather.

"Why are you sad, Shimu?" asked the white boy, reaching out his hand as if to touch hers, pulling it back hastily when he got scared of his brazen impulse.

Shao Wan swallowed hard and glared at him as she said: "Do you want to lose your tongue?"

The truth was, this mountain made her mushy and soft. She craved to please a man instead of simply wanting to be pleased. He had made her depend on his attention. She missed him when he was not around. She wanted to continue feeling secure and content. This would not do. It had to stop.

She was what she was. The inner strength that came from trust - she would never have it, simply because she was a Demon. She would go back soon and she would have to purge the temptation of peace that was Mount Kunlun from her memories. She would not, could not let it taint her or she would perish. A Demon Overlord was not allowed the luxury of trust.

The boy who so happily cooked for her did not realize the mistake she had made earlier and continued to play a mediocre game, but it gave her no pleasure to be winning. When she saw Mo Yuan approach, hands behind his back, she pushed the stones away and said: "I fold. You win."

She ignored the boy's surprised and feeble protest and went to meet the God of War, who seemed to have come to pick her up. As always, he offered no explanation for where he had disappeared to, but his eyes shone brightly when he looked at her and he smiled, making her weak kneed and foolishly happy.

"I did not think you'd like to play Weiqi," he said and kissed her on the forehead, "or I would have played with you gladly."

"I prefer to have you available for other things in your limited time," she said, pushing him away.

He did not say anything else while they walked to his bedroom. He closed the door behind them and looked at her in silence. She averted her eyes and studied the paravan instead.

"Is something the matter, Shao Wan?" he asked in his calm voice.

"I won't share the bed with you tonight," she told him defiantly.

Mo Yuan looked at her with his unmoving face, no sign of puzzlement or hurt and just said: "As you wish, Shao Wan."

He left the room without an argument and gently closed the door behind himself. Suddenly, she felt more alone than she ever had. She had to leave as soon as possible. If she stayed for much longer, she was not sure she would ever be able to return to being her old self.

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