Meera started in the morning, long before Shu-fang did. Shu-fang could have, but the other two women had seemed to think that Meera’s morning hours were a bit more odd so Shu-fang let them keep that feeling. She didn’t want to stand out too much. Every little bit of energy that Shu-fang could muster went to acting like a regular person. As regular as any individual could ever be.
“I got a text last night. Apparently we have someone who found a bunch of old clothes somewhere or another and she wants them repaired.”
“I don’t have any other plans,” Shu-fang said quickly. Repairs? She was very good with those. Meera knew it too. She had spent some time watching Shu-fang with it and other than a few pointers when it came to the machine, Meera always left her to it. Shu-fang felt like she would still have some time to go when it came to fashioning the clothes from scratch. She didn’t want to waste any fabric, after all. But when it came to repairs Shu-fang was already a master.
There were years she had worn certain things threadbare as she continued to repair and repair them. She knew a bit better about it now.
Shu-fang woke up feeling rested for one of the first times in a long while. The room was small, perhaps even cramped. It wasn’t to say that Shu-fang had lived in worse places, because that went without saying, but this place was nice and cozy. Even without too much in it, she enjoyed this immensely. It never got too hot or too cold and the room service was amazing. Carla came up every morning, except for the few times she was out of town or sick, and in which case Shu-fang and Meera didn’t want her to be doing that anyway.
There was a routine to it. Shu-fang liked routines. At least, routines like this. Getting up and ready for the day, getting behind a sewing machine, and doing something creative. People all had something specific they wanted. Sometimes it fell into patterns. Most all of the time it fell into patterns. Yet Shu-fang had never spent the time before to know the exact patterns. She definitely knew how to sew, she had even used a sewing machine before. Nevertheless, Shu-fang was much more familiar of things by hand considering the length of time involved with that, so it was fun to do something new like this.
“Good morning, Shu-fang.”
“Good morning, Meera.”
Running at War, Shu-fang let the other woman throw her down the embankment. There was no time to pause. Shu-fang got up and started to run.
The shriek rang in her ears. She remembered once that would have made her pause, deny, but Shu-fang knew better. She had known better for some time.
It didn’t matter what War said. War would never understand. Shu-fang didn’t really need her to.
She only had to get away.
War flipped her up, then without getting off her back swept Shu-fang’s feet from underneath her. There was no way she could stop that, but she could turn it into a back-flip. Shu-fang had long since realized how unreal her fights looked to other people.
What was her advantage? War wouldn’t understand. That was it. Shu-fang would be able to run because War didn’t expect her to retreat. Or if she did, she would expect it to be to regroup. Shu-fang had to run and lose her in the wilds.
She lost track of what War did, but Shu-fang managed to step aside before War clocked her in the head, evading another grapple. Shu-fang already felt sore. War never pulled any punches. A lesser person would need hospitalization by now.
Lesser? Mortal. This was why Shu-fang wanted it to end. She didn’t want to think like this.
“My next battle will not be my choice.”
“Let me remind you why it should!”
With a roar, War came at her. Shu-fang dodged to the side – perhaps one of the few people, mortal or otherwise, who could do such a thing. War still struck out to the side as she came and Shu-fang ducked down, kicking up dirt at War’s face.
There was no winning this confrontation. One never won against War. One did not win a contest of strength, one did not win a battle in cunning. She had disengage.
War would never run away, so Shu-fang would have to.
With both hands, War grabbed her. Shu-fang let her, partially because she knew she couldn’t avoid it and partially because it gave her a chance to think about what she needed to do next. War flung her down, landing on top of her. Through the pain (which she had long since become desensitized to), Shu-fang simply rolled the both of them further down a slope. If she stopped or agreed, War would drag her away as prisoner. Shu-fang supposed she could handle the years of torture that might come from that. Not torture by War, just by being around the Gods.
Yet she didn’t want to give in yet. Not yet. She had just started. There was so much time to solve this.
Shu-fang kept herself calm, muscles lax.
“There will always be something to fight! You know this better than the other humans who still easily throw their lives away for that fight. You are my Champion, Shu-fang, no matter who you choose to back. You are another facet of the battle. No matter where you go, what you do, you will find yourself there once more. And so you will Champion me and present me to the world with your victories!”
Shu-fang’s eyes flickered downward against her will. The dirt was peaceful, despite War’s presence. It didn’t feel apt to rise up and attack. That was why the dead usually ended up wrapped away within it. “I’m tired,” she admitted.
What would War say to that? Might War have a word or two that would help her cope with these feelings? That could be all she needed, the ability to cope with this fatigue and move on.
War’s expression told her all, even before the goddess spoke. “There is always more! More to do, more blood to spill! Fatigue passes, but the battle rages on!”
Shu-fang brought her gaze back up. War had never been tired. She never would. There was nothing more for Shu-fang to take from this conversation. No more reason to stay here, other than the fact that War had prompted this situation. Now she had to get away from her.
Perhaps she should have lied, but Shu-fang would not.
That was the price of being the embodiment of a concept such as War. Though while brutality was mixed into it, that certainly wasn’t all what War was about. She was a walking conflict that she expressed through physicality. But that was not evil, not to Shu-fang.
Though she might have been biased, through lives lived where she did that much and worse. War was a part of life. And that was why she was a God.
“Then why look for me?” Shu-fang asked.
“What does that mean!” War shouted it out in a way that it no longer sounded like a question.
Shu-fang wasn’t surprised. War was so one-track minded. Of course she was confused by the message. “It means I am no longer available to do your bidding.”
War’s frown became more intense. “You have decided to serve who now? That is irrelevant.”
“You misunderstand. I do not serve anyone else. No god will get me to fight for them.”
A beat. Then, like the crack of a whip, War threw her head back and laughed.
How War’s presence called for battle! And that was even before Shu-fang turned to look at her. She stood at seven feet, with blazing red hair falling down from her open faced helmet, contrasted against pale skin littered with scars. Mementos of her labours. Shu-fang knew that most of them War had seen coming and had allowed them anyway.
Shu-fang remained calm and let War advance upon her. War stopped many lengths in front of her, looking down upon the much shorter woman. “What is going on?”
Shu-fang sighed. “What do you mean? That is a very open question.”
War scowled. “With you! I might not have gone searching for you just yet except for your message.”
Of course War would not understand the concept of retirement. War was constant. There was no pause in her eyes. Even when one confrontation ended for mortals, she was already in another one. Even now, standing in front of Shu-fang without any show of violence toward the immortal, she was a part of something greater.
Then she felt it.
It came slowly, but after a couple of days she could not deny the sense in the air. How it began to twist the people here. Spats over nothing, plain arguments nearing the heated peak. It was blood lust. It crept through the trees and down into the town, slipping into the houses and into their residents. They looked out, suspicious of strangers. Ready to bear arms.
War had come.
With a sigh, Shu-fang packed up her things and got out of town before War made herself known. Before War tore this peaceful town apart.
Shu-fang went by foot. She didn’t take the road, not yet, because she wasn’t risking travelling along with someone else when War showed up, because War would catch up. Shu-fang did not doubt War would catch up. She eventually heard the footsteps behind her, consistent and ever closer. Unlaboured.
It was winter, but inside in front of the forge it was as hot as ever. Shu-fang didn’t bother to wipe off her brow, beating her hammer down in a rhythmic fashion that had once been cathartic, but now was simple. As per usual, everything was quiet outside of her fire and her metal. It wasn’t as though anyone else was in here.
She had made more horseshoes than needed today, it seemed. The practice was good, but she would have to melt some down for the metal. Only so much would sell. Shu-fang wasn’t too bothered about it. All she knew was that she was still counting the days, much as she counted her strokes.
For a community that hadn’t had gods ever involved with their ground, they were quite spiritual. They didn’t question her presence, but there was something they had she was lacking. Despite having dwelt here for half a year, Shu-fang wasn’t certain what it was. Probably a sense of community. However, she knew it would take her longer to attain that state then would be safe for her to remain. People didn’t believe in immortality anymore.
Good. Shu-fang thought it was for the best they didn’t find it real.