It was a peculiar discipline they struggled with as the Dawn Courtyard’s beauty began to fade with the sun’s ascent, a discipline of no evident application in combat—but Tenshing had once thought the same of other exercises in the progression, only to find them refining his strategy in subtle ways that defied easy summary. Here the conceit of \textit{reflection} was taken as literally as it could be; for each man’s goal was to project back what he saw in the other’s eyes, adding no complication, simplification, or distortion. Small errors multiplied quickly in this exercise, and more than once Tenshing had found himself staring, or so it had felt for that searing fraction of a moment before his concentration broke, into his own face. This was at least easy to understand; it was when the Master of the Reflecting Pool Mind’s face transmuted in its awful combination of slowly and all-at-once into Mother-of-Daughters’ face, or his father’s, that the king was truly shaken. Only once or twice had the master’s face transformed into the face of someone he knew but had not met, such as his great-grandfather Tenshing Panchama or his unborn eighth son. At that point the exercise was unsalvageable. The king wished he had dismissed his daughter and Lin Tong, and ripples of those regrets undulated through time on the master’s face. It was a bad error, but not unrecoverable, and the king made his eyes a mirror and let it fade away.

The other danger of the exercise, although it was not as disturbing as the transmutation, was to react to the errors one saw reflected in the opponent’s eyes, setting up an oscillatory pattern. This could be sustained for a surprisingly long time, and if recognition of that pattern itself did not end the game immediately it could be iterated to higher levels, adding complexity at gradually slower time scales—but the Master of the Reflecting Pool Mind had little patience for such play, and so Tenshing responded in the prescribed way to his own intrusions, damping them down rather than amplifying their ebb and flow. The game settled slowly toward that fragile, brilliant state that was its goal, and King Tenshing carefully neither exulted nor resisted exultation.

Total word count: 16,734.


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