Sorry for the delay. The reason? My muse railroaded me in the middle of the last chapter and put in something that was not planned. YUCK. That, and I was distracted by the uber-cute anime series Princess Tutu. And I became one of the webslaves for Toriyama's World. Yeah, it all adds up . . .

Edit on 3/24/05: Fixed a typo of doom. There were only two in the story, but now it is PERFECT with no typos. :D I think.

Fujiwara, Part Eight
The entire court stared at him. Hikaru felt like he was caught in one of those never-ending dreams, the bad ones where you're in school dressed in nothing but your underwear, or a chicken suit.

He coughed.

Aw, hell, at this point, the truth wouldn't hurt, now would it?

"I was sent here to avenge Fujiwara no Sai."

The court began tittering again, and Naritada's ashen face was enough to make Hikaru regret telling the truth. But he pressed on.

"Sai . . . to me, was a ghost. He drowned and became a wandering spirit. Just a few years ago . . ." Hikaru actually felt tears begin to well up in his eyes. "A few years ago, I found him in my grandfather's go board."

The truth, with no mention of the thousand-year gap. But surely no one would believe such a story, even the superstitious Heian people.

He continued anyway. "Sai taught me how to play go, so that I could help him reach for the hand of god, even from beyond death. But Sai left. He left me with nothing but his go." Hikaru stared at his hands, the nails chipped and scarred from holding go stones, the tips of his thumb, index, and middle finger rough and calloused from years of serious play.

"So Sai became a ghost, eh?" Naritada suddenly said, breaking the awkward silence. Everyone turned to the old courtier in surprise. "I always thought there was a touch of the supernatural in him."

Michinaga interrupted. "Surely we cannot accept the word of a stranger "

"I believe him as well," one of the other courtiers called out from the audience. "I saw him recreate a game from the depths of his mind, and in that game I know that I saw Sai!"

Others began muttering in affirmation. Michinaga's face grew darker and darker; the position of Regent required strict adherence to custom and ceremony but little belief, and he would not want anyone thinking that even an acquitted Sai was closer to the gods than his son-in-law, the Emperor. Yet even Ichijo chimed in, saying, "I too saw the hand of God and Sai within his go."

Hikaru was weeping silently now, knowing that the debt he'd owed Sai had partly been repaid, although Sai himself would never be aware of it.

I think, he began to himself. I think it's okay to go home now. I want to go home. I want to play with Akira, and Waya and everyone again . . . I want to hear Akari and my mother nagging me . . . I want to be in my own world. I don't belong here. I'm a stranger . . . hell, half the people can't even understand me here. This is not my Japan.

Naritada came to stand by him.

"I owe you more than words can say," he said, grasping Hikaru's hands within his own. "My nephew's disappearance has always been a bone of contention within the court. So he truly . . . drowned?"

Hikaru nodded, glad he was finally able to speak freely with Naritada. "Two days after his exile began. I'm glad I was able to meet him. You know, he taught me almost everything. He played against the greatest pro in my town, the Meijin, and I began my own race against the Meijin's son. If I had never met Sai, I would never have found my go."

Naritada smiled, although his face looked older than it had before. "I am glad you were able to be touched by him. Did he perchance reach the hand of god before he . . . left?"

Hikaru shook his head sadly. "He managed to pass on his legacy, however, and even if I don't reach the hand of god myself, I will make sure to do the same." He chuckled softly, wiping away the last of his tears. "I hope I don't become a ghost, though."

"Will you return to Tokyo now?"

"I don't think I have a choice. If I am allowed to, then I will go, and nothing can stop it."

"You're welcome to stay here as long as you need. I'm an old man, I like the company."

"Thank you."

Hikaru surveyed the court one last time, then felt the familiar tingle of the magic returning. Is this how Sai felt? he wondered, as his limbs began to lose their feeling. Is this how he knew it was time to move on?

Swiftly, as there was now no time to spare, Hikaru knelt low before the screen, nearly prostrating himself before the Emperor. "Your Majesty," he began as loudly as he could without being rude, "please return the name Fujiwara no Sai to the records of your court."

"Absolutely not- " Michinaga began.

"Of course," the Emperor interrupted him, giving his father-in-law a look that was unreadable from behind the screen. "And Tsuyujima will be duly struck out."

Hikaru smiled as he felt himself fade into the ether. From the gasps of the courtiers around him, he knew that his disappearance was not going unnoticed.

"Hikaru!" Naritada called, and tried to grab onto the kneeling boy before him. But not even Naritada could stop the power of the gods, and Hikaru's last conscious thought before letting the magic overtake him was that even Michinaga was going to have to believe him after that little show.

Twilight had set before Akira almost gave up in disgust. Shindou was probably back at the hotel, eating ramen and laughing at Akira for running around Kyoto all day looking for him. Akira was angry with himself for getting so worked up over Hikaru's total thoughtlessness, but there was nothing to be done about that except yelling at him the next time he saw him.

"Shindou!" Akira slammed his fist onto the library table, vowing to read one more page and no more before leaving.

He blinked, however, when he turned the page and the letters were glowing red.

Before his eyes the ink actually rearranged itself. He blinked a few more times, and shook his head to see if it was a hallucination. He'd heard stories about fumes emanating from books as they aged, but nothing to this extent.

"This is . . ." be muttered to himself, and quickly read the text that was now forming before his very eyes. He couldn't help it; he concentrated as he did when a go game suddenly took a bad turn.

"Kankou One: The tutor known as Fujiwara no Naritada retired, leaving his court position to both his nephew Fujiwaran o Sai and his second cousin, whose name has been struck from history. Kankou Three: The tutor to the Emperor known as Fujiwara no Sai died. Kankou Four: The tutor whose name shall forever be banned from history began to teach his Majesty alone. Kankou Seven: The tutor known as Shindou no Hikaru, a student of Fujiwarano Sai, traveled to Heian-kyou to avenge his master. Kankou Seven: The tutor whose name has been struck from history was exiled from court for six month. He lived out his life in the provinces. Kankou Seven: The tutor known as Shindou no Hikaru died."

Horrified, Akira slammed the book shut, not believing what he had seen. History didn't happen like that! The words had reformed as he watched; the paragraph that he'd read only minutes before was completely different. Sugawara no Akitada had been the only tutor to the Emperor since Fujiwara no Naritada retired in Kankou Three. And now he was replaced by two names, one of which was surreally familiar, that had not been there before.

"Ugh, it's late," Akira said, rubbing his eyes and chalking the whole thing up to those hallucinogenic fumes. "I've got to go to bed. I can kill Shindou in the morning."

He left the books carelessly on the table, knowing the librarians would shelve them behind him, and stumbled out of the museum, longing for nothing more a hot cup of tea and a soak in the onsen. It had been an exhausting day, and now his mind was melting down as well.

Unfortunately, it didn't seem like he was going to get it anytime soon, because as soon as he stepped into evening light, he heard his named being yelled from across the Imperial Park.

"Touya!" Shindou's brash, still high-pitched voice called across the twilight park. Ridiculous, floppy garments hung off his tall form, impeding his speed, but he still approached Akira at a frightening velocity.

"Shindou-kun! Where the hell have you been all day!" Akira shouted, running to meet his rival for reasons he couldn't fathom. Across the lawns they raced, as if they had been separated for years instead of hours.

Finally, they met, but stopped short just a few feet of each other. Hikaru leaned over, gasping for breath, and caught the tall tate-eboshi hat as it fell of his head. Akira realized then that he was dressed in the style of a Heian courtier.

The image of the changing words returned to his mind.

"Where the heck did you get an outfit like that?"

Hikaru continued breathing heavily for a few moments, then answered, "A store, where else?"

"That looks like genuine silk," Akira said, incredulous. "An outfit like that must have cost over a hundred thousand yen!"

"It was on sale!"

Shindou no Hikaru, the student of Fujiwara no Sai, of the Heian court. Was it to be believed? Was that, after all, the connection between the Sai of the Internet and Hikaru?

Drained, Akira's shoulders dropped in defeat. He may have found another piece to the puzzle that was Hikaru, but now the entire picture had grown larger . . . to where it spanned a thousand years. It was too much. It was simply too much.

"Let's go back to the hotel."

Hikaru finally looked at him then, perhaps expecting more of Akira's wrath, but then he smiled suddenly. He had an older air about him than he had had this morning, as if he had lived many years in just one day.

"Yeah, let's go back, Touya." He handed Akira a single go stone, and Akira stared at the chipped black surface for a moment. "Someday, I will tell you everything. About today, about the past . . . everything. But not now."

The stone looked old, as old as if it too had been dated from the Heian court. Akira's rage returned in a rush. "You stole this from the go store, didn't you?"

"What? Hell no!"

"I can't believe I defended you to the shopkeeper!"

"I'm not a thief, moron!"

"So what were you DOING all day then, huh? Hiding?"

"I . . . uh, I was . . . I was playing go!"

They continued arguing, but started walking toward the hotel on the east side of Old Kyoto, side by side, the last rays of the setting sun beaming down upon them.

Fujiwara no owari.