Author's note:

Although I make it a point to avoid gratuitous fangirl Japanese as much as possible, I regret that I must include a mini-glossary of Random Hard-To-Translate Japanese Terms You'll Probably Not Be Familiar With for this chapter. (Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.)

Kabuki: Traditional Japanese theatre, with heavily stylized drama, music, elaborate costumes and staging, and an all-male cast. (Originally it was all-female, but after too many actresses prostituted themselves out to the shogun's soldiers, distracting them from their duty, women and then little boys (!) were forbidden from performing theatre.)

Shingeki: "New Theatre." The Japanese adaptation of modern western theatre.

Sei Shonagun's "Pillow Book": Most accurately described as the world's first ever blog, this was the diary of a famous Heian courtier, who was most likely a contemporary of Sai. Translations are available everywhere.

Additional Note:

The end of this chapter is written as a series of emails. I had cute email address and everything for the characters, but FFNet hates you and I and our alternative means of writing stories, so they were stripped. I tried to make it as readable as possible despite this censorship.

This chapter was written as Tropical Depression Frances poured forth rainy, windy sadness on my city.
"Our Tuesday and Thursday study period is connected to lunch, so we might have time for a full game," Akari said, as she limped along the hallway of the school. "Unfortunately, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays don't have a free period, so we might be better off just going to a go salon after school."

Sai was beaming, the smile so wide it practically slid off his face. "Whatever works!"

Akari could just about imagine him in a chibi form, dancing circles around her, saying, "Wai! Wai! I get to play go!" She giggled to herself at the mental image.

"Have you ever lost a game?" she asked him, curious.

"Everyone has to lose sometimes. I try to make it as rare as possible, however."

"That's the simplest goal to have," Akari agreed, still grinning over the image of dancing Sai. They reached the library, and she pushed open the double doors to the main foyer.

Inside was fairly spacious, with the books on one end and the business part of the library on the other. Akari breathed in the smell of books, and then made her way to a small section with cubicles that had the school computers.

"Hello," a librarian said to her as she passed the check-out desk, "Are you new?"

Akari stopped and smiled brightly. "Yes! Our math teacher said there were computers here available for our use." He had been referring to math specifically at the time, but Akari figured that the librarian already knew that.

The librarian nodded, a little surprised. "Most students don't start coming here until the second week. You must be a good student if you're already getting a head start during your free period."

"I'm not really," Akari said honestly, although the librarian probably assumed it was just modesty. "I just want to familiarize myself with them as soon as I can. We don't have a computer at home yet."

Akari was escorted to a cubicle in the corner.

"Do you know how to navigate the Internet?" the librarian asked, pulling out a chair for Akari.
"I know the basics. You can search for what you want, and then basically surf from there, correct?"

The librarian nodded. "Yes. There are other, more complex things available as well, but those probably won't be necessary just for school work. The math program you'll need is on the desktop," the librarian pointed to it, "and that is not connected to the Internet so you can use it easily."

Akari settled down in the chair and smiled at the librarian. "I'll let you know if I have any problems."

"Good luck!" the librian said, and left her with a matching smile.

"Hikaru and I used to play on something called a 'server.' I think it was located at ke-ji-esu-dotu-kiseido-dotu-shi-o-em." Sai looked pleased with himself.

"Wow! That's a good memory." Akari typed in the web address in roman letters on the keyboard. "Especially since you don't read English. How did you learn it?"

"Hikaru would mutter it under his breath every time we played at the computer. I picked it up quite easily."

"Hmmmm." Akari looked at the webpage, which was in English, and struggled to read the foreign language. "I believe I have to download something. Or not . . ." She clicked the button with the go stones, which brought up another window with more English.

She bit her lip, muttering the English aloud, much as Hikaru must have done.

"Hikaru actually read this?" she asked Sai.

"No, he always got Mitani's sister to set things up for him." Sai pointed to the blank fields. "He said that my name went into the top field --"

Akari typed in the letters "S A I" and then waited.

"And I don't know what he typed in the bottom field."

Akari sighed. "Let's play around. Hmmmm . . . maybe . . . Hikaru?" She typed in her friend's name into the password field, and then clicked "OK." She crossed her fingers. Nothing happened.

Akari was at a loss. "I can't exactly go ask him for the password to his account without him becoming really suspicious. Let's try 'igo'," she typed the word in English, ". . . and that's a no. Hmmm." Akari pondered over the dilemna. "You said Mitani's sister actually set things up?" Sai nodded. "Did she type a long word or a short word in the password field?"

"She had to hit a lot of keys." Sai said. "Unfortunately she typed so quickly I couldn't see the whole thing. She started with this one, that I do know." Sai pointed to the "F" key with his fan.

"That's the English letter for F. Ha-hi-fu-he-ho -- unless it was a word in English. But let's try Fu . . . Fujiwara?"

She picked out the English letters, sticking her tongue out in concentration. Romaji was so inefficient for Japanese . . .

She clicked enter, and then breathed a sigh of relief. Hikaru was very uncreative when it came to passwords, apparently.

"Welcome back, Sai!" the screen said. "You have 198 new messages."

"I think we're in!" Akari said with a smile. "And wow, you were popular. Now . . . let's see. How to actually play . . ."

After a few moments of fiddling around with the applet that had loaded on the computer, she managed to find the Japanese rooms. No sooner had she entered, but a message popped up.

"What's that?" Akari said, sounding out the English words. "Yu-saa ze-ru-da ha-su . . ."

"It means someone has challenged us," Sai said. "I remember that happened quite often."

"Oh! Shall we accept?"

A brilliant gleam appeared in Sai's eye, although Akari couldn't see it.

"Accept."
"Awww, man, another punk is on here trying to claim to be Sai again," Waya complained to the air. He was on an off-day, with no scheduled pro games to play, and was relaxing in his tiny student apartment for a few hours before he'd head out to tutor some young children. The life of a pro wasn't all fun and games, he had learned, especially when one was trying to cough up enough money for rent.

Determined to teach the interloper a lesson, Waya sent a challenge.

After a few moments, the fake accepted, and Waya cracked his knuckles in gleeful anticipation.

"Just you wait and see what happens when tangle with the pros!" Before the game began, he sent an instant message to Isumi, who was also online due to an off day.

"Yo, Isumi, we got another Sai fake here. Get on the server and go to the Japanese game room. And spread the word to the mailing list!"

After a few minutes, Isumi's message came back with, "Got it."
"Wow, look at all the people joining in to watch," Akari said. "The game hasn't even started yet."

"I told you, I was pretty infamous on the internet for a while there," Sai said, sounding very pleased.

Akari looked at the growing number of spectators in the game, and bit her lip. Sai was not kidding -- there were twenty people already watching a game that hadn't started.

A thought began to trickle into her mind, one that had been nagging in the back since she'd acquired the mental room mate, but she had yet to give voice to.

"Sai . . ." she began, looking back at him with wide eyes, "just how good of a go player are you?"

The beautiful man tapped his fan thoughtfully against the side of his pale face.

"Well . . . Honinbo Shuusaku, the name I played under in the mind of Torajiru, is apparently considered the greatest player of all time now. And when I played Touya Meijin, I won a very close game, and he is considered the greatest player in Japan today." He smiled then, although the expression was almost defensive as opposed to genuine. Akari had the sudden feeling that he was hiding something.

"You said you had played the Meijin before on the internet," she probed. "How?"

"Hikaru arranged it. Otherwise, it was exactly like we're about to play now." He tapped his fan against the glass screen of the monitor. "Now focus. You are familiar with the star points on the board, and the positions, correct?"

"Yes," Akari said. She reminded herself to ask more about Sai's game against the Meijin later. "You must have been there as Hikaru would drill me on them."

Sai smiled again, and it was real this time. "And so I was. Then let's play!"

Obediently, Akari pressed a button that said "Start Game." She selected a one hour time limit, and prayed that the game would go faster than that. The computer automatically assigned Sai's account black.

"Is that random?" she asked.

"When we first started playing, we were always black. Then as we kept winning, we suddenly switched to almost always white. I think the computer keeps track of rank and number of wins."

"I see," Akari said, and looked at the applet screen more closely. "Your account appears to be ranked at 8-dan. Our opponent is 9-dan."

"That would make sense then. Let's begin. The upper right star," Sai commanded.

Akari clicked on the point on the board, and a black stone appeared.

Behind Akari, Sai breathed deeply. Whatever the reason he'd returned . . . at least he would be able to continue to play go.
"Hey, this fake is pretty good," Waya muttered, fifteen minutes later. Comments between the spectators were flying quickly in English on the game board. "And he does seem to be playing . . . a lot like Sai did." Waya scowled at his laptop screen. "No way. Just . . . no way."

An instant message from Isumi popped up. Waya spared it only a glance.

"This person is playing under the old Sai's account, as well," the message reported. "Unless someone hacked into his KSG account, this guy's the real deal."

"Bah," Waya replied aloud to the message. "It's an applet, you can't hack into one of those . . . has Sai really returned?"

Waya clicked on a point, attaching to black in a very tricky life and death situation. There was only one way black could survive, or so he thought. Instead of responding where Waya had intended for him to, however, the Sai account placed the stone in another location entirely. Too late, Waya saw what black intended, and he was fairly powerless to stop it.

He actually laughed aloud then.

"It's really him, after all," he said, staring at his ceiling in wonder. "It's been almost a year, but Sai has returned!"

Grinning, Waya attacked back, taking this game truly seriously perhaps for the first time. There were still so many things he could learn from Sai!
Akari watched in frustration as the conversation on the game board flew by in a language she only barely undersood. Occassionally, someone would comment in romanized Japanese, but the language seemed to be universally English otherwise.

"Good move there," one person commented.

"Wow! Zelda might lose this game!" another said.

A troll popped up during the flow of the conversation.

"OMG SAI! IT'S SAI! SAI! LOL! 2 G00D 2 B TRU!"

"The 7-8 point," Sai told Akari.

She forced herself to look at the game and not the flurry of commentary scrolling past from the peanut gallery. "I wish there was some way to shut that off," she said, clicking the appropriate spot on the board. "It's distracting."

"I don't even know how to read the letters, so I don't notice," Said said, with a shrug. "Hikaru couldn't read it either."

"Well, I can read some of it, or at least I could if it wasn't going so fast," Akari sighed. "Mostly it's just people commenting on the game, or saying 'Wow, Sai's back!'"

"Really?" Sai sounded happy. White's stone appeared on the screen. "The 18-6 spot, please."

Akari obeyed. The game WAS very intense. "This Zelda person is really good," she said, studying the complex board. "And so are you. You weren't kidding . . . this is incredible."

"We're playing Zelda?" Sai said, blinking in surprise. "I suppose he would remember me, after all . . "

"Oh? You've played him before?"

"During the summer that Hikaru and I played. He was our first opponent then as well."

"So you're connected," Akari said, smiling a bit at the screen.

"I crushed him back then. Well, well. He's improved a great dea."

Akari was silent for a few moments, letting the ghost direct her hand and watching the beautiful stone war before her. Black was winning by a solid lead, but they weren't even halfway into the game yet. Fortunately, neither player was dragging too much.

"Are you doing okay back there?" the librarian said, from the other side of the cubicle. Akari started suddenly, and barely caught herself before she clicked on a bad spot by accident.

She popped up, like a prairie dog, and smiled reassuringly at the library, quickly minimizing the go game.

"I'm just fine," she said brightly. She wasn't sure if she'd be punished for playing go on the school's computers, but she didn't want the librarian to know she'd misled her.

"Let me know if you need any help," the librarian reminded her, and walked away.

Akari breathed a sigh of relief. She said down, a bit shakily, and reopened the window with the go applet.

"White played . . . there." Akari pointed to the board.

Sai nodded. "I can see. Then we'll continue on at 7-14."

The game resumed. Akari marveled at the beauty of the game. She herself was only a novice by all accounts, but she could tell that both players were incredibly high level, and that Sai was the more skilled of the two. If Zelda was a pro, which she suspected, then Sai was on a level even above that.

Finally, after she'd thought Zelda intended to carry on until end game, a sign popped up on screen, stated that Zelda had resigned. Akari read the English quietly aloud to herself, and then translated to Sai.

"He resigned," she told him.

"I figured he would. Zelda is a solid player, and it would be pointless to continue any more. He knows that he can retain some honor and dignity at this point by allowing the loss on his record without it being a finished game."

"I'm afraid that's all we have time for, now," Akari said, almost regretfully. "I need to go eat something before my stomach implodes."

Sai smiled serenely, closing his eyes. "Ah, but it felt good to play again, even one game. I had to learn to be patient with Hikaru, who took to playing too much on his own time." There was a faint note of sadness to the ghost's voice.

"Hikaru can be pretty selfish," Akari acknowledged. She logged off the computer and gathered her things. The riceballs, vegetables, and egg slices she had in her lunchbox were calling to her.

"I don't begrudge him those games, however," Sai replied. "Hikaru was a genuine student, and I do believe that he will surpass me someday. Even if I failed to reach the Hand of God, I know that Hikaru too will have a chance, once he matures as a player."

Akari waved goodbye to the helpful librarian, and left the library, making her way back to her classroom. "So is Hikaru better than you?"

"No," Sai answered honestly, with a hint of pride. "I am still the better player. But Hikaru is alive, and therefore, he has more potential. That is the greatest difference between the dead and the living." Sai blinked, thought about what he had just said, and then amended his statement. "Well, the second greatest difference, anyway. The greatest difference is that the dead tend not to have a body."

Akari actually laughed aloud.
Most of the class had already eaten, and small conversation groups had formed as the students chattered excitedly about the usual school nothings. Akari had been hoping to slip in quietly (a difficult feat with crutches) and wolf down her food, but she was immediately accosted by her new aquaintances from this morning.

"Where were you?" Makoto demanded. "I want to know more about Shindou-san!"

"I was in the library," Akari answered, and quickly opened up her lunch box. Ah, the food looked good! Before she was forced to elaborate, she stuffed a riceball in her mouth, almost moaning in pleasure at the faintly salty taste.

"You're not a study-aholic, are you?" Hana-chan asked, frowning.

"She was in cram school with me, if that answers your question," Maria said.

"Tell me more about Shindou-san!"

Akari swallowed her bite of riceball, and waved her hands in mild frustration. "I will, but let me eat first!"

"So what WERE you doing in the library?" Hana-chan persisted.

Giving up, Akari took out a sheet of paper and began writing down the answers to the constant questions.

She wrote: "I was on the computer."

"Doing what?"

"What type of girl does Shindou-san seem to go for?"

"We have computers in the library?"

Attacking her eggs, Akari furiously wrote, "Yes, we have computers in the library. Our math teacher said so. I was playing on the Internet there. Hikaru doesn't have a 'type' of girl, since he doesn't date."

"Ohhhhhh," Makoto sighed, bitter disappointment seeping into her voice. "He's not gay, is he? All the cute ones are always gay." She pouted prettily, twirling one strand of long black hair. "Then again, it's not so bad if there are two of them that are cute and gay together . . ."

"NO." Akari wrote in large characters, underlining the word for emphasis. "Hikaru is NOT gay."

"What does 'gay' mean?" Sai asked, looking over the half-written conversation.

Akari blushed furiously. "It's a term for people liking other people of the same sex." Dreading the answer, she prompted, "Hikaru doesn't love other boys, does he?"

Sai shrugged. "He's certainly passionate about Touya Akira, but that's on a strictly rival level. They love beating each other and upstaging each other. Actually, Hikaru never had romantic inclinations towards anyone, as far as I could tell. Unless things have changed in these last few months, he's still probably as celibate as a monk." Sai quirked his handsome mouth. "I always thought one of these days he would wake up and realize that there are pretty women in the world, but even you he apparently saw as just another person, which is ultimately his loss."

Akari groaned mentally. "Great. He's not homosexual, he's antisexual."

All this time Akari had been quickly packing away her lunch. It was nice to be able to eat and have a conversation at the same time. Quite convenient.

The bell rang, signalling the end of the free period, just as Akari knocked back the last of her juice.

"Finished!" she said to Sai triumphantly. "I had my lunch and go game too!"

"Thank you," Sai said, and settled back down in the aisle next to her. "Now it's time to learn again."

"Don't remind me," Akari said half-heartedly, but forced herself to pay attention to the science teacher.
The afternoon classes flew by quickly. Akari was a bit more grateful to Sai than before, as he kept her awake and forced her to focus on the classes, whether she wanted to or not. Apparently, Hikaru had been even more of a slacker than Akari had suspected, and Sai's assistance had been the only way he had survived three years of junior high.

As the final bell rang, Sai began dancing circles around her again.

"Are we going to go to a go salon?" he asked excitedly. "Hikaru knew this great place that always had people looking for a game . . ."

"Er, not quite yet," Akari said sheepishly. "I want to check out the school's drama club. It's supposed to be the best in the ward, outside of my sister's school."

"Drama club?" Sai stopped dancing immediately.

"It's a theatre group. From Shuusaku's time, you remember kabuki theatre, right?"

Sai nodded. "We saw several kabuki troups pass through. It was quite lavish, and I'm surprised the courtiers in our time didn't have something similar. But aren't kabuki players always men?"

Akari smiled. "Well, in actual kabuki, yes. The drama club is not a kabuki theatre club -- they perform western plays as well as literature stories enacted as plays. The tradition doesn't have as deep a history in Japan as it does in other countries, but it's still quite powerful. I was really glad to learn that this school had a club for drama, even if it didn't yet have a go club. Most schools besides the fine arts schools don't have them."

She began to limp out of the classroom, waving to her new friends as she tottered down the hallway. The school drama club met in the school auditorium once a week during normal time, and five days a week during play rehearsals. It was as intense as a sports team during those times, her sister had told her, and she'd better be prepared to devote a lot of time.

Natsumi had only performed in a few plays herself, when they needed a singing part. The rest of her days were filled with vocal lessons, modeling lessons, and dancing lessons. Natsumi was a fine arts prodigy, but she was also cool and calculating, and knew that her best chance at success with her gifts was to break into the music industry.

Before, Akari had almost pitied her for having so little free time, but Natsumi knew what she wanted, and what she would have to do to get it. Everything else, including a social life, took the backseat.

Which was the only explanation Akari had for why her sister didn't actually date anyone.

Setting her shoulder to the swinging door, Akari leaned in until it opened, and then stumbled into the theatre for a few steps before she recovered and limped normally to the front of the auditorium. A few other prospective club members were gathering there, while what looked like the returning upperclassmen had congregated on the stage itself.

Akari, with her crutches, felt a bit out of place, but joined the new students anyway. Sai watched the whole scene with interest. It appeared to be mostly girls in the theatre.

"Okay, people, quiet down!" one of the upperclassmen called out, and the noisy cluster of girls immediately hushed.

Akari sat down expectantly, and watched.

"Welcome to high school, if you're new. If you are returning, welcome home. You should be here for our school's glorious drama club. If you are not here for the drama club, then you should exit, post haste."

The girl who was speaking was quite loud, and use an older dialect that sounded strange coming from a 21st century teenage girl. Akari stifled a giggle.

"My name is Fujita Naomi. You will address me as 'President Naomi' or 'Naomi-sama.'"

"A bit self-important, isn't she, Sai?" Akari mentally asked her resident ghost.

"Quite," Sai agreed. "When do we play go again?"

"After the meeting." Akari promised.

The president of the drama club explained how their main productions generally went. After determining which play to perform, they would hold auditions. She, as the president, would handle casting, and those not cast would be asked to perform technical duties for the play. They would rehearse for six to eight weeks before putting on the performance.

"And," the president said, biting off every syllable with clear precision, "I expect one hundred and ten percent from everyone one of you. If you feel at any time that you are unable to give our glorious club your all, then you may exit the auditorium now."

No one moved, although some of the newer people grinned nervously at one another. They would be free to participate in the club at that level for only two years before the dreaded college entrance exams approached in their senior year.

"Good." The president pulled a list from out of her pocket, and began to read. "We have narrowed our choices down to several excellent literary titles. We will either be performing Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night,' a comedy, the shingeki play by Kinoshita Junji, 'Twilight of a Crane', or an adaptation for stage of Sei Shonagan's 'Pillow Book.'"

"It's nice to know that Sei-san's diary is still appreciated to this day," Sai remarked, sounding happy, as the president rattled on about the three different play options.

"Did you know her?" Akari asked, glancing at him as she struggled to keep up with the club president.

"Oh yes. She was an excellent go player. Quite pretty, too, although a bit too biting in her attitude for my tastes." Sai shrugged. "The women courtiers tended to the snippy side, if only as self-defense. A weak, soft girl could not survive for long in the court against the stronger women."

"Mmm. Just like a weak go player can't survive very long against a strong go player."

"Exactly! That applies to everything in life. Only the strongest survive."

Akari grinned widely, losing track of the president's long-winded lecture. "Have you ever heard of a man named Darwin?"

"I think Hikaru had to deal with him at one point in a science class. Isn't he the one who said that humans came from monkeys? He seems like a very silly man if that's what he thought."

Akari winced. "It's a bit more complex than just that . . ." She was about to launch into a deep explanation of the theory of evolution for the benefit of the ghost, but just then the president put the three plays to a vote.

"Heads down, no peeking."

Akari obediently put her head down, covering her eyes.

"All in favor of the Shakespeare, raise your hand."

Akari hadn't even paid attention! She wasn't sure what the Shakespeare play was about, although she vaguely remembered that all the comedies were quite funny.

"All in favori of the shingeki, raise your hand."

Another one she'd missed. Whoops.

"All in favor of the Pillow Book . . . raise your hand."

At least she knew what that one was about. She raised her hand as high as she could, making sure to keep her other hand firmly over her shut eyes.

"All right! Heads up." The president took a deep breath, smiled brilliantly, for the first time since she'd started talking, and then said, "We're doing the Pillow Book."

There was quiet applause from the theatre, and even a few small cheers. Apparently, it had won by a majority.

"Auditions will be next week! Do not despair if you are not chosen for the role you wish, as every player must perform a part, and no part is unimportant. We also simply must have technical consultants. Costumers, if you will please stay afterward, we must discuss how we're going to handle the Heian robes. Everyone else, please be prepared for cold readings next week."

The president then summarily ignored the rest of the auditorium as a small group of upperclassmen, obviously the costume department, gathered around her.

Akari limped out of the auditorium, feeling a bit better. She was going to have fun!

"NOW do we get to play go?" Sai whined pathetically.

"Fine, fine," Akari said, sneaking through the door quickly behind some of the other new students who were leaving. "We'll go to the go salon that Hikaru always went to."

"YAAAAAY!" Akari would not have been surprised if little hearts had popped out of Sai, he sounded so joyous.
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subject: SAI RETURNS

After almost a year of waiting, Sai has returned to Kisedi Go Server! I played a fantastic game with him today. It was definitely Sai and not some faker -- the quality was there, even better than before. I wonder why he disappeared?

He played at 12:14 PM today. Be on the lookout for him the same time tomorrow, I guess.

Hmmm, lunchtime.

Thoughts?

- Waya, 2-dan and climbing fast!
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subject: Re: SAI RETURNS

Maybe I can finally get that game that Shindou Hikaru promised me all those years ago.

He was in the KGS Japanese room? I will have to make certain to be online at noon tomorrow . . .

-Ogata
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subject: Re: SAI RETURNS

What has Shindou got to do with anything? He was playing a pro game during that time, and took his lunch with everyone else. Touya-san vouched for it. (Not that I asked or anything . . .)

-Waya, 2-dan and climbing fast!
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subject: Re: SAI RETURNS

Have you forgotten that Shindou-kun is the only pro in the entire Institute that actually knows who Sai is? /sarcasm

-Ochi
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subject: Re: SAI RETURNS

Actually, he claimed on many occasions that he had no idea who Sai was in real life, just that he could arrange games with him somehow. Now, I've played both Shindou and Sai (online), and while their style is similar, they are NOT the same strength. Sai is several classes above him. The game against the Meijin certainly demonstrated that . . .

I want to play Sai again! (excited)

-Nase the Nosy Insei
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subject: Re: SAI RETURNS

Nase wrote:
-- I want to play Sai again! (excited)

Don't we all . . .

-Ochi
End Chapter 2

Next chapter preview: Akari will enter the amateur go tournament circuit? But how can she prevent Hikaru from finding out? Why is Natsumi so willing to help her?