Disclaimer: Hikaru no Go was created by Hotta and Obata. All characters and plots belong to them, including any I create. This is a piece of fanfiction written by fans for the enjoyment of other fans. No money was made by the creation of this work.

Journey of Illumination

By Lady Lark

Chapter 1 – The Germs of an Idea

March 23, 2002

Graduation is a bittersweet time of year, she mused watching the members of the Haze Junior High Go Club mingle through the crush of people. It was a time of jubilation and accomplishment but paradoxically a time of tearful good-byes and wistful regret. It was fitting that it fell during the spring when the air was full of cherry blossoms which were both so lovely and so ephemeral. She never wanted it to end but at the same time she couldn't wait to start the next phase of her life.

She walked away from the crowds and onto a path meandering through the landscaped grounds. She wanted a little time alone to think and to remember. In two weeks, she would be starting high school. For right now, though, she wanted to savor each memory.

A sharp gust of wind blew through the campus, leading the pale pink petals in a complicated dance. Fujisaki Akari wrapped her arms around herself and breathed in the crisp spring air, trying not to dwell on the person missing from this momentous occasion: her oldest friend Shindou Hikaru. As a professional Go player, Hikaru's schedule often forced him to miss classes and other school sponsored activities. She wasn't surprised that he was unable to make the ceremony. Still, she had hoped he would come, if only to say good-bye.

Closing her eyes to try to stop the welling of tears, she forced herself to think of happier thoughts – Tsutsui and Hikaru teaching her to play Go, Mitani returning to the club after his self-imposed exile, winning her game as second chair in the winter tournament. She smiled ruefully as she realized that all of her happy memories centered around Go. Even the majority of her friends had some involvement with the game.

"Oi, Akari!"

She jumped, startled. Lost in her reverie, she had missed hearing the telltale footsteps that heralded his approach.

"Hikaru! It's good to see you!"

She glanced over him, taking in his appearance and the easy confidence with which he carried himself, smiling at his bleached bangs. His trademark look brought back memories.

When he had first colored them in fifth grade, he had missed so many spots that he looked like a demented zebra with streaks of blonde and black. The kids at school had laughed at him mockingly calling him names. In tears, he had asked for her help at fixing the mess. She had agreed without hesitation and the gratitude shining on his face was all the thanks she needed. While applying the gritty blue substance, she suggested that in the future he have someone else dye his hair for him to avoid the same thing happening next time. He had looked at her smiling face in confusion searching it. When he reached her lips, he answered smile with one of his own and nodded. For two years, she had touched up his roots until he had left to become an insei. She guessed he had found someone else to do it for him or he started doing it himself. Still it was a memory that she treasured.

She snapped out of her daydream to find Hikaru staring at her with concern.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to space out like that. It's just . . . I didn't think you would make it."

He shrugged accepting her excuse. "I almost didn't." He paused giving her an inquisitive glance. "Whatcha doin' over here all by yourself? I thought I'd find you with the rest of the club."

"I wanted some time to myself to think and take stock. Do you realize that after this year all of us will be going our separate ways?"

"I hadn't really thought about it like that," he said, scratching the back of his head.

"It's true, though. You're not going to high school . . ."

"There's no need to. I'm doin' what I want already. Goin' to school seems kinda stupid."

She nodded. "I know. You're lucky. Me, I don't know what I want to do, the only thing I really love is the Go Club."

"But you suck," he said thoughtlessly. She winced but didn't argue she knew her skills at the game didn't even come close to matching his. "What high school are you goin' to?" he continued.

"Mitaka. Mitani-kun and Kaneko-chan are going there as well."

"Do they have a Go Club?"

"I think so, but if they don't it really doesn't matter since I helped started one before. I can do it again and this time I have two players already."

"Sounds like Tsutsui-san rubbed off on you."

She nodded. "He taught me so much."

"Yeah." The two friends lapsed into an awkward silence. "Maybe, if it doesn't interfere with my schedule, I could stop by and see how you are doing. Maybe give you a few pointers."

"I'd like that," she said, giving him a soft smile. She was happy that he still wanted to be a part of her life, if only in this small way.

"So . . . how do you plan to start up?"

"The same way Tsutsui-san did, I guess, with posters and maybe a booth at the school festival. Mitani-kun said he'll help with spreading the word. Which has me worried a little, but he means well." Hikaru laughed at her assessment of the other player. "Kaneko-chan can't do that much since she is going to be trying out for the volleyball team. But she says that she will come to meetings when she has the time. It'll work out. I know it will!"

"I hope you get lots of members."

"Me too."

"Are there any tournaments?"

"Of course there are, silly! It's just like junior high with four main tournaments a year. There is even Kaio to go up against since they have a high school that's fed by the Junior High we know. I even hear that their head coach is a professional," she said, a bit wistfully.

"Wow, they really are serious about Go. But that isn't a surprise. Their junior high coach is an Korean ex-professional."

"I didn't know that. It explains why they were so good. I know we don't have a chance of beating them. But I would like the chance to face them again, even if I won't be wearing the same uniform."

Hikaru grinned at her, before glancing at the clock tower. "I have to run. I've got a study session in a half an hour. But it was good seeing you."

"I'm glad you could make it."

"I am too. See ya!"

"Bye-bye!" she said with a small wave.

Akari watched him walk away sadly. She knew that she no longer had place in his life anymore. He was one of the rising stars in the professional Go world, while she was a typical student. But she couldn't stop herself from wondering what might have been.

She crouched down, balancing on her heels, and stared up at the clouds overhead. She supposed she should get back to the rest of the group, but she wanted to organize her thoughts a little more. In a way, she wished that she could focus on a career like Hikaru had, but she knew she didn't have the innate talent he did. Which meant that she had to either go to high school or enter a trade, and the latter was not an option her parents would even think of considering.

Akari hadn't told anyone other than her parents that she had tried to get into Kaio on one of their scholarship programs and had failed. Her exam scores were not quite high enough to qualify for the scholarship she needed, although she scored well enough to pass the general admission requirements. After talking it over with her family, she had decided that the tuition was just too much for her family to afford to pay even if she got a part-time job to help offset the costs. In the end, she'd chosen to go to Mitaka because it was closer to her home and the tuition fees weren't too expensive for the level of education she would get.

Deciding to rejoin the rest of the Go club, she rose to her feet. Retracing her steps, she made her way back to the central courtyard.

Natsume, a tall lanky boy, noticed her return and lightly nudged Mitani who was standing next to him. The red-head lifted his head and his eyes met hers. In them was a hint of worry tinged with some other emotion she couldn't identify. She waved slightly at him and the concern faded from his gaze, but the other emotion remained.

She walked up to where the Go club was clustered. "Hi guys!" she called brightly to the group. One by one, the club greeted her in return.

"Akari-chan, I missed you! We've been wondering where you went off to," Kumiko said softly.

"Fujisaki-san! You should've come earlier. You missed seeing Shindou-san!

She shook her head. "Nnn. Koike-kun, I saw Hikaru. We got the opportunity to talk a little right before he had to leave."

"Oh, I'm glad Akari-chan. You would have been upset if you missed seeing him."

Akari nodded in agreement, unwilling to elaborate any further. Kumiko knew that she had had a crush on Hikaru since the fourth grade and only recently had started to get over it. It was one thing for her best girlfriend to know her feelings, it was another for the rest of the club to know them. It was too embarrassing to think about.

Casting about for another subject she asked, "Did anything else happen while I was gone?"

"Nope, it was pretty boring. A couple of students wished us good luck, but that was about it."

"We also talked about the fate of the Go Club here. Koike's going to have his work cut out for him," Kuniko interjected.

"See what you miss when you aren't here? You shouldn't run off like that, Akari-san. It makes Mitani nervous. Doesn't it Mitani?" Kaneko teased.

He glared at the other girl angrily. "It does not! I was just worried that some freak was bothering her. She' too nice for her own good and someone might take advantage of that."

"I can take care of myself, Mitani-kun. There's no need to worry."

"Still, I don't like that you didn't tell someone where you were going."

"I'm sorry. I didn't think anyone would notice. I just went off to have time to think and take in memories. I'm going to miss this school!"

"Hey, that sounds like a good idea. Visit all of your favorite places and fix them in your mind so you don't forget them. I think I should do that, if you don't mind?" Natsume piped up.

"Go ahead, Natsume-kun," Akari said, not bothering to correct him.

"Can I go with you? I know I'm not graduating but I think I would like to do that too," Koike asked, his adam's apple bobbing up and down vigorously. "I'm going to miss you guys next year."

"You're more than welcome to join me, anyone else want to come?"

"I'd like to stay here with Akari-chan," Kuniko replied.

"I'm with Tsuda-chan," Kaneko said with a flick of the wrist to indicate Kuniko.

"What about you, Mitani?"

The red-head looked torn for a moment and tried to catch Akari's gaze. When their eyes locked, he seemed to be asking her permission to join them. She wondered why he needed her okay, but she smiled gently at him signal that she didn't mind.

Mitani nodded and then turned to Natsume. "Sure, why not? But don't run off without me, Akari."

"I won't."

"Good. Well, let's go." The boys walked off toward the chemistry lab leaving the three girls alone.

"Let's go sit down someplace out of the way of the crowd," Kuniko suggested.

"That sounds like a good idea."

They walked over to one side of the grounds and sat down under a gingko tree.

"I wish we could sit under one of the cherry trees, but it looks like all of the spots are taken."

"Don't trouble yourself over it, here is fine. And it is more private, which is a good thing."

Akari looked at the two sharply.

"You're right, Tsuda-chan, this place is more private."

"Ano . . . " Akari started.

Kaneko silenced her with a stern glance. "Why did you run off on your own earlier? And don't try to evade answering with that excuse about gathering or organizing memories. It won't work."

"Mou. Kaneko, that was very rude." Akari sighed in relief when she heard Kuniko's words. But her heart sank a moment later as the quiet girl continued. "It's amazing. How did you learn to be so blunt?"

"From watching American television, my favorite show is about a woman warrior in ancient Greece. Xena is my idol."

Kuniko clapped her hands in appreciation. "That's very interesting. I'll have to try it sometime. But she's right, Akari. We're worried about you and I think there was more to your statement than just building memories."

Akari shook her head, indicating that she really didn't want talk about it.

"Fujisaki, we're your friends. We want to help you."

Sighing in defeat, she looked at the two earnest faces and decided to share some of her concerns with them. "I'm just not sure about what I want to do with myself. I only have three years of high school and then what? College? A career? Marriage? I don't know what I want in my life."

"That's very normal," said Kaneko, with Kumiko nodding in agreement.

"I know it's normal. But there are times I am so envious of Hikaru I don't know what to do." Kuniko reached over to clasp Akari's hands urging her to continue. "He was just like me, except worse. He was a mediocre student. Not terribly popular. The only thing he excelled at was sports and video games, and even then he wasn't so great that he stood out. Then, out of nowhere, he discovers Go and it consumes him, becoming his driving goal. And suddenly, I'm the one getting left behind. We'd always done things together; that's why I joined the Go club in the first place."

"Really? I mean, I'd guessed but I wasn't sure."

"I liked the game a lot. Although I didn't really know anything about it." She stopped, a chuckle coming to her lips. At Kaneko and a Kuniko's curious looks she elaborated. "The first time Hikaru tried to show me how to play, I confused Go with Othello and tried to move a stone to avoid it getting captured. Hikaru was so frustrated with me!" she laughed.

The other two girls giggled and then joined her in laughter.

"Oh my, I can just imagine Shindou-kun's face."

"I'm glad that I didn't have him for a teacher."

"No, no. He was a good teacher, really. He just didn't have any patience with how slow I was. He taught me a lot though. I just didn't have the same drive he did."

Kaneko sobered. "You're wrong, Akari."

"Kaneko-chan!"

"Tsuda-chan, hush. You may not have the same skill or talent that Shindou has, but you do have the drive. You were the one who held the Go club together after Hikaru left, Mitani quit, and Tsutsui graduated. You were the one who managed to persuade Mitani to rejoin the club so that we could participate in the tournament. You are the one who kept the kifu, who made sure we were able to register. You say you aren't any good, Fujisaki. I say you are wrong. I've been playing Go since I was a child, years longer than you have, and you are not that much weaker than I."

"But . . ."

"No buts. You've improved a lot in the past three years."

"Shirakawa-sensei says so, but I thought that he was just encouraging me."

"So you admit you have the drive to succeed."

"I guess, I do. But at what?"

"Well what do you love to do? What do you want to do?"

Akari thought about this, trying to find something other than the first thing which had popped into her head. After several moments, she gave up the search and decided to reveal her heart's desire. "I love Go. At first, it was something to keep me closer to Hikaru. But then I began to love it for itself. I would like to do something with the game. But the only thing I can think of is becoming a professional player, and I'm not good enough for that."

"Don't jump to conclusions. I told you that you have improved a lot in the past few years and you have. You are our second board, and I bet if you really applied yourself, you could be first board instead of me."

"I could never do that!"

"Yes, you can, Akari-chan!" Kuniko chimed in. "You don't need a handicap against Kaneko anymore and you don't lose by as many moku either. Even I can see that."

"She's right. I haven't improved much, but you've gotten a lot better. I bet if you got an actual teacher, rather than just attending a class you would do a lot better. Maybe even good enough to become an insei or even a pro. But you won't know until you try," Kaneko added, dryly. "Come on, Tsuda-chan, let's leave her to ponder the import of our words."

"Kaneko-chan, you are so silly! But you're right –"

Kaneko interrupted. "Of course, I am –"

"We should get going," Kuniko cut the other girl off with a sharp tug on her arm. "We'll see you later."

Akari looked up at them. "You've given me a lot to think about. Thanks."

"You're welcome," Kaneko responded. "Come on, Tsuda-chan. Let's go find the guys."

"Bye!"

Kaneko and Kuniko left Akari under the gingko tree to think about what they had said. She hadn't really thought about how much she had improved always comparing herself to Hikaru and his skill. Additionally, she had taken Hikaru's assessment of her skills at face value without considering the source.

Shirakawa-sensei had complimented her on her improvement. Even more telling, was that he had placed her against stronger and stronger students in the class until she was playing some of the better players. She wasn't winning all the time, but she was improving.

Deciding that she needed to talk to Shirakawa-sensei and find out about improving even more, she rose to her feet brushing off the accumulated dust and grass, determined to make to the afternoon class. She took a few moments to orient herself, before setting off at a brisk pace.

She made it to the entrance of the school without being stopped by her classmates, when an accusatory voice stopped her.

"I thought I asked you to wait for me."

"Mitani-kun, you startled me!" Akari exclaimed, holding one hand to her chest to try to calm her rapid heartbeat.

"Sorry," he mumbled sullenly. "So where are you going?"

"Go Class, I wanted to try to make the afternoon session."

"Oh."

"Yeah," she muttered. She was embarrassed that she forgot Mitani's request. She didn't mean to forget. She glanced at him and saw hurt reflected in his eyes. "Look, I'm sorry." She looked back down at her feet.

Reaching his hand out, Mitani touched her wrist. She raised her head so she could see his expression.

"It's okay. I figured you'd forget. That's why was waiting," he soothed. "I don't want to keep you long, but I want to ask you something," he said slowly, twisting his fingers together.

"Go ahead," she said gently.

"What high school are you going to?"

She heaved a mental sigh of relief that he hadn't asked her to be his girlfriend. She was not ready to answer that question. "Mitaka, the same one you're going to."

A huge grin made its way onto Mitani's face. "You are?"

"Um-hmm, I am."

"Why?"

"Because it has a Go Club already, it is close to my house, and the tuition isn't too expensive."

"Oh . . . " he said a bit dejectedly.

"Why did you go there, Mitani-kun?"

He thought about it for a second. "I decided to go there because theirs was the only entrance exam I was able to pass. And I only passed it 'cause Kaneko was helping me with their practice exam. I'm not that good of a student. But if I can go to high school I will."

"Oh. I guess getting Kaneko's help was a good thing."

"You mentioned that they have a Go team; do you know if they are any good?"

"I have no idea," she said with a laugh. "It didn't matter to me since I know that I will be playing strong people and getting better all the time."

"You sound like Shindou, always wanting to play strong players."

"It's the only way I can get better. Don't worry though, Mitani-kun is still much stronger than me!"

"I wonder. . . "

"Hmmm . . ."

"Akari-san, would you like to play a game?"

"What?" she asked in surprise.

"I would be honored to challenge you to an even game of Go."

"Mitani-kun . . . "

"What? Was that too formal?" he asked with a little frown.

"You want to challenge me to game? Why?"

"I haven't played you much recently. Instead, I've been concentrating on helping Natsume and Koike."

"Don't forget Kaneko."

"Ugh, how can I? She's constantly challenging me saying she when she beats me that I will have to take her for ice cream or pizza."

Akari winced at the harshness of his words. It was an open secret of the Go club that Kaneko had a crush on Mitani. Akari wasn't sure that Mitani knew that Kaneko was trying to get him to date her, since most of the time he seemed oblivious to her remarks.

"So you want to challenge me because we haven't played in a long time?"

He nodded slowly.

She thought about it. She really wanted to ask Shirakawa-sensei about how much she had improved. However, playing Mitani might give her the same answers. When she first started playing against Mitani, he had to give her a six-stone handicap. After a few months, she had graduated to a five stone handicap against him. But then he had quit along with Hikaru, and when he had returned he had immediately concentrated on improving the boys' team. She hadn't really played him in almost a year, she realized with a start.

She glanced at the clock-tower and made up her decision. "I'd be happy to play a game with you."

"What about your class?"

She didn't want him to feel guilty about keeping her, but at the same time she didn't want to lie. "There is one tomorrow. I'd rather spend my time with a good friend who is kind enough to challenge me to an equal game despite my unworthiness of such an offer."

"Ano, who are you? And what did you do with my Akari-san?"

Her eyes widened at the possessive pronoun, but she decided to ignore it. "I didn't do anything, Mitani-kun. I thought if you could talk to me so formally, that I could do the same. Was I wrong to think that?"

"No, no. I just didn't expect you to react like that. You sounded like a lady out of a samurai movie."

"Oh. Well, I was one of the top ten students in Japanese class. I've never had a chance to use the old formal language in a real life situation. It requires a shift in thinking. Where'd you want to go play?"

"How about the science lab?"

She shook her head. "The room is locked today because of graduation so that little kids couldn't get into things if they ran off. Sensei told me that, in case I needed to get anything out of the room before graduation."

"Oh. So that's why we couldn't get in earlier."

She nodded. "I don't have a go board at home either."

"Neither do I," he admitted ruefully, rubbing the back of his head.

She racked her brain for a moment. "So, where does that leave us?"

"We could go to a Go salon."

"Okay, let's do that!"

Mitani winced. "I haven't been to a salon in a long time."

"We don't have to go to that one," she said softly, understanding his reluctance. He'd been caught cheating at Go and had been disciplined by a professional who had been called in by the owner of the salon he frequented. Since that time, Mitani hadn't set foot in a salon as far as she knew.

"You know about that?" he asked in a startled tone.

"Of course I do, I was there remember. And Hikaru told me the rest. He really wanted you for the team."

"He wanted a cheater like me. . . " Mitani trailed off and turned away from her.

"You aren't one now," she soothed. "You haven't been one in years. It was just a phase you went through. You respect the game too much now to dishonor it again."

"You sound like Tsutsui," he accused, whipping around to face her. She could see his eyes were bright with unshed tears.

"Hikaru said the same thing earlier. I take that as a compliment. He was a great sempai and a good friend. He taught me a lot."

Mitani pressed his lips into a thin line as he thought about her statement. She knew that he had butted heads with the studious founder of the Haze Go Club over several aspects of the game. Akari crossed her fingers, hoping he wouldn't decide to storm off. But the red-head just stood there, clenching and unclenching his fists. "Yeah, he did," he admitted after a tense moment. He looked around the area outside the school. "Do you know where a go salon is around here?"

"No, I've never been in one before."

"How do you handle cigarette smoke?"

She gave him a confused look at the seeming non-sequitur, but decided to answer his question honestly. "My father smokes, my mother hates it, though, so she makes him smoke outside."

He shook his head. "That's not what I meant. A lot of these places have a perpetual fog of cigarette smoke in them."

"Oh. I think I can handle it," she said confidently.

"Try to breathe through your mouth if possible. It helps."

She nodded. "Okay. So where are we going?"

"I only know of one near here."

"Well, let's go!"

He gave her a stricken look. "I'd rather go someplace else. I have bad memories of that salon."

"Oh, you mean it's the place where --"

"Yeah, it is," he snapped, cutting her off.

"Do you know of any other places?" she asked, backpedaling,

He shook his head. "I do. But they aren't places I would take a girl." He sighed in resignation. "I guess, I really don't have a choice. It's my old salon or nothing."

"We can wait until tomorrow. I can ask my sensei if he knows of any places."

He shook his head. "No. I need to do this now."

She gave him a sharp look and said slowly, "Okay."

He pointed toward the train station. "It's just one stop down."

They walked in silence for which Akari was deeply grateful. She wasn't sure what to make of Mitani's actions. He was acting very strangely. First with the worry, and then with referring to her as 'his Akari.' It was too weird.

She didn't know why it was so important that he play her in an even game now. But if she was going to become a pro, she knew that she was going to have to beat Mitani. She was not looking forward to that day.

She stopped walking at the realization. Without really thinking it through, she had made a decision about what she wanted to do with her life. She was going to try to become a professional player. Akari grinned. The decision was easier to make than she had originally believed. With that thought in her head, she jogged to catch up to Mitani who was waiting for her.

She gave him a small smile, but didn't speak. She didn't trust herself not to reveal her thoughts. Based on Mitani's reaction when Hikaru said he wanted to be a professional player, she didn't think it would be a good idea. She knew that she would have to tell him sometime, just not right now.

After boarding the train, they found a place to stand next to the doors since they didn't have far to travel on the loop. She looked around the car and wasn't surprised to see a lot of kids her own age. Graduation was a universal occurrence in Japan, with the new school year starting up at the same time prefecture wide. She wondered how many of the students were trying to stay in touch with the friends they made in junior high for just a little bit longer.

She was going to miss seeing Kumiko, Natsume, and Hikaru every day since they had decided to go separate ways. Kumiko was attending an all girls' school at her parents' insistence. Natsume had elected not to go to high school, like Hikaru. Instead, his parents had obtained an apprenticeship under a well-regarded sushi chef for him. She was happy for Natsume since he had always dreamed of becoming a chef, but didn't feel comfortable in the all girl home-ec club. Now, he could pursue his dream. She felt sorry for Kumiko, though, since the shy girl had a hard time talking to boys as it was. Akari hoped that Kumiko managed to make some good friends who wouldn't let her slip behind her shell.

The pleasant male voice announced that the station was approaching, and her hand gripped the pole a little tighter. The train slowed then jerked to a stop. When the doors opened, Mitani grabbed her wrist so as not to lose her in the mass of people entering and exiting the train. They crossed the platform, and he dropped her hand.

"We go that way," he said, pointing toward one of the subway exits. "It's not too far."

"Okay."

Once again, they walked in silence for a bit. However, Akari was worried about Mitani. While he wasn't a talkative boy in general, it was rare for him to be this quiet.

"Are you okay, Mitani-kun?"

"Huh? Um, yeah," he answered, seemingly distracted by something. "We make a right here."

She frowned at his brush off, but decided not to pry any further. He was obviously lost in his thoughts. She suspected that it had to do with his upcoming confrontation with the Go Salon owner.

He paused beside a ramen restaurant and breathed deeply for a few moments. "It's just ahead, down those stairs."

She looked at the dark entrance and had a small sense of foreboding. She didn't like dark places ever since she was a small child. After her experience in Hikaru's grandfather's shed, where Hikaru had claimed to see a phantom blood stain and heard disembodied voices, her fear of ghosts and demons had intensified.

She clutched her arms closer to her body. "Are you sure you want to do this?" she asked tremulously, eyeing the opening suspiciously.

He looked at her sharply, taking in her frightened features and jumping to the wrong conclusion. "It'll be okay. Doc'll make sure that you are left alone."

"Doc?"

"The guy who runs the counter."

"Oh."

"Come on," he said starting down the steps.

Unwilling to be left behind, she followed him closely. She kept casting her eyes about willing the shadows to remain shadows. Mitani reached the bottom and opened the door. Anxious to get out of the stairwell, she darted into room. Then stopped as a wave of stale cigarette smoke assaulted her.

"Breathe through your mouth until you get used to the smell," he reminded her.

She nodded at him gratefully and started inhaling and exhaling through her mouth.

"Irasshai!" the old man at the counter greeted. "Oi! Mitani-kun, I haven't seen you in a while."

"Whatever, Doc. Do you have an open board?"

"What? You aren't going to challenge the customers?"

"No, I want to play a friend and since neither of us have boards at home; we came here."

"My, my. You've changed, boy. I'm glad."

Mitani shrugged. "How much?"

"Five hundred yen for each of you," Doc replied.

Handing him a 1000 yen bill, Mitani said, "We'll take the table right here by the door. My friend isn't used to the cigarette smoke so we will take all of the fresh air that we can."

Doc laughed. "Go ahead," he said, before turning on the television behind the counter.

"Come on Akari, let's play."

"You didn't have to pay for me, Mitani-kun. I have money," she protested.

"Yeah, but I'm the one that challenged you. Consider it my treat."

She gave him a piercing look, which he returned blandly. "If you insist."

"I do."

"Thanks," she said pulling a chair out from the long table and sitting down at it. She scooted forward and reached for the go ke in front of her. She opened the lid and noticed it was black. "You nigiri."

He nodded and opened the one before him and reached in and pulled out a handful of white stones. She placed black stone in front of her signaling that she thought the number of white stones would be odd.

"Two . . . four . . . six . . . seven. It's odd. You're black."

She smiled and placed the ke next to the board with the lid ready to hold captured stones. When she noticed that he was ready, she nodded at him.

As one, they both leaned forward and bowed. "Onegaishimasu," they said in unison.

They looked up at each other and smiled.

She slipped her hand into the ke, reveling in the slippery feel of shale under her fingers. Selecting a piece, she positioned it between her index and middle fingers. She thought about her opening move for a little bit and placed the stone on the 5-5 corner star.

Mitani smiled and placed his stone on the opposite star.

The game had begun!

For several moments the only sound heard was the clack of go stones against the go board and the low drone of Doc's television.

Then, Akari let a small groan. "Mou! I was hoping you wouldn't do that," she said referring to the upper left corner where he had cut off several of her stones.

"They aren't dead yet, there are still a few ways you can save them."

She looked at the goban, studying the arrangement of stones. The lower right corner was hers, while the upper right corner Mitani won early on. Currently, he was ahead of her by fifteen and a half moku counting komi. While the lower left corner was still unclaimed, if she didn't manage to save the upper left, she didn't have a chance at winning. As her eyes followed the placement of the stones, a path began to emerge. Mitani was right; she could save those stones.

Grabbing a stone out of the ke, she placed it on the board. She lifted her eyes to meet eyes and noted the look of approval in them. She had chosen the correct path.

He countered, placing an obstacle in her way. But that didn't deter her. She knew she could salvage the corner. She may not win the game, but this battle was hers. Carefully setting each stone so as retain a liberty, she slowly, inexorably, extended her wall to save the stones.

Several moves later, Mitani looked up from the board with a smile. "You did well there. You could have made a few eyes and saved them that way, but this way you earned more territory."

"Thank you," she acknowledged. "I wasn't sure I was going to make it."

"But you did. Well done."

The two lapsed back into silence for several minutes. Akari tried hard to win the other corner, knowing that to do so would put Mitani in a very bad position, but was unable to do so. The battle continued to the sides and eventually into the middle, where Akari realized that her shape wasn't strong enough to win.

Sighing, she bowed before Mitani. "Makemashita."

"Thank you for the game," he intoned.

"Thank you for the game," she returned, completing the ritual. She then started gesturing at various places on the board. "I didn't had a chance. Not after you took the top and the right sides, I knew that it would take a miracle to save me."

Nodding in agreement, he pointed to a spot on the board. "You were too cautious here. That allowed me to take more territory later. You could have easily extended your territory by a few moku without any problem."

"I see that now. But I was afraid you would jump in and try to take over."

He shook his head. "It would have been more trouble than it was worth and I wouldn't have gained anything by doing that. You also got a little desperate here I think." He pointed to the left side of the goban.

"I was. I kept counting moku in my head and you kept coming out ten ahead. I needed to do something to counter that."

He moved a few stones and said, "Playing here would have been better. It extended your wall and set your self up nicely for taking over the middle."

"So aside from all of those mistakes, how did I do?"

Mitani regarded her seriously for a long time. "You've gotten better. A lot better. I think that next time that a two or three stone handicap would be challenging for you but still winnable."

"Really?"

"Um-hmm, I think that Kaneko has a rival for her first captain position."

She smiled at his assessment, but deep inside her she knew that her goal was much greater than that. Soon, she decided, she needed to talk with Shirakawa-sensei and find out more about becoming a professional go player.


AN:

This is my first foray into long, almost epic length, fic. It is also my second Hikaru no Go story. The first was a short little piece that can be found in my profile.

I am writing this as an experiment. To see if I can actually write and finish an epic length story. I started doing this as a part of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – I didn't make it but I wrote more than I ever have previously.

I am only a beginner at the game of Go so most of my dialogue for that comes from what I overheard at the Orlando Go Club and what I can glean from various books and websites. I am also looking for some strong constructive criticism here. If you don't like this, tell me why. I want to improve and feedback is the only way to do so.

For those of you looking for pairings, I don't know what to tell you. Right now I do have a pairing in mind. But in general, this is going to be a fic about Akari and her quest. I hope you'll stay with me for that.

If you read my DBZ fanfiction, you will notice that I have a lot of trouble coming up with titles. This fic was no exception. For the longest time, I was calling this "Akari no Go" but I was never happy with that title. As far as I am concerned, the title is still a work in progress like the story. If you have any suggestions I would appreciate it.

I have a few shout outs. One is to my roommate for putting up with my demented typing and occasional outbursts of "What was the name of . . . "

The other is to Lady MacBeth, a fellow NaNoWriMo participant who has been very encouraging of my writing fanfiction for my novel . Thanks to both of you, if you read this. I also want to give a huge thank you to Panasonic Princess, BakaBokken and Lady MacBeth for Betaing this for me. She caught a lot of mistakes and she deserves some great credit. Also thanks go out to Troy Thomas and Broken Visage for some great feedback and the Members of MediaMiner's Fanfiction Review Guild for all of their great con-crit.

A couple of cultural notes:

The Japanese School Year begins in April and ends in March. Schooling is mandatory through grade nine, but anything after that is elective. High Schools in Japan charge tuition unlike here in the U.S. and the prices vary from school to school. And it is not uncommon for students to commute long distances to attend prestigious high schools.

One of my betas asked me to explain what the loop was in the train scene. The loop is referring to the subway lines that run through out Tokyo. There is an inner loop that circles the interior of the city and there is an outer loop that runs along the edge. Then there are lines of trains that run like spokes of a wheel through the loops. The reason why it is called a loop is because each train only goes one way and makes a giant circuit. It is best illustrated in the anime Evangelion in the episode where Shinji runs away and sits on the Train brooding.

Japan is also known for its permissiveness towards smoking. Men chain smoke and they do it indoors. And Go Salons are known for having a thick haze of smoke hanging in them. It is kinda like bars here in the US.

If there is anything that you didn't understand, I'm sorry. Feel free to drop me a line and ask. I'll be happy to explain.

Until next time!