The Never-ending Road: Chapter 80 – North Star Rising

By Leitbur


Sitting at his desk, tapping the ash of his cigarette into the tray with one hand, Amano looked down at the article again and sighed. Technically the article was correct and proper, there were no lies made that he was aware of and it was an opinion beyond that but still.

The editors had loved Kosemura's article, it had played right into their hopes for setting up the future of Japanese Go, the new wave sweeping across the country. Whether Kosemura realized what he was truly writing or not Amano couldn't say for sure, but he did know that this was likely a premature coronation of Hikaru Shindo.

There was no questioning the talent that Shindo had, he was certainly a rising star with an opportunity along with Akira Toya to put Japan's mark back on the Go world with a pair of victories at the Hokuto Cup, but releasing this article now... it was more likely to pressure Shindo into trying even harder, perhaps throw him off his game. Sometimes Amano wondered if people just looked at the name, at the rank and saw Hikaru Shindo 7 – Dan and thought that was it, he was a 7 – Dan and thus strong and determined. When looked at that way it was so easy to forget that Shindo was a 16 year old kid, who at times still looked like a scrawny teen trying to wear his father's suit. Or maybe that was the point, a 16 year old 7 - Dan who just missed challenging for the Kisei title.

There was only one photo of Shindo in the article, a clip from his Toyota Cup match with a quick caption, and the photo had been taken at such an angle that Shindo looked a couple years older. Then there was just the listings of his accomplishments in the sidebar, Kisei League member, his winning streaks and record the past year, everything needed to validate what the article said about him. Again none of it was untrue, but it was so easy to take selective statistics to make something appear one way or another regardless of the full context of those events.

It would likely create a push for where he'd be placed in the upcoming Hokuto Cup as well, perhaps flipping people's thoughts from last year as to who should have been 1st Chair. Honestly the average Go follower or ley person on the street didn't understand the complexities of the game or what other factors played into something, they simply saw the headline, trusted that the author knows what he's talking about, see the ranks listed and the leagues mentioned and said, "Yes, this is the best player for the job." Not realizing even non-prodigies defeated high ranking players, sometimes for other reasons than just skill. Perhaps the high dan was focused on another tournament and wasn't putting their all into a preliminary, or underestimated the low dan just by seeing their rank. Not to mention someone could be a 9 - Dan who never really was anything more than a middle of the pack player, just by winning their Dan matches in the past. That was why there was such a gluttony of 9 - Dans at the top these days.

Sighing again Amano could only hope and say a prayer to the god of Go that Shindo didn't let this go to his head. Then he once again began reading the article from the top.


"'There's something about the way he plays, something magical.' These words were uttered by former Kisei titleholder Ishibashi 9 – Dan following his match in the 1st Round of the Honinbo 3rd Preliminary, a match where sixteen year old Hikaru Shindo 7 – Dan, a quickly rising star in the Go world, defeated the former Kisei by resignation [game record below]. Going into the game Ishibashi had continued, "I had thought I was prepared, but seeing the moves on paper and actually sitting across from him are completely different experiences." Ishibashi later added, "his moves have this mystical, almost magic feel to them. It's almost like seeing a game from one of the old masters like Jowa or Shusaku, sublime, yet so tranquil and right, as if the move was meant to be."

It is a familiar tale that many pro players are beginning to sing about the young star, having upset many top players with his brilliant moves that seem to come out of nowhere, as such titleholders as Ogata Judan Gosei and Kuwabara Honinbo can attest. 'I thought I had the game all wrapped up, but then Shindo played one move and the entire game seemed to change' claimed Ogata, an expression of disbelief still on his face when he said it.

Shindo, this Go Wizard so to speak, who along with Akira Toya 7 – Dan (son of former Meijin Koyo Toya) are at the head of the new wave of young players streaming into Japanese Go, and with his magical moves has been climbing the tournament ladder for the past two years."

Pausing from his reading Waya cleared his throat and turned toward his friend. "This guy is really putting you on a pedestal Shindo."

Hikaru rolled his eyes as he stared down at the board, hesitating a moment and then placing his black stone down on the board. Immediately Akira's white stone shot down, and grinning remarked, "Nothing magical about that last move Hikaru. Maybe you should try a card trick."

Eyes narrowing, Hikaru glared across the board as he played another stone and went into damage control mode. Both Akira and he had read the article before breakfast and Hikaru hadn't been all that amused by it, the last thing he needed was a bunch of fans chasing after him asking for him to use his magic on them, or whatever other crazy idea popped into their heads. Teaching games set up so that they could experience his 'magic touch'. Ugh. His rival had found the article quite humorous though, and had been taking similar shots at him all morning.

"Waya could you stop reading that out loud, we've all read it after all, we know what it says."

Smirking Waya replied, "Well maybe you should just wave your hand and make it disappear then, oh mighty Wizard of Go."

Grumbling Hikaru rose to his feet turned and snatched up the paper and crumpling it up tossed it into the trash can. "There, I moved my hands around and made it disappear. Happy?"

Looking up at his friend a moment, Waya just replied, "Since you're up you think you can conjure up some tea?"

"NO!" With that Hikaru sat back down in front of the board. Letting out a sigh Hikaru studied the board and tried in vain to push the article out of his mind. It had gone on to talk about his long winning streaks, his many comeback victories as if he had used some divine power to tip the odds, and so much more. It was the last line though that had angered him the most. "Hikaru Shindo was unavailable for comment."

It wasn't technically a lie, he'd asked to not be contacted for interviews and teaching games while he prepared for the Hokuto Cup, but had he known someone was going to write an article like this…

Placing another stone Hikaru exhaled. They should have waited until after the Hokuto Cup to get in touch with him, then published the article. He understood things like deadlines and such, but still it would have been nice to refute the article. But then they might have just not used your comments dummy. He hated when his own inner thoughts refuted him like that, but it was true that if they really wanted to write an article like that about him a quote from him wouldn't stop it.

There was little that he could do now though, he had to keep focusing on the Hokuto Cup; he had to be ready for Ko Yeong Ha. All that still fell on Kurata making him the 1st Chair and allowing the rematch, and as of yet Kurata had given no indication which way he was leaning. He wanted to think that his previous experience and determination would give him an advantage but it made just as much sense to let Akira take on Yeong Ha, if Hikaru would let himself admit it. In fact given that it seemed likely that Suyon would be 2nd Chair this year putting Hikaru up against him and Akira against Yeong Ha was a shrewd strategy, Hikaru had beaten Suyon in both their matches, even if those were both unofficial.

Akira and Hikaru were the wildcards of the tournament, both China and Korea had clear top players, anyone playing 1st Chair knew who on their team they'd face and could focus on their game records and style. Japan was the mystery because no one was sure which of the two were better, although Hikaru had his own opinions. China and Korea would have to divide their attention between the two and hope to get a favorable match up. Not to mention Kurata could juggle his line up at any time with the cover that he was playing match ups because there was no consensus 1st Chair.

Still, there was no question in Hikaru's mind, he had to play Ko Yeong Ha again. It was like a pair of magnets trying to pull each other together. The pair might have been separated by the sea but they still tugged at one another, pulling to battle. It didn't matter that Yeong Ha might be better than him, Hikaru would not, could not run from this challenge. If he did, if he let things stand as they were without a fight, then he didn't deserve to see Sai again.

"Ah, here it's talking about Kuwabara-sensei, how the moment he met you he could sense your talent emanating off you."

Hikaru glanced back up to see Waya staring at his laptop and frowned. "Really Waya? Magical auras now? And did you have to get the laptop out?"

Waya smirked. "Guess that magic rubbed off on me a bit, used it to make the article reappear."

"In that case, my Wizard's apprentice, you can go get the tea yourself."

Just then a quick knock at the door came and Akira rose to go answer it. A few moments later he reappeared with Kurata behind him. Nodding to Hikaru Kurata said, "Ah, good to see you're all hard at work already, we have a lot to do today, only a week left before the tournament starts. I wanted to talk some about the order, and different ways we might go about it, see what you guys thought, see if we can't arrive at a consensus."

Hikaru nodded. Good, they were going to decide it. He would state his case, he would convince them, he would defeat Ko Yeong Ha, he would… Kurata cut in, "Oh and Shindo, I haven't eaten yet, could you wave your wand and make lunch appear for me?"

A moment later Kurata ducked out of the way of the tea pot flying over his head.


Lying on his bed, Kurata glanced over the Korean and Chinese rosters again. Despite so much debate they had yet to come up with a set order for the team, although Hikaru had made quite the passionate argument for his taking the first spot. Kurata had to admit that there was merit to having Hikaru take on Yeong Ha and Chao Shi, but if he let Akira take the 1st Board Hikaru would face Suyon and Wang Shi Chen. Kurata was aware that Hikaru had beaten Suyon twice before and had nearly come back on Wang Shi Chen last year. That game had left Wang Shi a bit shaken, and likely he would not be looking forward to taking on Hikaru again. Granted he didn't think Akira would have any problem with Wang Shi or Suyon either, making it a somewhat moot point.

Second chair wasn't the problem though, he expected that his team would take those games either way, it was a question of who was best to play 1st Chair. If Chao Shi hadn't jumped Wang Shi from a year ago to become the new 1st board Kurata would have put Hikaru there for sure given that he felt confident that Hikaru would have the edge against China. As it stood though neither Hikaru nor Akira had any experience with Chao Shi and playing Ko Yeong Ha was a toss-up.

In a sense it sort of came down to Waya. If Waya could prove to him in the next couple of days that he could hold up and have a fair chance of taking the Korean and Chinese 3rd Chairs it wouldn't matter who he picked for 1st Board because he'd have 2nd and 3rd Board taken care of already.

Sitting up, Kurata reached for the tournament papers, flipping through them looking for at least the twentieth time at the names of his own players, reading their names letter by letter, as if he could divine some secret answer from them. That hadn't worked the last nineteen times but perhaps this time...He could always switch it up again like he had last year, Hikaru play Ko Yeong Ha and let Akira take Chao Shi, not that it worked out so well. He wanted a set order, something he could go into the tournament and say 'this is it', at least for the first match and make modifications if one player or another was off their game. The more he studied them though, the more they reviewed games, the harder it became. Akira and Hikaru were locked in battle, even when working together, both trying to find a way to push ahead of the other and right now there was no right answer because there was no wrong answer, they were dead even.

That's when it hit him. Why should he pick at all, he could let them, and perhaps fate decide. One match between the two for the honor of 1st Chair. It was a simple solution, not that it didn't have risk too. If Hikaru lost it could upset him enough to interfere with his 2nd Chair games, especially because he'd have no one but himself to blame. That was part of Hikaru's downfall, his emotions made him a nearly unbeatable opponent at times and at others it made him fall apart. On the other hand his emotions at being 1st Chair could either hone his skill to a razor's edge or cause him to overplay, making it a risk either way.

Compared to that Akira looked calm and stoic, an icy gaze that froze his opponents to the core. It would almost seem like Akira's style and strategy didn't change regardless of who his opponent was, and that had great appeal too. Shindo seemed to have a great amount of upside and a great amount of risk, whereas Akira was a steady force. He was meticulous and focused, and maintained his level of play throughout the entire match. Normally that would be all he'd need, but at the same time Akira's game rarely raised to all that much higher of a level during a game, while Shindo... well the Wizard of Go could tap into a potential that skyrocketed him up in the heat of battle.

To truly think about that potential, given how short a period of time Shindo had been playing, and what sort of monster he'd become once he could fully tap that potential consistently through an entire game, it could turn even the Kisei pale. Thankfully he didn't have to face that Shindo now, but unfortunately neither did Korea or China, maybe.

Therefore it was still a toss-up, and while the idea of just making Waya 1st Chair and letting the other two wreck the lesser chairs instead had appeal in saving him this dilemma, it wasn't very respectful and he didn't think any of his team wanted to win like that. So instead he'd just have to let them play it out and decide. And, in its own way, this was how things were meant to be decided in Go, in front of the board between two people.


Klak!

Pressing his black stone down at 3-7, expanding his shape in Akira's territory, Hikaru inhaled through his nose, lips tight, eyes ablaze as he awaited his opponent's reply. Admittedly he was glad at the solution Kurata had come up with, let it be settled in a match, here and now, let the better player reveal himself on the Go Board, the more worthy player.

Klak.

Hmph, 3-8, blocking his expansion, and just what Hikaru had expected. Had he not done so Hikaru could have potentially slid in underneath and taken a chunk of Akira's early territory, and now Hikaru had to solidify. Taking his stone between his fingers Hikaru set it down at 2-8, offering a chance for a fight even if he knew Akira wouldn't be baited into it. No he'd defend and allow Hikaru to solidify in exchange for further solidifying his own territory on the left edge, bringing in a fight later when the board was more established.

Klak.

Yep, 2-9, just what Hikaru had predicted. Taking his stone and solidifying at 2-7, Hikaru waited for Akira again. Was he moving too quickly? They had ninety minutes each, just like they would in the actual tournament, so there was no need to push this into a speed Go match or anything. Pushing the pace of course was a strategy he'd used many times in the past, and his ability to read ahead was far ahead of most of those opponents. Not Akira though, despite his calm and collected demeanor Akira was fully capable of matching him blow for blow at lightning quick speeds. Against another opponent forcing the pace could lead to his opponent making a mistake or feeling intimidated sitting there constantly focusing on their own position and next move. Not Akira though, the two had played each other too often and in too many different ways to be surprised or intimidated by the other.

Klak.

Hikaru inhaled. Akira had played 17-16, choosing to take sente over solidifying his position. Well that's not true, cutting him wouldn't really gain too much, not with that potential ladder. Looking ahead now, if he replied with a defense at 17-18 Akira would go 17-13 to position himself, and Hikaru could either block his expansion or move to challenge the lower left corner at 6-17 and try to set up his moyo on the lower edge. But if he did that Akira could respond by expanding on the left side, eating into his corner. No, it was best to cut him off.

Klak.

Klak.

Klak.

It had gone as he'd expected, and as Hikaru released his fingers from his stone at 17-11 and awaited his rivals response a quaking, shivering sensation resonated through his body. Not in fear or worry, but in anticipation. This wasn't a Honinbo League match or the final preliminary to make it into the Meijin League, it wasn't even an official game, but Hikaru could feel it, the intensity beginning to build, the fire in his gut rising with each stone played. Because official or not, this game mattered, and it was a game that mattered against Akira. Certainly both would say that it was just a game if they lost, that it would have gone differently in an official match, and that was certainly possible, but right now, between these two young players, it mattered. It wasn't just about who played first chair, who got to face Ko Yeong Ha, who would represent their country in the top spot of this international tournament, and in fact none of that was really even a factor at this moment. This was about, for one fraction of a moment in time, between two rivals, two players who despite all the arguing and name-calling and childish antics held the highest respect for each other, seeing who was the better. Whether it was being recorded or who else saw it or heard about it was irrelevant, it was between them, and Hikaru could feel their prides rising to the challenge.

Klak.

Smiling as Hikaru watched Akira finally protect his position back at 3-10, Hikaru took a moment to take it all in, feeling the sparks in the air between them, his eyes locking on as Akira raised his eyes to meet Hikaru, that sharp, icy stare saying one thing to Hikaru. Bring it.

Off to the side Waya sat there next to Kurata watching, mouth tightly closed. He felt it before he even looked down to verify, the hairs on his arms were standing on end.


"We will have your luggage taken up to your rooms right away. If you need anything, please do not hesitate to ask."

Nodding with a smile, Ko Yeong Ha and Hon Suyon turned and looked out into the lobby of the hotel. It was the same hotel as last year, and for each memories of those two days of play came flooding back.

"Feels like just yesterday, don't you think Suyon?"

"Sort of, but I've been looking forward to this for almost a year now. Kind of hard to believe it's finally here."

Chuckling Ko Yeong Ha began making his way over to a couch on the other side of the lobby, Hon Suyon close behind. Taking a seat, Ko Yeong Ha leaned back, smiling as he said, "Yes, I suppose you and I have different recollections of that time, different recollections of your friend Shindo."

Looking over at Ko Yeong Ha, Suyon raised his eyebrow ever so slightly. Last year, that was when Yeong Ha had chosen to take a simple misunderstanding and turn it into a controversy for fun, to rile up the competition. He remembered what Yeong Ha had said to him that day, that players said all sorts of things to get attention. That wasn't how he felt though, not how he wanted the man he respected to be thought about. It was like he didn't really care back then, like it was all a game with preset conditions moving him to the top. Did he still feel that way now, a year later, now that he held the Cheonweon Title?

And Shindo, what did he think about Shindo now? For Suyon it was much simpler, he was a rival, someone Suyon respected and strove to surpass. To Ko Yeong Ha though, was he just another opponent in a long line of opponents? They'd spoken about Shindo a few times since that intense match between the two, and Yeong Ha had always made light of it, that it hadn't meant much of anything to him, but Suyon wasn't entirely convinced. Something about Yeong Ha had been different after that match had ended.

"True," Suyon finally replied, "I for one am looking forward to facing him again."

Yeong Ha glanced over at his friend for a moment, then closed his eyes and smiled. Yes, perhaps that was true, Suyon did want to face Shindo more than he did. Not that it mattered to Yeong Ha, this tournament was about representing his country after all, a nice distraction and chance to increase his own international recognition. He was the Cheonweon after all, and while that wasn't exactly the Kiseong title, he was determined to add that to his list as well.

And as for Shindo... It had only been one game, and he'd won it too. Maybe if he'd lost it would have been a big deal, but he hadn't, and that was what was important. Stretching his neck as it suddenly felt tight, Ko Yeong Ha replied, "Well you're 2nd Chair this time, so there's a decent chance you'll finally get that official match against Shindo you've been wanting. But if I have to play him again then that's fine too. I'll beat whoever they put up against me, after all I-"

"KO YEONG HA!"

Stopping midsentence at the sound of his name being shouted, both Hon Suyon and him turned toward the sound and stopped. There, at the hotel lobby entrance, stood Hikaru Shindo. Flexing his shoulders as they suddenly felt uncomfortable, Ko Yeong Ha watched the young man across the room, the resolute determined stance, the fiery eyes that burned into him. Suddenly realizing that he'd been holding his breath, Ko Yeong Ha exhaled slowly.

Across the room, Hikaru Shindo raised his arm up and pointed his finger straight at Ko Yeong Ha, paused, then continued, "Ko Yeong Ha... no igilgo yaksok hal gae!"


Author's Notes:

Hello everyone, I am profusely sorry for this endlessly long hiatus. As I'm sure you can see I am alive, and I am sorry if I worried anyone that something horrible had happened to me. As I said last time the whole incident with my ex and son left my inspiration quite barren. I just couldn't bring myself to write, and I began looking for some other form of outlet, and got into several MMOs to help distract me. I've thought about this story and coming back to it many times, but as my son has grown older my attention turned to spending what time I do get with him more and more. He's eleven now, and like me has started to really like anime and manga, among other things, as well as playing Yugioh together. I've begun introducing him to Final Fantasy games as well.

Recently I decided to do an online search for Leitbur for a completely different reason and discovered several discussions of this story on Reddit and other sites, and reading what people said there and the amount of analysis done touched me greatly. This chapter was half written from awhile back (very poorly I might add) so I decided to go back and rewrite what I already had and finish the chapter properly for all of you. I also likely need a refresher of the story at this point, not for all the major stuff, but more to remind myself of smaller details and plot points, and what stuff I have already mentioned compared to what hasn't been. After that, well we'll see how things go for me, there is still a lot going on in my life, but at the very least I'd like to get you all some closure on the Hokuto Cup and a couple other things.

Special Note: What Hikaru said at the end is Korean. I may have butchered the spelling a bit, it means, "I promise, I will defeat you." My sister-in-law is Korean and she gave me the translation, so I hope it wasn't too bad. If anyone knows a more accurate spelling or translation I can modify it later.

The game seen in this chapter is from the 33rd Japanese Tengen Challenger match between Iyama Yuta 7 - Dan (Black) and Yamashita Keigo 9 - Dan (White) from 9-20-2007. In the actual match White actually wins by a point, and I miscounted the change in komi thinking it would make black win instead.

I don't know for sure what my timetable might be for finishing the next chapter, hopefully less than the 7 years it's taken since the last one, but we will be getting into the Hokuto Cup.

Again, my apologies about all of this. R&R!