I am really glad to be starting on another chapter, but I think it is only right to assume that the time between the start and the completion of chapter 11 will be anything but short. I truly am frustrated by my complacency and am even more annoyed that I seem to have no motivation to change this fact. Honestly, I can't tell if I'm having a writer's block or if I'm just living within the block itself…
This chapter turned out to focus a lot on thoughts and feelings instead of any actual plot, but I guess it'll serve to emphasise some events in the future. That is, if you bothered to come back to remember what each character actually described he felt. There is a lot of vague foreshadowing here, but I might decide to change the plot in the future, so the foreshadowing may be nullified, but hey, that's the reason why it's vague in the first place, so I can decide if I really want to make a big deal out of it or just leave it as something to make you feel…well…something.
Responds to reviews are in the author's note at the bottom of this chapter.
Edit: 15 June 2011. Corrected the issue of having a tie in a game with komi. No big change in plot.
Edit 2: 16 June 2011. Corrected embarrassing spelling and grammar mistakes. More corrections may be made when I read through this again. It is...appalling...how many mistakes I made. I need to do something to remedy this.
Two Sides to a Face…or More
Chapter 11: Discovery
Not a soul in the room was still as Shindou Hikaru continued to battle fiercely against Sai, unknowing of the fact that Touya Meijin, the Touya Meijin, was observing his game with a critical eye. His heart raged with a fire he didn't know how to quell, and every nerve ending in him burned from this uncontrollable passion. The world was only him, Sai and the goban. Nothing else existed; nothing else mattered. He could feel the game reaching its climax, the point where he would begin to unleash his abilities upon the board, to charge head on into Sai's mesmerising game to just try and graze victory.
If he was drowning in his own fighting spirit, Sai was already long dead in his own, not that he wasn't already dead, coincidentally by drowning. The pressure settled heavily on Hikaru's shoulders, not unlike a large bird roosting on a lone twig stemming from a hollow branch. Sai's fighting spirit even had claws, for goodness sake! It had been a while since he last tasted this crushing air, and he welcomed its reassuring weight. Even though Sai had never before taken him so seriously since they'd played so frequently in the past, this immense pressure felt no more painful than before. Perhaps Hikaru himself had grown and learnt to endure such incredible auras.
His legs didn't seem to feel anything anymore, Hikaru wasn't even aware that he still had his legs, but he paid them no heed. All he wanted to do was see this game through to the very end, but alas, an end it did not have. Even with his concentration focussed on the game before him, he would have been too oblivious to not notice the sudden lifting of air around him as Sai's fighting spirit suddenly vanished. The ease of breathing struck him as odd, and when he looked up, to shoot a questioning glance at Sai, he felt his face pale to a sickly sheen of white as he followed the ghost's shocked gaze.
Everything seemed to buckle under–and onto–him all at once. He was hit with the realisation that the Meijin was now far too close to uncovering the secret of Sai than he was comfortable with, far closer than anyone had ever been. Touya might have suspected something, but his father had seen it happen. But no matter how much Hikaru wanted to deny the fact that Touya-sensei had quite literally walked in on him and Sai playing, he could not tear his eyes from the man's face.
Pensive was the only word Hikaru could think of which described the thoughtful and slightly confused expression the Meijin wore. He ignored Sai's worried and unintelligible babble as Touya-sensei continued to peer curiously into Hikaru's eyes, as if he could find the answer to whatever question he had simply by looking. Hikaru couldn't do anything but just freeze in traditional seiza—why was he in seiza in the first place when he had never liked that position?—, mortified. What he would give to turn back time and just keep his mouth shut without asking Sai to play with him! This predicament he had placed himself in was going to help Touya-sensei ascertain that he, Shindou Hikaru, was a nutcase for playing such a high intensity game alone. Hikaru had no doubt that Touya-sensei could feel Sai's aura.
Before Hikaru could stutter further and make an even greater fool out of himself, the voice of one Ogata Seiji greeting Touya Akiko boomed in his ears like the world had suddenly come crashing down on him, or rather, like he had come crashing back down to earth. Hikaru assumed he was just being paranoid, because Ogata never raised his voice when he was trying to be polite and he was sure Ogata wouldn't want to offend his sensei's wife.
"Shindou-kun, if you would please stay back after the study session. I would like a game with you, at your full strength," Touya-sensei articulated softly but clearly to Hikaru, just quiet enough that Ogata couldn't hear them from the front doors, and just loud enough that Hikaru could catch what he said without straining. Of course, Sai heard him as well, since he was nose to nose with the Meijin—and eyeing him rather intensely as well—without the other man realising it.
Dazed, Hikaru continued sitting in the cushion, staring blankly at the Meijin, until the man prompted, "It would save on a lot of explanations if you cleared the board before Ogata-kun comes." Hikaru startled out of his reverie and began collecting the stones, the game still fresh in his mind. His hands fumbled a couple of times as they tried to pick the black and white stones separately, when he realised that another pair of hands were picking up stones as well.
Those aged, wrinkled hands were the hands of a strong player, and Hikaru could only be surprised for the millionth time that day by Touya-sensei. The Meijin had knelt in the cushion which Sai had previously occupied and started clearing the stones from the board much more deftly than Hikaru.
When the sliding door opened once more to reveal Ogata this time, the board was nearly cleared, but not quite. Hikaru observed nervously as Ogata raised an eyebrow at the few stones left on the board. Thankfully, Touya-sensei came to his rescue, "Shindou-kun and I were just recreating a few games. It seems he arrived fairly early today." Hikaru suddenly noticed that instead of having two containers of stones on his side of the board he now only had one. He blinked. Touya-sensei sure planned things out before doing anything. Having stones of two colours on his side would immediately give the game away and Ogata would be even more suspicious of Hikaru than he already was, not that it really mattered either way, because a slightly suspicious Ogata would go to the same lengths to uncover the truth as a very suspicious Ogata. It also didn't help that Ogata was a very forceful man by nature.
Hikaru hadn't realised how incredibly, unnaturally calm Touya-sensei had been until the rest of the study group had arrived and started on their usual routine with the Meijin sitting in the middle of it all. Hikaru vaguely noted that the group seemed to be keen on discussing about NetGo today. Hikaru himself would have freaked out if he had found Touya with a burning spirit sitting at a goban alone, with a set of black and white stones beside him and glaring down at a game which didn't look reconstructed. He might actually expect the boy's straight-cut hair to burst into flames, knowing how serious the other boy could get when he was playing his best. He was just thankful that Touya was currently running an errand for his mother. He didn't think he could keep a straight face while looking at Touya and thinking of his hair burning at the same time.
The study session couldn't have gone any faster. As many have said, the more one dreads something the more it seems to hate you and rush at you like a flying cheetah approaching dinner. Hikaru bit on the inside of his mouth, hard. It seemed as if the entire universe was out to get him. Beside him, Sai sat rigidly still, so focused on the Meijin in front of him that it seemed as if nothing else but him existed before his eyes. This might be the first time Hikaru ever envied Sai for going unnoticed by everybody. Touya-sensei's intense eyes bore into him in a most uncomfortable way, but Hikaru had already made up his mind to stay until the very end, no matter what might lie before him.
"Y-yes, Touya-sensei?" Hikaru stammered. The room suddenly felt so large and foreign despite how often Hikaru had seen it since he first came. The various items and little trinkets in the study room suddenly faded into obscurity, and within that abyss it felt like a million curious glances were sent his way. He had never felt this scrutinised before. This illusion had already been there ever since Touya-sensei walked in on the game, and it didn't cease throughout the entire study group, or even after the study group dispersed when Touya gave him a puzzled look as he left when the neither Hikaru nor the Meijin moved from their seats.
"That which happened a while ago…that pressure, whose was it?"
Of course he would ask whose it was, Hikaru thought, tensed. It must have been obvious that it wasn't me. Sai was still oblivious to the dilemma his host was facing, and Hikaru found himself renewing his envy of Sai's "unfortunate" inability be seen, and the fact that Sai could do whatever he wanted and not be pressed in awkward circumstances for answers regarding someone only he could see.
He had three options. The first was to say nothing at all, but that would not resolve a thing. Hikaru knew that Touya-sensei was not the kind of person who would force someone unwilling to speak. If anything, he was the kind who would sit and wait patiently until the other party began to feel guilty for making such a nice person wait so long.
The second option was to lie, to feed him a convincing lie that Hikaru had no doubt he'd have to weave right there and then and such lies were simply way beyond Hikaru's present – and possibly future – lying abilities to exist. In fact, Hikaru couldn't see the point in lying to Touya-sensei about anything Go related. If anything, Touya-sensei had the uncanny ability to see through any lie that might have the word "Go" scrawled all across it, and Sai was…well, Sai was practically made of Go.
The third option was something Hikaru really did not want to accept, but as fate would have it, it wasn't his choice to make.
"There is…someone else inside of me," Hikaru began quietly, his eyes never leaving his chipped nails which he suddenly found very interesting. "No, that's not right. There is someone else only I can see."
"Am I right to assume that this…someone else…was playing white?"
Ah, so the Meijin had seen and remembered their game. It would make it a lot easier for Hikaru to explain now that the Meijin was aware – or at least seemed somewhat accepting – that Hikaru was not the only one playing that game. Hikaru knew that the older man would understand to some extent, because that was just how Touya-sensei's nature was, but he never expected this kind of acceptance for the seemingly unbelievable.
Had it been Ogata, Hikaru thought wryly, and then shuddered. If it had been Ogata to whom he told that to, he wasn't sure if he would be able to leave without sitting through at least ten traumatising games between Sai and the getting-less-creepy-but-still-creepy man, all of them demanded, obviously, by Ogata. If it had been Touya, the other boy would probably scream into his face and ask – still screaming, of course – why he hadn't told him that earlier. All that done out of earshot of his parents, naturally. If it had been anyone else, Hikaru couldn't really see them caring enough to either try to understand or be bothered to react in any way other than carting him off to the nearest mental hospital.
But it wasn't just anyone else he was speaking to, and that was what mattered, because anything that hasn't happened and isn't happening is not going to make much of a difference to him now.
"Yes," Hikaru whispered, barely daring to look up.
"What," Touya-sensei started, his voice a little uncertain, "or who is it?"
For the first time since this incredibly awkward conversation began, which was a really long time considering the long lapses of silence in between, Sai noticed Hikaru's surreptitious glance at him, and told him: Tell him. I want him to know.
In that brief moment, Hikaru understood. Sai was lonely, and despite how much Hikaru himself had grown, how much he let Sai play NetGo, everything still wasn't enough to satisfy Sai's desire…no, need…to play. He had seen this coming, but he had to say he was not prepared for how much it hurt. Ever since the ghost first appeared to him the idea that he was somehow special to the childish, thousand year old man had taken root in his mind. It wasn't hard to, since he was the only person who could actually see him, and that alone was more than enough to make him special.
However, more than craving company, Sai wanted to play. His love for Go was astounding, if the fact that he was given more than just another chance to dedicate what little life he had to playing the game was anything to go by. It took another person who had made Go his everything, or close to everything, and had achieved skill on a level rivalling Sai's own to satiate Sai's apparent need to play. In that moment when Sai pleaded him to reveal his ghostly existence to the Meijin, Hikaru understood, and resigned himself to the fact that he would never be the one to be Sai's rival, not that he had ever really tried to be, but he liked to keep his options open.
Perhaps Hikaru could find a rival in Touya, who by any far stretch of imagination shouldn't be too far behind him to be unable to catch up. When Sai spoke to him in that maddeningly calm yet intense voice, Hikaru abandoned the thought of catching up to Sai and to have Sai acknowledge him as a rival before it even formed, deciding that it would be hopeless to try. There was no reason to try anyway. Sai had Touya-sensei, and so long as neither of them suddenly decided to die on each other, it would likely stay this way for all eternity.
Yes, Hikaru had Touya. Touya wasn't where he was yet, and this much Hikaru could finally admit without breaking into nervous sweat, but Touya could get there, even if Hikaru had to slow down and wait for him. Hikaru realised that he just didn't want to be alone as he worked his way up the ladder of Go skill, and using Touya like this would no doubt make the other boy mad, but he had never felt this alone before, not when he held back against others, not when he tried to go all out but simply couldn't, not when he hid behind the mask of FUJIWARA, and certainly not when Sai trashed him like he wasn't even worth looking at. He didn't feel lonely then, because Sai, the person who had introduced him to and taught him Go, had always been there to cheer him on or nag him incessantly to get rid of his hesitance.
The suddenness with which he was struck by the epiphany that he had to share Sai, which had never happened before due to obvious reasons, was painful to say the least. He would be lying if he said that he wasn't afraid to lose his friend, but he would be lying even more if he said that he didn't fear for his sanity regarding anything to do with Go. He could very well lose his mentor if Sai got too wrapped up in his games with Touya-sensei, and then he would lose his very valuable source of Go tutorage and he would be all alone when playing Go, something he had never experienced. He silently thanked whatever it was that put Touya right next to him, never mind the fact that at present, Touya wasn't as close to him in skill as he would have liked.
Hikaru almost laughed to himself. He never realised Sai to be this important to him. Sai had always been a constant presence; one that he hardly noticed was separate from himself anymore. But this conversation wasn't about him. It was about Sai, and what Sai wanted. He was willing to give in that much. Sai had told him that he needed to play with others more, that he needed to play with others at his best. If letting go of Sai, the only person he let go of all restraints with, was the only way he could force himself to achieve that, then so be it.
Ironically, though, it wasn't too long ago that he wanted to play someone else other than Sai simply because the ghost just couldn't refrain from achieving overwhelming victory when playing him when he was at his best. But whatever happened then happened then. For now, he steadied his voice, and brought his eyes up to meet Touya-sensei's.
"His name is Sai."
Kouyo felt his eyebrows rise by a fraction of a centimetre. He might be computer illiterate, but that didn't mean that he hadn't heard that name before. It was just a while earlier when Ashiwara came in that the talk about NetGo actually began, and Kouyo heard the name SAI for the first time. Shindou-kun was, as he observed, too caught up in whatever the subject of his thoughts was to be paying much attention to the pre-lesson conversation to remember a thing of it.
Ashiwara nearly tumbled into the room with excitement, jabbering away excitedly about some person on NetGo making a comeback after not appearing online for months. Indeed, Ashiwara had been doing that for a week or two now. Kouyo, naturally, was not very interested in the subject – though Ogata-kun definitely was, for reasons unknown to him – until the young man mentioned that this individual was highly skilled, and in fact had managed to "update" his or her outdated playing style to something more relevant, something equivalent to a modern day Shuusaku. That piqued Kouyo's interest, especially after witnessing a very unorthodox game that Shindou-kun had been engrossed in just minutes earlier.
"Is this person the very same Sai that has been on NetGo recently?"
The boy looked mildly surprised by the question. Kouyo didn't know if it had more to do with the fact that he made a connection or that he was even slightly in the know about NetGo and all things gloriously electronic.
"I'm glad that you already guessed," the boy said, with a small smile almost tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Is there anything else that I should know about…or anything you else you want me to know about?"
Shindou-kun's eyes shifted to his side, as if holding a silent conversation with an invisible and unheard companion. He seemed to be debating rather heatedly, if the creases in his brows and fierceness in his eyes were any indication at all. Kouyo looked on, slightly amused, as the boy bit his lip every now and then, his eyes flashing dangerously at one point, before conceding and turning back to face the older man.
"Sai wants me to tell you that he would like to have a game with you," Shindou-kun said, twisting uncomfortably in his cushion, his fingers wringing tersely.
"Then, a game he shall get," Kouyo replied calmly, "although I would like to get to know him better."
Shindou-kun sat unnaturally quietly for a moment before relaying, "Sai says that he would be honoured to make your acquaintance, and from what I can make of his…ramblings, sensei, Sai is very excited to play you. I believe we should begin now, or he'll have my head. We can talk about this later." The boy shuffled in his seat and rubbed the back of his neck slowly, as if to ease the stiffness in it.
"A pleasure," Kouyo said. "Nigiri?"
The boy paused for a moment and then reached to take a fistful of white stones, moving to sprawl them on the goban after Kouyo drew two black stones from the container of black Go stones.
"Sai, you're black," the boy whispered under his breath, so softly that Kouyo nearly missed it. When the Meijin looked up he immediately startled. The concentration the boy displayed for a game not his own – or so the boy claimed – was stunning. Gone was the fidgety boy and in his place sat one whose eyes were trained on nothing but the board, even though no hands had yet been played. Kouyo suspected that Shindou-kun hadn't really intended to say anything and that it had only been a slip because the boy was simply too absorbed in the to-be game to be concerned with anything else.
Kouyo felt himself smile. With this kind of concentration, the boy was sure to go far. However, there were more pressing matters at hand so Kouyo, with all the calmness taught by age, inclined his head and said, "Please."
Shindou-kun peered at him briefly from under his bangs and said curtly, as if impatient to get it over, "Please."
Kouyo didn't know what to think then. Perhaps it was the way he couldn't see his opponent bow before the game began nor speak the word that would start the game, or perhaps it was the iron in the boy's voice, but no matter what it is, it seemed as if Shindou-kun himself was playing the game as well.
Kouyo paused briefly to look intently at the child in front of him. At that moment, he almost forgot that his opponent wasn't this mere child of 13, because the passion hidden within the boy's eyes was threatening to consume him. As quickly as he noticed this, however, it vanished, and all that was left was the sight of Shindou-kun kneeling respectfully in seiza with his eyes hard and focused on the goban in front of him. Kouyo shook his head. Perhaps it was just a trick of light, he thought. But somewhere in him something was ignited and a quiet hiss he ignored defiantly insisted almost too softly to be heard that it wasn't just an illusion.
The man realised, just barely, that it wasn't just the mysterious Sai that he wanted to learn more about, but also this enigma of a boy sitting in front of him who wasn't at all what he seemed, if only for the fact that he was the only one who could speak to Sai.
Nothing Sai did could contain his excitement. He had waited so long for this moment when Touya Kouyo, the man who stood at the very top of Japan's Go world, would play with him and acknowledge him as Sai, not as an extension of Hikaru. Of course, Sai thought with glee and some pride, I wouldn't expect someone like him to make such a mistake. He is the one who will rival me, after all.
From the increasingly frequent opportunities that Sai had to observe Touya Kouyo and yearn for the game he could – and would – give him, the ghost had come to a conclusion that the man, while intimidating and aloof in many general aspects, was particularly observant and treaded lightly when dealing with very personal matters, the current most significant one being Hikaru's revelation of Sai to him, which Sai had rather goaded him into.
But that aside, Sai could not find it in himself to care for the awkwardness of the situation that Hikaru was no doubt feeling. He knew it was despicable of him to brush Hikaru's concerns aside so easily like that, especially when Hikaru had been nothing but indulgent towards most of Sai's selfish whims to play Go, but he couldn't help it. The opportunity to play Touya Kouyo did not just present itself to anyone at any given time. A part of Sai was still unable to come to complete grips with the fact that Touya Kouyo had agreed to play him, Sai. It was too surreal to be true.
Letting out a breath he didn't know he had been holding – indeed, a breath he didn't know was possible for him to hold in his immaterial body – Sai scrambled to settle himself as close to Hikaru as possible, if only to assume a position as similar to one he would if he had been corporeal and if he didn't need Hikaru to place his stones for him. He wanted to stare into Touya Kouyo's intense eyes and feel his aura rolling off him in waves. He wanted to know what it was like – what it would be like – if he actually played Touya Kouyo as a living, breathing individual. He wanted to soak in the game like he could if he was alive.
Sai gave himself a small, rueful smile. He was already dead. There was no way he could make Touya Kouyo actually play him like he was really sitting there on the cushion in front of him and glare at him like he would a visible opponent. Bitterly, Sai mused that there was no point crying over spilt milk, especially since he had been the one who had toppled the glass over and went on to kill his own self. Having this opportunity to play Touya Kouyo, and, in fact, having this opportunity to play Go again after his own death, had been something he did not deserve. He should savour it for all it was worth and thank whatever powers that granted him these gifts.
He shook the thoughts out of his head. It wasn't like him to dwell on such depressing matters. It wasn't like him to resent anything…except for the occasional denial by Hikaru to let him play Go…but he drew the line there. Nothing short of being denied the chance to play would get him whiny and acerbic. Sai didn't even know he had it in himself to become like that until he met Hikaru, since no one actually tried to deny him when he was alive, and Torajirou always let him play.
Sai noticed, with a slight wince, that Touya Kouyo was looking not at him but at Hikaru. It was expected, of course, but that didn't mean that it wouldn't pain him. It was almost disconcerting that the man was looking at Hikaru with blazing eyes instead of at Sai himself, his true opponent for this game. Sai did not like feeling left out or unnoticed, but one who has lived as a ghost for nearly 30 years – and spent nearly a thousand as a spirit trapped in a goban – tended to get used to it, or rather, he had to get used to it, or he'd have gone quite mad with the lack of interaction with the rest of the world.
Awkwardly, Sai tried to make himself comfortable and barely noticed Hikaru whispering to him that he had the first hand. Steeling himself to face Touya Kouyo, who had apparently given up eyeing Hikaru and had turned his eyes to the goban, Sai tightened his grip around his fan. He watched with little actual attention as Hikaru and Touya Kouyo exchanged pleasantries. It was like looking through a heavy fog. Nothing felt real. It was like he was sitting on cloud nine and peering down on Hikaru and the man Sai would soon play. Clumsily, Sai bowed as well, and whispered his own quiet Please, which went unnoticed by a suddenly fiercely focused Hikaru and a calm, yet intensely contemplative Touya Kouyo, who wouldn't have heard him even if he strained to, much to Sai' eternal chagrin.
Hikaru bowing for him and assuming responsibility to utter niceties for him before a game was nothing new, but somehow, against Touya Kouyo, Sai didn't want him to. Hikaru wasn't the one playing the game. It was Sai. Sai wanted to do it himself and be the one that Touya Kouyo set his hard, determined eyes upon. He didn't want Hikaru setting his stones for him, playing for him. He wanted to play for himself, to hold the stones in his hands, play with them for a little, before setting them down on the cool, hard goban with a satisfying 'pachi'. He wanted to assert himself as a player before Touya Kouyo. But as his hand slipped through the container of Go stones, Sai let loose a frustrated sigh and had to content himself with calling out his moves which only Hikaru could hear. It did not take any of the frustration away, not in the least, when the Meijin spared a very brief glance at Hikaru with silent curiosity before dropping his head down to focus fully on his game with Sai, and Sai knew that glance was saved for Hikaru, and Hikaru alone.
Sometimes, Sai really hated this cursed "life" he led. He'd rather be dead than have his opponent stolen from him by a mere 13 year old, but he clung on. Hikaru wouldn't steal Touya Kouyo away from him. Not as long as he, Fujiwara no Sai, still existed, ghostly spectre that only one person could see or not.
And besides, loathed as Sai was to admit, he loved Hikaru dearly. He'd be more hurt to know that it was Hikaru who stole Touya Kouyo from him than he would be about Touya Kouyo no longer being his rival. He'd die immediately – no, vanish, perhaps, since ghosts can't really die anymore, not when they've already died once and it would undoubtedly be a strange experience to die again – if that happened, because Hikaru, like Torajirou, was a life, and so much more precious than his desire to play Go. It was a concept Sai barely dared to wrap his mind around, but he had, and he was going to accept it. He would not make the same mistake of playing Go until his host died. Never again.
Readying himself, Sai let go of all his thoughts and forced himself to think only about his game. He couldn't afford to lose concentration here.
Two masters facing off was a sight to behold, and Hikaru counted himself lucky to be sitting there in the middle of all the action. As much action as there can be when the only twitch of muscles served to place a stone no larger than a coin. Hikaru was suffocating under the immense, combined pressure of Touya-sensei's and Sai's fighting spirit, and, strangely, his own, which wafted in delicate tendrils to avoid being crushed by the other two's. He ought to be dreaming.
But he wasn't. He could feel Sai's anticipation and Touya-sensei's determination, and the feeling of his legs fading away into numbness under him definitely wasn't false either. Even if he was hallucinating, he would be silly to allow his legs to lose their feeling like that. Hikaru could hardly wait for Sai to begin. His fingers were already hovering above the box of stones, just itching to take one out and place it with an echoing 'pachi'. Trembling with contained excitement, Hikaru pushed his hand into the stones and grasped one between his fingers.
Anytime now, Sai, Hikaru thought, his hand lifted from the stones.
At that very moment, Sai's whisper resounded like crashing waves in his ears, Upper left star.
Hikaru eyed the Meijin nervously when the game concluded with a very anti-climatic end. Sai had bested Touya-sensei by a large margin. Hikaru wasn't expecting any large score gap, and this had left him unexpectedly speechless. Knowing Sai's utter inability to hold back when playing – even against Hikaru, the boy mused – had left Hikaru with the impression that Sai would somehow find a way to have an easy win, because it seemed that Touya-sensei had not been expecting someone of Sai's calibre, and had merely been testing the waters during the opening hands, and although he was quick to realise Sai's capability and change his strategy, his earlier folly had left him rather behind Sai by then.
Sai, on the other hand, had been ecstatic to play the Meijin, and his aura flared more violently than it had in the numerous times Hikaru had the unfortunate luck to experience its crushing weight firsthand. He was wincing all throughout the game until he managed to get somewhat accustomed to the weight to stop flinching whenever it flicked itself against him at random moments. Unfortunately for him, that wasn't until the most intense parts of the game were over.
It wasn't until long after the last hand had been placed that Sai showed any indication of stepping out of his trance-like state. Sai arched his back like the early waxing crescent and tilted his head backward, leaving the whiteness of his neck open and exposed. His brows furrowed furiously toward each other with his clear, purple eyes tightly closed, tension apparent on his agelessly young face. His lips no longer curved into the giddy, childish smile Hikaru just had to associate with the Go-obsessed ghost but instead lifted at their corners, as if in a hidden grimace. His hand was clasped firmly around his fan and his knuckles had long since turned an unhealthy shade of white that was even paler than his already light complexion – something not known to be possible until then.
Hikaru turned away from the visage of Sai that was a stranger to him. Sai had never been like this. He wasn't exactly sure what was running through Sai's mind at that moment, and had no way to draw the ghost from his self-imposed posture of muted agony, an image the complete opposite of what he was prior to the game.
Suddenly, Hikaru heard a quiet voice, and startled, Tell him. Tell him that next time, I want him playing me seriously right from the beginning.
Hikaru gulped and faced Touya-sensei who was staring contemplatively at the goban, his chest heaving a little as if out of breath and seemed to be looking for something he might have missed during the game. His eyes held no hint of regret for having lost the game so badly. Softly, Hikaru cleared his throat, and said, "Touya-sensei."
Touya-sensei raised his head to look at Hikaru, who shifted nervously. "What is it, Shindou-kun?"
"Sai said…" Hikaru started, but his mouth suddenly feeling parched and dry, and it seemed as if no words could slip past it into the air and to Touya-sensei. He licked the inside of his mouth cavity, closed his eyes, gulped and shuddered to a calm, then resumed his words, "Sai said that he would like you to play his seriously from the very beginning the next time you play him."
To his credit, Touya-sensei did not look the least bit surprised, and answered immediately, "If he can hear me, then he will understand the words I am about to say. One who hides in the shadows can never truly attain the Hand of God."
Hikaru's eyes grew to the size of his fist, and, forgetting his earlier discomfort in front of the Meijin, abruptly shot up to hotly defend Sai, ignoring the absolute lack of sensation in his legs that told him he was going to lose his precarious balance anytime, "Sai never asked to go unnoticed! He didn't ask to have to hide himself!"
The Meijin merely raised an eyebrow. "Then he must be here for a reason other than to play the Hand of God."
Beside Hikaru, Sai snapped out of his thoughts and cast a pair of wild, distressed eyes toward the Meijin.
This story is writing itself! This chapter (and the last part of chapter 10, and probably the first part of chapter 12) wasn't even supposed to exist. It kind of simply happened on its own. I have the entire story planned out, and this didn't even come close to anything in the scaffold. Hikaru really is one unpredictable child…anyway, this story will still continue as planned (mostly) until I finally decide that yes, it is time to end this. It won't be anytime soon, so you'll have to bear with me if this takes years to accomplish. I'll just sit back and watch where this story takes me. I have revised the scaffold a few times already, so it wouldn't come as too much of a surprise if this story takes an unprecedented turn and throws me off completely. -Laughs- I'll be looking forward to that if (when?) it happens. It's always so fun – albeit rather frightening – when the characters do things different from the original plans. I'll be making use of this twist in events to further emphasise on certain things, but otherwise, not many large changes will occur.
But, to answer a question you might have after this chapter, I should say to you now that I have no plans to revive Sai or give him a body. I'm just saying this because Sai's internal monologue seemed…to indicate some sort of resentment toward his current state of being, and might hint (incorrectly) that I would revive him to resolve this issue.
The next chapter should be up within half a year, if nothing unforeseen (such as failing my exams) happens. I look forward to continuing this story! Really, I do. I'll see this story through till the end. It's my first Hikaru no Go fan fiction and I don't want to abandon it.
Seriyuu: No matter what happens, Hikaru and Akira will still be friends, but I assure you, Hikaru's experience with Go will be pretty intense even if Akira isn't around as his rival. Hikaru is just special in a way that just makes everything so much more interesting, no matter where he is or what situation he is in.
silverXshadow: Your take on the Hikaru, Sai and Touya-Meijin relationship is very interesting. I don't think many have thought of things the way you did. I think you may be pleased with the series of events that will be presented in…many chapters down the road. -Laughs- You'll just have to wait.
To everyone else annoyed with Hikaru: -cringe- I'm sorry he's like this, but that's what gave this story a story in the first place. The reason I'm introducing Touya-Meijin to be a main supporting character of sorts is to help him along somewhat, if Sai disappears and/or Akira is unable to become Hikaru's rival. Even if Touya-Meijin can't do anything about Hikaru's Go since Sai already fills that post, at least, being an older and (supposedly) wiser man, he should be able to give Hikaru some advice to improve his unhealthy lack of confidence and over-empathy. Hikaru needs to harden himself, but Sai is a big softie (when he is not, he's terribly frightening) and Akira is just as old as Hikaru is, so he lacks a certain measure of experience which Touya-Meijin can provide. I'm trying to surround Hikaru on all sides, with Sai as his Go mentor, Akira as his friend, and Touya-Meijin as…well…I'm not quite sure, but someone to help him regain some measure of confidence that's crucial to survive in the professional Go world. Before anyone asks, yes, I do intend for Hikaru to go pro, but that might not be for a while.