A/N: Last but not least – Many thanks to Amarthame for making this story possible the way it is.
For the first time in his life, Hikaru's nerves were showing during a game of Go. It was strange – he had just managed to get through four consecutive days of games against the world's top amateur players. And he hadn't had any problems then, finally winning the title of World Amateur Go Champion (1) yesterday. But now on the fifth day, when everything was over already, he grew nervous in a way he had never been before or during a game.
Well, it might be because he was facing Touya Kisei across the goban.
It wasn't a game that would influence any rating or any title. It was one of many games that pros were playing against amateurs in the large tournament hall in Mayabeshima. The fifth and last day of the WAGC was there for the pros, who had refereed the eight tournament rounds, to mingle amongst the amateurs. It was supposed to be an opportunity for everyone to get to know the pros' human side, and to see what they were really like across the Goban instead of their teaching personalities.
And the game Touya Kisei was currently playing with him definitely was no teaching game. Why though was Hikaru almost buckling under the weight of it? Shouldn't this be a welcome challenge?
Hikaru hadn't felt pressured like that since his last game against seiji more than a year ago. That game had been the start of it all, of a month of various people trying to convince him to turn pro. And seiji had been one of the most adamant. Ogata Tengen had even gone so far as to state an ultimatum after Hikaru's first amateur tournament. Either Hikaru became pro or seiji wouldn't play with him anymore
Although he hadn't thought so at first, Hikaru was realizing more and more just how heavy a blow seiji had dealt him there, because Hikaru had no intention of turning pro anytime soon. seiji was an opponent that Hikaru truly looked up to. After Sai's disappearance, seiji had somehow taken the ghost's spot as a goal to strive for. seiji had become his motivation to continue and improve his Go.
seiji had almost become a life-line during those first few, hard months after Sai's disappearance.
In the beginning, he had just laughed it off, not willing to acknowledge seiji's ultimatum. Actually, he had flat-out refused to give in to those unreasonable demands. But the longer seiji stayed adamant, the more Hikaru realized just how much he missed the incredible challenge the pro had provided.
That was, until Touya Kisei had asked to play him less than an hour ago.
Touya Kisei's style was different from Ogata Tengen's, less… less edgy and less prickly. On the surface, Touya's play was very straightforward, but there was a tricky undertow that was very difficult to read. Hikaru was holding on by the skin of his teeth, struggling to find those impossible hands deshi, and lately Hikaru, too, had become famous for.
Hikaru knew he had a knack for spotting moves that led to paths which were so convoluted that most of his opponents failed to catch on until it was far too late. Touya though… The Kisei had managed to circumvent most traps at a point when they could still be eroded from beneath, and he even managed to turn one or two against Hikaru. And Hikaru wasn't doing well in other areas of the game, either.
He didn't dare look beyond the square plane of the goban because Touya's stoic and absolutely calm face threatened to destroy the rest of his confidence. Gritting his teeth, he closed his eyes for a moment.
What was he doing? Why couldn't he just play the Kisei like he had played everyone else before? Why did he let his nerves influence him so much? After all, he knew he had played against Ogata Tengen before, and he hadn't had any problems facing the other title-holder over the Net.
He had to calm down and concentrate on the board. Not on the Kisei, not on why Touya had challenged him, not on how much this game meant to him. It was just him and the board, and until the battle was decided nothing else mattered.
Sai had taught him better than to lose focus like that.
When he opened his eyes again, the stones hadn't moved from their places. They were still in early middle game, and he wasn't holding up well against Touya Kisei's attacks, having been forced to concede a lot of territory on several occasions. It was still too early to tell, but Hikaru thought that the gap between the two of them was about 10 moku, and it was threatening to widen even more. At least it wasn't the complete disaster his very first game against seiji had been…
What if he tried to split that loose border group at the lower edge? If he managed to exert some influence there, it would strengthen his group directly above and Hikaru could go into the battle for the center with some support from the lower left and the corner.
He carefully initiated a ko-fight that he had no intention of winning, in order to disguise that his invasion at the lower edge was anything more than simple ko-threats. And for five hands, Touya played along.
Then, on the sixth hand, Touya abandoned the ko-fight and instead went after one of Hikaru's groups on the lower right side.
For several long minutes, Hikaru was completely perplexed. He couldn't see what Touya would gain from such an attack. The group was alive already and connected to…
Hikaru suddenly looked up. Why was Touya going after that connection? The Kisei's face didn't give anything away. Was Touya simply trying to isolate that group, or was that move part of a much more intricate plan?
Carefully, Hikaru continued playing and, gradually, he saw his efforts pay off. And Touya Kisei reacted by pushing even harder, which spurred Hikaru to new heights. The farther the game progressed, the more involved the Kisei seemed to become, so much that it was even noticeable through his stoic façade.
But in the end, Hikaru's bad play in the beginning proved to be his downfall.
Hikaru bowed his head in defeat. Try as he might, he couldn't see a way to close the gap that had shrunk to seven moku between them. "I have nothing."
"Thank you for the game," they both mumbled at the same time, still staring at the board. It was a good game, but not a brilliant one due to Hikaru taking so long to get into it.
Finally, Touya raised his head. "This is your first time playing a higher dan face to face, isn't it?"
"Yes." After having played so many games against other amateurs, he hadn't thought that there was such a huge difference between playing face-to-face and playing over the Internet.
Until now, he had gone into his Real-Life games with a relaxed attitude and had come out of them just as relaxed. Sure, there were a few people who had come close to defeating him. And Hikaru had lost to Meihyou-san in the finals of the Tokyo City Championship, but Hikaru had caught some kind of stomach bug and hadn't been able to concentrate properly on that day.
Hikaru always gave it his all in every game. But he hadn't seen why he couldn't have played those games over the Internet just as well.
Now though… After facing that seemingly insurmountable wall of a presence that Touya Kisei radiated, he knew what the difference was. He had seen how much Touya's mere existence had influenced his game.
Somehow, that reminded Hikaru of Sai.
Not the Sai who goofed around or who played shidou-go with him. No, Hikaru was reminded of the few games they had played where both of them had been absolutely serious.
On the other hand, it had been quite unlike playing Sai, too. Throughout their years together, Hikaru had become so accustomed to Sai's Go that, half of the time, he had been able to predict Sai's next moves (finding a counter for them had been a different matter however). Touya Kisei though was a new opponent whose style Hikaru had had to get used to first. Although Hikaru had studied Touya's kifus before and would be able to recognize the pro's style just about anywhere, it was a completely different matter to be faced with that kind of Go.
And, well, Hikaru couldn't really deny that he had a slight case of hero-worship. Try as he might, he had to admire the titleholder's sheer strength and brilliance.
"You have once again become stronger," the man stated calmly.
Hikaru did his best not to start preening at Touya's praise. "Eh, I have? I don't think my play at the beginning deserves that much."
"But you managed to pull yourself together and play a great game in the end. Tell me, do you remember what I told you a year ago?" The Kisei's stare was penetrating.
Hikaru was so focused on him that he didn't notice the audience that had gathered during their game and continued lingering and discussing their strategies. Over the course of more than 10 amateur tournaments during the past year, Hikaru had learned to ignore everything but the board and his opponent.
And of course Hikaru still remembered what Touya Kisei had told him. The pro had left a lasting impression by showing so much understanding for Hikaru's situation. It had been Touya Kisei who had made Hikaru acknowledge that, first and foremost, it was Hikaru who needed to be happy with his decision of whether to turn pro or not. And if cooking ramen was so important to him, then the pro-world had to come second.
But Hikaru couldn't imagine why Touya would still remember that conversation.
Contrary to seiji's refusal to play Hikaru again, Touya Kisei hadn't interrupted his routine of coming to Igo Ramen once a month. But the pro had never given any signs that he saw Hikaru as anything else than the strange, Go-obsessed ramen chef he was. Touya had acted as if that talk had never happened, and so Hikaru had gone back to their old routine of giving the pro a conversation partner who could talk about things other than Go and, if necessary, carry on the conversation alone.
But if Touya had remembered all that time, why did it take so long for him to mention it once again? For that matter, why did he mention it now?
Hikaru nodded, curious as to what the pro was trying to get at. "Yes, I remember. It's the reason I appeared before the public with my Go. I don't think I've yet had the opportunity to thank you for that."
A slight smile tilted Touya's lips upwards. "Ah. Still in love with ramen, I see. So, how has your love for Go come along? Tell me, have you heard of the Hand of God?"
Hikaru turned pale. The 'Hand of God' was an expression he had never expected to hear again, not even from a Go player. Sai had been chasing after it until his death – disappearance, whatever. But Hikaru had thought that it was just an expression Sai had coined. He certainly had never heard anything about a Hand of God anywhere else. How did Touya know about it? Was it more well-known than Hikaru had thought? Or was it merely a coincidence, a case of two different things having the same label?
Carefully he asked, "And what is this Hand of God to you?"
Touya frowned slightly, probably reading Hikaru's unease. "The Hand of God is a concept players have been striving for for centuries. It is the one perfect move, the ultimate goal to aim for with every hand. But you already seem familiar with it."
Hikaru couldn't do anything but nod. "Yes. Until the day he died, my teacher had been chasing after it. But since he was quite… old-fashioned, I didn't know if you were talking about the same concept."
For the first time, Touya seemed surprised. "Your teacher knew of the Hand of God? He must have been a remarkable man. So, if he was chasing after kami no itte, what is your reason to get stronger? You know, you are nearing a point at which you need to make a decision. You only have three more years that you can take the exam. Should you ever decide to do so, there are people waiting for you."
The pro tilted his head slightly to the right and stared intently at something that was behind Hikaru. When he followed Touya's gaze, Hikaru almost swallowed his tongue upon seeing Ogata Tengen's retreating back cutting through the audience that had assembled around their goban.
What in the world was Ogata 9-dan doing here? Ogata hadn't been one of the pros overseeing the tournament, and Hikaru was quite sure he would have spotted that eye-catching white suit if he had been there for any other reason during the past four days. No, the pro must have arrived this morning.
And had Ogata Tengen just been watching their game? He thought seiji didn't want to have anything to do with him unless he turned pro?
Hikaru turned back and looked at Touya incredulously. The pieces fit together to paint a mind-boggling picture, but Hikaru was loath to even consider such a self-centered view.
Touya nodded in response. Hikaru didn't know whether that was to say, yes, Ogata Tengen was really looking forward to playing him as a pro or, yes, Ogata Tengen had indeed come to Mayabeshima to see the game between Hikaru and Touya.
As far as Hikaru knew, Mayabeshima was in the middle of nowhere (the WAGC organizers tried to show the participants Japan's more rural countryside), so Ogata couldn't have appeared just because 'he was in the vicinity'. Ogata must have come solely for the WAGC.
But why did a pro care about an amateur tournament when he wasn't scheduled for it by the Nihon Ki-in?
No. Hikaru firmly decided that he wasn't going to think about that anymore, lest he get a big head. There probably were plenty of reasons for Ogata's presence, none of them concerning Hikaru.
"Think about it," the Kisei encouraged. "You have the talent. But for the last step, talent isn't enough. You need to have a purpose. Find the purpose of your Go, and then decide how you can realize it best in your future. Thank you for the game."
Hikaru automatically repeated the phrase, but his mind was whirring frantically. Just like last time, Touya Kisei had hit the nail on the head. Hikaru's Go was aimless. Why was he playing at all?
Because he was good at it? Not much of a reason.
Because he didn't have any other hobbies? That was sad but true. If he didn't have Go to fill his evenings with, he would be quite bored.
Because playing Go every day had become an ingrained habit, some leftover remnants from Sai's days once again? Because it was something to remind him of Sai?
Well, at least it was something to fill the hole Sai had left behind. Hikaru had spent nearly three months in a depressed haze before he had accidentally stumbled across seiji, and seiji had quickly taken Sai's spot of being someone he could test his strength against. Hikaru had burned with a desire to show seiji that he could do better.
Was that the reason for his Go? To chase after Sai substitutes in a futile attempt to reach the ghost? But what would happen if he finally caught up with those substitutes? Did he really want to catch up at all? And, most importantly, was he able to do that with the way he was playing now?
He missed Touya Kisei getting up and moving away from their goban, and the rest of the day Hikaru walked around in a daze. He tried to keep his mind in the present, especially for those interviews he had to give as the new WAG Champion, but he kept drifting off to the Kisei's words.
After his somewhat unprepared start at last year's Amateur Meijin competition, he had quickly found a routine of dealing with reporters and the occasional TV crew. His easy-going nature made talking to them less than the chore it seemed to be for other players, and he had quickly gotten the hang of telling them exactly what they wanted to hear without giving away his private life.
Thankfully he hadn't made acquaintance yet with any really vile examples of that profession, those who took every word one said and turned them into as negative a light as possible, just to have one more shocking headline.
Despite being able to deal with the press easily now, it was good that he had finally followed Kimihara-san's advice and hired Igo Ramen's very first fulltime-employee. After winning the title today, he could practically bet that there would be plenty of reporters showing up in his diner, and although he had become good at getting rid of them as quickly as possible, it still took time. And without Yamaguchi-san to run the restaurant in his absence, a five-day-event like the WAGC would have cut a painful hole into Igo Ramen's finances.
After Hikaru's time with Old Mizuhara, the man had discovered his liking for taking on apprentices, and Yamaguchi was one of the generation that had just finished at Mizuhara's but weren't quite ready yet to start up their own business. Honestly, with the way things were going, Old Man Mizuhara would have to open another stall to have enough work for all his apprentices, current and former. At least Hikaru knew who to turn to for well-trained ramen chefs, should he need some more employees.
Hm, maybe he should look into getting an ex-insei as cashier, or at least someone who had a reasonable grasp on Go? Yamaguchi-san was a nice guy, and he really knew how to cook. However, both of them had decided that it would be better to offer the Go Special only on days Hikaru was in. Yamaguchi-san didn't know a thing about Go, and even if Hikaru clearly labeled everything and provided answer sheets, Yamaguchi wouldn't be able to deal with any questions that might arise.
He'd have to see how things turned out.
However, he kept getting distracted by mulling over the Kisei's words. Glances at the pro didn't reveal anything else, and Ogata Tengen had vanished as quickly as he had appeared. Hikaru mingled amongst the other amateurs, trying half-heartedly to break the language barrier of two people of different tongues trying to communicate in a third, since hardly any of the foreigners spoke Japanese well enough to hold a decent conversation. Hikaru was surprised by how much English he still remembered from school, and how much came back after only a short period of time.
The event ended before he even knew it. On his flight back to Tokyo, he finally had enough time to truly think about Touya's question. What purpose did his Go have? Or did it even have one?
Yes, at first glance, he had plenty of reasons. To teach others the love of the game (realized both in Igo Ramen and Heart of Stone), to have fun, to relax in the evening, to test himself against other people.
But underneath the underneath? What did Go truly mean to him?
Up until a year ago, he had to admit, he had merely tried to keep up the status quo he had achieved with Sai. During the days he had cooked ramen, and at night he had played on the internet. He had occasionally given teaching games at Heart of Stone, but he had never let on to his strength in the real world.
The only difference to his final years with Sai was that Hikaru had played all the games by himself, and that he'd had to keep up with the Go world on his own instead of absorbing that kind of information through Sai's excited babble. Otherwise, nothing had changed at all until nearly a year ago, when he had finally decided to participate in amateur tournaments.
But had that really changed anything?
He had continued playing in those tournaments like he had played on the Net: relaxed and not going all out most of the time. He kept on playing Go like he always had after Sai's death, wading through opponents that were less and less challenging, in order to find the few that still demanded his whole attention.
Why did his past feel so empty all of a sudden? The only truly memorable games of the last eight years had been those against seiji, maybe one against Arawaki-san, and that single one against Touya Kisei earlier that day. There had been some kind of… spark in them. He had felt really alive then, as if using every last percentage of his brain power for the very first time. Those games had spurred him on, forcing him to evolve to new heights in order to match his opponent. Those were games he kept analyzing, kept agonizing over if a single different hand might have been able to make a difference, kept trying to find other paths to victory. Those were games that went far beyond being mere games.
Sure, he remembered plenty of exciting games against other people, both on the Internet and in tournaments. His sixth round two days ago, for example, against the Korean representative in the WAGC. 19-year-old Pak Il-Sung's style had reminded him a bit of KingofGo on the Asian Go Server AGS. Not as arrogant, but nonetheless some startling similarities.
A few years ago, Hikaru'd had the pleasure of being flattened by KingofGo several times in a row – which was no wonder because a bit of research amongst Korean pro-kifu had turned up that the guy was none other than Ko Yeong-Ha, Korea's equivalent to Touya Akira. He wondered what it was with pros disguising themselves as amateurs on the Internet and displaying egos that were big enough for two.
Pak Il-Sung's Go had reminded Hikaru very much of that self-proclaimed KingofGo, more than it could have been explained by both of them coming from the same Korean school of Go. When Hikaru had asked Pak after the match, the young man admitted to having studied under Korea's premier Go player for the past two years. And that had shown in his style – Hikaru had rarely played such a tricky opponent.
But, while Hikaru's game against Pak had been great, Hikaru couldn't help but find it lacking when compared to the intensity of his game against Touya Kisei. Pak hadn't been able to build the aura Touya had exuded simply by being there; he hadn't even managed to match the pressure seiji had somehow projected across the Internet.
Looking back on those eight years after Sai's death, Hikaru had to realize that he wanted to play more such exciting games. And he didn't think he'd find them if he continued like he had before. At least, he hadn't in all that time. Maybe that was what the Hand of God was all about, striving for a higher purpose through pitting himself against the best of the best? After all, finding the one, perfect move was pretty much impossible if one didn't have an opponent whose skills demanded such a move.
He chuckled quietly. Less than a year ago, he had been convinced that he'd never show his Go offline, and now he was regretting that he couldn't play more pros. He really didn't know what he wanted, did he?
Well, he still had three years to decide; although, he didn't think it was much of a decision anymore. It almost seemed like fate was doing everything in its might to push him into the pro world; Ogata and Touya certainly were, each in their own unique manner.
But no matter which future he chose – it would be one where he could realize his Go. His need to play, his hunger for really good games, but also his love for teaching and sharing his knowledge. And in the end, that was all he needed to know.
Heh, maybe he had just discovered his inner Sai.
With a smile on his face, he let the roar of the jet engines lull him to sleep.
Hikaru nervously straightened the chairs of his very own noodle restaurant for the umpteenth time.
Ten minutes until the grand opening of Igo Ramen.
It had been a long and harrowing task to come this far. It had taken him nearly six months to get through all the bureaucratic red tape and those thrice-cursed health regulations to be allowed to open his own ramen restaurant. Convincing the bank to give him a loan as start-up capital had been the least of all hassle, mostly because Akari had taken a few days off from her economics classes at Tokyo U and helped him with the paper work.
Akari wasn't there yet, but she had promised that she'd come by after classes finished for the day. Old man Mizuhara had also promised that he'd come over later that day, and so had both his mother and his grandfather.
Hah, Hikaru would bet his entire first month's income that his grandfather was going to demand the Go Special.
Hikaru had managed to keep it a secret, and he had also made Mizuhara-san swear not to tell his grandfather that Igo Ramen was all about Go. Well, the name kind of gave it away, but Hikaru counted on the surprise factor that nobody would expect a noodle restaurant to actually promote Go.
There was plenty of Go décor around. Hikaru had put all his love for the game into it. Old Man Mizuhara had tried to tell him that there was such a thing as too much, but Hikaru thought he hadn't crossed that line yet.
He had distributed several issues of Go Weekly amongst the tables, had place mats with pictures of Go stones on them, and he had even bought a small magnetic goban which sat on the cash register at the moment. Instead of pictures, he had framed famous kifu, amongst them the Ear-reddening Game Sai had played as Hon'inbou Shuusaku. Most of those games, Hikaru could recreate without needing to look at the paper.
As soon as he saved up enough money, he planned on buying a TV and several videotapes with footage of as many tournaments as he could get his hands on. That should be something to entertain his customers – unless he also had to buy very expensive licenses to be allowed to show them in public. Well, he'd have to ask Akari. She knew stuff like that; heck, she was even studying it at university.
And maybe he'd even buy a real goban. A foldable one, but a real-sized board instead of the tiny magnetic one he currently had for his customers. He'd have to see how much demand there was.
He looked around. It was about time to heat both the noodle water and the broth to a point just shy of boiling, to prepare for his first customers. He also checked on his supply of fresh ramen, having prepared about the same amount of servings as Old Man Mizuhara did every day.
Old Man Mizuhara sold about 200 bowls a day, but Hikaru doubted he'd make that much. After all, he was only one single person, whereas Mizuhara always had at least a cashier and a second cook working at the same time. Hikaru had done his calculations with an average of 70 bowls a day. He'd come out even if he sold more than 54, and 70 gave him a nice profit to save for emergencies and bigger purchases. (2)
Well, he'd have to see how well business went. He was hoping for quite a few customers from the Japanese Go Association as it was only two streets away. There also were plenty of office buildings around, so the lunch rush was going to be big. Mizuhara's shop was in a more residential neighborhood, so the Old Man made his money mainly in the evenings.
Hikaru was really looking forward to what kind of crowd was going to frequent his Igo Ramen. He had distributed lots of flyers in the surrounding area with the help of his mother, and he'd put a few announcements of Igo Ramen's grand opening in the local newspapers.
If everything went well, Hikaru was going to move in above the restaurant. He'd need to sell at least 69 bowls a day if he wanted to be able to afford renting a small apartment in the same building. At the moment, he was still commuting from home, which took him about 90 minutes each way. Old Man Mizuhara had laughed at him and had told him that that was what he got for quitting at his ramen stand.
He looked at the big clock mounted high on the wall opposite the counter. Five more minutes until the grand opening.
He briefly leafed through the tsumego he had prepared for the Go Special. It had been Sai's idea to use Go in that fashion, and Sai had helped him create his first few problems of his own.
Although it was almost nine months now, Sai's absence still hurt. But, strangely enough, setting up Igo Ramen had managed to soothe some of his pain. He was just continuing what Sai and he had started, and it was surprisingly liberating to be able to fondly remember the ghost instead of flinching every time he heard the word 'Go'.
seiji had played a big role in that healing process, too. This tsumego, for example, had been adapted from his second game against seiji, two months ago. After losing to seiji the first time, he had wanted to take revenge for seiji's arrogant manner of talking down to him. But in their second game, seiji had defeated him just as effortlessly, and seiji had told him that the next time, Hikaru ought to place three stones.
The same three stones Hikaru had refused to place when playing Sai.
So, of course Hikaru wasn't going to place any stones whenever he met seiji again. And he'd prove once and for all that seiji wasn't as good a player as Sai had been.
Smiling slightly, Hikaru had to admit that he had ranted at his computer more than once when he had logged on and found out that seiji wasn't online yet again. Perhaps it was seiji's skill; perhaps it was seiji's elusiveness. Whatever it was – seiji had reawakened first Hikaru's interest in Go, and then his combative side. Not all amateurs were push-overs, and it was high time for seiji to realize that.
He was interrupted by the clock on the wall chiming eleven in the morning. Time to open Igo Ramen and start a new chapter in his life. He was his own boss now, and he'd show Old Man Mizuhara that he had no problems with managing his very own ramen restaurant. To think of it, Mizuhara had offered to buy him out when (when, not if!) Hikaru ran out of business. And the guys at Heart of Stone were betting on how long that would take. And although Akari had shown him how to do his own accounting a gazillion of times, she still thought he couldn't do it.
Argh, he hated it how everyone was underestimating him! He'd show them!
Freshly motivated with his self-pep-talk, he went to the door and turned the sign from 'Closed' to 'Open'. Then, he retreated once again behind his counter, excitedly watching alternately the clock and the door. Heh, the guys from Heart of Stone were going to be really surprised when they saw Igo Ramen. He wondered how many of them were going to show up today, but he was pretty sure that Kawai would force everyone to come – if Old Man Mizuhara didn't do so first. That man had a very loud organ that could convince the most reluctant guy, even if only through sheer volume.
The longer he had to wait for his very first customer, the more the effects of his pep-talk wore off.
Five minutes passed, then ten. He nervously shuffled his tsumego again, trying to see whether he had really judged their difficulties correctly. Then he had to lower the gas beneath his pot of miso broth because it was getting a bit too hot. Miso stock wasn't supposed to boil because that led to the separation of miso and fluid, and the stock lost its typical murky quality as the curdled soybean paste sank to the bottom.
The jingling of the wind chimes he had hung above the door startled him.
He looked up to see a middle-aged business man enter his restaurant and raise an eyebrow at all the Go décor.
Hikaru pasted a polite smile onto his face to hide how nervous he was serving his very first customer.
"Hello, welcome to Igo Ramen! How can I help you?"
(1): WAGC: It is very much unrealistic for Hikaru to be Japan's representative at the WAGC the following year already. I'm not sure how exactly the representative is chosen in Asian nations, but I assumed that it is done in a similar manner to the other countries. In the western world, the representatives are chosen by summing up the scores of important tournaments for five years running, and then the nation's player with the highest score gets to go to the WAGC. Since Hikaru has been amateur for only a year, he can't have gotten enough points to participate. Chalk that one up to artistic license.
(2) ramen bowl calculations: I looked up rents in Tokyo and estimated the production cost of a bowl of ramen, just to get a feel for whether a business like Hikaru's in such a central location was even feasible and how much he would have to sell approximately to be in the black. However, I didn't do a proper business calculation with purchase price, energy costs, loan interest, write-down, incidental expenses, business taxes, sales taxes, marketing costs, and whatever else one has to keep track of. So I might be completely off with my numbers, too.
A/N: Well, finally it is done. The story ends the same way as it began, and the two storylines finally meet up – in Igo Ramen. That probably was predictable, but I hope I at least made it interesting.
And, funny thing, just a few hours after I inserted Hikaru framing the Ear-reddening Game as wall-decoration for his newly opened Igo Ramen, I read the very same thing in esama's "My humble, unworthy self". So, yes, it apparently is possible for two authors to come up with the very same idea independently, and no, I didn't copy esama.
I hope I didn't bore you too much with Hikaru's ramblings about the purpose of his Go. However, I think this is a very, very important step before maybe becoming pro. As a pro, Go isn't only recreation and fun, but also a way to earn a livelihood. Unless one's purpose is strong enough, Go will be reduced to a way to make money – and that is something Hikaru really wants to avoid. He needs to decide how strong his love for Go and whatever else Go is to him, how far that will support him. And, sorry, that takes a lot of soul-searching.
Yes, I know, it is very mean of me to leave the present storyline open like that, but then again, I have said everything that I thought important. Hikaru finally jumped beyond the shadow Sai's death had thrown across his life, and in doing so, he discovered that maybe he was more similar to Sai than he had thought. I included some pretty strong hints that he is eventually going to turn pro, but I wanted to leave the option that he might also stay an amateur. I really hate it how good Go players staying amateur never seems to be an option, even when it's an AU where the history and the power balances have been shifted completely. At least my Hikaru is going make a well-informed decision instead of just going along with the flow of things because he doesn't have anything better to do.
Sequel – no. Definitely not. I have thoroughly exhausted my Igo Ramen muses, and I can't really think of anything worthwhile to tell after this. As you might have realized, I am very bad at continuative writing, thus the present-past format that shows only the most important snippets of Hikaru's life. And I can't see any way I could set up a similar situation in Hikaru's future. Maybe, if you're very lucky, you'll get a one-shot, but don't hold your breath. I don't have any inspiration for that yet, so you might still be waiting in twenty years. However, if you want to write a continuation / sequel / side story / one-shot, or just borrow Igo Ramen, feel free. Just drop me a PM so that I can read it too *g*.