AN EXORCISM, part 2

by Tari Gwaemir
"More time...I need more time."

"Here, catch!" Waya tossed a soda over to a startled Shindou, who fumbled for it and missed. He raised an eyebrow as he watched the other boy scramble after the rolling can.

"Thank you," Shindou said, rather breathless as he came back with the drink. He fiddled clumsily at the tab and looked bewildered when it snapped off in his hands. "Oh dear," he sighed, raising a hand to half-cover his open mouth.

Waya frowned and snatched the can away from him. "Idiot. One would think that you've never opened a soda can before."

"Ah, well–-"

"Huh, looks like it's a lost cause. You can have some of mine, if you want."

"It's fine, Waya-kun. I'll do without."

Waya glanced at him sharply. "You've been hanging around that Touya too much. You're beginning to sound like him."

"Eh? But we only play a game every other day--"

"Every other day?!" Waya exclaimed. "I'm surprised your schedules even allow it. I suppose you're not interested in spending time with us ordinary mortals anymore."

"Oh, not at all! I'm always willing to play a game. You only have to ask, you know that."

Waya gave him a withering look. "Never mind, Shindou. See you Saturday."

Shindou smiled, his voice light and pleasant. "Bye Waya-kun!"

Waya shook his head as he walked away. "'Waya-kun'? Has he turned into a girl?" There was something off about Shindou lately, although he couldn't quite place his finger on it. It couldn't just be Touya's influence, could it? He shrugged, then brightened as he caught sight of Isumi getting into the elevator. He promptly forgot all about Shindou and his strange behavior as he began running toward the closing doors.

"Isumi! Wait up!"

***

Mitani-kun was walking her home from an afternoon movie when she saw him, standing in the park across the street, with an unfamiliar expression on his face. She called out, her tone uncertain, "Is that you, Hikaru?"

He looked up. She squinted. It was Hikaru. She dragged her reluctant escort by the elbow as she ran over to him. "It's been a while, ne? I nearly didn't recognize you! What are you doing here?"

Hikaru smiled at her but turned to Mitani instead, who was scuffing his shoes against the pavement. "Hello, Mitani-kun."

Mitani scowled but gave a small nod of acknowledgment. Akari asked again, "What were you looking at, Hikaru? Such a serious look on your face--I thought it was someone else for a moment."

Hikaru clasped his hands together and turned his head. It was twilight; the shadows on his face made him seem older, sadder. But why would Shindou Hikaru be sad? Akari chewed on her lip, waiting for him to speak.

"I remembered something. While watching the fireflies." He gestured at the tall grass beside him, where indeed a few spiraling flashes of light could be seen.

She tilted her head. "Are you all right, Hikaru?"

"Of course," he replied, smiling at her. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Mitani cleared his throat and said gruffly, "We should be going, Akari. I promised your mother I'd have you home by six." He placed an arm around her shoulders, stiff but possessive. "Nice seeing you, Shindou."

Shindou nodded and turned back to the fireflies.

"He's...changed somehow," she remarked to Mitani as they walked back across the road. "Don't you agree?"

"Eh, Shindou's always been weird," Mitani said dismissively, and that was the end of the subject.

***

Again, the same nightmare. He had not known that a game of go could become a nightmare. He was surrounded by huge stones, both black and white, which would appear out of nowhere as soon as a hand was played. He often had to run in order to escape being crushed by a gently descending stone.

At the moment, he was crouched on the enormous goban, trying not to think. He still did not understand how the dreamscape knew when he had decided on a move, but whenever he reached a decision, a new white stone would be placed. He never saw his opponent, but he knew the style almost as intimately as he knew his own. After all, they had played countless games together.

When he closed his eyes, he could see the layout of the game in his mind, as clearly as if he was looking down on it from above. White was ahead by about ten moku. If he placed a stone there, he would seize the upper left and finish the game. As soon as he had the thought, he knew that another stone had appeared on the board. There was a sudden wind that forced him to cover his eyes, and when stillness returned, he found the goban empty once more. So the game had ended. He had won again.

"Hikaru!" he shouted, his eyes filling with tears. He sat down on a star point, feeling exhausted. He had won a game every night ever since he had first dreamed himself in this room. All that changed was the game itself and the pattern of the stars in the sky above. He never saw his invisible opponent.

"I know you're here. You must be here. This is your go," he said to the empty board. The next game would not start until the next night, when the dream began again.

"Hikaru," he said again and hid his face against his sleeve. "I'm sorry. Come back. Please come back."

***

The phone rang early in the morning. He picked it up gingerly--he was still unused to the strange device--and spoke hesitantly into the receiver, "Hello?"

"Shindou, it's Touya."

"Ah, hello, Touya-kun. How are you?"

"Fine. Listen, can you come visit tomorrow evening?"

"Tomorrow evening?" he echoed dumbly.

"Yes. I told Father that you had requested a game, and he suggested that I invite you over. I meant to call you before, but my tutoring session ran late last night."

For a moment he could not breathe. Touya Meijin...a game...tomorrow evening. He gasped, "Yes, of course I'll come."

"I'll meet you at the salon at our usual hour, and then we can go to my house for dinner afterwards. Father and Mother are looking forward to seeing you again."

"Thank you, Touya-kun. Thank you!"

"You're welcome," Touya said, a bit bemused as he hung up.

TBC

Hikaru no Go belongs to Obata Takeshi and Hotta Yumi.

Written for Card Mistress (card_mistress), on the theme "Dr. Faustus".

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