AN EXORCISM, part 3

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

"Touya-sensei," he said as he bowed deeply, "thank you for accepting my request for a game."

"Not at all. I told you once that I would look forward to playing you again," Touya Kouyou replied, his hands hidden in his sleeves. "My son tells me he often plays you at the salon. I would like to have seen how much your strength has grown, since we last met."

He flushed and bowed again. "You honor me, sensei."

The former Meijin nodded as he slid open the door to the study. He paused and turned. "Shindou-kun. This time you will play me without handicaps." His voice was calm but resolute.

Sai squared his shoulders and lifted his chin. "Yes, sensei," he said simply and entered the room.

"Ogata Juudan and Akira expressed a wish to see this game. I hope you have no objections to their presence."

Sai shook his head, his eyes fixed on the goban in the center of the room. He took a deep breath and knelt very slowly in seiza, unconsciously throwing his arms back to accomodate the sleeves that no longer hung from his arms. He stared almost avidly at the empty board before him; the polished wood seemed to gleam in the morning light.

Touya-sensei settled down on the other side of the board, with equal gravity. In the same moment, they both opened their goke. Sai placed a fistful of stones on the board; his opponent one. Black. He had never lost with black as Shuusaku.

He did not look up. There was the board, with its nine star points, the tengen waiting at the center. There were the stones, smooth and cold against his fingers. He saw nothing else, as he placed his first hand.

***

Ogata didn't know what to think. He knew, beyond a doubt, that Shindou knew Sai, that he must have learned from Sai. And yet he also knew that Shindou could not be Sai. The match that the boy had played as an insei had talent...but not the maturity of Sai's NetGo games.

Then there was the new shodan game with Touya-sensei. The more he tried to fit the puzzle pieces together, the more confusing it all became. Who was Shindou? More importantly, who was Sai?

The current game had progressed with an unusual intensity, more ferocious than any match he had seen Shindou play until this point. There was a poise to each and every move, an almost frightening level of control. Neither player had openly attacked, but the fuseki hinted at the battle yet to come.

Shindou raised his hand to his lips, his eyes thoughtful. The boy's face seemed deceptively soft; who knew that such powerful go could be hidden in such a young boy? But then again, Akira was the same age. Ogata thought of the years ahead with the two pros at his heels and silently groaned.

Finally, the next hand. Pachi. The loud sound echoed the tension in the room. Ogata looked at the board...then looked again. He frowned and leaned in closer. On the surface, it seemed a straightforward attack on the upper left corner but if one read ahead--

His eyes widened. How could this sort of go come from a teenaged boy? Talent and strength were to be expected, but there was also experience. Shindou must have been playing for years to have reached this level--no, it was impossible. Not even Akira, who had played since he could hold a stone between his fingers, had achieved such depth yet.

"Unbelievable," Akira whispered, his hands clenched into fists on his knees.

Ogata shook his head. He needed a cigarette.

***

They were battling for the center--a difficult and complex struggle for every last moku--when Touya Kouyou suddenly broke the silence.

Traps had been set and carefully evaded, but both players had read far ahead into the game. It was a question of who could see further: the opponent would not make any mistake. He was sure of that. And it reminded him, as every shape and pattern had reminded him, of a game played before.

"I had wondered before, but now I am certain."

The boy glanced up, startled. "Pardon me, sensei?"

"I asked you once, if you were Sai. I know now that you are."

Shindou did not reply. His hands were twisting in his lap, and he looked distraught.

"It does not matter, of course, who you are or what you call yourself. I don't know why you chose to kept your identity hidden, but I am glad to have had the chance to play against you." Touya-sensei gave him a slight smile. "But tell me, Shindou-kun. How is it that your go speaks of someone so much older?"

"Sensei?" Shindou sounded panicked.

"Strange...I look at this game, and for some reason, it makes me think that this is the go of someone who has played for a hundred years."

"More than that," Shindou whispered.

Touya-sensei frowned. "What did you say?"

Shindou swallowed. His hands were shaking. "Who I am is unimportant. Go is all that matters." He placed a stone on the board with trembling fingers.

"Indeed. Go is all that matters," agreed Touya-sensei and met him with an answering hand.

***

"Thank you once again for the game," Shindou said for the fifth time. He fumbled with the laces of his sneakers and followed Akira out the door. Touya-sensei nodded, his expression enigmatic as he watched them walk towards the gate.

Akira unlatched the gate, then paused, his arm blocking the other boy's way.

"Shindou," he said, his voice tight with suppressed anger, "I swear, I will grow stronger and better until you have no choice but to play me seriously. Like the way you did today. Do you hear me, Shindou?"

Shindou did not reply. He seemed to deflate. He gently pushed aside Akira's arm and left the house without another word.

***

That night, Sai paced back and forth in his dreams. He looked across the vast expanse of the empty goban and the midnight sky above, illuminated by numerous stars. But the light was deceptive--in their numbers, the stars masked an empty void of immeasurable distance.

Somewhere, Hikaru was waiting in that void.

"Let me speak to him. Please."

There was only silence.

"You owe him that much. He had no choice in the matter."

Sai covered his face with his hands. "They think he's me. But he's not. I am him, but he's not me. Do you understand? I can't...I need to talk to him."

There was a ripple of laughter. Sai stamped his foot and shouted, "Whoever you are, you cannot have the power to obliterate a soul. I know he must be here, somewhere. Let me see him!"

"Sai?"

He turned around. It was Hikaru.

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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