It begins during the third round of the preliminaries for the Honinbou League. He is studying the board, intent upon the intricate patterns emerging in midgame, when the world in his peripheral vision begins to fade. The walls of the room, the other competitors, his own opponent waiting for him to play his next hand...and then, the game in front of him begins to change, the black and white stones whirling together, until he grows so dizzy that he has to blink.
Waya looks up.
He is sitting in a pavilion at another go board. In front of him is a very different opponent: a young man, with long black hair, dressed in Heian court robes. The pavilion itself is surrounded by a grove of wisteria trees, and the branches twine through the windows, letting long chains of pale purple blossoms fall to the floor. The air is heavy with their sweet perfume.
Waya says to his new opponent, "Who are you, and where am I?"
The man opens a fan in front of his mouth and gazes at him with wide eyes. "What unexpected questions, when we have already begun a friendly game of igo."
Waya is about to retort when the world begins to fade again, and he is abruptly back at the Kiin, as if he has never left.
He shakes his head and reaches into the bowl for a black stone.
The second time it happens, he is listening to Morishita-sensei vehemently dissect the game between Saeki-san and Ashiwara 4-dan.
"That was an elementary mistake! I'm embarrassed that a student of mine couldn't do better in front of--"
Waya sighs quietly, only to jerk upright as everything around him constricts then suddenly expands again in an explosion of color. He is back in the wisteria pavilion, sitting in the mid-afternoon sunlight as the young man across from him places a stone on the board. The soft sound of slate against wood seems to echo unnaturally in the calm air.
"You again." He looks at the board. The opening moves reflect an archaic style of play, but his opponent is strong. Waya's eye is caught by the fight for territory emerging on the right side of the board. If he placed a stone just there, he could set an elegant trap--
He plays his hand. The man lifts his eyebrows but smiles in pleasure as he reaches into his own bowl of stones.
After a few more exchanges, Waya rests his chin on one fist and studies the board with narrowed eyes. Something about his opponent's style seems deeply familiar. Waya mentally sifts through the kifu he has committed to memory over the years, searching for similarities. He is trying to recall a game of Shindou's, when he suddenly finds himself again back in Morishita-sensei's study.
"--prove yourself to be better than any student from the Touya group!" Morishita-sensei finishes, as a harried-looking Saeki-san nods obediently.
Waya turns, about to ask Shindou a question, when he realizes that Shindou is no longer there. "Where's Shindou?" he asks Shirakawa-san.
"Shindou? Who's Shindou?"
He no longer feels any surprise when he finds himself again at the wisteria pavilion. Instead, he tries again to get some answers from his mysterious opponent.
"Look, I don't know what is going on, but I need some answers. Where am I?"
The man hesitates, looking a little confused. "But have we not played numerous games here before?"
"Just...just pretend I have amnesia."
"Very well. You are sitting in the gardens of the Fujiwara residence in Heian-kyo."
Heian-kyo...the old name for Kyoto. Waya looks around him again. On the floor of the pavilion, lying next to the board, is a strip of handmade paper tied to a sprig of wisteria blossoms. Beneath the flower petals, the paper is covered with elegant calligraphy, though he recognizes too few of the characters to understand what is written.
He rises to his feet and walks to the edge of the pavillion. Beyond the wisteria trees that frame the windows, he can see the rest of the garden, artfully arranged to provide winding paths and alcoves sheltered by drooping trees.
"You said that we've played go here before. So you know me. Or you think you do." He glances back at the other man.
"Are you feeling quite well? Perhaps I should call for a physician to attend you."
"I'm fine." He returns to the go board and sits. "Let me think."
When he finds himself back in his own room, Waya takes out a piece of paper and writes down what he knows. It is not a long list.
He paces, reading over and over what he has written on the page. Then he pulls out his own go board and recreates the game in the wisteria pavilion. He still has no answer to why the opponent's style seems so familiar to him.
He pulls out his notebooks of kifu and leafs through them. Every time he returns from the wisteria pavilion, more and more pages have disappeared. Games that he recalls in vivid detail appear to have never taken place. He no longer has any records of any game that Shindou played. In their stead are kifu of games that have taken a different course from what he remembers or new games that he does not remember at all. Apparently, Waya's last official game with Touya Akira ended with only a half-moku loss, and Touya Meijin, who has never retired, challenged Zama-sensei for the Ouza title and won.
He reaches the last and oldest notebook, which dates back to his days as an insei. He can't help biting his lip as he notices that yet again, all of his games with Shindou have disappeared. He goes back through the games he played during the pro exam, the Young Lions tournament, the international amateur tournament--
"Oh," he says out loud. There is another player whose games are missing from his notebooks.
The next time, Waya is in the Yuugen no Ma, recording the third game for the Meijin title. Kurata 8-dan is challenging Touya Meijin but has lost the first two out of five games; if Touya-sensei wins this game, he will have successfully defended his title for yet another year.
The game has all the weight and intensity of a title match. Waya holds his breath as he watches and notes down each move, after what seems like hours of deliberation by each player. Kurata plays his next hand, and Waya gasps quietly, along with the rest of the spectators, at the boldness of the move. It is an unconventional and risky move, but Waya can see how it upsets the careful strategy of the Meijin. He leans down to circle the corresponding point on the kifu paper, when the world shifts around him again.
It takes a moment for him to focus on the board and review the game before him, which he has not seen for a few days. He glances at the young man who is his opponent. "It's my turn, isn't it?"
The man nods patiently and fans himself gently as he waits for Waya to place a stone.
Waya mentally reviews an Internet game that now no longer exists outside his memory and compares it to the game on the board before him. There are some elusive similarities in the sheer strength and profound play in both, but it is hard to know for certain. If one removes the strong Shuusaku influence and a thousand years of advances in the game, would the answer be sitting before him?
He deliberately echoes an hand that he played before, one thousand years later. His opponent immediately answers him, and at that moment, Waya knows.
He stares at the board, at the revealing hand, and clears his throat. "You're...Sai?"
"But of course, I am Sai. Fujiwara no Sai, your mother's cousin." The man, no, Sai frowns and straightens in his seat. "Are you certain you are all right?"
"Sai. You're Sai." Waya laughs, even though nothing is funny. "I must be going mad."
The last time it happens, he has just finished an Internet game. As the dialogue box pops up with his faceless opponent's resignation, the world around him blurs and swirls back into focus. Instead of a screen, he is back in front of a wooden board, and the man, Sai, is playing his next hand.
Waya quickly runs through the calculations in his head and knows that it is pointless to continue playing. Yet a part of him does not want to end the game. There are still so many unanswered questions, even though he does not know how to ask them.
He bows his head. "I have lost."
"Thank you for the game," Fujiwara no Sai says and begins clearing the board. "You have been an intriguing opponent."
Waya swallows. "I've...I've learned a lot. Thank you."
"You are not my cousin's son, are you?"
Waya's eyes widen. Sai looks back at him with knowing eyes.
"As I said, my cousin's son and I have played many games of igo in this pavilion. Either you have miraculously grown in strength or you are not the person you appear to be." Sai smiles. "Are you a spirit come to test me?"
Waya snorts. "No...no, I'm human. I don't know how I came to be here. This sort of thing isn't supposed to be possible."
"Well, possible or not, I have learned much from you as well."
"We've played before," Waya blurts out. "Or maybe you haven't yet, but I have. Played a game with you, that is. In my time, I mean."
Sai stares. "What do you mean? In your time?"
But before Waya can answer, everything turns black.
He wakes up to the sound of his ringtone. He reaches for his phone and glances at the screen. It reads, "Shindou Hikaru."
He flips open the phone, brings it to his ear.
"Oi, Waya, we still on for study group at your place tonight?"
"Uh, yeah, it's me. Did you just wake up? Jeez, it's eleven o' clock!"
"Shindou, you...you're real."
There's silence at the other end. "Are you okay, Waya?"
Waya doesn't answer. He is looking at the go board sitting in the middle of his room. On top of the smooth wooden surface, there is a single wisteria blossom.