Ogata blew a ring of smoke through the open window and watched the rain pelt down on the street five stories below. One of the Go Institute secretaries gave him a snide look for smoking inside, but he wisely didn’t say a word. Hell like Ogata was going out in this weather for a smoke (although he wasn’t like he would have in good weather, either). The secretary glared at him one last time and then turned down the hall in a huff. That suited Ogata just fine. He preferred to wait alone.
He took another deep, satisfying drag from his cigarette and watched the smoke obscure the rain and headlights below. Each time a car passed, it sent up a wide splatter of water. If one stared at the street for long enough, it almost looked like a rushing river, with the pedestrians trying to cross it being washed away in its wake.
Ogata shook his head; the last thing he needed was to get poetic now, of all times.
He returned his attention to the pedestrians on the sidewalk. Of course, from above they all appeared as the round outlines of their umbrellas, gliding up and down the dark gray of the wet pavement. Umbrellas of every shade and variety passed below, but their owners were seemingly anonymous. Ogata knew differently, however. He would know the right umbrellas.
Ogata waited and watched for a few minutes more and then, true to his convictions, he recognized them. A plain, black umbrella plodded along the sidewalk, indistinct from a hundred others except for the second umbrella that orbited it. This umbrella was pure white, with goldfish and bright green frogs dotted over it. As unique as it was, that umbrella might have escaped Ogata’s notice, too. In the end, it was the combination of the two that gave them away.
The black umbrella made a straight, precise line for the front doors of the Go Institute. It was direct, methodical. Ogata supposed that black could be like that, because black always moved first, black had sente, order, control…
The white umbrella danced around the black one in a dizzying pattern, as Ogata watched. Sometimes it was ahead, sometimes behind, sometimes to one side, and other times to the other. White responded to black’s direction, fitting in wherever it could, but always right on black’s heels.
Apparently, Ogata reflected as he took another puff, he was feeling rather poetic today. At least it was a day worthy of poetry.
Black and white reached the door together, and they jostled against each other for a moment. Black was there first, though, and black was apparently feeling forceful, because black finally won the position in front of the doorknob, while white fluttered around at the perimeter. With the blur of the rain and the smoke, black almost looked like it was surrounded by white.
Who won then? Ogata wondered. The direct attack, or the sudden, quick pincer move? Soon enough, he’d know his answer.
Black and white jostled together for a moment longer, and then white suddenly collapsed. Ogata caught a glimpse of black hair bleached blond at the front, before the black umbrella moved over to cover them both. There was a pause then, and Ogata wasn’t quite sure what to read in that. There were a million possibilities and probabilities, and with those two, all were equally likely.
Then, the door opened, and black disappeared with a quick snap, as well. It was fast and efficient enough that Ogata didn’t even catch a glimpse of the second head.
Ogata turned away from the window at that and focused instead on the elevator. It was empty for a minute, and then Ogata heard the gears shifting as the car descended. 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…
The light stayed on 1 for a minute and then, slowly but surely, the numbers continued to rise once more. Ogata waited patiently as the car rode back up to meet him.
Finally, it stopped on 6, and there was a sharp ding. The doors opened, and the finalists of the Judan League appeared.
“Ick, my collar’s all wet,” Shindou complained, playing uncomfortably with the collar of his awkwardly-fitting suit.
“That’s what you get for putting away your umbrella in the middle of the street like that,” Touya commented dryly, looking perfectly composed, his black umbrella propped neatly in his left hand.
“If you hadn’t been taking so long,” Shindou began, but he froze when he noticed Ogata watching them.
Touya’s eyes narrowed to suspicious slits as well.
“Gentleman,” Ogata said in his blandest tone of voice. He blew out another stream of smoke.
“Ogata Judan,” Touya replied politely, bowing slightly.
“Here to keep an eye on the competition?” Shindou inquired.
Ogata merely shrugged and smiled enigmatically before turning back to the window. The umbrellas still circled and danced below, but they no longer interested him. Theirs was a common dance, with neither foresight nor insight. It took nothing to decipher those movements. The real challenge was already here before him.
Touya set his umbrella against the coat rack and toed off his shoes. Shindou began to remove his shoes as well, until Ogata replied slyly, “The elevator is about to steal your umbrella.”
Shindou looked up just as the elevator doors were closing. Sure enough, the white umbrella with frogs and goldfish rested in one corner. Shindou made a spectacular dash and slipped his hand between the closing doors just in the nick of time.
“I swear, you’d lose your own head if it wasn’t firmly attached,” Touya commented casually, when Shindou finally caught up with him again.
Shindou, in a move more reminiscent of when Ogata first met him, stuck his tongue out at Touya. It looked strangely out of place on Shindou now. He’d grown out of his lanky, awkward stage and now seemed perfectly at home in his tall, powerful frame.
In contrast, Touya had grown into a slim, elegant figure, more like his mother than father, although perhaps middle age would eventually temper his grace some. He should have looked fragile next to Shindou, but somehow he came off as just as commanding, just as demanding of respect.
Ogata could only see the boys they’d once been if he looked carefully now. They had grown into each other, around each other, and had developed exponentially under each other’s influence. Shindou’s Go was now flavored with Touya’s perfection, and Touya’s Go was spiced carefully with Shindou’s unpredictability. They were formidable now. They were a threat. And as long as they continued to work with and against each other, their power would only continue to grow.
Ogata put out his cigarette in the tea saucer he’d placed on the window ledge. It joined four other butts that he’d extinguished previously while he’d waited for his challengers to arrive. “I look forward to your game,” he informed them both. “And your challenge,” he added with a wry smile.
“Ogata Judan,” Touya bowed.
Shindou inclined his head slightly as well, although he never took his eyes off Ogata.
Ogata watched them enter the room, waited breathlessly for them to settle down at opposite sides of the board. This was it, he realized with pent-up excitement. The younger generation had finally arrived. Whichever of them won today, their challenge for his title would be backed by the strength of both. This would be the first test of his true mettle. Even if he defended this time, they would always be back, relentless, pelting him from all sides, the unstoppable flow of generations and genius.
Ogata sat back to watch the game and let the euphoria wash over him.