When Touya Kouyou knew he was near death, he became increasingly aware of his regrets. They were all of Go, and Go only.
He did not believe in gods, but nevertheless one night, as he fell asleep, he prayed that he might be granted the time to play every game of Go that he wanted. That night he dreamed of a vast Go board and he was at once in front of and above it. Gods are in these stones, said the faceless opponent across his cosmic board. Kouyou touched a black stone and it shimmered.
Kouyou awoke, gasping, to a sharp pain in his chest. He did not remember being rushed to the hospital, and afterwards he floated in and out of consciousness. The doctors came to him as the pain intensified and injected him with vial after vial of drugs. One night passed. He opened his eyes with monumental effort and saw the pink and gold haze of dawn.
The world stopped.
Kouya briefly thought that he was dead, but realized that it was merely that time had paused.
Then he remembered his prayer the night before, and knew what had been given to him.
He could not move a muscle, but there was a goban in the room. No game had been started on it; stones still rested in their containers on the floor. Kouyou effortlessly imagined the stones onto the goban, one after another.
He replayed Shuusaku's games, going through all the ones he had memorized. He relived his own greatest victories and most intriguing defeats.
Finally he allowed himself to play the games that he remembered of Sai. He relished every one of these frozen moments, these hours of time tucked into some pocket of the universe that he was grateful that the gods had provided him. Kouyou pondered his own game as he remembered his playing over the years. He tried to improve upon himself; he played old games, conjecturing how opponents might have reacted to his new moves. He wondered if the gods were watching for their amusement, he wondered how many imaginary games had been played on imaginary boards.
Kouyou did not know how much time passed or rather did not pass. He was sure he had played hundreds of thousands of games, and by the end it still felt like another thousand years would not be enough. He did not grow weary, not of his life and not of Go. He thought surely Sai would have felt the same way; what could have induced him to leave Go behind?
At that moment it occurred to him that there had been several weaknesses in Sai's last game with him that he could have exploited. Kouyou played through each of them, and as the stones dropped into their places, he felt the pieces of crystalline time around him start to shatter. He knew what was coming -- he delayed a few moments, imagined for the last time holding a stone in his hand and relishing its heavy weight, its smooth feel -- and then he placed the last move of his winning game.
Pain shattered through his body. He took a last breath, and he felt, briefly, a soft silken touch on his forearm as the world faded.
Touya Kouyou died in Tokyo General Hospital, at 6:45 AM.