'Father has great expectations of me,' Toya Akira thought to himself with a mild smile while starting to recreate the latest game he had played with his father. 'Ashiwara-san is waiting too,' he mused, thinking back to a recent conversation. 'It wouldn't be conceited now to realise my strength…'
He trailed away, adding a black stone to the board. The thought still seemed oddly lonely and empty, but he quickly shook it out of his head. He had seen, hadn't he? He had waited for a sign for far too long, playing kids of his age here and there and finding them all sorely lacking. No, he could not, would not wait anymore. 'I will stand atop the Go world,' he thought determinately. 'Like my father. And I'll pull up those that continue after me…' instead of waiting for them to come to him.
But the thought still continued to haunt him. His father seemed so sad at times, so lonely, sitting there across the Goban and looking down, always down, at his opponents. Never truly did he look across, and Akira had… wanted to avoid that. But it seemed it was unavoidable. There was no one to sit across from his father. There was no one to sit across from him. Only those who were below and those who were above. No equals. It was time he accepted that. A rival was a thing of old past and happy fantasies, such things didn't exist in the modern world.
'Yes, I'll forget these pointless worries,' he thought and smiled while starting to clean the board of the game. 'I’ll walk without confusion. Straight… on the path of the pros…'
Yes, he would become a pro, something he had been holding back from because he considered himself lacking - no, he considered the path lacking for it. Becoming a pro was an eventuality he knew he didn't even want to avoid, but it wasn't a goal. Hardly even a challenge. He loathed himself for thinking such conceited thoughts, but it was true. He knew his strength. The lower dans hardly were a match for him and even if he wished it to be otherwise, wishes didn't always come true. What he was looking for couldn't be found. Except maybe among the higher dans.
"Oh, there's a kid!" a surprisingly young voice, considering that it was a salon frequented by the middle aged mostly, called. Toya closed the bowl lid after clearing the board. Akira looked up to see a kid about his age standing at the counter, striking out like a sore thumb with his casual street clothes and partially bleached hair. He was pointing his thumb at Toya.
"Huh… me? Wait, what…" Akira stopped, blinking slightly at the white shadow behind the other boy. 'What…?'
"Can I play him?" the boy asked while the white shadow behind him became slightly more prominent.
"Oh, well, that kid…" Ishikawa started saying, looking awkward.
'It's a ghost,' Akira thought, looking up and down at the now clearer apparition. Was the boy with bleached bangs haunted somehow? It wasn't exactly a thought Akira was unfamiliar with, though it was the first time he had seen a spirit haunting a person, rather than a place. And the ghost certainly didn't belong to the salon, Akira knew for a fact that the salon wasn't haunted. 'Those clothing… Kariginu? It must be a very old spirit…'
"You're looking for an opponent?" Akira asked, turning his eyes away from the ghost as it turned to look at him. "Sure, I'll play with you." From the corner of his eyes he could see the ghost now staring at him over an open white fan.
"But Akira-kun, this kid has never --" Ishikawa started saying, but was interrupted by the haunted boy.
"Lucky! There's another kid! Much better than playing one of these geezers!" he said happily, making the nearest patrons of the salon clench their fists and throw looks of dismay at him.
'Interesting,' Akira thought. That sort of thing was rather rude. If the boy had been in a salon before, he wouldn't have said it. Most Go-salons after all were frequented by older clientele; very few had customers of their age. "Let's go to the back," he said, thinking that the boy might be more at ease there. He could get a better look at the ghost there too. "My name is Toya Akira, by the way. What's yours?"
"I'm Shindo Hikaru," the boy with bleached bangs said happily. "I'm in the sixth grade."
"Oh, so am I," Akira said with a chuckle. Usually the age thing meant nothing, but there was already one connecting feature he had never had with any other kid of his age. Though he couldn't tell yet if Shindo could see the ghost behind him, the fact that there was a ghost there was already something. 'For a haunted person he doesn't seem too haunted too… he must have some sort of resistance.'
"Hey, wait you. You haven't paid yet," Ishikawa called after them. "Children are five hundred yen. Pay up!"
"What, I have to pay?!" Shindo asked with shock, another proof of the fact that this was his first time in a salon. Looking dismayed, he started going through his pockets. "Ugh… five hundred yen… do I have that much…?"
Akira chuckled again. "This is his first time, right, Ishikawa-san? Let's give him a break this once," he said.
The woman frowned before smiling. "Well… if Akira-kun says so…"
"Thank you," Akira laughed while Shindo thanked the woman awkwardly. With a smile, Akira led the other boy to the less crowded section of the salon and motioned for him to sit down. "So, how good are you?" he asked thoughtfully as they sat down.
"I'm not sure… but I'm pretty strong, probably," Shindo smiled a little awkwardly now.
"You're not sure but you think you're strong?" Akira chuckled, thought that was really odd thing to say. The boy seemed completely careless about it too, like there was no use or need in determining his strength. It made Akira wonder how and where he had played before, if ranking himself didn't matter to him. It meant one thing, though. He probably hadn't played against strong players before. "Um… why don't you put down four or five stones, then? For a handicap."
"I don't need a handicap. We're the same age, aren't we?" Shindo asked confusedly.
"Well… yeah, you're right," Akira murmured awkwardly while a pair of players behind him laughed at the mere notion. 'Well… maybe if I play Shidou-Go…?' he thought. "Okay, um… how about you go first then?"
"Sure. So, I'm the black then, right?" Shindo asked, glancing at his bowl and taking one black stone from there. "I play pretty slowly, so forgive me for that…"
The whole thing started to make more sense when the ghost behind Shindo snapped the fan shut and spoke out the first move. "17-4, upper right corner - komoku!"
'Oh, very interesting,' Akira thought, taking in the way Shindo held the stone awkwardly between his thumb and forefinger. 'He is a beginner. The ghost isn't. However… is the ghost possessing him, commanding him from behind to do as it wants, or is he aware of it and is simply following the ghost's orders because he wants to?'
The whole situation was odd, but intriguing at the same time. Quickly Akira took a stone and placed it down on the board. The ghost immediately commanded the next move - another rather old move. The following moves were rather aged as well, and soon Akira realised that the ghost was playing with a very old joseki. 'And he's good, very good,' he thought, leaning forward to eye the board thoughtfully while Shindo counted the grid to find the next position. My moves are having no effect on him.'
No, it wasn't just that. He not only had no effect, but the ghost was deflecting his attacks like they were mere flies against his might. Akira had never had a chance - the ghost was dominating the board, had been from the very beginning. 'This is almost like playing father - without handicap… except…' he glanced up with a frown. 'Except I should've lost already.'
"Oh, here," Shindo murmured and placed down the stone. Akira frowned, staring at the odd stone in the odd place. Neither offensive, nor defensive; neither attached to a previous pattern, nor the first move of a new pattern. It was a test to how he would act; a measurement. Measurement of his ability. 'This isn't Go. This is Shidou-Go.'
He blinked, glancing at Shindo. If he hadn't seen the ghost, he would've been terrified. A kid, capable of this? The idea was horrifying. But it wasn't Shindo he was playing; it was the spirit behind him. And the spirit was good, immensely good. 'When was the last time anyone played Shidou-Go against me,' Akira wondered with a slightly nostalgic smile. 'I play father with handicaps, but other than that the games are serious…' It felt oddly nice to be taught. It was also slightly insulting, but more than that it was humbling. 'Here I am, thinking I'm stronger than lower dan pros… to be proven my weakness by a spirit… from who knows how many years back.'
He leaned back in his chair and chuckled. Yet another opponent to look upwards to. 'This spirit… if this wasn't Shidou-Go, I wouldn't have a chance.'
"Toya?" Shindo looked up confusedly. "It's your move."
"How long have you been playing, Shindo-kun?" Akira asked instead.
"Um. How long?" Shindo asked awkwardly. "Not long, though… but, um…" he said, glancing at the ghost. "It's complicated."
'He can see the ghost,' Akira thought, glancing around to see to his relief that the pair playing behind him were too engrossed in their game to listen to them. Without the chance of being thought insane, he looked up and meeting the ghost's eyes. "And you? How long have you been playing, spirit-san?"
Both Shindo and the ghost looked at him like he had pulled the rug from underneath the two of them. He couldn't help but chuckle at the half horrified, half shocked stares the pair gave him. "Shindo-kun is a beginner, I can tell," He said, pointing at the Goban. "The way he holds the stones, counts the grid… his general mannerism as well. But you, spirit-san, are playing Shidou-Go against me."
"You can see Sai?" Shindo asked with wide eyes, looking between the spirit and Akira. "No one else has ever been able to see him before. How can you see him?"
"I would like to know that as well," the spirit said before quickly bowing his head. "Pardon my lapse in manners. My name is Fujiwara no Sai, Toya-kun. During my life I played close to twenty years, after my death I've played another twenty five."
"He's been dead for thousand years," Shindo added. "How can you see him?"
Akira chuckled. "My family used to keep a shrine of Tenjin," he said. "My grandfather was a keeper of the shrine, though my father chose another path as he lacked my grandfather's gifts. I, it seems, inherited them, so I'm used to ghosts. You, Fujiwara-san, are not the first I've seen." He leaned forward. "How about you, Shindo-kun?"
"Me? I have no idea," the other boy muttered, throwing a sideways glare at a thoughtful looking Fujiwara. "Here I am, minding my own business in my granddad's shed, and this guy pops outta this Goban and decides to haunt me," he sighed, folding his hand. "Has been doing nothing but whining about Go ever since."
"What? What was that? Hikaru!" the ghost nudged the boy's side. "I helped you with your homework assignment!"
Akira chuckled at their interaction. "So, you came here to let him play then?" he asked.
"Yeah, well… I started going to a Go-classes because he keeps whining, but the teacher kicked me out after I made fun of one baldy in the classes," Shindo muttered. "Sai started crying so I brought him here to cheer him up."
"So, you're not interested in Go yourself?" Akira asked while taking a stone and placing it down on the board.
"Well… no, not really," Shindo answered. "I've never really thought about it as something interesting. I don't really get it anyway, even the Go-classes confuse the heck outta me," he sighed, glancing up to the ghost. "The next move, Sai?"
The ghost pointed the move out while looking at Akira thoughtfully. "You have great strength, Toya-kun," he said. "You must play often as well."
Akira nodded. "My father is a professional Go player - I'm aiming to become one as well so I study under him and by myself every day. This salon is owned by my family as well," he nodded around them. "And I'm here pretty often."
"You're going to become pro?" Shindo asked. "Aren't you young for that?"
Akira chuckled, placing down another stone. "It's not really a matter of age, but of skill and determination. Many become pro's at a young age - my father did as well. Many even start younger than you and I," he said. "I could've taken the exam last year, but…" he shrugged his shoulders. "I will most likely take it this year."
"Professional Go player at the age of twelve… woah," Shindo murmured, looking at him with wonder. "That's really weird."
"Hikaru," Fujiwara nudged the boy's side in admonishment before pointing out the next move.
"How about you?" Akira asked, looking between the ghost and the boy. "Um… I can't determine your strength fully from a game of Shidou-Go, but I can tell that you are at the level of professional players - higher dans even. Your Joseki is old, but… your strength is solid. What… are you going to do now?"
"I wish to play Go, of course, I wish to attain the Hand of God… but I am bound to Hikaru," the ghost smiled sadly. "There is not much I can do, except to rely on his graciousness and kindness."
"Bah," Hikaru murmured. "I'll let you play as much as I can, Sai, but I have things to do - I have school and everything," he murmured. "It's not much fun taking you around to play when I don't get this game anyway…"
Akira looked between the two. Fujiwara's existence seemed rather sad. Attain the Hand of God? That reminded Akira of his father and his lonely quest without an equal to meet him across the Goban. Shindo on the other hand, though crude and rather impolite, was still taking Go-classes and had brought Fujiwara here to keep him happy. That already told something about his personality and interests. He wasn't completely against Go anyway.
"Well… you could come here," he said. "I'd love to play against Fujiwara-san whenever it's possible. And maybe… maybe in the mean time I can help you learn Go, Shindo-kun. I have taught before… Fujiwara-san too. I can tell you haven't played in a while, I could show you some more modern moves I know," he added, trying not to sound too hopeful.
"Hmm…" Shindo murmured, leaning back and looking up to the ghost. "Well… that sounds pretty good, I guess," he said. "Besides it's nice to talk to someone who can see Sai too, because it was getting rather grating so far," he added. "For a while there I thought I was going nuts. It's nice to know I'm not."
"I would like this sort of arrangement as well," Fujiwara nodded, bowing his head slightly. "Thank you, Toya-kun."
"I'm not sure how often I can come, though. I have school and stuff," Shindo said. "I've got the Go-classes too. But whenever Sai starts to moan about Go…"
"I'm here pretty much always, so I should be there whenever you decide to come," Akira smiled. "And if I'm not, Ishikawa-san should know where I am and when I'd come here."
"Okay then, I'll keep that in mind," Shindo nodded and looked down to the game. "So, um… what is Shidou-Go anyway?"
Akira smiled as Fujiwara quickly started to explain the purpose of Shidou-Go. He wasn't sure if Shindo or Fujiwara could see it yet, but he had a feeling this was the start of something great.