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Chapter 2: Hikaru

Five years later Mitsuko still watched her son with a smile, but now there was something strained in her expression. These first five years had been difficult, and she was growing dismally certain that the future wouldn't be any kinder to them.

She and Hikaru were living alone nowadays, in a little house in the countryside at the edge of a small town. Masao came to see them on the weekends, but because of his work he couldn't, wouldn't, live in the country, and so he had a small studio in Tokyo. And Hikaru couldn't live in a city, that much was clear to her. Some claimed she was being silly and superstitious, but they hadn't seen what she had. Nor had they lived through the constant water damages that had plagued them ever since Hikaru was small. This little house had no running water – just a well, one that was tightly covered. And no body of water anywhere close by, she had made sure of that. Too many times she had had to fish her son out of fountains and pools – she didn't want to risk lakes or rivers.

She didn't know what to think of it all. Doctors had no explanation for the web that always grew back between her son's fingers. They took tests, endless tests, but never did they find anything abnormal. She was growing tired of them, and resentful, sure that they weren't so curious about Hikaru's condition just for the boy's sake. And then there was his hair, his ever-growing hair that had to be cut once a week, and his golden bangs that people thought she was dyeing, and no one had an explanation for that, either.

It was weekend again, and this time Masao couldn't come. She wasn't sure if his reasons were real or just excuses… but anyway, it was expensive to travel back and forth every week. Perhaps every second week would be better in the future.

She was sitting by her computer, attempting to write an article for a small gardening magazine, a job she had taken when they had moved apart. Now, her brain was empty and she couldn't get a single word down. Perhaps, she mused staring out of the window, instead of articles she should be writing children's books about little boys with frog's hands and the strangest affinity for water…

Water. There were water drops on the window. She stood up. "Hikaru?" No reply. The boy had to be out already, he always seemed to know when it was going to rain to the minute. He was much more trustworthy than the weather forecast – which had said nothing of rain this day.

To her relief and dismay she found him in the backyard, standing there face turned upward as the rain fell on him. "Hikaru! Come in! You'll catch cold if you get wet!"

He didn't move, as if he hadn't even heard her. "Hikaru!" she shouted again, and pressed her lips into a tight line. The rain was growing harder. "Are you listening to me!" She ran to him and grasped his arm. "Come, now!"

"Mom!" Hikaru pulled back as she started to drag him in. "Wait! Just a moment, please?"

"I told you to come in! You'll catch cold!"

"No I won't! It's just water, mom, it won't hurt me!"

"Just water." She stopped. "Just water! I'm not sure if there is such thing as just water! Now, when I tell you something, you…" She turned to her son, and meeting his strange sea-green eyes that were watching her, wide and confused, she forgot what she had been saying. A moment they just stared at each other, water drops making little brooks across their faces; then Hikaru smiled.

"Don't worry, mom! You don't have to be afraid of water, it's not evil." He shook his head and little droplets flew from his hair all around. "It's not evil," he repeated, smiling up at her, and she shuddered, suddenly remembering the time she had been lost in the dark, cold water.

"Just come in now," she whispered tiredly. "Please." She started walking, and now Hikaru followed her without a word.

After having changed dry clothes both for herself and her son Mitsuko returned to her unwritten article. Hikaru sat down by the kitchen table, and when he heard the sound of typing from his mother's workroom, he opened the window, just a little bit.

"Sai," he whispered to the rain. "Mom doesn't understand."

It's alright, the rain replied. She is a mother and she's bound to worry. Just be a good boy and don't cause her trouble, and she will yet learn to trust water once more.

Hikaru sighed, not quite understanding himself.

Sai had been there as long as he could remember. Hikaru had used to think of him as the voice in water – at first, as the voice of water, but with time he had learned to separate something distinctly individual from the constant wordless murmuring somewhere in the back of his mind. And just recently it had crossed his mind to ask if this voice had a name. Sai, he thought, smug with his little secret. Though at times he wished that he could just tell everything to his mother, to make her stop worrying… but Sai said he shouldn't, that she wouldn't stop worrying at all if he did – on the contrary, it would make her even more afraid. Hikaru couldn't quite understand why (Sai wasn't at all scary!) but he had promised he wouldn't.

He laid his head on his arms on the table and watched out into the rain, bored. "Sai, tell me a story," he said quietly, and the rain started to whisper about an enchanted citadel with a thousand magical fountains in it, each with a power of its own, and after a while the boy fell asleep by the table.

-


Days passed, and each time Hikaru's mother tore off yet one page of the calendar, she grew more troubled. "What shall we do?" she asked her husband one day when he was again visiting them. "It's time for him to go to school… do you think we could arrange home tutoring for him?"

Masao snorted. "As if we could afford something like that. Besides, are you going to keep the boy locked up all his life? There is a fine elementary school in the town, I've looked into it. Though it'd be better if you agreed to move back to Tokyo…"

"No." Mitsuko shook her head, not looking at him. "I don't dare to bring him to a big city like Tokyo, not yet. I'm not sure about the town, either… there will be much more water around there than here. And what if the other children will tease him because of his hands?"

"You can't keep him locked up all his life," Masao repeated. "We'll enroll him in the school here. Though I must say I think you're much too paranoid where it comes to water…"

"Are you forgetting already?" Mitsuko cut him off, voice bitter. "How he always managed to find water, everywhere? Almost drowned so many times before we moved here? And all those water damages and bursting pipes, anywhere he went… lord, what if something like that happens at his school?"

"Now, those had to be coincidences. There is no way a tiny child like him could have caused such things!"

Mitsuko sighed. Masao had never quite accepted all the peculiarities surrounding their son. He had no explanation for them, either – his solution seemed to be to ignore it all, deny that anything was wrong. Coincidences, indeed.

But he had a point. Some day she would have to let Hikaru out into the world. And, she well realized this too, it might not be wise to put that day off too far.


So, next spring when school started Hikaru too entered the Kanba elementary school. This was a small school in a small town, and in addition to Hikaru there were only six other first grade students, three girls, three boys. Hikaru watched them with almost as great curiosity as they watched him, as he had spent quite reclusive life with his mother, barely ever leaving their little house. Not that he would have been lonely, as for most of the time he had had Sai for company (he never quite understood what his mother meant when she said he should stay away from water – how could he, when water was everywhere in the world?) but now he was quite excited with this sudden introduction to not just one but six children of his age.

Hikaru's mother had spoken with the teacher, explaining to her his situation as closely as she dared, not wanting to sound like a madwoman. The teacher in turn explained it to the class, trying to put it into words the children might understand. Her efforts were mostly wasted, for everyone was staring at Hikaru's hands, so fixated that they barely heard what she was saying.

Quite predictably a crowd gathered around Hikaru during the first break, as pretty much every single one of the school's forty three students wanted to see his hands.

"That's freaky!" a third grader announced after one look.

Hikaru gave him a curious look. "Why?"

"Cause people don't have hands like that! See!" He spread his fingers. "This is what hands should look like!"

Hikaru just laughed. "What's so great in having same kind of hands as everyone else? I like mine!" He raised his hands high up, fingers spread. "Or… are you jealous?"

"Of a freak? As if!" the other boy snorted, but, seeing that Hikaru didn't pay any attention to his taunts he soon ran away with his friends and a ball.

Hikaru enjoyed fully being at the center of other children's attention. He had never understood what in his hands bothered his mother so much, and now less than ever. He wouldn't have changed his hands to normal ones for any price.

"Isn't this great, Sai?" he whispered quietly as they were returning to class after the break.

Yes, he heard a quiet reply, and felt a hesitation, as if Sai was about to say something more but thought better of it. He didn't pay much attention to that though, too happy about the success of his first school day.

His mother was happy, too, when he told her how much he liked school. Next morning he left to school full of enthusiasm, and the next as well. This lasted for about one week. Then it finally sunk in to him that this was what he would be doing for the next week too, and the next week, and the next… and not just next weeks, but for the countless years to come (years that exceeded his age could be called countless, Hikaru reasoned.) And it wasn't just having to go to school five days a week, but also having homework, and something called exams looming in the future, the sound of which he didn't like.

Moreover, the interest of the other children was fading. Now he found himself spending the breaks alone. The other boys in his class were playing together, but their games, they explained to Hikaru, were such that they worked only if there were three people, and only three, so he never could join them. The older children had their own groups and didn't have room for some strange first grader either. No one, at least, was teasing him, except for some occasional gibes, but they pretty much ignored him, and after all the attention of the first days that hurt. And when they learned he wouldn't be taking part into the swimming classes, they laughed (a frog that can't swim!). Hikaru's mother had managed somehow to get a paper from doctors, releasing him from swimming, no matter what he thought about it.

One day on a lunch break he was sitting alone, munching his food, when one of the girls in his class came to him. "Can I sit here?" she asked, and after staring at her a moment he moved his head in a way that might have been a nod. She sat down next to him, and they ate together in silence.

Hikaru never quite figured out why Akari chose to be friends with him, but he was thankful she did – not that he ever would have said that aloud. Perhaps it was because while the other girls were playing house, she rather climbed trees or played ball games. Or maybe, he thought glumly, she just had felt sorry for him. Be that how it may, the two spent much time together from then on, Akari even coming to visit Hikaru's home, which made his mother quite happy. The girl might have found the place a little peculiar, what with no water and an outdoor toilet, but she seemed to like the old house and came over many times after that, even though it was quite a long walk from the town.

The first school year passed, and the second was well on its way, and finally Hikaru's mother felt like she might breathe a sigh of relief. Nothing untoward had happened, and although Hikaru hadn't made many friends he had at least Akari, and he didn't seem unhappy. Of course, Hikaru had never told her how day by day, week by week he felt the water more and more strongly, how its constant whispering grew louder in his ears, and he just had to, many times in a day, go to the school's toilet just to hold his hands in the water. Talking with Sai helped, somewhat, but as a result of it all his concentration at school worsened and it was beginning to show in his grades.

As the second year was closing to its end something finally did happen.

The day had started badly for Hikaru. It had rained in the night, heavily, and he had slept restlessly, having strange, fragmentary dreams that had a nightmarish quality to them. He was tired and grumpy when his mother came to wake him up. The rain was over, but the ground was wet with big puddles here and there, and it seemed to him that the water's whispering was louder than usual, almost bothersome. It made it hard for him to think, and more often than once the teacher had to repeat her questions to him in the class, for even though he tried, he just somehow didn't catch what she said on the first time.

During a break he went to toilet, and having finished his business for once didn't waste any time with washing his hands. He was drying them off, very carefully, when two boys came to the toilet. He saw them out of the corner of his eye, and turned to leave without looking at them.

"Hey, it's the froggy freak!" one of the boys said, and stepped on his way as he tried to walk by. "Did you have a swim in the toilet? Be careful you don't drown!"

Hikaru rolled his eyes. "That was just stupid," he informed the boy and attempted to step by him, but the other moved, staying on his way.

"Oh? Who's stupid here? Or did you have water in your ears in the class?"

Hikaru couldn't help laughing aloud at that. "If you'd only know," he muttered. He stood still a moment, waiting. "I'm trying to get out of here," he said then, as the other boy didn't move. He took a step, and the boy pushed him back.

"Froggy freak! Did your mom marry a frog or how did you end up like that?"

"Maybe he's a frog prince," the other boy suggested, and they laughed. Hikaru frowned; the blood humming in his ears mixed with the water whispering in the toilet's pipes, making it hard for him to even hear them – and he wasn't sure if it was quite worth the trouble to exert himself.

"Yeah! Maybe your girlfriend should kiss you to change you to human!"

"I dunno, her kiss would probably change him to a frog."

Hikaru took a deep breath and told himself to ignore them – or maybe that was Sai who said it, he wasn't quite sure. His head was hurting. He tried again to get past them, and again they pushed him back, saying something that he missed.

"Are you?" the boy repeated, and Hikaru blinked.

"What?"

The boys laughed again. "Deaf and dumb!"

"Definitely at least dumb!"

Hikaru attempted to get past them again, but joining hands they stayed on his way, keeping him in a corner. "Deaf 'n dumb froggy freak!" they singsonged.

Something snapped. "Let me out of here!" Hikaru screamed, and at the same instant the drains gurgled, and water burst out of every sink and toilet with strength. The three boys stood frozen in the sudden flood, getting instantly completely wet as the water spouted on them. Then Hikaru ran out, feet slipping on the wet floor.

They had to call his mother to take him home to get dry clothes – the weather was chilly, and he could hardly walk all the way home, wet as he was. His mother arrived fast, and watched the flooded bathroom dumbfounded. She glanced at her son who stared at the floor sullenly. Luckily everyone was so focused on the accident that no one seemed to notice how his hair was clearly inches longer than it had been when he left to school. It might have helped that the hair was completely wet and plastered against his head.

"We don't know what happened," the principal was saying. "Perhaps it's somehow connected to the heavy rain last night."

"Yes, perhaps," Mitsuko whispered and turned to take her son home.

At home Hikaru complained of headache, and she decided it would be best, under the circumstances, for him to stay rest of the day home. She attempted to ask him what had happened, but he ran into his room and slammed the door shut behind him.

Hikaru, Sai attempted to say as he plunged into his bed and drew the blanket over him. Hikaru, you should…

"Shut up Sai! Leave me be!" he yelled, face pressed against his pillow, and the watery presence retreated.

-


It's not your fault, Sai told him later. There is great power in water, and it's hard to control.

"It's not that," Hikaru muttered quietly, still lying in his bed, curled into a small ball. "The water's growing so loud. It's been happening for a while, but it's never been that bad. I mean, I love water, but why does it have to… to bother me so much?"

Sai was quiet for a moment. I remember the Call getting stronger as I grew up, too, he finally said.

Hikaru paused, thinking about what Sai had just said. "Do you mean… you've been alive once? I mean, like… like me?" He had never thought about where Sai came from – he had somehow assumed he had always been there, in the water.

Yes.

"What happened?"

There was a moment's silence. I decided to join the water, Sai said finally.

Hikaru mused about this for a while. "So… if I follow the call, I'll end up like you?"

Yes. Sai sounded happy about this prospect, but Hikaru wasn't quite sure.

"If I'm like you, I… I won't be able to talk with anyone else, would I? With anyone…" he glanced at his hands, "normal, that is?"

Sai said nothing, but he could feel his assent. He sighed, and thought of his mother and Akari.

"Are there many people like us?" he asked quietly. He could feel a headshake.

No. In all my years, I've met only one other.

"Only one huh? That's not much." He rolled on his back and lay there staring at the ceiling. "Sai," he said then. "I don't think I want to, to join the water yet. Do you know any way I could make it more quiet?"

You should find an onmyouji and ask him to give you a fire pendant.

"What?"

But I have noticed, Sai went on, thoughtfully, that there aren't many onmyouji around these days. So… there was one thing that helped me. A game called go.

Hikaru was skeptical, to say the least, but he listened as Sai started to tell him about the game, and to his surprise he found himself intrigued. Sai, on the other hand, was overjoyed, for it seemed that Hikaru shared his ability with the game. The boy was, of course, still a beginner and far from his level, but he started progressing fast. Hikaru was happy, too, for in addition to go being really fun, it also did help, just as Sai had promised.

A little later, when she asked him what he'd want to have as a birthday present, his mother was in for a surprise.

"That's what he said," she told her husband on phone. "Books about go and a go board."

Masao wondered about it, too, but when he arrived for Hikaru's eighth birthday he had a neatly wrapped parcel with him, and that parcel contained a book about the basics of go, clearly meant for children, and a foldable go board. Hikaru watched them dubiously. He would have preferred something a little more advanced.

He read the book through, though, just in case there would be something new – and there was, really; Sai had never heard of this strange komi rule – but other than that he did not learn much out of it. So he started to play with his toy-like little board. Soon he found out that against Sai he actually preferred blind go, for it was quite a pain having to place the stones for both players, but he played a few games with his mother on the board. She said she knew how the game was played, but he soon realized this just meant she knew the very basics and nothing more, and most of the time didn't seem to have a clue what she was doing on the board.

Sai suggested he could try to teach the game to someone, that someone being Akari for the lack of any other close friends. Hikaru was doubtful about it, though the girl seemed to be interested enough in the game. But she learned so slowly. More often than not their games ended up in fights, as Hikaru lost his patience with what he thought to be idiotic moves, and it wasn't overall surprising that gradually they stopped playing go altogether, and from then on he played only against Sai.

His mother thought that his interest in go had been, unsurprisingly, quite short-lived – she couldn't know that when he lay on his bed instead of playing on his board or reading his book, apparently dozing off, he was in fact engaged in quite a complicated game.

Go might have helped him to ignore water's call, but it didn't help him to concentrate in school, quite on the contrary. He was in a world of his own, most of the time, and during the third year his grades suddenly plummeted, giving his mother a new source of worry. She decided to start teaching him home after school, and Sai too tried to help, deciding they could, perhaps, at times talk about other things than go. It all helped but a little, though, and Hikaru made it to the last year of elementary school just barely passing all his exams.

You really should find an onmyouji somewhere, Sai stated worriedly one day. You need help. I was never quite this badly caught in the middle – but then again, I had my pendant since I was a baby. I wish I hadn't thrown it away, I could give it to you now…

"Yeah, yeah," Hikaru muttered. It was summer vacation, and he was enjoying it fully, doing nothing. He lay on his back in the forest behind their house, at the moment listening more closely to the movements of ground water under him than to Sai. "I'm fine."

You are not fine, Sai insisted. I can see it. You have never really been fine, so you don't know the difference. What about that thing your mother uses, the computer thing that has a net in it? She said once you can find anything in the net. Do you think one could find an onmyouji there? Though I don't know if an onmyouji would let himself be caught in a net…

Hikaru snorted. "You're so silly at times," he just said, but this had given him an idea. He sat up and thought for a moment. "I think I'll ask mom," he said then, standing up.

About an onmyouji in the net?

"Nope. This is better."

He found his mother in her workroom, where else, absorbed in her research for a new article. She was nowadays writing for more than just one magazine, and her articles had become relatively popular.

"Mom?" Hikaru asked by the door, and she glanced at him before turning back to her books.

"Yes, honey?"

"Can you play go on the internet?"

"What?" She paused from her reading. "Go?" She turned to look at him again. "Are you again getting interested in go?" She thought of his foldable go board that was collecting dust in the corner of his room. Or would have, if she hadn't wiped it clean every week.

"I've never stopped being interested in go, mom," Hikaru stated with some annoyance. "So, can you?"

"I don't know. I'd imagine. We can look into it when I'm finished."

"But you're not using the computer now…"

"When I'm finished, Hikaru."

That evening she found something called World Igo Net, and created an account for Hikaru, a little amused about her son's eagerness. The boy hadn't been playing for three years and now he wanted to play against people all around the world? She shook her head a little, but figured he might have come up with worse ways to spend his time. So she left Hikaru to sit by her computer and headed to make supper for them, wondering as she went about the username he had chosen, sai. It sounded oddly familiar, where had she heard it before…?

A while later she took off her apron and shouted over her shoulder, "Supper's ready, Hikaru!" The boy had been wonderfully quiet, apparently completely absorbed in whatever he was doing. She wondered if he was still playing go, or if he had found something else on the internet. "Hikaru!" she repeated when there came no answer. "Did you hear me?"

Still the silence continued, and shaking her head she walked to the workroom. "Hikaru? Supper's ready," she said as she stopped by the door. To her surprise she saw the boy was still playing go. "Stop that and come to eat."

Hikaru shot her a glance out of the corner of his eye. "I can't stop now, mom," he said, sounding annoyed. "It's not a computer game, I'm playing against a person!"

"The food will get cold. Can't you resign?"

"What?" Now she got a glare. "I'm winning this game! Just a moment, mom, this is over in a minute."

It took in the end almost ten minutes for the game to end. Hikaru arrived to the kitchen, looking cheerful. His mother gave him a look. "So, did you win?"

"Yeah!" He sat happily down and grasped his chopsticks. "And that guy was pretty good, too!" He took the first bite and grimaced. "Mom, this is cold!"

"I told you it'd be getting cold if you don't come right away."

He grimaced again. "Next time tell me when the food's gonna be ready so I know not to start a new game."

"We always eat at the same time, Hikaru," his mother pointed out.

Hikaru said nothing. After the supper he made a beeline to the computer and logged back in. Mitsuko watched after him shaking her head. So he had won a game? Well, surely there were all kinds of players online. She was happy about it, though – winning might keep him interested in go, and that was a better hobby for him than many she would have thought might interest him.

-


This is wonderful, Hikaru! Hikaru had seldom felt such excitement from Sai, he almost felt like if he turned to look, he might see someone standing behind his back, gripping eagerly his shoulders. I don't even pretend to understand how all these great players can be within this box, but I'm so happy you found them! Can I play the next game?

"You just played, it's my turn now," Hikaru muttered. "Take it easy."

Can I get the next one after you, then?

"If mom still let's us play," Hikaru promised, and got a surge of excitement and happiness as a reply.


Having just one computer was a bit of a pain, Hikaru soon concluded, especially since his mother needed it for her work. He tried to suggest getting a laptop of his own, but his mother just laughed at the idea. She promised Hikaru could play a game or two every evening – "it's not good for you to spend much time in front of the computer, anyway" – and that was it.

A game or two a day just wasn't enough, especially since Sai wanted to play too. And to crown it all, school started again, filling his supposedly idle hours with homework, and there was even less time for go than before. But one day when school was over Hikaru got an idea, and he sneaked into the computer classroom. The school had a grand total of two computers, but that was fine – he needed only one. He closed the door behind him, turned the computer on, and sat down stretching his fingers. "A few games here, a few at home, wouldn't that be great?" he whispered.

Are you sure this is ok? It was drizzling outside, and as usual the higher humidity made Sai's voice clearer to him. It also made him feel the doubt in his companion more strongly. Shouldn't you ask someone?

"It's fine! But if you don't want to play, you don't have to."

Of course I want to play, Hikaru~!

"Let's get started then," he grinned. "I take the first game, you get the next."

He logged in, and immediately they got a few game requests – they were beginning to get known across the internet. Hikaru eyed the names, chose one that was new to him, and the game was on.

A long while later a text flashed on the screen to tell him his opponent had resigned. "Yeah! One more victory!" Hikaru exclaimed and stretched. "Now Sai, it's your…"

The door opened and one of the school's teachers looked in, frowning as he saw the boy. "Shindou-kun? What are you doing here?"

"I… I just…"

"Do you have a permission to use the computer?" The man's frown deepened. "You shouldn't…"

"I was playing go, sensei!" Hikaru put in hurriedly. "That's all. I… I don't have anyone to play with and I heard you can play online, so I thought to check it out…" At Sai's urging he stood up and bowed. "I'm very sorry."

"Go?" The teacher walked to the computer and leaned closer to take a look, adjusting his glasses on his nose. "We'll, so it seems. And it looks like you won? Well, this is a surprise. I wouldn't have guessed that you of all our students would be interested in go." He laughed a little. "But you should still have asked for permission."

"I'm sorry," Hikaru repeated. "I'll go now…"

"No, no, wait." The teacher grasped another chair and drew it closer. "Why don't you play a game with me? We have a go program on this computer, here. So, let's play a game? I'm curious."

Hikaru sat back down. "Okay…"

Hikaru, Sai said very quietly. Let me play this game.

"What? But…" Hikaru glanced at the teacher sitting beside him and shrugged. Whatever. Your turn, anyway.

They hadn't played for long when Hikaru began to grow annoyed. He couldn't understand what Sai was doing – this man was an average player at best and they should have beaten him easily. The way Sai was playing it would soon take a miracle for them to win.

Trust me, Hikaru, Sai whispered at one point when the boy's annoyance was beginning to leek to his face. I have a reason to play like this.

Hikaru heaved out a big sigh. After a while he could see that there was no way they would anymore win this game. They played still a few moves, and then Sai whispered to him, I think it's time for you to resign.

Hikaru sighed again. "I've lost," he mumbled quietly, not looking at his opponent. Damn you, Sai, he thought to himself. It's not fair that I have to say it when it's you who lost…

"Thank you for the game." The man sounded quite pleased. "That was a good game, Shindou-kun. I'm quite happy we have a promising go-player like you in our school. Have you thought about playing in tournaments?"

"No," Hikaru answered truthfully.

"Well, you should. As I said, this was a very good game. Would you like to discuss it, so we could go through what little mistakes you made?"

"No thanks," Hikaru said. He well knew what mistakes had been made in that game. The whole game was one big mistake. "Mom must be waiting for me. I didn't tell her I wouldn't come straight home from school."

"It's best for you to go then. For the future, ask, before you do something like this, alright? And remember to tell your mother too. Now, you said you have no one to play with? I can arrange for you to play games here sometimes, after school, if this room is not in other use. And perhaps we can play again on some day?"

"Yes, sure." Hikaru smiled a little weakly. "Thanks." He left quickly.

"What was that about, Sai?" he muttered angrily as he started walking toward home. "Why did you play like that?"

That man wasn't such a bad player. He would have realized there is something strange going on, if a self-taught boy like you could beat him so easily. This is safer.

"Safer?" Hikaru snorted. "I think you're being paranoid. So what if he'd have thought I'm some go genius? I mean, I am a go genius, right? Why not let the world know?"

Sai was silent. The air felt somehow colder than before, even the water's voice was quiet, as if holding its breath. Then, It's too early for that, Sai said, and something in his voice made Hikaru swallow his objections. They walked home in silence after that.

Getting to play at school wasn't a bad deal, even if Hikaru had to play some occasional bad games against the teacher. He told his mother he was taking part in after school activities, in a go club, which he thought was quite true – so what if he was the only one in the club. A couple of hours of go after school and then some more at home did take quite a lot of time from homework, though, and at some point his mother suggested that perhaps he wouldn't need to be quite so active with his "after-school activities". As Hikaru carried on as before she took a different approach and limited his go time home to half an hour – "and only after homework is done!" – which was slightly annoying. Still, better than nothing.

Being able to play more games online made Hikaru and Sai's common reputation spread even faster, and now their account was flooding with game requests every time they logged in. Their opponents were a varied lot, some of them clearly still beginners (why do these people want to play against us, Hikaru would wonder, and, they want to learn – play a teaching game, Sai would reply), but some of them were quite excellent players. Still, Sai never lost a single of his games, and after a short while Hikaru became quite as undefeatable as him, winning also against those few players who had managed to beat him in the very beginning.

One day after school Hikaru once again logged into his account on the World Igo Net, and grimaced at the flood of requests. "This is getting ridiculous," he remarked to Sai as he kept on declining one request after another. "And the names these people use! How do they come up with them?" He clicked a button to decline yet another game, and eyed the list of users online. "So, it's your turn to start. Who do you want to play?"

All the same to me! Just pick one of them already!

"Okay, so I'll take one by lot…" Hikaru closed his eyes and moved the cursor across the screen. "So…" he opened his eyes, "what about this 'akira'?" He grinned. "Now, that name's so ordinary it's almost boring."

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May 2016

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