The young girls' eyes seemed to be plastered onto their backs even from far away.
"I said that this guy was the biggest faker. He actually wore a hood so he couldn't be seen, then in one fell swoop stole our spotlight," said one of the young men in mock anger.
Ning Yunzhao laughed but did not say anything. Despite his companions' teasing, they made their way forward. Very soon, they stopped.
This place was not for guessing riddles, but for people playing Go.
The lantern riddles were arranged by the authorities, so whoever gave away the least riddle lanterns would receive an additional reward from the government. Thus, the stand owners all racked their brains for tricky questions.
Right now, this stand vendor had set up a Go board. Whoever could beat him would earn a lantern.
Playing Go was much more difficult than guessing riddles, so although there were many more spectators, many fewer of those who obtained lanterns.
How could the group of young men pass this up? They rubbed their fists and polished their palms and immediately stepped forward.
"This time you just think it over yourself. Wait for us to win before you appear." Everybody made sure to warn Ning Yunzhao.
Ning Yunzhao smiled and stepped back, just watching everybody surge forward.
Although there weren't many people who won, there were many spectators-boy, girl, old, young-coming to watch the Go or the general atmosphere.
The stand owner had obviously wanted to show his fairness. He had an especially large Go board and specially set the scene so that the people around him could see. As such, they didn't need to squeeze in so tightly.
Ning Yunzhao glanced on either side of him, then stepped back underneath a large tree. Here, he didn't have to be squished yet he could still see the match.
On the board, black and white were locked in a deadly confrontation.
After taking a cursory glance, Ning Yunzhao nodded. This stand owner had invited an expert. It would not be easy for an ordinary person to defeat him. As expected, after several minutes, the challenger lost.
Another person stepped up to take the challenge, but in less time than it took to drink one cup of tea, he lost in just three or four moves. Until Ning Yunzhao saw one of his companions step up, the confrontations more or less followed this pattern.
Ning Yunzhao watched his companion's game intently. When he saw him set down a stone, he couldn't stop himself from frowning.
A girl's voice spoke next to him.
Ning Yunzhao blanked temporarily, then turned his head. At some point in time, a girl had walked underneath the shade of another tree. She was also watching the Go board.
She, too, wore a cloak, the hood hiding her face. Her figure was slender and graceful, and she was not very old.
"Row ten, nine, cut," said the gentle voice.
Ning Yunzhao turned back to the Go board, internally moving the white piece his companion had put.
Row ten, nine, cut. Although it wasn't what he would have thought of, it wasn't wrong.
However, what if the opponent responded with row 15, 6?
He voiced out his thoughts.
"Row 14, 5," the girl immediately responded.
Ning Yunzhao focused on the board.
"Row 11, 3," he said.
When he stopped speaking, the girl immediately responded.
"Row 17, 5."
If someone else was standing there, they would discover that they were talking about a completely different game then the one on the board right now. Ever since the row 10, 9 and the row 15, 6 response, they had started a new game.
Black and white were engaged on the Go board, but the two spectator's had launched another battle. A battle that was not in view, but was in the heart.
According to ancient legend, immortals drew lines on the sand to create a map for the white and black This was called the Go board.
The board was square and still, while the stones were round and movable. This was called Go.
Heaven and earth inspired the game; no one on earth could completely understand it.
In the Classic of Arts, it said that there were nine ranks of Go players: rank 1 Being in the Spirit, rank 2 Seated in Enlightenment, rank 3 Concreteness, rank 4 Understanding Changes, rank 5 Applying Wisdom, rank 6 Ability, rank 7 Fighting Strength, rank 8 Being Quite Inept, rank 9 Being Truly Stupid.
Ning Yunzhao had outstanding Go skills since he was young. When he was eight years old, he could memorize a board with one glance. He was called a child prodigy, and it was said that he could enter the Understanding Changes rank when he was twenty.
It meant that when playing with an expert, the better player should let the worse player put down a few pieces first. When it was time for him to play, if his pieces were blocked he could respond aptly, to decide to fight or not to fight. He has 'understanding changes' in his heart.
Ning Yunzhao was always a very modest person, but he thought that he, who was not yet twenty, was of the Understanding Changes rank.
Ning Yun, who had always believed this, was shaken right now.
In what seemed to be the space of time it took to take a breath, he and that girl had already made near one hundred moves.
Victory or defeat was yet undeterminable, but that girl's offensive was becoming more and more forceful.
"Row 1, 4, diagonal," he said, looking at the distant Go board.
White and black on the far away board were crisscrossed together, but he was not related to that game. His gaze traveled past the white and black, looking to another Go board layout.
"Row 1, 5," she said next.
Ning Yunzhao gently pinched his arm.
"Row 13, 7," he said.
"Row 13, 6," said the girl, neither fast nor slow.
Her voice was so incongruous with her playing style. This gentle girl was like a brawny man brandishing a great sword on the board right now.
"Row 14, 6, sagari." Ning Yunzhao did not act rashly because of her. He thought deeply for a moment before saying his answer slowly.
The girl also paused for a moment.
"Row 12, 5, one-space jump," she said.
Ning Yunzhao looked at the faraway board but did not say anything. Laughter came from the distance, and people surged forward, overturning the board. Finally, someone won.
A pagoda lantern was taken off the frame it was hanging from, and a young man accepted it. He laughed loudly as the crowd applauded and cheered him.
A smile spread across Ning Yunzhao's face.
"Row 13, 5," he said.
As he said this, he saw the sky break through the clouds on his envisioned board and sighed slightly in relief.
Besides the initial look he had given her, in the time that they had spoken over one hundred sentences to each other, he hadn't given her a second look.
He respected his opponent and focused wholly on the game, not asking about the person.
This time, she paused longer than she had before.
"Row 12, 6" she said softly.
Again, the rivers churned and the seas overturned on the board. Ning Yunzhao couldn't stop himself from sighing.
This truly was a troublesome girl. Just like his sisters, acting spoiled and clinging on to his sleeves, tugging and tugging, unable to give up when they couldn't achieve their goal.
Did she have an older brother?
Ning Yunzhao gazed at the board, very focused.
"Row 17, 14."
On the board, the girl held her long sword aloft, blocking the path, a magnificent army behind her.
Ning Yunzhao was holding himself up while he listening to the lamentous cries of birds.
Just now that girl had shot the arrow that snapped off his life.
No, his life hadn't ended yet. He hadn't just sent one goose to ask for aid.
Ning Yunzhao raised his head, seeing the geese spiral overhead against the backdrop of the light and dark of the sky. The geese cried out, seeming both fearful and encouraging, urging him to try once more.
Then he would try once more.
"Row 16, 15, push." He lifted up his hand, wildly casting his stone to that position.
The stone turned into an arrow, whistling through the air. The girl, whose face couldn't be seen through swathes of muslin, waved the longsword in her hand.
"Row 15, 16, cut," she said gently.
The sword slashed down, and the heaven and earth before him broke into pieces.
Ning Yunzhao opened his eyes. The sounds of a great army vanished, replaced by sounds of laughter and talking. Moonlight and lantern light cast dappled shade.
He had returned to the human realm.
This was very interesting.
Ning Yunzhao's face suffused with a smile. He turned to his side while taking of his hood and revealing his face.
"Young Miss' Go skills are outstanding, truly admirable," he said.
The girl was also standing beneath the shadow of the tree, three steps away from him. She looked back at him.
"Noble Son also is..." she said, while taking off her hood.
This was a very polite girl.
But her voice suddenly halted, not finishing her words of praise, seeming to see something very surprising.
*Translator's disclaimer: I know nothing about Go.