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Chapter 10 - The Match

Separated by the small card table, the two faced off. Each player had a mountain of chips to wager. Once someone's pile was reduced to nothing, the match would be over.

The clock struck midnight.

In the silence following the chime, the grand match between Jack and Halle began.

At first, the match was totally even. For every hand Jack won, Halle won another.

Whenever Halle won a hand, Jack had the next. Neither gave a rege. The ones most surprised by this close contest were Won and his group. Everyone who had bet on Jack started to jeer and holler.

During the match, time and again, Halle spoke to Jack. Using conversation to distract your opponent was all part of the game, but Halle's persistence went beyond just tactics.

However, Jack never said a single word back to her until roughly thirty minutes passed. Then, finally, he broke the silence at the time with a low, textured voice.

'...Once upon a time, there was a man.'

It was so soft that the crowd could barely hear, but Jack wasn't speaking for them. He continued.

'This man had somethin' he admired. He wanted to become the thing he admired, and he wanted to win against the object of his admiration...

And through it all, he was drawn closer to that which he admired.'

Both laid down their hands.

Jack had one pair. Halle had two.

Chips moved from Jack's mountain to Halle's.

'Heh. What is it, Jack? This all part of your plan?'

Halle would occasionally add a sarcastic remark, but Jack just kept on telling the story.

'The man stole some tricks from that which he admired and practiced his own skills as best he could. In the end, his efforts eventually made him strong enough that people called him 'Victory.'

'At some point, there was someone who took notice of that reputation. He thought, why not pit the best against each other? There's no show that could be better.'

Enrique's ears twitched. Something in what Jack was saying bothered him.

'The man gladly accepted the offer for the show. It was the match of a lifetime with that which he admired most, after all.

'...The man's heart danced with excitement. Back then, that man was a young fool who didn't see the world around him for what it was. Certainly, he'd never have thought about what it would really mean to lose that match.'

Halle listened intently.

At some point, she had started to pay attention to Jack's story. The audience was much the same.

Everyone in the hall strained to hear the tale tumbling from Jack's lips.

The two played their cards.

Jack had no pair.

Halle had a full house.

Chips moved from Jack's mountain to Halle's.

第10回 勝負の始まり

小さなカード台をはさみ2人が対峙する。 2人の目の前にはチップの山。 どちらか一方の山がなくなった時、それが、この勝負の決着する時だ。

時計の針が深夜の0時を指す。 ジャックとハルの大勝負が静かに始まった。

――勝負は一進一退。 ジャックが勝てば、ハルが勝ち、ハルが勝てばジャックが勝つ。 お互い一歩も譲らない。 この接戦に驚いたのは、ウォンとその取り巻き達だった。 ジャックに賭けたものはみな野次を飛ばした。

勝負中、ハルはことあるごとにジャックに話しかけた。 会話で相手のペースを崩すのは常套手段だ。 だが、ハルの執拗な態度は誰の目から見ても異様だった。 しかし、ジャックはそんなハルに一切言葉を返そうとしなかった。

勝負が始まって30分。 沈黙を破り、突然ジャックが口を開いた。




――2人のカードが開かれる。 ジャック、ワンペア。 ハル、ツーペア。 ジャックからハルへチップが移動する。

「フフ、どうしたのジャック?それも作戦のうちなのかしら。」 時折ハルが茶々を入れてもジャックはかまわず話を続けた。

「男は『憧れ』の技を盗み、自らの技を磨き上げた。」 「そのかいあって男はいつしか『勝利』と呼ばれるほど強くなった。」




エンリケの耳がピクリと動く。 ジャックの話には何か引っ掛かるものがあった。





「………………………」 ハルはいつの間にかジャックの話に聞き入ってしまっていた。 それは観客達も同様だった。 いつしか広間にいる全員が、ジャックが小声で語る話に耳を傾けていた。

――2人のカードが開かれる。 ジャック、ノーペア。 ハル、フルハウス。 ジャックからハルへチップが移動する。