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Chapter 7 - The Banquet of Darkness

The ship was utterly silent as it cut through the velvety darkness of the night. In contrast to the stillness and inky black of the outside, one layer down the ship's interior was filled with light and sound. Furnishings from every part of the continent adorned the walls, and a band of musicians played a cheery song... The orbal glow of a chandelier imported from Liberl shone down on every form of human desire.

In the hall built at the center of the ship, guests laughed and chatted. They appeared to be the finest of ladies and gentlemen, but each and every one were a part of the seedy Republican underworld. They were the type of folk that spoke of murder as easily as one would dinner or a fine wine. Their faces hadn't changed much in seven years.

The farthest depths of the hall reserved discreet seating for the highest ranked of the lot, and just like before, there was a certain group of men there. One old man, who was flanked by several bodyguards, stood out in particular: Chief Minister Shamrock. He happened to be the host of the party aboard the ship.

A long, white beard trailed down his chest. It was his symbol, and also the symbol of power. Though he retired several years before, he continued to serve in an advisory role to many organizations. Retirement had done nothing to slow his influence on the nation; he was a man well worthy of being called the monster of the underworld.

Chief Minister Shamrock held this party once every year as a place for the powerful to meet and share useful information. Of course, there were many in the group who could hardly be called friendly in their attitude. Two of these such men were Enrique and Won.

Enrique, both seven years ago and now, was the man behind arranging Jack's fateful gambling matches. Formerly an arms dealer, he had expanded his dealings to smuggling drugs within the Eastern Quarter a decade prior and never looked back. For that, he became a villain on the rise--the best of the new class.

Conversely, Won was a villain whose roots ran deep in the region back to even before the Eastern Quarter. He was the kind of man who ruled from the top, commanding gangs of thugs, punks, and the like. For as long as the two were in the same business, Enrique and Won had been locked in a vicious territorial dispute. It was the classic tale of new versus old, and neither side yielded a rege. Every drop of blood in their attempts to claim dominance was only washed away with more blood.

However easy it was to wash away, the constant splattering of blood across pavement did little to bring in the mira for either side. It took three years of profitless violence for Enrique to finally propose a solution: a one-on-one gambling match between the best of the best. Even cheating was welcome, for it could hardly be called cheating at all if one was never caught in the act.

Won's first instinct was to reject the idea, but even he could see the heavy toll the fighting had taken on his own organization. Truly, the only thing keeping him from agreeing was his old-fashioned, stubborn mentality; he was, at his core, a man greatly adverse to change.

In order to set his plans in motion, Enrique brought his proposal forward to none other than Chief Minister Shamrock, who also served as advisor to Won's group. With him having granted the match his blessing, there was little more Won could do but accept.

第7回 闇の晩餐会

船は音も無く、なめらかな暗闇の上を走っていた。

静けさに満ちた外界と裏腹に、鋼板1枚を隔てた船内にはありとあらゆる光と騒音とが溢れていた。 大陸各地から集められた調度品に陽気な音楽を奏でる楽師たちの一団…… 王国から輸入されたシャンデリアの灯りが、人の欲望の全てをあまねく照らし出していた。 船体の中央に位置するホールでは、乗客達が晩餐の後の会話を楽しんでいた。

みな紳士を気取ってはいるが、いずれも共和国の裏社会で暗躍する有力者たちだ。 酒と食事、そしてギャンブルを楽しむ合間に次に誰を殺そうかと相談し合うような輩だ。 顔触れは7年前とそれほど変わらない。

ホールのもっとも奥まった所にまるで隠すように設けられた貴賓席―― 7年前と同じく、そこには一群の男達の姿があった。 屈強な護衛たちに囲まれた1人の老人。 それがこの船内パーティーの主催者、シャムロック大老である。

へその辺りまでもある立派な白い髭は彼の象徴であり、同時に権威の象徴でもある。 数年前に現役こそ退いたものの、複数の組織の相談役を務めるなど、その影響力はいまだ衰えをしらない。 まさに裏社会の怪物とも言うべき人物だ。

そのシャムロック大老が年に1度だけ開くこの船内パーティーは、有力者たちの重要な情報交換の場となっていた。

もっとも、中にはとても友好的とは言えない雰囲気を漂わせている者もいる。 エンリケとウォンだ。

エンリケは7年前、そして今回の2度のギャンブラー勝負を企画した人物だ。

元々は導力器、それも兵器の商人だったが10年前に東方人街との取引を始めると同時に薬物の密輸などのビジネスに手を広げ、たちまちその勢力を拡大した新進気鋭の悪党だ。

一方のウォンは東方人街が誕生する以前からこの辺り一帯を根城にしてきた悪党で、チンピラやゴロツキなどのヤクザ者を束ね上げる組織のトップに立つ人物である。

この10年、東方人街はエンリケとウォン、新参と古参の勢力争いの真っ只中にあった。 両者は互いに一歩も譲らず、血で血を洗う抗争を繰り返してきた。

そんな状況の中、7年前にエンリケが提案したのがギャンブルでの勝負だった。 最高のギャンブラーによる、イカサマ有り、1対1の大勝負。 この勝負に東方人街の縄張りを賭ける、それで無益な抗争を少しでも減らそうとウォンに話を持ちかけたのだった。

当初、ウォンはこの企画に反対していた。 もちろん、抗争が続くことは彼の組織にとっても大変な痛手だった。 だが、昔気質のウォンは安易に新奇な考えに飛びつく男ではなかった。

エンリケはこの話をシャムロック大老へと持ち込んだ。 そして、大老は勝負の開催を許可した。

大老はウォンの一家の相談役でもある。 彼が許可を出した以上、ウォンも勝負を受けないわけにはいかなかった。

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