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Chapter 8 - Halle

The clock chimed the 11th hour.

The match between Jack and Halle was to start at midnight exactly. She waited in the interim in Enrique's room.

'Your father became ill and died seven years ago.' That's what the girl had heard from her mother, and yet three years ago, she learned her father had instead lost his life in a match.

Halle didn't have many memories of her father. She'd spent her childhood with her mother. That was exactly why, though, that each and every one was engraved into her heart as irreplaceable treasures.

The things she remembered best were the sights in the gambling dens. She didn't often get to go along, but to her, the way her father could silence even the most finely dressed of gentlemen with his near-magical card handling was something she admired with all her heart.

The last memory Halle had was of him taking her hand while she was in bed and telling her not to worry.

Maybe that memory was what kept her from believing what her mother said about her father's death. After all, how could the strong, healthy man from that memory drop dead of illness so suddenly?

It was a typical day when she had learned the truth. She was out shopping for her mother, and rather than take the usual route home, she found herself heading to one of the gambling dens along the back streets on a whim.

One fateful whim. That was all it took for her to overhear the careless chatter of thugs who spoke of her father. It had been seven years, yes, but it was a match of the ages--a match which still ushered in fervent whispers among the men and women who frequented the darker corners of the gambling world.

The truth left her with a hatred so all-consuming that she was blind to all but one desire: revenge.

Swearing she would become as good as her father, Halle obsessively frequented the gambling dens and played with that one burning desire guiding her hands.

It was Enrique who, upon hearing rumors, approached Halle first. He had claimed victory in his first match against Won by betting on Jack; with Halle, he saw his chance to do so again.

Anyone could see that, to Halle, participating in such a match would be a perfect means to an end.

Cutting all ties with her mother was a sad but necessary sacrifice, and though she was young, she was welcomed as the newest addition to Enrique's group. Being blessed with talent to begin with and having abandoned all else to focus on improving her craft, it took a mere three years for her to master what King had spent a lifetime studying. Revenge had proven to be an incredible motivator.

Halle's eyes were distant as she waited quietly for the match. Perhaps those three years were running through them. Still seated, she bowed her head and let out a big, long sigh.

'No need to let the weight of this drag you down, you know,' Enrique said softly to her.

'...Don't worry,' she replied. 'Now that I'm here, my heart is as light as a feather.'

Her face betrayed the lie in her words as a flicker of sorrow creased her features. Before anyone could notice, she was back to the same poker face as before.

'Right now, the only thing on my mind is seeing Jack lose.'

Enrique's lips contorted into a smile. The more confident he grew in his victory, the more disturbingly warped his smile became.

第8回 ハル

時計の針が夜の11時を示している。 ジャックとハルの勝負は0時の開始だ。 ハルはエンリケの部屋でその時を待っていた。

『あなたの父親は、7年前に病気で亡くなった。』

母親からそう言い聞かされて育った少女は、3年前、父が勝負で死んだことを知った――

多くの時間を母親と過ごしてきた彼女に、父の思い出はそれほど多くはなかった。

だが、だからこそ余計にかけがえの無いものとして彼女の心に深く刻み込まれていた。

一番よく覚えているのは賭場の光景だ。 あまり連れて行ってもらえなかったが、まるで魔法のように華麗なカードさばきで立派な身なりの紳士たちを黙らせる父の姿は、彼女にとってまさに憧れそのものだった。

記憶の中にある最後の思い出は、ベッドにふせっているハルの手を取り、安心しろと勇気付けてくれる父の姿だった。 その記憶のせいか、彼女はどうしても母親の伝える父の最期を信じられなかった。 最後に見た父は、いつも通り元気そうでその後すぐに病に倒れたとは思えなかった。

そしてある時、母の手伝いで町まで買い物に出かけた彼女は、ふと思いついて裏通りの賭場へ足を向けた。 そこでチンピラどもの世間話を耳にした瞬間、彼女はたちまち父の死の真相を悟った。 賭場に出入りする者たちにすれば、7年前の勝負はあまりに有名な話だった。

事実を知った彼女を支配したのはたった1つの感情だけだった。 ジャックに対する復讐心。 彼女は父の域まで腕を磨くことを誓い、賭場に出入りを始めるようになった。

そんな彼女のことを人づてに知り、声を掛けたのがあのエンリケだった。 7年前、ジャックの勝ちに賭けウォンとの争いに勝利を収めた彼は、今度はキングの娘であるハルにジャックに対する勝機を見出した。 そして、勝負の再現を持ちかけたのだった。

ハルにとっても渡りに船の話だった。 彼女は母親との連絡を絶ち、エンリケの組織に身を寄せる。 元々持っていた類まれなる才能をすべてを捨てて必死に磨き上げた彼女は、わずか3年でキングの域に達したのだった。

じっと勝負の時を待つハルの瞳にはその3年間が映っていたのだろうか―― ソファーに腰掛けたまま彼女は俯き、ひとつ大きな吐息をついた。

「あまり気負う必要はないぞ。」エンリケが優しく声を掛ける。

「………心配しないで。私、気負ってなんかないわ。」 ハルの顔にほんの一瞬、憂いにも似た表情が浮かぶ。 だが、次の瞬間には普段のポーカーフェイスに戻っている。

「今はただ、ジャックの惨めな負け姿……それを見るのが楽しみなだけよ。」

ハルの言葉を聞き、エンリケはほくそ笑む。 勝利を確信したのか、その歪んだ顔をさらに歪ませた。

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