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Gambler Jack (賭博師ジャック, tobakushi jakku) is a book series that can be collected in Trails in the Sky SC and Trails of Cold Steel II.

Chapter 1 - The Girl

    --The Calvard Republic.

There's a city in this country, a place where migrants from the East have recreated their homeland down to the bright lacquered tiles. Nicknamed the Eastern Quarter, it's a vibrant place, bustling and hot.

Orbal busses trundle down the main street lined with stands of fragrant Eastern cooking as the welcoming cries of sellers rise and fall over a crowd of travelers from every nation.

    The place where the cultures of East and West meet. Yes, it was a place that wore that mantle well.

On the north outskirts of that town was a little, run-down bar. Doubtless, it'd been fashionable once, but now the plaster was crumbling and what doors were left barely fit their pitted frames. Of course, such a seedy place attracted a clientele to match. To the lawless and violent, it was home.

  'Heh... Sorry, looks like my win again,' said a low voice that echoed through the grimy room.

  The voice belonged to Jack.

He was of medium size and in his early thirties; a man in his prime. The frayed shirt he wore had seen better days, but the accessories adorning his body were of obvious worth. None of them were right for a man like him--just like the blue glint in his eyes. Compared to the dirty, poor and desperate thugs around him, he looked out of place.

Jack was always to be found at that bar gambling or sharing a round with the dregs of the town. Sometimes fighting, sometimes drinking, he passed his days in idle recreation.

As usual, today found him hunched at the bar. He'd been deep in his cups since early noon. It was the same as always. Another day just like any other was stretching out before him...

--And into that familiar scene cut the shriek of the door opening.

A new customer stepped into that same old bar.

  But who was this new arrival?

  It was a girl...unlike any other he had seen before.

Chapter 2 - The Offer

  The girl strode into the bar and closed the door without turning a rege. There was no hesitation in her manner. It seemed her arrival was no accident. Her face was determined, but her confident entrance couldn't erase the lingering innocence of youth there. Even the best liar wouldn't try and claim she was more than eighteen. Dark brown eyes and hair suggested she was Eastern, but her nose and features made it hard to be sure.

    The girl slowly walked forward.

With each step, her cute little knees peeked out from under the trim cut of her skirt. Her outfit was a design without any sense of decoration. It seemed her taste lay more along the lines of utility than style.

Maybe because of that the Eastern symbol necklace on her chest couldn't help but look equally unremarkable. ...The lack of volume in that area probably had something to do with that as well. It seemed like it'd still be some time before she really bloomed.

    An appearance bearing the signs of East and West both, and simple, unembellished clothes... The girl might have been the spirit of the Eastern Quarter made flesh.

She caught the eye of one of the punks hanging about almost instantly.

'Heh, hey, little girly,' he slurred. 'Wanna have some fun with me?'

As he spoke, he grabbed the girl's wrist with one greasy hand.

  --It happened in an instant.

    Her arm flew up, dislodging the punk's grip. Now freed, her hand disappeared deep into her skirt, and then slid out with a mass of gleaming black iron.

She pressed it to the space between his eyes. He stared at the object for a moment before collapsing to his knees in fear.

It was an orbal gun of cunning make; a high caliber Verne Company model. If she'd shot that firearm, the punk would have lost his head instead of his bladder. ...It was not your average self-defense weapon.

    'It's the latest model,' she purred. 'Want to see what it can do?'

She was cool and calm. The barrel of the gun didn't waver a bit. If she fired, her aim would be perfect.

Overwhelmed by the girl, gun, or both, the punk couldn't move a muscle. Everyone else in the bar remained frozen as well. All eyes were on the girl.

  '*Hic* ...Hey, miss. Hate to ask, but could ya let him off with that?'

    Maybe the speaker couldn't stand it anymore or maybe it was disturbing his drink, but the husky, sensual voice broke through the silence.

--It was Jack.

  Still planted firmly in his chair, breath smelling of liquor, he continued.

'I'm sure he's very sorry, and he's learned his lesson.'

He shot the punk a meaningful look.

As if in answer to it, the punk started nodding his head vigorously.

    'I've come here to gamble,' the girl said suddenly.

She slowly lowered the gun in her left hand. Her expression remained cool and detached.

  '...Sounds good. C'mon over here. Gimme everythin' you got.'

  Jack's words had an immediate impact, not on the girl but on the gathered goons and hoods. They all shared a glance, each and every one of them, with the dirtiest grin you could imagine.

Chapter 3 - Challenge at High Noon

  Jack and the girl moved over to a table in the back. Unlike the other pitted and sticky furniture, this table was smooth and polished to a shine and seemed meant for gambling. Without a word, both took their seats. Jack sat against the wall, and the girl faced him straight on.

The other patrons were captivated. Helplessly fascinated by the match, they snuck glances at the pair, ears straining to listen in.

    The bar filled with fidgety silence.

  The girl's game of choice was poker.

Jack accepted wordlessly.

 After a brief exchange to confirm the terms of the challenge, they settled on bets.

It was to be 100 mira a hand--not even enough to buy a beer--but Jack considered that fair for a match against a kid and said as much.

  The dealer was the small fry punk from before. Jack gave him a quick eye signal.

    First hand--

Both discarded just one card.

Jack called and the girl stood.

  Jack had two pairs.

The girl had just one.

--Jack was the winner.

'Haha, sorry, little missy,' he drawled.

He raised his glass to her and downed the amber liquid in a single, decisive gulp.

  Second hand--

    Both discarded just one card.

Perhaps trying to look confident, Jack let out a big, clear sigh.

The girl called and Jack stood.

The girl had two pairs. Jack had the same. But the cards told the tale...

The girl's hand had the high card.

--It was the girl's win.

  '...What?!' Jack exclaimed.

His hand that had been toying with the glass froze.

    Immediately, he glanced over at the punk who was dealing. The other man avoided his gaze.

  'Something wrong?' the girl asked.

Her words were even and her face betrayed nothing.

  'N-No... Forget it,' he said.

Had she swapped out some cards?

The game suddenly took on a new angle.

  --The look on Jack's face changed instantly.

    Lightly clearing his throat, Jack put the glass back on the table with his left hand. Then, once more, he cleared his throat. The dealer, recognizing the signal, picked up the cards again. It was their code for 'Deal normally next round.'

  Third hand--

As expected, each discarded just one card.

Jack called and the girl stood.

Jack's hand was...a full house.

'Hahaha, how 'bout THAT!' he crowed.

    With a flourish, Jack laid his cards on the table. The bar patrons snickered into their cups.

  The girl set down her own cards without a word. ...Four sevens.

  It was the girl's win--

The bar once again returned to silence.

Chapter 4 - The Daughter

  Ultimately...it was the girl's win.

The silence in the bar was punctuated only by the sounds of a raucous argument out on the street.

'Heh heh... Hahaha...'

Holding back the laughter bubbling up, Jack asked the girl a question.

'Hey, missy...where, oh, where, did you learn to be this good?'

The girl made no reply.

    Instead, she took the cards into her hands and began shuffling. They flew back and forth with exquisite grace between her long fingers.

She dealt five to Jack, then five to herself.

'Show them,' she said.

Jack turned over the cards.

Jack's hand was four jacks.

The girl's hand held four kings.

'That's...!'

Jack was rendered speechless when he saw the cards.

    'Jack doesn't beat King,' she said.

At the word 'King,' murmurs rippled through the bar.

'King.' It was the handle of a legendary gambler, said to be the best in the Republic until his death. The card technique the girl had shown was one of the ones the King had been so

'Jack doesn't beat King,' she said. felt like teasing Jack.

  'Who... Just who are you?' Jack asked the girl.

    The girl gave him a long, cold look before speaking.

  'You probably don't know me, but I know you VERY well,' she said.

  'Hello, Victory Jack. My name is Halle. I'm the daughter of King, who you killed.'

  '...You're King's daughter?!'

    Jack had never met King's daughter, not in person, no. But, nonetheless, he did have memories of her. King had been a doting father that had drilled holes in Jack's ear with endless stories about her.

  'I see... So King's daughter has come to kill me, huh...'

The atmosphere in the bar was suddenly charged.

  'All right, then. Kill me.'

    The words casually leapt from Jack's mouth.

  It was a line no one in the bar would have ever expected.

  He tapped his chest.

'The heart's here. Make sure you aim well.'

  The girl--Halle--quietly drew her orbal gun. Her aim, of course...was Jack's heart.

Chapter 5 - The Invitation

  Halle's fingers sought out the trigger of her gun.

There wasn't a man in this bar who could find the courage to stop her. The punks and hoods just cowered, whispering from their seats.

  'SHUT UP, all'a ya!' Jack shouted over the buzz.

  The chatter in the bar stilled.

    Grinding his back teeth, Jack looked straight into the girl's eyes.

  '...That's right, my goal is revenge,' she said. 'But...it won't mean anything like this.'

Halle lowered her gun.

  As Jack watched the barrel of the weapon slide away from his chest, confusion creased his face.

Halle continued talking.

'...Over these last three years, I've spent blood, sweat, and tears to learn to be as good as I am.'

  With that, the girl threw a card into Jack's face. It was some kind of invitation.    'I have a stage that's better suited to settling this all ready. We'll finish our match there, at that place.

It'll be one of the poker matches that you love so dearly.

The misery and bitterness my father tasted...

    I'll make sure you eat your full share of that dish.'

With that threat lingering in the air, Halle disappeared from the bar.

Unable to grasp the meaning in the girl's words, Jack just sat there for a while. Finally, he picked up the card that had fallen to the floor and read the text printed on it.

[Tomorrow night at 10, come to the harbor.]

'Harbor...huh. It can't be...'

A sense of foreboding ran through the back of Jack's mind.

    As he was about to crush the card in his hand, a small signature on the back caught his eye.

[Enrique]

The penmanship was familiar...

It was also the name of a man Jack knew.

  '...

...Oh, man.'

  Jack's sense of foreboding would prove right. 

Chapter 6 - King

  On the night after the day Halle visited, Jack headed to the harbor as the card instructed. In a rare show of sobriety, he hadn't had a drop of booze.

He realized at some point that he was being followed. On top of that, he knew it'd be someone acting on behalf of that man, Enrique.

  'Don't worry,' he yelled as he stopped and turned. 'I ain't gonna run or hide from this.'

  No one answered.

'Tch, what a boring fella.'

  Turning back around, Jack continued on.

  That night was a dark one, no moonlight or stars pierced the cloud-shrouded sky. Jack only had the road lamps to go by as he walked alone through the empty streets. The grand match between him and King. As he walked, memories of it flooded back...

  His legendary skills had earned him a nickname to match: King. He had been Jack's teacher...and his greatest rival.

Seven years ago, Jack and King had played the game of their lives.

It was Jack who found himself the winner. Their game was used by the privileged in the underworld of the Republic to decide the outcome of a struggle for power. King, forced to take responsibility for losing...was killed. Though indirect, it could not be denied that Jack's win had been King's ultimate loss.

Around an hour after leaving the bar he reached the harbor. The smell of refuse and brine wafted in on a warm breeze. An enormous boat was floating on the dark night sea just ahead, waves lapping quietly at its sides. Its hull was painted a solid black making it almost impossible to see.

...It was the boat Jack and King had been on seven years before.

 As Jack approached the gangway, he was met by a small silhouette from the shadows-- Halle.

 'Welcome, Victory Jack,' she said. 'I really didn't think you would come all the way out here on your own two feet. Hmm-hmm, have to admit, you've got courage.'

  '...'

Normally Jack might have had a joke or a comeback, but tonight alone he was a different man. Glancing at Halle, he boarded the ship without a word.

The light from the portals shone blue, glinting off his eyes as he passed.

The sound of the steam whistle was swallowed by the lonely darkness, and slowly the ship slipped free from the harbor and out to sea.

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 into 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.

In the furthest depths of the hall there was discreet seating for the highest ranked of the lot, and just like seven years ago, there was a certain group of men there.

One old man was flanked by several bodyguards. His name was Chief Minister Shamrock He was 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, seven years ago and this time, was the man who'd twice now built this plan for a gambling match. Originally he had been an arms dealer, but ten years before, when he started dealing with the Eastern Quarter, he had expanded his business to smuggling drugs and became a villain on the rise, the best of the new class.

Conversely, Won was a villain whose roots ran deep in this 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. Over the last ten years in the Eastern Quarter, Enrique and Won had been in the middle of a territory dispute. It was a fight of new versus old. Neither side had yielded a rege, and every drop of blood was washed away with more blood in their fights.

It was at the height of that situation seven years ago that Enrique had suggested a duel with gambling as the theme. A one-on-one, full cheating match between the best of the best of gamblers. On that match, they would both wager their territory in the Eastern Quarter. He brought the suggestion to Won as a way to reduce the amount of profitless bloodshed at least a bit.

At first Won had been against it, but the endless fighting was taking a toll on his own organization.

Even so, Won was an old-fashioned man, and not the type to easily jump to new ideas.

  Enrique next brought the idea to Chief Minister Shamrock, and the advisor to the underworld permitted the match.

  As the chief minister, Shamrock was also advisor to Won's group. With him having granted permission, Won could hardly refuse the match.

Chapter 8 - Halle

  The clock chimed the 11th hour.

The match between Jack and Halle was to start at midnight exactly. She waited 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, but three years ago, she learned her father had died 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 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 how her father died. After all, how could the strong, healthy man from that memory drop dead of illness so suddenly?

  One fateful moment, out shopping for her mother, she found herself heading on a whim to one of the gambling dens in the back street.

  There, overhearing some chatter from a few thugs, she came to understand the truth of her father's death. After all, to the types who frequent gambling dens, the match from seven years before was too famous not to talk about. Having learned the truth, she found herself consumed by one single emotion: the desire for revenge on Jack.

Swearing she would become as good as her father, Halle began frequenting the gambling dens and played with that one burning wish guiding her hands.

It was Enrique who, hearing rumors, spoke to Halle first. Seven years before, betting on Jack, he had claimed victory in his conflict with Won, and now he saw a chance to do the same again by setting King's daughter against Jack.

And so, he brought the idea of recreating the match to her.

To Halle, it was the perfect means to an end. Cutting off connection with her mother, she joined Enrique's group. Being blessed with talent to begin with, and having abandoned all else to focus on improving, she reached King's level in barely three years.

  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.

But it was only for a moment--in the next, she was back to the same poker face.

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

  Hearing Halle's words, Enrique's lips twisted up. Perhaps it was confidence in his victory that warped his face.

Chapter 9 - Nostalgia

  While Halle sat and contemplated her past, Jack was hunched at the bar counter in the main hall. It was a spot with a full view of the setting for the match to come.

He stared at the stage, never once even touching the drink he'd ordered.

The same seats, the same colors...

The more he looked at it the more it felt as if the events of seven years ago had happened only yesterday.

A voice started Jack from his reverie.

'How about a drink on me, then?'

  Without turning, he wordlessly shook his head. Jack didn't need to look through seven year old memories to know that voice all too well. It was Won.

  Seven years ago, Won had bet on King's victory and lost. The one who had punished King with death was, without a doubt, this man. 'Jack, your skills took down even King... I'm looking forward to seeing them again.' And with that, Won disappeared.

  'Jack taking down King...huh.'

Jack's lips twisted into a bitter smile.

  The clock ticked steadily away.

It was 11:50.

  The match would begin in ten minutes. The guests had begun to gather in the hall. Every one of them seemed to have been waiting eagerly for this night. Many had money riding on the outcome. Compared to Enrique or Won's contest, though, they barely had anything to lose.

Halle followed Enrique out into the hall. Taking her seat immediately, she sat quietly, eyes straight ahead. If she was bothered by the crowd or the enormity of the event, she gave no sign.

After watching Halle take her place, Jack slowly rose from his spot at the bar.

Unlike Halle, Jack had a bit of a name, and as he stepped forward the crowd called out. It brought back more memories of himself from seven years ago, excited by the crowd and elated by the game.

Jack and Halle were both seated now.

The card table in the center of the hall lay between them. The two faced each other, and yet their gazes never met even once.

  In total silence, time passed. Shortly after the two took their seats, a black-garbed man sat in a chair across from them both. Just like seven years ago, he was the dealer provided by Chief Minister Shamrock.

  The dealer pressed a switch below the card table. Slowly, the table area sank into the floor, allowing the guests in the hall a bird's eye view of the duel.

  From behind their respective backed players,  Won's group and Enrique's group cast intense gazes at the gamblers' hands.

Further back, behind it all and watching over everything...was Chief Minister Shamrock.

  'Now, then, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight we have a revenge match!' Enrique yelled, unable to contain his excitement.

  It had been seven years since they had had such a high stakes game. The crowd answered Enrique's introduction with a roar of approval.

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 crew. Everyone who had bet on Jack started to jeer and hoot.

  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.

  Thirty minutes passed.

Breaking the silence, Jack suddenly spoke.

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

In a voice so soft the crowd could barely hear, 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 but made no reply. At some point, she had started to pay attention to Jack's story. The audience was just the same.

  Everyone in the hall strained to hear the tale tumbling softly 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.

Chapter 11 - The Decisive Moment

  'Jack,' Halle chided, 'you're so busy talking you're forgetting to play the game. ...Enough. I'll settle things here now.'

  Halle's words reignited the crowd.

 The silent hall burst into excited chatter as she pushed forward every last chip in her pile. Perhaps she was just that confident, but Halle already had a significant lead on Jack. He couldn't possibly accept the bet...

...Could he?

  'To match my bet, since you seem a little short, how about you wager...your life?'

  Halle reached under the table and unholstered her orbal gun. She set it and a bullet on the table by her chips.

'If I win, say goodbye to life here and now.'

Jack leaned back in his chair and whistled.

'Now how can I accept such a stupid bet?'

--But Jack's words betrayed the expectations of the audience. Expectations he didn't mean to follow.

  'All right. That bet...I'll call it. One way or another, when I lose I'm dead.'

Again, the audience exploded in excitement.

Enrique looked overjoyed.

Won sat quietly without comment.

  Neither side changed out a single card.

Both hid their cards.

'So, what happened to the man?' Halle asked, seemingly smug with victory. Or possibly she was just asking to hear Jack's final words.

  '...The man never won against the one that he admired.'

  Silence followed in the wake of his words.

In that one moment, Halle's unfailing mask shattered to pieces.

  Her true expression, shown at last, was full of a rage that even Enrique had never seen.

  'What are you saying! You won, didn't you?! Here, in this very hall!'

  Tears flooded Halle's eyes.

'And...and in doing so you made a fool of my papa!!'

  Jack leaned forward, his eyes locked on hers.

'NO! Your father never lost, not to me. He never felt even a second of misery or frustration. Your father...King, he-- To protect what mattered to him he chose to lose the match himself! King's pride has never been touched!!'

  Enrique panicked when he heard this. He sent his thugs forward to silence Jack.

  But with a snap of his fingers, Won sent his own men to stop Enrique from interfering and asked Jack to explain his words.

The crowd was in an uproar.

At a sign from Chief Minister Shamrock,

the dealer flipped both players' cards.

  Jack...had four kings.

Halle...four jacks.

  --It was a total upset victory for Jack.

  The crowd's calls died down until silence was once again absolute in the hall.

'...See?' Jack muttered. 'Jack can't beat King.'

Chapter 12 - The Truth

  The charged battle had closed with Jack's dramatic upset of a victory.

  Putting aside Jack's words for the moment, Won took a moment to appreciate the relief he felt from Jack's win. Conversely, Enrique sat stunned, head in his hands.

Halle stared blankly at the cards.

Her eyes were wide, disbelieving.

'No way...'

'How...did you... Four kings, that...that should be my hand!'

  Hearing this, Enrique began to object violently. Jack had cheated, he insisted. The match was a wash. No, that Jack had lost for breaking the rules!

  'Give it up, Don Enrique,' Won said.

'If you think so, then how about you show us, huh.'

'Show us exactly what it is Jack did.'

Won stood resolutely, arms crossed.

'Cheating's fine as long as you're not caught,' he recited.

  It was a core rule of the match and Enrique knew it. There was nothing he could say back that could lay bare the trick. He started to pick over every single thing that Jack had done.

  '...Impossible.'

Jack denied it all with a single word.

  'This is a technique that King used seven years ago now. I didn't know it at the time, so there's no way Mister Enrique could.'

  Jack's gaze moved to Halle.

  'To make me win, and to keep you safe, Halle, King used this very trick. ...Truly a trick worthy of a King.'

Head bowed, he continued.

  '...I never understood. If he had a great trick like this up his sleeve, then what on earth would make King do somethin' dumb like throw away a match. ...I hated King for that, y'know. Hell, I've spent these seven years  consolin' myself by drownin' in booze.'

  Jack looked up, eyes bright.

'But yesterday I finally understood. That invitation of yours, Halle...'

'The moment I saw Mister Enrique's name on it...everythin' connected in my head.'

  'It was that day seven years ago, right around there. Halle, here--King's daughter, she was in bed struck with an unknown disease.'

  Jack's words had Halle like a fish on a hook.

'...So what if I was? That isn't any kind of answer at all!'

  Jack continued on, ignoring her.

'And around seven years ago... Around then, I'd heard a certain rumor about Mister Enrique. Word was, he'd gotten his hands on some kinda special poison... It was somethin' like that, anyway.'

  Perhaps some other people had heard this rumor too, for a wave of whispers ran through the crowd. Enrique just stared at the ground, biting his lip.

  'Halle, suffering from an unknown disease.'

'The rumors around Mister Enrique at the time. And lastly, King and the way he chose to lose to me on purpose... The only thing that links these three together is one simple truth.'

  Won leapt to his feat, fury writ all over his features. He began screaming at Enrique.

  'YOU! Seven years ago, you poisoned this girl... And then...then you threatened King with it!'

Chapter 13 - The Sense

   'You put your poison into this girl, and then threatened King, didn't you!'

  Every word from Won's mouth made Halle stiffen like she had been punched. Shocked voices rippled through the audience.

Before Won's demands, Enrique desperately tried to put a defense together. He also tried to conceal his shaking, but the certainty of his guilt was too obvious.

Under the suspicious eyes of his fellow criminals, the way he tried to make excuses was somehow ironic.

Everyone began to believe what Jack was saying. Of course, there was no proof anywhere that Enrique had poisoned Halle seven years ago. But, Enrique's claims didn't make any 'sense' to them. Conversely, Jack's made far too much.

In the underworld, betrayal was a constant companion. Perhaps that's precisely why, though, in this world 'sense'--rational and logicality in events--was so important.

As long as you played by that rule, proof didn't mean a thing. It was clear that Enrique would be punished somehow. As this fact finally dawned on him, he ceased his protestations.

  Halle merely stood, utterly still.

She was rocked by so much emotion of so many kinds that it rooted her to the floor.

'My father never lost,' she whispered.

The truth was a comforting balm to her heart, but at the same time filled her with a deep sense of loss.

Her father had chosen death himself.

The very thought of it was far too big, and far too sad.

The flames of revenge that had fueled her actions suddenly and utterly went out, and as her once burning drive died, soon all that remained was thin smoke and cold white ash where her anger had been.

  'That means...that for me Papa...'

  The feelings that began to well up turned to words, and as they parted from her, something snapped.

Falling to the floor, Halle curled up in a ball and began to cry like a child.

  Glancing at Halle from the corner of his eye, Won put a hand on Jack's shoulder and patted him in a congratulatory way.

'Tonight's been better than I could have possibly imagined. I'll do anything you ask, if it's in my power,' he whispered to Jack.

'Then give me Halle,' Jack said without a moment's hesitation.

  Won was hard-pressed to answer.

No matter how pitiable he found Halle, she was still a pawn of Enrique's. Even if there were to be punishments meted out for the events of seven years ago, her freedom was very much in question.

  'Give Jack what he wants. Will it really be such a problem?'

The voice from behind both of them froze every single person in the hall. All eyes turned  to a single point.

The one who drew their gaze was the bearded consultant to the underworld: Chief Minister Shamrock.

  'Giving you the girl isn't a problem. ...Right, Enrique?'

Enrique nodded weakly.

At last, the ship was filled with cheers and celebration.

Final Chapter - To Each their Own Wish

  Jack and Halle returned to the harbor at dawn.

As if it had been an illusion all along, the enormous ship disappeared into the morning fog.

'...What will you do with me, then?' Halle asked.

'Nothin', you're free,' Jack said. 'I doubt anyone will ever try to use your life in any deals ever again. Do whatever you wish.'

Halle was quiet a moment, then said, 'Hey, Jack. Why...did you do all this for me?'

  There was a glint of white teeth as Jack smiled slightly.

  'King put his life on the line to keep you safe. At the same time, King also saved my life, as well. ...My life was given to me by King. Don't you think it's only natural I'd use a life like that to make King's wish come true?'

'...Papa's wish?'

  Jack's smile disappeared.

'I'm sure King regretted it seven years ago. Regretted that he'd ever set foot into such a world of darkness, and that he'd ever put you, his daughter, in such danger. You... You at least should never have gotten wrapped up in this world. ...I'm sure that was King's wish.'

  Halle didn't know what to say.

Jack continued.

'If you get it, then don't you ever come back to this world.'

And with that, Jack strode away and left Halle standing there by the sea.   --The Calvard Republic.

There's a city in this country, a place where migrants from the East dreaming of their homeland have recreated their old towns right down to the bright lacquered tiles.

On the north outskirts of that town was a little, run-down bar.

Over a week had passed since that fateful game. Jack could still be found there, in that same old dingy bar. As always, he was at his liquor starting from noon. He had settled things with his past, but he hadn't changed from how he was before at all.

--No, he was changed.

He drank less. And when he drank, he didn't throw it back like a man dying of thirst, but sipped slowly, enjoying it.

And that day, once more, the door to the place opened with a sound like a shriek.

A new customer stepped into that same old bar. And that new customer...was Halle.

  Jack choked on his whiskey

'...Halle? What are you doin' in here?! This ain't the kind of place you should be in!'

  Ignoring his sputtering, she pulled up a stool and smiled brilliantly at him.

'Hey, Jack' she said. 'Let's play a game, a real shocker of a match.'

  '...But this time, all bets are off.'

                      <END> 

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