Chapter 2 – Gamble

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I don’t go to horse races.

I’ve never spent money on cycle races, motorboat races and pachinko either. I have not experienced such gambling in any conceivable form.

Well, I’m still in high school after all. Of course I haven’t.

However.

Instead I have experienced a different kind of gamble—one that does not require money—countless times; a risky gamble that could cost my life when making a mistake.

So far, I have always won those gambles and overcome several threats that a student of my age could not normally hope to experience.

But how will I fare when there’s something at stake that is more important than my life?

I always wanted to know the answer.

I always wanted to know the result first.

When I was studying, I would solve the problem after looking at the solution.

When I was having a meal, I would sit down at table after asking what I would be eating.

When I was going on a trip, I would depart after looking up the connection to the destination and its geographical features and specialties.

When I was playing a game, I would consult a game guide.

When I was dealing with others, I would only befriend someone after finding out whether or not he was well-disposed toward me.

Knowing the answer in advance made everything just so much easier.

I dislike aimlessness, recklessness and spontaneity. As such, it might have been inevitable that I obtained this power.

It happened just the other day, in a shop that I had found while rambling about the city. Therefore, I don’t remember clearly where I found that shop, but I do remember that it had something mysterious about it.

Well, considering that they offered magical things like this—I think they called them “Relics”—the shop might shoot past the term “mysterious” and end up plain “creepy”.

Anyway, at that creepy shop I got ahold of one of those mysterious Relics and the curious power it bore.

That being said, I’m still trying to find out how to make best use of this power. Anyone else would have probably instantly found one.

If anyone were to know about this power of mine, they would certainly dismiss my way of using it as pathetic.

Nevertheless, I keep searching for the best way to use it.

…Oh yes, I forgot to mention one thing.

There is one more thing that I dislike.

Humans.

Because there is no answer to humans, and even when there is one, the answer will change with time.

“I’m out for a while.”

With these words, Towako-san happily went off.

“Again…”

“Yes, again.”

As Saki and I just mutually admitted, Towako-san was frequently disappearing somewhere lately. Being the owner of the Tsukumodo Antique Shop, Towako Settsu would often be away for days to purchase new goods, but her recent excursions were of a different nature: she would just leave at evening and come back in the middle of the night. Of course, she showed no sign of buying anything either.

“Let’s go.”

“At once.”

After quickly locking all doors, we hurried in the direction we’d seen Towako-san go. We found her in no time and started to pursue her.

Actually, I had asked her about her absences the day before, but the answer I’d gotten was roundabout and ambiguous. Even worse, she had been blatantly flustered and her attempt to talk her way out had been downright miserable.

Because her strange behavior had made me suspicious, I’d decided to go into the matter.

“But should we really be doing this…?” Saki asked. While she was with me on this, she wasn’t fully convinced by the idea of tailing Towako-san.

Doubtlessly, she was right in that spying on somebody like this was to be considered indecent. I was not going to deny that. However, judging by the fact that I had never before seen Towako-san act that way and the fact that she was hiding something from us, I deemed this matter to be fairly grave.

“Maybe she got caught up in some incident, don’t you think?”

“Yes, perhaps, but…”

“Wouldn’t it be a disaster if something happened to our shop owner? If worst comes to worst, we might have to close down!”

Saki gasped. My choice of words was very effective against her, as someone who loved loved the Tsukumodo Antique Shop more than anyone. “We must not let that happen.”

“I know, right?”

“It can’t be helped then. We are doing it for the Tsukumodo Antique Shop.”

I could feel an iron will forming in Saki. Although her face remained expressionless.

Towako-san turned from the main street into a narrow side street and walked along for a while until she stopped before a high building and knocked at its metal door. The building seemed rather desolate. I wondered what it was for.

After a few moments, the door opened from inside and a suited man appeared. They exchanged a few words, which I couldn’t catch because of the distance, after which the man showed her the way in.

Towako-san put on a smile and entered the building.

“Are they…”

“On a secret date?” Saki replied with an unexpected answer to my accidental mutter. To my surprise, however, her words clicked with me.

This is… this is… getting interesting!

Truth be told, I had never really expected this to be a grave matter, but neither had I expected a development like that. Originally, I had expected something along the lines of her going to that dubious sister shop of hers.

“Let’s go.”

“Wait,” Saki stopped me just when I was about to go nearer to the site. “We must not invade her privacy. We should stop here.”

“Look, she’s spending working hours on private matters without a justification. I do think we have the right to investigate this matter.”

“You have a point there.”

Whoa girl, you’ve changed your mind quickly, haven’t you?

Well, being the zealous shop assistant she is, Saki is probably very much concerned by the fact that her boss is prioritizing her private matters over her shop, I thought, making up excuses for Saki, but in reality she was just as interested in Towako-san’s private life as me.

In order to get an idea of the building’s purpose, we walked around to its front and found out that we were looking at an obscure arcade. We also tried going inside, but there were only a bunch of old video arcade machines, a few young part-time employees and a few customers.

Needless to say, there was no trace of either Towako-san or her suited companion.

We went out and walked to the rear side again.

“What should we do?” Saki asked.

“Not that I want to get caught, but it’s not like we have a choice.”

I tried turning the door knob of the door Towako-san had used, but the door was already locked. I also knocked at it just in case, but of course it didn’t open.

There was no peephole built into the door, either. Judging by the fact that someone had opened the door just when she arrived—

“As I thought.” I discovered a small, hidden surveillance camera.

For the time being, I decided to try knocking again. There was no reaction whatsoever.

“E-x-c-u-s-e m-e! I want to sell game coins!” I said with a deliberately loud voice and stubbornly kept knocking at the door. Before long, the door opened.

“What is it?” the suited man who had showed Towako-san in asked.

“I would like to change my game coins to money…”

“We don’t do that here.”

“Huh? You don’t? But I was told that I had to come here! So where do I change my coins now?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t know. Ask someone of the part-timers.”

“That’s what I did and he told me to come her!” I countered.

“And I told you that you’re wrong here.”

“Now that’s strange. Didn’t a woman just go inside to change her coins?”

The man’s face tensed up for an instant. The next instant, he grabbed my collar with his thick arms and pulled me inside.

“Wha?!”

After throwing me to the ground and pulling Saki inside as well, he locked the door.

“Who are you guys?” he asked in a voice that made my blood run cold. By the looks of it, I had talked a bit too big. Alarm bells started ringing in my head.

So much for a “secret date”. If anything this looks like a secret smuggling site if you ask me.

“What do you want here?” the man asked again.

“Changing my coins…”

“Don’t you lie to me,” he said in an imperative tone.

I ground my teeth. If I were honest here and told him about Towako-san, would that give her any problems? Would it get her in trouble?

“Speak up.”

“We…”

“What are you doing here?”

All of a sudden, Towako-san appeared from inside with an expression somewhere between bewilderment and surprise. She looked completely different than before, however, wearing some fancy makeup with a tight, sleeveless red dress. She was a confident beauty from the outset, but fully dressed her sex appeal was boosted to the max.

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“Do you know them?” the suited man asked Towako-san. Seeing her nod, he changed his attitude toward us dramatically.

“What’s the matter?” a pretty woman about Towako-san’s age asked as she entered the same way. Her Japanese was flawless, but the golden, curly hair reaching down to her waist and her large emerald green eyes suggested that she was only half Japanese. She also wore a sleeveless dress that revealed her shoulders, her back and her cleavage, making her a captivating sight.

“Oh, isn’t this a lovely guest?” she said with a mature smile turned at me.

“……”

For some reason, Saki treaded on my foot.

“So you followed me around, eh?”

Contrary to the building’s outward appearance, there seemed to be a decent office inside. After bringing us to a reception room and having us tell her the details how we’d come here, Towako-san screwed up her face.

“I can’t believe that Saki-chan tagged along with you, Tokiya…”

“I’m sorry” I said while Saki was just silently keeping her head down and emitting an apologetic aura.

“Forgive them already. They only followed you because they were worried about you, right?”

“Hm, I guess so…” Towako-san pressed out.

“Exactly! I don’t mean to stress this point, but we were horribly worried because you’ve been acting strange lately!”

“You are stressing it, though.”

Too blatant, eh? It’s a truth that we were worried, though.

“Don’t you think that you could at least explain the situation to us?” I asked.

While letting out a sigh, Towako-san leaned back into the sofa.

“Well, you see, Erika here asked me a favor.”

Erika was the beautiful woman who had spoken earlier.

“This is a casino that belongs to Erika. I was invited here as a guest because we met each other at a bar and hit it off well together. But things happened and she asked me a favor.”

After Towako-san had finished speaking, Erika opened a curtain that was hung up in the room. Behind it was a window through which we could see what was going on in the basement.

The basement was a large hall with tables for roulette and card games, and slot machines like I had seen on TV in a casino in LA. Of course, it was a small casino that could not hold a candle to LA, but I could sense the elegant mood filling the hall despite the soundproof glass.

That being said, I hadn’t expected an underground casino like this to exist in this town. Hm? Wait…?

“Aren’t casinos illegal in…” Erika pressed her hand against my lips in mid-sentence.

“No need to finish that thought.”

“Y-Yes.”

Her silent pressure convinced me not to pursue that thought. Right, we’re here for Towako-san, aren’t we!

“But if she consulted you, Towako-san, does that mean that…?” Saki asked while carefully choosing her words, but Towako-san answered without further ado:

“Yeah, Relics are involved,” she said, upon which Erika added, “At least that’s a possibility.”

From the looks of it, Erika was aware of the existence of Relics.

“So, what kind of incident are we dealing with?” I asked.

Towako-san gave Erika an inquiring look. She answered with a smile.

“There’s this guest who’s cheating and raking in all the cash. The problem is that we can’t prove it.”

“There’s no proof of his cheating, but he never ever loses,” Erika added.

“He never loses?”

“Yes. He naturally loses a few games every so often, but he always wins on the whole. Always. That’s not possible in gambling.”

“That’s why I thought that Relics might be at work here,” Towako-san explained.

He gambles but he always wins. He cheats but he doesn’t get caught. I agree, that sounds real suspicious, I thought.

“At this point, that’s only another possibility, though. But we agreed that I’ll get the Relic if it turns out that he is really using one to cheat.”

Towako-san hated it when Relics fell into people’s hands. Not because she considered herself a collector of Relics, but because she knew of countless people who had ruined their lives with them. This time around, an acquaintance of hers was directly concerned, so the case was clear.

“And that’s that. Now go home.”

“Huh?”

“You have no part to play here, no matter how you look at it.”

She was right in that my Vision, with which I could foresee death, would not be of great use in a matter that wasn’t one of life or death.

“I explained the situation to you. Now get back to work and watch the store.”

“Understood,” Saki obediently said as she stood up. However, I was still sitting on the sofa.

“Is there anything I can help with?”

“Nothing. I just told you that, didn’t I?”

“It’s almost closing time anyway. I would love to help out with something!” I countered.

“And what would that be? Hm?”

“But… I’m sure I could do one thing or another…”

Watching me keeping trying, Towako-san gave me a doubtful look.

“You just wanna go to the casino, right?”

…Exactly.

I was convinced that it was normal for a high school student to have a certain admiration an “adult” place like this. Had it been a simple game arcade, I would have gone home without a second thought, but I was bent to rave a bit longer in the special atmosphere of a real casino.

By far the greatest part of the guests were adults, but there were also a few university students. Their presence allowed me to pretend to be their age, although I did look a bit younger than them. If something made me stand out then it was probably my clumsy way of wearing a suit.

The casual clothes I’d worn while watching the shop were deemed as inappropriate, and therefore I had Erika lend me some apparel. It was pretty awkward wearing a dark-gray suit on a white shirt with a black tie.

Moreover…

“And here’s your pocket money,” Erika said and handed me 100 casino chips. Saki and I were supposed to get one half each. One chip was worth 1,000 yen, which meant that we had just received 100,000 yen from her.

Originally, I considered spending 1,000 to 2,000 yen on my own, but according to her that was nowhere enough in this kind of facility, so she made us this present out of goodwill.

“C-Can we really have so much…?”

“It’s okay. Think of it as hush money. Because if everyone knows about this place tomorrow, I’ll have you pay me back tenfold.”

“……”

I’ll take that back. No goodwill involved.

Her emphatic smile made me swear to myself that I would not utter a peep about this casino.

“Also, do keep to slot machines and roulette if you want to play. In card games, you risk owing more than you can pay because your bet depends on your opponent,” Erika explained.

I see. I’ll keep that in mind.

“Enjoy yourselves a bit while Towako and I are coming up with a plan. Looks like your companion has just come, too.”

With these words, she left the room and in her stead someone else entered. It was Saki. Like me, Saki naturally also had to change her clothes.

I got to wear a suit, and she got to wear a Chinese dress.

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The sleeveless dress clung to her skin, flattering her delicate curves. Although black in color of course, it was embroidered with silver thread and made for a quite magnificent sight. On top of that, she had put her hair up and even wore some makeup to match the atmosphere of the establishment, giving off a more mature impression than usual.

Not to say that she wouldn’t normally mind her appearance, but because she was usually wearing unremarkable black clothes, I was somewhat surprised by how well a luxurious getup suited her.

…I’ve just admitted that it suits her, haven’t I…?

“What’s wrong, Tokiya?”

“Oh, I just thought that you’re wearing black again,” I noted without stating my real impressions.

“Of course I am,” she replied in a manner as if to say that I should have taken this for granted. “And you are wearing a suit, Tokiya. It suits you better than I expected,” she continued.

“Well, thanks.”

She got ahead of me; I lost my chance to tell her my honest impressions. Not that I wanted to praise her.

“Where do we start?” she asked.

“How about checking out the slots?”

I decided to respect the piece of advice Erika had given me.

“…I’ve lost.”

My chips disappeared inside the slot machine in a matter of minutes. The term “beginner’s luck” turned out to be a downright lie; not a single time did I get a line.

“Well, that’s how it goes.”

If I had the luck to make a fortune with the slots, I wouldn’t be worrying about having something to eat everyday.

Yeah, that’s how it goes. I’m normal.

…But still… wouldn’t it be okay to live the dream for a few moments?

I’m not talking about making a big haul… just, would it be so unforgivable if a few chips remained in my hands so I could treat myself to a nice, big dinner?

Oh man, I should have immediately changed my tokens into real cash. Damn, I’m really starting to regret not doing just that.

I hated myself for thoughtlessly blowing my 50 chips.

“Alright, how’s Saki doing?”

Since she didn’t known how to play the slots, Saki had been looking over my shoulders and watching me play for a while, but then she felt cold and went off to fetch something to wear over her dress. Neither of us had expected that my money would run out so quickly, which is why I’d told her that I would be waiting here.

Because I couldn’t keep sitting at a slot machine without any chips to spend, I stood up and went looking for Saki on the risk of her coming back and not finding me.

Apart from the slots, I came across tables where they played roulette or tables where they played a card game. Around one of them a crowd had formed.

Curious as to what was going on, I approached the table and poked my head through the crowd to take a look. They were playing a card game. At the other table I’d come by they had been playing black jack, but at this one they were having a different game.

The match seemed to take place between two guests. On one side was an approximately 30-year-old man with a sour face, and on the other side was a girl with—contrary to him—no expression at all.

Huh? It’s Saki…

“Saki?”

“Oh, Tokiya,” she said upon noticing me as she turned around.

Realizing that we knew each other, the crowd split between us, allowing me to walk up to Saki.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked her in a reproachful tone because she was playing a card game instead of the slots.

“On my way to find a jacket I was approached by someone and I ended up here.”

Apparently, Saki had been challenged to a game before she knew it. The opponent had probably in mind to get some money off her because she looked like a clueless girl.

This is bad. Erika mentioned that unlike with slot machines, the bet can be raised in card games.

“Saki, how’s the match go…” While asking, I saw the dealer bring a mountain of chips to her. There were roughly thrice as many chips as the 50 chips before.

A moment later, her opponent let his head droop.

“I couldn’t read her face at all. How can you stay so calm with such a piss-poor hand…?” he muttered, and shortly after, the audience applauded Saki’s flawless victory.

“You’ve won?”

“It seems so.”

“How?”

“I just played the game. But I suppose you can say that my daily efforts to provide excellent customer service have enabled me to win,” she explained, completely losing me. “My ultimate goal has always been to predict and cater for the customer’s needs in an appropriate manner. I must have acquired this skill without my knowledge, which is why I was able to win in a card game like this that is all about outwitting the opponent.”

“Cool. By the way, what game were you playing?”

Saki replied with her usual expressionless face:

“Poker.”

Poker face.

No matter what she told herself, that was her talent. Customer service, on the other hand, was what she was bad at. Of course, she wasn’t at all aware of that herself.

I felt that I knew how she had won.

I pitied the man who thought he could win against Saki in poker. There was no way a stranger could read her face when even I had a hard time guessing what she was thinking. Her opponent had probably lost his composure while watching her calmly swap cards, and either took a reckless gamble or folded his hand because he got scared.

In other words, he had shot himself in the foot.

Damn, do you call that “beginner’s luck”, too? I thought as I got slightly jealous of her stroke of luck. And of the pile of chips before her.

“Let’s go, Tokiya,” Saki said while standing up, without showing any greed for money. “Here, take this.”

She gave me half of her chips.

“Are you sure?”

“I want to try out the slot machine. Teach me how to play.”

“This will do for my tuition.” I took 50 chips and returned the rest to her. I had also considered giving up the whole sum, but I decided to accept the favor rather than playing goody-goody.

Just when we were headed to the slots, someone cut off our way.

“You wouldn’t be so kind as to accept a challenge from yours truly?”

It was a pompous man who wore rings and pendants and other jewelry and had his long hair tied up at his back. Unlike me, his black suited him perfectly, which was partially because of his mature age of late twenties.

“No, I do not intend to play any more games.”

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“Are you just going to take your winnings and quit?” he kept insisting when Saki tried to leave. “I’m sure that the ladies and gentlemen here would be excited to see some more!” he addressed the spectators. He was deliberately trying to convince them that Saki was supposed to accept the challenge.

Saki gave me a look. She didn’t look particularly troubled, but I gathered that she wanted me to decide.

There were probably only three things that entered my mind at that moment: aversion to his attitude, faith in Saki’s poker face, and delight in the mountain of chips that had formed before Saki earlier.

“You should give him that chance.”

I would soon regret these words.

“We’ve lost…”

They played a quick game for 100 chips. Saki lost that match and her opponent won.

All the chips on the table went to the man who introduced himself as Kirishima.

Well, it can’t be helped. I guess beginner’s luck doesn’t last long. It was somewhat of a let-down indeed, but we hadn’t paid for the chips in the first place, so we didn’t sustain a loss. I would have loved to avenge Saki, but I wanted to save those 50 chips from her so that could play the slots together.

The reason why Saki had accepted Kirishima’s proposal of doing the showdown for their bets of 100 chips each was probably because she wanted to get over with it quickly. In fact, thanks to her defeat, we could now go without anyone complaining.

“Let’s go, Saki,” I said and wanted to leave.

However, I received an unexpected remark.

“You haven’t paid up yet,” Kirishima pointed out as he tapped the table with his finger.

“She paid her bet, didn’t she?”

“But she hasn’t paid mine yet.”

What is he talking about? Saki’s bet of 100 chips Saki had gone to him. To confirm that I wasn’t mistaken, I gave the dealer an inquiring look.

“The debt has indeed not been paid yet,” he said.

I looked at Saki, but she was just as confused as me and inclined her head.

“Don’t you even know the rules or what?” Kirishima sighed with amusement and gave us an explanation.

I realized that I’ve held a misconception.

All parties make their bets and add to the pot when they get the chance to draw new cards. If they feel confident, they can raise the bet, otherwise they can keep the bet as is. If they see no chances to win, they can fold their hand and give up.

My understanding was correct so far. What Saki and I had misunderstood, however, was how the pot was handled in this casino.

We thought that if you won, you would get the bets of all players and if you lost, you would have to pay your bet. That was only true in the case of giving up.

If you stayed in the game until the showdown, the winner could collect the players’ bets from them plus his own bet from the loser, whereas the loser lost his bet and had to pay the winner’s bet as well.

Kirishima had bet 100 chips. Saki had also bet 100 chips, and she lost. In other words, she owed him a total of 200 chips.

Actually, that rule made sense: this casino’s rules didn’t require the players’ bets to be equal, so there would be no point in raising one’s own bet if the winner only received the pot. We could have noticed if we’d paid more attention.

“Got it? Can I have my 100 chips now?”

I didn’t have another 100 chips—or 100,000 yen—with me. All that I had were the 50 chips I’d gotten from Saki earlier, but that was only half of the amount and I didn’t carry around the 50,000 yen required to buy the remaining 50 chips.

I exchanged glances with Saki. She naturally shook her head, signaling me that she hadn’t enough money either.

I took out my cell phone to give Towako-san a call, but the cell got no signal because we were underground.

No choice. I’ll go looking for her and borrow the money from her.

“We don’t have the money right now, but I’m off borrowing it from someone. Wait a moment,” I said.

However, Kirishima did not approve.

“You think you can escape?”

“As I said, I’m only going to borrow some money. I can’t pay you without money.”

“Do you seriously think you’ll get through with that? How do I know that you will come back and bring me my money?” he countered.

“I’ll leave these 50 chips here. Okay?”

“Are you dumb or what? I’d still suffer a loss of 50 chips if you escaped.”

“It was you who insisted on playing a game. Be a bit cooperative.”

“That doesn’t matter. You should have given up if you can’t pay the debt.”

“But…”

“You didn’t know the rules? Don’t give me that lame excuse,” he said, cutting me short.

I clenched my teeth because he had taken the words right out of my mouth.

“It’s your fault if you fancied playing a game without even knowing the rules. You’re even worse for gambling with someone else’s money and having someone else play in your stead. This is no place for a sissy like you.”

As much as I hated to admit it, I couldn’t deny what he’d said. I should have just ignored his provocative challenge and gone to the slots.

But it was too late for remorse.

“So what do you want?” I asked tiredly.

“Well…” he started and turned his eyes at Saki who was sitting next to me. “Why don’t you pay with her?”

“Wha…” His sudden request left me flabbergasted. “Cut the bullshit!”

“This isn’t bullshit, boy. I shouldn’t have to remind what happens if you can’t pay your debts, right?”

“But I will give you your stupid money!”

“It doesn’t matter if you can’t pay now.

“…You were after her from the start,” I pointed out.

Was it all for this? His talking us into playing against him? His betting big money, knowing that we had not enough?

Kirishima put on a silent grin in response to my mutter.

“She doesn’t belong together with a moron like you,” he spit out and smiled at Saki. “Don’t you agree? You’ve had enough of that simpleton, right?”

“Come off it! We’re not going to accept these terms. Now stay put. I’m off to fetch your money,” I said, forcefully putting a stop to the discussion, and wanted to be gone with Saki.

“Fine.”

However, Saki refused me and agreed to Kirishima’s offer instead.

“Hey, Saki!”

She stood up and walked to Kirishima.

“You’re a clever girl. You’re better off with me than with that broke, brainless boy,” he said.

“……”

“Although it looks like you beg to differ?” Kirishima noted.

“There’s one condition.” Saki imposed a condition upon him in return for agreeing to his demand. “You must play against Tokiya.”

Kirishima listened to what she had to say in a calm manner.

“As soon as Tokiya has earned back the loss I’ve made—in other words when he bets 100 chips—I’ll have you bet me,” she explained.

“Very well. I’ll accept your terms. But if he loses, I’ll have you listen to me!”

“Fine.”

“Hey, Saki!” I exclaimed her name again. This time, she didn’t ignore me.

“It’s okay.”

“How is that okay?!”

You don’t mean to tell me that you have to take the blame because it’s you who started with playing cards, right? That’s not the problem here! Do you understand that…?!

I was so angry at Saki for readily agreeing to Kirishima’s demand that I was at a loss for words.

However, Saki had something different in mind entirely. Her reasons were of no such negative nature.

“You’re going to win me back, Tokiya, aren’t you?” she calmly explained. There was no change in her expression, no fear in her eyes, and no hesitation in her voice.

Since it wasn’t possible to read anything off he face, I could only guess. But probably—most likely—she was—

“You’re so sweet when you’re angry, my dear,” Kirishima joked with a wry smile.

I ignored him, however, and gazed at Saki.

She gazed back at me, still expressionless.

“Do win, Tokiya.”

Frankly, I was not interested in the girl.

Claiming that I was after her was horribly missing the mark. He had to be joking. She looked pleasant to the eye indeed, but I had no thing for taking advantage of little girls.

On the contrary, it infuriated me that a financially weak child like her would be so thoughtless as to come to a place like this. I categorized her as naive kid.

When I approached her, I merely intended to teach her a lesson about life. Perhaps you could call that “being after her.”

However, when her friend showed up, I changed my mind. I tried provoking him a little and he was so dumb as to accept my challenge.

Having seen how she stepped out after one game, I figured that she was only accompanying him and that he was the embodiment of the aimlessness, recklessness and spontaneity that I hated so much.

I planned to give him that time he needed to come up with the money, provided that he showed some insight by begging me for mercy, but all he did was turning a blind eye to his own lack of thought and being insolent with me.

I would have spared the girl if she had been bright enough to abandon him, but she seemed to be beyond help if she still didn’t wake up.

I was going to make those two bitterly regret what they’d done.

They were naive to think they could win against me.

I’ll fulfill my duty as an adult and teach them a lesson about life.

Have fun regretting. I hope you’ll learn how to use your heads.

Needless to say, the game we were going to play was poker.

I silently repeated the definite rules to myself.

The rules were largely the same as the usual poker rules, meaning that the point was to get the right combinations of suits and ranks. A joker was added to the deck as an almighty wild card.

In the beginning, five cards were to be distributed to the players after which they were to place their initial bets. After picking up their hands, the players could then decide whether or not to continue the game. In the case of continuing, they could optionally raise their bets.

In his turn, the player could either tell the dealer to “raise” his bet, to “call” and keep the bet as is, to “fold” his hand and give up, or to “stay” and leave both the bet and his hand unchanged.

When staying in the game, the player was allowed to swap some of his cards up to two times. However, he was also allowed to “fold” after swapping his cards twice.

When losing the game, the player had to pay the sum of his stake plus the winner’s stake, and when giving up he had to pay only his own stake.

The rules were more complicated and the names a bit different in a full-fledged casino, but that was the gist of it.

“Comprende?”

“Spare me you sarcasm,” I replied as coldly as possible and focused on the game.

The cards were distributed and it was time to place our first bets.

“Bet.”

I placed a safe bet of 5 chips, while Kirishio started off with 10. He hadn’t placed as much as in the game against Saki, either because he was on the watch or because he planned on toying with me.

I picked up my cards. I had a pair of fours—hearts and spades—in my hand. The remaining cards were jumbled, consisting of the ace of clubs, the 5 of hearts, and the 9 of diamonds.

Kirishima was still smiling as he looked at his own hand.

“I raise,” he said as he placed five more chips on the table. He also swapped 3 cards.

“I call.” I left my bet untouched and swapped 2 cards, leaving only my pair and my ace.

That’s more like it, I rejoiced in my head when I looked at my new cards. I had just received the ace and the 2 of spades. I had two pairs.

“I call.” Kirishima also left his bet untouched this time and swapped 3 cards again.

“I call.” I threw away the 2 of spades and exchanged it with the ace of diamonds. I had three of a kind and one pair, or in other words, a full house.

“Showdown,” the dealer announced and we revealed our hands.

Kirishima’s hand contained a pair of kings.

“Mr. Kurusu wins the game.”

My bet of 5 chips returned to me twofold along with the additional 15 chips Kirishima had placed. Simply put, he paid me 20 chips.

I now had a total of 70 chips.

“Starts off promising for you, doesn’t it?” Kirishima praised me in a leisure manner.

You’ll soon be laughing out of the other side of your face!

The next game started. I bet 5 chips, Kirishima bet 10.

I started off with three fives, which ensured that I could make at least a three-of-a-kind. If I managed to draw a pair of any cards on top of that, I would have a full house again. If I drew another 5, on the other hand, I would have four of a kind.

“I fold,” Kirishima declared just when I thought I could win. “Because you seem to have a good hand.”

Dammit! I let it show on my face!

I had won this game, but because he had given up, I only received the pot, leaving me with a total of 80 chips.

The next game started and the cards were dealt facedown. The bets stayed the same as before: 5 on my behalf and 10 on Kirishima’s.

I picked up my cards. My hand consisted of the 2 of hearts, the 4 of spades, the ace of clubs, the 7 of hearts and the king of hearts. The ranks and suits were all over the place.

I still tried to keep a poker face so as to not leak my poor hand.

What do I do? Should I give up? Which cards should I swap?

“I raise.” Kirishima increased his bet by 10 chips.

Apparently, he had a good hand. My gut was telling me that I could not win with these cards.

“I fold,” I therefore said, discarding my hand.

With a sardonic grin on his face, Kirishima showed my his cards, which were just a diverse as mine. I had been tricked. He had only raised his bet in order to trick me into giving up.

Kirishima had won this game and received my stake of 5 chips. I was left with 75 chips.

The next game started. Our bets remained at 5 and 10 respectively.

I had the 2 of hearts, the 2 of clubs, the 3 of diamonds, the 3 of spades, and the king of diamonds, or two pairs for short. It was a fairly good hand.

“I raise,” I said as I added 5 chips to my bet, and swapped one card.

“I call.” Kirishima left his bet unchanged and swapped three cards.

I looked at the face of my new card, the 3 of clubs. I had a full house. That was awesome.

“I fold.”

However, just when I was delighted by my hand, Kirishima discarded his.

I had 85 chips now; my stock was growing slowly but steadily.

“We won’t get anywhere if we keep folding all the time,” he remarked.

“It’s only the fourth game.”

But Kirishima had a point there: it was hard to amass chips if both parties kept giving up. I deemed it reasonable to believe in my current streak of luck and become a bit more offensive.

The next game started and we both bet 10 chips.

“Oh, taking the offensive?”

“Because you funded me.”

The cards dealt to me were the queens of hearts and diamonds, and the joker. The joker could be played as any card, meaning that I effectively had three queens. While the remaining cards were random, I could consider myself lucky.

“I raise.”

Kirishima raised his bet by 5 chips and swapped two cards. By the looks of it, he was confident in his hand. Either a pair or three of a kind, I guessed, but if he really had three of a kind, then mine was likely to win because of the queens’ high rank.

“I raise,” I said and put another 10 chips on my bet. I also swapped two cards.

The audience started to grow noisy because both players seemed to have faith in their hands.

Hell yeah.

I drew the queen of spades. My four-of-a-kind was complete.

“I raise.” Kirishima also increased his bet, by 5 chips, and swapped two cards. I gathered that he had a real good hand.

“I raise.”

I added 5 chips and swapped one card. I had started this game off with 85 chips, of which I had bet 25, whereas Kirishima had bet 20 chips. If I won, I would have more than 100 chips and could challenge him for Saki.

The card I got was the king of spades and thus meaningless, but I could win this game nonetheless. While praying that he didn’t fold, I looked at him.

Since I was still in the game and had only swapped one card, it was most likely obvious to him that I had more than three of a kind. Put the other way, the fact that he hadn’t folded either suggested that he was fairly confident himself.

But surely he isn’t expecting four queens.

“Showdown,” the dealer proclaimed.

In an attempt to show off, I boldly dropped my cards on the table. The kings and queens were apparently displeased by my behavior, however: two of the cards ended up facedown, making me appear like a fool.

“That’s not going to cut it,” Kirishima declared without even deigning to inspect my hand.

But he had told the truth and played 4 aces.

“Wha…”

There was a stir in the audience because of his surprisingly strong hand.

I clenched my teeth. I had not at all anticipated to lose with four queens.

“Mr. Kurusu…?” the dealer said with an asking look.

“Fuck!” I flicked my tongue and exposed my losing hand by turning up the queen and king.

The audience also marveled at my strong hand and applauded us.

But defeat is defeat.

“Mr. Kirishima wins the game,” the dealer stated the obvious.

I paid a total of 45 chips, consisting of the 25 chips I had placed and the 20 chips my opponent had placed. My stock of 85 chips had dwindled to a mere 40 in just one game. It was a painful loss.

“What a shame! Really! You almost got me to bet the girl!” he ridiculed me with every of his words pissing me off. “Actually, I only had a pair before the last swapping. You were so close! It’s a real shame.”

“Good for you.”

“Who knows, maybe God wants me to win?”

“Shut up and play,” I uttered, urging him to continue with the next game instead of rambling on.

I looked at Saki. She was watching us play without showing any stirring of disappointment.

Hold on. I’m absolutely going to retrieve you.

Looks like you didn’t expect your four queens to be beaten. Your face is all screwed up!

The girl was way better at keeping a poker face.

But you don’t stand a chance against me no matter how good your poker face is and no matter how lucky you are.

If you think you’re just out of luck, then you’re on the wrong track.

Because, well, I can literally tell what cards you have.

Let me explain myself once more:

I’m going to teach you a lesson about life—about how tough and unfair life is.

“Tch!”

I lost two times in a row.

Even though I was still winning more often than him on the whole, my chips had been decimated to a mere 20. It was like I were winning all battles but losing the war.

The next game started. I bet 5 chips, Kirishima bet 10 chips.

I had a pair in my hand. That was by no means a bad setup. I left my bet untouched and swapped the other 3 cards. Kirishima did the same.

Does he also have a pair?

I picked up my new cards. Among them were the 6 of hearts and the 6 of clubs, forming a second pair.

I sneaked a peek at Kirishima, who was still smiling comfortably. Is his smile true or false? I asked myself.

“I call,” I said and swapped the remaining card.

“I raise.” He put another 5 chips on his stack and exchanged one card.

Does he also have two pairs? Or three of a kind even?

My remaining assets amounted to 20 chips, my bet was 5 chips and his bet was 15. If I were to lose this game, the duel would be over.

Two pairs were a somewhat weak hand for a final showdown.

Do I retreat?

No, I mustn’t. Don’t chicken out, Tokiya. You have two pairs. The next card could get you a full house. Hang on.

“I call,” I said and simply swapped one card. However, the card was different from the other ones and left with with two pairs.

“I call.”

Kirishima could bankrupt me with his current bet, so there was no point in raising it. He swapped one card. One card, eh… I sighed to myself. Two pairs? Four of a kind? Which is it?

If I gave up, I would only lose 5 chips and could continue.

Kirishima was still smirking. That smile was also a poker face of sorts; I couldn’t for the life of me read anything off it.

What do I do? Try my luck or retreat?

If I took the risk, I would end up with a total of either 40 or 0 chips. It was all or nothing. But if I folded, I would still have 15 chips left.

What do I do…? I asked myself again.

Kirishima showed no sign of giving up, from which I guessed that he either had a strong hand or that he wanted to drive me into folding.

What do I do…?

I wasn’t able to read anything off his face. If anything, he seemed to be waiting for my decision.

His smile pisses me off.

He’s waiting for me to back out.

I won’t. I won’t give up this game.

Showdown!

“I fold,” he said in the very moment I came to a decision, avoiding a showdown. “Because I can’t win with this hand.”

Kirishima only had a pair of twos—the weakest hand in the game. It boggled my mind that he could act so calm with a poor hand like that. He had only swapped the same number of cards in order to get me to fold.

Dammit, he’s toying with me!

“Hey, cheer up. You won this game.”

My chips had indeed increased to 35. I had overcome the critical point for the time being.

Still, I had less than I had at the beginning.

There was no point in winning if I failed at getting Saki back, and I didn’t even have half of the sum needed for that.

“Shit!”

Again! Even though I was on the winning side, my money kept decreasing, leaving me with 20 chips.

I always won because Kirishima folded. Therefore, I couldn’t properly increase my number of chips. Kirishima, on the other hand, kept winning the full stake.

But he’s good, I had to admit against my will. Whenever I had a strong hand, he would minimize his losses by folding, and whenever I had a moderate hand, he would keep his bets so low that I could not bring myself to fold. Even worse, sometimes he would drive me into folding when his own hand was actually weak, but when I tried to read ahead and risked a showdown, his hand would prove strong.

I was pretty proud of my poker face, but it seemed like he could easily see through it. He probably didn’t let the slightest of stirrings in my face slip, I assessed.

Considering that he had won against Saki, it was well possible that seeing through me was a walk in the park for him.

The game progressed.

I had three of a kind, but Kirishima folded. I won 5 chips.

I had two pairs, but Kirishima folded. I won 5 chips.

I had a pair, but I lost the showdown and 10 chips.

I had a full house, but Kirishima folded yet again. I won 5 chips.

I had no hand, and neither did Kirishima, but I folded and lost 5 chips.

…Overall, my stock of chips had decreased even more and was still shrinking slowly but surely.

It was like being corroded by a slow poison, like being tormented by slow degrees. Step by step he was driving me to the brink of collapse.

“Hm… somewhat disappointing,” he suddenly said.

“Spare me your words.”

“Hey, I was talking of myself, you know?” he explained with amazement while giving me an exaggerated shrug. All of that rubbed me the wrong way. “Why don’t you relax a bit? It’s just a game for crying out loud, isn’t it?”

“Just a ‘game’ you say?”

There was no way I could enjoy this when Saki was at stake. Although she was silently watching our game, she was bound to be upset inside.

“Oh right, the girl’s at stake. I was so absorbed in playing that I forgot entirely.”

You don’t say, I thought. You’re not enjoying the game, you’re enjoying toying with me.

Kirishima always wore a cool smile. Perhaps he was still holding back. No, actually, he was quite clearly just messing with me.

As though he really knew my cards.

Hm? Does he really know my cards?

As a matter of fact, so far he had been responding to my hands with a precision that bordered on cheating.

I let my gaze wander around; around us was a crowd of spectators watching our duel. I started to suspect that there was someone among them who gave Kirishima signals.

For a fact, I hadn’t paid attention to what was happening behind my back.

…I picked up my cards while hiding them with my body from curious eyes and fanned them without letting down my guard.

I had a pair.

Cool with me! I’ll take the gamble!

Even though I only had a weak hand, I increased my bet by 5 to a total of 10 chips.

“Now look at that, how bold! A good hand, I take it?”

I kept staring at my cards without reacting to him.

Kirishima also raised his bet to 10 chips.

He’s testing me.

But this is where it counts. I’ll stand my ground.

If he followed his behavior pattern up to now, he was going to fold. Even if he didn’t, I would be getting 20 chips if I won. My hand might have been only a pair, but it was a pair of kings, the second highest rank of cards. It was by no means a bad hand.

“Showdown.”

I played a pair of kings.

Kirishima slowly exposed his own hand. It was—

A pair of aces. I lost. I had to drop 20 chips.

…Quite the feat to appear so self-confident with just two aces.

“I don’t have any accomplices, lad, but we can send our audience away, if you like…?”

There was no need asking him how he could tell. He had simply observed my hiding my cards and studying my surroundings. Even I would have notice.

Put the other way, I was so tense as to fail to notice such obvious things.

“Very well, you’re in a tight corner now.” He stated the obvious.

The number of my remaining chips was 5.

The game before had been a gamble—a gamble that I lost.

He was reading me like a book; my face and my gestures seemed to give me away.

My “petty” strategies are not going to cut it, or what?

Blaming him for cheating would’ve been nothing more than a lame excuse: Kirishima didn’t show any signs thereof, nor did he have someone spy on my cards.

I was weak. I had to admit it.

I gazed at Saki. She silently gazed back—without averting her eyes.

Saki had not given up just yet.

In that case, I was in no position to give up, either.

“You’d better give up now. You can save yourself some trouble this way.”

“I’m already in trouble up to my neck,” I replied.

“Relax, boy. I’ll give her back to you once I’m done playing with her,” he said as he extended his hand toward Saki to stroke her cheek.

“Don’t you touch her!” I roared, putting a stop to that farce.

Kirishima frowned with annoyance and yanked at Saki’s hair. Her face contorted with pain as she lost her balance and fell down on her knees.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” I yelled as I stood up, but Saki’s “Tokiya…” kept me from charging at him.

“You have no right to object, lad. Right now, she’s mine.”

“Don’t treat Saki like a thing!”

“Says the guy who gambled her away?”

You’re one to talk! I didn’t gamble with Saki, I didn’t want to pay with her—YOU made me!

However, for some reason I failed to object aloud. Perhaps I felt like he was spot on somewhere in my heart.

“Tokiya, I gambled myself away, not you. There is no need for you to blame yourself even if you lost.”

“No man should make a girl say something like that,” Kirishima scoffed, turning Saki’s cheering against me.

Although, to be honest, I had to give him right on that; I was embarrassed and angered by myself for making Saki say that.

“Tokiya, this man is trying to provoke you.”

“I know!”

I know…, I repeated in mind and told myself to keep a level head. Observing this attempt at calming down, Kirishima laughed again; all he did, all he said was raising my hackles.

“The game’s not over yet! Next game!” I commanded.

“Fine with me, of course.”

Without any more words, the cards were dealt and we both placed the minimum bet of 5 chips, which was all the remaining money I had. In other words, I could not fold let alone lose.

If I lost, my defeat would be set in stone.

Am I going to lose? Am I going to fail rescuing Saki?

What should I do? How can I win?

Think, Tokiya! Just playing isn’t going to cut it; Kirishima is more skilled than me. I can’t win just so.

Isn’t there something I can do to elevate my chances? Something… is there really no way?

Damn it… a proper Relic would be worth a mint now…!
Krrrrr!
The sound of Kirishima dropping the 5 chips he was adding to his bet brought me back to reality. They rolled all the way to me.

“Pardon me, my hand slipped,” he apologized as he received his chips from me.

Did something happen?

There was nothing special about slipping one’s hand, but for some reason there was a hint of disbelief on his face.

Is he surprised because he let his hand slip? No, that’s not it. What happened, then? Did his accomplice blunder, if he has one now?

I tried looking around, but there was nothing that caught my eye.

I looked at Kirishima; the same smile as before was glued to his face, but this time it looked somewhat phony.

However, other than that nothing had changed.

Am I seeing things? Did he simply drop his chips, after all?
Suddenly, the lights in the floor died all at once.
Everyone began muttering about the sudden blackout.

“Dear guests, please keep calm and stay where you are!” the dealer shouted into the dark, after which I heard the vibration of a cell phone before me. “…I’m afraid there has been a power outage, but the problem is currently being worked on. Please safeguard your valuables and wait a moment.”

Just when he had finished speaking, the emergency lights went on and lit the hall. The light was far weaker than before, but it was enough to see.

The visitors sighed with relief.

“Please pardon the inconvenience, but I must ask you to suspend the game for now and take a break. Of course I will look that no alternations are made to the game,” the dealer said, and an employee brought Kirishima a glass of mineral water. Using this momentary blind spot, the dealer showed me his cell phone.

The text on the display said, “Get your ass over to the restroom.”

I had a hunch about who wrote that message.

Without much ado, I stood up and gave Saki a node, since I could not take her with me, and headed to the restroom.

At my destination I found Towako-san and Erika waiting for me.

“Bloody idiot!” Towako-san cursed before saying anything else and gave me a whack on the head.

“Didn’t I tell you not to gamble with others?” Erika sighed then. Before I could apologize, however, she continued, “It’s the man we were talking about.”

The man we had been talking about—in other words the gambler who didn’t lose. And I had been so stupid as to challenge him to a duel. I was at a loss for words at my own dullness.

“The problem is how do we beat him?” Towako-san said. Apparently, she was already in the picture; I guessed that an employee had informed her.

“Can you lend me some money? I’ll give him the pending sum and call it…”

“Are you daft or what?” Towako-san grumbled. “Do you seriously believe money is going to get you out of that? Dollars to donuts, he’s not going to give Saki-chan back unless you win her back.”

She was right; the situation had changed. I didn’t need 100 chips to pay him, I needed them to have him bet Saki.

“And? Noticed anything while fighting him?”

“He’s strong. A beginner like me holds no candle to him.”

“That’s not what I’m asking, genius.”

“Huh?”

“Oh come on, don’t lose your head just because someone took Saki away from you. What I want to know is whether or not he is using a Relic!”

“Ah…”

I’d almost forgotten. The very reason why Towako-san had come here in the first place was to make sure if Kirishima was using a Relic.

“Did he show any signs of using a Relic?”

“…I didn’t see any. He was just playing poker. He doesn’t seem to have any accomplices either,” I answered.

“I also considered this possibility and had my men look out for his friends, but we didn’t find anything of the sort. There’s no one who’s always here when he is,” Erika said and proceeded with an explanation of Kirishima’s characteristics. “From what I can tell, he only plays card games, like poker and black jack. I also spotted him playing the slots once or twice, but he doesn’t seem to have as much luck with that. His tactical play when playing at cards is quite the spectacle, though. He’s excellent at finding the right timing to avoid risky situations, and he knows when to fold and when to raise.”

“Agreed. It’s perfectly possible to win a round or two, but he would always fold when I had a good hand and lure me out when I was not sure what to think of my cards…”

“So it’s not a Relic that ensures that you win every gamble, eh? If he sucks at playing the slots, it can’t be a lucky Relic either. It’s one that only works on other people, I guess… To be honest, I wanted to play a game against him and see for myself, but that will be a waste of time if you didn’t find anything, Tokiya.”

Towako-san drew her conclusions after hearing us out, and came to an answer:

“In my view, I suspect his Relic gives him the power to see through things.”

“See through things?” I asked.

“Yeah. Do you remember the round where you almost won with four of a kind?”

“Ah, yes.”

“That was very suspicious,” claimed Towako-san.

“Huh?”

What is she talking about? I didn’t notice anything of the sort.

“Two cards fell facedown when you exposed your hand. And even though he could only see a set of queens, Kirishima openly declared himself the winner with a quad of aces.”

“How is that suspicious?”

“The visible cards may have been queens, but one of them was a joker. In other words, the two cards that were facedown could have been both queens. In that case, you would have had five of a kind,” she explained.

“Ah!”

Thinking back at it, the dealer hadn’t announced Kirishima’s victory until seeing all my cards either. Put another way, it wasn’t clear yet whether or not Kirishima had won.

Despite that, he declared himself the winner.

At the time I supposed that he was simply confident in his quad of aces, but there was more to it.

That would also explain why Saki had lost: even the best poker face is useless if the opponent sees your cards.

“The question is how far he can see through things. If you can’t hide your cards by covering them, you’ll have to win against him with overt cards,” she added.

“…Erika, would it be possible to leave the lights as dim as they are now?” I asked.

“Making it at least harder for him to see your cards, eh?”

“I can arrange that, but so long as you have no definite proof of his Relic abuse, I can’t save you. As a casino, we can’t presume to accuse a guest of trickery and then find nothing thereof.”

Doing something like that would stain their reputation indeed, which is why Erika had only asked Towako-san to confirm the presence or absence of a Relic.

“That’s the only countermeasure we have at the moment,” I said. “Anyway, while I’m trying to draw out the match, please try to determine his Relic. He’s not wearing glasses, so it might be contact lenses, but I don’t know.”

I didn’t expect to win against an opponent who could see my cards, but we couldn’t accuse him of foul play without knowing what Relic he had, either.

Therefore, all I could do was to prolong our match until Towako-san had seen through his trick.

“You’re not thinking that drawing the match out is all you can do, right?” Towako-san made a remark that was spot-on. “With that mindset you’re not going to win even a normal match! I’ll take care of the Relic, so man up and concentrate on kicking his ass when you go out there, OK?”

“Yes.”

Thanks to her spurring me on, I finally dropped the passive thinking.

She’s absolutely right. My luck’s going to drain away, too, if I keep running away myself. I’m going to win even if he can see my cards!

“Just recall how angry she got for your sake! You wouldn’t be a man if you didn’t return the favor!”

I know.

The only reason why Saki agreed on giving herself away was because Kirishima had made a fool of me—

Because she was mad at him for mocking me.

That’s why she gave me the opportunity to avenge myself.

“Who do you think I am, Towako-san? I’m not that dull.”

“Good to hear!” she said and walked off.

“Huh? When was she angry?” I heard Erika say while following Towako-san. I put on a faint smile.

Erika couldn’t know.

She couldn’t know of the angry emotions that were hiding behind that expressionless countenance. Towako-san and I were the only ones who knew her well enough to tell.

Yeah, only the two of us…

“—Huh?”

It was then that a certain quote crossed my mind.
You’re so sweet when you’re angry, my dear.
Kirishima had said these words.

How? How could he tell that Saki was angry? Did his poker skills allow him to see through her blank expression?

No… no way. It must be something else. No matter how good he is at gambling, that’s not possible.

The feelings hiding behind Saki’s expressionless face aren’t meant to be understood by someone who doesn’t even know her.

“But then how…?”

How did he notice that she was angry…?

When I returned to the table, the dealer didn’t miss a beat and said, “I’m afraid that restoring the lights is going to take more time than anticipated, but if both parties agree, we can resume the game despite the poor lighting conditions.”

Apparently, Erika had already gotten in touch with the dealer.

“Oh, I don’t mind. It’s not going to take more than one or two rounds anyway,” Kirishima said.

“I don’t mind, either.”

I sat down in my seat and gazed at him. He gazed back.

But I didn’t wait for him.

“It’s your turn.”

No, it’s my turn.

I denied my own words with a slight delay in my thoughts.

Even though he was about to swap some cards, thinking it was his turn, he suddenly stopped. As if reacting to my delayed “No, it’s my turn.”

Kirishima gazed at me again. I returned his gaze and came to a conclusion.

He is reading my mind—

My Relic—Mind’s Voice—allows me to read someone else’s mind.

I sure didn’t expect a child like him to know of the existence of Relics, let alone to find me out and notice that I’m reading his mind… knocking over my chips when I picked up the term “Relic” in his thinking must have struck him as suspicious.

But what of it? How is that knowledge going to help him?
But it’s hardly possible to prove that he’s cheating…!
The boy’s thinking entered my head.

…Exactly. You’re not as stupid as you look; that’s a relief! I’ll take back calling you an idiot.

He can find me out as much as he wants, but he can’t prove anything. I can just feign ignorance if he points it out.

There’s hardly anyone in this casino who knows about Relics. He’d appear like a fool who’s making up things to avoid losing. No one’s going to believe that boy.

So, what are you going to do?

Learning about Mind’s Voice isn’t going to save you from your certain defeat.

You can’t mute your inner voice, lad.

What next? I see now that he’s reading my mind, but that’s it. I can’t point this out to everyone.

Even if I came out with the truth behind his Relic now, Erika and her employees’ hands would still be tied. Everything would be fine and dandy if he was cheating in an obvious way, but in this case it would seem like I was just trying to drag him through the mud.

In the worst case, I’d get disqualified and lose my chance to get Saki back.

“Let’s continue,” smirked Kirishima.

We resumed the game. I had 5 chips remaining, and we had both bet 5 chips.

The game was over for good if I were to fold or lose.

I took a look at my cards.

…No hand at all. Off to a good start…

“Ah!” I gasped, realizing that Kirishima was reading my mind.

I mustn’t think. I must clear my mind of thoughts.

However, it’s not so easy to stop thinking: erasing the cards I’d seen from my mind was impossible.

I raised my head and looked at my opponent. He was smiling with even more self-satisfaction.

His smile was one of absolute self-confidence.

It’s over. He’s read my mind. He knows that I have no hand.

I’d been too careless. I hadn’t been allowed to think. I’d had to suppress my thoughts.

He knew my cards now. Even worse, he knew that my cards were worthless.

What should I do? How can I win? How can I win in a condition like this?

Is there really a way?

Is there a way to win with no proper hand against an opponent who can read my mind—?
“———!”
Suddenly, a certain idea crossed my mind.

I got it! I know how I can win!

Kirishima responded to my train of thought with a perplexed look.

Just you watch. I’m gonna beat you now.

“Excuse me!” I shouted, ignoring Kirishima’s frown. “Can I speak the owner of this casino?!”

“How can I help you, sonny?” Erika said as she appeared from somewhere and walked up to our table. Her way of talking to me suggested that she didn’t know me, and her eyebrow was raised with caution.

She was going to disregard me for sure if I asked her to save me. But she could be at ease: I didn’t plan on dragging her in.

“Can you lend me 100 chips?” I asked.

“Can you pay me back?”

“Here, you can take my student card,” I said and handed my card case over to her. She opened it and took out my student card.

“If you can’t pay me back, I’ll come to your place and recover the debt. Is that fine with you?”

“Yes. May I go fetch the chips myself?” I asked.

“Of course. Please, this way.”

I followed Erika to receive my chips.

“You’re walking on thin ice,” she whispered without looking at me. Accepting my request was probably as far as she was willing to go for me.

Making such a request had been a gamble for me, too. The plan was to leave my seat and flesh out my strategy in the meantime.

Can I really win with this strategy?

Like puzzle pieces I put together my ideas to a plan that would lead me to victory.

Yes, I can win.

The flash of inspiration was genuine.

Using that method I could win against Kirishima even if he was reading my mind.

Armed with a sack of casino tokens, I returned to the table.

“…And here I was wondering what you’re up to,” Kirishima sighed. “Is this how you intend to win? By giving up the battle and buying your way out? I’m sorry, lad, but it’s too late for those chips. I’m not going to return the girl to you like this.”

I slammed the sack on the table.

“Hm?”

“You agreed that you would bet Saki if I bet 100 chips, didn’t you? Well, it’s about time you did!”

“…Are you serious now?” he asked in disbelief because he knew my cards.

“More so than ever before! I’m also serious about winning, of course.”

“What a farce, but no use talking sense into a scatterbrained fool. Very well, then. I raise. I bet this girl.”

The dealer squinted at my own stake. Of course, what I said wasn’t just a bluff.

“I raise by 100.”

After I had raised, Kirishime picked a few cards to swap, but I stopped him.

“Wait.”

“What is it?”

“I’m not done yet.”

Betting 100 chips for Saki was not part of my plan to win. It was only a preparation required to get Saki back.

The first step to victory only just coming.

So far, my Vision had helped me to prevent predicted death situations. This time, it was the other way around.

“I still raise.” And in order to predict my own death I continued: “I bet my own life.”

Suddenly, a painful noise rang inside my head——

“You bet ‘your life’? Give me a break…”

“If Saki’s treated like property, then the same should apply to my life.”

“Oh come on…” Don’t get ahead of yourself just because you’ve found out about my Relic! “Surely you’re willing to die right here and now when you’re so bold as to claim to bet your life, right? Just to make this clear: I’m not going to go out of my way to kill you by my…”

The boy shattered the glass of mineral water an employee had brought earlier and held the edge to his throat.

“If I lose, you get to see how I kill myself like this!”

His remark threw the audience into an uproar. They told him to stop but were unable to intervene because he might cut his throat by accident.

“Don’t be silly. Someone, make him stop. Surely the casino will not tolerate such foolish behavior?”

“I don’t mind,” the owner of the casino suddenly said. “Of course we would never tolerate this under normal conditions, but in this case you preceded him by betting a girl in place of casino tokens. It was a mistake on our part that we did not step in and stop you. As such, I will make an exception and permit this match on my responsibility.”

…She’s in cahoots with the boy.

Mind’s Voice did not enable me to listen to the thoughts of the person I was paying attention to, not of all people around me.

Since I hadn’t expected the owner of the casino to be connected with him, I hadn’t bothered to read her mind.

But it’s even more absurd to bet one’s life if they’re connected.

“Have you lost your mind?”

“Why, of course not. Although truth be told, I’d rather you folded,” she replied.

Oh, I see…

I finally figured out his plan, which had still been vague when he left his seat; if I folded now, he would get his girl back effortlessly.

That’s what you call a plan to win?

Don’t be ridiculous! Do you think I would bend to such a cheap threat?

It disgusts me to see someone so feebleminded and reckless.

“Fits me well! Let’s continue! But I’ll have you take responsibility, okay?” I insisted.

My victory is set in stone, anyway.

“I’m not retreating,” I said. “If you think you can win like that, you are badly mistaken! I suggest that you fold if you cling to life.”

“Same to you. I suggest that you fold if you’re scared!”

“What?”

“I have bet my life, and you have bet Saki. That means that if I win, I’ll have you pay my part as well.

“—In other words, you will pay with your life.”

“!”

He was right: I was also going to lose my life if I was defeated.

No, it won’t come to that. Even if it does, I’ll just run away.

I’ll just give him his money, his girl—even my Relic if need be—and run away.

“Besides, I don’t think I can win with just this.”

“What?”
My cards are the 2 of hearts, the 4 of diamonds, the 5 of clubs, and the 7 and 9 of spates.
The boy’s thoughts entered my head.

Even though his thinking had been rather silent until now—either because he had been trying not to think about his plan or because he had simply been too worked up—he seemed to be aggressively making up thoughts for me to read.

A monologue of thoughts had started.

I couldn’t deny myself a grin.

This isn’t just “no hand”; it’s a bunch of worthless cards. How does he plan on winning against me with those?

My hand of four aces was almost too good to waste on him.
Of course I don’t think I can win with these cards. So I do this!
With these thoughts, he discarded all five cards.

“Do you want to swap all cards?” asked the dealer.

“Yes,” the boy nodded.

The dealer dealt five new cards to him, but the boy showed no sign of picking them up.

That’s how he wants to win? By not looking at his cards? And here I was thinking he had a plan…

How silly.

It was true that I couldn’t predict his cards if he didn’t know them himself. I couldn’t predict his hand.

That being said, my own hand was a quad of aces, with the herald of death—a joker—smiling at me among them.

Since the joker was with me, he could not possibly have five of a kind.

In other words, the only hand that could beat me was a royal straight flush, and there was no way he would draw that.

Our last game did not even require me to read his mind.

Are you listening? You are, right?

Let me tell you something!

You’re not the only one who’s got a Relic. I have one, too!

Mine is called Vision. It’s a Relic that lets me foresee the future.

I can’t lie to myself anyway, so I’m not going to be honest with you: Vision doesn’t let me see the future at will. I don’t know the winning number at a lottery ahead of time, and I can’t even tell the weather of tomorrow. There is only one type of future that I can predict.

Death.

When I put my life at stake, I was able to see a death.

I saw myself losing and dying. With a pair consisting of the 2 of hearts and the 2 of spates.

Catch my drift?

I just discarded the 2 of hearts. In other words, the future in which I lost with that pair disappeared.

And now I know that I have won.

“Why? It’s fifty-fifty! You don’t know if you’ve won already.”

I unwittingly raised my voice, but I didn’t care.

How could he tell that he had won?

He had only erased the future where he lost with a pair of twos; the chances were fifty-fifty again. No, if he knew my hand, he would have to admit that his chances were even worse.
You don’t get it, do you?
What do I not get, boy?
I changed the future where I lost, but I haven’t seen another future afterward. In other words, I’m sure not to lose this game.
I finally noticed after he had spelled it out for me.

But do you think I’ll buy that?

In order to set my victory in stone, I called and tried to draw the remaining ace—or any other card that could prevent a royal straight flush on his part—but the card I received was just the 3 of spates.

I gazed at his cards.

I want to know what they are. Just one would do. One would be enough to tell.

What’s on those cards’ faces…?

“I stay,” he said without the slightest hesitation, with conviction even, and left his cards untouched.

Hereby the second round was over.

Risk a showdown or fold?

What’s there to waver? There’s no way I would lose! It’s next to impossible that a dealer would deal a royal straight flush just like that. But hold on… the owner and the boy are connected. It’s perfectly possible that the dealer is also connected with him.

Maybe they have made the arrangements when he left his seat earlier?

I tried reading the owner’s mind, but she didn’t seem to know his cards either. In fact, she appeared to be on edge even.

Did the dealer act by himself? No, he doesn’t know the cards, either. He’s patiently waiting for the game to settle, whatever the result.

But where does the boy’s conviction come from, then? How can he remain so calm when his life’s at stake?

“A-Aren’t you afraid?” I asked.

“Afraid of what?”

“Your bloody life is at stake, boy!”

“Yeah, of course I’m afraid, but I’m used to this kind of situation. I know when to stand my ground.”

This immature boy claims to have experience with risking his life?

However, he was not lying; his inner voice did not deny it.

The inner voice does not lie.

I could determine if someone was lying, because I would hear their inner voice deny it.

While it was possible to keep a lie to oneself, it was not possible to keep a lie hidden even from oneself.

Tsukumodo_V4_174.jpg

Because there was no other place to hide a lie.

“I have something to lose in this game. If I can only take it back by putting my life at stake, then I’ll bet it without a second thought!”

The boy gazed at the girl I stole from him and said with an iron will glowing in his eyes:

“I won’t let anyone take her from me.”

“…I fold,” Kirishima muttered with slouched shoulders and the audience cheered.

Upon getting a broad smile from me, Saki approached me without showing anything that even resembled a smile.

“You’re so reckless again.”

Indeed, this was the first time I had seen myself committing suicide. I had to admit that I’d acted really reckless.

To be honest, I didn’t think I had the guts to die, but apparently I did.

I sure didn’t want to resort to this kind of courage ever again.

“I’m amazed that you could win with this,” Saki then said after flipping all my cards.

On the table lay the only hand that was weaker than a pair of twos—a no-pair.

This is the story of me and my Relic, Mind’s Voice.

The owner of that mysterious store claimed that what I wanted was Mind’s Voice, but I had no special interest in reading others’ minds.

She then said something along the lines of it being a hidden desire, which I interpreted as an attempt to sell the product to me, but since the price itself was not that high, I decided to buy it nevertheless.

But having obtained it, I was at a loss what to do with it.

I’m no idiot. I was perfectly aware that I could use Mind’s Voice to my heart’s content to read the minds and true intentions of the people I faced.

Sadly though, I consider myself a misanthrope and therefore had no interest in others whatsoever.

I’ve always drawn a distinct line between mer and others—and this hasn’t ever changed. Therefore, there was no point for me in reading minds.

While the shopwoman had claimed that Mind’s Voice was a hidden desire of mine, I was not at all convinced.

Of course, I tried using it. But nothing came out of it.

What good is it to feel out someone’s true intentions?

If I provided the answer the other party sought, I became a good flatterer.

If I knew what the other party wanted, I merely became the sharp-witted guy.

Quite the contrary to what one would expect at first thought, hearing others’ true intentions was a restriction that forced me to cater to them. A good thing for them, of course, but an ordeal for me.

Because all I ever did was parroting their needs and wishes.

Of course, knowing someone’s desires was much to my liking as someone who always wanted to know the answer ahead of time. Still it served no purpose, since I had no notion of forming relationships.

As a result of not finding a proper way to utilize Mind’s Voice, I fell back on abusing it to win at the casino.

Until they took it from me, that is.

But maybe that’s for the better. I couldn’t bring myself to let go of a superpower, even if I had no use for it, so the only way was if someone forced me to.

“Kirishima-san?” a woman who worked at the same company asked on the train home. “What a coincidence!”

“Yes, indeed.”

“Ah, do you have some time? I would love to hear your opinion on something! It’s about someone who works in the same department…”

Advice, eh?

Through obtaining Mind’s Voice, I had become able to give the answers others’ wanted instead of just replying randomly. While my indifferent attitude hadn’t changed, the way how others perceived me did, and they started to ask me for advice.

Oh well, what do you want me to say today? I thought as I tried listening to her mind.

But I heard no voice.

Right… they took Mind’s Voice from me.

“…He always gets angry at me when I make a mistake, you know? Even though he doesn’t with other people. What do you think of that?”

Well, because he hates you I suppose?

No, wait! If he’s in the same department, it could well be that he’s trying to teach her something.

Ah, no. It’s a man we’re talking about. He might have some ulterior motive.

But come to think of it, aren’t they dating each other?

Calling it an “ulterior motive” might offend her.

Ah, no, I think I’ve heard that they split up about a month ago…

…Who told me that? If I learned it by reading someone’s mind, it would be unnatural for me to know.

Which is it?

No, more importantly, how am I supposed to deal with this situation?

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

Ah, I remember now. This is why I came to hate humans.

Mind’s Voice has got me into uncalled-for human relations. So much to “a hidden desire of mine”… never have I wished for something like this.

“Um, so what do you think?” she urged.

What do I do?

How do I answer?

Having grown accustomed to parroting back their thoughts, I was at a loss for an answer and had to face how dependent on Mind’s Voice I had become.

Suddenly, the words I was told when I received Mind’s Voice crossed my mind.

She told me that Mind’s Voice was what I desired. So that’s why…

But it’s too late for insight now.

I remember giving them random answers, but how did I come up with appropriate random answers?

Where have my own words gone…?

“Well, all’s well that ends well,” Towako-san grinned as she kept throwing and catching Mind’s Voice.

Mind’s Voice was an earring composed of little rings that were modeled on ripples. The piercing in Kirishima’s ear had been a Relic.

“It was a real close shave, though…” I said.

“That should have taught you a lesson about gambling.”

“But under normal conditions Saki’s poker face could make us rich.”

“Haven’t you learned anything?!” Towako-san sighed and whacked me over the head.

“Ouch… isn’t it your fault to go to such a place to begin with?!”

“But Towako-san went there to help a friend, Erika, didn’t she?” Saki objected, responding to my sarcasm.

“Hm? She’s not a friend of mine, Saki-chan, just a new acquaintance I’ve made.”

“In that case, why did you help her anyway?” Saki asked.

“Were you after the Relic?”

“Nope, I simply played some poker there, lost badly, and ran into debts. And because I was short of cash, we agreed that I would work for her. After a while she told me about Kirishima, so I blurted out that a Relic might be involved.

“Haha, I didn’t think that there was really a Relic behind the scenes, though!” Towako-san guffawed.

“You’re not a weeny bit better than me…”

“Well, it’s all about learning from others’ mistakes,” she responded without a trace of compunction. “Besides, it’s not like there haven’t been any perks for you in this affair, right? Just recall that you got to see Saki becoming all worked up for you.”

“What are you talking about?” Saki interrupted.

“Aww, look, she’s being shy! Kirishima made you angry when he said that Tokiya and you don’t belong together, didn’t he?”

“……That’s not true.”

“I thought you were mad because he made a fool of me, Saki…” I said, re-entering the conversation.

“That’s not true, either. I simply became angry because he was being rude.”

With these somewhat snappy words, she increased her walking speed and walked ahead of us. Hm… maybe it’s not so hard to recognize when she’s angry, after all?

Confronted with the possibility that the biggest factor in uncovering Kirishima’s foul play had been hot air, a cold shiver ran down my spine.

“Well, you’re not one to talk either,” Towako-san whispered into my ear.

“What do you mean by that?”

“‘I won’t let anyone take her from me’!”

“Wha?!” I exclaimed in utter confusion and whispered back into her ear: “Why do you know of that? Ah, you used Mind’s Voice, didn’t you? That’s mean!”

“What are you talking about?”

“I mean, I only thought that to myself…”

“Tokiya, I got news for you: you said that line loud and clear,” Towako-san said.

“Eh?”

“I’m pretty sure that Saki-chan has heard every word.”

“EEH?!”

…Oh dang. Looks like I was so agitated that my inner voice got vocal.

“D-Don’t read too much into it, okay? I, uh, only wanted to make clear that he’s not going to get her, you know…?”

“But you said that you won’t let ‘anyone’ take her from ‘you’. You’re quite the monopolizer, eh?”

“That’s not what I meant, really…”

“No kidding? Then who may take Saki-chan from you?”

“……”

“Come on, there’s no need to deny it, is there?”

The inner voice can’t lie.

However, there are also things that the real voice can’t lie about.

Finding myself struggling for words, I averted my eyes from Towako-san and looked at Saki, who was walking a few steps ahead of us, instead.

Her face looked the same as always. It also looked the same when I won the match.

I was dying to know Saki’s thoughts on that embarrassing line I had said.

“Towako-san? Can you lend me Mind’s Voice just for a sec?”

“No.”

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