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Chapter 192: The Real Culprit
Reality trembled, accompanied by a blast that echoed mercilessly through the once-enclosed space. Whether it be those who sided with the law or the secret operatives who opposed them, none were able to prepare themselves for the abrupt assault on the police base, especially considering how secluded and isolated the area itself was.
Yet, the truly unnerving aspect of this attack was not its suddenness, but the assailant itself. Having scorched a hole through the thick concrete walls, the anonymous attacker stood in the air, hovering in place as his limp frame released an ominous pressure onto the surroundings.
As a result, all eyes were drawn towards his person. His stature was thin and by no means short, though his height was at least a head underneath most of the adults here. That being said, his figure, hair, and even skin seemed to be steeped in a thick obsidian shroud, making it impossible to discern who his identity was.
But of course, it was the parts of the assailant that wasn’t of that rich dark hue that betrayed his true identity: his piercing red left eye and glowing emerald right pupil.
「Doesn’t matter! Protect the suspect!」
Roxanne, under the guise of her cover identity Joanne, immediately exclaimed, ignoring the bewildered inspector as she issued her command to her escort. Seeing how she was able to gain the services of the General, even if through sheer luck, the platinum blonde woman wasted no time in utilising the resource at her disposal.
Of course, the story behind how she had received such an asset wasn’t all that deep. After she had managed to snag the job of investigating one of the northern police branches, who were under suspicion of possible corruption, she was approached by the officer with dusty blue hair. For whatever reason, he seemed rather interested in the 〔Gun〕 case, and so wished to arrange himself as her escort to give him an excuse to go there in person.
As a result, through sheer luck, Roxanne got her hands on the infamous General 〔Typhoon〕, a man whose very presence disrupts the Earth. With such an accomplished individual assigned to her (Joanne), there was no way that the woman would fail to use him.
Hence, her cunning mind sent him to protect the person she had come here to save. The one and the same person who she suspected that the intruder was aiming for: Saito Junichi.
Having already moved before Roxanne’s full glossy lips had even parted, Miyazaki Ken instantaneously accelerated his body, performing an ≪Accel Shift≫ as he teleported to the vulnerable dark-haired youth’s side. Maintaining full wariness, the man who had participated in a countless number of sorties instinctively grasped what he needed to do in this situation, and so secured the enemy’s target in a split second.
Yet, despite being extremely vigilant of the unknown assailant, the general was quickly taken by surprise, as the obsidian-clad youth was already closing in on him. In fact, the distance between them had already shrunk so much that both sides would be in attacking range within less than a second.
Hence, Miyazaki Ken did the most logical thing he could do and reflexively threw out his fist in retaliation.
The earth seemed to shake in the face of the man’s thrown out punch, trembling as though unable to suppress its fear. Yet, upon closer inspection, one would be able to determine that it was not the ground but the air that was incapable of resisting the general’s devastating blow, and so bowed and bent in his wake.
It was actually this phenomenon which earned the officer the moniker of 〔Typhoon〕. Unlike his daughter, who rushed at her opponents as fast and destructive as a hurricane, this man could cause blasts of high-pressure air to assail his targets, literally spawning mini-typhoons from his fingertips.
It was a simple, yet useful technique which had a multitude of uses on the battlefield. From attacking to delaying to distracting, it was a versatile skill whose only flaw lay in its difficult execution. So difficult, in fact, that not even his own daughter was capable of reproducing the ability.
Yet, regardless of how effective this simple technique may be, Miyazaki Ken did not allow himself to become arrogant, as his senses remained on high alert throughout this confrontation.
And with those senses, he noticed something peculiar.
That was—the fact that the intruder showed no signs of being affected by the stream of wind he had produced whatsoever.
Now, just because his ≪Typhoon Fist≫ was powerful did not mean that it was almighty. Monsters, such as his daughter or a certain woman with blood-red hair, would be able to resist the torrent of air blasted at them, and he had experiences where his attack was dealt with in such a manner. Yet, even if one was able to withstand the invisible blast, they should still show signs of being buffeted by the invisible stream.
But what the general was witnessing right now was completely different from that.
In an inexplicable turn of events, the obsidian-clad intruder continued to approach him unfazed. His body didn’t seem to slow down, nor did his hair seem to be influenced by the shockwave that was sent his way.
It was almost like the wind was going through him.
And in fact, that’s exactly what it was doing.
The General shouted in disbelief, unable to comprehend what had happened as his eyes widened in the face of this mysterious entity. But then again, such a reaction couldn’t be helped after bearing witness to the miraculous event that had occurred before his very eyes.
The moment the intruder was about to collide into his fist, the obsidian-clad figure seemed to melt into the shadows, becoming translucent as it phased through Ken’s arm with movements so smooth that it was like it had performed this trick before. Needless to say, this physics-defying act was an application of the otherworldly being’s ［Soul Frequency］ capability, allowing him to phase through the phenomenon not imbued with ［Soul Power］.
And, despite his numerous accolades and accomplishments out on the field, there’s no way that the general would be able to stave off such an elusive being.
After all, he was merely human.
Taking advantage of the opening that was made due to the general’s astonishment, the figure kicked off the ground, performing an ≪Accel Shift≫ as he zoomed past the 〔Typhoon〕. Of course, a more accurate description would be that he went straight through the seasoned combatant, using his ethereal ability phase straight through the man in question.
And because of this, the obsidian-clad entity found himself directly behind Ken as he fired off a blast of flames at his back from point blank range.
A groan could be heard escaping from the military man’s lips as his body was flung across the room, slamming into one of the walls in a flashy cloud of dust. Of course, despite having suffered quite the severe wound, the 〔Typhoon〕 was not so weak as to allow himself be done in by such a simplistic attack.
Yet, the intruder cared not about the state of his obstructer as he had already achieved his objective.
Before one noticed it, the intruder had hoisted Saito Junichi up into the air, his slender fingers jabbing into the powerless youth’s neck as though intending to suffocate him. The pads of each digit forcefully rubbed and dug into the boy’s skin, causing a screech of agony that grated on the ears of all present. Yet, even if they wanted to, none could do anything to stop the figure before them, for he had already laid his hands upon a hostage, restricting their movements.
Needless to say, there was no way that the youth would allow himself to be captured so easily under normal circumstances. Yet, as his hands and legs were bound (thanks to the oh-so-righteous law), the dark-haired teenager was rendered unable to act, and so had been easily seized by his approaching assailant.
As a result, all that Junichi could do was grit his teeth and bear through the pain of asphyxiation, biting his lips to keep himself conscious as his red and emerald eyes glared at the face of the entity before him. And, upon doing so, the dark-haired youth couldn’t help but be taken aback.
After all, it was like he was looking in a mirror.
Junichi’s piercing red eye was on the right side of his face, glowing an eerie shade of blood as it illuminated the surroundings. Yet, this glow peculiarly had double the luminosity than usual, for the exact same light was transposed upon the assailant’s left eye.
Similarly, the obsidian-clad entity’s right eye, which should have been red, was a distinct emerald, glowing softly as though in stark contrast to the assertive crimson its partner shared. And, as one would suspect, this characteristic was echoed on Junichi’s left eye, creating a perfect mirror image of the youth side-by-side.
It was no wonder that the boy was bewildered. And of course, this surprise was not his alone. A gasp of astonishment and murmurs of disbelief filled the chamber, but all of it was irrelevant to the dark-haired teenager as he focused on the figure directly before him.
His one and only ［Counterpart］, 《Cross》.
(What the hell……are you–!?)
With the little strength that he could muster, Junichi peered deep into the shadows that curtained his other self’s visage. A task that had been simplified, thanks in part to their proximity. The combined luminance of their eyes had illuminated parts of 《Cross’s》 features, in turn allowing the dark-haired youth’s heightened vision to thoroughly examine the entity’s countenance in detail.
And the first thing that he noticed was not the mixture of the distorted colours that leeched onto his mien, nor was it the spasming of his facial muscles which contorted his features into a variety of inexplicably eerie expressions.
No. What Junichi immediately drew Junichi’s attention was the dark-haired entity’s pupils. Or more specifically, the symbols embedded inside of them.
The symbols that were constantly flickering in and out of existence.
For ［Counterpart］, they would have a symbol unique to their identity embedded into their pupils. 《Tear》, for instance, possessed a droplet ［💧］, while Shiori’s other self, 《Plus》, had a ［+］ sign.
And the entity before him bore the icon of a ［❌］. Or at least, he was supposed to.
Currently, inside of 《Cross’s》 iris, the symbol that should be emblazoned clearly within the pupil was blinking unstably, sometimes appearing while at other times not. During its absence, Junichi noticed a few other symbols that had been added to the mix, those of particular note being a hashtag ［#］, a lion［🦁］, and a frog ［🐸］.
And, no matter how one looked at it, those additional signs were anything but good.
It was at this point that the dark-haired youth was struck by a realisation, as a memory from about a month ago surfaced. When he had first gotten involved in this world of otherworldly invaders, the youth was informed of the act known as ［Assimilation］, as well as its ganders: the risk that one could lose their very own ［Soul］.
A ［Negative Resonance］ caused by imperfect ［Assimilation］. It was very likely that this was what had happened to his ［Counterpart］.
Which meant that 《Cross》, who was no longer in his right mind, had become Junichi’s enemy.
Having noticed that the corrupted ［Counterpart’s］ lips had trembled faintly, Junichi couldn’t help but curse in his mind as the force constricting his throat simultaneously increased. Unlike before, when the fingers digging into his skin were slowly restricting his airflow, 《Cross’s》 current grip possessed a strength of higher magnitude. It was so intense, in fact, that it seemed like the entity could crush his victim’s scrawny neck at any moment.
Needless to say, the mercenary of blood and iron was a hardy individual, and so was accustomed to this level of torment. Yet, while the pain was bearable, the boy felt his vision beginning to blur, the lack of oxygen slowly sapping away at his ability to retain consciousness.
And so, without being able to lift a finger in the face of his former partner, Saito Junichi’s world faded to a deep, comforting black.
It was an irrecoverable situation.
Roxanne thought such as she witnessed the one she was trying to save being held aloft by the obsidian-clad intruder.
With her quick wit, it didn’t take her much effort to conclude that the intruder who had appeared before them was, in fact, 《Cross》. She was also aware of the phenomenon of ［Negative Resonance］, and so was quickly able to discern the situation.
Yet, even if she knew what was happening, that didn’t mean she was able to do anything about it.
After all, ［Counterparts］ were beings that could not be handled by mere humans. She could not rely on Miyazaki Ken to break out of this stalemate, nor could she expect any of the other dumbfounded officers to offer any help.
If only she had brought either of her sisters, then maybe–just maybe they might have had a chance of cleanly rescuing the dark-haired youth from this predicament. Roxanne couldn’t help but think such thoughts as she was once again made aware of the stiff item held inside her inner breast pocket: a small lightweight pistol for covert operations.
Now, just because her sisters weren’t here did not mean that the platinum blonde woman was completely helpless. Junichi had given the mercenary sisters a pack of bullets imbued with ［Soul Power］, giving the girls a means of fighting back in the event that they were to encounter such otherworldly beings without possessing one themselves.
And naturally, the pistol in her jacket was loaded with those exact bullets, giving her the ability to fend off the intruder herself.
Yet, just because Roxanne had the option to attack didn’t mean it was the best option. There were just too many demerits involved with choosing such an action, the first and foremost one being her ability to actually land a shot on the entity.
The pistol that she carried was a unique one that was small and lightweight, its characteristics perfect for use on jobs where she would infiltrate the target site via disguise. It was more of a reserve weapon that wasn’t used very often, and even when it did see some action it was usually for assassinations behind closed doors where it was fired at point-blank range.
It was ill-suited for targets that were more than a metre away, which 《Cross》 certainly was. Furthermore, even if the firearm was more suitable for the task at hand, that didn’t necessarily mean Roxanne possessed the required marksmanship to shoot her target without harming the hostage.
Yet, perhaps the most significant reason why Roxanne had hesitated to draw her weapon was that it would blow her cover.
Currently, she was not Roxanne Leblanc of 【Sekai City’s】 underworld, but Joanne White of the police’s Special Services division. The 〔Charade〕 she was playing was not the sort of individual who could engage in combat, as suggested by the fact that an escort was required to protect her. Thus, suddenly producing a gun and firing it at the intruder would be a huge red flag to those present.
—and yet, the girl quickly threw away this hesitation.
After all, she owed the dark-haired youth. Perhaps, if she had handled things better, then they wouldn’t have found themselves in this situation in the first place. Thus, even if she was endangering herself, she was willing to take the risk in order to bring Junichi back.
Which is why her outstretched slender fingers began inching towards her inner breast pocket.
Yet, before she could reach her weapon–
–the door burst open, as the presence of another intruder caused Roxanne’s fingers to hesitate. Unaware about such a trivial detail, however, the blue blur flew across the room, caring not for the destruction caused in its wake like a 〚Hurricane〛 wreaking havoc upon the Earth.
Needless to say, this blue-haired, grey-eyed individual was none other than the devilish daughter of the defeated general: Miyazaki Sora. And she, in an uncharacteristically perturbed manner, rushed the obsidian-clad intruder in an effort to save her long-time comrade.
「Get your hands off my friend, you asshole!」
Sora spat through clenched teeth as she used the tremendous momentum she had gathered from her sprint to instil power into her leg, which approached 《Cross》 from the side in a wide but unbelievably fast arc. Needless to say, the intruder was unprepared for such a wild attack, and so was only able to receive the blow head on as he flew across the room.
As a result, the entity had released his hostage, causing the powerless and unconscious Junichi to once again be subject to the mercy of gravity. His limp body, with nothing to hold it up any more, entered free fall before making its descent towards the hard flooring.
Yet, moments before his body had made contact with the ground, another figure with a distinct lavender shade had caught him from the side, ensuring that he wasn’t injured by a collision with the floor. Of course, considering the size difference between this new entrant and the dark-haired youth, it would be more accurate to say that his lavender saviour had changed the vector of his movement at the last second, causing the both of them to tumble across the floor so as to disperse the force from his dive.
The figure with a lavender ponytail—the one and the same who had just stopped him from crashing into the floor—let out a shrill cry as she desperately held him in her arms and tried to shake him awake.
Of course, it was debatable as to whether this was the appropriate method to handling a person who was at death’s door, but Minamoto Rin didn’t have the mental capacity to make such consideration as her constant shaking managed to rouse her poor upperclassman’s consciousness.
「R……Rin……what are you–*cough*!」
「Please don’t talk. I told Sora-senpai that you were in trouble, so we came as soon as we could after contacting her father.」
Having heard an explanation as to why the two teenagers had somehow made their way into this mess, Junichi’s chest convulsed as blood was ejected from his lips. Because of their proximity, this blood ended up leaping onto Rin’s face with a splat, though she seemed less concerned about her dirtied face and more worried about the dark-haired youth’s condition.
Yet, before she was about to ask the man if he was ok, she noticed that his eyes wincing with pain were not looking at her, instead focused on the supernatural battle that was occurring off to the side.
Flames and lightning of obsidian flew across the room haphazardly, as though trying to lash out at the world. In the face of such a rampage, the blue devil had faced the attacks head-on in a ridiculous charge, somehow managing to endure the onslaught as she threw out kick after kick against the conjurer of supernatural phenomena.
And so, it was in this manner that the two intruders—one obsidian, one cerulean—clashed against each other. Neither side gave an inch as the two continued to duke it out in the physics-defying arena.
Yet, while it looked like things were more or less even, it didn’t take an amateur to understand that the one at the disadvantage here was Miyazaki Sora.
After all, her range was much shorter when compared to her opponents. Although long-range attacks didn’t bring much of an advantage in such a tight area, that didn’t mean there was none, for the dark-haired entity had yet to move as he continued to launch attack after attack at the blue-haired athlete.
–or at least, he did…until something strange occurred.
All of a sudden, 《Cross》 faltered, bending down slightly as he cradled his head between his arms. His expression, that was unsteady and unresponsive, had suddenly distorted to one of utter agony as his eyes shut tightly as though to shun the pain.
Yet, it appeared that his efforts to dull his senses came to no avail, as the torment, which only became more and more intense, caused a high-pitched screech to escape from his lips.
A screech that threatened to drown everyone and everything in absolute chaos.
What filled the surroundings was a distorted tone that grated on one’s ears. It was akin to the feedback that one may receive from a speaker, as the sound served to bring nothing but pain and suffering. The harsh noise was so grating, in fact, that all present instinctively covered their ears, lest they lose their hearing forever.
And, during this opening in which the humans were focused on defending their eardrums, the obsidian-clad entity stumbled towards the wall next to the entrance he had created, using his entire body to pummel through the concrete as he created an exit and fled the scene.
Thus, marks the end of this whole affair—or so some would be naive enough to declare.
However, this was far from the end by any standards.
Although, in saying that, something did come to an end on this very day. Or rather than an end, it could be called a conclusion.
The conclusion of Saito Junichi’s interrogation.
Needless to say, the fact that the dark-haired youth was not the mercenary of blood and iron had been revealed clearly to all. Even without the contradiction which the platinum blonde woman had pointed out earlier, the scene that had just played out before them served as living proof of his innocence.
After all, 〔Gun〕 had appeared in that very spot and attacked Junichi. There was no evidence more irrefutable than that which cleared the boy’s name.
Which, of course, sent Sakamoto Maria’s mind into turmoil.
She had thought that her actions, although misguided, were all done in order to preserve justice. A necessary evil that she had to bear so that the obsidian-clad criminal would no longer be able to slaughter innocents—to ensure that he repented for all the lives he had taken.
It weighed on her that she had to suspect someone who was so kind to her. However, she was convinced that he could see the error of his ways if he just cooperated with the system.
And yet, thanks to her, the system had once again condemned him despite his innocence.
She felt regret. A soul-crushing amount of regret.
However, despite how much she wanted to relieve herself of this grief–no matter how much she wanted to atone for her sins, she was no longer able to apologise to the dark-haired youth.
「S-Senpai! Are you ok!? Senpai!!」
A perturbed Minamoto Rin repeatedly called out to her upperclassman, whose consciousness had already begun to fade after the entire ordeal had ended. Yet, even as his vision blurred and his surroundings grew dimmer with each passing second, Junichi managed to maintain a sliver of awareness which was threatened to be pulled deep down into the abyss.
And with the remaining vestiges of his mind, he focused not on the hazed calls of the ponytailed girl, but on something else. A recollection of what had been said to him when he was being strangled by the entity which used to be his other self, a replay of the illusory voice echoing clearly in his laboured mind.
—it was then that the dark-haired youth’s vision faded to black.
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