Cross Gun: Chapter 196 – Reverse Trap

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Chapter 196: Reverse Trap


Stay away! Stay away! Stay away! Stay away! Stay away!

「Ah, geez! Just shut it, already!!」

An irritated Sora bellowed, veins bulging out of her head as she expelled her frustrations through a breath of hot air. At the same time, the volatile energy generated by her annoyance caused power to surge in her limbs, forcing them to slam even more violently against the obsidian-clad youth’s frame.

Even as her assault became more and more aggressive, however, 《Cross’s》 reflexes allowed her to block all the incoming attacks without fail. Furthermore, unlike the previous encounter, the dark-haired entity was able to fully focus their defence in one place, allowing her to stand her ground against the irked athlete.

Of course, as 《Cross’s》 unstable mind caused her movements to become monotonous and bland, Sora should have had no issue turning this situation around. However, as the blue devil was also similarly agitated, she had completely abandoned her wit, turning the current situation into a punching match between the two.

Now, there was a very good reason why the 〚Hurricane〛 was so thrown off. Simply put, 《Cross’s》 hysteric cries as she tried to ward her enemy away grated on the athlete’s ears so badly that she wanted to stop them even a second sooner, resulting in her becoming hasty in her attempts to subdue the [Counterpart].

Unlike her dark-haired friend, Sora was not used to cutting off her emotions. She felt pity towards the disturbed individual who looked to be in dire need of aid, and the idea of having to eliminate them left a bad taste in her mouth. It also didn’t help that the [Counterpart’s] appearance possessed a disturbing resemblance to Saito Junichi’s.

Nevertheless, she also understood that they could not just let this threat roam around free, and so she steeled her heart and did her best to keep the entity busy until her allies came to assist her.

And, after what seemed like an eternity of limbs clashing against limbs, the first of these comrades showed her face on the battlefield.

「Sora-senpai!」

「Rin-chan!」

Upon seeing the ever-familiar ponytail coloured in a rather unfamiliar lavender, Sora realised that her friend had arrived, kicking 《Cross’s》 frame as she somersaulted into the air before landing beside her fellow black-clad warrior. She had chosen to break away from her current engagement in order to regroup with her friend and exchange information.

As she did so, she also took into account that the enemy would likely pursue her, and so also kicked the youth away so that Rin and herself would be able to respond in the event that 《Cross》 tried to assault them.

After the entity tumbled across the ground, however, she quickly scrambled onto her feet as she made a break for the other side of the rooftop, a move went completely against the athlete’s expectations. A move that also instilled Sora with a sense of urgency, as the last thing that they wanted was for the prey they were hunting to run away.

As a result, the athlete hurriedly began to infuse power into her legs, preparing herself to perform an ≪Accel Shift≫ in order to hurriedly cut the enemy’s escape path. Yet, before she was able to kick off the floor-

*bang* *bang*

「N-No! Stay back! Stay away!!」

《Cross》 fell back in horror as the gunshots fired into the concrete a few inches before her feet stopped her in her tracks. And upon being intercepted, the [Counterpart] tried to escape in a different direction, but was stopped again when more bullets were shot at her feet.

This scene repeated itself several times, each time the entity would pick a different direction and each time the gunshots would intercept her. The phantom cage boxed 《Cross》 in, neither allowing her to advance or retreat as she was perfectly cornered by the one who created such an elaborate restraint.

Naturally, the one who constructed this prison could be none other than the only gunslinger of the strike force: Saito Junichi. Yet, no matter how hard she tried, Sora wasn’t able to pinpoint the youth’s location at all.

「Junichi-kun?」

「Senpai’s holding 《Cross》 off. More importantly, I have a message.」

Rin spoke, pulling on the cerulean-haired athlete’s arm as she tried to keep her from joining the fray. Luckily, since her dark-haired upperclassman was keeping the [Counterpart] at bay, there was no longer any need to worry about their enemy running away, allowing Sora to take a step back so as to deal with the current situation.

And, while they were currently in the midst of hostilities, Sora was also interested in the message that Rin had to deliver. In reality, however, it was less of a message and more of a battle plan.

「Heh. Alright, I think I’ve got the gist of the situation.」

The 〚Hurricane〛 said, catching her right fist with her left hand after having heard what the dark-haired youth’s plans were. And, while there was not much content to the scheme that he conjured up, the end result was much more to her liking than her previous mission, causing her to get fired up.

And the reason for that was–

「Alright then! Here I go! Let’s stop that bastard in his tracks!」

–their aim had changed from killing the dark-haired entity to immobilising her.

Now, 〔Gun〕 could very well stop the dark-haired entity all by himself. Rather, he had already displayed such capabilities when he was cornering the [Counterpart] earlier while the girls were having their discussion.

That being said, there was a very specific reason why he wanted the girls to be the ones to do so. In his current condition, he was only able to keep the entity restrained at a distance. If he were to approach closer, then there was a high likelihood of the dark-haired female breaking free from his constraints.

Of course, such a limitation didn’t matter when he was helping the girls. The problem came when he wanted to approach 《Cross》 up close. His reasons aside, the only time he would be able to get close to the [Counterpart] was if she was already immobilised.

And so, he decided to ask the girls if they were capable of doing such a thing for him.

Their answer—well, actions speak louder than words.

「Hraaaaaahh!!!」

*thud*

After letting loose another roar, the 〚Hurricane〛 rushed forward, slamming her leg against the [Counterpart’s] body for the who-knows-how-many’th time as she engaged the entity in combat once again. And, just like the previous times, 《Cross》 was able to protect herself against the incoming attack, even if only by reflex.

Yet, that was the only part of this clash that was similar to their previous encounters. For, unlike the previous collisions, Sora’s blow was unusually soft. Intentionally so.

「Hyaah! Haargh! Take thiiis!!」

*thud* *thunk* *boom*

A relentless stream of attacks was fired off by the cerulean-haired athlete, overwhelming the [Counterpart] as she forced her to defend against each and every attack. The storm of assaults raged like a 〚Hurricane〛, as per the girl’s namesake, never letting up the momentum as the barrage continued to assail 《Cross》.

Naturally, the reason why Sora had decreased the power of her blows was to increase the frequency of her strikes, resulting in a torrent of kicks and punches that seemed as though it were trying to pummel the [Counterpart] to death.

But alas, as the saying goes, quantity can never quite beat quality. Despite the increased number of attacks she received, not a single one was able to penetrate 《Cross’s》 defences. Rather, even if they had managed slipped by the entity’s reflexes, the blows were so light that the damage she sustained from them was practically negligible.

On the contrary, maintaining this flurry of attacks was starting to wear on the athlete. Although her toned build and her almost limitless stamina gave her an advantage in a battle of attrition, one could clearly see that sweat started to form on her furrowed brow and her breathing began to grow heavy.

It was obvious that she was exerting herself by keeping up this prolonged barrage. And, upon considering how the minimal gains of adopting such a battle strategy were not worth the cost of reduced stamina, one would wonder if she was right in the head for continuing to persist with this tactic.

However, Sora’s true motive for creating this barrage was not to defeat the [Counterpart] but restrain her. Restrain her enough so that they could make their move.

「Sora-senpai!」

「Got it!」

The moment that she heard her name, Sora felt her cheeks twitching, the strain in her expression no longer present as her thin lips twisted into a smirk. At the same time, however, she instantaneously placed strength into her legs, kicking off against 《Cross’s》 body as she leapt into the air.

The moment she did so, however, an innumerable amount of small sparkles suddenly appeared, tracing arcs of light in the air as they all gave off a cold chill. The spectacular sight of countless dots twinkling in the grey city was breathtaking, adorning the night like the stars above as they all began to fly towards their one and only target: 《Cross》.

No! Nooo! Nooooooooo!

Perhaps having felt the chill with her body, the dark-haired entity let loose a desperate wail, her cries of agony reaching the entire strike force up to and including the creator of this trap: Minamoto Rin. Thanks to the time that Sora had bought her, the 〚Assassin〛 had crafted a multitude of ice daggers similar to the one that she had created earlier during their initial encounter.

In other words, her target was currently being surrounded by a sea of projectiles that were capable of freezing her body with a single touch. Furthermore, the encirclement was 3-dimensional, meaning that the sealing knives had created a dome that encased 《Cross》 in.

There was no escape for her. Perhaps having felt this premonition, the [Counterpart] screamed as though pleading with the gods to grant her a miracle.

Yet, there was no miracle. There was only a trap. A trap to ensure that the reverse trap would not move a single inch.

Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!

*crack*

—and then, it was done.

It took but a single instant for all of the ice daggers to stab themselves into 《Cross’s》 unmoving frame. Of course, as the daggers burst into a layer of ice upon impact, the entity looked less like a porcupine and more like an ice sculpture.

The [Counterpart’s] body was completely encased in ice. Her arms, her legs, even her oh-so-important chest was not spared from the fate of being frozen by the ice. Despite the fact that her face, which Rin did not aim for, was still ice-free, it could be said that 《Cross》 was completely immobilised.

Which, of course, meant that it was now 〔Gun’s〕 turn to fight.

「Senpai!」

「I know. Good work.」

The aloof voice of Saito Junichi echoed throughout the night, praising the girl with the lavender ponytail for her efforts. Yet, despite feeling gratified by her upperclassman’s compliment, Rin was greatly perplexed as she was unable to locate the dark-haired youth at all.

But of course, that couldn’t be helped. After all, no matter where one looked, there was no sign of the mercenary anyway. Not even the ominous wind that usually accompanied him could be felt in the lull that surrounded the battlefield.

However, he was there. Even if his presence couldn’t be felt, it was unmistakably there. And it was there that it manifested itself—right in front of 《Cross’s》 eyes.

「………」

From the shadows, the dark-haired youth’s figure emerged. What had transpired could not be explained with a simple description such as that. It looked like an outline of the youth had been cut out of the surroundings, and then said outline was cut into pieces from the ground up, the shredded leftovers scattering into the air like flower petals.

It was truly an incomprehensible sight, one that would initially be impossible for an ordinary human to pull off. And it was because of such a fact that Junichi was beginning to suspect that he was no longer a simple human as he initially believed.

Now, he had accomplished this feat through the use of the «Illusion» trait that he received from the dark-haired entity a few weeks prior. By using the sight-warping properties of this ability, he had camouflaged himself with the surroundings so as to ensure that he was not seen. It was also through the use of this ability that he was able to restrain 《Cross》 earlier, maintaining a fixed distance while unseen so as to ensure that he could keep the entity locked in place without threat of being attacked.

That being said, Junichi was troubled over how he was able to even use this ability in the first place. Granted, he had obtained it from the dark-haired entity but was that, alone, enough to be able to use these abilities?

In the first place, traits were abilities that made the use of [Soul Power] more efficient for certain uses. They did not eliminate the need for [Soul Power] altogether, meaning that humans could not use them unless contracted with a [Counterpart] who was capable of supplying that energy. The very fact that Junichi could make use of such an ability already proved that he was not a simple human.

And whatever made him abnormal—likely came from the last gift that he received from his mentor: his right eye.

No! Stay away! Stay away from us!!

(Us……huh?)

The dark-haired youth murmured under his breath as he approached the girl encased within Rin’s cocoon of ice. Yet, unlike a cocoon that was meant to protect its inhabitant, this was more like a straight-jacket that imprisoned 《Cross》, preventing her from making any large movements.

And, while it seemed a little excessive to freeze everything but her head, Junichi had a good reason as to why he needed the girl to stay in place. After all, if she struggled, then it would make it even more difficult for the man to use this ability.

Now, what ability is this, one may ask? When considering the fact that there were two traits imprinted into Junichi’s eye—one of which having already been revealed as «Illusion»—it wasn’t difficult to deduce what the ability he was attempting to use would be.

「Now then…let’s do this.」

«Soul Scan». The one ability that allows the user to dive into the 【Spiritual Zone】 of its target. By peering into one’s soul, this ability grants the user access to many things about the target, including information, knowledge, and, of course, memories.

And it was for the latter that Saito Junichi chose to dive into the depths of 《Cross’s》 [Soul].

Once upon a time, there lived a family of four. They were a family like any other, a family who loved each other and who led simple everyday lives. And, sure, while they might have had a few special circumstances of their own, but what family didn’t?

The father was a military officer. Blessed by the goddess of luck and war, the white-haired soldier had earned himself many accolades, allowing him to support his family through the fortunes that he was bestowed.

The mother was a former instructor. After she married, the black-haired instructor retired from her teaching career and focused her efforts on maintaining the household while looking after her family.

The sister was a beauty. Although still rather young, the girl inherited her father’s shimmering silver hair and mother’s purple eyes, granting her a dignified aura that didn’t seem to match her teenage frame.

And the final member of this quartet was an androgynous female. Although the combination of her mother’s obsidian hair and her father’s emerald eyes crafted a child with cute features, the child’s tendency to keep her hair untidy made her seem more like a pretty boy, especially when compared to the highly feminine qualities of her elder sister.

This boyish image of hers was further enhanced by the fact that she disliked wearing skirts and frilly outfits, always opting towards comfortable baggy clothing that was easy to move around in. Furthermore, she had inherited her father’s wickedness, spurring her towards chaotic actions (such as playing pranks) which distanced her even further from the image of a lady.

As a result, much to the girl’s dismay, many would confuse her to be of the opposite gender upon first meeting her. Since she was always with her elder sister, who exudes such femininity wherever she went, many couldn’t help but make such a mistake after comparing the two children.

Such a misunderstanding was so prevalent that her father would sometimes even get in on the joke. He would teasingly refer to her as a male as he rambled on about things he would teach a son if he had one, such as ‘men should protect women and children’ and ‘women are ferocious creatures’. Of course, he would then be promptly scolded by his loving wife for not treating their daughter like the young lady she is.

Yet, despite all of this, the obsidian child did not resent her sister for the misunderstandings she faced. Rather, she only held admiration towards the girl who had been blessed with such graceful looks that made everyone immediately acknowledge her as a lady.

She was smart, beautiful, and compassionate. A triple threat that was extolled as a prodigy by the surroundings, and an individual that the obsidian girl could be proud of. Even if she was severely handicapped by being unable to use [Soul Power], the little sister didn’t mind this ineptitude one bit.

After all, she was family. Her precious, cherished family. Even if the entire world were flip on its head, that wouldn’t change how much she loved her older sibling. And, similarly, the older sister loved her younger sibling just as much, if not more.

It was truly a harmonious relationship among siblings. A relationship that extended to the entire family as well.

Sometimes, their mother had to go out to work part-time at the old institute she used to teach at, and so the older sister would often take care of the household chores in her stead. Of course, the boyish girl also helped as well, though complex tasks like cooking were out of her league due to her slightly dim but adorable little mind.

Whenever the father left and returned from the battlefield, the girls of the house would cooperate to throw him a big banquet, sending him off with love on his way out and celebrating his return home on his way in. The obsidian girl would be extra hyped during the welcoming home party, as she noticed that her mother was less tense during such a time.

It truly was a happy family. A normal, happy family—or at least, normal for that side.

After all, this was a family of [Counterparts]. This was 《Cross’s》 family.

And maybe, if things turned out any differently, they would continue to be her family.

It happened one night. It was a night like any other, filled with a restful calm and quiet. The lull was so pervasive that nothing stirred the city’s stillness, as all its inhabitants had already wandered off into the land of dreams.

Yet, despite the tranquillity that settled over the city, that did not mean everything was completely still. Time, for example, slowly ticked onwards, apathetic to the world’s affairs as it marched as uneventfully as it always has. The moon, which was peaking over the horizon moments after sundown, was now positioned overhead above the clouds, its unseen lustre marking the instant that night had crept into midnight.

And it was at this moment that one lone girl with unkempt obsidian locks awoke from her slumber, her pyjama-covered frame wriggling in bed as she was unable to settle back into sleep.

「……nnn.」

The girl let loose an unsightly groan, tossing and turning in bed as she shut her eyes tightly in an effort to force her body back to sleep. Truly, if one were to witness the sight of her furrowed brow fidgeting under the covers, then even those who mistook her gender would undoubtedly describe her as an adorable little girl.

Cuteness aside, however, the child found that her attempts at falling back to sleep had no discernible effect, causing the girl to pout unconsciously as she wrapped the blanket over her head to see if submerging her frame in darkness would encourage her body to return to its slumber.

Yet, when even that failed, the girl kicked the blanket as though to vent her frustrations, her face exposing a sullen look to the small amount of light that trickled in from the window in the room.

It was then that she remembered. Tonight, unlike most nights, the girl wanted to try sleeping by herself, and so she was currently occupying one of the two bedrooms that their family had set up.

In actuality, the bedroom that she was using was not actually hers, but one that belonged to her older sister. Up until today, she had always slept together with her older sibling while their parents would occupy the master bedroom by themselves. And, when teased by some other kids about being too scared to sleep by herself, the girl wanted to prove them wrong, and so asked her family to go along with her selfishness.

As a result, her older sister was currently rooming in together with their mother in the master bedroom, while the poor, neglected father was relegated to the living room sofa for the night. And so, with the entire family shifting places just for the night, 《Cross》 was able to tackle the challenge of sleeping by herself and proving the naysayers wrong.

-however, she had gotten off to quite the rocky start.

「………*yawn*.」

The girl’s jaw hung open wide, letting loose a fantastic yawn as she stretched her arms and back. Yet, despite showing such an unsightly display, the girl’s heavy eyelids fluttered, clearly showing how tired she was. Although it was unknown as to why she found herself unable to sleep, lack of fatigue was not one of those reasons, as the drowsy girl seemed as though her consciousness could drift away at any moment.

So then, could it be that she truly was unable to sleep by herself? Seeking to answer such a question, the little girl slid out from the bed, waddling out of the room as she naturally found herself moving towards the living room.

Normally, when she had a question she was curious about, she would always ask her smart older sister first. After all, the answers that she would receive were not only filled with wisdom, but the older sister’s presentation and conversational skills made it an enjoyable experience that 《Cross》 liked very much.

That being said, there was a reason why she didn’t choose to do so this time. After all, her older sister was also rooming together with her mother, who she didn’t want to disturb at this particular time. Now, it wasn’t that 《Cross》 was scared of her mother (though she was when she upset her), but she was trying to be considerate towards the person who was constantly tired from taking care of the daily chores.

As such, 《Cross》 skipped past the door to the master bedroom in search of the next best person to answer her question: her father.

Despite his lackadaisical nature and jovial demeanour, the girl knew that her father was actually an incredibly dependable person. Whenever there was something broken in the house, he would be able to fix it all by himself before the sun went down. There were also times where the neighbours would ask him for all sorts of help, which further reinforced his reliable image in 《Cross’s》 mind.

However, even if he was reliable, that did not change his irresponsible side. Once, he even snuck off with the girl towards one of his training grounds, where he showed her how to shoot a gun. It needn’t be said that he received an earful upon their return, though 《Cross》 enjoyed herself thoroughly in spite of all of that.

In any case, the girl thought that her father might be able to help her elucidate why she was having such trouble sleeping, and so wandered the dark hallways of her small but homely abode. As she knew the place like the back of her hand, it didn’t take her long before she managed to wander into the living room.

And it was there that she also arrived at the answer that she had sought. Without even needing to talk to her father, 《Cross》 stumbled across the true reason as to why she found it so difficult to fall asleep that night.

And that was because of one thing: the visceral scent of blood that lingered ominously in the air.

「……eh?」

A small, dumbfounded gasp escaped from 《Cross’s》 lips as she was unable to comprehend the scene that unfolded before her. But of course, how could she? After all, what she bore witness to was so horrifying that it would undoubtedly scar her for life.

The first thing she saw were three hooded figures, all covered in black from head to toe as the faint light seeping from outside illuminated their silhouettes. Yet, she could only make out the outlines of their frames, as the dark cloth melded into the shadows, obscuring any details that she could make out of them.

It was evident that these people. Whoever they were, were not simply paying a visit. As they had suddenly appeared in her family’s home without any prior notice in such suspicious outfits, it was likely that the trio were uninvited guests who had no business here, meaning that they were either thieves or criminals. The ransacked state of the living room only served to support such a hypothesis.

Their true identities aside, however, 《Cross》 noticed that two of the invaders were busy doing something in the middle of the living room, causing her to direct her focus towards them. And, upon doing so, nausea immediately assailed her entire being as she did all she could to resist the urge to vomit.

At her current age of 12 years old, she had no clue as to what was truly taking place in front of her eyes. And yet, her body instinctively understood that it was a savage act that went far beyond repulsive to the point of depraved. It was so abhorrent, in fact, that the child was stunned into silence, the carnal sounds of squelching water and flesh smacking against flesh did not even register in her mind.

That’s right. Two of the shadows, now confirmed to be men, were ravaging—or rather, defiling a pile of flesh that was slumped over onto the ground. A limp body of what used to be a woman whose obsidian hair reminded 《Cross》 of a very specific individual: her mother.

「Aah……aaah…」

「C’mon, bitch! Squeal more!」

「No, stop it! Please, stop it already!」

「Shut yer trap! You’ll be next, little miss!」

Upon hearing such an exchange, 《Cross’s》 attention shifted away from her poor mother, which was just as well since it was unlikely that her shivering frame could bear to see any more of the atrocities that her mother had to go through. Instead, the child’s focus turned towards the remaining shadow, who she assumed was gazing at the spectacle with a wicked grin on his face.

More importantly, however, the last criminal(?) had wrapped one of his arms around a girl with long silver hair, restraining her as his free hand groped her frame with disgustingly slick movements. In response to the sickening sensations caused by the burly hand rubbing over the ripped remains of her clothing, tears welled up in the corner of the girl’s red eyes as she resentfully glared at the three shadows as though they were her mortal enemies.

Of course, it needn’t be said that this silver-haired red-eyed girl was none other than 《Cross’s》 older sister. And, as she was incapable of using [Soul Power] to defend herself, all she could do was helplessly struggle within the shadow’s embrace as she was forced to witness the detestable acts of his colleagues.

Now, as 《Cross》 wasn’t the brightest of kids at her school, she wasn’t fully aware o what was currently going on. However, she instinctively knew that these people who had caused her older sister to cry out in such misery were bad guys who should never be forgiven.

But then, what she couldn’t understand was how they were able to get away with their outrageous actions. There was absolutely no way that her father would allow these criminals to have their way, as he wouldn’t forgive any who would dare to make his family cry.

That being the case, she soon figured out why her reliable father was incapable of stopping the shadows from defiling their home.

「D……dad?」

Having felt a strange something that was making her feet wet, 《Cross’s》 gave fell to the floor, her eyes managing to pick up the faint shimmer of light reflecting off the black pool of ichor. It was an inky puddle that clung to her skin, similarly painting her with its pitch-black hue as it gave off the illusion that her leg was being swallowed by the darkness.

Disregarding such a notion, however, the child’s focus followed the ink pool, using the faint reflections as a reference in hopes of searching for the source of this mysterious liquid. And, while her instincts practically screamed at her to stop pursuing the origin of this enigma, the curious [Counterpart] couldn’t help herself as she finally managed to catch a glimpse of what she had been looking for.

The dead corpse of her father, lying on the sofa with his head blown apart.

It took all her strength to stop herself from screaming. Yet, even if she didn’t hold back her shriek, the raspy words that did escape from her lips told well of the fact that her voice would have failed her due to the extreme shock.

Even though she wasn’t the brightest child out there, 《Cross》 was at least familiar with the concept of death. Her father was a soldier, so their family had prioritised educating her about how precious life was, just so that she was prepared in the event that the man was unable to return from the battlefield one day. For [Counterparts], the destruction of their [Soul Core] meant certain death, and her father’s [Soul Core] was in his emerald eyes.

In other words, the fact that his head had been blown off meant that he was undeniably, irrefutably dead. The bloody remains of the opened cranium spilling out a pink putty-like substance onto the floor like a leaky faucet told the entire story.

「———!?!?!」

Before she noticed it, 《Cross》 had already fallen to her knees, covering her mouth with both hands in her desperate attempts to prevent her body from vomiting the contents of last night’s dinner. In reality, her stomach did end up regurgitating her mother’s home-cooked dinner, but she shoved it back down her oesophagus, causing her to tear up even further as the forceful swallowing threatened to suffocate her.

At the same time, because she was hunched over onto the ground, her nose hovered atop the pool of blood, causing the scent that she had ignored up until now to assail her nostrils, further inducing her to vomit as the nauseous cycle intensified.

And as if this wasn’t bad enough, a spontaneous headache suddenly attacked, the pain threatening to split her tiny little head open. Along with this phantom pressure came a burning heat in her left eye, though its severity was far outclassed by the other torment that her small frame was being subjected to.

Yet, even though it was but a small prick, this sensation in her left eye caused 《Cross’s》 gaze to wander to her left, only to see an outline of something sitting within the black puddle. It was an object that possessed a gleam similar to that of the blood surrounding it, though unlike the shimmer that flickered due to the dynamics of fluids, this shine remained stationery and unmoving, arrogant like a king who wouldn’t move from his throne.

Despite its seemingly ubiquitous nature, however, 《Cross》 couldn’t help but continue to stare at the device long and hard. The black coating of the tool seemed to suck her in like a black hole, giving off the illusion that she was disconnected from the cruel scene of carnage and depravity that laid before her.

However, make no mistake, this innocuous instrument was not a kind escape from her fears and troubles. Instead, it was a cold reminder that the child was living in a harsh reality. After all, that tool—her father’s gun—forced her to make a choice.

And, with a quivering hand, the girl reached out.

《Cross’s》 father once told her that a man’s role was to protect women and children. In other words, he was the one who would protect them if they were to be exposed to danger. However, he had failed, and so his family had to pay the price.

But was she ok with that? Would she allow her only remaining family to suffer at the hands of these murderers? The answer to those questions was a plain and simple no.

Spurred by these thoughts, 《Cross》 picked up the pistol and aimed it at the criminal who was manhandling her sister. Once upon a time, she had fired this instrument under the instruction of her father with a grin on her face, but the moment she took aim at her target—a living and breathing person—she felt her entire body tremble uncontrollably.

Fear, sorrow, angst, guilt, rage, disgust. All of these emotions and more swirled deep inside of the girl, chaotically clashing against each other without a care in the world for her well-being as they rendered 《Cross》incapable of controlling her body properly. Yet, somehow, the girl managed to suppress the shuddering through sheer force of will alone as she bit her lip to steady herself.

(I…have to stay strong. I have to stay strong!)

《Cross》 repeated to herself over and over and over again, pleading with her body to remain resilient in the face of this adversity. As she did so, the light in her left eye began to flicker, sparkling like a kindling flame as the soft glow illuminated the puddle of red at her feet.

Now, it should be noted that the criminals had yet to notice 《Cross’s》 presence up until this point. This may have been attributed to the fact that the girl’s obsidian locks and short stature allowed her to blend easily with the darkness, or it may simply be a consequence of the thugs being preoccupied with their carnal desires.

Whatever the case may be, however, by the time that they did discover her, it was already too late.

*bang*

「Kyaaaah!!」

A merciless gunshot echoed in the dead of the night, causing a spurt of liquid as dark as the night sky to burst out into the air. Just as how the clouds had covered up the moon in a blanket of darkness, the blood of the separated criminal painted over the silver radiance of his hostage, the hot fluids causing the older sister to reflexively squeal in horror.

This caused the scene to further descend into chaos as the remaining criminals turned their heads towards their friend in a panic. The sight of the man’s head half-shattered as though it had been blown to pieces was incredibly ironic, considering that his current appearance perfectly mirrored the state of the girl’s father. Not only was the man’s body in a gruesome condition, but it was also very dead, which only served to spook his comrades even more.

Though the carnage would not stop here. After all, 《Cross》 had no choice but to eliminate all of her enemies.

*bang*

Another gunshot reverberated, and another head was split open. This time, however, there was no scream. The girl’s mother was unconscious, having fainted from the mistreatment, and so didn’t have the capacity or capability to scream out. As for the remaining criminal, he could not even lift a finger as he was entranced by the rain of blood that used to be his friend.

In response to the festival of blood that descended upon the scene, 《Cross’s》 left eye exhibited a peculiar change. As though stimulated by the gore and violence, the left eye began to shine stronger and stronger, to the point where its red glow illuminated the entire room with its ominous radiance.

And, upon being hit by such a sinister brilliance, everyone in the room turned towards the girl. The girl who was usually an innocent tomboy, and the same girl who no longer allowed herself to be one.

「!?」

With his voice caught in his throat, the criminal choked. Yet, his agony was silent as fear forced him to cower without letting out a single sound. After all, if he made a single noise, then that–that thing would reap his life without a moment of hesitation. Just like it had when both of his partners had bit the dust.

A one-eyed reaper. That was an accurate description of what the man saw. An entity cloaked in obsidian-black death, with a single eyeball whose glow was as red as blood. It was only in this moment that he regretted having come to this place, as it was certain that he would meet his doom here.

And yet, it was only after the downpour of rancid blood had settled and the room was filled with an unnatural, absolute stillness was he allowed the sweet release of death.

*bang*

The crisp sound of the final gunshot broke the silence, shattering the eerie void with a shrill ring. Luckily, this sound didn’t remain for long, though a persistent buzz soon took its place, screaming in protest of the previous harsh tone.

Yet, as the buzz dissipated, 《Cross’s》 adrenaline subsided, allowing her to think again as her eye’s radiance similarly receded back into a calm state.

Somehow…somehow, she had managed to save her remaining family. However, even though she did quite well for her first kill (especially as a 12-year-old), she had still failed to save her father. Not only that, but her mother was abused, and her big sister was almost disgraced.

That being said, they were still alive. It was a hollow victory, but a victory nonetheless. But even so…

「I’m sorry……father……mother……」

《Cross》 couldn’t help but think……‘what if I was stronger? Would I have been able to do better?’

She couldn’t help but think……‘what if this happens again? Would my family still be safe?’

She didn’t know what the answer was. She wasn’t that bright, so it couldn’t be helped. Yet, even so, the fact that her father died meant that there was no one in the family to take upon that role. The role to protect them.

And so, in her fading consciousness-

「Onee……-chan…」

-《Cross》 swore that she would take on the role to protect her family.


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