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Chapter 198: Eye to Eye
The anti-climactic end to the fight inside of the obsidian entity’s 【Spiritual Zone】 rang as hollow as any battle that Junichi had fought before. Yet, despite the emptiness of the blood-covered void, the dark-haired youth felt somewhat good about removing all of these ［Counterparts］ from the realm of the living.
That being said, the struggle was far from over. After all, his job was only over until she was recovered. Until she—《Cross》 had returned to the surface, he couldn’t stop fighting.
Which is why, despite the trail of hot air still rising out from the tip of his gun’s smoking barrel, Junichi approached the dark-haired ［Counterpart］ with slow, but purposeful footsteps.
And then, after walking for a brief period of time, the boy came to a halt, stopping but a few feet from the girl he was trying to save. Of course, he initially wanted to approach until he reached 《Cross’s》 side, but he was rendered unable to advance further by an invisible wall—a forcefield that the earlier ［Counterparts］ were trying so hard to tear down.
From this alone, it was evident that the individual holed up behind this imperceptible partition didn’t want anyone to reach her. Even if that was a potential ally, for it shunned anyone out regardless of who (or what) they were.
「Stay away, stay away, stay away.」
「……oi, it’s alright now.」
Left with no other choice, the youth called out to the obsidian entity who had remained still and unmoving even though a massacre of her peers had just taken place. In fact, she seemed to be completely disconnected from her surroundings as all she continued to do was stay crouched in a corner, hugging her knees while shivering in fear.
Now, it needn’t be said that Junichi was utterly lost as to how he should deal with this situation. After all, while it didn’t take a genius to understand that 《Cross’s》 mind was in utter disarray from the fact that she continued to mutter the words “stay away” like a broken record, the youth had no clue as to why she was in such a state, nor how to fix that haunted visage of hers.
It was then that the boy realised that, while he had a rough grasp on the girl’s past, he still didn’t know much about the ［Counterpart］ with obsidian hair. How she felt, how she lived, how she suffered–such things greatly eluded Junichi, making him realise how foolish he was in trying to save her from this current predicament.
After all, this wasn’t like Shiori’s incident, where the dark-haired youth was somewhat capable of empathising with the brown-haired maiden thanks to their long acquaintance. The thought that he would be able to pull off a similar feat with someone who was the equivalent of a complete and utter stranger was sheer madness.
The two who shared similar appearances had only known each other for a month. And even then, they barely talked to each other about their lives, maintaining a cordial but distant relationship of mutual benefits.
That being said, even if the notion was absolutely ridiculous, Junichi would still try to help the ［Counterpart］ who had trapped herself on the other side of this invisible barrier.
And to do that, he first needed to grab her attention.
Upon hearing the sound of a gunshot fired in such close proximity to her, 《Cross》 let loose a sharp cry as she practically jumped out of her skin in fright. Yet, despite the fact that the shock caused her heart to beat so hard that it threatened to burst out of her chest, Junichi couldn’t help but smile wryly in the face of the pitiful overreaction.
「W-What was that!?」
「Oi, you don’t have to get that frightened, you know? It’s not like you.」
「S-Shut up! H-Huh, partner?!」
The dark-haired youth sighed, shrugging his shoulders as he waved one of his smoking pistols at the obsidian entity. Needless to say, upon spotting the brandished firearm and its nonchalant owner, another bout of shock assailed 《Cross》 as her eyes widened in astonishment. Yet, as the initial confusion subsided, the ［Counterpart］ immediately snapped back to her senses as she began to take in the surroundings.
Though, in doing so, she was overcome by even more bewilderment as she had yet to fully comprehend the situation she was in.
「Your 【Spiritual Zone】. Those guys are gone, by the way.」
Junichi murmured, jerking his chin as he showed 《Cross》 the carnage that lay in his wake. The spilt guts and ruptured organs wasting away on the floor caused a pungent scent to waft in the air, the dastardly aroma combined with the grotesque sight causing the daunted ［Counterpart］ to crinkle her brow in horror.
That being said, this disgust was only temporary as her fear was soon overshadowed by an even larger question that surfaced in her mind—if what the young man before her said was true, then how was he even able to get here in the first place?
「B-but how did you……ah, «Soul Scanning», right?」
Having realised that her ［Soul］ had been invaded by the youth thanks to the power she had transferred to him during Shiori’s incident, 《Cross》 pursed her lips before sinking into a contemplative silence.
She couldn’t help but feel somewhat rueful over the fact that she had practically given Junichi the lock pick that would allow him to break into her 【Spiritual Zone】. Or rather, the entity was more likely troubled over the fact that her defences were low enough for him to intrude without her noticing.
That being said, the fact that the youth was present wasn’t going to change. As such, 《Cross》 was prepared to swallow this bitter pill as she resigned herself for what was to come.
「In that case, get it over with.」
「You’re here to kill me, right?」
Upon seeing the confused look surfacing upon her host’s visage, the dark-haired entity spoke up, clearing the doubts in the air by stating his purpose for intruding upon her ［Soul］. It would seem that, even though she wasn’t in complete control over her actions, the ［Counterpart］ was fully aware of everything that she had done. Fully aware of the crimes she had committed against Junichi and his family.
She was not about to make any excuses for what she had done. Sure, her actions whilst losing herself due to the ［Negative Resonance］ were mostly driven by her instincts of seeking strength by searching out and assimilating high-quality ［Souls］. That being said, she wouldn’t have even been put in such a predicament in the first place if she hadn’t gone overboard in assimilating all those ［Counterparts］ in the first place.
If she had only heeded Junichi’s warning earlier, then maybe things wouldn’t have come to this. Nevertheless, this was what her mistake had cost her. It was a natural consequence of the choice that she had made, and she was willing to accept that.
Yet, even though she was willing to repent for her blunders, there was no way that she didn’t feel overwhelming regret seeing how her life was coming to its premature end. After everything was said and done, she wasn’t able to become stronger. She wasn’t able to protect her family. She wasn’t even able to say goodbye.
All of that bitterness and more swirled inside of 《Cross’s》 anxious heart as she closed her eyes and waited for the end to come.
–which is why she became so disoriented when she heard the following words leave the dark-haired youth’s mouth.
「I dunno? Should I?」
A blank expression passed over the entity’s visage as utter disbelief escaped her lips. But then again, who could blame her for becoming dumbfounded at her host’s response.
After all, if she was correctly reading between the lines, then that meant Junichi was willing to forgive her for what she did.
「I……I betrayed you, you know? I screwed up! I almost killed your little sister! I almost killed you!」
「You sure did, didn’t you?! Fucking idiot.」
The man cursed, rubbing the back of his head as he revealed an overly annoyed expression in the face of 《Cross’s》 comment. Of course, it wasn’t easy to identify whether he was upset because he had remembered all of the things that the ［Counterpart］ had done, or if he was irked by the way that she was getting all hysterical about it.
Regardless of which it was, however, Junichi maintained his calm as he narrowed his eyes at the girl who drooped her head in silence after being chastised by his earlier insult.
「That said, you sure you want to accept that so easily? Don’t you have family waiting for you back at home?」
The young man muttered, shifting his gaze towards some of the panels that were hovering around in the empty void. The shimmering glass-like panes floated innocuously in the air, glimmering with a warm radiance akin to that of stars in the lonely night sky. Rightfully so, considering each of them contained a precious memory of the obsidian ［Counterpart’s］ past.
Though, upon catching glimpses of her past surrounding her, 《Cross’s》 eyes flung wide open as she began to realise the implications behind the fact that the man was able to view these fragments of her history—one of the largest of these being the secret that she had worked so hard to keep hidden.
「-!? D-did you see?!」
「If you’re asking about whether I know you’re a girl, then I do.」
As the boy’s candid confirmation put her suspicions to rest, the entity felt anything but, causing her to once again fall into reticence. Yet, even though her silence was rather lengthy, Junichi made no attempts to rouse her from contemplation as he allowed the obsidian ［Counterpart］ to come to grips with what she had heard.
That being said, it was clear that she was still struggling with processing this information, as she directed a rather sceptical question towards the man who knew her secret.
「Hey, don’t tell me you’re letting me off because I’m a chick?」
「Do you think I’m that sort of person?」
Junichi responded, raising a brow in the face of 《Cross’s》 accusation. Of course, the truth was that he did, in fact, have a higher tolerance for those whose appearances were easier on the eyes, as the entity would know based on what she had seen of him during his daily life. The way that he cared for his family—blood-related or otherwise—made him out to be a very gentle individual who, despite appearances, loved them very much.
At the same time, however, he showed little to no mercy against those who became antagonistic towards him. After all, he had been taught that being kind towards one’s enemies was inflicting harm upon oneself, and so he would choose to eliminate any who he deemed as such post haste. This viciousness, too, had been exposed to 《Cross》 during their time together, as the youth’s ability to unleash such intense bloodthirst had left a big impact upon the obsidian entity.
She, who had witnessed both sides of the youth, was at a loss as to which side he was showing at this point in time. In fact, 《Cross》 came to the realisation that she also didn’t know enough about Junichi to make a call as to ‘what sort of person he was’.
Kind, but without mercy. Ruthless, but gentle. These were the first things that came to the entity’s mind upon hearing such a question. Yet, while accurate to an extent, 《Cross》 could not help but feel they were depictions too inadequate to sufficiently describe the complex being before her eyes, and so she could only swallow her words as her lips quivered in response to the young man’s query.
「Haah……well, let’s just say I found a good enough reason to not kill you.」
Junichi shrugged, not entirely sure if he was satisfied or dissatisfied with the answer he received. Nevertheless, he understood that there was no need to put on any more airs, and so clearly stated his stance regarding the matter of 《Cross’s》 life.
Yet, just because the elephant in the room had been addressed, that didn’t mean things would end here.
「So? What happens now?」
「What do you mean?」
「You’re back to normal, right? So shouldn’t I be getting kicked out of here now or something?」
「I dunno……or more like, why are you all the way over there?」
The dark-haired youth asked, scratching the back of his head as he looked around the boundless void that was empty, save for the reflections of 《Cross’s》 past littering the skies. It was clear that, just from his wandering gaze alone, Junichi was feeling somewhat uncomfortable over the fact that nothing had happened despite the entity’s regained sanity.
In contrast to his, however, 《Cross》 found the distance at which her host was conversing with her to be more perplexing than the distinct lack of occurrence that took place in their surroundings.
「Because I can’t get any closer.」
As though trying to prove a point, Junichi rapped the back of his fist against the invisible something that impeded his movements, explaining his predicament to 《Cross》 with actions rather than words. Unable to believe it at first, astonishment flashed across the ［Counterpart’s］ expression, and the emotion only became even deeper after she approached and found that she, too, was incapable of crossing that invisible boundary.
Of course, the girl wasn’t really sure what to make of this mysterious border as she scrunched her face up in contemplation. That being said, her other self seemed to have understood the gist of what was going on, as he tried to confirm his theory.
「So……can I interpret this to mean that your ［Soul］ hasn’t completely accepted me as an ally?」
「Don’t bother sugar coating it. If you were in my 【Spiritual Zone】, something similar would probably happen.」
Junichi muttered, shaking his head as though to say that his ［Counterpart］ needn’t bother answering. Nevertheless, even if he was trapped behind this wall because of such a reason, the youth didn’t really feel like he needed to rush trying to overcome this problem.
As for his current predicament regarding escaping 《Cross’s》 【Spiritual Zone】, Junichi had a funny feeling that things would sort themselves out. Although he wasn’t sure how, or why, his gut reassured him that there was no need to stress to find a resolution to this situation.
And so, with such a mindset-
「Still……we got time to sort this out.」
-the dark-haired youth turned around and planted his waist down on to the floor, resting his back against the invisible barrier as he stretched his arms wide and raised a huge yawn.
「H-Hey! What are you-?!」
「*yawn* Look, I’m kinda tired. I’ll just nap for a bit, ok?」
And with that, the dark-haired youth cared not for the ruckus that his ［Counterpart］ made as he allowed his closed eyes to send him into a deep slumber.
「You’ve got to be kidding me……」
《Cross》 muttered to herself, finding herself strangely irritated as she directed an appalled gaze at the boy who was sleeping peacefully before her very eyes. The youth’s frame was limp and relaxed, his slumped back propped up only by the invisible forcefield that separated the two.
Of course, at first, the obsidian entity was at a loss for words the moment she heard Junichi preparing himself to fall into a deep slumber. Even now, when he had drifted off into the land of dreams, 《Cross》 still couldn’t properly express her absolute disbelief at the gall that the young man displayed, and so was utterly disoriented.
「Oi, are you seriously asleep?!」
The girl asked, almost shouting into the youth’s ear as she rapped against the forcefield like a mother knocking the door of her son’s bedroom to wake him up. Yet, despite her attempts to try and rouse him from his slumber, Junichi showed no signs of waking as he continued to nap peacefully. As a consequence of her failed efforts, 《Cross’s》 face scrunched up tightly in annoyance as she sent an irksome glare at the slumbering youth.
Now, normally, the mercenary would have been quite easily roused by such a light stimulus such as the one that the obsidian entity created. That being said, both of the dark-haired individuals had misjudged just how fierce the fight that had taken place in the void was, as well as underestimated the effects that such a bout left upon the fatigued youth.
《Cross》 had assimilated a great number of ［Counterparts］, and 〔Gun〕 had slaughtered all of them, without leaving a single one of the entities remaining. Granted, a majority of them were small fries that he had dispatched with relative ease, but that did not mean the mercenary was not at all burdened by such an act.
〔Gun’s〕 perfected assassination techniques that allowed him to flawlessly wipe the floor with all of the riff-raff required concentration to perform. Furthermore, his bouts against the leader of the rebellious entities forced him to utilise his trump-card, resulting in him exhausting his mind and battering his body in his efforts to eliminate them.
Though, upon seeing the evidence of his scuffle lingering upon his dishevelled frame, Junichi’s struggles were not completely lost upon the obsidian entity.
(Idiot……what the hell are you doing?)
《Cross》 muttered under her breath, her clenched fist trembling as she caught a glimpse of the man’s peaceful sleeping visage. Thanks to the fact that he slept with his face raised, it made it somewhat easy for her to see his vulnerable defenceless face, which caused another indescribable emotion to surge within her.
(You……even though the one who almost killed you is right here, how could you just fall asleep?)
Indeed. When considering the fact that 《Cross》—who had severely injured Masaru, threatened Mana’s life, and almost killed Junichi himself—was standing so close to him, it was only natural to doubt the dark-haired youth’s sanity when he allowed himself doze off without a care in the world.
After all, in his vulnerable state, it would be a simple matter for the obsidian entity to simply end Junichi’s life right then and there. A fact that 《Cross》 understood all too well as she brought her face curtained with shadows closer to the foolish man.
「What the hell is wrong with me?」
《Cross》 found herself being overcome with an indescribable emotion, unable to stop herself from choking on these words as small beads of tears rolled down her cheeks. Her confusion was completely understandable, as the girl had yet to fully grasp the torrent of sentiments swirling around within her, and so this was how her body had chosen to cope with the situation. Yet, whatever had happened to her, the obsidian girl was certain that the dark-haired boy, whose face had caught a few of her tears, was the cause of this peculiar phenomenon.
Of course, seeing how Junichi was fast asleep at this point, there was no way the girl would be able to consult him about her current crisis. Which is why, with no other option left available to her, 《Cross》 simply began to think to herself as her tears continued to spill out nonstop. And, in doing so, a sudden thought occurred to her.
Saito Junichi was a formidable individual. As a mercenary who had walked through hells unlike the which she had never seen, he was a soldier who understood that one could not allow themselves to let their guards down for whatever reason whatsoever. However, it should also be noted that humans were limited by their physical condition, and so keeping an eye out 24/7 was impossible.
In which case, it only made sense for one to share the responsibilities of maintaining wariness of one’s surroundings during times of combat. It only made sense for one member of a squadron to keep a lookout while the others rested and recuperated after a day of constant life and death skirmishes, lest they make a crucial mistake in a future one due to a deteriorated physical condition.
At the same time, however, one could only rest well if their lookout was not only a competent individual but a trusted comrade as well. After all, who would be able to sleep well at night if they were worried about being backstabbed by their supposed ally?
So what did this mean? Well, considering Junichi was sleeping so soundly despite the fact that 《Cross》 was so close to him, wouldn’t that mean he thought well enough of her to trust the obsidian girl with his back?
As if the turmoil inside of her was spurred even further by such a thought, another onslaught of tears burst forth from 《Cross’s》 eyes as a feeling of tightness assailed her chest. The tension in her chest was so strong that it felt like she was being strangled by it, and so the girl grasped at her shirt in an instinctive attempt to calm herself down.
Fortunately, the strength she inserted into her grip managed to suppress this peculiar feeling as the girl inhaled a mouthful of air in relief. Yet, even though her body had relaxed enough for her to regain the ability to breathe, her heart was still relentlessly pounding in her ears as she felt blood surge through her entire being.
Judging from this reaction alone, 《Cross》 now had to admit that she was really moved by her dark-haired host’s action. Even though all he had done was simply fall asleep in front of her, that in itself was enough to cause a dam to burst within the young maiden’s chest as the flood of emotions that she had held back came flooding out into the open.
After all, his act was the equivalence of him saying that he forgave her.
He forgave her, and he trusted her to watch his back from now on.
「………no way. Nuh-uh! Hell no!」
In the midst of her sentimentality, 《Cross》 began to ponder as to whether the tears she was currently shedding were tears of gratitude for being forgiven or tears of happiness for being trusted by this man. Yet, realising the implications behind the latter—namely, the fact that she found joy at obtaining the man’s trust meaning she wanted to be trusted by him—she immediately shook her head violently as she stepped away from the sleeping young man.
(What the hell am I thinking?! I-I-I mean, sure, he’s a reliable partner, and he’s pretty strong and cool and I admire his strength too, but to think I’d be so happy to have his trust……w-w-wah!? What the hell did I just think!?!)
Having realised the ludicrousy of her current thoughts, 《Cross》 began cursing her mind as she repeatedly slammed her cranium against the floor of the boundless void. Anyone who saw her at this moment would immediately come to the conclusion that she was batshit crazy, as she repeated this process despite the fact that blood was beginning to flow out from the top of her skull as it dripped down her face.
The only fortunate thing about this head-slamming was that the red ink masked the pink streak that had started to flash across the ［Counterpart’s］ face.
「………*sigh* Really, what am I doing?」
Having regained(?) her senses once more, the blood-soaked entity walked back up to the sleeping youth’s side, sitting down as she leaned her back against his own with her arms hugging her legs. Of course, since there was an invisible barrier separating the two, they actually weren’t making contact with the other as the ［Counterpart］ tucked her chin into her chest and buried her head into her thoughts.
It truly was a sorry state of affairs. Here she was, agonising about what the man thought of her and how she thought of him, but when push came to shove, the answers to both were plainly obvious.
The man trusted her. That’s why he was asleep.
She did not trust him. That’s why the barrier separating them was still intact.
And, upon realising such a truth, 《Cross》 felt herself curling up into an even smaller ball.
As she closed her eyes, she realised that she began to feel it. Although they were incapable of traversing this barrier, the entity felt the warmth that her dark-haired host emanated from her back. It was a mysterious heat that caused a shiver to run up her spine, tempting her towards the lull and tranquillity that Junichi was currently experiencing.
Yet, even though the enticing darkness of her host was a little scary, 《Cross》 couldn’t help but allow herself to drift away slowly.
「Maybe……maybe…letting my guard down around you……wouldn’t be so bad…?」
-having succumbed to the alluring world of slumber, 《Cross》 slumped backwards, causing the forcefield to break away as she and her dark-haired host dozed off as the 【Spiritual Zone】 became dyed in darkness.
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