Arc 4 Afterword
Cross Gun Arc 4 has finally come to a close.
It’s been a while. This is XCrossJ.
There’s a lot happening in this arc, what with Junichi’s exposure in the previous arc. The bout between Junichi and Gaston which was promised in the first arc has also finally been fulfilled. And the law has started getting involved in the dark-haired youth’s life.
The most important development of all, however, must be the emergence of the true heroine, as it were. The more perceptive of you may have noticed the clues littered throughout the series but, for the record, this is something I have been planning since the beginning of the series. Hopefully, I was able to do justice for this important reveal of the series.
In other news, I have an announcement to make. I will unfortunately not be releasing any more Cross Gun chapters for the foreseeable future. The reasons for this will be explained below, but just treat this as though I am going on a considerably long hiatus.
The reason behind this break (besides the fact that I have an increased amount of commitments to attend to in reality) is because I wish to revise this series from the ground up. Compared to when I first started, I believe that I have grown as a writer, and believe that I could deliver the Gun’s story in a more befitting manner.
For those who are interested in seeing this rebooted series (so to speak), I will post another update on this site once I have made sufficient progress on it. Please look forward to it.
And for all those who have stuck around up until now, thank you very much for your patronage and I hope you will also visit the new rebooted series as well.
From an Entity that does whatever he wishes in his spare time:
P.S: For those wondering, there is a little something special for the true heroine as well.
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Chapter 199: Crossed Paths
「*sigh* Finally, I’m home.」
The girl murmured to herself as she stepped foot into the entranceway of her apartment. Long black hair that was as smooth as silk energetically swayed in the air behind her, similarly expressing joy as it had returned to the place that they could call home.
Needless to say, the one that had stepped through the door of the condo’s apartment number 6 was none other than one of its occupants: Miyazawa Mana.
After a night in the hospital, she had recovered enough to the point where a single diagnosis allowed her to be discharged immediately. Although she was still in shock over the events that led up to her being hospitalised, she thought it best to wait until the other party involved—the injured 〚Lion〛—also recuperated so that they could discuss the matter together.
And so, after being discharged from the hospital, the first thing that the girl wanted to do was go home and see her brother. After all, considering that the assailant looked so much like her one and only remaining blood connection, it made sense that the jet-black beauty wanted to confirm her sibling’s condition and put her worries to rest.
Of course, Mana also asked her best friend Shiori if she wanted to tag along, but she said that it would be best if someone stayed by the unconscious Masaru’s side, and so declined the offer. Naturally, Mana also felt bad about abandoning the delinquent, especially when she caught sight of the terrible wounds he had sustained in his efforts to protect her. Still, as there was very little she could do to help him at the current time, the girl chose to return home whilst swearing to herself that she needed to come back and visit with a proper gift.
「Aniki! I’m home!」Continue reading
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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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Chapter 197: ［Deathly Night Style］
Having borne witness to the moment that flipped 《Cross’s》 life on its head, Saito Junichi couldn’t help but narrow his eyes as he remained speechless. But then again, he couldn’t help but stay silent as the sight of the carnage that the young ［Counterpart］ wrought eerily reminded the boy of his own past.
Furthermore, the fact that the ［Counterpart’s］ sister bore such a striking resemblance to that woman, Junichi’s nostalgia only intensified, even if it did cause pangs of guilt and agony to run through his body.
Caring not for this reminiscence, however, memories of the dark-haired entity’s life continued to play out, surfacing as panels that littered the unstable 【Spiritual Zone】 which bugged and glitched like a corrupted video game.
And, while he didn’t intend on invading so deeply into the obsidian ［Counterpart’s］ past life, Junichi’s eyes still swept over the snapshots of memories, all in the name of obtaining a better understanding of the individual who he knew of as 《Cross》.
One such memory was of the dark-haired entity applying herself at school, switching to a military course as she joined the ranks of young soldiers who would lay down their lives for the country. The sight of her dedicating her life into the art of taking others’ made Junichi recall his own devotion to honing his craft of slaughter.
Another snapshot involved 《Cross》 completely changing her appearance into that of a man. Perhaps having taken the advice of her father a little too literally, the young girl decided to discard her womanhood in favour of the intimidation that a man’s stature brought. Of course, the sight of her embarrassment in initially failing to fool anyone, as well as her perseverance in changing her image reminded the dark-haired youth of the time when he first had to learn the technique of cross-dressing for the sake of an infiltration mission.
And then, there was a scene where 《Cross》 and several other young but talented soldiers were gathered before what seemed like a throne, kneeling as they accepted a mission to invade mankind’s plane of existence in order to intercept ［Counterparts］ from other countries and prevent them from ‘Assimilating’ the world into their own.
Honestly, it was an incredible story that Junichi couldn’t bring himself to believe at first glance. Nevertheless, as this wasn’t pertinent to his current state of affairs, Junichi decided to stow this topic away and ask his big-headed ［Counterpart］ for more details later.
Yes. After seeing all this, the dark-haired youth could no longer make that choice to forsake the dark-haired entity. Call it what you will: a whim, pity, or just simple naivety. Whichever it may be, however, the boy was now determined to save the life of a young woman who should have disappeared into oblivion.
And that did not spell good news for those who he now had his sights on.
「*sigh*……I’ve seen enough.」
The dark-haired youth muttered, having already had his fill of the dark-haired entity’s past as he turned his eyes away from the screen. In doing so, he began to walk slowly forward, his focus shifting from left to right as his pupils began glowing with an eerie light.
A sharp light found in the eyes of predators that looked upon their prey.
It needn’t be said that the subjects of Junichi’s frosty gaze were the ［Counterparts］ that had wormed their way into this space—this sacred space that should have been purely for 《Cross’s》 eyes only. And, unlike Junichi’s method of entry which was akin to skilful infiltration, these entities’ invasion was forceful and inelegant, caring not for the damage they inflicted upon the young woman’s ［Soul］ as they rampaged about at their leisure.
Or rather, it seemed like they were causing havoc and destruction on purpose, though what they hoped to achieve in doing so was unknown. Perhaps they were aiming to somehow place 《Cross》 under their control by beating her ［Soul］ into submission, though the youth had little idea if such a thing was truly possible.
In all honesty, as he didn’t know enough about how all this stuff worked, the finer details eluded the mercenary of blood and iron. That being said, he knew enough to understand that something had to be done about these trespassers.
-though perhaps the best place to start would be to rescue the dark-haired entity that was being surrounded by these otherworldly invaders, her body crouched down and shivering pathetically while hugging her knees close to her chest.
「Kakaka! C’mon, ya fucker! Why don’cha put down that shield of yours and let us play!?」
「Chichichi. To think that this sweet little thing was a lass. She’s just my type, *lick*.」
「Enough of that, you two-kero. If we don’t take down this barrier soon, then we won’t have a chance of returning to the surface-kero. Let us make haste and bring down this naive girl’s last defences.」
「Yeah!」「Let’s hurry up and break her!」「Keep destroying shit!」
Cries of agreement followed soon after as the clamour in the surroundings grew to a fever pitch. It would seem that there were 3 individuals who were heading the rabble of assimilated ［Counterparts］, the trio addressing the quivering obsidian entity directly as they were trying to get past what they referred to as a ‘barrier’.
That being said, such matters did not concern the dark-haired youth at this juncture. After all, he was more concerned about the wanton destruction that was being inflicted upon 《Cross’s》 【Spiritual Zone】.
Which is why, rather than approaching the trio, the teenager decided he would clean up first.
「…………hey, you there. Mind if I join the fray?」
Junichi spoke calmly to one of the ［Counterparts］ who was thrashing about willy-nilly inside of this sacred space. Upon first glance, the entity seemed to resemble a beast—more specifically a wolf—as his dark complexion and spiked grey hair bestowed him with a wild appearance.
–not that such a thing mattered much to the dark-haired youth.
「Sure thing, brother! If we all work together and follow 《Leo-anego’s》 orders, then we’ll definitely bust out of this joi-」
Without giving any prior warning whatsoever, the dark-haired youth drew one of his cannons that were holstered at his waist with movements so smooth and natural that it seemed like he was simply taking out his phone or wallet. And then, whilst still wearing a pleasant smile that juxtaposed completely with his actions, the youth leisurely thrust the barrel of his pistol into the ［Counterpart’s］ jaw, bashing his teeth in as the metal cylinder prevented the entity from continuing his speech.
Now, being able to take out a lethal weapon with such poise, all while not displaying a shred of killing intent, was a feat that could only be performed by a highly trained combatant. A wielder of guns who had enough skill to attain the status of a professional.
And make no mistake, the mercenary of blood and irony was just that: a professional in the art of killing.
Without even batting an eyelid, Junichi pulled the trigger, causing the wolf’s mouth to explode as blood and brain matter painted the surroundings in gore. And, as a result, the sudden blast of unknown origin caused everyone to jump as they turned their attention towards the source of the sound.
Yet, by the time that they did, the dark-haired youth’s figure could no longer be seen, as if he was never there to begin with. Like a phantom, the teenager had simply vanished into thin air, with only the remnants of the assimilated ［Counterparts’］ comrade told of the atrocity that took place in that empty space.
An atrocity that only continued to repeat itself.
After each gunshot, Junichi would make use of the distraction for his ≪Ominous Wind≫ technique, allowing him to vanish from sight in an instant as he continued his carnage from the shadows. As he did so, he noted that the entities, despite purporting to be almost unkillable existences, were rather fragile when inside of this 【Spiritual Zone】, as not even one of his victims showed any sign of recovery.
Perhaps this demotion in mortality had something to do with the fact that they were assimilated beings? Or maybe 《Cross’s》 【Spiritual Zone】 played some part in their clean dispatch? Whatever the case, Junichi was pleasantly surprised that his handiwork had a permanent effect, and so decided against thinking about such a topic while perpetuating his one-sided slaughter.
And, as the rain of blood eventually dyed the area in a fresh thick layer of red, 〔Gun〕 stood in the centre of the carnage, revealing his figure to the remaining 3 enemies that could do nought but watch his silent slaughter in horror.
「He’s not, kero. This man’s on a whole different level, kero.」
Unlike the first two entities who were confused as to who this intruder was, the silver-haired ［Counterpart］—《Hash》—displayed outright rage as he spat at the man in the midst of the blood puddle through gnashed teeth. Needless to say, he was the only one who knew of the youth that stood before him, as his previous host–〔Hawk〕–was ended by his hands.
The memory, even now, haunted him so deeply that he couldn’t help but glare at the androgynous figure. This anger—or perhaps agitation—was not lost upon his comrades either, as they looked between him and the 《Cross》 lookalike with incredulous eyes.
Yet, before they had a chance to voice their concerns about 《Hash’s》 peculiar attitude–
「……it’s time to die.」
-the mercenary of blood and iron made his move.
As he was whipping around from victim to victim, the dark-haired youth studied the 3 leaders of the assailants that threatened the girl that he was trying to save. From what he could see, the trio was a rather well-balanced pair of attackers (if nothing else).
The first was a familiar face, a lean youth with tanned skin and distinctly silver hair. And, while his foreign delinquent look and his sharp eyes were rather eye-catching, the most distinct part of this entity’s appearance—the bird tattoo plastered to his upper arm—was what allowed Junichi to recognise his identity as 《Hash》.
Based on his build alone, he looked to be an agile-type combatant, focusing more on speed than muscles to overcome his fights. And, upon recalling how his old host–〔Hawk〕– had flown in the air previously, it seemed even more likely that 《Hash》 was the type of fighter who capitalised on his mobility.
The second ［Counterpart］ was a tall, yet muscular woman whose toned body could be likened to that of a beast’s. She possessed a similar build to Sora’s athletic frame, though while the 〚Hurricane’s〛 build was trained for endurance, this woman’s body was much meatier and primed for explosive movements. Other than those unique characteristics, the woman’s attractive, deep blue hair that flowed behind her like a spiky cape and her eye-catching assets were about the only things Junichi found worthy of note.
It was clear that, despite being trained for very different purposes, this lioness was also suited to be a power-class attacker. And, from what he gathered, she was the woman who was regarded as the attacking group’s anego, 《Leona》. It was highly likely that the blue flames that 《Cross》 fired off during her attacks were ones that belonged to this woman, based on their similar colouring.
The last of the trio was quite the anomaly. With a stout, lumpy frame that did not look at all suited for battle, the remaining individual possessed an unusual calm to him. He sported bright purple hair that was permed and glossy, parted to both sides which created a bald line that bisected his scalp.
Strangely enough, Junichi couldn’t find any significant information from this peculiar individual, such as what sort of abilities he possessed. The only thing that he was able to gather was that he was referred to as the 《Toad》, a nickname attributed to his greasy rubber skin and beady little eyes. That being said, just from the stout amphibian’s calm and collected bearing, Junichi presumed that there was an intelligent mind trapped inside of that ugly mien.
One part speed, one part strength, one part technique. Truly a balanced trio that deserved respect, as the three of them together had raised a rebellion inside of 《Cross’s》 【Spiritual Zone】. Just from this fact alone, Junichi reckoned that these three entities possessed enough capability to take him out in a head-on confrontation.
That being said, this only holds true if the ［Counterparts］ were capable of working together. Or rather, if he allowed them to.
*bang* *bang* *bang*
Without giving any prior warning, Junichi immediately fired off 3 shots in a row, 1 bullet per entity as each bullet was on a direct flight path towards their respective target’s head. And, while the surprise attack had indeed caught the trio off guard, their reactions were superhuman enough that they were able to handle the assault without suffering any damage.
《Hash》 immediately sprouted wings, using his prided mobility to evade the projectile by dodging to the right so that he wouldn’t run into his comrades on his left. 《Leona》 stood still, hurling a ball of blue flames at the pellet to incinerate it before it could even reach her. 《Toad》, on the other hand, extended an open palm before him as though to catch the bullet, the flying slug emitting a stream of hot vapour as it corroded away the instant it touched the violet aura coating the man’s skin.
Although the way in which each of the ［Counterparts］ dealt with the incoming attack was unique, it didn’t change the fact that they remained untouched by this initial assault. However, the dark-haired youth’s primary aim in launching this assault was not to cripple his enemies but to gain more information about them—or more specifically, to gain more information about the anomaly that was the purple frogman.
While there was no conclusive proof, his observation of 《Toad’s》 coping strategy led Junichi to believe that he was a user of toxins. A poison wielder who used corrosive attacks that were so potent that they rivalled the eroding capabilities of acid.
It was very fortunate that the first target of such a devastating ability was a simple bullet and not the youth’s body. As per his expectations, the probing shot was worth it just for that piece of information.
In fact, this opening attack had proven its worth even more than that, as it had also achieved its secondary purpose: to separate one of the entities from the rest of the pack. And, after having successfully urged 《Hash》 to fly away from his comrades, the mercenary’s right eye blazed in a murderous glory as his figure blurred through the skies.
The boy murmured under his breath, pronouncing the winged ［Counterpart’s］ demise the instant after he pulled his trigger. Having circled around the now-separated entity in a split second by performing an ≪Accel Shift≫, the youth placed the barrel of his pistol right up against the back of 《Hash’s》 head, making it impossible for the otherworldly being to evade his attack.
Which, of course, meant that his imminent death was a certainty.
「Hou, we’ve got a strong one here. Chichichi! My blood’s already boiling!」
「Hmm……kero. This may prove to be troublesome, kero.」
After the hollow ring of the launched bullet plunging into 《Hash’s》 cranium, the winged entity fell to the ground as black ink was expelled from the fractured cage that contained his bird brain. In response to this skilful dispatch of their comrade, neither of the remaining ［Counterparts］ showed a shred of compassion for their dearly departed ally, finding their attention, instead, being drawn towards the one who had taken him out with ease.
And, while the 《Toad》 showed some concern after noting how easily someone of 《Hash’s》 ability had been permanently removed from play, the spiky blue lioness displayed a completely opposite reaction, speeding straight towards the youth as both of her hands became covered in ocean-blue flames.
In the face of 《Leona’s》 charge, 〔Gun〕 involuntarily clicked his tongue, narrowing his eyes as he sauntered forward to meet the woman head-on. As he understood that those flames were also capable of being launched as projectiles, the youth judged that challenging this target in a long-range battle would be disadvantageous, as her balls of fire rendered his bullets useless.
Thus, left with no choice, the mercenary of blood and iron prepared himself to fight the proud lioness in close combat. Yet, unlike his resident delinquent, this beast was much wilder, in that all her attacks were filled to the brim with raw, unrestrained power.
Of course, if given the choice between which of the two were more difficult to deal with, then Junichi would answer that Massaru was the harder opponent without question. After all, even with his violent tendencies, the knucklehead’s form still possessed technique, and his anything-goes street fighter mentality made dealing with his attacks a bit tricker.
In comparison, 《Leona’s》 fists were like that of a mindless animal, purely seeking to break his bones as she launched them at all of his vitals. Of course, as the power imbued in each swing was equivalent to one of Sora’s momentum-charged attacks, they were incredibly dangerous in their own right as the mercenary was forced to dodge each and every single attack, or else be incapacitated in a single hit.
Now, thanks to his ≪Tranquil Breeze≫ skill, the boy was able to evade all of the punches thrown at him by a hair’s breadth, while utilising ≪Muzzled Gale≫ to quickly intercept and deflect any incoming hits that he couldn’t dodge with his Iai-like hand movements. Yet, even with these techniques, the power emitted from the lioness was so strong that Junichi was constantly pushed back, rendering him unable to find an opportunity to counterattack.
To put it simply, 《Leona》 was just a bad match for the youth. Similar to Aki, this beast was a powerhouse that relied on brute strength and aggression to take down her foes. And, being the agility and technical specialist he was, 〔Gun〕 found it difficult to fight back against her overwhelming strength.
Which is why, against all odds, he decided that it was time to use that.
The dark-haired youth gathered power into his right eye, even more so than before as he willed all of the strength of his body to focus on that single point. In doing so, a minute but bizarre change took place, causing the hairs of his attacker to stand on end as her ferocious grin increased in intensity.
Of course, the reason for 《Leona’s》 deepening wicked smile was the change in pressure that she received from the mercenary before her eyes. If the atmosphere surrounding 〔Gun〕 previously could be described as an assassin hiding their presence, then his current aura was the exact opposite of that, a murderer whose insatiable thirst for blood was so thickly concentrated that it caused the air to become dense with his abundant killing intent.
《Leona》 could hardly contain her excitement in the face of such an intimidating pressure—in the face of such a powerful foe. However, due to being lost in her anticipation, the lioness failed to notice the other subtle change that had taken place in the youth.
The symbol of a new moon ［🌑］ embedded deep into his right, blood-stained pupil.
As her fists burned wilder thanks to her boiling blood, the lioness wasted no time launching another attack, this time her right hook aiming straight for the young man’s body. Her swing was accompanied by a gigantic roar, the pores of 《Leona’s》 skin spewing out a wall of flames that threatened to swallow the young man whole. And yet, without showing any signs of panic-
*click* *bang* *bang* *bang* *bang* *bang*
〔Gun〕 began to rapidly empty his magazine, undaunted in the face of the encroaching inferno as he repeatedly shot bullet after bullet at the approaching predator. Although hectic in nature, his rapid-fire barrage was not a move that he made in desperation, as signified by the sharp confidence exuded from his narrowed eyes. Each of the projectiles fired was intentionally aimed at 《Leona’s》 vitals—her head, her heart, her lungs—with deadly accuracy, forcing the woman to shift her posture lest she suffers an untimely death.
And with this change in positioning, the attack that would have scorched the dark-haired youth into cinders passed by inches in front of his face.
Of course, the disruption of 《Leona’s》 assault was not all that the mercenary achieved with his counter, for the last-minute forceful evasive manoeuvres had completely destroyed his blue-haired victim’s balance. Now, that’s not to say that the lioness suddenly took a dive into the floor, but it was evident that her body was currently in a state of inaction, poised in a manner where she hung in the air without the ability to change her movement.
And it was this moment that the dark-haired youth aimed for, bringing forth the silver pistol in his left hand before planting it directly against 《Leona’s》 face.
(……this makes two.)
The dark-haired youth muttered under his breath, caring not for the slick putrid oil that painted his silver pistol as he nonchalantly shook his arm, causing the droplets of grease to fly off his glossy hand.
Needless to say, this warm lubricant that coated the mercenary’s skin was the blood of his latest victim, 《Leona》 freshly obtained from her head that was now missing a significant chunk of flesh. Her face that once gave off a wild but charming atmosphere was now horribly disfigured, to the point where the word ugly wasn’t even enough to describe such a grisly sight.
Truly, the lioness suffered a gruesome death not quite unlike the one that Junichi delivered to 《Hash》. That being said, it couldn’t be helped. After all, the strength and abilities of these ［Counterparts］ were so dangerous that the youth couldn’t afford to show leniency. In particular, 《Leona’s》 attacks were so brutal that the young man had no choice but to end the fight quickly, else risk losing body parts of his own.
Which is why the mercenary of blood and iron chose to hold back no longer as he executed his techniques designed for murder.
During this encounter, 〔Gun〕 employed a skill set that was quite unlike the usual combat manoeuvres. The student, Saito Junichi utilised his pistols as propellant devices to assist in his close combat tactics, whereas the mercenary, 〔Gun〕 had his physical prowess supporting him as he assassinated his targets long range with his deadly firearms.
For example, the barrage of bullets that he fired against 《Leona’s》 charge was a technique he called ≪Chaos Berserker≫. Just as its name implied, it was an all-out attack that was often used with an automatic weapon, each of the rapid-fire bullets aimed purposefully at an opponent’s vitals. It was essentially a rampage assault that would blast the target to smithereens, though it only crippled the ［Counterpart’s］ limbs due to her insane physical traits.
Another clear demonstration of how merciless his attacks could become under this new doctrine was the finishing blow that he delivered against both the hawk and lioness. A technique called ≪Dead End≫: an inescapable shot that pronounced the demise of one’s target. A technique that 〔Gun〕 would often execute by placing the barrel of his pistol directly against the head of his victims.
Unlike the easy-going ［Elusive Wind Style］ that prioritised dodging blows and keeping the user safe, the mercenary’s killing art—the ［Deadly Night Style］—cared not about the practitioner’s well-being whatsoever, contrarily placing all focus in the dispatch of his targets by any means necessary. It was a dirty, rotten, and disgusting style that the boy learned during his army days.
However, it was only because of this ［Deadly Night Style］ that Junichi was capable of traversing hell and back.
「I see, kero. So that explains it, kero.」
Upon seeing the sudden understanding that flashed across the remaining ［Counterpart’s］ face, 〔Gun〕 remained silent, simply turning towards his final victim as he furrowed his brow in confusion. The dark-haired youth’s inquisitive gaze, in turn, prompted 《Toad》 to bring a clenched fist in front of his mouth, coughing into it rather haughtily before beginning to explain himself.
「I now understand why you have given me such an uncomfortable chill ever since you arrived here. Although I don’t understand how such a thing occurred, I doubt that my suspicions are wrong.」
(……the hell’s he babbling on about?)
Having absolutely no clue as to what the amphibian-esque individual was trying to say, 〔Gun’s〕 complexion grew a shade darker, clearly denoting his lack of patience at the ［Counterpart’s］ stalling. He was actually tempted to end the purple freak right now if it wasn’t for the fact that his intuition told him that making reckless moves against this fellow would put him in great danger.
And so, in the midst of this strained standoff, the 《Toad》 croaked once more.
「You. You’ve inherited her power, haven’t you? The power of 《Lunar》.」
「Come now, no need to feign ignorance. Judging from that symbol in your eye, there’s no denying it. That’s the mark of the traitor known to us as the ［Counterpart Slayer］, the one goes by the name of 《Lunar》.」
Upon hearing 《Toad’s》 confident declaration of what he thought to be the truth, 〔Gun〕 was left speechless. After all, according to this man, the power that his right eye wielded was a power that he inherited from someone else. A fantastical notion that bordered upon utter nonsense, as this ability had shaped who Junichi—nay, who 〔Gun〕 was.
Yet, despite how ridiculous such a claim was, the dark-haired youth couldn’t find it in himself to refute it. After all, there was some truth to 《Toad’s》 statement.
Recalling his mentor, who taught him the essence of combat during his army days—a silver-haired woman with deep red eyes—he was reminded of the fact that, once upon a time, both this eye and the moniker of 〔Gun〕 belonged to her. It was only after that incident 5 years ago—the same incident that ended her life—when a strange power was thrust upon him without any explanation whatsoever.
It didn’t take long for the dark-haired youth to understand that this ability was a gift he had received from his deceased mentor. Yet, no matter how much he pondered it over in the past, he was never able to grasp just how his teacher was able to bless him with such incredible power.
—at least, not until now.
(I see……so she was a ［Counterpart］.)
The dark-haired youth murmured in understanding, nodding to himself as though convinced by such an explanation. Although he had no way of confirming it at the current time, somehow the boy was convinced that his mentor was an abnormal being.
As for the name 《Lunar》, it didn’t ring a bell whatsoever. That being said, it did strike a chord with Junichi, as, while he had never heard her being called such, he believed it to be a somewhat fitting name for the woman who always gazed up at the moonlit sky—-the woman whose silver locks possessed the same radiance as the Earth’s natural satellite.
(Still……［Counterpart Slayer］, is it?)
The dark-haired youth couldn’t help but smile wryly as he looked at his surroundings. Piles upon piles of bodies all lay strewn about on the floor in his wake, almost as though the void’s flooring was a blank canvas that needed to be painted over with the colour of blood and ogre.
Seeing this, it was clear to see that the young man was not puzzled by the title’s meaning, but because he had unknowingly inherited yet another one of his predecessor’s nicknames.
And the thought that he was carrying on his mentor’s will caused a gush of vigour to surge throughout his taut body.
「As I thought, you are very dangerous, kero. I will concede here, so would you mind letting me escape, kero?」
「……oh dearie me, kero. I suppose that’s a no, then?」
The instant that 《Toad》 finished confirming that negotiations had broken down from the mercenary’s silence, a bright purple light blazed from his fingertips, soon followed by a stream of nauseously vivid gas that spewed into the air, enveloping the air between the two who faced off against each other. In response to this manoeuvre, 〔Gun〕 didn’t even bat an eyelid as he raised his pistols and began shooting at the fog.
Now, the mercenary didn’t need to be reminded of the fact that shooting at vapour was a rather meaningless task. Yet, the man’s purpose behind this act was to gain information, his keen eye constantly keeping track of the bullets he fired as he observed their behaviour.
The moment that the projectiles made contact with the haze, each and every one of them received a reduction in size without exception. Starting from their outer layer, the bullets were being steadily corroded by the thick fog, making it seem like the clouds of purple were dissolving the bullets like how children sucked on candy.
Yet, even though the bullets suffered constant erosion, the rate of their destruction wasn’t actually that fast. Many had withered into dust before making it through to the other side, but a few well-placed shots had managed to threaten 《Toad’s》 life, as the heavy-set man stumbled around in order to avoid the stray pieces of shrapnel.
His bumbling display aside, it was abundantly clear that this wall of poisonous vapour was intended to deter the dark-haired youth from approaching the 《Toad》. By creating a wall of venomous smog that could very easily eat away at one’s flesh, not only did it serve the purpose of separating the two, but also reduced visibility significantly.
Of course, the latter of these effects did not hinder 〔Gun〕 in the slightest, as evident by the pieces of shrapnel that almost hit their mark. It was hardly surprising, though, considering that his right eye bestowed upon him heightened vision. With these sharpened senses, the mercenary of blood and iron to pinpoint his target despite the dense shroud obstructing him.
And so, while left with no choice but to perform an inelegant dance to save his own oily skin, the cunning frog opened his mouth wide, regurgitating an orb that emitted a toxic aura into his hands. He then gripped the sinister sphere hard before furiously swinging his entire body and hurling the orb at the dark-haired youth in retaliation for the shame of being forced to appear so unbecoming.
As a result of these efforts, the ooze that dripped off the ball of poison swirled over its slick surface, further increasing its dastardly toxicity as it flew straight towards its target.
A target who was no longer there.
Caught completely off-guard by the disappearance of the youth, 《Toad》 exclaimed in surprise as his beady little eyes threatened to bulge out of his lopsided skull. Even in his shock, however, the cunning creature didn’t forget to survey the surroundings in hope of finding his target, who had now gone missing.
That being said, it didn’t take him long to figure out where the mercenary of blood and iron had disappeared to.
Much to the ［Counterpart’s］ dismay, 〔Gun’s〕 figure was currently blurred heavily, completely encased by the violet smog as the shadow of his slender frame gradually became larger and larger. The mist that 《Toad》 thought would protect him failed even at its primary objective as the human, seemingly undaunted by the dangers of the haze, advanced ever closer.
(But how, kero!? Shouldn’t he be melting, kero?!)
The frogman gasped, conjuring up another one of his toxic orbs before launching it at the approaching shadowy figure, who promptly dodged it with ease. Needless to say, the ［Counterpart］ was utterly astounded—and, in fact, intimidated—by the man who showed no signs of slowing down as he came closer and closer.
But then again, he had a right to be fearful. Judging by the young man’s swift and unhesitating pace, it seemed as though the acid-filled air wasn’t affecting him at all. Little did 《Toad》 know, however, was that the vapour actually did affect the mercenary’s body.
The fabric of his clothes started falling apart, and the exposed sections of his flesh sizzled in agony as the invisible jaws continued to nibble at his vulnerable frame. The only reason why he appeared to be unaffected by the mist was simply because 〔Gun〕 marched onwards, disregarding the pain inflicted upon him as he focused solely on charging at his prey.
Like the ［Deathly Night Style］ dictated, the mercenary abandoned all notions of his defence as he concentrated all of his energy into dispatching his target. To that end, he dived into the smog without concern for his body as he approached the target.
And then, after performing an ≪Accel Shift≫ to disappear from 《Toad’s》 sight, the dark-haired mercenary engaged in his final attack.
As per its name, it was simply a silent attack. A silenced shot that gave no indication of its presence.
Needless to say, this was not a fancy technique by any stretch of the imagination. That’s why 〔Gun〕 used it whenever he wanted a sure-fire kill.
After all, at the end of the day, he was a killer–nay, an assassin. A murderer who specialised in killing without being seen. If he could erase his presence and dispatch his mark without being noticed, then he would choose that over fighting his enemies in a full-frontal confrontation.
Hence, after having frightened the ［Counterpart］ with his intimidating approach, 〔Gun〕 used 《Toad’s》 fear as a distraction for his ≪Ominous Wind≫ technique before reappearing behind him in silence. Combining this with his «Illusion» trait to melt into the surroundings, his invisible frame had no problems approaching his prey, placing his pistol against the back of the entity’s head.
And then, just like that—
—with a soft spurt of air, the life of the remaining ［Counterpart］ that threatened 《Cross’s》 ［Soul］ was extinguished.
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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.Continue reading
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Chapter 195: Truth is Stranger than Fiction
Despite the dark-haired entity’s shout, Saito Junichi’s finger had already pulled the trigger, causing a bullet infused with ［Soul Power］ to be launched from its chamber. Yet, in a bizarre spectacle, the pellet collapsed in on itself the moment that it made contact with 《Cross’s》 skin, almost as though it had smashed directly against a block of concrete as the now-flattened bullet flew off with a pitiful *dink*.
It was likely that 《Cross’s》 trait, «Reinforcement», had been applied to his skin, protecting it against external attacks. Of course, the application of this ability simply made the entity’s skin sturdy and not impenetrable, though it would be difficult to determine where the damage threshold was for the ［Counterpart］ (especially when considering he had gained a power boost after all of his ［Assimilations］). Yet, it was quite clear to the dark-haired youth that the piercing capabilities of his bullets were not enough to penetrate that thick armour of the obsidian-clad brawler.
Though, in all honesty, Junichi had more pressing problems to deal with.
Seeing her upperclassman in a pinch, the girl with the lavender ponytail instinctively shouted, swiping her hand across her chest as she threw ethereal daggers of ice at the assailant. Needless to say, despite the dark-haired youth being somewhat in the way of her trajectory, Rin skilfully adjusted her throw so that the daggers would arc beautifully around the boy before reaching the target.
However, even this desperate attack by the 〚Assassin〛 was but a futile endeavour. After all, no matter how accurate or meticulous her aim was, the distance between the two identical youths was far shorter than that between her daggers and their target.
Thus, it seemed like it was only inevitable that 《Cross》 would land a strike against his former host, whose red right eye was softly blinking as it calmly kept the ［Counterpart］ in its sight. Inevitable, if not for the fact that Junichi did nothing but simply stand there.Continue reading
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Chapter 194: Hunting a Partner
The showdown at school, the arrest, the interrogation. As though caring about none of these developments, 【Sekai City】 continued to pass its day idly by. Day had turned into twilight, and twilight had given way to dusk, which in turn melted into night.
Yet, as the clock approached midnight, the movements that disturbed the shadows made it clear that night, too, would not be spared from another impending battle.
Of course, it was difficult to make out the identity of the figures scurrying through the cityscape, even if the metropolis was illuminated by the full moon. The reason for this was mainly because each of them wore black hoods that wrapped their frames in a shroud of darkness.
That being said, their black attire only served as a stop-gap measure which obscured parts of their features and was by no means enough to completely mask their characters. This was especially true for one of the three, who possessed a frame significantly smaller than their black-shrouded comrades.
The child-like build that one could describe as petite also seemed rather slender, making it seem like its owner was still undergoing puberty. At the same time, however, the slight curves that occasionally peeked out from the loose cloth made the figure seem more feminine than her small chest would seem to suggest.
The most distinct feature of this individual would have to be the lustrous ponytail that flowed behind her, the lavender strands billowing in the wind as they traced enchanting patterns in the air. Even as she ran across the rooftops at breakneck speed, this ponytail gently followed along, flowing with the air currents as it maintained its graceful appearance.
「I haven’t found anything here.」
Having suddenly come to a stop, the ponytailed figure allowed her voice to echo in the dead of night, her lavender pupils focusing on a patch of shadows cast by a water tower. As she did so, however-
「Same. How ‘bout you?」
Another voice echoed at her side, throwing the ponytailed figure off as she looked towards the voice’s source. With her steadied nerves, she was able to make out that the voice’s origin came from a figure similarly clad in black—her comrade.Continue reading
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Chapter 193: Black and Blue – Disclosure
Much had happened after the dark-haired youth’s consciousness cut out.
Joanne White (AKA Roxanne Leblanc) had left the scene under the pretence of reporting the situation back to HQ. Her escort, the general, also accompanied her after having harshly scolded his devilish daughter for her recklessness.
As for the remaining officers, they were ordered to stand by while this whole mess was sorted out. After all, even though such an openly hostile attack against one of their branches was completely unheard of, the fact that they had tortured an innocent could not be overlooked, and so the entire branch was restricted from taking action so as to not cause any more trouble.
Of course, Joanne had issued Sakamoto Maria an additional order of ensuring the dark-haired youth’s safety. Thus, in accordance with such aims, the brown-haired inspector called for an ambulance, which had brought Junichi to the hospital room in which he currently lay.
Based on the pre-diagnosis, the wounds he received during the attack were practically zero. That being said, his body wasn’t in very good shape due to how roughly he had been treated during the interrogation, which is why the doctors had recommended that he remain bed-ridden for the next few days.
Of course, that didn’t mean he was in such a state that prevented visitors from seeing him. The reason why Maria didn’t visit Junichi despite wanting to stay, however, was because of the hostile glare that had been directed at her from a certain ponytail 〚Assassin〛.
-though, upon waking, the dark-haired youth had absolutely no clue that such events had occurred.
Upon seeing her upperclassman’s eyelids fluttering open, the unusually perturbed Rin dived into his chest. Her usual icy facade was nowhere to be seen, her excessive concern for his well-being clouded her judgement as her aloofness evaporated. As a result, large pearls of tears streaked down her cheeks as the girl desperately clung to Junichi’s shirt like a child.
Now, having just awoken, the dark-haired youth’s mind was not entirely present. That being said, even if he were fully conscious, he would have been just as perplexed as he was now, due in part to the fact that he couldn’t immediately recognise the ponytail that was quivering violently in his chest.
But then, it couldn’t be helped. After all, the ice cold 〚Assassin’s〛 current behaviour was far removed from her usual conduct to the point where it seemed like she was a completely different person.
Still, since there wasn’t any point in deliberating this matter much further, the boy called out to the distressed damsel, as though trying to ascertain whether she really was who he suspected her to be.
「Heya! I’m here too, y’know!」
The moment he called out to her, he could feel the petite maiden’s tense shoulders shudder, almost in a sign of relief. Yet, that was about the only change that Junichi could observe coming from the girl in his arms as another individual barged into their conversation.
Honestly, just from the tone of voice alone, the youth was instantly able to determine the identity of this mysterious intruder. Yet, he turned his gaze towards her anyway, causing his eyes to come into contact with a set of grey pupils and short cerulean hair which gave off a fresh impression.
Her slightly slanted eyes and obnoxiously cheerful countenance that knew not when to quit, coupled with her slim yet toned figure, was instantly recognisable by the dark-haired youth. So recognisable, in fact, that it caused him to involuntarily click his tongue in annoyance.
「Hey! What’s with that reaction!? Isn’t that a little too mean?!」
The annoyance—Miyazaki Sora—responded with a full force interjection, showing feigned dissatisfaction at the way she had been treated so callously by the dark-haired youth. Yet, Junichi didn’t seem like he was going to break this streak as he blatantly ignored her complaints and surveyed his surroundings.
In complete contrast to the interrogation room he was in before, his surroundings were extremely and utterly white. He was in a white bed surrounded by white walls with a white ceiling to match the white flooring. Even the sheets he was covered in threatened to bury him in white, which conversely caused his dark hair to stand out like a sore thumb.
And yet, because of the consistency of this white-ness, Junichi was somewhat able to pinpoint where exactly he was.
「This is a hospital.」
「Sure is. You remember what happened, right?」
In response to Sora’s prompting, the dark-haired youth’s visage clouded as he recalled the events that had occurred before he lost consciousness. The arrest, the interrogation, and 《Cross’s》 defection. It wasn’t certain which of these events troubled Junichi so, but he was greatly troubled nonetheless.
Especially when considering that the current situation was less than ideal, as, with the loss of his other self, Junichi no longer had the means of fighting on the stage of otherworldly beings.
With that said, someone here did. Someone who probably shouldn’t have had such an ability in the first place.
「Anyways, you stay here, Junichi-kun. I’ll do something about this, so-」
「-Sora. Since when did you have a ［Counterpart］?」
As Junichi threw out said comment towards the departing athlete’s back, Sora, for what seemed like the first time in her life, lost her composure as she sharply jerked her head back towards the youth. If she was drinking, then there was no doubt that she would have performed a magnificent spit take, though it was more than likely that the spray would end up drenching the boy who couldn’t move from his bed.
Now, at first, Sora thought she had misheard what her dark-haired friend had said. Yet, upon seeing those narrowed eyes focused upon her visage, said notion was quickly dismissed as her mind began to whirl.
(Junichi-kun knows about ［Counterparts］? How? Why? Does he know that attacker? Is that his ［Counterpart］? Or rather, how did he know that I have a contract with Dia-chi? Can he see her? But how?)
—-question after question started bouncing around in the blue devil’s head as she froze in place, her expression still distorted into one of shock and disbelief.
Yet, the one who spoke next would only serve to further compound the athlete’s confusion.
「E-Eh?! Miyazaki-senpai also-!?」
「Eh? R-Rin-chan, what do you mean by also?」
After the surprise from all sides had somehow managed to diffuse itself, the trio of black, blue, and navy began to sort through the misunderstandings. As each side had their own explanations to give, the talk lasted for an unusually long time.
During which, despite seemingly having recovered her composure, Rin did not make an effort to remove herself from the dark-haired youth by her own initiative. It was only when Junichi pointed it out did the ponytail girl shy away from his chest, though she instead remained at his side with no intention of moving.
Seeing her like this reminded Junichi of a certain hacker with liquorice hair, and how she had behaved in similar fashion back in the day. Still, as this was not the time nor the place to reminisce, the mercenary simply disregarded the situation as he exchanged information with Sora.
From his end, he informed the athlete about his current circumstances surrounding the otherworldly beings. Taking care not to mention anything about his mercenary life, the youth dictated his encounters with the 【Organisation】, as well as who the individual known as 《Cross》 was.
『I see…so that was 《Cross》.』
-was the reaction of Sora’s ［Counterpart］, 《Diamond》, upon being filled in on the situation together with her host. Her voice, although similar in quality to the bundle of energy that was Sora’s, possessed a composure that was quite unlike the mischievous devil’s usual facade.
It was because of this distinction that both Junichi and Rin were able to discern who was truly speaking, though it was a little jarring to the dark-haired youth when he considered that Sora’s intensity in her speech was a notch higher during the times when her bubbly persona was stripped away.
「Y’know that whacko, Dia-cchi?」
『It’s a little hard not to…』
The ［Counterpart］ trailed off, her hesitation not lost on the teenagers of black and blue. It was evident that there was some story hidden behind 《Diamond’s》 peculiar phrasing, though it was difficult to make out what it meant.
Perhaps Junichi, who had heard similar things from several other ［Counterparts］, was closer to uncovering why 《Cross》 possessed such infamy amongst his otherworldly cohort, though he made no attempts to contemplate the matter at the current time.
After all, he had other matters to worry about.
「Ah, we’re here.」
Sora spoke as she stopped in front of a door. After their clarification on each other’s stories, the trio had left Junichi’s room, traversing the hospital as they headed towards this specific location.
Of course, despite not being completely healed after his torturous ordeal, the dark-haired youth stubbornly refused to stay put, and so the two girls could only comply with his demands as they accompanied him—Rin sticking close in case he needed support while Sora acting as a guide towards their destination.
And said destination now laid before them: a hospital room that housed 2 patients whose names were displayed on the outside of the room.
Miyazawa Mana. Isayama Masaru.
Indeed. After having heard Sora’s story (particularly the details of how she barged into the police branch), the boy was informed of the entire situation. How she had received the phone call from Rin. How she contacted her father. How she came because she was worried.
How Mana and Masaru had been attacked by the dark-haired entity.
Upon immediately learning this, it was hard for Junichi to stay still. Even more so when he learned that they were actually in the same hospital as he was, and so he insisted on seeing them. Thus, faced with the unrelenting pressure of a worried brother, the two girls were left with no choice but to escort the injured youth to the room that housed his little sister.
The very same room which lied on the other side of this door.
The sight that greeted the youth the moment that he entered the room was the agitated figure of a tall, brown-haired maiden who had jumped up in surprise upon seeing him. With her round, hazelnut eyes and beautiful yet homely visage covered by round spectacled, it was quickly apparent that this timid girl was none other than Junichi’s childhood friend: Hitomi Shiori.
And, while the youth was somewhat perplexed as to why the girl was here, he seemed to recall that she had been asked by the athlete to keep an eye on the incapacitated duo, just in case. Though, from what he could see, she had done more than simply sitting there while idly twiddling her thumbs.
Through his «Soul Scanning» trait, Junichi was able to see a thin stream of crimson red ［Soul Power］ flowing out from the girl, creating a river-like stream that forked towards the two beds placed in the room. Although it was mere conjecture at this point, the youth assumed that the girl was using a type of ［Support Arming］ to alleviate their pain, if not to heal it.
Considering the facts, it was entirely possible. Especially since 《Plus》 possessed the trait of «Augmentation», which could easily increase one’s strength or promote one’s natural healing. Yet, just because it was possible did not mean that it was without its difficulties.
Sustaining this type of healing for extended periods of time meant that Shiori constantly needed to output ［Soul Power］, AKA energy. No matter how sturdy someone was, keeping oneself steady whilst having their energy constantly drained was no simple task. The bags under the worried maiden’s eyes and her haggard visage were proof of this.
「I’m fine, Shiori. Thanks. For everything.」
The dark-haired youth spoke directly, his eyes flitting towards the beds as he expressed his gratitude to the girl who had already done so much for them in their time of need. As he acknowledged her efforts, however, a pink line streaked across the maiden’s fair cheeks, and even her face had become quite hot.
It was fair to say that, perhaps, Shiori felt that her efforts in persevering to ease her friends’ suffering were all worth it just for that moment, as embarrassment and joy seeped into her weary frame with wicked temptation. At the same time, however, the grim countenance on her beloved’s visage made it difficult for her to truly relish in this feeling, as his pained features seemed to constrict her throat.
「N-No, not at all.」
Nevertheless, Shiori suppressed both the smile that threatened to surface on her face and the aching in her heart as she responded to the boy, who was now approaching one of the beds.
And in this bed lay the unconscious figure of one jet black beauty.
Upon seeing his unmoving little sister wrapped in a hospital blanket before him, Junichi couldn’t help but clench his fist in angst. The sight of her slender frame, whose jade skin was a degree paler than usual, remained still and unmoving as she slept peacefully on the hospital bed.
Yet, her body was so tranquil that even her chest remained immobile, giving off the illusion that she wasn’t breathing. Of course, the dark-haired youth wasn’t so unobservant as to be taken in by said illusion, as his eyes were able to detect Mana’s chest rising and falling ever so slightly. That being said, the spectre of his little sister’s death wasn’t easy to ignore, as the boy placed two fingers against her wrist.
After taking her pulse and affirming that life still dwelled in the unconscious Mana, Junichi exhaled deeply, relaxing his tense nerves as he stepped away from her bedside and turned his focus towards the other incapacitated individual.
The boy spoke as he gazed at the motionless figure of the blonde-haired delinquent. Upon doing so, it was immediately evident that his situation was far worse than the jet black beauty. Despite her comatose-like state, Mana’s body did not appear to be injured in the least, with barely a single scratch on her delicate skin.
A result that was likely due to the painstaking efforts of the wounded 〚Lion〛.
Scorched flesh and lacerations were littered all over his frame, accompanied by patches of black and swollen skin. Some of his limbs were even wrapped in bandages, likely in order to give support to bones which had been fractured by his ordeal against the corrupted 《Cross》.
Needless to say, Isayama Masaru had put his very life on the line to protect his crush. Hence, his current injuries were actually wounds of pride and did not deserve to be pitied.
Yet, while he showed no sympathy for the delinquent, that didn’t mean he was capable of keeping his other emotions still, as frustration began to boil within his core.
Clicking his tongue, the dark-haired youth tore his eyes away from the two unconscious teenagers, turning to address the girls who had been watching him in silence up until now. His locks caused shadows to cascade over his visage, concealing his eyes as they were steeped in a veil of darkness.
Yet, even though this curtain obscured much of his features, all of the girls present were able to discern the severity of his expression. After all, his grim countenance was portrayed through the piercing red glow of his right eye which shone ominously like a twinkling star.
And with such an eerie appearance, the mercenary of blood and iron spoke the following words.
「We’re gonna kill him.」
At this chilling statement, the surroundings became steeped in strained silence as the atmosphere was dominated by a suffocating lull. Shiori, Sora, and Rin—all three girls found themselves unable to speak in the face of this inexplicable pressure, which caused their voices to become lodged in their parched throats.
A reaction that displayed just how potent the blood and iron mercenary’s murderous intent was as it bore down on the trio.
「W-Wait, Junichi-kun?! Shiori’s here, you know?」
The first one to shake off the intimidation from the boy’s lethal aura was Sora, who recovered from her shock as she quickly issued a warning to the youth. After all, as Junichi was talking about the life and death of an otherworldly entity, the athlete immediately realised that this was not a conversation that unrelated parties should be involved in.
Naturally, Sora also found herself furrowing her brow, likely because she was irked at the fact that the boy speaking of such matters in the bespectacled maiden’s presence would get her wrapped up in supernatural affairs. Yet, in response to such concerns, the dark-haired youth simply stated the following in a nonchalant, matter-of-fact manner.
「I know. She’s got a ［Counterpart］ too.」
It was unsure who had allowed that choked gasp to escape their lips. Yet, regardless of who did, it was very clear that both girls of brown and blue were rather shaken by the sudden news as they looked at each other with wide eyes.
Of course, even though Shiori had been in possession of a ［Counterpart］ for quite some time, Junichi wouldn’t have thought to disclose such matters to her at the outset. It was only because the bespectacled 〚Tactician〛 had become his ally that he allowed her to be privy to this information.
And even now, the dark-haired youth was still internally debating whether or not he should really involve the timid maiden in the current episode. Yet, considering the circumstances as they were, he would eventually require Shiori to perform some duties for him, and so it was better to have her obtain a full understanding of the situation anyway.
「Either way, nothing changes. I already warned him once. As long as he doesn’t get in my way, I’ll turn a blind eye towards his actions. However, if he becomes my enemy, then I will show him no mercy.」
Junichi declared, muttering through narrowed eyes whose ominous glow illuminated the white room with shades of red and green. The room’s clean white insides were swallowed up by a torrent of light that was emitted by his twin jewels, one a piercing red while the other a subtle green.
The boy’s luminescence was constantly reflected by the room’s white interior, bouncing from the roof to the walls to the tiles as they dyed the entire space in his colours. Yet, the two lights were unable to keep from interacting and clashing with each other, the cold red a sign of death while the warm green symbolised life.
The two colours seemed to represent the boy’s inner state itself, one side wanting to kill the enemy that had inflicted such injuries upon the two teenagers before him while the other desired to find a way for him to survive. A rather peculiar, though not entirely unfamiliar dilemma as Junichi once faced a similar choice during Shiori’s case.
This time, however, it could be said that Junichi’s inner turmoil was rather bizarre. After all, while he was rather intimately involved with the bespectacled maiden with brown hair and had a vested interest in her safety, 《Cross》 was an entirely different matter.
They were strangers, who had a simple working agreement and had only been acquainted for one month. The dark-haired entity’s life should have meant nothing to the mercenary. In fact, it should have been worth less than nothing, as the ［Counterpart’s］ act of harming Mana should have turned him into an enemy, and so the red light sought death.
And yet, there was another part of the boy that wanted to try and save the corrupted entity with all he could. Perhaps out of compassion and pity for the being, or out of keen calculations that weighed the benefits and risks of spending such effort for the sake of his other self, and so the green light sought life.
These two sides continued to vie for dominance, unrelenting in their struggles as the colours warped the spectrum, twisting into an ominous by-product that could only be described as sinister.
Yet, unlike the indecisive conclusion that seemed to result from the corrupted background, the mercenary of blood and iron had made his resolve, coldly uttering the following three words amidst this menacing aura that seemed to represent both the despair of life and the hope of death itself.
「He’s gotta die.」
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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.Continue reading