A desolate land sprawled below an orange veil. The sun was sinking below the horizon, shedding little light for the searing wastes. A proud and powerful city had fallen to its knees, crumbled to its very foundations.
Not a single soul had survived. Not a single body was left.
Except for him.
Clawing through the rubble, a young boy frantically searched through the dilapidated wastes, begging for someone to hear his crying pleas. Though he searched for survivors, his intent was clearly not to save them, but to save himself.
If someone was alive, it would be lighter on his shoulders.
If someone was alive, it would absolve him of his guilt, if only merely a grain.
If someone was alive... he would be able to smile once more.
The tears wouldn't stop.
No matter how fast he dug, the debris wouldn't reach its end. Through it all, the boy couldn't hear a sound. His ears fell silent to his own thoughts. The only voice that reached him belonged to her. Yet, she was but a memory.
"If I wish upon a falling star... my wish will come true. But I can't tell you what it is or else it won't be granted!"
Precisely. He wasn't searching for a survivor. No, he was searching for her. It was impossible that she would be alive. But if he could find her corpse, he'd know that there'd be a grave where he could beg for forgiveness.
His hands had become numb.
His bones were fighting against him.
His body was about to fall apart.
And yet he kept scooping the dirt aside, bruises covering the palms of his hands.
A foolish boy yearning for the unattainable, a resolve shattered by impossibility. Even as stars blanketed the darkening skies, his unfaltering will pushed him to resist, even as he draws his dying breath.
"Do you wish to continue living with those bloodstained hands?"
The journey was long and strenuous, but she had finally reached her destination. The near-empty train she was in came to a stop, signalling the end of the ride. She let out a yawn, tired from sitting for hours on end. Though the scenery that'd meet her eyes was pleasant, it was no compensation for the boredom of waiting.
She rose to her feet and stretched her arms out to soothe her tense muscles. Adjusting the collars of her blouse, she looked at the reflection in the mirror to adjust her appearance, namely her scarlet hair that had become a pride and joy. Though, there was that one strand of hair that just stayed up no matter what she did to it.
"What a pain..." She thought, combing it down to no avail.
Deciding not to waste anymore time, she took her luggage from the metallic rack overhead. With two heavy bags on each hand, she hurried over to exit the bullet train.
She smiled as she crossed over the yellow line. "This is the beginning of my new life... I wonder what it'll be like living alone here? New Tokyo is definitely different than what I'm used to."
She had spent her life growing up in Okinawa, quite a distance from the mainland. While the island may not be far behind the times, it definitely does not have skylines to rival the ones that have been established in the city.
Not a single relative to accompany her, she had to toughen her heart to independence. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean she'd do everything herself.
Dropping the heavy bags, she reached into the bag slung over her shoulder and took out her phone. Swiping on the screen, she then dialled a number.
Puru Puru Puru Rin! Puri Ooo! Puru Puru Puru Ri—
The ringing tone came from nearby. The girl knew that her friend was in the station, somewhere.
"Oh, Peachie!" A tanned older lady emerged from behind one of the pillars, phone against ear. "Is that you there?"
Ending the call, the girl smiles at her. "It's Karin. Karin Kameru. But you can just call me Rin."
"Ah, it's weird to be using pennames in an offline meeting, isn't it? And I was so looking forward to someone addressing me as Madame Witchkins." The lady nears her, a vexatious sneer emerging from one cheek to the other. "You're quite cute in person."
"Uh..." Rin felt nervous, after all, it was their first time meeting in person.
"Aww, don't be so shy!" The lady's face was near Rin's. "We've been talking to each other for years! You've spilled all the little secrets you wouldn't dare tell anyone to me! You trust me online perfectly fine!"
"But it's a different feeling to be talking directly to you." She uttered, trying to look away.
"Ahaha...!" The lady backed away and pinched her fingers together. "You're this close into turning me into a lesbian!"
Seeing as there was barely a gap between the fingers, Rin could only feel frightened. She could only hope it was a joke.
"I-I don't think anyone needed to hear that..." She forced her lips into a smile.
"Relax!" The lady flicks her on the forehead. "Ah, before I forget! The name's Nelia D'Cruz. But if you keep calling me Witchkins, I'm game!"
"No, thank you. It's not normal."
"Screw normalcy! Just do what your heart desires!"
Another factor as to why Rin felt uncomfortable being near her. Nelia was the kind of person who does whatever she wants online and offline.
"Uhm..." Desperate, Rin changed the topic. "Isn't it already late? I should be getting used to my apartment now..."
"Hooo..." Nelia reached into her bag, pulling out a key. "You don't want to stroll around for a bit? I could buy you a few drinks..."
"I'm a minor! And besides, I have to sleep early since I have to enroll tomorrow."
"What a shame..."
The modern supermini Nelia drove was much more comfortable than the car Rin's father had. The ride just felt smoother than usual. But of course, Rin had her attention focused toward the many neon signs that were hung against the many buildings they drove by. The bright colours contrasted with the night sky and the crescent moon.
"You look like a kid on a field trip." Nelia snickered, staring at her from the corner of her eye. "Never been to the city before?"
"N-No!" Rin answered. "I-I'm a bit of an introvert so I don't go out very often. Plus, there aren't any places that look this lively over at Okinawa. Not in my area, at least."
"Just don't stare too much when you're on foot. The people around here walk fast so they don't like tourists who get in their way."
Complying, Rin straightened her posture. "Understood!"
"You don't have to do it now! Look as much as you want!"
"Yes!" Rin immediately shifted her green eyes on the view.
It was strange to be a tourist of your own country. But when you live there for so long, you end up forgetting of the beauty to be found. Rin, in particular, had forgotten how amazing the modern day world looks.
And then, amidst her bliss, a thought struck her.
"You know, Nelia..." Her tone became melancholic. "I'm rather surprised that this place was a site for the war ten years ago."
"What to say?" She smiled, taking a quick glimpse at a few skyscrapers. "The UN works real fast at restoring damages." She then paused for a moment, stepping on the brakes lightly. "Hey, you said you were an Esper once before, didn't you?"
"I am." Rin nodded. "That's why the government forced me out of my house to live here."
"So..." Nelia tensed up. "What do you do? Do you breathe fire or something?"
"I read minds. But it's limited to what the other person is thinking at the current moment. And I can only do it when I'm in physical contact with the person in question."
"Interesting. What am I thinking right now?" Nelia held her hand.
"I want to drink tequila."
"What number is in my head?"
"How old am I?"
"Don't say it!" Nelia quickly covered her mouth. "I believe in your ESP!"
Gently taking her hand off her lips, Rin chuckled. "I don't really like showing it off. I was hoping to keep it under wraps and live a normal life, but they found me anyway."
"That's got something to do with the Mage Association." Nelia rolled her eyes. "I don't know how, but I read that they can circle out Espers from normal people. Well, just be glad they don't detain Espers anymore and actually provide an entire city for them to stay."
Rin pouted. "They're only keeping us here so they can carry out their research on us. I was told that I have to go to an institution every Saturday the moment I move here."
"Look on the bright side!" Nelia tried to cheer her up by slapping her shoulder. "At least they didn't catch you and then lock you behind bars! Espers have garnered some negative reputation after the war, so if you ask me, it's good of them to segregate you lot from the rest of the world. Ever read the cases of bullying and riots had against Espers?"
"There were a lot of them, I'm sure, but..." She bit her lip. "I just want to stay home..."
"Then make this your home. Everyone here's just like you, they have a supernatural power. So you don't have to feel isolated, okay?" She then pointed at herself. "Hell, I'll always be by your side!"
Rin stared at her for several moments before beaming. "Thanks Nelia..."
"Good gosh, Rin! Couldn't bring a lighter bag? Or maybe one with wheels?"
Nelia's complains echoed through the night as the two had made it to a parking lot of an apartment which seemed about twenty storeys tall. The trunk of her car open, she struggled to carry one of Rin's bags. The teenager, however, was perfectly fine.
"Well, these are my parents' hand-me-downs. They didn't want to waste money buying new bags."
"When you get in touch with them, tell them they're cheapskates."
The two then made their way into the apartment building, entering an elevator. Rin drew out her keys from her purse, noting the keychain which had 3A (7) engraved upon it. 3A is the fourth floor, but due to superstition, the number is associated with death and therefore, all fourth floors are labelled as such.
"Thanks for the ride, Nelia." She pocketed the key.
"No prob, always a pleasure!" Nelia wrapped her arm around Rin's neck. "Buuuut, promise me you'd join me for a girls' night out next year when you can legally drink booze."
The elevator doors open, and the two walk down a hall to Rin's designated room.
Rin begun to count the doors down. "10... 9... 8... " She turns a corner. "H-Huh?"
"Something wrong?" Nelia questioned.
Rin pointed toward the ground, and the lady was stupefied at what lied before them.
A boy, who seemed to be around Rin's age, was lying on the tiled floors, a cheek pressed against it. His clothes were torn and tattered, as if it had been cut dozens of times. However, there was not a single wound on his body or a trace of blood to indicate that he got into a fight.
Dropping her bag, Rin immediately came to his side and rolled him on his back. The most prominent thing she could note from him is his white hair which ended with black tips. She simply assumed that he dyed his hair, badly.
She placed a hand on his chest. "He's breathing, so he's definitely unconscious." She noticed several objects scattered nearby, among which a key which was similar to hers lied. She picked it up and read the keychain. "Room 3A (6). He's a resident here. Actually, he's my neighbour. I wonder what happened to him?"
"Probably got too drunk for his own good." Nelia guessed callously.
Without hesitation, Rin took his arm, held it in place over her shoulders and supported his weight. "I can't just leave him here." She then forced herself forward, being hindered by his feet which dragged against the floor.
Nelia was dumbfounded. It was rare to find someone who'd help a stranger like that in this day and age. Seeing an act of kindness such as this warmed her heart. "Hm?" She caught sight of a wallet on the floor. Instinctively, she picked it up and opened it, revealing something which shocked her to no end. "Oh crap!"
The curse caught Rin's attention. She stopped for a moment and looked over her shoulder at her adult friend. "What's wrong?"
"Put him down." Her serious tone was a major contrast from the usual.
"I said, put him down. If you know what's good for you, put that guy down."
Nelia quickly rushed in front of Rin and showed her the boy's ID.
The name resonated within Rin's mind, but she couldn't tell why. It just seemed so familiar. She knew she'd never met him before. After all, a boy with black and white hair would be easy to remember.
"Rin. The person you are carrying is a Priority 1 Esper, The Walking Nuke. Shinsaku Aragaki!"
And that was when it clicked.
The one Esper who single-handedly destroyed an entire country and all the inhabitants living in it.
The individual responsible for the mass oppression toward people such as herself.
Chills went up her spine. Sweat started to form en masse. Her hand which was clasping his waist trembled. Though his expression while unconscious was very solemn, it did not change the one crucial fact.
She was holding a mass murderer. Had he been conscious, she could only imagine the horrors that would have bombarded her mind.
However... killer or not...
She just couldn't leave him lying on the floor like that.
"You are an idiot."
Nelia grimaced as they stood inside a messy pigsty of a room, as expected of a teenage boy. Rin rested him on his bed, carefully putting his body down.
"If I were you, I'd have made a run for it." Nelia continued, arms crossed. "That guy killed over ten thousand innocent people, and I hear he's been stirring nothing but trouble around these parts. Hell, I'd even go get myself a new apartment room while I'm at it, I wouldn't want to live next door to a monster."
"Don't be so cold." Rin spread a blanket over him. "I'm scared too, but... I can't really leave him like that, even if he is a heartless monster."
Nelia sighed. "Altruism like that gets you killed."
"He can't kill me if he out cold. I think it's okay. But of course, living next door to him is rather unsettling. I'll just have to deal with it." She grinned at her. "Things'll be fine."
Noting that there was nothing left to be done, Nelia pointed at the door. "Let's skedaddle before he wakes up. I really don't want to stay here any longer."
Gulping, Rin nodded. "Me too!"
Tail between their legs, the women hastily left the room.
What neither of them had realized was that toward the end of the conversation, the boy named Shinsaku had awoken. Remaining silent before the shutting doors, he spoke to himself within the tranquil darkness.
"A heartless monster, she says... I can find no better term..."
Terminating Act 1
Running Act 2...
AN: A new large scale project falls upon us! Can Edge keep up with it? Of course not!
Welcome to the first arc, Phase 1: Walking Nuke. This arc deals with Espers, what they are, what they do and what impact they have on the world. And of course, it tackles the many inanities of the title character.