Back against a streetlight, Rin waited amidst the stuffy crowds for her friend to show up. She felt sweaty, after all, the city is hotter than the seaside during the afternoon. Back at home, a cool breeze would blow to comfort her, but here, only the endless chatters and riveting engines exist to her annoyance. She thought of passing the time with her phone, but her mind was pressed on a single thing.
"You uh… You dropped your purse."
He had a gentle tone. He had such quiet eyes.
Rin's mother had told her not to sway her judgement of men so easily, but when she thought back on yesterday, Shinsaku was nothing like one would expect from his reputation.
She had only one response to such a situation.
"I'm so sorry!"
She felt like she was at fault. He had done nothing to her and she fell over, quivering in terror as if he killed her entire family. He didn't deserve to be feared like that, despite the crime he committed.
He was trying to make up for his actions. She could tell from the way he behaved.
"D-Don't be! It's okay. It's a… It's a normal reaction. Really. It's fine. I'm used to it."
It felt like treading on thin ice. She took her purse and stood up, brushing the dust off her skirt.
"I… Uhm… I'm Karin. And I actually live next door to you. I moved in yesterday."
"I thought so. You brought me to my room."
Every hair on her body stood when he said that. It meant that he heard what she had to say about him.
Squeezing her hands together, she forced the biggest smile onto her face, obviously coming of rather wry.
"I see! S-Sorry! Uh…"
"Y-You can call me Rin! Haha..."
Changing topics was something she was scared to do back then, and being forced to do it now, it came off rather sloppy.
The boy scratched at his hair.
"Then… Just call me Shin?"
"O-Okay! Haha… Shin! I-I'll see you tomorrow at school!"
There was no school.
Yet, the girl waved him goodbye as she headed back home.
Watching the many different faces passing by, Rin felt guilty about how she behaved toward him. He was just trying to be nice, that's a fact. But her reaction toward his kindness was considerably rude.
Maybe if their paths crossed again, she'd try to make it up to him. Somehow. It'll happen soon enough, they live in the same apartment, they go to the same school, it's inevitable.
Facing her right, Rin saw Miharu running towards her.
"Sorry I'm late! The lines for the train tickets is insane at this time of the day. I didn't keep you waiting too long, did I?"
"N-Not at all!" She shook her head, beaming at her newfound friend. "I just got here!"
Rin didn't know why, but upon arriving in New Tokyo, she had a penchant of telling lies. White lies, but lies nonetheless.
Miharu puffed up her chest victoriously. "That's good." Her fiery orange eyes traced over to Rin's clothes. "Nice cardigan. Looks so comfy."
"Ahah, I think it's too country-like. But thanks."
"Don't be like that! Everyone has their own style!" She wrapped her arm around Rin's neck for a second before remembering her ability. Stammering, she backed away. "Hot day today…" It was a rather pathetic attempt at covering her mistake, but it was worth a try.
"The city's usually like that. We learned this before. Heat accumulates in the city areas due to lack of plants and increase in metallic structures and the such. What was that term called? I forgot..."
Snapping her finger, Miharu smirked. "Not a problem for me." In an instant, a cold air blew through the girls. "Just displace the heat to some other place. Cold air is denser than hot air, and to make up the difference in air pressure, the atmosphere forms winds to equalize them."
Rin froze for five seconds. "So… Theoretically… You can control the flow of wind?"
The twintailed-girl gave her a thumbs up. "Exactly, dear Watson! So as long as you're with me, you won't have to sweat about… Sweating!"
Rin just smiled. As usual, her ability is just not as cool as Miharu's. The blue-haired girl has shown off three ways for her to utilize what she has, and compared to that, Rin felt that she might as well just be a normal girl.
Taking the lead, Miharu stepped ahead of Rin. With an inviting grin, she said, "Let's go to the ERF."
As she crossed the road, Rin noticed an individual standing amidst the crowd who hid his face under a hood. It was the same hood he wore yesterday. The unnerving urge to greet him at the very least whelmed up inside, but she couldn't follow through.
"Maybe next time."
"Do you wish to continue living with those bloodstained hands?"
The sun was glaring. The clouds have decided to fly someplace else on that day, leaving nothing but the endless azure to hang over the city of New Tokyo. Having kept his hood up, Shin was sweating bullets. On days like these, it was best to wear thin layers, but he insisted on putting on that hoodie.
It was the only way for him to get around without stirring up trouble.
There was nowhere he wanted to go. In fact, following his usual schedule, he'd have spent the whole day at home in front of the computer.
"Let this be your first warning."
Ever since that call and encounter, he hadn't been sleeping well. Those Espers that contacted him... They successfully assaulted him that night because he was alone, resulting in no witnesses to support his case. So even if he were to lodge a report, he wouldn't have anything to back it.
Yesterday, he attended school for the first time in months just to hide away from whatever group was seeking him out. Sure he ended up in a big fight against a group of delinquents, but by the end of the day, not a single phone call or suspicious encounter was met.
That's why he deemed it safer to stick inside crowded areas. He can feel the tense atmosphere despite people walking straight through him. Someone was probably watching him from afar, but can't take action without arousing suspicion.
That, or he's paranoid.
"Good afternoon, Shinsaku." A man grabbed him from behind by the shoulder. "Isn't it a bit hot today?"
He turned around to see a white beanie. And he recognized it very well. "Yes..." His soft tone was whisked away within the sea of noises. "I shouldn't be wearing so many layers today... I'll just—"
"We haven't seen you in the longest time!" The man continued, completely brushing off Shin's muted words. "Don't we have a lot of catching up to do...?" He backed away to his shorter companion. "Come hang out with us for a bit!"
"Uh..." Shin was tongue-tied. He didn't know how to get out of the situation.
Taking him forcefully by the wrist, the man dragged him through the crowds.
A feeling of dread crept up. It wasn't going to be a good day, one fact he had to settle to.
Esper Research Facility.
The building stands around thirty storeys high, however, most of the important research is carried out underground. The purpose behind its establishment is to examine the abilities of Espers, and to identify each and every one of them.
Rumours have sprouted that the lower levels are off-limits, and that inhumane experiments take place there. However, there is absolutely no evidence to back that claim.
As the girls sat down together in the vast, air-conditioned hall, they observed the many faces and ethnics around them. The place was packed with foreigners from every side of the globe. Having never really met any non-locals, Rin felt both fascinated and intimidated before their presence.
"They're so tall..." Rin's mouth was agape. "Do you think they're star basketball players?"
"Just because they're tall doesn't mean they play basketball." Miharu scowled at her ignorance. "It's quite normal. Western guys are generally taller than eastern ones." She caught sight of a certain blond. "And more handsome too."
Rin frowned. She... wasn't into boys or romance. Sure, she daydreamed about it every now and then, but it stopped as she entered high school.
Sighing, she stared at the paper in her hand labelled 2042. The numbers on the screen hung high on the walls and pillars counted 2040. It wasn't long till her turn came.
Miharu smiled. "Are you still beat up about the picture? I told you, you look pretty in them! It'll look nice on your ID."
"I don't like taking pictures..." Rin pouted. "My smile always looks so awkward."
Streaking her fingers through her pigtail, the girl rolled her eyes. "You just force it a little bit, it's not as bad as you think."
"You're up next. Unfortunately, I can't join you so you'll have to go at it alone."
Rin gasped. "Wha?! B-But! Why?"
"Meetings with researchers are confidential. No one else can join, not even your family members." Miharu breathed out. "Not like you need them anyway. You should know what you can do better than anyone. Just be honest and frank. They won't bite."
"What if it's a mad scientist...?" Images started to form in Rin's head. "With post-explosion hair and swirly glasses and all that?!"
"Now you're just being silly." Miharu rested her hands on her lap. "Trust me, it's not as bad as you think. The one I meet's pretty cool." Her tone suddenly grew dark. "If only she'd stop complaining about her love life...!" Coughing, she talked normally again. "But they're cool."
"That was fast..." Rin stared at the screen.
"Well, I'll just wait here. See you!"
Waving goodbye to her friend, Rin stepped forth to the counters up ahead. The attendant sitting behind had her eyes glued to her screen.
"Karin Kameru, yes?" She quickly responded, not looking away for a second. "Your meeting is scheduled with Professor Marcelo Robustelli. His office is on the twenty-third floor, sixth door to your right."
Bowing, she headed for elevator. Just as it was about to close, she dashed in, making a close call. Pushing her designated floor, she waited as the elevator rose. Behind her were glass windows that left the view of the city for all eyes. The people and cars grew smaller and smaller with each passing second.
And of course, she got a better look of the city the higher she got. It was a shame that there were so many other tall buildings, she was sure that there would be a beautiful view if they were out of the way. Or perhaps it may be better at night.
She simply couldn't forget the drive the first time she arrived. Neon lights flashing throughout the night... It was spectacular. And it will definitely look better from a taller height.
The elevator stopped. As the doors slid open, Rin hurried down the hallway to her right till she reached the sixth door.
Standing before it, she felt extremely tense. Nevertheless, there was nothing to be scared of. She trusted Miharu's words. And channelling that trust, she knocked the door.
The echoes of crowds faded to nothing within the back alley. It was particularly secluded, even during a busy weekend. Shin hated the sight of the graffiti-stained brick walls. It was always a source for bad memories.
With a shove, the man slammed him into a wall. The white-haired boy fell to the ground, spiting his chance encounter.
"Shit...!" Shin growled, clutching his forehead tightly.
Intense emotions and complex thoughts brought nothing but pain to him. Every time he had them, he'd suffer the worst kind of headache imaginable, comparable to a seizure. To avoid this, he had practiced suppressing his emotions, but it's not like he could execute it perfectly.
There were just so many times he'd laugh his heart out, cry in agony or feel seething rage... only to experience intense pain. He was used to pain, but that never changed the fact that it hurt.
Though, to him, it could also be considered a blessing. The pain would prevent him from making irrational decisions, and looking back on the past, it was probably for the best.
"Having another one of those seizures again...? Sheesh."
Looking up at the man once more, Shin tried to calm himself. "Haru..." Meekly, he got on his feet. "I told you, I don't have the money to compensate for those bills."
Haru slammed his foot straight into his stomach. "I don't give a shit!" Twisting the heel, he tried to squeeze more pain out of Shin. "You beat all of my guys up till they got carted off to the hospital! Two of them still haven't waked up!"
Shin remembered it quite well. It was just two years back, and as he was walking back home from the store, he saw a group of gangsters harassing a girl he recognized from school. He was far more impulsive when he was fifteen, and out of whim, he fought all of them off by himself.
But he had no restraint. He couldn't control his strength.
What was an act of heroism turned into a violent massacre, and by the time it was over, he stood over unconscious men who were soaked in blood and bruises. And the girl he saved?
"Go away, you monster!"
That was the last thing she'd ever say to him. It only gave him headaches remembering it.
"Sorry, but I just don't have the cash for that kinda thing." He uttered slowly, raising his head. "But if it'd make you feel better, you can take out your anger on me again."
It had become the norm to let people beat him up however they wanted. He could take it, so there was nothing to fear.
"Actually, I have a better idea." Haru stepped aside, revealing the shorter individual behind him. "Mikan, pummel him."
Mikan was a girly name, Shin could never take it seriously. Furthermore, that person looked extremely feminine, and the first time around, he had thought that it was a girl, and may have been slightly infatuated just from her adorable face.
It wasn't too long till he found out that the cute girl named Mikan was actually a guy. A really cute guy. His straight, medium-length dark blue hair could be worn on any girl and make them look pretty. It was quite unfortunate that he had a pretty face.
It wasn't much later till he found out that this lackey of Haru's was an Esper.
Espers joining gangs and syndicates... That wasn't unheard of. The government forbids liberal use of their abilities within occupations, so they had the choice to either use it secretly or illegally. Or to not use it at all.
And the Priority 5 Esper named Mikan had sworn allegiance to the leader of the gang called the Daemon Triad. Mentioning his girly name struck fear upon other gangs. If all of them had guns, Mikan would be a tank. He was Haru's trump card.
Creeping forward to Shin, Mikan pulled his fist back, not saying a word.
"Uh... We can talk this out, right?" It was too late for Shin to have regrets.
Energy Generation. That was the ability that Mikan was said to have. He could create any form of energy from any part of his body. The one downside is that he couldn't control the energy at all. Not that he needed to.
Releasing kinetic energy from his fist, he punched Shin straight in the gut with a force akin to that of a speeding truck. The impact from the blow caused the concrete wall Shin leaned on to crack. Worst off, Shin could feel the organs in his body crushed to bits, his spine broken to pieces.
"Cahck!" His throaty cough was followed by blood seeping down his lips.
An ordinary person would be dead by such an attack.
But he knew he would survive. He would always survive.
However, having to endure something like this, he just wished he could die from it instead.
Mikan and Haru. Just mentioning their names gave him headaches. Quite unfortunate that the one person who always pestered and nagged him every chance she gets had a name that was basically a portmanteau of the two.
Miharu. Her name gave him headaches.
"Good afternoon, Ms. Karin."
Marcello was quite a handsome man. His charm point was his goatee, which seems to have been groomed carefully. He gave off a chauvinistic, mature vibe, and from look he was giving her, Rin could tell he was definitely some sort of player.
Reaching his hand out over the office table, he gestured for a handshake. To avoid rudeness, Rin shook said hand and immediately, she could hear what he was thinking.
"Such smooth and slender hands! High school girls are the best!"
She immediately took her hand back.
"Sit down." He tugged at his lab coat as he threw himself on the swivelling chair. "Let's cut to the chase, what do you do?"
Rin cautiously sat on the leather chair. "I read minds."
"FUCK!" Marcello shrieked like a little girl, covering his face. "Y-You're hearing what I'm thinking?! It's not what you think! Don't call the cops on me!"
Now she really felt uncomfortable. "U-Uhm... I can only do it when I'm in contact with the person in question." She shot a glare at him. "And yes, I did hear what you were thinking when we shook hands."
Coughing, the professor, swivelled the chair around, facing the large windows that gave a view of the cityscapes. "Let's keep this professional. And don't mention any of that to anyone. Please." He turned the chair to face his computer. "So, telepathy is what you do?"
"With a restriction."
"Then call that restriction a godsend." He stated as he started typing. "Telepaths... All of the ones we've identified have committed suicide." His tone grew serious. "I suppose it's because they keep hearing the thoughts of everyone around them. Imagine that, voices speaking in your head without an end." He stared at Rin. "I don't think you'd be able to sleep at night."
Marcello stroked his goatee, caressing it like a beloved pet. "Can you implant thoughts into other people?"
She shook her head.
"Consider yourself fortunate, then." His fingers clicked on the keys like a bullets flying out of a machine gun. "If you could, I'd have no choice but to put you under Priority 1. People who can control the will of others are extremely dangerous. You recall the Scarlet King War ten years ago, no?"
Rin bit her lip and looked to the floor. "Of course."
"Japan was violating one of the treaties by producing an orbital WMD. The UN intervened, but all they faced was retaliation." Marcello stopped typing and leaned his cheek into his palm. "Of course, that meant a declaration of war. But, during the operation, they discovered that it was really the handiwork of a terrorist organization composed entirely of Espers."
"The Scarlet King Army." Rin muttered. "I know, I was quite invested on the articles regarding that as a child."
"The Scarlet King's already captured and detained, so there's not much to worry about..." He clasped his hands. "But the Japanese government and military was completely under their control. We suspect that there was a telepath behind that. Worst of all, we've yet to identify that telepath. He could still be roaming around right under our noses."
Her hands started to shake. "I... see. That's rather... scary."
"Very." Marcello looked at her intently. "So take care out there." He started using a sympathetic tone. "This place isn't as safe as your hometown, and I'm sure people will fling crap at you if they know you're an Esper. I can't assure your safety but..." He rolled his eyes. "I'm the professor assigned to you. If anything's on your mind, you can talk to me about it."
She didn't have faith in him, but his words seem genuine. "I'll remember that."
"Anyway, I've keyed in the data. Your Esper ID should be ready tomorrow. I've put you under Priority 7." He smirked. "So, come back tomorrow. We need to test the full extent of your capabilities."
"Y-Yes. Thank you." Standing up, she bowed.
"And everything that happened in this room, stays in this room." He pointed at her, eyes narrow. "Don't go telling people about what you heard!"
And so, she left the meeting with a heavy heart. Imagine that, a terrorist who can bend others to his will is still out there somewhere, and no one knows where he is.
Day by day, her new life is looking to be more and more dangerous.
"So, where should we head to now?" Miharu asked as she walked side by side with Rin through the city. "We still got some time, maybe we can go have lunch?"
Rin held her bag against her waist. "We can always stop by the nearest MgRonald's."
She looked down at her figure. "I've been trying to cut my calories lately though. Fast food is really bad for your health."
"Then where do we go?" Rin pouted. "I don't know any good restaurants here."
"Me neither, I don't usually come here for meals." Miharu crossed her arms. "I prefer cooking on my own, quite honestly!"
"Same here!" Her expression brightened. "I cook all the time at home. I especially love baking!"
"Oooh! Then we can have a cook-off! See who's the Iron Chef of New Tokyo!"
The girls heard what sounded like a minor tremor, and it seemed to be coming from the alley on their left.
"What was that...?" Rin turned meek once more.
"... I don't know." Miharu cracked her knuckles. "But we should see what's happening!"
Taking Rin's hand, she ran into the alley.
Terminating Act 3
Running Act 4...
AN: So, gangs, syndicates and terrorists? I haven't even delved into the Mages yet... Yes, there are all sorts of crap that will go down, and a whole lot of different sides.
But for now, it's really just about Shin and Rin and Espers. Mikan and Haru have their own stories to tell, but it won't be shed upon for this arc.
How long will this arc run? I don't know. I was aiming for a quick and instant five chapters, but looks like this would probably go for around thirteen.