Toaru Kagaku no Magician
"'...So, please, if you have information leading to the capture of Ishiki Kōrihi, the main suspect of multiple Level 0 assaults and attempted murder against Judgment and Anti-Skill personnel, notify any authorities.", read Yukiko aloud.
It had been about two hours since those Judgment girls evacuated Kurumizawa Academy after the sudden earthquake that morning. On many screens in Academy City, in addition to the typical advertisements for cosmetic products and new food, that message now appeared every so often, accompanied by a picture of Ishiki.
While Yukiko and Maruo were stunned to see their best friend become a wanted criminal, no one was more shocked and hurt than their teacher, Kuroe. Upon learning who had tried to end the lives of the authorities who rounded him up, not caring in the slightest about the collateral damage it would cause to the school building and those inside it, her heart broke.
They still remembered the woman's words as several Anti-Skill members approached to question her. "The class is over. Go home, and be careful", was all she said before retreating without another word.
None of her students knew her as well as Yukiko and Maruo, who had been friends with her younger brother since they were in preschool. They knew very well that when Kuroe spoke little or not at all, it meant she was either too angry or too hurt, and they weren't too sure if the woman was angry at the moment.
"Why do you think Ishiki decided to go to such lengths against Judgment...? No. Why do you think he even started committing those crimes in the first place?"
"I'm not sure... I know he constantly had scars from blows or cuts, but I never thought he started the fights."
Although it was just noon in the middle of summer and the sun was shining directly on the streets crowded with students, Yukiko and Maruo felt no warmth at all. The pain they felt, added to the fear that they might never see their friend again, froze their hearts with a cold that spread throughout their nervous system, as if it sought to freeze their souls as well.
Why would he attack Level 0s? wondered Maruo. He was afraid to ask his question out loud, as he didn't want to remind Yukiko of what, deep down, troubled her. The fact that someone so important to her would attack those who were similar to her must be difficult information to digest.
"You know, I don't think he attacked those Level 0s without a reason...", said Yukiko, as if she could read her partner's mind to answer the question he was afraid to say. "He's not that kind of person. He would never attack someone if he didn't have a reason to, don't you think?"
"Well, that I agree with... Although all of this just leaves more questions than answers."
They both remembered those situations in the past where Ishiki, even before the human experimentation that would have granted him his Alter Base, would throw himself into fighting whoever he considered a bad person, not caring about the trouble he might get into with other people for the sheer amount of fights and arguments he would get into.
Ishiki, you're an idiot! You should have trusted us..., Maruo thought, clenching his fists. He felt hurt. Not only because his friend was a criminal, but because he was sure he had a reason to have acted that way, something of force majeure that made him feel that committing a crime was the only way to solve something. He had the feeling that they could have helped him, or even just supported him, if only he had trusted them.
"I think we should look for him", Yukiko proposed, "We have to find him and make him explain why—Ah!"
The girl fell backward. She had bumped into someone who was just coming out of a café near the sidewalk they were walking on.
"Are you blind, you idiot!?", shouted the person Yukiko had collided with.
She had blonde hair, tied in two elegant pigtails on either side of her head. Her dark purple eyes looked at Yukiko in a disdainful manner. Her uniform, neat and perfectly pressed, consisted of a dark grey pleated skirt, a white short-sleeved shirt, and a stylish light brown wool vest, with a small red crest sewn on the left side of the chest.
It was the uniform of one of the most prestigious schools in Academy City, reserved only for girls with powers of Level 3 or higher. The legendary middle school attended by not one, but two of the seven Level 5s, the highest level an Ability User could aspire to.
It was the uniform of Tokiwadai Middle School.
"Well, well. Who do we have here?", said the girl, smirking and taking a closer look at Yukiko, "Aren't you that common Level 0 who claims to be proud of being one?"
The girls accompanying her let out a laugh, directing the same looks of contempt at Yukiko.
Though no one knew better than her that this "pride" was just to hide her own inferiority complex, the tone in which the girl pointed it out made her blood boil with the anger it caused her.
"I see you haven't changed a bit, Misuzu", said Yukiko, getting up from the floor and shaking the dirt off her skirt. "You're still as arrogant up as ever."
Himari Misuzu and Yukiko had known each other since elementary school when they were both in first and fourth grade respectively. Even back then, Himari had proven to be an arrogant person, solely because she had developed her powers faster than other children. She had a special disdain for those who had fallen behind, such as children older than her who not only hadn't developed any powers but had been dismissed as potential subjects of study due to what she called "lack of talent".
"Oh, didn't they teach you any manners?", Himari said, raising her gaze to meet Yukiko's. Now that they were both standing, the difference in height between the two girls was noticeable. "Level 0 servants must call the aristocracy using a '-sama'. Go on, say it: 'Misuzu-sama, forgive me for being a poor fool and tripping over you. If only I had power, I might have been able to foresee that you were going to leave the cafeteria'."
Yukiko clenched her fists. Her face was deep red, the result of the mixture of anger and embarrassment she felt at the girl's words. She would have punched Himari if Maruo hadn't come between them.
"Apologize", he said, glaring at Himari. He was so tall that the girl barely reached his chest, having to look up to address him.
"Wow, I see you're hanging out with this delinquent again like he's your bodyguard. I didn't know someone like you had the income to be able to pay for his services, Yukiko-chan. Oh! Maybe you're paying him in other ways?"
Both Himari and her friends began to laugh so loudly and so inelegantly that, if it weren't for their uniforms, no one would have thought they even belonged to such a prestigious girls' school as Tokiwadai. Some passers-by stared at them, hurrying or even turning to the sidewalk in front of them.
Then, Himari was violently thrown backward, colliding with her entourage of friends. The four girls fell to the ground, wondering what had just happened.
Standing up quickly, her hair tousled and red with anger, the blonde girl shouted, dropping her haughtiness and derision:
"How dare you! Hit such a high-class girl with your filthy hands!"
The vest of her uniform was quite wrinkled, forming a sort of circular mark with the fabric at the level of her abdomen. It was the spot where Maruo had exerted his Aero Hand to eject her towards her friends as if she was a human bullet.
"Apologize to Yukiko", Maruo repeated. "She may be a Level 0, but there's no doubt in my mind that she's worth a lot more as a person than you or any of your flock of sheeple, Goldilocks."
Himari's face reddened even more when she heard that nickname. Some of her friends tried to hold back their laughter, though they quickly became furious when they remembered that he had just called them "sheep".
"So a common Level 2 and a stupid Level 0 refuse to kneel down and beg for forgiveness from an Ability User of far higher rank? Ha! I'll show you what happens when the serfdom rebels against the aristocracy."
The girl's eyes began to glow, emitting a golden light. She was about to pounce on the duo of friends when another person stepped between them.
"Stop it!", said another female voice.
A girl, wearing the same uniform as Himari, was watching her angrily. She had short, light brown hair, from which a few sparks of blue light were emitted that were enough to make the group of frightened girls back away.