Toaru Kagaku no Magician
"Really? You again?", the short-haired girl asked, glaring at Himari. A faint bluish gleam was seen in her eyes.
"'Again'? Y-You know about me?"
Himari seemed unexpectedly happy about that, which irritated Yukiko and Maruo. They hoped that, after being discovered, she would have the modicum of decency to be embarrassed by her behavior.
But it wasn't like that. The blonde girl was looking at the newcomer, almost as if she was somehow deifying her. Who was that girl? For someone as conceited as Himari, who only admired herself, to look at that girl like that, she must be someone very important.
The short-haired girl took a step forward, pointing a finger at Himari. Being so close, the difference in height between the two became more noticeable.
"I see you're not even capable of noticing the noise you're making. I could hear everything you were saying from across the street. You should be ashamed of yourself for behaving like that as a Tokiwadai student."
For some reason, the short-haired girl looked quite annoyed.
"Please, someone like you should be more aware than anyone else of the position of Ability Users over other students, right?", Himari replied, slightly backing away. She seemed to feel a little threatened by the way another student dared to scold her.
"Just because someone doesn't have powers doesn't make them any less than high-level Ability Users", said the newcomer. "It's because of people like you that Skill-Outs are increasing in number. You make all of us who possess powers look bad, and on top of that, you sully the prestigious Tokiwadai name by using the school's status to play princess."
Himari's cheeks turned a shade of pink. The fact that a person from her own school—especially a student she admired so much—was scolding her like that in public caused her a mixture of embarrassment and anger.
"Who do you think the girl is?", Maruo muttered to Yukiko. "From her uniform, she must be from Tokiwadai, too, right?"
Yukiko didn't answer. She wasn't sure who that girl was.
"I-I was just teasing her, haha...", Himari blatantly lied, smoothing her vest with both hands. "Come on, Misaka-sama. You're not defending a couple of such low-level Ability Users, are you?"
M-Misaka?!, Yukiko thought. I know there's a girl named like that in Tokiwadai, but she can't be that Misaka, can she?
"Besides, weren't you about to use your ability against them? I'm sure certain people in Judgment would disapprove of your behavior."
"What?! That boy attacked me first!", Himari shouted, pointing at Maruo. "I have every right to give it back to him!"
"Hmm... I don't remember seeing him attacking you, you know?", said the unknown girl, crossing her arms and making an exaggerated gesture of concentration. "Perhaps you'd better leave immediately. Leave them alone, before you end up further tarnishing Tokiwadai's name. I know a certain dorm warden who would be seriously pissed if she found out what happened here."
The girl kept her serious countenance, holding her right hand to her hip and fixing her gaze on Himari and her entourage.
"Hey, hey, hey, hey. Even though you're well known in Tokiwadai, who do you think you are to give me orders?", Himari snapped at her, finally abandoning all formality and admiration in her tone of voice.
At that moment, the short-haired girl did not respond. Normally she would choose not to interfere in the petty disputes between other students, even if they were from the same school, but in this case, she couldn't let it go. She was tired of seeing how some people looked down on lower-level Ability Users. Add to that the bad day she'd had so far, running all over the city, trying to take her revenge against a certain someone, and her patience was quickly wearing thin.
Without a word, a light blue lightning bolt shot out of her, at the level of her temple, impacting a few centimeters away from Himari with a thunderous noise.
"Eeeeek!", shrieked the group of girls, including the blonde with the twin-tails. The spot where the electric current had hit was covered with a black layer of burnt asphalt.
The short-haired girl stared at Himari and her group, glaring at them. The blonde knew well the power that girl had, and she also knew that had she wanted to, she could have burned her in the blink of an eye. Fearing that the second attack would be aimed directly at her, she turned to her companions:
"Let's-let's go! We're running late anyway."
As they retreated, the unknown girl turned to the duo, who were perplexed by the power she had shown in threatening Himari.
"I'm sorry you had to hear that. She might be a girl with exceptional ability, but she already has a bit of a bad reputation within Tokiwadai for her behavior towards the other students."
"That was incredible! What power! You didn't even have to attack her directly!", Yukiko exclaimed, unable to contain herself in front of one of the high society girls she admired so much. After all, for a few years, it had been her dream to study at Tokiwadai, surrounded by girls of high positions and admirable abilities.
Unfortunately, it was a requirement to be at least a Level 3 Ability User to enter, so she obviously could never study there. However, her admiration for the school only grew when she found out that not one, but two Level 5 girls belonged there.
And of those students, Yukiko had read about one with electrical powers, one who was listed as the third strongest Level 5.
And that girl was...
"A-Are you really... Mikoto Misaka? The Railgun?"
"Ah, I suppose my name precedes me...", the girl replied, scratching her head, feeling slightly uncomfortable. "Pleased to meet you."
"The pleasure is mine! And really, thank you very much for helping us!", Yukiko exclaimed, no longer able to contain her excitement. Her eyes sparkled at the sight of one of her idols so closely, and her hands and legs trembled at the thought of exchanging words with her.
"We really appreciate it", said Maruo, bowing politely. At the sight of him, Yukiko was embarrassed by her lack of manners and, blushing, bowed so sharply that you could almost hear her back crack.
Misaka, on the other hand, seemed to feel self-conscious at receiving such displays of admiration.
"Y-You really don't need to do that. I couldn't let that girl say all those things and get away with it, could I?"
"I'm sorry you went out of your way for us!", Yukiko apologized, bowing again. Maruo, on the other hand, was trying to hold back his laughter at the sight of her.
"It's okay, really. I was heading towards Seventh Mist, but it's not urgent. Besides, that Himari has caused trouble before by attacking students from other schools. This was a chance to put her in her place, at least for now."
"Anyway. I must be going", Misaka said, turning on her heels. "I hope you won't think too badly of Tokiwadai's students after what happened."
"Well, it was a Tokiwadai student who helped us", Maruo replied. "So the last thing we would do would be to think badly of the school's students of that school."
Misaka gave them a smile, waving goodbye. When she was gone, Yukiko looked at her friend, her eyes sparkling with excitement.
"Did you see that?! Mikoto Misaka-sama helped us! And we talked to her!"
"Of course I saw it, I was here the whole time", the boy replied, putting his hands in his pockets and still trying to contain his laughter. "Let's get out of here."
Nodding, Yukiko moved to her friend's side. Despite the commotion of a few minutes ago, they were both slowly returning to that feeling of emptiness. It was impossible to permanently remove them from their worries when, somewhere in that gigantic city, there was their best friend, being chased by Anti-Skill and Judgment.
Moreover, would even Ishiki still be inside Academy City?
Although there were approximately 2.3 million inhabitants in that scientific city, 80% of whom were students, a good portion of them were Ability Users with impressive powers.
And yet, secretly entering or leaving that gigantic laboratory for the development and study of human brain capabilities was virtually impossible. Hundreds of thousands of security robots, Anti-Skills, and Judgment were constantly patrolling, plus there were guards and security cameras scattered around the place, with security being especially tight on the perimeter of the city.
There were even cameras watching from beyond the clouds, set up on satellites that flew over the planet's atmosphere, like a giant divine eye that made sure none of its guinea pigs escaped.
Even if he managed to escape from the Anti-Skills who were looking for him, Ishiki would have to get his hands dirty taking care of any guards that got in the way if he wanted to go beyond the Academy City's boundary and flee to a nearby prefecture, which would make his capture a top priority for the Board of Directors.
It was no secret to any inhabitant of Academy City that the Ability Users were precious study material. The Ability Development Program was, in fact, one of the experiments that put Academy City at the forefront of the world's scientific community. Letting its students, the jewels in that crown, roam free, would give other governments easy access to conduct their own experiments on them, and thus create their own Ability Users.
Thinking of all the bad things that could happen to Ishiki, Yukiko shook her head from side to side aggressively, as if to shake those worries off. No. Kishi-kun would never go to the point of murdering others, even if it was to run away... He must still be in Academy City, hiding, she thought. Besides, given everything he's done against Level 0s so far, maybe he's looking for something...
Then, an idea crossed her mind.
"Maruo, I think I know where Ishiki might be!", Yukiko exclaimed, stopping in her tracks. Noticing it, Maruo stopped as well, watching her in awe.
"Really?! And where do you think he's got to?!"
"You remember what that girl with the twin-tails said in the morning, don't you? The one from Judgment."
"Ah, something about an Ability User attacking the Level 0s?", Maruo inquired, vaguely remembering what Shirai had said in the morning. With everything that had happened and the commotion caused at school, he had forgotten many of the events of that morning.
"Yes, that's right", Yukiko exclaimed. "Kishi-kun would never attack a defenseless Level 0 just for the sake of it! I'm an example myself, aren't I?"
"Well, I'll second that. Whenever he gets in trouble with you, you always end up hitting him, and he's never hit you back", Maruo laughed.
"Exactly! And who are the only Level 0s causing mayhem and attacking Ability Users?"
"You don't mean...?", asked the boy, looking at Yukiko with surprise and a little concern.
"That's exactly my point."
"Skill-Out!", they exclaimed in unison.
"Oh no, this is bad!", said Maruo, holding his hands to his head. "Skill-Out is full of dangerous criminals! Why on earth would Issan want to face them?"
"Do you think it's related to the recent murders?", Yukiko asked, fiddling with her hands nervously.
"If so, we need to find him, and quickly!"
It's true that Issan is powerful, but if he's not willing to murder those criminals he won't stand a chance. He'd be outnumbered, Maruo thought. Besides, with Judgment and Anti-Skill after him, the last thing he needs is to become a murderer on top of everything else.
"Where should we go, Maruo? Kishi-kun might be at risk if he faced a large number of Skill-Outs at once!"
"It must be somewhere where those rats congregate... A place where most of the gangs and subgroups of their organization are."
"And that place has to be... Strange."
"S-Strange? Do we really have to go to that place?", Yukiko asked, feeling nervous.
She'd heard about the place before. Strange was an area full of abandoned buildings, located in School District 10. The place was known to be home to hundreds of gangs and Skill-Out groups. It was an inhospitable place, where anyone who entered—whether an Ability User or not—was risking their life.
"I know the place is dangerous, but Issan is most likely to go there."
"I don't want to go... If we're attacked together, even if it's just one gang, it'll be impossible for us to get out in one piece."
"Listen", Maruo said, grabbing Yukiko by the shoulders. His gray eyes were filled with an infectious determination that showed that, despite the fear he felt, he was determined to take the risk. "I know that place is horrible, and that even with my power it will be very difficult to defend ourselves. But Issan is very important to us, isn't he?"
Yukiko blushed at Maruo's words. Looking away, she was silent for a few seconds before finally nodding.
"Okay. Try not to worry, okay? We'll have our phones ready, and if anything happens, I know we'll be able to defend ourselves long enough for Judgment to get there. Plus, you're a good puncher, I know that from experience", he added, pointing to his cheek and smiling a little.
"I-I'm sorry about that...", muttered Yukiko, feeling rather embarrassed for the impulsiveness she had shown in the morning.
"Bah, don't worry about it. I deserved it at the time. Besides, we have something more important to think about now."
Yukiko nodded again, determined. Following her friend, they both headed towards the infamous School District 10.