Chapter 1:

Chapter One: Elfen Song

Arcadia Zero

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the species that is the most adaptable to change."

-Charles Darwin

Today began just like any other. I woke up late, jumped into my uniform, shoved a piece of toast into my mouth, then went running off to check in at the Harris County Police Department, so I could begin my patrol shift for the day. Well, before I get into all that, I should probably introduce myself. My name is Chizuru Mashiro, I`m 21 years old, and I`m a rookie policewoman in the city of Houston.

I graduated from the Police Academy about a year ago, and since then, my job mainly consisted of writing parking tickets, giving directions, helping old ladies cross the street, and all the other boring, menial tasks of the community that the rest of the force considered themselves too important to handle. So they saddled me with it all. But in the end, I`m just your normal, average, everyday girl.

Or, at least I like to think that. The truth is, I`m a member of a newly divergent evolutionary offshoot of human beings, called Espers. Espers are humans born with supernatural, inhuman powers and the ability to use magic. Decades ago, no one ever heard of Espers, until around the 1980`s, when there was a sudden, rapid rise of children being born possessing supernatural abilities. As the Esper population grew, society had to adapt and accomodate individuals such as myself, but that doesn`t mean everyone was nice about it. In fact, more often than not, members of my kind are deemed as mutants, suffering massive discrimination and prejudice. Many Espers are killed at birth, because they fear us. People believe we Espers will one day outnumber or exterminate humans, and eventually come to take over as Earth`s dominant sentient species.

But that`s just not true, at least for most of us. We don`t want to hurt anyone. We just want to live like normal people. However, there are many times where our abilities do come in handy. That`s why I became a police officer, to help people, protect the peace, and bring criminals to justice. So far, though, the only criminals I`ve been bringing to justice are drunk drivers and jaywalkers. And what would my ability be, you ask? Well, I possess the power of telekinesis, which means I have the power to control and manipulate objects with my mind. I can even shatter glass and cut people with thought alone. That may sound scary, but it`s actually pretty helpful.

Anyway, I patrolled the lower areas of Downtown Houston, within a mile`s proximity of the George R. Brown Convention Center. It was hobo territory, and the occasional hangout spot of crackheads and drug addicts. Not exactly the kind of place you want to be walking in alone at night. I passed through the tent cities, carefully eyeing the homeless population. At the sight of me, they shrunk back and shivered. Some of them even ran and hid. I sighed. Even the most sleazy and unsavory of residents knew not to mess with me, not when I could snap their necks with a single thought. Not that I had ever done that to anyone, but still. When was the mayor supposed to be getting rid of these people? It`s 2017, I thought our society had come much further than this.

After that, I crossed over into the more metropolitan area of Downtown, near the convention center. Nothing seemed too out of order. That is, until I heard a piercing scream. I whipped my head back, my long, wavy brown hair fluttering behind me. On the other side of the street, a woman had been knocked down, and some dirtbag was making off with her purse. God, I couldn`t stand purse snatchers. I mean, are you really that desperate that you`d steal from an unsuspecting lady? It aggravated me to no end.

Swiftly, I went to work. I locked my gaze on the escaping criminal. A sharp, stabbing pain erupted in my head, and my green eyes began to glow a hot, fiery red. The thief was lifted up into the air by an unseen force. He thrashed around, kicking out at thin air to no avail. With a jolt of my fist, the purse was ripped from his hands. To finish him off, I flung my arms, sending him flying into a lightpole.

I raced to the other side of the street and pinned him to the ground, tucking his hands behind his back and applying handcuffs. "Have you learned your lesson yet?" I growled. "Or do you need another lightpole to the face?" The thief didn`t answer. Soon enough, a few other officers showed up to apprehend him and whisk him away. I handed the purse back to its rightful owner. "Here you are, Miss," I said, smiling. "Sorry you had to see that, but someone`s gotta clean up the trash in this city."

The woman smiled weakly in return, taking her purse from my hands. She took a few steps back, looking at me as if I were about to eat her. "T-thank you...Officer," she stuttered, before turning around and taking off at a speed that could be described as one gear below running. Power walking, maybe? Whatever.

Although my telekinetic powers were strong, I had my limits. For one, I can only manipulate things I can see. Whether it`s behind a wall or a door, if it`s not in my eye contact, I can`t move it. I also can`t move things that are much bigger than me. It`s not like I can knock a jet out of the sky with my mind or anything. When I was younger, my telekinesis was much more wild and uncontrollable. My parents had to be extra careful to make sure they kept knives or any other sharp, pointy objects out of my sight. I`ve learned to suppress and quash my power since then. Many doctors and scientists have said that my telekinetic abilities are much stronger than what I normally unleash, but I didn`t know what they meant by that. Simply put, I am a powerful Esper, and I`m subsequently feared for it. But not everyone sees me that way.

I continued my patrol, heading down to Discovery Green, a park that sat right behind the convention center. People passed me, going about their business. I sat down in the shade of a nearby tree, mopping sweat from my forehead. Sun rays beat down on the hot concrete. Summers here were relentless. I would have killed for a milkshake right about now. Okay, not really. Some people take my jokes a little too seriously. Then, I caught the faint sound of a child crying. My ears pricked up.

I glanced to the side, where a little girl was hunched over beneath a tree, sobbing. My maternal instincts kicked in. I approached her and asked, "Hey, what`s wrong?" The girl flinched at my sudden appearance, then pointed up to the tree. A tiny, cream-colored kitten was stuck between the high branches. "Neko-chan ran away from home," the girl sniffled. "I tried to find her, but she got stuck in the tree, and I can`t reach her..."

I gently patted her head. "Don`t cry, it`s okay. I`ll get her down for you." She wiped her eyes. "You aren`t going to hurt her, are you?" I shook my head. "Of course not." I gazed up at the kitten, feeling the stabbing sensation as my eyes glowed crimson. The pint-sized cat was raised into midair, then slowly lowered down, right into the little girl`s arms. "See?" I said. "All safe now!"

The girl`s eyes lit up. "Neko-chan! Thank you so much! You must be an Esper, that was so cool! I wish I could do that! My parents always tell me that I should stay away from Espers, because they`re mean and scary and can hurt people. But you don`t seem mean or scary at all. You`re like...a magician! Thank you for saving Neko-chan!" I grinned. "You`re welcome. It`s my pleasure. Now, be sure to keep a closer eye on Neko-chan, you don`t want her running away again." She nodded firmly. "I will! I`ll take her home right now!"

I watched as the little girl spun around and ran off to return home. It was nice to encounter someone who didn`t think of me as a monster. In those kinds of situations, my telekinesis was actually quite useful. Even though I hoped for a more thrilling time taking this career choice, I wouldn`t trade it for anything else. I was helping others, and I knew that one day, the higher-ups at the station would recognize my prowess, and promote me to something even better. Like a detective, maybe.

My stomach started growling. Another thing about Espers was that their powers took a heavy toll on their bodies, so they needed to sleep and eat a lot more to keep up their supply. I had done neither. I got up in a hurry that morning because I stayed up too late watching anime, as I often do. That one piece of unbuttered toast I shoved down my gullet before I ran out the door just wasn`t cutting it. I didn`t have to go back to the station yet, so I decided to stop by the Broken Heroes Cafe for lunch.

The bells dangling from the door jingled as I made my way inside. The Broken Heroes Cafe was one of the few traditional, retro, 50`s-style diners left in Houston, and it was a popular hangout spot for veterans, military personnel, and you guessed it- cops. A man with long, tangled red hair and a matching beard stood behind the counter, wiping out shot glasses. He turned to me, then pushed his thick-framed spectacles up and said, "Hey there, Chizuru! Here for lunch again today? I was gettin` a little worried when I didn`t see ya here for breakfast. You usually show up every morning."

I went up to the counter and sat down, brushing dust from my pleated black skirt. I buttoned up my white blouse and pulled up my ebony stockings. "Well, I kinda slept in. Stayed up too late...again." He nodded. "Yeah, I know that feeling. So, what`ll it be?" I yawned loudly. The fatigue was really getting to me now. "Uhh...just some apple pie. I mean, like a whole apple pie, with whipped cream and stuff. I`m starving."

The redhead chuckled. "Wouldn`t expect any less from ya. You Espers and your big appetites, you`re gonna eat me out of house and home!" He went off to prepare my meal. The redheaded man was known around here as Beard, but his real name was Charlie. He was a friend of my father`s, and a police officer as well. Unfortunately, he got shot during a shootout, and his injuries were too severe for him to be allowed back on the force. He was discharged, and he`s been working at this cafe ever since. He didn`t really seem to mind, though.

I swear, nothing could break this guy. His own wife and unborn child died in labor when I was small, but when he was around me, he always kept a smile on his face. No matter what happened to him, he never let it get him down. I wished I could have been as resilient as him. He was the one who taught me to control my powers and use them to help others. He even managed to work out a deal to get me into the Police Academy. Charlie pretty much got me where I am now. He was like a father to me, even more than my real father. My parents were never that fond of me. They even regretted not getting rid of me before I was born, since I was the 'destruction of mankind,' like most Espers were labeled as. But Charlie didn`t see me that way. He was one of the few people who was never afraid of me.

Charlie returned with a whipped cream-topped apple pie in tow. "Here you are," he said. I quickly snatched it up and grabbed my fork, stabbing whole pieces and devouring them. "Have you heard about the Arcadia murders, Chizuru?" he asked. I nodded. "Yeah, there was a bunch last month. The detectives still haven`t caught any suspects."

"Well, there`s been more," Charlie said. "They discovered another body today, by the sewers." The pie almost fell out of my mouth. "Today? They didn`t tell me anything about that." The bearded redhead nodded. "Pretty gruesome, from what I`ve heard on the news. The victim`s throat was slit, his body was drained of blood, and he was buck naked when they found him. Not a scrap of clothes on him. The killer carved 'Arcadia' into his chest with a knife. Some evil stuff, I`ll tell you. If I were in my younger years, I`d track down all those Arcadia bastards."

Arcadia, from what I knew, was a terrorist organization supposedly dedicated to establishing equality for Espers. They appeared around a year ago, and left a trail of blood in their wake. Bizarre, random murders occurred out of nowhere, and they were deemed as the culprits, since they always left a calling card by carving 'Arcadia' onto their victims. So far, about 30 people had been murdered by then, and the rogue organization showed no signs of stopping.

I wanted to do something, but whenever I tried to take the cases, my supervisor, Detective Jarvis, always stopped me, saying I wasn`t experienced enough to take on homicides. But I knew he was lying. He just didn`t want me to hog his glory or something. I was convinced he hated me. He didn`t even want to hire me. Charlie had to bribe him to do it. As for Arcadia, they were the definition of pure evil. While they claimed to have noble goals, their actions didn`t reflect that, especially when even Espers ended up dead as well. Now, I`m all for Esper equality, but this was no way to go about it. Like Charlie, I`d hunt them down if I could, but all the legal red tape I was tangled in made that impossible.

I finished up my meal and handed over the payment to Charlie. He put his hand up. "Don`t worry about it. For today, you don`t owe me a thing." I blushed. "Thanks, can`t keep giving food away for free, you know. I`m not that special." Charlie laughed, but in a strange, almost sad way. "Ehh, I`ll let it slide for you. No need to thank me, kid. It`s on the house. You`d have done the same for me, right?" I nodded slowly, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. "Yeah, I probably would. Thanks, Charlie."

Just then, my radio crackled to life, spewing static. "Officer Mashiro, come in." I picked up. "Officer Mashiro here, what`s the situation? Another purse thief?"

"No," the voice replied. "There`s an Esper rampaging on Louisiana Street. Assistance is needed immediately." I sighed. "Oh, God, not this again." I bolted out of the Broken Heroes Cafe and made my way back Downtown. My long, curled brown hair whipped in the wind as my heeled shoes clattered across the hot concrete. Although we Espers just wanted to be treated like everyone else, not all of them acted that way. Sometimes I didn`t blame the humans for being afraid of us, especially when crap like this happened.

An earthquake-like tremor rippled through the ground, stopping me in my tracks. I looked up to witness a lightpost sailing through the air. It hit the ground with an enormous crash. I rolled my eyes. Rintarou Natsuki was at it again. I rushed toward the source of the flying lightpole, only to be stopped in my tracks by a flood of fleeing civilians. Everyone was screaming and running away in a panic.

After the crowd dispersed, a mess of street signs, trash cans, guardrails, and other refuse littered the street, twisted beyond recognition. And in the middle of it all was a tall, lithe man in a customized police uniform that consisted of a black waistcoat over a white dress shirt, with black trousers. He had short, choppy blonde hair and sharp, pinkish-red lupine eyes. His great chest heaved in and out, and he clutched a twisted stop sign in his right hand. Yup, it was him all right.

Officer Rintarou Natsuki was known as one of Houston`s strongest Espers, and the most feared officer in the Harris County Police Department. For good reason, too, since his ability was monstrous, inhuman strength, coupled with an extremely short, red-hot temper. He could rip a lightpost from the ground and bend it in half with his bare hands. It wouldn`t even take much effort.

I didn`t see him too often, since he worked in a different district than me, but when I did come across him, it was usually because I needed to appease his rampages, like now.

Here`s a public service announcement for all of you civilians out there. If you happen to encounter Rintarou Natsuki, like in a parking lot or the dark alley where you buy your meth, don`t hesitate to run from him. Like, really fast. Because if you do see him, he`s probably ticked off, hungry, hasn`t had his coffee yet, or all three. And if he pulls you over for a traffic stop, there better not be any drugs in your car.

Unfortunately, this poor schmuck didn`t get that memo. The blonde officer spun around to face the person he had pulled over, who looked tiny compared to him. Rintarou could easily squash him like a bug. "You`ve gone and made me resort to violence," Rintarou growled. "If you just told me the truth and complied before, this wouldn`t be happening, now would it?" The man quivered all over. "N-no...I guess not. I-I`m sorry, Officer..."

Rintarou clenched his teeth, driving his fist into the roof of the man`s car, leaving a crater-shaped gouge. He took police brutality to a whole new level. "You`re damn right! Now what about the bag of coke and weed I found in your car?! You think it`s cool to do drugs and drive!?"

I couldn`t watch this any longer. I drew my pistol and snapped, "That`s enough, Officer Natsuki! Back away!" Rintarou tilted his head. "You again," he snarled. "Chizuru Mashiro. Why can`t you just leave me alone and let me do my job?! This dirtbag here was high as a kite when I pulled him over! He even had his drugs in plain sight!" I leveled my gun at his chest. "Look, I don`t care if he had a crate of crystal meth in the backseat, you don`t do things like this! Who do you think is going to pay for the thousands of dollars in property damage you caused!? Now stand down, Officer Natsuki!"

He didn`t look like he was in the mood for standing down. "I`ve had about enough of you," he rumbled. "I`ll crush you right here and now, woman!" He swiped up the stop sign he had ripped from the ground and flung it at me like a javelin. I ducked and rolled over as the sign sailed past me, hitting the street with a clatter. I stood up, my eyes shining red as I lifted a stray piece of twisted metal into midair. I wasn`t planning to kill him, of course, just incapacitate him. That would be no easy task. "Right back at you!" I snapped, sending the sharp metal piece flying at him.

Rintarou simply raised his forearms, and that was enough to stop my projectile. It just bounced off of his sleeves. "You`ve gotten soft, Chizuru. You were much more skilled the last time we dueled!" I rolled my eyes. "Seriously? What do you think this is, a video game?" Rintarou`s eyes glowed like hot coals as he latched onto a guardrail with both hands, tearing it from the concrete in a single tug.

I think I peed a little. "Oh, crap." I holstered my pistol, then went for my stun gun. If I could get in close, out of his striking range, I could crank up this baby to full blast and send a million-volt shock into his body. Officer Natsuki`s eyes still gleamed hot-red as he raised the steel guardrail high over his head. "Ready to get crushed, little mouse?!" I was not. I leapt out of his path just as the guardrail came slamming down into the street. I had to do something to distract him. I used my telekinesis to pick up a few loose street signs and fling them at Rintarou, just so he`d have to deflect. He held up the iron guardrail, using it as a shield to block the flying projectiles.

Meanwhile, he didn`t notice me zipping in from the side, brandishing my crackling stun gun. I drove it directly into his stomach, unleashing millions of coursing volts into him. It did absolutely nothing. My jaw dropped. "Wha-what?! But it worked last time!" Rintarou grinned. "Sorry, but unlike you, I`ve gotten much stronger since our last encounter!" I got no chance to react before his boot struck my chest, and I was knocked into the side of a car. The impact left a huge indentation in the door. I gasped out, the air smashed from my lungs. I flopped over, coughing.

My body was stricken by a mix of utter shock and deadening numbness.

The blonde`s towering shadow cast over me. I looked up. "O-Officer Natsuki...can`t we just talk this over?" I asked sheepishly. He flashed a wicked grin. "Yeah, when they have to peel you off the pavement!" Before he could dispatch me, I leapt to my feet and bolted off like a frightened rabbit. By then, he had already swung down his improvised weapon, smashing the poor car in two.

It got stuck between the sandwiched steel when he tried to pull it up.

My red eyes gleamed. Now I had my chance. I dove down into my belt and whipped out a high-powered tranquilizer pistol. The juice in this thing could take down an elephant, so it should be able to bring this blonde-haired brute to his knees as well. I didn`t hesitate. I aimed for his neck and squeezed the trigger, unleashing a liquid-filled dart. It stuck in his throat and pumped its venom into his veins. Rintarou snarled. "Why, you-"

He didn`t get to finish. In less than three seconds, he collapsed, knocked unconscious by the tranquilizer. I holstered the pistol, huffing. "Sweet dreams." By the end of the day, some backup officers showed up to drag Rintarou off to the station, where he was temporarily jailed in an electrified cell inside Detective Jarvis`s office. I expected to be hailed as a hero for ending the brutish Esper`s rampage, but things didn`t work out that way. Instead, I got summoned to Detective Jarvis myself.

I sat at the desk in front of him. "Come on, what crawled up your ass now? I stopped Natsuki, what more do you want from me?" Jarvis glared at me, scratching his scruffy chin. He was a muscular, stocky man who was twice my size, but it wasn`t like that really mattered. I could toss him across the room if I wanted to. If I wanted to lose my job. But for some reason, those rules didn`t apply to Rintarou.

He had cost the department thousands of dollars in injuries and property damage on several occasions over his three-year career, but he always got off with nothing but a few strong words and a slap on the wrist. As an Esper, I guessed he was pretty useful to the force, since he could do almost anything with his immense strength, and I assumed that was the only reason he hadn`t been locked up by now. That, and the fact that they`d rather swallow some collateral damage than end up on this guy`s shit list.

He woke up, growling like a hungry beast. "What is this?!" He grabbed the cell bars, only to get flung across the cell by an electric shock. "Oww..."

"That`s quite enough, Officer Natsuki," Jarvis said. "I`ve grown very tired of your antics, you two. Your childish games have cost us thousands of taxpayer dollars."

"Hey, what`d I do?!" I snapped. "I`m the one who stopped him! If I hadn`t, he probably would`ve went all Godzilla and started trampling buildings or something!" Rintarou scoffed. "Hey, I`m not that big, you know."

"Quiet, both of you," Jarvis hissed. "As your supervisor, it is my duty to keep a watchful eye on every officer under me, and you two are giving me a very bad reputation. I`ve been drowning in these stupid Arcadia cases, and your skirmishes aren`t helping."

"I can take one of those cases," I pouted. "No, you can`t," Jarvis said. "You`re a rookie cop. Even if you`re an Esper, it`s way out of your league. You`d need at least three years of experience under your belt before I`d even think of letting you do my job. And this little incident did not help that." He swiped a remote off the desk and pressed the button, allowing Rintarou`s cell door to open. "Natsuki, get out here and sit beside Mashiro. I have a proposal for you two." Rintarou growled. "Whatever."

He strolled out of his cell and plopped down in the chair next to me. I gulped. "So, what is it now, Detective?" he asked. Detective Jarvis cleared his throat. "Well, I`ve looked over your profiles, and I`ve made a decision. I have decided that you and Chizuru will work together as partners, to keep an eye on each other and make sure neither of you go wild and start making a ruckus across Houston. It`s the safest method I could think of. Chizuru, you`re the only Esper in the force capable of standing up to Rintarou`s power, so I thought having you as his partner might keep his...anger in check."

My eyes nearly burst from my head. "Are...are you kidding me?! I have to be stuck with this monster!? Now everyone`s going to hate me even more! I don`t want to babysit him!" Rintarou snorted. "Jeez, thanks for the self-esteem kick in the nuts there, Chizuru."

"I don`t care what you want," Jarvis retorted. "This is the best thing I can do to make sure this never happens again. If Natsuki goes on another rampage, someone could end up dead, and I do not want to be held responsible for that. Last thing I need is to be scraping some poor soul off the bottom of a vending machine. So, stop acting like children. From now on, Officer Chizuru Mashiro and Officer Rintarou Natsuki, you are partners in training, and you will have no objections. Do I make myself clear?"

Rintarou and I looked at each other, exchanging evil eyes. We both then turned to Jarvis and said, "Yes, Sir. Clear as day." 

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