Chapter 1:

Chapter One: The Monochrome City

Arcadia Zero: Paradise Lost

It was happening again. I had seen this place before. I stood in the center of a white-walled hallway, the icy tile floor beneath my bare feet. Locks of wavy, chestnut-brown hair tumbled over my shoulders, while I was clad in a plain, yet elegant white gown. My green eyes flashed, gaining a hint of red for a split-second. The bloody color quickly faded, but that fraction of a second told me all I needed to know. I was not alone here. An Esper`s aura was in this place.

Cockroaches skittered past me as I walked foward, the dim, reddish lights above flickering with every step. My feet were soundless across the floor. Silence bombarded me. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my own diligent breathing. I headed to a single door at the end of the corridor. Without thought, I opened it. A room painted entirely in red spread before me, and someone was there to greet me.

A young girl, around 14, sat in a single red armchair. The color of her flowing white dress and pale, corpse-like complexion clashed against the dominant crimson color scheme. A waterfall of wavy, snow-white hair cascaded over her shoulders. She had her pale, skinny arms folded in her lap, and her feet were bare, save for a crescent moon anklet clipped around her ankle. She regarded me with steady, unwavering brown eyes. "Oh, and who do we have here?" She spoke in a hushed, yet strangely polite tone.

I stared at her. Memories flooded my subconscious. "We...we`ve met before, haven`t we?" She nodded. "Yes, we have. I`m glad you remember. I am Lynn, Queen of the Moon, and Mother of the Espers. I know you, too. Look at my face. This isn`t the first time we`ve met...Chizuru Mashiro. Isn`t that right?"

"Why are you here?" I asked. "What do you want from me? And who are you, really?" Lynn`s gaze was as cold as ice. "Do you want me to reveal who I am? If I did that, I would have to reveal who you are as well. Knowing oneself means acknowledging one`s actions. I don`t think you`re quite ready to handle that yet. As for me...I`m the opposite of why you`ve fought Arcadia all this time.

I`m something you will never understand. And I believe we should probably keep it that way...for now, that is. Tell me, do you like hurting other people?"

My jaw dropped. I found myself speechless. "Of...of course not! What are you trying to say?! Who do you think I am!? I`m not some monster!" Lynn peered up. "Oh, is that so? Is that why you killed Isaiah Akane with such mindless, merciless brutality? Your vectors crushed him to death. I can`t imagine he died a painless death, either. You`ve awakened fully as an Esper, and you`ve even summoned your Psycho Blade. How can you say you don`t take pleasure in what you do?"

I clenched my fists. A single tear dripped from my eye. "Don`t...don`t you dare bring him up. You know damn well I didn`t want to do that. I had no choice. If I didn`t kill him, he would have killed so many others. But I was so angry...I couldn`t control myself. That wasn`t my fault, so stop talking like it is! I didn`t enjoy what I did to him at all!" Lynn tilted her head. "Oh, did I strike a nerve? I apologize. I am simply speaking the truth. You can`t keep running away from your instincts, you know. Isaiah Akane`s death was only the tip of the iceberg. You are powerful, Chizuru, more powerful than you even understand. How can you keep denying who you really are?"

"Shut up!" I snapped. "You don`t know a damn thing about me, so shut up! If you`re just going to sit there and judge me, then why are you even here?! What are you trying to tell me!?" A gentle sigh escaped Lynn`s lips. "You`ll figure it out, in due time. For now, I`m just giving you a warning. You`re heading the wrong way. At best, you`ll end up dead. And yet, you yell at me like I`m the one to blame. You`re ignorant like a child. I wish we could have met under different circumstances, but this is just how it is. Soon enough, you will learn to see the true reality with your own eyes."

I couldn`t contain my bottled-up rage any longer. I lunged foward and grabbed Lynn, wrapping my hands around her thin, pale neck. I squeezed hard, pressing deep into her cold skin. I expected her to struggle, but she just looked up at me with a wide, psychotic smile. "We`ll meet again, Chizuru Mashiro."

A sharp pain in my head roused me out of sleep. I shot upright, tossing aside the blankets, nearly falling out of bed in my frenzied wakeup. Beads of sweat rolled down my skin. I gasped for breath. Rays of morning sunlight shined through the gaps in the blinds, casting down on the bed. I squinted, rubbing sleep out of my tired eyes. It was all just a horrible nightmare. But it felt so real. This wasn`t the first time I`d seen that girl, in that same place. So she wasn`t a figment of Isaiah Akane`s imagination. Maybe she was a figment of my own.

I didn`t have time to sit in bed and ponder it. I had to get to work. My patrol shift was coming up soon. I got cleaned up and slipped into my police uniform, an outfit with a pleated black skirt, a frilled white blouse, and thigh-high ebony stockings. I clipped my badge to my collar. After I nervously forced down a breakfast of toast and eggs, I rushed out of my apartment and headed out into the bustling city streets of Houston.

Six months had passed since the incident with Isaiah Akane and the solar eclipse. Most of the state was in total chaos at the time. Many Espers were driven mad by the sheer power of the eclipse and went on rampages, leaving destruction in their wake. That eclipse did something to me as well. I think it granted me the power to use my Psycho Blade, but I haven`t been able to summon it since then. I could stand under a pounding waterfall and will up enough concentration to put a Tibetan monk to shame, but the glass sword and white gown would never appear to me.

Meanwhile, my partner, Rintarou Natsuki, and I were allowed back on the force to restore order thanks to the Espers that had gone nuts that day. It was a scary situation, since it was happening all over America, and full martial law was declared for the first time since the Civil War. It took about a month, and the entire country was in civil unrest, but we eventually got things back to some semblance of normality.

The solar eclipse was remarkable in itself, since it had been the first eclipse to occur over the country in almost 100 years, and Texas just happened to be in the direct line of totality, making it even more astronomical. It was also the longest eclipse ever recorded in history, lasting for a full hour. No one could explain it, and now most people, including myself, spent much of the last six months trying to forget about it. I thought things had finally settled down by now, and they had, in a way. Until today.

On the way to the station, I stopped by the Broken Heroes Cafe to pick up some coffee. An older man with long, messy red hair and a matching beard greeted me at the counter. "Morning, Chizuru! What`ll it be today?"

"Ehh, just three coffees," I replied. "Don`t have enough money for another one. My wallet`s been a little thin lately. Economy`s rough, you know." After Charlie handed over the coffee, he gave me an extra one. "That one`s for you. It`s on the house." I smiled. "Thanks, Charlie." I wished I could have stayed there all day. Places like this felt so relaxing to me. I especially loved the smell of coffee. So nice.

But I couldn`t stay forever. I needed to get moving. I checked in at the Harris County Police Department, expecting to get an earful from Detective Jarvis for being late or something. Thankfully, he didn`t show up for work today. One of the other officers told me his wife got sick, and he had to stay home to tend to her. I guessed even a hardass like him cared about his family.

Hanako Suguwara and Takumi Tanaka were in the investigations room, sorting through old files and police reports. "Good morning, Chizuru," Hanako peeped, in her soft, mousey tone. She brushed back her long purple hair and pushed a stack of manila folders up onto a shelf. "Morning, Hanako," I said, setting the tray of coffee down on the desk. "I brought Starbucks for everyone."

"Oh, hell yeah," Takumi piped up. He grabbed one of the coffee cups and gulped it down. "You don`t know how much I needed that. The raiding was brutal last night. I did get a lot of cool weapons out of it, though, so it was worth the all-nighter." Dark bags hung under his eyes, and his spiky blue hair was incredibly matted, indicating that he`d probably spent most of last night playing online video games. For someone who had a part-time job at the Department and attended college classes after that, it was pretty irresponsible. But I wasn`t one to judge. I`d pulled my fair share of all-nighters marathoning the latest anime series.

I sighed lowly, taking a sip of coffee. "Hey, where`s Rintarou? He should be here by now, don`t you think?" Hanako shook her head. "I don`t know. I texted him before I left this morning. It`s not like him to be late." Just then, a colossal crash echoed from downstairs, making the floor rattle. I rolled my eyes. "Speak of the devil."

The door was flung open, and the blonde-haired, red-eyed, waistcoat-clad Esper officer charged through like a raging bull. As usual, he looked pissed. I almost imagined steam hissing out of his ears. He punched a hole in the wall and let out a roar. "I woke up this morning and you idiots blew up my phone with 27 notifications! And what`s with all the frickin` happy faces?! Who do you think you are, HUH!? I was late thanks to you!"

"Rintarou, calm down," I said. "If you got up late for work, that`s your fault, not ours. We all texted you over a dozen times to get up, so that explains your notification flood." I handed him his coffee. "And you`re paying for the wall, too." Rintarou frowned, seeming to notice the error of his actions. "Crap. I`m sorry." His stomach rumbled. "God, I`m starving."

Now it was just the four of us, Rintarou Natsuki, Hanako Suguwara, Takumi Tanaka, and I, Chizuru Mashiro, the ragtag group of Espers in the Harris County Police Department. At first glance,

we just looked like your friendly everyday law enforcement officers. If you didn`t know who we were, you`d never guess we belonged to a divergent evolutionary subspecies of humans with evolved genes and supernatural abilities. Call them abilities, powers, vectors, PK, whatever you want, our paranormal talents make us who we are, each in different ways.

But you wouldn`t know it just by looking at us. It`s not like we have pink hair or pointy horns or anything. That`s the point. We Espers have blended in so well with humanity that, in a way, we have become humanity. That`s why normal people are so afraid of us, because they believe we will eventually outnumber and replace them. And with powers like ours, I couldn`t blame them for being scared. But we`re police officers, and our job is to uphold our sworn duty to protect the citizens of this city, be they human or Esper.

Work went on as usual that day, as it had for the past six months since the eclipse chaos ended. There had been no sign of Arcadia, no bizarre murders, and no threats of human extinction.

From my view, all of those things counted as huge pluses. I wasn`t eager to repeat the horrific events I had experienced last summer. But just like Lynn told me, I couldn`t keep running from who I really was.

After sorting through the stacks and stacks of police files and autopsy reports, Hanako, Takumi, Rintarou, and I headed out into the city on patrol. For a city this size, things were rather peaceful. Unfortunately, that peace was merely the calm before the storm. Our patrol continued for hours, well into the afternoon, with nothing particularly out of order aside from a few jaywalkers and parking tickets.

Then, the radio dangling from my collar crackled to life. "Come in, Officer Mashiro." I twitched at the sudden noise, quickly grabbing the radio to reply. "Officer Mashiro here, what`s the situation?"

"A civil disturbance has been reported at an apartment complex in the Heights," it answered. "We have reason to believe the perpetrator may be armed. Gunshots have been heard. Assistance is needed immediately." I nodded sharply. "I`m on it." I glanced to the others. "Alright, let`s get a move on." A thrilled grin spread across Rintarou`s face. "Finally, we`ll get to see some action today. I`ve been eager to get to some ass-kicking." He cracked his knuckles, showing his pointed teeth. I shivered a little. Was it any surprise he was the most feared officer on the force?

We followed the address sent to us by the department and headed up to the Heights as quickly as we could. I wouldn`t be surprised if it was just some gangbangers or drug dealers duking it out. It wasn`t all that uncommon, especially in the projects and ghettos like this. We arrived at a ratty apartment complex which didn`t look much better than the near-crackhouse where Takumi lived.

The paint was chipped and peeling, several broken windows had been boarded up, and the doors were falling off the hinges. But we had bigger concerns at the moment than the building`s structural integrity.

A huge crowd of civilians had gathered in the parking lot, pointing up at the second floor and filling the area with indistinct chatter. We pushed our way through the crowd to confront the landlord. "What`s going on here?" I asked. "We received a report of a civil disturbance." The woman`s knees quivered. She could barely speak. "S-someone`s up there. T-they have a gun, and they`ve...killed someone. A person...was killed up there...we heard the gunshots, and of the residents saw blood dripping from the ceiling! T-they`re in...Room 707, on the second floor! have to hurry!"

Rintarou showed the woman a sharp nod. "Don`t worry, we`ll take care of it." He drew his weapon, a Springfield XD, and the rest of us followed suit, even Hanako. While Hanako had always been afraid of guns, she took it upon herself to learn to use one after Isaiah Akane kidnapped her and nearly sold her off to a Mexican druglord. One by one, in single file, we swiftly moved into the apartment complex. I took the lead, taking quick glances around the corners to make sure we weren`t being ambushed. Quickly, yet quietly, we moved up the stairs, scanning the door plates for Room 707.

My eyes caught the number, and we halted beside it, with two of us on each side of the doorframe. It wasn`t a wise idea to be standing right in front of it, especially if this person was armed. They could just shoot through the door and kill one of us. I carefully leaned my arm in and gave a sharp rap. "Harris County Police Department, open the door and surrender now!" Typical, only silence answered us. No criminals ever opened the door for us when we told them to, it was just one of those mandatory cop things that had been drilled into our brains since Police Academy.

Rintarou wasn`t in the mood for being patient. "If you don`t wanna open the door, then I`ll do it for you!" he bellowed. He launched a hard kick, bringing up a plume of dust as the door was blown from its hinges. It didn`t take much effort, even if Rintarou wasn`t using his full strength. We charged in with weapons blazing, and while I expected to find myself staring down the muzzle of a shotgun, that wasn`t the case. The room seemed initially empty. A numbing silence filled the air. I shook my head. "Maybe he already got away." Rintarou growled. "Either that or he`s hiding, waiting for us to get in the line of fire."

"Well, we won`t find out just standing here," Hanako piped up. "Let`s proceed with caution." With movements as swift as a cat`s, we moved into the apartment`s main living room. My nostrils were assailed by the rank stench of rotting blood. I glanced to the side wall, and I nearly threw up. A man was staked to the wall. I`m not even kidding. He had his arms spread out in a crucifixion pose, with glinting silver stakes stabbed through his body and anchored to the sheetrock, holding him in place. Streams of blood slithered down his corpse and dripped to the floor, leaving a red puddle beneath him. His dead eyes were open wide as if in stark terror. I noticed a pistol lying on the floor not far from where he was crucified.

Hanako and Takumi gasped in shock. Even Rintarou looked stunned. "Wha...what the hell? How`d this happen?" I locked my gaze on the blood-soaked pistol. My eyes shined a bright red, and it levitated in midair, floating closer to my face. "Whatever happened to him, I don`t think he was shot. He was the one shooting. I think he was trying to defend himself from whoever did...this."

My skin prickled. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. The others seemed to be on high alert, their eyes the color of burning brimstone. I dropped the bloody pistol. "There`s an Esper here," I said flatly. We Espers had a knack for sensing each other`s auras, even from a far distance. But this Esper`s aura felt overwhelming. I caught the sound of a faint footstep.

I whirled around. I used my telekinesis to tear a stray stake from the man`s body and shoot it off like a rocket. It halted in front of a woman`s thin, pale throat.

Rintarou, Takumi, and Hanako trained their weapons on the mysterious lady. The woman couldn`t have been much older than me, perhaps 25. She looked like a businesswoman, dressed in a yellow skirted suit and black thigh-highs. Her short, jet-black hair was done up in a ponytail with a red ribbon. Her eyes were a dull brown, and her expression was like that of stone. "Who are you?"

I snapped. "Did you kill that man?"

The Esper woman didn`t seem at all fazed by the sheer amount of weaponry being aimed at her, or by the fact that she was surrounded by other Espers. "My name is Juri Hakodate. And yes, I did kill that man. But don`t misunderstand. I did not kill him simply for the pleasure of it. I meted out punishment to someone that the police refused to acknowledge. Therefore, I am truly the innocent one in this situation."

I glared at her. "What are you talking about? What did he do to deserve being staked to the wall?" Juri`s emotionless gaze did not waver. "I killed him out of revenge, of course. He terrorized an innocent young woman- not me, mind you, but a woman nonetheless. He stalked her and followed her everywhere, even threatening to kill her. He was a truly unstable man. He put her through such fear and terror that when I got wind of the situation, I took matters into my own hands. I learned of where he lived, and I removed that human blight from the Earth."

Rintarou stared at her, speechless. "You`re crazy. We`re taking you into custody, Ms. Hakodate." Juri`s brown eyes flared up red. "Oh, really? I think not." It all happened so fast. First, I caught the sound of grating metal. I shuddered. "Get down!" The others dropped to the floor, while I jabbed my palms out, creating a barrier that shielded my teammates and I from an assault of blood-soaked stakes. The victim`s body laid slumped on the floor, mangled beyond recognition. I compressed my telekinetic barrier into a shockwave, flinging the stakes away from me and into the wall.

I whipped my head around to face Juri. "`re a telekinetic like me, aren`t you?" She gave me that same stony gaze. "No, I`m afraid not. I wield the power of ferrokinesis, which allows me to control and manipulate anything made of metal...even the metal in my own body." She clenched her fists, causing curled steel claw-like appendages to erupt from her knuckles. They were more like curled knives emerging from her hands. "Now that you`ve seen my face, I`m afraid I can`t let you live."

She lunged at me with her claws out, ready to stab me. I jumped back and ripped out my gun, firing off a few shots. She avoided them all, deflecting the bullets with a couple swipes of her claws. "You`re strong. I didn`t think you could avoid so many stakes at once on such short notice. Your vectors must have sensed them for you. It`s like you have eyes in the back of your head."

She thrust her claws into the floor, causing every metal object in the room, including the stakes, to levitate in midair. All of them were aimed at me. "Chizuru, watch out!" Takumi shouted.

My body reacted faster than my mind could keep up. Putting my telekinesis to work, I lifted up the coffee table and held it out in front of me just as the barrage of sharp metal came flying. The pointy tips of knives, stakes, and other metal objects poked through the back of the table, inches away from my face. I gulped. I swung my arm and flung the coffee table at Juri, hoping to crush her with it.

She leapt out of its path, dodging at a moment`s notice. She moved like lightning, unleashing a swarm of thin steel wires from her wrists. They moved so fast, I didn`t have enough time to react. They wrapped around my arms and legs, throwing me to the floor. A single wire bound around my neck and pointed its end at my throat. I gasped in shock. The assault took me by pure surprise. "So, this is the feared telekinetic everyone`s so afraid of?" Juri asked. "I`m a bit disappointed. I thought you`d be able to rip me limb from limb with your thought alone. Or maybe you`re just afraid of using your full power. Either way, I expected a bit more from someone said to be one of the strongest Espers in the city."

I looked up at her, gritting my teeth. "Why...why are you doing this?!" Juri`s voice was just as monotone as ever. "I wouldn`t expect someone like you to understand. I am a part of the force set on purifying the corrupted world, so that when our race finally becomes the new humanity, we may make the world our heaven. And part of fulfilling our duty to create our new heaven is to eliminate the impure. As an Esper, that is what your abilities were designed to do. But you haven`t been tending to that duty at all, have you?"

I felt a sharp pain in my chest. This wasn`t the first time I had heard words like that. Images of Lynn came to mind. "Yeah, and what do you know?! You`re just one of their puppets, right!? Well, I won`t listen to it! Unlike you, I`ve never killed a human!" The steel wires squeezed tighter, slicing into my skin. I clenched my teeth. "Oh, so that`s how you wish to do things?" Juri asked. "If that`s how we`re judging ourselves, you`re no better than me. Unlike you, I`ve never killed one of our species. But that might just change today."

My eyes widened. "You`re with Arcadia, aren`t you?" Juri`s answer was a slight hint of a smile. I felt the cold tip of the wire press against my throat. Just then, my binds were released all at once as Rintarou charged out, smashing the splintered remains of the coffee table into Juri`s face. She was launched across the room. She hit the ground, groaning in pain. "Keep your damn dirty hands off of her," Rintarou rumbled, growling deep in his throat. "Takumi, now!"

The blue-haired young man nodded. "Got it!" He reached into his blazer jacket and whipped out a pair of water bottles. He popped off the caps, and his eyes shined red. A pair of watery serpents slithered from the bottles, composed entirely of liquid. Takumi ordered them to attack the ferrokinetic woman. Her eyes narrowed. "Damn." She slashed away the water dragons with her claws before they had a chance to devour her. She turned to glare at me one last time. "This isn`t over, Mashiro."

Juri leapt to the balcony and jumped, releasing a steel wire from her wrist. It latched onto a nearby electric pole and pulled her to safety. My vectors reached out to grab her, but it was too late. My telekinesis could only reach things within about 50 feet of my sight, and by the time I made it to the balcony, Juri was already far out of my reach. She vanished over the surrounding rooftops. Hanako, Takumi, and Rintarou gathered around me. "Who was that lady?" Takumi asked. "And what`s with all that weird stuff she was talking about?"

"I`ve heard nonsense talk like that before," Rintarou replied. "Sounds like Arcadia jargon if I`ve ever heard it." Hanako chimed in, "But isn`t Arcadia disbanded? I thought we took them down last year, after we defeated Isaiah Akane. Maybe she`s a copycat criminal?" My eyes were fixated on the sunset. "I don`t think so. Arcadia isn`t officially disbanded. Isaiah Akane was only the leader of Arcadia`s operations in Texas. The way she reminded me of him. I think...Arcadia is coming back to finish what they started." 

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