Chapter 2:

New Friend, New Foe

Half-Paid Heroes

...Inside were anachronistic bits and bobs - daggers and ornate belts sat alongside cheap-looking bracelets and rings. Speaking of rings, there was a ring made of some metal alloy, with a small black diamond-shaped stone topping it, near the corner of the drawer.

If Chris hadn't been at the exact angle she'd been standing at, she would've mistaken it for just another shadow. It seemed a little too good to be true, in fact, but Chris never doubted it for a second.

She carefully reached in, plucked it out and slid it on to her finger, observing its scintillating metallic glow. Meanwhile Kirikagura handed a sheet of paper to Ella and ushered the duo out of the room with a wave of his hand.
Chris clamped a hand over her nose as she and Ella set foot into the location mentioned on the paper - a large greenhouse, and judging from the stench of manure, along with the crowd of people who didn't seem to mind said stench, also a very popular gardening shop. The dark-haired girl glanced over her shoulder at her friend and enquired, her voice nasal, "Why'd you follow me anyway?"

"Company's management policy." Ella whacked the sheet with a hand, her face neutral despite the weirdness she'd been subjected to. No wonder she'd been picked for the management department.

As the girls wove through the crowd and found the edge of the greenhouse, there was a point at the far end that was empty aside from a room that extended out of the "glass" part of the house, covered by a black curtain of some sort. People just disappeared into there...and never came back. (Certainly, with the duo's professional outfits of blazers and pantsuits, they didn't seem to fit in here, but they could at least pretend to be interested in what this place offered.)

Suddenly, the crowd's pull caught the duo off guard.

In one moment, they brushed each other's shoulders and raised their hands to each other.

The next moment, it was like a movie transition - fade to black.
When the crowd dissipated, the duo were in the dark with the exception of a single spotlight. In the background, there were people, lined up like soldiers, arms crossed like mummies, ferns clinging to their ankles. A redheaded man who was standing in the spotlight, his ear-length hair kept back with an olive green headband, was trimming one of the longer ferns on their left with secateurs. He dusted off his hands on his apron (which was the same green as his headband) and a vine rose up to take his tool when he faced the girls.

"I recognise that sheet. You're from Kirikagura." He wrested said sheet from Ella's grasp with a rictus of disapproval, which looked like a frown when viewed from below. "Let me warn you - the boss? He'll do anything only if it benefits him."

The vine with the secateurs flung itself at the blonde, narrowly avoiding cutting her navy blazer. This was because a green budgie had fluttered in front of where the pointed end would have hit.

Noises of a struggle came from behind her, so Ella whirled around to find Chris was fighting off a Venus flytrap with a head as big as her body.

"This is all Kirikagura can do? Serves him right!" the redhead spat as he tore up the sheet and tossed its shreds to the plant. The Venus Flytrap scoffed down its meager meal with gusto.

Before Chris had any time to think, she'd already blurted the transformation phrase she had memorised off the sheet, splitting the spotlight's focus with an energy that seemed to be darker than even the murky, fern-covered surroundings.

"The miraculous witch, born from the darkness! Heart Hope!" she declared at the transformation's end, only to find the redhead was missing and vines had started to creep across Ella's feet too...

Gerry Hines