Chapter 4:

Troubles Ahead

Half-Paid Heroes

Soon, a few weeks had passed. Ella settled into her desk job and Chris started to train to gain more control over her powers. However, not everything was smooth sailing...

"That Odagaki!" Akihisa grumbled, his mahogany eyes boring into his smartphone while pacing about in front of the impossibly neat management workers' desks, a few hours before another business day was about to wrap up. "Thinks he can get away with big TV publicity stunts, just because he has more funds than this company?!"

"Actually," Ella interrupted his train of thought, "Odagaki resigned from his position as CEO of his company just after I joined, didn't he?"

The boss hung his head just as a child - one that looked a younger, chubbier, glasses-less Kirikagura in a navy sailor outfit - ran in. This sudden appearance caused some of the newer management recruits to gasp and mutter among themselves, while the man sighed behind their backs.

"Oh! Budgie!" the kid cried, attempting and failing to grab the bird's cage (situated behind Ella) with one hand. The bird flapped away to keep its distance from its tormentor, angrily chirping all the while.

"So this is your child, Akihisa?" one of the management women enquired, a hand the colour of terracotta brushing away a stray dark brunette hair. As she reached out to correct the boy's scarf, she was shocked out of it by Kirikagura: "He's not, Alex! He's my nephew, Kou!"

With this shout, all eyes were on the boss. The man everyone thought was an enigma (a lazy sandalwood-smelling enigma who never bothered to explain things in person, but an enigma nonetheless) had siblings?
Meanwhile, Chris was in front of the door of the Company office's basement. Just like within the office itself, the basement was almost unnaturally clean, with nary a speck of dust on even the oldest piece of worn fitness equipment. Unlike the office, however, the walls were lined with concrete, giving off the impression of an apocalyptic bunker under the fluorescent lighting.

Chris wasn't entirely sure of what her powers were still, because in the instant Ross had opened the curtains with the vines, traces of her own powers had vanished. That's why she was training using her superpowered form (like Ella had pointed out, her garcon stint was a one-off, and now she had to use her powers in a black knee-length dress with long sleeves, thigh-high boots and a wide-brimmed hat, as befitting her title as a "witch").

The door to the basement creaked open and a small jingle echoed into the mostly empty room, startling her into paranoia. She was about to sock the intruder in the face, but then she realised the intruder was too short for her to hit.

It was Kou, holding the birdcage in a precarious embrace. The bird seemed to be pleading with its eyes for him to stop holding its enclosure that way, but it couldn't do anything.

"Hey kid, what are you doing here?" She plucked the cage from him by the top handle and set it next to the door, simultaneously noticing there was what appeared to be a tight leather collar around his neck. This collar had a spherical golden bell on it, which was what had alerted her of his presence.

"Uncle was too caught up in worrying about a guy called Odagaki, so I took this from his drawer. I thought it would be cool to put it on, but-" The kid pulled at the collar in an attempt to loosen it, but it only got tighter, causing a small whimper to escape his lips.

As Chris knelt to get the collar off, warning bells going off in her head (including there being a hint of sandalwood on the boy, causing her to wonder what connection this boy had to the boss), she noticed something was awfully wrong with Kou's hand. It was a little bigger than her own and had claws instead of fingernails - it definitely had not been like that a few moments earlier.

Gerry Hines