Chapter 14:

Selfish Heart

Half-Paid Heroes

Alex was just about to blast her when, suddenly, an image of her child flashed into her mind and she pulled back with a clamping of her hand.

Chris pulled forward, summoning hands from the shadow below Heart Wisdom and attempting to ensnare the psychic-type in their grasp, but Wisdom leapt out of the way and landed a square kick on Chris's face.

"Chris, stop!" Ella exclaimed, jumping in front of Heart Wisdom, her arms spread, a defiant look on her face.

Chris almost shoved her friend out of the way with one of her conjured hands before realisiing exactly what she was doing...and halted, her face falling in realisation.

Ever since Chris had been born, she'd been living in others' shadows - whether it be Martin or some other person - so anyone who'd made her forget that was enough to warrant getting close to, to hold on to the fleeting feelings of being hollow inside. Or, in other words, being inferior. Ella had been just that as soon as they met, and no way was Chris willing to throw away all those memories...

"Hey! You listening to me?!" came an unfamiliar female voice which sounded much like a parrot's. It was Heart Wisdom, popping her head in front of Chris's nose as she added this.
The shadow hands enlargened then dissipated, becoming dark snowflakes that fell upon the room before disappearing. The bird-girl coughed upon accidentally inhaling some of these, but she continued to chirrup, her fists clenched, "D-Do you know what I wanted? I wanted you all to pay attention to me! Am I not the greatest thing you've ever seen - a bird who can become a girl?"

"No." Chris's voice was almost inaudibly low as she added this, so it was hard to tell if this was a joke response.

Normally, this would have signalled a thorough beatdown by the offense squad, but for some reason, as the final motes dissolved into nothingness on to whatever they touched, no one had enough motivation to intervene. Not even Heart Wisdom, who had heard what Chris had said and had stopped attacking.

Chris ran to hug Ella, now that it was clear it was safe. When the blonde reciprocated the gesture and heard Chris sniffling, she produced a tissue from her pocket and pulled her friend off her. (There was only so much Ella was willing to sacrifice her uniform, after all.)

"What are you crying for?" she enquired, sighing as she surveyed the mess of an office with her eyes - it was white from the previously fallen paper and it had 'snowed', but it certainly wasn't a winter wonderland here. (In fact, the clouds outside had been a stubborn grey for the past few days, threatening to rain but never actually letting go of their load.)

"Ell, please don't leave me behind again..." Chris spluttered, prompting a confused look from the blonde.

Yuki, meanwhile, was watching with arms crossed and the birdcage in one hand, a dissatisfied rictus on his face. Ever since he'd been inducted, he hadn't really been doing anything, but Kirikagura hadn't really bothered to intervene.
"Martin!" Ella, after spying the extremely tall, grumpy person in sagging black clothing Chris called a "brother", ran up to him a few days after the whole Heart Wisdom debacle. "Does Chris often get engrossed in stuff she's doing?"

He scratched his chin as he processed the question, then shook his head briefly. "Well, she's not as obsessive as me when it comes down to it. While I'm at it, why not I show you what I've been working on?"

He led her away from the office and to the kitchen of his house, where statues of all sizes, colours and subjects lay in every possible nook and cranny of the black-and-white tiled room aside from the cooktop and one large space in the middle of the room. It was in this large space that Martin stood, right next to a statue that looked a lot like Chris. Its pose was like that of a pastor, with open arms, an inviting pose and black robe that reached its ankles.

"You really do care for your-" Ella started, before noticing there were subtle differences between the actual sister and the subject of the statue. The broader shoulders, the long silver hair that created a halo around the statue's head and of course, the giant white wings...

...the blonde couldn't help but step forward to examine the lifelike statue more, but her breathing gradually slowed, becoming shallow and ragged as a scythe touched her neck.

"I'm afraid Odagaki would like a word with you and your boss," Martin declared, edging the blade of his tool ever so slightly against Ella's skin.

Ella tried not to look back, but in her peripheral vision she spied a black robe and silvery hair.

Had the statue come to life? No, it was still there in front of her.

The subject of the statue wasn't Chris.

It was her brother.

Gerry Hines