Chapter 18:


Half-Paid Heroes

---- Author's Note ----
I forgot to use a battle to properly establish what a normal day in the Kirikagura Company should be like, so that's what Heatwave is for. (I'm not sure if you'll laugh or swear in fright when it comes to the ending of Heatwave, but I was kind of intending for it to be humour since I haven't properly written in that genre that in a while.)

However, the bit titled Reality vs Fiction is the next part of the story, and will be the next chapter title. (The headings could have been in bold, but for consistency, I've stuck with my usual double four lines.)

...don't forget to like/comment, too!
---- Heatwave ----
It wasn't a well-known fact, but Chris loathed summer.

The sun sizzled the pavement as Chris summoned some shadows off the pavement and into the air by raising a fist. Ella scribbled down notes on a piece of paper firmly secured to a clipboard while Chris launched orb after orb at her opponent - an ice wielder, an older woman in a fur coat who was currently sitting on one of the rooftops, a lackadasical smile on her face. This older woman, a brunette with waves that would make the sea jealous, kept a snowflake-like arrangement of her power around her right wrist like an oversized flattened shackle.   

It was still spring, but when you were expected to fight in a black ensemble, it felt like summer all year round. That was proving itself to be very true as of late, as Heart Hope was faltering a lot more easily than she did earlier in the year.

"What's the matter, eh? Can't keep your-" the woman almost finished before Chris launched herself into the air, propelled by some of the shadows provided by the alleyway. Heart Hope then reached her foot out to knock her opponent's chin upwards, but before she could do that, gravity acted upon her once more, causing her to slam into the ground and stay there. Before Heart Hope could try again, the ice-wielder was already a few rooftops away.

"Well, that's the second opponent I let escape today - her, and the guy who used bell tones to control bugs," Chris sighed, seating herself on a dumpster before proceeding to take off one of her boots.

Ella slammed both her fists on the dumpster lid, shaking Chris's impromptu seat and startling her enough for her eyes to be opened wide. "C'mon Chris! Let's go get us some ice cream," the blonde declared, the happiness in her voice clearly faked to cheer the offense squad member up. 

Chris glanced about as she slipped her boot back on and detransformed as quietly as she could. Sure enough, there was the faint tune of Greensleeves being banged out on a tinny bell - the cue of an ice cream truck in this neck of the woods. In the middle of this heat, an ice cream truck's arrival would have been perfect, but it sounded a lot more authentically played than a usual ice cream truck.

Then the bell player misplayed a note.

"Hey, wait a second-" Chris started, as the bell player hurriedly tried to settle back into the previously-set rhythm.

But it was too late. Ella had already disappeared around the corner and she'd completely forgotten about the opponents from earlier.

As Greensleeves continued, Chris turned towards the slit of horizon the alleyway provided for her. The sun was slowly creeping westward through this gap, so she sheltered her eyes from the dazzling glare.

...surely enough, there was a hellish wave of mosquitoes slowly making their presence known. They buzzed along to the bell as the combined sounds resonated through the empty streets.

That was the reason Chris hated summer.
---- Reality vs. Fiction ----
Chris escaped the lecture theatre with a welcoming sigh. It was a slightly-warmer-than usual day and she had no more classes, so she was more than ready to go anywhere other than the room she'd just left (and in a stroke of irony, all the psychology concepts she was dealing with were giving her a headache, even though it was an elective).

Good thing too - there was still a fighting game she'd saved up for, which she had done using Kirikagura Company paychecks.

As she pulled out her copy and tried to hide the growing smirk of new-game-excitement on her face, a bunch of plump boys her age were skittering around a nearby building made of sand-coloured bricks, holding copies of the very game she was desiring to play...! A banner, crudely written in black painted all caps, declared there was a video game club marathon to see who could finish the game's story mode the fastest. 

"I-I thought this game's release date was yesterday?" she spluttered, not realising she'd spoken out loud. "How did you all get copies so fast?"

Gamer glasses turned to shine their reflected light at her in reply, and Chris began to back away from their infuriated aura...

"Do you have a problem with the fact we lined up for three days just to get preorder-exclusive DLC?" they seemed to chant in unison.

Chris shook her head, drawing her copy close to her chest.

"She has the game too!" declared the one closest to Chris as he pointed this out. "We must now test her!"

"Test me?"

"To see whether you're a true gamer! Girls aren't gamers!" the crowd cried.

...what the heck? she thought as she slid her game away. Wasn't the idea of 'girl gamers don't exist' dead with the advent of portable gaming devices, or even earlier? Or is that just because Martin likes to use me as an opponent when he plays these things?
This was how Chris got roped into sitting in an engineering hall (the building over which the banner had been draped), a dual-handed controller resting in her lap while she watched the surrounding action from the floor. She self-consciously kept her legs together - her grey dress and bike shorts meant it was probably inappropriate to sit where she was, but the group wouldn't let her go. (They just made her sit there like some trapped princess, and she was most definitely not a trapped princess.)

Simultaneously, the boys bustled about, setting up the game and the audio-visual systems. Whenever Chris tried to point out she thought one of the pieces of equipment was unnecessary, they would just glare at her, mutter, "I don't think she understands the importance of the complete gaming experience," and continue in defiance.

Gerry Hines