Chapter 22:

Bloody Hell

Half-Paid Heroes

The old man was almost out of sight when the blonde finally chased after the squeak of his wheels. 

"I'll resign from the Company, and I'll even join you if you want. Just tell me what the phrase is," she tried to inject some conviction into her voice as she told him this with a sigh, but ended up sounding desperate. When she inhaled again, deeper and sharper this time, she breathed in the clean scent of (what she presumed was) the washing powder lingering on Odagaki's clothes.

Behind them, Chris was struggling against her brother as he continued to fling attack after attack at her. Considering she wasn't able to access weaponry - the Kirikagura Company expressly forbade it, to keep up the guise of a business - she had the disadvantage, and the way she kept clawing and hitting thin air every time she tried to attack kept demonstrating the sheer power imbalance between them.

Damn, I bet he's not even trying, she mentally cursed as the two continued their deadly dance along the stretch of road outside their house.

As Heart Hope sent out another shadow to restrain Martin's limbs, he did the same to restrain her breath, doubling down on the strength his conduit was using. (The more the sun would rise, the less his shadows would be effective, but his younger sister didn't know that.)

The silver-haired scythe wielder halted in front of Heart Hope as she grasped at the constricting shadow at her neck, her breath escaping in short wheezes.

"Surprised?" he asked flatly, the madness he'd shown earlier fading into another of Martin's more typical poker faces. "I guess we've both been keeping secrets..."

He let go of some of his grip through the thick strip of shadow he was using, allowing her to talk normally again.

"Why," she panted, "w-why are you with Odagaki?" The thin cut on her midsection was starting to sting, now that she wasn't running on adrenaline...and now that she noticed it, her stomach was growling. Demanding food. 

"I'm afraid that's just how we were allocated from the day our powers began to exist. Whoever has the most transformation items controls the world, as I'm sure your boss would know," he finished, ending as mysteriously as he started.

Before Chris could ask any more questions, the psychopomp turned his back on her. However, this turned out to be a feint, as when she tried to grab the sleeve of his robe, he did the rest of the revolution and blasted her with what appeared to be one of her own orbs, but it was in the shape of a hollowed-out cylinder and flung into her at point blank range. 

Chris was sent flying backwards into the fence of her house, then a box-like car beyond it, creating a significant dent in the vehicle. The car's alarm blared as Chris staggered to her feet, still struggling for breath, and turned her eyes towards the ground before she slumped into the crater again.

Jamie descended upon the wreckage in front of the Tung residence, Nour's jetpack on her back, and began to scribble down notes on the clipboard she was holding.

"You see, Heart Hope? This is why I don't like property damage..." came Jamie's grumbling voice from above Chris's self-made crater, but as the form of Heart Hope faded away in the rubble, the unconscious magical girl never heard her senior. 

Yuki appeared not long afterwards in a steel blue business suit, his dull almost-black eyes darting about. He was hoping to find Martin and demand an explanation while Jamie dealt with the neighbours, but even after moving Chris out of sight (as gently as he could manage with his powers) and waiting a few hours for her to regain consciousness, it seemed Martin had fled in the aftermath...

...and it sure didn't seem like he'd be coming back for a while.
Ella returned to the Kirikagura Company later that day, resignation letter in hand, a dejected shuffle in her step.

When she opened the Company building door, Alex was cleaning the office and greeted her. 

"Do you know anything about a Heart Despair?" the blonde asked her, skipping the reciprocation of the greeting.

The woman scratched her head as she puzzled over the best way to sort a group of manila files (which were still a mess after the Heart Wisdom incident). "It seems there were meant to be four Hearts, but one of the transformation stones was cut in half somehow," she punctuated the shoving of one of these files with this direct statement. 

"W-What for?" Ella started, her face falling and the resignation letter almost drifting from her grasp.

Alex was stopped short of replying by the sounds of the arrival of Kirikagura in the doorway.

"Before I take that," the boss indicated Ella's letter with a gesture of his hand, "I think now would be a good time to reveal the truth."

While Alex watched on, Kirikagura created a rose-tinted disc from his right palm and placed it flat on Ella's forehead, letting it make contact with and sink into her skin. As it did so, her eyes gently closed and her body collapsed in what appeared to be sleep. However, as Alex tentatively approached the body of the blonde on the floor and propped her into a more comfortable position, the woman realised Ella wasn't breathing.
---- Author's Note ----
I timed this chapter to be released on the same day I debuted on Honeyfeed one year ago. Idol Mind is technically my anniversary piece, but it's released on a schedule and won't be done until December.

Why this chapter specifically, you ask? This is the 22nd chapter of Half-Paid Heroes, so it's now officially the longest story I've ever done, beating out even One Wish They Never Wanted!

As always, please leave a like or comment if you want to see more!

Gerry Hines