Chapter 35:

Confronting the Past

Half-Paid Heroes

Alexandra Espinoza Almeida, or "Alex" for short. Born into a lower-class family in an age well before the internet, she relied on a small number of books for entertainment and a local bookselling woman as her friend. When she wasn't spending time with the woman or reading, she was stuck trying to find new ways to make money for her family.

That is, before she discovered dancing.

One night, she had a dream she met three others who were just like her. After this reunion, she acquired memories that she didn't believe were hers - after all, what would a Brazilian girl know about the flamenco, a Spanish dance?

[ The primitive, non-magical beings you call 'humans'...they, and their culture, are very fascinating, ] a voice like hers reasoned in her head within the dream.

"Who...who are you?!" Alex demanded.

[ I am what you humans call 'Heart Passion'. I am not human, but I can possess humans and bestow upon them powers. ] This voice came from a woman, much older than the eleven-year-old her, in a blazing red dress that sat loosely around her shoulders.

Alex showed this dance to the bookseller, catching the attention of a passing rich man, Santos. Alex's parents were more than eager to sell their daughter for an amount of money that shattered any figment of trust in them.

Once she was bought by Santos - who she never remembered the face of - she was locked away and groomed to be a professional dancer. While she now had three solid meals a day, she had lost her friends and parents in exchange for this one man she didn't like.

So she escaped with her identity documents, eventually getting hired at a low-profile cafe in Rio de Janeiro. She stayed there until she was in her early twenties and managing the place.
However, Santos came for her one night when she was twenty-two and, even though a regular cafe customer by the name of Akihisa Kirikagura offered her a refuge in his hotel room, the other man found her.

“I bought you, so you should stay under my protection,” he hissed…as the tip of his tongue split open into a six-pointed star.

By this point in time, Alex had been informed by Heart Passion about the isodor – a predatory lizard-like alien species with advanced camouflage capabilities, only distinguished by their ability to seamlessly split their body parts into six parts like Santos was doing here. It was because the isodors had chosen Earth as their last place to flourish that magical beings, the Hearts included, had all chosen to come to the planet.

This was the first time Alex had ever let herself cry freely, and for good reason: Santos took her hand in marriage to silence her, even though she did not want to marry, and so she was obliged by the customs that governed her to switch one of her surnames to "Santos". She went back to her ordinary life, feeling different...feeling constantly scared by the men she had to deal with as part of her job.

Men do not scare me. Only Santos scares me, she had to remind herself every time she dealt with this affliction, having already forgotten her husband's first name in her fear at this point in time.

After that, Alex broke all ties she had with Santos and ran away with Kirikagura's sister, Nadeshiko. In order to hide from Santos, she swore allegiance to her saviours and became the first member of the Kirikagura Company. Nadeshiko then took her to Mexico as part of the former's philanthropic work, where she met Jamie.

Alex and Jamie had the shared purpose of running away from their pasts, so the former invited the latter to the Company.

A few months later, Alex went back to her hometown and discovered an abandoned child of the man she despised so horribly – the girl’s name became Maria Espinosa Santos. Instead of hating Maria though, Alex became overprotective, even after she relocated to a place close to Central Security headquarters with the rest of the Company.

Alex became the deputy of the Company and one of its staunchest defenders. Thus, when Kirikagura finally decided to give his own Company members powers, it was easy to figure out who would get powers first...
---- Author's Note ----
Well, that just won an award for "Hardest Backstory to Write So Far". From the moment I laid down the foundations for it, quite a few things I wrote didn't seem like Alex, so hopefully the various revisions of this chapter prove fruitful.

The implications of this chapter make it particularly hard to stomach, so I'm wondering if I wasn't too ambitious by adding them...

I mentioned a planning document in the author's notes of one chapter. According to it, apparently Alex was meant to be "Hispanic". However, a quick Google reveals "Hispanic" as a very troublesome word with multiple definitions...

Update: I rewrote this chapter due to the Shield Hero controversy. After a year’s hiatus I finally got a grasp of what this story's endgame should look like.

Gerry Hines