Chapter 9:

Shield Heart Online

My Government-Issued Girlfriend Can't Be This Cute!

"Hey maggot, why you looking depressed?"

I snapped out of my trance. Rin Asada, my loli assistant-manager, stood over me while I was kneeled near one of our store's shelves. An entire row of books needing sorting, but my head was still too in the clouds to focus.

"Oh, sorry. Just have a lot on my mind right now," I said with a tired face.

"Huh?" She flicked her long, black hair back as if to intimidate me. "I approved your day off because you looked anxious all last week. And what did you do yesterday anyway?"

Right, she doesn't know about Asagiri. I'd get fired bigly if Asada realized I bailed work for a date. Witty remark, witty remark . . ."W-Wow. Didn't you know you cared that much about me, haha."

"No idiot, it's just gross seeing you be anything but dead." Her death glare indicated she was serious.

"Ummm, please don't joke about that."

"Eh? What's gotten into yo—"

From behind the loli, a curvaceous, feminine outline appeared. Child-bearing hips swayed to the side as their owner blew out a large, pink bubble.

"Hey Asada," my green-haired coworker Kikuchi said. "Got another checkout customer complaining about Dominion's Paradise stock—better tell 'em we're not a printing press."

"Ughhh, another one? Fine, I'm on my way." Asada walked away out of the aisle, then glanced over her shoulder. "Keep Nishikata company later."

"It'll be my pleasure." Kikuchi's lustful, golden eyes violated my entire body head to toe. Her tongue emerged to lather up and ready her lips. 

Defenseless. I was a flightless bird staring down the jaws of a hungry cougar standing above me. Fate worse than death . . .

Rento Kikuchi was our middle-aged, resident rapist—in gest. Unkempt, dark-green hair hung over her thin-rimmed glasses that made her look like an alluring cat lady. She oversaw children's literature and art books here—very questionable choices if not for the fact her blue apron was adorned with various, cute stitch animals designed by her young son.

"Hey Nishikata," Kikuchi purred, "wanna meet in the changing room during our break?"

"No, have mercy please." I closed my eyes and tried pretending she wasn't there, as if she'd vanish like a bad dream. But considering I was on my knees, I'd be helpless if she pounced on me. I forced my eyes open to see her slowly closing in.

"Someone's gotta take your virginity someday. I'll volunteer as tribute when you're ready or not." She blew a kiss my way as she walked by me towards our stockroom's door.

I let out a huge sigh of relief. There's no other bidders for my virginity, but I'll be damned if I let a cougar have it! Doesn't matter how hot she is!

Reinvigorated, my eyes glanced back down at the stack of novels in my hand. I oversaw our game guide and light novel sections—hefty areas, but I was best suited for them, even when compared to Nemoto's geekiness. There wasn't anything more embarrassing than when a customer asked for recommendations, and it was clear they had a better understanding of the concept than you.

"Shield Heart Online," I muttered. New volumes of a novel I was busy sorting looked up at me. Nostalgic torrents overflowed as I recalled being introduced to the series by Noriko, back around when we first met:


"Here!" Noriko Mito waved a novel in my face while we relaxed on school stairs. Multitudes of fellow students passed through the hallway ahead of us, chattering about as our lunch break continued on.

"What is it?" I said, straightening my black uniform.

"Shield Heart Online! An isekai that's just taking off! Really popular!"

"Didn't know the library had a copy."

"They don't, this is my copy." She tucked in her skirt and scooted closer to me. "See? 'I'm lending it so you can get a head start on the anime."

"Ehhh?" I took the novel from her hands. The cover looked generic: a shieldsman wearing black clothes, with an elaborate, black shield. "Doesn't look too compelling."

Her lavender eyes glared me down. "You're looking at the future face of isekai! If I'm gonna get you into the genre, this is a must read."

"I could just watch the anime when it airs."

"No fun!" Her cheeks cutely puffed up. "Read the first volume and I'll lend the others when you finish."

Is she into me or something?  Mito had been going out of her way to find me during lunch breaks, or whenever an opportunity presented itself. She was in an adjacent class to mine, but the more I tried hiding from her, the more attention I brought to myself. I'd just resigned to my fate and surrendered to her bothersome company.

With a sigh, I set the novel beside me. "Fine. But I won't guarantee I'll like it."

"You don't have to, since it's the thought that counts." She beamed me an honest smile. "And if you end up enjoying it, maybe one day you'll lend your own favorite series to someone—spread love around."

"Don't worry about that. You're only the person I talk to now."

"So? I don’t talk to anyone at school besides you too."

My teeth chomped down on my red-bean bun. "You're pretty though. You could hang out with literally anyonewhy me?"

"Be proud of yourself!" Mito whipped around her silver hair and puffed out her large chest. "You're the only person I've liked since I came here, so you get me all to yourself! Yeah!"

"I'm sure there's other otakus you could mingle with."

"But you're not in their social circles so here I am! Humph!"

I didn't have it in me to tell her I'm a socially awkward loser. "Listen Mito, it might be better for your reputation if you—"

Two arms suddenly wrapped around me as Mito's soft watermelons pressed into my side.

"Call me Noriko, 'k?" she said. "And I'll call you Kazuma from now on."

8n4ct984ntcmytn89m34488443. I couldn't think straight and felt a growing excitement in my pants. Mito's shoulder boulders were the first I had the pleasure of experiencing, unlocking a lecherous demon deep within me. 

"A-A-Anything is fine! Call me anything!" I blurted. My face felt like it was flushing with pinkness. I couldn't tell if I wanted her to back off or press harder into me.

"Oh? So easy to convince. Maybe I'll use this technique again later on . . ." She detached but kept a close proximity to me. Her shoulder then nudged into mine. 

“N-Noriko?” I stammered.

“Mhmmm! And you’re Kazuma! Since we only talk to each other, I think we’re close enough for first names! Literally!"

We’d just met the other day. Already though, my overactive imagination was bustling. Is she actually into me? Compared to anyone else, I’m not exactly prime real estate. On the off chance she is though . . .

I picked up Shield Heart Online. "Okay, I'll read all of this and tell you what I think." It was my attempt at scoring some brownie points.

"Yeah, you'll love it! Isekai stories in general are great for escapism!" Her attention focused on several passing students in the hall ahead of us. "This shit world we were born into—who wouldn't want to escape from it?"

A hint of darkness appeared in her eyes, just like vague flickers that sometimes manifested in my own. I'd seen how she acts around other people: cold, distant, calculating. Only around me did her cute, bubbly persona materialize. I knew better than to trust someone two-faced, but perhaps in whatever struggles we'd experienced in life, we could share some of each other's burdens.

And that's why I needed to keep my distance from her. Or I'd likely succumb to whatever ideals she harbored within.


My backpack in its cubby was looking extra plump, and I pulled it out towards a nearby countertop. Laid out across were coffee machines, rice cookers, and various bottled condiments. Our employee backroom was rife with aromas of freshly heated or unpackaged meals as us first shifters began our lunch break. 

"Nishikatadon't suppose you got any soy sauce on you? Countertop is out." Nemoto asked from the table behind me. His dull voice was as monotone as ever.

"If I did, I'd slap a pacifier on the bottle just for you." I turned back just to flash a grin.

"Bosssss, Nishikata's harassing me. Do something." Nemoto's sleepy, icy-blue eyes peered at Asada sitting across from him on the break table.

"Don't annoy me or I'll make Kikuchi harass both of you," she growled. A bowl of steaming noodles cooled off ahead of her.

"We'll be good!" Nemoto and I said in unison.

A stubborn zipper made accessing my lunch harder than usual. Soon, a bento box plopped out from my backpack that Asagiri woke up early to prepare me. Wonder what's in my cute box of delights today?

Asada eyed me curiously as I sat down at the table with my meal, while always-exhausted Nemoto on my right chowed down on cup ramen. At times it seemed like he could pass out any moment. The dark bags under his eyes were a permanent fixture of his face. 

"So, what's the deal?" Asada said to me.


Her chopsticks pointed at my meal. "This is the second day in a row you've brought a home-prepped bento for lunch. Your family came back or something?"

How'd she notice a little detail like that? "Uhhh, no. I've just been in the mood to cook for myself again. I've brought bentos before, haven't I?"

"Yeah, but it's just odd considering how weird you've been acting lately."

"Weird? Like how though?"

"Being all moody last week, suddenly asking for a day off, and staring at Shield Heart Online earlier. Now you're cooking for yourself again?"

Can't exactly admit I have a government-issued girlfriend. Gotta throw Asada off somehow. "If I knew any better, I'd guess you're worried about me, haha."

"D-Don't be stupid," she blushed, looking to her side. "I'm just your manager, so I need to know how you're doing! That's all!"

Nemoto slurped some ramen. "Hey boss, can I get tomorrow off?"

"Bite me!" she barked.

"Literal nepotism."

"We're running a bookstore, not a charity," she said. "I knew I shouldn't have given Nishikata his day off."

"It was nice of you though; you really helped me out."

"Oh?" Her skeptical, silver eyes glared at me. "Yeah, you changed the subject earlier: what did you do yesterday?"

Ah shit. "Well, uhhh, see, I had to—"

The sound of a knob turning turned our attention towards the door. A tall, blonde girl with an enormous rack walked through. Her blue apron stretched so forcibly against her boobs they looked squished.

"Ummm, Miss Asada?" she said with a Texan accent in Japanese. "A new stock of partial shipments just arrived. They said we need a manager to sign off. They're waiting at the door."

"Gaaahhh! They always dump shipments when Kamikawa is off!" Asada thrashed about in her seat. "Say I'm on break!"

Bridget Summers—my blue-eyed, big breasted coworker and current crush—fidgeted her fingers as she struggled to conjure a response.

"U-Ummm, they seemed a bit in a hurry. I'm sure it wouldn't take long . . ."

"Tsk. I don't get paid enough for this. Fine!" Asada scooted her chair back and leapt off, scoffing at Summer's chest while walking by her. "Let's go!"

I sent a quick wave to my blonde friend. She smiled and fluttered her fingers at me before closing the door behind her.

"You're aiming too high, man," Nemoto said with a mouth full of food. "Just settle for Kikuchi already."

"I'm not nearly desperate enough for that yet."

"What other options ya' got? Hasn't Summers rejected you twice already?"

"Third time's the charm?"

"Pfff." He rolled his eyes. "Just throw in the towel and settle for a government-issued girlfriend. Maybe you'll nab a cute one."

I nervously picked at my lunch. "Imagine being lame enough to need a GiG. Way totally lame . . ."

"Yeah. I hear it's just maintaining a freeloader anyway. Thought about applying for one but capitalism wrings me dry as it is."

"More money to spend on Semtex Legends, haha," I replied, desperate to change subjects.

"Could use a new Kaustix skin; something that'd camouflage better in gas bombs." Nemoto gripped his chin as if deep in thought. "Can't bet on future events giving good cosmetics."

"Least you've moved on from your waifu Vreyth getting nerfed."

"Actually, I’m seething." His voice still sounded mellow as heck. "You down for a ranked session this weekend?"

Oof, bad time. “Pass. Got someone coming over.”

Nemoto raised his bowl and slurped up the remaining ramen, careful to avoid wetting his white bangs. “You? Someone coming over? Say sike please.”

“Almost wish I could.”

He burped then pulled out his phone to check it. “Well, I don’t care so not gonna pry. I’ll ask Mogami later if he’s free.”


Saturday was already reserved for getting things ready for Sunday. The most important person from my past was visiting—first time in months—and only a week after my GiG showed up. How should I introduce those two to each other anyway?

A doorknob turned and Asada walked back in. Her face seemed more annoyed than angry now. "We're getting busy out there. No slacking today or Kikuchi follows home one of you tonight."

"Make Summers follow me home instead," I chuckled.

Asada blasted me a death glare then reached for the whistle around her neck. As she was about to blow, the silvery trinket retreated from her lips.

"Screw it, we're still on break." She sighed and slid into her chair again.

"Eh? I've never seen you halt the whistle," I teased her.

"You're not worth wasting energy on when I'm not getting paid." She crossed her cute, small arms. "Besides, Kamikawa said I should try being nicer to people—another reason I gave your day off yesterday."

The subject was venturing back to a no-no-abort zone. "Well, good to be back now though. Hopefully Mogami keeps Kikuchi busy today."

"New Dominion's Paradise is probably coming in tomorrow, so be ready for that."

"Heh, might just buy out all the stock myself," I said.

"Good luck with that! Ahahaha!" Asada clapped her little hands twice. "We ordered way more than usual since the new volume comes with bonuses. Let's see those scalpers try buying us out now!"

Oh yeah. Asagiri still had to tell me what she'd thought so far about Dominion's Paradise, but I'd wait until she's more comfortable. She seemed a bit off this morning, and things would only get more complicated once I tried explaining Noriko to her.

The fake girlfriend and the almost-girlfriend would soon meet, or more specifically, my anarchic past and farcical present would finally collide. 

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