Princess Holy Aura – Chapter 29
Holly shivered a little, then pulled her coat tighter. “Jeez, I’d forgotten how cold it gets sitting in the bleachers.”
“Did you forget how boring this is?” Seika muttered to her, barely audible over the cheers and other shouts as Whitney High’s White Lions contested with Columbia’s Blue Devils.
“You don’t know anything about football, do you? This is a pretty good game.”
Seika gave her a scandalized look. “You call yourself a geek and you like football? You are not one of us!”
Holly blew a raspberry at her friend. “Hey, at least I’m less bored because I know what’s going on.”
Seika rolled her eyes. “Okay, okay, I’ll listen to the explanations a little. But I’m watching down there mostly.”
Holly felt the smile fade from her face. “Yeah.”
“Down there” was at the sidelines, where the cheering squad was. Even to Holly’s untutored eye, there was something subtly off about their routines, and most of the apparent mistimes and bobbles were happening around Cordy Ingemar. “She’s missing her cues a lot, isn’t she?”
“Looks like it. I mean, I’m not a cheerleader, but it’s not hard to see what they’re trying to do, and it’s not working.”
“The half’s almost over. Maybe we can work our way down there and see if we can somehow catch her?”
“I think the cheerleading squad’s supposed to perform at halftime, but maybe they get a break before they come out. I guess we could try.”
It wasn’t easy to thread their way through the crowd — because it was a crowd, despite the chilly late-fall clouds above; the White Tiger/Blue Devil rivalry had been a fixture of Whitney High football since before Steve had graduated, she remembered that. But finally they got near enough to see that the squad had in fact gathered together to the side, near the gymnasium entrance that faced the field. The two of them made their way closer, trying to look as though they were just taking advantage of the way the big building cut the wind.
As they approached, it became clear that they needn’t have bothered pretending. None of the cheerleading squad or the two coaches were looking at them.
“. . . wrong with you, Cordy? You’ve missed timing on half the routines today!”
Cordelia Ingemar’s reply wasn’t audible; her tone was half-apologetic and half-apathetic, as though she was sorry to have made people mad but didn’t care about the actual subject of the argument.
The older coach — Mrs. Banner — rolled her eyes. “For heaven’s sake, Cordy! You don’t even seem to be paying attention to me! Honestly, after all the complaining you did about poor Glynnis, I would think — ”
Holly had winced at the mention of the dead girl’s name, but Cordy’s reaction was far more violent. She suddenly gave a muffled scream into her hand and then turned, shoving her way blindly through her teammates and running away headlong into the school building.
“Oh, god, I shouldn’t — ” Mrs. Banner said, a contrite tone in her voice, but Holly didn’t bother to listen to the details of the coach’s self-recriminations. Where’s she going to go now? Upset, thinking about Glynnis, about her own failure? The part of her that was still Steve was grimly certain. Dollars to donuts she’s heading for a bathroom.
A bathroom with a mirror.
Seika followed as Holly ran. The other cheerleaders were hesitating — probably wondering what they should say, or whether they could afford to chase after Cordy when they had to be back on the field in a few minutes. That gives us a chance to catch up with her alone. Holly wasn’t sure what they could say to Cordy, but she figured the first business was to catch up with her and find out if they were right about where she was going.
The first bathroom — part of the locker-rooms off the gym — was empty. The two of them checked to be sure; there was no one in the stalls, let alone in front of the mirrors.
“Of course,” Seika said. “She knows this is where the rest of the team, or the coach, will look for her.”
“But then where — ” Holly smacked herself in the head. “Second floor!”
“Right. Where she’s talked with it before.”
It didn’t take long to reach that bathroom, though it seemed longer, with their footsteps echoing emptily through the deserted corridors. But finally they saw the door ahead; Holly slowed, gesturing for Seika to do the same. They didn’t want to startle Cordy at this point.
The sound of someone — Cordy — sobbing was audible even through the door. Holly reached out, grasped the handle —
And another, different voice spoke. “I am truly sorry, mistress.”
It was a pleasant voice. A warm, intimate tenor that sounded like a sympathetic boyfriend. Yet Holly could somehow hear another undertone, something darker and cloying, something that reminded her of the voice of the slasher-monster she and Seika had fought.
“Sorry?” Cordy snapped, voice brittle and shaky. “You said you meant to kill her! Said you wouldn’t even try to bring her back! I never wanted her hurt, and you went and killed her!”
“Mistress, please! It has been centuries since someone like you called me, let me serve them, found the way to open the door! Back then, if someone wanted a rival removed, they meant for me to slay them! I had no idea!”
Seika and Holly exchanged glances. “You’re not buying his excuses, are you?” Seika whispered.
“Not for a splintered second, no.”
“And it is not that I won’t bring her back, it is that I can’t, mistress. I am not nearly so powerful yet. I have tried my best to serve you — were you not pleased by the results of the first wish?” The voice held a strangely compelling property; even though the words were not directed at her, Holly found that it actually took effort to disregard what it was saying. What must it be like for Cordy? “Did I demand too high a price?”
“I just wanted perfect skin! That’s . . . yes, that was nice, thank you and no, just asking to be able to speak to me from other mirrors, that was fine. But . . . but this was — ”
“A mistake, a lack of understanding. I will try to understand your world more, if only you will stop rejecting me.” The voice dropped lower, and Holly strained to catch the words. “Just turn back, call on me, I will grant you any desire within my power. And that power is growing, Cordelia, has been growing much greater since you brought me here. Perhaps soon I will be able to restore the dead.”
For a moment Cordy was silent, and Holly began to slowly turn the handle. We’ll have to intervene. Should we change? But if we do that’ll alert everyone —
“N-no.” Cordelia Ingemar’s voice suddenly firmed. “I . . . I can’t trust you, Procelli. I wish you would just go away, leave the mirrors, all of them. All the mirrors I’ve brought you to, stop appearing to me in them.”
“You cannot mean that, Cordelia!” Its voice was sharper. “That is your third wish? Truly?”
“Yes! I wish you would get out of this mirror, and never appear to me in this or any other mirror ever again!”
Suddenly Seika gasped, and Holly caught on an instant later. But Procelli was already speaking. “And you will pay the price for this? You accept the price for this wish?”
“I cost someone their life!”
Holly yanked on the door handle, but the door opened slowly, slowly, the pneumatic system resisting opening almost as much as closing. Even as she began to shout a warning, Cordy said, “Yes! I accept the price, whatever it is!”
The voice shook the room with a triumphant laugh, and light blazed through the doorway. As the door came fully open, Holly could see a tall, slender, dark-haired young man in archaic clothing standing before the mirror, looking at it with a broad grin.
And in the mirror, a stunned Cordy Ingemar stared back, pressing against the other side of the glass.
“A simple and symmetric price, yes? I have left the mirror — all mirrors — so in return you are in the mirror, all the mirrors I once occupied, and therefore can never see me in this or any other mirror.” The voice was wavering, no longer sounding quite so pleasant, the undertone more clear. “And I sense such an assemblage of young and vulnerable people, feel their emotions . . . Thank you . . . mistress” — an ironic emphasis on that word — “. . . for releasing me so swiftly!”
The form blurred and vanished.
The two girls ran into the bathroom, to stare in horrified shock at the desperate, despairing face of Cordy Ingemar. “Oh my God,” Holly murmured. “How do we get her out?”
“That thing’s gone to the crowd outside,” Seika said, still staring. “Crowd’s signals were so strong the thing didn’t even notice us. We can’t take too long here!”
“It’s out. Out of the mirror. Dammit, I thought it would take longer — ”
Seika shook her head. “You heard it — the first price it required from Cordy was to bring it to other mirrors. It’s been here for a while. Lot longer than we thought.”
“Well, the feline’s escaped containment,” Holly said, winning a very faint smile from Seika. “This is a job for the Maidens!”
“What about her?” Seika said, glancing at the mirror.
“She’s already involved. I don’t think there’s much point in hiding anything from her.” She raised her arms. “To avert the Apocalypse . . .”
Holly became aware of another sound to her right, just as they completed the invocation, “. . . Mystic Galaxy Defender, Princess Holy Aura!”
And in the detonation of sacred white and fiery red luminance, she saw the astounded face of Tierra MacKintor staring at them from the open bathroom door.