Princess Holy Aura – Chapter 32
Even as that happened, Procelli loomed somehow larger, though his physical form changed not a bit. “Another wish granted,” he said with a slasher smile, turning to Holy Aura. She could see Cordy, now in her father’s embrace, but her face showed only the shock and anguish and confusion of the impossible; even a father’s presence could only do so much.
“You . . . obscene . . . thing,” she choked out, unable to even form a proper insult. “I hope you’re ready for a beating!”
It laughed, and she saw the shadows behind it laugh, too, crawling like the memory of the shoggoth in the dark space at the far corners of the room. “Dear, dear little Maiden, I was already matching you, was I not? And now I am stronger! How can you possibly face me alone?”
Holy Aura bared her teeth in a snarling grin; behind her, another voice was speaking: “To avert the Apocalypse, and shield the innocent from evil . . .”
The sneer vanished from the Mirrortaint’s face and it lunged forward, obviously trying to prevent Seika from completing her self-summons, but though it vanished and reappeared, arm raised to strike, it found itself forced to dodge with inhuman speed as the Silverlight Bisento cleaved the air where it had been but a millisecond before. “Too obvious, Mirrortaint!”
Fire-bright light erupted throughout the hallway, and once more Princess Radiance Blaze emerged from fire. Even as she materialized, her flaming chains were streaking out, crisscrossing the entire area with purifying heat and light, forcing Procelli to retreat partway down the stairs fifty feet away.
But why did Seika change back? Why wasn’t she Radiance Blaze when I arrived?
“Back up, Holy Aura,” Radiance Blaze said. “He can come at us TWO ways in the hallway.”
“So what?” Holly said, turning partway so their backs met. “Now one of us will be facing him no matter where he comes from.”
“Where should I be going?” demanded Tierra. “This superhero crap’s going to get me killed!”
“Get in the classroom over there,” she answered. “You’ll at least be out of the line of fire.” Tierra glanced at Procelli, bit her lip, nodded, and practically dove into the biology classroom. Holly felt Seika-Radiance’s hand grip hers . . . and something, two somethings, complex and metallic, were pressed into her hand. What the . . .
Procelli was surveying them from the stairs, obviously trying to decide how — or if — to continue his attack. Since her body was facing the other way now, Holly risked a glance at whatever it was Seika had slipped to her under cover of the maneuver.
Brooches. Two elaborate brooches of a design she could not mistake.
All of a sudden it made a ridiculous sort of sense, and she resisted the urge to look into the bathroom again. But without Silvertail, what use are these brooches anyway? She looked back at their enemy.
The Mirrortaint straightened and smiled. “Well, I really must deal with you two, I suppose. You’ll keep interrupting my fun otherwise. Although,” — he paused, tilting his head, listening — “I am able to keep things interesting now.”
The roar of chaos outside had grown louder. Police sirens were audible in at least two directions, and it sounded as though much of the crowd had regained its anger. The humanlike creature smiled, and its mouth was filled with razor teeth that had not been there before. “Now I can affect things around me. And the more they indulge their dark passions, the stronger I can become.”
Crap. We have to take this guy down fast . . . but Silvertail said once he was out it would be almost impossible . . .
But on the other hand, would Silvertail have gone and left them without . . .
Of course I wouldn’t, came the voice she most wanted to hear. But the situation is desperate and I admit . . . we are not yet prepared to face him.
I don’t have a choice, Silvertail.
The creature began to stalk forward, a slow, measured pace, watching, waiting for one of them to move, obviously looking for an opening. Rather than attacking right away, Radiance Blaze began backing up herself; Holly went along with it. She knew they needed time to figure out a strategy.
A sensation of worry and guilt. I know you don’t. But . . .
At that moment Tierra MacKintor stepped from the biology lab door to Procelli’s left, and unleashed the full force of the lab fire extinguisher directly into his face.
Focused as it had been on the Apocalypse Maidens, the Mirrortaint did not even realize its danger until the fog of chemical dust was already plastering its humanoid face. It staggered back, choking for an instant before it was able to regain control of its body, and in that instant Radiance Blaze’s fiery chains hammered it in five places. Clothes on fire, it hurtled like a meteor, spinning slightly sideways, ricocheting off the wall, and then tumbling down the stairs.
Holly had frozen at Tierra’s action. And now I’m sure. Dammit. Another of my friends . . .
Yes. And it is now your time. You, not I, must do this, for I cannot.
“Sei — er, Radiance Blaze, go, go, keep him busy, I just need a minute!”
The brilliant smile from beneath Radiance Blaze’s spectacular head of hair told her the other girl understood. “Hell yeah.”
With Seika on her way, Holy Aura ran quickly to Tierra, who dropped the extinguisher. “That worked?” Tierra said, an uncharacteristic squeak in her voice. “I thought I’d get killed.”
“It worked. But we’ll need a lot more to finish this, Tierra, and you’re going to have to be the one to help.”
“Me? What, I’m nothing like you guys! I can’t — ”
The redhaired girl’s words cut off with a gasp, and Holly could see understanding in her wide-eyed green gaze. “You’re kidding.”
“I wish I was. This is real, this is dangerous, you could die, Tierra, and I don’t have time to explain everything. But once you accept it — once you accept the power — there’s no going back.”
The entire building shook, and fire and darkness flared from the stairwell.
“That’s little Seika fighting that . . . thing,” Tierra said after a second. “Do it.”
For an instant Holly felt panic. What was it? How did Silvertail do this? I didn’t see what —
Calm yourself, Holy Aura. I am with you, and I assure you, the memory and knowledge of the power lies within you too. Just speak; the words are there.
She swallowed, and the part of her that was Steve closed his eyes. One more kid drawn into this war. Dammit. “My name is Princess Holy Aura, and you, Tierra, are one of the Hearts we have Sought, bearer of the Courage that is needed, the Will that is eternal. Take you up the Apocalypse Brooch and become one of the Maidens who will stand against the ending of all things!”
Tierra MacKintor snatched the brooch from her hand, and the gold, silver, and crystal blazed. Her eyes widened anew as she realized she was speaking, words she had never been taught flowing from her lips with the irresistible force of an avalanche:
“To avert the Apocalypse, and shield the innocent from evil, and stand against the powers of destruction, I offer myself as wielder and weapon, as symbol and sword!” Tierra’s voice, clear and high, still rumbled, shook the ground with the incomprehensible might of an earthquake. “Mistress of the earth, foundation of the world, I am the Apocalypse Maiden, Princess Temblor Brilliance!”
The ground quaked and leaf-green light burst from Tierra MacKintor, levitating her into the air. The luminance burned across her body, erasing her to a sketch done in mist and shadow, and she spun — or the world rotated about her — as a new self condensed from the ancient magic, hair waterfalling like crimson flame, boots of dark green crystal solidity, armor of silver and gold and sapphire and topaz. A coronet of blue steel and transparent diamond bound itself across her brow in a flare of Earthlight and a detonation of force that staggered Procelli, who had just regained the top of the stairs.
The tyrpiglynt’s mouth fell open. “Another one?” He barely dodged Radiance Blaze’s fiery kick. “Oh, this is becoming actually annoying.”
He caught a whipping fiery chain, wincing visibly as he did so, and yanked hard, sending his opponent flying up the stairs and down the hallway, smashing into the wall as she did so. He shook his hand like a man who had grabbed the handle of a pan that was far too hot, but smiled as he glanced back. “But I have my own ally.”
A man’s voice spoke from lower down the stairwell. “Let’s see if I’ve got this right, Procelli. I wish that I’d be safe coming up there with you.”
Procelli grinned broadly, showing sharklike teeth. “As you wish, so let it be.”
Holly felt the pulse of power wash around her, as the newcomer advanced up the stairs. Wait. I know him. Assistant coach on the boys’ side, John something. With the recognition, and Steve’s longer experience, she realized that she’d actually seen this guy more than she’d seen any of the other boys’ phys-ed teachers. Oh. So that’s why.
Exactly, came Silvertail’s equally cold thought. That was what drew the two of them together.
John’s eyes widened with appreciation as he saw them, and the broad grin that spread across his face made his interest obvious. “Oh, boy. I wish — ”
Procelli’s hand snapped up. “Wait, my friend. My power cannot directly affect them. Not yet, anyway.”
“Well, can I say I wish you were stronger?”
Procelli’s laugh was inhumanly loud. “DONE!”
“And I wish those other girls were waiting for me at the exit, know what I mean? ‘Cause I’m not much into fighting.”
“You slimebag!” A flaming chain streaked straight for the assistant coach even in the moment Procelli said “Done!” again; but the chain rebounded from thin air three feet from the startled man’s face.
“Stop, Radiance Blaze,” Holly said. “Our fight’s with that monster. The other guy the cops can handle, if we win.”
“But — ”
“Are you sure?” Procelli’s voice said, strangely reasonable, eerily compelling. “Even without me, is your justice so sure, so reliable? How much does it protect you, girls? How many boys get to walk away?”
Tierra/Temblor’s teeth were bared in a snarl. “Oh, I just wish — ”
Both Seika and Holly’s hands were across her mouth instantly. “Don’t!”
The other girl blanched. “Oh, my god. That’s . . . that’s how it works.”
“It’ll grant anyone’s wishes,” Holly confirmed, seeing Procelli’s grin stretching even wider, beyond human limits. “I think it has to grant any wishes directed at it, or at least in its presence. But it gets to choose how to grant them. For an asshole like Coach John, there, well, his wishes fit with Procelli’s goals, but us? I don’t think we’d like what we got out of any wish from him.”
“Wisely reasoned, little Maiden. Yet not entirely true. He wished for power and for certain pleasures forbidden by your people. But I could just as easily grant your desire for justice, for him to be seen as he is. He wished me greater power, and I can now reach farther, much farther, and draw strength from far more people. You do not need to be my enemies. Were we allies, now, there would be little that could stand against us.”
The three Maidens looked at each other. Holly could see her own desperate resistance against that echoing, tempting voice reflected in the eyes of the others. But looking at them also reminded the part of her that was still Steve of why he had become Holy Aura . . . and a similar realization sparked to life in the others, snapping them out of an almost entranced state.
“Enough of that,” Princess Temblor Brilliance snapped, and she leapt forward.
The tyrpiglynt dodged, watching her narrowly — but he was clearly alert for the manifestation of a Maiden’s weapon, and so left himself utterly open when the crystal-armored heel of Tierra’s right boot smashed into his shin.
Procelli went down, flat on his face on the stairs, and only the preternatural quickness of the creature kept the axe-kick follow up from crushing his skull. Instead the impact blasted a hole in the staircase that broke through to the floor below, leaving twisted rebar rimming a seven-foot hole. “I am gonna gesso your canvas right now, creep!”
The creature leapt up and shot a clawed hand toward his opponent, but one of Tierra’s long legs came up, blocking it, looping around the arm, and then straightening, sending Procelli hurtling into the wall with a shocked expression on his face.
Holly sprang toward the two along with Seika, and for a few moments there was a furious exchange of blows. They were driving the Mirrortaint back, landing punches and slashes and kicks, and Holly thought momentarily that they might actually be winning — that they could take the monster down here and now.
But as it recovered from the startlement and confusion of dealing with three Apocalypse Maidens, its defense began to harden. Impacts that should have sent it flying were now merely nudging it, and its blows no longer rebounded from the Maiden armor harmlessly; they hurt, and Holly staggered, saw a tremendous blow to the face send Tierra reeling, a punch to the solar plexus leave Seika momentarily stunned and retching.
Procelli stepped back, grinning, the scrapes and cuts and bruises they had inflicted fading away like dreams. His next blow created a literal shockwave, a tsunami of pressure that left all three of them sprawled, gasping and pain-wracked, fifty feet down the corridor. “That might have been sufficient when first I emerged, little girls,” he said, dusting off his clothing, which also was magically mending itself. “But do you understand the term exponential growth? Each increase in my power broadens my range, which allows me to further increase my hold on those within it, which grants me more power to expand my influence. I am already fifty, a hundred times, perhaps, more powerful than I was then. You might hurt me with your most fearsome attacks, but then, I do not think this building, or many of the innocents in and around it, would survive.”
Holly pushed herself to her feet, feeling Tierra grasp her arm and help her up; she gripped Seika’s hand and helped her stand as well. “We’re . . . getting stronger, too. Can’t help it — not when one of us just got born, right?”
“True, true. And who knows which might win given all the time in the world? And so I will wait no longer. All three of you will die, this very mo — ”
Without warning, a dark-skinned arm snaked over Procelli’s shoulder, around his neck, and clamped tight in a classic chokehold.
Whatever powers Procelli had to bend reality, Holly realized, were constrained in the same way as theirs or Silvertail’s: Physical law held sway unless and until magic was deliberately used to negate them. And Procelli’s powers had been focused on protecting him from the Maidens. For a moment, his eyes bugged wide and his mouth gasped, pure shock overriding his prior confidence.
Behind his shoulder, the grim face of Devika Kaur Weatherill tightened, and the taller girl bent Procelli backward, leverage lifting his feet from the ground and preventing the Mirrortaint from bringing its own strength to bear against the girl.
But this was a being of nigh-unlimited power, and only the momentary surprise of yet another entry into the combat had given Devika a chance. With a voiceless snarl Procelli shifted his hands into clawed talons and sank the black claws deep into the arm holding him. Devika screamed in pain and shock; despite an astonishing attempt to maintain her hold even with five claws embedded in her arm, Procelli tore free and hurled the basketball player over his head; only Seika’s quick reactions kept Devika’s head from smashing hard on the polished stone floor.
Shit. But once more I’ve got no choice, do I? “Temblor Brilliance, Radiance Blaze, take him — there’s a combo you should be able to do!”
Holly hoped Seika would understand, both what she meant by “combo” and why she needed the two of them to attack Procelli. She bent over Devika, who was sitting up, cradling an arm now bleeding dangerously, spilling red all over her clothes and starting to pool on the floor.
“Devika, that was awesome. But you’ll need a lot more strength to fight that . . . thing.” She ripped a strip from the ribbony decorations on her skirt and started tying it tight. A tourniquet, something to slow the bleeding I hope . . .
Devika’s mouth was half open, yet the ebony eyes were more alert, less stunned, than Holly had expected. “I . . . see that. Sure.”
Seika and Tierra had driven Procelli back with a double strike; now, as he reeled, the two linked hands. “Volcanic Eruption!”
A seething mass of liquid stone, glowing a brilliant orange-white, spewed forth from the Apocalypse Maidens’ joined hands and caught a furious, shocked Procelli squarely. You got it, Seika! Please let that be enough to keep him slowed down.
“You can be one of us,” Holly said quickly. “One of the Apocalypse Maidens, fighting monsters like that — you saw what it was doing outside. But if you say yes, there’s no going back. You’re one of us forever. And I can’t explain all the — ”
Devika cut her off with a raised hand — the injured hand, still covered with blood, and even Steve Russ doubted that he could have forced himself to move his arm that badly hurt. “Is this a Dharam Yudh?” At Holly’s blank expression, she said, “A righteous war?”
“Um . . . I think so. We’re fighting things that will destroy the world.” Procelli tore himself from the hardening stone, and his form was no longer human; it was skeletal, fanged and clawed, trying desperately to rebuild itself from its encounter with incendiary rock. “But . . . we could fail.”
Devika looked at her as though she was an idiot. “It doesn’t matter if you fail. What matters is that we fight for the right reasons.” She nodded. “Do . . . whatever you must.”
Jesus, I want to cry. Don’t think I’ve seen this kind of bravery from adult men I’ve known, and here I’m seeing it in people not old enough to vote.
But she shoved that to the back of her mind and took out the other brooch. “My name is Princess Holy Aura, and you, Devika, are one of the Hearts we have sought . . .”
As she completed the invocation, Devika took the brooch and her own words echoed out, humming with power and touched with the scent of ozone, familiar, yet changing at the end to define the Maiden she would become: “. . . Mistress of the storm, ruler of the winds, the very air eternal, I am the Apocalypse Maiden, Princess Tempest Corona!”
A sphere of lightning burst outward, enveloping and transforming Devika Weatherill, the crackling lambent purple outline lengthening, black hair stretching out like a cloak, as armor of lightning white and corona indigo and incandescent orange, crystal and cloth, coalesced from pure energy to clothe her. Her crown brought with it a streaming cover of deep-blue silk, a chunni that covered the cloak of hair without concealing its magnificent length, and in her hands materialized a great double-edged sword.
Procelli froze, mouth dropping open. “Oh, come on!”
Holly laughed, not merely at his stunned expression but at seeing the transformed Devika whole, uninjured, and feeling a renewed surge of power through her own body. Every time one of the Maidens is born, all of us get stronger!
With a dramatic, gymnastic whirl of steel and cloth Tempest Corona entered the fray. Procelli snarled in frustration but met her halfway, a blackened plate of bone forming on his arm to parry the blow as he struck back. “This will only delay the end, Maidens!”
And despite the surge of strength, Holly felt a creeping conviction that Procelli might be right; he was still strengthening, and if they couldn’t take him down soon . . .
The bathroom, Maidens. Bring him back here. Drive him in, by whatever means you can.
What? Silvertail, I sure hope you know what you’re doing.
Vision of a furry-faced smile. Trust me, Holly, Seika, and our new friends Tierra and Devika. I know this monster is fearful, but you must hold out only for a few minutes longer!
Devika’s voice answered. I have no idea who you are. But . . . I see Holy Aura does. So yes, I will trust you. A flash of a mental smile. Then trust me.
Suddenly they saw the battlefield through Devika’s eyes, and a strategy in motion. I get it. It’s like a passing strategy in sports, to move Procelli like the ball on the court. Do it, people!
“On it!” Seika sang out aloud, and leapt over Procelli’s head. Tierra matched her and the two landed on the stairs just behind the Mirrortaint; but he was so fast that by the time they landed he was already facing them, claws lengthening, and Holly knew there was no time —
Procelli staggered, clutching his head as though a knife had been rammed straight through his ears, his scream of shock and rage echoing through the hall. Holly had no idea what had happened, but for the moment the tyrpiglynt was entirely gripped by the pain that had assailed him.
And that left him wide open.
Another channeled-lava strike sent Procelli straight toward Devika-Tempest Corona. She whipped her blade around like a baseball bat, the flat of the blade smashing into the monster and sending him hurtling farther up the corridor, directly toward the Silverlight Bisento. Holly spun the huge ball at the end around and with a tremendous impact Procelli streaked through the air, through the bathroom door, and hit the far wall so hard that he went halfway through it as well. The creature shuddered, momentarily stunned, giving all four of the Maidens the chance to follow. Tierra kicked him away from the wall, through a stall, and into the center of the room; the four of them now faced him in a ring, even as Procelli slowly, waveringly rose to his feet. “What . . . how . . . one of my mirrors is broken!”
Holy Aura glanced, puzzled, at the mirror. It was pristine, untouched.
Tell him it is time for him to be banished hence, to return from the world from whence he came.
Holly raised the bisento, guarding herself from any strike. “Procelli, it is time for you to return to the place that was yours, to leave this world and be banished from it forever.”
Shocked though he must have been, Procelli managed another laugh. “Banished? Little girls, you have not a prayer. You need a full pentacle to do that, and the point must lie in my own world!”
And then he froze as he heard, from the mirror itself, Cordelia’s voice speaking, filled with anger, with the roar of the sea behind it. “To avert the Apocalypse, and shield the innocent from evil, and stand against the powers of destruction, I offer myself as wielder and weapon, as symbol and sword!” Cordy said, and her voice was the thunder of wave and cataract. “Mistress of the seven seas, ruler of rivers, the water of life itself, I am the Apocalypse Maiden, Princess Tsunami Reflection!”