Princess Holy Aura – Chapter 10
“Nice to get out of the house!” Holly said, probably for the fourth time in the last hour now that she thought of it.
But it was true. The last few weeks had been spent mostly indoors, practicing the many different aspects of just being a teenage girl . . . and learning the pitfalls. These included mundane annoyances like finding that a five-foot-seven-inch teenage girl couldn’t reach shelves that Stephen Russ at over six feet had no trouble getting to, and more involved and disturbing problems like dealing with menstruation.
At least I don’t have crippling cramps most of the time. It hurts sort of like having eaten a really gas-producing burrito — though not exactly like that — but it doesn’t put me down for days.
Silvertail hadn’t replied, probably figuring that there was no reply he hadn’t already made. “Are you ready to look for new outfits?” he asked, looking around the bustling mall with its dozens or hundreds of shops, and the constant flow and curl of people eddying through the broad walkways in front of the stores.
“Sure am!” Holly felt a touch of anticipation at the idea, and while a part of her was thinking Well, that’s stereotypical, isn’t it? the other part knew that much of the reason was perfectly obvious: as Stephen Russ, he’d been stuck very, very rarely buying clothes, and almost always the cheapest, most straightforward clothing he could get — jeans, T-shirts or an occasional inexpensive polo shirt, simple white or black socks, sneakers.
Now, with Silvertail’s resources, Holly could buy pretty much anything she wanted to wear . . . and while the thought still sometimes gave her a bit of a jolt, she actually looked good enough to make buying the right clothes really worthwhile!
But, fortunately, not too good. “Oh, and Dad? Thanks for, um, toning down my looks a little.”
“You’re welcome, Holly,” he said with a flash of a smile. “That must be a unique event — being thanked for making someone less attractive.”
“Still a good thing,” she said, glancing in the window of Current Memes and seeing her reflection. The black-haired girl with wide eyes was still going to always attract attention — Holly Owen remained beautiful, no doubt about it — but not the incomparably mesmerizing, Photoshop-shaming perfection that had been. Princess Holy Aura might — probably would — always look like that, but that just made it more important to have a little mundanity in Holly Owen’s appearance.
“Yes, I concur,” Silvertail said. “And I should thank you for your insistence. You were right in more ways than one.”
It belatedly occurred to Holly that they maybe shouldn’t be talking about these things in public, but then she realized that in some ways, this was the most secure place to talk outside of the house; a thousand conversations rose and rustled about them, murmuring a thousand concerns mundane and vital, and no one was likely to ever overhear more than a word or two of anyone else’s without being obvious in their eavesdropping. “Right? About what?” she asked, trying to decide where she wanted to shop first. Current Memes was actually a good candidate for later, but right now she wanted more straightforward clothes.
“For insisting that I was viewing the past — and especially my daughter — through a filter of guilt and nostalgia, elevating her to perfection. You were entirely right; she and her friends were not the vision that Holy Aura is; they became that vision, and symbolized the ideals represented, by their transformations, but in life they were no more perfection than anyone.” He looked at her again and smiled with a fondness that looked beyond the present. “Indeed, in this form you truly look very, very much like her, now that I have cleared the haze from memory. And that will certainly make it easier to play the part of a proper father.”
She smiled back. “Well, I’m glad. You’re welcome!”
Suddenly Holly spotted another clothing store — Youth At Heart — and she loved the look of the deep electric-blue top in the window. “Oh, over here!” she said, and turned, striding quickly toward the entrance, which was across the hall and down.
Holly found herself on the ground, having cannonballed off a big man with a bushy red beard streaked with gray. The man looked at her with a combination of concern and annoyance. “You okay?”
She felt Silvertail’s hand helping her up. “Um, yeah — ”
“Good. But watch where you’re going.” He looked at Silvertail. “She ran right into me!”
Mr. Owen nodded. “A bit too focused on her destination. Watch yourself, Holly.”
“But — ” she saw a warning glint in Silvertail’s glance, dropped her own gaze. “Okay. Sorry,” she said to the man.
“No problem. Glad you’re okay.” He continued on his way.
Dammit, what the hell’s going on? I know I was perfectly clear to head where I was going!
It wasn’t worth arguing with Silvertail about, especially not at this point, and the two of them entered the store and browsed without further incident. Besides the electric-blue top, there were two others, one black with a deep-violet lace front and another a brilliant red, that really appealed to her.
I think I’m seeing colors differently. More intense, and more differentiated. “Hey, Dad, is there really a difference between male and female color vision?”
“There is, in fact. It appears to be at least partially mediated by hormonal development and related changes; even here, those who change their physical sex from male to female have often reported a clear increase in their color perceptions, and in Lemuria it was well-demonstrated. It is not quite so . . . drastic as your culture’s stereotypes might make it, but it is a very real effect.”
“Wow. Learn something new every day.”
She continued looking around. Some new jeans were definitely indicated, as well as some other pants. Holly wasn’t sure she was quite ready to try skirts, outside of the mahou shoujo outfit, but shorts, definitely. Another store caught her eye and she immediately headed for that one.
She found herself brought up short when a path she thought was clear enough . . . suddenly wasn’t. Second time. Which means it’s me, not them.
Okay, what the hell is going on? “Silver . . . Dad, am I nuts, or did those people all just ignore where I was going?”
He sighed. “Not precisely. Observe, Holly. You must observe the world around you, through eyes not blinded by what you were used to.”
It suddenly dawned on her what Silvertail meant. She remembered how he — Stephen Russ — walked. Just the way she was trying to, confident, focused, and certain.
But the people around here towered above her for the most part. It was like walking through a mall mostly populated by members of championship basketball teams. “Oh. It really is me.”
“I am afraid so,” Silvertail answered. “You are used to being a very large man, and — entirely without your conscious intent — you know that people tend to give you a fairly wide berth. You are now far less visible, and thus far less subconsciously intimidating, than Stephen Russ.”
Holly didn’t like that thought, but it made sense. “So I’ve been an asshole all my life?”
“Knowing your personality, Stephen, I am quite sure you never consciously thought about it — and neither did most people you have encountered. They simply saw a tall, very wide man approaching and gave said man, who looked like he knew exactly where he was going, the space he needed. Admittedly, I think it will do you no harm to learn to watch where you are going more carefully and observe others around you with greater consideration.”
“So it’s not because I’m a girl now.”
“No. Oh, there will be difficulties you will encounter from that change, especially in the way individuals interact with you, but at this level your perceived sex, as such, is not truly relevant. Your size and your age and perceived position is much more on-point.”
Still sounds like I was being a self-absorbed dick before. But I’ll let Silvertail be the judge on that. “But if I’m walking right next to a six-foot-something dude who’s clearly my dad, instead of running on ahead without looking, I won’t have that problem.”
As they continued shopping, she paid more attention to the people around them, and the way salespeople behaved. They always talk to Mr. Owen first, and Holly second. Which makes sense with what Silvertail said, because Mr. Owen is the adult, and presumably the guy who will be deciding if Holly can actually get the shoes, dress, whatever. I’m not an adult any more. I’m a teenager, a young teenager, and that means I’m still mostly a kid.
The obvious exception to that attitude was boys Holly’s age, or a bit older, who often stared at her. And sometimes guys a lot older, which is getting into creep territory. But that change she’d already expected. Even with the changes Silvertail made, Holly Owen’s going to turn a lot of heads. The more direct stares were pretty annoying, though.
Still, after another hour or so she’d found a lot of clothes of all types that she needed, and she took some slight pleasure out of having the taller, stronger Silvertail/Mr. Owen carry most of it. “Can we get lunch?”
“Is it really that time?” He glanced at the watch on his wrist. “I suppose it is. Yes, let’s get something.”
The nearest decent location was Hearty’s, a sort of upscale burger place with other family-type meal selections. The place was crowded, and the two of them found themselves seated in the back, not far from the restrooms, at the only remaining two-seat table. Despite the busyness of the hour, the wait staff were prompt, and Holly ordered two triple-decker Chipotle Challenge burgers with a large order of Hearty’s steak fries. “Plus I want one of your honey-barbeque wing appetizers, and a salad with ranch!” she finished.
The young man taking their order failed to restrain a raising eyebrow, and he glanced at Mr. Owen. Silvertail smiled and nodded. “And I will have the Classic Combo, I think.”
The Classic Combo was a single-patty regular burger with a medium fry and drink. Holly grinned at the server as he walked off still looking confused. “I guess a lot of people are going to look at my appetite funny.”
“That they will. Not only are you eating to sustain a body they cannot see, one that has an adult man’s metabolism, but also you will be expending more energy in transformations and battles — whenever we have them.”
“It’s been quite a while. When — ”
He shrugged. “Soon, probably. But until you start to seek out the other Apocalypse Maidens in earnest, there will be little to draw them out. They will be active, and there will be incidents in the next month or two before you enter school, but where and when? That I cannot predict.” He looked at her with a faint smile. “Still, I am not sure that you need that much food.”
She stuck her tongue out at him. And am I just playing the part, being immature naturally, or changing? This whole thing is still bizarre and scary, even when it’s getting to be almost mundane.
As Holly was plowing through her second burger, a customer came out of the bathroom and went to the front desk. A moment later Holly caught a fragment from one of the other people going by: “. . . clogged, so Brent, go clear it out. And mop up after.”
Ugh, thought Holly. Sure hope that doesn’t mean we’re going to get the stink of a clogged toilet here while we’re eating.
Even as she thought that, Brent went by them and into the bathroom; she could distantly hear the sound of someone getting out a plunger and starting work.
There was a wet SPLOOSH! noise, and suddenly Brent came tumbling out into view, eyes wide. He skidded to a stop on his rear, staring back the way he’d come.
Laughter rippled around the restaurant, which intensified as the plunger then followed, describing a lazy circle in the air before landing with a hollow thonk in front of Brent, and finally a blue-and-white scrub brush flipped through the air and bounced ineffectually off Brent’s forehead.
Holly was not laughing. She saw goosebumps rising on her arms as though the air had turned to ice, and Silvertail was slowly easing out of his seat.
Then, as Brent scrambled to his feet, there was a deep, sucking, muttering noise, as of a set of air-filled sewage pipes the size of the New York City sewers, and the laughter cut off . . .
And turned to screams as something black as night thundered from the bathroom corridor.