Princess Holy Aura – Chapter 14

Part II: Awakening the Maidens

Chapter 14.

She stood in the cool September morning, watching as the yellow school bus grumbled its way up to her driveway, and felt an eerie sense of frightened déjà vu. It had been almost twenty years since the last time Stephen Russ had boarded such a bus, and the memories of that and earlier bus rides wasn’t a pleasant memory to recall. Maybe I should’ve talked about that with Silvertail.

The faint whiff of diesel washed over her along with the muffled crunch of gravel under broad tires and the pneumatic hiss of the door opening reinforced the memory; she looked up, half expecting the blue-eyed, wrinkled face of old Bill to be looking back.

Instead it was the brown eyes of a woman in her thirties, looking — as most bus drivers do — somewhat harried, but she gave a bright smile. “You’re Holly Owen?”

“Yes, I am. That’s my dad,” she pointed to where Mr. Trayne Owen stood at the door, waving.

“Good. Get on, Holly.”

She waved back to Mr. Owen and then climbed up the steps.

Thank God it’s not too crowded yet. She looked up and down — sure her nervousness was visible — and chose an empty seat. I’ll have to make some friends somehow, but right now, I have to get through the first couple of days and figure out what it’s like to be in high school now. There were the usual faintly curious glances from the other passengers at seeing a new face. Some of the boys looked a hair longer — again, no surprise.

She sat down and the bus started with the same lurch she remembered from two decades back. And still no seatbelts. Some things never change. The massive size, height, and cushioned interior of a modern schoolbus were supposedly safer than any other vehicle, but Holly had Steve’s ingrained expectation of a seatbelt in any vehicle, and she found herself unexpectedly nervous at the unsecured swaying as the bus continued its rounds.

Okay, that’s probably just fine. Be nervous. Lots of the other students will be. You’ve just gotten here, you don’t know anyone, you don’t even know the area well since you came from the West Coast. That will probably be my big stumbling block. Can’t be too familiar with this area.

The bus arrived and disgorged its passengers. Holly paused, looking up at Whitney High; as Steve, he’d had a friend or two that had gone there, but Whitney had become the center of the district; with the other three high schools shut down, it had undergone a major expansion and refurbishing a couple of years back and looked nothing like it had back then.

Well, almost nothing like. The central part of the school was still the massive, respectable three-story brick with an old-style belfry that looked something like a watchtower above the columned entrance; that, and the tall chain link fence that had always surrounded the grounds, had given it a prisonlike appearance which led his friend and others to refer to the school as Whitney State Correctional Facility.

That unified and intimidating appearance was gone, however. Extending to either side were two-story expansions in brighter, glass-and-concrete materials; from the quick tour she’d taken with Mr. Owen, Holly knew there was a third extra wing behind the visible front. Behind that were the sports bleachers and tracks and other phys ed–related spaces.

Entering the school was a lot different. The doors were thicker, heavily reinforced, with cameras observing everyone coming and going. And an actual couple of police officers on duty. Steve remembered people just coming and going from his old school — old students visiting their favorite teachers, parents dropping by to pick up a kid for a sudden appointment, and so on. Here, anyone entering who wasn’t a student had to go through a separate screening entrance.

The intimidating security suddenly made his friend’s old joke much less funny. Boy, if one of the attacks happens here, I’ll have a hell of a time keeping it off the video, especially if Silvertail’s not with me.

As she made her way to her homeroom — A207, which meant in the right-hand wing, with Mr. Coyne — the impression grew stronger. The cameras weren’t just at the front of the building or the entrances; there were cameras watching the hallways, too. I definitely need to sit down with Silvertail and see if he can put some kind of, I dunno, contingency on the cameras here, so that if I need to transform it’ll blank all of them. Our enemies will know Whitney High’s the center soon enough, but if we can force them to have to keep guessing which of the thousand students is their target, it’ll help.

It was a tiny shred of relief that there were no cameras actually in the classroom. Yet. And while there were more high-tech screens and such, the classroom didn’t look that different from the ones she remembered from Steve’s pass through public education.

Mr. Coyne was a tall dark-haired man with a long, lined face that held the weariness of the career teacher along with a still-present humor. “All right, sit down, quiet everyone, I know it’s just after summer and we’d all rather be outside, but there’s going to be a lot to go through.”

Holly chose a seat and listened with half an ear to Coyne’s quick summary of the way things would work in the school. Silvertail — as Mr. Owen, naturally — had attended an open house and gotten the summary then, so she was aware of the schedule and how everything was organized.

She was much more interested in trying to guess which of the students might be the other Apocalypse Maidens — although admittedly there was no reason to assume they were all going to be in the same classroom, or even necessarily in the same grade.

Still, the tropes practically demanded that at least one or two of the other Maidens be in classes with her. Who would it be? The shy-looking pale girl with uncontrolled curly brown hair sitting in the corner? The tanned girl with a stack of books next to her that nearly reached her pin-straight hair dyed deep purple with white edging? Maybe one of the two Latina-looking girls who were busy in a whispered conversation on the far side of the room? Or the black girl with poofy black curly hair, whose face was almost completely obscured by the book she was reading?

Holly got no sensation of rightness, or wrongness, from any of them. Inwardly she shrugged. Silvertail said there probably wouldn’t be any way to tell until a crisis. Might as well stop thinking about it and focus on being a fine young student.

It was true that ultimately it didn’t matter if she did well, or poorly, in school; after all, either the Apocalypse Maidens would succeed and send the bad guys back to the darkness, at which point Holly would become Steve again and no one would remember any of this, or they’d fail and the world would fall to Lovecraftian horror, at which point no one was going to care about her grades in history. But Steve’s pride wouldn’t let Holly screw this up. I did pretty well the first time through; with almost twenty more years of living I’ll be damned if I’m going to do anything less than the best now!

Her schedule turned out to be annoying as hell. My first class is in B-Wing, then I go back to A, then to C, then I get lunch, and then A, B, C again. That meant that she would have to walk very fast to manage to get to all her classes on time — and they emphasized being on time a lot. Being late anywhere could have consequences up to and including suspension, which didn’t make sense to Steve-Holly. So I’m late to class a lot, so you’ll punish me by taking me out of the classes I’m apparently not wanting to go to? Brilliant plan, guys.

On the positive side, the crisscross scheduling, from Biology with Mrs. Rizzo to English with “Doctor, not Mister” Beardsley, Social Studies with Ms. Vaneman, and so on, made sure that she would get really familiar with a lot of the school, and see a lot of the students every day.

And boy, did I make the right decision to get a big backpack. I’m almost never going to get a chance to get to my locker, unless I do it just before homeroom or during lunch.

Homework was going to be a pain in the ass. Holly, seeing through Steve’s memories, could tell she could probably do a lot of it faster than most people would ever manage, but still . . . They’re saying they’ll assign a lot more stuff than I remember from back in the day, and boy, they’re hardass about it. No more handwavy extra-credit slide for me.

Suddenly she realized the last class was over, the bell had rung. Okay, first day, fine, but I’ve got to start talking to people. I’ve been just half-here all day.

The students filed out to where the buses were waiting, a huge line of idling yellow boxes. She looked around, figured out where hers should be, and started over. As she did, she glanced idly around, still surveying the people, her eyes skipping over most of the boys, since they —

She froze so suddenly two people bumped into her and she staggered and fell. The hot, rough burning sensation of a hand scraped raw on pavement shot through her. “Ow!”

“Sorry!” said one of the two apologetically. The other muttered, “Why be sorry? It was her fault she stopped like that!”

But Holly barely registered the apology or cynical retort; automatically she said “It’s okay, I’m fine, sorry, my fault,” but she was rising, backing away at the same time, trying to find a route that didn’t take her past that next bus, but really, there wasn’t any choice, was there?

There wasn’t. She had to continue, her bus was just on the other side of the one she was approaching. She kept her head down, looking from beneath her hair. There was no mistaking the tall, slender form, the long uncontrolled fall of gold hair.

Richard Dexter Armitage.