Princess Holy Aura – Chapter 19

Chapter 19.

The first thought that came into Holly’s head after the shock was a crushing sense of guilt. There was no doubt in her mind now that this was the next manifestation, and that meant that Mr. Jefferson was dead in either reality. I managed to stop the first two without deaths. I . . . I hoped I could save everyone.

“OhshitOhshitOhshit . . .” Nikki was mumbling from behind her. Caitlin was simply frozen, staring in utter shock.

“Let’s get the hell out of this place!” Tierra hissed.

Even as the five of them turned back toward the hallway, the kitchen doors behind them flew open and a shadowy figure strode out, an unhurried, implacable stride clicking menacingly on the polished floor beneath it. Lightning flashed off the edge of a red-dripping axe.

Run!” Holly shouted. She was already trying to think how to deal with this. I don’t know if any of these are Apocalypse Maidens yet. I can’t just change in front of all of them; “three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.” Got to buy time somehow . . .

Seika grabbed one of the last chairs as they passed it, dragging it with her rattle-banging up the three steps to the cafeteria exit.

“What do you want that for?” demanded Caitlin. “That’s not going to stop his –”

“The doors,” she said urgently.

Holly suddenly understood what Seika meant. “She’s right! If we can take it apart we can use the legs to bar the doors! Come on, everyone, help break this thing!”

The figure was halfway down the cafeteria aisle, boots rapping out a remorseless countdown, as the girls hammered the chair violently against walls and floor, yanked at it.

A quarter of the way to go, but there was suddenly a sharp metallic crack and the weld holding the front pair of legs to the underframe snapped, leaving a U-shaped piece of metal — two chair legs formed of a single tube of bent metal.

“Shut the doors!” Seika said, voice cracking in panic. Holly and the other three yanked the cafeteria doors — hollow steel with small windows — around, forced them shut.

The metronome precision of that stride altered abruptly, hurrying, not a run, but the sound of someone understanding that a situation has changed. Seika tried to slide the steel curve through the two metal door handles, but something struck the doors heavily, almost forcing them open. Nikki screamed but pushed harder, Holly following suit; on the other door Caitlin and Tierra shoved with all their strength, and the doors closed once more —

— and Seika slipped the steel U through the handles.

The door rattled viciously, but the steel held it firm; more, because of the U shape, it couldn’t dislodge from someone just jostling it. The five girls grinned at each other for an instant.

Then a tremendous thudding chop echoed through the dark hallway, and the door dented outward.

“Come on,” Holly said. “We’ve got to get the hallway doors open somehow, before he gets out!”

“Who is he?” Caitlin demanded in the panicky tones of someone trying to hold onto a thread of sanity. “Why’s he doing this? That . . . that was a real body, wasn’t it?”

“Maybe it wasn’t!” Nikki said, grasping at a thread of hope. “It’s a prank, like that murdering clown-thing we saw on YouTube!”

“Trust me, that was a real body and this is no prank,” Holly said. “That axe was real and he’s actually chopping through the lunchroom doors. You think anyone pulling a prank here is going to wreck the school like that?”

The doors to the central hall were still closed, and as the five girls ran toward them, they suddenly shuddered with a crashing bang that made all five skid to a terrified halt. What the hell? How’d he get ahead of us? Or are there two of these things?

But even as they stood frozen in indecision, there was another tremendous crash and the doors flew wide.

Framed in the doorway were two extremely tall girls; one was so dark-skinned she was a shadow against shadows, but her brilliant chunni headdress, visible even in the dim light, outlined her clearly.

From that, Holly recognized her instantly: Devika Weatherill, captain of the girls’ basketball team. With that hint, Holly could make out that the lighter-skinned, brown-haired girl next to her was Tori Murstein, likewise captain of the volleyball team. Silhouetted behind them was a crowd of other girls, presumably the teams that had just finished practice.

Seeing their expressions, Devika grimaced. “Let me guess, doors down there are locked too.”

“Never mind doors, run!” Tierra said. “There’s a psycho with an axe back there –”

“What?” Tori looked amused. “Are you joking? I –”

She was cut short by an echoing impact from down the corridor, an impact that combined with the shriek of ripping metal.

“Not joking! Run!”

Reverberating down the shadowed hallway behind Holly and the others, rhythmic, unhurried footsteps were approaching.

That sound — calm, purposeful, and utterly out of place — convinced the others that something very bad was coming, and the slow backing up turned into a jog, and then a run as something sang out from the darkness,

Hippity-hey, hippity-hop

Who’s next to get the chop?

Hippity-hop, hippity-hey

Who’s getting the axe today?

The voice was a cracked tenor, the sound of madness on the edge, and the tune was a cheerful one . . . in a minor key that turned its macabre cheer to a graveyard threat.

“We have to get the front doors open somehow!” Holly told them. “This guy’s locked everything!”

“Shouldn’t be possible,” said someone from the volleyball team. “My dad’s a fire marshal and he told me that fire doors can’t be locked from the inside!”

“Well, they are,” Tierra snapped. “We tried!”

“So did we,” said Devika. “But let’s get these doors open!”

The front doors of the school looked like they should be easier to open, glass fronted as they were — but Holly was pretty sure the glass was thick and reinforced.

But everyone’s focused on the door . . .

Without giving herself time to think, Holly backed quietly away from the crowd, and headed down the B-Wing corridor (whose doors showed where the teams had come from). One girl separated from the rest. That’s the trope, right?

She prayed to whatever powers there might be that she was making the right decision. If I’m wrong . . . an axe-wielding monster’s going to plow right into a crowd of high-school girls. And monster will be literally correct.

B-Wing was silent, her footsteps and the faint echo of her breathing the only sounds. It suddenly struck her that it was unnaturally quiet; she wasn’t so far away that she shouldn’t be able to hear the others trying to get through the front door — or their screams, if the thing caught them. They’d been able to vaguely hear the noise of the teams coming back into the school all the way over in C-Wing!

It’s here.

From somewhere — she couldn’t tell which direction — the singing began again:

Hippity-hi, hippity-ho

Who will be the next to go?

Hippity-ho, hippity-hi

You’re the one about to DIE!

She drew a breath and reached up to touch the Star Nebula Brooch —

One of the classroom doors slammed open scarcely ten feet from her, and a towering figure came forth, seemingly born from darkness and thunder, a long coat flapping behind it, axe rising for a strike, lightning flashing off the white-grinning clown mask. Her breath caught in her throat and she knew that she had no time for the invocation.

No time at all.

But even as the axe began to descend, a small form barreled in from the left and slammed into the axe-wielding figure with a diving lunge just at the knee. The figure gave a grunt and lost its grip on the axe, the weapon spinning through the air to thunk harmlessly into the wall a foot to the right of Holly’s head.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” demanded Seika, even as she scrambled to her feet and the figure rolled to a halt, starting to rise. “You never break up the party!”

She came to save me. And there’s no one else here but us and . . . it. That’s got to be my answer.

The two girls were backpedaling as the thing rose to its full height and strode toward its weapon. “Seika,” Holly said, “I hope you can keep a secret.”

“Huh? What? A secret?”

Holly’s fingers gripped the brooch and the invocation came to her now without conscious thought. “. . . Mystic Galaxy Defender, Princess Holy Aura!”

The pure-crystal light detonated like the Sun in the dark hallway, and the monster threw up a hand to shield itself, momentarily cowering before the Light. Seika, too, tried to shield her face from the light, but Holy Aura could see an expression, not of fear or incomprehension, but wonder and understanding. “Wow,” she whispered.

“I am the one you seek, monster!” Holy Aura said — for the Challenge, too, was inviolable. But it would not end the same. “You have slain the good and brought terror to the innocent, and for that, this Apocalypse Maiden says that you,” she pointed straight at the shining clown mask that suddenly looked much less terrifying, “are going down!”

It gave a mad giggle and suddenly whirled its axe so swiftly that it became a silver and red circle of death.

Hippity-how, hippity-hill

That’s what you say you will

Hippity-hill, hippity-how

Time to die for you is NOW!

It swung and Holly parried with the Silverlight Bisento, and a shockwave shuddered out from the point of impact, rattling doors, cracking windows. Crap, this thing is strong, she thought as she felt her arms give a fraction under the blow. I thought something this much smaller would be weaker than the others!

But it was still a lot taller than she was, and she ducked the next swing and rammed the bisento‘s blade straight through the creature. She heard Seika backing away with faint murmurs that were probably curses. But she wasn’t running; she was trying to stay out of the way, yet remain close enough to see . . . maybe close enough to help.

It gave a keening snarl and a backhand blow with the axehead sent Holy Aura tumbling away, feeling blood trickling from her scalp. Crap! It’s a good thing he couldn’t turn the blade around that fast, or he’d have split my head in two!

But even though she felt a little dazed and her weapon was still stuck in the thing’s body, she rolled to her feet with more confidence. Silvertail?

I am here.

Take care of Seika.

An impression of a nod. Count on me.

The thing ripped the Silverlight Bisento from its chest and hurled it at Holy Aura, but she caught it easily. “You can’t hurt me with my own weapon, monster — ” she began, but cut off when it sprinted forward, axe swinging in a dizzying and lethal geometry of cuts that drove her backward. She managed to catch the weapon with the shaft of hers momentarily and bring the ball of the bisento around to smash it full in its masked face.

The mask split.

Holly found herself screaming, backing away from the thing while desperately raining unaimed but powerful blows at it to keep it back.

To call what was revealed a “face” was an offense to the word. Yes, there were eyes — glaring, gleefully mad eyes, one green as poison, one red as blood. There was a mouth, with broken, yellow teeth raggedly sharp in an insane grin. There was even a nose, half eaten away by acid or fire. But the repellent, monstrous whole was hideous, ridged with scar tissue, living maggots wriggling through the pus-oozing flesh, holes in the cheeks showing the muscles and fangs from the sides as well as the front, and despite the decaying appearance there was no impression of weakness, of frailty, but of unnatural, unquenchable, abominable life. It stank of old blood and rot and rusting steel, of gangrenous wounds and creeping infections and burned flesh, and it smiled with a crazed good cheer that infused it with even more horror than a savage grin or implacable immobility would have.

And it was moving fast. Holy Aura could barely fend off its blows, even as she managed — with the help of ancient power and the stabilizing memories of Stephen Russ — to gain control over herself. It’s no worse looking than the shoggoth was. That wasn’t quite true, but Steve had seen plenty of horror movies — including the slasher films this thing was drawing on. This was worse . . . but only because she was letting the thing’s aura, its essence, bring home the reality of its malevolence.

She somersaulted backward, vaguely conscious of Seika and Silvertail now to the side, in one of the classrooms — got to keep it focused on me — spun her weapon around, concentrated, saw the corridor brightening with white-silver radiance. “Ginhikari no Bisento!

The broad blade of the immense weapon caught and carved through the haft of the bloody axe, and continued its irresistible course through obscene head, neck, and body, cleaving the stalker-manifestation almost entirely in two. The thing collapsed, arms twitching, eyes rolling in their separate sections of skull, the pieces of the axe tumbling to the floor.

Now, I just have to finish it off. But even as she reached within her, looking for that transcendent connection to the power beyond, the slasher-monster’s body pulled itself together, the horrific head sealing itself, and even the axe mended itself, wood fibers reversing their sundering and merging to become, impossibly, whole again.

Holy Aura parried, but her arms almost buckled.

It’s getting stronger, and I haven’t been able to kill it!

She needed time, and that was one thing her opponent was never going to give her.