Princess Holy Aura – Chapter 20
Take care of Seika.
The words had been thought to Silvertail simply, but he was used to seeing what lay behind the words; Holly would not tell him to do, or not do, anything else, but she knew, or thought she knew, what had to happen now. Count on me, he replied, and knew that she understood completely.
Seika cooperated by backing away quickly from the two combatants, placing her back against one of the classroom doors. It was simple to use his magic to cause the door to unlock and open; the stalking-monster’s magic was focused on Holy Aura now.
The door popping open caused Seika to stumble backward, off-balance; she managed to recover and came to a stop leaning against one of the desks, pushing her springy hair out of her face, shaking, staring . . .
“But not running,” he said.
She jumped away from him — a creditable leap, which shoved two desks onto their sides. “Shit! I mean . . . Ohmigod, you can talk? You’re her . . . spirit animal, familiar, I mean, the cute animal that guides the mahou shoujo to their . . .”
She trailed off, but the disbelieving wonder in her face showed she’d already made the leap. “No. No way. Not me. Not fat, slow, clumsy –”
Holly — Holy Aura — needs help,” he said simply. “You came here to help her. You did help her, despite what must have been absolute terror, because she was your friend. You are not running. You are a warrior at heart, Seika Lynn Cooper, and your ‘slow clumsiness’ has already served to rescue Holly once. Will you take up the sword for real? Will you become one of the Apocalypse Maidens and fight at her side?”
“Will I?” She opened her mouth with a shaking joy writ clear across every line of her young face, even as the building shuddered to another clash of light and dark.
“Wait!” Silvertail wished he could simply take her obvious acceptance . . . but he had agreed with Steve on the course they must take. “If you do, there is no going back, Seika. Lives will depend on you. And your family and friends may be in more danger until the ultimate enemy is overcome.”
Seika hesitated. She is very bright, this one. Even in these circumstances, she understands what I say . . . and I think even some of what is meant beneath the words. But then another crash, a muffled shriek and curse from Holly, reached their ears. “If I don’t . . . she’s going to lose, isn’t she?”
“I cannot be certain. But . . . yes, I would guess so. That is the way of the enchantment, the course of destiny. The second Apocalypse Maiden is now needed.”
“Then do your magic, rat! My BFF is getting whaled on out there!”
“My name is Silvertail Heartseeker, and you, Seika, are one of the Hearts I 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!”
Seika’s brown eyes were wide with wonder, a touch of fear, and a hint of anticipation as the broken-pointed star materialized before her. She swallowed so hard it was audible in the empty classroom, even with the echoes of the battle reverberating through the air, and then reached out and grasped the Apocalypse Brooch.
Ruby-bright light flared from the brooch, and Silvertail knew now who was being called forth. Seika raised the brooch over her head and the light blazed like a fiery star; her eyes reflected both realization and shock as the enchanted necessity took over.
“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!” Seika said, and her voice was the roar of a bonfire. “Mistress of the flame, bane of winter, I am the Apocalypse Maiden, Princess Radiance Blaze!”
Fire ignited around her body, floating her up, and she spun — or the world rotated about her, as she remained still. The luminance burned away her clothes, her body, and formed them anew, Silvertail now seeing a taller figure with hair that enhaloed her head like a dark sun, a figure bound in chains of flaming light, chains thick and heavy enough to restrain an army, not one mere girl.
But beneath the heavy mane of hair, the new face was undaunted, filled with certainty and joy; she strained against the bonds and the chains parted, shattered under the obdurate and irresistible power of fire unleashed.
Dark hands caught the silver-glowing chains, spun them about, and they answered her call, became a writhing circle of flaming steel into which she settled. Like Holy Aura’s, Princess Radiance Blaze’s armor was brief and stylized, but it shimmered with reds and oranges and golds like the fire that was her power.
Scarcely had her feet touched the ground, though, and she was off, a blur of crimson light almost beyond Silvertail’s ability to follow.
Holly — Princess Holy Aura — was in trouble; the implacable stalker refused to give her room, a moment to focus and find the key to power she had learned in the depths of the shoggoth’s embrace, and as Silvertail looked she was being forced backward by the thing’s immense strength.
But a red-gold meteor streaked through the hallway and slammed into the creature with such absolute might that it flew straight and true down the rest of the hall to smash with earthshaking force into the door at the far end. Had its own power not sealed the doors, Silvertail was certain, the monster would have continued on out and across the rear parking lot like a cannonball.
But even that impact barely slowed it. The stalker-thing rebounded from the door, staggered, then reached out, and its axe slid across the floor to its hand.
You need more to finish off me!
Who the hell are you?”
The magic bound Seika to answer, but she showed none of Steve’s initial reluctance; she whirled her chains eagerly as she answered, “I am the one you fear, monster! Apocalypse Maiden the Second, Princess Radiance Blaze! Reborn from the fire, mistress of the eternal flame, defender of life and ruler of the inferno below!” She grabbed one of the chains and snapped it tight between her two hands. “You’ve hurt my friend and threatened innocent lives, and for that, this Apocalypse Maiden says that you are going down!”
Silvertail could see that Holy Aura was rising, staring at the cocoa-skinned warrior of flame in awe. Silvertail . . . is that what I am like?
Exactly like that, yes. You are an Apocalypse Maiden, and so is she. Now, Holly, do what you both must — for the sake of the lives that even now are trapped within this building!
“R-Radiance Blaze, thanks for joining the party!” Holy Aura said, and her smile was more than a greeting.
For the first time the stalking monster gave vent to a sound other than the macabre singing, a growling, hollow snarl; it was a threatening sound . . . but the very fact that its pattern was breaking showed its uncertainty. It must not escape, Maidens! It knows enough to report who you truly are to its mistress!
Â It did not seem in the mood to retreat, however, for it raised the axe and began its metronomic stride again.
“He’s not going down with one hit,” Holy Aura murmured. “I need time to get focused.”
“You mean your super-attack’s gotta charge,” Radiance Blaze whispered back. “So I have to keep him off you, right?”
“He could kill –”
“– everyone here, Holly, and you know it, so now that I’ve got it, let me do my job, right?”
Silvertail could feel the pained reluctance echoing from the core that was Stephen Russ, the fear that he would be sending a child to die as a distraction. But as Holy Aura, she knew her duty . . . and could see the eyes of Seika, Princess Radiance Blaze, shining at her with a fearsome eagerness.
“Then . . . go. But watch out!”
Radiance Blaze leapt forward, arm curling back, then whipping forward, and silver-flaming chain streaked from her hand, straight and true as a rifle shot. The chain’s heavy links battered the monster full in the face, and the axe rebounded from the chain. Its eyes were narrowed, squinted in pain and fury, and it made no more taunting songs, but shrank away from the rattling metal that was yanked back to its wielder and then cast forth again, an arch of blazing iron flame that almost twined around the handle of the axe and did catch one hand, sent smoke up from the leathery skin.
The manifestation of stalking horror growled again and tried to charge, to close the distance, but in a flash of fiery light Radiance Blaze was behind him, wonder writ large on her face as she realized that the speed of fire was beyond human realization, wonder that became a fierce joy.
The creature’s own inhuman speed was now put to the test as it began to dodge a barrage of battering chains that zigzagged across the floor and through the air like bolts of volcanic lightning. But dodge them it did, and Radiance Blaze began to back up, looking uncertain, as it dodged or parried, one to the left, one to the right, front, back, each one allowing it to take one more step, and its dead clown face grinned anew.
Now for sure your battle’s lost!
Then I’ll finish off your friend!”
Radiance Blaze suddenly straightened, and the tight smile beneath the huge halo of hair was chilling. “Well hippity-hong and hippity-hap, you’ve just stepped into my trap!”
The monster froze, aware only now that it had not been repeated strikes of two chains but a succession of many chains it had deflected . . .
. . . chains that now surrounded it.
“Radiance Blaze — CIRCLE of FIRE!”
It tried to raise its vicious axe, to protect itself, but eight separate chains rose, arcing up like fiery cobras, and struck, twining themselves together around the monster and igniting into a metallic inferno. The creature screamed and struggled, but for a moment it was held fast, unable to break the chains, unable to slip free.
Unable to dodge.
Holy Aura’s voice chased after the echoes of her fellow Apocalypse Maiden, and the pure white light eradicated all shadow from existence. “Light of Apocalypse — SOLAR FLARE!”
The world went pure white and a ripping, gargling growling scream was torn from the thing. Like a doll in a blowtorch it sizzled and burned, still struggling, snarling, desperate to escape and destroy its attackers, but it was weakening, decaying visage turning to ash, leaving bone, and even the bone scorching, melting away, skeletal hands crumbling, the axe itself tumbling to the ground and blackening before the imperative force of the Apocalypse Maidens.
The light faded away, the chains clattered limply to the floor, and both Holy Aura and Radiance Blaze sagged against the wall, holding themselves up, staring tensely at the remains of the thing: a half-crumbled skeleton surrounded by ash, wisps of smoke slowly trailing up from it.
“That’s . . . got it.” Holy Aura said finally.
“Yeah.” Radiance Blaze stared, then her face lit up. “Yeah! Booya! Kicked your ass, huh! Teach you to pick on this school!”
“Oh, god, school. Silvertail, by now they’ll have noticed we’re gone, and if –”
“Holly, Holly, trust me, I already have taken care of those issues,” Silvertail said, hopping to her shoulder as the two girls started to hesitantly make their way up the corridor toward A-Wing. “Temporary simulacra of both of you have been with the group, and of course we already discussed the cam –”
Without so much as pause or warning, Holy Aura and Radiance Blaze spun around, and a twin blast of flaming spiritual power roared down the hallway, catching the axe-wielding, only half-healed form and slinging it back to the fire door, pinning the screaming, writhing thing against its own immovable barrier. “Do you think we’re idiots?” Holy Aura demanded, and Radiance Blaze finished, “The monster always gets back up for one more shot after you think it’s dead!”
A thundering stream of apocalyptic energies kept the thing irresistibly trapped between its insubstantial hammer and the fire door’s mystically-sealed anvil, and the being’s furious screams grew weaker as the combined power of Princess Holy Aura and Princess Radiance Blaze eroded it, turning it to ash and the ash to dust and the dust to a mist that dispersed into shadow that faded to nothing before their luminance. The two Apocalypse Maidens kept the power streaming out, their bodies shaking from the strain, faces tense and growing white with the effort, until a final, whispered scream rose and fell to silence and the door blew apart, the spiritual cannon continuing thirty yards before boring a hole straight through the rear parking lot.
Silvertail managed to clear his throat. “Um, yes. Well done, and well read. The memes, that is. You knew it would rise once you had declared it dead?”
“Like there was ever a slasher movie where that didn’t happen,” Seika said.
“Of course. As I was saying, we already discussed the cameras. Now, if you two will change back . . .”
“Oh.” Holly reappeared in a flash; after a moment, Princess Radiance Blaze also disappeared, replaced by Seika.
“Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod that was so cool,” Seika said immediately. “Holly, my God you were so totally awesome it was like–”
“I was awesome? You kicked so much ass and you were –”
“AHEM!” The two girls jumped guiltily. “My apologies, both of you, but we do need to get you back quickly. The doors will all be opening in moments as the rest of the enchantment fades, and you must be back with the crowd.” He looked at Seika. “You must come and visit Holly as soon as you –”
Seika’s jaw suddenly dropped. “That voice . . . Mr. OWEN?”
My goodness she is sharp indeed. “Yes, Seika, you have penetrated my disguise. But listen, please. You must come to visit as soon as you can. There is much we have to tell you and discuss and, at least for now, you must keep this secret.”
She nodded emphatically. “Count on me, Mr. . . . Silvertail? God that’s going to be so weird. But yeah, I can keep the secret! I promise!”
“Good enough, then. Let’s get you back to the group. Now follow my directions carefully and you will merge with your doppelgangers . . .”
Two Maidens awakened, and they already work well together. He felt himself starting to relax, then cursed at himself. That is well and good, but this is still but the beginning.
And now . . . now the enemy knows where to look.