Princess Holy Aura – Chapter 23
“Well, Trayne? You called this meeting, it’s your show,” Mrs. Cooper said. “Little Van’s over with one of his friends for the night.” Marilynn Cooper was almost as petite as her husband was huge, but she had her daughter’s sharp gaze and an adult aura of responsibility. Both parents are formidable, Silvertail thought. And both must be our allies in what is to come.
He thought of how badly this could end, and cringed internally. Yet Steve-Holly had been right. This was the right way to handle the situation, to bear the standard of light. Truth.
“Thank you, Marilynn.”
“Oh, just call me Lynn, please.”
“Then thank you, Lynn.” He looked around the moderate-sized living room of the Coopers and made sure his thoughts were arranged precisely; Holly looked nervously at him from her nearby seat on a floral-print chair. And at least the youngest child is not here; I suspect Lynn recognized there was some serious aspect to this meeting. “This has to do with that . . . incident at the school.”
“You know something more about it?” Dave Cooper asked curiously. “Because all I know about it is what Seika’s told me and the say-nothing press releases. Which scares the hell out of me and Lynn.”
“Yes, I do,” he said. “And we’re right to be scared. This and those . . . other monster sightings, they’re connected, as I am sure you’ve guessed.”
“Cop we talked to . . . Gilbert, I think? . . . anyway, he as much as said so. But you know they are?”
“I do. And . . . this is going to be very, shall we say, challenging to explain.”
“You aren’t responsible for these . . . events?” Lynn asked pointedly.
He laughed; it was a small laugh but real enough. “Rather the opposite, actually. I am involved in trying to put a stop to them.”
“You’re with the police? Or some other government agency, the FBI?”
“I am afraid not. For the most part law enforcement has neither the knowledge nor the resources to oppose these things, and the few that have any of either do not fully understand what they are dealing with, or have mistaken ideas of the proper way to deal with them, and so are unfortunately prone to making the situation worse rather than better.”
The two were now regarding him with the wariness often accorded those that were suspected of being less than sane. Or who are saying things that speak to fears that one would rather not face. “Holly, Seika, I think you two girls should go somewhere else,” Dave said slowly. “Why don’t you — ”
“This involves us, Daddy,” Seika said in a small voice.
“We were there,” Holly added.
“I’m not sure — ” began Dave.
Lynn held up a hand and her husband stopped. “Girls . . . you know what he’s here to talk to us about?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Holly said; her nervousness was unmistakable.
David and Lynn rose from their seats simultaneously. “You talked about . . . this to our daughter before you talked to us?” Lynn’s eyes were narrow below her short-cropped hair, and Silvertail could see her — quite justified — anger rising.
“It was not something I had choice in. As you will see if you will allow me to continue.”
Both Coopers looked at him very carefully, then at the two girls. Finally they both sat down, slowly. “All right. Go ahead, then. But I am not comfortable with this.”
“If you were, I would be most concerned. You should be uncomfortable about this, and I am afraid it will not grow easier.” He took a breath, let it out slowly, trying to breathe tension out of himself as he did so. “First, I want to make sure you understand this: those reports — of the rock-worm monster at that shopping center, and of the creature at the mall — are not exaggerations. They are not delusions, ill-considered publicity stunts, or any form of mistaken identity. In those two events — and the one that took place last week at Whitney High School — mankind was confronted by supernatural adversaries. If you cannot at least accept that as a possibility, my explanations will be meaningless.”
The Coopers looked at each other, shifting uncomfortably. Finally Dave nodded. “Friend of mine was at the mall that day. He’s still pretty freaked out. I believe you, that much anyway. So you . . . what, hunt these things, like that show Supernatural?”
“In a sense, yes. It is not that simple or direct.” He considered how to continue. “Under normal circumstances, these powers cannot enter our world for more than the most fleeting of moments. Every so often, in intervals generally measured in centuries, however, conditions permit them to attempt to enter this portion of reality.”
“You mean ‘when the stars are right’?” Lynn said with an eyebrow that was raised in a half-humorous, half-frightened expression.
“That is as good a phrase as any, yes.”
Lynn closed her eyes; Dave looked slightly confused. “And you try to . . . what? Make the stars not right?”
“Say rather that I am charged with finding a way to shut the door that the stars have opened, before what lies in wait behind that door can pass through fully. Thus far . . . I have succeeded.”
“Whoa, hold on,” Dave Cooper said. “Centuries. You . . . You’re saying you’re –”
“– much, much older than I appear. Yes. I am in fact old enough to have watched not merely this country, but all of the countries you have ever heard of rise and fall.” He had decided there was absolutely no point in minimizing this. The Coopers — and whatever other families might follow them — had to understand the stakes and the sheer scale of the threats that loomed over them.
“That . . . do you understand that you’re sounding, well, crazy, Trayne?”
“I understand very well what it sounds like. But consider my words in the context of the monsters you concede do exist, and the fact that this threat has reached the high school your oldest child attends. There are uncountable lives at stake here, and I have neither time, nor honestly the right, to dissemble overmuch on this situation.”
The two were again silent. Lynn finally said, “All of these things . . . they’ve happened here. Near here.”
“And will, in general, continue to do so. Although there are indications that the rest of the world will begin to see sporadic events as well. There are other . . . powers, shall we say, which are becoming active with the gateway beginning to open. But they will be far less common than events here, and if — I must emphasize, if — my efforts are successful here, the mundane world that you remember will return.”
“So we could just . . . move. It wouldn’t be easy, but we could pack up, Dave could transfer to — ”
“I am afraid it is too late for that,” Silvertail interrupted. “Was too late some months ago, in fact. Oh, you could move . . . but that would not release you from your involvement in this.”
“What involvement?” Lynn paused and shook her head. “No, wait. First I want some evidence, something to show me why I shouldn’t be calling CPS to get your daughter away from a lunatic.”
“Very well. My powers are relatively limited when not directed against my particular adversaries. Nonetheless . . .” He smiled wryly and gestured, muttering words he remembered from childhood.
The serving tray, with its assortment of cheese, crackers, and other little snacks, suddenly lifted from the table, floated up nearly to the ceiling, and then described a smooth arc all the way around the room before returning to its place directly in front of the wide-eyed Coopers. “Cool,” Seika and Holly breathed.
“Obviously,” he said, “this does not prove my essential benevolence or other points of my narrative, but it certainly should show that my contention of being something other than an ordinary human being is true. If you want proof that these monsters exist, or that I fight them . . . I must confess that you will get that eventually, but the exact moment of such proof lies beyond my control, alas. I can neither predict nor direct their manifestations, and you should really be more prepared before confronting such things in any case.”
“I’m not sure I was prepared for that! Holy shit, Lynn, did you see that?”
“I saw it, Dave.” She reached out, touched one of the crackers as though to verify that it was still there, withdrew her hand and then picked up the iced tea she’d brought with her, sipped at it in silence for long moments. “All right, Trayne. Tell us what you have to. I’m convinced you’re not crazy.”
Thank goodness. He had hoped they would be basically rational people — given Seika’s overall levelheadedness, it had appeared likely — but even very rational people did not always deal well with the apparently irrational.
“The story begins many thousands of years ago, in a land that you would call Lemuria,” he began. He carefully summarized the background, including how he and the others of Lemuria had finally devised a weapon capable of defeating and sealing away Azathoth of the Nine Arms, but left out — for now — the details of exactly what that weapon was. He finished with a description of how this had led to the repeating cycle of confrontations.
I am so sorely tempted to use just the slightest of enchantments to make them receptive, willing to believe and trust . . . but I must not. Steve was unfortunately all too right; either we do this the right way, or we weaken ourselves in the very way we can least afford.
Lynn’s eyes sharpened their gaze and darted from him to Holly to Seika, and the resemblance between mother and daughter was incredibly strong. “Your daughter and ours . . . we can’t just move away because they are connected to this somehow. Tell me I’m wrong.”
He tried to smile, but the weight of worry prevented it. “I wish I could, Lynn. But you are correct. Holly and Seika are a part of this, and that is why there would be no point in your moving. Danger would follow you wherever you went.”
Despite his dark complexion — even darker than Seika’s — Dave visibly paled. “My God.” He pointed at Holly. “Holly Owen . . . Holy Aura.”
“What?” Lynn said, puzzled.
“That’s . . . my friend, Martin, he said that’s what the girl that took the monster down called herself, Princess Holy Aura. And so…”
Holly bowed her head. “You’re as sharp as Seika, both of you.”
Lynn shot to her feet. “Oh, no, you did not! Your weapon is not–”
“Yes,” he said quietly. “It is, I am afraid. And the first to carry that terrible responsibility was my own daughter, when Lemuria was lost. I know exactly what you are feeling, Lynn, David. Believe me, I do. My daughter . . . and her friends . . . knew what they were volunteering for, and we knew it was the only way to save the human species from extinction. And still it tore out our hearts to do it, and I am the only one living who remembers what it was to first forge my child into a weapon.” He tried to keep his tone quiet, level, but he heard his voice tremble, as it always had . . . and, he thought, always would . . . at the pride and pain of that memory.
“Seika? Honey, you aren’t — ”
“We both are, Mom,” Seika said. And with just a glance between them, the two girls stood up.
“To avert the Apocalypse, and shield the innocent from evil,” they began, and a glow started up about them, one white as sunlight on water, one red as gold in fire, “and stand against the powers of destruction, I offer myself as wielder and weapon, as symbol and sword!”
“Mistress of the spirit,” Holly said, the light beginning to rise about her form.
“Mistress of the flame,” said Seika at the same moment, red-orange light burning its way up her body, the two perfectly synchronized.
“Bane of winter, I am the Apocalypse Maiden, Princess Radiance Blaze!”
“Ruler of the stars beyond, Mystic Galaxy Defender, Princess Holy Aura!”
The double transformation detonated like a silent bomb of light, shaking the house, and when the fire-touched white light faded, both Apocalypse Maidens stood before the stunned Coopers.
Lynn was the first to speak. Taking a shaky step forward, she stared at the taller, slender figure before her. “Seika?”
“It’s . . . me, Mom,” Radiance Blaze said hesitantly. For those who knew Seika, the similarity was clear in the voice, yet it was a voice with more power and clarity than Seika Cooper herself could ever have mustered, and no one who did not know Seika well would ever associate the two voices.
“It . . . is you. My God. And . . . yes, that’s Holly. But the two of you are so . . .”
“I know,” Holly said instantly. “It’s kinda . . . annoying. But the power works that way, hooks onto what people expect and believe.”
“I see.” Both Lynn and Dave stared for a few moments, then turned back to Trayne Owen. “Why?”
He didn’t pretend to misunderstand. He told them: the symbolism of the half-child, half-adult, the power of willing sacrifice and courage, the prices that had to be paid, the cycles that repeated and were wiped from the memory of the world. During the narration, the girls dismissed the Apocalypse Maiden forms and returned to their mortal selves. Best that way. Now that the point is made, no need to push it farther . . . and even with my preparations, it is possible our adversaries might have detected the transformations.
Lynn nodded slowly; unwillingly, so did Dave. “So,” he said after Silvertail had paused, “so, what did you sacrifice?”
“Besides having to allow my daughter to make this choice, and help her make it, you mean?”
“Yeah. ‘Cause to be honest, Trayne, that’s really mostly her sacrifice. No matter how much it hurts a parent. Right?”
“You are absolutely correct, Dave. And I am pleased to hear you say it that way. What did I sacrifice?” He smiled with an unavoidably bitter edge. “Most of my humanity. Literally. What you see in front of you . . . is magically maintained. Most of my remaining power goes into keeping this false front working. If I need to work any significant magic, I have to let it drop.”
“What do you mean?” Lynn and David shifted slightly backward, away from him. “What are you, then?”
“Nothing . . . horrific. Though there are people afraid of what I am, it’s nothing to do with looking terribly dangerous. As you ask . . .” He allowed his false front to dissolve.
Seika’s parents simply stared, as Silvertail bowed. “This is what I am reduced to. And at that, I was fortunate; of the thirteen in the circle, the thirteen most powerful magicians in all Lemuria, I am the only one who survived at all, and that because the enchantment required a living, constant lynchpin to keep it active. My friends and I understood we would be consumed by the power we summoned.”
He let them stare a moment longer, then resumed his human form. “This is . . . a real form, in the sense that it is physical, but most of my remaining strength is used in keeping it real.”
They were both silent for moments, then Dave finally stirred. “Well . . . Trayne . . . I . . . I think we really need to think this whole thing over. You said there’s several of these Apocalypse Maidens? So you’re going to have to do this with other parents?”
“I believe you begin to see our problem, yes.”
“Hell, I wouldn’t want to try to explain this to anyone. And they’re all students at Whitney?”
“In all vast probability, yes.”
“Can you –”
“– remove the enchantment? No. Unfortunately while I can select the first Maiden, the remainder proceeds utterly out of my control. I will attempt to guide and train them as they emerge, but I can neither select which girls will be the next Maidens, nor shift that selection if the chosen girl attempts to reject it. Seika Cooper is Princess Radiance Blaze, and there is no power on Earth or the heavens that can change that, nor that could have prevented her awakening when she came to the assistance of her friend.”
“Wait, what was that?”
“Well, Dad, we didn’t tell the police the truth about that!” Seika said with a hint of tense exasperation.
Holly and Seika then summarized the true events behind that battle at the school. Silvertail caught the Coopers’ eyes. “Be proud of your daughter, both of you. She made a choice to protect her friend, a choice of great courage and personal risk, and it is undoubtedly that spirit that led to her being chosen as Princess Radiance Blaze.”
He could see they were looking at their daughter with a new perspective, and felt himself relaxing. There is of course one more great hurdle, but these people, at least, understand the idea of choice and responsibility, and are glad their daughter does as well.
“Holly’s not actually your daughter,” Lynn said suddenly.
He raised an eyebrow. “You are correct. But might I ask — ”
Dave Cooper answered. “‘Cause we could hear what losing your real daughter did to you. I can’t imagine a decent man then being able to go out and have another daughter and raise her into this. Hard enough to pick kids for the job, I’d think.” His voice was tense and his phrasing clipped.
“You . . . understand me well, it would seem. Yes. Though in truth I rarely have had the opportunity; the power to return my old body to reality long enough to be useful is rarely available unless the cycle has begun again, and then I hardly have time for dalliance. But on the occasions it was possible . . . no, I would not have done that to either a new wife nor to any child we might have had. I would not raise a child to be a tool, and in the end that is what it would be if I allowed it to happen.”
“So what happened to your parents, Holly?”
Silvertail saw Holly set her jaw in a very Steve-like manner. Yes, this is the time.
But may the gods protect us if we cannot get through this part of the tale.