Princess Holy Aura – Chapter 31
“Holly? Seika?” Tierra said after a few frozen moments.
“Fuck,” Seika said succinctly in the powerful soprano of Radiance Blaze. “But, that’s the way the meme rolls, right?”
Holly found she’d covered her face with one of Holy Aura’s hands. “Yes. Yes, of course it is.”
Is Tierra going to be one of the Maidens? Or one of those ordinary characters that happens to learn the secret?
If it was the latter, whether Tierra survived the next hour would depend on just which memes were in play.
“What the hell is going on?” a desperate voice said from in front of them. “I don’t understand any of this!”
Tierra’s gaze shifted and her eyes widened even more, as Holly realized the voice was coming from the mirror. Cordy! She can talk to us from the mirror?
Even as she thought the question she wanted to smack herself for it. Of course she can. The tyrpiglynt could and it swapped places with her; stands to reason she gets to talk like he did, at least for a while before the magic wears off.
She looked at Radiance Blaze, saw the same “what the hell do we do now?” look on her face, then shrugged. “Cordy, Tierra, okay, we don’t have much time at all, so I’m going to have to dump a lot of this on you all at once and explain the rest later.” She took a deep breath. “That spirit Procelli you were talking to is a monster called a Mirrortaint and he gets more powerful by granting wishes and warping people’s personalities, and your last wish got him out of the mirror and into the real world. Seika and I are the Apocalypse Maidens who are — you don’t know what mahou shoujo or ‘magical girl’ means, do you?”
At Cordy’s confused, stunned headshake, she went on, “Okay, we’re like Supernatural‘s brothers, but with magic powers, we hunt these things, it’s more complicated than that but that’s the thing right now, we’ve got to stop this monster as fast as we can, and get you out of there back to the real world.”
The two other girls stared blankly at them for a moment. Tierra recovered first, tossing her flame-red hair back and giving a half-disbelieving grin. “Ooooo-KAY. I wouldn’t believe any of this if I hadn’t seen it but I did, so I do.” The smile faded as she looked back at the mirror. “How do you get her out?”
I have no idea. Silvertail? I could really use your help right now. “Cordy, look around. He switched places. Are you basically just in a mirror version of this bathroom, or is there more to it?”
Cordelia Ingemar blinked, shook herself violently, then stood, still leaning on the glass as though hoping it might somehow open and let her out. Her gaze tracked around, looking around as well as behind her, and she shuddered. “There’s . . . at the edge of the bathroom, past wherever you’d be able to see standing anywhere in front? There’s like . . . swirling red and black mist. There’s the door to the bathroom, too. Don’t know where that goes.”
“Maybe it goes to other mirrors,” Seika said. “How many mirrors did you bring this guy to?”
“Only three,” Cordy said after a minute. “My compact mirror, my dresser mirror, and this one. He asked me to bring him to more, but I didn’t want just anyone walking in on him everywhere. Even if he said he only appeared to me, I’d heard other people talking about the trick to summoning him.”
Holly looked around; there was no sign of Cordy’s purse. Then she looked up and saw the purse still securely slung from Cordy’s shoulder. “Cordy . . . is your compact in your purse?”
She looked down and then reached in, pulling out a circular compact. “Yes.”
“Can you break that mirror? It’s the one you summoned it into first, right?”
Cordelia stood, dropped the mirror on the reflected floor, raised her heel, and stamped hard.
“Ow! That felt like stomping on marble!” She lifted her foot. “Nothing. Even the plastic backing didn’t crack.”
Naturally, Holly thought grimly. It’s infused with magic, inside the Mirrortaint’s natural world. The thing wants its mirrors intact. Ordinary force probably can’t break it inside the glass; that’s why it sent her in there. A perfect way to protect it.
“Oh, fuck,” Radiance Blaze/Seika said. “How can we break a mirror that’s in a mirror?”
“If we can get her out of the mirror, that’s not going to be a problem, her compact comes with her. And if we can’t get her out, I don’t know if we can break this mirror; what’ll that do to Cordy? She’s not some transdimensional super-monster with somewhere else to go.”
“So check me on this, guys,” Tierra said. “You two are really Holly Owen and Seika Cooper, right?”
“Right,” Seika said, still studying the mirror.
“And there’s some kind of monster that was in the mirror, and it’s somehow switched places with Cordy so she’s in there and it’s out here.”
“You’re with us so far.”
“And you’ve got no clue how to get her out.”
Holly bit her lip. “Not really. Beating the tyrpiglynt, the Mirrortaint thing, might do it, but I really need to know more. We’ve got to go find Silvertail. He’ll know.”
“Silvertail? What, is that the codename for Power Ranger control or something?”
Holly couldn’t repress a snort of laughter. “You’re closer than you think. Yeah, if mahou shoujo means nothing to you, we’re sorta the first couple fighters in a sentai show like Power Rangers. And we do need to find our boss, he’ll have ideas.”
“Go, Holy Aura. Find Silvertail and see if you can find the tyrpiglynt,” said Radiance Blaze.
“Shouldn’t we both — ”
“No, someone has to watch this area. That thing’s still going to have connections to its mirrors, according to what Silvertail said, and we’ve got two of the three right here.”
Holly realized that Seika was right. They needed Silvertail’s advice, and they needed to start interfering with the monster’s plans right away — before it got new anchors in this world. And they couldn’t leave Cordy or — now that she knew — Tierra alone. “Got it. I’m on my way, I’ll be back as soon as I can!”
She sped out the door, charging down the corridor at a speed even a cheetah would have envied, bursting out into the wintry day in mere seconds.
There was a roaring from the crowd that sounded like the game had already started again. Were we in there for the whole halftime? Didn’t seem long enough. She glanced around, thinking. Silvertail? Silvertail, answer me, we need your help bad!
But there was no answer. Where is he? Somewhere he can’t see me, maybe on the other side of the crowd?
The dull roar rose louder, and it sounded . . . savage. The announcer’s voice was barely audible: “A vicious hit by the Blue Devils’ defense! The old rivalry’s back in full force, folks, and it looks like . . . yes, Hawn, the White Lions’ running back, is down, clutching at his leg. The referee’s calling in the stretchers for the second time already in the third quarter, and doesn’t the Whitney crowd love it!”
The usual concern for the injured isn’t even being expressed, Holly thought with growing horror. This monster’s worse than I thought. It’s only had a few minutes, maybe ten or fifteen at the outside, to do this work.
But while she couldn’t remember the math, she remembered the concept of positive feedback. The tyrpiglynt gets its power from the darker impulses of people, and it can make those impulses worse, grant wishes to make people indulge them. So it gets more powerful, grants more wishes, pushes people more . . . yeah, that’s something that doesn’t take much time at all to get rolling.
But she couldn’t locate the thing. She found she could in some way sense its magic, but it lay like a dark miasma over the entire field, a repellent aura permeating everything in its range and growing darker and more powerful by the moment . . . and obscuring any sense of where it truly originated from, like a spring of dark water.
Well fine then. I’ll have to force it to come out. And maybe Silvertail will spot me then.
She meditated for just a moment, preparing herself for battle. I don’t want to be caught unfocused again. Then in three huge bounds, Princess Holy Aura sprang to the very top of one of the banks of lights that illuminated the field. “STOP!” she shouted.
Her clear, high voice cut through the ugly snarl of the crowd, the grunts and shouts on the field, the increasingly enthusiastic narration of the announcer, a ringing cry like a trumpet across a battlefield, and everything paused, held for an instant by the sheer astonishment of that echoing voice.
She raised the Silverlight Bisento and concentrated, let its pure holy argent light shine like a beacon. “Remember yourselves! Is this who you are? Look at what is happening to you!”
As the crowd began to murmur — with a tone shifted, less hostile, less hungry — Holy Aura felt a pressure on her, something trying to dispel her light, to repress her will, and she instead set her feet and lifted the weapon higher. “Those are children on that field! Some of them your own children! Do you truly take joy in their pain, in this becoming no game, but a battle?”
Mutters of confusion, of denial, began to rise below her, and now that pressure began to have a sense of direction, for the oppressive, mounting corruption was fragmenting, dissipating, and only near its source could it continue. She whipped the blade around and pointed down, as near the center of the remaining shadowy taint of the soul as she could judge. “And I know you are here, monster! Tyrpiglynt, Mirrortaint, I call you by your name, Procelli! You have brought harm to the innocent and unleashed the darkest of our natures, and for that, this Apocalypse Maiden says that you are going down!”
A slender form slowly rose from the bleachers, and the power gathered about it; now that she knew where to look, she could recognize the beautiful young man who had stepped from the mirror. “Oh, brave words, little Maiden, and well spoken!”
Without even a pause, the thing was there, not ten feet away on the narrow catwalk atop the light assembly. “But are you not human? Surely there are things you desire, Princess. Something I could grant you, even — for I have become strong indeed already, and will become stronger yet.”
At close range, directed at her, the words struck with almost physical force. She could feel the truth in its speech, that it could grant many, many desires, especially the ones neither Holly nor Steve wished to acknowledge . . . nor could completely deny. And she knew that it would happily join power to hers, for she offered it a wellspring of almost unlimited power to draw from; together . . .
“Together,” it whispered, as though it could read her thoughts, “together we could transform the world. Perhaps even save it from the Nine Arms, save it for ourselves . . .”
Holy . . . I’m actually considering it!
The sheer shock of realization broke the momentary hold, and she whipped the Silverlight Bisento down, pointing directly at Procelli’s heart. “I deny you, Procelli,” she said, hearing her own voice shaking, forcing it to steady as she remembered her friends, her ideals, the reason she had become Princess Holy Aura. “Your power has no hold over me and never will. I deny you a second time, and I laugh at the thought that you would ever dare oppose the mistress that surely caused you to be summoned! And I deny you a third time, and you can see your victims are already leaving, slipping through your fingers!”
It was no longer smiling so broadly, but the smile had become more that of a shark. “Oh, for now, yes. For now. But once I have removed you, little Maiden, then they shall return, and more besides. But you are right, I would not be fool enough to oppose She of the Nine Arms; instead I will spread darkness over this world and welcome her, and be set above all others!”
Only sheer instinct and the speed of Holy Aura saved her; she spun her weapon up and behind her, to catch the impact from the Mirrortaint. That teleporting trick will get real old, like about now!
The huge lighting fixture shuddered and jangled with the force of the blow, and then rang anew as she and Procelli exchanged multiple strikes, the bishonen Mirrortaint’s arms flicking in and out like striking snakes, rippling as though boneless, hitting with the force of sledgehammers. Screams echoed from below, and the crowd began to evacuate in earnest. Most were running, but she saw Devika Wetherill and a few others trying to direct the crowd; the tall basketball player looked up, light flashing from the Khanda emblem on her chunni, gave what looked like a quick salute, and then returned to urging the others on.
The momentary encouragement didn’t help much, though, as the creature’s blows almost made her knees buckle. It’s ridiculously strong! I’m pretty sure I’ve been getting stronger all along, but this thing’s pushing me, just like the damn stalker-thing!
But she’d also made sure she was focused when she began her speech. She could feel the power of the stars, of the universe surrounding all, and while it was inconceivably outside her ability now to channel anything like all of it, she could call on far more, draw upon the power of the Cosmos that lay behind, above, beyond all things. She blurred into motion, matching the Mirrortaint’s teleport-trick with a reaction speed that almost overmatched the thing, and it barely, just barely, parried a lunge by the Silverlight Bisento, parried it with arms that morphed midmotion into dark nightmare blades.
“So eager for the kill, are we?” it said tauntingly, though she thought she heard, beneath that sneer, a caution, perhaps fear from the nearness of the strike. “But is there not an innocent trapped? Or is she disposable, do you think?”
“And you’ll let her out? I laugh at you, Procelli. Maybe we’ll find a way to free her after you’re no longer alive to hold her?”
It laughed. “Ha! Oh, foolish girl!” A flurry of whirling blows, and she was forced to leap away, dropping to the fast-emptying stands below, but it was already there, waiting as she fell, and she twisted desperately, feeling one edge scrape across her armor with a blackboard-fingernail screech as the other was caught in the nick of time by the shaft of the bisento. “My mirrors are my weakness, as you surely know . . . but you can no longer reach one of them, and the one who holds them is powerless to destroy them! Her will must be nearly gone by now!”
Holy Aura felt her forehead crease in thought. That last speech was true . . . yet not. Cordy was on the edge of panic, but hardly without will. I’d be panicked in her situation too.
They separated in that clash, both jumping back for a new angle, a reevaluation of their opponent. The tyrpiglynt’s head tilted, and suddenly it smiled broadly. “Ohh, but what’s this? A distressed panic, someone desperate indeed, desperate and faced by the impossible? I sense . . . a wonderful opportunity, before I rejoin a most promising ally!”
Holly cursed, but concentrated. I’ve been close to you now, monster. I’ve fought you one to one. You can’t hide from me that easily, with the crowd no longer —
She ignited in white power and streaked across the field, back toward the school. No, that’s bad, if he meant what I think, it’s really, really bad —
The bathroom door was off its hinges, and she could see Seika and Tierra sprawled outside, shaking their heads. Seika? What happened? Did the thing somehow force her to change? What’s going —
Another voice was speaking from inside the room. “I just wish I could get to my little girl!”
She lunged through the door, for the second time that day, seeing Mr. Ingemar standing before the mirror in horrified desperation, and the grin widening across Procelli’s face. “DONE!” he shouted, even as Holy Aura screamed, “NO!” — a cry echoed by Cordelia from the mirror.
Two shouts an instant too late.
Mr. Ingemar vanished. Nausea and rage welling up in her, Holy Aura skidded to a halt, to see the form of Cordy’s father falling to his knees . . . within the mirror.