By Decree Of He-Who-Writes, this is the last snippet.

Princess Holy Aura – Chapter 33

Chapter 33.

Silvertail felt a cold, cold smile crossing his tiny face as he saw the Mirrortaint stagger back in disbelief. “But . . . how . . .

Seika’s face was radiant with understanding. “It was you, not Cordelia’s father! But he sensed the distress — ”

Silvertail locked gazes with Procelli, and he could see fear in the defiant Mirrortaint’s eyes. “I merely allowed myself to remember the day I gave my daughter to this fate . . . and let my fear for all of you drive it. I have had millennia to learn the guidance of my fears. They were real. They were pure. And you fell for that trap, tyrpiglynt.” He thought the next lines to the Maidens. Extend your arms toward each other. Form the pentacle.

Procelli recovered, realizing his danger — but a minuscule fraction of a second too late. The girls’ arms extended, and from each — now that all five Maidens were at last incarnate — streamed the power that was their heritage and their destiny. He rebounded from the field; though it wavered, it held, and the furious glares of the Apocalypse Maidens seemed almost powerful enough themselves to hold him locked within that seal. “I will break — ”

“Given time, perhaps. If the wills of the Maidens were insufficient, or your power allowed to grow long enough. But with the breaking of one of your three mirrors, your anchor to this world has been weakened, and I shall give you no more time.” He turned to Holly. “I give you the words; speak, and focus your will on banishing this monster from the world.”

“Oh, that’s my total focus,” Seika said, not removing her gaze from Procelli.

He thought the words, clearly and carefully, and saw each stand a little taller as they spoke. “By the Earth, the world on which we stand — ”

“-by the Water that cradles all that lives — ”

” — by the Air, that gives us breath and life — ”

The pentagonal seal’s colors were brightening, making the light seem solid, glowing glass binding the five Maidens together, even through the boundary of the mirror itself.

“By the Fire that burns within, that warms us in the night — ”

“And by the power of the Spirit, the foundation of all,” Holly said, and her voice echoed through the walls and floor; Silvertail thought he could even hear a deeper note, the voice of the soul that had chosen to be Holy Aura.

“By all the Powers we banish thee, we abolish thee, we drive you hence from all Time and Space!” they said together, and Silvertail felt himself straighten, felt the pride that even though three of the five had been forced to themselves in but moments, that all five were already united, had at least for this moment recognized that there were evils to be fought without doubt or restraint. “Procelli, Mirrortaint, tyrpiglynt, your summoner denies you, her heart rejects you!”

Cordy spoke then, and the voice of Tsunami Reflection was the crushing cold of an iceberg. “I deny you from within your own mirror, Procelli, and I reject the gifts you offered. Take all your lies and your twisted truths and begone to the void that reflects nothing!”

Procelli screamed, a sound of agony and denial and fury and desperation. His form twisted, became something inhuman and impossible to describe, with bends and twists and folds that the eye could not follow, with claws and mouths and eyes, distorted hands that gripped the stone in a vain effort to retain a hold in a world that rejected it.

With a soundless shock, Procelli vanished.

In the same instant, Princess Tsunami Reflection appeared, now standing before the mirror she had just been within, and in the center of the pentacle Silvertail sat, holding Cordy’s purse in his paws.

They turned and regarded the mirror. Procelli stared, shocked and unbelieving, from its surface.

And then Cordy raised her now-armored fist and smashed the mirror.

It shattered as though a bomb had detonated within it, sending sparkling dust and shards spattering throughout the room; only the buff-colored backing, severely dented in the center now, remained, with a few broken pieces still adhering to the edges.

She reached down and picked up the purse; Silvertail relinquished it willingly. Cordy, still as Princess Tsunami Reflection with her rippling golden hair touched with crystal blue, withdrew her compact and opened it.

Staring out from the tiny mirror was Procelli. His voice came thinly, carrying only a minuscule fraction of its former power: “Please, no, Princess! I will never attempt to trick you again! I understand you, I know what you want, know how — ”

“You,” she said in a voice low and filled with trembling fury and revulsion, “know nothing.”

Her hand spasmed shut, and with the splintering, cracking noise of the compact shattering came a sudden feeling of lightness, as though a weight had lifted from the world, a weight they had barely felt before.

“Well done, Maidens,” Silvertail said, after a few moments of silence. “Well done indeed.”

“Silvertail,” Holly said, “what about all the people — ”

“Yes, that is a problem. But for the most part not utterly insoluble. I will need to borrow your powers, now assembled, but I can undo the worst of what that monster has wrought and prevent innocents from suffering long-lasting consequences.”

“Can you make sure that slimy coach does suffer long-lasting consequences?”

He smiled. “I think that, too, can be arranged.”

Once more, foresight paid off well. The same sigils and talismans buried about the area allowed him to invoke the powers across much of the town. It would not, alas, encompass the fringes of the tyrpiglynt’s former influence, but there was only so much one could do.

He could make sure that not only were certain images on Coach John’s phone now clear, they were also impossible for him to erase. And a much more mundane phone call would be all that was needed for the rest. He already had other . . . images present. This was not just a matter of the tyrpiglynt bringing hidden impulses to the fore; this man had already been indulging those impulses when he could get away with it.

Silvertail collapsed back against Holly’s hand. “I . . . believe I am done.”

The new Maidens stared at the other two and Silvertail. “Um . . .” said Tierra.

“Yeah. We’ll have to all get together and talk,” Holly said immediately. “Tomorrow? I’ll talk to everyone and figure out a time. But there’s a lot to tell you guys.”

“There must be a lot,” Devika said after a moment. “But I’ll be there. Um, Mr. Rat — ”

“Silvertail Heartseeker is my name.”

“Mr. Heartseeker, how do I change back?”

Seika laughed. “Just think hard about it. Will it, real hard, and it’ll happen. With all your clothes intact.”

Remembering the sequence of events as he had sensed it through the others, Silvertail forced himself to rise again. “Which means I need do at least one more thing.”

Devika emerged from the light of Tempest Corona; while her arm was still healed, her clothes were rent and covered with blood. Another spell, drawn from his rapidly dwindling reserves of strength, removed the grim stains and restored the clothing to completeness. “There. Now let us all separate swiftly, that you are not all seen together or all in the Raiment of the Maidens.”

“Wait!” Cordy said. “You . . . you were my dad. Then you weren’t. But you knew what he sounded like, you sounded like him, so where — ”

“Where do you think?” Silvertail asked with another smile. “Who else could have reached your house, so nearby yet so private, and entered it, and destroyed the mirror?”

“But my dad would never believe any of this stuff, at least not right away! How could you possibly convince him to break one of my mirrors that fast?”

“You may somewhat underestimate your father. He knew something was terribly wrong, though I do not believe he could articulate it or, perhaps, even consciously accept that it lay beyond the mere physical. But I had a far better way to convince him, or most people.” He saw their confused expressions and allowed himself another laugh. “Two thousand dollars to break the mirror, and two thousand more when the job was done.”

The girls suddenly joined him in laughing. Cordy was almost crying as she did — not surprising, when laughter and tears and fear were so near. “Well, that’s . . . he better give me some of that for a better dresser!”

“I will so advise him. And as soon as I can resume my more normal human form, I’ll have to arrange the second payment — with a bonus, I believe. He could not have timed his action more perfectly had he been watching.” He heard movement farther down the stairway. “And we must part now.”

After hasty goodbyes, the group split up; Silvertail rode on Princess Holy Aura’s shoulder as she bounced to the rooftop to survey the area. “Crap. There’s still a lot of damage.”

“I was focused mainly on removing personal penalties — fading memories of evil done, reduction of arrests and such, and so on. Restoring physical structures that were grossly damaged . . . lies beyond my current power.”

“Jebus. I don’t know if the school will be open any time soon. We trashed B-Wing’s second floor. Including the stairs.”

“We’ll worry about that tomorrow. For now, I think we’d best go home. We don’t — look out!”

The attacks came from two directions at once, and Silvertail knew he had no chance to dodge; quick though his reactions were, he was just too small to cover enough distance to evade the nets that were spreading to enclose them.

But Princess Holy Aura was a different matter.

Holly had reacted as soon as he shouted — possibly had even seen a flicker of motion from the corner of her own eye — and leapt upward in a tremendous bound, forty feet in an instant. The nets crashed together, entangling each other directly below, but four more were fired almost instantly. Coordinated action. These people expected her to jump up!

She tried to evade this volley, but though she was able — to some extent — to maneuver even in midair, it was not enough. The wide-flung nets entangled her, dragged her back down toward the roof. A series of hollow thumps sent a cloud of white mist around them.

Crap! Gas! came Holy Aura’s thoughts. Am I immune to gas? I’m holding my breath!

Resistant though not immune. You have but to call on the power of Holy Aura and it will neutralize any such toxins — mundane ones easily, others slowly. I am relatively immune to all such, one benefit I have gained over the millennia.

She wavered slightly even as a white glow shimmered about her body. It’s not mundane, not completely. I can finish fighting it off, though. Should I pretend to fall? What’s the game plan?

Yes, let us at least give them enough confidence to reveal something of themselves without us frightening them immediately. Fight it but fall.

Holy Aura struggled violently with the nets, breaking a few of the strands; Silvertail himself fell off her shoulder and let himself lie immobile near her feet. Holy Aura wobbled, her efforts becoming more sluggish and ill-directed, and then slowly sank down to her knees and then slid limply to lie face-first on the asphalt-covered roof. Fine playacting there, Steve. For that must be you, Steve.

Heh. It does come from those memories, but . . . shit, it’s actually starting to sound really strange to be called Steve. Wonder if I’ll have dreams of being Holly after this is all over? That’ll kinda mess with me.

Perhaps a few vague ones. But nothing to disrupt your old life as it becomes your new life. Now pay attention to what happens.

Several minutes passed. These people are professionals. They’re not going to charge forward right away.

His sensitive ears picked up whispered conversation.

“Should we tranq her directly, ma’am?”

“Orders are to obtain alive, so I’d rather not. She’s not very big and we just hit her with enough CM-112 to knock down a bull elephant. And she fell faster than said elephant would. What’s her respiration?”

“Slow and even according to the remote acoustic.”

“Could she be playing possum?”

“She could, ma’am, but like you say, she took a hellish dose of one-twelve. If she’s faking it, the nonlethals probably aren’t gonna cut it.”

“What about the animal?”

Well, they were paying attention. Good for them, perhaps less so for me.

“It fell off her almost right away. If it’s still alive, it’s definitely in dreamland for a while.”

A low, almost inaudible chuckle. “Operative, if you live long enough, you’ll know better than to say anything like ‘definitely’ about an OSC target in the field. All right, she’s either playing us or she’s down. Either way, time to secure. I’m moving in. Operative One and Three with me, Two and Four cover us. That means, One and Three, you keep your line and leave a clear field of fire for Two and Four, you got me?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And now I know who they are. Well, I suspected as much. Holly, if you had to move fast, could you?

Think so. That whole struggle business was show. I could’ve ripped those nets like they were that cheap netting they use for oranges in the store, easy. Why?

Because we’ll have to get out of the central line of fire once we show we’re awake. These people are careful and smart. I think we already met their leader.

A flash of understanding. Got you. If they go to tie me up, I’m moving. Okay with you?

I concur. Their bindings will likely be far stronger than this net.

The dark-clad figures were nearly invisible in the late-evening gloom, and with the noise and light below it was likely they could have had a full-scale gun battle on the roof and no one would notice. They approached cautiously but with a relaxed professionalism that Silvertail recognized all too well.

The taller figure made a quick gesture to the other two, who both pulled out something that appeared to be restraints.

Instantly Princess Holy Aura moved; the pearl-bright light flared about her and she tore her way free and streaked to one side, so swiftly that the shots from operatives Two and Four passed through empty air. At the same time, she threw the nets up and over the three around her. A streak of silver-white then shot to the other two corners, and the ones called Two and Four were suddenly tumbling into the other three as they tried to free themselves from the entangling nets.

Holy Aura stepped up to the group and dropped the rifles — which she had literally tied together in a knot. “OSC, I presume?” she said, picking up Silvertail and placing him on her shoulder again. “My . . . advisors mentioned your group, among others. This feels like your kind of work. Am I right?”

The leader finished pulling the net off and studied Holy Aura for a moment. “And what if we are?”

“Back the hell off, that’s what. I don’t want to fight you. I don’t want to hurt anyone that isn’t a bad guy. But if you people get in our way you’ll be putting a lot of other people in danger. Don’t make me be sorry I let you go.”

For several moments the OSC operative studied her. “I think you mean that.” The operative pulled off her hood, revealing the red hair Silvertail had expected. “Do you have any idea of who we are, really?”

“Eh, I guess. Super-spy organization trying to protect the world from the scum of the universe. Which is great, if you understand what’s going on and you’ve got the power to do the job, but I don’t think you do, and you don’t.”

“Really?” Agent Kisaragi raised an eyebrow. “Well, you certainly aren’t the usual sort of monstrosity we collect, I’ll admit. Still, I can’t just ignore the fact that disastrous manifestations have been happening here very frequently of late, and on an unprecedented scale.”

“Hey, I fight them, I’m not causing them. And I don’t think you could’ve stopped most of them. Maybe the dhole.”

“You may be right. But we have . . . resources that might surprise you. Still . . .” She shrugged. “Obviously we’re not taking you in tonight, and I admit to being doubtful that our snipers would succeed in dropping you.”

Silvertail admired the way Holly didn’t react to the word at all. For his part he felt suddenly woefully overexposed on top of an almost empty roof. “They wouldn’t,” Holly said calmly. “I’ve been hit by lots worse.”

“All right. For now. But we’ll be watching . . . Princess Holy Aura, yes?” She didn’t smile as she said it.

“That’s my name.”

The agent reached into her pocket, pulled out a card. “If you ever do think you need our help . . . or think that things are going to go out of your control . . . please call me.”

Holy Aura took the card. “Agent Dana Kisaragi, huh? Okay, I’ll keep that in mind.” She tucked the card inside her skirt. “Now, can I leave, or will someone try to drug me or net me or use a telepathic mind-bolt or something?”

That got a small chuckle. “You’re free to go. Back off, operatives. We’re aborting this mission.”

“Then . . . see you around, Agent!”

Holy Aura bounded away across rooftops, and then through the small park nearby, at lightning speed.

What’s the hurry, Holly?

Not taking chances, that’s the hurry. She bounded over a small stream and Silvertail saw the card drop into the swirling water. Can I somehow burn off anything that might be on me?

Comprehension burst in on him. Oh, very clever. Yes, they could be using a chemical or even radioactive or magical tracer on us. If I can borrow a bit of your power, I can cleanse any such material from us; it wasn’t embedded, so it will be a matter of causing it to separate from us.

Her fear proved well-founded; Silvertail felt a small but significant resistance as he performed the short ritual. A chemical tracer with mystical elements. Complex, very difficult to detect; most people would be unable to do so. He allowed himself a bit of pride. Of course, they have no way of knowing they were attempting to trick the last living Lemurian.

Of course not, Virgil, she replied with a mental grin. Now we can actually, finally, go home!

Yes, we can. As she bounded toward their home, he continued, But . . . why did you call me Virgil?

Another laugh was his only answer.