Princess Holy Aura: Chapter 13


Even heroes can get a case of nerves before a big day...





Chapter 13.

"Holly? You need to go to sleep!" Mr. Owen said, looking in and seeing her sitting at her computer.

Holly sighed, tried to smile and failed. "I can't sleep, Dad . . . Silvertail." The confusion that had made her change the name she used threatened to overwhelm her. Sometimes I almost forget being Steve Russ, and that terrifies me beyond words.

He sat down in one of the other chairs, pushing back the graying black hair that needed a trim. "But you do need sleep, Holly. Big day tomorrow."

"Why do you think I can't sleep, Silvertail? I know what tomorrow is. Tomorrow school starts. Tomorrow I'm a fourteen-year-old girl in her first day of high school, trying to look perfectly normal while I secretly scope out my classmates to figure out which of them is going to get thrown at a shoggoth or a dhole or whatever hideous thing our enemies bring out next." She looked down, saw she had the armrests of her chair in a deathgrip.

His dark eyes showed lines of pain and sympathy. "Holly . . . Stephen . . . believe me when I say I understand."

She was silent a moment, realizing the truth of that gentle reminder. "Yeah. Yeah, of course you do. You've done this so many times. How did you manage it, Silvertail? Because I've been around you long enough so I'm sure you're not faking it; you care what happens to us."

Silvertail's human guise dropped its gaze to the floor. "How? By constantly reminding myself that if I do not, those exact children—and all they care for, all they are, all they could ever be—will be destroyed as well. The only way to save them . . . is to imperil them, much as I—as we—hate the very thought. I have done all I can in choosing you. All I can do is pray this was the right choice. But it never becomes easier, and I pray also that it never shall."

His eyes came up and there was a clearer look in them. "But something else bothers you as well."

He's sharp as ever. Guess you have to be if most of the time you're a white rat. "More than one. See, I called you Dad. Not the first time. But it's gotten . . . more natural. I think of you that way, sometimes, when I'm really comfortable as Holly."

"Ah. And that frightens you?"

"Hell yes!" she said, heard her own voice just a tiny bit too high, too nervous. "I'm starting to think like a teenage girl. Like I really am Holly Owen. Okay, sure, that's great for our cover, I'm not, like, going to screw it up so easy now. But that's not the real me, and I . . . I really don't think it should've changed for me that fast. It's that . . . template thing again, isn't it?"

"I'm afraid so, Holly. All the previous Holy Auras were teenage girls, no more than your current apparent age. It is, in all truth, necessary that you become, at least to some extent, Holly Owen as the world will see you. I explained to you the symbolism that made choosing such a person, standing between childhood and adulthood, a vital part of the weapon that is the Apocalypse Maiden."

"Yeah. You did. I'm just . . . scared. And scared like I was when I was little, not like when I was Steve." She got up, walked to the bed, hesitated, turned around, sat down, got up. "See? I can't even figure out where I want to be when I'm talking. Too nervous."

"I wish—"

"I know. I know." She closed her eyes, concentrated. Now to the hard part. "But there's something else."

Mr. Owen nodded. "I rather thought as much."

"It's about those other girls, what we're going to do. Now I get it, we need all five Apocalypse Maidens to do the full job of kicking these monsters back where they came from and locking the door behind them. We have to find them, we have to awaken them, we have to work together. I got that. But I've been thinking . . . you remember what you told me about why you chose me after all this time?"

"How could I forget?" The front teeth flashed in the smile, reminding her of the incisors natural to a rat. "I was tired of choosing children for this job."

"More than that. You were trying to do the right thing by not forcing this on a child. And you were right. But what that means is that we have to do the same thing here."

"We can't choose adult—"

"Right, right, I know, we went over that; the enchantment's already engaged, it will have already found the four others, even if they're not active yet. But what I mean is that you made a moral, an ethical choice, to not dump the leadership, the key of the whole world's salvation, onto a girl who shouldn't have to deal with it. So that makes it my duty—and yours—to try to keep the whole thing as ethical as we possibly can."

The narrow gaze was as piercing as it had ever been from the beady eyes of a white rodent. "Yes . . ." Silvertail said slowly, "of course. But exactly what are you getting at?"

"I mean that maybe they'll have to get it dumped on them in the middle of combat—I know the memes, believe me—but after that? We can't drag a fourteen-year-old girl out into this and keep it secret from her family."

"Lemuria's Memory, Stephen! You cannot seriously mean—"

"I mean exactly that. How can we be doing the right thing if what we're going to do is make children lie to their parents and sneak out to maybe get themselves killed—or come back broken in their heads? Sure, I'll bet these Apocalypse Maidens are supposed to be strong and all, but half the people who were in the mall that day are probably gonna be in therapy for months or years; at least I had thirty-five years of life to help me deal with that fight. These kids aren't going to have even half of that."

"And what if their parents say no? Or try to have us arrested? Or shoot at us? Steve—Holly—your current culture is highly protective of your children, in some ways stultifyingly so. You know what sort of reaction any threat to children will create."

She ran her fingers through her hair, realized she had better brush it again before going to bed, then shoved that trivial thought aside. "Yes. I know. But I know this is the only way I could do it."

The form of Mr. Owen wavered, and suddenly Silvertail was sitting on the chair, staring at her with desperate concern. "You know we have no choice in this war, Holly. Even if they say no, we would have—"

"If they say no, it's no." Seeing the half-furious, half-panicked twitching of the whiskers, she forced a smile and went on. "But I think we have to assume there's some way to convince them. After all, there really isn't any going back, from what you said. The meme demands the super-team get formed, I just have to try to work it so our super-team has super-duper parental support. And between Holy Aura and you, Silvertail, we've got quite a lot of force of personality and evidence that we're not crazy."

The silver-white rat paused, tilting his head, seeming to contemplate. Then a tiny hop of assent. "You . . . make excellent points, Holly. Yes, the imperatives of the enchantment and our ultimate confrontation will tend to smooth our way through such mundane problems. But it will still not make the results certain. We still run a great risk."

"But risk and sacrifice, that's part of the power of the spell, right? And if the families are aware—"

A squeaking laugh. "Stephen Russ! For that is your mind at work, I will swear to it! Indeed, you are correct; if—and I emphasize if—we succeed in convincing these families to support us, it will symbolize a great deal of willing sacrifice and faith. All the Apocalypse Maidens will be stronger for that." It was astonishing how the little furry face and body could manage to convey such a wide range of emotions; now Silvertail looked at her with a wry cynicism. "However, to achieve that will also require an astonishing amount of faith, possibly sacrifice, and most certainly luck."

"But it's the right thing to do."

Silvertail took a breath so huge his sides visibly swelled, then sighed explosively. "Yes. Yes, Holly, Stephen, you are completely correct. I began this cycle with a determination to take a higher path; I can hardly fault you for insisting I hold to my course. I cringe at the thought of how much danger we may be placing our cause in, but I will not argue."

With a flash, Mr. Owen reappeared. "And now, having convinced me of your correctness, can you please relax enough to go to bed? The last thing either of us need is for you to try your first day in school as Holly with half a night's sleep."

Holly felt a small loosening of the tension in her stomach. He agreed. I was right. Or I hope I am, anyway. "Yes . . . Dad, I'll try."

"Good. Then . . . good night, Holly." He watched as she turned off the computer and got into bed, then switched off the light.

Holly rolled over, and tried to relax. I think I can, now. Her eyes were feeling heavy, and she drove out thoughts of the future. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Now that I know Silvertail's supporting me . . . She smiled. This just might work after all!




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