Princess Holy Aura: Chapter 21


Well, they'd beaten the monster, but sometimes that's just the start of the problems...




Chapter 21.


Holly jumped up from the stiff-backed plastic chair that sat on one side of the simple table and leapt into Mr. Owen's somewhat startled embrace with such force that even the much taller man was almost knocked over.

She was disconcerted to realize how little of her joy and relief was feigned, and how much of it was real. For a moment . . . it was like having my father show up when I needed him most.

She couldn't dwell on that now; this was a good reaction, the right reaction for the circumstances. Too bad he couldn't have just stayed with us, but there was no reason for Dad to be at the school, and every reason for Silvertail to head back home as fast as he could so no one else saw him.

"Holly, are you all right? When the police called me I thought—"

"I'm fine, I'm fine, but oh, God, Daddy, Mr. Jefferson, and there was a man with an axe, and—"

"Slow down, slow down, Holly." Trayne Owen looked up at the detectives with what seemed genuine confusion and worry. "An axe?"

"I'm sorry, sir, but you did come down here without even waiting for us to explain everything," said the redheaded woman.

"I suppose I did. My apologies. Trayne Owen, and you are . . . ?"

"Detective Dana Kisaragi," she said, showing her ID, and shook Mr. Owen's hand. "And my apologies for having to call you down here, but this is a serious matter."

"Can you explain? Is Holly in trouble somehow?"

"No, nothing like that," Detective Kisaragi said. "Please, sit down. Coffee?"

Holly studied her covertly as her father accepted a cup. Despite the name, Dana Kisaragi had no sign of Japanese ancestry; she did have a wedding ring, though, so probably she'd married someone with the name. Tall—maybe a hair over six feet—her hair was clearly pretty long but was pulled up and tied well back, out of her way. Suit was immaculate even though she'd been here since the police had first showed up to get the girls out of the school. Sharp grey-green eyes; using a small recorder, not bothering with physical notes.

Holly's gut sense was that this was a very competent officer . . . which made her really dangerous for the masquerade.

"First, Mr. Owen . . . I assume you have heard of the two . . . rather extraordinary events that happened near here in the last few months?"

"You mean the reports of . . . well, some sort of monsters? One in the mall? Yes, I could hardly miss them."

"Well, it appears—I have to emphasize appears—that another such incident has happened at this school. Unlike the others, this one has resulted in at least one fatality."

"Fatal . . . someone's been killed? In my daughter's school?"

"Yes, sir. Which is why we need your permission to interview your daughter. We're interviewing all the girls who were in the school at the time in hope of making sense of what happened. Something happened there, and it wasn't just an ordinary murder."

"How do you mean?" Trayne Owen's eyes were narrowed, studying Dana Kisaragi as though she might be responsible for endangering his daughter.

"I am not at liberty to discuss details with anyone at this time," she said. "But it is vital that we get information from all the witnesses as quickly as we can, before memory fades or they start talking over what they saw between each other—as they inevitably will once they go back to school."

Trayne turned to Holly. "Holly, I don't know what you saw, but . . . are you up to talking about it?"

She swallowed. She still was a little shaky, even after an hour or so, so it didn't take much to emphasize it. "I . . . I guess. You'll stay here?"

"I certainly will." He looked at the detective. "I trust you have no objection?"

"I would prefer to interview her alone, but if you insist—"

"I do. You will speak with my daughter in my presence, or not at all."

"Very well." She sat down across from Holly at the little table in the interview room. "Holly, do you need anything? More water? Something to eat?"

She shook her head. "Nothing to eat . . . I'm not . . . hungry yet. A little more water, maybe."

One of the other detectives—Hughes, she thought his name was—opened a small fridge and brought out another bottle of water. "Thank you, Hughes," Kisaragi said. "You and Gilbert can wait outside. No, wait. Go check on the others and see how the interviews are coming; maybe the two of you can take a couple of the other girls or we'll be here all night."

"Yes, Detective," said the one named Gilbert, while Hughes just said, "Yes, ma'am." The door closed quietly behind them. A distant rumble of thunder echoed through the building, showing that the storm had not yet passed.

"Now, Holly, I need you to tell me everything that happened tonight. Start with what you were doing before you noticed anything odd, and then go from there."

"All right. Um, we were sitting around one of the cafeteria tables—"

"Who was 'we'?"

"Oh, our Steampunk Club. Me, Seika Cooper, Nikki Hand, Tierra MacKintor, and Caitlin Modofori."

"Got it. Go on."

"Well, I was running our game . . ."

She told the truth up to the point that they finally made it to A-Wing and the front doors. There wasn't any reason not to tell the truth, after all. "All right, so your club, along with the girls from the sports teams and two other clubs meeting that evening, arrived at the entranceway. What then?"

Damn. I can't talk to Seika and our stories have to match.

Trayne Owen touched her hand. "Relax, Holly. Just think about what happened and tell the detective."

Suddenly she was aware that there were memories of that time—strangely phantom memories, but clear, and she knew somehow that they accorded with what the other girls would have seen and heard. "Well, um, we all tried to get the doors open but they were locked. A couple of the bigger girls grabbed one of the big benches near the office and tried to break the glass in one of the doors, but it didn't work no matter how hard they hit it."

"Really? Do you remember which door?"

She thought a moment. "If you're looking from the inside out, the second door from the left-hand side."

The redheaded woman nodded, looking thoughtful. "So what next?"

Holly consulted the ghostly recollections again. "Well, they'd just given up on beating on the door, and even Devika and the older girls were starting to look scared for real, when we hear this voice shouting from down B-Wing."

"A voice? What kind of voice?"

"A girl's voice, I guess. But it was . . . really powerful, like it was through a loudspeaker or something. But it wasn't—not through the school loudspeakers, anyway. You could tell it was coming from down B-Wing's hall." Boy, this is freaky. I'm remembering this perfectly . . . except I know it's not a memory at all.

"Could you hear what it said?"

"Not all of it, but at the end of the first time, I'm sure it said something like 'Princess Holy Arrow'." Close enough, anyway.

The faintest quirk of Detective Kisaragi's eyebrow showed that she recognized something. "I see. You say the first time. The voice spoke more than once?"

"Oh, yeah. Right after that there was a little pause and, well, it sounded like this princess was threatening something, I guess the . . ."—she shuddered, remembering now as an ordinary girl the hideously creepy sing-song voice—"the . . . killer, the stalker? Anyway, I couldn't make out the whole speech but she definitely said that the thing was going down."

"Interesting. And then?"

Holly related what those shadowy memories told her—fragments of words, bomb blasts of distant combat shaking the room, the screams of the girls near her. This must be Silvertail's doing. Of course he'd have made sure we knew what the others had seen and heard. I just have to hope Seika catches on and plays along.

She was sure Seika would. The smaller black girl had shown she was sharp as a box of razors already, and she'd had the courage to come help her friend even before she'd found out she was an Apocalypse Maiden; Seika wouldn't lose her head in interrogation.

". . . and then the doors just suddenly opened, after everything we and the fire department outside had been trying before had failed, and we got out and you guys picked us up and I guess that's it," she finished.

"Yes, that does bring us up to date," agreed Detective Kisaragi. There was the slightest flicker of her gaze, as though she was considering saying something and then reconsidered, or as though she had thought of something and wanted to hide the thought.

Trayne Owen had been staring from one to the other with an appearance of increasing perplexity. "Detective, does . . . I mean, is what she saying true?"

"Do you think she isn't telling us the truth, Mr. Owen?"

"No! No, of course not. But some of these . . . things she describes—"

"It does seem to fit with those prior anomalies. What it means—why these events have started happening, why here, and what the ultimate purpose of these monsters or this 'princess' may be? We don't know, sir, and at the moment I can't even speculate. But we've kept you long enough. We may have to interview her once or twice more, but we'll call you well in advance. Will that be all right?"

Trayne Owen nodded after a moment. "Someone's dead, and something tried to kill my daughter and her friends. I assure you we will cooperate with whatever's necessary to put a stop to this."

"Thank you, sir." She got up and opened the door. "Let me show you out. And Holly, thank you. You've been a great help."

"Thanks, Ms. . . . er, Detective Kisaragi. Umm . . ."

She raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"Well . . . is the school closed? I mean, will it be closed?"

She and Trayne Owen shared a small chuckle. "It may be closed tomorrow, but we will try our best to do all our work and clear out before morning. If not, the next day for sure."

"So it'll be bedtime for you after we get home," Trayne said. "Sorry, Holly."

"Do I . . . have to go?"

"No," Trayne said immediately. "That will be entirely up to you. And I am sure the counselors will want to see all you girls anyway. But we'll talk about that later."

"Good night, Mr. Owen, Holly," the detective said, letting them out of the police station door.

"Good night, Detective," Trayne said.

They walked quietly to where Trayne had parked the minivan and got in. Mr. Owen started the car, put it in gear, and pulled out onto the road.

Holly saw him making a few tiny gestures with his hand and murmuring something very, very quietly.

After another minute, he leaned back slightly. "Holly, you did very well. That was a very dangerous situation."

"Dangerous? You mean, if they learn too much they could get killed, right?"

"To an extent, yes. But I sensed . . . some odd indications about our interviewer. My senses, as you know, are not limited to human, and the smell of her identity card was slightly different—too new, for one thing. And some of her reactions to the story were less of surprise or puzzlement than I would expect."

"You think she's one of the enemy?" Somehow Holly found that hard to believe. Detective Kisaragi struck her as sincere in her concern.

"Enemy? Not . . . precisely. I believe she is with the OSC."

"OSC? The Office of Special Counsel?" Holly was confused.

"Eh? No, no. In this general era I believe they have used a number of aliases, but in actuality it is the initials of their organization's motto and goal: Obtain, Secure, Counter."

"Obtain, secure, and counter what?"

"Supernatural or super-normal threats," Mr. Owen said.

"Oh, crap. One of those groups you mentioned."

"Yes. I cannot say I am very surprised. There was no subtlety in our enemy's first two assaults, as they are uninterested in stealth as such, and such high-profile paranormal events would naturally draw some of their investigators. With luck, however, the events of this night will actually serve to eliminate you and Seika from consideration as candidates for the two Apocalypse Maidens."

"Dad? I mean, Silvertail, they don't know about the Apocalypse Maidens and all that, right? All that gets erased when the Maidens win."

He was silent for a moment. "I cannot say for certain, honestly. If they were a purely mundane organization, no, they would not, but they are not purely mundane. Over the centuries they have captured numerous paranormal objects, beings, and so on, and some they are capable of controlling and using. So they may possibly have some idea of the existence, though not the details, of the Cycle, and possibly of the fact that there is truth behind many of the worst legends."

"But they're not our friends, either?"

Trayne's face was grim. "No. Their position is that such powers are threats in and of themselves to mankind and must be captured and neutralized, regardless of how those threats might regard themselves, unless and until the OSC decides how they may be used 'for the greater good' . . . without revealing too much to the world."

"And so if they catch up with me—"

"—you will be just one more paranormal phenomenon to be Obtained, Secured, and Countered."

"But they can't actually do that . . . can they?"

"Can they truly overpower Princess Holy Aura? No, not as things stand. Magic has not truly, fully reentered the world—and we hope that it never will. So their ability to act against the one remaining full manifestation of mystical power, the Apocalypse Maidens, and of course our adversaries, that is severely limited."

She remembered a prior conversation and shuddered. "But they don't need to defeat me. Just interfere with me at the wrong moment—"

"—and these well-meaning defenders of Earth will cause its utter, and final, destruction."





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