Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Chris Hazleton, except my original characters. No profit is intended from this.
Tempest, City Limits. The sign flicked across the windshield of the big, quiet SUV as it rolled in. Long and deep green, all hard angles and shallow curves, it wasn't something you found on the show room floor anywhere but in perhaps old soviet bloc countries. It wasn't mean to be pretty, just to do it's job. Six large, wide, heavily lugged wheels pulled it along the road, electric motors whining so softly that the sound of the tires on the road drowned them out. Rolling along behind was an enclosed trailer, longer than the average car hauler, but not so long as the usual racing team trailer. The SUV rolled down the road, unhindered by the few cars on the road so early in the morning. In fact it had the road mostly to itself as it came into town. Those that saw it wondered who was driving, but there were no interior lights, no identifying marks.
Yet it looked hungry. A huge winch dominated the front of the beast, showing two large round rods to either side, presumably to protect the winch, giving it the appearance of canines. Two vents on top of the sharply angled hood give it the look of a snout, as if the vehicle were sniffing for it's prey. Most look away until the sounds tell them the vehicle is gone from sight. Most hope not to see it again. Something tells them the news, and that the news is bad.
The big vehicle rolls on through the night, until it pulls into the parking lot of a garage near the out skirts of the downtown. Aries. The lights on the SUV and the trailer die down after it's pulled off to the side. The beast is silent.
Halfway across town, Ash Upton sat bolt upright. No dream sent her screaming up, no nightmare caused her to break into a cold sweat. No pot pickled angel turned her into anything else. Yet she screamed once. And sweat froze her shirt and boxers to her, as if she'd walked through a sprinkler. And the door banged open, admitting Rumisiel, and was followed by, or in fact was trampled by both Vashiel and her father. Vashiel flushed bright red, and Ash snatched up her blankets realizing why.
'"Ash, are you okay?" her father asked, concern in his voice.
"Yes. Yes, I just, I don't know. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell like that. I woke up, and something startled me. That's all. I'm really okay."
"Okay. If you're sure." her father took a deep breath, "Then I'm going back to bed. If you want to talk in the morning, I'm not going in until noon. They're working on the wiring." he smiled, and ducked out the door.
"Are you quite sure everything is alright?" Vashiel asked, having helped Rumisiel to his feet. "I don't See anything."
"Really, I'm fine. I think it was a nightmare but I don't remember what. It's okay. I'm really feeling okay." she smiled at him.
"Alright, come on Rumi. Let's finish our sleep." he tugged his brother out of the room, and the latter closed the door. Ash waited for a couple of moments, and then stood to change her clothes, tossing the sweat soaked ones into her hamper. She hated lying to them, but she couldn't possibly explain this feeling. It wasn't precisely excitement, and fear wasn't the whole of it. It wasn't quite anticipation either. It was. The feeling just before a race. The feeling just before she opened the throttle wide and plowed down the road, leaving a competitor in the dust. The feeling of the road beneath her wheels. The smell of the exhaust, the power of the engine. The one-ness with the car.
It was a good feeling. And she hadn't the slightest idea of what caused it. But she really didn't care. All she knew, was that someone out there wanted a race. And she was ready for the challenge.
At least, she thought she was.
Emily jumped as her phone rang. The clock told her it was ten minutes to six, almost time to get up anyway. She sat up, grabbing the phone with one hand, and flipping the alarm on the radio off with the other. Ash was on the other end of the line.
"Can you be ready a little early for school?"
"I don't know." Ash answered, sounding, excited. "Something tells me today is going to be a day we won't forget. And I don't have a clue why."
"That's... good I guess. When did you decide this?"
"About four hours ago."
"Ash. Did you sleep at all?"
"Of course I did." Emily took a deep breath. "Some."
"Ash..." Emily started, but got cut off.
"Look, I know. I have to sleep so I can pass my tests so I can understand the physics behind the motion of my car and use it to become an even better racer. I really did go to sleep exactly on time, and went straight to sleep. But I woke up in the middle of the night with that feeling. You know the one. That starting line feeling. Something is going to happen. And I've been up ever since thinking about it."
"Okay, okay. We'll let me go and I'll get ready."
"'Kay. See you soon." the phone clicked off before Emily could answer.
"Bye." she hung the phone up. Classic Ash. When it was time to do nothing, NOTHING got done. When it was time to go, it was time to Go Now. She was in the shower first, her mother waiting outside when she was done.
"You're up early. Did I hear your phone?"
"Yes. Ash wants to get there early so I can help her study for her math test." her mother opened her mouth. "It's okay. After my Calc class, it's nice to be able to do something as easy as Pre-Calc. Besides, she needs the help." her mother laughed.
"Okay. Okay. I get it." she stepped past into the bathroom, and closed the door. Emily headed for her room and dresser.
Ash might be afraid about losing himself in the body of a girl. Somethings, Emily suspected, hadn't changed. Including him sitting outside her house, blowing his horn. She kissed her mother on the cheek, and ducked out the door, then darted back in, snatched up her backpack and was gone again. Her mother shook her head, and watched them pull away out the window.
"Ash. Please. Don't do that again."
"Sorry. I told you, I'm impatient to get the day started." Rumisiel grunted from the back seat. "Quiet back there. No backseat drivers allowed."
"Four-thirty in the morning. That's when she got me up." Rumi complained. Emily shook her head. "Even Vash thought it was too early."
"What was Vash..." Emily started.
"Don't ask." Ash cut her off. Too late.
"Calling home." Rumisiel answered her question. "That's the kind of goody-two-shoes my brother is. Even on vacation, he's still checking in to see if there's anything that needs his attention." Rumi shook his head.
"Told you." Ash smirked, and stomped on the brakes. The garbage truck they'd been following had suddenly slammed to a stop. Emily jolted against her seat belt, then further forward as Rumi hit the back of her seat. She knew, without reaching up to feel, that she was going to have a welt on her forehead. "Rumi, weren't you buckled in?" Ash asked, checking both the car and Emily for more damage.
"Yeah, but..." Rumi's hand appeared between the seats, holding just the buckle and part of the seat belt strap. It had snapped. "Doesn't look like sabotage."
"Move over behind me." Ash punched the button holding the two halves of the racing harness together and stretched to look out the window. The garbage truck had stopped short because of a huge puddle of water. "Oh man, looks like a Water Main break. This is unpleasant." the Monster backed up and pulled gingerly around the Garbage Truck, allowing it to back up. Already the driver was on his radio. The Monster rolled slowly through the flowing water. All-wheel drive, weight of car, and skill of driver saw them through, and then they were rolling again toward school.
The day passed with what seemed to be interminable slowness. Even Missi, usually perky and cheerful enough to give someone cavities just by walking to close to her, seemed unusually subdued. Yet Ash still felt that something was going to happen today, and that it was going to be better than anything else. Emily couldn't see it, and neither could Rumisiel. Yet, not even a nagging certainty that she'd blown the math test could keep Ash from feeling far more cheerful than anyone else felt she had any right to be.
On the way home, the mood had lightened a bit, but she was still certain. Then, just two blocks from Ash's house, a horrid noise like a gun shot sounded from beneath the hood of the Monster. Ash slammed on the brakes, the clutch, and shifter, and screamed "Key!" Emily reached around and turned off the ignition. The Monster coasted a few feet and came to a stop alongside the curb. Ash was out of the car a moment after it stopped, pausing just long enough to jerk the hood release. Emily was out just a moment later, but Ash held up a hand for her to stop as she popped the hood, throwing it up on it's hinges, and ducking below the quarter panel. For a moment, nothing happened,and Ash raised her head over the side, to see Emily doing the same.
"Safe?" Emily asked, and stood at Ash's nod. Rumi found the problem first, lying back in the intersection and was walking back as Ash came to the same diagnosis.
"Fan belt." Ash announced, and Rumi walked around the back of the car holding several pieces of the item. "Impossible, I just replaced that." She inspected the length.
"This is weird. One thing is bad enough. But now two? You don't suppose it's cursed do you?" Emily asked. Rumi's eyes took on a glint, then a thousand yard stare.
"I don't See anything. But, curses are usually a thing of vengeance, and that's Vash's area of expertise, so it's possible I'm over looking something. How do we get home? Push?"
"Yeah, though I don't relish the thought. This thing is lightened for racing, but it's still HEAVY. And we'll be going up hill. Guess there's no option." Ash closed the hood, walked back and opened the driver's door. Rumi walked around back and grabbed hold. Emily joined him. Ash asked to make sure they were braced, and then released the shifter out of park and left it in neutral. All three were sweating heavily by the time they got home, not least because of a couple of close calls with cars who didn't seem to slow down. At least once Ash had jumped into the car and slammed the door just in time to avoid having it taken off by a big minivan that blew it's horn and threw them all the finger. Ash didn't recognize the driver, and was glad. She'd hate to think it was someone she knew.
Vash was just getting home with her father as they appeared. Normally they were home first, but when the two saw what was going on, they came to help and the five of them pushed it into place and Ash set the parking brake.
"What happened?" her father asked, concerned at the state of her and the fact that the car was broken. He knew how much she loved the car, though he suspected the sweat was from her pushing the car.
"Broken fan belt." she answered, reaching in and pulling it out for inspection. "No big deal, but can't drive it like that."
"Glad it's some... no, I suppose it's not simple, is it?" Ash grinned and shook her head. "Never is. Dinner is at seven. Have fun." he shook his head again, laughed, and clapped Vash on the shoulder. "Sometimes, I think she can fix that car better than I can fix people."
"I know what you mean Mr. Upton." Vash helped him with the groceries, and so did Rumi. Ash raised an eyebrow.
"This way I'll have a chance to ask him to check the car for curses." he replied. "Yo, bro, wait up!"
Ash was under the hood of the car. When the bike first appeared, she was under the hood of the car with a large silver flashlight, carefully inspecting the interior of the compartment. So far all she'd found was a dent in the hood that needed to be pounded out, but she knew Harry would do it for her for no charge, and that he had the talent to do it without chipping the paint. At least no more than it was already.
The second time it appeared, Ash was in the house, and Vashiel was carefully checking the car for any sign of non-corporeal tampering. Since his entire focus was on the car, he didn't see anything else. He pronounced, that with the minor exception of the car's own spirit, which was restless because it was at rest, the car was completely normal.
The third time it appeared, Ash saw it, but thought nothing of it other than it was silent. This time it was because the hood was off the Monster, having been tied to Emily's car and dropped off at Aries to have the dent pounded out. She was right, Harry would do it, though he told her she should have it repainted, so it didn't chip off during a race. That would cost, but she paid because he threw in the dent for free. Ash tried not to look as the drove away. Harry was walking up with a sledgehammer that was perhaps slightly excessive for the job. Since Harry didn't have the right belt in stock, they had to stop at the local parts store, where this time Ash used simple logic instead of feminine wiles. She offered to bust his nose if he didn't find the right belt, right now and do it without any of his nasty comments. Colin scurried off and returned in a hurry, for which she gave him a pleasant smile, further confusing him. She walked out, calculating the receipt in her head. He hadn't charged her sales tax. Emily grabbed her and pushed her towards the car, explaining that if she went back in there she'd do something she was going to regret and that he'd probably done it as an apology and she should accept it. Ash finally agreed, and climbed into the car.
This is how she managed to see the bike, as it rolled by silently, making no noise audible over the sound of her own grunting as she leaned on the breaker bar to pull back on the tension pulley so Emily could slip the fan belt into place. Ash was really leaning hard. She remember that even as a boy this hadn't been easy, and had been hard to do one handed since she didn't have anyone to help, Tom spending too much time on his own ride. Emily announced "Done!", and raised her hands into the air and backed up a step. Ash let off on the bar, and the pull settled gently into place.
"That was easy." Emily laughed. Ash glared for a moment, and then shook her head.
"Fine, next time you can be on the breaker bar and I'll do the belt." The bike came back. Ash watched it. She'd never seen one like it, and... it pulled up at the end of her drive, and the rider leaned over to stare at the Mailbox. Then climbed off the bike, dropping the kickstand and pulled off the helmet. Or tried. After a moment, the rider slapped the side of the helmet and released the latch, then pulled it off. Black hair, cut short on the sides, but seemingly bald on top dropped out of the helmet ruffled into helmet hair. He, it was clearly a he now, snapped the latches closed and set the helmet on the bike. The black biker jacket came off next, laid across the seat in front of the helmet. He brushed a hand through his hair, flattening it down. He turned towards her.
"So, tell me. Am I at the home of the King of the Mountain?"
"That you are." Ash answered. "And I'm the King. But my friends call me Ash."
"Pleasure to meet you King Ash." he held out his hand. She shook it. "I'm Jason. I hear you're the best racer around here."
"Except for Kate."
"Oh. Her." he coughed. "I don't think I'm suicidal enough to take her on."
"Oh. So settling for second best?"
"Not exactly. I'd have to explain and it's a bit of a long story. Is that the Legendary Monster?"
"Legendary? I don't know about Legendary, but yes, this is the Monster."
"Hmm... Nice. Merkur body, V8 engine. No A/C. Nice car." he walked around, not touching, but inspecting as if he were running his hands over every piece. "I take it the drive train is properly custom as well?"
"Yes. Has to be. It's an all-wheel drive modification, so the standard is a no go."
"Built it yourself?"
"No. Local Mechanic. I bought it from him to help with his garage." she shrugged. "He's good if you're into racing. It's called Aries." he looked up.
"So, you know Hellfire Harry. Guess that explains how he knows so much about you."
"You know Harry?" she laughed. "Guess he's famous too."
"Yeah. Rumor is you raced Kate and survived. Nice trick. What was she running?"
"Custom Jag XKR." his face fell. He stopped his circling of the car and stalked over to her and leaned forward.
"Please. Tell me there's another Jag XKR in town. Please?" Ash swallowed and shook her head. "She's going to kill me." he turned and walked away, mumbling under his breath, repeating the same thing.
"Harry told me I should come see you, challenge you to a race. I mis-wrote the address. On the way back to confirm it, I raced a Jag XKR for three blocks. I won. The whole way. I didn't realize it was Kate. She's going to KILL me." he took a deep breath.
"So, since I'm going to die anyway, I officially challenge you to a race on the old road."
"I'd love to accept, but I only race cars."
"Not a problem. I brought my car, but it's not street legal, so I left it in the trailer and rode the Lady."
"The Lady?" Ash asked.
"Sorry, let me introduce you, and your friend to her."