It only took Amara an hour to decide on an outfit. Her usual style would be risky, even in the car. The press knew she was still in town and the hotel they were in. But Mother had also told her specifically to go herself. Whatever Mother’s reason for that, Amara would go not just alone, but as herself even if it risked press attention. She nodded in self-satisfaction as she pulled the signature glove up her arm.
“Amara,” Jane said from the doorway, “are you sure about this? Going alone will hardly work if you have a convoy of paparazzi.”
“A little magic will get me to this rendevous all right. After that it won’t matter. Nothing to worry about.”
Jane didn’t like it, concern written all over her face. But she didn’t stop Amara.
“Stupid over-confidence Mar.”
Amara swerved, clipping the front tire of the motorcycle that popped out of the alley to cut her off.
“Definitely won’t be getting the deposit back on this ride.”
At least the meeting Mother requested itself had gone off without a hitch. The guy had been easy to find, slumped against the corner of one of the cities many forboding concrete facades. Going out looking like Ayame Sunrise was also a good bet, as puzzled recognition kept the guy from bolting when he saw her approach. Amara felt certain he would use the bus ticket, to whatever end Mother had her offer it. It was on her way back to the car that things went pear shaped.
The initial attack only failed because they tried to be sneaky. Concealing your weapon draw behind a shrub doesn’t really work with a green witch. Amara wanted to be insulted by his stupidity even as it let her make it to her car. She hardly had to press the plant to trap his hand in it’s branches. He wasn’t alone though, and a spray of icy shards tore her clothing as she dove inside, slamming the door home.
The car that tried to nudge her into the streetlight at the corner as Amara peeled out was more blatant. It was pure luck there was space enough for her little rental between the post and the building corner, and that Amara had started a turn already.
Not sure what the chick on the motorcycle around the corner was supposed to do. Surely she knew I’d have floored it even if it was straight into her. None of which got at the more important question. How did they know she would be there? Or had they just been watching that poor guy on the corner for awhile, waiting for Mother to have someone check on him?
Then the garbage truck rounded the corner ahead, pushing other cars out of it’s way. With a curse, Amara closed her eyes briefly in concentration. Thorns sprouted through the long glove, shredding it. Tattered remnants fell away as the thorns retracted, and she raised her right arm to point at the oncoming truck. And smiled. Definitely not prepared for me.
A sweat broke out as Amara forced the dead and dormant plant matter in the garbage truck to move, to grow. All directed down. The two vehicles closed the distance between them, Amara too focused to change course and the truck deliberately aimed. Then the plants inside found a seam in the back, and pushed out. The road was much easier, over-do for a resurfacing. As plant recognized dirt in the road-base, it expanded hungrily into the cracks in the street.
The truck tilted as plants from inside anchored it to the ground. Amara dropped her right arm, grabbing the wheel and veering around so that the truck’s raised front wheel took her wing mirror but didn’t stop her as she made another hard turn. That was too close.
As further pursuit failed to materialize through Amara’s next three random course changes, that the ambush wasn’t specifically for her looked more and more likely. Had the ambush been for her specifically, no way it would have been that easy.
“I shouldn’t have used the shrub,” Amara told no one in particular.
“At any rate, I need to figure out where I am, and probably get back to the hotel.”
Her phone was in the GPS cradle on the dash, still displaying the map even as it had a minor breakdown over her erratic driving. Looking at it, Amara discovered she wasn’t far from a point of interest marker, one that she had added.
“Russel’s work. Hmm.” She checked the clock as she turned that way at the next light. “End of the work day. Jane did tell me to quit stalking and actually meet the guy.”
Unfortunately, his office was in the middle of one of the improved parts of downtown, where everything was one-way streets. Amara was more than a little frustrated as she met another No Entry sign. I’m going to miss him completely at this rate. She accelerated hard as she turned the opposite way to loop back around once more. Only to see a figure crossing the street right in front of her car. He had a relaxed hunch, head bobbing and earphone wire running down into his shirt pocket. Amara’s reaction was stalled as recognition hit a second later.
And she was about to run him over. Probably not the best way to introduce myself, that. Amara scrambled mentally for a solution.
Russel stretched and yawned as he stepped outside. The street here was already in shadow and an early autumn wind blew down the street, pulling at his jacket and tousling his mop of sandy brown hair. Time to get it cut again. With a hunch of his shoulders Russ descended the steps and headed for the station to catch his train home.
Muscle memory gathered up ear buds that dropped when he stretched and replaced them in his ears. The thumping beats of his usual post-work playlist showed in his walk and the tiniest bob of his head. Today had been a good day. With the next day, Friday, already off Russ could start his weekend early. His thoughts didn’t go far beyond the music in his ears, or he might have worried whether well-meaning friends would ruin plans to do nothing by throwing him a birthday party. Russ’ feet threaded the familiar route without needing direct supervision.
There was a gap in traffic at the last intersection before the subway, and Russ smiled at his fortune as he stepped into the road. He didn’t hear the shouts that followed him. Would have missed what was coming entirely if the squeal of protesting brakes and rubber grinding on pavement didn’t get past his music. It did, so he looked up in time to see the car sliding broadside straight at him and could only duck his head and brace to be hit, pinching his eyes shut. Almost no one noticed the passenger door of the car swing wide.
There was a sharp knock against his shins, stealing his balance. As Russ pitched sideways there was a rough tap across the side of his head. More protesting tires and a car door slamming home, then quiet save for a car engine. Am I dead? Russ resisted opening his eyes. Wait, I can still hear my music. It was faint, from the vicinity of his chest where his earbuds dangled after falling out. And my legs and head still hurt, and, he could hear the sounds of a moving car. What the…?
Russ sat up, fumbling to obey before fully opening his eyes. He had only just clicked it home, mind jumping back on the last time he’d worn a seatbelt or been in a car at all; it must have been six years ago, a family trip up to Uncle Gabe’s cabin in the mountains.
Force slammed him forward, and Russ rocked against the restraint. He wasn’t given long to dwell on his lucky timing before being pushed back into the seat as the car leapt forward with a deep growl of the engine.
“Cheeky sods. Let ‘em chew on that for awhile.”
This reminded Russ that there was someone driving the car he was now inside. Who had saved him, possibly twice. He was pretty sure the first save was from the car he was now inside though. Russ turned his head to look. Jaw unhinged as he did a double-take. Dark hair half pulled up into two balls, the sides woven into a braid down the middle of her back. She looked like an Anime character. Strong Asian features, neon green eyeliner around dark eyes and lipstick adding to the effect. An assymetric dark gray top with one dangling sleeve, dark corset with more neon trim fit tight over a well filled out female figure.
The top tucked into a black mini skirt with highlights colored to match the makeup, over dark leggings. Flashes of neon green beneath the dashboard said the trend continued to her shoes. None of which, nor the tears in the clothing too random and potentially embarrassing to be artistic were what his stare stuck on.
“Saved your life.” Her voice had a trace of sarcasm. Complete contrast to the neon gothic loli costume. “You’re welcome, by the way. Also my apologies. Can’t stop to let you out just now.”
“Your-“ Russ was having a hard time with words. At first he thought it must be just a really fancy cosplay prop, but there were moving parts and gaps… “Your - your a-“
“Hey,” she let go the wheel with her right hand to hold it in front of his nose. Snapped blunt fingers with a knocking sound. “Eyes up here.”
“You,” the snap shook him free and Russel had to look out the window to speak. Knocked his forehead against it as the car took a sharp corner. “Your arm is wood.”
“Holy crap!” Russ snapped his head around at her exclamation. And got the full effect of the sarcastic stare as she turned her hand over, bending and straightening fingers in front of her face. “My arm! Well whaddaya know. I’ve heard ‘know a place like the back of your hand’ and here I’ve got this. What’d you do with my hand?”
“What?! Me- I- I didn’t,” his protests died at the sight of barely contained laughter on the woman’s face. He grimaced. “Well sorry.”
“You get used to it,” she chuckled, eyes on the road as she veered sharply around a minivan. “I did.”
It slowly seeped into Russ’ mind that he’d made rather a mess of being rescued. Even if this was just some hallucination while in a coma bleeding out on the street, his mama had taught him manners. At the same moment he realized who this was in the driver’s seat beside him. Or at least, who she looked like.
He was already a little terrified of his rescuer. The impossibility of who she seemed to be doubled the sensation. All the more reason to be polite. Settling into the seat as best he could against their wild course he caught his breath.
“I’m sorry. Thank you very much for saving me, miss. My name’s Russel, what’s yours?”
Stupid question. Or maybe not. If she’s just dressed as… her, maybe she’ll answer honestly.
The girl’s eye slid sidelong for a second, then back forward. “Certain you want to know?”
Once one learned to accept the impossible arm, it was amazing how quickly it become a sidenote. Less so the erratic motion of the car. Russ silently thanked the heavens he wasn’t one to get motion sick. Facing forward, he gave his best friendly smirk.
“I thought about asking for your number, but ma taught me to be polite, ‘especially when she pretty’ she’d say.”
There was a short bark of laughter. Russel braced himself. Maybe a refuge in audacity was a bad idea. What if this is her? Oh, Abby is going to kill me.
“Your mother sounds wise.”
Phew. So far she had not been half so abrasive as he expected.
“She is that.” Aside from the occasional jibe about not giving her grandkids, Russ held her in high regard. His estimation of the girl across from him went up a few notches. “So do I get a name, or should I stick with ‘pretty’?”
Another glance. “Amara.”
“Amara.” It didn’t fit the look. But she didn’t wince as he tried it out, almost smiled even. And it allowed Russ breathe a sigh of relief. Of course He knew what Ayame Sunrise looked like. And this was it, mostly. I feel like someone would have heard about an arm like that. Except everyone does talk about the long glove she always wears, don’t they? It wouldn’t be that strange to see someone dressed like her the day after her concert, and they weren’t that far from “new Harajuku” anyway. Right? A pop idol would hardly be driving her own car, much less be in a car chase. No way this is really her.
“Pleasure to meet you.”
That earned him a raised eyebrow. The lady snaked into and back out of oncoming traffic, across two lanes through a gap that shouldn’t have been big enough and turned another corner. Amara gave a little shake of her head, bright lips set in a grim line.
“I’m not so sure I did you a favor, not hitting you.”
“Um, well I prefer not being dead.” Especially the day before my birthday. 26 is nothing special but that’d just be sad.
They drove on for a bit, Russ wondering why he hadn’t heard a siren or anything by now. On a relative straightaway, he risked looking behind them. And saw nothing. No line of obvious menacing black cars, or bright red motorcycles with guns or … anything. City traffic. His more immediate surroundings, the entirety of the car aside from it’s driver was mundane. Standard dark upholstery, a little worn. Clean save for one empty bag from a hoagie place farther uptown. Stifling a surge of disappointment, he turned back around in time to flail for the door as the car swerved.
How could he respond tactfully? Giving up on that, he opted for honest. “Not at all.”
“Yeah, that’s the problem,” Amara grimaced, “real bad guys don’t hafta be obvious about it do they?”
“Are they?” A sudden cold thought occurred to Russ.
“The bad guys, I mean. Are they?”
Amara flashed him a smile that was probably supposed to be reassuring. It was certainly pretty… Russ was nonplussed.
“You should hope so.”
No response worth making to that. Nothing he could do about it at this point. Quite at a loss, with enough vague memories of spy movies to not reach for his phone, Russ pressed himself into the passenger seat and held on. After a couple minutes he remembered to turn off his iPod, still blasting from the hanging earbuds.