Wednesday, May 30, 2012

That Morning At the DMV, Sixteen Years Ago

There was a swoosh and air tumbled over her. Air that was just too cold and had just too much a taste of Lysol to mask the underlying odor. Human. Undeniable, unmistakable. This place reeked of their stench. At least. That's what she told herself. She walked towards the counter at the center of the room.

The woman who sat there looked like she hadn't moved from the spot since the late 1970s. Her hair, her makeup, her clothes. Those half-moon glasses  she wore low on the bridge of her nose. The tired and annoyed way she looked up. This woman whose time was apparently so important that she couldn't even muster a smile for the people walking through her line.

"What you here for, hon?" Her voice was nasally and flat.

The girl standing in front of her counter looked no older than twenty. Red hair pulled back in a ponytail. Leather jacket that was just a bit too big draped over her shoulders. A red and white flannel shirt tied above her exposed bellybutton. Torn and faded jeans that were turned up above her pair of leather boots. Her eyes were hidden behind a pair of reflective aviators as she looked down at her watch.

"Renewal of registration." Her voice was lower than one would expect from her frame. "What time do you have?"

"You'll just need to take a number and wait over there." The woman droned as she pulled a number from a ticket dispenser and ignored the other question. "Wait time is about four hours. Hope you brought a book or something."

The girl walked forward and planted both her hands firmly on the counter, people in line looking over and whispering as they saw her. She leaned forward and if people hadn't know better they would have thought her neck, her whole frame, seemed to stretch a bit as she leered at the woman. She bent her head ever so slightly forward, letting the sunglasses slide just an inch or so down her nose. But that was all it took.

Deep in the shadow of the sunglasses her irises burned a bright red, as if they were two live coals cooking at the center of their dark sockets. Her hair suddenly seemed redder, her canines of her teeth seemed longer. For a moment, the leather jacket looked less like a jacket and more like a pair of leathery wings folded across her back. Just for a moment. No one even seemed to see it. Most were busy holding up "Oregon Driver's Manual" or "Bike Rules of the Road" booklets.

"Ah, I see." The woman's eyes had grown round like saucers.

"Thank you." The girl said as she turned from the counter, no longer like a predator about to close on its prey.

"Excuse me," It was the woman behind the counter again.

"What!" The girl spun around and snapped and not a few people looked up from their booklets.

"You're still gonna have to take a ticket, hon." The woman's look and tone were back as she held up a ticket that burned black with red shimmering writing showing the number 543.

"Number 543?!" She looked at the ticket in shock.

"Yeah, your line's right over there." The woman said pointing towards the far wall lined with a series of uninteresting looking people.

"Thanks." She hissed as she stormed past the woman and made her way to the end of the line.

Immediately in front of her was a small, old woman, clutching a small handbag right beneath the collapsed indentation where her throat met her jutting collarbones. Everything about her said frail, and the girl started to wonder if she could take the old woman down and steal her ticket.

"I wouldn't try it." said the man standing on the other side of her.

He was dressed in a sharp italian business suit, with a phone pressed to his ear. His cufflinks shone with an iridescent glimmer that was strangely hypnotic and made it hard to focus on him. His hair was slicked back, curly and jet black. His smile was definitely whitened way beyond the realm of the natural. He spoke with an accent that was hard to place. Maybe French, or perhaps Dutch.

"Belgian actually."He smiled and adjusted the cufflinks and suddenly it became much easier for her to bring him into focus. "Sorry about the silver dragonbone. Have to wear it whenever I come here. Otherwise I'm sure to get my pockets picked."

"Silver dragonbone cufflinks?"She looked him up and down and decided he was definitely handsome.

"That's right." A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he smiled, "The name's Theodydimus Archgomentius. But you can call me Thomas."

"Archgomentius?" It was the girl's turn to let her eyes go wide. "You mean, you're one of the Duodenium."

"Last time I checked." He flashed her another brilliantly white smile that seemed to fill her with warmth to her toes.

"What are you doing here?!" She was still reeling from the shock of running into a celebrity at the DMV, "I mean, I though you guys didn't have to go through all this. Can't you just walk to the front of the line?"

He smiled a wry grin and spoke, "Well, yes, I could, but that's a bad publicity. Better for me to blend in and just get in and out. If anyone asks I still have my license and I got it the regular way. No special treatment. Makes people feel like the world's fair. Always a good feeling."

He was smiling but she couldn't help feel like he was also trying to say something else. The line stepped forward and she noticed the couple on the other side of Thomas. They held a small child in their hands, no more than a week old. Most likely just over a week old. Eight days. It's always on the eight day that parents have to bring their children in for primary registration. This was not going to be fun.

"No, it won't be." He smiled. "But luckily it will be over quick."

"Not quick enough." She sighed, looking at the rest of the line.

"Well, at least the company's not too bad," His eyes twinkled as he said it, "At least not for me."

She blushed to her roots, which is something she did not do. She wanted to be mad at him but at the same time, couldn't think why. She was about to stutter some sort of response, but couldn't think of what to say. Luckily, before she could make a fool of herself he had turned to the couple and was asking them about the child.

"Her name's Lily, after her grandmother." The woman was saying.

"We have high hopes for her. Her grandmother was one of the best known flyers in the Northwest." Her father beamed proudly, "Little Lily's got a lot to live up to."

"Well I'm sure she will." He turned to the child, "Won't you Lily. Yes, because you're the spitting image of your grandmother. I met her once. A long time ago."

"You did?" Both parents intoned.

"Yes." He looked up from the child, "I could never forget a woman like Lilalia Gerontia. We met during the summer hunt of 69. You probably still have the white horns at home, I imagine."

"Yes." The woman was saying in shock. "They're above our mantel. I was just thinking about that."

"Well, I'm very happy to see her legacy live on. There are so many of the old families who have... left the calling." He seemed genuinely heartbroken as he said it.

"Oh, we would never." The father spoke up. "Our families have both answered the call for almost three thousand years now. We could never stop."

"Well, I'm certainly glad to hear that." He turned back to the girl and smiled, "We'll be watching your progress with great interest, Lily."

Then he was back with the young woman from before. "So, shall we make things go faster?"

"But I thought you said you couldn't cut in line." She looked up at his eyes and realized she couldn't tell what color his eyes were.

"Let's just say, there are always exceptions to the rules." He grinned as she pulled her with him and stepped out of line.

They marched past the rows of completely ordinary looking people, who all seemed to shimmer in one way or another with the same iridescence that Thomas had been burning from his cufflinks. She knew the same iridescence was around her, though she couldn't see it. It was what caused her leather jacket not to look like two folded wings over the shoulders. She wondered what Thomas would look like without his fancy silver dragonbone cuffs. She had heard stories. Stories about the Duodenium. How they had ruled the world at one point, mortals and immortals alike. How they had burned the skies with their wings. How they had frozen the seas with their touch. How the earth shook at their roars. Before everything had changed. Back in the old days.

"It's lucky you had met Lily's grandmother." She said as she walked behind Thomas, almost reaching the front of the line that stretched for what felt like miles, even though the DMV office couldn't be any longer than a few hundred feet.

"It's more lucky that I could read her mother's mind so easily." His smile gleamed wickedly. "Great, now there goes my secret weapon to ask you out to dinner."

He wants to go to dinner with me, she thought and he replied, "I'd love to. Thanks for asking."

"Hey! I didn't– that is. I mean–", she faltered as she blushed again down to her red roots.

"Oh, you don't want to go?' He turned and somehow even though his smile was the same it now looked cattish and playful. "Remember, I can read your mind."

"Umm, excuse me!" cried the teen girl on her phone standing at the head of the line. "You can't just, like, cut! I've been here for three weeks now. Do you know how hard it is to keep a mini skirt pressed just right when you've been–"

But she got no further. He was adjusting the cufflinks again and it became hard for me to see him. But the girl obviously could and all the color drained out of her fake tanned face until she was the same shade as her bleach blonde hair.

"Pardon me, miss. I normally don't do this. But you see, this young woman here is unregistered." He held the redhed's arm up as if she was a doll or a lost puppy.

"B–but she– she is older than me." The girl stammered, not breaking eye contact with Thomas.

"Yes, a shame really. So many wild and unregistereds running aorund. " He slid his hand behind her as if to guide her towards one of the waiting seats but she recoiled as if she had been touched by fire. "We must all make sacrifices sometimes. For the greater good of our people. We only have each other. Trust me. This is for the better."

The tan returned to her face and her eyes widened and her mouth spread out in a sticky sweet grin. She began nodding but not really in response, more to just a tune she alone could hear. He turned to the redhead and smiled, coming back into focus, "And just to clean up the rest of this–"

"What–?" Was all she got out as he raised his hand.

"Forget." He spoke loudly and suddenly all the heads turned in attention to him returned to their manuals and cell phones, "Hopefully that isn't too long of a memory gap. They always notice the small things. Like when their watches are off time."

She was looking down at her watch as he said it. "Huh, is that so. Still must be very powerful to be able to do that."

He seemed to be watching her closer now, his smile a bit smaller, and a bit more forced as he studied her, "Yes. Excuse me, but have we met? I mean, before?"

It was her turn to smile mysteriously as she shook his hand, "No, and we didn't meet this time either. My name's Scarlet."

"Scarlet?" He licked his lips as he said it, "You reminded me of someone. But that was too long ago to–"

"So this mind reading of yours?" She smiled as she changed the subject, "Does it always work?"

"Of course. As long as you're thinking and not being impulsive. I hate impulsive people." He made a face.

"Ha, you're lying." She gave a small laugh, "You're impulsive yourself."

"So, who says those facts are mutually exclusive." His eyes burned sadly in the shimmer from the cufflinks, making it almost look like he was about to cry.

"Not about that." She stepped closer, her own grin now cattish, he looked down as she took hold of his lapels. "I saw how your eyes looked when you spoke to them and told them you had met Lily's grandmother. You looked the same way."

"When?" He smiled out of the corner of his mouth, glad the shimmer from the cufflinks would keep them from prying eyes.

"When you said that your mind reading always works." She whispered as she traced a finger up his tie, "It doesn't, does it? There is something. Something that can... stop it. Isn't there."

She was purring against his neck as she said it and he felt himself blush, something he hadn't done in literally ages. But her remarks were also upsetting. Upsettingly accurate. "Well, I mean, there may be, one or two things, here or there."

She placed her finger on his lips and breathed on them as she whispered, "Things like golden dragonbone? And maybe, placed on a person's head?"

His eyes went wide and quickly jumped up to her forehead. But she wasn't wearing any kind of magic circlet. Just the aviators. His heart froze. If he had one. But surely not, he tried to reason with himself, if she wore a full circlet he wouldn't have been able to read any of her thoughts. Unless a partial circlet, such as aviators meant....

"Yes." She whispered, her eyes glowing red again as she saw he was working it out, "some of my thoughts. Not all of them. Not this time."

"This time–" He started to say but then leapt back. "Tiamat!? How!?"

But she didn't wait for him to finish. She could only do what she had come to do in the few nanoseconds he was still in shock at seeing her there, whole, in front of him. But that moment of surprise was all she needed. She was on top of him, knocking him to the ground, tearing piece by piece away until nothing was left but twitching shimmering limbs. No blood. No gore. Just pieces as if they were made of modeling clay. Around her the unlookers did what they did best, looked on in horror.

"Perfect." She hissed as she dropped the aviators from her face and spread her large, leathery wings.

That night the regular news was buzzing with the report of the terrorist attack that had blow up an entire DMV center. No survivors except for a young couple and their baby girl, Lily. The couple were apparently still in shock and couldn't recall what had happened. The baby girl seemed fine. But it was the other news, not the regular ones most mortals watch, that was on every set, of those who knew how to tune to it. A Duodenium had been destroyed. Beyond repair. A part of him was missing and he couldn't be reconstructed without it. The young couple had only agreed to talk to one reporter, but hadn't said anything. The baby girl, Lily, had said one word, over and over again, before her parents had dropped her and run away in horror from the crying infant. The one word that was on everyone's lips, even if they were mortal and didn't know why. The one name.


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