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author: eve
artist: likhain (likhain.net)




The girl fit the description of disgraced Divines in a novel I once read: disheveled hair, bruised arms, and a single, gray wing folded against her back. As I opened my cottage door and stepped out, she pushed herself to her feet, her face flushed with fury. Jasmine petals and leaves from my flower bed clung, invisible, to her torn white dress; only after she brushed them off did she deign to notice me, scowling.

"Coffee?" I offered. "I've just made a pot. They've stopped supplying gas weeks ago and my stove is nearly out of gas, so you're in luck. No electricity for the last few days, either. I've been drawing water from my own well, funny smell and all."

"I'm sure it's all very interesting," she muttered, glancing around. Rows of cottages with locked doors and windows, a dusty potholed road where no vehicles had passed for a week - I must agree, the view wasn't in the least bit interesting. Not even birds on the telephone wires or a stray cat to ruin the impression that the village was abandoned.

"Please come in," I said. "The coffee's still hot, I promise."

She followed me into the cottage, trailing soil and jasmine leaves in her wake. Close by, she smelled of warm metal, like a machine that had run on for too long. For all I knew, that was what the Divines were.

"Can Divines enjoy human food?" I set cups and saucers on the dining table. Pale blue with caramel-colored handles, the cups were Nin's birthday gift to me before her illness. I'd teased her that she bought them so she could use them too. Even now, her deep-throated laughter still rang in my ears every time a teaspoon clinked against one of the cups.

My guest blinked at my question. "No," she said. "We're not even built like humans. No reason we should enjoy what gives humans physical pleasure."

"Then why are you willing to - "

A thunderous crash cut into my sentence, made my heart skip a beat. It sounded like something the size of a cottage had just fallen on my roof. The front windows went dark as something even heavier crashed onto the road. My guest sighed, clearly finding these interruptions banal.

Lately these noises had become increasingly frequent and loud. It was one thing to know the sky was falling apart, and another to live through the slow process day by day. Just last night, an object resembling a massive black boulder had fallen and practically flattened the cottage across mine. My neighbors' locked doors and windows flashed before me, and I wondered if they were in safer places now.

"What's your name again?" my guest said. "Yana - Tira - no, that's not it - "

"Ara." Thrilled, perhaps illogically so, I clasped my hands together. "You remember me!"

She stuck out her lower lip, seemingly offended that I'd underestimated a Divine's retentive powers. "Where's your sister? Is she dead?"

"Heart failure, three years ago. I nursed her until the end."

My guest gave a dismissive nod. Humans dying must be even more banal to her than being showered by pieces of the sky. The attitude irritated me, but since I'd invited her in myself, I had no one to blame.

"You asked why I came in when you offered me a drink. The truth is I just need a rest from - all this." She ran soot-smeared fingers through her unevenly cropped hair. "Constant battles lose their appeal every now and then."

"What is going on? If I may ask."

"At the root of it all, intense boredom. We created humans, they clung to us and then mocked us. We destroyed them, refilled the earth with new humans, and it began all over again. On and on, millenia after millenia. So we decided to reorganize the heavens this time around. But not all of us could agree on how to do it, so there's a war going on. The winners, both Divines and humans, can rebuild the world - should they wish to. So here I am. And because we both know each other, sort of."

I hesitated. "What I said back then..."

"Humans say all sorts of foolish things, the younger ones most of all. You're not the first one to make such a wish."

She got up; her wing spread to one side, somehow translucent in the dim room. The sight of it suffused my heart with dread. She looked ready to reveal her true form, and it wouldn't be something as lovely as a pert human girl.

"Is it all right for you to be here?" I murmured.

"To the others, I'm just gone for a blink of the human eye. No one would even notice. Did you mean what you said back then, or did you just get carried away?"

Flustered, I shrugged. "Ah, you know, children... I was so enchanted at meeting a Divine, I must've confused you with fairies in fairy tales. The type that grants wishes."

"That sounds like an admonition for children not to wander into their back yard at night."

Inappropriately, I felt like giggling. "It was a new house, with so many rooms and this very big pond at the back. I was just doing what most kids would do – go exploring! Why were you there in the first place?"

Lightning cracked across the sky, rattling the windowpanes. My guest's wing was now aglow with what I assumed to be its own light. Any minute now, the human girl façade would shatter, and I would be consumed within her terrible glory.

"Meetings could get boring," she intoned. "Even meetings on how to depose your fellow Divines. I was skipping one of those. That night you asked me whether humans can live in the heavens, as a Divine's servant or guard."

My curiosity, buried these many years, burst back into the surface. "Can they? You never answered."

Her grin was that of a vulture swooping down on carrion. "There are ways. I find them to sting a little - for humans they're probably excruciating. Your choice."

Stranded in a crumbling world where everyone I'd ever loved had left - or getting caught up in a war with no guarantee of survival. There was no lesser evil here; both choices were dire. They were also the only ones I would ever have.

I turned to the pictures of Nin and I, neatly lining the walls and tables. We had smiled many times through our years together: when our parents separated and moved away, when our lovers discarded us for new romances. I gazed on while my guest waited patiently and another bolt of lightning struck the ground nearby, so close that the hairs on my arms felt singed.

Then I drank my coffee to the last and stood up. "The doctor told me that, for a seventy-year-old, I have a pretty strong heart. A little sting won't hurt it." When my guest's face broke into that vulturine grin again, I added, "Yes, you must've heard this countless times before."

"Countless times is right. Why?"

Because I didn't want to die alone. Because three years was an awfully long time, and I had to escape Nin's laughter and this empty house. "What's going on over there sounds very exciting - a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle - and I want to watch."

My guest scoffed, but didn't comment on my pathetic excuse. "This is your last chance to reconsider. I can't promise you're going to live forever, be able to see your sister, or some other fanciful nonsense."

"I understand."

"I doubt that, but this isn't the time to argue." She took a step toward me. "Close your eyes."

I did, and just before the pain swallowed me whole, I reached for the blue-and-caramel cup, wanting for the last time to touch its fragility - the only reassuring and stable thing left from my old life.
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