We stood in downtown Taipei, across the street from the Taipei 101 building. I looked up at the skyscraper and smiled. Why was I not surprised Chang’e chose to live at the top of a skyscraper?
Thanatos tipped his head back. “So this is the Taipei one-oh-one.”
Mikhail followed suit, raising his hand to shield his eyes. “How do we get in? I’ve heard rumors of the VIP club at the top, but it’s never been substantiated.”
A melodious voice came from behind us. “You don’t.”
I turned. “Chang’e. Or shall I call you Grace?”
A girl walked toward us, her hip length ponytail swaying in counterpoint to her hips. She wore the uniform of a prestigious private high school, a white silk blouse paired with a red tartan plaid knee-length skirt. A band of cloth was pinned to her sleeve, proclaiming her to be the class president. The former moon goddess took off her mirrored glasses, revealing large black eyes, and regarded me steadily.
“Grace.” Her lips quirked in a humorless smile. “Only my estranged husband calls me Chang’e anymore.”
“I’m Amarantha and these are the boys. They’re just there to look pretty.”
She gave them a leisurely once-over. “And they do very well at that. Why are you here, Amarantha?”
“Don’t pretend you didn’t know via your grapevine. I need to find someone who can speak to the leaders of the supernatural community.”
Her eyes hooded and her faint smile disappeared. “You know the Law.”
“Yes, and so do you. Your blog and forum, however, is not governed by the same rules we are, is it?”
Her eyes flickered at that. “What do you need, and why?”
“You know of the rules of Ascension.”
“Yes. We should be on target.” Her lips twisted. “Even if certain people insist on sowing strife where ever they go.”
“Happens we’re not. The ruling has come down that this planet is to be wiped in twelve solar days.”
I continued, ignoring her outburst. “To be honest, I’m not sure if we’re counting from when I got the verdict, or if we’re halfway through our first day already, but I’m not certain I care. Either way, we needed to fix this yesterday.”
“We’re counting from when you got the verdict.” A smooth voice interjected from behind me.
Grace arched a brow. “I thought you said he was merely decorative.”
I shrugged. “Are you going to help, or are you going to hop on your phone and call for immediate evacuation?”
I thought about it. “Not sure what worlds we could evacuate to though. Raphael, any good ones?”
“The closest one with an Earth-like composition and atmosphere was still fiddling with the pulley the last I checked.”
Grace narrowed her eyes. “You needn’t mock me.”
“I’m not mocking you. I’m actually genuinely contemplating what would happen if we didn’t manage to save this world. Twelve solar days. That’s not a whole lot of time.”
She whirled on her heel and strode down the sidewalk. “Then we better get moving, don’t we?”
Grace led the way to a coffee shop. She didn’t even glance at the sign that said ‘closed’ before she pushed open the door.
A long bar hugged the wall on the right. Ceramic tea caddies and tea sets both Eastern and Western lined the shelves behind the bar. Wooden tables were set along the wall with the stairway up to the second floor.
She fluttered her fingers at the boy who came out from behind a cloth curtain at the back of the shop, his hair sleep-rumpled and his eyes drowsy. “Nono, make us something nice, all right?”
His eyes sharpened. “Grace. What…”
She hopped up onto one of the bar stools. He reached under the bar, pulled out a tablet, and handed it to her. He set a glass kettle over a stand and lit the alcohol burner beneath it.
I took the seat beside her and the guys remained standing behind us.
Grace’s fingers flew over the touchscreen keyboard. “I’ve sent private messages to all the reincarnated deities that I know. They’ll be in touch. I’ve also posted a note at the top of the forum. Everyone who’s anyone will see it and then they’ll be in contact. Have you considered how you are going to do this? You can’t speak to them directly of this or you’ll be in breach.”
I smirked over my shoulder at the guys before turning back to her. “I thought I’d ask Lucifer if we could cut in the demon summoning line.”
She didn’t even blink. “That’s not a bad idea. I have some girls who would find that amusing. They’re cute too, so they probably won’t be instantly sent back. My question would be, how are you going to phrase this so they actually give a fuck?”
A low groan came from behind us at her easy capitulation. Someone muttered something about crazy women and their antics.
“I’m thinking that telling them the earth is going to go medieval on their ass should be sufficient incentive, don’t you? It’s kind of hard to continue being the big bad when you’re all dead. Besides, it’s not like the white magic types don’t know how to summon demons.”
Nono placed cups of tea in front of us along with a plate of buttery cookies.
I flicked a glance at him. Pure human. Warlock. Grace was a clever girl. Then again, she always had been.
“What else do you need?”
“What can you give me?”
She smiled. “Depends on what you can do for me in return.”
She leaned forward. I noticed Nono had started polishing glasses just within ear range.
“I want your help in reviving the gods.”
“And how do you propose that I accomplish this miracle? The worship simply isn’t there anymore. If you haven’t noticed, I’m spirit housed in flesh as well. I don’t have the ability to clothe myself in flesh.”
“Yes, but you have the ability to help us retain our memories.”
“What good would that do? Your memories return eventually anyway.”
She cocked her head and studied me for a moment before shaking her head. “No. They don’t. Not all of them. And the more we Fall, the more memories we lose. That’s part of why we Fade to human.”
I blinked. “Interesting. But that’s not all of it. I’m Fading as well, and I remember everything.”
Her smile turned wry. “In your case, I actually think it’s because you’re overloading your human flesh with what it wasn’t built to handle. You’re burning out to white ash.”
“The Fading process is irreversible, however. So how will having more of their memories help?”
“Yes and no. The Fading process can be reversed. I’ll discuss that later because it might be applicable to some, but it won’t be for the vast majority. Having access to more of their memories will allow us to have a foot up in this world. We might not be able to be revered as gods anymore, but the sort of adulation celebrities receive is still more than enough to sustain us and possibly gradually reverse the damage.”
“And how would I justify doing this? We drink the brew before we Fall for a reason: to level the playing field. We must earn back our powers and prove that we are worthy and capable of wielding them. You remember what happened before this rule went into effect.” The Black Plague, the Inquisition, Qin Shi Huang, Shang Zhou Xin and the Crusades were all direct results of gods Falling without having their memory wiped.
“The werewolves, vampires, and everything else under the sun has a governing body of some sort. Maybe it’s time we took a hint and did the same before we all go extinct. The virtuous get rewarded and the rule-breakers get punished.”
I folded my arms. “And you expect me to be the poor bastard to set all this up? Why me? You have a platform and you are able to call in and mobilize more gods than I can — why not do it yourself?”
She grinned at me. “Because you’ve always been a sucker for a good cause?”
A muffled laugh. I jabbed back with my elbow and was rewarded with a pained grunt.
“Hey, I wasn’t the one who laughed.”
“Tough titties. Feel free to pass the jab along to whoever did laugh.”
Another grunt. A muttered curse.
Grace flicked a glance at them. “However, if you’re going to be disruptive, take it outside.”
“He’s such an obliging boy, isn’t he?”
Considering the ‘boy’ in question was Mikhail, I grinned back at her.
“In all seriousness, however, you are the perfect candidate as you are already the representative for the planet. Why not keep all the hats in once place?”
“That’s the shittiest attempt at persuasion I’ve ever heard.”
She spread her hands. “Well then, what do you want me to say? You know that it would all fall apart to in-fighting if we tried to have someone else head the council.”
“And what makes me so special? Specially unlucky, to be specific.”
“You have something we all want — the ability to grant us our memories. There’s your carrot and your stick. In addition, you know I’m right about the many hats thing.”
“Aren’t you whippersnappers supposed to respect and care for your elders?”
“I’m helping you make Earth a better place. How’s that for respect and caring?”
I looked up at the ceiling. “Why me? I’m supposed to be retired.”
“Well, there is that lovely little planet a few galaxies over. I have a very nice cave I could show you.”
I turned around just in time to see Thanatos smack the back of Raphael’s head. “That whole etching thing went out of fashion a long time ago.”
Grace shrugged. “Think on it. There’s no rush.”
“Unless the world resets in twelve days.”
“Well, then, the rush would be for something else entirely.”
I slid off the bar stool. “I’ll be in touch.”
“Yes. I do believe you will be.”
I pushed open the door to her knowing laughter, barely resisting the urge to curse out loud.