The first two chapters of my novel Unrepentant, freely available for your enjoyment. New chapters will be posted every Friday. If you enjoy the book, please consider supporting me via my Patreon account. Thanks!
“And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon and its angels battled but it did not prevail, neither was a place found for them any longer in heaven. So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.”
— Revelation 12:7-9
Part One: Ashariel
I noticed something odd right after I escaped from Hell; I was standing in a graveyard wearing a man’s body.
He screamed at me, the man I wore; his voice was silent and furious but his lips did not move because they were my lips now. I did not want him to scream at me.
“Please be quiet,” I said. It seemed the appropriate thing to say.
He did not listen. He continued to scream. I couldn’t understand what he was saying so I decided to ignore him.
I turned my attention outward and examined my stolen body. My body was of average height and build. My body had short brown hair and a face that angular and lean. My hands were soft. I wore inexpensive clothes. I could walk and run.
This body was acceptable even if it was wrong for me. It didn’t matter though. Wearing a man would not make me one, not unless I wanted it to make me one. I knew what I was.
I’d never taken a host before. It felt wrong. It was wrong. Frail and mortal though he might be, he was still an individual being and he was supposed to own himself in mind and body. I’d taken that from him. Why had I done that? I tried to remember and that was when I lost myself for a time.
There is a woman standing before me in the darkness. All I can see are her glowing green eyes. Two gleaming orbs of emerald light pierce the darkness.
It’s the first light I’ve seen in a long time.
Time to wake up, she says.
She touches me, gathers me in her embrace.
She carries me.
I realize what’s happening.
She’s taking me out.
She’s taking me out of Hell.
And then, just like that, I’m out.
Just like that, I’m free.
I was back in the graveyard. The only light came from the sad yellow glow of nearby streetlights. If anything, they seemed to make it worse, the erratic illumination preventing my human eyes from properly adjusting to the cloudy, starless night. I saw rows of old tombstones, many of them untended.
My host’s voice broke into my thoughts again. He’d gone from screaming to crying now. His grief buffeted me in waves and it was so violent and unrestrained that I lost track of where he ended and I began. It took a moment for me to collect myself. I had to push him out of me.
He couldn’t stay here with me. I couldn’t have this lost, despairing soul clinging to me. He’d distract me, perhaps even destroy me. His emotions would infect me. His words would change me. I couldn’t allow that to happen.
I had to remain as I was. I had to be Ashariel.
I had to end him.
I told myself it was the humane option. He didn’t want to live like this. He didn’t want to be a prisoner in his own body. This was not temporary. I was never going back to the Pit. I was here in the mortal world for good and to stay in the mortal world, I need a mortal body. I needed this body.
At least he wouldn’t be trapped. Oblivion was better than a cage. It was better to die free than live imprisoned.
It would not hurt. I would be gentle.
I held him. Invisible fingers closed around the tiny human spirit buried deep within my stolen heart. He was so small. His spirit flickered like a candle that was about to go out. His power was so tiny compared to mine. He didn’t have a chance and that wasn’t fair. But I wasn’t the one that had made it that way.
“Sorry,” I said.
I tried to extinguish the little candle that was all that remained of his soul.
The soul resisted me. He resisted me.
That wasn’t supposed to happen.
No, that could not happen.
I tried again. Again, he resisted.
I could not believe it. He was resisting me. He was clinging to his shell with an unbreakable determination, a stubborn resistance. It was impossible. How was he doing it? How could he do it? He wasn’t stronger than me. How was this happening?
I had to know. I had to ask him. Was I being cruel? Was I toying with my prey before killing him? But he wasn’t prey anymore, was he? He’d already shown a surprising reserve of strength. What else could he do?
I had to know.
“Who are you?” I asked.
What is this? he asked. What’s happening to me?
His voice manifested as thoughts in my head. It was strange to hear his mental voice mingling among my own thoughts. It was almost like I was talking to myself.
“You’ve been possessed,” I said. It seemed like I should offer a better explanation, so after a moment, I added, “Please try to be calm.”
I’m supposed to be dead, he said. Why am I still here? Why aren’t I dead? Is this Hell?
Despite myself, I smiled. “I promise you, we are not in the Pit.”
I’m supposed to be dead, he said. His mind filled with images that were discordant and chaotic and he overwhelmed me. For a moment, our minds wove together and I was there, with him, reliving what I realized were my host’s final moments:
There’s a man in front of us, he’s holding something, what is he holding? He’s got a gun. He wants money.
Please, I have money. I have my wallet right here. Don’t shoot me. I’ll pay. I have a family.
I try to give him the wallet. Something goes wrong.
There’s a bright flash, a loud noise. There’s a sharp pain in my chest.
He shot me? Oh my god, he shot me.
I’m able to see his face for a moment. It’s not a man; it’s a boy, a skinny teenager with rotting teeth. Did he mean to do that? Why did he do that?
I want to know why he did that but my mouth doesn’t work anymore.
And then it’s very cold.
Fade to black.
Our minds unwove and I was myself again. I looked down at my hands and arms. I saw that I was covered with dirt. I looked down and saw that I was standing above a fresh grave.
Michael Stroud, August 1 1983—May 2 2013.
Beloved brother, cherished son.
“Michael,” I said. “Your name is Michael.”
I began to understand. The voice in the darkness had brought me out of the Pit and put me in a dead body. Had she meant to do that? Had she known that this would happen? Was it fate or chance that had brought this mortal to me?
Please, he said. Just tell me what’s happening. I don’t understand what’s happening to me.
He sounded calmer now. The hysteria was beginning to bleed from his voice. He was getting control of himself.
There was still so much I didn’t understand about him. Why hadn’t his soul moved on? He should have crossed over to one of the other realms at the moment of his death. I had to know what was different about him. The voice in the darkness had given me this mortal for a reason, I knew that she had.
I had to speak with him. I had to talk to him directly.
I shifted myself out of the real world and directly into my host’s mind. The graveyard vanished. A blank white room appeared in its place. My host’s mind appeared in the middle of the room as a projection of his own body.
“What?” he asked. His voice was audible now. “Where am I? What is this?”
I couldn’t speak to him as a disembodied spirit. All worlds have rules, even imaginary ones. If I wanted to speak to him in such a world, I would have to make myself part of it. I needed a form of my own. I needed an avatar.
The form of a slender, dark-haired woman rose up from my memories.
Yes. This is who I’d been one or at least, this had been my mortal mask. Most angels created them for one reason or another. Some chose terrifying and monstrous visages, forms that inspired fear and awe in those that beheld them. Others chose more humble shapes. This one had been mine. I’d liked being her.
Her face was gentle and her dark grey eyes were intelligent and alert. I’d worn her form over myself in happier times.
Her long dark hair hung to her shoulders. Her skin was pale and smooth. Her body was slender. I was pretty, perhaps even beautiful. She wore a blue dress of a soft fabric that rippled and flowed around her like water.
“Such vanity,” I said and sighed. This mask felt good. She felt appropriate. She was much more suitable for me than the masculine body that served as my host.
I slipped into my mask and appeared in the white room.
Michael looked at me. His mouth worked several times before he said anything.
“Wow,” he said. “You’re really pretty.”
“I can wear any form I desire,” I said, “but I appreciate your compliment nonetheless.”
“Oh,” he said. “So that’s not your real body?”
“What do you really look like?” he asked.
“I don’t look like anything,” I said.
He looked from me to the white walls of the room and then back to me. “Where are we?”
“We’re inside your mind,” I said.
“That’s troubling,” he said. “I wouldn’t have expected my mind to be quite so empty. There’s probably a joke in there somewhere.”
“This is only a very small part of your mind,” I said. “It is a projection I created to speak to you.”
“I see,” he said, although I was certain he didn’t understand. “Who are you? Can you tell me what’s happening to me?”
Did I owe him my name? There was power in names and it was dangerous to give them away.
No, I didn’t owe him anything.
But some part of me wanted him to know me, wanted him to know who and what I was. Maybe it was the same vanity that led me to adopt a beautiful avatar for myself. Vanity and pride were two signs of the same coin, after all, and I could not deny that I was proud. I loved my name. I wanted it to be spoken, even if it was only spoken here within this mortal’s mind.
“I am Ashariel,” I said.
My name, when I said it, filled me with pleasure. It was a lovely word. It was mine. It was me. It was the only thing I’d ever really owned.
What was I doing? What was I thinking? Why was I even bothering?
I didn’t know and though it struck me as odd, I didn’t care.
“My name is Ashariel,” I said again, more confident even as I embraced this most peculiar kind of madness. “I am a fallen angel.”
“You’re a what?”
I stood there, in the blank white expanse of the room that existed only in my host’s mind, and waited.
“Wait, okay,” he said after several long, deep breaths. “Explain something to me. I remember the stories from the Bible; most of it, anyway, the important parts. Don’t lie, don’t kill, don’t jerk it or you’ll go blind. I don’t remember the part where angels possessed people.”
He looked at me and laughed. It was a harsh and bitter sound, tinged with hysteria. “Wait, but you’re not an angel, are you?” he asked. “You’re a demon. No, you can’t be a demon. You told me we’re not in Hell. Unless you lied to me! Demons can lie, can’t they?”
It only took a glance. He looked at me and saw the cold anger in my eyes. He realized his mistake.
“I am a fallen angel,” I corrected him. “I am not a demon. It’s an important distinction to me.”
“Sorry,” he said. “It won’t happen again.”
The anger in my eyes faded and he visibly relaxed.
“Did you bring me back?” he asked. “Is that why I’m alive again?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I wish I could provide you with the answers that you seek, Michael, but I’m afraid that I have just as many questions as you do.”
“You know my name?” he asked.
“I read it on your tombstone,” I said.
“Ah,” he said. “That’s kind of creepy, when you say it out loud like that. ‘My tombstone.’”
“I didn’t choose you for a host,” I said. “I didn’t choose for any of this to happen. Someone helped me escape from the Pit. I woke up here. I think she placed me in your body.”
“Could she be another angel like you?” Michael asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe. She felt different, though. I think she is something else.”
“What else is there?” Michael asked.
I shrugged. “There are several ranks of angels,” I said. “I was from the lowest rank, before my fall. There are the other Fallen who now call themselves demons. And there are other things, older and darker things, that call the Pit home as well. We shared our prison with many things.”
“Like what?” Michael asked.
I closed my eyes, fighting not to remember. “I’d rather not say.”
He looked around and sighed. “Well,” he said, “thanks for bringing me back to life. Even if it was just an accident, I wouldn’t be here without you.”
The earnestness of his gratitude caused me to look away. I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I’d tried to extinguish his soul. I’d tried to kill him.
“I can’t let you go, Michael,” I said. “I’m sorry for that. I can’t exist in your world without a physical body. I need yours.”
“Does that mean I’m your prisoner?” he asked. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“That’s not good enough, Ash,” he said. “What gives you the right to—”
“Ashariel,” I interrupted. “Not Ash.”
“What does it matter?” he asked.
I couldn’t tell him what this would do to me. I needed a host body and I couldn’t make him leave. That meant I was stuck with him. I couldn’t let me know that he did have one small measure of power over me; the power to change me.
“That’s too hard for me to say,” he said.
“It is not that hard to say,” I said.
“Well, I like Ash better,” he said and smirked at me. “What are you going to do about it, take over my body and trap me in a white room with no windows or doors? Oh wait.”
I was about to say something in reply, but at that moment, the door of a nearby mausoleum exploded outward in a shower of rubble and I realized that we were in danger.