Chapters Five and Six 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!
I remained in the bed for a long time and did not move. Morning came and went and became afternoon. In that time, no Archangels swooped down upon me to carry out Father’s vengeance.
I know you can hear me, Ash, Michael said after a while. Tell me what happened last night.
“Nothing happened,” I said. “Stop talking in my head.”
The fact that I couldn’t silence him myself or ignore him was maddening. I wondered again why this human was so resistant to my power. Unless, perhaps, this was common for human hosts? I’d never taken one before but I’d always believed that two souls could not occupy the same body. The superior soul would force out the lesser and I was superior to Michael in every way.
A particular thought flickered through me, one that was ever a constant irritation.
I wasn’t superior to Michael in every way. I might have been faster, stronger, older, more powerful . . . but I was not free. My will was not always my own.
Just explain this to me, Ash, Michael said, his voice breaking into my thoughts again. It was like you fell asleep or something. Angels don’t sleep, do they?
“Not exactly,” I said. “Our power is not infinite, however. If we expend too much of it too quickly, it puts us into torpor. We become dormant until we can regenerate our power. It is one of the reasons we require a host body. It is a place for us to shield ourselves from the strain of existing in the physical world.”
What would happen if you burned through all of your power? Michael asked.
I considered the question for a moment. “I suppose I would die,” I said.
Angels can die? Michael asked. He sounded amazed.
“Yes,” I said and I felt an edge of bitterness creep into my voice. “Even angels can die.”
What happens when an angel dies? Michael asked. Wouldn’t you just go back to Heaven? Or, you know, Hell, since you’re Fallen?
“Nothing happens when we die,” I said.
Nothing? Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, Michael said.
“You do not understand, then,” I said. “Nothing happens. We do not go anywhere. We simply cease to be. Oblivion is all that awaits a slain angel. The Pit is our prison. It is not our afterlife.”
Oh, Michael said. He fell silent.
“Yes,” I said. “Oh.”
For a while, neither of us said anything.
“Why do you call me Ash?” I asked.
I like it as a nickname, Michael said. It makes you seem a little bit less terrifying. Helps me deal with things.
“Which things?” I asked.
Mostly the fact that you’re a frightening and evil bitch and I’m your helpless prisoner, Michael said.
His words took me aback and stung me more deeply than I cared to admit.
“I’m not evil,” I said finally. “Nor am I a bitch.”
Fine, maybe you’re not evil, Michael said, but you haven’t exactly been all kindness and kittens, either. I know I’m just a lowly mortal and a voice interfering with your thoughts, but if you want my honest opinion, there it is.
This was a conversation that I did not want to continue. “Enough of this,” I said. “It is time to get moving.”
Oh? Michael asked. Am I to assume that you have a plan for dealing with that other guy? The Archangel?
“Gabriel,” I said. Just saying his name filled me with weariness.
I recognize that name, Michael said. From Sunday school.
I was a good Catholic, he said. But that was a long time ago.
I knew what it felt like to lose faith in something. I didn’t press him on the point.
So, that other guy, Michael said. He’s an Archangel, yeah?
“He is Gabriel,” I said. “He is Father’s Messenger.”
He’s God’s errand boy? Michael asked. I felt him chuckle in amusement. That doesn’t sound so bad. He has to suck to get stuck with that job, right?
“No,” I said, my voice flat. “All of the Archangels have their roles and none of them are weak.”
How many Archangels are there? Michael asked.
“There are seven,” I said. “Although there are three in particular whom stand above all the rest.”
Who are they? Michael asked.
“The first is Michael,” I said. “His title is the Warrior and he is the strongest and most dangerous of them all. He became Prince of Heaven after the Rebellion was crushed. He struck down Lucifer personally.”
My namesake, the human Michael said. Sounds like a cool guy.
I shook my head but said nothing.
Who else? Michael asked.
“There is Raphael,” I said. “He is the Healer. He is not as gentle as his title might suggest, however. And then there is Gabriel, the Messenger. Many of the messages Gabriel delivers are of the lethal kind.”
God needs an assassin? Michael asked. He can’t just kill off people he doesn’t like on his own?
I smirked slightly, despite myself. “Maybe,” I said. “Father doesn’t like to get involved much.”
So what about you? Michael asked. What’s your story?
“What do you mean?” I asked.
What was your rank and title before you became a demon? he asked.
“I am not a demon,” I snapped.
You’re a fallen angel, Michael said. How is that different from a demon?
“Every demon is a fallen angel,” I said. “Not every fallen angel is a demon.”
I don’t understand the difference, Michael said.
“The difference,” I said between clenched teeth, “it that demons were those among the Fallen who succumbed to sin after we were damned. They embraced their wickedness and were corrupted by it. I did not.”
You’re the only one? Michael asked.
“Yes,” I said. My voice became distant with memory. “We began with such noble intentions. We were going to change everything. But the Pit has a way of making you forget what you were. They gave in to the darkness. They forgot why we rebelled in the first place. They embraced that darkness and it changed them.”
Changed them into demons, Michael said.
“Yes,” I murmured.
But not you? he asked.
“No,” I said. “Not me.
I stood up from the bed and walked outside. The air hit me like a wave, dry and hot and stifling.
I think we’re in Arizona, Michael said. They say that it’s a dry heat as if that makes it a good thing. I think I’m glad that you’re the one in the driver’s seat right now.
The sun was bright and shining. Already, I could feel a trickle of sweat crawling down my spine. I took off Michael’s leather jacket and folded it under my arm. Without bothering to pick a direction, I began to walk.
Where are we going? Michael asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I have to keep moving to stay ahead of Gabriel.”
A moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one, Michael said.
“That is the essence of it, yes,” I said.
A while later, while we were walking down a narrow path between two large buildings, my awareness stirred. Something was following me. Was it Gabriel? I resisted the urge to spread my wings and take flight. If it was the Archangel, I knew I would not be able to surprise him a second time. He would be on his guard now for more tricks.
I kept walking, eyes downward. Perhaps he would pass me by.
Strong hands grabbed me and I was pushed up against the side of the nearest building. My arm was wrenched tightly behind me.
Something pressed against me and I felt warm, sour breath against my ear. “Don’t even try it,” a male voice hissed. “Don’t move.” I felt something cold press into the small of my back. I assumed it was a weapon.
Oh shit! Michael cried. He’s got a gun!
I ignored the frantic human. I didn’t understand why Gabriel would ambush me so. He didn’t need to hide from anything, did he? Maybe it was a tactic; like me, he was trying to keep a low profile, minimize the power he spent so that I couldn’t sense his approach. Since I hadn’t felt him at all, it must have worked.
“We both know that you don’t need the human weapon,” I said. “You caught me.”
Gabriel laughed. I felt his breath, rank and foul, wash over my face. “Just making sure,” he said. “You know how this goes.”
“Indeed,” I said.
Gabriel dug the gun deeper into my back. “I’m not in the fucking mood for jokes,” he said. “Let’s start with the wallet and go from there.”
I turned my head enough to catch a glimpse of the being holding me hostage. It wasn’t Gabriel. It was just a human, a dirty, scruffy human with filthy clothes and a sneer on his face.
“Oh,” I said and sighed with relief. “I thought you were someone else.”
“Yeah, I bet you wish I was, asshole,” the man said. “Quit fucking around and give me the money. Just give me the fucking money, man.”
I laughed. It really was quite precious to observe.
The human did not find this amusing. He twisted me around and slammed my head back against the wall. He stuck the gun into my neck
“You think this is funny, asshole?” he said. “Here you go, funny guy, I’ve got a joke for you. What do you think will happen when I blow your brains out the back of your skull?”
I smiled. “Go ahead,” I said. “Kill me.”
He wavered for a moment, uncertain. I reached out, took the gun in his hand, and drew it up against my own forehead. “Kill me, mortal. If you can.”
The human snarled and pulled the trigger. There was a deafening explosion that echoed around us in the closed confines of the alley. The bullet struck my forehead and smashed flat against the skin. It fell to the ground, now little more than a crushed piece of hot metal.
“That hurt,” I said.
The man stared at me, his eyes widening. “What the fuck,” he said. He pulled the trigger again. This time, nothing happened.
“Oops,” I said. I plucked the weapon from his hands and crushed it between my fingers.
The man stared at me, his eyes wide with disbelief. “What is your name?” I asked.
“Sebastian,” he said, eyes still wide.
“Sebastian,” I said. “Let me tell you about me, Sebastian. I am a fallen angel. You cannot harm me with such weapons. You cannot kill me.” I clenched my fist and the bones in his arm shattered. He went down in a screaming heap.
He ignored me and cradled the remains of his pulverized hand against his chest. The screams were incoherent, little more than wordless noise.
I could have spared him. I could have been merciful and let him live.
He looked up at me, eyes pleading. “Please,” he whispered.
I put my foot on his neck. “No,” I said. I stepped down.
There was a sharp crack as his neck broke. The screams went silent and the man did not move.
You killed him? Michael asked. He sounded very small and very afraid.
“Yes,” I said.
Why? he asked.
“He was in my way,” I said. And then, to illustrate the gravity of my next words, I shifted out of the real world and reappeared inside Michael’s prison, once more wearing my avatar form. “Let me explain something to you, human. Let me do so clearly, in my own voice, so that you do not misunderstand. I am Fallen. I am not an angel and I am not your friend.”
“But why kill him?” Michael asked. He seemed surprised by the sound of his voice. He glanced nervously around the white, featureless room of the prison. “He wasn’t a threat to you.”
“I am Fallen,” I said again. “I do what I want, when I want. I bow to no one. In the eyes of my Father and my former brethren, I am worse than a sinner, Michael, because I am unrepentant.”
“Ash,” he began but I silenced him with a cold glare.
“Do not call me that,” I said.
“Why not?” he asked. He seemed to recover his courage. “Because it annoys you? What are you going to do to stop me? Kill me? Like you killed him?”
“Because,” I said.
“Because why?” he asked.
“Because I’m afraid of what it might do to me,” I said, before I could stop myself, before I could create a lie. I had not meant to tell him the truth but it was harder to lie when I appeared to him directly. It reminded me of Morrigan’s question-and-answer game and the Pact we’d struck, the bargain that compelled me to answer each question honestly.
“What are you afraid it will do?” Michael asked. He didn’t seem to understand. “It’s just a nickname, Ash.”
“No,” I snapped. “It’s more than that.”
“What is it, then? Explain it to me,” he said.
“My name is the only thing that is truly mine,” I said.. “It is the one thing that the Pit could not take away. It’s the one thing that my Father did not give to me.”
“Why does it matter?” Michael asked. “Names aren’t that important.”
“Not to a mortal,” I said, “because you have physical form to define yourself and you redefine yourself constantly. You are not who you are because of your name, Michael.”
“Right,” he said. “It’s my choices that make me who I am. My thoughts, my fears, my hopes, my dreams.”
“And those things can change,” I said. “You can change them and become something else. You’ll go through your mortal life and be whatever combination of saint and sinner that you so desire.”
“Angels can’t do that?” he asked.
“My name is who I am,” I said. “It defines me, gives me shape and form and function. My identity is bound to it. It is why I am female, why I am a fallen angel, why I am everything that I am. To change my name is to change me.”
“But you’re stronger than I am,” Michael said. “I can’t change you. You could just resist it.”
“Change is a slow thing for my kind,” I said. “Each time you call me Ash, it will change me. It goes more quickly if I acknowledge the change. If I answer to the name, or even embrace it within myself, the change will happen more quickly.”
“Who will you become?” he asked.
“I would become whoever Ash is,” I said, “and I would not be Ashariel.”
He laughed then and I scowled at him.
“It is not a joke,” I said. “But I can’t imagine why it would ever matter to you. Or why I’m even bothering to explain anything to you.”
Michael grinned. “Maybe you’re bored,” he said. “Maybe you need a friend.”
“I don’t need a friend,” I said.
Michael didn’t say anything further after that and I was glad. I left his prison and shifted back to the real world, where my host body stood over the cooling body of the man I’d killed. I leaned back against the wall of the building and closed my eyes for a moment.
When I opened my eyes again, I was in a very different place.
I stood in front of an altar. Rows of empty pews lined the floor around me. Stained glass on the walls glittered like jewels in the dim light of small, glowing red signs. Everything was silent, except for the sound of a fountain, somewhere off in the darkness.
Where are we? Michael asked. Why did you bring us to a church?
“It wasn’t my doing,” I said, my voice low and cold.
“No, it wasn’t,” a familiar voice said from somewhere behind me. “It was mine.”
I turned around to look, though I already knew what I would find.
Gabriel sat in the front row, hands folded. He was smiling.