Chapters 7-9 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!
“Hello, Gabriel,” I said.
“Ashariel,” he said, his voice pleasant. “You look well.”
“You, too,” I said. The air cracked and my blade-like wings burst forth from my shoulders. “How did you find me?”
Gabriel sighed. “Really, Ashariel. Must we do this?”
“Yes,” I said. “We must.”
“As you wish,” Gabriel said.
I surged forward and leapt at him. My wings slashed through his form, which shattered into sparks of light. I whirled around to see Gabriel standing behind me, wings still concealed.
“If you’re here to take me, Gabriel,” I snarled, “then fight, damn it! Do not prolong this with one of your games.”
The Archangel shook his head. “Are you so eager to go back?”
I glared at him. “Do you expect me to just lie down and die?”
“It would make things easier, in the long run,” Gabriel said. “Alas, you are far too stubborn and far too deluded by your own sense of self-importance to do something so sensible. I have learned to temper my expectations when dealing with your kind.”
“How kind of you to stoop down to my level,” I said.
Gabriel shook his head and motioned to the row of pews. “Put your wings away,” he said, “ And sit.”
“I’d rather stand,” I said.
“Petulant child,” he said. “You are not listening to me. Tell me, foolish Fallen, if I came here to visit Father’s wrath upon you, do you think I would have bothered to speak to you? Would I have bothered to pluck you from the street and bring you here to a sacred place if it was my intention to cast you back into the Pit? Or would my actions seem more in accordance with a desire to speak with you? Tell me, which one makes more sense to you?”
He did have a point.
“Fine,” I said I sat down in the nearest pew. My wings folded around me but did not fade. “Speak, then.”
“Finally,” Gabriel said. “She sees reason.”
Wait, what? Michael asked. You’re just going to cave in and do as he says?
Shut up, I thought at him.
“What do you want, Gabriel?” I asked.
“An answer to a question,” Gabriel said.
“Ask it,” I said.
“Do you vow to answer?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Depends on the question. Let’s hear it first and then we’ll see how cooperative I’m feeling.”
Gabriel’s face was like a stone mask, but I could see the frustration building in his eyes. He wasn’t used to being addressed with such disrespect. It meant he needed something from me, something more important than his own pride. I had a feeling I knew what he was after.
“You want to know how I escaped,” I said.
“Yes,” the Archangel said at once. “Tell me how.”
“What do I get out of it?” I asked.
He blinked. “What?”
“You heard me,” I said. “The answer isn’t free.”
A stained glass window behind Gabriel shattered. Colorful shards rained down around the Archangel. “You insolent, selfish, spoiled little maggot,” he thundered. “Answer me or–”
“Or you’ll do what, exactly?” I asked and smiled at him. “Threaten me? Drag me back to the Pit? You were going to do that anyway. If you want me to tell you anything, you need to tell me what’s in it for me.”
“I could smite you where you sit, worm,” Gabriel said, his voice little more than a hiss. “You are nothing before me. Your power is insignificant compared to me.”
“Careful, Gabriel,” I said. I leaned forward in my seat, watching him. “You’re starting to sound like Lucifer.”
“Do not speak his name in my presence!” Gabriel roared. His eyes narrowed. An unseen force struck me hard in the chest and sent me tumbling backwards. Wooden pews splintered around me as I crashed. Pain lanced through my mortal body, but with a tightly focused thought, I shut off my host body’s pain receptors. Everything went pleasantly numb.
“What are you going to do, Gabriel?” I asked. I stood slowly and faced him once again. “There is nothing you can do to me that will make me tell you. There is nothing you can threaten me with, despite all of your power.”
Gabriel shuddered and took a deep breath. I watched him will away the fury that was burning behind his eyes. It took him several moments before he looked calm again, but I knew it was a mask. I could feel the rage roiling behind his calm façade.
“I exist to serve,” Gabriel said in an even voice. It sounded to me like he was reminding himself of it. “Why do you exist, Ashariel?”
“Too stubborn to die,” I said.
“Why do any of the Fallen exist?” Gabriel continued, as though he hadn’t heard me. “Your only purpose now is to vex us.”
“That was always the difference between those who fell and those who stayed,” I said. “We sought our own purpose. You did not.”
“For all the good that did you,” Gabriel said.
Better to kneel in Hell, Michael said softly in my thoughts. He’d been quite for so long that I’d nearly forgotten about him.
Gabriel shook his head. “I grow weary of this farce. Very well, Ashariel. What is it that you wish, in exchange for the information I seek?”
“You know what I want,” I said.
“To be allowed to walk free?” Gabriel asked. “I would not grant you such a boon, even were it within my power. It goes against Father’s will.”
“Well, then, we seem to be at an impasse,” I said. “You can’t give me what I want and you can’t force me to tell you what it is you need to know. And if I know Prince Michael, I’m willing to bet that you’re not allowed to leave here without an answer.”
“I am not afraid of him,” Gabriel said stiffly.
“Oh, yes, you are,” I said, grinning. “You’re the Messenger, Gabriel, not the Warrior. The Heavenly Prince would crush you. Lucifer would crush you. Even Raphael would crush you.”
“Do not provoke me, Fallen,” Gabriel growled. His hand flexed.
“Why not?” I said. “It’s fun.”
He struck me again. My body skidded across the floor and tore a long furrow through the ground. I dug my wings into broken tiles to stop myself. I stood up and wiped the blood from my face with one arm.
“Such anger,” I murmured, “lurking behind such a pious soul. You are more like me than you care to admit, Gabriel.”
“You dare compare yourself to me?” Gabriel asked.
“I do,” I said. “Which is why I’m willing to make you a deal, Gabriel. I’ll answer your question truthfully. All you need to do is give me something in return.”
“I cannot allow you to walk free,” Gabriel said. “Not forever.”
“Then give me a week,” I said.
“A week?” Gabriel asked.
“You heard me,” I said. “One week. Seven days. You will not look for me. You will not pursue me. You will not allow any other angels to follow me. You let me have one week without pursuit.”
“This is one of your games,” Gabriel said. “It is a trick. I will not fall for your ruse.”
I held up my hands in a placating gesture. “You’re the one who hunted me,” I said.
“So be it,” Gabriel said. “We are agreed. You will have your precious week to walk free on this world. Run far, little Fallen, and run fast, for when your time is up, know that I will come for you, and I will find you.”
“We shall see,” I said.
“Now,” Gabriel said. “Tell me what I wish to know. As we agreed.”
“Very well,” I said. “Ask your question.”
“How did you escape from the Pit?” Gabriel asked. There was a hungry gleam in his eyes and I realized this was about more than just an errand for Heaven. Gabriel had an agenda.
“I didn’t escape. Something let me out of the cage,” I said.
“What?” Gabriel asked. “Who? Who let you out?”
“That wasn’t our deal, Gabriel,” I said. “One question, one truthful answer. See you in seven days.” I laughed.
Gabriel roared and launched himself at me, a blade of burning white light in his grip. He swung his sword towards me in a wide arc. I stood my ground and did not flinch.
There was a loud crack that shook the entire church and Gabriel vanished in a burst of bluish flames. Just like that, I was alone. I sank down to my knees and allowed the pain of my wounds to wash over me. My hands began to shake.
What was that? Michael asked. What happened?
“Gabriel tried to violate the terms of our agreement,” I said.
Is he dead? Michael asked.
“Not dead,” I said. “Just banished for a time. He’ll be back eventually.”
In about a week? Michael asked.
“Exactly,” I said.
So you have a week, Michael said. Now what do we do?
“Now?” I asked. My voice sounded forlorn as it echoed across the church. “I have no idea.”
Well? Michael asked me three days later. Any brilliant ideas yet? You do know that a week is only seven days long, right? And that you’ve wasted three of them just wandering around?
“Yes,” I said. “I am aware.”
Of which part? Michael asked. “That weeks are seven days long or that we’re wasting time?”
“Yes,” I said again.
Brat, he said.
I sat on the edge of a bed in another motel. The carpet beneath my feet was stained in several places, the paint was peeling off the walls in long, ragged strips, and the machine to cool the air made a loud ratcheting sound as it failed to do its job.
Are you even listening to me, Ash? Michael asked.
“Why?” I asked him suddenly. It was the first time I’d acknowledged him over the past few days.
Why, what? he asked.
“Why should I listen to you at all, human?” I asked. “This isn’t about you. This isn’t your battle. You’re just my puppet, my host, my slave. Why do you care what happens?”
Just curious, Michael said. I don’t really have much to occupy my mind in here. He brightened a little. Hey, while you’re sitting here being so busy with your whole doing nothing, maybe you could do me a favor and help me out?
“Why would I be inclined to do such a thing?” I asked.
I promise I’ll shut up and let you get back to doing nothing in peace, Michael said.
I thought about it for a moment and sighed. He was right. I was doing nothing.
“Fine,” I said. “What do you want?”
I’ve been meaning to ask you, Michael said. I need a change of scenery. I can’t keep looking at blank white walls all day. It’s driving me crazy”
“Is that the reason?” I asked. “How interesting.”
Please, Ash, he said. I just need something to do in here. Something to look at, keep my mind occupied.
I didn’t have to grant him the request. I was fairly certain that my ability to ignore him would prove to be superior to his ability to annoy me, eventually. But there was something about his earnest request that struck a chord with me. Perhaps it was because I knew what it was like to be imprisoned in an empty eternity.
“Fine,” I said finally. “What landscape would you like to see?”
I don’t care, I’ll take whatever you want to give me, he said.
“Focus your thoughts on something,” I said. “Give me something to work with.”
He focused on one particular thought and held his mind on it, like a child clutching a parent’s hand.
I perused through images of sparkling blue water, white sand, strange little buildings made out of palm trees, and warm sunlight. The thoughts had the hazy quality of memory.
“Is this a real place?” I asked.
It is, he said. I went there on vacation once.
I smiled. He wanted me to recreate a piece of reality for him.
I could do so much more than that.
The blank walls of my host’s mental prison lifted away to reveal a tropical paradise. The sun was high and bright in a clear blue sky over glittering sand. The ocean waves rolled up to the beach in a low, serene song as they broke against the shoreline. Those were the details that he wanted, but I could give him so much more.
Beyond the beach, off in the distance, majestic mountains crested the horizon. A deep forest surrounded the foothills. A lake wove its way through the forest to empty into the sea. It was the perfect island, a place that did not exist anywhere except for my host’s mind.
In some small, sad way, it reminded me of Heaven.
I manifested next to him and watched him as he beheld my work.
“What do you think?” I asked.
There was a smile on his face. “I love it,” he said. “It’s perfect.”
“You are welcome, my host,” I said.
“Thanks, Ash,” he said. “And, for what it’s worth, it’s nice to see you like a person, instead of just a disembodied voice controlling my every movement. You should do this more often.”
“What, manifest to you?” I asked. “Why would I do that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, I just find that it’s nice to talk to somebody.”
“I suppose so,” I said.
“You’re quite beautiful,” he said.
“A meaningless compliment,” I said. “I can look like anything that I desire.”
“Can you?” he asked. “You told me that your name is what makes you who you are.”
I nodded. “Your point, mortal?”
He shrugged again. “Maybe this is what you look like, too. Maybe you could wear any form you want, like you’re wearing my form right now in the Outside World, but that’s not really you.” He reached over and put his hand on my shoulder. I found the sensation of physical contact odd, but not unwelcome. “Maybe this is what the real you really looks like.”
“I . . . thank you,” I said. I wondered if he was right about me. It did make a certain amount of sense. I could have chosen a male avatar, but would that have been me? I was tempted to say that it was my vanity that prevented me from choosing any other form but there was part of me that wasn’t sure. Maybe Michael was right and this was the real me.
Michael took off his shoes and kicked them aside. He walked to the edge of the water and let the waves roll over his feet. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. “Just like I remember it,” he said. He turned back to me. “You should join me, Ash. The water is lovely.”
“No,” I said.
“Right,” he said, “you’re busy doing nothing while your week slips away. Whatever makes you happy, I guess, but if it was me?”
“It is you,” I interrupted. “Gabriel will not spare you when he comes for me.”
“If it was me?” Michael repeated, unfazed, “and it was my last week on earth? I’d live it up a little. Actually, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” He sat down in the sand and let the waves flow over me. “Have fun standing there, doing nothing.”
“Hmm,” I muttered. The human did have a point. I walked over and sat down next to him. The first wave that came up over my legs soaked the white gown I wore. Michael grinned at me.
“Pretty convincing simulation,” he said and I could tell that he was leering.
“Don’t make me turn you into a tiny rodent,” I said. “I can do that, you know.”
“Yes,” he said with a laugh, “I’m sure you can.”
I looked around the little paradise that I had created and felt despair well up from deep within me. Soon, all of this would be taken away from me.
“Michael,” I asked and I was surprised at how sad I sounded, “what am I going to do?”
“About Gabriel?” he asked.
“About any of it,” I asked. “I don’t know how I’m going to stay ahead of Gabriel. I can’t outrun him and I can’t hide from him, to say nothing of what will happen if one of the other Archangels decides to join in the hunt.”
“Can you fight them?” Michael asked. He sat up and looked at me.
“No,” I said. “Archangels are absolute in their power.”
“I thought that was God,” he said. “Omnipotent, and all that.”
I conceded the point with the shrug. “For all intents and purposes, though, Archangels might as well be. The only thing that could give an Archangel pause would be a Seraph, but the only Seraph I’m aware of is guarding the entrance to Eden.”
“The Garden of Eden?” Michael asked. “That’s a real place?”
I smiled faintly. “Somewhat. It’s more real than this beach, but less real than your own world. Think of it as the place where Heaven and Earth touch borders and you’ll have the right sense of it.”
“Adam and Eve really happened?” Michael asked. “What about evolution?”
“It’s difficult to explain in terms of what really happened,” I said. “If you’re asking me whether your species evolved from a series of lesser forms, well, that should be fairly obvious: yes, you did, which is one of the reasons most angels despise your kind.”
“Angels despise humans?” Michael asked. He sounded hurt.
“Most do,” I said. “The loyal angels tolerate you only because it is Father’s expressed will that they do so. There is one Archangel who is rather fond of your kind, though.”
“Which one?” Michael asked.
“Raphael the Healer,” I said. “Not that he’d let any sentimental feelings towards you get in the way of destroying me, if it came down to that.”
“So you can’t run and you can’t fight,” Michael said. “Not alone, anyway.”
“Who would stand with me?” I asked. “Who would fight for my freedom? I am Fallen. There is nothing more despised in this world than a fallen angel. I am alone in this.”
“No,” Michael said, his voice low, his eye serious. He put his hand on my arm and held it there. “You’re not alone.”
“You cannot help me, mortal,” I said softly. “You cannot fight for me.”
“No,” he agreed. “I can’t fight for you. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m here, which means that you need not face this problem alone.”
I didn’t know what to say. So I said nothing and for several minutes, there was silence between us, save for the gentle sound of the ocean waves. And then a thought occurred to me, one that brought a smile to my lips.
“What?” Michael asked. “What is it?”
“You’re right,” I said. “I need not be alone in this.”
“I know, I just said that,” Michael said. “I’m here.”
“Not you,” I said quickly. “Morrigan.”
“Who is Morrigan?” Michael asked. “What is a Morrigan?”
“I’m not sure yet,” I said. “I spoke to her in a dream.”
“Angels can dream?” Michael asked, and then answered himself, “oh, like that time back at the hotel after we ran from Gabriel.”
“Yes,” I said. “In my dream, I met a strange creature. She spoke to me. She asked me questions. She was the one from the Pit, the one who drew me out of the ice of my tomb and carried me through the Gates of Hell. She was the one who set me free.”
“Do you think she’ll help?” I asked.
“I am not certain,” I said, “but I intend to find out.”
“How will you find her?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m sure I’ll think of something.”
That was when the clouds began to roll in over the water and the clear sky turned dark. A fog moved in, long and lazy and everything began to take on a greenish tint.
“Ash?” Michael asked. “Was that you?”
“No,” I said. “It appears that there will be no need for me to find Morrigan. It would seem that she has found us.”
“So it would seem,” a voice said.
The air parted like a curtain and the beautiful form of the Fey Queen stepped into view.
Morrigan pursed her lips thoughtfully as she gazed at the island around her. “I must commend you on your work, Firstborn,” she said. “Firstborn are not known for their creativity.”
“Yes, well,” Michael said. “She had some help.”
Morrigan turned and looked at my host. “Ah, the mortal boy,” she said. “How quaint.”
Michael glanced at me. “This is Morrigan?” he asked. I nodded.
She flashed a thin smile. “I’m not ready to speak with you yet, boy, and I do not have time for what will doubtless be the first of many interruptions. I am here to speak to Ashariel alone.”
“Good luck, lady,” Michael said. “This is my head we’re in and if I want to –“
“Sleep now, child,” Morrigan said as she gestured at him. Michael immediately fell silent as he slumped down into the sand. For a moment, I thought he was dead until I heard the faint sounds of snoring.
“There, that’s better,” Morrigan said, sounding pleased. “Now you and I can attend to business.”
“What did you do to him?” I said. I took a step toward her, my eyes narrowed.
“I did not harm him,” Morrigan said, her voice gentle. “He will not remember this.”
When I looked back at her, I saw that the area around her was no longer the island beach that I had created for Michael. Her half of the world seemed to have become a deep forest glade. The forest glade spread out around her like a bubble until it reached close to Michael and me, at which point it abruptly terminated and became the white sand and blue ocean water of my tropical island.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m not trying to take over your realm, dear, do not fret,” Morrigan said. “I merely find myself more comfortable in one of my own dreams. My Dreaming Path is intersecting with your, well, whatever you call this charming little place. Once I depart, I shall take the Path with me.”
“Whose dream are we in, then?” I asked. “Yours or mine?”
She laughed. “Neither. Dreams need not be limited to one mind, dear Firstborn.”
“Ashariel,” the Fey said and smiled. The effect was dazzling. “I was pleased to hear you mention my name again. I wondered when we would have a chance to speak again.”
“I summoned you?” I asked. “Merely by speaking your name?”
Morrigan shook her head. “Not at all,” she said. “It was more that I heard you call and I decided to answer. Do not allow yourself any delusions that you hold power over me.”
“Why not?” I asked. “I know your name.”
“And I know your name, my Firstborn,” Morrigan said, her reptilian eyes glittering with amusement, “but that is where the similarity between us ends. I know your true name. You do not know mine.”
That took some of the bravado out of me as I could tell that she was speaking the truth. “Morrigan is not your true name?” I asked.
She smiled again. “It belongs to a charming myth about a Celtic goddess of war and death. I liked it enough to adopt it for my own. But to answer your question: no, Morrigan is not my true name.”
“I doubt you would be willing to part with information so valuable,” I muttered.
Morrigan laughed. “I might,” she said. “If I knew the answer myself.”
“You don’t know your true name?” I asked. The surprise I felt must have been obvious in my voice because it earned another laugh from the Fey Queen.
“I do not,” she said. She held up her hands to forestall another question. “I do not know how I managed to lose something so valuable. Perhaps it was taken from me. Perhaps I never knew it. It is difficult to say. As far as I can remember, I have always been Morrigan.” A distant, dreamy expression flickered over her face. “Someday, perhaps, I will learn my true name.”
“What would happen if you did?” I ask.
Morrigan merely smiled at that.
“This changes your plans, doesn’t it?” she asked after a moment.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said but my voice sounded guilty, even to me. She was right.
“Liar,” Morrigan said. “You planned to use my true name against me. I can tell. I could see the flicker of disappointment in your eyes when you learned the truth.”
“You’re right,” I said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that I need your help.”
The Fey Queen gave me a coy look. “Oh, is that all you need from me? Such a modest demand.”
I shook my head. “It’s not a demand,” I said. “Merely a request.”
“I see,” Morrigan said. She tapped a finger against her chin. “Unfortunately for you, my dear Firstborn, I’m not ready to help you yet. The answer is no.”
“No?” I asked. “You don’t even know what I’m going to ask!”
“I believe I understand better than you might imagine,” Morrigan said.
I could not keep the anger out of my expression. My eyes narrowed and I felt the stirring of my power beneath my form. My shoulders flexed, though my wings remained concealed.
“Why not?” I asked. “Why won’t you help me?”
“Oh, you’re not desperate enough to ask for my help,” Morrigan said with a smug grin. “At least, not yet.”
I stared at her. “Gabriel will hunt me in a few days. I fail to see how much more desperate things need to be. Do you know what Gabriel is? Do you know what he is capable of?”
“I don’t care,” Morrigan said, her voice nearly a purr. “You are part of my design now, little Firstborn. You do not yet know true desperation. You have not reached the limits of your hope. But you will, very soon, I promise you that. And when you do, then and only then will I be there, holding out my hand to you when you need me most. When you’re at your limit. When you are truly desperate.”
“But not before,” I said, my voice bitter.
“No, Firstborn,” Morrigan said. “Not before.”
I glared at the green forest that was encroaching on the image of my own beach. “Then you are wasting my time,” I said. “Why bother showing up, if you’re not going to help me?”
“To prove to you that I am listening,” Morrigan said. “To prove to you that I may come when called.” She gestured to the mingling of our worlds around us. “To see your artistry.” She looked back at me. “And to talk. I imagine you still have a few questions for me after our first meeting. You may ask those questions.”
“Fine,” I said. This had already proven to be a waste of my time. Perhaps I could mitigate the loss by learning more about the Fey Queen and the strange game that she was playing with me. “But questions and answers only. I agree to nothing else.”
“Oh, I’m not offering you a pact this time,” Morrigan said slyly. “I promise nothing. You may ask your questions and I may answer them if it suits me to do so.”
“Or you might lie,” I said.
“Or I might lie,” she agreed. “The possibilities are endless.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. I had thought that at least if I managed to strike another bargain with her, I could be assured that she would have to give me a truthful answer. Without that guarantee, though, there was no way I could rely on anything she told me.
I sighed and shook my head. I supposed it didn’t really matter. There was only one question I had for her.
“Why did you free me from the Pit?” I asked.
Morrigan gave me an amused smile. “Why do you assume it was me?”
“To be honest, it’s a pretty short list of suspects. Even Gabriel knows that I didn’t escape on my own. It’s impossible. Something has to be there on the other side to open the cage.”
“Is that so,” Morrigan murmured, seemingly to herself. It didn’t sound like a question.
“It could only have been another angel who set me free,” I said, “or it was you. And since Gabriel is chasing me, trying to figure out who set me free, that tells me that it wasn’t another angel. Which leaves you.”
“Do you have any other evidence for your claim?” Morrigan asked.
“I saw your eyes,” I said. “I recognized them. You let me see them. You wanted me to know that it was you.”
“Then it would seem,” Morrigan said, her voice serene, “that you already know the answer to your question.”
“But I don’t know why!” I said, sudden anger rising to the surface. “Why did you set me free? And how did you manage to release me without setting any of the other Fallen free? Once the Gates of Hell were open, there would have been nothing keeping the other Fallen from escaping.”
“You are very astute,” Morrigan said softly.
“Tell me why,” I asked, my voice just as soft. “Please.”
“No,” Morrigan said. “Not yet. You will know my purpose for you when it serves my purpose for you to know. Do you understand?”
“I do,” I said, my voice bitter. “You’re using me.”
“I am,” she said and sounded pleased. “You owe me your freedom. I set you free, Firstborn. Never forget that I can just as easily send you back.” She loomed over me and I was suddenly aware of the fact that she was much taller than I was.
I looked up at her, my expression hard. “You do not intimidate me,” I said. “And I do not think you can send me back to the Pit as easily as you believe. Some doors are very difficult to close once they have been opened.”
Morrigan smiled. “We shall see.” Her eyes moved off to the distance. “It seems that our time is at an end. I do hate these little interruptions. We shall speak again soon, Firstborn.” She vanished into the mist.
The green mist of Morrigan’s realm began to recede like a retreating tide. In a few moments, the beach was wholly mine. It was then that I noticed the shadows gathering, not in the sky of my imagined world, but outside my little sanctuary. I knew what those shadows meant. I could practically taste the foul stench of the corrupted spirit that had unleashed it into the world.
It was a demon’s shadow. And it was coming for me.