Chapters 34 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 don’t know how long we walked. The world seemed slippery and uncertain. It shifted haltingly through images like a bad projector screen. We moved through streets that I did not recognize. The sky above was utterly alien to me; a tumultuous splash of brilliant pink and purple and white glowing stars against a sea of black.
“Are we still in the mortal world?” I asked.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Back to the beginning,” he said.
“The beginning of what?” I asked.
“The beginning of your story,” he said.
“The graveyard?” I asked.
“That was not the beginning.”
“Yeah, it was,” I said. “That was where Ash took control of me. That’s where it all started.”
Erebus glanced back at me and I could see impatience mingled with the newfound fear he had for me. “That was where it started,” he said, “but it is not where it began.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said.
“I’ve been inside your head,” he said. “I have seen and felt all that you have seen and done and been. I have been at the graveyard with the Fallen and seen through your eyes the horror of the infinite dark. Your story started that moment in the graveyard, but it began at the beach.”
“The beach isn’t real,” I said. I didn’t like the idea of Erebus knowing all that I knew. I didn’t like the idea that he could feel my memories as though they were my own. I didn’t like that he’d been to our beach. “It was just something she made for me in my mind.”
Erebus grinned. “It was a dream,” he said. “I am fey. I know dreams. Mine is the business of dreams. I will take you back to your wayward dream.”
“Why there?” I asked. “Why does that matter so much?”
“It is because of her,” Erebus said. “For you, the beach was a special thing, but still a gilded cage. For your fallen angel, though; that was where she first began to thaw, first began to see you as an individual and not just an irritation. That was where your first feelings blossomed and where you came to know her and believe in her.”
Erebus licked his lips with his long, blackish tongue. “That was where you began to fall in love with her.”
“You,” I said slowly, “should be very careful what you say next.”
Erebus laughed. “Be that as it may,” he said, “it is time to go.”
He looked both ways across the street as though checking for traffic. It seemed like a foolish gesture. The world was empty and desolate. I wondered if there was anybody left alive in this part of the world. It didn’t feel that way. The area itself felt dead. Erebus parted the air like a curtain and motioned for me to follow. We stepped out of the world. It occurred to me that I was quickly getting used to these strange portals.
I stepped out of the darkness and into a beach of white sands and sparkling blue water. The air was warm and tasted lightly of salt. It was all exactly as I had remembered it.
I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe that Erebus, annoying, sniveling creature that he was, could create this special place of Ash’s and mine. I wanted to believe that it was an illusion, something created out of my own memories to deceive me.
It wasn’t until I looked down and saw the place where the sand had been disturbed from her body and mine that I realized I was back. This was where Ashariel had shown me her preferred human form, the slender, dark haired woman with the enchantingly dark eyes.
I was back, back at that place, our place. The sun was bright and warm in the cloudless sky. I heard the quiet murmur of the surf and the gentle crash of the waves against the shoreline.
At my side, Erebus sighed happily. “I do good work.”
“You didn’t create this,” I said. “You don’t get to take credit for this. This was her place. She made this. You merely copied it.”
“A fair point,” Erebus said. He seemed contrite but I caught a glimpse of irritation in his eyes. “I only painted what I saw in your dreams. She is the true artist.” He licked his lips. “And your fallen angel is, indeed, quite the artist. I think I would very much like to meet her someday.”
I thought about how Ashariel would react to Erebus. I had a mental image of whirling blades and the fey’s decapitated head landing on the sand. I smiled tightly. “I’m sure you would get along famously,” I said.
“Will this suffice for your plans?” Erebus asked.
I looked around. It looked right. It felt right.
It was that feeling that suddenly made all of the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. I finally saw Death’s plan unfold in all its intricate complexity and crystalline simplicity. It had all been images before, feelings and emotions that did not make rational sense in my brain. The Rider had promised that when it had all come together, I would understand.
And now I did.
“I showed you the way,” Erebus said. I turned and looked at him. He was standing in the surf, with the water rushing across his ankles.
“Yes,” I said.
“I trust you know now what is to be done?”
“I do,” I said.
She is no longer anywhere, Morrigan’s voice echoed in my mind. And she is everywhere.
What the hell does that mean?
She is lost, Death’s voice whispered. What is lost can be found again.
If it helps you to come to terms with your loss, Morrigan whispered, then yes, consider her dead.
You must retrieve something that was lost, Death murmured in my thoughts, something that my brother broke, that should not have been broken.
Faded, lost, depleted. Gone from the world.
She is no longer anywhere. And she is everywhere.
I wanted to lash out against that echo in my head, that lingering remnant of Morrigan in my ears. I wanted to scream at it, deny it, tell it that she had lied to me, that she had taken away my hope with her twisted games.
But I knew, in that moment of clarity, that Morrigan had not lied. She had twisted me, she had manipulated me, she had seduced me and controlled me and even killed me, but she had not lied.
Words formed in my thoughts, words that were not my own. I could almost hear the dry rasping of the skeleton’s jaw moving as he spoke through me.
“Ever do the Fey speak in riddles,” I said softly.
“Ever they do,” Erebus said in a low voice as he looked at me.
“But there are no riddles,” I said and looked up at him. “Not in the silent honesty of the grave.”
I saw Erebus narrow his eyes. He did not understand.
“I ask myself, why? Why does it have to be this way? Why didn’t Morrigan just bring her back? Why didn’t Death? Why didn’t anybody do anything? Why was it up to me?”
Erebus was silent.
“I know now,” I said to him. “Dreams are wonderful, beautiful things. They are sometimes terrible, sometimes tantalizing, but always powerful. But there is no honesty in dreams. There is no truth. There is only fear and desire, played out to the grandest levels. They are a pale reflection of the world. It is only in death that the dreams end, the nightmares fade, and all becomes clear. All becomes true.”
“Empty words,” Erebus said.”
“I learned them from Death himself,” I said.
I took a step forward. The sand, real because I believed it to be real, shifted under my feet.
“I was led here,” I said. “Morrigan took me and then left me for Lucifer to find. Death Death led me to the Path. I found you and you brought me here, bringing the circle to a close.”
It’s very simple, the echo of Morrigan said in my mind. In attempting to shield you from Pestilence, she had to burn through her own essence to match the Rider’s power. In doing so, she depleted herself so greatly that she was no longer able to maintain her possession of you, or even the coherence of her own spirit. What little there was left after her effort broke apart and scattered.
Within me were the scattered shards of a lovely girl, drifting in a void that was everywhere and nowhere.
I could do it. I could bring her back; one ghost calling back another, one broken soul making another whole.
“Death told me what to do,” I said, “but it was Morrigan’s final lesson that brings it all together. She was the one who showed me it’s all about power: who has the most power and what they do with it. Lucifer’s power, God’s power, Morrigan’s, the Fallen, the Fey, humans, everybody. And you know what I’ve learned, in all my time spent as a mortal in the company of gods and demons and dreams? I learned that power can be lost. It can be gained. And it can be taken.”
Erebus started to reply, started to say something, but I held up my hand.
“Give me your power,” I commanded.
“What?” he balked. “No!”
“You swore to serve me,” I said.
He grimaced and shook his head. “You do not know what you are asking,” he said. “You’re asking me to sacrifice myself!”
“You’re a dream, Erebus,” I said. “You can’t kill a dream. You will survive.” He shuddered and tried to resist. He couldn’t disobey, however. The air around him shuddered and distorted.
“Will you release me from your service?” he asked, his voice distorted.
“Give me your power and you are released,” I said.
Air rushed out of his lungs in a gasp that was both a cry of agony and a sigh of relief. He withered away into a cloud of dust that blew away on the gentle breeze. Grey ash settled into the white sand.
I noticed something glimmering from within the largest pile of ash. I reached down and picked up a green shard of emerald. I turned it over in my hand. It was small with jagged edges that were still sharp. I held it up to the light for a better look and it began to glow.
From within the shard of emerald, I saw another world.
I saw a world unlike anything I had ever imagined. I saw colors that defied description and heard sounds that were at once both melodic and discordant. Everything was shard and vivid. Time seemed more fluid. I felt as though I was a live wire arcing with electricity.
As I looked into the shard, I heard a soft, familiar voice cry out from within my mind.
It was her.
I felt a ghostly hand brush mine, blindly grasping for the shard. I reached out and gently closed my hand over hers and over the shard. It felt as though a floodgate had been opened. My arm pulsed as something raced up my arm and into my eyes, an unseen force that thrummed so deeply it made my teeth throb.
The faint presence shivered in my thoughts and began to drink deeply from the torrent. The essence and power of the fey rushed into me and I fed it to her.
She reappeared slowly, fading into view, first as a translucent, ghostly image, and then, a more solid image took form. Her image solidified and became real. I saw the moment she emerged into the world. Gravity grabbed her and she wobbled on her feet. I caught her before she could fall. She grasped my hands. The emerald shard was gone. She took and uncertain step and fell to her knees on the sand. She looked down at it uncertainty.
“Ash?” I asked.
She looked at me with wide eyes. She blinked several times.
“Michael?” she asked hesistantly.
And that was when I fell to my knees and pulled her into my arms and hugged her tightly.
There were already tears in my eyes.
“I missed you,” I said. I kissed the side of her neck. “I missed you.”
When she spoke, all the fear, all the exhaustion, all the pent up rage and strange feelings, all of it leeched out of me and I felt the first true moment of peace I’d known in what seemed like a lifetime.
“I missed you,” she said and then there were no more words between us, because we were together again and this was our beach. I’m not sure if she pushed me down or I pulled her to me, or if it was a little of both, but I fell back in the sand with her on top of me. I felt her legs wrap around my waist and felt her hands on my chest. And then she kissed me and I no longer tried to think about anything.