This post contains the final chapters for my novel, Unrepentant. For those that have been reading since I started this experiment a few months ago, thank you for your interest in my work. Most of all, I’d like to thank my supporters on Patreon; more than anything, your support and readership has made this an excellent and enjoyable experience.
Thank you for reading.
I don’t know who struck first. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
The Seraph let out a cry that was terrible and beautiful and made me weep for joy even as I shook with terror. There was a rush of air and the garden around us filled with the beating of its wings.
Somewhere above me, Morrigan laughed quietly.
That was all the warning I had.
There was a blast of heat and a terrible roaring sound all around us. It crashed into the bubble of light I raised around us. My shield of light hissed like water tossed onto a bonfire. The barrier wavered. I fought to hold it as Michael crouched beside me, hands clapped over his eyes, head bowed. The shield flickered for a moment, threatened to extinguish, but I managed to hold it. Around us, the flash of heat and light had already set the world on fire. The green paradise was aflame.
Morrigan had taught that there were many subtleties to my power and that feats I thought impossible for one of my rank and ability were really only impossible to perform through brute force. Angels wielded power like a club. Morrigan showed me how that power could be something quiet and delicate and infinitely more effective.
I focused my mind and tried to see the Seraph without using my eyes or through the spectral senses that grew out of my own angelic power. I needed a way to see it without seeing it or touching it or hearing it. A most frustrating puzzle, made all the more so by the fact that I was attempting to solve it in a span of seconds while two powerful immortals fought above me and my own mortal cowered beside me for protection.
Maybe it was the result of spending so much time learning that there seemed to be two truths for everything I thought I knew. Maybe it had something to do with dying, with burning myself out trying to shield myself against Pestilence. Maybe Morrigan had managed to teach me by example. I did not know but after spending so much effort trying to find my way through a maze of lies and illusions, I realized I knew how to see the Seraph.
I had the power to shroud myself from view, render myself invisible as it were. It wasn’t something we ever did; it was a pointless defense against another immortal and we never had anything to fear from a human. But it was something I knew how to do.
If I were possessed of the arrogance of an Archangel, I would have tried to perhaps render the Seraph invisible, so that its deadly light couldn’t hurt me. That would have been foolish and completely ineffective, given how vast its powers were.
But there are certain rules that governed the behavior of things in physical space. Perhaps they were rules set down by Father or perhaps the rules had simply always existed.
Regardless, I knew something of the nature of these rules from my time spent in Michael’s head. My former host was, by no means, a scientist or even particularly brilliant by the standards of his people. But he understood a few key concepts, some half-remembered bits of lore from distant memories of his education.
He knew the basics of how light worked.
I couldn’t stop the Seraph’s searing light. I didn’t have the strength.
But fighting was more than just brute strength; there was finesse and agility and technique, and in the end, those things counted for so much more.
I focused my will, shaped my power into what I hoped would be a new, more effective shield, and then, hesitantly, opened my eyes.
The world was still on fire. The flames danced across the blackened husks of the once vibrant glade. I took a deep breath and looked up, directly at the Seraph.
I couldn’t see it.
It was still there. I could still feel the terrible heat that radiated from it, but I couldn’t see the strange, snake-like creature that Morrigan had described nor could I see its lethal radiance.
I couldn’t stop the Seraph’s light but I could bend it. I could redirect its course so that it flowed around my shield. I don’t know if it worked because of the arcane rules govern the flow and function of all light, even the divine radiance of the Seraphim, or if it had worked because I believed that it was going to work. It didn’t matter.
I saw Morrigan. She was flitting about like a mad thing, her wings darting and diving, her hands lashing out the unseen Seraph. Her face was bright, her expression hungry.
She darted and lunged in a twisted dance, flitting in and out to the tempo of a song that only she heard. There was a dark beauty in her movements and I was awed by how quickly she rippled through the air, the fluidity of every twist and turn. She writhed and slithered across the air like a snake, avoiding the unseen limbs of her foe.
It was impressive.
It was terrifying.
A blast of force drove me to my knees. The air shimmered and burned. Sweat beaded on my face. Michael flinched as the blast knocked him back, nearly driving him out of the safety of my shield. He scrambled back towards me, his head down.
He didn’t say anything. He didn’t voice any of his fear, didn’t whimper or complain, and that was impressive all in its own right. He was a mortal man, caught up in another battle so far beyond his scope that it was nearly obscene and he endured it all with quiet stoicism.
I was intensely proud of him.
I felt the heat from the Seraph intensify and then something big blew past me and knocked me off my feet. The blow sent me sprawling.
In a mad, desperate twist, I reached out with my will and caught Michael before the force of the blow drove him away from me and into the inferno. With a thought, I stopped his somersault and drew him back to me. I landed hard on my knees.
“Watch out for its tail,” the Fey Queen called in a cheerful voice.
“What?” I asked, still dazed.
“The Seraph slapped you aside with its tail,” she said. “I told you, it looks like a big snake. Try to stay out of its way.”
“Easier to do if I could see the damn thing,” I grumbled. “Michael, are you intact?”
He coughed. “Still breathing.”
I looked up. There seemed to be a lull in the battle. Morrigan’s attention was focused on an area a few dozen feet away from us. The cheerful expression had faded from her face and now I saw only cold, intense concentration in her gaze.
Something was happening. I realized that the battle between their physical forms was likely only a fragment of the true conflict and that the real battle was happening on other layers of reality entirely.
It seemed like the Seraph was toying with her.
A voice that was sonorous and wonderful spoke out from seemingly all around us. I recognized the words as Angelic language. It was the tongue we used to communicate amongst ourselves before the Fall. It had been so long since I’d heard its musical beauty that I nearly wept.
It was coming from the Seraph. The creature was speaking.
I was surprised. I’d never known a Seraph to speak before. I didn’t even know that they could.
THE DARK THING DOES NOT SPEAK AS WE, the Seraph’s lyrical voice was like the thunderous sound of an entire choir in my mind and the force of it nearly drove me to the ground. WHY HAVE YOU COME TO THIS PLACE?
“Why?” she asked. “You wish to know why?”
Her wings fluttered and Morrigan drifted down to the scorched earth below her. Her wings folded and closed around her like an elegant cloak as she walked forward. “Why is not a simple question and it does not have a simple answer.”
She drew closer to the Seraph and gave it a cat-like smile that I recognized from our very first meeting. It was as enigmatic and hard to read as the Fey Queen herself was.
It was not a safe smile.
“I could tell you that it is simply because I desire access to this place that you have been assigned to protect,” Morrigan said. “I could tell you that it is because I do not know how to ask nicely for the things that I want.”
It was a testament to the Fey Queen’s power as she drew nearer and nearer to the Seraph that she wasn’t even sweating from the intense heat it radiated.
“I could tell you that I want my own chance at redemption.”
Closer and closer.
“I could tell you that I have bested every being I have ever encountered in the many, many millennia that I have existed, that I who was ancient before one such as yourself was even an errant thought within the mind of your God do not need to ask for permission to take what I want.”
There was a long, low threatening rumble that shook the ground beneath us. I wasn’t sure who caused it.
“But really?” Morrigan said, her voice still oozing warmth and seduction. I saw her reach up and cup her hand against something. Was it the Seraph’s face? I couldn’t see sure, since I couldn’t even imagine what a Seraph’s face would look like, if, indeed, it had one.
“There’s really only one thing I could say, if I were inclined to explain myself to one such as you.” Her voice grew deeper and there was another rumble and now I knew, with a flash of terror, that this was not the Seraph’s true power that we were about to see, it was Morrigan’s.
“I am Morrigan,” she said as the image of the beautiful woman broke apart and revealed a spiraling, uncoiling darkness that grew out around the light and heat of the Seraph. “You do not have the right to keep me from what I desire, you do not have the authority to hold me, and you do not have the power to stop me.”
The Seraph roared and a wave of light blew around the billowing shadowstuff of Morrigan’s true form. The pulse blew through my shield and shattered it.
The Seraph was fury and power and light incarnate.
But for all its fury, all its power, it was too late.
For in the end, I reflected, light yields to darkness.
In the end, Death awaits us all.
I watched in silent horror as the darkness of the Fey Queen overcame the increasingly feeble light of the Seraph and coiled around it.
And then, with sickening ease, she swallowed it whole.
Silence descended over the Gates of Eden. Morrigan returned to her physical form, the image of the beautiful woman with red hair and green, serpentine eyes. She looked over at Michael and me and smiled.
“Delicious,” she said.
She turned towards the gate. She ripped apart the black iron bars with a gesture.
“The way is open,” she said. “Come.”
In numb silence, we followed her into Eden.
We stood on the edge of a vast lake. Its surface glittered and reflected the sunlight back at us. The water looked deep and blue and inviting. The forest pressed in around it, trees that did not, could not exist together in the actual world, jungle foliage and evergreens together, cactus and oak and willow and a hundred others that I did not have names for. It was a place of life in all its wild, untamed and beautiful perfection, life as my Father had intended it to be. It was too perfect to be real.
I hated it.
For all its beauty, it was an empty garden. Humanity’s first home had not been claimed by another. There were no birds. There were no animals of any kind. All had been cast out into the wilderness beyond the gates. Eden was a beautiful garden that was as empty as a tomb. The journey into the garden itself was uneventful, almost boring after the brief, brutal struggle at the gate. There was nothing left to stand in our way. There was no one here to refuse us. Angels did not wander these paths.
No one did.
“We’re here?” Morrigan asked.
“We are,” I said. I was numb from what I’d seen at the Gate. Michael hadn’t spoken since we’d entered the garden. I gestured out to the lake. “There’s an island out there. The Tree of Knowledge waits in the middle.”
“There are no final guardians?” Morrigan asked. She peered down at the sparkling blue water. “There are no angels lurking in the depths, waiting to bar my passage?”
I shook my head. “The Seraphim were the only defense Eden ever needed,” I said.
“You speak of them in the plural,” Morrigan said. “There is more than one?”
I nodded. “There are three.” A pause. “There were three.”
“Where are the others?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I cannot even begin to guess.”
“No matter,” she said.
Her wings unfurled and she kicked off from the ground. I wrapped my arms around Michael’s waist and spread my own wings.
We flew over the glittering blue water towards the island at the heart of the lake.
The island didn’t have a name. It didn’t need one.
The island was small, perhaps no more than thirty feet across. It was lush and overgrown with ferns and foliage, but there was only one tree.
The Tree of Knowledge.
It loomed large over us, many dozens of feet taller than lesser trees. Its canopy of leaves was so thick that the island beneath it was shrouded in perpetual shadow.
We landed in the shallows of the island’s edge. Cool water lapped at my ankles.
“It looks like an apple tree,” Michael said. It was the first time he’d spoken in a while.
“But it is so much more,” Morrigan said. She stared up at it in wonder and delight. “Its fruit is Knowledge itself. Things that are impossible to know can be made known.” She looked at Michael. “You were innocent. You could not know good from evil. You were made to know. Such is the Tree’s terrible power. It brought down your Father’s most beloved children. Perhaps it is more powerful than he is.”
“Maybe,” I said.
She stepped closer to the Tree.
“You are older than Father,” I said. “You were the darkness before his light. What could the Tree he created possibly tell you that you would not already have known? What do you hope to learn?”
She stood beneath the Tree and then smoothly reached up to pluck one of the fruits from the bough above her. She brought down an apple so bright and red that it resembled a ruby. For a long moment, she regarded the fruit in her hand.
“It is not what I wish to learn,” she said. “It is what I wish to remember.”
“What?” I asked. “What do you mean?”
“Do you know why names matter?” Morrigan asked. “Do you understand their power, their importance? Names shape reality itself. Names given form and function to raw thought. They give identity. They are literally all that make us what we are.”
She turned and looked up at me. “The name you gave yourself at the moment of your creation was the most important thing that has ever happened to you. Your name is what makes you. Names are the most powerful force in existence.”
I remembered the first time Michael called me Ash.
I’d told him not to use the nickname. He wanted to know why.
My name is the only thing that is truly mine. It is the one thing that the Pit could not take away.
My name is who I am. 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.
“I was given a name once,” Morrigan said. “An Archangel named Raphael named me Lily, in a moment when I had no name of my own and that name bound me. It crippled me. Eventually, I claimed a more powerful name which gave me the means to escape him. But it was not my name either. Not my true name.”
Morrigan was a goddess of death. But she is older than that name. She adopted it.
She regarded the apple in her hand.“I took the name Morrigan,” she said. “It is a name that gives me form and power, but it is a name that I stole, a name that I plucked from the memories of humanity. It gave me consciousness and identity, but it is a stolen thing, a borrowed face. It is not me. It is a tiny piece, a fragment of a larger whole. It cannot contain me. I need something more. Something greater.”
The Fey Queen held up the apple in her hand. “The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.”
She brought the apple up to her lips and bit into it.
Her eyes closed in obvious pleasure. “Delicious,” she said.
There was a moment of silent anticipation, like the last moment of calm before the clouds break and the storm begins, the last gasp before the plunge.
Her eyes opened.
“I remember,” she said. “I remember my name. I remember who I am. I remember everything.”
She flexed her wings and spread her arms out.
“I remember the darkness before the light,” she said. “I remember what I was before I became drawn into the web your Father wove around me, the reality he crafted to be my prison. I remember how I learned to fear him, because of his ability to bestow names upon things. He gave me a name. He used it to bind me.”
Her grin was feral and triumphant.
“I am bound no longer.”
The world around her shivered. I remembered the dark, nightmarish thing she had become, that monstrosity that was only a fragment of her true self. How much worse was the true Morrigan? How much more terrible was her power now that it was restored?
What had I done? What I unleashed?
What was she?
I remembered what Death had told me. I had to help her. It was necessary.
So why did I feel like I’d just made the worst mistake of my life? What did it feel like I’d unleashed something even worse?
“What happens now?” I asked. “You have your name back. You are restored. What will you do?”
She looked at me and smiled. “I’m leaving,” she said. “I have what I came for. I know what I am now.” She reached out and touched my chin. She drew my gaze up to hers.
“I know you fear that you have unleashed a new tyrant,” she said, “worse than the Father that you spent so much of yourself to defy. You have my promise that this is not the case. I am not your God.”
“What are you?” I whispered.
“A goddess,” Morrigan said with a kind smile. “Your Father created this reality to be my prison, but I do not bear it any ill will. I will let it be. I am leaving this reality. Perhaps, in time, I will create one for myself. If I do, I promise that I will be a far more benevolent deity than the one that abandoned you.”
She spread her hands. “Thank you for all you have done for me, Ashariel and Michael. I leave my dream in your care,” she said. “Farewell. Our paths will not cross again.”
“No,” I said in a weak, brittle voice. “No, you can’t do this. What about the world? The world you killed, the world that you allowed to die? The world that you sacrificed!”
But it was already done.
Morrigan gestured towards us and the world of Eden faded away like a half-remembered dream.
I awoke in a forest.
Trees loomed above me and the sky was obscured by emerald-green mist. I sat up slowly and fought off a wave of vertigo. There was a narrow path nearby that snaked its way through the trees, disappearing in both directions. Above me, there was a sound like waves breaking as wind rushed through the trees and the forest itself seemed to sigh.
I heard a low groan from beside me. Michael sat up and rubbed his eyes.
“That’s the worst hangover I’ve ever had,” he muttered. He glanced at me and smiled wearily. “Oh, hey, Ash. I don’t suppose you have any magical angel hangover cure, do you?”
I started to shake my head and then the world threatened to spiral out of control around me. For a moment, I wondered if I was going to vomit. I stayed very, very still and slowly, the feeling passed and things returned to normal.
“Where are we?” Michael asked.
With a grimace, I pulled myself up to my feet and then turned to offer him my hand. He grunted with the effort and stood up.
“We’re back in the Dreaming Path,” I said. “I can sense it. Morrigan must have sent us here.”
“Why would she do that?” Michael asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said.
“We’ve failed, haven’t we?” he asked. “Everyone is dead. The world as we know it is gone forever.”
“Michael, I’m sorry,” I said. It felt like a small and pathetic thing to offer him, consider all that he had lost.
But I didn’t know what else to say.
“Hey,” he said and touched my chin. I looked up at him and he smiled faintly. “Everything is going to work out in the end.”
“I’m touched that you still believe in me,” I said grimly.
“Ash, how can you say that?” he asked. “How can you feel like we’ve failed after everything we’ve done? After everything we’ve survived? After all that, we’re still here. We still have each other.”
“It’s not much,” I said.
“It’s enough,” he said.
“Do you really believe that?” I asked.
“I do,” he said.
We embraced and shared a long, tender kiss.
I sensed that we were no longer alone a moment too late to do anything about it.
One moment, Michael was warm and safe and in my arms, and then next, there were long claws protruding from his chest.
A hunched and feral Fey creature yowled. It drove Michael to the ground and ripped him wide open. Blood spurted everywhere. Sharp claws raked me from behind.
“No!” I snarled. “NO!”
I whirled around. My wings raked out in two quick sweeps. The goblin-like creature fell to the ground in spurting pieces.
I whipped back towards the creature that had pounced on Michael, my wings flared.
The beast had Michael pinned. My love’s chest was torn wide open.
The Fey snarled wordlessly as I leapt.
Michael reached up and pressed his hand into the face of the goblin creature above him. There was a bright flash of green light and the Fey beast flew backwards. It struck a nearby tree and shattered.
I stopped in mid-leap. What was happening?
Michael looked down at himself.
“Ouch,” he said. He pressed his glowing hand against the gaping wound across his chest. The wounds closed in an instant, so quickly and cleanly it was as though they’d never happened at all.
“You healed yourself,” I said. “How did you do that?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “How did I do that?”
There was a rustling around us. From behind the trees, more fey appeared. Many were monstrous creatures, goblins and trolls and other beasts from the worst of human legends.
I glared at them.
“Please try me,” I said to the growing horde. “I will relish the chance to slaughter you all for daring to attack us.”
A pair of slim, graceful beings emerged from the ranks of monsters. They were human except for their jeweled eyes and angular ears. One was male, the other, female.
The bestial fey growled and hissed, but one look from the male and the horde bent their knees and lowered their muzzles submissively.
“Who are you?” I asked. My wings were ready. I was ready.
“We are the Oneiroi,” the male said.
“We are the Lord and Lady of the Dreaming Path,” the female said.
“I am Ashariel,” I said.
“Michael,” he said. “Why did your creatures attack me?”
“We know your names,” the male said. “She told us to expect you. You have our apologies that the Ferals reached you before we did. We are sincerely sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Michael said. “I seem to have picked up a few new skills in the last several minutes.”
“But of course,” the female Oneiroi said. “You are in the Dreaming Path. Its powers are yours to command.”
To our shared surprise, both Oneiroi joined their monsters in kneeling before us.
“We pledge ourselves to you,” the male Oneiroi said. “We are yours to command.”
“I don’t understand,” Michael said.
“I do,” I said.
I leave my dream in your care.
“The Queen is gone,” the female said.
“Hail the new Queen and King,” the male said.
“The Dreaming Path is yours now,” the female said.
Relief flooded through me for the first time in far too long. I lowered my wings.
I couldn’t help myself. I embraced Michael again and savored the feelings of love and relief and the knowledge that, at least for the moment, we were safe. Neither Heaven nor Hell would find us here. I was safe from their reach. Michael was safe. We were together.
And we had a new world to call our own, a world that was strange and mysterious and full of monsters, but a living world, a vibrant world.
A world where we could be together.
The Oneiroi bowed their heads to us.
“Welcome home, my King,” the male Oneiroi said to Michael.
“Welcome home, my Queen,” the female Oneiroi said to me.