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American Atheist: 27

by Nelly 

Posted: 04 October 2006
Word Count: 5043
Related Works: American Atheist: 25 • American Atheist: 26 • 

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The lights of the cavern failed, plunging Lucifer’s prison into deep shadow. From a rusted metal box, sparks flashed and a faint trail of black smoke curled between the hinges of its broken door.

“Maintenance is…. difficult in these conditions,” Angelo explained, his eyes narrowing in doubt. “I have seen the power fail before; don’t worry, it will pass.”

Unita rubbed at her shoulders, “Will it affect the Gift?”

“No. We keep him in his present condition, so he’s unable to escape. His ability to regenerate wounds is unparalleled in both nature and science, but the worst he’s managed are odd noises and strange shadows. Smoke and mirrors mostly.” Angelo's eyes darted nervously to and fro as if he expected the cavern to collapse.

“How many times have you been down here?” she asked, intrigued by his sudden anxiety.

“Three. And that was more than enough.” The cardinal dabbed at his beaten features with the hem of his robe. “The first time as a way of introduction, a test if you will, to see if I had what it takes to join the Inner Circle. The second time I was given the Gift and began the sojourn into my first death. The third was after my father passed away.”

Unita gave him a questioning glance. “What happened?”

Angelo shook his head. “Nothing much. I asked the Gift if he knew what happened to my father, if he could somehow feel his soul.”

“What did he say?”

“Nothing as always. Lucifer hasn’t spoken or moved in centuries, but then why expect miracles from a creature with no tongue.”

“Why ask him anyway?” she pushed.

Angelo rubbed his hands in irritation. “It doesn’t matter, I shouldn’t have mentioned it. The Gift has a powerful electro-magnetic presence; he can exert control in that spectrum, a side effect of which keeps the dead from moving on. There’s more to it than that, but essentially if you have the will, then there’s a way to stay.” He finally returned Unita’s stare and reflected in those brown depths was a bitterness that left her cold.

“Forget I mentioned it,” he said quietly.

Unita nodded and decided not to press the cardinal further. If Angelo wanted to share his secrets he would do so in his own time. Instead she went back to studying the Gift.

Lucifer had been suspended inside a network of thick chains, the ends wielded to large hooks that dug cruelly through his torso and stumps – like a vast limbless spider, caught within its own web of rusted iron. Malign shadows crawled across his armoured flesh, drawing away the pale glow diffusing his prison. The only light that came from Lucifer, shone within his eyes, twin pinpoints of blue sapphire, his expression as guarded and vicious as any trapped animal.

A vague wind blew across the cavern carrying with it a foul smell, like blocked drains and congealing animal fat. It clung to Unita’s hair and clothes, as vile and pervasive as the Gift himself. She shuddered and wiped at her shapeless grey smock in disgust. The atheist within her needed to explain what she was looking at, a scientific answer to rationalise it away. But she couldn't deny the evidence of her own eyes - as insane as it was.

The Gift was real, and his name was Lucifer.

A flutter of wings close behind her head and she involuntarily ducked. She looked for the source, but the dimness of the cavern made it impossible to see if there was a bird nearby.

“Did you…” she began.

“Yes,” Angelo replied, “there are many different sounds within this cavern. I can assure you however, we haven’t brought any animals down here.”

A dull groan rose out of the shadows, further back where it was darkest. She thought she could detect movement. Angelo saw it as well and stepped protectively in front of her.

“Who’s there?” he called.

No answer.

There was further movement, but this time from Unita’s right. She could make out the vague details of a man standing perfectly still. She was left with the impression he was watching them. “Who are you?” she called. But there was still no answer.

Angelo walked slowly forward and said. “Shadows won’t help you. I see better than most.”

An old man stood in the dark, his hands clenched tightly together as if he were in the grip of intense prayer. Where his eyes and mouth should have been, there were only pools of blackness. He wore a priest’s frock, which faded in and out of the darkness like some conjurer’s trick.

A third shape detached itself from the wall and slid like liquid night across the rocky ground. As it neared, Unita could make out a beautiful white face, with a long pointed chin, like the old man it had no mouth and eyes. It paused as it neared her and sniffed the air, in much the same way a hunting dog might when searching for game.

She recoiled and it whimpered in frustration.

“The Guardians?” she guessed. “You said they defended the Gift and the Vatican. Why haven’t they attacked?”

“I’m not sure. Perhaps they don’t see us as a threat. Or maybe they’re distracted.”

Unita roughly ran her hands through her hair. Her mouth felt dry and her legs trembled violently. “If these are the ghosts of dead priests where are the others, there must be hundreds by now? I count…” she paused, “ten, maybe eleven.”

Angelo shrugged. “I don’t pretend to understand these wretched things. Perhaps time doesn’t work in the same way for them? I suggest if you’re going to do anything, then you best do it soon, before more arrive and they develop eyes.”

A faint whine and the lights flickered back on.

Unita’s head felt fuzzy like she had drank Zohar’s sherry and she had the strangest sensation of falling into artic waters, and although she fought against it, she could feel the heat from her tired limbs ebbing away. She wished Ashanti were with her, huddled together in their farmhouse, a log fire keeping them warm. Instead, she was drowning in those freezing depths - descending into ice.

"I’ve been waiting for you," a voice said.

Unita's stomach heaved. “What?” she managed. She looked at Angelo to see if he had spoken, but the cardinal’s face was a mask of concentration.

"Look at me and live, Unita." There was no mistaking it. The voice had come from the Gift.

"I can hear him," she cried, "he's speaking to me! Can't you hear him?"

Angelo bit at his swollen lip. He grabbed Unita's shoulders and forced her to face him. "Are you sure?" he said urgently, his face red with shock, his bloodshot eyes bulging and sore," I hear nothing." A look of fear flooded the cardinal's features. “He's been unable to speak since Emperor Constantine cut out his tongue."

Unita could barely contain her fear. "Please…" she begged. She broke free of Angelo’s grip and staggered away, placing her hands against her ears in the vain hope it would silence the Gift.

"I’ve been waiting for you," the voice repeated. It was neither young nor old, male or female, devoid of any accent Unita could readily identify. The Gift’s physical presence suggested masculinity, but his voice was pure, almost musical – like a discordant piano attempting to talk. She wasn't even sure it was English. Or that he spoke at all. The words appeared in her mind, like random thoughts that could have been her own, save each was utterly alien and distorted with emotion. Odd flashes of senseless anger washed over her as he spoke, the words lingering within her mind’s eye.

Unita looked up and into Lucifer’s eyes, “It’s too much, you’re too loud. Stop!” She shouted into their freezing depths.

For so long I have waited for one of my children to return. You can release me. Don’t you want to do that, Unita Seenbys? I will show you what the rest of mankind cannot. Don’t mistake yourself as one of them. You’re so much more than that.

“I don’t understand,” she screamed back. “I…I…want to go home.”

And you will. I can do that. I have the power. I can show you the greatest secret of all.” The smoothness of the voice had changed; she thought she could detect the faintest hint of a chuckle, a dry laugh, lacking any mirth.

I can show you God. She wants to meet you! She’s been looking forward to it.

The ground trembled and dust fell from the roof, as if a train was passing by.

“What’s happening? What is he saying to you?” Angelo demanded, spittle flying from his lips. He went to grab her by the shoulder, but the cardinal’s hand stopped halfway through the move. Beneath his purple robes the Hate Mail had started to glow, a faint silvery sparkle that trickled like water, spilling around his feet. Angelo looked confused.

“The armour has activated of its own accord.” He ran his hands across the smooth material. “What are you planning Lucifer?”

The breeze that passed across the cavern became a shrieking wind, the rancid smell turning into an overwhelming stench. Lucifer’s eyes shone with an ever-greater intensity. Their glow gradually drawing away the electronic light of the cavern, until it finally stopped altogether.

“It begins,” Angelo, said breathlessly, his voice barely audible over the rising wind.

Unita dragged her eyes away, “No!” she screamed, “I’m not ready.” She staggered backwards and tripped across a dark shape lying upon the ground. It groaned in response and despite her fear, she made out Dekel's haunted features.

"Dekel!" Unita managed, before the soft voice whispered.

Bobby is waiting.

Unita’s mouth fell open in shock and she backed into the cavern wall.

Angelo started towards her, then hesitated and cast Dekel a withering stare. "Do not look upon the Gift!" he said, trying to block Dekel's view.

Dekel's eyes rolled in his head, his red hair hung limp across his sunken features and he tried to rise. "Where am I?" he began; he looked vaguely towards the cardinal. "Where?" he repeated, and then glanced past Angelo towards the Gift. Dekel's mouth fell open and his body became taught: his hands clenched into fists so the knuckles whitened.

"No," Angelo roared and grabbing Dekel's legs dragged him across the uneven ground, away from the Gift. Dekel's tweed jacket caught on the rock, revealing a red stained shirt beneath.

"My back," Dekel pleaded, "stop, you're hurting me!"

Angelo dropped Dekel's legs in confusion and after a moment's further hesitation gathered the Jew into his arms. Dekel's blood dripped onto the cardinal's robes: black and thick, with tiny slivers of flesh sparkling in the low light. The cardinal cast around the cavern, his face a mix of anger and anxiety. His right eye remained swollen from the battle with Thirteen and a thin flap of skin hung from his cheek. “The Tiber,” he announced, motioning his head to where the distant sounds of the underground river could be heard. “We need more time.” He passed Unita, shouting. "Go ahead. Out of sight you'll be able to think again." When she didn't move, he violently thrust her forward and roared, "Go!"

They plunged deeper into the cavern where the Tiber ran colourless across black rocks. Angelo dropped behind a boulder and set Dekel down. Unita followed more from instinct than any sense of direction and lost her footing, sprawling upon the ground, where she remained - utterly spent.

Out of sight, Lucifer’s presence faded. Unita's mind cleared and she could think again. Her first reaction was to retch, a dry hacking which brought up nothing other than spittle. When the spasm finally passed, she curled into a tight ball, clutching at her stomach. "He was in my mind," she whispered. "I could hear him. Feel his anger. Like . . . it wasn't me anymore?"

Unita felt violated. His foul smell remained upon her clothes and in her hair. On impulse she stood up, ignoring the tight knotting of her belly. She pushed past Angelo and ran over to the Tiber, plunging her hands deep into the cold water, washing her face arms and back furiously, until her skin became sore.

"Unita," Angelo called softly, "that's enough."

Unita ignored him and continued, even grabbing a flat rock to drag across her arms.

Angelo leant forward and held her arms. "That’s enough," he repeated firmly. "You're clean now."

“You don’t understand,” she muttered. “I feel soiled with Lucifer’s taint, which is ridiculous coming from an Atheist. The Non-Fathers preach that evil is a point of view. It derives from a tribal need to protect and be protected. There is no evil, there is no good, just abstract concepts to help us understand what drives the human race…" her voice trailed away and she no longer bothered to hide her tears. "What’s the point? That was evil, through to its rotten core." She looked up into space. She didn’t know what to think. Every value she had was thrown into turmoil.

She had never felt so completely lost.

Dekel leant against the boulder and wiped the dirt from his brow. “Sammael?” he queried, “Nasargiel’s consort?”

Angelo nodded. “Apolyon, Beelzebub, Semihazah, Azazel, Belial, and Sammael; there have been many names throughout history. Pope Sixtus IV identified him with the Morning Star - hence the name Lucifer.”

Dekel removed from his top pocket, a dented iron star and kissed the six points, “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn!” he said. “You have been cast down to Earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High. But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.”

"Your Magen David, will be of no help," Angelo sneered. "Neither will your last minute Jewish prayers. We have all faced the truth. We have stood in the presence of an angel. One step up the dimensional ladder, and the closest you will ever get to God - while you still wear flesh at least."
"What do you mean?" Unita asked, her voice wavering.

"There are eleven dimensions which we know of," Angelo explained. "Based upon the spatial harmonics the Gift admits, we guessed he comes originally from an older dimension."

"Eleven dimensions," Unita repeated, her forehead furrowed in concentration.

"Including the sub-atomic," Angelo added, "we've had a long time to study this Seraph."

"Lucifer is no longer one of the Seraphim," Dekel hissed. "He is Fallen, like Nasargial, cast to Earth after the war in Heaven.”

"I am well aware,” Angelo replied smoothly, “but he remains a Seraphim in form, if not in name, created before man by God, powerful beyond measure."

"You admire Lucifer!” Dekel coughed out his outrage. “This is Satan, the Lord of lies. A demon of Hell."

"But what is Hell?” Angelo countered, his former arrogance returning in a sneer. “A word for you? A concept? Hell, is another dimension glimpsed beyond Purgatory. We call it Damnation. I have been there, watched the souls in clay climb the metal tower, the Hunters picking them off like scabs from old wounds. Don’t presume to tell me of Hell. You know nothing of the places of pain.” Angelo’s eyes glimmered, “Passage in the afterlife depends on the weight of emotion you carry. The more angry and disturbed a man, the more likely the fall to Purgatory - or worse. You should bear in mind Dekel, you are not long from making the journey yourself.”

“Stop it, Angelo!” Unita shouted. “You’re not helping.”

Angelo sighed and his shoulders sagged. “The inner circle of the Vatican has captured this Lord of Hell if that's what you want to call him and we've been able to utilise his powers and amour. The technology we have would simply not be possible without him. My Hate Mail, the Vatican’s computers, our fighter planes, it's all pushed us forward centuries. Even the Great Secrets, all stem from Lucifer. In his own way, Lucifer created peace. I don't admire him, but I do respect him."

Unita rubbed at her eyes. "He can't be an angel," she said slowly.

"What then?" Angelo snapped impatiently.

" A half-breed like Thirteen,” she guessed, “the same as myself, a genetic experiment gone wrong?"

"Half-breeds are born with the blood of the Gift,” Angelo said, “unpredictable and powerful?” He knelt by her side and removed a lock of curled hair that had fallen loose before Unita’s eyes. “He is your father,” he said simply. “His smell is your smell. The power you were repelled by is your power. You shouldn’t fear him; you should embrace what he is. Because he is you.”

Unita pulled away. “Never,” she spat. “I’m nothing like that thing.”

“Leave her alone,” Dekel hissed.

“Be quiet,” Angelo snapped at Dekel, adding cruelly, “preserve your strength for Purgatory.”

“If you have sinned you can be redeemed.” Dekel stated. “Unless your crimes are beyond redemption.”

The two men looked at each other, long and hard.

Finally Angelo turned back to Unita. “There is much you don’t understand. Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve said? Passage through the realms is based upon emotion. The stronger the emotion, the further one can go.” He lifted up his cowl and his face became a dark stain between the purple folds.

“Hate is the strongest emotion there is. It wreaks lives and destroys kingdoms. Races have been humbled by it. If in doubt look at Dekel’s people. In Rome, the Jews live in the ruins: second-class citizens, no more than slaves. They have no rights, no powers, no dignity, nothing to call their own. The Church forces them to live that way – if it could be called living, existing might be more a apt term. And how many Jews have taken the plunge to Purgatory because of American hate? A thousand? Ten thousand? Perhaps more. Lucifer used hate to cross the realms, his armour - like mine - powered by it. We believe it’s what brought him to the battle of the Milvian Bridge. The deaths of so many, the hate of all those who fought there, acting like an irresistible magnet across the dimensional void.” Angelo stood up and drew in his robes. In the shadows he resembled a vast purple bat. “I was brought back to the Room With No Doors for only one reason. There must be a reckoning of man, an accounting for all our past sins. This is that time…” Angelo’s voice trailed away and he tilted his head slowly to one side.

“What is it?” Unita asked.

“They come. First the soldiers, scurrying through the tunnels like rats. They are little to be concerned about; it is Bishop Cecilio who is the problem. He walks behind the soldiers, urging them on, his anger like a red cloud upon my senses. His fleshly disguise long discarded.” The cardinal swooned slightly. “Ah, how he hates the Atheist. Gone is the need to convert, it is replaced only with the urge to destroy: rip off your pretty face and feast upon your bones. It seems we are out of time at last.”

He reached out and held Unita’s hand. The leather gloves were rough and course on her skin. “Remember you felt as if your destiny awaited you?” he asked gently.

“I’m warning you,” Dekel moaned, reaching out and grasping the hem of Angelo’s robes. The cardinal ignored him.

“You were right,” he hissed. “Go back to the Gift and embrace him. See what happens next!” He leant forward so his face was only inches away and she could feel his breath upon her lips. “I’m glad I met you Unita Seenbys, in this life and the last.” He kissed her lightly upon the cheek and then withdrew, snatching back his robe from Dekel’s hands.

“You do not have long,” he said, stepping over Dekel.

“Where are you going,” Unita called out after him.

“To make the impossible, possible,” he replied and vanished into the dark.


Unita stared into the space Angelo had once occupied willing him to return. She didn’t know what to do. She wished she hadn’t run into Lucifer’s chamber so quickly, she should have been more careful and had paid the price. After the battle with Thirteen, she couldn’t imagine a worse threat.

She had been wrong.

She had escaped Bishop Cecilio and his two priest henchmen, even reunited with Dekel in the flight through the vaults.

An otherworldly virus had infected Dekel. He still lived – though barely. She had tended to his wounds, but his symptoms were beyond her. Dekel had deserved better than she could offer, he had come back for her and all she had done was lead him deeper into the vaults and further away from the help he so desperately needed.

But there was nothing she could do about it now, there were greater things at stake than his life or her own. If only she could work out what they were?

She stared into the turbulent waters of the Tiber. Father Naldo was dead, killed by Angelo. She didn’t know the fate of Father Elia, but sensed failure was not an option for the Inner Circle. She had survived each man’s attempts to control or kill her and finally stood before the Gift - before Lucifer.

Only to hide behind a rock.

It would have been comical if Dekel weren’t sat beside her, coughing up blood and staring through hollow eyes as if she held the answers to all their problems. Not being able to withstand his gaze for long she managed to ask.

“How are you feeling?” It was a redundant question; Dekel resembled a walking corpse, his skin shrunk down to the bone, his gums exposed so he appeared to be snarling.

Dekel shrugged. “I need to get out of here, go see that Doctor we talked about”

“There’s nowhere else to go,” she volunteered the information weakly. “The only way out is back the way we came, through the soldiers and the Bishop. We’re trapped.”

Dekel managed a faint smile. “It’s not your fault. You did the best you could.”

She cringed inwardly, unable to take his praise, “Don’t,” she said. “Stop being so darn nice all the time.” She managed to look back at his pallid features in time to see the hurt reflected there. “You shouldn’t have come back. I’m wrapped up in events greater than you or me, greater, maybe than the planet itself. I don’t even know if I’m making my own decisions anymore.”

Dekel picked up a handful of grit and allowed it to slide through his fingers. “Do you believe that was Lucifer,” he ventured, “I mean in the biblical sense.”

Unita wished she knew, but the truth was she didn’t. “Back in Woolston, the village I come from,” she added when Dekel gave her a confused look, “there used to be a small shop. Most of the villagers were farmers and pretty self-sufficient. But it sold all manners of things including comics: Amazing Fantasy, the American Atheist, that type of thing.”

Dekel shrugged.

“You know - super-heroes!

Dekel smiled and motioned for her to continue.

“There would always be a back up story, to bulk out the publication if the exploits of the main hero stopped a bit short. They would invariably be about aliens from other worlds. Venusians with their ray guns, that type of thing. The artwork would be sub-standard, utilising two-tone colours like red and blue, cheaper that way I guess. And the writing always followed the same cheesy plots. But they were different from the main stories.”

“In what way?” Dekel asked.

“Because they didn’t have a happy ending. It wasn’t about the American Atheist saving the day, or Iron Maiden rescuing the President from the clutches of the Catholic Church. It was about the end of the world, through an alien invader from planet X. ” She lowered her head and sighed. “My point is this: perhaps the Gift is similar, an alien from a distant world, a creature from another dimension, not an Angel - Fallen or otherwise. It was the Church that captured the Gift, they who put the biblical reference to him. In the time of ancient Rome, what else could it have been?”

“What makes you so sure?” Dekel murmured.

“Iron Maiden,” Unita said so gently that Dekel had to lean forward. “ Iron Maiden came to America. I’m not sure what battle or hate-filled moment attracted her, but it was the land of the free she first settled in.”

“America is a nation of Atheists; our belief is in the present, in the material, we have no time for spirituality, but rather in science. And that’s what she became: a creature of science, a robot, an android, and a super-hero. All terms given to these creatures by man. What are they really? Dimensional travellers, using emotion to cut across worlds, more than man - less?” She managed a smile and felt tension ease from her body. “They no more represent God than you or I.”

The rational felt good to say, she could see a faint glimmer of hope appear across Dekel’s face. Only she wasn’t sure it was true. She wished it were, but the harsh glow of Lucifer’s eyes said otherwise.

“Then it might not be the End of Times,” Dekel said quietly. He allowed his head to fall back against the crushed rocks while he watched the Tiber race past. “Not such a bad place. You could do a lot here.”

Unita didn’t feel like joining in with his humour, but Dekel continued anyway. “No really, some flowers and heating, could be homely.” He laughed at his own joke, but it brought on a coughing fit, that ended with his head slumped forward. He rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hand and when he looked back up she could see tears appearing. “I’m sorry, not sure if I can hold on for much longer,” he blurted. “Don’t… don’t… feel bad for my death. I…I…would do it all again if I had to. To see you I mean. I’ve never met anyone like you…ever. I think I love…”

Unita put her finger to his lips and felt tears roll from her own eyes. “Shush, it’s not over yet. If there is a way out of this, I’ll find it. I swear.”

Dekel’s head rested upon his chin, his eyes closed and his breathing fell shallow. A dark red stain seeped through his jacket and tiny trails of blood ran the length of his claw-like hands.

Gingerly, Unita lifted Dekel forward and laid his head upon the ground. The back of his ripped jacket folded open and she was briefly afforded a view of his ravaged back. The wound was far larger than before, with the flesh swollen and red.

She knew the wound had to be stitched, but lacked any experience or tools for the job. Besides it wasn’t just the wound that was responsible for Dekel’s condition. Just hours ago she had witnessed something moving beneath his skin.

She leant in closer and taking a piece of her smock wiped at the wound. As before, the flesh moved, and the cut opened further.

Despite herself, Unita jumped. Barely visible within was a thin line of metal, like tarnished copper. She was reminded of a sheep’s tick burrowed into flesh and wondered if that’s what it was? Had Nasargial left something to feed off Dekel?

She had to get it out, but couldn’t think of any way to help. The blood continued to flow and Dekel’s life hung precariously in the balance.

It had always been about the blood. Lucifer’s blood passed on through generations, bringing with it powers previously reserved for the imagination: super-strength, advanced healing, longevity, the list seemed endless.

Abruptly Unita stopped and smiled.

Lucifer’s blood and flesh had empowered the Inner Circle for centuries, it had granted them all unnaturally long lives and those born with his blood gained extraordinary abilities.

Could she give it to Dekel and save his life?

Dekel couldn’t answer. Would he agree had he been conscious? She wasn’t sure, but a nagging doubt surfaced that he wouldn’t. It was an abomination against nature she could hear him cry. Unita fell back defeated. She knew Dekel wouldn’t want to be saved if it meant having anything to do with Lucifer. Dekel believed in an afterlife, death was not the end for him. And what about her, did she now believe in that same afterlife? How could she not, with Angelo walking around? She pushed those thoughts aside, unable to dwell on them, feeling as if a great well was opening up beneath her and she was powerless to stop it. She needed help. Dekel wouldn’t even have been there, if not for her. If she hadn’t met him in the car park stealing tomato soup, he would still be free.

She couldn’t live with that level of guilt.

There had been three bowls beneath Lucifer, each filled with blood. She wouldn’t have to be long. Just enough time to grab one and get back to Dekel. She could face her fear if it meant saving him. She brushed the side of his face and whispered, “I’m the one who should be saying sorry to you, for what I’ve done and . . . what I’m about to do.”

She left Dekel where he lay. In sleep Dekel looked peaceful. If she hurried there might still be time. Unita climbed from behind the boulder and taking a deep breath walked across the cavern.

I’ve been waiting for you!” the smooth voice said.

“I know,” she replied, astonished at how calm she sounded. “I’m here now. We can proceed.”


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Comments by other Members

Patsy at 13:48 on 05 October 2006  Report this post
Hi Neil,

Yeah! I've been waiting for this one. Glad you got your computer problems sorted out!
Loved this section. This is so unique and well written -- you have to submit it and let me know what happens! I can't imagine anyone passing this up!

You get a wonderful sense of menace from the gift, and you can clearly see Unita trying to science it all away and failing to do so. Having everything you believe in shattered would be a blow hard to recover from, but she does try. The thought of her using the gift on Dekel left me cold! I want him to live, but I want her to find another way! Perhaps within herself she might find the ability to heal him? I get the feeling that she does not even begin to know her own power, and that it will soon come out. I long for her to find some guidance from the non-fallen variety of angel!!

Things to consider:

I only found one, but I was so wrapped up in the story I'm not surprised!

“Bobby is waiting.”

I know it's most likely the due to the length of time between reading sections, but I forget who Bobby is? Perhaps you could put in a little reminder here if you have not mentioned him in a while?

Great!! I can't wait to see what happens :)


toshi at 14:28 on 05 October 2006  Report this post
Hi Neil

This was another great section which was hard to stop reading. Things seem to be moving to a real climax here, so I hope you are not going to wait months to upload more! (although I understand your reasons!) It was actually a little difficult to remember where we had left off last time, it has been so long...

During the summer, and today, I read the previous uploads of AA from the beginning which has now revealed to me what this is all about. It is incredibly easy to read, and really very enthralling taken as a whole, Neil. Even though hardly any time has passed since the story begun, I feel like I have undertaken a truly epic journey, in which Unita has grown all the time. You also have so many other worthwhile characters. I especially like Angelo. I see him as the real hero here, along with Dekel, and I particularly liked the two confronting each other in this section.

I also understand now why this is science fiction. Unita is certainly putting a scientific explanation on everything, even though Lucifer and Nasargiel have been used in a religious way. I also sense that death/hell and purgatory are being given scientific explanations, but leaving you with the option of keeping them purely religious/spiritual which really gets the mind thinking.

There is also a very clear sense in that you know what you are writing about, and that you know where this is going. Each section makes sense now that I have read the whole, and you do a really good job of keeping sight on where you came from as well as where you are going by dropping in hints and references to other events/people all the time. That is part of what makes this such an easy book to read.

If I was going to criticise AA at all, I think I would just have two things to say. The bit about Susuannah, in light of the rest of the book, came a bit out of the blue to me. To put in so much detail about a character who had never appeared before seemed like too much of a shift of perspective. I think you might also have to say the same thing about the pilot who met Nasargiel in a dog fight. I think you need to introduce either these characters or reference to them earlier on. Of course that depends a little on how much further this has to go. If you are planning on another 200,000 words, and lots more characters, it probably does not make any difference, but by this stage the reader identifies so strongly with the characters like Unita and Dekel, and even Cecilio, that is quite hard to shift away from them. (Of course that does not come across so clearly when you read one upload every month in isolation)

Secondly, I found that the name Ashanti jarred with me quite a lot. It is a west african name, and conjours up a strong image of a west african woman, but that did not match my view of this character as you describe her. Anyway that is just a minor picky personal point, which I just felt compelled to mention! Sorry!

On to this upload...Here are a few typos to think about:

"Unita nodded and decided not to press the cardinal further, if Angelo wanted to share his secrets he would do so in his own time, instead she went back to studying the gift."

I think this would read better as three sentences like this:

Unita nodded and decided not to press the cardinal further. If Angelo wanted to share his secrets he would do so in his own time. Instead she went back to studying the gift.

NB capital G for gift?

"A flutter of wings close behind her head and she involuntary ducked. She looked for the source, but the dimness of the cavern made it impossible to see if there was a bird close by."

The first sentence here seemed to lack a verb. "A flutter of wings [something] close beside her head..."? Also you use "close" again in the next sentence.

"There was no answer.

There was further movement, but this ..."
You begin two sentences with "There was..."

"She could make out the vague details of a man. He stood perfectly still and she was left with the impression he was watching them."

I don't think you should join "left with the impression he was watching them" to "He stood perfectly still" as the two statements are not really connected. Can I suggest?:

"She could make out the vague details of a man standing perfectly still. She was left with the impression.."

"As it neared, Unita could make a beautiful white face, with a long pointed chin,..."

Unita could make out a beautiful white face..."

"“If these are the ghosts of dead priests where are the others, there must be hundreds by now. I count…” she paused, “ten, maybe eleven.”"

Somwhere in here you need a question mark.

"The ground trembled, like a train was passing by and dust fell from the roof."

Would this be better as: "The ground trembled and dust fell from the roof, as if a train was passing by."?

"cardinal" - I think in previous uploads it had a capital C!

Also "hate mail" was not capitalised.

"The Church forces them to live that way – if it could be called living, existing might be more an apt term."

"existing might be a more apt term"?

“How you feeling?”
"How are you feeling?

"He allowed his head to fall back against the crushed rocks and he watched the Tiber race past."
Might be better to say "while he watched the Tiber" rather than "and"?

I was wondering if you had one full draft of this already or if you write several chapters before you upload - or do you upload one as soon as you've written it? I think it's a mistake not to write at least a few at a time, otherwise it's difficult to motivate yourself to write the next chapter while waiting for comments on the last one. In fact I have a feeling loading as you go, can be counterproductive, as you never actually get round to finishing anything. I wonder if it is better just to get a full draft down - like one of those NaNo exercises, and then work on it?

And here is the big question - how much longer to the end of AA? At least when you buy a book you know how far through it you are and when the climax is coming, and when to start breathing easy about characters making it through, but on WW it could be never. People disappear mysteriously off the website before they complete anything... It is really quite worrying!

I really admire what you are doing here with AA, Neil. You have a great talent and what you have written is extremely absorbing, so pleae keep on with it till it is finished.

Best wishes

Nelly at 19:58 on 05 October 2006  Report this post
Thanks both of you for your comments. It really helps me to carry on with AA, I get so far and it’s a bit like hitting your head against a brick wall and I need the insight of others to move me on, which you both wonderfully provide.

As always your spot on with the errors and I have edited them all in.

Bobby was a character who appeared and died in the first few chapters; he was a sort of love interest of Unita’s. The son of Non-father Fletcher who was originally going to fly away with Angelo, when he discovered God. He was shot by his own father, in the struggle to capture Angelo.

How much more is there?

I’m not sure. Sorry guys. I have two flashbacks to Rome, dealing with Constantine and Lucifer. A meeting with God (not what you might think). Unita’s escape from Rome. A final confrontation with Nasargial and then a return to America. It has always been my intention to go full circle with the story, and America was where it began and so ends there as well.

Both of you have said Susannah jars too much from the flow of AA, so I will take that on board and in later rewrites add some scenes with her in. She appears again before Unita leaves Rome as an undead nasty thing, this will hopefully tie in with the dead pilot and his uniform as well – if any of that makes sense.

I don’t have a rough version of the finished book. Actually, I think this is the rough version with a horrendous amount of rewrites and editing to go through once the story is finished. I was at first writing a couple of chapters ahead, but now it really is one at a time. The thing is I’m so slow at writing, if I leave it for a couple of chapters, six months will have passed.

Anyway, thanks again for the great feedback.


hmaster at 21:01 on 23 October 2006  Report this post
Hi Neil,

As we seem to be at Chapter 27 I'll be avoiding too much interpretation of plot and story, I'm not sure I'll be of too much help in that department. I have picked up that this appears to be an alternative world, one where atheism is a celebrated trait (a la American Atheist as a comic book hero) and religion the underdog, but perhaps religion is the real wielder of power. That's all I can really surmise without making stuff up.

Anyhow, your writing style is extremely clear and easy to read. It's paced very well.

The standard nitpicks follow, with the usual rules of Take or Leave:

The only light that came from Lucifer, shone within his eyes, twin pinpoints of blue sapphire, as guarded and vicious as any trapped animal.

The subject of the sentence is the light - yet we then describe it as guarded and vicious as any trapped animal.

A flutter of wings close behind her head and she involuntary ducked.

That should be "involuntarily" I think

A third shape detached itself from the wall and slid like liquid night across the rocky ground.

Did we see three shapes? The first was just a sound.

but the cardinal’s hand stopped half way through the move.

Halfway rather than half way?

Their glow gradually drawing away the electronic light of the cavern, until it finally stopped altogether.

I felt that "draining away" was more natural, but go with what's good for you.

“It begins,” Angelo, said breathlessly, his voice barely audible over the rising wind.

Bit too cliched? Although I'm unaware "what" was beginning.

Eleven dimensions... including the sub-atomic

Are these spatial dimensions, planes of existence or something else altogether? I only ask as the reference to sub-atomic suggests the dimensions required by something like superstring theory, which are additional spatial dimensions.

she needed to be more careful and had paid the price

"should have been more careful" and thus paid the price. If she needed to be more careful, she might end up paying the price.

she volunteered the information pathetically

The use of pathetically, apart from being an adverb (apparently the manifestation of evil in the literary sphere) didn't seem natural to me. "Weakly" would be my alternative of the day.

you or me, greater, maybe than the planet itself

Another comma after maybe might make the sentence a comma love-fest, but I felt a natural pause there like "greater... maybe... than the planet itself".

- Joel

Nelly at 12:00 on 28 October 2006  Report this post
Thanks Hmaster for reading through and taking the time to respond.

The eleven dimensions mentioned, are eleven states of existance which the church are aware of. I've yet to fully go into this. Hope to in a couple of chapters from now.


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