Author’s Note: First chapter of In Our Image, my new OELN/Web Novel. Hope you guys enjoy, and leave a comment telling me what you think! Thanks for reading.
Volume 1 – Chapter 1
We all know the story of how God created the universe. How before there was death, there was life; how, before our ancestors began descending from the trees, the angels resided in paradise; how before one-third of God’s servants turned against him, there was the catalyst.
Yes, most of us know of God and his works, but what many do not know is that before God commanded peace, there was war.
Four thousand feet above the ancient jungle, an angel and a demon fought below an orange sky, exchanging blows and meeting blades, two primordial powers pushing and pulling for frail dominance.
“What’s the matter, Sariel?” The demon sneered at her companion, showing pointed teeth. “You seem particularly slow today.”
“Quiet, Remiel.” Though his cold eyes remained unchanged, the quickening of the angel’s movements did not escape the demon’s notice. With lightning speed he brought his sword down, Remiel falling back with practiced ease to avoid certain death. Her grin widened, and Sariel clenched his teeth.
“Admit it, angel. You’re slipping.” Her grip tightened around the hilt of her jagged blade. “Sooner or later I’m going to get the upper hand.”
“I am working in accordance with the will of our Father. He will not allow me to fail.”
“We both know that’s not true. He has failed us before, and He will fail us again.” The sharpening of his eyes gave Remiel hope, and she shot forward, dark blade held high.
Unfortunately for the demon, years of strife had deepened his perception of her actions. Before Remiel had even formed the thought, Sariel was dodging, rising into the air and leaving his adversary to strike at nothing.
Wasting no time, the angel dove down at his rival in an attempt to finish his job before she recovered. His sword came down, the demon barely catching it in the spikes of her own, and Sariel pushed forward, registering the widening of her eyes before giving a final burst of force and sending her spiraling towards the ground.
The fall was nowhere near as spectacular as her first, but it still culminated in a satisfyingly large impact on the forest floor, causing the earth to churn in protest. Smoke rose from the newly-created crater, obscuring the angel’s view as he lowered himself to the ground. His feet crunched on broken stones and splintered wood, and he looked out for his adversary.
“It is over, demon. Cease your resistance and return with me to our Father. Accept your punishment, and your sins will be forgiven.”
“How many times did you practice that line before you came here, Sariel? It sounds nice, but I’m afraid it lacks sincerity.”
“The word of the Lord is not a joke, Remiel. Our Father has offered you the chance to atone for your sins. I suggest you take it.”
“Aw, isn’t that sweet of Him? Next time you see the old man, make sure you give Him a big hug for me, alright?”
“Enough. Give me your answer, or I will be forced to assume you wish to act against Him.”
Sariel could practically feel the demon’s grin through the shifting dust, and he stepped forward, not wishing to be blind to her further actions. She made no movement, but her voice slipped through the particles of dust like a serpent.
“No need to assume, old friend—you can take my answer directly to the source. No.”
Before the words had even escaped her lips, Sariel could hear the crunching of her feet as she approached him. First one, then another, the steps grew closer together as Remiel broke into a run. Sariel raised his sword just as she burst out of the clearing haze and struck.
Their blades and eyes met under the searing sun, Heaven and Hell’s eternal struggle continuing in new hosts. Remiel stared at the angel through the fires of two worlds, her mouth forming words that could not be heard over the din of battle. Whatever it was she was saying, Sariel hoped she meant it.
He turned away, resigning himself to never look at his former friend again, and moved to bring their seemingly God-forsaken struggle to an end. He twisted his arm, knocking the blade from the demons hand, and stepped behind her quickly—he didn’t want to see her face as he carried out his orders. Holding his hand in the air, he steeled his voice, and recited the words he had never had reason to say.
“I am Sariel, Angel of Death and hand of God. As our Father heralded the beginning, so I herald your end.”
Remiel stood still as he spoke, tensing her shoulders and preparing to flee, but Sariel knew that it was too late—her time had come.
And so had his.
But, before Sariel carried out the Lord’s righteous retribution, he opened his mouth, ready to voice the feeling he hoped they both shared.
From the edge of the forest, the reaper watched as his friends fought for supremacy, attempting to carry out the wills of their respective masters as he prepared to carry out the will of his.
He had been viewing their struggle from the moment it began, and although he had no idea in whose favor fortune would fall, he knew one thing—it ended today.
And end it did.
The reaper stood the moment the angel raised his hand. Taking small steps toward the pair, he noticed the angel closing his eyes. He tightened his grip on his scythe. The curved blade of his tool shone, and his stomach filled with the slight tugging sensation he always experienced before doing his work. It was time.
With a heavy heart, the reaper looked on as the powers of heaven and earth burst forth from Sariel’s soul, channeling through his hand and into Remiel’s back, directly between her broken wings. Her decrepit form, strong only a moment before, fell into the pit made upon her previous impact with a sickening thud.
Death continued forward, and the angel turned to meet him. When he spoke, his voice was quiet, heavy with undistinguishable emotion.
“It’s over. Remiel is dead.”
“Did you know? That today was the day?”
“He had a feeling.”
Sariel opened his left hand, allowing his blade to disappear in the soft light of the evening. The reaper noted that his right hand had not moved since falling loosely to his side. When the angel noticed the object of his gaze, he closed his hands and attempted to change the topic.
“Have you come to collect her soul, then?”
“Those are my orders, although the choice of who delivers it to God lies with you.”
“Remiel was my responsibility. Release her soul, and I will handle taking it back.”
The reaper shrugged, He had expected the answer, and so began to walk forward without a word. His scythe hummed in his hand, and when he turned to face it warmth spread from the handle and up his arms, a tinny voice echoing through his skull.
Wait. He needs to see you.
The reaper eyed his scythe curiously. The blade generally avoided talking to him while he was out in the world, so he knew the summons must be important.
“Can He wait for me to finish my job here, or is the summons immediate?”
Immediate. He needs to speak with you now.
Sighing, he turned to Sariel, ready to ask him to remain with the body until he returned. The words died when the blood hit his face.
The angel, previously so tall and powerful, was now slumped, bent and broken over the spiked blade that had pierced his stomach. Behind him, barely visible, knelt the demon, supporting herself on the hilt of her bloody sword while flashing her sharp teeth in a grin. The constant buzz of the jungle was overcome by her laughter.
Eyes wide in disbelief, Sariel glanced back at the demon, trying and failing to choke out her name before falling forward. Remiel, still caught in her fit of uncontrollable laughter, slumped to the ground as well, and the sword dissolved in a gush of blood.
The reaper rushed forward, his gaze alternating between the two beings, but the scythe turned to lead in his hands, holding him back from reaching his friends. He turned to look at his blade.
We need to go.
“And we will, as soon as I help them. Now come on!”
No. This is their fight, and it must end as it does without interference. You must leave them as they are and meet with Him. Now.
The reaper turned away, fully intending to disobey, but when he saw the angel on hands and knees, blood dripping from his wound as he attempted to form words through cracked lips, and the demon lying crumpled at his feet with closed eyes, he knew it was too late. He cast his eyes to the ground.
Death was his business, but, being human, it still had an effect on him. He didn’t want to look at the bodies of his dying friends, but he forced himself to, focusing on their faces and holding back his emotions. Despite the regret it stirred in him, he stepped backwards.
He wanted to say something—apologize, say goodbye, anything—but the words wouldn’t come. All he could do was look and hope that through their fading souls, they could sense what he felt. And with that, he rose into the darkening sky to meet with God, finally taking his eyes off of his old friends.
He wouldn’t see them again for over five hundred years.
Remiel opened her eyes just in time to catch the reaper dematerializing in mid-air, obviously off to one of his all-important meetings with the Big Man. She briefly wondered what His reaction was to the embodiment of death attempting to save two beings—one a demon, no less—from dying, and hoped He wasn’t too hard on him.
But the wondering was brief—she had learned long ago that what is going to happen is going to happen, and no amount of hope will change that.
Things run how God wants them to, and that’s final.
She ruminated on that for about three seconds, longer than usual, before turning to look at the fallen (ha) angel beside her. The sight of his blood continuing to spill out of his open wound gave her a small burst of pleasure, followed immediately by a similarly-sized pang of regret (which she quickly pushed away—no need for that anymore). Mostly, she didn’t feel anything at all, as she was too busy coming to terms with the fact that she was about to die.
Of course, she had always known it would happen eventually, and she was glad that, if it had to be anyone, it was Sariel who did it. He was a relatively good adversary overall, and she much preferred dying to his blade than a divine strike of lightning or, even worse, that pretentious asshole Michael.
She was still thinking about the various pros and cons of the events leading up to her death when she heard the first words leave the bloody lips of her formerly silent companion.
“G-god…God. H…help m-me.”
His words made her smile, and she listened with piqued interest as he continued to talk to nothing and no one, his voice rising in volume with each word.
“Don’t let me d-die. Not now. I-I have done your work…Lord. I defeated her. I carried out your orders! I’ve been your servant…and yet you leave me to die? Leave us both to die! Is this all I was meant for, to be used as a tool before being disposed of? Her me, Lord! Answer me!”
By the time Sariel had finished, collapsing on the ground, breathless, Remiel could no longer contain her laughter. Although it caused her great pain to even chuckle, the hilarity of the situation brought forth a roar straight from her diaphragm, making her body shake from both joy and pain.
When she had calmed down enough to form a coherent sentence, she wiped the tears from her eyes and glanced at the angel.
“He’s not going to listen. You know that, right?”
Sariel deigned it unnecessary to respond. Instead, he turned his head, dragging his face in the dirt until he was looking at her, and posed his own question.
“My soul is slipping away, Remiel, and I’m sure yours is, too. Our time in this world is almost exhausted. Before we go, I want you to answer one question.”
She didn’t need to ask what it was, but she did anyway.
“And what’s that?”
“Why? Because I wanted to, Sariel. I desired to leave, and so I did. Simple as that.”
“It’s as I thought. Such a trivial reason, and yet…sometimes I wonder if maybe you were right.”
The angel’s dark eyes darkened further, and he was left staring into the soulless earth. The demon couldn’t be sure he was gone, but she could take a good guess.
Quiet jungle closing in around her, Remiel stared at the sky. Through the haze, a pure white parrot fluttered from the trees, soaring through the air in an easygoing glide, a symbol of purity sure to inspire awe in the humans below. Sariel would have liked it. Remiel, though her eyes were closing, and though she knew he couldn’t hear her, decided to respond to Sariel’s final statement.
* * *
It was bright, an unearthly sort of bright that seemed to burn through you, intertwining with every aspect of your being until it became as much a part of you as your soul. My eyes opened. I stood up.
It was bright, and colors swam through my vision, filling my eyes with flashes of life, of creation, of everything that I had ever known. I took a step forward. I turned my gaze.
They were there.
They were walking away from me, reaching their hands out as if to touch the energy which had collected in the air around us. Like the realm we inhabited, they were impossibly bright, so bright it almost hurt to look in their direction. I looked down.
They were bright, but so was I.
In the middle of a sea of light, we shone, sending forth a familiar radiance that I could not place.
Where was I, who was I? Who were they, what were we doing there?
I don’t know.
It was bright, and a voice as glowing as the world I found myself in echoed in the back of my head. Go.
I took a step forward. I didn’t know where I was, or who I was, but still I moved forward. Still, I advanced.
I stood beside them. I looked at them, and they looked back.
It was bright. So bright that nothing in existence could compare. Even so, the two of us stepped forward together, and entered a world brighter than either of us could have ever imagined.