Login   Sign Up 


American Atheist: 25

by Nelly 

Posted: 20 May 2006
Word Count: 3227
Related Works: American Atheist: 23 • American Atheist: 24 • 

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

Unita crawled through the narrow tunnels, wishing she had a light to guide the way. One of those chrome lanterns she used to see at Mr. Lewiston’s store, would have been perfect. Its powerful beam could have easily cut through the murk and banished any lurking horrors. Instead, there was only Angelo’s armour, casting a weak glow upon the crushed rocks, allowing the darkness to coil upon the edges of the illumination, like an immense serpent poised to strike.
She tried to ignore it, thinking instead of Mr. Lewiston setting up shop, whistling the new Tony Bennett number: Stranger in Paradise, with his trademark toothless smile. The memory made her ache for home. She would have given anything to be there now, helping to sweep the floor and clean the shelves.
She clearly remembered: Stranger in Paradise. It had filled the No.1 slot all through the grey rain-filled days of last autumn. She whispered a few lines, trying to take strength from the words. ”“Take my hand, I'm a stranger in paradise, oh lost in a wonderland.”” The song felt eerily out of place in the confined passages. Her voice dried up, drawn away by the shadows and she fell quiet.

Much to her surprise, Angelo sang the next few lines, his voice far deeper than hers. ““If I stand starry-eyed, that's the danger in paradise, for mortals who stand beside an angel like you. Won't you answer this fervent prayer.”” He glanced back as he went, “That is how it goes, right?”

“How do you know so much about our culture?” she snapped, then felt shocked at the venom in her voice.

“Please, don’t assume your ignorance of other cultures extends beyond your own.”

“That’s not fair…” she began, but Angelo interrupted.

“If I were to show you a map, could you find Italy?” He didn’t bother to hide his irritation.

She struggled to respond, but no answer presented itself. Geography usually focused on American allied countries: like Canada, Australia, and Britain – despite the German occupation. She fumed in silence, then felt childish, even embarrassed by her reaction. America had closed its borders long before she was born. Angelo had been right to challenge her on it. But, she reflected, there were other reasons to be acquainted with American life. It made good sense to know one’s enemies after all.

She would remember that.

Their journey back was a dim and unpleasant experience. Earth continued to fall through the cracks of the makeshift roof and the air hung heavy with pungent smoke. Occasionally the ground rumbled a warning that all was not well. The walls groaned a response. Rocks fell and clattered noisily about her hands and feet, tangling in her hair, then falling through the gaps of her tunic – which, not being much in the first place, was now a shapeless, colourless rag, held on more by luck than design. In these moments Unita stopped, fear rooting her to the spot. Only Angelo would half-turn and demand she carry on.

“Stopping under the collapsed cavern is madness,” he hissed, and she was forced to agree.

Unita pushed on and immediately crawled into Angelo. “What are you doing?” she said, “you told me not to stop.”

“Wait,” he replied, “listen!”

Unita fell silent and waited. At first, she could hear only their laboured breathing, then the relentless falling of dirt and occasional murmur of rock. She was about to comment on this, when a different sound rose up out of the shadows.


Hardly more than whispers, coming and going on the extreme edge of her hearing. She couldn’t make out what was said, but the tones indicated both excitement and anger.
“Where are they coming from?” she asked, trying to make out Angelo’s face in the shadows.

“I’m not sure.”

“But you’ve got an idea.”

Angelo leaned forward, the shadows draining away to reveal his bloodied face, his lower lip was split, his right eye swollen and closed tight. “The Guardians are close by,” he said simply.

Unita bit back her surprise, then thought for a moment, “The Ghosts! The ones which Dekel described?” Adding as an afterthought, “I don’t believe in the supernatural.”

Angelo cast her an incredulous look; “Even after Thirteen?” he queried.

“There was nothing supernatural about Thirteen, it may have been a monster, but it was a man-made monster.”

He sighed long and hard. “You may not believe in ghosts, but they most assuredly believe in you! These Guardians are the spirits of dead holy men. Each has given up their chance of ascension to Heaven, to remain shackled to the Vatican, safeguarding its greatest secret. Or at least that’s the official line of the inner circle. The truth is typically a darker affair. Each was drenched in the weight of life’s sin and stood no chance of ascending to the higher realms when their time was up. They all – with no exception – had spent a lifetime accruing enough guilt to guarantee a one way trip to Purgatory – or worse. But as that doesn’t fit in with the self-perceived image of the Church, and the delusions of those who hold power, we all pretend otherwise.” He smiled thinly. “Yet another great lie. They do tend to stack up, don’t you think?”

Unita tried to shake an uneasiness that settled upon her shoulders. “What do they want?” she whispered, resisting the urge to glance back.

“Well, that should be obvious,” Angelo replied smoothly, his lips a thin jagged line across his dark face. “They want you, my dear.”


The whispering ghost voices stayed with them until they cleared the tunnels and were able to stand upright in the chamber beyond. Like wasps disturbed from a hive, the disembodied voices buzzed angrily in the air, their chatter loud and incomprehensible. Unita felt as if cobwebs were brushing her skin and as she moved to wipe them away, the voices fell quiet. She stood in silence for a moment, but they did not return.
Whatever they might have been: phantom voices of the dead or distorted sounds through the earth, they were powerless to hurt her, she reasoned. They were only voices, not flesh and blood - as Thirteen had been.
It felt good to be out of the claustrophobic passages, to shake the dirt from her hair and stretch her back so it clicked into a comfortable position. By the time they reached Dekel, she had placed the voices to the back of her mind – gone, but not forgotten.

Dekel sat in the dark, in the same position as she had left him, his head rested upon his chest and his eyes were shut tight. The tweed suit he wore was covered in a light smattering of rocks and his usual flamboyant red hair was stained grey with dust. His face resembled a skull with the thinnest scraping of flesh concealing the bone.

Angelo knelt down and took his pulse; unable to hide his disgust at Dekel’s wasted state. “He’s alive, though barely,” he glanced back to Unita, “what happened to him?”

“I’m not sure.”

Angelo slowly shook his head, and brushed a lock of Dekel’s red hair from his eyes. “I need to know what has infected him,” he muttered. “Mixed stock I see, you don’t often see hair this red within Italy. How did he even get down here?”

“Iron Maiden,” Unita said distantly. “Or would you feel more comfortable calling her Nasargiel?”

Angelo nodded and forced a grim smile, “You know then?”

“That Iron Maiden is an Angel? I’ve been told. A terrible, ancient creature from another world, come here to make our lives misery, when only days ago, I sat in my bedroom reading comic books about her aiding the war effort!” She laughed a thin chortle, lacking any mirth. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“Of course it doesn’t,” Angelo said smoothly, “And it won’t until…”

“Until what?” Unita pressed, unable to keep the anger from her voice.

Angelo lifted Dekel’s limp form from the ground. He inclined his head down the tunnel. “Until you see the Gift. It’s waiting for you at the end of this corridor.”


“I want answers,” Unita called out as they walked.

“Ask away if you must,” Angelo responded briskly as he marched down the corridor, “no more secrets, not between us.”

“How were you brought back?”

“Fair enough. Ask the big one first. Not far from here, is a Lab, nicknamed the Charnel house by those in the know. Inside is a team of dedicated doctors and priests who have the ability to coax the soul back to the world of living.”


“It’s not an exact science, granted. More hit and miss, really. Depends on the length of time dead.” He cocked an eyebrow. “How would you explain me?”

“I . . . well you’re…” Unita fell quiet, fuming silently. She couldn’t explain Angelo’s return. She had seen his death. There could be no mistaking his departure from the Earth. Yet here he was, standing before her now: bloodied, in pain and discomfort, but as real as she was.

“How do I know it’s really you? I mean, you could be somebody made up to look like Angelo.”

“What would be the point?” Angelo gave her a quizzical sidelong glance and then stopped. “Oh, right then, if it makes you feel better about my resurrection, then ask me a question. Something only I would know the answer to.”

Unita thought hard. Running over her earlier memories of the Cardinal, how she first met him in the swamps, the small encampment, his tent made from reeds. Then it struck her.
“What does, ‘Audiens sapiens sapientior erit et intellegens gubernacula possidebit’ mean?” she said smugly. Secretly amazed, she could remember the Latin phrase let alone say it.

“Ah, that would be written in my copy of the Vulgate – my Latin bible,” he explained when she made a face. “What does it mean? Well, a simply translation would be something like, ‘A wise man shall hear, and shall be wiser: and he that understandeth shall possess governments’.”

“I hate you,” she whispered.

“I know. You already said.”

The corridor they followed, continued in a straight undeviating line, occasionally they passed doors or other passages, but the darkness was complete in these places and Unita had no inclination to wander.

“Where are the guards and the priests?” she asked eventually, her voice sullen.

“Probably trying to work out if Thirteen is still alive. They won’t risk coming down here until they’re certain it’s dead or contained.”

“The risk too high, I imagine,” Unita mumbled. “I wish it had more of a chance, more of a life. How could you do something like that? It was just a child.”

“Thirteen was a half-breed, unlike the others, it proved manageable.”

“How many have there been?”

Angelo lifted the cowl of his robe back up; his face instantly plunged into shadow. “Countless more. All are dead now. Except yourself of course. Half-breeds are notoriously powerful, they are unable to contain the Gift and it mutates in unpredictable ways. Most were killed for their own protection. Thirteen was one of the weaker ones.”

“Then why am I not like Thirteen?”

“I’m not sure. Possibly, because you were so far removed from the Gift’s influence, perhaps the Gift was weaker in your father. Or it’s yet to awaken in you. Who can say?” He stopped and faced her. “I’m sorry Unita, there’s no way of knowing what God has in store for you.”

“I don’t…”

“Yes, yes I know. You don’t believe in God. Then believe in this,” he inclined his hand. “We’re here!”

The corridor ended at a door of polished steel, so smooth the light from Angelo’s armour danced upon its surface. It was set upon thick brackets and encased in a ring of dulled copper. A bulky looking camera, sporting several wires, hummed and clicked, before rotating on its mount towards them.

“The original door was replaced after the Gift’s influence corrupted the wood,” Angelo said casually, running his hand upon the metal. “It’s the same reason there are no guards this far in. At such proximity the Gift quickly takes control. We won’t be able to stay for long.”

“Will they be coming?”

“Undoubtedly. But not in time to stop you.”

“Stop me from what? I’m not even sure why I’ve come here!” Unita said, exasperated by the whole thing.

“You will be,” Angelo said quietly and ran his hand across a small mound of steel that had gone unnoticed until now. The mound slid back into the wall. There was a loud hiss of escaping gas and slowly the door rolled back, making a low desolate groan as it went. The door passed through three feet of rock, until it opened upon a darkened room.

Unita shuddered and felt the hairs on her arms rise in mingled fear and anticipation. The room beyond was drenched in shadows, which shifted and moved, thickening in places only to vanish in others. She dismissed it as a trick of her tired eyes and noticed an ethereal green light flickering upon the walls. In the distance she could hear the sound of water rushing over rocks. The air felt damp. And there was a presence in the room, an unmistakable sense of power that stole her breath and quickened her heart.

Then the smell hit. A musty dried funk, coupled with an unnatural heat. Like meat left to rot on a hot summer’s day. She gagged, then retched, bringing up strands of viscous bile, unable to stop the contortions of her stomach.

“The Tiber runs through here,” Angelo explained, stepping in through the entrance and putting Dekel down. “Hundreds of years ago, it was used as a power source. Now of course it’s a little different.” He placed a hand upon her shoulder.

“Are you sure you want to see this?” he asked gently, “its not too late, we can always find another way out.”

“No,” Unita wiped the spittle from the corner of her mouth and forced herself to stand. “I am meant to be here.” She looked into the darkness. “This is my destiny.”

Angelo removed his hand. “As you wish.” He stepped into the darkness and shouted, “Lights.”

The room gradually became brighter, a band of clear panels slowly spluttered into life, lifting the shadows and draining away the dark.

Suspended over the room by a series of great chains were the petrified remains of an armoured giant. Over fifteen feet in height and twice as broad as any man. A series of interlocking metal plates covered its head down to its muscular torso.
It had no legs.
Only one arm remained, withered like an old tree caught without sunlight. The stumps of its appendages were covered in a thick orange gel that dispersed a faint luminescence. Its face was a grotesque triangular mask. Two eye-slits shone with twin points of white flame and regarded them both with an intense cold intellect. Unita froze, having thought it long since dead and looked sharply away.

“Yes,” Angelo whispered to her unsaid question, “it has that effect. Those eyes will – if you allow them – burn a hole through to your very soul, devour your heart and know all there is to know about you, all your dirty little secrets revealed. It’s a cruel existence, lingering through the long centuries, unable to die, unable to regenerate. A slave to lesser beings. I wonder if it’s capable of feeling humiliation.”

Unita decided it had a bestial look, as if designed for battle, and felt an odd flicker of discomfort at the thought. Long tapering spikes rose from its shoulders, each pressed into a sharpened point. Within its chest there protruded a shaft of iron, over a foot thick. It near split the creature in half, having cracked through the armour to rip away milky-white skin. Internal organs still moved with life and through a shattered ribcage a heart continued to beat. A thick stream of blood poured from a broken valve and fell into bowls of tarnished copper, congealing into one dark mass. There were six such bowls, all placed neatly in a row, five of which were filled to the rim.

“At last you come before the Gift,” Angelo said in a voice mingled with awe and anticipation.

“What have you done to it?” she said horrified.

Only the slightest hesitation before he answered, “We eat its flesh and drink its blood.”

Unita put her hand to her mouth and backed away.

“It brings us closer to God.” Angelo hurriedly explained. “This is an Angel. It fell to Earth, during the reign of Constantine. He couldn’t let it go back.”

“So he entrapped it down here and . . . and . . . tore off strips of its flesh?”

“Yes. Although it didn’t quite happen like that. You have to understand this is divine proof of the existence of God. It has changed the face of the world, as we know it. By eating of its being and drinking its blood, it empowers us.” He tapped his chest and then pointed to Unita, “Allows travel to other worlds. Gives us power. Advances science far beyond what we were capable of. If not for the Gift, then we would still be stumbling through the dark. The Church would be unrecognisable, if it existed at all. The benefits to mankind as a whole, outweighs the personal sacrifice of the inner circle.”

“It’s mad. You’re mad.”

“For God’s sake Unita, we can bring the dead back to life. What next: the Philosophers’ Stone? We already have it! The power to cure illness, prolong life, spiritual revitalisation – all ours for the taking. We’re travelling into realms far beyond life. Soon, we will find God. But not as the fleshless souls at the end of their great journey, but as equals, finding a way to return to their Creator. And who can say, maybe this was God’s plan after all. Like a patient Father, waiting for his wayward children to grow up and come home.”

“You should never have had this power.” Unita said sickened. “It was not yours to take.” She looked back to the Gift. “How do you know it’s an angel?”

“It told us.”

“So, it can speak then?”

“Not anymore. Its tongue has been removed.” Angelo stepped up next to her and looked towards the Gift. “It’s voice sent people mad,” he said gently, almost reverently. “The voice of a serpent, sneaking in through the backdoor of your mind. Playing with your head, make you believe in things that weren’t there. It was decided – by Constantine himself actually – that it was better for all concerned if it was removed. Then he ate it.” He stole a glance at Unita. “Yeah I know that’s pretty disgusting. But it was what clued us in to the angel’s hidden power. If not for Constantine, none of us would be here today.” He patted the withered arm of the Gift. “Especially you old boy.”

“Does it have a name?”


When Angelo didn’t tell her, Unita glanced up and asked, “Well, what is it?”

He dipped his head and lowered his eyes. “Lucifer,” he said at length. “The great Adversary.”


Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

toshi at 09:00 on 22 May 2006  Report this post
HI Neil

I really enjoyed this as always. There is so much power in what you write. I liked the idea of remembering Stranger in Paradise while crawling through the creepy dark tunnels. I can just imagine that. This upload was really suspenseful as we moved towards the meeting with Lucifer. (I'm not sure if we've met him before). There was a horrible sort of logic in meeting Lucifer as well - it all felt very authentic, as if it was really happening. I think the way you said "the great Adversary" really worked here. It gave it a lot more presence to the occasion.

I have not read all the previous uploads, but I was intrigued by Unita saying that only days ago she'd been reading it in comic books. Does that mean that this whole book has only taken place over a few days?

Here are a few other points:

It’s powerful beam could have easily cut through the murk
Its - no apostrophe

allowing the darkness to coil upon the edges of the illumination, like an immense serpent poised to strike.
I thought this was a very good line, especially given their circumstances

Rocks fell and clattered nosily about her hands
you mean noisily?

he hissed, and in retrospect she was forced to agree
I think "in retrospect" sounded wrong here, because she is thinking it now, not thinking back on it in the future. You could just cut it out.

“Where are they coming from?” she said, trying to make out Angelo’s face in the shadows
should it be "she asked"?

“You will do,” Angelo said quietly and ran his hand across a small mound of steel that had gone unnoticed until now.
Given what Angelo is replying to, I think he should say "You will be (ie sure)"? Sounds a bit like Yoda though!

Like gone off meat left to rot on a hot summer’s day.
I wasn't sure about "gone off" here. "Gone off" and "rot" sound like essentially the same thing anyway.

a band of clear panels slowly spluttered into life, lifting the shadows and draining away the dark.
I really liked the line "draining away the dark"

Am I wrong in thinking Angelo is really quite a nice person?

Look forward to reading more!

Best wishes

PS I saw Omen advertised on a bus the other day. I'm not sure about remakes, all those extra special effects seem to diminish the plot.

Nelly at 13:38 on 22 May 2006  Report this post
Thanks Toshi, those pesky typos just creep on through. I think my personal average is about twenty per upload. Probably shouldn’t have announced that, but oh well.

Lucifer is first seen in a flashback to ancient Rome where he is captured just after the battle of the Milvian Bridge. This chapter is his second appearance, minus essential body parts. There are two more flashbacks to Ancient Rome planned before the end of the book.

As it stands for Unita, hardly no time has passed since the beginning of the book, a week at most – I might take a look at that in later edits.

I'm playing Angelo as a reformed bad guy turned nice, although some of his former arrogance and worldviews will remain the same. So he should disagree with Unita on just about everything, while still trying to do what's right.


Patsy at 17:51 on 10 July 2006  Report this post
Hi Neil,

This story is so fantastically and wildly unique! How on earth did you ever come up with the idea? I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere. I think this will get grabbed right up when you submit it. It has to!

Things to consider:

Toshi picked up all of the typos, but I found two things to consider:

“Yes, yes I know. You don’t believe in God. Then believe in this,” he inclined his hand. “We’re here!”

After all of the build up, I thought "We're here!" was too weak. It doesn't measure up to the rest of your fantastic dialogue! It needs to be something a bit more dramatic, as I think Angelo regards "the gift" with an odd kind of reverence.

Angelo picks up Dekel, and then he just kind of drops off the radar. You might mention him in there somewhere. Does he have a reaction to "the gift"? When they first get back to where he is, it might be nice to have some kind of comment from him. I think his brand of humor, and sharp tongue add a great deal to the story.

Hope it helps :)
Patsy :)

Nelly at 10:30 on 12 July 2006  Report this post
Thanks Patsy for reading through. You’ve given me the incentive to keep on pushing through with the next chapter. All points are valid, although Dekel is supposed to be unconscious at this stage from his worsening condition/wounds.

I should have some more up some, I’m trying to trim down the next chapter, or find a suitable break, while making the ending more dramatic.

Thanks again.


To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .