A Devil’s Gospel – Chapter 1

A novel by Karl El-Koura, A Devil’s Gospel is the story of Christianity like you’ve never heard it before…

Book One Shadows

Chapter 1: The First War

It all started with a man and a woman.

eBook cover for "A Devil's Gospel"A Devil’s Gospel
© 2017 Karl El-Koura

Did we think He-Who-Rules could do it, even after he’d failed so spectacularly? We all did, each of us for our own reasons: because we wanted the relief that his success brought, or because it was so much fun to torment them, or even because some of us came to really believe the lie he told us, that we could be victorious against Him after all.

Did the Enemy have this planned all along? That question tortures me above all else, tears me apart from one end of my being to the other, and is worse to me than anything He-Who-Rules can do. Did we ever have a chance? It’s a silly question, isn’t it? Some of the fallen ask this other silly question: can the Enemy create a stone so heavy that even He can’t lift it? Before the First War, He-Who-Rules asked us something similar, and at the time it didn’t seem silly but very serious.

We met in a hall I’d sung myself. I think that bit was on purpose, though I never thought of asking then or since, and now it’s too late.

Few of us remember those days, but I’ve never been able to forget. I’d been reshaping an old castle I’d built long ago, singing it into a more rounded style that I thought was different and would please my friends, when suddenly I became aware that I was being watched.

“Lucifer sends me,” Moloch said.

“God would like—?”

“I said Lucifer sent me,” Moloch interrupted, smiling, “not God.” He whispered a location in one of the lower dimensions, but it wasn’t until I shifted there that I realized we stood in one of my old songs.

“Welcome, brethren.” Lucifer shimmered the lightest blue, his glow more radiant than any angel I’d ever known, and yet duller than usual. To look at Lucifer was always an experience, but even then I noticed a difference—as if he stood behind a thin wall of smoke. The Transformation had already begun, I just didn’t know it yet.

His voice was as strong and commanding as ever, and it projected across the entire hall.

“I’ve called you together, brethren, to tell you a sad truth. We’ve been had, tricked by God Himself. We watched as He created a new dimensional space and like fools we cheered. We sang together and shouted for joy. We thought he was creating shiny stars and pretty planets. We didn’t realize what he was actually making.”

I didn’t understand what was happening, or why we were meeting in secret, in a dimension I’d used to practice my songs. I didn’t understand, but I didn’t like the way it made me feel.

“Do you know what He was actually making, Enoch?”

I looked up, startled. The room was empty except for Lucifer and I; it was a trick he had and still has, to make you feel that he’s speaking to you alone in a room full of people.

His eyes, green and luminous, bored into me. In those eyes I’d always read judgment and criticism, or perhaps I equated how intimidated Lucifer made me feel to the inadequacy that always accompanied it.

“What?” I said.

“He was making a home.”

“So? He’s made all sorts of things.”

“This is different. It’s a home for a new kind of creature, a creature also possessed of an intellect and will, but a creature not like us.”

“How do you know all of this?”

“I’ve been offered dominion over their home.”

“To rule over them?” I said, surprised.

Lucifer’s eyes flashed a deep, fiery red. “To help them,” he said, speaking slowly. “To guide them. In other words, to serve them.”

I took a step back. “I don’t know that we should be talking like this.”

“Is that what you want, Enoch? To spend eternity in servitude?”

“We were created to serve.”

“To serve God!” Lucifer’s voice seemed to have turned to flame, and his words burned as they washed over me. “To serve the Ancient of Days, not his new pets. Not these new creatures with two natures.”

“Two natures?”

He shrugged, his eyes glimmering green again. “I don’t know that I understand it; I do know that I don’t understand why he’s chosen to create these beings. Are we insufficient? Do you feel insufficient, Enoch?”

I did, but kept the thought to myself.

Suddenly the room was full again, packed with the other angels I’d seen before, angels whose eyes were fixed on Lucifer.

“Can God create a creature so powerful that even He can’t stop him?”

I didn’t know what he meant, but presumably the others did because they cheered.

“If we claim our right to be self-ruled, who will stop us? If we demand a dimension of our own, away from God and these new pet creatures, free to form it as we wish, free to rule it as we wish—who will stop us?”

As he spoke, the angels cried out their support and excitement.

“You’re not with me, Enoch?”

Again I felt that we were alone and that the distance between us had collapsed. Lucifer stood so close that I could feel the sense of disappointment radiating from him.

“It’s not that,” I said. “It’s just…I like it here.”

“Because you get to make trifles?” Lucifer must have sensed my annoyance, because the tone of his voice suddenly changed, from a condescending to an appeasing one. “I’ve never known a better builder, Enoch. But what are you really doing, after all? You’re taking pre-existing material and reshaping it, suggesting new forms and functions to things that already have a form and a function. Wouldn’t you like to truly create something? To create it from nothing?”

“But that’s not possible.” I paused. “Is it?”

Lucifer smiled. “If you follow me, you won’t ever feel the need to ask that question again.”

The angels cheered once more. There were yells for Lucifer to waste no time in speaking to God and asking for a dimension of our own.

Lucifer put up his arms to silence them; his glow was angry, though he tried to restrain it.

“Brethren,” he said, voice soft and gentle and betraying none of his annoyance, “do any of you know God better than I do? Is any one of you closer to Him than I am?” He paused to look around the room; the angels seemed suddenly subdued and their excited glows had dimmed. “And do I think that God will hand over the reins to a new kingdom for us to rule together just because we ask? He respects strength, force, and action; not cowardice and humility and pleading. If you want to continue being servants—go your way. But if you want to rule, as God rules—if you feel you deserve to exercise your powers and your will without interference—you need to demand it with force and not just with words!”

“Use force against God?” someone said. “We’ll be destroyed!”

“He won’t destroy you,” Lucifer said, shimmering red so brightly that no one could have missed it. His glow was back to normal in the next moment. “God will give us what we want, if we give Him no other choice.”

Looking around, it seemed to me that there were fewer angels now than when Lucifer had first welcomed us.

“You’re either with me or you’re against me,” Lucifer said, and his appearance began to change. He grew, taller and taller, towering over us several-fold by the time he stopped. Of course now we would recognize it as the dragon, scaly and metallic and breathing fire, that has haunted the fantasies of the fallen, but at the time none of us had seen anything like it, and we were mesmerized.

“Enoch,” the dragon said with Lucifer’s voice, “sing us weapons.”

I did it, of course, tearing apart the hall that I’d built and reshaping the broken pieces into one sword after another. I worked in a daze, so quickly that I didn’t know how many weapons I’d already made and how many were left to make. At one point I noticed that most of the armed angels had been led away by the dragon. The remaining angels followed one at a time, leaving as soon as I handed them a sword. Much later, when the hall lay in ruins around me, and only a handful of angels were left, Moloch shifted in, looking haggard and pulsing a dull, pained glow.

“Come quick, all of you,” he said. “Forget about weapons, just come! We are being laid to waste!”

Moloch was already starting to shift but I called out after him. “By God?”

“By Michael,” Moloch said. “He’s assembled his own army. We tried to take them by surprise, but they knew. They knew we were coming and they were ready for us. Now move!”

We followed Moloch, the handful of us who hadn’t yet picked up a sword and probably weren’t too keen on getting one anytime soon. We arrived in a higher dimension of Heaven to a scene of pure chaos. Sparks of lightning flew from swords as they crashed against each other; angels grappled and struck at other angels, causing bursts of fire to erupt when their fists made contact. Towering above all was the Lucifer-Dragon, swiping his tail and breathing fire in a mad, angry attempt to damage someone or something. Mesmerized, I watched Michael dodge the dragon’s attacks. Beelzebub rushed at him, but one of Michael’s troops—Gabriel, maybe, but it’s so hard to remember now—dove between them and knocked Beelzebub to the ground, landing on top of him.

“Enoch, don’t just stand there!”

I didn’t know who spoke or even if it was one of Michael’s angels or one of Lucifer’s.

Beelzebub threw Gabriel off of him, then picked up his sword from the ground and swung. Gabriel stepped into the attack, grabbed his arm, and snapped it. In one motion, he grabbed the falling sword and plunged it into Beelzebub. His scream at that moment was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Squealing, desperate, pathetic, he yelled in pain and agony, then burst into flames. The sight and sound was horrible, and soon I saw and heard it repeated throughout the battlefield as more of Lucifer’s angels were overthrown by Michael’s soldiers.

Suddenly a sword was pressed into my hands. “Come on!”

It was Abaddon, and he was already charging at Michael. I ran after him to pull him off course—what was the point of this madness? We’d already lost, I knew; it was time to lay down weapons and suffer the consequences.

Abaddon cut down an angel on his way to Michael, but another appeared in his way. I was so focused on Abaddon that I didn’t realize someone was standing in my way too; in my panic I struck with my sword, connected. Jegudiel fell back, but reached forward almost immediately and wrenched the sword from my hand. Before I could move, he plunged it into my chest.

The pain was so powerful that for a moment I didn’t make a sound. Then I felt my entire body turn to fire and, unconscious of anything but the anguish and the terrifying feeling that my very existence was being consumed, I screamed. Slowly, although the pain didn’t subside, I became conscious of something else: I was sinking, falling, as if the fire had burned away my substance and I was no longer solid enough to stand. Before I could have another thought, an explosion like lightning blinded my vision, but I didn’t need to see to know what had happened; Lucifer was overcome, struck down by Michael’s fiery sword.

I felt myself slipping further and tried to scramble to keep my footing. But it was impossible, and I fell through the dimensions, screaming in agony and convinced that I was being annihilated.

“Have mercy, Lord!” I cried, but I knew it was too late. It will infuriate Lucifer to learn that even in those first few moments of defeat, I begged for God’s mercy, but I don’t care. What more can he do to me now?

 

No one realizes, or at least no one remarks on how we have gradually come to use the words of the fallen to understand ourselves, even to understand and describe half-remembered events that occurred before the fallen were created. We’ve lived among them for so long now that their very concepts and images have become our own. I suppose we thought—certainly Lucifer thought—that influence and persuasion could flow in a line with a single direction from us to them. But can any of you listen to yourself speak for a moment and deny that they have influenced us just as much as we’ve tried to influence them?

I remember nothing of what happened next, nothing until I awoke some time later, feeling dazed and groggy, to borrow three more concepts from the fallen. I wasn’t sure where I was, not because I couldn’t see but because I saw everything as if through a fog. I stumbled to my feet. Shadows passed over me.

“Hello?” I said, and suddenly I became aware of the sound of wailing coming from all around.

I tripped over something and fell to the ground. The fog started to clear, or I grew accustomed to it. A creature crawled on the ground next to me.

“The pain,” Beelzebub said, in a voice as different from his old voice as his appearance, dark and glob-like, was from his previous form and radiance. “Make it stop. The pain…the burning.”

I kneeled beside him, not sure if touching him would provide comfort or agony, and especially not sure which sensation it would cause in me. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what I can—”

There was no point in continuing to speak. Beelzebub had forgotten about my presence and returned to wailing and crawling, half-blind, searching like the others for something that would quench their agony and ignoring everything else, including one another.

Before us stretched plains of dark, craggy rock. As my vision cleared, I saw a lake on fire and walked toward it. The lake burned and bubbled, and as I stood on its shore, something reached out and grabbed my ankle, burning me with its excruciating touch.

“No!” I yelled, and struggled against the slithering fire that crept up my leg. “Let go!”

But suddenly a head emerged from the fire. The once-luminous angel of God used my body to pull himself out of the lake. Finally he stood before me, charred and ugly, not equal to the shadow of the creature he used to be—not that the creature he used to be had ever cast a shadow.

“Lucifer, I—”

“Don’t call me that anymore,” he said, his voice soft and distant and choked by pain. He looked past me, over my shoulder to the pathetic sight of the crying, crawling remains of his army.

“Silence!” he yelled suddenly. “Silence all of you!” They quieted down, probably as a reflexive response to his voice, which still carried the memory of the power and glory of the one he once commanded. “Gather around me.”

The dark angels pulled themselves together and, one by one, walked or crawled toward Lucifer, who stood backlit by the small explosions of the fiery lake.

“You’re scared,” he said, spreading out his arms as if he wanted to embrace us all and make the fear disappear. “You’re terrified because you think we’ve lost the war.” His voice suddenly dropped in intensity, as if he were about to whisper a secret. “We haven’t lost. We’ve won!” He spun his arms around. “What did we fight for? Independence, no? A home of our own, far from the Enemy? Look around, brethren!”

They looked around, and saw what Lucifer wanted them to see. In a loud and happy voice, he told us that the pain we currently felt was the Enemy’s one parting shot; he told us to think about the agony He must be in to have lost his greatest angels; and when finally he said “We won, brethren! We won!” a great cheer went up, although it sounded more like screaming than cheering.

He turned to me. “Enoch, sing us a palace.”

“A palace?”

Lucifer nodded, eyes burning with lust. “Make it the same as the Enemy’s.”

I sang, but nothing happened. I sang again, more insistently, then more desperately, but still the rocks didn’t respond.

The fire in Lucifer’s eyes flickered for only a moment. “Brethren, it is as I suspected. This is the price of freedom! It is not a cost I hesitate to pay. Mammon, pick up that stone you’re sitting on. Moloch, Agares, Sytri—knock down that cliff. Enoch, don’t just stand there—show them what to do!”

I did my best, directing the dark angels like a colony of ants. Some pieces could be used as they were brought to me; others needed to be smoothed out in the fiery lake; still others could be combined by smashing them into one another. Soon I had everyone separated into groups of gatherers and smoothers and smashers. We worked in a frenzy while Lucifer watched with thinly veiled impatience. When construction was complete, we had a structure that looked nothing like the Enemy’s palace, consisting entirely of a throne room that was barely worthy of the name.

“Behold your castle, brethren!” The brethren screamed their cheers. “Is it not wonderful?” Lucifer led everyone inside. “Is it not more glorious than anything you’ve ever seen?” He sat down on the rocky, jagged-topped throne. “We must elect a leader, brethren. Someone who will—”

“Lucifer!” Beelzebub yelled and the cry was taken up by others. “Lucifer!”

He held out his hands to quiet them. “I accept,” he said, leaning forward. “I ask only one thing—call me Lucifer no longer. I am Satan, and I will oppose the Enemy and bring destruction on everyone He favors.”

As the dark angels chanted the new name of their new leader, Satan sank back into the chair, looking comfortable and pleased with his throne and his castle.

Through thousands of years, we’ve rebuilt that chair, and the room, and the palace. We’ve added levels above and below, and rooms all around. And when Satan asked me to design and build a dungeon far beneath everything else, I carried out his order and had no idea that he was making me build the place where he planned to imprison me.

 

One day Satan found me walking along the shores of the fiery lake.

“It doesn’t end,” I said. “I’ve shifted up and down the shore, every day going a little bit further before coming back. It just keeps going.”

“You’re not like the others, are you, Enoch? You still remember what it was like before.”

I nodded.

“Many of them have mostly forgotten; the rest are forgetting more and more as time goes on. That’s good—if they remembered what they were like before…” He let the unfinished sentence hang in the air. “They’re better than when we first got here, don’t you think?”

“I guess so, yes,” I said, anxious for him to get to his point because I felt so uncomfortable speaking to Satan, especially alone.

“People trust you, Enoch. I need you to find out what they’re saying about me.”

“I can tell you right now,” I said. “They’re not happy. They’re bored.”

Satan kneeled over the lake and stared into it, as if it were a mystery he wanted to solve.

“Some of them still remember the war,” I continued. “They say that we lost, despite your assertions to the contrary. You led us in an uprising against God—against the Enemy—and He is still in His High Country and we are in…this place.”

Satan turned his head to look at me, his eyes burning. “Do you think I lost the war, Enoch?”

For a moment, I thought of lying. But I knew that eventually word would get back to Satan; I’d been the most vocal person reminding anyone foolish enough to repeat Satan’s words that in fact we’d been defeated in a spectacular way, and that when the fearsome Lucifer-Dragon fell like a bolt of lightning, Michael was left standing. “Yes, we lost,” I said.

“Don’t look so scared, Enoch. Of course we lost—but that was only the first war.”

“It was the only war,” I said.

“So far.” Satan stood and faced me. “Our brothers have forgotten the way things were, but they’ve also forgotten the way they themselves were. They’ve become impatient, restless, selfish. But I have a plan that will solve all of our problems.”

“A plan for a second war?” I said.

Satan nodded.

I spoke my next words carefully. “A war against the Enemy?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then who?”

“His new creatures.”

“Oh,” I said.

He motioned for me to follow him back to the castle. “Enoch, I may be gone for a while. Some of our brothers may be tempted to do something foolish in my absence. You understand of course how that would be bad for all of us?”

“What do you want from me?”

Satan stopped in mid-shift and put a hand on my shoulder. “You’ve spent a lot of time talking about how I’ve lost the first war,” he said. “Now you will spend time explaining to our brothers that a new war is beginning.”

I tried not to look into Satan’s eyes. “God—the Enemy—will know you’re coming.”

“So much the better!” He stopped himself, then continued in a calmer voice, “But I’m not asking you to worry about the Enemy’s plans, am I? I’m asking you to share with your brothers your excitement about the opportunities this new war will provide for all of us. Can I count on you to do that, Enoch?”

No longer able to avoid his eyes, I saw in them a vision of myself bound and thrown into the lake of fire, yelling from pain and shame as the dark angels stood on the shore and cackled with mirth. “Yes, I can do that.”

The terrifying image cleared from Satan’s eyes. “Good. Now follow me.”

I followed his shift to the throne room. Satan called for his angels to gather; I don’t think it was lost on him that they assembled more slowly than the last time he’d called them together, or that more of them were moaning with every step and that a few were even crawling again.

“Brethren,” he said, “I am not blind to your suffering or deaf to your cries. Am I doing nothing, as some of you say? Do I sit on my throne all day, while you are in misery? Lies! Attend to my words. For your sake, I am leaving the safety of this palace. I am going on a mission, to visit these new creatures the Enemy has created. I go for you, to bring you relief from pain and respite from boredom.”

With that, and without waiting for a response, he disappeared.

Some energy seemed to have flowed back into the assembly. The dark angels bombarded each other with questions and theories and suspicions. I was closed off to some of the conversations—as much as Satan believed that his angels trusted me, most of them also sensed that there was something different about me, which led to a certain degree of suspicion. I did my best with the conversations that were open to me, jumping in when the focus shifted to the first war and its failures, reminding my brothers that this was a new war and that it seemed to me Satan knew what he was doing. I have no idea how confident I sounded. The talk went on for a long time, but before any of the conversations had wound down, I became aware that Satan had reappeared, and was sitting on his throne, watching and listening.

He looked different; taller and fuller, but also darker than before. The little light that had still existed in him seemed to have been completely swallowed up. If he’d been fearsome before, he was terrifying now.

A few other dark angels became aware of his presence, then many more, then everyone and the silence was complete.

“Brethren,” he said, “some of you had faith in my mission, whereas others are still questioning my leadership. I thank those of you who trusted in me; as for the others, I ask only that you listen to my next words and tell me if there is room for doubt left in your minds. Today I have made the Enemy burn with fury.”

A moment of shock elapsed, and then we shouted, together as if we were a single, deafening voice, “What happened?”

A now-familiar smile spread across Satan’s face; a smile fueled not by humor or joy but by anger and lust; a smile whose only pleasure is the suffering of others.

“Brethren, I will be very pleased to tell you what happened.” He leaned forward and waited for us to draw closer. “It all starts with a man and a woman.”

A Devil’s Gospel will be released in both paperback and ebook formats on April 9, 2017.

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