"He's alive!" I shrieked then opened my eyes.
I gasped and quickly slapped my hands over my mouth. A second later, Jaiden's joined mine as if to take back the words. Fire shot above our heads, and the dragon was suddenly staring at us, his long neck hovering over the remainder of the walls. Smoke poured from his nostrils, which were narrow and set above his mouth on the arch of his face. His mouth curved around his elongated face, but ended just before a row of deep blue spikes that ran down his neck. His eyes were mildly curious as he stared at me. Suddenly we were grabbed, faster than a beast that big should be able to move.
"So you are the annoying little freak that has been causing so much trouble," Satan purred in a falsely gentle way, holding us tightly.
"What do you want?" Jaiden demanded.
The dragon looked a little irritated and dropped the Human boy at his feet. He looked me over, turning me this way and that. He snorted; this time, cold air blasted out, tinting the air white with snowflakes. I shivered and not from the cold.
He tilted his head. "You're so young, but older than the pesky little worm that birthed Jesiah. So strange that some of the greatest hindrances to my plans have been females. You are the weaker sex, so you shouldn't pose so much of a problem. I have many males on my side to force you into submission, but every time it looks like I've won, you females break what I have set down. And if it's not females, it's young people in general. Challenging the cultural prison—yes, prison, for your own sin and I direct most of it—and bringing to people's attention that they could possibly be wrong about how they see the world."
"What's wrong with that?" I managed to say as he held me upside down. My thick braid was dangling behind my head, swinging with me as he move his hand, or whatever the clawed appendage was, back and forth to examine me.
"Show me your designs," the dragon said in a bored tone of voice.
I frowned. What? Why in the world did he want to see my designs? I glanced over to see the battlefield. I squinted. Who was winning? There was a deep growl, and the dragon snapped his teeth, bringing the sharp white spikes inches from my face. I swallowed, trying to hide just how afraid I was.
"What goes on out there is none of your concern," he spat, tossing me in the air then catching me. I yelped as I landed in his palm; he was playing with me, as if I were some kind of toy. "Your battle is with me. You chose it, not I. Now, show me your designs."
There was a threat in that voice, so I brought them forth. He snorted out smoke and small flames again.
"Fascinating," he said. "Your kind has always been pesky. The Son likes appearing to you."
I decided to test something out. "You mean Jesiah?"
The dragon didn't even flinch, but he changed from hot to cold in a second. "Bah, he is ridiculous, coming down to die for you worthless maggots. What could that possibly accomplish?"
"I could tell you, if you like," I said, leaning back on my hands.
"You, a little pest, have figured it out?" he asked then tossed his head back and roared with laughter. "Well, little squishy, tell me."
"He was the perfect sacrifice," I said with a nod.
"Like the animals they used to sacrifice. Animals weren't good enough to keep the sins away. It would take one perfect physical being, and since that wasn't going to happen anytime soon, God sent his Son Jesiah to sacrifice Himself for those who repent of their sins and turn to Him. I mean, we can't just sin all we like now, but we need to live like Jesiah did, which was perfectly, or strive to live like that anyway."
I fell silent. The dragon stared at me, shock in his eyes. Suddenly he flung me down to where Jaiden was; I landed, hard. Jaiden helped me up and pressed something into my hand. It was an arrow with the scroll tied onto its shaft. I grabbed it and slunk over to the lowest point in the wall. The dragon was breathing fire into the air in his rage, so I unslung my bow off my shoulder, seated the arrow on the string, aimed at where I thought our allies were, and fired. Satan stomped behind me.
"What did you just fire out there, you wretched creature?" he screamed then his eyes searched Jaiden. "The scroll piece! You horrid beast! You rotten girl! Abomination! Half-made, sewn together combination of Elf and Human. A being against our Maker's creation! How can you even follow him, especially so loyally? He doesn't want you!"
"If He didn't want me, why did He make me?" I asked.
"Why did He make the ones He isn't going to save?" the dragon roared.
"I don't have an answer for that," I said quietly. "But He has to have a reason. He always has a reason."
He growled. "So you're telling me that my fall, my bringing with me a third of the stars of Heaven, was known to Him the whole time? Yet He still made me?"
"You know it was," Jaiden said suddenly. "You're just testing how much we know. And how much we've surmised."
The dragon's laughter rumbled in his chest. "Very good, boy. But now that you have discovered my ruse, I'm going to have to kill both of you."
"Before that, I have one question," I said, looking the beast directly in the eye.
He hummed. "What?"
"Have you been in this little area since you took over the Humans?"
The dragon snorted fire again. "Yes. It was very tricky to get my body small enough to fit in here, so that was a feat in and of itself. You know something, Strangeling? I should really thank you. You've been releasing us from our bodies, making us spiritual beings again. We have been prevented from doing that to ourselves or each other."
I noticed his tail moving closer to Jaiden. Grabbing my friend's arm, I jerked him out of the way and drew my sword with the other hand. I brought the blade down on the blue underside of the appendage, cutting it clean through. The dragon's roar was of pain this time, and Jaiden drew his own sword, though his hands were trembling slightly. Satan looked at us, rage plain in his eyes.
"Enough talk!" he growled. "Let's end this."
He turned, the rest of his long tail sweeping most of the inner walls down, and reared, breathing fire into the air. He thudded back onto his front feet. I thought how miraculous it was that the floor didn't cave in and send us tumbling to our, at least Jaiden's and my, deaths. The dragon began breathing fire again, this time at us. We ran underneath his belly to avoid it. Suddenly, he switched from hot to cold and snow began to cover the floor as he breathed out on it. Not snow! It was difficult to fight in snow.
"Come, little Strangeling. You wanted a fight, now fight me," Satan taunted.
"Big talk coming from such a little lizard," I said without thinking.
There was another roar of anger, and Jaiden and I ran out from under him as he began stomping around trying to crush us. We struggled to get away from him in the foot of snow that he had laid down on the top of the building—well, actually it was the new top of the building, I thought as we got far enough away. I sheathed my sword and, as he turned to us, quickly got my bow ready and fired. It glanced off him. No. No way. He had armor? That wasn't fair! How were we supposed to beat him?
"Fily," Jaiden said quietly.
"Yes, Jaiden?" I asked hollowly.
"We're in trouble."
"Yes. Yes we are."
I put away my bow and drew my sword again, swallowing hard. There wasn't really anywhere we could run. I closed my eyes. God? Help us. We can't do this without you. I— I yelped as I was scooped up again.
"Don't bother praying. He doesn't love you. You're a freak of nature, against His original design. What would he want with you?" Satan asked, lazily tossing me up and down to amuse himself.
My anger flared, and my designs, which had to have been fading at that point, tingled back to life. I had dropped my sword when he had abruptly picked me up. But I had my knife. I drew it, plunging it into his blue tinted wrist. He roared and jolted. I was thrown up high in the air, and I gasped, too shocked to scream. I fell for what seemed like forever, but was suddenly caught in strong arms. I heard a strange noise as we landed and looked up into the face of Gabrithon. He smiled at me as he set me on my feet.
“Glad to have you join us,” Jaiden said from beside us.
The dragon snorted fire and was staring down at us. "Centaur," he said, then looked over to my other friends, who were pointing their weapons at him. "Elf boy! Tell me, how well did your wounds heal? Nolan had quite a bit of fun punishing you."
"My wounds have healed fine," Elthinor said with a nod, his eyes cold. "And all is forgiven between Nolan and me."
Satan growled. "Forgiveness is overrated. I shall just kill you all. Now die!" he roared, spewing fire around and melting all the snow.
We scrambled away in all directions, leaping and ducking as the spray of flames followed first one then another of us. He cornered Gabrithon, just toying with him, bringing the fire closer then taking it away. When my Centaurian friend tried to run, the dragon would chase him back into the corner. I bristled, but Elthinor caught my eye before I could do anything. He pointed at the dragon then touched his eye. I took out my bow, positioning myself quietly. The dragon blinked, and I fired. He screamed, his voice rumbling as he stumbled backward. Gabrithon shot away, joining us where we all standing, breathing heavily; he was obviously scared. When Satan lowered his clawed hand from his face, I saw that I had hit my target. The mess from the popped eye was leaking down his cheek.
"Stupid girl!" he shouted, trying to ease his pain.
"Any ideas?" I asked.
"Cut off his head?" Pinnathir suggested.
"How? His body has armor on it."
"Only the red scales," Jaiden said softly. "You cut through the blue on his tail and on his wrist."
Before he could right himself from his pain induced fall, I dashed forward onto the dragon's belly, and he snatched me up. I heard cries as Elthinor, Jaiden, and Valtrak leaped up to slice through the coarse, but weak, blue scaled belly. When Satan tried to stand up, Gabrithon and Pinnathir, who couldn't climb up on him, sliced through the weak part of his feet. The dragon tumbled backward, releasing me as he tried to get my friends off of him.
I crawled up to the base of his long neck, plunging my sword into it. He roared and went for me, but Jaiden sliced through his wrist, the hand falling down to the ground below; I suddenly realized that the dragon’s head was out over the edge of the building. But the hand was gone. The red scales were only tough on the outside, I realized. I pressed the sword until it popped through the other side then began to cut through tough muscle. I bit my bottom lip and had only gotten a little way through when I was snatched up by the other hand.
"Wretched little thing! Abomination before God Most High!"
"I'm not an abomination!" I shrieked. "He loved me enough to die for me! He didn't do that for you! So that would mean you're the abomination!"
The dragon froze. I saw Jaiden run forward and, with a tremendous effort, manage to remove the head from the body. The eyes dimmed as the head fell to the ground and the hand released me. We all quickly got away from the body. I walked over to the edge of the building, stepping over what was left of the tail. As I watched, all the dark creatures began to disappear, popping and melting all across the battlefield, until our side was all that was left. A touch to my shoulder had me turn to see Elthinor. His face was joyous.
"We won!" he said excitedly. "We won, Fily!"
I smiled and was about to reply when there was a loud crack. I looked down to see the side of the stronghold crumbling. My mind raced. There wasn't enough time for me to get to the solid part of the structure. I was too far out. I stepped forward and shoved Elthinor as hard as I could. The floor beneath me crumbled as I saw Elthinor land safely away from the weak points. I didn't scream as I fell, instead I closed my eyes. There was a crack against the back of my head then blackness.