I am in the process of writing a book on the perspectives of those with mental illness, and how, to them, they are normal. What exactly is normal? Well, that’s subjective, now isn’t it? My normal is severe bipolar disorder and Asperger’s. What’s yours?
I placed the quill down on the desk. My aged hands were quivering with relief. I was done. I could go on in peace. It was almost my time to leave. I could feel it. I had lived longer than all of my friends, including my beloved Elthinor. The generation that was now young was forgetting the battle, the great dragon, the way the kings had allied themselves. The demons were getting to them. The physical battle was over, but the spiritual battle my father talked about was strong upon them. The practice of idol worship still flourished in all the races, albeit in different forms.
I sighed and stood. There was a knock at the door. I walked over to it—my Strangeling nature was still strong within me, to the point that I could still walk instead of hobble or shuffle—and opened it to reveal Nora. I smiled at her.
“Hello my dear. I’m glad you could come.”
“You’re boys are on the way with their wives and children.”
I smiled. Despite Elthinor’s fervent wishes and even more fervent prayers, we had never had a daughter. But all three of our boys turned out to be Strangelings like me. Elthinor didn’t mind at all. The twins, Aloron and Elyosius, were married to beautiful Elf girls, while our youngest, Nolan, married a Human woman. She was beautiful in her own right, though I could tell she didn’t feel that way. I smiled at their names, remembering the ones I knew who originally wore them.
When the rest of my family got here, we ate venison stew and had the sweet bread that Nora had baked. It was getting late when I literally felt my heart skip a beat then slow down. I shuddered and got up.
“Aloron,” I said softly. “You get my sword.”
“Elyosius, you get your father’s sword.”
“Mother, what are you doing?”
“Nolan,” I said softly, undoing my belt and handing him my sheathed knife. “You get this. It is very faithful. Don’t lose it.”
“Yes Mother,” Nolan said sadly. I could tell in his eyes he knew what was going on. “Who gets your books?”
“You all can have your pick of them then the rest go into the Oidynhall library. That includes the ones I wrote.”
“Did you finish them?” Nora asked.
My heart stuttered again and I nearly collapsed, catching myself on the desk.
“Mother!” two voices cried out at once.
“Filynora!” Nora gasped.
“Be quiet!” I said harshly. “It is my time to leave this world. Take to heart what I and your father and our friends have taught you. Keep God and Jesiah alive!”
My heart actually stopped for a few seconds this time.
“No Mother. You just need to rest,” Aloron said fiercely.
“Nolan, you get the house. I know you two are having trouble finding a place to live. You three be good and split the Elementals, and don’t forget to take care of them. Especially Flambé and her pups.”
The picked me up and laid me in bed. I blinked slowly. Everything was becoming dimmer, but that’s because of the light. The bright, wonderful light that I recognized.
“My Lord!” I cried, reaching forward.
“Mother!” I heard dimly.
I strained toward the light until something popped. I turned to see myself lying lifelessly on the bed, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was the unimaginable light that I was chasing. I sprinted, young and energetic again, and suddenly there was an angel, staring at me. He stepped aside and gestured to the city I had seen when Nolan died. Red was poured over me and I was suddenly spotless. I peered at the glory of God happily, just taking it all in. I heard a throat clear.
“Jesiah!” I shouted happily, kneeling and embracing him around his middle.
“Filynora,” he greeted, kissing me. He stood me up and gestured like the angel had. “Enter into the joy of your Lord, my good and faithful servant.”
There I saw Elthinor and Gabrithon, Pinnathir and Valtrak, Aloron and Elyosius, and Jaiden and Nolan all waving at me. I whooped and waved back, but I wanted to spend more time with Jesiah. He laughed and kissed me again. I praised God because there was not one thing that would make me happier.
This was life, pure and true, and it was amazing.
Autumn and winter passed, though we were safely back at Greensage for them. Spring came and with it, a surprise I honestly thought would never happen. And it scared me. I avoided everybody for two weeks until my father finally caught up with me.
“Daughter of mine, is something wrong?” he asked as he settled beside me on the grassy knoll. “Even Elthinor hasn’t seen you much.”
I muttered something and placed my head in my hands. My father stared at me intently for a few minutes.
“You’re pregnant,” he finally said.
I jerked my head up. “How did you know that?” I demanded.
“You’re acting like your mother did when she got pregnant with you and Nolan,” Elyosius said with a laugh. “Let me guess and surprise you even more. You don’t think you’ll be a fit mother, you’re not ready for a child, and you’re scared out of your mind because it’s going to happen anyway.”
I nodded. “It’s horrible. How can I raise a child? And will the child be Elf or Human? Or some combination of both? What will Elthinor think? What will my friend think? What do I do?”
“Do you really want my advice?” I nodded. “Tell them. Especially Elthinor. They’ll be thrilled and they probably will even help you raise the child.”
“How about now? They sent me to find you. They’re talking about clearing the Oidynhall library in the Satyr’s pavilion.”
I took a deep breath and nodded. “Being pregnant is horrible,” I said.
“Not yet, but I’m nauseated all the time.”
“My deepest condolences.”
We walked to the pavilion and slipped inside. Everybody turned to look at me. Elthinor looked thrilled, hurrying up and grabbing my hand.
“There you are! Here, this is our plan.”
I listened quietly. They planned to start in the summer. I swallowed and glanced at my father. He nodded encouragingly.
“I can go, but I can’t work,” I said tersely.
Elthinor looked shocked. “Why not, Fily? You love working the mines! How is this any different?”
“It’s not,” I said. “But I have a slight problem.”
“What?” Valtrak asked.
I swallowed and guided Elthinor’s hand up to rest against the area just below my navel. He stared for a few seconds then comprehension flooded his face.
“Oh Fily!” he cried. “Are you really?”
I nodded, keeping my eyes on the ground. He scooped me up and twirled me around.
“Oh I hope it’s a girl!” he exclaimed.
“You’re pregnant?” Gabrithon asked, a little slow on what I had meant by that action.
“Yes,” I said bitterly.
Everybody stopped celebrating.
“Filynora?” Elthinor asked. “Don’t you want a daughter? Or a son?”
“I don’t know!” I snapped. “I hate being a girl again, that much I do know!”
“But Filynora, this is joyous news,” Pinnathir said softly, taking my hand. “Why are you unhappy?”
I asked my questions again, rephrasing a little.
Jaiden snickered. “You’re worried about what we think? We’re happy for you! Pinnathir is right. This is wonderful news. Only you seem to be down about it.”
“As for how you raise a child,” Vincentia said, pulling the growing Nora closer. “I’d say start with one day at a time.”
I smiled. “I suppose you’re all right.”
Elthinor got a tray and held it out to me. It was some kind of sweet bread. The smell hit me and I gasped, turning and sprinting out of the tent to heave up what little breakfast I had eaten. Elthinor looked guilty as I came back in. The offending food was gone.
“Sorry, Fily,” he said apologetically.
“I’m going to have to get used to that,” I said weakly.
“Now, we obviously can’t do it within the next year, but how about next summer?” Valtrak said.
“Sounds good. Right Fily?”
“Right,” I said, going to stand by him.
He held my hand. “I love you Filynora,” he said seriously.
“I love you, too,” I replied happily.
The battle had left many dead, and many others wounded. It was a horrendous sight to look over the fields, but there was a wide swath of green where the dragon’s blood had touched. We carried Aloron’s body to the fire gingerly, and he was the first we burned, doing it the Elven ceremonial way. Fires were spread across the battlefield, burning bodies. We couldn’t take them back to Greensage. The kings met up with us and they were ecstatic that we’d won. They went on and on about how brave their men had been, how valiantly they had fought. Gabrithon joined in, and he was the first one to praise me. I listened only half-heartedly to them speaking highly of me. I was still hurting from Aloron’s death.
When we had cleaned up the fields, we got ready and headed back. Instead of marching in formation, we all just moved at our own pace. When we got back, we noticed that some people were starting to lose hope on who was coming back. Melanari had been one of them. She tearfully embraced Elthinor, and they spent an entire day together.
A month later found me sitting on a small hill outside of town. Quite a few people had already begun to leave back for their home villages, while the kings were negotiating peace treaties. Even the Satyr king was now hospitable toward his old enemy. And as for the Human king, I had nominated Jaiden. He was young, but smart, and incredibly spiritual. He was still getting the feel of his new occupation. Of course, he had also been the one who was baptizing believers. He couldn’t dunk the Centaurs, but he did pour water over their heads as they were kneeling. He had joyfully baptized me and all of our friends first, then Elthinor had baptized him.
I played with Elthinor’s necklace, which I had worn since he had proposed. The bone on the end was carved in the shape of a wolf. I liked to think it was a Kindle Wolf.
I turned to see my friends standing there. “Hello.”
Their faces, save Elthinor’s, had morphed into shock, their eyes glued to the necklace in my hand. They all spun on my Elven fiancé.
“When exactly were you going to tell us that you’re engaged to Filynora?” Gabrithon demanded.
“We’ve been busy,” Elthinor defended.
“Yes,” Jaiden said. “But this is important.”
“When are you getting married?” Pinnathir asked.
“I don’t know. He hasn’t said a word about it since he proposed,” I said, hearing the bitterness in my own voice.
Elthinor suddenly looked sheepish. “I’ve been putting off telling Melanari and the other females. I wanted to spare you that indignity for as long as possible.”
“I’ll never understand why females make such a big deal about a wedding,” I said crossly.
Elthinor laughed. “It usually only happens once in a person’s lifetime. Can you really blame them?”
“Yes,” I said matter-of-factly. All my friends laughed.
“Well, let’s go tell my sister and the other females,” Elthinor said. “But you’re bringing this upon yourself.”
“You’re the one who proposed,” I pointed out with a grin.
The females we told included Petra the Dwarf, Melanari the Elf, Vincentia the Centaur, Leah the Human, and the Satyr princess and queen. They all were thrilled and started working together to make my dress and shoes, and discussing what they would do with my hair. Elthinor and I didn’t have to worry about planning the wedding at all. Jaiden practiced the Human way of marrying us so that he could get it right when the time came, while Lolaiken agreed to do the Elf portion.
The day of the wedding dawned beautifully. I knew that because my female friends had pulled me out of bed and washed me while the sun was still barely peeking over the horizon. They swept my long hair up into a complicated twist of braids for the Dwarfs and the Centaurs. When that was done, Petra and Vincentia left to check on the preparations, and everybody else left the room to go with them. I was instructed to put on my dress, which was a lovely green and silver, and I did so with a secret smile. Boy would they be surprised! I also put my shoes on, refusing the tight, constricting shoes they had made. I also refused makeup when they got back. I agreed to a tiny bit on my cheeks, but then I drew the line.
They deemed me ready, but when they weren’t looking, I slipped my mother’s bracelet on my wrist. There, now I was ready. We waited several hours until a female Elf came to get us. They walked with me out to a place outside town, hurrying me along so I wouldn’t see the decorations. I did anyway, but ignored them. They circled me around to the side then instructed me to walk up and stand in front of Lolaiken and Jaiden when the flute started. I did so, Elthinor meeting me in the middle. His shirt was red and gold, and it made me smile. He smiled back at me then we turned to face the two kings.
“Greetings to all!” Jaiden called. “We have come here to unify these two souls together, in the sight of God Almighty and the assembled congregation. But before we do, we have an announcement to make.”
Lolaiken cleared his throat. “Due to her bravery and cunning, and her all around grand nature, we, and the other kings, have decided to make Filynora an honorary princess of all the races.”
I blinked. “Um, that’s fine, I guess.” I really didn’t know what to say beyond that.
Everybody laughed then Jaiden went back to work. He read several passages from the scrolls, particularly the first one. He talked of the originals and how they had been married by God Himself. It was interesting, but my insides had sprouted wings and were fluttering nervously. I was most nervous about the coming up kiss. I didn’t know how to feel about it. It meant that my life was changing forever. Suddenly I realized it was no longer Jaiden who was talking, but Lolaiken. I gave him my full attention.
He held out his hand toward Elthinor, saying, “Now let us seal this union with a necklace made by the groom’s own hands.”
Elthinor handed the necklace over. “It is an honor to give it to one so strong.”
Was he referring to me? I turned and let the Elf king place the trinket on my neck. I turned back to find the king’s hand suddenly in front of me. I blinked at it.
“Now let us have the precious bracelet crafted by the maiden.”
Elthinor immediately stepped forward and tried to tell him that I had no bracelet to give. While he was distracted, I pulled off my mother’s bracelet and placed it in the outstretched hand. The king pushed Elthinor back and stared at it.
“This is Elven made,” he said quietly. “Did you make it?”
“Nay, my father did. He made it for my mother. It’s the only thing I have left of her.”
“Fily, you really don’t have to give me that bracelet. We can always have you make one later,” Elthinor said.
I smiled. “Take it. Let’s continue, shall we?”
We finished the ceremony, and both kings told us we could kiss. I swallowed nervously as my husband and I turned toward each other. He moved down and captured my lips. The fluttering in my stomach tried to get out of my body as he did that. Then it was over. I stared up at him and he chuckled, leaning down to my ear.
“You look shocked.”
I blushed, shoving his hands away. “Is the ceremony completely over?” I asked the kings.
Lolaiken nodded. “It is. Why?”
I grinned at Elthinor, and he immediately looked wary. I took the bottom of the dress and pulled the entire thing up over my head. I heard gasps and yells from the audience. There was silence a few seconds then Melanari screamed.
I had put on my normal clothes beneath the dress and now gave a whoop, grabbing Elthinor’s hand and pulling him along with me as I began to run back to town. My new husband was laughing gaily at my little trick. We got back quickly and headed for the drinks first. Water quenched our thirsts then we got a little bit of wine. We settled on the ground beside a house. Elthinor pulled me close, wrapping an arm around me.
“Well, my little wife, now we just have to wait until we leave tonight for the cabin.”
“Cabin?” I asked, my stomach tightening.
“Yes. Cabin. It’s where we’ll spend the first few weeks of our married life.”
“Oh. That’s…nice,” I said nervously.
He looked at me. “Are you alright?”
“Fine, fine. I’m fine.”
“You sound frightened.”
“I am not!”
“Then why are you being so defensive?”
“I just…shut up!”
“No. Talk to me, my little unbroken filly. What ails you?”
I sat there for a while then sighed when I realized he wouldn’t let up. “I’m scared of being vulnerable.”
“But you should know that I would never hurt you. Ever.”
“Still. I’m uncomfortable with it.”
“Well, we’ll work on that. We have three weeks. A month if we stretch it.”
My cheeks were hot from talking about such a personal subject. I didn’t like being vulnerable. And that’s what I would be during the consummation, and every night afterward, no doubt. I was jerked out of my thoughts by a strangely textured hand cupping my cheek. I smiled.
“Greetings Filynora,” my Dwarven friend said with a chuckle.
“I cannot believe you took your dress off!” Pinnathir laughed behind him.
“I was wearing my clothes underneath it,” I said, though I smiled uncontrollably.
“But still,” Gabrithon said, settling down onto the ground. “It was a classic Filynora move. A move that even we didn’t expect.”
“At least I can still surprise you.” I paused. “Gabrithon, you wouldn’t happen to be the one who suggested I become a princess, would you?”
Gabrithon smiled. “Indeed. But you deserve it. Now you have a reason to order most people about.”
We all laughed at that. The feast was great. It had lots of great food from every race, and we filled up on it. The party was obviously going to last way into the night, so Elthinor and I snuck out just after sunset. We took Flame and Rainstorm, despite my husband’s protests. Elthinor was ahead of me, following a mental map in his head. Two days later, we entered the forest where Ellavendir had been. A day after that, we came to a nice little cabin beside a lake that was fed by a river. I immediately set out on catching some fish and he stoked the fire up high. We ate around sunset on the third day. When darkness fell, I could feel my stomach tighten yet again.
“Fily,” Elthinor said softly, grabbing my hand. “I won’t hurt you.”
He kissed me softly several times then tried to deepen the kiss. I pulled away immediately.
“Elthinor,” I said softly. “I need to hear something first.”
My Elven husband sat back on his heels and looked thoughtful for a second.
“Of course!” he exclaimed. He kissed me again, a long, slow kiss, then pulled back. “I love you Filynora. I will always love you. You are the princess of my world, and it’s because of you that I follow Jesiah. Thank you.”
I relaxed and we kissed again. “Elthinor?” I asked one more time.
“Yes?” He was being incredibly patient.
“Can you teach me how to swim while we’re here?”
He brightened. “Definitely. And then I’ll teach you to read and right. But for now…”
He kissed me again. This time we didn’t stop.
“He’s alive!” I shrieked then opened my eyes.
I gasped and quickly slapped my hands over mouth. A second later, Jaiden’s joined mine. Fire suddenly 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, 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 this way and that. He snorted, and 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 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 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.
“What goes on out there is none of your concern,” he spat, tossing me in the air and catching me. I yelped as I landed in his palm. “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 and 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, has 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 were 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 came down in Human form, as 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 and the dragon stared at me, shock in his eyes. Suddenly he flung me down to where Jaiden was, and 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 slung my bow off my shoulder, seated the arrow on the string, aimed at where I thought was 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, and cut 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 and 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. Snow would be difficult to fight in.
“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 and set me on my feet. The dragon snorted fire and was staring 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 and was 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 and 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 and breathing heavily; he was obviously scared. When he had lowered his clawed hand away from his face, I saw that I had hit my target. The mess from the popped eye was leaking down his cheek.
“Dratted 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.”
I dashed forward onto the dragon’s belly and he snatched me up. I heard cries as Elthinor, Jaiden, and Valtrak leaped up and began slicing 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 and plunged my sword into it. He roared and went for me, but Jaiden sliced through his wrist, and the hand fell down to the ground below. 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 and 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 over the place, 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 to move me. I was too far in. 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.
The entire army halted as the five leaders raised their hands. I looked forward and stared at what remained of Shadowlyn. There were only charred outlines of most buildings. The only one that had remained whole was the stronghold. I shivered. We were about to go into battle against a demon army. True, they were stuck in physical forms, but that was of little consolation. They were stronger, faster, and more lethal bodies than what I, my friends, and the rest of the races had. And they could do tricks. I swallowed and turned away. Elthinor tenderly took my hand and nuzzled it against his cheek.
“Sure you don’t want armor?” he asked.
“I’m sure,” I said. “I’m only a little scared.”
“Without armor, we could die,” Gabrithon said; my friends had decided to forgo armor as well, mainly because of me.
“If it’s our time to die, no armor can save us,” Jaiden said with a nod.
There was a sudden ruckus and I turned to see the opposing army gathering on the remains of the town. The long stretch of plains would be our battlefield then. Suddenly, I felt the overwhelming sense that I had seen this before. Yes, I remembered, it had been a dream that I’d had before this adventure started. I turned to tell my friends when I noticed them all gesturing for Elthinor to do something. His cheeks were red as he approached me.
“Filynora, there’s something important I need to tell you before this mess begins,” he said slowly and quietly.
“What?” I asked. Then I remembered what happened next in the dream.
I heard the screech and dove to the ground just as the Aswang passed over me, claws missing me by inches. I rolled and pushed myself up. The roars and calls of the other army grew louder as they mocked me. It was that noise where I finally understood the term demonic; it was just so otherworldly and evil. I’d show them, I thought as Elthinor helped me up. Seeing the dream in my head, I pulled out an arrow and loosed it as she came down a second time. I must have gotten the heart because the monster dropped dead onto the ground. It burst into smoke and its blood stained the ground.
I could hear swords being drawn from their sheaths. I turned to Elthinor and grabbed his hand as he opened his mouth to speak.
“Elthinor, please. Trust in God for this. If you don’t tell me now, and if I don’t survive, you can always tell me in Heaven.”
“But Fily, I—”
I shook my head and turned away, taking out my own sword. He sighed and followed suit. Gabrithon snorted and I looked at him. He was giving Elthinor the most exasperated look I had ever seen, but I couldn’t worry about that. I glanced at the kings, who nodded sharply, and gave the signal for the charge. We moved swiftly, but the creatures were swifter. Aswangs were already picking off people from the middle of the charge. It was utter chaos as soon as the two sides met, the din getting louder than ever. I saw swords piercing creatures on both sides, and blood, red and black, spilled onto the ground.
Everybody suddenly froze as the loudest noise I had ever heard burst forth from the other side of the army. It was a roar. What creature sounded like that, I wondered fearfully as I sliced through a Vampire. My friends and I were heading straight toward this sound, because it seemed to be coming for the stronghold. The stronghold had to be where the last part of the scroll was. It was the only thing left standing. So we cut through the enemies, one after the other, sometimes having to gang up on a Rakshasa or a particularly strong Naga.
The Rakshasa weren’t even bothering to trick us, simply turning into animals with painful, and possibly poisonous, bites. Suddenly a howl went up that sounded like my Ember. I paused only long enough to look and see that it was indeed him, and he was charging with my Elementals towards another larger group of Elementals. I sent up a quick prayer for my precious pets. As I did, Elthinor was suddenly sent sprawling by a Naga. I cried out in fear for him then he rolled to his feet and we, rather viciously, took down the Naga.
When we finally got to the door of the stronghold, there were no guards, like we had anticipated. Before we could get too close, there was another roar, this one making my ears ring. My dream came back to me, and I hugged the building just as the top two stories exploded upward and outward. My friends, trusting that I knew what I was doing, pressed close to the cut stone wall, too. They looked utterly terrified. We backed up and stared up at the ruined part of the building. Horror filled me as I saw what unfurled from the top of the building.
“A dragon,” Valtrak breathed.
It was the legendary dragon! I couldn’t believe it. The beast was rumored to be bigger and stronger than thousands of men. It certainly was big, and no doubt just as strong. We hadn’t even considered it to be a viable option for this Satan to have taken for a form. We hadn’t even thought about it. It was much too horrible to consider fighting that thing, but we had to. For Nolan and the poor souls that had died in his grip or trying to escape it. For the original members of the races. For our own hope. And most of all, for the full knowledge of salvation for the whole world so that they could know God. Its glowing red eyes told me that that’s exactly what he intended to stop us from doing. But we had God on our side, so though I was a little scared, the terror did not overwhelm me like it was doing to my friends.
I pointed at him. “You’ll never win, Satan! Give us the scroll piece!”
Another roar sounded out, this one making my head hurt. That sound seemed to bolster the rest of the dragon’s army, and they all sounded out their calls.
“Do you think that your God would care about a creation as broken as you, Strangeling?” the dragon asked.
Anger flooded through me as he sank back into the ruins. Every time I thought I’d conquered my doubt about what I was and how it related to God, one of these foul beasts would bring everything back up. I stormed into what remained of the stronghold and my friends followed me. The hallways were dimly lit, and we ran through them, expecting enemies at every turn. But there were none. We slowed as we approached a wide arena on the second floor. Across the room was the stairs that led up to the level of the dragon. As soon as we entered the room, there was a thud behind us. It was an Aswang bigger than any I’d seen. Llugat appeared to our right, Lupine in front of us, and a huge Naga on the left. I didn’t know who to point my sword at, so I settled for Lupine; Rakshasa seemed more dangerous than the other three.
“Let me guess,” I said, glancing around. “You’re the leaders of the monsters.”
“Of our own kinds,” the Aswang said leisurely.
“And the kinds below us,” Lupine said while he grinned at the Naga, who hissed angrily.
“Now now, we have no time for fighting. The Dark Master wishes for them to be dead. Let’s actually do that this time. Then maybe Lupine’s pride won’t be so wounded,” Lugat said.
“Be quiet, you—” And the Rakshasa said a series of words that made even the boys shift uncomfortably. I was a little embarrassed to be in the same room as they were.
The monsters surged forward, but not to fight us. They met in the center of the room, arguing, cursing, and insulting each other. So this is why they hadn’t attacked us together very often, I thought as I began creeping around the room. They didn’t notice, so I continued. Jaiden slipped ahead of me and began walking up the stairs. As soon as I was three steps up, and before the others had even touched them they were caught in vicious grips. I stood there frozen. There weren’t enough to get me and Jaiden, but to go and face that monster without my friends?
Llugat was teasing Gabrithon about the taste of his blood and fear. Valtrak was facing the Naga, having hit him once to break the grip, and blood stained his axe. Pinnathir had the Aswang, and she looked delighted, saying how she would enjoy ripping the flesh from his bones and wetting the ground with his blood. Lupine, who was facing Elthinor, was silent, his eyes dashing up and down for weakness before becoming his little sister again. My Elven friend looked up, his eyes commanding us to go. So we sprinted up the stairs and up into a little hallway. I stopped when we passed a room, having the sudden urge to go in.
“Fily?” Jaiden whispered, following me.
“It’s the scroll,” I hissed when I had gotten to the desk. I slowly picked it up and stared at the words.
“Well, go on. Read it.”
I felt embarrassed. “I can’t read, Jaiden.”
Jaiden stared at me incredulously for a moment then his face softened, and he took the paper from me.
There was the tomb, but something was wrong. It was open. Could that mean that I had been right in my guessing? I began walking over, but a hesitant question stopped me.
I turned to see my friends all standing there, with clothes of black on them—even Gabrithon and Pinnathir had them on.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, glancing back at the tomb.
“I’m not sure,” Gabrithon asked. “What is this place?”
“This is one of my visions of the scrolls.” I turned and pointed at the tomb, with the rock rolled away from the entrance. “That’s where Jesiah’s body was buried. But it was closed at the end of the last one. How did it open again? Very little time has passed. It’s the day after the Sabbath.”
“Hey, there are some females,” Jaiden said.
“They carry anointing oils,” Valtrak said, and I turned and approached the tomb.
I gasped. Jesiah’s body was no longer there. Instead, there were two angels, some of those terrifying beings that had been present at the creation of the races.
“Why are you looking for the living amongst the dead?” one of them asked. “Jesiah is not here, but is risen! Recall his words, those he said to you concerning these things.”
They raced off and I tried to follow, but I soon saw Jehan racing toward us, followed by Pyotr. I noticed that the cloth that had been around Jesiah’s head was neatly folded, before Pyotr or Jehan even got there. They went in the tomb and looked around then left.
“Come on Mia. Let’s go,” Pyotr said, placing a hand on one of the women’s shoulders. She didn’t move, just stood there crying.
I felt something buzz in the air and I gasped, stepping back. She turned, too, keeping her eyes down.
“Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Jesiah asked, a hint of a smile on his face.
“Please tell me where you have laid him, then I will take him away,” she said brokenly.
“Mia!” Jesiah said fondly.
He told her to go and tell his disciples about him and she turned and ran.
My friends and I were transported to a closed off room. They all yelped at the abrupt change in scenery, followed by gasps as they saw the group assembled. We had looked around at every face when suddenly there was Jesiah, dressed in his customary white robe, standing right in the middle of the room.
“Peace be with you,” he said, looking around at his disciples. “As the Father has sent me, I too send you.” He let out a long breath and something wispy and white rushed out to fill the room, lighting on every one of his believers. “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
We were suddenly outside, away from Fairwick. There stood Jesiah.
“Go and make disciples of all, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to follow all that I have commanded of them, and remember that I am with you to the end of the age.”
I watched as he ascended into Heaven and I blinked. Inexpressible joy bubbled up throughout my being and I spun around and grabbed Elthinor’s hands. He looked surprised. I pulled him forward and pressed a kiss to his cheek. He yelped covering the place I had kissed with one hand and staring at me with wide eyes.
“Filynora!” he gasped, his cheeks coloring slightly.
“He’s alive!” I shouted and everybody else began to smile as they realized this. “He’s alive!” I cried out again and laughed for joy.
My legs felt weak and I leaned heavily against Elthinor, who supported me without question. Jaiden turned to me.
“What’s going on, Fily?” he asked, sounding a little angry.
“It’s not the entire scroll, Jaiden,” Elthinor said. “You remember what Nolan said when he handed it over.”
“How is that not the end?” he spat, leaping down off the crate and storming over to us. He jammed the scroll into my chest and I grabbed it from him.
“What’s your problem?” I demanded.
“My problem is that I was stupid enough to believe a Strangeling girl that said there was a God who was my Father, and who had a plan for me. All that studying I did, useless, all the time I spent on the subject, gone! I hope you’re happy, Fily.” The way he said my name reminded me of Tynan.
“He’s alive, Jaiden,” I snarled. “I’ve seen him! I’ve talked to him!”
“Now now,” Elyosius said, coming between us. “Let’s calm down, yes?”
“No!” we both shouted and I spun away and raced off.
I was a while outside of town when I saw a young man sitting against a tree, running a stick down a piece of paper. I approached him cautiously and peeked at what he was doing. It was an image of a bird on that piece of paper! He must be an artist, I thought. He paused and looked up.
I thought for a second. “Could you draw Jesiah?”
“His death on the cross.”
I watched as he took a blank piece of paper and began sketching an outline then filling it in with darker lines. He didn’t need my instruction, it seemed. I should have wondered why, at the time, but I didn’t. He finished in the late afternoon, and handed it over.
“Anything else, milady?” he asked.
“No,” I said distractedly, turning around. The picture looked exactly as Jesiah had in his final moments, minus the color. It was the most gruesome scene I had ever laid eyes on. I was crying as I walked away, then stopped and turned.
There was no sign of him anywhere! He was just gone. I searched for a while then gave up and went to Leah’s house. My father and Aloron were talking animatedly at the table when I walked in. They greeted me.
“Are you alright, my dear? You left quite abruptly,” Aloron said.
“Yes,” I said shortly.
“What have you got there, daughter of mine?” my father asked.
I handed him the paper, and he jerked when he saw it. Aloron moved over to look and he started, too. They studied it, carefully.
“This can’t be him, can it?” my father asked.
“It’s Jesiah,” I said softly.
“This is what it means to be crucified?” Aloron asked weakly.
“Yes. They beat him with canes, whips, and something with broken glass tied on the ends. They mocked him, asking him to tell them who hit him while he was blindfolded, and kept calling him king, though they didn’t mean it at all.”
They both looked stunned and tears appeared on their cheeks. One sank into a chair while the other leaned heavily against the wall. My father’s hands were shaking, made more obvious by the paper he held. I took it from him and joined them with my own tears. We were like that five minutes later when there was a knock at the window in the bedroom. I walked in and opened the shutters and Gabrithon whinnied in surprise as Elyosius and Aloron came through the door.
“Fily! What’s wrong?” he asked then looked around at the other two just as Elthinor and my friends walked in.
“Why is everybody crying?” Pinnathir asked, hurrying over to me. I handed him the drawing. He jolted and held it close to his face. “This is Jesiah on the cross,” he said blankly, quickly handing it back.
Everybody looked at it, some of them cried, others just stared. To my surprise, Gabrithon was one of the criers. He buried his face in his hands and just shuddered.
“Where did you get this?” Elthinor asked.
“I asked this man to draw it. He disappeared once I turned around and walked a few steps.” I paused. “He didn’t need me to describe the scene either,” I held the picture up so I could see it better. “He drew it like he was there. That’s exactly how Jesiah looked a few moments before he died, when he was crying out.”
“You saw it,” Jaiden said, staring at my face suspiciously.
“Of course I did. I always see what’s in the scrolls,” I replied.
Jaiden frowned and took the picture from me. He studied it, his eyes dashing from one part of the drawing to the other. He finally turned it around and pointed at Jesiah’s hands.
“What’s in his hands?”
“Nails. Really big nails,” I said, cringing and looking away.
Everybody shuddered, each doing something different to or with his hands as if to soothe nonexistent wounds. My father stepped forward after a short silence, clearing his throat.
“Daughter of mine, this man you saw, you say he just disappeared?”
“And he drew this image as if he’d been there to see it?”
“Well this is just a guess, but I think you might have seen an angel. A good one. When God wills it, they come down and pose as Humans or Elves or the other races for one reason or another. At least, it is said they do. It would definitely explain his disappearance.”
“He seemed so ordinary though,” I argued half-heartedly.
“I don’t know, Filynora. But ordinary folks don’t just disappear. And they most certainly wouldn’t be old enough to have seen him crucified,” my father said, looking a little exasperated.
“Why would he go quietly?” Jaiden asked suddenly. “The scroll said he didn’t cry out at all when he was being mocked and beaten. And besides that, he didn’t say much when he was being accused!”
“Quiet like a lamb being led to the slaughter,” my father marveled.
“A lamb?” I asked suddenly. “Like the Passover lamb?”
“Or like any lamb they used, I suppose,” I muttered. “And it ties in perfectly with father’s teaching. It would definitely explain how our sins are removed from us.”
“Filynora?” Jaiden asked slowly. “You’re not saying….are you?”
“What?” Gabrithon asked.
“He was the Lamb of God,” I said with a nod. “A lamb was used in the times before Jesiah’s death as an atonement for sins in the sight of God. It was a way to figuratively ‘wash away’ your sins. Jesiah became a lamb, in a sense. He took the punishment that we deserved by sacrificing himself on the cross, dying a gruesome death in place of us, who deserve death. Now, we still die. But instead of going to Hell, if we repent and trust in Jesiah, we’ll go to Heaven and live an eternal life instead of dying an eternal death. Not that we’d go out of existence, but that’s what the experience would be like.”
“But why would Jesiah’s sacrifice be accepted?” Gabrithon countered. Everybody else was staring at me as they thought about what I’d said.
Jaiden replied this time. “Because he’d perfectly fulfilled the law. The scrolls say he was completely sinless. And, since I’ve discussed this with Elyosius, I’ll tell you what he told me about the previous sacrifices. They had to be spotless. Without blemish. And sin would have been a blemish. But if Jesiah was truly sinless, he would have been the perfect spotless lamb. He also gave up his life willingly, which is something that I think would be necessary. I mean, look at what they called it. ‘Sacrifice.’ I don’t think if Jesiah was forced into it, that it would be called a sacrifice anymore.”
He stopped talking and we grinned at each other. Then we turned around to look at the others. They all looked shocked. Especially my father and Elthinor’s grandfather. Elyosius walked slowly up to me and placed his hands on my cheeks, tilting my face left and right as he looked at me.
“Where did that come from?” he asked after giving up. I shrugged and he sighed. “I hadn’t even thought of that. I should have. It seems so obvious now.”
“What do we do now?” Elthinor asked.
“I say we pray.”
I turned to look at Gabrithon. His eyes were bright and determined.
“Dost my ears deceive me?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
“No, milady, they don’t. If somebody is crazy enough to sacrifice himself for me, who am I to reject the gift?”
“Gift,” I said with a smile. “That’s what eternal life is. We can’t earn it. We have nothing to offer but filthy rags because we’ve disobeyed God. You could say we’ve slapped him in the face with our disobedience.” I looked at my father and he smiled. “I agree with Gabrithon. Let’s pray.”
So we did.
Later that night, after going over the scrolls again with Elyosius, Aloron, and my friends, I threw the parchment the angel had drawn on into the fire. We watched it burn. “You shall not make any idols,” the third scroll said, and people could have started worshipping it somewhere down the line, instead of worshipping Jesiah. It had served its purpose. Now we had to serve part of ours.