We began to drive Lucifer’s Firstborn back. They weren’t scared enough to flee, but they were wisely wary of our newly acquired ability. Their combat became more cautious. The unrestrained aggression of their earlier tactics had been abandoned in favor of a more defensive approach.
The one exception was Halkkor. He fought with even more reckless savagery as if the presence of a credible threat to his life had whipped him into a greater frenzy. Taking a risk that I could end the battle sooner by defeating him, I continued fighting my way toward him. Jaelin, fulfilling her promise to watch my back, followed.
Each time I’d faced Halkkor, I’d been hopelessly outmatched. Though I’d had an advantage over him with my telekinetic talents, he’d had strength, combat experience and invulnerability. Thanks to Niven, I’d learned that Halkkor could probably kill me, but not permanently. As dangerous as it was to rely on the previous Devil to send me back here alive if I were to die again, I figured I couldn’t lose. Either I’d get sent back to fight Halkkor again or I’d be stuck somewhere that wasn’t Hell. It seemed safe to assume that Hell was the worst place in the universe, so if I got stranded somewhere it couldn’t be any worse than here. And there was also the possibility that, armed with my Firstborn-killing sword, I would be victorious over Halkkor.
As Jaelin and I moved to within shouting distance from Halkkor, I felt confident enough to toss a taunt his way. “Hey, Halkkor!” I yelled. “You suck!” I punctuated my less-than-witty remark by shoving my sword through the heart of an enemy warrior and letting him collapse at my feet.
“Good one,” Jaelin muttered confidentially. “I think you really got to him.” She swung her dagger wildly at her nearest attacker and succeeded in severing the Firstborn’s blade from his right arm. It looked painful for him, but I didn’t feel any pity.
“Sorry, I was a little more focused on fighting for my life than on delivering the perfect insult,” I told her. The hope of victory had put me in an awesome mood. I couldn’t say that I ever expected to be in this position, exchanging jovial banter with a demon while engaged in frenetic battle against the grotesque denizens of Hell.
“Devil!” Halkkor bellowed, and his voice held such power that it carried clearly over the sounds of battle, drawing looks from demons so far away I couldn’t see their faces clearly.
Halkkor was standing over the broken corpse of a demon, holding its heart in his hands. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I applaud the effort you’ve made here, but if you expect to triumph over the likes of me, you’d do well to remember that I’m not so easily scared or so easily defeated.”
“Looks to me like you’re about to be defeated,” I shouted back.
He smiled. It was a smile of unparalleled creepiness. His stony, ash-colored face split into a wide grin and his nostrils flared wickedly beneath those black, blank eyes. His lips began to move, but I could barely hear what he was saying. What I could hear didn’t sound like English. So much for my theory about there being no language barrier in Hell.
Halkkor finished muttering to himself, opened his jaw wide, bared his teeth, and bit brutishly into the demon heart. Instantly, a visible shockwave of some kind of power originating from Halkkor washed over the scene. To me, it was only a stiff breeze, but I sensed the noise of battle around me fading into a stunned silence. I looked around to find myself alone on the barren plain with a haggard but lethal army of Lucifer’s Firstborn.