Chapter Four
The Demon King

Though still quite warm, the air is cooler outside now that the sun has gone down, the sandy ground not burning my bare feet as I thought it would. I lift my wings and hover inches about the street as I move. This way, I can easily switch between flying and running as needed. I have no idea what a passerby might do if they see an angel, and I am not ready to find out. Speeding though the streets, I am grateful for Maleka's black tunic as it provides some cover in the darkness.
The night is mercifully silent. No signs of life save for the occasional caw of a crow or snap of a dry branch. Squat houses line the streets, all the varying shades of orange and red, their walls lumpy as if made from clay. As I move, their dark windows watch me like the night's eyes.
I wish my wings would dry out, but the air is so thick with humidity that it feels like they are only getting damper. Why did James insist that I bathe, anyway? As far as I can tell, I don't have any sort of 'heaven stink,' or whatever it was that he and Maleka were going on about.
I'm sure I should be grateful. James spared my life, and no devil in the history of the Creator's world has ever spared an angel, let alone his counterpart. And even after he spared me, he treated me all right. Let me use his enormous tub and offered to lend me one of his girlfriend's books. But there is no way I am spending a spare moment in Hell, no matter how hospitable he is. There is too much back home to live for: family and fly-scouts and Kaz.
A scream tears through the night, jolting me from my reverie. Halting, I prick up my ears, searching for a source of the sound. Another scream comes, as desperate as the first, but is quieter as if something is stunting the sound.
Even from a distance, I can track the sound. My waterlogged wings don't pick up as much speed as I'd like, but I follow the screams as quickly as possible. It's a girl's scream, so high-pitched it's closer to squeaking. I can almost feel the fear vibrate through my feathers.
Once I reach the scene, it's no wonder why this girl's fear is so palpable. I can barely make out her figure beneath the hulking mass of a man pinning her down. A cold shot of adrenaline explodes through my veins.
Wrapping my wings around me, I plunge toward the pair. The girl is pressed down on the ground, her navy wings bent under her back. Her legs are wrapped around the man's thick waist, and I think they're just a couple going at it until I see his hand wrapped so tightly around her ankle that the skin is discolored. She continues to cry out, and the closer I get, the clearer I can hear the man's whispers.
"Quiet," he rasps. "Quiet now, pretty girl. This will all be over before you know it."
Sweet nothings, most of it. But the way this demon speaks laces every tender word with poison. Poison that makes the girl's face blanches paler than the moon and makes her eyes flicker with pure, primal fear.
"Get off of her," I bellow, catching the demon in a wing-hook to the neck. The force is enough to knock him off the girl, sending him spiraling through the ground.
The girl is up before I can blink. She flips her dress back over her bare legs and scurries into the shadows. I make out the faintest whisper of a thank-you before she is completely out of sight.
"An angel?" the demon says, getting back up on his feet. Instinctively, I fold my wings behind me as if I can hide their angelic pallor. "Don't bother. You reek of Heaven."
As if on command, I relax my wings and take in this monster of a man. He is tall, but not as tall as James. But what he lacks in height he makes up for in girth; his arms are so thick that you could fit two of me in one of his shirtsleeves. Muscle ropes around his shoulders and down his legs. I am surprised and even impressed that I was able to take out this behemoth with one wing-hook, but I have the feeling that the fight is long from over.
"You look like one of my devils, James," he says, fingers toying with the hilt of some weapon concealed at his waist. "I'm surprised he hasn't already killed you."
"I'm pretty hard to catch," I say.
Judging by the ruddy horns protruding from the demon's forehead, he is powerful. But someone who would attack someone so mercilessly is someone who earns no respect from me, whether he is the master of Hell, an Archangel, or the Creator himself.
"A pretty girl with a smart mouth," he sneers, baring his sharp teeth at me. "Perhaps the Creator listens to my prayers after all."
Knowing this can lead only to trouble, I propel off the ground, heading skyward. The demon is after me in seconds, his thick tail swishing through behind him like an airborne anaconda. Metal clangs against metal as he unsheathes whatever weapon he's been carrying. Looking behind me, I see the glint of a broadsword in the moonlight as it clips the tip of one of my wings. Luckily, he's missed my flesh, cutting only feathers. I see a cluster of them fall below me like oversized snowflakes, the demon catching them in his open palm like a curious child.
He is gaining speed faster than I want to acknowledge, so I drop down, plunging like a missile downward. I am hoping to pull up right before I hit the ground, a tricky feint I saw a fly-scout demonstrate once, but I miscalculate my velocity and fail to shift my wings at the right moment. The demon takes advantage of this, pinning me to the ground. My face smashes into the ground and I get a mouthful of bitter sand.
He kneels on top of me, a knee digging into each of my wings. His tail wraps my ankles together and grasps my wrists at his sides. Chest pressed against the earth, I'm sure my pounding heartbeat is enough to cause a minor earthquake.
"Stay down," he says.
As if I have a choice. He loosens my hair from its tie, letting the silky strands fall into my face and obscure my vision, and runs his fingers through it, pulling at the ends.
"Do you like that, Smart Mouth?" he whispers, tugging harder. "Like it rough?"
"No," I spit. Struggling, I try to throw him off me, but he is too heavy and won't budge. Right now, I just try to focus on being grateful that all he's touching is my hair.
"No?" he says, as if he's shocked I've spoken up at all. "That's no way to talk to the Demon King."
The Demon King? The title seems familiar but not at all good.
I almost say more, but wind up holding my tongue. Probably for the best, as he's moved from my hair to my face, tracing outlines of my features with his rough fingers. I swallow. I should never have run from James. He was right; the dangers in Hell were much worse outside of his home. But there's nothing I can do but deal with the right now. And the right now isn't looking too good.
"Stay down," he repeats, and my right arm is released.
At first, I'm pleased by this new development, but I hear him fumble at the button of his pants. My heart jumps into my throat but I coax it down. Now's my only chance at escape. I reach behind me toward the demon's waist. My fingers hit metal and I grasp at the handle of the broadsword. If I can only draw the weapon before the Demon King notices…
"What do you think you're doing?" he snaps.
Then his fist is cracking the back of my head, and tears are springing to my eyes, blackness clouding my vision. Not now, I beg my consciousness, don't give up now. But I am giving up. Screaming before I even realize it. Screaming despite my pride, despite that fact that there is no one in Hell who will stand up to a king to save an angel.
The Demon King groans and I'm sure something horrible is to follow. But instead of attacking me, the demon rolls off me. Scrambling away, I see the demon lying face-up on the ground, dazed. A pool of hot blood pools behind his head, and before I can determine if he is alive or dead, arms wrap under my arms and I am carried off into the sky.

Author's Notes: I'm updating again :) If you're impatient for more, there are about nine chapters uploaded on my wattpad account (my username there is also TKAnez.) Thanks for reading!