Above the flames the fla.., p.4
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       Above The Flames (The Flames Trilogy #1), p.4

           Cassandra Fear

  His steps faltered at the sound of another loud crash, and the ground vibrated. That didn’t sound good.

  “Go, demons! Go forth and free your master!” a voice boomed, seeming to echo through every part of the chamber.

  Cheers erupted in front of him, as well as behind him. Demons rushed forward, shoving him aside as they sped toward their freedom. He sank against the wall, every muscle aching. This is hopeless.

  Amon rested his forehead against the wall. He had a feeling he would never make it out, even if he found the opening. His strength was depleted and any energy he had had flown from his body with his first few steps. Having had no exercise or activity for so long had taken its toll on him.

  But I have to try. I can’t give up when freedom could be only a few agonizing steps away.

  With renewed resolve, he dug his feet in and continued toward the loud noises. Dust flew around him, so thick he felt like he was walking through fog. After only several steps, he rounded a corner, which led him into a large, open area. A large, cast-iron gate loomed ahead, the face of Lucifer woven through the center. I’ve made it to the gates of Hell.

  Long sections of the gate had fallen to the ground and shattered with the tremors, which hadn’t receded at all. Luckily, they hadn’t gotten worse either. The black, rocky ceiling had begun to cave in, but beyond the pile of broken stone rested a steep incline. Demons were climbing on all fours, disappearing after they got so far up. X marks the spot. That must be the exit.

  As he began the trek up the slope, his muscles screamed in protest, but he pushed the burning pain to the back of his mind and proceeded. Curiosity, and the chance to be rid of this monstrous place, got the better of him as he climbed the hill into a tunnel. The mouth was wide upon entering, but after only a few feet it began closing in tighter around him. More demons came up behind him, shoving against his back, but it didn’t hurry him. He couldn’t move faster, even if he wanted to.

  The top came suddenly, and a brown, rusty ladder hung from a ledge above. He put his feet on the first step, his hands gripping the sides, and pulled his body up. A groan escaped as he continued, pain lancing through his thighs and biceps. I think a stab wound would feel better right now.

  “Hurry up, man,” a demon said.

  “Quit dawdling and get up there,” another said.

  “I’m going as fast as I can,” he responded.

  The demons all but lifted him out of the hole above him, and he sprawled face-first into soft, green grass. Wait. Is it really grass?

  He grabbed a handful and yanked it from the ground, smashing it against his nose. He took a big, deep inhale and the Earthy scent hit him like a smack to the face, taking him back to a simpler life, his father at his side with a pitchfork in his hands and a smile on his face. He closed his eyes for a moment, wanting to linger in the memory, but remembered where he was. There wasn’t time to dawdle. He had to move.

  He stood and looked above him, squinting. Diamond-like stars twinkled brightly and the full moon illuminated a yellowish glow, lighting the path before him. So much light. What a difference to be free of utter darkness.

  Lower-level demons huddled in groups, chatting and smiling. They looked so human, except for their red eyes, which glowed even brighter with their excitement. Their voices spread out, high-pitched and loud. Obnoxious. They were so happy to be free; they cared not for the price of it. And there would be a price. The angels made sure there always was. And sure, the demons won the ultimate good versus evil battle, but there were stipulations set up from the start of the war. Amon knew when the demons won, they won their freedom. They could only keep it by wiping out humanity and claiming Earth as their new Hell. But he knew nothing else.

  Someone clapped him on the back, and he spun around, not realizing he had the strength, but grateful it came in the right moment. At the sight of the person standing behind him, he smiled. “Caim! You’ve made it out.”

  “I did, and if you will…” Caim wrapped his arm around Amon’s shoulders and urged him forward. “We must get moving this way.”

  Amon laughed, the sound so foreign he almost didn’t know what it was. “I won’t question you. You are usually right, anyway.”

  “I think that is a great concept to have. Caim-the-all-knowing has a good ring to it, does it not?” Caim asked.

  “Ah, I’ve missed you, my friend!” Amon put his arms around Caim’s back and squeezed him in a sideways hug. “It’s good to hear your voice again.”

  They continued on, stopping only when they reached a line of pine trees, where Caim scrunched his eyebrows, released Amon, and moved toward a large tree.

  “What are you looking for?” Amon asked.


  Amon’s heart sped up as he followed Caim. “There’s no blood here. Not yet, at least.”

  Caim rubbed his index finger along the bark, and then smiled as he raised it in front of Amon. “And what would you call this, then?”

  Amon leaned forward and sniffed, taking in the coppery scent. “It is blood. How did you know?”

  “Caim-the-all-knowing, remember?”

  “Okay, then why are you smiling about it?”

  “Because, it means—”

  “Amon! Caim! You’re here,” a woman’s voice said, and instantly Amon knew who that husky voice belonged to.

  He turned just as Lamia crashed into him, wrapping her arms around him. “Lam, you’ve made it!”

  “I never thought to see you again.” She pulled back slightly and searched his face, then buried her head into his shoulder as she tightened her grip. “And now I’ll never let you out of my sight again.”

  “Now, don’t be dramatic,” Azzy said, coming from behind her. His small, feathery wings folded in behind him. “It’s really unbecoming.”

  “Azazel! The gang’s all together again. Just as I knew we would be,” Caim said.

  Azzy raised his eyebrows.

  Amon laughed. “Azzy, meet Caim-the-all-knowing. Don’t let his ego push you out of the area; it’s growing rather large all of a sudden.” He paused, stepping away from Lamia and taking it all in. “I really never expected to see any of you again, and now here we all are.”

  “It is fantastic, but the reunion will have to wait. We must get away from here, and rather quickly, or else we risk being seen by—”

  “Me, perhaps?” The high-pitched voice slithered over his skin, leaving goosebumps in its wake.

  Amon turned slowly, knowing it was Bael before he saw the demon’s gray skin, which looked almost luminescent under the pale moon’s glow. Bael moved closer, and what Amon had thought was smooth skin looked like leather that had never been conditioned and left in the elements. Probably from being among the flames for so long. Black horns stuck out of equally dark hair. Small lumps protruded throughout his body. Like a creature of the night. A creature of Hell. There could be no mistaking him for anything else.

  Amon swallowed hard. “Bael. So good to see you this fine evening.”

  “Do not for a second think I believe that nonsense.” He cackled loudly, his voice echoing over the expanse of land. All the demons in the background stopped and turned their eyes to their master. “I do, however, need you. It’s as simple as that really. So don’t try to do anything stupid, like run off.”

  “We would never—” Caim started.

  “You can stop that train of thought. It’s another thing that falls under the I-don’t-believe-this-crap category.” Bael circled the group, dragging a long, sharp fingernail along Amon’s side, and over each of the other fallen ones. “You fallen angels have such nice skin. Really, how do you keep it so moisturized?”

  Lamia jumped to the side, slamming into Amon’s side. “That is enough. You do not have permission to touch me.”

  In a second flat, Bael was in Lamia’s face, a fistful of her long black hair yanked back. She grabbed at his hand, trying to break his hold, but to no avail. Amon made to move forward, but Caim put a hand over his chest, holding him

  “Lamia, have you not learned yet? I do not need permission to touch you. I can touch you wherever and whenever I choose.” Bael ran his hand over Lamia’s bare stomach, then up between her breasts. He pulled her close and planted a kiss on her lips before throwing her back, straight into Azzy, who caught her with no trouble.

  Lamia panted beside Amon, and as he looked at her, she glared daggers at him. “You just let him do that?”

  Amon nodded, but said nothing else. Lamia crossed her arms over her chest, and Amon gazed at Caim, who sliced his chin to the side, indicating he didn’t want to talk about it.

  Bael laughed, long and loud. When he stopped, his eyes held a glint of amusement, which quickly changed to anger. “Belze! Here!”

  The awkward demon appeared from behind a tree, shuffled forward, and almost tripped over his own two feet, but quickly righted himself. He smoothed his red tie, then asked, “Yes, M-master? What c-can I do for you?”

  “Tie them up. All of them. And make sure they can’t get free.”

  “Wait just a minute. We haven’t done anything. We are here, and not planning on leaving,” Azzy said.

  Bael smiled a crooked smile, his dark eyes blacker than midnight. “You were leaving, and before you deny that, just know that I know for a fact you were to leave. Save your breath.” He turned to Belze. “And get to work, before they run.”

  “W-where do you w-want me to t-tie them?” Belze asked, staring at his hands.

  “I don’t know. How about you ta-ta-tie them to a ta-ta-tree,” Bael said.

  Amon stood straight as Belze, one by one, tied his friends up. It was futile to fight back now. Bael could destroy each of them where they stood and he didn’t doubt that for a moment.

  Bael came closer, directly in Amon’s line of sight. “Do not for a moment think you were part of this victory. You were a prisoner in Hell, and you will be on Earth as well. You fallen angels did nothing to help win the war. You will not be treated like a victor, but like what you are.”

  Belze yanked him backward, and Amon let him. He knew he could get free, but he wouldn’t get far. And he had to save his strength for when he needed to escape. Right now, it wasn’t ideal to be captured and tied up, but it wouldn’t hurt any of them.

  Bael disappeared into the horde of demons, all staring with smiles on their faces. This left Belze behind to guard them.

  “So, perhaps we should have made a plan a little more quickly,” Amon said after Bael disappeared. He wiggled his hands, trying to loosen the ropes behind him, but they stayed tight.

  “Yeah. Probably would have been a good idea. But then I wouldn’t expect good ideas from you since you stand by and let Bael attack women.” Lamia’s golden eyes narrowed in anger.

  “Leave him alone, Lamia. I didn’t let him jump forward because it would have been a death sentence. And you know it.”

  With that, Lamia quieted.

  After a while, Azzy sighed heavily. “Damn. My wings are digging into this stupid tree.”

  Azazel’s black wings were a thing of beauty, and envy. Amon hated when he complained about them, which he used to do all the time when they’d first fallen together. Amon’s own wings had been ripped from his back when they’d thrown him from Heaven, so he was bitter where wings were concerned. His wings had been a living, breathing part of his body, and he felt their loss each and every day.

  “Don’t worry, fallen ones. We will be freed soon,” Caim’s laughing voice called out.

  “Caim must be right, since he knows all,” Amon said, pressing his lips together.

  “You will see.” Caim kept his voice low.

  After a while, Belze returned, marching behind them like a soldier preparing to go into battle. Although, unlike a soldier, he lacked a weapon of any kind.

  Amon closed his eyes. Will we ever be free? Really free?

  Chapter 4

  Almost Free


  A hand shook Jasmine’s shoulder. “Jaz. Wake up.” Two hands went under her armpits, lifting her slightly from the ground. “Man. Your head is bleeding.”

  Jasmine opened her dry mouth, and then closed it. She did this a couple times, building enough saliva to swallow. “What happened? Was that an earthquake?”

  Beau’s features softened. “I think so, but I’m not sure. Never been in an earthquake. It was strange though; the ground shook really hard for a few minutes, then just stopped.”

  “Did you move me?” Jasmine asked.

  “Yeah, I heard some loud voices, so I made sure we were hidden.”

  Jasmine smacked his arm lightly. “Beau, you aren’t supposed to move someone who’s been injured. Not ever! Don’t you know that?”

  Beau leaned back. “Yeah, I know that. But those guys looked dangerous.”

  Her vision blurred, so she blinked hard, letting her eyes close tight, then she reopened them. “What guys?”

  Beau shrugged his shoulders. “What can I say? They looked human, but they didn’t. They had some weird contacts in that made their eyes red.”

  Jasmine froze, not able to even take a breath.

  “What’s wrong? You just went white as a ghost.” Beau placed his hand over Jasmine’s, but she jumped back. “Woah! Not sure what I did, but it would be nice if you told me.”

  Jasmine winced at a sharp pain in her forehead. “You didn’t do anything.”

  “Give me a break, would you. Girls don’t really pull away from me when they aren’t pissed about something.”

  “Oh, how many girls have done this to you recently, Beau?” Jasmine asked, raising her voice.

  Beau sighed. “All right, just forget it.”

  “No, I don’t think I want to.” Jasmine’s heart raced when the sound of laughter drifted over. “Okay, I’ll forget it for now,” she whispered. “We need to get out of here.”

  “I just heard something. Stay here and I’ll go have a look.”

  Jasmine grabbed his arm. “I don’t think so. I’ll go with you.”

  “I said stay. You have a head injury. It will only take a minute.”

  What am I, a dog?

  She shifted her weight to her knees and pushed up, crouching low as she followed him. Beau didn’t notice her at first, but when he stopped and she stood so close her breath touched him, he glared back at her. He faced forward, using the base of a large tree as cover and kept his mouth shut. Good thing. I’m not his to order around.

  “You’re so damn stubborn,” he said between clenched teeth.

  Jasmine grinned. “Sure am, but isn’t that what you love about me?”

  “Yeah. Keep telling yourself that,” Beau said under his breath.

  Ouch. That stings. Jasmine’s stomach dropped, and she must have tensed because a slight pressure in her head reminded her she was still injured.

  Jasmine risked a peek around the tree. There were people tied to the trunks of four trees ahead, a man pacing in front of them with red eyes. She held her breath, trying not to make a single noise, but her hands trembled as she remembered another man with red eyes.

  She leaned against Beau, pressing her mouth to his ear. “I think they need help.”

  “Or maybe they’re the bad guys,” Beau whispered into her ear.

  Maybe they were bad guys, but Jasmine didn’t think so. For one thing, their eyes weren’t red. For another thing, they were the ones tied up.

  Jasmine placed a finger to her mouth in a shushing motion, and then pointed as a dark man came into view. He smacked the one pacing against the side of his head, and that man barely stayed on his feet. When he straightened, he ran a hand down the front of his shirt and stared as the dark man pushed past him, straight toward one of the trees. Jasmine stepped out from behind the tree, but only a little. I have to get a better look.

  The man crouched down in front of a female prisoner, his arms dangling from his knees. Then, he fell forward, right on top of her. The woman squirmed as the man’s hand reached up and pushed off of her, right on her breast.

  “Okay, we need to help them,” Jasmine said.

  “What are we supposed to do?” Beau asked.

  “I don’t care what we do; we just have to do something.”

  Beau grabbed her arms and pushed her until she was behind the tree again. “Listen, I know that wasn’t easy to watch and you want to do something, but wait. When he leaves, we can sneak behind them and release their ropes.”

  Jasmine didn’t want to admit it, but he had a point. She stayed behind the tree, not letting herself watch. If that man does something else like that, I won’t be able to stop myself.

  “That guy’s gone. I can’t see him anymore,” Beau said.

  “That doesn’t mean he’s gone,” Jasmine responded.

  “I watched him walk away, so yeah, it does mean he’s gone.”

  Jasmine rolled her eyes. She didn’t wait for Beau, but crept out from behind the tree. She stayed low to the ground, sneaking as quietly as she could behind the trees where the people were tied. The ropes were thick, but she had just the thing to free them.

  “Do you have a knife?” Beau asked.

  “I don’t need one. I’ll use my power.” She couldn’t stop the grin from spreading on her face. She hadn’t let herself use her power since the night her dad died, but she missed the feeling it sparked inside of her and found the excitement coursing through her so intense it took her breath away.

  “Won’t they smell it?” Beau asked.

  And here comes Beau, the mood crasher. But he was right, and she knew it.

  “But it’s our only shot,” Jasmine said.

  “Okay, I’ll take care of the guy out front. He’s the only person around we might have to worry about.”

  Beau disappeared for a moment. When he reemerged, he held a thick branch that looked like a club. He moved quietly, stopping behind the trees they’d stood behind previously, then he jumped out and rushed forward. There was a loud thump, and then another.

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