About Blood Redemption
Trapped in the Dark Realms, Caspia finds herself the unwitting leader of a growing Nephilim rebellion. Plagued by strange dreams and intrigue, she learns to master her Azalene abilities when all she wants is to find her way back home.
To Whitfield. To Ethan.
But a new enemy gathers, and it isn’t just Belial. To avoid another Nephilim war, the Realms of Light decide to attack their ancient enemy first. Caspia, her hometown, and everyone she loves happens to be in the way. With the Light poised to strike from one side, and the Dark Realms on the other, she and Ethan must fight their way back to each other and try to protect the life they’ve built.
With Cassandra’s arm around me, supporting at least some of my weight, I suddenly realized how tired I was. Exhaustion hit me in a wave, threatening to pull me under. I tried to remember the last time I’d slept, truly slept, and couldn’t. Fighting and running in the Dreamtime didn’t exactly count as restful. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten, either; this fact announced itself in the form of a loud, angry growl coming from my stomach. By my own reckoning, I had only been gone for a few days, but those days took their toll now. I swayed where I stood.
Cassandra reached for me immediately. She didn’t bother with stupid questions, just gently steered me into the front room of the Lodge, then paused to put her free hand on her hip and glare at me, as if I had already dared to disagree with her.
“You’re going to eat some breakfast and have a rest,” she announced like a woman who was rarely disobeyed. “And we’ll find you some clean clothes, and a bath, too.”
Her nose wrinkled ever so slightly as she looked at my torn and, by this time, filthy gown.
But a sudden thought stopped me. “How is it breakfast already? It was still night when we passed through the portal.”
Cassandra just shrugged her shoulders helplessly.
I knew she didn’t have the answer I was seeking.
“There were some . . . difficulties in the portal,” Asheroth answered, leaving out the part about my gift going wild on me. “And sometimes, time passes oddly between Gates.”
Cassandra nodded as if this made perfect sense, even though it left me with more questions than answers. But I decided they could wait until the promise of a hot breakfast had been fulfilled.
“Ethan, you’re coming too,” Cassandra announced. She cast a backwards look at Asheroth, seeming to hesitate.
I remembered that Fallen angels didn’t eat; never once had Asheroth touched a morsel of food in my presence.
“I’ll stay outside, thanks,” he said, sounding mildly alarmed. “I’ll just wait out here for the others to arrive.”
With that, he slunk into the shadows of the porch. I had just enough time to wonder what he meant by others when Cassandra roughly propelled me forward. Ethan and Logan followed.
Several doors led off the small front room, which seemed to serve as part foyer, part mudroom. Shoes of all sizes, some of them quite muddy, stood arranged in rows to the side of the main entrance. A bucket overflowing with gardening implements leaned against the far wall. Logan had slipped around me; he stood right in front of one of the heavy wooden doors. His eyes were playful as they locked on to mine.
“Whatever you do, don’t panic,” he said ominously.
Cassandra merely rolled her eyes theatrically and shoved him aside, something he tolerated with amusement. I knew he must have let her shove him. Someone as strong as Logan had become couldn’t be moved by a mere human unless he let her. I had no time to wonder about that, though, as I entered a cavernous space that was both kitchen and dining room.
The scene in front of me stopped me in my tracks as soon as I walked through the doorway.
Logan and I had lived on our own for so long that I had gotten used to just the two of us at meal times. Our house was usually quiet, and we rarely invited guests over, especially after Logan got sick. I was used to a home full of peace, and the chaos in front of me was anything but. My head swam and my vision blurred as I looked at the loudest, wildest household I could ever have imagined.
A cacophony of movement and sound swelled around me. A blonde woman with sky-blue eyes stood over a wood-burning, cast iron stove. She vigorously stirred a pot of what looked like oatmeal. It was large enough to feed half a small city. Her cheeks were red with exertion; sweat beaded on her forehead and temples, plastering her hair to her skin in long yellow streaks. She bore more than a passing resemblance to Cassandra; in fact, she could have been Cassandra’s much older twin.
She stopped her stirring, opened the door to the furnace, then shot fire into it with a blast from her fingers. Satisfied as the flames inside climbed higher, she went back to her stirring as if nothing unusual had occurred.
I realized that for the Blackwoods, a family of magic practitioners, her actions might be quite normal indeed.
Girls not much younger than me rushed around the room gathering pitchers and covered platters and bowls. Three boys ranging in age from about ten to fourteen prowled around the longest table I’d ever seen, setting it with plates and silverware and glasses. A small girl, hardly older than six or seven, perched on one of the long benches ringing the table and stealthily reached under a covered bowl, getting her fingers smacked by a passing adult for her trouble. Adults and older teenagers gathered in small groups throughout the cavernous room, talking loudly to be heard over each other. A pre-teen boy and girl arguing in a corner: “Did not!” “Did so!” “Not!” “Did!”
Then the boy held out his hands, palms facing the girl, and let loose a torrent of water. The girl stood there for a moment, gaping at him, and then did the same thing to him with her hands. The two of them stood dripping, their argument at a standstill, until another adult I didn’t recognize stormed over and swatted them both on the behind.
“No magic before breakfast!” she announced sternly, then marched off.
The boy and girl looked sheepish for a moment, finally stalking off in opposite directions.
For a second, the chaos seemed so intimidating, so completely unlike anything I was used to, that I almost turned and ran away. Only Logan’s appearance at my side, and the slight pressure from his strong fingers on my forearm, held me in place.
Just as I was trying to figure out a way to make a fast exit, I recognized someone sitting in an overstuffed chair in the middle of the room. A look of infinite patience crossed her face as a toddler tugged on her skirts, and another small girl placed a broken doll in her lap. The woman picked up the doll and reattached its head to its body, passing one hand across the broken place and muttering under her breath. Then she handed it, whole and mended, back to its owner, who practically glowed with pleasure. Almost as if she could sense me looking at her, the woman saw me and smiled like the sunrise.
Mrs. Alice. She looked thrilled to see me, and utterly at home in the midst of all the noise and frenetic activity.
Suddenly I saw the chaos with new eyes. Mrs. Alice’s smile changed my surroundings, or at least my perception of them. All of the bustle and loudness wasn’t intimidating at all; rather, it was its own form of peace. Mrs. Alice was in her element because her family thrived around her, busy and loud and full of life and each other. There was no fear here, no threat of death and destruction. I leaned heavily against Logan, realizing at last how much peace and safety had been missing from my life.
“Come on,” said Cassandra, beckoning me to the long table. “If we wait on this lot to be ready to feed you, you’ll waste away to nothing.”
Ethan followed just behind me. He seemed unaffected by the noise and rush around us; it made me wonder how many times he’d been here before.
Bewildered by tiredness and hunger now instead of the household around me, I let Logan lead me to the long table. Ethan and Logan sat on either side of me while someone slid a plate of food under my nose. Apple cinnamon oatmeal, biscuits with gravy, fried sausages and cheese almost overflowed the plate. If I ate all that, I wouldn’t be able to move for days. Logan waggled his eyebrows at me as I stared at my breakfast.
“Slide that over here if you can’t finish it,” he said, smiling a little. “I could use a snack.”
“Let the girl eat,” said a crisp, familiar voice. “She needs her strength before the others arrive.”
I looked right into Mrs. Alice’s welcoming face and almost abandoned my food in an effort to stand up and hug her. She placed a firm but gentle hand on my shoulder, silently urging me not to move. With one look at Logan, he immediately got up and made room for her on the bench. Mrs. Alice slid in beside me and hugged me with one arm. She gestured to me to eat, and I did, hastily shoveling gravy-drenched biscuits into my mouth. I wondered hunger made everything taste so wonderful, or if the food really was that good.
“You look great,” I tried to say, with a mostly filled mouth.
“I wish I could say the same for you,” she said, a slight smile taking the sting from her words. “You look as if you wrestled with a bear . . . and lost.”
“Pretty much,” I said, nibbling on buttery tasting cheese.
Logan, banished from my side, placed a huge glass of orange juice in front of me.
I gulped it gratefully. “Bears . . . demons . . . very similar, actually.”
“Well, we’ll have to do something about that,” she said cryptically, then left me to finish my breakfast.
To my surprise, I ate every bite. My empty plate was whisked away by the woman who’d shot flames into the stove. Remembering what Cassandra once told me about elemental mages, I assumed her affinity must be for fire.
“Hello, Caspia,” the woman said softly, so softly I had to strain to hear her over the noise. “I’m Anna. Logan’s told us so much about you. You are very welcome here.” She handed the plate off to a younger boy and turned her attention back to me. “I think Cassie is about the same size as you; I’ll send some of her clothes over so you can get out of those rags.”
“Mother!” Cassandra said with an embarrassed huff. “It’s not her fault how she’s dressed. And don’t call me Cassie.”
I hoped Cassandra had something to wear besides tie-dye and flowy skirts as her mother, rolling her eyes, led me off to a small bedroom down a long hall. A narrow bed, obviously meant for one, was piled high with blankets and pillows. A small door stood open, revealing a bathroom with a claw foot tub.
My heart sang. A tub! How I missed my huge deep bathtub back in my apartment. After thanking Anna, I sank into what felt like the most luxurious bath of my life.
I emerged even sleepier than I had been when I got in it. I padded my way across the room to the pile of clothes Cassandra’s mother had left: a white peasant blouse and jeans. Secretly grateful that I’d avoided tie
Mrs. Alice had mentioned the others who were coming. Once again, I wondered who they were and what was so important about them. I was too tired to care much, though. Surely no one would mind if I just sat down on the comfortable bed and rested for a bit first? After all, they weren’t here yet . . . .
I don’t know how long it took for me to fall asleep. It seemed as if one minute I was awake and enjoying the pile of soft blankets, and the next, I was sitting up in a house gone silent and cold. It took me a minute to register the faint blue glow emanating from my body. When I realized what it meant, I groaned.
The Dreamtime. Again. I was getting damn sick of being dragged out of decent sleep and into the realm of waking nightmares.
Then a hand grabbed mine and pulled. I stood from my still slumbering body, knowing by now not to look unless I wanted to see myself as a corpse. I jerked away from the hand with all the force I possessed, whirling on its owner with the fury of the unjustly awakened.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I said. “I just want to rest. I need to rest. Just this once. Please, Jack.” Even to me, I sounded whiny.
His eyes were wide and frantic. He gestured me to silence with a single finger to his lips. Then he crept very close and whispered one word in my ear:
I felt myself go cold. It couldn’t be. Hunters of the Light would like nothing more than to murder me and my brother because of the gifts we possessed-gifts they saw as a threat. We were supposed to be safe here at Blackwood Lodge; their wards were supposed to be intact.
I whispered as much to Jack. “How is it possible that they’re here? The whole point of coming was to be safe. Not to bring more trouble to my friends.”
“As far as I’ve been able to find out, they can move freely through the Dreamtime. But something’s stopping them from getting more than a few feet from Blackwood Lodge. And that has them very, very upset.” The tattoos along his arms writhed in the dim, Dreamtime light. His bare chest crawled with living ink. “Come on. You need to see this.”
He dragged me through a warren of quiet, empty rooms; no one walked this parallel world except the two of us. And the Hunters, of course. If it had been night when Jack came to me, we would have been able to see the shape of the sleeper’s dreams. But mid-morning, in the Blackwood household, everyone went busily about their daytime business, safe from the threats prowling the Dreamtime.
Eventually we reached a front room with a huge picture window looking out into the main garden. Jack crouched just below the window, so that nothing was visible but his head. He gestured at me to follow suit. I saw several figures pacing the garden’s perimeter.
The Hunters were tall - they towered at least a foot over Asheroth. They didn’t try to camouflage their battle armor, as all the other angels and Fallen ones did. Their armor looked exactly like something the ancient Romans would have worn. Golden breastplates shone in the twilight of the Dreamtime. Helmets obscured much of their faces, and long curved swords hung from their sides. I felt even colder when I saw the swords, remembering Dr. Christian’s paintings of the first Nephilim wars. Hunters just like these had slaughtered my ancestors, as the paintings showed in graphic detail.
Then I remembered Ethan had been one of them once.
I slumped against the wall in despair. That was a fact I’d rather forget. It seemed no matter what I did, no matter where I went, there was something or someone who wanted me dead, or at least captured. And now I had brought yet another deadly threat straight to my friend’s door. I could only hope the Hunter’s interest extended no further than me.
What if they already knew about Logan? What if they were on a mission to eradicate not just my kind, but any who sheltered us, as well?
“What’s keeping them out there?” I mused aloud.
“Strong wards, I assume. Wards that extend even through the Dreamtime.”
I swallowed, determined to formulate some kind of plan. “Mrs. Alice needs to know about this. And Ethan.” I winced. “His time as one of them may work to our advantage. But right now, we need some kind of plan.”
Jack regarded me somberly. “I’ve been waiting to hear you say that.” He paused, as if measuring his words. “Caspia, no matter what plan you come up with, it will all boil down to the same solution in the end.”
I sighed and rolled back onto my knees to get a good look out the window again. Just beyond the garden, a small group of Hunters had assembled, talking amongst themselves. When I popped my head up, the largest of them turned to look directly at me. Its eyes were a mesmerizing gold, and they smoldered as if with an inner fire. I gasped at the force of his animosity and dropped back down below the window again.
“What is that, Jack?” I whispered.
“Caspia,” he said. “You’re going to have to learn how to fight. You must learn to control your Shadows
, and channel them at your enemies.”
I let the truth of his words sink in. There was no longer any way to avoid a war.