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.
“I’m not getting tattooed,” I warned Jack, rubbing my arms as if to protect my virgin skin. “I don’t care how much it will change my gift; that’s just not happening.”
“What about running around barefoot and shirtless, then?” he asked, one eyebrow slightly lifted over too-bright eyes.
I punched his bicep.
“Ouch! Okay, okay, I was only teasing,” he said, rubbing the offended spot. I watched it redden with satisfaction. “Besides, this is special ink. It’s mixed with my blood, and only my father knew how to apply it.” A shadow crossed his face. “He died before he could teach me. Murdered by Belial’s forces.”
So much death. Would our kind ever find peace? I bit the corner of my lip, agitated. “I’m sorry, Jack,” I said softly, not knowing what else to say.
He stared through me as if he hadn’t heard, locked in some private vision of the past. “It doesn’t matter,” he said tonelessly. “You don’t need the ink anyway. Not as long as you have me. Azalenes function best in pairs. It’s just how we’re made: to fight with a partner.” He shook off whatever hell he had been locked in with a shrug. “Since we’re the last two, we’re stuck with each other.”
“But how does it work? You and me?” I narrowed my eyes. “And how do I know you’re not lying?”
“Well, we won’t know for certain until we try it out, but I suspect you provide the raw power, and I provide the focus.” He remained in a half-crouch against the window, most of his body weight supported by one knee. “And as for proof, remember the first time we went to Old Town Square together? You were so nervous you couldn’t control your Shadows, and I held your hand and they went away?”
I nodded, remembering the shimmer of his tattoos, and the gentle draining of my power. “It was like you absorbed them or something.”
“So you already know my power affects yours. I think it works both ways. I think I can focus and project it too. But we’re going to have to get somewhere to test my theory.”
I thought about the Hunters poised just outside, and how the big one had looked at me with such hatred. “They’re waiting for us,” I said. “We can’t get past them.”
“We’re going to have to.” Jack drummed his fingers against his thigh, lost in thought. “If I can get us out of here, do you know a good place to practice?”
I remembered the first time I had practiced with Shadows. It had been with Ethan, and I had ripped an ancient oak tree in half by accident. He’d tried to comfort me while I shook with fear of my gift. That had also been the last time I purposely used my gift against anything. Ever since, the Shadows had only appeared as a reaction to danger. And I hadn’t ever used them with focused intent.
“I think so. It’s by the Navau River. But just how do you propose to get us past those Hunters? And keep us safe from them once we’re there?”
“It’s a problem,” he said, and nodded as if deciding something. “But we have to try. I can get us out of here, but I can’t take us to someplace I’ve never been.”
“Well, that’s a problem too,” I said dryly.
“Would you let me finish? Always so negative.” He rose from his crouch, staying just beyond the window so he couldn’t be seen. “If you can visualize this park in your mind, then I can get us there. But you have to give us the clearest possible picture.” He reached out to me with one hand. I took it, and found myself pulled to his side in an instant. “Can you do that?”
“What, you have mind powers now?” I said.
Jack rolled his eyes. “Power and focus, remember? Only this time, you provide the focus and I’ll give us the power to get there.”
I nodded, willing myself to just trust Jack for once. I let my imagination paint the scene: the muddy Navau rushing past its banks, swollen by rain; paths made of mulch and pine needles; the budding greenery of early spring; an ancient oak, gnarled and scarred. I felt the world go soft and misty around me, just as it had every time Jack and I passed through the Dreamtime. I knew if I opened my eyes, I would see nothing but a white haze, but I didn’t dare. I kept focusing on the park as hard as I could.
And suddenly we were there. I knew it even before I opened my eyes; the air smelled of water and growing things, and felt cool against my skin.
The park looked eerie by the bluish light of the Dreamtime. Jack turned in a slow circle and nodded to himself. “I’ve been buried in Belial’s realm for too long.” A look of wonder crossed his face as he surveyed the park. “I’ve forgotten places like this existed.”
I thought of Hunters and suppressed a shiver. A cold sensation gently tickled the palms of my hands. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I erupted into Shadows, and I wanted to be ready when that happened. “We should hurry,” I said, staring off down the path to the river. “We may not have much time.” Now we had two threats: Hunters and the unpredictability of my gift. Jack followed a little slowly, soaking in the peace of the park.
Beside the rushing river, Jack came to stand in front of me. “What’s next?” I asked apprehensively, as if I was in danger of being shocked.
Jack grinned. “Target practice.” He must have noticed my agitation, because his manner became much more soothing, like he was trying to approach a feral animal without being attacked.
I shook my head and pointed. The infamous oak tree stood several feet from us, as twisted and broken as it was in real life. I nodded towards it. “I did that,” I told him. “I don’t want to do it again. Not if what we do here might cause that kind of damage in real life. Does that happen in the Dreamtime? Does what we do here have an impact on the real world?”
He shook his head. “No, Caspia. The Dreamtime is just an exact copy of real places. Think of it like a parallel world. They overlap, but one doesn’t affect the other. So you can burn that tree to the ground and it will still be there when you wake up.”
That made me feel marginally better. “So what’s the next step?” I asked, still nervous. I shifted from foot to foot and hugged myself. I told myself it was only because of the cool air.
Jack looked around, squinting. “Let’s try the river,” he said. “There’s less of a chance that we’ll damage something there. Will that make you look less like a serial killer trying to hide her most recent crime?” He said this with a smile, and I laughed, the ice broken at last.
“Okay,” I agreed. The Navau was a notoriously bad fishing spot; there was less of a chance that we would hit one. Aiming at a stable target, like that tree or a park bench, would almost certainly obliterate it. Jack came closer to me, close enough so that I could make out each individual eyelash.
“Now hold out your hands,” he ordered, reaching for me. His own, callused from handling a sword, gripped me by the wrists. In the uncertain half-light of the Dreamtime, I watched as the ink on his skin began to come alive. This part always creeped me out a little, no matter how many times I’d seen it. Whorls and arcane symbols appeared, etching his entire upper body with lines of bluish light. His eyes took on a decidedly more golden color as he stared at me.
By this time, the faint cold tickling in my palms had become a full fledged throbbing. “I feel them,” I said, fighting the urge to back away. “They’re coming.”
Jack didn’t bother asking me what I was talking about. He merely shifted his grip on me so that our palms touched and his thumbs hooked over mine. “I’ve got you,” he said, making it sound like a solemn vow. “Just try to let go. I’ll take care of the rest.”
I instinctively tried to fight the Shadows the moment they appeared, snaking out from my palms to cover my arms. I tried to yank my hands out from Jack’s but his thumb had me firmly anchored. His tattoos glowed brighter; the edges of them seemed to writhe more frantically. He closed his eyes in concentration, ignoring my attempts to get away, our arms outstretched between us. Shadows roiled across my hands, creeping outward to envelop his as well. Again I tried to shake him off as the damp cold of the Shadows grew fiercer, but he merely continued to hold me. My own eyes must have been glowing because I could see their silver color reflected back at me from the glassy black of Jack’s pupils.
And then, suddenly our linked hands erupted with blue flames. Fire the color of Jack’s tattoos traveled across both our arms. Rather than the shocking tingling cold of the Shadows I was used to, this new sensation was a pleasant warmth combined with gentle pressure, just begging for release. I stared in astonishment into Jack’s golden eyes. He looked just as shocked as I was. Before either of us had a chance to say anything, the blue fire gave one last giant pulse and shot straight into the ground in an explosion of sparks and flying leaves and dirt.
Jack must have been so astonished he forgot to hold onto me, because I managed to jerk myself free and pull away from him. I stepped wildly backwards, almost falling over my own feet in an attempt to get away from the shocking combination of our gifts.
“What. The. Hell,” I said, almost in a monotone. I stood there, breathing heavily, trying to gather my scattered thoughts. Then I felt fear ebb into anger as I looked at the deep hole left by our little experiment. “Did you know that was going to happen?” I stepped forward to get a look at the hole while trying to stay as far away from Jack as possible. It proved impossible as he leaned forward to do the same thing.
Dust motes swirled thickly in the eerie blue of the Dreamtime. Leaves and pine needles radiated outward from a pit the size of a small crater. I wondered how we hadn’t fallen in. I certainly hadn’t been expecting . . . that. And from the look on his face, neither had Jack.
Could the two of us together really have such power? Could Jack and I, working together, really have the ability to turn my creepy, uncontrollable Shadows into a manageable defense? Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to find out.
“That was brilliant,” Jack said in awe. “Did you feel that? A warmth . . . and a pressure?” He rubbed his hands together gleefully. His tattoos still glowed, but they no longer writhed, and I didn’t feel the bite of Shadows in my palms, either.
“It was pretty powerful,” I said, calming down.
“It’s not practical, though,” Jack said, still brooding. He paced along his side of the hole. “I couldn’t swing a sword, holding on to you like that. And we might as well have targets painted on our backs, standing face to face like that. It would be open season on us in a battle. And we want to aim at the enemy, not blast holes in the ground.” He shook his head decisively. “No, we have to find another way.”
I finally collapsed, my legs still shaking. I didn’t feel drained, like I had when I used my Shadows on Belial. I felt energized and flushed as if I’d been exercising. “But how do we do that? We have to be touching, right? You won’t be free to hold a sword, or me to hold my knives.” I thought of my lost twin blades with a sharp pang of regret. I was determined to get them back somehow.
“Maybe if we just use one hand . . .” Jack trailed off excitedly. He edged around the hole and jerked me to my feet. “Come on, Caspia. And this time, let me hold you like this . . .”
His rough hand slid on top of mine instead of holding it palm-to-palm. Again I felt the slight pressure, the gentle warmth. His skin against mine felt like silk. He stood behind me, his bare chest against my back. “Let’s try for something more controlled,” he said, right into my ear. His warm breath was distracting, and I didn’t need that. Not right now.
“But how do we control it?” I asked, frustrated by both the situation, and by Jack’s body so close to mine. It felt too intimate, and I didn’t want to feel that way about Jack. We were partners, that was all. I wiggled a little to try and put distance between us, but it didn’t work.
“Stay still,” he said irritably. “This is hard enough without you moving all over the place. Now, remember what I said about power and focus?” I didn’t actually; Jack’s muscled bicep draped over my upper arm was distracting me. But I nodded anyway. “I’ll concentrate on directing our gifts, and you give it all you’ve got. Ready?”
I nodded, and squared my body for balance. That only pushed me against Jack even more. But thankfully it wasn’t my job to be focused; I could just push all the power I had into our efforts. I dug deep, trying to find that place inside me where the Shadows lived. I hated intentionally trying to summon them. It felt too much like grappling with wet snakes. But still, I tried. I brushed against the Darkness inside me . . . .
Only to feel it somehow pulled outward, with no effort on my part. I wasn’t grappling with snakes anymore. I was a conduit for clean, energizing power.
Blue flames licked across both of our skin. Jack’s breathing grew heavier, and I felt him tense behind me. His hold on me tightened, and a column of indigo fire raced from the two of us straight into the river. The water steamed where the flames hit it. I tried to fight off the panic that threatened to engulf me. Behind me, Jack was panting hard.
“More,” he said. I tried to oblige, digging even deeper into myself. The column grew larger, doubling in size, as I pushed raw Shadows through our linked hands. The tattoos along Jack’s arm flared to life again, the ink on them writhing. I pushed harder, and the blue of the flames grew darker. The pleasant warmth was turning hotter the stronger the column grew. My palms were slick with sweat, and my own breathing became labored.
Experimentally, I moved our hands a few inches to the side. The fire mirrored our actions. “Look!” I almost shouted, excited. “We can steer it.” I changed directions, moving our hands in a slow line parallel to the river bank. Sure enough, a line of hissing water trailed the line of flames.
I had totally forgotten about being afraid. Instead, I felt exhilarated.
“Now let’s work on focusing,” Jack said. I was on the verge of asking what he meant when the of flames narrowed in size. It didn’t feel like I was channeling fewer shadows, merely that they had become more focused. Jack managed to narrow the line of flames down to about the diameter of a tennis ball. I couldn’t believe how much control he had. The steam coming from the point of contact with the river actually increased. Jack must have been concentrating our power, narrowing it into a line we could manipulate and use to target things.
Like Belial and the Hunters.
Sweat beaded across my brow and ran into my eyes. The heat from the two of us combining our energy increased until I felt like we were on fire. The blue flames continued to burn the river’s surface, yielding to the combination of our gifts. I felt like crowing in triumph. Finally, I felt like it was safe to let the Shadows out. I trusted Jack to control them, and he delivered.
But Jack was having problems. I felt him trembling with exertion against me, and I wondered just how taxing this was for him. With a groan, he suddenly released his hold and stepped away from me. Without his body to support mine, I stumbled and almost fell. He was back in an instant, grabbing me by the waist, holding me up.
“Easy there,” he said, panting. “Didn’t mean to let go like that. I just couldn’t hold it anymore. That’s some gift you’ve got there.”
“Yours isn’t too shabby either,” I said with a grin. My almost-stumble aside, I felt wonderful. I had never felt like this when using the Shadows alone. “That was incredible,” I raved. “I feel like I could run a marathon. I can’t believe our combined gifts work like that.” I spun to face him, forgetting for a moment that he still held me lightly by the waist. His fingers loosened as I moved, but didn’t let go. “That was . . . powerful.”
He grinned back. “Yeah, that was something, all right.” He still hadn’t released me. The gold in his eyes shone. “If we can manage to work together, Belial and the Hunters don’t stand a chance.”
“But you still can’t swing a sword when we’re doing that,” I countered. “Not standing behind me like that.”
“I think we just have to be holding hands,” he said, his breathing slowing. Sweat ran in streaks down the side of his face. “Maybe next time we’ll try it standing side by side.” His smile was slow and full of triumph. “Besides, I don’t even have my sword. Your Ethan has it.”
Ethan, I thought abstractly, finding myself looking at Jack’s lips. His bare chest glowed with blue symbols, and his fingers still rested against my waist. I felt so wonderful, so full of life, that I instinctively reached out to Jack with my own still-tingling hands.
But then I didn’t know where to put them, and the moment turned awkward. “Ethan,” I said out loud. “Yes, Ethan has it.” I pulled back from him slightly, and I thought I saw his eyes narrow in disappointment or anger or both. He let his hands drop. “My daggers are lost. Somewhere in the Dark Realms. I guess Belial has them by now. Too bad, because if you could find them, you could use them. Maybe to get free, or something . . .” I let the thought go. I didn’t want to think about him trapped there, subject to cruelty and abuse. Belial wanted to use him to hurt others, no matter how he felt. He was still locked in a fate I had managed to escape. Suddenly I felt terrible. “Oh, Jack,” I said, fighting the urge to reach out to him. “You’ll escape somehow. We’ll find a way. We have to. Our gifts have to work together, and that can’t happen if we’re on opposite sides of the war.”
“I know.” He looked so forlorn that I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed his arm and gave it an encouraging squeeze. He gave me a brave smile in return. “But that’s a subject for another day. Right now, we have this.” He slipped his other palm across the top of mine. His golden eyes grew darker, so that they smoldered deep amber. “Caspia, I . . .”
Across the rushing Navau River, a figure slipped out from behind a tree. The Navau wasn’t as wide as the Saint Clare, but I still had a hard time seeing the person clearly. “Jack,” I said slowly, not sure I wanted the answer. “Who else might be here in the Dreamtime?”
Jack spun, alarm clear on his face. As he stared across the river, I watched his features harden into steel. One hand gripped mine forcefully while the other dropped to his side, reaching for a sword that was no longer there.
“Hunters,” he said with a low growl. “Caspia, run!” His iron grip towed me after him as he pulled me up the pathway, heading straight for the scarred old oak. I heard fast footsteps behind us, but I didn’t dare look. Instead, I concentrated on running faster.