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.
Jack urged me to run faster. His squeezed my hand in his and pulled until I thought my bones might snap. I slipped and skidded on the pine needle-strewn path as I hurried to keep up. Behind us, heavy footsteps got closer and closer. Old-fashioned metal armor clinked and creaked.
Jack pulled me off the main path, sending me right into an overgrown bush that showered me with droplets from a recent rain. I didn’t have time to protest as my feet scrabbled for purchase in the mud. There was no need for him to encourage me to run faster; I was terrified of the creatures that pursued us.
“Have to . . . get away,” Jack said, panting heavily. “Have to get you away,” he clarified.
“We’ll find a way together,” I insisted stubbornly. There was no response. He simply pulled me even faster. Branches snagged and caught in my hair, bringing tears to my eyes, but there was no time to brush them away. I skidded though mud again until my feet hit a new surface: the damp mulch and pine needles of a new path.
Instead of providing an escape route, the way was blocked with my current worst nightmare. Hunters. They stood fanned out in a semi-circle, their expressions grim and their eyes a burning gold. They beamed at me with the force of burnished metal. Jack screeched to a halt and I went crashing into his bare, ink-whorled back.
He threw his hands wide as if to protect me. “What do you want with us?” he demanded. “We aren’t a threat to you.”
The largest of the Hunters put his hand on his sword. I wondered if he was the same one that had tracked us to Blackwood Lodge. With golden helmets obscuring much of their faces, it was difficult to tell them apart. “Abominations,” the Hunter said, his voice low and deep. That single word ricocheted through my brain, raising my breathing and my heartbeat even as it angered me.
“We’re not,” I said, wishing I sounded stronger, more sure of myself. “We’re just as human as anyone else. We’re not a threat.” In front of me, the muscles of Jack’s neck and shoulders tensed. He hadn’t lowered his arms. He took a step backwards, pressing himself fully against me, until I could feel the tightly coiled muscles of his entire body. My breath came in fast pants of fear, crushing my chest against the taut muscles of his back. Some dim part of my mind told me to step back, that this was too much, too intimate. I didn’t want to pull away though; on a deep, primal level, I was grateful for the safety he offered. Given the events of just a few moments earlier, I knew that together we posed a threat for the immortal beings that menaced us. My palms tingled with cold dark energy, and I knew it was only a matter of seconds before I lost control. I slid my palms up Jack’s bare biceps, pressing my cold hands against his skin.
He knew what was happening in an instant. He said nothing out loud, but his arms began a slow, steady descent downwards, into a posture that would more easily allow us to link together. As I slid my now-electric palms slowly down his smooth skin, I felt our fingers entwine. He gave me an encouraging squeeze, which I gratefully returned. On my own, I would have been terrified. Together, I knew we had something resembling a defense plan. Whether it would work remained to be seen.
“Abominations,” the angel repeated, and drew his sword with a clean, clear ring. “You are the children that should never have been born. We must cleanse the earth of your vile presence, as we did once before.” His surrounding companions drew their swords as well, and the clearing echoed with the sounds of metal pulled free. The air at their backs shimmered, then burst into flames.
Wings. Unlike the gentle, warm golden glow of Ethan’s wings that had sheltered me so long ago, these creatures burned with the searing force of the sun. Theirs was a hungry, angry light that promised destruction and painful death. It made my heart hurt to think that Ethan had once been like them, down to the same fiery wings, but I knew by the time he met me he had left that way of life behind.
“Now!” Jack yelled, yanking our joined hands forward so that my arms wrapped themselves tightly around his chest. His sides heaved from either fear or exertion, and I knew he could feel my own violent trembling. I didn’t ask what he meant. I didn’t need to. Instead I closed my eyes and buried my face against the back of his neck, searching deep inside for the place where my deepest Darkness lived.
What had been a trickle of Shadows across my palms became a torrent. My first instinct was to fight it, as I had always done before discovering what Jack and I could do together. Instead I clung to him, and let myself become a conduit for dark energy, like a rickety bridge trying not to collapse against the onslaught of rising flood waters. Jack pulled and I channeled. When the cold I was used to turned to searing heat, I knew we had done it. I looked up in time to see the ground explode at the large Hunter’s feet.
The angel’s burning golden eyes flared wide with surprise as he took a hasty step backwards. His hands tightened on the hilt, swinging the sword upwards into an attack stance. “You dare,” he sneered, balancing right on the edge of the huge hole Jack and I had created together. The other angels tightened their ranks, drawing closer to the one who was clearly in charge. “You are nothing but demonspawn, and we will destroy you.”
I thought of my gran, the gentlest woman I had ever known, and of the first Caspia, who had crossed the sea to make a better life for her family. I was descended from a line of strong, brave women, not demons. These Hunters were little better than bullies.
Dangerous, deadly bullies with swords and wings of fire.
Suddenly the ground underneath me trembled. Gently at first, so that the trees merely swayed and shook their leaves. The next tremor was more forceful, rocking the earth so that even the Hunters felt it, squaring their bodies for balance. I clung to Jack, grateful for his solid presence. “What’s happening?” I whispered frantically, as another tremor rocked the Dreamtime.
“Someone wants you to wake up,” Jack said, and he didn’t sound happy about it. “Someone wants it very much.”
I cast a furtive glance over Jack’s shoulder. The group of Hunters still held their swords tightly in their grips, staring at us like we were vermin they couldn’t wait to eradicate. Wake up, I thought. That didn’t sound like a bad plan to me.
“Can’t you just wake up, too?” I asked, as the ground shook so much I stumbled. “Isn’t that the best way to get out of this?” I thought about Jack’s control of the Dreamtime, and a terrible suspicion bloomed. “In fact,” I demanded, feeling anger bubbling up. “Why haven’t you just taken us somewhere else already?”
“Because they would follow us wherever we went. They can roam freely though the Dreamtime now, and I don’t want to risk bringing them close to defenseless people who are dreaming.” He jerked our linked hands in front of him again— a warning gesture to the Hunters. “And I haven’t woken up because that would mean leaving you.”
My suspicion melted away, replaced by guilt. I forgot all about it, though, when the big Hunter leapt effortlessly over the hole in the ground, landing within striking distance. “Now, Jack,” I urged into his ear. He didn’t have to ask what I meant.
As the trees swayed wildly with whatever force battered the Dreamtime, Jack aimed our linked hands directly at the huge Hunter. A thick stream of blue flames hit him squarely in the chest. The force of our attack sent him stumbling backwards, until his feet met the empty gaping hole and tumbled him backwards into nothingness. The other Hunters closed in, stepping around the small crater as if it hadn’t just swallowed their leader. As they closed in with raised swords, I felt Jack pulling hard on the Shadows within me. He hit them with a swath of our combined gifts, starting counter-clockwise and moving across. I watched in fascinated horror as the beam of light tore smoking holes in their battle armor, exposing smooth marble skin.
The only other things that could penetrate angel’s armor were my lost knives and Jack’s sword. I couldn’t believe the power we’d just unleashed.
But still it wasn’t enough. The Hunters we hadn’t managed to hit raised their swords, poised to strike. I closed my eyes tightly against the impending blow.
Only to be thrown backwards by the strongest tremor yet, breaking my link with Jack. I cried out as my head hit the ground. The last thing I saw was Jack surrounded by Hunters, about to be struck down.
Then I woke up.
Soft hands cradled my head. I lay flat on my back on the narrow bed I’d fallen asleep in, with my upper body elevated on someone’s lap. Soft denim rubbed my right cheek, while my left one felt like it was on fire. My hand automatically reached up to rub the spot that ached all the way down to my bones.
“Ssh,” a familiar voice soothed. Ethan. “You’re safe now. Nothing can hurt you.” He smelled of laundered cotton and the spicy musk of fear. But his voice did little to slow my racing heart, even though part of me ached to melt into his lap and never move again.
“That’s right,” announced a terse female voice. “No one is going to hurt you again. Are they?”
I opened my eyes to see Ethan’s light blue-green ones staring down at me. They narrowed slightly at the speaker’s words, but he didn’t look away. Gentle fingers caressed the throbbing side of my face. I smiled at him gratefully, and was rewarded with the faintest twitch at the corners of his mouth. Still, he seemed angry more than anything.
“What . . . happened?” I asked, propping myself up on one elbow. Ethan placed a restraining hand on my breastbone, urging me to relax into his lap once again. As tempting as the invitation was, I had to get my bearings, and fast. I’d left Jack alone to face a half-circle of divine monsters.
Jack. Guilt returned. I could only hope that, without me to worry about, he had somehow gotten away.
The room was crowded. Besides Ethan and myself, I saw Cassandra and her mother. Mrs. Alice stood, solid and reassuring, between them. To Cassandra’s left was a person I barely knew: Jacob Eden, the silversmith who’d made my bracelets. He hardly ever left the Hollow, the odd little community on the outskirts of town that seemed to hum with light and energy. Beside him stood a dark haired, copper skinned young woman whose smile lit up the room. She looked Native American, with glossy dark hair tumbling down one shoulder. Her features were strong rather than delicate, but it didn’t detract from her overall breathtaking beauty. I realized I was staring and ripped my gaze away.
Only to find Asheroth lurking in the deepest shadows of the room. He looked ill at ease and vaguely guilty, like a child who’d been reprimanded for doing something naughty. I was used to seeing my Fallen guardian looking enraged, angry, or demented, but never guilty. What had he done?
“He slapped you,” Cassandra said, as if reading my mind. She spat out the words like they offended her. “With his strength, he could have broken every bone in your face. But he slapped you anyway. More than once.” She whirled on him, one hand on her hip, her foot tapping out an impatient rhythm. “Didn’t you?”
“No one else would do it,” he said, eyes as wide as a puppy’s. “Someone had to wake her up.”
“We would have gotten through eventually,” Cassandra snarled. “We were working on it.”
“I only tapped her,” he continued defensively. “As light as a feather. I swear.”
Above me, Ethan said something under his breath. I got the feeling it wasn’t complimentary.
“We were about to be struck down by a horde of angry Hunters, and I left Jack there to face them alone, thanks to you.” I moved my jaw experimentally and winced. “I just hope Jack is okay.”
A stunned silence ensued. Asheroth turned even whiter than his usual deathly pallor. I hadn’t known that was possible. Then his diamond eyes narrowed to slits. “Hunters?” he said. Before I could blink he was looming over me beside the bed. Ethan tried to get between us but my guardian pushed him away as if he was nothing more than an annoying fly buzzing around. Cold unbreakable hands descended on my shoulders. “What were Hunters,” he snarled, “doing in your dreams?”
“I don’t know,” I said, shrinking away in spite of myself. Asheroth’s anger was always terrifying, even when not directed at me. “Jack says the Dreamtime isn’t safe from them anymore.”
“Then why,” he enunciated carefully, “were you there?”
“Because I have to learn to use my gift!” I shouted, my voice rising to a hysterical pitch. “I can’t just spend my life at the mercy of the Shadows. Is that what you want for me? When Jack and I work together, we become something else. Something . . . more. And we can fight them! We did fight them! We hurt them, burned through their armor.” At that, Asheroth’s nostrils flared in surprise. “Nothing can do that except Azazel’s blades. Isn’t that important? To develop weapons, any weapons at all?”
“The girl is right.” Jacob Eden stepped forward, his face shaded by the Stetson he wore. His voice was soft, but I saw grim determination written across his face. “It’s not just the Dreamtime anymore. They’ve breached the Western wards as well.”
Shocked silence greeted his words. Asheroth seemed frozen in place, not wanting to release me. After a moment, the beautiful girl stepped forward to join him. “They grow stronger,” she said, her voice light and melodious. “How long before they penetrate the heart of Whitfield itself?” Her dark brown eyes pleaded with mine. “With the Dark Realms and its army trying to force its way in, we’re like a piece of iron on a forge, wedged between the hammer and the anvil. It’s only a matter of time before one side or the other finds a way to strike. We have to find a way to fight back.”
“Who are you, exactly?” I asked.
“I guard the West,” she said with a small, sad smile. “Or I used to, before Jacob came and brought me here.” Her huge brown eyes welled with tears. “I am afraid my home is lost to us.”
“Not entirely,” Jacob said gruffly. “The Hollow has a mind of its own, sometimes. They won’t find it an easy conquest.” He pushed his hat back so that I could see angry steel gray eyes. “That’s why we’ve come. Why we’ve called the meeting.”
The beautiful girl, who looked barely older than me and was already the guardian of the Western gate, took his hand. “We need your help,” she said, as if it pained her to admit it.
“You’ll have it, of course,” Mrs. Alice said decisively. “Fallen One, turn the girl loose. There is much we need to do before the Northern guardian arrives.”
Instead, Asheroth plopped down beside me, his weight making the bed groan beneath him. “If the North is coming, I’m not leaving her side,” he announced, and grabbed hold of my upper arm as if laying claim to it.
“We need the North,” Mrs. Alice said, exasperated. “We need all the guardians of all the gates, whether they be Light or Dark in their affiliations. And we had best lay out some plan of action before he gets here. If we’re united in our strategy, it will be that much harder for him to stand against us.”
I was thoroughly confused. I knew about the guardians, and the directions they warded, but I’d only ever met two of them before today: Asheroth and Mrs. Alice. Now it seemed I was to meet all four.
And why did the North seem to scare them so badly?
“Now Alice,” chided a new voice from the doorway. It was so crowded I couldn’t see the speaker, but his voice reminded me of snakes and the electric cold of Shadows. “You shouldn’t start a strategy meeting without me. It wouldn’t be fair.” People strained to move away from the door, as if some magnetic force propelled them outward. In it stood a tall man dressed all in black. His eyes flashed hints of red, and his lips pulled back from teeth that seemed too large for his mouth.
Mrs. Alice rolled her eyes heavenward. “It is only the most dire of emergencies that led me to summon you here at all,” she snapped. “You know that better than anyone. And let me remind you, lest you forget: Blackwood Lodge is warded to the teeth, and has five generations of witches and mages under its roof. One word from me, and you’ll be nothing more than a pile of ash and cinders. So control yourself, Bain, or I won’t hesitate to make you sorry.”
The man in black widened his eyes in mock surprise. “You wound me,” he said, voice heavy with sarcasm. “I would never . . .” His eyes roamed the room and locked on mine, widening in surprise. “And there she is,” he said, wonder replacing sarcasm as he stared at me. “The second Caspia.” I briefly wondered how he knew me, but my thinking was a bit fuzzed, so I let it go. He stepped into the middle of the room, hand extended as if he meant to shake mine. “I’ve so longed to meet you, my dear.” His voice was soft, hypnotic. I found myself rising from the bed, with every intention of going to him.
Asheroth stepped between us while Ethan firmly wrapped his arm around my shoulder. I felt confused and a little drained. “That’s enough,” my Fallen angel said through gritted teeth. “She’s under my protection.”
The man sneered, flashing teeth. “The mighty Southern guardian. How . . . interesting. They said you had a new little pet. I hadn’t expected someone so young.” He sniffed the air deeply. “So innocent,” he drawled, making the word sound obscene. Ethan’s arm convulsed around me. Asheroth nearly vibrated with rage. The man in black only shrugged. “Since no one else has bothered, allow me to introduce myself. Erasmus Bain, guardian of the North, at your service.” He gave me a mocking bow. “Now, dearest Caspia, if you’ll come with us, I believe we have a war to plan. I love a good war. Don’t you?”