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 got to my feet with as much dignity as I could manage. I couldn’t bear to make eye contact with Asheroth when I did it; the look on his face when I’d refused his hand had cut me to the core. Why did he have to go and get all sane on me know, I fumed. Especially now, with a war on the way, when we were going to need all the madness and fury we could scrounge up.
I dusted my hands off on my borrowed jeans. The wind rustled my hair and moved the trees of Huntingdon Forest gently back and forth. The graves surrounding us were very old; some of the headstones were crumbling in places. Worn down by the elements, I had trouble making out the letters on some. Standing here, I felt a deep and profound sense of serenity for the first time in what seemed like ages. I wanted to sink down among the graves and let all our current troubles pass me by. Why was it, I wondered, that I only felt peace when I was surrounded by so much death?
I didn’t have time to wonder for long, though. Asheroth stood staring at my great-grandmother’s grave, his red leather jacket almost the same hue as some of the larger petals of the roses that curled across the headstone. His head was bowed and his hands were curled into fists. The only thing that kept him from looking exactly like a statue was the fact that his black hair moved in the wind, just as mine had.
“Asheroth?” I said uncertainly. I hated to disturb him, but I saw no other choice. He had agreed to help me get Jack back, and that meant we needed to figure out a way into the Twilight Kingdom.
When he swiveled his head to look at me, I automatically took a step backwards. Dark emotions swirled in the depths of his crystalline eyes, and for a moment, he resembled the old mad Asheroth I had loved and feared.
Then he seemed to recognize me, and his expression lightened. “Yes,” he said, drawing out the “s” into one long sibilant hiss. “We do have business to attend. It’s so easy to forget, being here.” He cast a regretful look at the grave. “Sometimes I think I could stand here for years,” he murmured.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and I wasn’t a hundred percent certain what I was apologizing for. There was so much: being descended from the woman he had once loved, so that every time he looked at me he saw an echo of her; forcing him to perform a rescue mission to the Dark Realms to save a boy he didn’t like; for rejecting what appeared to be a heartfelt offer of affection.
But he merely shrugged my apology off. “No matter,” he said, making an effort to smile at me. The expression looked alien and strange on him. “You are certain this boy is necessary to our efforts?”
“I’ll be nothing but a nervous wreck of Shadows without him,” I said. “Together, we can actually do something. We have power. That’s why Belial tried so hard to take me.”
He nodded absently. “All right,” he said, squaring his shoulders. “Then we should go now. Time passes differently there; he would have just lost you, by his reckoning. I doubt he’ll be expecting us to try anything so soon.”
I had forgotten that weeks here were mere days there. “Now?” I repeated. “Like, right now? Don’t we need to come up with a plan of attack? And don’t we need reinforcements?” The only way I wanted to return to the Twilight Kingdom was with a small army and a lot of firepower. But Asheroth was having none of it.
“Just the two of us,” he said with a shake of his head. “That way, hopefully, we can slip in and out without him noticing us. A larger force would be . . . counterproductive.”
“Just exactly how do you propose we do that?” I asked. “It took a small army to get me there in the first place.”
Asheroth looked amused. “No, Caspia. The small army was for the rest of us, to keep us too occupied to come to your aid. It only took one person to open the portal that actually took you there.” His smile was smug. “And it only takes one person to open a return portal there.”
I didn’t bother asking him to clarify. Of course he meant himself. I hated portals under the best of circumstances, but the thought of using one to return to such a terrible place made my knees weak.
And there was the small fact that Ethan was going to kill me. He already hated that Jack and I shared a common bond. He was going to go ballistic if I snuck off with Asheroth to return to the Dark Realms without him.
“Can we do that without getting caught?” I asked apprehensively. “Won’t there be alarms or something? Won’t he figure out we’re there?”
Asheroth began to pace in a small circle between headstones. “I expect Belial’s little part of the Dark Realms will be warded, yes. But I’m counting on us being able to move quickly.” His expression darkened. “And if you and this Jack of yours really can do what you say you can, then we’ll have a way to fight if we must. Of course, I can always take Belial on myself, if necessary.”
I remembered the first time Asheroth had tried to fight Belial. It was obvious the demon was stronger. I wondered if he would be even more powerful in his own territory. I didn’t want to find out. We would have to get to Jack as quickly as possible to avoid Belial completely.
“Okay,” I said, hoping I sounded more confident than I felt. “Just how exactly do we do this?”
“The Dark Realms are an almost infinite space,” he said, continuing with his pacing. “It is possible to wander there for lifetimes.” His face darkened. “Some poor souls do.”
“So how do we find our way back?”
“Not all parts of the Dark Realms are the same. Some of the stronger demons sometimes take over parts that suit them, and set up their own territories. This is what Belial has done with his Twilight Kingdom. There will be a kind of signature over the place, unique only to him. Since we are . . . acquainted . . . I should be able to take us to the general area of his stronghold.” He grimaced. “I memorized his energy signal when he returned you. Without it I could never have found you in the vast space of the Dark Realms. I would have come for you right away were it otherwise.” His eyes pleaded with me to believe him. “But since we must move quickly, it will be important to pinpoint an exact location to find your Jack.”
I wanted to protest that he wasn’t “my” Jack, but Asheroth was acting lucid, and I didn’t want to derail him. “So how do we do that?”
“Can you focus on a particular spot where your Jack might be? You must be able to visualize it almost perfectly, Caspia. If you can do that, I can do the rest.”
I nodded, considering. “All the Nephilim are kept in one area. My bedroom was right next door to Jack’s,” I said, remembering. “I think I can visualize it pretty well. And it will get us close to him. Unless, of course, he’s been summoned elsewhere.” I remembered the way Belial had punched him in the stomach in the audience room. I spared a minute to hope that Jack would be safe in his bedroom when we showed up.
Asheroth looked grim. “Let us hope that is not the case.” He reached out and lifted my chin until my gaze was level with his. “Caspia, you must promise me something,” he said solemnly.
I nodded, unable to look away from his brightly burning eyes.
“You must swear that if I tell you to leave, you will do so, no questions asked. No matter what happens, you will do as I say.”
“Okay,” I agreed softly, hoping I hadn’t just made a promise I couldn’t keep.
Satisfied, he dropped his hand to capture my own. We stood like that, holding hands and facing each other, as the wind picked up around us. “Now picture this room,” he urged me. “Picture it down to the last detail, as best you can.”
I nodded and closed my eyes. My mind began to paint a picture: broad strokes at first, like the general color scheme and rough outline of the larger pieces of furniture. Then I began to fill in the details. I envisioned the exact color and texture of the bedspread, and the grain of the wood that made up the four-poster bed. I saw the carvings on the wardrobe and the cut glass on the double doors that led out to the balcony. I traced the patterns on the thick rug that covered the rough-hewn stone of the floor. I remembered how the low light cast long shadows across the room. As I thought of all these things, I felt the familiar cold dizziness of a portal opening. Asheroth’s hands tightened on my own, and my stomach felt like it had dropped down to my knees as we traded the warmth and fresh air of the graveyard for the dank cool environment of the Twilight Kingdom.
This time I couldn’t blame the urge to vomit on the joys of portal travel. As I opened my eyes to the dim, dank space, I knew we had returned to scene of my worst nightmares. We stood in the middle of the room I had so meticulously constructed from memory. I tried to feel relief that our plan had worked, but all I felt was a growing sense of panic. My heart raced as I struggled for breath.
“Caspia, we must hurry,” Asheroth snapped. I dragged my gaze up from the stone floor and almost choked with surprise. He stood before me in all his Fallen angelic glory, his full dark abyss-wings spread out behind him. He saw me staring and made an impatient sound. “I can draw on the power of the Dark Realms through them,” he said. “And we need every advantage we can get. Now quickly— where is the boy?”
I tried to gather my courage. “He came to me by jumping from his balcony to mine,” I said, indicating the heavy double doors. “Belial locked me in, and it was the only way.”
Asheroth nodded curtly and strode to the balcony doors. When he flung them wide, I was treated to a glimpse of the familiar twilight sky. I was stuck again by just how different skies could be; at home, twilight was beautiful, a time when the lights came on in the square, and the fountain lit up with multiple colors. But here the same time of day was the color of a fading bruise, all sickly yellows and blues and hints of green. I resisted when Asheroth pulled me behind him, but it did no good. My Fallen angel turned to me impatiently.
“We have no time,” he growled, and I saw the familiar notes of madness in his eyes again. Here was the Asheroth I knew at last, with wings like black holes and clothes the color of old blood, backlit by a stomach-twisting horizon. He pulled me all the way outside until we both stood on the small balcony, hundreds of feet above the barren ground. Other small balconies jutted off into space, a seemingly impossible distance from my own. “Which one?” he asked impatiently.
“There,” I pointed, indicating Jack’s room. “He came to me from that one. I’ve never been inside. I couldn’t make the jump.” I grimaced. “But he could.”
He eyed me critically. “I wouldn’t risk you now, Caspia. I will go and retrieve this boy, if he is there to be found. You must stay right here and wait for us.” He poked me squarely in the chest with a cold, unbending finger. “Remember what you promised.”
I nodded miserably. I didn’t want to stay here, alone, but knew I had no chance to make it across to the other balcony, and to insist that Asheroth carry me, if he even could, would only slow him down. I looked at the rocky ground far below and thought of falling to my death. “Be careful,” I squeaked, tearing my gaze back up to his. I thought I saw him smirk.
“Don’t worry, Caspia Chastain,” he said, flexing his abyss-wings as he climbed up onto the edge of the balcony railing. “I’ll be right back.” This high up, the wind was strong enough to whip his hair into his eyes. And then he leapt with the predatory grace of a large cat, landing on the railing of the other balcony effortlessly. He gave me an enormous, Cheshire-cat grin, and disappeared through Jack’s doorway.
Leaving me alone again in the Twilight Kingdom.