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.
A strong blast of wind almost knocked me off my feet. I grabbed on to the railing for support and wished I was wearing something more substantial, like a heavy coat or something. Everything was cold here: the stone hallways; the floor beneath my feet; the sharp biting breeze across the balcony.
I brushed my hair back from my face and watched the door Asheroth had disappeared into. I couldn’t see anything, not even a light. I tried to ignore the feeling of apprehension that clawed its way up the back of my neck. What if Jack wasn’t there at all? What if he’d switched rooms, or was training with the other Nephilim? Or worst of all, what if Belial had him again? I remembered the time he’d come to my apartment, his back deeply clawed by a Hellhound.
No. I wouldn’t think that way. Asheroth would find him. He had to. I had come because we needed Jack to fight both the Light and the Dark, but standing there surrounded by a demon’s wasteland, I realized he was more than a human weapon to me. I was also there because I wanted him back.
Ethan was going to be so pissed.
I felt a faintly familiar chill behind me. It tugged at my memory, reminding me of . . . I couldn’t quite place it. I stepped backwards into the threshold of the balcony door, hoping to shield myself from the cold just a little, and the feeling intensified. Alarmed now, I spun around, hands clenched into fists at my side in case I needed to use them.
And found myself surrounded by nothing more than a foggy mist. A Grey Lady hovered just in front of me, surrounding me with her incorporeal form. She floated backwards a few inches and stopped, as if beckoning me to follow. Spectral arms waved me further into the room, but I stayed put, more alarmed than anything else. I knew so little about the Grey Ladies. What if this one had some way of alerting Belial, or the less friendly Nephilim? What if they were on their way now? I debated calling out to Asheroth across the balcony, but decided that would definitely make too much noise. Instead, I studied the gray form as its gestures became more and more frantic.
When I refused to budge, it floated away from me, across the room and over to the wardrobe. Her mannerisms became more pronounced, to the point that parts of her appeared almost solid. Something about her seemed vaguely familiar, and I remembered the single Grey Lady who had often hovered near me during my time here. Was it the same one? She gestured to the wardrobe with what looked like arms.
“What?” I snapped, out of fear and impatience. “What do you want from me?” But she merely stood there beside the wardrobe, reaching for it again and again with hands that couldn’t touch. “You want me to . . . what? Open that?” As she pulled more and more insistently at the wardrobe’s door handle, her misty hands actually became firm enough to look like fingers.
I cast a long look out the door and at the other balcony. No sign of anyone yet— not so much as a flicker of light or a shadow of movement. Surely there was time to see what the Grey Lady was so desperate to show me. I felt a brief pang of conscience as I remembered my promise to Asheroth. “Stay right here,” he’d told me.
But when had I ever done as he asked?
I stepped around the four poster bed and approached the creature hesitantly. “All right,” I told her. “I’ll open it, just stand back.” I didn’t want any part of her touching me. I remembered walking through her once before, and it had been almost pleasantly cool, but tonight was full of dangers and darkness. I didn’t want any contact with the creatures of the Dark Realms.
She obeyed, and the wooden door, ornate with carvings, creaked slowly open. Nothing hung on the clothes rod, and most of the shelves were empty. A mirror ran the full length of the back of one of the doors, and for a moment my own reflection startled me. A pale girl with violet shadows under her eyes stared back at me, her dark hair wild and tangled, wearing clothes that hung too loosely on her body. It had been so long since I’d stopped to look at myself. I almost didn’t know who I was.
The Grey Lady appeared at my shoulder in the mirror, her soft moan making me jump. She indicated the upper most shelf of the wardrobe. It was the only one that had anything on it. Unnerved by her closeness, I quickly reached up and felt for the object, my hand landing on something soft but smooth.
Leather. There was a pile of leather up there. A growing excitement made me rip down the bundle with both hands.
Black leather, a garment of some kind. I wanted to weep with relief. Instead I held it close to my heart like I would a frightened baby, because I knew what it was now. Ethan’s jacket. The jacket he had given me so very long ago, the very one he had buttoned me into when we’d been attacked by Asheroth and his minions. The battle armor that had saved my life many times, that I thought had been lost to me forever.
The Grey Lady had grown still and quiet, as if pacified now that I’d found the jacket. “Thank you,” I whispered gratefully, stroking the fabric. I began to unroll it to put it on. It would protect me here, and that was good, but mostly I wanted some reminder of Ethan next to my skin. It made me feel anchored, even loved.
But as I continued to unfold it, something clanked from inside its folds. Something hard and metallic. I laid the half-folded jacket out on the heavy velvet bedspread, afraid of dropping whatever was inside. With shaking fingers I peeled back the fabric, and stood stock still in shock. My daggers had been folded up inside it. My twin daggers that Asheroth had given me, the ones that belonged to the first Caspia. Now I really felt like crying. As I reached out to caress the hilts, I remembered the one and only time I had used them to cut through Asheroth’s jacket, slicing open his stone angel’s skin.
I had my weapons back. I could cut through angels and demons alike. I slid one out of its sheath, watching the shadows dance off its long straight surface. The weight of them felt instantly familiar, and I knew then the use of them was carried in my blood. Ethan had Azazel’s sword, and I had the daggers. Together, we could do serious damage to any angel, Fallen or otherwise, that got in our way. “Thank you,” I said to the near-apparition. I wasn’t sure who had saved my most precious possessions from Belial, who had thought to hide them away, but she had obviously had something to do with it. I tucked the knives into their sheaths and slipped them into the back pockets of my jeans. The leather jacket I tucked under my arm.
Two things happened so quickly I wasn’t sure which of them was first. The door to my room flew open, revealing Belial standing there with a smirk on his face. And the Grey Lady rushed me, wrapping me in her mist so completely it was like being swallowed by a storm cloud.
Images pressed themselves into my brain, so quickly it was hard to make sense of them. I saw a frost-rimed window with many panes of glass, a young girl’s reflection gazing right out at me. She had honey blond hair and gray eyes that shone silver in the moonlight, and it was clear she had been crying. Behind her, a man stood watching her, with ink back hair and eyes the color of diamonds. I could just make out the shadow of something shimmering white at his back.
It took a moment to sink in. Asheroth, I realized. I was looking at my guardian before his wings had turned into sucking black holes. Before he had Fallen.
But I didn’t have time to make any sense of the vision. Belial strode into the room. The Grey Lady backed away from me, squeezing herself into a tight corner behind the wardrobe door. Belial seemed not to notice her. Instead he advanced on me slowly, each step deliberate and predatory.
“It was only a matter of time before I got you back,” he said softly, his sightless eyes fixed directly on me. “I would have burned your little town to the ground, killing everyone in it, to possess you again. Not just because I need you, but because you ran away.” His boots made sharp clicking sounds on the flagstone floor as he approached me, punctuating each word. “But instead, you have my gratitude for making it so easy on me.” He prowled even closer. I backed up as he advanced, until I felt the cold wind from the open balcony door cut through my thin cotton shirt. He wore the same black suede trimmed with silver that seemed to be a uniform around here, and his wings were terrifying. I realized he had never extended them before. So tall they brushed the ceiling, his wings looked like they harbored fierce storms in their depths. Silver fire crackled deep within the abyss, and the edges of them weren’t ragged like other Fallen angel’s. Instead, Belial’s wings were rimmed with fire. “No one,” he sneered, “runs away from me. No one.”
I held Ethan’s jacket up between us like a shield, wishing hard that I’d spent less time petting it and more time putting it on. I reached slowly for my dagger and then froze as I saw over Belial’s shoulder into the hallway behind him. It was filling up with people. And things.
I saw other Fallen angels, their abyss-wings unfurled, in jackets of different textures and fabrics. They were all fully armored, then. Nephilim, also in house colors, hovered just beyond the threshold. Some I’d seen before. I even recognized tiny Caroline Bedford, looking miserable beside a scar-faced Nephilim who held her roughly by her upper arm. I heard a familiar deep snarl and backed up even further until I was all the way out on the balcony, with nothing but the gut-wrenching sky above my head. Hellhounds. Caroline must be controlling them again. At least, I hoped she was, and they weren’t running wild. The room filled up even more as Belial’s forces followed him in.
I didn’t stop backing up until I felt the stone railing against my back. I fumbled for one of my daggers, still clutching the jacket to my chest like the armor it was.
“That’s close enough,” I said, and my voice shook more than I liked. I wanted to sound strong, sure of myself, but inside I was quaking. I stabbed at air. Belial laughed.
“Come inside before you damage yourself, little one,” he purred. “If you behave, I won’t hurt you.” I saw a gleam of fang when he smiled. I shot a quick glance sideways to the other balcony. Still no Asheroth. Still no Jack. I began to panic even more when I realized enough time had passed that they should be back by now. Unless something unexpected had happened. I could only hope that it wasn’t bad, and that they were having better luck than me.
A cold stone hand, so exactly like my Ethan’s had been once, shot straight out and grabbed my wrist. Belial moved so fast I could barely see him; one minute I was holding up my dagger in a shaky hand, and the next I was pinned, pulled right up against the demon. I could feel his body pressed against mine. If he wasn’t taller than me, we would have been nose to nose.
Long pale fingers tightened around my wrist, and began to apply pressure. Slight at first, so it was merely uncomfortable, but when I began to pull against him, Belial tightened his hold. My hand convulsed, and almost dropped the dagger, but I held on. I could feel my bones grinding against each other, and it brought tears to my eyes. I bit down so hard on my lip that it bled, determined not to cry out.
“Let it go,” Belial said through clenched teeth. “It will do you no good here.” Behind him, one of the Fallen angels grinned. I recognized his snakeskin jacket. He was the one who had grabbed me in the forest, the night I first came here, to the Twilight Kingdom. Beside him the Hellhounds paced, flicking their tails. I wondered how long Caroline could hold them, and what they would do to me if she couldn’t.
A blur of white and red leather shot past my left ear. A loud crack boomed, like huge rocks grinding against each other, as if the very earth was crying out. Belial jerked backwards, pulling me with him. I felt myself starting to fall forward when a leather clad arm shot out.
“You don’t want to do that,” Asheroth said in an almost conversational tone. I watched as he clenched his fist tightly around Belial’s arm. “Trust me. You really don’t.”
And then he turned to me and winked. He was actually grinning. I don’t think I had ever seen him look quite so insane.
Belial only increased his hold. I could see my skin around his fingers turning white, then deep red. It felt like my bones were cracking. I couldn’t help it; I screamed.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” my mad Fallen angel said, still grinning like a maniac. I felt the dagger at my back moving, slipping free from its sheath. I was screaming; my hand was breaking; the world was whiting out at the edges, its center a darkening mass of pain.
Then Asheroth drove my dagger straight into Belial’s eye, all the way up to the hilt.
The demon roared, shouting out a long string of syllables in a language I didn’t understand. He let go off my wrist entirely and stumbled backwards, clutching at his eye. Asheroth stood there, panting, grinning, holding my blade that now had black ichor dripping from its tip. As Hellhounds and Fallen angels crowded forward to fill the gap left by their leader, he turned and threw the dagger over my head. I watched it spin, end over end, expecting it to fly right over me and off the balcony entirely.
But it didn’t. A tattooed human hand shot out at the last second, somehow managing to grab it by the hilt. A Hellhound leapt at Asheroth; he punched it in the face. “That’s our cue to leave, Cas,” Jack said, slipping an arm around my waist. I barely looked at him. Belial’s forces were closing in around my mad guardian angel. More Hellhounds prowled the edges of the group, and Fallen ones flexed their dark wings, adjusting their leather jackets as they closed in around him. Asheroth stood in a closing circle, surrounded on all sides by Belial’s army. With a cry, he launched himself at the closest Fallen angel, going down in a flurry of kicks and punches.
I struggled to get free of Jack. “We can’t leave him!” I shouted, starting forwards to the group with my single remaining blade. “They’ll kill him!”
“We have to,” Jack insisted. “He’s doing this for you.” He spun me so that I faced him. I couldn’t see the fighting any more, but the howls and screams coming from behind me told me all I needed to know. There was no way Asheroth could win against that crowd. He’d just stabbed their leader, and they were after his blood.
Jack shook me by the shoulders. “You have to, Cas,” he insisted, dragging me further out on the balcony. I started to protest again, to point out that neither one of us had the power to transport ourselves out of the Dark Realms, when I saw the gaping dark hole hanging in the air just over the edge of the balcony.
“Oh no,” I said, looking at the hole cutting through space. “Oh hell no.”
“We have to. He made it for us. He’s sacrificing himself for us,” Jack implored, his hold on my waist still strong. “You have to jump.”
“No. Way.” The sounds of fighting rose to a crescendo behind us.
Jack jerked me forward and lifted me up, depositing me on his bare inked shoulder. For the second time in a day, I found myself being carried like a sack of potatoes. But I had no time to protest as Jack wrestled me up onto the railing. There was a moment when we were airborne, and I just knew we were going to fall to our deaths. But then the familiar feeling of portal sickness took me, turning everything black and cold.
I landed flat on my back with Jack’s weight crushing down on me. The world spun crazily as I tried not to be sick. I kicked and pushed, but my fellow Azalene was a dead weight on top of me.
Then, suddenly, Jack was gone, snatched away as if he was as light as a leaf. The ground felt rough underneath my cheek, and the sun was high in the sky above me. I was free to breathe, so I took quick desperate gulps of fresh air.
Only to look up and see Ethan’s long shadow cast in the grass right beside me. He looked like murder itself. Fury etched his otherwise gentle features. He threw Jack backwards like he didn’t care if he lived or died, and squatted down beside me so that I could see the fire buried in his blue-green eyes.
“What the hell have you done?” he demanded.