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.
Any reply I might have had was swallowed by the forest looming over us.
As we piled out from the car, I pushed my fear for Asheroth and my shock at Ethan’s revelation into a deep corner of my mind. The massive iron gates stood sentinel in front of us. There was something compelling about their sinuous beauty— the way the metal bars twisted in and around themselves; the way the iron barbs snaked out just like thorns; the top so tall I was sure none of us could reach it, even standing on each other’s shoulders. The massive gate bled into long sections of fences that stretched through the tress until I could no longer see them. They looked as though they were made of a single piece of metal, although I knew that couldn’t be true. Not if they were man-made. It was both grotesque and attractive at the same time. For the first time in ages my palms itched with something other than Shadows. I wanted badly to draw it, gloomy or not.
But there was no time. I would just have to commit it to memory and hope to capture it later at some other, safer, location. Because I couldn’t deny the feeling that we weren’t safe, even though we were supposedly expected guests. The others must have felt it, too. We gathered slowly together in front of the gate, looking around us with varying degrees of interest and fear. I felt like I had walked into a very dark and twisted fairy tale.
I reached out and stroked the iron bars. They were ice-cold to the touch. “No handle,” I said softly. It seemed wrong to use a normal tone of voice.
“How do we get in, then?” Cassandra asked. She had wrapped her arms around herself and was trying to disappear. If there was an environment that was the complete opposite of her normally sunny disposition, this was it, and she seemed to be taking it hard. Logan smoothed her blond hair down her back.
“Do you remember the first time we all went to Asheroth’s compound?” Ethan asked. “It was Logan, Caspia, and me, and we tripped a bunch of alarms.”
“But we’re . . . supposed to be expected,” Cassandra said. She was shivering now.
“Mmm hmm,” Jack agreed. “And this seems exactly like Bain’s idea of hospitality. He’d have been quite at home in the Dark Realms.” He turned to Ethan. “What did you do to get into Asheroth’s compound before?”
“Blood,” Ethan said at last. He very obviously didn’t want to answer. “The blood of a Nephilim. Logan, specifically.”
“No!” Cassandra shouted, grabbing my brother roughly by the shoulder as he started towards the gate. Her shout commanded the attention of the entire forest; there was a long pause after her outburst, as if the wilderness itself was listening to us now. “Bain won’t care about a Nephilim, or any other supernatural,” she said, more calmly now. “He will have keyed the gate to respond to another Guardian.”
“Whatever happened to good old fashioned cell phones?” Logan grumbled.
“Well, we don’t have another Guardian,” Ethan countered, studiously avoiding my eyes. “If we did, he could just make a portal and bring us through.”
Ethan hadn’t said ‘his’ name, but it stung anyway. I was the reason Asheroth wasn’t here. Hopefully I would be enough to get us into Bain’s territory. I pulled away from everyone and found myself facing the gate alone.
“It has to be me, then,” I said. No one countered me, although they didn’t seem happy about it, either. I took a step forward to the towering iron thorns. In lieu of a handle, they had barbs several inches long sticking out. I traced their outlines with my fingers, trying to get a sense of how sharp they were, and discovered to my surprise that unlike the rest of them, the tips of these particular thorns were hollow at the very end.
Hollow, but still very sharp.
I felt Ethan’s warm hand settle across the top of my shoulders, his thumb rubbing the back of my neck in a singular stroke. I took a deep breath, and impaled my hands on the hungry metal. The pain was deep and piercing. I choked back a scream.
The fake thorns seemed to come alive as soon as they tasted my blood. They twisted and writhed, resembling fingers now, holding me tight in their grasp as the whole gate in front of me started to move. The very air around us came awake then, the trees swaying in the suddenly rising wind as if wanting to get as close to us as possible. And all the while the metal barbs stayed buried in my skin, sucking out my blood as the iron doors slowly swung open.
The longer the gate had me, the dizzier I felt. I heard people shouting my name, felt insistent hands on my shoulders. But nothing helped; the iron held me fast. The world seemed to tilt sideways as I saw the gate open even wider. Someone had me by the waist, keeping me from falling. I lolled like a rag doll.
Then a flock of blackbirds flew overhead, blocking out what remained of the sun. The world went gray around me.
“Put her head between her knees,” someone said. I felt myself being lowered slowly to the ground, multiple hands supporting my neck and upper body. The sharp pain of punctures in my hands had faded slightly, to a dull throb.
“Easy,” Cassandra barked from in front of me. I heard ripping cloth and opened my eyes to see her tearing at the hem of her skirt. My skirt, I realized. I felt myself frown. I had liked that skirt.
Ethan knelt and brushed my hair out of my eyes. He held my throbbing hands palms-up in his own. “How are you feeling?” he asked gently, his own eyes huge with concern.
“Unnh,” was my only reply.
Cassandra shoved him roughly out of the way, kneeling in front of me with several make-shift bandages. She examined my wounds in the eerie half-light that filtered weakly through the trees. Several puncture marks radiated outward from the middle in a spiral pattern. Blood trickled down onto the ground. With ruthless efficiency, she wiped at the wounds with one of the pieces of my skirt, before winding the remaining fabric around and around until my hands resembled a mummy’s. She managed to accomplish this before I even had a chance to ask what happened.
“I’m going to kill that bastard,” Logan said through gritted teeth.
“We have to find him first,” Jack said, turning around very slowly to survey our new surroundings. “And something tells me that’s not going to be pleasant.”
True enough, the forest on this side of the gate seemed darker, more malevolent, than it had just minutes before on the other side. Before, the trees seemed dense and choking, as if they had managed to swallow most of the sunlight. Here they bowed towards us hungrily, as if ready to consume us. The light was even scarcer. Looking out towards the deep woods, I felt as if I could almost see patches of midnight within.
“Come on,” Cassandra said, pulling me gently to my feet. “Mrs. Alice can fix this, once we get to her.” She slipped an arm around my waist. “Maybe she can fix Bain, too,” she said with a wink. I managed a weak smile.
The forest seemed to close in on us even more as we walked. I felt lightheaded and floaty, so everything seemed surreal to me anyway, but I couldn’t help but notice that the others became more and more agitated the further in we went.
Then I noticed the lights.
Far off in the distance, in the deepest pockets of shadows, pulses of brightness appeared in the near-dusk. I wanted to stop and look more closely, but Cassandra pulled me roughly onward. I blinked to make sure I wasn’t seeing things— aftereffects of the blood loss. But even when I blinked and looked away, the patches of glowing light remained.
“Does anyone else see that?” I asked, softly, as if not wanting to disturb the forest around us.
“I do,” Jack admitted, although there was reluctance in his voice. “It feels familiar here, somehow. As if I’ve been here before.” He frowned and studied one of the far-off patches of light. “No, it’s more like I’ve touched something like it before.”
While I puzzled that over, I let my attention be caught by another pulse of light, closer to the trail this time. I pulled away from Cassandra when she tried to keep me moving, and stood and stared. I wasn’t just looking at random patches of light and shadows; no, what confronted me was an entire scene of some kind, a snapshot of a movie I didn’t yet understand.
I saw Asheroth. A hazy, wintery version of him wavered just beyond the trees that lined the trail, blinking in and out of existence as I approached. He looked as if he had been fighting, and lost. His red leather jacket was missing entirely, leaving him more vulnerable to attack. His black shirt and red pants were ripped in several places, revealing gaping wounds underneath. His eyes were wild, with pain instead of madness, and he moved raggedly as if in a small, confined space, trying to avoid invisible assailants.
I broke free of Cassandra and rushed the tree line. Weeds and thorns tore at my jeans, but I was desperate to reach the vision of Asheroth. I had barely left the path, however, when Jack forcefully grabbed my elbow and hauled me back, away from the dense underbrush.
“But . . . !” I yelled, trying even harder to pull away from him. “Don’t you see? He’s being hurt!” I beat at Jack’s arms, trying to break away, but he only held me tighter.
“Ssh,” he tried to soothe me, but it wasn’t working. I could see Asheroth now, being battered by invisible blows, the pain on his face growing sharper, more acute, with each passing second. Then he seemed to catch sight of me, and fixed me with haunted, pain-filled, accusatory eyes. I choked; I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. It was my fault he had been left behind, left to suffer unknown horrors.
“It’s. Not. Real,” Jack said through gritted teeth. He shook me. “This place? I said it reminded me of something? Well, it’s like the Dreamtime is near, but instead it’s a series of nightmares. Like this place can sense your worst fears, your biggest guilt, and turn those into a living vision tailor made just for you. Don’t believe it, Caspia. You have to know, on some level, that it’s just a nightmare.”
“A waking nightmare?” I echoed.
“A nightmare forest, where the fabric between worlds is thin,” Jack corrected. He pulled me back on to the path and I went, unresisting this time. The nightmare version of Asheroth had turned his back to me.
“Can you see it?” I asked hoarsely, still not quite ready to let go of my vision.
“No,” Jack said, patiently. “That’s because it’s not there. Not really. But it wasn’t too hard to figure out what you must be seeing. I know how you feel about it.”
I was starting to wonder if Bain’s territory was really worth it, even if it was where the other Guardians were supposed to be meeting, and even if it was the only supposedly safe Gate left in Whitfield.
“It feels dangerous here,” I said, pulling my arms around me for warmth. The temperature in the nightmare forest seemed to have dropped about twenty degrees.
“Anywhere that touches the Dreamtime so closely puts us very close to Hunters,” Jack said, taking the point position of our group. “And that is very dangerous, indeed.”
We walked faster now, as a group, trying very hard not to look out into the trees. I don’t know what the others saw, but it must have been frightening, because everyone began to rush after that. I know that I saw movement out of the corners of my eyes, and heard disembodied sound, as if people were talking right off the path. I heard my parents, at one point. That’s what it took to get me really mad, at last— if these were Bain’s defenses, he was playing dirty by bringing my dead parents into the nightmare.
After what seemed like forever we crested the top of a hill. The forest melted away on either side of us, and a vast clearing appeared. Regular, late afternoon sunlight streamed down on us. After the gloom we’d left behind, I wished I could literally bathe in it. The nightmare forest receded behind us, and I could see a huge, two-story house made of gray stone and slate. A long driveway made a u-curve in front of it, and several cars waited there.
I supposed the other Guardians must have gotten there earlier. I wondered how long they had been waiting for us. Just how long had we been walking through the forest? Time seemed as if it had slowed and was now speeding up again.
We paused on the porch, unsure of whether to knock or just walk right in. We were expected, after all. But while we stood there in the shade of the long porch, the door creaked open of its own accord. Deep mahogany floors and leaded glass windows gleamed from within. I took a first, hesitant step across the threshold, and was enveloped in a world of luxury.
Asheroth’s compound had been nice. Blackwood Lodge was homey. I hadn’t been to the Gate located in the Hollow, but I had a hard time imagining anything lusher than this house. A curving staircase twisted up in front of us. A marble topped table bore a floral arrangement that reached several feet high towered in the center of the foyer. I could see a long dining room table, big enough to accommodate maybe twenty people, stretching off into the darkness. Parquet floors creaked ever so slightly beneath my feet, making me aware of just how filthy I was. I flexed my bandage-covered hands and felt the puncture marks sting.
“Bain!” Ethan prowled to the front of the group, keeping me behind him. “Answer me!”
“Well, nice to see you too,” said our immaculately groomed host, appearing at the top of the curving stairs. He was dressed all in black, a vision of silk and cashmere and wool that glided down the stairs to stand right in front of me, ignoring Ethan entirely. “I see you made it, my dear,” he grinned, flashing me a very sharp-toothed smile. He reached down as if to take my and in his and shook his head in mock dismay. “Oh dear. I see we had a little run-in with the security gate?”
I simply crossed my arms and said nothing. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing how much it had hurt. We did, after all, have to work with this man. But when this was over, when we didn’t need him anymore, Mr. Bain was going to find himself very sorry indeed. One look at Ethan showed that he echoed my thoughts.
“Never mind,” I said, my smile full of saccharine. “Please just show us to the others, so we can get started,” I said, not wanting to spend more than a single unnecessary minute in his company.
“Oh, the planning’s already been accomplished,” he said, giving me a condescending look. He started off down the foyer, and I dutifully followed him, trying to conceal my growing anger.
“What do you mean, ‘already been accomplished’?” Logan asked tersely.
“Well,” he drawled, and then turned to indicate a highly polished, frosted glass door. “I do hope you don’t mind that the grown-ups already made plans, but we simply couldn’t put it off any longer. You see, all the Gates and part of the town is now vulnerable to attack.” He paused as if this truly pained him, but he looked like he was trying hard to suppress his glee.
“We know,” Cassandra snapped. “We just came from the town center,” she reminded him.
Bain pushed the door open, revealing the rest of the Guardians and their companions. They looked up from a three-dimensional map that appeared to be floating in the middle of the room. Various parts of it were outlined in red and purple. Mrs. Alice frowned at me, and then Cassandra, and then rushed towards us.
Before she could make it all the way, Bain blocked her. “We’ve decided to lure our enemies’ forces here, cutting them off from the rest of the town.”
“Lure them?” I asked, not liking the sound of this plan at all. “Lure them how, exactly?”
If Bain had been a cat, he would have been purring. “By offering them what they both want most, of course.” He brushed my cheek with a sharp fingernail. “The Gifted Nephilim.”
“You mean . . .”
He nodded. “You, the Dreamwalker, and your brother, of course.”