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 reached for my hand and gave me a sharp pull upward. I used to hate the way he always did that— pulled me into the Dreamtime, that is— until I realized that without him doing it, I would have to crawl my way out of my sleeping body. I’d done that once or twice, and didn’t care to repeat the experience. So I took Jack’s hand gratefully as he pulled me up.
“So what now?” I asked, keeping my voice barely above a whisper out of sheer habit.
From across the room, Jack smirked at me, as if to tease me for my caution. “Now we go and gather intelligence, as we planned,” he said. “Like spies do, you know.” He beckoned me to the door, and we found ourselves alone in the warren of bedrooms that made up the second floor of Bane’s house. Thick carpet blanketed our footsteps. Most of the doors were closed. A very few stood open with the beds made, revealing the kind of luxury that elegant magazines regularly featured. I resisted the urge to stop and stare, reminding myself that all those closed doors meant an almost full house. I remembered the visitors from the night before, and wondered what kind of people . . . or creatures . . . the house now sheltered, and what part they would play in the coming conflict.
It was surprisingly easy to find our way back out of Bane’s house. I stood nervously in the foyer, my eyes darting every which way, wondering if an alarm would sound or hounds would chase us when Jack pulled the door open. When nothing happened, he gestured for me to go first with a mocking bow.
Outside, the clearing between Bane’s house and the nightmare forest had filled up with people, too. Some had pitched tents, while other lay dreaming around banked fires. Burned down to nothing but embers, they made the meadow look like it had been sprinkled with tiny stars against the subtle midnight blue of the Dreamtime.
“Come on,” Jack whispered. “Let’s go and see what we can find out.” He took my hand, and I grasped it gratefully, happy for the warmth and reassurance. I shivered a little; the nightgown and thick robe I’d found in my top bedroom drawer did little to keep the night chill away. The grass felt soft under my feet as Jack led me around the clearing.
We counted nearly a hundred sleeping souls. In some cases, the air above them seemed to shimmer. When that happened, and we were nearby, Jack would suck in a breath and lean in to get a better look. I knew these were people’s dreams, but they made no sense to me— all I could see were hazy shapes and sometimes colors. But Jack could read them like a second language. He didn’t share with me what all of them were, but occasionally he would tell me softly that this one was dreaming of fighting, while another missed her bed.
A hundred souls. It seemed like a disappointingly small number to me. In my mind, we could never have enough people to defeat the legions of enemies that I was sure awaited us. But Jack rubbed my thumb with his own and told me not to despair yet.
“Besides, I know some of the guardians are bringing in people all through the night. So there are bound to be more.”
“Do any of them have . . . abilities?” I asked, hoping that we had somehow managed to assemble the greatest army of supernaturals Whitfield had ever seen.
“There’s no good way to tell through dreams, Caspia,” Jack said, a little regretfully. “A few of them, I’m pretty sure they were shifters, just from the make-up of their dreams. But the others? It’s hard to tell.”
“We’ll just have to wait until tomorrow to find out,” I sighed, resigned. So much was supposed to happen tomorrow. There was the binding ceremony, being cut off from the rest of Whitfield, and oh yeah. Going to war. I was sick of the waiting already.
“There are still things we can find out tonight,” Jack whispered, holding on to my hand. He gave me a lopsided grin. “Are you ready?”
At my wordless nod, he drew an arch in the air in front of us. It looked just like a seam had split in the night sky; bright light poured in around the edges. The space underneath the arch began to shimmer. Jack stepped through and pulled me quickly after him. I felt the familiar churning in my stomach that often accompanied portal travel. However, I didn’t feel nearly as sick as I usually did when Asheroth dragged me somewhere. We emerged in a sparse forest with few places to hide. The trees grew together in scraggily clumps, and large evergreen bushes populated a few of the gaps. I stood there feeling exposed in the uncertain light, unsure of what to do.
I didn’t have long to wait, however. Beyond the sad excuse for a forest, open fields stretched in all directions. And they were occupied— by Hunters. I sucked in a surprised breath, and then froze. Jack grabbed my hand and dragged me into a copse of trees. They were barely enough to provide cover, but they were better than nothing.
Some of the Hunters stood around in loose groups, while others worked together. There was no mistaking the fact that we’d walked into an encampment designed for war. The sheer number of Hunters was enough to make my stomach sink. I couldn’t hope to count them all, but there seemed to be upwards of several hundred, all performing different tasks. While several of the smaller groups appeared to be gathered together to do nothing more than talk, the bulk of the Light’s forces were hard at work practicing for war. Swords drawn, at least a hundred of the fighting angels sparred with each other. Armor creaked and groaned as training weapons found their marks. Still more fighters practiced with bows. I blanched, intimidated by the sheer numbers of the army around us. Not only were there a lot of them, but they could all fight as if they each had the strength of several humans. Just how were we supposed to defeat an army that had us so outnumbered and outmatched?
It was almost as if Jack could hear my thoughts. “We don’t have to figure out how to beat them just yet,” he said, trying to be reassuring. “It’s enough just to see what we’re up against.”
I shook my head, unconvinced. “I’ve seen enough,” I whispered, leaning close enough to breathe right into his ear. “We can tell the other Guardians that we’re hopelessly screwed. Now come on, let’s get out of here before they spot us.”
Jack rolled his eyes at me. “Have a little faith,” he prompted, taking my hand in his own. “We have strengths we don’t even know about yet.” He drew another arch in the air behind the copse of trees. “And don’t forget— our kind has managed to survive them before, you know. We can do it again.”
Whatever optimism I shared with Jack just then vanished when I heard a shout behind us. It was in a language I didn’t understand, but found vaguely recognizable. The shout was quickly taken up and repeated by other Hunters. I realized it didn’t matter what they were saying, when the message was clearly an unfriendly one. An arrow sank itself into the trunk of one of the spindly trees right beside us. It was so close I could feel the wind of its passing on my cheek.
“Hurry,” I demanded, shoving Jack in the shoulder. He gave me a dirty look, but the portal took shape much faster than before. Behind us, I heard the sound of angels and armor getting closer. Another arrow whizzed past us.
“Done!” Jack announced before shoving me, head first, into the shimmering space just in front of us. I stumbled forward, the shouts and cries behind us fading abruptly, before falling on my hands and knees into a completely different landscape.
Rather than the regimental orderliness of the Hunter’s encampment, I found myself in a dim, fire-lit world with scattered tents and disorganized clumps of people. And . . . creatures. I couldn’t tell what kind, exactly. I just knew by the shape of them that they weren’t human. Several had wings unfurled. That made it easier to identify the Fallen ones, but there were still many figures that were too tall, too wide, or had too many teeth in the firelight to be entirely human. And I knew too little about all of Whitfield’s supernatural community to be able to identify them.
The humans among them wore long, hooded robes that barely scraped the ground when they walked, producing a subtle swishing sound over the dry leaves and grass. They wandered between fires and tents as if they had total freedom, but looking closer, I noticed that a Fallen one or another unidentifiable supernatural always walked with them. That seemed consistent with what I had seen in the Twilight Kingdom. Freedom was obviously an illusion. These must be the Nephilim, then.
I strained to see if I recognized any of them. There was a large, ornate tent near the exact middle of the encampment. Pairs of supernaturals stood guard at each end of the tent. I thought I saw horns on one, and especially sharp teeth on another. The Nephilim I did manage to recognize were grouped around that tent, I realized. It made me wonder who, or what, was inside.
I saw diminutive young Caroline Bedford, accompanied by Miranda, the healer. Miranda had been pregnant when I last saw her, and was even more awkward on her feet now. I creased my forehead in frustration. What would happen to a pregnant woman once the fighting started? Or a young girl like Caroline? Even worse, I allowed myself to imagine what life would be like for them if Belial succeeded, and managed to keep his army of Nephilim Gifted forever.
If that happened, Jack and I would find ourselves among their number, I was sure.
One of the tent flaps opened, and Belial himself strode out. I felt myself tense involuntarily. Beside me, Jack gave my hand a reassuring squeeze. Belial couldn’t get to me, I tried to tell myself. Jack would keep us safe. Still, my body refused to relax. I grew tenser the longer I stared at the tent. What was in it that required so much security? Perhaps it was Belial’s personal quarters, and there might be information or something else of importance in there. Perhaps we could even find out what had happened to Asheroth. I tugged on Jack’s hand, suddenly anxious to get inside. I indicated the tent with my eyes; Jack nodded slowly.
“Possible,” he acknowledged in a low voice. “But risky. You are seeing the same security I am, right?”
“Just get us inside,” I told him irritably. Jack simply shrugged and sketched another arch in the air. Before I had time to worry about someone seeing the light from the portal, Jack had already gone through, pulling me after him into the shimmering space. I fell onto a flat, soft surface on my hands and knees, temporarily stunned. Then I realized I had landed on carpet instead of grass. I wondered what kind of tent was luxurious enough to boast of wall-to-wall carpeting.
Jack pulled me up from the carpet surprisingly quick. His hands crept around my waist, his arms pulling me in tight against him. His eyes stared into mine intently. I stood there for a moment, momentarily stunned. “Jack?” I asked uncertainly.
He reached up with shaky hands to brush my hair back from my face. “Caspia, I . . . need to show you something,” he said, breathing roughly, his arms still tight around me. Wordlessly, I nodded. He leaned in close, so close I could feel his breathing speeding up, could feel his heart pounding against mine through the thin fabric of my nightgown. His hands slid up to my shoulders, and massaged my upper arms. His grip turned firm again, and I felt him tense up in front of me. His lips rested just beside my ear.
“Don’t lose it, okay?” Jack said, and then turned me so that I could see what was in the middle of the room.
In the center of the tent on a raised platform rested a stone pallet. A completely motionless figure reclined there, looking for the entire world like a gruesome statue. Blackened iron chains bound the figure to the platform. Hands formed into claws stretched out, frozen in the act of fighting or pleading. Wide eyes fixed on nothing, while the figure itself arched its back as if it was in pain. Belial had most likely frozen him using some of his Darker gifts, under who could imagine what kind of circumstances. That person could even still be feeling pain, for all I knew.
It was Asheroth. Asheroth, frozen in place. Frozen in agony.
I heard a small, agitated sound and realized it was coming from the back of my throat. Suddenly my hands no longer felt as if they belonged to me. They kept reaching out towards him. But Jack blocked my way, holding me around the waist against himself. I struggled, pulling against his hold, even stomping on his foot, but he didn’t budge.
“We have to help him,” I insisted, near tears now, unable to understand why Jack insisted on holding me back.
“We’re just here to gather information,” Jack whispered fiercely. “Don’t you remember? We can’t afford to get caught.” His grip tightened momentarily. “I won’t let you get caught. Not here. Not ever again.”
Shadows flickered to life against my palms. I felt them stirring, in spite of my best efforts at control. My skin slid against Jack’s, where my arms grappled with his. The dark electric cold caressed his skin. I watched as his eyes widened in surprise, then felt the subtle blue glow of his tattoos. The familiar power we created leapt up between us, suffusing my body with a warmth and a strength I hadn’t felt before.
Hope exploded into existence as I realized how powerful Jack and I could be here. We might even be enough to free Asheroth and fight our way out of here. I felt a new resolve as I stopped resisting Jack’s hold. I straightened so that my nose was level with his chin. “We’re stronger together,” I said, resting my hands lightly on his forearms. His arms still encircled my waist. “We can get him out of here,” I insisted, as my hands changed into fists. “In fact, I’m not leaving without him. And I don’t care who we have to kill to get him free.”