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.
We continued down a long corridor made of a duller, rougher stone than that which decorated Belial’s room.
One Grey Lady glided silently in front of me, while the other followed close behind. We walked through what seemed like miles of maze-like corridors, lit only by guttering light. In reality, I knew the distance from Belial’s quarters to here wasn’t all that long; apprehension made the journey seem longer than it really was. As the graceful Grey Ladies led me to a door at the very end of a short corridor and left me there, that same apprehension flared even more. Here I stood, alone, about to face the largest gathering of my kind I had ever known. I straightened my spine and opened the heavy, iron-bound door.
As always, the Shadows chose the worst possible moment to flare to life.
I found myself in the middle of a large, stone slab room where the other Gifted stared at me, and wished I could cut off my arms. They were positively crawling with snaky, dark Shadows, and there was nothing I could do stop them. I felt as powerless now as I had when the cold, destructive energy first crawled over me, alerting me to the dark nature of some of my gifts. They looked exactly like snakes twining up me, and I caught myself trying to wipe them off. All that got me was a bit of a cold shock, followed by the smell of ozone.
Whenever I was angry, frightened, or upset, the Shadows appeared on my arms as a kind of self-defense mechanism. Nevertheless, they were my least favorite angelic “gift,” passed down to me through the drops of Nephilim blood flowing through my veins. That blood made me a target for demons like Belial in the first place.
Looking more closely, I realized the Shadows were thicker and darker than ever. Also, I had smelled ozone when I accidentally touched one, and that had never happened in Whitfield. Could the Shadows be stronger in Belial’s Twilight Kingdom? It made a twisted kind of sense even as it terrified me, that my dangerous gifts would be stronger here in the Dark Realms, of which Belial’s kingdom was a part. I fervently hoped not, and tried to hide my arms behind my back.
The large room was dim, lit only by candles along the wall and a big fireplace on the opposite side of the room. The walls were made of the same rough-hewn stone as the corridors, and I could barely see into the corners. It smelled of damp and rot, and several loud coughs echoed across the room. Low tables made of rough planks were the only furniture I could see. It was altogether the most depressing room I had ever been in.
I thought of Belial’s promise as I took in the ragged Nephilim who stood arrayed against the walls. They looked beaten down; many of them wore looks of terror and confusion as they watched me by the door. I thought of how much good I could do them with my single request, a gift from a demon.
But I could still go home, as well.
Low voices and the fire’s dull roar were the only sounds in the room. The other Nephilim cast furtive glances at me. Some seemed as if they were trying not so much to lean against the wall as they were trying to merge with it. I didn’t recognize a single person. Where was Jack, the only other soul I knew in this place? The whole atmosphere was charged with fear, and I knew some of it was coming from me. On an intellectual level, I knew these had to be the rest of the Nephilim, people with gifts like me whom Belial had decided to collect for his army. I had thought that would create some kind of bond between us all, the fact that we were all his victims; from the vibe I was picking up in the room, however, the others felt nothing but fear and apprehension at my appearance.
I stood near the entrance, the Grey Ladies hovering at my side, not knowing what to do. My hand and head throbbed where I had injured them, and my stomach growled painfully. I tried to remember the last time I ate, and remembered Asheroth’s cheese pastries with a pang of regret. I wanted food and rest, but even more than that, I wanted answers.
Jack burst in through the doors behind me, pulling an attractive woman with dark blond hair with him. He was barefoot, as always, and had pushed the sleeves of his white linen shirt far enough up his arms that I could see the whorls and special characters that made up his protective tattoos. The woman with him looked heavily pregnant, and Jack kept a careful hold on her upper arm, steering her well away from the eerie Grey Ladies. I noted his protective stance, and the way he held himself slightly in front of her. She shyly peeked out from over his shoulder, and I realized just how pretty she was.
I also noticed Jack didn’t seem injured in any way. I had heard what I thought was a punch to his stomach, and having been hit by a Fallen angel before, I knew their strength could break bones.
“Are you all right?” I demanded, mortified to realize my voice shook more than a little.
“What happened to your hand?” Jack said, at the exact same time. He sounded worried and his eyebrows drew together over eyes flecked with burning gold. The woman behind him suddenly looked keenly interested, and stepped out from behind to get a better look at me. Jack seemed as if he wanted to object, but he let her pass without a word.
She leaned in close to my hand as if she didn’t even see the Shadows, let alone was bothered by them. From the edges of the room, I heard murmurings. Some people even crept closer, as if witnessing a spectacle. She poked my hand, carefully avoiding the Shadows. The pain was immediate and intense. I yelped, and stuck my hand behind my back again in what I thought of as self-defense.
“Ow!” I said. “What did you do that for?”
Then she looked at me, really looked at me, and I fought down another urge to yelp. I had seen her before, in a newspaper article about her own death.
Miranda, the Nephilim healer so powerful she could reportedly bring people back from the brink of death, stood poking my injured hand with her index finger. I recognized her from the grainy newsprint black and white photo that had run with her obituary. Clearly, reports of her death had been greatly exaggerated. Belial must have taken her like he did the rest of us, to help build his army of Nephilim for his war against the Realms of Light. But what purpose could a heavily pregnant woman have here in this terrible place?
“This is broken in several places,” she said, intense concentration etched on her features. She moved as if to poke me again. I winced and danced backwards, only to discover that the Grey Ladies had vanished without me knowing it. I wondered where they went when they weren’t needed.
“You can tell all that just from touching me?” I asked, skeptical. She nodded absently, as if it were no big deal.
“Belial broke my ribs when he punched me,” Jack said softly. “Miranda here healed me after I left you. We’ve been on alert, looking for you ever since. I had a feeling you might leave in worse shape than when you arrived.” He grimaced.
“Well, he’s certainly dealt out worse, if that’s any consolation,” Miranda said, looking me over from head to toe.
“He didn’t hit me,” I said with a sigh. It almost sounded as if I was defending the demon, but it was nothing but the truth. I had done this to myself. “I got this when I punched Belial in the face.”
Miranda and Jack both looked as if I had punched them in the face instead. The murmurings from the corners of the room rose and swelled around us. Miranda shook her head sadly. “I am surprised he let you live.”
“She’s an Azalene,” Jack said, his eyes still round with shock. “I knew that was a valuable ability, but wow. She must be more important than we initially realized.”
“Or maybe she’s just his latest pretty new plaything,” drawled a voice from a far dark corner. Its owner stepped into the light, revealing a young, blond-haired man dressed in the same black and silver I saw most of the Nephilim wearing. He had a nasty grin on his face and he traced my figure with his eyes. I felt uncomfortable, remembering suddenly that I was wearing nothing but a light silvery nightgown. I felt very exposed all of the sudden. I didn’t know why, but as soon as I saw him step into the firelight, the Shadows on my arms flared cold and electric. Right away, I just knew we weren’t going to get along.
“That’s enough, Ben,” Miranda snapped, and turned her attention back to me. There was a soothing quality to her presence that I wanted more of. Jack scowled at the young man named Ben, then turned his back on him completely.
“Don’t worry about him,” Jack said to me. He cast a quick look over his shoulder, where he stood blocking Ben from my sight. “But I wouldn’t trust him, either. Belial likes him entirely too much for anyone sane to trust him.”
“Come on,” Miranda said, placing her small hand on my lower back. She guided me to the heavy double doors. Whispers rose and fell behind me.
“Don’t worry,” Jack said near my ear. “They’re just interested in seeing another Azalene.”
We rounded the short corridor and came to another nearly identical stone hallway. This one was lined with doors on both sides. “This would be your room,” Miranda said, stopping in front of one that looked just like all the others. Because the rest of the place was so dank and depressing, I prepared myself for the worst.
And was pleasantly surprised when I stepped across the threshold.
A plain bed stood against the far wall. It was piled high with pillows and blankets. A tall wooden wardrobe stood half open, so that I could see lots of dark fabric with glints of silver. There was a small desk and chair near a smaller door that I assumed was a bathroom. It reminded me a bit of a college dormitory, except for the ghostly form of a woman who was standing by the window.
A Grey Lady.
No one else seemed to find her presence odd, so I assumed they waited on all of us. Her features were too blurry for me to really see her face, but I thought she was the one who had waited for me in the corridor. She was corporeal enough to reach into my closet and pull out a neatly folded stack of black fabric with silver trim. I recognized it as the same fabric I had seen almost everyone wearing. Jack was wearing pants made of it now. The only person I had seen wearing something different was Miranda, who wore a loose, light blue cotton gown. I had to think her clothes were different because she was pregnant.
The thought of Belial kidnapping pregnant women made me shudder. I already had evidence that he had kidnapped a child, too. I wondered what other surprises I was in for.
“We wear a uniform here,” Jack said. I could hear the disgust in his voice. “Those are Belial’s house colors.”
“I didn’t know demons had house colors,” I said, crossing to the bed to finger my new clothes. They were made of a sturdy fabric that nonetheless felt soft to the touch, like a velvet-denim blend, although I knew that was an impossible combination.
“Belial does,” Miranda said, crossing to the bed and motioning for me to sit beside her. “Come now. Let me take a look at that hand. I can do something for it.”
The Shadows had faded somewhat, but they still snaked and climbed up my arms. I didn’t want to hurt the first person who’d been nice to me since I’d gotten here. Jack didn’t really count. I was still mad at him.
“Let me take them from you,” came a low voice in my ear. Jack was so close to me that I could feel his hot breath on my neck; this was not the first time his presence had caused a reaction in me. I thought about my very first journey to the Twilight Kingdom. It had happened in a dream where Jack had healed me with his bare hands. And now here we were, except this was most definitely not a dream.
I nodded briefly, because there was no other choice. I was too agitated to find the kind of calm I would need to fight the Shadows. Instead, I let Jack find my hands and slide them under his, his hold on me light but firm. I watched the many tattoos across his arms and neck begin to shimmer. If I watched closely enough, I knew that I would see the edges of them move very slowly. Instead, I stared into his gold-flecked eyes and watched as the sparks there burned more and more fiercely.
Shadows began to thin into lines rather than ropes. They grew fainter and streamed towards the tattoos decorating Jack’s body. I had long since torn my gaze from his face, and watched in both horror and amazement as Jack’s tattoos absorbed my Shadows, until there was nothing left but my bare, pale arms.
I had a sudden wild urge to hug him, and might have done it if he hadn’t stepped quickly away. “Go and see Miranda,” he urged in a low voice, his eyes fixed on the floor.
I did as commanded. The pregnant woman cradled my Shadow-free arms across her belly, staring intently but not touching. She nodded and murmured to herself before meeting my gaze. Her clear blue eyes were solemn.
“I can fix this,” she said, “but it’s going to hurt.” She pressed my injured hand flat between both of hers and closed her eyes. An almost unbearable burning coursed through my hand, settling in my very bones. I tried not to cry out.
Roughly ten minutes later, my lips were raw from where I had pressed them together trying not to scream. I was sweating heavily, my hair plastered to my forehead. Miranda still held my newly healed hand pressed flat between hers. It no longer hurt. I wiggled my fingers in amazement.
She followed by healing the sore spot on my head, as well; this wasn’t nearly so bad, but it still burned. After that, I was immediately enveloped in a wave of tiredness. I swayed backwards towards the pillows. Miranda smiled a little and covered me with one of the many blankets piled at the foot of the bed.
I felt myself being dragged under by sleep, as strong as the tide on a blue moon. “Don’t worry, it’s completely normal to sleep for several hours following a healing,” she said, smoothing my damp hair back from my face.
“But,” I protested. “I have to talk to Jack . . . .”
“You need to get some rest,” Jack corrected me, appearing at Miranda’s elbow. He leaned down as if to kiss me on the forehead. I wanted to pull away, but I was just so tired. Turning seemed like too much effort. But when he leaned in close to me, he whispered, “Try to dream, and I will find you. We can Dreamwalk back to Whitfield this evening.”
I fell asleep picturing Ethan, alone and injured with only mad Asheroth for company. I hoped with all my soul that Jack could successfully Dreamwalk us home, even if only for a little while. I had to find out what was happening to my hometown in my absence.