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 awoke to find Jack staring me in the face.
His fingers were laced through mine, and one leg was thrown across me. The smooth black suede of his uniform rubbed against me through the thin material of my nightgown. I was suddenly aware of his scent: spicy-sweet and slightly musky, like ripe oranges and male.
I jerked my hand from his and rolled to the edge of the bed. “What the hell are you still doing here?” I asked, shielding myself with a hastily snatched pillow.
“I have to be touching you to take you with me into the Dreamtime,” he said, somewhat defensively.
“Well, we aren’t in the Dreamtime anymore.” I thought about the truths he’d held back, and decided I wasn’t quite ready to forgive him yet, let alone trust him. “And that doesn’t explain what you’re doing here now.”
“Calm down,” he said. “You make it sound so sordid.”
“As far as I’m concerned, it is sordid.” I paced backwards into a set of red velvet curtains, rich and reassuring against my back. “And I’d very much like you to leave now.”
He rolled lazily off the bed, grinning, and approached me slowly. “Whatever you say, sweetheart,” he said as he advanced. He leaned against the wall and stroked the red curtain between forefinger and thumb. “I’m here to be your ally. I don’t know what I have to do to prove that to you.”
“You can stop lying to me, for one,” I said, angry now, and shifted a few inches away from him. “Besides, what if we get caught here together?”
“I’m nothing if not sneaky. I managed to evade Belial for months before he caught me. He was not pleased, let me tell you.” He gathered a handful of red velvet fabric and pulled, revealing a pair of glass doors. “I’ll just let myself out the back way.” He grinned.
I pressed my nose against the glass. “A . . . balcony?”
“Just step outside and you’ll see,” he said, inching closer to me. “Go on. Don’t be afraid. I’m here.”
“That does not make me feel any better,”I told him, looking out through the glass at the scintillating sky. But I was curious, so I did as Jack asked.
The balcony was small, barely big enough to pace four long steps. It seemed a pleasant enough place compared to the rest of Belial’s realm; a magnificent view of the twilight vista spread out before me.
Then I made the mistake of looking down.
I would have fallen had Jack not been there to catch me. The bottom was hundreds of feet below us. It made me sick just looking. I was acutely aware of warm hands on my waist.
“Don’t worry,” he said into my ear. “My room is right next to yours.” He gestured to the balcony next to mine. “It’s how I’ll come and go with no one knowing.”
I stared at him in horror. If he fell . . . .
Jack saw the terror written on my face and grinned. For a second he looked exactly like a ten-year-old boy who had just succeeded in stealing a whole jar of cookies. He leapt so that he stood balanced on the very edge of the balcony railing.
Then he jumped.
I shrieked, willing myself to look away, but in the end, I couldn’t. Jack leapt through the air like a raptor – and landed with the grace of a cat. He waved at me from the balcony next to mine as if it had taken him no effort at all.
My heart was in my throat. “See?” he said. “Easy as falling asleep.For me, anyway. I wouldn’t recommend you try it.Yet.”
“No worries there,” I replied. I resolutely did not look down. “When will I see you again?” Although I had a complicated relationship with my fellow Nephilim, he was still one of the few souls I knew in this terrible place. A wave of anxiety washed over me.
“Don’t worry,” he called back, flashing me a reassuring grin. “I’ll see you in a few hours. We’re to start training after your breakfast with Belial.”
I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.I wanted to beg Jack not to leave, to demand that he come with me, but I knew it would do no good. Jack must have read my expression like a book. “Just give him what he wants, and you should be OK,” he tried to reassure me.Tried being the keyword. “You’d better go get ready. And no matter what happens, I’ll be waiting for you when you get back.” He disappeared into his own room, leaving me alone on my dizzying balcony.
Why did such a horrible place have such a beautiful sky? It bathed me in dusky purple light, reminding me again of home. Except this time, memories of home were not so idyllic. I thought of the fountain and how it no longer lit up at the start of evening, and of the fairy lights in the trees that were broken. I had always loved this time of day. Now, I knew I would never feel the same about it again. I slipped through the balcony doors.
One of the Grey Ladies stood in the middle of the bedroom, hovering near the bed. I could just make out the outlines of long, old-fashioned skirts that encased a female form, but that was as clear as she got. I couldn’t make out any facial features at all, just gray mist coalesced into a vaguely solid form. But still, there was something familiar about her. Perhaps it was her scent, which carried hints of rain and summer grass. It was incredibly soothing, here in the bowels of Belial’s realm, and I found myself leaning towards her.
I stopped myself, however. Jack had told me to trust no one in the place. What did I know about these creatures, after all? They were Belial’s servants, even if they didn’t appear dangerous. This one hovered near a pile of clothing on my bed.
She gestured to it with a spectral arm. “For me?” I asked, and the Grey Lady made the same gesture again. I drifted closer to the bed and reached for the pile of clothes. I hesitantly stroked the fabric. It was silky instead of suede, and made the softest of rustling sounds as it rubbed together between my fingers. At least it was pretty, although every part of me rebelled against wearing anything that belonged to Belial.
Once I put it on, there would be no way to pretend I wasn’t a member of his army, willing or no. Unless…
I still had one request I could make of Belial. I could, with one simple exchange of information, free myself. The demon had said as much. I could be back in Whitfield today. Back in Ethan’s arms. Back home.
But then I thought of all I had seen since I’d come here: the neglect, the fear and beaten down looks of all the Nephilim.
Twelve-year-old Caroline Bedford popped into my mind. Since his plot to destroy Whitfield with an onslaught of Hellhounds had failed, he held the girl responsible. Even now she remained locked in a cell all by herself, subjected to nightmares no twelve-year-old should have to bear.
Could I leave her there and return to a place of safety, knowing that Belial was brutally punishing a child? Even if that child had played some part in my abduction?
I picked up the pile of clothing, and my breath caught in my throat. I had expected the same uniform everyone else wore: long pants and a white shirt, covered by a jacket that matched the pants. But what I held before me now was a far cry from the standard uniform. In fact, it had me vaguely alarmed.
He’d sent me an evening gown. A skimpy one, at that.
The silky gown tumbled down to the floor. It was a deep purple color, so deep it would appear black in dim lighting. I held it up to the window and watched as it refracted colors from the sky, blues and purples making the silk appear as living water. It was one of the most beautiful gowns I had ever seen in my life.
It also terrified me.
Just what did Belial have in mind?
I steeled myself against my rising fear and turned to the Grey Lady. There was no way I was getting dressed in front of a stranger, no matter how spectral she might be. Just how was I supposed to communicate with the thing, anyway? “I’m fine,” I said, hoping a simple dismissal would do. “I can handle it from here.”
The Grey Lady refused to move. Instead, she pointed to the wardrobe on the far side of the room.
With me resolutely maintaining the impasse, the Grey Lady seemed to shrink in on herself. She made one more halfhearted gesture to the wardrobe and drifted to the door. She turned, and I could swear she was studying me. What did she see when she looked at me: a wild-haired girl in stained clothes, or something different? Something stronger? She turned her back to me and exited.
By drifting through the door itself.
Well. That answered my question as to how substantial she was. I suppressed a shudder. It wasn’t everyday you saw someone, even a strange someone, walk through a door. I wondered if Belial could do it too, then turned my attention to getting dressed.
For a very brief moment, I wondered why she kept pointing to my wardrobe. I decided to look later; nothing was more important to me than getting this meeting over with.
I stripped to my skin and stood looking at myself in the full-length mirror standing beside the wardrobe. A tangle-haired girl stared back at me. I had a few bruises where I had run through the woods, but nothing more. There was no trace of pain in either my hand or my head. Miranda had done an excellent job healing me. I found myself wondering what day it was, and what time. I wondered if time even mattered here, where it was always twilight.
And then I turned to the dress. I slipped it over my head. It cascaded to the floor like rivulets of moonlit water, sinfully soft against my skin. Floor-length, it clung to my hips and pooled out around me until only the tips of my toes showed beneath the hem. I pulled up the halter style top. The straps snapped into place just behind my neck, leaving my back and shoulders totally exposed to the chilly air. I gave a slight twirl in front of the mirror, and watched as it belled around my legs.
I examined myself critically. Having never worn something so revealing before, I felt a new blossom of terror. Justwhat might Belial want from this meeting? He had said it was only to talk, to exchange information, but this dress . . . .
For a brief moment I thought about defying him. I put my hand on the knob of the wardrobe, wondering if there were more normal uniforms in there, but stopped myself. Belial held all the cards. I had better do whatever he asked, at least until I got what I wanted from him.
I poked my head out my bedroom door to find more Grey Ladies waiting for me. I didn’t recognize them; the familiar one from my bedroom was nowhere to be seen. They started off down the hallway, and, not knowing what else to do, I followed them.
We walked through what seemed like miles of corridors. One Grey Lady glided in front of me while the other trailed us like some bizarre honor guard. I knew conversation was useless, so I spent the time thinking about Ethan, and Asheroth, and young Caroline Bedford, alone and probably terrified.
And then, suddenly, we stopped at a heavy wooden door, banded with iron. The Grey Ladies flanked the door. I took a deep breath and pulled on the handle.
The room inside was dim, lit only by a fireplace that did little to dispel the chill in the air. I stood shivering on the threshold, arms wrapped protectively around my upper body.
“Come closer,” said a voice in little more than a whisper.
I wanted to protest, but a traitorous part of me couldn’t resist his pull. He sounded so much like my Ethan. Acutely aware of the skimpiness of my dress, I moved closer. He stood shrouded by shadows in the corner of a dim, fire-lit room. I recognized it from my earlier visit: the big, four poster bed, the fireplace, and the books lining one wall.
I saw one more thing that made my blood run cold. A portrait hung on the wall directly opposite the fireplace, over the bed I’d been unconscious in for over a day.It showed a dark-haired woman kneeling before an angel with a shining sword. Her hands were clasped together in the universal gesture of supplication, and a village burned around her. My breath caught in my throat.
The woman looked exactly like me.
I swallowed hard. “What . . . what is that?” I asked, pointing with a trembling arm.
“Does it look familiar, Caspia?” Belial asked, gliding forward from the shadows. He now stood close enough to touch me. His shirt was black instead of white, and it hung loosely from the muscular frame that looked so much like my Ethan’s. If he had wanted, he could have reached out and caressed my face. I took a single nervous step backwards, just in case.
“M-maybe,” I stuttered. Suddenly, I was terrified. My composure was melting away like the last winter snow as the demon stared at me with his empty black eyes.
“Who is she?” I somehow found the courage to ask.
“Do you remember why I brought you here?” Belial demanded, ignoring my question.
“Breakfast?” I said uncertainly.
Belial threw back his head and laughed. The sound echoed around the chamber. Had this all been a ruse to get me back into his bedroom? As scantily as I was clad, that could only mean one thing. I felt myself edging for the door in spite of myself.
“Don’t worry, sweet Caspia. Breakfast is on the balcony. I didn’t lie about that. Although I must admit, you look stunning.” He studied me in the dimness. His black eyes roamed over my body, making me feel ashamed. It was as if I was naked under his gaze. What would Ethan do to this creature, were he here? The thought gave me some small measure of courage, and I stood my ground as he paced close enough to embrace me. He didn’t try to touch me, though.
“You look like midnight,” he said, almost reverently, and gestured to the balcony. “Midnight in aland of eternal twilight.” Then his expression hardened, became less like Ethan’s and more like a demon’s. “We have much to discuss, Caspia Chastain. Starting with how Ethan’i’el saved your brother’s life.”
I nodded and took a deep breath. “Yes. And in return, you promised to grant one request.”
Again he ignored me, and reached out to touch my hair. He rubbed the strands between his fingers. “So much like her,” he almost whispered. I had to strain to hear him.
“Like who?” I asked, fighting back the strange mixture of revulsion and longing that rocked me at his touch. So like my Ethan . . . and so different.
“My wife,” he said, still softly. “The one your Ethan murdered.”