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.
The words made no sense to me. Ethan, a murderer?
I stepped back from Belial, nervous and confused. He hadn’t let go of my hair, and suddenly, I felt a wave of fear wash over me. His presence was close, so close I could see the lifeless irises of his black eyes, could count each individual eyebrow, could see the beginnings of a mocking smile forming on his lips.
“I see you didn’t know,” he said, the hint of a smile twisting suddenly into something darker, something more sinister.
Still holding on to the lock of my hair, he gave it a quick cruel twist before letting me go. My scalp smarted and my eyes stung, but I would be damned if I would let him see me cry. I blinked back the tears and tried to banish the words that were still ricocheting around in my head.
How dare Belial suggest something that was such a blatant lie?
And then I stopped myself, remembering a long ago afternoon when Asheroth had told me the truth. The truth about Ethan’s past, the truth about the way he had once been a Hunter. I hadn’t known what the term meant then. In the first Nephilim war Ethan had been charged with wiping my kind from the face of the earth. As far as I knew, he had done his job, fighting for the Light against what they saw as the monstrous powers of the Nephilim. That had been the final piece of information that pushed me over the edge, driving me here.
And then, stupidly, I had believed in a demon’s promises. And just look where that landed me- in a dark place with others of my kind, totally at the mercy of Belial.
“What makes you think I’ll even believe that?” I demanded, ignoring the small tingle of doubt that wormed its way into my stomach.
“Do you see that portrait?” Belial asked, indicating the woman over the bed. “The one who looks more than a bit like you?”
“So what if she does look like me?” I said, ignoring the implication underneath his words.
“She was my wife,” he said quietly. For just a millisecond, he looked lost and vulnerable, staring at the portrait. Then it was gone, as quickly as it had appeared. “Come, Caspia. Let’s have breakfast, and I’ll explain things a bit.” He gestured toward the balcony. “I assume you are familiar with the first Nephilim wars?” He took my arm. I tried to wiggle out of his grasp, but he held me with all the strength of his kind: as unmoving as stone, and cold to the touch where Ethan’s had been warm. His grip was tight, to the point that it hurt, and I gave up the struggle after barely a minute. Belial obviously didn’t care if he left bruises. I even felt them forming beneath his hold on me.
And still, those two terrible words wouldn’t go away: Ethan. Murder.
“I don’t want to have breakfast with you,” I hissed. “I’ll tell you about my brother. None of this is necessary.”
“Oh, but it is.” He flung open the double glass doors and dragged me out onto the balcony. I had my feet planted firmly to the flagstone floor, but to Belial, it didn’t matter. It probably didn’t even register with him that I was resisting. Out on the patio, a small table made of black wrought iron and glass stood waiting for us. Two chairs that looked as if they had been made of twisted thorns waited on either side of the table. Only one place was set. The twilight sky in all its variegated glory continued to move behind us. In Belial’s presence, it lost its beauty, and turned instead into something nauseating and hopeless.
“Sit,” he commanded, and so I did as he asked. In this place there was no way to disobey. The cold iron of the chair seeped through the thin silk of my gown, making me want to squirm, longing for Belial’s fire.
“What do you mean?” I found the courage to ask at last. “What did you mean about Ethan being a murderer?”
“ ‘And when the angels of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, they took unto themselves wives of all of them whom they Chose’,” Belial intoned, obviously reciting a well-rehearsed passage. I recognized it as the Book of Genesis. I’d heard it before, in a class Dr. Christian taught on this very subject. “So I took a wife.” He nodded to indicate the room we’d just vacated. “Her.”
“You mean . . . ” I said, trying to grasp the implications.
“Yes, Caspia. I was among the first to Fall. And I Fell for love, just as my brother apparently has.”
“And you think Ethan killed her in this war of yours,” I said. I still could not believe what he’d told me, that the man I loved had murdered his brother’s wife. “Surely there has to be some other explanation . . .”
“No,” Belial said. “No more about her, for now. I believe we had an agreement. You tell me what I want to know, and then I’ll grant you one request.”
“But I need to know more . . . ” I began, but Belial gave me a cold look that I felt all the way down to my toes.
“Your brother was dying,” he said. He had his back to me now. His clothing was very similar to the uniform everyone else wore, but more ornate. His black and silver cloak snapped and furled in the wind. I brushed my hair from my eyes and looked down at my plate. There was fruit and bread and a carafe of a dark red liquid I fervently hoped was wine.
“Yes,” I snapped, suddenly tired of Belial’s torments. “My brother was dying.” I took a sip of wine and toyed with a piece of bread to give me time to gather my thoughts. I had to be very careful here; my brother Logan meant more to me than almost anything, and I would do everything in my power to protect him. I couldn’t bring him to Belial’s attention, so I swallowed my wine and did my best to speak in a normal voice. “He had cancer, and though I didn’t know it at the time, it was terminal.”
Belial sneered. “Let me guess. Ethan’i’el first appeared to ‘safeguard’ his soul.”
I nodded very slightly. “He came for my brother,” I said hoarsely, remembering the events of what seemed like so very long ago. “He came to safeguard his soul until he . . . he . . . ”
“You can say it,” Belial said, his voice surprisingly soft. “Until he died.”
Mutely, I nodded, tears filling my eyes. That had been such a horrible autumn, full of overwork and worry and death’s shadow . . . This time, when I reached for the wineglass, it was because I wanted it.
“And then?” Belial prompted, still sounding surprisingly gentle.
How to condense the events of those days into something Belial would understand? He had said he once had a wife . . . did that mean he understood such concepts as human love and sacrifice? How could I explain the first time I saw Ethan, that first touch that left me seared to my core? I couldn’t. I raised tear-bright eyes to lock gazes with a demon. “We love each other,” I said simply. “And it changed everything.”
It had, too. Ethan’i’el had become Ethan, as he chose a human life with me over an eternity as a messenger of the Light.
“But your brother was still dying,” Belial said, crossing to sit right next to me at the small table. “Caspia, how did my brother save yours?”
Here it was- the question even I wasn’t sure I knew how to answer. “I don’t know,” I said, my face almost completely obscured by my dark hair. I barely spoke above a whisper. “Logan was dying. His body was broken and bleeding, and there was nothing I could do.” Again I saw the accident, saw my brother’s body sprawled across the hood of the car. “And then Ethan was there. The light was leaving my brother’s eyes, and Ethan said, ‘Take mine,’ and suddenly Logan was breathing again. Whatever Light Ethan had, he gave to my brother that day.” I slumped away from the table. “And when I finally saw him again, he was human. Completely, fallibly human.” I took a long drink of wine. It burned the back of my throat and almost made me cough. “That’s all I know.”
I left out the part about Ethan being immune to all forms of magic. Belial hadn’t asked about the Immunes in Whitfield, and there was no way I was going to volunteer the information.
The demon nodded at me across the table. “Yes, of course. They stripped him of his powers and threw him out.” He snapped his gaze to mine, his face suddenly menacing again. “Where he found you waiting for him. Because you love him.” I nodded feebly. There was no use denying it. He shook his head, something like triumph shining in his eyes. “Foolish mortal. Love is the greatest weakness of all.”
Asheroth had said that to me once. But he, like Belial, was wrong. They both had to be wrong, or else all of this was futile.
“You said you would grant me one request,” I reminded him. “I told you what you wanted to know. Now it’s your turn.”
Belial settled back in his chair as if I’d just promised him a wonderful gift. “I suppose I did.” He almost looked like he was laughing at me. “Well? What will it be? A fortune in riches? Instant celebrity?” he saw my face and snorted. “Or, let me guess. Something different. Something noble. And boring, probably. Of course Ethan’i’el would choose a boring girl to fall in love with.”
I ignored his insults. This was it, my moment of choice. I could be safe in Ethan’s arms for real, not in some Dreamtime version with all its limitations. I could be home with Logan and Asheroth, with Cassandra Blackwood and all my friends and neighbors.
I could go home.
But that would mean leaving all these Nephilim exactly as I found them: miserable and hurting and in need. I thought of young Caroline Bedford, punished for failing to burn down my town. Could I leave a twelve-year-old locked in isolated punishment?
I looked at Belial, so like my Ethan, but so different. I thought of the war coming to my hometown and how badly I would be needed there, as well.
Yes, I thought. I would give anything to be safe in Ethan’s arms again.
“Home,” I announced. My voice wavered with the burden of guilt I now carried. I would probably carry it for the rest of my life. I was only one person, I told myself. There was no way I could make that big of a difference. Besides, without me, Belial’s army would be missing one of its weapons.
Belial looked bemused. “Very well. I must say, I am surprised. I expected you to demand that I free that annoying little girl.” He ran one long finger around the edge of the wine bottle. Drops of condensation dripped from his fingertips. “I was sure you’d fall for that,” he said, sounding genuinely puzzled.
“Fall for what?” I asked, surprised.
“I punished the girl to test you, dearest Caspia,” he said, standing and looking out over the balcony again. I stayed where I was, staring at his back. “The girl is too valuable to leave locked up for long.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.
“So you will know what you have given up,” he said. “And so you’ll remember who has the upper hand.” Suddenly he was in my face, cupping my chin in his strong stone palm. I tried to move my head and couldn’t. “So you’ll know you can never, ever defeat me.”
“But I chose home,” I protested. “I chose Whitfield, and Ethan. You promised!” This last word was shout, echoing over the balcony and across the barren landscape.
“I did promise,” he said, releasing my chin to stroke my face. “And I’m pleased with your choice. As far as I’m concerned, you couldn’t have made a better one.”
“Why?” I asked, suspicious now.
“Because I never said how long you could stay.” He smiled at me gently, as one might at a particularly stupid but well-meaning child. “And I never said you could go alone.”
“But . . .” I tried to protest.
“Oh yes, Caspia Chastain. I’ll be going with you.” He wrapped a stone hand tightly around my forearm. “As long as you are with me, I can breach the wards around your guardian’s stronghold.” His smile turned sickening. “And I’ll be face-to-face with my brother at long, long last.”
I stared at him in horror, not believing my ears. “If that’s true, why haven’t you breached them before? Why haven’t you taken another Nephilim and . . .”
“Because no one else is from Whitfield, stupid girl. The wards won’t recognize anyone else.”
His arm was still wrapped around mine when I tried to stand up hastily. My goblet of wine fell over, spilling the liquid all over the tablecloth and dribbling onto the silk of my dress. “No,” I said, as assertively as I could. “No way. I won’t be your personal ticket into Whitfield. I take it back. Free the girl instead,” I begged, horror replacing fear in my gut.
Instead, Belial laughed at me. He jerked me right against his chest so that I stood, his front to my back. He smelled of rot and dead things, and I wanted to gag. He wrapped one arm around my waist and placed one hand at my throat. “Remember, you chose this,” he said.
And I had. I had chosen so very wrongly. This would teach me not to be selfish, to never trust demons or believe in their lies. How stupid could I possibly be?
I felt the icy chill of abyss-wings opening behind me. It was an unforgettable feeling, like the emptiness of a black hole sucking at me. Belial tightened his grip across my throat until it became really hard to breathe. Black spots danced before my eyes as he stepped backwards into the portal he’d created. I closed my eyes, desperate for breath and sick to my stomach at the abrupt spatial displacement.
And opened them to see Asheroth standing not three feet away, his face darkening into rage as I gasped for breath like a dying fish. His diamond eyes locked with mine, growing in brightness until they resembled twin halogen headlights in their intensity. I could hear Belial behind me, laughing softly. I struggled against his hold on me, but he had me firmly pinned. I was gasping; I was choking; my world was whiting out.
I barely heard the growl that came from my self-proclaimed Fallen guardian angel. “Let. Her. Go,” he nearly howled.
Asheroth in a rage was not a pretty sight. His abyss-wings unfurled behind him, and I was reminded that the demon that held me wasn’t the only Fallen one around here. There was no telling what Asheroth would do; he might not even care that I was caught between two enraged immortal beings. Belial merely laughed, and removed his hand from my throat. I gulped down ragged increments of air, my throat tender and bruised. “If you’re lucky, I won’t kill her in front of you,” Belial taunted.
“If you’re lucky,” Asheroth said, stalking closer with the grace of a cat, “you’ll live long enough to wish you hadn’t.”
Then he rushed us both.