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.
Funny what you think about when your life’s about to end.
As Asheroth rushed me, it was the silver and crystal bracelet Ethan had given me that occupied my mind. I thought of the way it looked like sunlit water flowing over rocks deep in the mountains, and the way it fitted me perfectly, the clasp forming a set of wings that rested right over my pulse. I could envision it, sliver-bright and linked with crystals; it matched my damning Nephilim eyes. Although the bracelet would always remind me of Ethan, for now all I could think of was Asheroth, and the way the crystals on the bracelet glowed like his eyes.
Then I felt Belial’s crushing hold against my throat, and was jerked right back into reality.
With a cry of rage so deep and guttural it reminded me of rocks grinding against each other, Asheroth slid to a halt mere inches from my face. He seemed not even to see me; the rage I saw written on his face was directed all at Belial as his nostrils flared and his eyes narrowed.
“What. Have. You. Done?” he raged while he looked solely at the demon who was crushing me. “Why have you brought him here, to the sanctuary I prepared for you?”
I have never wished for words so desperately in my life. I tried to answer Asheroth, to protest, to tell him that it wasn’t my fault, but Belial’s arm tightened even more across my throat, until breath became so scarce I was afraid I was passing out. I scrabbled uselessly with my fingers at Belial’s unmoving arm, all the while trying to gurgle out some kind of words that would make sense to the mad Fallen angel.
Behind me, Belial laughed. “Trust you to be the one to get things backwards,” the demon smirked. He released my throat just enough to allow a trickle of air to get through, but not enough for proper speech. I coughed and choked at this reprieve until my vision blurred.
“I brought her to break your wards, Fallen one,” Belial said in a darker tone. “It was one of the reasons I took her.”
Enraged, Asheroth began to circle us like a sleek, and very angry, cat. He stayed hunched over in a half-crouch, as if at any minute he would spring and attack us both, because there was no way to get at Belial without attacking me as well. Pieces of his tousled black hair hung in his eyes. I was relieved to see that he was wearing his red leather jacket; the jacket was actually battle armor, and was impervious to assault from other angels. I didn’t know how it would stand up to a direct assault by a demon, however. I had no idea if demons had abilities the Fallen lacked.
Suddenly, I felt the cold electric tingle of the Shadows. I realized that this phenomenon I hated so much could be used as a weapon. Wasn’t that what Jack was always saying? I thought of a long-ago afternoon when Ethan and I had tried to practice with the Shadows; it left me sick and shaky and had destroyed a huge old oak tree. But if it gave me any kind of advantage, I had to try. I stopped scrabbling at the merciless arms that bound me, and fisted my hands at my sides instead. It was always an unpleasant feeling, these Shadows; they pulsed in my palms like a dark heart. But this time I welcomed them. I opened my hands and felt them flow across my palms and fingers, and finally, up my arms.
I closed my eyes and focused with all my might. I tried to forget what was happening around me, tried to let the sounds of angry Fallen angels and demonic snarls fade to nothingness. I was only partly successful; it was hard to forget there was a very angry Asheroth pacing circles around us. But I knew I had to try something. Belial’s forearm was still pressed against my throat, and I grabbed at it with my Shadow-encased hands. I gripped his arm as hard as I could, and willed the slippery darkness out of me.
Thick black lines of power poured from me; I felt them wrap around my arms in a sinuous caress. They crept up my arms until my skin was almost completely obscured by them. More, I commanded the dark place inside me. I hated this part most of all. I had never explored that darkness inside me, and had spent my life trying to pretend it didn’t exist. It was the same place my drawings came from, the ones that always came true. I knew this now, just as I knew if I was going to have a chance at defeating Belial, or at least throwing him off balance, I had to dig even deeper. I concentrated on the power inside me and pulled, sending it outward through my hands.
Belial snorted in surprise. Not enough, I thought, and pulled even harder, until the Shadows were so thick and dark they almost covered my body entirely. I struggled wildly in his arms, and felt the pressure increase against my throat. He was cutting off my air again, and damned if I would let him. The world narrowed to just the two of us, Belial and I, locked in a struggle that would determine my fate. Out, I thought, commanding the electric cold of Dark power. The pressure against my throat was increasing again, choking me, making it impossible to breathe. Dimly, I was aware of voices calling my name, but nothing existed except the struggle I was locked in.
Just as suddenly as the Shadows appeared, they disappeared from my hands and arms. There was nothing left: not a tingle of cold, not the thick lines of darkness, nothing. I barely had time to wonder what had happened when Belial let out a low roar and flung me away from him. I flew several feet through the air and landed hard on my back, cracking my head against the ground. I landed hard enough to drive all the breath from my lungs and make tiny white lights that I knew weren’t really there dance across myfield of vision. I gasped for breath, choking and gagging, tears of pain forming in my eyes. I rolled over on all fours, feeling like I wanted to puke the entire contents of my stomach up. Not that there was much in it; I hadn’t eaten any of Belial’s breakfast.
That’s when I noticed the full spectrum of what my Shadows had done to him. When they left my body, they had crawled up his arms and now clung to him like carnivorous skin. Everywhere they latched onto him, small fissures appeared. A dark liquid, thick and black in the night that surrounded us, seeped through a couple of the cracks.
Belial stood in the exact same place as he had first appeared, looking at his arms in amazement. They positively crawled with darkness. He spent a moment trying to shake them off, but they wouldn’t go. Drops of the dark liquid decorated his hands, arms, face- anywhere my Dark power touched him. With a cry of rage, he looked at me, and my heart fell somewhere south of my stomach. I had never seen any creature so angry. He started forward, the Shadows carving long thin lines in his skin, with a look of determination so fierce I scrambled backwards on my hands and knees.
My little trick had worked better than I had ever expected. Perhaps a little too well, judging from the murder buried in the advancing demon’s eyes.
Then Asheroth, who had clearly been waiting for just such an opening, tackled him. The Fallen angel and the demon went sprawling to the earth, wrapped around each other as they grappled for the upper hand. Asheroth swung at Belial, and connected with his jaw. There was a crunching sound, like stone meeting stone with a great degree of force. Asheroth’s hit had little effect on Belial, who responded with a swift kick to his side. Although I was terrified, I found myself feeling just a shred of gratitude that my mad Fallen guardian was armored.
Then they began to fight in earnest, as only the Fallen can; they moved too fast for me to see every blow, but resounding cracks and crashes echoed across the landscape.
And then I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Don’t move,” it whispered. The touch was so soft it was almost a caress, but it also promised buried strength. I wanted to collapse against the ground again when I realized who it was.
Ethan had come for me. In the midst of all the danger, he had come for me at last. I knew then that all the fighting, the brushes with death, and the Shadows were all worth it, if it meant one minute spent in his company.
I felt broken as I spun, still on my knees, to face him. I choked back a sob as I saw him standing there, a dark figure that emanated love as well as wrath.
“Is it really you?” I asked, studying him anxiously.
He slipped from the forest that surrounded Asheroth’s property and knelt beside me, reaching out to me with shaking fingers. “Caspia,” he said, half exhalation, half prayer. He gingerly brushed my hair back from my face, peering at me as if he couldn’t trust his own powers of sight. He took in the whole of my appearance: battered, bruised, and wearing what was now little more than silken rags. I watched as the muscles of his jaw clenched tightly. “Yes, it’s me.” Ethan bit his own knuckles, then said, “I don’t know how to touch you without hurting you.”
“Oh Ethan,” I said, wanting to collapse right there and forget about the fight that was going on behind me. “I’m ok, really.” And then I launched myself into his arms. He was right. I hurt all over, and the impact with his warm body made me wince as tender, torn flesh came into contact with leather and denim. But I didn’t care how much it hurt. Ethan was here, and I was, for the moment, out of Belial’s grasp.
I could only hope Asheroth could keep it that way.
Ethan’s arms were like a band of steel around me, he held me so tightly. His lips brushed the top of my head, and he said in a strangled, choked voice, “Where are you hurt, Cas?” He swallowed hard, like he was ripping the words out from somewhere deep inside. “What did that bastard do to you?” he almost growled.
I tightened my own arms around him, burying my face in his shirt. “Nothing that won’t keep until later,” I tried to assure him, but my voice cracked on the last few words. My throat was still very tender, and, I suspected, very bruised, and talking hurt like hell.
His face darkened. He slipped one arm under my shoulders and pulled me up until he was supporting most of my weight. Fortunately for me, this also meant we remained pressed against each other. I burrowed deeper into Ethan’s side and laid my head down on his shoulder.
His leather-clad shoulder. My head snapped up in shock; he was wearing armor. Since he’d insisted I put his own jacket on just before I was kidnapped, I hadn’t expected him to be armored. “Your jacket . . . “ I whispered hoarsely, as sounds of fighting resounded across the clearing and echoed through the forest at our backs. “How did you get it back?”
“I didn’t,” he said grimly, turning the both of us so we could watch the fight. “It came with the sword.”
That’s when I noticed. Ethan held Jack’s lost sword loosely in his free hand. It was long and silver with a slightly curved blade. It shone in the moonlight, and I could see its surface resembled crushed diamonds more than steel. I knew only two other pieces of metal like that: my twin daggers, given to me by Asheroth, which could cut through anything, even a Fallen angel’s heart.
I remembered the story of Azazel, first of the Fallen ones, who loved his mortal wife so much he forged a sword that would cut out his heart after her death. I carried his blood in my veins, somewhere, somehow; it was why Jack called me the last Azalene warrior. It was why Jack sent the blade to Whitfield after his capture by Belial.
Ethan would be able to use it against any angel, Fallen or not. It would cut through their impenetrable skin as easily as chopping vegetables; with the armor and the sword, even my mortal Ethan was a force to be reckoned with.
“Does Asheroth know?” I asked, indicating the sword.
“He knows. He’s not happy, but he knows. Even he agrees it’s useful, although he refuses to touch it.” I couldn’t say that I blamed him. I wouldn’t want to touch the only weapon that could cut out my heart either.
Except it wasn’t the only weapon; I had a pair of daggers that did the same thing. They’d been taken from me sometime after I entered the Twilight Kingdom, and it was anyone’s guess where they were now.
The clearing seemed very far away; I wanted to stay at the edge of it, hidden by trees, with Ethan, but the sounds from the fighting were getting more desperate. Asheroth was not faring well. Even though my Shadows had done their part to hurt Belial and make him let me go, they appeared to have faded entirely away. Asheroth lay pinned underneath him, twisting to avoid a hailstorm of blows raining down on his chest. His red leather protected him from the worst of it, but when Belial punched his jaw, I saw his head rock back with inhuman force. Even Asheroth wouldn’t be able to withstand much more.
“We have to help,” I told Ethan, desperate to save my mad Fallen angel. I hadn’t asked for Asheroth’s help, ever; in fact, the first time I met him, he had kidnapped and tormented me. But then, with his mercurial temper and ever changing psychosis, he had decided I was worth protecting. Then he applied himself to the task with the kind of vigilance only an immortal possessed. We had to try . . . something. Anything.
That’s when Ethan stepped into the light. Holding the sword before him with one hand and me with the other, he stalked closer to the fighting. At the first sight of Ethan, Belial abruptly ended his assault and turned his entire attention to us.
“What a pretty toy,” he said, letting go of Asheroth entirely. He straightened very, very slowly, and I could see his beautiful black jacket was torn in several places. That answered my question about who was stronger. Belial had fought unarmored, and still managed to pummel the Fallen angel. Yet he was reacting to Ethan’s sword as if it was another matter.
“Azazel’s blade is more than a toy,” Ethan practically spat at him. “Come closer and let me show you what it can do.”
Belial’s face twisted into a snarl. “Don’t think you can hide behind that forever, brother.” He said this last word as if it were the worst curse he knew. “I brought her here to break your wards, and I can take her back whenever I want.”
“Not in this lifetime,” Ethan said softly, Azazel’s blade extended before him. He gently pushed me away from him and into Asheroth’s waiting stone arms. I didn’t want to let go, and I clutched uselessly at his leather jacket.
“Stop it,” Asheroth ordered tersely. His hold on me got tighter. I stilled myself to watch the unfolding drama.
Belial sneered. “I know all about you and your new mortality. The girl couldn’t wait to tell me.” He rose from his crouch so that he stood facing Ethan. The similarities were eerie; it was like looking into a mirror twisted by hate. There was one glaring difference, though; Ethan’s eyes grew brighter and brighter as they faced off, while Belial’s seemed to absorb all light like a black hole.
“Stay away from her,” Ethan ordered.
“As you stayed away from my wife all those years ago?” Belial said, his words deceptively soft.
“That’s not what happened,” Ethan said, unperturbed. “I never killed . . .”
Ethan didn’t get to finish his sentence before Belial charged him. I watched as Ethan sunk Azazel’s blade deep into his mirror image’s side. On a mortal, it would have been a killing blow. To Belial, it was merely crippling. He fell, mid rush; a viscous dark liquid seeped from him, just as it had when my Shadows attacked him. He clutched his side in amazement, and for a moment, I saw something like fear flit across his face. Then he was standing, holding the wound with one hand while what must have been angel’s blood seeped through his fingers.
“I will kill you,” Belial said, slowly, as if he wasn’t bleeding copiously right in front of us. He spoke softly, almost conversationally, as if he had all the time in the world. “I will kill you, and Caspia, and all you hold dear, until all trace and memory of you has been wiped from the face of the earth.” He spared a glance for me. “Don’t think this is over,” he said, more harshly. I winced; it was a tone that promised destruction and hate and other dark things. “I took you once. I can do it again.”
Abyss wings sprang into life behind his back, taller than any I’d ever seen before. I felt the chill otherworldliness of a portal forming, and before I could blink, Belial was gone, leaving a pool of dark liquid where he had been standing.