The Blood Chain Indulgence Series 3
Erin Kellison's Indulgence World is on fire with heart-stopping romance, perilous adventure, and court intrigue. And Terah and Adom are right in the middle of it all...
Daughter of the Messenger god, Terah Crane is tasked with delivering an urgent warning to the god of Passion and Fury. But instead, she chooses to accompany his enigmatic son Adomanei on a mission that will decide if they will be players or pawns in the game of the world.
They alone know that one of the gods is a traitor, and discovering who it is requires maneuvering among their scheming scions. Together, they must discern ally from enemy while defending against attacks from the shadows.
Battle-weary Adom trusts only one person, and he's keeping her close. It would help if Terah would acknowledge their magnetic attraction and agree to a formal courtship. But Terah is wary of love and uncertain of a future with the arrogant prince, especially when their wills collide.
Escalating violence forces them to make a desperate choice, but they've fought side by side before and prevailed. This time, however, Terah and Adom find that mixing passion and politics is dangerous, but defying the gods is deadly.
★★★★★ "So much intrigue and betrayal, more twists and turns than you can shake a stick at. It is, quite simply, breathtaking and never a dull moment...Yet another amazing, fantastical addition to the series. Full of action and absolutely astounding in every way. It will definitely leave you wanting more. HIGHLY recommended."
- The Blood Chain is book three in the Indulgence series
Excerpt from The Blood Chain
Terah Crane's vision swam with multicolored blooms in the pitch dark of the Axiom's deep rubble. Adom sat to her right, his thigh pressed against hers, his head bowed by the slabs of stone that created their small pocket of air. His arm was snug around her waist, like an anchor in the ocean of darkness under the vast ruin that had once been the seat of Power of the Sun goddess, Great One Phemera.
Their stone tent sheltered them from the intermittent rain of tinkling glass, knocks of rock, and dust that hissed down through the crush above. The earthy smell and deep darkness reminded her of the mining tunnels they'd journeyed through together not long ago.
This time, there was no way out. Just a hideously long wait for rescue, preferably sometime before the ruin collapsed on top of them.
Terah's breath was a soft, grating saw, and she had to concentrate on each careful draw and release. At least she'd stopped coughing, although a prickling cold seeped lower into her chest and confused the rhythm of her heart. She had other injuries, the blood on her wounds both scabby and sticky. Some stung, and others ached. But, rutting gods, nothing like the ilumia that Phemera had melted into silvery, molten metal and force-fed to her. How could something so hot feel so cold?
She was almost definitely dying, no matter what Adom said.
She didn't know when she'd bent her head to his chest.
"You're not going to die," Adom told her again. The long-suffering tone threaded through the low rumble of his voice made Terah smile.
"What if Calio takes me over?" she rasped. The ilumia making it hard to breathe had come from the long-dead goddess's remains.
"Calio is gone," he said, evenly and smoothly. "Ilumia only retains properties of Power, not consciousness. If resurrecting a god only required possessing a human body, every dead god would wander the world."
Despite everything, Terah's smile grew. Adom liked to have all the answers. He enjoyed being right. So, when she complained, she was really helping them both.
Of course, he was also injured, though he refused to tell her how and where. "I'm fine," he'd said, but then, sometime later, had made an almost inaudible grunting noise when he moved.
"Do you see the flowers?" she asked. Vibrant colors—magenta, indigo, and citrine—opened from pinpricks in the surrounding black. "It's like a poisonous, dark garden."
"Please restrain your overactive imagination."
Right. Flowers didn't float. "Or stinging jellyfish."
"We are not underwater."
"Yeah," she wheezed. "Feels more like outer space." No up. No down. So little air.
Terah had no idea how long they'd been trapped. Time was nothing. She and Adom had been floating in the void for hours, days—more?—arms around each other as if they might drift away were they to let go.
Or...fine, she'd been holding on to him, and he hadn't shoved her out into the darkness. Yet.
He was just so warm, his heartbeat's rhythm steady at her ear.
And she was terrified enough to impose her bloody, stinking body on the scion of Aranos. Although, it wasn't the threat of the crushing rubble and stone above them that scared her—well, yes, it did—but not nearly as much as Calio changing her from the inside.
The excitement of battling the assassin god, Gaunt, had long since dissipated, and with it, the adrenaline that had muted her pain and distracted her from the implications.
She'd been conscious of every drop of Calio's melted ilumia blade as it seared her throat while Phemera shone above like the sun, her golden light roaring like a forge.
Ilumia was mined in the Crescent Mountains—an ancient battlefield—and crafted into blades hoarded by the Great Ones—trophies made from the corpses of their fallen allies. Calio had been the centerpiece of Phemera's collection—a taunt to Great One Aran, who had loved Calio so fiercely that he'd gone to war for her.
Now, what was left of Calio crept along the delicate filaments of Terah's nerves like a thief.
Terah shivered against Adom. "How exactly are you so sure I'm going to survive this?"
Adom gave a short huff. "You've never been afraid of dying before. Even when good sense should've stopped you from taking terrible risks. Why now?"
"I've never had time to dwell on it." Now, she had nothing but.
After a long moment, he said, "I think Maxan will have rounded the Crescent. It'll be a straight shot to the border once he's at the pass."
Terah drew an easier breath and nodded against Adom's chest. Yes. Thinking about Max was much better. Together, she and Adom had managed to rescue her nephew from the Axiom, after all. Edgerin would take Max the rest of the way home, although not under the mountains as she and Adom had come. Over and across. And then to the Aranos border. In fact, Edge and Max would probably pass close by her grandparents' little place on the way to Crimson City.
A strange impulse urged her to get up and follow them—although she was trapped, hurt, sightless, and had promised to go in another direction.
"How will his fathers react when they reunite with him?" Adom prompted.
Sudden tears prickled Terah's eyes as she cleared her throat. "My brother Bram won't leave Max's side. Gil will manage everything else. He's the type that smooths everything over while making everyone do what he wants. He'll be running the Common Council in a few years. One day, I bet he'll sit on your council."
Adom sighed. "My intel says Gilan Bergan will run for the Crimson High Council in the next election."
"Really?" That was fast. Exciting. Bram would be so proud.
"Your connection to him has provided the visibility," Adom grumbled. "And he's too intelligent to squander it." He took a breath. "His platform will oppose many of my policies. I hate having to negotiate with my own people. It splits the vision for Aranos and makes everything slow and more difficult."
Terah laughed soundlessly. "Poor crimson scion having to deal with the commoners." She was happy for Gil. He worked hard and deserved a seat.
"You think it's funny?" Adom mused. "Perhaps I'll call upon you to represent the temple on business taxes or zoning for the city."
Adom didn't scare her.
"I've already got a job as Kol's Hood," she told him.
Did Kol know she was trapped in this rubble? Did the lesser god's awareness of her extend this far into Phemerae? Was he pacing the border, waiting for her to march victoriously home after the golden goddess's death? Or was he rutting some happy petitioner while she slowly suffocated to death?
"Kol lives in my father's temple," Adom said, "and he benefits from the labors of the crimson people. Kol should contribute, and you're all he has."
"I'd just make a mess, Adom. Maybe on purpose."
He chuckled. "I guess it's lucky for Aranos that we're going to Scold first."
Which was the agreement: Vey would come to dig them out of the rubble if they returned to Scold with him. The city—more like a small, triangle-shaped territory—was forbidden to the gods and, therefore, the coldest, grayest place in the world. Apparently, the lenolae kept their enclave there.
Terah cleared her throat again, but the bright burn remained. "Maybe we should go to Crimson City first. I'd like to see for myself that Max is safe."
She also wanted something from her brother—an acknowledgment, maybe, that she'd fought gods for his son. She wanted to see in Bram's eyes that he knew she'd do anything to keep his family safe. That she wasn't reckless or heedless of how her actions impacted them. She'd been battling what her family thought of her for more than ten years, and nothing seemed to make a difference. This would, though. How could it not?
"You will go to Scold," Adom returned, his tone sharp with rebuke. It was the one he used to rule a godland, despite whoever they elected to his precious High Council.
After everything they'd been through, Adom was still so arrogant. He couldn't comprehend what becoming a Hood had been like for her. Gods and monsters, assassins coming from the deep black. Ilumia poisoning her body. Her life as ordinary Terah grew more distant with each passing moment.
"It was just an idea," she muttered as she lifted her head away from his chest.
She would not be doing his taxes or zoning anything for him.
The darkness spun around her, but, no, she was just disoriented, which was natural considering the circumstances. The oily colors of the deadly floating jellyfish flowers intensified. Her head pounded.
"Terah..." Adom paused. "I don't want to quarrel."
"We're not," she answered. He'd issued a command; she intended to disregard it.
Another long, dark silence fell.
"I need—I ask for—your agreement on this," he said. "We must go to Scold."
Border beasts roamed the Crescent Mountains that Max would be traveling through. Shadowsnakes, mrath, and who knew what other nasty monsters Phemera had dreamed up. Had Adom forgotten about all of those? And Phemera's Guard would be out for blood. Crimson blood. Not long ago, they'd caught Adom easily enough.
"Max is safe," Adom went on. "I prepared my greathearts for every eventuality, and Edgerin will see dangers before they arise. By the time we get out, Max will likely already be safe in Aranos."
A shiver wracked her. "Well, maybe my family would like to see that I am safe, as well."
"You can call them from Scold," he told her. "You can probably call them as soon as Vey digs us out. Someone will have a sat phone. But we agreed to go directly to Scold. You will find out what Vey knows about your father, and I will convene with the other Hoods. Phemera's death—her godland suddenly without its patron—will change everything. I must be present to speak for Aranos."
Terah got stuck on that other bit. "My father," she echoed dully.
Condal Crane. Vey had dirt on him. She didn't want to find out what it was. Have memories of him challenged. Memories of her da were all that she had.
And, anyway, something deep in her belly, stronger than instinct, told her she had to go home to Aranos. She had to go. But she couldn't explain it to Adom. He wouldn't understand.
"You go on to Scold with Vey," she said. "I'm going to Crimson City."
"Your judgment is clouded."
For the first time since the Axiom's floor had dropped out from under her feet, Terah forgot her fear and pain. "My judgment?"
"Please listen, love," he said in a soft voice.
Which startled her out of her first blush of anger.
Because... Love? Was she hearing things now, too? Or had he grown sentimental in the darkness?
Adom must've taken her silence as an agreement to listen and not her very real shock. "The message Phemera charged you with delivering to my father is compelling you to go to Aranos," he told her. "It's part of being Kol's Hood. He is The Messenger, and you are, too. If a god charges you with a message, it will burn within you until you deliver it."
Millennia ago, one of Passion's allies had betrayed him. As a result, he and all the gods had been trapped on this world. Phemera had locked the name of The Traitor inside Terah so she could utter it to no one but Great One Aran. She didn't even know the name herself, and yet the message throbbed with urgency within her chest.
"Then shouldn't I deliver it?" Terah asked. "Vey would agree with me. What better reason is there to go home?"
"Terah, if you go to Aranos,"—Adom's voice sounded strangled—"my father won't let you leave again. Not with his beloved Calio in your blood."
A cold sweat broke out on Terah's neck. "You said Calio was gone. Dead."
"My father will take what he can get. And if Calio is wrapped up in a Terah package, even better."
What did that mean? "What does that mean?"
"My father likes you." A pause. "My father wants you." Adom's voice went flat. "My father gets what he wants."
Terah had no good response because, unbidden, the memory of Great One Aran's invitation to join him at Pyre came into her mind. Suddenly, she was down in the mud outside her grandparents' home all over again, Kol locked up in his stone chrysalis.
Aran had loomed over her. "Come to my temple with me."
"No, thanks," she answered again.
"Good," Adom said. "It's decided. We go to Scold. There, you will recover from your injuries, and Vey will work his schemes. No doubt you'll be just as stubborn in your dealings with him as you have been with me. But from Scold, no one can force you to do anything. You can choose."
"What about the message?" Terah asked. "Don't you want your father to know who betrayed him?"
"He's waited eleven thousand years." Adom's tone had gone dry. "He can wait a little longer."
She felt Adom's warm hand on her back. The darkness careened to a sudden stop, leaving her panting. The dark water garden hurt her eyes. The cold reached into her stomach.
"I really think I'm going—"
"You're not going to die." He pulled her back to his chest.
His heartbeat drummed in her ear again, and she made herself as comfortable as her awkward position, injuries, and the cold burn riddling her body allowed.
The journey across Phemerae had made them both very familiar with each other. She would recognize Adom's silhouette anywhere. His smell. The shades of his voice. The glossy texture of his hair. His moods. Adom could be overbearing, autocratic, and imperious, but it was all for duty—saving Max, for example. But they'd made a lot of mistakes along the way.
"You don't know everything," she told him. "You just think you do. It's dangerous." Somebody had to level with him, and those sycophantic potents bustling around Pyre certainly hadn't done it. What were friends for if not to tell the truth?
"How about you try to sleep some more?" The warmth was back in his voice.
She nodded against him and let herself drift in the darkness. But she didn't sleep. She hurt too much and was too tired. And the idea that Adom's father might keep her in Aranos made her wonder if she could ever go home again. But she didn't dare ask.
When a white spark wandered like a lost firefly into the crushed space, banishing the frightening blooms of color and illuminating the stark, jumbled gray rock, stone, and glass crushing in around them, she blinked and sat up again.
Adom shifted beside her to reach his blackened and blood-crusted fingertips toward a light at the end of what appeared to be a slender, articulating metal rope.
"Tam-tech camera," he said gruffly. "Designed for search and rescue. Apparently, Vey has connections in Tamlan. It will still be a while before the lenolae can safely reach us, but they're doing it the right way."
"Help's coming?" Terah breathed.
Adom's dim shadow nodded. "They've located us in the Axiom's debris, which is tremendous. Now, they'll start working to extract us."
Having found its quarry, the firefly retreated through a hole in the slabs of stone, its light briefly glinting off specks of ilumia. And then abject darkness fell again.
Waiting didn't become easier. If anything, it was worse.
Straining to listen for sounds of rescue made Terah hold her breath. Sudden rains of tinkling, knocking debris sped her heart rate. Would Vey bring the Axiom down on top of them? Her chest ached. And that icy, silvery, reaching feeling clawed within her.
The darkness swirled. Time seemed to stop. Everything went vacuum.
Adom's arm tightened around her. "Breathe, Terah."
For once, she did as he commanded. The problem was that space had no gravity. She was spinning. And even Adom, who was so obstinate, so fixed, suddenly seemed to grow more distant.
"Terah," he said sternly. "Terah!"
But his anger wafted by her, ineffectual.
When she woke, his mouth was on hers as it had been in Phemera's Solar before The Assassin murdered the Sun.
Her head was tipped back over his elbow, her seat in his lap. Finally, she was wonderfully warm. That creeping coldness had turned into a limb-infiltrating heat. Her nerves lit like fuses, sizzling out toward her fingertips and branching down into her belly and pelvis. Burning in her brain.
Adom had breathed for her again.
He pulled back slightly. He was talking, but Terah only caught the tail end of his sentence. "...to die because I won't let you."
Which was typical. Did he think that, as the crimson scion, he had sway over even life and death? He didn't. His birthright from his father was Passion and Fury—the why and how of all the existential questions. As usual, Adom was getting ahead of himself.
She made to sit up, but a loud, hollow thud somewhere above and a shhh of falling debris on the stone slabs had Adom suddenly bending over to shield her.
Their pocket of air filled with flat-tasting dust that was too fine to settle. It itched Terah's eyes and tickled her throat.
When the ominous sounds finally pattered to nothing, she pushed him up again. "Quit hovering." She sounded ungrateful.
"You may only speak when it no longer makes you wheeze," he returned, angry.
Which made her silently laugh—then whine. There'd been a time when she would've thought his anger genuine, but that was impossible now. The man was worried.
She drew another slow breath. "Thank—"
"Just stay put," he cut in, tightening his hold on her. "And quiet. It's the least you can do."
There was one crack!
And then, a long time after, the bright firefly returned. Attached to the cable was a tight packet bearing a small vial, plastic tubes of water, and a square object that appeared to be tech.
Adom took hold of the small device, which he examined in the firefly's light.
With a grunt of understanding, he pressed a button and spoke. "We are the Hoods Crimson and Cobalt. Identify yourselves and relate your progress in retrieving us."
The device crackled. "Sire, as you requested, it is I, Vey, who has come with many other humble lenolae to serve our Great and lesser scions in their moment of need."
Terah rolled her eyes. The lenolae's ultimate goal had nothing to do with them.
"We are clearing a path to you," Vey went on. "The work is slow so that we may be safe. What is the nature of the Cobalt Hood's injury? I cannot determine its severity through the video I'm receiving."
Terah glared at the firefly.
"I believe she's bleeding internally, has a concussion, lacerations, and broken ribs," Adom said, thankfully not mentioning the ilumia. "Why do you ask about her specifically?"
Yes, why me first? Terah thought. Hood Adomanei ranked far higher.
"The lesser god Kol is also on site." Vey's voice crackled. "Observing our progress. A moment ago, he seemed extremely distressed, which we concluded indicated a sudden concern for the Cobalt Hood. Should we sacrifice a degree of safety for greater haste?"
Oh. Right. With Phemera dead, Kol could cross the border into Phemerae. No Great One could abandon the boundaries of their godland, but the lesser god Kol could watch over the pile as the lenolae, like ants, scurried to dig a safe passage to them. The gods might rule their prison world with their Powers, but they were not all-powerful. Kol couldn't transport her out nor stop the Axiom from collapsing if the wrong slab moved.
The firefly lit Adom's features as he looked down at her. Black stains of Fury marked the skin under his eyes. This was angry Adom. Monstrous Adom. Desperate Adom.
She shook her head. There was no need to risk their lives to get out sooner; she could hold on for a while yet.
But Adom said, "Yes. Get us out as quickly as possible. Have emergency medical personnel ready to receive her."
"Very good," Vey answered. "May I suggest you use the firedrake tears to sustain the Cobalt Hood in the meantime?"
Could the tears do anything to halt the spread of Calio's ilumia? Terah doubted it.
Adom pulled the stopper from the vial and tipped the fluid into Terah's mouth. The warmth within became a crackle of penetrating heat, and thank the gods, yes, her heart seemed to beat easier for it.
The firefly retreated once again.
"Kol is loyal to my father," Adom said simply. "He's dutybound to take you back to Pyre."
So the plan to go on to Scold would be thwarted, after all?
The tug toward Aranos grew stronger for a moment.
"No," Terah told him, resisting the message's pull. "Kol owes me a favor. A big one."
Kol had promised that if she were to harry, hurt, and humiliate Phemera, he would give her anything she wanted. Such was his rage over what the golden goddess had taken from him. Terah had tried to redeem his promise when she asked him to rescue Max, but Kol had told her that she could save Max without his help. And she had.
This time, she needed divine intervention.
"He owes my father far more, Terah," Adom said.
"Yeah, but..." Terah thought about all Kol had suffered protecting each of his generations until he could finally free himself. "I'm family."