Malachi Obsidian has been his guild’s prophet ever since he was a child. Years ago, he envisioned a future in which his sister, Misha, ruled and the vampires’ empire was destroyed. His people have made many questionable decisions to keep their dream alive, and now Misha is finally on the verge of becoming queen of the serpiente, just as Malachi predicted.
When a mercenary from the vampires’ inner circle proposes a daring plan to bring down the empire of Midnight once and for all, Malachi knows the shameful truth about Misha, but he must feign support for his unstable sister so his prophecy can be fulfilled. He must do it for his family, for his people—and for their freedom.
Praise for Bloodtraitor:
"An intense cap on an already engrossing adventure. Atwater-Rhodes excels at multipart epics with complicated characters and histories, and fans will be sad to see this story end."--Booklist
Praise for the Maeve’ra trilogy:
“Atwater-Rhodes made a splash with her first novel. . . . Since then she has continued writing lush fantasies of fully realized, well-conceived worlds, and the first volume in the new Maeve’ra series is no exception.” —Booklist
“Edgy world building, with cultures and societies based loosely on real history, is compelling. This book is highly recommended for Atwater-Rhodes fans and urban fantasy or alternate reality readers.” —VOYA
“A satisfying read.” —SLJ
“Plenty of fun ahead for the author’s many fans.” —Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Was it fear that continually brought him back to this place? Loneliness? Desperation?
Malachi paused in the middle of scrubbing the smooth marble cell floor. The copper tang of blood mingled with the acidic tang of vinegar in his nose, caustic but soothinglyfamiliar. These were the first scents he recalled from his childhood, a combination of abuse and antiseptic, but it wasn’t nostalgia that brought him back to Midnight again and again.
Guilt, his mind whispered to him. That’s what brings you here. You know that, no matter what you say or do, this is where you were made and this is where you belong.
He shook himself, trying to clear the nagging, gnawing thoughts. The watered-down blood on the whitemarble swirled in his vision, becoming the red bands of a midsummer sunset.
He flattened his wet hands on the smooth stone, trying to force his magic back and keep his awareness in the here and now, but then he clearly heard Farrell’s voice saying, “Guards. Too many to fight. Run!”
Malachi’s head whipped toward a vision of the man who was the closest thing he had ever had to a father. Farrell had just put himself between a serpiente soldier and Shkei,Malachi’s younger brother. Nearby, Aika was standing against two palace guards, wearing a feral grin as she spun the blade-tipped stave she favored as a weapon. Shkei managed to extricate himself, and then they all turned to run.
If Malachi were there, he could have called on his power to help hide his kin as they fled, but even by flight he was hours away. He could only watch.
“You’re in the way, Malachi.” The vision wavered as strong hands casually pushed him aside. He fell, and the odor of blood overwhelmed him. Was it only here, or was it in his vision, too? Who was hurt?
He shoved himself up on hands and knees and scrambled out of the cell. He needed to get back--
“Malachi!” Frantic, desperate pleas whispered my name. Where was I? When? “The guards are gone,” the same voice said.
Guards. In the woods. But I was in Midnight--
No, I could smell the forest. Had I made it back to camp?
I opened my eyes, and the face leaning over mine slowly became recognizable: slender Vance, the quetzal with emerald- and ruby-colored feathers beneath the chestnut hair that fellaround his russet-dark face. His second form was a small, brightly colored bird better suited to its native tropical lands than it was to this cold, rainy place. Seeing him helped me snap back to the present, because that vision was of something that had happened a year ago, and I hadn’t known Vance yet then.
Like me, Vance had been born in the heart of the empire known as Midnight. Mindful of the fact that a quetzal cannot survive in captivity, the lords of that realm had kept him in a beautiful greenhouse filled with every luxury, in the hope that he would never realize he was a slave.
After he had escaped that box, they had put him in a larger one. They had showed him the human slaves and the shapeshifter traitors, and had told him, This is the way the world works. They had offered him power. I was the one who had shown him the truth . . . as well as I could, anyway. My understanding was obviously flawed, but the terrible day when my siblings had been taken by serpiente guards had taught me one lesson well: there was nothing good to be gained inside Midnight’s walls, and too much that could be lost.
Fear of what he could become had driven Vance to the Obsidian guild. To me. To death, probably.
I looked around, trying to get my bearings quickly enough that Vance wouldn’t realize how lost I had been in a different time and place. I was a victim of my own power less often these days than I had been when I was a child, but stress, fear, and exhaustion could still combine to overwhelm me.
We were lying on bare earth in the middle of a grove of white birch trees. Two more of our guild huddled with us. Kadee, gentle Kadee with romantic notions and a love of books she could not read and history she could hardly remember, had her knees curled against her chest and was shivering as she tried to keep warm despite the spring chill and pervasive dampness, hanks of sandy-brown hair dripping lankly around her face. Nearest to the edge of the grove was Aika. Scarred and lean and blank-faced, she grasped a weathered, beaten stave with a glistening steel blade at the tip. She must have washed the mud and blood away before I woke.
The guards are gone.
The events of the previous night returned to me like a crashing wave, and I had to bite back an involuntary cry of pain. I remembered the guards streaming into our camp. The ones who had descended upon my guild nearly a year ago had been simple soldiers intent on capturing our people alive. The ones who had assaulted us the night before had been elite royal guards with orders to kill.
Farrell. I remembered seeing him fall. Farrell Obsidian had been our guiding star, the man who had founded our guild. More importantly, he was the one who had rescued me from Midnight when I was seven years old and would have been put down as a worthless failure. He had given me back the voice my volatile magic had stolen from me. Now he was dead.
“The guards are gone,” Vance repeated, as if I might not have heard him the first time.
I nodded this time, finally acknowledging him, and once more looked around, only to realize that the others were all looking at me, waiting for my next words. The Obsidian guild had no king, no true leader, but these three were allowing me to guide them because Farrell had always trusted me.
Years ago, I had spoken a prophecy: Someday, my sister, you will be queen. When you and your king rule, you will bow to no one. And this place, this Midnight, will burn to ash. Farrell Obsidian had known a falcon’s gift for prophecy, and so he heeded my statement even though I was just a child. He had bought my freedom, and that of my unborn sister, Misha, and my white-viper mother.
Farrell’s mate, Melissa, had never forgiven him for rescuing me, a mostly mad, mute, half-falcon slave from Midnight. She knew that falcons and white vipers both possessed dark magic; she didn’t trust me, and had been convinced that my presence would only bring trouble. She had left Farrell, and their son, Aaron, had ended up being raised by the serpiente king.
“Do we have . . . any kind of plan?” Kadee prompted me, when my silence had stretched too long. Though she was only fifteen, Kadee always had a mature quality about her, as if she gave more thought to what she said than most people did. Maybe it came from her human upbringing, or from the way she had been so isolated through the months of terror and pain associated with coming of age as a human-born serpent.
“I don’t know,” I said. I looked toward where the serpiente guards had camped the night before, remembering how close we had all come to being killed. My magic had hidden the four of us. I didn’t know how many others had survived the night.
Before the guards had chased us apart, our guild had been fighting among ourselves. My sister, Misha, had unveiled her plan to ascend to the serpiente throne after selling the current heir, Hara Cobriana, into slavery in Midnight. I had objected, but many of my kin had agreed. I hoped now that most of them had run in the oppositedirection, following Misha instead of me. Her intentions disgusted me, but I would rather know that my kin had chosen to follow a path I disapproved of than that they had all been slaughtered.
“We need to warn Hara.” Vance grimaced, as if not liking his own words. “Carefully. I don’t imagine she will welcome us gratefully if we go speak to her, even if we are trying to protect her.” Our guild had been hunted outlaws, wanted for treason, for longer than Vance or Kadee had been alive.
“We need to stop Misha,” I said, though the words threatened to choke me. I had done so much to save my sister, but in the end it had been for nothing. No, worse than nothing. Hermadness endangered us all now.
“Do we?” Aika asked thoughtfully. “I don’t approve of her methods, but she is the one who is supposed to--”
“I’m sick of prophecy,” Kadee snapped. She addressed the words not to Aika, but to me, as the Obsidian guild’s prophet. “I’m sorry, but I am. I’m sick of us following what some vision says. We sold the avian princess to Midnight to buy Misha. Vance and I just helped the Shantel sell the sakkri to Midnight--”
“You didn’t have a choice,” Aika interrupted. “Midnight would have--”
“I don’t care what Midnight would have done. I know what we did,” Kadee spat, “and what we did was give the Shantel’s most sacred, revered witch to the vampires. I havenightmares about the feel of her blood on my hands. Now Misha and Aaron areworking to sell Hara Cobriana to Midnight. If we continue this way, pretty soon every royal house of the shapeshifters will be owned by the vampires.”
I flinched as Kadee listed the atrocities in which we had participated, all in less than a year. Slave-trading, even when it was wrapped in the most noble of excuses, left a dark mark on the soul.
“If we can’t warn Hara directly, can we reason with Aaron?” Vance asked. “Misha may be--”
He broke off, looking at me, as if afraid to speak ill of my family member.
“Misha is . . . gone,” I said. “My sister is gone. I knew it even before we bought her freedom, or, I should have known it, but I was too blinded by what I wanted to be true. Whatever they did to her in Midnight, it didn’t make her a slave, but it made her hollow.”
“What hold does she have on Aaron?” Vance asked me.
“Misha has no conscious magic,” I answered, “but she is a white viper.” Like me. Both sides of my parentage had a history of black magic. “Her power isn’t active, but it is strong, especially now when it is guided by madness and fury. It will seek to protect her, even if that means manipulating the minds of those around her. I do not know how long she worked on Aaron, but he is certainly under her spell.”
I wasn’t above magically manipulating an enemy into looking the other way or treating me more generously than I deserved, but where I used my magic as armor to protect myself and my kin, Misha had discovered how to use hers as a sword. Every time I looked at Aaron, I could see where Misha’s magic had seeped into his mind, twisting his thoughts and bending his will to hers.
“Then we’re back to needing to warn Hara,” Kadee said. “I know no one here loves her, but I would rather see her on the throne than Misha and her toy king. How does Misha expect to fight Midnight if she starts off by selling someone into it?”
“Fight fire with fire?” I suggested. “The ends justify the means? I don’t know what is in her mind. I don’t care to.”
Liar, I thought. I knew exactly what was in my sister’s mind, because I had seen it. She and Shkei had been slaves in Midnight for months. I knew the faces of those who had abused her and left her a creature of wrath and agony who would strike out against any hand that moved toward her, whether they meant to assault or help her. If Iever started to believe my sister’s words--that she was fighting Midnight, fighting injustice, tyranny, and slavery, and that the ends justified the means--I needed only to look at the way she had magically enslaved her own declared mate to remind myself that her true thirst was for vengeance and control, not justice or safety.
“I don’t know how we will get Hara to listen to us, but I can get us into the palace without the guards capturing us,” Kadee said. “I used to know every passageway in and out of that palace, ways even the guards never knew existed. They can’t have discovered and sealed them all.”
After she had been taken from her human parents, Kadee had been raised as a ward of the serpiente royal family. She had given up that life when she had chosen to protect Shkei from a royal guard.
She had become a criminal to protect my brother.
I had become a mercenary to save my sister.
Shkei was now dead, and Misha was becoming a tyrant.
Weren’t we doing well?
And here I was supposed to be a prophet.
“I agree that we should try to warn Hara,” I said, “as long as Kadee knows a way we could feasibly do so without getting caught.” I took a deep breath and added, “What we need to ask ourselves is if we are willing to get caught, if that is what it takes to deliver the warning.” I wasn’t eager to risk my life to save the serpiente princess, but I wasn’t sure how far the others’ frustration and guilt would push them.
Aika scoffed. “Are you forgetting that Hara is the one who sent the guards that killed Farrell? We don’t even know if the others are alive or dead now.” Her voice wavered just slightly, no doubt as she considered her mate, Torquil. “I trust Misha like I trust a bobcat, and I want nothing to do with Midnight’s slave-trading, but I don’t owe Hara anything.”
The faces around me were hard, but not self-sacrificing. We were a group of survivors, and survivors did not risk their lives for abstract things like principles. Food, rest, warmth, companionship, maybe, but high moral ground and ideals? No, those could fall by the wayside, as they always had.
“Can you draw a map of the passages?”
Kadee bristled, straightening. “You don’t need a map. I’m going with you.”
Another day, it would have made me smile to watch the fourteen-year-old serpent square off with Aika. Now all I could think about was how I had failed Misha and Shkei. I had been away, and they had been captured. I could only pray that the others could successfully plan to rescue my only living blood kin.