Vampires are the only guardians Vance Ehecatl has ever known since he was abandoned by his shapeshifter family. He is grateful to them for generously providing for all of his needs and for offering him a home in the powerful empire of Midnight. But when an act of violence forces Vance from his sheltered life, he’s startled to meet Malachi Obsidian, a fellow shapeshifter with conflicting ideas about Midnight and its leader, Mistress Jeshickah.
Malachi claims Vance is a bloodwitch, who Jeshickah and her trainers, Jaguar and Taro, are trying to control. Vance doesn't know anything about the rare and destructive magic Malachi says he possesses, and he can't believe Jeshickah would use it to hurt others. But when his friends begin falling ill, Vance starts to realize his perfect world may not be as flawless as it seems. Now Vance must decide who to trust—the vampires he's always relied upon, or the shapeshifters who despise them.
Praise for Bloodwitch, Book 1 in the Maeve’ra trilogy:
"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
"Atwater-Rhodes made a splash with her first novel, In the Forests of the Night (1999). 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
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I didn't move. I didn't dare.
Were my tail feathers trembling? If they weren't already, they would begin to soon. This perch wasn't comfortable, and it was hard to remember why I needed to stay still. It was difficult to understand things like that when I was in my quetzal form.
I risked a quick glance at Lady Brina but saw her brother, Lord Daryl, instead. That was reason enough to freeze. Lady Brina had instructed me to hold this exact pose. Lord Daryl would be very angry if he caught me staring at his sister instead.
I returned my gaze to one of the copper strips that held together the large frosted-glass panels that made up this corner of what Lady Brina called her greenhouse. I had often pondered the name, which seemed strange to me. Lady Brina's studio was filled with pure white light, and the rest of her "greenhouse" was made of elaborate, multicolored stained-glass mosaicsno more green than any other color. Intricately carved wooden screens let fumes out and fresh air in.
My own two-room wooden cabin was tucked into a corner of the enclosed property, a house inside a house. Sometimes I wondered if the greenhouse was inside another house, but I had never been outside it to find out.
My foot slipped again. I had been standing this way for a very long time. I could have slept on one of the perches higher up and been perfectly comfortable, but the steel one Lady Brina had provided near her canvas so I could model for her was slick under my talons. It was hard to find purchase and keep my balance.
I relaxed a little when I realized that Lady Brina was distracted, feeding. I still didn't dare turn my head to look at her, but I could see shadows in my peripheral visiontwo women, their forms made giant by the late-afternoon light. I had witnessed similar scenes often enough to know what they meant.
Lady Brina pushed her blood donor away. The second shadow stumbled, and I heard the scuff of a toe against the soft dirt ground. Moments later my shapeshifter friend Calysta crossed my view.
Calysta had promised to give me a dance lesson later, but now she would need to rest instead. I tried to squelch my disappointment. Lady Brina's needs came before my wishes. I would have given her my own blood, if she had asked.
"You need to take a break," Lord Daryl said to his sister.
I needed a break, too, but he wasn't talking to me.
"I just did," Lady Brina replied. I could hear the rattling that meant she was gathering her brushes and tools again.
"I mean you need rest," he insisted. "Feeding is important, but so is sleep. You have been in here for two days straight."
"The light is better in the day."
"Two days and two nights. I just received the bill for the lamp oil you have burned."
Lady Brina scoffed. I could picture her tossing her hair. It was sleek and black, and reflected every color of light that fell upon her.
"Kendra's yuletide ball is in less than a week," she said, sounding frustrated. If her brother could convince her to take a break, that would be nice. Normally I loved having her near. I loved seeing her, even when she ignored me. But the last day or so, she had been cranky. "She has promised me a place of honor for this piece, and I intend to make sure it is ready. I'm sure you understand."
"Of course I understand."
His voice was soft. I saw their shadows move as he gently removed the brushes and palette from her hands. "But without sleep, without feeding, without time to rest your eyes on something other than your canvas and oils, how can you possibly see your masterpiece anymore? You risk ruining it in your haste to perfect it."
That argument was probably the only one that could have swayed her. She sighed and let Daryl put her tools aside.
Two years ago assistants had helped her erect this canvas, which was twice as high as I was tall, and even wider than that. Occasionally she worked on other, smaller pieces, but inevitably she returned to this massive work. She called it Tamoanchan.
I had never been allowed to look at the painting itself, but I had been honored weeks ago when she had askedno, orderedme to come model. Lady Brina never asked anything. That was fine, since I would never have refused her.
Lady Brina had been a frequent presence throughout my life. Even on the days when she failed to acknowledge me at all, which was most days, my beautiful little world seemed to shine brighter when she was around. When she smiled, pleased with the way a particular painting was going, or lay on the soft, dappled grass in the multicolored sunlight, it made my heart beat faster.
At that moment both shadows disappeared. The tingling sensation that always told me when one of their kind was present also faded.
Vampires were able to appear or disappear in the blink of an eye. The first time it happened near me, I thought I had unexpectedly dozed off and missed Lady Brina's goodbye. I apologized profusely for my rudeness when she returned, and she laughed at me and called me "charming."
Calysta explained that vampires were not like the rest of us. They could do things shapeshifters couldn't. They lived forever, without aging, which was why Brina looked exactly the same now as she had when I was an infant. They were stronger than us, and wiser. That was why they ruled and we were honored to serve.
I fluttered down to the ground, landing awkwardly because of my stupid tail plumes, which had recently started to lengthen and were now twice as long as my bird body. Not wanting to deal with them, I changed into human form quickly . . . though my human form wasn't much better. Growth spurts had left my arms and legs feeling gangly, and even my dance lessons with Calysta couldn't seem to make my limbs work gracefully.
I shook my head, and the leather cord that had been holding my hair back instantly fell out. Though my clothes always reappeared properly when I changed back to human formtrousers, shirt, and sleeveless waistcoat falling tidily into placeI inevitably ended up with a mess of burnt-umber hair in my face.
Every now and then I considered asking Taro to cut it for me, but his hair was long, too. Though his skin was darker than mine, Taro's hair was shiny, coppery-blond, and always neat. I needed a comb every time I changed shape. Maybe that was another vampire power, one that Calysta simply hadn't mentioned.
Pushing my hair back uselessly, I took a step toward the painting. I just wanted a peek. Lady Brina had never asked me to model before.
I wasn't supposed to. I wouldn't violate her trust that way. Instead, I did my rounds, occupying my time with responsibilities I had neglected over the last two days as Lady Brina had worked on her painting.
Several small yellow songbirds, an abundance of butterflies, and a hive of honeybees shared the greenhouse with me, along with an assortment of fruit trees, berry bushes, and vines. The orange trees had been ripe for the last month, but I was supposed to gather only one basket of fruit a week, since it would stay fresh on the trees better than it would once harvested.
I searched the ground for any fruit that had fallen, so it wouldn't rot and befoul Lady Brina's greenhouse, and then went to check the stream.
Water welled up on one side from the pores between several large stones, meandered across the greenhouse floor, and then disappeared on the opposite side through another grouping of boulders. The second set of rocks tended to collect debris like leaves, feathers, and misplaced paintbrushes, which I needed to clean out. This time of year the water was frigid when it first bubbled up, but it warmed as it passed over the white stones that lined the streambed. The symbols carved into those stones sparkled as the water flowed over them, creating a warm, golden glow even in the middle of the darkest night.
An animal's shrill cry, carried by the breeze, caused me to lift and then shake my head. Though the glass walls let in plenty of light, even the white ones were so etched and frosted that it was impossible to see through them. The screens allowed gentle breezes to enter the greenhouse but were not conveniently placed for visibility. Sometimes I tried to peer through them, to get a glimpse of the world outside, but they were too high when I was in human form, there were no nearby perches, and my quetzal form did not hover well.
It didn't matter. I had a beautiful world right here. Why did I need anything more?
Taro was adamant that, in addition to my responsibilities taking care of the greenhouse, I needed to take good care of myself. Cleanliness was important, as was exercise. I was supposed to practice my dancing every day, but without Calysta I felt silly when I tried to run through the steps she had taught me. She normally hummed as she danced with me, or played a flute while I danced alone. I would have to wait for her to come back.
I was standing in the doorway of my cabin contemplating what to do next when the door behind me opened with an icy burst of air. Sensing one of them, I turned expectantly and smiled to see my guardian, Taro. I started to speak, to greet him and tell him about my day, but then I realized he wasn't alone.
The woman with him reminded me of Lady Brina, but just for a moment, and probably because Lady Brina was the only person I had ever known who seemed so confident in the way she held herself. Like Lady Brina, this woman had fair skin and dark hair, but while Lady Brina's skin was as flawless as the milk-white stones along the streambed, this woman's had a tan hue to it, and while Lady Brina's hair was as black as night, this woman's was a very dark brown. Unlike Lady Brina, who always wore elaborately embroidered gowns, even when she was painting, this woman was wearing a riding habit that stopped above her knees to reveal breeches and tall boots.
My disrespectful eyes snapped to the ground as soon as I realized I was staring. The woman before me was obviously a vampire. I could feel the way her power resonated in my head and along my skin. I didn't need to look at her eyes to see if they were black, like those of all her kind. I shouldn't; it wasn't my place to meet her gaze. Instead, I did what Taro had taught me to do whenever I met one of them: I lowered my knees to the ground, bowed my head, and waited to be acknowledged.
"Mistress Jeshickah," Taro said to the woman, "may I present Vance Ehecatl."
Mistress Jeshickah! My heart leapt into my throat, and I fought the desire to raise my head and get a better look at her. Taro referred to her frequently as my benefactor and the most powerful woman in the world, but I had never met her. Mistress Jeshickah was the only woman whom even Lady Brina spoke of with awe.
I didn't have to wait long. She reached out and placed a finger under my chin, drawing me to my feet and raising my head with the pressure of one sharp nail.
Don't speak unless spoken to, I reminded myself. But I had so many things I wanted to say! So many questions!
"You're certain he is fourteen?" she asked Taro as she examined my face.
"Yes," Taro replied. "I know he appears young for his age, but I have been told that is common with the breed."
"True. Jaguar's Celeste is almost sixteen now but could pass for twelve," she remarked. Was she talking about another, female quetzal? If so, where was she? She didn't live in my home. Were there two places like this?
"They all mature, with time," he said.
I stumbled when Mistress Jeshickah released me. She turned back to Taro. "I had to speak to Brina," she said. "She was talking about her model at the market, of all places. Do you still feel this is the best place for him?"
Alarm shot through me. Where else would I go?
"He's happy here," Taro said, placing a comforting hand on my shoulder. "And even the merchants are used to Brina's stories. No one pays her much mind. They won't believe she actually has a quetzal here."
"I've doubled the guards on the door, all the same."
I bit my tongue to hold back yet more questions. Lady Brina had been talking about me! Why was that a bad thing? A dangerous thing, perhaps, which necessitated additional guards.
"I think it might be worth finding someone who can" Taro paused, glancing at me. "We should probably continue this conversation later," he said. "Vance is easily overwhelmed by big ideas. There's no need to trouble him. Right, Vance?"
He looked at me as he said that, but I wasn't sure how to respond, so I just said, "Right."
"Keep me updated," Mistress Jeshickah said to Taro.
Then she disappeared without another word.
"She didn't even say hello," I said plaintively.
Taro's gaze snapped to mine, the disappointment on his face sharp enough to cut as he barked, "Vance!"
Shame crept over me. I ducked my head, whispering, "I'm sorry." I knew I shouldn't criticize any of them, especially her. Mistress Jeshickah ran Midnight, the empire that provided for all my needs. She was a busy woman. I added, "I just wanted to say thank you." My real mother had abandoned me as a baby. I would have died if Mistress Jeshickah hadn't taken me in.
Taro patted my shoulder sympathetically. "You say thank you by showing you were raised right and acting with proper respect. She doesn't need your words." As I pondered that kernel of wisdom, he added, "You did well, Vance."
The praise made me smile, but the expression faded as I considered what I had heard. "Is Lady Brina in danger?" I asked.
"No," Taro answered. After a pause he said, "Not much, anyway, but she could be if the wrong people learned of your presence here. Until you are older and more able to protect yourselfand your ladyit would be best if you kept your head down."
"Who would want to hurt us?"
"The world out there," he said, waving in the general direction of the doorway, "is a dangerous place, Vance. Mistress Jeshickah does her best to keep the more violent elements under control, but there are always some who insist on striking out against those of us who try to keep order. They know they cannot harm one of our kind, but some of them might be tempted to hurt someone they see as dear to us. Do you understand?"