Bloodwitch Page 1


Maybe today will be different.

For three peals of the chimes above the gatehouse, the boy has been playing with others. Six of them. Never has he been addressed by so many his age. Certainly, he has never been allowed in a game of fox and hen.

And certainly he has never smiled this much. His cheeks ache from the grinning, but he can’t stop.

Lizl is catching up. She’s the fox in this round, and the boy is the only hen left. She laughs. The boy laughs. It feels good, swelling in his chest. Bubbling up his throat like the spring behind the dormitories.

He can’t remember if he’s ever laughed before today. He hopes this game never ends.

Lizl catches up. She’s older, longer-legged, and nimble in a way none of the other acolytes are. The boy overheard his mentor discussing yesterday that they might move her up to the next level of training.

Lizl’s hand slams onto the boy’s shoulder. “Caught you!” Her fingers dig into the loose linen of his monastery tunic. She yanks back, forcing the boy to stop.

He laughs, a high, gleeful sound. Even the muscles in his stomach hurt now, and his cheeks—oh, his cheeks!

Which is why it takes him a moment to notice that Lizl is no longer moving. He’s too happy for the monster inside to be waking up.

But then one of the other acolytes—Kerta, who’d been the first hen caught—calls, “Lizl? Are you all right?”

The boy realizes what’s happening. Panic takes hold, his mind blanking out. His stomach shoveling low.

Let go, he tells himself. Let go, let go, let go. If he doesn’t, Lizl is going to die, just like his dog died. But this is worse than losing Boots. This is a person. This is a girl he was playing with only moments ago. This is Lizl.

“What’s wrong with her?” Kerta closes in, not yet alarmed. Merely confused.

Let go, let go, let go.

“Why isn’t she moving?”

The boy stumbles back. “Please,” he says to the monster inside. Or perhaps he’s addressing Lizl. Or Kerta. Anyone who will make the girl’s blood pump again.

If it doesn’t, Lizl’s brain will stop working. She will die.

Just like Boots.

Kerta notes the boy’s terror now, and the other children start noticing too. “What did you do?” one boy demands.

“Did you hurt her?” another asks.

“Bloodwitch,” declares the third, a bully named Natan, and that’s when the boy sees it: the sudden understanding that flashes in their eyes. The collective hitching of their breaths and recoiling of their necks.

Now they know why the other children won’t play with him. Now they know why he’s trained separately from other acolytes, alone with Monk Evrane.

It doesn’t matter that seconds later Lizl coughs and crumples to the stones. It doesn’t matter that she lives and the monster has gone. It doesn’t matter that this was an accident, that the boy would never have hurt her on purpose.

The damage is done. The smiles are gone. The shouting, the fleeing, the hate—it’s all starting again, as it always does.

They throw rocks after him as he races for the spring behind the dormitory. An old well no one uses anymore. It is overgrown with thorns that only he, with his wounds that always heal, can charge through.

Streaks of pain cut through his awareness. This shrub has fangs. It distracts, as does the drip-drip of blood once he reaches the water.

He sinks to his haunches on the stone shore, ashamed when more than blood splashes the cold waters. Crying, he knows, is not what monks do.

Worse than the tears, though, worse than the thorns’ vicious bite and worse than the welts from the children’s rocks, are the sore muscles in the boy’s cheeks. A reminder of what he almost had. Of what he had had for a few perfect hours.

He was born a monster, he will die a monster, and monsters do not get to have friends.


The blood looked fresh in the rain.

Weeping, oozing, even streaming in some places, the water from the storm hit wounds on corpses that had been stagnant for days. The granite bedrock would not accept the offering, and a river of blood slid downhill, following the terrain, gathering around Aeduan’s boots. So many blood-scents to mingle against his magic, so many dead for his gaze to drag across.

This was the third massacre he’d found in two weeks. The third time he’d followed carnage on the air, the third time he’d smelled wet caves and white-knuckled grips amidst the slaughter. He was catching up to the attackers.

Catching up to his father’s men.

The four stabs in Aeduan’s abdomen spurted with each of his hunched breaths. He should have left the arrows where they’d hit, let the Threadwitch remove them with her careful hands instead of yanking them out as soon as they’d punched through stomach wall. Twenty years of habit were hard to change in just two weeks, though.

He also hadn’t expected the barbs.

Aeduan sucked in a ragged breath, rain coursing into his open mouth. There was nothing to keep him here, and the scent he’d hoped to find—the one he’d followed for two weeks, ever deeper into the Sirmayans—was not nearby. Oh, the summer heather and impossible choices that marked her blood had been here, but she had moved on. Before the attack, he assumed, or she too would now be numbered among the dead.

Before Aeduan could turn away from the corpses and limp for the evergreen forest whence he’d come, a new blood-scent tickled against his nose. Vaguely familiar, as if he had once met the owner and bothered to catalog the man’s blood, but had never tucked it aside to remember forever.

The smell was sharp. Still alive.

Between one heartbeat and the next, Aeduan changed course. Thirty-four careful steps over gape-mouthed bodies. Rain sprayed into his eyes, forcing him to blink again and again. Then the stone expanse gave way to a mossy carpet stained to red. More bodies, all ages, all angles, covered the earth with a density that spoke of attempted escape. The square Nomatsi shields on their backs, though, had done nothing to stop the ambush from the front.

Blood, blood and empty eyes everywhere he looked.

Onward he picked across the bodies until at last he reached the swaying conifers. The scent he’d caught was thicker here, but the pine-needle floor was also slippery, dangerous from the storm. Aeduan had no desire to fall. He might heal from every scrape, every broken bone, but that did not mean it wouldn’t hurt.

Or drain his magic further, which was the problem now. Stomach wounds were particularly unwieldy to repair.

Aeduan inhaled. Exhaled. Counting, waiting, watching as his blood dribbled out and the world fell away. He was not his mind. He was not his body.

He kept moving.

But then, over distant thunderclaps from the south, he heard a human groan. “Help.” With that word, his senses sharpened, his spine straightened, and a new energy kicked in.

He strode faster. Rain splashed beneath his boots. Thunder rolled to the south. He followed a path through the spruce trees, their trunks creaking like ships at sea; he knew this was a Nomatsi road. He knew that traps like the one he’d triggered beside the morning glories likely waited ahead.


The voice was weaker, but closer—as was the scent of the dying man’s blood. A monk, Aeduan realized, when at last he crossed a dip in the path where a stream swelled with storm. Three steps up the rocky hill, a fallen white robe lay stained to rusty brown. And three steps beyond, with his back pressed against a fallen log, the robe’s owner clutched at wounds in his belly.

Wounds like Aeduan’s, that had come from traps meant to protect the Nomatsi tribe. Unlike Aeduan, though, this man had not removed the arrows.

For half a moment, Aeduan thought he could help the man. That he could use what remained of his own power to stop the man’s bleeding. He had done it before with Evrane; he could do it again. The vast city of Tirla was no more than half a day away.

But even if Aeduan could sustain such power in his current state, there could be no healing the sword gash on the monk’s thigh. The femoral artery was split wide, and though rain fell hard enough to clear away blood, the artery gushed faster.

The man had only minutes left to live.

“Demon,” the man burbled. Blood seeped from the edges of his mouth down his seamed chin, riding the rain. “I … remember you.”

“Who did this?” Aeduan asked. There was no time to be wasted on names or useless memories. If anyone had been trained for death, it was the Carawens. And if anyone could help Aeduan make sense of this slaughter, it was the dying man before him.


Aeduan blinked. Rain splattered off his lashes. The Purists, though foul members of humanity, were not known for violence. Except …