Go back to part 2 if you missed it.
The St. Paul Academy for the Mythically Gifted was only five blocks from his aunt and uncle’s house. It wasn’t a private school like his old one, but there were more similarities than differences. His new classmates came from the full range of human subspecies, though the vampire population was a lot smaller in Minnesota. The uniform was less formal, navy bottoms and red polos instead of sport coats and ties. It was nice to have the comfort of a uniform, but the casual nature was a subtle reminder of how out of place he was.
Adric followed the assistant principal to his first class, still marveling over the buffering spells that calmed down his powers the moment he walked through the front door. It wasn’t the same as being bound, but it was the best he’d felt since his parents were murdered.
“We use a European teaching model for our core classes,” Ms. Bierman explained, as she lead him down a hallway lined with lockers. They had waited until after the first bell, to avoid the crowds. “Your morning classes will be held in the same room, with the same students. Teachers will rotate through during the morning, covering your history, English, and math courses.”
“Did my aunt explain the English and math I was taking at my old school?” The last thing he wanted was to repeat material he’d done last year or the year before.
Ms. Bierman nodded. “Yes. All the students in your cohort are taking AP English and college level calculus.” She smiled, seeming pleased with the question. “We find that we have enough students in each grade to assemble your core class by skill level, with very few exceptions.”
Adric was surprised by that. Part of the reason he’d attended private school was that his parents supported tracking, and most public schools were adamantly opposed to it. Of course, a lot of public schools were poorly equipped to handle the needs or deal with the racial issues that came with having subspecies mixed with regular humans on top of differing skill levels and natural aptitudes.
“I have informed your math teacher that you’ve been out of school for a few weeks, so I expect you’ll have more homework in that subject until you’re up to speed. Your aunt was confident you’d be better served by catching up than switching to a lower level math.”
Adric bobbed his head a few times, mentally reminding himself to thank Auntie Sage for that. “Yeah. I’m good at math, so, yeah.” He felt his nerves bubbling up, starting with colder fingers than usual.
“Your electives start fourth hour, and run through the afternoon. You’ll have students from other core classes and other grades in those.” She held out a single white piece of paper. “Here’s a map in case you have trouble finding those rooms. Your teachers will be understanding if you are tardy to classes this first week, as you find your way around.” She stopped and reached out to knock firmly on a closed door. “Please feel free to come to my office if things get to be too much or you need to talk.”
“Come in,” a woman called from the other side of the door.
The room was quiet as Adric followed Ms. Bierman in. He felt the eyes of his new classmates on him as he stood at the front and met his English teacher. She was a faun who wore a brightly patterned dress and an even brighter smile.
“Welcome to class 11-A,” she said. “We’re so glad you could join us, Adric.” She sounded eager but sincere as she glanced out at the students. There were probably twenty-two other students, seated two to a table, with a few empty spaces. “I’m going to have you sit here with Zindel,” she gestured to an empty chair at a table on the side of the room away from the windows. The boy sitting at the table had shaggy brown hair gathered into a ponytail that cascaded down between his shoulders. His eyes were very dark and his skin mid-brown.
Zindel hastily straightened his pile of notebooks so he wasn’t sprawled over more than half the table. He offered a brief wave of greeting as Adric took his seat. “Hey.”
“Hi.” Feeling awkward, Adric rifled through his backpack, quickly pulling out the laptop he’d been issued, as the rest of the class waited on him. He was here to stay, and he knew he needed local friends, but he wasn’t at all confident in his ability to make a good impression right now.
When the teacher flipped on the Smart Board, he was relieved to see they were in the middle of Huck Finn, which his previous class had completed just days before his abrupt move. Because the information was familiar, he didn’t need to dedicate his full attention to the front of the room. He inhaled slowly through his nose, picking up the scents of those around him. His sense of smell was good enough to give him a rough idea of the class makeup, and he was surprised to realize he was the only vampire. He’d already suspected Zindel was a werewolf, likely Romani variant, and his scent confirmed that. There were at least two of the fae folk within twelve feet of him, and a magic user he couldn’t fully identify.
A little more settled by this knowledge, he redirected his focus to his new teacher.
When the end of class bell rang, he caught himself as he moved to shove everything in his backpack and leave. Staying in the same room with the same people for the first three hours of his day was going to take some getting used to. Hopefully it meant he’d get to know a few other kids pretty well. As the teacher gathered up her materials, his classmates started talking to each other.
“So, Adric, right?” Zindel said. “Where are you from?”
“I grew up in Madison,” Adric said, turning sideways to face his table mate. “I’ve been in St. Paul about a month, but I haven’t really gotten out much.” He hoped his new classmate didn’t ask why he’d moved. He’d tried to prepare responses good for deflection, but he wasn’t convinced they’d work.
“Cool. If you have any questions on the homework or need me to e-mail you my notes, just let me know,” Zindel said, turning his laptop to show meticulously organized notes from English. “My family moved around a lot when I was younger, so I know it can be hard to get your bearings.”
Adric felt himself smile. “Tha-” The sound of a hand coming down hard on his desk cut him off. He looked up into the angry blue eyes of a blonde fae teenager.
“I don’t care who you have to suck up to,” she snarled, “but you need to march yourself down to the office and get transferred out of 11-A.”
Adric stared at her in shock. What the hell?
“It’s bad enough that I have to be integrated with filthy werewolves and common witches, but I will not tolerate vampires in my core block.” She crossed her arms over her chest and glared down her nose at him.
There was a moment of silence before the room exploded in an uproar of raised voices and obscenities. It was hard to tell, but Adric thought he had more support than the fae girl, though it was clear she wasn’t entirely alone in her sentiment. With no bond to buffer him, the hostility was nearly overwhelming. Heat filled his face. His breath caught, going uneven. Fabulous. He was going to end up in the nurse’s office before second hour. Such a great first impression.
As quickly as it started, it stopped. Rather, the external trigger was blocked. The girl behind him had launched herself over her own table, then up onto his in a bizarre form of classroom parkour, leaving her crouched between him and the angry fae. Her right hand was open, palm out and fingers stretched wide, and a wave of magic poured off of her, pushing away sound and emotion.
Zindel leaned close enough to Adric to whisper. “Dude, you gonna be okay? You got anxiety or something?”
“Eh,” Adric replied, feeling like an overwhelmed character from Tricia’s favorite manga.
As soon as the rest of the class realized they weren’t going to be heard anyway, and that the powerful magic user was now in control, the shouting stopped. “Laurel, you know you have no right to make such demands,” she chastised. “And that’s just rude, not to mention bigoted.”
The fae scowled, but none of her emotion projected through the magical barrier. “Vampires are disgusting and dangerous. I shouldn’t be forced to interact with one.”
“Well if you’d paid any attention in biology last year, you’d know they’re not really that different from you and me.” She shook her head, making her twin black braids sway and flick down her back. “He’s no more disgusting than you. In fact, odds are that he’s less so.”
Laurel stomped her foot, like a toddler having a tantrum, and pointed at him. “He has no bond! Don’t tell me you can’t feel that. He’s dangerous!”
From the other faces around the room, most of them had no idea what that meant, but some of them were obviously afraid. He hadn’t bonded with his aunt and uncle yet, because he’d thrown up when they tried it two weeks ago. He’d only ever been bonded to his parents, and losing them the way he had made it especially hard for him to rush into a new one. He knew he’d have to do it eventually, but he needed to heal a little more first.
“You don’t know that,” his defender declared, dropping her spell and planting both fists on her hips. “Instead of accusing him, maybe you should talk to him first.” She pushed herself off the table, forcing Laurel to back up a few steps. “And you know as well as I, that administration wouldn’t let him attend if he were any more dangerous than any of the rest of us.”
She turned to Adric with a smile and an extended hand. “Hi. I’m Simza. I’m chovihani. I sit behind you, and I’ve been going to school here since seventh grade. I’m class 11-A’s representative to the student council, and I want to make sure you feel welcome.”
“Trying to pick up another stray?” Laurel sneered, but Simza didn’t acknowledge the comment.
“Uh… thanks.” Adric felt terribly stupid as he enclosed her hand entirely in his for a moment. This adorable tiny Romani girl stood up for him, a complete stranger. She wasn’t working any obvious magic, but he could feel how powerful she was even after he released her hand.
“If you have any questions or need any help catching up, just let me or Zindel know.” She tapped at her bottom lip with several fingers for a moment. “How about you join us for lunch,” she suggested. “I can introduce the rest of my circle to you, and we can see if any of us have overlapping electives, just to make sure you’re covered.”
“Uh, Simza, you might be coming on a bit strong,” Zindel said in a low voice. “Maybe dial it back a bit, yeah?”
“Oh. I’m sorry, Adric.” A hint of pink filled her dark cheeks. “I kind of get a little…”
“Enthusiastic,” suggested the sandy haired fae girl who sat behind Zindel.
“Uh, yeah,” Simza agreed. “That.”
Zindel snorted, before hastily rubbing one hand over his mouth. “That’s one way to describe it.”
“I’m Cartriona,” the fae girl said, waving from her seat. “Most people call me Cat, but I answer to either, and I’d like to assure you that not all of my people are ethnophobic snobs.” Now that he was looking at her, Adric thought she smelled of an odd mix of fae and feathers. “I’m a third generation integrator, so my family abandoned the old conflicts long ago.”
“Pleasure to meet you.” Adric paused to look at Zindel and Simza. “All of you.” He met Simza’s dark eyes. “And I really appreciate what you did for me. Just being here is… it’s kind of a lot for me right now, and… I’m really not able to deflect negativity as well as I normally would.”
Simza beamed, showing off slightly crooked front teeth. “If you need help, just let me know.” The door closed behind a short squat man with a long braided beard. “Oops. Time for history. We can talk more later.”