A Vaguely Familiar Holiday

Hēi Māo woke slowly, stretching under the warm blankets and not even bothering to open his eyes. He was warm and comfortable, and though he knew it was well past his usual wake up time, there was no rush. The whole house was calm. His father’s house had been calm on Winter Solstice, too, though perhaps abandoned and bleak would have been better descriptors.

As he breathed in through his nose, the scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, and apple filled him. He groaned a little. Brigitte had said that making the wassail was one of her duties for the celebration of the holiday. As her familiar, he should be there with her, helping, learning the Defresne‑Li ways. While solstices and equinoxes were observed in the Parenteau household, it was always a quiet affair and not much of a celebration. At least not since his maman vanished. He was curious to see what was customary in normal families. He’d been in therapy a month now, but he already recognized that there had been nothing normal, and very little that was okay, about his upbringing in his father’s home.

Pushing away his blankets, he rolled to the side to get out of bed. Scampering on bare feet, he crossed the room and opened the trapdoor his witch must have closed so he could rest. She was so good to him! He’d spent the last month getting accustomed to a new schedule including school and homework. While he liked it very much overall, it had been an exhausting adjustment on top of so many other changes.

Quiet singing met his ears as he descended the stairs, and he peered over the railing to see Brigitte, Mama, and Papa working together in the kitchen. The song was unfamiliar, but something about it touched the very core of his being, and he froze. He felt suffused with the warmth of love and family. Though this was the shortest day, the song gave him hope that the coming light would bring even more good things.

Brigitte looked up and caught Hēi Māo’s eyes peering over the banister. Continuing to sing, she smiled at him, waving with a hand that held a green bit of plant. They had reached the chorus again, and she beamed at each of her parents while she continued her work. This was their traditional blessing of the ingredients for their feast.

By the time they reached the end of the song, Hēi Māo had crept down the stairs and into the kitchen, seating himself at the counter to watch. Though he was nearly seventeen, his face held the bright joy of a young child who has been able to stay awake through the longest night to watch the sunrise for the first time.

“Good morning Kitty,” she said, setting aside the thyme and reaching over to pat his head. “Did you sleep well.”

He closed his eyes and tilted his head to press against her hand, humming happily. “I did. It was very nice to lie in.”

“You’ve been working hard. You deserved it.” It still stunned her that he’d never really had a routine sleep schedule. His father had him up at all sorts of hours for photo shoots, and no one bothered to keep track of how rested he was. As a cat shapeshifter, he had the napping thing down, though, and it had probably been the only thing keeping him from dangerous sleep deprivation.

“What was that? It was beautiful,” he gushed. “What have I missed?”

“It was the blessing of our feast, before it’s prepared,” she explained. “Since it’s such a big deal, we like to help make sure it all turns out well.”

“And we’ll be cooking all day,” Papa said. “There will be ample opportunities for you to help out.”

Hēi Māo smiled and nodded. “Oh yes. Put me to work.”

Mama slid a tray of special winter treats, including her favorite lussekatter, onto the table. “You’ll start by helping us polish off some breakfast.”

“That’s hardly work,” Hēi Māo pointed out, then he closed his eyes and sniffed the aromas drifting off the tray. It was nice to see him so relaxed in human form.

“You can’t make it through the longest night without adequate preparation,” Mama said.

“And it’s not a day of just work,” Papa added. “Time together is the most important thing. We have lots of little rituals and trappings that hold meaning for us, but those aren’t the essential parts of the solstice celebration.”

Hēi Māo smiled, taking a Neufchâtel filled croissant off the plate. “This is all so new for me.” He wiggled his legs a bit to get rid of some excess energy.

“You said your family celebrated Winter Solstice,” Brigitte said, looking puzzled.

“We didn’t really celebrate anything,” he explained. “It was a guaranteed day off, mostly because father couldn’t expect anyone to work on this day. But it wasn’t anything special.” He shrugged. “It was kind of dour, to be honest.”

Mama let out a sound of dismay. “Well that simply won’t do, Hēi Māo. This is supposed to be an occasion of merriment and joy.”

“Our ancestors thought the only way to bring back the sun was to tempt it with song and food,” Papa added. “While we have the actual science behind the astronomical phenomenon, it’s still a time of great magic and very much worth celebrating.” He patted Hēi Māo’s shoulder. “We’ll show you the proper way to do this, son.”

“I’ll be a good student,” Hēi Māo promised.

“You’ll enjoy yourself,” Mama ordered, though she softened it with a smile. “Now you should have some of Brigitte’s wassail. It’s the best way to start your solstice morning.”

“And every morning as long as it lasts,” Papa added.

Speed Writing #13 – Summer Vacation in Terra Norma

Laura was sitting in the mid-level branches of the oak tree when she heard the garden gate creak open.  From her vantage point she could see Aster’s entire garden, a formal European design in extremely rural Minnesota.  She recognized the blond-haired teen walking along the path, cobblestones that had been placed with liberal use of magic when Laura had been away two summers ago.  She placed a marker in her book and considered calling to Jason, but decided to see how long it took him to find her.

He started by knocking at the back door.  Aster answered fairly quickly, and Laura briefly wondered if he’d come to see her.  Though her grandma had lost the ability to do magic, she’d been highly trained and could still serve as a valuable resource.  Aster waved her arms around a bit, as if indicating the garden, but Laura couldn’t hear her voice.  They had a brief conversation, then Aster went back to the kitchen and Jason turned away from the door and looked around.  

After a moment, in which she was sure he was considering all the options, he walked the path to the bench nestled in a thick patch of lily-of-the valley, right beneath the oak tree.  He took a seat, then looked up and smiled.  “Hello, Laura.“

Lately, when he smiled at her, or bumped into her, or spoke to her, she felt a rush of happiness and energy.  He was her friend and her math tutor.  He was a house fellow in her dorm at magic school.  He was nearly three years older.  Having a crush on him was inconvenient. “Good morning,” she called back.  She tucked her book down her shirt and  descended the oak.  She’d been climbing trees all her life, and this one since she was six.  Nine years of experience made it a quick task.

Jason watched, no expression on his pale face, and his blue eyes wide.  As she dropped down in front of him, she heard him let out a breath.  “I know I haven’t told you this,“ he said, “but it completely freaks me out to watch you do that.”

She laughed.  “What, climb trees?  You’ve seen me doing it for two years, and I’ve never fallen.“  She shrugged.  “You’ve seen me climb far scarier things.”  The corner watchtower to the school’s outer wall was a favorite hangout.

“Don’t I know it,” he agreed.  “You’ve got no fear of heights, have you?  But then… I suppose you don’t need to fear heights like the rest of us.“

“I’ve always liked heights, even before I knew I could levitate myself.”

He shook is head.  “It’s not natural.“  He sounded serious, but she knew he was teasing.

“It is for me.”  She untucked her t-shirt from her shorts and pulled out the book.  “What’s up?“

“I’m so bored!” he said, throwing his head back and sprawling over the bench dramatically.  “I’ve always worked at camp over summer vacation… well except when I was younger, and I went to camp.“

“Why’d you take the summer off anyway?” she asked, setting her book on the bench as she reached back to pull the binder out of her hair. “You always seemed to like it.”  She put the binder in her teeth and started slicking back her tight orange ringlets as best she could.  She preferred her hair long enough to braid, which kept it under control.  But last summer she’d had to cut it off as the price to save a friend’s life.  She had no regrets, but she was glad she could finally pull it back, even if the tiny ponytail was dorky and needed adjustment every few hours.

He frowned.  “My mom wanted to have more time with me, since I’m spending the whole school year at Ming Tang’s, which she feels violates their custody agreement.“

“Ugh.” Laura patted his shoulder.  “That sounds nasty.“  His parents divorce usually seemed so calm that she tended to forget about the high emotions that caused it.

“Yeah,” he agreed.  “But I don’t want to get held back again, and I really need to learn magic, which I can’t learn here.“  He straightened up and a serious, yet puzzled expression crossed his face.  “Have you noticed that Clarissa Memorial K through Twelve lacks a magical curriculum?”

It took effort to hold in the laugh that wanted to burst out.  “I had.  Very odd, that.“

He nodded.  “Completely unsuitable for mancers.  I shall have to write a formal complaint.”  He shook his head.  “Anyway, I agreed to stay here for the summer if I could stay at Ming Tang’s for the full year again.  It kept things peaceful and we don’t have to go into mediation again.“  He rolled his eyes.  “But my mom’s at work all day, so we don’t get quality time until she gets home, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do all day.  What do you do for fun around here?”

She raised her eyebrows.  “You do remember meeting me, right?“ Their first interaction had been through her locker door.  “And you remember me talking about how much better life is for me at Ming Tang’s, right?”

“Yeah, but I’m sure you still know how to have fun here, right?”  He sounded hopeful.

Shaking her head she pointed to the book.  “The library is my idea of fun in Clarissa.  Also, long bike rides.“

He scowled at her.  “That’s it, O’Dell,” he snapped, as if he couldn’t take any more.  “We’re mancers stuck in a town smaller than our school, and we are going to have the best summer ever!“

She gawked at him.  Oh god.  He was really serious.  She could see her plans of laying low and reading for fun scattering like leaves in the wind.

He jumped to his feet and grabbed her hand.  “Starting with the ice cream shop on main street.”  He started down the path, tugging her behind him.

Prompt: Everyone else is on vacation and we’re both stuck in our boring home town. Wanna hang out and mope about it together?

Non-Binding – Part 6

“Hey, you look really happy today,” Simza said as she paused by Adric’s chair before first hour.

His smiles were coming more readily now, and they didn’t feel so out of place. “Yeah. I worked really hard over the weekend, and I’m finally caught up on everything.” He held out his hands as if to demonstrated their emptiness. “So now I’ll only have regular homework.”

“That’s wonderful!” She bent down to give him a quick hug. “Does this mean you’ll be able to hang out when Zin or I ask, now?”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “I was actually wondering if you guys might want to come over and play video games this afternoon. My cousins have a really nice set up with the biggest TV I’ve ever seen.”

“I’m in,” Zindel said. “But a word to the wise, Cat’s wicked good at first person shooters.”

The bell cut off further conversation.

It wasn’t until lunch that it became clear Laurel hadn’t given up her complaint about having a vampire in her core block. Adric was sitting next to Simza, which had somehow become the default, with the rest of her circle around them. Everyone seemed pretty excited about going home with him after school, and they were discussing what game systems and games they wanted to try.

Adric hadn’t even noticed his friends getting distracted until the lunch room went oddly quiet. It wasn’t silent, by any stretch, but a lot of kids had clearly stopped to stare. A line of students led by Laurel were marching into the lunchroom, carrying posters with anti-vampire messages.

No blood suckers in my school!

Vamps go back to Europe!!

UNdead and UNwelcome

EVERY vamp is a killer!

They want you’re blood!

Kick ’em out!

A wave of garlic-scented air washed over him, and Adric doubled over, gagging. He couldn’t help but recall the last time he’d smelled it. The touch of the carpet under his fingers. His parents’ blood all over the living room.

The cafeteria was suddenly too loud, too crowded, too hot. Someone tugged on his arm, but he pulled away with a moan. Leaping to his feet, he ran blindly out of the room, crashing into several protesters without even slowing down. His vision was distorted, reduced to a sick combination of red and blue. He only stopped when he hit a wall solid enough to knock him down.

Back hunched, he pressed his face to his knees and huddled close to the wall. His whole body shook hard enough to render him useless. Mindless rage pushed at the edge of his consciousness, and it was all he could do to keep it from breaking through and taking over. His hands grasped fistfuls of his hair and pulled, trying to force himself to focus on something physical and isolated.

After what had felt like an eternity, it suddenly became easier. He was abruptly aware of his sharp uneven gasps, and moved his attention to steadying his breathing. It was quieter now, though life had surely continued around him. After all, if it hadn’t stopped for his parents’ death, why would it pause for his meltdown? After another unmeasurable time, he realized there was a voice, soothing and gentle.

“It’s okay, Adric,” Simza whispered. “You’re safe. Nothing’s going to hurt you. And you aren’t going to hurt anyone else. I’m here with you, and you’re safe. We’re both safe.”

He moaned and yanked at his hair.

“Oh!” It was a sound of dismay. “No, don’t hurt yourself,” Simza begged, her fingers ghosting over his head without really touching him. “Let me help you Adric. Please.”

She could force her magic on him. He was sure he was no match for her ability to incapacitate him, but she hadn’t. She’d shielded him in a magic bubble, and when that wasn’t enough she asked for consent. Still curled in on himself, he released his tangled locks with one hand and reached toward her. Even with his senses on overload, he knew where she was.

Her fingers slipped between his, and her magic washed over him like a warm wave. He trembled once, then stopped, relishing for a moment in the stillness. With a nudge of her free hand, he unfolded and allowed himself to be pulled against her, his face pressed to her neck. Her fingertips caressed his cheek a few times.

“Doing a little better?” she asked.

He nodded, not sure he could talk yet. He felt limp and exhausted.

“Can you tell me what happened?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Don’t wanna.”

“Yeah, I’m not surprised,” she murmured. “But I think I need to know what made you react like that. I know you don’t have the benefit of a bond, so I get that you’re more sensitive. But this was more than that. You don’t have to be too specific, if that helps.”

He twisted so he could more fully lean on her, his free arm slipping around her. She was warm and safe and strong. She was so kind. She’d rescued him twice, even though she didn’t know him well. She deserved to know. “It was the garlic,” he finally whispered. “On top of the hate, it was too much.”

Her hand made its way into his hair, soothing his scalp where he’d yanked at it. “I thought garlic was just an annoyance to your people.”

“We have a… history with it,” he explained. “On it’s own, it’s nothing. But people have used it for centuries in misguided attempts to kill vampires. The association is pretty awful at this point.”

“That’s disgusting.” Her hand squeezed his firmly.

He nodded. “Almost two months ago, I came home from school and…” His voice caught. He took a breath. “My parents had been murdered.” He hadn’t spoken to anyone about this once the emergency response team had shown up. He was surprised he managed to get the words out.

“Oh god, Adric,” she whimpered. “I’m so sorry.” She moved so she could press her cheek to his. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to,” she reiterated.

He wanted her to know, it was almost a compulsion. “I’m the one who found them, and it was…” He gulped. “It was horrible. Whoever did it was afraid they’d recover, so they used almost all of the myths about killing us.” The wooden stakes, iron nails, and odd burns in the upholstery and carpet still showed up in his dreams. “There was garlic, and… I guess the smell just… it was like finding them all over again. It was like being alone in the living room with my dead parents, and waiting for a warlock to show up and lock me down.”

She turned toward him so she could hug him with both arms, rather than the odd hug and snuggle hybrid she’d been maintaining. “I’m so sorry Adric. You don’t deserve any of this.”

He clung to her and the sense of peace she gave him.

“I think I understand why you haven’t bonded with anyone else.” Her fingers smoothed his hair away from his face. “I can’t imagine having it ripped away from you like that.” She sighed.

“Yeah, but I’m going to have to do it… probably before I’ll be allowed to come back to school.” Just when he’d gotten all caught up and seemed to be fitting in.

“Hey, it’s going to be all right,” she promised. “You don’t really think you’ll get kicked out for this, do you?”

Adric shrugged, finally opening his eyes. He could see someone outside their bubble, and they were holding an opaque purple curtain of magic around Simza’s translucent bubble.

“That’s Master Lemire,” she explained. “He’s the school nurse and an amazing warlock.”

He groaned. It made sense that he’d been called in, but it felt like another strike against him.

“You’re not going to be suspended for having a panic attack,” she said with a snort. “You didn’t hurt anyone, and you actively removed yourself from a situation before you could lose control. Those are all points in your favor.”

“I feel like a disappointment,” he said. The energy of his freak out had dropped him into a hole of self-loathing.

“I have a suggestion, if you’d be open to it,” she said quietly.

He nodded. She’d helped him, and she knew so much.

“I think you need your new bond to be as different as possible from your old one, then it won’t feel like you’re replacing it.” She hesitated, then loosened her hold enough to lean over and look into his face. “I’d like you to bond with my circle; instead of an individual binding, you’ll be connected to every member of the circle. We’re friends, not family, and none of us are vampires.”

“It would definitely be different,” he agreed. He took a moment to consider it, surprised to find that it didn’t cause the strong revulsion the idea of bonding with his aunt and uncle did.

“Once you’ve settled into the circle, I think you should bond with some of your people again,” she suggested. “Because that’s probably important, too.”

She wasn’t wrong. “Okay.”

“Okay? Like, you agree or like you’ll do it?” A half smile crept onto her face, and he suspected she knew the answer but was just verifying.

“Both.” He snorted and slid one hand down to grasp hers. “You’re right, about what I need to do. And yes, I’ll join your circle.”

Non-Binding – Part 5

The first day of school established a pattern that worked nicely for Adric for the first few weeks. As soon as he arrived, he met up with Zindel before heading to class. Laurel was absent for a couple days, and when she returned, she went out of her way to ignore him. He walked to journalism with Catriona. He had lunch with Simza’s circle, where he felt welcomed and comfortable. As Zindel shared stories of his art class clay-tastrophes, Adric realized he was smiling for the first time since he’d lost his parents.

Somehow he managed to have one member of the circle in his last three classes of the day, so he was never on his own. Sure, the friendships were new, but they were a start. After school, he settled in at the gate-leg desk that had been hastily assembled in his room, with a promise of something more appropriate as soon as there was time. He spent a few hours on the day’s homework before dinner, and a few hours on catch-up work after.

“Adric, I got a call from your guidance counselor today,” Auntie Sage mentioned one evening as they were finishing up dinner. “She’s really impressed with how well you’re fitting in and catching up.”

Adric nodded, a little relieved even though he’d known there couldn’t be any complaints. “It’s going well.” His cousins went quiet, and while they weren’t staring, he could feel them listening intently.

Auntie Sage beamed at him. “I’m so happy to hear that.”

“You’re obviously working hard,” Uncle Patrick said as he plucked the napkin from his lap. “And that’s good to see, but we don’t want you to overdo it. Down time is good, too.”

Adric nodded. “Yeah. I just kind of want to get caught up. I’m getting close, so things should ease up a little soon.”

“Are you making some friends?” Auntie Sage asked, hopefully. “I know you mentioned there were some nice kids in your core block.”

He felt the smile on his face again. “Yeah. They are pretty nice. They’ve helped me out, a lot.”

“How’s your control feel?” Uncle Patrick finally asked the inevitable question.

“It’s okay,” Adric insisted, a little to quickly. “I mean, there’ve been a couple of rough moments, mostly the first day, really. Overall it’s been fine. And I’m being careful not to push it.” The last thing he wanted was for them to think he was irresponsible.

“Do you think you’re up to trying a bonding ceremony?” his uncle wanted to know.

Adric forced himself to take stock and think before answering. There was still a flash of revulsion, but it wasn’t the near panic he’d felt before. “Not… not yet,” he said quietly. “But… I think I’m getting closer.” He stared down at his hands. “Could you ask again in another week?”

“We’re not trying to push you, if you aren’t ready,” his uncle insisted. “We just want to keep you safe.”

Adric nodded, feeling like a huge disappointment. Tricia’s hand unexpectedly reached over from her spot beside him and squeezed his wrist.

“He has a good safety net at school,” his cousin assured her parents. “Simza’s circle is super strong, and they’re like the most positive people on the planet.”

“Simza’s circle?” Auntie Sage asked, her interest definitely piqued.

“My friends,” Adric explained. “There’s seven of them, and they’re all bound to each other to help with their control.”

Nate snorted. “You should let her adopt you.”

Adric’s face heated up, and he wasn’t quite sure why.

“It’s obvious she wants to,” Nate continued. “Sure, she’s as kind-hearted as they come, but I’ve seen the way she looks at you.”

“Ooooh.” Auntie Sage leaned forward in interest. “How does she look at him?”

Adric lurched to his feet. “Oh. Wow. Is that the time? I still have a ton of work to do.” He snatched his dishes off the table and headed for the dishwasher. “Talk to you later.” He bolted for his room.

Non-Binding – Part 4

After his three-hour block of core classes, Adric had a journalism elective before lunch. It turned out that Catriona shared it with him, and she designated herself his guide and mentor. They were wrapping up a feature writing unit, and his western European witch teacher shared a couple of online folders with readings and past assignments as catch up. It was a good thing he didn’t have any after school plans, and wouldn’t for a while. He was going to be spending hours every night on homework, probably for the next month.

Catriona walked him to the cafeteria and pointed out the table Simza’s circle usually occupied before heading to the lunch line that met her needs. As he crossed the room, loud with chatter and clanking cutlery, he hesitated when he heard his name.

“How was your morning?” Tricia asked, catching his elbow under her hand. She was doing her best to sound casual, but he could see her underlying concern.

“It was good,” he insisted, but frowned when he recalled his hostile fae classmate. “Mostly.”

Tricia’s blue eyes narrowed. “What do you mean mostly?”

He shrugged. “I have a first generation fae integrator in my core block, and she’s…”

“A bitch?” Tricia suggested.

He wasn’t able to squelch the smile. “Yeah. That’d be about right. I’m the only vampire in the class, and she was pretty unhappy about it.”

“Did she do anything inappropriate?” Tricia asked quickly, her forehead wrinkling the way it did when she was worried. “If she did, you can and totally should report it.”

“Already done,” said a voice at Adric’s elbow. He twitched, surprised anyone could get that close without him realizing it. Simza stood slightly behind him and off to one side. “We don’t tolerate ethnocentrist bullying, and administration takes it very seriously.”

“Uh…” He felt stupid again. What was it with this girl shutting down his brain? He’d kind of hoped ignoring Laurel would make the problem go away. If he proved himself not a threat, wouldn’t that carry more weight than detention, or whatever they did here? He glanced at Tricia, who was now grinning at him. “Tricia, this is Simza, she’s in my core block. Simza, this is my cousin Tricia, she’s a sophomore.”

“Nice to meet you,” Simza said, happiness radiating off her. “Aren’t you on student council?”

Tricia nodded and grabbed the offered hand. “Are you going to adopt him?”

Adric felt his face heat up as both girls looked at him before turning back to each other. What were they talking about?

“That’s up to him,” Simza replied with a wink. “Do you have any objections?”

“None.” Tricia hopped up and down and clapped her hands in glee. “I’ll let you guys get to your lunch.” She patted Adric’s arm twice. “See you later, cuz.” She jogged back between the tables to the group she’d been sitting with earlier.

Puzzled, Adric turned to Simza. “What was that about?”

“We’ll talk about it later,” she said. “But I promised you’d meet my circle, so let’s do that.” She led him over to the end of a table where Zindel already sat. There were several empty seats between him and the next group of students.

“So what is your circle?” Adric asked, hoping to get some insight to his new classmate. “Is it, like, a nickname for your friend group?”

She gestured for him to take a seat across from the werewolf. “Zin, you want to explain?”

Zindel snorted. “Are you familiar with chovihani?”

Adric shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “We didn’t have any Romani in Madison, so I guess it didn’t get covered.”

Simza shrugged. “We’re not a huge ethnic group, and we… we haven’t been the most popular, historically. So there really aren’t a lot of us anywhere anymore. Not even back in Europe.” She pulled a red reusable lunch bag out of her backpack. “Chovihani are essentially the Romani equivalent of a warlock.”

“Magical heavy hitters,” Zindel added. “Their principles of magic reflect other users, but are actually completely different.”

“So, no coven?” Adric asked.

Most work best as solo practitioners,” Simza said, emphasizing that first word.

“But not you?”

Zindel laughed as if it was the most hilarious thing in the world.

“Zindel.” There was a definite note of warning in her voice.

“Come on Simza,” he pleaded. “It’s not often that your reputation is this untarnished. And even you have to admit, it’s pretty funny.”

She rolled her eyes. “Fine.” She waved the back of her hand at him, encouraging him to continue.

“Simza’s probably the strongest chovihani in the history of our people,” Zindel explained. “All that power comes with a really sensitive control system, which means it’s easy for things to go wrong. Young magic users make a lot of mistakes. It’s just part of the package.”

“Oh.” Adric suddenly understood. He glanced down at her, surprised to see pink in her dark cheeks, far more than a hint. “So you had a few accidents, then?” he asked, determined not to tease, because loss of control was a scary thing.

Zindel let out a bark of laughter before slapping his hand over his mouth and ducking his head to hide his expression.

Simza scowled at her friend, but something about it seemed affectionate. “Few is not how I’d describe it.” She let out a sigh and a half-embarrassed smile made its way onto her face. “Constant train-wreck is more accurate.” She shook her head. “I was home-schooled until seventh grade because I was,” she raised her hands to provide air quote assistance, “too dangerous to be integrated with other students.”

Adric gawked at her. He didn’t even know that was possible. “How… how did you get control of it?” She obviously had; her demonstration in the classroom had been finely nuanced.

“With my circle.” She gestured to the students who had settled around them while she and Zindel spoke. “Historically a chovihani would protect an entire caravan, so she was magically tied to those families, that group, and most of them were regular humans. Something about that connection also served as a fuse or surge protector.” She shrugged. “And I knew that western witches worked best in a group, so I thought I’d see if that helped me.”

“I will never forget all the damn magical theory you made me read,” Zindel growled, though his expression was soft.

She pulled a face at him. “I didn’t want to kill you. Or anyone, really.”

Adric felt a sudden kinship to her. Sure, she could joke about it now, but he could see in her eyes that she remembered what it was like to have no control, to be afraid of what she’d done and could do.

“Anyway, the circle is a little like having a coven, in that it gives me a boost, which wasn’t exactly my goal, but it’s part of the package.” She tilted her head. “But it also gives me control, which is not something that other magic users usually get from a binding.”

“And there’s a joint benefit for the rest of us,” Zindel explained. “I needed a pack, something that served that purpose when I was away from my family for so much of the day. While no one else in the circle is a werewolf, it fills that need.”

“Oooh,” Catriona said, taking the last remaining seat next to Zindel. “Are we explaining the circle?”

“Are you part of it?” Adric asked in surprise. At her nod, he added. “I thought fae magic couldn’t work with other types, like they’re opposites and cancel each other out.”

Catriona shook her head. “That’s a carefully propagated myth, started and maintained by the fae who don’t want to work with others.” She pointed the handle of her bamboo spoon at him and waved it about. “I’m a shape changer, but I couldn’t stay balanced enough to keep to a form.”

Simza giggled. “It was cute.”

“It was distracting.” Catriona let out a huff, making her bangs scatter out of her face. “Having your lab partner randomly cycling from human to peregrine does not create an environment of focus and inquiry.” Her affected tone made it clear that these words were used against her in the past.

“Ah,” Adric said in understanding. The scent of fae and feathers made sense now.

“All of us in Simza’s circle have kind of crazy talent, and none of us are the same,” Zindel picked back up. “On our own, we’re each an uncontrolled mess. With our potential connected, we make each other stronger, and we have an anchor that lets us master our power.”

“I like to say we’re like a tapestry,” Simza added. “On our own, we are loose thread that spills off the loom and blows anywhere. Interwoven, we keep our distinctive color, but we’re contained, held fast, cohesively supported.”

Non-Binding – Part 3

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.”

Non-Binding – Part 2

Go back to part 1 if you missed it.

A hand on Adric’s shoulder shook him awake. “Come on Adric. Time to get up.”

He resisted the urge to hiss at his aunt and burrow back under the covers. It was a close thing. Instead, he groaned and blinked blearily at her. It had been nearly a month, and he still wasn’t used to his new room in his new house. The extended family he previously only saw on vacation and during holidays had become his primary family, and he didn’t quite feel like he belonged.

Auntie Sage smiled down at him. “There’s a good boy.” She ran her fingers into his wavy blond hair, pushing it out of his face. “Hmmm.” She held out a few strands checking for length. “You growing this out for a ponytail?”

He shrugged.

She straightened up, her wide smile displaying her inhumanly sharp teeth. “Breakfast is ready, sweetie. Normally you’ll walk with Tricia and Nate, but for your first day, we’re going to bring you in to make sure you get oriented all right.”

Adric nodded. His aunt and uncle had decided it was doing him no good to mope at home, and maybe it was time to start school. He’d kept in touch with his friends back in Madison through e-mail, text, and Skype, but it wasn’t the same. Nothing was.

“Get dressed and grab your backpack,” Auntie Sage said. “Join us in the dining room as soon as you can.”

During breakfast, his cousin Nate gave him another run down on the teachers on his schedule, many of whom Nate had the year before. As Adric cleaned up his dishes, his cousin Tricia reached out to lightly touch his wrist, her fingers resting over one of his sun protection charms.

“The school nurse is a wickedly powerful warlock,” she said quietly. “He’s really nice, and he’ll help you out if it’s too much.”

Adric smiled. “Thanks, Tricia. That’s a relief to know.”

“He’ll summon us if you need him to,” she added. She shrugged and rolled her eyes, looking a bit embarrassed. “It’s just… I know this is a lot. And I know you’re better than you were when you got here, but…”

Adric caught her brother’s frantic warding off hand gestures out of the corner of his eye. “We’re there if you need us,” Nate interrupted. “We’ll try to check in with you at lunch.” He caught his sister’s arm and dragged her out of the room. “I need your help on something…”

Sighing, Adric brought his dishes to the kitchen. His discomfort had nothing to do with his family. They had done everything they could to make him feel welcome. They were more understanding and loving than he had a right to expect, but he was a damaged puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit.

Check out part 3.

Non-Binding – Part 1

Adric notched his key into the lock, surprised when the light force pushed the door inward. He stared at the widening gap in confusion. It wasn’t like his parents to leave without latching the front door. He stepped over the threshold, his step faltering when the scent of blood hit him.

Normally it would be appealing, maybe even triggering a hint of hunger, but this blood was wrong. It was strong enough that he should have picked it up from the sidewalk. It smelled of family and magic. He gasped, his keys clattering to the wood floor as he clutched at his chest.

He’d been uneasy since second hour, his usually docile powers sloppy and on edge. So much so that he’d decided to skip cuisine club after school rather than risk something going wrong. His safety-conscious parents were staunch supporters of initiatives promoting a peaceful image of their people; messing that up would be unacceptable. He’d hoped his dad could help him trouble-shoot the problem.

He closed his eyes and grasped for the magical bond they shared, the enchantment that ensured he had complete control over his power and his nature despite the volatility of youth. He lurched against the wall when he found nothing of the familiar magic. He knew what waited in the other room and was vaguely aware of his fingertips sinking into the gypsum wall as he gathered strength for what had to be done.

Shaking and queasy, he pushed himself away from the dented wall and took slow steps down the hall to the living room entrance. His breath stuttered as he took in the scene. Papa’s newspaper had fallen to the floor, open to whatever page he’d been reading. Mama’s teacup lay on its side, its contents spilled over the table and mixed with her blood. There was so much blood, seeping into the couch, congealed on the floor, spattered across his parents’ waxen skin.

The next moment, there was a buzzing in his ear. He was crouched just inside the living room, half behind a chair, with no memory of having moved. He shook his head, trying to clear it.

“-dric Herzmeister?”

He stared at his cellphone wondering when he’d pulled it out and who he’d called. “Uh… sorry. What?”

“This number is registered to an Adric Herzmeister. Are you Adric?” the woman asked. Her voice was unfamiliar, but calming.

“Yes. Yes, I’m Adric.” His head felt cobwebby, like waking from a long sleep.

“This is 911 emergency, Adric,” she explained. “Is there a reason you called? Are you all right?”

He moaned, realizing they needed complete information so they came prepared for everything they were going to have to deal with. But he wasn’t sure he could say it out loud. “It’s my parents,” he forced out. He took a steadying breath and realized there was garlic in the room, probably stuffed in his parents’ mouths. His suddenly shaking hands gripped the phone to avoid dropping it.

“Is there something wrong with your parents?” she prompted.

“Uh-huh.” He squeezed his eyes shut. “They’re dead. Uhm. Permanently dead.” He gasped and let himself slide fully to the floor, curled on his side around his phone.

“Permanently… Adric, are your parents a human subspecies?”

“Yeah,” he mumbled, drawing his long limbs in tighter. “Vampire, western European variant.”

“Okay,” she said. “Can you tell me if you’re bound to anyone other than your parents?”

“Not bound,” he whispered, his throat tight. “You need to send someone who can control me if…”

“It’s okay, Adric,” she interrupted, businesslike. “You’re not going to lose control.”


“I’m sure this is scary. But I’m going to send a team out to help you,” she said, her voice optimistic yet firm. “Can you tell me where you are?” When he didn’t respond right away, she prompted again. “Adric, are you at home?”

“Yes,” he whimpered. “I’m in the living room.”

“And your parents, where are they?”

“On the couch.” He was barely audible. “Mostly.”

“Can you tell if there’s anyone else in the house?” she asked. “I want to make sure you’re safe.”

He shook his head, his canine teeth digging in to his bottom lip. “No one’s here.” He hesitated. “It… it smells like it happened hours ago. And my powers got touchy this morning when I was at school, so… it was probably… then.” He felt hot, and wet tears were drizzling across his face.

“It’s okay, Adric,” the 911 operator murmured. “The team is on their way, and they have a warlock to help you. I’m going to stay on the phone with you until they get there. Just try to focus on my voice and remember we’re here to help you.”

Check out part 2.

Accidental Magic – Sneaking Off – Part 2

<<< Go back to Part 1

The cabin had been quiet for a long time.  Laura pulled on the dark clothes she’d stuffed under her pillow before going to bed.  She pushed aside her blankets and slipped off her bunk.  She crouched there, her bare feet sticking to the floor and her shoulder level with her mattress, and listened.  Over the pounding of her heart, she could hear the three younger girls breathing, but that was all.  She reached under the bed for her shoes and socks, but carried them as she took baby steps toward the door.

She made it to the hallway without bumping into anything.  She took a slow breath and tried to relax.  She’d never woken anyone up while going to the bathroom.  Why was she worried about it now?  And why did everything seem so loud?  She crept to the couch.  Kaveh looked like he was asleep, and she was half tempted to go back to bed and forget about the whole thing.  She could say she’d fallen asleep. But then he would think she was a wimp.  Besides, how else would she find out what happened at magic camp?  As she reached for his shoulder, he rolled over and looked up at her.

As they made their way through the kitchen and onto the porch, she envied Kaveh’s soft-step.  Now that they were together, she was doubly certain they were going to get caught.  Then they were outside, running barefoot across the patches of sand and grass to the beach.  She held her shoes under one arm and helped Kaveh pull the canoe from the boat house.  Instead of life jackets, cons wore rings called lifesavers.  When they got wet, their magic activated, and they pulled the wearer to shore.  Dave explained them when she and Kaveh first took out the canoe.  The lifesavers were in Jaromir and Irina’s room.  It was one more sign that they were doing something they shouldn’t be, and Laura resolutely shoved aside her concern. She dropped her shoes into the front of the canoe, and it echoed with a hollow thump.  She held her breath and looked around.

“They wouldn’t have heard that,” Kaveh assured her in a whisper.  “Get in.“  He held the canoe steady as she climbed into the front. He handed her a paddle, then climbed in the back and pushed off at the same time, bouncing and rocking the boat.  They paddled quietly, but they were in a hurry, and they abandoned their caution once they were away from shore.

It was dark on the lake.  Even with the moon and stars, Laura couldn’t see the other side.  “Can you tell where we’re going?” she asked.

“Sort of,” he said.  “I’ve got better night vision than you, but it’s a long way to see.“

The moon was a bright white chunk in the sky, surrounded by millions of pin points of light.  In some places, there were almost as many faint stars as there was black space.  The moon was closer to full than new, and its reflection on the water was bright.  It stretched out in a long wavy blob, but kept some of its shape despite the distortion. Lights from houses and cabins near the lake were few and far between, striking the water and spreading out in diffuse circles of dim blue that were broken up by small waves.

Balancing her paddle across her knees, but still hanging on to it with one hand, Laura used the torch light charm.  She pointed her hand at the water, in case it was too strong.  She dimmed it, then directed it across the lake, trying to get her bearings.  They were headed in the right direction, more or less.  Kaveh turned the canoe, adjusting their course.

“You know,” Kaveh said, “I heard you come into the living room.”

“I was trying to be quiet,” Laura said.  Had she made more noise than she’d realized?

“I was awake, and I was listening for you,” he admitted, then he was silent for moment.  “You sat there for the longest time, I started to wonder if you’d changed your mind.“

Laura shrugged.  “I was listening in case anyone else was awake.” She hoped she sounded convincing.  She really didn’t want him to think she was a chicken.

“Just checking,” he said, his voice amused.

Laura used the torch light again.  They were almost to the other side. Kaveh turned the canoe to follow along the shoreline far enough out that they wouldn’t attract attention from anyone taking a late night stroll near the water.  Small lanterns lined the camp’s shore.  Kaveh aimed for a small strip of beach to the right of the buoys marking the swimming area.

When the bottom of the canoe rubbed the sand, they got out and pulled it up onto the beach, where it wouldn’t drift off.  Laura grabbed her shoes and took a moment to rub the wet sand off her feet.  Kaveh went barefoot almost constantly and hadn’t bothered to bring shoes.

The beach was surrounded by woods, except where a dimly lit path led up a small hill, then turned.  Because the trees were so thick, Laura couldn’t tell where it went after that.  The path was made of wooden planks that had been almost buried in the dirt, like a ground level boardwalk.  She and Kaveh scampered up the path until it split in three directions.  Laura didn’t need special werewolf abilities to smell burning wood.

“There’s a fire around here somewhere,” she said in a low whisper.

Kaveh pointed to the rightmost path.  “Campfire.  And I think there are still people there,“ he said, sounding surprised.  He sniffed at the air, then nodded to the middle path.  “Let’s try this way first.  I think it’s where the kids stay.  Smells like it anyway.”

Laura giggled and covered her mouth.  “What do campers smell like?“

“Dirty laundry, bug repeller potion, and candy,” he replied.  “Come on, let’s go see.“  They walked more slowly up this section of the path pausing several times when they thought they heard voices. The only people who might still be awake were counselors, and they definitely didn’t want to be seen by magic camp counselors.

The path ended at the edge of a large open grassy area with more lights. There were a number of buildings scattered about the clearing, all smaller than the cabin she and Kaveh had come from.  They were square and had a lot of windows.  Laura crept up to one of the cabins and peeked in a window.  Triple-decker bunk beds filled the main room. There was door near the other end, and she guessed it led to the bathroom.  Kaveh was next to her, looking in the window, when the sound of quiet voices came from around one of the other buildings.

“We should make sure that fire is out,” a boy said.  He sounded like he was a teenager.

“Can’t we do that after we have a snack?” asked a girl.

Laura didn’t want to wait around to find out what they decided.  She crouched down and found some small rocks.  Picking the largest, she threw it at the roof of a nearby cabin.  If she’d been sure she would hit it, she would have aimed at one farther away.  The rock made a good clunk, catching the attention of the older kids, and she and Kaveh bolted for the path.

“Hey, did you hear something?” asked a second boy, and Laura almost tripped.  She knew that voice from somewhere.

Kaveh grabbed Laura’s hand before she could get too far ahead of him.  At the split in the path, he pulled her off in the direction that didn’t smell like fire, but wasn’t the way to the lake.

“What are you doing?” she demanded in a whisper.

“We’ve hardly gotten to see anything,” Kaveh said.  “We’ll just check out this part of camp and wait for them to go to bed.“

“All right.”  It had been exciting to almost get caught.  It made their excursion more dangerous.  She felt silly and even a little reckless, and it was fun.  This path wasn’t lit, so she used the torch light.  “It’s not fair that you can see in the dark.“ It seemed like a very good deal to be a werewolf.  The only drawback was the silver thing.  She supposed it might be annoying to be unable to do magic as a wolf, and the clothing issue could be an inconvenience.  Still, there were so many benefits.

“It’s a very good thing I can see in the dark.  Now put that out, will you,” he said urgently.  “If someone sees a light moving around out here, it’s gonna be a dead giveaway.“

“I’ll walk into a tree or something,” she said.

“No you won’t.”

“Easy for you to say,” she snapped.

He stopped.  “Here, hang on to the back of my shirt.  Now the only way you can walk into a tree, is if I do.“

She grabbed a fist-full of his baggy shirt.  “If you walk into a tree, I’ll just bump into you.”

“So there you go,” he said.  “You’ll be fine.“  They started walking again.  

It was awkward, trying not step on his heels while following so close behind him.  “Any idea where we’re going?” she asked.

“I think it’s the dining hall,” he said.  “There’s something else too, but I don’t recognize the scent.“

At the end of the path, they found a huge lodge and several smaller buildings.  There were few lanterns spread about the dark clearing. Clearly no one was supposed to be here at this time of night.  From the path, Laura was able to see a sign for one of the small buildings.  It said “Wand Crafts,” and there were diagrams of sticks shooting sparks over and under the words.  

A few steps led up to a long porch at the front of the large dining hall. They walked around in search of a back entry.  This brought them close enough to see the sign for one of the other buildings.  It said, “Enchantery.”

“I guess we found the crafts,” Laura said.  “And it looks like magic is what they do at camp.“

“Well that’s not terribly exciting,” Kaveh said.  “Now, even you can make a magic wand if you’re stranded in the woods.“  He sounded like a bad advertisement.  “Ooh, here’s a door.” He pointed to the back corner of the building.  In the low light, Laura had missed it.

They entered directly into the kitchen.  It was a large room with many shelves and cupboards.  Everything was white ceramic and steel, and it looked very clean.  

Kaveh found a large refrigerator filled with meat.  He poked at a roast that was covered in some sort of clear wrap.  “They eat pretty well,“ he said.

“You don’t eat raw meat, do you?” Laura asked.  “If you do, that is so disgusting.“

Kaveh laughed.  “I’d only eat it raw as a wolf.”

“Ish.” She wrinkled her face.

The back door to the kitchen opened, and a trio of voices echoed into the room.  Laura and Kaveh dropped to the floor, ducking behind one of the shiny steel shelving units filled with pots and pans.  It was the same teenagers they’d heard earlier.

“I’m going to have some popcorn,” said the guy with the familiar voice.

Laura was positive she’d heard that voice before, but where?  She tried to remember the context and realized she’d heard it prior to seeing its owner then, too.

“I want something fun,” said the girl.  “Something with chocolate in it.“

“Do you ever want something that doesn’t have chocolate in it?”  It was the other boy.

Kaveh looked around for another way out.  “I could turn into a wolf and distract them,“ he suggested, mouthing the words without much breath.

Laura didn’t like that idea.  She’d rather wait for them to leave.  They were older, and they were at the camp.  There was no way of knowing what kind of magic they could do, and Kaveh was vulnerable as a wolf. She shook her head.

“Hey, Raasch,” said the familiar voice, “what time is it anyway?”

Laura froze, and her brain stopped working for a moment.  The second boy sounded exactly like Jason, the cute hall monitor who’d gotten her out of her locker on her last day of school.  But it couldn’t possibly be him.  He’d been attending school in a world where magic wasn’t on the curriculum.  

Then she remembered that his parents were divorced and he spent half of his time with his dad and half with his mom.  He’d said his other school was harder, which made sense if it was a mancer prep school.

“Ten after two,” said the other guy.

Kaveh tapped Laura’s shoulder and pointed.  They were near the counter where food was served.  There was a half-door separating the kitchen from the dining area, and it was open.  The counselors were on the other side of the kitchen and wouldn’t see them if they hurried. Once in the dining hall, there would be more things to hide behind, and they could make their way to the front door, which was closer to the path back to the lake.

Laura nodded.  Kaveh went first and she started to follow.  She paused in a crouch and peeked through the pots and pans to see if it was Jason. He was blond, and about the right height, but he was turned the other direction.  Or he was until she knocked a lid off the shelf to the floor with a clang.  She didn’t wait to see him turn around.

“Hey, who’s there?” Raasch demanded.

Kaveh had a head start, but she caught up with him in the dining hall.  She glanced over her shoulder to see two figures vault over the serving counter after them.  Laura urged her legs to move faster as she swerved around a table.

“I told you I heard something,” said the boy who might be Jason.

“You two are going to be so reported!” Raasch said.  “Out of your cabins at this hour, doing Luna knows what!“

Laura closed on the exit, Kaveh just behind her.  She threw herself against the door, pushing it open with more force than necessary.  They jumped off the front porch and fled down the path.  Knowing the torch light would make them easy to follow, she grabbed the back of Kaveh’s shirt.  “Run,” she said.  It was all she dared waste breath for.

“I am,” Kaveh said.

There was a bright light from behind them, and Laura felt something bounce off her shoulder.  She was just thinking how close it had been, when she realized she’d conjured a personal ward again.  She could see it glowing faintly around her hand.  It protected Kaveh as well, so it was possible he’d cast it, but she doubted it.  Another spell bounced harmlessly off them just before they took the turn down to the lake. She let go of Kaveh’s shirt and dashed for the Stupid Little Boat. Together they pushed it into the water.  Laura clumsily climbed in, her sneakers dripping wet.  Kaveh put one foot in the bottom of the canoe and pushed off with the other.  She was already paddling like mad before he had a chance to sit down.

“I told you, I’m sure they headed for the lake!” shouted the boy who sounded like Jason.

“I thought they were campers,” Raasch replied.

She couldn’t hear the voices anymore.  They were out around the point where she couldn’t see the camp’s lights either, but there was no reason those counselors couldn’t get their own boat.  Laura plunged the blade of her paddle deeply into the water, hoping that would help propel them faster.  They tipped with every stroke.  Either she leaned too far, or Kaveh leaned the same direction at the same time, and she felt the canoe go over.  It was more gentle than she’d expected, and it launched her face-first into the lake.  It was a shock to be abruptly submerged in cool water.  She surfaced next to the Stupid Little Boat, which floated upside-down, looking like a dead whale.  Kaveh came up a few feet away.

“Damn,” he said, barely able to keep the expletive down to a whisper.  “Are you okay?“ he asked, pushing his hair out of his eyes and swimming closer.

Laura nodded.  “I lost my paddle,” she said.  She wasn’t sure when she’d let go of it.  She wished they’d managed to bring some lifesavers.  She couldn’t see a thing.  How were they supposed to get back to the cabin?  Furthermore, how were they supposed to do it without alerting her guardians or his parents?  Her feet felt heavy, and if they didn’t find a way to fix things soon, she was going to have to abandon her shoes.  She felt the first twinges of fear.

“I lost my paddle too, but don’t worry about it,” he said.  “We’re going to be fine.“

She decided he’d said that for her benefit, because she didn’t think things could get much worse.  Then she thought of a way they could. “There aren’t monsters in this lake, are there?” she asked, trying to sound calm.  “Like big fish or snakes that’ll eat us?“

“Naah,” he said.  “That’s one reason why my parents like Misty Lake. Minimal sea life.“  He reached under the edge of the canoe and tugged at it.  It turned over, but it was so full of water the edge and ends were barely visible.  “The canoe still floats, and we should be able to use it to get back to the cabin.”

It took several tries before they were both able to get in without rolling the canoe back over.  Strangely, it was more touchy than it had been when it was empty and floating properly.  Instead of moving with the boat when it rocked, Laura slid the same direction, making it tip.

“Don’t try to sit on the seat,” Kaveh said.  “Sit on the floor. Near the middle.“  He also moved toward the center of the canoe. “That way you have something to hang on to.”  He leaned heavily on the bar across the middle of the canoe, trying to compensate for his movement which only tilted the swamped boat.

Once they got balanced, they started paddling with their hands.  It was very slow.  Laura couldn’t think of anything more miserable than sitting up to her armpits in cold water and trying to swim a half sunk canoe across a lake.  She started to shiver, the wet chill penetrating her bones.  “At this rate, we’ll be lucky if we get back before sunrise.“  She made a torch light, to be sure that they were heading in the right direction.  She saw a paddle floating off to the right in front of them and another off to the left.  “Oh, this is ridiculous,” she spat.  He’d told her to think like a conjurer, and she had to try something.  There was no way she was going to hand-paddle the Stupid Little Boat back to the cabin.

“I’m sorry,” Kaveh said, sounding exasperated.  “If you have any ideas…“

“Hang on tight,” Laura said.  “And I mean tight.“ She took a deep breath, attempting to control the shaking of her body, and concentrated.  The canoe lifted clumsily out of the lake, the front end rising faster than the back.  Water rushed around her, and she hoped Kaveh had closed his mouth.  It took her a moment to level out the canoe, then she lifted it higher.  It wasn’t exactly harder to levitate something so big and heavy, but it was different, and she’d never tried levitating herself before.  She hoped she wasn’t about to drop them on their heads, but she had to try this.  

She felt the canoe tip.  It was so slow she was sure she would fall out before the water drained.  She made it go faster, almost too fast, and the next thing she knew, she was upside-down, holding tightly to the bar in front of her.  Her sopping braid tugged at the back of her head as it observed the usual features of gravity.  She thought she heard Kaveh laughing, but it was not a good time to lose her concentration.  She flipped the boat back over, and set it on the water with a slap and a deep thunk.  It bobbed up and down in the waves created by its landing.

“Oh, that was fabu,” Kaveh said.

From this direction, the moon reflected off the choppy water like a thousand glittering sparkles.  It was pretty, but even harder to see by.  “Where are our paddles?“ Laura asked.  “Can you find them?”  Kaveh moved to his seat at the back of the canoe, rocking them gently.  

He scanned the water, holding his light on the first paddle he found. “Here’s one.”

It was easier to levitate this time because she was familiar with it. It was hard to make it go to Kaveh rather than herself, but she did it, and he caught it before it could fly past him.  Laura cautiously took her place at the front of the canoe.  When she was seated, Kaveh started paddling.  She found her paddle, and made it come to her. She was exhausted.  “I need a rest,“ she said holding her paddle on its end in the boat.

“That’s okay,” Kaveh said, as he built up speed.  “You’ve worked really hard.“  He was silent for a few minutes.  “Would you teach me how to conjure a personal ward?” he asked.

Laura shook her head.  “I would, but I don’t know how.“

“Really?” Kaveh asked, pausing in his paddling.  “But you did it.  Not that I’m not grateful,“ he said quickly.  “If you hadn’t, they would’ve slammed us with those spells they were flinging at us.”

“That’s the second time I’ve cast it,” she said, “but I have no idea how it’s done.  It’s some of my wild magic.  It’s not reliable, either.  It just happens without me even thinking about it.”


She started to paddle.  It wasn’t far now, and she just wanted to get out of her wet clothes and into bed.

“So you like older blond boys, huh?” Kaveh asked.

“What?” Laura demanded.  “What are you talking about?“

“You were gawking at the blond guy at the camp,” Kaveh said.  “You know, when you made all that noise.“

“That was an accident,” Laura said, feeling a bit defensive.  “I bumped something.“

“When you were checking out the cute guy,” Kaveh said, as if finishing up her sentence.

“That’s not why I was looking at him,” Laura said, sternly.

“Really? That’s what it looked like,” he said.

Laura used her paddle to splash him, until he threatened to swamp the boat again.  “He looked familiar,“ she said, finally.  “I think he’s from Clarissa, my hometown.”

“Oh,” he said.  “Then what’s he doing here?“

“I don’t know.  I don’t even know if it was him.”  It could’ve been her imagination.  The whole adventure had been pretty exciting. “It’s probably just someone who looks like him. I mean, he went to Clarissa Memorial K-12 last year, when he should have been in prep school, if he’s a mancer.”

“True enough.”

They glided into the shallows between the dock and the boat house, and Laura noticed the shadows on the beach.  “Uh oh,“ she said quietly.

“Whoops,” Kaveh whispered.  “Bus-ted.“

Laura didn’t bother to take off her soggy shoes as she stepped into the lake to help Kaveh shove the Stupid Little Boat back into the boat house.  She wondered how much trouble they were in.  The moon gave off enough light for her to identify Therese and Jaromir on the beach, but she couldn’t see their expressions.  Kaveh stayed close and Laura felt oddly protected.

“Where have you been?” Therese demanded the moment Laura’s feet hit the sand.

“Just out in the canoe,” Laura said, knowing it sounded a little lame. “We tipped over.”

“That’s obvious,” Therese said, a sharp edge to her voice.

“What were you thinking?” Jaromir demanded.

Laura was about to respond, when she realized that he’d turned toward Kaveh, expecting an answer from his son.

“We thought it might be fun,” Kaveh said.  He had that serious expression that seemed so out of place on his face the one time she’d seen it.  “You can see way more stars at night here than you can at home, and Laura doesn’t know our names for the constellations.  We’d been in the canoe all day, so we thought it might be neat to take it out in the dark.  And I wanted to show her how bright the moon is in this phase.“

“It would’ve been bad enough if it had just been you,” Jaromir said.

He was definitely furious, and Laura was glad she couldn’t see his face.

“We talked about this,” Jaromir continued.  “You promised to follow the rules.“

Rules? Laura hadn’t been aware that there were any actual rules.  “It was my idea,” she said quickly.

“What?” Therese asked, as if she didn’t quite credit her ears.

Everyone stared, so she had to follow through.  “Well it was,“ Laura insisted.  “I’ve never been on vacation before, and I’ve never been in a canoe, well, before today.”  She’d also never given them any reason to think she might be capable of lying.  “I wanted to see what the moon looked like without the trees in the way. I didn’t know we were breaking any rules.“

“I thought you had more sense than this,” Therese said.

“Well I’m not stupid, and if you’d told me the rules to begin with, I would’ve been careful not to break them,” Laura snapped.  She was tired of adults telling her how foolish she was being, when they weren’t giving her complete information anyway.  The worst they could do was send her back to Clarissa for the rest of the summer.  She’d still have Ming-Tang’s to look forward to, and something made her suspect they wouldn’t send her away.  “I suppose you never did anything that didn’t make sense when you were thirteen.  This is vacation.  It’s supposed to be fun for me too.“  She scowled at Therese and Jaromir.  “You expect a lot out of me, if you think I can follow the rules without knowing them.”

Jaromir let out a sigh.  “It’s late,“ he said quietly.  “We’ll talk about this in the morning.”

There was no way she and Kaveh would be able to sneak off to practice magic in the morning.  She was too tired to get up early anyway.  She hoped they wouldn’t come up with a bunch of rules to keep her from learning more magic, or practicing what she already knew.  If her adventure had done nothing else, it had given her a new sense of understanding and even a feeling of freedom, all associated with magic.  She couldn’t wait to learn more, and she wasn’t about to let some grownups keep her from doing it, especially since they couldn’t be bothered to level with her.

Accidental Magic – Sneaking Off – Part 1

Accidental Magic is the first book in a series I started after my writers’ group pointed out that my default writing voice was particularly suited to the young adult fantasy genre.  The protagonist is a thirteen-year-old girl who spends the summer before starting magic preparatory school trying to learn some magic, make some friends, and figure out what exactly happened to her parents.

This book is done and well polished, and while editors and agents enjoyed it, they felt it wasn’t strong enough. I hope to return to this series in the near future. This section has its own little arc, and stands on its own, so it makes a nice excerpt.

The gravel crunched under Laura’s feet as she crossed the road to the old logging trail.  Faint shadows of mist clung to the low spots.  The trees were spread out, so there was plenty of light, and the area had been logged out in the past, so there were no enormous trees.  Her passage startled a Broken Window bird, who crashed and clinked at her as it sought a higher branch.  The grass was long and thick, and Laura’s canvas sneakers were quickly soaked.

Before swapping charms yesterday, Laura and Kaveh found a spot in the woods, where they could practice without being seen.  He’d said they should practice magic in preparation for school, but it was such a secret she suspected they weren’t supposed to be doing it by themselves. Instead of deterring her, it made their trade more exciting.

She sat down on a patch of gravel already dried by the sun and tried the torch light charm.  It was essentially a mancer flashlight.  Light was supposed to shine out of the palm of her hand, and she could point it wherever she needed to see.  She thought it was harder than levitation, but Kaveh’d had about the same luck floating his shoe. He’d sent leaves flying all over the place, and he’d gotten the shoe to sort of roll over on the ground a few times.  Perhaps she wasn’t a good teacher.  He hadn’t gotten discouraged, and she reminded herself that learning new spells was hard.  It didn’t make her feel better, especially when she thought about how much she had to learn to catch up to other kids her age.

She stared at her palm and concentrated on the charm.  Her hand seemed to glow faintly, for just a moment, then she was blinded by a bright white light.  “Aaagh!“

“Are you okay?” Kaveh asked, suddenly in the clearing with her.

She’d better get used to him sneaking up on her, if they were going to be friends.  He certainly wasn’t afraid of what she might do to him if he startled her.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I should have told you.  Never look at your hands when you’re trying this.“

Laura groaned and blinked a lot.  Although dots of light danced in front of her eyes, she could see him kneeling across from her.  His eyebrows were scrunched up.  Or maybe that was from the dancing dots.

“Are you okay?” he asked again.

“I will be,” she said.  “Just give me a minute.“

“I think you’ve got it,” he said tentatively.  “That was a lot brighter than yesterday.“

“Yeah,” Laura said.  “I could tell.“  When she could finally see properly, she tried the spell with her hands pointed away.  Again, the light was very bright, and she wondered if she was using too much power.

“Okay, now see if you can make it dimmer… No, not that much.  Just a little.”  He coached her as she attempted to modify her light. “Good.  See if you can do it gradually.  It’s a lot harder than it sounds.”

She still needed to work on making her light brighter and dimmer slowly, but she’d made progress.  She wondered if he’d teach her another charm, even though she didn’t have anything to swap for it.  

As always, he could smell breakfast in the air, which ended their practice session.  “Same time tomorrow?“ he asked.

Laura nodded.  “I’ll have to be careful not to wake Molly, though.” She rolled her eyes.  

He smiled.  “Not used to having a little sister, are you?“

She shook her head.  “I’ve been living with Aster since I was six, and it’s always just been the two of us.  It’s weird to live with a real family.”

“Do you remember your parents?” he asked quietly, as if he wasn’t sure he should.

“Oh yeah,” she said.  “But remembering something and living it aren’t the same.  There’s a lot I don’t remember.“  They reached the driveway.  “I don’t know if they told me bedtime stories, or if they sang to me, like Dave and Therese do with Molly.  But I remember what they looked like.  And I know my dad taught me how to climb trees.”  She was glad about the trees.

“Oh,” Kaveh said softly.

Talking about her dead parents was definitely a discussion killer.  “So what’s for breakfast?“ she asked, attempting to lighten the mood.  The silence was too depressing, especially since her mom and dad died a long time ago and she’d learned to live with it.

He made a show of sniffing at the air and thinking about it.  “Waffles.”

“Race you.”  The words were barely out of her mouth and she was off. She beat him to the porch with a respectable lead, and she decided that running wasn’t a special werewolf trait.

“It would work better if you’d paddle on the same side all the time,” Kaveh said with some exasperation.

“My arms get tired.”  Laura sat on the seat at the front of the canoe.  Kaveh knew what he was doing, or so he’d claimed, therefore, he got to sit in the back.  At first this seemed like a good idea, because someone had to steer, and she couldn’t.  She also thought she’d get a better view of the lake.  Instead, she spent most of the time trying not to tip headfirst into the lake.  “You get to change sides,“ she said, holding her oar across her knees as she twisted to look at him.

“I have to, or we’ll crash into things,” he insisted.

“Yeah, but I feel it every time you switch.  It rocks the boat all over.” She hadn’t been excited about the canoe to begin with, and being in it had not improved her enthusiasm.

“And what’s wrong with that?” he asked, grinning mischievously.  He leaned from side to side, slowly tipping the boat each time.

“Stop that!”  In her rush to catch the sides of the canoe for something to hang onto, she dropped her paddle into the water.  “Oh, now look what you’ve made me do.“  She reached for the paddle and felt the boat tip, and she immediately leaned away, setting the canoe to rocking.  She glared at him.  “Now I’m going have to jump in and get it.”  She’d have to swim to shore with it.

“You don’t have to jump in,” he said, smiling.

“Are you going to go get it?” she asked.  “How am I supposed to get back to shore?“

He had a peculiar look on his face.  “You ought to be able to levitate that.”

“Oh.” She hadn’t even thought of that.  “I guess.“

“You have to start thinking like a mancer,” he said.  “My parents use magic all the time.  Hell, I use a lot of magic, even if it’s just basic stuff.  And most kids at school are going to be used to working with whatever magic they know whenever they want.“

Laura concentrated on the paddle, gradually drifting away.  She didn’t want to send it sailing through the air, so she tried a light touch.  She wasn’t as gentle as she’d planned, but it did the trick.  The paddle floated two feet in the air, dripping water.  It wasn’t harder than the rock or shoe, just different.  As Kaveh started paddling toward it, she got an idea.  Without taking too much time to think it over, she tried to bring the paddle to her, and it worked.  Almost too well.  She held out both hands to catch it lengthwise, but it hit her so hard she tipped backward off her seat into the canoe.  She went from sitting and watching it fly at her to seeing the clouds in the blue sky overhead in a blink of an eye.

“Woo hoo!”  Kaveh yodeled from the back of the canoe.  “That was way better than my idea.“

Excited by her accomplishment, she couldn’t stay mad at him.  She clumsily disentangled herself from her seat before inching her way back to it. “Wow.  That was really cool.”

“Now let’s paddle,” Kaveh said.  “That’s what we’re here for… and you need to relax.“

“What do you mean?” Laura asked.  She’d never been told she needed to relax.

“Your back,” he said.  “You’re too tense.  If you don’t sit so stiffly, the bottom half of your body will move with the boat, and your top half will kind of stay in one spot.“

“Huh?” She felt her forehead wrinkle as she looked at him in confusion.

“If your upper body doesn’t move so much, you won’t tip the boat so much,” he explained.  “Try it, you’ll see.“

Laura thought she had a right to feel uncomfortable in the canoe, since she’d never been in one before.  But Kaveh was right, and she started to feel better about the Stupid Little Boat, which was what they had decided to call it.  

They were heading back to the cabin when Laura heard a bell from across the lake.  It was the kind of large bell some of the churches in Clarissa had suspended on an open scaffold with a pull rope near the ground.  None of them were grand enough to have enclosed towers. Laura stopped paddling, and both felt and heard Kaveh lift his oar out of the water as well.  Distant shouts, whistles, and calls echoed across the lake.  She thought the noises were coming from just past the point on the other side, but the trees were too thick for her to see anything.

“What’s that?” she asked in a whisper.

“There’s a magic camp across the lake,” Kaveh said.  “If it’s still enough, we can hear them singing campfire songs from the dock at night.  You can’t hear it up by the cabin, because of the wind in the trees.“

“What do they do at magic camp?”

“I’m not sure,” he said.  “I’d kind of like to find out.“

Laura grinned and looked over her shoulder.  “Should we go over and check it out?”

He appeared to be mulling it over, then he shook his head.  “They’ll see us.  And they’ll just tell us to go away.“

“What if we keep our distance?” Laura suggested.

“What fun is it to go over if we can’t see anything?” he asked, sounding a little annoyed.

“Do you have a better plan?” she demanded.  From his expression, he did.  “Well?“

“If we go in the middle of the night, we should be able to get a good look around.”  He’d lowered his voice even though there was no one near the water at their strip of beach.

It sounded fun, like an adventure.  She was sure her grandma wouldn’t approve, and neither would her summer guardians.  “Won’t we get into trouble?“

He grinned.  “Only if we get caught.”

Check out part two (goes live September 24) >>>