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.