Short Story: Opportunity
This is a little snippet of a short story that happens between the final scenes in Miss Mabel’s School for Girls. It takes place from Merrick’s POV, and was instrumental in informing the way I had Merrick and Bianca interact in Alkarra Awakening.
Derek Black drew in a deep breath and looked over the vast stretch of Letum Wood. They soared into the sky, interrupting the horizon, looming as tall as the castle in the distant reaches.
The sun was slowly sinking below them, silhouetting them in darkness. Merrick’s stomach sank with every passing moment as he watched Derek’s profile. Dark bags colored the skin under his eyes, circles that shouldn’t belong to anyone. Shadows and grief seemed to cling to Derek’s cheeks. The very contours of his face mourned.
Merrick swallowed hard and looked away. What could he say? Nothing would bring Marie back.
“How is your daughter?” Merrick finally asked, letting his eyes drift over the treetops. He couldn’t remember her name—Derek spoke about her so rarely he only knew she existed because of other Protectors.
Merrick studied the tree line, noticing a fleck of color in the depths. It made conversation easier, not having to look Derek in the eye. Not that Derek had turned away from gazing on the forest. He stood there, arms hanging at his side, expression distant. Something in him seemed to stir once Merrick mentioned his daughter.
“Bianca hasn’t woken up yet,” Derek said, voice raspy. “She’s physically well. Her hand was broken and her shoulder dislocated. There might be a slight burn on her back, but other than that, she’s going to survive.”
Bianca, he thought. That was it.
Merrick winced. He knew the pain of a broken hand. According to Tiberius’s report before Derek asked to see him, Bianca had relocated her own shoulder, survived a couple of deadly blighters, and lived through a Mactos, all to have her mother die in her arms.
It made his throat thick, resurfacing too many emotions and memories. He hadn’t met this girl, but he imagined her something like a stone princess, strong, determined, and ready to break at any moment.
At least, that was how he felt sometimes.
“Bianca’s strong,” Derek continued, his voice oddly measured, “but she’s also going to be angry. Very angry, and probably a little reckless. With Miss Mabel still loose out there, and Bianca’s determination, there’s no telling what could happen to her.”
Derek turned to face him for the first time since he arrived, and Merrick wished he hadn’t. His eyes, if possible, had aged decades in just a few days. But Derek didn’t do anything without cause.
“Sir?” he asked, when Derek’s stare lasted too long. Derek blinked, shook his head, and rubbed a hand over his face.
“I want a pair of eyes on her all the time, eyes I can trust. Thanks to Mabel and Dane in the West, all of the Protectors are going to be busy. I can’t spare one for my daughter, and I don’t trust any of the Guardians with her life. That leaves you.”
All of the Protectors are going to be busy.
A damning reminder of just where he stood in the Network’s eyes.
“Me?” Merrick asked, thinking of the awkward position he was in. He was neither Guardian, nor Protector. He had no idea what he was. But, whatever he had managed to do, it had at least earned Derek’s trust. Protecting Bianca could be the most important mission of his life.
Of a sort.
“Yes, you. I want you to keep track of Bianca.”
Merrick’s eyes narrowed. Keep track of Bianca? He didn’t join the Protectors to become a babysitter. Protecting her was one thing, but tailing her? He chose his next words carefully, even though he wanted to say, You want me to babysit your sixteen-year-old daughter?
“Can you give me detailed instructions regarding what you mean when you say keep track of her, sir?”
If possible, Derek’s expression became more grim. “If she leaves the castle, I want your eyes on her. Don’t let her leave. Teach her to defend herself. I don’t care, Merrick, as long as you keep her safe.”
Merrick’s eyebrows lifted. Saying what he wanted to say would trample all these years of work. But there was no way to say what he wanted without being blunt, so he opted for the truth.
“You want me to keep your daughter safe,” Merrick said, wording it differently than he really saw it in his mind. “All right.”
Derek sent him an appraising look. “It’s far more than a nanny job,” he said, as if he’d read his thoughts. “Bianca is the most important thing in the world to me. Anyone that fulfilled this role would be in my deepest debt.”
Any annoyance Merrick would have felt regarding the request quickly evaporated. Of course. Nanny job or not, Derek had chosen him for it, which said something.
It spelled out hope.
Hope for these futile errands he had to run. Hope for greater training, service, and expectations in the future.
“Do you accept?” Derek asked.
He nodded once. While likely tedious, it was the biggest job Merrick could ask for. An opportunity he couldn’t pass up, not hovering like he was on the fence, in between the two worlds. If he kept Bianca safe, he’d have his ticket into the Protectors.
More than that, he’d have Derek’s trust, and likely that of all the Protectors, one of the tightest bands of brothers that he’d ever seen. Besides, how hard could it be to track one slip of a girl, sixteen-years-old, that would be grieving her mother?
No trouble at all.
If you’re loving these short stories and want more, don’t miss out on Short Stories from the Network Series, which has hundreds of pages of more Camille, Merrick, Leda, Brecken, Michelle, and more! (All the short stories in this book are from the viewpoint of other characters in the book. Ever wonder what Merrick first thought when he met Bianca the first time? That’s in there!)
Or click here for the Short Story Index to get more free stories right now.