01 Jan Free Short Story: Impulses
I wrote this scene originally for Alkarra Awakening, when Bianca is struggling with the binding she had with Miss Mabel. This scene was meant to occur before she goes to the West to attempt to find it, but never made it to the final book because it was really more about Camille and Brecken than Bianca, and didn’t move the story forward.
I loved the progression this gave for Camille and Brecken as well. If you want to read Camille and Brecken’s full story, grab it here.
Mrs. L grinned at me with self-congratulatory spite. “A little troublemaker lately, are we?” she drawled. “Teenagers! Impulses! Pah!”
She shoved a bucket and two bristle brushes into my chest. I stared at them, then looked at her. Papa would never forgive me if I upset her further, even though I couldn’t deny curiosity about what Mrs. L was like at the end of her rope.
“What would you like me to do with these, Mrs. L?”
“What do you think they’re for?” she cried. “Go scrub the floors in the east wing. The Guardians trampled through there earlier and it’s absolutely filthy.”
Clouds of steam floated from the hot bucket. There wasn’t even the hope of it cooling down. A magical incantation special to these buckets, one that Mrs. L had unearthed from some strange grimoire in the library, kept the water at the same temperature all day long: scalding.
“Yes, Mrs. L.”
She lifted an eyebrow in expectation. I hesitated, then dropped into a terrible curtsy. She rolled her eyes.
“I want that floor sparkling.” She wagged one of her bony fingers in my face. “I’d better look into it and see my face.”
I ground my teeth together to prevent a disrespectful response. With a frown, she started down the hall again, the soft pitter-patter of her tiny feet echoing on the stone. I stared after her, then looked at the bucket with resignation.
Chatham castle had an impressive maze of hallways, but carrying a bucket of hot water made them feel endless. My hand started to sweat from the steam, making it difficult to keep a grip. After passing a fourth set of maids, who smirked in self-righteous condescension, I found the staircase.
“There’s no dirt here,” I muttered, slowly walking down the steps and inspecting each one. “She’s daft.”
“I heard that.”
Mrs. L’s voice came from far above. I looked up to see her face sticking over the side of the spiral stairs. It made her thin cheeks hang down and look ghastly.
“I’m watching you, Bianca Monroe. I’ll know if you leave early, and I’ll know if you grumble, so keep that in mind.”
I scowled. The batty woman had nothing better to do.
“Yes, Mrs. L.”
At first, my annoyance kept me scrubbing hard, leaving my thoughts to wander into dangerous territory. Recalling the way Clive amassed a rally against Pap worked me into a deeper rage. Eventually, the magic in my chest became a whirl.
Tonight, I promised myself, dunking a brush back into the water. I’ll go after the binding in the Western Network and destroy it.
A sliver of power escaped my chest, slid through my arm, and the next thing I knew, water exploded everywhere. Suds clung to the wall. Hot water coated my face, arms, and chest. I yelped, stumbling back, and nearly fell down the stairs. Splintered remnants of the bucket littered the staircase.
My heart sank. Mrs. L was going to kill me.
A door opened two floors above me with a loud groan. Two pairs of feet started down. I frantically scrambled after the wooden shards and chucked them out the nearby window. Water trickled down the stairs like a slow waterfall.
“Can you meet again tomorrow?”
I froze, a handful of splinters in hand. Was that Camille’s voice?
“Sure. Let’s do it over dinner tomorrow,” Brecken said. “I’ll get off my shift just before then.”
My eyes widened.
“Sounds great! I-I mean, thanks for your help.”
“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” he said a dry tone. “You’re smart, Camille.”
“Oh. Right. Uh . . . thanks. Well, w-what are you doing for the rest of the day?”
“Front gate duty today. Then Merrick and I are working on a few sword routines.”
“Oh?” Camille’s voice lifted. “You’re friends with Merrick?”
They stepped onto the floor just above me. I cast a hurried collection spell, which caused all the water to come rushing back to me all at once. It slapped my face with a warm, wet crack. I sputtered, wiping the water off my face with my drenched sleeve.
“He was the Captain of my contingent when I first went through Guardian training, before he went into the Protectors.”
“He’s very intense,” Camille said in a low voice, as if Merrick would overhear. “He scares me a little bit.”
Couldn’t really fault her there.
Brecken laughed. The sound bounced around the stone walls. They continued down the stairs, headed straight for me. I tossed the rest of the wooden pieces out the window, then turned to the soap-stained wall and tried to scrape the suds off.
I grimaced, then slowly turned. Camille and Brecken stood on the stairs, staring at me. Camille froze, standing in the middle of the staircase in an awkward silence, her mouth bobbing open and closed.
“What happened?” she asked, her forehead wrinkling. “You’re soaking wet.”
Brecken stifled a smile behind a cough.
“Oh! Hi there Camille. Brecken. Merry meet. I’m just doing work hours for Mrs. L,” I said breezily, as if I did this everyday. A soap sud dropped from the ceiling onto my head. “What are you two doing?”
Camille’s face instantly flared a bright red.
“N-nothing. Just walking.”
Brecken stepped forward, putting distance between them. “Well, I better get going,” he said, avoiding a trickle of water. “Nice to run into you Miss Camille, Miss Bianca.”
He jogged by without another word, blithely avoiding the dripping soap. Camille stood as still as a statue until a door several floors below closed behind him. We stood there, staring at each other in silence, until she wilted like a flower.
“Oh, Bianca!” she cried, sinking to the stairs and burying her face in her hands. “I like him so much!”
Finally giving up on maintaining appearances, I sat on the wet stair in defeat. Mrs. L would be checking in soon, no doubt. Might as well enjoy the last few moments of my life.
“When did it happen?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, I think so. Maybe it was when I first met him? Or at the dragon? I don’t know!” she wailed. The cry reverberated off the walls. She rested an algebra book and two scrolls on her lap.
“Is he helping you with algebra or something?”
Her hands dropped away from her face and her eyes grew into the most lovestruck expression I’d ever seen. “Yes,” she said in a breathy voice. “Isn’t that romantic?”
“Did he hit you over the head with a pan?”
She sighed and stared out the nearby window. “You’re right, it sounds strange, but it feels romantic to me. It’s terribly nice of him to do it. Leda doesn’t have time to help me anymore, and Miss Scarlett intimidates me. I get scared and can’t think when she asks me a question. The way Brecken explains it just . . . makes sense.”
“I thought you liked Garth?”
“Not like that.” Her face darkened. “He likes me.”
“Does Brecken like you?”
“Who can tell?” She threw her arms up. “That’s half my stress here. Does he like me? Is he being nice? He’s so hard to read!”
“He asked you to eat dinner with him. That’s a good sign, right? It means he’s not afraid to be seen with you.”
Camille thought that over, then straightened her shoulders. “You’re right!” she cried, brightening. “Blessed be! There’s hope!”
She threw her arms around my damp shoulders in a hug.
“Thank you, Bianca! I’m feeling much better. I’m going to go find Michelle. Fina said she could teach me how to make flowers out of frosting. I’ll see you later.”
Camille gathered her scrolls and book in her arm, blew me a kiss, and disappeared down the stairs with a little hum. I stared at the disaster around me and leaned back against the wall.
Yes. It was definitely time to break that binding with Miss Mabel.
Tonight, my heart whispered, we go to the West.
If you haven’t read Alkarra Awakening yet, grab your copy right here. Or catch more short stories from characters in the Network Series—including Camille and Breckens full love story—in Short Stories from the Network Series.