Here is the second installment of our Metallum Nocturne story. If you haven’t read the beginning, start here.
Claire woke to the steady beat of the pulse monitor. Her left arm was in a black cast and her right leg was contained within a strange see-through plastic tube that held a pale liquid.
She pulled the needle from her arm, and yanked the monitor wires from her wrist. The frantic increase of her vitals summoned a harried nurse with a clipboard under her arm.
“What are you doing?” asked the nurse.
The mess of wires connected to her body confused Claire. Why did she need so many hooked to her?
“I need to get to the foundry. My hammer. It was ready to be poured.”
The pity reflected from the nurse brought her confusion into focus. The foundry. The last thing she remembered was running to stop Mara from putting the ladle into the bath.
“What happened to the other girl? To Mara?”
The nurse’s squeezed lips and tight shake of the head, opened a pit in Claire’s chest.
“She died instantly. There was no suffering.”
Claire hung her head. Closed her eyes. The nurse gently took the wires from her grip, reattached the IV drip and the monitor. A host of ‘should-haves’ appeared in her head. The first year hadn’t been her responsibility, but yet, she’d been right there. If only she’d noticed that she hadn’t preheated the ladle sooner. It was such a small thing. Life and death in the foundry balanced on the smallest details. Metallum Nocturne’s original Patron had died in an explosion back in the 1950s, a lesson that was imparted to every student who joined the Hall.
“It was my fault. She wasn’t paying attention to protocols because of me,” Claire told the nurse.
The nurse squeezed her arm. “I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.”
Her mind knew the truth. It hadn’t been. But her heart refused to allow her the grace of grieving without guilt.
After the nurse left, Claire was confronted with her own situation. The explosion had thrown her across the foundry. She’d broken her arm, two ribs, and taken third degree burns across her right leg, which had been exposed to the liquid metal.
But the worst damage to Claire had been the hammer. Even if the crucible hadn’t been damaged, spilling the night metal across the floor, it would have spoiled while she was unconscious. Night metal was the most difficult material to cast with because of its fickle nature. Some of the Instructors refused to even consider working with it, and called it a living, breathing, pain-in-the-ass.
Eight months of work had gone up in the explosion, along with her future. Claire hated herself for even thinking that way, since Mara had lost her life. What was the loss of a school project in comparison?
A knock on the door was followed by a keen-eyed man in a Kevlar jacket sticking his head through the gap.
“May I come in?”
“Of course, Patron Canterbury.”
The head of her Hall was an unassuming man, but the dangers of their profession humbled even the most arrogant mage. He approached the bed, momentarily paying attention to the table full of flowers and get well cards which Claire hadn’t noticed before.
“How do you feel? Are you in pain? I can ask the nurse to give you more pain killers.”
“No. It’s fine.”
“I talked to Doctor Ellison yesterday. He said your leg is healing quite nicely and the broken bones should self-repair within a few days. The elixirs you were given have performed wonders.”
Claire blinked, not understanding the timeline. “How long have I been out?”
“A week, I’m afraid. They had to keep you under due to the pain. The nurses reported you’d been in and out of consciousness all morning, so I hoped you’d be awake enough for a visit.”
Her mind was groggy and her body ached as if she’d just completed an intense workout, but she couldn’t help but see the reluctance in his stance. He hadn’t come to check on her, but to ask questions.
Patron Canterbury placed his hands behind his back and exhaled slowly. “Can you tell me what happened that day?”
“I was getting ready to pour my hammer. I was waiting for the patina to form. Mara had come in while I was working, and set up her crucible for an aluminum pour. I don’t know what she was working on. I was focused on my project.
“As I realized my metal was ready, I noticed she’d grabbed a ladle from the peg board. I don’t know why, but I could tell she wasn’t going to preheat it. I jumped the barrier and ran to stop her when she shoved it in. That was the last thing I remember.”
The narrowing of his gaze as she spoke made her heart thump in her chest.
“Why did you approve her project?”
Claire pulled her chin back. “Approve her project? I did no such thing. I was in the middle of final bath prep.”
“Your name was on the sign in sheet.”
It was Claire’s turn to be confused. “I don’t understand. I didn’t sign it. I don’t remember.”
“Did you not sign it? Or do you not remember signing it?”
“The first. I wouldn’t have had time to help a first year, especially given where I was with my project. It doesn’t make sense.”
He put a hand on her shoulder. “I believe you, but there will be an investigation. An accident of this magnitude with your injuries and the loss of life, require it.”
Claire hung her head. “I understand.”
“For now, concentrate on getting better. When you get back to the Hall, we can discuss how to salvage your fifth year project.”
“But the hammer is ruined.”
Patron Canterbury nodded. “It is. Which is a shame, but you’ll still need to finish a project to graduate. I realize time is short, so we can discuss what you might be able to accomplish in that short of time.”
After he left, Claire pounded the back of her head into the stiff, hospital pillow. Everything she’d worked for: ruined in one awful moment. Why had her name been on the list? Had Mara written it there without asking permission? Or had she somehow agreed to be her sponsor without realizing it? Claire couldn’t recall anything that sounded like that. The first year had been nearly ready to pour by the time she’d even come over to ask. Was that the permission she’d given?
Her future, which had seemed so sure just a week ago, was now in ruins. Once she healed, which was still days away, she’d have to figure out a new project and collect the materials. All while keeping up with her classwork. There just wasn’t enough time. Adding an investigation on top of that seemed untenable. Her heart broke like the crucible, spilling her tears across her cheeks.
She reached out, picked up the nearest get-well card on the table. Her fellow fifth-years had signed the interior with messages of support. The custom message that their scrawled writing surrounded turned her steady hand to shaking. In neat printed letters it read: May the seeds of your mistakes bear fruit tomorrow. Claire threw the card across the room.