Here’s the next installment of our Hundred Halls Metallum Nocturne story. If you need to catch up, all of the previous episodes can be found here.
The all-nighter ended when Claire found herself rereading the same passage for the fourth time. While she’d planned to create the ring airtajal style, which meant ‘on the fly’, it didn’t mean she could make up everything about it along the way. For the ring to provide the benefits she wanted it to, she had to figure out how to design the enchantments, which required a mix of spellcraft and careful reagent design. Once she understood the materials needed, she could begin collection, which was the part of her project that would take the most time. Claire had resolved that the ring would be made of night metal, because she wanted a do-over using the exotic material, and to prove that she was the best to come out of Metallum Nocturne in a long time.
She returned to her room and attempted to sleep, only to find that her mind wouldn’t turn off. With Advanced Arcane Matrices for Enchantments class in two hours, there wasn’t any point in trying to sleep. Claire grabbed her jean jacket planning to head to the nearest Wizard’s Coffee to grab a quad-espresso with an extra shot of Mind Clear, which would help her think despite the lack of sleep. It made her stomach hurt, but a touch of gastric issues was worth reclaiming more hours to work on her project.
Before she left, she took another of the blue pills that the hospital had given her to help heal the extensive burns on her chest. The skin was itchy and warm beneath the bandages.
Claire barely made it to the bottom of the concrete stairs leading to the street before a woman in a powder blue dress and her wavy blonde hair in a crimson headband came mincing forward in her high-heels with a phone in one hand and a small microphone in the other.
“Claire Teller! I’d like to speak to you about the accident,” said the reporter in a high reedy voice.
“Uhm, what? Why?”
The woman, who was not much older than Claire, held out a hand.
“I’m Elle Dark from the Invictus Times. I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Claire ignored her and kept walking in long strides, forcing Elle to hurry to keep up.
“We’re a small paper but we work twice as hard to get the news to the city,” said Elle as her hair bounced around her cheeks.
“Not your paper.” Claire screwed up her face. “Though I’ve never heard of it. Why do you want to ask me questions?”
“Because Mayoral candidate Annette Block is making what happened to her daughter a focal point of her campaign. She was polling near last before the accident, but she’s moved into second place.”
“I don’t really have time. I’m sorry, and I’m not sure what the rules are about talking to reporters, especially with them suing me.”
Elle’s high-heels clacked to a stop. Her eyes widened with excitement. “They’re suing you?”
“Shit,” muttered Claire, knocking a curl of pink hair away from her eyes, cursing that she wasn’t awake enough to talk with the reporter without saying something stupid. “I have to go, Elle. I’m very sorry.”
“Do you have anything to say about their daughter’s death? This could be your chance to counter their narrative,” said Elle, still holding out the microphone.
“It was tragic, but I had nothing to do with it. I was busy with my own project.”
Before Elle could get another question out, Claire saluted the reporter and started jogging ahead. She crossed a busy intersection as the lights were turning green, leaving Elle on the opposite side of the street.
The Wizard’s Coffee was two blocks down and rather empty. She ordered her quad with the extra shot to go, sipping the hot drink as she left the store. Rather than risk getting spotted by Elle, she took a longer, circuitous route that would lead to the back entrance of her Hall.
As she strolled, content to drink her coffee which cleared up her mind, Claire found herself scratching the flesh beneath the bandages. The blue pill was supposed to help with the itching, but it’d grown worse in the last hour. By the time she reached the back entrance, she wanted to rip the bandages off and take a coat hanger to the raw skin.
Back in her room, she set the half-drank quad on her nightstand and ripped off her shirt, feeling the strain of aching flesh when she lifted her arms. The bandages were wrapped around her entire chest, but the damage had been done mostly to the right side. The nurse at Golden Willow had given her a box of supplies for caring for the injury, which she dumped onto the bed. As she searched for the end of the wrap, she was surprised at how hot her flesh was beneath the bandages. It felt as hot as a blacktop in the middle of summer. Claire worried that it was becoming infected, which would only complicate her return to school.
As she peeled away the wrap, the heat increased until sweat was dripping from her chin. The last sections came away from her flesh, leaving Claire confused thinking that some of the bandages had adhered to her skin. The last thing she wanted to deal with was a return to the hospital for more care.
But then she realized it wasn’t the bandages. Between the mottled, angry red flesh that was still healing from the third-degree burns were dark stripes. Across her skin were streaks of shimmering black, like the night sky resplendent with stars. She dared to touch one of the sections, finding it cool.
“What is this?”
Claire presented herself before the mirror as she finished removing the bandages. A half-dozen dark stripes lined her flesh on the injured side.
“I look like a tiger,” she said, turning back and forth to get a better look at the modified flesh.
Claire tapped on a dark section, finding it as hard as steel. Yet as she stretched and moved, the flesh adjusted appropriately, naturally. A thought occurred to her which brought a deranged laughter to her lips until she reconsidered it, finding it plausible. Even logical.
She grabbed a pocket knife from the medical supplies, unfolded the blade, and jabbed it against the dark flesh. The tip bounced off, leaving her only one conclusion, even if she didn’t understand why.
“It’s night metal.”