Here is the latest installment of our serialized story. If you aren't caught up, all the previous episodes can be found here.
The library in Metallum Nocturne was tiny in comparison to the Arcanium Hall's which prided itself on having the most complete arcane collection in the city. But what it lacked in size, it made for in depth. There were extensive tomes on everything metallurgically related, including memoirs and diaries from history's greatest practitioners of the craft.
The index was contained on an old computer from the 90s that looked like it belonged in a museum. The library was empty, so she had the system to herself. Claire typed in 'Night Metal'. After a long wait watching the circling icon, a list of books longer than the screen finally unfolded before her eyes.
The printer had long ago stopped working so she wrote the list down by hand. She knew most of them would be useless; the mention of night metal was purely ornamental. If it would have been a proper index, she could have cross-referenced it with medical symptoms to find if anyone else had experienced her problem.
After collecting the tomes and finding she had half-an-hour left before class, Claire started reading through them while absently itching her side which she'd rewrapped after applying ointments. There was a lot of material about the unusual nature of night metal, all of which she was intimately familiar with, but nothing about averse reactions due to contact with skin.
Deep in her reading, she happened to glance at her phone to find she had two minutes until class. Claire considered attending, but decided that whatever was wrong with her was more important than a class that she was already acing.
The first half of her research she'd breezed through the tomes, but when she hit the less scientific material, more anecdotal, the reading bogged down due to a lack of citation. The library index knew there was information about night metal in the books, but not where.
A number of the books were biographies about the original patron, Stephen Adolphus, and how he developed night metal, sometimes called darkmetal, as a way to build taller structures in the early 1900s. But he'd found the material was much too expensive for simple construction. Most of the biographers found it ironic that the material he'd invented was the same one that had killed him. After reading a half-dozen stories about Adolphus, she saw similarities between the texts, as if the writers had copied what had been previously written. Not unusual, she assumed, since interest in his work came posthumously.
When she reached his actual diary, Claire almost skipped it because she had already studied about the founder as part of her first year's classwork. But not wanting to miss something important, she resolved to read it in its entirety.
The diary was exactly as she expected. He'd kept meticulous notes up until his death, which had made his work easy to pass along to Patron Canterbury. When she got to the section about his death in the foundry, she found the same text that had been written in the biographies.
The various authors who'd written about him had chosen to crib the same text that Adolphus had penned about himself. Since he'd died before it could have been written, she assumed that it was Patron Canterbury who'd finished it for him, but he did an excellent job of matching the style of the former patron. It made her realize that there had to be an original version of his diary, written in his hand.
Claire went back to the index and searched for anything related to Adolphus' diary. She found a single entry, which was located in the same place she'd found the others. Back at the shelves, she searched for a while finding nothing. Given the unofficial nature of the library, she knew that sometimes books got filed in the wrong location, so she searched the nearby shelves. A ratty, weathered green tome with no backing title was two shelves lower. The front didn't have anything on it either, but once she opened it, she found handwritten script.
It was the former patron's diary. She skimmed the earlier parts, vowing to come back later and read them, but she wanted to know about night metal. It was unlikely he knew anything about its impact to humans, but she knew that any rabbit hole was a good place to dig when other avenues had come up empty.
As she read the accounts of his experimentation with night metal, she got to the section where she knew he was about to die. Some of the texts matched what she'd read before while other sections were entirely new. She reached the day of the accident, expecting that the pages beyond would be blank. Claire nearly knocked her coffee cup over when she found that his handwriting continued.
To her surprise, Patron Adolphus continued his journey, a few weeks after the accident. He'd survived the initial explosion with burns over a good section of his body, much like she had. This was completely opposite of what the hall had taught them about his death which brought a little dizziness. As she read further, she found that in a similar manner, he'd found dark metal striations on his left thigh, where the brunt of the explosion had damaged him. He speculated about their nature, especially as the stipes grew, and talked about feeling better than he had in years. He reported that when he returned to the foundry, he was stronger and could work longer than he had before.
When she came to the end of the diary, which was the literal end of the book—there were no more pages for him to write in—she slammed it closed and stared at the wall in numb shock. Not only had he not died in the explosion, but he'd lived past the supposed date of his funeral and had similar effects from the full body exposure to night metal.
A world of questions swirled through her mind. When did he actually die? Did Patron Canterbury know? What would happen to her because of the night metal? Where was the rest of his diary? And what should she do now?
As she sat in the empty library with her hand on Patron Adolphus' diary, no answers came. Claire dug her fingers into her side, confirming the hardness beneath. He'd reported feeling stronger and had more endurance in the foundry. She checked the time, and after consulting an online schedule, confirmed that the foundry was currently occupied. While she couldn't pour metal to learn if it was affecting her, there was something almost as good that she could do, an activity she'd been dying to get back to regardless.She went to the gym.