Here is the next installment of our Metallum Nocturne serialized story. If you need to catch up, all the previous episodes can be found here.

Claire loaded up the bench press bar with 120 lbs.  Her PR was well beyond the weight, but she didn’t want to strain anything after weeks in the hospital.  She gripped the bar, relishing the feel on her calluses.  The only thing she enjoyed more than pouring metal was lifting weights. 

The bar came off the stand.  Claire let it come down to her chest then pushed it back up easily.  Too easy.  She pumped the bar five more times until she realized it wasn’t enough weight to be challenging. 

She loaded up the bar with another set of 25 lb. weights.  Back on the bench, she tested her strength again finding the weight no problem at all.  On the third attempt, she added another set, which would push it over her personal best.  The lift required a small amount of strain, but she felt she could add even more without issue. 

The night metal striations on her side had frightened her when she’d first found them, but after reading Patron Adolphus’ diary, she grew excited by the prospects.  It didn’t answer any questions about the first patron of her Hall, but she wasn’t sure she had time to worry about solving a mystery.

Content that the change wasn’t immediately dangerous, Claire returned to the library for research on her fifth year project.  A ring that would detect danger wasn’t necessarily hard to make unless you wanted it to work well.  Cheap trinkets that provided the barest minimum of magical effect could be found on the streets of Invictus, but that’s not what she wanted to make.  To receive the highest grades, she had to create an item that would at minimum meet masterpiece levels. 

It would be no easy task. 

A typical item required at least three reagents to create the desired effect.  One could use more, but unintended effects from overlap were common.  Three was like the minimum legs of a stool.  The best designs used a reagent from the animal kingdom, the mineral kingdom, and vegetable kingdoms.  Using three from the same was possible, but less effective. 

Claire knew the first item she’d need to collect would be a bit of downy from an Appalachian ghost owl.  She’d read about the supernatural creature during a previous research session and filed it away for future knowledge.  It wasn’t necessarily dangerous, but it lived in the less populated spaces that would make it difficult to find. 

The other two items would require more research.  Rather than spend her time in the library, she grabbed a pile of generalist tomes she could read during her journey. 

She was about to leave when she remembered that Patron Canterbury believed she would be working on a pre-planned item.  Receiving permission to leave the Hall on a collection trip would only work if she could prove she wasn’t working on her own project.  Claire dug into the tomes of projects, looking for one suitable as a cover for her real project. 

She chose one called a Veil Music Box.  It was a fairly useless, but interesting item that listened to the Veil—the realm between the living and dead—and converted the strange noises into ambient music.  It was all the rage a decade ago with the goth girls and so the various designs had been thoroughly explored.  It was the kind of project that would never hit her radar. 

With a written plan in her fist, Claire found Patron Canterbury’s office.  The door was slightly ajar and he waved her in when he spotted her outside.  The interior looked like a depository for old tomes, stacked in piles like miniature skyscrapers.  He had his feet on his desk while reading the Herald of the Halls.  The cover page showed Annette Block at a pulpit, giving a fiery speech against the Halls.

“Picked a project?”

“No point in dawdling.” 

She handed over the project sheet which he immediately scanned, nodding as he read.  

“Good.  I’m sorry that you won’t have time to make a unique item, but it’s better this way with everything going on.  I’m sure you have a lot to deal with regarding the lawsuit.”

A knot formed in her stomach.  “Actually, I haven’t done anything about it.  I don’t know the first thing about being sued.”

Patron Canterbury’s expression broke with sympathy.  He reached into a drawer and pulled out a wheel filled with cards. 

“Let me help you.  I know a few lawyers.  I could call one and set up a meeting.”

Claire frowned.  “I was going to head out of town for collection.”

“You can probably find everything you need for a Veil Music Box in the city.”

“I can, but since they were so common years ago, a lot of the materials will be old and ineffective.  The deathhead mushrooms are common in eastern Kentucky.  I can harvest fresh stems.”

“Are you sure?”

“Please, Patron Canterbury.  If I’m going to have to make a pre-planned item, at least let me do it my way?”

He frowned but handed back the project approval sheet with his signature. 

“Very well.  Good luck.”  He scribbled down a name and address on a piece of paper and handed it over as well.  “You can stop by this gentleman on your way out.  He’s a little eccentric, but he’s good at what he does and most importantly, he’s cheap.”

“Thank you, Patron.” “Good luck, Claire.”

Read Episode Nine


Thomas K. Carpenter

Thomas K. Carpenter is a full time contemporary fantasy author with over 50 independently published titles. His bestselling, multi-series universe, The Hundred Halls, has over 25 books and counting. His stories focus on fantastic families, magical academies, and epic adventures.

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