Here's the next installment of our Metallum Nocturne story.  If you need to catch up on any of the previous episodes, click here.

Episode Twenty-Five

The hood over her head was stuffy and the zip-ties bit into her wrists.  Claire sat in the back of the Buick next to Terrance who slumped against her shoulder.  They'd beaten him nearly unconscious before dragging him to the car, then discussed what to do with her.  Of the three options—shooting, leaving tied up, and taking with them—she'd hoped for the middle one, but they'd decided on bringing her along which she feared would eventually lead back to the first.    

She'd been right about them being a part of a gang.  One of them had mentioned the Terrors.  Claire had never heard of them, but she wasn't exactly up on her city gangs since she rarely left Metallum Nocturne.  The drive took longer than expected, so she assumed they were no longer in the sixth ward.  Based on the direction of the sun's warmth, she thought they were driving south and west, which meant they were heading towards the twelfth or thirteen wards, the part of the city that had been abandoned decades ago.  The gang members argued about the music and what they would do about a rival gang—the Sixers—if they ever ran into them.  At the end of the trip, they were dragged into a building and after being pushed through three separate doors, were tied to a couple of chairs. 

"Terrance?" she asked when she was sure it was only the two of them. 

"I'm sorry, Claire."

He sounded defeated. 

"Don’t be sorry.  Just bad luck, something I seem to have a lot of these days."

"This isn't going to end well," he said.

"What did you do?"

Terrance sighed.  "Nothing specific.  Just couldn't play the shell game anymore.  A couple of early bad decisions have been accruing interest for a long time."

"Then why are you alive?"

He broke into a wet, hacking cough, groaning when the convulsions ended.

"I think they broke some ribs."

"Terrance.  Why are we alive?"

The deranged sob-chuckle wasn't inspiring.  "They want their money back, or part of it anyway, but the good stuff is locked in the safe.  It's triple protected.  No way they can get in without deactivating the wards and for that they need the pass phrases and the right symbols."

"Right.  So they're going to torture you for them."

"You got it."

"Or me."

"Also true.  Again.  So fucking sorry.  You aren't the only one with colossal bad luck."

Claire snorted softly.  "At least I won't have to worry about the trial."

"You seem rather relaxed about this."

Claire leaned her head back, forgetting that the chair was short.  "When bad things keep happening, you kinda forget to care.  Somewhere along the way I think I got cursed, but I have no idea why or how to get out of it."

The sound of footsteps stilled Claire.  Her adrenaline spiked.  The world dialed down to a pin.  Is this it?  Is this the end?  The door creaked open, followed by the light clicking on.  She recoiled beneath the hood.  The light burned for a second even though the fabric was thick and the darkness beneath her hood absolute. 

"Two?  Who the fuck is the other one?" asked a rough voice.  He sounded like he was a two-pack a day smoker. 

"Some girl who was spying on us while we were talking to Terrance.  She'd been in the store before we went in, but she circled back."

The cold metal of a gun barrel rested against her forehead. 

"Who are you girl?"


"How do you know our mutual friend?" asked the rough voice.

Claire considered lying, but didn't know why other than she didn't want to cooperate. 

"I was looking for some reagents.  Terrance can get stuff you can't normally buy."

A grumble in the back of his throat was followed by the second voice cutting in. 

"I didn't know she was a mage."

"It's okay.  They all die the same if you put a bullet through their skull." 

"Want me to shoot her?"

"Not yet."

The rough voice circled around the chairs.  The thunk of a gun barrel hitting skull was followed by Terrance's muffled outburst. 

"Terrance.  T.  You know you'll eventually give up the codes.  No one lasts forever."

"Stubborn, I guess," he said.

"And when the time comes, when you decide you want that sweet release, don't even think about giving us the wrong ones, or codes that make the safe protections turn on us.  I won't be the one who will die, but if you cost me valuable resources, I'll just take it out of your hide.  Or your friend here.  How long can you watch us take her apart with a blade?  Do you think you could take a hot poker to the eye?  You only need one."

The only clue Claire had that the punch was coming was the shuffle of boots near her chair.  She tilted her head in time to catch a heavy fist to the ribs, but she couldn't bend over since she was tied to the chair. 

"What the fuck?" asked the guy who'd hit her.  "You have sheet metal under there?"

Her shirt was pulled up, revealing her ribs.  The air felt cool.  A pair of in-breaths were followed by a slow whistle. 

"Merlin's hairy balls.  What's that on your skin?" asked the rough voice.

"It's from an explosion.  I nearly died a month ago.  I'm from Metallum Nocturne."

She thought the two points of information would lead them to figure out who she was, since her name and story had been splashed across the papers.

"Which one is that?" asked the guy.

"They make stuff.  Iron and hot metal," said the rough voice.  Fingers brushed her skin.  "What does it do?"

"Wish I knew.  No one's seen it before."

"See, Jessie, that's why we're better off as normies, not some stupid mage.  Half of them end up killing themselves with their own arrogance."

"Terrance.  T.  Why don't you tell me how to get into the safe and I'll let your girlfriend leave," said the rough voice.

"She's not my girlfriend and you won't," said Terrance.  "As much as I'd like to believe you would, I know you can't.  Neither one of us are leaving this place alive."

The man in charge clucked his tongue.  "Shame it's come to this T.  Few people in this world can see the truth clearly when their life is on the line.  Most want to believe the illusion that they'll be okay, someone will save them."

"A curse, I guess," said Terrance sadly. 

A foot scuff gave Claire the warning before her jaw exploded in pain.  The second guy had clocked her across the face.  Blood trickled into her mouth from where she'd bit part of her tongue.  She spat, forgetting about the hood, which made the claustrophobic space stink like blood. 

"T.  Come on.  You know you're going to spill the goods eventually.  First we'll take her apart one piece a time and then we'll do the same to you.  Why resist?"

"Because once I do, I'm dead," said Terrance.  "The only thing I have to bargain with is what's in that safe."

"I guess we've run into an impasse.  A test of wills.  Jessie.  Why don't you give them both a nice warm up.  A taste of what's to come."

Claire was accustomed to pain.  In the foundry, no matter how careful, one couldn't help but get burned, especially with the addition of magic.  She'd received third degree burns on numerous occasions, though nothing like the accident that had killed Maya.  The difference was one never knew when that hurt was coming.  It was easy to believe it was a long way off.  If ever.  She couldn't ignore what was about to happen to her.  The second punch left her head ringing.  The third split her eyebrow.  She lost track after tenth and the pain kept coming.

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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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