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-Seven

The banging of the exterior doors broke Claire from her stupor.  She sprinted down the aisle to open-mouthed gapes.  The priest at the lectern raised his hand as if to admonish her, but fell silent when the gang appeared at the back of the benches brandishing weapons. 

Claire froze near the casket, looking for a way out.  Her pursuers faltered at the same sight, giving her a good look at them.  They all had pale skin and dark hair.  The man at the front in a cheap black leather jacket had pock-marked face.  He looked uneasy about the location of their confrontation.  One of his henchmen brought his weapon up and before the leader could stop him, three shots rang out in the holy space.

A fist punched Claire in the chest.  She staggered backwards, putting a hand to her ribs only to find no blood.  Only a hole in her shirt.  Dark metal peeked through. 

As the leader of the Terrors shouted at his henchman, Claire headed to a door at the side of the altar.  The priest gawked as she ran past, making no move to stop her.  She worked her way to the outside, finding a door that led to a building in back which she assumed was the priest's home.  Claire leapt the fence and kept running until she spotted a sign for the above ground train system.  With no money in her pockets, the gang had taken everything, she leapt the turnstile and slipped into a car with the doors about to close.  Only a few people gave her a second look without pants since her shirt hung low enough to half-cover her black panties. 

Sweaty and still in shock from being shot, Claire found a corner where she could stand and probe the hole.  The bullet had hit the dark metal striation beneath her left breast.  The area around it was sore from the impact, but nothing compared to what might have happened if she'd been struck an inch above or below. 

Claire worried that the gang would be waiting for her outside the train station near Metallum Nocturne, but she spotted no familiar faces.  When she jogged into the front door, a profound sense of relief followed.  She leaned against the wall, catching her breath.  Outside her room, she ran into Dawn coming the other way. 

"Where have you been?  You missed two classes this afternoon."  She looked down with a frown.  "And why aren't you wearing pants?"

Claire dragged her friend into her room before pulling a water out of her mini-fridge and chugging it.  She considered grabbing a second when Dawn exclaimed.

"Did you get beat up?"

When she felt calm enough to explain, Claire went through the entire day from her discussion with Terrance to the torture and questioning to the escape.  She left out getting shot, only because she didn't know how to explain it.  The implications left her worried about what was happening to her.

Dawn bent over, flipping through her phone until she pulled up a picture of her standing near the casket.  The angle was from the side, making it hard to see her face, but the faded pink hair was unmistakable to herself.

"This was you?  The report said shots fired."

Claire blinked.  "Yeah, they must have hit the casket."

"Merlin's tits, Claire.  What have you gotten yourself into?"

Claire leaned back, falling onto the bed.  She grabbed her pillow and cradled it to her chest. 

"I don't know.  Seems like the world has gone to shit since I tried to make that dark metal trinket.  Maybe it is cursed.  Or I am."

"Or maybe you're hanging out with the wrong people," said Dawn, crossing her arms.

"Hey, Terrance is a good guy."

"Do good guys owe murderous gangs money?" asked Dawn.

"Sometimes," said Claire, not knowing why she said it other than wanting to defend her friend.  "I hope he got away."

"There's no report of another person being found, or shot.  He's probably okay."

"I'm so fucked," said Claire.  "They took all my stuff.  My ID, my phone, what little cash I had left.  As if don't have enough to worry about."

"I have an old phone you can use.  The screen is cracked and it has shit charge, but it's something," said Dawn with a half-hearted shrug.

"Thanks Dawn.  I'll need that, otherwise, Lamar won't be able to get ahold of me."

"Did you get the reagent you were looking for at least?" asked Dawn.

Claire shook her head.  "No.  Too hard to get.  I've nothing left to trade anyway.  Maybe I'm delusional to think I can pull this off.  I should probably just make the stupid goth music box and forget about the ring."

"Trying to make this dark metal stuff has been nothing but trouble," said Dawn.

"I hate doing normal things.  I want to make something great.  Prove that my life hasn't been a waste, but it's getting hard to do with everything against me."

Dawn put a hand on her shoulder.  "Claire, you're the most brilliant person I know.  Honestly, I don't know how you keep going.  I would have given up a long time ago.  Just because the world keeps shitting on you doesn't mean that you're not the fucking shine."

"Thanks Dawn."  She sat up, resting her elbows on her knees. 

"Oh, I almost forgot, I managed to talk to all the professors and a bunch of other students about the sign up sheet."

"And?" asked Claire, sitting up straight.

Dawn pursed her lips as she shook her head.  "Everyone who could have signed the list was either out of the building, or with others the entire time.  The only ones unaccounted for were the first and second years who aren't supposed to sign it.  I'm sorry, Claire, I was hoping for better news." 

"I'm beginning to think that Mara forged my name.  Which sucks.  Pinning it on a dead girl won't exactly make me look good at trial."

"Maybe we don't know everything yet.  I'll keep looking and asking around," said Dawn.

Claire hung her head. 

"I have another favor to ask."

"Sure.  Anything."

"Dangerous response," said Claire with a smirk.  "But I'll let you off the hook this time."

"What do you need?"

"Hair dye.  Black if you've got it."

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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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