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-Eight

Two days later, her lawyer asked her to meet at his office.  She was reticent to move about the city with the Terrors possibly looking for her, but decided it would be hard for them to abduct her in public.  She threw on comfortable clothes, choosing an oversized hoodie, despite the late spring heat.  The dark metal striations had grown, especially the one that had been hit by the bullet.  It had extended through her breastbone and around the curve of her upper chest.  A few looked slightly thicker, but she wasn't certain.  If they weren't an unknown material invading her skin, they'd look like living tattoos. 

His desk was less cluttered than last time, given his advance warning of her arrival, but the taxidermy nightmare remained in the rest of his apartment.  His dark brown skin had a tint of gray and the bags around his eyes were larger than normal.

"Not sleeping well?" she asked, settling into the chair across from him.

"Not at all," he said, grabbing his laptop and spinning it around to face her.  The screen showed an article from the Invictus Times with her holding a trophy while standing next to a glow-in-the dark sphere.  The picture was from her second year at Metallum Nocturne when she'd won a contest with all the maker Halls. 

The headline read: Bullied by Block.

"You really should tell me if you're going to do any interviews," said Lamar.

"It's out?  Elle told me she'd warn me."

Lamar turned the laptop around.  "I got advanced warning from an old friend who's an editor at the Times.  The story comes out tomorrow."

Claire was beset by claustrophobia.  She wanted to climb out the window as her heart did triple time.


"The good news is it's a favorable article which is important since it'll be the front page.  I couldn't have written a better story than this Elle Dark did.  She has a gift."

"Front page?"

She was starting to feel like a parrot, but she couldn't muster new words. 

"Annette Block is moving up in the polls.  She's a close second to her major competitor and with ranked choice voting, some put her as the lead.  I think the Invictus Times is trying to establish themselves as the opposition paper should she win."

Claire started to repeat him again, but switched at the last moment. 

"It'll be bad for the Halls if she wins."

"With no Head Patron, the major Halls in conflict, and students and city deaths higher than ever, she's struck a chord with non-mage voters.  She's been feeding the flames of fear.  It's working too.  Since her daughter's death and the campaign switch, she's shot up from a nobody to a contender.  Every other day she promises new restrictions for the university, from eliminating the legal protections, to restricting who can join the school."

Claire had always wanted to be famous, but not for this.  She'd wanted to be known for her work, not an accident she had nothing to do with. 

"But that's not the only thing I wanted to show you," he said, pulling out his phone.  She knew what it would be, even before she saw the picture.  "I assume that's why you dyed your hair black."

She gave him the overview of the day, deciding that it was best he was aware of everything including the way the dark metal had invaded her body after the accident.

"That's interesting," he said, sniffing when she lifted her shirt up to show her side.  "Doesn't smell like anything I've ever smelled before."

"You can smell it from there?"

His broad mouth shifted to the side reluctantly.  "I've something of a sensitive nose."

"Will it affect my case?  The kidnapping, not the dark metal."

"The Blocks are already pushing the narrative that you're a bad seed hanging out with the wrong people.  It's mostly political, but they can use it in trial too.  They'll attack your character, show that you're prone to bad decisions like letting their daughter use the dangerous foundry equipment without supervision."

Claire sunk into her chair.  "I didn't intend for that to happen.  I was only visiting my friend to find some rare reagents."

"I believe you, Claire, but we have to face the fact that this looks bad.  Real bad."

She put a hand to her forehead.  "Is there anything we can do?"

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about."  He tapped on the laptop.  "You clearly have a sympathetic ear with Elle.  You need to get closer to her.  Let her into your life and help her craft a narrative that counters what the Blocks are going to do."

"Is that ethical?"

Lamar raised an eyebrow.  "Do you want to spend the rest of your life owing the Blocks, or knowing that you helped put them into the mayor house?"

"No, but—"

"Look," said Lamar.  "I'm not asking you to lie, or make things up.  Elle is a good reporter.  I went back through her old articles.  She's not going to write falsehoods, but some facts can be seen in different ways.  For the Blocks, this gang incident is proof that you're bad news.  For you, it could be that you've had a rough upbringing due to your parents’ deaths and..."

"And I haven't been afforded the same opportunities as others," she finished.

"Good.  You're getting it.  The court of public opinion is not a fun place to be.  You're going to read or hear awful things that aren't true, or use the truth in terrible ways.  You need Elle on your side.  It's not a big paper, but I suspect there's going to be a hunger for stories about you and giving her the exclusive is going to make her more sympathetic to your cause."

"So tell her everything?" asked Claire.

Lamar sucked air through his teeth.  He had long canines.  "Selectively.  You'll have to navigate those roads carefully.  She does have a responsibility to her paper and her own career.  She won't go out on a limb for you, but she'll help tell your story."

A weight settled on her shoulders.  "That's a lot to think about."

"It is."  He tilted his head.  "You might want to put aside this special project if it's going to get you into more trouble."

Claire didn't answer, staring at a stuffed humanoid bat head on the wall.  The red eyes and bared fangs were ferocious. 

"Oh," he said, closing his laptop.  "Our next court date is three days from now."

"Three days?"

"The Blocks are pushing hard to speed up the trial.  They want to have a successful court case to hold up as proof for the ranked choice primary in a month."

"That's the same time as graduation."

"I know.  Which is going to make it hard on you, I'm sure.  You don't have to be at this next court date since it'll be mostly motions and arguments about discovery but it's helpful to show the judge that you care."

"The judge?  I thought the jury decided."

"The judge rules on a lot of minor issues of the trial which can be favorable or unfavorable to your cause.  Judge Ambersand is old school.  He runs things like he believes they did in the last century."

"Which means showing up is important.  I'll be there."

"Good," said Lamar with a wink.

"How much of a chance do I really have?  Am I just going to get screwed by the system again?" she asked.

"I said it when I took your case, it's not going to be easy, but a lot can happen between discovery and the trial.  We'll keep fighting and look for a path to an acquittal." 

Lamar stood up and offered his hand which was enormous and hairy.  She accepted his handshake, pumping twice. 

"Good luck with your last month at the Halls, and please, if you can, try not to get photographed running from notorious gang members."

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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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