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 Thirty-Two

The locale might have been a secluded bathroom in a courtroom in the city of sorcery, but it felt like a dusty town in the middle of the Old West.  Claire stood opposite her enemy, wishing they were dueling with fists or pistols, which would have given her a fighting chance.  Annette stood with the grace of a practiced politician.  She had toned arms and perfectly styled hair.  She looked like she'd been made rather than born.

"How well did you know my daughter?" asked Annette.

The question caught Claire off guard.  She'd been so focused on her own miserable circumstances, she'd forgotten that the Blocks had lost a child.

"Not well.  I'm a fifth year and my project kept me busy," replied Claire.  "I'm sorry for your loss, but I did not approve her work.  Her mistake nearly cost me my life and destroyed everything I'd worked for until that point."

Annette searched her face, eyes darting and lips rippling.  The mask of politeness slipped.

"Don't you dare blame that on my Mara.  You were supposed to protect her, keep her safe, but you let her die.  You're a monster.  I was so worried when we first learned that she had abilities, and then when she joined the Halls, I thought maybe my fears were unfounded.  But I was right.  I.  Was.  Right."

The woman's hands shook as she reached up to fix her hair.  Either she was the greatest actress ever, or she was truly broken because of Mara's death.  Claire only saw the vitriol in the press, the hate she was giving oxygen, letting the flames grow and spread across the city. 

"I wish I knew what happened, but I swear to you it wasn't me," said Claire.

"Liar!"  Annette jabbed her finger forward.  "Don't you dare lie to me.  You mages are all the same, so filled with your specialness, your importance.  My Mara was too good for you all.  She came from a good home, not like you, you little rat."

Claire burst forward, closing the gap between them with her hand in a fist.  She'd only meant to emphasize her point, but the heat and rage in her chest was a furnace she couldn’t cool.  Spittle flew like sparks from her lips and in her mind's eye, she wondered if she could choke Annette to death before her security detail could stop her.

"You're ruining my life," said Claire, pulling back her fist when the door flung open.  A man with an ear wire reached for his pistol.

"Is everything okay, ma'am?"

Annette glowered.  "She lost control.  I wouldn't have expected anything different."

"Should I stay?"

Annette shot Claire a withering glance.  "She's a coward.  She'd never actually try to hurt me, but if she did, she'd be in jail by the end of the day."

After the door swung shut, Claire asked, "Why are we here?"

"I want to offer you a deal and if you're smart, you'll take it."

Claire said nothing because she sensed she wasn't going to like what Annette had to say.  The older woman stared at her like a school teacher getting ready to deliver punishment.

"Unlike yourself, I'm an important member of the community.  Between the business my husband and I created with our own bare hands, the loving family that we raised, and now the mayoral campaign which we hope to win and help get this city back on a path of righteousness, my time is stretched.  I'm already dealing with the heartache of losing my only child to this magical predator they try to call an actual university.  I don't want to go through this trial as much as you do, but it's what must be done to bring justice for Mara."

Annette paused, her nostrils flaring.  The sympathy Claire knew she should have felt was replaced with revulsion and rage.  She wanted to strike Annette until she was unconscious.  The lack of control over her own emotions left Claire feeling like she was back in high school after her parents died, but it was different, and worse, than that.  Even in her darkest moments back then, she never pictured other people's deaths, but here she was in the bathroom of the city's courthouse, imagining squeezing the life from Annette.

"What I have to offer, much to the disagreement of my husband, is a chance for this to be over and for us all to return to our lives.  In exchange for a smaller payment, you would plead guilty and publicly accept blame for our daughter's death.  In addition, you would also lay blame for her death to the unsafe practices at Metallum Nocturne, including your current patron and the professors in charge of the foundry.  This would all be in the public record, both in video and written form, to be placed on all major networks and newspapers.  These are my conditions."

The numbness returned, replacing the rage, which would have been preferable if she hadn't had to hear those conditions.

"How much smaller?"

The corners of Annette's mouth creased.  "Rather than the $1.8 million that would mean you'd essentially be working for us the rest of your life, we would reduce it to three-hundred thousand dollars.  It would put a bite into your future earnings, but not strangle you like the $1.8 million would.  A generous offer to be sure.  The amount wouldn't be disclosed to the media.  That would remain under seal, protected by a non-disclosure agreement.  This offer is not up for negotiation.  Take it, or leave it, but you must send your answer by noon tomorrow.  Otherwise, we'll be bringing the full might of our case against you and your wretched Hundred Halls and then when I win the mayor race in the fall, I will make sure you never have a moment's rest anywhere in the world."

Annette Block slapped her hand against the door as she left the bathroom, her heels echoing in the marbled space, leaving Claire in quiet desperation until she let loose a scream and punched the mirror.  A spiderweb of cracks exploded across the glass, leaving her knuckles covered in blood.

***Come back in two weeks for the next installment***


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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