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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-Three

"She's in the back of the library.  I saw her a little while ago," said Mark as he held his arms across his chest and glanced askew.  "Are you okay?"

"Why?  What have you heard?" asked Claire.

He ran a hand through his thick brown hair.  "Your hand."

Claire had forgotten about the bandages, which as she checked, were bleeding through.

"It's nothing."  Wanting to take the focus off herself, she asked, "What happened to the green mohawk?"

His mouth twisted into a slash.  "Graduation is in a few weeks.  I got a job with Ares Industries.  Sandi LaFleur herself was in the final interview.  I'll be moving to Paris after ceremonies."

"That's great," Claire forced herself to say.  She put up a smile, but feared it was a grimace.  Mark stepped away, checking back twice before disappearing down the hall. 

"Good luck," she added under her breath after he was gone, rubbing her breastbone where it felt empty inside. 

Dawn was in the back of the library sitting on a bean bag with her feet on her backpack with a pair of headphones on.  As soon as she spotted Claire, she burst to her feet.

"Claire, what happened?  Was it the trial?  Merlin's tits, what happened to your hand?"

Before Claire knew it, Dawn had her in an embrace, squeezing hard enough to make tears squeak from her eyes.  When she finally pulled away, Claire thumbed the wetness from the corner of her eyes and in a shaking voice, described the encounter with Annette Block.

"That bitch," said Dawn.  "I'd, I don't know, slash her tires if I could."

"Thanks," said Claire trying to catch her breath.  "But I can sort of understand her anger.  She thinks I killed her daughter due to my negligence and if I can't figure out who forged the paper, then I'm going to take the blame."

"Are you actually thinking of taking the deal?" Dawn asked in horror.

"I don't know.  Should I?"

The world crumbled around her.  Claire found herself sitting in the bean bag chair with her head between her knees. 

"No one will want to hire me," she whispered as Dawn rubbed her back. 

"It's so fucked, Claire.  So utterly fucked.  Why is this all happening to you?"

Claire worried she knew the answer, but she couldn't bring herself to say it out loud in this moment.  Dawn sat across from her, cross-legged and holding onto her calves. 

"If I accept, it'll open the school up to more scrutiny and probably ruin Metallum Nocturne.  Everything I love will be turned to dust," said Claire.

"Can you win the case?"

Claire lifted her shoulders simultaneously.  "He says it's possible, but I'm losing hope.  He seems like a good guy.  Smart, for sure, but the other side has the top Vindicators in the country.  It's like bringing a water pistol to a gun fight."

"Then you're taking it."

"I don't think I can.  I didn't do it.  It wasn't me who put my name on the list.  To take the blame for that publicly?  My name would be associated with it for the rest of my days.  I would have admitted that I screwed up, costing that girl her life."

"You'd rather be indentured to them forever?"

Claire squeezed her eyes shut, then slowly nodded.  "I think so.  I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I said yes, even though logically, it makes the most sense.  At this point, I've resolved that I'm going to lose the case, I don’t see how it goes differently, but no way am I saying that I did that."

Dawn shook her ankles.  "You're so fucking brave, Claire.  I hope you know that."

"Brave and broke," she said with a deranged laugh.

"How's the ring coming?"

Claire leaned back.  "Besides having no idea how I'm going to acquire dark metal again?  Absolutely great."

"You could always finish that other project.  You know, just so you graduate."

"Haven't done a single thing about it and at this point, does it matter if I graduate?  No one's going to hire me.  The interviews that I had lined up months ago evaporated.  Received lots of emails apologizing that their company had 'gone in a different direction'."

"I'm sorry, Claire."

"No offense, Dawn, but I'm sick of people apologizing to me," said Claire, squeezing her hands into fists.

"I'm just trying to..."

"Dawn, please, I don't want your pity.  What I need are solutions, answers, resources."

"I went to every professor on your behalf to find who might have put your name down," said Dawn leaning back indignantly.

"I know.  I know.  I'm not saying you aren't.  This isn't about you.  I'm just, I don't know, angry.  When I was in the bathroom with Annette, I kept having fantasies of choking her out.  Not in a nice way either."

"Claire..."

"I know.  Dark shit.  For the record, those thoughts didn't feel like my own.  It felt like someone else was in my mind, telling me to do those things."

"Who?"

Claire pulled up the side of her shirt, revealing the dark metal striations. 

"Remember when I told you about the book I found at Left Tower Books?"

"Yeah, the weird one with all the superstitions?"

"I'm beginning to believe the Night Mother is real."

About

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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