A trickle of debris scuttled out beneath the Bronze Apostate’s foot as he descended gently onto the balcony ledge. He hopped down, his copper and brass equipment rattling slightly as he did so. Directly before him was a glass double-door, masterfully latticed with gold which gave the false appearance of it being intricately woven between the glass panels. The room inside was dark, barely lit by the obscured moon that shone dull greys lazily. It appeared to be a small library of sorts: barren except for a desk which sat close to the balcony entrance, with large bookshelves stacked to the brim lining the walls on either side. There was no obvious entrance—except for prying the doors open or breaking them down, which would be outside the scope of the Apostate’s preferred stealthy entrance. The only thing of note was the small, typical keyhole which sat where any keyhole would normally reside on a door.
The Apostate placed his hand with the alchemic apparatus palm first against the keyhole. The rings on the dial spun as they had before but settled on a combination of symbols much quicker than previously. And, also unlike last time, there were no glowing of the symbols or bolts of arcane energy. Instead, there was only silence as the various mechanisms of the lock began to liquefy and drip down along the seams of the door. It was the perfect transmutation.
Once free from its lock, the leftmost door swung slightly ajar, opening fully with the help of the Apostate. He then took a cautious step into the library. A small draft appeared, and the door began to swing shut behind him. He caught it before it banged against the frame—alerting all those near to his presence—and he closed the door gently, resting a chair up against it to keep it shut.
The Apostate blended perfectly into the shadows, especially while still—only the rue-orange glow of his mask’s eyes gave him away. He quickly scanned his vicinity—the mahogany desk, the leather-bound books, the wooden floor, the heavy wooden beams that lined the ceiling—not in search for something he wanted, but for alchemic traps that may lay unseen to the naked eye, and naked his eye was not. Satisfied that there were none to be found, he quickly—but silently—made his way to the large, thick wooden door at the opposite end of the room. He pressed where his ear should be under the mask against the door and while holding his breath, listened intently.
On the other side of the door where two guardsmen; both wielding hefty, well-crafted, and very dangerous looking blunderbusses, which they held up-right and against their shoulders. Each was outfitted in canvas military-style frock coats of navy blue, trimmed with yellow golds and accentuated with leather straps of the darkest of browns; and snuggly fitted atop their heads were custodian helmets of the same colour as their straps, boldly displaying a gold insignia of the Del’Mar family: a twin-headed griffon.
Both the men stood stoic with eye’s held keen, hyper-aware of their surroundings. It was clear that no soul would sneak in or out of the room and that their focus would never be broken. That was until both slowly began to notice the noise of heavy banging, rhythmically echoing from inside the library. Looks of dubiousness were shared between them simultaneously until the braver of the two men took it upon himself to open the door.
There was a loud c’thunk as the guardsman unlocked the door. It swung heavily on hinges that moaned in protest from being suddenly forced to bear the weight of the door. Light from the hallway trickled into the room, and the guardsmen peered in to see…nothing. Everything was as it should be, with the only thing out of the ordinary being the balcony door which was now freely banging against its frame thanks to the goading draft that taunted them as if to say “close me if you dare.”
The more heedless guardsmen may have chalked it up to absentmindedness. After all, it was not uncommon for wearied alchemists to forget to lock the door after a long evenings study—but those heedless guardsmen also often ended up headless, and that was a state of being they both very much wished to avoid. And so, the guardsmen who opened the door cautiously stepped into the room with his blunderbuss at the ready, while the other followed closely. It wasn’t until they reached the centre of the room that the second guardsmen suddenly stopped to point at something on the ground a few feet away.
There were two plate-sized circles drawn side by side in what appeared to be chalk. And inside each of the circles were curious symbols and unusual lines and geometric patterns.
“Transmutation Circles…” the first guardsman stated dubiously.
The moment he uttered the words, there was a tremendous bang from the door behind them as it slammed shut. They both spun to see who, or what, had caused it—but before they had a chance to even raise their weapons, the Apostate was already upon them. Falling from the wooden beams above like a maligned shadow, the Bronze Apostate clasped the men’s jaws and, using the momentum of his fall, shoved them to the ground. The back of their heads smacked against the wooden floor with a sickening thud. The Apostate held them there, with their heads perfectly centred within the Transmutation Circles. Suddenly, there were flickers of white-blue light and shrieks of crackling arcane energy. The wood around the chalk outline softened and morphed into thick, stumpy tendrils that rose upwards and slapped wetly against the guardsmen’s faces where it remained, clasped and rapidly hardening. The men let out muffled, panicked screams as the Apostate kept his hands clasped tightly over their mouths. They thrashed and kicked but couldn’t find leverage to break free. One desperately flailed his gun upwards striking the Apostate across the head with the butt—but it was seemingly ineffective against his mask and served only to force the Apostate to tighten his grip and quicken the transmutation.
More and more moist laps of wooden pseudopodia reached up and stretched over the men’s faces—sliming over their eyes, worming up their nostrils and filling up their mouths with thick, rubbery globules of wood. It wasn’t long until their screams turned into desperate gasps for air, then to silence. The Bronze Apostate remained as he was until the Guardsmen’s bodies stopped convulsing, which only took a few seconds, before wearily rising to his feet. He stood over the two men, gazing down at them. Their heads were no more, instead in their place were two wooden bulges in the floor that vaguely resembled their faces. And, if you looked close enough, you could see their final expression which was now permanently fixed to the room—pure terror.
The Apostate quickly swiped the guard’s key from his belt and cautiously opened the door to the hallway—paused to listen—and then left, locking the door behind him.