09 – The Observatory, I

“What’s the current situation?” Béla called out, marching with purpose down the southern hall of the Del’Mar mansion. At his side was a young scribe trying her best to keep up.

“We have two personnel down and one in critical condition, my lord,” she replied, flicking through a stack of papers held tightly to her chest.

“I do not care about that—what of the Apostate?”

“Major Roth believes—”

“—Don’t give me his dribble,” Béla snapped back, “I’ve had enough posturing for one day. I want facts, Isabella. I want to know everything there is to know about this man—everything. By God’s fall, I even want to know his first words—do you understand?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Good, then get on with it.”

Isabella stopped to give a quick bow (losing a few stray papers in the process), then spun on her heels and went off in the opposite direction. Béla continued onwards at his original pace.

He eventually turned a corner where he was then greeted by a large, haphazardly raised wall of stone brick only a short distance away. A small platoon of guardsmen stood at the ready, and amongst them was Major Roth. He was easily distinguishable from the rest, in part due to his uniformly ostentatious attire—but the greatest offender was the large wad of hair that hung from his top lip and curled into an extravagant salt-and-pepper moustache.

Major Roth caught sight of Béla and his moustache rose into a sly grin.

“Nice of you to make an appearance, Lord Béla,” Roth said mockingly. “I do hope that my request for you to fulfil your magistrate duties did not inconvenience you… I do know how much you enjoy your little social gatherings. Although, I can’t help but feel that I have wasted your time as I have the situation well under control.”

Major Roth puffed out his chest with pride. Béla needn’t say anything as his surly frown was enough to get the point across. Roth continued anyway.

“You see, after a well-placed shot from one of my men the Apostate grew desperate and barricaded himself behind this wall—effectively sealing his own fate. If he does seek access to the Observatory, as I suspect, then either the Archon’s seal will do him in or we hold our positions and starve him out. All we need to do now is bide our time…” He paused to look thoughtfully towards the wall, “…I almost pity the man,” he finished with a mournful tone. Whatever small amount of compassion Roth had felt quickly dissipated and he turned to face Béla again with an expression that said: eh, not much else we can do about it.

Béla at this point was visibly furious, and he near spat when he asked, “Major Roth, just exactly long have you been biding your time?”

“Not long at all,” Roth replied, “the battle of attrition has only just begun! But, if I were to take a guess… approximately thirty-minutes.”

“Then not only are you a fool for believing that he cannot gain access to the Observatory, but you are even more of a fool to believe that he hasn’t already done so and is not currently preparing his escape while you dribble nonsenses from your soggy bag for a head!”

Roth stood slack-jawed in disbelief. Not many would display so openly the disrespect towards him as Béla had just done. Many held similar beliefs to Béla regarding Major Roth, but the unwavering loyalty that Roth commanded was feared enough that even the higher lords would hold their tongue. But at this moment Béla had little patience for propriety—all he cared about was the Apostate.

While Roth gawped his mouth open and shut trying to find a retort, Béla reached into his inner chest pocket and pulled out a glove similar to that of the Bronze Apostates. The alchemic dial attached to it was nearly identical, although it looked newer and less battered with wear and tear; also unlike the Apostate’s glove, Béla had to select his desired alchemic combination by manually turning each of the rotary dials, which let out a satisfying series of clicks as he did so.

He slipped the glove on; clenched and unclenched his fingers to ensure a tight fit, and then said: “Now move aside before your ineptitude infects us all.”

The Observatory was silent, deafeningly so. The Apostate took a step forward. The harsh rattling of his brass and copper equipment reverberated through the room, bouncing off the walls like a horde of defilers upon a sacred temple. There was no light other than the thin streaks of silver moonlight that leaked through the gaps of the domed ceiling above. The walls gently curved around the Apostate; at first glance, they seemed barren. But his mask revealed what was normally unseen. A hidden transmutation array blanketed the walls and ceiling above—etched into the brickwork with Azoth; and they revealed themselves to the Apostate with a shimmering glow, tinted orange due to the telescopic lenses of the mask.

It only took the Apostate a moment to decipher the alchemic formula; and although he had his inclinations before he had not truly anticipated the sheer scale of the Transmutation Array’s effect. And now that he does, he found it to be truly frightful.

If even a single brick were to be disturbed for whatever reason, it would cause an alchemical chain reaction and the tower would instantly ignite into a fiery mass. All those who would dare enter without permission and the contents being protected within would quickly be engulfed and consumed by ravenous flames in an act of callous self-destruction.

The creation of a Transmutation Array typically requires years—more often a lifetime—to create. As such, any alchemist willing to dedicate his life to the creation of an Array would only do so if it leads to the betterment of themself—which was usually either through accolades or acclamation—and then their discoveries were expected to lead to the development of technologies that bettered Roanoke City. That was the apotheosis of an alchemist, and what all strived to eventually achieve. So the very existence of such an Array, whose its sole purpose is the destruction of itself and the alchemic learnings behind it, stood as the antithesis of all that alchemists stood for and would most definitely invoke vile feelings within them. There was a part of the Apostate that echoed this sentiment, an older more forgotten part of him. But there was another part of him, a part born from years of experience, that found it strangely alluring.

It was this part that understood the need for something like this to exist.

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