“Why am I always running? I hate running,” the alchemist said. He ran alone, but years in the lab and taking in the various fumes and vapors had evaporated his ability for internal monologue. He missed private conversation. His partners missed silence.
In the inside breast pocket of his long overcoat, a round emerald weighing nearly a kilogram and a half slapped against his chest with every step. The emerald was moments ago a show piece in the gallery of General Tyson Redfoot, commander of her majesty’s South Atlantic forces. If there is one thing the alchemist could not stand it was a gem put behind glass. There were so many practical uses for an object of such beauty.
The thieving part was always the easiest. The General’s estate was surrounded by a rot iron fence with sharp little points atop each post and a fancy floral statuette at every fifth post. Guards would typically wander the grounds after dark, but the alchemist was a man that knew his chemicals. With one vial of vaporized acid and another of a particularly potent sleeping agent at his belt, the security implemented by the General was easily foiled.
When he made it inside the building he marveled for a moment at the lion gargoyles that were built into the second story’s slate ceiling. Candles flickered from within the beasts mouths and eyes giving the mansion a particularly evil aura. If anyone wondered why the alchemist was a member of the resistance against the Crown, he could simply point out the design choices of the autocracy’s council and all would be understood. While he knew stealing the emerald would anger the General, the alchemist sought to annoy as well. He muddied his boots and attached a thin razor to his heels to ensure maximum damage to any carpets and rugs he may come across.
There were no guards behind the fence, no sentries manning important entry ways; the house was truly a home if one could ignore the musket wielding guards a hundred yards away from the kitchen. The Alchemist walked into the house through a servant’s entrance, walked through the dining room always set for a party of twenty though most evenings were just the General and his wife, sneaked through the great hall lined wall to wall in paintings and portraits from local masters, and climbed a grand staircase of rich mahogany wood shined to perfection.
At the top of the stairs, lit by one of only three electrical candles in the county, sitting on a red velvet blanket and behind a four inch thick glass box was the object of the alchemist’s attention.
The Emerald of Taranis was said to have within it the soul of a god that lived a thousand years before falling to earth. The Alchemist cared not for such legends. The emerald was the final piece for the alchemist’s plan for a machine that would create the aether needed to finally give his band of resistance fighters an edge in their fight against a mad regime. A victory tonight, a machine tomorrow and soon his cause would find more supporters through the land.
The alchemist was careful in his approach to the trophy. With his penchant for thinking aloud his face was covered with a respirator that did not filter incoming air, but outgoing speech. He could speak as much as he wanted, but not a word would be heard outside his mask. His eyes were covered with a quad-focal lens of his own design, allowing for examination of objects near, far, poisoned or rendered invisible. It was not a cumbersome contraption, but it had saved his hide on more than one occasion. He monitored his steps and rose ever so gently up the stairwell.
He pulled a solvent from his bandolier of potions and concoctions and applied it gently to the thick glass. His leather glove sizzled as the solvent slowly ate away it, before finally being extinguished in a solution of salt and sugar water. For all his studies, the alchemist was always surprised at the healing power of a simple spoon full of salt and sugar.
The glass hissed and cracked as the solvent eroded its integrity. With a slight pop sound, the glass was gone. The alchemist’s pulse raced as he knew one of two things was about to happen as he placed his hand around the emerald. Either he would exit through the servant’s entrance and walk away into the darkness of night or the grand mansion would light up in a flurry of motion as alarms were triggered. His last three burglaries had gone swimmingly well and all he could do now was hope his luck had not run out.
The emerald was in his hand, and as he pulled the green gem from its position of prominence a most dreaded sound rang through the house.
The pedestal that housed the gem fell to the floor and struck a gong. The alchemist had spent a summer in Shanghai some years ago and came to love the gentle rumble of a well constructed gong. For that lovely sound to betray him hear and now hurt more than he could express.
“Time to go,” he thought aloud as he ripped the emerald from is glass cage.
He abandoned all semblance of stealth and made way through the house at his top most speed.
Shouts and screams filled the house. The General was quick out of bed and ran to the front room with a revolver in hand, demanding the head of whomever disturbed his slumber. The alchemist smiled as he thought of how the General would react to the torn red carpets that adorned the staircase.
Guards were rushing toward the house as the alchemist fled. Topiaries decorated the front lawn. The alchemist saw lions and eagles, tigers and elephants, bears and snakes; a circus of shrub animals greeted visitors that had to arrive by carriage. The alchemist plotted and schemed his best defense as surely one guard or another would be heading out of the house soon enough. He could attempt to flee into the night, but would he be afforded enough time for a proper retreat? He had been battling these soldiers for months and knew they were smarter than they let on at first impressions.
He fumbled at his bandolier hoping he remembered to pack the wizard’s plume, a personal recipe of his that came about as a quick way to weed his gardens.
“Come now, where are you?” He asked as he swatted at his coat.
He had stopped his sprint and hid by a horse’s watering hole that held within it a most splendid reflection of the night’s crescent moon and star filled sky.
“Oh thank goodness,” he said as he located his potion.
He pulled the vial’s cork cap. Within each of his more explosive compounds, the cork caps were fitted with a slight wick. When the wick was met with flint and spark it would ignite and for five to seven seconds the alchemist could make it to a safe distance.
The alchemist pulled his flint, ignited the wick and with a might lob, tossed the vial into the evergreen zoo. He wished he had time to watch his work succeed, but knew that if the emerald was not safely removed from the General’s hands all was lost. He returned to his sprint darted into the darkness.
“Why am I always running? I hate running,” he said, removing his mask. He was deep into the heart of the forest that surrounded the General’s estate.
The emerald was safe, the General annoyed and the resistance was one step closer to a long sought victory. The alchemist paused to catch his breath as he left the forest and entered his town. He admired the red thatch roofs, the wooden pergolas above every shop in the market, and the clock tower that rose in the center of town. The clock was ending its notice that the midnight hour had come. The alchemist listened to the gears and cogs creak and squeak, pleading with any who would listen to oil it or redirect a steam pipe its way.
He tapped the emerald in his pocket. “Let’s show you your new home.”
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