She had never seen a place more tarnished and broken than that of the so called Bronze Palace. It was far from palatial and the moniker was given in jest. The Bronze Palace was a hive for rogues and bandits. It sat far enough from any sort of civilized society that it became the seat of criminal activity throughout the kingdom. Stories reached from one end of the country to the other of just how harried life at the Bronze Palace could be; from deadly card games to bread line brawls, every aspect of life here was brutal and even your neighbor was suspect.
It was a town of tents and mud huts for residences and log structures for everything else. She was sure there was not a single brick in the entire city. Roads were pebbles and sand. She admired the tall clock tower at the center of town, and the spire rising from the cathedral at the west end of the village was impressive. She wondered how the math worked out to ensure wood would climb so high toward the sky without toppling over. She made a mental note to find a good book on engineering when she returned home.
She had come to the Bronze Palace on word of the capture of an important alchemist. Resistance Scouts had followed the man east, but were forced to retreat when their target was hauled away behind an approaching battalion of the King’s Army. The Alchemist was being hailed as a hero for his work in developing aether as well as helping in the discovery of a major enemy troop movement. The Academic frowned on calling the action heroic. She thought that if the Alchemist had just stayed at home she would not be risking her own hide in infiltrating a Royal prison camp.
For that was what the Bronze Palace had become. The city was at a midpoint between the King’s Court and the lands under Resistance control. As soon as the war drums started pounding in the west, the King swept into the Bronze Palace and took it as a stronghold. Many Resistance fighters had been taken or lost over the winter months only to be dragged to this desolate place and left to starve.
She arrived to town by steam carriage. A sight that was apparently quite rare based on the stares she received. Her driver, a Resistance fighter himself as well as her handler with the group’s leadership, took her to the center of town where she could meet the Commandant in charge of the city.
“Madame, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I have been told great things of your beauty and intellect,” The Commandant said as she stepped from her carriage.
“You are too kind, Commandant Carleton,” The Academic returned the pleasantry.
“Please, call me Mariot. I am also happy to say I am newly made Governor of this province. It seems the King has taken kindly of my crime busting abilities,” Carleton said. He smiled from ear to ear, greatly pleased with his accomplishments.
“I should hope so. It is one thing for my city to worry of rebellion, but coupled with the highway men and banditry that originated from this very city? That would have been too much,” The Academic said.
The Commandant seemed pleased with the remarks.
“I am sorry to say, but I was told very little of your purpose in this trek. Might I ask why such a vibrant, young, person such as yourself has traveled all the way to the Bronze Palace?” He asked.
“Thank you, Driver, you may wait here. The Governor and I must take a walk,” The Academic waved away her handler. The plan was moving quite well. She walked to Carleton and requested his arm. “I am here for your prisoners. My city is devoid of able bodied men who are willing to serve the King. Those loyal to the Court have fled to the eastern seaboard. I need laborers to repair the town walls damaged at the first attack by those damnable resistance fighters. With our walls rebuilt and landships repaired, I am sure the city will be a fine addition to the King’s empire once more.”
“That is a bold request,” The Commandant replied.
“These are bold times are they not? Allow these captured soldiers the opportunity to make amends with their king by rebuilding one of his cities,” The Academic implored.
“It would be a crime against them to do so,” The Commandant thought.
They walked by a saloon made of rotting timbers and held together by clay mortar. It smelled of urine and whiskey even from a distance.
“I think the greater crime is keeping them here,” The Academic said.
The Commandant scowled.
“Perhaps, I could simply take an engineer, or a chemist back with me? You know,” The Academic paused to laugh, hoping her comment would be taken as a joke instead of a prod, “if you have an alchemist in the cages I could use one of those too.” She laughed once more.
“You will find this amusing, but I actually do have an alchemist. He has been sequestered to a private cell. He refuses to stop talking and it was bothering the other prisoners. He is quite something. Why don’t I show you? Terribly amusing in small doses.”
The Commandant led them both outside of the town proper to a small grove of trees. There was no sound here, not even a bird’s chirp.
“What is this place?” The Academic asked.
“This is my pride and joy of criminal punishment. Watch,” The Commandant pulled on a tree limb and the ground began to rumble.
The grass in the center of the grove rose from the ground in a square to reveal a spiraling staircase that could only lead down.
“You have a hidden cell beneath the weeds of a secluded forest?” The Academic asked.
“I have a hidden alchemist’s laboratory beneath the weeds of a secluded forest. Once this Resistance is ended, I am going to be a very wealthy man.”
The Commandant grabbed her hand and led her down into the cold earth. A room larger than any she had ever seen sat ten feet below the green grass and pine needle trees of the surface. In the far corner of the room sat a man muttering to himself about thousand topics at once.
She looked at the Alchemist and smiled. She had found her target. Next was setting him free.
Thanks for reading!
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