The Calm Before the Storm
Rhea turned away from the window and walked over to Aurora’s bed. She had always loved the bed with is goose down blankets and pillows. Falling backward onto the bed she thought about how she used to pretend the deep blues of the blanket on the bed were really the ocean swallowing her up. That was when she was much younger, those times seemed so far away now. Her mind turned towards earlier in the day, remembering the work Aurora and her father had been so immersed in.
Aurora and her father had been working in the lab all day, her father was pioneering a new alchemical technique called life binding. Life binding was the process of taking two living things and combining them, resulting in a completely new being that displayed traits of both the original life forms. Her father had practiced the technique on a countless number of plant combinations, allowing him to grow many of the exotic and temperamental herbs and plants that he used in his alchemy.
She remembered the first time she had seen the results of her fathers techniques, they were marvelous. The first thing he had ever made was specifically for her. Shortly after her mother had died her father had combined a Crystal Orchid, her mother’s favorite flower, with a wandering vine. The result had astonished Rhea, Crystal Orchids were very fickle and fragile plants, requiring very specific growing conditions. On top of all of that they only produced one delicate and short lived flower before they died. The wandering vine was the complete opposite, it grew with reckless abandon, crawling over and covering anything in its vicinity, producing small ugly flowers as it went. When the two plants had been bound together with her fathers techniques they produced a beautiful vine that slowly crept, covering its surroundings, but most astonishing were the small crystalline flowers that dotted the surface of the vine. Rhea had loved the plant and named it it for mother, calling it an Ayla vine.
When they finally came out of the laboratory Rhea had lunch prepared and served it. Through the entirety of lunch Aurora had excitedly spoken of the new work that her and Tarik were working on. Her chatter, while cryptic and generally unhelpful, had filled the majority of their lunch together and had piqued Rhea’s interest. Regardless of Auroras exuberance, Rhea had not failed to notice the disapproving glances coming from her father. By the end of lunch she could tell her father was quite upset with Aurora as he had asked her to stop discussing work outside of the lab several times now, but in her exuberance she had ignored him.
The little snippets of information that Aurora divulged had piqued Rhea’s interest. She really wanted to participate in her fathers work and help him now, but she was hesitant. Her father did not seem to like Aurora talking about their work at all, which somewhat surprised Rhea. He was normally very excited when Rhea expressed interest in his work. She had even helped him create a few simple life bound plants. Her curiosity overwhelmed her trepidations.
“Hey dad, do you think I could help you and Aurora with your research this afternoon?”
His monotone answer came immediately, “No.”
“But dad, I have all my chores done and you’ve said I need to practice my alchemy more!”
Her looked deadly serious as his eyes bore into hers, “Rhea, I’ve said no. What we’re working on is dangerous and you’re not old enough.”
Rhea pouted and curtly replied “Fine.”
She quickly cleared the dishes from the table, they clattered noisily as she collected them. After collecting all the dishes she carried them back into the house in a huff. She thought she heard a frustrated sigh from her father, and she was fairly sure she that Aurora was looking at her with sympathy in her eyes. None of it mattered much to Rhea, she was furious and hurt that her father would not include her in his work.
Aurora and her father spent another six hours in the lab after lunch before they stopped for the day. Upon leaving the lab he went directly to the garden he kept full of the lifebound herbs and flowers that he kept. Even though the plants were all much hardier due to the life binding, they still required some attention, and her father had told her on several occasions that “He found the act of gardening cathartic.” Rhea never quite understood why, she liked looking at the plants, but did not like caring for them much.
His trip into the gardens after long work days normally bothered her, but tonight she was glad for it. She was still upset with him.
She had been so tangled up in the confusing web of her thoughts about her dads change in attitudes that she had not heard Aurora approach. The soft sound of Aurora’s voice cut through her dark and gloomy thoughts, “You know that you’re the heir to all his work, right?”
“It’s a little hard to believe that when you’re the one in the lab helping him all day. You were there at lunch, I just asked to help and he shut me down without a thought.”
A slight frowned marred the otherwise beautiful features on Aurora’s face. “Your dad was a little rude after lunch, I’ll give you that. But you’re just being silly if you think that he plans to hand his work over to someone like me.”
“You work with him all day in the lab while I sit out here and read school books and do chores, you’re probably learning all kinds of cool stuff in there with him. Stuff that he won’t teach me because ‘I’m too young’.”
“Rhea, you’re his flesh and blood. All of that amazing natural alchemical talent and insight your dad has? You’ve got it too.” Aurora, placed a hand on both of Rhea’s shoulders and pulled her into a hug. All of Rhea’s anger at the situation melted away, as the soft folds of Auroras dress tickled her face. Aurora had become like a mother to her over the several years she had worked as Tarik’s assistant, and her hugs were magical. Stooping down after the hug Aurora looked directly into Rhea’s eyes. Rhea saw love and understanding there, traits she had come to love Aurora greatly for, but she also saw something else behind her eyes and she was not sure what.
“Rhea, your father is a brilliant alchemist and he knows what he’s doing. I’m still astounded he keeps me around. He doesn’t want you in the lab because the research we’re doing is dangerous, and after the accident with your mother…..well he’s hesitant to put another member of his family in the line of danger for his research.”
“I understand.” Rhea said nodding, and she did understand. Her mother’s death had been long, slow, and painful. Her mother had been fatally and terribly wounded in an alchemical accident. It had happened when Rhea was much younger, so she could not remember much, she did remember her mother’s screams though. She also remembered how sad her father had been. The loss of her mother had struck her father hard, he had stopped eating and was spending most of his time in bed. This kind of behavior had continued until shortly after he had begun his work on life binding. The research and work had seemed to breath new life into his bones and he had been fervently working on the technique ever since.
Aurora smiled down at her, “You’re such a smart girl. I wish I had been half as smart as you when I was your age.” A wistful look spread over her face and her eyes looked distant. “Well the past is the past, so why don’t you forgive your father and help him out in the garden? I’m sure he’d love your company.”
Rhea found all the heat of her anger had evaporated, Aurora had a way of soothing her that seemed to cure any kind of bad mood. It was one of the reasons she loved her so much. Throwing herself at Aurora again she hugged her tightly and thanked her before she set off along the path go help her father in the garden.
Aurora watched as Rhea skipped down the path. She was so proud of that child, even if she was not her child by blood Aurora loved her fiercely. She knew that Rhea had greatness in future. Letting the content smile fall from her face she sighed heavily and turned around, following the path that would lead her to where she wanted to go. The only thing unusual about it was that it was not the path that lead her home.
Rhea was cleaning the up the soiled dishes from dinner when her father burst through the front door of the house, startling her. Her soapy hands slipped and the dish in her hands shattered as it impacted the floor. Her father had a wild look in his eyes, Rhea had never seen before. It scared her. His fiery gaze landed on her.
“Did you go into my lab while I was in the garden!?” Anger dripped from his voice.
Rhea shrunk back, her father had never yelled at her before. “N-no. I was in the garden with you too.”
“Did you go into my lab before that?!” He screamed again.
“No, I promise I didn’t.” Rhea answered meekly.
Her father’s baleful gaze lingered on her much longer than she would have liked. She was not sure what he was looking for but he apparently found it. His gaze softened a bit, but his voice was still full of steel, “I believe you, I’m going out to check on a few things. Don’t leave the house tonight. After I leave lock the doors and don’t open them for anyone but me.” Before Rhea could ask why, he had slammed the door and was on his way.
Hot anger mixed with cold fear in her blood. Her father had never acted that way towards her, and the two powerful storms of emotion that slid through her veins was overwhelming. She began sobbing, the events of earlier in the day and her father yelling at her like that had just been too much. She wanted to be comforted, and her dad was obviously in no mood to comfort her. The only other person she could think of was Aurora, she lived in town. Her father’s command to stay in the house replayed in her mind, but it was not powerful enough to overcome the crushing need for reassurance from an adult. Completely ignoring her father’s commands she ran from the front door crying, leaving it wide open, her feet carrying her down the path towards town and towards Aurora.