Dead Man's Rose
Note: Image associated is from Ironage.media, specifically their prompt, 'The Vista'
Laurel was just about finished with trimming the leaves from the plant her Teacher had tasked her with preparing. The task had taken most of her morning from her, at the expense of her usual routine, though she had learned better than to complain to her Teacher about it. Especially when Pelagius was so insistent that he woke her early.
Indeed, Pelagius had been far more erratic the last few days than his usual hare-brained self. He was up to something. Something, Laurel suspected, that involved this plant, which she had either not seen or had not noticed before in the basement's arboretum.
Even as she was barely awake, Pelagius had already rattled off its name and some warning not to; what was it? Taste its sap? Laurel wasn't sure. Neither of what she'd been told nor why anyone would want to do something so foolish when the plant seemed dead and its sap could easily be mistaken for blood.
As the last leaves were trimmed, a single strong stalk remained, its many branching roots sunk into the black soil in the pot. As Laurel stretched out her back from having hunched down, her eyes wandered out the window to the Academic Acropolis.
The imposing majesty of the 12 Towers had once dominated much of Laurel's mind. The promise of power, prestige, and philosophy had drawn her and countless others to its silent halls. But as with so many hopefuls, she had been turned away for reasons never disclosed. It was that day she had met Pelagius, and in the time since, some seven months, she had begun to think it was no mere coincidence.
Not that it really mattered if he had been aware she'd been rejected from the Acropolis. He'd still taken her in and had taught her far more than the Acropolis had dared promise. Why the fools there had dismissed such a mind as his was utterly beyond her. They didn't even have the sense to ensure he had left the town that lay in the shadow of their grand castle. No, he plied a simple trade under a false name but an hour's gentle walk from their door.
A trade that he was the pioneer of. And what had been slow work with many experiments was now a reliable business that occupied much of their days. So much power was held in the Acropolis. Yet, the people in its shadow suffered maladies easily removed by a simple powder, paste, or poultice.
'What a waste the Academy allowed itself to be.' had swiftly become a steady mental refrain in Laurel's mind. Collecting the leaves into a jar, she grabbed it and the pot to bring them back to Pelagius. As she stood, her head swam gently. 'Perhaps she'd been sitting too long.' She thought, even as her right hand became cold and numb. Looking at it, she saw a few drops of blood across her knuckles as the pot fell from her hand, black soil coating her fingers.
'Don't touch its sap.' Pelagius' voice echoed in her mind as her arm fell limp, her veins turning a dark purple under her fair skin.
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