Last time we saw BEN… (click for recap)
Ben remains in the shelter alone while Peter goes out hunting. While he is napping, an old man discovers the shelter and Ben. Seth, the old man, mistakes Ben for someone named Eli, a friend he is looking for, and asks questions about the farm and its prior owners. A strange feeling comes over Ben, and he sees images in his mind–it seems the old man can see his memories too. More than that, Seth knows things he shouldn’t. He knows about Peter and Ben’s Burn. Seth calls him Perseus. As Ben grows uneasy, Seth asks him to tell Peter he is sorry, and to give him something: a memory. Seth lunges for Ben and grabs him. When he does, Ben sees a memory of Seth in Windrose City. He sees Seth sacrifice himself to save Peter, his son. As the memory fades, Ben’s memories come flooding back, and Ben passes out…
The trap door scraped open.
Ben fought to lift his eyelids as Peter climbed down the ladder with two field-dressed rabbits and two pelts slung over his shoulder. He shook rain from his head and arms and shrugged off his damp jacket. Peter lay the pelts down on an overturned crate and found a dish for the rabbits.
With the return of Ben’s memories, came also fear and her red and smiling lips. Bitterness snarled in the corner and licked his paws, and dread stank, filling Ben’s nostrils of rotting leaves and meat. The room felt crowded. Hot. Stuffy.
Even with his eyes open, all Ben could see were Anda and Mica’s faces before him like ghosts. Reminiscence wept, running her hands through her hair, mourning the loss of so many—an entire village. Too many lives. A heavy, sick feeling settled in the pit of his belly. They were gone, and he had failed to keep them safe.
Mica. She was…. He couldn’t finish that thought, all he could see was the transport burning under a red sun.
A feeling like poison, acid, and aching, filled his throat. Wrath slipped her bloody hand around his neck and squeezed. Seth, the Unseen Prophet, was responsible for all of this. He had brought the Watchers and the soldiers here.
The realization felt like a fist on his chest, but the hatred he felt for Seth conflicted with the memory he had received from him. The tender-hearted and broken man felt strangely familiar to Ben. The overwhelming urge Seth felt to protect his family was the same ache that shot through Ben when he thought about Mica and Anda.
“We’ve got dinner,” Peter said, his attention on the rabbits. “I wasn’t gone that long,” he added when he saw the empty food crate.
“Peter,” Ben sat up but nearly collapsed again as his vision swam. His head pounded and throbbed and ached. As he looked at Peter, he saw his friend through new eyes, and realized that he and Peter were no longer the same with a pang of jealousy: Peter’s father had saved him. Peter’s father had come back for him. Their shared history and loneliness was over.
Peter began to prepare the rabbits. “I didn’t see any soldiers, but let’s wait. Just to make sure. I’d say we can get out of here in a couple of days. Then we should try the northern lakes, or the southern border— southern border’s easiest to get through, but—”
“We were too late,” Ben said, breaking Peter’s ramble. “And I… I let them…”
Burn. He couldn’t say it.
The painful and solid and real and completely unavoidable reality that his family was gone, and he couldn’t save them slammed into him. Mica and Anda had made choices that led to their deaths. And he wasn’t able to save them.
Peter looked up at him from the rabbits, his golden eyes startled. His eyes were the same color as Seth’s.
“Anda,” Ben said. “Cassandra, Aaron. The village… they’re all gone… and Mica, she’s… she’s….” He definitely couldn’t say it. At least Anda and Cassandra were alive. They might be Burned, but they were alive. Mica was dead for sure.
Peter went white. “What did you say?”
“Ben?” Peter stared.
“Yeah, Peter. I remember, and—” Ben sat up. His head throbbed with the movement.
Peter dropped the knife to the dirt. He was white under his red and tangled beard. “How is this possible? This isn’t possible… there’s no way…. This doesn’t happen.”
“Well, it did.”
“But it’s not possible.”
Ben shrugged, “Apparently, it is. I remember…. Oh, and what the hell?” He picked up The Odyssey and waved it at Peter. “Do you know how scared shit-less we were about this? I blamed it on Mica—but it was you. She was angry at me over this for months. Months.“ Even saying her name brought a lump to his throat.
“Yeah, but she wasn’t as annoying those few months, was she?” Peter asked with a mournful smile.
“Jerk.” Ben grinned, but he saw that Peter was rubbing his scarred palm.
Peter’s face fell. “No one remembers. In three hundred years, no one has remembered after a Burn.”
“I remember,” Ben said and tossed the stolen book onto the cot next to Peter. “And there’s more….”
“If you remember, then the Burn didn’t work. You didn’t get the full dose, or it was a bad dart—something, I don’t know. There’s an explanation for this—there has to be. No one remembers,” Peter said, shaking his head.
“It wasn’t something wrong with the Burn. I really didn’t remember, you saw me. Someone restored my memories. I think….”
Peter shook his head like he was shaking water from his hair and beard.
“While you were gone. It was…” he stopped and stared at Peter. “Algol is falling,” he said instead.
A strange expression covered Peter’s face, like frost spreading over a leaf. “Who was it?”
“You know who it was.”
“Who was it?” he asked again, his voice harder and deeper this time.
“The Unseen Prophet.”
“Where is he?” Peter asked, jumping up from the cot.
“He just left, I think. I passed out.”
Peter ran for the ladder.
“Wait, stop! Peter, where are you going?” Ben asked, but Peter was already scrambling up the ladder and wrenching the trap door open. He scampered out of the shelter and ran out of the barn.
Ben started after him but saw Peter’s wooden figurine lying in the dust. He snatched it up and shoved it into his pocket. Then he clumsily followed Peter up and out the shelter, cursing under his breath and struggling with his crutch, not daring to raise his voice in case soldiers were nearby.
Finally, out of the shelter, Ben breathed deeply the scent of earth and water and green. It was good to breathe freely after being stuck underground for days. The musty smell of the barn triggered pleasant memories of cool, wet days and warm fires. But he chased after Peter, ignoring the flood of memories that rushed at him. He hobbled out of the barn and into a world still wet and dripping from days of rain and after Peter, who ran straight for West Six.
Peter soon outpaced him, but Ben struggled on alone through the mud and the deep and the silence of the forest. The very air was heavy with moisture and broken raindrops. After so many days in the shelter, his leg ached from disuse. Soon he passed the charred Wildflower. Its windows, like black and empty eyes, seemed to watch him as he passed. Ben kept going trying not to look at the remains of the inn. He emerged into the wide field surrounding the village, the tall and dark grass rustled and unsettled in the breeze like a sea churning before a storm. The sun hung veiled behind the smoke and receding clouds on the horizon.
When he saw the village, now a stinking sore on the earth, Ben almost stopped. Few buildings remained intact. Most had been burned and broken by flames. Some were only dark chasms with spikes of brick where chimneys used to be. Houses like mangled and broken skeletons lined the streets. The stench was palpable.
Ben continued on, searching for Peter. He searched the village, scorched buildings, and down the road that eventually wound its way to the mountains and beyond. He crested the small hill on the far side of the village and saw the open plain before him, vast and pale and empty, and Peter staring off into the distance. He wondered how long Peter had been staring at the dark horizon. The road slithered its way across the sheet of cold earth without a traveler in sight. Somewhere, invisible beyond the plains and hills, stood the mountains, red under the setting sun.
The stars began to glitter in the darkness behind them.
“He’s gone then,” Peter said. His breath making a fog around his head.
Ben finally caught up to him and struggled for air, leg aching, his hand burning from gripping the crutch.
“Algol is falling,” Ben said. “Cassandra said that to you when you first saw her. What does it mean?”
Peter took a deep breath. “Something my family says. It’s our call to fight. Algol is the demon star. It represents the fall of Nova and the coming of Perseus. Cetus is Loraine. Algol is falling. Perseus is coming. Cetus will die.”
Ben swallowed. “And the Unseen Prophet?”
“He’s my father, Seth.”
He stared at Peter, seeing him as his friend, a traitor’s son, an orphan, and yet also as Seth saw him: a beloved son. A reason for breathing and withstanding pain and loneliness. A reminder of failures.
Peter rubbed his palm. “Seth, the Unseen Prophet, son of Jonah, the Warrior Prophet. Seth, father of Peter, the Last Prophet.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked. He remembered Cassandra listing prophets. They had strange names, like Mountain Prophet, Water Prophet, Walking Prophet. But he didn’t remember a Last Prophet. Was Peter why she hadn’t named the final prophet?
“I am the Last Prophet,” Peter said. “And I am a useless Prophet. All the prophets before me since Juliette herself have had strange gifts. All but me. I am a prophet who can’t dream dreams, see visions, or even predict the weather. Can you imagine? I was born to be a prophet, and I can’t even tell you if it might rain tomorrow. No idea.”
Ben struggled to get his head around what Peter was saying. If Peter was who he said, then there were stories about his family. His family—his father, was related to Juliette, the first prophet. Cassandra’s words rang in his mind, and fear hung her arm around his neck. All the prophets have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed.
And Peter was a prophet.
“I don’t understand,” Ben said, not wanting to imagine the future.
“We should go. It’s not safe here,” Peter said, rousing himself from somewhere distant and strange. But neither of them moved, they just stared at the sunset.
“They were after him all those years ago, weren’t they? The day the Watchers came. When they killed my mother, they were here for Seth.”
Peter hesitated, then nodded.
“Why does Loraine want him?”
“Because she believes that he will be the one to find Perseus.”
“Perseus isn’t real.”
“Tell that to Loraine. She’s been superstitious, whispering about prophets and ghosts and the future for over three hundred years.”
“Why was Seth here that day?”
“My mother was from West Six. We came here that day so that I could meet my grandmother.”
“You were here?” Ben asked in surprise.
“But someone recognized my mother and turned us in. They sent Watchers for Seth, but he wasn’t here. He abandoned us, and they killed my mother instead.”
A crow sliced across the sky and cawed.
“It’s not safe. We should go,” Peter said.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Ben held his breath, waiting for an answer. He stared at the back of Peter’s head, his braid lifted in the breeze, sweat glued his shirt to his back, and his hands clenched at his sides. They had both dashed out without coats, and the wind was starting to bite.
“We need to go,” Peter said, still staring at the red sunset. “Soldiers could still be around. And we will get them back. I promise. I will find Cassie and Anda. No one gets left behind. Not anymore.” Peter turned from the horizon to head for home and stopped. His eyes went wide.
Ben turned, his heart racing. Titus, his nose red as a berry, stood behind them, staring at them. His head had been shaved, and he wore a gray Burner jumpsuit, but it was definitely him. Titus stared at them with shining golden eyes.