Last time we saw BEN… (click for recap)
Ben and Peter dodge and fight off Burners in the ruins of West Six, Burners who were once their friends and neighbors. As Ben and Peter hide out in what is left of Viola’s home, Ben learns that Viola was Peter’s grandmother. To his surprise, he also learns that Astrid was Peter’s mother, and she used to live in Ben’s house. Uncertainly, Ben tells Peter about the memory Seth gave him and asks how Seth could restore memories. Peter says that as a Prophet, Seth could only give memories. In the ruins of Viola’s home, Ben wonders what will Peter’s fate will be if all other Prophets were killed by the Prophet Killer. He decides that will not be Peter’s fate. In the mud and ruin of West Six, Ben and Peter charge the Burners blocking their escape and…
Ben followed Peter as best he could, charging the Burners, his adrenaline surging through his limbs. Peter collided with the closest Burner, catching him off guard, and they fell to the slippery, squishy ground. Ben recognized the man. Adam: the West Six Peace Official. As Ben turned his attention on the second Burner, the figure turned to him, and he recognized her in an instant.
It was Agatha. He hadn’t recognized her without her long waving white-white hair.
He knew what he was supposed to do, but this was Agatha. This was the woman who had loved his mother, had taught Mica and Anda how to braid their hair, had given him spoons to lick cake batter off of when times were good. He’d seen her change from a young woman to one with wrinkles pulling gently at the corners of her eyes, and strong hands calloused with age and use. How could he ever hurt her?
He flung his crutch away, determined not to hurt her, and ducked as he made contact. His shoulder barreled into her sternum, and they both tumbled to the muddy road.
Agatha struggled, her hands scratching and pulling at his arms and face to get him off of her. Ben had hoped that knocking her to the ground would be enough, but she squealed and fought back. She kneed him in the gut and kicked his bad leg. He fell to the side, gasping and grabbing at his knee. Agatha jumped to her feet and sprang for him, but Ben kicked her away with his good leg. She careened through the air and rolled off of the road in a splash of mud and weeds.
Ben struggled to find his crutch, but it was out of reach. Even if he could have grabbed it, he knew he couldn’t use it. Agatha was the last link to his mother. He cried out to her, desperate for her to remember him, but she looked at him as fury, purple and covered in mud and scars, screeched over her shoulder, and Ben saw her for what she was—a ghost. The thought filled him with rage.
There were too many ghosts in this world. And he was done with ghosts.
Agatha jumped up, her mouth bloodied against her white-white skin. Ben guessed that she had bitten her tongue as she’d fallen. Fury shrieked and clapped his bandaged hands. Agatha grimaced, and then lunged at Ben, her hands reaching. The anger in her eyes frightened him, and he pushed her tense and grasping fingers away from his neck. He knew that Burners don’t remember, that she was a ghost of the person he knew and loved, but the urge to convince her that he was her friend was overwhelming. He had to make her understand.
“No. No, Agatha, it’s me—it’s Ben!” he yelled, his voice cracking and breaking. He reached for her face. As he touched her cheek and stared into her fiery eyes, that shifting surging watery feeling swept over his mind.
Agatha froze, outlined in the fading sun behind her. Ben gasped. He could barely see it in the sunset, but her eyes glowed a dark and inky blue, dark like blackberries, deep like wells. She stilled, then froze.
A wash of color and light and warmth filled his vision, and images flicked by faster and faster.
Warmth as Titus smiled. Flour. Brightness as Esther laughed. The smell of lemon cookies. Soft aching and sadness as Mica and Anda walked by and waved and laughed, their voices bright like sunshine on glass. An emptiness deep in her belly. A smudge of chocolate. Cheerful bubbling as Ben traded jokes with Titus in the back of the bakery—
Ben flinched and pulled his hand back. “Agatha?”
She stared down at him, and her eyebrows furrowed in thought. She opened her mouth and struggled to say something, but winced and swallowed. “What… what happened… where is—”
But her head jerked sideways, and she fell to the ground. Peter stood eclipsed in the sun holding Ben’s crutch.
“The hell did you do?” Ben screamed. “She… she was…. Shit, Peter.”
“Hey! That wasn’t Agatha. And she wasn’t going to stop.” He knelt beside Agatha. He rolled her onto her back and leaned his ear close to her face. “She’s still breathing. So’s he.” He nodded to Adam, who lay on the other side of the road in the dead and rotting grass.
Ben wasn’t too broken up about Adam’s fate, but that confused dark blue flash in Agatha’s eyes had startled and unnerved him, and he shook. “Did you hear her? She was asking… what was that?”
“What are you talking about? Come on, get up—move.” Peter pulled Ben to his feet and shoved his crutch into his hands.
“But she was…”
Together they hurried over the empty field. Peter kept pausing to look behind them and let Ben catch up as he tripped and stumbled over divots and tangles of wet grass, but they managed to cross the field unseen.
Inside the safety of the wood, they slowed and moved carefully, keeping their eyes out for Burners and soldiers.
Ben breathed a sigh of relief. At their slower pace, he could step carefully. Hopefully, he wouldn’t trip and bang his shins too much. He stepped gingerly, his crutch sinking down into the wet dirt and leaves. Peter held back cold and dark, rain-slicked branches as they passed, and let them silently slip back in place.
“What were you talking about back there?” Peter whispered after they had walked in silence for a while without the sound of pursuing footsteps.
Ben stepped softly to avoid piles of leaves and dead twigs, his eyes shifting and watching for danger, but his crutch still smacked tree roots and fallen branches.
“Agatha. I think she… nothing,” he said, changing his mind. He remembered Agatha’s blue, glowing eyes with a flicker of fear and anticipation. And that strange watery feeling, he had no idea what it was.
How could he even explain it? Besides, he wasn’t sure why it frightened him, but it did.
And he also knew that he had seen Agatha’s memories. Her memories weren’t gone for good. They were still there.
The idea that a Burner wasn’t completely gone was too big and too bright to fully comprehend, but Ben focused on it like it was the sun itself. His mind raced with the implications. If she remembered, the Agatha wasn’t lost. Maybe no one was.
A rustle behind them. They both turned, startled, just in time to see a deer jump from behind a trembling bush and dart away, disappearing into the shadowed wood. They walked on in silence.
“We should wait until the soldiers and Burners are gone,” Peter said after a while. “We’ll stay in the shelter for a couple of days and then head for the White Mountains and the Unseen.”
“Yes,” Peter said. “They will help us find Cassie and Anda.”
“You really think they can find them?”
“They found me, so they’re our best bet.”
“Why don’t you trust the Unseen?”
“Who said I don’t trust them? They’re our best option for finding Cassie and Anda. One way or another, we’ll save them. Promise.”
Something warm and bright filled Ben, like being filled from top to toe with a golden, glowing light.
“What did he say?” Peter asked, and Ben caught his breath. He knew who Peter was asking about, and he didn’t want to talk about it.
“Seth. What did he say? Haven’t seen him in years. How… was he?”
“He… he seemed…” Ben struggled to find the right word. “Not well.”
“What do you mean?”
Ben hesitated. “I mean, he had a lot of scars and stuff. It looked like… looked like they’d tortured him.”
Peter nodded and was quiet. Ben remembered with dread Cassandra saying that was what happened to prophets. They were tortured and killed.
“What did he say?” Peter asked.
“A lot of stuff.”
“I mean, he said a lot of weird stuff.”
“Like… he knew about the Blind. Said that it wasn’t very strong. He thought that I was someone else. Called me, Eli. Thought Eli used to live at our place. But that’s not right. It was your family, and then mine—there was no one named Eli. Do you know who he was talking about?” Ben turned and found Peter looking at him with an odd expression. “What?”
Peter turned away from Ben. “What else did he say?”
“He said that he was going to find the Fox. Do you know what that means?”
“Means he’s still obsessed with Perseus.”
Ben caught his breath. “That’s just a myth.”
“Not to Seth. Our family goes back to the beginning of Nova, like Cassandra told you. All the way back to Juliette. She was supposed to have seen the future. Something about rocks, wells, stars, Foxes and ghosts. Our family is supposed to keep Perseus safe.”
“And you’re the Last Prophet?”
A rustle in the bushes in front of them.
They froze. Ben’s heart thundered.
A rabbit darted from one bush to another. Ben let out a breath, and Peter nodded at him. And they kept moving.
Ben wondered if Peter was going to answer his question, and almost hoped he wouldn’t.
“I’m from a line of prophets,” Peter finally said. “I can trace my family line back three hundred years to Juliette herself. My grandfather, Jonah, the Warrior Prophet, had visions and called me the Last Prophet. So they call me a prophet.”
“But… they call you a prophet, what do you mean?” he asked. “Are you a prophet or not?”
Peter went silent. The only sound is the wood was the wind rustling leaves and small birds flitting past. “I shouldn’t be called a prophet, because I have no gifts. Remember? But Seth did.”
“Like giving me his memory,” Ben said.
“Yes. Memory sharing and manipulation. He was not blessed with prophecy. Only two prophets in the last three hundred years have been blessed with prophecy, Juliette and Jonah. Everyone else has had other gifts. Everyone except me. In three hundred years I am the only Wells who is ungifted. Who does not display any significant ability to do anything unusual other than be spectacularly bad at poker. I am a dreamer who can’t sleep. Or a painter who can’t see. A prophet who cannot prophesy. How’s that for irony?”
Ben went quiet. His leg ached, and Ben felt he understood. A protector who couldn’t protect. “But Juliette and Jonah could see the future?” Ben asked.
“Again with all the questions.”
“I like getting all the facts.”
“Yeah, well, it can be a bit….”
Peter raised an eyebrow at him. “Irritating.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry for you. But could they really see the future?” he asked again.
Despite himself, Ben almost laughed. It was all too much, and Peter wasn’t supposed to believe in things like that. “That’s not possible,” Ben said.
“Neither is waking up from a Burn.”
“All right, I grant you that is a little… odd… but… I mean, come on. No one can see the future.”
Ben made a frustrated gesture. “Because if they did, they would change things. I know I would.”
“That’s not the way prophecy works. You can’t change it.”
“The future is written.”
“No. We direct our futures. Change things if we want to. I make my own future.”
“Well,” Peter said slowly. “I’m just saying prophecy is different. It’s showing you a certainty.”
“How is that different?”
Peter ran his hand over his beard. “I don’t know. I think it’s like… knowing that someone is going to do something. That person still has a choice, but since you know them so well, you can predict it. Mica always cheats at cards. She has a choice, each time, to not cheat at cards. But she still does. We can predict it because we know her.”
Ben shook his head. “I don’t buy that. We can choose,” he said, but Peter was right about Mica.
“All I know is that Juliette foresaw Loraine’s fall by Perseus. There is hope.”
“Perseus, now there’s a load of crap. Perseus is nothing but a bunch of stars.”
Peter gave him an odd look, but it only lasted a moment. “Didn’t Seth say anything about Perseus?” he asked.
Ben swallowed. “He might have.”
“And… you said he was obsessed. What does it matter what he said?”
“Obsessed is one thing, crazy is different. What did he say about Perseus?”
“Now who’s asking too many questions.”
Peter gave him a long-suffering look, and Ben almost felt bad.
“What did he say?” Peter asked again.
“It doesn’t matter.” Ben walked faster, his crutch catching on weeds and roots, but Peter easily kept pace, and Ben hated him for it.
“Ben, what were you asking back there?” Peter put a hand on his elbow, stopping him. “What happened with Agatha?”
He flushed. He didn’t want to tell Peter, but the words rushed out of him like water. “She… she remembered. I remembered for her, or with her. I don’t know. But I saw her memories. Peter, she remembered.”
Peter crinkled his brow at him. “You sure?”
“Yeah, but it’s nuts.” Ben shrugged his hand away and kept walking. He knew that he had seen her memories, but he didn’t know why or how. “I don’t know what happened, but maybe the Unseen can explain it.”
“No. We’re not going to the Unseen anymore,” Peter said.
Ben stopped and turned to Peter. “But you said they could help us find Anda and Cassandra.”
“We don’t need them anymore. You don’t need them.”
“Of course we do. We have nothing. They can help us.”
“We have Perseus.”
Fear poked her head out from behind a tree and smiled at Ben. He laughed. “Ok, Peter, now you’re starting to sound like Seth.”
“He said you were Perseus, didn’t he?”
“All right, you got me. The crazy man said I was the savior of Nova. I should have told you sooner. Shame on me.”
“But you are.”
Ben laughed again and kept walking. “Come on, we have to keep moving. Soldiers, remember?”
“Seth was here because you’re Perseus. He left to find the Fox so that you could end this.”
“Right. Because that’s a thing. A Fox is going to help me take down Loraine.”
Peter stopped, rolled up his sleeve, and held his forearm out to Ben. Over the years, Ben had caught glimpses of Peter’s tattoos, but Peter had never shown them willingly. Despite himself, Ben paused to look. Peter’s arm laced with faded blue, green, and red colors. Red foxes, blue waves, green ghosts.
“Here, right here,” Peter said, pointing at the fox staring up at Ben. “This is the Fox. We don’t know what it means exactly, but Juliette saw a Fox, and when the Fox comes, then Perseus will destroy Loraine.” He pointed to the Eternal Eye. “And then the Unseen will help Perseus free the ghosts.” He pointed first to another eye, then Perseus, then a green ghost. “It’s all here.”
“And what does this prove?” Ben asked. “Nothing. Stories, myths.”
“Ben, this is hope. You can do this without them. And if you’re Perseus…” the big man paused. “If you’re Perseus…. then I—”
But Ben knew what he was thinking. If he was Perseus, then Peter didn’t fail. If he was Perseus, then Peter had fulfilled his purpose, he had kept Perseus safe. Something bitter and rancid raised itself in Ben.
“This isn’t about you,” Ben snapped. “The Unseen are real. They have resources, and they have spies and contacts throughout Nova. They can help me find Anda and Cassie. This is about them, and we’re going to go to the Unseen, get their help, figure out what the hell is wrong with me, and then save Anda and Cassie, got it?” He turned and kept limping through the woods.
“You don’t even know where you’re going.”
“I know enough. I head West. I get through the Empty Places, and I find the White Mountains.”
“And then what?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they’ll find me. But if you’re still tagging along, maybe you’ll be tired of walking and point me in the right direction. Either way, I’m walking West with you or without you. I’m going to find them.”
“Fine,” Peter said. “Where you go, I go. I follow Perseus.”
Ben waved him off and pressed forward. The sooner they got out of West Six, the better.
Finally, they emerged from the forest, and the farmhouse came into view. They started across the field towards the barn. But staring at the house, Ben remembered something else that Seth had said.
“He also said something about stars and Foxes and a… a lab under the house….” He trailed off and paused. Suddenly he remembered his father slipping down into the basement when he thought no one was looking and locking the door behind him. He remembered him staying down there for hours and hours and hours… he remembered finding the door nailed shut after their mother disappeared, and putting the little table in front of it.
What if there really was a lab under there? What would that mean?
Suddenly the farmhouse looked different to Ben, as if it had secrets in the walls and a past that he knew nothing about. This was no longer just his home. It was now a mysterious and sacred stranger looking back at him, a mystic with answers behind a veil.
Ben started for the house.
“Where are you going?” Peter asked.
“We’re going to the Unseen City to find Cassie and Anda, but first, I have to check something.”