Chapter 3 : Chapter Two.
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Benjamin Caligari, c. 12 years ago
The little boy watched as people lined up in his town square to wait for the number to be called. It was his dad’s last year, and for that, he was thankful. He didn’t understand what was going on sometimes, but he knew that whatever happened to the people whose numbers were called weren’t good. Just last week his neighbour’s daughter had been selected, and they had yet to hear back from her. His mom had told him that she’d be alright, though, because she was healthy. He hadn’t asked her then since his mother was fragile enough already after losing her parents, but he wondered what that would mean if his father’s number was ever picked.
His father had been ailing since he’d been chosen the year before, and all the boy knew was that it had to be awfully unfair that his father’s name was put into the drawing again so soon at all. Then his father had fallen at his job working construction on someone’s home and for the first time the little boy had thought about what his life would be like without his father. He didn’t want to cry, but the thought of not having him forced the tears from his eyes. His father had never been the same since he’d come back the last time.
‘Seventy-eight,’ the smooth, lilthe voice of the announcer called out, and the peoples’ eyes snapped towards the little boy. It wasn’t him that the number belonged to, no, he was still too young. And yet, somehow the little boy knew that in this moment, he wished he were old enough to volunteer to go instead of his father. The little boy somehow knew that after this, his father wouldn’t be coming back to them. He looked toward his mother, who already had silent tears falling down her cheeks. She opened her mouth as if to say something, but quick words from his father cut her short.
‘Julia, don’t,’ his father said sadly, and looked towards the little boy. ‘Someone needs to care for Ben.’
His mother nodded, and the tears flowed more freely down her cheeks. Somehow the little boy knew that his mother loved his father so much she had almost volunteered to take his place, but she couldn’t because she had him.
His father started walking toward the front of the crowd slowly, frequently glancing back at his family for a last glimpse at what he would never see again.
Suddenly, everything broke inside the little boy. ‘You can’t take my dad! You can’t do this! Please, not my dad! Dad!’ he screamed over and over again and crumpled on the ground. The rest of the crowd looked on him and his mother with pity, but nobody said a word. Finally, the announcer told his mother to shut him up, or they would. She took him in her arms and cradled him until he stopped screaming and his father called out his name one more time.
‘Ben!’ he shouted over the rest of the murmurs travelling throughout the crowd. ‘Never forget how much I love you. Take care of your mother.’
The last memory Ben ever had of his father was hazy, through tear blurred eyes, but it was something he never forgot. The vampires came with the news that his father hadn’t made it a few months later, and Ben had been the one who cared for his mother during the grieving process. He was only seven, and yet that day he learned he would never again have the luxury of truly being a child.
Ben’s eyes snapped open, awakening him from the memory that constantly plagued his dreams. He knew they were more than dreams, that they were nightmares, but whatever it was it didn’t change the fact that all of it was true. He reached up to touch his face, and wasn’t surprised at the wetness that covered his cheeks. The vampires had taken everything from him, his father when he was just a boy, and the renegades had killed his mother right in front of him only a couple of weeks ago. He’d outrun them after they’d brutally snapped her neck, but she had made sure he was safe. He knew it was out of love she sacrificed herself, but Ben couldn’t fathom life without her. He’d spent his entire life looking after her, and now she was gone. They’d never even known he was there, watching. They didn’t know he’d memorised each and every one of their faces and that someday, he would get his revenge on them, but for now, he needed to preserve his own life, and that meant finding the rebellion army.
There, he would be safe. Of course, safe in this world was a relative term, but he would take what he could get. The tears began to fall again silently, as he mourned his mother and the sacrifice she had made for him. She knew they were coming, and she knew they had complete and utter destruction on their minds, but she had been brave.
His mother was all Benjamin had left after what the royals had done to his father. His mother was a witch, and yet even that couldn’t save her from the terrible and meaningless death she’d had. They’d hid her powers when Benjamin’s father had been alive, and once he was gone, Ben made sure nobody else found out either. Then, when he showed signs of taking after his mother, she helped him keep them hidden as well, but still taught him everything she knew.
After his father had gone, Benjamin had vowed to make him proud of his ability to take care of his mother. He’d become a professional archer, being the favoured one to take down any animals left in the forests for meat for his tiny village. He’d heard of rumours here and there about a band of renegade wizards who were planning an underground rebellion. He had planned to join, once he was sure his mother would be provided for, but of course her death had forced his hand, now. He swiped a hand across his face, trying to rid the water from his cheeks and only partially succeeding. He half wondered if perhaps his mother was in a better place now. At least she didn’t have to live in this world anymore.
When he had fled, he’d taken only the word of mouth of which direction to head to find the rebellion, his stake and silver filings his mother had been saving in case of an emergency, and the crossbow and arrows made by his father before he had been murdered. He’d shot and killed animals for food, but now that he was sure he was nearing the King’s castle, there wasn’t much food left for him to have. The vampires who didn’t have the luxury of participating in the weekly drawings had made sure of that. His only hope was to find them, and find them soon. He wanted to wipe every last vampire he met off the face of this earth, if only to avenge the death of his mother and father and he promised himself he would.
A noise in the distant stretch of forest startled him out of his half-made camp. Thinking it might be a source of food, he followed as stealthily as he could until he got to the site of the noise he’d heard. It wasn’t any animal; it was an army of vampires, and they were headed his way. He stepped backwards quickly, trying not to trip on any fallen twigs or roots from trees and took off. They hadn’t seen him and as long as they didn’t smell him before he could get far enough away, he would be safe.
The forest blurred into one shade of green mixed with brown as he pushed himself as fast as he could go; only stopping slightly to pick up his things where he’d left them at the makeshift campsite. If they did catch up to him, at least he had a way to defend himself. He’d rather die fighting than become a meal for any one of those monsters. And he knew if he had any chance of meeting up with the rebellion, he needed to keep them as far away as possible. He knew that just a bite would be enough to take away his powers, and even if he were ever able to get away from them, the rebellion would never take in a useless wizard, no matter what prowess he had with a bow and arrow.
As he ran, Benjamin pondered what the army of guards were doing this deep into the woods at all. It had to be important; since Benjamin was fairly sure the guards he’d seen were of the king’s personal army. And Zane Vondran, what in Mother Nature’s name could he be doing with them? As far as he knew, the privileged boy who had been selected as child tribute to live his life among filthy rich vampires in the king’s courts never left the castle. He was a coward that way; he never did want to see the utter destruction around him that he’d left. After all, then he might feel a shred of remorse for turning his back on his people. Ben knew the man hadn’t been able to choose his life since he’d been taken as a child and raised to live with vampires, but he would still rather be dead than to have immortal life in such a sickening way. Since he’d been taken just a short eighteen years ago, Zane Vondran was a relatively new addition to the ranks of the vampires, but Ben would still kill him if he’d had the opportunity. He’d made his choice to take the bite at seventeen, even though he knew what the consequences would be. He should have done the honourable thing and chosen to die. Now, he had no soul just like the rest of them, and Ben hoped that somehow, someday, Zane Vondran would be able to see what his kind was doing to the world he’d left behind; to the people he’d once called family.
The only reason Ben could think of that guards would be out searching is if someone important had gone missing. He’d been out of the real world for weeks now, so any news of that would have to wait until he found the rebels. That thought struck a panic in him; what if the vampires were looking for the rebel base because the rebellion army had taken somebody important to the king? Surely the rebels weren’t looking for that kind of trouble, were they? Any sane person knew the only way to take out the tyrannical rule of King Pollock would be to convince basically all the humans and wizards alike to rise up and fight, and if they were allowing themselves to get caught up in a silly game of kidnapping royals, they were sure to lose the war before it had even started.
Still, Benjamin had to make sure they knew who was looking for them, before it was too late. Maybe they could still release their captive into the forest to be found before the guards found them and save themselves. He forced himself to go faster, even though he was out of breath, for his mission to find the underground rebellion had become even more urgent than ever before.
He kept on in the direction the rumours he’d heard pointed towards, and didn’t stop. Finally, completely exhausted and out of breath, Benjamin arrived at what his sources had described. It was a nondescript place, completely belonging to the outer borders of the forest, but still Ben knew he’d found the right place. If there was anywhere the rebellion would be trying to lick its wounds after the defeat that had cost them so many lives, it would be here. The cave offered them instant protection and shelter from all types of different things, but most important of all; vampires. Even they wouldn’t go blindly into a cave without knowing their enemy’s layout in case the army had more members than they thought. It was perfect.
Ben stopped at the entrance to the cave, still breathing heavily. He spotted her a second before she saw him, and he blurted out, “You’ve got to release whoever you’ve captured, the army is coming for you!” The woman’s face twisted slightly for a second, and Benjamin realised how bad what he’d said sounded. He half anticipated what came next, but nothing could have prepared him for the brute strength the woman displayed as she promptly marched over to him and punched him square in the jaw. It was a knock-out punch. He saw stars and barely managed to stave off the darkness as she dragged him into the cage, talked angrily with a tall, brown-haired man, and threw him into a cage. He didn’t even recognise there was anyone else in there with him, even though he should of, since he’d known they’d had someone important in captivity already. He allowed the darkness to claim him as his eyes fluttered shut.
3 Days Earlier
The atmosphere in the cave was akin to that of a funeral for someone who departed unexpectedly from this world after the news Aurelia had brought. The unfeeling, grey clouds blanketing the sky like on a usual day seemed to threaten a storm, though those too were rare. They seemed to grow heavier with the knowledge that one of their own was in the hands of the vampires. Nobody smiled, nobody laughed, but strangest of all, nobody cried either.
They formed a circle to discuss their next move, but the truth was, though they were a rebellion, they knew they were far from ready to storm to the castle. And that was where Rosetta had been taken, that they were sure of, since all the lucky winners were sent there to make sure none of the royals ever had to leave the castle’s safe guarding for any reason. Not only were there the vampires to deal with, there were also their personal brute army, the werewolves. The rebellion wasn’t quite sure how Pollock had managed it, but he’d created a potion back in the Third War that allowed the wolves to force a change whenever they wanted, or rather, whenever Pollock wanted. The rebels hated the king more than any other man, but they had to acknowledge that he was in power for a reason. The vampire was a genius, and because of that, the rebels knew how vastly unprepared to launch a full-scale attack on the castle they were.
Delilah had been the first to respond the panicked cry that had emerged from one of her most trusted friends. She’d got up and ran to her, putting her arms around her shoulders. She’d expected it when Aurelia reached around and clung onto her for dear life, as if she were the solution to all their problems, so she wasn’t put off balance when her dear friend shifted all her weight onto her.
Carmen had been the first to speak. “What do you mean, they’ve taken Rosetta?” She screamed it, and it echoed around the cave, the sound never seeming to fade, just the haunting name being said over and over again, until someone counteracted it.
“Let Aurelia tell us what happened,” Beau tried to say as calmly as possible, but he too was reeling inside. He peered intensely at Carmen’s face, wondering what drastic measures she would take to save the human girl. It was known that Carmen regarded Rosetta as the little sister she’d never had.
“Hell no, Beau, I can’t just sit around and wait for her to recover! I’ve heard enough! We need to get her back!” Carmen was inconsolable. She wouldn’t cry, because her first defence was anger. It was always first and foremost anger. Rosetta had been the only one to bring out her soft side, because she reminded Carmen so much of the sister nobody knew she had lost, Rosalinda. She’d lost her sister to the vampire’s tyrannical rule, too, and she’d be damned if she let it happen a second time.
“Would you just calm down for one second, Carmen?” Delilah snapped, and Carmen and Beau both stared at her. That was completely unexpected, coming from her. Carmen considered the possibility she was taking this new loss much harder than she was letting on.
Now, Aurelia lifted her head out of Delilah’s lap to speak. “I was too late to get her out, I’m so sorry Carmen. She was... Chosen.”
“What do you mean she was Chosen, Aurelia? I thought that wouldn’t ever happen, not with her... condition,” Beau spoke up before Carmen could go into hysterics again. He was losing her, and he knew it. She wanted action, she wanted revenge, and this was the perfect opportunity to get it.
“It seems they were content to overlook that,” Aurelia said sadly. What the vampires would do to get their blood was extraordinarily despicable, even as much as taking a helpless young girl. Nobody spoke for a moment while they processed the events, and it was only broken when Delilah spoke again.
“I hate to say it, but don’t you think Rosetta sort of knew what she was getting herself into when she decided to side with us?” Delilah asked, bringing up a point all of them may have thought but had dismissed immediately since they were completely against letting her go to her own death. She took the girl’s disappearance harder than she’d let on, hence the angry tone she’d used on Carmen earlier, but she had
to consider all the facts and the safety of all her friends, not just the life of one girl.
“Just what are you saying, Delilah?” Carmen hissed angrily. “That we should just leave her to fend for herself? We’re the reason she has less than favourable chances to survive as it is!”
The rest of the circle bowed their heads, since they knew it was the truth. Rosetta had only been a young teenager when the reason she couldn’t walk properly had happened. And they all knew it was their faults. She had taken the brunt of the attack so they could escape, and she’d paid dearly for it ever since, along with the others involved in the attack that night. She’d also lost her parents in that battle, and none of the rebels could forgive themselves for abandoning her to the vampires in the first place.
“Delilah knows that, Carmenita,” Beau spoke up, trying to diffuse the tension that was practically emitting sparks between the two women. He’d used the nickname he’d given her many years ago, when he was first training her to fight and it took the edge of anger off her glare, but wasn’t enough to appease that. He continued on hurriedly. “We all know we owe Rosetta a debt that cannot be paid. The real question is if she would want us to risk all our lives and any hope this world has of ridding itself of the vampires just for her life.”
Carmen thought a moment, but she knew her judgement was clouded by a personal guilt she carried with her whenever the girl’s name was mentioned. She had failed to protect the girl even then, and when the vampires had savagely ripped apart her left leg, Carmen had felt a responsibility to make sure nothing bed ever happened to her again. She was like the little sister Carmen never had, and Carmen couldn’t bear the thought of losing her more than she could thinking about the real sister she’d lost long ago.
“If you won’t go in after her, you know I will, Beau,” Carmen finally answered, her voice soft. This drew knitted eyebrows from Beau, who knew that meant certain death for his friend.
“Don’t be dramatic, Carmen,” another one of the rebels who could rival Carmen’s harsh attitude towards the world and what it’d become, Colleen Brandt scoffed. She had a hard time believing in Carmen’s empty threats. She knew better than to risk being captured and forced to talk. Not only would it be a suicide mission, it could very well end the rebellion’s army and the chance that things could ever return to a happier time. Sometimes, Colleen couldn’t stand how selfish Carmen was, and all she could hope for was Beau to talk some sense into the woman.
“Don’t start with me, Brandt,” Carmen seethed, starting to see red now. How was it that nobody else sided with her? Did they not know the meaning of loyalty? What if it was her that had been captured, would they let her die just to save themselves? It was true cowardice, what they were displaying, and Carmen couldn’t stand any of it.
“Carmen,” Beau started, trying to diffuse yet another tense situation between the two of them, but he didn’t succeed this time. Carmen had had enough of Beau trying to calm her down, instead of Colleen. How he’d taken his wife’s side when he knew just how important this rescue was to her. She would give her own life to at least attempt to save Rosetta, even if none of these dastards would.
“Don’t,” she said simply as she pushed herself up. “I need to take a walk.”
“I really don’t think that’s the best idea considering the circumstances right now,” Beau started, but she cut him off and abruptly turned on her heel and walked out.
Beau looked helplessly towards his wife, who simply gestured towards the exit Carmen had stalked off toward and he took the hint, following quickly after the angry woman.
Carmen couldn’t think or see straight. Right now all she wanted was to kill something, someone. She knew the chances of coming across any game this close to the castle was slim to none, and right now she didn’t care. What she wanted was to find some low-life, bloody scoundrel vampire walking around. She reached inside her deep pocket that contained the two most treasured items she owned; her wand and her wooden stake. She pulled the stake out, knowing that she had a better chance of accomplishing her goal with that than the wand.
“Just what do you plan on doing with that, Carmen?” Beau shouted after her, running to catch up with her.
“I don’t know, what does it look like I’m going to do?” she shot back sarcastically, twirling the weapon as she increased her speed. “I’m going to end one of them for this.”
“Will that really make you feel better? You’ll certainly endanger yourself if you come across more than one, you know how ruthless these street vampires can be!”
“Right now, they wouldn’t stand a chance against me, Beau! And if you don’t want to get involved, I suggest you turn right around and go back to the camp. I need to do something.” Carmen stalked from tree to tree, scanning the woods in front of her for her prey.
“Carmen, you know this won’t change anything. Rosetta will still be in the castle, and you still won’t be able to save her.” He’d caught up to her now, and she whirled on him.
“You don’t get it, Beau! I would do anything for her, and anything is what I’ll do. She’s the one person I’m not willing to lose in this war, and now they’ve threatened even that. If I’m going to be alone in my rescue, at least I’ll be at peace with myself for trying. I hope you all can live with your guilt of letting something like this happen, but I can’t. I just can’t,” she said, the anger dissipating from body. She sank to the ground, plunging the stake into the soft earth, as if it were the heart of a vampire she’d stumbled upon. She put her face in her hands and began to sob, something she never did. Not even after losing her family did she cry in this way. These were great big wracking sobs that shook her body as she felt the utter disparity of the whole situation looming over her. She couldn’t do anything to save Rosetta, and Rosetta would die because of what she had done. Suddenly, Beau’s strong arms came around her, enveloping her in a hug that calmed her down so that she was no longer shuddering with each intake of breath.
“You know I love her too, Carm, but I can’t lose you with her. As much as her death will devastate me, yours would kill me. I couldn’t live without you, and you know it.” The truth in his words rang through the pair and Carmen looked up at him, her eyes still wet with the tears that had spilled down her cheeks. He drew his thumb across her cheeks to wipe them away, and she reached up to touch his hand. They locked gazes, neither daring to look away.
A noise like someone breaking through the brambles of the forest startled them both. They disentangled themselves quickly and brushed themselves off. Carmen placed a finger on his lips to ensure silence and Beau nodded, drawing out his own stake from his pocket.
Carmen reached down to get hers from the earth that she’d driven it into, and dusted it off quietly, waiting for the threat to emerge so she could strike. They stood like that for a few minutes as the sound of crushing branches drew nearer and nearer. When it did, nothing could have prepared the two for what came through those woods.
Carmen’s mouth dropped open as the ginger-haired, pale vampire stepped out, stopping short when she saw the two of them poised to strike. She let out a scream and Carmen rushed forward, drawing her wand quickly and shouting a silencing spell. It would only work for a couple of minutes so the rebels needed to work quickly.
The royal princess tried to scream again but to her horror found she could not use her voice. It was then that she knew she was really in trouble. She raised her hands in surrender and even though no sound came out, pleaded with the Enemy to not kill her.
Carmen tried to process quickly, and the only solution that came to her in that moment made her act swiftly and surely. She waved her wand again and muttered a spell, and in the next second, the girl collapsed, completely unconscious.
“Beau, do you know who this is?” she whispered to him, still in awe at what she’d done. She thought about her previous desire to kill any vampire that crossed her path and thanked whatever gods existed that she hadn’t still been blinded by that rage when the girl had emerged.
Beau rubbed his jaw, nodding but for once at a loss at what to do. “What are we supposed to do with her, Carmen? We can’t kill her! We’ll have all the king’s men at our doorstep once they follow her scent and it’ll be a massacre that they’ll win.”
“I know that! I think I have a solution. I can wipe away any traces of her scent from here until the cave, but after that my energy will most likely be depleted. I’ll still be able to help carry her, which we’ll have to do quickly before she wakes up and alerts anything else that might be lurking out here.” Carmen moved toward the girl, casting as she went, and felt completely drained afterwards, but still managed to pick the girl up and sling her arm around her shoulder. “We can decide what to do with her when we get back to camp.” Even as Carmen said this, her mind was forming a plan. What was one sickly human girl in comparison to the safe return of the kingdom’s most precious gem? King Pollock would do anything to save his daughter, and he was sure to think a trade of lives would certainly be fair. Now Carmen just had to think of how to do this without having the rest of the king’s army attack them straight afterward, which was going to be tricky. For now, she concentrated on helping Beau bring the girl back with her, hoping that with all the combined magic at the base, the wizards could create some kind of prison to hold the princess temporarily while she worked out how exactly to do this.
‘I’m not going to leave you to die, Rosetta,’ Carmen thought grimly, but a smile found its way onto her face as she realised that maybe for the first time ever, the universe was cutting her a break.
A/N- Whew! Finally some action, yeah? What did you think of Ben? Do tell (: I've decided in order to better accomodate some of the reviews I've received, to tell the backstory of a character featured in the chapter until I run out of them to tell, so that a more clear picture of how the world got this bad can appear! :) Next time it'll be Katrina, so stay tuned for that! As always, reviews are so appreciated, and always make me smile!
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