* This story is tailored by your choices. At the end of every chapter, Ben (or another character) will have an important decision to make, and there will be a poll on my profile to decide. Pairings, friends, enemies, everything will be a result of your choices...
Bellwood, year 21XX
Ben Tennyson struggled not to sleep as the teacher continued to tell the story that he and everyone else there already knew by heart.
"... One hundred years ago, no one would expect the human race to get this far. Wars, pollution, deforestation, global warming ..." The teacher's words were accompanied by three-dimensional holograms, popping up at each student's desk: soldiers shooting at each other, factories emitting dense clouds of smoke, trees being felled, huge ice caps melting ..." And finally we discovered that we were not alone in the universe ... " The holographic projection of a huge alien with an octopus-like head and red eyes appeared, surrounded by dozens of hideous monsters, "If we didn't kill ourselves first, Vilgax's armies would surely get the job done. None of us would be here today if it were not for ... "
Ben had already closed his eyes and fallen asleep when one of his classmates - Cash - poked him with a needle.
"Potentate Aggregor!" Ben woke up startled. He shot a death glare at Cash, who answered only with a mischievous grin.
"Congratulations, Mr. Tennyson," said the teacher with a smile, "Potentate Aggregor saved us all. And how did he do that?"
"With the Omnitrix," Ben replied in a tedious voice.
"Exactly," in front of everyone popped up a three-dimensional hologram of a tall, strong man with long black hair, raising his left arm in the air. On his wrist was a device resembling a big red and black watch, with a stylized red K replacing the hour marker. "By a twist of fate, the Omnitrix crashed on Earth. Many tried to wield it, but it was designed by its creator so that only a worthy person could unleash its powers. Kevin Levin, and Kevin Levin only, was able to wield it. Along with the Plumbers - who at the time were only a small secret government agency - Kevin repelled the first horde of Vilgaxian forces off our planet. But he knew more would come. And we were not prepared."
Another hologram, Aggregor wearing a crown with a drawing of Planet Earth in it, appeared. "We would never be ready with the kind of mentality that our leaders head. So, Kevin Levin took the responsibility to lead us. He took the name Aggregor, and became the Perpetual Potentate of our Planet, deposed tyrants all over the world, brought world peace and, for the first time in history, a true democracy."
The class saw holographic projections of several planets flick through in front of them, "So Aggregor made a journey through the universe, seeking support from various alien races to build an army capable of resisting Vilgax. Our Plumbers became a powerful universal taskforce, and Aggregor quickly became Potentate of the newly formed Galactic Alliance. And so..."
Fortunately for Ben, the bell rang, indicating the end of classes and the beginning of vacation. The 16-year-old ran outside, and, to his joy, saw Grandpa Max's RV - the Rust Bucket - at the school parking lot.
Ben got inside the vehicle quickly and ran to give his grandfather a hug, "Hi, Grandpa!"
"Hi, kiddo." Max ran his fingers through his grandson's hair.
Then Ben glanced at another passenger, his cousin Gwen. "Hi Dweeb." He smiled.
"Hi, Doofus." The redhead also smiled.
The two cousins stared at each other awkwardly for a few seconds. Ben stepped forward to give Gwen a hug but stopped halfway and bit his lips. Then Gwen walked over to him and hugged him. Once she did, he immediately put his arms around her and held her very tight.
No words were spoken, but both knew they were happy to have each other's company.
"Let's get this show on the road," Grandpa Max said, starting the vehicle.
There was a roadblock on the limits of Bellwood.
"Oh, crap, we're not going anywhere," Ben complained.
"Relax, Ben," Max said, "We have the whole vacation ahead of us. This will only delay us for a few minutes ... " Then Grandpa Max took a look at who was blocking the road and frowned. Men wearing helmets and black uniforms with a stylized red 'K' on the chest. "Weird. They are Plumbers. Why are members of the Potentate's elite force on a simple roadblock in a small town? "
A few minutes later, Grandpa Max lowered the car window to talk to a Plumber who approached the vehicle.
"Good afternoon. I'm Maxwell Tennyson, a fellow plumber." Max smiled. He actually was a retired Plumber. "It's all in order here, you can check the solar energy panels, run my fingerprints on the sis-"
"Did you say Tennyson?" The Plumber interrupted him.
"Yes, why?" Max arched an eyebrow.
"We're looking for Gwendolyn Tennyson," the man replied.
Hearing that, Ben's heart pounded. If it was under different circumstances, he would laugh at it. He was the troublemaker who always got himself in trouble, and his cousin was miss perfect goody two shoes. The fact that she was wanted for something would be a reason for him to congratulate her, but this was different.
The role of the Plumbers was to eliminate any threats to the Galactic Alliance. Most of the time they faced Null-Void creatures and other Vilgax servants - a necessary and commendable job - but if the Potentate or some of the higher ups decided that any particular civilian was a threat, a Plumber could kill that person in broad daylight without any consequences. Max always used to say that when he was drafted for the Plumbers, he was very happy to have only participated in missions against human-eating aliens and other monsters - these were very difficult battles, but at least he could sleep with a clean conscience that he had never killed anyone who didn't deserve it.
Ben gestured for Gwen to crouch on the floor so she would not be seen. "What did you do?" He whispered. In private, among friends and family, Gwen had often criticized the government. Ben was afraid that his cousin might have spoken ill of the Potentate in public too.
"Nothing. I swear," she whispered back. Then she took a thin plastic card from her pocket and unfolded it, "Crap, my phone was on silent, and I didn't notice. Thirteen missed calls from my mom."
"Sir, there must be some mistake." Max was breaking out in a cold sweat. "My granddaughter is an exemplary citizen of the Galactic Alliance."
"She is. She definitely is," the Plumber said, "Don't worry. I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression. We're looking for her so she can be rewarded. We tried her house, but her parents informed her that she was leaving Bellwood with you, sir."
"Did you make this roadblock ... for her?" Max asked, still a little suspicious.
"It's very important that we take her to see Potentate Aggregor," the Plumber replied.
A few minutes later, the teenage cousins and their grandfather were flying in a small ship, accompanied by Plumbers.
"They know about me," Gwen whispered, so that only Ben and Max could hear.
"That's impossible," Max answered in a matching voice tone.
"Why else would the Potentate himself want to see me? They know," Gwen repeated as she lowered her head.
Gwen was a witch. She had always kept her powers a secret to avoid public exposure, and no one but her closest family knew about them. Until now.
They finally reached the Capital City: a giant spaceship hovering above the skies of New York, where Potentate Aggregor lived with his court.
The team of Plumbers led Ben, Gwen, and Max into a huge, very luxurious mansion. In the main room there was a table with a delicious banquet for them. All the furnishings and ornaments were beautiful.
"Wait here, please. The Potentate will come soon," a Plumber said before they left the Tennysons alone.
Half an hour later, the door opened, and Potentate Aggregor entered through it. He was a tall, strong man with a youthful appearance that certainly didn't match his actual age - over one hundred years old. On his left wrist was the red 'watch' with a stylized K symbol in the center. It was obvious that using the powers of the Omnitrix had consequences for him: he had very dark bags under his eyes, and although his long black hair disguised it a little, there seemed to be four strange little protuberances - horns? - in his head. Accompanying him was a beautiful young woman with silver hair and pinkish eyes.
"Wow," Aggregor said, in awe as he stared at Gwen, "You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. And, no, I don't say that to every girl. My wife Charmcaster can confirm that, right dear?"
"Yes, my love!" the silver-haired girl - Charmcaster - said. Her enthusiasm seemed somewhat... fake... to Ben.
"Thank you so much for finding this precious jewel for me, my love." Aggregor smiled at her.
"I'm always happy to make you happy, my dear," Charmcaster replied with a smile of her own.
"I believe you can already guess why you were brought here, right?" Aggregor now addressed Gwen, "I want to marry you, Gwendolyn Tennyson."
"M-Mister P-Potentate," Gwen said, taken completely by surprise, "I-It w-would c-certainly be a-an honor, b-but I really d-don't w-want to get married n-now, and you already have many wives and..." Gwen began to say.
"Call me Aggregor, dear, not Mister Potentate." His eyes sparkled with excitement, and that was not a good thing. "And my heart is always open. I understand that you are young and insecure, but don't worry. I guarantee that there is no man in the universe better for you than me. You'll be very happy by my side," Aggregor grinned. He wasn't asking Gwen to marry him. He was ordering. "This mansion is my gift to you. Charmcaster suggested for me to bring all your family to live here and keep you company. I see your grandfather and cousin came along with you, and soon the rest will be brought here too. I really wish I could stay longer, but I have an emergency to handle. Being the protector of the galaxy has its disadvantages."
Before leaving, Aggregor approached Gwen, pulled her close and captured her lips in a kiss. Ben saw an aura of blue energy - magic - glowing around Gwen and flowing from his cousin to the Potentate. After a long kiss, when Aggregor was satisfied, he let her go, took a deep breath and said, "I've never tasted anything that delicious in my entire life."
Gwen was weak, and it looked as she was about to fall, but Charmcaster quickly positioned herself next to the redhead and helped her remain standing.
Aggregor had hurt Gwen. Ben felt his blood boil. He stared at a sharp knife at the banquet table. His first instinct was to grab that knife and slice Aggregor's throat with it. Max realized his intentions, gripped his wrist firmly, and shook his head in a negative gesture.
That wouldn't do any good anyway. Aggregor had died before, nine times. And, somehow, some way, he always came back. Even if Ben were lucky enough to catch Aggregor off guard and actually slit his throat, surely Aggregor would come back from the dead once again.
"Gwendolyn, Charmcaster will stay here and answer any questions you might have. I'll be back in a few days for our wedding," Aggregor excused himself and left Gwen, Ben and Max alone with Charmcaster.
After a few seconds of silence, Charmcaster, with Gwen still leaning on her, began to speak, "Aggregor consumes energy - and magical energy is his second favorite dish. That's why he has a harem, all witches like the two of us. We have what he likes, and I'm not just talking about a beautiful body… He drains us. It's painful and it's awful. Red, it's pretty obvious you don't want to marry him, and I don't want to stay married to this monster either. We can help each other. I have a plan."
Grandpa Max stepped forward with a scowl on his face, "He thanked you for bringing my granddaughter to him. I don't know how, but you're responsible for her being in this predicament. And now you say you want to help? You're a liar. We won't trust you. Just go away." Grandpa Max pulled Gwen away from Charmcaster and kept his arm stretched for his granddaughter to lean on him instead of her.
The enchantress bit her lip and lowered her head. "I'll be completely honest with you. Yeah, it's my fault that Red is here. But I never wanted her to get hurt. And I guarantee Aggregor will not touch her again if we follow my plan. I'm sorry, but there was no other way... I had to bring you, Ben, here. You're the only one who can take the Omnitrix off Aggregor's hands and save us."
Ben laughed. "Do you think I can simply take that thing off Aggregor's wrist?"
"I didn't mean literally. That thing on his wrist is not the real Omnitrix. That's just for show. It's a fake. A 'K' is a little bit too obvious, don't you think? The real Omnitrix can only be wielded by someone worthy, and Aggregor obviously isn't," Charmcaster replied.
"And what about all the videos with Aggregor turning into various aliens, and aliens' amalgams, are they all fake too?" Ben folded his arms. "How does he do all of that if he's not wielding the Omnitrix?"
"Energy," Gwen said, now recovered, at least enough to stand on her own feet without help. "He drains the energy from the Omnitrix."
"You're smart, Red," Charmcaster said, "Before, I said that magical energy is Aggregor's second favorite dish. The first one is the Omnitrix. The real Omnitrix is being kept here. Aggregor can't wield it, but he can drain energy from it regularly, so it's like if he were wielding it. But if we steal the Omnitrix, he will lose his main source of power and after a while he will be vulnerable. Ben, I can put you safely inside the room where the Omnitrix is being kept. You can get it out of there and then we flee from this place. I have everything arranged."
"If I can steal the Omnitrix, you can do it too. Or anyone else," Ben arched an eyebrow.
Charmcaster sighed, "Aggregor thrust the Omnitrix into a very dense metal structure. The only way to get the Omnitrix out of that room is by putting it on. And only someone worthy can do that."
"I'm not worthy. If that's really the criteria, my cousin or my grandfather would be much more likely to make that thing work rather than me." Ben took a step back.
"It's you. I know it's you," Charmcaster said with certainty.
"You don't even know me. We've never met before today. Why do you think I can make the Omnitrix work?" Ben asked as he eyed Charmcaster suspiciously.
Charmcaster was silent for a moment and then said, "I didn't know your cousin either, but I told the Potentate that she was a witch, and she is. I know stuff. Trust me, the Omnitrix will work for you. I know it will."
"I've met witches before," Grandpa Max interjected, with crossed arms and a frown on his face, "You saw the future, didn't you? Or at least, you think you did. "
"Maybe," Charmcaster took a step back.
"It was blood magic. You made a fire. You poured tons of fresh blood into the fire. Then you saw things," Max said in an accusing tone.
"I didn't find out about the Omnitrix through visions," Charmcaster lowered her voice, "I always try to get Aggregor drunk when we're together. Keep him busy drunk with alcohol so he doesn't get drunk with my magic... Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't." It was clear that those were painful memories for the girl, "One of these times, he started to babble all about the Omnitrix. Fortunately, he was too drunk to even remember he said anything later, because otherwise I believe he would have killed me to keep the secret..."
"I'm really sorry you had to marry such a man," Gwen said sincerely.
"Then I managed to get to the place where the Omnitrix is being kept myself," Charmcaster continued, "I tried to convince the Omnitrix's stupid AI that it was already being misused, and I was at least the lesser evil, but it still didn't let me wield it. So, I began to use magic to try to find out who could wield it, and I had visions of Ben wielding the Omnitrix with his witch cousin by his side. And I don't regret killing some prisoners guilty of terrible crimes to perform blood magic rituals for that. That's why I had to bring your family into this. I know this is a low move, but I needed Ben's help, and there was no other way he would risk himself to face the Potentate's wrath, except if he had to do it to protect his cousin. That's why I told Aggregor about you, Red. I'm sorry."
"I'm not happy about it, but I can understand why you did the things you did." Gwen placed a hand on Charmcaster's shoulder. "You just want to escape this nightmare.
Charmcaster laughed. "Oh, but I don't want just that. I've never had a good life. My parents died when I was very small. I became a criminal, a thief. I was arrested. I was taken out of jail by the Potentate to join his harem, and I thought things were finally going to get better. I was a delinquent orphan who got out of jail to become one of the Ladies of the Potentate of the Galactic Alliance. Power, respect, luxury, subjects, everything I wanted. It would have been perfect, but then Aggregor, that bastard, starts hurting me, draining me... All I want is something different for my life. Something better. It will be perfect, with Ben in his place."
"And to think I was beginning to feel sympathy for you." Gwen took her hand away from Charmcaster's shoulder.
Charmcaster took a step toward Ben, "You will be a great man." She smiled as she placed her hands on his cheeks. "I know it doesn't look like it now, but I can help you in many ways." She took Ben by surprise and brushed her lips against his.
"What do you think you're doing?" An enraged Gwen pushed Charmcaster away from her cousin.
Charmcaster just smiled. "When Ben has defeated Aggregor and taken over his place as the Potentate of the Galactic Alliance, he will need a wife to help him rule. I know how things work."
"No way!" Gwen exclaimed, "I will not avoid marrying a monster just to let my cousin marry a snake!"
"I'm not going to betray you." Charmcaster raised a hand as if taking an oath. "Of course, words can be empty. So, I propose a magic oath. Mr. Tennyson." She looked at Grandpa Max. "You're familiar with witches, so I guess you know how this works?"
"A deal where both parties are magically compelled to do everything they promised." Max frowned.
"Exactly," Charmcaster said, "so you can be absolutely sure that I'm not lying, and that I will never betray Ben." Charmcaster took a piece of paper and a pencil from a pocket of her magenta coat - things one could only see in museums: paper, pen and pencil had been completely replaced by digital annotations, more ecologically sustainable. The enchantress wrote down a few words and then handed the sheet and pencil to Ben. "These are my terms. Now write yours and let us seal the deal."
Max pulled Ben and Gwen aside, "We can't trust her and we don't need her. We just run. We'll take down some Plumbers, steal a ship and go. Even if she herself believes in everything she's telling us, we still can't believe her, because magical visions are not accurate at all. She may very well be wrong."
"No," Gwen replied, "The city is full of Plumbers, and none of us know this place. Trying to escape blindly would be very risky. I don't want you two dying for me. Charmcaster knows the place and the people. She is our best chance to get out of here safely, regardless of magical visions," then she addressed Ben, "What we need to do is to find a loophole in this contract. Can you agree to marry her and then, like, get a divorce five minutes later?"
"No," Ben said as he read the paper. "No right to divorce or separation. I can't harm her in any way, and I have to do my best to protect her. She allows me to have other wives, but I must 'satisfy' her whenever she wants."
"What? Is that really written there?" Gwen asked in surprise.
"Yeah!" Ben handed the paper over to her.
"Damn it," Gwen said as she read it, "Wait ... I have an idea ... We have Charmcaster's handwriting and fingerprints all over this paper. This is concrete proof that she's plotting to betray the Potentate... And we're going to tell that to him... unless she helps us steal the Omnitrix and get out of here."
"You mean, you want to blackmail Charmcaster and force her into helping us?" Ben was taken aback by the idea.
"She brought me here, and she is now blackmailing you... No honor among thieves," Gwen said hesitantly, "I don't like it either, but it's either this, or accepting her terms, or I marry the Potentate who will drain me like a battery every night."
"This last alternative is not an option," Ben said determined.
* Now it's your turn to decide:
1) Ben should blackmail Charmcaster and force her to help.
2) Ben should make the deal with Charmcaster.
Please visit my profile and vote on the poll there (the poll will be up for ten days, in case of a tie or if there are no votes, I will choose an option myself)
* Thank you very much for reading this fic :)
* Thanks to Aurora Nightstar for beta reading. English is not my first language, any mistakes are my own.