With her hands pressed tightly together in what some might have mistaken for a prayer motion, Asenath knelt by her father’s side. Her eyes stared at his face, taking in every detail with the scrutiny of a child attempting an old ‘find the difference between two pictures’ game. Of course, it was not two pictures she was comparing, but the image in front of her and that in her childhood memory. After so many years apart, she had expected to barely recognize him, and yet he hardly seemed to have changed at all. There was more stubble on his face, and he seemed slightly more pallid compared to the man from all those years ago, but still. He was incredibly handsome, his skin tone and hair dark enough to pass for Native American. Which he had done for many years back when they had lived on the frontier. Most who had met the small family back then believed that Tiras was a member of the nearby Cherokee tribe. A Cherokee man, his Chinese wife, and their mixed-race daughter. Along with Seth, the white man who spent so much time around the house and treated Tiras as a father-figure.
They had been, to put it mildly, not the most normal of families, particularly as far as any visitors were concerned. And they had to run into their fair share of problems, especially considering Jiao’s (and Seth’s whenever he was around) inability to leave the house during the daytime. Stories were passed around, some true though most not, about that area and their house. More than one hunter, of both the human and Heretic variety, had thought to come around and cause trouble. But Tiras and the others dealt with them, and Asenath barely knew about those troubles, aside from being taught to tell her parents if anyone ever came around. For the most part, her life was simple back then.
Despite living in the middle of nowhere, despite having enemies who would kill them without a second thought if they had a chance, despite half their number being trapped for a good portion of the day away from a sun that would burn them to ashes if they set foot in it, they were a family. And they were happy.
But then Tiras had left. He’d had no choice, as he had told Senny and the others then. He’d had no other choice but to leave for a time in order to stop the Vestil, the people who had cursed the Akharu in the first place, from finishing the job. Their efforts, those who were still psychotically devoted to eliminating the entire Akharu species, would also have affected every being with their blood, including his wife and child. And the human-turned-vampire boy who had become like a son to him. Not only himself, but all the people he cared about, would have died. No matter how much he wished to stay with his family, if the Vestil fanatics were allowed to continue their work, there would be no family for him to be with. There would be nothing. He and his entire family would be gone.
So, it was with a very heavy heart that he had left them. And yet, even knowing how important and hard his mission would be, the man had never expected it to take him away from them for this long. He had told Asenath then that he couldn’t say how long it would take, but his words to both Seth and Jiao had guessed that it would be a few years at the most. An eternity for a mortal human, particularly one with a family waiting for him. But for them it would have been barely a blink in the long scheme of things. It should have been barely a blink. Yet a year had turned into two, then five, then more. They had already abandoned the old farm, finding it too dangerous to wait around in one place where their enemies could track them down. Instead, they moved around, leaving secret messages for Tiras so he could find them when the time came, or at least leave messages of his own whenever they went back to those places.
Finally, Jiao had given their daughter Tiras’s carefully stored blood as she entered the end of her teens, at the girl’s insistence. They could have waited longer, but the threats they were facing through their travels were becoming worse all the time. She was a vulnerability. A strength too in some ways, given her ability to act in the sunlight, but still a vulnerability in the long run. She was weak and slow in comparison to Jiao and Seth. They taught her to fight, but even as a vampeel (a child of two vampire parents, or one vampire and one Akharu), there was still only so much she could do against the problems they regularly ran into. She was stronger and faster than an ordinary human, particularly for her age, but it wasn’t enough. She could be killed far easier than either of them, and that vulnerability had almost cost them more than once.
So, after much discussion, her mother had given her the blood. Senny took it and became a full vampire, with all the benefits and penalties therein. She had taken her father’s blood to become stronger, to become (relatively) immortal, to gain the power she needed to truly help protect her family until her father could finally return.
Senny had become a vampire in 1813, when she was eighteen years old. By the time she was thirty, she and her mother began separating now and then. Seth had already been overcome by his own wanderlust and need for solitude and left them years earlier, though he did meet up with the pair now and then. Over time, Senny and Jiao separated more and more. Not because they didn’t get along. They were mother and daughter and always would be. But they had their own lives, and Jiao wanted her daughter to grow into her own person, immortal vampire or not.
Yet, as first years, then decades, and finally a couple of centuries passed, they always met up, and communicated through letters or telegrams, and eventually phone calls. They maintained contact and both knew they could always count on the other. Seth too, could be relied upon even as he and Asenath had their ups and downs as any near-siblings would. In the long run, they were a family, and they would all be there for one another when it came down to it.
Now, in early 2019, she had been a vampire for two hundred and six years, and had been apart from her father for two hundred and sixteen. Over two full centuries and nearly a quarter of the way into a third since she had seen her father in the flesh. A part of her had expected to look on him like a stranger, but he was almost entirely the same now as he had been in her memory. Seeing him like that transported the girl back to her childhood self, all those decades ago. She could see the rope she had clung to as her father pushed her back and forth on it, could feel the breeze against her face as she closed her eyes and embraced those memories. Even the snap of the branch and her sudden panic as she was sent sailing through the air on the last day that he had been a part of her life was a happy memory, as that had led to her father catching her, and holding her in his arms.
She had looked back on those last moments, those last few days with her father, often over the years. They were a cherished memory, and some part of her had always wondered if it would be the very last time she saw him.
But it wasn’t. He was here now. They, with the help of their new friends, had found and saved him. They still didn’t know why he had been gone for so long, or what happened all those years ago. Those answers would come soon enough. For now, he was here. He was alive. They just needed him to wake up. But Asenath could wait for that, as could her mother. They have been waiting all this time, all those years. Waiting a bit longer for him to awaken on his own was nothing. Even if a part of her desperately wanted to shake the man until he snapped out of this long, coma-like sleep. They knew he was alive, and that he was recovering. But the question of how long it would take him to recover enough to open his eyes was impossible to answer.
She heard her mother move, but remained still, her own eyes closed as she thought back to those days so long before. As Jiao knelt beside her, Asenath separated her hands and accepted her mother’s grasp with one, squeezing firmly. Her other hand moved to very gently touch her father’s shoulder. Here. He was here with them. After all that time, they could be a family again.
The words came not from Asenath or her mother. Nor from anyone else surrounding the truck. They came from directly in front of them, from the man they had gone through so much to save. With a soft gasp, Senny opened her eyes, her gaze finding her father’s. He was looking at her. His face looked weak and his voice shook slightly, but he was conscious. “My family.”
“Papa.” The single word escaped Asenath in a near-sob, before she abruptly embraced him. She clung to her father tightly, feeling her mother throw herself over the man to embrace his other side. The two of them practically dropped on top of him. They had contained themselves throughout his entire sleep, but could not any longer. They hugged him tightly, as literal centuries-worth of tension and emotion washed out of them. He was here. He was awake. They had their husband and father back, respectively. He was safe. After everything they had been through, after all that time spent apart, he was finally back with them.
“It’s okay,” Asenath assured him through a shaking voice. She leaned back, staring down at the man with eyes that couldn’t soak in the appearance of her father awake and healthy fast enough. “It’s all right, we got you out of there. You’re safe now.”
Still visibly weak, Tiras took a moment. He seemed dazed, even somewhat lost. His eyes closed briefly before opening as he slowly shook his head while repeating, “My family.” It was the third time he had said those words, yet hearing them still sent a shiver through Asenath. Her papa. He was here. He was really here.
“We are here, Tiras, you are not dreaming,” Jiao gently told him. Her hand moved to cup the side of his face. “We are truly here.”
Another moment of silence passed as Tiras closed his eyes and breathed out. Then they opened again, as he focused on them. He looked from Asenath to Jiao, then back again before very slowly shaking his head. “No… where… is my family?
“And who are you?”
Two Days Later
“Was Sariel able to help?” Flick anxiously asked, sitting in a small room on the Starstation just down from the transport station where they had left the truck. It was an office for debriefings most of the time, but right now Flick, Shiori, and Asenath were using it to talk privately.
“No,” came the flat response. Asenath was standing by the closed door that she had just come through, her gaze fixed on the opposite corner. “Something’s been done to his memory, something… powerful. She said that the memories aren’t suppressed, they’ve been completely removed. Which would take a powerful spell. He doesn’t remember any of his time with us, any of the time with my mother. He has a completely different family. He… he had another family for years, after leaving us. It’s like he went on his mission, something happened to erase every memory he had of being on Earth before, then came back and… and had a whole other life. He had a new wife, new children, new… new everything. He spent decades with them, and we never knew. We never knew he came back, or that… or that he was happy. He was…” Her eyes closed as she spoke in a barely audible whisper. “He was here all that time.”
Wincing, Shiori gave Flick a look before moving over to her sister to embrace her. “It wasn’t his fault. If he lost his memories like that, he– he couldn’t remember anything. He couldn’t–”
“I know,” Asenath assured her, voice cracking slightly. “I know it’s not his fault. I’m not angry at him. I’m just—he didn’t know me. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know my mother. He didn’t even know Seth. He doesn’t know any of us. He has no idea who we are. We told him, we told him his memories were taken and he believes us. He knows we’re telling the truth, but there’s just… nothing there. I know he feels bad about it. But it’s like hearing about someone else’s loss and sympathizing with them. He can’t remember us. He doesn’t have the emotions there, not real ones. Academically, he feels bad about what we told him, but it’s like he’s reading a story. It’s not his feelings. He doesn’t remember, so he can’t feel what–he can’t be…” She stopped then, exhaling heavily. “He’s worried about the family he does remember. He doesn’t know what happened to them after he was taken.” A pause, then, “Forty years. He was taken forty years ago. So when he was taken to Desmoterion, that prison in Texas, it was… it was just after he was captured. He was back on Earth for all those years before that and we never knew. We never saw him. We never…” She trailed off, swallowing a lump in her throat.
“Earth is big,” Flick hesitantly reminded her, standing up from her seat to walk over and embrace Senny as well, next to Shiori. “It’s really big.”
There was a momentary pause before Asenath returned both of their embraces. “I know,” she murmured once more. “It’s very big. A whole planet worth of big. But it’s still hard to believe that we missed him for that long, that no one we talked to ever met him. It’s just–” She sighed. “I want to hit someone. I want to hit someone so bad. Preferably whoever took his memories.”
Glancing toward Shiori briefly as she released the vampire to step back, Flick asked, “Do you guys have any idea who that would be? It wasn’t the same people who had him this time, right? Because he was back on Earth for all that time before they took him. It… it had to be the Vestil people he went to stop.”
Senny gave a short nod. “That’s the only answer that makes sense. He went to stop them and they’re very good at magic. As I said, it would have taken an incredibly powerful spell to remove those memories like that. Sariel can’t find any sign of them. He’s him. He’s my father. We proved that with a blood test. Both my mother and I are linked to him by the blood that turned us into vampires. And me for being his daughter too. If Seth was alive, he would’ve been linked the same way. He is Tiras, my papa. But he can’t remember us. Those memories are gone, and they could only have been taken by someone very good with magic. The Vestil fanatics who were trying to kill all of us is the only real answer.” A slight snarl escaped her, hands tightening into fists. “They have to be the ones who took his memories, who took–who took everything.”
“He had to have succeeded though, right?” That was Shiori, speaking pensively with a glance between both other girls. “I mean, obviously you’re not dead. All the Akharu aren’t dead, which was their entire plan. So your dad and his friends must’ve succeeded at stopping them. They won.”
“Maybe that’s why they took his memories,” Flick murmured. “Maybe they were pissed about their scheme being ruined, so they erased his memories or something. Wait, what about his memories of actually fighting them that time, of going on that mission to begin with? Or anything from that time and how he helped stop it?”
“Those were gone too,” Senny confirmed. “As far as my father’s memories are concerned, he left home and wandered for a long time before ending up on Earth back in 1814.” She paused, eyes closing briefly before another sigh escaped her. “1814. That was only one year after I became a vampire. Eleven years after he left. He was only away from Earth for eleven years. All this time he’s been around. All this time he’s been out there, right there living another life and none of us had any idea.” She pivoted, slamming both fists into the wall with a loud snapped curse. The two blows were enough to create a pair of matching dents, but she hardly noticed.
Putting a hand against her sister’s back, Shiori rubbed gently before speaking in a soft voice. “He’s still your dad, even if he doesn’t remember right now. You know that, right?”
“Yes.” Lowering her forehead to rest against the wall, Asenath closed her eyes once more while exhaling heavily. “He is still my father. He always will be. He doesn’t have to remember us for that to be true. And I know he’s a good person. I know he’s not trying to hurt us. He didn’t stay away because he was running. He was just–his memories were gone. He had no idea. He didn’t know what he was… what he left behind.” The way she said that made it clear that she had been repeating the words silently to herself for some time, telling herself not to be angry with her father for forgetting his first family. Or with his new one.
They were all quiet for a moment before Flick asked, “Sorry, but… what about the others? The family he does remember, I mean. That–they’d be your siblings too, right? And… do–you said he was asking about them.”
“They don’t live in that area anymore,” Asenath informed her. “My mother checked while we were waiting for Sariel to finish with him. As far as she could tell, they moved on right after he disappeared. So we don’t know where they are, or if they’re alive, or–or anything. Not yet. That–that’s going to take time.”
Flick and Shiori exchanged glances. They could tell just how horrible this was for the other girl. She had been waiting for so long to find her father, and now that she had, he didn’t know who she was. He had his own other family that he was worried about, people he had apparently lived with even longer than he’d lived with Asenath and Jiao. It wasn’t just that he had another life, it was that the other life had been going on for so much longer. Almost the entire time that he had been missing from their lives, he had been living another one with a different family.
It wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t Asenath and Jiao’s fault, and it wasn’t this other family’s fault. But they were the ones who were hurt by it. All of them, really. Despite the fact that they didn’t know anything about Tiras’s second family, all three girls were pretty sure they would be shocked to learn what had happened to him before.
Grimacing, Flick quietly asked. “You’re going to go look for them, aren’t you?”
Senny didn’t even hesitate, her head giving a short nod. “Of course. I–he’s my father, I want him to be happy. And finding people is one of the things I’m good at. I… I can give him that, at least.” Her face twisted a bit before she added, “And I’m going to find out what the hell happened to his memories.”
“Do you have any idea of where to start?” Shiori tentatively asked.
There was the slightest pause before Asenath exhaled. “I do have one thing. Sariel was able to find a single memory, the name of another Akharu. She thinks he was with my father when all of that happened. He might know more about the situation.”
“Right.” Flick straightened up, giving the other girl a thumbs up. “Then we find this other Akharu to get answers. Uh, do we have any idea how to do that, exactly?”
“That will take some time too,” Asenath admitted. “All I have at the moment is a name. Not even his real name, the one he uses here on Earth. In fact, you might’ve heard of him.