A/N – Due to a tie on the donator-interlude vote, we’re having this chapter first and the next one will be the donator chosen interlude. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy!
“Oh man, you mean he really doesn’t remember them at all?” Tristan lamented while shaking his head. “That sucks. Not even, like, vague memories that our mom could do something with?”
“Mom said there’s nothing,” Vanessa quietly informed him while giving me a brief glance. “The memories have been removed entirely, not simply suppressed or altered as they normally are.” After a slight pause, she grimaced while adding, “Normal for this sort of thing, I mean.”
At the moment, it was the early morning after my arrival back from that little… trip. I had gotten pretty turned around on what exact day it was through all of that, but Vanessa had helpfully informed me that it was currently just barely Saturday morning. The morning of January 19th, to be exact. Which meant I had a couple of days to relax and regroup around the station before going to school on Monday. And yes, I absolutely had to go. Abigail and my parents had made that clear. If I was going to go on these missions that took me away from classes, I had to continue to attend whenever I was physically able to. That was the deal that we made.
Which was part of why I was sitting here in one of the currently unused classrooms up in that area of the station, drinking iced coffee while listening to Vanessa explain some of the schoolwork I’d missed while off on that adventure. Or at least, that was the idea of why I was here. First, the twins had wanted to get a first-hand account of what happened out there. Which I really couldn’t blame them for. If the situation had been reversed, I definitely would have been giving them the third degree. And given how much effort I had put into learning to be a reporter like my dad, I knew how to give people the third degree. Maybe even to the point of qualifying as the fourth degree.
Smiling a little to myself at that thought, I nodded. “Yeah, like she said.” My hand gestured toward Vanessa. “Tiras doesn’t remember them at all. He hasn’t remembered them for all this time, even though he spent most of the past couple centuries right here on Earth.” With a blink, I gestured. “I mean, you know, down there on Earth. Anyway, whoever took out his memories did a really good job. He knows they’re telling the truth and all. He believes them, and he feels bad about not remembering. I can’t even imagine how bad he feels. But he still doesn’t have the emotional connection. He looks at them and they’re strangers. It’s pretty fucking awful.”
That was putting it mildly. The mere thought of how it would have felt if I went through everything I had to save my mother and she didn’t even know who I was… it made me shudder as bile rose up in my throat. And judging from the way the other two reacted, I was pretty sure they felt about the same. This whole situation was supremely fucked up.
“Poor Senny,” Vanessa murmured. “And Jiao. I can’t–” She stopped, visibly swallowing. Our eyes met, and I knew we were both putting ourselves in that same situation. It was probably especially worse for those two, considering the way the banishment orb had worked. They’d come very close to actually experiencing their parents not remembering who they were, even after being reunited. I was sure they had both thought about how that could have turned out.
“Senny wants to find the guy responsible,” I noted. “Or woman. Or people. Whoever. She wants to find out whoever removed her father’s memory. Probably because if she finds them, they might be able to fix it. I mean, if they removed the memories, then maybe they’ve still got them and can do something about it.” Even as I said that, I grimaced a little. The odds of those memories still existing was a bit of a stretch, of course. But no way was I going to dismiss Asenath’s attempts. Hoping that her father could get his memories back was basically holding her together. And whatever she needed, whenever she needed it, I would be there to help. After everything she had done for me, it was the absolute least I could do.
Of course, thinking about that made me focus on the other part of it as well. “Which means she wants to find one of the Akharu who was with Tiras on that mission. You know, so he can shed some light on what happened. And I think you’ll both recognize the name Grigori Rasputin.”
“The evil sorcerer that yells at Bartok?” Tristan immediately blurted.
His words made Vanessa literally facepalm, the chair she was sitting in squeaking as it shoved back along the floor a bit. “That was a movie! There was no actual Bartok.”
Giving his sister a look, Tristan pointed out, “Dude, look at the world we live in. Is a talking bat really all that far-fetched? I guarantee you that we could find half a dozen people around here this morning who could pull off something like that.”
Vanessa opened her mouth, then shut it before shaking her head. “Yeah, sure, of course. But that’s not the point. Grigori Rasputin wasn’t actually evil anyway. The aristocrats in Russia basically made him a scapegoat for everything because they hated him. He was kind of a… free spirit and… and they couldn’t control him.” Her face was flushed a little at the thought of just how free the man had been, and how that freedom had presented itself.
“He had sex a lot,” I put in. “With a lot of different women. And they were very devoted to him. It was… well, his thing. But either way, apparently he wasn’t some evil guy trying to destroy Russia or take over or anything. Not exactly. It’s… complicated. Even more than I thought, I guess.”
“And he’s a vampire, apparently,” Tristan noted. “Err, an Akharu, I mean. Which I suppose makes the whole thing about how hard he was to kill make sense. But he’s still around?”
“Apparently,” I confirmed. “Somewhere, anyway. I guess he doesn’t exactly advertise his address. Probably something to do with that whole bit about being made to look like an evil sorcerer bent on world domination or whatever. And the Heretics hunting people like him thing. Yeah, you know, the more I think about it, the less I can blame him for being off the grid. Even if that does make this whole thing even harder for Senny.”
“You think she can find him?” Vanessa asked, glancing briefly toward her brother.
Smiling faintly, I nodded. “If anyone can, it’s her. And she’ll have plenty of help when she needs it.” I knew for a fact that I wasn’t the only one who was ready to drop everything the second the vampire girl said the word. Asenath had plenty of friends around here. As did Jiao. Whenever they had anything useful to go off of, they would have people backing them up.
“What about his other family?” Tristan asked curiously. “They’re still around somewhere, right?”
“Somewhere,” I confirmed with a helpless shrug. “Senny promised to look for them too. They’re her family as well, I guess. Half-siblings, anyway. It’s a whole thing. I know she feels a little awkward about it, but she definitely wants to find them. It’s not their fault Tiras’s memories were erased. And it’s not his fault either. The whole situation just sucks.”
The other two murmured agreement before Vanessa looked at me. “What about the whole ‘it wasn’t actually Kyril Shamon’s prison’ thing?”
The question made me blanch, shaking my head quickly. “I have no idea what’s going on with that. But yeah, Gordon’s dad and a few of the others said they never saw Shamon. He’s one of the leaders of the Eternal Eye tribe, but it was the Lost Scar Victors who seemed to really own the camp. Or at least that Zoya Dalal woman. She visited enough times that they knew who she was. None of the other Victors did.”
“She works with your ancestor, Remember Bennett?” Vanessa mused. “Do you think she knows anything about what they were doing out there?”
Tristan translated, “She means do you think your great-whatever grandmother knows about them trying to summon and control a world-ending monster.”
Grimacing, I thought about it for a moment. Which wasn’t the first time, of course. I’d spent the last few days almost obsessively dwelling over that question, among a few others. “I don’t think so,” I finally answered. “I mean it, it’s possible. I need to talk to my mom about it when she comes back from Peru, but everything I’ve heard about the woman makes it seem unlikely. It just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing she’d be involved in. She’s a Loyalist, sure. And fully-committed to that. I believe she would kill any Alters she could. But I really don’t think she’s the sort of person who would go as far as thinking she could control a monster like that.” Having said that, I shrugged helplessly once more. “On the other hand, what do I know? It’s not like I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in her living room eating cookies. She’s never reached out, and I’m pretty sure she’d be just fine if our whole side of the family was wiped off the map so we stopped being an embarrassment or whatever.”
Tristan reached out, his hand touching my arm. “Sorry for bringing it up. That’s probably not very fun to think about.”
Forcing myself to smile, I replied, “It’s not all that bad. I mean, I’ve got the grandparents I care about back. I don’t need some woman I don’t even know to give a shit about me, or the rest of the family. She can just… be that way. From the stories I’ve heard, I’m not missing out on all that much anyway.”
Of course, I couldn’t tell them about the grandparent I really was missing right then. Dare was still in Peru with my mother. I wanted to ask her about Remember just as much as I wanted to ask Mom. If not more. But it was going to have to wait until they got done with that situation. Or rather… until they came back for Tribald Kine’s funeral. They knew the general basics of what had happened with our thing, including that. But we didn’t want to distract them too much. Apparently they were already having more than a few problems with trying to save that Alter haven from those Eden’s Garden loyalists, and we didn’t need to add to things. I’d even asked if Mom wanted some of us to go help when we talked over the phone, but she very firmly insisted that I was to stay right where I was and get some class time in. They could handle it, even if it was taking time. And she would talk to me more when they visited to say goodbye to Kine.
Pushing that stuff out of my mind, I took a sip of my drink before forcing a smile. “But hey, what about you guys? Tabbris said you’ve been keeping yourselves busy while I was gone. And I don’t just mean by hanging out with your new siblings and all that.”
Once more, the pair exchanged glances, a bit of silent communication passing between them before they turned back to me. Vanessa nodded. “You could say something like that. You remember Rowan?”
My head bobbed. “The Vestil-Akharu hybrid girl from Vegas? Their princess or whatever who was kidnapped with that whole…” I grimaced. “The Fossor thing.”
“Exactly,” Tristan confirmed. “She called for some help because one of her friends went missing with their family while they were visiting Yellowstone. They sent a couple searchers out there, but they didn’t have any luck. And she thought some Heretics might be able to find something more useful. Plus, you know, the Vegas families keep most of their resources in the city for protection. Especially now with the civil war going on. Everybody’s afraid the Loyalists will make a big move to show they mean business, and Vegas is a pretty tempting target. So they can’t spare that many people to go all the way over to scour Yellowstone looking for one small family. Even if the kid is one of Princess Rowan’s friends.”
“So you guys took up the request?” I smiled a little at the thought. “Not by yourselves.”
“No,” Tristan shook his head. “Not alone, of course. Mom had to stay here to keep working with Puriel and Spark, but Dad went with us. So did Dexamene. She wanted to see the place, since she read about it in a bunch of books. Plus there was Koren and Rebecca. Then there was Felix and Triss. And believe me when I say having her around while we were running around the forest made it super-clear just how similar our names are. I thought about changing mine to Owen or something, just to be different.” He glanced toward his sister with a smirk, oh-so-casually adding, “Aaaand….”
A visible blush crossed her face as she coughed. “Desenei. He went with us too.”
“The Seosten guy who–” Catching myself, I offered the girl a smile. “The guy who likes you. How’s um, how’s that going?”
Biting her lip, Vanessa hesitated. “It’s good, I mean, I think? I told him about how I’m not interested in any of that physical stuff. Okay, most of the physical stuff. Which I’m still not, for the record. And I don’t think I ever will be. I um, I made sure he knows that.”
“And he said it was okay?” I asked, thinking about what it would be like to be in that situation, from either side of it.
“Not immediately,” she replied. “I mean, he said it was completely fine for me and he didn’t blame me or anything. He just had to take a little time to decide if it was something he could, uh, put out of the way. He had to decide if it was okay for him. Which…” Trailing off, Vanessa smiled just a little to herself, even as that blush deepened. “I like that, you know? I mean, I’m glad he took the time to really think about how it would affect everything instead of just immediately saying it was fine.”
Thinking about that, I gave a slow nod. “I guess I get that. If he just immediately said it wouldn’t bother him at all, It would mean he didn’t think about it. Then later if it really did bother him after all, that could be a problem.”
Nodding quickly my way, Vanessa confirmed, “Yeah, exactly. But he just told me that I was fine, that there was nothing wrong with me and that he would take some time to really think about it.”
“Which is how you know he definitely understands Nessa,” Tristan commented. “Seriously, can you think of anything more romantic for her to hear than, ‘I’ll think about it?’ Except maybe for those three magic words. Ahem, ‘I’ll study hard.’”
Elbowing her brother firmly as her face turned red, Vanessa shifted in her seat, pointedly turning her attention back to me. “Anyway, he took a few days and then he came back and said he’d like to give it a shot. We talked about umm… ground rule stuff, what I’m comfortable with, what sort of dating we’re doing, that sort of thing. I told him it’s okay if he, um, does that other stuff with someone else, but I’d just like to meet them and talk about it first. Is that weird? Is it weird that I want to talk to anyone he umm, he does that stuff with?”
My head shook. “I get why you think it might be weird, but not really. I mean if you think about it that way, yeah. But seriously, it’s all about people being on the same page. Which is a pretty big deal, especially in a situation like yours. He knows that if he screws this up, he’s gonna have an Olympian and the guy the Seosten call ‘The Bane’ pissed off at him, right?”
From the way the other girl grimaced, I was pretty sure her parents had already sat down with the guy. “Oh, he knows,” she murmured quietly. “And he’s putting up with it anyway. Which is just weird.”
Tristan snorted, scooting his chair closer to put an arm around her fondly. “He likes you, genius. Trust me, it’s not that hard to see why. You’re brilliant, cool, and pretty good in a fight. Plus if you guys ever end up living on your own, that whole trip to Yellowstone proves you can tell him exactly what plants are safe to eat.”
Rolling her eyes as she leaned over against her brother, Vanessa smiled with obvious contentment for a moment before exhaling. “Sure, that’s definitely my primary selling point, identifying poisonous berries and leaves.”
Chuckling a little at the two of them, I asked, “So was he the last one to go with you on that mission to save Princess Rowan’s friend and the others?”
Tristan nodded. “Yeah, that’s it. Dad, Dex, Koren, Rebecca, Triss, Felix, Desenei, Nessa, and me. It was the nine of us out there together for a few days, looking all over that whole place.”
Taking another sip of my coffee, I gestured with the cup. “At least that means you got to go camping.”
“Not as fun and relaxing as you might think,” Vanessa informed me. “There are a lot of very nasty creatures out there, especially at night.”
“Rattlejacks,” Tristan put in, giving me a look. “We found a den of them out there. You remember those things, right?”
“Remember as in I’ve heard of them,” I confirmed, “but I’ve never seen them. And I don’t want to. Those are the rattlesnake-jackrabbit hybrid things someone made down in Texas, aren’t they? Senny was talking about how she and Seller dealt with the guy who created them. And she was pretty sure a couple of the things got away.”
“She was right,” Vanessa replied with a grimace. “And they’re just as bad as you think. Worse, really. We think we killed all of them out there, but you know…”
“Between Texas and Yellowstone, I’m rapidly running out of outdoor areas I have any interest in visiting.” Saying that while giving a slight shudder at the thought, I added, “But did you find the missing kid and her family?”
“His family,” Tristan corrected me. “And yeah, we found them in a big cave up there. Some whacked-out Alter survivalist cult wouldn’t let them leave. They had a whole prophecy about the end of the world and all that, so they thought they could hole up in there, wait for it to be over, then come out and repopulate the Earth or something. Which, you know, to each their own. But they were keeping Tiakie and his family trapped, plus some others who didn’t want to be there. For their own good, they said.”
“We went in and umm, freed the ones who wanted to leave.” Vanessa’s voice was quiet. “We tried not to kill anyone we didn’t have to, as soon as we knew what was going on. But a few of them didn’t give us a choice.”
“Dad spent some extra time there once it was over, talking to the people who were left about some ground rules,” Tristan added. “You know, like how they can stay there as long as they want, but they’re not allowed to kidnap anyone else, even for their own good, and as soon as any of them want to leave, they have to allow it. He said he’ll go back every once in awhile to check on them and see if anyone wants to leave. It was a whole mess.”
“Sounds like it,” I agreed, shaking my head at the thought of all that. “But please tell me the Rattlejacks were nowhere near that cave. If those people were using them as guards or something…”
“Different part of the park,” Tristan informed me. “Far enough away that we could probably get away with just nuking the site from orbit, which might just–”
“We can’t do that,” Vanessa interrupted, giving her brother a look. “There’s too many plants and animals that live in that area.”
“I didn’t say a big nuke,” Tristan countered. “We could put a forcefield around those couple of acres. You know, just to make sure. And trust me, if there are more of those Rattlejack things, we’d be doing the animals who live there a favor. You saw how fast those things can jump. And how far.”
Grimacing at the very thought, I shook my head quickly. “Okay, I think that’s just about enough of that. We can talk about something other than the jumping mutated snakes for awhile. You know, like the whole reason we’re here.” Gesturing to the book in front of me, I offered, “Why don’t we get started with this whole math homework thing?
“Because after a trip like that, and hearing that those Rattlejacks might still exist, I could really do with some nice, relaxing calculus.”