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The Ink Spots
"I'm Getting Sentimental Over You"

Gryphon woke slowly, rising through dreamy layers until at last he surfaced gently, like washing up on a soft beach. When he opened his eyes, he saw that it was still daytime; just enough daylight was filtering in at the tops of the blackout-curtained windows to make the details of the room visible, albeit in near-monochrome.

He closed them again and just lay there for a while, listening to the quiet. No one else would be up yet, although the walls and floors were thick enough that he probably wouldn't hear anyone moving around anyway. All he heard were the normal faint creaks and ticks of the old house, and the soft breathing of the person beside him. He found it interesting, in an abstract sort of way, that he'd gotten so used to the sounds Remilia made when she was sleeping, he could tell immediately he wasn't with her.

With that thought, Gryphon began to ease himself out from under the covers—or tried to, anyway. Ordinarily he would rise at this point, slipping carefully out of bed and commencing his day. It worked with Remilia, who slept so soundly she rarely noticed him going, but even in her sleep, Flandre was having none of it. She didn't quite wake, but sensed he was trying to leave anyway, and slipped the hand that had been lying on his chest the rest of the way over him, tightening her hold with a mumbled "nooo."

Well, I suppose I don't need to get up, he thought wryly, and adjusted his arm around her shoulders so he could give her a little squeeze. Thus reassured that he wasn't going anywhere, Flandre settled back in, a smile on her sleeping face. With his own smile at the sight, Gryphon kissed her on the forehead and went back to sleep for a while himself.

When he woke again, it was she who had gone, and the light level in the room was unusually high. Sitting up, Gryphon looked around, and with a momentary flash of alarm, he saw that Flandre was standing at the window, the curtains thrown open, looking out over the west lawn at the sunset in progress. She was still in her nightdress and barefoot, her hair tousled from bed, and she squinted a little as the last of the day's sunlight bathed her face.

"Flan?" Gryphon asked, startled.

Flandre turned and smiled at him. "Oh, hi," she said. "I was just wondering if I should wake you up to come and see this. Although I suppose you see sunsets a lot more often than I do. I haven't seen one since I was 12." Turning back to look out the window again, she went on, "It's just as pretty as I remember."

Rising, Gryphon padded across the room to her side and regarded her closely. Her eyes were watering slightly, but other than that she seemed to be experiencing no ill effects from the direct, albeit obliquely angled, light of the Sun.

"Are you OK, Flan?" he asked. "You don't seem to be smoking or anything, at least..."

"I'm fine," Flandre assured him, still looking out the window. "It's a little uncomfortable, but not dangerous. Sis and I used to watch sunsets together when we were little. I remember we even went to town during the day a few times. Daylight isn't really the problem for us that a lot of people think it is, anyway. Sis just avoids it because it stings a little and takes away most of our strength." She gave a knowing little chuckle. "She doesn't like anything that hurts or makes her feel vulnerable."

"I can understand that," Gryphon said. Standing by her side, he watched the remainder of the sunset with her, the day's dying rays painting the partly cloudy sky in pastel colors.

Flandre nodded. "Mm. Me too, but I don't mind it as much. It reminds me I'm alive..." She glanced over at him with a smile, taking his hand. "Although I don't need to be reminded of that so much lately."

"I'm glad to hear that," he said, returning the smile, and they stood together and watched the last sliver of the sun disappear below the horizon.

The moment it did, Flandre drew a deep breath, let go of his hand so she was free to stretch and yawn luxuriantly with fists above head, and then said in a much brighter tone of voice, "Still, I can't deny this feels a lot better." Turning a languid grin that reminded him powerfully of her sister's to him, she asked, "Can I get a kiss good evening?"

Gryphon gathered her into a hug and kissed her on top of the head. "Good evening, Flan," he said, a little mischievously.

Her eyes said that wasn't what she'd been hoping for, but she smiled anyway, a little ruefully. Rather than pursue the matter further, she asked,

"You think the bath is ready yet?"

Gryphon chuckled. "Let's round up the crew and go find out, shall we?"

Glenn Miller and His Orchestra
"Moonlight Serenade"
Bluebird B-10214-B (1939)

Flying Yak Studios
Bacon Comics Group
in association with
The International Police Organization
Avalon Broadcasting System

Lensmen: The Brave and the Bold
Our Witches at War
special series

Gallian Gothic: A Romance in Wartime

© 2020 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited

Book 2: Notes From the Scarlet Mansion, Act V:
"Une Inconnue Bien Connue"

The grand opening of the Fusōnese bath duly took place a short while later, as everyone in the household, still in their sleepwear but carrying their clothes as requested, met up downstairs. Determined to make an occasion of it, Gryphon and Meiling conducted the Scarlet sisters and Sakuya to the new doors partway up the north hallway with all the dignified gravity of tour guides in a historic home (which, after a fashion, Gryphon supposed they were).

The room had had a standard single door that matched all the others along this hallway when they found it, but since they'd had to break that door down to get in there anyway, they had reconstructed it as a double one, not unlike the ones leading into the great hall and the music room. Where the other doors were solid timber, though, the new bath doors had frosted windows, which now glowed from within.

"Ladies," said Gryphon. "It's taken us a while to get this facility operational, and we, your Plant Services team, humbly thank you for your patience. We hope you'll agree that it was worth the wait. We give you..." With that, and the most dramatic flourish they could manage, he and Meiling each took one of the doors and flung them wide, revealing what lay beyond to their audience all at once.

"... le Grand Bain Fusônais!"

"Wow!" said Flandre, crossing the threshold first.

Beyond lay a room that was easily twice the size of the formal dining room they'd all decided not to use, as wide as the music room and perhaps half as deep. The doors let onto a broad area like an indoor piazza, with a floor of white marble. This was empty to the right of the doors, while the area to the left sported a couple of metal drains and a number of benches carved from red porphyry built into the floor. The walls were covered in marble as well, their whiteness likewise broken up with decorative columns of porphyry every few yards. These extended only about eight feet, or halfway to the high ceiling, and each was topped with a cluster of candles, lighting the periphery of the room.

The main illumination came from a trio of chandeliers, similar to those in the other large rooms, which blazed with dozens of candles—their flames glitteringly reflected in the surface of the great heated pool that took up the remaining two-thirds of the room, its waters lapping at the uppermost of the steps leading down from the washing-up area. The overall impression was one of restrained grandeur, without ornamentation other than the richness of the materials themselves.

"How did you manage to light those chandeliers?" Remilia wondered, looking up. "Neither one of you can fly."

"Wasn't easy!" Meiling replied with a broad grin, and Remilia considered pointing out that that wasn't an answer, but then decided against it.

Instead, she took a closer look at the area of the "piazza" to the right of the doors. Though the floor space was empty, she saw that the righthand wall was covered in shelves and cubbyholes, presumably for the storage of one's bath things and clothes (some of the shelves already held baskets full of soaps, washcloths, and the like), and sported a couple of white dressing tables and chairs.

"No dressing screens?" she wondered.

"What would be the point of that?" Flandre asked, grinning. "We're going to be naked anyway!"

Remilia's face went a little pink. "Even so, one does like a bit of privacy to get undressed."

"That's just silly," Flandre declared, and without further ado, she trotted over to the storage wall, put her folded clothes in a cubbyhole, pulled off her nightdress, and stuffed it haphazardly into the adjoining one, then grabbed one of the soap baskets from a shelf. "What are you guys waiting for?" she demanded.

"Oh, ye gods, my little sister is a naturist," Remilia said, observing the scene through the fingers of one hand.

Jonathan Scott
A. Vivaldi, comp.

Once Remilia was over the initial shock, she surprised herself slightly with how quickly she got used to the whole business. It wasn't really that different from bathing alone with Benjamin—the same sense of benign intimacy, pleasant and lacking subtext. Even since they had become a couple, bath time had stayed like that, and so it still did, even with the addition of another couple and the wild card that was Flan. It was certainly a festive occasion, but it was all, in the most literal sense, good clean fun.

What were you expecting? she wondered wryly to herself. A bacchanalium? We're not a pack of drunken Romans. We're rational adults. She paused in her thoughts for a moment to observe as Meiling and Flandre, laughing like a pair of hyenas, attempted a shampoo rinse method that involved bailing freshly pumped buckets of hot water at each other like they were trying to put out a fire.

Mostly rational adults, she amended. She caught Sakuya's eye and saw from her answering little grin and eyeroll that she'd been having the same thought.

Once washed up and rinsed off, they retired en masse to the big pool for a relaxing soak.

"Oh, the temperature is perfect," Sakuya all but moaned, slouching gratefully until her chin was touching the surface.

"It ought to be, we worked hard enough on the regulating system," Meiling declared, high-fiving Gryphon.

"This is amazing," Flandre agreed. "I think we should give Stephen a raise."

"Who's Stephen?" Remilia wondered.

"The salamander."

"You've named the salamander?"

"Yeah, why? Is there anything wrong with that?"

"No, I suppose not. Why Stephen, thought?"

Flandre shrugged, making ripples in the water around her. "He just looks like a Stephen. Unless he's a girl. I can't really tell."

"Elemental spirits don't really have gender like we would understand it," said Meiling.

"Hmm. That's kind of sad," Flandre mused.

"Doesn't seem to bother them. You can't miss what you never had, I guess."

"I miss plenty of things I've never had," Flandre disagreed, drawing a somewhat uncharacteristic giggle from Sakuya.

Meiling laughed. "Well, OK, you got me there," she said, then settled back against the side of the pool, both elbows propped up on the coaming, and gave a long, contented sigh. "Sakuya's right, though, this is juuust perfect. I bet it'll be just the thing after a hard day's work, too."

"I know the one up at Saint-Ulrich is," Gryphon confirmed, his hands showing Flandre how to fold a towel so it would stay on her head like his as he spoke. "After a sortie, the whole wing usually piles on in. It was like that at Crone Rock, too, back in '43."

"Do all the JFW bases have them?" wondered Sakuya.

"I haven't been to many," Gryphon admitted, "but I hear it's a thing wherever there are witches from Fusō. If there isn't already a proper bath in the facility where they're posted, they'll build one before too long. Fusōnese witches get things done," he added with a grin.

Meiling shook her head with a wry smile. "Man, historians of the future are going to be like, 'Why the heck did so many castles and stately homes in Europe have Fusō-style baths added in the twentieth century?'"

Flandre laughed. "And even when they figure it out, they'll still be wrong about this one!" she pointed out.

"I guess Papa was ahead of his time," said Remilia nostalgically.

With bath time concluded and the household refreshed, dressed, and ready for the night, Sakuya and Remilia took themselves off to make breakfast, and the rest to await it. Before reporting to the table, Gryphon and Meiling paused in the bath doorway to have one more look at the fruits of their labors.

"This was a triumph," Meiling said.

Gryphon nodded. "I'm making a note here: huge success." Without looking away from the bath, they bumped fists.

"How are we going to top it?" Meiling wondered.

"Beats me. Maybe we should fix up that collapsed greenhouse by the north wing and make it into a rose garden."

"Oh, I like that. Where are we gonna get that much glass, though? We barely had enough to do the conservatory."

"One bridge at a time, Master Hong, one bridge at a time. It's got to be standing before we have to worry about the windows..."

To Flandre's annoyance, clouds had gathered during the bath's grand opening, and during breakfast it started to rain.

"Maybe we should wait on the spell card demo until this clears up," Gryphon mused, standing by the windows with her and watching it come down.

Flandre sighed. "Oh well. Want to come to the music room for a bit? I'll show you the other thing I've been working on."

Angela Hewitt
Les Barricades Mystérieuses"
F. Couperin, comp.

With both the music room door and those of the great room open, the sound of the piano filtered faintly but distinctly into the quiet living room, where Remilia sat with Wolfgang by her side, reading. Opposite her, Meiling was sitting in the chair that was usually Gryphon's, a pad of paper balanced on her knees, sketching something. Flandre had played her piano version of "Les Barricades Mystérieuses" to start with; just now, though, the listeners were hearing something completely different.

Scott Joplin
"Maple Leaf Rag"

"What a remarkable musical style," Remilia mused, listening. "Something from Benjamin's homeland, you think? That must be him playing now."

"Oh, sure, that's ragtime," Meiling said, nodding. "Totally Amer—uh, Liberion."

Remilia sighed. "The things I missed, hiding from the world for all those decades." Tilting her head thoughtfully, she nodded toward the sketch pad and asked, "What are you drawing, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Trying to come up with a plan for a greenhouse," Meiling replied, turning the pad around. Sure enough, there on the page was a half-formed sketch of a metal-framed glasshouse, extending from what Remilia took only a moment to recognize as an elevation of the north end of the house.

"It looks like there was one there before," Meiling went on, "but it's a total loss now. I'm guessing it burned down?"

Remilia nodded sadly. "Another casualty of the 10th of Floréal, I'm afraid," she said. "Maman grew plants for her alchemy projects there, as well as a few more mundane things just for enjoyment."

Meiling winced. "Ah, jeez. I'm sorry. I should have figured... I didn't mean to drag that up again," she said, but Remilia shook her head.

"It's all right. It's not as if we can ignore the fact that it happened. I assume Sakuya told you about it at some point in your travels?"

Meiling nodded. "We—well, it's a long story, but the short version is, we were sort of trapped one time by a psychic entity that got its kicks making people relive their worst memories over and over."

"How vile," said Remilia, her face screwing up in disgust.

"Yeah," Meiling agreed. "At least we were together. We could help each other through it." She shivered slightly. "Still not something I ever want to go through again."

"What became of the... entity?" Remilia wondered. "I mean, you obviously escaped."

"We killed it," said Meiling matter-of-factly.


"No argument from me. The Doctor wasn't super-happy with us about that, but..." She chuckled, a little darkly, but also fondly. "You don't do something like that to Sakuya and walk away. You just... don't. She doesn't start things—but she always finishes them."

Remilia smiled. "My father taught her that."

"I know," said Meiling. "She's told me a lot about him, too. Sounds like he was my kind of guy. 'Let he who desires peace be prepared for war.' Or, as Avatar Yangchen put it, 'Don't get in my face and you'll get to keep yours.'" She grinned wryly. "That might not be a direct quotation. Anyway," she went on, indicating the pad, "We don't have to rebuild the greenhouse if you'd rather we didn't. I've just been thinking about maybe planting a little garden, and it'd be nice to have it year-round, since I gather you do get winter in these parts."

Remilia nodded. "No, by all means, do. I'm sure Maman would be pleased." She looked up, cocking an ear, as the music drifting in from the hall changed, then smiled. "Ah, now here's a piece I recognize."

Cory Hall
"Two-Part Invention No. 8 in F Major"
J.S. Bach, comp.

"I've heard this played by Bach himself," Remilia said nostalgically after listening for a few seconds. "He and Papa wrote each other often, and he and one of his sons visited us in... 1730, I think? Definitely after he moved to Leipzig. Dear, charming fellows, both of them. I confess I was a little smitten with Emanuel, even if I was 211 years older," she confided with a wink. "However..." Her smiled widened. "There. Do you hear that?"

Meiling looked perplexed. "Hear what?"

"The left and right hands are slightly out of sync," Remilia said, then chuckled. "Flandre's in a hurry, she wants to show off how well she knows the piece." At Meiling's continued look of puzzlement, she explained, "They're playing it together."

"Ahh," said Meiling, nodding. "They sound like they're having fun," she observed with a smile, then added, "I think it's really nice of you to let them have their own thing like this."

Remilia gave her a curious head-tilt. "Why would I stop them?"

"Well... let's just say I've known some siblings in my time who weren't very good at sharing."

The vampire chuckled. "Flandre and I have never had much difficulty with that. Besides, whatever makes her happy makes me happy. It's always been that way."

Meiling might have commented, but before she had a chance, Sakuya appeared in the doorway and said, "Ah, there you are, Meiling. When you have a moment, there's a basket of laundry in the hall that needs to go upstairs, please." Gesturing with a wry smile at the rain outside, she added, "Luckily, I remembered to bring it in before breakfast."

"I'm on it," said Meiling agreeably, setting her sketch pad aside and rising.

Remilia gave her maid a skeptical look. "Are you foisting your work on your poor fiancée now?" she asked playfully.

"It's part of our agreement, m'lady," Sakuya replied imperturbably.

"It's true!" Meiling agreed cheerfully. "I did promise to carry the heavy things."

Remilia laughed and returned to her book. "The pair of you," she said, shaking her head fondly.

It was a short while after lunch when Gryphon returned to the living room, looking pleased—Remilia couldn't tell whether about something in particular, or just with life in general. Noticing the sketch pad and pencil Meiling had left behind by his usual chair, he picked them up, but then seated himself at the other end of Remilia's Ottomane instead.

They sat in silence for an hour or so, she reading, he sketching something on a fresh page of the pad. Presently Wolfgang stirred from his nap, raised his head, noticed Gryphon, and moved over to his side of the couch, putting his head in the human's lap.

"Well, hello, Wolfgang," said Gryphon cheerfully, rubbing the hound's ears. "Look who remembered whose dog he's supposed to be."

"I could say the same about you, after your disappearances last night and this evening," Remilia said dryly, then smiled. "Did you have a nice time with Flandre?"

"I always have a nice time with Flandre," Gryphon replied, "particularly now that she doesn't beat me half to death." Then, with a faintly wistful look, he added, "I do kind of miss playing horsie, though." He sighed. "They grow up so fast."

"Mm, I've noticed." With a slightly mischievous smile, Remilia said, "I fear it won't be long before she's asking you to play a different game altogether."

"You joke, but I think you're probably right, and not gin rummy, either," Gryphon said. "Tonight when we woke up, she came right out and asked me to kiss her good evening. She's not even pretending it's a game any more."

Remilia raised an eyebrow. "Did you?"

"On top of the head. Clearly not what she was hoping for, but she took it gracefully... for now." He shrugged. "I'm not sure how long that will last."

By way of explication, he told her what Flandre had said to him the night before—that her ambition was not to compete with or take the place of either him or her sister, but to claim an equal place of her own alongside them both.

"She said she wants to be as close to both of us as we are to each other," Gryphon said, "but I'm not completely sure what she meant by that."

"I expect she isn't either, at the moment," Remilia speculated. "But it's nice to know I was wrong about her feeling competitive. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. We've never competed for anything in our lives. Why start now?" At his puzzled look, she smiled, marked her place, set her book aside, and moved toward him. "Excuse me, please, Wolfgang," she said, gathering up the hound and moving him into the space she'd just vacated.

Wolfgang eyed her skeptically, then sighed and relented, evidently accepting the warm spot as a fair trade. Remilia petted him fondly, then turned back and snuggled up to her betrothed.

"You worry too much, mieux aimé," she said, taking his hand. "Flandre's request was to be expected. She's reached the stage where she's taking an interest in such matters."

"I know," Gryphon replied. "I'm just not sure what to do about it. The last thing I want to do is hurt her, but if she keeps going down this path, sooner or later I'll have to."

"Will you?"

He gave her a sidelong glance. "Uh... yeah?"

Remilia sighed. "Benjamin, sometimes you are the densest man on Earth. Shall I spell it out for you?"

"I guess you'd better," he replied.

"Very well, then. If—I should say when, because I'm sure it's inevitable—Flan makes such a request of you again, you needn't refuse on my account. Obviously, if you'd prefer not to oblige her for your own reasons, that's your business, but for my part, I ask only that you be kind to her—which I know you always will.

"Mark you well, however: This only applies to Flandre," she went on earnestly. "I shall otherwise insist upon my just prerogatives as your fiancée, and presently as your wife. I'm not giving you an open license to make love to anyone who may wander up and ask. But Flan... Flan is special. You know that already. And if I must abandon my customary reticence and make it plain to you just how special, then... well, I hope I've now done so."

"... You sound like you've given this a lot of thought," Gryphon mused after a few moments' silent pondering.

"I have. I've been mulling it over ever since I realized that being whole again would free her mind to grow. Soon, terrifyingly soon, she'll be a woman—in some respects, she already is—and I'm not so ancient that I've forgotten what a confusing and difficult time that is. How many questions it raises about oneself. In a way, I'm more worried about letting her venture into the outside world on that ground than I'm afraid she'll come to some physical harm. Once she's out there, meeting people outside the family for the first time... well." She sighed. "You have daughters. I don't have to draw you a picture. When all is said and done, I would far rather she turned to you to seek her answers than to a stranger. After all, there is no one in this world either one of us trusts or loves more."

Gryphon gave that the slow blink it deserved. "Well, I'm... honored. But I don't think..."

Remilia placed a hand gently upon his lips, her smile taking on a hint of a smirk. "No, mon amour, the problem is that you're thinking too much. Just... don't worry. Let fate unfold as it will." Then, withdrawing her hand and leaning closer, she asked, "What have you been drawing?"

"Just an idea I had," said Gryphon, tilting the sketch pad so she could get a better look.

What he'd drawn there meant little to Remilia's eyes. Some sort of machine, she could tell that much, with a box-like central structure connected to the ceiling of the room it was in with what looked like a cluster of pipes. The pipes then ran across the ceiling and down one wall to a panel covered in indistinctly-sketched dials and switches. A vague figure of a man standing next to it gave a sense of scale, suggesting that it was meant to be installed in a room about the same size as the one containing the salamander furnace that heated the water for the Fusōnese bath.

"What in the world is it?" she wondered.

"It's a... well, I'm not sure what you'd call it. It's based on the same principle as the bath furnace, except instead of a fire elemental, it's meant to contain a lightning spirit. I've been wondering how we could electrify the house when we can't connect to the local grid, inasmuch as there even is such a thing this far outside Colmar, but I could never come up with anything that would work. Some kind of coal-fired steam turbine would be too much of a hassle to build and run, and we don't have any other fuel supply, so a gas dynamo or the like is right out. But this..." He tapped the pad with the tip of the pencil. "This could do it. If we can summon the right kind of spirit and convince it to live in there, we could have all the power we need for lights, maybe some small kitchen appliances... all mod cons."

"Hmm. Interesting idea. Do we really need electricity, though? I mean, we've gotten by this long without it, and I think the lighting we have is quite pleasant." Cuddling closer, she added with a smile, "You can't pretend your electrically lighted witch castle has an ambience half as romantic as this house by candlelight."

"Well, no, that's true, but still, it would be nice to have an option that doesn't involve trimming and lighting two or three hundred candles every night, even if they do never seem to burn down."

"Maman was very proud of that particular invention."

"And rightly so! I'm not claiming otherwise." He shrugged. "Maybe you're right and it's just a crazy idea. Speaking of crazy ideas, I've been thinking some more about plumbing, too. Now, I'm going to turn your own argument about the lights around on you here—you have to admit the garderobe situation at Saint-Ulrich has the arrangements here beat."

"... I admit the hot running water in the sinks at your castle was pleasant," Remilia conceded after a pause for thought.

"Right?" said Gryphon. "And now that we have a central heat source, it really just makes sense. The hard part is figuring out how to pressurize the system. Don't really want to put a water tank on the roof, that would look weird. I guess a cistern in the attic would do it," he said, turning to a fresh page and sketching a very rough outline of how that would be laid out. Then, with a sly smile, he added, "Be a lot easier if we had an electric pump..."

"I see where this is going," said Remilia with heavy mock resignation.

"You'll love it."

Remilia sighed. "Fine, please yourself, my love. After all," she added with a fond smile, "it's your house too."

Gryphon grinned. "You won't regret it," he promised, then leaned over and kissed her before rising and trotting over to put his head and shoulders out into the entry hall. "Meiling!" he bellowed, his voice echoing. "We're back in hardware mode!"

The rain let up while the gleeful Plant Services crew was still conducting a preliminary survey of where in the attic they could best site the water tank. On a subliminal level, they had probably noticed the patter of it on the roof abating, but the first conscious indication of it they had was Flandre suddenly appearing in the hatchway leading back down to the second-floor hallway.

"Bro! Meiling! It stopped raining! Let's go do the thing!"

So they went and did the thing, stopping only to be presented with a fresh pack of spell cards by an indulgently smiling Remilia in the great room. Once out on the damp west lawn, they found that while they were getting down from the attic, either Remilia or Sakuya had set up some fresh targets for them, since Flandre had demolished all the tree stumps already. At a suitable distance away from the house, a row of torches on short posts flickered in the dark, inviting their aim and making up for the absence of moonlight caused by the lingering overcast.

Looking very pleased with herself, Flandre gave them the same rundown about the origins and use of spell cards that her sister had given her, then presented each of her "students" with a copy of Divine Flash Donnerwetter.

"It's the one I started with," she explained, "and we have plenty of extras, so..."

Meiling nodded. "Fair enough. So... first you charge it?" She held the card as Flandre had shown her and regarded it thoughtfully. "Oh yeah, I can feel the... it's like a qi conduit. Lemme see here..." She frowned for a moment in concentration, and the card lit up between her fingers.

"Yeah! You got it!" said Flandre, delighted. "Now pick your target, fix it in your mind, and say the words, and zap!"

Meiling did as instructed; not much to Gryphon's surprise or Flandre's, she couldn't resist putting a little martial-arts English on her delivery, spinning as if evading a close-range attack and delivering the card with a sidearm snap.

"Whoa! Super cool," Meiling observed, trying to blink away the purple spots. "Kinda tough on the eyes at night, though. Wish I hadn't lost my JJ200s..."

"Huh, I never thought of that," Flandre admitted. "OK, big bro, your turn!"

Gryphon held his copy of the card up and considered it. "All right, this is as good a time as any to introduce you to the way I have to do these things. I'm not a magician—I don't have innate magic like a witch, or a vampire—or a dragon or bender, for that matter," he added with a moment's smiling glance at Meiling. "So what I have to do is tap into the Force.

"Meiling's probably told you about qi while you've been doing tai chi with her?" he asked, and they both nodded. "Well, if qi is the life energy of individual beings, the Force is... basically the qi of the whole universe, considered as a single entity. Or, if you like, it's the resonance created by all those individual points of energy. Which means once you can search within yourself and feel your own qi, if you reach outward with those same senses, you'll feel the Force."

"That sounds sort of like the way I can sense qi in the environment around me, not just my own," Meiling mused.

Gryphon nodded. "That's exactly what it is. When you do that, you're touching the Force; you just learned to call it by another name."

"Huh," said Flandre. "I think I get what you're saying, but..." Her voice trailed off, and she stood for a few moments, lost in some internal contemplation. Then, opening her eyes, she shook her head, a little disappointedly. "Nope. I don't feel anything."

"Not many people do, right away," Gryphon reassured her. "Or rather, they don't recognize it at first. You have your own magic, which makes it harder. I've taught this stuff to a few of my witch colleagues at Saint-Ulrich, and the ones whose own magic is still active have all said that being able to see past it was the hardest part. It's like light pollution—too many lights nearby make it harder to see the stars."

"Hmm. OK. I'll... keep thinking about it," she said.

"Yeah, same here," said Meiling. "I'm always interested in new ways of looking at this stuff."

"Well, I'm glad to point you toward one."

"In the meantime, show us what you've got, bro," said Flandre with a grin. "Let's see you light up that card."

Gryphon considered the card for a quiet moment, finding the center. He saw, or felt, immediately what Meiling had been talking about; it did have a sort of pathway or conduit built into it. He concentrated, drawing the Force toward him, and pushed. The card flickered, brightening and dimming a few times, then glowed steadily as he found the balance point.

"Cool," said Meiling. "I felt that. What you just did. It realigned the qi currents all around you."

"Me too!" said Flandre excitedly. "Maybe not quite the same way, but I definitely felt you moving magic around."

Gryphon smiled. "See? It's all connected. Now then..." He turned and squared up to the targets. "Divine Flash—Donnerwetter!"

The bolt of lightning lanced out from his extended fingers and blew away another of the torches.

"Nice!" cried Flandre.

"Good shot," Meiling agreed.

"Thank you," said Gryphon, and then, matter-of-factly, "I am now blind."

"I guess we better switch to a different card if we're going to practice any more," said Flandre.

"Don't wear yourselves out too extravagantly, you three," came Sakuya's voice, and they turned to see (well, two of them saw) her standing by the gazebo, smiling. "Dinner tonight will be something special, and I don't want any of you falling asleep at the table, Meiling."

"Eh heh... c'mon, you know I only fall asleep after I eat," said Meiling, sheepishly scratching the back of her head.

"Special dinner? What's the occasion?" Flandre wondered.

"Now that it's past midnight, it's these two's birthday," said Sakuya, nodding toward Meiling and Gryphon.

"Oh hey, you're right, it would be the twentieth now, wouldn't it?" said Meiling. Then, turning to Gryphon, she said, "It's your birthday too?"

"I guess it is! I'd lost track."

"Well, hey, happy birthday! Many happy returns," she said, ostentatiously shaking his hand.

"Same to you, Master Hong, same to you," said Gryphon cheerfully, and Flandre jumped in and hugged them both, adding her congratulations.

Then, disengaging, she asked, "Hey, Sakuya, do you want to give spell cards a try too?"

Sakuya's smile became a touch sly. She stepped away from the gazebo and up to the impromptu firing line, but when Flandre offered her a card, she didn't take it. Instead, with the same magician-like hand motions she'd shown before, she suddenly had a fistful of daggers in one hand and The World in the other—with a glowing card of her own held between the ring and pinky fingers of the hand that held the watch.

"Illusion Sign: Killing Doll!" she declared, thumbing The World's stem on the last syllable, and suddenly the whole area in front of her was full of flying silver, dozens of blades darting out in a fan-shaped arc and striking not one, but all of the target torches.

"Whoa," said Gryphon.

"That was awesome!" cried Flandre.

"I do love to watch you work," Meiling said, gazing at her with arms folded and a satisfied smile.

Sakuya clicked the watch again; to her observers, she didn't move, but suddenly the three knives she'd started with were back in her left hand. She made them disappear the same way she'd produced them in the first place, then turned to her audience and bowed like a performer.

"Thank you," she said with a mischievous little smile.

"I've always wondered why Papa gave it that name," Remilia's voice remarked from behind them, and they turned to see her standing not by, but on the gazebo, fists on hips. "I suppose it's because when he asked Signora Sapere to write it for you, you were still an adorable little doll," she added with a fond grin.

"M'lady, please," said Sakuya, blushing.

"I've been meaning to ask, do you have any pictures from back then?" asked Meiling. "I'd love to see what she looked like when she was little."

"Only one," said Remilia.

"Oh no," Sakuya groaned, hiding her face.

"Papa had her sit for a portrait when she first joined the family," Remilia went on, hopping down from the gazebo roof to join them. "Maman made a great show of her exasperation that he would spend that kind of money on immortalizing a mere lady's-maid, as I recall, but it was only for form's sake."

"Where is it now?" Meiling wondered. "I haven't noticed it anywhere."

"Well, you've never been in my bedchamber, unless you're sneakier than I think you are," said Remilia wryly, making Meiling blush in her turn. "I'll bring it out for you after dinner. I'm sure you'll find it most illuminating."

"M'lady..." said Sakuya from behind her hand.

"Oh, come now, Sakuya. You were the cutest thing. Don't you think your fiancée deserves to see that? On her birthday, no less?"

"... I suppose," the maid conceded, lowering her hand and giving Meiling an embarrassed smile.

Meiling beamed. "I'm looking forward to it."

"Well, then," said Sakuya, visibly reassembling her composure, "I suppose we should leave you to your training—"

As she spoke, the first fat raindrop hit Meiling square on top of the head.

"Uh-oh," said Flandre.

There followed a mad scramble for the house, which they reached just as the heavens opened up and the rain resumed with a vengeance.

Standing by the windows with a vampire on either side of him, watching the rain stream down the outside of the glass, Gryphon mused, "This feels familiar."

"Mm," Remilia agreed. "Rather like a certain fateful evening in April... wouldn't you say, Flan?"

"Don't look at me," Flandre replied. "Why would I want to rain out my own spell card practice? Besides, I can't even remember how I did that. Or how either of us got anywhere in it!"

"I had an umbrella," Remilia said, "and a lot of time to waste picking my way around little streams. As for you, I suspect you just didn't notice how much it hurt."

"Yeah, that's probably true," Flandre conceded. Then, with a faint smirk, she added, "We both know I have a higher tolerance for that kind of thing than you anyway, Sis."

"I wouldn't think being a masochist was anything to brag about."

"I'm not a masochist," Flandre objected. "I just don't mind being reminded I'm alive sometimes. Right, bro?"

"Don't fight, you two," said Gryphon absently, hugging one of them with each arm.

"This isn't fighting," Remilia told him contentedly.

"You've seen us fighting," Flandre added with a frowning little shiver.

"Hey, now," said Gryphon, holding her a little tighter. "None of that. Those times are over and—"

Before he could finish the sentence, lightning split the sky above the west lawn, momentarily flash-blinding him again, and the thunderous report rattled the windows. Miraculously, none of the panes broke, but as Gryphon's vision cleared, he saw that the gazebo had been hit and now lay in fragments.

"Holy crap!" he said.

"What was that?!" Meiling asked, still wiping her hands on a towel even as she came charging out of the kitchen. "Aw, jeez! My gazebo!"

"Where did that lightning even come from? There's been no sign this was a thunderstorm," Flandre wondered.

"I don't—" Remilia began, then looked closer and pointed. "Wait, what is that?"

"You two wait here," said Gryphon. "I'll check it out."

"I'll come with you," Meiling said, and the two of them plunged out into the driving rain to investigate.

Up close, the gazebo was a near-total loss, its roof splintered and its supporting columns splayed out like the legs of a flattened spider, but, surprisingly, it showed few signs of the scorching one might have expected from a lightning strike. It was more as if it had been struck from above by one or more heavy objects moving at speed.

Lying sprawled amid the rubble, they found those objects: a woman in a brown leather flying jacket, and the bent and battered halves of a Striker Unit, one of them still on her leg, the other lying a short distance away.

"What th' heck?" Meiling wondered, shouting to be heard over the wind and rain.

"A witch?!" Gryphon said, baffled.

"How did she get into the time bubble?" Meiling asked.

"I don't know!" Gryphon replied, and then, "You didn't see me do this, OK?"

So saying, he performed one of the few blatantly anchronistic acts he'd allowed himself since arriving in 1946 and rezzed up his omni-tool to run a baseline medical scan. It wouldn't do to just unceremoniously pick up this woman, whoever she was, and lug her into the house like a sack of grain if she had internal injuries or a spinal fracture—although what else they could do for her, under the circumstances, was an open question for which he didn't have a good answer ready to hand.

Fortunately, a fast scan of her torso and head revealed no life-threatening injuries; she'd been knocked cold by the impact, no surprise there, but not seriously concussed, and everything else was in order.

"OK!" Gryphon said, dismissing the tool. "Get her inside! I'll see to her Striker."

"Roger that," Meiling replied, picking up the unconscious witch like a rag doll.

The other half of her Striker fell off when Meiling lifted her. It took Gryphon two trips to lug the damaged machinery into the house, by which time Meiling and Sakuya, working together with brisk efficiency, had already divested their unscheduled guest of her sodden uniform, dried her off as best they could, wrapped her up in a blanket, dragged the corner settee closer to the fireplace, and laid her gently thereupon with a throw pillow under her head.

"Here," said Meiling, throwing him a towel.

"Thanks," he replied, scrubbing at his rain-soaked hair. "Man alive, the weather around here doesn't screw around this time of year."

"Wait here, I'll get you two some dry clothes," Sakuya said, reappearing moments later with the promised items.

"Well then," said Gryphon once the exchange had been made. "Let's see what we have here... oh 'ello."

"Do you know her?" Remilia asked. "Is she one of yours?"

The witch who had struck the gazebo looked to be about sixteen, with sharp features and a jagged shock of dark-brown hair that was already drying out and un-wilting in the warmth from the fireplace. Not much else could be told about her at the moment, since she was wrapped up to her neck in a woolen blanket.

"She's not with the 501st, but I do know her," Gryphon confirmed, sitting down in his usual chair. "Never would have expected to see her here, though..."

Flandre, peering closely, reached into the top of the blanket and drew out a pair of stamped tags, one oblong and grey, the other red and circular, that were around the witch's neck on a cord.

"'Oxton, L.,'" she read. "'RAF. Flight Lieutenant. U. 3263827.'" Looking back over her shoulder at Gryphon, she said, "I'm not sure what half of that means, but I guess she's Britannian?"

Before he could reply beyond a nod, Flight Lieutenant Oxton stirred, mumbling, and then opened her eyes and looked around. She looked puzzled, though not alarmed, to find herself bundled up on a couch in a room full of odd-looking strangers. Even the puzzlement went away when she spotted Gryphon, replaced by a slightly tired smile.

"'Ello, Chief, fancy meeting you 'ere," she said in a cheery voice with much more than a trace of a London accent.

"Dang it, Lena, one month we've had that gazebo you wrecked," Gryphon said, exasperated. "This is why we can't have nice things. Also, you're a witch now?"

"That's what the RAF thinks, anyway," Lena replied. "Sorry for the dramatic entrance. I thought I was crossing a phase barrier, not a bloody time gradient. Last thing I remember thinking's 'Is this the end for Mrs. Oxton's little girl?' Thanks for the save."

"You're welcome. What are you doing here?"

"I 'eard someone up at Saint-Ulrich was looking for witches with time manipulation skills. Not many of those around, so I got a two-day pass an' 'eaded north. Noticed this... anomaly... along the way and thought I'd check it out. Maybe not my best plan. What're you doin' 'ere?"

"Date night," said Gryphon with an ironic little smile.

"Aw, lovely," said Lena, grinning. "That's so—wait. Why is your date night inside a time eddy?"

Rising from his seat, Gryphon took Remilia's hand and said wryly, "Long story short? 'S where the girl is."

Lena laughed. "Cor, ain't that always the way?"

"Let me introduce you," he said, and did so. As he did, Sakuya returned from the kitchen with a tray bearing a soup bowl and spoon.

"Oh, 'ello, Sakuya," said Lena cheerfully before Gryphon could introduce the maid. "Ain't you a sight for sore eyes? You're looking well."

Sakuya looked slightly confused. "I'm sorry, have we met?"

"Ah, bollocks, I've done it again," Lena grumbled.

"Now you know how I felt," Gryphon said to Sakuya with a little smile. "Lena's a time traveler, like us. We must all be out of order to each other."

"Well, not exactly like you, unless you've done some reincarnating I don't know about," said Lena wryly. "This timeline, I was born in Seven Dials in 1930. Anyway, nice meeting you all, and I'm sorry about your gazebo."

"Eh, I built it once, I can build it again," said Meiling philosophically. "I'm just glad you weren't seriously hurt."

"Here," said Sakuya, placing the tray on the low table by the settee. "This should warm you up."

"Thanks." Lena made to get up, then frowned thoughtfully worked an arm out of the blanket, raised its hem, and peered within. "Uh, I seem to be a bit naked."

"Oh, of course." Sakuya nodded to the fireplace, where Meiling had set up a couple of the dining room chairs with their backs to the fire and hung their unexpected guest's clothes up to dry. "I'll get you something to wear."

"Something to wear" turned out to be one of Meiling's spare shirts, which fit Lena's much smaller frame like a nightgown, but it did at least allow her to sit up and eat her soup.

"Thanks," she said when she'd finished and Sakuya picked up the tray.

"You're quite welcome," Sakuya said. "Is there anything else you need?"

"Nah, I think I'm good, thanks," said Lena. "What's the story on my Striker?"

"I haven't taken a good look at it yet, but I think it's all there," Gryphon said. "You bent some of it pretty good, but I've seen worse."

Lena chuckled. "Well," she said, rising, "you know what they say, any landing you walk away OW," and she pitched over, her right leg buckling under her. Meiling sprang forward and caught her, then carefully deposited her back on the couch, knelt before it, and judiciously ran her fingertips along the witch's right calf and ankle.

"Does that hurt?" she asked, touching a spot just above the point of the ankle.

"OW bloody 'ELL," Lena replied.

"I'll take that as a yes," said Meiling. "Sorry. Had to be sure. You've broken your ankle." Looking up, she said, "Sakuya, would you break up some ice and wrap it up in something, please? We need to get this cooled down before it starts to swell."

"Right," Sakuya agreed, heading for the kitchen.

"'Ow did I not notice a broken ankle?" Lena wondered, sounding more indignant than anything else.

"It probably wasn't fully broken until you tried to walk on it," said Meiling, feeling at the injury more gently.

"Ah, hell, I didn't scan that far down," said Gryphon, slapping his forehead. "I was too preoccupied making sure all the vital stuff was still where it was supposed to be."

"Eh, I'll live," said Lena, and then, blinking in surprise, "What did you just do? It doesn't 'urt near as much all of a sudden."

"I'm redirecting your qi around the break," said Meiling, her fingertips tracing a careful pattern on the ankle, which was starting to turn a bit bluish. "It won't last forever, because you need qi flow through the area for it to heal, but it'll give you some relief until we can come up with something better."

Lena grinned. "Thanks. Where'd you learn to do that?"

"Oh, y'know. The Old Country," said Meiling vaguely. "Ah, thanks," she went on to Sakuya, accepting the ice pack she'd prepared and placing it on the injury.

"You're just full of surprises, Master Hong," said Remilia fondly.

"I do what I can," said Meiling, blushing slightly.

Remilia took herself off to the kitchen then, and returned a few minutes later bearing a teacup on a saucer, which she presented to their guest with a slight flourish.

"Here you are, Lt. Oxton, try this," she said. "My late mother's herbal blend. It should help with the pain."

"Why thank you, Countess Scarlet," said Lena cordially, taking it and sipping. "You are truly as kind as you are lovely."

"Oi," said Gryphon mildly.

Remilia turned an impish smile to him. "Are you disagreeing with her, mon vieux?"

While everyone laughed, Gryphon gave a theatrically put-upon sigh. "I walked right into that one."

"You sure did," Meiling agreed, then gave him a sympathetic fist bump.

"It's just about time for dinner," said Sakuya, consulting The World. "Lt. Oxton, I'll make you up a tray, since we can hardly expect you to sit at the table."

Lena opened her mouth to say that was perfectly fine and thank you very much, but Flandre interjected, "That wouldn't be very sociable of us. Why don't we all just eat over here instead? I mean, it's three different special occasions now," she pointed out with a grin.

"Ordinarily, I would object that mealtimes at the table are sacred," Remilia said, "but under the circumstances, I think you're right, Flan."

And so, Gryphon and Meiling's birthday dinner was served à la mode suburbain, on improvised tables, from seats on soft furniture arranged in what interior-design magazines of a later decade would call a "conversational grouping". It made for a cheerfully festive change of pace, the informality of it meshing nicely with the unusual occasion and the new company.

Despite her injury and the obvious touch of fatigue it brought with it, Lena hit it off nicely with everyone in the household, and by the end of the meal no one was calling her "Lt. Oxton" any longer. Flandre, in particular, appeared thrilled to make her acquaintance, chatting happily away, which brought a private, nostalgic smile to her elder sister's face. It reminded Remilia pleasantly of much older times, when Flan had done exactly the same with guests of the house as a little girl.

Once the birthday cake and hot beverages were consumed, Gryphon excused himself for a moment to go and make a preliminary survey of the damage to her Striker. Upon returning to the living room, he reported,

"OK, good news and bad news. I'm pretty sure I can fix your Striker, but you won't be able to try and fly back out of the bubble until your leg heals anyway, so..." He shrugged. "Make yourself comfortable."

"Ah, this is no problem," Lena said, gesturing. "Now that I've got some good food in me, I can speed up my personal time an' 'eal up in a jiffy."

So saying, she closed her eyes in concentration; with the shimmery sound of released magic, a pair of grey-tipped brown wings appeared, tucked close to the sides of her head.

"Coool," Flandre murmured, never having seen a familiar-bearing witch in the modern style invoke her power before.

Lena opened one eye and grinned at her. "That's nothin', watch this," she said.

For a second, nothing happened; then an ominous rumbling noise, like distant thunder or a passing train, started rattling the teacups in their saucers, growing louder and stronger until the house itself began to shake.

"Whatever you're doing, turn it off!" Gryphon shouted over the noise.

Looking startled (by the phenomenon, not his shout), Lena released her hold on the magic, letting her kestrel's wings disappear, and the rumbling and shaking immediately ceased.

"... Orrrr not," the witch said, blinking. "Uh. Room for one more?"

Sakuya sighed. "Another mouth to feed," she said with mischief in her smile.

"O... K," said Meiling, impressed. "I wonder why that doesn't happen when Sakuya does her thing?"

Sakuya consulted her vortex manipulator's instruments, then said dryly, "Probably because The World isn't brute-forcing the entire timestream like someone I could mention."

"Oi! I can 'ear you."

"Wonderful! It would have been wasted, otherwise," Sakuya said with just a trace of impish humor.

"Lena, please stop flirting with Meiling's fiancée," said Gryphon patiently.

Lena gave him a don't-you-start look, but was only able to say, "I. Wait, wot?"

"We both know you have a type, Flight Lieutenant Oxton," Gryphon said, pronouncing it "leftenant" in the RAF style.

Lena folded her arms, pouting. "Yeah, but you don’t 'ave to just say it like that, mate." Then she grinned, to show she wasn't genuinely miffed, and added, "Anyway, fair play, I'll be'ave meself."

Chuckling, Remilia rose from the Ottomane and said, "Speaking of fair play, I have a promise to keep, if you'll excuse me for a moment." She paused as something occurred to her. "That is, Sakuya, if you're all right with our guest... ?"

Sakuya bowed slightly, her expression untroubled. "As you like, m'lady," she said.

Remilia smiled. "Excellent. I'll be right back."

She went upstairs, returning a short while later with a large framed painting, which she propped up in one of the armchairs so they could all see it.

"There you are, Meiling, as promised: your best belovèd as she was when she first came to this house—plus a few months' worth of Papa's home cooking," she added with a little grin and a wink for Sakuya, who blushed, but looked pleased all the same.

"Oh wow," said Meiling, leaning forward in her seat for a closer look.

The painting was a traditional portrait, as one might expect to find in a stately home like the Scarlet Mansion, rendered in oil on gilt-framed stretched canvas. It depicted its subject seated at the edge of a red velvet Louis XV chair, like the ones to be found in Remilia's chamber, with a fireplace in the background: back very straight, hands together in her lap, one of them holding a book.

The girl in the painting was unmistakably Sakuya, with the same steel-grey hair in the same slightly shaggy cut, the same twin braids tied with green ribbons, the same blue-grey eyes in the same prettily composed face, but much younger—no more than 10 or 11 years old, her figure still pre-adolescent in her neatly cut, cleanly starched maid's dress and apron. Her sturdily shod feet didn't quite reach the floor, hanging toes just touching the hardwood. She was very petite, but showed no signs of the malnutrition and abuse some of the onlookers knew had dogged her young life prior to her salvation at the hands of Remilia's father, Count Victor Scarlet.

The portraiteur, whoever he was, had clearly been a painter of some skill and greater discernment, under instructions (from the painting's subject, Meiling wondered, or its commissioner?) to render Sakuya exactly. He hadn't omitted anything, from the chain of The World running from its loop at her waist into the watch pocket of her apron, to the neatly tied little bandages on several of her fingers, evidence that she had still been learning her trade. Her perfectly captured expression was solemn, almost somber, but it also conveyed contentment to anyone who knew Sakuya's face well enough to spot it: the faint traces of satisfaction around her eyes, the very slightest quirk of a smile at one corner of her mouth, just a hint of a blush in her cheeks.

Somewhat to everyone's surprise, the sight of it moved Meiling to tears.

"Meiling, are you all right?" she asked, leaning close with a concerned look.

Meiling sniffled, wiping her face with the back of a hand, but then grinned. "Remilia's right, Sakuya," she said. "You were adorable. I just want to reach right into the painting, pick you up, and take you home."

The adult Sakuya rolled her eyes slightly. "Pervert."

"Not like that!" Meiling hastened to add, her face going crimson, as Flandre burst out laughing (and the others were a bit more discreetly amused).

"In retrospect, I wish I had thought to ask that I be included in the picture myself," Remilia said wistfully. "We would have made a charming tableau. 'A Perfect Maid and Her Splendid Lady'."

"I was anything but perfect in those days, m'lady," Sakuya pointed out mildly.

"Just 'ow long 'ave you been a maid?" Lena wondered.

"In essence, all my life," said Sakuya. "I'll tell you about it some other time."

The witch nodded. "Fair enough, I was just curious." She yawned, covering it with the back of a hand, then said, "I realize the night is still young in vampire-land, but in the world I just came from it's getting pretty late. Any chance of a place to crash?"

"Sure, you can have my room," Meiling said. "I didn't end up needing it for very long," she added with a wink, drawing an exasperated but gentle swat to the head from Sakuya and giggles from both Lena and Flandre. "Let me just take another look at your ankle... hmm... yeah, I think we got the ice on it in time to head off the worst of the swelling."

Looking up from her patient, she went on, "Sakuya, do we have any old sheets or towels or anything that can be sacrificed? Something I can rip up for bandages?" To Lena, she explained, "I'm going to wrap this up for now, so you can at least hobble on it if you need to, and tonight we'll see about setting it properly."

"Some of my old sheets were pretty worn out," Flandre suggested.

Sakuya nodded. "Mm, I was just thinking of those. I'll be right back."

Remilia examined the neatly wrapped and tied dressing, festive in slightly faded red, Meiling had just finished putting on her new houseguest's injured ankle. Then, straightening up, she declared, "Very tidy work, Master Hong. Or should we call you Doctor?" she added with an impish smile.

"I'm no doctor," Meiling protested with a gratified blush, "but I've picked up a thing or two here and there. When you study martial arts as long as I have, you can't help but learn how to take care of things like this. Oh, that reminds me—Gryph, when you get a minute, can you go through your scrap lumber pile and see if you've got anything that would make a decent crutch?"

"Oh yeah, good idea. I'll take a look," Gryphon agreed. "Must be something in there I can bodge together."

Lena lifted her leg to admire the wrapping, then put it gently down and said, "Thanks, you lot." With a slightly bashful smile, she went on, "A girl doesn't always get such a warm welcome for causin' property damage."

"Not a bit of it," said Remilia, folding her arms grandly. "A guest is a jewel upon the cushion of hospitality, after all. Speaking of which, I mustn't keep you from your bed. You'll find we necessarily keep fairly late hours in this house, but of course you're free to keep whatever schedule you like."

"I'm sure I'll adapt in a day or two," said Lena, and then, with a wry grin, "I'm not exactly unfamiliar with creatures of the night—right, Chief?"

Gryphon chuckled. "Indeed."

"Now then," said Meiling briskly. "We can't have you trying to climb stairs on that ankle tonight, so... hup!" So saying, she picked the Britannian witch up in a classic princess carry without any apparent effort, drawing a startled squeak from her in the process, then set off for the front hall. "Be back in a minute!"

"No rush, be careful on the stairs," said Sakuya. "Good morning, Lena."

"G'morning, Lena! Sleep tight!" called Flandre.

"Uh... later, all!" said Lena, waving a little awkwardly over Meiling's shoulder as she was conveyed away.

"She has a very gallant side to her, hasn't she, our Meiling?" Remilia observed.

"Yes she does," Sakuya agreed with a sentimental smile.

"So..." said Flandre, drawing the syllable out. "Is anybody going to mention how well our new guest took the whole 'time-displaced house with two vampires' thing?"

Gryphon laughed. "That's Lena. She's seen even more weird stuff than I have, so she's pretty well un-gobsmackable."

"How can she have seen more weird stuff than you if she's only sixteen?"

"That's almost as long a story as mine."

"Huh. Well, whatever. I like her. And hey! Now I know five people in the whole world!" Flandre said with a bright grin. "That's a twenty-five percent gain in one night! Go me!"

Those who remained awake whiled away the wee hours talking over the various prospective improvement projects for the house, with Gryphon and Meiling showing off their drawings to the sisters and Sakuya, soliciting input as to which item should be prioritized, and strategizing about how and where they would round up the materials they needed. In the end, they didn't make any final decisions, but retired for the morning mulling over the different possibilities.

Gryphon was sitting on the bed which, after two months, he was truly coming to regard as both Remilia's and his own, scratching Wolfgang's ears and listening to her as—to his mild amusement—she changed for bed behind her dressing screen, in spite of everything.

"I've had an idea of my own that I'd like to propose," she said over the rustling of fabric.

"Oh?" he replied.

Remilia emerged from behind the screen. With the days getting warmer, she'd lately switched from the flannel nightdresses to which he'd grown accustomed to lighter, more casual nightgowns of a camisole type, shoulderless apart from thin straps; today's was white, with her customary ruffles and some nice brocading in the bodice. Crossing the room, she sat down beside him and said,

"Yes. Not to do with the house, but with our plans for next month. I was thinking—"

She was interrupted by a knock at the door. Looking faintly surprised, she rose and went to answer it. There stood Flandre, dressed for bed and carrying her pillow, as before.

"Hi," she said in a low voice. "Can I crash here today? No special reason, I just feel like being with you guys. Do you mind?"

"Of course I don't mind," said Remilia, giving her a hug. "Come in. I was just telling Benjamin about an idea I've had for next month." Shutting the door behind Flandre, she took her sister's hand and led her inside. "Let's get to bed and I'll tell you both about it."

"You try being in the middle this time, Sis," Flandre suggested as Remilia hung up her cap by the bed and folded back the covers. "I think we can get it to work... just like... that. Yeah! There we go. Comfy?"

"Surprisingly so—until one of you rolls onto my wing in your sleep," said Remilia archly.

"We'll be careful, right, bro?"

"Always," Gryphon agreed, then put out the last candle and settled in. Down at the foot of the bed, Wolfgang was already snoring by the time he'd finished situating himself.

"Anyway, tell us about your idea," Flandre prompted.

"Hm? Ah, yes. In the letter I wrote to the president, demanding an apology for the 10th Floréal, I designated you, Benjamin, as my agent, because I didn't think I'd be able to receive any return correspondence here. But it occurred to me earlier tonight—on next month's full moon, when you go out and loop back to June, instead of waiting for you here, why don't I come with you?"

"Well... I suppose there's no reason why that wouldn't work," said Gryphon after a moment's thought. "It would be no more dangerous than me going by myself, since we'd both be outside the bubble."

"That was my thought as well. We can go back together, and then you can return to Saint-Ulrich, and I'll get a night train from Colmar to Paris. I shall take a room somewhere in the capital and deal with the bureaucracy directly, however long that takes. When my business there is finished, I'll go to Ribeauvillé, and then we'll wait together for Flan to come up and join us at the July full moon."

"You, all by yourself in the big city?" said Flandre, skeptical. "You've barely left this house for the past 150 years, except for your date last week." She giggled. "You'd better take Sakuya with you or you'll get lost trying to find the train station."

"How can my own sister have so little faith in me?" asked Remilia indignantly. "I know where the train station is. Besides, I can't ask Sakuya to be parted from Meiling for a whole month, it would be a terrible abuse of my position."

"She'd be fine, you know she'll do anything for you," Flandre scoffed, then pointed out, "She'd be more worried about leaving Meiling alone, and from her side, you two will only be gone for a couple hours. Even if I leave for Ribeauvillé before you get back, she'll only be alone for, what, half an hour?" With affectionate sarcasm, she added, "She's a grown-up, she'll probably survive."

"Well... that is true. All right, I'll ask her, but only as a request. I'll have to ask once she's off-duty tomorrow, so it's extra-clear it's not an order."

Flandre giggled again. "You guys are so weird about your relationship," she said. "Master-servant? Best friends? Both at the same time?" She leaned up on an elbow, looking at her sister with mischievous eyes in the dark. "Hey, back in the old days, did you ever, you know... do it with her?"

"Flandre!" said Remilia, scandalized. "How dare you even ask such a question?"

"No, I mean, like... the vampire 'it'," said Flandre. "Not... the other thing."

"Oh. Well, even so, that's a very personal question."

"So, I'm your sister. Tell me."

Remilia sighed. "Very well. No, I never have. I was tempted, very tempted, on many occasions, but unlike certain vampires I could name, I can control myself. It would have been a terribly improper thing to do. The ultimate imposition."

"Mm-hmm. I bet she wanted you to~," said Flandre in a playful sing-song—but if she was hoping to get another rise out of her sister with the quip, she was disappointed, for all she got back was another sigh, this one slightly wistful.

"You're probably right, but I was too blind to see it," said Remilia. "At any rate, it was a long time ago now, and both of us have gone in other directions. I love Sakuya—I always will—but I could never ask such a thing of her now." Seeming to realize for the first time in a while that she and Flandre weren't alone in the room, she went on, "Sorry, Benjamin, is this topic uncomfortable for you?"

"No," Gryphon replied, hugging her a little tighter. Instinctively, she raised a hand and laced it with his where it lay on her stomach. "I mean, you're not saying anything I didn't already know, or at least hadn't already guessed. And I'd be the hypocrite of the year if I held that kind of thing against you, don't you think?" he added wryly.

"There is that," she said, her slight smile audible in her voice. Then, her tone becoming a trifle arch once more, she asked, "Is there any other impertinent question you'd like to ask, Flan?"

"Nah, that's enough impertinence for one day," said Flandre, her voice starting to get fuzzy with drowsiness. Remilia felt a flash of surprise, then a contented glow, as Flandre's hand found the other two and covered them, squeezing gently.

"G'morning, you guys," Flandre went on, now audibly half-asleep. "Love you lots."

Remilia was most of the way out herself before she realized they had never reached a conclusion about her plan.

Ah, well. Later is fine, she thought, relaxing fully, and plummeted into sleep with a serene smile.

Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra feat. Frankie Carle
"Sunrise Serenade"
Decca 2321 (1939)

Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Flying Yak Studios

and Bacon Comics Group
in association with
The International Police Organization
and Avalon Broadcasting System


Undocumented Features Future Imperfect

Lensmen: The Brave and the Bold
Our Witches at War
special series

Gallian Gothic: A Romance in Wartime

Book 2: Notes From the Scarlet Mansion, Act V:
"Une Inconnue Bien Connue"

written and directed by
Benjamin D. Hutchins

Jaymie Wagner
The EPU Usual Suspects

Based on characters from Tōhō Project
by Team Shanghai Alice

Bacon Comics chief
Derek Bacon

This Eyrie Production is dedicated to
Chris Meadows
March 9, 1973–October 14, 2020
one of the OGs

E P U (colour) 2020