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Flt. Lt. Lena Oxton's notes
SDM, day 14 (July 4? sort of?)

So! Here's where we stand two weeks into the project. I've averaged 5 books a day—that's 70 so far, math fans—and I've found a ton of incredibly neat and interesting things. This library is stupendous.

What I have NOT found is a single thing that might actually be useful to what we want to do. Loads of stuff about STOPPING time, REWINDING time, SKIPPING OVER time—you know, all the things I can already do?—but permanent lateral displacement of a fixed spatial pocket? Strangely enough, it doesn't seem like anyone's ever even thought about that, let alone tried it, much less worked out how to undo it.

It'd help if we knew what the original witches were actually trying to do, 'cos I bet it wasn't this.

Bugger all, I'm never gonna get paid.

Kidding aside, I can see why they don't want to just give up and leave the house. Even as run-down as parts of it are, this place is amazing. You couldn't build a house like this nowadays if you were rich as Croesus. And the memories it must hold for her ladyship the countess... yeah, I'd stay too if it was my place.

I'm starting to think we might have better luck if we look at moving the house out of the bubble instead. The size of the place is a problem, but if we could round up a dozen or so witches with teleport magic and we had someplace for it to land...

Well, that's probably not on so long as the war lasts, though. Any witches with that kind of power have other things to be doing these days.

Anyway, I'm here for another 11 days, might as well keep looking. Maybe something will turn up.

Must be about time for dinner. I hear we're having chicken fricassée. It's going to be tough going back to RAF "cuisine" after a month of Scarlet Devil home cooking.

I probably don't want to think too hard about where the milk comes from.

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 VII:
"Le Départ"

Gryphon stood in the empty room nearest the center of the basement, sketch pad in hand, visualizing the changes that needed to be made in order to prepare the room for its new function. In ten nights, assuming he did his job properly when the time came to loop back to mid-June, the supplies necessary to transform this room from a disused space to the heart of the mansion's planned new electrical system would arrive, which meant he and Meiling had that long to make it ready.

He heard footsteps behind him and turned to see Flandre Scarlet standing in the doorway, looking into the room with a hard-to-read expression.

"Hey, Flan," he said. "What's up?"

Flandre shrugged. "Nothing much," she replied, then crossed the threshold, glancing around as if she had half-expected something to happen.

When nothing did, she walked to his side with oddly hesitant steps. "What are you doing?"

"Just picturing where everything's going to go, so I can see what we need to do to prep the room." Pointing, he went on, "The wall sconces can mostly stay, we can route the conduits around them, but the chandelier will have to go. It'll be right in the way."

"Mm," said Flandre distractedly, nodding.

She wasn't looking at the sketch pad, or really at what he was indicating, either; rather, her crimson eyes were darting here and there, glancing at various features of the room, then moving on. Her expression was neutral, but her body language faintly uneasy.

"Hey," said Gryphon gently, putting his hand on her shoulder. "Are you OK? You don't have to stay here. If you need me for something, I can come back and do this later."

Flandre shook her head. "No, I'm... I'm fine. It's just... weird, you know? I haven't been in here since we moved out my things, and... well, with everybody down here together, it didn't feel like this. I didn't think..." She turned her head, looking up at his face. "It's like part of me is expecting that door to slam behind me again."

"Aw, Flan." Gryphon put his arm around her slim shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "That's not going to happen."

"I know," she said. "And even if it did, I'd be free to knock it down. But still..."

He nodded. She'd spent centuries confined to this room, after all, and it was big for a bedroom, but cramped for a person's whole world.

"But still," he agreed, holding her a little tighter.

Neither one said anything for a few moments.

"Hey," said Flandre quietly.


"Shall we play a game?"

Gryphon gave her a raised eyebrow. "What game did you have in mind?"

"Sis told me it was OK if I asked you to play the kissing game," she said, but before he could reply, she took a twirling step to her right, spinning out of his half-embrace and around behind him, and then sprang onto his back. "But let's start with a round of horsie for old times' sake!"

Gryphon laughed, put down the sketch pad, and adjusted her balance slightly. "Do me a favor and don't steer me into any walls this time, will you?" he asked. "Thanks to you, I've already tested them all quite thoroughly for structural integrity. With my face."

"No promises. Giddyup!"

In the event, she did not, in fact, steer him into any walls, nor did she run him until he pulled something in one or both legs, both of which were distinct improvements over the not-so-very-long-ago old days. Instead, they ran a few laps of the room, which was much easier now that there was nothing to dodge—no furniture, no scattered toys, no heaps of books.

Unfortunately, that also meant there was no bed to collapse dramatically upon, which had been the usual finale to the action in the past. Gryphon had to content himself instead with staggering into a corner and sliding down the wall. As he did so, his laughing passenger dismounted over his head, as if converting horsie to leapfrog, then settled into his lap as he took up a sitting position on the floor, drawing his arms around her as she did so.

"Oof," he said, feigning greater windedness than he really felt. "Did you get heavier?"

Instead of reacting to that remark with the mock outrage he expected, Flandre tipped her head back against his shoulder so she could (sort of) see his face and replied, "Actually, you know what? I did, just a little."

"Eh?" he replied, and she told him what she and Sakuya had discovered a few evenings ago—that, somehow, against every expectation, she'd recently grown. Not much, only an inch or so in height and otherwise in proportion to that gain—not even enough to change her shoe size—but enough to make her clothes fit poorly before Sakuya had altered them.

"Huh," said Gryphon. "How about that."

"I assume it was your doing," said Flandre.

Gryphon shrugged. "Who knows? Every day's an adventure. The timing fits, but you know what we engineers say: correlation does not equal causation."

"You're an engineer? I thought you were a pilot."

"I am many things," said Gryphon mock-pompously. "I contain multitudes."

Flandre giggled, then sobered and said, "I'd like to fly with you some day."

"That would be fun," Gryphon agreed. "Maybe when you come up to Saint-Ulrich we can try it, if the weather's any good."

"If it's not, I might not make it up there in the first place. Which would be really sad."

"Don't fret," he said, hugging her. "If it's raining, I'll come and get you. I just have to make sure not to meet myself in the yard," he added wryly. "We wouldn't be able to fly, but we can at least go into town."

"Yeah, if you don't mind me not being able to cross running gutters," she said glumly.

"You just can't cross under your own power, right? So it's not a problem if I carry you."

"Won't people think that's kind of weird?"

"Probably. So? What do you care what other people think?"

Flandre laughed. "You sound like Sis."

"Well, not to put too fine a point on it, she and I do have a certain compatibility of character."

"True." She shifted her shoulders, snuggling up to him a little closer. "That's probably part of why I love you both so much."

"Could be," Gryphon agreed. "Anyway, it probably won't rain. As my grandfather says, don't borrow trouble."

"Heh, OK, that's fair."

They stayed there in a warm and pleasant silence for a while, before Gryphon finally said, "Must be getting close to lunchtime. Somebody's going to come looking for us before too much longer."

"Mm, I suppose," said Flandre. "And you must be pretty uncomfortable sitting on the floor like this."

"Eh, one of my legs is asleep, but it's fine, I've got another one," he said casually.

Flandre laughed. "Even so," she said, and then, rising, turned around, grabbed his offered hand, and pulled him easily to his feet.

He steadied himself against the wall for a moment, shaking his numb foot back to life. When he turned back to face Flandre, intending to suggest that they head upstairs, she surprised him slightly by embracing him again from the front, reaching up and draping her arms around his neck.

"I'm still too short to do this without standing on tiptoe or levitating," she observed, switching from the former to the latter so that their eyes would be on a level. Then, with a grin, she added, "Maybe I should drain you again and see if I grow some more."

"I... think that might be a bad plan," he understated.

"Yeah, I suppose. Although..." She reddened, glancing away a little shyly. "I would like to have another taste some day. I won't ask for that until after the wedding, though." With a wry smile, she met his eyes and added, "I'm a weirdo who's in love with her brother-in-law, but I don't cut in line, that's just rude."

"It's good to know you have some boundaries," said Gryphon dryly.

"For now..." Flandre's blush returned, and in a quieter voice, her eyes steady on his, she asked, "... will you please kiss me?"

Gryphon considered her, his expression almost but not quite a smile, and for a sinking moment she thought he might be about to decline, or cop out and drop one on her forehead. Instead, almost to her surprise, he put his arms around her and properly did as she'd asked.

It was a fairly chaste affair as these things went, the kind of kiss a person would deploy to welcome a loved one home after a long trip, rather than the sort meant as a prelude to other activities. Having initiated it, he let her set the pace, and she seemed content to take it slowly, leaning into it but seeking no escalation. After a few seconds she withdrew, opening her eyes, and smiled, her eyes glittering in the candlelight.

"There's number two," she said, then mused, "Some girls' first kiss is so mundane they forget about it. I had mine under a full moon, half-mad and three-quarters dead, from the only friend I had in the world, with my big sister watching. Not likely to forget that in a hurry."

"It was a memorable evening all around," Gryphon agreed.

She frowned thoughtfully, then observed, "I'm going to have to think of something else to call you," making him utter an involuntary snort of laughter.

"Probably a good idea," Gryphon agreed, and then, deliberately breaking the moment, he went on, "C'mon, let's get to lunch before they send out a search party."

"Probably a good idea," she parroted, hugging his arm, and they both laughed as they left the room.

As they walked down the corridor toward the stairs, Flandre said thoughtfully, "I know this is weird, and I'm still amazed Sis is OK with it." Letting go of his arm, she went on, "I guess the least I can do is try not to rub her nose in it."

Gryphon shrugged. "Don't overthink it," he said. "These things work best when everyone involved feels free to just act natural."

"Good to know," Flandre said, taking his hand instead.

The nights bumped pleasantly along, and anticipation grew in the house as the July full moon approached. With the mistress of the house planning her first significant expedition beyond her threshold in a century and a half, the prospect of bureaucratic progress toward that lady's impending nuptials, and the promise of a new shipment of supplies for the Plant Services team to forward their various projects with, all had the residents watching the moon wax night by night, looking forward to the night when it would reach its peak.

With one week to go, under the light of its first quarter, Meiling and Flandre were out in the open area between the house and the jungle gym, doing tai chi exercises as a quiet cooldown after a session of spell card battle practice. They'd been at it for fifteen or twenty silent minutes when Flandre said,

"Hey, Meiling?"


"Can I ask you a personal question?"

Meiling didn't reply right away, since they were close to finishing the exercise. Only once they had wrapped it up, faced each other, and bowed did she sit down cross-legged on the ground and say,

"Sure. What's on your mind, Flan-Flan?"

Flandre took up a similar seated position a pace or so away, facing her, and asked earnestly, "When did you know that Sakuya was... the one for you?"

"Hmm," said Meiling thoughtfully. "When I saw her?"

"Come on, I'm being serious," Flandre objected.

"So am I," said Meiling. Her face took on a faraway smile as she went on, "The second she stepped out of that blue box, it was like there was nobody else who mattered. I mean, don't get me wrong, I didn't dare to talk to her for at least a week, but even so. I watched her from afar..." She hesitated, cheeks going a bit pink. "That sounds creepy when I say it out loud, but anyway... and she always looked so serious. Kind of sad. And I said to myself, 'Meiling, you are going to put a smile on that face, whatever it takes. And then you're going to keep it there for the rest of your life.'"

"Wow," said Flandre, wide-eyed.

Meiling laughed. "I know, presumptuous much? She didn't even know my name." Then, grinning, she went on, "But, well... so far so good!" Giving Flandre an inquisitive look, she asked, "Any special reason why you wanted to know?"

Flandre grinned. "I realized a little while ago that I'm in love myself, so I'm curious about how it's presented itself to other people I know."

Meiling's eyebrows went up. "Anybody we know?" she asked, half-joking.

"If you think about it for a second," Flandre replied, "you'll figure it out."

Meiling looked quizzical, then thoughtful, and then nodded. "Ah. So that's why you stopped calling him 'bro'."

"Yeah. It just felt too weird. Actually, it feels weird anyway. Because I do still feel that... I don't know what you'd call it. Brotherly warmth? I still feel that. Like sometimes I just want him next to me, or to hug me and tell me I matter. But other times... other times I want something else. Like I said. Weird. I'm still kind of getting my head around it."

"Does your sister know?" Meiling wondered.

"Oh, sure," Flandre replied easily. "I told her first. In fact, now that I think about it, I've never told him in so many words..." She grinned again, a little wryly this time. "... But he's figured it out from context."

She turned around and flopped down on her back, her wings splaying out to either side of her and her head in Meiling's lap. "You look funny from this angle," she observed, and before Meiling could reply, she switched back to the previous topic and said, "Sis swears she doesn't mind." Flandre smiled fondly. "The other night when I 'fessed up to her about it, she made one of her little speeches about how the likes of us can't be constrained by the conventions of the eighteenth century. But..."

The smile faded, replaced by a look of uncertainty. "Even so, I can't help but wonder if she's really... humoring me. Because she still feels bad about all the time I had to spend in the basement. Because my turning went wrong in the first place. Like she feels she owes me, and this is how she's decided to pay me back, even if it hurts her. I don't want it to be like that."

Meiling was able to follow the thread of her musings; she'd learned about the sisters' history, and how Flandre had become a vampire, in conversations during previous training sessions. Now, smiling kindly, she brushed Flandre's disordered blonde bangs away from her eyes and said,

"I think you might be overthinking this."

Flandre laughed. "That's what Gryph thinks too," she admitted. "But I can't help it. It nags at me. Makes me feel self-conscious. Like... when we're all together, I keep glancing at her, thinking I'll catch her hiding a hurt look or something. I don't want to, I never want to see her that way, but I keep thinking I will."

"But you never have."


Meiling grinned. "Then there's probably nothing there. I mean, granted, you've known her a lot longer than I have, but Remilia doesn't strike me as the kind of person who's that good at hiding her feelings."

"No, that's true," Flandre agreed. She sighed. "I don't know, it's probably just my dumb mind being dumb."

"Love is like that," Meiling said sagely.

"So I've been told," said Flandre.

They sat in silence for a few moments, both of them looking up at the sky.

"Meiling? Young mistress? Are you out here?" Sakuya's voice called from the direction of the house.

"Right here, Sakuya," Meiling called back.

"It's almost time for dinner."

"Be right there!" Meiling replied. Then, looking down at Flandre's face, she said, "Sorry I don't have better advice for you, Flan-Flan. I'm not real good at that kind of thing either." She shrugged. "All I can do is be myself. It's worked out OK so far."

Flandre sat up, then sprang to her feet and turned around as Meiling clambered upright.

"It's OK," said Flandre with a smile. "Just being able to talk about it with somebody else helps."

They entered the great room to find Sakuya setting the table, Remilia rummaging in the wine cabinet, and Lena, off her crutches now but still using a cane, hobbling in from the library. Presently, as everyone got arranged, Gryphon emerged from the kitchen, amusingly decked out in one of Sakuya's spare aprons (frills and all) over his customary Liberion fatigues, and carrying a large platter upon which was a heap of what looked to Flandre like some sort of sandwich.

"Ah, good, everyone's here," he said, placing the platter in the middle of the table. "Tonight, ladies, we will be enjoying one of the great icons of Liberion cuisine, the humble yet mighty cheeseburger—so named, of course, because it was invented by immigrants from the Karlslandic city of Cheeseburg."

That got a laugh, even from those at the table who didn't know the actual etymology of the word cheeseburger, and then everybody dug in.

In the lazy time after dinner, with everyone lounging around the living room, Remilia sat jotting in a notebook with a pencil, a thoughtful frown on her face. Presently she looked up and said,

"Meiling, what would you say your function is around here?"

Meiling, who was in her customary spot in front of Sakuya's place at the other end of the Ottomane, craned her neck to look up and back at the mistress of the house, her expression quizzical.


"When I go to Paris," Remilia explained, "I expect I shall have to make an accounting of my household for the government—explain to them who lives here and what role they play. Obviously I'm the head of the household, Benjamin is my fiancé, Flandre needs no particular title, and Sakuya is... well, Sakuya is many things, but for bureaucratic purposes I've chosen to call her the housekeeper. But you, I don't know... I think 'housekeeper's snuggle bunny' lacks gravitas."

Sakuya unsuccessfully suppressed a bark of laughter; on the other sofa across from her, Lena didn't bother trying, while Flandre giggled and Gryphon more decorously snickered.

"I know!" said Remilia, brightening, before Meiling could get over being flummoxed and attempt a reply. Applying her pencil, the vampire went on, "I'll put you down as my huscarl. People around here used to have those, long ago, and I like the sound of it."

Sakuya eyed her narrowly. "I'd say you're enjoying this entirely too much," she said dryly, then went on with a warm smile, "but I enjoy seeing you enjoy yourself too much."

"That was quite a sentence," Flandre observed cheerfully.

"The heck's a huscarl?" Meiling wondered.

"Medieval chief of security, more or less," Gryphon said.

"Oh." Meiling considered that, then nodded, smiling. "Could do worse."

"From the sound of it, you almost did," Lena pointed out.

"I fail to see how being my snuggle bunny is anything other than a highly honorable office," said Sakuya with exaggerated dignity.

"Fair point, well made," Lena conceded.

"You must be looking forward to Paris if you're doing homework for it," Gryphon observed.

Remilia grinned. "Apart from our date in Colmar last month, it's my first outing in centuries. Of course I'm looking forward to it—even if I do presume the official business I'm going there to transact will be unbearably dull," she added with a shrug.

"I've been thinking," Flandre put in. "If Gryph is going back to his unit, and Lena's going back to hers, and you and Sakuya are going to Paris, why don't Meiling and I go too?"

That got a raised eyebrow from the elder sister. "And leave the house empty?"

"Well, from the house's point of view it'd only be for a couple of hours," Flandre pointed out. "Anyway, I want to get out there and see stuff! I've been working hard, I think I'm ready. And besides, I'll have the huscarl to keep me out of trouble," she added with a wry grin.

"And did you discuss this with Meiling before you volunteered her to look after you for a month in the wild?" Remilia inquired.

"Hey, Meiling—you want to go look around Gallia for a couple weeks?" Flandre asked. "You can keep me from accidentally eating villagers or whatever it is Sis is afraid I'll do on my own."

Remilia's cheeks went slightly red. "For the record, that is not what I'm afraid of."

Meiling grinned. "Sounds like fun to me," she said. "I always like checking out new places. Heck, I was a nomad for a lot of years back in the day."

"Hm," said Sakuya. "This will complicate the logistics somewhat, having to provide for both of you away from the house for an extended period... but I think I can just about manage it, young mistress, since you'll have Meiling along to carry the baggage," she added with a little grin, nudging one of her lover's shoulders with a stockinged foot.

"Once again my core competencies come to the rescue," said Meiling mock-smugly, hands behind head.

"Can I just point out that I haven't agreed to this part of the plan yet?" said Remilia mildly.

"Oh, come on, Sis. It'll be fine. How about this?" Flandre proposed. "The four of us can all go to Paris together. That way Meiling and I will be handy if you need to, I don't know, prove to somebody that we really exist or something. You can see for yourself how I handle myself in the big city. If you don't like it..." She shrugged. "Then I guess we'll all head straight for Ribeauvillé when you're done. But if you think I do OK, then we'll... you know... just kinda wander for a while, and meet you up there sometime before the fourteenth."

"Hmm," said Remilia thoughtfully. "Benjamin, how do you think your witches are likely to react if all of your outside household shows up at Saint-Ulrich in search of shelter for a week or three?"

"Well, Minna already said you're welcome anytime," Gryphon said. "I don't imagine it would be a problem to extend that. We're not short of space, for sure. I mean, having my whole family camp out for a while would never fly at a regular airbase, no pun intended, but we do things a little differently in the JFWs," he added with a smile. "Besides, she'll be busy getting ready for her wedding, which is on the twelfth."

"Oh yes, Hattori mentioned that when I visited the castle last month, didn't she?" said Remilia. "When she offered to let us use the chapel they're building for it."

"Are you thinking we might take her up on that?" Gryphon wondered, but Remilia shook her head.

"No, it's a very kind offer, but I have something else in mind. If I can arrange it, which I'm not sure of yet, I'd like our church service to be held in the church where my parents were married."

"The big one in Bruges?" Flandre asked. "That's pretty far from here, isn't it?"

"Six hundred kilometers, or thereabouts, depending on the route," Sakuya said. "A good day's drive if we had an automobile."

"I have an automobile!" Gryphon said cheerfully.

"No, you have a terrifying tin box on wheels," Remilia corrected him. "Which is far too small to accommodate all of us, anyway. No, I expect we'll have to go by train, most likely via Paris. I'll have to check the railway timetable. Another of the many things on my to-do list. At any rate, assuming all goes well in Paris, Benjamin and I can visit the Colmar mairie to finish the paperwork, after which they'll need time to publish the banns and so forth... shall we aim for the following full moon? The twelfth August, I believe..." she said, as if the precise date were of no particular consequence.

Gryphon smiled. "Your birthday."

"You remembered," said Remilia, pleased.

"Of course I did. And that works for me! I hope you don't mind if I invite my wingmates."

"Not at all. I wish you would! If you don't, there'll be hardly anyone there," Remilia pointed out archly.

"Yay! A date!" cried Flandre, leaving her seat to hop into her sister's lap and hug her. Then, turning to Sakuya, she said, "We have to start planning my clothes! I need something nice and martial if I'm going to be sergeant-at-arms."

Lena laughed. "I don't think I've ever seen a wedding that 'ad a sergeant-at-arms before."

"Well, you'll see one next month!" Flandre told her. "Assuming you're invited."

"Of course she's invited. We don't have so many friends that one has to pick and choose," said Remilia with a slight smirk.

"Delighted to accept, your ladyship," said Lena with mild but friendly sarcasm, inclining her head. Then, puffing out her lower lip to blow her jagged bangs out of her eyes, she added, "I just wish I 'ad something better to tell you on the research front. I've been 'ard at it this 'ole time, but so far, all I've got is a big pile of nothing."

"Ah, don't sweat it," Gryphon said. "We knew it was a long shot."

"Indeed," Remilia concurred. "And in any case, it's been a pleasure to have you with us. Once we're situated a bit more conveniently, I hope you'll visit us again—hopefully without injuring yourself on the way," she added with a smile.

"So," Flandre persisted, "we never decided. Is it OK? Can I come with you to Paris, and then explore for a while before we meet up at Saint-Ulrich?"

"I still need to see your skills for myself before I'll be comfortable with you going anywhere," Remilia pointed out. "But assuming I'm satisfied once I do..." She sighed. "Then yes, Flandre, as long as Meiling is really all right with accompanying you, you may go exploring."

"Like I said, I'm up for it," Meiling said agreeably. "Been a while since I had a good walkabout."

"You guys are the best," Flandre said, hugging her sister again.

To celebrate the newly expanded plan, they repaired to the music room for the rest of the evening. Gryphon and Flandre showed off the work they'd been doing on piano-for-four-hands pieces, after which they broke out the accordion and passed it back and forth in an impromptu polka duel. Invited to join the festivities, Lena ferreted out a classical guitar and got into the Baroque spirit, as she and Remilia improvised a guitar-and-violin arrangement of Bach's "Air on a G String" together.

Modern Strings
"Air on a G String"
A. Wilhelmj, comp. (1871), after J.S. Bach (ca. 1730)

From there, the evening became a string recital for a while, with Flandre switching back to the harpsichord for some Bach and Couperin (including pieces by the latter other than "Les Barricades Mystérieuses"), Remilia and Sakuya playing some more violin-and-cello duets, and Meiling experimenting with the double bass (not an instrument to which erhu skills are directly portable, as it turns out). Gryphon, lacking a left-handed stringed anything to play, just sat back and enjoyed the show until the right moment came along.

"Say, do you mind if I try something out on the organ?" Gryphon inquired of his lady during a lull in the action.

Go right ahead," said Remilia. "I didn't know you could play the organ."

"I'm not sure I can," Gryphon admitted, a touch ruefully. "It's been a long time. I just happened to think of a piece I used to be able to play, though, if my fingers remember it as well as my head does."

Mounting to the console, he spent a few moments familiarizing himself with the layout, hunting for stops and working out which manual they went with. Then, once he had everything the way he thought he wanted it, he sat for a moment collecting his thoughts, put his fingers to the keys, and began to play.

Jonathan Scott
"'Trumpet' Voluntary" from Voluntary in D Op. 6 No. 5 (1792)
J. Stanley, comp.

It was a fairly simple arrangement—bordering on primitive, using only two manuals and no pedals—and only about a minute and a half long, but the tune was cheerful and triumphant. After taking a few bars to get his ear in, he played it competently enough to win some applause when he'd finished.

"I haven't heard that one in a long time," said Remilia. "Purcell?"

"Stanley, I think," Sakuya corrected her.

"Oh, yes, of course. I always get those two confused," Remilia said. "Still, one does enjoy a good voluntary. Do you know Clarke's Prince of Denmark's March, by any chance, mon amour?"

"I can whistle it, but I never learned it for organ," Gryphon confessed. "I could probably play it on the trombone if you had one, but then I'd be tempted to turn it into a jazz solo, and I don't think the 1940s are ready for that," he added with a grin.

"Well, then, allow me, s'il vous plait," she said, gently displacing him at the console. "It's in my head now."

Jonathan Scott
"The Prince of Denmark's March" (ca. 1700)
J. Clarke, comp.

"Proper wedding music, that," Lena observed when she'd finished.

"Hmm, I suppose we'd best be thinking about that," Remilia said, turning around on the organ bench to face the room. "And about where we'll find an organist. I'll be a bit too busy," she added with a smile.

"I might know one," Gryphon said. "I'll have to find out if she's up for it, but I'm pretty sure one of my wingmates plays. I remember her mentioning at dinner one night that she used to play the one in the chapel of Perrine's family's château, for some of the orphaned kids they put up there after the Romagna campaign."

"Splendid!" said Remilia. "Well, I hope she can be persuaded. I'd much rather keep that sort of thing in the family, as it were, than hire a stranger."

Now that the plan had expanded to include a grand outing for everyone, preparations stepped up for the upcoming full moon. The next evening, after breakfast, Gryphon put his head into the pantry to find Sakuya frowning thoughtfully at the shelved supplies, notebook in hand.

"Sakuya? Have you got a second?"

"Of course, Chief," she replied, turning to him. "What do you need?"

"I just wanted to thank you for agreeing to go to Paris with Remi," he said. With a self-deprecating chuckle, he went on, "I know she's an adult and can take care of herself, but apart from our trip to Colmar last month, she hasn't left this place in so long... well, I'm glad she won't be alone, is all."

"Not at all," Sakuya replied. "After all, looking after m'lady is my job. More than that, my vocation, if I may be excused for using such a religious word in the context of caring for a vampire," she added with an ironic little smile.

"I wish I could go along myself," Gryphon noted, "but having three parallel timelines wouldn't be smart, especially with two of them outside the bubble."

"I quite agree. We're pressing our luck hard enough as it is." Sakuya's smile became less ironic as she added, "I'm sure Remilia will think of you often. After all—thanks to your previous loop, you've had a long stretch away from her, but this will be the first time since you met that she hasn't seen you for more than a few hours. Although I'm sure if either of us pointed that out to her, she would make a great show of scoffing at our assumption that it might trouble her," she added fondly.

Gryphon chuckled. "On the second night I was here, I asked her how long she'd been alone, and she told me, 'Solitude is no hardship for a vampire! We thirst for mortals' blood, not their company.' But I already knew that was a lie when she said it. Or, well, not a lie," he corrected himself. "Remi doesn't lie." He smiled.

"It was bullshit," he and Sakuya said together, then both broke up giggling.

"Anyway, I'm glad you're going along," Gryphon said. "That's all. I figured I ought to tell you."

"I'm looking forward to it," Sakuya assured him. "Believe it or not, it'll be our first real outing together. She never went with me when I went on the occasional shopping expedition in the old days, because she dared not leave the young mistress alone in the house."

"Well, enjoy it," said Gryphon, smiling. "I haven't been myself, but they tell me the reconstruction of Paris is coming along amazingly."

"I'm sure we will," Sakuya said. "And while we're on the subject... I've been meaning to thank you, as well."

"What for?" he wondered.

"For the change you've made in both of the mistresses' lives," Sakuya said seriously. "What you've done for Lady Flandre speaks for itself, of course, but you must know that even before I..." She cast her eyes down regretfully. "... inadvertently abandoned her, Remilia was rarely what one would call truly happy. Contented, at times, we were able to eke out that much in our semi-exile, but there were always more shadows than light. I can only imagine what she went through when she was completely alone. When I discovered that I could get no nearer than seven decades after my disappearance..." She closed her eyes, suppressing a shiver. "I feared what I would find.

"So you can imagine my astonishment when what I found was Remilia with a light in her eyes I hadn't seen since I was a child, even in the midst of a desperate fight for her life and her sister's. Who could laughingly push Meiling and me back together when my own outdated ideas had driven us apart. Who boldly acknowledges out loud things long known but never spoken. Who looks forward to the next night, and the night after that, and all the nights to come."

With that, Sakuya startled him slightly by seizing him in a firm embrace, leaned her head on his shoulder, and murmured, "All that is your doing. Thank you."

"I... you're welcome," Gryphon said, returning the hug. "Although I don't want to take too much credit. None of it was part of any kind of plan, after all."

Sakuya chuckled. "No. Your best work never is."

"... OK, that felt a little uncanny," Gryphon said after a moment's reflection.

"Sorry. I forget occasionally that you don't know me as well as I know you."

"Well, that's what's weird," Gryphon said, giving her an extra little squeeze to show he wasn't upset. "Moments like that, I feel like I do, even though I shouldn't really. It's a good kind of uncanny," he added, turning her loose with a mischievous grin. "So, he said, transparently changing the subject, what are you up to?"

"Sorting out supplies for the expedition," Sakuya replied, smoothing her hug-rumpled apron and turning back to the shelves. "It's like packing for a picnic... that will last 28 nights," she said with a wry smile. Picking up a jar that looked like it contained raspberry jam, but did not, she went on, "Fortunately, that's why m'lady's mother invented concentrated preserves."

"Heh! Vampire trail rations," Gryphon remarked.

"Something like that. With a bit of planning and care, I think I can pack enough for both m'lady and the young mistress without making the baggage too unwieldy... just. M'lady's small appetite helps. I'm afraid Meiling will have the lion's share to carry..." Sakuya smiled. "But she's used to that."

One night from full, heavy with promise, the waxing gibbous moon presided over a sultry summer evening. The silence was almost palpable, as though the Alsatian countryside itself were holding its breath—until that silence was broken by the sound of a lone voice raised in merry laughter.

On the lawn to the north of Scarlet Devil Mansion, a man armed with an ordinary steel sword faced east, toward the still-rising moon, and confronted the laughter's source.

Benny Goodman and His Orchestra
"Let's Dance"
Columbia 35301 (1939)

The laughing vampire descended into Gryphon's field of view, occluding the nearly-full moon. The fitful light of the torches scattered around the battleground couldn't reach that high, so with the moon behind her she was entirely in silhouette, lit only by the glow of her eyes, the energy spheres in each hand, and the fourteen rainbow crystals of her wings.

"Are you ready?" Flandre Scarlet asked, her teeth glinting in a fierce smile.

Gryphon returned the smile and readied his weapon. "Bring it."

"Here I come!" Flandre cried, springing into motion, and filled the air around him with pulses of light as she charged.

He stood his ground, ignoring most of her fire—such a wide spread was more about intimidation and spectacle than an actual targeted attack—and batting away the few pulses that stood a chance of hitting him. At the last moment he ducked and rolled, evading her grasping hands, then sprang up, reversed his blade, and dealt her a gentle tap on the back of the head with its blunt side as she sped past.

"One!" he cried, spinning out the follow-through to face her again as she banked hard and came back around for another pass. This time, rather than stand and let her come to him, Gryphon kept moving, heading across the north lawn toward the "jungle gym".

"You'll have to do better than that!" Flandre declared, opening up with her Neuroi-style energy bolts again.

Instead of countering them like arrows this time, Gryphon set himself and threw up his witch shield, shedding the central mass of Flandre's barrage like hail off a windshield, then dove away from another attempt to grab him. The dive carried him too far for him to be able to hit her again, so he contented himself with using the moment it bought him to produce a spell card and charge it.

He caught her in the turn, her eyes off him, as he jumped and scrambled onto one of the jungle gym's middling-elevation platforms, then locked on and loosed the spell card: "Divine Flash: Donnerwetter!"

The lightning didn't hit her, but it hadn't really been intended to. Rather, by forcing her to avoid it, he had made her change course, throwing off the rhythm of her assault. She adjusted for it almost instantly, but the momentary interruption of her fire was enough for him to put the next part of his strategy into action, jumping to the jungle gym's highest point. Now, if she wanted to continue this attack run, she would have to correct upward, losing a bit of energy in the process, which would go some way toward offsetting her dramatic speed advantage.

That was the idea, anyway, but Flandre didn't play along. Instead of shaping her course to intercept him directly, she pulled up well before she needed to, climbing above his elevation, so that she was diving upon him and regaining her lost speed by the time she reached him.

"Haha! Weren't expecting that, were y—whoa!" she said, breaking off in a startled yelp as Gryphon, in turn, confounded her expectations. Instead of fading back or breaking to either side, he charged, using the Force to perform an inhumanly acrobatic leap. As she was coming down, he went up, springing over her head and bonking her with the blunt side of his sword again as he passed.

"Two," he said, and then applied himself to the task of falling from a significant height without pulverizing himself.

For this, he applied a trick he'd seen his witch colleagues do, using his shield circle as a defense against... well, the ground, more or less, by combining its usual physical barrier effect with a touch of the gravity manipulation witches used to assist with takeoffs and landings. It worked, more or less, in that he made it to the grass without breaking any bones, but the dished crater he ended up in cost him a half-second or so in scrambling back to ground level and reorienting—

Cackling with glee, Flandre hit him amidships in the football tackle from hell, knocking the wind out of him and wiping him completely off his feet. His sword went flying off in the other direction, winding up stuck in the grass a fair distance away, as he crashed to the ground on his back and slid for a few yards across the grass with Flandre still atop him.

She recovered from the impact faster; when his vision cleared and he started getting oxygen again, he found himself pinned, her knees astride his chest, left arm trapped against his side, right outstretched and held down by her left hand, as she grinned down into his face.

"I win!" Flandre declared, but her grin slipped as she saw that, now he'd recovered his wits, he was giving her a sly smile. "What?"

Gryphon's eyes angled downward, as if inviting her to look back along his outstretched body, and she felt something hard and blunt poke against her right side, just below her rib cage. Craning her neck, she followed his eyeline...

... and found that he'd drawn his sidearm, that slab-sided Liberion pistol he'd been wearing the night he first came to the mansion, and with his trapped left arm bent at the elbow, was pressing its muzzle to her body.

"Bang," he said, prodding her gently with the gun. "And that's three." Glancing at his pinned right arm, he added, "You forgot I'm left-handed."

"Go ahead and shoot," she said with a challenging grin. "It wouldn't even slow me down."

"Unless I'm loading silver hollowpoints packed with licorice root," he replied.

"OK, that would hurt," Flandre conceded, leaning closer. Her grin widened slightly, teeth parting to give her fangs room to extend. "I might take something like that personally, you know?"

"Well," said Gryphon philosophically, "giving offense is an occupational hazard of vampire hunting." He let his hand flop to the side, the weapon falling from it to the grass.

"I'm sure it is," Flandre replied. Her hair was brushing his face now, her faintly glowing, half-hooded crimson eyes almost too close to focus on.

"Don't look now," Gryphon said, "but I think the judges are ready with your score."

Flandre hesitated for a moment, as though about to throw caution to the wind and go for another sort of score. Then, with a slightly put-upon sigh, she sat up straight, letting go of his arm, and said,


Getting to her feet, she hauled him upright as well, then picked up his gun and handed it to him. As she did, she noticed that the safety was on. Had he put it back on before letting the gun go... or had it never been off to begin with? She hadn't noticed.

Shrugging inwardly—it didn't matter now, surely—she turned to see the rest of the household approaching with expressions somewhere between bemusement and merriment. Sakuya had thoughtfully detoured along the way to pick up Gryphon's sword and put it in its saya.

"Thank you," he said, accepting it and slinging it over his shoulder. "So? How'd we do?"

"You did fine, mieux aimé," said Remilia with a faint smile. "Flandre, on the other hand, clearly lost three-to-one."

Meiling nodded. "Yup. Well, I might call it three-to-two, that one hit was a pretty big one," she added with a grin. "Still, it's definitely your loss, Flan-Flan. Sorry."

"Your technique is extremely wild," Remilia went on, her tone faintly lecturing now. "You don't consider the consequences of your decisions enough, and you get so caught up in the flow of things that you let important details go by the wayside. For example, you didn't use a single spell card."

Flandre considered protesting that there had never been a good opportunity to use any of the ones she was carrying, but recognized that it would have sounded like excuse-making and kept silent.

"Can't fault your commitment, though," Lena put in cheerfully. "You don't do things by 'alves, that's for sure."

"Sakuya? Anything to add?" asked Remilia.

"Only that, in the young mistress's defense, she will likely tend to be far less interested in closing to grappling range with any other opponent," said Sakuya with just the faintest trace of a mischievous smile.

"That's true," Remilia agreed. She stood for a few moments with a thoughtful frown, then came to an internal decision with a slight sigh. "Well, I suppose you're not likely to come up against anyone as skilled, or as... interesting... as Benjamin out in the wild. It's good enough."

Flandre blinked, the blush raised by Sakuya's remark fading as her eyes went wide. "You mean... ?"

Remilia nodded. "Yes, Flan. I mean I'm satisfied with your abilities. If," she went on with an upraised finger, "you keep in mind what I've said. In a crisis, you need to think, not just act. You're incredibly powerful, but power alone isn't always enough. I think, though, that's a lesson you just learned," she added with a smile. "With that, and with Meiling along..." She hesitated for a moment, a last flicker of worry crossing her face, and then smiled her most magnanimous smile. "You may come with us to Paris, and if you behave yourself, I'll approve your... what did you call it, Meiling? Your walkabout."

"Thank you!" Flandre cried, leaping into her big sister's arms. "Thank you, Sis, thank you. I won't let you down."

"I have no doubt of it," Remilia replied, returning her embrace. When Flandre showed no sign of letting her go any time soon, she turned a slightly wry half-grin to Sakuya and said, "Perhaps you all had best get started on lunch without us. We'll be along presently."

"Of course, m'lady," said Sakuya with a graceful smile. Meiling scruffled Flandre's cap and Gryphon briefly touched her shoulder on his way past, and with that the other four went back inside, leaving the sisters to their moment.

"I almost can't believe it," Remilia said softly after a while. "You've grown up so much in such a short time." Then, after a thoughtful pause, she went on, "If I didn't know better, I would almost say you've done so literally, not just metaphorically."

Flandre sniffled, then leaned back to look her in the face. "Would you believe me if I told you I have?"

Remilia tilted her head quizzically, then released her, took a step back, and looked her up and down. As she did, her expression passed in succession from puzzlement, to realization, to disbelief, to bafflement. Brows knitting, she put up a flattened hand horizontally at her own eye level, then moved it as straight away from her face as she could until it touched the tip of Flandre's nose.

"Impossible," Remilia murmured.

"That's what I said, but Sakuya confirmed it," Flandre said. "I've grown three centimeters."

"Your clothes still seem to fit."

"Sakuya fixed them."

"Of course. And neither of you saw fit to inform me of this development?"

"I was waiting for the right moment," Flandre said, a trifle hesitantly. "I mean... first I had to kind of absorb it myself, and then... I was afraid it might be kind of awkward. What was I going to do, just blurt it out at dinner some night? 'Hey, by the way, I know this isn't supposed to be possible, but I grew a bit.'"

Remilia chuckled in spite of herself. "You have a point," she admitted, then drew her sister back into her embrace. "Ah, well," she said with mock resignation. "You were already taller than me. Another side effect of Benjamin's blood, I suppose?"

Flandre shrugged. "It's as good a theory as any." Then, with a dark snicker, she said, "You could always drain him yourself and see what happens."

"That would be impolite," Remilia countered dryly. "Besides, I was born a vampire, not turned at a young age like you. This is as big as I was ever going to get." She held Flandre a little tighter. "I'm happy as I am, anyway." She chuckled. "Mark you, this changes nothing. You're still my little sister."

"I'll always be your little sister, big sister," Flandre replied, giggling.

Pre-dawn birdsong outside the windows, and Gryphon and Remilia were carrying on their usual bedtime conversation, he stretched out on the bed, she behind the dressing screen changing for the day.

"Your preposterous automobile is too small to get all four of us and our baggage to the train station in one run," Remilia said.

"True," Gryphon agreed. "And we were out so late that night, in order to make sure we don't run into ourselves coming home, we'll have to jump back to almost dawn."

"Well, then, once we do the time jump, we'll say our goodbyes at the car, and then Sakuya can use The World to take the four of us straight to the station," said Remilia. "It feels a bit like cheating, but needs must when the Devil drives."

"Says the Devil," Gryphon observed, "who doesn't know how to drive."

"I'm a devil, not the Devil," Remilia quipped, then emerged from behind the screen.

Gryphon turned his head to look, then raised an eyebrow. Remilia had donned the most daring nightclothes he'd yet seen her wear: instead of the usual camisole-type nightdresses she'd taken to wearing in the warmer weather, she had on an actual camisole, one of only waist length, of pink silk, on top of a pair of black panties in the most modern style. The outfit wasn't really much more revealing than he routinely saw on the witches of Saint-Ulrich, but on Remilia, who usually dressed in an older, more conservative style, it was a little startling with no warning.

She saw that thought process cross his face and went a bit red. "Sakuya made them for me," she said. "Do you like them?"

"Indeed I do. What's the occasion?"

"Do you have to ask? It's the last day we'll be together for... some time," Remilia said. "I..." She paused, her blush deepening, then went on, "I intended to wear this for our wedding day, but I decided not to wait."

Suddenly, her expression changed, as if she had just willfully discarded her bashfulness. With a slightly fierce little smile, she stalked toward the bed, then pounced, pinning him to the mattress, not too unlike the way Flandre had pinned him to the lawn earlier.

"Resign yourself to your fate, human," said Remilia, grinning down into his face. "We may not have done all the paperwork or said the words yet, but make no mistake: You already belong to the House of Scarlet. The elder and the younger—both have claimed you now."

Gryphon smiled lazily back at her. "I can live with that."

"We shall see," Remilia said, smirking, as she leaned closer. "We shall see..."

Yawning, Flandre knocked at her sister's bedroom door. When there was no answer, she tried again, but her second attempt was no more fruitful than the first.

"Are they already asleep?" she wondered to Wolfgang, who stood at her feet. Turning the handle, she gently opened the door and put her head in. "Sis? Gryph? Do you guys want Wolfgang, or..."

She trailed off as her eyes resolved the room in the light of the one candle that was still burning on the nightstand. They were, indeed, already asleep, and so entwined that there was no obvious way of entering the tableau, if indeed Flandre had wanted to. It felt like it would be intruding, anyway. From the looks of things, they'd fallen asleep while playing the kissing game, as improbable as that seemed.

"I didn't even know that was possible," Flandre observed wryly to Wolfgang, and then, easing the door shut again with a fond smile, she went on, "Looks like it's you and me today, hound dog."

"Hrf," Wolfgang agreed, and they went across the hall to Flandre's own room.

Following bath and breakfast the next evening, with the full moon climbing in the east, Scarlet Devil Mansion became a hive of activity out of all proportion to the modest number of its inhabitants, as everyone did their last-minute packing, double-checked to-do lists, and generally got ready for the first mass exodus the house had seen in many years.

In Flandre's bedroom, a small suitcase lay open on her bed as she, humming cheerfully, removed folded clothes from her dresser and arranged them within it. She was only bringing two of her matched outfits, the red one she was wearing and a black one for more formal occasions, devoting the rest of the space in the valise to shirts and underclothes. She assumed there would be some provision for getting laundry done where they were going, although she wasn't sure how she and Meiling were going to manage that once the business in Paris was done with and they were out on the road. Still, there was nothing for it but to cross that bridge when she arrived at it.

In the bottom of the lowermost drawer of her dresser, under the spare bloomers and socks, she uncovered a small box, about the same size as the pack of spell cards she'd already tossed into the suitcase with her clothes and toiletries. It was a well-made little thing, all its corners meticulously dovetailed, with brass protectors on the corners, a cunning little bronze latch, and an intricately carved sigil on the top: something like the spade suit from a deck of playing cards, but stylized almost to the point of unrecognizability.

"Oh," she said softly, picking up the box.

She'd almost forgotten about it—had forgotten, until seeing it again just now. It had been in this drawer for decades, undiscovered when she moved upstairs because Meiling had just picked up the entire article of furniture and carried it up without removing anything from it.

Now she stood considering the box for a while, her fingertips tracing the carved Nordic knotwork border that surrounded the spade sigil on the top. Holding it in her hands this way, she vaguely remembered taking it from her father's study, some blurred and indeterminate time before, but she had no idea now what had drawn her to it or why. Some instinct whispered to her not to open it, but neither to leave it behind. Turning, she stuck it into her suitcase, alongside the spell cards, and covered it with clothes.

There came a knock at the door, and a moment later it opened partway and Sakuya put her head in. "Young mistress? Do you need help packing?"

"No, thanks, I'm just about done," Flandre replied, placing the last item (her favorite nightdress) and then closing the suitcase. "Is everybody else ready?"

"Nearly," Sakuya confirmed.

"OK, I'll be right there!"

Preparations complete, the residents of Scarlet Devil Mansion mustered their baggage in the front hall, where Sakuya double-checked everything against the master list she had compared and meticulously made certain that everything was properly packed and secured. Gryphon made a slight stir when he turned up in his Luftstreitkräfte dress uniform, which he had been wearing when he left Château Saint-Ulrich and so had to be wearing when he returned, and which Flandre, Meiling, and Lena hadn't seen before.

"What is that?" Lena wondered. "Did you join the Barovian Navy or something?"

"Karlsland Imperial Air Service," he replied. "It's a long story."

"When isn't it with you?" the young Britannian remarked with a grin.

"All right, everything's here," Sakuya reported. "Let's get it outside."

With everyone pitching in, they got everything out into what remained of the front drive in one trip, and then, with a ceremonious air, Remilia produced a heavy iron key from a pocket of her "town outfit" and locked the front doors.

"Haven't needed to do that in a long while," she said, dropping the key back into her pocket.

"You do realize that from the house's point of view, we'll only be gone a few minutes?" Sakuya reminded her.

"All the same, it gives one a sense of occasion," Remilia told her.

"Well, gang, I guess this is it," said Lena. She fussed over Wolfgang for a moment, thanking him for all his help during her sojourn in the library; then, while Meiling steadied its halves for her, she climbed into her Striker Unit, called on her magic, and engaged its Miyafuji engine. "Thanks for lookin' after me! It's been fun. I'm sorry I couldn't find anything to 'elp you with your problem, but I'll put the word out when I get back to my outfit. Got to be somebody out there 'oo knows something useful."

"Don't fret about that," Remilia said, smiling. "It was a pleasure to have you with us, results or no. As I've said before, we knew it was a long shot, anyway. Have a safe flight back."

The others added their thanks and farewells, and Lena started up the Luna Moth night trainer's main engines, rising to a hover as her Britannian-style rune circle illuminated the ground beneath her.

"Are you sure I can't drop you somewhere?" said Sakuya with an impish smile, holding up The World.

"Nah, I'm good, thanks," Lena replied. Holding her hands up before her chest, she closed her eyes in concentration, and for a moment, a different magic circle—one that resembled a clock face—glowed in the space between them. She opened her eyes, grinning. "Right! Dialed in." Drawing herself up, she saluted with an open palm, RAF-style, and said, "Cheers, all! I'll be seein' you again."

And with that, she turned toward the open space to the east, opened up her throttles, and was properly airborne in moments, the lightweight trainer springing lightly into the air after only a short takeoff run. She climbed out, above the trees, then turned, circling out to the west before turning back toward the house and accelerating.

Silvery light gathered, shooting forward from the tips of the Striker's winglets to collect ahead of her, and just as she cleared the roofline and was almost directly above the group in the front yard, she vanished in a thunderous flash, the spots where the Striker's exhausts stacks had been leaving twin streaks of fire that hung in the air for a few moments before dissipating.

"Wow," said Flandre and Meiling in quiet unison.

Gryphon chuckled. "Showoff."

The rest of them moved the baggage down to the road, near the spot where the Belv had been parked; Sakuya made some adjustments to The World, ensuring that its area of influence was large enough to encompass the five of them and the bags, and then they all jumped together back to the wee hours of June 15.

From their point of view, it was like the Belv suddenly appeared and the full moon leapt from one side of the sky to the other, going from recently-risen to nearly-setting as the eastern horizon changed from black to the deepest pre-predawn blue. Remilia and Flandre, who had never experienced anything like it before, had to pause for a few moments and just take it all in.

Then it was time for farewells, as the four who were going on to Paris took their leave of Wolfgang and Gryphon. Each of them petted Wolfgang and said they would see him soon, but their partings from Gryphon were each unique. First Meiling, with a backslapping hug and a fist bump; then Sakuya, with a somewhat more moderate but no less heartfelt embrace. Flandre's was more of the stuffing-dislodging variety, and included a rather more leisurely kiss than the furtive peck she'd sneaked in last time; then she, too, withdrew to a discreet distance, loitering by the trunk and suitcases, and left him more or less alone with Remilia.

"So. Here we are again," she said, hovering as before so that their faces were on a level, her arms around his neck, his hands resting on her slender hips. "Only this time, it'll be a prolonged separation for both of us."

"Only a couple of weeks, with any luck," Gryphon replied. "Keep me posted on how things go in Paris. If I'm not right there at the castle, they'll know where to find me."

"I will," Remilia promised. She placed the palm of one hand gently to the side of his face, looking him in the eyes. "Benjamin... be careful."

He took the hand in his own, turning his head to kiss her palm, and smiled. "I will. You too."

"I'm not the one going off to war."

"No, but you're still having an adventure. Good luck." He pulled her closer, his arms going around her waist, and kissed her. "I love you."

"And I love you," she replied, repaying the kiss with one of her own. Leaning her forehead against his, she added quietly, "Sometimes to a degree I have difficulty believing."

Gryphon grinned. "Resign yourself to your fate, vampire," he told her, drawing a laugh. He kissed her again, longer and deeper this time, then said, "Have a good trip. Enjoy yourself. I'll see you when you get back."

One last kiss, and then Remilia disengaged herself with an effort of will, reassembling her composure. "I shan't be long, my love," she promised with her most determined grin. "The bureaucracy of the Fourth Republic is no match for the will of Remilia Scarlet!" Then, whirling, she trotted toward the others, declaring, "Sakuya! We're going!"

"Right away, m'lady," Sakuya replied, and then, shooting Gryphon a wink over her approaching mistress's shoulder, she thumbed The World's activator, and the four of them and all the bags disappeared.

Gryphon stood, hands in his pockets (a condition that would surely have gotten him scolded by Hannelore von Hammer, if she could see him disgracing the Luftstreitkräfte's uniform with such slovenly behavior), and looked at the spot where they had been for a few seconds.

Then, still smiling, he opened the Belv's door and waited for Wolfgang to hop aboard before tossing his suitcase in the back and slipping behind the wheel.

Santo & Johnny
"Sleep Walk"
Santo & Johnny (1959)

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 VII:
"Le Départ"

written and directed by
Benjamin D. Hutchins

The EPU Usual Suspects

Based on characters from Tōhō Project
by Team Shanghai Alice

Bacon Comics chief
Derek Bacon

E P U (colour) 2020