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Channel Select: Avalon Broadcasting System (Channel 17)
The morning sun bathed the eastern flank of Mont Saint-Ulrich and the castle at its top. Below, the same light flooded the village of Ribeauvillé where it lay, nestled in the valley of the river Strenbach. A beautiful summer's day, although the man sitting on the castleside balcony overlooking the town could already tell that it would be a hot one by midday.
Gryphon re-read the sheet of paper he held in his hand, his face set in a thoughtful frown. He'd received this message the previous month from a most unexpected source, and ever since, he'd been mulling it over inconclusively. Thanks to the strange way in which he'd been living his life of late, he'd had longer to consider the message than he had technically possessed it, but that hadn't gotten him any closer to figuring anything out. If anything, it had extended his window for procrastination.
Sighing, he re-folded the paper and slipped it back into its envelope, then rose and stood by the balcony rail for a while, looking down at Ribeauvillé. An Alsatian village like any other; despite his ancestral connection to these lands, he'd never heard of it before being dropped here by a cosmic accident back in April. Even now, he didn't know it well—most of the time he was away from the castle, he tended to spend in the nearby city of Colmar—but he'd grown fond of looking at it from up here. He supposed you didn't spend a chunk of your life protecting a place without coming to feel at least a bit attached to it.
With that thought still rattling around in his head, he went back inside, put the envelope away in the slim top drawer of his desk, then closed the drawer carefully. That job done, he sat down for a few moments on the edge of his bed, regarding the person still sleeping in it with a fond, slightly melancholy smile. Remilia Scarlet lay curled up on her right side, facing him, right arm flung out straight as was her habit. He reached and smoothed her tousled silver hair, gently tucking it around her pointed ear. She shifted slightly in her sleep, mumbling contentedly.
Gryphon sat considering his vampire lover for a while longer, then rose, bent down, and kissed her cheek before quietly leaving the room.
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
Gallian Gothic: A Romance in Wartime
© 2022 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
He arrived in the dining room to find a couple of off-duty witches relaxing there: Erica Hartmann, sitting near one end of the long table with a cup of coffee and the latest issue of the Luftwaffe's internal newspaper (the imaginatively named Frontnachrichtenblatt der Luftwaffe); and Francesca Lucchini, curled up on the sofa with Ombra and the previous month's Modern Witch magazine.
"Ladies," he said, then went to the sideboard, where an Orussian samovar was kept constantly smoldering away next to stacks of clean teacups, saucers, and bowls. Some convenience-minded soul had put a box of the new Fusō field rations there, and Gryphon now hunted in it for one of the beef flavor ones, then helped himself to a bowl and some hot water from the samovar.
"Ramen first thing in the morning?" Erica wondered.
"Breakfast of champions," Gryphon replied casually as he sat down across from her, inverting a small plate over the top of the bowl to keep the steam in. "Anything interesting?"
Erica shrugged. "The usual," she said, then added with a faint smile, "I think the editors are still recovering from last week."
Gryphon chuckled. "For which one cannot entirely blame them."
Shirley Yeager entered from the direction of the wing's offices, carrying a bundle of envelopes in one hand. "Oh, hey, Gryph. You're up early." Smiling slyly, she went on, "I figured you'd be especially likely to sleep in today."
"I may go back. There's so much daylight this time of year, Remi won't be up for hours yet."
"Makes sense." Shirley poured herself some coffee, sat down a place down from Erica, and started shuffling through the envelopes. "Lessee what we got today. Last month's pay stub... training opportunities at Orly, pass... letter from my cousin Earl, what kind of trouble has he gotten himself into... ah! Hey, Lucchini, mail call. Or, well, telegram." She held up the yellow envelope. "Must have gotten put in my mailbox by mistake."
Lucchini looked up, closing the magazine on her finger, and said, "Who's it from?"
Shirley looked more closely at the envelope, her eyebrows rising. "Uh... if I'm reading this right, it's from your dance partner at Hellhammer's wedding."
"What about my wedding?" asked Hannelore von Hammer from the doorway. Without awaiting an answer, she went and got herself some coffee, then sat down at the end of the table.
"Lucchini got a telegram, I think it's from that kid she took to Fist City at the reception," Shirley explained. "His name was Werner, right?"
"Ja, Werner von Kleist," von Hammer confirmed with a look of surprise.
"Go ahead and open it," Lucchini said, and then, as Shirley tore off the end of the envelope and drew out the form within, "What the hell does he want? A rematch?"
Shirley gazed in mounting astonishment at the telegram form and said slowly, "Noooo..." Looking up from the paper, she met Lucchini's eyes and continued, "It... appears he wants you to marry him."
With nearly simultaneous explosive sounds, von Hammer and Erica both choked on their coffee, prompting Gryphon to duck under the table.
"Whaaaaat?!" Lucchini demanded.
"You are not gonna believe this," Mio Sakamoto declared without preamble as she entered Minna-Dietlinde Wilcke's office, her face split in a broad grin.
Minna looked up from the document she'd been working on, a puzzled expression on her face. "Pardon?"
"I said, 'You are not gonna believe this,'" Mio repeated, crossing the office.
"Yes, I heard you," Minna replied with just a trace of asperity. "What am I not gonna believe?"
"Look what just came in from 8th," said Mio, slinging a buff-colored Allied Forces Europe interdepartmental envelope onto the general's desk.
Her curiosity piqued, Minna set her quill in its inkstand, picked up the envelope, and considered the routing codes printed on the front. Sure enough, whatever this bulky missive was, it had originated at the headquarters of the Liberion 8th Army Air Force in Ystres-Le Tubé, and was marked confidential. Arching an eyebrow, Minna undid the button-string closure and drew out a fat sheaf of documents.
Most were in folders, but on top was a single loose sheet of 8th Air Force stationery with a terse note handwritten on it: "For your records. CEL"
With furrowed brow, Minna put it aside and opened the folders, thumbing through their contents one by one. The first was a flight plan for a test flight of the XB-36 experimental bomber: Paris-Orly to Brandenburg, 15–16 June, followed by a routine post-test ferry flight from Brandenburg to the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation's plant in Fort Worth, Texas on the 17th, both stamped as having been completed without incident.
There followed postflight reports from the test aircrew, all of them quite ordinary; after that, a stack of blank forms soliciting comments from the witches who participated in the test, especially regarding suggested modifications and improvements to be considered during the aircraft's pending upgrade from XB-36 (experimental) to YB-36A (pre-production prototype). This, the covering instructions noted, was slated to begin as soon as the engineering evaluation from the Paris–Brandenburg test was completed.
Minna reviewed the documents twice, examining them carefully. All were stamped and countersigned appropriately—perfectly in order, parts of the complicated but routine business of flight-testing a new and as-yet-unique combat aircraft. Nowhere in any of them was any mention made of the aicraft having been hijacked by witches of the First Joint Special Air Fleet for purposes that very easily could have been deemed non-military, and which even the most charitable assessment would have to call highly irregular.
She looked up from the papers to see Mio perched on the corner of her desk, still grinning at her.
"Well," said Minna.
"I know, right?" Mio replied. "I'll be damned."
Minna's composure, only slightly dislodged, visibly reasserted herself. With a deniable scrap of a smile, she said, "Probably, but this was a pleasant surprise." Extracting one of the comment-request forms, she pushed it across to the 501st's wing commander and added, "Make sure Lucchini gets her copy, would you?"
Mio laughed, picked up the form, and hopped down. "Will do, General," she replied, heading for the door.
"Mio..." said Minna just as the Fusō witch reached the door.
"Yes?" Mio replied, pausing and turning back.
Picking up the top sheet, Minna re-read it and asked with a perfectly straight voice, "Would you classify this cover letter as... curt?"
Mio blinked at her, looking momentarily confused, and then closed her visible eye.
"Why are you the way you are?" she asked rhetorically; then both witches chuckled and Mio went on her way.
"This is the weirdest thing that's ever happened to me, and that's saying something."
Gryphon looked up from his workbench, currently littered with assorted parts of his latest project. Up on top of the stacked crates by the window, Lucchini was lying on her back, holding the telegram she'd received that morning at arms' length and regarding it in the sunlight streaming through the window.
"You know?" she asked rhetorically, turning her head to regard him sideways. "My first marriage proposal, and it comes by telegram from—" (she waved the form) "—that guy."
"Well," said Gryphon philosophically as he went back to work, "you'd never forget how you met."
"Ew! Don't even joke."
"I admit the telegram part lacks a certain... refinement."
Lucchini sighed and stuffed the paper into her jacket pocket. "Much like its author. Ugh."
"Hey, they can't all have Gryph's effortless charm," remarked a voice, and Gryphon and Lucchini turned to see Marisa Kirisame grinning in the doorway.
"How long have you been standing there?" Lucchini wondered.
"Minute or so," Marisa replied with a shrug. "I came to let the Ancient Master here know that his presence is requested in the ops office."
Gryphon glanced at the wall clock: nowhere near time for patrol. Intrigued, he downed tools and went to the parts sink to wash his hands.
"What's up?" he wondered as he scrubbed.
"I'm... not sure I know the answer to that," Marisa admitted. "You're just gonna have to see it for yourself."
They entered the operations office, with Lucchini tagging curiously along, to find an odd tableau and an odder vibe in the room. Alice Murgatroyd and Reimu Hakurei were both there, as were Eila Juutilainen-Litvyak, Amélie Planchard, and Perrine Clostermann. The two visitors seemed tense, wary, while Eila was scowlingly holding a Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun, Amélie seemed to be in something like shock, and Perrine was visibly angry.
Ranged against them at the other end of the room was a pair of figures Gryphon had never seen before. One was a neatly dressed young woman with long red hair and small, leathery wings at her temples, as a witch with a bat for a familiar might have. She looked nervous, uncomfortable, and more than a little embarrassed, her head wings fidgeting restlessly.
By contrast, the person standing in front and a bit to the left of the redhead had almost no expression at all on her pale, drawn face. She seemed to be a small woman, not particularly tall and petite of build, though it was hard to tell just how petite thanks to the voluminous pale-purple robes she was draped in despite the heat of the day. She had long violet hair and keen black eyes that now gazed impassively back at Perrine, Eila, Amélie, and the two visitors, seeming entirely unimpressed by whatever had them all on edge.
(After glancing around the room, Gryphon assumed that probably had something to do with the black scar on the wall behind the operations desk, which looked to him like someone had taken a shot at it with a blaster rifle.)
She was also wearing a mob cap, making her the statistically-improbable third woman Gryphon had met that year who was in the habit of sporting such archaic headgear.
Her eyes flicked from Perrine to him as he entered, and he was struck by the sharp intensity that came into them at the sight of him. Despite her small stature and blank expression, she had a presence about her that reminded him of Remilia—that same impression of immense power and determination packed into a vessel that seemed, at first glance, too small and frail to hold it. And for some reason, it seemed he was the object of that determination at present.
"You," she said, her voice low and slightly hoarse, virtually accentless. "You are the man named Hutchins. Yes? The one they call Gryphon."
"That's me," Gryphon confirmed. "I don't believe we've met before."
"These two just marched into the wing operations room and demanded to see you," said Eila, not taking her eyes or the muzzle of her KP/-31 off the woman in purple. "When Amélie challenged them for their ID, this one—" (she indicated the object of her attention with a sharp jerk of her head) "—tried to blast her with some elemental spell I've never seen the like of."
Gryphon blinked in alarm. "Are you OK?" he asked the Gallian witch.
"I'm fine," Amélie said, though she sounded distinctly rattled. "I was just barely able to dodge the... whatever it was." Glancing uneasily at the scar on the wall, she added, "I don't like to think about what would have become of me if I hadn't."
"You would only have been stunned," said the purple-clad girl coolly. "I merely intended to chastise you for obstructing me." With a vestige of a dark smile, she added, "If I'd wanted you dead, it wouldn't have been ambiguous."
"You do realize this is a military installation, do you not, mademoiselle?" asked Perrine icily. "You're trespassing and you assaulted my adjutant. As vice-commander of the 501st and the standing officer of the watch, I would be perfectly within my rights to have you locked up for the duration of the war—or even shot."
The purple-robed witch, if that was what she was, chuckled, her dark smile becoming less vestigial.
"You're more than welcome to try," she said, a faint violet aura suffusing the space around her body.
"Whoa, whoa, hold on, let's all calm down," said Gryphon as everyone else in the room (apart, he noticed with an inward smile, from the redheaded girl in the nice suit, who looked profoundly apologetic, not to say mortified) prepared for combat. Stepping up next to Perrine, he spread his hands and said, "There was no need for violence in the first place, and there's no need for it now. You wanted to see me for some reason. Well... here I am."
The black-eyed witch regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, then seemed to stand down from imminent action, though she remained on her feet. Around them, everyone else metaphorically took one step back from the brink of battle as well—but only one.
"I have a direct question for you, Mr. Hutchins, and I expect a direct answer." Looking him straight in the eye, she went on, "Where is Remilia Scarlet?"
Gryphon looked at his watch. "Still in bed at this hour, I should imagine," he said.
Now it was the interloper's turn to blink, so surprised by the offhandedness of his reply that her impassive front cracked outright.
"I beg your pardon?" she said.
"Well, she's a vampire, you know," Gryphon explained. "She's tried to adjust herself to be at least partly diurnal while she's here, for practicality's sake, but, I mean, it's not even noon yet."
"She's here? In this castle? Now?"
Gryphon nodded. "She was when I left her, anyway. I don't imagine she's wandered off."
"Take me to her. Now."
"Hmm. That's going to be tough to arrange, given how diplomatic you've been with the command staff so far."
She drew herself up, as much as that was possible, and said coldly, "I have no time for your flippancy."
"You're not a people person, are you," said Gryphon, not intoning it as a question, and the redhead failed to suppress a giggle. The other shot her a daggered glance, knocking her back into awkward silence, then turned back to Gryphon.
"It's no good arguing with me about it, I just work here," he continued before she could speak. "Now, maybe if you were to apologize to Chief Planchard, I could put in a word or two for you, but if you decide you're just going to force the issue..." He shrugged, the slightly bantering air suddenly disappearing from his manner, and with his eyes steady on hers, he continued calmly, "That's going to be a problem."
For a second, she stared hard back at him, looking like she might choose the "problem" route anyway out of sheer cussedness.
Then, to his mild surprise and more-than-mild relief, she relented, going so far as to offer a more genuine smile. It did pleasant things for her face, even gaunt and pale as she was.
"You're not what I expected," she acknowledged with a nod. "I thought Remilia had simply found herself some mortal plaything, but... you're something different. Something... more substantial."
Gryphon gave her a gracious but slightly sardonic nod. "I'm flattered."
"Very well. I'll do as you suggest." With that, she turned to Amélie and said calmly, "You have my apologies, Chief Planchard. I have conducted myself badly. It has been many decades since I last had to interact with anyone but inferior spirits and creatures under my dominion; I forget my manners."
"U-uhh..." Amélie stammered, unable for the moment to come up with any other response.
Perrine gave her a puzzled, suspicious look. "Many decades, indeed?" she asked skeptically.
The purple witch nodded. "Don't let my appearance deceive you, Major. I was born in the eleventh year of the reign of Giovanni II Cornaro, 111th Doge of Venezia."
Eila arched an eyebrow. "Which was... ?"
The redhead leaned toward her, a confidential hand to her mouth, and stage-whispered helpfully, "Seventeen twenty."
"Uh... huh," said Eila.
"Permit me to introduce myself, however belatedly," the woman in purple went on. "I am the Witch of Seven Elements; Keeper of the Keys of Kadath; the Great Unmoving Library; She Who Knows One Million Things. I have mastered the Four Abandonments. Walked the maze at the heart of Ryo Zan Paku and the Logrus of the Courts of Chaos." Folding one arm across her midsection and the other behind her back, she bowed deeply. "My name is Patchouli Knowledge." Straightening, she indicated the redhead and continued, "May I present my familiar, Koakuma."
"Hello," said Koakuma. She bowed more like a butler, arms straight down with hands clasped before her. "It's nice to meet you all."
Amélie found her voice, wondering aloud, "Your familiar is another witch?"
"Oh, I'm not a witch," Koakuma said earnestly, shaking her head. "I'm a demon."
"Uh... huh," Eila repeated. Sighing, she put up her SMG and turned to Perrine. "Welp, this is way above my pay grade."
Perrine gave a dry chuckle. "Mine as well," she said.
Gryphon found himself inescapably reminded of the occasion, not long ago, when Nipa Katajainen had arrived at the castle and announced herself by crashing into his bedroom, setting his bed on fire, and generally causing a commotion. This matter hadn't begun quite so explosively (although he had the distinct impression that it easily could have), but the outcome was the same: standing with a small group of people in Minna's office while she received their explanation of the ongoing weirdness with a look of mildly perplexed equanimity.
"Ah," she said when the explaining was done. For a moment she said nothing further; just turned her cooler-than-usual eye on the unexpected visitor. She, in turn, stood calm and unrepentant before the general's desk with her servant at her elbow.
"So," she said after a moment's mutually impassive eye contact. "Adjutant-chef Planchard, are you certain you're not hurt?"
"I'm fine, ma'am," Amélie replied.
Minna nodded. "Good. All the same," she went on to the purple-clad intruder, "barging into the operations area and assaulting the first person you found there wasn't a strong introduction. Why shouldn't I assume you'll do the same to the next person who doesn't provide an answer to which you feel entitled?"
"I need no more answers from your people," said Patchouli. "I have no... further business with them." She hesitated, as if the preceding sentences had required an unusual effort, then went on, "My only business now is... with Remilia."
"I see. And what business have you with Countess Scarlet?"
"We're... old friends," Patchouli replied.
Gryphon glanced at Mio, who stood in her usual place just inside Minna's office door, and saw that she had noticed it too—as had Reimu, Alice, and Marisa, all of whom had slipped in after Perrine, Amélie, and Eila had led the intruders into the office. The purple-clad witch was still maintaining her composure, but something was clearly wrong. Beads of sweat had sprung out on her forehead, which looked even paler than it had when he'd first seen her, and her weakening voice had an audible hitch in it, as though she were fighting not to pant for breath.
Unsurprisingly, Koakuma had noticed it too; as her mistress's familiar, he supposed, she must be attuned to her condition, on top of simply knowing her mannerisms best. Leaning down, she murmured worriedly, "Mistress?"
Patchouli shook her head sharply, a flicker of annoyance crossing her face, then straightened herself with a visible effort and said to Minna, "This past century... and a half... I've assumed she was dead. I need to know..."
The "know" choked off into a strangled sound as the speaker's strength finally failed her. Doubling over, she coughed explosively into her cupped hands for several seconds. When she drew them away, trembling violently, they were flecked with blood.
"Damn," she whispered, then crumpled to the floor, gasping desperately for breath.
"Shit—" Mio shouted, making as if to bound forward, but Gryphon and Koakuma were already there, easing the collapsed witch into a recovery position. Instead, she threw open the office door, leaned out into the hall, and bellowed, "Miyafuji!"
"Mistress, hold on!" Koakuma cried. "I'll run and get—" She trailed off, eyes widening in horror. "Your tonic! You've already used all we brought with us!"
Gryphon pressed his fingertips to Patchouli's neck, finding a racing but feeble pulse, and cursed under his breath. Then, glancing up at the people gathered around him, he said, "If anyone asks, you never saw me do this."
With that, he powered up his omni-tool, performed a medical quickscan, and received exactly the result he expected.
acute bronchial spasm
ALERT: IMMINENT RISK OF RESPIRATORY ARREST
ADMINISTER MEDI-GEL IMMEDIATELY
Cupping his holo-shrouded hand near Patchouli's mouth, he ordered the device to proceed. The omni-tool immediately responded, configuring a measured dose of medical nanoid gel into a powerful bronchodilator, nebulizing it, and propelling it forcibly down the patient's trachea by way of a tailored gravity conduit, followed by a burst of concentrated oxygen.
It worked almost instantly; he saw his impromptu patient's eyes widen in surprise as the oxygen hit arrived directly on the medi-gel's heels. She coughed convulsively, by reflex, then drew a harsh breath, the reedy chorus of clicks and whistles from her chest abating at once. Gryphon kept his hand in position for three more breaths, until the medical monitor software told him the whole dose was on board and the crisis averted, then let the omni-tool fall back to standby mode and moved his hand to steady her shoulder instead.
Before anyone could ask what had just happened, Yoshika arrived at a run, her medical bag in hand. "What's going on?" she asked, seeing the scene on the floor in front of Minna's desk.
Patchouli was only vaguely aware of the next little while. After the initial burst of sudden, shocking alertness caused by whatever that strange man had done, she'd... not blacked out, exactly, but slipped into a sort of liminal half-light, born of simple exhaustion as much as oxygen debt. She must have drifted that way, not really awake or asleep, for hours. She didn't know exactly how long, but when she came fully back to herself, the day had ended and the sky outside the sickbay windows was dark and splashed with stars.
She wasn't at all surprised to find Koakuma at her bedside, head pillowed on her arms, asleep. Chuckling softly to herself, she reached out a hand and stroked her familiar's head with a tenderness that would have shocked old Wan Shi Tong to the core if he'd been there to see it.
Koakuma roused at the touch, sitting up and blinking in the nightlit gloom of the sickbay. "Mistress!" she said, trying to exclaim with delight and keep her voice decorously down at the same time, even though they were alone in the room. "How do you feel?"
"Pathetic and weak," Patchouli replied, petting her again; then, letting her head fall back against the pillows and her hand fall to the bed, she went on, "But I fear you'll not be free of me for some time longer yet."
"Don't say that," Koakuma replied, snatching up her hand and holding it in both of her own. "I don't want to be 'free' of you, Mistress. Never ever."
Patchouli laughed lightly. "You silly little devil," she said.
"You overtaxed yourself," Koakuma said.
Patchouli nodded. "Yes."
"First the portal, which you didn't take time to properly prepare for. Then whatever happened at the spot where your friend's house was supposed to be."
"You were only able to hold yourself together when we got here because you drank all of the tonic."
"And then you went and nearly started a fight with all those witches."
Emboldened by the way her mistress kept agreeing with her and nearly overcome with emotion, Koakuma dashed at the tears in her eyes with one hand and blurted, "You're a fool, Mistress."
Patchouli chuckled. "Yes."
Koakuma blinked, belatedly astonished at her own temerity. "Mistress, I didn't mean—"
"It's all right, Koakuma. It's all true. I was too hasty. Me, too hasty. Absurd. But..." She shook her head, gazing up at the ceiling. "I had to know. Have... to know whether it's really true."
A rectangle of light sprang across the floor as the door from the corridor opened, and a moment later a shadow filled it. It was this, rather than the doorway itself, to which Patchouli's eyes were first drawn. The sudden light, and the shadow falling across it: elongated by the angle of the backlighting, but instantly familiar all the same.
Drawing a sharp breath, she looked up from the shadow to the shape that cast it, silhouetted in the light from the hallway behind her. The hat, the line of the dress... the wings.
With a click, the main sickbay lights came on... and there she was.
"Impossible," Patchouli whispered, her drawn face blank with astonishment.
In the doorway, Remilia Scarlet stared back, her crimson eyes wide, lower lip trembling. Almost inaudibly, she murmured, "... Pazi?"
Fifteen minutes later, they had left sickbay for the more congenial environs of the living room. Remilia, her composure fully reassembled, sat next to Gryphon on one of the sofas, while Koakuma bundled Patchouli into an armchair facing them, then seated herself demurely on the floor next to the chair. A moment later, Sakuya appeared from the kitchen bearing a tea service on a tray, which she placed on the coffee table in front of the couch to begin serving.
"Thank you, Sakuya," said Remilia, accepting cup and saucer. Gryphon offered thanks for his helping in turn, as did Patchouli and then, slightly taken aback to be offered one, Koakuma. Once everyone was served, Sakuya retired to a discreet remove off to one side of Remilia's couch, hands folded before her apron.
Ordinarily, Remilia would have asked her to sit down, offering the empty third of the sofa on the far side of Gryphon, but with guests to serve, she knew her maid would be fully in "work mode" and standing on ceremony, so she let it pass and said instead,
"Pazienza Sapere. I can't believe you're still alive."
"I think that's my line," Patchouli replied wryly, taking a sip of her tea. Shaking her head, she went on, "And I no longer use that name. I was given a new one by the Silent Masters of Ryo Zan Paku when I walked their labyrinth and lived."
"Mm, yes, Benjamin told me," said Remilia. "Patchouli Knowledge, is it? Hm. Bit of a mouthful."
"It has fewer syllables than my old name," Patchouli pointed out with a dry smile.
"True, but it doesn't trip off the tongue as readily. Ah, well. I suppose I'll get used to it." She shrugged a Gallic shrug. "It's not for me to quibble over others' names, after all. Consider this one," she added, nudging her fiancé. "Apart from me and my sister, virtually everyone who knows him calls him Gryphon, which appears nowhere in his legal name."
"Wait until you meet MegaZone," Gryphon told her offhandedly, drawing a muted giggle from Sakuya.
Patchouli raised an eyebrow, but let it pass, asking Remilia instead, "Then it's true that Flandre lives as well?"
"Oh, to be sure," replied Remilia casually. "It appears no one can kill Flandre. Not even Flandre herself."
"And she's... well?" asked Patchouli hesitantly.
Remilia smiled broadly. "Very well indeed. I can't wait for you to meet her. She and Meiling are off wandering about Helvetia at the moment, but they should be joining us here within a week or so."
"Meiling? I don't recognize that name."
"She wasn't with me in the times you knew. Quite a remarkable girl. I've named her my housecarl because it makes her happy to have some sort of job, but she really has many talents—eh, Sakuya?" she inquired with a crimson wink.
"Quite so, m'lady," Sakuya replied unflappably.
They talked for an hour, then two, very old friends catching up after a long separation that had been eventful on both sides, until Remilia happened to notice the clock on the wall above the hallway door leading to the bedrooms.
"Goodness, is that the time?" she said. "How unbelievably rude of me, I've kept you talking into the small hours. You must be worn out. We haven't had a chance to find a place for you yet, but I expect Dr. Miyafuji won't grudge you the use of that sickbay bed for the rest of tonight."
"I don't sleep, Remilia," said Patchouli patiently. "I have mastered the Four Abandonments."
"Hmph. Food, water, sleep, and death, was it?" Remilia folded her arms doubtfully. "And yet you're emaciated, you've put paid to two pots of tea, you look exhausted, and to hear mon vieux tell it, you very nearly expired on General Wilcke's office rug this afternoon."
"He exaggerates," Patchouli replied. "I cannot die. At least," she qualified in the face of Remilia's continued skeptical glare and a reproachful glance from her familiar, "I don't stay dead for long."
Remilia shook her head. "It won't do. It simply will not do. Sakuya, Signorina Sa—sorry, Knowledge requires a sandwich immediately."
"At once, m'lady," Sakuya replied, and she went immediately to the kitchen.
"This is absurd, Remil—" Patchouli began, but to her ill-concealed surprise, Sakuya was back almost instantly with an enormous submarine sandwich on what was normally a serving platter, along with a pitcher of iced tea.
"Eat, Patchy," said Remilia with an imperious point. "That's an order."
The purple-clad witch raised her querying eyebrow again. "Am I under your command now?" she inquired archly; but she ate the sandwich and drank the tea, all the same, while Koakuma giggled quietly beside her.
"There. Are you satisfied now?" she demanded, brushing crumbs from her robes.
"I see your manners have withered along with the rest of you," Remilia responded, arms still folded. "Is there a fifth Abandonment for politeness? What do you say to someone who makes a delicious sandwich for you?"
Patchouli looked at her in genuine bafflement, then blinked and said, "Ah. Thank you, Sakuya."
Sakuya gave her a gracious curtsey-bow and retrieved the dishes. "My pleasure, Lady Patchouli," she said, then took platter and pitcher back to the kitchen, once again returning in what seemed to Patchouli like too short a time.
"Now then," said Remilia briskly. "Koakuma, is it?"
Koakuma sat up straighter, startled. "Uh, y-yes! That's me, uh... m, milady?"
"Just 'Remilia' is fine. Or 'Countess' if you must. Please take your mistress back to sickbay and put her to bed, if you would be so kind."
"You don't have to do as she says—" Patchouli began, but Koakuma sprang to her feet and saluted, a look of consummate glee on her face.
"Right away, Countess!" she acknowledged with clear delight. "Come, Mistress. Let's go!"
Patchouli heaved a put-upon sigh and got slowly to her feet, discreetly leaning on her familiar's automatically proffered arm for support.
"This is ridiculous," she said. "I haven't slept in more than a century."
"Mm, and you look every day of it," said Remilia mercilessly. "Go on with you. We'll talk more tomorrow."
Patchouli rolled her eyes, but made no further objection, and with mumbled goodnights for Sakuya and Gryphon, she let herself be conducted out of the room. At the door, Koakuma paused to turn back and give Remilia a look of such profound gratitude that the vampire couldn't help but smile in return, making a little ushering-out gesture with her hand.
"Well," she said once they had gone. "There's my good deed for the night." Then, with a slight smirk, she added, "And here's another: I haven't kept you two from your appointment."
"Appointment, m'lady?" asked Sakuya, puzzled. Then, her cheeks going slightly pink, she said, "Ah, of course."
"Remi..." Gryphon began, but the vampire was already breezing out, declaring,
"I think I'll turn in early myself—I'm sure Wolfgang would appreciate the company. Good evening, mieux aimé, Sakuya. I'll see you at breakfast," and she was gone.
Left alone, Gryphon and Sakuya stood looking bemusedly at each other for a few moments.
"She's impossible sometimes," Gryphon observed.
Sakuya laughed. "She is that."
They went down the silent corridor, treading softly, and entered 5 East.
"You can use Wilma's old bunk if you like," Gryphon said, nodding toward the second bed set up in the corner by the wardrobe. "I know Remi kind of put you on the spot the other day." With a slightly wry, slightly weary smile, he said, "Contrary to popular belief, you're not actually required to crash with me, even if your name is on the board."
Sakuya glanced at the spare bunk, then shook her head. "No, thank you, that won't be necessary. I appreciate that I don't have to, but I'd like to. Unless you'd rather I didn't."
Gryphon smiled. "By all means," he said, gesturing toward the main bed.
With a little smile of her own, Sakuya got The World out of her pocket and clicked its stem, instantly changing from her uniform to a flowing white nightdress.
Gryphon chuckled. "Cheater," he said, then went behind his dressing screen to put on his nightshirt the old-fashioned way.
When he emerged, he bunched pillows and propped himself up, then picked up his current book. After she shut off the main lights at the switch by the door, leaving the room lit only by his reading lamp, Sakuya did not immediately join him. Instead, to his amusement, she puttered around the room for a while, straightening things on his desk, tidying up the bookcase, and whatnot.
Finally, after about ten minutes of this, he closed the book and said, "Sakuya."
"When I was a little boy, my mother used to do this." He placed the book on his nightstand. "She'd come into my room at bedtime to say goodnight, and then rummage around tidying up my things for an hour while I was trying to get to sleep." Tipping his glasses down on his nose, he looked wryly at her over them and said, "Don't be my mother."
Sakuya gave him a "really?" sort of look for a couple of seconds, then laughed.
"Very well," she said, and got into the other side of the bed while he dismantled the pillow pile, took off his glasses, and shut off the lamp.
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
Gallian Gothic: A Romance in Wartime
written and directed by
Benjamin D. Hutchins
with Jaymie Wagner
The EPU Usual Suspects
Based on characters from Tōhō Project
by Team Shanghai Alice
and Strike Witches
created by Humikane Shimada
Bacon Comics chief
E P U (colour) 2022