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

Within a night or so, life at Maison Diable Écarlate had settled into a new pattern. The lengthening spring days meant that Remilia was getting more sleep than Gryphon really needed, so he took to rising in mid-afternoon, while she still had a few hours to go, and fixing things around the mansion. On the second night, during a general tour of the house, she showed him a room that had once been a caretaker's workshop, a century and more ago. It still had a few tools, unfamiliar and primitive, but tools nonetheless, which he could use to make better tools, and then start tackling some of the very, very great deal of deferred maintenance that had built up around the Scarlet Devil Mansion over the decades.

Remilia protested that he didn't need to do this work, it wasn't as if she had trapped him at the mansion in order to extract labor from him. He countered that he had the hours to fill, and besides, it gave him a pleasant sense of accomplishment to try and remedy the worst of the old house's ills.

"I'm making some real progress here!" he reported on the third night, when she emerged from her bedchamber to find him replacing the broken windows in the front hall. Wiping sweat from his forehead with a sleeve, he added with a grin, "Give me another... oh, 40 or 50 years, and I'll have this place just the way I want it."

"Don't tempt me," Remilia replied, and though she kept her voice and smile light, there was a flicker of pain in her eyes that reminded Gryphon to avoid making remarks like that in the future.

"Of course," he said, steering the conversation away from that sore point, "it'd be easier if I had access to the basement."

Remilia shook her head. "No," she said flatly. "Absolutely not. The basement is strictly off-limits."

"I know, you told me," Gryphon replied. "Hey, your house, your rules. I'm just saying, if I could get down there, I could think about wiring the joint up for electricity. Maybe even running water!"

"I'm a vampire," Remilia said sourly. "We don't do running water."

"Well, yeah, but that's like... you can't cross open streams and stuff, right? Does it count if it's in a pipe on the other side of a wall? Maybe we should test that!" he added brightly. "Run a couple of little experiments."

She folded her arms and looked away, scowling. "I am not a lab animal and this conversation is over." Then, opening one eye but not turning her head, she glanced at him with a little smile, letting him know her dudgeon was not entirely real.

"Fine, fine, jeez," Gryphon conceded, throwing up his hands in mock exasperation. "No sense of adventure..."

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

Thicker Than Water, Act II: La Deuxième

Once the sun set and the lady of the house rose, it was time to knock off carpentry work, trim and light a couple hundred candles, and have a bath. What with the house lacking any plumbing, this was a bit of a production, since it involved carrying water from the well in the courtyard or the kitchen pump and heating it over a fire before adding it to the tub. Within a couple of nights, they'd gotten so fed up with having to go through all that rigmarole twice each evening that, without any real discussion, they'd taken to attending to the matter together.

And so to breakfast, followed by another night to fill with companionable activities. A stroll around the grounds with Wolfgang in the waning moonlight; reading and listening to records in the living room; playing games. She taught him backgammon, which for 430 or so years had been an impenetrable mystery, "that other game you can play with a checkers set if you turn the board over," to him; he returned the favor by way of Salusian hold 'em poker, which was a slightly odd experience played with the minor arcana of a Tarot deck (the only deck of cards in the house).

And almost always, except during the quiet reading and music times, there was conversation. He told her stories from the war, of his comrades in the 501st and the unorthodox but fulfilling way of life he'd found among them; she spun tales of the glory days of the ancien régime, and of wars against monsters of old fought by companies of witches, vampires, and other mysterious creatures working side-by-side. To hear her tell it, Europe in the late Middle Ages (before her own birth, but a time well-remembered and recounted by her parents in her girlhood), the Renaissance, and the Early Modern period had been a supernatural wonderland. It all sounded a far cry from the modern, industrialized world, in which magic and its users were carefully (and often literally) regimented, and creatures like her kind were so rare as to be considered mythical by almost everyone.

Dinner was the culinary highlight of the day, when Remilia pulled out all the stops and showed off the range of things a person could learn to cook over four centuries in Gallia, the gastronomic hub of the Western world, despite having had servants to handle her every need for the first half of her long life to date. He didn't know where she got the supplies and he didn't ask, and a few dishes showed obvious signs of field-expedient substitutions, but it was all excellent, and he soon got used to his tablemate's habit of discreetly adding a bit of bottled or otherwise preserved blood to her portions of things.

"Oh, that reminds me," he said at dinner the second night, over coq au vin and baguette, as she poured herself a glass of Rousseau with a little something extra.


"I know you said you're not particularly bitey, but on the off chance you find yourself a bit... peckish one of these nights, you ought to know that my blood has a track record of doing weird things to vampires."

Remilia raised an eyebrow. "Oh? How so?"

"Well, I've been bitten in anger twice so far in my life," he said.

"'In anger'?"

"By a vampire who was straight-up trying to kill me, I mean."

"Ah. That's right, you said you had friends who were vampires."

"Right, and what I'm trying to get at here is, there's a reason I don't, uh, 'share' with them, besides the obvious. Two vampires have tried to draw from this well. One of them lost about four years of apparent age and most of her memories, and the other... uh... exploded."

This time, Remilia raised both eyebrows. "Exploded."

"Yeah. Like... boom," said Gryphon, with the appropriate gesture. "Little pieces everywhere. Helluva mess."

"That's a bit overdramatic, isn't it?"

"Well, Demetri always was one for the grand entrance. I like to believe I gave him his grandest exit." He shook his head and took a sip of his tea. "May he rest in peace, and good riddance to him."

"You sound almost like a vampire hunter," she said, her tone becoming slightly cold.

Gryphon shook his head. "Hardly. The fact that he was a vampire was absolutely irrelevant to the fact that he was one of the worst people who ever lived. I told you before, some of my best friends are vampires. Including the first one I just mentioned. Our little... tangle... was an accident. We're cool now."

Remilia eyed him for a moment longer, then smiled and raised her glass to him. "You have had an interesting life, Mr. Hutchins."

Gryphon met her smile and raised his teacup in return. "You haven't even heard the half of it yet, Countess Scarlet."

The after-dinner hours tended toward quieter pursuits. That was when they got in most of their reading and/or record listening, or went up onto the roof to look at the stars. The cupola at the top of the clock tower had a small telescope set up in it, but she never volunteered to take him up there, and some instinct kept him from asking about it. Unusually fast friends they might well have become in so short a time, but his hostess still had many secrets, and he chose to respect them.

Thus unto (or nigh-unto) dawn, and then to bed. On the fourth day, the pillow wall was abandoned, on the grounds that Remilia was just demolishing it and invading the neighboring district in her sleep anyway, and operations thenceforth proceeded more or less as they usually did at Saint-Ulrich. Privately, Gryphon ranked her sleeping style somewhere between the Hartmann twins (both curl-up-and-snugglers) and Trude Barkhorn (a grab-and-entwiner, albeit a decorous one), depending on her whim, with sparse flashes of Mio Sakamoto (a sprawl-and-snorer). It was all quite pleasant and manageable; the only new wrinkle took the form of occasional wing complications.

(And it beat crashing in a coffin, which he had attempted to do on one previous occasion, albeit not as anyone's guest.)

The nights flowed by in this comfortable rhythm, and almost before Gryphon knew it, they arrived at the night of the new moon—the exact halfway point of his enforced stay as Remilia's guest.

She was in a subdued frame of mind that night, right from the start. She slept late, not rising until well after dark. Gryphon was in the house's cavernous library, repairing bookcases (most of which had fallen down over the years) and reshelving books, when she appeared.

"Ah, here she is at last," he said cheerfully, stepping back from the shelf he'd just finished refilling. "What do you think? As my grandfather would say, looks like somebody else did it."

"Mm," Remilia replied, a little abstractly. She inspected the refurbished bookcase for form's sake, but he could see her heart wasn't in it as she nodded and said, "Yes, good work."

"Is something wrong?" he asked.

"No, why would anything be wrong?" she replied, a little too quickly. Then, turning to leave, she added, "It's your turn to draw the bath."

"It's always my turn to draw the bath," Gryphon teasingly complained as he followed her out.

Ordinarily, she'd have come back with a retort along the lines of, "Well, of course. I'm the mistress of the house, it's not my job to fetch water. That goes against the natural order of things." Tonight... nothing but a noncommittal grunt.

Their course to to the bath chamber took them past the barred and bolted door to the left of the great room, one of only two in the house he was forbidden to open. It led to the basement, which, for reasons Remilia had not explained, was prohibited territory.

Technically, she had forbidden him to even touch this one, which he dutifully had not done—but he had looked at it while passing by, and, particularly since he was doing work on the house and that kind of thing was on his mind, he'd noticed a few things. For one, it was the heaviest door in the house, and the only one fitted with metal reinforcing straps. For another, the bar and multiple bolts that kept it secured were on this side, so they couldn't be meant to keep intruders from getting into the basement from up here.

And for a third, it had quite recently been broken down—from the other side. The repair work had evidently been done in haste, or by an unskilled hand, or both. No real effort had been made to restore the door's appearance. Whoever fixed it was only concerned about getting it back in place and reinforcing it even further. He wasn't sure, but he suspected the hardware for the bar had been installed after the repairs.

Now, as they passed, he noticed Remilia give that door a lingering look. She almost paused before it, and he had the impression she probably would have, if he hadn't been there. The flash of her profile he got before she tore her eyes away from the door and continued on down the corridor carried the most ambivalent look he'd seen on her face yet—and the hardest to read.

He left it until they'd finished scrubbing up and were having a good steamy soak at opposite sides of the big wooden tub, then asked,

"So... what's in the basement?"

Remilia was physically startled by the question, briefly submerging her rubber duck, then looked on the verge of shouting at him before she reined herself in.

"Don't ask me about that," she said sharply. Then, her face falling, she repeated in a softer, more plaintive voice, "Please don't ask me about that..."

"Why not?" Gryphon inquired gently.

Remilia kept her eyes lowered, as if considering her reflection in the surface of the water, then raised them to his and said, "Because I can't lie to you... but I also can't tell you. Better that you don't know. You mustn't know." Crossing her arms over her slim chest, she sank down until the water covered her shoulders and added almost inaudibly, "You would hate me if you knew."

"Unless you're keeping human cattle down there to feed your insatiable bloodlust—which I think we've already established is pretty unlikely—I can't see that happening," Gryphon replied frankly.

She shook her head vigorously, scattering droplets of water from the wetted tips of her hair. "It's not that," she said. "Never that." Then, becoming subdued again, she went on, "In some ways, it's worse. I'll only say this: It's my greatest shame, and there's nothing you can do. Just... please, please just forget about this. Put it out of your mind and let's... let's just go on as we have been. Can't we?"

Gryphon gave her the thoughtful look she'd been both anticipating and dreading, and seemed on the verge of pressing the point, but then he thought better of it and nodded solemnly.

"OK," he said. "I won't ask again. But... if you ever decide you can tell me... I promise I'll hear you out. Remember that."

"I... thank you."

She sat and soaked for a while, her expression deeply pensive; then, with an impulsive suddenness that was more like her usual self, she rose, sloshed out of the tub, shook water from her wings, and swathed herself in a towel almost as wide than she was tall, remarking as she breezed out of the room, "I'd better get started on breakfast! Don't soak too long, you'll turn into a prune and miss my world-famous pain perdu."

Gryphon stayed where he was for a minute longer, head tipped back on the rim of the tub, contemplating the rococo plasterwork of the ceiling.

"The vibe is weird tonight," he mused to himself. Then, sighing, he extracted himself from the tub and set about looking for a towel Remilia hadn't gotten wet in the course of her flamboyant exit.

Although she served Gryphon a sumptuous breakfast, Remilia ate nothing herself, only sipped a cup of blood-tinted tea and made desultory conversation while he worked his way through some of the finest French (or, well, he supposed Gallian) toast it had ever been his privilege to put into his face. Once the meal was finished, sensing that she wanted some time alone with her thoughts, he returned to the library and kept working on the bookcases.

He only saw her once between then and midnight, when she stopped by at around ten-thirty to silently drop off a bundled lunch of sausages, bread, and beer. At midnight, he decided he'd had enough of carpentry for the day and returned to the great room, figuring he'd hole up in a corner out of the way and read.

Remilia was there, standing by the towering window, gazing out at the moonless sky. He let her be and went to get the book he'd lately been struggling to expand his understanding of Gallic with (Zola's La Bête humaine). Just as he found it, she spoke:

"I haven't been very good company tonight. I apologize."

"No need," Gryphon told her. "We all have our low days."

"It's partly because it's the new moon," Remilia said. "Vampires of my line are very attuned to the phases of the moon. Almost like werewolves. My father used to joke that there must have been some crossbreeding somewhere in our past," she said with a faint little smile. "We're at our strongest under the full moon, and on the night of the new moon, we're little stronger than humans. My mood and my energy level always bottom out on this night. Sometimes I sleep right through it."

Gryphon stepped up alongside her at the window. "Do you want to go back to bed? There's no real reason not to. It's not like either of us has any pressing appointments," he added wryly.

Remilia shook her head. "No... I want to tell you something, if you'll hear it."

"I'll hear anything you have to say."

She led him to the Ottomane, sat him down at one end, and took her place sitting sideways at the other, drawing her legs up under her Indian-fashion and arranging her wings over the encircling arm. Wolfgang, sensing that something was up, jumped up between them and climbed into her lap, which drew a smile even through the melancholy look she wore.

"When I told you why you couldn't leave, I refused to explain the cause. What happened to leave my house with this... curse." She looked up from the dog, whom she had seemed to be addressing at first, and met his eyes. "I've changed my mind. I want you to know. It has as much to do with why I am... the way I am... tonight as the moon does."

Gryphon nodded, but kept silent, letting her set her own pace.

"You're familiar with the Gallian Revolution? Gallia's great rebirth of freedom?" At his nod, Remilia went on, "Well, then you may be aware that it was... not without its casualties. My people were among those casualties.

"Under the ancien régime, we vampires were like minor nobility in our own right. We had rights, privileges, but also responsibilities. Most of us tried to be good neighbors to the humans we lived among. For centuries we stood alongside the witches of Gallia to protect our fatherland from things far worse than we ever were. But after the monarchy fell, suddenly we were just... monsters. Predators. Symbols of everything that was wrong with the old system, worse than the human aristocrats the revolutionaries so hated." She shook her head, eyes closed, and added bitterly, "The humans behind the Revolution didn't hesitate to wipe out thousands of their own in the name of their high ideals—what were a few dozen sangsues to that?"

He had no answer for that rhetorical question, but she hadn't been expecting one. After a moment's pause, she went on, "Liberté, égalité, fraternité—but not for vampires. Just about the only thing all the warring factions of the Revolution agreed on was that we had to go. More than that—the citoyens had to be convinced we had never existed. Which would have been difficult if there had been any of us left.

"One night in 1794, a gang of witches from Paris came here under the orders of the Comité de salut public. After forging contracts with powerful entities to help them, then struck on the night of the new moon, because they knew our strength would be at a low ebb... but they overestimated how low.

"The battle lasted all night. By the time it was all over, they'd paid a heavy price, but they'd almost accomplished their mission. My parents... most of the household staff, our trusted retainers... dead. Not all of them were even vampires. My own mother wasn't! She was a witch like them, but the hunters didn't care. 'Tuez-les tous; les dieux connaîtront les leurs.'" She paused, seeming on the verge of tears, then got hold of herself and went on, "The only ones left on our side were me and a handful of others. But we were secure. The witches who were still alive couldn't get in." She paused again, drawing a shivery breath, and murmured, "With her dying breath, Maman saw to that."

Seeing the pain and sorrow on her face, Gryphon wanted to reach across the couch and draw her to him, but he forced himself not to interrupt. It was obviously costing her dearly to tell him this story, and if her interrupted, he might inadvertently waste what she'd paid to get this far. Instead he held his peace, kept still, and let her continue.

This she did, after a brief pause to collect herself again. "Soon... the sun would rise, the new-moon night would be over, and they would have to withdraw or violate their contracts—which would have unleashed something far worse than us," she added with a bitter little smile. "So... well, I'm not sure what happened. I think they tried to banish us to some lower plane... but it went wrong. Their ritual ended up... pushing the estate's time out of joint instead. But they thought they'd done what they set out to do—from their perspective, the house and grounds disappeared—so they gathered their dead and left.

"It took us a while to realize what had happened, but eventually we discovered that the house touched the real world for one night a month, exactly opposite each new moon. Luckily, the witches never found out and came back to finish their 'work'. By the time we figured it out, the Committee had fallen, anyway, and the Revolution's priorities had moved on. Most of them went to the guillotine in their turn." Balling her fists, she whispered, "I hope those witches went with them. Murdering scum, it's better than they deserved."

Then, recovering herself from the exertion of retelling the painful tale, she sighed deeply and said, "So, that's what happened. Over the years, all the servants who survived left—either taking advantage of a full moon to go with their shields, or eventually..." She drew a long breath. "... going on them."

Remilia sat very still for a moment, her face drawn with emotion, then forced it into an offhanded expression and said, "And then nothing much happened for a century or so, and that's about where you came in." She was going for flippancy, but the pain was still too close to the surface, and the attempt failed utterly.

Over the last two weeks, Gryphon had gotten to know, and appreciate, various aspects of this fascinating little woman's complex personality. There was the confident-bordering-on-arrogant side, conscious of her power and the presence it gave her, determined to be taken seriously as one of the last remaining heirs to her fallen people's mastery of the night. There was the endearingly childlike side, who got flustered when things didn't go according to plan, and resorted to impulsive bluster to try to restore equilibrium. There was the playful, friendly side, which he'd seen more and more of as she'd gotten to know him in turn and her need to constantly assert herself had faded. And there was the kind, gentle, generous side, the part of her that truly was as noble as she thought she should be. The vampire who had never killed except in self-defense, drank only blood that had been willingly given, and opened her home to a stranger in need simply because she couldn't bear to leave him to his fate.

And now, on this moonless night beset by painful memories, he'd been able to look through the gaps between all these facets and see, buried within, her warm, lonely, terribly vulnerable heart.

"That must have been horrible," he said quietly. "I'm so sorry."

"You don't have anything to be sorry for. You didn't do it."

"I'm still sorry. I'm sorry any time people suffer for no reason. Any time a family is destroyed. Remilia... I've lived a long time. Longer than you think, looking at me. And one of the first things I realized when I struck out on my own was how important family is. To have yours wiped out like that, right in front of you... I can't think of many things that are worse than that."

She sat there for a long moment, petting Wolfgang's head and gazing silently at his master through eyes that seemed larger, and deeper, and redder than they normally were.

Then, out of nowhere, she said, "Can you dance?"

"A little," Gryphon replied.

"Excuse me, Wolfgang," said Remilia, carefully moving the dog so she could rise.

She went to the phonograph, wound it, then rummaged in the stack of records until she found one of the new ones—the ones Gryphon had been carrying back from Colmar, which had miraculously survived the Jeep crash, tucked away in a barracks bag. She put this on, then came back across, stood before the sofa, and held out both of her hands to the still-seated man.

"Then let's dance," she said with a wan little smile, and he took her hands, got to his feet, and did as he was asked.

The Ink Spots
"Don't Get Around Much Anymore"

As the buttery smooth voice of Bill Kenny spilled from the phonograph's horn, they glided about the open area in front of the fireplace, first this way, then that way, enjoying the closeness, the company, and the absence of other dancers to worry about running into.

When I'm not playing solitaire
I take a book down from the shelf
And what with programs on the air
I keep pretty much to myself

Missed the Saturday dance
Heard they crowded the floor
Couldn't bear it without you
Don't get around much anymore
Thought I'd visit the club
Got as far as the door
They'd have asked me about you
Don't get around much anymore

They must have looked an odd pair, Gryphon reflected briefly. Even though he wasn't a particularly tall man, Remilia was much too short to put her head on his shoulder with her feet on the floor; she solved this problem by dancing with her feet off the floor, instead hovering with her shoes somewhere around his shins so that their upper bodies would line up properly. This confirmed something he had suspected when he first saw her—namely, that if she could fly, her wings didn't really have much to do with it—but he was too preoccupied to give the phenomenon more than a cursory thought.

Oh darlin' I guess
My mind's more at ease
But nevertheless
Why stir up memories?

Been invited on dates
Might've gone but what for?
Awfully different without you
Don't get around much anymore

For the slightly-upbeat piano bridge, they separated but for their hands and did a bit of dipping and diving, then closed up again for the third verse, which was a simple repetition of the second. This close, he could feel her body heat, her breathing, and, if he concentrated a little, her heartbeat—all traits which marked her out as far more than any mere animated corpse.

The record finished, and they stood in the middle of the room for a while, letting the stylus scratch on the label until the spring ran down, unwilling to give each other up for the moment.

Then, with a sigh, Remilia unwound her arms from around him, hopped back, and set her feet on the floor.

"Thank you. I feel much better now." She gave him something much more like her usual challenging grin than she'd managed to muster all day. "Feel up to losing a couple games of backgammon?"

Gryphon gave her his courtliest bow. "My lady, nothing would give me greater pleasure."

Remilia tilted her head quizzically. "Nothing? Seriously? We'll have to work on that."

Then, grinning again, she whirled and trotted off to get the backgammon set out of the cabinet.

The next afternoon, Gryphon was back at work in the library, humming the first movement of "Spring" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons to himself as he repaired another of the bookcases. This one presented him with a bit of a challenge, and also a minor mystery. Unlike the ones nearer the door, which had either fallen over or collapsed in on themselves through sheer entropy, as dry rot and wood fatigue made them unable to carry the weight of their books, this one had clearly been broken on purpose. Someone had wrenched it from its place and hurled it down with sufficient force to break its back, dismount its shelves, and scatter its contents—and it wasn't the only one in here in that condition, either.

He supposed a vampire, sufficiently motivated, would have the strength to do that, but why? Had some member of Remilia's family been so enraged as to demolish their own library? If so, when? Why? And why hadn't Remilia ever put it right? It seemed like she'd just closed the door on the destruction and left it to molder, and judging by the age of the broken wood, it had happened a long time ago.

He didn't feel he could ask her about it just now, not after the night before. She'd torn some old wounds telling him what she'd told him, and though she'd reclaimed her good humor by the end of the evening, it was far too soon to expect a full recovery.

In the end, it didn't really matter, anyway. What mattered right now was that this bookcase was broken, and he happened to be here with the tools, the skills, and the time to do something about it. It was enough.

The work reminded him of his grandfather, the fruits of whose carpentry skills had furnished half a dozen homes in his family during his long-ago boyhood. In spite of the insanely nomadic life he'd led, he still had a few of the old man's pieces, and treasured them highly. He didn't think his work here was quite up to the same standard—he was, after all, just a dilettante carpenter, and not a very well-equipped one just at the moment, either—but he figured it would suffice. At any rate, it was better than what it was replacing.

He noticed a presence approaching and looked up from planing a shelf, preparing to greet his hostess and inquire as to the quality of her sleep—

—and saw that the person standing nearby was not Remilia.

The new arrival was not silver-haired but blonde, with longer, straighter hair, and her face was a little softer, less pointed. Her eyes were the same, though, wide and blood-red, and the way she was dressed...

Lightning webs the sky, throwing the hunched figure in the road into monochromatic relief. A girl, young and slender, in a dark jumper dress and an old-fashioned cap, her posture strange, tortured, her eyes blazing red with rage. The Jeep skids—she raises a hand—first chaos and then darkness engulf him.

"It's you!" he breathed, his face blank with shock. She wasn't bent into a feral half-crouch now, nor was her face plunged into shadow and twisted with fury—she was just standing there, gazing at him with a look of puzzled incomprehension—but this was undoubtedly the girl whose lightning-flash image was burned into his memory. The girl he'd nearly run down. But what was she doing here?

And why did she so strongly resemble Remilia?

"Qui êtes vous?" she asked. Her voice was quiet, sweet, a little hesitant. She sounded more childish than she looked, her enunciation slightly mechanical, as though she weren't entirely certain those were the words she wanted.

"Ah... je suis un invité," he replied. "Je m'appelle—"

She burst out giggling, her nose wrinkling much as Remilia's had when he'd spoken Gallic to her on the first night.

"Oh wow, what a horrible accent," she chortled, and she had the same faint touch of the Home Counties in her English speech, too. "You must be from Britannia." She looked around the room, as if seeing it for the first time. "Why are you in the library? No one comes in here. Are you a magician? Wait, you can't be, you're a man."

"Why do you ask?" Gryphon wondered.

"Because my sister told me this place is only for magicians. And we haven't had one for ever such a long time."

"Are you..." he started to ask.

"Anyway, I'm bored," she interrupted him. "Do you want to play with me? Oh, I should tell you who I am first. My name's—"

"Flandre!" cried a voice from the doorway, and they both turned to see Remilia standing there with Wolfgang at her side. As was her custom between rising and bathtime, she was still wearing her nightdress and bareheaded, her hair mussed from bed, and she looked absolutely aghast.

Flandre's demeanor changed as if someone had turned a knob; at the sight of Remilia, all the slightly off-kilter cheerfulness she'd shown to the stranger vanished, replaced with a scowl of cold disdain.

"Sister," she said icily, folding her arms.

"Flandre, que fais-tu ici?!" Remilia demanded.

"You're being rude," said Flandre sharply. "Shouldn't we speak English in front of your guest? He clearly doesn't speak much Gallic."

Even under the circumstances, Gryphon felt slightly comically miffed. He understood Gallic just fine, even if his pronunciation wasn't the best. He shoved the thought aside, sensing that far more important matters were afoot.

Remilia looked flummoxed for a second, then shook her head and snapped, "Fine. What are you doing here?" She glanced behind her, even though from this angle she couldn't see the basement door she'd had to walk past to get here, then turned back to Flandre and went on, "And how did you get here?"

"I climbed up the south chimney," Flandre said, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world.

"For heaven's sake, why?"

"Because I could. To have a look around. Or maybe I was going to pay you a visit in your bed and settle things." The blonde's crimson eyes narrowed, her jaw setting at a cruel angle. "You'll never know."

"Flandre, please—" said Remilia, her face stricken, but Flandre ignored her plea and said,

"Now if you don't mind, I was just asking this gentleman to play with me. You're not invited, so kindly buzz off, mostiquette."

Remilia's face changed from pale with horror to flushed with rage. "You—" she began, but Flandre had already dismissed her from mind and turned back to Gryphon. When she did, it was like that knob had been twisted the other way, and she was all smiles as she addressed him: "How about it, monsieur? Shall we play a game?"

Sure, how about Global Thermonuclear War? he didn't reply out loud. Something in this girl's eyes, to say nothing of the whipsaw changeability of her mood, was ringing all the alarm bells in the back of his head.

"Flandre," said Remilia, and there was a glacial seriousness in her voice he'd never heard there before. It seemed to surprise Flandre just as much. She turned back around to see her sister standing there, fists clenched, wings fully outspread, her eyes blazing like Flandre's had when Gryphon had seen her the night of the storm.

«Hearken to thine elder sister's words, Flandre,» Remilia snarled in an antiquated Gallic dialect. «Thou mayn't have this man. He is not for thee! I claim my rights as eldest, and as mistress of this house.» Pointing stiff-armed in the general direction of the basement door, she commanded, «Take thyself back to thy chambers at once!»

Flandre balled her own fists, and for the first time, Gryphon noticed she had wings as well... of a sort. Before she'd outstretched them to match her sister's (which he guessed was some sort of instinctive vampire challenge display), he'd missed them entirely, because they weren't fully formed. The long bones were there, clad in the same smooth jet-black skin that covered Remilia's, but the fingers and membranes were missing, so what was there resembled nothing so much as a pair of small tree branches growing from the small of her back.

The two stared each other down for several long, tense seconds. Then Flandre laughed, tossing her disheveled blonde hair, and said, "You're so easy to wind up, sister. Fine, I'll let you have your fun and go back to my dungeon. For now." She turned her head and regarded Gryphon thoughtfully over her shoulder for a second (the friendly smile switched back on while she was doing it, and off again the instant she looked away), then continued to her sister, "But you'd better hurry up and mark him, or one of these nights I may decide you're not serious enough about your claim."

Remilia made no reply, other than to go pale again. Flandre gave another laugh, this one edged with cruelty, then turned back to Gryphon one last time, her cheerful face switching back on as she did so.

"Well, I guess I have to go back to my room. Sorry we didn't get a chance to play. You look like fun. Maybe later! Bye!"

And with that, she skipped out of the room, breezing past her sister as though she weren't there, and disappeared down the hall leading into the wing of the house that was entirely abandoned. Wolfgang watched her go, a worried look on his face, and uttered just the faintest hint of a disconsolate whine.

Presently, one of the doors at the far end creaked, then banged shut, and it was as if the sound unstrung Remilia like a bow. The tension drained out of her, and she crumpled to her knees, burying her face in her hands. Gryphon hurried to her side; Wolfgang had already crowded in on the other, drawn by a hound's unerring sense for persons in pain.

"Remilia? Are you—" Gryphon began, placing a hand on her shoulder, but she slapped it away with a convulsive gesture.

"Don't touch me!" she barked.

"OK," he said, hands raised in surrender. Instead, he placed himself seiza facing her and just sat, silent, waiting, while she sobbed into her hands.

At length, she seemed to cry herself out; lowering her tear-streaked hands, she saw him sitting there, a respectful distance away, and asked in a less aggressive, more puzzled tone,

"What are you doing?"

"You said not to touch you. So I'm not."

Despite herself, his deadpan delivery wrung a chuckle out of her.

"At least you're obedient," she said with a wry flash of her aristocratic face. She turned away, wiping her face with the sleeve of her nightdress, and petted Wolfgang.

"I never imagined that would happen," she said, as if addressing the dog. "She's never done it that way before."

Then, drawing a deep, shuddery breath, she turned back to Gryphon and said slowly, "Well... now you know. That's what's in the basement. It's where my sister Flandre lives. How long was she here before I arrived? Are you all right? Did she hurt you?"

Gryphon shook his head, mystified. "No... she didn't seem like she wanted to. She asked me if I was a magician, and if I wanted to play with her."

Remilia's hand suddenly darted out and seized his in a grip that was almost painful. "Did you tell her yes?"

"No. She interrupted to introduce herself before I could say anything. In fact she never waited for me to answer any question she asked."

Remilia closed her eyes, relief washing over her. "Thank the ancients." She covered her face with her hands again. "Oh, what a mess," she moaned. "What a mess."

Rising, Gryphon bent down and scooped her up like the child she sometimes resembled. She seemed to consider objecting for a moment, but didn't, as he remarked, "You'll catch a cold sitting on that damp stone floor," and set off toward the bath chamber.

"I'm a vampire, you cretin," she said, but there was no weight behind the insult. "I don't get sick."

"I know, but it's what you say in a situation like this," Gryphon replied, pulling another grudging little laugh out of her.

The whole affair seemed to have exhausted Remilia. She sat quiescent, her face almost blank, while he prepared the bath, undressed her, soaped her down, washed her hair, rinsed her off, and then dumped her in the tub, all of which he did with the same brisk, clinical efficiency he showed on the nights when it was his turn to do the laundry. He repeated the same procedure for himself, climbed in on the opposite side when he was finished, and they soaked in silence until the water started to get cool.

"You would make a decent maid," she remarked abstractly as, still expressionless and passive, she submitted herself to be dried off and dressed. Then, with a half-hearted smirk, she added, "Except for that."

"Just never you mind about that, young lady," Gryphon replied imperturbably, affixing her shoes.

Not until after breakfast did either of them speak again, beyond the mundane requests and acknowledgements of well-mannered people sharing a meal. Then, at last, Gryphon sat down in his armchair across from the Ottomane, where Remilia had taken up her usual station with Wolfgang by her side; leaned forward with elbows on knees; and said gently,

"I think... you had better tell me about it."

The Ink Spots
"If I Didn't Care"

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

Thicker Than Water, Act II: La Deuxième

written and directed by
Benjamin D. Hutchins

Jaymie Wagner
The EPU Usual Suspects

Based on characters from Tōhō Project
by Team Shanghai Alice

Bacon Comics chief
Derek Bacon

E P U (colour) 2020