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"I gotta be honest with you," said Hong Meiling, "I'm getting tired of spending my afternoons in this basement."

"You won't get any argument out of me," Gryphon replied.

They stood for a moment in the doorway of the furnace room, regarding the ancient machinery, then turned to each other and grinned.

"This is going to be so satisfying," said Gryphon, and they hefted their sledgehammers and advanced.

Within two hours, it was over. The old furnace ducts and vent mechanisms put up a valiant rearguard action, but with Meiling no longer holding back for fear of damaging anything important and Gryphon's detailed diagrams of exactly what to wreck and where, they had the room virtually cleared, apart from the central hulk of the firebox and a heap of rubble in one corner, before breakfast.

"Perfect!" said Gryphon, dropping his hammer beside the spoil heap with a triumphant flick of his hand. "Clean slate. Molto bene." Folding his arms, he gave a satisfied nod. "After breakfast, we are back in hardware mode. Aww yeah."

"I think I can salvage some of these bricks," Meiling noted, picking up a specimen. "Between these, the spares you had the guys from the airbase drop off, and all those extra roof slates we've got lying around, we should have everything we need."

"Finest kind, Miss Hong, finest kind," Gryphon agreed, bumping fists with her. "Breakfast time. Let's go get cleaned up. I think we've earned our oatcakes today."

"Dang right we have," Meiling agreed, following him out into the corridor. "Oh hey, though, that reminds me—Gryph?"


"Do you mind if I use your jeweler's tools sometime soon?"

Gryphon shook his head. "No, not all. My workshop's your workshop. Why, what's up?"

"You called me Miss Hong."


"Well, with any luck, that won't be right for much longer." Meiling grinned, blushing a little. "I asked Sakuya to marry me this morning."

"Ahh, and now you have to make her a ring?" Meiling nodded. "Well, congratulations," he said, clapping her on the shoulder. "For what one random dude's opinion is worth, I think you guys are good together."

"Eheh, thanks," said Meiling, a trifle sheepishly.

"Anyway, yeah, help yourself to whatever you need," said Gryphon as they started up the stairs." "There's plenty of gold left from the spoon I used for Remi and Flan's rings, and a bunch of the little jewels in the lefthand drawer, all different colors."

"Awesome. Thanks."

"No worries."

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 IV:
"Magie Domestique"

It rained that night and the night after, keeping the household inside and forestalling Remilia's next planned stage in Flandre's education in self-defense, which needed to take place outdoors (for reasons Flandre could only guess at, since Remilia refused to elborate). Mildly piqued, and with Gryphon and Meiling fully occupied rebuilding the bath furnace and Sakuya busy keeping them properly fed for their hard work, Flandre spent those nights mostly in the music room instead, exploring the transition from the harpsichord (which she had more or less re-mastered) to the piano (which hadn't been invented yet when she'd been consigned to the basement).

Remilia left her to it, except to stop by occasionally and appreciate her ever-increasing skill with the newer instrument. They'd always been a musical family, and Flandre's talent for keyboard instruments hadn't gone unnoticed by anyone in her time. During the long, dark centuries of Flandre's exile and her own, Remilia had often had the wistful thought that it was as though the piano had been invented specifically for her sister, and that she should be unable to appreciate it when it finally came along was a tragedy worthy of Sophocles.

Remilia was herself a fair pianist, and by the middle of the second night, as she listened to Flandre work on a piano transcription of that Couperin harpsichord piece Gryphon was so fond of on, she recognized that her sister would surely soon surpass her. The thought didn't particularly bother her. Music wasn't a contest, and besides, of the keyboard instruments, the organ called more directly to her soul, anyway. She made a mental note to dig through the cabinet of sheet music and look for the piano-organ duets she and her father used to play.

When she wasn't at that, Remilia could mostly be found either in her study, or on the Ottomane in the living room, working her way through her father's journals. She'd decided to take Flandre's advice and leave off reading about his early days in Alsace for now, perhaps to revisit them at a later time, when she was in a different mood. Instead, she'd skipped to the very last one, covering the years 1788 to the beginning of 1794—the volume that was still more than a quarter blank.

It was his trip to Fusō in 1789–90 she was most interested in, of course, but Remilia forced herself to start at the beginning, out of a perverse impulse that she supposed was cousin to the one that made her start eating mixed chocolates with the ones she liked least. It took her most of the first night to plow through 1788, in which nothing much had happened, and get to the good bit.

Count Victor had been cagey, even in his own journal, about exactly what business had taken him to Fusō in the first place. Remilia gathered from context that it had something to do with an outbreak of jiangshi from neighboring Cathay, although as to why the Fusōnese supernatural authorities had thought it necessary to bring in a vampire from Alsace to help them deal with that, the journal was silent. She wasn't really interested in that part, anyway. Zombies were zombies, whether they had notes stuck to their faces or not, and therefore inherently uninteresting. What she wanted was the details of his voyages there and back.

In that respect, she was in luck, because her father had meticulously noted many of those details. Remilia, who had never traveled by sea (the Pas de Calais being narrow enough that, when she and her father had occasionally visited Britannia, they had simply flown there) found the minutiae of shipboard life puzzling—what, for instance, was a "dogwatch"? Did they have dogs aboard ship? Did the dogs stand watch? What could they be watching for?—but intriguing, and she could almost hear her father's exasperated voice in the bits about the surly Dutchmen he'd spent a year and more cooped up with.

After lunch on the second night, she finally came to the part she was really interested in. She wasn't entirely sure where it would be, but with a thrill, recognized immediately that she'd found it when she came to the entry for the penultimate day of March, 1790.

30 March. Wind light out of the southwest. Ship making about five knots. Continued work on the Fusō moon chart; believe I have deciphered all of the characters now, though precisely what is meant by them is ambiguous in many cases. The Fusō language is like that. They are a most richly metaphorical people. I should like to be able to visit their country more openly one day.

I had hoped to complete my study of this document tonight, but events have overtaken me. My cabin maid collapsed before me while delivering my lunch—worn down by starvation, overwork, undersleep, and abuse to the point where she could no longer stand.

I curse my complacency. I knew something was amiss with this child; have I not watched her grow steadily filthier and weaker as this voyage drags on? From the moment she came aboard at the Cape I should have known something was wrong. A child so young and frail as this does not go to sea of her own will. I should have intervened much sooner. Am I becoming timid in my old age?

What's done is done. Any road, the child is safe now. It sticks in my craw to have paid that cretin Van Zandt good money for anything, but in this case the only alternative would have been to challenge him to a duel and kill him. That would have been easy, but it would also have aroused the resentment of the crew—or worse, divided them, since he is not universally beloved by any means. Still, I cannot waste the time it would take to manage such a situation, and gold is only gold. Better to throw it before the swine and have done with it. Again I wonder whether I am growing soft. There was a time when I wouldn't even have bothered making it a duel. Meneer Van Zandt would simply have disappeared, and woe to any of his crewmates who chose to enquire.

Bah. Enough of this maundering. The girl is safe. That is the important thing. I was even able to persuade Remi to take her in, although, hard-headed woman of business that she is, I had to present it as giving her the job of replacing Meiev. I doubt the child will be of much use to Remilia at first, she's so small and unskilful, but perhaps Remilia will take a liking to her. She's always had a fondness for small, wary animals.

She didn't even have a name. What kind of life has she led, even before she fell into Van Zandt's hands?

She's asleep now. Since she declined to choose her own name, I've decided to give her a name from the Fusō moon chart, which will remind us of how and when she began her life proper. She will be Sakuya Izayoi, the flowering night after the full moon. It's unlikely anyone in Europe will understand that beyond the two of us, but that's fine.

It's a strange feeling to know someone's name before she knows it herself, although I suppose strictly speaking, the same is true of any child not yet old enough to understand what names are.

I called her frail before, but that was unfair; her body is small and weak, but on the inside, she must be made of steel to have made it this far. Once she has rested and eaten enough to regain some strength, I shall start teaching her to defend herself. If I have anything to say about it, she will never need fear a blackguard like Van Zandt again in her life.

I am reminded once again that, for all that I have spent most of my life battling monsters, some of the foulest beasts I've encountered have been mortal men.

Sakuya was in the pantry this time, not the scullery, and she was taking inventory of supplies rather than washing the dishes, but she still felt a distinct sense of déjà vu as she found herself suddenly hugged from behind by the mistress of the house.

That sense was dispelled as soon as Remilia spoke, though, because this time her tone of voice wasn't affectedly casual, as it had been the last time this happened. Instead it was low, solemn, almost melancholy, as she asked,

"Why didn't you ever tell me that Papa named you?"

Sakuya blinked. That was just about the last question she would have expected to be asked.

"I... don't know," she finally replied. "I suppose because it... never came up." She raised a hand and placed it on Remilia's forearm where it crossed her upper chest. "I take it you read his journal of our voyage together."

"Only the first night's worth, so far," said Remilia. "His account of how he bought your freedom from someone called Van Zandt. One of the sailors on the ship he was traveling on, I assume."

Sakuya nodded. "Yes. He was... the first mate."

"You were a slave?" Remilia asked, her voice barely audible.

Sakuya nodded again. "I was."

"How? Why?"

"I don't know. I can't remember a time before I was one. My earliest memories are of the Cape Colony—Kaap de Goede Hoop, the Dutch called it."

"The Cape of Good Hope," said Remilia, bitter irony in her voice.

"Mm. When Van Zandt found me, I was a runner in the street market there, and I can't remember any other life before that. He bought me from one of the merchants. I must have been about ten years old."

"He... Papa wrote that you'd been beaten when he took you into his care. Starved nearly to death."

"It's true. When I blacked out in Count Victor's cabin that night, bringing him his lunch, my last thought was that I'd come to the end of my pitiful little life. It was such a shock to be alive, I forgot to be afraid when I woke up. I knew I should be. I'd just been bought by a vampire, after all. What could fate possibly have in store for me?"

At this point, Sakuya gently disengaged herself, turned around, and gathered Remilia into a proper hug. "I never would have dreamed my fate was to be cared for. That had never happened before. I didn't know how to react... but I never feared your father, and by the time we reached land I practically worshipped him. I would have done anything for him, and what he asked of me was to look after you."

"Is that why you stayed when everyone else was gone?"

"I promised to serve you all my life."

"I'd release you from that promise if you asked," said Remilia softly.

Sakuya held her a little tighter. "I never would."

"Why would someone who escaped slavery choose to return to it?"

"Love," Sakuya insisted, "is not slavery."

Remilia's response was a slightly sniffly laugh. "I suppose not," she conceded, then said wryly, "Though it can look like it from the outside."

"I don't care what my life looks like from the outside." Drawing back slightly to make eye contact, Sakuya added with a slightly challenging smile, "Since when have you, O dread Scarlet Devil?"

Remilia laughed again, stronger this time, and pulled her back in for another hug. "Touché, Miss Izayoi, touché." Then, stepping back, she assumed an air of gravity and said, "I'm sorry I dredged all this up for you just to satisfy my own selfish curiosity."

"You needn't be, Remilia," said Sakuya. "I told you to ask me anything and I meant it. I have no secrets from you. Besides, the memories from before I met your father are unpleasant, it's true, but it's worth it for what came after. From that point on, I had two things I'd never had before: a name to be proud of, and a life worth living, even in its darkest moments."

Remilia smiled. "Thanks."

"You're most welcome."

Glancing awkwardly around, Remilia seemed uncharacteristically at a loss for a graceful exit from the moment. "Right. I'll... I'll get out of your way."


The vampire blinked. Sakuya had just called her by name twice in as many minutes. Had that ever happened before? Ever?


Smiling, Sakuya said, "In happier matters, you may be interested to know that Meiling has asked me to marry her."

Remilia's ears pricked up. "I am interested to know that. My my. And here not too long ago she was ready to walk off into the sunrise, or whatever the Liberion saying is." She grinned. "I knew I'd have her feeling at home eventually. What did you tell her?"

"That I will—when we find ourselves in a time and place where it's legal."

Remilia chuckled darkly. "Sakuya."

"Yes, m'lady?"

"I told you both before," said Remilia with a delighted smirk. "In this house, I make the law." Snapping her fingers, she declared, "Begin preparations at once! Tonight we feast! The guest list will be short, but it can't be helped."

Now it was Sakuya's turn to blink, her perfect composure shaken. "Uh... m'lady, I..."

Remilia's smirk turned back into a grin. "I'm joking, Sakuya. In your own time is fine. But I meant what I said about the law. This is Maison Diable Écarlate!" Drawing herself up, she declared grandly, "We need not await the mortal world's convenience here."

"I..." Sakuya smiled. "I shall take that under advisement, m'lady."

"See that you do," Remilia replied with an emphatic nod. Then, dropping the pose in favor of one of her warm smiles, she added, "Congratulations. You've chosen well. It'll be an honor to welcome Meiling fully into the House of Scarlet."

"Thank you, m'lady."

"I'll let one of you tell Flan," said Remilia as she breezed out. "It ought to cheer her up. I think the rain has her a bit restless."

Conveniently enough, Sakuya's next visitor was Meiling herself, who sloped in while Sakuya was putting the finishing touches on dinner to cadge some hot water and wash up in the scullery sink. As she had been every night for the last few days, she was dusty, a bit tired-looking, but very pleased with the night's progress.

"One more night. One more night and we'll have it," she reported from the scullery doorway, scrubbing her face dry with a towel.

"Really! That's excellent news," said Sakuya. "Not only are we all looking forward to the grand opening, it'll be nice to have you two back from the basement."

"Believe me, we're just as glad to be getting out of there," said Meiling. "Anyway! Can I help?"

"As a matter of fact, if you'd like to make yourself useful..." Sakuya gestured to a tray full of items standing out of the way on the counter. "... You can brûlée those crèmes for me while I make the sauce for the main course."

"Just call me dragon sous-chef," said Meiling, grinning. "Oh, but first, c'mere." At Sakuya's doubtful look, she held out a coaxing hand and said, "C'mon, it'll only take a second. Give me your hand. No, the other one. And..." Producing a small item from a pocket, she deftly slipped it onto the ring finger of Sakuya's left hand. "There! Sorry I didn't have it ready when I asked you, but since I didn't actually know I was going to ask you until I went and did it..." She shrugged with a sheepish smile.

Sakuya held up her hand and considered the ring Meiling had just put on her. "Oh my. How did you find the time to make this?"

"Getting up earlier, mostly. And a little while after dinner last night to put on the finishing touches. Do you like it?"

Sakuya smiled. "I love it..." Stepping closer, she rose up on tiptoes to put her arms around Meiling's neck. "... And I love you. Thank you."

With that, she bestowed upon Meiling one kiss, forestalling an attempt at a second with a fingertip to her lips.

"But we've got work to do," she said with a slightly mischievous smile.

"Eheh, yes ma'am," said Meiling, saluting, and then turned to her assigned task with a lingering silly smile.

It was over those same crèmes brûlées that Flandre received the news, not because Sakuya or Meiling had figured out a way to bring it up in conversation, but because, as Sakuya was putting her portion down in front of her, the younger sister spotted her new adornment.

"Oh wow, what a pretty ring," said Flandre, impulsively grabbing hold of Sakuya's wrist and bringing her hand in for a closer look. "Is it new?"

"Very," said Sakuya, smiling. "I just received it before dinner."

Gryphon leaned over next to Flandre to get a better look himself. The ring on Sakuya's slim finger was not a simple band, like the ones he'd made for both of the Scarlet sisters; rather, it was a three-banded spiral, cleverly worked into the likeness of a tiny gold dragon, complete with sapphire flecks for eyes, coiled around her finger. Close up, Gryphon could even spot faint engravings on the middle coil, marking out the dragon's furled wings in minuscule bas-relief.

"Oh, very nice," he agreed, then straightened up and raised his teacup in salute. "Excellent work, Master Hong."

Meiling blushed. "Aw, thanks."

"You made it, Meiling?" asked Flandre, looking up from the ring to her.

"I sure did!" Meiling replied. "But really, I was just following your big bro's lead," she added modestly. "I guess now that two of us have done it, it's a tradition! In this house, if you ask someone to marry you, you make her engagement ring yourself."

Flandre blinked. "You guys are getting married too?"

"Eventually," Sakuya said, still smiling, as she resumed her seat. "Not right away."

"I guess it's actually not legal in this era," said Meiling, her own smile a little sheepish. "I didn't think of that when I asked her."

"Is that right, big sis?" Flandre asked.

"I'm afraid it is," said Remilia. "Although I've already cast my vote for 'why let that stop you?'" she added with a slight smirk.

"For right now, the promise is enough," said Sakuya serenely, breaking the crust on her crème brûlée. Then, with an arch little smile for her mistress, she added, "You know how I am with promises, m'lady."

"I do indeed," Remilia agreed grandly, raising her teacup to her maid. "I do indeed."

Flandre beamed at the two seated opposite. "Well, congratulations, anyway," she said. "I'm glad." Leaning her chin on interlaced fingers, she grinned a bit wickedly and added, "You guys are really cute together." Then, after enjoying their blushes for a second, she dropped the pose and sighed theatrically. "And here I am, the odd one out. A bridesmaid twice over—at least I'd better be!" she broke character to throw in wryly, making everyone laugh, "—and ne'er a bride."

"So dramatic," said Remilia, shaking her head. "You're only 438, Flandre. You have plenty of time."

Flandre shrugged equably. "Mm, true. And if I can ever get out of the house for a night or two, I might meet somebody! Say, big bro, tell me more about your witches. Which one's the cutest?"



"Well, they're not my witches as such," Gryphon hedged, then mumbled as if to himself, "Hmm. Ursula's single... no, what am I saying? She's married to her work... maybe Wilma? Good gods, no, the rest of us would never survive. Hattori's too young..."

"Don't play along with her—!" Remilia burst out, breaking up with laughter halfway through, and the whole company dissolved into giggles along with her.

The next night was clear and fine at last, so after breakfast, while Gryphon and Meiling returned to their seemingly eternal, but supposedly near-complete, struggle in the basement and Sakuya tended to the various evening chores, Remilia collected her sister and took her out onto the west lawn.

"Before I'll feel comfortable letting you go out into the world by yourself," Remilia said, "I need to know you can defend yourself. My opinion of humanity may have... softened... somewhat, but this is still a dangerous era. Add to that the fact that you've already said you want to help fight the Neuroi, and I'm worried you'll get yourself in over your head." With a wry smile, she forestalled Flandre's impending protest by adding, "Go on. Look me in the eye and tell me that, if Benjamin and his colleagues are called out to fight while you're visiting their castle, you'll be a good girl and stay behind."

Flandre opened her mouth, then closed it again in a pout.

"Yes, I thought not," said Remilia. "You're our father's daughter, after all. You would no more be able to ignore such a call than would I." Folding her arms, she went on with a palpable air of dignity, "So it's incumbent on me, as your elder sister, to make certain that when you do, inevitably, throw yourself into battle, you're able to give a good accounting of yourself. I won't have you making a hash of things in front of Benjamin and his colleagues. It would dishonor our family name."

Flandre took that on board, and somehow, in spite of herself, she managed to suppress the little grin that wanted to steal onto her face. She knew what that latter part really meant: I'm sick with worry that you'll get hurt, and if you do I'll never forgive myself. It made her want to smile, because it made her happy that her sister was concerned for her safety, but she knew that if she did, just at this moment Remilia would probably take it as mockery. Flandre was learning that there was a time for pricking Remilia's vanity, and a time for allowing her to stand on her dignity. Following big bro's lead, she was even getting reasonably good at telling which was which.

So she kept her face serious, her gaze fixed on Remilia's, as the elder Scarlet went on,

"You will have seen in the Mysterium that the vampires of our line are magically active—most vampires are; but we have to do things a certain way. No æthereal creature can form a bond with us, so we can't have familiars like human witches. That keeps us from casting any but the simplest spells like they do." Holding up her free hand, Remilia conjured a small ball of fire into her palm, rolling it gently with a faint rustling sound. "You cast this one instinctively the night you attacked Benjamin. Do you remember it?"

Flandre frowned in concentration and held up her hand. What appeared in her palm wasn't a ball of restless fire, but rather a little sphere of light, glowing with the shifting rainbow colors of her wing crystals—which, Remilia noticed, had lit up when Flandre accessed her magic.

"Interesting," said Remilia. "Yours were also fire, before. Apart from the colors, that looks like what you were doing after you... er... assimilated the Neuroi."

Flandre nodded. "It's... I think there's a little bit of it left in me, somehow. I feel the same... energy, inside me, if I concentrate and try to bring it out. If that makes any sense."

Remilia dismissed her own fireball, frowning. "That's troubling," she said, but Flandre shook her head.

"No, not really. I'm not sure I can explain it, but... I can't... I don't hear its voice, like I did when it was taking me over. The Neuroi is dead, you destroyed the core, and now there's only me. All I kept was..." She pointed over her shoulder at one of her wings. "These. And it doesn't feel alien like it did before... before you and big bro saved me. It's just me now. Part of what I am. The Neuroi, big bro's blood, what was left of the potion you dosed him with... they all sort of mixed together and... here I am." She struck a pose with a wan little smile. "Ta-da."

Remilia considered her sister's words with a grave expression.

"You would tell me," she said slowly, "if that weren't the case, wouldn't you? If you ever did hear an echo of the Neuroi's 'voice' in your head?"

Flandre's eyes were steady and solemn on hers as she replied, "Of course I would."

Remilia held her gaze for a moment longer, then nodded. "Good. Then we needn't speak of it again, and I'll show you what we came here to do. This basic magical attack—my fireballs, your pulses of light—is useful, but in a real battle against a real enemy, it may not be enough. Sometimes more specialized effects are needed. The Neuroi I fought during the Occupation, for example, could never be killed by that attack alone—it's too slow. Their armor restores itself so fast that by the time you've found the core and prepared to strike it, it's covered again. The human witches Benjamin fights alongside get around this with teamwork and modern weaponry. In the past, our kind did the same with these."

She produced the small box she'd taken from her desk a few nights before, opened it, and removed what appeared to be a pack of cards, fanning a few of them out in one hand and displaying them.

"These are spell cards," she explained. "They're how vampires of our line do magic. Each of these cards contains a combat spell, mostly cast at the time the cards were written. Frozen in time, almost but not quite fired."

Remilia shuffled the cards, flipped one of them out of the deck, and put the rest away, holding up the one she'd selected between her fingers. Then, grinning, she tossed the card to her sister.

Flandre caught it and turned it over in her hand. It seemed to be an ordinary piece of heavy paper, slightly waxy in texture, a little taller and narrower than a normal playing card. One side had a complicated design with a lot of what looked like Celtic knots and arcane symbols printed on it; on the other were what looked like words, in a language she didn't recognize.

"That one," she said, "is called Divine Flash Donnerwetter." She produced a second copy of the same card, holding it up as she'd done the first. "I'll show you how to use them. It's really quite simple once you know the method. First, you concentrate on your inner magic, as you would if you were simply going to fire an ordinary spell bolt, but focus it on the card instead." Remilia closed her eyes in thought for a moment, then opened them; when she did, the card between her fingers began to glow.

"Now it's primed and ready to fire," she said. "To let it go, make certain of your target, fix it in your mind, and then speak the card's Name."

Turning slightly, she faced toward the stump of one of the trees that had been ruined in Flandre's May rampage, perhaps twenty yards distant.

"Divine Flash!" Remilia declared, then turned her hand so that the two fingers holding the card between them were leveled at the stump, her body settling into a fighting stance as she did so, like a martial artist miming a punch.

"Donnerwetter!" she cried, and a bolt of lightning shot from her fingertips, blowing the stump to smoking fragments.

Straightening up, Remilia turned a how-about-that? grin to her sister, raised her hand before her, and theatrically blew smoke from her fingertips.

"And that's all there is to it," she said. "Care to give it a try?"

Flandre looked at the card in her hand, then back at her sister. "They only work once?"

Remilia nodded. "They're each one frozen spell," she said. "When you cast them, they're gone."

"Oh. Where will we get more?"

"I don't know," Remilia admitted. "The art of making spell cards is an old one, and it may be forgotten in this era—but there are several books on the subject in Maman's library. I see no reason why a modern witch couldn't learn the technique from those if she'd a mind to. Perhaps one of Benjamin's friends will take an interest. In the meantime, we have an ample supply. Papa's penchant for preparedness, you know."

"Mm," said Flandre abstractly, still contemplating the card. "So this was made... hundreds of years ago." She looked up at Remilia. "Did Maman make them?"

"No. Maman didn't know many battle spells; she was an alchemist more than a sorceress. The cards we have mostly came from a Venezian witch, Maman's closest acquaintance outside the family. Her name was Lucrezia Sapere." Remilia frowned thoughtfully. "I suppose she must be dead by now. Witches are long-lived compared to ordinary humans, but Signora Sapere was an old woman the last time I saw her, and that was in... 1792, I think."

"Hmm." Flandre looked up from the card again. "So it's like we're calling on her spirit to help us finish these spells she started."

"I suppose so," Remilia said, looking faintly surprised. "I confess I'd never thought about it that way."

"So..." Flandre took up a stance similar to the one Remilia had started in. "You charge it..." She closed her eyes and concentrated, and after a few seconds the card flickered, pulsing a few times before taking on a steady bright glow. "Fix the target in your mind..." She opened her eyes and locked them on the smoldering remains of the tree stump. "And then say the card's Name."


"What if I don't want to fire it now?" Flandre wondered. "Say I'm with big bro fighting a Neuroi, and he kills it before I can get the spell off. Do I have to waste the card?"

Remilia shook her head. "No. If you stop concentrating, the card loses its charge. The spirit energy goes back where it came from."

Flandre tried that, deliberately relaxing her attention, and the card went dark.

"That's useful," said Flandre with a little smile. Then, her brow furrowing, she energized the card again. This time it lit up at once, without the fitful flickering of her first attempt.

She learns so fast, Remilia thought. Just like when we were kids...

"Divine Flash: Donnerwetter!" Flandre cried, and what was left of the stump was erased by lightning—a more powerful bolt, Remilia was not entirely surprised to see, than her own had been.

What am I worried about? Remilia asked herself. She's so strong. If she keeps her wits about her, nothing the Neuroi can throw will touch her.

That's what I'm worried about, she replied to herself, then shook herself out of her reverie and applauded her sister's accomplishment.

"Good! Very good. You have a talent for this, little sister."

Flandre smiled. "Well, if fate hadn't intervened, I would have been a witch," she pointed out. "Maybe there's an echo of that left in me somewhere."

"Maybe." Brushing past the potential pain point, Remilia went on, "That's just one card, of course. There are other types. Most are different attacks, suited to different circumstances and enemies, but a few do other things that can be useful. If you'd like to practice and experiment with them, I've set aside a few for you to use, but don't overdo it. Remember, the spirit energy to power these comes from you. Our magic reserves are deeper than a human's, but if you throw too much of it around, you can still wear yourself out."

"OK, I'll pace myself," Flandre promised, then grinned. "Besides, there aren't that many more tree stumps out here."

The household regrouped at lunch, as usual, and although Flandre, Gryphon, and Meiling all showed the signs of an evening spent hard at work, they all seemed very pleased, not to say exhilarated, with their progress.

"I think I'm really getting the hang of spell cards," Flandre said excitedly as she buttered some bread. "Hey, big bro, you should try it! I wonder if you could get them to work with that thing you do. And can you teach me that shield spell you use? If you can cast it without a familiar, I bet I could too."

"Flandre, don't badger your brother at the table," said Remilia.

"Well, when else do I see him when he's working on these big projects?" Flandre asked. "It's not fair that Meiling gets him to herself all night."

Meiling grinned at her. "We're not exactly playing pai sho down there, you know, it's hard work."

"Even so," Flandre insisted.

Gryphon gave her a sidelong glance. "You want to hang out, Flan?"


"OK then," said Gryphon. "The house rule is, we're done work at dinnertime. So tonight, after dinner, I'm all yours. Promise."

"I'll hold you to that~!" sang Flandre with a lilt in her voice.

"Flandre," said Remilia with a very mild note of caution.

"What?" Flandre replied, all wide-eyed innocence, and Meiling suppressed a laugh.

Remilia sighed a long-suffering sigh. "Never mind, do as you like."

With a cry of "Yay!" Flandre nearly tipped her chair over, tilting it far enough to get her arms around Gryphon's neck. Unperturbed, he kept eating as though nothing strange was going on.

Sakuya sighed wistfully. "M'lady is so generous..."

Remilia arched an eyebrow. "You just made it weird, Sakuya," she said, deadpan, then gave her a little grin.

"There's something weird about this firebox."

Gryphon looked down from fitting together the lever mechanism for the new top vent to see Meiling frowning thoughtfully into the open hatch on the front of the furnace.

"How so?" he asked.

"It's been bugging me ever since we stripped all the old junk off the top. There's no ash grates, and it's so shallow... I'm starting to think the reason we couldn't get a fire to stay lit in here wasn't the stuff we tore off, or at least not only the stuff we tore off. I'm not sure we could ever keep a decent fire going in this thing. There's not room for enough fuel, and nowhere for the spoil to go. It's almost like it's not intended... for..." She trailed off as a thought dawned on her.

"For?" Gryphon wondered, and a moment later Meiling punched her fist into her opposite hand and looked up at him, eyes bright.

"It's not a firebox," she said. "It never was. That's why there wasn't any ash or soot in it until we tried to start a fire."

Gryphon climbed down from the top of the brick enclosure and stood next to her, looking into the door. "Hmm. OK, I'll bite. What is it, then?"

Meiling beamed. "It's a den."

"A den?"

"Yeah. Like—a habitat. Something lived in here. A salamander, maybe, or a drake. Think about it, it makes perfect sense. It's a little artificial cave. You find a salamander, or some other elemental fire critter, and put it in here. They like this kind of space, so as long as the food keeps coming they'll stay put, and voilà! All the heat you could ever want, and nobody has to come down here and shovel coal or trim a fire—just feed the tenant every few days."

Gryphon nodded, his face thoughtful. "That... does make sense," he said. "I forget sometimes what a magic-driven household this must have been back in the day. And it fits perfectly with something Remi told me about before you and Sakuya got here." At Meiling's questioning look, he said, "The organ in the music room. There's no electricity here, and no one has to pump a bellows."

"Air elemental?" Meiling wondered.

"I think so. When she first opened the music room and showed it to me, I asked her if the organ still worked, and she said it should as long as the aeolians hadn't left. I was distracted by something else and didn't really catch that at the time, but that must be what she meant."

Meiling grinned. "Yep. Figures. Air spirits don't need to eat, so they wouldn't have had any reason to leave, unlike our absent friend here," she added, gesturing to the empty furnace. "Remilia must not have known that was how they heated the bath," she theorized. "And after... you know, the night... whoever was responsible for the critter was either dead, or took off. Eventually it would've gotten hungry and bailed back to the æther."

"It all hangs together," Gryphon agreed. "Hmm. It would be a lot more convenient to heat it that way again, but where are we going to get a salamander?"

Meiling's grin became slightly smug. "You just leave that up to old Master Hong."

Gryphon arched an eyebrow at her. "You know how to summon fire spirits?"

"Dude. Dragon here," Meiling reminded him, flicking his forehead playfully.

"Oh yeah."

"Let's go talk to the lady in charge. I'm gonna need a brazier. Or a wok, that'll do in a pinch."

They did the ritual out on the west lawn. Flandre's spell card practice had to be interrupted for the purpose, but she allowed as she was getting reasonably tired by that point anyway, and besides, she was excited to see the summoning.

"Well, then, stand back and enjoy," said Meiling, gesturing for them to give her a little space.

Then, humming cheerfully to herself, she built a small coal fire in the brazier Remilia had fetched from her late mother's alchemy laboratory, sprinkled it with a couple of powders ditto, and performed a short centering exercise with a flavor of kung fu about it. She finished the exercise in a meditative stance, her hands folded before her in a martial-arts salute.

For a minute or two, nothing seemed to be happening, but then the gently licking flames in the brazier changed color, deepening from the usual yellow-orange of a coal fire to a brilliant red. With a thump and a palpable pulse of heat, it flared up, sending sparks high into the sky, then settled down to a merry, crackling roar...

... and suddenly, wide-eyed, the onlookers realized the fire had not just settled but condensed, the flames taking on a material shape. Where the little coal fire had been, there was now a creature, built something like a fat-bodied lizard, its shimmering, crackling scales each a tiny tongue of scarlet flame.

After a moment's stillness, the salamander opened glowing eyes like miniature furnace doors and regarded Meiling benignly with them.

«Greetings, cousin,» she said in what Gryphon was faintly surprised to realize was Low Draconic with a Kokugo accent. «Thank you for heeding my call. I have a proposition for you.»

The salamander gazed blankly at her for a moment, then inclined its head with a slow blink, as if to say, Speak, then.

«We have a place in this house that would be perfect for one such as you,» Meiling explained to the salamander. «Will you accept it? You will be secure and happy there, and your divine heat will bring joy to us who live here.» She held out an inviting hand, palm upward. «Please, honored spirit... join our household?»

The salamander blinked slowly again, then opened its mouth as if yawning before ambling up onto Meiling's arm. Stretched out, it was about the same length as her forearm, its chameleon-like tail wrapping around her wrist for stability. Thus positioned, it laid its head down in the crook of her elbow and appeared to go to sleep.

Turning to the others, Meiling indicated her arm with her free hand, grinning. How about that?

They all gathered quietly around. Flandre, in particular, was fascinated, leaning in to take a very close look.

"Be careful, it's hot," Meiling cautioned her, voice low to avoid disturbing the creature. "I can take it because of my training, but you'll get burned if you—" Flandre brushed her fingers against the sleeping salamander's head; she drew a hissing breath through her teeth as her fingertips were scorched, but didn't snatch her hand away. "—touch it," Meiling finished a bit lamely.

"It's OK," Flandre said, withdrawing her hand slowly. The burns on her fingers had faded before she finished the gesture, and with a little smile, she added, "I heal fast." Then, turning her gaze back to the salamander, she said softly, "It's beautiful."

"Nice, isn't it?" Meiling agreed. "I never saw one quite like it. Back home they look more like tiny dragons. C'mon, let's get it into its new home while it's asleep."

With Flandre sticking close by her side and the others trailing curiously behind, Meiling carried the salamander to the furnace room and gently offloaded it into the brick enclosure, arranging it just so in the center. With another sleepy yawn, it stretched out full-length on the bricks, the glow of its fiery scales brightening, and the room was already starting to warm as she stepped back and closed the door.

"Beautiful," said Meiling. "Now, someone's going to have to remember to come down here every few days and make an offering. If the local ones are anything like the kind back home, they'll take pretty much anything that's flammable, but they like coal the best."

"I'll do it!" Flandre declared at once. "How much should I bring?"

"Oh, for one this size, a regular pailful every three or four days should do. Like you'd use to start up the fireplace in your room."

"I'll set aside one of the small coal scuttles for you, young mistress," said Sakuya with an indulgent smile.

Remilia, who had stood observing the proceedings with hands on hips and a satisfied little grin, declared, "Meiling, you are a revelation."

Meiling gave her a slightly dubious look. "Is that good?"

"It's very good," Remilia assured her. "I would never have thought of this, even though, in hindsight, it's obviously what Maman did when Papa insisted on building the bath. She would never have stood for one of the servants having to spend so much time down here tending a fire." Her smile widening, she went on, "Very smart thinking."

Meiling made an aw-shucks grin. "Thanks."

"Wait, does this mean we can use the bath now?" asked Flandre eagerly.

"Tomorrow," Gryphon said, and at her look of disappointment, he explained, "Hey, that much water takes a while to heat up."

"I guess," Flandre conceded. "Oh well. I guess one more day won't kill me."

"It does mean," Gryphon went on, "that Meiling and I are finally finished down here, though! And not a moment too soon, if you ask me. I've had enough of the basement."

"I know the feeling," said Flandre wryly.

Although he was aware of intense scrutiny, Gryphon finished his after-dinner tea without hurrying. It was, after all, the best cup of tea of any night, to be savored at the table after another fine meal; a tradition that went back to the nights when it had just been himself and Remilia dining at this colossal table in a quiet, empty house. Even now, with Flandre watching him intently from the place to his left, Meiling unsuccessfully fighting off food coma in the seat across from her, and Sakuya bustling about being Sakuya, he caught an echo of what that had been like on the darker, lonelier nights, and felt a perverse pang of nostalgia for them.

Glancing up, he saw Remilia sitting in her throne-chair at the head of the table, an arm's length away, smiling knowingly at him over the rim of her own teacup, and knew she'd read his thoughts. Not literally, her vampiric line didn't have that particular power; just by knowing him well enough that she could predict whither the stream of his consciousness would take him in a moment like this.

"Seems like longer ago than it was, doesn't it?" she asked him in a low, intimate tone. "I confess there are times I feel rather wistful for those nights. An absurd impulse, I know, but..." Her smile became less knowing and more warm. "... occasionally one does miss having you all to herself."

Gryphon smiled, nodding his concurrence, and took the last sip of his tea.

"However," Remilia went on, her tone more conversational. "At the moment, someone else has the prior claim on that particular honor, and I think we've teased her long enough."

"Yes, you're probably right," Gryphon agreed. Putting down his teacup, he rose and offered his hand. "Shall we, young mistress?"

"Finally!" Flandre declared, seizing the hand.

"Kindly return him in the same condition this time!" Remilia called after her as she half-led, half-dragged him out of the great room.

"No promises~!" Flandre's voice drifted gaily back in from the entry hall.

Remilia chuckled, shaking her head, and poured herself some bloodwine. "That girl..."

Once they were out in the entry hall and around the corner, out of the line of sight of the great room doors, Flandre stopped and admitted,

"OK, so... beyond teasing Sis, I don't really have a plan. I was going to show off my spell cards, but I think I kind of overdid it after lunch. I'm too tired to mess around with that stuff any more right now. Can we do that tomorrow if the weather's nice? I really want to see if you can make them work."

Gryphon nodded. "Sure. Sounds like fun!"

"Great. For tonight..." Flandre hesitated, then went on, "Can we just go to my room and talk? Sis told me some of the things you told her about your life, but... I want to hear about them from you." With a slightly ironic smile, she added, "I mean, you know basically everything there is to know about me. Even though we're the same age, I'm way behind."

"It's not a race," said Gryphon, but then, smiling, he went on, "but it's your night, you pick the program."

"OK, well... I guess I better make sure it's all right with Sis. I mean I asked her before and she said it was fine, but..."

Back in the living room, Remilia had just had time to get settled in her Ottomane with Wolfgang by her side and one of her father's journals in hand (she'd gone back to give the 12th century another go). Sakuya was sitting at the Ottomane's other end, her legs tucked under her, knitting something that wasn't far enough along yet for Remilia to guess what it was going to be, and Meiling, in spite of all the other furniture available, was sitting on the floor in front of her, head leaned back against her knees, just basking in the presence.

Noticing movement, Remilia looked up to see Flandre reappearing in the doorway, still holding Gryphon by the hand.

"Back so soon?" the elder sister said, but then she noticed that Flandre's face was already red, so teasing her wasn't going to have any worthwhile effect.

"Sis... do you remember the thing I asked you about the other night?"

"You're going to have to be a little more specific than that, Flandre," said Remilia dryly.

Flandre sighed in frustration. "I overdid it with the spell cards," she admitted. "I know, I know, you warned me. I just got too into it. So now I'm tired and I'm going to bed early." Brandishing Gryphon's hand as if it were a weapon, she declared defiantly, "And I'm taking this with me!"

Remilia raised her eyebrows. "What, just the hand? He probably wants to keep that, so you might consider taking the rest of him while you're at it," she observed, deadpan.

That had the desired effect, namely making Flandre laugh and drop her defiant posture.

"Seriously, though, is it OK?" she asked when she'd finished.

"I told you before, you need to be asking him that. Benjamin? What say you?"

"Fine by me, I could use an early day," said Gryphon placidly.

"Well, go on with you, then, mieux aimé," said Remilia with an offhandedly dismissive gesture. Then, placing her hand on Wolfgang's snoozing head, she continued, "In return, the beagle stays with me."

Gryphon nodded mock-gravely. "Well-bargained and done."

Flandre's smile was bright with relief. "Thanks, Sis."

"Not at all, Flan," said Remilia, at her most magnanimous. "Good morning, you two. Don't stay up all day talking."

"We won't. Well, uh... morning, everybody!" said Flandre with slightly forced nonchalance.

"See you guys tonight," Gryphon had time to add before he was tugged away from the doorway by the Flandre Express.

"Good morning, Chief," said Sakuya, smiling.

"Later!" Meiling added, raising a hand in salute.

Remilia watched them walk off toward the stairs, then returned to her reading with another mellow chuckle.

"I... think I missed what's funny," Meiling said.

"Flandre's at that age," Remilia said. "She thinks it's a contest... but she'll learn."

"Learn what?" Meiling wondered.

Remilia smiled. "We can't be competitors when we're on the same team."

The version of his life story Gryphon told to Flandre was necessarily a bit edited, both for time and for content. He didn't exactly elide the bad parts, but he was definitely conscious of trying to emphasize the better times—the camaraderie, the fun and adventure, the dash and excitement. He was particularly careful to see that every low point he did mention had a corresponding, compensating high.

Flandre was a more discursive listener than her sister had been, stopping him more often to request clarification or express amazement at some detail. As such, it was probably lucky that he was telling the short version. She also laughed a lot more than Remilia had, although at the end, when he'd finished explaining how he came to be in this place and time, involved in this war, she'd gone quiet and serious again.

They were sitting at opposite ends of her bed, he at the head, propped up on the inevitable phalanx of pillows, she at the foot, sidesaddle with the skirts of her nightdress arrayed in a circle around her. A single candle burned on the nightstand, so that Gryphon could see his audience as more than a shadowed shape. Now, as he finished his story, Flandre sat and pondered his words, her eyes closed, expression hard to read by such low light.

After a few moments' silent thought, she opened her eyes and said slowly, "So... your real life is sort of... still back there. In the other universe, in the future. Waiting for you to get back to it."

Unexpectedly, Gryphon's response to that was an indulgent chuckle.

"Your sister said something like that once, the night you and I ended up having our little... dance," he said. "I made some crack about being useful while I was helping her with something, and she said she would find it ever so tiresome doing everything for herself when I went back to my life."

Despite her serious mood, Flandre couldn't help but giggle at that. "Yeah, that sounds like Sis."

"I answered her with a question, and I'll answer you with the same one," Gryphon went on. "In what way is what I'm doing right now not my life?" Smiling, he opened his arms; she hesitated for a moment, then came to them, letting him enfold her in his most comforting embrace.

"My life," Gryphon said quietly, "is right here where I am. Yes, I have responsibilities in other places and times, and at some point I'll have to attend to them. That's just part of being an adult. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to abandon everything else to do it."

"How can you avoid it?" Flandre wondered.

"I don't know," Gryphon admitted. "There are ways. I'm not sure yet which one will be the right one, but I'm working on it." He held her a little tighter, prompting her to squeeze him in return. "However it ends up happening, you and your sister are huge parts of my life now, and I won't leave you behind."

Flandre was silent for a minute or so. Then, as if apropos of nothing, she said,

"Sis thinks I'm trying to compete with her."

"That's natural," Gryphon replied.

"Sure, and it makes sense that she would, but that isn't it," said Flandre. Releasing him, she sat back so that she could make eye contact and went on, "I don't want to take anyone's place, hers or yours. I want my own place. I want to be as close to both of you as you are to each other. That's why I keep wanting to do the same things you guys have done. It's the only way I can think of to get that perspective." Her eyes searched his face, her own expression pleading for understanding. "Is that... is that dumb? Am I just being a selfish little kid?"

Gryphon smiled and drew her back in. "No," he said. "No, I'd say you're being very grown-up, and it's not dumb at all."

"Do you think I can get Sis to understand it?" Flandre asked.

"Of course. Remilia's no fool, you know."

"I feel like I'm still getting to know her. We were so close as little girls, but that was a long time ago. Neither one of us is the person we were back then. I love her, and I know she loves me, but sometimes I feel like we're almost strangers. When she was teaching me how to use the spell cards... she reminded me more of Papa than the Remilia I knew before I got sick. She's grown so much while I stayed the same all those centuries."

"You're growing too—faster than she ever imagined you could," Gryphon pointed out. "I'm sure she feels just as much at sea as you do sometimes." He grinned fondly. "She's just better at fronting than you are."

That drew another giggle. "That hasn't changed, at least."

"Herakleitos of Ephesus," Gryphon said, "was quoted by Plutarch as having said, 'No man can step in the same river twice.'"

"'Because it's not the same river,'" Flandre quoted back, "'and he's not the same man.'"

"Exactly. So much time has passed, and so much has happened, that it's natural to feel like you and your sister aren't the same people you were before. But... over time, I've come to believe in a different variation on that remark. 'We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.'"

"Meaning?" Flandre wondered.

"I believe that even in the midst of constant change, there are things that don't—at least, not on any practical timescale. Things that have an immutable nature. Maybe it's because of my connection to the living, eternal Force, which is always changing and yet always the same. You and Remilia... whatever happens, however you both grow and change, you're still your parents' daughters. Still sisters. Still who you are. That will never change." He gave her another little squeeze. "Everything else is details."

"You've mentioned the Force a few times now. Is that how you can do magic, even though you're a man and don't have a familiar?"

"Yes. The Force is... well, the short version is that it's a universal life energy. It's sort of at the intersection of the qi Meiling has been teaching you about and magic as your world knows it."

Flandre sat back again and took his hands, looking him in the eye. "Will you teach me how to use it?"

Gryphon raised an eyebrow. "What, right now?"

Flandre shook her head. "No. I'm tired. But soon. Maybe tomorrow. I'll teach you what Sis taught me about spell cards, and you can teach me about the Force." She cracked her sly smile, the one that was a mirror copy of her sister's. "You show me yours and I'll show you mine."

"You're dangerous enough as it is," he harrumphed, then accepted her back into his arms and said, "but all right. Let's play it by ear and see what happens. If the feng shui is right... who knows?"

Flandre chuckled. "Maybe we should invite Meiling too."

"The more the merrier."

"Big bro?"


"Thanks for telling me all that. And for hearing me out. And for... generally putting up with what a mess I still am."

"You're not a mess, Flandre. You're just figuring stuff out, and I'm happy to help you do it."

"Well... thanks for that, then."

"You're very welcome. You ready to get some sleep?"

"Yeah." Flandre put out the candle and crawled under the covers while Gryphon knocked down the pyramid of pillows, and they rearranged themselves for sleep.

"We need to try this sometime with Sis in the middle," Flandre mused drowsily. "I know she thinks we'll have wing problems, but there must be a way... don't you think?"

"Always a way," Gryphon agreed. "Morning, Flan. Love you."

"Love you too, bro," said Flandre, snuggling a little closer with a sleepy smile and a faint blush. It was the first time he'd said it first, which she couldn't help but feel was some kind of breakthrough.

Always a way, she thought, and with that, went happily to sleep.

The Ink Spots
"Java Jive"

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 IV:
"Magie Domestique"

written and directed by
Benjamin D. Hutchins

with The EPU Usual Suspects

Based on characters from Tōhō Project
by Team Shanghai Alice

Bacon Comics chief
Derek Bacon

E P U (colour) 2020