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- Octavus -
Repraesentet Eas In Lucem Sanctam

Heinrich knocked at his superior's door.

"Come in," came the cheerful reply. He entered and left a pile of documents between the two men that sat at opposite sides of the big table.

"The dossiers you requested, General," he said. Von Kessler lifted the first sheet with two fingers and studied it as if it were a precious gem.

"Thank you, Heinrich," he said, dismissing him with an airy gesture of his free hand. When the secretary closed the door behind him, Kreutzmer cleared his throat.

"Are you going to keep him?" he asked, articulating with difficulty through the bandage that bound his jaw. That man Fogg had a fist of iron.

"Of course. He's the one that was running the business, more or less, during the time my respected predecessor sat on this chair," von Kessler said, eyes sparkling. "I'm going to keep him at least until I figure out all the mess Weigand left behind."

Kreutzmer nodded. Von Kessler had turned the report of their failed mission into a deadly weapon, pointed directly at Weigand's administration. Under the poisoned magic of von Kessler's prose, all of the blame for the failure was revealed as the inevitable result of the weaknesses in Weigand's command, and all of the excellent points of von Kessler's plan had been - in the end - unfortunately unable to overcome the crushing weight of Weigand's multiple inadequacies. Kreutzmer had written the fair copy of the report and he was still amazed at von Kessler's ability to manipulate and twist the facts using the subtlest of touches. Besides, von Kessler in person, bandaged and limping, had presented the report to the Kaiser himself in an emergency meeting at the crack of dawn, earning a commendation for courage, a promotion to General, and a new medal to add to his already impressive array. After this, Weigand had received a laconic note that had sent him packing to some health resort in Bavaria.

"The Fogg dossier is there, Kreutzmer. I want you to study it very carefully, along with every piece of information we have on the British Secret Service and England."

"Yes, sir."

"And prepare yourself, because you're being promoted."

"Col- General?" the faintest light of hope dawned in Kreutzmer's eyes. Up until that moment he had been dreading this interview. Surely von Kessler would want someone to take the blame for Fogg's escape.

"Yes, my friend. I'm sending you to England in a very delicate mission: you are to infiltrate them as my eyes and ears, my trusted covert agent. We'll prepare a suitable identity for you and you'll travel there as soon as everything is ready."

Kreutzmer stood motionless. This was too close to exile to feel like a reward.

"May I ask... for how long, sir?"

"As long as it takes. Maybe longer. I want to know all about that dirigible, Kreutzmer. And all about that woman. If the British are using women now as field agents, I want to know all about them: names, faces, skills, weaknesses. Am I clear? If the woman we met last night is an example of what we're going to have to deal with from now on, I want to know. And I want to be prepared. Are you ready for this, my friend?"

_My honor, my life. Even my soul_. Kreutzmer took a deep breath. He had dreamed of taking Heinrich's position. And now he was being sent to an enemy country in a long, thankless and dangerous mission. But it was undeniably an important one. He sat straight on his chair. He would go. He would adapt. And he would be worthy of von Kessler's trust.

"Yes, sir."

Von Kessler watched him with a benign, almost paternal smile.

"Wonderful. No doubt we will see that remarkable dirigible again. But next time, Kreutzmer... Next time we'll be waiting."

* * * * *

The =Aurora= sailed over Prussia, gliding as smoothly and gently as a sunbeam through the quiet blue sky. The main cabin was in silence, except for the faint snoring of Brideshaw, asleep on the padded bench, and Passepartout's tinkling sounds as he prepared tea in the tiny kitchen. Phileas, who hadn't said a word since he arrived aboard, was in the exact same posture he had been during the last few hours, looking through the panoramic windows to the landscape below. This was the scene Rebecca found as she came downstairs, dressed in a comfortable and utterly proper blue dress.

"Miss Rebecca, I have the cup of tea ready, you wanting some?"

"Tea sounds lovely, thank you, Passepartout," she said. He poured her a cup and stood by her as she drank it, waiting for her approval.

"An excellent brew indeed," she said. "Your own mix, I gather?"

"Yes, Miss Rebecca," the open, honest face of the valet blossomed in a huge grin. "The Master is liking this one very much too, that is why I'm making it."

"You are a man of unsuspected depths," Rebecca said, watching him intently. "And although you disobeyed our direct orders last night, I cannot possibly blame you. You saved our lives."

Passepartout turned crimson and shuffled his feet.

"I'm not liking going to England by my loneliness, Miss Rebecca. Can you explain this to the Master, please? He is not listening to Passepartout."

"He's not listening to anybody right now," Rebecca said softly, laying cup and saucer on the table. "All this has been... very difficult for him."

"Not finding brother Erasmus is a big sad thing, yes," Passepartout nodded. "And the Master is very very sad. Aren't you sad, also?"

Rebecca looked away for a moment.

"I buried Erasmus a long time ago," she said finally. "I wanted the body to be his, for Phileas's sake. Sad? Yes, I'm sad, Passepartout. But I'm also done grieving."

They both turned their eyes to the still form of Phileas.

"Is he grieving for the ever and ever, Miss Rebecca?" Passepartout asked sadly. "I'm not liking seeing him like this. He gave me the clap on the shoulder and I'm all right now, I know that is his way to tell thanks when he's too sad for words, but I'm not liking seeing him too sad for words."

"Nor I," Rebecca said, and went to her cousin.

"Phileas," she said, rubbing his shoulder gently, "Passepartout has made tea. Come to the table and eat something."

His lips parted and his face took such a forlorn expression that the tears that Rebecca had been bottling inside her since the beginning of the mission welled up in her eyes. Blinking rapidly, she turned her gaze to the landscape below her. They were flying over a deep gorge carved between mountains covered in a dark green blanket of pines. The water ran fast and white as snow, glinting here and there in the morning sun.

"It's very beautiful," she said.

"There," Phileas said, pointing. His voice sounded raspy and tired. Rebecca looked and saw a point in which the river bed narrowed. The water ran between two tall stone cliffs and fell in a waterfall.

"He fell there," he said simply. Rebecca found she couldn't speak; her throat felt tight and her eyes burned.

"It's a lovely place to rest," she said finally, and the words sounded terribly awkward and inappropriate for the depth of sorrow that she could feel inside her cousin. He didn't look at her. He closed his eyes, lips moving in what could be a prayer or a curse, and he leaned on the brass rail, and his head bowed down. A dry, hacking sob tore his whole frame, and he wept.

Rebecca ached to touch him, to comfort him somehow, as he wept for a long time, desperately, silently, until the weight of his grief overwhelmed him, and he fell on his knees, unstrung. Rebecca embraced him then, and he clung to her as a drowning man to a plank, while she held his head against her chest, rocking him gently, feeling the hot tears soak her dress and reach her heart. And she wept too, for Erasmus, for Phileas, for all they had lost and were still to lose, all the way whispering comforting words for them both.

"It's all right," she said over and over, "It's all right, Phileas. Shhh. He's resting now. He's beyond pain now. He knows you love him. He knows. You know he wanted you to live. Don't scorn his last gift. Shhh. Rest now, Phileas. Rest now, and let him rest."

The =Aurora= left the gorge behind, and sailed through the silky blue of the sky, towards England, and their lives, and their home.

- Requiem aeternam dona eis -

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