Interlude

With a nod of understanding, Amber Thorbjorn’s face dissipated from the communication’s display and Rembrandt Payne fell back into his chair with a pained sigh. Having witnessed more of them than most people, he could recognise when the threads of fate were ready to weave another defining Moment for the history books. He had seen it happen at the Battle of the Twelve Pillars, then again, two years later, when the Erebus came unbidden to Torsten.

It was because of that dark day that Rembrandt Payne found himself stuck behind a desk while its chain of consequences lit up like a trail of gunpowder, its spark racing towards the mountain of Avalon, where threads long and schemes old were weaving together to change the world.

He sipped at his tea and winced. It was cold from neglect. Closing his eyes, he let his mind wander, his soul reach out.

“It seems I am not the only one troubled by these events.” Guirlande’s voice rose through the fogs of contemplation, a gentle invitation to join him within the walls of his sacred citadel.

Payne accepted. Their meetings had grown in number of late, itself a sign of events lurching towards their conclusion. “I assume you’re up to date on matters,” he said as he stepped into the old church, where rays of golden sunlight fell upon an aisle of polished stones, each tile infused with the Guirlande’s will, his determined intent.

Guirlande was waiting for him by the arm of his golden throne, brow furrowed in concentration. Here, away from the eyes of his people, he did not need to wear the mask of ‘Director’, of a servant loyal to the Founding Fathers. Here with Rembrandt, in this place beyond their reach, he could be himself. Were it not for the lines of age and stress upon his face, he could have been a young man again, an officer of Seelie.

“I have heard enough,” he replied, casting his gaze to the stained glass windows high above them, which told the story of Hagia Sophia, founder of the Sophist Church and the saviour whose teachings they sought to enshrine. “How you can still serve those beings despite all they have done, I do not know.”

He meant the Sidhe, and Seelie too. Age had only deepened his distrust of the Four Queens and their courts, despite Payne’s insistence that they had the world’s best interests at heart. “But where would we be without them?” he asked his old friend. “Still slaves to Pleiades, no doubt, or whatever name they wish to go by these days.”

“Speaking of which,” Guirlande turned back to Payne, his frown harsh, deepening the creases of his weary face, “I hear they have sent a gestalt in search of our young seer. For all their strength, it seems our aethereal friends still underestimate technology’s ability to circumvent their illusions.”

The illusion that was Emily Fomalhaut. Payne himself only knew the truth because Guirlande had an uncanny ability to unearth conspiracy and unravel plots. “I still find it hard to believe,” he said. “Are you sure she carries the Brand?”

“I am certain of it,” replied Guirlande. “You would be too, had you seen her before the Sidhe made their move. That girl was as close to surrender as any could be, which was hardly surprising considering all she went through.”

His eyes—his soul—told him otherwise, but Payne knew Rosencrantz would never lie to him, not about something like this. “It’s just one tragedy after another, isn’t it?” he said. “First the parents, now their daughter. And all for what? The Erebus? Because of what happened fourteen years ago? How many more people have to die for a name?”

He wanted to scream that name at the top of his lungs, to tell all the world the secret only he knew, the secret Pleiades would kill to keep hidden, but he knew what the consequences would be. In the end, it was better to sacrifice a few lives—souls, even—if it meant keeping thousands more safe. Millions.

“Die?” Guirlande raised a golden eyebrow. “If you are referring to the fate of your investigation team, I do not believe Pleiades were as indiscriminate in their slaughter as we were led to believe. Tell me, Rembrandt, do you know what happened to Ophelia Orpheus?”

A stillness fell over the church, a silence within a silence, as if all things, down to the movement of electrons around their subatomic cores, had stopped. “She died,” said Payne, even though he knew what Guirlande would say in reply. “Her family confirmed it.”

Lips pursed and cold pallor descending over his tanned features, Rosencrantz Guirlande sat down on the steps leading up to the Director’s throne.

“Ophelia did not die,” he said. “She is in Malkuth. She is a prisoner of Kali Saraswati.”

Episode Five End

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2018 Dary notes: There was quite a gap between this episode and the next!

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