Payne turned to his right, where the younger of the al-Hakim brothers slouched in his chair, trench coat draped over his burgundy suit. “Sohrabarak, I want you to keep a particular eye on Miss Fomalhaut. If she is working for Lord Dionysus, even unintentionally, I expect his enemies will target her.”
The Commander grinned. “She will be safe so long as I live and breathe,” he said. Though he cared little for Seelie’s chain of command — as loose a structure as it already was — Sohrabarak was a man of his word and if anyone or anything threatened Emily, be they flesh or spirit, machine or synthetic, he would make sure they reconsidered. They did not call him ‘Lightning Shaper’ for nothing.
Satisfied, Payne turned to the elder al-Hakim, Azhara’d ‘of the Seven Blades’. “While Natalia and your brother are keeping an eye on our initiates, I would like you to infiltrate Avalon’s seat of power,” he said. “They value warriors, so I expect you’ll have little difficulty earning their trust.”
“It shall be done.” Azhara’d embodied the battle-hardened warrior that so many people looked up to in these chaotic days, not least those who viewed Seelie and its grasp of the immaterial arts with suspicion. Whereas his brother relied on flashy techniques and witty banter to disarm his opponents, Azhara’d needed only the blade at his side — though it certainly helped that the blade in question was, in fact, seven of them.
If there was one person who could best both of the brothers, though, it was Lucia James, the ‘Magic Gun Alchemist’. A suspected synthetic of ambiguous age, with eyes as red as her hair, she met Payne’s look with a cocky smile. “You want me to blow up that tower, right?” she asked. It wasn’t hyperbole.
“I’d rather you didn’t,” he replied. “We’re popular enough with our superiors without us demolishing one of their training sites. What I’d like you to do is help Azhara’d. Seelie’s choice of holiday destination still bothers me, and I suspect there might be more going on there than official records state. Which brings me to the final member of the team…”
He turned his gaze on the dishevelled man at the far end of the table. Nobody trusted Valentine Baudin. Nobody, that was, besides Rembrandt Payne and Sohrabarak al-Hakim, in whose company he arrived three years previous. At that time, Valentine had brought with him information on a number of underground cults and organisations, many of which he had himself successfully infiltrated. Most of them still wanted his head — or worse.
And now, for the opportunity to infiltrate the organisation and learn its secrets, he was a Seelie officer. Or, at least, as much an officer as one could be with a field commission. Much like the al-Hakim brothers, Lieutenant Baudin owed his wings to Rembrandt Payne. It was not a decision everyone agreed with — and some of those people sat at that very table, failing to hide their scowls of disapproval.
Valentine ignored them, as he always had. “And if there’s something going on off the record?” he asked.
“I expect to hear of it.”
It was a dangerous game, but it was one Rembrandt Payne had played for almost fifteen years now, ever since Queen Thetis placed the fate of Torsten, its Theatre, and everything that lay beneath it upon his shoulders. It had cost him friends, it had cost him allies, and it had cost him lives — but, this time, with the friends he had gathered to his side, things would be different.
Episode Three End
Next week, there will be Stuff. Episode Four officially starts January 11th.