Aaaaand there’s another chapter of our serialised novel „Angelic Duties“. Please stop me if I’m going too fast for you.
Oh, and in case you have never read anything I’ve written and have, strangely, decided to start with the third chapter of my latest book: Trigger warning.
Previously on Angelic Duties:
In the first chapter, we met Profound Distress, watched her attempt suicide, be sent away by Abbot Glistening tears, and saying goodbye to one of her former lovers.
In the second chapter, we watched Profound Distress say her goodbyes to Blue Rose and drive off to Iustik, met a Gendarm called Kimbal with whom we first saved a lady in arguable distress and then watched how Lady Sorrow deals with people breaking Angelic Law.
Today on Angelic Duties:
“You did it, son”, breathed Pater Familiae Rewelun Teneract. “You finally did it. Im so… proud of you…” And thus, a Pater Familiae died, and a new one was made.
“Thank you, father,“ Pater Familiae Glon Teneract answered, and pulled the knife out of Rewelun’s back and returned it to its container, careful not to wipe off too much of the blood in that movement, the better to keep it as a token of his ascension to power.
“Duncan!” he cried, “Come out, I did it! I killed him!”
The broad frame of the old soldier appeared from behind the curtains, a frown on his face.
“Congratulations, sir, but… However did you manage that?”
“Don’t fret, Duncan, it’s not your fault. The blade was hidden in his meatloaf.”
Duncan uttered a little grunt, half laughter, half irritation. “I always told him he should be more careful about the food, although I admit I imagined the danger a little different.”
“You did not think me capable of using poison, did you?”
“I didn’t expect it of you, but a Pater Familiae has many enemies, not all of them as respectable as his sons…”
“Duncan, I swear that was the first time I ever heard you joking. It suits you, in a strange and confusing way.”
“Now you’re just trying to win my loyalty, sir. But there’s no need. My loyalty belongs to an institution, not a person.”
“Well then, let’s forget about the personal stuff and get on with the institutional matters. Please inform the other houses of my ascension, while I carry the glad tidings to the rest of my family.”
“They will be overjoyed, I’m sure.”
“If they know what’s good for them.”
Duncan hurried to the ansible, while Glon Teneract stayed in his father’s – actually his own, now – dressing room, looking down at the corpse and the food on the table beside him.
Meat loaf. Glon himself had always been disgusted by his father’s pedestrian taste. Those times were over now. No more meat loafs, no more potatoes, no more jelly desserts, no more food large enough to hide weapons in. Especially no more meat loafs.
Now where was his greatcloak to mark him as the new Pater Familiae? He was sure he’d told that snake Yarnon to hide it somewhere around – whoa!
“Yarnon, what the…”
“You know I make it my duty to see and hear everything.”
“Yes, well, that’s about to change, because from now on, I make your duty.”
“As you wish, Pater Familiae.”
“Exactly. Now where’s the cloak? Can’t very well use his, can I?”
“It would indeed be in poor taste. Use this one.”
“Your father made his introduction in a cloak torn in half. This is a significant improvement.”
“Oh, well, so that’s all right then… Yarnon, I swear I’m gonna have your head if you don’t get me a spotless cloak, in one piece, within the hour. Got that?”
“Was clear enough. Thank you, sir.”
“And would you send Selena in to help me pass the time?”
Yes, well, alright, it might be a bit of a childish indulgence, but he figured he was entitled to one now, after this success, and considering that he would have to cut back on them considerably in the future if he wished to stay Pater Familiae for a while.
And he could really use some time with Selena now to shake off the tension and re- what the…
Someone entered, but it was not Selena.
“Not anymore, but yes, basically.”
“Are you the new House concubine? I didn’t even think you…”
He sputtered off when he realized what she was wearing.
No! It couldn’t be. But then, not even Cerya would dare impersonate a Cleric. No one would ever dare dress her up like a servant of Lady Sorrow, except possibly Lady Sorrow herself, so…
“What did you say? Alright, you stupid bastard, if you want it that way, have it that way. Kneel.”
“You can’t be serious”, he muttered.
“Oh I’m plenty serious, Glon, and if you don’t get on your knees before me right now you’re gonna learn exactly how serious a Cleric can get.”
She glared at him. Glon set his jaw and glared back.
“Cerya…” he began in a reasonable tone.
“I’m not going to ask you again, Glon.”
She was serious alright. He sighed, got up and fell to his knees. He bowed and pressed his palms and brow to the ground before her feet, trying to cheer himself up by remembering the many times she used to kneel before him, back in the days. It didn’t quite work, though.
“You may rise now, son.”
Son? Oh, the nerve! Your son recalls several occasions when Your Holiness was so stoned you didn’t even know who…
But the insult didn’t alleviate his humiliation at all. In fact, it added to his feeling of subjection, because he thought it, knowing that he’d never dare speak it, because his former favourite slut was now a Cleric and could crucify him whenever the whim might strike her.
In retrospect, what he had already said in the recklessness of his first surprise almost made him shiver now he thought about it. Had he really asked her if she was a concubine?
Heavens! If anyone had been there to listen, she probably would have struck him down on the spot, just to make a point.
Glon vowed to be more careful. He had no ambition to enter the annals of House Teneract as the seven-minutes-Pater or some nonsense like that.
“Thank you, your Holiness.”
It hurt, but he said it.
She nodded. Good boy.
“That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” she asked, with a tight smile.
He could have strangled her then and there. And maybe he’d still have had a little fun with her, before, or during.
Could the Angels read minds? Did they? He’d never heard of anyone being Smitten for a thought, but then again, he’d never heard of anyone thinking about raping a Cleric.
“So you’re Pater Familiae now?”
Of course, he wouldn’t rape her, he thought, briefly glancing skywards. He wouldn’t, really. He just liked the thought. He’d just like to wipe that smug look from her face. And the prim red robe looked kind of hot, he had to admit.
“Seems so”, he answered.
“Guess I’m right on cue to anoint you.”
“What? Oh, that. No, we’ve done away with that cumbersome tradition here. We do it a lot…”
“You have what?” she exclaimed.
She looked earnestly alarmed. Glon liked that.
“We don’t do it that way anymore. We just declare our new Pater, and that’s it. No need for a Cleric to go to all the trouble of coming here and holding a big ceremony and all.”
“Are you quite mad, out here? Your days of modifying Heavenly Lore are over, let me tell you that right now. Seriously, Glon, I can’t believe you people! What were you thinking? Have you never heard of IX Perdido? Did you not realize what you’re toying with, you imbeciles? Did you not realize that there is only one punishment for disobeying Angelic Law? Heavens, I’d be justified in crucifying you for the mere suggestion! Listen, Glon, and listen well, because I’ll only say it once – Heavens, I bet I’m gonna say it thirty times at least only today, but listen anyway: There will be no exceptions, there will be no concessions, and there will be no compromise. I am the voice of Lady Sorrow, I am her hand, and I am her foot, and I will kick you into a bloody coma if you don’t listen. If you effing peasants used get off by provoking Heaven, that’s your business, but I’m not going to be Purified for your transgressions.”
“You’re her foot?”
“You know what I meant, shut up. So when is your anointment?”
“I was planning to… celebrate my ascension this afternoon, but-“
“Fine. That’s settled, then. Honestly, the less people you invite, the more grateful I’ll be, but I’m sure you’ll prefer getting your petty revenge to scoring some long-term points with your superior, so just go ahead and knock yourself out, I can handle it. And don’t think I will hesitate one sodding second to make an example of you if I even suspect that you might have tried something funny. Have you got that?”
“When, do you think, will trade with the Outsiders be resumed, can you already …”
She raised one warning finger to silence him, shook her head, turned on her heels and left.
Fuck, but she had changed a lot since he’d last seen her. And he had to admit, the new Cerya was one red-hot bitch.
He wondered if she was as easy as the old one.
Rape was out of the question, after all.
Profound distress slammed the door to her suite of rooms the domestic had led her to.
Confound them all!
She could really have enjoyed Glon’s humiliation. Really enjoyed it. But then he had to tell her about that monstrous stupidity House Teneract had concocted, obviously in cooperation with their local Cleric.
She couldn’t even fathom the sheer idiocy needed to openly defy Angelic Law. Maybe she should just crucify him to teach others to think before they made decisions. Might be worth it in several ways.
But then, it would rob her of future opportunities.
It had felt good to shame him. Unfortunately, he’d quickly managed to bring her mood down with his inanity.
Her gaze fell upon a beautiful crystal bottle on the desk besides the window. Maybe a glass of the spirits in side would help her relax. Just one swallow, what harm could it do?
But Profound Distress remembered well how easily a swallow turned into several, and those into a bottle, and that into more, and finally into waking up in a ditch somewhere stinking only of vomit if she was lucky.
She turned to one of walls and made a fist, as if to strike it.
What else had the fools done?
Maybe they had actually killed her predecessor. Oh, that would just be great, wouldn’t it? She couldn’t remember ever hearing of a Cleric being murdered by humans, but she was quite sure about the general nature of the consequences.
Even Lady Sorrow could not react but with cataclysmic destruction the likes of which had not yet been seen within the Concord.
Maybe she would spare her own Cleric servant in spite of her proximity to Iustok. But then again, maybe she wouldn’t.
She turned back to the room – and screamed, pressing her back to the wall, slowly gliding down it.
There on the edge of the bed perched Lady Sorrows Avatar, unmoving, mute, just staring at her from that avian face with those horrible blank silver eyes.
“I-I didn’t know!” she proclaimed. “He just told me, I would have-“
What? Told her? She was an Angel, she didn’t need anyone to tell her what was wrong. Or did she?
“I’m going to make it alright, I’ve already ordered him to obey the Law, I’m doing all I can, I really am.”
The Avatar opened its mouth and uttered a sound somewhere between a snarl, a hiss and that clacking sound certain exotic birds made. It didn’t quite sound hostile, but might well have been the scariest thing she had ever heard. It was inhuman, completely alien and it came from a being that held the power to incinerate cities.
“Are you going to Purify them? Will you punish me as well? Please don’t kill me!” she begged. “Please, I don’t want to die, I didn’t know, I swear! Please!”
The terrible thing on her bed just looked at her, head slightly tilted.
What seemed to Profound Distress like a long time passed.
“What do you want?” she finally asked.
Lady Sorrow blinked and adjusted her posture with a barely perceptible movement.
At least she stopped talking, Profound Distress thought. That had to be…
“I could make him love you,“ the Angel stated.
“Glon?” Profound Distress asked, incredulous. “What, are you…”
She stopped herself before completing the question, realizing what she was about to say.
She didn’t know if it was possible to anger Angels without breaking their Law, but she certainly wasn’t going to find out the terminally stupid way.
Then she realized the larger issue. Lady Sorrow had not only spoken, she had offered to do something for her.
That was… unprecedented, as far as Profound Distress knew. It was alarming in the extreme.
She had to inform the Prismo.
“You should not inform the Prismo”, Lady Sorrow stated.
Profound Distress gaped at her, her mouth open so wide the Angel could have reached in and pulled out her heart. Technically, she guessed, the Angel could do that any time it pleased anyway, so never mind.
‘Should’? What was that? What did she mean by ‘should’? Angels had no use for that word. Was that a command? Or was it… a suggestion? It couldn’t be, could it? Could she be punished if she… Was she actually thinking about not obeying? Whatever that moron Glon had seemed to be catching.
Lady Sorrow looked down on the floor, then raised her blank silver eyes again.
For a few terrible seconds, she looked directly at Profound Distrees, and suddenly, with an effortless leap through the ceiling she vanished, leaving the paneling she had passed through untouched.
Profound Distress stared at the place where she had vanished for a long time, breathing hard, lips quivering, not quite sobbing.
Lady Sorrow had gone mad. It was the only possible explanation now.
Why did the world have to end now of all times, right when it seemed she might just get a grip on her life and pull herself together and make something of herself?
For a few days there, she really had thought all the effort, all the discipline had paid off. For a few days, she had managed to believe it might all have been worth it.
And now, through no fault of her own, because of that cursed fool Glon, she was going to die in a rain of fire and ash, or something.
She never thought about fleeing, of course. There was no sense in that.
But she thought about that bottle. And about what sense there was in self-restraint if you’re going to die a horrible, painful death anyway.
Was there anything she could do? She had tried, hadn’t she? She had told the Angel she’d try to make it alright.
She had asked her to – well, not exactly to spare the city, not in that many words, but the message had been clear, hadn’t it? She’d done all she could.
Now all she could do was wait.
And maybe, to calm her nerves, have some of that enticing golden liquid in that bottle. Just one quick swallow. One thimbleful.
How drunk could one drink get her?
Drunk enough for a second one, it turned out.
Glon guffawed and almost spilled his drink.
Yarnon nodded, and Glon cackled.
“That’s the Cerya I know.”
He couldn’t quite decide if he should be disappointed or pleased.
“You think she still wants to anoint me? You think she’s still able?”
“I think she won’t notice if you forego the honor…” Yarnon mused, smiling.
Glon shook his head.
“See, that’s why you’ll never rise above second-rate, Yarnon. You think too… short-term. You’re small-minded, Yarnon. Let her do it! She wanted it, now she’ll have it. And then we’ll see if she has the guts to bother us again.”
“Sir… She can hardly sit upright.”
Glon smiled and shrugged.
“Let her sit listing, then.”
Yarnon nodded eagerly.
“See?” Glon said, turning a jovial grin to the hooknosed man with frightfully skeletal features sitting next to him, Laghmutch Tawney. “That’s what I was talking about: No need to fret. Cerya is a blessing. We couldn’t have gotten a Cleric more easy to control, and certainly not one the control of whom I’d enjoy more. Leave her to me and worry only about your stinking noisy Engines. She’s better than just useless like the last Cleric. She could just as well be on our side, just you wait.”
“I see,“ said Laghmutch in an expressionless voice.
Glon waved a hand in his direction. “So you don’t trust me”, he said. “All well and good. I don’t trust you, either. But there’s one thing we both can trust in: Whatever Cerya Teneract touches will turn to shit, so with her on the other side, we’ve as good as won.”
“She used to touch you in various places, if memory serves,“ said Laghmutch.
For a moment, Glon’s smile cracked, but he instantly caught himself and let out a roaring laugh, thumping his neighbour’s knee so heavily Laghmutch winced and rubbed his aching leg afterwards.
“Good one!” Glon shouted, “Got me there! Never trade banter with an Engineer, eh? Just no beating you guys.”
“If I may excuse myself”, Laghmutch breathed, “I surmise there is no need for this gathering anymore, with you having everything under your sovereign control. Also, you certainly would not want to dally about your anointment as Pater Familiae.”
“That’s the spirit! Yarnon, why are you still here? Scamper now, and get her for the damn circus, before she falls unconscious.”
Book group questions
- So, you’ve met our last viewpoint character. What do you think?
- Did the description of that sound the Angel made make any sense to you?
- What do you think the Angel meant, if you have any opinion on the matter at all?
- The questions are difficult today, but there is some sense of obligation within me that won’t allow me to finish with less than three, so: I just noticed that I have not described Duncan and Glon, at all. Do you have a picture of them in mind? How do you imagine them?