Since Guinan has commented on the third chapter today, it’s time to publish the fifth, or she might catch up with me. So here we go, enjoy!
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.
In the third chapter, Profound Distress first has a rather unenjoyable encounter with Glonn Teneract, then with an Avatar of Lady Sorrow, and finally with a bottle.
In the fourth chapter, Cerya has a bad awakening with Glon, a bad reunion with Kimbal who guides her to her cottage and then leaves her – on bad terms.
Today on Angelic Duties:
And Kimbal was gone. Just walked out the door, and she hadn’t even tried to stop him, hadn’t even tried to explain.
But the bottle was still there, reliable source of warm and tender comfort that it was.
Of course she could have just poured the stuff away, but that would have been a waste of tragic proportions. So she’d just have to deal with it. She hoped she could.
Then she realized that she would have to eat, and drink, if she wanted any chance at resisting the Angels’ Tears. Water would not be a problem, that she knew, but food… That might be difficult. She didn’t know exactly when her predecessor had vanished, but it was certainly more than a week ago, and most food he’d had was probably bad by now.
She strode to the cupboard and opened it. Moldy bread, moldy cheese – not the good kind – some sort of sausage which might still be edible, and some raisins.
“Well, there’s your problem”, she murmured.
This was stupid. She really should have thought of that. Someone should have warned her. This was ridiculous.
Damn, why did this outpost have to be so far away from everything? She didn’t like to be alone. She really didn’t.
She turned around and immediately wished she was alone.
Lady Sorrow perched on the backrest of one of the chairs at the kitchen table, her blank silver stare fixed upon Profound Distress.
“I guess you didn’t want to Purify anyone then, did you?” she said weakly.
“We do not want anything,“ the avatar replied in its monotonous, droning voice.
“Right. So…” Now, there was that opportunity she had thought about beore. “So, do you know what happened here?”
“Yesss,“ said the avatar in a hiss, stretching is disgustingly long neck in her direction.
Profound Distress swallowed and took a step back.
“Could you … tell me?”
Lady Sorrow didn’t answer and didn’t move at all. She just sat there, staring at her, like the most realistic, most horrible statue in the world.
“That means … no?”
Did she just not want to tell her, or did the Angel possibly not know, and just did not want to admit that? But she couldn’t ask her that. She couldn’t accuse an Angel of lying to her, even though she was quite certain that no Angel had ever punished anyone for being offensive.
The bottle. It had started looking very appealing again.
“Why … Why not?” she asked the impassive Angel. “Wouldn’t that make things a lot easier? I mean, why should I spend my time investigating things you already know? How am I even supposed to find out what happened when there is not a single trace of anything anywhere to be seen?”
“We do not suppose anything”, Lady Sorrow droned, completely missing her point.
“So, whoever killed Slight Depression could just return any moment and continue his job?”
“Not as long as I am here”, the avatar answered.
“Well, that’s comf- hey, no, you- oh of course…”
And Lady Sorrow was gone.
Profound Distress looked at the bottle. She noticed that her breath came fast and hard and her heart beat high up in her throat.
Just one cup, maybe. Just to see if it tasted as good as people said. Just to take the edge off. Just to make her feel that little bit better. Just one little cup couldn’t hurt, could it?
“Are you sick, Kimbal?”
He put down the mug he had been scrubbing over the sink, turned and raised an eyebrow at his wife.
“I expected you to at least appreciate my loyalty a little.”
Katra snorted a laugh.
“Loyalty you always had an ample supply of. What you somehow lack is common sense. I mean, are you sure you want to be the guy who offended the Cleric who might basically represent Lady Sorrow here until our children’s children die of old age? Are you sure you’ve thought that through?”
“Well … What would you’ve had me do? Stay with her?”
“You could have.” She shrugged while continuing to dry off the dishes he had cleaned. “I mean, you wouldn’t have had to stay with her, just … stay with her. Talk. Be nice. Rebuild your friendship. Friendship with a Cleric can’t hurt.”
Kimbal chuckled. “And you think that would have worked? I just stay, and when she makes an advance, I just say: ‘Sorry, not interested’, and poof, suddenly we’re friends?”
“It’s a question finding the right words, isn’t it? Handling the situation … You could at least have been a little more subtle.”
“You think? You don’t know her, Katra.”
“I think I know her plenty, after all you’ve told me about her, and she seems to me exactly the kind of person you would not want to insult when she’s in a position to fucking destroy you and me both just by whispering a few words into the right ear.”
“I … I don’t think she’d do that.”
“Oh, you don’t?” She made a dismissive sound and now also put down the dishes to turn fully towards him. “So that’s all right, then. Sorry for getting all worried about that when you have her completely figured out. I mean, it’s not like she’s unstable, and a drunkard, and notoriously moody, completely unreliable, and did I mention a drunkard?”
“She is … She can be. But she’s not mean. She’s not a bad person.”
“Who is, really? And who cares? She doesn’t need to be a bad person to harm us, Kimbal, and you know we both can’t afford to offend House Teneract. You’re a Gendarm, and I depend on their business. And you never know when it helps to be friends with a Cleric.”
Brank, their eldest at five, popped his head in the kitchen.
“Be friends? You’re the one who just called her an unstable drunkard!”
“Are you fighting?” he asked suspiciously.
“No dear”, Katra answered in a tone of voice that did not brook any further questioning. “Go back and play with your sister, alright?”
“But she’s no fun”, he moaned.
“We’ll be with you in a minute, alright?” Kimbal promised.
Brank nodded gravely and held up an index finger to indicate he’d be counting, then left.
They looked at each other while trying to remember where their argument had stopped.
“You wanted me to invite that dangerous, unstable Cleric into our house”, Kimbal prompted.
“Look,” Katra replied, “All I’m saying is: This can be an opportunity for us as much as it can be a danger. She obviously likes you. She wants you to like her back. Why not give her that and…”
She shook her head. “I don’t mean using her as in …using her, I just mean there’s no harm in having friends in high places, is there? Make the best of the situation?”
“Yes, friends who used to be lovers and who obviously still want to be, I can’t see any way that could go wrong.”
“You just said she’s not a bad person. She will respect it if you tell her you just want to be friends, won’t she?”
Katra turned back to the dishes and started drying again.
“She might. But then again –“
“Why not just try it? Let’s just give her a chance and look what comes out of it. Don’t you think it would be great to have a Cleric as a friend? Don’t you see what kind of security that would mean for the whole family? What that could mean for us?”
Kimbal refused to follow her example, although he knew this argument was over, and he had not won. “This is a mistake.”
“When it’s too late, yes.”
“Oh come on, Kimbal, what’s the worst that could happen?”
“I don’t want to think about it.”
When Profound Distress awoke in her cold and sadly Kimbal-less bed the next morning, the bottle of Angels’ Tears was still three quarters full und still completely untouched since her unlucky predecessor had last drunk from it. She was very proud of herself. In fact, she was so proud that she might just celebrate the occasion by…
“Don’t go there”, she mumbled, and added: “And don’t start talking to yourself, you haven’t even been alone here for a full day. Try not to bring on the full crazy for a while. No need to rush things, right? Savour the process of slowly losing your mind …”
She sat up in her bed and realized that she actually felt rested and had basically slept quite well, except for … everything else.
“Don’t go there”, she repeated. “Don’t. Focus. Yes, focus. Great. On what?”
She needed to investigate Slight Depression’s death, but how?
She was a Cleric. No one had ever taught her to investigate anything except the content of old dusty books meticulously catalogued in systematic order, so how in high Heaven was she qualified to find out what happened to the guy?
Well. At least it was something to do. It certainly beat sitting around and thinking about how she had disappointed Kimbal, and about that look on his face before he left, part disgust, part pity, and what she could have had if she’d only accepted him back when she’d had the chance – that hurt so much, that he had wanted her, that she knew for a fact she could have had him, could have spent her life with him if only -, and about that bottle sitting there, so inviting.
“Don’t go there. Focus on your task, no matter how futile.”
So she got up, washed herself with water she fetched from the well and started looking for breakfast because – pleasant surprise – she was actually hungry.
Neither pleasant nor a surprise was the continuing lack of food. Maybe that’s why Slight Depression vanished, she thought, smiling.
A more thorough search turned up a half empty sack of flour in one of the cupboards, and there some oats, but there was no milk anywhere. She might have tried to chew the dried-out piece of sausage if she had been close to starving and willing to lose some teeth to it, and in a low cupboard close to the fireplace, she discovered a full jar of lard, but she was not desperate enough for that, either. Yet.
She knew she might use the flour to bake bread, but she had no idea how, and she suspected that some other ingredients were needed, not the least of which a few hours of time she was disinclined to wait.
For a short moment, her eyes strayed towards the bottle again, and she slapped her own hand.
“Bad Cerya”, she muttered. “That wouldn’t help. Don’t go there.”
Kimbal had left a ragged hole in her life, a cold and raw place, and as with a sore in her mouth, she was unable to keep from probing it again and again, although it hurt, although she knew it kept the wound from healing, or even precisely because of that.
So she went out and started looking around in the forest surrounding the cottage, looking for anything suspicious, without having any idea what might be suspicious in a forest, because she’d never consciously looked at one. She had never known anything about trees and wildlife and plants or anything, but it certainly felt good to be out in the sunlight, in the soft breeze, to hear the birds singing and see all the flourishing life around her.
Almost enough to make her forget about a certain bottle waiting at home.
There was a very large gnarly tree in the centre of a clearing not far from her cottage. Of course, she did not know what it was called, but its leaves boasted a fresh juicy green, its branches were sturdy and started close to the ground. For a moment, she actually felt tempted to climb it, maybe feel like a child again, remember what it’s like to have everything before you, all choices still open, to not have ruined your life with –
“Don’t go there.”
She continued her search.
After about two hours, she happened upon a child with a shortbow, in torn leather jerkins who waved towards her with a friendly grin until he noticed her robes, and then stumbled backwards in alarm, tripping over a root, turning tail and running away. She tried calling after him:
“Wait, please, I don’t mean any harm. Do you have food? I’d like some. I have money!”
But he didn’t hear, or didn’t listen, and when she realized that she did not, in fact, have any money, because she was Cleric and had no need for it any more, she was suddenly glad that he hadn’t returned. He would have been obliged to give her some food anyway, and he looked like he needed it a lot more than she did.
When the sun shone through the whispering foliage from high up in the sky, and Profound Distress’ stomach had started growling so resolutely that she could no longer ignore it, she turned back towards the cottage. After some minutes of insecurity, she discovered that she had no problem finding her way home. She had been unsuccessful with regards to her quest, but still felt remarkably content. This day seemed like a good one. Who’d have thought?
When she reached the cottage, a young woman in riding gear with a leather messenger bag was waiting for her, and a saddled horse grazing besides the road.
She did a deep curtsy and turned her eyes towards the grass.
“Your Holiness”, she murmured, rummaging in her bag without looking into it. “I have brought your correspondence.”
She held out two letters and added, so timidly that Profound Distress could barely understand her above the rustling of the leaves in the wind:
“One comes with a plea for answer. Would you like to reply?”
Profound Distress stepped forward, brow furrowed, and plucked the two envelops out of the messenger’s hand. One bore the Great Seal of House Teneract in thick read wax, the other one was less sumptuous, a modest white envelope with her name written on it in a practiced hand, but noticeably less artful than that of the House writer who had penned the first.
“The one without the seal, Your Holiness.”
“You don’t need …” ‘to call me that’ she started to say, but stopped herself, because that title existed for a reason, and while it was not exactly proscribed by Angelic Law to use it, it would not do to just forego it completely. She could not bear to hear it from Kimbal, but she would have to get used to it from other people.
Kimbal Coment … She realized that his name was on the envelope, and hastily, with trembling fingers, she tore it open.
What might he have written? That he was sorry he had been so harsh, that he never wanted to see her again, that his wife had left him and … Well, a girl could dream, couldn’t she?
Oh. Right. She had left that sentence unfinished, and the poor messenger was waiting for Her Holiness’ orders.
“Sorry. Just wait a second, will you?”
“Of course, Your Holiness.”
Profound Distress scanned the contents of the letter and drew her brows together while her mouth formed a confused o.
It was – an invitation. To dinner. With his family. Had he lost his mind? What would his wife think?
But then … it was an invitation. To dinner. With him. So what was there to think about?
It would be painful, but she would be with him, and there would be plenty of incentive to not fall completely apart, which was exactly what she needed right now. This was a good day, she decided, and told the messenger:
She wanted to hand her a coin for her trouble, but, of course… She needed to get at least some money for such purposes, this was ridiculous.
“Thank you, Your Holiness. Um .. Your Holiness, may I ask you a question?”
She smiled bemusedly. It had been a long time since any one had suspected her of knowing something they didn’t. “Of course you may. What is it?”
“I was wondering … Please forgive me if I am too forward, but I swear I mean no disrespect, it’s just …”
“Out with it.”
She had to admit, she could get used to playing this role. This was a good day.
“I was wondering … Do you know if … My brother passed away last month, he was ill, and I … We … Do you know anything about … what comes after? We were wondering … how he is now.” The messenger’s gaze was still glued to the ground, so she could not see Profound Distress’ benevolent smile faltering, her lips pressing together, but maybe she could hear her take a deep breath while she thought about her answer.
Yes, she knew. Or at least she was fairly sure from what she had read in the Hermitage. But she couldn’t bring herself to tell this poor woman asking for consolation. She also didn’t want to lie to her … well, not too much at least, so she simply said:
“No, I am sorry, but I do not. The Angels do not share the last secrets even with us.” Which was true, technically, generally, basically, largely. Mostly. In the sense that it was not. “But I am sure he is happy where he is.”
What? Wait. Where had that come from? Well, what sense was there in disillusioning her? She would find out soon enough, wouldn’t she?
The messenger nodded curtly, wiped at her eyes and turned away.
“Thank you, Your Holiness”, she said, swinging onto her horse and hurrying away.
Well. That could have gone better. But still. Could have gone worse. She had done her best, hadn’t she?
It was still a good day.
It was not.
When she entered the cottage, the avatar of Lady Sorrow was waiting for her.
The naked pale Angel was impossibly perched, as always, on the backrest of a chair, its dead silver eyes staring at the wooden floor. It did not look up and gave no sign of even noticing Profound Distress’ entry.
“So … What do I do?” she asked, wondering if she had already gotten used to the Angel’s appearances to the point of carelessness. “Do I kneel, do I prostrate myself, or should I just say hello? I … I really don’t know the protocol for these regular casual meetings.”
“We do not care”, the avatar’s cold, dead voice replied. “You will find the disturbance”, it said, “Because we cannot.”
When several heartbeats had passed without any more explanation, Profound Distress dared to reply.
“I do not understand. What disturbance? How could I find something that you can’t?”
“You will find the disturbance”; the avatar repeated, “And you will follow its trail and discover its cause. Afterwards … complication. But still vague-”
The Angels could see the future, in a sense. Profound Distress had read about that. Time was different to them. No one quite knew how it worked.
Was Lady Sorrow giving her an order, or just stating a fact? Was there a difference, from her perspective?
“I could make him love you”, the avatar said, as it had before.
What was that all about?
“No”, Profound Distress was surprised to hear herself say. “No, I would not want that.” She suspected she was talking to herself much more than to the avatar.
It would not be a good idea to give herself too much time to think about this offer, or she might find out she actually liked it.
“So, about that disturbance … Is there anything you know that might help me with it?”
She tried not to think too much about the fact that she was talking to an Angel, actually talking to it, not just receiving Angelic Law and obeying, but asking questions, receiving answers.
“Alright. Like, for example …?”
The Angel looked directly at her, but she could not stomach its gaze and averted her eyes.
“I cannot tell you anything. It is forbidden. You will find the disturbance.”
“But … how? I do not even know what I am looking for.”
High Heaven, maybe she had already found it and just not noticed.
“It is not far, and it will be obvious”, the avatar said. And jumped up through the ceiling, and was gone.
“Oh of course”, Profound Distress muttered. “Of course she vanishes now. This is probably her idea of fun.”
So, how could she look for a disturbance without even knowing what that meant? The Angel had said it was not far, so she should probably start right here, in the cottage, and work outwards from there, although she had no clue what an Angel’s idea of ‘far’ might be. They could fly and pass through walls unhindered, after all.
No matter. It was not as if she had anything better to do, until tonight, that was, when she would be with Kimbal, and no disturbance and no Angel would keep her from that, provided she did not starve before then.
Profound Distress walked over to the chair Lady Sorrow’s avatar had perched upon, and started looking around.
“Disturbance”, she murmured.
Nothing about the cottage looked particularly disturbed to her, neither the venerable wooden furniture nor the few small decorations her predecessor had bothered to put up, nor the pattern of the worn flooring –
She narrowed her eyes, then got down on one knee and stroked one hand over the wooden tiles. The pattern did indeed seem a little off here, and … yes, she certainly felt a dent here, and when she pushed, it gave, and she could insert two fingers below the floor, and give a tentative pull… it didn’t move, but she quickly realized that was because she was kneeling on the flap. When she tried it from the other side, it opened quite easily and gave way to a ladder reaching down into a dark hole in the ground.
A strange smell wafted up from it, pungent and sharp, heavy and unpleasant. It reminded her of tar or lamp oil, and it made her a bit light-headed. Also, she felt something from there, like a sound that was no sound, some kind of vibration she was only half-conscious of. Its influence felt vaguely agreeable, but not in a healthy way. She enjoyed the sensation, but somehow suspected it might harm her if she gave in to it. It was like a sweet whispered promise in a slightly off voice, tempting but worrisome at the same time.
Profound Distress really did not want to get closer to whatever was down there.
Yet down she went.
Book group questions
- Were you on Kimbal’s side, or on Katra’s, or neither? Why?
- I fear my style in this story might be too colloquial, but on the other hand, I think that’s the voice that fits for Profound Distress.
- As Profound Distress, would you have accepted the invitation?
- What did you think of my description of the door in the floor?