Two weeks. Not bad, is it? No silly season here, no siree. Überschaubare Relevanz takes its commitment to quality journalism and high-class storytelling seriously all year round. Take that, New York Times.
Enjoy the new chapter of our serialized novel!
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 Glonn, a bad reunion with Kimbal who guides her to her cottage and then leaves her – on bad terms.
In the fifth chapter, Kimbal leaves, and Profound Distress somehow makes do without him. Kimbal’s wife convinces him to invite Profound Distress for dinner to regain her good will, and she accepts.
In the sixth chapter, Glonn happens upon Kimbal while visiting his mother, and Cerya becomes friends with a puddle of black goo.
In the seventh chapter, we remember times of better relations between Cerya and Kimbal, while in the present, he meets a butcher and explains to his children that a very important old friend is coming to visit.
In the eighth chapter, Glonn meets the Nuntia, and Profound Distress is caught by Duncan.
In the ninth chapter, Duncan takes Profound Distress to her brother, who tricks her into taking some sort of drug, and Kimbal is visited by an Angel in his house, who tells him to admit Profound Distress.
In the tenth chapter, we remember Glonn helping his sister out in a time of need, and we see Jakta Teneract educating her son.
In the eleventh chapter, we see past Kimbal trying to save Cerya from her brother, while Profound Distress spends a surprisingly harmonious evening with present Kimbal and his family.
In the twelfth chapter, Duncan and Jakta reminisce by a pond, Kimbal learns from Jamo that Cya was taken, and Glonn decides to have him killed for asking the wrong questions.
In the thirteenth chapter, Profound Distress meets the Custodian, and Katra an untimely death, the first much to her own chagrin, the second rather to Kimbal’s, since Katra seems to take it in stride.
Today on Angelic Duties:
“No!” Kimbal screamed. He wasn’t thinking. There was no thought left. He was all rage, all grief, all desperation. He sprang up and walked towards the monstrous Avatar still standing on the road, watching him with Its silvery metal eyes without any visible reaction, which enraged him even further.
He drew his nightstick.
“Haven’t you taken enough from me?” he screamed at the monster, spittle spraying from his lips, his voice cracking and ridiculously high-pitched. “Haven’t you taken enough? You cannot have her, too! You can’t! Give her back!”
He was crying again now, sobbing uncontrollably, and hardly able to see, but he struck out at the Avatar anyway, and hit.
It felt like striking a block of ironwood.
There was a dull thud, and the stick vibrated painfully in his hand. If Lady Sorrow had even noticed the impact, she gave no sign.
“Cease,” he heard the dull, expressionless voice of his wife behind him. “Obey, Kimbal Koment.”
He hit the Angel another time, and again got nothing out of it but pain and a nick in his weapon. The Avatar contemplated him for a few seconds with its head turned sideways and no expression on its statue-like face, before it made a seemingly effortless leap that took it towards the sky and out of his field of vision in less than two heartbeats.
“You will obey,” the body which used to hold the person he loved more than anything else in his life told him.
“What are you?” he asked.
“I am a Paladin of Lady Sorrow. You will follow me to the Empty King’s palace.”
“Are you … Do you … Where is my wife? Where is Katra? Do you remember me?”
She stared it him without expression for a few heartbeats before answering: “I know you, Kimbal Koment. I know everything about you.”
His heart broke and his mind threatened to tear, seeing her face and not recognizing the person behind it.
She turned and started walking towards the carriage. The two horses lifted their heads, their large black eyes studying their former mistress from beneath lustrous lashes. One of them nervously blew air through its lips and tried to take a few steps back, but the other one held its ground, just staring at Katra.
When she did not slow down, nor give any sign of indulging their curiosity, the horses grew more nervous and started pushing the cart backwards together, away from her.
“Hold!” she exclaimed, and while this seemed so absurd that Kimbal almost chuckled in spite of his stunned and slightly detached state of mind, the horses actually stopped and did not move any more while she climbed the seat, not even turning their heads or flicking an ear to get rid of the curious insects constantly surrounding them.
“Now forward”, she said without even picking up the reins still hanging where they had fallen when she dropped from the seat with a quarrel in her chest, and Kimbal looked on, disbelieving, while the two animals obeyed and started walking towards him in perfect lock step.
Had he noticed a faint glow flowing from her eyes, mouth and nostrils when she had spoken the word?
The horses stopped right beside him without her needing to speak or give any noticeable sign. She leaned down towards him and extended her hand.
“You will come with me”, she droned in that horrible soulless voice that was Katra’s and at the same time held nothing of his wife.
So Lady Sorrow had reanimated his wife, taken away her personality, and endowed her with Angelic Power so they could search for Cerya, who had been abducted by her own family, House Teneract, and deported to an unknown destination outside the Concord.
Kimbal felt close to breaking down crying when he took her hand and felt himself lifted unto the seat beside her with an effortless strength as if he was a child or an empty bag.
He tried not to look at her, staring at the ground below instead while the cart started to move, again without her giving any noticeable command to the team. He tried not to think too much about what had happened to his life in the last few moments.
The possibility that this was all a dream occurred to him, and for a few blissful seconds, he could make himself believe that he might wake up sometime soon.
The strange black-haired girl stood silent, looking at the naked man in the glass cylinder to which she was bound by that seemingly delicate golden chain around her neck.
“What is she?” Profound Distress asked Duncan.
The girl turned back, her long silky dress rustling across the cracked marble floor.
“You know, I’d really consider it a kindness if you’d stop talking to him about me and start talking to me as if I’m a person, and present right now. I’ve somehow become used to not being treated like some stray mongrel, being the ruler of this land and all.”
“I’m sorry, your … I’m sorry, I’m confused. I’ve only just awoken, and I know nothing of this land, not even the correct address for you. You are the Custodian, I presume?”
“She is,” Duncan answered.
“Oh please, can you be an example?” the girl poutet towards him. “I shall be quite cross if this doesn’t stop soon.”
“Again, I’m really sorry”, Profound Distress assured her. “How shall I address you?”
The Custodian smiled at her. “You can simply call me Custodian, that’s all the title I have, and have ever needed, or Srew, if you like to make me happy by treating me as a friend. There aren’t many around, lately”, she said, looking around the great empty hall. “The last few centuries have been quite lonely, but it seems as if I get a chance to start a new life, doesn’t it? And you’re going to help me.”
“Don’t be fooled by her act and stay out of her reach at all costs,” Duncan growled, looking pointedly at the silvery circle in the ground that seemed to mark the range of movement allowed to the girl by the slight golden chain. “Outwardly, she’s more pleasant than the Angels, but inside, she’s the same as them.”
“Am not!” the Custodian exclaimed. “I’m much more fun to be around, and much less likely to kill you, as long as you stay out of this vexatious circle.” She clapped a hand before her mouth and giggled. “Oops, I shouldn’t have told you that, should I?”
Profound Distress just looked at her with a furrowed brow.
“Anyway,” the Custodian continued, “We need to talk. And you,” she turned towards Duncan, “need to leave.”
He nodded and got up.
“Remember to stay out of the circle, and do not let her touch you.”
“He’s such a mother hen, isn’t he?” The Custodian winked at Profound Distress. “I bet he always looked out for you when you were a child, right? Always kept you out of harm’s way, never let you do the things that are really fun?”
Profound Distress grimaced. “Not quite. I … got into harm’s way a lot. But that wasn’t his fault.”
“Oh… But this time it is, isn’t it?” the Custodian asked, grinning at Duncan.
He nodded, turned, and left.
“So then, just the two of us. Let’s talk, honest and serious and all. Sit down. I want to know everything about you. I haven’t had a friend in … Well, I’m certain it must have been before the ceiling came down over there, but after that column fell, so … A really long time for sure.”
“What happened to her? Did she forget to stay out of the circle?”
“They all do, after a few years, or decades. I can be quite the trickster, you know? And it needs to happen but once. Or maybe she just couldn’t stand it anymore and decided to end it all. Who knows?”
The Custodian shrugged and giggled.
“What are you?” Profound Distress asked.
She nodded eagerly.
“I’ll tell you. I actually look forward to that, because I love to talk about myself, but I wouldn’t be much of a host if I wouldn’t try to learn about you first, would I? Also, other stuff needs explaining, and we don’t want to rush things. But here I am, talking about being a host, and I haven’t even offered you any refreshments. How about …”
She turned her back on Profound Distress and seemed to rummage in something held before her, although there hadn’t been any visible pockets in her dress, but still, when she turned back around, she held a small silken bag and opened it to Profound Distress.
“Is it … Dust?”
“And very good, as I’ve been assured. Alas, it doesn’t do much for me, but would you like to try some?”
“I … really shouldn’t.”
The Custodian shrugged, and smiled.
“As you like. Just know it’s here, in case you change your mind. I’ll put it … right there, how about that?”
Profound Distress took a deep breath. She would have preferred if she couldn’t see the bag, but it felt silly asking her to hide it.
“It’s fine. But I’d really like something to drink.”
“Of course!” the Custodian exclaimed. “How silly of me! Of course you do. It must have been a long and tedious journey, so obviously you’d want something to drink after waking up. Maybe some ice? You can suck it – wonderfully refreshing, let me tell you – and you can also put it on that nasty bruise where your very protective and caring friend knocked you out to drag you into my lair. What do you think?”
“Sounds … reasonable.”
“Of course, if you’d like something stronger to fortify your spirits, I’m sure we could accommodate that as well …”
“Thank you, but water will be fine.”
“Splendid. I’ll have someone bring it, but it might be a tad before it arrives. Service in this place is not what it used to be, I fear.”
She looked around in her crumbly surroundings and focused pointedly on a thistle almost as large as herself sprouting from between two flagstones.
Profound Distress found it curiously hard to tear her gaze away from the small linen bag, but she finally managed.
“What am I doing here?” she asked after a long silence. “Glonn did not have Duncan take me all the way Outside to you so you could offer me Dust and tea and cake, right?”
“Oh would you like some cake?” the girl clapped her hands. “What a splendid idea, I haven’t had cake in …” She screwed up her eyes. “Oh, a very long time for sure. I used to love lemon cake; I think. Are there still lemons? Do you remember seeing any when you entered?”
Profound Distress took a deep breath. “Look,” she said, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to offend you, but I am scared, I am confused, I don’t understand anything, and I’d really love to know the meaning of all this.”
“Hm.” The Custodian stood arms akimbo and looked at Profound Distress, again that curious half-smile on her face. “All right then,” she said. “If there’s no fun to be had out of you until you know, you shall know.”
She dropped on her butt in a quick, rather undignified movement that looked like it should have hurt and waved Profound Distress over to her.
“Come on, take a seat with me, and I shall explain!”
Profound Distress looked down upon the silvery circle in the ground, then up to the golden chain around the girl’s neck.
“I think I’ll stay here for now, if that’s alright with you.”
The Custodian pointed and winked at her.
“I thought I might get you with that,” she said, “But you think on your feet. Admirable. I already like you, so let’s stop with the games, yes?”
Profound Distress nodded.
“You’re here to help me overthrow the Angels, take over the Concord, wake the Empty King aaaaaand …” She looked around theatrically, and when she had ensured to her satisfaction that no one else was listening, she added in a stage whisper: “We’ll also overthrow your ridiculous little Houses, but please don’t tell them yet, it’s supposed to be my final big surprise with trumpets and bells and everything.”
Profound Distress stared at her. Then at the bag, which looked even more enticing than ever before.
“You really mustn’t tell anyone, especially your old friend who dragged you here. You have to promise. I get this feeling he might spoil everything otherwise.”
“You … You’re not serious, are you?” Of course she wasn’t. The Custodian seemed incapable of being serious about anything, but … “You can’t really think I would even be capable of contributing to these things, even if I wanted. What has that got to do with me?”
“Well…” the custodian gazed intensely at something on the floor while speaking, although Profound Distress could not make out anything unusual there. “The answer to that is actually quite simple, but on the other hand, I need you to not only understand, not only believe, I need you to actually agree with me.” Now she looked up again and directly into Profound Distress’s eyes. “And to agree with me, I need you to really understand, and this, smart though you obviously are, will take some time. So how about this?” She jumped up again, clapped her hands and laughed. “Let us order some cake, and some tea, and some water, if you insist, let us make ourselves very comfortable, and then let me explain to you everything that’s really true about the Angels, yes? Oh, no, I know, I know, don’t look bored already, I realize you’ve studied them for quite some time in that Hermitage of yours, but I promise, what I’m going to tell you will be nothing at all like what you have heard before. Pinky swear!”
And Profound Distress thought: ‘I’d really like some of that Dust now.’
“How long do you think she will take?” Glonn asked his mother.
“It would depend on how she approaches your sister, and shrewd as the Custodian is, without a doubt, she can be very erratic. Though she may be spawned similar to our Angels, she is a very different kind of beast, and I would not trust myself to predict her reliably, which is why you really should not have killed her Nuntia.”
“Mother, will you start with that old chestnut again? Even you agreed I had to-“
“In your situation, you had to, but there was no need to let yourself be led into that situation, and had you ever listened to my counsel, to my teachings, to anything I told you, you would not let it have come to that. A Pater Familae’s job is to lead, not to be paraded around by the ring in his nose, which is why you should get rid of that ring, or at least keep it hidden.”
Glonn snorted and shook his head.
“Well she’s dead now and all your nagging and whining won’t change a thing, so why not stop and concentrate on actually helping our plan along?”
“Says the boy who’d just about squandered everything we have worked for just so he wouldn’t have to let go of his favorite toy.”
“Mother, I’m warning you. Duncan is not here now, and I’m pretty sure Yarnon will do with you whatever I tell him without even hesitating.”
Jakta shook her head and tsk-tsked.
“Don’t warn people, Glonn. It makes you look weak and undecided. You can extend an open hand to others, or hit them. Raising a threatening fist above your head and waving it around is the best way to make a fool of yourself. Also, it gives them an opportunity to prepare.”
“You really don’t know when to stop, do you?”
“It certainly seems so. Better warn me again so I remember my place. Well? Nothing? No more empty threats forthcoming? Alright, then I’ll get going.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are not going. I am.”
“You can’t, Glonn. You’re Pater Familiae. You cannot simply leave the House and go chasing –“
“I can, and I will. What’s so strange about a fresh Pater Familiae wanting to visit the Hermitage? Maybe I’d like to meet the abbot, talk politics and future with him, learn about Angelic Law, about the powers and limitations my office holds, and so on and so forth. Why not?”
For a second, she looked away, but then she sighed and said: “Because Glistening Tears is much smarter than you are, and you will make a mess of things. Glonn, the man is over a thousand years old, and in all that time, he has not offended the Angels enough to end him once. You have been Pater Familiae for less than a week and have possibly destroyed our relations to the Custodian, risked all we-“
“Silence!” Glonn shouted. “This discussion is over, and if you bring the Nuntia up one more time in my presence – I assure you, there shall be no more warnings from this fool.”
Jakta cackled, hawked and spat.
“Suit yourself. At least you’ve made a decision. But don’t expect me or anyone to save you when this goes sour. If She finds out about our plan, I’m not even sure the Blood can protect us any longer.”
“Do you think I should kill him?”
“Sooner or later. But not too soon. We don’t know who else knows about the Well, and he might be useful in other ways.”
“Will there be armed guards?”
She cackled again.
“Certainly not. They have the magic fowl to put their trust in, what do they need swords for?”
“So once we’ve established the Engines, we’ll be safe.”
“As safe as you can be when trying to topple a godlike creature from its throne, while being dumb as a fencepost. At least it won’t be my head in the noose up there.”
“Speaking of posts and heads, mother”, Glonn growled, “I think it might be wise for you to leave me to my preparations for the journey now. I have had quite enough of your advice.”
Jakta snorted, audibly drawing up a considerable amount of phlegm, and spat into a corner.
“If only,” she muttered in leaving.
Book group questions
- How do you feel about the first scene with Kimbal and his freshly paladined wife? Do you think it should have been more emotional? Longer? Anything else?
- Do you think I overdid it with the Custodian’s sillyness? I usually don’t know when to stop.
- More specific: How do you feel about the Custodian? Do you like her? Do you think she’s amusing, cute, scary, funny, annoying, or maybe something completelely different?
- The last scene might have been a bit confusing because you still do not know what they are talking about. Did you mind?