I seriously can’t believe it’s been more than two freaking months. Where has all the time gone? Whoo. But I guess we’ll be getting back to business as usual here, right about now, but you know how this works, so no promises and
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.
In the fourteenth chapter, Kimbal is taken by the Paladin now inhabiting his wife’s body, the Custodian offers Profound Distress some Dust, and Glonn decides he will visit the Hermitage.
In the fifteenth chapter, Glonn arrives at the Hermitage and meets Glistening Tears, while Profound Distress has cake with the Custodian. Well, she doesn’t actually have cake, it’s more that she watches the Custodian eat it. But still.
In the sixteenth chapter, the Custodian and Profound Distress talk some more, Glonn and Glistening Tears visit the Well of Power, the Paladin removes an obstacle, and the Second Sword takes Profound Distress to her room.
In the seventeenth chapter, Profound Distress is shown to her room, Glonn meets Paladine Vain Tragedy, and Duncan fights the Custodian’s Second Sword.
Today on Angelic Duties:
In the darkness of the wood, Kimbal tripped over a branch and fell headlong into a clump of wet, foul-smelling moss. Well, he thought, at least he hadn’t hurt anything of real importance but merely his pride, which had been a rather inconsequential factor during the last few days anyway.
Not that he knew of any particularly compelling reason why he was out here stumbling through the undergrowth looking for wood dry enough for a fire, except for the overwhelming necessity of having something to do instead of lying beside the resting Paladin contemplating the loss he had brought upon himself and his family. There was nothing to eat, the cold wasn’t bothering him unbearably, and there was no reasonable chance of getting a fire going. But the small task kept him occupied and his mind from straying too much, so it was probably a good idea, overall.
He hadn’t even thought of taking some kind of vessel with him to carry the wood, but on the other hand, he didn’t think there was one on the cart.
So he had to hold whatever he found in his arms, and struggle and grapple while picking up the new pieces without dropping the other ones.
It was not quite raining. It was this kind of slow, drizzling spray that covers your face and makes you uncomfortable in general and permeating everything without giving you real raindrops or any of the good things about rain.
He’d always hated that kind.
When he finally decided it was enough, it took him almost an hour to find his way back to the campsite, or rather, the place where the Paladin had decided to lay down Katra’s body. Seeing her again, asleep, looking almost as she always used to, hit him like a fist to his stomach. He almost toppled, and actually dropped a few pieces of the wood he carried into the wet grass. They landed with very muffled thumps, but still, the Paladin stirred.
Or was it …
Kimbal felt a spark of hope kindle in his chest, small but very bright, and burning painfully hot, when he saw her stretch arms and arch her back, as she always used to do, and as he could never imagine the statuesque Paladin doing under any circumstances. He tried to quench the spark for fear of the renewed desperation certain to follow it, but he did not succeed, and it flared to a terrible blaze when he heard her whisper:
“Kimbal? Kimbal, is that you? I …” He saw her blink and peer at him in the low light of the moon and stars, her mouth hanging open uncertainly. “Is that you, Kimbal?”
He opened his mouth, but a sob constricted his throat as tears began to flow freely down his cheeks and into his collar. He could but utter a strangled sound and keep his knees from buckling under him. Another two pieces of wood dropped onto the soggy ground.
“Kimbal? I’m … I’m here. Is it you?”
“Yes,” he gasped and started stumbling towards her, regardless of his load. “Yes, it’s me. Katra? Katra, what happened? Can you …? I can’t believe … I thought you were gone!”
“Careful!” she whispered. “Careful, my love, don’t wake Her up. Don’t get too close, be quiet. Stay there, please, Kimbal. I’d love to hold you once again before … I’d love to, but we can’t. We need to be careful.”
He fell onto his knees a few steps before her and put down the rest of the firewood as silently as he could.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “How is this … You’re still in there? Are you watching, can you come back? Will you still be there when she leaves?”
She looked at him as if through thick fog.
“I don’t know,” she breathed. “There are … impressions. There are memories of things she’s done in this body. But they are not my own. It’s all very hazy but –“
“Are you in pain?” he interrupted. “Are you suffering, Katra?”
“No,” she said in a strangely soothing tone. “There is no pain. I’m just … not quite there. Fading, I think. There was …”
This wrenched another sob from him, and when she did not continue, but stared into emptiness while his thoughts fell over each other trying to figure out what to do.
Was there a way to save her? Could he do anything right now to get her back? Could he do anything wrong to lose her, again, forever?
“Katra!” he hissed, his voice high-pitched with panic. “Katra! What’s happening? Don’t leave!”
Her eyes focused onto his, and he could no longer stop himself. He leaped over to her and took her into his arms, crying freely, relishing her closeness at the same time as fearing for her, missing her, mourning her loss.
“Katra, please!” he sobbed, “Don’t leave! Stay with me, don’t-“
“I’m still here, Kimbal – No, shhh… You’ll wake Her up, you mustn’t do that. I love you, Kimbal, so much, and I’m sorry I can’t stay with you, but – no, don’t, Kimbal. Please don’t wake Her up. Leave me be. Get back, Kimbal, and listen!”
Kimbal swallowed, and forced himself to obey, distancing himself to arms’ length from her.
“I’m – listening,” he said, as steadily as he could.
She blinked at him. And swallowed. And said:
“Kimbal. I know you. And I love you. But I know you. And I know how stupid you can be sometimes, so … Let me ask … No, let me tell you something: Kimbal, I don’t know if we’ll ever … I don’t, but there are Brank and Jonis waiting for us, and at least one of us has to come back to them. So don’t you dare risk your life out here more than you need to. Can you promise that? Don’t cry, Kimbal, it’s alright. I had a good life, and I brought this upon myself.”
“No,” he sobbed. “You didn’t.”
“It’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself. I love you. No, Kimbal, don’t – oh. Too late now. I have to – Kimbal, promise! She’s coming. She’s waking up. I will …”
“No!” he whispered, “No, Katra, don’t leave! please, we can, together, maybe we can – please, Katra! I want-“
“Rise, Kimbal Koment.”
He broke down and fell face-first into the cold wet ground, and not even the Paladin’s soulless exhortations to cease and rise and obey could make him stand up for a very long time.
And so he was punished.
A long time ago
Cerya’s head sank back onto the divan, and somehow that made the ceiling move above her, or the pattern on the ceiling, or on the canopy, and somehow it even made the pattern turn and spin, and it was so disgustingly beautiful she almost puked.
Someone had a hand down her pants, or something, and tried stimulating her down there in a rather brusque fashion, but she didn’t mind because it meant that at least someone was touching her, with her, at least she was not alone, and also the ceiling was spinning, and it was unbelievable, and it felt good to know that there was someone else with her sharing this moment in all its excruciating beauty.
Cerya opened a mouth to give a contented moan, which someone seemed to take as enticement to push the pipe’s mouthpiece into it. She hadn’t meant it that way, but she was glad, and greedily sucked down the heavy, sweet smoke.
She squirmed and twisted with pleasure, not caring that the thing stroking her between her legs took it as encouragement and reinforced its blundering efforts.
Cerya loved the combination of Dust and the Resin smoke from the pipe. The drugs complemented each other, completed one another and lived in a deeply symbiotic relationship in her mind, which she loved, which was, she realized, a metaphor of extraordinary loveliness, for whatever, she wasn’t quite able to follow that train of thought to its destination because there were things on the ceiling, and they moved and swayed to the music – was there music? – and they called and beckoned to her and told her everything would be alright, that she was loved and valued and that there would be no consequences at all.
Life would be wonderful, she knew, and it could forever be like this moment right now, when everything was perfect and –
Someone had taken the mouthpiece from her, and the air streaming into her lungs was suddenly cold and uncaring, and distant.
“Gimmethaback!” she heard someone say and supposed it must have been herself, but no one reacted and when she tried to lift her head it felt impossible, so she soon forgot about the whole thing and resumed watching the monsters on the canopy and listening to their soothing song about eternal oblivion and never-ending ecstasy.
“Yknowthissgreat”, she might have mumbled at one time or another, but time swam, and she could never be exactly sure if there was an order in which things happened anymore.
Finally, the thing stroking between her legs stopped, got up and attempted to mount her. She squirmed and twisted, irresolute whether she was trying to help or hinder, but felt him glide into her after a while and decided it didn’t feel too bad to be united with something. Someone? Some …
So she did her best to relax and enjoy the moment and the feelings, which she guessed were mostly alright and at least someone was trying to pleasure her and have fun with her and –
A door opened, in such a resolute way that she could not help noticing it, and someone argued with someone else, and the voices were coming closer, and they did not sound peaceful and enjoyable at all. They broke the nebulous harmony she had liked so much, and when she recognized one of them, she felt herself tighten up, and a part of the haze left her head as a cloud blown away by storm.
“Cerya!” Kimbal called, “This … what … What are you doing?”
What an extraordinarily stupid question, she thought, but did not trust herself to enunciate it.
The humping thing lying on top of her was removed somehow, and strong hands lifted her to a sitting position.
“This …” Kimbal was struggling for words, his hands balling to fists and uncurling again in a quick rhythm, his eyes blinking with each heartbeat. “This … I don’t even … You can’t be serious! How long have I been gone, Cerya? How long after you promised me to stay that you left? Did you at least wait until I was out of sight, or did you follow me down the stairs? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
He was not shouting. Not quite. But he was pale, and shaking his head, and moving backwards from her.
She got up, swaying, and stretched a hand out in his direction.
“Don’t …” she began, but did not know what else to say.
“Who is this dupe?” Bertian Nevys asked behind her. “Doesn’t he know who we are? Someone remove him!”
Kimbal was still shaking his head and blinking, almost convulsively.
“You … promised!” he uttered. “It was just, what? A few hours ago! What the fuck was your plan, Cerya? What did you expect to happen? Are you really that stupid or do you just want to see how much you can yank me around until the leash snaps?”
“No, I …Kimbal,” she mumbled.”
She tried to follow him, to take a step in his direction, but someone must have drawn her pants down so they were all bunched up around her ankles. She tripped and fell on her face which sounded disgusting. A metallic aroma swamped her nose and mouth, but somehow it didn’t hurt at all. For a moment she wasn’t even sure she really had fallen, maybe it had been someone else, but there seemed no other explanation for the fact that all she could see was an up-close view of the pattern on the carpet.
Bertian let out a hearty guffaw, and Glonn brayed with laughter.
“Cerya …” she heard Kimbal say, and somehow, the fury seemed gone and replaced by sadness and disappointment. And somehow, this hurt more, and made her feel worse. “Let me help you get up,” he said, in a very very tired tone of voice.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she heard her brother ask. “Were you under the impression you’re paid to stand around and look stupid, because we have other people for that! Get a move on and help her, you oaf! She might be hurt!”
“Sorry Sir, right away Sir …”
The hot flush of humiliation spread over her face as her thoughts encompassed the situation as a viscous syrup closes around the hole left by a spoon.
“Keep your hands off her!” Kimbal barked. “I don’t believe this. I can’t even … This … What …” he stuttered as he knelt down beside her, pulled her pants up, gripped her by the arms and lifted her back into a more or less standing position so he could look into her face. The drugs’ haze began to lift from her mind as reality continued to trickle in like a slow but steady stream of cold water.
“Cerya, what is going on here?” he asked, almost calmly, almost kindly. “You promised!”
Something about this new different approach made her angry. Made her loathe him. Maybe it was because he didn’t sound as if he considered her responsible for her actions any more. Maybe because he sounded as if he’d given up, and she had lost her chance to prove to him … whatever she wanted to prove, and this wasn’t fair, she’d just made a mistake, hadn’t she? One stupid mistake! It happened. People made mistakes. How dared her judge her for one …?
“I …” she began, but Bertian interrupted her.
“Who does this peasant think he is? Glonn, will you stand for him talking to your sister in this way?”
“I won’t,” Glonn said nonchalantly, “But apparently, she will. He has her trained like a little monkey, you’ll see. Just look and watch her jump through hoops for him.”
“Come,” Kimbal said, his voice tired, pulling her along with him. “I’ll take you home.”
Cerya heard Bertian and her brother chuckle behind her, and dug her heels in.
“No,” she said.
Kimbal groaned and rolled his eyes.
“Cerya”, he sighed, “What do you think you’re doing? Come on now! I don’t have time for this shit! If you want to behave as a child, you will be treated as one.”
“This is unbelievable!” Bertian huffed. “Glonn, won’t you do-“
“Shhhh… Just enjoy the spectacle.”
“mnotachild!” she Cerya shouted at Kimbal, ineffectually trying to pull herself away from his grasp. “Lemmego!”
He set his jaw and blew air through closed lips and let her go. Of course, she fell, again, this time hitting the carpet with the back of her head instead of her face, which was but a very slight improvement, it seemed to her.
“Ow! You bastard you deskippa- dispecca- you bastard you peasant you filthy commoner fuck you and your lowborn mother!” she sputtered. “Just leave me alone, I don’t need you, I hate you, go, go, go, go you dick!”
He looked down at her, his jaws working, but his lips never quite parting, no words coming out.
“I know you don’t mean it”, he said with laborious kindness, reaching out to her with one hand. “Come on. Let’s go.”
“You don’t get it, do you?” she shouted. “I want you gone! I don’t want anything to do with you! You think you can order me around? I’m a Teren- Teneract, damnit, I’m twice the person you are, so toddle off and never come back!”
He breathed heavily and crossed his arms.
“This is not you –“ he began, but she interrupted him, screeching:
“Out! Guards! Glonn! Duncan! Anyone! Take this trash out of here!”
Kimbal sighed, shook his head, and asked:
“Is this what you want? Really?”
“Yes!” she screamed, already hoarse, already crying, desperately trying at least not to sob, already knowing she was making a mistake, already realizing what this meant, what she was doing, how she was hurting herself, but not quite yet willing to take back her words.
He shrugged, and turned his back on her.
“As you wish,” he breathed. “Fuck you, too, Cerya. We’re done.”
“Damn right we are!”
And as the door closed behind him, she heard Glonn and Bertian clapping behind her.
“Nice one!” Glonn hollered, “You really told that lowborn bastard what’s what. That’s my sister!”
And in this moment, she knew he was right. And that was exactly her problem. But thankfully, the pipe helped her forget.
Book group questions:
- I personally love this chapter and am very proud of the second scene. Keoni is a bit more skeptical because she thinks I should get on with the larger story. What’s your take?
- The second scene is written a little hazily and might be confusing to read. This was intentional, but it could still be a mistake. What do you think?
- On a related note: Did Cerya’s reaction towards Kimbal seem plausible to you, however one might judge such things in her condition?
- No question, just an addition to my opening comments: I’m really sorry for keeping you waiting so long. I was otherwise occupied in a lot of ways, and in addition, I struggled very very much with the first scene of this chapter. The second has been finished since early November but I just could not make up my mind how to tackle Kimbal and Katra, or even if it should be about them at all. No apology, just a sort of explanation. I know it’s hard to have to read this with such long pauses in between, and I’ll do my best to improve the situation.