There’s another one. For some time, I thought it might even become the last chapter of our serialized novel Angelic Duties, but it won’t. The next one probably will be, though, so this might be your last chance to share your ideas with me – for this book, at least. Because Angelic Duties will certainly not remain a single-volume-story.
Anyway, here’s your new chapter. 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 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.
In the eighteenth chapter, Kimbal gets to talk to his wife, possibly for the last time, and we remember when Cerya told Kimbal she did not want him any more.
In the nineteenth chapter, Glonn meets a messenger of the Creator, and Cerya sees another side of the Custodian, or at least of the body she is currently occupying. Or he. Or it. You know what I mean.
In the twentieth chapter, Profound Distress awakes and is led to the Custodian’s army and Kimbal and the Paladin arrive at its camp, while Glonn is convinced to become the Creator’s prophet.
in the twenty-first chapter, Kimbal and the Paladin reach Profound Distress, and so does the Custodian.
Today on Angelic Duties:
“You are making a mistake, young man,” the Abbott told Glonn, after time had returned. “A very foolish one, to be frank. You don’t understand what you are dealing with, neither on our side, nor on yours.”
“Don’t I?” Glonn asked, yawning demonstratively, in spite of his actual feelings which were anything but bored and self-assured.
“Obviously,” the Cleric replied, and his complete lack of fear or even proper respect enraged Glonn. “You would not have had your men block the Well of Power otherwise.”
“Would I not?” He asked. “What would have kept me? Everything seems a lot nicer now I’m in control.”
He looked pointedly at the Paladin, who still stood frozen, stooped slightly forward, her left leg hovering just above the ground, the only thing Glonn had not allowed to reanimate after striking his deal with the Creator. Glonn studied her with a bemused smile. How the tables could turn.
“So what are you now?” he asked. “What is your Paladin in front of me, now? All she has is strength, but I have true power.”
The Abbott shook his head, smiling a terribly compassionate smile.
“No,” he said. “Strength is what you have right now. Power is somewhere else. Power is his who is holding the strings. Tell me, Pater Familiae, do you feel like the one pulling the strings, or like the one being pulled around?”
“Let’s say I ask the questions now, why don’t we?”
He went past the frozen Paladin towards the Abbot and, with a flick of his hand, lifted the old man into the air and against the wall.
It felt good using his newly-won powers. So good that he almost didn’t mind using them against this fragile old man whom he could just as well have flung about without them.
“How does this feel?” he asked. “How does it feel to be on the receiving end for once? How does it feel to have this power you can’t understand and can’t defend from used against you?”
He almost crushed Glistening Tears when he saw the old man’s bemused smile.
“You’re so angry,” he said. “As if it’s a personal insult to you to be subject to a higher power. As if you think you’re the only one.” After a pause: “As if you think it’s over now.”
“You know”, Glistening Tears said. “You know you’re not free of your strings. You’ve just handed them over to another puppeteer.”
“You think you’re so wise, don’t you? You think you’re so superior spouting your enigmatic platitudes and playing the kind old grandfather? You think you’re so much smarter and better? Well fuck you, because you’re just the same, you’re just playing the role they decided to foist upon you, and using what power they deign to bequeath you to your own advantage so fuck you and your pompous condescension! Your time is over!”
“Is it? Then why are you still here talking to me?”
Glonn stared at him, angry and confused at the same time, and suspecting that he had no chance to get in control of this conversation.
“Fuck you!” he hissed, and then he did crush the old fool. Just pulped his body with his divine power, and was not even disappointed when he didn’t feel the slightest bit better about himself afterward.
“Yarnon!” he hollered as he strode out of the Abbot’s office. “Yarnon, where are you?”
He seemed to have the knack of using the Creator’s might for violence and destruction, but he had not yet figured out quite how to accomplish more subtle effects like locating a specific person.
Come to think of it, it might really pay off to spend some time getting to know his abilities and limits before pitting them against the Empty King. Maybe he could even reestablish contact with this messenger who had appeared to him before? Or even better, someone less pompous and wordy, but more to the point?
It should be in the Creator’s own best interest to send his chosen one into battle with as accurate an understanding of what he could do as possible, would it not?
After all, it just wouldn’t do to have the Custodian know more about him than he himself did.
Still. First things first.
There. That was loud. Louder than humanly possible, if Glonn was not mistaken.
And indeed, the despicable serpent seemed to have heard, because there he came running.
“Yarnon. So you managed to place the Engine before the Well of Power?”
“Did it work, Pater Familiae? I was doubtful. Poltram blundered on one of the lower steps and … caused a minor calamity with the Blood. We lost him, and could not go further.”
“Could not?” Glonn asked, his annoyance only kept from flaring into rage by the satisfaction of success. “You know, Yarnon, I bet you could have found a way to manage, and replace the lost pair of hands, because I know for a fact of at least one other, idle pair in the vicinity.”
Yarnon swallowed nervously.
“You see, Pater Familiae, with a mission of such delicate sensitivity, and a machine of such monumental significance, it is indispensable to have someone keeping oversight and making sure that everyone handles their respective responsibilities in a manner …”
“Oh shut up for Heaven’s sake. How far away from the Well is it?”
“Well, Pater Familiae, as I mentioned, we were rather far down the stairway when the mishap occurred, so I judged the Engine’s positioning accurate enough to declare the mission –“
“How far?” Glonn asked again, and noticed with pleasant surprise that he seemed to have imbued his voice with some of his supernatural power because it was much more resounding than usually, and made Yarnon cringe and almost cower before him.
“I don’t know exactly!” he squeaked, “Maybe twenty meters, maybe less!”
“Maybe more?” Glonn asked, quieter, but not with less malice.
Glonn’s sigh turned into a growl, and now Yarnon did cower, causing the Pater Familiae great satisfaction indeed.
While Glonn himself had no idea how far or how close the one accursed thing he did not understand had to be to the other accursed thing he did not understand, it obviously would not do to admit this, so he better bully his people into shoving it a little – no, make that much – closer, so they’d know once and for all he didn’t accept half-measures.
Then, he would take some time to learn about the powers he had gained from the creator.
And then, Glonn would go to war.
“Got you!” the Custodian whispered into Profound Distress’ ear, and the blood froze in her veins when she felt the grip of that small hand, so casual and soft, and yet so very steady and final.
“I knew we could be friends, didn’t I say so?”
It almost felt as if her mind was split into two parts as Profound Distress witnessed in roughly equal horror what was happening to herself, and to Duncan.
Both, strangely, felt inevitable and inconceivable at once.
It was not as if she’d had a lot of hope for her own life changing for the better, especially since Duncan had taken her to the Custodian. But still, her own doom was hard to accept, even now she could feel its small, cold, soft, steady hand in her own.
And it was not as if she had really imagined Duncan would live forever, or that he could stand against Angelic Power. But still, he had always been this irresistible force, this symbol of unwavering stability. Ever since she could remember, he had been there, and had ever been the agent of power, never its victim.
How the tables could turn.
He was still unhurt, but the Paladin had taken away his sword. Not that any kind of weapon should have made a great difference when up against a Projection of Angelic power, even one as badly hurt and limited as this one.
Duncan held the dagger in his right and retreated as the Paladin marched stiffly towards him, apparently considering him enough of a threat to not just home in on its declared target, Profound Distress herself.
“So, now you’ve made your mistake – don’t fret, everybody does, sooner or later, you just have to be patient, and that’s easy if you never die – I think we need to talk, … Cleric.” The pause was rather long, and the last word dripping with smirk.
Duncan finally had to stop or fall off the wagon, so he planted his feet and waited for the Paladin to attack.
When she did, it was not quick. She just reached for him with her left, and blocked his dagger with her right hand, just catching it in her palm, blood spurting into her face, but not leaving any recognizable trace in the mess that already marred her whole body. She slid her hand along the blade and gripped his, while her left encircled his throat.
“Well, fuck,” he growled, and then she lifted him, and pressed, and dropped him over the edge after he went limp.
“There you go,” the Custodian merrily prattled on, “Now all that stands before that mindless killing machine and you is … oh, literally, I guess there’s nothing standing between you, but you know what I mean: There’s me, and boy I bet you’re happy now that I touched you and made you mine, aren’t you? Because now I’m at least motivated to try and help you, even though, come to think of it, I’m not sure there’s a lot I could- oh. Well who woulda thunk?”
When the Paladin had disposed of Duncan, it had turned to Profound Distress, and started walking towards her, not running, just walking quickly and determinedly, and had started talking about Angelic Law and Clerical illoyality and executions and said that thing about being a Projection of Angelic Power –
and then Kimbal had suddenly jumped up behind it, Duncan’s sword in hand, and had rammed it through her throat.
“No!” Profound Distress screamed, her voice breaking, already hoarse from the strain, and the despair, and the cold, burning, unimaginable, unfathomable horror she felt. “No! Kimbal! No!”
A strange sound came out of the Paladin’s mouth as the blade pierced her gorge and thick, bright red blood began to stream down her chest and froth over her lips. She tried turning around, but Kimbal held onto the sword, and tried moving it in a sawing motion.
The Paladin uttered another strange sound which might have been an attempt at speech or might even have been an indication of discomfort before making another turning motion, more forceful this time, shoving the sword almost through the side of her neck, but succeeding in getting a hold of Kimbal and wrenching the slippery gory sword out of his grasp.
“Go ahead”, he spat, looking straight into the thing’s face. “Go ahead. I don’t fear you. I love you, Katra, if you are still in there. I’m sorry. But I can’t cower from her anymore. I can’t. I’m done.”
Profound Distress could no longer see the Paladin’s face, but the sound it made now sounded surprisingly like a sob, before snapping Kimbal’s neck and dropping him.
“No!” Profound Distress screamed, and jumped up, and without thinking tried to run, but couldn’t, because the Custodian still held her arm as if it was chained to a wall. She pulled and yanked, not even feeling the pain, thinking about nothing but her need to get to –
The sword hung very loose in the wound in the Paladin’s neck, and frothy, bright-red blood was spurting out in great gushes. When it tried turning back to Profound Distress, one of its knees buckled, and it fell face-first onto the wagon’s planks, dislodging Duncan’s sword and cutting through the rest of the cartilage and muscle and skin and whatever else had held it. With a clatter, the sword landed on the wood, it’s hilt not too far away from her.
The Paladin made bubbling, gurgling noises which did not seem to come from its mouth but directly from its gaping throat, flexing its fingers, and arms, and sometimes its legs and feet, shuddering, unbelievably still crawling towards Profound Distress, its head disgustingly slumping more and more towards the side where it was still attached to its shoulders, opening the wound in its throat ever further.
And Profound Distress screamed, and jumped, and tore at the hand that was still holding her, and could not see anything but the empty air where Kimbal had stood, could not hear anything but his last words, could not think of anything but the loss, the terrible loss, her loss, and could not feel anything but anguish, and rage at the stupid, horrible, mindless monster that had done this senseless thing, and that was now lying before her, twitching, dying, and still trying to fulfill its idiotic mission.
“Let me go!” she screeched, “Let me go, damn you, let me go right now!”
“Never,” the little girl replied, rather calmly, but still her voice managed to cut through the bright-red haze that had enveloped Profound Distress’s mind.
“You’re mine. But you know what, you can gain a certain … degree of liberty.”
“All you need to do is renounce your allegiance to … Them, you know who I’m talking about, and swear loyalty to me.”
“It’s not a lot to ask, you know. I can even bring your friend back.”
“But he’s dead!”
“Quite. But something can be arranged. If you’re willing to do me a favor, I’d be willing to reciprocate.”
“You’ll … You’ll really bring him back?”
“You just have to agree to serve me, and be my Cleric from now on. As I said. It’s not a lot to ask, is it?”
The Paladin’s pitiful remains had by now almost reached Profound Distress’s feet. She took a deep breath, reached down, gripped the sword’s hilt and separated the remaining connection between the thing’s head and its body.
“What exactly do I do?” she asked.
“What are you doing here?” the guardswoman asked.
“Delivering the mutton for tonight.”
“Not here you aren’t! The service entrance is over there behind the Fastness, so get your …” She hesitated, looking at the angular wide-shouldered rock of a man standing in front of her with a large spotless package in his arms, and into his calm blue eyes. “So get around the building and knock there”, she finished, rather less snappily than she had started. “There will be a servant to take your delivery.”
He smiled at her and said quietly: “I think I’ll give it to Jakta Teneract in person.”
“I think you won’t! Do you have any idea who you’re talking about? She’s the Pater Familiae’s mother and while he’s away on a spiritual journey, she certainly has more important things to do than –“
“Let him pass.”
The House guard actually flinched when Jakta Teneract’s voice cut into hers.
“Yes, right away,” she answered, and stepped aside for Jamo, her lips a narrow slit beneath her nose.
He nodded at her and gave her a sympathetic smile as he passed and entered the Depository Fastness.
“If you take something, anything, away from here, my wrath will be the least of your worries,” Jakta warned him, by way of greeting presumably.
“Will it?” he asked.
She chuckled, hawked and spat, and looked up at him through slitted eyes.
“One never knows how much you know, Jamo.”
He smiled and nodded.
“I hate that in people. I really should have you eliminated one day, but the problem is …”
“… you don’t know how much I know”, he finished her sentence in his gravelly deep voice. “Where would you like me to put your meat?”
She waved in a dismissive gesture. “Oh fuck the meat, Jamo, you can take it back with you for all I care.”
“You really shouldn’t say such a thing,” Jamo chided her. “This is a prime cut of mutton, savory and pungent, but if you cook it just right, it will be tender as veal. Personally, I’d make a stew of it, gives you a wonderful piquant note in the broth and goes great with turnips and carrots, just add some bay leaf and –“
“I said fuck your mutton, but I wasn’t eager to watch, so spare me. You know full well why I called you to the only place in the world where I can be really sure no one is listening, or if you don’t, I have my answer, and this conversation is already over.”
He smiled ruefully, and nodded.
“You’re right,” he growled. “Things are in swing, aren’t they?”
Jakta’s brow furrowed and she pinched her lips, hawked and spat once more.
“They certainly are. They should be. But I have started to doubt if they’re swinging the way I wanted them to.”
“Bitten off more than you can chew?”
She tittered and bared her blackened, crooked teeth.
“I’m done chewing, Jamo. But I’m worried my misbegotten brood might choke on the bite-sized pieces I’ve set before them.”
“Sorrow is blocked, isn’t She?”
Jakta nodded. “I’m fairly certain, and may She stay that way for a while. But what’s with the Custodian? I’m hearing strange tales from Outside, and disturbing whispers from Glonn. The other Houses don’t know yet, but Laghmutch suspects not all is right with our plans, and he’s not stupid. If we lose Tawney, we lose Nevys, and without their support, things will be tight. Not that it would matter much if Glonn has really turned to the Creator. So you see. What I want is information, sooner rather than later, and your support.”
Jamo looked at the packet of mutton for a long time, taking deep, calm breaths. When he finally looked up at her, he said: “I won’t promise my support. You know I can’t. But I’ll see what I can find out. The question is, what can you do in return?”
She shrugged, and noisily tried to suck something out between two teeth.
“I cannot promise results, but I know you love that little gendarme of yours, and whatever remains of his family. I could look out for him. Might feel reassuring to you, having House power protecting people you care about, especially considering what’s coming to us.”
Jamo’s jovial smile faded and his whole demeanor grew very sober when he remembered the children, and everything else.
He considered this, and slowly nodded.
“This works. I expect you to contact the Custodian and inform her that his and his family’s well-being is important to you.”
“Certainly can’t know if She’ll care, but I will. Oh by the way, where did you leave the two brats? I half expected you to bring them along.”
“I have an apprentice I can trust,” he answered. “She’s taking care of them while I have to see to business, and vice versa.”
Jakta cackled. “An apprentice? Is that what they call’em nowadays?”
He did not answer.
Book group questions
- There are two words in this chapter for which keoni and I were unable to find satisfactory solutions. The first one is the Abbot’s Office. I think office sounds too modern, but I couldn’t find an acceptable synonym. The second is Jakta’s „slitted eyes“. We considered „suspicious“ and „distrustful“. I prefer „slitted“, because it’s more showing than telling, but I don’t know how it plays with the crowd. How does it play, crowd?
- Keoni found the part where I write „It almost felt as if her mind was split into two parts …“ a little strange and unclear. What do you think?
- Also, Kimbal’s death scene. I tried several approaches here, to convey both the actual events and Profound Distress‘ reaction. In my first draft, I showed her desperate scream before even Kimbal’s attack on the Paladine, making that part kind of a micro-flashback, but I felt this didn’t quite work out. How do you feel about this version?
- And finally: The dialogue between Jamo and Jakta. Scenes like this are difficult, because I don’t want to overdo the exposition and bore you, but neither do I want to make it all too mysterious. Could you follow, more or less?