We all knew it was going to end one day, and we all know it’s just the first book of a series, so there’s no excuse for sadness and lots of reasons to look forward to what else is to come, not least the new serialized novel I’m soon going to start on my author’s blog, so wipe away your tears, enjoy the last chapter here, and bookmark fabianelfeld.com, for in a few weeks, a new era is going to dawn there.
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.
In the twenty-second chapter, Glonn comes into his power, the Paladin kills Duncan and Kimbal, but also dies herself, and Jamo visits Jakta.
In the twenty-third chapter, Profound Distress talks to the Custodian, Jakta to Jamo, Glonn to his followers, and Terminus meets the Empty King.
Today on Angelic Duties:
Glonn stood at the edge of a rocky outcrop and looked across the plain he had picked for this battle, not even aware of the armed persons fighting and killing each other below, focused solely on the Angel who had not even looked in his direction since appearing, and had just seized that strange glass tube, and started lifting it upwards.
“Come on!” Glonn yelled, all the louder since he started to feel faintly ridiculous for being completely ignored by basically everyone else. “Come on you fucking chicken with a sword, I’ll show you who has the real power now, who really rules here!”
“What is … He doing?” Yarnon asked, stretching his neck to follow Terminus’ ascent with the glass pillar in His claws.
Glonn briefly considered just squashing the fucking snake because he had always despised him anyway.
But he couldn’t quite tear his attention away from the image of the feathered monstrosity carrying the glass tube into the sky, beating its wings and growing ever further away, ever smaller, ever more distant from Glonn and his rebellion and his fury and his newly-won power.
“Come on!” he roared, employing the full capacity of his new divine voice. “Come here, come back and fight you coward! Come on! Where are you going? I’m going to destroy you, I swear I will crush you you fucking pigeon!”
But the Angel did not hear, or if He did, did not care.
Finally, Glonn turned towards Yarnon, hating him even more because he had witnessed his humiliation.
“How can He even be here?” he asked, furiously. “He shouldn’t be here! That’s …” He stopped himself and briefly considered the absurdity of his situation: “That’s Terminus, isn’t it? He’s supposed to be in the ninth Sector with House Fursh! He can’t be here! It can’t be Him!”
But this was obviously an Angel, they had locked up Lady Sorrow, they had blocked Her Well of Power, and this Angel did not look like Her at all.
So it had to be.
But how? They had never … hadn’t he learned that they couldn’t cross into each other’s territory? He was sure.
“Do you think this is all a trick?” he asked, with no intention to get an answer, but still:
“A trick? Well … Yes, of course!” answered Yarnon. “Thank you, Pater Familiae, for pointing it out! Obviously! This can’t be … Him, and yet it seems like it is, but – we don’t know the Custodian’s power, so, this must obviously be some kind of illusion or other deception! She wants us to … She wants us to … to think … Oh!”
Terminus’ Claws opened, and the glass pillar started falling.
“Maybe She wants us to run in fear of the Angel so we cannot confront Her and Her fucking army and her fucking King. Maybe this is just an illusion She wove to get rid of us, and we just need to ignore it and focus on our real … Fuck. That thing is falling directly towards us, isn’t it?”
Down, way down below House Teneract, in a dungeon so remote and rotten and awful that even the jailors there are serving some kind of punishment, in a deep stinking hole on muddy ground wet and soft with urine, feces, vomit and blood, chained together with insane murderers, rapists, freedom fighters and people unlucky enough to incur the most intense hatred the House could muster, lay an old woman, bleeding, moaning, sometimes cursing, and sometimes cackling bitterly, who had somehow managed to stay out of the fights between prisoners that had left about half of her cellmates dead or crippled. Although she was far from unharmed, her relatively hale state made it obvious that she could not have been here for long.
When the sound of steps and voices came from above, she was the only one who looked up, because she was the only one who had not yet abandoned all hope and had not yet learned that, for these prisoners, the right reaction to any kind of outside attention was to bow their heads, be quiet and stand out as little as possible.
And as the sounds came closer, she even began to recognise one of those voices, and her eyes widened, and something akin to a smile began to form around her mouth.
One of the voices was female, dark and rather terse, the other was an unmistakably male rumble, calm and detached.
“It can’t be …” she whispered to herself, although she very much hoped that it would.
She opened her mouth to call to him, but could not do it. She feared he might walk by, simply miss her, and just the idea awakened a horrible cold dread in her, but still, she was too proud, too cynical, too bitter and solitary, to call for help or even show her relief at this ray of hope shining into this cell’s black void.
Also, there was this other sound, this rather disconcerting sound among the others, that would have made her keep quiet, even had she wanted to speak.
It was a clicking, like long claws on stone.
First the clicking, and then the sounds of footfall stopped above her cell’s brink, and still she could not make herself turn and look up.
She just sat there, tense, breathing shallow breaths, as the rumbling dark voice spoke above her.
“Down there? Should have told us to bring a rope.”
“There’s one, behind the poker and the pliers,” the female voice pointed out, and Jakta could hear her walk to get them.
‘That must be the apprentice,’ she thought with a mocking smile. ‘Did he also bring the children, then?’
Something hit her head, something soft and not very heavy, and it actually took her one or two heartbeats to realize it was her end of the rope, so much was her mind reeling from all this.
Some of the other prisoners who had not yet completely lost their minds stared at her, and at the rope. Some started mumbling, other looked around surreptitiously. A large one stood up, unsure on his atrophied legs, and started shambling towards her.
“Jakta,” she heard Jamo rumble. “Can you hold on by yourself, or do you need help?”
She cackled, and spat.
“I don’t need help holding on,” she replied, “But I’m not sure I’ll be able to fight off all those louts here at once.”
Jamo’s gravelly laugh resounded through the catacombs.
“You only need to hold on.”
“You don’t understand …” she began, but fell silent when the large man came closer and she heard a whispered word from above in a strangely distorted voice, a word her mind refused to process, refused to accept as possible, a word that offended her thoughts and stung her very soul. An Abstractum.
And the man burst into flame, fell over his feet, started screaming and rolling around in the dirt before the Angelic fire consumed him and he fell to ashes.
Jakta had to turn away, her eyes hurt by the bright flame. She shuddered and held on to the rope as it was pulled upwards. She clutched at the cell-hole’s brink and pulled herself onto the cobbled floor, taking care to keep her distance from the birdlike taloned feet before her.
She lay on the ground, panting, wanting to get up and stand straight before the others, but she did not want to look at the cursed creature with them, so she allowed herself the posture of weakness for a little longer, resentfully frowning at the large scaly-leathery-bony claws, hearing the faint clicking and scraping whenever the beast moved or shifted its weight. No one dared try break that heavy, robust silence that tended to follow the Abstracta, and she did not mind at all.
Finally, she planted her arms on the ground and pressing herself up. Still, she gave only a brief glance to the Avatar of Lady Sorrow standing slightly bowed under the low ceiling, Her folded wings touching the stones, the pointed joints leaving scratch marks in them.
The thing’s empty silver eyes did not glance at anything, just stared into infinity, unreadable, dead voids.
Jakta had to fight to keep from shuddering, quickly turning away.
Jamo’s apprentice was a meagre little thing, almost angular of frame, with deep-seated eyes and prominent brow above them. She glowered at Jakta with what might have been simple caution or might have been open resentment.
With the barest nod of her head, she mumbled: “Mater Familiae.”
Jamo stood there, his face unreadable as always, not noticeably discomfited by his company.
“What do you want?” Jakta asked. “Is Glonn dead?”
He didn’t have to be. He could just have been deposed. You couldn’t rule a Section of the Concord while in rebellion against the Angels, could you? He could still be alive.
She heard a low sound from the Avatar, somewhere between a gargle and a hiss, which might have been in answer to her question, or not, or possibly without any significance at all.
Jamo shrugged, rumbled: “Vanished. Fled,” and then stretched out his arms and added in his gravelly voice: “Brought you something, Mater Familiae.”
She looked down at the packet in his hands, about the size of a shoebox, the paper partially soaked through with fat and blood, and up again in his face.
Jakta Teneract shook her head.
“Fuck,” she spat at him, “You can’t be serious.”
“So, what’s your excuse?”
“Hm? For what?”
Cerya turned around, more confused than annoyed, regarded the Gendarm and watched realisation dawn on his face.
“Being here. No one’s allowed near the …”
A sheepish, doubtful smile started slinking around his mouth.
“Are you … you … you’re a Teneract, right?” he asked, caught between the twin embarrassments of not recognising a House member and falsely assigning House membership.
She smiled indulgently, because he looked rather cute in his confusion, and –come to think of it – he looked rather cute anyhow. Cerya liked this Gendarm.
“I’m looking for my mother. Have you seen her, or heard any uncouth noises around here, of late?”
He looked even more confused now, which, she had to admit, was not completely unintended. She really did like that expression on his face.
“You … are Teneract. The daughter? Cerya, right?”
He bowed his head slightly in recognition of her status. A little too slightly, her father would have said, but she didn’t mind.
“How did you know?” she asked.
He looked at her, reflecting upon his answer.
“I’ve seen you before. And I remember thinking you looked rather … kind, for a Teneract.”
“Interesting. And what do you think now?” she asked, turning her face left and right and back for him. “Despicable enough for Family, or shall I demonstrate my maniacal laugh?”
His smile widened a little, doubtful of how amused he was allowed to be right now.
“Oh come on!” she exclaimed. “You said I was nice, so what are you afraid of?”
“I said I thought you looked nice. Not the same thing.”
“You know, I think I like you.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Is that good news?”
“Now I’m certain. I do like you. You’re fun. Truly, now, what do you think of me?”
His brows drew together and his eyes narrowed.
“What are you asking me?”
“I’m asking …” She groped for the right words, suddenly unsure herself, wanting to appear smart and funny. “I’m asking if you’re interested, Gendarm, because I certainly am.”
“Interested,” he said, eyeing her like a venomous beast that might strike any second.
“Damn you, what? I’m not going to ask again. I just thought it might be best to just come out with it and see if it’s mutual. If it’s not, alright, you can resume your rounds; just don’t make this difficult, okay?”
He looked at her with his hesitant smile again. Then the smile vanished, and he took a deep breath, and said:
“This is a game to you. You try something, and if it doesn’t work, you just go on with your life. But to me, it’s different. You’re Teneract. If I say one wrong word to you, displease you enough, or any other member of your Family, there will be no life left to go on with. That’s why I’m making this more difficult than you. So, Lady Teneract, if I may ask, what are you offering me?”
He spoke kindly, but firmly, and never dropped his gaze from hers. Cerya considered this, and nodded slowly.
“You’re right. You get used to your position after a while, you know, and you forget about your privilege, because it’s always been there. So here’s what I’m offering: I like you. You seem interesting. I’d like to get to know you. Do stuff with you, spend time.”
“What if I decide I don’t want to, now or later?”
She rolled her eyes and spread her arms and posed for him.
“Come on! Seriously?”
“It’s about more than your body. I care about more than meat.”
“Well I hope so. So, what? Interested?”
The Gendarm shrugged.
“Why not? Might be interesting.”
“That’s the spirit! Let’s go somewhere.”
“Weren’t you looking for your mother?”
“Oh.” She made a waving motion with her hand. “That can wait. She’ll still be there tomorrow, I’m afraid, but I have my doubts about you.”
“Maybe knowing my name would help finding me again, just in case.”
“Your … Oh fuck, you’re right!” She giggled. “What’s your name?”
Again, the Custodian’s grip slipped from her cage’s bars and she fell on the wooden floor with a solid thud.
She lay there for a while before weakly lifting her head towards Profound Distress and saying, in an annoyed tone of voice:
“He must have done something to the bars. I don’t know what, but something’s wrong with the cursed things. This shouldn’t be … You know, this would be a great time to start helping me.”
“Help yourself,” Profound Distress replied, “And while we’re at it, let me tell you a few other things you might do to yourself.”
“Oh, don’t be that way. I thought we could be friends!”
“You kind of lost that chance the moment you decided to have me brought to you in a fucking coffin!”
“Hey, that wasn’t my idea! That was all your people! I just wanted to meet you!”
Profound Distress made a rude noise.
“You know, there’s still him,” the little girl finally said, looking pointedly in Kimbal’s direction. “Without me, there’s nothing for him. You’ll lose him forever.”
Profound Distress felt like breaking down again, crying and sobbing and begging for mercy again, and she felt like screaming until her voice broke and until she was hoarse, and she felt like jumping at that cage and closing her hands around that dread little girl’ neck and pressing until the little body gave its last shudder, until her eyes rolled back into her head and until the fucking monster pissed and crapped herself and died.
But she knew better than to try any of that, because she had cried herself out now, and because she knew screaming wouldn’t accomplish anything beyond making the Custodian smile, and she knew the Custodian would just laugh at her attempts to kill Her. So she took a deep breath and followed the Custodian’s gaze to Kimbal’s slack face.
And thought about the person he used to be. The person she used to love. The person who used to give her so much joy that she actually sometimes felt worthy of his love, of being alive. Who could give her something to look forward to, some kind of future in her life, and sometimes managed to make her forget about the always-beckoning temptation of Dust, and made her feel like the person he saw her as, the person she always wanted to be.
She’d never wished to be that person – to have been that person – as much as she did now, when the person she actually was had ruined everything, had crushed her hopes as well as his, and destroyed his life together with her own.
So she stepped up to him, looked into his dead, lightless eyes, gripped the bag of Dust the Custodian had given her, reached back and threw it as far as she could into the desolation of the burnt battlefield.
Then she knelt down and picked up Duncan’s blade, which he had used to kill the Paladin.
The Custodian gasped.
“What … what are you doing?”
Profound Distress did not answer, did not react at all, looking at the bloody, nicked and slightly rusty sword in consideration.
“You’re not yourself right now!” the Custodian warned her. “You shouldn’t make this kind of decisions in such a state, should you? Really, there’s no hurry, is there?”
Profound Distress took another, somewhat ragged deep breath and lifted the blade, holding it awkwardly. She was confident this would work in spite of her having no experience whatsoever with swords. She was striking at a stationary target, after all, and never mind the tears that made her vision swim and waver.
“Really, I am rather crafty in many ways, as you know, but there is such a thing as damage even I can never repair. Think carefully now! Do you really want to ruin your only chance?”
A sob tore itself from Profound Distress’ throat and confounded her attempt to answer: “I already have.”
She had endured a lot of pain in her life, but she was pretty sure nothing had ever hurt like bringing the dirty notched blade down into Kimbal’s head, once, twice, again, and again.
It was harder than she had expected.
Not emotionally. Emotionally, it was almost exactly as hard as she had expected it to be.
Emotionally, it was so hard that it broke her, that she could actually feel her soul shattering at the cruel edges of the task at which she had flung herself.
But physically, she had expected less difficulty.
She had seen people’s and monster’s heads smashed in today, and when experienced warriors or supernaturally strong Paladins did it, they made it look easy, like crushing an egg.
But to do it herself taught her how durable a human skull could be, and how messy and exhausting the act of destroying one.
When there was finally nothing but reddish-brown sludge left of Kimbal’s empty, horrible face which would now forever be her last memory of him, and her screaming had ceased, she broke down over his body, gasping, panting, sobbing, and finally breaking out in a shrill, triumphant laughter.
After what might have been a very long as well as a rather short time, she got up and stumbled over to the cage bars, held onto them and looked down towards the Custodian.
“Look,” she said, “I will help you get out of there. I can help you. I can be your … whatever you like, just tell me what I’m supposed to do. Under one condition.”
The little girl looked up at her with wide open eyes and a tentative smile.
“I want you to teach me magic,” Profound Distress said.
Book Group Questions
- This is it. The first book of this series. How did you like it? Might be a while before you get the choice, but would you like to read the next one?
- What did you think about the little Cerya/Kimbal backflash?
- Did anyone notice the glitch in perspective in Jakta’s chapter?
- And how about the ending? Do you like open endings? Do you like this one? Or would you have preferred something else? Do you even think this deserves to be called one?