In which Blame starts his new job, and we meet some new characters :3
Autumn, Year 20
The next day felt way too normal. It was only the second morning but to Blame it felt like he’d been waking in that apartment for years.
His shoulders ached like crazy, though. In the small bathroom, Blame twisted, shirtless, to try to catch a peek of his so-called wing buds. Using his hands, he could feel the swelling knots on either shoulder blade, but he couldn’t see them. Sighing, he pulled on a shirt and rolled his shoulders a few times. The pain didn’t dissipate.
Nebris and Vechs had promised to take Blame somewhere he could get some more clothes after work. For now, he was assured that his old t-shirt should be fine - they would be provided with overalls at work, anyway.
After breakfast all three left the apartment and began walking towards the centre of the city. It still looked a lot like a brighter version of Carling, even in this direction. Blame swore he could have navigated himself, if he’d known the Carling equivalent of where they were going.
He was still contemplating the kiss, as if it had left some lasting mark on his lips. Vechs had been awfully complacent with it, and even if Nebris was a ‘flirt’, Blame thought Vechs shouldn’t just let him do that. And to Blame of all people! He almost wanted to ask Nebris about it, but the way the memory made his face heat slightly kept him silent.
After a while of walking, Blame could see exactly what they had come for. In the heart of the city, a large block, filled with the remains of a ruined building, was cordoned off with safety tape. A few trucks and other machinery surrounded it, but there didn’t seem to be enough to be efficient.
Piles and piles of rubble - concrete, twisted metal and dust - lay in haphazard piles across the entire block. It was an ugly scar on the beautiful city, but evidently the clean up really hadn’t been efficient. Grass and weeds grew in piles of dirt around the edges of the site, and much of the metal was rusted. The vehicles were mostly static, except for a single scoop methodically swinging loads of concrete into a small tip truck.
Vechs and Nebris led Blame to the entrance of the site, where a small group of Angels were standing around, looking as they’d rather do anything but work. A case of beer and a few flimsy plastic chairs made this even more evident.
Vechs raised a hand in greeting as they approached and the group of Angels waved back, curiosity clear in their faces when they saw Blame.
“Hey guys,” Vechs said. “We got a new Angel.”
Blame looked down, away from the attention, as the Angels began to scrutinise him. “Hi,” he mumbled. He remembered what Nebris said about Angels not liking humans that much.
“Hi,” said a tall, younger-looking Angel with pale beige wings, stepping forward to offer his hand to Blame. “I’m Arkas.”
“Blame. Yeah, I’m new here.” He shook the man’s hand.
“Zisteau,” said another Angel. A few more introduced themselves - Pakratt, Mhykol, Pyro. Blame zoned out a little, but once he realised that Vechs and the others were just standing around, he turned back to his friends. “So, what work do we do?”
“Oh, right,” Nebris said. He gestured to a row of dirty overalls and hard hats hanging on the fence. “Grab one.” He turned to the others. “Come on. Let’s at least do some work today.”
“Do we haaave to?” Arkas complained, but put a hard hat on anyway. As Blame stepped into the overalls and pulled on a hard hat and a pair of gloves, he turned to Nebris.
“So are you like, in charge around here?”
“Not really. But nobody here really likes to do the work. I take it upon myself to motivate people.” He laughed. “Although, I most definitely wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for…” He trailed off conspicuously, shoving a hard hat on his head. “Blame, can you drive a truck?”
“I can drive a car.”
“Close enough. Okay, I’ll operate the crane, and when your trucks are full, you and Vechs drive the stuff to the tip. You can follow Vechs.” He pointed to the line of trucks, stationary, parked outside the fence, then tossed Blame a pair of keys.
Blame nodded, and he, Nebris, Vechs and the others set out across the edge of the site. He watched carefully as Vechs climbed into a truck, pushing his red hard hat off as he hopped into the driver’s seat. He drove the truck into the site, reversing it by a scoop. Blame got into the next truck, hoping it wouldn’t be any different driving than a car.
He reversed it beside Vechs’ with little difficulty, then at Vechs’ instruction hopped out of the cab and watched as Nebris operated the scoop, picking up huge chunks of rubble and dropping them into the tip trucks. Since the rest of the Angels were working at different equipment, Blame figured he could talk to Vechs in relative privacy.
“So,” Blame said, as he and Vechs sat on a large chunk of concrete watching the scoop as it worked, “I - I have a question about Nebris.”
Vechs giggled. Blame was discouraged by this, but pressed on.
“He - well you know he kissed me yesterday. You were okay with that? But you two are dating?”
“Yes,” Vechs said. “Listen. Nebris is a weird guy. I love him, but he has… a past, that he doesn’t really like to talk about. It shapes a lot of what he does, though. Don’t think too much about it.”
“I’ll try not to,” Blame mumbled. Vechs laughed again.
“Do you like him?”
“W-what?” Blame spluttered.
“Nebris. Do you like him?”
“Well he’s been pretty nice to me. But so have you. Thanks, by the way.”
“No problem,” Vechs said, then reached a hand out to ruffle up Blame’s hair, laughing as he ducked away in annoyance.
“Where did Nebris get a license to operate that thing?” Blame asked, indicating the scoop, as he and Vechs walked back to the now-loaded trucks.
“Pshh, he doesn’t need a license. He knows what he’s doing,” Vechs said. He climbed into the truck and Blame got into his own, following Vechs as he drove out of the site and into the city, before taking a turn towards the outskirts.
It didn’t take as long to get there as Blame expected. Soon they were out of the thinning buildings. It interested him to see there wasn’t really a residential area. The outer suburbs abruptly transitioned into flat green meadows, and aside from a strip of construction they passed on the way out of the city, Blame felt it was as if someone had just taken a city and plopped it with little discretion into the middle of the countryside.
Something rather more alarming caught his attention, however, as they drove out - they were headed straight for what looked just like a huge wall of void blackness. Blame thought it was an optical illusion at first, but when Vechs turned the truck off the small dirt road and parked it right next to the void, it was impossibly real.
“What the fuck is that,” Blame muttered to himself as he watched Vechs activate his truck’s tray and all the rubble in it slowly slide off the back into - into the void. Literally. Blame supposed he should do the same but he was transfixed, watching as the void that seemed to surround Offstreet swallowed up tons and tons of concrete and steel.
Now terrified to back up too far and lose the truck itself to the void, Blame manouevred his truck and activated the tray. As he waited, he saw Vechs hop out of his cabin and come into Blame’s own, sitting beside him in the passenger seat.
“The void is incredible, isn’t it?”
“It’s kind of scary. Why is it even there?”
Vechs shrugged. “Because this world is tiny? It’s still being built.”
Blame frowned. “So this isn’t… a planet? Like Heithrun? Wait, how is there sunrise and sunset?” None of this made sense or felt in line with what he knew. This entire world had something off about it, like it was in a dream.
“Ask the Archangels,” Vechs said. “They know what they’re doing. Probably. If they don’t we’re screwed, so try not to think about that.”
“What are the Archangels like? I mean, do you even know they exist?”
“Of course! They sometimes mingle with us commoners. They aren’t like… make believe.”
“That’s good,” Blame said, shivering slightly. “Anyway, we should probably get back.”
“Right, right,” Vechs said. “Seeya back at the site.” He hopped out of the cabin, leaving Blame still in an awed daze at the void.
They finished the day of work after a few trips back and forth between the city block and the tip, then logged their hours on a grimy sheet pinned to a clipboard. Blame noted how awfully easy it would be to fake the hours; looking around at the state of the site, he had to wonder whether that had been done before.
Walking home, Blame became aware of the pain in his shoulders. It had been bothering him all day but now the ache was steadily turning into something sharper; it almost burned, but he held his tongue about it.
He wondered if that clean up job would ever be finished. From what he saw, the workers had made minimal progress in the time they had been cleaning up.
At home, Blame couldn’t keep himself from complaining. He flopped on the couch as his shoulders seared.
“Fuck,” he muttered into a cushion.
“Wings hurting?” Nebris called from the kitchen. Vechs had left almost immediately to get some groceries, promising to make something nice for dinner.
“Yeah,” Blame groaned. “I didn’t think it would be this bad.”
“Huh.” Nebris came in from the kitchen, a mug in his hand, and sat on a couch opposite from Blame. “It’s only been like, two days. I guess it’ll just get worse.”
“But then it will get better. You’ll be able to fly! And I can’t wait to see what yours look like.”
Blame buried his face deeper into the cushion. The promise of wings was nothing compared to what he was feeling now, and the knowledge that it would soon be worse didn’t help.
“Why would anyone choose this?” he muttered, lifting his head.
“You chose!” Nebris pointed out. “Anyway, being an Angel is a hundred times better than being a human, you’ll thank yourself.”
“Why are you so sure,” Blame said. “How do you know humans aren’t as great as Angels?”
“I was one!, you idiot! I’ve met humans, I’ve met Angels. I can tell you for sure. I wouldn’t go back to being a human if I was given the chance, not in a million years.”
Nebris’ tone sounded too defensive to Blame, but he didn’t press it. “Do you have any painkillers?”
Nebris stood up. “I’ll check.”
Vechs was selecting tomatoes when he saw them. The fruit dropped from his hand when he realised who was staring at him from across the aisle.
The other angel stepped forward, and Vechs nearly gasped at how terrible they looked. Cambriel used to always seem cool and attractive, but now their hair and clothes were dirty, they looked thin, and their eyes were sunk in. Their stupid, fake eyes. Vechs bit his tongue at a tuft of matted feathers peeking from behind their shoulder.
“Hey Vechs,” Cambriel said, their voice shaking, thinned in the middle. They had always had light, even speech, but it seemed to now be fading out of existence.
“You motherfucker,” Vechs said. Even as shocking as Cambriel’s appearance was, he couldn’t forgive them, and was certainly not about to in the middle of the grocery store.
“I thought you might not be happy to see me,” Cambriel said, without a trace of apology in their voice. They blinked, as usual their two sets of fake eyes staying disconcertingly open.
“You were right,” Vechs says, turning away to hide his shock.
“Wait,” Cambriel said. Pleading entered their voice. Shameless, just as they’ve always been, Vechs thought. “I need a home,” Cambriel continued.
“Find a home then,” Vechs said. He wanted to be done talking to the yellow-haired Angel.
“Please…” Cambriel said. “I have nowhere to stay. Would you let me crash at yours for a couple of nights? I won’t bother you or Nebris. Please. I need a home, Vechs.”
“Nebris would never let you,” Vechs said, biting back ruder words. “As far as he’s concerned, you are dead. As you were to me until a minute ago.”
“I know,” Cambriel said. “I know…” They trailed off as if descending into thought. “I need somewhere to stay. Look at what they did to me.”
Vechs turned to see that Cambriel had too. His breath caught at the sight of their wings. The formerly yellow-and-white wings had been severed close to the shoulder blade, leaving two handfuls of sulfur feathers, sticking out awkwardly, stained and matted with blood.
“Oh,” Vechs said. His phone buzzed with a text, from Nebris, telling him to buy painkillers for Blame. He looked up from the phone, his hands shaking a little.
“They did that to you?”
Cambriel turned, nodding. “The humans, yes.” They grimaced. “I know, I must look awful don’t I?”
“Yeah,” Vechs said. “Put yourself up in a hotel or something. Our apartment is full.”
Cambriel inhaled sharply. “So you’ve moved on, have you? Both of you?”
“We have a new friend,” Vechs said, closing his mouth. He was tempted to say more, but didn’t; Blame was none of Cambriel’s business. Nothing was.
“Friend.” Cambriel’s mouth curved around the word, and they let it hit the air slowly. “Okay. I’ll see you around, Vechs.”
“Seeya round,” Vechs muttered, walking as fast as he could out of the vegetable section.
“You’ll never guess who I saw at the store,” Vechs said, loud enough to startle Blame from his nap on the couch.
“Who?” Nebris asked as Vechs dropped plastic bags on the kitchen counter. Blame could hear a tinge of aggression in his voice and stayed silent, not giving any indication that he had woken up. A long silence followed Nebris’ question, and Blame almost fell back asleep wondering if Vechs was ever going to answer, but after a crinkle of plastic, Vechs replied.
“Oh.” Nebris’ voice had gone dark, and Blame heard his own heart beating. Clearly the single syllable, that name, had an enormous amount of history behind it. “They’re back?”
“Yeah. I don’t know how they got back, or why, but I have to say they looked terrible. Their wings were mutilated.”
Vechs said, “Yes. Cut off near the base. They said the humans did it.”
“How did they get back here, then? I covered what I’m sure was the last of the ground level rings.”
There was a long silence. “They might have arrived before you covered them, and I just didn’t see them until now.”
There was more silence. Blame felt the tenseness, and wished he could ask questions about ‘Cam’, and what they meant to Nebris and Vechs. The somber atmosphere was weighing on him, and he wanted the cheerful, if slightly annoying versions of the Angels back. Pretending to wake now would just increase the tension, he thought.
“Did you talk to them much?”
“They asked if they could stay at ours,” Vechs said. Blame could hardly hear the sentence as it dropped at the end.
“And?” Nebris’ voice was strained.
“I refused. They can deal with their own problems,” Vechs said forcefully, slamming some object on the kitchen counter.
“That’s right,” Nebris said. “Fuck Cam. I hope I don’t see them around.” He paused before saying, louder, “Blame!”
Blame pretended to jolt awake. “Uh, yeah?”
“How are your shoulders doing?”
Blame rolled his shoulders. “Still hurt like hell.”
“Did you get those painkillers, Vechs?” Nebris asked, answered when a small box was tossed towards Blame. He caught them.
The sounds of Vechs stirring something in a pot and the smell drifting from the kitchen soon made Blame hungry, and as the pain from his shoulders receded into something duller, he felt comfortable again.
He stopped his thoughts of how domestic and simple this felt - Vechs cooking with Nebris occasionally entering the kitchen to steal food or banter with Vechs, and himself now sitting upright on the couch, chatting with them. It was easy to forget the momentary tension of before, and Blame once again found himself grateful for these Angels who had taken him in.
He guessed he’d sort of been inserted into the timeline of their story, at a part where he didn’t know much about their past and nothing of their future. He was an interruption, like a stone in a river, and he admired the way they flowed around him so easily. Offstreet itself was like that too; accepting humans and turning them into Angels, adding to their little society without a hitch.
Blame adjusted his position on the couch and glanced at the kitchen as Nebris came behind Vechs to slide his arms around the taller man’s stomach. Vechs smiled and continued chopping vegetables, and Blame lowered his eyes. If he wasn’t there, he imagined not much would be different, and he was still considering this when Nebris finally pulled away from Vechs.
Leaving the kitchen, Nebris came and sat beside Blame. Soaking in the Angel’s warmth, Blame smiled to himself.