Stealing Martha Wells’ idea; I’m going to be posting the occasional deleted scene from my various works over the next few weeks. And since people have asked, I’m starting with the one I read at Comic Con, during my “Spotlight” panel. This would have been the second appendix of The Kingdom of Gods, if the short story “Not the End” hadn’t smacked me between the eyes after I wrote this. Enjoy!
APPENDIX 2: Spider Speaks
The following is a recorded and transcribed vision of the godling known as Spider (Litaria designation 3301-A, Nahadothan niwwah godling attached to Teman Protectorate, northern coastal territory). For further information, see An Index of Elder Godlings, which may be obtained by written request from the private collection at Echo, Dekarta Arameri Memorial Library. Vision recorded by unknown Spider devotee.
A busy marketplace. Women argue and swear at one another over piles of spiky spices, curled dried insects, and fresh fish.
A woman, no different from the rest, wanders between the rows. In between one stall’s hanging curtain and another, she becomes taller, paler, with short blonde hair; then she passes another curtain, and is gone.
The club is dim, lit only by floor lanterns and streamers of glowing, colored smoke. The smoke shivers as it passes the beating speakers, and is further perturbed by swirling, bouncing bodies and droplets of flung sweat. This is, all things considered, a quiet night. Only a few dozen diehard revelers fill the room, rather than the usual few hundred.
At one of the tables sits a handsome middle-aged man with long black hair. He is dressed too formally and finely for the club, and he seems much older than the usual clientele, though his face is smooth and unlined. The doormen should never have let him in. Nevertheless, the club’s patrons elbow one another and whisper behind their hands at the sight of him, their eyes alight with interest and admiration. He meets their eyes with a cool, relaxed smile that is not at all unfriendly — though neither is it inviting. Because of this he sits alone, sipping a drink.
Out on the floor, the blonde woman from before: she dances alone. Women often do so in these modern times; why wait for a man’s invitation when the music is right? So she spins, her head flung back, hair soaked in sweat. Her expression is one of pure abandon, delirium, half joy and half madness. No one dares get near her. Her nails, when her hands flutter through the air, are razor sharp.
Up near the ceiling, sitting on a metal beam: a boy. He is slim, androgynous, pretty, and so young as to make any suitor contemplate morality. He gazes down at the crowded dance floor and smiles beatifically, nodding to himself with an air of deep satisfaction. If any of the club’s denizens looked up to see him, they would wonder how such a young man got past the doormen. If they looked at him a second time, and got a good look at his eyes, they would know. But no one looks up.
These three make everything in the club strange, but no one realizes it. The drifting mists are brighter than they should be. The music pounds harder; sweat vaporizes faster. There is a feeling in the atmosphere that no one understands, yet everyone delights in.
The club’s name: Altar of Worship.
A man sits in the lee of a great stone, contemplating the desert. He is thirsty, but the thirst is distant. He feels no hunger, barely notices the heat. His mind has made the transition to a higher state, somewhere beyond flesh. He sees what mortals rarely notice.
Something races across the desert in the distance, with a speed that should not be possible without mechanical assistance. Yet the running thing is an animal, clearly; the man is a hunter, and he recognizes the crunch and lunge of a powerful four-legged body. He narrows his eyes, which are dry. The creature is hard to make out. Something black, low to the ground, with a long tail that makes a fine rudder. Not a dog.
It seems to be chasing a small, brightly-glowing yellow-white ball, like the sun in miniature.
The man blinks, and the creature is gone. In its place is — a boy? Running on all fours like the animal, not slowing despite the absurdity of human limbs in that circumstance. The man closes his eyes again, searching within himself. Is it a true vision, or just a trick of his oversensitized mind? But when he opens his eyes, creature and boy and glowing ball are gone. Only a contrail of swirling sand lingers against the horizon, swiftly dissippating.
This continues down the ages, time and again. Ordinary people see extraordinary things, and at the heart of the strangeness, the same three figures appear. Sometimes they are together, sharing looks and an intimacy that far transcends touch. Sometimes each appears alone. Sometimes there are others with them: equally strange, younger somehow, usually deferent to the three. None of them linger long, however. They smile but never speak, except to each other. They notice those who notice them, but they vanish immediately after. They look at the world, but do not touch.
Legends follow them. In the early days, campfire tales speak of the three strangers, lost souls who wander eternally as if they have no home in this realm, yet who are never lonely because they have each other. When the first songs are written down, the lyrics of every land — on every world — contain certain common symbols and themes: the enigmatic smile, the disembodied laugh. Black cats and yellow suns, tattoos and sharp teeth, a dark-skinned man and a pale-haired woman and a youth with ancient eyes. Friendship that transcends form and time.
What develops from these legends is nothing so specific as religion. Each world evolves its own plethora of beliefs, solidifies them, fights over them, dies for them. Some of these beliefs contain a whiff of the truth. Most do not. All of them, however, celebrate life, and love, and laughter. Because of this, the realm is a much gentler place than it could be.
On one world, an architect has a dream. When she wakes, feverish with inspiration, she draws sketch upon sketch of what will be her greatest creation. She calls her business partners and engineers; they call investors; the project is given the go-ahead.
It will require an intricate blend of the most innovative materials and the most ancient, proven building techniques. The first contractors she hires to do the work walk away; can’t be done, they say.
It can, she says, and hires better contractors.
It takes five years. When it is done, the world marvels. No one has ever seen anything like this: a city in the clouds, tethered to the earth by a thin column, its walls a shining, unearthly white. It is beautiful. Audacious. The architect is lauded as the greatest visionary the world has ever produced.
The night before the sky-city is to have its official public opening, three people appear atop its central spire. They look at each other.
“Couldn’t resist, could you?” says the woman.
“Who, me?” says the younger-looking of the two men. He sits on a low wall, kicking his feet against it, and jabs a thumb at the older man. “I thought he did it.”
“Very clever, Sister,” says the older man. “Accusing us to deflect attention from yourself.”
They look at each other again. Slowly, all three grin. Then they vanish.
When the people of this world venture forth at last to meet their neighbors among the stars, they will discover a great marvel. Everywhere, on every world, there is a white sky-city. There are small variations, accommodations for local tastes and materials, but the basic design is always the same, replicated endlessly across time and space. Wherever there are people — and even sometimes where there aren’t — there is a Sky. There is always, everywhere, a Sky.
It is the only true magic this universe will ever know.
I suppose I could’ve chosen to have three appendices instead of just two. But I kind of felt like the book was long enough already, and it didn’t add anything to the story the way “Not the End” did. I also didn’t think it had the cheeky meta fun of the (doodled) glossary. So in the end, when I was searching for things to cut, this one got left on the editing floor.
But I do believe this happened, somewhere in the new universe that Sieh and the gang created. Which is our universe, of course. It makes sense to me that they would want to memorialize the place that brought them together, and where they loved and suffered and grew from nothing into gods. So, architects: any of you feeling a tickle? ‘Bout time we got started on our version of Sky, don’t you think?