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The kingdom of gods, p.1
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       The Kingdom of Gods, p.1

           N. K. Jemisin
 
The Kingdom of Gods


  Praise for The Inheritance Trilogy

  “Many books are good, some are great, but few are truly important. Add to this last category The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N. K. Jemisin’s debut novel …In this reviewer’s opinion, this is the must-read fantasy of the year.”

  Bookpage

  “A complex, edge-of-your-seat story with plenty of funny, scary, and bittersweet twists.”

  Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

  “The very best kind of sequel: as lush and evocative and true as the first, with all the same sense of mystery, giving us the world and characters we already love, and yet with a new story and a wonderfully new perspective on the whole dazzling world and pantheon the author has built.”

  Naomi Novik

  “A similar blend of inventiveness, irreverence, and sophistication — along with sensuality — brings vivid life to the setting and other characters: human and otherwise.… The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms definitely leaves me wanting more of this delightful new writer.”

  Locus

  “Jemisin’s talent as a storyteller should make her one of the fantasy authors to watch in the coming years.”

  Library Journal

  By N. K. Jemisin

  The Inheritance Trilogy

  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

  The Broken Kingdoms

  The Kingdom of Gods

  COPYRIGHT

  Published by Hachette Digital

  ISBN: 978-0-748-12631-6

  All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2011 by N. K. Jemisin

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

  Hachette Digital

  Little, Brown Book Group

  100 Victoria Embankment

  London, EC4Y 0DY

  www.hachette.co.uk

  Contents

  Praise for The Inheritance Trilogy

  By N. K. Jemisin

  Copyright

  Book One: Four Legs in the Morning

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Book Two: Two Legs at Noon

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Book Three: Three Legs in the Afternoon

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Book Four: No Legs at Midnight

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  CODA

  A Glossary of Terms

  Acknowledgments

  About The Author

  Short Story

  The Sworn

  BOOK ONE

  Four Legs in the Morning

  SHE LOOKS SO much like Enefa, I think, the first time I see her.

  Not this moment, as she stands trembling in the lift alcove, her heartbeat so loud that it drums against my ears. This is not really the first time I’ve seen her. I have checked in on our investment now and again over the years, sneaking out of the palace on moonless nights. (Nahadoth is the one our masters fear most during those hours, not me.) I first met her when she was an infant. I crept in through the nursery window and perched on the railing of her crib to watch her. She watched me back, unusually quiet and solemn even then. Where other infants were fascinated by the world around them, she was constantly preoccupied by the second soul nestled against her own. I waited for her to go mad, and felt pity, but nothing more.

  I next visited when she was two, toddling after her mother with great determination. Not mad yet. Again when she was five; I watched her sit at her father’s knee, listening raptly to his tales of the gods. Still not mad. When she was nine, I watched her mourn her father. By that point, it had become clear that she was not, and would never go, insane. Yet there was no doubt that Enefa’s soul affected her. Aside from her looks, there was the way she killed. I watched her climb out from beneath the corpse of her first man, panting and covered in filth, with a bloody stone knife in her hand. Though she was only thirteen years old, I felt no horror from her — which I should have, her heart’s fluctuations amplified by her double souls. There was only satisfaction in her face, and a very familiar coldness at her core. The warriors’ council women, who had expected to see her suffer, looked at each other in unease. Beyond the circle of older women, in the shadows, her watching mother smiled.

  I fell in love with her then, just a little.

  So now I drag her through my dead spaces, which I have never shown to another mortal, and it is to the corporeal core of my soul that I take her. (I would take her to my realm, show her my true soul, if I could.) I love her wonder as she walks among my little toy worlds. She tells me they are beautiful. I will cry when she dies for us.

  Then Naha finds her. Pathetic, isn’t it? We two gods, the oldest and most powerful beings in the mortal realm, both besotted by a sweaty, angry little mortal girl. It is more than her looks. More than her ferocity, her instant maternal devotion, the speed with which she lunges to strike. She is more than Enefa, for Enefa never loved me so much, nor was Enefa so passionate in life and death. The old soul has been improved, somehow, by the new.

  She chooses Nahadoth. I do not mind so much. She loves me, too, in her way. I am grateful.

  And when it all ends and the miracle has occurred and she is a goddess (again), I weep. I am happy. But still so very alone.

  1

  Trickster, trickster

  Stole the sun for a prank

  Will you really ride it?

  Where will you hide it?

  Down by the riverbank!

  There will be no tricks in this tale. I tell you this so that you can relax. You’ll listen more closely if you aren’t flinching every other instant, waiting for the pratfall. You will not reach the end and suddenly learn I have been talking to my other soul or making a lullaby of my life for someone’s unborn brat. I find such things disingenuous, so I will simply tell the tale as I lived it.

  But wait, that’s not a real beginning. Time is an irritation, but it provides structure. Should I tell this in the mortal fashion? All right, then, linear. Slooooow. You require context.

  Beginnings. They are not always what they seem. Nature is cycles, patterns, repetition — but of what we believe, of the beginning I understand, there was once only Maelstrom, the unknowable. Over a span of uncountable aeons, as none of us were here yet to count, It churned forth endless substances and concepts and creatures. Some of those must have been glorious, because even today the Maelstrom spins forth new life with regular randomness, and many of those creations are indeed beautiful and wondrous. But most of them last only an eyeblink or two before the Maelstrom rips them apart again, or they die of instant old age, or they collapse in on themselves and become tiny Maelstroms in turn. These are absorbed back into the greater cacophony.

  But one day the Maelstrom made something that did not die. Indeed, this thing was remarkably like Itself — wild, churning, eternal, ever changing. Yet this new thing was ordered enough to think, and feel, and dedicate itself to its own survival. In token of which, the first thing it did was get the hells away from the Maelstrom.

  But this new creature faced a terrible dilemma, because away from the Mael
strom there was nothing. No people, no places, no spaces, no darkness, no dimension, no EXISTENCE.

  A bit much for even a god to endure. So this being — whom we shall call Nahadoth because that is a pretty name, and whom we shall label male for the sake of convenience if not completeness — promptly set out to create an existence, which he did by going mad and tearing himself apart.

  This was remarkably effective. And thus Nahadoth found himself accompanied by a formless immensity of separate substance. Purpose and structure began to cohere around it simply as a side effect of the mass’s presence, but only so much of that could occur spontaneously. Much like the Maelstrom, it churned and howled and thundered; unlike the Maelstrom, it was not in any way alive.

  It was, however, the earliest form of the universe and the gods’ realm that envelops it. This was a wonder — but Nahadoth likely did not notice, because he was a gibbering lunatic. So let us return to the Maelstrom.

  I like to believe that It is aware. Eventually It must have noticed Its child’s loneliness and distress. So presently, It spat out another entity that was aware and that also managed to escape the havoc of its birth. This new one — who has always and only been male — named himself Bright Itempas, because he was an arrogant, self-absorbed son of a demon even then. And because Itempas is also a gigantic screaming twit, he attacked Nahadoth, who … well. Naha very likely did not make a good conversation partner at the time. Not that they talked at all, in those days before speech. So they fought, and fought, and fought times a few million jillion nillion, until suddenly one or the other of them got tired of the whole thing and proposed a truce. Both of them claim to have done this, so I cannot tell which one is joking. And then, because they had to do something if they weren’t fighting and because they were the only living beings in the universe after all, they became lovers. Somewhere between all this — the fighting or the lovemaking, not so very different for those two — they had a powerful effect on the shapeless mass of substance that Nahadoth had given birth to. It gained more function, more structure. And all was well for another Really Long Time.

  Then along came the Third, a she-creature named Enefa, who should have settled things because usually three of anything is better, more stable, than two. For a while this was the case. In fact, EXISTENCE became the universe, and the beings soon became a family, because it was Enefa’s nature to give meaning to anything she touched. I was the first of their many, many children. So there we were: a universe, a father and a mother and a Naha, and a few hundred children. And our grandparent, I suppose — the Maelstrom, if one can count It as such given that It would destroy us all if we did not take care. And the mortals, when Enefa finally created them. I suppose those were like pets — part of the family and yet not really — to be indulged and disciplined and loved and kept safe in the finest of cages, on the gentlest of leashes. We only killed them when we had to.

  Things went wrong for a while, but at the time that this all began, there had been some improvement. My mother was dead, but she got better. My father and I had been imprisoned, but we’d won our way free. My other father was still a murdering, betraying bastard, though, and nothing would ever change that, no matter how much penance he served — which meant that the Three could never be whole again, no matter that all three of them lived and were for the most part sane. This left a grating, aching void in our family, which was only tolerable because we had already endured far worse.

  That is when my mother decided to take things into her own hands.

  I followed Yeine one day, when she went to the mortal realm and shaped herself into flesh and appeared in the musty inn room that Itempas had rented. They spoke there, exchanging inanities and warnings while I lurked incorporeal in a pocket of silence, spying. Yeine might have noticed me; my tricks rarely worked on her. If so, she did not care that I watched. I wish I knew what that meant.

  Because there came the dreaded moment in which she looked at him, really looked at him, and said, “You’ve changed.”

  And he said, “Not enough.”

  And she said, “What do you fear?” To which he said nothing, of course, because it is not his nature to admit such things. So she said, “You’re stronger now. She must have been good for you.”

  The room filled with his anger, though his expression did not change. “Yes. She was.”

  There was a moment of tension between them, in which I hoped. Yeine is the best of us, full of good, solid mortal common sense and her own generous measure of pride. Surely she would not succumb! But then the moment passed and she sighed and looked ashamed and said, “It was … wrong of us. To take her from you.”

  That was all it took, that acknowledgment. In the eternity of silence that followed, he forgave her. I knew it as a mortal creature knows the sun has risen. And then he forgave himself — for what, I cannot be sure and dare not guess. Yet that, too, was a palpable change. He suddenly stood a little taller, grew calmer, let down the guard of arrogance he’d kept up since she arrived. She saw the walls fall — and behind them, the him that used to be. The Itempas who’d once won over her resentful predecessor, tamed wild Nahadoth, disciplined a fractious litter of child-gods, and crafted from whole cloth time and gravity and all the other amazing things that made life possible and so interesting. It isn’t hard to love that version of him. I know.

  So I do not blame her, not really. For betraying me.

  But it hurt so much to watch as she went to him and touched his lips with her fingers. There was a look of dazzlement on her face as she beheld the brilliance of his true self. (She yielded so easily. When had she become so weak? Damn her. Damn her to her own misty hells.)

  She frowned a little and said, “I don’t know why I came here.”

  “One lover has never been enough for any of us,” said Itempas, smiling a sad little smile, as if he knew how unworthy he was of her desire. Despite this, he took her shoulders and pulled her close and their lips touched and their essences blended and I hated them, I hated them, I despised them both, how dare he take her from me, how dare she love him when I had not forgiven him, how dare they both leave Naha alone when he’d suffered so much, how could they? I hated them and I loved them and gods how I wanted to be with them, why couldn’t I just be one of them, it wasn’t fair —

  — no. No. Whining was pointless. It didn’t even make me feel better. Because the Three could never be Four, and even when the Three were reduced to two, a godling could never replace a god, and any heartbreak that I felt in that moment was purely my own damned fault for wanting what I could not have.

  When I could bear their happiness no more, I fled. To a place that matched the Maelstrom in my heart. To the only place within the mortal realm I have ever called home. To my own personal hell … called Sky.

  I was sitting corporeal at the top of the Nowhere Stair, sulking, when the children found me. Total chance, that. Mortals think we plan everything.

  They were a matched set. Six years old — I am good at gauging ages in mortals — bright-eyed, quick-minded, like children who have had good food and space to run and pleasures to stimulate the soul. The boy was dark-haired and -eyed and -skinned, tall for his age, solemn. The girl was blonde and green-eyed and pale, intent. Pretty, both of them. Richly dressed. And little tyrants, as Arameri tended to be at that age.

  “You will assist us,” said the girl in a haughty tone.

  Inadvertently I glanced at their foreheads, my belly clenched for the jerk of the chains, the painful slap of the magic they’d once used to control us. Then I remembered the chains were gone, though the habit of straining against them apparently remained. Galling. The marks on their heads were circular, denoting fullbloods, but the circles themselves were mere outlines, not filled in. Just a few looping, overlapping rings of command, aimed not at us but at reality in general. Protection, tracking, all the usual spells of safety. Nothing to force obedience, theirs or anyone else’s.

  I stared at the girl, torn between amazement and amusement. Sh
e had no idea who — or what — I was, that much was clear. The boy, who looked less certain, looked from her to me and said nothing.

  “Arameri brats on the loose,” I drawled. My smile seemed to reassure the boy, infuriate the girl. “Someone’s going to get in trouble for letting you two run into me down here.”

  At this they both looked apprehensive, and I realized the problem: they were lost. We were in the underpalace, those levels beneath Sky’s bulk that sat in perpetual shadow and had once been the demesne of the palace’s lowblood servants — though clearly that was no longer the case. A thick layer of dust coated the floors and decorative moldings all around us, and aside from the two in front of me, there was no scent of mortals anywhere nearby. How long had they been wandering down here alone? They looked tired and frazzled and depleted by despair.

  Which they covered with belligerence. “You will instruct us in how we might reach the overpalace,” said the girl, “or guide us there.” She thought a moment, then lifted her chin and added, “Do this now, or it will not go well with you!”

  I couldn’t help it: I laughed. It was just too perfect, her fumbling attempt at hauteur, their extremely poor luck in meeting me, all of it. Once upon a time, little girls like her had made my life a hell, ordering me about and giggling when I contorted myself to obey. I had lived in terror of Arameri tantrums. Now I was free to see this one as she truly was: just a frightened creature parroting the mannerisms of her parents, with no more notion of how to ask for what she wanted than how to fly.

  And sure enough, when I laughed, she scowled and put her hands on her hips and poked out her bottom lip in a way that I have always adored — in children. (In adults it is infuriating, and I kill them for it.) Her brother, who had seemed sweeter-natured, was beginning to glower, too. Delightful. I have always been partial to brats.

 
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