Welp, edits on The Land of the Beautiful Dead are continuing, and I have come to the first painful batch of deleted scenes. Normally, I keep everything that can’t go into a book for whatever reason (length being the biggest reason why a scene will be cut. You may not believe that’s ever a factor with me, but believe it or not, my books could easily be much, much longer) just in case I’m ever able to recycle a deleted scene for a later project. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’m hopeful.
Why am I telling you this, you ask? Partly just to post something before I blink and it’s December, but also because I have here in my metaphorical hand, a scene I have just trimmed out of my book and which I find myself loathe to toss in the old woodchipper. It is the perfect combination of “Too Good to Throw Out” and “Impossible to Reuse” and I can think of nothing better to do with it than post it here, as a teaser of sorts.
Now, keep in mind as you’re reading this, that IT WILL NOT APPEAR in the finished book and should not be considered canon. It’s just a deleted scene. Would have loved to use it, but just no place to put it. So here it is, serving strictly as character color and atmosphere and serving no other useful purpose. To set the scene, Lan, our heroine, has not been long in the city of Haven, where the beautiful dead reside in the service of Azrael, the immortal creature who has brought about the end of the world. Lan is new to the lights and noise of his court and not at all comfortable taking her first formal dinner with him or his Children–Lady Batuuli, Lord Solveig, and Tehya, who is…artistic.
Lady Tehya stood.
The movement caught the eyes of her brother and sister, who at once silenced the chatter at their own tables to fix their full attention on hers, but Tehya did not respond. The hush grew, rippling out from the east wall to the west and then down past the empty stage to those at the lesser tables, until the whole hall was silent and still. Even the servants were watching, Lan saw, and pikes glinted as the hands that held them shifted apprehensively. Only Azrael himself pretended not to notice.
Tehya only stood there, staring down at her.
The initial surprise faded into bewilderment, which began a gradual slide towards boredom. At what point should she just start eating again?
“Are you all right?” Lan asked finally.
Without a word, Tehya reached into her sleeve and drew out a long, long knife. She did it slow, knowing just how the light hit the blade, dazzling the eye and making the whole thing seem so eerily beautiful that Lan did not immediately think to be afraid. Oddly, it was not until Tehya looked away from her that Lan suddenly realized she was at the perfect height, reach and angle for a good head-lopping. She pushed her chair back belatedly, but Tehya paid her no more mind than the rest of the room. Tipping her head to an unnatural, doll-like angle, she reached out her hand toward her father’s table.
Azrael sighed and set down his cup. “My beloved child,” he said, so softly, but the silence was such that his voice carried all the same. “How many times must we do this?”
Tehya’s head tipped the other way, bobbing just a little, as of a puppet on strings. She raised the knife high.
Azrael sighed again and covered his eyes.
The knife came down, plunging deep into Tehya’s belly. Fabric tore. The skin beneath opened up, releasing a terrible rotten stench and a sudden, shocking billow of color that sprayed directly into Lan’s face. She threw up her arms with a hoarse cry, expecting the heat and sticky slap of blood, but met only a small, dry storm of what her brain, in panic and confusion, could only identify as flower petals. They flew past her, tumbling against her hands and face and hair, then funneled up into the air and…and stayed there.
Butterflies, a cloud of butterflies. Red and yellow and orange and black. They swept up toward the ceiling and down again, dispersing lighting on people’s hair and the flowers on the tables and on the tips of the guards’ pikes.
Lan’s gasp was lost in the needless gasps of the dead. Batuuli began the applause, slow and admiring, and soon the hall was riotous with cheers and clapping, but Tehya ignored it all. Reaching into the cavity that was her own body, she drew out a blackened, reeking handful of what appeared to be rotten meat, on which dozens of butterflies delicately fed. She extended her arm again to her father, offering, imploring, and watched without expression as Azrael rose and came for her.
A few last butterflies were crawling out of her belly onto her dress, fanning their wings in a slow, shimmering display. They all scattered before Azrael, all but one, whose wings were presumably too wet to allow it to fly, and that one dropped dead, fluttering to the floor in lazy circles to be crushed underfoot when Azrael finally reached her. He cupped her painted face between his hands and she reached up to lightly grip his wrists. Her eyes closed; his dimmed.
“Oh, my precious one, have no fear,” he said. “I’ll mend it.”
Tearing away with a silent cry, Tehya ran from the hall. Azrael reached out one hand, but did not follow or attempt to call her back.
“A promising start, but a predictable ending,” Solveig said, pinching a butterfly off his collar and flicking its body to the floor. “I give it three stars of five. What do you think, sister?”
“I think the butterfly garden is empty,” Batuuli replied with a pout. “And I think I rather enjoyed visiting the butterfly garden on sunny days. And what do you think?” she asked, turning to Lan.
“I think you’re all horrible.” Lan shoved her chair back to a gale of laughter and ran after her.