I set out to write a straightforward explanation of the monsters in Updraft—honest. But (as my dear and patient editor knows far too well), straight isn’t always one of my primary directions. I love to tell things slant. So instead, I give you a first-ever (but hopefully not last) entry in The Torpedia—a collaborative cataloging of flora and fauna particular to Tor Books.
For other uses, see skymouth (disambiguation).
[Image File 1: carving: city scene featuring stylized skymouth tentacles, or clouds. In style of mid-Rise era. Artist: post author. ]
[Image File 2: carving: skymouth attacking tower, in style of the late Rise era. Medium: bone. Attributed to legendary artist Jainiat Lith*, or possibly a conglomeration of individuals. [Torpedia note: file missing or corrupted.]]
The skymouth (/sky*mouth/ or /skaɪ-mauʊð/) is a creature of traditional song and legend featuring unusually large proportions and appetite. Skymouths travel in packs within and above the clouds. Their passage through a city quadrant is known as a migration. Reports of individual skymouths plucking fliers unsuspecting from the skies without warning have been received. [Torpedia Warning to post author: preceding claim not verified by a secondary source. Please verify or remove. Second notice.]
A skymouth—as opposed to any other airborne predator within and around the bone towers—is first distinguished by one or more of the following:
- A distinct lack of birds in the area.
- An oily roil to air currents.
- A pronounced turmoil within and around gardens and terraces.
- Screaming from nearby towers.
- The sounding of bone horns to warn citizens to take cover.
Species classification: nominally cephalopod, with pronounced skin abnormalities (camouflaging behaviors, repelling surfaces), unceasing hunger, and a giant oral cavity lined with glass teeth. Omnivore.
[Torpedia Editor Note: we believe “cephalopod” is a term of art in this instance. Our copy editor has suggested “highly aggressive tentacular creature of size”. Review of this term is underway by committee.]
Few reports from survivors exist. One record from a tower observer indicates:
“A squall broke hard against the tower, threatening a loose shutter. Then the balcony’s planters toppled and the circling guards scattered. One guard, the slowest, jerked to a halt in the air and flew, impossibly, backwards. His leg yanked high, flipping his body as it went, until he hung upside down in the air. He flailed for his quiver, spilling arrows, as the sky opened below him, red and wet and filled with glass teeth. The air blurred as slick, invisible limbs tore away his brown silk wings, then lowered what the monster wanted into its mouth.
By the time his scream reached us, the guard had disappeared from the sky.” ~ Kirit Densira, Densira Tower
History and appearance in culture: Skymouths appear in songs and carvings across history, including—it is believed—the Ginth Panorama from the mid-Rise period. [Torpedia Warning to Post Author: as the Ginth Panorama is currently being reassembled by scholars, this claim requires verification. First warning.]
Cultural impact: Skymouths have been associated with bad luck by many citizens, including all hunters, city councilmen, and most tower residents. Actions taken to ward off skymouths include symbolic gestures, the closing of shutters, and—in rare cases—the expulsion of extremely unlucky or unsafe citizens, lest they attract a skymouth to the vicinity.
Population impact: the number of skymouth-related deaths in the bone towers is unknown.
Notes & Research Used:
- Source: Author’s private journal. All rights reserved.
- Pronunciation guide as told to author by aural experts, known as Singers.
- Source: Updraft (Tor 2015), by Fran Wilde. ISBN: 0765377837
About the author: Noted skymouth historian Fran Wilde’s short stories have appeared in publications including Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and Tor.com. Fran’s debut novel Updraft is out now. Fran lives in Philadelphia and can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on her website.