Rainbird never belonged. To one race, she’s chattel. To the other, she’s an abomination that should never have existed.
She lives on the sunway.
High above the ground, Rainbird is safe, as long as she does her job, keeps her head down, and never ever draws attention to herself.
But one act of sabotage is about to change everything.
For Rainbird. And for her world.
Rainbird danced on the sunway to the singing of uncountable stars, music that only she could hear. Her trench coat, too large and shabby, smelling of cigar smoke and mothballs, flapped around her. Under the thick thirdhand fabric, her wings whispered, satin-starch-slither. Her long-toed bare feet skimmed the bumpy bone of the sunway, worn smooth and glittering by centuries of inspection. Her oversized lungs pulled in the thin cold air.
Rainbird rose up on her toes, spun, leapt high and proud like a horse, and landed perfectly. She dipped her head and knees in a curtsey to her celestial audience. Then she kissed her hand to Glew, the dim, faraway true sun of the purebred eiree. It glowered with sour malice, rheumy-eyed even this far above the clouds and the smoke, the haze and the lights of the cities of men.
Her gesture was theatrical, less a reverence and more a flirtation, though not entirely without affection. Glew had witnessed her solitary dances for two years, since she had first come up on the sunway. It and the other stars had replaced the human audience that had gaped and cheered during her performances in the circus she’d grown up in.
No, she’d been drawn to the stars, both the fixed and the wandering, even before she’d escaped to the sunway. She’d watched them from downside, in the Deeps of the night, perched atop the circus tent, above a sawdust floor covered in trampled-on confetti, empty paper packets, and the sequins and flowers that had fallen unnoticed, like dandruff, from the performers’ costumes.
She had not danced, then, only listened to the stars’ music. Now, she closed her eyes, twirled, and lifted her arms up, as if to embrace them.
“Never draw the attention of the stars.” The voice was as cold and as quiet as snowflakes. “For you will only live to regret it.”
Rainbird’s eyes snapped open. She spun, looking wildly about her, but there was no one next to her, no one on the vast expanse of ivory bone all around her. Then she looked up, into the air, and made out a shadow upon the cable that stretched overhead. An eiree wire, made as a rest stop for the winged race, a sop from the humans for bundling the eiree off the dragon spine that formed the sunway and onto the skeletal remnants of the creature’s wings. She had never seen an eiree upon one before.
Rainbird kept still, tense and wary, not speaking. Maybe the eiree would not know her, would not know that she was the half-breed. Her wings were hidden and…
“I have watched you, little worm.” Contempt would’ve been better than the disinterested coldness which dripped into Rainbird’s bones. “You do not know that which you meddle with.”
So he knew her, did he? He watched her, did he? Well, let him see this.
With a toss of her head, a flick of her wrist, a spinning kick, Rainbird banished the eiree prohibition. She was not eiree, had never been recognized by them as such, didn’t want to be claimed as one of them, and she would not live by their rules.
She owed them nothing.
A reckless anger burned through her blood. She knew that Petrus would want her to say nothing, do nothing, but all caution was swept away by that hot tide.
“See here!” Rainbird called up to the stars, singling out her favorite, a wanderer with a reddish tinge. She didn’t care if the eiree saw her. She hoped he did. “Watch!”
She gave that star her most daring leaps and her most artistic turns as the celestial chorus rose to a crescendo. Let the eiree break law and attack her on the sunway for her defiance. Let the stars be unimpressed as they always were. That only spurred her on to more impudent and far-reaching feats.
But at the highest point of her leap, the reddish star looked at her.
Looked. At her.
Rainbird touched down, stumbling, shaken. But no, it was not her balance at fault—the sunway itself shuddered. A tremor. They’d become common enough this past year, but never at night when the Day Sun was down.
A whisper brushed across her ears, “… am… coming.”
Papa! Guiltily, Rainbird reached for her radio, her one concession to Petrus’ caution. But no, it hissed quietly to itself, channeling nothing but static. Bone quivered under her feet again, as if the massive beast whose spine she stood upon stirred in restless sleep.
“No,” she said, out loud. “No. The dragon’s been dead for centuries, before humans even came to this world.”
Then she looked up quickly, half-expecting the eiree to say something cryptic and disturbing, as was the wont of his kind. But there was no one on the wire.
She was alone again.
Hope you enjoyed this excerpt! Rainbird will be out in mid-October.