Read Aerie Online

Authors: Maria Dahvana Headley

Aerie

DEDICATION

FOR JASPER, ROWEN, AND HAZEL ANNE,

WHO ARE STILL TOO LITTLE FOR THIS BOOK,

BUT WHO ARE CLEARLY SKY SAILORS

{{{{   &! &! &!   }}}}

CONTENTS
PROLOGUE

I listen to the sound of singing. Everything, everywhere. The
world inside my house. The world outside my house. Birds and wind and trees. Electricity, and water through pipes, and people walking up and down the stairs, ice cracking outside, something being chopped in the kitchen. The world is all voice, all the time, and if I'm here, being quiet, I'm still not silent. I can hear my heart beating and I can hear the distance between me and everyone else on earth, because no one, not anywhere, sings the way I do. I seem to be the only one with a voice like this, and the only one who carries this song.

So I listen with all my might, wondering if one day, I'll hear another voice like mine, someone else singing the notes only I can sing.

But if there's anyone out there like me, I can't hear them. My voice is like an instrument meant to play in an orchestra, but instead it's playing solo, a repertoire of songs no one's written yet. This must be what it would be like to be an inventor of a new instrument, the only one who knows how to play it.

That sounds like it would be fun, but—

This must be what it would be like to be the last of a species of birds.

I listen.

I listen.

I listen.

CHAPTER 1
{AZA}

Good evening, Boyle residence. It's 11:30 p.m. on the night
before your eldest daughter's seventeenth birthday, and said daughter is creeping through the house like a roaming shadow, lurking her way to the back door.

How much does she wish she could sing a (silent, yet effective) version of
invisible
and/or
teleport
? Much. But, sadly, there's no song for that.

There's bike + rain, sleet, snow. All very typical for a night on which I've decided to embark into the outdoors.

I'm wearing layers. It's long underwear meets furry boots, and I'm basically looking like a tiny wrong lumberjack, with a rain poncho over the whole thing. Maybe in the movie version of the Imaginary Life of Aza Ray I'd be wearing . . . I don't know what. A dress of some kind?

I'm never pretty in pink, though. It's far more likely that I'd be wearing overalls than a frilly party dress. But, as ever on birthdays, I'm questioning my aesthetics. Should I be a different kind of person? Should I attempt it? Should there be some version of Cupcake Aza rather than Captain?

Historically, this kind of questioning took place in an
attempt to avoid counting down the days remaining in my life. Now? It's just . . . how I live.

I'm not the kind of girl, generally, who frills it up, even on special occasions. I was born backward from the rest of the world, and backward I remain. Three parts pirate, one part alien.

So I'm wearing all the layers of clothing, and one really major, integral layer that isn't clothing, exactly, but might as well be.

It's the shell. The skin I took from the skyship. The one that covers my Magonian body.

That's right. Magonian.

Does that sound not-from-Earth to you? Well, congratulations, game-show contestants! You win a bona fide alien. Or maybe the opposite of bona fide. Mala fide. Yes, that's real. Nobody ever uses it, which surprises me, because it's useful.

As a result of this skin, I look nothing like who I really am. I mean, I never do, not since last year. But I look
especially
nothing like it right now. The skin makes me look like a person I'm not.

Of course, mind you, I'm not a person at all.

Aza Ray Boyle's been dead a year, and yet here I am, still alive.

Aza Ray Quel is known only to the kingdom of Magonia—the place I was born, high in the clouds where weather is made and squallwhales sing.

I'm also Beth Marchon—here on Earth, undercover in this skin.

Here because: my family. Here because: destiny. Here because: Every Imaginable Reason and Some Unimaginable.

My old body was the same as this one—a fake, a copy meant for someone else. A disguise to mask who I really was.

But still, for sixteen years, that body was mine.

It was dying from the moment I arrived here. And I don't miss the coughing, the choking, the drowning, the last page of the book in front of me every second, but I miss looking in the mirror and feeling like I knew who was looking back.

I still miss being Aza Ray Boyle, dying girl or not.

Aza's shell is gone, though. And if I want to stay here, then Beth it is.

In truth, doesn't matter which skin I'm in. My soul dictates who I am, and as a rule, the things the world thinks should matter to me do not even. I'm almost seventeen, and there's no prom queen hiding under this poncho. If there was?

I'd kick her out.

I was born this way, and no matter how I look, I'm Magonian.

And since I left Magonia this fact has caused certain unforeseen problems.

There's a word in German (of course it's in German) for the feeling caged birds have when it comes time to migrate. The anxious, panicky restlessness of knowing you should be flying.

Zugunruhe
. Me? I have
major
and constant
zugunruhe
. I feel like I'm fluttering up at the top of my cage, trying to get to the sun. Last year on this day, the northern lights were arcing across the sky, and stars were lit up, and the whole universe was stretched out in front of me, this impossibly glorious thing.

Last year, on my birthday, I was in Magonia. And I was the chosen one. The Captain's Daughter.

This year, I'm a fake exchange student from a real city, doing nothing more than sneaking out of the house I live in.

It's a normal night, in a normal life, on which I can't outwardly celebrate the birthday that's about to happen, because it's Aza Ray Boyle's, not Beth Marchon's.

There's a picture of the girl formerly known as me in the hall of my school. It's up in the display when you walk in, my/her birth and death dates on a plaque.

MY death date.

Nothing's more fun to walk past every morning, except
everything
. The reality of my situation is so completely batshit it would be crazy-making, if it weren't so easy to confirm.

But there it is. There SHE is.

Staring at me. Right in the mirror every morning. And then, again, staring at me from that plaque. It's my birthday—it's written right there.

But it's not
my
birthday.

It's my deathday.

Except that I'm a thousand percent alive.

A year's passed since I woke up on a ship in the clouds and discovered that I wasn't human but a part of a race of people who live in the sky.

A year's passed since I discovered the door in my chest—yes, an actual door—and the space that was supposed to be filled by my songbird, my canwr, Milekt, and the song of my arranged partner, Dai.

Both of them betrayed me.

A year since I discovered that my mother, Zal, wanted to use the power of my Magonian song to transform landmasses into water and flood the earth, destroying it in the name of the Magonians who'd starved at the unwitting hands of humanity.

All in the name of revenge.

I was moments away from doing it, raising the level of the ocean, bringing on an ice melt and environmental collapse. The end of the world as we know it. But I didn't.

A year's passed since Jason kept me from becoming a monster—the real monster my mother intended. A year since Zal and my Magonian
intended
were hauled up into the Magonian capital and taken to prison.

Does it feel like a year?

Nope. Like yesterday. But here we are. Almost 365 yesterdays from that one.

I was one person, but now I'm another. That's true in the literal AND the figurative.

And everything I knew about little things like, oh,
this planet
and
life in general
turned out to be not-so-much.

The plaque in the hall of my high school says all of the above, in incorrect shorthand. I have to shut my eyes and fumble by sound to get around it, every single day.

I creep in the dark through the kitchen.

The lights go on. I squint, busted.

My sister, Eli, is standing at the counter wearing leg warmers and drinking a green smoothie, despite it being almost midnight. She's giving me an eyebrow and the eyebrow is made of
dream on, Aza Ray, you're not getting past the sentinel
. Sometimes having Eli for a sister is like having a moat around the house. There are no clandestine anythings when she's here. Never have been. It took me years to realize that my sister knows all, sees all, is all.

Which, when you're not trying to sneak out of the house, is not uncool. When you are, however—

“Are you worried you're going to turn into a pumpkin at midnight?” Eli asks. “Is that why you're trying to get out the door before your birthday? Or is this just a strange coincidence?”

“More like I'm worried I'm going to turn back into Cinderella,” I say. “I was never a pumpkin.”

“Cinderella wanted to be a prince's wife and wear high heels made of glass. Apparently you haven't read that fairy tale lately. You weren't ever Cinderella,” she says. “Unless there's a geek-brained Cinderella who wears—”

She looks down at my fur-lined, knee-high, snowshoe-bottomed boots, bought at a flea market, thank you.

“—whatever those are—and has nothing to do with princes.”

“Maybe I'm trying to have a rendezvous,” I surrender. “With a handsome stranger.”

“Ew,” she says. “
Rendezvous
, Aza? Seriously?”

I grin at her. “So seriously.”

“You're not as discreet as I'd be,” she says.

“No one's as discreet as you'd be,” I say.

“Truth.” My sister smiles a smile that says I don't know everything about her activities. If Eli ever goes wild, I don't know if anyone will be aware enough to clock it. Nothing shows on her face. Just green smoothie.

She's next to the terrarium. Some of my mom's experiment mice are on a weekend visit because a lab tech is out. They basically just run giddily around their domain, periodically jumping into their pond, where they hold their breath for an hour at a stretch. At first it was nerve-racking. They looked like they were
drowning themselves, but now it's kind of gorgeous. Little sea monkey mice.

The experiments have been going better. The mice used to die before their time.

These lucky mice are the product of my mother's refusal to give up, even on a daughter whom she was told wouldn't last past her first birthday.

When I was a baby, I couldn't breathe, so my scientist mom researched ways to make breathing less . . . relevant.

I watch a particularly accomplished rodent breaststroke and wonder if I'll need that again—the medicine my mother is developing. I might. This skin is only a skin, and the serum in these mice is the reason I'm still in the world at all.

I feel all kinds of tender toward them.

Eli slides a package across the kitchen counter.

“Since you seem to be leaving the house before the stroke of midnight, when I was planning to give this to you, we're doing your birthday present now,” she says, and clears her throat. “Two years' worth of birthdays.”

For about five seconds, my little sister and I stare at each other across the kitchen counter, tears streaming down our faces, like we're different people than we are. Then, because we're ourselves, we get it together.

I tear the wrapping paper, opening the box, pulling out folds of leather. And fur. And . . . zippers?

Then I'm crying again, because Eli got me a flight suit. An old one, like the kind military pilots used. Vintage. World War II, I'm guessing? It's pretty much the match to the boots.

I look up from my teary embarrassingness, and Eli is grinning
like I've never seen her grin. She cackles. “It's electric!”

She flips a switch and activates its battery pack. It's heated. I don't even. Eli's crowing.

“Put it on,” she says. She already has it unzipped and open for me, and for a second, I'm scared to put a flight suit on, because what if I suddenly get snatched into the sky? It feels like tempting fate.

But no. This is too amazing to worry about fate.

I step out of my layers and into it. I zip it up. It has a million pockets. It's much, MUCH better than overalls. Much better than a lumberjack in a poncho. Much better than anything else I've ever owned.

“That looks perfect on you,” Eli says.

“But I don't know how to fly.”

She gives me a very Eli look.

“Not on a plane.” And there's so much we don't actually need to say. Eli knows all about the ships and Magonia. She knows about the half-bird, half-human Rostrae, the slave class there, some of them my friends.

She knows about my mother. She knows about who they say I'm supposed to be. And now she's given me a flight suit.

“This represents five long months of me babysitting puking toddlers. Make it worth my while,” says my sister.

There are words embroidered on the pocket, gold thread, a few silver stars around it.

“I couldn't do your name, because obviously.”

“Carpe omnia,” I say.

Not carpe diem. Not
Seize the Day
.

No, this says
Seize Everything
.

I'll take it.

I grab my sister and hug her so hard she makes a sound of suffocation. I let her go.

“No big deal,” she says, and tugs at her leg warmers.

“No big deal,” I say, and tug at my many zippy pockets.

“Listen though,” says Eli. “Something happened. I have to tell you.”

“Yeah?”

“Julie told me she thought she saw you at school today.”

I take a second. “I was there, so.”

“No.
You
you. The old you. Aza.”

We're both silent for a moment. I know what Eli's thinking, because I'm thinking the same thing.

Heyward.

The human girl who I was a poor copy of. The one they took to Magonia when they hid me here on earth. Eli's biological sister.

“She was standing across the street from the gym, looking at the building,” Eli adds. “Julie thought she was seeing a ghost. She's wrong, isn't she? There's no way?”

“She must've imagined it,” I say.

“Should I tell Mom and Dad?” asks Eli.

I shake my head. “If she was really down here, we'd know.”

I'd have felt it through Caru, my heartbird. I'm sure of that much, at least.

“Don't tell Jason either,” I say. “I don't want to freak him out. I'll deal with it. Okay?”

Eli nods, but I'm not sure I trust her to keep her mouth shut. I run out the door, convincing myself all the way that
nothing bad's going to happen.

It's about to be my birthday and nothing, nothing bad is going to happen today.

I bike through the rain-sleet-snow-muck-storm, pretending that I'm singing on a skyship, capable of taking care of everyone I love with just an exhale and a note. I try to pretend it's all simple, that I want only this life I have, that there's nothing else out there for me.

But I know better.

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