Chapter 12: With a Final Crimson Sigh

Mylia, a singing wyrm-human monster, is rescued from the bleak Wylds by a poor, ambitious Prince and surgically fashioned into a popstar to help him overthrow an ancient Empire. Under her new identity, she must navigate scandal, fame, deadly court intrigue, and even love in a rags-to-riches tale for the ages. (A new chapter every two weeks!)

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Mylia gasped to feel Titus grab her neck in a pincer clamp.  He threw her down upon the ground and kicked her.

“Look at how pretty they made you.  Why, you’d pass for a lady on a dark night.”  He brought his face down to hers.  “Wyrm filth.”

Mylia snarled and Titus hopped back with a laugh.  “The Prince may only want your voice, but those teeth and eyes, guts…everything within and about you, wyrm, even your soul, will fetch a fine price for me.”

The Servant peeked through the door to check the hall.  Mylia sensed the anxiety pour from him like a tepid waterfall…felt the currents directed towards a grate upon the floor from which rose the familiar stench of shivering horses and hay.  They were a close to the storage areas and stables.

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Before she could further discern the future growth of this fear, crouched and trembling as she was on the floor, the Servant spoke.

“Titus, the castle will be looking for the wyrm in a few hours.  Stop jawing about and kill her so we can get riding.  Lolli said she left the west gate open for our horses.”

Mylia moved slightly and another kick from Titus thudded into her abdomen.  She lay still, breathing hatred for the man.

Titus barked a laugh.  “Always the practical one.  Okay, sure.  We’ll carve her up after several hours riding.  Less messy.”

Mylia had no need to comprehend their words to know something was wrong.  Very wrong.  From when he first saw her, Titus meant her harm…perhaps even murder.  She must escape and immediately.

Then she saw the knife in his belt and sensed it to be damp with the Servant’s invisible flow of anxiety, felt the same tidal wave move towards her body and the rush of black, primal darkness snap over her vision forever.

It was in that second that Mylia knew she was going to die.

She sprang up, tripping on her robes, lunging for the door.  Titus expected it.  Faster than a snake, he punched her to the floor and smacked a boot into her back.

Mylia gasped in pain and writhed away on the cold tiles to avoid his reach.  His hobnailed boot thudded into her stomach and she screamed.  How she wished her hands were free, that her legs were unbound.  A single slice from her claws and his eyes would fly!  She spat towards his shiny boots and snarled in absolute rage.

“Filthy wyrm devil!”  He shouted in disgust.  “You Filthy,” his shouts were punctuated with each kick, “Wyrm.”

Titus smashed another heavy kick into her abdomen.  And again as the Servant bleated meager warnings of haste.  Repetition.  The humans loved repetition.  Amid her pain and despair of impeding death, Mylia began to see a way out.

Titus was skilled wyrm hunter.  He knew the weakest spots on her: the abdomen and neck.  His boots spared no qualms for her body but he carefully avoided her neck which Mylia knew would easily kill her.  So, he meant to torture her first.  For how long depended upon his strength and the lack of interruption.  But Titus was obviously was short-tempered and stupid.  Mylia reasoned she was meant to die soon since he would tire of beating her and a prolonged torture was too calculating for his personality or muscles.

She must be quick.

The plan lay spread before her vision, stark as a map fresh drawn from memory too short-lived to matter.

First, she would remove him of his sport.

Mylia closed her eyes and flopped, useless as a fish, to the floor.  The boot continued to smack into her belly, causing her hideous pain.  She gritted her teeth and bore it.

Then, oh blessed relief!  Titus stopped.  She felt his breath hot on her face.  “It’s fainted, the weakling,” he said to the Servant.  “Damn useless beast has no strength.”

Mylia opened her eyes and lunged, her jaws opening like a crocodile.  A single bite from her delicately sharp teeth and Titus’s face was no more—just a bloody mask of skull from which eyeballs writhed from their lidless sockets.

She spat out the skin of his lifted face and grimaced.  He tasted awful.  Another scream echoed from his raw teeth, followed by a dreadful silence.

Titus fell like a log to the floor, his body easing a great pool of crimson across the cobblestones and straw.

The Servant took one look at her lips dripping with blood and turned to flee.  With a bound, Mylia was beside him, her teeth fastened into his shoulder.  He screamed like a bat on fire as she threw him to the floor and planted a foot upon his chest.  She motioned him to stay but he already had that message figured out and turned grey as death.

She carefully unplanted her foot and glared at the Servant again to ensure his compliance.

Then she surveyed Titus as he lay, broken and gasping.  She was not vindictive.  He was dying, slowly and painfully.  She stepped on his neck and broke it, sending his spirit spiraling into the dark beyond.

As she stared at the body twitching on the floor, Mylia suddenly realized, with a sweep of joy and terror, that she was free.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the Servant made a quick motion to flee. He sprang to his feet, but Mylia was upon him.  She knocked him to the ground and punched his face with all her might.

He became extremely floppy and his eyes rolled up so high, only the white crescents of eyeballs were visible.  If Mylia could swear like the humans, this was an opportune moment.  She had intended to use him for her escape.  Now he was useless.  With her current, weakened state, she couldn’t carry him.  She knew from hunting that some creatures could take several minutes to many hours to wake and dart away.  Who knew how long humans took to swing out of their slumbers.  The echoing sounds of the castle smote her and she remembered where she was.  Time was of the essence.

Mylia rummaged through the Servant’s pockets until she found the jangling pieces of metal he had used to unlatch the multiple doors between her room and Edith’s study.  She found the key that unlocked her manacles and gasped with relief to have the metal weights clatter to the floor.

She stood up, feeling light as a feather, and free for the first time in months.  Ahead of her, the hall     stretched, long, dark, and spotted with old hay to add warmth to the floor.

With a mighty shriek, the Servant leapt from his slump and, before Mylia could react, he sprang up the stairs and out of sight.

Mylia stomped her foot in rage.  He was going to alert the castle and she would be caught.  Flight was of the essence.

She ran down the hall, swift and silent in the gloom. Her splintered legs made for slower going but she kept to her toes and paid no heed to the pain within her healing bones.  A door impeded her progress, but it opened with a shove of her fingers, and she dashed through a stocked pantry then around another door and into a wide, dark hallway which was markedly colder than the pantry.

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She was close to the outdoors.

The smell of barnyard manure and old hay smote her nostrils and, through the cold stone, she sensed the evil mule, the one with a hoof disease who hated her every moment she sat on his back and plodded to the castle so many weeks ago.

Mylia considered freeing him to help her get back to the Wylds.  He could even come in handy as a food source somewhere along the way.

A great bugle blast shook her clarity.  From the castle came the shouts and cries of many people, tears and shrieks of pure venom.  Through the din, she heard the words, “wyrm,” “demon,” and murder!”

Mylia burst open the door and staggered into the Courtyard.  People dashed hither and yon, shouting and preparing horses for riding.  She shrank against the wall and pulled the veil low across her face.  She hurried past a couple of soldiers dashing into the castle’s main door and ducked into a narrow passageway.  Down she ran a few steps and the smell of livestock grew in strength.  She was near to the stables.  Better yet, she drew closer to the exterior wall and the world beyond.  Somehow, someway, she must make it beyond the few buildings and milling, shouting people between her and escape.

She hurried across a small opening in which some ducks pecked for grain.  A woman sat on a chair and spun rough yarn on a wheel.  She saw Mylia’s blood-dripping face and garments and screamed.

But Mylia only hobbled onward, down a flight of stairs and past a few yawning doorways from which the warmth of life within caused her breath to momentarily catch in grief.

She spun around a corner and saw Gerard race down stairs that led to her.  Mylia flung herself into a doorway and just in time!  He looked deathly furious as he dashed past her, several armed guards in tow.  “Find the wyrm devil!  I want her dead!”

His wrathful screams echoed upon the winds of his departure and she shuddered.

Mylia did not have to understand his speech to feel the hatred within his heart.  And how he hated her now.  She understood, begrudgingly.  His father, Titus, had been flayed of his life by her jaws.  But a sadness lingered within her heart for she knew his friendship had been broken.

She waited for the sound of his voice to fade and then ran down a narrow alley and arrived at the great and ponderous castle walls.

At least twenty feet high before her, they were slick with icicles and smoke.  A series of steps ran up one way; but could she jump down from them on the other side?

 

Mylia briefly considered running to find the castle gate.  A second later, she abandoned the idea.  The gate would be the highest guarded spot in the castle.  The din from the search parties increased and the shouts came closer.  Within moments, a crowd of screaming people would hurdle around her, armed with weapons and a fury that she doubted even the Prince could stop…if he cared to.  She was running out of time.

Mylia hastily crawled up the wall stairs, taking two at a time, using her hands to help support her wrapped legs.

A guard stood on a rooftop and Mylia dodged just in time as she shot at her.  She felt the bullet hurdle past her face and streak with a scream into the evening beyond.

She fired again and Mylia ducked, springing to the edge of the parapet.  Below her fell the walls, steep and true, with nothing blocking them save the snowy moat stretched around the castle, chucks of blue ice floating in the dark waters.  It may yet be deep enough to catch her fall, but she could die of the wet cold.

Beyond lay the massive expanse of tree-dotted wilderness; the Prince’s farm.  Deep within the darkening afternoon lay the path to her beloved Wylds.  If she could make it to the tree line, she would have a fighting chance.

Mylia jumped.

For a brief second, she fell, faster than the wind.  Then, the shock of ice water smote her body and she plunged into the moat.  For a second, only the freezing vastness of pressing, ice-liquid surrounded her, popping her eardrums and slapping the rhythm of her beating heart with such force and pain, she nearly cried and, then Mylia felt her feet sink into the muddy bottom.

With all her might, she pushed against the mud and drifted upwards.

Her face broke upon the surface of the water and she gasped for air.

A whistling sound distracted her and an arrow thudded into the water by her ear.  Above, on the castle ramparts, a soldier stretched back a massive bow, preparing another shot.  Mylia took a deep breath and plunged back into the water.  Several other soldiers joined him, two had rifles.

If she made a run for it across the snowy wastelands, she’d be struck within a few steps.

Mylia had never been much of a swimmer, but sometimes, when wynter grew rough, she had to swim to catch fish hibernating along the bottom of the rivers.  She knew how to hold her breath and shove her weight through the waters like a ship’s propeller.

Deep into the murky waters she sunk, rhythmically kicking her splintered legs to propel herself forward. The wooden constraints were difficult and impeded her progress but she continued with a ferocity borne of desperation.

She swam, holding her breath for what seemed like an eternity, until she reasoned that, judging from the curvature of the moat, she had crossed a good quarter of the castle’s walls.  They were likely patrolling all the walls, but she may as yet take them by surprise.  And she must surface; holding her breath caused painful spasms in her lungs and her legs hurt badly from the unwonted and vicious exercise.

Mylia stopped for a moment and floated deep in the black, muddy waters, thinking.  If she sprang upwards now, she could have a head start.  She could not stay in the water forever.  If she did not breathe air within the next several seconds, the lack of oxygen would cause her to first writhe in agony then, exhausted, drown.  If there were plants, she might yet hide within their bodies, breathing air from the hiding of their leaves.  Yet, the moat was made of stone and mud and cold.

She knew the frosted embankment lay near her paddling limbs but the tree line was far, according to her memory, and the arrows and bullets of the castle would find her black form an easy target against the pressed snow.

Even now, deep underwater, she could hear their hateful shouts for her death.  Dim red light pierced the waters above her head.

The setting sun.  Nightfall gave cover when she needed it most.  Her chances for a run to the trees would be attempted and if she died?  At least she would die looking at the stars.

So be it, then, she thought.

Mylia kicked upwards.

Her pale head burst apart the water and she pulled in a deep draft of icy, blue air far within her lungs.  Sweet air and clean—she lunged for the embankment and crawled from the moat, her filthy linen dress streaking dirt and blood upon the clumped, grey snow.

“The wyrm!  There!”  The shout rose upon the ramparts.

Mylia heard the clatter of many running feet upon the ramparts above her.  Beyond her vision lay the dark tree line of firs heavy under snow and wheeling crows.  If she reached them, she would yet be safe.  But they were at least a thousand yards away.  She ran forward, stumbling in haste and pain.

A huge arrow, black-feathered, sliced the snow beside her feet.  She glanced at it but cursorily, for it had missed her.  The snow was wet and cold—how shining white it lay before her like a great, unpierced blanket.  Lowering black clouds in the horizon spoke of another storm.  Strange she should connect to the elements, she thought, as death shouted and readied weapons against her in the castle rising behind her fleeing back!  She must fear her mortality for it was a thing of realness and present beside her in a way unlike any other day in her young life before this moment.

Another great arrow shrieked past Mylia’s ear, nicking some of the flesh.  The arrow thudded into the ground several yards ahead of her.

She felt the trickle of her clear blood run down her neck.  And she increased her pace, dreading the pain of death at every step.

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With a final, crimson sigh, the sun dropped behind the horizon and all the world lay frosted by night.

“Kill her!  Kill her!”  Gerard’s shouts echoed on the ramparts.  Now the zinging snap of multiple bows released their arrows at her.  Several bullets screamed past, smacking the ice with a hideous krop-krop.  An arrow slashed her robe, missing her back through a hair’s breadth.  The next volley would surely hit a mark.

This was it.  Her moment of death had arrived and it would be delivered by someone she had considered a friend.

She heard a familiar voice spiked by madness and Mylia saw the Prince—

He ran upon the ramparts, shouting as though insane for the soldiers to desist.  But a fresh volley was already released and his face dropped in fear.   Yes, she reasoned in that hellish moment of slowed time and sharpened sensory awareness, it was fear.  He cared for her life.  And she realized how terribly she had played her part all through the time spent at the castle.  Asher should have become a truer ally and supported her wishes, not his younger brother, Gerard.  She wasted so much time and thought upon chasing threads of friendship and loneliness with Gerard whose mind was weak and easily misled.  If she could have the time to live again, a more forthright approach would be maintained.  She would only spend her thoughts upon people who both truly cared and had the power and discernment to enact their feelings.

The bitterness swept through her mind in a second and her eyes flashed upon the snowy expanse once more for her death approached.

The flying arrows shrilled towards her body; now a hundred, now seventy feet away.  Mylia could see their sharp metal heads in grim focus.  Within moments, she would be studded by a dozen or more.  And she would die.  Perhaps, she reasoned in the brief moment as the world crouched in expectation, the pain would not be so terrible.

Two hands grabbed her shoulders and sharply pulled her backwards.  Mylia felt a cool, slippery sensation fall over her body and her vision quivered and rippled.  Then, like a candle snuffed out, the world fell into darkness and a great silence so deep and immense that it seemed eternal, smote her.

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To be continued in Chapter 13, December 2!

Chapter 11: Stone Eyes

Mylia, a singing wyrm-human monster, is rescued from the bleak Wylds by a poor, ambitious Prince and surgically fashioned into a popstar to help him overthrow an ancient Empire. Under her new identity, she must navigate scandal, fame, deadly court intrigue, and even love in a rags-to-riches tale for the ages. (A new chapter every two weeks!)

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Prince Asher had experienced many different horrors in his life of thirty odd years.  But overwhelming shock smote his fearful, arrogant mind when the wyrm woman in robes and big, gold eyes, her tail tucked demurely between her ankles, spoke for the first time.

Her name was Mylia and she said it aloud.

And it was horror at first.  After all, humans were taught that wyrms were monsters of no genetic superiority.  “If they actually had brains like us, imagine what they could do!” was the consensus around the world.  This sort of thinking encouraged the popular sport of killing wyrms and using their ghosts as gladiators in the Dyn world’s famous arenas for, lacking souls and now bodies, they were fit only for human entertainment.  But the Dyn, a complex ecosystem of spacetime and bad dreams, bound to the real world through the might of human invention, is to be explained later.

Asher was a mentally ambitious man and knew general opinion was both changeable and likely incorrect.  And his horror faded to wonder and then joy.

A joy that reminded him of hope.  One impossible thing proven otherwise meant the world now offered him a cornucopia of equally likely futures.  Everything was his for the taking, courtesy of Mylia’s verbal thrust into the unknown.

She had said her name.  The crack of the barrier separating wyrm and human echoed round the world.  Although, for a long while after, people did not know the barrier was gone and behaved exactly as before.  After all, a learned trauma was easier to compartmentalize and shove aside, veil in history books and whispers in the dark.

Asher stared at her.  “Mylia,” he repeated, his voice soft in rare awe.  “Asher,” he pointed to himself, “Mylia,” and his hand motioned to her.

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Meanwhile, another set of entirely different thoughts ran through Mylia’s mind.  A connection had been made between the syllable she had pressed from between her teeth to the glittered joy now stamped upon the Prince’s face.  Somehow, this strange action of her throat, one-part singing and the other, verbalized intention, had pleased him more than anything she had ever done before.  And she was glad for his joy at her behavior and then concerned that she cared at all about how he felt.  But what she planned to say to him remained unheard for someone knocked on the door.

Gerard entered. “Mother said you called for me?”

Asher’s face dropped into the regal chill he typically wore.  “Yes, I have a task for you.”  He stood and walked to a cabinet and rummaged in the papers.

Gerard shrugged and snuck a glance at Mylia.  “How’s the lesson going?”

The Prince closed the drawer and returned with a scroll in his hand.  “Her name is Mylia.”

“Oh, she told you?”  Gerard’s eyes darted between Mylia and his brother.  “That’s remarkable.  What else do you know about her?”

Asher shrugged.  “Only her name but other words will soon come.  When I go to the Capital, I need you to do something for me.”

“Is that the prophecy?”  Gerard indicated to the scroll.

“Yes.”

“I should have gone with you that night into the Wylds.” The younger man’s voice dripped with accusation.

“Nonsense.  I would never have put you at risk.  I needed this,” Asher shook the scroll, “And I got it.  You must lock it up in this castle where no one can find it, not even me.  It is utterly important the prophecy remains hidden until the appropriate time.”

Gerard nodded and tucked the scroll into his jacket but Asher stayed his arm.

“Thank you for doing this,” Asher said.  “I owe you a debt.”

The other man looked annoyed.  “I’m your brother.  Of course I’ll help.”

Asher inclined his head in thanks and resumed his seat, but his eyes were hard upon his brother.

Gerard walked to the door and paused.  Turning, he stared at Mylia again and she read concern within his gaze.

“Look, I’ve been meaning to discuss this with you.”  Gerard cleared his throat and addressed Asher.  “I don’t think you should take the wyrm to the Capital.  They claim premium upon wyrm flesh in the Empire’s brighter lands.  She could be easily kidnapped and butchered by any Dyn worker or magician.  You know what they do…sell the body parts and send the soul to the Dyn to eternal torture.”

The Prince gave Gerard a sharp glance.  “Gerard, please do not introduce this conversation.  Mylia is not human…she is so much more.  There is an intelligence and strength that we have only begun to realize—”

“Titus says the only reason we have a living, breathing wyrm in this castle is because you plan to use her…to use Mylia…to make money.”

The Prince looked aggravated, although Mylia saw he concealed it well.  The mention of Gerard’s father, Titus, the commoner lover of Lady Edith, did not please him but only the slightest drop of the eyelid gave away his thoughts.  Only, she was observant and noticed.

Asher finally spoke.  “Your father misleads you.  You have seen the horrors of wynter in these lands.  The large game have long left these lands.  Our crops fail and sicken with drought and pestilence.  Even Yuletide had rationed food despite our merriment.  My time on the borders of our lands led to several executions and all to deal with stolen food.”

Gerard looked ill.  “They were starving.  You had no right to kill them.”

The Prince’s eyes were hard.  “They know the rules.  The day we bend our law for pity or sentiment, is the day our vassals murder us in our sleep.  Revolution has occurred in the country before.  We still have pockets of Mals surviving here and there.  Quiet meetings in the dead of night and suddenly, the post office or train station is torched to cinders.  People have tasted of freedom, for better or worse, and they will never forget.”

“But, they were fathers and brothers, good men!”  Gerard was angry now.

“Yes, and for that, I am aggrieved,” the Prince calmly replied, his eyes of ice.

Mylia, caught between their argument, found it astonishing that two men could go from gentle terms to a fury within minutes.  Surely, these humans were unpredictable and dangerous beyond anything she could imagine.

The door swept open and Edith entered.  One look at her quarreling sons and she turned and quickly closed the door behind her.

“Gerard, Asher, what is going on?!”

Mylia watched the family swap meaningful glances.

Edith swept her hands upon her hips and glared.  “Well?  Speak up.  Gerard?”

Gerard glowered at Asher, his fury turning his face red.  “Asher has been playing with life and death.  I asked you to let me go with him to the borders.  I would never have allowed him to murder those men.”

Edith laughed and swept past him to a chair.  “Is that all?  Gerard, everyone knows the laws of this land.”

“Just because something is legal does not mean it’s right!”  He exclaimed.

Edith’s eyebrows curved upward.

“I offer apologies, my Lady Mother,” Gerard muttered and formally bowed to her.

She regally dipped her head in acknowledgement and then sighed.  “My dear son, our people expect punishment when they disobey.  Take that away from them, practice mercy, and they will turn on you as the timid oppressor.  Then you and Asher will feel the end of the sword and your mother beg for scraps on the street.”

Asher turned from the window.  “Enough of this argument,” he said.  “We have other details to discuss.”

Gerard made as though to continue but thought better of it and sat down.

Edith followed suit, sweeping her purple robes around her with aplomb.  “Asher, what is it?”

Asher motioned to Mylia who sat silent with her eyes downcast.  “I will spend several more lessons with her before we leave.  Gerard will stay with you and guard the castle until my return next year.  Will you be safe?”

Mylia listened to the tone of his voice and suddenly realized what terrible fear he kept suppressed within his cool tone.  She felt sorry for him even as she felt herself drawing closer to Gerard as a beacon of kindness.  For the Prince was too clever and unpredictable.

His younger brother grimaced.  “I know the real reason why you go to the Empire’s Capital and it has nothing to do with making our fortune or even this wyrm.”

The Prince looked at him with care.  “You’re wrong,” he said.  “Mylia has everything to do with it.”

“I saw you go into the Wylds that night.  The prophecy will only bring you bad luck, brother!”

Edith’s quick eyes darted between them.  “What prophecy?  Asher?”

“Mother, when we captured this wyrm, the Prince entered the Dyn and found a prophecy that says he’ll be Emperor one day.  He recorded it in that scroll.”

Edith’s face turned to stone.  “Gerard,” she hissed.  “Some things should never be said aloud.  You never know who listens.”

Gerard shrugged.  “Sorry.”

The Prince shook his head.  “Mother, you knew this was to happen.  The Dyn has revealed that it is my fate to take over the world and become the next Emperor.”

“But why mix her up in it?” Gerard gestured to Mylia.  “She’s just a wyrm from the Wylds.  How can she be expected to behave as you will have her?”

The Prince shrugged.  “Because I’m better at persuasion than you,” he said.  “And, I never let anyone forget their place.”

Edith clapped her hands.  “Enough, enough.  There are too many people who will happily end your friendship.  No need to assist them in the task.  Gerard, go now.  Asher, I will have a word with you.”

“Gerard, will you still do as I ask?”  Asher’s cold voice cut into the air.

His hand upon the door handle, Gerard turned.  “Never, not for all the arguments in the world, could I betray my word or harm a family member.  I’m hurt you would even ask.”

Before Asher could reply, Gerard had stormed out and slammed the door.

Mylia looked from Edith to Asher in dismay.  Whatever was going on did not bode well for her.

Edith looked at Mylia.  “Asher, you are worse than Gerard.  Some things must never be said.  And that wyrm to witness—we do not know yet know her level of awareness.”

Asher nodded.  “She needs to hear my plans.  Mylia likes and survives on strategy.”

Edith raised an eyebrow.  “You mean to say in a few hours you’ve made more progression than I have in weeks?”

He sighed.  “Mother, humans, as you and I well know, love patterns.  The  framework of our reality is established upon the connections we put on events, objects and people.  Mylia and, I suspect other wyrms as well, holds an advanced form of such logic within their DNA.  Us humans…we have to think hard to strategize and only some of us are any good at it.  We use feelings…emotions…empathy for our fellow human to excuse our regrettable lack of foresight.  But for wyrms, strategy is second nature.”

Edith studies Mylia with hard eyes.  “All the more reason to be aware of her, my son.  You don’t know what she will do when in a new environment such as the Capital.  And, you have to take a train to the Capital.  You can’t risk putting Mylia into the Dyn, even for a moment.  You know what can happen to wyrms there.”

“If we travel by train, then so be it.  The villagers already speak of the she-devil in the castle.  You’ve protected her well, but not everyone is as well inclined as we have been.  Even my loyal men tell me of bad omens they have seen since the wyrm’s arrival.  No, if we are to be successful, Mylia is fortune’s key.  Without the benefit of her voice, we could spend a century doing what I will accomplish in a handful of years.”

Edith stared at Mylia.  “You are certain of this plan to rule the world,” she slowly replied.  “If it doesn’t work, we will all die for treason.”

“But if it does, you can only guess the outcome.”

“You never told me your plan and I am your mother,” Edith said a little too sharply.  “I know what prophecy you obtained and I say it’s nothing but a fairytale.”

“Exactly.  And you will tell them such if you are questioned.  But millions of people do believe in such things and it is over them I dare to rule.”  He stood up.  “Now I have things to attend to—”

Edith blocked his path to the door.  “Answer me this.  Will you pursue ambition in the Capital or bring us some money so we can survive the winter?”

“Mother, how can you think so poorly of me?”

“I had to deal with your father for years and his ambition cost his head.”

“But I am not like my father.”  The Prince curtly bowed and left the room, closing the door behind him with a soft click.

Edith angrily spun on her heels, grabbed a painted vase on a table, and hurled it across the room to smash the wall.  A thousand ceramic fragments shattered like an exploded snowball across the room.

Mylia watched the older woman gaze ahead with stone eyes even as her chest heaved angrily.  Finally, she seemed to have spent her anger for she grew calm and took a deep breath.  Turning, she saw Mylia staring at her, eyes huge with curiosity and fear.

Edith grimaced and straightened her dress.  When she spoke, her tone was clipped and highly formal.  “Wyrm, if you are as gifted as my son thinks, then intuition tells me that you will become a special player in the highest level of politics.  But, if you don’t learn to be like us…if you don’t learn to be human…then you will eventually die, along with whatever dreams you hold dear.”

Mylia did not need to know the words to understand the threat.  She felt like a snarl was in order but Edith’s voice held strangely triumphant undercurrents of pain and she kept her silence.

And Edith rang the bell to summon the Servant to take Mylia back to her room.

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Shortly thereafter, Mylia and the Servant walked through the castle halls as flaming sconces burned shadows onto the walls and windows seared under the red evening light.

She had much to think about and longed for the silent emptiness of her bed to curl under the blankets, close her eyes, and dream her confused mind back to orderliness and into the light of a new day.

Such a hope was not to be for something happened that Mylia did not expect.  The Servant led her left of the hall, through a door she had never entered and down a curiously narrow flight of stairs.

Mylia drew back, unnerved.  Something was wrong.  Very wrong.

He retaliated by shoving her along, his grasp a stranglehold upon her arm, towards a door at the hallway’s end.

She struggled, but he was far stronger.  She was not yet human enough to know screaming could summon aid and this ignorance nearly cost Mylia her life.

For the door opened and another voice spoke from the shadows of this strange room.  One she knew well and loathed.  It was Titus.

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To be continued in Chapter 12, released on November 18!

Chapter 10: What Great Machines Shift the Sky Around Its Fiery Orb

Mylia, a singing wyrm-human monster, is rescued from the bleak Wylds by a poor, ambitious Prince and surgically fashioned into a popstar to help him overthrow an ancient Empire. Under her new identity, she must navigate scandal, fame, deadly court intrigue, and even love in a rags-to-riches tale for the ages. (A new chapter every two weeks!)

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Gerard drunkenly staggered into the room.  Mylia immediately stepped back, tripped on the rug and tumbled into a heap of robes.  She scrambled up and found her tail over her face like a silvery feather duster.  She coughed at the fur caught in her lips and lowed the fluffed tail from her face, coyly blinking at the swaying man.

He gaped at the ridiculous spectacle she made of herself, and so she sat up and dropped her tail in dismay.  What on earth was she doing flirting with a human?  Perhaps she was learning to beg for her food.  Like some animal.  She glared at him in full wrath and showed an array of small, pincer teeth.  Teeth that later would be filed down and squared to resemble human dentures.

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Mylia knew the danger she faced, alone in the room with a human.  Like all of his species, he was dangerous and unpredictable.  She stood tall and gathered the robes around her with a single clasp of her gloved fingers.  She had watched Edith and knew how a woman’s elegance could frighten people.  And she wanted to frighten Gerard because she had no idea of what else to do.  There was no blueprint of behavior for a wyrm living with humans.  One usually killed the other upon meeting and due to such behavior, social niceties had never had enough time to develop between their species.

Gerard turned and tottered out the room.  She wondered at his departure—had she been so frightening?—but he returned, hauling in a trolley.  The trolley was piled with bowls, silverware and lidded plates from which seeped fragrant tendrils of steam.

Mylia’s arms fell limp and all thoughts of terrifying Gerard vanished for on the tray was a feast.

Stacked was orange-spiced pork, bacon rib bubbling under a slop of butter, and a turret of golden scones cracked with sugar even as their cores dripped hot cheese.  A dessert bowl held currant pudding that smelled of vanilla spice and caramel.  And the wine!  Purple wine that tasted of grapes so crisp, the liquid tanged her mouth like a bundle of shaved ice.

Mylia sat down on the bed, pulled the tray towards her and ate and ate and ate.   He joined her on the covers.  “I miss the castle beds,” he bounced lightly on the mattress, “Ever since I came of age, I have to live in the barracks with my father.  Their bunks are like stone…lumpy stone, if that’s even possible.”

Mylia only topped off the wine and reached for a bowl of water scented like the dew of flowers.

Gerard stopped her hand.  “You use rosewater for freshening up after eating,” he said, motioning to his hands and face.

She scowled and downed the liquid in a gulp.  It was hideously bitter and she gagged.

Gerard laughed at her disgust.  “Some things you drink, others you put on your skin.  Next time, listen to me.”

Mylia studied him, staring intently into his blue eyes.  Why this sudden kindness, she thought.  He had always been nice to her, but never this nice.  She frowned, uncertain of how to respond.

He piled the empty dishes upon the trolley, but not before scoffing the last currant rolling across the vanquished plates.  “I meant to say this earlier but I forgot. I came here because you spoke to me.”

Mylia stared at him.  The wine was doing funny things to her eyesight, she was certain humans reacted a lot stronger to fermented berries.  Either way, Gerard seemed to be somewhat more sober, she reasoned.  He smiled.  He had a nice smile with small, square teeth…useless for hunting in the Wylds, she thought with mild dismay and then immediately regretted such unkind thoughts.  Not everyone was born a predator.

“It was odd.  I didn’t ‘hear’ you as if you were speaking to me.  I just understood your thoughts.  Your voice was inside my head and you were hungry so I raided the kitchens and here I am.”  He ruefully grinned and hiccupped.  “If my father Titus…or anyone…knew I just said that, I’d be tossed into a cell and accused of sorcery.”

She looked questioningly at him and recognized the name of Titus, the cruel old man who had starved and hit her when she was first captured in the Wylds.  She had felt the odd connection between Titus and Gerard ever since her first day of captivity.  So, they were father and son.  And yet where Gerard was kind, Titus was mean and cruel.  It was odd, she reasoned, that members of the same bloodline could exhibit such different personalities.  She had yet to understand the huge variability of heritage’s influence on a person’s behavior.  Later in the Academy, she learned such actions were explained by free will, determinism, and other delightful mental contradictions that exhausted the thoughts of the learned and elite.

Gerard gathered the dinner items and packed them onto the tray as Mylia watched.  Then he walked to the door and opened it.  He turned and looked at the small wyrm woman crouched on the bed in a bundle of robes and golden eyes.

“So anyway, have a Merry Yuletide,” he said and closed the door.

Mylia collapsed upon her bed stuffed and dizzy from the food.  What a dinner it had been.  She listened as Gerard’s footsteps died upon the passageway until the great silence of dead stonework erected high upon the speaking earth engulfed her.

But as she drifted into sleep, something odd happened.

Someone with light and hesitant steps walked up to her door and stopped outside.  For a moment, she wondered if Gerard had returned but she sniffed the air and immediately picked up the panther scent of Lolli.  For a while, Mylia listened to the other woman narrowly breathe on the other side of the door, her own lungs slowing to a state of cautious readiness for the eventual confrontation.

Lolli stood for a while, as though summoning the desire—or courage—to enter.  She walked away at long last, but not before Mylia’s heart had begun to thump with the same, cold fear that she had felt during her first days of captivity.

Mylia did not fall asleep for the rest of the night.

** ** **

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“A mortal looks at the sun and wonders what great machines shift the sky around its fiery orb, pushing it upwards with the new morning and sinking it like a stone before night encloses.  Another gazes upon the sun and thinks “It is a fine day!”  But the same sun shines on both people, whether or not they are aware of it.”

Prince Asher finished speaking and looked at Mylia with encouragement in his face.  “Tell me, do you think reality changes upon your perception of it?  Or, does the world spin along all the same, despite our brief involvement in its affairs.”

Mylia blinked and stared.  His voice was melodious and his mannerisms, encouraging.  But his words?  Incomprehensible.

The Prince sighed and turned to Edith who sipped tea and studied Mylia with squinted eyes.

“I see you’ve made no progress,” he said.

“You asked her a complicated philosophical question,” Edith snapped back in high wrath.  “I’m trying to get her to say the o’clock of the day and name colors.”

“If she cannot reach our level of understanding, there’s no use in our working together,” he angrily exclaimed.  “I have no patience for ineptitude.”

Mylia softly snarled.  There was no mistaking his tone of voice now.

The Prince indicated to her, “Listen.  Even when she is angry, her voice is beautiful.  She will become a singing wonder of the Empire.  You must try harder.”

Edith slammed her tea cup onto the table and compressed her lips for a long moment.  Then, she let out a large sigh.  “My dear son, you must remember the situation.  Just weeks ago, this creature had never seen a human.   How do you expect her to expound on the universe when she has yet to understand the most basic of words?”

“The best singers, mother, are always the greatest philosophers.  Only then can they touch the inner desires of the audience, whether they be commoners, royals, or the Emperor himself.”

Edith shrugged.  “I don’t know what you would have me do.  We’ve tried for days on end.  The creature has had time to adjust to her new settings but refuses to interact with me.”

Asher sat back in the chair and studied Mylia with an intense scrutiny that she matched, stare for stare.  He spoke to his mother, keeping his eyes fixed upon Mylia.

“Mother, when I caught the two horse poachers on the eves of our land, I hung them from the nearest tree.  I stood before them and watched as life fell from their eyes.  They seemed to die for an eternity.”

“Is that your greatest fear, my son?”  Her voice softened.

“You mean, do I fear death?”

Edith gazed at her son with great compassion.

He shivered.  “I fear mind loops.  They are like a train you can’t remember boarding with a journey you may yet accept.”

She sighed and reached for her tea.  “The Empire has many trains and all their tracks lead to the Capital.”

Asher made an impatient gesture as though tired already of the conversation.   “The point I wish to make is that when someone dies, their eyes hold a final spark…as though their soul has flung itself against the prison of the body in one last attempt for survival.  That spark reminds me of the fire that now burns within her golden orbs.”

“If she is so desperate to live, perhaps we did wrong in bringing her to stay with us.”

Mylia’s eyes flitted between Edith and Asher.  Something about her was being discussed but their tones shifted so quickly, she could not determine whether she was in danger of their decision.  She stared upon Asher and wished very much that she could reach his mind and ask questions.  For, she had so many.  Why she was here and where her future lay.  If he would ever take her back to the Wylds or even set her free.  She was in the mood to grant this human family lenience after the kindness shown by Asher’s step brother, Gerard, the night before.

“I couldn’t leave her in the forest with broken legs.”  Asher’s voice calmed as he studied Mylia, matching the burnished intensity of her gaze.  “You should have seen the state she was in.  She would never have lasted a day.”

“It’s surprising you care so much for what is only a tool to procure our family wealth.”  Edith sharply stated.

“Not really.  She must pay me back for saving her life with her service.”

Edith looked from the Prince to Mylia and back again.  A slow, steady, comprehending smile spread over her face.

“Asher, my dear, why don’t you try instructing the creature.  Perhaps you may reach a breakthrough where I cannot.”

Asher met Edith’s eyes and his face shifted with calculation.  “I understand that as a challenge, mother, and I accept.”

And so, Edith swept from the room, the door closed, and the Prince and Mylia were alone.

Mylia then realized that Asher would replace Edith’s tutelage for the day.  It was not the result she wanted but perhaps, alone with Asher, his emotions unpolluted by other humans, she would be able to discern something more of his intentions for her.  So, she waited for his to speak, expecting the same, boring litany of long vowel sounds and sentence fragments Edith had thrown into her ears.  Instead, the silence of the room was overwhelming.

The Prince studied her face with a frown of what she thought to be great resilience.  At first, she matched his gaze, her eyes bright with an intensity that made the sun pale by comparison.  But her heart was not in the staring contest and she grew bored.

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Mylia broke her eyes away to check the clock.  Every lesson was based around the short needle moving from the ‘9’ to the ‘5’ with a break at ‘1’ so Edith could eat lunch.  Now, the hand still hovered above ‘10’ and today’s lesson already dragged.  Since the Prince only cared to study her face, Mylia let her gaze wander.

The fireplace embers dimmed to purple.  Soon the Servant would enter to poke them back to life.  She glanced to the door and then the window, noting the chill creeping through the glass.  Perhaps she would stay warm today by shivering her emotions into submission.  Perhaps, she could even forget how hungry she was.

She would consider the doorway behind her where a swift flight down the steps and out the door took her into the freedom of sunshine and snow.  But the castle grounds and outlying buildings still lay to be navigated to the great beyond—the world outside.  True freedom in the Wylds was so very far away.  If only there was a way to be picked up from this room, lifted across the world like a bird on a supersonic wind, and deposited upon the forests of her home to dwell in peace forever.  Such travel would be more valuable than anything else in this world.

Or, maybe the Prince could be overpowered?  She looked at his sinewy form, noting the sharp darkness of his gaze.  No, this was one human she would prefer not to fight.

She looked down to her clawed hands, resting sedately, one on top of the other, the nail beds turned pearl in the daylight.  Just when her mind was falling asleep from boredom, the Prince spoke.

“What is your name?”

Mylia stared at him.  It was a question, judging from the slight, upwards lilt in the last word, ‘name’.

“What is your name?”  He repeated and then pointed to himself.  “Asher.  My. Name. Is. Asher.”

Mylia lowered her head, dismayed.  She understood his gesture and yet she did not know how to say “Mylia” in the human tongue.  But then, no one had ever asked her for her name.  Not even Gerard, although he treated her as a friend.   She was “creature”, “monster”, “wyrm” and a series of oaths from the humans who feared her.

Asher repeated the question, slower and with an ordered emphasis upon each word.

They stared at each other and Mylia thought for the longest moment that nothing else existed on earth but the question.

The question which hovered like a series of small, silver bells in a wynter-brushed forest in which footsteps crunched the stillness of pressed snow and icicles froze like glass ornaments from tall evergreens.

He wanted to know her name.

But how to speak her name as the humans did?  They opened their mouths and used the contraption of their vocals to elicit a reaction.  She did not think of words, only emotions consolidated in song.  If she remained silent, perhaps his pleasantry would vanish and she be refused further lessons.  Worse, he would no longer visit and she lose her best ally in this castle.

She reached out her arm, palm upward, fingers outspread, in supplication.  Carefully and slowly, she sang to him.  Her every note was delicate and beautiful as almond-scented breeze wafting through a rose garden.  She sang of her frustration and sorrow, her desire to impress him with her knowledge, and the hatred of the chains which now bound her so well that memories of swift flight through dark trees had faded to the deep recesses of sleep.

When she finished, the Prince remained for a long moment as though turned to stone.

Finally, he spoke.  “I still have yet to learn your name.”

Mylia looked upon him in great awareness.  Prince Asher was a hard man.  He could appreciate her singing even as he ordered her punished for disobedience.

With the greatest effort she had ever known, she pictured the sound of her name upon her lips and stated, carefully and slowly, like a needle puncturing taut fabric—

“Myyyyyyliaaaaaaa.”

She paused and saw recognition dawn upon his face.

“Myliaaaa,” she said again, faster and with more competence.

It was the first time she had ever seen him spontaneously smile and it made her heart glad.

And she repeated the sound from her lips, the sound of her name.  “Mylia.”

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To be continued in Chapter 11, released on November 4!

 

Chapter 9: Curled Under A Shell of Ice

Mylia, a singing wyrm-human monster, is rescued from the bleak Wylds by a poor, ambitious Prince and surgically fashioned into a popstar to help him overthrow an ancient Empire. Under her new identity, she must navigate scandal, fame, deadly court intrigue, and even love in a rags-to-riches tale for the ages. (A new chapter every two weeks!)

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The next day, it began all over again, and the day after that for several weeks without break.  Every afternoon, Mylia sat before Edith and watched her make sounds and point to scribbles within her books.  And she blinked her golden eyes and stayed mute until Edith ordered her removed until the morrow.

Beyond the lessons with Edith, Mylia remained locked in her bedroom.  She slept when night fell and ate upon the arrival of food.  All free hours were spent by her window.  There, she would lean her cheek against the cold panes and dream of the Wylds as her fingers curled upon the glass.  The circling squeak of her nails recalled the echoed crack of black ice on the lakes and rivers of her homeland.  Oh, the memories!  How she could breathe a song into a hunk of shivered log and hear the melody thrum away through the icicle trees, over hill and mile, until a bird hearkened to the bait and flapped down to rest upon her hungry claws.

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Mylia remembered how beautiful it was to sing and how lovely her voice.  A thousand silver bells or the fizzle-zish of a falling star as it dissolved in fire and smoke upon the snowy treetops could not match her crystal notes.  Yet, here in this castle, numbed by loneliness and stone walls, she found the desire for song grow less until most sounds she made were reactions—tripping in her bonds or waking in the shivered morning.  It was not her fault, she reasoned.  Why should she sing for despising ears?  And yet no comfort arose from the answering silence.

The humans were not the only concern of hers.  The castle itself was changing.  As the days blended into weeks, Mylia noticed the arrival of fir and holly wreaths in the hallways.  The sharp, sweet smell of the evergreen punctured the air and made her sneeze.  Once, she found a holly berry that had rolled into her room and tasted it.  Awful—she spat out the red mush with a terrible wyrm oath.

This holiday, she learned, was known as Yuletide.  Soon, large firs rose in the main rooms and foyers of the castle, ribbons and strings of popcorn looping their frilled boughs.  The candelabras were lit and mistletoe hammered to door frames.  Lady Edith switched her tea for a cup of sugar, raw eggs and cream which she called ‘eggnog’—spiked with a pungent liquor from a cabinet.

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Mylia knew from years of watching the villagers along the Wylds edge, that humans possessed a strange affinity for celebrations.  She supposed they had repeat rituals to help remember their placement in the world.  The important moments of the wyrms needed no celebration.  Their massacre by the humans existed forever in the memory of every young wyrm, screaming across their sleeping eyes before they realized they could dream.  As for wyrm holidays, they did not exist.  No day was more special than another; only survival to nightfall and then until the rising sun.  Yes, only these creatures from the Third Breaking, these humans of delicate temper and rapid speech, dared plot the future with such contemptuous regularity.

She noticed Edith grew increasingly worried as the days piled on.  During their lesson, sometimes the woman fell silent and gazed upon the storm-rattled windows, fingers plucking her neck skin.  Mylia supposed she worried for her sons, Prince Asher and Gerard.  Asher had not returned since venturing forth to deal with the cattle poachers weeks ago.  Gerard was strangely absent although Mylia picked up his scent around the castle.  She knew Asher’s execution of those men had something to do with Gerard’s avoidance of everyone but she was young and could not yet piece together the entirety of human motivations.

Edith was speaking and Mylia shook herself from the reverie.

Edith opened her jaw wide, and said, “Water.”  She repeated the word again, stretching out the vowels, smiling encouragingly at Mylia’s bored face.  “Waaaaateeeeeeeer.”  She sloshed her glass so that the clear liquid swirled and gulped unto itself.  “Water!”

Mylia felt annoyed.  All the splashing made her thirsty.  Of course she knew what water was.  Edith treated her like an idiot.  There was no need to invoke its name, she thought with a terrible frown at the glass. Water answered to no one. It gushed, froze and dripped forever in mutiny to air and ground. Really, such a force was best left alone.  Only magic makers were foolish enough to call upon the elements.  She later discovered, when researching career options in the Imperial Academy several years later, that magical careers were directly correlated to high early mortality rates.

Edith drank the glass of water and studied Mylia for a long minute.

“Wyrm,” she said at last, “If ever there was a time for you to rise above the savagery of your species, it is now.  We alone have the power to spare your life or condemn it.  All I ask is a little sign.  Anything to show intelligence may lurk in you.”

Mylia had no idea Edith said, but she understood the emotions throbbing the woman’s voice and knew her teacher’s patience stretched like hot butter upon bread.  Soon, punishment would follow.

“Today is Yuletide Eve.  Soon it will be Spring.  And still, you are silent as one of our beasts.  In several weeks, you will attend functions in silks and pearls to charm the elite of this realm with your voice and…the gods save us from such foolishness!”  Edith shook her head and fell silent.

Mylia blinked.  Asher.  He saved her life and treated her with medicine, protected her against the insults of the stupid and cruel people on the road, and gave her a tutor to help introduce her to humans.  Wyrms did not believe in loyalty, but she supposed that he was owed something by way of thanks.

Perhaps, she could try to speak for Edith.  A thought occurred that it would please Asher when she next saw him.  Mylia found herself wondering when, exactly, he would return.  He was a curious man, she thought.  Here today and then gone for long periods of time.  She remembered his strange appearance and his vanishing on the bridge.  She did not recall how he strode into the Wylds the night after her capture, but when she learned this story sometime later, his aptitude for vanishing finally made sense.  There was a lot in this world of humans that she had yet to understand.  At this moment, she found the uncertainty of his return provoked a desire to see him again, if only to discover why he always—eventually—returned to her.

Mylia bit her tongue to wake from these strange thoughts.  What nonsense had just pervaded her mind?  Thinking kindly of Prince Asher for tearing her away from her beloved Wylds was the last thing she would ever do.  His hunting trap broke her legs and now she was his prisoner.  She would never learn the human language.

Her lips clamped shut and she remained still upon her seat.

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A metal box trilled upon the desk, a phone, as Mylia learned.  Edith grabbed the handle and pressed her ear to the shell-like opening.  “Gerard, dear, your interruption is not desired.  Why have you called?”  She listened and her face staggered into joy.  “Asher?!  Oh, he’s returned?  I will be down at once,” her eyes darted to Mylia, “And, Gerard?  Order the servant to take the wyrm back to her chamber now.”

** ** **

Back in her bedroom, Mylia hobbled to the window and again considered her escape under light from two rising moons.  Everything had been a mistake, from her capture to this idiocy of learning the human tongue.  She was a feral little monster of long limbs and pallid flesh who swung from snowy evergreens and twittered with the birds before eating them.  She did not sleep in a bed nor speak like the humans.

No.

She stared upon a vast and desolate plain, plunging from her tower window and running away to mountains blackened by the crawl of night.  Around the castle, the farms of Prince Asher stretched for miles, streaked by fences piled with snow and broken in sections from neglect and overgrown trees.  Mylia knew from the frozen chill in the air, another storm gathered fury for that night.

Leaning over the windowsill, she looked down.  The ground was two stories below her room, impossible to jump and survive.  Craning her head against the window, she studied the walls on either side for ivy, drain pipes or any other foothold.  But, the rock was sheer and wet with slime and rain.  Perhaps, she would jump after all.  Surely, the snow piled against the wall could lessen her fall.  She considered it a unlucky chance the moat did not extend around this section of the castle.

Years later, she learned the Emperor had demanded every castle of the Nine Royal Families have their walls leveled and moats filled.  After all, such warring architecture was unneeded now that peace had been proclaimed by radio and paper across the lands.  Upon receiving the decree, a then teenage Prince Asher merely piled dirt into the moat on the most protected side of his castle.  Otherwise, he let the Emperor’s orders be damned.  As his castle was geographically distant from the Capital, and his family, minor in House and poor, no one from the (consolidated) Imperial Justice and Public Affairs Department had cared enough to pursue the matter further.  Of course, this changed when his prestige ticked upward at the Capital and there arose a need to search his past for dark and shameful secrets to buy his political cooperation…but this was all far away in the future for Mylia.

At this moment, she knew of one thing.  She did not belong in this dim, old castle of humans and locked doors.  The jump must be attempted.  After all, greatness only happened to those brave enough to define it.

Her fist was moments away from plunging through the glass panes when she heard something that had not echoed through the walls of her chamber for many a night.

Singing!

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The castle had come alive with glorious song notes so pure that tears welled in her eyes.  She flung an earlobe against the floor and listened with her body and soul.  Dimly, trickling through the wood beams and plaster smacking the stones, she picked out the main thread of direction and purpose.  Yes, that was it.  The entire castle must be gathered within the great hall.  They were at dinner—a feast.  They sang carols around the table and she heard their melodies define each voice from the young child to an old guard she remembered had welcomed the hunters into the castle all those weeks ago.  She listened for the Prince’s voice and there it was, a quieter lilt among the others.

Mylia listened in surprise.  Asher was trained in singing.   It made sense, she thought, given his education and the beauty of his mother’s ovular voice.  Another voice rose above the chorus and Mylia recognized Lolli, the servant girl.  Lolli sung with an abrasiveness that reminded Mylia of death.  It was later that she learned it was the Prince who no longer met Lolli in black of night gardens, amid statues crowned with dried snow.

The music died and a great silence fell upon her ears.  She supposed they now feasted and her attention returned to her room and the needs of the present.

The fire had burned down to fat embers that coolly hissed in the smoked hearth.  Mylia slumped upon the floor in a total funk.  No one had brought her food that night and she was colder with every passing minute.

A strange, ugly thought broke upon her awareness.

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How many nights had she calmly rocked herself to sleep in a tree amid the wynter storms, waking to find herself curled under a shell of ice?  And now, all she wanted was to be warmed and fed at regular intervals like some pet.  Even her attempt to escape died with the embers in the hearth.  She had grown soft and so quickly!

A movement outside her bedroom snapped her alert.

Someone outside was opening her door—she heard his step and heavy breath as she spun around.

Gerard entered and he was drunk.

…to be continued in Chapter 10, posted October 21.

Update ~ 09.29.18

Hi Everyone!

M. Evalyne here.  So, I have an announcement to make, or, at the very least, an update to announce.  Mylia is going to change from a chapter posted every Sunday to bi-weekly posts.  Thus, you will receive a new chapter every two weeks.

I am sorry to delay the story for y’all but the reality is this.  My work and an upcoming finance exam are eating my lunch more than feeding me these days (figuratively speaking, of course).  Result?  Mylia’s story either suffers in quality or quantity.  I chose the later so as to not burn your eyes with mispellings, grammatical of errors, or other such nonsense that pervades hastily written, poorly edited material!

Anyway, I hope you continue to enjoy Mylia’s saga.  Stay tuned for the next chapter to be posted 10/07/18!

As always, any questions, thoughts or otherwise, please get in touch via my contact page.

Love and Hugs,

M. Evalyne

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Chapter 8: The Fluttered Ramblings That Possess Human Throats

Mylia, a singing wyrm-human monster, is rescued from the bleak Wylds by a poor, ambitious Prince and surgically fashioned into a popstar to help him overthrow an ancient Empire. Under her new identity, she must navigate scandal, fame, deadly court intrigue, and even love in a rags-to-riches tale for the ages. (A new chapter every seven days!)

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The Servant guided Mylia into the room, bowed to the seated people therein, and left, closing the door with a subtle click.  It was a sitting area or study of sorts, with low ceilings and a muttery fireplace of red embers and coal.  Seated in front of diamond pane windows now blustered by snow, were Prince Asher and an older woman she did not know.

She defiantly glared upon them through her veil, determined to show that she, Mylia, was not afraid.

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The woman, Lady Edith, cradled an herbal teacup with fingers dripping in clouded emeralds.  Years later, when Mylia built a formidable jewelry collection of the sheerest diamonds, pearls, sapphires and other rubescent stones set in three types of gold known to humankind, she learned that Edith’s emeralds were cheaper than a sack of wheat.  In this moment, however, her eyes lingered upon the rings for they glimmered like spring weeds in mist and greatly calmed her.

Their owner lent an entirely different reaction.  Edith appeared in her sixtieth wynter and her eyes, so alike to Asher’s black irises, were rimmed in kohl and wrinkles and pierced Mylia with educated precision.

Edith placed her tea down with a decisive clunk and rose from her seat.  “So, this is the wyrm.  Let’s have a look at her.”

She placed her hand upon Mylia’s head and lifted the veil.  For a moment, and it was only the briefest second, Mylia saw a flash of surprise and jealousy within the woman’s eyes.  And then, Edith’s face reformed into a smile.

“My son,” she turned to Asher with a thrilling laugh, “When you mentioned the wyrm you had found, I imagined a monster.  This creature is beautiful.  Look at her limbs and face so like us humans…but her eyes are larger and a wonderful habiis gold color and her mouth, somewhat smaller than ours.  You mentioned her wings and tail and all I can imagine is that…somehow—and extraordinary to think!—there was a mingling of the earth that crafted our Third Breaking humans and Fourth Breaking wyrms.” Edith’s nails traced across the healing skin on Mylia’s face.  “And yet, what happened here?”

Quickly and with few words, the Prince recounted the attack and Mylia saw the old woman’s lips tighten with anger.

“Ignorant peasants,” she breathed.

“Half of them are convicts from the Empire’s cities serving out their sentence in the outlying farms,” he replied.  “They worship and fear the wyrm, planting shrines up and down the forest edges of the Wylds.  To see their monster as human is too much a stretch for their imagination.”

“And what do you consider her to be?”

“I really have no thoughts in the matter,” Asher leaned back and crossed his legs in thoughtful determination, looking much like the lord of the castle.  “Either way, I found what I looked for in the Wylds.”

“You mean this wyrm woman?”

“Wyrm woman?  Isn’t that verging on the dramatic?”

“No, indeed, I say she is more woman than wyrm.”

“Well, I assure you that her finding was purely based on luck,” he said.  “No, I went to the Wylds to find my destiny.  It is exactly as I imagined it to be all those years ago.”

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John Miklasz

As he spoke, Mylia watched his face with fear and caution.  Deep in her slow beating wyrm heart, she knew he could have her immediately killed.  Executed like the three bodies that crushed the snow from the bullets addressed to their skulls—and at his orders, no less.  Her bonds made her helpless against this possibility.  She remembered the gentle touch of his hand against her bruised forehead after the attack.  No, he may be a strange and even cruel prince, but she was an anomaly and there was both safety and an entirely different peril in this fact that turned him to save her when others cracked their lives for lesser wrongs.  And then a thought occurred.  She had no idea why he ordered those three men killed last night.  She very much wanted to know, but Edith was speaking.

Edith sank again into her chair in a melancholy stiffened by sore bones.  “You were not born into the luxury of deciding your future.  You are the lord of our castle and must deal with the duties thereof.”

“Mother—”

“Listen to me.  We eat into our stores.  If we run out of food this wynter, we must sell the farms and be land-less.  Only the gods know what will become of those under our care.  Already treason has shown in fits and starts.  Royals lose their people’s respect when bellies empty.”

He paused for a long moment and then spoke, this time with a quiet determination. “I plan to take the creature with me to the Capital when the spring rains come.   There, I will show her amid the parties and entertainment venues.  She will quickly find work as a singer and her voice will restore wealth to our family.”

“You will parade the wyrm around like some circus show?”

“No.  Her identity will be concealed.  Do you have such little faith in me?”

“I fear you will disgrace the family name.”

Mylia watched their exchange with fascination.  Their emotional currents conveyed what their words lacked.  They were desperate for good fortune and hoped to use her.  But how and why, she could not yet guess.  What concerned her even more was the sharp pains traveling through her legs.  All that walking was not suitable and she was certain there would be swelling and fresh blood on the bandages.

Asher’s black eyes sparked with fury.  “I will do whatever I must to keep this castle running.  If I become a businessman to reach my goal, then so be it.  Is staying here, fending day to day in fear and poverty so preferred an existence?  Why should our family suffer in such ill-founded pride?”

“I know the ambition that drives you,” Edith sounded worried.

Asher grimaced.  “How many times must I reassure you.  I will return home.”

“Yes, but I don’t think Gerard will come back.”  Edith’s voice hardened.  “He wants to go with you.”

“He’s dreamy…useless.  I spend hours disciplining him and receive arguments and disobedience in return.  What good can he possibly do anyone in the Capital?”

“He is nearly eighteen and wishes to impress the world,” she replied, “You’re his older brother and inspiring.  Don’t you see?  Your ambition shall rid me of all my children and I’ve already lost your father.”

“You still have Titus,” Asher remarked in the coolest of tones.

“He may be my lover but he is not royal like us,” she said.  “And I increasingly dislike his influence upon Gerard.  For that reason alone, I wish Gerard to have you around.  Will you not reconsider?”

Asher stood up and his words stung the quiet air.  “I will not live here, Mother, not for duty or family or pride, and you cannot make me stay.”

For a long moment, mother and son glared at each other.  Edith was the first to turn away, back to Mylia, her eyes bright with unshed tears.  “Let me hear this remarkable voice then,” she said.  “Come, now, sing for me.”

Mylia remained silent.  Though she did not follow their words, the emotions streaming between Asher and Edith painted a great clarity of vision.  She had followed their exchange, read within their eyes and gestures, the fear and hope that drove each to some extreme.  And she found that all song eluded her for she had no idea of what to say.

“She does not understand you,” the Prince said.

Edith glanced over Mylia, curiosity overtaking her earlier rage.  “But, how to reach her?  Even if her jaw and tongue are like ours, does her mind desire to speak after the manner of our language?  You know that singing like some bird is highly different from speech.”

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Pinterest

Asher’s face moved into a smile but Mylia noticed the conciliatory gesture did not ascend to his eyes.  He rose and went to a bookcase.  “Either way, you must try,” he said and carefully pulled out a long, thin volume and blew away the dust.

“I must?”  Edith’s voice deepened.

“I have not the knowledge of speech that you maintain, or the time needed to devote to her letters.  And I know you capable…after all, it was you who instructed my letters all those years ago.”

So the conversation had reached an apex, Mylia thought, feeling the emotions run like feathery tendrils through the heated air.  Soon, her fate would be decided.  She wished that she knew why these people spoke so seriously amid tea and books as she stood between them.  The petals of snow that beat upon the windows and the atmospheric heaviness that lay upon the room told her a deeper wynter storm approached.

Her legs ached and she did not know how much longer she could stand.  She needed to sit down but the splints on her legs forced her to stand, shoving her legs straight so that crumpling to the floor was impossible.

She looked around and saw a settee behind her.  She bent at the waist and carefully fell onto the low couch.  There, much better!  She breathed a merciful sigh of relief to have the pressure removed from her legs.

And she spoke of this relief in a sudden rush of vocals, curses for her burdened life and love of released pain within.  A smile echoed around Asher’s eyes upon her song rushing forth.  And her wyrm curses for the pain transformed into melodic joy, every note healing to her anger even as they sought to penetrate his mind and read the unknown turmoils therein.

Edith’s eyelids strongly closed and opened in several blinks of great shock.  For such a slow moving, stately woman as she, this gesture was the equivalent of screaming.  And yet, even under the duress of surprise, she quickly composed herself and smiled upon Asher.  “You were not wrong.  Such a voice has never been heard in all the halls of this country.  I will undertake her training, if only to sacrifice my hopes so that such beauty can live.”

Mylia felt the joyous atmosphere blossom from Edith and knew these humans had no intention of letting her go.  At least, she grimly thought with a soft purr in her throat, they would not kill her.  She was valuable to them like Edith’s green jewels or Asher’s monstrous ambition, although she only guessed the second thought a while later when she realized his true purpose in the Capital.

Asher smiled and handed the book to Edith.  “Excellent.  Please commence today.”

His mother accepted the book as he gathered up his cloak and fastened it around his shoulders.  “You will not stay for the lesson?”

“We have cattle thieves on the borders,” he said with some weariness.  “I’m taking several men to hunt them and will return at the week’s end.”

Edith firmly nodded.  “Take care of yourself, Asher.”

She held up her face and Asher quickly kissed her wrinkled, powdered cheek.  Then, he turned and left, quiet as a slipped shadow, through the door.  Mylia gazed upon the closed door, curious that the Prince did not acknowledge her in farewell.  Curious and almost hurt.

Edith turned to her and clasped her hands.  “Shall we begin?”

For a multiple hours, as shadows veered across the floor and a strange instrument called a ‘clock’ ticked in the corner, Mylia sat on the plush settee and watched Edith mouth sounds to her.  The heat and silence made her head throb and the book which lay before her lap stank of mold and puffed must with every turn of the page.  Large, black scribbles covered the papers and she quickly made the association between these wriggled lines of ink and the sounds from Edith’s lips.

Long vowel sounds.

Edith repeated them over and over and over again.  “Aaaaaaaaaaaaa, eeeeeeeeee, iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii, oooooooooooooo, uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu,” and a strange “whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” that reminded Mylia of the “hiiiiii” sounds that hunters used when meeting each other.

Sometimes, Edith stopped and pointed to her, asking for a repeat of her sound.  Mylia only blinked her gold eyes in superior unawareness.  She knew the purpose of the voice lesson and held no desire to learn the fluttered ramblings that possessed human throats.

The storm ended the lesson.  The glass-pane windows shook with the blasts of rage, wind and howling snow.

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Etsy

Edith listened to the raging storm outside.  “There are evils that blow upon these winds.  The weather fouls and before this noventury ends, our world will face a challenger that will either bring its doom or renew the future.”  She tugged an embroidered hanging upon the wall and somewhere deep in the walls, Mylia heard a bell ting.  “It is time for you to retire.  We will continue tomorrow.”

Mylia realized she was dismissed when the Servant arrived.  The snowstorm creaked the castle and filled the halls with racing shadows.  Here and there, people passed, scurrying wordlessly with barely a glance for the two figures in their midst.  She saw Lolli at one point, carrying a bundle of fir branches upon her head, skirts bunched high around her waist and white legs flashing in the gloom.

Back in her room, Mylia was rebound and dressed in night clothes.  She noticed someone had closed the shutters on her window and stoked the fire hot and bright.  A plate of meat slab and bread lay on bedside table and she was ravenous and fell upon the food as the Servant watched in mild distaste.

How heavy her sleep was that night and filled with frantic dreams.

If she had been more watchful, Mylia would have known that two hours past midnight, a great column of blackness filled her bedroom from which two eyes watched her thrash and turn upon the bed until morning.

Chapter 9: September 30
Chapter 10: October 7
Chapter 11: October 14
Chapter 12: October 21
[…]

Chapter 7: Skies Warmed by Sunlight and Fire

Mylia, a singing wyrm-human monster, is rescued from the bleak Wylds by a poor, ambitious Prince and surgically fashioned into a popstar to help him overthrow an ancient Empire. Under her new identity, she must navigate scandal, fame, deadly court intrigue, and even love in a rags-to-riches tale for the ages. (A new chapter every seven days!)

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“You were ordered to put her by a fire,” the Prince exclaimed.  “Where is my brother?  I told Gerard to watch her.”

A mild soap smell drifted past Mylia and, under her veil, she sensed the Servant draw near.

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Video Blocks

“She’s dangerous.  Struggled like a mad fish all the way down.  Tried to bite me, what’s more.”

“How can you be afraid of a tied-up little wyrm?”  The Prince snapped in return.  “Our farm boars are more deadly and you herd them.”

The Servant tried to further protest but the Prince must have looked furious for his voice faded into feeble mutterings.

“Enough.  I’ll speak with you and Gerard later,” Prince Asher declared and lifted the cloth from Mylia’s face.  The gloom outlined his features poorly but she recognized the same concern he had carried from the attack days before.  “At least the medic should be commended for his duty.  Her face has improved under his treatment.”

And then his leather-clad arms lifted her from the cold torture of the paving stones.  She gasped in relief and pain as her body weighed fresh aches into her bones.   “Be still, I’m not going to hurt you,” the Prince warned, his breath hot on her face, but Mylia did not struggle.

The deathly cold of her cell had turned all movements slow and terrible.  She did not know if wyrms could die from severely low temperatures but she felt her heartbeat lurch and thoughts drift into the arena of hallucinations that battled for oxygen to the brain.

A strange, cloying idea entered her mind and latched with great ferocity.  The Prince had saved her from that hellish prison deep within his castle, saved her from the attack those days back, and as such, was now her savior, to continue helping her in future times of need.  And Mylia whimpered and snuggled her head within his steady grip as her golden eyes stared in adoration upon his shadowed face  As her vision began to warm and her thoughts clear, she realized he had changed somehow; but the rooms were dark and her mind too weary to discern the reason.

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Dark Halls

He carried her up several passageways and along a dim corridor lined with dying lamps.  The Servant padded behind, a cloud of unease and muttered glances for anyone who may have seen them.  And then a door was unlocked and she entered warmth—oh, heaven and stars above!—and felt the downy puff of soft fabrics collapse under her body.

She lay on a massive bed piled in furs and blankets in a small room with a fireplace at one end and a shuttered window and closed door which the Servant guarded.  Red and brown carpets were flung across a stone floor and a dirty chandelier spat hot wax from several candles.  Above the fireplace hung a painting of what she later understood was a train; a machine of speed and purpose with tracks snaking away into brushed purple hills.

And she noticed the Prince was indeed altered—filthy and exhausted.  Black mud clumped his boots and smeared the leather of his fitted hunting suit.  His cloak fell heavy with crusted snow, and his leather sleeves were torn, exposing bruised forearms.  Even his face, angry and creased in weariness, lay rimed with dirt and sweat in the low firelight.

He noticed her wonder and broke away his gaze.  Taking her bound hands, he refitted the ropes to be more comfortable and tied the ends to the bedframe.  She whimpered against the constraints in hopes he may change his mind.

“You must be tied,” he said, each word lay punctuated in command.  “This is for your own good.  The Wylds are many leagues away and you would be killed before you reach them.”

“Prince Asher, the wyrm does not understand you,” the Servant sullenly replied.

Mylia did a movement that other men had done in response to the Prince’s commands.  Her head inclined and eyes dropped to the floor in a subtle bow.

The Prince gave a loud clap and she was surprised to see his glad face.

“Did you note that?”  The Prince turned to the Servant who stared at her with shock.  “This wyrm may understand more than we realize.  Remember, the humans were so busy slaughtering the wyrms all those centuries ago that we know little of their genetic makeup or intelligence.”

The Servant looked skeptical but the Prince only turned to check her bonds with firm, quick fingers.

“I want her brought to me in the morning,” he commanded.  “For now, I have a duty to attend to.”

When the men left and the door closed, Mylia immediately prowled the bedroom, turning over the blankets and sniffing the fireplace, eager to explore and understand.  The room was simple and bare of interest.  She had returned to the bed for sleep when she heard it.

A voice.

The first piece of coherent language since all those days of her travel from the dim forests of the Wylds.  It was a thrilling tone, hallowed as a full-throated blackbird lifted upon a green dawn.  The voice spoke to her in no language but its song painted grand vistas of summer and joy…Vast apple trees carved a summer sky still lit by a lingering moon.  How swift the sun rose upon fluttered petals—a field of daisies clustered round a thatched cottage with green eaves.

For the first time since her capture by the nets and hunters all those nights ago, Mylia found a need to sing.  To sing was for what she could not see.  What she no longer felt.

She swiftly crossed to the window and flung aside the shutters.  Beyond, snow blue to the night horizon, stretched the frozen breadth of the Prince’s lands.  But the music lay closer and her eyes fell downward to the source.  Upon a rocky jut in the yard below, a young man sat and held a hollowed stick to his lips.

It was Gerard.  He played the flute that spun the apple tree vision and Mylia rested her hand against frosted pane, tasting with great delight, every note of his song.  Who knew the humans were capable of such language, she thought, and a great desire arose within her mind to reply.

Parting her lips with a slight gasp, she sang forth a return.  Snow began to fall, swift and gentle through the evergreens as her music sparked in silver admiration.  And Gerard, alerted by her song, looked upwards and sighted her.  She saw a quick smile pierce his eyes and the rippling volley of notes swept her soul into the rains and snow that slept the castle far into the wheeling night—

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Earth Moon and Stars

His music stopped.

Gerard leapt up and she followed his gaze—

Three men marched into the yard, another three men behind them.  These following men held long large poles or sticks of wood and metal in their hands.  Asher rounded up the procession, heavily wrapped in his cloak.  He sharply gazed at Gerard and Mylia noticed his face burn with anger.

Gerard shouted and the fury of his voice shivered her spine, but the Prince only turned away and beckoned to the men with the sticks.

Mylia then noticed the three leading men were tied together hand and foot.  The sticks-men prodded the tied men to the castle wall and then stepped away.  Mylia pressed her face to the glass, eager to see what the tied men were doing but they were beyond her sight.

Asher said something for she noticed his lips move.  The men raised their sticks like guns—for they were guns—and fired.

Red blasts shattered the night.

A movement from the castle wall, and Mylia saw three bodies fall into the snow.

She looked for Gerard but he was gone.  Only a parted door in the castle wall gaped upon blackness within.

And Mylia realized she trembled for the music and gunfire.  These humans and their monstrous ways.  So quick to impart violence and still touch life with dreaming hands.  Caught and afraid, her body sank into the floor.

Upon the floorboards, curled within her dress, biting her lips to prevent their quivering and knowing her fright could only still with time, she felt sleep crawl past her fear.

That night, Mylia dreamt of skies warmed by sunlight and fire.

** ** **

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Ballindalloch

Morning light seeped through the window and she woke in immediate terror.  The Servant stood over her where he had placed a large bowl of cooled grits upon the bedside table.   She had grown soft.  Never could someone ever sneak upon her bower in the Wylds.   But these thoughts faded upon the sight of the food.

Before the Servant’s wide eyes, Mylia threw herself to breakfast, using her bound hands to shovel the porridge down her throat in massive gulps.  When the bowl lay empty, she nudged it towards the man with a soft whine in her throat.  She wanted more food but all he heard was a lilting melody, delicate and fragrant as white blossoms upon the wind.

The Servant fussed with her bonds and Mylia slumped to realize there would be no more food for a while.  She grimaced as he tied a short rope between her ankles with enough length for her to take short steps.  Her hands were also firmly bound and only her tail fell beyond the hemline, long and beautifully furred upon the ground.  Mylia wanted to cradle her beloved tail against the cold and filth but her bonds gave no choice in the matter.

The Servant pulled a cloth over her head and fixed the ends.  She wondered if captivity would always blind her but a gauze segment had been stitched into the fabric and her vision was free, although hazy.  Of this small benefit, she was grateful.

The Servant opened the door and led her through a passageway, then down and up several stairs.  Mylia hobbled as best she could.  The castle lay blue in early morning light and echoed of the silence that accompanies a heavy snowfall and the lingered slumber of those tired before the face of another day’s work.

A young woman passed them within a stairwell.  Her grey dress was similar to the Servant’s jacket and Mylia figured her to be another castle worker.  The woman looked her up and down, first as a stranger, and then with a gloating knowledge.

Mylia had seen such a look before.  Many wynters ago, when she was just a wyrmling child, she followed a black panther who tracked a deer.  The panther knew Mylia was on her trail and gave her the slip, disappearing into the trees during a stormy night when heavy rain dampened Mylia’s senses.  The next morning, she found the panther bent over a devoured deer.  The panther raised its head, jaws bloody with purple guts, and that same, gloating look from her yellow cat eyes.   It was rare for a creature from the second breaking to outwit a fourth breaking wyrm and Mylia snarled in outrage.  But the panther only hissed and plunged into the carcass with furious gulps and Mylia left, her belly growling with hunger.  After that event, she learned to climb trees to outrun the large cats.

The young woman gave a small laugh.  “Is this the Prince’s new plaything?”

“Mind your own business, Lolli.”  The Servant pulled Mylia to keep walking.

Lolli smirked, undeterred.  “He likes them tied up these days, does he?”

“You have dishes to clean,” the Servant replied.  “Who Prince Asher entertains is none of your business.”

“Edith does whatever she wants and no one says anything.”

“You’re not the Lady Edith,” he said.

Lolli playfully stuck out her tongue but her face burnt with anger as she sauntered up the stairwell and vanished from sight.

They left the stairs and entered a narrow, stone hall lined with doors.  It was a castle stung with poverty and neglect, Mylia suddenly realized, noting the dust webs and dead beetles, the furniture of rotted wood and faded cloth.  The rooms stank of cold leaves swept by winds across the pavers as the Servant and Mylia crossed a banquet hall.  Clustered iron chandeliers, filthy with rust, dropped from the vaulted ceiling in which slung a few bats, their wings twisted into a chrysalis for the day’s nap.  A row of paneled wood doors faintly gleamed with the scent of wine and roasted sweetmeats from the kitchens, while the other stone wall held an entrance door, partially open upon a cobbled yard in which the leaves drifted in.

Mylia’s eyes glittered for she knew this door was the way to freedom and the Wylds.  But, she had no further time to ponder.  The Servant pulled her into a side corridor and they halted before a wood and iron door upon which he knocked.

“You may enter,” echoed a soft, beautiful voice from within.

Chapter 8: September 23
Chapter 9: September 30
Chapter 10: October 7
Chapter 11: October 14
[…]