Chapter 2: They Sought the Monsters of the Forest

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 trees hissed a warning of the trap, a slender string arching across the loam, but, too late!  Something struck Mylia’s ankles, intense pain shivered through her legs, and she flung upwards to swing, dangling and bound within a strongly corded net.

And that was how Prince Asher, second in line to a minor royal house and sole owner of a small plot of night-farm upon which only rocks and pines grew, found one of the greatest singers the world had ever seen and remade his family fortune.

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Mylia screamed, long, fluting sounds that made the winds sigh as deeper, richer pitches shuddered the ground and chorded epiphanies of flight and sorrow cracked the atmosphere, each note a twinkling, clear drop of gold within the cresting dawn.

It was an unearthly voice, the hunters reasoned, rushing to the sprung trap, and surely magical for no human could sing with such splendid rapidity, such duality of expression and beauty.   They flooded round her pale wyrm body, cut by the netting, and wondered upon the golden, fluttering, owl-like eyes that fearfully studied them in return.

Then, her gaze alighted upon their crossbows and guns.  Mylia fell silent, her eyes closed and she waited for the end.

Through the crowd he strode, tall and imperious.  The hunters excitedly chattered, gesticulating to her swinging body as though to provoke a response from him.  His hand raised skyward and the everyone fell silent.

“What strange and glorious bird have we found?”  The Prince said and his voice, trained with rigor and command, made her eyes again open.

Prince Asher moved with the slow ease of a man sure of himself and his surroundings.  He wore black leather carefully wrapped and cut around his body for optimal ease of movement.  It was an expensive garment and must have taken years to make; she had never before seen anyone else wear clothing so like a second skin.

Mylia stared at him and wondered which breath would be her last.  She knew royalty were cruel and cunning.  She was certain that he would smile even as his pistol plugged her gut with lead.

“It is a female,” said an older hunter to the Prince. “Note her coloring is drab and plain for better hiding in shrubbery.  Males have bright red and gold plumage and massive, fluted gills around their jaw and throat for fire.”

The Prince frowned.  “Indeed, but all wyrms breathe fire.  Why does this one forebear?”

The older man drew closer and Mylia felt his sharp eyes drift over her face and throat.  “This creature is malformed.  See, there are no gills around her throat and look how small and pinched her wings are.   But, don’t worry.  She’ll happily rip you open with those claws.”

Mylia snorted a blast of harmless air in their general direction.  She did not need to understand their words to know the full weight of her useless genetics.  Without the ability to breathe fire, she was simply a broken creature at the mercy of their blades and bullets.  Her eyes would have moistened in tears, save she preferred to focus on survival and she doubted the hunters responded to pity.  If tears could help her escape, she’d utilize them like a crocodile.

The older hunter again spoke.  “Prince Asher, this creature is a scout.  Wyrms are clever beasts.  They send their smaller, weaker members to draw us into their trap.”

Mylia didn’t understand his words, but his tone was unmistakable.  She bared her teeth and hissed a fluid symphony of hate at him.

The hunter grinned at her anger, but she saw his hand stray warningly to the knife at his belt.  “We should kill her so we can hunt other monsters with the blood.”

“Titon, why silence such a voice?”  The Prince rejoined.  “Not since the days of my ancestor’s court many centuries ago has such a singer ever compared and this voice, harshened by the wynter, is still far superior.  Strange that such a pure and beautiful sound was not found in a human.”

Titon scratched his beard.  “The world breeds odd results but a wyrm’s still a wyrm, in my humble opinion.”

“Look how her limbs are formed; two arms and legs like ours attached to a similar torso. The eyes are larger than a human and her tail and wings are that of a wyrm, but the resemblance is cursed uncanny.  And she is small…” the Prince continued, walking around Mylia’s hanging body.  “This wyrm is but a youngling.   She has never experienced the wars of her ancestors.  Why, she could be mistaken for a woman upon a dark night.”

“A dark night indeed,” rejoined Titon and several others laughed.  One man stroked a strange, religious symbol on his chest.  Protection against the evil unknown.

Mylia had seen such an action from the farmers and villagers who scurried into the fringes of the forest, trembling against the crushing darkness as they gathered fallen branches, mushrooms and other edible plants to stock their hearths and pantries.  She wondered at the meaning behind such strange formalities.  At the day’s end, cunning always won over claws and teeth or even such gestures as the man had made.  She decided the meaning to be an extension of their language.  After all, wyrms blasted smoke rings from the mountain ranges to confirm their arrival to the other beasts of the forest.

The Prince drew closer until he stood an arm’s breadth away from the dangling ropes.  Mylia stayed very still.  There was something different about his manner.  Here was a human who cared about life, she thought.  He would not slaughter needlessly, not that her skin, grey and free of scales, could fetch much of a price in the Empire’s markets or even beautify the walls of his palace.

Mylia breathed and suddenly wriggled but the nets held firm.  How she longed to escape!  To break out, bound over the hills and leap through the trees, free and wild, lost forever in the great, snowy expanses of the Wylds.

His black eyes drifted cursorily over her long, slender limbs, her smooth throat, the strong claws upon her fingers sharpened from climbing, small ears and those useless, small flaps of wings now crushed in the netting.  He seemed to examine a specimen and yet with not an unkind stare, only a curious, discerning one which sought to discover meaning in her.

The Prince turned away.  “Cut her down and tie her up.  Two of you will stay behind to guard her while we hunt.  I will consider what to do with her upon our return.”  For a long moment, his eyes matched that of Titon and the surrounding men.  “Have the medic fix her legs and then leave her be.  I want her in the same shape when I return tonight.”

Mylia screamed again but this time out of pain for her jangled limbs as the hunters lowered the bundle, wrapped her wings and arms and securely tied her legs.  They lifted her between them, her long, furry tail scraping the ground, and slung her into a small pit in which the last embers from a breakfast fire lingered and glowed.  There she remained, covered in filth and blood from her wounds as daylight quickened overhead.

No one came to see her.  Only buzzards circled far overhead and slim clouds whipped and scuttered across the dim, blue sky.

It took a while for Mylia to recover from the agony of movement enough to sit up.  In the distance, she heard the trumpets and thudding gallops of the mounted hunters as they sought the monsters of the forest.  Soon they would return.  Perhaps, the Prince’s refusal to kill her was a trick, perhaps even now, she lay marked for some dim and terrible punishment.  Some fireside sport of pain and death under dark skies.

In the centuries since the last war, the Empire had devised many terrible weapons against which even the cleverest, strongest monster could not stand.  Guns, bombs, poisons and Dyn traps.  Even magic was used.  Well, perhaps the very biggest and oldest wyrms, so terrible that when they flew, whole villages fell under shadow and their fires could torch a block of trees—perhaps, they could fight the human’s technology and sorcery.  But, such beasts had not been sighted for centuries.  Long ago, they had crawled deep under the mountains, devouring the dark creatures that within until they fell into long and terrible dreams.

Mylia felt certain if she ever met one of those great, old monsters, even though the same blood, flesh and pain connected them, so far had their minds fallen into despair, that even she would be a snack and nothing more.

Titon appeared on the edge of the pit.  He tore at a large loaf of bread and stuffed handfuls into his mouth.  A younger hunter joined him.

“So, this is the singing wyrm,” the younger man appraised Mylia with wide eyes.  He was heavyset with straw-blonde hair sweeping to his shoulders.  “She’s filthy!”

“Of course.  She’s a beast,” Titon replied.

Mylia sniffed the bread and softly mewed in the back of her throat.  Yes, she’d eat bread, she was so famished.  She had tasted bread before.  A village girl came upon her swinging in a tree, dropped her sack and bolted for safety.  Mylia had gracefully flung herself upon the sack, gave a swift rip, and the contents spilled across the ground.  Her delicate hands rummaged through bits of yarn, gathered mushrooms, a handful of dried berries, a knife, and a strange, squashy lump of something that smelled a little like the wynter wheat breezes from her hammock tree.  She tasted the bread and found the texture unpleasant but not remarkably awful.

“I wish I had been there when you caught her,” the other declared.  “Asher said her voice is amazing.  And, look at those golden eyes!  You can literally see the rage.  Is something wrong with her legs?”

“You should leave her be.  Wyrms are vicious.  Best treatment is dagger sticking.”  Titon laughed and finished the bread with a gulp.

Deep in her throat, Mylia gave another pleading whine.  She was hungry indeed.  So hungry!  Her hunger consumed every little bit of her body, gnawing upon her stomach and intestines with jagged, sharp little teeth.  She knew that wyrms ate human flesh in moments of starvation but she heard human tasted sour, unlike the succulent, red muscles of an herbivore.  Mylia sat and nibbled on her furry tail like she usually did when food grew scarce in the Wylds.

“We should give her something to eat,” Gerard insisted.

Titon bellowed in laughter.  “Wyrms can last for weeks without food.  Come on, Gerard, let’s find something to drink before she bewitches you.”

“I thought wyrms weren’t magical,” the blonde man’s inquiry faded as he disappeared from the mouth of the pit.  Pallid sunlight dimly glared over his retreating shadow.  With a slight pause, Titon followed.

Mylia growled.  She did not know the human language but her instincts were honed.  Somehow, the young one tried to help her and the older one wanted her dead.   The pain in her legs swiftly grew excruciating.  The bones were certainly broken.  She lay down among the deliciously warm, fiery embers and considered her options, namely, how to escape and at once.

Chapter 3: August 19
Chapter 4: August 26
Chapter 5: September 2
Chapter 6: September 9
Chapter 7: September 16
Chapter 8: September 23
Chapter 9: September 30
[…]

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