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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To be continued in Chapter 13, December 2!