Mylia’s eyes narrowed in great wrath. She was not amused. A moment ago, her heart had pounded with the wild thought that she was headed back to the castle where people called her a demon and desired to slice her body apart for sale. Now the prince wanted her to sing for this other human and she did not exactly care to obey. It was all too raw and new, being in this echoing palace and she needed time to adapt and thus survive.
She turned to Fay and tried telepathic communication but Fay’s mind was a wall of stone.
Fay met her searching gaze with a confused, innocent stare. “Mylia, go on. Why don’t you sing like you did for Tom and I?”
Mylia pressed her lips together and stood, silent as a green tree. She would not oblige these humans though they kill her.
DJ Sand sighed and checked his wristwatch. “Look, Asher. I’ve got to get back to the station for my next program. Will she sing or not?”
Asher looked over Mylia for a long moment. Then, he spoke and his words were clipped and pronounced. “I’m sorry. She is starstruck and I seem to have wasted your time.”
The DJ shrugged. “Not a big deal. It happens. Well, good day.”
Faster than Mylia’s eye could follow, the DJ whipped a black slice of Dyn air into the room. Stepping into it, he promptly vanished and the room returned to its general shivery opulence.
Mylia felt ill. So many people had the ability to code a passage through the Dyn. Her disadvantages grew with every passing moment. She thought of her isolated life, deep in the Wylds, ignorant of this great, modern, fast world…and she shuddered. Everyone here was better and cleverer and faster and she was the most despised and clueless of them all. How could she survive a world with such odds stacked against her? A voice broke through her thoughts.
“Prince Asher, will you guarantee our safety?” Fay spoke, her voice low and concerned.
The Prince spun on Fay, his eyes snapping with anger. “Sand was the only DJ who I could persuade to hear Mylia. You know how glutted the Capital is with vocal talent? Why I ever thought this was a good idea…”
“Well, whatever it is, you thought it and here we all are,” Fay snapped back.
“Mind your manners, witch,” Asher coldly responded.
“I won’t. Because of you…because of Mylia, the government knows about me now and I’m in a lot of trouble. Now, I brought her to you and I want your word that Tom and I will be okay.”
“Have you heard her sing?” He asked, sinking into a chair.
“Yes,” she said quietly. “Her voice is beyond compare. Why are you trying to put her on the radio? She can outperform any of the Court’s talent with a few notes.”
He leaned forward and his voice fell soft. “If Mylia opens her career at the Palace, her future is doomed. She will become a court spectacle and never leave these walls. No, she must become famous across the Empire before coming here to reside as a mighty voice of the people. DJ Sand controls the programs of the most popular radio station this side of Ringold river. He can bring her fame overnight. I tell you this so that you know I am not a cruel man.”
Mylia gazed between Fay and Asher, desperately studying their lips, eyes and expressions. They discussed her and she could not determine the messages conveyed. They spoke too quickly and with too much emotion.
The witch frowned. “Hmph. You plan to keep her identity concealed. You know, there are ways to make it easier.”
“Magic? No. There are too many detectors and frankly, if she hints of magic, people are less inclined to believe in her talent. They’ll only feel annoyed that their emotions were bewitched and the anger from such can fuel a mob. Why do you think we hate magic nowadays? Give people the real deal and they’ll love you because you helped them believe again. Fool them and they’ll kill you for the offence.”
Fay sighed. “Well, you’ve got your Mylia and I’ve got to get home. Do I have assurance of your help or not?”
“I always keep my word,” Asher replied.
Fay burst into a relieved smile. “How do I know you’re telling me the truth?”
“Oh, get out,” Asher coldly snapped.
Fay’s eyes glittered in rage as she swept open the Dyn world, a thin black hole of freezing air and darkness, hovering beside the chair. Pushing herself up with strong arms, she fell into the aperture. Within, she turned with a final look to them. “I hope you do not break your word.”
“Is that a threat?” His eyebrow raised.
She shrugged. “At least, when I fall, I can always choose the way I climb back up.”
Moments later, the black hole of the Dyn world vanished, taking Fay from them.
Asher abruptly stood upon his feet and faced Mylia. “It was a mistake to bring you here,” he said. “I cannot tolerate insubordination from anyone. You are released from my service.” Spinning on his heel, he swept from the room and the golden doors slammed shut behind him.
She was in the Imperial palace, leagues away from her home, and entirely alone.
Her first reaction was overwhelming fear. Her entire body turned cold and numb and she wished hard that something truly painful would happen to her so that she could feel something—anything at all—to remember she was alive.
This did not happen but the fear subsided in the wake of practicality. Fay would return. The prince must come back. People surely could not abandon anyone so easily.
With a start, Mylia reminded herself that she was not human. She was a wyrm or half wyrm at any rate. And humans killed wyrms and wyrms killed humans. That was the way it always was and here, she stood vastly outnumbered.
She tentatively walked to the closed door and leaned against it. The door opened, she beheld a large room. Again, the decor repeated in grand chandeliers, marble floors, gold and heavy velvet drapes. But this room had windows!
Mylia rushed to the window and flung aside the coverings. Through the cold-misted glass plummeted a vast, grey city of skyscrapers and fog to the black water harbor miles below. Mylia craned her head, pressing against the glass to see if the city ended. She had never seen so many buildings and such an infinite spread of water. Later, she would learn the name for it. Ocean.
“Excuse me,” a woman had entered the room. She wore a simple black outfit with a white apron. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t see you.”
Mylia opened and shut her mouth, not daring to speak. This was someone who could help her escape the palace. She remembered how Fay had connected with her. Walking forward, she grasped the woman’s arm to connect into her mind.
The resulting screech from the woman made her spring back. The woman flung her away and ran from the room. Mylia rushed after her in great haste.
Alerted by the commotion, a palace guard arrived in swift order. He too wore black and a silver insignia on his chest.
The woman waved him down. “Help!” She shouted, pointing to Mylia. “Stop her!”
The guard stepped in front of Mylia and held out his hand. She immediately stopped, her wrapped, pearled head swiveling between the two humans.
He studied Mylia with a trained gaze. “What’s your name, miss?”
Mylia stood frozen, shocked at these humans and their uncontrollable reactions.
“I was just cleaning the room and I saw her looking out the window! I thought she was a foreigner or one of those courtesans. Then I remembered those Dyn assassins mask themselves and when she grabbed me, oh, I got so scared!” The woman cried.
“I must insist, your name?” The guard stepped closer as Mylia shrank away.
Mylia felt tendrils of fear. Baring her teeth, she growled and drew back. Yet her growl released as a string of glass chimes, shivering in a frosted dew budded during a cold spring morning…syrupy notes so sweet, they seemed to turn the air cooler and lend a clear, fresh taste to the ears.
The guard and woman stared at her with huge, dazzled eyes. Mylia was suddenly glad to have such a reaction. She understood the outcome. When her voice had sung for the prince, he had rescued her from death. Even her witch friend had idolized her singing. Surely now these strange new humans could help her. Precious things never went unwanted.
“She must be a foreigner,” the woman breathlessly concluded. “It’s not uncommon. We get all sorts of folk here now the Emperor opened the borders.”
“No matter, she has to have permission to be here.” The guard approached Mylia. “Miss, who granted you access to the Imperial Palace?”
Mylia fell silent. This was not an outcome she expected. This man again threatened and the woman’s eyes grew hard and inquiring. They reminded her of the folk from Asher’s castle.
“I will give you one more warning and then I will have to put you outside.”
She backed away.
“Maybe she’s a thief,” the woman helpfully suggested.
“Okay, enough is enough,” the guard said and his fingers moved in a quick, calculating blur. Behind Mylia opened a gigantic black hole—a hole which quickly split apart into the Dyn world and then opened once more, like a light at the end of a shrinking tunnel, into another segment of this world.
Through the strange aperture, she saw the marble floors of the palace shift to grey asphalt, the midday light gush down upon a busy street filled with traffic and people walking, heard the shouts and honks drift through to echo upon the still, golden palace walls. And then the guard thrust her into the opening and—out—onto the street.
She spun around and for a moment saw the guard and serving woman stare upon her through the opening.
The Dyn world closed.
“Hey, watch where you’re going!” A man shouted.
Turning, Mylia saw a flash of angry eyes and then he turned and kept walking. But she soon forgot his reaction entirely at the immense sight before her eyes.
The paved street curved up to the sunrise—true—and yet the stores on either side that glittered neon with huge stone arches and glass overhangs to protect against the mist crawling down the mountainside and through the streets with the searching fingers of one both sightless and avoided by fume-addled cars and the black umbrellas of walkers lay entirely forgotten—for a behemoth rose before her.
Grey and stark with battlements from a former time of warfare and unforgotten fear, the Palace reared from the mountaintop into the clouded skies. A flock of dark birds, crows perhaps, fluttered upon the high winds that bashed against the sleek pillared walls and dark windows set within. The multitude of buildings spread upon the mountaintop like a sordid crown and the peak of its narrow, tiled rooves were lost in the storms above.
As Mylia gazed, the sky darkened, a slit of cloud opened behind her and a lance of yellow sunbeam shot across the city and smote the palace. At once, all the windows sprung afire and it seemed to her that a great monster of stone and burning eyes rose from his mighty perch and glared upon her shrinking form.
With a scream, Mylia turned and fled.
People sprung out of the way of this wrapped, veiled figure sparkling with pearls and gilt embroidery.
“Bloody foreigners,” one cursed as she struck his shoulder in passing.
Mylia wished to apologize, humans were so quick to hate, but she dared not stop. Running downhill was incredibly easy although her legs moved stiffly now that the joints had healed wrong.
The myriad of streets with their cars and people had all passed in a blur of rain and neon lights and shadows. How long she ran, she could not have known. The sky fell into evening and all the shadows turned purple and hideous. A moisture which began as mist transgressed into torrential rain and in minutes she was freezing and soaked to the bone. Her pearls broke and scattered. Somewhere, she tore away her outer garments and flung off her veil to better see the pavement before her running feet. People had cursed and shivered at her strange, white face with the huge golden eyes, small nose and neck too slender for a human female.
“The demon snarled and passed by like an evil wind,” they later told the police and each other. The next day, a couple of news stories ran sensational headlines of a monster sighted in Ovgarod but people laughed for the most part and accused the papers of publishing fake news.
Mylia learned about this only years later. At this moment, she was filled with hate for her surroundings and desired to escape at all costs.
She staggered along the filthy, trash-strewn pavement of an unknown street in the heart of the Imperial capital. Her feet stung from the cold, lumpy gravel and the distorted stench of tar and asphalt made her sicker with each passing moment. Her stomach twisted and she paused for a moment to silently retch over her knees. But only a few drops of clear liquid fell upon the ground.
Wyrm blood. She was bleeding.
But not only from her bruised stomach. Her feet left clear splatters behind her and even now, she noticed her toes and heels turning deep grey with the bruising effect of the run.
She slumped into a heap by a dumpster. The exotic smells of rotting fruit, bread and wet paper made her even more ill. She wanted to move but her legs felt nerveless.
Mylia grabbed her tail to her chest and grew saddened upon sighting the clumpy dust and mud coating the fine, grey hairs. Pieces of street trash from the running clotted the ends and a terrible smell of old rainwater made her nose twitch. She had never felt more disgusted with her body.
She flung off the tail and felt it curl and flop against the tarmac. She would not gaze upon it. Instead, she fell against the stone wall and gazed upward. Against the leaning, black buildings, a small furrow of night sky lay visible. Mylia badly wanted to see the moon and stars…wanted it so terribly, her eyeballs hurt. But the storm clouds lay thick and dense; green when shivered by lightning and a sodden black under the downpour.
Mylia shivered uncontrollably. She would die, small and forlorn, in a city gutter hundreds of miles from home. No one would miss her and no one would care.
But then, had anyone ever cared? She had hunted the birds who loved her voice to their doom. The larger creatures of the Wylds either pitied or despised her. Human friendship and love were things she pined for but a list of humans, Gerard, Fay, Tom and now even Asher had shown they did not consider her as their equal.
She took a deep breath and considered her options. Back in the Wylds, when food ran scarce and her stomach howled like a wretched beast, she had used her brain to obtain food.
Trickery and cleverness were her strengths.
Somehow, in the wild shifts of the past several months since her capture, she had forgotten the very things that allowed her to survive the brutal Wylds.
Mylia sat up and considered her options. She was trapped in this city. She could not return to the Wylds and everyone she met either wanted her gone or dead.
Unless she sang. And she knew those vocalizations made people like her. They warmed to her like butter to a flame. And she would be their flame. They would embrace her as the great singer—as Mylia!—and she would never want for food or shelter ever again. She must become something of value to the world. After all, people did not throw away diamonds or gold.
But first, she must become human.
Mylia looked upon her white hands and feet, suddenly hating the claws that curved from the tender flesh. She gazed upon the limp, flexible tail as it dragged through the trash and thought it ugly and unfair. She felt her wings behind her, those useless flippers of leather and bone, and detested them with a rage that made her cold heart glow.
She must become human. But how?
She pulled her tail towards her and with a chomp, so swift that she could not change her mind, Mylia bit off her tail and flung it away.
A fountain of clear blood rushed out and joined the rivulets of water shrieking down the walls and into the gutter. Mylia watched the strange, dirt-grey thing of fur and bone move in the undulating current and tears sprang into her eyes. Now, only a stump remained in her nerveless hands. She regretted her decision but—too late. And she wept. And, weeping for the loss of her beautiful tail and the blood that left her body, she fell into a darkness and knew no more.
FINAL CHAPTER to be published 1/13/18!!