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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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
[…]

Chapter 6: She Did Not Hear His Voice on the Winds

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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Onward, the company rode until the two moons rose and the horses, weary and tiresome, kicked the gravel and flapped heavy lips at the cold.  Mylia listened to the nickering beasts and watched through the heaving of her veil, her bound wrists turned silver under the moonlight.

Some years later, she entered the grand halls of the Imperial Academy, clad in silk and prestige, and learned the names of her beloved moons.  Isol, Moon of Sorrow and Ridven the Warrior, prophesier of the planet’s end and beloved of all who traveled by night.  During those years, she studied the heavens under famous academics eager to know her and join her elite social circle.  It was then she learned the chemical makeup of stars, their wavelength mathematics, the heat maps measuring their twinkling latitudes around the galaxy and piercing through the atmosphere of this world.

 

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Snow Scenes

But on this night, Mylia only felt instinctual joy for the heavens—a joy soon to be interrupted.

The Servant detached her from the mule and tied her up in a tent.  Judging from the prickly scent of old blanket and the echoed heaves of cloth walls fluttering beyond her grasp, she knew the tent to be empty.  Which was an excellent condition, given how she planned to run away. A swift grab with her tied hands, and the veil flung away into a heap.  With an awkward wriggle of bound limbs, the wool dress soon followed and she lay naked of clothes—shivering but free—among the heaps of blanket on the stones.

Food awaited her.  A pitcher of water and a flayed rabbit curled upon a metal plate beside a cold bread hunk.  Gerard had kept his promise and caught her meat.  Mylia wolfed down the meal.  The bones stuck in her throat and the loaf was squashed and dry, but her snarling belly outweighed such annoyances.  Lacking clothes but feeling satisfied and full, Mylia felt her old wyrm self again and set to work escaping.

She first tried to pry open the walls of the tent, but her rope tied to a stake holding the tent center and repeated tugging failed to free her.  Even lying on her stomach and reaching with all her pain-ridden strength, she could not touch the tent walls.  So, Mylia flung an ear against the stony ground and listened with all her strength.  Crisp steps rang upon frozen ground outside as the hunters hurried to set up the camp, settle the horses and prepare dinner.  Already the flinted spark of fires hummed through the ground and the horses stomped their hunger and demanded oats and hay.  Again and in a fit of anger, she tried her bonds but they remained firm.

Tired and cross, she lay down and rested for a time.  A dreadful, guilty pang struck her.  She could not escape and felt such failure suggested on a primal level that she did not want to be free.  Surely, if she truly wanted to leave, she would try to run away until she won or her life ended in the attempt.  She considered this choice with some angst.  Give her a minute of freedom and away under the night sky, she would flee, for the Wylds and her home.  In that fitful moment of bliss, her legs would lurch forward, unbroken, and her wings, unfurl upon the vast, swift skies.  She softly mewed as a tear slipped down her cheek.

What a dream it was.  Mylia, beautiful as the daylit stars, flying above the earth as a shadow of sapphire and silver, her great wings beating the ice winds, careless and free!  But, she was small and shaped more human than wyrm and her wings would never carry her home.

The next few days passed without event.  She stayed upon her mule in the back of the troop and felt her injuries slowly mend.  Gerard sometimes rode beside her, judging by his scent, but he did not speak much.  When he did address her, the words remained casual and inflicted with announcements of approaching weather.  The Prince was absent and this concerned her greatly.  She never heard his voice on the winds that swept over their caravan.  Nor did she discover the scent of pine and snow that accompanied his presence.  She even listened for the militant stomp of his stallion.  But, he did not appear and she thought one of the villages had delayed him.  She even wondered if he had left the hunting party for other means…another hunt in the Wylds, perhaps.  Another wyrm to bring home to his castle lair, alive or dead.

Every day, she ate bread and rabbit and soon discovered the happy sensation of a full stomach.  The food was like a pillow stuffing her belly and all the angry hungers of yesteryear now lay silent, grimly blinking upon this strange guest.

But she had other pains to remind her of captivity.  Her forehead remained a swollen lump of pain and fluid and her broken legs ached at every jostle of the mule’s step.  Once, the Servant and medic adjusted the splints and washed the bruised skin.  Mylia knew many oaths from listening to the voices that howled amid the cold sweep of wind and snow upon the Wylds.  She snarled every oath in a melodic litany as the men refastened her legs straight along the wood.

One morning, the Servant brought black gloves and pulled them upon Mylia’s hands, stretching over her shackles.  Mylia was surprised at how well they fit.  She considered this a new approach of the humans to keep her wyrm figure concealed for the Servant, finding her skin free amid the blankets after a night’s sleep, had angrily demanded she remain dressed around the clock.  Mylia disagreed but when she removed the gloves that night, she found that her hands glowed a deep shade of twilight blue while her upper arms remained grey.

Mylia held her hands to her face and marveled at the bewitching color until it faded to match the dim shadows.  And that was how she learned that heat could be contained for indefinite periods of time if such heavy coverings were worn.  After that moment, she fastidiously kept the gloves save for when she removed them with her teeth to stare upon the beauty of her skin.  This experience later helped precipitate her extravagant love of huge furs, heavy velvet gowns, hot baths, roaring fireplaces and electrically heated wood floors, but Mylia did not realize it at this time.

They rode through several villages and once, a large and noisy town.  Mylia remained blinded by her veil, but the fast-changing smells and racket that assailed her delicate ears helped her understand the changing environments.  She could not have guessed from her leafy bower amid the snow and mountains just how many people were alive.  It seemed the world swarmed with this species of the third breaking.  At least, there were no more attacks upon her.

Now that she remained wrapped from head to foot, she was mostly left alone.  In fact, she noticed even the Servant treated her a little better as he gave her food and cared for the mule.  Because she wore human clothes—that she needed human clothes to prevent attacks—seemed to indicate on a deeply moral level that she was less of a wyrm.  She knew that the difference was fundamental; her blood ran cold while they were mammals and her features and body were thousands of years advanced beyond their genetic makeup.  Yet, eyes were easily tricked and she felt glad to have disinterest replace the hatred of preceding days.

Only the older hunter, Titus, the one that dragged her through the camp like a dead thing and laughed while she had starved, never ceased hating her.  She could feel him walking by her tent at night and feel his burning gaze towards her during the day, disgust radiating from his body in sour waves.  She hoped to never have him touch her again.  If he did, her claws would remove his eyes or she would die in the attempt.

They traveled for several more days, perhaps eight or a dozen.  Mylia found it hard to keep track since she measured time by the fall of the moons and seasonal leaves.  Once, they crossed a river.  She later learned it was called the Ringold and fed into four major rivers that created great corridors of traffic for the Empire’s trade and allowed world travel for commoners who lacked passcodes into the Dyn realm.  She felt the pebbled grass change from under her mule’s tread and noted they were on a road of sorts, made of large, hewn paving stones.

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Marco Zaffignani

Mylia marveled at how closely fitted each stone was into the other.  The bridge was built centuries ago.  She could smell the multiple years packed into the layers of cement, gravel and circular pebbles that created a strong, flat structure for the road upon the rough landscape.  Deep beneath its stones, there lay the celery stench of human skeletons; workers who had died so the bridge could rise.

And the water!  This was no slurpy, moss-banked stream lurching down the mountains.  The river was vast, encrusted with jagged boulders that smashed the pounding water into frothy, roaring waves.  Her small nostrils flared, attempting to find traces of fish or river birds.  But, no, the stream lay devoid of life for the waters ran too fast and banks veered too steeply.

It was upon the bridge that Mylia picked up another scent.  Prince Asher had been here and riding his horse, judging from the commingled scent of spiced fir and snow and beast that lay aged upon the chill air.  She followed his trail across the clattered bridge.  And she wondered as a thrill sparked her soul in memory of his touch upon her face.  He cared for her life and of this feeling, she grew more certain with every passing step upon the fitted stones.  But, his voice remained silent and his presence, unfound, and then, a strange event happened.

As Mylia’s mule clattered off the bridge, all scent of Prince Asher vanished.  She rapidly sniffed the air, craning far out of her saddle, but no answers met her sparking brain.  No fresh mud upon the river banks spoke of his departure into the water and his presence was gone from the trail as though he had lifted into the sky or the world had zeroed his very body into nothingness.

Mylia was utterly confounded.  Prince Asher had appeared at the bridge and crossed it upon his horse.  And then, he had vanished.

The group left the bridge behind.  An excited rustling and chatter rose among the men for they were within the Prince’s lands and soon to be home.  Mylia heard the lowing of cattle and sheep upon the moors and smelled the spice of freshly tumbled snow.  Yellow and brown leaves crunched amid the frost under her mule’s hooves and she noticed a new pep to the animal as it recognized the warm manger that lay ahead.  Mylia almost felt happy until she remembered her future lay unmade.

That evening, under Isol’s blue moonlight, they arrived at the castle of Prince Asher.  The sounds and scents alerted Mylia before all else.  Stoked furnaces dimly roared deep within the stone turrets and tiled rooves and a heavy, golden scent of roasted fat hinted of the sheep and goat that had flamed for dinner.

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B&N Blog

And she eagerly sniffed the other mingles of food both known and new.  Hot wheat rolls and gravy-dunked potato and buttered carrots and thick creams and herbs fresh from a greenhouse garden.  The heavy, sweet, wild-honey odor of mead drifted from underground cellars, punctuated with the sharp aroma of red wines so succulent, she could almost see the frosted grapes squashed into silting wines, waiting in their cool, dark lair for hands to drag them forth and gulp them down.  And Mylia trembled for the scents spoke of human desire and she did not yet know her placement within that feeling.

The hunters cantered under a large stone gateway, and she caught a flash of brown waters under the drawbridge, and then they stopped in a wide courtyard.  Mylia waited, listening to the band of hunters dismount and tether their horses, shouting to each other as people gathered around them.  It was a long, lonely moment and she was almost glad when the Servant approached and gripped her mule’s harness.

Mylia knew it was the Servant for she smelled the man’s familiar, mild soap scent as he led her mule down one of the narrow passageways between what must have been tall buildings and made of stone, judging from the echoed ring of hooves upon the cobblestones.  Through her veil, she saw the world darken and knew they were inside a building—the first building she had ever entered!—descending a curving path, as the air chilled and sounds faded.

A great fear swept her brain and she knew she must escape.  Mylia took a deep breath, sucking in mouthfuls of veil and tried to pull it from her head, but to no use.  She felt the Servant’s slight touch on her face, readjusting the cloth tighter.  She viciously snapped for his hand, knowing that she must have come near to removing the headgear.

“Hey, Titus, come help me with her!”  The Servant shouted.   The odor of metal and leather arrived, punctuated by firm crunches of footsteps and Mylia felt a familiar grab upon her neck and a frightfully strong, recognized force pull her off the animal.

“You need to take a firm hand with the wyrm,” Titus said and threw her into a heap.

Mylia snarled and floundered in the cloth and bonds.  The fall upon the stones had jolted her leg fractures and shuddering bolts of pain thumped her brain, leaving her in agony and unreason.  But, the Servant and Titus said no more as they fixed her bonds and left, their steps ascending upwards.

Mylia pressed her ear to the floor to listen.  Unlike the peacefully buzzing, chatty forest systems full of gossip and news, this huge building echoed with the vast stillness and impregnability of stone and dead wood beams.  There must have been ivy growing upon the exterior walls and roof, for she heard a faint and yet alive babble of squeaky voices she recognized as crawling, vine-like plants.  But their voices were soft and held an accent she did not understand.

Mylia explored the lengths of her rope and discovered a curved iron handle bolted into the stone wall.  She tugged with all her might, but soon collapsed, tired and snarling, to the ground.  There, she lay and wondered when and how she would die.  Her claws made thin rasps upon the stone.  She would be ready.  As for Titus—a growl curdled her vocals and the air stiffened in reply.

The cell darkened and grew colder as night pierced the world’s atmosphere.  Mylia shivered.  The past days of relative warmth from her cloths and nightly tent had quickly taught her body the meaning of fresh cold.  Now, she expected a warmth only possible through human trappings and ministrations.  And she wondered if therein lay their final trap.  She would forget her freedom not through need but desire.  Bound and wrapped, Mylia could only lie amid the cloying blackness of her prison.  And so, she waited…and waited…and waited.

Just when she thought her mind could not exist another moment, footsteps echoed nearby and then Mylia heard the rasping scrape of leather upon stone as the Prince knelt beside her and harshly gripped her head within his hands.

Chapter 7: September 16
Chapter 8: September 23
Chapter 9: September 30
Chapter 10: October 7
[…]

Chapter 5: Nine Leagues to the South, a Broken Castle Rose

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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amandadana

Mylia’s instincts, honed by years of climbing trees, flipped into action.  Before her pupils registered the incoming missile, before the wallop to her forehead sent red pain shrieking through her body, her wrapped hands grabbed the saddle bow and her body curved under the impact, avoiding a fall from the startled mule.  She foggily gazed at the rinds scattering the road, thick, black insects crawling within the decayed pulp.  Then, her eyes furiously narrowed in search for the thrower.

A farmer stood within a nearby melon patch, ripping another rotten melon from the vines.  When he saw her look up, he shouted something obscene and threw.  This time, the mule stepped backwards and the fruit harmlessly cracked apart on the road.  Mylia held firm upon the saddle bow and snarled with every gleaming fang she possessed.

She was not alone.  Gerard and Prince Asher swiftly rode horses towards the farmer.  At the sight of charging horses and armed men, he yelped and dashed away, leaping over the vine-strangled ground.  Gerard made to pursue him, but the Prince grabbed his arm.

“No, Gerard.  Do not cause trouble.”

From the flashing anger in Gerard’s eyes, Mylia could see he welcomed that sort of trouble and she bared her sharp teeth in agreement.  If she had just a moment with that melon slinger, she’d make him squeak all types of music.  Then, came the pounding headache and she thought of nothing else for a long moment.

“The wyrm frightens the villagers,” a hunter said to another.

“Can you blame them?  Wyrms are wretched beasts,” another hunter replied and made another religious symbol over his breast.

“Enough talking,” the Prince snapped at them.  “Do your duty and guard our captive.”

Mylia shrank upon the saddle as the two hunters reluctantly circled their horses around her mule.  Neither made eye contact with her.  It seemed they were doing their best to pretend she did not exist.  Gerard and Asher continued to fervently speak in low tones.

Mylia considered the fleeing melon-flinger, his coat snapping in the breeze as he jumped into a distant wheat field, still shouting curses over his shoulder.  A long time ago, she stumbled upon another wyrm in a muddy clearing of cindered pine.  The wyrm, disbelieving they sprang from the same species, had challenged her to a fire-breathing competition.  When her lungs only produced air vocalized in crystal song, the wyrm had kicked and beat her for hours.  The intention was more obvious than the bruises that lingered upon her skin for a dozen moons afterward.  She was not a real wyrm and thus embarrassed all the other wyrms with her presence.

Except, this was worse.  The human, who even now ducked behind a metal silo with a last, jangling oath, hated her not as a malformed wyrm, but for daring to be born a wyrm at all.  As if there had been a choice in the matter, Mylia thought.  More keenly than ever, she felt the injustice upon her species smite deep within her intelligent, cool wyrm heart.  Even the songbirds had worshipfully gathered around Mylia when she sang, whistling a chorus to her notes before she ate them.  And, whether their brains were small or her voice, entrancing, they always followed her from treetop to dale, twittering and dancing upon the winds.

Mylia sniffed and raised her head, proudly silent, even as the bruise darkened her temple.  These men could never know that she suffered.

But, Gerard had turned his horse and galloped to several other hunters.  The Prince approached Mylia, his horse sharply clopping upon the stones.  He appeared sterner than yesterday, and the head of the wyrm no longer thumped against his saddle.  She wondered what he had done with it.  Perhaps, and her eyes narrowed in wrath, he had eaten the tongue, eyes and brain before discarding the skull upon the roadside.  And she bared her lips in fury at the thought, not caring if it were true.  The gathered hunters placed their hands upon weapons but the Prince angrily waved them aside, drawing his horse to a stop beside her.

Mylia noticed that his boots fitted to his leg and were toed with engraved silver.  She heard the thump of blood within the black stallion and noted the reeking disgust within its prancing neigh. It was a horse bred for war, she thought with a flash of awareness.  Its father’s father had trampled her dying kin many years ago with steel-clad hooves.  As for the Prince—

Brimming with all the prejudice of ancestral memory, she met Prince Asher’s eyes.

Mylia often wondered why humans did not collect the eyes of the dead and preserve them.  It was a superstition, she reasoned, the idea of capturing the soul of the person rendered sightless.  In the Wylds, eyes were just another form of nourishment, to be scooped out with a claw and a sucking plop and eaten like a fat, squishy tomato.

And his eyes were darker than waters flowing upon obsidian rock in a moonless night.  Mylia imagined their taste as fir-shredded mist or the subterranean blackberries that grew beside volcanic fissures deep under the mountains.

She softly growled, eyes narrowing to golden slits, and prepared for his anger.

The Prince raised his hand, carefully, out of fear, she supposed, and removed his riding glove, revealing a surprisingly white hand powerfully cut with sinew and bone.  Before she could register this strange ritual’s purpose, his fingers grazed her forehead.

Her pupils widened upon the sudden warmth of his hand upon her skin.  Mylia had never felt such tenderness upon her skin and her mind fluttered and quickened to process this new information.  In the Wylds, affections played secondary importance to survival.   Her wyrm tongue did not possess the words she sought to understand this touch.  The feeling it evoked—safety and care and belonging—yes, she had felt a similar feeling once before when spying upon a black panther guarding its mewling cub.  She wondered if humans had a name for such behavior.  Many years later, she discovered they possessed many, all equally beautiful in sound and confusing in action.

And then his hand withdrew and the Prince pulled on his glove with a blunt, professional air.  “Fortunately for you, the damage is minimal and bruising should be gone within a few weeks.  I will have the medic give you a healing drink suitable for a creature of your cold temperament.”

Mylia only stared at him.  The warmth of his touch lingered upon her forehead and still there had been no pain.  No trickery or knife plied—no trap—

But, Gerard had returned from arguing with the hunters.  He approached the Prince and there was fear in his voice.  “Brother, the men say she is bad luck.  They want her gone.”  He looked over Mylia’s wounded forehead and grimaced.  “Nasty knock there.”

The Prince beckoned the few remaining hunters to leave them.  Only when the men were out of earshot, did he turn upon Gerard with quiet wrath.  “I have never cared for the words of my vassals.”

“They think she’ll take vengeance for the other dead wyrm.”

Asher scowled.  “They’re fools.  Wyrms do not seek revenge for their species.  They’re solitary creatures.  Haven’t centuries of war left no record within the commoner’s mind?”

Gerard shrugged, “Some of us commoners studied the wars.”

“I didn’t mean you, brother.”  The Prince’s voice grew soft.

“Yes, you did.  You never trust me.  I know you left camp alone for the Wylds that night.  I saw you return.”  He paused at the Prince’s warning glare and then continued, “Seriously.  You risked your life and soul.  I should have gone with you.”

“I could not endanger you.  Mother commanded me to keep you safe.”

Gerard grimaced.  “I’m eighteen!”

“Her orders, not mine.  And this creature is the best fortune to ever befall our house.  We must take care of her.  The men will obey my command or I shall deal with them harshly. Now, grant me a favor.”

His brother nodded but Mylia sensed obstinacy within his tight grip upon the reins.

“Ride with her until our castle.  I do not want further abuse to befall her and I trust you, as you well know.”

“Okay.  And what about when we get home?”

“Then…then, the world awaits,” Asher swiftly grinned.

“But wyrms cannot travel in the Dyn like us,” Gerard frowned.  “How will you take her around the world?”

“I’d prefer to avoid the Dyn altogether.  You know the Emperor spies upon every code used therein.  But, worry no more for I have a plan, brother.”  And with that command, the Prince shook the reins and galloped his horse to the front of the company.

Gerard sighed and then looked over Mylia with some approval.  “You’ve not whimpered and that knock could’ve felled me.  You wyrms are made of hard stuff.”

She gazed back, no understanding his words but feeling the need to communicate.

Yet he only clucked encouragingly to her mule.  The company moved forward at a slow lope and soon left the village far behind.  Gerard and Mylia stayed in the rear with the baggage animals.  When they started, Titus beckoned to Gerard to join him.  Gerard only shook his head and slightly laughed.   Titus grimaced in a pitying sort of way and gave another loathing stare at Mylia before turning around and ignoring them both.

A medic trotted back to join them and poured a beaker of thick, gloopy liquid for Mylia, pointing to her forehead to indicate it would help her heal.  She gripped it in her bound hands and carefully sniffed the interior.  For the strange, lumpy texture, there was virtually no smell.  The medic beckoned her to drink and with a single gulp, she downed the fiery water.  A strange warmth blossomed from her stomach and Mylia felt tendrils crawling up her spine and into her head, making her feel both dizzy and extremely alive.  She grimaced and was about to fling away the beaker but Gerard rescued it.  The medic held up a large linen cloth and handed it to Gerard.

“Is that really necessary?”  Gerard asked.

“The Prince asked that the wyrm conceal her face until we arrive at the castle.”

“Oh, give it here,” and Gerard angrily snatched the cloth.  Mylia watched him place the cloth around her shoulders, pulling the hood far over her face so that she could barely breathe from under it.  Instant claustrophobia struck her and she wrenched off the cloth, glaring at Gerard, baring her teeth in wrath so that he reined in his horse, falling a few steps behind her.

She tried to speak then, tried to articulate the hatred she felt at having her senses blocked off, her eyes covered.  Hers was a life wild and free!  And she was not the inferior species.  Yet only a stream of thin, angry notes spilled from her lips, cracking the ice-cold air.

Gerard took a sharp breath, overwhelmed by the sudden majesty of vocals.   “What a voice.  I swear…I’d give anything to be naturally talented like you.”

She glared in answer with a haughty grandeur that far aged her young wyrm soul.

The medic laughed.  “Spare your words, young Gerry.  You’re speaking to a beast.”

“I think she understands me,” he replied, somewhat embarrassed.

The medic cackled and Mylia grinned a mouth of fangs at him until silence met her ears.

“Look here…er, wyrm,” Gerard addressed her, “You should cover your face.  It’s for your own good.” He scooped up the cloth from the ground on which it fell and clicked for his horse to again approach her.

Mylia turned her head away but she understood.  This time, she waited as he clumsily half-pulled, half-draped the cloth over her head and slung the loose ends around her neck.  Mylia shivered at the loss of sight.  For a moment, she felt the quick urge to retch in fear.  How desperately she longed to again see the world.  Only when the wind blew, did the veil lift to reveal the body of the mule and the pebbled ground below, smoothed by seasonal ice flows.

Gerard spoke and she swiveled her head to his general direction.  “I’d mistake you for a lady save for that tail of yours.”

Indeed, Mylia’s tail thrashed like a cornered cat, the furred tip just visible under the heaps of robe.  And she grew afraid.  Her lack of sight posed a severe disadvantage and her hands were so tightly bound, she had no recourse but to grip the saddlebow against the mule’s tread.  Save for the occasional shriek of bird wings high overhead and the stink of tired horses and men that left a hollow ache within her throat, she had no other senses to rely upon.

Mylia remembered the rich, dark shades of the Wylds, thick loam reaching to her knees, ice waters twinkling down the cragged mountains, and that fresh perfume of cinnamon and pine, sighing through the waving treetops under a night sky shredded with stars.

She must return as swiftly as possible before homesickness suffocated her.  But, nine leagues to the south, a broken castle rose from the winds and snow to which her destiny lurched with frightening speed.

Chapter 6: September 9
Chapter 7: September 16
Chapter 8: September 23
Chapter 9: September 30
Chapter 10: October 7
[…]

 

Chapter 4: Headless Wyrms Dressed in Princely Gear

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 hunters tied Mylia within a tent for the night and threw her a haunch of roasted meat.  One sniff and she recognized wyrm flesh.  She pushed the steaming flank away, bile rising in her hungry throat.  The meat was not from her huge, old wyrm pal.  No, some other wyrm had fallen prey to their guns and daggers, and not willingly, given the wounds suffered by Prince Asher and his men.  A strange pride for her stricken fellow wyrm heaved her chest and violently fluttered the tendrils of her heart.  Then, she remembered the wyrm was dead.

Mylia refused to suffer the same fate.  She could hear the hunters dine upon the choicer meat chunks, stomp upon fresh snow and swap jokes around the fires as they longed for their thatched homes far over the rocky plains, tired of this leering, black forest.  She knew they were glad of their fortune.  Only a few days in the Wylds and they had caught two wyrms.  Home called them.

And she was also tired.

Tired of thinking, reasoning and trying to understand this brave new world of men and fear.  Mylia recalled her beloved trees shredding the cinnamon spiced winds, leaves and twigs thrilling together under drifting snow.  How she longed for the good, wholesome meat of her songbirds.  Sweet flesh, tender from berries and dew water, and those crunchable, white bones.

She huddled within her woolen robe, courtesy of the Servant’s finishing administrations, and gazed around the tent.  The cloth walls shuddered like puckered cheeks and the dim lantern bobbed under heavy winds smiting the camp.  Her wrists were fleshed raw from repeated endeavors to escape the confining rope now lashed thick and strong around the tent’s central pillar.  Only her furred tail lay free, long and elegant as a yawning mink, upon the carpeted tent floor.

Perhaps, she would sleep for a while before again attempting to escape.  She felt exhausted to the marrow and even her brain, typically swift as a lark, begged for sleep.  Hugging her tail tight in her arms, she curled into a soft, drowsy ball.  If only to be a proper wyrm, equipped with fiery breath and a body powerful enough to break rocks and trees with one blow!  But, as sleep claimed her, a little thought drifted across her mind.  If she were born a proper wyrm of fire and mud, she’d be dead.

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That night, a man left the camp and ventured into the forest.  His face lay shrouded deep within a hood and his black cloak slapped and curled around his tall, cautious form.  He did not look back at the string of dimly lit tents but plunged into the towering firs with an abandon that spoke either of great resolve or madness.

No one saw him depart—or return hours later.  Not even Mylia, for all her cunning, for her thoughts were heavy with sleep and sorrow.  Yet, his secret mission caused the world’s future to shift a fraction sideways, an effect which later compounded to unforeseeable extremes.

At first, no one noticed this shift, not the great Dyn coders of the Outer Realms and Imperial Academy scholars or the Seers of Healm and Slyvan witches.  Not even the Sanurim Most Profound dwelling in their sand swept city of Lados and watching the stars, recognized the initiation of this shift for it was too far away and unimportant.  When they did, it was too late.

If someone had watched the man depart into the woods, if they knew the company gathered in the snow with a musical wyrm trapped within their midst, they may have placed the identity of the man.  That richness of fabric, purposeful, long stride, and those clever, black eyes—surely, it was Prince Asher.

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Mylia woke to the sharp jangles of harness and shouting men.  The lancing dawn light cut the shadows of the tent, highlighting the pile of cloth that kept her skin a temperate grey. And she remembered—today, she left the Wylds for human realms.

Stark panic struck and Mylia flung herself against the constraints but the tight bounds cut into her raw flesh until beads of clear blood dripped from her arms.

Footsteps crunched upon the snow outside and a tent wall burst asunder.  Titus stepped towards her, hands reaching for the rope.  Mylia considered pouncing on him, but no, two other hunters joined him.  They hauled her outside, wriggling like a grounded fish in her human robe, and threw her upon a pack mule, a splinted leg to either side, strapping her firmly to the saddle bow.

Mylia immediately pressed against her constraints, but they remained firm.  She considered the fleshy haunches of the creature below her.  If she could just get a claw to pierce that flea-bitten hide, the mule may turn frantic and bolt for the trees—

Some men kicked dirt upon the fires of last night’s feast as others stripped down the remaining tents and piling up baggage to the several mules around Mylia.  They mostly avoided her, although Mylia caught their quick glances of hatred and confusion.  She briefly wondered if another wyrm had ever ridden a horse before.  Likely not, she supposed, or not for a moment longer than it took the wyrm to remove the delicious head from its body. At least the woolen robe fastened around her body and legs gave some warmth from the biting winds.

The Prince rode past her, tall and proud on a black horse, shouting orders.  Beside his saddle bounced a massive, wrapped bundle, jagged in areas and wet underneath with a clear, dripping liquid that Mylia immediately recognized.  It was the head of the slain male wyrm that had been caught and eaten yesterday.  Why did he keep the head and what horrors did he have in store for her in the world beyond?

Mylia threw her head upwards and howled to the skies.  The hunters turned in her direction, and she saw both open admiration of her voice and mockery for the plight she was in.  And she hated them all.

She cried to the peeling morning light, the shuddering black shadows cowered within ice-crusted evergreens, the deep, subtle tread of creatures both large and ferocious, prowling within the forest gloom, and all the birds of the air and fish in the rivers.  Her voice lifted drop by melodiously-golden drop, a harp for the winds and starlight.  She sang for her broken legs and lost freedom, for a word of kindness and a gift of love.

And they answered.

A great flock of songbirds sprang out of the snow firs and sallied into the crisp morning air, spiraling in great, gyring circles above the forest edge.  The sun’s rays glittering on their pale plumage so that it seemed a massive halo anointed the dark trees, framing, beyond, the snowy, cragged tops of the mountains that marked the edge of the Wylds and known world.

Yet, for all their flurried, eddying movements, the birds were silent and Mylia grieved for their lack of song.  She no longer desired to eat their flesh, now that she was bound and stank of human and they circled like crows over carrion.  She stopped her song and crumpled into a small, quiet heap upon the mule.  With one accord, the birds disbanded and fell into the waving tree tops, leaving the morning stark and chill.

Mylia noticed the staring hunters and, again, a strange awareness of her effect upon humans made her tail curl into her arms.  Gerard whispered to the Prince and he nodded in return and her quick mind found a deeper secretiveness to their actions.  Humans were complicated folk and moved in hierarchical packs.  These brothers kept aloof from the other hunters and she sensed their royalty was only half the reason.  It was in this moment that Mylia picked up a thread of the purpose that had driven Asher into the forest but she did not yet know its meaning.

They galloped away from the edge of the forested Wylds, leaving nothing in their wake save a huge, trodden circle of ground from where they camped the few nights before.  Mylia watched the forest shrink behind her, the tree line receding under the stamp of stony plains.  It was only when the dipping heave of the hills concealed the last vestiges of grey fog upon iced trees that she turned around and gazed upon the misted, barren lands ahead.

At noon, the Prince signaled a brief halt for lunch.  Mylia raised her leaden head from the mule.  She was tired of the incessantly bobbing, maned neck, the slow canter that rocked dull pain into her broken legs bandaged to their splints, the headache from starving for two days.

She had managed through an hour of wriggling in her bonds, to jab a claw into the mule’s neck, but the animal dove into a prolonged bucking which nearly broke her back.  It took several hunters to calm the animal and she noticed Titus speak foully of her to the Servant.  The Prince merely watched and sipped from his canteen.  She cursed them all with the foulest of wyrm curses.

Yes, she was furious, hungry, sore, and still very much a captive.  She growled as Gerard approached and lifted her off the mule to the grass.  There, she crumpled into a heap and wondered at the world spinning around her.  She felt distinctly ill and glared at the mule who only rolled the whites of its remarkably dumb eyes within her general direction.  Mylia snapped her fangs and the mule looked quickly away.

At the head of the retinue, she saw the Prince speaking with several men.  He once turned and stared at her for several minutes but made no attempt to approach.  Mylia shivered and wondered what he intended to do with her.

Gerard knelt down beside her with a lumpy package in his hands.  “I will hunt for you tonight,” he said, “but you need to eat before then.”  He unrolled the cloth wrapping to reveal a small, crusted loaf of wheat bread.  Mylia grabbed the loaf between her wrapped hands and shoved it down her throat in several massive mouthfuls.

His mouth dropped.  “Well, that saves me having to catch rabbits for your every meal.  I knew you wanted to eat bread the other day, but no one listened to me.”

Mylia could tell from the intonations of his voice that he meant well.  So she carefully licked her fingers clean of crumbs and held out her hands, palms upward, for more bread.  He grinned and stood up.  “Sorry, lunch is over.  We’re back to riding until dusk.”

They passed through several villages, dotted about on the grasslands like sporadic clusters of mushrooms in a field.  They had puffing chimneys, white plaster walls stained with smoke, and narrow, muddy streets in which milled shaggy goats and cows with spiraled horns.  The villagers were as she remembered from the shrine ceremonies, save their faces were unpainted and they wore heavy wool clothes of grey and brown.

For the first time in her life, Mylia saw human younglings.  Like the adults, they all stared at her.  Some shouted foul remarks within her direction as they ran alongside the cantering horses until falling away into the distance, out of breath.  The adults mostly shrank behind white picket fences or ran into their houses and slammed the doors shut.

Mylia did not blame them.  Most of these people had never seen a live wyrm, never mind one riding a horse and dressed like a human.  It was enough to upend their folklore of the past several centuries.  Now, when autumn frights were told in the darkening twilight, the stories would include headless wyrms dressed in princely gear, galloping fiercely through the night upon coal black steeds.  Perhaps that would make the mule feel better about having her on its back, she thought, with another glare at its stupid, ducking head.

It was only as the sun plunged within inches of the horizon and they approached the fourth village, that Mylia was attacked.

This village was larger than most and, unlike the foraging aspects of the people beforehand who seemed to rely upon grazing stock and cultivating wild grains, these people appeared more urban.  Their buildings were square and flat-rooved, and the streets were straight and broad.  A large building rose in the center with bells clanging within two steepled towers.  Metal fences edged the main cluster of buildings and several men walked the parameters with guns in their hands.  Stretching for miles into the distance and spotted with grain silos, rolled fields of pale wynter wheat, a staple crop of the Empire.  For indeed, the village was an official Imperial outpost but Mylia only learned of this fact much later.

The hunting party approached, riding upon the broad avenue that cut through the wheat fields and village.

Mylia sniffed.  The air was thick with the strong wheat scent that she knew for so many years as she flung her body through the snowy firs to find some new waterway or flowered mountain dell.  She was suddenly, violently homesick for the Wylds.  Her head drooped low to the mule’s neck and she breathed deeply, trying to calm the raging torment within her skull.  She could smell the ripples of sinuous muscle moving under the natty fur, the pulsing red blood and the sour hint of hoof disease that suggested the poor beast had only a few more years to live if untreated.

The mule turned and gave her a careful look and their eyes met in mild understanding.  She could tell the mule disliked for its rider but knew no other reality.  Just as she had always lived her forested life with no concept of this strange world in which she now rode.

Leaning forward, she quietly sang a few, sweet trills indistinguishable to the human ear, consoling the mule for its lost freedom and lifespan.  And the mule picked up its ears and pranced, shaking its mane like a young foal.

Mylia sat up, feeling a lot better now that she knew her communication ability remained unbroken.  Unlike the Wylds, where conversation with the flora and beasts flowed through her like electricity and blood, this part of the world lay heavily tainted by the third breaking and needed more direct, verbal communication—

The rotting melon came flying out of nowhere and smacked her head, bursting foul juice over her face and neck.

Chapter 5: September 2
Chapter 6: September 9
Chapter 7: September 16
Chapter 8: September 23
Chapter 9: September 30
[…]

Chapter 3: You Fiend!

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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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Mylia knew that humans believed in a world for those who died.  A place filled with immortal beings who sometimes meddled in the affairs of this one.  Humans erected stone shrines on the forest edge and left bowls of cracked wheat and heavy wine for these immortals.  Sometimes, they sacrificed a goat or pig, slicing open the pink carcass and catching the blood in wooden troughs.

She used to watch them walk in from the twinkling villages, their robes ghostly flittering in the gloom, white face paint masking their frightened eyes.  Her belly was always thankful for their food and but, after watching multiple ceremonies from the dim treetops, she never discovered the practicality of their beliefs.

For whatever reason, be it a human deity or good fortune, she had been spared the hunter’s bullet and now she must consider her escape before the hunters returned.  Mylia explored the parameters of the pit, letting her gaze wander over the sooty, vertical sides, steeped in the familiar slime which oozed from the Wyld’s deeper earth layers.

She knew from experience that even if she escaped her bonds, the slippery walls would send her crashing to the ground.  She moved and gasped in pain.  Her legs were certainly broken.  And her wings, useless!  A feeling of utter horror washed over her.  She had always relied upon her cleverness and speed.  Now, she sat amid dead coals, trapped for the first time in her existence.

Some hours passed and she felt the air darken and heard the flitter of bat wings high overhead against the peeping stars.  Night drew near.  Her skin grew whiter with cold and fear.

Far in the distance, the snap of banners and clop-clop of horse hooves signaled the return of the hunting party.  Voices rose on the wind, triumphant and tired.  She huddled down and clasped her knees to her chin, shivering from the cold and the shimmered rush of adrenaline.  Even the stars above her pit scintillated and waxed small under black clouds.

Perhaps, she would never see the stars after this night.  For, when they broke her body with knives and fleshed her skin so death came, her essence, that which made her mind and powered her nerves, would vanish.  Mylia did not believe in an afterlife.  She hissed and ran her tied-up hands through the muck, noticing how the soot and slimy mud broke upon her claws, sharpened from climbing multiple trees hardened to stone from the frost.  At least she would go down fighting!

Again the humans peered over the pit sides.  She stared upon their shadowed faces and wondered why the Prince was not with them.  She briefly debated whether they had found the old wyrm for several of the hunters had bandages red with blood.

Two hunters grabbed the rope and hauled her up and she clenched her jaw against the hideous fire that shook through her dangling, bound legs. There was a brief argument among the men and she realized their hesitation was from fear of her.  None of them wanted to be the unfortunate human charged with carrying her.  She grinned sharp teeth at them.  She could smell their fear.

Titus approached and crouched before her.  Grabbing her bindings in one fist, he looped her hands to a rod and swiveled so that her arms were helplessly tied behind her back.  “You bite and I’ll kill you,” he said and, strong fingers cruelly gripping her neck, hauled her along the filthy ground.

Mylia screamed at the agony splintering through her spine with every movement but her cries went unheeded.  Titus dragged her limp, flopping body, past the wary eyes of hunters, to the central tent.  It was as large as a house and lights glimmered around the shadowed bodies of hunters within.  Mylia understood.  Perhaps, they had caught no wyrm from the day and she was to be sacrificed!  She craned her face upward, studying her tormenter as he paced through the ruffled, wet leaves.

One bite to remove his hand and she would die a few minutes later, defenseless in her tight bonds.

And Mylia wanted to live—live and leap from tree to tree, singing for the birds and starlight, for her full length of allotted life upon this world, until the earth consumed her tired, happy body, and her voice fell silent forever among the wildflowers.  No, she could not die tonight.  She gritted her teeth.  She must not die!

A single heave from Titus, and she fell into the tent, landing in a crumpled heap of mud and pain.

Prince Asher turned from a table upon which lay strewn a handful of maps.  He looked tired and his right forearm held a bandage.   Other hunters sported similar bloody bandages.  He saw her and viciously swore.  “Titus, you fiend.  What have you done?!  I told you to keep her unharmed.”

Mylia did not fully understand the Prince’s speech and figured this rage lay directed towards her for humans loved cleanliness and her cinder-covered body had made a mess of the carpeted floor.

Titus appeared angry in return.  “The wyrm is dangerous, Asher.  Remember, she is a monster.”

“Let me be the judge of that,” coolly replied the Prince.  Again, he eyed her body.  For the briefest of moments, she felt that somehow, she was on display for his gaze and deep inward, a growl started in her throat.  A growl that dissipated into several crystalline notes of song that hummed the night air to sleep before she closed her lips and the sounds ceased.

Again, she noticed how the hunters watched her, mouths and eyes open as though struck by some blight.

Mylia felt hope tremor within her body.  These humans did seem to be in a murderous mood.  Perhaps she would live out tonight, regain her strength and escape in the morning.  She raised her great, golden eyes to their staring faces and examined each in turn, reading and wondering at the shifting emotions within each gaze.

One hunter barked a short laugh.  “I could listen to her voice forever.  She can’t meet my wife.”

“If your wife heard you say that, she’d turn into a wyrm herself and cook your ears off,” another hunter laughed.  A few sniggers flittered round the room.

Mylia thought it curious that such emotional connectivity existed between humans.  It was similar to how she could stand amid the forest and converse with the trees and smaller creatures without making a sound.

“What do you plan to do with it, Asher?”  Gerard spoke, his voice a whisper.

In response, Prince Asher snapped his fingers.  A servant ducked into the tent and squawked in surprise at seeing the monster slumped on the floor.  Mylia shrank from them and gazed upon the Prince.  Some deep instinct told her that he stood as the only link standing between her and torment.

“Clean her up and keep her somewhere warm.  And get a medic to set her legs before she ends up paralyzed,” he commanded and turned back to his maps.

And thus ended her meeting or trial or whatever the strange event had been.

The servant carried her into the back chambers of the Prince’s tent where a fully stocked bathtub lay puffing steam and luxurious scents from the cream petaled flowers—peonies—strewn upon the water.  The servant did not remove her bonds, something which angered her greatly, but his hands were timid as he lowered her into the clouded liquid and sponged off years of dirt, soot and filth from her tender hide.

For a moment, she struggled at the feeling of hot water.  It was a strange sensation to her and extremely alarming, even as the feeling grew powerfully delicious.  She did not yet know that her inability to breathe fire made her dependent upon external heat to stay healthy.  But sunlight was rare in the Wylds and warmth only found deep within the bowels of the earth, near bubbly, red volcanic trenches where she never dared roam.

The servant dragged her out of the bath, laid her upon the carpet and gingerly patted down her heated skin.  There, coated in soap foam and steam, Mylia noticed something strange.

Her body, typically ranging between white or ashen tones, had darkened to a deep, twilight blue.  How shockingly gaudy and regal her skin and more beautiful than the sun and stars or even the songbirds she loved.  She was the color of the deepest, spring-fed mountain brooks gushing through frosted boulders.  The color of the night before dawn, so brilliant that even the morning stars dimmed under her splendor.

Even her tail fluffed sky blue.

The servant stared upon her in awe.  Suspicion entered her mind.  Their true plan had been revealed.  Heat made female wyrms as brilliantly colored as the males, perhaps even more so.  Perhaps they would use this as a weapon, put her out as bait to grab better wyrms—

Mylia’s golden eyes glared in deadly precision upon the servant and he retreated before her bared teeth.  But, even as her mind raged with fear and causation, her beautiful skin faded to pasty grey and she shivered in the sudden cold.  She sighed and slumped upon the rugs in a pile of scrawny flesh.  The sudden movement sent jarring stabs of pain through her twisted limbs but she only mewed.  She was growing used to pain.

The servant gingerly draped a few blankets over her bound form and she thought it odd that a human endeavored to keep her warm.  It was a strange departure from her earlier treatment in the fire pit and she did not trust them.  Wyrms were not so changeable in nature.  They hated or loved forever and rarely mingled the emotions.  These humans shifted moods so easily, she could imagine each body possessed by a fleet of capricious ghosts.  There was no predicting what they would do to her next.

A medic arrived, thrusting aside the curtains, his eyes alert and professional upon her twisted limbs.  With the servant’s help, he placed her legs onto wood splits.  Mylia gasped with agony as they pulled each limb straight and lashed the knees and ankles to the wood.  It felt unnatural for her legs and she tried to complain but her voice only created several chorded, minor notes, sweet as a lark floating in a heavy dawn.  She did not understand why their eyes welled up in tears and fearful wonder at her sound.

Before she could further protest, Prince Asher stepped into the room.  He gazed upon her in curious delight and complimented the medic for his work.  The servant made to remove her blankets, but he gestured for them to step back.

“Do you not understand,” he said, “With similar attire, she could pass for a human.”

A hunter joined him, the younger man who had inquired whether Mylia was hungry.  “We are ready to depart, Asher,” he stopped and stared at Mylia’s cloaked body.  She cast her eyes upon his broad face and studied the emotions there to read shock, surprise, and even awe.

The Prince nodded, his gaze remaining on her cloaked form.  “Excellent, Gerard.  Let us be gone by morning light.”

So, Gerard was certainly his name.  Mylia didn’t have to know the human tongue to recognize the possessive intonations of the word now twice applied to him.

“What do you intend to do with her?”  Gerard asked.

“She returns with us.”  The Prince replied.

Gerard grimaced.  “You care explaining to mother why we’re bringing an apex predator home—alive?”

“She’s no predator,” the Prince breathed, his eyes never leaving Mylia’s gaze.  “She’s something else…something special.  Either way, she smells like humans now.  She won’t last a night out there, even if her limbs were healed.  We either kill her or find another use.”

“Well, you always were the clever one, brother.”  Gerard bowed himself out with a grimace.

The Prince turned to Mylia.  “You do not understand our speech but you will learn in time.  Under my protection, you will not want for food or comfort.  But should you ever hurt a human,” he grabbed the servant, swiftly pressing a hunting knife to the other’s throat to indicate to her what he meant, “I will kill you myself.”

Mylia’s lip curled.  She understood.  It had not taken long for the humans to show their cruelty.  Even the Prince’s velvet glove concealed a blade.  She was a captive until they decided to kill her.

“Good,” the Prince released the servant who scuttled backward, clutching his throat.  He sheathed his dagger and beckoned to Mylia.  “Be sure to rest and feed her well.  We journey home when dawn breaks the sky.”

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

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
[…]