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
[…]

Chapter 1: Mylia Meets the Prince

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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Deep in the tangled black forests of the Wylds, where wanders go mad and the sun droops low in the sky, there lived a monster named Mylia.  She never chose her name for this was what the Prince called her years later when he visited her gauze and gold draped bower, where she ate the raw flesh of birds and used their bones to pick her teeth.

Mylia was famous.  If you were to walk down the clustered streets of the Empire’s mountain capital, Ovgarod, bumping into people and avoiding the honking cars, you will see her name and shrouded face gilded upon advertisements in the square of every marketplace and café bulletin board.  For she was one of the greatest singers who have ever lived.  People shouted her name when they dealt a death thrust in duels, hummed her songs to crying infants, inked her likeness upon their flesh and the concerts—oh, the concerts!  Fireworks and flames bursting across the night sky, writhing, green-veiled dancer hordes and one free drink for the first thousand attendees, courtesy of Mylia’s public relations team, Quincy & Bookers, LLC.

Everyone loved Mylia but no one knew who she was.  Mylia was a wyrm, a creature of fire and mud, birthed after the world’s Fourth Breaking many centuries ago.  Most wyrms are massive creatures, the combination of dragons, bats, dinosaurs and your worst, slithered nightmares.  They can torch a car with a single breath and when they walk, people raise fearful eyes to the sky and wonder where the thunderstorm lies.  Yet, wyrms are slow and steady, hunting for food and avoiding the sun which dries their skin and hurts their eyes.  Ever since they clambered from the cracked, bubbling earth and peered upon the grey skies of Eshliuwa, people have hunted and killed them, clubbing the youngsters into pulp and herding the larger ones over cliffs to fall to their doom.

After all, humans were the most powerful and populous species on the planet and they wished to maintain their supremacy.  The massive, fiery wyrms with their penchant for meat threatened the survival of multiple villages and then, as they migrated towards warmer realms, the great cities.  Battles were fought and the wyrms drew dangerously close to the Empire’s Capital on several occasions.  After nearly a century of fighting, the remaining wyrms were driven deep into the snow-wrecked forests of the Wylds, far on the borders of the Empire where the sun shines a few hours a day and villagers are known for wynter cannibalism.  There, the species faded into whispered stories until they became rumors, then myth, and finally, forgotten.

But, wyrms have long lifespans and deer, elk, wildcats and other large animals are easy to roast and eat.  They did not thrive, but they lived on deep under gloomy elm and pine, preferring the black shade of sunken valleys to craggy mountain peak.  It was in the Wylds that, several hundred years later, Mylia entered the world, a howling, fetal slump dirtying the mud and snow.

While wyrms typically are large, Mylia remained the size of a high-backed chair or a smaller adult.  This was likely due to her extreme youth.  In the eyes of the wyrms, she was a mere child for she was born several centuries after the wars and massacres.  She never knew her parents nor desired to discover them for wyrms are reptilian and lay eggs, neglecting their progeny upon hatching.

She remembered the warm, sulfurous fluid surrounding every inch of her being, the terrible, itching desire to crack the creamy shell and burst forth upon the cold, windy world.  How tall the trees that swept over her, filled with black, brown and grey songbirds, the crisp wind and brilliant skies.  How sharply flung the smell of pinecones and frost that thickened the air, encrusting the broken eggshell with ghostly fingers.

She breathed air into her nostrils, feeling a deep, warm fire hum like an angry bee within her belly.  Fire that came forth in the strangest, whispering cry.  There was no flames or smoke as with the other wyrms, only that perverted sound, half whistle and half howl.

And above and around her, the songbirds came flocking, singing in reply.

It was in this moment, on her first birthday and entrance into this world, that Mylia knew she was different.

Many years later, she tried to determine how her genetic makeup transformed her fire-breathing abilities into the potent gift of song.  Perhaps her mother abandoned squatting the egg before it hatched and that brief intermission of cold upon the laid egg altered Mylia’s body, stunting growth and reforming her vocal cords.  But at this stage in her life, the mystery did not need solving for no one existed who cared.

Mylia’s biggest grievance over her physical alteration was the annoyance it posed in everyday living.  Because she was small, the world was gigantic.  Other wyrms lumbered through the forest, crushing trees with a single blow…trees that took several hours for Mylia to climb in pursuit of the little birds.  She had an inexhaustible appetite and could devour a few dozen birds a day.  But those were rare days indeed.  She quickly learned her voice attracted birds, along with a plethora of less savory creatures.  Sometimes, a few lizards and mouthfuls of bark stuffed mute her grumbling belly.

Once, she discovered a large, slain carcass of a wyrm.  A deep, instinctual urge rose within her and she ate his leg before the other, victorious wyrm arrived to devour the remaining body.   She was ill for days after that feast, writhing in agony high upon her leafy nest.

The other wyrms hated her for being small and fire-less.  Her size and voice reminded them of humans and their litany of persecution throughout the centuries.  If she bumped into a wyrm, she quickly learned to run away.  She ran because she lacked workable wings; hers were useless little skin-flaps that dangled from her back and unfurled into pathetic banners.  She consoled herself with knowledge that wyrms rarely flew anymore but preferred to walk the forests to stay hidden.

Mylia was very swift on four legs and could disappear and hide in all manner of crevasses throughout the mountainous forests.  This was thought of as skullduggery and wyrms hated such “sneakiness”.  Some even challenged her to an open fight.  Mylia mostly avoided such quarrels and kept her own company.  She loved sitting in the big, rocking treetops, cradling her long, beautifully-furred, silvery tail like a human infant, smelling the swift, eastern winds from the Empire’s night farms fragranced with the cinnamon-sweet smell of wynter wheat, the eddying flaps and jitters of moths and birds rising from the scruffy, dark leaves, or the sweeping caw of a great eagle high above her head.

And the sun.  How beautiful it was, rising as a dim, yellow bulb in the east to make a swift arc across the horizon before plummeting in red and purple fire, rotating her world into many hours of darkness before the next morn.

She composed songs to the sun, odes based on its beauty and star-fire.  She sang them in the sunrise and when night descended, she hummed her verse to the great, black sky above, stabbed as it was with a billion stars.

It was on such a night that the Prince arrived and forever changed her world.

He swept in from the east with a hundred retinue and enough equipment to last for weeks.  You see, the mountains of the Wylds were known for their great hunting and attracted many visitors.  The Empire’s royalty came for the love of sport, poachers and mercenaries found trading value in the pelts and flesh of large game, and then there came those even less savory…those practicing magic and seeking dark herbs, blood and bone for their spells.

Mylia knew about the dangers of humans for when their steps cracked twigs upon the edges of the great forest, swiftly news of their arrival rippled through beast and tree like a great electronic message, immediately alerting all the inhabitants throughout the multitude of forests and mountains that danger had arrived.

The smart beasts and prey slunk into hiding, their eyes big and hungry for no food would be found that day.  Those eager to taste human flesh and wreak havoc upon the species that plagued them for so many years, ventured forth and sought out the visitors with gleaming fangs.  Sometimes the humans won, sometimes a shredded carcass and darkening patch of crimson staining the forest loam was all that remained of the adventurous human.

Magical folk were especially hated for they often left the body drained of blood like a vampire, ripping away eyeballs, teeth and claws for their potions, while the precious meat was left to rot.  The forest always consumed the dead, for such is the way of the world, but the disrespect for death was seen as a great affront to the inhabitants, including Mylia.

Royalty was the worst.  They slaughtered every great beast they found, hacked and removed the limbs from weeping trees, and then, satisfied of their sportive bloodlust, departed the forest with the heads of the slain stuffed into bags, leaving burnt pits surrounded by crushed grass.

When the Prince arrived, Mylia was deep in slumber and bad dreams.  Then, deep in the forest, she heard the echo of dark fear and the night sounds fell silent.

She sat up and hissed a warning.  Her hiss, a pure, twinkling note within the mid-spectrum of the musical scale, struck the tree and she watched it shudder in reception, leaves curling up in dread at the impeding axe.  Thick was their march inwards to the forest, before noon, they would be at her tree.

Mylia scuttled down the boughs, her long, grey leather limbs and clawed fingers moving with great rapidity, tail strategically maneuvering the air currents for optimal balance, until she leapt upon the loamed floor and flung her pointed ear against the ground to listen for news.

A million root systems from a million trees shot forth messages, conveying news.  “Yes, it was a large company and they planned to stay for a while, judging by the lazy relaxation in their voices.” Then anger blossomed forth amid the roots. “They are cutting down a few trees on the forest edge and preparing fires.  Farewell, our brethren!”

She raised her head, waiting for the grief to diminish, then listened for more.

“The Prince brings several great hunters and they plan to venture forth in the morning into the forest.  Let all beware!”

“Let all beware!”  The cries rippled away, fast as a bolt of lightning, over hill and valley, up craggy mountain and across gushing river, for miles upon miles around.

On and on, to arching, black trees echoed the warning, to flying and skittering folk of the night, bats and owls, mice and lynx.  “Let all beware!”

Deep under her feet, Mylia felt the thick, heavy tread of a great wyrm lumbering deeper into the forest to find a hiding place from the hunters.  He was a leviathan of a beast, crawled from the very breaking, getting larger and larger with each successive year until his head combed the tree tops and his gargantuan feet pounded large pits across the land.

Since the encroaching wynter sent strong, cold winds blasting through shivering leaves, Mylia had shadowed his tracks.  Food was growing increasingly slim and occasionally small creatures fell into the pits created by his mammoth feet and she jumped right in for a meal.

With the Prince only miles away and hunting by morning, she must distance herself at once from him.  Of all the creatures in the forest, he was most liable to be caught.  She was very fast; a few hours of running and she’d be so deep within the mountains, not even the Prince’s fastest horses could reach her.  Yet, he had proved a good source of food for her and with snow about to fall, she knew not when her next meal would arrive.

Within her agile mind, Mylia began to hatch a plan.  There were other wyrms in the forest and she could lead the Prince away to them, sparing the large wyrm for her survival during the long, cold wynter.  Humans were predictable and hasty.  They’d jump to her plan and abandon the old, slow wyrm in favor of better, faster game.  And Mylia knew she was very fast indeed.  But what she didn’t know was the peril of traps.

Mylia approached the camp, slowing to let the roots and trees whisper advice and secrets to help best navigate and mislead the encroaching humans.

Chapter 2: August 12
Chapter 3: August 19
Chapter 4: August 26
Chapter 5: September 2
Chapter 6: September 9
Chapter 7: September 16
Chapter 8: September 23
[…]