Chapter 12: With a Final Crimson Sigh

Mylia, a singing wyrm-human monster, is rescued from the bleak Wylds by a poor, ambitious Prince and surgically fashioned into a popstar to help him overthrow an ancient Empire. Under her new identity, she must navigate scandal, fame, deadly court intrigue, and even love in a rags-to-riches tale for the ages. (A new chapter every two weeks!)

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Mylia gasped to feel Titus grab her neck in a pincer clamp.  He threw her down upon the ground and kicked her.

“Look at how pretty they made you.  Why, you’d pass for a lady on a dark night.”  He brought his face down to hers.  “Wyrm filth.”

Mylia snarled and Titus hopped back with a laugh.  “The Prince may only want your voice, but those teeth and eyes, guts…everything within and about you, wyrm, even your soul, will fetch a fine price for me.”

The Servant peeked through the door to check the hall.  Mylia sensed the anxiety pour from him like a tepid waterfall…felt the currents directed towards a grate upon the floor from which rose the familiar stench of shivering horses and hay.  They were a close to the storage areas and stables.

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Before she could further discern the future growth of this fear, crouched and trembling as she was on the floor, the Servant spoke.

“Titus, the castle will be looking for the wyrm in a few hours.  Stop jawing about and kill her so we can get riding.  Lolli said she left the west gate open for our horses.”

Mylia moved slightly and another kick from Titus thudded into her abdomen.  She lay still, breathing hatred for the man.

Titus barked a laugh.  “Always the practical one.  Okay, sure.  We’ll carve her up after several hours riding.  Less messy.”

Mylia had no need to comprehend their words to know something was wrong.  Very wrong.  From when he first saw her, Titus meant her harm…perhaps even murder.  She must escape and immediately.

Then she saw the knife in his belt and sensed it to be damp with the Servant’s invisible flow of anxiety, felt the same tidal wave move towards her body and the rush of black, primal darkness snap over her vision forever.

It was in that second that Mylia knew she was going to die.

She sprang up, tripping on her robes, lunging for the door.  Titus expected it.  Faster than a snake, he punched her to the floor and smacked a boot into her back.

Mylia gasped in pain and writhed away on the cold tiles to avoid his reach.  His hobnailed boot thudded into her stomach and she screamed.  How she wished her hands were free, that her legs were unbound.  A single slice from her claws and his eyes would fly!  She spat towards his shiny boots and snarled in absolute rage.

“Filthy wyrm devil!”  He shouted in disgust.  “You Filthy,” his shouts were punctuated with each kick, “Wyrm.”

Titus smashed another heavy kick into her abdomen.  And again as the Servant bleated meager warnings of haste.  Repetition.  The humans loved repetition.  Amid her pain and despair of impeding death, Mylia began to see a way out.

Titus was skilled wyrm hunter.  He knew the weakest spots on her: the abdomen and neck.  His boots spared no qualms for her body but he carefully avoided her neck which Mylia knew would easily kill her.  So, he meant to torture her first.  For how long depended upon his strength and the lack of interruption.  But Titus was obviously was short-tempered and stupid.  Mylia reasoned she was meant to die soon since he would tire of beating her and a prolonged torture was too calculating for his personality or muscles.

She must be quick.

The plan lay spread before her vision, stark as a map fresh drawn from memory too short-lived to matter.

First, she would remove him of his sport.

Mylia closed her eyes and flopped, useless as a fish, to the floor.  The boot continued to smack into her belly, causing her hideous pain.  She gritted her teeth and bore it.

Then, oh blessed relief!  Titus stopped.  She felt his breath hot on her face.  “It’s fainted, the weakling,” he said to the Servant.  “Damn useless beast has no strength.”

Mylia opened her eyes and lunged, her jaws opening like a crocodile.  A single bite from her delicately sharp teeth and Titus’s face was no more—just a bloody mask of skull from which eyeballs writhed from their lidless sockets.

She spat out the skin of his lifted face and grimaced.  He tasted awful.  Another scream echoed from his raw teeth, followed by a dreadful silence.

Titus fell like a log to the floor, his body easing a great pool of crimson across the cobblestones and straw.

The Servant took one look at her lips dripping with blood and turned to flee.  With a bound, Mylia was beside him, her teeth fastened into his shoulder.  He screamed like a bat on fire as she threw him to the floor and planted a foot upon his chest.  She motioned him to stay but he already had that message figured out and turned grey as death.

She carefully unplanted her foot and glared at the Servant again to ensure his compliance.

Then she surveyed Titus as he lay, broken and gasping.  She was not vindictive.  He was dying, slowly and painfully.  She stepped on his neck and broke it, sending his spirit spiraling into the dark beyond.

As she stared at the body twitching on the floor, Mylia suddenly realized, with a sweep of joy and terror, that she was free.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the Servant made a quick motion to flee. He sprang to his feet, but Mylia was upon him.  She knocked him to the ground and punched his face with all her might.

He became extremely floppy and his eyes rolled up so high, only the white crescents of eyeballs were visible.  If Mylia could swear like the humans, this was an opportune moment.  She had intended to use him for her escape.  Now he was useless.  With her current, weakened state, she couldn’t carry him.  She knew from hunting that some creatures could take several minutes to many hours to wake and dart away.  Who knew how long humans took to swing out of their slumbers.  The echoing sounds of the castle smote her and she remembered where she was.  Time was of the essence.

Mylia rummaged through the Servant’s pockets until she found the jangling pieces of metal he had used to unlatch the multiple doors between her room and Edith’s study.  She found the key that unlocked her manacles and gasped with relief to have the metal weights clatter to the floor.

She stood up, feeling light as a feather, and free for the first time in months.  Ahead of her, the hall     stretched, long, dark, and spotted with old hay to add warmth to the floor.

With a mighty shriek, the Servant leapt from his slump and, before Mylia could react, he sprang up the stairs and out of sight.

Mylia stomped her foot in rage.  He was going to alert the castle and she would be caught.  Flight was of the essence.

She ran down the hall, swift and silent in the gloom. Her splintered legs made for slower going but she kept to her toes and paid no heed to the pain within her healing bones.  A door impeded her progress, but it opened with a shove of her fingers, and she dashed through a stocked pantry then around another door and into a wide, dark hallway which was markedly colder than the pantry.

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She was close to the outdoors.

The smell of barnyard manure and old hay smote her nostrils and, through the cold stone, she sensed the evil mule, the one with a hoof disease who hated her every moment she sat on his back and plodded to the castle so many weeks ago.

Mylia considered freeing him to help her get back to the Wylds.  He could even come in handy as a food source somewhere along the way.

A great bugle blast shook her clarity.  From the castle came the shouts and cries of many people, tears and shrieks of pure venom.  Through the din, she heard the words, “wyrm,” “demon,” and murder!”

Mylia burst open the door and staggered into the Courtyard.  People dashed hither and yon, shouting and preparing horses for riding.  She shrank against the wall and pulled the veil low across her face.  She hurried past a couple of soldiers dashing into the castle’s main door and ducked into a narrow passageway.  Down she ran a few steps and the smell of livestock grew in strength.  She was near to the stables.  Better yet, she drew closer to the exterior wall and the world beyond.  Somehow, someway, she must make it beyond the few buildings and milling, shouting people between her and escape.

She hurried across a small opening in which some ducks pecked for grain.  A woman sat on a chair and spun rough yarn on a wheel.  She saw Mylia’s blood-dripping face and garments and screamed.

But Mylia only hobbled onward, down a flight of stairs and past a few yawning doorways from which the warmth of life within caused her breath to momentarily catch in grief.

She spun around a corner and saw Gerard race down stairs that led to her.  Mylia flung herself into a doorway and just in time!  He looked deathly furious as he dashed past her, several armed guards in tow.  “Find the wyrm devil!  I want her dead!”

His wrathful screams echoed upon the winds of his departure and she shuddered.

Mylia did not have to understand his speech to feel the hatred within his heart.  And how he hated her now.  She understood, begrudgingly.  His father, Titus, had been flayed of his life by her jaws.  But a sadness lingered within her heart for she knew his friendship had been broken.

She waited for the sound of his voice to fade and then ran down a narrow alley and arrived at the great and ponderous castle walls.

At least twenty feet high before her, they were slick with icicles and smoke.  A series of steps ran up one way; but could she jump down from them on the other side?

 

Mylia briefly considered running to find the castle gate.  A second later, she abandoned the idea.  The gate would be the highest guarded spot in the castle.  The din from the search parties increased and the shouts came closer.  Within moments, a crowd of screaming people would hurdle around her, armed with weapons and a fury that she doubted even the Prince could stop…if he cared to.  She was running out of time.

Mylia hastily crawled up the wall stairs, taking two at a time, using her hands to help support her wrapped legs.

A guard stood on a rooftop and Mylia dodged just in time as she shot at her.  She felt the bullet hurdle past her face and streak with a scream into the evening beyond.

She fired again and Mylia ducked, springing to the edge of the parapet.  Below her fell the walls, steep and true, with nothing blocking them save the snowy moat stretched around the castle, chucks of blue ice floating in the dark waters.  It may yet be deep enough to catch her fall, but she could die of the wet cold.

Beyond lay the massive expanse of tree-dotted wilderness; the Prince’s farm.  Deep within the darkening afternoon lay the path to her beloved Wylds.  If she could make it to the tree line, she would have a fighting chance.

Mylia jumped.

For a brief second, she fell, faster than the wind.  Then, the shock of ice water smote her body and she plunged into the moat.  For a second, only the freezing vastness of pressing, ice-liquid surrounded her, popping her eardrums and slapping the rhythm of her beating heart with such force and pain, she nearly cried and, then Mylia felt her feet sink into the muddy bottom.

With all her might, she pushed against the mud and drifted upwards.

Her face broke upon the surface of the water and she gasped for air.

A whistling sound distracted her and an arrow thudded into the water by her ear.  Above, on the castle ramparts, a soldier stretched back a massive bow, preparing another shot.  Mylia took a deep breath and plunged back into the water.  Several other soldiers joined him, two had rifles.

If she made a run for it across the snowy wastelands, she’d be struck within a few steps.

Mylia had never been much of a swimmer, but sometimes, when wynter grew rough, she had to swim to catch fish hibernating along the bottom of the rivers.  She knew how to hold her breath and shove her weight through the waters like a ship’s propeller.

Deep into the murky waters she sunk, rhythmically kicking her splintered legs to propel herself forward. The wooden constraints were difficult and impeded her progress but she continued with a ferocity borne of desperation.

She swam, holding her breath for what seemed like an eternity, until she reasoned that, judging from the curvature of the moat, she had crossed a good quarter of the castle’s walls.  They were likely patrolling all the walls, but she may as yet take them by surprise.  And she must surface; holding her breath caused painful spasms in her lungs and her legs hurt badly from the unwonted and vicious exercise.

Mylia stopped for a moment and floated deep in the black, muddy waters, thinking.  If she sprang upwards now, she could have a head start.  She could not stay in the water forever.  If she did not breathe air within the next several seconds, the lack of oxygen would cause her to first writhe in agony then, exhausted, drown.  If there were plants, she might yet hide within their bodies, breathing air from the hiding of their leaves.  Yet, the moat was made of stone and mud and cold.

She knew the frosted embankment lay near her paddling limbs but the tree line was far, according to her memory, and the arrows and bullets of the castle would find her black form an easy target against the pressed snow.

Even now, deep underwater, she could hear their hateful shouts for her death.  Dim red light pierced the waters above her head.

The setting sun.  Nightfall gave cover when she needed it most.  Her chances for a run to the trees would be attempted and if she died?  At least she would die looking at the stars.

So be it, then, she thought.

Mylia kicked upwards.

Her pale head burst apart the water and she pulled in a deep draft of icy, blue air far within her lungs.  Sweet air and clean—she lunged for the embankment and crawled from the moat, her filthy linen dress streaking dirt and blood upon the clumped, grey snow.

“The wyrm!  There!”  The shout rose upon the ramparts.

Mylia heard the clatter of many running feet upon the ramparts above her.  Beyond her vision lay the dark tree line of firs heavy under snow and wheeling crows.  If she reached them, she would yet be safe.  But they were at least a thousand yards away.  She ran forward, stumbling in haste and pain.

A huge arrow, black-feathered, sliced the snow beside her feet.  She glanced at it but cursorily, for it had missed her.  The snow was wet and cold—how shining white it lay before her like a great, unpierced blanket.  Lowering black clouds in the horizon spoke of another storm.  Strange she should connect to the elements, she thought, as death shouted and readied weapons against her in the castle rising behind her fleeing back!  She must fear her mortality for it was a thing of realness and present beside her in a way unlike any other day in her young life before this moment.

Another great arrow shrieked past Mylia’s ear, nicking some of the flesh.  The arrow thudded into the ground several yards ahead of her.

She felt the trickle of her clear blood run down her neck.  And she increased her pace, dreading the pain of death at every step.

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With a final, crimson sigh, the sun dropped behind the horizon and all the world lay frosted by night.

“Kill her!  Kill her!”  Gerard’s shouts echoed on the ramparts.  Now the zinging snap of multiple bows released their arrows at her.  Several bullets screamed past, smacking the ice with a hideous krop-krop.  An arrow slashed her robe, missing her back through a hair’s breadth.  The next volley would surely hit a mark.

This was it.  Her moment of death had arrived and it would be delivered by someone she had considered a friend.

She heard a familiar voice spiked by madness and Mylia saw the Prince—

He ran upon the ramparts, shouting as though insane for the soldiers to desist.  But a fresh volley was already released and his face dropped in fear.   Yes, she reasoned in that hellish moment of slowed time and sharpened sensory awareness, it was fear.  He cared for her life.  And she realized how terribly she had played her part all through the time spent at the castle.  Asher should have become a truer ally and supported her wishes, not his younger brother, Gerard.  She wasted so much time and thought upon chasing threads of friendship and loneliness with Gerard whose mind was weak and easily misled.  If she could have the time to live again, a more forthright approach would be maintained.  She would only spend her thoughts upon people who both truly cared and had the power and discernment to enact their feelings.

The bitterness swept through her mind in a second and her eyes flashed upon the snowy expanse once more for her death approached.

The flying arrows shrilled towards her body; now a hundred, now seventy feet away.  Mylia could see their sharp metal heads in grim focus.  Within moments, she would be studded by a dozen or more.  And she would die.  Perhaps, she reasoned in the brief moment as the world crouched in expectation, the pain would not be so terrible.

Two hands grabbed her shoulders and sharply pulled her backwards.  Mylia felt a cool, slippery sensation fall over her body and her vision quivered and rippled.  Then, like a candle snuffed out, the world fell into darkness and a great silence so deep and immense that it seemed eternal, smote her.

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To be continued in Chapter 13, December 2!

Chapter 10: What Great Machines Shift the Sky Around Its Fiery Orb

Mylia, a singing wyrm-human monster, is rescued from the bleak Wylds by a poor, ambitious Prince and surgically fashioned into a popstar to help him overthrow an ancient Empire. Under her new identity, she must navigate scandal, fame, deadly court intrigue, and even love in a rags-to-riches tale for the ages. (A new chapter every two weeks!)

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Gerard drunkenly staggered into the room.  Mylia immediately stepped back, tripped on the rug and tumbled into a heap of robes.  She scrambled up and found her tail over her face like a silvery feather duster.  She coughed at the fur caught in her lips and lowed the fluffed tail from her face, coyly blinking at the swaying man.

He gaped at the ridiculous spectacle she made of herself, and so she sat up and dropped her tail in dismay.  What on earth was she doing flirting with a human?  Perhaps she was learning to beg for her food.  Like some animal.  She glared at him in full wrath and showed an array of small, pincer teeth.  Teeth that later would be filed down and squared to resemble human dentures.

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Mylia knew the danger she faced, alone in the room with a human.  Like all of his species, he was dangerous and unpredictable.  She stood tall and gathered the robes around her with a single clasp of her gloved fingers.  She had watched Edith and knew how a woman’s elegance could frighten people.  And she wanted to frighten Gerard because she had no idea of what else to do.  There was no blueprint of behavior for a wyrm living with humans.  One usually killed the other upon meeting and due to such behavior, social niceties had never had enough time to develop between their species.

Gerard turned and tottered out the room.  She wondered at his departure—had she been so frightening?—but he returned, hauling in a trolley.  The trolley was piled with bowls, silverware and lidded plates from which seeped fragrant tendrils of steam.

Mylia’s arms fell limp and all thoughts of terrifying Gerard vanished for on the tray was a feast.

Stacked was orange-spiced pork, bacon rib bubbling under a slop of butter, and a turret of golden scones cracked with sugar even as their cores dripped hot cheese.  A dessert bowl held currant pudding that smelled of vanilla spice and caramel.  And the wine!  Purple wine that tasted of grapes so crisp, the liquid tanged her mouth like a bundle of shaved ice.

Mylia sat down on the bed, pulled the tray towards her and ate and ate and ate.   He joined her on the covers.  “I miss the castle beds,” he bounced lightly on the mattress, “Ever since I came of age, I have to live in the barracks with my father.  Their bunks are like stone…lumpy stone, if that’s even possible.”

Mylia only topped off the wine and reached for a bowl of water scented like the dew of flowers.

Gerard stopped her hand.  “You use rosewater for freshening up after eating,” he said, motioning to his hands and face.

She scowled and downed the liquid in a gulp.  It was hideously bitter and she gagged.

Gerard laughed at her disgust.  “Some things you drink, others you put on your skin.  Next time, listen to me.”

Mylia studied him, staring intently into his blue eyes.  Why this sudden kindness, she thought.  He had always been nice to her, but never this nice.  She frowned, uncertain of how to respond.

He piled the empty dishes upon the trolley, but not before scoffing the last currant rolling across the vanquished plates.  “I meant to say this earlier but I forgot. I came here because you spoke to me.”

Mylia stared at him.  The wine was doing funny things to her eyesight, she was certain humans reacted a lot stronger to fermented berries.  Either way, Gerard seemed to be somewhat more sober, she reasoned.  He smiled.  He had a nice smile with small, square teeth…useless for hunting in the Wylds, she thought with mild dismay and then immediately regretted such unkind thoughts.  Not everyone was born a predator.

“It was odd.  I didn’t ‘hear’ you as if you were speaking to me.  I just understood your thoughts.  Your voice was inside my head and you were hungry so I raided the kitchens and here I am.”  He ruefully grinned and hiccupped.  “If my father Titus…or anyone…knew I just said that, I’d be tossed into a cell and accused of sorcery.”

She looked questioningly at him and recognized the name of Titus, the cruel old man who had starved and hit her when she was first captured in the Wylds.  She had felt the odd connection between Titus and Gerard ever since her first day of captivity.  So, they were father and son.  And yet where Gerard was kind, Titus was mean and cruel.  It was odd, she reasoned, that members of the same bloodline could exhibit such different personalities.  She had yet to understand the huge variability of heritage’s influence on a person’s behavior.  Later in the Academy, she learned such actions were explained by free will, determinism, and other delightful mental contradictions that exhausted the thoughts of the learned and elite.

Gerard gathered the dinner items and packed them onto the tray as Mylia watched.  Then he walked to the door and opened it.  He turned and looked at the small wyrm woman crouched on the bed in a bundle of robes and golden eyes.

“So anyway, have a Merry Yuletide,” he said and closed the door.

Mylia collapsed upon her bed stuffed and dizzy from the food.  What a dinner it had been.  She listened as Gerard’s footsteps died upon the passageway until the great silence of dead stonework erected high upon the speaking earth engulfed her.

But as she drifted into sleep, something odd happened.

Someone with light and hesitant steps walked up to her door and stopped outside.  For a moment, she wondered if Gerard had returned but she sniffed the air and immediately picked up the panther scent of Lolli.  For a while, Mylia listened to the other woman narrowly breathe on the other side of the door, her own lungs slowing to a state of cautious readiness for the eventual confrontation.

Lolli stood for a while, as though summoning the desire—or courage—to enter.  She walked away at long last, but not before Mylia’s heart had begun to thump with the same, cold fear that she had felt during her first days of captivity.

Mylia did not fall asleep for the rest of the night.

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“A mortal looks at the sun and wonders what great machines shift the sky around its fiery orb, pushing it upwards with the new morning and sinking it like a stone before night encloses.  Another gazes upon the sun and thinks “It is a fine day!”  But the same sun shines on both people, whether or not they are aware of it.”

Prince Asher finished speaking and looked at Mylia with encouragement in his face.  “Tell me, do you think reality changes upon your perception of it?  Or, does the world spin along all the same, despite our brief involvement in its affairs.”

Mylia blinked and stared.  His voice was melodious and his mannerisms, encouraging.  But his words?  Incomprehensible.

The Prince sighed and turned to Edith who sipped tea and studied Mylia with squinted eyes.

“I see you’ve made no progress,” he said.

“You asked her a complicated philosophical question,” Edith snapped back in high wrath.  “I’m trying to get her to say the o’clock of the day and name colors.”

“If she cannot reach our level of understanding, there’s no use in our working together,” he angrily exclaimed.  “I have no patience for ineptitude.”

Mylia softly snarled.  There was no mistaking his tone of voice now.

The Prince indicated to her, “Listen.  Even when she is angry, her voice is beautiful.  She will become a singing wonder of the Empire.  You must try harder.”

Edith slammed her tea cup onto the table and compressed her lips for a long moment.  Then, she let out a large sigh.  “My dear son, you must remember the situation.  Just weeks ago, this creature had never seen a human.   How do you expect her to expound on the universe when she has yet to understand the most basic of words?”

“The best singers, mother, are always the greatest philosophers.  Only then can they touch the inner desires of the audience, whether they be commoners, royals, or the Emperor himself.”

Edith shrugged.  “I don’t know what you would have me do.  We’ve tried for days on end.  The creature has had time to adjust to her new settings but refuses to interact with me.”

Asher sat back in the chair and studied Mylia with an intense scrutiny that she matched, stare for stare.  He spoke to his mother, keeping his eyes fixed upon Mylia.

“Mother, when I caught the two horse poachers on the eves of our land, I hung them from the nearest tree.  I stood before them and watched as life fell from their eyes.  They seemed to die for an eternity.”

“Is that your greatest fear, my son?”  Her voice softened.

“You mean, do I fear death?”

Edith gazed at her son with great compassion.

He shivered.  “I fear mind loops.  They are like a train you can’t remember boarding with a journey you may yet accept.”

She sighed and reached for her tea.  “The Empire has many trains and all their tracks lead to the Capital.”

Asher made an impatient gesture as though tired already of the conversation.   “The point I wish to make is that when someone dies, their eyes hold a final spark…as though their soul has flung itself against the prison of the body in one last attempt for survival.  That spark reminds me of the fire that now burns within her golden orbs.”

“If she is so desperate to live, perhaps we did wrong in bringing her to stay with us.”

Mylia’s eyes flitted between Edith and Asher.  Something about her was being discussed but their tones shifted so quickly, she could not determine whether she was in danger of their decision.  She stared upon Asher and wished very much that she could reach his mind and ask questions.  For, she had so many.  Why she was here and where her future lay.  If he would ever take her back to the Wylds or even set her free.  She was in the mood to grant this human family lenience after the kindness shown by Asher’s step brother, Gerard, the night before.

“I couldn’t leave her in the forest with broken legs.”  Asher’s voice calmed as he studied Mylia, matching the burnished intensity of her gaze.  “You should have seen the state she was in.  She would never have lasted a day.”

“It’s surprising you care so much for what is only a tool to procure our family wealth.”  Edith sharply stated.

“Not really.  She must pay me back for saving her life with her service.”

Edith looked from the Prince to Mylia and back again.  A slow, steady, comprehending smile spread over her face.

“Asher, my dear, why don’t you try instructing the creature.  Perhaps you may reach a breakthrough where I cannot.”

Asher met Edith’s eyes and his face shifted with calculation.  “I understand that as a challenge, mother, and I accept.”

And so, Edith swept from the room, the door closed, and the Prince and Mylia were alone.

Mylia then realized that Asher would replace Edith’s tutelage for the day.  It was not the result she wanted but perhaps, alone with Asher, his emotions unpolluted by other humans, she would be able to discern something more of his intentions for her.  So, she waited for his to speak, expecting the same, boring litany of long vowel sounds and sentence fragments Edith had thrown into her ears.  Instead, the silence of the room was overwhelming.

The Prince studied her face with a frown of what she thought to be great resilience.  At first, she matched his gaze, her eyes bright with an intensity that made the sun pale by comparison.  But her heart was not in the staring contest and she grew bored.

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Mylia broke her eyes away to check the clock.  Every lesson was based around the short needle moving from the ‘9’ to the ‘5’ with a break at ‘1’ so Edith could eat lunch.  Now, the hand still hovered above ‘10’ and today’s lesson already dragged.  Since the Prince only cared to study her face, Mylia let her gaze wander.

The fireplace embers dimmed to purple.  Soon the Servant would enter to poke them back to life.  She glanced to the door and then the window, noting the chill creeping through the glass.  Perhaps she would stay warm today by shivering her emotions into submission.  Perhaps, she could even forget how hungry she was.

She would consider the doorway behind her where a swift flight down the steps and out the door took her into the freedom of sunshine and snow.  But the castle grounds and outlying buildings still lay to be navigated to the great beyond—the world outside.  True freedom in the Wylds was so very far away.  If only there was a way to be picked up from this room, lifted across the world like a bird on a supersonic wind, and deposited upon the forests of her home to dwell in peace forever.  Such travel would be more valuable than anything else in this world.

Or, maybe the Prince could be overpowered?  She looked at his sinewy form, noting the sharp darkness of his gaze.  No, this was one human she would prefer not to fight.

She looked down to her clawed hands, resting sedately, one on top of the other, the nail beds turned pearl in the daylight.  Just when her mind was falling asleep from boredom, the Prince spoke.

“What is your name?”

Mylia stared at him.  It was a question, judging from the slight, upwards lilt in the last word, ‘name’.

“What is your name?”  He repeated and then pointed to himself.  “Asher.  My. Name. Is. Asher.”

Mylia lowered her head, dismayed.  She understood his gesture and yet she did not know how to say “Mylia” in the human tongue.  But then, no one had ever asked her for her name.  Not even Gerard, although he treated her as a friend.   She was “creature”, “monster”, “wyrm” and a series of oaths from the humans who feared her.

Asher repeated the question, slower and with an ordered emphasis upon each word.

They stared at each other and Mylia thought for the longest moment that nothing else existed on earth but the question.

The question which hovered like a series of small, silver bells in a wynter-brushed forest in which footsteps crunched the stillness of pressed snow and icicles froze like glass ornaments from tall evergreens.

He wanted to know her name.

But how to speak her name as the humans did?  They opened their mouths and used the contraption of their vocals to elicit a reaction.  She did not think of words, only emotions consolidated in song.  If she remained silent, perhaps his pleasantry would vanish and she be refused further lessons.  Worse, he would no longer visit and she lose her best ally in this castle.

She reached out her arm, palm upward, fingers outspread, in supplication.  Carefully and slowly, she sang to him.  Her every note was delicate and beautiful as almond-scented breeze wafting through a rose garden.  She sang of her frustration and sorrow, her desire to impress him with her knowledge, and the hatred of the chains which now bound her so well that memories of swift flight through dark trees had faded to the deep recesses of sleep.

When she finished, the Prince remained for a long moment as though turned to stone.

Finally, he spoke.  “I still have yet to learn your name.”

Mylia looked upon him in great awareness.  Prince Asher was a hard man.  He could appreciate her singing even as he ordered her punished for disobedience.

With the greatest effort she had ever known, she pictured the sound of her name upon her lips and stated, carefully and slowly, like a needle puncturing taut fabric—

“Myyyyyyliaaaaaaa.”

She paused and saw recognition dawn upon his face.

“Myliaaaa,” she said again, faster and with more competence.

It was the first time she had ever seen him spontaneously smile and it made her heart glad.

And she repeated the sound from her lips, the sound of her name.  “Mylia.”

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To be continued in Chapter 11, released on November 4!

 

Chapter 9: Curled Under A Shell of Ice

Mylia, a singing wyrm-human monster, is rescued from the bleak Wylds by a poor, ambitious Prince and surgically fashioned into a popstar to help him overthrow an ancient Empire. Under her new identity, she must navigate scandal, fame, deadly court intrigue, and even love in a rags-to-riches tale for the ages. (A new chapter every two weeks!)

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The next day, it began all over again, and the day after that for several weeks without break.  Every afternoon, Mylia sat before Edith and watched her make sounds and point to scribbles within her books.  And she blinked her golden eyes and stayed mute until Edith ordered her removed until the morrow.

Beyond the lessons with Edith, Mylia remained locked in her bedroom.  She slept when night fell and ate upon the arrival of food.  All free hours were spent by her window.  There, she would lean her cheek against the cold panes and dream of the Wylds as her fingers curled upon the glass.  The circling squeak of her nails recalled the echoed crack of black ice on the lakes and rivers of her homeland.  Oh, the memories!  How she could breathe a song into a hunk of shivered log and hear the melody thrum away through the icicle trees, over hill and mile, until a bird hearkened to the bait and flapped down to rest upon her hungry claws.

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Mylia remembered how beautiful it was to sing and how lovely her voice.  A thousand silver bells or the fizzle-zish of a falling star as it dissolved in fire and smoke upon the snowy treetops could not match her crystal notes.  Yet, here in this castle, numbed by loneliness and stone walls, she found the desire for song grow less until most sounds she made were reactions—tripping in her bonds or waking in the shivered morning.  It was not her fault, she reasoned.  Why should she sing for despising ears?  And yet no comfort arose from the answering silence.

The humans were not the only concern of hers.  The castle itself was changing.  As the days blended into weeks, Mylia noticed the arrival of fir and holly wreaths in the hallways.  The sharp, sweet smell of the evergreen punctured the air and made her sneeze.  Once, she found a holly berry that had rolled into her room and tasted it.  Awful—she spat out the red mush with a terrible wyrm oath.

This holiday, she learned, was known as Yuletide.  Soon, large firs rose in the main rooms and foyers of the castle, ribbons and strings of popcorn looping their frilled boughs.  The candelabras were lit and mistletoe hammered to door frames.  Lady Edith switched her tea for a cup of sugar, raw eggs and cream which she called ‘eggnog’—spiked with a pungent liquor from a cabinet.

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Mylia knew from years of watching the villagers along the Wylds edge, that humans possessed a strange affinity for celebrations.  She supposed they had repeat rituals to help remember their placement in the world.  The important moments of the wyrms needed no celebration.  Their massacre by the humans existed forever in the memory of every young wyrm, screaming across their sleeping eyes before they realized they could dream.  As for wyrm holidays, they did not exist.  No day was more special than another; only survival to nightfall and then until the rising sun.  Yes, only these creatures from the Third Breaking, these humans of delicate temper and rapid speech, dared plot the future with such contemptuous regularity.

She noticed Edith grew increasingly worried as the days piled on.  During their lesson, sometimes the woman fell silent and gazed upon the storm-rattled windows, fingers plucking her neck skin.  Mylia supposed she worried for her sons, Prince Asher and Gerard.  Asher had not returned since venturing forth to deal with the cattle poachers weeks ago.  Gerard was strangely absent although Mylia picked up his scent around the castle.  She knew Asher’s execution of those men had something to do with Gerard’s avoidance of everyone but she was young and could not yet piece together the entirety of human motivations.

Edith was speaking and Mylia shook herself from the reverie.

Edith opened her jaw wide, and said, “Water.”  She repeated the word again, stretching out the vowels, smiling encouragingly at Mylia’s bored face.  “Waaaaateeeeeeeer.”  She sloshed her glass so that the clear liquid swirled and gulped unto itself.  “Water!”

Mylia felt annoyed.  All the splashing made her thirsty.  Of course she knew what water was.  Edith treated her like an idiot.  There was no need to invoke its name, she thought with a terrible frown at the glass. Water answered to no one. It gushed, froze and dripped forever in mutiny to air and ground. Really, such a force was best left alone.  Only magic makers were foolish enough to call upon the elements.  She later discovered, when researching career options in the Imperial Academy several years later, that magical careers were directly correlated to high early mortality rates.

Edith drank the glass of water and studied Mylia for a long minute.

“Wyrm,” she said at last, “If ever there was a time for you to rise above the savagery of your species, it is now.  We alone have the power to spare your life or condemn it.  All I ask is a little sign.  Anything to show intelligence may lurk in you.”

Mylia had no idea Edith said, but she understood the emotions throbbing the woman’s voice and knew her teacher’s patience stretched like hot butter upon bread.  Soon, punishment would follow.

“Today is Yuletide Eve.  Soon it will be Spring.  And still, you are silent as one of our beasts.  In several weeks, you will attend functions in silks and pearls to charm the elite of this realm with your voice and…the gods save us from such foolishness!”  Edith shook her head and fell silent.

Mylia blinked.  Asher.  He saved her life and treated her with medicine, protected her against the insults of the stupid and cruel people on the road, and gave her a tutor to help introduce her to humans.  Wyrms did not believe in loyalty, but she supposed that he was owed something by way of thanks.

Perhaps, she could try to speak for Edith.  A thought occurred that it would please Asher when she next saw him.  Mylia found herself wondering when, exactly, he would return.  He was a curious man, she thought.  Here today and then gone for long periods of time.  She remembered his strange appearance and his vanishing on the bridge.  She did not recall how he strode into the Wylds the night after her capture, but when she learned this story sometime later, his aptitude for vanishing finally made sense.  There was a lot in this world of humans that she had yet to understand.  At this moment, she found the uncertainty of his return provoked a desire to see him again, if only to discover why he always—eventually—returned to her.

Mylia bit her tongue to wake from these strange thoughts.  What nonsense had just pervaded her mind?  Thinking kindly of Prince Asher for tearing her away from her beloved Wylds was the last thing she would ever do.  His hunting trap broke her legs and now she was his prisoner.  She would never learn the human language.

Her lips clamped shut and she remained still upon her seat.

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A metal box trilled upon the desk, a phone, as Mylia learned.  Edith grabbed the handle and pressed her ear to the shell-like opening.  “Gerard, dear, your interruption is not desired.  Why have you called?”  She listened and her face staggered into joy.  “Asher?!  Oh, he’s returned?  I will be down at once,” her eyes darted to Mylia, “And, Gerard?  Order the servant to take the wyrm back to her chamber now.”

** ** **

Back in her bedroom, Mylia hobbled to the window and again considered her escape under light from two rising moons.  Everything had been a mistake, from her capture to this idiocy of learning the human tongue.  She was a feral little monster of long limbs and pallid flesh who swung from snowy evergreens and twittered with the birds before eating them.  She did not sleep in a bed nor speak like the humans.

No.

She stared upon a vast and desolate plain, plunging from her tower window and running away to mountains blackened by the crawl of night.  Around the castle, the farms of Prince Asher stretched for miles, streaked by fences piled with snow and broken in sections from neglect and overgrown trees.  Mylia knew from the frozen chill in the air, another storm gathered fury for that night.

Leaning over the windowsill, she looked down.  The ground was two stories below her room, impossible to jump and survive.  Craning her head against the window, she studied the walls on either side for ivy, drain pipes or any other foothold.  But, the rock was sheer and wet with slime and rain.  Perhaps, she would jump after all.  Surely, the snow piled against the wall could lessen her fall.  She considered it a unlucky chance the moat did not extend around this section of the castle.

Years later, she learned the Emperor had demanded every castle of the Nine Royal Families have their walls leveled and moats filled.  After all, such warring architecture was unneeded now that peace had been proclaimed by radio and paper across the lands.  Upon receiving the decree, a then teenage Prince Asher merely piled dirt into the moat on the most protected side of his castle.  Otherwise, he let the Emperor’s orders be damned.  As his castle was geographically distant from the Capital, and his family, minor in House and poor, no one from the (consolidated) Imperial Justice and Public Affairs Department had cared enough to pursue the matter further.  Of course, this changed when his prestige ticked upward at the Capital and there arose a need to search his past for dark and shameful secrets to buy his political cooperation…but this was all far away in the future for Mylia.

At this moment, she knew of one thing.  She did not belong in this dim, old castle of humans and locked doors.  The jump must be attempted.  After all, greatness only happened to those brave enough to define it.

Her fist was moments away from plunging through the glass panes when she heard something that had not echoed through the walls of her chamber for many a night.

Singing!

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The castle had come alive with glorious song notes so pure that tears welled in her eyes.  She flung an earlobe against the floor and listened with her body and soul.  Dimly, trickling through the wood beams and plaster smacking the stones, she picked out the main thread of direction and purpose.  Yes, that was it.  The entire castle must be gathered within the great hall.  They were at dinner—a feast.  They sang carols around the table and she heard their melodies define each voice from the young child to an old guard she remembered had welcomed the hunters into the castle all those weeks ago.  She listened for the Prince’s voice and there it was, a quieter lilt among the others.

Mylia listened in surprise.  Asher was trained in singing.   It made sense, she thought, given his education and the beauty of his mother’s ovular voice.  Another voice rose above the chorus and Mylia recognized Lolli, the servant girl.  Lolli sung with an abrasiveness that reminded Mylia of death.  It was later that she learned it was the Prince who no longer met Lolli in black of night gardens, amid statues crowned with dried snow.

The music died and a great silence fell upon her ears.  She supposed they now feasted and her attention returned to her room and the needs of the present.

The fire had burned down to fat embers that coolly hissed in the smoked hearth.  Mylia slumped upon the floor in a total funk.  No one had brought her food that night and she was colder with every passing minute.

A strange, ugly thought broke upon her awareness.

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How many nights had she calmly rocked herself to sleep in a tree amid the wynter storms, waking to find herself curled under a shell of ice?  And now, all she wanted was to be warmed and fed at regular intervals like some pet.  Even her attempt to escape died with the embers in the hearth.  She had grown soft and so quickly!

A movement outside her bedroom snapped her alert.

Someone outside was opening her door—she heard his step and heavy breath as she spun around.

Gerard entered and he was drunk.

…to be continued in Chapter 10, posted 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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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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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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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.

** ** **

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
[…]