Chapter 15: A Mighty Voice for the People

Mylia’s eyes narrowed in great wrath.  She was not amused.  A moment ago, her heart had pounded with the wild thought that she was headed back to the castle where people called her a demon and desired to slice her body apart for sale.  Now the prince wanted her to sing for this other human and she did not exactly care to obey.  It was all too raw and new, being in this echoing palace and she needed time to adapt and thus survive.

 

She turned to Fay and tried telepathic communication but Fay’s mind was a wall of stone.

Fay met her searching gaze with a confused, innocent stare.  “Mylia, go on.  Why don’t you sing like you did for Tom and I?”

Mylia pressed her lips together and stood, silent as a green tree.  She would not oblige these humans though they kill her.

DJ Sand sighed and checked his wristwatch.  “Look, Asher.  I’ve got to get back to the station for my next program. Will she sing or not?”

Asher looked over Mylia for a long moment.  Then, he spoke and his words were clipped and pronounced.  “I’m sorry.  She is starstruck and I seem to have wasted your time.”

The DJ shrugged.  “Not a big deal.  It happens.  Well, good day.”

Faster than Mylia’s eye could follow, the DJ whipped a black slice of Dyn air into the room.  Stepping into it, he promptly vanished and the room returned to its general shivery opulence.

Mylia felt ill.  So many people had the ability to code a passage through the Dyn.  Her disadvantages grew with every passing moment.  She thought of her isolated life, deep in the Wylds, ignorant of this great, modern, fast world…and she shuddered.  Everyone here was better and cleverer and faster and she was the most despised and clueless of them all.  How could she survive a world with such odds stacked against her?  A voice broke through her thoughts.

“Prince Asher, will you guarantee our safety?”  Fay spoke, her voice low and concerned.

The Prince spun on Fay, his eyes snapping with anger.  “Sand was the only DJ who I could persuade to hear Mylia.  You know how glutted the Capital is with vocal talent?  Why I ever thought this was a good idea…”

“Well, whatever it is, you thought it and here we all are,” Fay snapped back.

“Mind your manners, witch,” Asher coldly responded.

“I won’t.  Because of you…because of Mylia, the government knows about me now and I’m in a lot of trouble.  Now, I brought her to you and I want your word that Tom and I will be okay.”

“Have you heard her sing?”  He asked, sinking into a chair.

“Yes,” she said quietly.  “Her voice is beyond compare.  Why are you trying to put her on the radio?  She can outperform any of the Court’s talent with a few notes.”

He leaned forward and his voice fell soft.  “If Mylia opens her career at the Palace, her future is doomed.  She will become a court spectacle and never leave these walls.  No, she must become famous across the Empire before coming here to reside as a mighty voice of the people.  DJ Sand controls the programs of the most popular radio station this side of Ringold river.  He can bring her fame overnight.  I tell you this so that you know I am not a cruel man.”

Mylia gazed between Fay and Asher, desperately studying their lips, eyes and expressions.  They discussed her and she could not determine the messages conveyed.  They spoke too quickly and with too much emotion.

The witch frowned.  “Hmph.  You plan to keep her identity concealed. You know, there are ways to make it easier.”

“Magic?  No.  There are too many detectors and frankly, if she hints of magic, people are less inclined to believe in her talent.  They’ll only feel annoyed that their emotions were bewitched and the anger from such can fuel a mob.  Why do you think we hate magic nowadays?  Give people the real deal and they’ll love you because you helped them believe again.  Fool them and they’ll kill you for the offence.”

Fay sighed.  “Well, you’ve got your Mylia and I’ve got to get home.  Do I have assurance of your help or not?”

“I always keep my word,” Asher replied.

Fay burst into a relieved smile. “How do I know you’re telling me the truth?”

“Oh, get out,” Asher coldly snapped.

Fay’s eyes glittered in rage as she swept open the Dyn world, a thin black hole of freezing air and darkness, hovering beside the chair.  Pushing herself up with strong arms, she fell into the aperture.  Within, she turned with a final look to them.  “I hope you do not break your word.”

“Is that a threat?”  His eyebrow raised.

She shrugged.  “At least, when I fall, I can always choose the way I climb back up.”

Moments later, the black hole of the Dyn world vanished, taking Fay from them.

Asher abruptly stood upon his feet and faced Mylia.  “It was a mistake to bring you here,” he said.  “I cannot tolerate insubordination from anyone.  You are released from my service.”  Spinning on his heel, he swept from the room and the golden doors slammed shut behind him.

Mylia shivered.

She was in the Imperial palace, leagues away from her home, and entirely alone.

Her first reaction was overwhelming fear.  Her entire body turned cold and numb and she wished hard that something truly painful would happen to her so that she could feel something—anything at all—to remember she was alive.

This did not happen but the fear subsided in the wake of practicality.  Fay would return.  The prince must come back.  People surely could not abandon anyone so easily.

With a start, Mylia reminded herself that she was not human.  She was a wyrm or half wyrm at any rate.  And humans killed wyrms and wyrms killed humans.  That was the way it always was and here, she stood vastly outnumbered.

She tentatively walked to the closed door and leaned against it.  The door opened, she beheld a large room.  Again, the decor repeated in grand chandeliers, marble floors, gold and heavy velvet drapes.  But this room had windows!

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Mylia rushed to the window and flung aside the coverings.  Through the cold-misted glass plummeted a vast, grey city of skyscrapers and fog to the black water harbor miles below.  Mylia craned her head, pressing against the glass to see if the city ended.  She had never seen so many buildings and such an infinite spread of water.  Later, she would learn the name for it.  Ocean.

“Excuse me,” a woman had entered the room.  She wore a simple black outfit with a white apron.  “I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t see you.”

Mylia opened and shut her mouth, not daring to speak.  This was someone who could help her escape the palace.  She remembered how Fay had connected with her.  Walking forward, she grasped the woman’s arm to connect into her mind.

The resulting screech from the woman made her spring back.  The woman flung her away and ran from the room.  Mylia rushed after her in great haste.

Alerted by the commotion, a palace guard arrived in swift order.  He too wore black and a silver insignia on his chest.

The woman waved him down.  “Help!”  She shouted, pointing to Mylia.  “Stop her!”

The guard stepped in front of Mylia and held out his hand.  She immediately stopped, her wrapped, pearled head swiveling between the two humans.

He studied Mylia with a trained gaze.  “What’s your name, miss?”

Mylia stood frozen, shocked at these humans and their uncontrollable reactions.

“I was just cleaning the room and I saw her looking out the window!  I thought she was a foreigner or one of those courtesans.  Then I remembered those Dyn assassins mask themselves and when she grabbed me, oh, I got so scared!”  The woman cried.

“I must insist, your name?”  The guard stepped closer as Mylia shrank away.

Mylia felt tendrils of fear.  Baring her teeth, she growled and drew back.  Yet her growl released as a string of glass chimes, shivering in a frosted dew budded during a cold spring morning…syrupy notes so sweet, they seemed to turn the air cooler and lend a clear, fresh taste to the ears.

The guard and woman stared at her with huge, dazzled eyes.  Mylia was suddenly glad to have such a reaction.  She understood the outcome.  When her voice had sung for the prince, he had rescued her from death.  Even her witch friend had idolized her singing.  Surely now these strange new humans could help her.  Precious things never went unwanted.

“She must be a foreigner,” the woman breathlessly concluded.  “It’s not uncommon.  We get all sorts of folk here now the Emperor opened the borders.”

“No matter, she has to have permission to be here.”  The guard approached Mylia.  “Miss, who granted you access to the Imperial Palace?”

Mylia fell silent.  This was not an outcome she expected.   This man again threatened and the woman’s eyes grew hard and inquiring.  They reminded her of the folk from Asher’s castle.

“I will give you one more warning and then I will have to put you outside.”

She backed away.

“Maybe she’s a thief,” the woman helpfully suggested.

“Okay, enough is enough,” the guard said and his fingers moved in a quick, calculating blur.  Behind Mylia opened a gigantic black hole—a hole which quickly split apart into the Dyn world and then opened once more, like a light at the end of a shrinking tunnel, into another segment of this world.

Through the strange aperture, she saw the marble floors of the palace shift to grey asphalt, the midday light gush down upon a busy street filled with traffic and people walking, heard the shouts and honks drift through to echo upon the still, golden palace walls.  And then the guard thrust her into the opening and—out—onto the street.

She spun around and for a moment saw the guard and serving woman stare upon her through the opening.

The Dyn world closed.

“Hey, watch where you’re going!”  A man shouted.

Turning, Mylia saw a flash of angry eyes and then he turned and kept walking.  But she soon forgot his reaction entirely at the immense sight before her eyes.

The paved street curved up to the sunrise—true—and yet the stores on either side that glittered neon with huge stone arches and glass overhangs to protect against the mist crawling down the mountainside and through the streets with the searching fingers of one both sightless and avoided by fume-addled cars and the black umbrellas of walkers lay entirely forgotten—for a behemoth rose before her.

Grey and stark with battlements from a former time of warfare and unforgotten fear, the Palace reared from the mountaintop into the clouded skies.  A flock of dark birds, crows perhaps, fluttered upon the high winds that bashed against the sleek pillared walls and dark windows set within.  The multitude of buildings spread upon the mountaintop like a sordid crown and the  peak of its narrow, tiled rooves were lost in the storms above.

As Mylia gazed, the sky darkened, a slit of cloud opened behind her and a lance of yellow sunbeam shot across the city and smote the palace.  At once, all the windows sprung afire and it seemed to her that a great monster of stone and burning eyes rose from his mighty perch and glared upon her shrinking form.

With a scream, Mylia turned and fled.

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People sprung out of the way of this wrapped, veiled figure sparkling with pearls and gilt embroidery.

“Bloody foreigners,” one cursed as she struck his shoulder in passing.

Mylia wished to apologize, humans were so quick to hate, but she dared not stop.  Running downhill was incredibly easy although her legs moved stiffly now that the joints had healed wrong.

The myriad of streets with their cars and people had all passed in a blur of rain and neon lights and shadows.  How long she ran, she could not have known.  The sky fell into evening and all the shadows turned purple and hideous.  A moisture which began as mist transgressed into torrential rain and in minutes she was freezing and soaked to the bone.  Her pearls broke and scattered.  Somewhere, she tore away her outer garments and flung off her veil to better see the pavement before her running feet.  People had cursed and shivered at her strange, white face with the huge golden eyes, small nose and neck too slender for a human female.

“The demon snarled and passed by like an evil wind,” they later told the police and each other.  The next day, a couple of news stories ran sensational headlines of a monster sighted in Ovgarod but people laughed for the most part and accused the papers of publishing fake news.

Mylia learned about this only years later.  At this moment, she was filled with hate for her surroundings and desired to escape at all costs.

She staggered along the filthy, trash-strewn pavement of an unknown street in the heart of the Imperial capital.  Her feet stung from the cold, lumpy gravel and the distorted stench of tar and asphalt made her sicker with each passing moment.  Her stomach twisted and she paused for a moment to silently retch over her knees.  But only a few drops of clear liquid fell upon the ground.

Wyrm blood.  She was bleeding.

But not only from her bruised stomach.  Her feet left clear splatters behind her and even now, she noticed her toes and heels turning deep grey with the bruising effect of the run.

She slumped into a heap by a dumpster.  The exotic smells of rotting fruit, bread and wet paper made her even more ill.  She wanted to move but her legs felt nerveless.

Mylia grabbed her tail to her chest and grew saddened upon sighting the clumpy dust and mud coating the fine, grey hairs.  Pieces of street trash from the running clotted the ends and a terrible smell of old rainwater made her nose twitch.  She had never felt more disgusted with her body.

She flung off the tail and felt it curl and flop against the tarmac.  She would not gaze upon it.  Instead, she fell against the stone wall and gazed upward.  Against the leaning, black buildings, a small furrow of night sky lay visible.  Mylia badly wanted to see the moon and stars…wanted it so terribly, her eyeballs hurt.  But the storm clouds lay thick and dense; green when shivered by lightning and a sodden black under the downpour.

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Mylia shivered uncontrollably.  She would die, small and forlorn, in a city gutter hundreds of miles from home.  No one would miss her and no one would care.

But then, had anyone ever cared?  She had hunted the birds who loved her voice to their doom.  The larger creatures of the Wylds either pitied or despised her.  Human friendship and love were things she pined for but a list of humans, Gerard, Fay, Tom and now even Asher had shown they did not consider her as their equal.

She took a deep breath and considered her options.  Back in the Wylds, when food ran scarce and her stomach howled like a wretched beast, she had used her brain to obtain food.

Trickery and cleverness were her strengths.

Somehow, in the wild shifts of the past several months since her capture, she had forgotten the very things that allowed her to survive the brutal Wylds.

Mylia sat up and considered her options.  She was trapped in this city.  She could not return to the Wylds and everyone she met either wanted her gone or dead.

Unless she sang.  And she knew those vocalizations made people like her.  They warmed to her like butter to a flame.  And she would be their flame.  They would embrace her as the great singer—as Mylia!—and she would never want for food or shelter ever again.  She must become something of value to the world.  After all, people did not throw away diamonds or gold.

But first, she must become human.

Mylia looked upon her white hands and feet, suddenly hating the claws that curved from the tender flesh.  She gazed upon the limp, flexible tail as it dragged through the trash and thought it ugly and unfair.  She felt her wings behind her, those useless flippers of leather and bone, and detested them with a rage that made her cold heart glow.

She must become human.  But how?

She pulled her tail towards her and with a chomp, so swift that she could not change her mind, Mylia bit off her tail and flung it away.

A fountain of clear blood rushed out and joined the rivulets of water shrieking down the walls and into the gutter.  Mylia watched the strange, dirt-grey thing of fur and bone move in the undulating current and tears sprang into her eyes.  Now, only a stump remained in her nerveless hands.  She regretted her decision but—too late.  And she wept.  And, weeping for the loss of her beautiful tail and the blood that left her body, she fell into a darkness and knew no more.

FINAL CHAPTER to be published 1/13/18!!

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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“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
[…]