Mylia stumbled back in the darkness, reeling to catch her balance. Because she was more wyrm than human, her eyes adjusted in milliseconds to her surroundings.
She stood on a flat, grey plain that stretched to the horizon under which a canopy of black night shivered and glinted with heavy stars. There existed no temperature that she could feel and the air lay still and devoid of scent. For a dreadful moment, she wondered if the arrows had killed her and this empty place was the afterlife.
Those hands that had grabbed her away from the homing arrows—Mylia remembered and spun around.
A shadowy woman’s form rose behind her, elegant and lean in the starlight, walking away with the grace of a dancer as subtle chimes trilled around her hidden form. And then Mylia realized the woman made strange gestures in the darkness as though tracing calligraphies with obscured ink.
As she watched, the woman’s hands spread wide and the darkness split apart as though she had opened a curtain. Brilliant light shone upon them, blinding Mylia’s eyes to slits.
“Follow me, love,” she heard the woman exclaim in a thick, foreign accent, and again those hands grabbed and dragged her forward into the brightness.
Mylia sank to her knees in fear and confusion, again waiting for her eyes to clear. When they did, they found the woman lay crumpled before her in a heap of robes and limbs. Mylia turned to see the last vestiges of the opening into that strange, dark world seamlessly close and zip up the black air into nonexistence.
And she saw that she was in a small room and the air lay heavy with sea and cloud. The light was also different. The low afternoon sun slunk orange behind the curtains, speaking of a land that received plentiful day hours, unlike the thin, frantic dawns and long twilights of the Wylds.
“You can stare all you like but do help me up,” the woman said in that syrupy-chunk accent.
She held out a hand and Mylia understood. Somehow, in that strange, black realm, this woman was able to walk. Now, back in the real world, she had lost the ability. Mylia remembered her own, healing legs that had been broken from the hunter’s trap months ago and felt a wave of understanding.
“To the chair,” the woman insisted, faintly gesturing to a chair perched by an open window. And so Mylia dragged her in a slide of dangling legs and clutching arms, to the chair. It was difficult going, given her filthy exhaustion from the castle escape but the woman had powerful arms and plunked her body from the floor, swinging herself into a mound of cushions with a sigh of relief.
Mylia stepped away and surveyed her rescuer in proper daylight.
The trilling sounds she had earlier heard now made sense. A thousand silver trinkets had been meticulously sewn into the woman’s black hair and moved like metal rain as she settled back in the chair with a deep sigh and closed her eyes.
Mylia took in the squawks of bluebirds from silver cages dangling in the white gauze curtained windows that encompassed much of the room. Outside was a courtyard wall, the grey stones dank with rotten moss and dirt. A large, wet tree bough flung across the window as though attempting to hide the alley below in which a car rested amid piles of trash on cracked tarmac.
The exterior was quite the contrast from the bright chrome fixtures, grey plush carpet and brightly pattered furniture of the room, Mylia thought. But this room was again a far cry from the castle. She wondered where in the world she was and what sort of powerful magic had enabled such a leap of distance.
“They’re pretty living quarters, right?” The woman had evidently recovered and now sat watching Mylia with hawkish eyes.
Mylia turned, curiosity written across her gaze.
The woman pursed her lips, frowning. “You don’t speak the human tongue, I take it.”
Mylia knew an answer was demanded but she said nothing. How could one answer an unknown question? Any reply would invariably complicate the next inquiry.
“Hmmph,” the woman slowly and thoughtfully said. She was perhaps in her late twenties, if counting by human years and several black and blue tattoos in a strange, symbolic language glinted and danced upon her darkly muscled arms.
“Come,” she again beckoned to Mylia. “Come, I won’t bite you, wyrm woman.”
Mylia frowned at the geniality of the woman’s annoyance. This woman had saved her life and likely felt a debt of obedience was owed. After all, had not Asher and his mother inflicted such a debt upon her that had culminated in her near death only hours ago? A small voice told her this was an unfair assumption to apply to a stranger. However, she remembered the flying arrows toward her body and figured some leeway was allowed her private thoughts.
The woman only fixated her finger to a spot on the plush, red rug directly before her. “Stand here,” she said, again jabbing at the floor with adamant will.
Mylia did so.
The woman picked up Mylia’s arm, peeled back the sleeve, filthy with the dirt of the moat and the lifeblood of Titus, and pressed her strong fingers into Mylia’s flesh. “Look at me,” she commanded and her gaze punched Mylia’s golden eyes.
As though from a great distance, Mylia heard a buzzing in her head. It was as though a very, very tiny bee was trapped somewhere deep in the depths of her mind and trying to get out.
The woman saw recognition dawn in Mylia’s eyes and smiled. She closed her eyes and her grip strengthened. Deep, throbbing, the sounds increased, louder and louder until Mylia thought her head would explode.
—And the buzzing stopped. In the sudden quiet, a voice spoke.
“Wyrm woman,” it said, calmly and with great strength. “I am the witch they call Fay Varna.”
Mylia watched Fay’s face. Her lips remained still. No, somehow this woman, this self-professed witch, was speaking into her head.
You must forgive our people on the borders…the ones who called you a devil and tried to kill you. They are rough and crude folk who worship ghosts and kill their marred infants. But they are a remnant of what the early Empire was and not all of us humans are like them. I welcome you to my home. You may speak your mind.
Mylia pondered this development with some concern. Was this how magicians communicated then? Could Fay read her thoughts? How similar the conversation was to those she had with the animals and trees of her beautiful Wylds. Just thinking of them made her realize how distant in memory they had become.
Where am I?
In Ovgarod, the Capital of the Empire. You have traveled over a thousand miles in the Dyn.
The Dyn. So that strange, black world they had passed through was the fabled Dyn. Mylia felt a thrill of fear and curiosity at the thought. How strange and alien the place had felt. She hoped to never again enter but a small voice told her that she would return.
You must be a powerful witch, Mylia thought to Fay. Can you read all my thoughts?
Would I have asked you to speak your mind if I could discern your answers?
Yes and no…perhaps you wanted me to think that some of my thoughts are private when communicating like this.
Fay inclined her head and then those sharp, deep eyes pierced Mylia’s soul. Can you read my thoughts, right now, right here?
Mylia smiled, refusing to fall for the bait. If she admitted that Fay’s mind was readable, then Fay could in full rights try to reach into her mind. And Mylia was feeling uncertain whether such a thing was possible or if she would even care to enjoy it. In the Wylds, my forest home, if a creature suffers, we offer it care but we do not attempt to save its life for perhaps time has come for it to die and who are we to play with fate? The same goes for thoughts. I can read the sufferings and joy of a thousand creatures, feel their emotions thrumming through the forest chords every moment of my waking and sleeping life. But I do not pry into the specifics of those thoughts. Us wyrms consider it rude.”
Fay laughed and opened her eyes. “You wyrms? You’re not a full blooded wyrm and yet you cling to that species…well, I suppose that it makes sense. Sometimes, you must claim another identity to be able to grow your own, uninterrupted.”
Mylia frowned, feeling annoyed at such directness and yet, how incredibly relieved she was to be able to converse with someone. Ever since her capture, she had despaired and trembled in the confusion and silence of her mind, unable to connect on such a casual basis with anyone. And she had suffered so much as a result.
Fay snapped her fingers and gave a great, angry frown. “Come! Leave those thoughts for later. You can always pick up a sadness to dwell upon if you’re in the mood. Now, be a dear and ring that bell?”
Fay gestured to a red, embroidered rope hanging from a hole in the ceiling to the floor. Several other such ropes were visible around the room, cleverly situated by tables, windows, chairs and the bed. Later, Mylia was to realize their great use to Fay in summoning aid. But, at this moment another thought preyed upon her mind and she turned to the witch.
I can still hear you perfectly, she marveled. How is it possible you speak to me and yet no longer touch my arm?
“We have a connection,” Fay laughed. “I can see that the Prince and his mother tried to connect into your mind. Oh, they tried hard indeed, I’ll give them that. But they don’t consider magic a useful means of education. They could only get so far by endeavoring to make you talk with your tongue and teeth. I broke beyond the barrier of muscle movement and conversed with your mind. The only issue then was whether you were smart enough to read my thoughts and you certainly are. Speaking with you is like running a marathon, not that I’d know.”
Fay gestured again to the red cord.
Mylia still had questions. But how long will we be connected?
“As long as you want. You just decide in your mind to not talk to me anymore. As though you’re closing your lips, your mind ‘switches off’ and I can’t access it until you grant me permission again. Now, please ring, will you?”
Mylia gave a tug to the rope and deep within the recesses of the dwelling, she heard a bell chime in answer.
“Thank you, wyrm. What is your name, anyway?”
“A beautiful name. Does it have meaning? Who gave it to you?”
I don’t know. I just woke up one day and knew that I had a name and it was Mylia.
“Hmmph,” Fay said again, “The Sentience of Beasts. I thought it was a legend. It doesn’t exactly apply to you,” she added quickly. “It’s more the seconders….plants and animals. Fairytales say they can or did talk many thousands of years ago. Then something happened and they no longer have the ability to think as we do or speak with us. Besides, talking and having the ability to know yourself apart from others to the point of claiming a name are two incredibly different things.”
I don’t understand. I speak with them. Or, I used to. Every day in the forest. A sudden wave of nostalgia swept over Mylia and she gulped to contain her sadness. If Fay noticed, she didn’t show it.
“Well, that’s all fine and good but humans can no longer speak the languages of animals and if we can’t participate in an intelligence, no matter how it’s evolved beyond our knowledge, we don’t consider it intelligent. Conquerors do not tread lightly, you see.”
Before Mylia could reply, a door opened and into the room bounced a man holding a tray of tea and white cakes. He saw Mylia and quickly slammed the door behind him.
“Fay?! Oh, Fay, what have you done this time?”
“Tom, meet Mylia. Mylia, this is my roommate, Tom Ledel. He’s a gift straight from the stars when he isn’t scolding me about doing magic.”
Mylia drifted her eyes over this new arrival. He reminded her of an abandoned stone temple in the Wylds long since taken over by bramble and wildflowers. And, while he moved with urgent joy, some key emotion, utterly trapped, swam in circles within his smiling eyes. “Hush, Fay! You shouldn’t say such things.”
Fay laughed and wrinkled her nose. “Tom, the Empire’s judicial system wants to catch bigger magicians…to make a name for themselves and set an example, you know. I’m very small fry. Sorry, Mylia,” she turned to where Mylia, “This is an old argument and doesn’t concern you.”
Tom placed the tray down before Fay and turned to survey Mylia from head to toe. “Hmph. Her clothes are of faded dye and the fashion is three years behind ours. She’s obviously from the outskirts of the Empire. Did she come from the Wylds?”
“Yes and what’s more, she didn’t wear clothes at her home. They were given her by the night farms royal family, you know…the one led by that Prince Asher.”
“I know the Nine Royal Families. I’m just thinking aloud. She’s stunted; her throat looks like ours. Can she fly?”
“Mylia, can you fly?”
No, my wings are too small.
“Tom, she can’t fly. Keep going with your deductions.” She turned to Mylia and winked. “Tom and I met when I was in the hospital the last time. He moved in with me shortly after. He’s a nurse, you see.”
“And a bloody good nurse,” he grinned and again, his eyes ran over Mylia’s figure, discerning all details with an odd little grimace she figured was due to the mud and blood splatters upon her clothes and the rug.
Tom again spoke. “Wyrms are fire-breathers and yet I believe this wyrm could rent a smokers-free apartment with little issue. Can’t smell a trace of smoke on her.”
Mylia noticed his stare lead to her throat and realized his question. She shook her head with vehemence. I can’t breathe fire.
Fay laughed and translated for Tom.
“Why did you rescue her?” He plumped Fay’s pillows.
“They were about to kill her,” Fay said.
“Savages,” Tom sniffed in disdain and then kissed Fay.
Mylia watched their embrace and wondered to feel strangely at ease within their shared affection. Fay met her eyes over Tom’s shoulder and twinkled a smile in return.
“No, it was a misunderstanding,” she said to Tom as he began to carve the pale-fleshed cakes. “They thought she murdered one of theirs. And she did, but out of self-defense.”
Mylia refrained from correcting Fay. True, she had killed Titus before he murdered her, but she had also enjoyed it. He had persecuted her for months. Killing him gave her pleasure beyond the sheer protection of her body. But this witch did not need to know the full assault of emotions that possessed Mylia’s inner mind regarding that dreadful fight in the castle cellars.
“You seem to know an awful lot. Fay, just how long did you spend in the Dyn watching this creature?!”
“Just a couple of minutes each time, I promise. I couldn’t get past the castle moat…you know I can’t travel in the Dyn over water. I had to wait for Mylia to leave the castle before I could rescue her.”
“Fay! I know you’re lying,” Tom handed her a plate with cake and tea, tenderly, although his eyes were firm. “The Dyn is super addictive for you. I don’t want to return here and find you gone one day.”
Fay rolled her eyes. “Yes, mom.”
“Cut the attitude. I’m serious.”
“I’ll always return to you,” she said in a very quiet voice, “But I like walking and the Dyn lets me do so. You can’t deny me this pleasure.”
His eyes grew small and sad, but only for a moment and the trapped, bright gaiety returned. “Well, now that you have a dirty and bloody wyrm woman in our apartment, what do you plan to do with her?”
“I told you about the prophecy, correct?”
“Yea, the one about the….” His voice fell softer, “…Emperor?”
Fay nodded. “When I was last in the Dyn’s Pillars, I read many things in their riddles. I discovered an anomaly linked to the Emperor and in that quirk or call it what you will, I found the coding for Mylia’s future which led me to her castle. There, I was able to spy on her until I could attempt a rescue. She is highly special in the years to come and I don’t yet know why.”
Tom sighed and turned to Mylia, “Do you know what she’s talking about?”
Mylia frowned, uncertain where the conversation was going. Fay and Tom talked as fast as the birds in the windows sung. She suddenly missed the Prince and perhaps even Edith. They had been kind to her in their own way. And their Twilight home brushed off the Wylds into their minds. She felt more aligned with the Prince than these strangers with fear in their eyes and flippancy upon their lips. She wondered what would happen next and did not answer Fay’s question. A low, throbbing fear had begun to whisper on the edges of her subconscious.
Her eyes sunk closed and slowly, as though she stood on the shores of a wide, black ocean, she saw a line of massive waves, each taller than a building, rising towards her. Low and furious hung the charcoal sky and red lightning stabbed the heavy mist that clung to the pebbled shores. On either side of the bay rose massive, rock watchtowers flashing thin fires into the deep.
“But we need to be serious. If she’s linked to the Emperor, then we’re harboring a future evil. Don’t you think we’re testing luck already, what with you being a witch and all?”
“Tom, you work at Doctor Thrall’s hospital. I tell you, I’ve spied on her and she’s already tested every law when it comes to blending legal and magical healing. What I do is nothing compared to her experiments and tests.”
“But Thrall is connected to the Emperor and I’m just one of her many employees. Fay, I have to be paranoid since you never are.”
“Now you’re being silly,” the witch responded.
“Not really. Maybe you should just take her back to her Wylds and let her go.”
But Fay was no longer listening to him. She studied Mylia with sharpening eyes. “What’s wrong?” She asked, abruptly leaning forward.
Closer the first wave raced, rearing its head as a cobra does to strike—crashing down upon Mylia with the full force of foul-tasting sea water…water so cold she felt the flesh stripped from her bones.
Mylia fell and remembered no more.
Chapter 14 to be released December 16!!