Chapter 13: Elegant in the Starlight

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.

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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?”

Mylia.

“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!!

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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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
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