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.

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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
[…]

Chapter 3: You Fiend!

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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 knew that humans believed in a world for those who died.  A place filled with immortal beings who sometimes meddled in the affairs of this one.  Humans erected stone shrines on the forest edge and left bowls of cracked wheat and heavy wine for these immortals.  Sometimes, they sacrificed a goat or pig, slicing open the pink carcass and catching the blood in wooden troughs.

She used to watch them walk in from the twinkling villages, their robes ghostly flittering in the gloom, white face paint masking their frightened eyes.  Her belly was always thankful for their food and but, after watching multiple ceremonies from the dim treetops, she never discovered the practicality of their beliefs.

For whatever reason, be it a human deity or good fortune, she had been spared the hunter’s bullet and now she must consider her escape before the hunters returned.  Mylia explored the parameters of the pit, letting her gaze wander over the sooty, vertical sides, steeped in the familiar slime which oozed from the Wyld’s deeper earth layers.

She knew from experience that even if she escaped her bonds, the slippery walls would send her crashing to the ground.  She moved and gasped in pain.  Her legs were certainly broken.  And her wings, useless!  A feeling of utter horror washed over her.  She had always relied upon her cleverness and speed.  Now, she sat amid dead coals, trapped for the first time in her existence.

Some hours passed and she felt the air darken and heard the flitter of bat wings high overhead against the peeping stars.  Night drew near.  Her skin grew whiter with cold and fear.

Far in the distance, the snap of banners and clop-clop of horse hooves signaled the return of the hunting party.  Voices rose on the wind, triumphant and tired.  She huddled down and clasped her knees to her chin, shivering from the cold and the shimmered rush of adrenaline.  Even the stars above her pit scintillated and waxed small under black clouds.

Perhaps, she would never see the stars after this night.  For, when they broke her body with knives and fleshed her skin so death came, her essence, that which made her mind and powered her nerves, would vanish.  Mylia did not believe in an afterlife.  She hissed and ran her tied-up hands through the muck, noticing how the soot and slimy mud broke upon her claws, sharpened from climbing multiple trees hardened to stone from the frost.  At least she would go down fighting!

Again the humans peered over the pit sides.  She stared upon their shadowed faces and wondered why the Prince was not with them.  She briefly debated whether they had found the old wyrm for several of the hunters had bandages red with blood.

Two hunters grabbed the rope and hauled her up and she clenched her jaw against the hideous fire that shook through her dangling, bound legs. There was a brief argument among the men and she realized their hesitation was from fear of her.  None of them wanted to be the unfortunate human charged with carrying her.  She grinned sharp teeth at them.  She could smell their fear.

Titus approached and crouched before her.  Grabbing her bindings in one fist, he looped her hands to a rod and swiveled so that her arms were helplessly tied behind her back.  “You bite and I’ll kill you,” he said and, strong fingers cruelly gripping her neck, hauled her along the filthy ground.

Mylia screamed at the agony splintering through her spine with every movement but her cries went unheeded.  Titus dragged her limp, flopping body, past the wary eyes of hunters, to the central tent.  It was as large as a house and lights glimmered around the shadowed bodies of hunters within.  Mylia understood.  Perhaps, they had caught no wyrm from the day and she was to be sacrificed!  She craned her face upward, studying her tormenter as he paced through the ruffled, wet leaves.

One bite to remove his hand and she would die a few minutes later, defenseless in her tight bonds.

And Mylia wanted to live—live and leap from tree to tree, singing for the birds and starlight, for her full length of allotted life upon this world, until the earth consumed her tired, happy body, and her voice fell silent forever among the wildflowers.  No, she could not die tonight.  She gritted her teeth.  She must not die!

A single heave from Titus, and she fell into the tent, landing in a crumpled heap of mud and pain.

Prince Asher turned from a table upon which lay strewn a handful of maps.  He looked tired and his right forearm held a bandage.   Other hunters sported similar bloody bandages.  He saw her and viciously swore.  “Titus, you fiend.  What have you done?!  I told you to keep her unharmed.”

Mylia did not fully understand the Prince’s speech and figured this rage lay directed towards her for humans loved cleanliness and her cinder-covered body had made a mess of the carpeted floor.

Titus appeared angry in return.  “The wyrm is dangerous, Asher.  Remember, she is a monster.”

“Let me be the judge of that,” coolly replied the Prince.  Again, he eyed her body.  For the briefest of moments, she felt that somehow, she was on display for his gaze and deep inward, a growl started in her throat.  A growl that dissipated into several crystalline notes of song that hummed the night air to sleep before she closed her lips and the sounds ceased.

Again, she noticed how the hunters watched her, mouths and eyes open as though struck by some blight.

Mylia felt hope tremor within her body.  These humans did seem to be in a murderous mood.  Perhaps she would live out tonight, regain her strength and escape in the morning.  She raised her great, golden eyes to their staring faces and examined each in turn, reading and wondering at the shifting emotions within each gaze.

One hunter barked a short laugh.  “I could listen to her voice forever.  She can’t meet my wife.”

“If your wife heard you say that, she’d turn into a wyrm herself and cook your ears off,” another hunter laughed.  A few sniggers flittered round the room.

Mylia thought it curious that such emotional connectivity existed between humans.  It was similar to how she could stand amid the forest and converse with the trees and smaller creatures without making a sound.

“What do you plan to do with it, Asher?”  Gerard spoke, his voice a whisper.

In response, Prince Asher snapped his fingers.  A servant ducked into the tent and squawked in surprise at seeing the monster slumped on the floor.  Mylia shrank from them and gazed upon the Prince.  Some deep instinct told her that he stood as the only link standing between her and torment.

“Clean her up and keep her somewhere warm.  And get a medic to set her legs before she ends up paralyzed,” he commanded and turned back to his maps.

And thus ended her meeting or trial or whatever the strange event had been.

The servant carried her into the back chambers of the Prince’s tent where a fully stocked bathtub lay puffing steam and luxurious scents from the cream petaled flowers—peonies—strewn upon the water.  The servant did not remove her bonds, something which angered her greatly, but his hands were timid as he lowered her into the clouded liquid and sponged off years of dirt, soot and filth from her tender hide.

For a moment, she struggled at the feeling of hot water.  It was a strange sensation to her and extremely alarming, even as the feeling grew powerfully delicious.  She did not yet know that her inability to breathe fire made her dependent upon external heat to stay healthy.  But sunlight was rare in the Wylds and warmth only found deep within the bowels of the earth, near bubbly, red volcanic trenches where she never dared roam.

The servant dragged her out of the bath, laid her upon the carpet and gingerly patted down her heated skin.  There, coated in soap foam and steam, Mylia noticed something strange.

Her body, typically ranging between white or ashen tones, had darkened to a deep, twilight blue.  How shockingly gaudy and regal her skin and more beautiful than the sun and stars or even the songbirds she loved.  She was the color of the deepest, spring-fed mountain brooks gushing through frosted boulders.  The color of the night before dawn, so brilliant that even the morning stars dimmed under her splendor.

Even her tail fluffed sky blue.

The servant stared upon her in awe.  Suspicion entered her mind.  Their true plan had been revealed.  Heat made female wyrms as brilliantly colored as the males, perhaps even more so.  Perhaps they would use this as a weapon, put her out as bait to grab better wyrms—

Mylia’s golden eyes glared in deadly precision upon the servant and he retreated before her bared teeth.  But, even as her mind raged with fear and causation, her beautiful skin faded to pasty grey and she shivered in the sudden cold.  She sighed and slumped upon the rugs in a pile of scrawny flesh.  The sudden movement sent jarring stabs of pain through her twisted limbs but she only mewed.  She was growing used to pain.

The servant gingerly draped a few blankets over her bound form and she thought it odd that a human endeavored to keep her warm.  It was a strange departure from her earlier treatment in the fire pit and she did not trust them.  Wyrms were not so changeable in nature.  They hated or loved forever and rarely mingled the emotions.  These humans shifted moods so easily, she could imagine each body possessed by a fleet of capricious ghosts.  There was no predicting what they would do to her next.

A medic arrived, thrusting aside the curtains, his eyes alert and professional upon her twisted limbs.  With the servant’s help, he placed her legs onto wood splits.  Mylia gasped with agony as they pulled each limb straight and lashed the knees and ankles to the wood.  It felt unnatural for her legs and she tried to complain but her voice only created several chorded, minor notes, sweet as a lark floating in a heavy dawn.  She did not understand why their eyes welled up in tears and fearful wonder at her sound.

Before she could further protest, Prince Asher stepped into the room.  He gazed upon her in curious delight and complimented the medic for his work.  The servant made to remove her blankets, but he gestured for them to step back.

“Do you not understand,” he said, “With similar attire, she could pass for a human.”

A hunter joined him, the younger man who had inquired whether Mylia was hungry.  “We are ready to depart, Asher,” he stopped and stared at Mylia’s cloaked body.  She cast her eyes upon his broad face and studied the emotions there to read shock, surprise, and even awe.

The Prince nodded, his gaze remaining on her cloaked form.  “Excellent, Gerard.  Let us be gone by morning light.”

So, Gerard was certainly his name.  Mylia didn’t have to know the human tongue to recognize the possessive intonations of the word now twice applied to him.

“What do you intend to do with her?”  Gerard asked.

“She returns with us.”  The Prince replied.

Gerard grimaced.  “You care explaining to mother why we’re bringing an apex predator home—alive?”

“She’s no predator,” the Prince breathed, his eyes never leaving Mylia’s gaze.  “She’s something else…something special.  Either way, she smells like humans now.  She won’t last a night out there, even if her limbs were healed.  We either kill her or find another use.”

“Well, you always were the clever one, brother.”  Gerard bowed himself out with a grimace.

The Prince turned to Mylia.  “You do not understand our speech but you will learn in time.  Under my protection, you will not want for food or comfort.  But should you ever hurt a human,” he grabbed the servant, swiftly pressing a hunting knife to the other’s throat to indicate to her what he meant, “I will kill you myself.”

Mylia’s lip curled.  She understood.  It had not taken long for the humans to show their cruelty.  Even the Prince’s velvet glove concealed a blade.  She was a captive until they decided to kill her.

“Good,” the Prince released the servant who scuttled backward, clutching his throat.  He sheathed his dagger and beckoned to Mylia.  “Be sure to rest and feed her well.  We journey home when dawn breaks the sky.”

Chapter 4: August 26
Chapter 5: September 2
Chapter 6: September 9
Chapter 7: September 16
Chapter 8: September 23
Chapter 9: September 30
[…]