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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