Deep in the tangled black forests of the Wylds, where wanders go mad and the sun droops low in the sky, there lived a monster named Mylia. She never chose her name for this was what the Prince called her years later when he visited her gauze and gold draped bower, where she ate the raw flesh of birds and used their bones to pick her teeth.
Mylia was famous. If you were to walk down the clustered streets of the Empire's mountain capital, Ovgarod, bumping into people and avoiding the honking cars, you will see her name and shrouded face gilded upon advertisements in the square of every marketplace and café bulletin board. For she was one of the greatest singers who have ever lived. People shouted her name when they dealt a death thrust in duels, hummed her songs to crying infants, inked her likeness upon their flesh and the concerts—oh, the concerts! Fireworks and flames bursting across the night sky, writhing, green-veiled dancer hordes and one free drink for the first thousand attendees, courtesy of Mylia's public relations team, Quincy & Bookers, LLC.
Everyone loved Mylia but no one knew who she was.
Mylia was a wyrm, a creature of fire and mud, birthed after the world's Fourth Breaking many centuries ago. Most wyrms are massive creatures, the combination of dragons, bats, dinosaurs and your worst, slithered nightmares. They can torch a car with a single breath and when they walk, people raise fearful eyes to the sky and wonder where the thunderstorm lies. Yet, wyrms are slow and steady, hunting for food and avoiding the sun which dries their skin and hurts their eyes. Ever since they clambered from the cracked, bubbling earth and peered upon the grey skies of Eshliuwa, people have hunted and killed them, clubbing the youngsters into pulp and herding the larger ones over cliffs to fall to their doom.
After all, humans were the most powerful and populous species on the planet and they wished to maintain their supremacy. The massive, fiery wyrms with their penchant for meat threatened the survival of multiple villages and then, as they migrated towards warmer realms, the great cities. Battles were fought and the wyrms drew dangerously close to the Empire's Capital on several occasions. After nearly a century of fighting, the remaining wyrms were driven deep into the snow-wrecked forests of the Wylds, far on the borders of the Empire where the sun shines a few hours a day and villagers are known for wynter cannibalism. There, the species faded into whispered stories until they became rumors, then myth, and finally, forgotten.
But, wyrms have long lifespans and deer, elk, wildcats and other large animals are easy to roast and eat. They did not thrive, but they lived on deep under gloomy elm and pine, preferring the black shade of sunken valleys to craggy mountain peak. It was in the Wylds that, several hundred years later, Mylia entered the world, a howling, fetal slump dirtying the mud and snow.
While wyrms typically are large, Mylia remained the size of a high-backed chair or a smaller adult. This was likely due to her extreme youth. In the eyes of the wyrms, she was a mere child for she was born several centuries after the wars and massacres. She never knew her parents nor desired to discover them for wyrms are reptilian and lay eggs, neglecting their progeny upon hatching.
She remembered the warm, sulfurous fluid surrounding every inch of her being, the terrible, itching desire to crack the creamy shell and burst forth upon the cold, windy world. How tall the trees that swept over her, filled with black, brown and grey songbirds, the crisp wind and brilliant skies. How sharply flung the smell of pinecones and frost that thickened the air, encrusting the broken eggshell with ghostly fingers.
She breathed air into her nostrils, feeling a deep, warm fire hum like an angry bee within her belly. Fire that came forth in the strangest, whispering cry. There was no flames or smoke as with the other wyrms, only that perverted sound, half whistle and half howl.
And above and around her, the songbirds came flocking, singing in reply.
It was in this moment, on her first birthday and entrance into this world, that Mylia knew she was different.
Many years later, she tried to determine how her genetic makeup transformed her fire-breathing abilities into the potent gift of song. Perhaps her mother abandoned squatting the egg before it hatched and that brief intermission of cold upon the laid egg altered Mylia's body, stunting growth and reforming her vocal cords. But at this stage in her life, the mystery did not need solving for no one existed who cared.
Mylia's biggest grievance over her physical alteration was the annoyance it posed in everyday living. Because she was small, the world was gigantic. Other wyrms lumbered through the forest, crushing trees with a single blow…trees that took several hours for Mylia to climb in pursuit of the little birds. She had an inexhaustible appetite and could devour a few dozen birds a day. But those were rare days indeed. She quickly learned her voice attracted birds, along with a plethora of less savory creatures. Sometimes, a few lizards and mouthfuls of bark stuffed mute her grumbling belly.
Once, she discovered a large, slain carcass of a wyrm. A deep, instinctual urge rose within her and she ate his leg before the other, victorious wyrm arrived to devour the remaining body. She was ill for days after that feast, writhing in agony high upon her leafy nest.
The other wyrms hated her for being small and fire-less. Her size and voice reminded them of humans and their litany of persecution throughout the centuries. If she bumped into a wyrm, she quickly learned to run away. She ran because she lacked workable wings; hers were useless little skin-flaps that dangled from her back and unfurled into pathetic banners. She consoled herself with knowledge that wyrms rarely flew anymore but preferred to walk the forests to stay hidden.
Mylia was very swift on four legs and could disappear and hide in all manner of crevasses throughout the mountainous forests. This was thought of as skullduggery and wyrms hated such "sneakiness". Some even challenged her to an open fight. Mylia mostly avoided such quarrels and kept her own company. She loved sitting in the big, rocking treetops, cradling her long, beautifully-furred, silvery tail like a human infant, smelling the swift, eastern winds from the Empire's night farms fragranced with the cinnamon-sweet smell of wynter wheat, the eddying flaps and jitters of moths and birds rising from the scruffy, dark leaves, or the sweeping caw of a great eagle high above her head.
And the sun. How beautiful it was, rising as a dim, yellow bulb in the east to make a swift arc across the horizon before plummeting in red and purple fire, rotating her world into many hours of darkness before the next morn.
She composed songs to the sun, odes based on its beauty and star-fire. She sang them in the sunrise and when night descended, she hummed her verse to the great, black sky above, stabbed by a billion stars.
It was on such a night that the Prince arrived and forever changed her world.
He swept in from the east with a hundred retinue and enough equipment to last for weeks. You see, the mountains of the Wylds were known for their great hunting and attracted many visitors. The Empire's royalty came for the love of sport, poachers and mercenaries found trading value in the pelts and flesh of large game, and then there came those even less savory…those practicing magic and seeking dark herbs, blood and bone for their spells.
Mylia knew about the dangers of humans for when their steps cracked twigs upon the edges of the great forest, swiftly news of their arrival rippled through beast and tree like a great electronic message, immediately alerting all the inhabitants throughout the multitude of forests and mountains that danger had arrived.
The smart beasts and prey slunk into hiding, their eyes big and hungry for no food would be found that day. Those eager to taste human flesh and wreak havoc upon the species that plagued them for so many years, ventured forth and sought out the visitors with gleaming fangs. Sometimes the humans won, sometimes a shredded carcass and darkening patch of crimson staining the forest loam was all that remained of the adventurous human.
Magical folk were especially hated for they often left the body drained of blood like a vampire, ripping away eyeballs, teeth and claws for their potions, while the precious meat was left to rot. The forest always consumed the dead, for such is the way of the world, but the disrespect for death was seen as a great affront to the inhabitants, including Mylia.
Royalty was the worst. They slaughtered every great beast they found, hacked and removed the limbs from weeping trees, and then, satisfied of their sportive bloodlust, departed the forest with the heads of the slain stuffed into bags, leaving burnt pits surrounded by crushed grass.
When the Prince arrived, Mylia was deep in slumber and bad dreams. Then, deep in the forest, she heard the echo of dark fear and the night sounds fell silent.
She sat up and hissed a warning. Her hiss, a pure, twinkling note within the mid-spectrum of the musical scale, struck the tree and she watched it shudder in reception, leaves curling up in dread at the impeding axe. Thick was their march inwards to the forest, before noon, they would be at her tree.
Mylia scuttled down the boughs, her long, grey leather limbs and clawed fingers moving with great rapidity, tail strategically maneuvering the air currents for optimal balance, until she leapt upon the loamed floor and flung her pointed ear against the ground to listen for news.
A million root systems from a million trees shot forth messages, conveying news. "Yes, it was a large company and they planned to stay for a while, judging by the lazy relaxation in their voices." Then anger blossomed forth amid the roots. "They are cutting down a few trees on the forest edge and preparing fires. Farewell, our brethren!"
She raised her head, waiting for the grief to diminish, then listened for more.
"The Prince brings several great hunters and they plan to venture forth in the morning into the forest. Let all beware!"
"Let all beware!" The cries rippled away, fast as a bolt of lightning, over hill and valley, up craggy mountain and across gushing river, for miles upon miles around.
On and on, to arching, black trees echoed the warning, to flying and skittering folk of the night, bats and owls, mice and lynx. "Let all beware!"
Deep under her feet, Mylia felt the thick, heavy tread of a great wyrm lumbering deeper into the forest to find a hiding place from the hunters. He was a leviathan of a beast, crawled from the very breaking, getting larger and larger with each successive year until his head combed the tree tops and his gargantuan feet pounded large pits across the land.
Since the encroaching wynter sent strong, cold winds blasting through shivering leaves, Mylia had shadowed his tracks. Food was growing increasingly slim and occasionally small creatures fell into the pits created by his mammoth feet and she jumped right in for a meal.
With the Prince only miles away and hunting by morning, she must distance herself at once from him. Of all the creatures in the forest, he was most liable to be caught. She was very fast; a few hours of running and she'd be so deep within the mountains, not even the Prince's fastest horses could reach her. Yet, he had proved a good source of food for her and with snow about to fall, she knew not when her next meal would arrive.
Within her agile mind, Mylia began to hatch a plan. There were other wyrms in the forest and she could lead the Prince away to them, sparing the large wyrm for her survival during the long, cold wynter. Humans were predictable and hasty. They'd jump to her plan and abandon the old, slow wyrm in favor of better, faster game. And Mylia knew she was very fast indeed. But what she didn't know was the peril of traps.
Mylia approached the camp, slowing to let the roots and trees whisper advice and secrets to help best navigate and mislead the encroaching humans.