(Author note: this is an excerpt of a story available in full on Wattpad! Find me @jordynsaelor there!)

I keep track of the human by the reckless pounding of his heart. His hands undoubtedly clutch a weapon. Which is why I don’t go near him. I pretend like I don’t know he is cowering behind a wooden post while I try to gather the root vegetables I dropped. I have no memory of letting them go, but the street is scattered with them. I leave some where they are, obviously trampled by somebody’s bones. Or my shoes.

Skeleton Cook follows me, the bird nesting on his head, and the cloak holds paltry protection against people’s eyes. The invisible line linking the walking skeleton as mine, the death mage, all the people here know I am a death mage, people’s eyes cut deadly when I am something they do not want me to be. I am a death mage. I pretend like that makes me feel powerful.

There is only one cutting set of eyes here, hiding behind a wooden post, staring at me and my skeleton walking through the street of scattered bones and vegetables. I kick bones away with each footstep.

I pause in a crouch, hand touching the pale skin of a root vegetable, when the hammering heart skips a beat, a prelude to them speaking. “What are you doing here?”

It sounds muffled. No, the air sounds muffled. This voice is like an off-tune flute, screeching against the muffled air.

I slowly stand and stare directly at the wooden post. It’s leaning, probably about to fall over. “What does it look like?” I ask, clutching an armload of root vegetables.

“You’re a death mage,” the person appears, a torn-off wheel from some wagon clutched in both hands, dark hair singed on one side of their head.

“You’re holding a wagon wheel,” I say.

“Why’d you do it?” he asks, lowering the wheel. By that I make the bold assumption that he hasn’t seen the royal avian yet.

I glance at my armload of vegetables, back at him, down the street, over at Skeleton Cook who has a larger load of vegetables than I do. Some of his are rather squished though. “You’re going to have to be more specific,” I say.

He throws the wagon wheel at me. I stare, as if it could merely be gently gliding in my general direction, like ice bobbing in a stream’s current.

A violent screech rips the air and the wheel explodes, the street jerks back into focus and by reflex I yank the cloak to shield my face.

The jet bird squawks, wings flap raucously, my gaze shoots to the sky and she is already diving.

My hands are claws. My vegetables tumble to the street. I know the texture of melting snowflakes, hailstones, I capture her in midair and her weight slumps against my hands. Oh goodness. I let her go, because my wrists ache. She flaps madly as she falls but her flapping is enough for her to rise into the air again, I catch her glaring at me, but she doesn’t dive at this stranger with no weapon and a reckless pounding heart, cowering behind a wooden post.

Skeleton Cook clanks toward me. The jet bird plummets to the street behind us, powdering a crater. “That was interesting,” I say, waving a hand through stray dust billowing from a red street. “She doesn’t like people.” I block out the picture in my head of a building’s silhouette.

“You murdered my brother!” he shouts.

What now? “The last person I murdered was nearly five years ago,” I say.

His heartbeat steadies, which probably means he’s very angry. Angry in that frozen, you-can’t-touch-me sort of way. “Then what do you call this?” he motions around us, to the toppled buildings, the charcoal-scarred walls, the broken cart and strewn belongings. “Arson? Looting and plundering?”

I glance at Skeleton Cook’s folded arms and sigh. There it is. “If you don’t mind,” I say, “I’ve walked here all the way from Iqavu and I have no more supplies. So I hope you don’t take issue with me taking all these bruised vegetables so I don’t starve to death.”

I turn around and start picking my way through the street, ignoring the bones and the wood and the mostly squished root vegetables. I bend over only twice to take unbruised tubers, because I imagine his eyes are boring through my cloak and into my skin.

“Iqavu?” he calls. “The capital hasn’t been called that for months, liar.

I freeze. Of course I accidentally called it what the queen calls it, instead of the imposter king. “Look,” I say without turning around, “I misspoke. But if you really want proof I didn’t burn this place up, just look around you. Death mages don’t use fire.”

“They do use skeletons though,” he calls.

I sigh. I start walking, ignoring anything else on the street.

“If you really came from the capital, you’d know what it was actually called!” he shouts.

I keep walking. “If I actually did this, you wouldn’t be alive right now,” I mutter. “And neither would anyone else.”

***

Continued in part 4!