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

I avoid the other living people in this town, scurrying like rodents. That means I walk closest to the giant fire, because the other living people avoid the fire like the plague. That means I don’t find anything that isn’t charred or smashed or stepped on.

I find traces of the invasion everywhere Skeleton Cook and I walk. Sword slashes bitten into wood. Stray fabric caught on wood splinters. Those metal husks, fires burning within them. Wheel tracks, obviously larger than a cart because these wheel tracks extend past the edge of the road where it ends in mud. What invaders bring wheeled things wider than a street? Then I glance at the metal husks, most larger than Skeleton Cook’s skull, and stop wondering.

What I don’t find traces of is water. Or much food, beyond scattered produce near what I think must have been the market. Skeleton Cook and I stop beside a mostly intact hut of animal skin and I unwind the burlap sack of a scarf with one hand, carefully tilt my handful of vegetables so they thump inside. I hold it for Skeleton Cook’s armload, ignoring the bird sleeping on his head.

I knot the sack, hand it to Skeleton Cook, and he shakes it. They tumble about, like dancing wood blocks. I hope they taste better than wood blocks. They probably taste of kicked ash and brick road and old mud. But I suppose that is better than starving to death.

We find ourselves near the column of black smoke, the fire still there, hardly dwindled. I sit in the middle of the street and rub a knot in my thigh, staring behind us. This town is like a maze, and I think we’ve only explored a single corner of it. Because the fire blocks us from the rest of it.

I know I’m avoiding it. The fire. If I want to see this town, this army, where the army went and what the metal husks do besides lie silent and give their insides up to burn, I could just look in the fire. Except I know who is there waiting for me, flickering magenta and moss green.

I know I’m avoiding it. But there’s a knot in my thigh and we only have half a sack of root vegetables and my lips are very dry. So I should search for food and water. But Skeleton Cook points. I glare at him. He moves to the side so his bones are silhouetted by firelight.

Hello, Rattle-bones. I shut my eyes, but he’s still there, tapping his walking stick on the street even though in real life he doesn’t lean on it. I sigh. I know I’m avoiding it.

***

Rattle-bones takes two steps towards me before he collapses, his magenta walking stick bouncing away with a crackle. He lifts his head shakily in the sparks of orange before his skull thuds to the street. My brow furrows. Does Rattle-bones die by falling over in the middle of a street, legs giving out? Heart giving out? Because that’s not how it happened.

His body dwindles to a formless shape, but then the distant shape is stepping towards me, walking stick tapping. “You look fuzzy,” he says, mouth outlined in red. “Like frost on my window.”

I reply, “that’s odd, I didn’t know frost could be anywhere near a fire.”

He sits, walking stick across his lap, I have no idea why his walking stick is magenta like him but the seat is invisible. “I remember dying. Is that odd?”

“How would I know?”

“I remember dying, but I don’t remember any pain,” he props a foot on the invisible bench. “I’m much younger here. I don’t think I age.”

“You didn’t age much anyway,” I point out.

He tilts his head up. Hefts his walking stick and prods something. Sparks erupt from the fire, smoke billows towards me. I wave a hand through it but when the smoke clears Rattle-bones is gone. “Never thought I’d go out by a bird,” his voice fades out.

The curling yellow and amber flickers and erupts and I flinch from the mad embers that shoot up. They roar. A tooth-sized figure in red kneels in a nightgown, pointing, the roars echo from silver orbs launched through the air, smashing through miniature buildings, the tooth-sized person mouths something about waking up to metal eggs falling--

Kolariq interrupts, an orange-to-magenta form sweeping away the red and gray, eyes dancing frost blue. His hands morph into claws, reaching toward me, frozen in the street. I unfreeze when a roaring silver orb smashes through his head and the magenta flutters into smoke.

The dead people dance as red-magenta lights, curling in the flames of yellow, they dance around tooth-sized people running and screaming--here is our vision, our words--they dance around the army in moss green snapping up this town with silver roars and jagged swords, massive beasts pushing wide carts laden with explosives like eggs.

The dead people dance as red-magenta lights, showing me how they died--under falling bricks, at the edge of a sword, choking in the smoke, squished beneath a wooden door.

A single magenta light creeps forward. Tooth-sized, this child, sneaking down to the beach to gather seashells as the sun rises, he stops on the trail cut into the cliffs, staring at neon blue boats slipping away in the gray fog. Cut to this child, running up the trail, peering over the cliffside to watch an army advance. Cut to this child, arrow in their skull. Cut to this fire, magenta dancing lights. Here is our vision, our words, we have not died for nothing.