There is so much to say, but in some sense the first thing that happened is this:
She stormed out of the back door of a modest brick tenement, two floors of residences above two of business, and out onto the street. Something was trying to tear itself loose from her throat, and more than anything she did not want it to emerge where it could be heard. She ran like a thief from a gendarme, a sparrow from an owl—and a man in gendarme grey did try to follow her out of the tenement, but he turned right where she had broken left, and she saw no more of him.
The district was dotted with parks, half a block on a side, walled to trap the bore’s dry heat and tantalize the curious (though windowed, at the insistence of the gendarmerie, to guard against congregations of the ill-intentioned). It was to one of these, adorned with pictures of the saints in battered gold and blue, that she found herself running—literally clawing the wall for a moment before feeling her way, half-blind with desperation, to the gate. She stumbled in and swiftly ducked behind the wall.
The ground had give and green, and the air was mosaicked by branches, punctuated with blossoms and leaves. An observer might have believed it was this verdure that slowed her breath, let her crumple gently to her knees; but it was not. Only isolation and enclosure calmed her.
She was not long isolated, though. Some movement caught her eye across a bank of flowered hedges. She ducked behind them, feeling a sharp pain in her palm as she steadied herself on a branch studded with unseen thorns. Across the garden, a slim, thatch-haired man spoke with another man, all in white—or, at least, a figure with the flawless hands and serene black-bearded face of a man; but, though the nimbus around him seemed to suggest white robes, every so often the figure would shift position and for a moment the semblance would break and she could see the protrusion of a carapace or talon, of a proboscid mouth-organ thick with meandering cilia, of the garden’s soft bioluminescence dancing, redoubled, in the gemlike polish of a great black eye.
The slim man nodded and left the garden by another exit. When he was gone, the superposition of man fell away, and the creature stood revealed: insectile, tall, and needle-thin, its carapace as pure a white as the robes of its human disguise. It raked the greenery with its gaze, although that gaze passed over her—literally, as she was now flat on the ground, shaking, looking up only when she felt sure the creature must be leaning over her, head cocked in some posture of false-benign curiosity, facial organ roused from quiescence, sleepily sampling the air.
But, in truth, it drew no closer. After a period of quiet vigilance, the creature swam in her vision, mottling with soft shapes in the garden’s night-muted browns and greens. Then its body flared yellow- white for a moment, and it took to the air on wings of flame.
Only then did she realize she recognized the man that it had been.
She dragged herself upright and stumbled from the garden, the thing she had left her house to scream about obliterated from her mind. All around the city, the muezzins softly sounded the new day.
She had a name, of course. So did her district, her city. You will learn them all. The reason they are omitted here… it bears explaining, but not now. It will come clear in due time.
That, I think, I will say again before I am done speaking.