Emily tried to step away. Her legs shook. She fell. She saw someone lunging for her and twisted out of their reach. She stumbled to her feet and ran. She didn’t stop until she could no longer feel Our Lady’s gaze.
She drifted onwards. Her hunger hurt. She passed an open door and crept inside the house. She gulped bread from a pantry. The empty rooms seemed like a silence that had condensed into solid things. When blue twilight clasped the city, it felt like the sky had sunk to the ground.
Days and night shrank by. She moved between empty houses. She stopped looking at the bodies in the gutters. Sometimes, she thought her old home might be waiting for her past corners and at alleyway ends. When she curled upon cold beds and closed her eyes, she felt the lamplight and shadows of her childhood bedroom. She thought about Jane and the school and wondered if anyone was still there.
She tried not to think how many words she had left. In her head, she said every word she had ever read or heard. She wondered which one would be her last. As she paced empty hallways, she counted them. The numbers muddled. She moved onwards.
She read the books of the people who had gone. She buried herself in words. She climbed towers and watched flock swirls. She wanted to learn starling chatter. The silence began to feel like a voice. She listened to it. She thought it spoke to her. At night, she could feel the words inside her. Their shapes already seemed formed. They pushed at her. She wanted to let them out. They woke her in the night. They hurt. She bit her fingers to stop herself speaking. Sometimes she wrote out a few words. She kept the scraps she had written and read them over and over.
I must forget words. Then they won’t hurt inside me. Then they won’t make me speak and go cold.
She learned to look at letters and not know them. She thought only in pictures. She didn’t feel words inside her. They were no longer there.
One day, as she moved through the city, she saw that the palace door was open.
If she goes inside the palace go to Chapter Eleven
If she doesn’t go to Chapter Twelve