01 – Book One – Toll – Prologue – Elefthería

Darkness takes many forms. Some may be friendly, others vicious, spiteful, vindictive, malicious. Trust of the darkness needs to be earned, never given. Never handed over without question. Never left without regard, like a powerful talisman that one cannot live without, and yet gets overlooked, forgotten, abandoned without foreknowledge, and then regretted later.

So regretted.

[Break]

Leave your magical powers at the door. Where you’re going you won’t be needing them anymore. Whether you desire them or not, they will be taken from you. Stripped from you. A lump of flesh excised. Without your consent.

All for the greater . . . [Spit out this word] Good!

Whether it tears you up inside; percolates your guts so that only the nerve endings and the nerves themselves remain, to be strummed like lyre strings, stretched and twisted, until they fray and break and all you can do is scream.

And scream. And scream. And scream!

Until there’s no voice left. Until the vocal chords feel like those lyre strings and your mouth is just open and there’s just hot air coming out . . . but no sound.

And then . . . And then! You find someone. A something. An itty bitty widdle fing that can just be taken care of. Poof! Gone. Just like that. And then everything will be better . . . Peaches and cream . . . Tea and biscuits . . . Cookies and coffee . . . Blood and guts . . . Because I want to end him. Make him not be and never was. Make him inevitably obsolete. So I do. I try. I get him. Drag him through my hole . . . The one I made to that other place.

I took many people. Many delicious, wriggling figgity giblets, but t’weren’t enough. No no no. And then . . . And then! They were all gone. All eaten up. Lick my lips clean. And then some more came. Strong ones. Powerful ones. And then I found him. The one I’d met before. With the other. He who was . . . Special. He who was . . . [sigh] . . . Molecularly inclined to here . . . To [Word said with distaste] Ostium. Like they shared a melange of DNA and magic, all smoothied together. So . . . So . . . So! I knew he could help. Help me. Help me! Perchance. Permaybe. Perpossibly. Per . . . Hopefully.

And I reached. And reached. And scratched. And reached. And clawed. And reached. And tore and reached. And he . . . Zapped me. With his magicks. His mysteries. And they hurt. They singed. They burned. They pained. So . . . Like a delicate feline, I watched and waited and when he least expected, I pounced! Got him! And in he came to my word. My refuge. My sanctuary. My prison. My asylum. My oubliette. And I took him to my place. To prepare him. To tenderize him. To fatten him up for the oven!

But when I came back he had another of them with him. She . . . She! She evaded me. As she has before when I have sent my own magicks after her, to catch her. And this time they worked together.

Symbiosis.

And it hurt. Again.

So much hurt.

All the time.

[Childish quiet voice] Why me?

And then . . . And then . . . And then! It got much stronger. The burning. The screaming. The . . . Paaaaiiiinnnn.

And everything became dark. A good dark. A faithful dark. A friendly dark. A dark in which I could sleep and not worry. Not fear.

So I rested.

[PAUSE]

And ripped into light and awake and conscious and screaming. But not I this time, but another . . . Her. The one who dealt the hurt before with him. She wanted him. She had lost him and wanted him back. He was on the other side. In that [Again hate of saying the word] Ostium.

But . . . I . . . Wasn’t . . . There anymore. I was . . . Outside. Free. To be free. To be wild. Just like a child.

It has been . . . Is . . . Will have been . . . so long. To a real light. A real world. Not a filtered, artificial, confabulated, contrived, constructed thing.

[In a whisper] Pure.

But then she pointed that thing at me again. I knew what pain it could inflict from whence it came. I hissed at it. [Hissing sound]

Did as she asked. With what little I had left of my essence. I didn’t want no more pain. No more suffering. No more agony. Even if it would end things for me. So I did as she asked. Opening a little cabinet for her to crawl through. She didn’t care where, cared not when. One, done and gone.

And then I put my head to ground again. Letting the dirt and stones form a pillow for brain and body.

Moments later I am shouted back to consciousness by a [petulant] very loud man.

It is him. That one. Not the one that caused me all that trouble, but the other. The one I chased in my realm . . . And he evaded me. The little brat. And now cometh the moment of my comeuppance, until he reveals an object I’ve become all too familiar with. The little weapon of such malicious intent. The one she had that hurt horrendously.

STEVE: Oy! What happened here?

He spakes words that meaneth little to me.

STEVE: What are you bloody saying, you old hag! Where are Jake and Monica?

Could he be talking about those no longer with us? Perchance tis true. I’ve witnessed this one on his lonely self, and with the other him. And I have seen the other him with her. Goes to show they should all be within voice range and friend range, no?

STEVE: I repeat: [yelling] WHERE ARE THEY?

THYRA:: They . . . Left . . . Of their own accord . . .

STEVE: You what?

THYRA:: They have passed on to the hinterlands . . .

STEVE: Speak bloody English . . . [exasperated] please!

THYRA:: What did you call him? [Getting louder each time name is said] Jake . . . Jake . . . JAKE! Yes. He . . . He chose not to join us in this lovely little place . . With the big pointy mountain. He chose to stay on the . . . Other side.

STEVE: What? Jake? He didn’t come back?

THYRA: Nay sir! I think he liked it better there. Methinks at least.

STEVE: Why? Why would he? He wanted back. I know he did. You must’ve done something, you foul crone.

THYRA:

[breath]

No . . . No . . . NO! They brought me to my freedom. They brought me to this side. After they bested me. I . . . I  . . . I was but a patsy, a scapegoat, a dog with its tail betwixt its legs.

STEVE:

[grunts of disbelief]

Uh . . . Uhm . . . What about Monica then? What about my bloody mum?

THYRA:

[with confidence]

Oh, really? Your mater she be? How [relishing the word] interesting. I suppose I should’ve been one to spot it. You are both much alike in stature, visage . . . And weapon.

STEVE: You mean the gun?

THYRA: Aye. It be why I am so subject to your whims at this very moment.

STEVE: So where’s Monica then?

THYRA: She pointed that at me and demanded I grant her passage to the back and beyond . . .

STEVE: She . . . She made you open a door? An ostium?

THYRA: A foul word for a foul thing. But essentially . . . Yes.

STEVE: Why? Why! Why would she do that?

THYRA: You ask moi? Why would I have a clue? An inkling? An iota?

STEVE: Because you were here! With her!

THYRA: As I have made it perfectly clear to you, wastrel, I know naught. But if you would like me to infer a little . . . I believe she went back because of that man. Because she couldn’t stop herself. Because . . . She loves him.

STEVE: What do you bloody know of love?

[Short pause]

THYRA

[emotional]

: Her name was . . . Pragma. She was . . . My heart. My essence. My reality . . . My everything. And then . . . [starting to cry] then I was taken from her. Snatched away like a tiny purse of great value, never to be seen again. She had no . . . She has no idea that I still live. That I wait. That I pine for her. Every day. Every second. Wanting. Wishing. Hoping. All . . . To no avail . . .

[Short pause]

STEVE: Look . . . I’m . . . I’m sorry, alright? That was a bit far and I didn’t really mean it. You said Jake and Monica brought you here?

THYRA

[quietly]

: Yes.

STEVE: Okay. They must’ve had their reasons. You’ve . . . You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?

THYRA

[quietly]

: Yes.

STEVE: You’ve been in that place . . . In the margins of Ostium for a long time, haven’t you?

THYRA

[quietly]

: Yes.

STEVE: You were taken. Kidnapped? Against your will?

I look into his dark eyes.

THYRA:

[strong/fury]

: Yes.

STEVE: Maybe you should tell me the story. It might help?

THYRA

[deep breath]

: Not. Now. I need rest and respite. This plot of earth looks just right. Nice and cozy and cushy.

STEVE: Now, come off it. That’s not how we treat guests here at the Ostium Network.

I attempt to cleave him asunder with mine eyes.

STEVE: Let me help you, and I’ll get you into a warm, comfortable bed and you can sleep as long as you need to.

I flinch like a bitten animal when he touches me. He is gentle and careful. I respect that and with his aid am carried to some sort of contraption with wheels. I don’t discover its means of propulsion, for my head is down on the seat and I am already in slumberland.

[PAUSE]

I awaken to the smell of food and sustenance. I feel I have slept for a long time. I have not slept for a long time in . . . To be redundant, a very long time. The fates have kept me at bay, never letting me rest. Or eat. Or perhaps breathe for that matter.

I drag myself from the unconscious, pulling myself up and out of the comforting bed and its warm, welcoming blankets.

STEVE

[from a distance]

: Oh, you’re awake. Welcome to the land of the living. Would you like a shower?

THYRA: I know not what that word means.

STEVE: I suppose that’s one way to say it. Erm . . . Would you like to  . . . Bathe? Understand that?

THYRA: Cleanse myself?

STEVE: That’s it. Right on. Would you? And after that you can have some nosh.

The mere thought seems both abhorrent and enticing to me.

THYRA: I have done nothing I used to do while in the lands of Ostium. No sleep, no consuming of food, no cleansing. They are all foreign and almost forgotten to me. I have but the barest . . . Recollection of doing each of them.

STEVE: Well then, perhaps a bit T.M.I. there. I found a nice dressing gown you can use.

THYRA: A robe . . . To clothe myself?

STEVE: Erm, yeah. You’ve probably been wearing . . . That for donkey’s years, right?

THYRA: I do not understand the question, but I comprehend the insinuation. Understood.

I give him a minor bow and step into the room of washing, closing the door behind me. It is an alien action, manually closing a THYRAl, but then I suppose this one merely connects rooms and not worlds and dimensions of space and time . . .

The hot water, once I have fathomed the operation of the instrument, is pleasurably divine. The soaps and liquids I apply to my body and hair sweet smelling and rejuvenating. I feel a smile touch my lips for the first moment in eons. Then I remember Pragma and all that came after leaving her. I remember it all. Again. And again. And begin the heavy, peristaltic weeping. Again.

Fortunately, the warm water is indiscriminate, cleansing both the dirt and soil from my form, as well as the tears.

But the agony of sadness remains.

It will always remain.

[Short pause]

The sustenance is foreign and strange, but smacks of the new and enticing. I consume everything before me, unsure of what I am eating. The food is filling a hole, replenishing a void I wasn’t completely aware of until now. It is a very enjoyable experience, mated with the washing, bringing an overall feeling of euphoria to my being.

I have not felt such since . . . Pragma.

STEVE: Looks like you were bloody hungry then. No surprising, really. Being cooped up in that horrible place for so long. So . . . You ready to tell your story then? Spill the beans?

I look at him quizzically, sizing him up. Bring myself to the decision as to whether he is truly prepared to know me and my own.

THYRA: I will give you a single bean . . .

STEVE: Erm, that’s not exactly what I meant.

THYRA: I was once the most powerful sorceress in my realm.

STEVE: Seriously?

I do not deign to dignify the one word question with a response.

STEVE: You are being serious then. Wait a minute, you said you were?

THYRA: Yes. One of the Circé. Until I was ripped from my place of refuge, absconded with and taken this place of Ostium.

STEVE: Who took you?

THYRA

[breath]

: I am unable to answer that question at this moment in time. All my power is . . . now gone . . .

STEVE: All of it?

THYRA: Aye. The last thimble-full was spent opening that small doorway for her.

STEVE: My mum?

THYRA: Aye.

STEVE: So you’ve got nothing left is what you’re saying?

THYRA: What I am proclaiming is that my powers have been spent and now need to be reconstituted . . . Reaccumulated . . . Regrown into my form.

STEVE: Wow. Really? That’s how it works then?

THYRA: Undoubtedly.

STEVE: And how exactly do you do that?

I give him a devilish smile then, showing some teeth. His frozen look satisfies my intentions.

THYRA: I must tell my story. My [drag word out] history. From beginning to end, of all that has happened to me, and by me. Relive it through my words. Only in that way will I become regain and become powerful once again.

STEVE: Gotcha. Didn’t know words were that strong.

I give him a withering look this time.

THYRA: Words are the most powerful. At my pinnacle I could do anything with words and control all.

STEVE: Right. So you need to tell your story. Can it be to anyone? To me? Or can you just be talking to a brick wall?

I frown for a moment, then understand.

THYRA: There must be a listener; someone on the receiving end, be they human or beast.

STEVE: Human or beast . . . Okay then. What about this?

He raises a strange black rectangular contraption that appears electronic in nature.

THYRA: What. Is. That?

STEVE: This is my recording device. I use it to make my own recordings of everything going on here, everything happening to me. Telling my own story, essentially. And it all gets recorded here and broadcast to the world via the Internet.

THYRA: There are many words of what you just said that mean nothing to me.

STEVE: Fair enough. With this device many others hear my story.

THYRA

[devilishly hopeful]

: Indeed.

STEVE: Yeah, thought you’d like that once you understood it all. So here’s what we’re going to do: you keep noshing and I’ll get you one and get your sorted with your own apartment. Sound good?

THYRA

[awkwardly saying word]

: A-part-ment?

STEVE: Yeah, a place to sleep and eat. Your . . . Your new home. Essentially. Yeah?

THYRA

[awe]

: My. Own. Home.

STEVE: Yeah. Nifty, huh? So enjoy the rest of you tea and brekkies and I’ll be back in a jiffy.

[PAUSE]

The man is gone some time and I do as he has asked, enjoying more food and the quiet of my solitude in this new and refreshing abode. Then he returns with a device for me. It is identical to his and he shows me how to use it by touching certain points on the glass screen. I do not fully comprehend it. It almost seems a magic of sorts, but if it does as he says, this would be a great boon to me.

Then he escorts me to my new place of residence. It is also identical to his.

STEVE: Tomorrow we’ll have a look around and see if we can find you some clothes that fit. Okay?

I utter two words that I have not spoken in a very long time.

They taste foreign on my lips.

THYRA: Thank. You.

STEVE: No problem. Oh, and I don’t think we really introduced ourselves, did we. I’m Steve. And your name is?

It takes me a long moment to summon the name from my past, another word that has not been uttered in far too long.

THYRA: Thýra.

STEVE: Thýra? That’s a pretty name. Okay. I’ll leave you to it then and I’ll check on you in the morning then. Okay?

THYRA: Thank you. Steve.

STEVE: You’re very welcome, love.

He turns to leave and I think of something to encourage him.

THYRA: Steve . . . Jake and Monica . . . They will return here. Eventually. It may take time. Perchance long. But they will be back.

STEVE: I thought you weren’t able to do that sort of thing anymore?

THYRA: It is a different ability to that which I must regrow and regain. This is part of me always. And I know it to be true: they will return.

STEVE: Thanks for that. Really appreciated. Cheerio.

Then he is gone and it feels like he may never have been, but I can feel his aura leaving this place and returning to his own.

I sit upon the bed where I will soon rest and sleep again. But first I will tell a story. One small tale to begin the rebirth of my magic.

After touching the screen as I’ve been instructed, I begin to speak the words and feel their shapes on my lips.

I feel something else too. I bring my fingers to my mouth and realize it is a smile.