18 – “As Real as it Gets” – Tonklyn
Interludes – Real Reality
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Illustration by Mark Hansen
Tonklyn’s feet shuffled through the clutter and dust of the winding dirty alley. The walls of the buildings on either side had probably once been a clean and bright whitewash, but between the dim of the overcast day and the smoke from the various fires throughout the last few months, everything around the city was a dull and empty gray. He looked up at the narrow slice of sky above him, into the rolling shades of colorless clouds. A cold wind whipped through the partial tunnel of the alley, whisking up his cloak’s hood. He slipped his hand out to grab it and hold it down on his scalp, dropping his gaze to the stone in front of him, and the stepping feet of Kiffra.
Tonklyn scowled. This dreary day matched his mood. The argument at the morning fire had set him off in a sour one, and the weather didn’t make it any better. I don’t know why I’m following this guy. After breakfast, the ladies had argued about what he was to do that day. One yelled at him to “get up off his kingly behind and be useful”. They couldn’t expect me to go out and beg, though! That will never happen.
“Hey! Kiffra!” Tonklyn called out. “Where are we going?”
Kiffra didn’t stop. “We’re going to heal someone.” He sounded a little muffled by the direction of his voice and the hood of his cloak, so Tonklyn had to strain to understand.
“Healing? I know that! I mean, where is it? Is it much farther?” He tried to raise his gaze over Kiffra’s head and shoulders. They were approaching a brighter opening, where the alley probably led to a larger street or a plaza. What’s out there? Are we still in the Innerwall?
“I’m not sure.”
“Wait,” Tonklyn snapped, “don’t you know where we’re going?”
“What?” Tonklyn stopped walking. “You don’t know? Why am I following you?”
Kiffra paused, looking behind at Tonklyn. “I don’t know that, either.”
Tonklyn stared at Kiffra, mouth open, brows tight. He tipped off his hood and held his brow with his hand. “Then what are we…? Where are we…?” Tonklyn stammered out a few more half-words before saying, “I just don’t know what’s going on here.”
“It’s really simple. Someone over there is sick.” Kiffra nodded his head toward the light. His wrinkled eyes looked back at Tonklyn’s feet. “It’s happening a lot these days. I’m going to go heal them, Creator willing. You decided to come along. I don’t know why.” His voice was calm, steady, and blunt, as if he were reading a list of observations from a ledger.
Tonklyn’s head shook gently in baffled rejection of what was a simple and clear explanation that still, unfortunately, explained nothing. After a moment, he shrugged and dropped his hands in defeat. “Alright, then, ah,” he mumbled, gesturing along the path, “let’s go.”
Kiffra nodded, turned around, and began walking. He said, in that same simple tone, “Verd knows where we’re going. I’m just following him.”
Tonklyn stopped cold as if he had just walked head-on into a solid stone castle wall. He stood, frozen, blinking and stunned, trying to form sensible words in his mouth. There were none.
After a few steps, Kiffra apparently noticed that Tonklyn wasn’t following and paused again. He reached out to one of the buildings to balance himself while he lifted his foot up to adjust one of his ragged shoes.
“Verd… is leading us?” Tonklyn asked.
“Yes.” Kiffra responded. He took off his shoe, turned it over and shook it out. Then he looked closely inside the sole.
Tonklyn could barely breathe. “Y- You can hear him?”
“Yes.” Kiffra slipped his balanced foot back into his shoe and tightened it back over his heel. “I can see him, too. Can you see him? Some people can’t.” He dropped his foot back to the cobblestone and shifted his toes back into a comfortable place.
“Hey!” Verd’s nasally voice sounded thinner and more distant, like it was coming from a ways up ahead. “Ya’ on yer way?”
Tonklyn’s head went dizzy, and he slumped against the wall. He can hear that voice! He can see him! Tonklyn gasped for a breath and wiped the chilling sweat off of his forehead. That means he’s real, doesn’t it? That voice is real. I’m not stricken mad. It’s real. Tonklyn laughed while trying to breathe. The cold air hurt his lungs.
It doesn’t mean anything.
Tonklyn slumped to the ground, sitting against the wall of the building. Twigs and clutter crunched underneath him.
None of this is real, is it? I’m just dreaming. It’s all a bad, bad dream.
I’m still the king! I’m living in the palace, and I’m the king. I still have the dagger, and the dragons are all still afraid of me. He looked up at Kiffra, his eyes blurring. Tonklyn blinked and the tears ran down his cheeks. Kiffra just stood still, staring down at the ground.
Tonklyn leaned back and his head smacked against the wall. That hurt! Even though his hood cushioned the blow, he felt the pain.
That pain felt real… Let me try that again.
He pulled his head forward and threw it back again, this time much harder. The building sounded with a dull thwack and pain shot through his head and down his neck. Is that real? Will that wake me up? He did it again. Come on! Wake me up!
“Hey! Stop tha’!” Verd’s voice rang in his ear. Something tugged at his cloak and grabbed his hood. “Yer hurtin’ y’self! Stop!”
Tonklyn opened his eyes and looked at the bleary alley around him. Where is he? Where did he go? Stones. There was nothing but dust. Junk. Cobble. Walls. Snow. Shadows. Kiffra.
Kiffra stood steady, stroking his elbow under his cloak. Without raising his eyes, he said, “I do that sometimes, too. I don’t know why… It only helps for a moment.”
Maybe this is real. Maybe… Tonklyn raised his hands to look at them. His left hand bumped something.
“Woah. Careful!” Verd said.
Tonklyn jerked his head to look at the sound, but saw only his legs and the alley. He inspected his hands, then reached out and touched the cold stones. They felt round, smooth and dusty, just like he’d expected.
Maybe this is real.
Tonklyn leaned forward to try and stand, but a throbbing pain in his head made him sit back down. He took a deep breath, wiped his eyes, and tried again. This time, Kiffra stepped forward and offered his hand. Tonklyn stared at the hand for a heartbeat, then up at Kiffra’s face. Kiffra immediately glanced aside, but still offered the hand.
Tonklyn grabbed it. It felt solid and warm and it helped pull him up. He stood, head aching, and shook the leaves and scraps off of his cloak. He steadied himself on the wall for a moment and stepped forward.
Kiffra turned around and resumed walking. “I think we’re almost there, right?”
Verd quietly confirmed “Yeah. We’re close.”
Author’s Note: What is Real?
For an Author to ask what “real” is brings up some interesting contradictions. I mean, nothing in my stories are literally real. That’s sort of the definition of “story”. But at the same time, as an author, I’m trying very hard to “keep it real”. My google search history is littered with random examples of diverse and often awkward facts I have to look up in an effort to “keep it real”.
Just today, for example, I was researching the symptoms of (and differences between) the sociopath, the psychopath, and the narcissist. I’m particularly interested in the treatments and the recovery of each of these diagnoses.
Because I need to figure out where Tonklyn is and how he can be redeemed. And I want to make that process as “real” as I can, even though it will involve, in part, wizards, dragons, and even gods. Because, ultimately, it will involve him.
And I want that part to be real.
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