The newborn coughed and sucked in his first gasp of air in a world that had yearned for his return. Tiny and weak, his frail form belied the greatness to which he had been reborn; a spirit descended from the Dreamscape into the chaos of earth.
His memories of the time before had faded as he fell through blackness. Khalos had seen a glowing dot of light on the horizon--life. It had approached, or he had approached it, with great speed.
Movement was difficult to discern in the darkness of non-existence.
The glowing light became more than a dot, and had expanded to fill his entire vision. The mind-programs he had instilled at the command of Watcher, his god, god of the Dreamscape, were triggered at the light, and they completed their task of storing his memories away. They would return--when the physical form he would inhabit had aged more than a child in this world. None would listen to the words of a baby.
He had to wait.
Thousands of years melted into nothingness; the dreamscape, the millennium of time from the beginning of earth to now, faded away. His mind kept hold of only fragments and small glimpses of the vast wisdom he had accumulated.
The pure white light began to become marred with shadows; shapes that slowly solidified. People.
He had awoken as a squalling newborn baby, and saw the sun’s gleaming for the first and second time.
The light shone painfully into his eyes, still sensitive from the sudden change in environment. He drew a deep breath to scream. His cry was cut short, a hand clamping firmly around his mouth. He stared balefully up at his mother and she shook her head slowly. The warning effectively silenced him.
“Hush...” gentle amber eyes gazed down from above. His mother pulled him close to her chest, and with a strong voice she turned and spoke to the assembled. “My baby, the Keeper of Children; I name you.”
The child had been told of amongst the servants of Watcher for over a generation, and when Keeper’s return was imminent, the temple prepared. Watcher would bring the child from the Dreamscape.
And it did. That morning they had awoken, and the priestess, soon-to-be adopted mother of the future Keeper, had found the squalling child in her bedchambers.
It was time.
“Keeper find us.” A crowd of voices, unseen as he hid his face in the darkness of his mother’s clothes, yet not unheard.
“So shall you be Keeper, this is the destiny and Will I place on your heart.” His mother pulled him away from herself, holding him at arm’s length. She brushed his cheeks and brow as she spoke; and where once her eyes had been vibrant and full of life, they were now eerily vacant.
“Keeper guide us.” The voices responded.
“Fulfil your purpose, Keeper. Kill and be killed. See the path before you and follow it to its end.”
“Keeper lead us.” This incantation was murmured, and an expectant hush fell over the gathering.
“Die, and in turn save your life and the life of all who shall be born from your death. Take the Children to their sanctuary!”
“Keeper save us!” The words rose to a shout from every throat, the assembly raising their hands as one in agreement.
Athen felt his unwavering gaze upon her, burning into her forehead as she wrote. The Sister hunched over the small paper tablet, her pen scratching furiously, but it itched at the corner of her mind. With a sigh, she glanced beside her. Her son was staring up at her from his basinet, ruby-red eyes that, while now quite shocking, would fade to an amber tone in a few days. It would be as it always was, as had happened to her people over the centuries. The royal denizens of the dreamscape would send one of their own, the eldest, down from that alternate dimension to earth. Any one of her people could have been chosen to carry the baby--the honour was great--but when her child was born and she saw his eyes, she knew they’d chosen her.
She had heard tales from her grandmother of women who had believed they’d fallen pregnant to their husbands, only to give birth to a baby with a soul from the dreamscape. Always, the child would grow to adulthood without memories of its past, before the memories awakened and they did whatever their purpose was for that time. Only Watcher knew.
She’d been raised as priestess, a Sister, to expect the same for herself. This child was Keeper reborn, and he had come to fulfil a purpose in this generation; her generation.
The denizens of the dreamscape watched over humankind from the beginning of time to the end, and saw when their powers and wisdom was needed. It seemed this time was one of those where Watcher deemed a Keeper was required.
Her son returned her observing gaze, and she smiled at him. Athen knew his past, she knew where he came from, but for now? At this moment? He was simply her son. The knowledge of centuries he possessed were even now disappearing completely, and it was as it should be.
With a shake of her head, she broke out of her reverie. There wasn’t much time left. She placed the paper down beside her on the stone, weighing it down with her pen as she got up.
The baby wriggled in irritation, squirming in his cot. Athen leant down, her hair slipping forward and tickling his face; like black silken spider-webs on his smooth brown skin, a sharp contrast to his own wispy silver hair.
She could already see the slight resemblance when he smiled to what she saw in the mirror every morning, though he was still so young. Though he carried an alien soul, and this reflected in some of his appearance, he still came from her and the fathers.
But that is where our similarity ends, she admitted with a scowl. Khalos’ other features come straight from his fathers, and they were many. Every year, the nubile women of her people visited the many fathers in the temple, and it was there that their tribes continued.
The colourless hair, red eyes...all from his fathers’ side. One might call him albino, but were it not for his darker skin. A strange combination; one that was becoming hidden even now. For in a few moments, he would truly enter the world. They would not accept one such as him if they knew who and what he was; her people knew, for they had lived like this since the earliest times they could recall. None of the rest of the world had experienced the children of the dreamscape being born to them; they only knew when the child reached adulthood and affected the world before disappearing again. They would not understand him as he was now.
He had arrived from nothingness, called back into existence, into the realm the Sisters resided in. A place below the dreamscape; yet not in the world entirely. Not yet.
A sudden sound in the brush jerked her out of her thoughts. Athen looked around quickly, and breathed a sigh of relief. They had not yet arrived. But it served as a good reminder; time was swiftly escaping her. Speed was of the essence; and she hurried.
The moment the gathering had ceased, and the celebrations begun, she had taken the opportunity to disappear. They had already noted the gathering’s leader missing and had come to find her. Even now some were near. The final task, that which these acolytes could never have understood if she had told them, had to take place.
She recalled back to his beginning, to the angel who had delivered them, only to have left the pair before her child was even born. The last Keeper, the last denizen of the dreamscape to have been born on earth and disappeared thousands of years before her time; he had come back before her pregnancy and had saved her life and the lives of her people.
To be torn from us so suddenly and without purpose...her eyes stung at the memories. Her child should stay here, should grow up to know himself, to know his fathers...both the Keeper and the many fathers of the temple. But his Keeper father had had other instructions for her. Unlike every other mother before, she needed to not raise him with the Sisters, the ones who would teach him and guide him, help him dismantle his mental constructs and harness his powers when the time was right. Athen did not question this; Keepers knew best, and they heard directly from Watcher--after all, they were the only ones who could see Watcher and not die. Her people would not understand and would kill her for this, and even she could see the danger. After all, completely unknowing of his powers and how to control them, the child could easily cause a lot of death and destruction. Keeper knows best.
With a mental shake, she cleared her mind of the Keeper and focused instead on her mission. This Keeper would not leave so prematurely.
Athen finished writing out the note; all of her son’s memories, the story of the lives he had lived before--tales the previous Keeper had told her many years ago--and sealed it securely inside the watcher-stone. She passed the wedged rock to her son who gripped it tightly, knowing his part in these acts for but a second more. And then that moment passed, and he was completely an unknowing infant. She made sure he kept a tight grip on the stone. It would awaken him when it was time.
Even carrying him in his basket, plus her satchel, it did not take the pair long to leave the little forest clearing and reach their destination. The peaceful woodlands ended abruptly in a sharp drop-off. A rugged cliff-face swept miles down to meet the jagged rocks on the beach below, pummelled with the crashing waves. High tide--or at least, the Dreamsape’s closest approximation. The perfect time, as the sun set and darkness overtook the land. It was ironic, in a way.
Athen walked over to the edge of the cliff and gazed down at the foreboding grey rocks so far beneath her. She set down her burden and lifted her son out of the basket, holding him in her slender arms. Now was the time. He stared up at his mother still, his ancient eyes--so incongruous in such a young innocent face--never leaving her. They understood each other. She looked back over her shoulder, the wind whipping her long hair into her face as she strained to listen. Yes, they were almost there. It was time. With no further thought, she held out her baby. Held him out over the cliff, the roiling grey clouds of the approaching storm mirroring the grey waves beneath. The sickly orange sun, now just above the horizon, created a perfect setting for this end--this beginning. She looked down at the jagged black rocks, so many miles below them. She held him out over the abyss for but a second more. Then she let go.
He fell. Khalos saw grey sky and black cliffs rushing past him so quickly they were nothing but a blur. As the basket turned in mid-air, he caught a glimpse of what he was approaching. A portal flickered and glowed beneath him, just above the waves, and it was into this darkness that he plunged.
Blinding light. The travel through the portal was a split second, but the entire world changed. From grey stormy skies and a ragged coastline, he was now in a bright and sunny place, with trees towering above him, stretching out into the sky.
Voices chattered, quickly turning to gasps as the baby was noticed. He was securely strapped into the basket, and had come to no harm--a fact that the first to approach swiftly confirmed. The young girl picked him up, “This is he,” she said to the others, and no more explanation was needed.
“He is ours?”
“Athen, where did you find him?”
“To take care of and raise as your own,” Khalos’ mother--she had told them she was his sister, to avoid too many questions--handed the basket over, and the childless couple took it in their arms carefully. She ignored the second question, and simply watched as the woman gazed down at the baby, enraptured--she had never imagined she would ever hold a child to call her own, obviously. It pleased her to see her little son so cared for already.
“Who is he?” The husband asked, one eye on his wife and one suspiciously watching Athen.
“His name is Khalos. Who he is? It is no matter,” Athen dodged the question. “He is a gift from the Sisters across the sea, and should not be questioned.”
Chastened, the man dropped his gaze. He knew it was true; no one questioned the Sisters and lived to tell about it. They were kind healers and helpers, but they did not stand their secrets being made known. They did what they did and no one knew why.
Athen left the pair to become acquainted with the baby. They were clearly happier than they had ever been, and her heart warmed for a second. Her son would be taken care of. It was a pity these people’s fate when he came of age, but that was a long way away. They would have a time of happiness and plenty, and the Keeper would grow to adulthood. It was as it must be. Against all tradition, all customs, the child would not be indoctrinated by the Sisters and taught as he grew what his life held. This soul from the dreamscape, this prophet and harbinger of change, he would come of age not knowing who or what he was.
Even she had taken some convincing, and Athen knew the rest of the Sisters would not be so understanding. If they had not captured and killed her mother already, they would soon; and the same fate awaited her. But it was the will of Watcher, and a Sister never questioned that.
She knelt on the grassy clifftop overlooking the sea and faced west. Over the vast expanse, miles away, was her home; where the Sisters lived. She began to sing.
Even as her voice strung a melody through the thin air, a darkness began to coalesce before her, hovering in the sky at the edge of the cliff. It wavered around the edges, constantly moving and writhing in the air. Without a thought, Athen stepped off the edge of the cliff and into the portal back home.
That was all my mother told me of the day I came to be with her, Khalos shook his head in resignation. He was glad that she’d remembered the day, the words the Sister--his sister, apparently--had spoken, and had made sure that he knew. His father hadn’t thought of such things; he’d seemed to prefer to forget anything unusual had happened at all, and instead had buried himself in his work. Khalos had rarely seen him, growing up, but for the nights he came home for dinner, and the one family journey to the city of the West he’d been allowed to come with for. The man ignored all references to Khalos’ origin--a fact that had hurt and confused him, as a child.
He understood why, now. He’d never do the same, in his father’s place, but at least he understood why. The man had been afraid--and fears ignored were easier than fears faced.
Khalos heaved a sigh. Here he was, thinking back on the things he did not recall--things that he’d been told, things that had shaped his life from the very day he was born. His mother, back in that tiny town he’d grown up in? She’d known very little--and his father even less, determined to forget the day Khalos had been given to them--but she’d told him the tale Athen had told her when she’d handed him over, as a baby. And for that, Khalos had always thanked her.
He’d known very little of his origin, but those tiny scraps his mother had shared with him at night were precious to him as a child, and he’d clung to them like so many precious stones, holding them close to his heart.
He’d been so innocent as a child, so clueless. Even now, his knowledge did not extend far, and so he was writing down everything he remembered, everything he could. He’d lost so much, ever since he’d awoken only a day ago.
Where did my years go? He mused. It was the very reason he was writing everything down, hoping that something, somewhere, would trigger a memory. He recalled his childhood easily enough--as easily as any grown man would, he supposed--but from a particular point in his early teens, the memories faded to black. Anything from the age of fourteen to now, at twenty-four? It was a mystery.
One I am going to solve, he thought with determination. Now where was I?
His childhood had been one of normality, as with any other child or family in the small village where he grew up. Everyone knew each other, and everyone knew each other’s business--yet his origin had been kept secret. Ever since he’d been old enough to ask, to understand, and to keep it a secret, his mother--to his father’s grudging silence--had told him of his origin, and that he was to tell no one.
“No one at all,” she ruffled the boy’s hair, her eyes serious, “You understand?”
Runa sighed, “Because they won’t understand, Khalos.”
With that, he’d accepted it. He’d only been nearly ten years old; it was of no great importance to him.
What followed, though, was.
It wasn’t long until his powers began to show, and he woke every night in a cold sweat, screaming. His mother had rushed in to comfort him, and when he told her tales of falling through darkness, of chanting crowds, and of a massive bird-like creature with red eyes following him, always following…she had seemed to sink in on herself.
He’d heard his parents fighting that night, unlike any other fight they’d ever had before.
“Why’d you have to tell him?!” His father roared, and a fist thumped into the dining-room table. “You put this in his head.”
Quiet sobbing followed his father’s outburst, and Khalos’ heart ached. He was only young, and he blamed himself.
He’d never spoken of the nightmares since, even the waking ones, where the feathered beast would follow him in the skies, in the shadows behind him during the day. They’d never stopped, though. Every night, he’d been plagued.
Until I was fourteen, Khalos remembered, his heart aching even now. Remembering brought it all up to the forefront of his mind, made the pain real again. How his parents would fight, his father never speaking of it the day after, his mother’s eyes red, her face defeated. They’d never had any children after him, despite his mother’s longing, and Khalos had blamed himself for that too.
How misunderstood and alone he’d felt as a child had echoes even now, Khalos realised. But that one night, at fourteen, only weeks before the end of his memories? That had changed him forever.