Betwixt and Between
Part Three: Prologue
"Inside my head's a box of stars I never dared to open."
The sun was just clearing the distant hills, and Karthekeyan sat on the edge of the wall to watch it. The colors were particularly beautiful today: gentle pastels, interrupted by a few small clouds, backlit into deep purple with a very pink lining. Even the few guards up on the wall with him paid more attention to the rising sun than the ground below, which was their duty-- or even 'Keyan, himself. They were used to his presence, by now, and only bothered keeping an eye on him once he started moving again.
It had become something of a morning ritual, now: coming up to the tallest section of the wall bounding the Sanctuary of the Sun, settling on the parapet protecting the walkway along it, watching the sunrise, and trying to remember. Ever since he'd come back from Mythicalae, weeks before, he'd been taking Sphiridon's words seriously.
He hadn't, at first. For the weeks after he'd returned from her caves, he'd tried to forget the whole trip. Something about being told he had two pasts he'd somehow forgotten bothered him enough that he didn't want to think about it. Lament and Yula kept bringing it up, though, and he'd find himself thinking about it when he didn't mean to, as if Sphiridon's words had lodged in his mind and snuck up on him when he wasn't expecting them. For as long as he did remember, he'd been on his own, rootless and homeless, without a past or purpose beyond living. Not exactly happy, perhaps, but mostly content. The worst of it had been the feeling of being suspended between the two worlds of waking and sleeping, but now that he knew what was real, he'd entertained vague thoughts of resuming his free, wandering life. Once Lament was grown, of course, and ready to join him.
But if he did as Sphiridon asked, he wouldn't be that rootless wanderer anymore. He would have a past, a purpose, and ties to more than just his bond. He'd probably have ties to a place, to a family, to who knew what. Returning to the Sanctuary of the Sun had been disconcerting enough; there was a disturbing sense of permanence in returning somewhere after only a season. In having somewhere to call "home" for longer than a year.
But Lament had wanted to come back, and the dragon was only a year old, nowhere near full grown and ready for a wandering life. Karthekeyan had promised Tavarez that he'd make whatever changes he had to in order to learn which world was real. Now he knew, so now it was his turn to fulfill the bargain. Lament had let him go to Mythicalae-- had even informed the necessary people for him, while he, himself, had been prepared to just leave without notice, as he always did-- and had even come with him, even though he didn't really like living in the wild. When autumn started calming him and sending his thoughts back to civilization, it was Lament who had asked to come back here.
So he'd come back. And found everything he'd left waiting for him.
And, somehow, spending those three months running wild had seemingly made up his mind for him, without him really thinking about it. He couldn't get the thought of what he'd really left behind out of his mind. Would that be waiting for him, as well? Was there someone to miss him, as Yula had professed to miss him-- thankfully without any sign of the strangling attachment she'd felt, before-- back in his past? Was there a home, a family, somewhere and someone to feel homesick for? Or was it too late, now, and everything was gone? He found that he actually wanted to know. The small sense of "home", that small check on his freedom, had seemed to put a series of dangerous cracks in his resolve not to care.
So, finally, he'd started trying to remember, first at random times, whenever he thought about it. Then, when that didn't work very well, he started coming up at the start of his day, before he had to be anywhere, while Lament was still asleep. He hadn't had much luck there, either, not because he couldn't actually remember far enough back, but it felt like something wouldn't let him. Or someone: the Others always managed to get in the way, somehow. But he couldn't think of anything else to do, so he just persevered, hoping maybe they would give up.
Now, he shut his eyes, blocking out the magnificent sunrise and the occasional guard that passed by, the landscape in the distance and sprawl of buildings below him, and tried to think back. He always started with Mythicalae, because that was something he knew he remembered. At the very least, this exercise had helped him put those memories in some sort of chronological order, rather than the seemingly endless repetition of seasons smattered with different faces and houses that it had been. He still couldn't count the various rounds of seasons he'd spent on the world, but he could remember some of his earliest years there-- he knew they had to be, because he'd stumbled upon memory in which he hardly understood those around him, because he was still learning the language.
That was where he tried to remember back to, because if he was new to Mythicalae, surely he would know how he'd come to be there. The problem was, the farthest back he could remember without being-- interrupted-- was what he thought was his first year on Mythicalae. And even then, he couldn't remember it clearly enough to tell if he knew where he'd come from....
It had been... winter... when he'd first found himself on Mythicalae, he thought. He remembered being very cold, so cold he couldn't think, could hardly move. Someone found him out in the snow, taken him to a farmer's house and left him there. He'd given up trying to put a face to those helpful hands, a name to the reassuring voice: every time he tried, he was interrupted. The next thing he remembered was the startled equita shifter letting him stumble into his blessedly warm house and putting him immediately to bed, stalling only long enough to discover his feverish houseguest literally could not give him a name.
Could not give him a name... even then, had he forgotten? But what could possible have made him forget-- not the illness, like the clydsdale-man had assumed. He couldn't remember when he'd forgotten, but there had to be a moment, an instant, something that could tell him--
--who was shaking him?
"Nightling! Hey, Nightling, come on, snap out of it already!"
Yula glared at him lightly, then let him go. She was wearing her in-between form more, these days; it took some getting used to, seeing her with the blunt muzzle and mobile ears. It took even more getting used to, to see the pair of little dragon-faces peering at him from behind her. "Better. You were ranting again."
Karthekeyan looked around and groaned. He was, apparently, no longer on the wall, but rather down on ground level, in the middle of a corridor which had probably been crowded just a few minutes ago. Now, people skirted around it or hurried out, presumably because of his "ranting". The last thing he remembered was trying to remember past his first winter on Mythicalae....
... and the other last thing he remembered had been trying to reason with the most illogical of the Others, a sandy-haired youngster named Harlequin, who had been, for the moment, convinced that the stone all around him was crying and wanted help. That, apparently, had been what he'd been ranting about, in the middle of a hallway.
"Thank you, Yula," he sighed. "How long was I...?"
"I got wind of it fifteen minutes ago, or so. Lament was in class, so I figured I'd better rescue the Sanctuary from you, this time."
"No, you didn't hurt anyone. Just made people think you're mad."
"Some days, I think I am...."
Yula just clucked her tongue at him, patting him on the shoulder, and led him out of the corridor. Shuu and Mahiru trailed after them, talking between themselves rather than interrupting the adults. "No, you're just weird. I take it things went bad again this morning?"
"It's not working, Yula," he sighed. She knew what he was attempting, just as Lament did. "Every time I even get close, one of them interrupts, and I wind up causing trouble somewhere. It's like-- they know, and don't want me remembering...."
"Can they do that?" Yula asked skeptically. She didn't seem to have any idea what to think about the Others, anymore. Keyan didn't really blame her: he wasn't entirely sure what to think about them, himself, and he was the one they tormented.
"I don't know. It seems like it."
"You can't, like, try to talk to them? Ask them to stop?"
Karthekeyan snorted at the very thought. "If I even remembered to ask when I--" He broke off as a thought occurred to him. When he really was dreaming, he didn't remember reality, yes-- but he didn't have any trouble knowing where and when he was, and why he was there, when he'd actually been in the caves. Yula waited patiently, simply walking quietly while his mind sat on that for a moment.
"I could ask them to stop," he finally said. "But only if I go back...."
"Outside the stars are turning, outside the world's still burning...."
Quotes from Sting's "Inside", on the Sacred Love album
Draclin'geyar are the Creative Property of Silver Midnight; Fleshshifters are the Creative Property of Drakiera