His eyes snapped open. The first thing he saw was the bright glare of the sun overhead, dazzling him. He blinked a few times to force his eyes to adjust. After a while, he was able to see properly. He looked upwards. The sky was blue and cloudless. A seagull cawed as it wheeled around. The cry was answered by another bird from somewhere outside his sight. He was lying on something soft. He remembered that it was called sand.
He dragged himself up to a sitting position, using his right hand to push against the sand. He put the same hand to his head as he closed his eyes to try to shake away the fog in his mind. A single word floated in his thoughts.
That was it. There was nothing else but that word. Was it a name? A place? Something important? He couldn’t remember at all. He realised his left hand was clenched. It felt as though he was holding something tightly. He slowly opened his fingers and looked at the object within.
It was a small stone, roughly circular, with a hole bored through it. There were no words on it, no symbols, no marks of any kind. Other than the hole, it might as well have been a pebble plucked from the sand around him. Looped through the hole was a leather thong, its ends flapping in the gentle breeze blowing over him. The leather thong felt damp against his fingers, and the stone itself looked like it had recently been wet. It did not look familiar to him at all. Not having any better option, he tied the thong around his neck and let the stone rest against his chest.
He saw for the first time that he was naked. His blue skin almost glowed in sharp contrast to the sand around him. His arms and legs had fins. He knew that he was a Triton – a race that lived in the deepest seas – but other than that he had no idea who he was or where he had come from. All he had was the stone around his neck and the word Keros.
Finally, he looked up and took in his surroundings. He was sitting on a beach that looked as though it stretched for a good few miles to his left and his right. The sea lapped gently against the sand, and he felt a longing as he looked out at the blue water. He turned to look behind him. After a few yards of sand, there was grass, which in turn led to trees and what looked like a jungle. There was nothing else around him – no wreckage of any kind, no boat or boat tracks, nothing — just him.
He stood up with difficulty. His legs protested as though they had not been used for some time. He staggered and fell to his knees. He tried again, this time managing to steady himself as he straightened up. He put one foot forward, then the other. He slowly started walking towards the jungle, gaining in speed and confidence as he went.
The trees were almost thick enough to blot out the sun completely. What light came through made the jungle come alive in bright colours of green and yellow. Flies of various colours buzzed around his head, and he heard the sounds of birds – different from the seagulls – as they called and answered to each other. He pressed forward, hoping to find something, anything, to help him find out how he had gotten here, or even where here was.
After a couple of hours, he reached a clearing. No sooner had he entered it than he heard a low growl. Out of the tall grass ahead of him strode a big cat-like creature, its skin covered with spots. It opened his mouth and roared at him, thick strings of drool flying from its sharp teeth.
He did the first thing he could think of, which was to roar back as loud as he could, a deep bestial roar that shook the grass and the trees around him. To his surprise, a bolt of lightning crashed down from the sky above, striking the cat’s body. The cat flew backwards and landed heavily on the ground a few feet away, smoke rising from it. He looked at it in surprise. Had he done that? He cautiously walked up to the cat, but it was very obviously dead. He also noticed that some of the grass nearby had caught fire. He shrugged and picked up the carcass, slinging it over his shoulder. He also plucked the smouldering grass and walked back into the clearing.
Gathering some wood that had fallen from the trees and using dried grass as kindling as well as the grass that was still burning, he was able to light a small fire. He roasted the cat’s body and ate it, enjoying the taste of fresh meat. No more creatures came out of the jungle to accost him – the fire must have been keeping them away. The smoke from the fire rose high into the sky. Once he had finished his meal, he stared into the flames and tried to remember anything about himself with no success. The sun began to set and night fell quickly. He lay down and slept as the stars shone down, and the fire continued to crackle next to him.
He dreamed of the ocean. He was swimming in the depths. His surroundings were indistinct, and he was unable to make out any details. Was there someone else with him? He couldn’t be sure. He awoke with the lingering impression of water, but not much else. The sun shone down on him as it had the previous day. He stood up next to the remains of the now-dead fire and stretched himself, feeling his joints crack. He made his way back to the shore and looked out at the blue ocean, a thoughtful look on his face. He strode forward and entered the water, going out deeper and deeper.
Eventually, he was able to dive down and swim along the ocean bed. Brightly coloured corals surrounded him, and he watched as schools of rainbow fish swam around his head. The sand gave way to rocky outcroppings, dotted with small caverns and tunnels. He stayed under for an hour, then two, breathing the water as easily as he could breathe the air. He hoped that this connection to his dream might unlock something in his memory. Again he was met with failure.
Days passed. He had no idea how long it had been since he had awoken on the island’s beach. Each night he had the same dream of swimming in the ocean and that half-indistinct other figure. Was it someone from his past? Or was it just his imagination? He had no way of knowing.
He spent some time examining the stone ring around his neck, trying to get a sense of some sort of familiarity but coming up with nothing. He started to wonder if he would ever find any answers or even get out of this place.
One morning everything changed. The sun had just risen above the horizon and, as with all the other mornings, he was swimming deep in the sea, weaving in and around the shoals of fish and pristine corals. He tried to force himself to remember his past, but despite all his efforts, nothing came. He was a completely blank slate.
He kicked back up towards the surface with mounting exasperation. His head broke the surface. In the distance, he saw something new – a ship. It seemed to be getting closer. He swam back to the shore and watched. After half an hour, the boat stopped moving and raised its sails. A smaller boat appeared next to it and continued towards the beach. He watched it draw nearer and nearer until finally, it had reached him.
The boat carried four men. One of them jumped out of the ship and approached him.
“We saw smoke coming from this island. Are you hurt? Do you require any help?”
He thought a moment before answering. Whatever this place was, it held no answers for him. Maybe other places would. “Thank you, sir,” he said in heavily accented Common, “I would travel with thee if I may.”
The man who had spoken to him glanced at the others before looking back at him. “Well you’ll have to work on the ship to pay your way, but if that is all right, then you’re welcome to join us.”
He bowed his head. “I am grateful.”
The man raised an eyebrow as he looked him up and down, “Although we’ll have to get you some clothes first.” He extended his hand. “What’s your name?”
He thought for a moment. All he had was that one word. It was as good a name as any.
“Keros,” he said as he shook the proffered hand, “I am called Keros.”