He was dreaming. He had to be. Because the events of before - landing on Anamor, finding a Keeper, wielding the Quickhook, losing his free will to some sentient tissue with eyes - must have been some kind of strange, hallucinogenic fantasy brought on by a bad piece of meat from one of Travalar’s shops. Yes, that was definitely it, which was why he was perfectly fine with ignoring the small annoyance buzzing around in his sleepy consciousness. “Hey! Listen!” the voice called. “It’s time to wake up!”
He groaned. “Hrghhhh… no. Don’t wanna.”
“C’mon, please?” The voice sounded worried, and as he began to awaken, he sleepily pawed at the material covering his face. Wait. He didn’t usually sleep in his scarf. As he gripped it to pull it off, he suddenly felt surprise flood his mind. “Ah, no, it’s just me!” came the voice, rather startled. At his questioning grunt, the tone shifted to exasperated. “The Keeper on your head, remember?”
Oh. Ohhhhhh. Well, that would certainly explain a few things, such as why he remembered feeling so angry and helpless last night. However, this also confirmed that his dream had been real, and that gave him pause. No, he wasn’t quite ready for this. Sitting up, he reached over to his bag hanging on the bedpost. He opened the main compartment and rifled through it until he found a container filled with coffee. Unscrewing the bottle, he poured the liquid into the cup that also served as the lid, and with a lighter that he kept in his tunic pocket, applied the flame to the bottom of the cup. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best that he was going to get.
He sipped appreciatively at the brew, a slow-roasted blonde blend that usually gave him all of the energy that he needed to start the day. With this miracle elixir, he finally felt awake enough to tackle the most pressing problem on his mind - literally. He couldn’t say that he really felt better today, just… more able to deal with this madness, and sometimes, that was all he needed. What he was most surprised about was that his guest had little to say during all of that, since he knew it could hear him. Somehow, the fact that he was drinking coffee through another being didn't even cross his mind.
Upon hearing his last thought, the Keeper piped up. “Ah, sorry. I just figured I’d leave you alone while you… thought through things.”
“Well, that’s awfully kind of you, considering that you gave no regard to my privacy yesterday--”
The Keeper bristled. “Look, I’m sorry, ok?! It was something I had to do.” It sighed, obviously trying to regain its calm. “I didn’t realize how much preserving your identity meant to you. But I guess that looking through your memories, it makes more sense... “ It trailed off, collecting its thoughts before speaking again. “Look, I swear by the Sirens’ scales that I won’t betray you. I won’t reveal your identity to anyone. I promise.”
“How do I know that I can trust you? Because you don’t have the best track record of being trustworthy.”
He could feel its hesitation as it sensed his animosity, his formerly calm mood brought on by the coffee quickly giving way to yesterday’s anger. “I… I suppose you don’t, from your perspective. But please understand; I did what I did because I had to. I couldn’t let the Quickhook fall into the hands of someone evil; it’s my duty as its guardian.”
At that, he fell silent. Like almost every child in the Mermaidon Galaxy, he had grown up with stories of the heroes who had wielded the legendary weapon. Legends of the Laser Ranger and Meteor Mattie were familiar fairy tales, but by far, his favorite hero had always been Galadascar the Fierce. It was said that with his mighty hook, he had rescued a moon from being pulled into a black hole, winning the eternal devotion of that moon’s beautiful princess. Countless tales told of how he wielded the Siren’s Claw to serve the peoples of the Mermaidon Galaxy, and that his courage and bravery with the legendary weapon had helped him stop an interplanetary war between the planets Rehobeth and Juliarr of the Demascule Cluster, earning him the title of Honorary Space Marshall. It was an impressive list of achievements to be sure, and he vaguely remembered a soft voice that read him those tales, his inner adventurer hooked on every word.
He was jolted from his reverie by the Keeper, who had been patiently waiting until he was finished walking down memory lane before speaking again. “Anyway, I feel that you are a good person, and by extension, someone worthy of wielding the Holy Anchor.” Its tone turned somber. “I genuinely did not mean to make you feel so helpless. Please accept my apology.”
He thought about refusing for a moment, but quickly quashed the thought. The Keeper seemed genuine, and while he may have been upset, it wasn't in his nature to hold a grudge. “Very well. I accept your apology.” A small wave of happiness shot through him, but it quickly died once he continued. “However, can you guarantee that you won’t go through my mind or memories anymore? To be quite honest, I do not trust you, and although you have sworn to me that you will not expose me, I am afraid that I cannot, in good conscience, travel with a creature who has no regard for my privacy.”
The Keeper hesitated, and upon feeling its hesitation, he moved to rip it off his head. “That’s what I thought. Goodbye, then. Keep your hook, and I will be on my way.” He only had to report back to the king who had “hired” him; he had no reason to protect the Keeper or the hook despite his compassionate side screaming at him that this was wrong.
“Wait!” the Keeper keened as he grabbed it, and he could feel it resisting, trying to stay on top of him. “Listen, please! It is in my nature to use my abilities in order to protect myself and my charge! But… but if you let me stay with you, I promise that I will try to improve, ok? It is difficult to change habits, but please… I don’t want to be alone…”
They both fell silent, and after a moment, he let it go with a sigh. He knew full well what that loneliness felt like; his long travels across the galaxy were always made in solitude seeing as he had neither the funds nor the trust in anyone to hire them as his crewmen. When he’d left his old place of residence, he had departed with only the clothes on his back and a scarf on his face. To this day, he’d always traveled alone, and no matter how many letters to the Sirens he wrote, he was intimately familiar with the weight of that loneliness.
“I know how that feels,” he said, speaking again after a long while. “Alright. As long as you can promise me that you will make honest efforts to respect my privacy and not read my mind, you may come with me.” He felt its joy crash into him like a wave, mixed with pebbles of relief and gratitude as well as shells of hope, excitement, and curiosity. “Hey now. Just remember that I don’t fully trust you yet, so watch your step, ok?”
“Ok,” it hummed happily, and he rolled his eyes, not entirely unhappy that he had a new partner to go on this journey with. “Oh! What should we be called?” the Keeper asked after a moment. “I know your real name, but I think we should reinvent ourselves.”
He gave a little jolt. “What? Why? I have an alias already.”
The Keeper raised its metaphorical eyebrow, skepticism and disbelief rolling off of it in waves. “‘The Scarfed Scavenger’ is your idea of a good alias?”
“W-well, it sounds good to me!”
“Ugh, you sound like a rejected superhero. No, we can think of something else. Besides, you aren’t the same person now as you were then. C’mon, please. Think of something better.”
“Fine.” He looked around the room, eyes settling on a cracked mirror against the wall. The Keeper actually covered his face quite well, and it certainly made for quite the interesting mask. It was just the off-white color he remembered, and he felt the inkling of an idea building up in his brain. Now he just needed to think of synonyms. “Uh, Flint. Flint…” He kept looking around desperately, eyes settling on his newfound treasure. “Flinthook,” he finished lamely.
“Flinthook,” the Keeper repeated, thoroughly unimpressed.
“Yeah,” he said, warming to his idea. “It sounds cool, and it represents us pretty well!”
This time, it was the Keeper’s turn to sigh, dismay evident in its tone. “Fine. It’s better than what you had.”
“Yesssssss!” He pumped his fist in the air, victorious. Flinthook. It sounded like a good adventurer’s name, and would go perfectly well with his trusted starcraft, the Space Boat. He truly had a preference for the literal.
“Anyway, we’ve spent enough time here," the Keeper said. "We need to get to get back to the king who hired you, and pay off your parking ticket.” It snickered. “How you didn’t know about that space officer stationed right there is beyond me.”
“How did you know about-- HEY!”
“Oh, whoops. Sorry.”
He felt a flash of anger, but quickly let go. As much as he hated it, he couldn't expect this thing to change its clearly well-ingrained self-preservation habits quickly. This was definitely going to take some getting used to.
“Let’s go then,” he murmured, gathering his things. He descended the stairs of the ruined Lighthouse, stepping outside and walking over to his ship. It floated serenely, waiting to take him to his next destination. As gracefully as a cat, he jumped aboard, starting it up. “Hold on, then!” he told the Keeper, before shifting it into FLY and speeding away, back through the asteroid field into the depths of the starry cosmos.