Let’s also not forget the spooky Cthulhu-esque skulls in Nero’s room in Shadows of Evil. We can assume those are the skulls of humanoid apothicons, like the shadowman’s squiddy form.
So here’s my theory regarding the origin of the keepers. Monty explicitly says on revelations, in reference to the keepers:
“...while the rest of mankind was squabbling around in the dirt, drinking their own piss, the keepers...”
This makes it seem like the keepers are a subset of “mankind.” But that seems to come in conflict with the Timeline, which opens with the line “In the beginning, there was only the Aether and the Keepers.” Not to mention, there are some, uh, differences between human and keeper physiology.
So, I’ve kinda had this thought in the back of my mind that the Keepers were originally normal humans, confined to whatever their original timeline was, but once they figured out how to ascend into keeperhood, they managed to literally “escape” their timeline into hyperspace. So like, each timeline / universe is its own film reel, with souls stuck on them like flies on fly paper, and the Keepers are just the ones who managed to detach themselves and learn to move freely in 4D hyperspace.
So, the keepers were there “in the beginning” in the sense that they exist outside of time, with all the timelines laid out before them, where they can just re-insert themselves to any film reel at a time and location of their choosing. Like, a fly stuck on fly paper can only walk forward in one direction, but a free fly can zoom in 3d loop-de-loops around the paper itself. The same way that currently we can only move “forward” through time, the concept of “moving sideways through time” doesnt even make sense to a human, because we ourselves are the flies stuck on the fly paper. A keeper, however, has free movement through 4+ dimensions in space time.
Mkay, so let’s roll with that for the time being; there was originally a group of humans that called themselves the Order of the Keepers. They messed with 115, or the Aether, to the extent that they were able to free themselves from the confines of their original timeline, transforming physically due to their exposure to the aether. Effectively, I think the keepers were “the first humans to discover / perfect teleportation.” And they did so at Shangri-La.
The temple of Shangri-la is, quite literally, a giant teleporter / time machine. Like the entirety of the temple is a beta-version of Richtofen’s MTD. In the same way that the computers of today were once the size of a room before we improved upon the technology.
We hear brock and gary talking about how the temple must contain “the gateway to agartha.” But I think they’re just under the false impression that agartha is a physical location at the center of the earth. The same way that people often conceptualize “hell” as being at the center of the earth.
Shang is “the gateway to agartha” in that it is where the knowledge of how to access the aether was first acquired. So Shangri-la is like the ground-zero of humanity’s contact with the aether.
Now specifically I’ve gotta mention Indiana Jones at this point, since it’s mingled with the history of Call of Duty. Most notably, Nuketown was explicitly inspired by Vonderhaar’s viewing of Indiana Jones 4.
Anyway, in that movie (which also heavily inspired shangri-la,) they do call attention to the artificially elongated skulls that the natives possess, in contrast to the even more bizarre-looking “crystal skulls.” The explanation for this in the film is that the crystal skulls were left behind by “interdimensional beings” that frequently get mistaken for “spacemen.” And subsequently, some of the natives bound their own skulls to imitate the “gods” that they witnessed. Now that’s pretty similar to the mythos of Nan Sapwe. But since we’re talking about Shang, and I’m contending that the keepers were originally human, I think it’s entirely possible we’re looking at the sort of gradual evolution from human to keeper over time, like the spectrum of skulls from homo erectus to homo sapiens, for instance. We’re seeing the elongation of the skull as humans got rapidly more intelligent, and as they gained psychic powers the eyes were phased out, etc.
One important point is made at the end of indiana jones 4. They go in expecting to find a physical temple of gold, but instead find that the real “treasure” was the near limitless knowledge the crystal skull beings had. “Knowledge was their treasure.” In the same way that brock and gary might have expected to find a physical “gateway” to agartha, really shang is where the information on how to teleport / interact with the aether was first acquired by man.
So basically, my overall “thesis” of how I think things went down is this: Somewhere in the Andes, the first ever humans figured out how to interact with the aether by just arranging astronomical temples in various ways around 115 deposits. They continued experimenting with time and space in really rudimentary ways, til they mastered interdimensional travel, mutating as they did so. So now they are effectively unshackled by time, and can sort of chill outside of time in hyperspace looking down on all the various timelines.
Like, lemme ask you a question for the road. Just conceptually. Imagine you’re samantha, trying to kill Ultimis at Der Riese by sending all of the zombies after them. They then hop into a teleporter and go forward in time to 1960s kino. So, from sam’s perspective back in 1945, they just.... vanish. Enter a teleporter, and don’t come out anywhere else on earth. So she waits. And waits. And waits 20 years, until they re-emerge, the same age, in kino. So like, during that whole 20 years, from sam’s perspective, where were ultimis “located?” The answer is, literally, nowhere in her universe. Hyperspace. The Aether.