The Boy with Steam on His Breath stood alone, how he always was. He stood on an outcropping of rock, overlooking a vast forest of pines. The air was cold, it was dawn and the sun had just started to come up over the horizon. He inhaled deeply, the crisp air feeling fresh in his lungs. He exhaled, condensation forming and floating off in the cold air.
Then he set down the rock face, carefully putting each foot onto a small ledge of rock, holding onto any part of the rock he could find.
His foot hit some pebbles and he slipped, nearly ten metres off the ground. In a burst of adrenaline, he swung his left hand up and grabbed a piece of rock. He planted one foot back into the rock, then the other.
His heart slowed in its pounding and he continued climbing down the small cliff without another incident.
When he reached the bottom of the cliff, he walked forward into the mist-filled forest.
The boy had been abandoned; left alone in the wilderness, all because he was “different”. The only physial implication of this was his shocking white hair, but it was true, he was different than others. Very different.
Another of the odd things about him was his eyes. Hazel, not brown, but changing from brown, to grey, to green, to blue. They changed constantly. But this alone was not enough for people to hate him. Ever since he had been an infant, he had been very independent: not seeming to rely on his mother and father for food or lodging as much as other children his age. Instead he liked to live for weeks on end out in the woods, once he had grown to an age that his parents allowed him to do so, even though they didn’t approve. No one in the town approved of him. But perhaps it wasn’t even beause of these reasons he was abandoned. But it seemed that in a few of the towns they lived in,there would be a person there who seemed, perhaps not friendly towards him, but interested at least. A person who would smile seretly to themselves after he passed, but not mockinly, bur rather in a way that they unerstood him, and were enjoying watching him mature, no matter how long they actually “knew” him. Everyone he came in contact with was unnverved by him, and rumors quickly spread because of that. The parents, wanting to retain a small amount of dignity, at least, decided to move when he was still a five-year-old. But the same thing happened in the next town, and any others they went to. When he came to an age of fourteen, they were asked to move again, by the town they were then living in, or to abandon him. He had already been able to live along for surprising lengths of time, and, after much consideration, they abandoned him. They felt guilty about it, but apparently not guilty enough to take him back in. Not that they would have been able to even if they had wished to do so. Once they had gone looking for him, a year after le they left him, but he was nowhere to be found. A few reports of a “haunted boy” coming into a town came out, but when his parents went there, hoping to see him, he had already been gone for a week or so. And thus he became The Forsaken, a wanderer, walking in forests and fields alone, only animals as his companions. He became The Boy with Steam on His Breath. He stirred, interrupted from his sleep by a curious deer snuffling at his clothes. He looked up through the leaves on the rees with his hazel eyes, up to the dawning sky above. The air was cold, as it usually as, and how he liked it. He uncovered himself from the thick wood blanket he carried with him. He had bought it from a wizened old woman in the last town he had passed through. He picked up the blanket after standing up, and rolled it up and put it in the sack that he slung over his shoulder. He picked through the pack and pulled out a small circular metal object. It had an ornate engraving on it, of a leaf of a kind he had never seen before. The leaf was slender, with a surprisingly intricate network of veins underneath the skin. The veins not only went forwards toward the tip of the leaf, as they usually did, but also curved back and went towards the stem. He usually kept it safe in his pack, for it was special to him. It was given to him by an elderly man in the town he had lived in when he was ten, one of the people who seemed amused, at least, by him. On his eleventh birthday, a few months before they left that town, he had called him over to his house. He had given him the metal circle and looked him deep in the eyes, telling him to keep it safe and that he would need it someday. He closed his hand around the object closed his eyes, thinking, then put it back in the pack resolutley. It was one of the few fond memories he had, and he treasured it because of that reason alone. He started walking through the woods, looking around for any roots or berries he could eat. He had grown accustomed to eating just what he found in his wanderings, supplemented by things he got in any towns he came to. He bought them by doing any chores he could find there. He remembered a piece of bread he had left in his pack, stale from several days’ travel. He took it out and tore off a piece, chewing it slowly as he walked.
He had been in the forest that he was in currently for several days, and was hoping to come to another town soon. Even though apple trees were fairly common in his travels, he hadn’t come across any recently and wanted some.
He walked on through the wood, listening to the wind in the branches and the birds singing.
It had been a year and a half since he had been Forsaken, abandoned by his parents. He thought back to them, not with hatred, but sadness and guilt that he had been such an outcast that they felt they had need to leave him.
He walked on until midday. At that point, the trees cleared slightly, opening out into a plain. Several apple trees dotted the landscape.
He rushed over to them, and picked several, putting all but one of them in his pack, and eating the one he had left out. He continued walking until he started coming across dirt roads and small houses. Eventually, the houses he passed by started getting bigger, until he was in the centre of the town.
He looked at the passersby. Most of them didn’t seem to notice him, but the ones who did took one look then pointedly turned their heads.
He was used to it though, and after many years, it didn’t bother him.
He walked slowly down the road, looking for a bakery. But as he turned his head from one side to the other, he noticed one man looking at him. He wasn’t particularly old, probably in his thirties. He looked surprised to see the boy. He beckoned him to come over.
The Boy with Steam on His Breath hesitated slightly before going over to him.
The man leaned down close to his ear and spoke in a low tone. “I know who you are. I know what you are, but even perhaps you don’t. We must talk. But not here. Come inside.”
The boy followed him inside the house. The man locked the door and went into a room that looked like a kitchen.
“Would you like something to eat? I imagine you must be hungry, if what I’m thinking about you is true.”
“Yes, please, if it is no imposition.”
The man laughed, something the joyous lines on his face indicated that he did frequently. “Not at all. It is an honour for me!”
The boy gave him a confused look. “Why would that be?”
“Because you…you are Falx’s Forsaken, The Boy with Steam on His Breath. You are the only one of your like in this world. What is your name?”
“It was taken from me when I was abandoned. But I think of myself as what you just called me, The Boy with Steam on His Breath. How did you know?”
The man smiled kindly. “Twelve people know of you, know who you are. And we know more about you than perhaps you know yourself. But for now we will call you Steam. Do you mind?”
“Not at all. What may I call you?”
“My name is Ezekiel. I am one of the twelve Knowers that I just referred to. Do you happen to have a metal circle with you? With an engraving on it?” he said, preparing a tomato sandwich for the boy.
Steam’s eyes widened. “How did you know about that?”
“As I said, I know much about you. The man or woman who gave it to you was one of my fellow Knowers. But the leaf on there is important. May I see it?”
Steam rummaged through his pack until he found the circle. He held it out to Ezekiel. He looked at it and spoke softly. “Mazeiriel.” He looked up at Steam. “It is a leaf that acts as a portal, or a gate.”
“To one of the other Soudulir. But you do not know of such things, and I am not the one to tell you. You will learn much more in your journey.” He handed Steam the sandwich, and the boy ate hungrily.
“You do not know of love, do you, boy?”
The boy looked up, his face somber. “No. I do not. I have been expelled from every place I have gone.”
“You will learn of it, by the end.” The man smiled again, and the smile warmed the boy from the inside. “But again, it is not my place to teach you. I am only to send you on your way. But there is no rush, or none yet. Take your time. You are free to be here as long as you wish. But I will show you the meaning of Mazeiriel, and what it will do.”
The man retrieved a small skeleton key from his pocket and went over to one of the drawers in the kitchen, under the counter. He inserted the key into a small slot apparently designed for it on the wooden panel that made the front of the drawer. He turned the key with a click, then turned the key back, removed it, and put it back in his pocket.
He opened the drawer.
It was deeper than it had seemed at first glance, and a small plant grew inside. Steam got up and peered in. The leaves had the same strange vein structure as the one on the metal circle.
“This is the plant Mazeiriel. It must be kept hidden, secret from those ignorant of the truth, those who are not Knowers. But enough of this. I welcome you as my guest, but immediately start telling you all this! You must stay here until at least tomorrow. You need to eat more! I can’t imagine you have eaten much, wandering alone in desolate places. And you need rest. Tell me of your travels!” He then closed the drawer, and it closed with another click, signalling that it had been locked.
Steam finished eating the sandwich and relaxed in his chair. He felt that he could trust this man, and he did. The man didn’t seem to be unnerved by him in the least.
As he rested and relaxed, he told Ezekiel of his travels alone, through woods, up mountains, and down valleys. The man was very interested in all of these, especially the times where Steam had almost died or fallen, and the sudden boost of energy he had during those times. After listening for a few minutes, he asked Steam to stop for a moment, and left the room. He returned a few minutes later with a pen and a stack of paper.
After that, as Steam talked, Ezekiel copied down everything that he said. When Steam asked why he was doing so, Ezekiel answered thus: “The other Knowers will want to know of this. I will make records for us all to read.”
The two of them continued doing this until the late afternoon. When Steam finished talking, Ezekiel laid down his pen and rubbed the muscle attatched to his thumb, which was sore from so much writing.
“That was a good place to stop anyway,” he said. “I should start making dinner. How does soup sound?”
Steam smiled weakly. “I haven’t had soup in a very long time. It used to be my favorite thing, before I was Forsaken. That would be magnificent.”
While Ezekiel made the soup, chopping up carrots, beets, and potatoes into a pot, Steam studied the metal object intensely, running his finger over the veins.
Why must I leave now? Now, after meeting someone who seems to actually care for me and understand me? He thought.
After a little while, he was brought out of deep thought by Ezekiel putting a bowl of soup and a spoon in front of him, then sitting down across from him at the table in the kitchen where he had sat while Steam narrated for him.
They ate in relative silence, compared to that what it had been when they were talking. The only sound to be heard was the clink of their spoons upon the ceramic bowls.
After they had finished eating, Ezekiel got up and told Steam to follow, to show him where he could sleep that night. As they were walking, they passed through an open doorway and Steam happened to look through.
Inside were four large bookcases, all full.
He stopped in wonder, not having seen such a large amount of books in a long time. Ezekiel noticed his staring and came over.
“You can take a book out if you would like to read some this evening.”
Steam looked up at Ezekiel eagerly. “May I? I haven’t read in so long! I hope I remember how to…”
“Certainly! And I have a book in mind just for you,” he said, pulling out a dusty volume from one of the shelves.
He handed the book to Steam and he read the title. “Astronomia et Astris.”
“Astronomy and Astrology. The book itself is in latin, but the diagrams will be interesting and…important for you to look at. I hope you enjoy it.”
Puzzled, he took the book. Together they continued through the house, up a flight of stairs, and to a small room with an eave. A cot was in there, already made, with a standing lamp next to it. Ezekiel went over to it and turned it on.
Ezekiel smiled to Steam and left him alone in the room. It had been a year and a half since he had slept on a bed, under a roof, and it felt strange to him. He set his pack down on the floor and took out the wool blanket. He climbed onto the bed and covered himself with the blanket. He opened the book, smelling deeply of must. The first thing he saw was a diagram of twelve constellations surrounding a planet. There was a label under the planet, reading Terra. He flipped to another page with a diagram. It was similar to the other, but this time inside the circle of constellations was a thirteenth constellation. Each of the constellations had a name underneath it, Aries, Taurus, and going on through the different zodiac sign names. And the one in the centre was named Falx.
A chart was on the facing page, with the names of the zodiac signs and their respective symbols. Next to Falx was a symbol that consisted of a vertical line, then two parallel lines coming out of the left side of the main line, then two curved lines on the right side, going up and to the right and down and to the right, creating a symbol that was vertically symmetrical.
But Steam was tired from walking, and soon this eyelids were heavy. He shut the book and put it on the floor next to the bed. He turned out the light and fell quickly to sleep.
He woke early the next morning, as he usually did. The sun rose early in the forest, and he would usually be up at five-thirty, walking through the crisp morning air.
He uncovered himself from the wool blanket and headed downstairs and to the kitchen, where he thought Ezekiel might be. He wasn’t there, and Steam didn’t hear any movement in the house, so he opened the door and went outside. No one was awake out there to be seen, either. He took a deep breath of the air outside, refreshing his lungs. He closed his eyes and stood meditatively for several minutes, inhaling and exhaling in great puffs of condensation.
He went back inside and sat at the table, then realized he had forgotten his book. He went back up the stairs as quietly as he could and into his room. He retrieved the book and headed back downstairs. He sat at the kitchen table, studying the diagrams in the book and trying to understand some of the titles given to various things in the book.
In a few minutes, Ezekiel came downstairs.
“Ah, you’re up,” he said. When he noticed him reading the book, he smiled. “How is the book?”
“Good, but I don’t understand all of the diagrams. Could you help me understand some of these?” Steam answered.
Ezekiel laughed. “Again, it is not my place. You will learn the meaning of them by the end, though. I am only to be the first person to help you, not your first teacher. But there will be others. Many others. And they will teach you everything you will need to know. And perhaps,” he added, “a bit more than you need or would want to know. But we don’t need to worry about that right now. I will make us some breakfast. Anything you would like in particular?”
A grin spread across Steam’s face. “Do you have eggs? I haven’t had a fried egg in a very long time.”
Ezekiel laughed again, a chuckle that started deep inside him and rose slowly through his body until it burst out of him. “Yes, yes, I have eggs.” He reached into a basket to the side of the counter and pulled out two eggs. As he cooked them, he talked to Steam.
“Would you like to head out after we eat? I would like to have you here longer, but our time is almost up. You have need to head to the next Soudulir.”
“But what is a Soudulir? I don’t–” Steam started, but stopped when Ezekiel held up a hand in response.
While Ezekiel continued cooking the meal, Steam went back to the book. It seemed that on almost every page there was a diagram showing a particular constellation or even sometimes a particular star. On a few of the pages were drawings of galaxies, and on one of them, a diagram spread over two facing pages at the very start of the book, was a hypothetical sketch of the layout of the universe.
Steam was interrupted from his reading by Ezekiel placing a plate with a fried egg and piece of bread in front of him.
He set down the book and ate, Ezekiel sitting across from him where he had the previous night. Steam savoured the flavour of the egg, complimented by the crunchiness of the homemade bread.
When they had finished, Ezekiel took their plates over to the counter, where two basins of water were. One of the basins was murky, while the other was mostly clear.
“I forgot to empy them from yesterday. I’ll empty them outside and wash the dishes later. But first,” he said, unlocking the drawer containing the Mazeiriel again, “I will show you how we use the Mazeiriel. Or how you can. The other Knowers and I have made a pact to never use the Mazeiriel to go to a Soudulir. But you need to. It is what you are meant to do as The Forsaken.”
He picked two of the leaves of the Mazeiriel, and, after closing and locking the drawer again, he put them in a small piece of cloth from another drawer, and tied it into a small bundle. This he put in a teacup. A pot of water had begun to boil on the wood-burning stove and he poured some of the water into the cup. Hot liquid vapour poured up into the air from the cup, smelling sweet and slightly mint-like. They let it steep for a few minutes, then Ezekiel picked out the bundle with a fork and handed the cup to Steam.
“I will tell you this, though, before you drink of it. This tea, made from the leaf of the Mazeiriel, is powerful. Not in taste,” he laughed as he said, “but in true power. It brings you to the next Soudulir, which you will learn more about. To get to each of the thirteen Soudulir, there will be a tea for you each time. But you cannot just go to any Soudulir you wish. There will be a certain order for you to go to them in, and you will meet new people, people similar, yet very different, to you. And you will meet people who will teach you more than can I. I hope you will remember me well, as the one who sent you off first, as I truly am, Ezekiel Shalworth. And to you, The Boy with Steam on His Breath, The Forsaken of Falx, I wish you well on your journey. And I hope we can see each other again, some day, after your journey has come to completion. Now drink, and we may part ways.”
Steam lifted the mug filled with sweet-smelling liquid to his mouth and drank deeply. The flavour was different than the smell, quite different in fact. But it didn’t taste bad, or bitter in any way. It wasn’t sweet though, nor did it taste like mint like the odour had convinced him that it would. It was almost spicy, but not like ginger. And in another way, it was earthy, the flavour seeming to go back ages. But there was another flavour, coming up slowly. But he couldn’t place it. He took another drink, and the flavour became stronger, another, and he figured out what it was. It tasted like sunlight. He wasn’t sure how something could taste like sunlight, but it did. It was warm, and the warmth spread out through his body.
But then something changed around him. He looked around the room, seeing the wooden table and drawers, the smooth stone counter, the baskets to the side, potatoes and carrots sticking out the tops of some of them. He saw the wood stove, the basins in the sink, and the locked drawer where Ezekiel kept the Mazeiriel. But it was all fading from him, somehow. Edges became nondistinct, colours leaking into other colours, and everything suddenly blurred slightly. It continued getting more blurred.
“Goodbye, Ezekiel. And thank you. Thank you very much,” Steam said. He held out his hand to him, and noticed with a shock that it couldn’t have been his vision that had blurred, for his arm was as distinct as ever.
He heard a muted voice say back to him, “Goodbye.”
The area around him finished blurring completely, all into one colourless color, and indescribable hue. Then everything turned black and Steam had the sensation of falling, but not in a terrifying drop, but rather in a way that he felt he was being guided somewhere at a tremendous speed.
Then he stopped. The area around him was blurred, but slowly came into focus. He was in a room, containing among other things a fireplace with two high-backed chairs in front. Sitting in one of the chairs was a middle-aged man with a short beard and black hair.
“Welcome, Forsaken. Welcome to Aries, you, The Boy with Steam on His Breath. We have expected your coming.”