The Story in Which Xantos Goes Out Into the Real World to Make Something of Himself, Never to Return Until He is a Real Man
It was a particularly large family: the kind of family who – if they pooled their money together and bought a large enough plot of land – could start their own country.
As it were, this family could not afford a large enough plot of land, and not everyone was willing to chip in the money to buy one. (Though the idea had been proposed.) Besides, it was also the kind of family that made some people want to leave and never, ever return. But, the majority of the family still lived together.
There were a dozen aunts and uncles, four pairs of grandparents, six or seven great aunts and uncles, a score of cousins, a dozen second cousins, half a dozen third cousins, ten or so half-brothers and -sisters, two pairs of great-grandparents, five older brothers, six older sisters, four younger brothers, two younger sisters, four pairs of twins, six dogs, eight cats, three snakes, a dozen mice, two ferrets, three canaries, and two dozen goldfish.
And at the middle of all this was little Xantos.
It wasn't easy for Xantos, living in this family. It was a family of musicians, architects, artists, carpenters, farmers, doctors, actors, teachers, butchers, hunters, soldiers, blacksmiths, tailors, tanners, bakers, dog-breeders, apothecaries, midwives, and several freeloaders.
Xantos was in the category of "none of the above". While everyone else had a practical career (save for the artists, musicians and actors, perhaps), Xantos was a mage with no special talents except for making miniature rain clouds. (And even the artists, musicians and actors had more practical talents than that.)
No, Xantos wasn't the only mage in the family. (With a family so large, there were bound to be a few.) But, the family was simply so down-to-earth and practical (not to mention virtually self-sufficient), they had a very small understanding of mages. Also, most of the mages in the family had left (never to be heard from again) so that left little formal training for Xantos. Unfortunately, this made him even more useless than he really was.
But Xantos wasn't going to let any of that bother him today. Because today was a special day.
Today was his birthday.
Sure, the anniversary of Xantos' 12th year in this world was mostly an excuse for the adults to get drunk, but he got presents and cake and chocolate mousse and that was all that really mattered anyway.
Xantos had been sent off to play by the lake while the family prepared for the festivities (i.e: broke out the booze. Currently, the young boy was sitting on a rock, dangling his bare feet in the water, his daemon, Zoni, floating in the water in the form of an otter.
"So, what do you think I'll get?" he asked Zoni.
"Mm … I dunno," she replied. "The usual: tin soldiers, pretty rocks, maracas, clothes, books, toy bow and arrows … so on and so forth."
"No, I meant food."
"Oooh, I do hope Auntie Em made potato soup!"
"Yaaaay!" Xantos cried before standing up, taking off his shirt and jumping into the water. "Mmm … I love birthdays," he said softly after he floated to the surface.
Zoni nodded and swam around behind him to put her front paws on his shoulder and nuzzled her furry cheek against his neck.
Today was a special day. Because, even with all the other people in the household, today was their day.
And so the day went. Xantos did indeed receive tin soldiers, pretty rocks, maracas, clothes, books, toy bow and arrows and so on and so forth. At dinner, Xantos got his favorite from Auntie Em: potato soup. And when the grown-ups sat down to enjoy their drinks, Xantos was invited to join them, because he was a "big boy" now. So, Xantos sat down with a cup of apple juice and listened.
They discussed politics and farming, music and art, and everything in-between. Soon it grew late and the grown-ups had drunk quite a lot.
It was then that Uncle Tom pulled Xantos to him in a rough, one-armed hug.
"Aha, Xantos my boy," he boomed in his great, deep voice. "You're twelve now. You ought to go out into the world and make something of yourself."
"Hear, hear!" Great-uncle Lewis chimed in, raising his glass.
"Yes, and don't come back here until you've become a real man!" Uncle Tom finished before releasing Xantos and downing his glass.
Xantos held the ferret-shaped Zoni in his arms and stepped backwards. Suddenly he felt hands on his shoulders and he looked up behind him to see his mother.
"I think it's time for bed, honey."
Xantos sat awake in bed for a long time, Zoni curled next to him, still as a ferret. He listened to the slow, even breathing of the brothers and cousins he shared a room with, reflecting upon the words of his uncle.
Then, he made a decision. He sat up and pulled on his clothes.
Zoni woke up, and, not wanting to disturb the sleeping brothers and cousins, thought to Xantos, "What are you doing?"
"Packing," Xantos thought back, reaching under his bed and pulling out a wooden fishing rod that had no line on it.
"Packing?" Zoni asked, crawling down from the bed.
"Yep," Xantos replied mentally. He had pulled out an old blue blanket and was putting a few possessions in it. He tied the blanket to the pole and slung it over his shoulder before creeping downstairs to the kitchen. He grabbed a piece of paper and scrawled a note:
Dear Mom, Dad, Sally, Andrew, Bobby, Dante, Wilbur, Wallace, Joe, second cousin Quincy, Aunt Leta, Uncle Joe, second cousin Drew, Great Aunt Gertrude, Leanord, Mary Ann, Billy, cousin Lizabetha, Auntie Eliza, Uncle --
He scribbled furiously. Then, he restarted with:
I am off to go into the real world and make something of myself. Won't return until I'm a real man.
And so it came to pass that Xantos left the house and went into the real world to make something of himself (and he wasn't going to return until he was a real man).
As he walked into the woods, he felt excitement run through him. He was leaving the shelter of his home: the noise, the bustle, and the closeness. He was on his own, free to do as he pleased.
Indeed he was on his own and free to do as he pleased.
He was also hungry.
It had been two days since he had left home, but it had only taken him hours to get hopelessly lost.
"Zoni, I'm hungry," Xantos whined.
"I know," she replied, padding along side him as a black lab.
Xantos opened his mouth to complain again, but he stopped short as he pushed through the trees to reach a dirt road. He looked to his left and saw a small navy blue tent. "Hey! Let's go check it out!" And he headed off to do so.
Zoni shrugged as best as a dog could and followed.
Xantos pushed aside the door of the tent and stepped inside.
"Hello?" Xantos asked, and Zoni settled on his shoulder as a mouse.
The tent was dark, and the only light was provided by the flickering candles that sat on a circular table in the middle of the tent. A magnificent crystal sphere sat at the center of the table and glinted in the light from the candles.
A woman stepped into the light of the candles.
She was tall and had a very thin frame. She was swathed in several cloths ranging in color from purple to dark green to deep red. Silver bangles adorned her wrists and ears and throat. Her green eyes were large and had a faraway appearance, as if she were looking at you and past you at the same time. Her copper hair was pulled up in a gravity-defying hairdo on the top of her head, and several strands of hair had escaped the silver pins to fall about her face.
"I've been expecting you, my child," she purred.
"Really?" Xantos asked, his eyes wide with wonder and amazement.
"Please. Take a seat."
Xantos complied, plopping himself into a pink cushy stool. As he did so, the woman sat across from him.
"Allow me to introduce myself. I am Madame Mysterious."
"Is that your real name?"
She looked at him for a moment before replying, "No. My real name is Stacy."
"Oh," Xantos said again. "I'm Xantos!" he said cheerily. He took Zoni off of his shoulder and held her out for Madame Mysterious (also known as Stacy) to see. "This is Zoni."
Madame Mysterious nodded. "So, I see you have come to ask me for my insight into the future?"
"Well, actually, I –"
Madame Mysterious cut him off, "Now, gaze into my crystal ball …"
Xantos did, and was quickly amused by the way it sparkled.
"Hmm …" Madame Mysterious murmured. "I see great things in your future."
"Xantos leaned forward, looking awed. "Like … chocolate mousse?"
Madame Mysterious gave him a look. "Sure."
"But, what is this?" Madame Mysterious continued. "I see … turmoil. Trials … tests of true character and bravery. Battles … Enemies … Darkness, war … death."
She looked up at Xantos, who stared back, blue eyes wide.
"But … What about the chocolate mousse?"
Madame Mysterious suppressed an exasperated sigh. "All I can say," she began, "is that there will be chocolate mousse. Now," she continued without waiting for Xantos, "is there anything you'd like to ask me?"
Xantos thought for a moment before smiling and asking, "If I wanted to go out into the real world and make something of myself, where should I go?"
Madame Mysterious thought for a moment. "Follow the road North."
Xantos grinned. "Thanks, Stacy!"
With that, Xantos jumped up and walked out of the tent.
Madame Mysterious shook her head. The boy had not paid her, but she had never had the intention of asking him to.
She had seen his future, and she knew to let him live carefree for the moment, for he hadn't much time left for that.
Madame Mysterious had told Xantos to follow the road North. But, being Xantos, he ended up following the road South.
But, Xantos had fortuitously stumbled across a small cottage and the old man and woman who lived there took him in for a day and fed him (much to Xantos' delight). The old woman was especially kind to him, and was taken with his innocent appearance and ready smile.
After a day, though, Xantos explained that he had to keep going into the real world to make something of himself, and that he couldn't return until he was a real man.
The old man and woman were very understanding and the old woman gave him a loaf of bread and some cheese (the customary cuisine of travelers). The old man told him to continue on the road and he should reach a village within the next day or two.
Xantos thanked the couple and headed off, his pole over his shoulder and with Zoni trotting beside him as a black lab.
"This must be the village the old man was talking about!" Xantos said as he walked through the small buildings of shops and homes. "Ooh, look! It's the ocean!"
It was, in fact, the ocean.
Xantos had seen the ocean when he was a child. The actual image of the sea wasn't very clear, but what was clear was how much he had enjoyed it.
"Hm. Now … we do something particularly manly," Xantos said decisively.
"Why?" Zoni asked, still in the form of a black lab.
"How else will I become a real man if I don't do something manly?" he asked Zoni, as if this were the most obvious thing in the world.
His daemon thought for a moment. "Okay … Makes sense, I guess …"
"Hmm. This looks good," Xantos said, and turned to enter a building.
It was a bar.
So, Xantos walked up to the counter and sat down on a stool between to burly looking men. They looked down at him incredulously, but didn't say anything. The man on his left was young and clean-shaven, while the man to Xantos' right was older with a slat and pepper scraggly beard. Both men were tan and muscled from years of working.
The bald bartender leaned on the counter to look at Xantos.
"What can I get you … er … kid?" he asked tentatively
Xantos slapped a hand on the counter and proudly proclaimed, "Apple juice. I would like some apple juice."
The bar went silent.
"Um … please?"
All eyes in the bar seemed to look to the bearded man on Xantos' right.
"What's your name, boy?" the man asked after a moment.
"Xantos. And this is Zoni," Xantos offered, pulling the mouse-formed Zoni out of his pocket and showing her to the man.
The man studied the pair for a long moment, his face expressionless. "And … what possessed you to come into here and order … juice?"
"Well," Xantos began patiently, "I left my house a few days ago to go into the real world and make something of myself. And I'm not allowed to come back until I'm a real man." When he paused and the man didn't say anything, Xantos continued, "So, I thought that a good way to become a man would be to do something manly."
"So you came in here?"
"And ordered apple juice."
It was silent for another long moment before the big man threw his head back and laughed out loud. Soon the whole bar followed suit.
"The boy's a funny one, Felix," the man said to the bartender. "Go get him some of the wife's cider."
Xantos grinned and thanked the bartender as he gave him a mug of the cider.
"My name is Gerome," the man said to Xantos. "And this is my friend and first mate, Castel." He indicated the man on Xantos' left. "We're fishermen, and we'll show you how to be a real man."
And so it came to pass that Xantos learned the trade of fishing (and a few other useful things). This made him much more useful, and being around water allowed him to explore a bit more of his magely powers.
It was the period of his life in which he grew very strong and very handsome, and he had many a female admirer in the village. However, Xantos was the epitome of the "nice guy", and thus he always finished last. (Or, rather, never finished at all.)
Xantos spent just over two years in the fishing village. One day, he simply decided that he wanted to move on: he wanted to take a break from the noise of the village.
So, after saying his farewells and thanking those who helped him, Cantos left the village.
And promptly got lost.
Xantos and Zoni (in sparrow form on his shoulder) wandered into a clearing.
"Maybe we should have stayed in the village," Zoni muttered resentfully.
"No –" Xantos was abruptly cut off as he almost tripped over two unconscious humans lying in the middle of the clearing.
Cantos dropped to his knees to check the vital sings of the two unconscious figures. "No, Zoni," he said, satisfied with his conclusion that these two people were definitely alive. "This is much more exciting."
(Continued in Master of the Storm by Kirona Skymage.)