Authors: Will Wight
GARDENS OF MIST
Copyright © 2014 Will Wight
All rights reserved.
Cover art by Patrick Foster.
What follows is a small collection of short stories set in the universe of the Traveler’s Gate Trilogy, which begins in the novel
House of Blades.
If you have
House of Blades
or its sequel,
The Crimson Vault,
you will not understand the following stories.
It’s okay; it’s not your fault. I understand. You’re still handsome and/or pretty.
If you were simply browsing the Kindle Store and this book caught your eye, I urge you to close this preview and go check out
House of Blades
. I’ll wait.
If you’ve already read the Traveler’s Gate Trilogy—or at least the first two books—then come on in, my friend!
These stories are intended to give you a closer look at the Territories and characters that we didn’t get to explore in the main trilogy. If you’d rather stick with Simon, Alin, and Leah, I’ll understand!
City of Light
will be available in early 2014, and I hope it meets your approval.
Still with me? Then buckle up. We’re headed off the map.
Here there be dragons.
Welcome to Elysia, young Traveler.
You will have heard many stories about what it means to be one of us. Do not be fooled. No outsider understands our purpose. They think we are here to lead other Travelers, to make the decisions that they cannot.
This is true, and it is not true.
They think we are here as a last resort, as an ultimate power, to keep the Incarnations in check.
This is true, and it is not true.
They think we are here to balance the other Territories, to keep them from obtaining too much power and upsetting the natural balance.
This is true, and it is not true.
What I am about to tell you is known by few, and understood by even fewer: we are not here to lead, or to threaten, or to eliminate threats. In the course of our duties, we will do all these things, but ultimately we are here for a single purpose.
We are here to guide. We are here to lead by example, inspiring other Travelers to live up to their own potential. We should be as beacons in the darkness.
Welcome to the City of Light.
-Elysian Book of Virtues, Page 1
The Traveler’s Gate Chronicles
Compassion, tied to the Rose Light, is also the virtue most necessary for leading Travelers of Asphodel. To protect their minds, they cut themselves off from each other. This is understandable, perhaps, but it is also a tragic weakness. If we are to heal them, we must first show them what they lack.
-Elysian Book of Virtues, Chapter 4: Rose
Today, I learned why Damascan magistrates don’t accept eyewitness testimony gathered in Asphodel.
It’s not like I didn’t know what could happen to people out in the Mist. I’ve lived in the Gardens my entire life. I was born here, in a hollowed-out tree on the edge of the Midnight Fields. Every day, I step out of my door and walk into the Mist without a second thought. I’m not rich enough for a carriage, and I have to get to work somehow.
I give the Mist nothing to feed on, so it can’t touch me. My emotions are my own, locked up and held tight until I’m back between four walls. I’m no Traveler, bending the Mist to my will, but I know how to survive. That’s why it always surprises me a little when someone vanishes into the forest and is never heard from again, except as a drifting voice on the wind.
Don’t they know any better?
It’s not fair of me, I know, but I expect everyone to know the rules of Asphodel like I do.
First, you don’t walk into the Mist unless your mind is clear as good glass. When I walk outside, I’m a saint in human skin. You couldn’t get a rise out of me if you stabbed me through the foot.
Second, you don’t stop and smell the flowers. The bigger and brighter the blossom is, the more it wants to eat you. Nobody survives a day in the Midnight Fields unless they learn this lesson.
Third, you don’t trust anything you see in the Mist. Not ever.
It’s hard for some people to remember the last rule, which I guess I understand. If you can’t depend on your own eyes, then how do you know what’s real?
The answer: you don’t. But it’s easy to forget that.
Which is what killed Adrian Corydon.
I never had a problem with Adrian. He was about forty years old, and had been working in the Fields ten years longer than even I had. He rescued me, one day, when I was foolish enough to let myself get distracted by a herd of wild bulls and forget that I was standing in a patch of purple blossombells. They had dissolved through my shoes and started digesting my ankles by the time Adrian pulled me out, and I never felt a thing.
Even when the pain set in, I didn’t scream. I didn’t allow myself to think about my shredded, bleeding feet. I knew better; the Mist was all around.
So anyway, I remember Adrian as a good guy. Not everyone thought that way.
Adrian tended to get a little angrier than he should, a little more stressed. He let the work in the Fields get to him, and sometimes he raised his voice in the middle of the Mist. One time, he staggered into our work site, stole another guy’s hoe, and waved it in the air while screaming about how his wife didn’t respect him. He had a bottle in his other hand, and I had no doubt what it contained. Adrian was partial to a particular recipe of nasty liquor made of yellow starvine sap. It was cheap, he could brew it at home, it burned like a bonfire, and yellow starvines were known to produce the most pleasant hallucinations of any of the flowers in the Midnight Fields.
That was only one of the Adrian stories that floated around my work pool like kites on the wind. Adrian was a big, bearded guy, and he threw his weight around even where he shouldn’t. Some people resented him. Others wondered about his wife, Phelia. Was she safe? Did he hurt her? Maybe we didn’t see her as often as we should…
Looking back, it was all a recipe for some kind of disaster, but I didn’t notice at the time. I tended my own garden, as they say in Asphodel, and let everyone else tend theirs. I keep to myself as much as I can. I’ve been that way for years, ever since my own wife left me for a merchant back in Damasca.
“It’s not you,” she said. “It’s this place. It does things to you. It’s not natural.” She walked through a Gate, and I never saw her again.
I didn’t feel anything, though. The Mist was excited that day, and I didn’t want to stretch my luck.
You’re right, I should get back on track. Adrian Corydon. I was sleeping when it began.
Someone pounded urgently on my door, which woke me immediately. No one’s ever urgent in Asphodel. There are other things in Asphodel, worse than the Mist, and they’re attracted to signs of panic.
I still live in the hollowed-out tree I inherited from my parents, and it’s not a big one. I barely had to roll out of my hammock to unlatch the door and push it open.
Adrian stood there, right outside my door, his boots planted in a big puddle of Mist. It’s winter here—Asphodel has seasons like normal, though I know a lot of Territories don’t—and the air was cold enough that I regretted every second I held the door open. Adrian, though, he was soaked in sweat. His beard clung to his chest like a pile of soggy leaves sticking to the forest floor.
His hands spasmed opened and closed, like he couldn’t wait to get his fists around someone’s neck, and he had to lean one forearm against my doorframe to stay upright.
“Took me a long time to find out where you lived,” Adrian said. He was panting like he had run all the way here from town.
By “town,” I mean the cluster of huts and homes around the Midnight Fields that we affectionately called “the town.” Enough people lived there that it probably qualified as a village, I guess.
“All these trees look alike.” I held the door out a little wider, inviting him to step inside.
As he walked past me, I smelled no spirits on him, just sweat and the clean-water tang of the Mist on the winter air. At the time I thought that meant he was sober. Later, I told myself that of course he had been drunk, and I just hadn’t noticed. Now, I don’t know what to think.
With the Mist safely locked outside, I let my irritation bubble up from the place where I’d shoved it down. I don’t know anyone that likes being woken from a sound sleep in the middle of the night. I’d spent the whole previous day hoeing my row and picking blossoms in the Fields, just as Adrian himself had. The last thing I wanted was a mystery visit infringing on my allotted eight hours of sleep.
“What do you want from me, Corydon?” I asked.
It wasn’t the most hospitable thing to say, I’ll admit, but he must not have minded too much. He laughed.
“Don’t worry, it won’t be a long visit. I need to ask you a question.”
“Then get to it,” I said. “My bed’s not getting any warmer.”
Adrian rubbed his hands together and blew on them, as though to capture the heat. “I don’t have many friends, you know. Nobody who would take me seriously. I haven’t talked about this much, but lately I’ve been…seeing things, hearing things. At the edge of my eyes. It’s like I can’t turn around quite quick enough, but I
something was there.”
I couldn’t help the hint of humor that crept into my voice. “You been out in the Mist too long, Corydon?”
Adrian wasn’t born here, like me, but he was the next thing to it. I couldn’t think of anyone who had walked the Gardens longer than he had. He should know better than to give in to fantasies born in the Mist.
Adrian jabbed a finger at me. “That’s it! That’s just it. I don’t see anything moving
the Mist. I don’t see dead relatives, or walking nightmares, or anything else that Mist-touched people claim to see. It’s the Mist itself that’s moving.”
“The Mist moves all the time, Adrian,” I said. The Mist, for all its supernatural properties, is still water in the air. It moves with the wind just like any cloud.
“I know what it does,” Adrian snapped. “Don’t treat me like a new hire, you know better than that. This is different. Sometimes I think the Mist is moving around behind my back, you know. Reaching into me, pulling stuff out. The anger, the fear, the…you know what I mean. One day, I’m afraid the Mist is going to get what it wants, and everything I’ve pushed down all these years is going to bubble up to the top and come bursting out of me. It’s going to keep on coming, up and up, and the Mist is going to feed and keep feeding until there’s nothing left of me at all…”
His voice drifted off. He didn’t seem to need a response, for which I was glad. If I had reacted honestly at that moment, it would have been to run out of my house, into the night, and to keep running away from this potentially deranged madman.
I’ve seen dozens of people whose sanity has been eaten away by Asphodel. None of them are what I would consider safe living companions.
I don’t know why I didn’t leave right then. Maybe something he said rang true in me. Maybe I just wanted to know. But I had to ask the next question.
“Why did you come to me with this?” I asked. I had a positive opinion of Adrian, but we were hardly friends. In many ways, I barely knew the man.
“You’ve been around longer than anyone,” he said. “You know what the Mist can do to folks. And there was your wife. And…well, I don’t want this conversation getting around, if you understand me.”
I did. Not only did I stick to my own company, and was therefore not likely to spread any rumors, most people around here considered me the lonely guy who lived on his own because his wife had left him for mysterious reasons. I couldn’t ruin Adrian’s reputation in town because, frankly, no one would listen to me.
“I understand,” I said. That probably didn’t sound too gracious, so I tried to offer him what advice I could. “Listen, if you want my opinion, I’d say you should go home. Get a good night’s sleep. Talk to your wife, if you can. But more than anything, keep control of yourself. You’ve managed to keep the Mist out this long; you can do it a little longer.”
Today, as I look back on this conversation, I wonder if I should have said something different. Maybe I could have said something else, something that would have helped.
Adrian straightened up and nodded without looking me in the eye. He looked sober now, and his sweat was at least starting to dry. “You’re right,” he said. “I’ve gone this far. What kind of man would I be if I backed down now?”