The mist was always there: morning, noon, evening and night. From spring to autumn, from Midsummer day to Yule. They’d all grown up knowing that the fog was dangerous. Those who tried to cross it, who dared to enter it never returned. They were lost to their family, parents, spouse, siblings or children.
Legends and rumours spread far and wide about the impenetrable mist. Heroes had come to cross the fog, mages had tried their magic to part the veil. All failed. Nobody knew what was inside, what was beyond and no one had ever come back to tell.
Unsurprisingly, children were fascinated with the mist and many had got lost over the years. But no one had lost as many as Leah, whose house stood close to the forest and even closer to the mist. The first in a family of thirteen, she’d become the children’s mother after theirs died with her fourteenth babe. Their father worked himself to death to feed his family. By that time two of the eldest boys were gone already, having thought foolishly – some said – that food could be found in the mist.
Leah did her best but she was a simple person. She would have said so to anyone. She did what she could but earning money to get food required her to be away from home. And so in her absence they disappeared. And so she failed them. One by one the mist swallowed them.
Until it took Tabitha, the last of them, the one she’d kept close for she was the most fragile. Leah took a decision that would change everything. There had to be something in the mist. And she’d rather sacrifice herself than let her siblings be lost forever.
So she filled a satchel with plants, food, a gourd of water and a blanket then walked towards the wall of misty clouds. In front of it she stood: not a conqueror in search of glory, not a magician looking to master some mystical power. Just a young woman wanting to make a gift of her life if it could save her loved ones.
She let her hand float in the mist. She gasped: it was warm. Not even humid. She tightened her jacket around her and stepped inside. Fear clutched her heart: she probably would never come back. And it was fine if her siblings could.
She walked but didn’t see what direction her feet took her. She might be walking around in circle and be none the wiser. She stumbled over treeroots, stones on the path or some other obstacle invisible until she came directly upon it.
There were no sounds to help her sense of orientation, no bird chirping, no mammal stepping on branches, as they were likely to do in a regular forest. There was just a heavy silence, which became overwhelming, even unbearable as hours passed. But she pushed onwards. Until exhaustion got the best of her
Leah sat down on the stump of a fallen tree. She retrieved some morsel of food from her satchel, unwilling to consume it too fast. She could be here a long time. That was when she heard the first sound behind her. She stood and turned when a child, maybe 6 or 7 appeared.
“By the gods,” she gasped. Someone was alive in here. Maybe there was hope. She crouched and held her hand out. “Are you alright?”
The kid stumbled towards her and fell just about in her lap, exhausted and weak.
Leah didn’t hesitate. She pulled some more food from her bag and fed the boy slowly. It didn’t matter that by the time be stopped she barely had a day of food left. Nor that the gourd was empty. She’d have liked someone to help her siblings too. And this little boy was someone’s son, someone’s brother…
“Thank you.” He eventually said. “What’s your name?”
“Leah. And you?”
“Aidan. Why are you here? Did you get lost?”
“No… well. I am lost now, but I entered the mist on purpose.”
“I want to save my siblings…”
“I’m sure I can.” She wasn’t but there had to be hope. Otherwise she would cry. Curl up on the ground and die. No! “There has to be someone or something in this place that’s got a soul. I found you right? I must find the person or entity that controls the mist. I’ll stay instead of them.”
“What if there isn’t one and it’s just random and meaningless.”
“I must believe I can save them.”
“And you would give your life for theirs?”
She nodded suddenly sobbing. It was foolish, crying solved nothing. But she’d been powerless to protect them. She must find a way.
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
The boy gasped.
“13? And you’re the oldest?”
“How old are you?”
“I’m not sure… 16. I think.”
The boy stood up and ran into the mist. She took a tentative step.
“Wait, don’t go! Please.”
Sitting back on the stump, she tried to think things through. If this boy could find her in the mist, she must be able to find her siblings. Another noise came from where Aidan had run. A creature appeared: she put her hands on her mouth to stifle a gasp. It looked to be at least 10 feet, with the legs of a goat, the torso of a lion, some human like features in a face and the horns of a stag. It looked as exhausted as Aidan had at first.
The creature fell upon its knees and it seemed to struggle not to slump on the ground completely. She approached it carefully… what if it were a carnivore? Who cared? Maybe it was the creature that would bring her to her siblings. She sat by its head and gathered it in her lap.
“Are you alright?”
The creature didn’t answer but it tried to open its eyes. Thirsty it’d said. She took her gourd and helped it drink. Him. He looked like a man. She stopped when he opened his eyes; there was no water left. He was trembling so she placed the blanket she’d brought on his chest.
“Are you hurt?” She asked. The creature shook his head no. “What happened to you?”
“It’s a long story. A boring story. Why are you here?”
“Looking for my brothers and sisters.”
“So… you’re the one Aidan was going on about.”
“He was just here…”
“No. Not just. That’s one thing about the mist. Time… it’s different.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Since the beginning.”
“How did it begin?”
“A boring story. How do you intend to find your siblings?”
She shrugged. She didn’t know really; she wanted to find the soul, the heart of the mist, what controlled it to offer her soul, her life instead of her family.
“Even if it meant you’d die.” She nodded. “Aren’t you afraid?”
She was but she was the head of her family. She couldn’t let them down, not after the sacrifices of her parents. And there were so many others who were lost; if she could save them all, yes she would.
“So be it.”
The creature stood faster than she imagined it could and seized her hand. She was pulled behind him without brutality but not gently either: it was too big for her to follow and she could barely stand on her own two legs.
“Wait.” She gasped.
The creature turned and harrumphed. He picked her up and placed her on his shoulder as if she were some potato sack. From her vantage point she could see nothing; she tried to decipher where he was going but to no avail.
After some time they stood in the middle of a clearing; he set her down on a rock and called in a deep voice something in a tongue she couldn’t understand. What she knew though was the fact many creatures approached the place; Aidan was there but it was only then she noticed the tail he had. There were small pixies, creatures that seemed to be made of trees or moss.
“Here is come a willing sacrifice. What shall we make of it?”
They all yelled and screamed words Leah didn’t understand. She was scared but…
“You really will do it?”
Aidan was standing beside her, his face alight with excitement. She smiled.
“Will it save you too?”
“Yes, we will be free. Free to live out in the real world. Not prisoners of the mist.”
“Fine. Will you try and find my siblings? Bring them back to our house?”
“I will.” The horned creature said. “For what you are doing I promise I will. They shall never want for anything.”
She lied down and faced the sky: funny she could see it from here. Wherever here was. The horned creature stood above her, a God, a priest, an executioner holding a billhook. When his arm fell above her head, she closed her eyes, and prayed her brothers and sisters were alright. The pain cut deep. She cried out. But… it wasn’t the type of pain one expects from a wound that will kill them. She blinked against a blinding light. The mist had dissipated. She was alive. She was alive!
She sat up and looked about: surrounding her, men, women, children… And beside her, a man tall… dark. Smiling. He knelt in front of her.
“Thank you Lady for the gift of your pure and generous heart. Only that could save us all from the mist.”
“Who are you?”
He smiled again.
“It’s a long story. A boring story. But if you would listen to it, I would tell you after we return your family home.”
He turned around… There they stood; a few steps away from her. They all ran to her and she took them in her arms. Her heart… pure? She didn’t think so. But the mist was gone. Some of the lost souls were returned to their loved ones, although nothing was easy at first for time did move differently in the mist. Rob and James hadn’t aged a bit in the four years they were gone. Others returned to empty houses or to adult children…
It wasn’t easy… but they made it. Because the mist was gone and it would take no more people from their family. Because one young woman had been willing to give her life to save others’.
In response to Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Tale Weaver Beyond the Mist