The mists were coming. Great elemental serpents, they writhed and roiled hypnotically, smothering the entire world in their silent embrace. No place was safe from them. They crept under doors, flowed through windows, pressed against buildings. If you looked very, very hard, the world was still there. The tree five feet from you still stood, or at least, it had been standing at sunset. Above, the clouds welcomed the hazy vapors as cousins and entwined as lovers.

Most folk stayed inside when the fog came, waiting for the dawn to shred these gauzy veils of night. The young lads of the village were an exception. Anxious to prove themselves, they braved the journey to the river and back, unable to see more than three inches at a time. These quests were seldom spoken of and never openly admitted. Indeed, such ventures were strongly discouraged, especially after the miller's son was found near noon following one such night, his neck snapped in two places. The old, the infirm, the young, and most sane adults preferred to stay inside, disliking the mists, but accepting that they had to live with them.

Tannis was different. He hated the earthbound clouds, hated the restrictions they placed upon his senses. Worse, though, he hated the pictures he saw in them. If he was lucky, there were pleasant images mingling with the horrendous. For a few, blessed seconds, he saw bustling kitchens, a child jumping tree stumps, harvests brought in. Then the terrors of war and plague distorted the visions into hellish montages of despair. Tannis could only watch, transfixed, as these wretched souls fought again and again for their lives and inevitably lost.

Eventually, the scenes flowed together, blending and mingling into one giant spectacle of disaster. Then, slowly, painfully, they dissolved and became part of the night sky. Tannis stayed at the window, clutching a pounding skull and starting at shadows as he waged a futile war against sleep.

It was his greatest fear that someone would discover his visions. If that ever happened, the best he could hope for was a beating and ritual cleansing to drive out whatever demons had taken hold of him. More probable, of course, was ostracism, and eventually banishment, maybe even death. This was a small village, after all. Strange happenings made everyone uneasy. Uneasiness turned to fear, hatred, and then violence. Isolated from outside learning, superstitions triumphed over reason. No, it was better – far better – to stay silent and bear the visions.

But sometimes, when the mists came for three, four nights instead of the usual brief visits, Tannis was sorely tempted to tell someone, anyone, the real reason he was listless and haggard when they appeared. But prudence won out, and he bit his tongue, and let the villagers think that he was just sickly, that the nightly fumes irritated his weak lungs. He had even learned to hide his health from his parents, and had a fake wheezy cough down to an art. Naturally, it was common speculation every market day how a brawny, muscled blacksmith and a hardy seamstress had produced such a frail child. His parents had hoped that maturity would strengthen him, but at fifteen, with his voice already deepened and his days of coltish youth behind him, he still appeared as fragile as ever.

Tannis was good at pretending.