Johann turned and pushed forward before taking his first step out of the manor. Feeling that his earlier courage had left him, Johann allowed his hand to leave the doorknob. He took a few slow and steady steps forward until he found himself standing a good distance away from the massive steel entrance door. The world stopped being the mansion in front of him, and he cared about nothing other than finding out what was outside the place. Perhaps people would be worried about him, and this mattered a lot at the moment. The town was the most important thing in his mind. Now it was getting lighter out and Johann thought that he should be able to return into town by morning. He began to see more of his surroundings as the mist gradually parted, although it remained thick around the entrance of the manor.
Johann took one last look at the house, and the mist beckoned as he turned around. The place was nearly the size of a castle. The mansion was a great house of stone and had about five or six storeys in height, with many large windows located upon its upper floors. He currently stood within a courtyard of sorts, with unkempt gardens and tall iron gates surrounding him. Johann traced, with his eyes, the approximate edges of the manor and saw that it was located upon flat ground, a fairly convenient part of the mountain. Behind the front walls were also a couple tall towers. Johann turned away, and his feet crunched upon dead leaves again as he left solid ground and stood upon lush grassy floor.
The manor disappeared behind him. He was quite deep in the woods and currently stood within a clearing, but felt compelled to leave the place. As usual, Johann felt little fear and remained calm as he proceeded through the dark forest. Even now, he had no idea where his destination actually was – only the faintest feeling that he needed to continue onwards and refrain from turning back. Evidently he was located quite high up, a good distance from the bottom of the mountain. Through the veil of trees, Johann could just barely see the distant outline of some cliff edges. The woods here were thinning, as was the mist, and the darkness now felt less uncomfortable and stifling.
He was now leaving the forest behind, exiting from the evergreens and the tall oaks with fully green leaves and proceeding towards the blooming trees he had seen earlier back at the woodlands. Descending down the mountain, the trees populating the area became less massive and ancient. Eventually the ground that was so full of grass, shrug, and bush became bare and rocky ground, which was more characteristic of the mountain near its base.
It seemed sensible that as the skies became lighter and the clearing fog revitalized his sense of direction – although he had known that he was steadily going down – Johann became more able to continue. He was acquiring a persistent and more understandable courage than before. Only a few minutes after he began his descent, the radius of vision cleared to about several feet around him. The mist seemed to become thinner the farther down he went, and eventually it became reduced to almost nothingness.
It would take within an hour or so to leave the place behind. Currently he was at least halfway up the mountain, and the walk would take a while – but it was manageable. The walk down the mountain was mostly unremarkable. A downwards descent was clearly preferable to heading upwards – the other option would be to try going down the jagged and nearly completely vertical cliffs, which was ludicrous. There were hardly any trees along the way, and the grass was mostly dry and short, though much of the land was solid and barren rock. After some time, Johann finally arrived at the base of the mountain.
At this moment he was confident about leaving his doubt and suspicions and fear behind, feeling a lesser need for caution. In his current state of mind Johann was eager to get going, and he hastily turned away from the mist.
He suspected that the fog was not completely natural, and that it would warp any path if he chose to follow it, leading him in another direction. But now he knew that he could not turn back, and he had to reach home. Why, though? He really didn't understand what made him want to return to his village so much, but at the moment, the whys felt irrelevant. Johann knew, at the back of his mind, that the mountain really hadn't been in this valley before, and that he had only discovered the place because of the mist. Yes, the mountain was somehow inviting, as if it had been created just for him. But he knew that he had best stay away.
If he turned back to the trail, he would definitely have the opportunity to go home. Once it was morning, there was a high chance that the mist could fully disappear and then he would be able to see the path back into town again. The skies were brightening, the sun becoming less obscured. Johann realized that it would be a better idea to swallow his curiosity of the mist and stick to places that were more familiar. Relying on sheer bravery was unnecessary and futile. As Johann stepped away he decided to circumnavigate the mountain and see if he could find the trail again. Actually, the place was beginning to seem like an illusion of the mist. Johann wanted to see what would happen if he touched the mountain wall with his hand. His fingers began to feel less clearly the jagged edges of the rock that formed the cliffs, and they were in fact rather smooth and gentle.
He knew that he would not see the mountain again.
But the place still felt somehow special. Johann had then just the slightest intention of turning back, thinking that it had been foolish to make for the trail instead of remaining on the mountain. Yet he just could not ignore the feeling that it would be futile to stay, and decided to remain firm to the decision that leaving was a better idea. He shook his head and began walking away. Where the rocky ground cleared, Johann found tall grass, and now he stood before a lush field.
There was still some fog obscuring his vision, and Johann thought that the sea of green would stretch on forever. Nevertheless, he hardly hesitated to step into the field. Fortunately, the grass did not rise much taller once it had gotten past his hips, and though his movement was slowed, Johann found his walking speed manageable. Looking around him, Johann saw that the field did not actually appear too out of the ordinary, although it was strangely wet. With each step, a block of his thoughts seemed to solidify, and his mind felt clearer. The numbness in his mind was slowly disappearing, creating a sensation slightly different than that of the disturbance which he believed that he had felt sometime before. Johann quickly ignored the wet crunches of his shoes, experiencing a quaint pleasantry in the noise.
He peered down to see if any part of his clothing was wet, but they were not. It was at this time that Johann thought the ground underneath him was actually becoming drier, and the grass also became shorter as well. Eventually it fell down to his knees, and his walking became noticeably faster due to the thinning of the path. The fog remained thick behind Johann, however, closing the world in and propelling him forward. Johann continually looked around him to see if the mist had any signs of parting. Only in front was the way clear, and in every other direction the fog was still thick. Hardly a moment passed before Johann concluded that his decision was correct after all, that it was better to leave the mountain behind and to return to the world where things were clear.
This strange field of tall grasses that he had to walk through was the only obstacle between him and the trail that he planned to arrive at. A thin mist still clouded his view, but Johann was beginning to see a familiar path just up ahead. The air around it seemed to be quite clear. Looking ahead, he also noticed that the mist heavily obscured the left end of the path, so that that direction looked like the entrance into some opaque world. Going right, on the other hand, would take him north, and then he would be able to return successfully to town by climbing up the valley hills.
Johann now felt clear, outlined, and calm. Everything around him seemed distanced from obscurity and he was also very alert and aware. His thoughts were becoming fine again. In the distance appeared his only possible destination. It was the rest of the path, and to reach it he would have to leave the grassy floor around him, except for the few spaces that he walked solidly upon, and also he had to return to the rocks and the grass and the flowers, and eventually he would part from the mist and resurface out of the perpetual ocean of gray. The trees were now slowly enlarging, appearing clearer and closer to him, their solidness replacing that thick and impenetrable fog. He would reach the woodlands past the swamp soon. Upon arriving at the trail, Johann began walking along a rugged path, feeling the bump of a rock whenever he stepped upon one that jutted out of the ground. Now, when he looked around him, everything felt even clearer than before.
It was a good time to exit the valley. Dawn was approaching.
He needed to get out of the mist because it was anything but comfort. Before, the fog would relieve him of something – what? Something was returning to his memory. Johann was walking into the woodlands, into a place with tall trees and blooming flowers. The place still seemed to be stuck in the midst of an early spring. Familiar gnashing sounds in the air suddenly returned, and they seemed to begin the slow and steady operation to add weights to his mind.
The problems with being Johann were somehow returning. Looking back behind him, Johann took in one final view of the mountain he had just climbed and descended. It was not like the ones that lay to the north of the village, with their enormous bulk and snow-capped peaks. Rather, this mountain was heavily forested and stout, so that it appeared more so a very large hill. It bore a wide base from which the ascent was quite vertical. Where the ground eventually evened up and the cliffs disappeared, the mountain became dome-like. Here the forests lay, and the tops of the mountain from the base appeared a globe of lush green flora. Johann also noticed that the trail behind him took a different direction than he expected, and following that path would not lead him back into town. Rather it continued eastwards once past the woodlands, and instead of turning into the swamp, somehow stopped at the base of tall and rocky cliffs.
Johann dreaded to even think of taking that path now, to return back to all that uncomfortable mist. For now, he would head back through the woodlands. Johann thought that he was also beginning to dislike walking alone. Isolation seemed to be causing his mind to become less clear. He wanted to return as soon as possible, hopefully by breakfast. Fortunately, the village would not prove to be very far if he just continued along the trail. That disturbance operating at his thoughts also steadily grew softer the further along the path he went. Johann still retained the mysterious sensation of being operated on, and again, he did not protest in the slightest. But it was a different and more familiar operation now. It seemed as if some of his conscious thoughts were being returned into memory.
The disturbance now had the effect of removing a persistent sedation from Johann's mind. It seemed there was a grinding of some sort in the mist, not a mechanical one, but rather an organic gnashing. He was beginning to experience a strange clarity of thought from hearing the sound, and it made him care only about the path forward. Now Johann was returning to the woodland, though the disturbance was still there, ebbing away at the calmness and sanity of his mind. Regardless, he continued, hoping that the walk would help rejuvenate him.
The overall sight of the woodlands was not too unusual, considering the well-known strangeness of the rest of the place. Amongst all the trees were also cedars and pines, which were much taller than the rest, as well as a few fallen logs and stumps – evidently the result of past woodcutting activities in the valley. And there were flowers such as iris sprouting out the soil along the trail as well, adding more cheerfulness to the scene that seemed at the moment to share in the mirth of the approaching dawn. Now there were also tall oaks and ash, their great branches a prolific web of yellows and greens - that lively shade of young leaves in their early growth. In this early time of spring the flowers and trees would not have bloomed yet, but this valley was somehow an exception.
As Johann reached the exit of the woodland, the disturbance became soft and distant.
The path proved a fairly smooth walk, but now it slowly became more rugged as it curved its way north towards the hill. As Johann began ascending the next portion of the valley trail, he began having the feeling that someone or something – perhaps even the environment itself – was gradually leaving him. The agitation of the mind that the disturbance had caused just minutes earlier was slowly being eroded away by something that he had sensed. It was a popular rumour that a feeling of uncertainty overwhelmed all that entered the valley. Since Johann was about to leave the place, he suspected that everything would become clearer again.
Indeed, stepping upon the hill – the very last portion of his journey – Johann began to remember everything. He did not regret the experiences that had come to pass. But looking back upon it now, he felt that some strange urges must have sent him into the valley that day. It was not that he believed he had somehow been unconscious, or was perhaps sleepwalking, but rather he thought that some physical will of his clouded mind must have prevented him from turning back. When Johann turned towards the valley, he had not really been aware enough of himself to really register fear, even when he heard things such as the disturbance.
The last part of the trail was easy enough to follow now that there was no mist obscuring his vision. Johann soon found himself arriving at a sharp turn that went steeply uphill. Fortunately, the path would become a relatively simple walk after that point. The dirt trail was covered in large patches of grass at certain segments, sometimes concealed completely in waves of green. Throughout the ascent, the path snaked between trees and passed around large, seemingly misplaced boulders. It was a connecting road between the top of the hill and the woodlands at the base of the valley.
Johann thought again about what made him enter the valley in the first place. He realized that, if asked at the time before his departure, he would have been at a loss of words to describe how he was really feeling. Truthfully, he did not even understand why he had strayed to the edge of town in the first place. Nevertheless, Johann had believed that a walk through the valley would no doubt take a bit of weight off his mind. Stepping into the spring fog had made him begin to experience an obscure calmness. The mist on that day offered an abundance of comfort. His thoughts had become a tranquil blur, providing to him an indescribably perplexing respite from his worries and depression. Johann had known the rumours about the valley's mystery, but still, he had thought the idea of exploring the mist irresistibly tempting. He wanted to experiment and find out what the place offered.
Johann, seventeen and one day older, was nearing his return into the village. He had been amongst certain minds that received inexplicable invitations into the valley. These individuals were not so much called into the place as they wandered in by their own will. They were being affected by a mist that manifested around certain emotions. It sensed a lingering, troubled thought, and then provided relief towards those who followed it. Fortunately, Johann had come out consistently enough. It was true, however, that his full journey was a far larger tale to unfold. But now, as he finally made his return back to the village, Johann understood that his tale was about to come to an end.
But there was just a bit more.
As Johann stepped out of the valley to look upon his beloved home town again, he suddenly saw a strange and familiar shadow standing beside him. It reminded him of another shadow that he had seen back at the manor, when he stood upon the balcony of the library to look at the beach below and noticed the shadow of a boy standing amongst the waves. Johann knew who it was. Perhaps he would never be able to get over his brother's death. Maybe, on one of his sleepless nights, he would long to return to the manor again, to that place of forgetfulness where he could be with Cleiden and Emilia and Daniel and whoever else may have come into that house since he left. Yet he knew that he could not. Those were blissful days, but it was necessary to move on. Johann stepped forward to allow himself to pass by this shadow for one final time in his life. And he did not take one look behind him as he returned to the place where he knew that he truly belonged.