The Ways trace their origins to the time period known as the Breaking of the World. During this era some male channelers who sought shelter from the influence of the taint placed upon saidin took refuge in Ogier stedding. It was hoped at the time that the nature of stedding to block access to the True Source would provide a reprieve for channelers from the growing madness brought about by exposure to the taint. However, most channelers could not long stand being unable to touch the True Source, and they eventually left to see if the taint was gone; unfortunately, it never was.
Before departing permanently, one group of male Aes Sedai who had studied Portal Stone worlds during the Age of Legends created the Ways as a gift of thanks to the Ogier. By channeling threads of Earth and Spirit, these men crafted an unknown number of ter'angreal, each known as a Talisman of Growing. The Ogier were instructed to plant talismans in locations outside a stedding where they would wish to grow Waygates, and activate the talismans via treesinging. The subsequent Waygates provided access to a world outside of reality, which linked all Waygates together in an intricate logistical system. Ogier began to grow Waygates outside all stedding, thus providing safe methods to travel unaffected by the destruction of the land. As new stedding were rediscovered after the Breaking of the World, new Waygates were grown outside these stedding and connected to the existing network. After the Breaking, Ogier stonemasons were sometimes called upon to provide services of construction for the new cities of men. These Ogier grew groves of trees in these locations to provide comfort from the Longing, and planted Waygates. The Ways, as they currently exist, represent a complex logistical network outside reality that link Ogier stedding, Ogier groves, and some former stedding within the Great Blight.
A Waygate is the product of an activated Talisman of Growing and provides access to the Ways. Each Waygate possesses two Avendesora leaves; one on the outside matched by a second on the inside. To activate a gate, one need only move a leaf on one side of a gate to a nearby access point. Doing so will cause the Waygate to react like a living plant and the gate will open to reveal a shimmering mirror-like portal which will provide access into or out of the the Ways. It is possible to lock Waygates by removing an Avendesora leaf from one side and pairing it with its companion on the opposite side of the gate. Waygates are virtually indestructible and to date very little is known to have ever harmed or destroyed a gate. Moiraine once used fire to cut through the locked door of the gate near Fal Dara when Machin Shin attacked, but the gate itself was still functional and needed to be guarded afterward. Also mentioned was a group of Aes Sedai who, in a circle with a sa'angreal, destroyed a gate about to be taken by the blight. Another attempt with fewer Aes Sedai damaged the gate, and sucked all of the Aes Sedai into the ways, probably killing them.
The Talisman of Growing
An unknown number of these artifacts were crafted by the male Aes Sedai who sheltered in the stedding during the Breaking of the World. Each is a ter'angreal that responds to an Ogier treesinger who attempts to sing the "flower" of the Waygate, which is the only part of the Ways that exist in the outside world.
Inside the Ways
The Ways are actually alive, although no one understands or remembers how this was originally achieved. Because they are grown of the One Power they do not share rules of space and time with the world outside. The pathways of the Ways exist as suspended platforms, bridges, and stairs. Often routes span in ways that defy logic with no visible supports. Travelers may walk for a day in the Ways and emerge hundreds of miles from their starting location in the outside world. Paths link areas known as Islands. Each island contains a navigational marker; a large slab of stone covered in Ogier script called a Guiding. The Ways used to be well lit by a 'sun' set in cloudless skies, with food-bearing trees on the islands. There was grass on every pathway and all the traveled routes were beautiful in the manner that Ogier loved. No evidence of these comforts now remain. The Ways also have had traps laid in them for Shadowspawn, although their effectiveness is questionable.
The Corruption of the Ways
Almost two thousand years had passed with the Ways being an excellent means of transportation for the Ogier. But during the War of the Hundred Years the Ways began to change. Initially Ogier noticed that the light within the Ways was growing dim. Then travelers began to disappear. Eventually the light in the Ways grew so faint that the fruit-bearing trees on the islands began to die soon to be followed by all other growing things. Ogier began to fear traveling the Ways when some emerged crazed, raving about Machin Shin, the Black Wind. Eventually the Ways became utterly dark and the stone of the pathways began to pit and rot. In some places bridges and islands have collapsed completely. The exact reason for the corruption of the Ways is a mystery, though it has been theorized that the Ways were corrupted during their crafting by the male Aes Sedai who channeled threads of tainted saidin. Female channelers who attempt to use the One Power within the ways will find their efforts twisted by the corruption, though they will not be tainted themselves.
Machin Shin, literally black wind in the Old Tongue, is a force that hunts the Ways for anything that is alive. Machin Shin will attempt to attack and devour any creature it encounters, including Shadowspawn. The exact nature of the black wind is not understood completely, though it is known that it will consume the soul of any creature unfortunate enough to be caught by it. Unless it is pulled away, the soulless body of a victim will be subsequently mutilated and destroyed by the entity. Before encountering Machin Shin, travelers within the Ways may feel a slight breeze upon their skin, an abnormal event within the Ways where there should be no movement of air. As it approaches closer the sound of wind will increase to a roar and at its closest a traveler will begin to hear the crazed voices of the consumed souls of Machin Shin's previous victims. These voices will project the anticipation and vivid description of horrific violence. Potential victims who are able to escape from the entity with their lives are often driven insane after exposure to these voices. The Black Wind doesn't appear to think or be sentient in any way.
Use of the Ways now
The last Waygate known to have been grown was the gate in Stedding Tsofu, approximately 600 years before the present day. It was also the last gate closed permanently. All Ogier now shun the use of Waygates and Ogier Elders have forbidden their use. In many stedding treesingers have encouraged the growth of thickets and thorny plants in front of gates to inhibit efforts of the unwary. Those that summon the courage to enter the Ways risk death or insanity at a possible encounter with the Black Wind. Travelers must bring lamps with them and even with such devices the darkness of the Ways seems to suppress illumination. The stonework of the Ways is crumbling and some Guidings are so severely scarred as to be illegible even to those that can read Ogier script. It is possible for a traveler to become stranded if a required bridge has failed structurally. It is also feared that an unfortunate traveler might be present on a bridge during a failure. It is unknown what would happen to someone who is cast down in such a manner. Because some Waygates have been swallowed by the Blight, it is believed that forces of the Shadow have begun to use the Ways to move massive amounts of Trolloc troops around the world.
Waygates and Shara
It appears the Ways (or something very similar) exists in Shara. Referred to as "I rode the caprisha through the City of Dreams...". It is said that to do so is to risk ones soul, presumably due to Machin Shin. It is possible that caprisha refers to an animal or transport system and that more properly "The City of Dreams" refers to the Ways.
List of Waygates
There are Waygates outside of each stedding as well as the following cities and locations:
- Tar Valon
- Two Rivers (located in the city of Manetheren)
- Ebou Dar
- Mafal Dadaranell (located to the south of Fal Dara)
- Ancohima (located in Tarabon or Amadicia)
- Londaren Cor (located to the northeast of Ebou Dar)
- Aren Mador (currently Far Madding)
- Aridhol (currently Shadar Logoth)
- Shaemal (possibly located in Andor)
- Deranbar (currently Maradon)
- Braem (located near New Braem)
- Condaris (located in Tarabon or Amadicia)
- Hai Ecorimon
- Iman (currently Katar)