Warm, stale air drifted through the dark night on K'veer. It had been as such for seven decades. I sat on a stone bench outside the door we had just broken through. It was late. Everyone else had retired for the night, even Catherine. I could not sleep, even after all the hard work we had done today. My voracious curiosity kept my eyes wide open, and my mind constantly turning. I constantly sought what was beyond the next door, the next bend. D'ni- my true home, open for me to explore its secrets. How was I to sleep?
Restlesness got the better of me. I stod up and walked through the doorway. The rooms were so dark and musty. The team had stayed with me as far as this room, then had went off to rest, so now I pressed foreward eager to see what awaited me. I silently moved up a flight of stairs and pushed through a mass of cobwebs. Looking about the room, a great feeling of excitement rose within me. This was a Book Room! There in the middle of the room, was the Linking Book. I took the big, leatherbound volume in both hands and carefully flipped it over. A green Maintainer's Guild stamp smiled up at me. I smiled back. It crossed my mind that perhaps I should wait 'till everyone else was awake, but my curiosity would not be saited. Besides, I had a Linking Book in my pocket, and the Book had a Guild stamp on it. My hands trembled, I lived for moments like this. I had to see.
In all my years of experience in the Art, I have never become used to the actual linking. When you place your hand on the living page that links you, you feel yourself melting into the book, into the words and then, youâ€™re there.
Sunlight blasted into my eyes. I cried out and flung my arms up, then quickly took my D'ni glasses out of my pocket and put them over my searing eyes. My vision sparkled and danced like a thousand lightning bugs, and my eyes watered. Eventually, I got used to the sun's assault, and looked around me. The main part consisted of three islands, huge mountains rising from the water. They were about ten spans tall each â€“ about 150 feet. The summits of all three were connected by plank and rope bridges. Spiraling up around all three were walkways, hewn deep into the rock. I walked up to the top of the island I was on and caught my breath. It was beautiful!
I could see that the three islands were arranged in a triangle. Rope-and â€“plank bridges spanned the huge gap between each island/mountain from summit to summit. The bridges were so high up! The bright sun beat down, but with a warm, pleasant heat. Beyond that all sunk into water. The water was blue-green and rippled with reflecting light. Sky met water all around on the horizon. It was breathtaking. Glancing at the sun, I could tell I was on the North Island. There were also East and West islands. Then I noticed a network of small rocks jutting out of the surface near the three main islands. They seemed to be connected by wooden plank bridges. I will explore the rocks later. But first, the islands.
At the top of the North Island, the two bridges split out and went to the East and West Islands. I decided to go to the West Island. I have never been afraid of heights, but the moment I stepped onto the first plank, I reeled and jumped back. Only on that bridge had I realized how high I was. Then I thought, how could I come here just to be scared by a high bridge? I have never been scared by heights before so why now? I stepped back out. Suddenly, it wasnâ€™t so bad. I took another step and then the other side of the situation hit me. It was beautiful. I almost felt like I was flying. The bridge was so rickety looking, yet so sturdy. The planks were joined by thick vine rope and there was a â€œrailingâ€ made of the same rope. The bridge swayed slightly in the cool breeze and creaked a bit. It was quite a ways to the West Island, but I loved every step of the way. It was so . . . open. I could see my shadow shimmer and intertwine far below in the bright, rippling water. The mountain/islands rose majestically out in front of me and behind me. I could see that the rocks surrounding the island seemed to be shelters.
As I drew my attention from the rocks and back toward the island I was going to, something caught my eye. When I had walked on the bridge till I was about 50 spans from the other side, I realized what it was. A doorway.
I had to rub my eyes to believe it. A doorway. I wondered, why I hadnâ€™t noticed it from the other islands. It was at the base of the island and had the winding pathway leading directly into it. I stepped off the bridge and began my descent towards the doorway. It didnâ€™t take me long to reach the bottom for I was anxious to reach the doorway.
The doorway I had reached had a light cloth veil in front of it. I pushed back the veil and stepped inside. I was immediately greeted by a wall of pitch blackness. The only light in the entire place was the light flooding in from the doorway. There was only one thing illuminated by the light. There was a stand that held a fire marble. Fire marbles are essentially Dâ€™ni light bulbs. I illuminated the marble with a sharp flick to the side of the orb. The movement was so natural that when realization hit me, I did a perfect double-take and nearly fell backwards. Fire marbles are Dâ€™ni light bulbs, and this isnâ€™t Dâ€™ni. How could this technology be here? Dare I imagine that some of the D'ni had fled here? Curiosity soon overwhelmed my bafflement. I had to see more.
The fire marble illuminated a good bit. There were all sorts of small pillows arranged in lines on the floor. This place must have been inhabited at one time. I noticed more fire marble stands and quickly ignited them.
The entire room was engulfed in the radiant light the fire marbles gave off. I gasped. The room was huge! I felt like I was in a cathedral, but the roof was less of a dome. The entire mountain, I realized was hollow!
When I pulled my vision from the roof, I took note of my surroundings. The floor was, indeed, lined with, it looked like, cushions. The cushions were arranged in neat lines and columns. At one end, a chair, somewhat throne -like, stood with the cushions pointing toward it. This was obviously where the leader(king perhaps?) sat. This massive room must be some sort of a meeting room for the inhabitants. But, the question is, where are the inhabitants?
I shivered at the question. Suppose they were watching me right now? The hair on the back of my neck prickled under their imagined gaze. Then another question popped into my head. Were the other islands furnished as well? I had to find out.
As I left the room and began to climb the spiral slope to the summit, I noticed similar doorways in the other islands. They were hollow! I decided to go to the East Island.
On my trip there the beauty caught my breath. The islands were so majestic. They looked like grand monarchs perched in a sea of blue-green subjects. I soon arrived at the summit of the East Island. The doorway was on the same place on this island as it was on the other one. It, too, had a veil over it. I entered. This time I could see no fire marble. I reached into the darkness. There! I knew there must be some sort of light! My hand had closed around a fire marble. The marble grew bright and hot. A larger portion of the room was illuminated.
This room was full of small, squat benches. They were sturdy and of excellent craftsmanship.
There was only one thing at the front of the room, a small wooden stand and a book. Being a Dâ€™ni, I was instantly curious. I strode up to the front. I gasped. It couldnâ€™t be. The book that was lying so plainly on the stand was the Rehevkor. The Dâ€™ni lexicon!
This was unheard of. How could an Age get this book? How could this Age have so much Dâ€™ni technology?
Then, sweeping my eyes across the room again, I realized this room must be some sort of school. I looked back at the Rehevkor. The inhabitants must know the Dâ€™ni language. I wondered what the last island might hold. I had to find out. I exited and started to the summit. Then, I stepped out onto the bridge and toward the North Island.
I glanced at the rocks down below as I crossed the bridge. Those little wooden pathways looked so inviting. Then I noticed something I hadnâ€™t before. Behind the West Island, the side of a small rustic log cabin came into view. It was floating in the water. All the rocks were connected to it by the wooden pathways. I thought I would explore it now, but then decided that I still had one last Island to investigate. I would go to the log cabin later.
The North Island was very similar to the first two, but it seemed older. Some of the rocks had moss and lichen on them and the outside path had a slight green tinge to it. It smelled musty and earthy.
The entrance also had a veil in front of it, but it was heavy and moist. I pulled it back and stepped inside, and the veil retaliated with a slimy slap on the back of my legs. As my eyes adjusted to the chilly blackness, I realized that there was a small pond in the middle of the room. It was still as death, but the strange thing was the fact that the algae-like plants in it were producing on eerie greenish-yellow light! When my eyes were fully adjusted to the eerie light, I realized that the entire room was bathed in the green glow. It was like a cavern. The walls were rock, but slimy and wet. There were all manner of fungi, moss, lichen and mushrooms covering it. I went down to the small pond and touched the surface of the water. The entire room rippled as the ripple I had made in the water distorted the light and made the room shimmer.
There was still one question. What connection did this place have to the other islands? The other two Islands had held rooms for large gatherings. Why would this be like a cave? Maybe the answer would be in the cabin, or the rocks.
As I exited the North Island, I realized I had a problem I had not thought about. How was I to get to those wooden walkways? The rocks were all a good ways from the main Islands, and I did not wish to swim. I decided to go to the summit of the Island I was on to see if I could get a better view of the place.
There was a slight breeze at the top, but it felt wonderful in the warmth. I could see the entire place from up here, except an entrance to the walkways. It was soon fused. Those walkways wouldnâ€™t just be floating in the middle of the water. There had to be an entrance. Then it hit me. Behind the islands. I remembered seeing the cabin behind the West Island. That had something to do with it. I decided to go to the West Island, but first I need to sit down and rest.
I reached the West Island after a small rest on the bridge. Itâ€™s surprisingly relaxing to rest high above the ground on a rope-and-plank bridge. I walked down the spiral pathway all the way to the bottom. The boardwalk was on the side facing outward toward the ocean expanse.
The walkway was so inviting. The sun-bleached planks creaked above the flowing water. They radiated the warmth that reflected on them from the sun. The cabin was not too far away and I enjoyed every step of the way.
When I reached the cabin there were strings of beads cascading from the top of the doorway. Most beads were made from drift wood, but some were smooth pebbles. I pushed them aside. The place was beautiful in a rustic sort of way, just like the rest of the islands. There were all manner of dried herbs and plants hanging from the ceiling. There was a single window, but there was no pane. Numerous incense burners were all about. There was a bookshelf with hand-bound books on it. I went over to it. I had expected sketches and foreign letters, but I stared as I saw that all the books were in perfect Dâ€™ni letters! How extensive was these peopleâ€™s knowledge of Dâ€™ni culture? I turned around and my eye caught on a desk with a single leather-bound book on it. The book looked oddly familiar. I went closer, then gasped and closed my eyes. This was ridiculous! Outrageous! The book was a Korteeâ€™nea. A blank linking book! These are the books on which the Age is written and the most greatly guarded secret of all Dâ€™ni culture. How ?!?. . . I was at a loss for words.
When I left the cabin, my head was spinning with questions. The East Island had held the Dâ€™ni lexicon, now this cabin has a blank Dâ€™ni linking book. The entire Age had fire marbles!
I decided to put these worries behind me and explore the rocks. I stepped out onto some sort of a deck in front of the floating cabin. There were three walkways leading away from it. The one directly in front of me led back to the main islands. The others, one on the left and one on the right, led to the rocks. I decided to go right. The rocks were much bigger than they had appeared from on the bridges. As I drew closer, I realized my hypothesis was correct. They were houses. The rocks had a small archway in them. To the side of each, the wooden walkway curled around the side of the â€œhouse.â€ I walked up to the archway and noticed it had a veil similar to the ones on the main Islands. As always, I pushed it back and stepped inside. For the first time, it wasnâ€™t pitch black. The houses, of course, were much smaller than the Islands, so the outside light illuminated most of the room. I saw a fire marble, unlit, against the wall and I lit it. The room was flooded with light.
The place looked very cozy, yet it was rustic, like the cabin. It was only one room, but nevertheless very spacious. The room was circular and in the middle there was a table. The table was low and had four cushions surrounding it. In the left section, three mats lay on the floor. These were obviously the â€œbeds,â€ but they didnâ€™t look very soft. A closer inspection revealed that they were actually some type of moss. They were springy and soft, though they didnâ€™t appear so. I walked to the other side of the room. There was another small table with a wooden cabinet on top of it. I opened the cabinet to find that it was filled with all manner of herbs. I realized that this perhaps was their â€œmedicine cabinet.â€ Then I noticed some thin objects behind the cabinet and I pulled them out. They were wooden tongs, four of them. What were they used for? At first I thought they might be used to administer the medicine, but that sounded strange.
I stepped out of the house and sighed in the warm air. This was the life. The house was much cooler. Being inside a massive boulder would provide natural air conditioning. The inhabitants really know how to live comfortably and simply! I walked around the path that curved around the side and came out at the other end of the house. The pathway continued at the other end and there was another house.
I continued exploring all of the houses, most of which were the same. There were only slight differences. Some houses would have more beds than others or more cushions around the table or more tongs; not too much was different apart from that.
I had a great feeling of satisfaction now that I had explored the whole place. I decided to rest from my explorations. I was heading to the nearest house when something on the horizon caught my eye. Something was heading my direction very fast. Then I saw more of them. I realized what they were. Canoes.
I spun around and stared. In my initial shock, I first thought they were some type of mirage. Then I realized they must be the inhabitants! The islands and houses were empty because all the inhabitants had been traveling. Now they were back. How was I to greet them? Surely they werenâ€™t hostile. The island was so beautiful, and there were no weapons. I decided I would go and greet them when they landed. As they drew closer, I could see some of the canoes pulling something, but the ropes seemed to go into the water.
I looked at the people and I saw the eyes of one of the rowers meet mine. We were both startled, but he was more so. Then he grinned and whispered to the elderly man in front of him. The old man slowly turned his head around and looked at me. Then his face cracked into a huge grin to match the rowerâ€™s. I smiled back in relief and waved.
In a few moments the boat docked against the walkways and the old man hobbled out with the help of a gnarled cane. He held out his hand and said, â€œWelcomeâ€ in flawless Dâ€™ni. Needless to say, I was stunned, but the old man smiled. He took both my hands in formal Dâ€™ni fashion. â€œI am Elder Gavvo,â€ the old man said. He, no doubt, wished me to return my name so I said, â€œMy name is Atrus.â€ Elder Gavvo closed his eyes and smiled happily. â€œThat is a Dâ€™ni name for sure.â€
Elder Gavvo noticed my confused silence and said, â€œWe have met a Dâ€™ni person only once before, but it has changed the course of our history and future.â€
â€œI donâ€™tâ€¦?â€ I replied.
â€œOnce, when I had just been appointed Elder, we had a Dâ€™ni appear Kaaya; he said his name was Veovis.â€
â€œVeovis!â€ I cried, the name like a poison barb in my memory.
â€œWhatâ€™s the matter?â€ asked the old man, â€œDid you know our friend?â€
â€œUhhh, no, I, uh â€¦â€ my voice stumbled, and so I changed the subject, not wanting to press any further questions,â€ The place you mentioned earlier, where is that?â€
â€œIt is the large island we just came from, â€œElder Gavvo said. â€œFrom Veovis, we learned all about the Dâ€™ni culture. He showed us the incredible things, such as the fire marbles you, no doubt, saw. For you, fire marbles are a thing taken for granted, but when the Dâ€™ni man showed it to us here on N'mar , it was a miracle.â€
N'mar, that's what they must call themselves. I was stunned. They weren't D'ni at all. â€œI couldnâ€™t believe what I saw when I discovered you had Dâ€™ni technology,â€ I said. Elder Gavvo smiled. Then he turned toward the people unloading the canoes and the barge. He bellowed with a voice unlike his stature, â€œTonight we shall feast in the honor of the return of the Dâ€™ni!â€
More boats started landing on the walkways and I saw what the ropes were pulling. A huge barge , mostly submerged, except for the top. It had all manner of lumber, fruits, vegetables and other things piled into it.
I went to join the people of Nâ€™mar in unpacking their canoes and the barge from their voyage. The canoes were oddly shaped for both tips curved downward into the water. The young man I had first seen rowing the Elder saw me and said, â€œWelcome. My name is Vialee. Many just call me Via.â€ I shook his hand heartily.
â€œI am Atrus,â€ I replied. Via climbed into the barge where many already were and picked up a large fruit, resembling a mango and stretched upward to hand it to me. I took it and shouted over the din of everyone else, â€œWhat are you standing in?â€
â€œIt is a sort of carrier,â€ replied Via. â€œWe use it to transport the good we bring from island to island.â€
â€œIsland to island?â€
â€œYes, from here in Nâ€™mar we manufacture fire marbles through a process your people showed us and then we exchange them for lumber and fruits from Kaaya.â€
We continued unloading the barge, but moved from fruits to long smooth planks of some sort of wood. I recognized it as the same wood as was used on the walkways and bridges. I was introduced to a few other people and before I knew it, I had become fast friends with Via. The children all stared in wonderment at me in my strange garments with their parents scolding them for their curiosity.
Elder Gavvo oversaw all of this and when we were done we began preparing a feast for tonight.
As the bustling started anew to prepare the feast, Elder Gavvo hobbled over to where Via and I were conversing. Via bowed respectfully and I followed his lead. Elder Gavvo smiled in acknowledgment.
â€œI look forward to the hearing of new things,â€ Elder Gavvo said. â€œYou must tell u s all about the new happenings in Dâ€™ni.â€
â€œI will,â€ I told him. He grasped both my hands in traditional Dâ€™ni fashion and smiled. I returned the greeting.
What I couldnâ€™t bear to reveal right away was the fact that all of Dâ€™ni was destroyed and all the surviving inhabitants had scattered to different Ages.
I admit it; I am a procrastinator. Iâ€™ll wait â€˜til tonight and tell the entire island, so rumors wonâ€™t be spread. I donâ€™t like being the bearer of bad news for I donâ€™t wish to picture everyoneâ€™s horrified face in my head.
Via must have noticed the flicker of sadness on my face and asked, â€œWhat is it?â€
â€œNorthing,â€ I said, but he obviously didnâ€™t believe me.
We continued preparing the feast in my honor and I took the time to observe the people around me. Most of the people cooking were women, but a few men were, too. I noticed they each had a pair of tongs beside them. Then I saw one of them pick a piece of food up with it and eat it. â€œPerfect!â€ I heard him exclaim. Then I realized. They were the utensils. What a wonderful multipurpose tool!
The feast turned out to be a great success. The newly restocked pantries were producing wonderful and exotic foods that my Dâ€™ni tongue knew not what to make of. The actual feast took place in the Council Island, in which small, low tables had been placed to accommodate for the low seating style.
The place was packed; the whole island was there, wanting to catch a glimpse of me. Small children danced around asking questions, while their mothers shooed them away. Some the older men and women would say, â€œThank youâ€ over and over to me. I wasnâ€™t sure why, but I would ask the Elder about it.
As the crowd settled down to their places, laden with colorful food, I took my place between Via and Elder Gavvo. The Elder said a short prayer while raising his hands in the air. Then the food began to be passed around. The majority of the fare appeared to be fruit, so I guessed that the neighboring island was tropical. I bit into a yellowish fruit shaped like a gourd. The lush juices of the fruit flowed into my mouth. It tasted citrus-y but almost like the smell of a flower. â€œMmmm, Via, what is this called?â€ I asked. â€œA gâ€™aâ€™thra, we call it. Elder Gavvo reached for one and smiled. â€œOne of my favorites,â€ he commented and bit deep into its juicy hue. I finished off mine, savoring every bite. I noticed a dark blue fruit, shaped like a banana and reached for it. Via saw what I was reaching for and grabbed my hand. â€œBe careful,â€ he said. â€œI made the mistake of biting deep into one of those my first time. The youngsters donâ€™t call it a Fire Fruit for nothing.â€ â€œAh,â€ I said and drew back my hand.
Elder Gavvo nudged me and said, â€œTell me the latest news of Dâ€™ ni.â€ I instantly grew solemn and hung my head. â€œWhatâ€™s wrong?â€ both Via and the Elder said in unison. â€œI didnâ€™t want to ruin your good mood earlier, but I canâ€™t hide it anymore.â€ Elder Gavvo drew back. â€œYou mean. . . youâ€™re not Dâ€™ni?â€
The crowd at the feast had gone silent, and was listening intently. â€œOh, Iâ€™m Dâ€™ni all right, the very last Dâ€™ni.â€ â€œWhat!â€ cried Via. The rest of the island broke into worried whispers. â€œSilence!â€ boomed Elder Gavvo. The room became instantly quiet. â€œAtrus,â€ he addressed me. â€œWhat did you mean by â€˜the last Dâ€™ni?â€™â€ My food suddenly tasted like ash. â€œDâ€™ni is dead.â€ I said much too loudly. â€œThe man you met, Veovis, was manipulated by an evil man, and they wreaked great destruction upon the city. Then they caused a great, poisonous cloud to sweep through the city, killing anything in its path. The Dâ€™ni was forced to scatter to the Ages. I am the last Dâ€™ni left on this world.â€ The whole island was silent. Via had a look of wonder on his face. Elder Gavvo had tears in his eyes.
All of a sudden, there was a shout from outside. One of the women looked outside and screamed.
The whole island made a mad rush for the archway.
â€Itâ€™s here!â€ I heard some people saying. Elder Gavvo hobbled his way through. We both stepped out and looked to the East. A great, black, cloud was rolling across the ocean toward us. My heart stopped. Though I had not seen it before, I knew that the roiling black monstrosity was the bane of Dâ€™ni. This was the thing that had destroyed Dâ€™ni, scattered my ancestors and killed my grandfather. I was looking death in the face. Now I knew the main reason for the inhabitants looking so sad, especially the Elder. Veovis had, somehow, taken the cloud from this world and used it in Dâ€™ni. The Nâ€™mar blamed themselves for the carnage in Dâ€™ni.
â€œNo!â€ shouted Elder Gavvo, his eyes wild and desperate. â€œNot now!â€ I looked at him in puzzlement. â€œThis cloud comes by here every once in a while, but we usually have enough time to escape to the other island, but we were so busy with the feast, we didnâ€™t notice it! Thereâ€™s not enough time to evacuate!â€ The man looked at me with absolute terror in his eyes. I was filled with resolve, they had to escape. â€œGet everyone together!â€ I yelled. Rain was beginning to fall, and the wind began to pick up. I drew out a slender book from my pocket. This was the Linking Book that led back to Dâ€™ni, or what was left of it. The cloud was picking up speed and coming closer. Elder Gavvo looked at the book, and then his eyes widened. â€œGet everyone together,â€ I said again. â€œYou can all link through to Dâ€™ni until the cloud passes. The cloud will kill all living things that it touches, but will not destroy the actual islands.â€
I ran down to the archway. â€œEveryone form a line!â€ I shouted over the rain. I opened the book to the page with the linking panel. The panel shimmered and then showed a flyby of the Dâ€™ni room that would be linked to. The first person stepped up. â€œPut your palm on the panel,â€ I said. He did. He shimmered for a moment, then disappeared. The people in the line gasped. â€œHurry!â€ I shouted. I could see the cloud. It was gaining ground. More people stepped up, placed their hands on the panel and linked. Women, children, some of them crying. I tried to reassure them as they stepped up. The cloud had almost reached the outskirts of the islands. Elder Gavvo and my friend Via were last in the line. â€œThank you, my friend,â€ the Elder said. â€œSee you in Dâ€™ni,â€ said Via. They both linked. I closed the book and turned to the twisting black behemoth. â€œYouâ€™ll not get them now!â€ I spat. The darkness seemed to laugh, as if mocking the loss of my ancestors. I picked up a gourd, forgotten, on the table. I stood outside and waited for death to come closer. It did. The cloud twisted and swirled around the outer islands. It came closer. I threw the gourd with all my might. I watched it sail through the air. It saw as it hit the oncoming cloud. The gourd seemed to wither, aging and rotting before my very eyes. Pieces flew off, and then dissolved, the whole fruit becoming part of the swirls, drafts and whirlwinds of death. I opened the Linking Book, held out my hand, and linked.
The whole idea of linking books comes from the fictitious world of Myst, a CD-ROM phenomenon created by Cyan. The Dâ€™ni are also part of Myst, as well as the character of Atrus. Shorah is completely original, as are its people, and their culture.
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