I realized, the moment my fingers touched the speckled gray cover of the book, that I had found something peculiar. The surface was smooth and slightly pliant, like old leather, but it had no scent, and its appearance put me in mind of polished marble.
The book was perched upon a flat shelf of rock as if it had flown there.
It opened soundlessly. The pages were crisp and new, yet a soft dun color like old vellum. A few flecks of bark or dried leaves fell out and fluttered away. The writing was like nothing I had ever seen: heavy, intricate characters with precise yet flowing brushwork, each containing a kabbalah's complexity.
I nearly dropped the book as I reached the final page. Something had moved! At first I could make out nothing but a shimmering gray-green rectangle, and thought it must be some trick of the light. But the pattern within its borders shifted, became a living surface, glinting in an unseen sun. It skimmed past and slowly tilted, at length revealing a horizon-- an island-- a tree-- many trees. The world appeared to tip under me, and the island loomed large, filling the window. I caught a glimpse of a dark pinnacle of stone, capped by a round structure, low buildings facing a grassy lawn, a sky blue dome, and then a dock.
Here the magical picture alighted, looking down the dock's length towards a strange outcropping and a staircase winding up it that led to a shape I could not quite make out through the haze. On the left of the dock was a green bank, on the right the jutting spars of a ship, moored just out of sight.
Was the image still moving?
I touched it, as if to prove to myself that I was seeing the paper's surface, and not looking through a hole punched through creation to some other place.

And the world changed.

Pulled through darkness
My ears ring with emptiness
Until a place enfolds me
Like none I have seen.

I smell the tang of ocean
A gull wheels above me
Water slaps wood piles
Birds cry unseen.

What is this? Am I dreaming? No waking world is this real. The curving stair at the end of the dock mounts a rugged stump of stone, its edges softened by clinging moss. Behind a railing on its flat top is an incomprehensible shape, a huge gear sunk into the platform. The ship to my right is no ship at all, just masts and spars and a crow's nest sticking out of the jade-green water. A stone walkway crests the bank to my left, running parallel to the dock. On the grassy hill behind it, I see the buildings more clearly now, the nearer one round, the farther one square, each fronted by columns and built of a speckled gray stone almost the color of the book, which is no longer in my hands. Behind me--as I discover when I turn to survey my surroundings--a forest of thin, tall conifers spreads across the lower half of the island.

I kneel and touch the wood.
I bring my finger to my lips, and taste salt.
The wind blows softly.

Still in shock, I start across the creaking planks to the stair, ascend in wonder, find myself by the great metal gear. A small wooden podium stands beside it with a switch set in the top. Does it activate this strange machine? I flip it up, but nothing happens. I recall passing one like it at the end of the dock, before turning up the stair.

I set myself to explore this place. The door to the round building is shut; the square one lies open, and through its entryway I glimpse an octagonal room panelled with a deep red wood like that of the trees outside. I call hesitantly, certain in my bones that there will be no answer. Never have I seen a place more steeped in silence, apart from the whistling of the wind.

Outside this building's porch is the grassy lawn, flanked by free-standing stone pillars with a little marble-enclosed pool halfway down the slope. Beyond it, a path leads into the forest, flanked by a small cabin on the left and a bunker on the right. Out in the water beyond the tapered tip of the island lies a clock tower standing like a lighthouse, with a weathervane at its peak. Strangest of all, as I am coming back up the hill towards the marble buildings, I discover a high walkway leading out to a rocketship lying on its side, made of a glistening dull bronze metal.

I pass many more of these strange switches on podiums, and while trying to make sense of them, discover a note crumpled in the grass.


Who is Catherine? Who this Atrus who writes to her with such urgency?
Am I myself Catherine, and all of this a dream?
I will follow his instructions. He mentions a chamber I have not seen by the dock.
I will go there.

Set in the green bank I find a metal frame, and beneath my hands a door slides open. I descend a carpeted stair lit with soft blue light. Do I hear faint music in my ears? At the foot I find another octagonal chamber, dim and still. A round device at the middle I first mistake for a pool, but touching my fingers to the swirling surface, I discover that this, too, is an illusion. Or something more real?

A panel on the wall opens at my touch, and I set to work deciphering its function. With clues from the note, I set the device properly and turn back to the pool, where a man's face shimmers into view.
His voice is kind but strained.

Catherine my love...
Most of my books have been destroyed...
It's one of our sons...

Library? More books? Books such as that which drew me here? I catch my breath. Dream or no, I'll hold onto it as long as I can. But how?

I must find these books.

First I find wonders...
The round building is a planetarium. Lie in the leather and metal chair, and stars appear overhead. Buttons change the pattern, but the numbers displayed on a small panel make no sense to me, and I can recognize no constellation in the starry expanse.
The octagonal building holds what is left of his library. I leaf through fifty, maybe a hundred burned books, mourning the loss of treasures I cannot begin to fathom. A few volumes remain, but they are not like the gate that brought me here. They are written in a language I know. I read more of this singular man's words, snatching glimpses of him hidden in the glimpses of thes Ages through which he has travelled, places whose names and details excite the imagination.

I find one blank book and began to make notes, which you now read.

Two more books I find.
Red. Blue.
Sirrus. Achenar.
They plead for me to bring them pages from some book I have yet to discover.

Oh, I am wary of the sly one. But there is a disturbing gleam in the other's eye.
Are they even real? These are the sons of this Atrus, this writer of books? The island seems lonelier now, although I am no longer quite alone.

Your devices are ingenious, Atrus.
Evidently writers here are builders too.
I find treasures in the most unlikely places:
In the heart of a geared mechanism
Beneath the roots of a giant tree
In the hold of a ship which rises instead of sinks
In a rocketship, bound to earth, apparently, forever.
More precious than gold, these treasures of yours:
Ink and paper, magic and possibility stitched by a pen.

I will rest tonight. Tomorrow, I will dare one of his Books.

I carry his words with me. The pipe music of another world sings in my ears as I reach for the book, or the image of a book. What is real? What I can touch? Or what I can see? The picture races towards vistas, and I wonder where I am going.

Again the utter darkness takes me, so profound it seems to buffet my ears with the thrum of time itself.

Have I moved at all? The metal shell of the rocketship still holds me, and all is as it was a moment ago. Bewildered, I step outside.

The sky is cyan blue, a pale sun shimmering through the mist; it swirls and dances with the gusts of wind that brush my face. The water is turquoise to the horizon, and touches my ears with its constant plashing. I cross over onto dry land, dusty pathways on windbeaten red stone.

Stairs go up, stairs go down
Bridges and whistling wind
The drip of water in rusted pipe
The roar of fire in tortured stone
And even the rocks here sing.

Ah! I think I know where I am! There is a grassy hill here, flanked by tall trees whose leaves are touched with the colors of autumn; assuming there are seasons at all in this hot, blasted land.

"Strangely enough, the small grassy hill where I spent my first night remains exactly the way i found it..."

The patterns of treebark are strangely geometric, making natural totem poles. The leaves are the color of old blood and metal, and I think they must always have looked like this. He has made himself a little wellhead, cupping water in the desert. Gratefully, I slake my thirst. In spite of the encircling lake, this is a parched land, and its wind is a hot, dry breath.

"Sounds constantly flow through my ears... It seems (as Catherine says) I do find beauty in everything."

And you add improbable beauty as well, Atrus. The bricks are of the red earth of this land, the railings forged of metals drawn from its depths, but there is artistry in these meandering stairs. What whimsy set you to place pots along the way as landmarks?

The broken clock disturbs me immensely. It seems to have grown out of the land itself, rather than having been fashioned. But perhaps this is another of Atrus' tireless constructs, damaged by more upheavals of this restless land.

Earth. Water. Air. Fire. Time.

I begin to see, now.
No. I begin to hear.
What do you hear, Atrus?

I descend into a different world, one of straight lines and metal. I marvel at how much this one man has fashioned with his own hands! The air down here is stuffy and hot and smells faintly of sulfur.

"I have found a vast underground cave system that will take many years to map and explore."

And how am I supposed to find my way through it? Another language to learn, another machine to master. I swim through the maze in the belly of a golden fish, and return in the end to the place where I began.

Mind at peace from the discipline of threading this haystack of a world with my mental needle, ears still singing with the sound of stone and water, I am brought back to the present with a forceful slap of static. Between bursts of painful sound, Achenar begs and pleads for his release, rants of retribution and lies. I am not sure whether the static or the son is worse.

Atrus, did you raise such children? Is your writing an illusion, meant to seduce the unwary by means of wonders and your frank prose? Are you not so kind a man after all, leaving sons chained like mastiffs to frighten off strangers?

There are so many things we mean by silence.
The dreamy, sleepy silence of summer afternoons
The cold hush before dawn
The eerie emptiness of a street deserted,
Where people usually bustle and life teems
The numb silence of death
The thoughtful silence after a well-told tale...
But mostly what we mean by silence
Is not total absence of sound
But total absence of people
And the things we expect to hear.

Sirrus asks for my help and seems to be warning me against his brother. I certainly can see why. He speaks of wrongful imprisonment. Did Achenar put him there? But then how did he himself become trapped? Why do I seek reasons? He's obviously mad.

I am weary to the bone from wandering over dunes and through pipes, weaving my way through that endless labrynth. The Minotaur begs for release, Icarus' wings are clipped by a red book, and Daedalus is nowhere to be found. It's all too much. I will sleep in the forest tonight, under the stars, and start my search again in the morning.

I will go to the ship that emerged from the sea like a mirage. Why does it remind me of a children's storybook? I dreamt last night that I was floating down a canal where dolphins leapt, and the whole ocean was contained in a White Rabbit's teacup. I found Atrus' pen in the hull of a sunken ship, the greatest of treasures, and it spilled forth a black void filled with singing stars.

No more of that. I'm beginning to sound like Achenar.

I open the book, and to my delight, the giddy flight over a dark sea quickly reveals landmarks I recognize from his books.

"Emmit was the first to live on the Rocks..."

The lighthouse is easy to spot amidst islands shaped like shark's teeth. Where is the broken ship? The description of it in Atrus' journal caught my imagination. I link through without hesitation, although the pitching of the picture makes me think I'm going to stagger when I land.

My feet touch aging planks. I stand on the stern of the ship, which does not rise and fall with the gentle rolling waves. It is landlocked just as he described, gripped by sharp gray rocks. I turn around and around, drinking in the view.

It is a misty dawn, and the overcast sky retains a faint pinkish hue. The water is a deep gray, but very clear, and I can see a long way down. Off to the left is the half-drowned lighthouse. Makeshift plank bridges run out to its second story window, as well as to an incongruous crow's nest jutting out of the water, capped by a very human umbrella. I hope there are no White Rabbits.

There were three boys
Emmit, Branch, and Will
They played among the rocks
They flashed through the sea like fish.

I begin to look for signs of them and the small community mentioned in the final entries of the Stoneship journal. I find wires strung from the lighthouse to the largest rock island, into which the ship is imbedded. Two well-hewn tunnels plunge down into its heart. This must have been where the boys lived. But it's flooded now, and I find no trace of human life. Eventually, disheartened, I climb a spiral wooden walkway to the peak of the crag, where I find a brass telescope. I imagine Atrus standing here, watching the stars come out on a warm evening, while the boys play and dive off the deck of the ship below. In my mind's eye they have the eyes of seals.

I search The Rocks
Scan distant islands
But there is no one to see
The lighthouse is empty
The windows are broken
Black sails flap in the wind
And only the ocean speaks.

Perhaps I will come back after nightfall and watch the stars of this alien sky. Will I see the Milky Way? Am I even in the same galaxy? Hah! My dream is true. This telescope is his pen, and the stars come from it.

Slowly this Age yields up its secrets. I have found a way to pump out the water, and descend into a different world, the heart of stone. I cannot imagine what I thought I would find, but certainly not a lavish room like this. Such luxury! Why did I not sleep here last night? My eyes bask upon subtle frescoes, gilt wood panelling, spiral Byzantine columns.
An elegant chest of drawers holds fine fabrics and china, candlesticks and wineglasses. The desk is topped by veneer so finely polished that it serves as a mirror to the mysterious, magical sculpture perched on it like a paperweight.

The contents of the desk are less delightful. This is a reality I thought I'd left behind in the world of static books. Drugs? Pills? Needles? But perhaps they are not what they seem to be, or meant as a balm for someone with a chronic illness.

Or perhaps they are for Achenar.
That would explain much.

I almost miss the second room, and very much wish I had. There is no elegance here, but unvarnished, unfinished wood panels and rough-hewn columns. The painted tribal masks set in the walls have a certain somber beauty, but there beauty ends. The bed is musty, stained, no more than bare sheets over a lumpy mattress. The chest of drawers here holds maps, and unlike Atrus' sketches of his Ages, these are maps of borders and boundaries, territories and dominions. On top of the cabinet rests a macabre imaging device.

A bright rose in a darkened room:
I move my hand to touch its
Glowing petals, blood red beauty
And it slides away like a fish
Into the shape of a grinning skull.

Worst of all, there is a lamp on the wall opposite the door made of human bones, a ribcage and spinal column. I do not doubt it is real.


Much sobered, I ascend and find my way down into the hold of the severed ship.

The sea breathes
Bubbling softly to itself
I descend a creaking stair
Dappled by marine shadows
Find a table of polished wood
Touch my hand to it
And a book emerges.

Nothing is as it seems.
I am learning, Atrus. I am learning.

Back on Myst Island, Sirrus warns me again of his depraved brother and promises me ample reward for my assistance. Why do I feel a chill in my bones when I face this young man? Perhaps I should leave them both trapped.

I walk down to the dock and sit in the afternoon sun, pondering over Atrus' writings for clues as to what I should do next. The trees' shadows fall slanting across the planks, lengthening while I sit with feet dangling towards the lapping water, his journals stacked beside me and an open book in my lap. I come to a part of the Stoneship Age Journal that intrigues me.

"I was experimenting with The Art - testing the limit of the rules as dictated to me by Father. I attempted to create a boat by writing it into the world. I thought everything was going correctly, yet somehow the boat had become gripped by the rock and broken in half. Although this test did not turn out as I had hoped, I now have answers to a few of the questions my father never answered."

The Art, passed down from father to son.
Do I dare believe?
Atrus writes. It changes the world.
But it's a change unexpected.
What part is strange to you, Atrus?
It is all strange to me!
What questions were answered?
You have left me with more!

"Today the second day of this newly created age a strange thing happened..."

Newly created age. Yet he speaks of the boys' story as happening in the past. Do they have a past? Or is that illusion? Did he create this world? Or merely the book, which...which is what? I do not understand.

"I have decided that once the lighthouse is completed I will leave for some time and let the world's own imagination have control..."

Then the book--no, the age--writes itself? Well, as a writer, that I can well understand!

"I have set in motion events that have nothing to do with writing or The Art, that will have a more profound impact on this world than I could have ever written. I think of this age as a gift to myself..."

Atrus, you are worrying me. Do you think yourself a god? Are these worlds games to you, to be set aside and picked up again like crossword puzzles?

Ten years passed before Atrus visited again. Perhaps he is older and wiser now. I hope. I must hope.

My browsings have given me no answers to the riddle of the trapped brothers, and instead more questions. What happened to the inhabitants? Where are Emmit, Branch, Will, and the others? The rooms I have found under the rock seem far too elaborate for these simple folk, and anyway, do not speak of community. They speak of ownership.

An unsettling thought strikes me. Perhaps that lavish chamber with the elegant desk is the place where Atrus goes to write and make his worlds. The bed is big enough for two. Atrus and Catherine, king and queen of countless Ages? But his journals suggest she does not come with him on his journeys. And he seemed dismayed by the reverence given him from the folk of Channelwood. I don't know. I cannot believe my suspicions.

I must risk it. I need more information. One more page did not free Sirrus, so surely Achenar won't spring out on me. I brace myself and slip in the page I found in the room of the rose and skull. His desperate pleading is that of a child. He tells me more than Sirrus, claiming his brother burned all but four Ages and murdered their own father. Why do I subject myself to the ravings of a lunatic? I slam the book shut.
And yet.
With such a brother as Sirrus, I might well go mad myself. Was his father's murder enough to make Achenar snap?

I shall go to Channelwood next. Perhaps some of the tree-dwellers can tell me what they know of Atrus and his family.

Worries slip away as I face the open book lying on a treestump as upon an altar. This time it is almost difficult to make myself cover the page with my hand. I stand mesmerized, skimming low over the water, racing and weaving through the treetrunk pillars, soaring up into the air and floating effortlessly between the vanes of a windmill, over the rope bridges of the tree-houses, then circling back again. At last, with a sigh of contentment, I touch the page and feel myself pulled in as lightly as a feather settling to earth.

My spirits rise with the gentle chatter of birds, crickets, and frogs. I love the quiet of Atrus' ages, but I am beginning to long for company, and surely I will find it among the friendly tree-dwellers. I wonder why Catherine never came here?

Trees spear the misty sky
Fading to blue and gray
Before their branches begin.
The water beneath plank walkways
Is the subtle blue of earthenware glaze.

The trees are even larger in person, spreading out in rank upon rank like the countless columns of the Mosque at Alhambra. I pause for a moment's respect when I come across a section of burned-out planking, remembering the ancient human's pyre. Odd that the tree-folk have not come down to greet me! But Atrus was not met on arrival. Perhaps they watch me secretly from above, taking my measure. Or perhaps they take amusement from my baby steps in this new world, as I try to get my bearings. I smile, remembering the trick of changing ink they pulled on Atrus. Very well, monkey-folk; I am your guest, and will play your game!

I wish the water still changed colors.

"Their village can only be reached by rope ladders that stretch from the lower paths to the village level approximately halfway up the grand trees."

Atrus may write his Ages, but he still finds ways to improve, embellish, tinker with every world he visits, leaving no vista unaltered. The rope ladders are gone, replaced by elevators, rusty pipes and cables. These comprise a simple yet elegant hydraulic system leading back to the windmill, which he placed upon the small stony island mentioned in his journal. It takes me some time to decipher the system and properly adjust the valves.

At last! The elevator coughs like an old threshing-machine, and if the natives didn't know I was here already, they do now. I peer eagerly through the window as the trunks slide past me, push open the door with a loud protest of old hinges, and step out onto a swaying bridge of rope-woven planks.

The damp wind gusts fitfully, lifting my hair, brushing through the evergreen needles like the sound of distant surf. I smell sap and old wood and green, growing things. It takes me a moment to catch the rhythm of the swinging walkway, but I enjoy the spring to every stride as I cross over to the first hut, an open wickerwork structure that I recognize from Atrus' sketches. The floor and ceiling are made of thin laths woven around beams that stick out in a radial pattern like an umbrella. The roof-beams bear traces of colorful red and yellow paint. From here I pause to survey the network of crisscrossing walkways, square wooden cabins, open-air round huts like this one.

Strange. Where is everyone? I begin to feel chilled as I explore further, and it is not all from the moisture clinging to my skin and the wind brushing it away.

The wood is old.
Ropes are fraying.
Doors are gone, if they were ever here.
The thatched roofs of the larger huts
Let in the sky, and the floor
Lets the water below show through.
These are not the only gaps.

I am lost in an aerial maze of swinging bridges and empty space. My hopes are unravelling like the dry, creaking ropes. Dread steals in as I survey overtuned tables, splintered beams, broken pottery. Sometimes I pause to admire the skill of the carpentry, the whimsically random struts and the paper-thin strips of wood neatly woven into walls for houses. But just as quickly I am caught up short by a haphazard stack of moveable screens teetering at the edge of a platform, or the rustle of bowl-shaped bedframes, hanging forlornly from the ceiling and jostling together with a soft tapping sound. Their mattresses have gone, and apart from the heavy pots and tables, I see no trace of furniture, food, or other items for everyday living. The monkey folk have fled, and seem to have stripped their village bare, taking away everything that they can carry.

It's more like a spiderweb than a village! And these cobwebs are old and tattered. Depressed, I slip down an ingenious stair, mounted on spars that spiral around a huge tree, and sit with my head in my hands. The movement of the catwalks was beginning to unnerve me. So do Atrus' writings.

"Sirrus has suggested that I allow him and his brother to stay. Though the idea unsettles me, I know the boys are growing up rapidly. The hospitality of these creatures is such that I could think of no better place to leave them alone for a short while... I warned the boys not to take advantage of the respect the tree-dwellers have for their ideas. They seem to understand my warning, and I have faith they will follow it."

More faith than I, Atrus. Like the Rocks, you promised yourself that you might come back someday, and moved on. You had no inkling of what happened here.

"Catherine. It's one of our sons! I suspect Achenar, but I should not leap to conclusions."

So he began to guess at last, and went looking for answers, as I do now? Perhaps I will catch up with him. Perhaps I will find only his body; I dare not discount Achenar's ravings completely. Regardless, I will find no answers down here. It's time to explore the upper levels, where I have glimpsed a few more substantial structures.

I nearly jump out of my skin when Achenar's face materializes in front of me, in a dim, enclosed chamber whose walls are ornamented with odd flecks of paint and carved wooden heads. I have seen these mournful masks somewhere before.
Ah. The Stoneship Age. The room with the bones...

Hesitantly, I move towards the table over which Achenar's face appeared. It seems to be an altar, but there are metal teeth around the edge. Elaborate candlesticks of twisted iron cluster around like Channelwood's trees.
Some sense of self-preservation prompts me to test the surface with my pen instead of my fingers. Trap-jaws spring up and closed with a jarring crunch, neatly snapping my pen in two and spattering me with black ink. The stains on the contraption look suspiciously like old blood. Dismayed, I flee out into the fresh air and continue onwards, trying not to flinch at the sudden trill of a bird or the sharp snap of wood.

I find a small, mean hut with a sagging bedframe. If I am right about the function of the woven shells found elsewhere, this one must be especially made for human use. The room is bare, but a light hangs from the ceiling, and to my surprise the device in the corner is not a washbasin, but a sort of imager.

Apparently Achenar is equally skilled at ranting in other languages. But these are not incoherent whimperings. There is calculated intent here, and I am sure his ghostly apparition over the deadly table must have terrified the poor monkey-folk.

"The tree-dwellers worship him, and apparently all humans, as if he they were heroes or gods."

Their god is locked in a book, now. Perhaps they have fled, since he has disappeared? Before I sought their company. Now I pray they are long gone.

Brooding over Achenar's malevolence, I almost miss the final recording. Sirrus! What on earth is his wearing, dressed all in white? And what does he mean, "He is preparing"? Their father? Some dark scheme of all three? But no, I am almost certain now that Atrus had no part in this; his Channelwood journal makes it clear that he had no wish to rule these simple folk.

There is one other thing I have yet to find:
"The walls were garnished with bright metals and in the center of the hut sat the leader of these people."

Has that hut been destroyed? Or have I missed it? A search uncovers a second catwalk hidden behind the lift that brought me to this level, leading towards a large cabin. I cringe as the door to Achenar's cabin slams shut behind me. I hope it is only the wind.

Ah yes. I should have known by now that Sirrus would claim the best room for himself--and the leader's? There are copper-colored strips inlaid in the wood panelling, and the ceiling seems to be a dull blue metal. The room is richly furnished with elaborate lamps, finished tables, fine chairs, a bed with a spread whose weave shows its workmanship, triangles of light and dark wood set in the floor in a pleasing pattern, and real glass windows.

The stained washbasin contrasts with the fastidiousness of most of the room, as do the scattered wine-bottles. There is a dagger under the bed. The uneaten cake on the desk suggests that someone left in a hurry, and the splintered chair shows signs of a struggle. Did the brothers come to blows?

Three boys played on The Rocks.
Two boys played in the trees
And did as they pleased.
In my mind's eye they have the eyes of vultures.

There is nothing more to see here. I am tired, but I would rather sleep on the ground than spend a night in Sirrus' bed, in this eerily deserted village. It's time to return to Myst Island.

Torn between the need for information and the risk of setting one of them free, I court danger, and feed Achenar's book another page. At least he speaks his mind. Amidst his storm of words, one accusation rings out. "The final blow... he tricked father into believing that I was the murderer." Of whom? Someone from these depopulated Ages? Or their mother...

I have words from Atrus, from the two sons. Catherine leaves no footprints.

If the red book works like the blue, I still have one more page to go before I must make a choice. With trepidation, I retrieve the page I found in Sirrus' writing desk on Channelwood and slip it into place. Sirrus' eloquent speech should be a relief after the pathetic pleadings of his brother. Yet somehow it is not. His smug promise of reward is phrased so cloyingly that I cannot help but doubt. His eyes dart from side to side as he accuses Achenar of destroying the other books. Every word seems calculated, but if so, he's doing a poor job; I want to rip out the page every time he unveils another false smile.

Never have I seen the lesser of two evils so vividly illustrated. But who is which?

There is one last book, and this time I know fairly well what to expect from the sketch in Atrus' journal. The fortress rests between the three hills on the foundations of a drowned city. Under a black sky thick with stormclouds, a handful of survivors flourish behind the walls Atrus and his sons provided. Or at least, once they did. I have few hopes after the desolation of Channelwood.

"Before arriving in this age, I was determined that it would be a journey to a world very different from my previous adventures."

That much is still true. There is no land, no wood, no trees no islands, almost no stone. The age is circumscribed and defined by metal tracks and gears, gleaming, polished surfaces. And how they gleam! The dark gray sky that irked his sons is gone, as are the storms; now white haze shines on the horizon, and no cloud mars the pure blue of heaven's dome. I cross the bridge, footsteps clanking loudly, and find the fortress unguarded. The narrow passageways quickly make me claustrophobic. But it is not long before I stumble upon their lair.
I feel sick.

Achenar's throne is narrow
Facing a curtain that cuts out the light
And a platform where his victims squirmed.
Weapons, armor hang from every wall,
A flayed skin, and a monkey-like head.
This one is no mask.
A silent cobra strikes from the shadows:
Toy. Emblem.

The throne of Sirrus gleams with gold
And the rays of a stylized sun.
A tapestry hangs beside it;
Imperial robes declare him king.
A gracious lady completes the conceit:
A consort? A bird-puppet for his pleasure.
A compass on the floor, a telescope,
Proclaim the scope of his dominions.
Even his father's creations,
Ship, rocket, clock, are reduced
To mere models, his playthings.

My footsteps ring hollowly in this deserted cage of iron and steel. How many have died within its walls for these two? I see it now, young Sirrus the dictator of a dozen worlds, and Achenar his right-hand butcher.

It grows worse. As I continue to explore, I stumble on the secret chambers behind their thrones. Achenar's reeks of death, even before I unwisely peek into a chest. Such treasure! I slam the lid shut quickly. The shelves are lined with bottles of poison, and in the corner stands an executioner's block. I am briefly blinded by a deadly flash, testing the switch on the metal cage. "Their creativity is refreshing to see, as they work on some small projects of their own." Did you know they could build devices like this, Atrus? Was it here that you met your end? Or perhaps Catherine?
Sirrus' secret room, predictably, is well-stocked with wine, but also treasure, chest upon chest of gold and silver. I remember with a shudder Atrus' innocent words about his last visit to the Stoneship Age: "It seems they have found gold somewhere." Well, Sirrus has it now. I find an angry note from Achenar berating his brother for taxes: "I shall instruct my subjects not to pay... and you know they'll listen to me." I can almost hear the clink of an axe.

While rotating the fortress, I happen to catch sight of a rotting ship outside Sirrus' window. The sad remains of a body hang from the mast. Is it one of the Black Ships? I suddenly remember their insignia sketched in Atrus' journal, and realize why it looked so familiar. Such a flag was among the rolled-up fabrics in Sirrus' bedroom on the Stoneship Age. Was it a trophy of victory--or of alliance? Their childhood games on Channelwood, building a boat and sailing out on the open sea, seem not so innocent now.

The sun beats down with maddening clarity as I link back to Myst, Atrus' final words taunting me. "Though the sky may always be black, I am confident the people here feel a heavier darkness has been lifted from their shoulders."

Those people are gone. The sky is bright, but it seems like a betrayal: even the sun shines according to the brothers' wishes. I am glad to reach Myst Island with evening coming on, and retire to the cabin before nightfall.

One thing is clear to me: I dare not release them.

I want to go home.

I am hungry. Atrus' stores were scanty; how did they live here? I have been reduced to catching frogs on Channelwood, fish on the different Ages. I have even--it shames me--found myself drinking from Sirrus' ample stock of wine during the cold, lonely nights. I am going to die here. I cannot eat books. And it is so lonely.

I dreamed last night that Sirrus came and offered me a reward for having freed him. It was a table laden with steaming bowls of soup, plates of meat, bread, fruits of every description. But first he bade me eat the napkins, which were made of red and blue paper. Before my eyes he fed all of the feast to Achenar, who bayed and barked like a dog beneath the table, and growled every time I came near to snatch a bite. Now that I am awake, I realize the soup was human blood. I don't want to remember the food.

I have explored every Age countless times, and scoured Myst Island from treetop to cellars. One puzzle still frustrates all my attempts to solve it: a slim volume I had overlooked in the library, filled with hundreds of geometric patterns. I have found a secret panel inside the fireplace with a grid that matches them in scale, and have spent hours trying different configurations at random. I see black and white squares behind my eyelids when I fall asleep.

Achenar changes them when I'm not looking.

What can the boys do to me? I will be dead soon. What can they do to the other Ages? If anyone is left alive, they have fled far away from any place where Sirrus and Achenar might come. I will get the crossbow from Achenar's throne room on the Mechanical Age, have it cocked and ready, and fetch the last two pages. I have nothing left to fear.

I don't believe it. Of course the brothers were feeding me lies, stringing me along! These were not the last pages after all, and they need at least one more each to spring out of their jack-in-the-boxes. Now I must try and sift through all their scheming words for what they have not told me.

Sirrus speaks of his brother's thirst for destruction
Blames the burning of the books on him
And coyly guesses Atrus perished
After locking both of them in books.
Achenar rants against his father's murder
At his brother's hands, and says
It was Sirrus who ransacked the Ages
Burned the forests, killed the people.

Dare I assume that both are lying?
Dare I hope their father is alive?
On two things they concur:
Atrus imprisoned them as punishment
And the green book, they claim,
Will trap me like themselves.

I have to laugh. They don't look hungry, whatever other discomforts they are suffering. Do they think I would find many fates less pleasant than the prospect of sharing Myst Island with them? Sirrus seems well-spoken, but my skin crawls at every word. I would rather face quick death at Achenar's hands. I'd bet my life they are lying, and the green book is other than what they've said. In fact, I will. I have nothing to lose.

Yesterday, my strange journey came to an end, although I have a feeling it may be the first of many. I recognized Atrus the moment I opened the green book. I could see both his sons' faces in his weary features. But the resemblance ended there. His voice was kind, his manners retiring, cordial.
He told me briefly how he had been lured away by his scheming sons, after he began to stumble over signs of their wickedness. He "had seen the greed growing in them" for some time. Apparently he had not realized the extent of their crimes until too late. There was no use in my berating him for the past; I could see the anguish in his eyes for what they had done. From his message on the dock imager, I think he would have dealt swift "justice" upon them when he first hunted them down, had they not cleverly dangled their own mother's life before his eyes.

I do not know if I would have had the strength to act as he did, burning the books in which his own sons were trapped, so that they would be lost forever.

And now? Atrus writes. He tells me his wife is held hostage by some enemy on an age which is falling apart, and so he has little time to spare in conversation. Apparently he races with ink to stop the decay. I was only too glad to make use of of his food Ages, which are all that sustained him during his months of imprisonment. I must have looked quite a sight when I first arrived! But he speaks only words of gratitude, when he speaks at all. Do I resent the meager thanks he has to give me, the freedom of his remaining Ages, while he scribbles away in this dreary dungeon of a room? No. Sirrus promised me great rewards. That is not my desire, even less so, now that I have seen what comes of it.

Free of fear, I will study Atrus' remaining books, his notes on D'ni, and wander his Ages. Perhaps I can find survivors. Perhaps I will even find other Books. I cannot believe, after the wonders I have seen, that I have turned the final page.