"Seeker's Journey"
Part Four
by Corvus

Words completely failed Raven as he stared at the woman immortalized in marble in the center of the vast chamber. There could be no mistaking her identity, not with a face that uniquely beautiful. Far too many things had startled the Amberite already on this journey, but this was without doubt the worst shock of all.

"What is it, Raven? Do you know who she is?" asked the D'ni standing beside him. Atrus wore a look of concern as he observed his friend's astonishment.

"I... I ought to," Raven finally forced past his lips. "She gave birth to me. That's my mother, Llewella."

Yes, there was definitely a strong resemblance between the features of the man standing next to him and the stone woman above, Atrus concluded. Raven had spoken of his mother in the past, but the D'ni had never seen the storied princess of Amber until now. There was quiet, regal strength in those carved eyes, strength that reminded Atrus of Catherine. Was this the answer to the riddle of the tower? Did this woman whose image stood frozen in time before them build this place?

"I think," said the woman's son, "that she and I are going to have a lot to talk about the next time I see her." Raven reached out to touch the marble figure, to seek purchase so that he could climb and retrieve the Orb of Geda from the lifeless fingers overhead, but he found the statue to be as slick as the cliff rocks. "I don't suppose you brought a rope in that bag of yours?"

Atrus shook his head. He had several useful items in his pack, but a rope was not one of them. "This must be the final challenge."

He couldn't climb it, and the Orb was out of reach even if Atrus stood on his shoulders. "Okay, Mom," said Raven to the unchanging visage, "what's up your sleeve now?" He walked a slow counterclockwise circle around the ghostly-white statue, searching both figure and floor for marks, buttons, anything that might provide a clue. To focus his own thoughts Atrus sketched the statue itself and a close-up of the Orb, making a special note of the shimmer that periodically crossed the sphere's surface. Raven completed his circuit without any luck. "Maybe there's something hidden elsewhere in this chamber," he said.

"That is the next logical step, yes." Atrus set down his journal and pulled out the candles and lighter. He lit both and passed one to the Amberite. "I suggest we begin with the wall."

"Sounds good to me." Raven walked to the entrance and began to sweep clockwise, while Atrus moved to the wall opposite and matched his rotation along the outside edge of the chamber. Each man lifted his candle above his head, straining to see some hidden clue that would help them solve this last puzzle.

At the edge of the pool of light from his flame Atrus caught sight of a grid of black and silver tiles. "Raven, I've found something," he called across the chamber. Atrus stepped closer to his discovery and noticed that the grid was roughly octagonal in shape, the diagonals formed from the up-and-across steps of block corners. It was also not the only feature of the wall.

A similar shape had been hewn out of the wall itself to the right of the grid. Beneath the recessed octagon stood a marble pedestal with a large basin. In this basin were puzzle pieces of various shapes and sizes, all resembling strings of blocks placed together. Two faces of each piece were painted in black and silver. These, the D'ni reasoned, were to be placed into the octagon to form a picture.

To the right of that puzzle was a third. More black and silver blocks rested within yet another octagon. With this one, however, one piece was missing. A moment's investigation revealed that the blocks slid, somehow capable of remaining in place even when the empty space was directly beneath them. This was probably a slide puzzle.

"What's all this?" Raven inquired as he reached his friend.

"Three puzzles," explained Atrus, "sharing a common theme of sorts. Each is arranged in an octagon of similar size, and each involves pieces of black and silver design. This is a sliding block puzzle, and the one in the center is like a jigsaw puzzle, just a bit more difficult. I'm not certain what the one on the left is."

Raven leaned in close to the left-hand octagon and ran his gaze over it. At this distance he could see the seams between each block. Perhaps if he removed one...

As the Amberite's fingertips brushed a block, the pattern of black and silver on it slithered into a new form. The blocks above, below and to either side likewise changed. "Oops."

The mistake provided Atrus with a clue to the puzzle's nature, however. "I understand, I believe. You must change the patterns on the blocks in such a manner as to form a picture."

"But what picture?" asked Raven. "We've got three puzzles in front of us and no idea how to... Wait a minute, what's this?" Above the puzzle, at the edge of the light from his candle, was a design of eight symbols, each a circle of black, silver or both. "Black crescents on silver, silver crescents on black, half of each, whole of each... I know what this is. It's the phases of the moon."

"And above the center, and the one on the right as well," Atrus said as he took note of the similar patterns. "Our solutions."

"I'll take the design-flipping. You tackle the slide puzzle. Then we can turn on the jigsaw puzzle." The Amberite turned his full attention to the wall, his lips set in a grim line of fierce concentration. He began to touch blocks, feeling out the patterns that lay on them.

Atrus finished his task well before Raven. The slide puzzle was without doubt the most simple of the three. While his companion continued his work with the design-flipping, the D'ni added the puzzles to his journal.

A few minutes later Raven stepped back from his task and nodded in satisfaction. "Got it. You ready to play with blocks?"

"Of course," replied Atrus. They sorted through the piece basin and examined their options. Each piece could be placed eight ways, four different alignments of each side. Were the pieces all of similar shape or size their task would have been less arduous. But, Raven thought to himself, that would be far too easy.

After several minutes of debate over the merits of various starting pieces, Atrus chose one and touched it to the niche in the wall. The piece attached itself with a miffled click. The D'ni's satisfaction was short-lived; a hidden panel in the rock above the puzzle slid aside and an hourglass extended on a brass rod. The rod rotated and the sand began to trickle down into the other chamber of the glass. "Now this is overdoing it, Mom," Raven complained with a look back at the marble statue of his mother. Then he began plucking pieces out of the basin and attaching them to the wall in earnest.

Ten minutes passed. A segment of the upper half took shape, but several other pieces refused to cooperate. Twenty minutes. Atrus was sweating profusely; if the glass ran out, there was no telling what might happen to them. The trap in the western stairs had been quite lethal. Half an hour. Raven ripped the completed portion of the puzzle out of the wall in disgust.

Forty minutes. Careful but urgent reexamination of the pieces showed the men that the portion they had completed before was not only in the wrong place, but also reversed. Fifty minutes. Building on that success they quickly filled in most of the remaining empty space. Fifty-five minutes. Only a few pieces remained. They would make it with time to spare.

Rather, they would have had the sand of the hourglass not begun flowing much more quickly.

Atrus was forced to admit, later on, that at that point he could think of no better solution than the one Raven took, randomly shoving pieces into the gap in the puzzle. Serendipity was with them once more; the Amberite's mad scramble put the final piece in place mere seconds before the sands ran out. The hourglass turned over once more and retreated into the wall.

Atrus mopped his forehead and smiled. Raven tried to ignore the dryness of his mouth and offered a weak grin in return. "That was way too close. Let's not do that again, huh?" he quipped.

A sudden dazzling rainbow shimmered across the wall. It came again, spinning from ceiling to floor, then reappeared once more at an oblique angle. Atrus turned and started. The light was being thrown off by the Orb itself as it lifted into the air above the statue and flared to brilliant life.

The sphere hovered in midair for a long moment, painting the chamber in streaks of radiance. Then it floated toward the men, guided by an unseen hand, its luminescence fading slightly. "We did it," said Raven. "Let's take it and get out of here." The Amberite reached out his hands to take the sphere, feeling a warmth flow up from his palms. The Orb tingled to the touch like electricity contained within a spherical shape.

Reality tilted in several impossible directions at once, then resettled. Instead of the shadows of the chamber, they were surrounded by the jewel-strewn velvet of night. Waves lapped gently at the shore where they stood at the base of the cliff. Light from the Orb twinkled in the sand and danced in the surf. A raft waited to carry them to the patiently-waiting white winged boat.

As the boat turned south and began gliding back toward the island, Raven realized that he had no idea what time it was. Atrus dozed on the foredeck, leaning on his pack. It seemed like as good an idea as any. Sliding down against the deckhouse, he let himself drift off, the Orb cradled in his lap.

Atrus woke first, stirred by the change in the boat's motion as it slowed near the island. The veils of mist shimmered in the light of dawn. "We're back," he said. The Amberite stirred instantly and clambered to his feet, searching for a sign of Sila. No one waited on the beach, but a raft did drift out to meet them. Carrying the Orb and pack they stepped onto the lashed logs and approached the shore. "All things considered I would say we acquitted ourselves rather well."

Raven patted the Orb and grinned. "That we did, my friend. Once we've handed this over to the Council, I'm going to have a little chat with my mother about that statue."

"I am probably almost as curious as you," said the D'ni. He had thought that his friendship with Raven was the only contact their two cultures had made; surely such a momentous meeting would have been recorded. But the presence of the statue of Llewella within a complex bearing marks of the D'ni made it almost certain that there had been prior exchanges between D'ni and Amber. Had the records of that meeting been destroyed, or had there been no record made? Without knowing more about Amber and the princess Llewella he could not do more than ask questions. Hopefully Raven would be able to get some answers. This was more than a curiosity; this held historical import for the D'ni as a people.

Birds serenaded their triumphant return to the village, calling out their joy through the mists. As the two men emerged from the forest they were spotted by a gleefully shouting Misaran girl, and soon they were surrounded by the entire population of the hamlet, pressing together to get a look at the legendary Orb of Geda. Dumo's voice roce above the din of the throng, bringing them to silence. The crowd parted for the Councilman's approach. "The Seeker returns with the Orb, Council Dumo," intoned Atrus.

"The people welcome the Seeker," Dumo replied. "This is the Orb of Geda?"

"It is." Raven held it up over his head. A shimmer lit the fog momentarily. "Pretty, isn't it," he said to the gasping Misarans. Sila was still nowhere to be seen.

Dumo held his hand out for the Orb, and the Amberite gladly transferred his burden to the councilman. Now that the sphere was in the Council's hands, Raven could get down to questioning his mother. "I guess that's pretty much it. Um... thank you for your hospitality. I'm glad I could help. I need to be going now."

The councilman was taken aback. "Surely you will stay and attend the ceremony?"

The Amberite's icy eyes sought Atrus'. The D'ni's expression told him Atrus thought it would be a good thing if he were to wait. Raven gave it a moment's thought, then decided that he could question his mother by Trump. "Of course."

"Good, good, Sila will be pleased. Come, you must be tired after your journey. Rest, and then we will talk." Dumo handed the Orb to Jeti with instructions to place the sphere in the tavern hall, then led the Seekers back to his dwelling. The were greeted with warm enthusiasm by Mefe, then bundled off to bed. Neither man argued, and both were asleep within minutes of lying down after a good wash.

Atrus awoke shortly after noon. He was tempted to lie idle; surely he had earned that much. But his inner drive forced him out of the bed and into his clothing. Carrying his journal so that he could show his hosts what he had seen, he left the room. Mefe and Dumo, him without his headdress for the time being, sat quietly on the porch of their home, sipping tea. "Did you sleep well, Atrus?" asked the woman. Dumo indicated an empty chair for Atrus to occupy

The D'ni nodded as he sat in the proffered chair. "I slept very well knowing we succeeded. With the Orb back in your possession, you can now perform the millennial ritual. That's something I most certainly wouldn't want to miss."

"It is good that Raven has taken a liking to Sila," Mefe said over her carved wooden mug. "The time has come for Sila to find a husband. As was written in the holy texts, her time has come just as the Seeker appeared. Marrying the Seeker would bring her great honor, as well as landing her a fine catch."

The mental image of his Amberite friend's reaction to learning Sila's purpose made Atrus cough to master a laugh. Raven was definitely not the marrying type. Though chronologically much older than Atrus, the Amberite was still a young man and had a young man's passions. Settling down in an Age, or Shadow as Raven would say, was not one of those passions. "He will be... quite surprised," Atrus said to fill the silence.

"She danced the Dance of Life for him," said Dumo sagely. "If he has any sense, and I believe he does, he will see the honor she has shown him. I have faith that he will do the right thing."

The right thing according to whom was the only question. Atrus would never say that Raven was a bad man by any stretch, but his Amberite view of the universe sometimes made him do things that others didn't agree with, or did things for reasons even Atrus couldn't fathom. Despite the ever-growing time he had known the Amberite man, Raven still managed to surprise and astound Atrus quite regularly.

That unpredictability would make this upcoming situation quite interesting indeed, Atrus thought.

In the companionable silence that followed Dumo's proclamation the D'ni found himself once again comparing Llewella to Catherine. What Raven had said about his mother made them sound rather similar. If Sirrus and Achenar had not... Would they have turned out like Raven? The line of thinking was pointless, but Atrus pondered it anyway. He had time to be idle, to think useless thoughts, to brood if he wished. He so rarely let himself brood. He had too much too do, too many depending on him to be strong and stalwart. Atrus enjoyed being someone on whom others could depend, but every so very often there came a time when he began to feel spread thin. It was in those moments when his friendship with Raven had proven most valuable. Something about the Amberite revitalized Atrus' spirit and zeal for life, love and knowledge. Now they had one more successful mutual quest to remember. How many more would there be?

That thought brought a beaming smile to the D'ni explorer's fatherly face.

"Something pleases you?" Mefe asked him, catching his infectious grin.

"I was just thinking about my wife, and how much I love her. I'd like to bring her here, to Misara."

"We would be honored to meet the wife of the Seeker," Domu said, and despite the formality Atrus could feel the sincerity in the councilman's words. "She has a place with us as surely as you."

Inside, Raven awoke from another dream of Sila and glared at the ceiling as if it were to blame for ending the lovely vision. After verbally venting his frustration he rolled out of the bed and stepped across Shadow for fresh clothing, dressed and returned. His first thought was to look for Sila, but when he caught sight of his Trumps he knew there were more important matters that needed his attention. Raven quickly pulled out his mother's card and focused on the image.

In a very short time -- as if she had been expecting the call, a part of his mind whispered -- the image began to move. "You needn't shout so loudly, Raven," Llewella said teasingly.

"I'm sorry, this is... important. You know something you haven't told me."

"I know many things I haven't told you, my son, and many more I will never tell you. Just as I know you know things you will never tell me. What is it that you suspect I know?"

For all her pretension to neutrality, Raven thought darkly, she was still a princess of Amber in her blood. "My little jaunt with Atrus has brought me to a Shadow by the name of Misara." His mother's face remained completely passive. "We helped out the local people by retrieving an artifact called the Orb of Geda." Still no reaction. "This Orb was held in a massive tower on top of a cliff. The builder of the tower had knowledge of D'ni culture." Llewella blinked naturally, nothing more. "The builder also knew some of the culture of Earth's ancient China." The green-haired princess still didn't budge. "And the Orb was held by a statue. A statue of you, Mother."

This time Llewella did flinch. "I had forgotten I disposed of that abominable thing in that tower. Ah, well. You were bound to find this out anyway, what with all your galavanting through Shadow with that D'ni friend of yours.

"Many years before you were born, I too had contact with the D'ni. Once I learned of their ability to create those Trump-like Books of theirs I befriended one of the members of the Writer's Guild and was able to convince him to teach me -- in secret, of course. That Shadow you're in, that Age as the D'ni would call it, Misara, was the result of my experiment. I Wrote the Book of Misara and found that I had no taste for world building.

"I kept the Book with me for a long time, but never bothered to check on the results of my work until one particular day when the book fell off a shelf and landed before me on a desk. I found that somewhere, I had made a tiny miscalculation; not even a mistake, really, I had just used a less appropriate term than I could have. But over the intervening years the... weak spot... slowly compounded into a fault. By now I'm certain you've heard of the great sickness." Raven nodded silently, and his mother continued. "Unlike some people we both know -- I shan't name names -- I take responsibility for my actions. I had to fix the flaw in Misara. After some thinking and research I was able to create a fix that didn't involve altering the Book itself, and I came up with a strategy that would leave me where I have always prefered to be: out of the limelight.

"I was able to plant a dream into the mind of the sick chief, Geda, and begin my plan. The poor sick man wasn't actually dead when he reached the top of that cliff, which he did mostly with my assistance as it was. But he was very ill, and in a primitive culture like that he was as good as dead. I healed him and left him the Orb that I had constructed to fix the flaw. Then I observed. I was quite surprised when Geda, of his own volition, had the Orb put into hiding and convinced his people to simply trust in its existance. Still, I couldn't leave such an object lying around loose after it had served its purpose, and I had no idea when I might need it again. So I created that tower and put the Orb into it. All that remained was to give the Misarans a bit of a nudge so that they would look for it every so often, to perform routine maintenance on the Shadow without my direct intervention, and that I solved with the ritual."

Llewella fell silent. Raven let her words tumble about in his mind, then asked, "How did you create the Orb?"

"That is one of the things I cannot tell you, as well as the secret of the tower's isolation from the Pattern and the Trumps, as I'm certain you noticed. I will tell you this -- the tower also denies the Logrus, sorcery and many other types of power besides. But this nullification cannot be extended beyond that one location and it has no other function. Were it not for that restriction I would never have made use of the power. Such a terrible thing would turn all of Shadow upside down."

He agreed with his mother completely on that. The ability to nullify the two primal forces of existance and any number of lesser powers... He suppressed a shudder. "And the puzzles involving ancient Chinese culture?"

"I have been to Earth. I thought the philosophies and dress of that particular culture were quite beautiful, so I worked a bit of it into the tower."

Well, there it was, everything he wanted to know -- almost -- given directly to him. "Thanks for being honest with me."

Llewella gave him a warm smile. "Because you are my son, you do have a few special priviliges."

"I'll be home soon," Raven promised.

"I await your arrival," replied Llewella. In Rebma, the reflection of Amber deep under the waves, the green-haired princess broke the psychic contact and set her son's card down on the mahogany desk in front of her. She probably would be waiting longer than her son anticipated, because there was one thing she had not told him. After all, he hadn't asked. The control she had put into place to keep tabs on the Seeker after the completion of his quest was most likely about to come into play...

In Misara, Raven put his mother's Trump back into the case with the rest of the pack and stretched. It was time to find Sila.

Atrus, Dumo and Mefe awaited him on the porch. The Misarans shared a secret smile Raven couldn't dechiper; he guessed that they knew what his intentions were now that he was awake. "Did you sleep well, Raven?" asked Atrus.

"Wonderfully. I'll have to get a new bed like that one, once I return to Rebma. Has anyone seen Sila?"

"I believe she is in her home," Dumo told him. The councilman lifted a hand and pointed at a house across the common ground. "There. You should visit her."

"I think I'll do just that. If I may take my leave," said Raven. He gave them all his most elegant courtly bow and made his way down the steps and across the common ground toward Sila's house.

"Why, I believe he has no idea what's happening," Mefe said with feigned shock.

Her husband sipped his tea and said nothing.

Catherine will find this all terribly, terribly amusing, thought Atrus. He lifted his journal and began to write.



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AUTHOR'S NOTES:

Some of the readers of this story might not be aware of its nature as a crossover. The prime elements of this tale are Roger Zelazny's "Chronicles of Amber" and Rand and Robyn Miller's "Myst" universe.

Those aren't the only elements, however. The Labyrinth is drawn from one of my favorite puzzle adventures of all time, "The Labyrinth of Time", created by Terra Nova and released by Electronic Arts in 1993, almost at the same time as Myst. Some of the inspiration for the "Chinese floor" of the tower was drawn from "Qin: Tomb of the Middle Kingdom", another of my favotire puzzle adventures. Most importantly, the outline and title for this story were drawn from the track listing of Andreas Vollenweider's CD "White Winds (Seeker's Journey)".

Special thanks go out to: all my friends on #Fanfics, currently on SorceryNet (server: irc.sorcery.net); Ti'ana Katarina, a fellow contributer to the Myst/Riven section of fanfiction.net, whose fanfiction inspired me to begin this story and whose reviews made me blush; and Dianna Silver, without whose unflagging support and encouragement I would never have been able to keep this as the epic five-night project or wonder it has been rather than a year-long chore.

Legal stuff: Myst, Atrus and the D'ni belong to Cyan. All Amberites mentioned except Raven belong to Roger Zelazny. The Labyrinth and the fictional depictions of Minos and Daedalus (not the legendary/historical figures) belong to Terra Nova / EA and were adapted by me without their permission. This is a work of fanfiction and draws no profit. Raven and Misara are my own creations.

Begun: 1/11/01, late evening
Finished: 1/16/01, early morning