A/N: I have a horrendous update schedule. I'm pretty much a horrible person like that.
"Your son is none too subtle, Atrus," I remarked as I glanced out the window to watch Sirrus Link away, Book dropping to the balcony floor.
"He thinks he's fooling us," chuckled Atrus from his workbench, "But I do not wish to shatter that illusion. He may have his fun, sneaking out to meet his female friend."
"'Female friend'? I might still not know much of D'ni culture, but when a guy sneaks out almost every day for two years to meet a girl, it's more than friendship. If it were not, there would be no sneaking."
Atrus was quiet a moment, tapping his pen against his journal.
"It just seems . . . so strange . . ." he murmured, "My boys are no longer my boys . . . they are adults now, with their own lives, independent of me . . . Achenar lives on Haven and Sirrus stays away longer and longer . . ."
He closed his eyes.
"It was only yesterday, it seems, when they were in short pants, running and playing on Myst Island, having to scold them for tracking mud into the house, reading them stories, watching them sleep, worrying . . . and I wonder if I did right by them."
I was silent for a while before replying, "I think you did, Atrus. I think you did. They're strong, independent, responsible young men."
"I am proud . . . very proud . . ."
He stood and turned away, attempting to regain control. When he had sufficient reign on his emotions, he turned back to me.
"I am proud of you as well. You mean as much to me as Sirrus and Achenar. You are my daughter, Cecilia. I hope I've done right by you as well."
He embraced me. I wrapped my arms around him, trying to recount my own father's face. But the word "Father" in my mind only brought Atrus; memories of coffee-filled mornings and midnight-oil burnings, missed meals and last minute desert hikes, fashion disasters and singed hair, ages and Ages of memories.
" . . . You have, Atrus. . . Father. You have."
I pulled away enough to look at him.
"But why so pensive today? Usually I can't get a word out of you that isn't technical," I teased.
"I suppose I'm getting sentimental in my old age," he laughed, moving to lean against his desk, "But I can't help but feel that a huge change is on the horizon."
Atrus was silent, grin slipping from his face. He wandered over to the crystal viewer, where the now familiar burgundy book lay.
"Perhaps . . . I am so close to . . . to seeing the Age. I do not know what I will do afterwards, however. What can I do? Hope that my father redeemed himself? There is such a small chance that it seems unnecessary to continue."
"You'll still try."
"I know I will," Atrus sighed, "I suppose it is one of my faults. Even though I know he performed such horrid acts in his life, I cannot help but hope that I can bring him back."
The clank and groan of the elevator caught our attention. We could only watch, mute with surprise and horror, as a burned and bloody Sirrus stumbled out of the elevator and into Atrus' arms.
"Sirrus," Atrus managed to choke out, easing him into a chair "What . . . what happened?"
"Narayan is burning, Father," he hoarsely whispered, "Narayan is burning and it's all my fault."
"Whatever happened Sirrus, it isn't your fault," I soothed, gently taking his cut hands.
"It is," he stated vehemently, "I showed them the Books, I showed them how the Art works. They wanted a world where they wouldn't have to work so hard to live. They dragged me before the Elders and when the Elders and I wouldn't cooperate, they . . ."
"That was not wise, to show them the Books. However, you did not know what these people could have been planning. I am proud that you refused them. We must do what we can to help now. Did you find Saavedro anywhere?"
"He is the one who forced me to leave," Sirrus said, gathering his strength. "He is helping to fight. I do not think the Youths - for that is what they call themselves - will win, but there will be heavy casualties on both sides if we do not act now."
Atrus nodded, though obviously wary of conflict.
"People are dying, Father! If we do not assist now, Narayan could fall apart! The balance will be gone and the Age will die."
Atrus considered this a moment, mulling over the pros and cons of involvement. After a time, he places his hands on Sirrus' shoulders.
"My son, you must do what you can to calm the sides. You have an excellent way with words and people. I trust you can, with luck, call a truce until I can arrive with Achenar."
"Yes Father," he said determinedly. I glanced at Atrus as though he had lost his mind, but he didn't seem to notice.
"Cecilia," Sirrus , you must stay here with Catherine and help her gather medical supplies. I would guess that they will be short of such things on Narayan."
I opened my mouth to protest, but, realizing that I couldn't do any good on Narayan, I merely nodded.
As soon as my feet touched the platform, I could feel the smoke fill my lungs and nose, the acrid smell making me choke and my eyes water. The trees burned and the creaking, swaying branches above made me nervous. The fighting had died down, but it left corpses in its wake, strewn about like rag dolls on the platforms. I had seen death before, but only as the elderly peacefully moved on. This was foreign to me and it made me tremble. I couldn't look at them as Catherine and I made our way to the makeshift hospital, arms laden with medical supplies.
We were directed by a small boy to the temporary hospital. There were so many wounded I could barely think to count. Rows and rows of cots covered the floor of the large hall, the space in between thick with people crying out for their loved ones or helping the survivors with their injuries. I barely registered when an older woman took the box of supplies from my hands and handed it off to someone else.
"Where are my sons and my husband?" I heard Catherine ask the woman.
"Atrus and Achenar are with Saavedro attempting to put out the fires on the upper layers. Sirrus hasn't been seen since his meeting with the Elders and the Youths."
"I see," murmured Catherine, worry lacing her voice. The woman took her hand sympathetically.
"I know it's hard to wait, but we must focus on who we can help. I know . . . I haven't seen my brother since the fighting broke out."
Catherine nodded, "You are right. Tell me, what can we do here? Cecilia? Are you all right? You look as though you are going to faint."
She eased me into a chair as the woman brought me a glass of water.
"Thank you," I said, sipping it. "I suppose I'm not very good with blood and death like this."
"I don't blame you," said the woman, "This is not something we are used to either. We are doing all we can, but sometimes even that fails."
She looked at the dozens of people lying across the room, trailing off into memories of pain. After a time, she spoke again.
"You can't save everyone, no matter how hard you try. Every moment someone slips away, one more soul finding peace in another world to join the ancestors. The inevitable end to all life."
"Is there ever any hope after all this?"
"There is always hope," she said, gesturing to the doorway. Sirrus was standing there, arms wrapped around Cora, trying to sooth her and turn her away from the death and pain. Both injured, both pained, yet comforted, merely happy that the other is alive.
"With each generation," the woman said, "there is hope."
She turned away and disappeared into the growing crowd. People were running about shouting for loved ones, crying over those dead or missing. I felt myself get up to help them find their family. I heard my voice shout out names and guide others around the room, but it was as if I was in a dream - or a nightmare - looking down on myself, doing these things.
Time passed, the crowd thinned, the dead were sent away, songs sung out into the warm night air. I wandered outside at sat on the edge, feet dangling over the abyss below, still in a daze from the sheer tragedy of it all.
It's funny what death reminds you of. It forces everything into perspective. The trivial things fall away and you're left with a real sense of what's important. For fourteen years, I was searching for that. When I was younger, I used to sit outside the library on Myst and hope that it was all a dream, that I would wake up and go back to my normal, boring high school life. I was angry for a long time, though I never showed it to Atrus and as long as I was busy, I never remembered how much I hated it all.
I can hardly remember that feeling anymore. I've become used to this world, this life that I have now. I couldn't go back, I don't think. I'm well educated, yes, but I also never graduated high school. I can drive a tram and a boat, but a car would defeat me. We don't even have a monetary system here, as we barter for everything we need. I'm used to hard labor and cooked meals, busy markets and Writing.
Writing. The Art. That in itself is a reason to stay. Flowing words across a page and linking to new and old places, seeing sights that I never could have dreamed of before. Nothing on any Age could replace that. Not even on Earth.
I couldn't think about anything anymore. I started crying and found myself unable to stop. All I could think of was why. Why did this happen to me? To us? To everyone?
I felt strong arms pick me up gently, holding me close. I clung to the coat that I had so violently protesting the wearing of a day earlier, inhaling the smell of smoke and ink.
"Why, Dad?" I choked out through my sobs. "Why?"
"Sometimes, there are questions that no one can ever know the answer to. The universe works in mysterious ways. Sometimes, you have to believe that it all amounts to something better."
"Was there any purpose to me being here?"
"Cecilia . . . I honestly believe the world would be a much darker place without you in it."
Exhaustion overtook me then, but I could not tell which was the greater nightmare.