Did he ever sleep?

Or perhaps D'ni have no need of rest, and the beds I had seen swathed in luxury had been for his sons' use: affectation or a sign of their mixed blood.

No, the weariness in his face, his voice when he spoke to me yesterday was that of a man driven by desperation past despair, raw necessity. It was still there today, suffusing the room like an unseen shadow muffling the warm glow of the firemarble lanterns suspended from the ceiling.

Thus I found him sitting at his desk, bent over his books, as he must have been all the time I had wandered unknowing on MYST Island and his other Ages, and perhaps for weeks or months before. But now his pen was slipping from his hand, his left hand lying limp on the desk. His eyes were open, but his head drooping, the human glasses he sometimes wore sliding down his nose.

"Atrus?"

He started and focussed pale eyes on me, speaking with that brief flash of anger that was almost incomprehensible in so quiet a man. "Can't you see I'm writing?"

"No." I smiled and walked closer, balancing the wooden tray on my right hip with a certain air of triumph. It had not been easy to keep it level while punching the combination into the fireplace and riding it around to the secret book.

His shoulders sagged. "No," he conceded gruffly, looking down at his work cut off in mid-symbol. It was some sort of book like the other Ages, but it seemed to me that he had filled more pages in this one than any two of the others put together. A large world? Or merely one that needed more of those strange mesmorizing signs to describe?

"Forgive me," he amended, expression softening again. "I have no time, and my writing cannot wait..."

I set the tray on the left side of his desk. It held a pitcher, two cups, a bowl of different sorts of fruit, utensils, and some strips of fish I'd roasted over the steam vents on Selenitic. "A 'catastrophic impact," you said." The trickle of water echoed in the wide round hall as I poured up a glass for him. "I remember. But if this is technical work, you need your mind sharp. That means food, unless D'ni have managed to write that out of the rulebook for themselves."

He winced and accepted the reproach, exchanging pen for a rounded red fruit roughly akin to a plum.

"You're not quite human, are you?" I asked, pouring up another drink for myself.

Those pale eyes with the narrow pupils regarded me measuringly for a moment before he replied. "No. My mother and grandmother were human. But I am D'ni."

"And Catherine?" I asked very gently.

His face tightened and he bit down almost savagely on the not-plum. "Not quite," he answered after a moment's heavy silence. "We found each other... on another Age."

I read a sinking guilt in his eyes behind the strained, simple words. "And now she is in there," I said, gaze dropping to the large tome. I took a sip of water, thoughtful. "We'll find her again."

The stab of gratitude in his eyes was like the fire of revelation itself. "Thank you, my friend," he replied tightly. "But it is not only Catherine. Many lives depend on--" He did not complete the thought aloud, but reached again for his pen.

"Your writing," I guessed, murmuring to myself as he bent again over his work.

The scrape of nib on parchment answered.

Dedication was the fabric of which these people were woven--even in his sons' misguided obsessions, I had recognized the underlying thread. I saw it now, in its better form.

"Don't forget to eat, Atrus." I placed my hand on the Linking Book bac to MYST, and left him to it.