The story of Myst, and all related characters and concepts, are copyright Cyan Worlds, Inc. This third party work is an unauthorised work of fanfiction, and is in no way sanctioned by or affiliated with Cyan Worlds, Inc. The work is shared with other fans at no cost, and no profit is being made from it.

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Strange Times

Interlude 1

The sun shone brightly through the trees above the little cabin. Summer was fastening its grip now, the temperatures were becoming more pleasant. Compared to the blizzards of winter, this was much to be preferred, in his opinion. The sun was already high in the sky. He had overslept. No matter. Today was not a busy day. The pelts were all pressed and ready, the traps were packed away and the animals had plenty of food available. Nothing major still needed to be done before the journey tomorrow.

He remained on his cot for a while longer, gazing out his little window, which he had apparently forgotten to shutter last night. It was nice to relax for a bit, the preparations the last week had been exhausting. He looked around the now bare room that had been his home this past years. All his possessions were packed away now, into the large bags. Couldn't leave anything behind and expect it to still be there when he got back.

He got up, eventually, and looked in on the animals. There was little to be done, they had long since learned how to find their food, but he put some out for them anyway. The mule would have quite a load to carry tomorrow, and it would not do to have them weakened.

Next, he checked on the pelts. The packs were there, just as the night before. A good haul this spring, almost more than he could transport, especially with all his other possessions in tow. Still, the mule had carried worse loads in its day, he would be able to bring them all. Double checking the ropes holding the pressed packs together, he moved back into the cabin.

His simple bedroll would be the last thing packed, he still needed it one more night, but there were other little things still lying around. He packed away his salt and his gunpowder, put his smaller knives into his old knapsack, and his axe as well. He would most likely not need them at hand on the journey. Then there were the letters.

He dug up the small pile of letters that had accumulated over the year, and unfolded the smudged paper which was the latest. His letter writing was growing more infrequent, he could see. Last year's stack has been larger. Nevertheless, there was at least one for each month. Perhaps it was just that he was running out of things to write about. Life in the mountains had taken on a routine of its own.

Putting the finishing touches on the letter, he sealed it crudely with his small candle and put it with the rest of the stack. He would send them with the traders, just as he did every year. He did not know if they reached their destination, no answer had ever come. He wondered what they were doing there, back home. Did they think him dead, if none of the letters had made it? Had they left the farm for richer pastures, so that no one was there to receive them? His father would be getting old, perhaps he had even died by now. Little Thamas would be about full-grown. It seemed strange, somehow, to have a brother he did not know. It was not unusual, he supposed, but even so. A man should know his family.

He placed the letters carefully in the knapsack, trying to find a place that would keep them from crumpling on the way. When he was satisfied, he put the knapsack down by the door, and looked around. What else?

Oh, yes, of course.

Getting on this knees and reaching under the cot, he lifted away the loose floorboard and fished out the oilcloth pack underneath. Settling on the floor, leaning against the cot, he unwrapped the book. It looked the same as ever. Had it really been almost a year since last he held it?

He turned it over in his hands, looking for water damage and finding none. He cracked it open, scanned the alien text on it's pages, as incomprehensible now as on the day he found it. No pages missing, no ink faded. Finally, he opened it to the first page, and looked through the little window between the worlds, at the desk still standing in the darkness in D'ni. Motionless, yet more than a painting, the image was as clear as ever. No change.

He closed the book, and wrapped it in the oilcloth again. As he was putting it into the knapsack, he realised that he had not even contemplated touching the image this time. He looked again around the small room. Was he so comfortable here that all thoughts of adventure had gone? Or was life in the mountains adventure enough? He had not looked at the book since he got back from the last fair. Good Lord above, he had nearly forgotten to bring it now! When had this happened? Disturbed, without fully understanding why, he sat down on the cot and stared out through the tiny window. He didn't move until his stomach protested the lack of food.

***

The next morning, he did not oversleep, despite having laid awake well into the small hours. He got up, hauled the bags and his knapsack outside, and closed the door behind him. There was no real lock, and should a squatter come, it would likely lead to a confrontation when he returned. His name was scratched into the door frame, though, so the ownership was clearly established.

He loaded the pelts and one of the bags on the mule, and then saddled Ammad, named for the horse he once had so wanted, and put the remaining weight on him. All the preparations made, and all his belongings with him, he turned his back on the cabin and started the voyage north.

He had made this journey four times now, and part of it much more frequently. It would take him the better part of two weeks to reach Fort Raymond, but he did not mind the trip. It was shorter and easier than trying to navigate down the river to St Louis, in any case. He rode in silence, keeping a pace that wouldn't exhaust the animals. Through the fabric of his knapsack he could feel the contours of the book, poking him the back. It had grown huge in his mind since last night. Was it to start haunting him again? It had been years since his revelation by the ocean, and he had not questioned his decision since. The world had wonders yet to show, before he needed to look in others.

But what wonders had he seen lately? He had intended to stay in the mountains only a short while, to build up some funds for his further travels. When he built the cabin, he intended it to be a temporary structure. How could four years have gone by so fast? Looking around him, suddenly more aware of his surroundings, he watched the trees and rocks go by, the path you could maybe call a trail winding away. The same path he'd taken last year, and the year before. Even the trip to Fort Raymond had a routine. Where had his restlessness gone? He had gone and settled down without even noticing!

The journey proved to be uneventful, giving him plenty of time to ponder this realisation. He began examining the book again, every night as he made camp. Still he did not try to use it, his hand remained firm in its grip on the cover. It did not wander towards the living image on the page. And somehow, this frightened him more than the impulses to go through ever did.

***

Fort Raymond was not an impressive structure. A simple wooden palisade surrounded five equally simple wooden houses, only a small step up from his own cabin, which leaned against it to save the trouble of building an extra wall. It lay just a stone's throw or two from the river junction, so it was reasonably protected by the water on two sides. Normally, it only housed a few determined traders, but now was the trading season, and trappers from all over the area were swarming in to sell their goods at much too low prices.

As he approached the fort, he passed the several small camps of trappers and traders already arrived. Most of them were Indians, some loners, some trading on behalf of their tribe, but there were a few whites scattered in between, men like himself who had chosen the lonely life in the mountains. He saw a couple he recognised, there was young Bill Williams, who'd never last long in this life, and Stinky Sam, who took the unwashed lifestyle of the mountain men a bit too far, but for the most part, they were strangers. None of them looked too friendly. Gatherings like these tended to bring out the worst in people. A group of nature's loners, trying to share the same little patch for several days, there was bound to be friction.

He rode into the fort, receiving curt nods of greeting as he passed other trappers, and giving equally short gestures of recognition in return. Finding the nearest representative of the company, he announced himself, and indicated carefully how many pelts he had to sell. He was here early enough that prices were not yet through the floor, but he still needed to try negotiating the best price possible. Fort Raymond traded mainly with the Indians, so the exchange would be mainly in goods rather than money. There were several things he needed replenished, both salt and gunpowder, two necessities of life, were running lower than he liked. He could also do with some thread and fabrics, his clothes could use a bit of repair.

Having made his introductions and intentions to sell known, he left the trader on amicable terms. They would finish the haggling the next day, and then he would be done. There might be other goods he'd want to trade for, some of the Indians often brought trinkets and tools to the fort to sell to other trappers, but he'd hopefully only need to stay the one night. He was one of nature's loners, too.

***

He'd made camp at the edge of the temporary town that had sprung up around the fort. He hoped to be relatively undisturbed there. As long as hostile tribes in the area didn't attack, he should be fine. There was some revelry going on closer to the fort, men getting drunker than was wise, celebrating their sudden influx of riches. Just as well, thieves in the night would target the drunkards first. He'd be left alone.

Stirring his tiny fire with a twig, his thoughts turned back to the subject that had haunted him the whole way here. Was this the life he wanted? Spending every waking moment trapping beaver, so he could sell it to the crude and uncouth drunkards that would be his only company? Sour, unpleasant and hard men. He felt so unlike them, but had to wonder if that was what they saw when they looked at him.

Four years. The idea had been to get a bit of money and then move on, but somehow, there was always a need for a bit more. Supplies always needed replenishing, the animals always needed care, the cabin always needed upkeep. The disgust made his lips curl; he'd gotten downright domestic! This was what he had left home to escape!

He threw the twig onto the fire, but both twig and fire were too small to give the action the gravitas he was looking for. Disappointed, he leaned back, put his head on his knapsack, and looked up at the stars. They were shining down, clear as ever. In the cold air, with the sounds of the forest ahead of him and the sounds of drunken singing behind, it seemed hard to believe that they were the same stars he had once stared up at from the desert. The stars that had welcomed him home, after his long absence. But not the stars he had journeyed through. Not the stars which has twinkled at him as he fell impossible distances between the worlds. These stars were at the same time both more familiar, and more unknown. He could look, but he could not touch, whereas the warm void he once had touch, he could never again see.

The sound of the singing faded away. He lost himself among those stars above, jumping from one twinkling point of light to the next, daring to imagine the wonders they held, the worlds turning around them, and visiting each in turn, riding on the tails of the shooting stars.

***

When he woke the next morning, he was relieved to find that nothing had been stolen during the night. No matter how many precautions, one could never be sure. Judging by the outraged shouts and sounds of commotion coming from the other side of the fort, not everyone had been so lucky.

He packed his things, and then made a quick tour of the camps to make sure there was nothing for sale he deeply needed. Then he rode into the fort to find the trader from the day before. He sold his hides, his mule, his horse and most of his belongings, taking only the bare necessities in return from the bemused trader. The rest of the value he demanded in money, and though the trader was obviously not happy to part with it, he got a heft pouch for the road. Then he left, with only the knapsack on his back, the book pressing comfortably against him, and the pouch of money in his pocket, and headed for the unknown west.