"No coffee, thank you. I brought you a present."
Atrus sat down at the table and placed a small book on the table. Jordan and Rachel looked at each other, then at him.
"A link to my new garden age," continued Atrus. "It's not much of a thank-you, I know, but -"
"Don't be ridiculous, Atrus," interrupted Rachel, "you don't need to thank us at all."
"Of course I do." Atrus waved their complaints away easily. "This will help you come and visit us, and us come and visit you, and so on. I've even managed to give it a name."
Atrus, Jordan, Rachel, Maddy and Brittany linked into a spacious circular plaza. Scattered around the edge of the plaza were several pedestals, each bearing a book. Beyond the plaza, the sky was a beautiful deep purple colour, and the landscape had a very autumnal feel about it. The trees were covered in colourful leaves, and piles of fallen leaves lay all over the age. Seats were scattered over the age, and worn stone paths linked the edges of the small valley to the central plaza.
"So, Atrus," said Rachel, "what's it called?"
"This, my friend, is Eder B'lontahv."
"'Sleep of discovery'," replied Brittany. She paused. "I can't believe I know that."
Atrus smiled. "The best ideas come to you in dreams, so Catherine says. Anyway, this is as much your age as mine. Feel free to use it for relaxing as well as travel – there are books here for more or less everywhere you'll need to go." He pointed at the nearest pedestal, which bore a small engraving of a jagged cleft. "That's for the volcano. That," he pointed at one with a circular symbol, "is for Tomahna. And that one," he pointed at one with a tall spire, "is for Releeshahn. The others are all for the D'ni cavern so you probably won't want to be bothered with those."
"It's beautiful, Atrus. It really is." Rachel paused. "I don't mean to... ruin the mood by bringing up such a sensitive subject, but... what about Myst?"
Atrus sighed. "Consider it yours." He waved down four simultaneous protests. "I don't want it. Catherine doesn't want it. Between us we've decided that if we never set foot on that island again, it'll be too soon. Consider it, and the four ages it links to, yours. It's the least I can do. I insist."
Rachel turned away and looked out over the valley of Eder B'lontahv. There was no denying, this was a beautiful age – one of the most beautiful she had ever visited. But so was Myst – she remembered the beauty of the island, how it had staggered her over a decade ago when they had found the book that would change their lives forever.
"Thank you, Atrus." She turned back and smiled. "I promise it's in safe hands."
Energy powers future motion. The machines on Voltaic whirred with an unfaltering, continuous sound. As long as they were fed energy, they would move. But they were prone to problems, and as soon as the energy died, they would fall silent once again.
Nature encourages mutual dependence. The plants and animals on Edanna silently supported each other. The unchaotic environment of nature caused them to support and depend on each other. But now they were perhaps too dependent, and the smallest of changes could cause disaster.
Dynamic forces spur change. The tracks, rails and iceballs of Amateria brought times of calm and times of chaos. The environment changed over time to adapt to these. But the mechanical regularity of this was cold, and there would seldom be a time of no change.
Balanced systems stimulate civilizations. The energy, nature and dynamic force of Narayan came together to produce a thriving civilization that had grown to adapt to the imperfections of its world. When the systems were disrupted, the civilization was disrupted. But when the systems were restabalised, the civilization would flourish once again.
Saavedro sat watching the Narayan sunset that he had missed second most during his twenty-year exile on J'nanin. Next to him sat what he had missed most – Tamra and their two daughters.
This was right, he was convinced. There was no part of him that said anything was unresolved. His people, his family, were alive, despite what he had believed for the last twenty years. He had been reunited with them, and Atrus had been reunited with his precious book and his precious people.
In retrospect, Saavedro thought, to destroy Releeshahn in revenge would have been a terrible thing to do. But when your mind is clouded by the fog of insanity, you don't think about that.
Never mind. He was home.
And that was all that mattered.
And so concludes this chapter in the lives of the Strangers in Paradise. Thank you very much once again to my followers and reviewers. Catch the next story very soon indeed - Strangers in Paradise: To Whom It May Concern.