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The smoke swirled lazily upward toward and through the ornate brass girders. There it rebounded hazily off the rough textured ceiling, joining the ever increasing fog of frog smoke that lightly filled the lab room. Gehn watched its motion dazedly. Had it always been like this, he thought in a confused fashion. Had his joys always been thus? It seemed like there ought to be more to life than trying to teach sense to ignorant savages, than seeking his pleasures in a pipe of forgetfulness.

Perhaps it was simply the price being of such a high heritage. Rulers had a duty to their subjects to raise them from their rabble state. He was helping as his family had ever done, reaching out to downtrodden, showing them the way.

A disconnected thought came to him. If he were among Earth’s surface dwellers it would be Christmas tomorrow, he realized. More foolish traditions of superstitious primitives, he supposed. Still.... this thought seemed to haunt him. It is Christmas. The time for the self-sacrificing saviour to come to the world as a helpless, merciful child deity and shine redemptive grace on all who would receive it.

Suddenly he felt angry, even sorry for himself. Such gifts were not for him! All he ever loved...valued had been destroyed. What mercy was there for him? What sacrifice had there EVER been for him? In any case, his people didnt believe in such nonsense! He puffed in a long draught...and choked on the acrid brew in his brass D’ni-an hooka. Soon the room was filled with fresh smoke clouds rolling slowly to the walls, while Gehn lolled lopsidedly in his chair, barely concious.

Tonight it seemed that the more he sought to forget, the more memories crowded upon him, insistent in their demands upon his attention. His vision wavered into the hanging haze. In its cloudy tendrils he seemed to see Gemedet, in all its peaceful glory.He sighed in spite of himself for the green beauty of it, the gracious house built there.... If only he could write Ages like that here and now!

Suddenly he seemed to return there. Vividly he seemed to see its sunshine breaking through the mist. He breathed deeply of its its crisp air, smelt the damp old stones drying in a recent rain....

“It is beautiful ...isnt it, son? I have always thought so.”

He whirled unsteadily and found himself facing his mother. She reached to steady him, but he evaded her proffered hand. She sighed at his rejection. Her shoulders sloping into her gracious D’ni robes. But curious old sense of pleasure he had once taken in thwarting her seemed to be lacking. Instead he felt...sorry? It struck him that she looked no older than he was now. Kind choices had etched her face into a strange, gentle beauty, even as the years had marked his habitual expressions into his visage. She had worn better, definitely, than he was doing. His mind rambled into wondering about his own choices...and.... for just a moment he doubted himself, but then he shook it off. She had contributed to the fall of the D’ni! His people and his future-that-should-have-been! Her foolish weakness had condemned them all to this! Thinking on the loss hardened his heart against her.

Again she offered her hand. “Walk with me, son. I have some things to show you....in D’ni.”

He started to refuse, then thought better of it. Even if this was only a dream, he would see D’ni! He nodded his acceptance and came to her side, still ignoring the proffered hand. Her steady gaze went to the core of him. Deep sorrow and righteousness indignation met and mixed in equal parts. Her expression wasn’t a surprise, but its burning intensity was. Was it a trick his mind was playing on him? More shaken than he cared to admit, he responded, “Indeed. Well then, Lead on.”

She led the way, her shape forming no shadow on the path to the linking cave. Oh yes, he thought, she would be a ghost. Looking down he realized he was as well. The rock felt solid under his feet, yet he made no impression upon anything. Not a blade of grass moved, no gravel crunched or skittered sideways to mark his passing. He couldnt even determine where his own shadow ought to be. For a moment his heart raced..Had he died?
No, he decided resolutely, it is a pipe dream. Still...such strange details in a dream....

The link was unusually fast, or so it seemed to him. His gaze solidified into the humble abode his clan had once called home.. To his shock, it was restored! How small it seemed! He had expected K’veer.“How?” he sputtered.

“We are in the past, my son. You see shadows of what has been. We are only observers here.”

Silently she slipped from the chamber through the door. After a moments shock, Gehn followed. The doors and walls parted fluidly around him. Such an odd cool feeling, he thought, not like a link at all. One the main floor he paused as he heard a pleasant voice humming. In the simply decorated chamber, he saw a beautiful woman... his mother..as she had been once so long ago. Anna was sewing. As he came nearer he realized she was doing painstaking embroidery. Her hand slipped as she struggled against the heavy fabric and the metal needle jammed deeply into her finger. She cried out in pain but tossed the robe aside quickly, lest her blood spoil the gift. He examined it as it lay sprawled on a nearby chair. It was his guild robe!
A man ran into the room and through him.

“Dearest???”
Looking up, she reassurred him. “I am well.” She tried to smile as she pressured the injured finger with her other hand, trying to stop the bleeding.
“ I heard you yell..”

“ Yes, it was the surprise,” realizing Aitrus was not going to be satisfied she allowed him to see her injury. “You see, it is small enough.”

“ But deep,” he frowned. “I think you may have to stop sewing for a day or so.”

She paled, “There isnt time! His ceremony!”

“ It will swell if you dont stop....”

She lifted her chin and met his concerned face. “Then it will swell. I will not disappoint him. He is depending on us.”

Aitrus considered her words silently. Gehn’s acceptance in these ceremonies would be affected greatly by how well they were able to match the rich robes ordered by council families for their own offspring. Ti’anna’s inspired work was masterful and it was almost done. It could make all the difference to his future, he knew. But her hand! He mentally reckoned the time and cost of having another complete her work in the days remaining and realized his wife was right. There was no time...even if they could be sure of the goodwill of the seamstress.

Reluctantly, he nodded his head. “Do what you must and no more.” He held her hand and kissed her gingerly. She nodded her acceptance and reclaimed the robe. Aitrus stood for a moment watching her guiltily wishing he had the skill to assist. Every time he considered the strength of her love for them, he was humbled afresh.

Realizing he could do nothing more, Aitrus returned to his own preparations for the day. He would do what he could to aid his son, even if it paled in his sight to Ti’anna’s offering. Then he would have to return to his efforts to beg the council to return rights to the common folk. He feared their response if the High Council continued in their distrust of the intelligence and inherent value of those they ruled. It could end D'ni. Aitrus shuddered at the thought...and returned to his writing. For the sake of his son, he would battle on, though the cause seemed hopeless at times. The ruling council continued to anger the citizens of D'ni with their disregard forlong recognized rights. If this continued.......Gehn looked over his shoulder at his Father’s papers, shocked at their content. He stumbled coming back out of the study. Not knowing what else to do, he wandered back into the parlour where his Mother was working.

In spite of himself, Gehn winced as his mother painfully pressed the needle back into the cloth. She bit her lip rather than cry out as the steel bit into the bruised flesh.

From the shadows a voice called him, “come”

Glad to leave his thoughts behind at this moment, he increased his pace to catch up with the robes now whisking around the corner toward the main stairs.

Ahead of him, the shade of his mother slid silently down and out to the city streets.
As he reformed through the door, he felt a sense of exhiliaration. Ahh!!! for the feel of stone pathways!! Civilization!!!

Gehn was truly pleased to see the city as it once was. The bright orange algea flowed in bright streaks or fanned out in celestial dance steps inspired by the passing of the stone boats slipping to and fro. Lights on every shore called out to one another. Voices echoed dimly from the semi-dark distance, and engaged in lively banter on every side as they made their way up the ancient avenues toward the docks nestled lovingly at the lakefront. Again he sneered at his mother. She destroyed them, he thought, and stiffened his back.....

His guide slipped silently aboard a large barge marked as full of supplies for guild use. She promptly walked through the crates and boxes until she faced the forward bow. Hesistantly he did the same. He decided he would never get used to the way everything and everyone flowed through him. How was it that everything could all feel, smell, and sound so real? It must be a dream.... and yet...

Into endless night the boat sailed on. The kindly voice of the captain rose in song, an ancient ballad meant to keep his men in rhythm. The sounds of the slap of their oars in the quickened tea of the lake acted as accompianment.

“For travel/discovery we praise thee
Oh Maker of land and sea
For the wonder of each Age
For the gift of word to page
And daily blessings from thee.....

Gehn was displeased to hear the simple creed of the Captain. It echoed the faith he had diverted to his use in Riven. He had thought his own people immune from such utterings. Ah well, it seemed that even the greatest of peoples had their... fools.

A young guildsman hitching a ride to the islands spoke up in a pause. “Sir? You dont really believe all that do you? My mentor says we make our own destiny...Create our own Ages...”

The Captain’s face grew stormy, his words bitingly sarcastic, as his eyes locked with those of the young Writer. “And who created us, eeehhh? Do you think we sprang from the fissure as fully formed Writers? Do you think we wrote our first home Age?”

Sir, thats not too far from a theory I have heard lectured,” the young man began.respectfully, “He thinks that perhaps the first Ages formed out of the fissure on their own slowly, and then we accessed the Art to design the rest...”

Your teacher is a fool.” The Captain shot back, “Think of it. Ages of intricate design forming THEMSELVES, including writers of the Art... the most complex of all beings formed by ACCIDENT?”

“He says it could happen... especially over a long enough period of time”

“What has time to do with it? Hmmm? Why would millenia change the matter? How many things have appeared on their own in D’ni since our arrival?”

The young man sputtered a protest, beginning to explain the mind-numbing scale of the idea, but the Captain cut him off. “It makes no difference. A few milleinia, a few eons. Why should things change without a Designer into a design?” Then another thought occurred to him. “

Tell me MASTER writer, Do you write.....make... EVERYTHING in the Ages you link to? To their smallest parts?

The honest young man furrowed his brow, “Well no, not actually. But the small designs are inherent in the mathmatical descriptions of the larger picture. They must align, it simply makes sense....”

 

“ Who said it should? Who designed that sense?”

“The cosmos, as a reflection of itself. The rules which bind it together are what we call patterns, and how we comprehend its makeup..”

“So..now either you believe this ‘cosmos” has an intelligent identity or else you are still arguing for intricately made designs without a Maker. So now who has the crazier faith?”

“Sir, granting there is a Maker,” the Captain raised a bushy eyebrow at the premise, “
Who made him?”

“That I do not know. But unlike you, I do not pretend I do know.”
The theorist looked back at him steadily. “It would seem we are at an impasse.”

“Yes, you have your faith.....in the wisdom of nothingness, and I have mine”
The two exchanged glances evenly in complete silence. Finally the Captain’s face eased back into its customary good humor. “Well... you have but entered your twenties after all. In time you will learn wisdom. No one can see the marvels of Ages unmoved.”

The young guildsman considered for a moment and chose to politely accept the senior's goodwill. It would do no good to antagonize the elderly explorer further, as he had clearly made his mind up. Actually, he had made a few good points. Perhaps a few experiments should be tried.... to...clarify...some positions in his mind...

Darnay left the boat frowning to himself. His mind was already planning a long expedition after truth, and wondering if his guild would allow it. It would be important to frame his questions carefully. He couldn't very well say he was going looking for his Maker.....

Gehn stepped off the boat frowning as well. The two arguments turning over and over in his smoke-hazed mind. Ah that was it. The crudeness of the extract had interfered with his processes. An answer was sure to come to him later.

He quickened his step as he realized his mother was headed toward the Writers guild. If there was anything to this vision, there was much useful information to be found inside.

 

Gehn’s long stride soon covered the space between him and the guild. A pity I could not do this in the ruins, he thought morphing through the boards. It would have made searching so much easier! He flew on ahead to the advanced bookroom and headed straight for the Ages in progress. He touched the nearest and attempted to open it, but found he could not. Cursing under his breath, he tried the next. His mother came in and stood by him until he gave up his futile battle to force these tomes to yield their secrets. Finally he settled on reading the few pages that were open.

Ti’anna sighed. Even now all he sought was his own way. Had he learned nothing today? She had always thought that if she had some way to show him the truth, his decisions would be different. This was his last chance. Didnt he realize that?

Gehn took quick notes on the books measurements, construction and content. When he was done he turned to find his mother blocking the door. “We do not have long, my son,” she choked off his angry retort “and I still have someone you should see. Come.”

She flowed ahead with Gehn as her awkward wake through ornate stone hallways and through open D’nian passages until at last they stood outside a small cell room in the another Guildhouse. A soft muffled, sobbing could just barely be heard. Two young D’nians passed them in the hallway with an ugly sneer on their faces. “Sounds like the weak halfling ” one commented to the other in tones loud enough to be heard inside.

“The Inkmaker’s guild is for D’nians of high lineage. How COULD they induct this ahrotah...” he silenced himself as an older guildsman rapidly joined them, indignation plain upon his face.

“Perhaps the question is how could we allow such rude young striplings to remain in the guild?” The two youngsters bowed deeply, apologizing as they did so and begged his leave. Soon two sets of shoes scuttled away from the permission so curtly given, vainly hoping their teacher would forget their identities if the time to review their faces was shortened.

Sehl’eder sighed. It wouldn't do to leave young Gehn with only these words before the great day. He would have no further lectures with his charge until after examinations finished and the confirmation rites were held. His face burned in fury as he considered the competitive cruelty of the youths. He had had trouble like that himself once.
He knocked and announced his impending entrance, then paused to allow young Gehn to collect himself before entering. He permitted himself a small smile as Gehn swept into a sharp, deep bow before him. Always the professional little guildsman, he thought. A pity his handwriting was not as nice as his room!

But what to say now? He longed to hug the lonely little boy, but feared his affection might be misinterpreted. He decided to remain business-like “I came to tell you that your examinations are proceeding well, young one. I am sure you will be a credit to our guild.”

Gehn was awestruck at the compliment. “I will try, Nahvah.” The child wondered what he could do to be ‘a credit’ and suddenly remembered the interest he knew his Father and this teacher shared. “My ink will make many Ages, you will like them! They will all have Volcanoes! “
Sehl’eder chuckled and gave a nodding bow. “I am sure I would enjoy that, as long as they were stable!” He turned to go, but Gehn wasnt quite done.
“Sir?”
“Yes, young one?”
“Am I a D’ni? really?”
Sehl’eder looked blank for a minute, then replied. “You look like a D’ni to me. You are dressed like a D'ni. And you can write, so you must be a D’ni.” He smiled warmly at the brightening youngster. There should be time for a fuller discussion later. He thought highly of Ti’anna, but right now there wasn’t time to go into all this. “I will see you at the ceremonies, young one.”

Young Gehn bowed as his master departed, wondering if his teacher had forgotten his human heritage. If Nahvah HAD forgotten, he wouldn’t remind him that's all. He would be so D’ni-an they would all forget! Gehn hauled out his child’s journal and wrote down his new notes on what was D’ni-an and what was not. “D’ni-ans can write, ahrotahns cannot” appeared in his childish scrawl. He was suddenly puzzled. Didn’t his mother...write? Perhaps she was some kind of odd D’ni?! or partly one? Well, he would definitely write...MANY books! As to these others, they had better be nice to him when he had worlds of his own! They would have to bow to him when they visited. He giggled as he thought his class bullies being forced down by his guards before him for not showing enough respect.

Beside his mother, old Gehn stood awestruck. He understood perfectly now what Sehl’eder was saying, how he had misunderstood him. “If only I had realized this sooner,” he thought to himself. His face was thoughtful for a moment. Then he became concious of his mother’s presence. “Where shall we go now, Mother?“

Anna’s heart rose at the sounds in his voice. Was she getting through after all? But her time was done. In sorrow she replied. “We are done here, my son.”
Gehn felt the old anger rise. She was abandoning him again, was she?

“I told you before, my time here is short. But...” Gehn started to argue, but paused at the catch in her voice. “Another one may come.”

As he looked the ancient stones became hazier, less distinct. He reached out to touch the wall and felt a piece curl in his hand. He opened his grip curiously and a whisp of smoke escaped into the haze shrouding the laboratory. He turned to face Anna, but she was also gone. Even the smoke that had held her form was dissolving.

Gehn stumbled back to his chair. So it was only a dream after all. Perhaps he should thank the ytrams for the Christmas present of an evening in D’ni. He giggled at the thought as the fumes began to clog his senses once more. Odd thing was, he seemed to still smell D’ni. He sniffed his sleeve, but the smoke soon masked the scent and Gehn fell back, deciding it was all his imagination.

What was it she had said about another? He looked curiously into the fog, wondering what else would take shape in it. After some minutes of gazing into the mist swimming before his eyes, his head began to slip back upon his chair.....

Gentle fingers softly massaged his scalp. “Beloved?”
His eyes opened widely, “Keta?! Could it be? You have come back?!”
“Only for this short while, Husband. Where is this place?“
Gehn moaned as he realized this was the other visitation

The young woman looked at the littered lab with concern. Her eyes took in the gun on his shelf . “Are you in danger?”

He chuckled dryly. “ Not at the present. I keep these about to prevent that.”
“This looks like a prison?!”

“No, not unless you believe I have imprisoned myself.”

Her vibrant eyes held his in the darkening shadows “But who would hurt you? Why?”

Gehn thought about explaining the moiety. Then thought better of it. She wouldn’t understand. She couldn't. To her mind, all conflicts were one discussion away from ending. She would take the blame upon herself if need be.....anything to restore peace to those she loved. Keta was mercy and grace personified. His eyes teared as he tried to look upon her. He longed to take her into his arms again, but he knew in his heart it wasnt possible. Somehow Keta was a less substantial shade than his mother. “It is hard to explain. Oh, how I have missed you, Dear Wife! Why did you leave me alone too?”

She nodded. “I did not wish to go, but .. I was so weak..... Your Mother tried so hard to save me.” Her voice choked back tears... “I am so sorry I failed you, dearest. As I passed all I could think was that at least I was able to leave the gift of your son, to bear you company.”

Gehn was speechless. He choked on several replies, discarding them all as unworthy. The gift of his son. The words rang in his ears. He couldn’t tell her now he had turned his back upon..... He considered telling her what Atrus had done since, but choked it back too. It would only hurt her more.... and what if she agreed with his son’s choice. She couldn't, could she? He couldn't bear it!

At last he replied with a simple soft “Thank you.”

She smiled softly. “I am glad I was allowed to come see you. I have always wanted you to know that I still love you....” Her form began to dissolve as Ti’anna’s had done.

“NO!!! Please stay with me!!!!” Gehn’s roar shook the very glass, but it was too late. Keta had faded into the clouds hanging about him.
He looked into the haze that had stolen his darling so soon and threw the hooka to the walls. Frog extract splattered in small spurts from the sturdy little baniff over his face, his work journal, everything.

His cry brought his guards who found him distraught and rapidly pacing the length of the lab as a wounded lion. The Rivenese guards shifted uncertainly from foot to foot. Finally he turned his wild gaze upon them and roared, “What do you want?????!!!!”

The Captain choked a reply past his adam’s apple. “We heard you call, Lord. Is anything wrong?”

Gehn spat back bitterly. “It is Christmas! What could be wrong?”
“kris.. mass... Lord?”

A sudden wave of dizzyness came over Gehn and he rambled a general reply. “When the helpless saviour is to come...” Suddenly he realized how that would sound to these people. “But only to D’ni.............. like myself. Could be dangerous for you to interfere.”

Gehn staggered backward and into a guard unable to get out of the way. The others affected not to see, but the luckless one threw himself at Gehn’s feet in hopes of saving his life. For several seconds Gehn didnt even notice. At last he looked down at the supplicant. “ eeehhh?” He nudged him with his foot. “You have a request? Speak up!”

The shaking Cho thought wildly for something to ask..but all he could think of was what Oonrai Gehn had just said...a helpless saviour..to return.... Katran? Atrus? Someone else?
“May I look for the saviour, Lord?”

Gehn was upset enought to send Cho walking to Jerusalem, and almost said so. But then he had a thought. If anyone WERE to come, perhaps it was as well if the cage were watched... they would have to arrive there. As the Age decayed, a return became ever more likely.....
“Very well.. It is your special duty from now on to guard the cage and bring anyone who appears there to me..and especially any books they might be carrying. You can start immediately,” he looked around, “ As soon as you clean up this mess.”
Cho looked at the gooey mess and paled. Then began his task while his fellow guards smirked at him as they followed Gehn. The room was making him dizzy already. Not entirely a bad feeling.... Cho looked at a particularly large puddle of the stuff and wondered idly what it tasted like...

Gehn strolled out the door toward his Mag-lev accompanied by hundreds of memories.. Atrus... Catherine... every step and sight brought back the conflict to him. She had betrayed him, worse she had turned his son completely against him.... Not that there hadnt been trouble already. He made a bad mistakes in not rescuing Salar, or allowing his son to visit Anna. He could see that now. That was where the worst rifts had begun. Atrus' weakness for emotional attachments were always a problem but he could have worked the situation better than he did. He had made so many mistakes. So many things should have been different. He should be seeing his children’s children play at his feet. Instead... a red gerbil ran across his foot startling him into a yell. The round bundle of red fur dove into the nearest rock crevice before Gehn could move. He recovered his dignity and looked at his guard’s carefully neutral faces. Satisfied he entered his car and left.

As he entered the first turn, they exploded in laughter. On a signal from their Captain, they turned to tease the dizzy Cho before heading to their next duties. What a merry day this was turning out to be!

At Survey island, Gehn more ran than walked to the viewers. His mind reviewing his life, wincing at so many of his choices with himself. He had nearly killed his own son. Oh God, if I had succeeded..... a sudden rumble shook the land... He steadied himself against the chair and smiled cynically.... then perhaps I would not be imprisoned here...
It was a dire bargain either way, he realized, for Atrus represented the future of his race. Yet Atrus had never understood the importance of saving D’ni. Perhaps his methods were not the best, but how else could he have done it?
He considered his alternatives. If I changed now, they would kill me! No, only fear kept the locals in line....fear of his Art and the wharks. A sudden remembrance of Keta tugged at his heart. She could have found a way...
Gehn gazed moodily into the deep sapphire waters. A sudden flash of sunshine rendered shapes in the currents and he seemed to see Catherine before him. Another visitation? For several minutes her dazzling green eyes stared back at Gehn from the deep. Then face and form of her fair frame blurred out into the baleful glance of the huge predatory whale beyond the glass. Gehn focused on it disbelievingly for a minute then dismissed the vision.

“Bah, wahrk!”

He turned the chair sharply around and headed back down the dais.

Suddenly he knew it was Christmas. Certainly no presents would coming, he said to himself. Gehn stomped down the last steps in a temper, which caused him to trip at the last step. His notebook fell out of his pocket and skittered open on the walkway. As he picked it up he noticed his own notes on the kormahns.. His hands shook as he held some of the answers he had sought for 29 long years. If they were real, that is.

He considered what he should write. Perhaps another Riven? It was what he promised the people. A large tree in a lake would be an excellent start. Then too, being able to isolate his new castle would be wise.... perhaps he should write an Age just for himself as well. That would be safest.

A stunning thought came to him.

Anna had sent him Christmas.