“Atrus, she’s too young!”
“Catherine, please, before we teach her the Art, I want her to know where she came from.”
Yeesha hugged her knees to her chest as her parents’ voices carried on the warm night air. She hated when her parents fought; she hated even more that it was because of her. Unable to take it any longer, she closed her shutters, halting both the breeze and the argument on the other side of the house.
She supposed it wasn’t a normal type of house, all the rooms separate and linked by father’s bridges, but it was the only home she’d ever known. Why, then, was father talking about where she came from?
Perhaps it was something to do with the Stranger who visited from time to time, or Myst Island, though she’d been there several times already. The puzzles were lots of fun, but they made her parents sad so she didn’t ask to go often. She was close to figuring out the keyboard, but it would have to wait until father was in a better mood for them to go again.
Father must have won the argument, for a few days later, he came to breakfast dressed for travelling.
“Yeesha, my desert bird, eat quickly. We are going on an adventure today.”
“Yes, Father,” she answered, scooping her porridge into her mouth quickly. “Mother, will you come with us?”
“No, my love. This is something your father wants to do, just the two of you.”
Yeesha hugged her, trying to banish the sad from Mother’s eyes. “See you soon, mother.”
“Hurry back, my darlings.”
Once Yeesha was ready, they linked to Myst and hurried from the dock to the library. Father did something to the fireplace and it swung around, revealing a linking book she’d never seen before. He opened it, gestured for her to go first. “I’ll be right behind you.”
She pressed her hand to the linking panel and shut her eyes as the library disappeared from around her.
It was a big room.
That was her first impression as she looked around. Multiple doors studded the walls and an odd desk piled high with papers sat close to one side. There was a whispering sound as her father linked in behind her. “Father, where are we?”
A pause, as if father did not know what to tell her, then, “we are in K’veer, part of the great city of D’ni.”
Yeesha’s eyes went wide. She’d heard of D’ni, heard of the writers of the Art and the wonderful things they’d done. “Have you been here before?”
“Many times. In fact, I spent some of my childhood here with my father.”
At that, Yeesha screwed up her face. She’d also heard stories of grandfather Gehn and she’d decided she didn’t like him, not one bit. Neither did mother, she was sure. She wasn’t sure how father felt. “Is that your desk?”
“It is, but if we go over to look at it, I am sure that we will still be here when it is time to go home. Come, I think the way out is this one.”
He led her to one of the identical doors and did something with the handle, unlocking it and pulling it open. “It’s time to see where you came from.”
Beyond the door was a corridor that stretched into inky blackness. Somehow, leaving this room felt like a bigger step than linking here in the first place. Gathering up her courage, Yeesha stepped into the dark.
The dark had a lot of stairs — the door from the big room led to a landing between stairs leading both up and down. They couldn’t go up far: the torch father lit revealed a rockfall blocking the entire passageway. Yeesha was glad; she hated climbing stairs. Instead, they made their way down, past a balcony and a large hall that father barely glanced at. She lost track of how long they spent on that gentle downward slope, breathing air that seemed ancient with an air of disuse. The stairs ended at a small dock and Yeesha finally got a proper look at the Age they had linked to.
She stood with father on the edge of an island in a giant cavern, so large she couldn’t see the sides. Other islands were dotted around but the cavern was dominated by a large city that rose from the lake, dark and imposing. Waves lapped at their feet; she reached down to find them cool but not freezing. She dried her hand on her blouse and followed father onto the small boat at the dock.
The ride over to the city was made in silence. Father seemed caught up in his thoughts and Yeesha knew better than to disturb him like this. She watched in fascination as the city grew larger and larger, spirals and towers of dark stone becoming distinct from the shadows.
When they reached the other side, father moored the boat with practised, efficient movements. Every sound was loud in the silence that hung over them, over the city and its empty streets.
“Where are the people?” Yeesha asked, her voice hushed.
“All gone, my desert bird. There was a terrible plague and the survivors fled. Someday, they will return, and these streets will be full of life once again.”
“Do you miss it?”
“No, no. It was many years ago. I was not born then and my father was still young. It was in the time of my grandmother Anna, your great-grandmother.” Father’s voice grew sad, as it always did when he talked about his grandmother.
Yeesha tightened her grip on his hand and he looked down at her, his face unreadable. He did that sometimes, but today was different, today they were going to have an adventure. Yeesha tugged on their arm. “Come on, Father. Let’s go explore.”
Father’s gaze softened and he smiled. “Alright. Which way do you want to go?”
From the docks they wandered, careful to avoid the gaping holes and rockfalls in their path, winding their way up and around. They passed a city square and towering edifices, half-crumbled but still magnificent. From one lookout, father pointed out K’veer, the island they had linked to. Yeesha squinted but it was just one island among many. Their footsteps echoed oddly on the paving stones, muffled yet insistent at the same time, and it felt like they were the only people alive in the world. Yeesha had spent time with her father in uninhabited Ages before, but somehow, D’ni was different.
After a while, they reached a round hall where they unpacked the lunch father had made them. He walked while he ate, inspecting the walls. When he realised they were lined with stories, he pushed his glasses up on his face and settled in to read, eyes alight with pleasure. Yeesha tried to read one, but it was long and boring with names she didn’t recognise, and she quickly lost interest. There was another exit from the room, but it led to yet another curving pathway stretching over a dizzying height. The view was spectacular, but not noticeably different to any of the views on their way up.
“I don’t think I like it here,” she told father, bracing herself for his disapproval.
“Why not?” he asked, brows drawing together.
“It’s old and creepy. I like Ages with people in them.”
“What about Eder Gira? You like it there.”
“That’s because there isn’t meant to be people there,” she tried to explain, struggling to find the words. “It’s okay on its own. This Age feels empty, like all the life has gone.”
Father nodded in understanding. “They have a story about that, you know?” When she shook her head, he continued. “The Watcher made a prophecy about this person they called the Grower. There were lots of stories about what the Grower could do, but they were prophesied to bring new life to D’ni. It could be that D’ni will stay empty until the Grower comes.”
Yeesha gasped, her lips forming a perfect ‘o’. “Father, could you be the Grower?”
“Me? No, Yeesha. I’m just an old man with too many failures to his name,” For a moment, father looked so, so old, a stranger in her father’s clothes. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them, he was once again the father that she knew. “Now, do you want to go home or keep exploring for a while? It’s up to you.”
She chewed her lip, thinking hard. “Let’s go home,” she decided, albeit more reluctantly than she might have a few minutes before. As they made their way back through the city, she looked around and tried to imagine it filled with life, filled with people. It would take a lot of work, but mother said that it was good when father had a project to work on because it kept him busy.
Maybe D’ni could be hers.