At long last, I return to Riven to finish my playthrough. This is the final post for this particular installment of the Myst series. I’m tickled pink that I was able to get through the entire story of the Fifth Age in five parts! Next I’ll move on to Myst III: Exile.
When I left off last time, the prison book had been returned to me by the Black Moiety and I had picked up enough information to allow me to finally solve the puzzle of the golden domes. All I have left to do is confront (and hopefully trap) Gehn, free Catherine, and help save the Rivenese.
Riven, like Myst before it, has multiple endings depending on choices made by the player. Come with me to find out how I finished my journey!
Fair warning: if you’ve never played Riven, there are spoilers ahead!
I’ve been bent over the grid for a while, worrying about accidentally dropping the colored marbles and losing them in crevices along the golden dome’s construction as I carefully count out and double-check coordinates. The grid has dozens of small holes and the right fire marble has to be placed in the correct location. There are literally trillions of possible combinations.
There are six marbles but only five Riven islands and five domes, so one of the small, brightly-colored orbs stays unused. As I finish, I cross my fingers and hope I remembered the position and color coding of each dome correctly. If not, it’ll be a long trek to retrace my steps all over Riven to figure out where I went wrong.
With the firemarbles placed, I return to the controls and pull the switch down. The press descends into place. Anxiously, I stab the button the switch previously hid, and am rewarded with a low rumbling sound that fades to a gentle pulsing thrum. I think I’ve done it!
I make my way back to the gate room and onward until I’ve come around once again to the outside of the golden dome where the vertical track will drop me down to the hidden passage leading up to this island’s linking book.
The dome should have power now, but before I can get to the book I still have to unlock it. Having been nosy earlier when I was in Gehn’s lab, and thanks to that awful counting game in the schoolhouse, I have the combination. There are five markers in the panel below the porthole, so I slide them into the necessary positions, then push the button.
The dome opens, the porthole sweeping away from me while what must be the rusted half with the eye symbols on it quickly clips over my head with a sharp clang, sealing me in. Good thing I’m not too tall!
A pedestal rises up and light bathes the linking book. On the cover is the “name” of the Age, the number Gehn noted in his journal, which I now understand is 233. The implication of this number for the amount of failures Gehn encountered over his thirty-year exile before achieving what he believes to be a link to a stable Age is staggering.
I’m not sure exactly how this contraption is able to provide power to the book but open it anyway. For just a moment, the gateway image is solid black, but then…
…as if an invisible fire is burning the darkness away, the Age Gehn escaped to is revealed. I watch as the gateway flies through the Age, showing me spectacular rock formations glowing in the golden light of sunset, with a richly-colored sky reflected in a vast sea of water.
I hesitate. Until now I’ve more or less had my freedom in Riven. My earlier loneliness at wandering the Age by myself suddenly doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Although I was captured by the Black Moiety, they didn’t hurt me—and, in fact, I now realize they helped me by keeping Atrus’s prison book safe while I prepared for this very moment. But if I go through this linking book, I’ll be on Gehn’s turf, and I really will be completely alone. What if he is already lying in wait for me there? Suddenly I recall the missing rifle from his lab and my gut clenches uncomfortably.
The gateway image has settled on a structure that must be Gehn’s office. If he’s inside, I can’t see him—but I know I really have no choice but to continue. Gehn needs to be stopped, and I still have to find Catherine. Atrus is counting on me!
I place my hand on the book and feel myself slipping away.
I materialize on the other side and groan when a familiar sight greets me.
I grab the bars and give them a good shake but they don’t budge. Stuck, again. Sigh.
Across from me, but out of reach beyond the cage, is a small desk with several items on it, including what looks like another book or journal. To my right is a large spherical device that reminds me of the kiln in Gehn’s lab, except it doesn’t seem to have a proper door on it. If I turn to my right again, I can see a ladder leading into an opening in the floor. Another turn to the right: I see a panel with a button on it welded between the bars of my cage, but I’m fairly certain I won’t be set free if I push it. Despite the strong temptation to try, for now I ignore it so I can finish studying the room. Beyond the button, on a ledge that spans the circumference of the room below the windows, is a switch. I bet that will open the cage, but damned if I can reach it! I turn to the right one more time and find myself facing a door.
Then I glance down…and notice, positioned around the cage at equal distances, are five linking books on pedestals just like the pedestals inside the domes. Each book has one of the map symbols of the five Riven islands on its front, and as I stare at one in particular, I realize how lucky I am after all. Except, the half-cages around the pedestals are dim, telling me these linking books currently have no power, and sure enough when I open the books the gateway images inside are dark—and stay that way.
Turning back to the button—the only other item in the room I can currently interact with—I push it. It lights up but for several long moments nothing happens. Then, outside, I can faintly hear the scraping of footsteps over dry rock, and look to the door.
I only have to catch a glimpse through the window to know the approaching man is Gehn. He comes casually inside and doesn’t seem terribly surprised to see me as he pulls off his goggles and gloves.
The first thing he does is apologize to me for the cage, which makes me blink in surprise. Actually, he’s quite well-spoken and acts politely, rather than giving me the cold, menacing reception I expected, but still I’m wary. Even though he’s apologized for the cage, he also doesn’t let me out of it, so I’m forced to stand and listen to him.
He speaks, at length, about his experiences since being trapped in Riven. Thirty years is a long time to be stuck facing the truth that he tried to kill his son and that Atrus imprisoned him for that and his other transgressions. At one point, Gehn even seems regretful. “No sentence could be too harsh for the man I was,” he says before claiming he’s changed. Oh really? I try to keep control of my face when he adds that his “mission was an honorable one”. Honorable to terrorize the Rivenese and feed them to the wahrk? Honorable to toss people into the Star Fissure just to see what would happen? Give me a break. If he’s changed, he has nothing to show for it. I know what you are, Gehn, and I saw evidence of it everywhere in Riven. You’re anything but honorable.
But then, interestingly, he speaks about relocating the people of Riven and not wanting them to perish. I feel my resolve waver slightly as he continues to talk. I suppose, on some level and in his own twisted way, Gehn probably feels responsible for the people of Riven even if he’s also made them disposable for his own perverse curiosity and depravity. After all, this is the man who thinks himself a god, thinks he creates the Ages from nothing when he writes the books. In the end I find myself refusing this interpretation: I can’t imagine this man being responsible for creating the world I’m from, nor any other.
Gehn becomes much more…intense…once he starts talking about Catherine and the Black Moiety, saying that they’ve put his life at risk which means putting the people of Riven at risk too. He leans in close to my cage and implores me not to free Catherine.
Sorry, bucko. I have one mission here, and letting you continue to lord over these people ain’t it.
My defiance and determination must not be showing on my face because Gehn continues to puff on his pipe and circle around my cage. His eyes wander to the travel pouch at my waist and the prison book stashed there. I tense as he steps near again, but he politely—almost regally, which is unnerving—asks to see the linking book. I hope he doesn’t notice that my hands are shaking as I give it to him. I’m sure he must be able to hear the hammering of my heart it’s so loud.
When Gehn peers into the book he seems surprised, even shocked. Of course, to him it appears to link to D’ni. I watch, my breath frozen in my chest, as he raises his hand.
For several agonizingly long moments he hesitates. Just put your hand on the book! I want to scream, but manage to swallow the desire and stay silent. If he actually were to link into the prison book while standing way over there, I’m in trouble, because I’ll still be trapped in this cage with no way out and no way to get the prison book back.
My mind starts racing as his hand drifts closer to the gateway image, but at the last moment, Gehn pauses and turns back, lifting the prison book to present the gateway image to me.
“Perhaps it would be best if you went through first,” he says.
Crap. This isn’t part of the plan either! If I go into that book, there’s no coming out of it again! Of course, Gehn doesn’t know that… Or does he? Could he tell what the linking book really is, even if he’s only had a cursory glance at it? Would he suspect Atrus of sending me to Riven without a true path back to D’ni?
My hesitation pays off. Gehn closes the book and says it’s reasonable for me to need some time to decide. Relief floods through me and I almost miss what he says next: “Until then, as a token of my good intentions, I will allow you free access to my linking books, crude though they may be, and to the rest of the Fifth Age.” He flips a switch on the kiln, revealing it to actually be a generator, which activates the pedestals around my cage, then warns me not to disturb him again unless I’m ready to prove that my intentions are honorable. Then he leaves.
A thrill of excitement lances through me as I watch him move carefully down the hill outside until he’s out of view.
Before me is the pedestal with the book on it that links to the only Riven island I haven’t been to yet.
You’re a fool, Gehn, I think to myself, then open the book and link through.
I materialize inside a dome. A button at the base of the pedestal sends the linking book sinking down and forces the dome to open. I turn around to take in my first real glimpse of Catherine’s prison.
For a short moment I gaze upon what remains of the Great Tree. Its giant, dead roots reach down into the water and only a short stump of the immense trunk is left, atop which sits what must be Catherine’s prison. How cruel Gehn is to keep Catherine here, faced with a daily reminder that the world she came from has been destroyed at his hands. Yes, he must end up in the prison book.
I follow the path and climb stairs to the prison’s entrance, then go inside. The path ends at a caged alcove. Before me is a switch with three tabs below it, and each tab plays a different sound when I push them. I experiment with these for a few minutes, trying different combinations and then throwing the switch, but nothing happens. Above and to my right is a handle dangling by a cable. I pull on it and the alcove begins to rise.
When it stops, I find myself looking into a room I’ve seen before, from the viewer in the wahrk room on Survey Island. This is definitely Catherine’s prison. The room is small and sparsely furnished, but also positively luxurious compared to the cell above the wahrk gallows. I can see a doorway that leads to a small, sunlit patio enclosed with bars. Though she’s been a prisoner here, at the very least, she won’t have been too uncomfortable.
After a few moments, the woman herself appears and my heart leaps. Finally, I’ve found Catherine, and even though she’s not free yet, she’s safe. Atrus will be relieved.
When she realizes I’m not Gehn or one of the Rivenese, she’s taken aback. She reminds me that Gehn is probably watching and hoping that I will lead him back to D’ni. “You can’t let Gehn— Atrus sent you to save me, but if Gehn gets back to D’ni, he’ll kill him,” she says, then steps forward and lowers her voice, saying that I will have to trap Gehn first before I’ll be able to find the combination that will unlock this prison. Then she steps away and draws herself stiffly upright. “Go then,” she says formally and loud enough for someone else to overhear, as if I have rebuffed her. “If you won’t help me, I have nothing more to say.”
I smile to myself as she leaves the room and I pull on the alcove’s handle, which sends the lift back down to the first level. As I walk back to the dome and regain access to the linking book I wonder if I’ve been gone a sufficient amount of time to have Gehn think I’ve come to a decision to help him. Possibly, it won’t matter that I’ve only spent a scant few minutes here. If Gehn thinks Catherine has gone mad, perhaps he’ll also think that my abbreviated visit was all I needed to come to the same conclusion.
I link back into the cage and immediately hit the switch to let Gehn know I’ve returned. He wastes no time in coming, showing up with his goggles on and the rifle in hand, and I wonder what exactly the nature of the work is that he’s doing outside.
He thanks me for returning and presents the prison book to me, saying that if I go through first, he’ll follow immediately behind me. I only hesitate for a moment (he’s giving me that death glare again)…and then place my hand over the gateway image.
The world turns black and I wonder where, or even if, I have rematerialized. There is literally nothing here, and I can’t even see myself, despite waving my own hand in front of my face. Then I hear a sound and look up.
Above me, bizarrely, is a rectangle floating in the vast expanse of nothing, and I realize I’m looking out through the gateway image into the Age I just left. Gehn is peering in at me. From his point of view it must look like I am standing in D’ni.
Or so I hope. A cold feeling passes through me as I remember what the gateway images in the red and blue books looked like when I peered into them to see Sirrus and Achenar in their prisons: just the men, standing against unending fields of static. What if the illusion of D’ni has fallen away and all Gehn sees is me, standing in this godawful blackness?
I gulp with relief when I see Gehn readying his rifle before his gloved hand finally eclipses the view and I feel myself being pulled out of the prison book.
The 233rd Age solidifies around me. Gehn and I have traded places. The prison book lies on the floor, and I pick it up, tucking it away in my travel pouch without opening it. No need to subject myself to his reaction at finding out I’ve betrayed him, or worse, accidentally palm the gateway image with my hand and end up freeing him.
I’m on the outside of the cage now, and free to explore the office. Catherine said I would be able to get the combination to her prison once Gehn was trapped, so it must be around here somewhere.
But first, I turn to see the cage behind me, and then cross to the lever below the window. Flipping it withdraws the bars into the floor. Good. Once I link away to free Catherine, we won’t have to worry about being stuck.
The door leading outside is locked and can’t be opened from the inside. Strange. But the key must be with Gehn, so I shrug and go back to the desk. The cover of the book is blank and the gateway image inside is black. Most likely, this book would link to the Age Gehn was hoping to evacuate the Rivenese to. I contemplate putting the book on one of the pedestals behind me but decide against it. A fancy fountain pen and an inkwell shaped like a beetle from Jungle Island also sit on the desk so I assume the book isn’t finished. Given Gehn’s apparent hardship with being able to link to stable Ages regardless, it’s probably better to leave well enough alone. Besides, I don’t have a linking book tied to the 233rd Age that would enable me to get back here. Gehn’s pipe and a few other items are also on the desk, but nothing that seems to contain the combination I need.
A further inspection of the office leads me to a device near one of the pillars.
Touching the golden cylinder makes it sink down slightly, and after a moment music starts to play—this seems to be a recorder of some kind. Did Gehn record this? The song is slow and quiet, almost mournful. I leave the music playing as I inspect the rest of the office, though I find nothing else of note on this level.
I go down the ladder and find myself in Gehn’s bedroom. It’s simple and neat.
On one wall behind a wash basin is a rich-looking tapestry, once again depicting the D’ni number five. As I look at it I think of all I have seen and read. Six colors for the Rime viewer. Six eye symbols. Six lights in the wahrk room. Six marbles in the press. Riven might be the Fifth Age, and the base twenty-five math system might be tangentially linked to the number five… But now I wonder if six isn’t actually the more important D’ni number. If all goes well and I manage to meet Atrus again, I should ask him.
I turn away to rifle through the rest of Gehn’s belongings. On the sill by the window I find a small wire globe—a viewer—similar to the one I found in the schoolhouse. I crank the handle.
A woman appears, but it’s not Catherine. She’s very pretty and has a delightful, light laugh. I can’t understand what she says but she speaks softly and earnestly, with much love and affection, before her image fades from view.
I find out who she is when I turn to another wall. On it hang two photographs, as well as a musical instrument similar to an oboe that seems to confirm my earlier thought that Gehn recorded himself playing the music I heard upstairs.
One of the photographs is a man I don’t recognize. He’s older and bears some resemblance to Gehn and Atrus. Possibly Gehn’s father?
A message handwritten on the photograph of the woman reads, To Gehn, my husband and my salvation. I dedicate myself to the love that rescued me. I wonder where she is and, if she is alive, has she missed Gehn—not to mention her son Atrus—all these years?
On the bedside table I find a journal and a small, silver device. Faintly I can hear it ticking. Possibly a clock of some kind?
When I touch it, the device opens, revealing that it is indeed a timepiece. It also loudly plays a series of sounds—the same kind of sounds I heard from the tabs in the caged alcove on Prison Island. I play the combination several more times to make sure I’ve memorized it, then pick up Gehn’s journal, propping myself on the edge of his bed to read it.
The first entry begins with a recounting of Catherine’s arrival in Riven and how she slipped from Gehn’s grasp immediately afterward. He goes on to write about how desperately he needs to get back to D’ni if he’s to ever resurrect the lost civilization. I scowl when I read that he thinks Atrus is “emotionally crippled”—not so regretful of how he treated his son after all—and how gleeful he seems when he writes about how easy it will be to keep his wahrks fed because the Rivenese are acting up following Catherine’s arrival.
As I read more of Gehn’s arrogant drivel about resurrecting the D’ni civilization, his condescending snark about the intelligence of the Rivenese, and his smug satisfaction at finally capturing Catherine, I find I have no regrets about trapping him in the prison book—until I reach the entry dated 87.6.20. Gehn’s handwriting is shaky and the pages are stained with water drops. Tears? The entry is about his wife. Keta, he writes, you were the only true kindness I have ever known. Watching you flicker there in the imager… I sometimes wonder if you were real. If I could restore your life with my pen, I would do so in an instant, and leave the rest of the world to their own wretched fate.
I pause to look up at her photo again, feeling a pang of sadness. If nothing else, these words, written in a moment of true loneliness and despair, lay Gehn’s naked heart out as a widower. Despite everything else he is and all the evil things he’s done, he still loves his wife and misses her deeply. Suddenly I feel guilty for having stampeded in on his privacy.
Gehn’s heartfelt moment is brief; the next entry in his journal is angry. Ah, he is raging about my arrival and how his “useless minion” was unable to capture me either. It’s the last entry in the journal—apparently, waiting and observing my activities around the islands kept him too busy to write more.
I close the journal and put it back on the table, wondering if, one day, someone else might find their way in here and read it. What will they think?
No matter. It’s time to free Catherine and signal Atrus. I make my way back to the linking books upstairs.
The lift takes me up to Catherine’s cell, but she refuses to come into the room to speak to me, so I go back down to the alcove where the switch is. Pressing the tabs in the correct order and then throwing the switch results in a satisfying metallic grind as the cage bars swing to the side. Then the lift goes back up and Catherine eagerly joins me. “We have to move quickly,” she says. “Gehn’s people may already know what’s happening.” Then she asks to see the prison book.
When she sees Gehn trapped inside, her shock quickly turns to elation. “You did it. We’re all free!”
I can’t hear Gehn, nor see the gateway image, but I imagine he must be howling with rage at Catherine’s face grinning down at him.
Catherine closes the book and goes on to tell me she will take care of getting the villagers to safety. I’m tasked with returning to Temple Island to open the Star Fissure. That will be the signal Atrus has been waiting for.
When we arrive at the bottom of the lift, Catherine dashes off ahead, leaving me alone. By the time I can reach the dome, she’s gone and I have to use the viewer to stop the rusted contraption from spinning so I can get inside.
I try not to feel too dismayed when I link to the 233rd Age to find myself standing inside the locked cage again. So much for trying to plan ahead. A quick look through the linking books around me shows that Catherine has ripped out the gateway image pages in all but the book that leads to Temple Island. The others are forevermore inoperable. I link through after her, leaving the 233rd Age behind.
As expected, there’s no sign of Catherine when I arrive back in Riven. Although I feel some urgency and eagerness, I also take my time to make my way from the linking book, around the golden dome, and back to the Star Fissure in order to give her enough opportunity to get to the village and evacuate the people there to Tay.
As I walk, I realize all is not how I left it. The catwalk inside the golden dome has been retracted, preventing me from going the full way around if I wished to. I take one last look at the interior of the dome and the pool below before turning to the exit and throwing the lever that will lower the stairs from the marble press level so I can get across to the gate room. Once across, I go down the stone steps and arrive where my journey in Riven began.
The pipes leading to the telescope pop and hiss quietly as I approach. By reviewing Catherine’s journal I’m reminded of the combination I need to open the hatch below the lens. Pulling the hatch up reveals a pane of glass, and before I do anything else I curiously put my eye to the telescope’s viewer.
There’s definitely a field of stars down there, but the view isn’t clear. There’s too much light spilling in over the lens. The telescope must not be positioned properly.
I fiddle with the winch, lowering the scope until it hits a protective stop and the lens is just above the glass barrier over the fissure. Then I put my eye back to the viewer.
Amazing. A whole universe spreads out beneath the iron panels at my feet. Myriad worlds must exist in that vast glittering abyss, including Myst and, somewhere, the place I came from.
I wonder about the large black empty area in the middle of the field, and watch for a while longer, but the view seems timeless and unchanging.
As I step away from the scope, I glance toward Jungle Island. Has Catherine had enough time to get the villagers down into the tunnels to link through to Tay? Opening the fissure will mean the end of Riven and it would be a cruel fate indeed if anyone is left behind. But she asked me not to wait for her, so I look down at the legs supporting the telescope. On the left is the safety stop that prevents the winch from lowering the telescope further.
All that stands between Riven and the abyss below is a single pane of glass.
I pull the safety stop out and then lower the telescope one last time.
The lens strikes the glass and cracks it. Panic grips me as the fissure starts to open. I’m about to get sucked into the void of space!
Wind rushes by, the sky darkens, and the telescope vanishes.
I am the harbinger of destruction. Riven is coming to an end.
Strangely, I seem immune to the pull of the fissure. The iron plating ruptures and the giant dagger of the Black Moiety tumbles forward to disappear below me, but I’m still able to stand at the fissure’s edge, watching with horror and dismay as this world crumbles.
A moment later, Atrus appears at the link-in point and runs toward me. His coat and hair are buffeted by the rushing wind but he, too, seems unaffected by the pull of the Star Fissure. “There isn’t much time,” he says. “Where’s Catherine? Where’s the book?” I’m not given a chance to explain anything, for Catherine arrives just then.
All my hard work, all the worries and doubts, all the danger now feels worth it to see these two reunited. They embrace before Catherine gives Atrus the prison book. Then they both approach me. Catherine says the villagers have been safely evacuated, and they both thank me for my help. “You’ve given me back my life,” Atrus says, before allowing Catherine to link first back to D’ni.
Then my blood runs cold.
“This is where our paths must part,” Atrus says. “Perhaps we’ll meet again someday. You know where to find me.” Then he holds his book out over the fissure and links away before I can stop him. The book tumbles into the abyss.
You’ve got to be kidding me!
The ground gives way beneath my feet and I fall into the fissure. As I’m sucked into the ocean of stars, I manage to twist around and look behind me.
I can see the tear in Riven that represents the Star Fissure in the midst of a black smudge and I wonder if that means the other black area I glimpsed before is somehow an entrance to another world.
Riven diminishes into the distance and I wonder how long it will take for that Age to collapse and completely die. The people of Riven are free, but what of the sunners, the ytrams, and other creatures left behind? Fleetingly, I feel bad for the wahrk, but then turn my worries to myself.
I’m still falling. Is this my end? I realize I can do nothing but wait to see what future has yet to be written for me.