I recently got an itch to revisit the Myst series of games. The serene yet subtly disturbing puzzle-oriented mysteries of Myst and Riven were ground-breaking for their day. I’m a gamer today primarily because of this universe.
This is my fourth post in the series. I’m now five hours into Riven. To date I have explored quite a bit of the five islands and uncovered more than a few uncomfortable facts about Gehn, the villain. I know that Catherine is still alive and imprisoned somewhere in the Fifth Age. I still need to recover the prison book that Atrus gave me and figure out where the Star Fissure is located.
Come with me as I continue my journey!
Fair warning: if you’ve never played Riven, there are spoilers ahead!
I wake up inside the strange metal structure that contains the wahrk throne. It’s hot and stuffy in here, but before I leave I should really investigate this thing further. Two levers are positioned in front of the throne within easy reach, so I sit down and give one a try. The chair lifts up and rotates, the ceiling of the structure splits open, and I find myself thrust into the sky.
Actually, it’s a spectacular view from up here, even if I feel like I might topple off the throne and plummet to my death at the slightest bit of wind. The fact there are razor sharp teeth lining the jawbone behind my back isn’t comforting either.
The village is quiet and still, just like when I walked through it. I suppose as soon as the throne contraption started to lift up, the Rivenese all scurried into hiding, possibly thinking that Gehn was about to appear. But it’s only me and I wonder what thoughts are going through their minds right now. I can’t see anyone but I can feel their attention. It’s as if the village is holding its breath, waiting and watching to see what I do next.
I look down. Directly below me is the lake and the wahrk gallows. I already know that, usually, someone has to be standing down there on the platform to pull the handle that lowers the crossbar. So what does Gehn control up here? Now that I think about it, it seems a bit odd that Gehn isn’t the one who actually serves the victim up as a meal.
Or maybe it isn’t that odd. A cruel man would make one of his own subjects, possibly even one of the villagers rather than a scribe or some other henchman elevated beyond the lowest ranks in this society, be the one to actually do the deed. He wouldn’t want to actually get any blood on his hands. Plus, the poor soul standing down there would be front and center when the wahrk comes to feed.
I throw the second lever, not knowing what to expect.
To my surprise, a platform irises into place at the base of the gallows, blocking off access for the wahrk. Intrigued, I leave the lever in place and throw the first one again, which pulls the throne back down into the metal structure.
On my way back to the gallows I have to pass briefly through the jungle. I take a moment to breathe in the cool, shaded surroundings one last time. The rumbling of the lava far below catches my attention again and I look down over the railing.
Though Gehn is clearly the most menacing threat this Age faces, the orange glow is a sobering reminder that nature contains its own dangers and this Age is tearing itself further apart every moment. I never once stopped to consider whether there could be any predators in the jungle. Maybe the wahrk was at the top of the food chain here, at least until Gehn showed up.
I make my way back to the village via the boardwalk. The sub is still where I left it, at the first dock near where the walkway exits the cliff. I get in and soon find myself climbing up the ladder that leads to gallows platform.
The closed iris has Gehn’s star pattern and the D’ni number five emblazoned on it. Each piece is so well made that I can’t tell where the seams are.
Just as I reach out to pull the handle, there’s a metallic banging in the water below me and I hear the frustrated call of the wahrk. The gallows vibrates and dimly in the water I can see a shadow circling! It’s ramming the gallows, trying to knock me into the water so it can eat!
Finally, the creature gives up and retreats. The lake falls silent again and my heart eventually comes down out of my throat.
After I pull the handle, the crossbar lowers. Before it can retract out of reach I grab it, then hang on for dear life as I’m pulled up. At the top of the gallows the crossbar just narrowly skims through an opening. Thankfully I don’t have to reach far to get my feet back on something solid.
When I stand up, I nearly slip and fall back through the opening. Five wahrk jaws surround me, their razor teeth pointed inward and sharp tusks shining.
I have no illusions that Gehn would have been kind enough to kill his victims first before feeding them to the wahrk; rather, I’m certain he made them walk toward this platform with these skulls staring them in the face, knowing they were about to be eaten alive, before they were tied to the crossbar and hung by the ankles.
Turning away from the gallows, I come face to face with a door set into the rock face. The door is round and rusted, with a pentagon shape cut into it and bars leading to an open circle in the middle. The circle is too small for a person to crawl through, but big enough for a plate of food. This is a prison cell.
I look inside.
It’s dim and hard to see in the cell compared to the bright light of day out here, but after a moment I spy a bit of movement and make out the form of a man! He doesn’t seem to see me at first, though when he finally does look up he says nothing.
I don’t say anything either. If my very presence is enough to cause the villagers to hide from fear, actually trying to speak to this person might give him a heart attack for all I know. Besides, he probably wouldn’t understand me anyway.
I step back and look around. To my right on the rock face is a rusted wheel with a knob protruding from it. The control for the door? I turn it and hear a satisfying sound of grinding metal.
The door opens and I wait a moment, but the prisoner doesn’t emerge. Maybe he is too frightened of me to think that I have freed him? I wait again but he still doesn’t come out.
When I look into the cell, I’m astonished to find it empty!
The Rivenese have impressed me before with their ability to apparently vanish into thin air, but this is getting ridiculous. I know I haven’t eaten or had water in a while but I don’t think I’m hallucinating. The prison cell was sealed up and is made of solid rock. How did the man get out without me seeing him?
I go inside to investigate. The cell has no windows, just the door I came through. In one corner I find a metal plate, empty. There is no furniture or amenities of any kind, not even a cot. I suppose the people Gehn sacrificed to the wahrk probably weren’t in here long enough to need one, or Gehn just didn’t care to make their last moments comfortable.
The only other feature the cell has is a small metal grate in the floor.
The grate is rusted too, but after a good tug I get it open. Brown, sludgy water fills the basin below it and I try not to think about why it’s that particular color or what that smell is.
The prisoner didn’t disappear through this grate, not unless he magically shrank himself first and grew gills and a resistance to…sludge. The water isn’t that deep though, and just below the surface I think I see…something.
I brace myself, roll up my sleeve, and reach in. My questing fingers find a thin metal handle, which I quickly pull up.
The grinding sound I hear next makes me think the cell door behind me is closing, but in actual fact part of the wall in front of me is slowly receding!
The prisoner covered his escape by opening this secret passage at the same time the cell door was opening.
Why let me know this passage is here? Surely the Rivenese haven’t started to trust me, because the village across the lake is still silent. What if the prisoner is part of the Black Moiety? They have Atrus’s prison book, and if they’ve been watching me, maybe they’ve begun to divine its purpose—or, at the very least, mine.
The passage must be more than just an escape route. Shaking off my wet hand, I crawl into the opening and locate the switch on the other side of the wall that closes it up again. Now if Gehn or any of his people come to the cell it will simply look like someone opened the door and let the prisoner go.
The passage is narrow and quickly becomes pitch black. I have to make my way along mostly by following the rough wall. The low ceiling forces me to crouch and I whack my head a few times. The floor slopes downward and after a while I can hear the ocean.
Finally, light seeps into the passage again and I emerge at water level. It’s a dead end! There is nothing down here but the sea. The way behind is darkness. Did the prisoner come all the way down here just to jump into the ocean and swim away? Swim where? The water is frigid; if I try it I’ll probably die of hypothermia before I get anywhere.
Then I notice the stick protruding from the wall. It has a small white bulb attached near the end that bursts with illumination when I touch it. Now the passage back isn’t quite so dark. A little further along, just as the light from the last bulb is about to fade out, I find another. Then another.
Pretty soon the entire passage is lit and I discover what the darkness was hiding: about halfway along, there’s a stone door that neatly cuts off an alternate passage. The door swings silently and I take the other path. The passage is just as narrow and tight as the one I was just in.
Idly, as I crawl along I wonder how the Rivenese, or the Black Moiety, were able to dig out and construct all of this without Gehn noticing. Or maybe Atrus was been doing more than just trying to repair this Age; did he write these secret passages into the Age after Gehn was trapped here?
Finally, the way ahead opens up and I can stand up straight again. Before me is a lit chamber containing a ring of stones.
Each stone has an animal pictograph etched on it. The first one I recognize is the wahrk. The shape looks similar to the rock I found out on the beach, the one that had the wooden eye embedded in it. I reach out to touch the stone and when my fingers make contact, the stone sinks down slightly into the ground!
Then I notice the wall behind the wahrk stone. The wall has a basin carved vertically into it and it’s full of this Age’s weird water. I can’t tell what is preventing the water from succumbing to gravity and leaking out all over the floor.
At the bottom of the basin is a square depression, and in that is a stone or wood covering with the Black Moiety dagger symbol on it. But because it’s in the water I can’t reach it to find out what might be behind it.
This must be another puzzle. I turn back to the stones and look at the images on each one. The next one I recognize seems to represent the sunners I saw on the beach by the wahrk rock. I touch that one too and it sinks down.
What next? I find a beetle that matches the shape I saw in the pool up on the village cliff.
That’s three. In D’ni culture the magic number is five, according to Gehn. I don’t recognize any of the other animals though, and despite several attempts at touching the stones, I don’t manage to find the combination that solves this particular puzzle.
There must be other animals, and thus animal symbols, hidden in this Age somewhere. Then it occurs to me that when I found the wahrk symbol, the wooden eye had the D’ni number five on it. Maybe it’s not enough to know the right symbols; I probably need to know what the right order is, too.
I leave the stone room and retrace my steps to the prison cell, emerging carefully and making sure to close the passage behind me.
Where else have I seen the wooden eyes? There was one in the beetle pool above the village. There’s one floating in the village lake as well—which Gehn has a duplicate of in his lab. I also recall I saw one right when I first arrived on Jungle Island. That means I really only have one more to find.
Then I remember something else: the ytram trap on Book Assembly Island. I never figured out how to get it working. If I do, maybe I will get lucky and find out what exactly a ytram is supposed to be.
I exit the prison cell—being sure to leave the door open, so Gehn hopefully won’t investigate the cell more closely once he discovers his prisoner is missing—and quickly retrace my steps to the path that takes me past the sunner’s rock and the wahrk rock, and up to where I found the beetle pool. This wooden eye has the number two on it.
The fastest way to get back to Book Assembly Island is via the wood chipper cart.
Not that I’m especially keen to risk my life again by hurtling at breakneck speeds along a track that plunges into the ocean through firey rings of death, but… Well, okay, it is fun.
Book Assembly Island
The first thing I do after climbing out of the wood chipper is re-examine the switch in the middle of the lake. The first pipe leading from the switch powers the wood chipper; the second pipe powers the boiler, which is what the switch is still set to. I point it at the third pipe instead. The third pipe runs off to the base of the cliff below the balcony. Maybe now the trap will work.
As I walk back to shore I notice something else. From this angle it looks like there is a ladder attached to the cliff below the balcony that I didn’t notice before. Perhaps I don’t have to go crawling through the boiler pipes again.
It’s a long way up. When I get to the top of the ladder I’m directly underneath the balcony, and while there is a hatch of some sort here, I can’t open it from this side. Ugh. Fine. Into the boiler I go.
When I get back to the balcony and hop over the railing, I see the hatch at my feet and wonder how I could have possibly missed it the first time. I release the lock and open it, leaving it that way so I can use the ladder later.
This time when I set the trap and throw the lever, it hums to life and descends out of sight into the dark cavern below.
I head to Gehn’s lab next, expecting it will take a bit of time before the trap might be sprung. The front door is still unlocked, so thankfully I don’t have to crawl through the vent duct to get in.
Something about the lab doesn’t seem quite right. It’s like catching just the faintest whiff of someone’s aftershave in an empty room and then not being sure if I actually smelled anything. Has someone else been here?
Then I see one of the desks. When I was last in the lab, there was a pipe on the shelf…and a rifle laid on this corner. Now both are gone. This being Gehn’s lab and pipes usually being something of a personal thing, I can only guess that it was Gehn himself who returned here to fetch both items. Wonderful.
I hastily turn around, searching the rest of the lab with my eyes, hoping I won’t find Gehn with his gun pointed at me. He was already dangerous. Now he’s armed, too. I should have taken the rifle for myself.
Thankfully, the lab is empty.
I examine the wooden eye on the desk. No matter which way I roll it, it makes no sound. The number on it is one. What sort of animal makes no sound at all?
I try to concentrate on this, rather than the idea of Gehn hunting me with a gun, while making my way back to the ytram trap. When I pull the lever back, the trap eventually comes back into view—and it’s closed! Something is inside.
I open the trap to find a brightly-colored frog peering up at me. Gehn’s journal spoke of poisoned darts used by the Black Moiety and I nod: frog poison is a good choice.
The ytram chirps at me—the same sound I heard from that first wooden eye on Jungle Island—before hopping out of the trap and flinging itself into the darkness below. I hear a faint splash.
What have I pieced together? The wooden eye from the lab had the number one on it, but I don’t know what the symbol is. The beetle is number two. I don’t recall what number was on the ytram eye, as I foolishly didn’t examine that ball too closely when I first came to the island. I know the wahrk is the fifth symbol. So, the ytram will either be number three or four. And what creature is symbolized by the remaining wooden eye I haven’t found yet?
I take the wood chipper cart back to Jungle Island. The last wooden eye could be anywhere, but since the other ones all originated on that island, it’s likely I’ll find it there. First thing’s first:
The path leading back to the wooden eye I found first makes me laugh. If I had never figured out how to power the trap, at the very least, coming to investigate this eye again would have told me what the creature was thanks to the shape of the cave from this angle. Like with the beetle pool, the wooden eye is positioned where the ytram’s eye would be.
I turn the eye and hear the creature’s distinctive chirp. The number is three. That means the missing eye has to be number four.
I think about the layout of the island. There is an eye here, two in or near the village, and one down by the beach. The only location I haven’t found an eye in yet is the jungle itself.
The beach had two animals: the wahrk rock and the sunners. Probably, the final animal is the sunner.
I go back into the jungle and carefully look along all the paths, trying to find a location where someone has concealed the eye. It isn’t until I reach the path with the large stone dagger that I notice the steps cleverly hidden in the naturally-undulating floor of the forest.
Now the Black Moiety dagger seems to be more than just a large stone carving in the jungle; it’s also a marker, a signal to those in the know that something helpful is nearby.
I tread carefully down the path. Where the dagger’s tip is buried in the ground I find the fourth eye. Rotating it, I hear the bugle of the sunner and see the number four. Success!
Now the only remaining piece I need in this puzzle is the symbol that represents the first creature, the one that makes no sound.
The eye originally came from the lake below the village. I can’t reach it there unless I jump in the water, but now that I know the wahrk has free access to the lake, I don’t think I’ll be taking a swim anytime soon. There might be another way though…
I leave Jungle Island by way of the tram car hidden below the wooden wahrk. Survey Island is quiet and empty; I meet no one as I make my way to the wahrk room.
I lower the viewer and first peek into Catherine’s prison cell. I see her moving about the room but still cannot discern any clues about where exactly she’s being held. Perhaps she’s on the fifth island the map on this island says is out there somewhere. It’s the only island I haven’t yet been able to get to. It doesn’t even seem to be visible from any of the other four.
Then I switch the viewer to the spy scope Gehn put in the village lake. Now that I know what I’m looking at, the blue-tinted images in the viewer make more sense. First I see the dock nearest the scope; by rotating the handles around the edge of the viewer I know the scope is rotating to show me other views of the lake.
Finally I see what I was hoping to see: the scope rotates to show the wooden eye floating at the end of its tether in the lake as well as the symbol I need. The opening in the cliff with its reflection in the water forms the shape of the fish I saw drying on strings in the village. No wonder the eye didn’t make a sound!
I flip up the viewer and sit for a moment, staring into the ocean water before me. Fish, beetle, ytram, sunner, wahrk.
Wahrk. I pull down the other viewer and turn on the red light.
The wahrk comes when summoned but is still unimpressed to see me, possibly more so now because I refused to fall in the water to be eaten.
I know this animal is just as much a victim of Gehn’s insanity as the villagers, but I also suspect it’s more than just a run-of-the-mill predator. It appraises me with eyes that glint with higher than average animal intelligence, then seems to snort and swim away.
Simply to be annoying I summon the wahrk back until it rams the glass. Then I wave at it and leave.
On my return to Jungle Island I’m able to quickly get up to the prison cell thanks to a ladder leading to a catwalk that curves around the cliff. Curiously, I notice the sub has been returned to the top of the cliff by the village, where I first found it.
Not long after, I’m standing in the stone circle again.
I touch the stones in the correct order and they sink into the ground.
The water in the basin behind the circle of stones ripples and then flows away through channels that arc around the perimeter of the room. Once all the water has drained, the panel opens and a shelf slides out with a linking book on it!
The book has been burned. Someone from the Black Moiety must have nicked it from Gehn’s kiln before it was damaged beyond repair. Where does this book link to? If it was tossed by Gehn doesn’t that imply he wrote it and the Age it goes to as well? Atrus told me—and Gehn’s journal seemed to corroborate—that all the Ages Gehn writes are unstable. Why would the Black Moiety save a linking book to an unstable Age?
On the gateway image sits a clear piece of crystal. I’ve seen this shape before, in Gehn’s journal. It’s a powering device like the one that was confiscated by one of his men, that he suspected Catherine had created before he captured her.
The man who escaped the prison cell far above me must have intended for me to find this book. I take a breath, place my hand on the gateway image, and feel my body become drawn into it.