Over and over, Ayana whispered this to herself as she paced the narrow rows of the Library of the People. Her rifle was slung over her back, her uniform was neatly ironed, and she held herself erect as she scanned the bookshelves. Ayana’s path was always the same: down the row that led from the door and cut the room in half, a left turn and back up the next row; past the door to the row on the other side, making bigger and bigger circles around the library as she went. All day. Every day. At the same time, another guard would be making the same rounds in the opposite direction, and they had been trained to randomise their step length to ensure they crossed paths at differing points within the library. The Human Republic of Derysslynna trusted no one, not even its own guards.
The Library of the People served to hold and save the Republic’s most precious (and… only) books. It had been so named because it was closed to the public every day except on the day a new Emperor was elected, which was to say, never. The Republic of Derysslynna had a very dry sense of humour.
Ayana was in danger, because of a truth that had nagged at her for years of patrolling these rooms full of books before she had fully realised it: she was in love with a book. And she would have been instantly sentenced to death had anyone glimpsed it in her eyes. She constantly kept her hands on the strap of her rifle that held it nestled against her. This wasn’t for easy access — the rifle wouldn’t be required any time soon. It was to stop her hands from trembling when she encountered the book that had her obsessed.
The Library of the People held the World’s Only Golden Encyclopaedia, written by Hamoon, who was considered the spiritual leader of the Republic. This was the Republic’s way of saying that Hamoon had been decapitated during the revolution, but that his ideas had been slightly less controversial (read: more theoretical) than those of the other decapitated revolutionaries. The Encyclopaedia was in the southeast corner of the library, conspicuously lying flat on its own shelf. Every time she came to that section, her steps slowed and she had to force herself to keep moving. Her hungry gaze stole over the glossy cover as she kept her jaw set and her eyes blank. The golden finish sparkled in the dimness. She clutched at the strap of her rifle until her knuckles turned white — her fingers longed to caress those smooth, leathery covers, to hold them against her beating heart and open them at random. What words of wisdom, what flowing inscriptions, awaited her inside?
Since Hamoon’s death, no one in the Republic had learned how to read. It was rumoured that even the Emperor had forgotten how.
But still, wistfully, longingly, Ayana breathed for the volume.