Chapter 1:

Prologue: In the Everlasting Library

The Young Archivist's Records

What were my thoughts, when I first set my eyes on Bibliotheca Aeterna?

An old library, as the name suggests? Certainly, the Bibliotheca is filled to brim with books and other carriers of knowledge, but a library it is not: it is an expansive area composed of layers of marble-like pillars and walls stacked together, topped by crystal domes, and supported by dominant arches and floating staircases. A historian will certainly say this is a cheap imitation of Roman architecture; but their sheer height and scale betray their intricate nature to an engineer.

Then, a sprawling metropolis? That is also incorrect. A city’s beating heart is its people, and the Bibliotheca was almost devoid of them. Long gone were the days when children roamed the streets, and so were the voices of restless merchants. The haunting holo-advertisements were the last echoes of the past, promising a better future that never came through products that were long obsolete. The buildings patiently waited for their masters who never returned, their decay hidden under the glittering surface. If the Bibliotheca was a metropolis, its heart would have long stopped beating.

Was it the remnant of a once great city, then? Not quite. Despite the decay and neglect, Bibliotheca Aeterna was inhabited; swarms of drones, sentient or not, cruised around the Bibliotheca, cleaning the streets, and making repairs to the marble-like buildings as needed. Thanks to them, the city’s infrastructure was working as immaculately as they did since time immemorial. But Bibliotheca was not only inhabited by machines; if you were lucky, you could at times catch wandering figures haunting the city --- the citizens who still call the city “home”, as their ancestors did.

But I had just seen but a silver of what the Bibliotheca can offer.

As the sun sank into the grey jungle, a clear chime rang through the city. Dancing to the tunes, the constituents of the city began to stir: the merry drones took to the skies, forming busy queues in a grid-like shape; the marble-like domes, pillars and walls followed the suit, as entire buildings disintegrated, revealing the hidden treasures they hold: shelves upon shelves of books, decorated or plain, their metallic covers shining in the setting sun. The books, in turns, broke free from their shelves, combining into migratory flocks that left for each other’s’ shelves. The ground had started to grumble, as the great city decomposed into blocks that were haphazardly rearranged like jigsaw pieces on a board; yet some blocks, like mine, departed for the heavens unknown.

I looked towards the remnants of sunlight. The solid ground below had sailed far; through upper layers of the city, through the sea of clouds, and now into stratosphere. But even as the block neared the realm of the stars, the city below kept expanding into the horizon: its metallic grey texture and concentric yellow lights knew no bounds.

Bibliotheca Aeterna --- the “Everlasting Library” --- is neither a simple library, nor is it an ordinary city. It is a planet. It is an ecumenpolis, a world-encompassing city, a planet-wide library dedicated to the preservation and storage of knowledge. Trillions of “books” --- holo-storage blocks to be precise, are held by the Bibliotheca, most predating the human civilisation; it was, and is, by far the greatest collection of knowledge in the known parts of the galaxy.

But it served a third purpose.

As the city block docked itself with an Anchor, a large floating island, a hooded figure came up to greet me. The sunny day had given way to the starry night, yet even in such dim lights, the figure was instantly recognisable. A tidy, yet simple red-and-white coat. Straight, gilded sleeves. Clear, unyielding emerald eyes that seemed to have flames burning within. He was the type of person that would leave a permanent impression.

“Archon Burgundy. Thanks for picking me up in person.” I spoke first.

“No problems. But I’ve not seen someone riding a city block here for centuries. Even longer since I witnessed someone doing so outside of a building.”

“Is that so?”

“A normal human would have frozen to death, you know. We are in the stratosphere.”

“Thanks for your concern --- but it is not like I can die from asphyxia or hypothermia nowadays.” I looked at myself; my skin was soft and smooth, as a young human’s skin should look like --- but now, with my cybernetically augmented vision, I could see a slight sheen beneath the surface.

“If you say so…” Archon Burgundy let out the equivalent of a sigh. “Follow me. I will show you the way back to your room.”

“Thank you.”

“It is my responsibility to see you safe in Kextera.” Archon Burgundy dropped his hood, his dark red wings sticking out of his long sleeves. His yellow beak shook slightly under his emerald eyes, from which I somehow sensed mild displeasure. Without further elaboration, Archon Burgundy walked into a tunnel. I rushed to follow.

Archon Burgundy was a Kexteran --- an ancient, owl-like species that are just a little bit taller than humans. With large eyes and abundant fur, this ancient species is sometimes considered adorable by some humans, and definitely distinctive by others. With a history that counts in hundreds of millennia, the Kexterans are one of the oldest known species in the galaxy, with unrivalled command of knowledge and technology. Once, they were the masters of an empire spanning most of the Milky Way with its beating heart and core right here in Bibliotheca Aeterna. Today, the planet is still the capital of the Kexterans, but their empire had long declined and disintegrated. For reasons unknown, the Kexterans had retreated deep into their core sector, and dedicated themselves to the collection and preservation of technology. The Kexterans, instead of being known as the Conquerors, now was known as the Archivists.

…but why was I, a human, in the ancient capital of an ancient race, tens of thousands of lightyears away from the cradle of humanity?