Tavis opened the door from the foyer and stepped through, with Esmina following close behind. The first thing that caught her attention as the crossed the threshold was the change in acoustics. The dull, enclosed echo of the entryway was replaced with a deep and resonant hum of a vast hall. The building wasn’t tall, but what it lacked in height was made up for in length, as the main aisle shot directly forwards. Dozens of aisles of bookshelves stood before her like two long rows of soldiers standing in a firm and orderly salute. The room was well lit by a number of chandeliers, the flames enclosed in small lanterns to dissuade a fire from spreading should anything go wrong. There were a number of people milling about. One or two pacing down the central lane, a few more seating in nearby chairs reading just as Tavis had been. They all wore simple robes similar to the bookkeeper, but most of these people were unquestionably older.
“There must be ten thousand books in here,” Esmina gasped.
“Oh, there is certainly a good deal more than that, mil— Ms. Rhaun,” Tavis said, a proud smile on his face. “Thirty-two thousand and sixty-six, last time I checked, but I haven’t run the numbers in a few months. I’ve been procrastinating a bit, I’m afraid. I blame it on a new author I’ve recently discovered. His hypotheses on the sister-planet’s relationship to ours are quite inspiring, you see.”
Esmina stood in awe. “I don’t even know where to start. I didn’t expect quite so many books. I’m realizing I’m not quite sure what it is you do here at the Lyceum.”
The bookkeeper didn’t respond immediately. Instead, the two strolled down the hall, passing the occasional row of books as they walked. Esmina was so enthralled in this place that she didn’t mind the silence, but soon he spoke as if no time at all had passed. “Well well, that certainly is a large question, isn’t it? We do a great many things. The Lyceum contains the largest library in all of Tebrein, and being so close to the capital means that it’s always expanding. You’ll notice that the further down the lane you go, the newer the cobblestone will be. As for myself, it is my task to manage all of the books and return them to their places on the shelves in the evening. Many of the scholars here aren’t long term, however. Nearly all of these faces will be different in time.”
Esmina frowned. “I’ve heard that this is a place of education. People spend years of their lives in these halls studying.”
“Oh, yes, it is certainly a place of education,” Tavis said. “But I would say that it would be more accurate to refer to the Lyceum as a place of focused knowledge. When knowledge seekers come here in search of answers to the questions that plague their lives, the Keeper gives them a field of study, and they must devote themselves to learning everything there is to know about that field. This frustrates most people, you see, because the Keeper often gives them fields they aren’t interested in, and have seemingly no correlation with their personal problems. And so most people leave within a few months. Faces come and go quite frequently around here.”
“Why would he do that?” Esmina asked with distaste. “What is the purpose of having all these books if the people that come here can’t read the ones they’re looking for?”
“I couldn’t say for certain, but the Keeper is far wiser than you or I. He sees a truth in people that they cannot see themselves. One thing I have noticed, however, is that the people who do accept the task he gives them sometimes find that truth in themselves.”
“What about you? You seem like you’ve been here a while.”
“My my, I certainly have. All my life, in fact. I had no home outside the Lyceum, you see. The Laethis family line has been a part of the Lyceum for at least two generations.”
“Two? That’s not very many.”
Tavis made a disappointed grunt at that. “My father has no knowledge of his genealogy, unfortunately.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
She didn’t know what to make of that statement. Had he forgiven her or glossed over the apology? The conversation stilled for an awkward moment. “What was your field of study?”
Tavis shook his head. “I was never given one. It’s rare to have the halls of the Lyceum flow through someone’s veins. The Keeper has never given me a direct task outside bookkeeping. Speaking of which, it seems the scholars are retiring to their quarters. It’s probably growing dark.”
The color drained from her face. She had lost track of time. “Oh. I had better get going then,” she said, turning around the way they had come.
Tavis followed after her. “My my, you have somewhere to be?”
“Yes, and I need to get back fast.”
“Oh dear. Will you be returning?”
In a few hurried minutes they were back in the foyer. Tavis resumed his position in the chair behind the desk. “It was certainly a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ms. Esmina Rhaun.”
“And you as well, Tavis Laethis. May I give you something?”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary. The Lyceum is open to all individuals.”
“Yes, well, in that case, I’ll lend you something. I hope to come back one day. You can give it back to me then. But I’m under the impression it’ll be safer with you. And you may get more use out of it than I can, in the next couple of days.” She pulled out her coin purse and produced the spyglass.
“My my, what’s this?” he said, taking it.
“It’s a spyglass. A device I invented. Well, designed,” she amended. “I didn’t gather the materials or put it together, but it was my money that went into its construction. You can look through it and see far away things with greater detail. I used it to study the sister-planet.”
“Wondrous,” he marvelled as he stared through it at her, then up at the ceiling. “You would entrust me with this?”
“A scholar understands its true value,” she muttered, her tone sour. Then, she looked back to him, forgetting her troubles for a moment. “Thank you for all you’ve shown me. Until next we meet.” She bowed.
Tavis nodded, a smile on his face. “I look forward to that day.”
And with that, Esmina hastened back to the Liar’s Respite, the world darkening in the wake of the sunset.