Alina was trying to complete her progress on reading every book inside the Restricted Sections when she stumbled upon a piece of paper. It wasn’t a regular piece of paper found anywhere, it was a peculiar parchment that contained important information. She knew the information was important because it was written in illegible scribbles that didn’t make sense at the first glance.
Some people would have dismissed the scribbles as meaningless, but Alina knew better. Everything has a meaning, even her life. It was clear that someone has converted the information from a readable state to unintelligible nonsense to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
However, the truth was simpler than that. Nothing was written in a code. The texts were barely legible because the handwritings were so bad. The person responsible for it won’t admit anything about their weakness. What Alina didn’t know won’t hurt her. It was the reason that she was able to hold on to her life.
“What is it this time?” a feminine voice sounded from behind the nearby bookcases.
Alina stood back up and looked, surprised but not disappointed that it was Lyudmila. There were no ghosts in the Imperial Library.
“Mila, do you know cryptography?”
“I know everything. Why ask?”
The librarian’s statement contradicted itself. If she was honest about knowing everything, she wouldn’t need to ask why Alina asked her that question. A mortal couldn't achieve omniscience without ascending to a higher plane of existence.
“Can you tell me what’s written here?”
“It’s a draft for a story,” replied Mila without giving a closer look toward the parchment. A single glance was all she needed to know the answer.
“How did you know?”
“I write that. Think of it as a hobby. Do you want me to read it for you?”
Alina responded with a nod, and Mila started to read the decrypted content of the parchment aloud. It was a story about Alina’s daily life and struggle as a Court Mage, but the name was altered. The fact that the entire story was narrated in an emotionless, monotonous voice wasn’t helping at all.
“I get it now. Can you stop reading?”
“Why? The good part is about to start.”
The narrator took Alina’s silence as a sign to continue. From that point onward, the story started becoming more ridiculous and less believable. Every event was embellished to the point of absurdity. However, Mila’s expression didn’t change. She recounted everything while keeping a straight face.
“We will rule the world and plunge it into darkness so that everyone doesn't have to be alone anymore in their misery! Say the devil.”
By now, the story has entered a part where everything was purely fictional. Devils were the strongest of the dark spirits. Scarce in numbers, they possessed a distinct appearance and heavier presence compared to other dark spirits. Fortunately, their pride prevented them from fighting a weaker opponent. For a random devil to appear and challenge people to a duel was highly improbable. They weren’t interested in world domination either.
“A devil? Really?”
“What? You’d rather fight an angel instead?”
Alina shuddered. Angels were abominations made of light with too many eyes and wings to count. Everyone has the rights to be afraid of them. She didn’t know what the Allfather was thinking when he created them and she had no desire to know. Even devils were afraid of them.
“I know! Let’s add angels to the next story!”
Alina doubted the librarian would stop adding angels to her story just because she asked not to. An author has full control of their story. They could kill or resurrect a character whenever they wanted. Or introduce new characters while neglecting the ones who already existed.
She tuned out the rest of the story when it was clear that it would take an eternity to end. Only to be presented with a cliff-hanger where the now overpowered main character left the continent to fight the Alien God.
“...To be continued. What do you think of the story?”
“I hope it won’t become real.”
Alina thought her life was already interesting. There was no sense in making it more exciting if it involved facing life-threatening situations every day. Everything might be an illusion, but some illusions were more real than the other. She wanted this reality to remain the same.
“You’re not disappointed in this reality? Don’t answer, that’s a rhetorical question. Either way, you need a hobby. I know from your expression that you don’t consider being bothered by the Prince as a hobby.”
“What do you recommend?”
“Your schedule is predictable. Find something to do outside the library or your room. It will be harder for the Prince to find you that way.”
The first activity that appeared on Alina’s mind was people-watching; the art of observing other people and noticing characteristics about them. It wasn’t expensive and can be done anytime as long as there were people around. Also, it helped Alina to gain knowledge about people and communication in their social settings.
“Thanks, Mila. I think I know what we’re going to do.”
People-watching with another person was always an enjoyable experience. Bringing a friend to every activity made it infinitely funnier. The more the merrier, right?
“Let’s go outside.”
“What are we going to do? It’s high noon. The sun is at its deadliest.”
That was understandable. The sun wasn’t just an ordinary celestial object. It was a star that emitted extreme heat in the form of sunlight. When the world was about to end, it would rose from the west and melt everything exposed to it.
“Ladies, do you have a moment? Princess Tatiana ran off somewhere and hasn’t returned. We need to find her before she could inflict more property damage.”
The arrival of the shady knight who often accompanied Prince Raimond was a surprise. No one heard him enter the room until he revealed his presence by stating his motive for trespassing into the Restricted Section without a permit.
“That girl is always a little... Wild,” uttered Mila. At least she wasn’t responsible for any of the Princess’ antics now.
“If someone can stop her, it’s the two of you. I have full confidence in your capability to handle this situation.”
“It’s that bad, huh? We all know everything is screwed when you suddenly become serious. Get my parasol, Alina. We have a Capital to save.”
It seemed like asking for a quiet life was too much of a wish. At this rate, it won’t be long until Alina was forced to fight an actual devil while keeping Prince Raimond and herself alive.