As the night turned into dawn, the tip of the sun rose sharply on the horizon, shining its first light upon the Kingdom of Calistran. The gigantic hexagonic outer walls that served as a bulwark covered not only the core capital city but also its outskirts which includes the forests and villages around. Maintaining their enclosed ecosystem.
When the light of dawn started to touch the middle of the southern forest inside the wall. Small sounds of footsteps also made its way into the ears of the forest inhabitants, creating a certain amount of unrest.
A man, roughly 20 years old, wearing a black combat suit could be seen running across tall grasses and plants. His face was full with anxiety contrary to his quiet surroundings.
'7 more minutes!' He shouted in his mind as he looked at his digital watch that indicated the time 05:53 AM.
He kept running forward at full speed, that is, until he saw that a couple steps in front of him was a wide clearing. Upon seeing that, the man quickly made a sharp turn to the right without hesitation.
His choice of action was understandable and logical. For people who were trained to work in the shadows like him, being exposed in an open field is not an option one would've taken had there been any other alternatives.
Not even 5 steps after he made his quick turn, the man felt a sharp pain just below his head.
"Oh, shi...!" He couldn't quite finish his sentence as his own momentum pushed him through the semi transparent thread in front of his neck.
The thread broke when it couldn't handle the weight of the man's body. At the same time, the light indicators above the man's shoulders started flashing red, signifying his elimination.
"Dammit..." The man muttered under his breath. His hand touching the slightly reddened horizontal line on his neck.
[Time remaining: 6 minutes 12 seconds. Survivors: zero. All trainees are to gather at the outskirts of the forest in 10 minutes!]
A stern voice resounded from his earpiece. But just as he was about to walk out of the forest dejectedly, he suddenly sensed a sliver of extreme killing intent from behind that made his hair stand on end. The tension was not unlike having a dagger pointed at his back.
As if by reflex, he turned around while putting some distance away from his initial position as he unsheathed the dagger on his left thigh. Cold beads of sweats could be seen dripping down from his chin.
When he finally regained his composure, he could eventually locate that the killing intent was coming from a silhouette leisurely standing approximately 10 meters away from him.
When the young man saw the silhouette, he subconsciously gave out a loud sigh.
"The last one to survive again, great job Mr. Redgrave." The silhouette showed himself to be a middle-aged man wearing a dark green combat suit.
"Instructor Norn, sir!" The man quickly saluted him.
Alter Norn slowly moved forward and grabbed his shoulder from the side, "Hey, this is your best record yet, it won't be long before you actually survived within the time limit."
"Yes sir!" The young man kept his posture as he answered.
"Go on, go assemble with the others outside the forest." He slightly pushed the young man's back as he said that.
Outside the forest, a group of men and women wearing the same black combat suits were slowly gathering as they chattered with each others in an almost whispering manner.
"30 of us surviving against one person and none of us has ever managed to survive past the time limit!" One man spoke with a depressed tone.
"Yeah, and most of us are supposed to be high-ranking graduates from the Frontline Institute, but here..." A woman next to him replied.
"I guess that just shows how great 'The Archive' truly is, our instructor was just a B-list Bookman when he was still active, can you believe it?"
"Crazy, C-listers made up the bulk of The Hive's power, and being a B-list supposedly only mean that you're above average here." The woman shuddered when thinking of the organization's power from outside perspective.
"All right, listen up!" Instructor Norn clapped his hands at the disorganized group of people in front of him to get their attention.
"By now you should've realized the difference between the Institute and real life." He continued.
"My abilities are nothing compared to the real powers within this kingdom, don't even mention the people from the 'Shining Generation', any A-list Bookman from The Archive could easily take on twice or three times your number within the same time limit."
"Strive hard to meet the standards of the organization! The Archive only picked the best of the best from the Institute's graduates, our power doesn't lose out even to the kingdom's Royal Knight Order, but we're not afraid to cut off any deadweights." He looked at the trainees that were listening seriously from left to right.
"That is all! Dismissed!" Alter finally shouted.
Back at the capital city, somewhere within Calistran Kingdom's Grand Library, Alter was standing in front of a throne-like chair surrounded by mountains of bookshelves.
"...And that concludes my report, Your Excellency." Alter closed the file on this year's trainees as he finished his reports. Even a 42-year-old veteran like him couldn't help but tensed up when confronting the person in front of him.
The current head of The Archive, Anastasia Silvergard.
Even among the Five Strongest Nation in the continent, The Archive, otherwise known simply as 'The Hive', was an entity that couldn't be ignored.
The single largest and most secretive Information Agency whose might rivalled that of a nation.
The Keeper of Knowledge,
Recorder of History,
The Sole Witness.
Part of the reason that Calistran Kingdom came to be known as the Kingdom of Learning is because of the fact that they were the host kingdom to The Archive's core base of operation.
Even so, from the public perspective, The Archive was just part of Calistran Kingdom's administrative section that were in charge of the Grand Library within the city. Only select individuals within each nations knew the true nature of the organization, that the Grand Library of Calistran Kingdom and the area surrounding it were not even within the jurisdiction of Calistran, not even close.
"The newest recruits showed such promise. The current Hive is undoubtedly the strongest it has ever been." Anastasia spoke, and though she was smiling gently, there was a clear hint of melancholy mixed within.
Didn't know what to make of it, Alter could only reply accordingly.
"I will keep doing my best to meet your expectations." He said with a slight bow.
"Thank you Mr. Norn, that sentiment... is something I truly need right now." She replied back while keeping her eyes fixed at Alter in front.
When Alter saw this, he could almost believe that her long silver hair glowed with an ethereal brightness for a fraction of a second.
"Have you got an assignment for me, Your Excellency?" He asked carefully.
Anastasia smiled and leaned back on the chair.
"You know Mr. Norn, by law, I do not have any rights to order you around anymore. You are a retired Bookman, the fact that you still allow yourself to train our youngs..."
"Is something i've chosen to do of my own accord." Alter interrupted, "My awakened ability is best utilized to guide the recruits, and so I decided on the course of action that will provide The Hive with the most benefit."
Of course Anastasia was not talking about any country's law, The Archive followed their own code of conduct. A retired member of The Archive has the right to 'peace', to not involve themselves with any of the organization's matters while still receiving its protections and information priviledges. Not even the head of the organization was allowed to change this rule.
Truth be told, it's not that Alter had an undying loyalty or faith towards The Archive's teachings and ideals. What he cherished inside the organization was his comrade-in-arms that he went through hells of war together with, along with his students that had given him a sense of worth.
Throughout all the hardships of his life, his happiness was few and far between. The Hive was the second and last place that had given him a sense of belonging. His home. The ideals of The Archive were not his concerns, he only fought for his home.
"Thank you..." Anastasia spoke with a soft voice, almost inaudible to the ears.
"Then without further ado," She went on to pull a binder from her side, slowly opening it to the very first page, upon which a picture of Alter could be seen on the upper-left corner.
"Alter Norn, 42-year-old, a B-list Bookman of The Archive. Failed his first attempt at entering the Frontline Institute, graduated at the age of 21 with overall score falling within the 67th percentile. Average at best."
"..." Alter only silently listened to Anastasia announcing his 'records'.
He got nothing to be embarassed about since pretty much everyone within the organization could access this information. With him rising to the rank of B-list before retiring, he's long since proven his value to The Archive.
Anastasia continued, "...Upon which, through the recommendation of one Bookmaster, finally took his first step within the organization."
'That was my most fortuitous encounter in this life. I truly do owe everything to her.' Alter quietly reminisce.
To be given the title of Bookmaster, one was required to be an A-lister at the bare minimum. Aside from that, the candidate had to have an achievement of one or more meritorious deeds towards the organization.
"Finished his Bookman Training Program at age 24, becoming a D-list Bookman..." Anastasia trailed off her words as she slowly flipped to the second page.
"...And got promoted to C-list at 26. At the age of 36, suddenly awakened his natural bloodline ability, which he personally named 'Absolute Measure', further improving his overall combat prowess. Finally allowing him to reach B-list at age 39."
After she finished listing off Alter's life history, she firmly closed the binder with both hands and continued, "Alter Norn. You are..."
"The only one I can entrust this assignment to."