Bookmen, simply speaking, were a group of loyal operatives under The Archive. Their jobs mainly consisted of acquiring information on all sides of the world through any means necessary. And eliminating anyone in possession of any information they're not supposed to.
The Bookmen of The Archive didn't discriminate against the importance of the information they 'collected'. It could be as mundane as the opening of a small store in the neighbouring country, all the way to the largest conspiracy ever conceived by a nation.
The nature of the Bookmen and the organization as a whole was what earned them the title of Knowledge Keeper by those in the know.
Although Alter was quite a capable individual in his own right, he was by no means extraordinary. Having lived closely to the legendary figures of the Shining Generation and gone through war together with the monstrously strong individuals within the organization, he had given up in trying to reach their heights in his life.
So when the head herself told him that he was the only one she could entrust the assignment to, he had no choice but to doubt the statement.
Needless to say the head of The Archive were one of the most well-protected people in the world. With a snap of a finger, Anastasia could easily mobilize dozens of A-list Bookmen and beyond.
Seeing the look on Alter's face, Anastasia explained to him with a smile, "It is neither a compliment nor an exaggeration Mr. Norn, I was merely stating a fact."
She slowly stood up from her 'throne', still carrying her boundless elegance even with the mountains of books surrounding her.
"Would you come with me for a moment?" She said before turning around.
Alter only slightly nodded as he tried to keep his composure in check and followed her towards the back of the hall.
They went through a long corridor, taking several turns along the way before finally arriving at one door that had no visible differences with the countless doors they'd walked past on the way here.
Anastasia stopped in front of it and turned to look back for the first time with a serious look on her face.
"Rule number one." She put her index finger up and firmly exclaimed, "You must never tell anyone the content you see in this room. Ever. Not even to me."
Alter silently stared with a confused look for a while before eventually nodding at the declaration. Although the last words of her sentence were quite peculiar, he could only wait and see what it was actually about.
"...Well then." She pushed open the double door in front just enough for her to pass through and indicated for Alter to follow.
The inside of the room was dark, after a couple of steps inside, Alter stopped advancing and waited for Anastasia to turn on the light.
When the light finally shined on the room, what he saw in front of him was a huge web of red and black threads strewn across the 6x6 meters room's walls from one end to another.
Each side of the threads' end were pinned to the wall with either a cut-up article, printed papers, or a photograph. Some of the articles were even taped to the body of the threads, making the relatively small room impossible to traverse at a glance.
"...This..." Alter couldn't help but mutter unconsciously.
"Come." Anastasia led him through a path with the least obstacles to reach the middle of the room, which apparently had enough space to observe the entire room 360 degrees.
"Take a look for yourself." She spoke as she crossed her arms together.
"..." Alter took a deep breath before opening his eyes and starting to take in all the information in the room.
Minutes passed by with Alter still standing and turning around trying to comprehend the content of this information web.
Anastasia only stood quietly to the side with no intention of interrupting. Bookmen were trained specifically to take in any form of information at a rapid pace. Along with combat prowess, fast comprehension and analysis were some of the basic prerequisites in becoming an official Bookman.
As time went by, the expressions written on Alter's face turned more and more complex. When the minutes almost reached its first hour, Alter finally finished comprehending the entire room.
"The Council of Five Nations..."
"Unbelievable... How did we even miss all this??" He couldn't help but realize that his face was covered in beads of cold sweats.
"Because this was directed towards us. Our own bespoke conspiracy. Even I only finished putting everything together a couple weeks ago." Anastasia replied in a heavy tone with her head lowered.
Thinking back on the assignment that Anastasia was going to give him, Alter slowly turned towards her with a grim face.
"But... This is a checkmate. No one can do anything about this, not even..." Alter didn't dare to finish his thoughts. His mind was still in a state of disarray.
"Not true. As usual, we just need to make the right people disappear at the right time, and the problem will solve itself" Anastasia lifted her head up and smiled as if vengeance was within her grasp.
"Yes, but the right time has already passed! We should prioritize our escape, The Hive should..."
"Not possible. As you've said, the right time has passed for us to maneuver, this is the end game for 'them'." As she said this, Anastasia pulled out a small red ledger from her dress pocket and hand it to Alter.
"Rule number two, I want you to always prioritize the completion of this ledger above all else during your mission."
Alter who was still in the dark regarding his assigned mission only mindlessly took the small red ledger.
He tried to understand the contradicting words of Anastasia but to no avail, 'How can we make them 'disappear' when we don't even have enough room to escape?'
Alter subconsciously flipped open the ledger and looked at what's inside. The small red ledger were filled with names of people along with the dates and conditions to assassinate them.
As Alter had finished reading the contents of the room, he knew that some of the names were the people involved with or behind the force conspiring against them. But the most curious thing was that some of the list of names were people who had already died. There were even some that The Archive had personally eliminated.
'And these dates are...' His hand slowly traced the writings on the ledger.
'!!!' At that moment. Something clicked inside Alter's mind, something outside the realm of possibilities.
He quickly turned his head towards Anastasia with an expression of disbelieve.
"How is that even...??" He tried to ask for confirmation, but the wide scheming smile on her face seemingly confirmed his thoughts.
"Possible? It is!" She nodded.
"This is my final move Alter... As you may have known, normally, natural bloodline abilities require the person themselves to discover that they actually have that ability. Most of the reason that people who were born with abilities couldn't awaken is because they couldn't discover what their abilities are!"
Alter of course knew of this. The difference between people with ability and people without was decided at birth, but to awaken that natural bloodline ability, one has to 'know' themselves of what ability they possessed.
The reason it was called bloodline ability was because it had a better chance to be inherited. If two children were born with abilities, the one who inherited one of their parents' abilities would have a much easier time awakening since they'd already known what the ability is. Leaving the one who was born of normal parents almost always unable to discover their abilities in their lifetime.
"Different from those rules, I was born with the knowledge of the ability I possess. I know its use just as much as I know its limitation. This is my one secret..." Anastasia continued her explanation, "...One I hope I wouldn't have to use."
"Time... Travel?" Obviously, Alter didn't figure out the specific of Anastasia's ability, he didn't even know that she had a natural ability. What he gathered from the situation was the fact that the head of The Archive had a way to go back in time.
Anastasia shook her head.
"Time Reversal. Turning back the time of the whole world for one single usage! Allowing one vessel to possess the memories of this future." Anastasia put her index finger up between her and Alter's face.
"I require someone who was always in close proximity to me in the past, both in distance and age-wise. That way he can follow precisely the ledger's instruction point by point." She explained.
"Believe it or not your life history revolved around the same place as me, from your time at the Frontline Institute to joining The Archive."
"Your Excellency, a lot of people matched that description, we recruit our trainees mainly from Institute's best." Alter lightly retorted.
"Correct, but none of them are the same age as me." She replied.
"..." Alter understood what she meant, his age-group was quite peculiar to say the least. The batch of people that year were the best of the best, deemed as the Shining Generation of the Frontline Institute, they were the people who went on to become the strength and pillar that supported the whole of Calistran Kingdom. Of course, Anastasia Silvergard was one of the Shining Generation.
Alas, Alter was someone who failed his first entry to the Institute, that's why he was included in the next batch after the Shining Generation. The one overshadowed by it.
"You must understand that above all else, it takes someone from The Archive to save The Archive. We are by no means a good-natured organization nor are we accepted warmly by everyone, but we took care of our own!" She choked up for a second.
"We are a family, and I am The Head... I will NOT let The Hive perish! Not ever!" Anastasia's eyes were moist, she gritted her teeth at the end of her speech before calming down.
She caught her breath and slowly opened her eyes once more.
"Like it or not, Mr. Norn, you are the most likely person to follow my past footsteps and complete that ledger's instructions. Equipped with future knowledge and your experience, it won't be difficult for you to succeed."
Alter was about to open his mouth when suddenly they heard a sound at the entrance.
The door was opened slightly revealing a child barely reaching 3 years old appeared wearing pajamas.
"Mommy... Loud~" She exclaimed in a lazy half-awake manner.
Her hair was the same familiar silver colour, she slowly came in as she scratched her eye because of the bright lights.
"Nora!" Seeing the little thing, Anastasia lightly ran towards the entrance, avoiding past a number of threads, and knelt down in front of the child.
"Didn't I tell you not to enter this room, this is mommy's work room." She said in a never before heard soft voice as she pat her head.
"!!" The child's expression froze.
"Sorry momma..." The child, Nora, answered carefully and anxiously afraid her mother would get angry. She herself had only just realized that the source of her mother's voice was coming from the room she was always told not to enter.
Anastasia gave a slight sigh and pat her head once more, "Don't worry about it, why don't you wait in the kitchen, mommy will make you pancakes in a minute." She said with a smile.
Yesh!" Nora jumped up a bit and ran off from the entrance to the long hallway. She didn't seem to notice Alter's presence in the room at all.
Watching this interaction, Alter swallowed the questions he had in his mind.
Because even after all that speech before, one question that still remained unanswered was why she didn't keep the memories for herself, especially if the ledger's plans and order were specifically designed to follow her locations and timeline.
Alter realized by now that she HAD been planning to send herself back. She was concocting the whole plan and writing the ledger with herself in mind.
What changed her mind at the last seconds was...
'A mother... So she and Arthur have...'
Arthur Faulkes was the strongest of the Shining Generation, the hero of Calistran Kingdom. Although the relationship between him and Anastasia was a secret to the public, most of the inner members of The Archive was already privy to it, including Alter himself.
'She couldn't pull the trigger herself and now...'
"There's no more time." Anastasia interrupted his thoughts.
"Obviously, you can't bring the ledger with you, this isn't time travel." She stood up and turned her back on the door looking at Alter, "I need you to memorize the whole content of it."
Alter could only nodded at Anastasia whose face was already back to being cold as ice.
However, that also didn't last long enough for her next sentence to finish, "And, um..."
"This is a personal request of mine, so... Could you, make sure I got together with Arthur... Again." She stuttered trying to finish her sentence. And although there was a tinge of bashfulness, it was overshadowed by the more apparent sadness on her face.
Her child was going to disappear.
In fact, the whole world was going to disappear.
What defines a person's existence is other people's memories of them. And one person's world was made up of a collection of memories from the people around them.
If time was reversed back, all the memories and all the people within those portion of time would be gone. Forever.
Knowing this, Alter gave a single response.
He couldn't even begin to pretend to understand The Head's feelings and resolve. The best he could do was to complete the assignment and prevent the calamity from ever happening to The Archive. Any words of consolation would only be an insult to the situation.
Anastasia nodded with the most sincere gratitude in her heart.
"...We should say our goodbyes while we can, I'll send you to your mission tomorrow... Mr. Norn."
"Yes, Your Excellency." They both walked out of the room with solemn looks before going their seperate ways in the hallway.
She needed to prepare Nora's breakfast.