Chapter 4: Gratitude
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***Mariabelle's POV***

Alter has been getting stranger and stranger ever since he recovered from his fever a week ago. At first I thought it was due to the fever itself, but after that day, the fever's gone, and it still feels like he was an entirely different person.

"Sister Mariabelle."

For one thing, he never called me Maria anymore.

I'm the one who taught him to always mind his manners when speaking with adults, and now that it happened I find myself missing the previous hyperactive and rebellious attitudes.

*SIGH*

There I go again with the sighing.

"Um, sister, are you alright?"

'Hm?'

Oh no! I thought the voice was my imagination! I subconsciously covered my mouth and got all flustered like an idiot.

'Stupid Maria! What are you doing daydreaming at this time of day!' I scolded myself in my mind.

"Yes Alter?" I quickly gathered back my composure and turned towards him with a smile.

"I finished making the breakfast for the other kids. I'm going to go and scoop some water for today's use." He said calmly.

"Hm? You made breakfast?" I asked blankly, still not quite registering his words, "Eh!? Since when can you make breakfast??"

"...It's eggs on toast, not exactly a five star dish. Plus I've been doing it for a few days now so it's no bother." Alter answered with a slight smile as he shrugged his shoulders.

"A few days? But... I thought the other sisters made them."

"Please don't worry about it, I'm sure sister Mariabelle and the others have a lot of stuff to attend to. Well then, I'll be going now."

"Ah, yes... Be safe." He already went out the door before I finish answering.

This is also one of the major changes that happened. After that first time, he always volunteered to be the one to go and collect water down the hill. Of course, the other older children were ecstatic to no longer have the most tiring chore on their hand.

The problem was that his water collecting always took an awfully long time. And everytime, he always comes back with his whole body covered in sweats and sometimes even a few cuts on his skins.

"Huhu, what's this, is sister Mariabelle showing favoritism towards the children." A slightly older woman's voice resounded behind me making my shoulders jumped up in surprise.

"Whaat?? N... No! Anyway, don't you guys find it weird that his attitudes changed so suddenly?" I quickly turned to look back and defend myself. I was only worried for him!

"Not really, he's a teenage kid, word on the street is, those kinds usually have a change of behavior every now and then." Sister Lisa shrugged and replied sarcastically.

"Not this sudden!"

It's not just about the changes in his actions, it's like he suddenly lost his childlike curiosities and innocence. It felt as if his mature attitudes were a given rather than the normal teenager trying to look more grown-up.

"Aww, you're just lonely now that there's no more loud kid going around calling your name and asking you out on dates!" She grinned from ear to ear.

"Wha... O, of course not! Who would!"

"You're red."

"Shut up!!" I shouted out of character, I never could handle the other sisters' teasing. It's always like this since I'm the youngest.

"I'm just worried that he may have experienced something traumatic that made him like this..." I said in a low voice while fiddling around with my fingers.

Sister Lisa leaned on the windows overlooking the front yard of the orphanage as she glanced at it and contemplated.

"Trauma huh... That might actually be the case, a couple days ago I accidentally saw him looking over the orphanage building from afar with some really sad expressions."

I followed her line of sight trying to imagine the scene in my head.

'Alter, what happened...'

***

The man in question was actually training his hardest by the river at the moment.

Alter was doing upside down sit-ups on one of the tree branches closest to the river with both his hands behind his head carrying a bucket filled with water.

*HUFH* *HUFH*

"...And 50!" After that shout, he let go of the bucket causing it to fall and spill the water everywhere while he himself exhaustedly let his body hang loose on the branch.

"Phew... That was the last set. Next should be balancing."

After a short rest, he hopped down from the branch and sat down under the tree drinking his bottled water.

As he rested in-between his trainings, he started thinking about the Norn Orphanage and its people. He remembered that he used to have the biggest crush on sister Mariabelle around his current age today. He also remembered two younger kids who always followed him around on his antics, he was truly a rowdy kid back in the day.

"Ah, that's right, I haven't had the time to play with those two this past week since i've been busy training." He noted.

"I suddenly became dilligent around the house and spent the rest of the day out here training. I wonder if those two are fuming with anger right now thinking I've gone out to play without them. Haha~" Alter laughed when he imagined the siblings' faces.

"..." He suddenly went silent and turned serious.

"It hasn't happened yet..." He muttered.

Alter thought back to the moment he lost his first home. He was way too unfocused the first time he woke up here that he actually forgot everything other than his main mission.

He forgot to realize what waking up as his 15-year-old self entailed.

'The Norn Orphanage hasn't been destroyed!'

'The war that occured in 922 has yet to happen!'

He basically returned to the happiest days of his life where everything he ever held dear was still there!

"The incident won't happen! As long as I live, nothing shall happen to the Norn Orphanage!" He reaffirmed his resolve.

"As for the war... It's too bad, but it won't possible for me to prevent it. For one thing, the war was written as the perfect conditions to scratch off many names from 'the list'. I can't miss that opportunity." Alter took out a familiar small red ledger from his pants pocket.

Upon closer inspection, the red ledger only looked slightly similar to the one Anastasia handed to Alter back in the future. There were quite a lot of apparent and distinct differences here and there.

Alter had bought this red ledger in the city a couple days ago when he went grocery shopping for the orphanage. He thought of it as a tribute to The Head's resolve in saving The Archive.

Although the outer appearance only held a slight semblance to the original, the content, however, was almost entirely the same to the old book. Alter had memorized every single names, dates, and conditions to kill written inside the original small red ledger.

Every Bookman of The Archive was specifically trained to be able to construct their own memory palace. It was a type of memorizing technique that optimizes the filing system inside the brain by means of association.

All members of The Archive could easily remember the content of a cooking recipe in a single glance with this technique.

*SLAP*

Alter slapped both sides of his cheeks with his hands to pump himself up.

"I need to get stronger. Stronger than before." To him, it's not just about the mission anymore. He also had the chance to save the people he previously couldn't! Although he needed to prioritize the ledger's completion in this life, that doesn't mean he couldn't change his own life for the better.

Alter already had a couple ideas on how to become stronger than his previous future self. Even if he's not optimistic on becoming in the same league as the Shining Generation and the other monstrously strong people, he was sure he could at least reach a new boundary that he couldn't before this time around.

"The easiest one should be... making 'that' right?" He grinned.

"Yes, with 'that' as my trump card, I shouldn't have to worry too much even if I'm to face any danger outside the level of the Institute with my current strength."

The thing that Alter was thinking of, was a device he had been developing in his free time before. It was a type of versatile weapon that could be best utilized with his measuring ability.

"But... How do I even begin to craft that here?"

"Never mind, I'll think about it as I train." As Alter couldn't come up with any solutions at the moment, he decided to put it at the back of his mind and continue his training.

***

"Bro...!"

"Big bro! Big bro Alter!" Just as the sun starting to set, two voices rang loudly from afar, heading towards his direction.

Alter had just finished measuring his progress after one week when he finally responded to the voice.

'Guess there's no running away from them now.' He thought as he smiled awkwardly.

"I'm over here!" He shouted back towards the voices.

"There he is!" One of the two 10 year-old kids which was a girl pointed at Alter's body.

"Go~" Which made the other one charge through, leaving the girl behind to tackle him.

Unfortunately for them, as the tackling boy got closer, Alter swiftly rotate his body to dodge out the way before they both hit each other.

When the boy passed through Alter's previous position and lost his momentum, Alter's hand had quickly extended to grab the kid's collar from behind before he could fall.

"Hi Leo, Milly!" Alter smiled and greet them both as the girl finally reached their spot panting.

"Stupid Alter! Let go~! Stupid! Stupid!" Leo, the boy, wildly flailed his hands and feet as he hung from Alter's hand.

"What is it you guys?" Alter asked.

"L... Leo said that you have found something fun by yourself and didn't invite us to play!" Milly quickly responded as she shouted.

"Whaat? How can that be, look at me. Does it look like I have anything fun?"

As Alter asked this, both the boy and the girl with light brown hair started to look around his surroundings trying to find anything out of place.

"Then... Then what are you doing everyday?" Leo asked.

"Well, I'm training, it's to prepare for next year!"

"Training? Next Year?" Milly followed through with her own questions.

"Hm..." Alter thought through his answer for a bit and continued, "Why don't you guys come find me on the riverside tomorrow after you finish your chores, maybe we can train together!" He put Leo down before clapping his hand together to the idea.

"Okay!"
"Alright!"

They answered at the same time.

'These two, how simple...' Alter thought inwardly.

"Okay then, let's go home first. The sisters should be just about finished with dinner when we reached home." Alter spontaneously picked Leo up again and seated him on top his shoulders.

Milly looked at this with envy in her eyes. But that quickly changed when Alter held her hand right after and slowly walked home together.

When they finally reached the orphanage, Alter promptly asked the two siblings to go and wash their hands before dinner while Alter himself needed to run back to the riverside one more time to grab the buckets of water.

Alter's speed was quite astonishing as the sun still hadn't set when he arrived at the riverside a second time.

When he was just about to grab the buckets of water, he glanced at his writing on the ground that he did just before the siblings arrived.

Punching Force: 0.9
Sprinting Speed: 1.1 (+0.1)
Muscle Flexibility: 1.4
Stamina: 1 (+0.2)

'The muscles hasn't build up enough to affect the punching force huh... Should I also add grip strength, and kicking force to create an average 'strength' stat as I did with the trainees before?' Alter quietly contemplated for a bit.

"...Well, on the other hand, stamina usually improved more quickly on people who don't regularly exercise so there's no surprise there."

Alter measured the stamina by counting the rate and pace of his (or others) rising heartbeat during exercise. As usual, the number '1' indicated the normal stat of an average healthy adult based on his years of data collecting back in the future.

***

With the right training regime, supplements, and dietary, the overall stats of normal human can be multiplied up to 2-3 times their normal depending on one's innate potential.

Alter already had the most advanced knowledge on those three points even beyond the level of current research because of his future knowledge and background. Even the supplement's recipes could be replicated by combining a bunch of normal everyday things available on today's market.

'The problem is, to go beyond that estimate (2-3 times normal stats) is biologically impossible. And since my battle experience and potential could be said to have reached their limits, the quickest way to get stronger than before is to get 'physically' stronger than before...'

Alter subtly licked his lips from end to end.

'Than I guess the only way really is to get a different man-made ability this time. The only man-made ability that directly increases the limit of human body... Yes, that one.'

The current technological advancement in Myr had gone a lot further in the recent 200 years than all the previous years combined. Humanity had been able to create man-made abilities based on their research on genetics of those with natural bloodline abilities.

In today's era, even though only a small percentage of human was born carrying natural bloodline abilities, and even smaller portion of that actually discover those abilities. Pretty much everyone that had occupations in combat-related field wield some form of abilities.

This was made possible by the invention of man-made ability that could be injected into the human body to stimulate the cells to be able to perform feats impossible by normal human's standards.

Of course even then, science still had their limits.

For one, the current man-made ability injection still couldn't mimic the hereditary attribute possessed by the natural bloodline ability users. Meaning that man-made abilities couldn't be genetically inherited or transferred to the user's descendants in any way.

Other than that, the human body also limited the possibilities to one injection of man-made ability per individual. Anything more than that would cause the body to have a lethal rejection towards the newly injected power.

This is why natural ability users still had a slight edge over normal people even in the current age, they're the only ones capable of possessing two powers instead of one, their natural abilities, and their injected man-made abilities should they acquire one.

***

With that said, manmade abilities were still highly regulated in all countries, even more so than firearms. The government didn't want an even higher percentage of rogue ability users than they did at the moment. Even with their very limited variety and types of manmade abilities, it was still one of the most sought after resources by many kinds of people.

"And one of the ways to get your hands on manmade ability is, of course, the Frontline Institute for Soldiers."

Alter mumbled on his way home. By the time he realised it, he was already in front of the orphanage carrying six large buckets of water.

*CREAK*

The door suddenly opened and revealed the figure of sister Mariabelle drom inside the house.

"Alter! You're late again!" Upon discovering Alter in front of the house, Maria breated a sigh of relief before scolding him.

"Quickly come in and eat! next time you're late, there won't be any dinner for you!" She exclaimed with a stern voice.

Hearing this, Alter gave a warm smile filled with gratitude as a response.

"Then I'll have to make sure never to be late again."

 

Thank you very much for reading!

As usual, I'd truly appreciate any form of feedback~

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