Sounds of heavy breathing could be heard surrounding the riverside area close to the Norn Orphanage.
The previously empty area had been modified such that it displayed multiple different improvised training tools.
Stuck to the ground were two thick wooden poles with some smaller sticks of wood coming out from all around its main body. It looked quite rough at a glance with ropes tying every parts of it to make sure it didn't fall apart.
The wooden dummy were hand-made by Alter specifically to teach the two siblings Leo and Milly some basic form of self-defense alongside their training together. Mostly it was because they had complained many times that normal training was too boring.
Alter couldn't argue with that since repetitive training was not meant to be entertaining in the first place.
Still, Alter tried his best to make sure these two kids who couldn't be separated for very long from him could have a good time when they were together by assigning points and scores towards certain activities and making it competitive. It worked wonder towards the two as they were trying their best to hit their respective wooden dummies at the moment.
To the side, Alter could be seen running laps around them dragging along multiple extremely large tires with the ropes tied to his body.
Without much distractions, the days of the three people from the orphanage quickly passed by ever so quietly.
Today marked the two months since Alter first arrived at this time and place.
"Bro~ I can do so much more push-ups than Milly now!" Leo shouted as he came running towards Alter.
"That's not fair! Your postures are all over the place! Plus I always won when it comes to hitting dummies." Milly stood up to defend herself.
Alter must admit that he didn't expect that the two people in front of him could have this much progress over the relatively short period of time.
As a boy, the body growth of Leo made him able to quickly surpass Milly in terms of raw strength and speed. It could be said that he was genetically gifted with the perfect body that required minimum amount of training to reach its ideal state. It's still growing, and at his age, it was not even close to stopping.
But, the most frightening thing was Milly.
She was a genius in learning. Every technical skills that Alter taught him during their training was instantly absorbed and applied by her, from correct postures to breathing techniques, she could easily be called a prodigy even by The Hive's standard. If any of the scouts saw her, they'd stop at nothing to make sure she joined The Archive even at an early age.
"This is slowly turning into a different kind of trouble..." Alter shook his head as he covered his face with his palm.
'10 and 11 years old respectively. Are they just more gifted than normal people or do everyone just possess this kind of potentials at their age?' Alter pondered.
As a veteran instructor from The Archive, alter didn't have much experience in training children. Even the trainees at the organization had the average age of 20 years old when they started, which was the normal age of a freshly graduated student from Frontline Institute.
"Well guys, that'll be it for today. Tomorrow is rest day as usual, make sure you don't do any heavy activities and get a proper rest."
"Alter! What'll you be doing tomorrow?" Milly asked.
"He'll be going to the city as usual right? Have you gotten yourself a girlfriend over there?" Before Alter could reply, Leo already interrupted with his own conjecture.
""What?"" Alter and Milly's voice overlapped with one being so much louder than the other.
Alter rolled his eyes at the accusation, "How do I even have the time for that, I can only go to the city once a week during our rest day remember?"
"How is it not possible! A date once a week is normal right?" Leo continued his questioning with a smug looking face and both hands behind his head.
"Because, if I truly have a girlfriend, I would do everything in my power to spend even a single second more with her." Alter replied calmly as he got himself closer to Leo's face.
The statement made the 10-year-old Leo and 11-year-old Milly blushed uncontrollably.
'Huh, the art of seduction trainings from The Hive truly are quite effective. I'm not even trying to seduce anyone.' Alter thought to himself, 'But those are big words for someone who's been single his whole life.'
"H, h, how can you even say those shameless stuffs with a straight face. No wonder sister Mariabelle got so worried she even tried to follo... Mmmph!" Milly almost finished her sentence when Leo grabbed her mouth with both hands from behind.
'Overprotective as usual. Was she the one who feed this girlfriend idea to the siblings?' There's no way that Alter didn't catch what Milly said considering how late Leo stopped her so he just smiled awkwardly and shook his head.
"Come on guys, let's go home!" Alter turned his back to slowly walk home, the bickering noise of the pair of siblings could clearly be heard from behind.
The next day, Alter woke up early to prepare breakfast for all the orphanage children as usual before packing up to go to the city.
The reason for his regular visit was not like the wild imaginations of sister Maria. He went there to gather and salvage some mechanical parts to complete the blueprint of his weapon.
During his first few visits, he was quite optimistic in getting all the parts he needed from the city's junkyard. But after several disappointing findings, he decided to downgrade his blueprint into a more 'primitive' version as he realized the difference in compatibility between mechanical and electrical parts used in 915 and the ones used in 930's or 940's.
However, even with the downgraded version of the blueprint, the progress for the making of the 'trump card' hadn't gone so smoothly either. Alter tried very hard to avoid needing to order any customized parts, but in the end he couldn't help but rely on some custom parts to put the whole thing together.
'And then there's the gunpowder... I can't get that with my normal identity.' Alter sighed dejectedly.
"In the end, I need to visit some of The Archive's establishment."
As one of the largest organization in the world, The Archive possessed their own private bussinesses that dealt with various kinds of needs, from perscribed medication to heavy weaponry.
With enough connection, you could even acquire any man-made ability serum of your choice. Of course, the current Alter had yet to have any form of bonds with the organization.
After a couple more minutes of walking, Alter finally arrived at the outskirts of the city.
The city was very bustling with activity, asphalt paved roads with separating white lines were strewn across the city and past the huge main gates on city's wall to reach the outside. There were even multiple overpass, both for walkings and cars alike, some intertwining with the tall skyscrapers of the city.
Overall, Calistran Kingdom could be said to be one of the countries that was not left out in terms of technology and city planning. Moreover, even with all the modern feels of the city, the design itself still carried the significance of the bygone age of magic combined with the early age of steam engines.
The buildings, skyscrapers, and even the sidewalk steel fences were decorated with runic-like curvature on their edges. And even though the city was vibrant with many colours, most of the engines and machinery related facilities carried a tint of brown and reddish metallic hue to their colours in reference to their steam and industrial age of early technologies.
"Lively as always." Noted Alter.
He passed through the sidewalk in a brisk pace, getting on a couple of the city's public transportations until he reached what looked like a gigantic dome-shaped building with tall staircases connected to its entrance.
The Calistran Kingdom Grand Library. Aka, The Archive's Headquarter.
Alter couldn't help but to feel nervous entering the place that he had entered many times in the past.
After a couple seconds of him regaining back his composure, he fixed his long black overcoat and put on the hoodie attached before also putting on a black mouth mask to ensure minimal exposure to his face. And then, he entered.
The library was strangely empty at this time of day with only a few visitors sitting around reading on the first and second floor.
Alfred was the Head of Staff that managed the daily operation of the official Grand Library that catered to the public.
Even though it was a dull job, he was still a well-respected figure within The Archive's inner circle considering he still hadn't retired by the time Alter did, and that was being way older than him since he was already 38 years old in the year 915.
Even so, this well-mannered man was unusually nervous today. Since this morning, he had been pacing nonstop back and forth inside his office within the library.
"Um, sir." Approached one of the library staff as he entered the office.
Except for the Head of Staff, the rest of the library's workers were only the outer members of The Archive. Some just recently finished their training, while most of them were still just trainees.
"Hm? What is it?" Answered Alfred.
"Is something happening today? You told us to work as flawlessly as possible today but, me and the rest of the staff are not really sure what that means..."
It was quite normal for them to be confused at the command, their day job were basically just maintaining the library and handling visitors. Although technically you could make a blunder while cleaning or servicing the visitors, all of them were highly trained personnel with disciplines hammered onto them as soon as they were scouted to join The Hive. Those sorts of mistakes were nonexistent in the first place.
"I'm sorry for that, I guess I was a bit nervous today... Just behave as you usually do and that'll be fine." Alfred just realized that his command were not really applicable to his situation.
"Still, is someone important coming to visit today? We'll do our best to act accordingly, so it'll be good to get a heads-up sir." The staff asked politely.
"Yes actually, the princess is coming today to see the inner working of the organization. It seems she hasn't really decided if she want to join us so The Head arranged this little field trip for her." Alfred shook his head in worry.
"Eh, princess? I thought the king only has the crown prince and his little brother."
At the question, Alfred furrowed his brows as if he's looking at an idiot.
"Use your head, why would I worry about any royalty? I was talking about our heiress!" He raised his voice a bit.
"...Ah! The Silvergard's heir..." The staff finally understood the situation.
"If we do anything poorly today and the princess decided against joining The Archive, His Excellency will have all of our heads..." Alfred massaged his forehead to ease his headache.
Alfred knew that The Head would do anything to get that granddaughter of his to take the mantle as the next Head of Archive.
It was not because he wanted his own blood to continue leading it, in fact it was quite the opposite. When he realized that his son didn't have what it takes to lead the organization, he refused to give the throne to him and continued to stay despite his age.
But Anastasia was different, she was a one in a million genius ever since she started reading at the age of 18 months. She had also proven herself to be able to learn very fast and master every form of combat training that had been taught to her since young. But most important of all, is that her strategical competence had already surpassed some of the veteran within The Archive. It was as if she was born just to lead.
Just when Alfred was about to head out of the library for some fresh air. A man with a very suspicious clothing entered the library, most people who visit the library usually wore either casual clothes or even semi-formal, but this guy.
He was covered head to toe in black with a hoodie, long overcoat, black face mask and black pants. The only skins that showed from his appearance were only the upper half of his face and part of his neck.
When the man saw Alfred going down the stairs From the second floor of the library, he stopped and stood still for a bit before going towards his direction.
Alfred could feel his headache coming back since he knew this guy would be a troublesome visitor one way or another.
"How may I help you sir?" He initiated the conversation.
"Good morning Mr. Manager. Can I have a little bit of your time?" Alter spoke, his voice was somehow of a lower register than his normal one.
'Hm? How does he know I'm the manager?' Alfred was intrigued.
"Of course, are you looking for a specific book?" He replied with a smile.
"Actually, I'm looking for a custom... Publication, for my own personal work." Alter stated.
"..." Alfred couldn't help but narrow his eyes at the request, "I'm sorry dear visitor, but the Grand Library does not handle any publishing work. We only accept borrowing requests and in some cases books donations, we are a library after all."
'This kid knows about us? Is he some noble's child?' Needless to say, the people who knew the existence behind the Grand Library only consist of high-ranking individuals, and even they couldn't disclose that knowledge with just about anyone.
If it was found out by The Archive that you have disclosed their existence to unauthorized individuals, at best they would revoke your priviledge as a client, and at worst, your very knowledge and memories of The Archive would be 'removed'. This was also one of the primary responsibilities of Bookmen.
"Oh? But I have some referral though." Alter still maintained his calmness.
Alfred already had half the mind to remove the uncertain variable in front of him when the time was right, but the existence of a referral was an entirely different matter. Only mid-high ranking inner members of The Archive could give out referrals to the people they vouch for.
"...Really? Then do tell." Alfred no longer had his easygoing posture from before, currently he was standing straight with an imposing aura around him.
Alter cleared his throat before seemingly trying to remember something, "How does it go again? ...Ah, yes!"
"Sunset bleached the city's red..." Alter started reading what seemed like an entire passage of a book slowly and carefully.
"!" Alfred was startled.
There was no physical documents involved in the case of Archive's referral. Every referral would only be considered valid if the person who received it also verified it with the referrer's verbal token during the exchange.
The verbal token could be something as short as a sentence or something as long as a short essay depending on the referrer's position within The Archive.
"...And so I left, because all the ravens caw at midnight." After a while, Alter finally finished his piece.
"..." Alfred was wearing a truly complicated expression on his face.
'Seriously?? That's the Midnight Raven's verbal token! How does this kid know a Bookmaster!?'
'...I'm sorry master, I'll make it up to you later when we meet.' Alter apologized in his mind.
He could not be any more familiar with the person that Alfred was currently thinking of. She was the one that gave Alter a place within The Archive and taught him everything he knew about being a Bookman back in the previous future.
"Ah... Esteemed guest, i'm truly sorry for my ignorance. Please do understand that we need to follow a certain procedure for everyone we're unfamiliar with." Although he didn't do anything wrong, Alfred felt that he needed to explain his previous conduct so that there won't be any misunderstanding.
He couldn't very well mess around with someone referred to him by a bookmaster, especially knowing that the Bookmaster was the one with the most vicious temper.
Usually, the procedure to follow would be to confirm with the referrer regarding the person they referred to so that there won't be any slip-up. But most Bookmaster were usually busy being tasked with long term missions.
That's why in the case of a person with the standing of a Bookmaster giving out a referral, the confirmation would have no choice but to be delayed.
In the first place a Bookmaster's referral didn't happen very often in the whole history of The Archive. Even their verbal token would only be known and recognized by someone of at least Alfred's standing. Had Alter approached the normal library staff with the referral, they would've immediately assume that the verbal token was a fake.
"Don't worry about it." Alter replied.
"Well, also, that apology was because we don't think that we can handle your request today... As you said before, you wanted something custom-made?" Alfred asked apologetically.
"Well, the usual process for that kind of request takes time and, as I was saying today is not quite convenient for us." He bowed again to maintain his politeness.
"Hmmm..." Alter nodded weakly, 'what's happening today?' He thought to himself.
Unbeknownst to the two talking individuals, Anastasia was watching the whole thing at a table a distance away from the two.
Actually, Anastasia had arrived at the library slightly before Alter and had been reading some books on the first floor inconspicuously.
In her defense, she just wanted to see how good her stealth had become and waited to see how long until someone notice her existence. She didn't try to make anything difficult for anyone since she knew that her visit would likely give some pressure to the people here.
'Why did grandfather even arranged this in the first place. I never said I'm not going to join the organization, I just... Wanted to see what's out there before settling in that's all.' Anastasia showed a bit of melancholy as she thought back to her grandfather's expression when she said this to him.
At that moment, as she was dozing off watching Alfred talked with some guy in a very conspicuous outfit, she heard the man recite the verbal token.
"...And so I left, because the ravens caw at midnight."
'What is that, a poem? What an embarassing line...' She thought.
'Wait, I think I've seen that passage somewhere in grandfather's study... Hm? the manager's face changed all of a sudden, interesting.' Her interest was piqued by the exchange in front of her.
Alter was trying to turn back as he already got Alfred's promise to handle his request tomorrow. But then, when he just slightly rotated his body, he caught sight of Anastasia with her silver hair staring at his and Alfred's direction from a table across the room.
Their eyes accidentally locked in with each other.
'Ah, so that's why...' Alter finally understood why Alfred said they were busy today.
He nodded politely at her just like a stranger who was caught looking at someone, he was just about to walk back towards the entrance when he felt he was suddenly being watched.
His honed instinct and reflexes made him turned his head around a certain direction subconsciously, but he quickly realized his mistakes and walked out of the library without raising anymore attention.
'What was that? Did he just noticed uncle Sid's presence?' Anastasia was stunned, '...No way, even the trainees here couldn't notice uncle Sid's existence, and they were all way stronger than the current me, that guy was at most only a few years older than me.'
Contrary to her rationalization, behind one of the bookshelves on the second floor, a middle-aged man was standing still with his eyes widened in astonishment.
'He noticed me! Even though I just accidentally released my presence for a fraction of a second! How is that possible...'
If Alter realized who was the one watching him at that moment, even he would be surprised. Sid Crylancer was the current Vice Head of The Archive.
Today, through The Head's order, he was tasked with protecting Anastasia on this particular occasion. But never in his imagination would he have thought that he'd come across something this interesting.
'It was as if he knew that he made a mistake by turning his head and quickly fixed his posture.'
'And he seemed to have a referral from the Midnight Raven... Interesting, I guess I should try contacting her about him.' Sid, like Anastasia, had also been listening to the conversation from where he was.
His recital of the Midnight Raven's verbal token was what drew Anastasia and Sid's attention towards him in the first place.
Although his voice was relatively quiet, What Alter didn't expect was the fact that Anastasia and Sid were wearing specialized hearing aids, a tool that generally amplify the surrounding sounds, on their ears. That, and the fact that Sid, someone of higher standing than the Midnight Raven, was around for it.