Chapter 1: Curious Lessons.


After the initial meeting wrapped up with Asta regaining his bearing, he happily accepted Shirou's invitation. From there Julius parted ways with the trio, bidding farewell and well regards to the two young Magic Knights and his old-time friend.

Setting Noelle's stuff aside, Shirou invited Asta into his home and offered him a small tour of his humble abode. It was to no one's surprise that he happily and eagerly said yes, taking to the tour with childlike enthusiasm like a duck to a pond.

"This is so cool!" He said aloud.

The three of them were walking down one of the many lavish halls that decorated the interior castle. Asta darted ahead, leaving his guides behind as he sought to look and touch everything in sight.

Something that annoyed Noelle to no end.

"Stop scurrying around like that, you're dragging the carpet! Don't just touch everything you see; you're going to stain them! A-asta! Are you listening?!"

Noelle's cries of admonishment went unheard as his eyes and attention quickly fell onto a large and decorative ornamental vase. Driven by curiosity, he ran right up to it and without any hesitation, his hands latching onto the edges at the top. He pulled himself up to see what might be inside.

In doing so, he upset the balance of it and caused the entire vase to tilt and rock. For a moment it looked ready to fall, were it not thanks to his squadmate's intervention. Noelle rushed to his side and grabbed him by the scuff of his shirt, pulling him back. She managed to catch the tipping vase in time, setting it right back down on its stand.

"Stop it!" She all but shouted, standing over him. "Stop running around like some belligerent monkey! You're not a child. Also, that vase was an antique! Are you trying to break everything you touch?!"

"Jeez, Noelle, no need to shout. Also, you'd didn't have to worry, I would've caught it before it hit the ground." He reassured.

"That's beside the point, Bakasta! You can't just run and wreck the place! This is the home of the Silva family, not some patchwork of an ransacked, pigsty excuse of a brigade base that the Black Bulls headquarter is. So have some respect!" She chastised.

"Now, now, there's no need for yelling." Shirou said, stepping forward and resting a hand on Noelle's shoulder. His gentle presence helped to quell Noelle's fire and irritation, but her glare remained fixed on Asta.

"He's just having a little fun, that's all."

"Father, please do not encourage his behavior!"

"Yeah Noelle, relax. You should listen to your dad." Asta said back casually.

"Don't you start!" Noelle whirled around, jabbing a finger right in his face. "Furthermore, watch how you speak to him! You are speaking to my Father, the head of the Silva Royal Family. You are to address him with respect as either Lord or Sir, as befitting his station!"

"Actually, I don't much mind." Shirou said, countermanding Noelle's words. "Feel free to call me Shirou, or Mr. Shirou if you wish, Asta."

"F-father!"

"Come now, you know how I feel about that kind of stuff. There's no need for formalities in the comfort of friends and family."

She said nothing for a moment, conflicting still evident on her face.

"Will you at least try, for me?" Shirou implored.

Noelle was well aware that her preference for formality was inherited from her mother as well as expectations instilled in her due their royal status. As such, she could only blame her father for giving her that nostalgic warm smile of his, filled with leniency for herself and her siblings. Neither could she help succumbing to it, but why did he have to give such a privilege to Bakasta!? She fumed internally.

She let out a deep sigh, resigning her to the matter.

For while she would allow the matter to drop, there was another point of discussion she needed to address.

"That reminds me... Asta, how exactly do you know my father?"

She turned to the Magicless Knight, her razor sharp pink eyes narrowing in suspicion.

"I—Oh, well... Um..."

Being put on the spot, Asta faltered. He'd almost spoken the truth, one that would've likely damned him to a shallow grave, considering his teammate's explosive temper. How could he tactfully tell her he'd been responsible for hitting, let alone hurting her beloved father, without the silverette going ballistic?

An already monumental task as he was no eloquent speaker, if the way his brain heated up in an attempt to conceive a convincing lie was anything to go by. However, he didn't want to die now! He was too young, he still wasn't the Magic Emperor, he still hadn't wiped Yuno's arrogant smirk off his face, and... and.. and!

As if sensing the boiling mush that Asta's noggin was becoming, Shirou tactfully intervened.

"We bumped into one another by chance. Asta here volunteered to help carry my bags when I went grocery shopping earlier today."

"Wait, what?!" She shouted.

Asta braced himself but to his surprise, the target of the silverette's exasperation was Shirou rather than himself.

"Father, did you sneak out, again?!"

"Sneaking out implies I was doing something I shouldn't be. I was doing some shopping, that was all."

"B-be that as it may, there should be no need! We have servants for such menial tasks, Father! You could have simply delegated them to purchase whatever it was you needed."

"Now Noelle, what have I told you: do not ask others to do what you cannot do yourself. Besides, it's good to get out of the house on occasion and stretch these old bones."

"S-still!" Noelle flustered, trying to find some excuse to cling onto. "Y-you shouldn't be going by yourself… Especially with your…"

The young lady's protest fizzled down, alongside her previous bluster with lingering conflict in her voice. Rose-colored eyes drifted traitorously down, eying the side of his missing arm. A pang of deep wallowing guilt, buried under the weeks they'd spent apart, boiled over. She looked away, her face twisted in confliction as she ruefully shook her head. Who was she, to tell her father what he should be doing? He knew better... he deserved better than a dumb girl like her...

Perhaps, if she'd been alone, Noelle would've spiraled endlessly downward in her self-hatred. Instead, she found herself nuzzled against a broad, yet comfortable chest. She struggled, a token effort at most, but the singular arm that kept her prisoner wouldn't budge.

The silverette looked up, finding a knowing and tender smile comforting her. After all, what father stood aside as his daughter suffered?

At the edge of the delicate, yet somber, atmosphere that encircled the two stood an awkward Asta. He'd often been criticized for being unsubtle or socially inept, but even he knew better than to break the staunched silence that had drowned the halls. Now, if only he didn't feel like a bull trapped in a glass house…

If there was one thing he hated most of all, it was the feeling of helplessness. Especially when it came to those he cared about.

Thankfully, Asta was saved from his distressing predicament, by the actions of the patriarch. With a final squeeze and some whispered words that Asta didn't try to catch, and a gentle kiss on his daughter's crown, he flickered his gaze and offered him an escape.

"Asta, care for a spar?

"Huh?" Asta said, blinking dumbly for a second.

"A spar. Between you and me." He repeated.

The young man found his confused gaze drifting from the older Silva, only to land on the younger's flustered face, who'd likely just remembered his existence.

Ignoring her reddened cheeks, and their shared confusion, he quickly received a nod, affirming that she wouldn't skin him alive for sparring with her father. Taking the unspoken answer to heart, he hastily agreed, but not before letting his thoughts on the sudden proposition known.

"Umm, I'm always up for a good fight, Mr. Shirou, but why so suddenly?"

This time, it was the lord's turn to look confused.

"I promised you some tips on improving your swordsmanship, didn't I? I could certainly find some writing utensils to prepare a class for you, but you struck me as more of a physical learner. Was I mistaken?"

Under the threat of mind-numbing verbal lessons, the young bull rapidly shook his head, his face ashen with dread.

"No, sir! Please fight me, instead!"

Shirou only chuckled, amused at the young man's overblown reactions.

"Sure thing, Asta. Besides, we still have some plenty of time before dinner. Why don't we use it to its fullest?"

Without further adieu, the patriarch of the Silva family departed, trailed by a giddy Asta and a reluctant, yet trusting Noelle, acknowledging that her father knew what he was doing. Although, it wasn't enough to eliminate the tightness in her stomach.

She knew that her father's proposal was more than a mean to pass the time. It was also served as a distraction, to help push the recent scene behind them. If only for the moment. A distraction she was fully aware of, yet followed along all the same.

[-][-][-][-][-][-][-][-][-]

Making their way through the elaborate royal manse they eventually came to a room with a large spread double door welcoming them. From the outside, the room didn't appear to be that big but the same couldn't be said for the interior the moment he stepped foot through the door.

The inside was deceptively large in scale, rivaling a sprawling courtyard. The room was cubical, flat, and pristine with its marble-like walls stretching and encompassing the room.

"Woah… Where are we?!" Asta exclaimed in wonderment, looking all around him.

"It's our family's personal training room." Shirou answered. "The walls and floors lining the room have been reinforced with powerful reinforcement magic, making them very durable alongside a silencing enchantment."

He lightly tapped against the wall. An action that produced no sound whatsoever.

"See? You could take a broadsword to the walls and you'd be more likely to end up with a scrap of metal, than denting them. So, don't worry about damages or making too much noise. Soundproofing is necessary for nightly training, after all."

With that final remark, Shirou reached the center of the room before beckoning the young bullheaded man forward, while his daughter took to the sidelines, resting her back against the wall near the entrance.

Shirou began with some light stretches. Seeing this, Asta was quick to copy him as the two warmed up for the training to come.

"Oh, and Asta." He began, drawing the younger Magic Knight's attention. "Don't hold anything. Come at me like you mean it, with everything you've got."

Asta froze mid-stretch.

"A-are you sure, Mr. Shirou?" Asta asked, showing a rare sign of hesitance.

A slight grimace wormed its way onto Asta's face as he gave some more thought to the spar. In his mind, he expected a casual spar between them. Something along the line of a mock battle to ease the lessons in or where he would practice his swings and forms while the married royal oversee his training drills. He hadn't expected Shirou to ask something that intense right from the start. While he was giddy and curious at first, much of it slowly bled away as he began sizing Shirou up, realizing that he was about to fight a crippled father.

Shirou easily picked up on this.

"I may be old and cripple, but you'd be a fool if you think I can't still take you down. These old bones still have some fight in them, I assured you of that." He said almost whimsically with a hint of competitiveness, trying to ease Asta's worry.

Asta noticed out of the corner of his eyes that Noelle flinched. She looked away, one of her arms rubbed the other, clutching it as her face shadowed for a moment.

Once more he was left to wonder what was the story between father and daughter.

"Hmm, how about this?" Shirou said, holding up five fingers and offering a compromise. "Five minutes. You'll have five minutes. If you can last against me for five minutes, it's your win."

"Um, don't you mean the spar will last five minutes, sir?" Asta couldn't but question, noting the particular phrasing of the challenge.

"I know what I said." Shirou offered him a cheeky but competitive smile.

"Besides… you want to see if it's true or not, don't you, Asta?"

Looking at him fully, Shirou's gaze pinned him. The Magicless Knight seized up once more under his searching gaze. It was the same look that he gave Asta when the two of them began talking."

"I can see it in your eyes ever since Julius spoke those words. The man that rivals the Magic Emperor. Such a lofty title and reputation no doubt conjures a certain image in mind. With the likes of Julius or those of the Magic Knight Captains. Certainly not a one-arm man with a lame leg such as myself. You're curious but also doubtful. I would even go as far as to say suspicious."

"W-what?! N-no!" Asta replied, almost shouting as well as waving his hand back and forth in rushed denial.

"It's quite alright, I don't blame you." Shirou chuckled at his reaction, waving away his concern. "It's completely understandable, anyone would be skeptical. But then again, the same could be said for someone without magic striving to become the Magic Emperor, no?"

Asta froze, his words striking a chord within him.

After a moment's pause, he gave his answer.

"Alright…"

Shirou nodded, grateful.

"Noelle, would you be so kind as to be the referee for the spar?"

Noelle nodded, acquiescing to her father's request. She walked towards the adjacent wall close to the door where there was a small, decorative cabinet on the wall. Reaching inside, she pulled out a small ornate silver pocket watch. Hitting a few buttons she set it for five minutes. She looked back, signaling that she was ready on his go.

Standing in the center the two warriors readied themselves.

Calling his grimoire to him, Asta's dirtied five clover grimoire appeared, its pages flipping open wildly as he summoned forth his large Anti-Magic sword. He grasped the heavy sword with both hands as the familiar weight settled within in his hands. He took a basic upright stance with his weapon facing his sparring opponent.

The weapon was quite large, with its length as long as Asta was tall yet the relatively short statured Magic Knight was capable of holding the weapon with ease. The blade of the weapon was especially large, with a pointed tip while the base was pointed inwards, creating an angle. On first glance, one wouldn't be incorrect in calling it a flat, pointed, hunk of steel attached to a sword handle with its dull, blunted edge alongside numerous scuff marks and dirt that blemished the blade. It looked more likely to bludgeon a man to death than it was to actually cut through anything.

Asta easy caught the look in Shirou's eyes. The way those amber eyes zeroed in on his blackened sword the very moment it manifested, it was a focus he'd only seen on a familiar pair of pink eyes. So this was where his fellow squadmate picked up her habit from, he mused. Like father, like daughter as the saying goes.

He was appraising the greatsword as Asta slowly swung it in practiced arcs.

"So this is the famed, or should I say, infamous, Anti-Magic sword. Interesting…" Shirou muttered softly, his eyes rolling over the weapon with intrigue and anticipation.

"Well, since you've shown yours I suppose it's my turn. Trace on!"

Asta felt something just then.

He wasn't too sure how to describe it but for a moment, the very air stirred.

Light danced within the noble's opened palm as streaks of neon lightning flowed forth. His fingers closed in, willing the flow of mana to coalesce and in a bright flash, a weapon appeared in his hand. It was a sword, a short sword with a smooth, curved white blade.

"Woah... is that you're magic, Mr. Shirou?" Emerald eyes sparkled with unrestrained curiosity as they roamed over the white sword.

"Indeed, and this here is one of my personal favorites. Bakuya!"

It was a short sword, one with less of the shine of a polished metal in its steel than it has the haze of a cloud. And for the spar, Shirou projected Bakuya with a dull edge to avoid any serious injuries or attack.

Here, Asta briefly drew comparisons between the sword in Shirou's hand with the ones commonly created by Noelle. From what he remembered, her magic involved producing weapons of the highest caliber possible, forged from the depths of her own thoughts and honed through her mental visualization. All to create weapons, always swords, with a deadly but peerless design that at times feels like works of art. A meticulous design that was a fusion of form and functionality. Swords that held an air of sophistication, ones that demanded respect. Shirou's on the other hand lacked such a demanding presence. It was a curious weapon, Asta felt. It was simple yet elegant, quaint yet superb.

It was also here that his eyes searched him, picking up on something, or more accurately, a lack of it.

"You don't have a grimoire!" Asta gasped.

"Indeed." Shirou confirmed, nodding. "Unlike those on the Continent, I don't require a grimoire in order to use my magic. You can say, it's my own personal brand of magic, Projection."

His eyes sparkled with amazement like never before. Once again Shirou defied expectations, leaving the junior Black Bull in awe.

"I do not simply create swords or weapons purely made of mana. Rather, I project them. And not any old weapon. Mine are quite special, they are Noble Phantasms!"

'Noble Phantasms.' Even their name sounded powerful, Asta thought, left wowed and curious by the distinct magic privy only to the one-armed noble.

"…"

Nero watched on before it spread its wings and flapped off of Asta's comfortable head. The swallow-tailed bird joined Noelle on the side, perching on her shoulder as a fellow spectator for the match to come.

With both fighters ready at last, Shirou nodded to Noelle.

"Begin!" She declared.

With that, the timer counted down and the spar officially began. To her quiet surprise, neither one made the first move for the few seconds.

Despite agreeing to the spar, a part of Asta still remained reluctant…

Asta knew that Shirou was an experienced swordsman, but therein lies the issue; was. He knew that strength alone did not determine a fight and that the redhead's experience and likely technique dwarfed his own. Still, he couldn't help the inkling of worry for his opponent, should they clash. After all, he knew he was strong, maybe even stronger than the older man and he didn't wish to cause more harm to the kind royal who he'd already grown to care about, in the short time they'd known each other. So, he'd hold back. Just a bit... just to make sure he didn't go overboard. That was fine, right?

And that reluctance manifested as inaction.

Something that Shirou easily picked up.

"You're still hesitant." It was less of a question and more assertion.

"Allow me to change that."

One moment Shirou was in front of Asta, the next, the man was staring him down.

Asta hardly had any time to react as he felt something heavy slammed into his body, knocking the air out of his breath and sending him backward. He gasped, rolling to his knee.

His instinct flared up, warning him. This time, he brought up his large blade and used the wide flat side of his sword to block the incoming attack. Once more he was caught by surprise by the force that struck his weapon. He was instantly forced back, his arms vibrating as Shirou rained down blow after blow with each strike resulting in a dull metallic rattle ringing every time he struck.

The one-armed royal proved himself relentless in his attack, giving Asta little time to recover, let alone any time for him to regain his footing. His slashes were swift but heavy, forcing Asta on the defensive as he backpedaled to avoid being overwhelmed.

Landing a particularly heavy blow, Asta's guard was broken, his sword and arm sent reeling. Which left him open as Shirou appeared at his side, lashing out with another kick.

Asta gritted his teeth, pain exploding from his side as he was knocked further back. His body slammed against the floor and he rolled for a bit before he managed to recover, back on his knee. He let out a gasp, panting.

Asta looked at Shirou, his eyes widening by what he saw.

It wasn't anything overt, like a change in magic or even body language. The greatest change was, for lack of a better word, a certain sharpness that suffused the royal's posture and movements. If only for an instant, he almost thought the warm amber eyes he'd grown accustomed to, had become cold silvery steel. However, between one blink and another, it was gone. In its place, were hardened coppery amber. It was as if he was facing someone else entirely.

Something else that was new to him was the glowing streaks that lined the Silva patriarch's body. They covered his entire body, pulsating with a brilliant neon glow. Streaks of energy crackled from them occasionally, radiating pure mana from how much was pouring throughout his body. These glowing circuits seemed especially concentrated along his lone arm and legs. Asta could also faintly make some out on Bakuya's surface.

Shirou allowed him no time to rest as he dashed forward.

Asta kicked off, meeting the man's attack with one of his own.

Their black and white blades clashed head-on and Asta readied himself to pull back his sword lest he accidentally bludgeon Shirou but something else happened instead. Something far unexpected.

As Asta's Anti-Magic sword meet Bakuya, he encountered resistance as their blades lock together.

The Magicless Knight's eyes widened in sheer surprise at the seeming impossibility before him. Not even Noelle could hold back her shock, gasping aloud in bewilderment alongside Asta from the sidelines. And Nero, the avian's slanted gaze remained inscrutable as ever but one could almost feel the narrowing of its eyes as it took in the sight before it. Only Shirou remained seemingly unsurprised by what he saw.

Up until this point, there has been little to nothing that Asta couldn't cut through with his greatsword when it came to magic. It didn't matter how strong, large, or seemingly durable they were, anything remotely magical in nature was rendered obsolete before his Anti-Magic sword. It was in the very name: Anti Magic.

Such was the case against the likes of the pale crystal mage from the Diamond Kingdom, Mars. Despite his giant sword, Crystal Creation Magic: Laevateinn, being composed of ultra-hardened minerals and crystals, Asta's Anti-Magic sword cleaved through it like a hot knife through butter with little trouble.

He once tested his sword against one of Noelle's created swords and the results were as expected. He cut through them with little effort.

So, that raised the question in both teens' minds. What was the difference? What made Bakuya different that it seemingly was unaffected by Asta's Anti-Magic?

Only Shirou knew the answer.

On the surface, it may appear that Bakuya was unaffected but that was far from the truth.

Despite clashing only once he felt the Noble Phantasm degrade greatly, reduced to half its original durability even with the likes of Reinforcement strengthening it.

The reason why Shirou's projections were capable of withstanding Asta's Anti-Magic properties without dispelling or breaking outright when compared to the likes of his daughter's magic lies in one key, fundamental aspect. Their conceptuality.

While Shirou used mana to project his Noble Phantasm, the process for which it was done fundamentally differs when compared to traditional mages and the likes of grimoires. It was as he said in the beginning, he didn't simply "create" weapons. Rather, he projects them. Furthermore, what Shirou projects weren't simply common weapons but Noble Phantasms, crystalized legends of yore given conception and form. By their very nature, Noble Phantasms were denser and harder to dissipate when compared to any other form of magic. To draw a comparison, they were like water whereas other magic was like air. Thus, they were capable of holding their own and retaining their forms against even the likes of Anti-Magic.

But only to a certain extent.

The deadlock slowly fell in Shirou's favor as he gradually pushed Asta back. The spiky-haired teen gritted his teeth, his arms and muscle bulging as he struggled against the swordsman, his feet dragging against the floor as he fought to keep his ground.

Before he'd received his grimoire, before he became the sole wielder of Anti-Magic, Asta had always known a single certainty. His physical strength. His greatest weapon was his body. One forged through years of back-breaking and muscle tearing endeavors. His physique was what allowed him to stand against those who were naturally gifted and, at times, match those that outclassed him. Yet, even with all his great strength and muscle he couldn't seem to meet, let alone overpower him as he would typically with any other opponent.

It was certainly an eye-opening sight. But one that he would never back down from.

"Rarrgh!" With a roar and a burst of strength, he ended their struggle, pushing Shirou back momentarily.

It would be enough as Asta switched up his grip on his sword and swung with the large flat side of the weapon like a bat. Shirou raised his arm, the streaks of neon light glowed brightly as he pumped more mana into his Reinforcement. Using his forearm, he blocked the bludgeoning hit but was sent skidding back.

Shirou's eyes flickered down to his arm, taking note of the dulled pulse.

'So Anti-Magic is capable of affecting reinforcement magic even at the surface level, huh?'

A shout ripped through the air.

Shirou looked up to see Asta dropping towards him as he had jumped after the man, closing the distance as he brought down his greatsword.

Shirou swung with Bakuya. The two blades meet once more but this time it was Asta that emerged victorious as his Anti-Magic sword slashed through the Noble Phantasm at last.

Emerald eyes tracked the broken blades as shards of it splintered in the air as he landed, the two passing one another. He watched as they glowed before breaking into motes of light. Seeing Bakuya dissipating, some of the tension within him eased up.

Suddenly, pain exploded from his back. Asta staggered, trying to recover as he hastily turned his body around to face his opponent. His eyes widened to find Shirou with another sword in his hand, only this one possessed a black blade and was decorated with a crimson hexagonal pattern. Stumbling, he tried swinging his greatsword but the foreign Silva easily dodged the attack easily, reappearing at his unprotected flank.

With another reinforced kick he sent Asta flying back, tumbling against the floor before coming to a stop with him back on his knees. One of his hands reached back, hissing as he clutched his back shoulder area against the dull pain from where he was struck.

From the sidelines, Noelle gulped, having seen what had happened.

The moment their swords connected and Bakuya shattered, Shirou was already in motion. He knew that the Noble Phantasm was about to break and so he allowed it.

Simultaneously, he pivoted on his heel and spun in place, his arm readying a swing as Kanshou took form in his hand, replacing Bakuya within an instant. This allowed him to land a counterattack on Asta when he had little to chance at countering or recovering from his initial heavy, which left him wide open.

"You didn't think it would be that easy, did you?" Shirou asked rhetorically, his fingers twirling the handle of Kanshou deftly between them.

Without pause, Shirou launched himself at Asta, forcing him back to his feet as the fighting resumed once more.

For the next few minutes, they fought but the course of the match remained much the same.

A song of steel rang out every time their blades clashed with each clash leading with a different melody. And yet, no matter how many of the Noble Phantasms Asta shattered with his sword there would always be another ready to meet him. With his magic, Shirou effectively had a near limitless supply of swords - Asta quickly realized.

But, that was far from his opponent's sole advantage. Even now, as they met in the middle of the room once again, locked in a clash, Asta found himself being pushed back, the cracking floor beneath him a great indicator of the strength his new acquaintance wielded. His Anti-Magic may eat through the strange black and white short swords, but it did nothing to cancel the sheer kinetic force of the redhead's swings. Not to mention his blistering speed, something Asta found himself remembering once more, as a rapid, yet powerful kick forced a disengagement before he could fully overcome the strange resistance Shirou's swords provided. Yet, even while taking a flight towards the nearing wall, the young bull couldn't help but regret how cumbersome his blade was.

Originally, Asta thought of using the noble's limp against him, capitalizing on this with his greater mobility. Unfortunately for the aspiring swordsman, Reinforcement made Shirou's limp a nonfactor. One unlike any form of reinforcement magic he'd seen before. With the way he was kicking the young Black Bull around, one would be hard press to imagine him being hindered at all.

Unable to bypass Shirou's staunch defenses yet again, Asta was sent skidding back after an exchange of powerful blows. He fell to his knees once more, his sword stabbing the floor as he held onto the handle of the weapon, using it as a crutch. He was panting, sucking in short breaths with droplets of sweat dripping down his face and neck from the short but fierce exchange. His body groaned and ached with dulled pain, sustained by Shirou's numerous attacks.

Shirou on the other hand stood in complete contrast to Asta. Throughout the spar he had hardly broken a sweat. He almost looked bored standing there, his face was the picture of focus but also ease, as if he was taking a casual stroll through a park.

Most mages he'd seen and fought were content to fight at a distance. Relying on their spells and magic to maintain distance and achieve victory. It was safe, reliable and against other mages, it made sense. It was why Asta stood out as an outlier as due to his magicless state he used other methods to close the gap. Where most trained to grow their magical strength Asta trained his body to its physical peak, allowing him to physically make up the difference and capitalize on his opponent's weaknesses.

Even Mars, with his dominating strength, knew better to engage Asta in direct combat despite his powerful magic and defenses. For his Anti-Magic sword more than enough to even the playing field. Coupled his near-superhuman level of strength, he could match nearly any mage.

Against Shirou, however, brute strength and instinct alone wouldn't cut it.

His full swings, wide arcs that utilized momentum and the weight of his sword fully, were either dodged or halted entirely, before punishing him in turn. Rapid and controlled swings, the kind he'd often use against other Magic Knights and opponents who could cast in great amounts, ended only in parries that saw Shirou end up within his guard, to obvious consequences. Feints, sleight of hand, kicks, and many more, the autumn-haired royal was adept in many forms and it showed. He wasn't just an amazing swordsman, but an excellent fighter all around.

Even with his ace in the hole, Anti-Magic, couldn't make up the difference in their fighting strength. He was eclipsed, not only in physical might but martial skill and speed as well.

'So, was this what facing an equal felt like?' Asta thought, only to chastise himself a second later.

No, that was an arrogant thought.

Shirou was superior to Asta. There were no ifs, and, or buts about it.

For once in his life, Asta realized that when it came to his physique, he was another person's lesser. He couldn't help the grin that crept upon his face, as he realized what Shirou represented. A stronger, older, and wiser facsimile, of what he aspired to be. A future that was resounding kicking his ass, showing him how far behind he was. Asta couldn't help but accept that challenge as he hefted his cumbersome sword once more.

For the first time in the match, Shirou's inscrutable mask flickered. His warm gaze glimmering with a notch of approval as the corners of his lips twitched upwardly.

'Good.' The magus thought. He was starting to take it seriously.

"You do know defending isn't enough to win, right? I mean, I've never lost by being defended to death, at least. Would you care to give it a try?" Shirou sassed.

"Heh... heh... those are fighting words, old man! Aren't ya scared that I can outlast your brittle bones? Not to mention those cheap blades that can't seem to stand more than a hit or two!" Asta returned fiercely.

"I would definitely be worried, if they were anywhere near as brittle as your stance. Good thing that they aren't, huh? After all, it isn't the size or strength of the sword, but how we use it, no?"

"Oh, it is on! Who needs a stupid stance, when I can smack you to kingdom come and back!"

"You do."

The two found themselves smiling as they dashed forward, resuming the fight.

As they exchanged a flurry of attacks Shirou held onto a small frown as he blocked one of Asta's strikes head-on. Kanshou fractured, only to be replaced with Bakuya as he swung without hesitation only to be meet by the blackened blade. Despite his renewed vigor not much had changed. The young bull simply attacked and attacked, keeping on the offensive but that was it. It seemed that he hadn't quite learned his lesson.

Their blades clashed and once more, one half of the married blades fell to the Anti-Magic blade as the two swordsmen slid past one another.

Shirou performed the maneuver again, pivoting on his heel and repositioning himself to attack Asta's unprotected flank following his heavy swing with a newly projected Bakuya.

However, Asta was ready.

Twisting his upper body, he met Shirou's gaze, and at the same time, his other arm positioned itself behind the back of his head with his palm opened, waiting. From Asta's grimoire, another black handle appeared before shooting upwards. He grasped the hilt and swung, its form was a black blur as it intercepted Bakuya with sparks dancing in the air following their clash.

Wide amber eyes fell onto the second blade.

'A second Anti-Magic sword?!' Shirou thought in surprise.

Where Asta's first sword was slow and heavy, his second sword was fast and sharp.

Cracks spread along Bakuya, marring the milky white blade with imperfection with its edge chipped following Asta's last-second save.

Shirou staggered momentarily, having his attack repelled. However, he did not back down as his forefoot stomped against the floor, pressing on the attack regardless. However, he wasn't the only one with the same idea. Asta continued his momentum as he swung back around, bringing his larger Anti-Magic blade down with all his strength for a diagonal slash.

Shirou's swing halted as he knew he wouldn't be quick enough so he held up the weapon at the last second, using it to defend himself. For what little good it did as Bakuya was cleaved through with little resistance.

His lone arm reeled back, trembling slightly from the force behind the swing. That wouldn't be the end as Asta followed up with his second, slimmer but faster longsword, catching Shirou by surprise with its speed. The sword swept in from below with an upward slash.

Shirou almost felt the tip of the blade travel from below and up, nearly brushing against his neck and chin as he leapt back. He avoided the attack by a hair's breadth. He jumped back again, putting twice the amount of distance between them.

"How'd ya like them apples?!" Asta exclaimed pantingly, pointing his second sword at him.

Shirou said nothing, his eyes flickered downwards. He bore no visible injury besides a thin diagonal cut down his tunic. It had only cut the surface, yet, he smiled approvingly.

"Better."

Asta returned his smile with a sweaty smirk of his own, adrenaline fueling him to continue even at the point of near exhaustion.

"There's more where that came from!"

Shirou simply smiled.

"Noelle." He called out, glancing to his daughter while keeping his gaze focused on Asta. "How much time is left on the clock?"

Noelle blinked, shaking her head, having been engrossed in the fight before looking down to the watch in her hands.

"T-thirty seconds, father." She read out.

Shirou nodded, turning back to Asta with a small smile.

"Well then, I suppose it's time we wrapped this up. Wouldn't you agree, Asta?"

Asta answered him in kind by dashing forward with both swords poised to strike.

Shirou on the other hand waited for him. A newly projected Kanshou appeared in his hand. But, instead of meeting him in direct combat as he thought, Shirou did something completely unexpected. He threw the weapon at Asta.

Asta was taken by surprise. He raised his longsword to deflect the incoming spinning blade but at the last second, he noticed something. It was thanks to his sharp eyes that he picked on the thrown weapon pulsating faintly before bursting into light.

'Wait... They can explode?!'

His surprise morphed into shock as the Noble Phantasm detonated. Asta was able to bring both weapons up to shield himself as the miniature explosion rang out. A cloud of smoke enveloped him, obscuring him to his surrounding.

He was far from hurt but it was enough to give a short pause. A moment of weakness that Shirou took advantage of. From the smoke, he appeared, catching Asta completely off-guard as he closed the distance with yet another sword in hand.

Asta reacted instinctively, swinging with the lighter and faster Anti-Magic sword, catching the man's attack as his Noble Phantasm dissipated.

Exactly as Shirou wanted him to do.

For while Asta could swing the sword as easily as a child could with a stick, it would take a fraction of a second for him to recover before he could swing again. An interim where his leg lashed out with a swift, reinforced kick. One that aimed directly at the pommel of the Anti-Magic sword.

Asta felt the sword fly out of his hand from Shirou's precise kick, leaving his left arm shaking and grasping for nothing.

The black longsword spun through the air, reaching it's zenith, before it fell back down, stabbing the floor.

Asta grimaced. It was too far away and with only his larger sword, he wouldn't be able to keep up with Shirou's speed. He was also knocked off balance for a moment, recovering just enough to bring his body in for a haphazard swing. One that Shirou dodged all too easily, weaving under the swing to circle around him.

Asta's eyes tracked him and he sought to use the momentum again to bring his sword back around to catch Shirou on where he could appear. Only, he would never get the chance.

From the plume of smoke appeared another set of Kanshou and Bakuya, spinning through the air before the pair homed in on him. With a new and immediate threat closing in on him, his attention was torn from Shirou and he was forced to intercept the married blades before they struck.

But as he swung, just before they made contact, Kanshou and Bakuya glowed and exploded.

The blast rocked him, knocking Asta off his feet. Rolling, he quickly recovered, his eyes darting frantically to catch sight of his tricky opponent. As the question of 'where is he?' crossed his mind, Shirou appeared without warning, as if called upon by his thought. Appearing out of Asta's blind spot, Shirou brought the spar to a close as he halted right beside him, with the two of them standing shoulder to shoulder with one another but in the opposite direction. Asta too froze, resisting the urge to gulp as he felt naked steel brushing against the underside of his chin. The two locked eyes, golden amber stared into clear emerald as neither one backed down even as the winner of the match was made clear.

After a short moment, Shirou dismissed the weapon in his hand and took a step back.

"I'd say this is my victory, wouldn't you agree, Asta?"

Asta didn't say anything.

Noelle easily noticed the tiny trembles in his legs before they gave out, with Asta falling to his butt. His Anti-Magic sword clattered beside him. The sounds of his breathless pants echoed softly, filling the room.

"Father! Asta!" Noelle called out, jogging forward.

Out of the two, it was definitely the latter who had taken more of a beating, but Noelle couldn't help but call for her father first, as the worry she'd felt seeing him in combat once more was a dreadful thing.

Still, as she closed the distance, her eyes didn't waver from her fellow Black Bull. Intellectually, she knew that Asta was unlike the nobles she'd grown up with and were accustomed to, and was unlikely to declare vengeance or a blood feud over a predictable loss or a perceived slight. Yet, she knew the sting of shame was something even commoner and peasants could feel, and the frustration of defeat could only worsen the former. However, whatever she expected, it surely wasn't the wide beaming grin of a satisfied loser, who'd enjoyed the experience of fighting his better more than the victory other would've sought.

If anything he looked ready to jump back to his feet and demand a rematch.

"Noelle, you're dad is awesome!" Asta couldn't help but praise, turning to her.

Noelle harrumphed. "You say that as if it were a surprise."

Allowing Asta a moment to catch his breath, Shirou stepped forward.

"Quiz time." The autumn-haired noble said, drawing the two's attention. "Asta, when facing off against an opponent that is superior to you in many ways, what can you do to even up the odds?" Shirou asked him, depositing a sudden question onto his lap for Asta to answer.

Faced with an immediate question he stumbled for a second, before his mouth opened to give the first answer that popped into his head.

"By being better?"

"Hmm. By being better, but, how exactly?" He neither accepted the answer nor did he corrected him. Instead, Shirou gently urged him to think on it further. To find his answer.

Asta remained silent for a few more seconds, thinking hard on the question and lesson given to him. He thought back on the fight between them, and not just theirs. He recalled all his major fights up until now, the initial fight between him versus Magna, his fight against the ice mage back at the village of Sosshi, and the confrontation between him and the Diamond Kingdom crystal mage. He thought back on all the fights themselves, racking his head to find some commonality between them.

"By doing something they'd never think or expect?" He said, giving his answer.

Shirou smiled. While his answer was simple in nature, he understood exactly what Asta meant.

"Certainly, the element of surprise is another factor, but remember that most first engagements will likely be one full of them, lessening their impact. When you lack the strength to brute force through a problem, speed to either blitz or make a retreat, or, in your case, magic to use creatively, your last option is resource management. How long can you fight, how much can you endure, and how far are you willing to go? He who knows himself well will not be easily defeated. I want you to think on this Asta, what exactly are you capable of and what are you not, and what can you do to make up the difference? Everyone has their own methods and style." Shirou imparted.

"Take our fight for example. Tell me, would've it ever cross your mind for someone, anyone, wielding a sword or any close-quarter weapon to throw them at their opponent?"

Asta shook his head.

"Exactly!" He snapped his fingers, pointing to him.

"Hence why it is so effective. Speed, strength, skill, power, and experience, all of these are essential factors but they can be overturned when faced with the unorthodox. Especially so in the heat of battle. In summary, fight smarter and not necessarily harder, Asta. You may be able to cancel magic, but just because you have a hammer, it doesn't mean that every problem is a nail. Think, Asta, think! And you'll do better next time!"

Asta was silent. While far from a shocking sight to see, it was a side to him that was often overshadowed by his rumbustious norm.

Asta was not the thinking type. He knew it, his friends knew it and his teachers especially knew that. However, while he was never the book smart type, he wasn't dumb either. The lesson and butt-kicking so graciously bestowed upon him left him wanting more. To be faster, stronger, to be better than how he was before. It was a lesson to come and as he mulled over his senior's words before coming to the conclusion that he could not rely solely on his instincts and momentum to carry him to victory.

The scar that stretched across his pecs from where the Diamond mage inflicted on him ached for a moment. A phantom pain. A mortal reminder. That there were those out there that were stronger, faster, or more skilled than him. And in order to reach and surpass them, he needed to get better, not simply stronger.

It was as Shirou said, Asta had to learn how to fight smarter not harder.

His face hardened, yet, even the seriousness that plagued it did nothing to diminish his smile as he accepted the challenge of overcoming his weakness to reach new heights and surpass his limits. Only then will his dream of becoming the next Magic Emperor be one step closer.

For Noelle, she watched on, charmed by the sporty yet resolute determination that she'd seen shine so brilliantly throughout their time together as members of the Black Bull. The silver-haired heiress soon found herself flushing pinkly due to Asta invading her thoughts once again as she internally sputtered, counseling herself in denial.

While the two of them were off in their own thoughts, Shirou held one of his own.

"And speaking of surprises." Shirou began, earning the two's attention once more as they found him standing beside Asta's recently acquired, second Anti-Magic sword.

"Asta, what can you tell me about this sword exactly?"

He thought about it for a moment before quickly recounting what he knew. How he found the weapon in the dungeon hidden behind a wall after being smacked back by the berserk crystal mage. How he could call upon the weapon from his grimoire just like that of his first greatsword. And lastly, how it possessed Anti-Magic properties identical to his first sword.

"Is that all?" He inquired, retrieving the weapon for the Black Bull.

Asta quickly remembered the last, and perhaps, biggest fact regarding the sword.

"Wait! I was also able to use some kind of magic slash attack!" He exclaimed, sharing a glance with Noelle as the memory of the event replayed in their mind.

Asta could still remember the shock and awe he felt as he swung the sword, releasing a powerful magic slash attack that managed to cut through the crystal mage's attack and heavy armor alongside canceling out his healing Flame Magic. Something that shouldn't be possible for him due to his lack of magic.

"A magic slash attack." Shirou repeated, not at all looking the least bit shocked at the information. Amber eyes flicked to the sword and right back to Asta.

"Did you know that this sword is capable of absorbing magic?"

"W-wait?! Really?!" Asta exclaimed, accepting the weapon back in his hand and looking down at it in surprise.

"Indeed. Even just holding it, I can feel the sword slowly siphoning my mana. For any regular mage it would be quite the alarming prospect. A sword that slowly drains their magic the longer they hold it, it would be counterintuitive. It doesn't help that it is quite heavy to wield as well. But, for you, someone without any magic whatsoever its draining effects is all but nonexistent. You're able to use the weapon without worrying about any of its drawbacks. It's almost as if the sword was made for you."

Emerald eyes roamed over the sword, absorbing what he just learned. Due to his magicless state such a fact would've gone unnoticed who for knows how long before he would've ever learned of its true properties. Even now, the memory of him using a clearly magical attack left him confused. He had momentarily forgotten all about it until now, his subconscious concealing it as perhaps a figment of his delirious imagination thanks to the wounds he suffered in the fight or the heavy drawback and fatigue of the moment.

"Have you tried replicating the magic slash attack, Asta?"

Asta shook his head.

"Well, as the saying goes: there's no time like the present."

"Yes sir!" Asta exclaimed, eager to start only to deflate as he realized something.

Even now, the memory of the event remained faint within the depths of his psyche. The exact process of what he did, he wasn't too sure where, let alone how to even begin. To use a magic slashing attack would require using or channeling mana, something that Asta would have no experience of ever doing in the first place since he couldn't use magic in the first place.

"I don't know where to start, Mr. Shirou." Asta admitted abashedly, scratching the back of his head.

Something that Shirou found nostalgic as he smiled knowingly, offering him an encouraging and understanding smile.

"That's alright. Here, let's try this. I want you to take a deep breath and then close your eyes."

Asta did as instructed.

"Clear your thoughts. Empty your mind of everything…"

"That shouldn't be too hard…" Noelle snickered underneath her breath.

"Hey! I heard that!" Asta pointed back, offended.

"Asta! Noelle!" Shirou snapped his finger, calling for order though he did little to hide the small smile that crept onto his lips.

"As I was saying, clear your mind. Don't worry about anything, just relax. Simply listen and follow my voice."

Asta threw a pout Noelle's way before doing as instructed. He held out his sword in front of him, horizontally, with his other hand resting flatly against the blade.

"Focus on the sword, feel it. Can you feel its flow? Can you feel the mana brimming in the air, surrounding us?"

His closed eyes creased in concentration, his lips tightening as he concentrated as he'd never concentrated before. A bead of sweat formed on his forehead, dripping down the side of his cheek as he struggled for a bit.

"Can you feel it, Asta?"

"I think…"

"Don't think, feel. Don't force it, let it come naturally."

Grunting in acknowledgement, he tried again. Shirou and Noelle watched on in silence. It was unsure how much had passed, perhaps a few minutes or, perhaps no more than a handful of seconds for the trio, before Asta felt something, alongside the others in the room. It was a sudden stillness, the calm before a storm, as the presence of both the weapon and its wielder shifted. Gone was a hunk of metal wielded by a monkey, in its place, stood the synchronicity of a weapon and its master, as they both empowered the other, in a harmonic escalation of power.

"Now, I wish for you to imagine this. You're floating in a vast freshwater pond, the water so clean it's marine and transparent. Can you feel it? The sensation of water all around you. Your body submerged just below the water, with your head breaking the surface. Allow yourself to drift away, sinking beneath the tranquil surface. Allow the weight of the pond to gently pull you in."

The silverette glanced at her father, curious as to the analogy he was using.

"Can you you feel it, the cool water brush against you? The wet yet warm sensation enveloping you. Allow the ebb and flow wash over you."

Shirou waited for a few more seconds, allowing Asta to acclimate to the sensation.

"Now, slowly open your mouth but don't try to breathe in the water all at once!" He added quickly. "Allow it to flow in naturally, filling your mouth."

Noelle felt something just now. Her back straightened up as her eyes wandered before focusing on the sensation. She could feel it, a sensation akin to a faint gentle breeze on a warm day. The ambient flow of mana within the room was drifting, it was being focused. And the source of it was none other than the sword which glowed softly at first.

The silver-haired noble watched on, gasping under her breath as she saw the black markings on the blade light up, glowing brighter and brighter, brimming with mana.

"And once you can hold no more, close your mouth break to the surface. Spit out all the water with a roar and breathe!"

Asta's emerald eyes flashed as they snapped open. With a shout he swung the blackened sword brimming with magical power. From his blade discharged a wide and powerful looking flying slash composed entirely out of magic. The attack was fast, slicing through the air until it struck the wall opposite to them.

A powerful force rang out as his attack made contact with the magically reinforced wall, kicking up a small cloud of smoke. Once the dust settled the three were left surprised by what they saw.

Where once a pristine wall stood, there now was a large and deep scar that stretched down the wall.

Shirou let out a whistle at the display, walking over to inspect the damage. The attack cut through the magically reinforced walls like it was wet paper and cleanly too.

"Impressive. Not only can it fire out ranged magical slashes but they're also imbued with Anti-Magic. Quite the fearsome combination."

Asta hardly heard him, the blood that pulsed within his ears deafened him to the world. He was panting, breathing heavily yet at the same time he was far from out of breath. It was a comforting presence, as it flowed in and out, calming his heart that pumped rapidly, as a strange tingle clung to his body. It was cold, but also hot. It was empowering, yet exhausting while also being soothing. Everything felt sharper, to the point of discomfort, as Asta struggled to make anything out with how sluggish his body felt despite how keen his senses were.

It was a whole new sensation, one ripe with contradiction and yet, it was one he couldn't help but relish.

The first thought that popped into his head was: Was this the feeling of mana? Was this what Yuno and so many others felt when they channel and call upon their magic?

If so, then he had a better understanding of just what exactly it was that he was missing out on for most to all his life. And as that thought passed another came to mind, one that brought forth its own implications.

As the two Silva royals waited, allowing Asta to regain his bearings, they heard something. A whispered mumble.

"I can use…"

He turned to them with a look brimming with unrestrained giddiness and a smile that split his lips, one that stretched energetically from ear to ear.

"Noelle, look! I can use magic now!" He exclaimed loudly with his signature sparklingly wide eyes, waving his sword in the direction of the damaged wall.

"Actually, what you're doing wouldn't be classified as using magic, Asta." Shirou gently informed, bursting Asta's happy bubble as the ashen-haired teen face faulted.

"Wait, what?!" He looked up in shock.

Shirou offered Asta an apologetic look before continuing.

"While the term magic is rather ubiquitous, it follows a common convention. Typically, magic is formed by our body taking in the ambient mana around us and then processing it into the different unique effects and abilities that we commonly label as magic. Grimoires help to further streamline the process, directing the flow of mana into the forms that we call spells with their attributes and properties. What your sword does simply absorbs magic or mana and then stores it within itself before releasing it right back out. The process of which is more akin to that of a magical item then what one would traditionally think of as proper magic." Shirou explained, clarifying the difference.

"Oh…" Asta let out quietly, the moment lapsing into silence.

He looked back at the sword. Where once awe and happiness shined like the brightest star was dampened like dark clouds upon the night. He truly believed, if only for a moment, that he was finally capable of it. That he was capable of using magic, something that had been lost to him, something that everyone he knew was capable of. All but him.

For Noelle, seeing the normally loud and animated Asta so dejected, it felt wrong to her. Asta was one that wore his heart on his sleeve, she knew, even when they first met one another. She'd seen him happy, panicked, whimsical, serious, and even angry before and yet, what she saw before her, this solemnness, it felt wrong. Her hand squeezed the fabric over her chest, her heart aching at such a sight.

"A..Ast…!" Her hand reached out, her voice calling to him only for her father to continue.

"But then again… what is magic but the act of something that is both strange yet also fantastical?"

Asta said nothing, listening as Shirou spoke.

"In truth, what you are doing would not classified magic as your peers would define it. That is, if we're going by the traditional sense of the definition. Anti-Magic, what a paradoxical notion. A form of magic that negates and nullify all other forms of magic. One must wonder if it could properly be called magic at all, if it is the inverse of the very essence itself. When compared to other mages, you differ greatly. They rely on their grimoires, to channel and funnel the mana of the world into strict structures they call spells. You, on the other hand, don't have a framework, a handicap, to rely on. You take the power you can and make it your own... and that, the ability to surpass that which is the norm, is the essence of magic, which you fully embody."

Shirou gestured to the damaged wall.

"You have no magical powers, yet, how does one go about explaining that then? It's an impossibility and yet, this is the truth. So often is it that we allow our power and magic to define us, when in reality, it is the other way around. It is who we are and how we choose to use the power given to us the define us. And for you, Asta, one who was given nothing but still managed to climb to your where you are now. To reach heights that more than anyone could or even should be capable of without any magic whatsoever, one could call it a extraordinary, a miracle. Why, you'd almost call it like magic..."

Asta saw the look in his Shirou's eyes. One of proudness and sincerity with a warm smile that reached from his very heart.

"You are no mage, Asta, but you are still a Magic Knight. So, in that sense, you are capable of magic, Asta!"

Asta was stunned once more by his words.

The redheaded noble's words were no great truth. They weren't unfathomable wise, nor truly anything special. Just another outlook, on a facet of Asta's existence. Yet, they resonated deeply with his soul.

For as long as he could remember, every day he'd been reminded about his magicless nature. A pariah to be pointed to and demeaned. An irrefutable fact just as how the sky was vast and the ocean was blue. Though it helped to shape him into the person he was now as he had grown to shoulder the burdens, there were still times where doubt clouded his spirt. Times where he was alone, with nothing but his own thoughts to keep him company and time to self-reflect.

The question of why. Why was he the only one without any magic? What made him different to everyone else? At times, he often wondered, deep within him if there was something wrong with him. As if he was some sort of mistake.

Shirou's words were neither of piety comfort nor were they superficial platitude. They were simple and true, and for Asta, that was all he ever wanted to know and hear.

His eyes briefly teared up, pride and happiness swelling within his body. His forearms quickly rubbed away the tears as he stood back up, standing tall and proud as he faced Shirou and Noelle with a great beaming smile.

"See Noelle, I can use magic after all!" Asta exclaimed again, waving the sword in the air.

"Bakasta…" Noelle shook her head, a small smile taking to her lips. "I heard you the first time, no need to shout it again!"

Shirou stood to the side with a smile of contentment and fond remembrance at the warm sight before him, watching on as the two bickered and laugh.

During this, Nero flapped over to Shirou, perching on his shoulder. The Silva patriarch regarded the bird curiously with a small smile, one which the black and red bird returned with its ever present inscrutable stare.

"He's going to go far. Both of them are. Wouldn't you agree?" He said softly, turning his gaze from Nero back to them

"..."

Nero said nothing, yet, no words were needed.

Shirou walked forward.

"So, who's hungry?"