Chapter 6 - A Devilish Intent
'What was that?' Fuegoleon thought, pausing for a moment.
After he had cleared all enemy combatants he secured the northern district, performing a quick sweep of the area. Following that, he coordinated rescue efforts with the capital mages to lead the civilians to safety.
All around, the sound of battle slowly subsided, cluing him in that the others were successful in their respective districts.
Fuegoleon made his way back to the plaza when suddenly, he sensed a powerful magic spell going off around the capital. Towering pillars of darkness rose into the sky before disappearing. Exactly where the other Magic Knights were located. Not even a second later, he received an emergency transmission from the garrison that said that all but Crimson Lion Kings and the Black Bull had fallen victim to some sort of trap and disappeared. The rest were out of the capital, teleported to who knows where.
Upon hearing the report, Fugelion's face grew grim. They had known that there was a skilled Spatial magic user within the enemy forces but to be this accurate and powerful…
'They'll be fine.' He told himself.
He trusted his fellow Magic Knights to handle themselves, no matter what comes their way. Especially for a certain pompous, silver-haired mage in particular. Right now, there was another matter that he needed to attend to
With much of their forces in disarray, he quickly took command and issued further orders. Namely the deployment of any available forces into the sectors to fill the gap left behind by them.
Fuegoleon also tried getting into touch with Shirou but to his surprise and mounting concern, all attempts to reach him ended in static. He ceased any further attempts upon reaching the plaza where he left his younger brother and cousin, along with her squadmate to secure. The Vermillion royal knew that his uncle could take care of himself and for the moment, capturing the enemy mage took priority.
Upon reaching the square, his eyes immediately took in the battlefield.
Leopold and Noelle faced off against one of Rades's more powerful corpses, No.3 - David, which took the form of a fat corpse puppet covered in a patchwork of baggy clothes. It wore a hood with three eye-shaped brooches, with its hands bound in thick, dark bandages and its feet replaced with peg legs.
Despite its swollen and stunted appearance, it appeared to be giving the two royal Magic Knights some trouble with its murky water tendrils and barrier.
David possessed muddy water magic, allowing it to control dirty water with the consistency of mud. A combination that proved to be a bad match-up when against Leopold's Flame Magic. That wasn't all, as the muddy water magic it used was viscous enough to where it could halt much of Noelle's sword's momentum when struck, rendering them inert as they were unable to cut through its thick magic surface.
The bloated corpse puppet did not attack as it did distract, keeping the two mages preoccupied and unable to help Asta as Rades took him on with his new corpse puppet, No.2 - Alfred.
Much like with the other corpse puppet it shared the common features of being covered in bandages and belts and was adorned with two eye-shaped brooches. It had no legs with its arms restricted inside a black straitjacket. To make up for its crippled form, it was capable of levitation. Alfred's magic was Lightning Magic, one that was capable of generating waves of electricity towards its target. And its target was none other than Asta as he swung his swords to block and deflect the seemingly unending waves of lightning thrown at him.
Fuegoleon watched the fights, analyzing the matchup within a matter of seconds.
With his younger brother and cousin, he was not overly concerned. While a bad match-up on paper, he knew that if the two worked together they would defeat the corpse puppet easily by taking advantage of the enemy's magic and overpower it. All they needed was an opening to coordinate their attacks.
No, who he was more concerned for, was the sword-swinging young man. With his opponent airborne and its ranged attacks, Asta couldn't close the distance between. Furthermore, his body was in bad shape with it bleeding and aching from all the wounds and curses he sustained until now. He looked ready to drop to his knees at any second.
A fact all were aware of if the loud, maniacal cackling of the rogue mage was anything to go by, followed by the worried cries of his fellow Black Bull.
"Asta!" Noelle exclaimed, seeing him stagger back to protect himself from another wave of lightning.
Fuegoleon was ready to jump in and offer the young swordsman his aid only to stop at the last second.
"I'm fine Noelle!" He shouted back. "Don't you worry, I got this!"
It was here that the Vermillion Captain took notice of the look in Asta's eyes and found himself mildly intrigued. Far from frustration or defeat, the young Magic Knight's emerald eyes were brimming with fire and unwavering determination. Something which tipped Fuegoleon off. Asta knew something he didn't. He had a trick up his sleeve, one that could turn the tide of the fight in his favor.
And so, Fuegoleon chose to stand back and wait. He would place his trust in the Magicless Knight capability.
And he was not disappointed by what he would come to see next.
"You? Handle me? Hah! In your dreams, you magicless whelp!" Rades sneered. "Swing all you'll like! Your Anti-Magic swords mean jackshit if they can't hit anything!"
"I'll take you up on that!" Asta shouted back.
Slashing away another wave of lightning, he brought his Anti-Magic greatsword around but instead of swinging it, he stabbed the larger sword. An action that drew both Rades and Fuegoleon's confusion. He then pressed his back to it, using the weapon's large frame to hide behind for a moment as Alfred's attack bounced against the blade. Popping from behind his impromptu sword cover, he brought his other sword arm around for a swing.
"Eat this! Anti-Magic: Black Slash!"
Everyone's eyes widened at what they just heard.
Rades nearly burst out laughing. The brat wasn't capable of magic, they could barely sense anything from him. He knew that. They all knew it.
His mouth opened, ready to mock the deluded teen, only for a strangled gasp of surprise to leave his lip instead.
To everyone's continued astonishment, besides Noelle, a blackened slash flew from Asta's swords. The attack cut through the air, slashing through the controlled corpse's magic wave of lightning with ease before his ranged attack sliced the levitating corpse in half. Like Jimmy, Alfred was bisected at the midsection, its upper torso dropped to the floor with a dull thunk in front of Rades. Much like before, he could no longer feel any magic from it.
A momentary pause eclipsed the plaza as all stood there and gawked at the sheer impossibility they just witnessed. It took a good second before the reality of what they just saw registered in their brains.
For Rades, his surprise was burned away as he practically frothed at the mouth in blind anger at what he witnessed. What he just saw was impossible, yet somehow, it wasn't. He and the others never heard about such a development in their briefing! Which made him lose his composure further as he knew this wasn't ever part of the plan. It was bad enough that he lost Jimmy but now Alfred as well, his two powerful corpse puppets that he'd slaved years away at perfecting, gone. Done in by a weak, no magic nobody! That fact alone burned vehemently within him to no end.
Leopold, on the other hand, found himself grinning. His surprise was more enthusiastic and energetic. He expected nothing less from his rival!
Fuegoleon mirrored his younger brother, his impression of the young Black Bull going up a notch. It seemed that he might've underestimated him a tiny bit. He could understand why his Uncle had high regard when it came to Asta and his potential.
As for the boy himself, he was panting, the attack having drained him beyond his expectations. Still, that fact did little to quiet the thrill of giddiness that coursed through him, as a peal of almost maniacal laughter bubbled within his chest. Adrenaline fueled him further as with his sword pointed victoriously at the enemy.
He was well aware that his attack was an imitation of a true spell, yet that wasn't important. No, above all else, this skill was his, to command and to use. To call out its name and slay a great beast like the many other cool Magic Knights before him had surely done!
An idle fantasy to be sure, but one he made a reality thanks to his swords with help from Shirou's encouragement and teaching. Even if it was merely an imitation of a 'proper' spell.
He couldn't wait to rub it in Yuno's smug nose!
"What the hell?!" The ragged mage raved. "I-impossibe! How the hell did a magicless moron like you perform a spell?!"
"Heh." Asta cocked a smirk. "Wouldn't you like to now?"
The sight of which infuriated Rades to no end as burning indignation raged swelled within him. His teeth gnashed together as his lone, maniac eye twitched uncontrollably.
"Don't you fucking mock me!" The eyepatched mage shouted, flaring his magic.
From behind him appeared yet another corpse puppet, earning a tired grimace and groan from Asta.
'Seriously, just how many of them does he have?!'
Out of all the corpse puppets in his back pocket, this one appeared to be the most normal, dressed in bandages and white clerical attire decorated with diamond-shaped ornaments. A singular eye-shaped ornament was attached to its face. It looked fairly unassuming when compared to his other corpse puppets but that only belied its magic prowess. It was Rades's trump card, No.1 - Carl.
Despite the number of upsets dealt to him, Rades didn't appear all that winded or tired. The same couldn't be said for Asta as fatigue gripped his body. The constant battle of attrition with his army of corpses and puppets as well as his bleeding wounds, which required medical attention to get rid of the curse magic lingering, wore away much of his stamina and strength. His eyelids grew heavy and drooped and he had to fight himself just to keep them from closing.
With yet another powerful corpse puppet joining the fight, he wasn't sure just how much longer he could keep it up.
A fact which brought a cruel smile to the corpse user's lips as Rades easily noticed his panting, and tired state, and capitalized on it.
"End him, Carl! Make it hurt!"
Manifesting around the yellow puppet were small, sharp projectiles that flew towards Asta with speed greater than those of the magic bullet fired by Jimmy.
The Black Bull rushed to raise his swords, ignoring the biting aches of his limbs protesting in pain. Thankfully, however, he wouldn't need to as a burst of warm flames swept across the battlefield. One that signaled the return of only one man.
The swirl of iridescent flames shielded him, burning away the projectiles and leaving Asta safe but also confused in his tired state.
His body wobbled and he almost fell back was it not thanks to a warm, helping hand.
Asta looked to his side to find Fuegoleon right next to him with a hand on his shoulder keeping him stable.
"Well done." Fuegoleon praised, helping him out of his tired stupor.
Any lingering fatigue within him evaporated as he was graced with the presence of Captain of the Crimson Lion Kings. An aura that filled him with a sense of warmth. The sensation reminded him very much of Shirou's but was wholly different in its own. A warm flame of both strength and solidarity.
"S-sir?" Asta mumbled.
"You've done more than enough, Asta. Step back and get some rest, you've more than earned it. I shall handle it from here." He said, stepping forward to face Rades.
But, he wasn't done just yet.
"I can see why Shirou has high hopes in you. Yami and him both. Heh… It seems Yami has a better eye for talent than I thought…" He chuckled. "Back in the reception hall, you said that you're going to be the next Magic Emperor."
"Hah?! Him? The no-magic pipsqueak is gunning to be the Magic Emperor?!" Rades mocked but they paid no mind to the interruption.
"In that case, that makes you and I rivals as well, Asta!"
Hearing these words, Asta stood tall and proud, accepting Fuegoleon's words and declaration. An exciting shiver ran down his spine as his face wiggled between feeling happy and overwhelmed.
For a Magic Knight Brigade Captain like himself to consider someone like him worthy as a rival, an indescribable feeling of pride swelled within him. One that brought forth a burst of energy that reinvigorated him.
This time he let out a scream, unable to contain the raw happy emotions jittering within him.
"This is no time to stand around like a wuss! I'm still good to go! Let's take this sleazebag together, sir!"
"Calm down." Fuegoleon delivered his patented head chop onto Asta, stopping him from recklessly charging in.
Asta crouched, clutching his head in mild pain.
"Oww! What was that for, sir?!"
"As I said, you've done more than enough, Asta. A warrior must monitor their condition, constantly determining whether or not they can fight. At this point, you're in no shape for it! Your exuberance may be your greatest weapon but you must take care not to be reckless as well. Be mindful and keep a cool head, especially if you intend to become the next Magic Emperor." The purple-eyed mage lectured, keeping his eyes focused on Rades who was content to watch them for the moment.
Once again Fuegoleon struck a chord within Asta. His words reflected the same lesson that Shirou imparted with him. A quiet change settled within him as he heeded the Captain's word.
A mocking snicker rang out, coming from none other than Rades who seemed more amused than anything at what he just learned.
"A magicless nobody as the next Magic Emperor? What a riot!" Rades howled, his hand clutching his face as he looked at them. "The Clover Kingdom must've gone to shit in the time I've been gone if a trash like him can make it!"
"Trash, is it?" Fuegoleon fixed him with a firm but solemn gaze. One that immediately irked Rades to no end, for it looked as if he was looking down on him. Almost like that of an adult gazing disapprovingly upon an unruly child.
"Then tell me, what does that make you? You, who was losing thoroughly to him? You, who refuse to step forward and fight with any pride or dignity, instead, use mindless thralls while you cower behind your puppets? If Asta is trash, then that makes you lower than trash!"
Rades growled almost like a rabid animal at the blatant insult thrown his way. He stomped forward only to immediately take a step back as Fuegoleon flared his magic. A wave of intense, crimson flames arose and shrouded him, blanketing the area as he revealed his might.
"But you are not facing Asta anymore. Come, villain! You now face I, Fuegoleon! Captain of the Crimson Lion Kings!" He declared, flourishing his arm as his robes and cape flapped.
From there, Fuegoleon squared off against Rades as the rogue mage revealed more about himself and his intention. One that boiled Asta's blood when he heard about the reasoning for his attack, the pettiness of it all. He had such power, yet, he chose to throw it all away. And in doing so, cause untold destruction and pain. Something the Black Bull couldn't help but feel was an utter waste of potential.
Before engaging, Fuegoleon checked in on Leopold and Noelle, inspiring them to surpass the obstacle in front of them no matter the difficulty. Earning a round of loud affirmatives from the two royals as they got back to work.
Rades opened his mouth to spew out his usual diatribe but Fuegoleon put a stop to that by taking the initiative and attacking with Flame Creation Magic: Leorzenas. One that unleashed a torrent of high-intensity flames.
It was here that Carl's magic was revealed, that being a powerful barrier spell. One strong enough to even a spell from a Captain. Rades boasted about his corpse's defensive strength and magic, remarking how Carl was a magic defense expert in life, and with his curse added, he was even tougher than ever. He then made the arrogant claim that he was untouchable before firing a volley of high-speed projectiles similar to before.
Fuegoleon countered with his barrier spell, Flame Creation Magic: Ignis Columna. A twister of rapid spinning flames protected him, destroying all the incoming projectiles.
For a moment, the two engaged in a defensive match as Fuegoleon kept up his defenses. Rades did the same while unleashing a barrage of projectiles without pause. The latter held onto the defensive and offensive advantage, preventing the former from attacking. Feeling safe and superior within his barrier, the Wraith Magic user mocked and jeered the flame mage for his helplessness yet never once did the crimson royal's focus waver.
"Is this all that the great Captain of the Crimson Lion Kings can do? Even a royal is no match against my Carl's invincible iron defense plus his super barrage."
Asta almost jumped in to help, reckoning that his flying Anti-Magic slash attack could cut through the magic barrier easily. Which would give the Captain his chance to attack. However, his assistance wasn't needed.
While Rades was busy mocking and lording himself over the Vermillion royal, Fuegoleon had analyzed the attack pattern of the corpse puppet. In an instant, he had his counter ready.
Fuegoleon dropped his Ignis Columna for a fraction of a second and used another spell. Flame Magic: Sol Linear, which produced an orb of flame in front of him before firing a piercing lance of flames at his target.
It was so quick that had he blinked, Asta would've missed it.
The attack pierced through the barrier where it was thinnest and Carl's torso, immolating the corpse puppet within a second.
None were more surprised than Rades who glanced back in absolute disbelief at seeing his best puppet reduced to cinders and ashes with hardly any effort on Fuegoleon's part. And if that wasn't humiliating enough for him, the royal duo finished up their fight quickly after their own. Leaving Rades all by himself with all his corpse puppets destroyed and no reinforcement.
The fighting finally settled down when Fuegoleon used Flame Binding Magic: Leo Palma to capture him.
Noelle let out a sigh of relief. They had won.
Or at least, that was what they thought.
"Remember this well, Magic Knights. We are the Eyes of the Midnight Sun! The ones who will destroy the Clover Kingdom!" The leader of the group proclaimed, just before the group was enveloped in darkness and teleported.
"ASTA!" Noelle cried out, her mind frantic as she wondered just where it all went wrong.
In the beginning, when Fuegoleon captured the rogue mage, it seemed that would be the end of that. However, everything quickly went wrong when he was taken by the enemy Spatial mage right under their noses. One that would've remained hidden were it not thanks to Asta's quick instinct. However, his abduction was merely the prelude to the horrors to come for their Captain was soon returned them but bloody and missing an arm.
It was a shocking sight for all of them, seeing the powerful and noble Magic Knight Captain tethering on death's door. A sight that sent shockwaves through their morale as Leopold cried out for his brother, his anger and hysteria overwhelming him. Then again, Noelle wasn't any better at the sight of her cousin even as she rushed to help him.
Thanks to their disordered state, Rades was able to escape while taking Leopold out of commission in the meantime with a surprise magic blast.
The enemy tried to escape but Asta stopped them. Even with his wounds and fatigue, he wasn't going to let them get away scot-free. Thanks to some quick thinking on his part, he threw his sword to prevent the enemy from teleporting away. He was quickly joined in by Leopold who recovered both physically and mentally enough to offer his aid as he remembered the important lessons of his older brother.
That was when the situation went from bad to worse as the enemy reinforcements appeared. Five new hooded mages dropped down, each one was nearly as powerful as the other. Yet, even when faced with nearly insurmountable odds Asta simply grinned and challenged them head on. An act that inspired Leopold as they fought with a fervor unseen before until now. Noelle entered the fray as well, supporting the two however much she could.
Unfortunately, guts alone could not overrule reality as all three were drained from the earlier fighting. They were at their limits while the enemy mages were still fresh. Outnumbered, it was only a matter of time before they overpowered them and they nearly did, dealing near fatal blows onto Leopold and Asta, and knocking Noelle back. The Eyes of the Midnight Sun almost finished the two hot-headed knights off, but as luck would have it, the rest of the Magic Knights that were displaced from the earlier trap arrived in the nick of time.
With the tables turned in the Magic Knights' favor, the terrorist group saw it fit to retreat for they knew that a battle between the Magic Knights would be costly. Not before taking with them a souvenir in the form of Asta thanks to the giant gel salamander from the enemy forces.
And with one final declaration, they escaped, much to the frustration of the Magic Knights present.
"They took Asta! We have to go after them!" Noelle urged.
"Noelle, we can't…" Klaus said with a pained look. "We have no way of locating their current destination."
"He's right." It was Nozel that stepped forward, his expression as cool and immaculate as ever. "Our priority right now is reinforcing the capital's defenses. In addition, we need to re-establish the chain of command along with getting the word out to the rest of the kingdom. At the moment, we have neither the time nor the magic to blindly chase after a single Magic Knight. To think such a thing would happen under Fuegoleon's watch…"
Here, his eyes narrowed, surveying the area as he immediately noticed something wrong.
"Where is Fuegoleon…?" Nozel trailed off as quickly found his answer.
The smallest widening of his narrow purple eyes was the only indicator that betrayed Nozel's stoic demeanor at the shock of seeing his distant cousin and rival lying on the ground, motionless, in a pool of his own blood.
Seeing her brother's reaction, Noelle quickly called out Mimosa for her aid, holding onto hope that her cousin's healing magic could stabilize him at the very least.
The rest gathered around as Mimosa used her magic, Plant Healing Magic: Dream-Healing Flower Cradle on Leopold, and Plant Healing Magic: Princess-Healing Flower Robe to help both Fuegoleon, of whom was worse off. Mutters filtered through the air as they all wondered just who or what could've done this to someone as strong as the Crimson Lion King Captain.
"Pft!" A scoff could be heard.
Noelle turned her head, aghast to find it came from none other than her brother, Solid.
"Some Captain. For the great Captain of the Vermillion family to lose in such a spectacular fashion, that's just pathetic!"
"Solid! How could you say such a thing?!"
She knew that the rivalry between the Silva and Vermillion family could be fierce at times but she didn't think her brother would be so coldhearted.
"What? I'm only speaking the truth." Solid said. "As Magic Knights, all we need to do is win. And for a Captain to lose, that just means he failed at his job! Isn't that right, older brother."
The siblings turned, looking to their elder brother who had his backs to them.
"We are Magic Knights. We have only one duty, and that is to defeat all that stands in our way for the glory and safety of our kingdom. Unless we win, our existence is pointless." Nozel said apathetically.
Solid grin only for Nozel to glance back at him, fixing him with a cold and hard glare. One that immediately shut him up and had him sweating.
"However, seeing as we were not even present at the fight, we are less than he is. The mission is far from over. Keep your mouth shut and focus on the task at hand, Solid!"
"Y-yes, brother!" He stuttered, bowing his head, suitably cowed.
Noelle bit her lower lip, her eyes falling back on the wounded Captain. She was unsure of herself. With Fuegoleon out of commission, they needed to bring back order the capital. Yet, she knew that they couldn't just abandon Asta to his fate. And just when the silverette thought things couldn't get any worse, they were soon informed of another development.
"Attention, Magic Knights, do you read me?" A static voice called out.
Light blossomed, condensing to form a small window, the telltale sign of a communication spell.
"Magic Knights, do you read me?" The voice called out again.
"This is Captain Nozel of the Silver Eagles. We read you loud and clear." Nozel answered, earning a sigh of relief from the other end.
"Thank the gods." The voice muttered as an image appeared.
Many of the Magic Knights knew who he was with his fair, cyan-colored hair cut in a recognizable bowl-style haircut. Soft golden eyes peered worriedly, along with his identifiable, narrow eyes with long lashes. He was Marx Francois, the personal adviser and assistant to the Magic Emperor and the head communication officer of the Clover Kingdom.
"The enemy had spread around magic that blocks communication and we have managed to reestablish central communication with the rest of the kingdom. The rest of the Realms as well as the other Magic Knights Brigades have been informed and are on high alert. What is the current status of the capital and the enemy?"
"We've repelled the forces of the Eyes of the Midnight Sun from the capital. They've retreated and we have detected no sign of any remaining or hidden forces."
Marx nodded. While the enemy forces managed to launch a devastating attack right at the heart of the kingdom and got away scot-free, at the very least, they were gone. Now, the Clover Kingdom could focus its effort on recovering from the ordeal.
"Sir Marx, would you please establish a communication line with Lord Silva? We have pressing news and updates to deliver."
Marx's face dropped, his lips curling in a grimace. A change that all could see and the unmistakable feeling of dread that followed forth.
"That's also why I wish to get in touch with you immediately… I regret to inform you of this, but Lord Silva was abducted amidst the attack on the capital."
A petrifying silence choked the air, reducing their momentary reprieve into ashes in their tongue. Many stared back in shock, their mouths agape by the news.
"Uncle…" Mimosa muttered tearfully, her hands cupping her mouth in fright.
"Impossible… No way!" Solid muttered, shaking his head in clear denial.
Nebra wasn't any better as she bit her thumb, her beautiful face creasing in distress over the information.
But amongst them all, it was Noelle that took the news the hardest. Her legs failed her as she fell to her knees. Her face froze up and she stared blankly ahead, struggling to recover.
First Fuegoleon, then Asta, and now her father. Just who else was she going to lose next, she wondered.
"Are you certain?" Nozel pressed.
"I'm afraid it's true." Marx grimaced and shook his head, understanding the feeling they were going through.
"There happened to be a splinter group of the terrorist that attacked the south-east district near the royal castle, exactly where Lord Silva was overseeing aid and command. By the account of the eye-witnesses, Lord Silva was taken with them when they teleported away."
"W-we have to go after them!" Noelle urged as her voice cracked. She struggled to her feet as her legs trembled under her weight.
This time, many of the present party agreed, none more so than her siblings. They began talking, discussing where they would look first, and nearly took off right then and there. But to the surprise of all, it was Nozel that stopped them.
The Silva siblings looked back to their elder brother, unable to comprehend what they just heard from him.
"We will not be sending a search party at this time." Nozel clarified.
"N-nozel, you can't be serious." Nebra looked at him strangely.
"I am." He answered, giving her a sideways glance.
"They have a skilled Spatial mage in their fold. As stated before, we have neither the slightest clue where they may be nor even a means of accurately tracking them. They could be anywhere within the kingdom or even beyond its border. We cannot afford to spread our forces too thin on a wild goose chase. Especially after the capital suffered such a cataclysmic attack at the hands of these terrorists."
"Then what the heck are we supposed to do then?! Nothing?!" Noelle stomped up to Nozel, her frustration and helplessness boiling over as she bared her fangs.
Another bout of silence dominated the mood. This time it was one of incredulity as many of the Magic Knights, especially her siblings, stared at Noelle with open shock. Her impassioned emotions quickly passed as the realization of what she just did settle in. Contrite, she stepped back, knowing that he stepped out of bound but her glower remained defiant, fueled by her innate stubbornness, even in the face of her older brother.
Nozel weather the storm of emotions with ease, his eyes softened by a fraction as he regarded his little sister.
"We do as Father ordered. The safeguard of the capital and its citizens while keeping the peace. Now more than ever after such an ordeal." He softly told her, surprising all by his word.
All knew the scion of the Silva family to be taciturn and even at times, a cold individual. A man of focus and prestige that oftentimes exemplifies the image of an apathetic royal. Yet here, he displayed a gentleness rarely seen. For no matter the circumstances he was still Nozel Silva-Emiya, the eldest of the four siblings, and as their older brother, it was his duty to reassure and help his siblings no matter the crisis or circumstance.
"Sir Marx." He turned back to the memory mage, drawing the man's attention.
"You said that Lord Silva was abducted, correct?"
"Then, that implies that Father was taken alive."
"How can you be so certain?" Charlotte, Captain of the Blue Rose, asked her fellow Captain.
Sharp purple eyes flickered down at Fuegoleon before coming back to the Briar mage.
"With Fuegoleon, The Eyes of the Midnight Sun have shown that they have no qualms with killing anyone and leaving their bodies to rot. As such, they would've done the same to Father, yet they didn't. Instead, they went out of their way to capture him. Which means they must require him for something. If so, that means that he must've been harmed but ultimately kept alive for whatever purpose it is they sought him out for. The same applies to the boy they also took." Nozel theorized, holding onto the best possible explanation. For the alternative was too much to consider otherwise.
"So long as they're still alive, we will have a chance at rescuing them."
Many still look doubtful but they accepted Nozel's reasoning. They could speculate and worry all they wish but at the moment, however, they have more important duties to attend to.
From there, the order of Magic Knights disperse to fulfill their task. Including Nozel, as he walked away with Nebra and Solid following him.
"Noelle." Nozel called out her name, pausing mid-walk.
"I understand that you're worried about Father but do not underestimate him simply because of his condition. He is not a man to die so easily. Have faith in him. Him, and Asta."
Noelle watched as her siblings walked away. Her hand reached up, clutching the front of her blouse as she closed her eyes. She prayed, holding onto hope that both her father and Asta would come back, safe and alive.
Near the outskirts of the Common Realm of the kingdom, within a reclusive and desolate stretch of the wood, the open space contorted and blackened as a dark, inky mass form. From it, all seven mages of The Eyes of the Midnight Sun appeared with their prisoner in tow.
They shuffled forward, making their way towards a deserted stone keep, their temporary base of operation. With the success of the mission, all they needed to do was wait for their Master to return and they would be on their way.
Suspended within a gel bubble, unable to move at all, Asta slowly recovered and gained consciousness. He fought back the urge to close his eyes and allow sleep to take him. Especially since he was captured and at the mercy of the enemy.
He distinctly heard arguing, with the loudest of the voices belonging to Rades. He argued back, even as the others admonished him for reckless and immature action taken during the mission. An argument that quickly shifted when it came to determining the fate regarding their Anti-Magic prisoner.
One of the enemy mages, the one that captured him in the first place, noticed his awakened state and pulled back their hood to reveal a feminine face.
"Oh, you're awake! Goody!" A cheerful voice squeaked.
She looked older than Asta but was a young-looking woman, with soft fair skin. Her eyes were wide and full, bearing a striking color of dark red with a beady black pupil focused behind a pair of black-framed glasses. What immediately tipped him off was the focused but also unhinged curiosity that swam within her gaze. Her stare was intense, as if she was scrutinizing him for every single detail she could spot.
"You're a good boy, aren't you?! Yes, you are! You want me to investigate every last inch of you and your grimoire and run all sorts of experiments on you, right? You want to be a part of my wonderful project, don't you? You enjoy being useful to my many projects, right? Right, right, right?!" She said in one breath, watching and waiting for his answer with an all-consuming, maniacal curiosity.
'This lady's bad news!' Asta thought, gulping.
"Enough, Sally." One of the mages said. "The Master will decide his fate."
He was forced to watch helplessly as the enemy discussed his fate amongst them. They took him with them, descending a small ramp of sets that lead into the inner chamber of the small castle.
He struggled against his gelatinous imprisonment to little success. The gel bubble that he was suspended in was all-enveloping and viscous. It felt as if he was wading through water yet no matter how hard or how much he tried, he couldn't move. Something which amused Sally, if the playful giggles were anything to go by as she watched him struggle. It didn't help that his body and limbs ached fiercely from all the injuries he'd sustained until this point. And with his grimoire closed and suspended in a separate gel bubble, away from him, he couldn't call upon his Anti-Magic swords to free himself.
"Well, at least one of us didn't mess up." Asta heard one of them say aloud.
Ceasing his struggles, he looked to find another squad waiting for them, five more mages dressed in the same uniform with their hoods up, concealing their appearance. However, it wasn't their presence that gave him pause. Rather, it was the sight of seeing Shirou lying on the ground, unconscious of the world around that made his heart skip a beat.
'Mr. Shirou!' Asta thought wildly.
"What took you all so long?" One of The Eyes of the Midnight Sun from the second group joked.
"You can blame Rades for that." Another mage answered from Asta's group.
"Fuck you!" Rades snapped, glaring at everyone.
"I see that you've completed your mission. Good. The Master will be pleased." Valtos commented, eyeing the foreign Silva.
"Was there ever a doubt?" Another of the five chuckled, rousing amusement from the others.
"Wowee, you actually got him." Sally muttered curiously, skipping ahead playfully to hover over the unconscious royal. "And here I thought you guys might've had some trouble. Since he's supposed to be as strong as the Magic Emperor."
"Please, it was hardly an effort to knock him out and take him with us. Then again, this is the Clover Kingdom after all. All the nobles and royals are nothing but liars and charlatans. The man that rivals the Magic Emperor? Ha! Nothing but high-born propaganda. As if a cripple could ever be considered a threat." One of the Eyes of the Midnight Sun sneered, rousing similar reactions from his fellow mages as he gave a kick to the head, laughing all the while.
Shirou's head rocked but he did not wake up.
Any uncertainty or fear within Asta vanished, overtaken by a new, more powerful emotion. One that sparked a burning fire within his core. The Magicless Knight was never one to get angry easily, but the sight of the man he came to respect and care for being mocked and treated cruelly stroke a fit of rising anger within him. The Black Bull redoubled his effort, fighting to break free even as the numbing pain spreading all over his body and limbs became almost intolerable.
Rades marched forward, his eyes locked on Shirou's unconscious body. He squatted, looming over him with a nasty sneer plastered across his face.
"What a pathetic sight. Looks like all the nobles within that damned kingdom are nothing but all talk and no bite. I'm going to enjoy this…"
His hand reached towards him threateningly.
"What do you believe you're doing, Rades?" Valtos's eyes narrowed, calling him out. "The Master ordered for him to be delivered alive. Now isn't the time for your pathetic attempt to feel superior again."
"Shut it! I know what he said!" Rades sneered. "I ain't going to kill him. I'm just going to have some fun, that's all."
He flared his magic, a dark and purple flame formed in the palm of his hand.
After the defeat and humiliation dealt to him by Fuegoleon at the capital, he was eager to release his pent-up frustration. And who better to unleash his cathartic anger on than a symbol of the oppressive nobility that he hated so much?
Seeing this, Asta's teeth gnashed together, fighting even harder to free himself.
"Hmm?" Sally hummed, tilting her head as she noted Asta's reaction.
She lowered him, still keeping him suspended and trapped but some of the gel trapping his head pulled back, allowing him to move his head and talk.
"GET AWAY FROM HIM! DON'T TOUCH HIM!" Asta shouted at the top of his lung, his neck stretching as he struggled like a beast fighting against its cage to free itself.
The wraith mage looked at him, picking up on his clear anger but also fear and panic. Rades's cruel smile stretched as a knowing and sadistic glint entered his lone eye.
He threw back his head and laughed, his cackling laughter reverberating against the wall and echoing within the open chamber.
"Now I've seen everything. The magicless moron is defending the crippled royal! What a riot!" He continued laughing with many of the other Eyes of the Midnight Sun joining in.
Rades reached down and grabbed a fistful of lush autumn hair, and pulled, jerking Shirou's head up. His other hand closed in, moving the deadly curse magic close to the royal's unprotected face.
"Why don't you make me?" The ragged mage taunted. "Without your special Anti-Magic swords, you ain't hot shit! No, you're just some magicless nobody! You're weak, pathetic, useless! Exactly where a no magic trash like you belong!"
"GET YOUR HAND OFF OF HIM!" Asta shouted again.
"Or else what?" Rades' depraved smile split his lips as he took in a perverse joy over Asta's anger and helplessness. His hand edged ever so closer to Shirou's face.
For Asta, it felt as if the world slowed down for a moment and he was acutely aware of everything around him. He was surrounded by towering, shadowy forms of the hooded mages, their sneering smiles plastered across their shadowy face. None were as twisted as Rades, whose cruel glee glowed on full display. Alongside the mild, unhinged curiosity of Sally, and the warped indifference Valtos showed.
The callous way they were treating him, it made him angry. Angrier than he'd ever felt in his life and for the first time in his life, that anger turned to something akin to hatred. An ugly emotion that resonated with something deep within him and it answered back.
Everything abruptly stopped as an unnerving chill ran down the spines of everyone present. The very air stilled and became cold. Their instinct blared, warning them of something. Something dark, something unnatural, something otherworldly.
"I said… get your fucking hands off of him!" Asta growled in a low and dark voice, no longer shouting, yet it was deafening to the ears.
The mana within the air around Asta quivered as a crackle of black lightning with red highlights hissed. For the briefest of moments, his glaring emerald eyes changed, becoming a piercing ardent slit that bore into their very soul.
They all reacted, leaping back with their grimoires opened and their magic readied. The Eyes of the Midnight Sun were spooked and collectively held their breath even as the sensation passed, yet the memory of it lingers. The group eyed the short-statured knight, shuddering despite still being trapped and their mind trying to rationalize what they saw and what they felt, their body still remembered the instinctive fear they felt.
Not even Asta was excluded, for as quickly as it came so too did it leave him, leaving the ashen-haired teen panting and breathless.
'What was that…?' The Black Bull wondered.
For a moment, he felt as if something had possessed his body, an oddly cold sensation that left him heightened with adrenaline like someone had doused him with cold water.
And for three in particular, they were of their own radical thoughts.
Valtos was weary, overly so. He knew the boy was dangerous, especially with his showing and tenacity back at the capital but what he just felt was like nothing he'd ever felt before. His opinion to kill the boy only grew. It was better to get rid of him now than allow him to become an even greater threat to both the Eyes of the Midnight Sun and their Master's goal.
Sally was on the opposite side of the spectrum compared to her comrade. She was giddy, her entire body vibrating with excitement as goosebumps ran down her body. The otherworldly sensation they felt, it was nothing she'd felt before or thought possible. She was puffing, each panting gasp was a shuddering breath as her brain was alight with eagerness and euphoria. She wanted to experience the sensation once more. She wanted to learn more about it. She wanted to test it, she wanted to taste it, she simply wanted more.
Rades was far more volatile, a wild cocktail of doubt, indignation, and rage swirled with him. His lone eye twitched, glaring balefully at one person that became a quick and persistent thorn in his side. Once again he, a commoner with more magic than that of some nobles, was constantly being outdone by someone he considered more worthless than anything else in this world. Again and again, he was humiliated until he reached his wit's end. There was only so much his pride could take.
Rades bared his fang, his pride and anger overpowering any mistrust he felt in the moment as the rogue mage stomped up to Asta. The others closed in, their focus leveled solely on the Black Bull despite his incapacitated status.
"I'm going to enjoy making you one of my toys." Rades leaned in menacingly. "Not before I make you scream for the humiliation you've given me."
"You can't do that Rades ~ I need Asta here for my very important experiments!" Sally whined.
"Fuck your experiments!" He shouted.
It escalated into a small argument where many were rallying to have the young Magic Knight killed with Rades being the main instigator while Sally vehemently opposed the idea. Leading to a shouting contest between the two.
With all attention focused solely on Asta, that left Shirou unattended and momentarily forgotten as the hooded mages had their backs to them. As such, only Asta was privy to what happened next.
Shirou's eyes snapped open, fully alert and conscious as his vigilant amber eyes homed in on them.
He was never truly unconscious or knocked out, he merely played the part. Biding his time until the right moment. Which was now.
A sight that surprised Asta, his eyes widening as the two exchanged looks.
Rades, due to being up in Asta's face, caught the sudden change in their prisoner. With his instinct already on edge from earlier, he acted on it, throwing himself to the side as not a second later, a volley of swords flew forth.
The squad of five that originally captured him, who had their back to him, died without ever knowing what hit them as blades burst from their chests. They died instantly, his swords impaling their bodies from behind like pincushions. The rest were a bit more fortunate, reacting with their magic to protect themselves at the last second. It wouldn't prove enough as they were forced back lest they suffer more grievous wounds than a few cuts from his sharp Projections.
At the same time, a small explosion rocked the chamber, filling it with smoke. Asta felt a hand reach out and grabbed a hold of him. He then felt weightless for a moment as he pulled free of his gel prison.
He hit the ground, rolling until he came to his knee. It took a second before the disorientation settled and his eyes regained their focus.
It was Shirou that freed Asta, standing in front of him while shielding the young, injured Magic Knight from harm.
"Are you alright, Asta?" Shirou asked him, his eyes never leaving the enemy in front of them.
Asta wordlessly nodded, a tidal wave of relief filling him.
"What the hell?! I thought they said that he was knocked out!" Rades cursed, scrambling as Eyes of the Midnight Sun regroup.
"He must've recovered. Or perhaps, he was merely playing coy the entire time!" Valtos speculated.
"Who cares! Get them! Kill the boy but make sure the man lives!" The wind mage of the group ordered as they prepared their attack.
However, Shirou was well prepared.
He held out his hand and snapped his fingers, his fingers pointing upwards. The mana in the air shuddered explosively as streaks of neon lightning arched through the air. Those attuned to magic couldn't but pause at the near overpowering sensation that enveloped them, instinctively they looked up and paled at what they saw.
Hovering near the stone ceiling were an array of swords, an armada easily numbering in the hundred. They looked plain with a simple, red straight cross hilt and a long, slender pointed blade. Plain, they may be, but that made it no less intimidating as a storm of steel fell upon them.
The Eyes of the Midnight Sun redirected their focus and spells towards the hail of blades, using them to block or attack the incoming projectiles but they proved too fast or numerous as a few slashed or avoided through their spells entirely. Such as with Sally where their momentum was hardly hindered by her gel magic, or with Valtos where he used his Spatial magic to try and teleport the incoming projectiles away only for them to evade his black portals with relative ease. As for Rades, all he could do was fire magic bullets at the incoming swords as he closed his eyes and braced himself.
After a few seconds, he cracked open his eye to find himself uninjured and more importantly not full of holes. The same applied to the others as well, none of the dozens of blades even touched them. Shirou's storm of swords struck everything but their person.
"Hah!" Rades let out a snarking laugh. "You missed!"
Shirou only offered him a poignant look.
Seeing him unphased brought Rades and the others up short. They would come to realize his intent when he and the others tried to move, only to find that they couldn't.
"W-what the hell?!" He raged, trying to move yet his body wouldn't obey his command.
The same applied to the remaining Eyes of the Midnight Sun who all tried to move but their bodies wouldn't budge. The best they could do was move their head around but that was it. It was as if some unknown force was keeping them rooted in place. Not only that, they felt their magic was constricted. It was still there but they couldn't properly channel it. Leaving them completely grounded and helpless.
Valtos' eyes trailed to his comrade, noticing a peculiarity shared amongst them. Stabbing the ground where the shadows laid were numerous copies of those plain swords.
"Fascinating!" Sally let out, coming to the same conclusion as Valtos. "These swords stabbing our shadows are the reason behind our immobility. How do they work? I've heard that you can only create swords but it looks like you can create swords with magical properties as well. These don't work like traditional magic binding spells and they're not touching us directly in order to bind us! Are they a form of magical items? How do they work?! I must know!" She rambled off, her question spewing forth endlessly like a cracked dam from her lips.
Her nose puffed excitedly as a disturbing and hungry gleam entered her eyes, one of unrestrained curiosity.
"First Anti-Magic and now this, you two are completely fascinating! I can't wait to make you mine!"
"I'm flattered, but I'm married. Happily married, I might add." Shirou joked.
"Some royal you are, using a cowardly tactic like that! Aren't you ashamed? Where's your pride, hah?!" Rades mocked, attempting to rile him up.
Shirou said nothing, glancing at him as he slowly walked up to the immobilized mage. His bravado quickly fell short under Shirou's heavy gaze.
"Seeing as how you already have a biased opinion of me, tell me, why should I care for the opinion of a psychopathic, mass-murdering terrorist?"
Rades's cheek puffed as his face reddened. Once again he was forced to endure humiliation at the hand of another royal. That fact that he was a cripple, a fact that he saw should put Shirou below him, made it all the more galling. He snarled and lashed out in a frenzy, trying to bite at the man. The way Shirou was looking at him, it was just like with Fuegoleon, with those dismissive patronizing eyes. They reminded him of all the looks he was forced to endure back when he was a Magic Knight. Those arrogant, mocking looks. There was nothing more he loathed than being looked down upon.
Amidst this, Asta watched on in awe at how easily Shirou dealt with them.
Wobbling up to his feet, he walked forward.
"Mr. Shirou!" He called out. "Are you alright, sir?"
"I think I should be asking you that, Asta." He said lightheartedly, taking note of the Black Bull's wounded state in comparison to his own before his lips pressed pensively together.
"Sitrep. What's the status of the capital, Asta?"
Asta's back straightened up at his tone. He talked quickly, summarizing the events within the capital. What had happened, who they fought, and everything. When the topic turned to Fuegoleon, he choked up before steeling him to deliver the unfortunate news.
Upon hearing what had happened to Fuegoleon, Shirou's focus wavered as he looked at Asta in alarm at the information he just learned.
It was here that his ear twitched, catching a faint sound. The sound of something shuffling, moving. His head jerked in the direction of where he thought he heard it only to find nothing. However, he knew better than to dismiss it as the wind or his ears playing a trick on him. It was just like the time back at the capital when Valtos hid himself amongst the pile of corpses. Even if he couldn't outright see someone, he trusted his senses and instinct.
By fortune or fate, his eyes caught something, a distorted shimmer, as if something was there but at the same time, wasn't. An oddity, but it was enough for him as Asta jumped into action.
"Mr. Shirou, look out!" Asta yelled, shoulder bumping the man away as he had his back to the hidden presence.
He bit down a scream as pain erupted from his right shoulder. He had been stabbed with something sharp, a dagger, which too appeared transparent were it not for the splatter of blood helping to color and define it.
"Damn brat!" A disembodied voice clicked his tongue.
Normally, when one finds themselves in a situation where they've been stabbed, the most common reaction would be reeling back and putting some distance between oneself and their attacker. Asta on the other hand had a different opinion in mind.
Thanks to his rather ludicrous high pain tolerance, he reacted quickly before the invisible assailant could pull back.
His hands lashed out, finding the arm of the mage that held onto the dagger and held on with a vice grip. With his superior strength, he pulled, lurching the man forward as he thrust his head forward. Asta aimed for the man's head but his guess was off by a tiny margin but he managed to hit the cloaked mage in the face nevertheless. More specifically, he headbutted him right in the nose, earning an audible and satisfying crack followed by a howl of pain from the man.
The invisible mage stumbled back and Asta would've fallen with him were it thanks to Shirou plucking him out of the air, mid-fall. The royal pulled him back, his lone arm wrapped itself protectively over him as Shirou's eyes honed in on the enemy.
"Trace on!" He invoked. The shadowy chambers were illuminated as he projected more weapons.
He fired them with three blades hitting the cloaked enemy on center, one in his chest, the other in the stomach, and the last one punctured his heart. The cloaked mage coughed up a mouthful of blood, staggering but ultimately managed to keep himself upright. He knew he was dead and so, with the last of his strength, he reached for his pouch and grabbed a handful of small, dark orbs, and threw them. His final act was to free his comrade, however much he could.
They detonated upon impact, unleashing a small explosion similar to that of a firecracker.
Shirou threw them to the side, using his body to protect Asta as the streaks that lined his body glowed brightly thanks to Reinforcement.
The small orbs landed everywhere, namely at the feet and area around the trapped Eyes of the Midnight Sun. Exactly what the invisible mage intended. They weren't powerful enough to cause any serious pain as they popped but it would be enough to displace a few of the embedded swords that trapped his comrade, exactly as he intended.
Valtos flexed his fingers, feeling sensation back in them, and with it came his magic. Calling upon his grimoire he used a Spatial spell to displace all of them, freeing them from the effects of the Black Keys.
"Stay behind me, Asta." Shirou said, recovering quickly from their tumble and stepping forward to shield Asta as his arm extended to keep him behind his back.
The cloud of smoke settled, revealing Eyes of the Midnight Sun free from the effects of Shirou's sword. They took up a semi-circle formation, facing the duo with each mage spread evenly apart with their grimoires opened and their magic ready.
A tense standoff ensued as the two parties glared at one another, watching and waiting to see if the other would make the first move.
It would be Valtos that would break the momentary standoff.
He held up one of his hands and called for attention from both his allies and Shirou and Asta.
"I believe there has been enough fighting today, wouldn't you agree? While you are without a doubt powerful, Lord Silva, I very much doubt you can take us all on while protecting your ward. Especially in the boy's current condition." Valtos remarked, drawing attention to Asta and his bloody wound. "If you surrender peacefully, we will allow the boy to leave with his life."
"Fuck that!" Rades shouted. "Let's just kill the two of them already!"
Valtos said nothing, looking at Rades as if he was a particularly annoying bug before ignoring him.
"Are you willing to take the risk, Lord Silva? One misstep, one ill-timed attack, and the boy's life will be forfeited.
"Don't listen to the jerk face, Mr. Shirou!" Asta exclaimed. "They're probably lying! Don't worry about me, I can handle myself so go kick their butts!"
They waited, watching Shirou closely to hear his response. After a tense moment of silence, they would receive his answer as his body loosened up with his arm lowering down to his side.
Valtos allowed a small, victorious smile to show.
"A wise decision."
The enemy mages stepped forward, closing in but before they could reach the two of them, Shirou spoke aloud suddenly.
"You know. For someone with Time Magic, you sure are oftly late, Julius."
And a voice answered back.
"A hero is neither late nor is he early. He appears exactly when he needs to."
All turned towards the source of the new voice. Everyone's eyes collectively widened to find none other than the Magic Emperor himself was standing at the entrance stairs.
"Yo!" Julius greeted them, looking down on all of them.
"I-impossible!" One of them shouted.
Before anyone could react, Julius's body flickered as he blurred, reappearing beside Shirou and Asta faster than anyone could perceive. He held out his open palms upwards as a bright, blue sphere with rotating bands of Roman numerals orbited them formed on each hand. Just as their eyes registered that he was gone, he unleashed his spheres onto the two mages that stood directly to the left and right of the trio.
Everyone reeled, their heads snapped back to the front to find Julius standing where he was now and smoke that quickly cleared up to show no traces of the two Eyes of the Midnight Sun he attacked. No bodies, no blood, no grimoires, not even so much as a speck of dust. It was as if Julius had wiped them completely from existence with his attack.
"What the hell?!" Rades shouted in complete fear.
"I killed them." Julius said casually, no different from that of how one would remark about the weather.
"I accelerated their life span until they got old and turned to dust. Or, I rewind time back to the point they never existed. Or maybe I teleported them forward or backward several hundreds of years in time. Or perhaps, I stole their remaining lifespan and they simply disappeared. Take your pick, the results are the same."
He chuckled, as if he'd just heard a mildly amusing joke, and never once did he lose his amiable smile. One that only unnerved the Eyes of the Midnight Sun at the casualness behind his display of power.
"Oh, what's the matter?" Julius wondered, tilting his head almost innocently. The continued casualness in his demeanor left them quivering at the power he revealed. "Why do you look so scared? Surely you didn't think you'd just get away scot-free, did you now? After all, those who take lives should always be prepared to have their lives taken as well."
They gulped, their feet shuffling back yet they knew better than to run. None more so than Valtos, who was sweating profusely. With his magic, he could potentially teleport them away but he knew with every fiber of his being that he would be dead before his spell would even activate.
"You know, you could've used Time Binding Magic from the start and caught all of them all." Shirou commented, something akin to chastisement.
"Now where was the fun in that? I can't let you hog all the spotlight, especially when it comes to showing off to the younger generation. Let me show off too." Julius joked, casually gesturing to Asta who watched with wide, unblinking eyes and his mouth slightly agape.
"Besides, with such numbers and skilled mages on their side, it would've been tricky to restrain them all."
The deadpan look Shirou gave his old friend showed exactly what he thought of his reasoning.
"That, and I'd figure it would be best to thin their numbers a bit. Spook them a little. That way, they'll be more inclined to say yes."
Julius turned, greeting the recovering group with a quaint smile.
"So, what say you all surrender right now? If you do, I'll let you all live."
"Don't mock us!" They retaliated, shouting back in both fear and indignation. Having been backed into a corner, their flight or fight instincts took over.
Their grimoires flared to life as they prepared their spells, but Julius was far faster.
"Time Binding Magic: Chrono Statis!"
Each of the members of the Eye of Midnight Sun found themselves trapped in a light transparent sphere with a ring around its orbit with Roman numerals on it. They were still cognitive but rendered completely immobile. There they remained, suspended and froze in time, locked in one unending moment.
"So much for diplomacy." Julius shrugged, glancing jokingly back at Shirou.
"You should've just done that in the first place." Shirou shook his head.
While the situation was resolved the two went back and back forth, bickering almost, as they chatted away.
This left Asta on the sideline from he crouched slightly, his face stuck between an expression of shock and amazement. He knew that they were without a doubt strong but it was here that their strength was placed in perspective.
He gulped, eying the two men.
Julius Novachrono, the Magic Emperor, the strongest mage in all the Clover Kingdom.
Shirou Emiya-Silva, the man that rivals the Magic Emperor, the mage that was his peer.
These two, they were at the peak of the summit. They were the ones that he needed to reach.
"So, what do you think, Asta?" Julius turned to him. "This is what you're aiming for, isn't it? To become the Magic Emperor. In that case, don't blink and look carefully. For this is the base of the mountain that you're trying to surpass to reach your goal."
No. His first tightened.
They were who he needed to surpass if he ever hoped to make his dream of becoming the next Magic Emperor a reality.
"Need some help?" Julius outstretched his hand to him, to help him up.
Asta's body was trembling, both overwhelmed yet brimming with anticipation but he did not take it. Instead, he wobbled back up to his feet on his own despite his tired state.
"Guess not." Julius smirked at Asta's determination.
"Let's get you healed up. Time Magic: Rewind Binding Wound."
The Magic Emperor held out his hand in front of him and used a spell. Light poured across Asta's body with rings of Roman numeral glyphs spreading across his body. Slowly, any pain or fatigue he felt subsided as Julius 'healed' him by rewinding time on his body and wound.
"There, nearly as good as new." Julius smiled, enjoying the reaction Asta gave as he excitedly checked over his body, commenting and marveling at the awesome magic he just witnessed.
From there, Julius went on to briefly interrogate the prisoners while also drawing attention to a mysterious stone tablet that stood within the center of the room. One that Asta completely did know was there until he pointed it out. The odd stone tablet was filled with characters that none have ever seen before and were filled with mysterious jewels. Of course, being stuck in frozen time, they couldn't speak or anything, something that Shirou quickly reminded his friend of before they got ahead of themselves.
Before the Clover mages could leave with their prisoners and finding, blinding white light flooded the chamber from out of nowhere and without warning. So bright was it that Asta covered his eyes while Shirou and Julius managed to resist it for a bit. Enough for where they could make out a faint silhouette.
Once the light dimmed, Asta blinked out the white spots lingering in his eyes to regain his vision. Only for them to widen as he noticed that those that Julius captured were gone, along with the stone tablet.
Thankfully, Julius managed to keep onto one of the enemy mages, so it wasn't a complete loss. Afterward, they were contacted by Marx, who was greatly relieved to learn that both he and Shirou were safe and sound. He gave a quick update of the situation which Julius accurately surmised. All but one unfortunate occurrence that he failed to take into consideration.
With nothing left for them, Julius transported Asta, Shirou, and his prisoner in tow, back to the capital.
Standing outside the central castle, the Magic Knights gathered having helped to bring back order to the capital, and were reconvening. They were still waiting to hear back from the healers regarding the state of both Fuegoleon and Leopold.
Suddenly, they felt a powerful magic presence approaching. They turned to find Shirou and Julius appearing practically out of thin air, with the latter carrying Asta under his arm with the frozen prisoner.
"The Magic Emperor?!"
"And an enemy?!"
"Asta! Father/Uncle!" Two voices cried out.
Noelle and Mimosa broke into a sprint, colliding into Shirou, earning a small 'oof' from him as the two wrapped their hands around him. The Silva patriarch smiled tenderly, wrapping his hand around them and patted their heads.
"There, there, it's alright." He soothed. "You didn't think I'd go down that easily, did you?"
"Father…!" Nebra and Solid approached, while far more restrained than their youngest sibling, their relief was palpable all the same.
"Nebra, Solid. Good job out there." He praised. "You as well, Nozel. I heard that you did an excellent job taking control of the situation, especially after what happened to Fuegoleon. Good job holding down the fort while we were away."
"Father." Nozel stood a respectable distance. "I was merely doing as ordered. Nothing more."
An answer that brought a proud chuckle to Shirou's lip.
"You've grown into a fine leader. I'm proud of you."
Nozel simply inclined his head, accepting the compliment.
"We were so worried, Uncle. First Fuegoleon and then Asta, and…" Mimosa trailed off, sniffing.
"There, there, everything's alright. You can thank Asta for everything."
"Eh? Me?" Asta dumbly let out, pointing to himself as he found himself at the center of attention.
"Indeed. You saved my life back there, don't you remember?" Shirou quirked a brow. "In fact, it was thanks to you that we were able to escape at all."
Asta's mind blanked out for a second before he quickly remembered. The hidden mage with the dagger, the one he pushed the man out of the way of. He was a bit embarrassed that Shirou was making it sound as if he was single-handedly responsible for saving the royal's life when in reality he just protected him.
"Ooh! I, well, that's nothing, sir!" Asta blushed lightly, trying to downplay his words. "I mean, I was doing my duty and all…"
Asta snapped out of it as Noelle called out his name. He braced himself, only to find her hugging him.
"Thank you for saving, Father." She choked out a sob of relief.
"Oh! Umm, you're welcome, Noelle—!"
He never got to finish as Noelle was bumped out of the way as Mimosa took her place, throwing herself onto him.
"Asta ~ I was so, so worried and… Thank you for saving Uncle's life!"
Mimosa was much the same as she all but glomped onto him, pulling Asta in close. At the same time, she was blushed prettily, enjoying the hug and sensation of his nice firm body pressing up against her own.
She felt rumblings come from her chest alongside a muffled sound to her confusion.
"Umm, Mimosa?" Klaus coughed. "Perhaps you should let Asta go so that he can breathe?" He tactfully added, pushing up his glasses while pointedly avoiding staring.
A full blush bloomed on Mimosa's face as she gently pushed him back, separating Asta's head off of the plant mage's gentle bosom.
"Oh my! I beg your pardon!" She demurely apologized.
Asta on the other hand wasn't quite listening. He was left dazed, looking ahead with an oddly blank look.
"Soft…" He mumbled.
Too bad most everyone heard him, especially Mimosa who hugged her chest while blushing up a storm. Of course, that did little to diminish the happy and almost proud smile that crept across her lips. Noelle, on the other hand, felt a spike of irritation flare up and a small vein bulged on her forehead.
"Stupid Bakasta… what I'd expect from a boy… I'm just as…" Noelle grumbled underneath her breath.
Putting their antics aside, the Magic Knights joined Julius and Shirou within the castle tower where they watched over the alive but unconscious Fuegoleon and the unfortunate news delivered regarding his comatose state.
Hearing about it was one thing but seeing it with their own eyes, it only drove home the melancholy of their situation.
Both Julius and Shirou stared forlornly down at the resting lion. Their thoughts were one and the same, of what else they could've done differently to avoid such a tragic occurrence.
He looked at peace, lying there as if it was merely a nap rather than a comatose state. They half expected him to wake any second, alive and well as if nothing was wrong in the first place.
But reality was nary as kind.
"This is my fault…" Shirou mourned.
"No, it isn't." Julius said simultaneously before anyone else could object or say otherwise, having already an idea of his friend's mentality.
Julius walked and stood by Shirou's side, both their eyes remaining fixed on Fuegoleon.
"You're too hard on yourself. You've always have been."
"I should've been there or something… It was my plan to split into groups and then I went off on my own when I saw an opportunity. Had I done otherwise, then Fuegoleon would still be…" Shirou's eyes narrowed, the persistent question of 'what-if' lingering within his mind.
"And what about me? I'm the Magic Emperor, yet, I wasn't even the capital when they came. The blame does not fall on you alone, Shirou. Hindsight is twenty-twenty as they say." Julius countered. "Their attack was spontaneous and random. We had no inkling of the enemy's true objective until it was far too late. For all we know, their target could've been the king or perhaps Nozel, or even you. In that regard we were correct."
Julius glanced at him.
"You made the best call with the information available to you at the time. No one can blame you for that. Not even I could've done better."
Shirou said nothing but the tightening of his eyes was all the answer he needed. Julius suppressed a small sigh, shaking his head with rueful patience. He knew his friend was a stubborn man, it was both a boon and a curse depending on the situation. He was always quick to blame himself, especially when it came to things out of his control. Even more so when it came to family.
"Did you not entrust the defense of the capital to them because you had faith in their abilities?" Julius continued. "That they could face anything that comes their way and surpass it? Your trust in them wasn't misplaced and neither was your judgement wasn't wrong, Shirou. The blame falls on The Eyes of the Midnight Sun and them alone. You and I both know that self-pity helps no one."
Shirou said nothing, listening as his eyes softened.
Julius huffed, patting the Silva's shoulder reassuringly.
"Fuegoleon will be fine. The doctor said that his life is no longer in danger and they've stabilized him. All that's left is to give him some rest and time. You can be such a worry-wart sometime, Shirou. What would Fuelgeon say to you if he were awake now? I'd imagine he'd say something along the lines of 'This is nothing. You worry too much Uncle! If you worry all the time, your hair will turn white from stress.' Or something else…" Julius trailed off for a moment, eying the encroaching silver-white streaks among the lush amber hair onto his head. "Well, more than usual." He said, passing off a joke.
Shirou managed to crack a small smile.
"I can easily see that happening. He'd play it cool and probably claim that the loss of his arm is nothing serious. Claiming that he'd experienced worse."
"Hmm, I agree but you're a bit lacking in his articulation."
Julius pressed two fingers over his eyebrows to mirror Fuegoleon's focused and formal countenance.
"He would've probably said it like, 'Tis but a scratch!' or 'Look uncle, now we're matching!' And then walk it off."
Shirou snorted, unable to help himself at the overly serious rendition of his distant nephew's voice by the hand of his friend. One that grew as his imagination ran with the idea. Julius joined and the two friends shared a burst of budding laughter. Soft laughter which helped to uplift the mood with a few of the Magic Knights joining in, politely chuckling at the banter between the two longtime friends.
The soft sound of laughter subsided to allow for a moment of silence as the two watched over their resting comrade with a hopeful heart.
"He'll be fine."
"I know. But I still can't help but fret."
Julius simply smiled.
"He's fortunate to have a kind and caring uncle like you by his side."
Julius allowed Shirou a moment as he turned around, facing the assembly of Magic Knights awaiting them.
"Though the day was saved, we cannot call it a victory. The enemy was able to deal an almost fatal blow to one of our own and have dealt considerable damage to the capital. Damages can be restored, buildings rebuilt, but the number of lives lost on this day cannot. Furthermore, they were able to complete their objectives, if only one of them, and escaped. Make no mistake, we failed."
Julius addressed them, stripping away the formalities and laying the cold hard facts before them. His eyes narrowed as his lips curled into a small, pensive frown. It was speculated that Fuegoleon was specifically targeted in their assault not just because of his power and creed, which would no doubt be a considerable thorn in the Eyes of the Midnight Sun's goal, but also because of what he held in his possession. That being a pendant he always wore around his neck, one which held a small jew. One which looked to fit perfectly within one of the slots on the mysterious stone tablet.
The fact that not even he, one of the foremost magic experts in the entire kingdom, had no idea of the origin and nature of it did not bode well for them or the kingdom.
"The people look up to the Magic Knights for one thing — the peace of the kingdom. In that regard, we failed. This time…" He added at the end, bringing a hopeful note which invigorated the Magic Knights.
"Remember this moment, each and every one of you. And strive to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again!"
Their backs straightened out as they saluted the Magic Emperor. Their eyes burning with a newfound determination. Some were openly vocal, vowing to grow stronger. Others were more reserved, making an internal promise to be better. One such was Noelle, who silently stalked off. He vowed to himself to never allow appalling spectacle to happen again and he would personally bury whoever it was that was responsible for handing Fuegoleon such a defeat.
But none was more vocal than Leopold, who burst into the scene after just waking up. Though his body was still tired his spirit was aflame, burning brighter than ever. He marked himself, declaring his candidacy for the title of the next Magic Emperor as well as vowing to surpass his older brother and make him proud.
A declaration that spurred Asta's own competitive spirit as the two bantered back and forth, earning the amusement of their peers as they bickered.
Unbidden and unseen, a peaceful smile rested on the sleeping lion.