Far out into the boonies, a small village was built upon the land that was once settled by a certain tribe beloved by mana. Even though the winters might be cruel and there would be days without food, Hage was relatively a peaceful place to be.
It was a place peaceful enough for a small child to dream, after all, and perhaps one might have become two instead.
Except a certain winter night happened to not be peaceful, a truly unfortunate coincidence. It was quiet but laced in poison. The same night could have been the day where two orphans made their vow to see who would reach their dream and become someone great, but instead it got cut short with shock, despair, and utter loneliness.
The three leaves of the clover represented three things: faith, hope, and love.
The drunken man was a bit more cruel, a bit more desperate, and no one cared for those of the Forsaken Realm. It wasn’t that everyone there was mean and cruel or anything. Most of the boonies were peaceful and hardworking. But then again, the Forsaken Realm was a place where most would turn a blind eye to. Those who were considered “evil” could do anything they wanted. Anything.
All of these coincidences happened to so cruelly pile on top of each other, so that night, little Yuno wondered if hope really existed.
Were the three leaves even real?
Blood oozed on the snow before him. He stared ahead, eyes wet and the tip of his nose cold. It was freezing and dark and quiet. Yuno was lying on the ground, the left side of his face pressed against snow.
His breathing hitched. He couldn’t bear to blink, to close his eyes on this scene. The village’s streets were so, so empty.
It was snowing.
The drunken man had been a bit more cruel, a bit more desperate. Maybe he was just as empty, because there was no one there for him and he was unable to find anything for himself. Maybe. Sister Lily told him a lot about the weight of every living being. Everyone mattered.
At the same time, crimes should not be unaccused. They should find the root of the problem and work with one another to resolve it. Sister Lily had talked to them about it. Her kind eyes were soft and blue.
“... Asta,” his voice croaked.
Yuno was weak.
He let the man take his necklace, and he was too weak to do anything about it.
He let the man take his necklace, and all he could do was to wallow in tears and cry.
But Asta fought for Yuno when Yuno couldn’t fight for himself. Yuno gave up immediately, swallowed in frustration and sadness, when Asta jumped in without hesitating.
Because of Yuno, Asta was gone.
The drunken man was involved in sketchy business. Even though he was not always involved in such business, only hearing a word or two of it and maybe a sentence more, that night, he finally got desperate. He gave up as well.
Asta grabbed Yuno’s necklace. The man had his hands around the young boy’s neck.
The brat wouldn’t let go of the other brat’s fancy pendant.
Why not just take the kid, too?
Blood was oozing from his wound. Yuno stared at the ground ahead, red painted on snowy white. He coughed. He couldn’t move. His chest hurt.
Tears bubbled down his cheeks.
Because of Yuno, Asta was gone. This was a universal fact.
The world suddenly darkened, and Yuno wondered if faith, hope, and love really existed. He wondered about the Magic Knights, the ones who were supposed to protect those of this kingdom.
He wondered, and wondered, and the poor boy cried.
He cried and cried and cried, and since then…
Sister Lily noticed, the boy never cried again.
Magic was everything. The daily lives of this world’s inhabitants were mingled with the aspect of magic and mana. The book of spells, grimoires, guided all through their path of life.
A few more years until he would receive his grimoire. The boy was very talented as he had the natural ability to grasp concepts easily, a very precious skillset indeed. In the near future, with proper guidance and preparation, Yuno would definitely be able to thrive as a member of his generation’s mages.
That was what the adults of Hage’s church wanted to believe.
Many years have passed since… That day. Nash was five now, mana of fire blessing his spirit, and Yuno, the eldest, was ten. More children have joined them as well, little Aruru and Hollo, their newest additions.
At the front yard, Sister Lily spotted Yuno and Recca organizing the laundry. It was more just Yuno as Recca kept an eye on the smaller children, Aruru toddling around and Hollo on the eldest girl’s lap, but it was a peaceful sight to see.
Yuno raised his hands. Tenderly but with much force, he called upon the mana and summoned wind.
Such talent and pristine control. If only they had a proper teacher to help guide him.
Recca clapped her hands cheerfully as Yuno handled the now dry clothes. Setting them into the basket, the boy wiped away sweat that gathered because of summer heat. He was improving drastically in his control with magic.
As someone who watched these children grow, Sister Lily couldn’t help but feel proud. It was truly a peaceful sight to behold.
… But at the same time, the nun couldn’t help but think back to that day and that child.
Asta, the boy they all failed.
Five years ago, Yuno’s hands were in tiny fists when Sister Lily tended to his injuries. The bruises and cuts could be healed swiftly with Water Recovery Magic, but the nun knew that the wound scarring his heart was something too much she could handle.
The night when Father Orsi and Lily found Yuno alone, pendant missing and eyes full of tears, they realized the implications immediately.
They sought help. The mayor, who Yuno delivered a letter to that night, tried to help.
None cared for those in the Forsaken Realm.
“Sister Lily,” blinking out of her thoughts, the nun quickly turned her attention to Yuno’s voice. The boy was standing in front of her, a basket of clean clothes in his arms. “The laundry is done… Is there anything else I may help with?”
Hey, Sister. The Wizard King still exists, right?
Smiling softly, she shook her head. “All of morning’s chores are done! We will be eating later. How about you go watch over the others?”
A short pause later, Yuno nodded curtly. Watching as he turned on his heel, running back to his siblings, the smile on Sister Lily’s lips slowly dipped into a frown.
He never smiled, you see.
If I become someone important… If I become the Wizard King.
I’ll be able to make everyone even happier, right?
Just as he never cried again, Yuno never laughed or smiled as well.
There were rumors of sketchy businesses five years ago. What happened to Asta… It was undoubtedly linked to that. Even though the Magic Knights weren’t there to help, the folks in Hage joined forces to find clues, anything that could bring the young orphan back. They even got the support of Rayaka, a neighboring village full of passionate people.
Watching everyone move was so surprising and inspiring. It made the young nun wonder how it would be like if everyone was like this from the start, but the thought itself was painful.
Without a cause, there was no effect. The villagers were tired of the horrid treatment on their home and its people. The incident with the orphans of the kind church sparked a fuse that was waiting to be lit, and now that Asta was gone, guilt crashed in.
Asta, the boisterous child that kept his heart an open book. Asta, the boy whose bright smile would make you forget all frustrations buried within.
Asta, whose whereabouts were completely unknown. The last thing Yuno saw was the drunken man walking away with a hand around his brother’s neck. No matter how hard Asta struggled, a young child without hints of magic could never defeat a desperate grown man.
But they found the grown man.
Asta was not dead.
He was taken away, but not dead. He was not killed in cold blood, but he was still missing.
Away from home. Away from safety.
Holding tightly on Yuno’s pendant.
“I will become the Wizard King.”
There was a hard look in gold colored eyes.
Sister Lily watched as Yuno showed the younger children a bit more of his magic, a small tornado forming in his palm. Nash looked very awestruck, and at that, the nun wondered how it would be like if the boy named Asta was still here.
The scary part was that no one knew whether he was safe. Was he okay? Was he still...
Powerless villagers, out here in the boonies.
Please save our kid, Magic Knights who are supposed to protect the people of this country.
Sister Lily prayed.
“I will become the Wizard King,” a five year old Yuno had stated. After days of crying, gold eyes became dry. It was heartbreaking, to hear the same words Asta said but stated in such a different way.
He vowed to find Asta, complete his dream, and make the world a better place to be.
He vowed, and everyone in Hage believed him.
It was the young boy’s promise, to himself and the world.
It was dark and scary, but he wouldn’t let the fear catch him. He couldn’t. Because he couldn’t, he yelled and screamed and thrashed. He tried his hardest to push away the pain and the bad feelings, this crushing sense of hopelessness and anguish.
If he held on long enough, maybe the bad people would give up and leave him alone. Maybe he would truly become strong enough to not let go.
Maybe he would be able to go back home.
So he yelled. Louder. And louder.
You’re going to get out. You’re going to be fine. You’re going to get back home in no time. With everyone, you'll be back with everyone again.
You’ll be back.
You’ll be fine.
You have to be.
He gripped the pendant in his fist tighter. He gripped it so tightly, the sharp pain in his closed hand became dull and numb. He held onto it as if it was his lifeline, veins popping and bones creaking. Cold sweat, cold sweat ran down like beads. His vision doubled and for a moment, he caught a glimpse of familiar round and gold eyes.
… Who was that, again?
There was a crackle, and then a snap.
His heart had long given up.