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eins

 

 

            The cloudy sky was so somber and sorrowful that I couldn’t help but wonder if it truly was the same sky that I had always looked up at.

 

            My surroundings were strangely silent—...

            It was almost as if I could hear the sound of the falling snowflakes piling up.

 

            ... The sound of my own breath and heartbeat seemed so loud they were almost irritating.

 

 

            Fate-chan, do you like snow?

 

 

            As I stared blankly at the falling snow, a flake touched my cheek. In that instant... I remembered her kind voice.

 

            ... Nanoha.

 

 

            Mmm... I... don’t hate it, I guess? ... And you, Nanoha?

            I looove snow. Because...

 

 

            —... Looking back, it was snowing like this that night, too.

 

            Nanoha... Nano-ha...

 

            Ahh, why do I long for you so much?

 

 

            It’s useless.

 

            I never had the right to begin with.

 

 

            Why, why?

 

            —... Just, why?

 

 

            Because, um... well.

            It’s okay, why don’t you take your time and calm down? ... Alright?

 

 

            As I pulled myself from the wall of rubble I leaned against, I felt a sharp pain on my side... and a slippery warmth flowing out.

 

            Removing the hand that had been pressing down on it, I reached out to the sky as if I were begging for something, and what before had been staining my hand, now slowly ran down my arm.

 

            —... I felt something different from snow... something warm falling onto my cheek.

 

            Within this land where everything was dyed pure white, one deep red flower bloomed... Caressed and scattered by the wind, its petals fell onto the fallen snow.

 

            It’s... hopeless. This is the end, of everything.

 

            But it’s fine. This... is fine.

            —... Because if I’m gone, this war will end as well.

 

            Happiness will return. Nanoha will smile.

 

 

            “Well... Um. Because this way, I can be close to you, Fate-chan.

 

 

            ... I don’t want to disappear.

 

            No, no, no.

            I don’t want to disappear from this world that Nanoha is in.

 

            No good. It’s no good.

 

            Everything is my fault.

 

 

            I loved Nanoha. I wanted to protect her. I wanted to be by her side.

 

            That was all I wanted.

 

 

            But.

 

 

            I didn’t even have the right to do that.

 

            Not at all. Not for anything.

 

            Whether it’s between girls, or a knight and a princess.

            Those things didn’t matter.

 

            Because I.

 

 

            I—...

 

 

            Nyahaha, Fate-chan, I love you!

 

 

            -ku..., a... Nano... ha

 

            Had I known of everything that would happen, I wouldn’t have met her. Even if we did meet, I wouldn’t have fallen in love.

 

            I wouldn’t have... had feelings for her at all.

 

 

            ... What... am I saying?

            That’s impossible. Even I know that.

 

            I met you. And called your name.

 

            —... In that moment

 

 

            I love you too, Nanoha.

 

 

            I had already fallen in love with you.

 

 

            eins (Schicksal)

 

 

            I have few memories of my childhood.

 

 

            ... By childhood, I mean up to around the age of three. That was never a problem for me though.

 

            For as long as I could remember, I lived in the institute. The head of the institute was kinder than anyone I knew, and I loved her as if she were my real mother.

 

            Still, it had already been decided that I could only remain there until I was ten.

 

            I hadn’t really understood the complicated parts, but apparently there had been a war going on in a neighboring kingdom until just a few years ago, and a large number of war orphans had come to our kingdom seeking help in the aftermath.

 

            Although they had taken in as many as they could, it had been agreed upon that they would enter society once they reached a certain age to keep the number in the institute from growing too large. There was nothing else that could be done.

 

            I can still remember listening to the head of the institute as she told me this. And though I was young, I came to the conclusion that I had to be one of those war orphans too.

 

            ... Even if I hadn’t really understood what that meant at that time.

 

 

            Even I, who had been so young, would be turning ten next year.

 

            Normally, this would be around the time for a person to decide his or her future, but... for me, it had already been decided.

 

            Starting next year, I would be living in the castle; or at the heart of our kingdom, you could say. More specifically... in the military barracks located on the castle grounds....

 

 

            I had always seemed to have a much higher magic potential than other people.

 

            Half a year ago, data on the children in the institute had been gathered, and apparently the figures for mine had been considered abnormally high. This was when a high-ranked military commander came all the way to the institute to ask something of me.

 

            What do you think, Fate-san? When you leave here, would you like to try joining our military?

 

            The woman said it with such a radiant smile, I never would have thought she was in the military. ... I, as someone who had no particular place to go to, readily answered.

 

            After that, I had been given a few opportunities to observe her troops in order to understand what the military would be like. It was on my third visit when this woman who had been looking out for me asked, When you enter the military, will you let me adopt you?

 

            Happiness, warmth... those were the sort of feelings that welled up in my chest, and I found myself flushing with joy... which was a little embarrassing.

 

            But without hiding it, I nodded.

 

 

***

 

 

            Wah... It’s really late...

 

            By the time I had finished the requested shopping after my part-time job as a paper carrier, the sky had already become dark.

 

            Although the only reason I was late was because I had been looking at a poster....

 

            It was after buying the bread for everyone in the institute from the bakery we always go to. I thought it was about time that I headed home, and when I exited the bakery, I came across it.

 

            A birthday party is being held for the princess.

 

            Those words were written in large letters. ... It looked like the princess’s birthday was next month.

 

            And the details said... Please come to the castle to celebrate this event!

 

            The party was a public event, and all common folk were welcomed. ... I suppose it goes to show how much the kingdom trusted and loved its citizens.

 

            —... But... Hmm. The princess... I wonder what she’s like...

 

 

            I wondered about that while staring absent-mindedly at the poster. And just like that... I arrived at this point.

 

            Everyone’s probably getting hungry.

 

 

            In a hurry, I held the bag I was carrying to my chest and ran down the brick-lined street.

 

            —... It takes over 15 minutes to get to the institute from here. If I use the main road, I might not reach home by seven o’clock.

 

            To get there a little faster, I decided to take the side lanes, taking a turn just before the one I usually took.

 

            There were few streetlights which made it rather dark, but this city was relatively safe, and on top of that, thanks to my many years as a newspaper carrier, it was like making my way through my own backyard.

 

            I didn’t slow down even when I was about to turn around the corner... but then. From the corner of my eye, I saw the figure of a girl crouching quietly beneath a lone street light.

 

            ... I haven’t seen her before. I wonder what’s wrong? Is she lost?

 

            Why are you alone in a place like this?

 

            I called out in a soft voice so that I wouldn’t startle her as I approached slowly. Hearing me, she raised her head from where it had been buried between her knees.

 

            ... Um, I’ve kind of lost my way...

 

            The shy and worried girl seemed to be around the same age as me.

 

            ... Where do you live?”

            “...

 

            She slowly shook her head, frowning, as if she wasn’t able to come up with an answer.

            ... Could she have come from a place so far away that she doesn’t know where...?

 

            ... It’s already dark... In any case, being in a place like this is dangerous...

 

            As I asked myself what to do, the girl made a small “mmh sound and grabbed my sleeve. ... Her face seemed extremely anxious.

 

            Um... for now, why don’t you come with me? Then you can contact your family or someone to pick you up?

 

            I held out my hand. The girl glanced between my hand and my face a few times before nervously reaching out for it, and grabbed it tightly.

 

            Shall we go?

            Okay.

 

            That hand was just a little smaller than mine. ... But somehow, it was very warm.

 

            I don’t know if it was because it was my first time holding hands, but. —... The warmth of the hand that linked with mine

 

 

            somehow made my heart race oddly.

 

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