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            Since I first met her, ten years have passed.


            —... I strongly remember the feeling even now.


            Back then, I lived with my father and mother, just the three of us. We led a life without any discomfort.


            When the demise of that life occurred, I was four years old.



            The village I lived in was just inside the border of this kingdom, and felt many influences of the war with the neighboring kingdom. Even though it was a nice village, it was a place where you never stopped hearing stories like, “So-and-so from here-or-there died.My parents had started talking about how it might be best if we lived somewhere else.


            ... It was the day before we’d be moving.


            I had been asked to go out for a little shopping, and soon set out for a nearby shop. “Even though you’re so young, how admirable of you~. The old lady there praised me and rewarded me with a lovely piece of candy.


            Holding it up to the light, it was a very transparent, deep, deep... blue.


            Even as I was thinking it was too nice to eat, the sweet taste spread through my mouth. I was happy for that, and walked home a little gleefully.


            And awaiting me when I arrived was... a pillar of bright red fire.



            Around this time... it was a common story.

            ... But I was sure it would never happen to me.


            “... Wh-y...


            I was... sure of it.


            As I stood frozen in a daze, the house I lived in crumbled. But, all I could do was watch.


            Night came, morning came. Then night again. I wonder how many days passed? I didn’t know.


            ... Nothing... matters now.


            Did I hurt, was I sad, was I lonely?

            Even that I didn’t know.


            As I sat I closed my eyes. My tears wouldn’t fall anymore.



            Crunch, crunch, crunch.


            The sound of many footsteps. ... Ahh, soldiers from the enemy kingdom? I wonder if I’ll be captured? ... That’s fine.


            Anything is fine now.


            “What are you doing? In a place like this?


            In the next instant... suddenly, I heard—... a soft voice.


            Raising my face from my knees, I looked up to find a beautiful blue... the same color as the candy I’d gotten on that happy day.


            “... Don’t cry...?


            The arms that tightly hugged me were somehow very warm. At that voice, I felt tears that should have been dried up begin to fall again.



            I later heard, that at that time she was returning from one of the sister kingdoms. When she found me sitting on the roadside she had been surprised, and with a shy


            “I hated visiting the sister kingdoms... but thanks to that I was able to meet you, Hayate-chan.


            but happy-looking smile, she laughed.



            After that they took me in, and having been told that I had some magical talent, I decided to enter the army.


            Maybe Nanoha-chan felt responsible for me, but she took interest in me for some reason, and would occasionally come to watch me practice. I’ll do it, too! she’d say, swinging a sword recklessly... and for a bit I’d let her pretend we were having a sword fight...


            After all that, I became a knight and was appointed the heavy responsibility of being the princess’s steward. It was a hard time where I’d often hear rumors about how the only reason I’d risen so fast was because someone had pulled the strings.


            —... But.


            Nyahaha. It’s because you’re so skilled!


            Even now, she probably doesn’t know how much those words helped me. How much that smiling face helped me, I’ll probably... never tell her.


            I’ll probably... never be able to tell her.


            So, I swore.


            For her, who is a little thick and airheaded... but, incredibly kind.

            For her, who is always pretending to be okay, never once saying, I’m lonely.


            I will... even if it’s only me... no matter what should happen... I will be there as Nanoha-chan’s ally.


            —... Not Princess Nanoha, who everyone loves.



            But the ally of Nanoha-chan, who is curled up in that shadow.



            sieben ~ (Ratschlag) ~ 】



            In the painful silence, the sweet aroma of coffee didn’t match the situation. My familiar room was unusually still without the Guardian Knights around.


            The girl who sat across from me, continued to look down without saying a word.


            “... I’m sorry, Fate-chan...

            “... Why are you apologizing?


            Her bangs covered her expression, so I couldn’t read it very well. Her hoarse voice was so low I almost doubted it was hers. It was pitiful to hear.


            “... I didn’t intend... to hide it.



            At those words, I noticed her hands again grip tightly and rigidly.


            “... You, haven’t done... anything wrong.... Of course, Nano-...



            Nanoha. She started to say the word, then stopped. And then, after a pause, she continued. The princess, I mean.


            “... Nanoha-chan... couldn’t say anything either.

            “I understand that... I understand!


            “I understand. She repeated the words over and over again. She was probably... forcing herself to say them to convince herself of it.


            Over and over, she shook her head. By the end... I couldn’t even tell what she was saying anymore.


            “... I understand... but. ... I, don’t want to.


            It was, a small sentiment that resembled a scream.


            “I didn’t want... to understand.


            Every morning before practice there were certain warnings I had to read without fail. I’m sure Fate-chan had also read those warnings over and over again until she was sick of it as well.


            There was a particular one amongst them.


            One sentence, that exemplified the importance of royalty and its sacred existence.


            “I didn’t want... to know.


            If I had said something earlier... could this have been avoided? Nanoha-chan is a princess, so stop it. Forget about her.


            If I had said that, would it have ended without anyone getting hurt?



            ... There’s... no way it would have.


            “Now that you know Nanoha-chan is a princess... do you hate her?

            “... Haha, that’s true....


            The expression that slowly rose on her face at that question,


            “... I wonder... how much easier that would be.


            was a terribly apathetic one.


            “In the years since you met, Nanoha-chan has been very happy.



            “... To Nanoha-chan... there is only you, Fate-chan.

            “Would you... stop saying whatever you feel like...?


            It was pitiful how I could only put her on the spot like this.


            “... So it’s okay if Nanoha-chan gets taken away from you by some random spoiled brat!?

            “I’m begging you! ... I’m beg, ging... you.


            My inability to do anything... was frustrating.



            “... I, don’t want to become Nanoha’s weakness...


            It was a time of war. When the time came, Fate-chan would have to appear on the battlefield as well. If a connection with the princess was known at such a time, and she was taken prisoner by the enemy, it would be taken advantage of. In the worst case, the kingdom could be taken in one fell swoop.


            Certainly... I wasn’t able to say it couldn’t happen.


            “But still...!


            “As I am now... if something happens... I can’t... protect Nanoha.... I’m not... separating myself... because I hate... her.



            Why, even though they love each other? ... This.


            “I... want to protect the Nanoha I love.



            I wonder if this the only way it can be done.


            “So... I’ll... separate myself... from... Nanoha...


            —... War, social status.

            I really do... hate them.


            “Right now... that’s all... I can do for her...


            Her voice sounded pained. But, she laughed, as if to hold back her tears. So... in place of Fate-chan who refused to do it...


            I thought of Nanoha-chan, who I was certain was crying even now



            ... and out loud, I cried.



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