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neun

 

 

            I didn’t want to think... that there was no longer anything I could do about it.

 

            Because, even though I love you so much.

            Even though I was able to receive such love.

 

            It was all, in the blink of an eye—... cut apart.

 

            Your kind, smiling face. Your warm body temperature. Your tender voice.

 

            Fate, chan!”

 

 

            It was all, cut apart.

 

            Why, when all I wanted was to love? Is even that not permitted of me?

 

            Loving. Being loved.

 

            —... I can’t do that?

 

            Then, why am I here in such a place? For what reason do I have to be here?

 

            If I am not permitted to desire, to cling. If all I want is an existence called “myself.”

 

            Just get a stuffed toy from somewhere, and label it “Princess.”

            I don’t want to be “Princess.” I want to be “Nanoha.”

 

            I knew it was selfish.

 

            But—... I.

 

            I want to remain in Fate-chan’s world as the “Nanoha” that Fate-chan loved, said she loved.

 

 

            Is that also—... Is even that, an extravagant wish?

 

 

            neun (Hitze) ~ 】

 

 

            I wonder, how long did I stand frozen like that?

 

            I don’t know. All I could see was my breath turning my vision white. Perhaps, it was doing the same even to my consciousness.

 

            Because, I didn’t know. What was before my eyes.

 

            Ahh—... That isn’t right.

 

            Really, I did know. Exactly what this meant.

 

            ... W-hy...”

 

            My limbs were shivering. Already, because of the cold.

            —... I could no longer. Think of anything.

 

            I traced the boards of the door softly.

 

            The feel of old wood. Exposed to the open air, it was even colder than I thought it would be, and the warmth of the fingers I touched it with was rapidly lost.

 

            —... Gradually, I felt my fingertips numb.

 

            ... Fate, chan,”

 

            The fourth room of the barracks. ... The room that I had visited so many times while trying to calm my racing heart, was—

 

            ... do, you... real... ly...”

 

            Not even illuminated anymore, in silence. It painfully asserted that its owner was no longer here.

 

            Like it was searching for a new master who isn’t her.

 

            hate... me, so-... much...?”

 

 

            Welcome, Nanoha. Come in, you’re cold, aren’t you?”

 

 

            The gaping, pitch-black entrance opened up—... and that was all.

 

 

            ah... Aah... Aaaaaah!”

 

            —... That was... the night two days after Fate-chan and I had exchanged words.

 

 

            Looming high in the pitch-black sky, that deep blue moon stung my eyes—... It was a very beautiful night.

 

 

            I asked Hayate-chan about Fate-chan right away.

 

 

            But her reply was, that since Fate-chan had left the squad, she had no way of knowing where she’d transferred to, and that was all.

 

            I knew that there were so many units that they were countless. I knew a name wouldn’t stand out unless they rose to commanding officer class.

 

            The only ones who know the members of a squad, are its commanding officer and the direct supervising commander. In order to avoid friction, separate units don’t get involved in one another’s affairs. That is the unspoken rule.

 

            “So, there are limits to how I much I can help you,” ... she informed me.

 

            In that case, I’ll...”

 

            That’s no good, if the princess is personally involved it will become too big. ... If that happens, won’t the person troubled be not just you... but Fate-chan too?”

 

            —... Ahh, why?

 

 

            The trapped feelings overflowed, streamed out, and wouldn’t stop.

 

            ... W-hy...!?

 

            Without anyone to blame, I felt like I would go crazy. But in the end, it wasn’t like there was a bad guy.

 

            —... I felt like I would break.

 

 

***

 

 

            Two years passed since that night, and I turned fifteen. I got quite a bit taller. I was no longer treated like a child.

 

            Time flowed. I slowly, steadily matured.

 

            Except, for my feelings. —... They remained the same as then.

 

 

            Amidst this, today I would be present for the first time at the inauguration ceremony for new commanding officers.

 

            Normally, it was a ceremony I didn’t have to attend. But this time I would have to be present. Apparently the person who was becoming my new escort would be there.

 

            According to the supreme commander, she was young but skilled, a star who showed the highest promise. If entrusted to her care, the princess would be safe.

 

            ... Such words.

 

 

            “Your Highness, starting today, this person will be the knight escorting you.”

 

            With those words, I raised my downturned face.

 

            ... Right... I have to greet her appropriately... don’t I. I’ll be in her care, so such a sad face is inexcusable.

 

            ...-”

 

            Before my raised face. Deep, deep, red—... was there.

 

            A facial expression far, far more grown up than within my memories. Taller than me by half a head. Long, long golden hair.

 

            ... Fa... te... cha...?”

 

            I had wanted to meet her again, unendurably. Before me stood the figure of the girl who I had always searched for, always thought of.

 

            Finally, we had met again.

            This isn’t a dream, is it...? It’s true, isn’t it?

 

            ... Fate-cha...-!”

            I am honored... to finally be able meet you.”

 

            Not trying to conceal my happiness, what I heard in the next instant as I called her name. Radiating as if to cover my voice, was an apathetic... terribly cold voice, and.

 

            It is a great privilege, Your Highness. I am Fate T. Harlaown. From today forth, I will be serving you as your personal guard... I hope that you will find me worthy of the role.”

 

            ... A cold, smiling face.

 

            You’re... Fate... chan, aren’t... you?”

 

            Those always dignified bright eyes... were now, shadows of their former selves. The kind voice that would call my name, and that timid, tender smile.

 

            Yes, that’s right.”

 

 

            —... Were nowhere to be found.

 

 

            Captain Yagami will continue to attend to your daily routines. I will primarily be in charge of escorting you between locations. If there are any inconveniences, please alert me. ”

 

            ... Fate-chan, it’s me? ... It’s... Nanoha?”

 

            I didn’t want to believe all that coldness was hers. I somehow moved my numb tongue to form words.

 

            ... I wanted you to say you were lying. That it was an act. I wanted you to smile like always.

 

            But.

 

            Yes. I know. Princess Nanoha... as the rumors say, a beautiful person.”

            ...!”

 

            Ahh.... No... I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want to hear it!

 

            That tone, that manner, that style of speaking.

 

            Like, the people in the castle... It was like that.

 

            ... W-hy...!?

 

 

            Why, why?

            I certainly wanted to meet you. I thought I wanted to meet you, see you, talk with you.

 

            But.

 

            But this—... this, isn’t what I wished for.

 

 

            Fate... chan...-”

 

            I tightly grasped her sleeve. When she looked at me doing this, she was without expression.

 

 

            —... My overflowing tears, would not stop.

 

 

***

 

 

            Two months passed since then.

 

            Fate-chan was always by my side. —... By the side of “Princess Nanoha.” As “Captain Fate.” As someone calm and able... Like a painting of a splendid knight.

 

 

            ... Fa...-”

 

            I hated it. I hated hearing her voice call me, “Your Highness.” I only had to plug my ears, but I couldn’t.

 

            Because, it was her voice. Even if it was cold. No matter how emotionless it was.

 

 

            It was my beloved Fate-chan’s voice.

 

 

            ..., ku... a... ah-”

 

            —... Ahh, it’s no good. I need to get some sleep.

 

            I have to get up early tomorrow too. Tomorrow will be full of lessons. I have to sleep. I haven’t been able to sleep for a while as it is. If I collapse, it’ll certainly be troublesome.

 

            Each time I thought that, her cold expression came to mind. —... More than before, I became completely awake.

 

            Within the gap in the curtains I turned my eyes to, was the ever-severed hazy moon. Its outline gradually began to melt away before dissolving colorlessly into the dark sky.

 

            The band of light that passed out of the curtain, embedded itself on the floor immediately before reaching the bed. All around me... only darkness stained my surroundings.

 

            It’s pitch black. Ahh, but it’s just the usual scene, so it can’t be helped. I’m tired of singing inside my cage. My wings—... are gone.

 

            Even if my cage were opened now, I would only fall to the bottom of the ravine. No matter how much I stretch out my hands, they will not reach the sky. Nor will they reach the moon.

 

            ... Whatever... I don’t care....

 

            It’s okay if I don’t sleep... Let’s just start with closing my eyes. Thinking that, I slowly lowered my eyelids, and my body drifted in the sea of sheets.

 

            Sleep called on my tired-of-lamenting body with surprising avarice. Faster than I expected, I felt my awareness slowly become hazy.

 

            And then, on the verge of slipping into the depths of sleep—... clink, a sound. I heard it off to my side. ... Followed by the creak of the door.

 

            Hayate-chan is the only one who carries a key to this room, so it might be her. —... But, what would she want in the middle of the night?

 

            Though I wondered, my body had succumbed to the drowsiness covering it and refused to get up. Let’s at least say something.

 

            —... At the instant I opened my mouth to do that,

 

 

            ... Might you be awake?”

 

            I thought that I heard that girl’s voice. Ahh, that must be wrong. She doesn’t have such a kind voice.

 

            No—... I’m wrong. She always did. I stopped her from using it.

 

            Because I hurt that gentle girl’s heart.

 

            Even though she was always so kind. Even though I loved her.

 

 

            ... Are you asleep?”

 

            At that voice... my chest tightened. Please. I don’t want to hear Captain Fate’s cold voice anymore. The voice of Fate-chan within me will disappear.

 

 

            So, leave. ... Please.

 

            Involuntarily, tears began to fall.

 

 

            After a brief silence—... creak, the sound of the floor creaking. Right beside me, I felt someone’s presence.

 

            You’re... already asleep, aren’t you...”

 

            I could tell that she was holding her breath, trying to make sure. After that voice, I suddenly felt something warm on my cheek.

 

            ... You’re... crying?”

 

            That perplexed voice, was certainly her voice. Different from lately, it was the voice of

 

 

            ... You’re lonely...?”

 

 

            my beloved Fate-chan.”

 

            Her finger softly stroked the skin beneath my eye. I felt my spilled tears be slowly wiped away.

 

            ... I’m sorry. ... I’m sorry.”

 

            Slowly, over and over her finger stroked my cheek. Where it was hot and swollen from weeping, her cold fingertip felt good.

 

            ... I’ll be here.”

 

            Her thin finger, quivered. I’m sure, that gentle red did as well.

 

 

            “... I’ll be here. ... No matter what form, always.”

 

            Instead of her cold fingertip, patapata, a warm rain touched me. It traveled along my cheek, along the nape of my neck. That which overflowed, vanished into the sheets.

 

            ...-...”

 

            —... Why, is Fate-chan crying? She’s the one who’s been acting cold.

 

            Why is she saying these things?

 

 

            Her warm breath, grazed my cheek.

 

            ... Nano...,”

 

            My name, that she couldn’t finish calling, and. Her lips, that touched the tips of mine for just an instant.

 

            Her warm tears, and soft voice.

 

            What kind of expression she had—... I didn’t know. But, everything about her was gentle.

 

            Hey, Fate-chan.

 

            Even now.

 

 

            Does “Nanoha” still exist in your world?

 

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