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            Amidst a night sky filled with innumerable sparkling stars, she cried. Burying her face in her knees, crouched... she stiffly gripped the railing in front of her.


            “I’m sorry, it’s nothing.”


            “I’m sorry for making you worry.” She who feebly smiled while saying that, was ephemeral, as though she might melt into the sky at any moment. With her free hand, she tightly grasped the pendant at her breast.


            “... It’ll be bad if you catch a cold. ... Why don’t we go inside?”


            I softly embraced those shoulders. ... They were slender, and had become icy from being exposed to the open air.


            “... Yeah.”


            At that iciness, my chest tightened.


            To endure it I shut my eyes tightly... and the scene from some time ago rose to the surface.

            ... No, that’s wrong. It had already been burnt into my mind.


            Fate-chan stretching out her hand with all her might, and Nanoha-chan trying to grasp it.


            As if to say that that was taboo, a splitting peal of bells.


            “Let’s go back to your room. ... How about something warm to drink?”

            “... Yeah.”



            —... God.


            Why do you do nothing but keep these two apart?

            What in the world did these two do to you?


            “... Hayate-chan...”

            “Yes? What is it, Nanoha-chan?”



            Is living true to yourself that much of a sin?



            Then, why did you grant emotions like that?

            Then, why do you grant emotions like this?


            “... I’m sorry for always worrying you...”

            “You haven’t done anything wrong, Nanoha-chan. So why are you apologizing?”



            You can call their feelings taboo all you want.

            Even so, I will not obey you.


            Not just me. ... I’m sure they won’t either.



            “... Yeah, thanks...”


            I—... want to see not her tearful face, but her smiling face.


            Beloved her, with her loved one, my good friend. And, me poking fun at their bright red faces. Those of the Guardian Knights that try to restrain me.


            Laughing together, beneath the warm sun we take a carefree trip into town.



            “... The stars are pretty tonight, huh.”

            “Yeah, they... are.”


            I want to see that kind of future, full of smiling faces and happiness.




            Yes. There is only one person who I will obey, now and forever.


            Only, “myself.”




            So, God, or whatever you are.


            Whatever future you force upon them.

            So long as they wish. So long as my power reaches.


            —... I will absolutely, not allow.


            “Let’s go watch the stars again sometime, with everyone. I actually know the best place.”




            Anyone to hinder them.



            elf ~ (Betrieb) ~ 】



            The day after that night. Following a spell of cloudy weather, today was unusually sunny, and clear blue dazzled the eye. As though, it were the very picture of fine weather.


            A pleasant breeze blew through the open windows. The temperature I felt through the bleached cotton shirt was enough to make me forget that summer was only a little while away. The beautiful sky peeked through the gaps between the flapping curtains.


            In the infinite sky, the large sun asserted its existence. Just below that, the unchanging city streets.


            The people drifting by. The cheerful voices. ... Further beyond there, meadows of deep, deep, new green sprawled out.


            Blown by the wind, reflecting the shadows of the drifting clouds, waving as though dancing. It was as if the rustling sound could be heard even here.


            Casually, I closed my eyes and listened carefully. Then, I felt like I could hear that sound that I shouldn’t have been able to hear.


            Rustling. The breeze caressing my skin. The scent of trees. The scent of grass. The scent of the sun.




            —... A gentle, voice. That day when we were still very young. The early afternoon of that nostalgic day. We secretly slipped out of the castle, and chased one another through the meadow.


            “It’s our secret,” she laughed. She floated up into the cloudless sky. I chased her, flying. I thought that her cherry-blossom-colored magical aura, seemed to really be cherry blossoms.


            Shining in the blue sky, she was very beautiful.



            “... Her smiling face really is better.”


            Letting out a sigh, with my right hand I played with the cup sitting on the table. Hooking a finger on the handle, I took a sip; the contents were completely cold. The acidity that had strengthened over time awoke my absent-minded brain that had been immersed in memories.


            Clatter. I put the cup back on the table. Then I caught a sheet of paper at the edge of my field of vision. I looked at the sheet, which had “Urgent” spelled out at the top in large red letters. I let out another sigh.


            “... Why did they disappear?”


            That which I had briefly looked over, I looked over again. Though it was clearly legible, I didn’t want to recognize what was written. I would read one sentence, then close my eyes. I would repeat this over and over... And here I am.


            “War... how I hate it.”



            A few days ago, intelligence was brought in by a unit dispatched as spies. The area of interest was the eastern kingdom I had visited on a mission three years ago.



            “... The possibility that this kingdom will soon be drawn into a great war, cannot be denied.”


            Three years had passed since then, and now the brass had gotten off their asses. I had said so many times. But I couldn’t help but wonder if it was too late now.


            Wars always seem to start over trivial things. Status, prestige, money, lust. A fresh reminder that human desires are something that can never be sated. ... How sad it is.


            “... It’s too late to act if you wait until something happens.”


            Even if I think that, since I’m in the military, I have no choice. Within it, I will protect. My world.


            And the smiles of the people I love. I can’t allow the chain of sadness to continue any more.


            ... So, I have no choice but to fight. But, won’t that just create more sadness?


            —... Such thoughts, spun round and round.


            As if to vent my irritation, I circled the name of the unit I was requesting command of, then scribbled in the signature “Hayate Yagami.” I stamped my seal next to it, rolled it up, and tied it with a string.


            “Shall I deliver it?”

            “... No, that’s alright. It’s nearby... There’s a place I want to visit as well.”


            “But thanks,” I said, standing from my seat. I put my jacket on over my shirt. Clink... the medals on my shoulder struck together with a dull sound.


            I—... hated that sound.






            I had finished submitting the documents. I had no other duties today. A windowless, oppressive corridor. The red of the carpet was terribly painful to the eye. I averted my gaze as if to escape it.


            The sky could not be seen there, just the white, high ceiling.


            A monumental feeling of entrapment, and. A feeling of oppression that seemed to crush the body. —... Even for me, who isn’t here very much, this place is painful.


            “... Excuse me.”


            My consciousness, that had dimly been pondering such things, was restored by that voice.




            Before my eyes, was Fate-chan wearing her Barrier Jacket.


            “After this I’ll be leaving for a mission. I think I can return before the end of the day, so—... Until then, in my place, I’ll be leaving you in the care of a member of your guard.”

            “... Mm, I see. Do your best... okay.”


            Since then, Fate-chan had stopped smiling as well. So much so that just watching was painful... she “pretended to be cold.”


            “... Be honest, Fate-chan.”


            I called out to Fate-chan’s back as she departed. There was no reply. ... I wonder if my voice reached her.


            I firmly suppressed the urge to chase after her and take her to Nanoha-chan. As I did this, I headed toward Nanoha-chan’s room.


            Beyond the open door, she stood. The sky that could be seen through the slightly opened window, was smaller than the one that could be seen from my window, and narrower. Creak, with a loud sound the window was opened widely. Even then, the lattice interrupted the view of that beautiful new green meadow.


            “Why couldn’t I have been born into a common family...


            Before her upturned field of vision was the sky, dyed with manyfold stripes of light. Above it all a golden light shined, surpassing the rest.


            ... While watching that light. ... Gripping the slightly cold lattice, Nanoha-chan murmured, in a sigh.




            It was like the voice of someone who had given up. A thin, thin, melody that seemed as if it would be interrupted at any moment.



            “When all I want is to be by Fate-chan’s side. ... It won’t happen.”


            —... If she wanted to escape, she surely could. When she was a child, there had been only one time when we flew in the sky together.


            Flying in the sky, she looked so happy. Surely, she was someone who could fly higher than anyone. Shining in the sky, her magical aura. The sky that reflected it, suited her better than anyone.


            Better than anyone, better than anyone.




            She, wasn’t able to choose it. No. She didn’t choose.


            For all the people who thought of her. Burdened with expectations, she chose to be on the ground.



            Just how hard that was for her. It would probably exceed my imagination.


            Nevertheless, she smiled.


            “To be honest... I want to fly.”


            Sorrowfully, she smiled.


            The smile of that time, now, overlapped with the one before my eyes. Again. My chest—... tightened.


            She, they. Just how much they care about each other. As someone who is close to them, I know best of all.


            “... Will it not happen? Do I have to... give up...?”


            Laughing with a troubled “Nyahaha,” Nanoha-chan’s smiling face. —... Looked like she was crying.



            The heart that she had been continually forced to suppress. That had become paralyzed to protect itself. The emotions that were forced to become much more “adult” than in the past.


            “I don’t want to give up.”


            Nevertheless, it was a very dignified... strong voice.


            “Am I being selfish...? I wonder if Fate-chan has truly come to hate me...”



            A beautiful bird, trying to break her cage. Seeking the sky, if she would try to spread her wings.


            —... I want to let her fly. So.



            “That couldn’t be.


            ... Even if someone denies it... I will affirm it.”



            Controlling my creaking heart, I reached out my hand.


            “You’re my beloved, best friend, so”


            I touched that flaxen hair whose color had deepened, bathed in the sunlight that slipped in. I slowly combed her fine, glossy hair, and let it flow off my hand.


            —... Pain, pain, fly away.



            “So, you should do as you wish, Nanoha-chan.”


            Then I embraced her tightly. Her soft warmth, her sweet scent. Hayate-chan, stop teasing me~!” As I laughed at her puffed-out cheeks, in my heart there was another. I recalled the sight of my other friend who still suppressed her true feelings.


            Fate-chan. Don’t you know that if you only stretch out your hand, she’s so close?



            But the Fate-chan I saw in my heart still had a sad expression. For some reason, a feeling of foreboding swirled up and weighed heavily on me.


            No, it’s just my imagination. Thinking that, I shook my head.



            Even then, for some reason. I couldn’t shake off that bad feeling.



            As though to laugh at me.


            —... From somewhere distant, again.






            I thought I heard that peel of bells.



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