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funfzehn

 

 

            In my memory, was a deep blue sky.

            It was cloudless and clear, and the wind that caressed my skin felt good.

 

            “... Mo... ther.”

 

            Where I pointed my gaze, stood the person I loved.

 

            “Go. Fate.”

 

            As always—... a cold voice.

 

            I wanted to see your smiling face.

            I wanted you to smile at me.

 

            “... Yes.”

 

            So. For that, I did everything.

 

            “Yes. ... Good girl, Fate.”

 

            The pendant that was hung around my neck began to fill with heat. As it did, the inside of my head steadily turned pure white.

 

            “I have high expectations for you.”

 

            In the end, in the corners of my fading memory. That expression that I looked up at to sear into my mind—... was lit from behind, and I wasn’t able to read it well.

 

            But.

 

            “Without fail, bring back—...”

 

 

            That emotionless voice alone, was seared into my young heart.

 

 

            fuenfzehn ~ (Erbsünde) ~ 】

 

 

            The assembly that austerely commenced, mainly concerned the intelligence I had brought back. In the painfully quiet room, only the detached supreme commander spoke.

 

            “... Whatever happens, protect it! At any cost!”

 

            The topic that was paraphrased to the bare minimum. Was our kingdom’s national treasure, and the key.

 

            Since it was called a key, it would be something made of metal and used to open doors and such. Something that would be stored deep inside some fiercely guarded place... That’s what I thought.

 

            —... That’s what I wanted to think.

 

            “... Please, take care of Nanoha.”

 

 

            Until I heard that agonized voice.

 

            That moment, the pieces of a puzzle that must not come together, with a click, came into place. Gradually. A shape that must not take form, began to show itself within me.

 

            I didn’t want to believe it.

 

            Always gentle, smiling.

            —... Why in the world, you?

 

            The assembly ended, and we were ordered to return to our respective posts. But I couldn’t even leave that place right away.

 

            I sank heavily into the chair that I had remained seated in, and like that I stared at the table. In my hazy, unaware mind, the words of the supreme commander and the king, accompanied by pain, circled round and round.

 

            “Fate.”

 

            Suddenly, I heard a slightly hushed voice from behind me. When I turned my somewhat listless body toward the voice, Chrono was standing there.

 

            ... I guess everyone else had already returned to their posts.

 

            In the room that had been completely filled with so many people, only the three figures of Chrono, Hayate, and I could be seen. It was so quiet the earlier activity seemed hard to believe.

 

            “... What we talked about during that assembly, what does it mean...?”

 

            I somehow moved my tongue that was clinging to the back of my throat, and spoke. ... Part of my mind understood it, but my heart rejected it.

 

            “... The enemy forces’ target is our kingdom’s national treasure and... the princess.”

 

            And so, Chrono informed me of what I already knew, word for word. That instant, I felt rage at those words as though the blood that flowed through my body was boiling.

 

 

            “Why Nanoha!?”

 

            It wasn’t Chrono’s fault at all, but without thinking I raised my voice.

 

            —... Why? Why!? Why does Nanoha have to go through this!?

 

 

            “... They’re most likely after her extensive magical potential.”

 

            Magical potential. At those words I gasped unconsciously. That Nanoha had that, I... never knew.

 

            “...! Are they... intending to use Nanoha as an instrument of war?”

 

            My head pounded in pain. My throat was hot as if burning.

 

            “... No. The princess...”

            “Hold on, Chrono-kun.”

 

 

            Hayate gently stopped Chrono who had started to speak.

 

            “... For the rest of it, shouldn’t the person in question be here as well?”

 

            More pained than myself. Sadder. As if glaring at something, she stared at the desk. And murmured.

 

 

***

 

 

            When I opened the door, I saw Nanoha in the company of several knights. Holding back the desire to embrace the slender body that rushed over to me, I tightly squeezed back the hands that linked with mine.

 

            Those hands were slender, and soft. —... I wanted to cry.

 

            “The enemy forces’ target is... our kingdom’s national treasure, and... you, Your Highness.”

 

            I squeezed out the words. After a moment, her fingertip touched the corner of my mouth.

 

            —... In that instant, a sharp, ripping pain ran across it.

 

            “I’m sorry, that must have hurt.” I shook my head at those words, and Nanoha took out a small tin from a sideboard.

 

            The small, hollow sound of the lid being opened reverberated throughout the room.

 

            What appeared, was a slightly transparent ointment. Nanoha gathered some onto her fingertip, and again touched the small laceration where I had bitten the edge of my lip.

 

            A sweet fragrance. After a delay, a sharp, unpleasant smell. A tender touch. Close, deep blue.

           

 

            “... I see. ... As I thought, their objective is this power.”

 

            Having finished spreading it on, Nanoha spoke those words. It sounded as if she had figured it out a long time ago.

 

            “... I’m sorry. Could all of you give us a moment?”

            “Understood.”

 

            Hayate’s words cut through the silence.

 

            Perhaps sensing something odd about the mood, the knights who were guarding her saluted, and left the room. ... Another silence, the latest of who knew how many today.

 

            “... Why... are you...?”

 

            I didn’t understand. There were so many things I didn’t understand. My mind was in chaos, jumbled.

 

            Why?

 

            Like a person who knew nothing else, I kept repeating that.

 

            “Fate-chan, do you know what our kingdom’s national treasure is?”

            “... I don’t. All I knew... is that it existed.”

 

            At my slightly hoarse voice, Hayate let a bitter smile slip out. “It’s normal to not know, so don’t let it get to you,” she continued.

 

            “I don’t know the details, so I can’t explain it all, but. ... Well, to put it simply, it’s something like a stone that will grant any wish.”

            “... A stone... that will grant any wish?”

 

            At my echoed words, Hayate nodded, “Right,” then stood up from the wall she was leaning against, and turned toward the widely opened window. Following her, I turned my gaze there as well.

 

            ... Outside the window was the sky, dyed as ever with magical light. It was so beautiful before. ... Now it had changed entirely.

 

            “Its proper name is unknown. But I’m told that it’s known as the ‘Erbsünde.’”

            “... Erbsünde...?”

 

            Pulling out the dictionary in my head, I searched for the meaning of that word. It was an old phrase if I wasn’t mistaken. ... I had the impression that I had read a book concerning it in the castle library years ago, but I couldn’t recall the contents distinctly.

 

            “... But, why is Nanoha...”

 

            At my question, Hayate’s back stiffened. She shook her head back and forth several times, and the window was slammed closed.

 

            With this the curtain that had been being beaten by the wind, rested feebly against the wall.

 

            Grasping it with both hands, she drew the curtain with a loud noise. Assisted by the evening hours, the inside of the room was wrapped in a dim darkness.

 

            The kind of dimness where if you tried hard, you could just barely see someone’s face.

 

            “... Hayate?”

            “For it to grant a wish, there has to be some source of power. If it isn’t soaked in strong magical energy... the stone won’t exhibit its effects.”

 

            —... I had a bad feeling.

 

            “On top of this... It needs pure magical energy from a person of this kingdom’s lineage.”

            “... You mean... Nanoha’s magical energy? But what do you mean by ‘soaked’...?”

           

            Not “given magical energy,” “soaked in magical energy.”

 

            —... The way Hayate spoke, my chill increased further. Sweat streamed damply and unpleasantly down my back. My body suddenly went cold.

 

            “See, for generations, there hasn’t been anyone within our royal lineage with magical abilities. There was nothing to worry about.”

            “—... But then, I... a person with magical abilities, was born.”

 

            “... The key that was absent for so many years. Was born.”

 

            That voice of Nanoha, was terribly calm. But, her hands that remained linked with mine, were shaking terribly.

 

            “Within my lineage, the mages are different from others. We’re a little unique. Maybe... that’s why...”

            “... U... nique?”

 

            “Fate-chan, do you know how a mage is supplied with magical energy?”

            “Yes, I studied it when I joined the military.”

 

            Every mage possesses something called a Linker Core. It’s an organ which is required to take magical energy from within the atmosphere into the body, and to release the accumulated magical energy to the outside.

 

            Magic is created when the Linker Core takes the omnipresent raw magic and absorbs it into the body.

 

            “Just what I’d expect from Fate-chan. An answer even a textbook can learn from.”

 

            Trying to lighten the heavy atmosphere, Hayate smiled. But it was so agonized that it was easy to tell it was a forced one.

 

            “But, in the case of Nanoha-chan... — there is no Linker Core.”

            “... Wha-! Then... why... her magical energy...?”

 

            I’d never heard of a mage who didn’t have a Linker Core. It was no wonder I hadn’t. Because, that person couldn’t be called a mage.

 

            “Yes. So that’s why,”

 

            She pulled our hands apart. The air that rushed over the palm of my hand was extremely cold. When I curled my hand into a fist to hide this, that hand was wrapped in Nanoha’s. ... Slowly, just like that, she placed my hand on her breast.

 

            “... Wah...-!”

 

            A soft sensation and a feeling of warmth were transmitted to my hand. Surprised by this sudden act, I reflexively pulled my hand away. When I did this Nanoha smiled and said, “It’s alright,” and guided it there again.

 

            “What works as my... Linker Core, is here.”

 

            She grinned. Thump, thump... It pulsed slowly.

 

            It hurt. It hurt so much, I wanted to cry.

 

            “... No... No...”

 

            I shook my head as hard as I could. It made me dizzy, but I didn’t care.

 

            “My... heart.”

 

            What I felt from my palm, was the same warm temperature as ever. But, I sensed something mixed with it that I hadn’t felt before.

 

            —... A beautiful, cherry-blossom color. A dignified air.

 

            “Within my family, we’re supplied with magical energy not from the outside, but from the inside. Magical energy created by our hearts, is always circling through our bodies. So, we don’t have to worry too much about it running out.”

 

            “To us it’s kind of cheating. Not having to worry about running out of magical energy is unthinkable.”

 

            Nanoha’s heart continued to beat with a soft thump, thump. Was it generating magical energy, even as we spoke?

 

            “Then... soaking it with magical energy... means...”

 

            They spun round and round. Many things. That woman’s words. The supreme commander’s words. The king’s words. Nanoha’s words. Hayate’s words.

 

            “Umm... It would mean, soaking it in my blood... I suppose.”

 

            Her expression as she laughed, “Nyahaha.” It hurt.

 

            Without thinking I tightly embraced her. Regardless of Nanoha twisting her body in discomfort, I tightened my hold.

 

            “... I will protect you, no matter what, Nanoha.”

            “... Fate... chan.”

 

            Thump, thump. That sound that normally would have felt good in my ear, hurt.

 

            “No matter what, no matter what. ... I’ll protect you.”

            “... Mm.”

 

            The arms that wrapped tightly around me, were trembling.

 

            —... I hadn’t known anything about Nanoha. How much pain had she been carrying?

 

            She must have been carrying this anxiety, and forcing a smile.

 

            “... You’re always keeping secrets from me, huh.”

            “...! ... I’m sorry.”

 

            Her head shot up from where it was pressed against my chest. I brought my lips to where a few tears had welled up in the corners of her eyes, and scooped them away.

 

            “You’re a kind liar.”

 

            This pain that could surely have been given to someone else. Everything. —... She must have carried it inside her, smiling like nothing was wrong.

 

            “I’ll protect you, Nanoha.”

            Ahhh~ ... Hold on. Sorry to break the mood. But don’t forget that I’m here too.”

 

            Laughing as she said that, Hayate slowly stroked Nanoha’s head. The hair that flowed off her palm, rustled and gave off a sweet scent as it rained down her shoulders.

 

            “I’m here too. So don’t hold everything inside so much, okay? ... Nanoha-chan.”

            “... Thank... you... Fate-cha-.... Ha... yate... chan.”

 

            Within the dark room, I heard her muffled voice, but. Pretending not to notice, I continued to embrace those slender shoulders.

 

 

***

 

 

            After that, half a year quickly passed.

 

            The river that had made such a clear sound as it flowed withered away, a summer where the busy cries of cicadas couldn’t be heard passed, and the sight of the trees bearing so many vividly colored fruits didn’t show itself at all.

 

            The wind that caressed my skin was a little cold. Surely, soon—... winter would be coming.

 

            Half of the units deployed to the front lines had already been wiped out. The reserve provisions in the castle were steadily reaching their bottom, and the townspeople sheltered inside, perhaps because of the long, long period of tension and anxiety, were falling ill in greater numbers.

 

            An oppressive air flowed throughout the castle. Even in the infirmary where I was called to get my wounds from the other day checked again, injured knights filled a great number of the beds.

 

            “... Ah, Fate-chan. How are you feeling?”

            “Much better. Thank you very much, Shamal-sensei.”

 

            Unwrapping the bandages and peeling back the gauze, there was a slightly stiff mark. ... I lightly opened and closed my hand a few times.

 

            There didn’t seem to be any particular problem with that movement.

 

            “Fate-chan, I’m going to spread some medicine on it, so don’t move, okay?”

            “... No, please save it for the others.”

 

            At my obstinate manner, Shamal-sensei let a wry smile slip out. She reapplied some gauze, and wound around it with tape.

 

            Cool air stung at the wound, and I endured the slight pain.

 

            “Excuse me! Captain Harlaown, you are requested at the front lines!”

            “Understood. ... Please inform them I’ll be going immediately.”

 

            During that exchange, a stretcher was brought hastily into the infirmary. Carried on it, was a female knight bearing a serious wound on her face. Glossy hair flowed from the stretcher, and spread onto the ground.

 

            “...!”

 

            As the stretcher passed next to me, at that moment. I felt an indescribable chill.

 

            —... I’ve felt this before.

 

            “Captain Fate, the commander is calling!”

 

            Just as I thought that, my focus shifted to that agitated voice, and I hastily left the infirmary to return to the sky.

 

 

            And, the incident occurred—... the next day.

 

            It was a little while before the sky would lighten. The emergency line was opened, and an order of summons was given. The subject was... something I didn’t want to even hear.

 

            He had said so extravagantly that he would send so many capable people to guard it. Now, he only bowed his head and repeated apologies with enough force that his head rubbed against the desk.

 

            “... ‘Erbsünde,’ was lost.”

            “Lost? ... Do you think it will end with just that!?”

 

            Amidst the clamoring dispute, I quietly slipped out of the assembly room. —... Right, what was I doing?

 

            I’ve already felt that chill so many times before!

 

            I ran through the deserted corridor. I ignored the screams of my lungs for oxygen, until I reached the place of my objective.

 

            —... As I expected, there was no sign of her there.

 

            “... Looking for someone?”

 

            From behind, a voice called out. It was a cold voice. Again, a chill ran down my spine.

 

            “... As I thought, it was you.”

 

            I turned around, and there was the usual pasted-on smile. Her shoulders shook with mirth, and in her hands, was a blue stone.

 

            “... Return that, now.”

            “No way. I’ve finally obtained it. In your place.”

 

            “I’ll be sure to be praised by Precia-sama,” she laughed happily. The deep-blue-colored stone. ... In this lightless corridor, it cast a dull light.

 

            That instant, throbbing. My head ached as if never before.

 

            —... I heard a voice call out.

 

            “... I remembered something that I didn’t want to remember.”

 

            —... That’s right.

 

            I was told. By Mother.

            Without fail, bring back Erbsünde.”

 

            So, for that reason... I was abandoned in this kingdom. So I would be taken in because of my high magical potential. So I would become a knight.

 

            —... So I would infiltrate the castle.

 

            “... Mo... ther.”

            Hehehe. For you to see this and remember, you must be related by blood.”

 

            She toyed with the stone with her fingertips in interest. As I watched this, I recalled that cold voice.

 

            “-... But, I’m staying here. This is my home!”

            “Is that how it is? But, seeing that this is in my hand, what do you think the next target is?”

 

            “—...!”

            “Also? If I were to announce this fact, wouldn’t your standing be in danger as well?”

 

            I heard her cackling.

 

            “That you were actually a member of the enemy kingdom. ... What would everyone think?”

            “... Something like that is...! ... is...”

 

            “You’ll hasten your beloved’s death if you’re too selfish, you know? Fate-ojousama?”

            “—..., ku...,”

 

            No. Something like that—... no.

 

            What should I do?

 

 

            What do I do?

 

 

            “... Ojousama. I’ll be waiting for your favorable reply.”

 

            Before I could catch it, her back disappeared into the darkness.

 

            The corridor was deserted. Within the complete silence, the red of the carpet was painful to my eyes.

 

 

            Hahaha... The one who’s keeping secrets... is me...”

 

            As I leaned against the wall, those words feebly spilled out. If I had made one false step, the one responsible for the beginning of this war...

 

 

            would undeniably, have been me.

 

 

            “... I’m sorry, Nanoha... I’m sorry...”

 

            Again and again. The apology I repeated was swallowed up by darkness before it disappeared. In the corner of my mind, I suddenly remembered.

 

            The national treasure “Erbsünde.” That day I learned of it.

 

            Ahh—... It’s as if it were named for me, I thought.

 

 

            Erbsünde.

 

            “... My being here is itself, a sin...”

 

 

            —... Its meaning is.

 

 

            “The Original Sin.”

 

 

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