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~ sechzehn ~

 

 

            Always, always.

            I thought that we would be together like this.

 

            This war ends, and peace returns.

            I’d take your hand, and fly into the clear, clear, cloudless, blue sky.

 

            The thriving streets of town could be seen below.

            Just as before, they would again be overflowing with smiling faces.

 

            We’d try to figure out where we should go.

            My stomach would growl. I would probably turn bright red, and you’d laugh upon seeing that.

 

            “I guess I’m hungry,” I’d laugh back.

 

            “Well, why don’t we stop by the usual bakery? Their freshly baked bread is delicious. I love it.”

 

            “When I was little, it was a bit big. But now it seems a little small?”

            Despite that, we’d split it evenly. When it broke, the fluffy bread would peek out of its crust.

 

            You’d smile happily as you say, “It’s good.” I’d smile back.

 

 

            “Then—... what should we do next?”

 

            “... Ah. Let’s go to that meadow. Did you know the night stars are beautiful there? Twinkling and shining like gems, it’s almost overwhelming. —... Ah, but that’s still not all, you know?”

 

            There are still so many places I want to take you.

 

            Like the hill where the sunset is beautiful.

            Like the grove where many rare fruits grow.

 

            Many.

            To the point where it’s almost countless.

 

            Many, many.

 

            There truly—... were many.

 

 

            And yet, why did it end up like this?

            Why, did it have to turn out this way?

 

            I—... don’t want to be separated from you.

 

 

            I wanted to always... stay by your side.

 

 

            【 sechzehn ~ (Testament) ~ 】

 

 

            I remembered. Everything.

 

 

            No. No.

 

            Certainly, “I” loved Mother. Though I was young, I even vowed to do anything for her.

 

            But.

 

 

            “I,” rejected that.

 

            Certainly, I love Mother—... but I also love this kingdom. The people who were kind to me. The warm streets.

 

            It turned me, who had no will, into myself.

 

            Nanoha made me into a human.

 

 

            But.... —... No matter how much I wished. —... I shouldn’t have been here.

 

            Because, I, am the daughter of Precia. From the enemy kingdom. The daughter of the one behind this war.

 

            “Nanoha... Nanoha..., Nanoha.”

 

            Tears brimmed over, and the scenery distorted. They overflowed and fell one after another, creating a deep stain on the red carpet.

 

            “Uu, ah... Ahh..., gu,”

 

            It hurt. Unbearably, it hurt. ... But, I couldn’t even tell where it was that hurt.

 

            And so in the hallway that had darkened to the point that I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. Like a lost child, like a criminal who couldn’t gaze ahead.

 

 

            Quietly, I cried.

 

 

***

 

 

            Chaotic feelings remaining, the next morning arrived.

 

            Somehow galvanizing my hazy mind, Hayate and I headed toward Nanoha’s room. And so... being her steward, Hayate informed Nanoha of the national treasure’s disappearance.

 

            Next to me, as she detachedly received the report, she simply looked pained.

 

            “... I wonder why something like that exists.”

 

            If it didn’t exist, this war wouldn’t have even started.

            ... If I didn’t exist, no one would have been hurt.

 

            Eyes downturned, she murmured this.

 

            “... We’re certain that the next to be targeted will be the princess.”

            “—... Yeah, that’s true.”

 

            At those words, Nanoha’s downturned face rose. “Yeah.” After seeming to ponder something, “Nyahaha,” she laughed.

 

            “I want to... be on the battlefield with everyone.”

 

            “If I’m going to be targeted anyway, I’ll take them straight on!” Nanoha puffed out her chest. At that moment, uncaring of the presence of other knights, I grabbed her hand and raised my voice.

 

            “You can’t! If you were to do that, you would...!”

 

            That’s right—... That is absolutely forbidden. If she does something like that, Nanoha will surely—...

 

            “I want to protect everyone... to protect Fate-chan. Because I have the power to.”

 

            Nanoha’s life... will be lost.

 

            No matter how high her magical potential is, she’s never received any training. ... Moreover, she’s the highest priority for the enemy knights.

 

            If they were to attack in numbers... the odds would be bad, even for me. I don’t want to let Nanoha into the path of danger.

 

            “I will protect you, Your Highness. I will protect the world you wish for, so-”

 

            —... so, please.

 

            For you, I will gladly sacrifice this body. I’m not afraid to die for you.

 

            So, please don’t enter the battlefield.

 

            Don’t see the completely changed image of your beloved town. No more... I don’t want to see your eyes downturned in sorrow anymore.

 

            So.

 

 

            “I-! ... Don’t even want a world without you!”

 

 

            She interrupted my words with a powerful tone.

 

            Tightly wrapping my cheeks with both hands, she raised my downturned face. —... Before my eyes was, trembling and quivering deep blue.

 

            “... So, don’t say... anything about wasting your life.”

 

            Tightly, my body was wrapped in shaking arms. That moment, the air in the room seemed to sway.

 

            “I always. ... Want to be... together with you, Fate-chan.”

 

            Making me, who had worried and concealed it until now, look like a fool. Nanoha declared this—... in a clear, unwavering voice.

 

            “We promised, Fate-chan.”

            “...”

 

            Her arms tightened. Her small shoulders shook.

            Ahh... I wonder if I can put my arms around her.

 

            If it would be forgiven.

 

 

            I looked around over Nanoha’s shoulder. An atmosphere so calm, it was almost surreal was wrapped around us. At first, they were surprised... but now the knights were smiling happily.

 

            There were some people looking uncomfortable, but there was none of the rage I feared.

 

            “... Yeah.”

 

            I put my arms around her. ... It was warm. My tears wouldn’t stop welling up, and to hide this, I buried my face in Nanoha’s shoulder.

 

            —... Ahh, I love it here after all.

 

 

            For this reason, I was afraid.

 

            What would everyone think if they knew I was someone related to the enemy kingdom? —... Surely, there would be no trace of an atmosphere this warm.

 

            Because, this war had taken so many lives. Surely among those, everyone would have family or acquaintances.

 

            It was—... something unforgivable.

 

            Still, Nanoha would undoubtedly come to my defense. ... Then, what would everyone think?

 

            The princess that protects a member of the enemy kingdom.

 

 

            ... The knights and townspeople who had their homes and precious things taken from them. That strong resentment, would surely turn not just toward me, but Nanoha as well.

 

            Then... a civil war would surely occur. Quite literally—... this kingdom would perish.

 

            Because of me.

 

 

            Because I was here.

 

            “... I don’t want something like that...”

 

            On top of which, from here on, Mother, who had not appeared on the front lines yet, would come. To obtain Nanoha—... the key as soon as possible.

 

            As I was now, I didn’t have the confidence that I would be able to protect Nanoha while on that person’s bad side. ... If I saw that person’s eyes, I would not be able to disobey.

 

            Nanoha would vanish from this world—....

 

 

            “I don’t want it... Something like that... I don’t want it.”

 

 

            So I decided.

 

            Undoubtedly, Mother will never forgive me.

            That blade will, I fear, be turned toward me.

 

            —... But.

 

 

***

 

 

            It was a night so terribly calm, it made me want to doubt that there really was a war. While the oppressive atmosphere remained unchanged, it was nevertheless peaceful.

 

            “... Nanoha.”

 

            Knock knock, I knocked on that door. After a moment, “Come in,” I heard a subdued voice.

 

            “... Good evening, Nanoha.”

            “Good evening, Fate-chan.”

 

            When I gave that familiar greeting, she replied softly in return.

 

            When I opened the door... She was probably about to go to sleep. The side-tail she always had neatly tied, was down now. Beautiful hair streamed down her shoulders, catching the light.

 

            “... What’s wrong, Fate-chan?”

            “Mm... I just wanted to see your face.”

 

            Suppressing my throbbing chest, I forced a smile to make sure that it didn’t make its way into my expression. The muscles of my cheeks seemed to make a straining sound.

 

            No.

 

 

            I wanted to scream. I wanted to give it all up, and run away with you.

 

            But, I can’t do that.

 

 

            “... Fate, chan?”

 

            Perhaps thinking my downturned look suspicious, she quietly called my name. Still unable to look at Nanoha’s face, I sat down on the edge of the bed.

 

            The springs creaked as the mattress sank down. The soft light of the moon, illuminated my slightly trembling fingers. ... To hide this, I tightly grasped the sheets.

 

            “... I love you, Nanoha.”

 

            When I raised my gaze, familiar deep blue. —... The color, that I loved.

 

            I stopped that body that tried to leave the bed. I softly wrapped my hands around those slender shoulders.

 

            “... Fa, ... wa-”

 

            And sank them into the sea of sheets. The white sheets were dyed the color of flax.

 

            That which fluttered in the air, also dyed my vision that color.

 

            “... Nanoha, I love you.”

            “... Mm”

 

            Slowly, my lips approached her soft cheeks. Again and again, I repeated this. That which little by little changed to a cherry-blossom color was lovely. When I kissed the corner of her lips teasingly, Nanoha turned her body a little.

 

            —... With that, two pairs of lips touched.

 

            I wanted to cry.

 

            “... Nanoha”

 

            My outstretched hand, met yours perfectly. We touched. We exchanged words.

 

            “Fate-chan”

 

            I felt like just a little, I began to see the sky I wished for.

 

            “I love you, ... Nanoha-”

            “... Mm, ah,”

 

            So I’m sure.

            —... I’m sure that one day, you’ll be able to fly.

 

 

            “I love you. Nanoha”

 

            —... I, will give you wings.

 

            So—... fly into the clear, clear sky, Nanoha. Burning your smile into my memory. Carrying my feelings for you, and your feelings in both arms.

 

            “I, lo-ve, you too, Fate-chan-”

 

 

            I can fall to the bottom of the ravine with a smile.

 

 

            Again, and again. We kissed so much I wondered if our lips would swell. We tightly embraced. We shared the warmth of our bodies.

 

            With that alone—... I was happy.

 

            In between countless kisses. I blocked Nanoha’s lips as they tried to say something.

 

            —... I’m sorry, Nanoha.

 

            Again and again, as we kissed, within my heart I repeated that apology.

 

 

***

 

 

            I could hear her peaceful breathing. The easy, repeating rise and fall of her shoulders. It was overwhelmingly—... lovely.

 

            “All I... need is to live with just my feelings for you, like this.”

 

            Gazing at her calm, sleeping face, the words naturally spilled out.

 

            I quietly slipped out of bed. ... Nanoha didn’t wake up. She moved just a little, but her gentle breathing could still be heard.

 

            Relieved by this, I turned toward the desk set a little apart from the bed. There, by the window, it was bright enough even without a lamp. Probably because of the full moon. Light that looked as if it were cut out in a square, followed the window’s contours.

 

            I took a single sheet of blank paper from a stack, then took out a pen that was in the drawer. ... The inkwell was nowhere to be found. Even searching the drawer a second time, it wasn’t there.

 

            That’s troublesome...

 

            Letting out a sigh and deciding to at least try, I ran the pen across the paper. The ink exuded from the pen tip made letters that were a little hazy.

 

            It seemed it could still write a little. Relieved by this, I again began putting down letters.

 

 

            “... Dear Nanoha,”

 

            ... What do I even intend to do, writing you something like this?

            I’m sure all it will amount to, is making you cry.

 

            Since this is the end, forgive this selfishness.

 

            I was truly happy today. Thank you.

 

            But,

 

            I absolutely don’t want you to go through danger.

            I want to protect you. You who I love. —... That’s why.

 

            That’s why.

 

            I’m going to Mother.

            And then, I’m going to have her stop this war.

 

            For leaving suddenly, I’m sorry.

 

            You don’t even know what I mean when I say Mother... I’m sorry.

            But—... I’m sure that this is something that only I as her daughter can do.

 

            I do know... that it’s probably impossible.

            Although we were together for only a few years, she is my mother.

 

            That’s why.

 

            —... I’m going to destroy the stone that is the cause of this.

 

            If I do that, I’m sure this war will end immediately.

            I’m sure even you will be able to visit town freely then.

 

            Then, why don’t we go on a date together?

            Ah... Come to think of it, that would be our first date outside, it makes me nervous...

            Will I be able to escort you properly?

 

            “... There are... so many places I want... to take you, you know?”

 

            You said you weren’t able to leave the castle very often.

            So, I’ll show you all around town.

 

            Also... I want to properly introduce you to Linith.

            It’s a little embarrassing, but... I want to say it properly.

 

            “... I have... some... one, I love...”

 

 

            I forcibly wiped my ragged and overflowing tears with my sleeve. Those not wiped away, gradually distorted the ink letters.

 

            I don’t want us to part.

 

            If we do, I’m sure we’ll never be together again. —... I don’t want us to part. I want to stay by your side.

 

 

            I wish I had remained ignorant. Of everything. If I never knew, I’m sure that I could have looked at only what was truly important.

 

            “... Such a future would have been nice.”

 

            If it happened—... how happy we would have been. If I was born in this kingdom, and happened to meet Nanoha, how happy we would have been.

 

 

            But that was nothing more than a fantasy.

 

            Nanoha and I, belonged to enemy kingdoms.

 

            No matter how much we screamed, “It doesn’t matter,” the people around us would never allow it. After all, war had already broken out.

 

            I met you, who I shouldn’t have been able to meet. I fell in love. I learned that such a happy feeling existed.

 

            Hey, Nanoha.

            As long as you’re alive, you can love.

 

            But, I’m sure that for me, this is my last love.

 

 

            That’s why, Nanoha.

 

            *******

 

 

            I scrawled down the final line. I sealed it. The sender was Fate T. Harlaown. The recipient was Nanoha Takamachi.

 

            I will leave “Fate T. Harlaown” by your side. So, Nanoha. If I return here and you meet me again.

 

            That is no longer me. I am the traitorous... knight of the enemy kingdom, “Fate Testarossa.”

 

            So, you must act like a proper daughter of the king, okay? Because you’re this kingdom’s hope. Its savior.

 

 

            I’ll gladly offer my own body if it’s a blade pointed from you. Because, my existence itself is a sin. Because I deceived everyone.

 

            —... The web of lies that is “I,” as of today will return to “me.”

 

            However, these feelings, at least—... were not lies.

 

 

            “I’ll always, always love you.”

 

            I unfastened my necklace, and placed it on top of the letter. That which had a different stone from Nanoha’s, cast a dull blue light as it reflected the moonlight. A teardrop that fell from my eye landed on the stone and traced its contour before it fell to the tabletop.

 

            Ahh. It’s as if Nanoha is—... crying. While gazing at it, for some reason, vaguely—... I thought that.

 

 

            “I’m sorry, Nanoha.”

 

            The latest apology of who knew how many. And, a kiss. I closed the door so that it made as little noise as possible, and walked down the long corridor.

 

            As I left the gate, that woman was there.

 

            “Well? You’re resolved to make an enemy of the kingdom you’ve live in until now?”

            “... It almost feels like I’m dancing on the palm of your hand. It makes me sick.”

 

            So, I won’t tell you the real truth.

 

 

            “... Let’s go. Back to Mother.”

 

            Following behind the woman with the pasted-on smile, I raced into the sky. In the sky that was dark as though ink had been poured over it, my golden magical aura streamed straight behind.

 

            I looked up at the moon that seemed to sting my eyes.

 

 

            “I’ll protect you... and your beloved people... Nanoha.”

 

 

            Even if, say, this body were to rot.

 

 

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