～ siebzehn ～
—... It was a quiet morning.
The explosions and flames that made me want to cover my eyes. The piles of rubble. The magical light that stained the sky. The large clouds that seemed to cover it.
None of those things showed themselves.
—... It was silent, as if everyone aside from myself were asleep. Even the air was still. Ahh, I thought, if only this were a dream.
“... Fa... e... chan-”
As I listened to that voice that caused enough pain to almost crush my chest. —... I thought, If only this were a dream.
“... Fate-chan... What are you doing, really?”
That figure that should have been here until yesterday... was nowhere to be seen. Nanoha-chan, gritting her teeth as if to hold back tears, was blankly staring at the corner of her desk as she gripped the letter in her hand.
There, was the pendant that Fate-chan had been wearing for a long time now. The one she had talked so happily about how it matched with Nanoha-chan’s... lay there.
“... Why? ... Something like that, I, it’s impossible, Fate-cha...,”
Her hand was still gripping the letter. Onto that hand, a droplet fell. It slid down the back of her hand, then made a dark stain on the sheet.
Over, and over.
I couldn’t even say anything to her. All I could do was embrace those shoulders that shook painfully.
“... Without Fate-chan... it’s,”
Gently freeing the letter from the crying Nanoha-chan’s grip, I glanced through the contents. ... There, were words so warped it made me want to doubt that the usually immaculate Fate-chan wrote them.
Despite that, they were written in her familiar handwriting.
“What... is this...?”
The letter’s—... final sentence.
“What are you thinking... Fate-chan... This”
I love you, Nanoha.
So please—... I beg of you.
“... is almost...”
“... a will.”
【 siebzehn ～ (Elegie) ～ 】
The second day since Fate-chan disappeared had already almost passed.
Because of the sudden departure of a front-line captain who also held a command position, the odds were starting to shift drastically. ... A Rank S captain had been lost. ... The gaping hole she left couldn’t be filled by just anyone.
Roughly half of Fate-chan’s unit on the front lines was looking for her, even now. “There’s no way the captain would betray us like that.” ... They were to the point of feeling as if resting would be a waste.
“... Really, this is starting to get pretty bad...”
Sighing, I stacked the papers scattered on my desk.
Papers concerning the current war situation, and the number of units able to fight. The reserve food supplies within the castle, and the amount of cartridges.
... Everywhere, the limit could be seen.
“... Where did you go, Fate-chan?”
Again, I sighed.
—... As I was reading through the papers again, I heard the footsteps of several people. After a moment, someone tapped the door with a timid knock.
“Come in. It’s open.”
“Please excuse us.” The faces that peeked out from behind their salutes were more tired than usual. One of them, Vita—... had perhaps been injured, her right hand wrapped in bandages from wrist to elbow.
“... What’s wrong? Did something happen?”
Not expecting this, I stood up without thinking. The chair I pushed off from fell over and struck the floor with a loud crash.
With the resulting shock, the papers on my desk fluttered through the air, coloring my vision white.
“J-Just now... There’s information that Captain Fate has turned against us.”
With a hint of pain, Vita spoke. —... From disappearance, to treason. That was what the brass was saying. My vision went dark. My head started to pound.
“... Some have reported seeing her on the battlefield.”
Signum spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. At that sight... I knew even without thinking, that it was true.
“There’s no way that’s right!”
Even then, I didn’t want to believe.
—... There’s no way.
After all, that time she had said.
“I will protect you, Nanoha.”
—... There wasn’t even a shred of a lie in those words. Crammed inside was only her sincerity of caring for Nanoha-chan to the point that it hurt.
And that’s why.
“There’s just no way... at all. That Fate-chan, of all people, would turn traitor.”
—... That’s why, that time, I thought this.
“With my own eyes. At the scene... I have to confirm the truth, don’t I....?”
Opening an emergency line, I called the captains under my command. Because they were on the battlefield even now, a long conversation didn’t seem possible.
“I’m sorry to call all of you while you’re busy, but there’s a change in tactics. This is an announcement to all captains. The Guardian Knights will be going out to the front line, so units Erst, Zweit, support them. Dritt, please support those units that are losing combat capabilities. The remaining battalions, the three units from Viert, are to continue defensive measures, as well as the securing of wounded knights.”
“... Everyone, stay alive.”
“Good luck to you as well, Commander.” Smiling at those words, I cut the line. I opened the top drawer on my desk, the one that had been locked several years ago.
... A Device in the shape of a cross fitchy.
The moment I lifted it, the chain links clinked together and made a light noise. That which settled into the palm of my hand was a sensation I hadn’t felt since she disappeared.
Since then, many years had passed, and I should have been grown up, but—... somehow, it felt a little heavier than it used to be.
“Sorry... Lend me your power, just one more time.”
I won’t be like I was that time... ever again. I won’t make her cry. I won’t sacrifice anyone, ever again.
As if to respond to that, the cross fitchy in my hand caught the sunlight, and seemed to glow brighter.
“Signum. It’s a little after-the-fact in asking you this, but... can I entrust the front line to the Guardian Knights?”
“Yes. ... Of course.”
Wrapping myself in my Barrier Jacket, I opened the door that led to the hall. It was approaching winter, and the cold air stung. ... Perhaps it would start snowing soon.
“Rein, is it okay if you’re with me?”
“Of course, Meister.”
—... That time, I thought.
I couldn’t become a shield just for her. I couldn’t fight just for her. For me as I am—... there are too many things to protect.
I was scared to put it to words. I was scared of putting it to words and ending up like that time.
—... So, she was dazzling. Fate-chan, who carried just as many things as I did, but regardless, told her that she would protect her.
I was jealous. I was happy. I was lonely. I was regretful. That’s why—... I wanted her to become happy.
I wanted everyone to be smiling all the time.
Because that was also her wish. A member of my precious family... Her’s.
—... And of course, my own.
And that’s why.
“Fate-chan has a lot of explaining to do.”
Outside it was cloudy, as usual. The odor of gunpowder lingered, and casings dully reflected the sunlight where they littered the ground.
Seeing the column of fire below, I flashed back to the scene from that day.
I suppressed the urge to vomit. My stomach hurt as if it were going to tear. ... I felt bile rising up.
But, —... right now, there was no time to pause.
I was maintaining low-altitude flight for a short while, when a thunderbolt ran between the distant plains and valleys. Unlike a natural one, there was a hint of yellow to it.
An explosion followed. Then a billowing cloud of dirt.
“There’s no mistaking it, it’s Fate-chan.”
The girl before me was... not the girl she had been before. ... Her kind eyes were now clouded and dull.
She stabbed her Device, Bardiche Assault, into the pitted earth and leaned feebly on it. Those deep red eyes only reflected despair, and as if unseeing, were gazing off into space.
There was an unpleasant smell as if something had been burnt or incinerated. And—... a countless amount of red and blue wires, and mechanical fragments.
And the knights who lay without drowning in a flowing ocean. Blood and oil mixed together, making a large, clouded pool.
The right arm she left resting on her blade was still bleeding. That which flowed slowly and noiselessly down her Device spoke of how deep those wounds were.
Fate-chan, who had slowly raised her downturned head at the sound of my voice, widened her eyes as though surprised. After a moment, “Hayate.” She called my name with a raspy voice.
And the next moment, Bardiche Assault, which had been thrust into the ground, was pulled out.
“... What are you doing? Fate-chan.”
“What do you mean, ‘what’? ... It’s just as it looks. ... I’m pointing my blade at you.”
She said this dazedly.
“It’s not too late! Come back! I’ll do something about it, so...,”
“... I can’t go back. Nothing... is done yet.”
She flew high up into the sky, and I raced after her.
“Fate T. Harlaown is... to be captured.”
“... Roger that.”
I Unisoned with Rein. Evading the bullets of light raining down, I kept some distance between us. ... Differing from myself who used rear support, wide-area attacks, she was a short-to-mid-range fighter with a specialty in speed. If she were to close the distance, I would quite probably be shot down.
The light bullets, robbed of a target by my shield, gouged into the ground. To keep the rising clouds of dirt from obscuring my vision, I opened some more distance.
“—... She’s not giving me time for an incantation...”
As to be expected of someone who led the front-line troops. Now... her combat abilities had greatly surpassed that which I was familiar with. ... If I didn’t take this seriously, I would be in danger.
“... Why is it, Fate-chan? Why is it that you’re on that side, of all things...?”
“It has nothing... to do with you.”
At those words, as Fate-chan looked down as if in pain, a magic circle spread open at her feet. In the next moment, her body was wrapped in golden light.
“... I’m sorry..., Hayate.”
Her Device ejected two rounds. Another circle opened in front of her and began to gather a tremendous amount of light.
Slowly, weakly, her left hand was thrust forward and,
A flash so bright, it was blinding. Within that, a three-pronged direct blast approached with a roar. While I spread open a shield to try to block it..., the force was just too much.
“... ku, aah-!”
My shield was deflected, and with a loud noise, it shattered. That moment, my vision was stained gold, and an intense pain ran throughout my body.
“Wh, y... Why... Why-!?”
My throat pulled in the burnt air, and stung. My eyes filled with smoke, and blurred.
More than that, my chest hurt.
“You’re going to betray Nanoha-chan!?”
—... They had been so, so-! Laughing so happily. Laughing at last!
At last, ... at last.
“... So, how is it... Fate-chan?”
“..., ... I am.”
“..., You know that’s not it-!”
Staring straight at Fate-chan who looked away, I opened a circle. I started loading every cartridge I had on me. ... A stopgap measure.
Originally my Device didn’t need cartridges. I had never used them before, despite having it modified just in case.
One, two, three, four.
From the magic I had, and going even higher. ... To be honest, this might be suicidal. As a result of this, the brightness grew, and I focused all the energy gained from the cartridges into the circle.
I took the leftover magic that the Device couldn’t handle and washed it into my own body for reinforcement. The formula had only recently been constructed, and while it was rough, it seemed useable.
“Meister! You’re overloading, any more than that is dangerous!”
“... This isn’t the time to be complaining.”
Even then, the arm holding the Device screamed at the foreign, massive energy. My body creaked at the mad torrent racing inside it.
“Gained from time immemorial, display that power now!”
In the sky, and on the earth. There, large circles formed. As I completed the incantation, the Device I held transformed from a staff to a sword. Gripping that sword tightly, I swung it upward in a large arc.
The energy released from the blade radiated cold, and I could feel it freezing the air around me. ... I just wanted to cry. —... Why?
Telling me with a face like that. ... It’s such an obvious lie. There was no doubt that she was carrying something alone again.
The circles above and below fired direct blasts, which reflected back at angles repeatedly. The reflected beams absorbed the energy stored in the circles, gaining power as they headed straight for their target. —... An attack that would continue until my magic ran out. —... A blade of multiple blades.
... But I didn’t want to kill Fate-chan. I planned to suppress her with magical damage, and take her home by force.
Gauging the timing, I returned my Device from a sword into a staff.
With that declaration the circles disappeared. In that area was frozen earth, and,
“... As expected of such a young commander... That was powerful...”
Fate-chan, who had covered her body with a dome-shaped shield.
The Barrier Jacket she wore was torn and dirty, but there wasn’t a scratch on her body. ... Except, for her arm which was wounded to an abnormal extent.
“But... did you just make it? The formula is a little rough.”
It had been wounded earlier as well—... But even then, it was to the point where it was just strange. The blood that continued to flow was dyeing her Barrier Jacket red-black.
“... Hey, Hayate.”
Dispersing her shield, Fate-chan slowly.
“I know I can entrust her to you.”
“Please... Take care of Nanoha.”
Those were the same words she spoke when she went on that mission. —... But, with completely different emotions.
As if troubled. As if she were suppressing tears, Fate-chan smiled. And after a moment, she looked up at the distant sky as if sensing something.
“... I have to go now.... Sorry.”
Passing beside me with my downturned gaze, she flew up into the sky without even waiting for a reply. Before I knew it, she was gone.
“... That’s, ... impossible, you know that!”
I spat out that reply that had no destination.
I looked up at the sky that had turned dark red. The darkened sun was already about to hide itself in the mountain range.
That sun that seemed closer than usual, was a burning red. That red—... slowly dyed my body that color.
“... I am... Hayate Yagami, okay?”
No matter how much I prayed. No matter how much I screamed for it to be true.
“I can’t become—... Fate-chan...”
Because I wanted to stay by her side as Hayate Yagami. And so... It was impossible for anyone but Fate-chan to be the one beside Nanoha-chan.
“But really... You don’t know anything, do you, Fate-chan?”
We’re here. Our allies are here. —... Why is it that she tries to carry everything herself?
Despite the fact that she wholeheartedly seeks Nanoha-chan’s happiness. —... Why is it that she doesn’t seek her own?
Nanoha-chan’s happiness, and Fate-chan’s happiness. Everything, all of it. ... They’re supposed to be in the same place.
She doesn’t understand anything.
As usual, the castle that I returned to late that night was silent. When I returned to my squad room to make my report, the papers were still a mess. I did leave them like that. With a sigh, I squatted down on the floor.
Picking them up one by one, I placed them on the desk, clipping them together when they had become a substantial amount. While doing that menial task, I was thinking of something.
Sighing at myself, I headed toward my destination. ... Is she still awake? Now that I think about it, it’s the time of night when the dark is deepest.
I knocked once, and after a moment, a “Come in,” was heard. I opened the door. ... The figure I searched for, was by the window.
In the dark room, her moonlit form looked as if she were cloaked in faint light.
“... Good evening, Hayate-chan.”
“Good evening, Nanoha-chan.”
Returning the greeting, I moved to stand next to her. The smell of gunpowder smoke faintly seeped in from the slightly opened window.
“... Hey, Hayate-chan”
Watching the moon from the window. Without moving her gaze, Nanoha-chan spoke. Following her example, I looked up at the moon so as to not turn my gaze to her.
“... I think I’m going to go.”
Those soft, soft words held a firm resolve.
“... It’ll be okay, right?”
I smiled. Ahh—... As I thought, she said the words.
“And then, I’m going to tell her.”
“Is that so?”
The gaze that had been pointed at the moon shifted toward me. —... I thought they were kind, blue eyes that were deeper than anything.
“... You don’t have to worry about me.”
The eyes, that I loved.
“Look for your own happiness. ... If possible, please let me be by your side.”
Slowly, I stroked the head that was placed a little higher than mine. Again, and again.
“Really, Fate-chan is such a big idiot. She doesn’t even realize how lucky she is.”
Just like me back then. Thinking that, a wry smile escaped.
Perhaps thinking it strange, Nanoha-chan cocked her head. That moment, the pendant around her neck peeked out.
Looking at that deep crimson, I recalled those kind eyes. —... And Nanoha-chan’s body covered by... that vivid red.
This time for certain, I’ll keep it.
The promise I made with you that day.