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achtzehn

 

 

            Just how long has it been since I stopped flying?

            —... Was it the day I fell from the sky?

 

            Normally I would have been fine. But something insignificant caught my attention, and I lost my balance in midair.

 

            —... Even though I stretched out my arms, that blue sky kept getting farther away. I tried to somehow reach it. To return to it.

 

            As I stared at the approaching ground. I thought, Ahh, this is the end.

            —... The next moment, the surface where I fell, was dyed with my flowing despair.

 

 

            Ahh, that’s right.

 

            It was that time. ... That night when, embracing my left shoulder, I cried with abandon. And as though coinciding with that, it was Hayate-chan’s first battle.

 

            —... That time when—... Reinforce-san disappeared.

 

            “Thank you.” While saying that again and again, Hayate-chan wept. Like... she was screaming... Don’t go. Again and again and again. Heedless of her flowing tears, “Thank you,” she said.

 

            While embracing those quivering shoulders. I also, thought about her and that girl, and cried. And... For the first time, I knew the feelings of those left behind.

 

            After that, I stopped flying. Because I couldn’t think of flying with anyone but her.

 

            But I, who was still too foolish. In the corner of my heart that was concealed by resignation. —... Wished to fly.

 

            In the clear, clear sky, forever.

 

 

            I wished.

 

 

            achtzehn ~ (Anzünden) ~ 】

 

 

            It was a beautiful moon. Shining coldly in the pitch-dark sky, it was like the air she carried. —... Clear to the utmost, a beautiful gold color. It reminded me of that fine, soft hair.

 

            “Nanoha.”

 

            The name, whispered at the end. Felt like it was somehow pleading. The partially uttered words of, “Don’t cry,” were swallowed in her mouth.

 

            “I love you, Nanoha.”

 

            That soft voice that called to me. Those kind eyes that gazed at me. Those arms that enwrapped me. ... All of them, had been trembling.

 

            Why couldn’t I notice?

 

            — Regret, colored my thoughts. Every time I closed my eyes. Her deep crimson would begin to melt, making rivulets that ran down her cheeks. —... The ground at Fate-chan’s feet, would stain red.

 

            ... No. No, no, no.

            I was stricken by blinding fear, and burning despair.

 

            How can you say, “Find happiness?”

 

            You wish for my happiness.

            —... Why is it wrong for me to wish for yours?

 

 

            That night. —... I had been on the verge of falling asleep.

 

            Fate-chan gave me a chaste, tender kiss. The tiny, tiny words that fell from those retreating lips.

 

            At the time, I couldn’t hear them clearly. They were probably, to the point where she herself couldn’t hear them,

 

            her small, small true intentions. I believe that now.

 

 

            I closed my eyes, and tried to remember what they were. Desperately. I recalled myself at that time.

 

            The warm temperature. The feel of the slightly cold sheets. A soft sigh hanging on my ear.

 

            “... you-”

 

            —... A little more.

 

            “... om you-”

 

            —... Please, remember!

 

 

            “I—... don’t want... to be, separated... from you-”

 

 

            That which I dimly remembered the outline of, was like a voice from crushed vocal chords. A hoarse voice that might fade at any second. But like a loud, shouting scream.

 

            To the point where my chest could tear—... it was painful.

 

 

***

 

 

            “I... think I’m going to go.”

            “Is that so?”

 

            Within the room where I could glimpse freedom, cut out into a square. In that place that relied completely on the moon for light, at those words I uttered, Hayate-chan smiled.

 

            As though she had been expecting it. That hand that had softly touched my hair many times, was trembling slightly.

 

            “... Sorry.”

            “Why are you apologizing, Nanoha-chan?”

 

            I heard her soft voice.

 

            “Yeah... I’m sorry.”

            “It’s okay. More importantly, you’re going, right? What are you going to do about a Device?”

 

            “... Ah.”

 

            Raising my downturned face, before my gaze were deep blue eyes. They faced toward me and, reflecting the moonlight, quivered and trembled. —... As if to laugh, Ahh, as I thought. Her eyes narrowed gently.

 

            “Blauer Vogel... is gone, isn’t it?”

            “... Yes.”

 

            At those words, I remembered that day from my childhood.

 

            Slowly I rubbed my shoulder. ... On it was a stiff scar so faint it could barely be seen now. Until that day it had been there as if it were natural. That hard texture was terribly nostalgic.

 

 

            Because I differed from other mages in that I didn’t possess a Linker Core, I couldn’t possess a normal Device.

 

            But, since the day I was born, I had one. A Device that was mine alone, in my left shoulder. Small, deep. Like it was embedded. Like, a twin sister.

 

            —... Her name was, Blauer Vogel. True to her name, she was a stone in the shape of a beautiful bluebird.

 

            Since it was already there when I was born, it didn’t feel uncomfortable. It didn’t hurt, and the only time I worried about it was when I wore a dress that showed my shoulders.

 

            Rather, I valued it like a treasure. No matter how lonely, or how tough things were, if she and Hayate-chan were there, I would be alright.

 

            —... But, that time I fell from the sky. That day, a massive amount of magical energy flowed from my body.

 

            Blauer Vogel, which usually absorbed magical energy continuously, to keep me from losing any more—... destroyed itself.

 

            Just to protect me.

 

            It was after the very little of it that remained had been surgically removed as well. When the anesthesia wore off and I woke up, she was gone from my left shoulder. I peeled off the gauze, and all there was before my eyes was severely pallid skin.

 

            While I traced over the stiff scar which was all that remained, my voice rose into a sob.

 

 

            On that night, I. —... Lost the other me.

 

 

            “... She’s gone.”

            “That’s true.”

 

            “I... can’t fly.”

 

            I let a bitter smile escape. ... Ahh, it’s truly hopeless. How could I be resolved to go? ... I have no wings.

 

            “... It’s impossible to start making a Device like her right now.”

            “She is—... Yeah, that’s true.”

 

            She is, gone.

 

            “Right? ... But, I have a proposition for you.”

            “A proposition?”

 

            Hayate-chan was still smiling worriedly. After nodding yes, she breathed a sigh as though resolved to something.

 

            “That’s right, a proposition. We’ll make a new Device. There’s a great engineer in my squad.”

            “... Eeh!? I-Is something like that possible?”

 

            Because, I’m... different from everyone. A normal Device—...

 

            “Yeah, and so. I want to ask you about your resolve.”

            “My... resolve?”

 

            The slightly open window creaked as it was closed. The wind caressing my hair stopped. Somehow, the complete silence was painful to my ears.

 

            “... Whether or not you’ll be alright, even if there’s a chance of falling again.”

 

            The skin around the eyes of Hayate-chan who stood opposite me, was just a little strained.

 

            “What we’ll make will be a normal Device. ... With that, magical energy supply won’t be able to occur, so here’s where it gets tricky. We’ll fill cartridges with your magical energy, and it’ll draw power from that. However, there’s a limit to how much blood can be extracted. At most we can make ten rounds or so. Even flying will consume energy, so you may not be able to use any other magic. ... Good so far?”

 

            “Yeah.”

 

            When I nodded in response, Hayate-chan nodded as well.

 

            “... Well then, the supply will be fine, but I don’t know how much of your magical energy the Device will be able to hold. At worst, the frame could be damaged. Without a Device, you... may fall.”

 

            “Even so, it’s fine. ... If there’s hope, I want to try.”

 

            I brought a hand to the cheek that turned downward, as if troubled, at my words.

 

            “So, please.”

 

            The hand that touched that cheek was, as I thought, trembling terribly.

 

            “... Seriously, what a troublesome princess.”

 

            You don’t even understand how I feel. Those small words were thrown in.

 

            “... Sorry, Hayate-chan.”

            “Well. It’s alright... Then, we’ll start the work immediately.”

 

            After breathing another sigh, that raised face was smiling as always.

 

            “Is there anything you want to use for the Device’s base? If not, I’ll choose for you.”

 

            As she was leaving. With her hand on the doorknob, Hayate-chan asked this. At those words, I remembered a certain thing.

 

            Someone who will become an important partner.

            Someone I need to save Fate-chan.

 

            I removed the pendant hanging around my neck, and handed it to Hayate-chan.

 

            That which I had never removed once since receiving it from Fate-chan, reflected the moonlight slipping in from the window, and cast a glittering red light.

 

            In the dimly lit room, that light was scattered about.

 

            “This is what I’d like, but...”

            “As I expected, it’s that.”

 

            Hayate-chan smiled.

 

            “Then, what will her name be?”

 

            Fate-chan’s face came to my mind.

 

            Those gentle eyes that laughed worriedly. Those warm hands. That soft, steady voice.

 

 

            “Her name is—...”

 

            And the pained voice that whispered as she departed.

 

            —... Hey, Fate-chan.

 

            Don’t get mad at me—... for doing something dangerous, okay? Mmmn, but in your case, maybe you’d just give me a troubled smile.

 

            “Honestly, Nanoha—” ... you’d say.

 

            A troubled face is fine. An angry face is fine. —... I want to see Fate-chan’s face.

 

            I want to hear—... your voice.

 

            So, can I come get you? Will you forgive me for it?

 

            “Her name, is”

 

 

            Greedy me, can’t live on just my feelings for you. I want to be—... not with the you from my memories,

 

            but next to the you in this world.

 

            Together, we’ll worry, and hurt. Fight over little things. But then make up.

 

            Touch one another. Smile at one another.

 

            —... I want us to live together.

 

            So. I’m sorry for being selfish.

 

            I’m—... going to go embrace you. And then, I’m going to say. To you.

 

            Sorry for coming even when you were so worried about me.

 

 

            And then, we’ll come back together. Let’s get scolded by everyone, okay? They’ll tell us to stop making them worry. That we’re such bothersome kids.

 

            And then we’ll repent together, “We got yelled at, huh.” —... And after that, let’s laugh together.

 

 

            “— Raising Heart.”

 

 

            Hayate-chan, who I gazed straight ahead at, was still smiling as usual. —... But, it was a very happy-looking smile.

 

 

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