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zwanzig

 

 

            What were lies, and what was truth?

            Which do I believe, how should I act?

 

            As I am now—... I don’t even know that.

 

            What should I do?

            What should I believe?

 

            I don’t know anymore.

 

            But, I can say at least this.

            With pride, and with honesty.

 

            No matter what—... I will protect you.

 

 

            So, please.

            — Don’t call my name anymore?

 

            That I was in this world, that I was next to you,

 

 

            Please forget.

 

 

            zwanzig ~ (rufen) ~ 】

 

 

            The land that my feet were walking on for what should have been the first time, for some reason seemed very nostalgic. Ahh, I was born here after all. I couldn’t help but feel strongly conscious of this.

 

            The sandy sea air rasped across my cheeks. The sound of the waves and the sound of the wind. Other than that I could hear nothing else. It was completely silent.

 

            “This way.”

 

            Urged on, I stepped forward. Before my eyes was a great castle gate. It was a little rusted, and in some parts the paint had peeled off, bringing to mind the passage of years. Even so, it gave off a grand air, as if to boast that this was the center of this kingdom.

 

            I touched it with the palm of my hand, then pushed firmly.

 

            Along with the feeling of cold iron, there was a loud creaking noise. —... Slowly, the castle gate opened.

 

            There was no sign of anyone, not even a light. Left with no other choice, I used the moonlight to follow behind her.

 

 

            “... After you, Fate-ojousama.”

            “—....”

 

            The door at the far end. She put her hand on its knob, and smiled thinly. My feet were frozen. ... My heart beat with a loud, tumultuous rhythm. — As though, my throat were crushed. I couldn’t breathe properly.

 

            My head, was in pain.

 

            “... Excuse me.”

 

            Darkness filled my vision. A completely empty room. From the widely opened window, moonlight did not enter, only, darkness.

 

            Ahh, how I’ve missed you... Fate.”

 

            A hoarse voice resounded. — My chest, became hot. What is this... Is this, nostalgia?

 

            “I’m back.”

 

            Not stepping forward, I spoke those words. Looking closely I could see a small blue light floating, illuminating those cheeks.

 

            — It was, that stone.

            Mother stood next to it, as though nestling up to it.

 

            “It’s mine at last... Erbsünde.”

            “— Congratulations.”

 

            A facial expression like intoxication. Ahh, it’s all so nostalgic. From a corner of my head, I raised my voice in joy. “With this, will Mother praise me?”

 

            — But, I’m sorry.

            I don’t desire that.

 

            “All that’s left is the key... Only the key....”

 

            I heard laughter that shook my eardrums.

 

 

            “My cute Fate. ... Lend me your hand once more.”

 

 

            At those words, I nodded just once.

 

            For now, I had to wait for an opportunity. — If I rush here, it will surely be lost. Cautiously. Cautiously.

 

            Aim for the precise moment

 

 

            “Everything is as you will, Mother.”

 

            and destroy it.

 

            Until then, I will obey. To avoid suspicion. At the thought of betraying Mother, the inside of my chest throbbed with pain.

 

            —... I’m sorry. I love you, Mother.

 

            My beloved, — only mother.

 

 

            But.

 

            — Please forgive me. I have someone I love more than that. And, I. No matter what—... don’t want that person to die.

 

 

            So.

 

 

***

 

 

            It stank of blood. — And of a smokey, dull stench, like something burnt. Hayate’s words from the other day, circled round and round the inside of my head.

 

            Nanoha.

 

            I miss you. — I miss you. To be honest, I want to go back. I wanted to say, “yes.”

 

            — But, I still can’t.

 

 

            “A little more... A little more, so,”

 

            Those words that slipped from my mouth which were supposed to cheer me up, shook so much it was pathetic. ... They just sounded pleading.

 

            As I soared through the sky, I stared only straight ahead.

 

            The reflected sky, had been a blue so deep it pierced the eye. Now that the light had slipped away— it had become a red so deep it was sorrowful.

 

            And, my hand that reached out toward it had also—,

 

            “—... Fate, are you alright?”

 

            Firmly, I clenched my hand. Trickling drops, fell onto my cheek in the flow of wind. — The sensation of something streaming down it in lines, was frightfully hot.

 

            “... Yes. Are you alright, Agito?”

            “Worry about yourself before me! You...,”

 

 

            “I’m alright.” I interrupted Agito’s words before she could say anything else. Despite how she appeared, it seemed that she was prone to worrying.

 

            It was surely just as hard on her, having to do an impossible Unison with an incompatible person, while suppressing the backlash with magical energy.

 

            But— I might not have as much time I thought. My body creaked under the strain of the rejection that had surpassed my expectations.

 

            “— This is it, Fate. I can’t help you any more than this.”

            “... I’m sorry for speaking selfishly. But, please try just a little more.”

 

 

 

            — I had learned many things since coming here.

 

            While I didn’t know why. Mother would go somewhere at regular intervals. In other words, at that time Mother was— not next to the stone.

 

            I checked several times to confirm whether or not I was mistaken. It was— without fail, on the nights with a full moon.

 

 

            And another thing.

 

            There were no longer any normal mage knights; the only ones entering the battlefield were Combat Cyborgs. The researcher behind their production was dead, and the factory was no longer operating. Which meant— the knights on the battlefield now, represented the entirety of the combat capabilities of this side. In other words, if they were brought down, this side’s combat capabilities would be no more.

 

            To make sure that it was truly not operating, I visited the site of the Combat Cyborg manufacturing plant. — That was when I met Agito.

 

            Dim though it had been midday, in the corner of a room now covered in dust. Inside a securely built cage, for some reason, she was there.

 

            [... You, are?]

 

            The hollow stare and the innumerable scars that ran across her body were painful to look at.

 

            [It’s alright now.]

 

            — Without thinking of the consequences, I simply opened the door of that cage.

 

 

 

 

            “Hey! Are you listening, Fate!?”

            Ahh, yes... Sorry, I’m listening, Agito.”

 

 

            Cooperating with the girl, I waited for my next opportunity, and in the meantime we worked to diminish the number of Combat Cyborgs on this side. — So that Mother, who had not yet come onto the battlefield, would not realize this.

 

            Any who saw me, I shot down, leaving none behind.

 

 

            “It’s finally arriving, today— finally.”

 

            The night of, the full moon.

 

            “So, until then I want you to help me.”

            “— Alright, until then. After that, will you... smile properly?”

 

            “Don’t look so sorrowful.” They were— since I had met Agito, words that had been said to me many times.

 

            Fate Testarossa— could no longer smile. But, I couldn’t say such things to her, who seemed like she would cry. I only nodded.

 

            Then, as I was about to increase my speed,

 

            It was in the next instant.

 

 

            “—... Gah, ah-!”

 

            A strange sensation of discomfort. From my side, the feeling of warmth flowing out. The same moment I noticed this, a gouging, sharp pain erupted.

 

            I turned my gaze to it. — A thin, red blade that shone in the light of the setting sun. I saw the red that ran along it, slowly form into spheres, and fall toward the ground.

 

            “Fate!”

 

            I heard Agito’s scream. Reflexively I twisted my body, pulling out the blade. At the intense pain my body doubled over, and without correcting it, I forcibly moved my strengthless arms, and readied my Device.

 

            In front of me was—

 

            Hehe, really now. That’s no good, is it? Fate-ojousama. On a battlefield one must always be on their guard.”

            “—, gu, it’s... you?”

 

            Smiling dryly, it was her. That of mine which adhered to her blade, she licked, and her smile deepened.

 

            “And I had such high expectations for you. To think that you were actually planning to destroy the stone instead.”

            “It’s too bad... I couldn’t meet your expectations.”

 

            The tip of my brandished blade quivered. ... My eyes, blurred. My side still burned with pain, and it hurt even to breathe.

 

            “Yes. Entirely. ... After being used as much as you can be, in the end, you’ll be cast aside.”

            “... What... are.... What are you saying!?”

 

            Again, she laughed. Happily. Like a child who had received a favorite toy.

 

            “The wish that Precia-sama would try to achieve even at the cost of war... What do you think it is?”

            “... Mother’s, wish?”

 

            — I had never thought about it. Why Mother wanted the stone.

 

            Because Mother wanted it, I would try to get it. Just wanting to be praised, wishing only for that.

 

            “She’s trying to bring her daughter back from the dead, you know? Not a substitute, but the real thing.”

            “... Real, thing?”

 

            A substitute... who? — What does she mean, “real thing?” I mean... I’m Mother’s only child.

 

            Siblings?

 

            — I’ve never heard... anything like that.

 

            Ahh, poor Fate-ojousama! You had been so fortunate to be picked up by Precia-sama. And to think, it was only because you were the spitting image of Alicia-sama, who had just died!”

 

            Ali... ci, a?

 

 

            Wh... What... wha, ... that’s..., haha... Who would believe such a thing!?”

 

 

            Alicia? Who? — I don’t know! I don’t know! I’ve never heard... of such a, thi-...

 

            [****]

 

            I heard it as a child— Mother’s voice. Each time I would say, “No, I’m Fate,” — that twisted face.

 

            “I don’t know... no, n-... kh, kuh-!

            “Fate! Don’t try to speak any more!”

 

            Ahh... You can’t die yet, you know? Because you’re the important vessel for Alicia-sama.”

            “—... khh, gu...,”

 

 

            “Poor Fate-ojousama. All alone. ... But, I will always be your ally, alright?”

            “... Don’t, lie,”

 

            — No. I am not alo—...

            I’m not, alo...

 

            “Without a kingdom to return to. Without a place to return to. Ahh, I’m sure that princess also resents you, don’t you think?”

            “...,”

 

            Nanoha.

 

            “Fate-chan, you lied to me...”

            “—!”

 

            — Her mimicking voice, overlapped with Nanoha’s. No... It, wasn’t Nanoha. She. The person before my eyes, was not Nanoha.

 

            Even though I knew that, at that voice my heart leapt. It was as if I were truly— being accused by Nanoha.

 

            “You’re terrible, Fate-chan!”

            “— No... Nanoha! No! No, No. That isn’t why I wanted to be by your side! Please believe me!”

 

            “Fate-chan, I...”

 

            Stop. — Don’t, say it.

            Please, don’t speak those words.

 

 

            hate you.”

 

 

 

 

 

            Aaaaaaah!”

 

 

            “— Fate-! No, stop!”

 

 

            Na

 

            “—, Kyaaah!”

 

            noha.

 

 

 

            I heard a scream. Transmitted across my tightly gripped Device, the feeling of its blade piercing something.

 

            The pain that had been so intense, was gone. My body that was jarred with an explosion of suppressed magical backlash, my pierced side.

 

            Nothing, hurt.

 

            But, everything in front of me was turning black. Even she, who was falling toward the ground, was no longer in my field of vision.

 

 

            “Fate, Fate! Get a hold of yourself!”

            “— kh, kuh-

 

            I leaned against some rubble. Maybe my body was feverish, and the cold transmitted through my Barrier Jacket might have felt nice. — My numb body, no longer understood even that.

 

            “— It doesn’t, look... like I’ll, be able to return.”

            “Idiot! Don’t say things like that!”

 

            Agito was saying something. Though that sound was certainly causing my eardrums to vibrate.

 

            — I couldn’t hear anything.

 

            Just from her open, moving mouth, I at least understood that she was lecturing me in some way again.

 

            “... But, if I’m here, Nanoha... might be in dan... ger.”

 

 

            She said, I was the “vessel.”

            — Then, surely— If I’m gone

 

            “... this war will end?”

 

            Because Mother’s dream, will be gone.

 

 

            “Fate! Hey! Fate!”

 

            Slowly I stretched my hand toward the sky. The clouded sky was pitch black, and the snow that fell as if coloring it grew until it was falling as though dancing.

 

            Trying to catch a snowflake, as I pulled myself from the wall of rubble I leaned against, I felt a sharp pain in my side... and a slippery warmth flowing out.

 

            Removing the hand that had been pressing down on it, I reached out to the sky as if I were begging for something, and what before had been staining my hand, now slowly ran down my arm.

 

            —... I felt something different from snow... something warm falling onto my cheek.

 

            Within this land where everything was dyed pure white, one deep red flower bloomed... Caressed and scattered by the wind, its petals fell onto the fallen snow.

 

            It’s... hopeless. This is the end, of everything.

 

            But it’s fine. This... is fine.

            —... Because if I’m gone, this war will end as well.

 

            Happiness will return. Nanoha will smile.

 

            But.

 

 

            ... I don’t want to disappear.

 

            No, no, no.

            I don’t want to disappear from this world that Nanoha is in.

 

            No good. It’s no good.

            Both the beginning, and the end. Everything is my fault.

 

 

            I loved Nanoha. I wanted to protect her. I wanted to be by her side.

            That was all I wanted.

 

            But.

 

 

            I didn’t even have the right to do that.

 

            Not at all. Not for anything.

 

            Whether it’s between two girls, or a knight and a princess.

            Those things didn’t matter.

 

            Even if we had met in a different way.

            I, would surely have been the person to use Nanoha.

 

 

            “-ku..., a... Nano... ha”

 

            Had I known of everything that would happen, I wouldn’t have met her. Even if we did meet, I wouldn’t have fallen in love.

 

            I surely wouldn’t have... had feelings for her at all.

 

 

            ... What... am I saying?

 

            That’s impossible. Even I know that.

 

            I met you. And called your name.

            —... In that moment, I had already

 

            fallen in love with you.

 

 

            Nanoha... Nanoha-”

 

            I’m sorry, Nanoha.

 

 

            I can no longer

 

 

            be by your side.

 

 

            Nanoha... I, love you.”

 

            Within this land where everything was being dyed pitch black, only your sorrowful smile would not leave the insides of my eyelids.

 

            [Fate-chan]

 

            Within this world heading toward its end, it seemed as if the only thing I could hear was your voice from my memories.

 

 

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