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dreiundzwanzig

 

 

            I wondered why I couldn’t feel anything anymore.

            Though I must have been in pain. Though I must have been in agony.

 

            I couldn’t feel anything.

 

 

 

            Ahh,

 

                        — I just, couldn’t comprehend it.

 

 

 

                                    Hey,         Nanoha.

 

 

 

                        Let me hear your voice.

 

 

            dreiundzwanzig (Ende)

 

 

            It was calm. As if, nothing had happened. It was just— calm.

 

            Bits of rubble still clattered down from the collapsed ceiling. My throat, chafed by the dust I had breathed in, hurt.

 

            “— Mother.”

 

            Unable even to move forward, I just murmured. — There was no response to my voice.

 

            What had been the ceiling, now lay on the floor, blocking my view ahead. What had been gorgeous decoration was also smashed, and shards of glass from a large chandelier were spread about the area.

 

            One could no longer say how great and splendid the room had been. — It had followed after the streets of town, swallowed up by the ravages of war.

 

 

            “—,”

 

            Ahead of my gaze that I turned downward to escape the reality before my eyes. At my feet that had been sullied by dirt, I saw the stone casting a faint blue light.

 

            I picked it up, and unexpectedly found it very heavy. Its coolness permeated my fingertips.

 

            Trying to hold back tears that threatened to fall, I shut my eyes tightly. While grasping the stone in my right hand. I bowed to the crumbled rubble before me.

 

 

            I’m sorry. Thank you.

            And. — I love you. I put these feelings into it.

 

            Though it had only been a few years. Though I didn’t receive the love I wished for. — You were still, my beloved Mother.

 

 

            “Fate-chan.”

 

            I didn’t know how much time had passed, when a subdued voice spoke from behind me.

 

            I struggled to wipe away fallen tears with my cuff. This surely— wasn’t the kind of face I wanted to show now. I didn’t turn around. Nevertheless, Nanoha did not try to turn me, nor move around me.

 

            “... Fate-chan.”

 

            Tightly, my shoulders were embraced. My back, was covered by a feeling of warmth. The arms around me, held me tightly.

 

 

            You were hurt by me, and you hurt me.

 

            “— It’s over, Nanoha.”

 

 

            Even so, you were always by my side.

 

            “— Let’s go home, Nanoha.”

            “Yeah.”

 

            Your eyes, as you released me following those words, were just as I thought, impossibly gentle.

 

            “— I will, absolutely bring you happiness. Nanoha.”

 

            I knew I didn’t want that smile to fade.

 

 

            If you will permit me, from this moment on I will love only you.

            Until my soul rots away, I will think only of you.

 

            Regardless of social standing. Not as a knight, but as a lover.

            I will always, always be by your side, and smile with you.

 

            I will absolutely bring you happiness.

            I will never make you cry— ever again.

 

 

            “What about your happiness, Fate-chan?”

            “If I am with you, I— would have a happiness so great I would not wish for anything else.”

 

            To honor Mother, who saved this life.

            I will live it as happily as I can.

 

            If I don’t— it would surely, have been for nothing.

 

 

            Hand in hand, we left the castle. The sun was already low, dyeing the area madder red. Taking several steps forward, I saw the magical auras of several people flying toward us.

 

            Nanoha-chan! Fate-chan! Are you alright!?”

 

            Hayate!”

            Hayate-chan!”

 

            There was Hayate, with several squad members. As well as all of the Guardian Knights. Their Barrier Jackets were torn in some places, but there were no signs of serious injuries. I asked about Chrono and the others, and learned they were back dealing with the aftermath, and that none of them were seriously hurt either.

 

            Hearing this I breathed a sigh of relief.

 

            “— Is it over?”

 

            At those words, I nodded.

 

            “But... the stone hasn’t been destroyed.”

            “— So that was what caused that wave of magical energy earlier? — In that case, we shouldn’t try using force. Even with all of us we won’t be able to match what it gave off. — If we mess around with it, it could cause another large discharge.”

 

            At those words Nanoha nodded.

 

            It seemed to be so sturdy that even the earlier discharge hadn’t put a crack in it. Surely, we wouldn’t be able to completely destroy it even with everyone’s magic.

 

            “— It might be best to take it back to the castle to find an appropriate method of destroying it.”

            “Though before that it should probably be returned to the vault.”

 

            At any rate, for now it would be brought back. The discussion settled, I raised my Device to temporarily seal the stone she held, when at that moment.

 

            “—!?”

 

            I had a bad feeling.

            — It can’t be. Because, back then-!

 

 

            “Fate-chan!”

            “—, Na-!”

 

            One of the squad members next to me was wrapped in a bright flash. Caught in that nearby light, everything before my eyes turned pure white.

 

            Forcing them open to try to understand what was happening, I saw a piercing gaze that didn’t quite seem human. Disheveled, glossy, long hair.

 

            From the arm opposite the one that reached toward me, many wires peeked out, their tips seared black.

 

            “—, !”

            “I’ve been waiting... for Precia’s demise! And for this moment, for so long! — For so long!”

 

 

            Earlier, she should have fallen.

            Thinking that, the edges of my thoughts collided together.

 

            That’s right. I hadn’t been calm, and didn’t confirm it. Whether or not she had deactivated.

 

            I assumed she had.

 

 

            “Your mother took everything from me! And still— I couldn’t do anything to her! Do you know how frustrating it was!?”

 

            “Fate-chan!”

 

            No good. Quickly, a shield—!

            I scrambled to spread a magic circle. But, the blade was drawing near.

 

            The point of the sword filled my field of vision.

 

 

                       I was too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

            To endure that pain that would soon arrive, I shut my eyes tightly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            “—......?”

 

            But, that pain never came. I just felt, splattered on my cheek, something hot.

 

 

 

            Nanoha-chan!”

 

            Hayate’s anguished voice.

 

            Nyahaha... I made it, in time.”

 

            Spread before my eyes, was gentle blue, and.

 

 

 

            “... Eh...?

 

 

                                   red

 

 

            Ahahahahahaha!”

 

 

                        red, red. — Deep, red.

 

 

                        Everything before my eyes, exploded into red.

 

 

            From the body, that had leapt in front of mine to protect me. A thin blade, protruded. — Beautiful white. Was dyed red in an instant.

 

            “... e... eh?What, is...”

 

            I don’t understand. What’s going on?

 

 

            Nanoha collapsed, crumbling to my feet. Strength left her hand, and the stone she had been tightly grasping tumbled to the ground.

 

            The woman picked it up, then pushed the hand she held it in against Nanoha’s back, which was dyed red. At that impact, Nanoha’s face contorted in pain. The breath she exhaled, was hot.

 

            After a moment, badum. There was a small pulsing sound like something being swallowed.

 

 

            Nanoha...? Nano, ha..., Nanoha!”

            “With this I’ll be able to meet the doctor, and my little sisters again— Now! Call them all back!”

 

 

            I heard loud laughter.

 

            But, that loud laughter soon stopped.

 

 

            “Why isn’t it activating!? Why-!?”

 

            A confused, lost voice arose. In her moment of hesitation, I struck.

 

            Aaaaaaaaaaaah!”

 

            As I embraced Nanoha who remained bent over, limp. I tightly gripped my blade. I gave myself over to anger, and with all the strength I possessed, transferred it into a horizontal strike.

 

            Guh,”

 

            A sensation of cutting into something. A dull voice. After that, she was no longer able to say anything else.

 

 

 

            Nanoha...! Nanoha-”

 

            Shamal-sensei immediately spread a circle. Despite the faint light covering her body, the red wouldn’t stop.

 

            “... Nyaha, ha... I messed up, a little.”

 

            Apologetically, Nanoha laughed.

 

            The warmth that flowed out, was passed along my arms that embraced her, soaking the sleeves of my Barrier Jacket. I pressed down on the wound to try to stop it somehow. It wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop it.

 

            How!?            Why!?

 

 

            “— Sor, ry... Shamal, sen, sei... After, you, warned me.”

            Nanoha-chan, don’t speak! You’ll be alright! I’ll definitely heal you-!”

 

 

            Hayate and the Guardian Knights spread circles to lend their magical energy. To help even if only a little, I also spread a large circle.

 

            You can use all my magical energy! I don’t care if I ever use it again!

 

 

            “No... Nanoha...”

 

 

            I couldn’t speak. A hot lump blocked my throat. I couldn’t breathe.

 

            Nanoha smiled worriedly. She reached a trembling hand toward me, and I wrapped it in my own.

 

            — It was so cold I didn’t want to believe it was Nanoha’s hand. But, the texture of that palm, was undoubtedly Nanoha’s.

 

 

            How did this happen?

 

            If I hadn’t said “Let’s go.”

 

            If we had gone home right away, would this have happened?

 

            Nanoha.”

 

            The wound, wouldn’t close. It wouldn’t stop.

 

            “Don’t leave me... Nanoha...”

            “... Fa... te, cha..., don’t cr... y”

 

            With a trembling hand, she covered my cheek. When she moved to try to wipe away the red that had fallen onto me, it had no strength.

 

 

            She looked like she would disappear at any moment. I didn’t want to accept it. My hand grasped the stone that had rolled to the ground.

 

            “If you really can grant any wish! Then please-! Nanoha... Nanoha...!”

 

            Unchanging, the stone remained completely silent. — My ragged tears overflowed.

 

            “Please... Save Nanoha...”

            “—, If I’m correct, it needs something else to activate!”

 

            Hayate! Can’t you remember somehow!? If we don’t hurry, she’ll die!”

            “I know that! —, To activate it, the Lösung is...”

 

            “—,”

 

            Falling tears, traveled along Nanoha’s cheek, and then ran off. The hand against my cheek, was rapidly growing cold, and pale.

 

 

            “It’s— all, right. Fa, te... chan.”

            “Didn’t we say..., we’d destroy it? Then why...”

 

 

            I’m begging you, somehow.

 

 

            Don’t, ... cry. Sm... ile.”

 

            To try not to worry me. Nanoha smiled. Like usual. Like nothing was wrong.

 

            “... I love you, Fate-chan.”

 

 

            Her word, were firm. Her voice, was gentle. Smiling sweetly, Nanoha slowly closed her eyes.

 

            “..., Nanoha-chan’s— heart functions, ... have ceased.”

 

 

            This was, the end.

 

 

            I heard Shamal-sensei’s voice.

            I heard Hayate’s, everyone’s sobs.

 

 

            Nano... ha?”

 

 

            That smiling face would never turn to look at me again.

 

 

 

            “—, uah... a, aah...”

 

 

            Never.

 

 

            Nanoha... Nanoha, Nanoha.”

 

            Clinging desperately, I patted her cheek with my palm. On Nanoha’s cheek, a blanket of red spider lilies seemed to blossom.

 

            Nano, ha.”

 

            I brought my lips to her own. They were soft, and cold. — The flavor of salt, was mixed with iron.

 

 

            “I— said that I’d bring you happiness.”

 

 

            The arms I embraced, would not return my embrace.

 

            — How long did I remain like that? Hayate spoke. I, without turning toward her, shook my head at her words.

 

 

            “I’m— staying by Nanoha’s side.”

            Nanoha-chan, wouldn’t... want that, would she?”

 

            “I know that. — But.”

 

 

            That is where my happiness is;

 

 

            — Only there.

 

 

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