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~ funfundzwanzig ~

 

 

            — It was very peaceful.

 

            From the edges of the hazy and blurred world that had exploded into red, it was gradually dyeing black. A crumbling world. Within that world— I should have vanished.

 

            — Even so, I thought it was alright. I told myself.

            If Fate-chan is alive, then it’s alright.

 

 

            Just as I was losing consciousness. I heard Fate-chan’s voice.

 

   

                        “Nanoha.”

 

            Like a melody that might be interrupted at any moment, it was terribly delicate. I was sad to have caused such a voice— Regret, shook my heart terribly.

 

            I’m sorry, Fate-chan.

            I— can’t call your name again.

 

 

            I closed my eyelids, and surrendered myself to the whirling torrent, when at that moment.

 

                               

 

 

                        I thought I heard a voice.

 

            “..., — san?”

            “—, — e”

 

                        She smiled, and slowly moved her mouth.

 

            “—, somehow, — ple...,”

 

            The hand I held out toward her, passed through the air. Everything before my eyes, the world. Was wrapped in a flood of dazzling light.

 

 

            The next moment I felt tears dripping onto my face. My body felt drowsy. — And touching it, was a warm, gentle hand.

 

            Ahh, Fate-chan is alive.

            And, so— am I.

 

                        “Nanoha...-”

 

            Her arms tightened around me so much it hurt. Her shoulders trembled. When I returned the embrace, her arms tightened even more.

 

                        I’m sorry.

            I take back what I said before.

 

            Without saying them to anyone, I continued the words in my heart.

 

                                    — I’m truly glad, I didn’t vanish.

 

                        The gentle hands that embraced me, the soft warmth, was.

            Heartrending. Joyous. Precious. And— hopelessly so, dear.

 

 

            “I’m home—,”

 

            — Hey, Fate-chan.

 

                        We met. We fell in love.

                        We laughed. We touched. We exchanged words.

 

            I am. Truly, truly happy.

            For the first time I thought, I’m glad I was born.

 

            “Fate-chan.”

 

 

                                  Into this world.

 

 

                        Into this world, that holds Fate-chan.

 

 

            funfundzwanzig (meine Liebe)

 

 

            Gradually the sun began to climb, painting its color onto the sky that had been black. Reflecting the increasingly dazzling sunlight, the snow that was piled about gave off a sparkling radiance.

 

            A world of silver. Amidst it, the tolling of bells cut through the silence. Beneath a distant, distant sky. Slowly, again and again.

 

            Bells announcing the end of the war.

 

            “— Fate-chan,”

 

            I called out to Fate-chan, who was holding me as we soared through the sky.

 

            Golden hair fluttered as it caught the wind and stroked my cheek, tickling a little. I held tightly to her chest. On my palm, thump, I could feel slow beats.

 

            “What is it? Nanoha.”

 

            A tender smile was turned to me. With my finger I crawled along her cheek that had been dirtied with tears and my blood, and when I touched it to wipe it clean, Fate-chan’s eyes softened happily.

 

            “— Are you scared?”

 

            She murmured the words softly to me, who couldn’t continue speaking. As for what I was scared of. I’m sure that even if she didn’t say it, Fate-chan knew.

 

            I tightened my palm that grasped her chest.

 

            “How much— can I do to protect everyone? — That’s what scares me.”

 

            “I see.” At my words Fate-chan smiled softly.

 

            She brought her hand to my downcast cheek, and turned it upward. Beautiful crimson filled my eyes. The moment our gazes met, those eyes narrowed gently.

 

            “Hayate and the others aside. — I’m, — going to accept whatever punishment I’m given.”

 

            At those words I shook my head many times. I hated it. Wondering how Fate-chan would be punished—, I was scared.

 

            “Listen, Nanoha.”

 

 

            Slowly, she stroked my head. “Please.” From above me, I heard her hoarse voice.

 

            “— But, I’ll definitely come back. — To your,”

 

 

            She didn’t finish the words she had started to say. Because before our eyes— the castle gate was drawing near.

 

            In front of it, enough knights were waiting to cover the plaza completely. In the middle of this, we slowly landed. We were saluted, and their salutes were returned.

 

            “Captain Harlaown. Commander Yagami.”

            “Sir-!”

 

            They answered the supreme commander, who had stepped forward. The atmosphere was heavy. The two finished saluting, and gazed straight ahead.

 

            As they continued, “We will accept whatever punishment we are given,” the supreme commander interrupted them. “What the devil are you two talking about?”

 

            “Good work. ... Especially you, Captain Harlaown, well done.”

            “— H..., uh?”

 

            Fate-chan, whose eyes widened as if to say, “I don’t know what’s happening,” seemed at a loss for words. What’s— going on here?

 

            “The king informed me. — Your mission to infiltrate the enemy kingdom must have been difficult, was it not?”

            “— Eh? ... Um...?”

 

            “I too was completely convinced that you had betrayed us. I’m sorry for doubting you.”

 

            “— Eh? Eh!?”

 

            Both Hayate-chan, and Fate-chan. They looked about, not really understanding the situation. The voices they heard were not condemning them, but praising them.

 

            — After disobeying orders?

 

 

            “— Welcome back. We’ve been waiting.”

 

            At that voice, the cheering stopped. The knights who had until now been enclosing two figures saluted, then immediately bowed their heads. — Past them were,

 

            “— Mother... Father...”

 

            They gazed toward us. The knights blocking the way stepped aside, and they slowly walked along the path made for them.

 

            “— Good work, you two.”

            “... But, why...?”

 

            “The important thing is, thanks to you this war has been brought to an end,” Father continued.

 

            “— But, we—!”

 

            To interrupt Fate-chan’s words, he brought his palm up. Grinning, Father continued, “Enough.”

 

            “— It’s true that you disobeyed orders. — But, who were you thinking of when you did?”

            “—... It was...,”

 

            After a moment’s hesitation, “For the princess.”

 

            “— For Nanoha.”

 

            She said. She gazed straight ahead.

 

 

            “Then, it can’t be said that you disobeyed orders.”

            “— I told you then. ‘Take care of Nanoha.’”

 

            “It seems you’ve done that.”

 

            “So, we’re grateful. There’s no reason at all to punish you.”

            “Thank you. Both of you.”

 

 

            Father and Mother bowed their heads deeply to them. After that. “Nanoha.” He called my name.

 

            “We heard what happened. ... You destroyed this kingdom’s treasure. That was an inexcusable act, even for a princess.”

            “Yes... — You’re right.”

 

            “You will— have to be punished.”

 

            “Please wait! Nanoha didn’t do anything wrong!”

            “That’s right, we— I did...!”

 

            Their voices resounded through the area loudly. I was happy for their feelings. Very, very happy.

 

            I was terribly happy that they weren’t blamed for anything. So, with that alone. I thought— “I don’t care what happens to me.”

 

            “It’s alright. Fate-chan, Hayate-chan. It’s the truth— I destroyed this kingdom’s precious treasure. So— whatever the punishment, I will accept it.”

 

 

            I tightly closed my eyes, and waited for my punishment to be announced.

 

            — Will I— be locked away in jail? Will I never— see Fate-chan again...?

 

            Firmly, — I held back tears that threatened to fall.

 

            If it remained, there would surely be another war. So I destroyed it. By my own will, I, the key— called for the demise of its sorrowful cycle of sin.

 

            So, I had no regrets.

 

            — None... at all.

 

 

            “As you wish, you will be punished. Nanoha. — You must,”

 

 

            I heard his low voice.

 

            My hair swayed in the wind that blew past.

            My field of vision, was dyed flaxen. The world blurred.

 

 

 

 

            “— Eh?”

 

            Slowly my lips opened. As I tried to understand the words he had spoken, my thoughts were interrupted.

 

            “I’ll say it again. — You will leave this place. You, who this punishment is handed down to, may no longer dwell in the castle as the second princess of this kingdom.”

 

            “Father— you...”

 

            He turned, putting his back to me. As he headed back into the castle, I followed him.

 

            “Nanoha!”

 

            Together with Fate-chan who followed me worriedly, we passed through the widely opened castle gates. The corridor was unusually empty. Perhaps because the doors were thrown open, the windowless corridor was terribly bright. — The red of the carpet, dazzled my eyes a little.

 

            “Father! Mother, wait!”

 

            At my voice they stopped. The two faced me. Father with a terribly dour expression. As for Mother, she had a terribly delighted expression.

 

            “That’s how it is. You are no longer a princess. Leave this place.

            “Hehe. ... Really now. You should speak honestly... Such a difficult man.”

 

            “Um, ... well,”

 

            Not understanding their intentions, I was flustered. — I didn’t know what to say.

 

            “Nanoha. Do you perhaps know why you’re this old, and still without a fiancée?”

 

 

            Normally when the princess turned sixteen, a fiancée, who would be groomed to become the future king, would be chosen for her. For generations that was the unwritten rule in our kingdom, Eldorado.

 

            — But, for me, it hadn’t been so.

 

            “I thought it was because I was the key. So, it would be a problem if I was separated from the kingdom.” When I responded this way, Mother apologetically stroked my head several times.

 

            “You’ve had something that you’ve had to endure all this time. Because you were the key, the key,”

            “— So, for you. — We at least... wanted to let you choose the person you love,”

 

            Father continued.

 

 

            “— Take care of Nanoha. Fate-chan.”

 

            Taking the hand of Fate-chan, who was next to me, Mother smiled. Father didn’t say anything else. But he nodded just once.

 

            “—, I will.”

 

            To Fate-chan who saluted, Mother followed her example and returned the salute. After ending it casually, she smiled just once more.

 

            “Not as ‘Princess Nanoha,’ but as ‘Nanoha,’ come visit us here— , okay?”

            “— Yeah-”

 

 

            My tears, wouldn’t stop. Fate-chan stroked my back many times.

 

            Until Father and Mother were gone, we stood there. Once I finally stopped crying, Fate-chan escorted me to my room.

 

            With a loud creak, the door opened. The moment it latched, warm arms wrapped snugly around me.

 

            “Fate... chan?”

            “— Nanoha.”

 

            Warm body temperature. Her beats that pounded, thump, thump, were just a bit faster than usual. After slowly smiling, her lips approached.

 

            “... Mm,”

 

 

 

 

            At their softness, my thoughts melted.

 

 

            After our lips touched for a short while, we put the room in order in preparation for leaving the castle.

 

            I stuffed a few changes of clothes and such into a bag. Fate-chan helped, and it seemed like the job was finished right away.

 

            When I had finished picking out clothes, I turned toward the desk to pick out some small articles and books I’d take with me. Acutely, I felt Fate-chan’s presence behind me. My shoulders were embraced tightly.

 

            — A warm exhalation grazed the nape of my neck. I felt all the heat in my body, gather in my face all at once.

 

            I twisted my body, and the embrace tightened.

 

            “Fa, Fate, chan!?”

            “— Nanoha. ... Um, well, uh, — If it’s alright with you... um-”

 

 

            Fate-chan’s voice was hoarse.

 

            At that voice, I turned my gaze to her. Her eyes, lit with a strong light, trembled. — They’re beautiful, I thought.

 

 

            “Could we live together? I’ll... do my best. So— I want to be with you.”

            “—”

 

            A drip. Tears, fell in a line down my cheeks.

 

            I had never felt tears as terribly warm as those. As Fate-chan embraced me, they also fell onto the back of her hand.

 

 

            “I-I’m sorry! I-If you don’t want to...”

 

            At the tears that touched her hand she released me in surprise and panic, and I looked into her worry-filled eyes. As she repeated, “Um... If you don’t want to, I’m sorry,” I occupied her lips with my own.

 

            “—... Idiot...”

 

            “I’m sorry.” She repeated once more. My overflowing tears, were gently wiped away by Fate-chan’s fingertip.

 

            “So please... always... stay by my side? Nanoha.”

            “—... I will, so please— have me by your side.”

 

 

            I embraced her. And was embraced by her. Our lips met again and again. To fill the void that had been there until now.

 

            As I turned my body to bring our lips together more deeply, something touched the tip of my finger. It was what Fate-chan had written— that letter.

 

            Fate-chan noticed what was before my gaze, and hung her head apologetically. “I’m sorry for then.” Eyes cast downward, she apologized many times.

 

            “— You don’t need it anymore, do you?”

 

            She picked up the letter. Even as she tightened her fingers intending to tear it, I hurriedly stopped her, taking it into my hand.

 

            “— Can I... save it?”

            “Eh, but... you...”

 

            I inserted it into a crack in the binding of a book I had often read, and held it to my chest. The feel of the cold cover passed to my palm. Seeing me do this, Fate-chan said, “Uuh... well, alright.” She scratched her cheek bewilderedly.

 

            “— It can be a charm.”

            “A charm?”

 

            “Yeah. A charm.”

 

            When I said this, Fate-chan smiled more worriedly.

 

            “Something like that... I’m not sure it will really work as a charm...?”

            “— That’s not true.”

 

 

            To me.

            It will surely be more effective than anything, than any charm.

 

            “Because, it’s so filled with your feelings.”

            “— Even though the feelings it couldn’t hold are right here?”

 

            Fate-chan puffed out her cheeks a little in objection. Finding it cute, I laughed and poked one of them with my fingertip.

 

 

 

            By the time the packing was done, the sun had climbed well into the sky. A cozy, warm light covered the inside of the room.

 

            — Will winter be over soon?

 

 

            I looked forward to spring. Though the town was now in ruin. There would not be another war.

 

 

            If everyone works together, then surely— won’t the town again become as wonderful as it was? Won’t this again be a kingdom of unending smiles?

 

            As Fate-chan embraced me, we gazed outside the window. The streets were still covered in rubble. ... But, the face of each person there, was bright.

 

                        Surely, it will be alright.

 

                                    I felt this.

 

 

 

            “Shall we go, Nanoha?”

 

            Sorrowful memories, hard memories. Happy memories. Though many tears were shed, there were also cheerful sleepless nights.

 

            — All of it, had happened in this room.

 

            Even though it was a cage. Even if it still was— it was the only place in the castle where I could be “Nanoha.” Only this room, never changing, let me have a place where I belonged.

 

            The wind that blew in through the widely opened window, swayed the curtains greatly. From the window beyond the lattice, blue sky peeked through.

 

 

            “— Thank you for watching over me... over Nanoha.”

 

            Just once, I bowed my head to the room. Though there was no reply. I was fine with that.

 

 

 

            Carrying my bag, I walked out of the room.

 

            I quietly closed the door. I looked up at Fate-chan, who was a little taller than me. She tilted her head to the side a little, and after that, smiled at me.

 

            “Are you alright now?”

            “Yeah. Thank you for waiting.”

 

            By the side of the person I love more than anything, more than anyone in the world.

 

            With you I welcome, the passing of my life as “Princess Nanoha.”

            With you I begin. My new life, as “Nanoha.”

 

 

            “Let’s go, Fate-chan!”

 

 

 

            From here, now. — My new self begins.

 

 

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