A Fine Evening in the Golden Kingdom

On the evening of Empress Endymion's ball, Dame Akari Hayabusa and Dame Mikoto Nakajima of Her Majesty's Left Hand meet together in the rose garden, deciding to spend their time together rather than joining the public festivities. Then something unexpected happens.

Date: 2018-08-19
Pose Count: 55
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-19 21:51:02 94978
The greatest celebration in the Golden Empire was upon its citizens, as it did every year. Empress Endymion's Golden Capitol was open to all, and within the walls of the palace itself, the greatest party of the year had begun. Celebrating the anniversaries of the Empress' birth, the defeat of the Dark Kingdom traitors, and the founding of the Empire itself (which all occurred on the same date in different years) there is much to be happy about! It's also about eight days before the seventeenth birthday of the lowly knight Dame Akari Hayabusa

... But even on days of celebration, the empire still needs to keep running. The so-called "True Earth Kings" needed to be brought to heel, or at least utterly obliterated, and they couldn't rest even now that the secret police had captured the traitors Souma, Hotori, and Hinamori. Especially now, in fact. Watchers needed to be watched, guest-lists needed to be second-guessed, attendants needed to be attended to, and hundreds of other matters needed to be dealt with which were contrary to the appearance Empress Endymion wished to present to the universe.

In short, Her Majesty's Left Hand has been as busy as ever all day. Now, with the festivities just getting into gear, there is now a clandestine meeting in a corner of the rose garden/hedge labyrinth between its two leaders, Akari Hayabusa and Mikoto Nakajima. By day, they pose as lowly knights who keep getting outlandish assignments with no rhyme and reason, which serve as cover stories for much more ... unwholesome purposes. But within the castle walls, away from the courtiers and guests, they show their true colors to each other.

Akari holds her hands out to the sides and twirls around. She's dressed in an elegant ballgown, rose-red and mauve with a navy-blue trim, with dark blue metal accessories arranged to evoke the imagery of a knight's armor. "How do I look?"
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-19 22:07:28 94981
Mikoto has been a busy girl in the weeks leading up to the celebrations. So many missions, so many hidden, secret battles. Sometimes she's prayed for a break from the work... but she's a loyal knight to her Empress, obeying without complaint or hesitation.

Still, the big day is finally here, and there's a chance to steal a few moments in private. Things are quiet enough right now, with all the big names of the Empire and its subordinate powers gathered in the ballroom. The Left Hand, here and elsewhere, have their chance to catch their breath and enjoy the beautiful evening.

And the beautiful company. With her partner's own birthday coming up, Mikoto has been debating what to do for her, and she knows it's going to have to be something special. After all, Akari is her partner.

"You look gorgeous, 'kari-chan," she answers the question, unable to tear her eyes away from the girl and her gown. Her own garb is simpler, planned around the desire to match Akari's outfit without imitating it. So she's chosen to go with a somewhat masculine style for the occasion, a formal suit in crisp charcoal gray, with a slightly lighter waistcoat and a sky-blue silk blouse. She stalks a half-circle around Akari, short-heeled boots padding softly on the grass, and reaches out to flick a lock of soft blue hair back into place. "You are beautiful, without question, Akari-chan."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-19 22:55:54 94990
As has been chronicled elsewhere, if anyone were to ask either of them about the rumors of some sort of romantic entanglement between them, they would firmly proclaim that such hearsay is greatly exaggerated.

Akari beams, butterflies in her stomach. "I knew you'd like it!" she says. "... I had to make like I was pulling rank on one of the dressmakers, I'll probably have to owe Murano-san a few mundane favors anyway." Always with the Left Hand business as her true reason for doing things. "But I'm confident that if and when I show my face publicly, people are going to be talking about my 'knightgown.'"

She looks Mikoto up and down. "As for you, my dear," she says cheerfully. "The general butch look really suits you. You should go for a rugged look more often!" She gently puts a hand on Mikoto's shoulder and leans in close. "Her Majesty is obviously the most beautiful woman in the universe ..." It's just common sense that you can't compete with Empress Endymion. "... but I think you're probably the most handsome." And she leans in and kisses Mikoto lightly on the lips.

Well ... slightly exaggerated.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-19 22:56:31 94991
Indeed, Mikoto has frequently made the claim that she's unattached. An attractive, unattached young woman can go many places that one otherwise cannot. It's a tool she's not unskilled in using, but she doesn't need it here and now. She just needs her partner.

"It seems to me," she muses, captivated by the view, "That I'm going to owe Murano-san a few favors as well. She does do excellent work." She smiles and poses for Akari, taking a twirl of her own to show off her figure and the cut of her suit. There isn't as much to swirl and flare as she turns, but it does fit rather nicely to her athletic figure.

"Well, Her Majesty's beauty is unquestioned, naturally. One would never wish to impose, however." Just occasionally gaze adoringly from afar. ... except Mikoto's never been the type to just watch from afar, is she? "You, on the other hand, my dear..." She leans into the kiss, returning it warmly and fondly, sliding an arm around Akari's waist to rest her hand at the small of the girl's back.

They are, after all, the Empress' Left Hand. Lying about their reliationship is no stranger to them than lying about their sympathies with rebels like the 'True Earth Kings'.
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-19 23:10:37 94994
Akari's smile widens at Mikoto's twirl. Their place in the Golden Kingdom is always so complicated, you need to be on your guard at all times, she is currently a recursive quintuple-agent against two groups opposed to Her Majesty, and there are very few things that can distract Akari entirely from all thoughts related to her duties. Her partner, ironically enough, is one of them.

And now Akari leans into the kiss, eyes going wide for a moment before she closes them, wrapping both arms around Mikoto in the process. Wow! she thinks. I can't believe we're finally doing this! Then, Wait, 'finally'!? We've been together for -- eh, forget it. (Akari was always one for just going with the flow and never questioning things.)
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-19 23:19:13 94995
Few indeed are the things that can distract Mikoto from her own duty... but this seems to be one of them. Part of her hungers for that simple human contact, to share the warmth of another's joy. There's nothing to hold her back, now, no reason not to let her own feelings show... the loneliness she's felt since Ikuto vanished - but who was Ikuto?

But no matter. She is here, and Akari is here, and she has a cunningly-enchanted little speaker to relay the music from the ballroom...

She glides back a step, taking Akari's hand in hers and bowing to kiss it. "May I have this dance, my lady?"
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-19 23:29:02 94998
Akari giggles. "Why, but of course, my dear Mikoto!" she says, giving her a quick bow without letting go of her hand. She's almost feeling giddy at this point. She'd never thought of ... she remembers never thinking of Mikoto as an actual romantic partner before, but here and now, she's fine with just letting all such thoughts and concerns slide.

She opens her mouth to suggest a Belkan dance no I'm not supposed to tell anyone, she says, even before she realizes that none of that entire thought process makes any sense whatsoever. "And, of course," she says, without even permitting a break in her stride, "it doesn't matter in the slightest what dance it is, as long as I'm with you!"
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-19 23:46:29 94999
The first tune to come over the speaker almost encourages a Belkan dance, really. Mikoto grins and pulls Akari close again, to glide easily into the rhythm of the dance. She doesn't need to have any secrets from her partner, after all, does she? (Secrets from who?)

"To dance with you is a priviledge I shall treasure for the ages, my lady," Mikoto murmurs, taking the lead with practiced grace. She is not at all unskilled as a dancer, it would seem, drawing her partner close to step through the circles the tune draws them through. "Seize the moment, my Akari-chan. For I am yours to seize."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-20 00:00:18 95001
"I should be the one telling you that, my love!" Akari says teasingly, following Mikoto into the dance. "I mean, besides, we're partners, equal in all things. We're sort of ... equal-opportunities for seizing, y'know?" Her movements are ... just a teensy tiny bit inexpert. A part of her is wracking her brain to remember if she's done this particular dance with Mikoto before, whether it'd be safe to show that she knows it already, but she sets it aside; her Infiltrationsmodus is skilled enough in making it seem like she doesn't know something and is just following Mikoto's lead ...

... and she's too distracted by Mikoto's smile at the moment to even wonder why she's thinking of her current form is an "infiltration mode", why she was thinking it in German, or what other "form" she even has.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-20 00:10:42 95003
Mikoto chuckles softly, not really caring what her choice of dance gives away. This is Akari, after all, not some stranger she's only just met. (How long have they been partners, after all? She can't quite remember, for some reason.)

"Indeed," she agrees. "Mutual Assured Seizage, or something like that." No, her malapropisms do not approach those Senshi Venus is famous for. But every so often, she can't quite think of the word.

It doesn't really matter, to her, as she sweeps through the steps of the dance, letting the music carry her as she focuses on Akari. "Once we've extinguished the last of the rebels, d'you think Her Majesty will let us retire? Settle down, do... whatever we want?" Work a farm is the traditional 'retired soldier' job, or a shop, but whatever will these two do with such a life? Maybe she can make something of all that techno-magic she's been studying... but when has she had the time for that?
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-20 00:23:17 95005
And Akari just follows into the dance. "Mutually Assured De-seize-tion," she says cheerfully. (Not that she can quite remember what she's even joking about.)

She thinks a little bit about the question. "Maybe," she says. "My biggest desire has always been to ... leave this universe a better place than when I entered it." Or at least when I was first activated ... wait, what, no. "And realistically, I don't know if we'll ever truly be finished. There's always new fools born. The latest batch was barely older than us, even considering we're sixteen."

... Hang on, sixteen? No, 'sixteen' is right, she's turning seventeen one week from now, isn't she? Her sixteenth birthday was ... (supposed to be today) last year. Yeah, that's definitely right.

She's not letting any of this uncertainty show on her face, because that's not what Akari is supposed to do, even with Mikoto-chan.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-20 00:39:38 95007
The attempt at another backronym elicits a little chuckle from Mikoto, that warm, familiar laugh. "I suppose it's like the old saying," she muses. "The more foolproof we try to make something, the more the universe works at creating a better fool."

She shrugs. She has music, she has Akari, she has the Empress' trust, and she has the Dance. There are very few things that could make the night more perfect than it is now.

"I don't mind it," she murmurs, leaning in to rest her cheek against Akari's. "Fighting, farming, a shop, a lab... so long as we're together."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-20 00:46:23 95008
Akari feels the hairs standing up on the back of her neck at the sound of Mikoto's wonderful chuckle, and she gives the sunniest smile she's ever given before. She's happier now than she's ever been ... or at least, since the last time they were together like this. (Which was ... when, exactly?) "Just so!"

She follows along with the dance, her smile never changing. She closes her eyes, lightly nuzzling against Mikoto's cheek. "A lab?" she murmurs. "But ... yes. Her Majesty's rule is perfect, of course, but ... somehow, I feel as though being able to be with you just makes it ... complete, to an extent."

Wow, that was cheesy, says a voice in the back of her mind. It sounds like her own voice except ... gruffer, at a slightly lower register, like she has when she's being ... ... ... ... she can't quite recall.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-20 00:59:40 95010
Why did she mention a laboratory? She's never been technically inclined, has she? As Her Majesty's Knight, there's been so little time for anything other than work... "Mmmm, yes. I think it's the same," she muses, keeping herself pressed close to Akari as they continue dancing.

"This is... wonderful. A perfect night." She straightens a little, turning her head, to place a kiss of her own on Akari's lips. "I wish it could last forever."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-20 01:05:14 95012
Akari smiles. Mikoto's affections are really making it harder to worry about all the strange things her minds is doing, and she returns the kiss, then nods. "Couldn't agree more, Mikoto-chan," she murmurs.

After another moment of dancing, however, she straightens up as well, slowing her movements as she tries to disentangle herself from Mikoto ... very reluctantly. "But I think we should at least take a long enough break to get a drink," she says sweetly. "Mind if I dip my toes into the ballroom to grab something to drink?" Starry-eyed as she is, she doesn't even notice that she said the same thing twice.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-20 01:13:25 95013
Mikoto is equally reluctant to let go, but she eventually does, once she senses Akari's intent to do so. She is, perhaps, a little flushed, maybe having had something to drink before coming in... or maybe excited from something else.

"We really are sort of supposed to be on watch, out here... just in case." The likelyhood of someone actually attacking the Empress' celebration seems ridiculous to her, though. "Bring something for us to share?" she asks, after a moment's consideration. "And maybe some of those chocolate-covered berries...."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-20 01:27:27 95016
Akari chuckles. "Of course, that's the idea!" she says cheerfully. "Be back in a minute, my love!" She turns and makes her way back through the maze -- as with every other aspect of the Palace, she's memorized the layout enough that she finds her way back easily (even though it feels like this is the first time she's been there before). She's smiling like the cat who swallowed the canary, and she's humming and barely seems to be paying attention to what she's doing all the way to the ballroom ...


... A moment later, she returns with two drinks, frowning and looking somewhat troubled and confused. "Didn't have a hand free to grab snacks, and that busboy without a name who the Empress keeps around for some reason was busy with other stuff," she says. "Uh ... Mikoto-chan, something really weird happened while I was in there ..."
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-20 01:33:44 95017
Mikoto settles herself on the park bench while she waits, looking out over the grounds, towards the palace walls. Fortunately, no one seems to be trying anything sneaky in that area tonight, so she leans back in her seat and stretches out an arm along the back of it to wait for her partner.

Eventually, she hears familiar footsteps approaching, and tilts her head to watch Akari approach. "Hey, love," she says, rising from her seat to twirl about to face Akari. She reaches to take a drink with one hand, the other sliding around her partner's shoulder to draw her close for another quick hug. "What kind of weird? Nobody slipped past us, did they?" she asks, her smile suddenly fading to a worried scowl.
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-20 01:44:28 95019
Akari leans into the hug, barely seeming to even notice what Mikoto's doing. It should be obvious that she's very tense now. "No, the guards and I double-checked the guest list afterward, everyone who didn't have to cancel is there and there were no extras," she says promptly, sipping gingerly from the drink as she takes a moment to try to put her thoughts in order.

Finally, she takes a deep breath. "I happened to pass by Rashmi Terios, a scholar from Bengal's ambassadorial delegation, as she was talking to Nicomachea, a scholar from the Greek delegation," she says. "And even though I'd never met either of them before, I suddenly felt as though I'd done something to offend her or hurt her out of turn, and that I should apologize. And I have no idea ..."

(She knocked her through a skyscraper's rooftop. Do not tell Mikoto about this! ... Even though I've never seen a city like that before, much less fought a scholar somewhere in it!)

"... what it could possibly have been," she finishes. "Um, Mikoto-chan, have you been noticing any ... strangeness going through your head this evening?"
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-20 01:59:57 95022
Mikoto visibly relaxes at the reassurance, nodding in acknowledgement, then guiding Akari to the seat. The girl deserves a bit of a rest, after running in and out like that. "Terios-hakase... yes, I've met her. And her Greek friend, as well." She's never knocked either through a skyscraper's rooftop, though.

"Maybe...." She muses. Why does she remember fighting alongside Rashmi? "Maybe she reminds you of some rebel we took on?"

She considers the question, mulling it over a sip of her drink. (Why is she suddenly craving something fizzy?) "Strangeness like... remembering things that haven't happened?"
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-20 02:15:23 95023
Akari nods, settling down ... but she's already starting to shift out of 'Dame Hayabusa, hopelessly in love'-mode and into 'Akari Hayabusa, half of Her Majesty's Left Hand'-mode. "I'll have someone take inventory on people I've fought to look for any redheads," she says promptly. "On the other hand, I don't recall ever doing anything to any of them that they didn't damn well deserve." She's feels ... guarded, as if her tone is leaning too close to these strange unspecified "things she shouldn't tell Mikoto."

She blinks at Mikoto's description. "Yeah," she says softly. "'Things that haven't happened.' Things that ... are impossible, or don't make any sense. That's ... that's the perfect way to describe them." She taps her chin as she tries to think. "I think we're reaching the point where it's safe to say that something is seriously wrong."
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-20 02:25:30 95024
Disturbed by the thought, Mikoto is starting to shift into 'business' mode as well. "Too many rebels," she muses. "They kind of blur together." Actually, beyond the chara-bearers, it's rather hard for her to pick out any particular individuals. Probably just because they're the most recent, but who was before them? It was... uhm...

"I..." She sighs and takes another sip of her drink, savoring the tart sweetness. "I think you're right," she finally decides. "This is... do you think someone is trying to... to sway us away from Her Majesty? To confuse our loyalties?"
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-20 02:55:19 95026
Akari grins. "It's what we have bookkeepers for, love!" she says. Her voice keeps ... briefly dipping into a lower register and a more gruff tone, like she always does when she goes into business mode ... but then she can't resist the urge to go right back into Cover-Story-Akari mode.

"Maybe," she says slowly. "... My gut feeling is, that isn't quite right ... but on the other hand ... if someone is messing with our gut feelings ..." Her mind is racing. "... Her Majesty is obviously going to be safe, because she's practically omnipotent, but if the guests at the party are in danger ... if Princess Serenity is in danger ..." She sighs. "... Well, at the moment, all we can do is leave it in the hands of Empress Endymion's Four Generals. They can act more openly than we can, they're all in position to various degrees, Jadeite's pretending to be a Venusian noble ..."

And even as she makes these dark proclamations, she's thinking: Why do I feel as though I've never actually met Her Majesty or her fiancee or her Generals? Why do these feelings of devotion actually feel more "fake" than the gut feeling I just said might be wrong? Why does everything seem so superficial all of a sudden?

She ... really doesn't want to confront these questions head-on.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-20 03:13:44 95028
Superficial... Mikoto is used to that, to be honest. Her family may be old money, but most of them are shallow and self-absorbed. "He always did like his disguises, didn't he?" She smiles lazily, but it's not a very comfortable expression.

"The princess.... mmm. If someone hurts her... well. You know how Her Majesty feels about her..." There's definitely something about Endymion and Serenity in her memory... but for some reason, she keeps wanting to think of Endymion in a tuxedo. Odd.
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-20 03:20:53 95029
Akari nods. "Exactly," she says. "But they're competent enough ..." She blinks. "... aren't they?" She shrugs. "I guess this is just another of those cases where we just sit back, wait for the Four Generals to stand around being obvious, or not-so-obvious as the case may be, and if there's anything left for us to do ..." Her voice trails off.

"... ugh, I can't just keep ... ignoring the voice in my head," she says softly. She knows that was something important, but she isn't sure which way it was originally pointed. She gets up, turns to face Mikoto, and asks the most painful question that's been weighing on her mind.

"Mikoto-chan ... do you remember how we first met?"
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-20 03:29:23 95031
Mikoto does trust the Shitennou -- no, the Four Generals -- to handle just about anything that might come up in the ballroom. If she and Akari are needed, it will be obvious, most likely. "Then they'll call us, yes."

She finishes her drink and sets the cup aside. "We met in -- " Training, she was about to say. Knight-Cadets. "Why do I keep wanting to say 'high school'?"
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-20 03:36:18 95033
Akari frowns. "... and why am I suddenly feeling that, too!?" she says. She hesitates. "... and ... the word 'kendo' ... What's 'kendo'?"

It would appear we have a visitor, oh Captain, says Mikoto's voice in her head.

If any of ours had that attitude for getting a spot on the starting lineup I'd tell them to join a different club, says a different voice.

"... I ..." Akari's glass falls out of her hand and spills the remainder of her drink onto the ground. "... have you ever ... heard of it?" Suddenly, nothing seems real to her, either the simple facts of reality or the subtle voice telling her that reality is wrong.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-20 03:44:31 95036
Mikoto hrrrms softly as images rush through her mind. Sparring. Tournaments. It's all mixed up with knight-cadet training, although the latter seems kind of ... blurry. Indistinct.

"I..." She frowns again, then reaches over to clasp Akari's hand in hers. "I keep seeing myself with a sword. A wooden sword." She shakes her head and squeezes Akari's hand. "We used those during early training... didn't we?"
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-20 03:59:51 95040
Akari clasps Mikoto's hand. Her own hands are shaking. "I ... I ..." She shakes her head. "Why is this so ... strange ..."

She turns back to the palace and grimaces, putting her head in her hands. "Ughhh ..." She's ... trying to get back into full business-mode, but the strangeness is getting to her head. And somehow, the sounds of festivities which have been quietly filtering in from the direction of the ballroom are getting more ... distressed, somehow.

Indistinctly, Empress Endymion's voice is heard, welcoming everyone to the ball ...
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-20 04:07:02 95042
Mikoto shakes her head, worried by the strange memories, but more worried for Akari. The girl is clearly much more disturbed by all this than she is. "Try to keep focused, love," she murmurs, getting up from the park bench and slipping around behind Akari. Her hands settle on the young knight's shoulders, taking a firm grip and starting to knead and rub the taught muscles. "You trust me, don't you? It's..." She breaks off, pausing as her memory wavers...

Then she remembers one thing clearly. "Why do I keep remembering Serenity's Endymion as a man?"
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-20 04:14:08 95044
Akari stares up at the palace. "I ... I have no idea who any of these people are!" she says. ... The illusion is just falling apart in Akari's mind, but she just wants to ... relax under Mikoto's touch ...

The Empress is angry. Her anger can be felt, all across the palace grounds, like it's putting a strain on reality itself. It's hard to make out what she's saying, but the words "CRAVEN DISLOYALTY FROM MY SUBJECTS" are clearly audible. A moment later, "THE WINE IS BETTER!" she howls. "EVERYTHING IS BETTER HERE! IT'S A WORLD OF RAW PERFECTION."

And that's when the world outside of the palace begins to shatter. The palace is safe, including the garden, but beyond it, things fall apart, fly upwards, or generally rend themselves apart. Akari screams, turns around, clings to Mikoto in raw panic.
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-22 00:41:17 95387
Akari Hayabusa NOTES FOR ADDING LOGS: The preceding two poses need to get removed!
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-22 00:50:50 95390
Mikoto shakes her head, worried by the strange memories, but more worried for Akari. The girl is clearly much more disturbed by all this than she is. "Try to keep focused, love," she murmurs, getting up from the park bench and slipping around behind Akari. Her hands settle on the young knight's shoulders, taking a firm grip and starting to knead and rub the taught muscles. "You trust me, don't you? It's..." She breaks off, pausing as her memory wavers...

"It would appear we have a visitor, oh Captain."

"Right, then. Nakajima, get New Girl a uniform and some pads and show her the basics, no more slacking off with your so-called 'lab work'."

She remembers a girl, average in build, not particularly athletic but eager to learn. Sparring with wooden blades. Lemonade at the Crown - wait, what's that? An arcade? Odd.

"Sweet sixteen, hmm? An excellent time... planning anything special for the occasion?" Except that Akari is turning seventeen... isn't she?

"This is..." She reaches one hand up to rub her own forehead as the discontinuity starts to give her a headache. "Do you remember... Sagara and Chidori? Lemonade and Kipling?" The Left Hand certainly doesn't... but that other Mikoto does.
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-22 00:57:21 95393
Akari furrows her brow. She wants to relax under the rubbing, but she turns around to face Mikoto. "Y ... yes?" she says. "Or ... kind of? I think ..." She was always one for just going with the flow, she knows she should ignore the voice, but wait, no, that's a different voice, the one she needs to ignore is much worse than that --

The Empress is angry. Her anger can be felt, all across the palace grounds, like it's putting a strain on reality itself. It's hard to make out what she's saying, but the words "CRAVEN DISLOYALTY FROM MY SUBJECTS" are clearly audible. A moment later, "THE WINE IS BETTER!" she howls. "EVERYTHING IS BETTER HERE! IT'S A WORLD OF RAW PERFECTION."

And that's when the world outside of the palace begins to shatter. The palace is safe, including the garden, but beyond it, things fall apart, fly upwards, or generally rend themselves apart. Akari screams, and clings to Mikoto in raw panic.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-22 01:07:16 95394
The screams. No. Not again. Mikoto is not going to let someone she loves be torn away again.

Again? Has she loved before? Was there someone? The Left Hand doesn't remember. But there's a face, a feline smirk, and then it's gone.

"No, no, NO!" she screams out, grabbing hold of Akari, clinging tightly to her. The universe is falling apart around them, and all she has to trust is (this near-stranger that she sort of likes) the girl she's been in love with for months now.

"What's happening? Some sort of attack?"
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-22 01:29:25 95402
Akari screams, "I DON'T KNOW! I DON'T KNOW! I DON'T KNOW!"

And that's about when the palace starts to disintegrate. The palace, the grounds around it, the very earth itself falls apart, leaving chunks of building, an unending sky, and what appears to be a skyscraper-sized Witch with three Grief Seeds in place of a heart.

"I have no idea what that is!" screams Akari. Tears are in her eyes now as she clings to Mikoto as they plummet into the void, and her screams become completely incoherent. She takes a breath to let out another scream ...

The world fades to white.

The only thought going explicitly through Akari's head is, I want to go home! With bits of I want to stay with Mikoto! as well; she's never fully escaped from the illusion.

... and then suddenly, it's mid-morning on Sunday the twelfth. They're in Mikoto's dorm at Infinity, on the couch; Akari's wearing the tank top and capris she usually has when exercising, clinging to Mikoto and trembling. She lets out a squeak of surprise.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-22 01:45:13 95408
As the world fades away around her, Mikoto has but one comfort: She isn't going alone. If nothing else, she has someone at her side. Someone to call 'partner', 'friend', and more. She buries her face in Akari's shoulder, not really caring where they end up, so long as they're together there. So long as she has Akari and Carnwennan and Hikari... Wait, who? Oh... right.

Mikoto lifts her head a few moments later, after Akari's squeak. She blinks a few times. We're... not dead?

"Hey.... you okay, Akari-chan?" The affectionate honorific just slips out, even though it's not something she's ever actually called the girl before. "Wait.... this is..."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-22 01:49:54 95409
Akari stares up at Mikoto, heart thumping visibly in her chest. Okay, hang on, thinks Bell, I need to think of a reaction that's appropriate for Akari and ISN'T RAW PANIC.

And then she decides that panic is actually perfectly appropriate, and exclaims, "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT!?" She is visibly torn between recoiling from someone who she's barely even friends with, and just clinging to the most comforting (well, only) person present. Of course, at the moment, the second one seems to be winning, if only because that's the state she started out in.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-22 02:09:14 95416
Mikoto meets Akari's gaze, staring into her eyes. Confused at first, slowly starting to realize where she is and what must have happened. "....Aaa.... Are you alright, Akari?"

And then she's clinging to Panic Girl. What was that, after all? She isn't qutie sure, really. It doesn't quite match anything she's seen before.

"Hey, hey. Calm down," she tries. She doesn't have a disguise or the like to worry about too much, so she doesn't bother pretending to panic or the like. "You're safe here. I think we're back on campus."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-22 02:17:47 95419
Akari's panic is actually completely genuine, which is the problem! She's hyperventilating at first, but at Mikoto's words, her breathing starts to slow down. "I ..." She slowly, reluctantly lets go of Mikoto, and then ... basically jumps back to the other end of the couch as if launched by a spring. She makes three attempts to cuss in Belkan, each time stopped by her Infiltration Mode, before she finally says, "Holy shit!" She shakes her head. "What ... I ..." She looks around, running her hand through her hair. There's another faliling failed attempt at speaking in any language, before she settles on, "Did I really kiss you?"
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-22 02:26:58 95422
Saying anything in Belkan probably would have given the game away, yes. Mikoto stopped herself from saying anything in it, as well. "That was... was all that real?' she asks, half to herself.

She's actually starting to enjoy the embrace, when Akari pulls back and jumps away. "Hey," she starts to say, trying to calm the girl down. Then there's a question.

"Uhm," she bites her lip as the memory of it flashes through her mind. It was pretty good, at the time, and that's how she remembers it... "Yeah... yeah, you did... and I kissed you back." She looks up again to meet Akari's eyes. "I... think I liked it."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-22 02:39:55 95426
Akari laughs nervously. She's gone several shades towards gray, but now she has a blush on top of that. "Ugghhh ... I mean ... well, I mean, I did too," she says, trying to find a practical angle. "And ... a-and I do like girls ..." (Actually, Dr. Murano had had to explain to her that liking boys was even a thing. Bell just doesn't want to talk about that incident.) "... but ... I mean ... uh ..."

An image of Tessen flashes through her mind. She briefly wonders what it would be like to kiss her instead.

"... I ... am genuinely ... not sure how to finish that thought, actually," she says lamely. "I ... uh ..." She lets out another nervous laugh. "... I mean, wow! I ... how ... 'real' ... was that, even?"
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-22 02:49:48 95430
Mikoto's never been particular about the gender of people she's been interested in. There was Ikuto, for example. "It's... nothing wrong with that, certainly!" she waves a hand almost frantically. Then an image of Nightbell flickers through her imagination, pulling her close... Argh, brain, not now!

She looks up to meet Akari's eyes again, briefly, and leans to her side against the couch. "Was it.... real? I... don't know. Do you want it to be real? Because... it felt pretty real to me."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-22 03:07:36 95436
Akari nods. Then shakes her head. Then groans. "Well ... I have no idea who the hell Empress Endymion was, if she wasn't just another ... facet of that whole ... thing." She shrugs, and manages to put another piece of the personality Akari is supposed to have back into place. "... and I can skip the whole ... 'actually being a knight and murdering people' part of all that." She winces at the memories. "... but, uh ..."

A lightbulb goes on in Bell's head. "... I think ... first ..." she says unsteadily, "... I want to ... recover from, uh, discovering that we live in a world where ... suddenly finding ourselves in that sort of thing is ... even ... possible?" She's always wanted to avoid "Akari" becoming in-the-know, because there's always the risk that someone might scan her hard enough to find that her body is as fake as a Barrier Jacket, but she feels that at least acknowledging that part is unavoidable here.

... She really hopes her infiltration mode is currently working well enough to keep her reactions believable, and that her genuine distress over all this isn't just overwhelming her preprogrammed safeguards. It doesn't even occur to her that it would be more realistic-for-someone-truly-ignorant if she just ... forgot about it, like everyone else in Tokyo.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-22 03:34:39 95442
Mikoto winces as the mention of it brings back her own memories of the Left Hand's less savory dealings. "y - yeah," she agrees, "Let's not go there. Whoever whatever 'Empress' was... definitely not a nice person." (She has to admit, though, at least to herself - she's not about to mention it to Akari - she still feels some appreciation for the Empress' beauty. And power. If maybe not her methods.)

She reaches over, offering a hand to the unsteady Akari, wanting to comfort the girl once again. "I've ... seen a few things..." A lot of things. "But never something like this. It was like... some sort of virtual reality game. I think... I want to say... it was all an illusion..." But it can't have been. She remembers too much. Too much detail.

Then something else occurs to her. Just how long... She takes a smartphone from a pocket and looks at it. "I think... nothing that we did, outside that day, was real... Just part of the illusion. It's only a day after the one I remember last...."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-22 03:53:21 95445
Akari nods unsteadily, and lets Mikoto help her to her feet. "Okay ... yeah ... that's a relief, as far as that goes ..." She shakes her head, and tries not to qualify with things that would indicate that she knows more than she does. "I mean. Yeah, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that this actually happened."

She looks at the phone over Mikoto's shoulder. "Oh, it's just the twelfth, ri--"

It's the twelfth.

It's the day after her "sixteenth birthday party" was supposed to be.

Akari feels herself overwhelmed with emotions that aren't even supposed to be real, it wasn't even the anniversary of when she was activated, it's supposed to be just another affectation for her Akari persona, she even told Sakura that the first time she'd been activated was only four months ago, but even as her mind gets that far, and she starts crying out loud uncontrollably, and staggers back to sit on the couch with her head in her hands. It's just all too much for Akari, in whatever persona.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-22 04:03:39 95448
Mikoto blinks, and suddenly the significance of the date hits her. "Oh, kami, Akari," she sighs, wrapping her arms around the sobbing girl. She'd gone to so much trouble to set up the occasion... and now it had just never happened, obliterated by some witch's decision to throw down with all of Tokyo.

"I'm so sorry," she whispers, holding the girl close, "Everything was going to be just perfect, too...." She sighs softly. "We can do the party this weekend... you deserve the chance to have some fun."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-22 04:13:12 95450
Akari just keeps sobbing. She just ... can't stop, she can't let it go. What in the world, Mikoto's reassurances aren't even reaching me! says a remaining small rational part of her. She doesn't do anything to resist, and just lets Mikoto hold her close, clinging to her once more and now crying into her shoulder. It just ... doesn't stop. She's never felt like this before.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-24 01:58:56 95679
Mikoto's no stranger to tears - when Ikuto left her, she couldn't stop for a week. She keeps her arms around Akari, knowing just how much the warmth of a friend can mean when one feels so alone. She doesn't say anything, now, because there's nothing to say... just two people who've been alone. But now, perhaps...

Well, anything can happen, now.
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-24 02:10:27 95682
It's quite a long time before Akari's tears die down, and she manages to pull herself together long enough to pull ... well, slightly away from Mikoto, this time. "... I ..." She looks up at her, and manages a weak smile. "... thank you, Mikoto-chan," she says softly. There's really not anything else she can say at the moment.

After another moment, she looks uncertainly at the door. "Um. I ... should probably head back home now," she says, getting to her feet very reluctantly and slightly unsteadily. "I ... kind of I feel like I just want to be alone right now. But ... I ..." She swallows. "Y-you'll be in touch, right?" There's almost a note of desperation in her voice.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-24 02:18:58 95686
Mikoto releases the girl almost reluctantly, a hand lingering to give a warm squeeze to her shoulder. She knows all about how hard it is to leave a friend.

"Of course I will. And you know where to find me, now." She pauses a moment, then adds, "You know, I never asked... are you staying here in the dorms, or somewhere else?"
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-24 02:38:42 95689
Akari shakes her head. "I'm staying with my foster guardian in the residential district," she says. "It's just about within walking distance. The address is ..." She smiles faintly. "Call beforehand if you want to drop by, though, okay? Sawakaze-san just prefers to know about guests in advance." (So that they figure out an ad-hoc excuse for why Dr. Murano isn't there, or how she should behave if and when they somehow get their hands on healing magic.)

She steps back. "Um. So. Yeah." She smiles, not realizing at first that she's blushing slightly. "Thanks, Mikoto-chan. I'll, I'll see you later!" Seems she's of much the same mind as Mikoto at the moment. Just without the prior experience to compare it to.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-24 02:47:02 95691
Mikoto smiles, gently, and nods. "I'll call." Families can be quite demanding, indeed. "And I do hope to see you again soon. Don't forget, we're still going to have the party. I'll get reservations and call you to let you know when and where, okay?"
Akari Hayabusa 2018-08-24 02:55:34 95694
Akari finds herself breaking into an even wider smile. "Okay," she says. "S-see you later, Mikoto-chan!" With obvious reluctance, she heads out the door and makes her way out.

Pausing just outside Infinity's grounds, she decides to walk the whole way, instead of dusk-stepping. The apartment's security system would probably raise a fuss that Rubindorn wouldn't be able to quiet instantly, and she doesn't feel like talking to the Doctor to explain that why she was ... suddenly ... away ...

It suddenly hits her that 1. Mikoto remembered what happened, and 2. she outright said she'd 'seen things.' "... Wait a minute ..."
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-08-24 03:04:42 95698
Mikoto sighs softly as the door closes behind Akari, and she settles into the sofa again, lying limly along its length as she considers her new-found feelings for Akari. It's certainly... something of a surprise, to her. Even if it started off as a lie, it still feels real, to her.

And apparently, to Akari, as well. Even if she is 'having trouble wrapping her mind around --' wait a second...