Akari comes home to the hideout after the events of The Core of the Matter. By the end of her conversation with Mikoto, she has a plan.

Date: 2018-11-23
Pose Count: 15
Akari Hayabusa 2018-11-23 03:05:35 100789
Several hours ago, Akari headed out to meet Millie White so that they could patrol together; neither of them is particularly experienced with that sort of thing, but it isn't a particularly complex idea, so it's more for getting used to the idea than anything else.

Now, after the two part ways, Akari returns to the hideout. Rubindorn gives the security system the all-clear, and Akari steps in, still in full Nachtglocke I henshin.

There's a bit of a bruise on her chin. She pauses at the door, frowning wordlessly. Really, she just looks dazed more than anything else.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-11-23 03:13:38 100791
Mikoto has been happy to patrol with Akari, but she was close to a breakthrough on her research, so she begged off tonight. She barely even looks up as the security system alerts her of the arrival, focused on a rather tiny piece of midchildan thaumotronics she's rather carefully manipulating.

The pause as Akari enters, however, pierces through her focus. She looks up, blinking, and then sets aside her project to turn towards the entryway.

"... Akari-chan?" she asks, quietly, taking a few steps closer. "Are you okay?"
Akari Hayabusa 2018-11-23 03:21:16 100792
Akari dematerializes her Knight Clothing, leaving her in her stretchy blue track suit. "... I just dropped Nanoha Takamachi-san off at the Waldians' home," she says. "She ... was unconscious, and her Linker Core was drained and damaged, and ..."

She stops. Then she starts again. "Mikoto, I've been telling everyone that my creators based me on a Belkan legend, or a fairy tale," she says. "But ... not in enough detail, I think. It was a group of living magical program knights called the Wolkenritter -- Cloud Knights in Japanese -- and, and they stole your Linker Core, or possibly drained it into nothing. I told White-san, I think ... Clara Meriva's parents might have told her 'be good, or the Wolkenritter will steal your Linker Core' when she was little."

She looks Mikoto in the eye. She at least seems to become slightly steadier, at least. "Takamachi-san's Linker Core was drained using a book, by two living magical programs," she says. "One of them was ... I'd guess he was a sort of familiar or guardian beast, called Zafira. The other one identified herself as 'Signum, General of the Raging Fire, and leader of the Wolkenritter.'" She takes a deep breath. "Either someone else decided to create an imitation of the Wolkenritter, except that they were direct copies instead of just an inspiration ... or the actual fairy-tale Wolkenritter are running around in Tokyo."
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-11-23 03:33:51 100793
Mikoto was not bothered by the idea of Nanoha being 'dropped off' at the Waldians' - her visiting there would not be surprising at all, really - but unconscious and Linker-drained? "... Damaged?" she starts to ask, pausing as Akari continues.

The Wolkenritter. She has heard of them. Some of Carnwennan's fragmentary history database mentioned them. More as a nightmare than anything else. "Bell-chan," she starts, "I don't care if they based your, your program, on the Wolkenritter, or the Sankt-Kaizer herself... you're still you." It's her favorite refrain whenever Akari doubts herself. Her way of reassuring the girl.

But that doesn't seem to be what prompted the tale. "... here? In my Tokyo?" She shivers for a moment, then steps up to wrap her arms around Bell. "Oh, kamis, that's..."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-11-23 03:41:54 100794
Akari hugs Mikoto tightly against herself. "... Signum-san told me that if I'm still comparing myself to someone else, I'm still a notice," she says weakly. She rubs her bruised chin. "Ahaha. I haven't felt that outmatched since Sailor Jupiter body-slammed me." She shakes her head. "I didn't even think of trying to improve myself beyond ..." Her voice trails off. "Scheisse. ... This is just like that time in the park, when that girl Hisakata-san berated me for being unambitious, about freaking kendo."

Her mind is clearly going off in several directions at once. Equally obvious, it's still trapped in the gravity well of what just happened to her.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-11-23 03:47:17 100795
Mikoto hugs her close, resting her head against Bell's shoulder. "Well, if they really are the Cloud Knights, then..." She shivers again. "They were supposed to be ... really really good. The elite of the elite." She sighs softly. "There's no shame in losing to them. You survived it... and so did Nanoha... right?"
Akari Hayabusa 2018-11-23 03:52:05 100796
Akari nods, giving a lopsided smile at Mikoto. "Yeah," she says. "And yes, she was still breathing when I dropped her off. Just ... her Linker Core was damaged, and completely empty of mana. Fate-san and Princess Runealy will take care of her."

She gets an odd look, and frowns off into space. "When Signum-san drained her ... it seemed to fill out pages in that book," she says softly. "... I haven't heard any versions of the legend with a book, have you?" She looks around. "Where's Ritterglocke? I want to put it up on the screen ..."
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-11-23 03:55:45 100797
Mikoto nods quietly. "They'd know what to do, I suppose, if anyone would..." She muses for a moment, then hmms to herself.

"... the book... right." She hmms again, then nods. "Over on the workbench..." She gestures, indicating the parts-laden table. "Go ahead, whatever you need..."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-11-23 04:03:55 100798
Akari heads over to the workbench, then holds out Rubindorn. A few holograms appear, more-or-less from Rubindorn or Akari's perspective, showing a pink-haired woman and a tan-skinned man with wolf-ears.

In one, Nanoha is standing right in front of the pair, with Cure Shield walking in ahead of Akari. In another one, a somewhat depressed and guilty-looking Signum is draining Nanoha's energy into the book; there's a few inset shots showing the book from several angles. The last one is clearly from Rubindorn's perspective several feet away from Akari; Signum is holding the sheath of her sword to Akari's chin.

"... She blocked a cartridge-boosted Rubindorn with the sheath of her sword," says Akari. "She never even raised her blade itself to me."
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-11-23 04:11:36 100799
"She blocked..." The same blow that shattered her own Barrier Jacket. Blocked with a scabbard. "That's... more than a little terrifying," Mikoto admits.

She leans into Bell's side, keeping one arm around her, as she examines the images, taking a close look at the shots of Nanoha. "I... do not have the slightest idea how to defend against something like that," she adds, frowning worriedly. "I don't even know how long it'll take her to heal."
Akari Hayabusa 2018-11-23 04:19:13 100800
Akari shakes her head, and gives Mikoto a squeeze. "Me neither, on both counts," she admits. "In theory, damage to your Linker Core should be able to heal like anything else, but ..." She shrugs. "Well, let's just say I know more about my own synthetic Linker Core than what it will be like for Takamachi-san." She frowns. "... I don't think it would kill me if I was drained, but I'd definitely want to change back into my human form if I could."

She taps her chin thoughtfully, then grimaces when she touches the bruise too hard. "Say, do you think you could have Carnwennan teach Rubindorn your teleportation spell?" she says. "I mean, I think I was supposed to have that myself, but a bunch of spells got corrupted into oblivion in the Dusk Zone. And also, I should probably work on having some ranged attacks ... possibly some non-darkness-based version of Rosenwind, though I'll definitely want something that doesn't strain me with a cartridge ... hmm ..."

It looks like she's starting to think of solutions, instead of letting this drag her down.
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-11-23 04:25:24 100801
"Mmmm. Well," she muses, putting aside images of playing nursemaid to a bedridden Akari, "Let's hope neither of us have to find out firsthand." And Mikoto truly hopes that she hasn't just doomed them both by saying so.

"The teleportation spell should be easy enough to translate over..." She hmmms, biting her lip as she considers it. "Maybe if I can take a look at the runecode for Rosenwind, we can work something out?"
Akari Hayabusa 2018-11-23 04:35:46 100802
Akari smiles at Mikoto, less-than-well-versed in irony-based tropes, and nods. "Sure," she says, clearing off the holograms and setting up a new one with the runecode on the screen. "I mean, it would probably be a matter of processing the mana differently. Both from a different source, and the fact that I can't just draw directly from my Linker Core anymore --"

She stops. Then she suddenly breaks into a wide grin. "... and I just had an idea for another ranged spell, but I'd like to keep that a surprise," she says cryptically.

She smiles. "Really, though, I think ... well, just to make some kind of difference, I'd like to ... cut my own path to getting stronger, even if I never reach Signum-san's level," she says. Signum's 'comparing yourself to others' line really hit her hard, but she's starting to bounce back. "We should start training together, trying to find holes in our skills, figure out ways we can improve," she says. "And probably White-san and Takamachi-san and Fate-san, too. Magical or otherwise." She pauses. "Which is pretty much one of the things that was going to be involved with the Aces. But I think we can safely say it's not too early to start."
Mikoto Nakajima 2018-11-23 04:50:28 100803
Mikoto nods and squeezes Bell again. "We've got no choice, now. We'll have to be ready for them. All we can do is ... our best. Train hard. Work out new spells, new ways of fighting. Train hard... the way Knights ought."

She casts a glance over at the table full of parts. "I'm probably going to have to work out a way to fit a cartridge system into Carnwennan." She grimaces. That's going to be a huge project for her.

"Sparring ought to be fun, at least. And give us more time together." She leans up to kiss Akari's cheek, carefully away from the bruise.
Akari Hayabusa 2018-11-23 04:54:55 100804
Akari smiles and returns the squeeze, and turns her head to kiss Mikoto's lips. "Of course," she says. "This is the path I've chosen. Now that I know I'm going to be a hero ..." She shrugs. "Well, self-improvement's a thing to drive for no matter what you're doing, too. Whether it's getting into the inter-school championships on the kendo team ..."

She turns back to the holographic screen. "... or training until I can take on the Wolkenritter's General of the Raging Fire and win."

Simply put, she had trouble seeing the possibility before. But now, with Mikoto at her side ...

... well, just the fact that she has Mikoto at her side is a sign that sometimes, miracles do happen.