2019-09-16 - What Lies Beneath, Redux

From Battle Fantasia MUSH
Jump to: navigation, search
What Lies Beneath, Redux

At the behest of her brother, Mikoto attends a Dark Fall meeting, but as it devolves into a more social function, she finds herself drawn to another, even smaller, child.


Hotaru Tomoe, Mikoto Minagi


Suspicious Laboratory

OOC - IC Date:

9/16/2019 - 07-01-2015

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Suspicious Laboratory +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+
  There are no two ways about it: something's not right about Infinity's        
  science lab. Oh, there's a lot to like, sure. The equipment is                
  bleeding-edge, really more than any high school student could ask for, with   
  every type of -ometer and -graph, cabinets of well-ordered chemicals and      
  specimens, and softly blinking computer monitors everywhere. The design is    
  hypermodern, with smooth white surfaces, glossy and spotless.                 
  When anything breaks, no one has to put in a repair order. The new equipment  
  shows up the next day. Sometimes there are rumors of an accident, but no      
  evidence it ever occurred. Infinity seems too young for ghost stories, but    
  tales persist of students hearing noises late at night, or looking up at the  
  building when it should be locked up for the night and seeing a faint light   
  on the floor the lab occupies.                                                
  During the daytime, however, the science lab plays host to nothing more       
  exotic than science class. The science club takes over during the late        
  afternoon, and seal the lab with a keypad when they leave, hopefully leaving  
  the facilities untouched until the morning.   

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (7)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Death Busters Theme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTKWUFqEO4w

Dark Fall has many homes but the lab has become its most usual gathering place, replacing the North Pole. Except that it isn't the lab per se -- it's an immense, sprawling, labyrinthine complex. Its tunnels extend like tentacles (complete with being damp and oozing) in every direction, and the exact exits and entrances don't follow any Newtonian laws, or even Einsteinian ones. It is a catacombs that explores its explorers, revealing more of their secrets than its own on any given expedition.

But their heart is always the same place.


Power gathers in places of power. Circular, but true. It gathers in Tokyo, brightest city in the world. It gathers in board rooms, plush and sleek and shining. It gathers in old places, places it has known for time immemorial. It gathers in new ones, drawn to potential, guaranteeing the success of the next big thing before it knows that it is big or next. Sometimes it even gathers in bright places -- dawn spilling through the windows of a government building after a successful election; or chandelier-light, twinkling like the stars above a warm and benevolent fundraising gala.

Sometimes it gathers in darkness.

But power hasn't gathered like this in a long time.

Down, down, down, deep down below, the pipes of Tokyo stop, halted by age. It's a city on a city, but if you go far enough, it stops being even that. There are older things than Tokyo. Deeper layers.

This place might have been a shrine, once, except that it's deep enough that there were no people to make shrines. By all accounts, it doesn't make sense.

But it doesn't have to. Stray far enough into the dark, and reason no longer applies.


The meeting is over and the schmoozing has begun. It is, overwhelmingly, a room of adults, though with more or less childlike wonder inside of them -- a Twister game is getting going in a side room. There are snacks (they aren't even all, or even mostly, human souls), and drinks (mostly not blood). Mostly there is TALK: flirting, chit-chat, intimidation, interrogation. Power plays, power struggles... the MEETING may be where PLANS are made but most of those who stick around know well that it is among one another that -- not bonds, who would ever need those -- but ALLIANCES are made. In general, they have little time and less attention for the children among them.

Least of all for the one who said nothing, not a single word, throughout the entire discussion. The whole room is set up to hear from her -- the massive amplifiers, the dangling microphones. The dais, the throne, surrounded on all sides by dolls, one of which, life-sized, sits in the seat itself. Vast purple ruffles fail to disguise that the little girl's gown positively hangs off her, even though it was surely made to order, once. Her hair is lank. Her forehead is in her palm, where one and all have assumed she is snoozing, as she has been all day. All week, all month; when the curtains draw back and the lights dim low and gathering beckons for her... nothing but silence.

Or, occasionally, gentle little snoozles.

They've started up just now, but as Mikoto passes nearby, they so happen to stop, dissolving into such harsh coughs that it's impossible to imagine that EVERYONE in that body is absolutely, one hundred percent asleep.

And, indeed, there is a faint flicker of motion behind her fingers. Eyelashes... lifting.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Being here is a strange sort of feeling - amongst so many people Mikoto has thwarted, whom she has hurt or threatened, whose allies she has killed or left for dead. She's certain they remember, and it leaves her uncomfortable. But her Lord Brother told her to get along with them, so she tries her best. It would be inconvenient for him, she thinks, if she made trouble amongst his allies. (Her allies, she corrects herself, even as she glances to them and remembers the youma which threatened the children's sports day.) If their allies won't accept her, she'll make things harder for him, and she so desperately wants him to be happy.

Besides, this is where she belongs, isn't it?

With these vicious, brutal people... doesn't she fit right in?

Even though girls like her seem to be in the minority, here, amongst stately women and grown men. She's uncomfortably aware of how small she is, compared to them. Maybe it's just one more reason she needs to prove herself.

Some of her new associates seem to love the sounds of their own voices, but Mikoto is content to listen, to speak only when she has something worth saying. Guarded as she is, she minds her manners, avoids trouble. She doesn't want to reflect badly on her Lord Brother. Besides - if she's quiet, she thinks, she can learn from them. Try to catch up all the experience she's missed, on the other side. She can't just ask them to explain - plainspoken as she is, Mikoto is clever enough to know how that would turn out - but if she just listens...

(What a dangerously cooperative mindset.)

Still - it's a relief when it's over. These are her allies, and she is glad to have people she does not have to fight. But compared to Westar, or even the noble warrior Kintoleski... there are people here she would not want to linger beside for long. She's not supposed to cause trouble, after all.

And this is where she belongs. This is where she belongs.

But belonging does not necessarily bestow knowledge. It's a little uncomfortable, perhaps, at the end of the meeting, when everyone else seems to know just what to do, just who to corner, just how to posture. Mikoto is left trying not to look too obviously lost - a failure from the outset, because she feels obviously lost.

Like so many things, her Lord Brother's orders were vague. She was to attend, and listen, and represent his interests. He did not say how she ought to act, what she ought to do. She wonders if perhaps she is just supposed to know. Maybe she would have known, if she had not spent so long hidden amongst the magical girls. Maybe the deficiency is her own doing.

But in company like this, she can't just ask. It would be an obvious admission of weakness, and Mikoto has dealt with them enough on the other side to have her own ideas of how they would take it. Even though they're her allies, she can't quite shake off the impression that they're just like sharks, sniffing for blood in the water. It would reflect poorly on her, and that means it would reflect poorly on him.

All told, this is remarkably more social intricacy than Mikoto is comfortable with, which only adds to the challenge facing her.

And so, presented with such a complex and intricate web of dangerous alliances...

Mikoto goes for the snacks, because Mikoto is still Mikoto, and snacks are the same no matter who the company is.

Well, no. That's not quite right. A couple of these snacks are... just a little off. But most of the snacks are fine, and that's good enough. Small as she is, Mikoto manages to avoid too much attention from most of the adults in the room --

-- until a particularly arrogant woman closes into her space, trailing someone behind her, and remarks, "Delightful! Someone remembered the cheesecake this time!" And suddenly, Mikoto isn't quite sure the snack table is a safe haven any more, in the vicinity of loud women who unapologetically consume the space around them.

She grunts out some vague acknowledgement, and slips away, left to weave between the little circles and pairings which have sprung up, catching snippets of conversations and not catching half the implications therein. It takes her by the dais -- that forbidding thing, designed for distance, putting space between the doll on the throne and the marionettes beyond.

Most anyone would be able to see the implicit message: do not cross.

Mikoto is not always availed of the sensibilities most anyone has.

Because she hears those racking coughs, and her breath sucks in through her teeth in a sharp little sound of alarm. Westar said they didn't much work together, but hearing that girl in distress, Mikoto easily forgets: it must hurt, coughing like that. All a sudden she finds herself stepping onto that dais, over to that throne, one pale hand pressing over another. "Hey," she says, in clear concern, forgetting how she is supposed to speak in this place, "hey, are you okay..?"

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (7)] has posed.

There are those who would keep Mikoto away from the silent throne (the Silent Throne, some of them actually call it, with audible capitalization, and none of them are particularly wrong). But they're not here right now, or at least, they aren't looking; those gleaming glasses, goggle-thickness, are watching the Twister game, above a mouth that gapes and gapes and laughs and laughs; that tangled staff, surmounted by the same ebon sigil that is emblazoned upon the chest of the little girl's gown, is leaning near, though not quite touching, the gnarled walking stick of another, greener counterpart. The Grand Magus is laughing too, but... with more dignity.

There is never anything to see up there anymore, and so there is no one trying.

The hand -- the girl's hand, the one on the arm of the chair, the one that Mikoto clasps -- is icy to the touch. Inhumanly cold. This is no place for little girls, and this one is even smaller than Mikoto, and incomparably weaker.

Her hand does not grasp back. It, she, does not respond at all, not right away. Her forehead remains sunk in her other palm. The coughing fit proceeds, unstoppable as an avalanche, until, finally, it arcs her spine so harshly that her neck is forced backwards, and she heaves for breath with a visible face.

Gravity protects it after a single second, that dark mane falling into her eyes, across her cheeks. But they are open, at least a little bit open, and perhaps they can see... something.

"...who are you...?" asks a still, small voice that slurs her words, to soften them against her harshened throat. It sounds nothing like the Silence, even when she's not. It sounds like a child.

The coughs have stopped, at least for the moment.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Do not cross, say all the societal markers, but Mikoto didn't much grow up in society, and here she is beside the sSilent tThrone.

And there's no one trying, except for the one girl who has not quite forgotten almost two years of lessons a particular society has taught her.

That girl's hand is cold and Mikoto's hand is warm: hers is an engine running hot, a processor overclocked, and she is as alive as the blood rushing underneath her skin. It is not the first weak hand Mikoto has grasped - she's visited Yumi in the hospital enough times; gently her hand curls around it, gently it squeezes.

The sound of alarm she makes to see her arc back is wordless and no less worried, lips drawn and brow creased. Mikoto glances back, at everyone else who knows to keep their distance. Why aren't they worried? Is this - normal? Someone must be looking after her, mustn't they..? She's clearly important, but - but no one's helping, and Mikoto doesn't know what to do, and --

A tiny voice calls her attention back to the girl before her, and Mikoto looks back to her, concern clear in her eyes. "I'm Mikoto," she answers, gentling her own voice. "Mikoto Minagi. It sounded bad... I wanted to help."

She'd feel the need to state her allegiance, if most of the people here were to ask that question of her, but...

... but that sort of childlike confusion is something Mikoto can sympathise with, and she thinks this approach is better.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (7)] has posed.

"Oh..." whispers the girl, vaguely. It is not clear if she really understood, at all.

She slumps back in her chair, and that's all Mikoto hears from her for a while. But she isn't sunk over her hand, anymore, which affords an opportunity to get a better look at her. Too skinny, too small, too sick, all of that was already obvious, but there's sweetness in the lines of that face, and cleverness too. Besides everything else she is, she's a BEAUTIFUL child. Not in the sense of prettiness, but that beauty that comes from innocence, the real deal.

She really does not belong here, does she? And yet, where else could she belong, in her inscribed gown surrounded by cultists, flunkies, and other would-be associates?

There is so little flesh on her frame that the dress visibly expands as she inhales a bigger-than-her-usual-too-shallow-breath, which is to say, maybe a normal-sized one, almost. Beneath her drooping eyelids, a flicker of awareness -- and of violet, hazy, clouded.

"Don't... worry," she reassures, in the bleary tones of one half-asleep. "I'm always like this... bad." I'm bad, she's saying. Almost a warning, except delivered with such somnolence that it's hardly threatening.

The girl sighs a tiny sigh. "Why..."

There are so many ways she could finish the question, but her train of thought wears out. Maybe she just meant all of them.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> New Model Army - One Of The Chosen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGDcNfLj18s

In a hall full of stately women and grown men, the girls stand out. Still young, still full of promise, still...

One dark-haired girl looks to another, bright gold to hazy violet, and she sees that innocence, and she wonders.

And she worries, because she is barely a scrap of a girl, weightless and weary. Mikoto crouches in stark contrast: she is small but she is strong, lean muscle and readiness, a crucible of activity.

She could probably pick her up and take her out of this place with no effort at all.

For a moment - just a moment - she wonders if she should.

But that girl finds the strength to speak again, and just as she is named Mikoto listens. She listens and hears her say she is bad and it lances straight through her heart, and she remembers every time she lamented how bad she was, before she learned how easy it was to be good.

Why, she asks, and there are a hundred questions she could be asking, and one which is more plain than the others. Mikoto just said she wanted to help, after all.

"Couldn't just leave you," she says, frowning. "... to deal with it alone. Feeling bad alone is... it's hard." It might be an understatement, but it's delivered with sincerity.

Her teeth find her bottom lip, pressing in there gently. "I..." She starts, hesitates, shakes her head a little - flick-flick go her braids across her cheeks. "I thought I was bad for a long time. But I was good. Just... good was different. Maybe it's the same," she supposes, encouragingly. "Maybe you're good in a different way too?"

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (7)] has posed.

Stark contrast in one way, but all too similar in others.

If the girl's eyes were a little bit further open, perhaps Mikoto could have seen herself in that glassy sheen -- another beautiful child. But they aren't. In fact, they close further, drooping to nothing more than long-lashed slits.

"Mmmm," she replies, and again it isn't entirely clear if she's agreeing or even comprehending.

Her hand twitches. Just at the fingertips. It might be a vague approximation of a squeeze.

"Dream..." she sighs. "...nice...dream."

A shadow falls across her. Across them both. It's the Grand Magus, Kaolinite, but in some ways it could have been any of the powerful-but-not-quite-in-charge women present here today: she is fierce and she is hungry.

And not for those snacks.

Her skin, her hair, are all darkened into silhouette, but her eyes are viciously, vibrantly violet. Like the girl's, but also very unlike. They don't feel like family.

Not least because of the sniff stuck halfway up her nose. No mother looks upon their child with such a sneer.

"What's this?" she asks Mikoto, not unkindly but not kindly, either. There's iron control there, and now it's bent entirely on her, and on the girl behind her, on the chair.

Her staff comes down, somewhere between Queen's knighting sword and Fairy Godmother's wand, with maybe just the faintest hint of riding crop, and tucks itself beneath the sick girl's chin.

Power passes between them, but into whom and out of whom is difficult to say. The strands are too tightly bound. The effect, however, is immediate: the sick girl collapses forward, like an already-limp balloon suddenly run out of the rest of its air all in one go, and -- apparently only on reflex -- catches her face in her palm again. Her eyes slam shut the rest of the way, lids like descending blast doors.

She's so still that it's hard to tell if she's even breathing, but her high priestess seems unconcerned.

"Our mistress needs her rest," Kaolinite intones more flatly than reverently. It wasn't a request. "Don't bother her again."

A patently fake smile lifts her lips like wires. "Perhaps you'd like something else to eat?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"This is..." Mikoto starts, before a shadow casts over them. Mikoto, crouched beside the throne, is smaller still than the Grand Magus standing on high: suddenly, it feels like a vulnerable position to be in.

But the way she's looking at that girl, Mikoto isn't sure she wants to leave her to face it alone, either.

Her expression closes to something more guarded, and when Kaolinite asks what precisely this is, her answer comes in a breaking of eye contact, glancing down and to the side. Her meaning is plain enough: it's nothing she'll fight over.

She watches, as that staff comes down - the exchange - and she can only hope it's to the girl's benefit, can only give her hand a little squeeze in support. Certainly she cannot stop her. And if she's watching over the girl, she must be... helping... even if she looks at her like that...

... that girl's hand finds her cheek again, and Mikoto's shoulders tighten, chin shrinking in closer to her neck.

A warm hand releases a cold one; Mikoto straightens, and still has to look up. "... I understand," she says, subdued enough that it may well pass for apology. She inclines her head, and does not quite manage to look away in the motion. "Yes." She'll go back to the snack table; she won't cause trouble with their hosts.

Her teeth find her lips again, biting back a question of her own, as she reminds herself that she is supposed to get along with them. It would not be getting along with them to demand to know where Kaolinite was when her mistress was coughing so violently.

She can't help but think that even though they've set up so much work for this girl to be heard...

... just like Mikoto...

... they don't really want her to talk at all.

But Kaolinite's meaning is clear enough, even to her, and she quickly turns away from the throne and its dais, back to the others. Maybe there will still be cheesecake. Maybe that's enough.