Matches In The Dark


wf_asi_icon.gif wf_silas_icon.gif

Scene Title Matches In The Dark
Synopsis They're no mere parlor trick. Asi and Silas swap stories on a sojourn to the surface.
Date August 18, 2016

Sterling Hills Haven

Ogdensburg, NJ

Asi had forgotten the little trick required to get them down in to the mines. She remembered descending in the dark, the walls guiding their way with flourescent flashes of mineral deposit lighting up the wall with vibrant color and the occasional arrow to indicate they were going the correct way…

but she forgot that a blacklight was required for those walls to begin glowing in the first place.

After an initial two days of planning with various cell leaders and other Resistance personnel, she needed to resurface and make contact with the Mugai-Ryu. While she could do that from nearby, daisy-chaining messages through drones to the surface, she didn't want to risk the possibility of the message being intercepted, of exposing this place. None of this, not her intention or her predicament, is immediately apparent at a glance.

All the Mugai-Ryu operative does is stand at one of the mine tunnels leading surfacebound, hands in the pockets of her scuffed jacket while she stares off into the dark. Her eyes flare a neon blue for the space of a breath as she reaches out with her ability, fading back brown again as she exhales from her nose.

Then: from behind her — about twelve feet back, in the darkness — the sound of a match.

The light of fire plays over a figure that wasn't there, thirty seconds ago, leaning against a wall, raising a match to a cigarette on his lips. "Smoke break?" Matches Mackenzie asks, a hint of a smirk on his lips.

Knowing that only allies could be nearby is the only thing that keeps Asi from having a more severe reaction to the man standing guard who she knew had not been visible to her when she walked past. Instead, she slowly looks back over her shoulder, long hair dragging in its lay against the back of her coat. "Always time for one of those," she replies easily.

Then she glances one last time back down into the dark before heading nearer to the hint of light, the one coming from Matches' cigarette included. She can just barely make him out in the dim light from the Haven's halls that bleed out to here. "Mind if I bum one?" she asks, one hand sliding from her pocket to curl her palm up, index and middle finger already at the ready to receive a cigarette. That he's willing to share is an optimistic assumption in times like these, but it couldn't hurt to ask.

"I was actually needing to head up, actually," Ask clarifies idly after that, gaze flitting to meet his. "Better to smoke out there anyway— keep the air down here cleaner."

Matches lets out a faint noise that might have been a chuckle; the rustling of cloth against cloth and paper against paper can be heard as he pulls his pack of cigarettes back out, tapping the pack until a single cigarette slides halfway out. "My thanks for getting rid of Mitchell," he says, tapping the cigarette against Asi's fingers. "It's not much, but I travel light."

When she talks about smoking outside being better for the air, he lets out another of those faint almost-chuckles. "Probly so," he agrees, but doesn't move; this close, the faint smell of gasoline is noticeable. "If you wanna head topside, I won't stop ya."

He pauses. "Need a light?"

Asi nods, offering the cigarette out while it's threaded between two fingers. It's only a moment later that she adds, "And a guiding light out, if you have one. I don't know these tunnels. Even with a blacklight, it could take me a while to find the entrance again." It's an admission which would sound awkward coming from most people, but she's at peace with it. She's used to being an outsider in the various camps she visits, needing to rely on the advice of the locals in return for providing hers on other matters. "If you can spare the time, that is."

Belatedly, she lifts her head to accept his acknowledgement of her role in the assassination-by-missile. "I lost a piece of myself that day, but I'd do it a hundred times over if it would end this war. Without question." Asi considers him for a moment after. He already knows her name, so it'd be foolish to reintroduce herself. Instead she asks, "What do you call yourself?"

Now that's a question. He calls himself any number of things, few of them suited to polite company… but that's more than she or anyone else wants to know. More than he wants to tell, either.

"Matches," he says. The moment he speaks the word, he strikes one on his thumbnail; the smell of burning sulfur is sharp in the air as orangish light flares, driving back the darkness a pace or two. It's a cheap bit of theatre, a penny-ante trick, but here in the dark and the depths, even small things — little tricks that would be cheap and shabby in the light of day — can have a little bit of magic to them.

He holds the match between them, studying her in the wavering light of the tiny flame. Then… the moment passes. The cigarette is lit, the match burns low, and then it is gone, leaving them in darkness again, save for their cigarettes. "Sympathies on your loss," he says… then there's the sound of footsteps, and the tiny light of Matches' cigarette is moving away from her. "I can walk you to the surface and back," he calls back to her. A second later there's the click of a tiny blacklight in the darkness, casting the tunnels in eerie shades of violet and shadow. "This way."

And back is a welcome addition, Asi thinks as she flicks away the first of the ash from the cigarette, letting herself be guided by the unnatural hues that come from ahead, as well as the naturally-occurring astonishing splashes of color along the walls at intervals. After she breathes away a stream of smoke over her shoulder, she remarks, "As far as nicknames go, you could do worse than Matches. Bumming smokes, leaving things smoking…"

She knows of his talents, even if she didn't have a name to go with his face.

"It's versatile, at least."

She starts to bring the cigarette back to her lips, pausing long enough to aside, "Oni is the name I chose for myself. ON-1."

"Hah," he chuckles at her talk about the versatility of matches, this time with a hint of actual humor. "Fits what I do these days." Mostly leaving things smoking… though bumming smokes is not something he's entirely innocent of, either.

"Oni, huh," he says, pausing at an intersection. "Like the…" he hesitates here, trying to dig a word up from fields of memory long since abandoned. "…yōkai?" His frown of uncertainty can be heard in his voice.

Asi lets out a tone of both appreciation and amusement when Matches nails it in one. She lets her arm fall back to her side. "Good on you, calling it a youkai instead of a demon outright. I don't think most people would be able to make the distinction."

She looks aside at him in the dark, what little of him can be seen in the play of shadows while they walk. "How long have you been in this fight?"

"Used to be into old stories. Myths. Gods and monsters." Another of those low chuckles, this one more cynical than amused. Far Eastern stuff was one of his weaker areas, but he knows a little, at least.

At her question, he sobers. "That way," he says, starting to walk.

"I suppose you could say I've been in this from the start," he says, after a few paces. "Not… always for the right reasons. Used to just do it because that's where the work was…" he confesses. "I made some bad calls." He takes a deep drag off of his cigarette. "Lost my daughter. That's when I became more… committed. Nothing I do will bring her back. But maybe I can burn the ones who took her from me."

He falls silent, taking another drag off of his cigarette. That's the closest he's going to come to his past right now; the closest he can come, really, and remain close to functional. He can jump down that black hole later, when he's got some of the rotgut that passes for vodka around here.

"What about you?" he asks.

Asi's quiet for many steps after that. Everyone's reasons for this war are personal, but none should be shrugged off. The least she can do is give his reasons a moment of silence before presenting her own. His loss mattered. His daughter mattered.

The end of her cigarette flares in the dark.

"Things … in Japan started not too differently than here. I have been in the fight for our rights since the very beginning, on the frontlines. Somehow, we diverged, and even though things can be tense, they are nowhere near like they are here. We are Classified and Othered … all while being expected to take the world on our backs and save it from the monsters that have come crawling into the light. But at least we are not penned and shot." She exhales again through her nose to clear out the last of the smoke that's lingering in her lungs. "I fight so one day people like my sister will no longer be treated like people like me. So she no longer has to wear a steel band with the name of her ability carved into it when it can't hurt anyone at all."

It's more than she normally says, which she acknowledges with an invisible twitch of her brow as her step falters momentarily and brings her behind the weak spread of light, taking another short puff from the cigarette.

"So what happened here happens nowhere else. To stop evil in its tracks," Asi summarizes deadpan, wondering if it'll suitably cover over her less eloquent description of things. But then the dark takes her mind places, and hiding under its cover, her expression softens.

"… If she knew there was a place where her ability could make a difference, like here, I think it would be impossible to keep her from running off into the night to join the cause. She has such a low opinion of what is she's able to do. To make things grow." Her head shakes once, ever so slightly. "If she saw just how important that is, how integral it is to survival… I think no power anywhere could stop her once she realized her potential."

Asi's steps have grown heavier with those thoughts, cigarette by her side again. She'd meant to move on from that topic, but somehow she'd come back to it, hadn't she? She flicks ash away into the dark, cinder glimmering on the ground for only a moment before it winks out.

"I chose to be here instead of tearing apart my government from the inside out and using the bodies of my superiors as stepstools in the hopes that… somehow, this matters more than that would." Asi confesses calmly.

If he'd been asked fifteen minutes ago, Matches Mackenzie would have said that there wasn't really a lot of emotion left in him — that empathy was a tank that had bled dry long ago, leaving only fumes.

And yet…

Every so often, there's a flicker of emotion that surprises even him. A spark, like a tiny matchflame burning at the bottom of an abyss.

Like now, for instance.

"Your sister… sounds like good people," he says, his voice quiet, almost hesitant. "It's good that you're fighting for her. Family is… important. Maybe it's the only important thing…"

His tone seems to grow quieter, more distant, as he speaks; it's not hard to envision him with a thousand-mile stare. "Just don't make the same mistakes I did, though. Don't forget, while you're fighting for your family… to stand beside them, too. They can be different things… different things entirely…"

After that, he says nothing at all for a long time.

Asi's content to let the silence linger between them. Or perhaps, she just doesn't know what to say at all. The cigarette is burning low, the surface growing nearer as they pass by another fluorescently-lit arrow pointing the opposite direction, by the time she lifts her voice again. "I'm sure… in some other life, I am less fortunate. I lose her, and it changes me. Scars me. Maybe it still happens in this one, too."

"I will try to remember that, though. Your advice."

For a moment she thinks she's adjusted to the dark, somehow, with how she can make out the shape of the cigarette just slightly, before she looks ahead and at the end of the current tunnel, she sees a shift in the black— something greyer. Distant light.

This isn't something she should say, but she does. She knows she's wildly out of bounds, and yet she does, turning to look at Matches' profile in the darkness. "With any luck, we'll make them hurt as badly as they hurt you."

Her pace pauses for a moment so she can extinguish what's left of the cigarette against the wall, wiping away the ash and pocketing what's left to reduce signs of their passing and presence.

He lets out another of those almost-chuckles when she finally speaks, out of relief as much as anything else; he's aware he might have overshared, just a bit.

Rare for him.

It hasn't escaped his notice that the darkness is starting to give way to the first, faintest traces of light; they're getting close to the surface.

At that last comment, though, he turns to face her and grins, his eyes and teeth gleaming in the faint light like some kind of ghostly Cheshire Cat.

"That's what keeps me going," he purrs, snuffing the last of his own cigarette. "Entrance is dead ahead," he adds in a more conversational tone; there's enough light that his gesture forward is visible now. "Go on ahead; do whatever ya need to do. I'll be here when you're ready to go back below."

Asi nods, letting her attention drift forward to the light again. A bug flits through the dim, approaching from the direction of the nearby entrance, barely visible save for the way her head tracks its presence through the dark.

As it draws nearer to them, she lifts her hand up, knuckles curled inward to create a perch. The creature flares its wings back as it prepares to alight, and Asi's eyes flare neon blue in the dark as she tilts her head up toward it. In return, the wings of the butterfly that's made its way to her flare a brilliant blue, and the technopath's mouth curves upward into a small, soft smile.

It was good to feel again.

Lowering her arm, fingers moving to her shoulder, Asi lets the butterfly crawl onto her jacket, curling around her back while its wings delicately pulse once before the light inside fades again.

"I'll be back soon," Asi tells Matches over her opposite shoulder, walking in the direction of the tunnel mouth. She squints her eyes against the sunlight as it gets nearer, then tilts her face upward toward the light of day. The fresh air is welcomed in with a sigh before she nods to the guard posted inside the entrance. She confirms with a brief exchange of words it's safe to head out.

The butterfly still riding on the back of her jacket gently unfolds its blue wings in the sun once she steps out into the sun.

Matches lets out another of those quiet chuckles at that little display, but he doesn't move to follow; instead, he just leans back against the mine wall and waits. He'd come on this little walk to bring her to the surface, not to step outside himself. He's more at home in the dark; he always has been, and probably always will be.

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