That was it. There would be no more experiments like that ever again. Ansem didn't care how much his apprentices begged. There would be no more. He'd known he shouldn't have done it. And he was never going to allow that to happen again. Not in his castle, not by his apprentices, not by anyone.
The nature of the heart was still beyond his grasp. To continue any further, so ignorant of its true power--no, this was the end.
That man, Xehanort, he'd keep an eye on him. That man was as much a mystery to him as hearts themselves.
Xehanort sat in the library taking notes. Nothing--nowhere in any of the texts he'd come across could he find the answers he was looking for. Ansem wasn't going to budge on his decision. He'd have to take matters into his own hands. Ansem was scared, he must be. Otherwise, why ban experiments directly related to the subject one is studying? It made no sense to him.
The other apprentices had shown their disease at the decision. Perhaps he could...persuade them into joining him. After all, Ansem was a busy man. He couldn't keep watch over them all the time.
"How many test subjects have we acquired?" Xehanort locked the door. It was late, but he wasn't taking any chances.
Even lowered his voice. "More than enough for what we're planning. Not that they know what we'll be doing exactly. But it's not my fault they didn't ask anything."
Subjects are better the less they know. "Are you sure Ansem is busy?"
"Ienzo is taking care of that." Even grinned.
"He falls for the easiest of things for someone so 'wise'."
The two shared a laugh. The subjects waited in the next room, oblivious of what was to come next.
The experiments were producing results. This was nothing like how things had been with Ansem lately.
He had to admit, it did make him uncomfortable how interested Ienzo was in their research. The boy would watch intently, unflinchingly. It was a little disturbing how calm children can be when something awful is right in front of them.
But it was strange too. He didn't have a problem with what they were doing. After all, this was for science. But when he looked at Ienzo, something...
No, it was better not to think about it. The results were all that mattered.
Adults were so easy to manipulate. It been so easy to get Ansem to build the new lab and even easier to distract him when asked. Just like sneaking out of the castle, he could lure people in with no difficulty at all. For now, his age worked to his advantage. But he was sure he'd find a new way to gain the upper hand in the future.
Xehanort was pleased with his work. He'd let him in more than Ansem ever did. All he had to do was do what he asked. It amused him. And children were oblivious?
Ansem still remained unaware of what was happening in his own basement. Many of the test subjects had to be confined to cells. Xehanort recorded his findings in a secret set of reports, but he decided to pen them under a new name. He liked how it sounded, and Xehanort just didn't suit him anymore.
Another batch of subjects had been brought in. This group was a mix of human and other life forms this time. He had asked the others to find better test subjects. Those with weaker hearts didn't last as long. Not that any of them lasted.
They had no feelings. All that was left was darkness and desire. A craving--one that could never be satisfied. There were no obvious signs of who they once were. Their bodies, gone. As they existed now, they'd taken on new, strange forms. Memories, there were none, but that didn't matter. They knew exactly what they wanted.
Any heart would do. In fact, as many as they could find. The stronger the better.
That desire for hearts, it never went away. No matter how many hearts they snatched. Their numbers only increased with each, and the darkness with it.
"How did they react to the inanimate objects?" Xehanort looked around at the many creatures that had sprung up since his last visit down here. He kept a safe distance at this point. There were far too many of them to be careless around. Ienzo watched closer up, quietly taking notes on the creatures behavior. Even stood slightly behind him.
"Nothing. They wouldn't touch any of them." Even handed him a stack of papers. "But...the living specimens...they went right for them."
"Interesting. And the bait?"
"All of them?"
"Every single one."
This was getting very...interesting.
This went against everything he had stood for. He would have never considered doing anything behind Master Ansem's back. And yet, here he was, and he wasn't regretting it.
He, Braig, and Aeleus took turns at finding more "subjects", as Xehanort called them, for their secret project. It wasn't difficult. The guards of the city were trusted by the people. If he told someone they were needed at the castle, they'd accompany him wherever he led them.
The exact details of what was done, he wasn't sure, but he trusted Xehanort. And lately, he couldn't say the same for Ansem.
When it was his turn to go look for more people to sneak into the castle, he'd slip away quietly. A nod from Dilan or a wave from Braig and he'd be off. Confronting people wasn't his strong point, but the job had to be done. At times, Even had sent himself or Ienzo with him to do more of the talking. He was aware he often came off as a bit intimidating, even more so than Dilan. It was fine for his job, but this wasn't really...
Well, it was still an important task. Without subjects, there's no testing.
They were led down to the deepest part of the castle. One of the boys spoke up. "Can't we go home now? We promise we won't do it again."
"You two need to be taught a lesson about minding your own business." Even walked behind them, making sure neither attempted to escape.
"This isn't fair." The other boy complained. "I want to talk to Master Ansem."
"Ansem is busy. Meaning I'm in charge right now." Even opened the door to the basement lab. "Xehanort, I need you to do give these boys some discipline."
Xehanort smirked. "Oh, is that so?"
Everyone was doing their part. Ienzo in particular had exceeded his expectations. He'd turned out more useful than Braig and Even. The child had potential. Being the boy's main influence, Ienzo could prove to be useful. He was a clever one, albeit not as clever as himself. But that's part of what made him useful.
If the others outlive their purpose, at the least, this one might be worth keeping around. The boy would need to be observed further. Ienzo didn't show any fear near the creatures. That was worrisome, but any accidents might prove to be interesting data regardless.
Watching Xehanort work never failed to amuse him. Ansem, his apprentices, everyone he came in contact with--he never failed to get what he wanted out of them. He knew that all too well. That was exactly why he didn't trust a word he said. Sure, he did what he wanted, but he had his own reasons for that. Whoever's side is the winning one, that's where he wanted to be at. Braig saw this as a step up. At least, it would be. He may be called Ansem the Wise, but he had no idea who he was dealing with.
He read over every bit of information they'd collected. He was on to something, but it still didn't click. There must be something I'm overlooking.
Could there be a way to create these beings artificially? It seemed plausible, but he couldn't figure out a way to accomplish it. More testing would be need to be done.
It was curious. The beings he'd named "Heartless" didn't need anything. They simply existed, searching for more hearts to take. What thoughts go through their minds?
He studied a diagram of a Heartless. What existence do they have? What are we to them? Food?
What was worse--having one's name used on the most horrible of research, or that those who did those awful things do it within one's own home? Ansem was not going to allow this to continue any further. He'd worried about this, but...for this to happen to this extent...It was unthinkable.
The people he'd trusted most...but he couldn't cast them aside. No, he was partly to blame for this. He'd failed. His apprentices, and his people.
He wasn't surprised Xehanort had organized this. If anyone had kept any data, it'd be Xehanort. But what could Ansem do now?
Ansem's discovery of their experiments had set him back. He hadn't been careful enough. Luckily, he hadn't learned all of the details of what they had done. Xehanort would need to be as obedient as possible until he could remedy the situation. He would need to discuss this with the others when he could find a moment. He'd need to ask for Braig's help again. That was not something he was looking forward to.
For now, he'd wait things out a while. Acting too soon might work against him. With the research he'd hidden, he began working on something new.
The castle had an odd aura to it. He couldn't place what it was. All of the Heartless? Or something else? He'd asked Xehanort about it, but he brushed it off. He hadn't noticed it so much at first, but this strange feeling had been there for a while now. He wasn't even sure how long it'd been like that--as if something had changed. But what? They'd carefully controlled their experiments and contained the Heartless.
For some reason, something felt...exposed? No, that's not it.
It'd been a long time since he'd wanted to ask Ansem anything, but he couldn't.
The matter had been taken care of. Now, he could continue with his work. With Ansem out of the way, he had no problem taking up his former master's name. Ansem's old office was in need of some...renovation. Something more to his liking. The security system needed to be changed, or at least done away with. There was another thing he had planned as well. That was a matter he'd have to think over on how to discuss without giving the others any indication of what his intentions were. Not even Braig needed to know.
The castle was quiet.