I figured that since everyone likes Slowly Rotting Hearts so much, should stop working on it and start an entirely new story. It seemed like the logical thing to do at the time.
Xehanort sat and set one of his legs horizontally over the other. The shadows under the castle that Ansem had found were dangerous. There was no doubt about it now that a body was bleeding all over the laboratory. But if Ansem found that out for himself, he would forbid any further research into them. So what to do?
"Is something wrong, young Xehanort?"
Xehanort turned his head just enough to acknowledge Ansem's presence without actually looking at him. He grunted quietly as a response while he thought up a real answer. He hadn't planned on encountering anyone in the library, especially not Ansem, the one person he was trying to hide a secret from at the moment. Xehanort had only come here to get his thoughts organized as quickly as possible on his way to stealing a body bag.
"I've been having a walk about the city..." Ansem began his jolly report of how happy everyone was in Radiant Gardens while Xehanort continued to stare into space. He stopped caring about the people of the city long before he had met any of them.
"...The income disparity is almost non-existent as well. Can you imagine it? Pride can be the fall of a man, but I can not help but be honored to have been a part of this kingdom: one in which we are all equal."
Xehanort nodded his head absentmindedly in agreement. He had his thoughts organized now. When the fool was finished talking Xehanort would slip back to the laboratory, where everyone else was waiting with a corpse that needed to be snuck out of the castle. And the shadow… it would have to be destroyed.
"…But then something strange happened."
Xehanort blinked and realized that Ansem was now facing him. The library around them came into focus as well. "What was it?"
"Do you recall the meteor showers that brought that strange material?"
No. I forgot. What do you think?
"The shadows that appeared under the castle as well?"
Xehanort nodded. "Yes."
"I saw one of them outside. Or… I saw something." Ansem raised a hand to his chin and braced his elbow on his other arm. "Hmm. I don't really know what I saw."
Xehanort sighed internally.
"It was large, like a man, but wispy and agile like a cat, leaving only a brief vision of itself to play on your mind before it disappeared into another shadow, making you think it had never been there at all."
Xehanort was very mildly intrigued.
Ansem turned to him suddenly. "What do you think it was, Xehanort?"
"Shadows play tricks on the mind."
"Yes. Yes they do, I suppose."
Xehanort stood from his chair and bowed slightly. "I'm sorry to leave so quickly but I was actually taking a short break from the laboratory, Master Ansem. If you don't mind…"
Ansem nodded and looked at a particular book with interest. "Of course."
Xehanort turned and walked at what felt like an agonizingly slow pace towards the door.
He stopped. Ansem's tone was more commanding than before.
Ansem turned away from the book and eyed Xehanort the same way.
"I saw what you've been doing in the laboratory."
Xehanort swallowed hard and didn't reply.
"I'm impressed. Your Theory on Adaptive Resonance shows promise for the field of Agroharmonics."
The field of Agroharmonics was dated, useless, and utterly stupid; as was Adaptive Resonance, which only theorized that shaking an object long enough made it shake the same way. It was absolute child's play that Xehanort had doodled on a whiteboard out of boredom several years ago, but Xehanort held his tongue and nodded. "Thank you, Master."
"You should look into it further."
"I will." Right after I'm finished telling everyone what a damned fool you are.
Xehanort turned and walked out of the library without even betraying a sigh of relief.
He waited until he was sure Ansem wouldn't follow him again and then broke into a sprint.
"Good afternoon, Princess."
An elegant hand waved in response to the hailing of several passersby. Ansem's daughter, Princess Glee, did not enjoy fans as much as they enjoyed her. In fact, having everyone stare at you every time you walked outside became almost creepy at some times. But as her daily walk around the kingdom brought her back to the castle, she met an interesting person that she didn't soon plan to discard as a mere fan. She was inside the castle, just having entered the labyrinthine corridors that she was so terrible at navigating, when a man about her age in a white lab coat came running from outside. His arms were busy with a black bag about his size that was absolutely empty.
He slowed to a fast walk as he came closer and looked at her impatiently.
"Aren't you… one of those people my father keeps talking about?"
Xehanort stopped next to her.
"That depends on who your father talks about." He said it slowly, trying to pick his words while he stared at her as if she had something on her face. She brushed a hand across her cheek to check.
"Oh. He says he has all of these students who wear lab coats, and he answers their questions, and he teaches them, or learns from them or something… I don't really pay attention to him very often when he talks like that, but he thinks very fondly of you all."
Xehanort blinked at her again and put the bag behind his back. She could see, now that it was closer, that its zipper extended along its entire mass lengthwise.
"I… don't actually go to a local school. So, I'm sorry, but I'm not a student of your father's. I'm a student of Ansem the Wise."
She nodded. "That's what I meant."
He glared at her with the same bizarre look as before, then shook his head free of her and skipped past her into the corridor before she could elaborate. She watched him go, and then realized with a start that he had absolutely no idea who she was. She ran after him, determined not to lose her one chance at having a normal friend.
Ienzo wrinkled his nose in frustration and brushed some hair out of his face as he tried feverishly to read through all the papers he was holding. Every shred of evidence that this experiment had taken place had to be gathered before anyone -especially Ansem- but anyone nonetheless, stumbled into the laboratory and found the corpse that Aeleus and Dilan were dealing with. Or the shadow…
Ienzo glanced away from the printouts in his hand long enough to glare at the shadowy figure that had been caged in the corner. It was staring at him. He looked back to the papers in front of him and spotted some incriminating computer-use time codes. He stuffed them into the folder he was gathering and handed it to Even.
Even was gathering the folders into unmarked bins and loading them onto a cart that they would have to dash to somewhere safe. While he got the bin he muttered under his breath, "What could be taking him so long?"
A knock came to the door and everyone's wide-eyed glares were pulled to it. All motion stopped entirely. They stared at the door in complete silence, and again the knock came, this time with Xehanort's voice.
"If I was Ansem I wouldn't have knocked in the first place!"
Ienzo rushed to the door and let in an out-of-breath Xehanort, body bag in tow. It was passed to Aeleus, who nodded silently and set to work stuffing the thrashed corpse into it while Dilan mopped up the blood.
Xehanort was motioning them to move faster while he gasped for breath.
"Hurry. I was followed."
They all doubled their pace. Ienzo was grabbing any piece of paper that look even remotely relevant to the experiment without double-checking. Xehanort smiled inwardly when he saw the way they were moving. There was a good chance they'd get away with this now.
Aeleus jumped back suddenly, knocking over a small equipment table in the process. Everyone looked at him, and then followed his stare to the corpse. At first, nothing seemed to be amiss. But then, a spurt of body fluids came from its chest, followed by a shadowy claw. The claw dug around itself, creating more gore until it became an arm, and then a torso, and finally another shadow. They stared in awe, stunned, while its antennae flinched and writhed about itself.
Aeleus looked at Xehanort unsurely. "We could cage it."
"Ansem's a fool, but he can count. Kill it Aeleus."
Every one of Ansem's students was chosen because he favored them somehow. Xehanort was an adept leader, Even knew his way around a laboratory, Dilan had a way of gauging weather, and Aeleus was built like Goliath.
He made a fist and brought down his godlike weight on the creature. It was crushed, and vanished in wisps of evanescent smoke. They finished up quickly and all made for the door, stopping only briefly for Xehanort to pull a small radio out of one of his lab coat pocket and put it in his ear.
Specialist Braig leaned over the parapet of Ansem's castle and panned a courtyard with his binoculars. No intruders. What a surprise. He turned to the other side of the parapet and scanned again, nothing. Wait.
He lifted the binoculars to his eyes and watched as Xehanort came running across it with a bag and banged on the door to a building that was isolated in the courtyard: a laboratory. Ienzo let him in and Braig lowered his binoculars.
"You are so getting caught, dude."
He shook his head and changed the frequency of the radio that was plugged into his ear to the one that Xehanort had set aside for them. Braig waited for a moment, and busied himself by patting the sniper rifle on his back. He stopped when a woman came bursting into the courtyard and ran towards the laboratory as fast as she could, which wasn't fast at all due to her dress. Braig's radio was brought to life by Xehanort's voice.
"Can you hear me?"
"Is the courtyard clear?"
"No, dude. You were followed."
"How close is she?"
The woman reached the door and knocked on it while she collected herself.
"Hello? Hello! Is anyone in there?"
"Can you find a way to distract her?"
"I could probably get a shot off from here, but you'd be carrying another body."
Braig ignored Xehanort's immediate negations of the thought and took the rifle off of its strap. He held it out on his arm, having the practiced stillness of a marksman, and took a closer look at the woman through his scope.
"What is it?"
"That's Princess Catherine Gleie, dude."
"The daughter of Master Ansem."
Braig lowered his rifle while Catherine continued banging away on the door.
Braig was alarmed then, as Catherine had stopped pounding and taken a step away from the door.
"What's going on?"
Braig raised his rifle again to watch her through the scope. After so many hours of having it on him, it felt more like an extension of his body than a weapon. Needless to say, the safety implications of his actions were lost on him.
"She's digging in a pocket on her hip. I can't see it tho- wait. She's got something."
Catherine pulled the object out of her pocket and stepped up to the door again.
"What is it?"
"It's metal, dude. I can't see it."
"Well what's she doing with it?"
The princess had her ear to the door, her eyes keen.
"She's listening to you, dude."
Catherine pulled her head away from the door and frowned at it.
"Stand by. It looks like she's going to give up."
Xehanort held his breath. Everyone else in the room was frozen in place, glaring wide-eyed at him and waiting for instructions. The heartless in the corner was having some kind of seizure, its antennas trying to pull its head through the cage to get through the door, creating a small racket in the process. Dilan wiped some sweat off his brow and set the mop he was holding in its bucket. He didn't realize until then how hot it was getting in the laboratory.
"Well what's she doing?"
Xehanort had his hand on the communication bead in his ear.
A look of hope crossed his face and everyone's emotions followed with him. Suddenly, they could all here Braig's voice yelling over the earpiece and Xehanort lunged for the door just in time to grab the handle as a key turned in the lock. The door jumped an inch as Catherine tried to open it from the outside. Everyone was breathing hard now, on the verge of panic. If anyone found out about this project, they would be finished. Catherine tried to pull the door open again and grunted with the effort. The shadow in the cage went mad and began swiping at the bars with its claws.
"Open the door or else!"
No one moved, except for Xehanort, who was struggling to keep the door shut and thanking whatever greater power there was that it wasn't an automatic door.
"I'm warning you! Open this door by the authority of Ansem The Wise or suffer the consequences!"
Her voice was too cute to properly convey any authority, and Xehanort wasn't about to let anyone in for all the munny in the kingdom.
Xehanort crumpled into a ball and released the handle as a lightning spell rippled through the metal door. It swung open to reveal a triumphant looking woman in a mid-day dress. Her expression quickly turned to shock at the image of the bloody corpse, then horror at the sight of the shadow, which intensified its efforts at the sight of her. Her hand moved to her mouth and she took a step back. Even and Ienzo raised their hands in front of themselves.
"D-don't, don't say anything."
She shook her head and staggered back several steps as Xehanort got back on his feet in front of her.
A small murmur came over the bead in his ear and his hand rushed to it.
He looked Catherine in the eyes with a sense of foreboding.
"You're Master Ansem's daughter?"
She nodded behind her hand. Her eyes were horrified.
"And you're going to tell your father about this?"
Her eyes became worried.
"Please," Xehanort opened his palms to show that he was not trying to be menacing.
"Don't be afraid to answer."
She nodded her head vigorously.
"Well then. There's no point waiting."
Slowly, her hand lowered from her face. She took several more steps backward and then turned around and ran as fast as her feet could carry her.
Ienzo was at Xehanort's side in an instant.
"You're letting her go?"
Aeleus boomed uncharacteristically, "She'll give us away!"
Xehanort faced them all and removed the radio from his ear.
"I know. But killing his daughter is something we're far less likely to get away with. We'll have to find another way to continue our research."
They were silent for a long time. The only thing to do now would be to wait for Ansem to arrive and scold them like children.
Ienzo set down the papers he had been mid-sorting in defeat and said, "He never mentioned a daughter."
Nobody responded, and he peered up from his sullen floor-glare to stare at them all as if they had missed something obvious. "Why?"
Why did I decide Ansem should have a daughter? Because rich people get laid, and Ansem needs to have something push him to the edge if we want to believe that he gets consumed by revenge to the point of blowing himself up.