His heart pounded in his chest as he ran, his sneakers beating out a frantic rhythm on the metal flooring as he raced through the castle's basement corridors. He could hear Isa right behind him, but didn't dare pause to look back, didn't have the breath to say anything. They were almost there. If they could just make it back to the basement window they'd snuck in through, they could slip back out and get away. Run back home. They had to warn their parents! They had to warn everyone about what was really happening! About the source of the monsters and about what they'd found!
Just around the corner, into the storeroom, and they'd be home free! They were almost there! Almost-
He rounded the corner and ran smack into the torso of an enormous, heavily muscled man, crying out in a combination of pain- the guy was as solid as a stone wall - and shock as he was abruptly halted. Isa slammed into his back a moment later, further smooshing him against the huge boulder of a man, before they both staggered back, half collapsing in a panting heap on the floor. When he got a good look at the man, who glowered down at them with sharp, blue eyes set under heavy brows, he couldn't help but give a wordless cry of relief, despite being bumped and bruised from the collision and the fall.
He was wearing a castle guard's uniform! In fact, Lea even thought he recognized the man, though he didn't know his name; the guy had thrown him and Isa out one time they'd been caught sneaking around unauthorized areas of the castle. Under most other cicumstances, he'd be the last person they'd want to meet after sneaking in, but now he was just what they needed. He could help them! He could help them warn everyone and put a stop to the horrible things they'd discovered!
But before Lea could even begin to utter the frantic explanation forming in his mind, the man reached down, grabbed him and Isa each by a shoulder and hauled them roughly to their feet. Isa found his feet, and his voice, first. "I... we... Mr., you have to help us! In the basement... we found-!"
But Isa was cut off as another set of footsteps approached from the way they'd come. Another man, also in a guard's uniform, his long black hair elaborately braided and done up in a topknot, was the stepped into view around the corner. "Ah, you've caught them," he said, apparently speaking to the huge man who still gripped the boys' shoulders. "Good." The larger man nodded wordlessly.
Isa and Lea were about to start trying to explain themselves again, when they were both cut off, struck dumb when another man appeared. He didn't walk into view; he just appeared, in a swirl of something that resembled black and purple smoke, but wasn't. The man had long, straight blonde hair and was wearing some sort of long, black coat with a hood. He smirked slightly, his oddly cold green eyes glinting in the half-light of the nighttime corridor. "You know," he said, speaking directly to the two shocked teenagers, his voice smugly superior and matching his gaze for coldness, "it's very rude to run off without saying goodbye. And after rifling through other peoples things as well. Really, where did you boys learn your manners?"
Isa seemed unable to do anything but stare at the man in horrified shock. It was Lea, this time, who managed to sputter at the huge guard holding them, "Him! Mr., he's one of the ones...! In the basement! They're the ones who've been creating the monsters! Please, you gotta..."
He trailed off, however, when he realized that neither of the two guards seemed the least bit surprised by the black-coated man appearing out of thin air like that. The man with the elaborate topknot was even smirking a little. Horrified realization washed over Lea as he felt his heart drop into the vicinity of his stomach. The guards already knew. And if they knew, and hadn't stopped it... then they were in on it.
"Bring them back down to the lab," the blonde man said to the two guards. "If they're so interested in our work, we'll give them both a good, close look."
The huge man nodded, again without a word, and the blonde man vanished the same way he appeared. Lea exchanged a terrified glance with Isa, and almost at they same time, they both broke and tried to run for the storeroom, managing to slip out of the huge man's grip, which had loosened at some point in the conversation. They didn't question it, they just ran; if they could lock the door behind them it might give them enough time to-
"Ah-ah-ah," said a third man as he stepped out of the storeroom itself, blocking their escape. "Now, you weren't thinking of running out on us, were you?" The man's voice was smug and oddly casual as he gave them a dark, oily grin. He too was wearing a guard uniform, dressed up with a tattered, red neckerchief, and his hair was black, with just a hint of gray, worn straight and slicked back. But what drew their attention most was the prominent scars on his face, and his eye- for he had only one, his right eye covered by a black eyepatch- which was an odd shade of gold.
The other two guards came up behind them in the moment they'd halted in surprise at the scarred man cutting them off. The huge guard grabbed hold of Isa, while Lea was seized by the one with the elaborate topknot.
"You think we'd just let you two leave after everything you saw?", the scarred man sneered. "As if!"
As their captors began dragging them back the way they had come, towards the laboratory, with it's bizarre equipment, its prison cells, the machine they'd seen actually making more of those monsters, those... Heartless, Lea began to panic, recalling what he and Isa had read. The coldly scientific notes they'd seen about the horrific experiments that had been carried out in that lab...
"... The experiments caused the test subject's heart to collapse, including those of the most stalwart. ...
... The Heartless appear in groups, and are multiplying rapidly. I've provided them both living and nonliving samples. They've responded only to the living. They seem to multiply after absorbing something from the living creatures. Their prey vanishes without a trace. ..."
Oh Light, that's what they were going to do! They were going to feed them to those... Heartless monsters! The same things that had attacked Isa and clawed up his face. The same ones that had been attacking and killing people all over the city.
Isa had evidently reached the same conclusion, as he struggled futilely against the grip of his enormous captor. "Please!", he begged. "Just let us go! We won't tell anyone! I swear! We won't say anything!"
Their captors recognized the desperate lie for what it was, though. "Oh, I know you won't," said the scarred man ominously, glancing back at them over his shoulder from where he walked a pace or two ahead and giving them a dark smirk.
"You can't do this!", Lea shouted, trying another, equally desperate tactic. "Our parents'll gonna come looking for us! And other people! Our friends, our teachers! They're gonna wonder what happened to us if we don't come home!"
"True," said the man with the elaborate topknot who hauled Lea along, though he didn't seem worried. "I imagine that they'll be quite heartbroken when they're told what happened. How tragic to have to report the deaths of two brave but foolish boys, killed by the monsters roaming the streets after they had snuck out at night, no doubt against the advice of their parents." He shook his head in mock dismay. "Such a pity."
Neither Lea nor Isa replied, merely pulling and struggling with increasing desperation against their captors. But their struggles remained as futile as ever, the two 14 year olds' strength no match for that of two muscular grown men.
Terrified tears began to leak down Lea's cheeks, blurring his vision, panic digging its claws into him as they were dragged back into the lab. Waiting there was the blonde man from before, as well as a boy with silver-blu hair who looked even younger than Isa and himself. For a second, Lea thought he was another prisoner, but no, the boy stood calmly next to a computer console, completely unrestrained, and wearing a miniature version of the coat the blonde man wore.
"Ah, there you are," the blonde man said. "I've spoken with Number I about the situation, and he has left the handling of the matter up to my discretion." He walked over and opened a door to another chamber, the one that had the Heartless-making machine in it. "Bring these two to the extraction device," the blonde man demanded imperiously. "We will dispose of a problem and gather some useful data on the composition of hearts in the transition from childhood to maturity in one fell swoop."
The scarred man actually chuckled, shaking his head. "Man, you'll use any excuse to carry out one of your little experiments, won't you?", he asked the blonde man.
The other simply smirked at him in return. "I'm a scientist," he replied. "Experiments are what I do. Yes..." Then, turning to the mountain of a man that held the struggling, shaking form of his best friend, Isa, the blonde man ordered, "Put him in chamber number one. We'll do them one at a time, to avoid corrupting the data."
The mountain of a man nodded and began dragging Isa toward the nearest of the metal, coffin-like chambers lining the wall. Isa, in a complete panic now, struggled and wept reaching futilely back for his friend. "Lea!", he cried out. "Help me, Lea! Please Don't let them do this!"
Lea pulled desperately against the grip of the man holding him reaching equally futilely for his blue-haired best friend, tears rolling unchecked down his face and turning his vision into a watery blur. "Isa!", he shouted. "Leave him alone! Please! Please, don't hurt him! I'll do whatever you want! Just don't hurt him!"
Turning, he saw the watery shape of the younger boy, his face a silver-blue blur above his black coat. "Please!", he begged the boy, appealing to him as a peer. "Please tell them not to hurt Isa! He's my best friend!" He trailed off, his voice becoming less a shout, and more a sob. "Please..."
"I'm sorry," the boy said softly, though he sounded utterly indifferent. "But you two just found out way too much."
At that moment, Isa was tossed into the coffin-like chamber, the door closing behind him seemingly on its own. Lea continued to struggle and shout increasingly incoherantly, desperately trying to reach the metal door that now hid his friend from view. Suddenly, through the machine's viewport, more of that black and purple not-smoke could be seen filling the chamber through the transparent viewport. Lea couldn't see he's friend's face due to the height of the viewport, but he saw the tear-blurred tan images of his fists pounding on the glass.
Then, at some unseen signal, a charge of what looked like electricity was sent into the chamber, and he heard his friend's tortured scream, the sound of which tore a final scream of desperate denial from Lea's own throat. "ISAAAAAAA!"
Then, silence fell. The chamber swung open to reveal... nothing. Nothing but a few remaining curls of that dark not-smoke, which quickly dissipated. Lea stared in numb horror at the empty chamber. Isa was gone. His best friend was gone. Dead. Murdered by a group of crazy mad scientists who were going to get away with it. They were going to do the same thing to him. Their parents would never know what really happened to them.
And it was his fault. That was the worst part. It had been his idea to sneak into the castle, try and find out about the source of the monsters. They'd be heroes, he'd thought... Now all this had happened... And it was all his fault.
Abruptly, he realized he was being dragged. Literally, half-dragged, half carried to the chamber by the man holding him. Apparently his legs had given out without him being aware of it; the man with the elaborate topknot was the only thing holding him up at this point. Even though he knew what was coming, though, he couldn't bring himself to fight. Some part of him knew that it wouldn't do any good. It hadn't done Isa any good.
He lifted his head, though, and looked up at the blonde haired man through his tear-filled eyes. The man had his back to Lea, manipulating some controls on the wall, apparently, so he didn't see the murderous look the boy threw him. Lea quivered with a combination of grief and burning, undiluted RAGE. His gaze remained locked on the blonde man's back until he was shoved into the chamber, as if he could bore holes in him with his eyes through sheer force of will.
Then, the dark not-smoke began to envelop him, seeming to grasp at him with tendrils that only half-existed, and terror swept back in to re place rage as he hastily scrambled to his feet pressed against the back wall of the coffin-like thing as the not-smoke swirled up around him. There was no avoiding it; in moments it had filled the whole tiny chamber, enveloping him in a blanket of... darkness. That was it. This stuff, this not-smoke... was Darkness.
This revelation came to him a moment before crackling power tore through the chamber. And through him. He screamed, a cry not only of horrible pain but of the instinctive realization that something indescribably WRONG was happening to him. A final shriek ripped itself from his throat as he felt a horrible tearing sensation, deep within him, as if he were being torn in half...!
Then the Darkness overtook him, and Lea knew no more.