Sleep was such a precious commodity that nothing annoyed Vaughn more than when it was cut short. The sudden interruption to his REM cycle could have been forgiven had it not be jarring and piercing.
Vaughn bolted up from where he had fallen asleep amongst his papers in his office. There was a line on his face from the corner of a book and his eyes were still fogged with sleep. The shrill voices that echoed down the barren white halls reverberated in his brain while he tried to make sense of where he was, what he was doing and what day it was.
Vaughn was still a young man at this time. Fresh from studies at The College Vaughn had been working in the laboratory that was housed under Rougoku in the depths of Judicium while rarely returning home. He found the castle stifling. His brothers paraded up and down the halls while flaunting their achievements around and his father's voice was usually loud and unbearable. At this time Vaughn was barely nineteen years old and his brothers still lived. He was content to lock himself away in the laboratory away from prying eyes and constant criticism. His older brothers laughed at him and his lack of military prowess. His younger brothers scorned him and his lack of presence. Vaughn was all the happier to remain in the shadows where it was comfortable.
He had only been at the laboratory for three months when his father assigned him to his current pet project: Ghost. It was a military experiment that involved taking pieces of Kaos and implanting it directly into the brain, specifically into the cerebellum. Kaos: the code name for the object that Byrnan had removed from Allos during their invasion some six hundred years ago. It was a strange substance constantly changing shape and size. For the last fifty years it had remained in the form of a woman and that form had become much more defined once Vaughn had the body of Ilora brought to his personal lab where he also housed the current form of Kaos. In order to retrieve pieces of the substance for implantation they cut off the fingers and toes. As it had taken the form of a woman those pieces were more than small enough. After removal, the missing appendages would respawn in a matter of seconds. It was as if Kaos was able to divide and multiply cells on demand. The other scientists in the lab had no idea that Kaos had taken the form of a woman. Only those of royal blood were allowed anywhere near the precious commodity. It was from this element that Byrnan had been able to develop much of its technology.
Vaughn had been the one to remove the fingers and toes and bring them to the surgery rooms where they eventually changed shape and were implanted into the subjects. There were thirty subjects that survived the surgery and the following adjustment of the host body to the object. The youngest subject was seven years old and the eldest was around twenty-five. All of them had been former prisoners or soldiers. There was nothing overly remarkable about any of them, aside from the subject named Oni.
Soldiers had found Oni when he was three years old. His small body was found nearly crushed under the weight of the dead from a camp massacre unlike anything Byrnan had experienced before. His small, black body was discovered after he cried out while cleanup crews were removing bodies for a mass funeral pyre.
He was pulled out and immediately recognized as not being normal. His skin, hair and eyes were blacker than anything the soldiers had ever seen. Even those in the southern kingdom of Hieros did not have skin that dark and they claimed to have been born touched by the sun. The darkest any of them ever got was a soft cocoa colour.
But this strange boy whose origins were completely shrouded in mystery was blacker than the night. Not only was he strange to look at, he was very unlike most three year old boys. He growled like an animal and swatted at any hands that came near him. Once he had been freed of the bodies he bit and scratched at those who tried to clean him up. Eventually he was captured and placed in a bag then brought to the laboratory under Rougoku for observation. He lived under constant watch for four years and was eventually selected to be the youngest subject for Project Ghost.
That, perhaps, had been the moment when the project was doomed to failure.
By being injected with pieces of Kaos the newly modified humans were trained to be soldiers. The property gained from Kaos being in their bodies was to enhance their instincts and allow them to predict the movements of their foes. It was meant to give them an almost psychic power and allow them to become unstoppable soldiers.
For the most part, the experiment succeeded. Those who had survived the surgery were immediately plunged into combat training where they were pitted against criminals on death row from Rougoku. With only their hands as weapons they were able to fell their opponents easily causing death blows with every strike. It was during the initial phase that a terrible side effect was discovered.
The subject of Project Ghost could not bear to have their exposed flesh touched by the exposed flesh of another. It would almost always result in an absolute shut down of all physical and mental capabilities for nearly an hour. After further testing it was revealed that upon contact every single thing that the person had ever felt or experienced, good or bad, mentally or physically, was transferred to the subject at incredible speed that would result in a complete system overload. Eyes would go wide and blood would begin to seep from nostrils as the subjects fell over in agonizing pain that occurred at too quick a speed for them to process properly.
Some of the subjects, however, would react with violence. Such violence that would result in the unfortunate removal of the offending hand. Out of the thirty subjects there were five who reacted with such violence. Oni was one of them. For a slight boy of seven his strength was comparable to that of a soldier who had been in service for at least ten years. His hands were stronger than most grown men and he could crush a head without so much as breaking a sweat.
For a year after the side effect was discovered the subjects were kept in solitary confinement and constantly observed through video surveillance. Eventually suits were created that covered the bodies of the subjects up to their necks and they were given gloves that exposed only the last knuckle of their fingers. This gave them greater protection against accidental contact and allowed them to control what they laid bare skin against. The thought was that they would be able to harness their powers and be able to touch someone and bring out the deep secrets in their minds.
Unfortunately, such a thing never came to pass. No matter how much training or testing occurred, as soon as the subjects touched anything with their bare skin they ended up falling into their catatonic states or spiraling out of control. The project seemed all but doomed. Vaughn had been assigned to that project for the very reason of discovering a way to get the results his father wanted.
He had been pouring over the notes left by the former project leader when sleep had become too much for him and he had slipped into sweet unconsciousness. That same sleep that had been interrupted by screaming and shouting down the halls from the direction of the cafeteria.
Vaughn rubbed his eyes and stumbled into the hallway. The bright florescent lights burned his eyes and he squinted at the scientists and researchers as they ran past him. He flung out an arm and grabbed the nearest one and brought them within a breath of his face.
"What the hell is going on?" Vaughn muttered gruffly.
"There's an altercation going on in the cafeteria between some members of Project Ghost. They aren't in their suits so no one wants to get close to them. Hell, even if they were in their suits, I wouldn't want to touch those creeps....Sir," the middle-aged man he had captured said.
Vaughn grunted before tossing the man aside like a doll. The hurried thud thud thud of the man's shoes slamming against the concrete floor echoed behind him as he ran.
"Coward," Vaughn hissed as he turned towards the cafeteria.
As he drew closer he beckoned to those still inside to join him on the other side of the three foot thick ballistic glass where he observed the situation for a moment. The cafeteria was large with only two entrances for safety measures. Those in charge of distributing food were currently trapped between the Ghost subjects and the exits. A few researchers were also stuck on the other side of freedom. The remaining members of Project: Ghost who had already been served their food continued eating without paying much mind to the commotion currently ensuing.
It was difficult to determine just what the problem was. Two groups of three were shouting at each other from opposite ends of the cafeteria line. Vaughn couldn't make out the reason for the argument and he felt his patience wearing thin.
Suddenly he stormed into the cafeteria and crossed to the closest group.
"Will you just shut up and eat your food?" he yelled as he drew closer.
His presence was anticipated and thus ignored. It was then that Vaughn made the mistake that would come to haunt him for years to come.
Vaughn reached out his hand and grabbed the arm of the closest offender. The second his bare hand touched the bare skin he felt a surge of energy and his eyes widened as he realized what he had done.
The scream that followed the contact was primal in essence and Vaughn was knocked to his feet. Within seconds he felt himself being dragged through the cafeteria to safety as sirens began to wail.
The emergency shut down system had been activated and the doors were then automatically shut and locked.
"Your Highness, are you alright?" the voice of his saviour asked.
Vaughn nodded dumbly as he got to his feet and looked through the ballistic glass once more.
There, right where he had left him, the small frame of the one he had touched arched back so his face pointed towards the ceiling. Vaughn felt a knot form in his stomach and then drop as he realized he had touched none other than Oni. Of all the subjects to come in contact with he had laid his bare hands on the most unpredictable one.
And unpredictable he was.
Oni's voice rang throughout the cafeteria and the other subjects huddled together instantly, forgiving all past transgressions while quaking with fear.
Oni's eyes grew so wide it was as if his eyelids had been absorbed into his skull. The white centre of his eyes where most people had pupils and irises, seemed to glow in the bright lighting.
After his initial cry it seemed as though the worst was perhaps already over. Vaughn felt himself relax slightly.
Before anyone could blink Oni was gone. He darted from his place and over to one of the subjects huddled together. All their predictive power was for naught in the face of Oni's fury. He grabbed his victim, a twenty-year old man with a soldier's body, and began to tear off his limbs. Arms and legs were scattered across the white cafeteria floor as crimson blood gushed down his chest and pooled at his feet.
After Oni had separated the man’s head from his body and tossed it like garbage behind him it was almost as it time had stopped. No one blinked or even breathed. Someone, somewhere, prayed that that was the end of the carnage.
And then time began to move.
For the next three hours Oni cornered and dismembered every single person who had the misfortune of being locked in that cafeteria with him. Vaughn watched in sick fascination as not even his fellow Ghost members could put up a fight against him. Twenty-nine members of Project: Ghost, six members of cafeteria staff and the ten unlucky researchers who had decided to eat their meals at that unfortunate time, fell victim to Oni's rampage.
There he was, this scrawny black boy who had been nothing more than a wild shadow his whole short life, effortlessly crushing and ripping grown human men and women apart with his bare hands.
Oh, how Vaughn wanted to keep him alive. How he wanted to study him, dismember and then stitch him back together. He wanted to get inside his brain and figure out exactly what gave an eight year old boy more power and strength than a grown man. Was it the piece of Kaos? Had it resonated so fully with his essence? The puzzle that screamed before him sparked an intense desire to understand and to know just what had come to pass.
Before Vaughn could calculate how to subdue such a creature he saw the clouds of gas descend into the cafeteria through the sprinkler lines.
"Ah yes, the gas. That should subdue him enough for me to collect him and place him under observation," Vaughn chuckled to himself.
Thirty minutes had passed and Oni showed no signs of sedation. In fact, he had begun to gather up the body pieces and tear them into even smaller bits. His skin shone in the light from the blood that covered every inch of him. The white uniform he had been wearing was now black like his skin from the excessive amounts of blood that had been spilled. What had once been human bodies were now piles of skin, bone, intestines, fat and flesh.
Oni screamed even louder, almost like the roar of a fabled dragon.
"The torches! Someone light the defense torches!" Vaughn yelled.
People scrambled all around him while he kept his eyes glued on Oni. The boy began to prowl around the cafeteria. His eyes were still wide and he bared his teeth. He had not bitten or ingested any of the bodies at his feet. He had only torn them to shreds with his small hands and tossed the pieces behind him. It was hard to tell if his vision was cloudy because his abnormal white eyes had always made him seem as though he was blind.
In the next few minutes lit torches dropped from the ceiling of the cafeteria through small slots designed for such a process. While Vaughn was sad to see the flames spark in the remnants of the gas and explode he had realized that Oni was too unstable of a specimen to observe properly. He leaned forward and tried to peer through the giant flames and smoke to see if it was having any effect.
He stood there for another hour, the smell of burnt flesh assaulting his nose. He wanted to be sure that Oni had been destroyed.
"There is no way he would have lived through that," Vaughn muttered. He raised a hand and signaled for the sprinklers to be turned on and douse the flames.
As the smoke billowed up through the exhaust vents which had been turned on when the water stopped Vaughn looked again through the smudged glass to try and find evidence of Oni's body.
Suddenly and with a loud slamming sound Vaughn found himself face to face with Oni. The boy had flung himself at the glass and dug his fingers into the thick sheeting in order to hold himself up to eye level with Vaughn. For what seemed like an eternity the two stared at each other through the glass. Oni seemed somehow unscathed by the flames and he had smudges of blood on his face.
Oni gave Vaughn a grin, a large toothed grin, before his eyes rolled back into his skull and he dropped to the floor.
"Someone get a suit on! Get in there and collect him before he comes to! Bring him to holding cell 3!" Vaughn barked.
People scrambled around him once more as he stood there, staring at the body on the floor. Had he not been witness to the scene that had occurred over the last five hours he would have thought Oni to be nothing more than a sleeping boy. His face still retained a child-like innocence and he seemed so peaceful.
In minutes someone in a large white hazard suit opened the door to the cafeteria and gingerly went in to collect the body of Oni. The boy remained in a sleep-like state while he was carefully placed into a large barred crate and wheeled from the cafeteria by another member of the laboratory staff. Cleanup crews armed with shovels and plastic bins on wheels dove into the remnants of Oni's destruction and began to tidy up. Vaughn designated one of the observing researchers with the task of writing a report and left the scene.
He knew he would have to write his own report and he would have to report the outcome to his father but at that moment he was more concerned with the disposal of Oni. Gas and fire had had no impact on him. Other options for disposal were slim.
Once he reached holding cell 3 he noticed Oni still slept soundly, no doubt exhausted from his outburst. Vaughn motioned for Oni to be restrained on the bed with the metal cuffs before crossing over to the side of the bed.
"Someone get me a syringe. The kind we use for lethal injection in the jail upstairs," he commanded.
He had only to wait mere seconds before the requested syringe was placed in his waiting hand.
He looked down over Oni.
"I'm sorry to have to do this but you have not given me much of a choice."
His voice was soft betraying his own depression at losing such a valuable sample. Vaughn cleaned off Oni's left arm with a damp cloth to expose the ridges of his veins. While his black skin made it impossible to detect his veins beneath his skin on sight alone, the tubes always rose up against his flesh and betrayed their locations. With an almost parental care Vaughn slid the needle into a vein and went to release the liquid into Oni's system.
But he was unable to do so. Vaughn could not depress the plunger and inject the liquid into the bloodstream. The plunger refused to move. He tried several different syringes with the same result. Some needles broke upon contact with Oni's veins.
"This is ridiculous," Vaughn cursed, "Someone bring me a gun."
For the next hour Vaughn tried method after method of execution to no avail. At the last second Oni would move enough for bullets to miss him completely. He would continue to breathe after attempts at suffocation and any manner of sharp object would become dull once pressed against his skin which deflected attempts at decapitation.
"We've only got one recourse then. Connect the weights. We'll toss him in Judicium. Nothing is deeper than that lake. There is no way he will live through this," Vaughn commanded.
Still asleep and unaware of what was going on; Oni was strapped to a three tonne weight by his hands and feet with metal clasps. He was loaded onto a trolley and taken through a maze of hallways until finally coming to rest at an underground water channel. Vaughn had Oni's body loaded onto a small dingy which he boarded as well. Then taking himself and three staff members he had them take the dingy out into the open waters of Judicium. Upon leaving the underground tunnels Vaughn looked back at the intimidating figure of Rougoku as it towered in the middle of the lake behind them. When they were a satisfactory distance away, Vaughn commanded Oni's body be dropped into the lake.
Still asleep and without any protest Oni's body was tossed into the lake where the weight pulled him deep down beyond sight and into the depths. It was said that even fish could drown in Rougoku it was so deep. Slowly the bubbles from his descending body and last breaths stopped reaching the surface. Vaughn still waited, just to be sure. After three hours passed and there was still no sign of Oni returning to the surface of the lake Vaughn gave the signal to return to the lab.
Wordlessly Vaughn dismissed the staff members who had accompanied him and returned to his private lab. He locked the door behind him and turned the lights on in full. Normally Vaughn preferred a bit of darkness but he was tired of the dark. He never wanted to be in a completely blackened office again.
Over the next few days he would write his report and deliver his findings to his father. The great king would express his displeasure with his son in the most comfortable fashion, resulting in a black eye for Vaughn. His brothers would openly scorn and mock him once more and Vaughn would retreat from their abuse into the depths of the laboratory in the underbelly of Rougoku.
In the years to come he would contemplate resurrecting Project: Ghost. As the days and months passed it became harder and harder for Vaughn to remove pieces of Kaos from its body as it had become ever more defined as the body of a woman, bearing striking similarities to the body of Ilora. Both the woman and the object resided together in a secret portion of Vaughn's personal lab behind walls and tubes. No one save Vaughn himself knew of their existence, not even his most trusted aide, Evaristus.
Kaos and Ilora would remain in seclusion for decades until the security was breached and Kaos stolen by two young men.
But that is a story for another time.Start writing here ...