After almost thirty years of sleep, something awakens him.

He does not open his eyes; it would not do him any good. Instead he lies still within the embrace of moldering wood and listens. There is well over a ton of stone and hard mountain soil between the crypt chamber where he lies and the surface of the world overhead, so he cannot hear the screaming, or the sound of flames, from where he rests. Nor does the smoke, the stench of anger, the taste of death and madness penetrate to the crypt. His subterranean world is as dark and quiet as it has been for years.

Yet he knows, lying deep under the earth, that something above caused him to wake. The cradle of peaceful darkness he has slept in for decades was broken by some unknown presence. He can feel it in the imperceptible shiver in the walls around him, in the frothing ripple of his skin.

That thrum in the air, a stark high song of distant power, is what pricked him back to awareness, and now it prevents him from returning to sleep. He closes his mind, walling out the world and folding in on himself until his thoughts rock vaguely on the edge of awareness, but he can still feel that persistent tingle skating up and down his arms, nagging at the edge of his consciousness. Ignoring it as best he can, he sinks into memories of the past and waits for sense to leave him.

Buried deep under the earth and miles away, he cannot hear the sound of steel and weeping, raging words. He cannot feel the searing pain of a sword through the chest or the burn of hot mako, either, but he can feel, distantly, the approach of death and the slow fade of the tingle on his skin.

Relieved, he slips back into senselessness, and sleep.


But not as deep a sleep as before, he finds only weeks later, as the first screams burst upon his small chamber, sliding through a few scarce meters of dirt and stone and wood to make the walls shake and the bones around him rattle. His limbs jerk as he wakes, shaking and startled by the too-loud sound. It has been so long since he last heard anything other than the shift of the earth and the scrabble of mice that this much noise makes his ears ring and his heart pound against his will.

The sound fades, echoing faintly in the chamber, only to rise again moments later with fresh intensity. There might be words somewhere in it, warped beyond recognition by agony or the walls that surround him; he isn't sure. He closes his eyes and lies back in the darkness, waiting patiently. The screaming goes on for a while longer, rising and falling and surging back again without warning, until it finally fades into a bubbling gurgle and disappears.

In the months that follow, more screams, and other noises, fill the mansion crypt. The lab he shares this pit with makes its presence known almost daily now, filling the air with inhuman howls and anguished shrieking, the screech and clatter of abused metal, and sometimes – rarely – human sobbing. Sometimes the whole underground complex lies silent for days and he begins to think he has been left alone again as small stretches of sleep begin to link together into longer spells of mindlessness. Other times there are only a few scant hours between bouts of screaming.

Eventually he begins to learn the patterns of it. There are two voices, two screamers, in the next room. One, a deeper, harder voice, he hears less and less often as time goes on. The other sounds younger, strained and cracked at the edges, and is the source of the sobs that sometimes rise up during periods that are otherwise quiet. These must be nights, he realizes with vague surprise; he'd almost forgotten they existed. And then he shuts out the memories of cool stars hanging overhead in the wild and the bitter night air in the city that threaten to slide up into the forefront of his mind, and curses the sounds that plague his would-be rest.

He learns that the bang of steel on glass, occasionally followed by shouts of anger or surprise, means mealtimes, because it comes three times a day. He learns that experiments are performed twice a day, and that sometimes they do not hurt, or otherwise the subjects are sedated or silenced or gagged, because he does not always hear screaming at the usual time. He learns that it is the younger voice who screams the loudest.

He can guess far more than he would like about the sounds from the nearby lab, because after a few months he has learned who is causing them. Sometimes when the screaming dies away he can hear the shouting, enraged or joyous, of a voice he knows.

That voice puts a knot in his stomach, makes it clench with hate and despair and passion he hasn't felt in years, and drives his sleep away more than any of the louder sounds.

It makes him want to touch the outside world again.

He hates it.

He wonders if the man even remembers that he's down here.


Eventually he learns to block the sounds out. There are long periods – weeks, months – where there is no screaming and he assumes the scientists have been called away. Even when they are present, he has taught his senses to burrow away into the stone below so that the sounds they make cannot penetrate his sleeping mind with such ease. He is still woken intermittently, but now the spells where he can rest peacefully stretch out longer and longer. His anger fades away into the dark creeping lethargy that is slowly returning to him. Time passes, mostly unnoticed now. He sleeps, and does not hear doors crashing open, or the footsteps that stumble past the locked crypt.

He does, however, feel the emptiness of the silence when he next awakes. No more screaming, no more ranting, no more vague human presences to tickle at his awareness.

At last they are gone. At last peace has been returned to him. Now he will stay here in his self-made prison through the years while the mansion's walls rot and crumble, until the roots of the mountains turn to dust. Waiting in sin for forgiveness that can never come.