He had heard the word before, even understood it, but now, locked in a wooden casket and taking what he knew to be his last breaths, he was experiencing it.

His mind was fading with each passing second... his heartbeat, once so strong, was nothing more than a flutter. Though the casket was large enough so that he could survive for quite some time, there was another force at work. A force that he himself doubted at times until tonight.

I'm dying, truly dying, he thought with surprising calmness. After all, he was The Undertaker. He wasn't afraid of anything! He hadn't been afraid to fight the enormous Yokozuna, nor had he been afraid when that mob of pathetic half-wits ganged up on him. Hell, he wasn't even fazed when they took Paul out, although it did piss him off a bit.

But when that damn sumo began to mess with his urn...

Maybe that was fear. The most basic fear that overtakes a human when they know something bad is going to happen, even when they're not sure of just what the bad thing is. Somewhere, in his heart, he knew that if the urn was tampered with, his life would be endanger. And, as usual, he had been right.

"Stop, you idiot!" he had wanted to scream. I tried to get over there but they were in my way and...

And when the smoke began to pour out, his body went limp, his mind became clouded, and he knew that it was all over.

I guess that's when I became afraid, when I realized that I was going in that casket. And my life was spilling away as fast as that strange smoke...

At that moment, he could hear Paul screaming, but it was faint, and the laughter of his murders drowned out all sound. At least Paul with live through this, he thought, and noticed that the calmness from before was slowly fading.

He placed his hands against the lid, pushing gently, hoping for a miracle... But no, of course they had locked it.

Oh, and I lost the match, he reminded himself, becoming furious for a moment, but then becoming quite nervous because he barely had the strength yell his anger.

In a final act of desperation, he kicked at his tomb, his casket, and pounded it with his fists using the last of his strength. But he had built it with his own two hands! There was no way it would break!

It was, after all, designed to contain the rotting corpse of Yokozuna.

The darkness was growing deeper around him. He knew the end was near, but he was determined to fight it. In whatever form Death came, he would face him and--

"And what?" a low, soft voice asked by his ear. The Undertaker closed his eyes. "Don't ignore me," the voice persisted, becoming more audible.

"Who are you?" the Undertaker asked, surprised that he could still speak. Wasn't I dying a few seconds ago?

The voice seemed to grow amused. "Actually, you're dead, my friend. I am here to give you life again, if you so want it."

Now things were getting interesting. The Undertaker's eyes remained shut. "So who are you? The Devil? You want my soul, or something?"

"You mock me. But I am no such being." The voice laughed now, and it sent chills down the Undertaker's spine. He knew that laugh--it was his laugh.

"I am the Darkness that has lain dormant in your heart. From birth I was with you, and at death, I wish to remain with you. I am your dark soul, Undertaker."

There was a long pause, filled with a deep, contemplative silence. "What do you want?" the Phenom asked at last. The casket, the darkness, everything seemed so far away suddenly. It was as though he were in a nice room speaking with a friend.

"Nothing. I only wish to bind with your physical form. Think of it: Your soul and body unable to be separated without your consent."

The Undertaker would have smiled if the situation hadn't been so strange. "You mean, I'll be immortal."

"Yes...and no. You will command death. And although you will still be able to die, death, for you, will never be permanent."

"Oh. You mean like a zombie?" Somehow, he knew he shouldn't be joking, but he couldn't help himself. Perhaps if he hadn't been dying--correction, dead--things would have been more serious for him.

The voice was getting annoyed. "You're mocking me again. But accept my offer, and you will see. I am, after all, only you." The voice grew strong again. "You are Death; you command your own life. You are the Phoenix, born from the ashes and made stronger by destruction! And in time, if you so desire, you will have the power to be the Lord of Darkness Himself."

Something in the way the voice spoke made Undertaker hesitate. He wanted to live, oh yes, if for nothing else than revenge... And he always knew he was different. The Darkness had always been close to him... or so he had been told, and so he believed from personal knowledge. He just never knew why. This was as good an explanation as any.

It only took a second to make up his mind.

"Do it." It was beyond a command.

In the nothingness, he felt strength pour into his limbs, but at the same time felt a strange coldness. This voice--his own dark spirit--was becoming one with him, forever. The lightness he felt at that moment spread throughout his limbs, and collected where his heart rested.

"It is only death," the voice assured him. "Think...nothing...of...it..." And then it was gone. The Undertaker was certain that the presence was gone. In my body, I guess, he thought. But at the same time, he knew. It seemed as though all mysteries were suddenly open to him.

In his minds-eye, he saw the urn: Resealed, and filling with his essence again. Only this time, instead of a spirit, within was Light, pure and unshattered white. The Undertaker lifted his left hand slowly, and placed his hand in the beam of light. It spread about his entire body, and if someone could have seen him at the moment, it would have seemed as though the Undertaker had a pair of shimmering, incandescent wings.

He knew this light was the key to his rebirth, and he vowed to return.

As the Deadman.

Outside the casket, in the arena, a lone gong sounded suddenly. Just for fun, the Undertaker darkened the room, making it as black as the inside of his casket, without the help of a lighting technician, but through sheer will. A most interesting power.

The gong rang again, and the room became ice cold. He willed his form to appear on the TitanTron so all could see.

His eyes snapped open in an instant, and, body flooded with dark power, he began to speak slowly. The heartbeats of his enemies and the cheers of the unsuspecting audience filled his ears as he said his first words as an Immortal, as the Phoenix. As Death.

"Be not proud. The Spirit of the Undertaker lives within the souls of all mankind. The eternal flame of life that cannot be extinguished. The origin of which cannot be explained. The answer lies in the everlasting spirit. Soon all mankind will witness the rebirth of the Undertaker.

"I...will not...rest...in peace."

It had begun.