Fear becomes a shadow.
To be locked away from humanity, a well-kept secret on the fringes of a kingdom gasping for breath; to wait for death and to never die is a punishment only humans would perpetrate against their own.
Forgotten and alone in a sea of others who were forgotten, and alone. Who would remember a man when their wish was to forget he existed?
No soul locked within the Chateau d'If was worthy of his attention. The thousands of years he lived and sailed among the stars, no one rose to his notice. Only in the last desperate moments of a mind teetering on the edge of sanity, when death was close enough to kiss his mouth and suck the last of his breath, did he see the spark of desperate hope that burned deep within the machines that held the prisoners on Fortress 13.
Such a will; such a desire to die broken and unfulfilled, was a waste even the King of the Caves could not bear to watch.
"Call my name, my friend."
It was a simple request. The mind he touched was frantic and resigned; despairing and desperate. And the fight ignited upon wings of hope blazed so brilliantly it became staggering to behold as it flashed in the dark of space.
Yet he was not ready to surrender.
A pure soul clinging to the vain hope that his innocence would surface and freedom would come. A pure fool believing friendship would prevail. Time was held immobile like the bodies frozen in that remote prison and the last vestiges of sanity slipped away.
Why the Chateau d'If have been targeted was easy to explain. Prisoners provided the framework by which an immense weapons platform stayed in operation. For men and women who needed to disappear due to inconveniences their presence represented, no one knew of their true fate except the elite few. Those same elite knew in what capacity the weapon was maintained and it was easy for their consciences if they believed those held bound within -- plugged into the great machines to drive the mechanisms -- deserved their fate. Fortress 13 was a weapon on the edge of the kingdom's territory, turned outward to stem the tide of the Imperium. Of course it would be a target.
How the Chateau had been destroyed to the point where there were only fragments remaining was something those patrolling the border would never know. To be so far from the capital, perhaps they didn't care, running their scans long enough to verify there was no presence of the enemy before they returned home.
Pain held no meaning for the King of the Caves. To have lived as long as he did, to have endured all that he had within the Fortress was to be accustomed to pain; to thrive on it, to depend on it. It helped to keep the darkest desires alive.
Hate. Revenge. Destruction. Powerful emotions finally reached out with grasping fingers and clung to his last, vain hope.
"You will die once and then live again."
He felt the one known as Pulse No. D-4 04290038, whose identity before his designation was lost to the mists of barely-retained sanity, as he struggled for air no longer needed. He was pulled, ever so gently, along the strands of desperation to see a life left behind and a promised future ahead. Engines engaged; life pod ejected and the destruction of his life for the past fourteen years exploded in one fiery gasp and turned to dust.
No longer 'one of many', the spark that was Edmond Dantès reasserted itself. His dreams were restless. So long denied rest, he fell into a deep slumber. The King of the Cave, the old soul filled with his own bitterness and anger and hate and drive, kept vigil; probing the mind now laid bare for the universe to inspect.
He'd chosen well.
Hope becomes a nightmare.
"Within this planetoid of Monte Cristo are all the riches you'll ever need to do as your heart desires. You'll never spend it all in your lifetime."
That is what the entity told Edmond. It was the price, it seemed, to live. His body was no longer one he recognized. Oh, it had two arms and two legs. He had his eyes and his hands and his face. Not an abomination but close. This being, this King of the Cave, was giving him a chance. It was a chance to start his life; a chance to change his life.
In his dreams, the pleasant daydreams of reclaiming his life, he looked for Mercédès -- his great love, the one shining beacon that kept him going the years he struggled to hold to his sanity. She was his sanity. She was his strength.
She was his ultimate destroyer.
How this entity was able to find the information, Edmond didn't question. When he saw the images of her in a new life, in a life without him, in a life with a man once called friend, he shattered into brilliant shards of regret.
All the gold in the universe could not bring back the life he once had. Nothing could return his future to him.
Hate filled his heart, seeping into the empty places left by betrayal so complete it was staggering to contemplate. If he would be denied his life, those responsible for his circumstances would be denied theirs.
"Who are you?" Edmond asked. He saw the evidence of the being etched on his skin. His face was now distorted. His skin took on an unearthly sheen among the scars left behind from being hooked up to the great mechanical fortress.
"I am your savior, Edmond."
"What are you called?"
"Gankutsuou. And this is our pact. I give you the means and ability to strike back at all who sought to destroy you. And all I ask in return is for your body to become mine."
If there had been anything left of the innocent known as Edmond Dantès, it died the moment he surrendered.
He would be the avenging angel.
"And when your revenge is complete, you will submit yourself to me."
And death awaits, until that day.
There was a ship at his disposal. The Sparta was space worthy and ready to take Edmond wherever his heart desired. With such riches at his fingertips there was little he would want for.
Plans were formed, wealth distributed in preparation for Edmond's return to Paris. He visited planets within the kingdom and discovered, first-hand, money covered a multitude of sins. Clothing of the richest fabrics known to man, furniture, technology of such intricate design it astounded the imagination, art, music, literature...all the things that made one civilized, were scooped up and devoured.
Civilization had progressed so much during the time Edmond was asleep.
With every world discovery, another joined his side. A slave-princess, a lion of corsica, a normal man who desired more than a normal life, each with their own reasons for staying by his side. Those who helped, who had ever been kind to him, found their way eased by an anonymous benefactor. All who met the enigmatic Count fell under his persuasive and charismatic spell until his path was clear and the way was ready.
With the final preparations underway, Edmond sent his entourage ahead to Luna with instructions for Bertuccio to set the next phase in motion.
Solitary, but never really alone, he walked through Monte Cristo one more time. Extravagant spending hadn't diminished the vast wealth still contained within. More than he would ever spend, indeed.
In the quiet of space, Edmond was left with only his thoughts. One final night to spend in a bed that cost more than many kingdom citizens made in a year, he stripped off his clothing and slid beneath the sheets that would always remain warmer than his skin. His body had seen changes in the past months, a clear indication it was no longer just his. Food and sleep were beyond him now. The pact with Gankutsuou, the deal with the devil, was taking its toll.
"Not until I'm finished," he whispered to the empty room. "I will mete out justice first."
"It is my promise," came the cold reply.