What was he thinking? She was little more than a child and an ill-used child at that! Erik checked his alarms and traps as he walked his dark realm, silently berating himself with every step. He couldn't feel that way for Christine. He was a monster, and she
, an angel. If this was a fairy tale or even an
opera, his angel would fall in love with the monster and, with a kiss, break
the spell and turn him back into the handsome prince he was meant to be. But
this wasn't a fairy tale, and he’d never be more than just a monster. Not
realizing it, his feet soon put him on the staircase leading to the roof.
There, unseen by any but the heavens, Erik could indulge in his fantasy of
living like a normal man. The sun, moon, and stars never judged him, for they
shined their light upon all, man and monster, equally. Perched upon the ornate
statue of Apollo, the Opera Ghost watched the people of Paris scurrying along
the streets like so many ants; and, even though he scorned their pointless
existence and frivolous cares, he envied them as well. The simple pleasure of
walking along the avenue with a lady upon his arm would never be his. It was
enough to make him weep, even while it stirred his hatred of the human race to
dangerous levels. And it was with these turbulent thoughts swirling through his
head that Erik spied one of the new patrons entering his opera house. With a
most wicked grin, Erik decided it was time to introduce himself properly.
Slipping into one of the many unknown passageways that honeycomb the opera house, he hunted his prey. The nobleman spoke with the managers only briefly before heading to the stage to watch the rehearsal. Erik perched high in the flies where none other than Christine had dared to climb and waited for an opportunity to present itself. If one never did, he wasn't above creating his own. When the managers stepped onto the stage to soothe yet another of La Carlotta’s tantrums, he saw his opportunity; the nobleman stood alone in a shadowy corner just off stage. Excellent. As silent as a ghost, the black-clad masked man made his way towards the back of the stage. Using his knowledge of ventriloquism to capture the man’s attention, for no gentleman would ignore a lady’s cries for help, Erik waited in the darkened passage. As the nobleman wandered down the hall searching for the source of the cry, the wall seemed to grab him and swallow him up, leaving no trace of the noble patron.
Erik covered the gentleman’s mouth with one gloved hand while the other tightly gripped his neck as he dragged the man down into the lower cellars. Stepping into one of the old Communard prison cells, he shoved his hapless victim against the wall and held him there with his hand around his throat. The nobleman, unnerved by the golden eyes that glowed like a wolf’s in the darkness, nevertheless forced the fear from his voice as he demanded to be released. Erik’s hand remained, barely allowing enough oxygen to keep the man conscious.
“Bonjour, Monsieur le patron, allow me to welcome you properly to my opera house. I have a few questions that demand answers. Your release from this room, nay even your very next breath, depends upon how truthfully you answer these questions. Am I making myself clear, Monsieur?”
The blonde gentleman attempted to pull the hand from his throat but it was like pushing on an iron bar, immovable and unyielding. Gasping, he managed to reply in the affirmative and was rewarded by the lessening of the pressure to his neck.
“See?” Erik murmured softly though the cold menace never left his musical voice. “I can be reasonable, Monsieur. Continue to cooperate and you shall be back upstairs ogling the little ballet rats before you know it with an exciting tale to tell. Your name, Monsieur, as well as the name of the person who accompanied you three days ago.”
“I am Raoul, Monsieur le Fantôme, the Vicomte de Chagny and the gentleman with me that day is Jean-Louis Gachot, the Comte de Lancival. And you are…?”
“What do you know of Gachot?” Erik ignored the boy’s impertinence. “Where he lives, what he does, and with whom does he associate himself?”
“I know but little. He’s a distant cousin to the last Comte, inheriting after a yachting accident claimed the lives of the former Comte’s family, and arrived in Paris but three weeks ago. I assume he is living in the family château but do not know for certain. He overheard me discussing the patronage of the Palais Garnier with my brother and asked if he could accompany us the next time we paid a visit. I informed him as to when I would be meeting with the managers and he expressed an interest in joining me. We are but casual acquaintances, nothing more.” Satisfied that he was telling the truth, the ghost released the nobleman but remained alert to possible danger. Now that the boy was more relaxed…
“Raoul.” Erik’s golden eyes captured the Vicomte’s crystal blue ones and held him fast. That voice which could make angels curse and demons cry seemed to wrap around the young man, invading his mind and subjugating his will. When the Vicomte’s eyes glazed over, the ghost allowed himself a faint smile before continuing. “You are returning to rehearsal after getting lost in the dormitory hallways. If asked, a stagehand guided you back to the stage but you did not catch his name. Do you understand, Raoul?” At the boy’s nod, Erik quickly led him upstairs and pushed him through a secret panel underneath the staircase leading to the dorms. Before retreating back into the darkness, a quick snap of his fingers set the nobleman free of his influence.
In the house on the lake, Angelique Giry and Christine Daaé had finished their lunch and were sitting in the parlor by the fire. The silence had changed from companionable to uncomfortable. Both ladies had questions that demanded answers; yet they were as equally reluctant to ask as they were to answer. Christine dearly wanted to know more about the Opera Ghost but wasn't sure how to approach the subject without seeming incredibly rude and prying. She also dreaded the questions she knew the ballet mistress yearned to ask concerning her work at the Garnier. In the hopes of putting that particular conversation off as long as possible, not until the next millennium if she could arrange it, she chose a more neutral topic to both of them and asked about her mother. Thankfully, Madame Giry was fretting over how much she should say if the girl should ask about Erik but was also just as uncomfortable at asking about the girl’s past. When asked about Celeste Daaé, she grabbed onto the safer subject with relish. They were both giggling over some of Celeste’s more outrageous pranks when a movement in the doorway caught the younger girl’s attention.
“Erik.” Though he was a slender man, Erik seemed to fill the doorway and block all else from her view. With the darkness behind him and the flickering light of the fire playing along his angular features, he looked ominous and imposing, and every inch the Opera Ghost. Something stirred deep within her and she could feel the heat of a blush on her cheeks. Horrified, she turned her eyes back to the fireplace and wondered what on earth had gotten into her. Perhaps she wasn't feeling well? “Please come join us. Madame Giry was telling me about my mother when she was in the ballet corps.” Christine was infinitely grateful that her voice remained steady since the rest of her was shaking as if she was standing naked in a snowstorm. Yes, definitely not feeling well.
“You have had a nice visit, then?” Erik walked into the room to rest upon the mantel, reminding her once more of that big cat at the zoo. He never simply walked…he prowled and stalked from place to place. He was poetry in motion, and his graceful movements enticed her to feast her eyes upon him. Once more her cheeks flamed at her wayward thoughts and, not daring to answer, she simply nodded. He gave her a questioning look before turning to address Madame Giry. “Angelique, we have two more names to add to the list for the Persian: Jean-Louis Gachot, the Comte de Lancival, and Vicomte Raoul de Chagny.”
“The Vicomte is the new patron for the Garnier and, from all account, an honorable gentleman. He is due to ship out with the Navy in the next month or so, I believe. Some sort of expedition to the north.”
“Yes, I believe he was simply used by Gachot as entrée into Garnier. He seemed unremarkable.”
“Be careful of Gachot,” the ballet mistress warned. “There are a lot of rumors about that one, Erik. He’s not one to cross.”
“Oh I don’t plan to cross him, Angelique. I plan to kill him.” Christine shuddered at his cold, emotionless tone and was glad once more that he appeared to hold her in some esteem.