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Ascent to Power

  • Joined: 5 Apr 2007 13:23
  • Posts: 192
  • Offline
Diary of Antoinette Giry March 1870

Did I choose wisely all those years ago to help a poor mistreated boy escape his tormentors? Did the deformity of his face aid in my decision? Was it the filth of his cage that garnered my sympathy? Did I show mercy for that thin half dead little boy hoping only to take him to a safer cleaner place to die? After all these years of keeping his secrets and helping him do I regret giving him my support? Many condemned me when they learned of my connection with the one who lived in the dark recesses of the catacombs. Of course I can understand their censure as the disaster he instigated caused deaths and ruined so many lives.
The first night I saw him my heart ached for that poor innocent boy. The boy who had the face that on one side was the face of the most beautiful little angel to grace Godís heaven and on the other side looked as if the fires of hell had stormed into his motherís womb burning his flesh so that the ugliness of it equaled the beauty of the other side.

Did I feel guilty as I watched that boy strangle his tormentor? Have I ever had a moment of regret for bringing that child to the opera house? Even though the difference in our ages was not much in years, in experience and maturity we were worlds apart. I suppose that is why I always felt more like Erikís mother than his sister or had any romantic feelings toward him as he grew into a sensually handsome man. He always needed me as a child needs his mother.

He had been so lost and lonely. In the early days of our acquaintance he would not even let me touch him. If I extended my hand to him he would cower and place his hands over his head as if to protect himself from a blow. From the little I had witnessed at the fair I am sure his instincts were learned from past experience. He never expected a hand reaching out to him to mean anything good. A hand had always been used to give him pain never a loving caress. I did eventually win his trust to a certain degree but he could never allow himself the luxury of total trust.
Until Christine took over his mind he had always looked to me for approval. Once his mind set on her nothing I said or did could persuade him to change his course. Nadir I know had tried. That poor lonely boy grew into a lonely man who felt this was his one and only chance for happiness. Since he loved her she had to love him. He did not understand that this is not how love works. One can love another but not have that love reciprocated.

I grieved for that small child who grew into a desperate vengeful man. He was not always so insane. He did have his moments of lucidity. Moments when he could think of things other than Christine. Unfortunately she demanded more of him as the years passed. Her hold over him seemed like she had wrapped him in chains with a short distance between her and him. He could not or she would not allow him to stray too far. Her demands on him were constant and ever increasing in importance.

I am to this day unsure if she realized the damage she was doing to him or not. I would like to think she was too innocent to be aware of how unfairly she treated him. In light of recent events I am not so sure. We all spoiled Christine so much. Even though Meg had just lost her own father a few years before Christine came I still focused more on my adopted daughter and less on Meg. She never seemed to need me as much as Christine. Now I know that was just Meg being a kindhearted sister. She did not wish to hear Christine cry for her father so she never once protested all the attention I lavished on Christine.

If I could go back and redo things I would not have given in to Christine so much. She needed to be more independent. I should have made her behave in a more appropriate manner. I know I should have ignored her tantrums. What is done can not be undone. We are left with the life that has evolved out of all of our tragedies. Hopefully we will learn from our past making our future more secure.

All those years he was such a sweet thoughtful boy content to learn all he could. His mind was so complex. I had never in my life come across anyone as brilliant as Erik. To this day I still am in awe of him. All the things he has accomplished have been due to his own inquisitive mind. He is a self-taught man. Only when I married and ceased being his constant companion did things change. He became sullen and withdrawn. He kept secrets from me. He became bolder in the opera house.

His demands for obedience grew as the fear among the residents of the opera house grew. He demanded a salary to be paid him or retributions of an unimaginable nature would occur. As the years passed he learned the whole of The Paris Opera House from the roof down to the far reaches of the deepest buried catacomb. He built himself a small kingdom down in those damp dreary caverns. He changed many of the passages to suit his needs. Traps were set to protect what he considered his domain. The underground lake provided water for his use as well as navigating through the many tunnels. The opera house provided his nourishment in body and soul. Music became his driving passion. That is until Christine entered our lives.

Erik showed so much talent and promise I should have made more effort to bring him into the mainstream of society. There is so much he had to offer then just as he does now. So much he has had to hide over his lifetime. He had no one to appreciate his genius. I can only imagine how painful it is to create so much beauty and have no one willing to share it with you. I would listen to some of his works but that was not enough for the starving artist in Erik. If God had granted him a more pleasing face his voice would have opened many doors for him. Crowds would have given him standing ovations. Praise would have been heaped upon his head. His voice would have become legendary as would his music. He does have one of the most seductive speaking voices I have ever heard. When he sings even I feel like a young girl with the first stirrings of passion.

I should have realized his passionate voice was only rivaled by his passionate nature. If I had paid more attention I could have saved Christine and Erik so much pain. I could have saved everyone. In the end I saved no one. At first I had no concerns as he comforted the little girl Christine had been. I saw no harm in his need for a companion to share his music. Christine had a wonderful singing voice but she was not trained. Erik could give her the training she would need to take her place among the stars on stage.

If I had realized earlier how attached he became to Christine I would have tried to intervene. Once I saw how much he had come to love her in later years it was much too late to stop him from doing whatever he wanted to bring his love to join him in his kingdom. She would be his queen. If he had to kill to possess her he would. In the end he did just that. He killed in the name of his love for her. He was blinded by his first powerful feelings of lust and love.
The poor man had been cheated all his life of simple affection and love first by his mother then by the world. Things may have worked out for him if Raoul de Chagny had not come to be patron of the opera house. He and Christine had known each other as children. They had even shared a young love. Upon meeting again the old romance rekindled.
The cursed man below would not stand for anyone interfering in his plans. His lonely heart had chosen Christine. He would allow nothing to stand in his way. During this time I do feel that Erik might have harmed even me if I had tried to keep Christine away from him. She was his first love other than the first fledgling attraction he had for Meg all those years ago.

He risked all for his love only to suffer rejection in the most painful way imaginable especially for a man who prided himself on presenting a false front of pride and dignity. His deepest shame had been bared for all to see. Stripped of any dignity he may have salvaged upon being rejected by his heartís desire. If Christine had not unmasked him in front of a full opera house I wonder how things might be changed.

In Erikís defense I have to say that in the last month before things lead to that tragic night I noticed Erik was not well. He barely ate or slept. He looked to be feverish most of the time. Sweat pored from his face when he would come for his salary or the supplies I bought for him. The flush on his face led me to believe he was ill but no amount of coaxing from me could convince him to go to the doctor or let Nadir look at him. His mind was so taken with Christine and his plans to sweep off her feet and into his arms he could see nothing else. Nothing else mattered to him in his delusional state of mind.

I worry for all the ones involved in this tragedy. How could things have gone so far? Was it my fault? Should I have tried harder to influence him? I feel I should have spoken to Christine and made her realize he was not her Angel of Music but an ordinary man. One with a heart and soul both had been damaged by circumstances beyond his control.

Deep inside he had still been that lonely mistreated boy I had found twenty years ago in a traveling carnival. The same little boy I released from the cage he was never allowed to leave for three years. That is how long he suffered at the hands of the man he killed that night. I feel I am forgiven by my savior as that child had suffered so much abuse. More than a grown man would have been able to survive. I have seen the massive scars on his back which are only rivaled by the ones on his face and heart. If things could have gone differently for him he would have been a tremendous gift to the world. Who knows he may still find that one place where he fits, the one spot on earth that was designated by God himself for Erik to be happy and loved as he should have been all his life.

Nadir has assured me he will take care of him now. I do not know the whole of the story behind their relationship. I know bits and pieces. I do know Nadir can be trusted to give him the best of care as he feels he is family. Nadir is not old enough to be his father but perhaps he plays the roll of reluctant older brother. I know by long term experience how hard it is to curb and care for someone who does not fit into any pigeon holes I am familiar with. No, our Phantom is a whole new category.

It is just as well Raoul and Christine have gone into hiding. When his strength returns he may well decide to try and recapture Christine. Even knowing of her betrayal and the part she took in the attempt to capture or kill him he loves her still. Nadir has said he calls for Christine incessantly while in delirium.

Perhaps I should have encouraged him years ago when he first had a crush on Meg. She was thirteen at the time and my motherly instincts would not allow him to even think of such a thing. In maturity and experience he was as young as she was but in age he was about twenty-five. We were never really sure how old he was. We took a calculated guess. I had made him promise to leave my daughter alone and he did. He never let her know he was haunting the opera house. The most she ever saw was a fleeting glimpse of a shadow.

In hindsight I should have made him promise to leave Christine alone as well. So much tragedy could have been avoided. In my ignorance I thought it would be good if he had an interest. Teaching Christine how to use her God given talent for singing did not seem inappropriate as he had been singing her to sleep since the first night she came to the opera house as a little girl of seven just two months before her eighth birthday.

In retrospect there are many things I could have done differently. Do I ever regret saving that boy? That poor sweet innocent little boy? I give a resounding NO! NO! NO! I only regret not taking better care of him. I should have been the one to teach him how to fit in. Instead I allowed him to hide away. Separated from all things human. I pray things go well for him. He has a second chance to make a life for himself. I will pray each morning and each night for him to find happiness. I pray the hardest for him to find a love that is returned a hundred fold. He deserves that. Yes my Erik deserves that and more. So much more. I will say good-night dear diary. I must leave so I may pray for Erik and all my loved ones. Until next time hold my secrets safe.

Antoinette Giry

Diary of Antoinette Mercer 1872

These last two years have been so stressful. All the strife our country has gone through has devastated everyone. I have not been able to write as much as I wished as it was a struggle to survive. I am so glad we were among the lucky ones who escaped imprisonment or worse. So many did not. People were crazy. I am not a political person. I do not know all that took place during the Commune. I only know you took your life in your hands when you ventured out into the streets. Food was so scarce. Imagine eating the poor caged animals from the zoo in order to have nourishment. I suppose it is not much different than any other animal it just seems wrong somehow. Thankfully Meg and I did not have to resort to anything so drastic. We went to the country to stay with one of my cousins. They were not rich in money but had plenty of good food on the table. The problems in Paris thankfully did not reach us that much. We had an occasional traveler asking for food or a night spent in the barn. We ask no questions and they volunteered nothing. That system worked for everyone. I did not know who would have been my enemy in any case as I have never had concerns other than the arts. Sometimes I do love living in blissful ignorance.

One good thing happened. I fell in love and married. I had thought I would end my days taking care of Megís children when she has them or living alone and forgotten. My dear Roberto has given me a second chance at life. I have grabbed at this chance greedily. To my sorrow my happiness was exchanged for my daughterís innocence. God why do these things happen?

I am shocked when I read Raoulís letters. I save them for the simple fact that if I did not have this proof I could not bring myself to believe Christine could have turned her back on Meg. A girl she called sister since she was seven years old and I brought her to live with us.
At least Raoul has reassured me he will act on her behalf. That young man has matured so much over the last two years. I suppose the things that have happened to him have made him leave his remaining boyish dreams behind.

Diary of Antoinette Mercer 1873

All the letters I receive come sporadically. Things happen and I do not learn of them until it is too late to change anything. Raoul and I have finally reached an agreement of sorts. He will watch over Meg when they travel to America. She will stay with them as Christineís companion. Reading between the lines I feel this is more Raoulís idea than Christineís. It makes no difference to me as long as my poor Meg is safe and happy. Raoul has assured me she is and that they have become close. Not in any romantic way. He looks upon her as a sister.

I did receive a letter from Meg confirming much of what Raoul had already written to me. She however did not mention anything about her ordeal or her future troubles. Receiving this letter made me see the sense of want Raoul said about not going to be with her. She wants to sort things out on her own. I do not care what anyone says or thinks I will be there when my daughter delivers my first grandchild. Not even Erik at his most fierce moment could keep me away. The weather is not conducive to travel just now but in a few more weeks that should change. If she delivers before I arrive at least I will be there when she needs assistance.

It will be so good to see everyone again. Even Erik. I miss him more than I thought I would. I wish to see him and how much he has grown as a man. Nadir writes once in a while but he has to be discrete for we all know Erik will read his mail. Erik does not know the concept of privacy. Or at least as it relates to others. He has no qualms about expecting his own privacy to be honored while abusing that right of others.

Raoul, Meg and Christine should be in America by now. I have not received any letters in about four months. I suppose with the voyage over then having to get settled in they are too busy to drop me a line. It doesnít matter. I already sent a letter to Nadir informing him of their arrival. I told him that Roberto and I should be there in about two months. Hopefully we will have a swift and smooth crossing.

Diary of Antoinette Mercer1873

It has been two weeks since my last entry. Depending on if the rocking of the ship affects me or not this may be my last entry until we reach dry land. I have not mentioned it to Roberto but I am scared to death to travel on water in a dinghy, ship or even to swim in water.

Things are all ready and we are just heading out to board our ship that will transport us to America. Roberto has been teasing me. He says I am as giggly as a school girl. I suppose I am. I have prepared Roberto for Erik. I think he will like Erik. He is man of fifty and has never had any children. He already considers Meg his adopted daughter. He is looking forward to being called Grand Papa. I on the other hand am torn. I like the idea of being a grandmother but to actually be called Grand Mama does not sit well with me. Well I have many weeks to come to terms with this. I pray for everyoneís safety and continued happiness.

Posted on: 4 Jun 2008 2:41
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Re: Ascent to Power

  • Joined: 5 Apr 2007 13:23
  • Posts: 192
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Erik, Nadir, Darius 1870 to 1873
Chapter One
Love Denied Does Not Kill

The lone dark figure dragged his pain wracked body through the dark Paris night. This was a pain the man had never experienced so acutely. This pain was caused by the love he had for a woman. Or rather love on his part. The matter of her affections for him had been in question until tonight. A woman so far beyond him she traveled with angels. At times he thought her the angel even when she used to ask for her Angel of Music as she searched for him in her lonely night time hours. She was the angel not him. He was far too demonic. A monster in face and deed. A monster he was born. Now as a monster he would die.

Why had he fostered the lie? How could he expect any good to come from the lie? He knew why he encouraged the deception. One time in his life he had given comfort and it had been accepted, even welcomed. His need to have some gentleness, to experience love drove him to foster the lie for so many years. He had received the love of the child. Later he wanted the love of the woman. He wanted to show her he was a man and not a ghost or angel. Just a man who loved her with all that was in him. Every breath he took was for her. Each note he wrote was for her. He had made the mistake of taking her to his home and letting her get close enough to remove his mask. Until that point she had been more than willing to stay with him. Even eager. She had responded to his few tentative caresses. She could accept that he was not her Angel of Music. She could even accept the reality of him as a man. She could not accept the horror of his face.

He was nothing more than a man. A man living in darkness his whole life. A man kept apart from society because his face did not meet the approval of those who thought less of him because of a deformity he did not choose to burden himself with. Now the truth was shown to all of the Paris opera society who had been present on this his first and last performance as a composer and performer. It had all ended in a fiery catastrophe of his own engineering. There was no one else who held blame. It was all his doing. Every last hateful deceitful deed. As much as he blamed Raoul for all that had befallen him, in truth he could not even share his guilt with his hated rival.

Puddles from the thaw a few days prior, still sloshed water as he walked, soaking his clothes and boots. With the temperature dropping a thin coating of ice had begun to form. He had not thought to bring his cloak, hat or gloves. What difference would it have made anyway? His goal was not to survive but to perish. The man felt his life hanging by a thread in this land of the living. A thread he was all too willing to sever.

A few short hours ago it had begun to rain then gradually becoming sleet then turning to snow again and the mercury on the thermometer was headed downward. In his hiding place in the alley behind the opera house he had watched the chaotic mass of humanity trying to save the burning building. Almost four hours passed before he could leave his position behind the stack of crates in the alley. He found a little warmth in the debris around him. It gave him a little shelter from the weather while also blocking the wind. Water dripped from his clothing. His hair and skin were soaked as well. He shivered from the chilling rain that had turned to freezing rain then snow. He did not want to die here in this alley and be found and dragged through the streets as the oddity of the moment.

Once a proud man commanding hundreds of people at the Paris Opera House to do his bidding now he was reduced to the mess of a man who sought not to die in the streets or alley ways of Paris. He could not rest easy knowing all of Paris was viewing his face and his personal shame. Christine had already served him a nasty dish of humiliation. He hungered for not one scrap more of that bitter meal. He sought a safe quiet place to lay his head as he gave up on this miserable existence he had lived for thirty grueling years. Not a great number of years for the normal man but a seeming eternity for the deformed tortured soul dying from lack of love. He was dying for tenderness of any sort. He had never felt the stroke of a loving hand. No lips had brushed tender kisses upon his face, his lips.

He had left his nearly destroyed home in the hands of the fire brigade and volunteers struggling to save something they knew in their hearts was already too far gone to make a difference. The gendarmes more than likely had gone into his home looking for him along with the local police. He saw many surrounding the opera house itself. The mob infiltrating his home in the fifth cellar had no doubt destroyed his precious realm of tranquility. The torches of the onlookers rivaled the blaze of the fire. The noise of the excited crowd roared louder than the gas light explosions. The raining glass did not deter anyone from staying and watching that regal building turn to charred ash. This was live entertainment and cost them not one sou.

The poor of the city thought it just that they were able to witness this end to a place where they would never find a welcoming gesture. If they could afford the price of admission they did not have the proper clothing to gain an easy or welcome entrance to the hallowed halls of the wealthy elite of Paris. The nobles did not rub shoulders with the common man unless the man were a servant drawing his bath or putting him to bed after a night spent too deep in his cups.

The merciful darkness shielded the furtive specter from those who hunted him with his death in the forefront of their minds. One painful tortured step after another, moving from one dark shadowed corner to another he made his way further from the inferno of the opera house. His opera house. His home. If he cared to look he could see flames shooting into the sky as explosions set off rumblings in the surrounding areas and the vibrations shook the windows several blocks around the burning building. He cared not that his former home was well on itís way to ashes. No thoughts other than to seek out a peaceful place to die entered his immediate concerns.

He made his way slowly through the dark familiar alleyways. This was his domain. He had lived in the darkness of night for so long he could barely remember what daylight looked like. His skin was so pale from lack of exposure to the sun. Now he looked close to deaths door. Indeed he looked as if the angel of death had called him to follow him into that shadow world of black eternity.

The man leaned tiredly against a wall. He closed his eyes trying to block out the sight of the rushing crowd headed toward his former home. The Paris Opera House. He was far enough away that the sound of the explosions had become muffled.

Breathing deeply he coughed nearly going to his knees in weakness. His body shivered with cold. Strangely he felt hot inwardly. He seemed not to feel the cold as he had earlier. Shoving himself away from the wall he continued on his set path. Soon he would have his release from this life of pain this torturous lonely existence. In his opinion he should have been allowed to die at birth. If his mother had not been so cowardly she would have ended his life as soon as she saw him. She had always wished for the strength to take his pitiful life but her religious convictions had stood between her killing her son and allowing him to taint the world with his presence. His mother had never let him forget how much of a burden he was or her wish for his demise. Often he had heard her pray for just such an occurrence. Her son being the spawn of some hellish demon had thwarted her at every turn.

He was no longer even aware of the cold night air taking the warmth from his body for the coldness in his heart had no rival. The pain in the manís body was equaled only by the pain in his heart. A pain that made his chest feel as if someone had reached deep inside and ripped his still beating heart from him. A heart that had only known the pulse beats of love for such a short time. A life lived in misery finally had hopes of finding that one thing all humans have a right to expect. Something that normally starts with parents and ends with a family of oneís own. Love. Oh the simplicity of that sweet word. How he had longed to have that emotion returned by anyone. He had hoped, prayed, begged God to show him mercy and allow him this one thing he craved most. He should have remembered God had cast him to hell the moment his father's seed was planted in his mother's womb.

Love had never known this poor tortured disfigured soul until Christine Daať. Love had not been given or received. Until Christine he had only two loves. The loves of his life were his music and the opera house he made his home. For a short time he had fooled himself that Christine could love him. In the most painful way possible she had proved she cared not one whit for him. Her action of betrayal made it seem as if she almost hated him in fact. No one could do what she had done to him and have even the smallest bit of affection for the one they betrayed.

So briefly had he known the joy of his love for his angel. Only long enough for his heart to learn to share its beat with another. Long enough to dream of a life shared and now all lay in ashes. His dreams. His hopes. His love. Even his beautiful home The Paris Opera House. All gone in but a few hours of a plan born of a doomed obsession. A desperation.

All lay in ashes under a thin layer of freshly fallen white snow. How innocent the white looked next to the charred ruins still smoldering in the darkness. The hiss of the melting snow as it fell upon the remains of that once grand building of music and dance gave evidence to the fire that had burned hours ago. Now all lay wet from the feeble attempt to save the fast burning monument to so much talent. The rain had doused the remainder of the flames while cooling the hot remains. The snow continued to fall heavily soon blanketing the ugly remains as if nature wanted to hide the blemish under her concealing pure white blanket.

That pure white beauty covered the ugliness of his evil deed. A pure white blanket to cover his sin, cover the shame of his failure to be a man. To have this deceiving blanket cover all his sins would be a kindness and mercy from the heavens. A mercy denied him throughout his life. As he trudged through the deserted alleyways he prayed to a God he often had doubts of existing to show him mercy now.

He prayed for the depth of the cleansing snow to be so deep as to cover all until such time as the warming temperature melted that heaven sent blanket and the charred remains of the opera house had turned to dust. An unreasonable request but in this moment his thoughts were not clear or realistic. His body felt on fire but it shook with chills. His head hurt with tormenting images of Christine in the arms of her knight and savior. That damn boy with his charm and handsome perfect face. Each tortured breath he thought might be his last as his head began to swirl as if he had turned to many times in a circle. His skull felt ready to split with his fevered thoughts and pain.

God! How he wished he could go back and change things. Take back the last few hours. Change his lust dominated decisions. Now that a modicum of sanity was returning to him he saw the futility of his actions along with the destruction of all he held dear in this world.

Madame Giry and her daughter along with hundreds were homeless and without employment due to his blinding obsession with his Angel. He could place no blame at her door. The responsibility for this horror lay exclusively on his monstrous shoulders. A weight he would have to bare as he did so many others. His life was one huge burden. At times it seemed as if the weight of the world was on his back as if he were Atlas supporting that blue sphere in the heavens. Such was far from the truth. He was a mere mortal man burdened with a horrific face and equally horrific life.

Nothing was left but the pain of loss and hopelessness of all the tomorrows lived in loneliness and loss unless some kind fate granted his wish for death which he was sure was imminent. He had no fear of a long life for he knew he would die soon as his heart could not go on much longer under the stress of his pain. The burning searing pain surely must kill him. For hours he waited for death to claim him but that dark angel did not see fit to visit just yet.

Even in death he was a failure for his miserable life was to continue. Death had not been his reward. Failure to live wisely and failure to die a timely death this was his legacy. A failure in all things normal men have was an insult to his genius but love had taken all reason and sensibility from him in the moments when he thought on the life he and Christine could ultimately share. In those moments his genius had deserted him. He became an imbecilic boy. Careless with all that was important to him.

His lust for Christine and his desire for love of a woman drove him to ruin. His genius was matched only by his madness in this time of his quest for the one thing he wanted most, love. Such a puny emotion yet with the power to unman him, guide his actions and control his thoughts. Not that he was ever truly considered a man. Oh no. Demon. Monster. Angel of Music. Phantom of the Opera. This was not half the names he could claim as his own.

So many titles attributed to one man. With so many titles one had to wonder why he was not conceited or thought of as someone of great importance. At this moment he would like to claim the title of corpse. Not the living corpse as he was once called during his stellar career as a freak of nature in a sideshow. Heaven forbid not that. Oh to lay claim to death at this moment of his greatest pain would induce him to rethink his ideas of God not existing or being merciful.

All these random bits of his past played across his inner eye. God what a fool he had been. An aging fool. He should have remembered. Light does not exist in the dark. He was pure darkness. His angel was pure light. Christine, the love of his life, had been the destroyer of his soul. The knife that plunged deeply into his heart came when she removed his one precious shield from the world, his mask. Further twisting of that sharp blade came with her words of rejection. The blade cut deep. Death was but a short distance away.

Beaten by love for a woman and her betrayal of his love for her had left him heartbroken and soulless. He felt he was surely at deaths door knocking at heavens gate or more likely hells burning pit considering all the sins he had committed. Yes, he would be in hell soon. No man could continue to live with this much pain. Death would be a welcome release for his tortured and twisted soul.

This was the state of the man that dropped tiredly on the doorstep of the one person he considered his dearest friend other than Madame Giry. If a monster could claim friendship Nadir Kahn was his one true friend. Nadir Kahn was the person who knew him even better than he knew himself. The only other person he trusted with his true name and his very life.

Nadir Kahn had been in his life since his time in Persia as an assassin for the Shah and his demented mother. Those two people had contributed to the loss of a large piece of his soul and brought forth the deepest and darkest corners of his mind to create devices for torture and death. As a young man of eighteen he had left the safety of the opera house to travel the world. He had secured a position as an architect on the presentation of drawings alone. He hired a man as his agent to present his proposals for upcoming building projects. The young man had told the owner of the firm he was a recluse. His face had been badly scarred in a fire in his home as a child and did not like to appear in public.

Knowing a man of the caliber of this unknown architect could go to another competitor and gain a position the young reclusive man had been hired sight unseen. That had lasted for almost a year until clients demanded to see who designed the homes they would occupy. A man who hid from society may well have evil intentions. Illegal acts could well be hidden by his anonymity. That life had been discarded without a backward glance.

Russia had been the next stop in his travels. For a time he performed as a magician who sang to entertain with his angelic voice as he performed his magic. His mask seemed part of his act so raised few questions. His mind was always seeking further knowledge than what was immediately available around him. He had been in Russia performing and amazing crowds with his magic when life again changed for the young traveler.

When Nadir Kahn had come to offer him the position as an advisor and architect for the Shah of Persia he eagerly accepted. He would design and supervise the building of a new palace and design different projects to dispose of criminals. Erik had been eager to explore his fascination for death and ways to bring it about. His interest was in the invention not the use of these devices. A talent he excelled in and drew the attention of the Shahís mother.

A more twisted soul could not be found beyond the fires of hell. She was a true life monster. A soul so twisted it even rivaled Erikís own tortured soul even at the height of his madness. Her penchant for blood had lured Erik to the point where he was almost lost forever. His hatred for humans and their cruelties had fed his rage for a time. He lost himself in the glory of taking even a minute portion of revenge on the humanity that had shunned and ridiculed him his whole life.

For a time it mattered not that the souls his devices put to death had no baring on how he had been treated in the past. What drove him was having his moment to know that in their last moments before death they begged his pardon and he allowed their demise without compunction. The defining moment and changing of his satisfaction to guilt had been when he learned that women and children had been put to death for no other reason than the evil demon woman took pleasure in the bloodletting. No true crime need be committed. The Khanum said you were guilty and that made it so. No trial and no defense. Just the sentence of death.

Never had Erik taken his rage and anger out on the weaker beings of his species. He revered women even though his experience with his mother and other female encounters had left him feeling less than a man and more the monster and demon as he had been told he was since he was a small child. Some ingrained integrity and goodness would not allow him to harm a child or a woman. He could show indifference to their passing but not aid in the ending of their lives.

Erikís conscience would not allow for the slaughter of innocent women and children. The putting to death of a woman guilty of a crime caused him a moment of silent regret but the total disregard of guilt or innocence of those being put to death daily had taken his soul into a dark realm he feared he could not escape. Nightmares began to plague him and nearly taken his sanity from him.

To be put to death for a crime was one thing but to die for someoneís sick twisted pleasure was quit another. When the true use of his devises came to light Erik could not stand idly by and let it continue. He dismantled the mechanisms that made his devices work and refused to reassemble them.

So the beginning of the end of his life in Persia had started. With the help of Nadir Khan he had escaped Persia barely with his life but with a little of the treasures of the palace traveling with him. The bags of diamonds, gold coins and other precious jewels he considered ample compensation for his services. Yes, a few sacks of wealth in exchange for the abrupt loss of employment and home. To Erik it had seemed a fair exchange. The Shah and Khanum had not agreed. They could not make Erik pay so they chose to make his accomplice pay. Nadir had spent three years imprisoned by the rulers of Persia.

Escape had not been an easy task. Erik had suffered much torture and merciless beatings at the hand of the Shahís mother before an escape could be planned and implemented. That womanís darkness made Erik seem like a ray of light. Erik would never admit openly but he was somewhat frightened by the woman. He never showed his fear in her presence. A glimpse of fear in Erikís eyes would have been the end as that evil woman would have fed on his fear and used it to control him. Such a beautiful woman on the exterior but so horrendously ugly on the inside. This was the woman who had set her sights on Erik the moment she set eyes on him as he entered the palace. Her lust for blood was only equaled by her lust to have Erik in her bed and under her complete control.

Having known he would not hold favor with the rulers for long he had set in motion ways to secure wealth that could be quickly gathered in case of a hasty need for flight. This forethought had allowed him to escape Persia with more wealth than one man could hope to spend in a lifetime. Erik considered it a fair recompense for the Shah and his motherís misuse of his talents. Nadir helped him then and he would help him now.

The man at Nadirís door was fearfully known as The Phantom of the Opera or The Opera Ghost. A specter alive but still a ghostly visage. He had haunted The Paris Opera House for over twenty years. A trickster let loose among superstitious volatile performers he had let his imagination have free reign.

Having a mother who could not even stand to touch her infant son to feed him caused a deep hurt and pain in him. A pain he thought never to heal. Her gift of the damn mask when he was but only an hour old became more than a way to hide his hideous face. It was a shield against those who would hurt him. With his mask he felt stronger. His mother could never understand how she could have a child that looked like he was part demon and part angel. His ability to learn quickly and his musical skills convinced her she had bore a child touched by Satan. Never once did it cross her feeble brain that her son could be a God given gift to the world with his talents for music and song.

Longing to rid herself of her burden but having religious convictions to prevent her ending his life she eventually salved her conscience by letting Gypsies take him with the promise of a better life among those willing to accept oddities in their mist. How the woman could have deluded herself had always mystified Erik. As a small boy he had been a piece of property the gypsies had placed on display in their sideshow as a horror from hell. He was The Devilís Child. The Living Corpse. The title varied from time to time. The only thing that stayed the same was the cruelty.

Those hated names his mother would have agreed fitting as she considered him a demon born as a curse for some sin she had committed. That woman had never been able to look at her son with anything other than fear and disgust. She had been all to eager to accept the few coins in her hand from Jacques, the Gypsy king in exchange for her small seven year old son. The cloth sack had drawn curious looks as the caravan passed. The oddity of his looks catching Jacques eye as their wagons had driven by the yard he was playing in on that hot summer day. One of the last peaceful and carefree moments Erik would have for many years. One of the few times he had been allowed to leave his dark basement bedroom. An unexpected treat that led to tragedy for the small disfigured boy. With a few coins passing from one hand to another he went from purgatory to hell in a few short minutes.

The exchange of those few paltry coins of ill-gotten gain led to the next five years of torture for the little boy. Five years of gawking, horrified, and leering faces. Five years of near starvation for the body and complete starvation for the soul of the youngster who was caged and beaten and treated as little more than an animal No, that comparison was unfair for the animals were treated far better than the poor creature they caged and gave so little care. No, he was not like an animal. He was regarded as less than those beasts of burden and exotic wonder. He was a monster housed in the body of flesh and bone and sinew.

The one comfort of this pitiful creature was a figure of a monkey he had fashioned from bits and pieces he found left by the crowds of onlookers that visited his cage to stare and torment. He drew solace from this lifeless piece of discarded garbage. A comfort to a lost soul who had no love and comfort from any living human source because even as he entered the world he was destined for loneliness and heartbreak. To others it would seem to be nothing more than a crudely fashioned attempt to make a toy but to the boy if was a friend that he drew strength and solace in the hours after each night of display and beatings. To him it was a friend to give hope in his hopeless situation. A friend to tell his hopes and dreams to that he had long ago given up achieving only a small flicker remaining in his desolate existence.

At the age of ten he had been driven to fight back one night by a particularly vicious attack. The young boyís anger finally could be contained no longer. A hate and rage so strong it gripped him in an unrelenting fury and fueled his mind to seek one thing and one thing only. Escape. Escape from his cage. Escape from his torture.

As his cruel tormentor stood outside his cage greedily picking up the coins tossed at the small heap of humanity the boy had put his small arms through the cage and given strength in his anger he had killed the man in a strangle hold fueled by years of anger that built up to that one moment that pushed a young soul beyond endurance to the point of taking a life. The surge of power in that moment of pure hate gave the small boy strength beyond what his small frame should possess. The boy had no remorse. No guilt in the taking of a life. Until his anger cooled and the red haze of a murderous rage had left him he stood and looked at the still dead form of his tormentor. No thoughts expressed by a change in his facial features. No emotion showed on his face at all. The eyes void of all emotion. An empty vessel. A body without benefit of a soul.

If not for the pity of a young ballerina who had attended his humiliation on this night he would have been hung for his crime. The young ballerina, Antoinette LaSalle, had been at the fair with other ballerinas from the opera house looking for entertainment and fun. Instead what she found was a little boy only a few years younger than herself caged like an animal being beaten worse than any animal she had ever seen. His reluctance to remove his mask had brought the old Gypsyís cane down on the boys back in vicious flesh tearing blows. Each strike of the cane upon the boys back had made her young girlís heart cringe in pain as if the blows hit her own flesh.

The removal of his mask and the jeers from the men and horrified screams of the women and children in the unfeeling crowd had seemed to take what little life the small crouching figure had left. His dirty little body lay in the filth beneath him on the cage floor not moving. The only sign of life the fast rise and fall of his too thin chest. He lay in misery with his dark green eyes looking into her eyes begging for a mercy Antoinette at sixteen had no idea how to give as much as she wanted to. She had stayed long after the others left looking on in pity as the trembling and bleeding boy lay and knew he prayed for death. To her shame she gave her own prayer for his quick end. Better a quick death than this death little by little.

She watched as he crept up behind the man counting the coins that had been tossed at the boy in the cage and greedily gathered by the man more caring of the coins than the boy he beat nearly unconscious to please a crowd of ignorant humanity. She could have given warning but something had held her tongue and she watched in silent horror as events played out in front of her innocent eyes.

Having taken the manís life the boy after a time of silent comtemplation fell to the ground clutching his only friend a toy of some sort to his bony chest. The empty look in his eyes gave way to fear. The despair in his eyes and the pleading for one scrap of human kindness guided her young heart that fated night and held her tongue in silence as she witnessed this sin.

Hearing voices and the sound of men approaching she had searched the manís pockets for and found a key that released the boy from his prison. She had led him through the dark deserted streets of Paris and hid him in the cellars of the opera house.

After that night she lost a small portion of her innocence. A small dark stain was on her soul but she had in all the years of her life never regretted those moments of guilty silence. Given the chance to go back and change it all she would not choose a different path. Even after Erikís insanity and his destruction of the only home and employment of hundreds of people she considered it a fair exchange. A world with Erik in it was a far better world than one without his genius and music.

No, not for one moment had she held any regret over saving and releasing him. Her regret had always been that she could not get Erik to except he had more to offer than the small disfigurement that covered such a small portion of his body. Given the beauty of his voice and body he was more attractive than most men she knew. With his gift for composition and verse he could make an impact on the world for the better. That was until she had brought Christine into his small world.

That night of his first murder was the start of the boyís new life. A life lived five cellars down underneath the opera house. This was where his love for music was born and his seductive and hypnotic voice came into maturity.

He became a ghost. Not quite seen but heard and most assuredly felt. The Phantom of the Opera or Opera Ghost. Too many names had been his title over the intervening years. Non labeled him a man. A part of the human race but still held apart from it. He was an apparition not a man. Or so he led the occupants of the establishment to believe.
So easily they believed this face to belong to the devil. In this manner they excused their intolerant attitude and lack of care for a fellow being. If he were a monster or possessed of evil the treatment he received they considered just. If they would but ask two questions they may have seen things differently. Who was the monster in this drama?

The small frightened creature that had no defense against those horrible blows or the so called children of God who stood by and watched as ill treatment was dispatched for entertainment?

As he grew up he composed musical scores and original operas. The music was balm to his ravaged soul. He demanded they be performed. Singers and dancers were to be given parts as he saw fit. At first they guffawed at his audacity. This must be a prankster. Some practical joke taken to the extreme. The notes with the demands were discarded as so much rubbish. Soon they learned to take a more serious look at this ghost of their opera house. The accidents and near deaths brought them to their knees and quickly they saw the sense in capitulation.

They did not perform his operas for they could not have an unknown gracing their beautiful theatre but they decided to heed his advice somewhat on the running of the opera house itself. He made the demand for twenty thousand francs a month be paid as his salary. The money was to be left by Madame Giry in box five who even through her short marriage and birth of her child had remained a source of a tenuous friendship to this ghostly visage.

The young ballerina who once took pity on a poor caged child of the devil had grown up and married and had had a child of her own. A little girl named Margarite or Meg as she later became as Margarite seemed to large a name for such a tiny fragile girl. Antoinette Giry became the ballet mistress of the opera house after an accident prevented her from dancing again. Her husbandís death had left Antoinette free to spend more time with the ghost and for him the passing of her loved one was a blessing. Did he feel sorrow for her loss? Not much. He could only grasp that it was to his advantage as it allowed his friend more time to spend with him.

Life had gone on and Erik had terrorized the opera residents and got his way in the running of the opera by force and threats. This ghost wielded so much power over all the opera house. Life would have continued in this fashion if not for the arrival a little girl. A girl so grief stricken by the loss of her father she readily believed the voice from the walls and behind her mirror speaking to her was the Angel of Music her father had promised her. Alas it was only Erik trying for once to comfort a human. Her cries had touched his cold heart as no other had. Erik did not consider himself to be in the same category as others. How could he be with half angel and half demon marring his face? He had been told all his life he was a demon so who was he to dispute such statements? One look in a mirror gave strength to the harsh words condemning him to solitude and loneliness.

The entrance of that little girl with the chocolate colored hair and her warm sad brown eyes was the beginning of the end for Erik nay I should say the end of The Phantom of the Opera. With her coming a foul wind blew through the corridors of the opera house and brought devastating changes for all who lived there. The road to destruction took ten long years to come to the final death blow to the lives of all connected in his sad tale. The harbinger of doom had a name and her name was Christine Daať.

Even as a grieving child she had captivated the lonely young man Erik had been. As he matured and Christine did as well he went from wanting to teach her voice to soar with the angels to wanting to share the delights of flesh to flesh that other men took for granted. His association with Christine was doomed even before Erik had any interest other than as a tutor. Christine was not a strong person and had a weak character. She needed constant reassurance and attention. Erikís very passion that promised his devotion into eternity was too overpowering for Christine. She wanted a gentler passion. Her childhood sweetheart was the one she chose not the poor demented fool who promised her the world and a life of passion and devoted love.

At first Erik only gave comfort to a small child by letting her believe the voice that reached out in the darkness to chase away the loneliness was the angel her dead father had promised her on his death bed would come in her time of sorrow. The Angel of Music.

He had invested so much of his passion in this one little vessel of humanity. Ten years he had watched her grow to a beautiful woman. A woman who stole his heart from his very chest and stilled the very breath in his lungs. He taught her to send her voice to the very heavens to compete with the angels. How could he do anything other than fall in love with this innocent beauty? A heart that had been black and cold now beat with the warmth of love. He had been so sure of her. After giving her his very soul and she embraced his talents and shared his precious music she had to return his love. Young at only seventeen to his thirty he thought their music and song would bridge any gape. His love for her would make any age difference insignificant.

He should have known. Fate had never rewarded him with anything but sorrow and pain why should he believe this angel could have been his? This light in his world of darkness would shy away from him. He should have protected his heart but in his foolish quest to have what other men have he had left himself open and unguarded. She had ripped apart what was left of his soul and left him an empty shell. Music could not fill the deep hole Christine left in his chest where his heart should have been beating a rhythm to match his music. Nothing could ever fill that void.

That boy had come to spoil his dream. Her dear friend from her childhood the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny. Oh, what bitterness that name brought to his mind. To speak it was like poison dripping from his tongue. That horrible noble young blueblood had taken Christineís young heart and allegiance with little effort. Erik had witnessed their declaration of love on the rooftop of the opera house and set in motion events that led to the loss of life and the destruction of the opera house and the lives of all who lived and worked within itís walls.

In his black jealous rage all sane thoughts fled his mind. His insanity reached a level that no one could make him see the impossibility of what he wanted so badly. Her heart had been won as soon as she saw the young vicomte again. Erik's one thought was to get her to come and be his wife. Foolish impossible delusions of a man made mad with unrequited love. He had cut the cord on the chandelier he had rigged to fall as a precaution bringing it down in a blaze of glory on the heads of all the fools who had come to see his masterpiece he had forced them to perform. His first and only opera to be viewed by an audience. Don Juan Triumphant. No triumph had been his. Only failure graced his actions. He had thought it ingenious to replace Piangi with himself and declare his love to Christine during the performance. In his arrogance and lust for this little angel he had not counted on her betrayal. In front of those prying eyes she had removed his mask and exposed his vulnerable well kept secret. The one thing that could bring him to his knees. Revealing his face to the world. The shame and sorrow of his life. The awfulness of his monstrous face.

His anger had driven him to unspeakable actions. All the plotting and planning and he had been undone by the touch of her innocent sweet lips. Two intensely sensual and persuasive touches of her honeyed lips and he had fallen apart. Caved as only a man who has never known that soft salutation. He had crumbled before her and let her and that damnable boy go. Released them to go and leave him in his misery.

He had known it would be only a matter of time and his heart would kill him for surely no one could live forever with this strangling crushing pain in their chest. It stole the very breath from his lungs. He had flirted with the temptation to allow the angry mob of theatre patrons and gendarmes to find him in his lair but his pride would not allow them to display his horrible self for all to see. He would slink off and die alone as it was meant to be. He had rushed toward this day since he first drew breath and longed for it all the days in his mothers hate filled care. His life had been one long waiting period for his eventual demise. Thirty years awaiting his eventual death and relief from the agony of his existence in a world that did not want him or any part of him. Not his angelic voice and certainly not his heavenly music.

So that is how he found himself here lying spent on the bare boards of Nadirís doorstep. Dying of love with his heart in seemingly irreparable pieces somewhere in the hands of the young diva who fled with her lover a few hours ago leaving her Angle of Music in hell.

The one being in all the world he knew who would allow him to die in peace and dignity lived behind that closed door. He would allow him to rid the world of his unwanted personage. Nadir would understand and allow him this mercy.

The trembling hand barely had enough strength to knock feebly upon the door. Two strikes upon the door then the weakness overtook the man leaving him spent near death.
Perhaps he had some of those Persian potions that would send a man into a darkness from which he never returned.

That was Erikís last coherent thought as he passed out and lay flat on his back with his face exposed in a way that would enrage him at any other time. Now in the moment of his greatest torment he could care less. He welcomed the darkness of oblivion for it offered a respite from the world of such cruelty toward a beast broken and humiliated by a loverís cruel rejection.

The pitiful man lay in a drenched heap shivering from an unnatural coldness and fever induced chills. His breaths seeming to come in labored gasps. His chest rattling in a disturbing rhythm. This was the condition of the man when the door opened. The Phantom of the Opera. Opera Ghost. His human name was simply Erik. Erikís guardian would offer assistance.

Posted on: 5 Jun 2008 2:32

Edited by Hot4Gerry on 5 Jun 2008 3:04:20
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Re: Ascent to Power

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Looks like picking up after the classic through the diary of Mme Giry. I see some hint of Susan Kay's Phantom. Nicely done. Good storytelling. Brava! Thank you for not bogging it down with a ton of dialogue. Good job! Very original!

In the future, don't post too much at once. It's a lot to digest.

Otherwise well done! Please continue!

Brava, brava, bravissimi!

Posted on: 5 Jun 2008 14:21
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Re: Ascent to Power

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Chapter Two
Healing Wounds and Healing Heart

Darius was just going to retire for the night when he thought he heard a knock upon the door. Noting the time he knew it would not be welcome news. Nothing good came with a knock at two in the morning. He would have been in bed hours ago if not for the nagging feeling that he was needed and should be prepared to help. To calm his nerves he had baked bread and homemade pastries. He had just finished cleaning. He was on his way to bed having decided his intuition was wrong when he heard the faint knock. If he had been in bed he would not have heard such a feeble knock.

Darius cautiously went to the door. He pressed his ear to the door but heard not one sound. He had a feeling that whatever was behind the door had something to do with Master Erik. He had dreamed of him last night. It had been a most disturbing dream. It had involved fire and death. Darius opened the door and saw the man lying unconscious, wet, and shivering at his feet. One look at the figure lying in a heap on his masterís front step and his heart contracted in sympathy and despair.

Master Khan and I knew this day would come. The stubborn fool would not listen to any warning from either of us. Master Khan and I have prayed so hard for your tortured soul. Master Erik why would you not heed or warnings. Hr love was not for you. We warned you many times. It seems as if all our warnings have been in vain. Allah forgive whatever you have done Master Erik.

He stepped out to pick up the man and his eyes were drawn to the blaze of light coming from the direction of the opera house. The night sky was alight as if a thousand candles burned. Bending down he put his right arm under Erik and lifted him up. As soon as he was standing Darius put his arm around Erikís back then placed Erikís left arm over his shoulder. Half dragging half carrying Erik, Darius took Erik inside closing the door with his foot. Erik slumped down having lost consciousness.

Heaving a deep sigh Darius picked up Erik as if he weighed no more than a child. Darius was a big man standing over six foot six with solid muscles from all the physical training he performed everyday. He had the philosophy that a healthy body made a healthy mind. He was a man of muscle and bone. Not a man one would say unguarded words to without fear of pain raining down from those ham-like fists. No one suspected and Darius made sure no one found out but his heart was as soft as mush toward anyone in pain or need of human kindness.

He helped Erik to the settee and set him down. Standing up he shook his head in sorrow. Poor Master Erik. What torture in your soul has led you to do something that is surely going to be your end? It had to involve that vixen soprano Christine Daať that had ensnared his heart. Foolish man.

She wasnít a bad person she was just extremely bad for Erik. How could he think someone so innocent and fickle of heart could love and sustain a man of his passionate nature? She would have wilted during one of his passionate tirades. Poor Erik was so desperate for normalcy he grabbed at the first thing that caught his eye that his desperate need convinced him she was what he wanted and needed.

She was much too weak a personality for Erik. Even at the age of nineteen, she still had much of a little girl in her personality. She would have withered and died in his permanent presence. She needed a much softer soul. Not one as twisted and dark as Erikís. Darius had seen the future and it did include a woman for Erik. He hadnít seen her visage but she was there beside him and they were embracing. Master Nadir knew of his visions and had always heeded his warnings and advice. Erik was not so easily led. He had always balked at things he could not see. This personality trait and the gift of his face from some deity he could not see had made him skeptical any god existed in any form.

Darius left Erik and went to wake his master. Once again they would have to nurse Erik and help aid in his recovery. He hoped it ended better than the fiasco in Persia that had ended with his master spending five years in a Persian prison.

Darius knocked on the door and waited for the permission to enter. Not wasting time on preliminaries he stated, "Master Erik is in the parlor and he seems to be quite upset and not himself at present. The skyline over the opera house is lit by a burning fire. I surmise it is the result of something Master Erik has done." Nadir cursed fluently in Persian. Damn Erik. I knew it would end in disaster when he first took notice of that young little temptress. I knew no good would come of it. Erik is much too passionate for the likes of Christine. Christine is much too timid and clinging. Her loses so young in life made her an insecure young woman. I warned him repeatedly she would shy from him. He needs a much stronger woman. One who will stand up to him and not let him have everything his own way. Erik is at times too impulsive and needs someone who can restrain him from doing things inappropriate by social standards. He thinks because I discouraged his association with Christine I didnít think him entitled or disserving of love from anyone. This is not true. Erik needs love more than anyone I have ever known. As for deserving love who among us truly gets what we deserve in this life?

"How does he look? Spare me full details. Just tell me how near death he is."

"He is not well Master. I fear he has given into the darkness of his soul. I fear he has lost the will or inclination to continue on this plane of existence."

"Go to him and give what comfort you can. I fear it will be a long night. Please make a strong Egyptian coffee. Tea I fear will not suffice on this occasion. Get the extra blankets then start a thin chicken broth. He will need nourishment as well as the warmth of the broth. Iíll be right out Darius. Take care of him as best you can until I freshen up and then Iíll be right out.Ē

Darius folded his hands together and bowed out of the room. A smile was hidden as he bowed. He knew Nadir hated it when he acted subservient to him. They had many discussions on just this subject when they werenít trying to save the world from Erik and Erik from himself. He so loved to irritate his master. He couldnít help thinking of the man he worked for as master at times but he knew him to be a good friend also.

They had been through many hard times together. Darius had only been a young boy of twelve when he had gone to be a houseboy for Nadir and his wife. He had been a companion for Nadirís son Riza as well. Darius had worked for Nadir for twenty years. Most of his life had been dedicated to the service of Nadirís family then at the passing of his wife and then his son, Darius became Nadirís personal valet. More friend than employee after so many years. He had recently turned thirty -two. He thought of leaving some day to start a family of his own. The need had not called to him strongly yet. When it did he would leave Nadir with his blessings.

Nadir started to remind Darius he was not to behave as a slave. Respect was one thing but subservience was another. They had been rehashing this same argument ever since coming to Paris ten years ago. If Nadir hadnít convinced him in all that time that Darius was more friend than servant what made him think he could change the man now?

Besides he had more serious matters to attend to. Namely poor Erik. A man who would send Nadir to an early grave and a man he secretly considered like a brother. Erik was only six years younger than Nadir although at times Nadir felt more like a father than a brother or friend. Erikís life had left him with a somewhat naÔve idea of life. He was an adult who at times seemed like a child in his naivety. A naivety that warred with his adult emotions. His childlike pleasure at the simple pleasures had always fascinated Nadir. Something as simple as a butterfly in flight brought him hours of enjoyment and wonder. He would speak of this wonder until another was presented to him. In his dark home he had very few wondrous things other than his music and the songs of the operas he listened to whenever one was being performed. Rarely did he leave his home in daylight. Only on a few occasions had Nadir persuaded him to leave the dark safety of the catacombs.

Nadir would never let Erik see his regard beyond that of friend because Erik had a hard time even accepting his friendship. He considered himself not worthy of anyoneís love or kind regard. The past few years leading to his final plunge into madness had only strengthened his belief. This last fiasco to find love would most certainly drag his spirit closer to a living hell. A hell Nadir hoped he could save his friend from descending into permanently. Many times Erik had come close to giving in and engulfing himself in the dark side of his nature almost obliterating any human kindness or caring he might possess. In the last moments before he gave into the darkness entirely he would pull himself back. If Allah willed it he would survive once more.

Allah above what has your foolish heart made you do now Erik? I should have known something was amiss when you made me promise not to attend the opera tonight even though it was the opening of your own work. Erik had been so quiet over these past few months I had foolishly thought he finally had come to accept Christine was not for him. Why did I not realize this quiet was the signal he had descended into madness?

Although with Erik it is hard to tell madness from genius. His brain worked in a different way than a normal man. His intelligence was beyond comprehension. Any morals he had were from his own sense of right and wrong. Erik had never had adults to guide him into manhood. He had more or less raised himself. A true crime against all that was blessed in this world. With only a little love and compassion at an early age Erik could have been a great gift to this world.

Abruptly halting his musings Nadir forced his tired body from the bed and went into his bathroom to freshen up and dress so he could face this new life changing drama that was Erikís life. Nothing in Erikís life was simple.

Everything that happened was on a grand scale. Nadir knew from the moment he had accepted responsibility for Erik his burden would be great. Keeping Erik from the world and the world from Erik was a lifetime occupation. Whatever new dilemma Erik presented Nadir felt it was his obligation to see if he could set things right. It had been his job for over ten years now to watch over Erik.

Having freshened up and dressed Nadir went out to face this new problem in his life. handle Erik. When would they both find peace? Damn but he was getting too old to for this. I feel ancient. I am only Thirty-eight but I feel as if I have lived a hundred years since I have known Erik.

Hearing footsteps the broken man raised his ravaged face toward Nadir. The utter hopelessness tugged at Nadirís heart. This is what has become of a once supremely proud man. He has been reduced to tears and complete devastation. Erik sat in abject misery sobbing uncontrollably. It seemed the very blood from his broken heart ebbed out in every tear leaving him weaker and deeper in despair.

"Why Nadir? Why could I not be allowed this one bit of happiness? Why should I always be denied love? Why could she not love me? I gave her my music. I taught her to make her voice soar. I would have given her the world for only a tiny bit of consideration. I would not even have made demands on her. I would not ask her to share my bed if she did not wish it. Her companionship and her heavenly voice singing for me alone would have been enough to sustain me. I would never have forced her to gaze upon my face. I would gladly wear the hated burlap sack I had as a child when on display with the Gypsies."

"Erik we have gone over this many times. You were blinded by her. Infatuated. Blinded in your need for someone, anyone to love and share your life with. She took all you could give then threw your love back in your face. I do not think she did this to hurt you. She just had a greater love and regard for her young Vicomte. I do not mean to be harsh but the reality is she was selfish and childish. She is still an immature girl. Immaturity breeds selfishness. If she had been older and more mature maybe things could have been different. Who can say? Your face alone did not bring about your rejection."

"It was my face she could not stomach. It has always been this curse of a face since the day I was born. If my own mother could not love me or touch me why would someone such as my beautiful Christine even want to suffer a glimpse of the horrific mess hidden behind the mask? Why did God not see his mistake and strike me dead when he heard my first pitiful cry as I left my mother's womb? Why did my mother who hated the very sight of me not throw me into the river and drown me like some unwanted kitten or pup?"

"Erik it was not your face that drove the final wedge between you and the diva. Your temper and threats of violence to her fiancťe drove her away from you even if there had been a slight chance of her returning your love.

I do not think she withheld her love because of any of these reasons however. The wealth of the Vicomte is what won the young womanís allegiance in the end. She could not conceive of a life lived in the cellars in dark for the rest of her life. Of course she would choose a life with a young handsome and wealthy man. I warned you many times to keep your heart free of the entanglement you sought with such fervor. It was bound to end this way my friend as much as it pains me to say this to you. You are well rid of her."

"Do not say such harsh things about her. She was perfect. It is I who am flawed. I am the freak of nature. The mistake God did not correct. I should not have expected her to want to be with a monster like me. Why would someone of such beauty want someone so beastly? Why could my story not end as the love stories recanted in words and penned over the centuries? Why could not this lonely, ugly beast be loved despite his temper and his horrid countenance? Take back what you say of my beloved. Speak not of her in such untruths."

With and anguished cry Erik lunged at Nadir and wrapped his hands around his throat. The look of a madman was on Erikís face. Nadir could feel the blackness overtaking him. He clawed at the hands gripping him so tightly. Erik was inhumanly strong even without anger fueling him. Add anger and Erik was an almost unstoppable man. Nadir knew if Darius did not return to the room within the next minute his life would cease to be. Another victim falling to the hands of the Angel of Death. In his right mind Erik would never think of laying a hand on Nadir in anger. The fever in his mind was clouding his judgment. His anguish stole his reason. Loss fueled a need to hold onto at least the belief that Christine could still return to him.

Mercifully Darius returned and dragged a half crazed Erik away from his master and friend. Erik was a strong man and few could win in a physical battle with him but Darius was the stronger of the two. He held tightly to the struggling man in his arms. Erik was growling like a wild animal. Cursing as he never would in normal circumstances. Erik was, if nothing else, a true gentleman normally. With impeccable manners.

He hardly seemed human in those moments when his anger and hurt of all the years rushed to take over his mind. The years of abuse and rejection all came to the forefront of his mind. Bringing death to someone he perceived as an abuser had been his one goal as his hands had tightened around Nadirís face. All the faces of the Gypsy tormentors from his years in their captivity swirled and mixed with the pain he felt from Christineís rejection. Raoulís perfect face flashed into his mind. He could see the taunting in the noblemanís face as he took Christine away with him. He imagined the young man sneering at him as he kissed Christineís sweet lips. His mind tortured him with so many images some from his childhood others from many years ago and some from recent days. Those cut the deepest because they were fresh and inflicted by his beloved.

A few moments of struggling and Erik began to tire and reason returned. His shame of attacking his one true ally and friend for over ten years was eating away at his diminished pride. God what had she driven him too? He had risked all for her his home and his very life. The only home he had known since he was a young boy. His shoulders slumped in defeat. Now he attacked his dear friend in his own home because he spoke truths Erik did not wish to hear.

"You can release me Darius. The madness has left me. The Phantom is gone and only Erik remains. Only poor pathetic, heartbroken Erik is here." Darius slowly released Erikís arms and stepped back. He stood directly behind him however in case this was a trick. Erik was well known for his trickery.

The man broke into uncontrolled sobbing again and fell to his knees rocking his body back and forth cradling his arms with his own hands calling for the devil woman Christine. Such anguish and despair could be heard in each word.

Darius cursed the day that woman entered Erikís life. Her presence in what had been a peaceful existence had been like a slow building storm on the ocean. You knew destruction was coming but you did not know how bad or how violent the final raging winds would be or when they would strike. You can prepare yourself for the eventual coming storm but not even precautions could prevent all of the eventual devastation.

Rubbing his neck Nadir could not bring himself to hold Erik accountable just yet for his actions. The man had suffered a severe blow. A blow to his heart and pride that Nadir was unsure Erik could make a recovery this time. Erikís whole life was molded from old hurts and rejections. A more miserable soul Nadir had never known. Erik was truly a man who had been damned in the eyes of the world since his birth. If there was a hell on earth Erik held pride of place in that dark, evil realm. Proud on the outside but as insecure as a child on the inside, that was the Erik Nadir saw. His insecurities were buried deep beneath self protecting layers of uncaring indifference to manís every day struggles. If you did not care for anything you had nothing to lose.

Nadir knew of the darker side of Erik but he had never been personally on the receiving end of his darker persona until tonight. Nadir spent so much time with Erik that he had caught glimpses of the weaker man hidden under the threatening Phantom persona. A weakness Erik worked hard to keep from the world.

Erikís condition shocked Nadir greatly. Once a strong proud man behind his mask he was now a whimpering bundle of flesh and raw emotions. His bare face was mottled with tracks of tears raining down his cheeks. The lesions on his face were oozing with infection. The constant rubbing on his face of the leather combined with sweat irritated the skin that rarely went without cover.

Erik seemed not to notice or care he did not have his mask. That was an indication of how upset Erik was for he was a proud man who stood tall and regal when hiding behind his mask. He never went without it. He had even told Nadir that more often than not he slept with the mask firmly on his face. The sobs coming from this once fierce man broke Nadirís heart. No one should suffer so.

Not knowing what to do he helped a passive Erik to the guest bedroom and helped him to lie down. He removed Erikís shoes after gently laying him down. Nadir then pulled up a chair to sit in vigil until Erik was more himself. He did not trust Erik in this pain wracked state not to hurt himself. He had spoke of his demise often enough for Nadir to know it was possible he would attempt to rid himself of pain by taking his own life. The man slept in a coffin for the love of Allah. The reminder of death was with him every night as he closed his eyes to sleep. Nadir had often told him it was much too morbid and he should rid himself of it and sleep in a normal bed. Erik had replied that when he was normal he would sleep in a normal bed.

So the waiting began. Days came and went with Erik in a near catatonic state. Only crying out from nightmares and seeking his beloved Christine in dreams. Nadir began to fear for his friend. Something would have to be done soon or Erik would waste away from lack of food and water. It was not his broken heart that would kill Erik directly but the result would be the same.

One the third day there was a little change. Nothing earth shattering but a sign that there was still a will to live in Erik. He asked for a glass of water. Immediately Nadir sent Darius to bring a glass of cool water laced with some medicine meant to stimulate Erikís body. Having downed the water Nadir and Darius watched and waited.

Late in the evening of the fourth day Erik asked for some food. Nadir and Darius gave thanks to a merciful Allah and all other deities for the return of Erik. Most would wonder why this simple request gave them such hope. The fact that he asked for food was proof of his will to come back to a living world. Erik rarely ate at all. He claimed the time he spent sitting eating was time taken away from more important matters. He rarely ate and never a big meal. A small ray of hope was given to them that day as they stood vigil over the desperate man in the bed fighting demons real and imagine

A week later the paper arrived with devastating news for Erik. Nadir and Darius had tried to keep it away from him but the sneaky devil went through Nadirís trash receptacle in his room. After reading the headlines regaling all of Paris with the details of the marriage of Christine and Raoul, Erik dosed himself with the dreaded morphine he took in times of deep depression. That was a set back. The drug ravaged his weakened body even further. It gave him no real peace. It only brought his demons into the light.

For such an intelligent man Erik was completely blinded to the devastation morphine created in his life. That was one issue they fought over consistently. Erik had given up the drug for years and then Christine entered his life. It was Nadirís opinion the young woman was a walking curse. She would destroy all who came into her sphere of power. Erik and then Raoul had been two such unfortunate beings. Allah only knew what she would do to that innocent young man.

Erik had balked but Nadir had demanded all the morphine in Erikís possession be handed over. Erik gave in knowing with Nadirís skills as a policeman he had no chance to lie or hide anything from the nosy Nadir once his bloodhound of a nose was set on the trail. He had been informed if he snuck out again to purchase any more he would have Darius tie him to the bedpost. Eyeing Darius thoughtfully he made the decision not to push his luck as even when in his prime of good health he doubted he could best Darius. The man was not human in Erikís opinion. He was a giant masquerading as a man.

Erik knew he could acquire more any time he wished. He could leave the apartment and neither of the other occupants would ever know he had left his room. He would need a supply until he could find a source in London to provide that elixir that sent him into heavenly oblivion for a short time. At times it also sent him to hell but those times were fewer than heavens open gate.

Two weeks spent recovering and Erik concluded as much as he had felt he would die he knew now it would not happen unless he aided the process. He was not such a coward as to take his own life at any rate not consciously. He flirted with letting another take it when the mob had infiltrated his home but could not face the further humiliation that would have fallen on him as the men were sure to put him on display for all of Paris to see. Later he thought his illness might claim his life and release him but so far fate had seen fit to keep him here in his pathetic life.

One evening as Nadir and Erik play one of their one of their weekly games of chess, Erik came to a momentous conclusion. He was to live after all. He had been in this bed so long but he had not taken notice of one day from another. He had no idea how long he had lain in this bed a pitiful mass of quivering and blubbering humanity.

Having beaten Nadir for the fifth time in a row Erik picked up a chess piece and fingered it thoughtfully. Reaching a conclusion he informed Nadir, "It would seem my heart will not give out just yet Nadir. Perhaps this is Godís punishment. I shall live with this pain until I die. Or perhaps God has seen fit to grant me immortality so I may live eternally with this pain."

"Erik you are special but I hardly think your God would grant you immortality. Erik it is good to see you are feeling better. Get up and bathe. Join me in the land of the living. I hesitated to mention it before but you are smelling less than fresh. When you are done we will eat and discuss what your immediate future will hold. Allah forbid an earth forever blessed with your wickedness my friend. A normal life span is quite sufficient. Darius and I can only stand so much drama in our lives and neither one of us will live forever."

"Nadir I know it may not seem as if I appreciate you but I do appreciate your friendship and caring. I consider you a dear friend even though I have never expressed the sentiment. Just for a point of reference should you ever repeat that statement to anyone I should have to end your life."

Nadir smiled although he was not quite sure Erik was joking. Just to be safe he made a vow to keep this to himself. With Erik it paid to err on the side of caution.

The next few weeks the three men spent in deep discussion of how best to proceed with Erikís departure from France and choosing a destination. How to escape with body and fortune intact. The one option they all agreed on was bribery. They had to use great caution. Erik was a criminal. A reward had been posted for his capture. No doubt funded by the de Chagny family patriarch. Money could erase many sins and blind many eyes. Nadir and Darius made all the necessary arrangements. Erik would leave France an innocent man with no warrants or fear of arrest to haunt him. Files were lost and notes replaced with forged documents. Raoul de Changny and Christine Daae had left the city for parts unknown and when the family was asked to give their location for statements should a man be captured and a trial occur the authorities were told the couple had no information to give. They wished to put the whole incident behind them and drop the matter entirely. Nadir had spread a few rumors among the aristocracy to discourage the continued interest in Erikís arrest. Fearing more scandal Raoulís father let the matter drop, withdrawing his offer of a reward. Sometimes words whispered in the right ear were more powerful than the threat of violence or at least could bring about the same result.

It seems with all incriminating evidence ďlostĒ and no willing witnesses, Erik was a free man. Free as man a could be when his heart was still held captive by a little chit of a girl. Now if he could remove that young woman from Erikís heart long enough for him to give this second chance at life an honest try Nadir would be forever thankful to Allah.

The only arrangement left to complete were choosing a name as he only remembered his first name. Never once could he remember hearing his surname. He was lucky to have heard his first name as every vile name known to man had been hurled at him all during his youth. His mother for damn sure had a fine repertoire of names she blessed him with daily. Luckily he knew his name was Erik and not monster child or demon seed. The gypsies had billed him in their sideshow as The Human Corpse and The Devilís Child.

Privately he had been called the ďfucking demon childĒ. The Gypsy who owned him had favored that moniker above all others. Imagine being stuck with such a name all ones life. No he did not fancy that at all. Erik suited him just fine.
Nadir forced him to go to a barber as he claimed a gentleman should not look as if he used a knife to saw his hair. Knowing he cut his own hair with scissors Erik felt this was an insulting remark. He was not able to waltz into a barbershop as some others were aloud to do. He made sure Nadir heard his complaint. He was not happy with an outing in the daytime so Nadir made the concession to speak to the barber and for ample compensation he agreed to see Erik after fours.

Sitting in the chair with his arms crossed Erik gave a fair imitation of a child pouting. Nadir was tempted to offer him a lollipop if he was a good boy and let the man cut his hair without all the fuss. He decided in this mood Erik could well let his temper get the better of him and Nadir surmised today was not the day he wished to join his ancestors in the great beyond.

"Stop being childish. It does not hurt to have your hair cut. You are not Samson and Charles is not Delilah. Your strength will not be diminished with the loss of a few strands of hair."

"Spoken like a man with a full head of hair and not one who has a sparse covering. I warn you if I am not pleased you will feel my displeasure in a most disagreeable way."

"So noted. Now quit being a child and let the man do his job. Honestly sometimes I feel as if I am dealing with a truculent five year old instead of a man of thirty years of age."

Saying no more Erik sat in the barberís chair folding his arms across his chest. The pout of his lips and the obstinate look on his face did indeed look like a small child protesting something he found unpleasant.

"Monsieur is it alright now if I begin? I have an idea of how I can cut your hair to lay slightly differently than it does now. The hair can be cut in such a way that the sparse area will be hidden. Thankfully the hair on the left side is quite thick. The right side is not all that thin. There are only a few bare spots. I have many customers with balding heads. Luckily you have sufficient length for me to work with."

"God damn it I am not balding. I simply have a sparse covering of hair. It has always been like this sense birth so therefore I am not balding."

"Of course, of course Monsieur. I was obviously not speaking of you. With your permission I will begin." The man had begun to sweat profusely. He was wondering how he had gotten himself into such a mess. He had an idea who the man in the chair was and had no wish to be the next victim of the Opera Ghost. He stood waiting patiently. Erik made not one move to remove the wig. Charles was beginning to wish his greed had not overtaken the warning bells that had gone off when Monsieur Khan had asked if he could see a client privately after hours. He said the man was terribly shy around people he did not know.

"What the hell are you waiting for? I do not have all night to sit while you daydream. Get on with it."

"Erik your wig. Do you expect him to cut your hair through the wig?"

"Well why did he not say something? I do not bite. At least not on Wednesdayís and as I am sure this is Thursday he is perfectly safe." Without anything further being said he removed his wig and Charles began to cut his hair. It seemed to Erik that an abundance of his hair was raining down all too swiftly. Being bored he thought he might use the barberís fear of him to entertain him while he was trapped in the chair.

"You know Nadir come to think of it I may have been wrong. I do believe today is Wednesday after all."

Charles stilled with the scissors poised to snip the next piece of hair. He glanced quickly at the calendar on the wall and to his consternation saw that it was indeed Wednesday. He swallowed noisily and snipped more than he should have. The gasps from the other three men alerted Erik to a problem. He looked into the mirror and saw the manís face was as white as a sheet. His eyes were flooded with fear.

Nadir saw the look on Erikís face and intervened on Charlesí behalf. It would not do to leave a dead barber when they were so close to departing France. He spoke to Erik in Persian informing him it was his fault if a mistake had been made. It was just a tiny bit of hair and would grow back quickly. No one would really notice as it was on the back of his head. When he was out he wore a hat most of the time anyway. Nothing was broken that could not be fixed with time.

Erik learned a valuable lesson. When a man is that close to your head with sharp instruments it was prudent to make him feel as comfortable as one could make him. Nervous people made mistakes.

Now Erik would never admit this openly to Nadir but he was quite surprisingly pleased with what the man was able to do with his hair. He had had a few qualms about removing his wig but he could see the logic of itís removal so he had agreed although he let it be known he was far from pleased. Nadirís only comment was to him was to tell him to stop being childish yet again. That remark ruffled him somewhat but due to his patience with him during his illness Erik let it pass. It crossed his mind that another time he may well have wrapped his lasso around Nadirís neck for a remark such as that. Perhaps the Phantom died and only Erik lives. Time would tell.

Posted on: 7 Jun 2008 21:56
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Re: Ascent to Power
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I am really enjoying this so far. Please continue!

Posted on: 8 Jun 2008 2:41
"It's about the horse and that's it." - George Morris
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Re: Ascent to Power

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Chapter Three
Farewell to Paris and the Paris Opera House

Erik returned to the opera house one time before he severed all ties with his past in the opera house. He would bid farewell to the once proud edifice. In the bowels of that grand building he had made his own world. It had not been reality down there in the dark but it had been his world. His alone. A creation solely from the images of his mind.

Walking up the steps it briefly crossed Erikís mind that this would be the first time he had ever entered the opera house through the front doors and climbed the steps from the auditorium floor. All these years he had longed to walk through those doors just as the patrons of the opera house did. He had longed to sit with others and enjoy the beauty of the performance without having to worry about discovery. It had been one of his dreams to sit in the audience and share with the person next to him his enjoyment of the performance or his criticism. All the years he had lived in The Paris Opera House he only communicated his joys or dipleasures through notes, never in person.

He struggled momentarily with the door. Finally it creaked open groaning in protest as he shoved it open with his shoulder. He opened it just enough to slip through. His eyes had no trouble adjusting to the lack of light. Darkness to him was much the same as light. He could see almost as well in pitch black as he could on the sunniest days.

Erik wanted to wail out in protest when he saw the damage to his opera house. He looked sadly upon the devastation he had caused. The once beautiful auditorium now looked forlorn. Odd distortions met Erikís eyes. Most of the seats were burned but oddly there were rows of perfectly preserved seats that looked as if they waited for the next performance to be occupied by an eager opera house patron. Many of the wonderful statues adorning the wall had been all but destroyed and were completely unrecognizable while just a few feet away three perfectly preserved statues hung on the wall in all their majestic splendor. The outer walls still stood firmly in the same position they had held since the building had been built. The roof had damage but looked as if most had been saved.

The stage was still there but the scorched boards gave evidence of the recent fire. The chandelier still lay in the middle of the row of seats where it fell. Glass from the chandelierís lamps cluttered the floor and made tinkling sounds as he stepped across the auditorium floor.

Erik hesitated at the stairs leading up to the stage. In all his years in the opera house he had never approached the stage from the auditorium. His mind raced with thoughts of his last night here. Memories of that night hit him in waves of sorrow and grief. All the pain returned. He closed his eyes willing the ache to go away. If he gave way now to his grief he would never leave this place again. It was past time to sever his ties if not his memories of this place. Inhaling deeply he walked up the steps and crossed to center stage. Memories of all the performances on this very stage haunted him. He welcomed them as well as feared them.

He allowed thoughts of that final night to enter his mind. He would allow himself this one memory and then get on with his business. All those feelings of that night rushed over him. Hope, love, anticipation, loss, grief and despair. So many emotions in such a short span of time. How easily a life could change in the span of a few hours.

Shaking off the useless remembrances he dropped down through one of the trap doors in the stage. Landing gracefully on his feet with slightly bent knees to cushion the impact he stood and began to walk down the corridor.

Many twists and turns that would have the unsuspecting lost forever in the tunnels and caverns of the underbelly of the opera. Erik was at home here. He knew every brick and every crack. He had twenty years to become familiar with his underground home.

Coming to the lake he retrieved the spare boat he kept hidden in a secret compartment in one of the walls. His other one no doubt was left someplace outside his dark home at the end of a tunnel. Christine and Raoul would not be returning his boat.

He poled himself across the familiar waterway. Taking the correct path that lead to his home it only took a few minutes to arrive at his destination. Docking the boat at the edge of the landing to his home he nimbly hopped out. The sight that greeted him was no more than he expected. Almost everything was destroyed. His precious organ lay strewn across his lair in pieces. Christineís swan bed had been dismantled and pieces of it now resided in the water.

All the pictures of Christine had been torn down and scattered about his home. Not one piece of his elegant furniture remained intact. Fortunately for Erik he had hidden all his wealth in undetectable vaults behind the walls. Picking his way through the debris he quickly gathered his hidden wealth. He wanted to leave as soon as he finished. He had no wish to linger here where he had suffered so much. There were too many ghosts dwelling here.

The good memories he had of this once elegant home were overshadowed by the pain and humiliation suffered in one night. It took one night to destroy the life he had spent twenty years building. Relinquishing the hurtful remembrances he gathered his fortune and left all else as it lay on the floor giving silent testimony that the Phantom of the Opera dwelled here no longer. One last look in good-bye and Erik left his underground home and The Paris Opera House for the final time bidding farewell to The Opera Ghost. The Phantom of the Opera. Whether his spirit remained housed in the man known as Erik, time would tell the tale.

Nadir was quite pleased with how simple a few dollars crossing the palm of an official produced such satisfactory results. Even the documents forged for Erikís new name were acquired most efficiently. Erik was now ďErik FontaineĒ.

Erik being Erik wanted his surname to be ďPhantomĒ but Nadir stood firm against it and Erik settled in the end for a name similar but not quite so obvious. It was good to have Erikís spirits returning although he was never known for his humor he occasionally had a dark sense of the comedy of life. Nadir hoped with exposure to a more normal life his outlook would also become normal and see the humor in a joke. Erik was too pragmatic to appreciate Nadir and Dariusí droll sense of humor at times. Their jokes only puzzled him and induced him to ask question after question until the humor of the joke was lost.

For his part Erik knew he had to put forth more effort to blend in. He would need to shed his dark persona that he had cultivated for so long as a protection against those who would not accept him as he truly was. It would be strange to be part of the human race. Of course Erik knew he was human but he had never been allowed the luxury of living as other men did. All his life they had shunned him and he had hated almost everyone except for a small number of people. He could count on one hand the humans he considered worthy of drawing breath. As often as he had denied he was a part of the human race his obsession with Christine had proven he was all too human with normal desires of a man. These desires he had been able to bury deep as he knew to allow them free reign was useless as by his own hand was the only source of release for him. A release he had to take every so often even as he hated giving into this weakness of his flesh. He was too fastidious for the service of prostitutes. He had enough insanity of his own without contracting a disease that eventually drove a man mad while eating away at his brain.

It was decided that England would be their first stop until a plan could be formed and put into motion. Erik was not one to favor spontaneity. He liked things to be planned so no unwanted surprises arose. Although his plan with Don Juan Triumphant and the dropping of the chandelier had not been a well laid or well thought out plan hence itís failure. Love and lust had blinded his eyes to the reality of his actions. In his blindness he had not wanted to see the possibility of failure. Being honest after recalling the last few months he had seen the end result but turned blindly away from the truth of his inevitable failure.

If he had taken time to think he would have whisked Christine away and wooed her later without the dramatic exit and devastation. A simple kidnapping would have given better results.

His music and voice had always been like a hypnotic drug to Christine. He could have seduced her. Many times she had come to his underground home and if not for his sense of honor and damned ingrained gentlemanly manners he could have had the young soprano on many occasions when his song and touch had made her act less than an innocent. Her body had been all to ready to give him what he wanted but in his arrogance he wanted her love before consummating the relationship. He was so sure he could persuade her. Oh to only go back in time and choose a different path.

Many nights of discussion and it was decided they would take the next boat to England taking only what was absolutely necessary. Anything they required could be purchased later. Money and clothing were all Erik had to show for his twenty some years living in a dark hole in the ground. Everything else had gone up in smoke and the mob searching to spill his blood had destroyed his underground sanctuary upon finding him gone from his home by the lake.

He vowed never to go underground again. The next time he was buried under dirt he would be dead and not before.
The world respected power and money. He would gather so God damned much power and money he would equal a king. When he had enough then he would show all those who rejected him what it meant to feel pain. Christine and her young boy would feel the wrath of his anger in due time. He could wait.

He was no longer a freak show attraction. No longer a ghost. Soon he would live as other men did. His wealth would shroud those who looked upon him with blinding eyes. For the right inducement with coin he could buy loyalty and favor. In Persia he had been close to a god because of the fear he instilled in those who saw the darkness in his eyes and the evil intent of the devices he invented for torture.
He would gain a new source of power. Wealth. He was wealthy by anyoneís standards already. The kind of wealth he wanted, no needed, was equaled only by the wealth of long dead Kings and Pharaohs.

Erik was not comfortable boarding the train until they reached their private car. He felt as if all eyes were on him and judging him and in truth there were eyes on him. Many admiring female eyes. All went unnoticed as Erikís only concern was to get to the privacy of their sleeping car. Finding their car he opened the door and gratefully took a step inside not waiting to see if Nadir or Darius followed behind him. He flopped onto the seat and exhaled heavily. This should have been his voyage with Christine beside him starting their new life as man and wife. Having two male companions was not how he envisioned his new life starting.

Coming into the car Nadir had a less than cordial look on his face. "As usual Erik you run off leaving me holding the bags. Were it not for the fact that Darius was with me I would have not been able to manage. You are without doubt the most thoughtless man I know. I am quite cross with you at this moment. You show no appreciation for all I have done. Not one word of thanks have I gotten from your miserable, ungrateful, selfish mouth."

"Thank you for doing what any good Christian would have gladly done for me knowing that I must not give the citizens too long to look upon my hideous face. We would not want to cause a panic. So thank you for doing your Christian duty as other Christians do daily without need for thanks or compensation."

"Oh is that so? Might I remind you I am not a Christian? And pray tell where were all these so called Christians when Darius and I were holding vigil at your bedside? I know we would have been glad to be relieved from watching over your ungrateful hide for a few hours. One would think a ďthank youĒ would cross your lips at our kindness. Oh, pardon me I forgot to whom I am speaking. The great Erik who expects the world to bow at his feet so he can walk upon the bodies of those he considers beneath him."

"Did I not just a scant few seconds ago thank you? Good God Nadir you sound like a complaining wife. God forbid I ever get married if I were to be saddled with the likes of someone like you. Stop complaining like an old woman. You sound like one more every day. Let me please have silence for a bit so I may rest." Erik crossed his arms over his chest and closed his eyes.

"Oh yes you must be extremely tired having walked from the carriage to the train unencumbered by so much as an overnight bag. Dear me that must have been all of fifty steps from the carriage to the train platform and another twenty or thirty steps to our sleeping car. Are you sure you are quite recovered?"

Nadir put his hands up in front of him palms facing outward as he continued with his tirade. "Oh please do not get up you must not exert yourself so. Darius and I will handle this. You just rest and recuperate from your strenuous journey. We will put our things away. You must rest after all you have accomplished today."

"Thank you for your understanding. I am rather exhausted from all the travel."

"It must have escaped your notice but I was being sarcastic. For your education in such matters if I were a woman I would hope you would have a little more consideration and help carry our bags. I am not your servant. I swear sometimes I do not even like you. Now I think is one of those times. I think perhaps I will not speak to you until you apologize for your inconsiderate behavior."

"Thank God. I shall hold my apology until let us say the tenth day of never. Now maybe I can get some sleep. To not hear your voice complain for the next few hours seems my idea of heaven. If I have never told you before I will tell you now you have a most grating voice. Perhaps you have over taxed your vocal cords causing this grating noise in your speech."

"Ingrate," Nadir whispered. Erik pulled his hat down lower over his face and grinned.

Erik knew Nadir was only fussing to take his mind off traveling. It was always the same. Nadir would find something to complain about and argue incessantly about it. The first few times Erik had not caught on but soon he realized his friend was not that petty or complaining. On reflection he noticed these bouts of harping only occurred when he and Erik had to be in the public for any length of time. He appreciated his friendís thoughtfulness but it was still quite irritating to listen to him complain like a woman.

Burrowing down lower into his seat he let his mind wander. It had been eight long months since the disaster. He wondered how Christine was managing in her life as a vicomtesse. It hurt his heart to know she shared a bed with another though she had long ago lost her innocence to the boy. The weeks when she had left the opera house before the Gala he knew she was with that young whelp. When she returned the knowledge of a woman shown in her eyes. It had taken all his strength to refrain from hunting the boy down and snapping his neck like a twig. The only thing saving the boy was the fact that he wanted to claim Christine in front of the whole audience during the performance of his opera. Erik had wanted to grind that young nobles face in the knowledge that his ďLittle LotteĒ had hot desire coursing in her veins for her dark mysterious tutor. A desire for more than his voice and ability to make her voice soar to heaven. He had dreamt of her voice soaring to heaven screaming his own name as she came to the moment of gratification during their joining. That dream melted away as the morning mist gives way to the heat of the morning sun. So his dream disappeared also of being her first lover just as she would have been his.

The trip to Le Havre, the port in Normandy where they would take the next step in their journey, was made without incidence. Erik made a point of carrying more than his fair share of the luggage to the gangplank where deckhands would take it to their designated cabins. The only way for Erik to avoid being seen was to sneak aboard among the food and other goods being loaded. Nadir squashed that plan as soon as Erik gave voice to it during breakfast. If he was to be a man he needed to begin to live as a man.

Having decided revenge was not his most sensible pursuit for the moment Erik accepted what fate had deemed to be his next fork in the road of his life. With little regret Erik and his two companions boarded the ship that would carry them to England. In a few days he would begin to gain all he had ever longed for. He could even have a woman. She would not love him and may not be able to look upon his face but if enough monetary inducement was offered even he could lay with a woman. Having lost his dream of his one true love he would settle for the satisfaction of having his body pleasured. Something he felt he had waited long enough to achieve. God he was a thirty year old virgin. Most men lost their innocence at the age of sixteen. Many nobles took their sons to brothels for just that purpose. Those fathers frowned upon those women but still availed themselves of the womenís services.

Erik thought this was the most pressing issue. Having his libido awakened by Christine and left without satisfaction was most distressing. Over the years he had at times been caught in the shackles of burning lust but had for the most part driven it out with his music. His passionate music had taken the place of the passion in his body. Perhaps that was why he was always in a frenzy when he composed. After days of composing non stop his body would be in a state of bliss when the final note was written. Much like a man who had been sated with a womanís body. Christine had ruined his love affair with his music. It was no longer his mistress. He still had the passion for it but now he wanted another mistress to fulfill his bodies passionate needs.

They left France in the early morning just as the sun was coming up chasing away the shadows of the night. The time was just before the sun crested over the horizon. Darkness had not completely relinquished itís hold on the night. The three men boarded the ship with a light mist and dense fog shrouding them from prying eyes. Erik was glad for the cover of the mist and fog as he was never comfortable among people. The stares unnerved him and provoked unease and anger.

Two promises Erik made to himself as the ship left the country of his origin and headed for new vistas. He would never again deprive himself of the warmth of the sun on his face. He would now have a day and a night. No more days of eternal darkness. The second promise involved his baser needs. He would not spend his life not knowing the sweet embrace of a womanís legs gripping him in passion or arms holding him to those soft feminine curves of a womanís breasts.

He knew the mechanics of making love he had just never had an opportunity to use his knowledge on any woman. Life behind the scenes of the opera and life in the Persian harem had shown him what the exchange of passion was supposed to be and by God he would have that pleasure soon. Christineís rejection had shown him his folly of expecting a woman to come to him without the added inducement of financial gain. God how his body ached for her even now knowing of her betrayal. He was even more pathetic than he had originally thought. As hard as he tried her face was planted firmly in his memory and could not be pushed out.

What Erik didnít know and Nadir did was Erik was an attractive man. He was young and wealthy. His body was one to be envied as he was quite strong and muscular. His climbing in the rafters and flies of the theatre had toned his body well not to mention all the stairs he climbed keeping watch over the opera house. His skin was quite pale but that could be remedied with exposure to the sun and a proper diet. Not the sporadic meals Erik consumed when he even thought to eat.

The dark and damp hole he had lived in was not conducive to a healthy complexion. The small portion of his ravaged face would always be a source of disgust and fear for some but there were many women who would find his charm and virile body outweighing any physical deformity. Nadir admitted privately Erikís face was quite upsetting to see at first. Even after all these years Nadir flinched when he happened to get a glimpse of that horrible sight. Not so much anymore because of itís ugliness but because he knew of the pain it caused Erik. He had learned not to let his reaction show in any noticeable way or perhaps Erik simply chose not to see his discomfort.

Erik just needed time in the real world to find such women and how to interact with the human race without using his weapon of choice his Punjab lasso on all who anger him. Nadir had extracted a promise from Erik that he would no longer take a life of someone simply because they had the bad luck to fall in his disfavor. Erik had promised he would only use his weapon if his life or the life of an innocent was in danger. Nadir had to be satisfied with that concession. Once Erik gave his word as a gentleman he would stand by it as a matter of honor. If nothing else Erik was a gentleman and a man of honor.

As Nadir stood at the rail beside Erik he prayed for such a woman soon as his friend was not known for patience. Left alone too long without stimulation his mind would fall into the deep depression Erik was prone to sooner or later.
"Erik, I did not ask before but I will ask now. Did you suffer much when you went back to your lair? Have you been able to let go of some of the more painful memories?"

"To bid a final farewell to my old home was quite distressing. Did not the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche say ďThat which does not kill us makes us strongerĒ? I will survive the loss and be stronger for the pain I suffered. Nadir I will never forget my love for Christine. I fear she has embedded herself in my heart too deeply to have her removed. It was hard to let go of my old home but I am resigned to looking toward my future. In fact I am quite looking forward to new experiences. There are so many possibilities out there. Is it foolish of me to think I might experience some of those wonderful life experiences others take for granted?"

"Erik it is not foolish at all. As soon as you set foot on the deck of this ship your new life began. It is up to you to pursue life. You can not bury yourself in darkness and then bemoan the fact that life is passing you by. This is a fresh start and a new chance at life. Grab it with both hands my friend."

"I do no wish to intrude but Master Erik, Nadir speaks the truth. The biggest barrier between living life and watching it from the dark corners has always been within you. You place yourself outside the circle of humanity. I am not saying all will be willing to accept you. There will always be those who will reject you. Some may even turn away in horror. For each one who rejects you there will be one who wants to know you as you really are. Not the man in the mask but the man behind that shield. Master Nadir and I face prejudice every day. It is not easy being of different religions and different skin tones than what is excepted as the norm. We know who we are and our value. That is something you must learn. Please forgive me for speaking so freely." As the last words were spoken Darius bowed with his hands placed together.

"Nonsense Darius. You hold a place equal to that of Erik and myself. Why should you not speak your mind? In fact I agree with what you have said. If Erik gives it some thought he will also. He knows the truth of your words. We have lived in France for the last ten years yet there were still those who looked at us as if we should not rub elbows with any of those fine noble men and women. Not all but enough for it to be noticeable."

The two men faced Erik expectantly. He said nothing. His eyes never left the vista of the receding coastline of France. In his heart he knew they spoke the truth. Sharing feelings and listening to the opinions of others was a new experience for Erik. He had always made decisions on his own. He had never had anyone to give him advice or guidance. Erik had so much to learn about living among others. He hoped he was up to the task he had set for himself.

Realizing Erik would not be commenting on their statements both men turned back to the rail and continued to watch as the outline of France grew smaller. Noticing the sun beginning to clear away the last of the mist and fog Erik bid them good-day. His resolution not to be deprived of the sun could wait until another day. He had tested his bounds of tolerance already by standing at the rail while other passengers did the same. He needed the sanctuary of his cabin. He still needed solitude once in a while as much as he had hated it as the dark dweller of the opera house. Now solitude was a choice and not something forced because of how others would react to him.

Quietly, so quiet so as to be almost lower than a whisper Erik said, ďThank you my friends.Ē

So a new chapter began for the man known as The Phantom of the Opera and soon to be known as Erik Fontaine. The ship was sailing into the bright light of a new day taking him away from a shore that had long tortured his soul and to a shore where he might find redemption and peace and most of all the allusive love he needed most desperately.

Posted on: 8 Jun 2008 12:21
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Re: Ascent to Power
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Once again, I enjoyed that. I hope you post again soon!

Posted on: 9 Jun 2008 1:44
"It's about the horse and that's it." - George Morris
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Re: Ascent to Power

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Warning: Adult sexual content.

Chapter Four
The Dream Begins

The first night aboard ship Erik chose to hibernate in his cabin. He left the room late in the evening after dining alone. On his late evening prowl around the ship he saw not one soul wishing to enjoy the beauty of the night and the full moon reflecting in the wake of the ships passage. A natural gift of nature needing no enhancements to be beautiful. The dark night sky sparkled with millions of stars. Jewels strewn across the heavens. The moonlight gave an unnatural glow to everything it touched. This night was meant for lovers to share. Erik had never shared a lovers moon. Erik was grateful for his solitary walks in the night as he had no one to hide from in this half light.

The cold wind whipped against him bringing tears to his eyes but he didnít mind. The night was luring him into itís dark embrace and he was helpless to resist. Not having the will or inclination to deny himself thoughts of her he allowed Christineís face and voice to haunt his mind. He could hear whispers of song floating around him. The words entranced even as they ravaged his heart with a new searing pain of loss. For a few moments of bliss he suffered hours of torment knowing the dream of her was all he would ever have. That young whelp had her in his bed giving and receiving pleasure in her body. Thinking of her was a deep pleasure and an excruciating pain. He would suffer any amount of pain to have just a brief glimpse of her face. He would gladly give his life to hear her voice sing one of his melodies again.

[/b]Erik you are a most pathetic man. She left you to die without a care for your wellbeing. She heard the mob as well as you did but did she show a moment of concern? No, she left with only a fleeting look over her shoulder. More than likely assuring herself you had not changed your mind and were following them. For all she knows you could be dead. For all intents and purposes you are dead to her. For all your dreams of revenge and having her in your life again the possibility is as small as finding one particular grain of sand on a beach. One grain of sand for a positive result and the remaining grains the surety of not having your wish granted. The negative far outweighs the positive.

Not liking his thoughts he went to bed to try in futility to lose himself in sleep and escape her image. Fruitless desire that was. His dreams were filled with her making the loss all the more painful. Even in slumber his torment haunted him.

A strange occurrence happened their second night out. Nadir had nagged him like and old woman and he relented and joined them at their table for dinner instead of dining in his dark and very stuffy cabin. They shared a table with several other passengers. Among them was a most forward young woman. Her name was Susan Manchester. The daughter of a family of wealth and favored by the royal family. Nadir had learned she had been sent to live with an aunt in France when her antics at home in England had gossip flying around the bluebloods. Her father thought to send her to his aging sister to curtail her antics. Her aunt had been far to meek and mild to handle the young harlot. She had gone through so many young noblemen motherís were locking up their young sons in fear she would start on the younger sons as she had swept through most of the eligible and certainly a few ineligible young men.

Susanís father had sent for her after arranging a marriage with a much older man who didnít mind the loose morals of his future young bride. Being in his late sixties and with no heir he was willing to take on the tarnished young woman to secure the continuation of his familyís line. The older gentleman had been quite a rogue in his day. Marriage had never seemed pressing until it occurred to him that he was on the wrong side of sixty and still had not produced an heir. Not one he would claim at any rate.

Nadir had shared his knowledge with Erik who showed little interest in the telling. What did it matter to him what this woman did? He had his own worries and troubles. Nadir gossiped worse than a group of chattering females.
Introductions were made and all the males except for Erik, Nadir and Darius pulled out a chair for the young woman. Erik could appreciate her beauty but saw no sense in torturing himself with thoughts of bedding her.

He sat at the table and the young woman pulled out the chair by his left side ignoring the offers of seating by the other gentlemen and sat down beside Erik. His heart stopped for a fraction of a second then beat like an over wound clock. The intoxicating scent wafting from her was enough to drive a sane man, which Erik was not, insane with desire. The males around the table stared at her cleavage with quick surreptitious glances. Erik had the best view as he was by her side and was quite a bit taller than the woman beside him. Her gown allowed for quite a bit of skin to be on display. Erik thanked a God he no longer believed in for small favors. During the meal she confused the hell out of him. Damned if the vixen did not keep rubbing herself on his arm and brushing her leg against his during dinner. Her hand on his thigh had him nearly choking on his bite of baked chicken. His face he knew was as red as a ruby and his cheeks felt as if he had a fever. The fever Erik soon realized was not only in his face. A part of him was growing ever more hard and tightening his trousers.

Erik thought he must be crowding her at the table and moved his chair over a couple of inches. Never had anyone willingly touched him. Even his mother put off taking care of his needs until Christian charity made her guiltily attend to her young son.

Conversation around the table was varied as there were two older gentlemen who were veterans of the recent war and were not shy of showing their medals to all who were interested and even those who were not. Erik was grouped with the latter as he thought the men quite boastful and pompous. He was definitely not envious or jealous of those fools. Half his brain held more knowledge than both of theirs put together.

He could not help but notice that they vied for the young womanís attention. He believed he recalled her name being Susan something or other. No matter, he had no plan to further their acquaintance. He could not stand another rejection so soon after His failure with Christine.

He was contented with enjoying his meal when the strangest thing began to occur. Ever so subtly he almost could believe he imagined it her chair moved a fraction of an inch toward his. Her bare shoulder was again rubbing his arm in a most distracting way.

Nothing further happened so he returned to my meal. It was not the best meal he had ever had but it was adequate. He would enjoy this meal though as he did not care for English fare the last few times he had visited that country.

Just when Erik was accepting that the touching had indeed been accidental her soft hand made itís way to his thigh again and moved ever so slowly upward. Erik could hardly breath and he began to sweat profusely. He feared he might faint his breathing was becoming so rapid and erratic. Not having come across any situation like this before naturally he was not sure what his response should be.

He had to force himself not to jump out of his seat when that wicked little hand groped between his legs grasping his hardness in her hand and squeezing ever so gently on his manhood. He was sure he must be dreaming or his madness had taken over his mind and he was hallucinating.

Erik looked around the table and no one gave any indication of knowing about the sinful deed being carried out underneath the table. As her hand began to stroke him he knew he had to remove himself from this situation or he would have her on the table and damn the consequences.

Things like this just did not happen to him. Perhaps she had eaten some meat that was off and it was affecting her mind. Erik knew of mushrooms and other drugs that could cause hallucinations and lower ones inhibitions. Perhaps something of that nature had inadvertently gotten in something she ate or drank causing her to think him someone she was intimately acquainted with.

Clearing his throat of the sudden restriction clogging his throat he stated, "I am suddenly not feeling well. I beg your forgiveness but I think I will return to my cabin.
Nadir if you could please bring some of your stomach medicine to my cabin I would be most appreciative. Ladies, gentlemen goodnight. Enjoy the rest of your meal." With the words hardly out of his mouth he had scooted his chair back and jumped up. With a hasty bow he left the dining room as if the hounds of hell were nipping at his booted feet.

Nadir was confused with Erikís request. Nadir cast a questioning look in Dariusí direction but he only shrugged. He was as baffled as Nadir about Erikís rather abrupt departure. Most peculiar as Erik never suffers from illness disregarding his sickness of mind of course and his illness associated with the young diva.

What stomach medicine?What stomach medicine? Nadir sat at the table in confusion.
Erik was the one with the knowledge of all the ancient remedies and medicines. He could clean a wound and stitch it but he had little useful knowledge of medicines and herbs. He supposed he would have to go to Erik to solve this little mystery.

He waited for dinner to end then declined joining in the dancing taking place after dinner. Damn man even curtails his leisure time. He so would have loved to hold one of those beauties close to him on the dance floor. What new twist to torment him had Erik concocted now he wondered? The man would be the death of him if he didnít quickly find him something to occupy his overly intelligent brain.

He made his way below deck and found Erikís cabin. He knocked and barely had time to make a move to knock a second time when the door was jerked open and he was pulled roughly into the room. The momentum caused him to stumble forward and almost fall flat on his face. He regained his footing just before he fel to the floor in what would have been a painful fall.

Half expecting a burglar he readied himself to exchange blows. He whirled around and brought his fists up to strike out at an assailant. Upon seeing Erik standing there he sighed in relief and dropped his hands.

"Erik I have long ago realized you are an eccentric but what in the name of all that is holy has gotten into you man? Your acting strange even for you. Has your fever perhaps returned?"

"If I did not have a more pressing matter to discuss with you I would take offence of your words but as it is I am quite baffled and need a clear head. Please remember I will not let aspersions on my character go unpunished in the future even if I do claim you as a friend." Having said this he glared at his friend in his most menacing fashion.

Nadir was not quite sure his life had been in danger. With Erik it paid to err on the side of caution. He apologized for his impertinence. One could never be absolutely sure of Erikís temper or sanity.

Erik waived his apology aside and strode as far as the small cabin would allow then a few long legged strides and he was again in front of Nadir. Erik had not shown this much agitation since his little diva left with the Vicomte. He had not one clue what was going through the manís mind.

Erik tended to have a wide range of mood swings and went from one to another in the blink of an eye. Nadir never had been able to decipher Erik's moods. Perhaps that is just as well. To get to far into Erik's head would surely lead to madness. There was just too much churning around in that God awful genius mind of his. Enough to drive a simple man into madness he was sure. Look what it had done to Erik.

"I confess I am stumped as to the reason for what just occurred. My mind tells me I am a fool to think it was intentional but then even when I gave her room the action was repeated. Dare I say even further liberties were taken? Not that I mind such liberties but I can find no purpose for them and I am damned frustrated. What do you think Nadir?"

"At this moment I think you have failed to express what your problem is so I fear I can not pass judgment at this moment. Erik for a man who is often clear to the point of being too blunt on occasion at this moment you are at the risk of my life I will say you are as clear as the mud at the bottom of a pond. What are you asking me to make judgment on if I may ask for my clarification?"

"The young woman who sat beside me tonight. She was most forward with me. Not outwardly so anyone would notice but under the table she was quite free in touching my person."

Nadir saw a most astounding sight. One he had never seen when in Erikís presence. Erik's face flushed with the heat of embarrassment. What in the name of Allah had the young woman done?

This was most intriguing. In all the years of their acquaintance Nadir could never remember seeing Erik flushed from anything other than anger which most days occurred every few seconds or the fever from sickness which occurred after his madness with that Daae woman. That an encounter with an attractive woman was the cause heightened the mystery and his interest.

"How friendly shall we say was the young woman?" Nadir had a hard time repressing the grin that wanted to spread across his face at Erikís uncomfortable shifting from leg to leg and the almost shy way he avoided looking directly into his old friendís eyes. He began to fidget with his suit jacket and placed his hands in his pockets rocking forward and back on the heels of his boots.

"Well she touched a place covered by my trousers that only as an infant did my mother touch and myself for personal reasons we need not go into. What can be the meaning of this bold move? Do you think it was meant to embarrass me? Yes. Yes. That must be the answer. An attempt to have a laugh at my expense." Erik continued his frantic pacing.

"Erik if that were true would it not have been better to do something others could see and not something given privacy by the table? As an attempt to embarrass you in public I would say it failed dismally. To have a private reaction the bullseye was hit. Is that a correct expression Erik?"

"Damn if I am inclined to give you a lesson in speaking correctly when something so momentous has occurred. What in hell am I supposed to do in reaction to such boldness?

"Accept it with a smile? Thank your God for small mercies? Give hot pursuit? So many options are open to you. One would be maybe to try to have a conversation with her. Of course that would require you to leave your borough here in your room. Oh! And dare I say it? You might have to face the light of day. This could be my chance to test a theory of mine that you are part vampire as the man in that dreadfully frightening manuscript you gave me to read. Why do men insist on supporting such nonsense? For centuries superstition has lent credence to the legends."

"It hadn't escaped my notice you did at one time sleep in a coffin and let us not forget that black cape you swirl around like wings of a bat. Come to think of it your attire has always been on the dark side. I have attributed your feud with your God to be the result of your deformity and anger but perhaps your aversion to all things holy stems from an inability to touch anything blessed by your God. You know as hard as I try I can not remember ever seeing you in the light of day. Your eyes do have that uncanny ability to seemingly glow in the dark."

Nadir shivered in remembrance of that tomb of evil he had thought would be entertaining. He had made the mistake of reading the manuscript late one stormy night. The young man who wrote this missive had to be demented. Erik often received mauscripts as he had at one time written several books that had been published. As a favor to the publisher he read mauxcripts then forwarded his opinion onto the man in England.

A police chief in Persia he may have been but the thought of someone drinking the blood of others to sustain a semblance of life after the death of the body was quite disturbing. It sounded like something the cruel Khanum would do. Thinking back he was quite sure that was one of her demented pleasures.

"Are you still going on about that proposed book? Nadir it has been almost a year since you read the thing. In all that time have you come across anyone, other than myself of course, who could fit into the roll of a vampire? For God sake man you were one of the most frightening men in Persia, head of the police and here you are quaking and whimpering like a woman over a fictional character. If you recall my days were kept busy serving the Shah and his mother. Their demands did not leave much free time and you must remember I was away a lot overseeing the construction of the new palace and as for sleeping in a coffin you know I did that to remind myself I looked like death as if my face weren't enough of a reminder. My life under the opera did not leave me with the opportunity to seek the light in case of discovery and need I remind you that my face is gruesome enough at night in daylight it may well give a person heart failure."

"I take offense at your remarks. I do not whimper or quake. I simply had a momentary chill and it made my voice less strong. You have to concede that there is ample evidence to support the theory that you could be a child of the night. Now let's please do leave my reading habits behind and focus on your dilemma. Although I fail to see why you have such negative views on the encounter. Just as reminder I tell you again your face is not your main issue. Your attitude and temper do not invite closeness. A smile would invite conversation but your scowls send even the strongest of men running in fear."

"Fine. Fine. I still think youíre an old woman but let's not digress. I think the young woman may have been drunk or delusional. Why would such a beautiful woman try to attract me with so many young, handsome and wealthy men on board?"

"Erik as I have told you before on many occasions you are a striking figure. Many women would be thrilled to keep company with you. If you could ever learn to curb your anger you might see a different world around you."

"Oh I am sure of this as my schedule has been so busy entertaining all these young women. Why I hardly have time to catch my breath. Soon I shall have to allot numbers just so that I make sure I do not neglect one or favor one over the other." Erik voice was laced with sarcasm.

"Pack your sarcasm away or I shall leave. How could you expect to meet any young women? You have hidden in the dark and dank bowels of that damn opera house for twenty years. If you had taken the time to woo the young women of the opera instead of scaring them half to death making them think you were a damn ghost you may have found a woman by now."

As he saw Erik about to speak he knew what he was going to say and Nadir cut him off before he could utter one word.

"Do not spout that nonsense about Christine. That young vixen was not the woman for you and the two of you were hardly a normal couple. Angel of Music indeed. In Persia you were the Angel of Death. I just realized that you have a fixation with angels Erik. You do not hear any voices perhaps or see visions of your God perchance?"

"Do not be ridiculous. I am somewhat insane at times but not yet to that level of losing my mind. Need I remind you that you are still on notice and my Punjab nears your throat with each word?"

"It is comforting to know you are the same insane Erik I have always known. With you it pays to be cautious. For your information I do not think you are wrong in your assumptions that the young woman was intentionally overly familiar with you and as a man I would think you should know the answer to the question of why. She has lust for you. Imagine that Erik."

Erik's mind boggled at the thought of a young woman lusting for him. Good God only a few months ago he was begging on bended knee for Christine to stay with him in any capacity.

He was even willing to forgo intimacy for her company alone. To hear her voice in song would have been enough for him besotted fool that he was and still is he admitted to himself.

"Tomorrow casually seek the young woman out and strike up a conversation with her. You are an articulate man and have knowledge of vast numbers of subjects. You should have no difficulty in keeping her interest."

"A handsome man would have no difficulty but a man with this face has many concerns. One being not having her run screaming when she sees me in the harsh light of day and with a mind not fogged by liquor. I must be mad to think I could attract such a woman. It is best to leave things as they are and at least have the false thought that she was attracted to me instead of having her confirm my delusion.Ē

"Erik you are such a fool. The woman had only sat down at the table. She had consumed no alcohol. Right now I could use a healthy dose myself even though it would go against the teachings of my religion. That is how much you drive me to insanity. Soon I fear you will have a roommate in the room at the asylum You are a most frustrating man. If I did know you would kill me I would smack some sense into that hard stubborn head of yours. Just accept the fact that women are going to find you a mysterious dangerous man and want to be the one to tame your wild wicked ways. Of course they do not know you are totally beyond taming. Sleep on it tonight and weíll see how you feel in the morning."

"Sleep? How often do I require sleep? I shall try but I fear it will be a fruitless pursuit." Erik had never required much sleep and as nightmares plagued him nightly he was glad of that.

"Always the pessimist Erik. Did you know in the book it said that vampires do not sleep. They simply rest in their coffin from sunup until sundown. When was the last time you saw a sunrise Erik?" Seeing Erik begin to bare his white teeth he thought again of vampires and thought of the long walk in the dark to get to the other side of the ship. He could almost swear Erikís eye teeth had grown just the tiniest bit. At this moment Nadir wished he were a Christian and had a cross handy or perhaps holy water. Damn Erik and his books and would it hurt him not to be so damned dark all the time?

After closing the door after Nadir left Erik wondered how he would get to sleep. On normal nights his sleep was troubled and now his body was betraying him. His ardor had lessened somewhat but the want was still there lurking to take hold of him in dreams. Erik did not foresee slumber taking him into itís peaceful arms any time soon. He did not even have his organ to bash out his frustration upon.

His violin was too fragile and he feared he might damage it in his frenzy to release his passions.

After undressing in the bathroom Erik bathed with the water his cabin boy had brought earlier. He sank into the tub relaxing his muscles in the lukewarm water. He closed his eyes and Christineís image floated across his mindís eye. That angelic face he longed to caress. Those warm lush lips he longed to press against his in a fever of want and need.

His hands ached to caress her breasts and all the womanly parts hidden from the eyes of everyone but the one who is her lover. Oh to be that man. He would sell his soul to the devil to possess her once. One time only and he could live forever in the heavenly memory.

These thoughts brought his body to a state of uncomfortable arousal. He moved trying to relieve some of the ache knowing it was useless. Giving in to the need his hand crept down to his hard flesh. Taking his hardened shaft into his hand he slowly moved his hand up and down caressing the flesh that ached for attention. Soon his strokes were coming faster and harder. His hips raising to met the downward stroke of his hand. In his mind's eye it was Christine stroking him in ecstasy. A moan escaped his mouth. The pleasure was reaching near unbearable levels. He pictured himself firmly seated between her lush white thighs buried deep in her warmth. His hand started to pump up and down frantically seeking to give him the release he needed desperately. He moaned out Christine's name in a tortured voice. His voice sounding guttural in the heat of passion.

At first he didn't hear the knock at the door. His lust drowned out all but the drive to reach the pinnacle of release. The knocking continued and finally penetrated his mind. If he had been sure he had remembered to lock the door he would have cursed the person behind the door to hell and continued. If it was Nadir he may well enter if Erik didn't answer. With one last lustful stroke dragging a groan from his throat he paused. His labored breathing gradually slowed.

His engorged manhood refused to relax. It throbbed with unsatisfied need. Erik promised himself if it was Nadir at his door he was no longer going to be in the land of the living. Damnation whoever stood behind that door was in peril of losing their life.

Shoving his arms into his black robe he stalked angrily across the cabin and threw the door open with a hard jerk that had the door hitting the wall with a crash. The noise and the sudden opening of the door made the young woman standing there jump and give a squeak of fright. Looking at his face her eyes widened momentarily. He thought it was due to his sudden opening of the door.

Erik could not believe what his eyes were seeing. Susan Manchester stood before him clutching a blue satin cloak around her luscious body. He eyes raked over her form and they widened when he saw her feet were bare. He saw ten dainty well manicured toes sticking out from under her cloak. Catching him staring at her bare toes they curled under in nervousness. She was by no means shy but she had never sought to seduce a man after only meeting him for a few short hours. Her time was short so she couldnít afford the usual coy games she played with potential lovers.

"Will you not invite me in Erik? I hope you don't mind if I call you Erik and you may call me Susan. After all I feel we are to become great friends."

Not knowing what to do and wanting to return to his bath and his self pleasuring he hesitated then bowed from the waist and swept his hand in invitation. She passed in front of him and trailed her hand down from his shoulder to his waist as she stepped past him into the cabin. He sucked his breath in quickly. In Erikís haste he had forgotten to put on his mask. His frustration and anger were all he could think of in this moment. His mask for once far from his thinking at this moment.

Shutting the door he leaned his head against the door banged his head a couple of times against the solid wood and inhaled deeply then turned and stopped as if suddenly hitting a wall of brick. The bold young temptress had removed her cloak and she was as naked as the day she was born underneath. Hungrily yet believing he must have fallen asleep in his bath and a marvelous dream was about to unfold he let his gaze rove over her curves. His heated eyes taking in each inch of bared flesh.

"I know you will think I'm some sort of loose woman but I had to take this opportunity to have one last fling with a young attractive man. As soon as I reach England's shores I will be tied to man older than my own grandfather. Please donít send me away. I ask nothing more than this one night. After that if you no longer wish to see me I shall be grateful for one last night of heated passion."

Heated passion? Erik had yet to share one night of passion with a woman. Heated of otherwise. The instant reaction of his body made him grateful for the thick concealing material of his robe. His lower body was definitely giving the young woman his full attention.

As she spoke she had been advancing on him slowly. When she was but an inch from his muscled body she stopped and raised her shapely brow in question. When he made no move to retreat or advance she took it upon herself to initiate contact. Erik could make no response other than swallow whatever seemed to be lodged in his throat.

At her first touch his skin heated several degrees and his heart took on the rhythm of a watch wound too tightly. He could feel each heavy beat pound the inner wall of his chest shaking his body with the power of the heavy beats.

God if this is but a dream he was going to enjoy each moment until he woke up. A fleeting thought flitted across his mind that maybe he had succumbed to the use of morphine once more and he was hallucinating while in a drug induced slumber.

Erik stretched his hand out and when she didnít shy from his touch he gently stroked her face with the barest tip of his fingers. When she did nothing but stroke her cheek against him he laid the palm of his hand on her cheek and slowly lowered his lips to hers not wanting to frighten her. He himself was shaking like a leaf in a strong wind.

Christine had been the only woman he had ever touched in this manner and look how that had turned out. Flashes of his time with Christine entered his mind and his love and want stormed his defenses.

The last night they were together she had been in his opera Don Juan Triumphant. He could again hear the sensual lyrics and erotic music of his one and only opera to be seen by an audience. That night Erik and Christine had all but made love on the stage. He had purposely wrote the words to suggest two people promising to have wild untamed sex. He had wanted that twit of a boy to suffer as he seduced then made love to Christine with his voice, touching her intimately in front of everyone. He had done it too and she had certainly responded. For a few blessed moments he thought she had changed her mind about betraying him. Then she had ripped his mask from him with only a small fleeting look of regret. Her eyes had quickly turned to her precious Vicomte.

A burning urgent need heated his lower body and the ache that had not left him earlier shot through him with such force that he pulled the young woman into his body so forcefully he knocked the breath from her temporarily. He had taken her by surprise and it had taken her a moment to react to his advance. In his haste he was far less gentle than he should have been. Her lips parted and her tongue rubbed along Erikís lips asking for entrance. Not having any experience with kissing or what came after Erik tried to recall some of the conversations he had over heard from the bragging stagehands. He had been entertained throughout his youth with the torrid escapades that went on behind the scenes and had even watched a few encounters as well.

Feeling perhaps he should relax a bit he let his lips loosen and soften. That was all Susan needed to allow her tongue to forge into his mouth and stroke his tongue with hers. The heat he felt before now became an inferno. Urges he never felt before were telling his mind to grab and take what he wanted and damn the consequences. Another part was telling him he would be betraying his love for Christine if he took what he wanted so badly.

The image of Christine only made his desire for gratification more urgent. Allowing his mind to replace the woman in his arms with an image of Christine drove him to seek more than the touch of her lips on his. His hands began to explore her body. In his mind it was Christine's body he touched and that moved so enticingly under him. The groan of pleasure from her gave proof that his touch was welcome and indeed needed. When his hand grazed the taught peak of her breast her hand came over his and held it to her firmly. When he made no move to remove his hand she released his and boldly put her hand on his chest and rubbed her soft hand over his male nipples. Ripples of pleasure coursed through his veins shooting hot flowing blood directly to his already engorged manhood.

When her dainty hand traveled from his chest and then down his stomach just above his groin a groan escaped from his throat. A satisfied smile crossed her face as her hands rose back to his shoulders and crept under his robe. She smoothed his robe from his shoulders and down his arms letting it slide to the floor. Erik had never stood before anyone unclothed. If he had he had no memory of it. His hot glance down her body fueled an already burning fire in his lower body.

Susan brought her hand back to his shoulder and trailed her hands over the hard flesh. She moved her hands down his chest rubbing gently over his male nipples. Her right hand moved down over his stomach causing him to inhale quickly.

When that blessedly tormenting hand traveled further and grasped him with her fingers wrapped tightly around his throbbing manhood he nearly shot through the ceiling of his cabin. He was the only person to ever see or touch that part of him in all his adult life. To have a soft feminine hand wrapped around him was heaven. When she began to stroke him he thought he had entered heaven sometime in the last few seconds for surely he heard the angels heavenly choir singing just for him. He prayed with what little belief he still had in that deity that he could please her and not embarrass himself coming to completion too early.

Being a virgin, he knew his chances of holding off the inevitable would be minute. Once he sank into that wet warmth he knew it would take but a few strokes to lose control. He had to pleasure her first then seek his own.

Feeling his knees begin to shake and about to buckle he swept her up into his arms and strode over to the bed. He laid her down gently and stood for mere seconds feasting his eyes on her beauty. Nothing he could have imagined could surpass the reality of a beautiful womanís body. He closed his eyes and brought the image of Christine to his mind. With her firmly in his thoughts he lay down beside the woman and began to touch all her secret places that had until now been a mystery to Erik. Oh God Christine how much I love you. Oh God Christine how much I love you. With the memory of his love he brought his lips down to crush the soft feminine ones beneath his.

When he felt her hand on his face for a moment he was confused by the feeling. Something was odd and out of place. Her hand was caressing his skin. The skin of his right deformed cheek. That if nothing else could douse the ardor in him. His night of passion was over before he had reaped any benefit of the womanís willing body. God truly hated him and cursed him. Erik just hoped he could come away with a little of his dignity intact.
Warning:Sexual content. Language.

Posted on: 9 Jun 2008 14:41
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Re: Ascent to Power

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Warning:Sexual content. Language.

Chapter Five
The Face is Not the Ruler of Passion

Erik shot to a sitting position. His hand flew to his face to cover the red mottled flesh. The misshapen skin and raw places where the mask rubbed continuously. The skin was rough to the touch and ridges and folds of skin covered the crest of his cheek. Small knots where bone tissue grew were on his cheek and forehead. His hair was thinner on that side. The malformed flesh reaching up into his hairline. Until recently he had worn a black wig. Nadir had taken him to a barber and his hair was cut in such a way as to cover most of the right side of his head. Nothing could be done about his face.

"God please forgive me. I did not realize my mask was not on. In my haste I had forgotten to replace it." Erik felt his anger rising. Not at the young woman but at himself. How stupid to forget something that was such an important part of who he was. His mask was what had given him strength over the years. The ability to strive for a place in the world. It had been the driving force for him at the opera house. Behind that piece of leather he felt like a man. All his flaws could be shielded from prying eyes. A gentle hand on his shoulder made him flinch away from her touch The hand returned and he accepted the touch. Slowly she stroked that hand down from his shoulder over the many scars on his back earned from the leather strap of his mother and then later from the Gypsy's leather whip.

"Erik? Did it seem as if I minded? Wasn't I pleasing enough? I thought you wanted me as I wanted you. Your face isnít that bad. Not to me. I won't lie it is not pleasant to look at but not unbearable. Believe me I have seen worse among the crew members of this ship. Honestly it isn't your face that would have attracted me to you in the first place. You have many attributes that would please a woman. I am a woman who is attracted by a strong body rather than a handsome face. Let me show you."

Sitting up behind him she wrapped her arms around his waist and began to kiss his shoulders and back. At first he was stiff and unresponsive but she was determined to have her night. Her hands were not idle. Never had Susan been with a man whose body was so muscled and firm. Most of the noblemen she knew were soft and overweight due to lack of exercise. Erik was quite an enticing specimen.

Erik was reaching a point where he had to find relief or go insane with need. His body and mind agreed satisfaction was better than insanity.

Pulling on his shoulder she pulled him back to lay flat on his back. Bending down she kissed him and then the kiss grew in passion and intensity with each passing second. With a strangled groan Erik flipped over and when she was under him he sought the softness of her breast with his hand. With an encouraging hand she guided his head to her so his lips and mouth could seek the joy of her softness. That pink tipped pebble begged his mouth to savor what so proudly puckered before his eyes. He took the tip into his mouth and sucked deeply. His tongue moved in an unknown caress. When she shivered and moaned Erik repeated the action but this time it was planned and deliberate.

In his eagerness Erik was at first not as debonair or skilled as he would have wished but what he lacked in skill he more than made up for in stamina and a willingness to please his partner. He had seen lovers in the opera in all manner of lovemaking. He had read countless books on the subject. None of that mattered in this moment when he was faced with a flesh and blood woman. A willing one at that. His body was racing miles ahead of his brain. At this rate he would explode without having even ventured into that heavenly warmth.

Each place Erik placed his hand seemed to please her. When his hand brushed the curls at the apex of her thighs he thought for a moment he had hurt her in some way as she gasped loudly. Until she grabbed his hand back and guided it back to that wet warm place he had never seen in such close quarters and most assuredly not touched. He then knew the sounds she made were the sounds of pleasure not pain. He had seen women behind the opera stage in all manner of dress but never this close and never had he touched any of those women as much as he had longed to.

The accidental rub of a finger on the small nub of nerves between her feminine folds had Susan lifting her hips up from the mattress. Not knowing what caused the reaction he simply repeated what he had done and elicited a response with a more intense reaction from the woman.

Seeing in his mind Christine writhing in pleasure and hearing her cry his name in passion drove Erik to shove his hips against the warm flesh under him. The feel of a small hand wrapping around his swollen shaft drove all thoughts from him except to seek an end to this torture and finding relief from this burning in his loins and the steady buildup of pressure needing to be released.

With each stroke of his finger she matched a stroke of her hand. Erik ground his hips lustily into her massaging hand. He never thought such small appendages could give and receive so many delightful sensations. All he wanted to think of was Christine and hearing her moan and seek to return the caresses he was giving her. In his mind each stroke of his hand was given to his beloved Christine.
"Oh God Erik now. Take me now. I shall lose my mind if you donít possess me now."

Hearing her voice was interrupting his illusion and he was not pleased. He kissed her fiercely to prevent further speech. Using his knee he pushed her willing legs apart and settled between her thighs. He positioned himself and felt the warm wetness against him. He wanted to surge into that tight wetness so badly he had to struggle to keep his head. The only thing keeping him from erupting at that moment was his willpower alone. His body was screaming for him to take her and drive into her until his need was satisfied.

Knowing if he gave in to his baser instincts it would be over all too soon he held back from that final thrust into the waiting heavenly passage to fulfillment. He wanted to make this last as long as his body would allow. If he could have eternity he would wish it to start in this moment.

"Oh God Christine. Love me. Please love me." Erik in his haze of lust with thoughts of another woman he did not feel her momentary stiffening. The moment was fleeting and passed almost as quickly as it came. The young woman had been used by men before to substitute for a fiancťe who wouldn't contemplate a sexual relationship until after marriage. Some had frigid wives or a loved wife whoís health could not withstand intimacy any longer. Many reasons had driven her lovers to her bed. Never had it been love. Most didn't even care for her at all except the pleasure her luscious curves gave them. She had long ago given up on the idea of finding love. She was sure it didn't exist. It was just something fictional poets and romantics made up to excuse the passion they felt and the expression of that passion with physical deeds.

Her own parents had proven to be less than faithful to one another. Each had partners coming and going in a constant stream for gratification. Love was never an issue. Susan had decided long ago that if she was going to married off to someone she didnít know let alone love she would have as much fun in her life as she could. Many lovers had come and gone but none took her heart with them. She guarded that most sacred organ diligently. Tonight may well be her last night to indulge herself as her fiancťe was supposed to meet her in London if his business affairs were settled in Italy.

With one hard strong thrust Erik entered the warm depths of a woman for the first time. With that entrance into a heaven he had never known he lost all his control and his thrusts and groans of pleasure were the only sounds in the room. One last shred of sane thought and he remembered to pleasure her even as the moment of his own climax neared.
His hand between them found her little pearl of pleasure. He stroked his finger in unison with the strokes of his body. He found he got the most pleasure if he pulled out of her to almost the point of separation and then driving into her with a hard thrust of his hips. With each thrust her groans grew louder and more prolonged. She was writhing under him in a frenzied manner.

Images from the past spent with Christine flew across his memory. With each memory an intense wave of pleasure gripped him. Soon he was thrusting into the woman with rapid hard strokes. Each stroke harder than the one before causing the flame to burn hotter in his entire body. Soon his thrusts were almost violent in nature. His hands were groping her firm breasts with ungentle hands. His mouth sucked on her delicate skin. His teeth nipped little bites along her neck and on the puckered tips of her breasts. The taste of her was sweeter than any honey more heady than any wine. His Christine was one fuck he would not soon forget. His desire intensified as he repeated over and over in his mind that last sane thought. His tender feelings for his beloved were overshadowed by his baser longings. No he did not make love to his beloved. He fucked her as any stagehand had ever fucked one of the ballet rats who were so free with their young lithe bodies.

Erik lifted one of her legs by wrapping his hand around her thigh so his penetration could be deeper within her warm feminine entrance to heaven. He was sheathed in warm wet womanhood. The coil tightened in him even as he felt the body beneath him stiffen and heard her cry out his name at the end of her tortured journey. He felt her tighten around him deep inside her wetness. The clenching of her muscles in her climax added to his pleasure and drove him to the point he knew he had reached what his whole body had been striving to achieve. His teeth clenched flexing his jaw muscles. His teeth were clamped to tightly his jaw began to ache. That little bit of discomfort was overtaken by the intensity of lustful pleasure shooting to every nerve ending. He felt more alive than at any other time in his life. A few hard strokes and Erik quickly followed with his own release. He spilled his warm seed into her waiting womb.

Not wanting the moment to end he continued to thrust into her and in his mind he was hearing Christine's gasps of fulfillment ringing in his ears. Needing to catch his breath he finally withdrew himself from her. He lay beside the woman gasping for breath with his eyes closed not wanting to return to reality any time soon. The image of Christine lying beneath him replete with spent passion and her eyes glowing with renewed lust for him too enticing to discard for reality.

The feminine form next to him was still and quiet. Only the rise and fall of her chest giving evidence she lived. Her eyes were closed and her mouth had a small smile lingering at the edges of her lips. Tendrils of sweat dampened hair clung to her forehead and cheek. Erik thought he had never seen a more beautiful sight. He reached out with a shaking hand and brushed the hair from her cheek. Her skin was so soft and warm. Erik's skin tended to be slightly colder than a normal persons. Nadir surmised it was because of living so long in dark and damp surroundings. Susan did not seem to mind. She had not shied away like Christine had.

Knowing this could be his one and only chance to be with a woman Erik planned to take advantage of his time with her. Sleep would no longer be welcomed. He had much exploration and experimentation to pursue. He did not seek slumber now. His body was too fired with want and need. A satisfying climax after thrusting wildly into her softness tamed the beast of his raging desire for only a moment. A few caresses on her dewy wet curves had him swollen and aching for that mad rush to feel all control slip away and the raging, gripping ride to the pinnacle of pleasure overtake him again. Then feel the fast plunge downward releasing his hot seed into her warm embracing womanhood.

Rolling onto his left side he tentatively placed his hand on her stomach. He had plans of taking her several more times and examining each curve and crevice if she allowed it. He wanted as much as he could have to take with him in memory of this night. If it was to be his only encounter or if as he suspected he was drugged he would have his memories. He no longer thought he was dreaming as his dreams had never been of the pleasant sort. They tended to be more nightmare than calming pleasant dreams. This was more like one of his daydreams as he pleasured himself after seeing a particularly attractive woman in the opera house. Clothed or unclothed Erik had an appreciation for the beauty of women. Countless times he came upon a half naked woman in dark corners or storage rooms spread out waiting for a lover to join her. Who was Erik to turn down these gifts of glimpsing smooth feminine flesh? He would look his fill hidden in the dark shadows then rush to the privacy of his bedroom to release his desires with hard fast strokes of his hand.

Not able to resist he found her moist center between her warm folds of skin at the apex of her thighs. The gliding of his finger over the little erect nub forced a groan from Susan's throat. Her hips lifted to find that stroking finger again. She felt the friction again. The flash of heat that coursed through her body shocked her in its intensity. Never had a lover taken the time to give her so much. So few of her lovers wanted anything more than a quick fuck and then to run back to the one who owned their heart. This man had given her more pleasure in the last half hour than all the lovers she had the last six years. God he was amazing.

Erik watched her face as he inserted his finger into her. To be allowed this liberty was a gift. Surely he had never thought to be given a privilege such as this. The look on her face resembled someone in extreme pain. Her panting quickened in time with the tempo of his finger strokes. Her hips raising to meet that stroking finger and ride the ones inserted inside her. Soon she was begging Erik to give her that sweet release. Her promises of giving him anything he desired had his mind debating what new delights he could have her grant him. The possibilities were endless. One came to mind. Almost in the same instant he took her hand and placed it on his throbbing erection. Those talented hands brought him to a quick climax.

Washing her after his release was a sensual experience itself. He made sure he cleaned each and every inch. A woman's body was such a pleasurable sight. This intimacy had been denied him all his adult life. From the top of their head to the tip of their toes a woman radiated magic. He found this woman a complete delight.

Her crying out in ecstasy at his touch gave him a powerful feeling. To have someone under his control in this way was heady and intoxicating. The power was similar to what he felt as he took the life of someone with his lasso. Her joy and his were one and the same. What pleased her pleased him as well.

Giving her time to rest Erik absentmindedly caressed her learning each inch of soft pliable skin. He did not want to seem a rutting animal so he waited what to him seemed an unbearable amount of time but was only a mere five minutes before making his intentions to have her again known to the woman. The delighted smile was unexpected but welcome. Erik wanted to learn all the ways to pleasure a woman and at the same time satisfy his own needs. He had heard enough chorus girls and ballerinas behind the stage backdrops and in the passages of the opera house complain of inconsiderate lovers. Just as a precaution should he meet a woman who allowed him these liberties again he wanted no ill thoughts on his prowess to be bandied about.

Many times during the night Erik sought out the willing woman in his bed. After a short time it no longer seemed appropriate to envision Christine. Susan was a knowledgeable woman and was not shy about making her wants and likes known. He waited for her to inform him of what she liked to perform with a man and what she did not like. Amazingly she had no dislikes that he could discern. She seemed willing and he could proudly say quite enthusiastic to all of his suggestions.

When her mouth performed an act he had not deemed quite proper he protested but his baser instincts won out and he happily returned the act for which she was most grateful. He filed this act away in the back of his mind to be retrieved later. This was one act he found highly arousing and greatly satisfying.

After the sixth time of being together she protested that she was tired and her body was getting quite sore. Erik was primed and ready to climb the heady heights of bliss but had to cool his ardor. He had hopes of an early morning lovemaking session and an idea that he might like to try a romp in the tub if she was willing. She may think him a lecherous man but he had many years of deprivation to make up for. He intended to grab as much from this willing creature of bliss as he could before their time together ended.

To his delight she was agreeable to the early morning lovemaking and his suggestion for the tub. Both were highly successful. Thank the Lord above he was no longer a virgin was his last thought as they drifted into sleep early in the morning following the most satisfying bathing experience of his life. Neither woke again until late afternoon.

The cabin boy he summoned to bring water for their second bath almost broke his young neck trying to see who the woman was that was lying there stretched out on his bed. Laying on her stomach with her hair fanned out over her face prevented him from seeing anything except her shoulders and dark hair.

Try as he might Erik could not stop his chest from puffing out in pride. Ugly Erik, The Phantom had a willing woman in his bed and she did more than give him two torturous kisses on the lips that left him wanting. Christine's paltry offerings upon his lips before she left him dimmed somewhat in light of what he had experienced the night before and this morning.

After the young man had brought the final bucket of water Erik scooped Susan up and took her to the bathroom. He lowered her carefully into the water and waited for an invitation to join her for their second shared bath. Just because they spent the last hours passionately entwined he would not presume to assume he would be welcome to share a bath once again with her although that was one delight he longed to share again. Two dark lust filled orbs stared at him from her glowing face. With a searching glance up and down his body she smiled in open invitation. Her dainty hand stretched out and took hold of his. From there he let his fantasy take over once more. It was all he could have hoped for and more. Who knew that soaping another person could be so damn arousing?

Had they not had to get ready for their departure from the ship later they would have spent the day in bed. He must not have been too much of a disappointment as she gave him the address of her residence in England and a card of introduction to hand to her butler should he find time to visit her. The only thing to keep him from seeing that wonderful woman again would be if the earth caught fire and blew them all to kingdom come.

"Erik you do realize that within a matter of a few hours it will be all over the ship that we spent the night together? Simple deduction and the cabin boy can discover who was missing at the breakfast table. Along with the fact that our own tablemates will think it odd that we both missed breakfast. These people do seem to love gossip and live to spread it among themselves and the other passengers. I hope you don't mind. My reputation is already in ruins but I would hate to see someone else suffer because of my bad name."

She was worried about him? A man who had taken many lives and burned an opera house full of people almost to the ground? It would have been laughable if it were not so tragic. If she only knew what sort of man she had spent the night with she would more than likely turn white haired from the fright and pass out, not recovering until the ship had docked.

It was sweet of her to be concerned though. Other than a handful of people there had been no one to care if he lived or died. It felt good to have someone care even if it were a fleeting sentiment.

After she dressed she kissed him with renewed passion and he was tempted to say to hell with seeing the shore of England approach. After all he had seen it before. How many times would a man such as he get the opportunity to lay with a woman such as the one in his arms? Hell, after his failure with Christine he had doubts of ever savoring the loving embrace of a woman. During the night he had learned that she may present a faÁade of an uncaring reckless pleasure seeker but deep down she was just a sweet scared young woman. She was far from being the heartless carefree loose woman she showed the world. Reluctantly he let her leave. To release her from his arms was almost harder and more painful than letting Christine go and watching as her lover rowed her away from him to freedom.

Shaking off his melancholy he renewed his promise to himself to begin again. Perhaps now he would find the courage to seek companionship from another woman. God had granted him the miracle once and if it did not seem greedy maybe he would grant him the pleasure again. Perhaps with happier results.

Just to further reassure himself he not had a drug induced euphoric experience he pulled out the little leather pouch from his luggage and checked the contents. There were still five vials in the case so he had not been drugged. He had not resorted to morphine. This was concrete evidence that he had indeed had a woman in every way possible in his bed the night before and in the early morning hours as the sun chased away the shadows of night.

He couldn't help the foolish grin he had plastered on his face as he left his cabin after dressing and packing the few items he had around the cabin. As hard as he tried that stupid grin refused to stay in hiding. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror Erik was shocked to think that by God he looked almost handsome. Hoping Nadir would attribute his unusual good sprits to the fact that he was starting life over with a clean slate Erik left his cabin.

Nadir had his own idea of what had taken place in Erik's cabin. An all too eager young cabin boy had let slip he had seen a woman in Erik's cabin and she had been obviously without clothing. For a few coins Nadir got a thorough recounting of all that the young man had witnessed. This information was most enlightening. Nadir planned to use the information to teach Erik a lesson in teasing. Something that had been too long neglected in his life. Nadir hoped Erik had developed a less vengeful nature over the last few months. He had been very obliging and reasonable lately.
Erik should have known Nadir would ferret out anything of interest happening on the ship. The man had a sixth sense when it came to digging up things people wished to hide. He had after all been the head of an elite Persian police force.

Damn Nadir and his prying. He was intrigued by Erik's never before seen foolish grin and the fact that he had slept late. In his embarrassment at his question of where Erik had been during breakfast and tea later he had let slip he had been in bed. He need not know Erik was not alone. Damn him and his bloodhound skills. One look at Erikís face and a huge grin spread across Nadir's lips. Erik was sure Nadir knew something and was just playing with him trying to draw him out into openly admitting to his late night activities.
"So Erik how was your night? Strange that you and Susan Manchester were the only two missing this morning. You wouldnít have happened to have seen her this morning would you? Word around the ship is she did not return to her cabin last night but she was seen just a few minutes ago entering her cabin."

Nadir noticed Erik's uncomfortable shifting and unwillingness to look him in the eye. A telling gesture. If one could not look another in the eye they were lying or hiding something. The shifting about was a telling sign that Erik had something to hide. He had that one nervous quirk when he had done something he knew would cause himself discomfort if others knew his secret or it was something he did not wish to share. Nadir had to look twice to reaffirm that his eyes were not deceiving him. Erik was blushing. A pink tinge was slowly creeping up his neck into his cheeks. They had actually done the deed. The evidence was all there in front of his own eyes. Nadir had been a witness of Erik's second blush. Amazing!

"How the hell should I know where that young woman is. I am not her keeper. Have I suddenly become a chaperone? Has someone hired me as a child minder? If so, someone failed to inform me or offer me ample compensation. What business is it of yours or anyone else's where she was or when she returned to her cabin?"

"My aren't we in a temper this morning? I asked simple questions Erik. Nothing that warrants this level of anger. Did you not sleep well Erik? Odd thing is you look extremely well rested and miracles of all miracles you had a real smile on your face and not your normal sneer. With this level of protest you sound as if you have something to hide or maybe you are feeling guilty for some reason. As we both know Mademoiselle Manchester is many years from being a child. I am inclined to believe she has never had such innocence."

"I care nothing for your beliefs or opinions. Are you so bored this morning you must delve into the comings and goings of others? If you must know I do not smirk. I have done nothing that would cause me guilt. I rested quite well thank you. My temper as you call it is no more than irritation with you because of your incessant questions. Now I think I have answered all of them. Are you entirely happy now Nadir?"

"Not completely but we can remedy that with a little more details from you."

Nadir saw the lovely lady in question coming up behind Erik. The grin on her face matched the one on Erik's earlier. When she stopped at Erikís side he had a suspicion how Erik had spent his night and early morning. His earlier deductions were reinforced. May Allah be praised for his unfailing mercy. That young woman was going to earn a place in her heaven he was sure. He could not even care that she had spent the night acting less than a lady. To him she was a heaven sent answer to a prayer.

"Erik I just wanted to be sure you had not lost the card I gave you or my address. We did get a little side tracked during the exchange not that I minded one bit. You kept me occupied most satisfactorily." The whole time she had been speaking her hands were tightly wrapped around Erik's upper right arm as if she were afraid he might bolt if she did not hold him still. Looking at his face Nadir thought that was precisely what Erik had on his mind. If that young bounder thought he was going to get away without giving him details he was quite mistaken. If Nadir had to hound his steps until they departed from the ship Erik would tell him what had occurred. In great detail.

Nadir could only look on in wonder as Erik patted his vest pocket and assured her he had it safely tucked away. The breath whooshed from Nadir in surprise as the young woman reached up and as bold as you please kissed Erik on his equally surprised mouth. It was not a quick peck on the cheek. No, that young woman kissed Erik on his mouth with familiarity and quite a bit of passion. Nadir could not miss the wandering hands of the little harlot.

When Erik was released from her encircling arms and she turned and walked away Darius and Nadir both stood in silent expectation of an explanation. Their folded arms across their chests indicating they were willing to wait for him to divulge the information they sought. They had plenty of time and no particular place to be at this moment.
Taking his eyes away from her retreating back he turned back to face Nadir and Darius. They looked as if ready to stand there until both of them died or Erik gave them the information they wanted. He hoped to play innocent and ignorant of what they wanted.

"What? Am I not properly dressed? Did I forget something? Does my vest not match my suit? Have I still a bit of shaving cream on my face?" He ran his hands down over his suit and over his freshly shaven face. He straightened an already immaculate cravat.

"Erik you are a sly one to be sure. I had hopes you would brave a conversation with the woman but this is beyond anything I could have imagined. So how was the encounter? Leave nothing out. Go into great detail. Spare me nothing. As you know I do not indulge as I still mourn for my wife but I am not against second hand pleasure."

"I have no idea what fantasy is in your mind Nadir. I spent a quite boring evening and fell asleep early."

"Then you must have done the deed wrong. A man does not let a woman looking like that young lady leave his bed unless she was not happy with his performance. Too bad my friend. Perhaps you will fair better the next time as you have now broken the ice so to speak. Do not worry all men have a night of failure now and again. I am sure your disappointing performance will in no way change her mind about you." Nadir placed a comforting hand on Erik's shoulder casting his head downward to hide the knowing grin from Erik's eagle eyes.

Erik shook of the hand on his shoulder in anger. "What the hell are you spouting off about now? My night was quite vigorous and I can assure you I met the task quite energetically. I made love to that young woman in ways you can only imagine. Failure indeed. I performed amazingly well judging by the moans escaping her mouth each time we were together. If I had not pleased her she would not have given me her address in London and a card of introduction." Indignantly Erik pulled out the card Susan had given him and waved it under Nadir's nose.

Nadir could stand it no longer. He burst out laughing and Darius joined in. Nadir knew Erik's arrogant pride would not let a slight to his manhood pass without comment.

"Erik if there is one thing predictable about you it is your pride. Now enough of your denials. Tell me all the details without getting overly graphic. I should be advising you that a gentleman never divulges what happens with his lady behind closed doors of the bedroom. Just this once I will break my own set of values and ask how the evening progressed and was it all you had hoped?"

"As I have said before Nadir you are becoming more and more like a gossipy old woman every day. I do not think I shall bore you with the details of my night. All I will say is I can no longer wear white at my wedding as I have been deflowered."

"That custom is for the bride not the groom. Is this your way of telling me you experienced the joys of flesh to flesh with that young woman?"

"Take the words any way you please. I shall not say one more word about the matter. Now unless you have some other topic of conversation I would like to enjoy watching the shoreline come into view."

"So I am to suffer in my disappointment. Might I remind you that you are indebted to me for giving five long torturous years in that hell of a prison so that you could escape the Shah's wrath as well as that demented mother of his? Oh how I suffered. Day in and day out I endured but if you do not think that five years of torture were enough to have your gratitude then I guess there is nothing more I can say except you break my heart Erik."

"You forget Nadir I am aware that you spent your ďyears of tortureĒ in a palace with servants waiting on you hand and foot. You were too important to kill and much too well liked to be mistreated by the Shah. If the Shah had been dead then your days would have been endless torture if you had been left in the hands of his bloodthirsty mother. Thankfully she had no say in your punishment. Now I think we have settled the matter so no more questions and no more attempts to gain my sympathy. You are erring on the side of femininity with each passing day Nadir. That is something I think you may want to curtail."

"You are an ungrateful lout. I only ask for a crumb of sympathy and you make fun at my expense. You wound me. You wound me deeply. My heart bleeds at your cutting remarks." Nadir looked at Erik hopefully.

"I still am not revealing any details. Might I suggest you take a few acting lessons Nadir. You could use the guidance. If my schedule is not too full I will be free to help with this matter."

"Ungrateful lout."

"Yes you have told me so many times."
"Well you are. You are completely without gratitude."

"Yes I am aware."

As much as Nadir badgered and harangued him during the last leg of the voyage Erik kept his word and divulged not one thing more about the night before. This was something Erik wanted to savor in the privacy of his mind for many days to come. This was his triumph and his alone. He had threatened no one. Begged not one time. He had not kidnapped anyone or forced the union. Everything had been done willingly.

Something Christine had never been. Not one time had she willingly sought him out. He had always come to her and then entranced her with his voice and music to come to his home. Once the music and song were but echoes in his cavernous home she wanted nothing more than to return to her room above.

This was a good start to his new beginning. As the coastline of England came into view Erik wondered what other wonders were in store for him. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply the fresh ocean air. The air he breathed in his new freedom. Never again would he be a ghost. Now he was a man. He would live as one from this day forward.

Forever in the light. Never would he revere the dark over the brightness of light. He had a fresh new outlook on life. He would savor each new experience as if there were no tomorrow. Who knew how long this newfound happiness would last? Any time in he had hoped for a small scrap of happiness it had always been just out of his grasp. Not any longer. It was his turn to live the life as other men do.

As Raoul does. The name dimmed his happiness but only for a moment. Today he began a new era in his life. One where he got the things he wanted. He would no longer live and be denied the things he wanted in life. He felt almost reborn.

Posted on: 10 Jun 2008 14:23
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Re: Ascent to Power

  • Joined: 13 Jan 2006 4:13
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This review is for Chapters 2 to 5. Again, well done. Excellent example of storytelling. Just enough dialogue to progress the story. Very visual.

No suggestions. Keep up the good work. Please continue.

Brava, brava, bravissimi!

Posted on: 10 Jun 2008 20:49
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Re: Ascent to Power

  • Joined: 5 Apr 2007 13:23
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Warning: Character suicide. Violence.

Chapter Six
Ruthless Dealings

The three men spoke English fluently but each had strong accents of their native language. They understood each other quite well but others who were not acquainted with them found it hard to understand their heavily accented English. Erik made a point for the three of them to practice each evening. Erik learned so well he could pass for an English squire.

Erik and his companions stayed at a luxurious hotel for the first two weeks until suitable permanent lodgings could be found. This meant viewing countless homes and estates. With Erikís ingrained sense of perfection in all things around him he was most particular what he wanted in his new home.

Erik at last settled on a small but regal home surrounded by twenty acres of lush grassy fields. The home was red brick . The cobbled drive ran from the public roadway all the way to the front of the home. Six foot high windows stretched across the front of the structure allowing light to filter into every room. It had five bedrooms with hot and cold running water. The coal furnace kept the home warm and heated the water for the bathrooms and needs of the kitchen. Modern bathrooms had been installed by the previous owner. Erik was glad to see the modern flushing toilets. He always cringed when he had to use the chamber pots under the opera house. The process for ridding his home of the waste was most unpleasant. A task he did not mind giving up to modern convenience.

The beautiful music room with the grand piano was what won Erik over. The older couple decided to leave the piano to the new owner as their new home in London was much too small for such a large instrument. The call of his music had him sitting on the piano bench before the couple had finished explaining it was their sons piano and he had gotten married.

It had been in perfect tune. The music coming from his mind to his fingers entrancing all within listening distance. Oh how he missed his organ. The piano was fine for refined pieces but true basic emotions came alive with the push of his fingers on each key and the pressure of his foot on each foot pedal beneath his organ. The organ could blast sound so it could be heard in the corridors of the opera house vibrating glass and shaking knick knacks on the tops of furniture. When he had played the opera house knew the ghost was present and stirring. Making his presence known to all those little ballet rats and late night wanderers. Making them quake in their shoes, shiver in their beds, fear the very mention of the Opera Ghost or Phantom.

Erik settled quite well into the country life. Nadir was glad he could talk Erik into evenings spent at the opera or simply enjoying a meal out. Erik flourished in this new life. All too quickly he wanted to spend most evenings out enjoying the nightlife of London. Nadir grew tired of the constant need for stimulation. He enjoyed a night out like anyone else but he also found pleasure in a quiet night with a good book in front of a roaring fire. There were only a few issues Nadir had that worried him about ErikĎs behavior. Erik had taken to gambling like a duck to water. He was very adroit at cards and other games of chance. The old adage "unlucky at cards lucky in love" proved to be true. Erik never lost but a few times and never more than what he had won on the previous evening.

Another concern was Erikís business ethics. Not that he was dishonest. He simply had no compassion for other peopleís misfortune. Upon finding his home Erik had sought out a way to use his talents with investments. Since Christine nor music no longer consumed his every waking moment he needed a challenge to occupy his voracious appetite for knowledge and challenge. He found a banker who was going under due to poor lending practices and an unwillingness to force payment on delinquent debts. Erik had no such compunction.

He was a most frightening man when he faced a person who owed money. He was deaf to all pleading and begging for leniency. Some of the stories Nadir heard broke his heart but when he asked if Erik could not once in a while show a bit of compassion he staunchly stated that sentimentality had no place in business. He supposed that is why Nadir himself was not in business. He invested in otherís abilities to run a business and left management to those who were harder of heart than he. Like Erik.

Nadir feared that Erik may be slipping back into his old ways. He slept most of the day away and stayed up all night at the gaming halls or the theatre. Sometimes he took Susan with him if her fiancťe was not in town. Nadir found Erikís hidden morphine. Risking Erikís wrath he disposed of the vile substance. Other than grousing about people going through his personal things Erik let the matter drop. More than likely it had more do with Erikís new addictions of gambling and carousing than acceptance of Nadir overstepping the boundaries of what was appropriate behavior concerning other peoples privacy.

Nadir worried about that young woman, Susan Montgomery. Her feelings were becoming obvious to everyone but thickheaded Erik. When it came to the emotions of others Erik had no clue how to deal with this aspect of a relationship. He was polite and caring to a point but never showed any softer feelings for the young woman. For Erik she was just another learning tool. A willing specimen to study under close scrutiny. He took no notice that she was a warm woman with emotions. It was her misfortune to have fallen in love with Erik. He did not return her feelings. Not that he was cruel. No, he was just aloof unless they were headed into a bedroom. Erik had become quite a cad. To Nadirís utter shock Erik supported four other women and one would assume shared their beds. His bed at home remained cold and unoccupied more nights than not until almost the first light of dawn then he would slink in and crawl into his own bed.

With every dollar added to his coffers Erikís coldness seemed to grow. It was as if each coin received from the despair of others purchased a portion of his soul a piece at a time. With every copper earned the coin wedged a further breech between Erik and his humanity. Nadir was not overly concerned as yet as he felt he was just catching up on all the things he had missed and they could work on his more tender side when he grew used to having all that other men have. Soon he would realize that not only wealth and good times were all a man needed to sustain him. He had to feed his soul occasionally to be truly happy. If neglected a personís soul will wither leaving them with an empty vessel for company. A body needs a soul to be truly alive.
Now he had more worries. Darius and Nadir read the paper each day. They scrutinized each section concerning the social world. They did this each morning before they allowed Erik to read one line of news. The incident when he found out about Christineís and Raoulís marriage scared them enough to make them cautious of a further attempt of suicide should there be any news of the Vicomte and Vicomtesse.

Nadir was at the breakfast table enjoying his poached eggs and toast when Darius entered the dining room with more haste than was required. The look on his face did not bode well for a peaceful meal. Lowering his fork he waited for the death knell to ring out ending the happiness Erik had found even if he was becoming a person with less than charitable inclinations. Erik was becoming quite vicious with poor Susan and her clinging ways. He could handle things with a little more tact. Soon Nadir would confront him with the truth and shake some sense into him if he did not come to that conclusion on his own.

"Nadir I just read it only just moments ago. I still am finding it hard to comprehend. Sheís coming. Sheís coming here within the next few weeks. It is written in black and white. Can you believe the bad luck? This is Erikís karma catching up with him. A couple monthís grace at most. By all that is holy we can not let this happen. He has come so far. What do you think of that?" Darius could only shake the paper in his hand close to Nadirís face almost clipping him with the edge. If he had his wits about him he would never have behaved in such a manner.

Nadir was prepared for the worst tragedy to befall them. Darius had called him Nadir and the usually imperturbable man was clearly upset and distraught.

"Calm down my friend and tell me what has brought about this case of nerves. I surmise this has something to do with Christine. As I have yet to read one word how can I voice an opinion? If you would stop using the paper as a fan I might be able to read what has upset you so much."
Darius tucked the paper under his arm then placed his hands together in prayer and raised his eyes heavenward. ďIn the paper this morning is an article stating a Madame Christine de Changy known on the stage as Christine Daae will be coming to London to perform within the next few weeks. At the most it will be a couple of months grace. The last minute details are being settled. What will this mean for Master Erik?Ē Finished with his verbal tirade Darius grabbed the paper from under his arm and began waving it about again.

Tearing the offending paper from the firm grasp of Darius, Nadir proceeded to read. What he read made the blood freeze momentarily in his veins. The cold hand of dread squeezed his heart. Erik had come far but the mere mention of that little she-devilís name drove him to horrible tantrums and days of moping and pining. They had become very clever in their ways to keep Erik from hearing one scrap of gossip about that young siren. They had even made Susan an unwitting pawn. On days when news of the noble couple appeared in the paper they simply invited the young woman to breakfast, lunch and dinner many days to avoid Erik reading the paper. They had no worries she would let something slip as that young woman had fallen so hard for Erik that the last thing on her mind when she was with him was the news or gossip of other couples. Both Nadir and Darius felt shame using her in this fashion. It only encouraged her affections but it was a weapon that succeeded and one they used often.

Why did this have to happen now? He had prayed that Erik would have a few years of recovery before having to face his demon who wore the sweet face of an innocent young woman. In the months since the tragic incident Nadir had come to think that Christine was a sort of plague. Everyone she touched came to an unhappy end. Tragedy and heartbreak followed in her footsteps. Erik was one of her unfortunate victims. The massive audience in attendance for the performance of Don Juan Triumphant were a far greater number of victims caught in the web created by Erikís love and insanity and Christineís inability to tell Erik firmly she wanted no more of his lessons or his favor. All the tragedy could have been avoided with a few soft spoken words to end her association with her Angel of Music but she chose to continue to give into Erikís madness. Most of the time he tended to think the woman encouraged Erikís obsession receiving some sort of pleasure from his devotion and blinding love. The result of a meeting now was too painful to contemplate for there was still the chance of something similar happening again. One meeting with that young woman could undo all they had accomplished.

"Sit please Darius. I can not think with you hovering over me. We must put our heads together and find a solution to this new dilemma."

"Perhaps it is time to move on. Master Erik did say this was only a temporary stop until he found a direction he wished to take. Now could be the precise time to think of moving in a new direction."

"I think perhaps you are correct. It will not be easy to pull Erik from this new life he has. He is most comfortable now. He will be unwilling to change in fear of losing what he has gained. As much as I hate do it we must once again use dear Susan. Erik must be convinced that she has been hinting to us that they are going to formalize their relationship. Since she broke her engagement it should prove fairly easy to convince Erik she expects more than what he is willing to give."

"He will not harm the young miss will he? I would hate to have that on my conscience. I have been having dreams of disaster the last few days. I have not been able to see exactly what is going to happen but it involved Erik and another man. I sensed violence and death. Master Erik would never harm a woman. I am most sure of this. Would he Master Nadir?" The tone in Dariusí voice made it clear he was not completely certain at all of Erikís resolve to not harm a woman.

Darius had not spoken with any strength of conviction Nadir noticed. Was Erik capable of harm to a woman? A strike across the cheek is the most violent act Nadir had seen him commit against a woman. That had been in Russia before they went to Persia. A fire had broken out in a housing unit and several people were trapped. A little girl no more that three had been leaning out of a window crying for her mother. Erik had not hesitated to climb the burning building and enter through a balcony at the side of the building. He fought through all the flames and saved the youngster. Erik had risked his life for that child that he had not even known.

Instead of being grateful for having her child returned safely the ungrateful woman took one look at his mask and she became hysterical and attacked Erik accusing him of trying to kidnap her child. She had proceeded to claw and scratch him wherever her nails could find vulnerable skin. Fearing she would harm her own child he had sat the child down and drew his hand back and hit the woman with the back of his hand. His strike had held a little more force than he wanted and the woman was knocked unconscious. Erikís guilt ate at him for days afterwards no matter how many times Nadir reassured him he had no choice. The woman had been hysterical.

After an alcohol enduced euporia Erik swore he would never lay his hand on a woman again as long as he lived and as far as Nadir knew he had stood by his word.

After recounting this story to Darius he assured him with a firm belief that Erik would never lay a hostile hand on a woman again. Even in his present state of debauchery he believed Erikís word would still stand.

It was decided they would use the womanís blossoming love for Erik to get him to come to the conclusion it was time to move on. If Nadir believed in the devil he felt he had surely sold his soul to him.

So they began their campaign. They were both saddened by the necessary manipulation and had to hurt the first woman to love Erik and give him what he always wanted. It could not be helped. Erik simply did not love the woman and he needed to leave this country soon. Who knew what kind of terror Erik would let loose if that woman of doom came within his reach again?

Little by little Nadir let small remarks fall during conversations with Erik. At first Erik brushed off his remarks. Soon though Susan herself unwittingly enforced what he had been saying to Erik. The young woman began to demand more of his time and ask questions about how he spent his time when he was not with her. Erik would not stand for her prying.

One evening after spending several hours at the theatre and dining they were headed for Susanís home. The poor woman had no idea this would be the last time she saw Erik.
The coach slowed and Susan turned to Erik and asked, "Arenít you coming in? I had hoped you would spend the night. You never have before. I thought we might have breakfast together then have an early morning ride. I have some friends coming for lunch as well as my mother and father. I wanted them to meet you. I have told them about you and they are looking foreward to making your acqauintance."

Wanting to have sex but not wanting to spend the night Erik debated on how he should reply. He wanted the comfort and quiet of his own bed but needed a soft willing body. His animal urges needed to be stroked but his mind rejected the obligation to spend more time than was necessary to reach his goal.

He did not want to lie to her so he refrained from making any reply at all. He grabbed her roughly before she could turn to open the door of the carriage. Distraction should quiet her harping tongue. He kissed her deeply and roughly caressing her silk covered breasts. Her deep moan of desire gave proof to the success of his subterfuge. Releasing her he allowed her to step from the carriage. He got out of the carriage quickly. Roughly he grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the front door. Entering the foray he kissed her heatedly pushing her cloak to the floor. Releasing her lips he stepped back. With a smile she turned and ran for the stairs. Without further thoughts in his head other than the lustful hours ahead he followed her to her bedroom. Her lovemaking was almost desperate that night. Erik knew he had to end his association with this woman. Nadir had been right in his assumption. Susan had let her emotions overtake her better judgment. Erik had warned her that he could not give her anything more than mutual sexual gratification. The foolish woman still thought she could change him.

The last few days Christine had been on his mind more than usual. For the past eight months he had been able to shove her memory to the back of his mind. When he kept himself occupied with other pursuits his thoughts of her were less frequent. Some inner sense of her was working on his mind. He could not get her out of his thoughts for more than an hour at a time. He had finally given in and allowed the memories and longings to rush over him. Most likely memories of Christine had put him in this mood of melancholy. He wanted to chase it away. Using Susan to aid in his forgetfulness was not gentlemanly but she was handy and all too willing.

Erikís thrusts into her softness were almost brutal that night. He had come across the damn ring Christine had returned to him while preparing for his evening out a few months ago. He bit her tender flesh. His hands bruised her breasts. Not once did he consider her pleasure. He brought her to a satisfying climax several times but not with his usual tenderness. His grunts and groans almost animalistic in his drive to satisfy the burning need in his loins. The drive for forgetfulness in passion road him gouging at his tender feelings, shoving them away to be replaced by the harsh cravings for sexual gratification.

Susan had barely caught her breath when Erik was plunging into her again. Something was driving him, whipping him into a frenzy of need. She knew it wasnít her he needed. Any body would have given him the same satisfaction. She wouldnít even have to be beautiful. All Erik required was a warm willing woman. Hell, as badly as he needed the sex she felt he wouldnít have taken no for an answer. Not that she would ever think of denying him.

Despite his crass treatment she did enjoy this rough lovemaking at first. His fingers had plunged in and out as he worked her nub of pleasure. The orgasms were almost unbearable in their intensity. She felt herself shatter when his hard shaft drove into her. With each demanding stroke she climbed higher and higher on the peak to that final burning wave of bliss.

For the first time he was verbal as he entered her. The closer he came to his climax the fouler his language became. That night she was a ďfucking whoreď. His goal being ďto fuck her senselessĒ. Other phrases he spoke in the heat of passion made even Susan blush. Susan didnít mind words of lust but these were frightening her a little as Erik had never been so uncontrolled before. Never had he used words such as these or been so forceful in his possession of her. Of course he was intense at times in his drive to reach a climax. Erik had always been a gentleman in his lovemaking.

Erik was trying to remove all thoughts of Christine. He loved her still but could not live and imagine her doing to Raoul what he did with Susan. Now he had the tangible reminder of her around his neck on a gold chain. For the last few months he had not been able to remove the memory of that pitiful gift from his angel. He had stolen the ring from her lovely neck the night of the Gala. Raoulís engagement ring. The ring Erik had again forced on her finger in his mock wedding in the dark cellars on the night of Don Juan Triumphant. Damn if that little temptress did not come back and curl his unresisting fingers around that same ring. Then she turned her back on him leaving him in tears and awaiting death at the hands of the mob.
Giving into his release Erik removed himself from Susan with one final grinding of his hips and a grunt of satisfaction. While waiting for his breath to slow he contemplated what he could say to ease the blasted woman from his life.

He heard her slow even breathing. At last she slept. He could slip out and avoid the ugliness of confronting her for another night.

Having gotten what he came for Erik retrieved his clothing and proceeded to dress quietly. He hoped to be gone before Susan woke. A confrontation with an angry woman was not something he wanted to deal with at the moment. His business decisions were giving him enough turmoil. Now he had to start the process of selling all his holdings in order to leave the country. Once he left England he had no wish to return. It would be better to take what cash he could amass and start fresh. America had been appealing to him more each time he and Susan had a converstion that ended with her having hurt feelings. Erik felt as if he beat an adoring puppy when he could not return her words of love. The tear drenched cheeks haunted him for days afterward. He should not feel this guilt for he had warned her but guilt was present non the less. Not enough for him to stay out of a sense of remorse. Just enough for him to feel uncomfortable.

A groggy sleep filled voice haulted his movements for a moment. ďErik what are you doing? I thought you were spending the night for once? Is it too much to ask? I donít ask for much. All I want is to introduce you to my friends and family.
"What purpose would this introducton serve? It would only lead to the false assumption that we were more than lovers. That is even if they allowed me in their home after viwing my charming good looks. It might be a good time for us to say our farewells."

Erikís voice grated with a hint of anger and frustration because he had not been allowed to leave without this bothersome recounting of her wants, needs and feelings. Damn women. Damn every one of them. If she were a man he would solve the problem with a quick twist of his Punjab lasso. Erik admitted he had not fallen that far from grace. Fortunate for her but unfortunate for Erikís temper which he hung onto barely by a thin gossamer thread. Never had he taken the life of a woman and he would not start this night.
"Erik you canít mean that. I thought things were going well. Havenít I been good to you? Given you everything you asked? I openly acknowledge we are lovers. I sacrificed my future for you. I gave up the man I had been engaged to. Do you know how hard it will be for me to find someone willing to be with me now? Marriage is highly unlikely for me now."

"Find another poor soul who can not be too choosey in his choice of a bedmate. I do thank you for the many nights of passion but now it is time to move on. Surely you knew this night would arrive at some point? I made myself clear from the start. My heart belongs to another and all that we share is a few stolen moments in the dark when the urge becomes to great to ignore."

He spoke these cruel words without a glance in her direction. If he had looked he would have seen the light of hope diminish in her eyes. He would not have missed the pain etched on her face. The shimmer of tears barely held back by thick lashes. If he had looked he would have seen but not cared at all for her hurt or her sorrow. All his mind was concentrated on gathering his belongings and removing himself from a situation that was quickly becoming uncomfortable.

Checking to make sure he had his wallet and pocket watch Erik headed for the door. Not once did he glance back. Now that it was over he felt a weight lift from his shoulders. He would miss her warm body but her clinging ways had begun to grate on his nerves. She had made it harder to fantisize that she was Christine with all her demands of conversation during intimate moments. Susan always had to be reassured he was pleased with her. Her demands for more of his time were becoming harder to avoid as he had used every excuse he could manufacture to avoid her on evenings he wished for the company of another. Erik found he liked variety in his women. One no longer met his bodies cravings. In all his life he never had a moment when he thought he would have the trouble of juggling more than one woman. Oddity of oddities he had four women at present showing him their favors. Not low class women of the street but noble bluebloods. It would seem women love a rake now and then. A hint of danger and interest is sparked. Add the glitter of diamonds and a wallet stuffed with cash and many women would lay down and spread their legs even for him.

With his hand on the door Susan made another useless plea, "Erik please you canít go. I love you. If you leave Iíll have nothing. I donít even care about your other women. You thought I didnít know but they were all too willing to rub my face in your affairs. Because I love you I turned a blind eye. I debased myself for you. Not once have I ever said one word about your face."

Erik paused with his hand on the doorknob. "Susan you were well on your way to becoming a whore when I met you. Our association has not changed anything. You were used goods then and you are still used goods. Each time we have sex I am picturing another. Not once did we make love. We had sex. Simple animal gratification of animalistic lust."

"Oh God Erik how can you be so cruel and uncaring? Have I not meant anything to you? These past months have been nothing to you? If you leave my life is as good as over. Nothing will have any meaning for me. I swear if you walk out that door I will be dead by night fall."

"That would be foolish but if that is your decision so be it. You will not succeed in blackmailing me. Think before you take the final step. You will see I am not worthy of your affection. Good-bye Susan. I am grateful for your kindness to me in a time when my soul was in turmoil and in danger of being lost forever."

"Is it Christine? Is she coming back? Do you know how many times I heard you call her name when it should have been my name on your lips? Even that insult I overlooked."
Erik whipped around and strode back to the bed with anger in each step. He grasped her hair and pulled her face up to his. He saw pure terror in her eyes for the first time. A little of the old rush of power came back as he placed is hands around her throat and began to squeeze. To hold anotherís life in your hands is a powerful drug. Not a drug made by man but by nature. Her hands came up to claw at the tightening grip of his gloved fingers. Her face began to turn red. Blue tinged her lips. One minute more and Erik could add another victim to his long list of past sins.

"You could never compare to my angel. You are as the dirt under my feet when compared to her. Do you think I could have stood your whining and clinging this long without replacing your face with hers? You are pathetic. No woman who had an ounce of self respect would allow themselves to be treated as I treated you. You are like a bitch in heat. No matter what I did you came begging for more spreading your legs in willing supplication."

Making one last plea, knowing he would still reject her Susan opened herself for the final stab to the heart bringing death to her hopes for a future with Erik. In fact a future at all hung in the balance of the next few moments and what words would pass Erikís lips.

"I love you Erik. Surely you know that? We can even be married. Iíll make you a good wife I swear. You can even continue with your other women. I love you that much. I am willing to share you for just a little of your time. A kind word now and then. Nothing means more to me than you. Youíre my life."

"Then my dear you have a pathetic life to hold me as the most dear thing in your life. Perhaps the next man or the one after that will find your charms irresistible. I do not. I could barely tolerate you these last few weeks. Do you know why I have not left you before? Expediency. If one of my other women were unavailable you were always ready to lay flat on your back and welcome me with no questions. If only you had continued to silence your damned questions we could have gone on for a few more pleasant months. The blame for our ending association can be placed firmly at your door."

She had one last chance to convince him. She got up not even caring she was naked, stripped bare before him. Her arms wrapped around him tightly. She tried to kiss him but he resisted. The disgust in his eyes was the death knell to her hopes and dreams. The dagger of defeat stabbed deep in her heart bringing forth an unbearable pain. She felt as if at any moment she would take her last precious breath. How could she still live with no heart? It must be broken. The beating rhythm of life must have stopped. The words from Erikís lips delivering a killing blow to Susan. One last time she had to try. She had no life without Erik in it. She grabbed his shirt front and begged him to stay. Pleaded to his unfeeling heart to love her or at lest have affection for her.

In disgust he pushed her away from him. In his haste to remove himself from her weeping he cared not even a little if he crushed her with his harsh words. She landed roughly on the floor. Her fingers gripped his pant legs. Angered at her unwillingness to accept the inevitable he shook her free and shoved her roughly aside with his booted foot. No pain registered except the pain of his denial to love her. She buried her face in her folded arms and began to sob. Her head remained on her folded arms not looking to watch him walk away. His steps away from her ringing hollowly in her ears. She jerked when she heard the thunderous slamming of the door.

Susan knew it was over. The door closing signified more than just a brief separation. He would not come to her again. Resignation settled over her features. A calm acceptance of what must be. Erik would never walk into her home again or share an hour enjoying the pleasures of their entwined bodies. Nothing she could say would change his mind. He didnít have any feelings for her at all. Not kindness nor affection. Not even respect. Foolishly she had broken her own rules and opened her heart to him. He stomped on that precious organ without compunction. She placed her hand on her aching heart. The pain almost stealing her breath she painfully inhaled through lips numbed with the sting of denial of his lips on hers. Tight grasping fingers of pain wrapped around her heart. At any moment she expected the steady beat to slow and stop altogether. Such a curious thing the heart. It could continue to beat out itís steady rhythm even as one felt life slip away. Dead but still living. Thatís how she felt in this moment.

Alone and naked on the floor she lost her reasoning. Nothing came to mind to contradict the voice ringing in her head. ďEnd itĒ was the encouraging words she heard. End this wrenching pain. Itís not so hard to do. A few pearls of sleep inducing medication. A quick swallow of water and peace can be yours. Sweet nothing to kill the pain.
That relief beckoned with enticing fingers toward a simple solution. Susan welcomed the knowledge of a soon to be forgotten pain. Finally after years of torment a simple act and then slipping into the arms of the dark angel. She welcomed her upcoming death. She welcomed those arms wrapping her in the surety of pains release. No more pain. No more Susan.

Stumbling to stand upright she took a few hesitant steps forward. Her eyes blurred with tears she staggered her way into the bathroom. The sleeping pills she had received from the doctor for insomnia remained full. Silently beckoning her into the sweetness of forgiving oblivion. She hadnít needed the pills to force oblivion of sleep in all the time she knew Erik. Erik had been her guide to peaceful slumber. Now the pills would take her to the sweet release in permanent sleep.

Splashing water on her face she looked in the mirror she used her hands to wipe away the droplets of water running in small rivulets down her cheeks. She straightened her hair. Pinched her cheeks to add color to her pale complexion. One should look presentable when facing the Angel of Death. She picked up her discarded white silk nightgown gently slipping it over her head. She smoothed her hand down from breasts to hips. Now she was ready.

Filling a glass with water she spilled the tiny lethel pills into her hand. Her palm full she raised it to her lips and popped them into her mouth then quickly swallowed the glass of water. Soon she would have no worries, no dreams, no nightmares but best of all no pain.

Will anyone cry for me? Will anyone mourn my passing? Will it even be noticed if I am not present at the next tea or luncheon? Unnecessary. I am not needed by one single person. I could be a piece of furniture for all the notice I receive. Even Erik, a man who hides from the world behind a mask doesnít need me. He can bed another just as easily as he beds me. Her parents had each other. The baby. She had thought the baby would bring them together. He couldnít stand her why would he want her baby?

Susan felt completely unnecessary. Her death would make only a small ripple on the waters of life then soon be forgotten.

Returning to her bedroom she went to the chair where Erikís robe lay draped over the back of the chair. She picked it up and inhaled his scent. Tenderly she rubbed the silky material against her cheek. She closed her eyes as tears of sorrow began to flow down her cheeks. She remembered giving him the robe. His look of childish wonder when she gave him the gift warmed her tender heart in such a way she hadnít felt in a long time. His remark that he had never received a gift before shocked her. On that day she had given him more than the gift of the robe. She had given him her heart without reservations or expectations. She had almost told him about the baby tonight. She had changed her mind thinking what a wonderful gift it would be for Christmas. A few short months to hold her secret. Then things had gone so horribly wrong. Now he would never know. Not that he would want it anyway. It was going to be her child and not his precious Christineís.

Her bed beckoned. Starting to feel drowsy she crawled onto her bed and wrapped the robe around her body. It almost felt as if he were there holding her. As the fog of drugged sleep overtook her she smiled. A fleeting regret for not giving her child a chance for life gave her a moment of regret but soon gave way to the peaceful cloud of uncaring sleep. Erik my love. Good-bye. Those were her last thoughts as she drifted into deep sleep and permanent slumber.

Posted on: 11 Jun 2008 15:14
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Re: Ascent to Power

  • Joined: 13 Jan 2006 4:13
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This moved me to tears. How tragic yet very well done. I think I should like to slam Erik up side the head with a 2 X 4. Never had I though he would be so cruel, after he'd been treated so terribly all his life. I don't like him anymore.

At times you tend to begin sentences with the same word in a paragraph, such as:

She had one last chance to convince him. She got up not even caring she was naked, stripped bare before him. Her arms wrapped around him tightly. She tried to kiss him but he resisted. The disgust in his eyes was the death knell to her hopes and dreams. The dagger of defeat stabbed deep in her heart bringing forth an unbearable pain. She felt as if at any moment she would take her last precious breath. How could she still live with no heart? It must be broken. The beating rhythm of life must have stopped. The words from Erikís lips delivering a killing blow to Susan. One last time she had to try. She had no life without Erik in it. She grabbed his shirt front and begged him to stay. Pleaded to his unfeeling heart to love her or at lest have affection for her.

Possible rewording:

Having one last chance to convince him, she got up, though naked, stripped bare before him. Her arms wrapped around him tightly. When she tried to kiss him, he resisted. The disgust in his eyes became the death knell to her hopes and dreams. The dagger of defeat stabbed deep in her heart bringing forth an unbearable pain. At any moment she felt as if she would take her last precious breath. How could she still live with no heart? It must be broken. The beating rhythm of life must have stopped. The words from Erikís lips delivering a killing blow to Susan. One last time she had to try. Without Erik she had no life. Grabbing his shirt front, she begged him to stay. Pleaded to his unfeeling heart to love her or at lest have affection for her.

Please don't be offended. Just wanted to help polish this should you desire to have it published.

Otherwise, wonderful job! Very moving and heart-rending.

Please continue.

Brava, brava, bravissimi!

Posted on: 11 Jun 2008 18:27
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Re: Ascent to Power

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I don't mind at all. All writers want to learn. I have already posted this as it is on several sites. I did copy what you wrote and put it as a foot note on my original document. I will consider it when I have completed the whole thing and give it a thorough edit. I edit everything three or four times before posting trying to catch all the typos, misspellings and punctuation mistakes.

Posted on: 11 Jun 2008 21:10
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Re: Ascent to Power

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Chapter Seven
Duel for Honor

Dawn was just breaking. Erik felt the warm fingers of the sun on his face. That was one sensation he would never forget or be deprived of again. He rolled over and groaned when he remembered last nights end. He had not meant to be so harsh but the damn woman had to bring up Christine. Erik had no idea why her name on the lips of others drove him to violence. He had memories of her drifting in and out of his mind every day. They comforted him rather than disturbed him. To hear her sweet name on another's lips brought out his killing instincts. It was as if he were jealous of even her name crossing the lips of another person. Insanity. An insanity he could not rid himself of and was not sure if he wanted to. All he had of her was his memories and fantasies.

Erik had begun to think Nadir was correct when he compared Christine to a plague at least where he was concerned. This obsession clearly was not healthy. He needed to rid himself of this insanity. It was not her. It was him. There was a darkness in him that would not let go. He needed to find that darkness and cut it out before it consumed him entirely.

He did wish to apologize to Susan. He could send her a gift. Yes a gift. A necklace or bracelet. Every woman loved jewelry. He could send it by messenger. A coward's way out but he could not face her accusing eyes. They always seemed to look too deeply into his soul leaving him bleeding just a little when he committed some wrong against her. Lately it had been happening all too often. His guilt would pick away at him until he sent his apologies and she sent her acceptance.

Erik had pressing business in London. Today would not be a day to linger in his bed contemplating past tragedies and hopes for the future. With a quick flick of his wrist his covers were thrown across his bed. Not taking time to put on his robe or slippers he went into his bathroom and began his morning grooming routine.
Erik had only recently allowed himself to look in a mirror to shave or comb his hair. The face staring back at him had not changed but the eyes looking at that face had a different perspective. For all her faults Susan had given him the confidence to look at his own face in the mirror. If he turned so that only the left side was reflected he looked normal. Not being conceited he thought some might even say he was handsome. Not at all like those silly rumors flying around the opera house all these years. His features were not pleasant but that damn Joseph Buguet had over stated his ugliness.

Every once in a while a memory of a time long ago when he was younger would flit into his mind. Back then he was not quite the debonair fellow he was now. On one of his nights foraging for food in the opera house kitchens he ran afoul of Joseph Buquet. Not knowing much about personal hygiene or cleanliness to be blunt Erik stank worse that a dog freshly rolled in a cow pile. His years in the cage in the Gypsy camp had not given him any reason for cleanliness. His cage did not get cleaned regularly. The damn chamber pot spilled every time his cage was hooked up for travel.

Erik had just been on his way to return to his lair with the dinner he had prepared in the opera kitchens. The opera house managers were most gracious to lend him their food and stove until he managed to procure his own. A few threats and his presence was ignored. That night he had warmed leftover chicken, rolls and gravy he made himself. He was becoming quite a good chef through need not inclination.

Suddenly a disgusting man smelling of alcohol and sweat surprised Erik before he could get to his secret passageway. Knowing a scuffle was about to ensue Erik had lain his tray down on the floor and waited for the attack.

The darkness hid his features. Only shadowy outlines could be seen. Erik's eyes used to the dark saw each disgusting and displeasing feature of the man's face. His breath almost caused Erik to wretch from the stench of foul breath and foul body. Knowing his own body carried the smell of unwashed skin he did not hold that against the man. Perhaps the man had trouble obtaining warm water as Erik did. A dip in the the icy lake once every few weeks was as much as he could tolerate. He was working on plans for warming water and fixing a modern bathroom in his chambers. It all took time though and much of his time was taken keeping his managers in line. Now of course there was precious little Christine. He must comfort her each evening so she can sleep. She grieves for her recently deceased father. Madame Giry had told him she was bringing an orphaned child to stay with her.

The man had grabbed Erik and they fought for a bit. Erik being younger and in better physical condition but mostly because he was not hampered by drink, had quickly gotten away from Buguet. Shoving the overweight man to the wooden floor of the corridor Erik had straightened his clothing and looked down at the man on the floor propped up on his elbows looking half dazed up at him. As a lark Erik had picked up his bowl of gravy then poured the bowl of gravy on the man's chest as he lay on the floor trying to recover from being beaten by a boy of no more than nineteen. The insult did not set well with the older gentleman.

Years later when Erik took on the persona of the Opera Ghost and sometimes The Phantom of the Opera, Joseph Buquet, being a vengeful man started the rumors about Erik smelling like death and having no nose. He may have carried a slightly unpleasant smell but he thought his nose quite attractive. He definitely had the appendage. The insult rankled Erik for many years. In the end Erik had the last laugh as Buquet dangled from his Punjab lasso around his neck as he hung from the rafters. Erik had taken great pleasure watching the life leave that horrible man's face.

The ballet rats were secretly overjoyed at his demise. He had been a peeking Tom and several young girls had accused him of fathering their children. A nasty man met a nasty end. Sometimes life does balance out. Erik enjoyed balancing the scales of justice. Could he help it if at times they tipped just a little in his favor?

Erik was brought back from is introspection by loud voices. It sounded as if there were an argument raging in his sitting room. Not feeling in any mood to cross swords with anyone just yet Erik turned to head to the kitchen for some breakfast. If company was staying he would be having his housekeeper Marianne bring his to his room instead of the dining room.

Erik could hear Nadir and Darius speaking frantically in the sitting room He could discern another male voice and a female voice as well. He caught the name Montgomery. His steps stopped in mid flight. God he hoped they had not tried to patch things up between him and Susan by inviting her to breakfast. He had just loosened her choke hold from his neck. He did not want a noose to take its place.

He recognized Susan's parents when he entered the sitting room. He had not been formally introduced to them but he had seen them at many social functions and Susan had pointed them out to him. He calmly walked through the doorway smiling at the couple. The dark hatred glaring back at him stopped him from taking another step into the room. His hand that had been on its way to shake the hand of Susan's father stayed at his side. The hate was so strong it was almost a tangible wall hitting Erik as he took another step towards his uninvited guests.

The gentleman strode to Erik. Erik did not see or expect the backhanded slap across his face. The red haze of rage clouded his vision. His cheek stung from the force of the blow but his pride stung more.

"You bastard. It's your fault. Because of you she's gone. Only last week she visited us going on and on about you. How wonderful you were. She told us all about her plans for the future with you. I asked her if you loved her and do you know what she said? She said no not yet but she had enough love for the both of you. Did she tell you she was with child? Ah I see she kept that from you. How does a man live with himself knowing he killed a woman just as if his hand snatched the breath from the body?"

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Susan. Our beautiful daughter. She killed herself last night. Took sleeping tablets. Took her life yet here you are healthy and unconcerned. The bastard responsible for her death. Here you stand without a care in the world . What are your plans for this day? On this very day I must make arrangements to put my only child in the ground? Susan won't have another day. We'll never hear her laugh again. Never know the joy of having grandchildren."

Erik had to stiffen his spine to hold himself erect as his knees nearly buckled beneath him in shock. His fault. It was all his fault. His pride would not let them see the guilt he felt or the tears that wanted to be released.

Hardening his heart he allowed coldness to seep into his voice when he spoke. He would not show any weakness in front of anyone. Allowing an opponent to see a weakness lead to defeat and pain.

"Susan knew how I felt all along. It was her choice to continue the affair. I was far from her first lover." The woman, Erik assumed was Susan's mother, began to cry. Her sobs touching a part of him he thought long buried. With a firm control he squashed those tender fellings down again.

"Erik please. They have just lost their daughter. I think kindness is in order not accusations and blame or excuses for bad behavior."

"Nadir kindly stay out of this. I will not stand by and allow him to place blame on me. Susan was a grown woman. She made her choices. I told her to think before she took this final step. It would seem she ignored my advice."
"You knew the young woman was in peril and did nothing to prevent it? May heaven forgive you Erik for I do not know if I can. How can you be so uncaring for that dear child? She gave you everything and asked for so little in return.

How could you be os selfish to satisfy your bodily lusts without thought of procreating? Did you even once consider you could become a father?" Susan's parents did not speak Persian. Mercifully they knew nothing about Erik's damning inaction toward the threat to their daughter. Knowing of his callous treatment would only fuel an already tense situation.

"As you are aware I have not had a need for such knowledge to prevent such a thing from happening. Do you honestly think I would want to bring a child of mine into this world?"

Susan's father, growing more agitated by the second, stepped up to Erik and slapped him across his face with his gloves held in his hands then with anger and hate filling his voice said, "I challenge you to meet me in the grove of trees by the lake at the end of your property. The grove of trees shall offer us shelter from prying eyes."

"I have passed the honor of killing you down to my nephew. Susan was more like a sister to him than a cousin. My ill health does not allow me to challenge you myself. I would not stand a chance of surviving the first few minutes. My heart would give out. My nephew has asked to duel in my place. Is this acceptable?"

"Indeed. It will be my honor to take the life of another pompous blueblood."

"Gentlemen there is no need for this brutality. What purpose will be served with another death? Let us show our respect for our loss. You dishonor her with this violence."

Nadir was aware he stood little or no chance of changing the outcome but he had to try. In his own country revenge was a daily practice. Men in all walks of life and cultures held the belief of an eye for an eye. The sentiment was universally embraced.

"Tomorrow at dawn. Bring your second and your own witness. You may examine the pistols and have first choice of weapon."

"How civilized of you. How magnanimous. I shall look forward to the morning with delight." Erik's mockery covered his guilt. As much as he hated it those damn feelings of remorse were beginning to eat at him. Maybe a bloodletting would chase away his guilt.

"Come Janelle. We have a daughter to bury. Sir, if honor deserts you I hope the guilt of your actions follow you to the grave. Tomorrow at dawn we shall meet again."

Erik and the other two gentlemen watched as the grieving man and woman left them in accusing silence. Darius excused himself for he knew his anger would get the better of him and he would hurt Erik in ways no man should even know about. It would appear Erik had not changed as much as they had assumed. His heart still had a dark blot covered by his thin layer of civility over the last few months to appear he had made progress in forgetting the trauma of Christine.

"Erik in all our years I have never been as disappointed as I am at this moment. Erik I know somewhere deep inside there is still a warm and caring man. Please allow him to resurface. This coldness you have let freeze your heart will in time kill off any soul you have remaining. Please do not meet them tomorrow. Let us begin our plans for our departure. I beg of you Erik. If there is one scrap of humanity please allow this insult to pass. It is not worth another blot on your already putrid soul."

"If you think I am so lost one more man's blood on my soul will not matter. I will not make any promises but I will try to refrain from killing anyone tomorrow. As a courtesy to your wishes I shall use my skills to injure and not kill. As you know these things can not be predicted. All I can do is give my word I will try."

"If you simply did not go there would be no need for worry. I know my words are wasted so I shall say no more and take you at your word. May your god show you more mercy than you show his other children Erik. I shall not go with you tomorrow. I will wait for your return here."

"Such confidence in my skills Nadir. I will do my best not to disappoint your faith in me."

Not having the stomach for more Nadir left Erik on his own to mull over his thoughts. He must make Erik leave this place soon. If he did not get himself killed tomorrow they could leave within a week. Nadir had made inquiries and found a passage on a boat leaving from the shipyard on Friday. That gave them four days to pack their clothing. Nadir had found a reputable agent to leave in control of selling off the rest of Erik's assets.

Erik had already sold many of the bigger enterprises. The cash they would need for travel was in the safe with Erik's collection of jewels he had stolen from the Shah in Persia. Their identification papers were in order and all would be ready for them to leave.

He would tell him this evening at dinner of the plans he had made. With the ever unpredictable Erik Nadir was prepared for any reaction. Even knowing he should leave he would balk at being forced in this way. He liked to think he needed no other soul. Truth be known Erik was the neediest of souls. For all his genius his common sense flew out the window on wings like a bird flying to freedom the moment a simple problem came along. If it did not need careful scrutiny or master planning Erik was baffled. If it involved human emotions other than is own he became stumped for a solution. Erik's humanity had been curtailed at an early age by an unfeeling mother. The further ill treatment in later years had rendered Erik unable to understand the emotions of others. He rarely showed tenderness. If he did it was so fleeting as to be thought an error of the observers judgment. Nadir had only ever seen Erik show tenderness to his own son, Riza and briefly to Christine. With her he was not always kind or gentle and he loved her.

Nadir was sitting in the library reading when he heard the front door slam. Quickly he got up and went to the window. He was just in time to see Erik mount his horse and tear off down the drive. There would be no discussion tonight. Erik had left on one of his night time rides. He would be gone for hours.

Nadir went to bed with a prayer on his lips for the safety of Erik and the young man brave enough or rather foolish enough to face him at first light. Nadir prayed for mercy for both of the foolhardy men.

Is it wrong to pray for a blizzard in the Spring? Perhaps a freak hurricane or typhoon? No that is far too dangerous as is the blizzard. Maybe I could leave some item on the bottom step and he would fall and sprain or break his leg. That does not sound too drastic.

For a brief moment Nadir gave serious thought to this solution. If he thought he could accomplish it without Erik breaking his neck he just might be brave enough to do it. Then again even if he succeeded in stopping the duel there was not one thing to prevent Erik from stretching Nadir's neck with that blasted lasso once he had recovered. Best to leave things in the hands of Allah.

Erik woke long before he needed to be leaving for his appointment with the young man. He sat by the window in his bedroom holding his sword in his hands. His thoughts were turned to the last time he had dueled. He and Raoul had been faced off in a duel to the death. Their swords had struck the stone monuments causing sparks to shoot off the stone.

At one point Erik thought he had the upper hand. He had drawn first blood. In his madness and overconfidence he had slipped on a sheet of snow covered ice. He had lost his grip on his sword and Raoul had been a hairs breath from running him through. If Christine's sweet plea for mercy had not come Erik would not be sitting here about to face another young blueblood.

Erik recalled how Raoul's eyes looked in that moment when the tip of Raoul's sword hovered over his heart. The fire of hatred and victory had blazed in the young boy's eyes. In that moment they were not so different. He and Erik at that moment had the same lust for blood in equal measure. He would have gladly taken Erik's life if Christine's voice of sanity had not reached him just in time.

Erik had seen the struggle to control the inner monster of revenge. That particular fearsome beast visited Erik often. For one second Erik had thought Raoul would not heed Christine's plea. Determination and resolve had flashed into his face aging the boy beyond his years. Hate did that to a person. It took away all innocence. For that brief fleeting moment Raoul was no better than Erik. Raoul's insanity fled as quickly as it came whereas Erik's remained to lead him to destroy almost all that he loved.

Erik sighed heavily. He had no stomach for what he was contemplating. Hell he did not even know the young man he would be trying to kill. No wrong doing had been committed by the young man. Erik wondered what dark forces were always at work to keep his soul so dark and twisted. Why could he not be as a normal man? Why did bloodshed always follow in his footsteps?

Erik laid his sword down beside him on the window seat. He picked up the tumbler of amber liquid and downed it in one swallow. He picked up the carafe from the floor at his feet and poured another generous serving into his tumbler. He quickly downed that as quickly as the first. One more tip of the carafe and he stood holding the tumbler looking into the dark amber liquid as if the answers to the world's problems could be seen in the depths of the brandy he held.

Downing the drink he laid down the tumbler and picked up his sword and the spare for his opponent. His steps were heavy as he left his room and went down the steps and out the front door. He would much rather be sitting at his piano playing one of his compositions or composing a new one. He did not feel much like delivering anyone into the Angel of Death's arms today. If his skills were adequate, as he was sure they were, he may be able to save the young man's life but still give him the satisfaction of knowing honor had been served.

Personally Erik saw no honor in the attempt to take a life just because of some supposed slight or insult. Or at least not since his madness had overtaken him during his reign at the opera house. Now he was much more...he paused in his thinking trying to think of fitting words to describe his new mental status. Lenient, tolerant, and calm. Yes, those words fit his new ideas perfectly.

He had thought to strangle Susan but in reality he would not have given into the impulse. A little threat to frighten her was all he had intended. At least that was what he had convinced himself of during the long night of regret over his cruel handling of Susan. He regretted his actions in retrospect. Not leaving her but the manner he chose to tell her of his departure and his unsympathetic attitude toward her distress. She had deserved better treatment than Erik had shown her. She was much more tender hearted than she lead everyone to believe.

A more fitting revenge to meet the need to satisfy honor would be to take away all the other person held dear. If the young man were intelligent he could have challenged Erik in the financial arena and avoided this unnecessary violence. With each passing day Erik was finding he no longer had a taste for shedding another's blood.

Nadir and Darius watched him leave from the dining room windows. Both men wore expressions of sadness. Nadir knew almost with a certainty that Erik would return. His skills were too honed to perfection to lose to an amateur. From the account Erik had given Nadir of his duel with Raoul a lucky slip had given Raoul the advantage that day. Luck would not be with the man today as there was no slippery ice or snow. The sun had even decided to shine its rare rays of light the last two days. The ground was dry with no mud in sight.

Erik arrived at the appointed meeting to find Susan's father and his nephew already waiting. Erik smiled in derision. The young man was so eager to draw his blood.

Erik almost hated to disappoint him. Erik wanted this ended quickly. He had brought two swords with him. With pistols he had less chance of aiming a weakening blow without killing the opponent. With the sword he could give injuries that would hurt like hell and incapacitate the recipient but would not take the life of his quarry. He either dueled with swords or both would leave without honor being satisfied.

"Monsieur Manchester. Lovely day today. It is a shame to spill blood on such a beautiful morning. If you continue to insist on this action I shall oblige you, one stipulation to our duel. Since I have been challenged it is my prerogative to choose the weapon is it not?"

"Of course honor demands you have the choice of weapon."
"I have brought two swords. Your second may have first choice of weapon. Examine them. Pick them up and hold them if you like. Both are superior weapons."

The young man stepped forward. He looked boldly at Erik before picking up the first weapon. He took a couple of swipes with it then did the same with the other sword. Having chosen one he stepped back waiting for Erik to take his stance and the gentleman who had been brought along to officiate to signal the start of the duel.

Erik was sizing up his opponent. He could be no more than twenty. He handled the weapon with the ease of familiarity. Perhaps this would not be as easy as Erik had first thought.

Both men took their places. A hush came over the meadow as if nature knew the battle that was to commence within the next few seconds. Even the wind seemed to quiet. Not one leaf rustled in the wind or blade of grass blew in the breeze. The bird's calls were silenced. It seemed nature hushed and held silent waiting for the two foolish humans to commence this barbaric battle. Nature waited in silent judgment of this unnecessary impending violence in such a beautiful representation of God's most wonderful creations. This place should hold only beauty. No blood should be spilled to mar this peaceful place. God's wonderful gift should be held in reverence, not defiled by bloodshed. Ah, but human nature being what it was nature and God would be forgotten in the next moment in the battle for life and death.

The two men faced each other. They turned and saluted the official waiting for his signal. With a look at each man the white haired official raised his hand then swiftly let it fall. The two combatants circled one another looking for an opening. They touched blades. The steel clanged loudly in the stillness. The battle was on. Strike after strike the swords clashed. Neither opponent able to get the upper hand. Sweat began to fall from each man's face and their shirts soon became soaked with perspiration.

As if the sky shed tears for the folly of man a gentle rain began to fall. The weather gradually worsened. Lightening flashed from the suddenly darkening sky. Thunder rumbled a threatening roar. Lightening flashed menacing fingers of light across the sky. The angry sound of the rumbling and flashes of lightening gave proof of nature and God's end of patience with the foolishness of man. The ground became puddled with droplets of water. Boots began to slip on the wet ground.

Each man parried then retreated. Both seeking a weakness in the other. Neither one found any opening to land that death blow. Both men were tiring. The victory it seemed would to go to the one who had the best endurance. Erik was older by fifteen years but he was very fit. The young man was healthy but unused to prolonged exercise lasting more than twenty minutes. His most strenuous exercise was walking from his home to the nightís entertainment in London, not more than a couple of blocks away from his home.

Erik let his attention wander for one moment to Susan's father. The man looked unwell. His skin was grayish and he clutched his chest as if in pain. That momentary lapse was all Jaime needed. He thrust his sword into Erik's shoulder.

He had wanted to strike dead center but had to be satisfied with a severe wound to the shoulder. Erik felt the blade enter his flesh tearing into muscle as it surged deep in his shoulder. The searing and burning pain knifed through him taking his breath away for a moment. Blood quickly soaked Erik's white shirt. The rain washed away each drop only to be replaced by more droplets of that precious life giving liquid. A few minutes and he felt the weakness and dizziness start to overtake him . He felt another blaze of fire shoot into his left arm as the sharp blade sliced through the flesh. Erik staggered back trying to regain a solid foothold to balance himself taking a cleansing breath into his burning lungs. Seeing another opportunity to inflict damage Jaime lunged forward sinking his blade into Erik's upper thigh. The young noble was going to damn well pick him to pieces at this rate. Erik had to end this. He had no intentions of dying in this Godforsaken country and done in by a boy of noble blood no less. If his father was the Devil he would turn him away in shame.

Then where would I end up? Heaven shut its pearly gates on me a long time ago. God forbid I be cursed to roam this earth throughout eternity. As much as I deny a God I surely do think upon him a great deal. I wonder if my thinking is hindered by my wounds? I must not be going to die for I see no hellish moments from my life passing before me. Sorry to disappoint you young Jaime but I will not die today and as for you father of darkness I will not come home tonight. Erik will live another day.

Using the last of his strength he volleyed several quick thrusts. He kept advancing not giving the young man a moment to recover from the previous strike, forcing him back a step at a time. Relentlessly moving forward. The clang of metal striking metal rang out echoing around them. Flashes of sparks could be seen at times when metal struck metal. Erik advanced forcing Jaime to stagger backwards fending off the increasingly severe blows. Erik's strikes were harder and quicker. Each volley driving his opponent backwards. At last he saw his opening. Erik thrust the sharp blade into the young man's thigh. When he fell to the ground Erik gave a final stab to his arm holding the sword. The sword fell from young Jaime's now useless hand. He fell to his knees hitting the ground jarring his body with the painful contact of ground to knees. Erik kicked the sword away while he kept his aimed at the man's throat. Slowly the young man raised his face looking boldly at Erik with not one ounce of fear in his face. All Erik saw was resignation. An acceptance of his inevitable death. Shakily he got to his feet holding his hand over the wound in his arm balancing on his uninjured leg.

Erik could only admire the young man's proud stance. He would die with honor if that is what Erik chose. Erik did not want another life on his conscience. His soul had been blackened with too many deaths already. "It's over. Honor has been served. Your death would serve no purpose. There is no dishonor in your loss. You fought valiantly. Do you accept this monsieur?" Not wanting to see his nephew die Susan's father nodded his head in acceptance of Erik's victory and gracious gift of his nephew's life.

Erik's body began to shiver with cold. He stiffened his back in an effort to control the shivering. The loss of blood combined with the soaking from the rain began to chill him to the bone. He would be lucky if he did not bleed to death or get an infection from all the mud caking his body.

Damn rain could not hold off for a few more minutes. That is sadly the story of my life. Even the heavens work against me. Well, damn you God and your constant denial of mercy for me. I won this battle even with you pitting your holy countenance against me. If ever there is to be forgiveness on either of our parts I would hope for that mercy now. I did not kill when I could so easily have given into my darker urges. That alone should count for something, earn me a certain amount of favor.

All his life Erik had a constant battle raging inside him.

The ill treatment he had received his whole life conditioned his first response to be one of attack and defend. From even his earliest memories he could still see images of his mother with her fist raised drawn back then feel the jarring pain in his head. His mother's anger stemmed from having a deformed son who drove her husband from the house. His father could not accept this child of both heaven and hell as his son. Later it was the Gypsies who beat him mercilessly on a daily basis, then it became everyone he met. He had been treated with cruelty for so long it had been all he came to expect out of life and he responded accordingly.

With one last bow to both gentlemen Erik got back on his horse. He was unsure he could make it back but he'd be damned if he'd let them see him weak. Pulling into the saddle made the blood flow more freely from his wounds. Once in the saddle he wheeled the horse toward home and kicked him in the side. The fast pace would jar him and hurt like hell but if he did not get this attended to soon he would have need of a mortician rather than a doctor.

Erik arrived back at his estate and immediately Nadir and Darius came to his aid. They must have been seated by the windows to arrive so quickly from inside the house. Each wrapping one of his arms around their shoulder they carried him upstairs then laid him down on his bed. Darius went for hot boiling water, thread, needle and a large dose of brandy for Erik. Nadir could stitch him up in no time at all.

Nadir helped Erik strip out of his clothing covering him from shoulder to waist. The wounds already had dark bruising forming around the opening in the skin. Blood still seeped out and ran downward soaking his trousers in blood also.

"Before you ask Nadir I will not remove my trousers in front of you. That is one pleasure I will reserve for my women friends only. Cut the damn leg off the trousers if you have to. I can change later."

Nadir grabbed a pair of scissors from the kit Darius had brought. Since living with Erik they kept such a kit assembled at all times. Erik winced when Nadir cut the leg off his trousers. Not so much from pain. It was the fact that these had been his favorite pair of trousers.

"Erik I must know. Is there a young man's body in the meadow growing cold as we speak?"

"His body grows cold only if he is too ignorant to get out of the rain. I myself hurried home to get out of the drizzle. By the way thank you so much for asking about my welfare. I do not think the drenching from the rain will do me in but the holes in my flesh are another matter. If it is not too much to ask, would you kindly stitch me back up?"

Later looking up from the wounds Nadir commented, "You will hardly know you were ever stabbed. The little nick on your arm does not require stitching. A bandage will suffice. There will not be much scarring on your shoulder or leg."

"Thank God Nadir. Quick, bring me a mirror. I simply must assure myself my handsome features remain the same. With my good looks one scar on my shoulder and leg would be so horrendous. This handsome face would go to waste. The hundreds marring the flesh on my back hardly count but this little thing on my shoulder is too cruel to contemplate. Why I'm quite sure it could destroy my love life. Thanks to your skill I may still be able to bed a wench now and again. Just to illuminate the obvious to you that "nick" in my arm almost ran clear through and hurts like hell."

"I am happy to see your humor, such as it is, has been restored. Seriously Erik this could have ended badly. You were lucky. I hope this will be the last time I have to use my skills for your benefit."

"You remember I likened you to a vampire? Well I have revised my opinion. I have recently started reading a book by a lovely woman, Mary Shelly. The book is titled Frankenstein. I do not liken you to the monster description of the man but the stitching of various parts is quite similar. The character is put together by a mad doctor."

"Nadir does this mean that every time you read a new book you will find a resemblance to me in the male character? If so, perhaps you could read a romantic tale with a dashingly handsome hero. I would not mind that comparison. So if I am the monster," he hesitated a moment at the sour look Nadir shot in his direction then continued, "If I am the creature created by the doctor in this tomb of terror does that mean you are the mad Dr. Frankenstein? I am familiar with the book Nadir. I take no offence as I thought the same when I read the book. You have sewn me back together countless times. At times I fear I will slip a stitch and all your handy work will come unraveled leaving a trail of parts as I walk along."

"Erik you have a gruesome mind. If you were to put pen to paper and write fiction I shiver to think what your tale would entail. Please let this be the last time I piece any of your body parts together. The next time you may not be so fortunate. I have no plans in the future of becoming a doctor so I will leave that profession to the younger men."
"Nadir one would get the impression you care for my welfare."

"I do you ungrateful wretch. You take no care in these matters. Someone must keep watch and be ready to act. By the way, just to inform you of a matter I have taken upon myself to handle, we leave for America on Friday. No objections. No discussions. No arguments. I have made most of the arrangements. The tickets for our passage I purchased weeks ago. What is left to arrange can be done by the man I hired to handle your affairs after we leave. Some things I know you wanted to keep as an investment. Those are taken care of. The rest has been liquidated or in the process of being sold."

"I...," That was as far as he got before Nadir interrupted him. "I said no objections, no discussions, not arguments. My word is final. I will stand firm on my decision. That's the end of it. Final."

"Nadir I was only going to thank you for your assistance and your help. No need to jump down my throat. I think I hear your womanly ways returning. You get bossier with each passing year. I know I can be slightly difficult"...Erik paused as Nadir gave an uncharacteristic snort. Scowling in Nadir's direction Erik continued, "As I was saying I know I am slightly, just the slightest bit difficult at times. You have put up with my rare moods and tantrums. I am grateful and I do thank you."

"Rare tantrums and moods? Erik a white rhino is rare. A blue moon is rare. A perfect pearl is rare. I must get you a dictionary. The meaning of rare has escaped you. Nothing about you is rare except perhaps your good temper and appreciation of others. Now that is a rarity."

Erik hesitated a moment taking Nadir's words seriously totally missing the sarcasm. "Nadir as you know I have not had much experience with the gentler emotions so I am not versed in how to express or receive these more tender moments. I really do feel privileged to be allowed to call you friend. Without you God knows where I'd be. Sometimes I find I can not do it alone anymore. I have grown used to having your tough old hide around."

"Now who is the old woman? For one moment I heard the tearful strains of a violin. Was that a sentimental thank you? An admission of needing someone? Perhaps I should get a pen and paper." He patted his pockets as if those items could be found there.

"Wait while I get my journal. This must be recorded for posterity. The great all knowing, all seeing Erik has admitted to needing and wanting help. I think we should start to worry because I fear hell has just frozen over."
The tension between the men lessoned to a degree. The friendship was on the mend. Soon the disagreement and anger would be but a memory tucked away and never brought to light again. Such was the relationship of these three different personalities. Personalities that strangely complimented and meshed forming a strong bond. A bond somewhat like the bond of family members. Not related in any way or family in the accepted sense of the word but family none the less.

For Erik it was hard to accept that he had family so in his twisted mind he only had close friends. Two close friends. Friends he would lay his life on the line for or go to any lengths to please and seek approval. Never would he openly admit such a thing it was understood and silently accepted. The sentiment was returned by his two companions. Given Erik's insecurity most of the time he had his doubts of their friendship. He felt he was more a reluctantly shouldered burden.

As is the case of families not all is smooth and agreeable all the time. Faults were acknowledged and overlooked. Transgressions were forgiven and forgotten. Time was a great healer of wounds both physical and mental. By the time Erik and his companions were on a ship once again slicing through the deep waters of yet another ocean civility had returned between the men.

Before they left Erik journeyed to the place Susan was laid to rest. He wanted to play the requiem he had written for Susan. He stood by the freshly turned earth. He smiled at the large angel standing guard over her resting place. She would have laughed at the irony of that last gesture of her parents. Parents who had considered her a promiscuous lost soul in life.

Personally he knew she would be in heaven if there was such a place. What kind of god would deny he entrance for one single act of misjudgment? Her other sins were no more than what others committed daily. She should not be condemned into an eternity of hellfire and darkness.
Setting the case down he flipped open the clasps. He lifted out his violin to his shoulder then rested his chin on it and began to play. At first the notes were pure sorrow and melancholy. The last mournful note drifted away into the silence around him. Susan would want no mournful tunes played for her. This first piece was for Erik and his regret. This was to express his sorrow for his part in the tragedy.

The second piece was pure joy. The last note died away leaving an eerie silence in this place of resting souls. Erik dropped to his knees bowing his head in sorrow. He had not known he was crying until he felt the splash of a tear on his hand. Seeing that tear the dam broke. His shoulders began to shake with the force of his sorrow. He begged desperately for her to forgive him.

A gentle breeze began to stir. The air moved around him as if warm fingers caressed him. For just a moment he would swear he smelled her favorite perfume. Just for a brief few seconds then it was carried away. With his head bowed and his eyes closed he could swear he heard the words tickle his ear "I forgive" then all was silent.

Looking upward he saw blue sky with wisps of white clouds floating by. Suddenly he saw a lone white feather gently floating down toward him. He sat silently watching that feather float all the way down until it came to rest on his hand. Carefully he grasped the feather between his fingers. He smiled. Looking up once more he murmured softly, "Thank you."

He gently tucked that feather in the pocket of his vest. Erik carried that feather until the day he died. Long after he had forgotten about Christine's ring he carried that single white feather.

A/N: Please be kind and leave a review.

Posted on: 12 Jun 2008 15:43
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Re: Ascent to Power

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Chapter Eight
Guilt and Forgiveness

Again they stood together looking at a receding coastline leaving behind troubles and a certain amount of regret for actions taken in haste and anger. The heaviness of guilt weighed on Erik as his thoughts were on Susan and his part in her death. A child. His child. He or she had not even had a chance to live. Erik had never really thought to have children. With his deformity and the things he had suffered because of it he had not wanted to bring a child into this world. God how he would have loved that tiny bit of life. No matter what the child's physical appearance he would have loved it.

Because of his selfishness two lives were lost. No one held any blame other than him. His monstrous nature ended a small flicker of life before it truly began. For that alone he should burn in hell.

Erik locked himself in his cabin. He could not face the accusations in the eyes of his companions. His own castigation to himself left him feeling that nothing he could do would ever erase this from his heart or mind. The death of his unborn child would forever be a blot on his soul greater than any of the sins he had commited in his life. This was one sin he could not forgive. He deserved nothing from God or anyone other than rejection.

The guilt began to eat into his black soul. Even though he felt Susan had forgiven him it did not lesson his feelings of remorse and regret. Left alone to brood he soon sank back into the darkness of despair that always seemed ready to consume him. A darkness he had fought all his life. This time the black hole of despair seemed bottomless.

From Susan his mind naturally went to Christine. Pain as fresh as the first day inflicted ripped into him almost bringing him to his knees. He could not love anyone like a normal man. Anyone he loved suffered. He would be doing the world a service if he could do as Susan did and end his life. He should be the one who died not her or his child. They were the innocent victims of his monstrous nature.
He sought peace in his old friend morphine. Nadir discovered him in his cabin on the third night out. The needle and cord to tie off his veins on the bed beside him. Two vials of that poisonous liquid lay beside Erik. Silent testimony to the deed committed earlier.

Nadir knew that one was too much. Two would more than likely be deadly. Nadir opened one of Erik's eyelids. The pupils were starting to clear but his breathing was labored. Nadir checked his pulse. It was weak and irregular. With disgust Nadir threw Erik's wrist to the bed beside him. Erik had taken an overdose of that dreadful morphine. In times of stress Erik gave into the mind numbing arms of the drug he found in Persia. He used it to forget what he could not or would not face. In times of deep sorrow he often would take more than needed hoping to end his life. Erik swore it was not a conscious decision but Nadir had his doubts. Nadir would not let him do this cowardly deed.

Damn you Erik. What devil is eating you now as if I did not know? The same plague of a woman that always eats at you and nips your at your heels in your dreams or more likely nightmares. Christine. The same disease of the heart you have suffered for the last year. Hundreds of miles separate you and still she has her fist tightly wrapped around your heart. If she has done this to you I wonder what state that young man is in, for I have a suspicion he will not find his young fiancťe, or I should say bride now, as sweet and malleable as she seemed all these years.

Your tragic association with Susan was another catalist. Learning of the child pushed you over the edge. I should have forced you to talk to me. I should have known not to leave you alone. Whenever your spirits seem uplifted after some disaster I know how you are. You haide behind your dignity. You shield your true thoughts and feelings. Soon you become morose with selfloathing. I should have foreseen this.

A deep sigh left Nadir's lips. He removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. Going into the bathroom he got a bowl of water and a washcloth. After removing Erik's mask and shirt Nadir proceeded to wipe him down with the lukewarm water. Well at least it would give his face a chance to air out. Nadir carefully cleaned the irritated skin. He knew it was quite painful at times, especially in the heat of the summer months. Nadir had tried on many occasions to get Erik to at least leave the mask off when he was alone but his insecurities would not allow him that luxury. Nadir continued to wipe down Erik's sweating flesh. This was the most he could do until Erik returned to consciousness.

Erik returned to consciousness a little changed in his attitude. It would seem some remorseful feelings had caught up to him. His guilt finally overtaking his self denial of blame for Susan as well as the child.

"Erik..." Erik interrupted before Nadir could say more.
"Not now Nadir. Perhaps not ever. Please. If you have any generousity in you for me please leave this alone. For now. Someday I may be able to speak of it but not now. The pain and guilt are too fresh."

Giving into Erik's wishes Nadir tried for a lighter tone of conversation."Well Erik you have sidestepped the grim reaper once again. By now you should be on a first name basis with that Angel of Death."

"Oh, I am Nadir. His name is Frederick." Nadir looked at Erik's face for a sign of insincerity. All but his eyes held no expression. A humorous light glowed behind the stoic face lighting his eyes with a hint of humor. If it were not for that hint of humor Nadir would have started to rethink the possibility that Erik perhaps did have a smidgeon of vampire blood running in his veins or was in fact like that poor man stitched together in the story. It would stand to reason that the walking dead or someone who was once dead then returned to the living would know The Angel of Death personally.

Nadir witnessed an unusual occurrence. Erik's mouth twitched then a full smile emerged. The deep chuckle coming up from his belly and out his mouth stunned Nadir. Erik never laughed. He smirked. He bared his teeth in a threatening manner. He growled menacingly but never had Nadir seen his face show a smile or heard his laughter.

"Allah save us for I am sure the world is coming to an end and indeed hell has frozen over. That was a laugh Erik. A real sound of merriment. Not a diabolical cackle."

"Do you suggest Nadir that I am without humor? I think I am a quite jovial man. There are any number of things which spark my humorous side."

"Erik in the past the only thing you found slightly amusing was the terror and fear you inflicted on the poor souls in your old haunt. You must forgive me if I find this a momentous occasion."

"Nadir I am not so sensitive that you must avoid saying the name of my former home. The Paris Opera House was after all was my home for twenty years. I will not soon forget the joy as well as the sadness of my time there. For all the dank, dark, molding atmosphere it had been my sanctuary. The one place I could hide from the world and be at peace."

"Nadir why must I always leave a path of destruction behind me wherever I go? I seem to destroy everything I love in this world. As hard as I try my darker nature seems to creep back taking over. The darkness seeps slowly back into my mind and heart removing all the light from my soul. I do not wish to continue to be this haunted ghost, the murderous Phantom. I want to leave that darkness behind me. How can I keep it at bay Nadir when it calls to me in every waking moment? The darkness is a much easier mistress to please. Goodness and light are somewhat elusive. Each time I reach out to grasp that elusive light it disappears like mist on the moors of England. Am I to be forever in the darkness without one ray of light Nadir?"

The serious and solemn question deserved a well thought out answer. Nadir tried to find words that would comfort and give encouragement to Erik. He feared that if someone did not come and rescue his friend's soul he would be lost forever. Erik was in desperate need of someone he could share his life with. Someone to shower him with the love he had been denied his whole life and in return give boundless love to that one person who would bring his soul back into the light and complete him, becoming his other half.

"Erik all men struggle between the darkness in their soul and the light of goodness. Since the beginning of time darkness has always tried to overshadow light. The choice is made by each person. In order for you to put your darkness behind you I feel you must face your past as painful as I know that will be. I know you hold the pain of the deaths you caused in Persia hidden and locked away in your heart. As awful as those were you only compounded your sins with the murders and deaths you caused in Paris. I do not say these things to hurt you. You must unlock that door and face what happened only then can you begin to forgive yourself. I have known for a long time your sorrow and regret for your part in those tragedies. Your God has forgiven you long ago. As soon as your regret seeped into your heart the forgiveness from that higher power was waiting to enter your heart. With each admission of guilt and feeling of regret you lesson the burden on your heart.

"As that hurt leaves you the love and forgiveness of the one your Christian soul has denied for so long sends his love and fills the emptied places left by the release of the sorrow you hold for your sinful acts. Now you must find a way to forgive yourself. Your ghosts and demons must be brought out to let the light shine on them. Recognizing evil in oneself is a step toward driving it out."

"Do I deserve forgiveness Nadir? Even...even after what I did to Susan and the...the child? A child that would have been mine?"

"Who among men can truly judge another? Each man knows his own conscience. I leave the task of judgment to a power higher than myself. I can only use man's laws to judge men's deeds but the soul should be judged only by whatever god you believe in. I know you always deny God but try to remember every time when your life was in peril who's name you called for guidance and assistance even if it was a silent request. When death seemed imminent was there a prayer in your heart? Did you ask for his mercy? Even the most vile man can call upon his God and receive mercy and forgiveness. All you have to do Erik is ask and it shall be given."

Near breaking into tears himself Nadir said no more but simply left after placing a comforting hand on Erik's shoulder for a brief moment. No more needed to be said. Erik needed time to think about the path he would take. Nadir did not expect an instant change but he knew Erik would find his way. There were many ups and downs. The Phantom could not be put to death in a moment of regret and sorrow. It would take many battles within Erik to lay his alter ego aside for good. He did have regret for all the sins he had committed. That was the first step. That was the hardest step. The admittance of quilt and asking for forgiveness.

Erik knew he had much to be forgiven. As he sat with his head bowed leaning into his hands for the first time in his life that he could remember, Erik prayed. He prayed for God to give him strength to choose the right path. He knew the darkness of the Devil would always be tempting him whispering seductively in his ear but he gave his promise to try to put it behind him. Knowing his nature all too well he begged God to be lenient when he strayed from the path. Erik's whole life had been a struggle just to survive. The means he had used to survive did not always mean the honest or righteous way. From early childhood he had been conditioned to fight and take what he wanted by any means just to be able to have a small portion of the things others take for granted. Before Erik ended his silent communion with the creator he wanted him to know one thing. For whatever reason God had seen fit to bestow this face on him he wanted the heavenly father to know he forgave him for the curse. Nadir told him long ago that not all things were equal in this world and less was understood. It was not necessary for a person to know the why's of God's will it was only necessary to accept and do the best one could with the things one had in life.
For the first time in his life Erik did not feel cheated. He could not honestly say he felt blessed but he did not feel his life lacked anything. Erik searched his mind to try to think of a word to describe how he felt. Many came to mind but none seemed appropriate. With sudden clarity he knew what this new feeling was. Peace. Erik felt at peace with himself and with God. He no longer felt as if he were at war with the Supreme Being.

That night Erik fell into a dreamless sleep. If he dreamed he did not remember them. For most of his life he had nightmares of past tortures. Consequently he rarely slept more than a few hours each night. That night Erik slept the whole night in peace. His eyes did not open until the sun streaked over the ship. Light filtered through the small porthole in Erik's room. Erik had always been an early riser as sleep held little appeal. Sleeping usually meant nightmares.

Erik remained secluded in his cabin. Nadir or Darius brought his meals and set them outside his door. Erik's new relationship with his creator needed much reflection and he thought better without interruptions.

Erik was solemn and uncommunicative for several days. That was not unusual for Erik. He would go for weeks without saying a word if he had a problem to solve or a new composition whirling around in his head. Darius and Nadir knew the best thing to do was to leave him alone until he conquered the problem and found a satisfactory solution. When after the first week Erik still had not ventured from his cabin they asked the cabin boy to deliver his meals. All they could do was sit and wait for him to come out of seclusion.

Two weeks after the duel Erik came into the dining room for breakfast. Erik was whistling. Erik never whistled. Sing? Yes. Shout curses at the top of his lungs when displeased? Most certainly. Berate and demean with well chosen words? Yes, indeed he did. Erik did not whistle.

The other guests were shocked to see him for varied reasons. The women sat up straighter in their chairs and primped with their hair. A couple of younger ones took up their fans and began to fan furiously while they snuck peeks at Erik over the top of their fan. The older women thought him quite nice to look at. The younger ones were wondering how to lure him out on deck that night for a secluded rendezvous.

"Good morning ladies, gentlemen." Erik nodded his head to each before he took the only available seat. Nadir was on his right and Darius was on his left. They had come to the conclusion that they did not want a recurrence of the last voyage. Erik could not get into too much trouble between the two gentlemen.

The long voyage was made tolerable because of the amusing way two young women vied for Erik's attention. To his credit he did not encourage them. He did nothing to outright discourage them either. Erik's gentlemanly manners forced him to be cordial and polite. Nadir did notice Erik's lustful glances toward the women but he restrained himself. All in all the voyage was uneventful.

Erik did not like New York much. He did not have much he held against it but he saw not much to recommend it either. Of course he was not one who should judge such things. He had seen many wondrous things in his life but the crowed streets of New York left him cold. His life in solitude had not engrained an appreciation for all the wonders available it that great metropolis. Too many people and most of the buildings were built simply to house masses of people with no style. The wealthier areas had beautiful homes. The business district had many new buildings he found little fault with except aesthetically. Many were modern marvels. They seemed to touch the sky. Erik thought the term skyscraper a very apt description for these tall majestic buildings. Some did not have any special design but were marvels of construction in their own way. He could admire the architecture but did not appreciate the masses of people. The theatres he found adequate. Not as elegant as his old haunt but attractive in their own way.
Nadir and Darius were ever vigilant keeping track of Christine. Nadir had taken it upon himself to hire a detective in Paris to keep him informed of all that went on in the de Changny household.

Erik and financing were like perfectly matched lovers. He studied all angle and outcomes. He never rushed into an investment. He invested generously in all the companies he had taken over. He took a beaten and bankrupt company and turned it into a huge profit. Railroad and shipping were his best investments. He bought warehouses on the docks to house the goods he exported and imported. He dealt in anything from cotton to imported silks. Tobacco was another product growing in demand. It was not as rich as the Turkish tobacco Nadir was accustomed to but one had to accept what was available. A pipe filled with tobacco was one vice Nadir allowed. An occasional wine with dinner or sherry in the evening he considered a necessary medicinal treatment to counterbalance Erik's difficult personality and behavior.

Banks as well as businesses seeking investors were vying for Erik's funds. A failed business was suddenly making the highest profits in the city. He bought cheap and sold high. Soon his wealth had tripled what he had when he left France. Erik's wealth began to compare to the richest men in the state. If the trend continued he could well compete with the wealthiest men in the country.

Nadir received notice of Christine's potential arrival in New York in a few months. Negotiations were still being discussed. The present diva was with child and wanted time away to have her child and spend the first year with her new infant. The holiday season was upon them. Nadir and Darius thought it might be better to wait until after the holidays to start the whole campaign again to uproot Erik for his own good. Nadir began to liken Christine to a leach. A parasite sinking barbs into ones skin and sucking the life's blood from the unsuspecting host. Yes that is exactly what Christine does to Erik. Whenever he thinks of her and what he will never have a little bit of his vitality is drained. It takes weeks for him to recover and begin to behave rationally, or what resembles rational for Erik.

On the bright side Erik would not mind so much leaving New York as he was not overly fond of the comings and goings of so many people. The joy of the season had completely baffled Erik. His thoughts were that it only harbored false hopes in children for the man in the red suit to bring a toy or treat. What of the children who had no parent to play St. Nicholas or the funds for such frivolous things? Better to tell them the truth than encourage this falsehood. He personally had never received a gift. His life had not ended because he had no belief in an unreal personage. Let the season reflect the true meaning and be done with it.

Nadir used all manners of persuasion to help Erik find a little of the spirit of Christmas. He himself did not celebrate as it was not of his religious beliefs but he saw no harm in giving children and many adults the thrill of going to sleep and waking to presents given for no other reason than you had achieved some goodness in the year or held the love of family wanting to see joyful faces when opening that first gift.

Erik grumbled and groaned each evening at dinner about all the shoppers traipsing about pushing and shoving trying to find last minute gifts. No doubt everyone would overeat and laze about the whole day then want to spend the next day recovering from the hustle and bustle and illness of their own making.

Nadir had recently read "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. As was his habit he compared Erik to the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge. Erik's "Bah! Hum bug" attitude reminded Nadir of that character. He was even quite certain he had heard Erik mutter those words one evening coming in the front door after a day traveling around the city shops.
After dinner one evening Nadir decided to voice his observation. "Erik do you believe in ghosts?"

"As I used the disguise of being a ghost to hide my activities for many years I would have to say no. I do not believe in that which can not be seen. If there were such things they surely would have been in the catacombs. During the hard times of the Paris they had been used to house prisoners. It is rumored many prisoners were forgotten and languished until merciful death claimed them. If ever a ghost were to haunt I believe it would have been there. I feel I may regret this question but why do you ask?"

"My recent reading material has a man who reminds me of you during this jovial season. The book is "A Christmas Carol". The man sees three ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost Of Christmas Present and finally The Ghost of Christmas Future. Needless to say the man has a frightful but highly enlightening night. During his night he learns the moral to appreciate life more and keep the joy of the season in his heart not only during Christmas but all through the year."

"Ah, a novel I have not read. Nadir you do have a rather eclectic reading taste as do I. I would have thought you would enjoy a rather dry and boring tale but I am pleased you are open to many different topics. So now you think I will be visited by ghosts?"

"Anything is possible Erik. Perhaps not real ghosts will come to you but maybe if your lucky St. Nicholas will pay you a visit. After all you have been good lately."
Erik blushed remembering how very bad he had been the evening before with a young lady he met at the gaming hall. Not a high society lady but a lady none the less. He had spent quite a few hours being very bad but damn it had felt so good.

"Erik is there something you should tell me? The blush of guilt or embarrassment or both has stained your cheeks. You have begun to fidget. This is telltale habit you have acquired over the last few months and signals guilt on your part for some misconduct. Should we be packing instead of celebrating? Confess what sin you have committed because I am sure it will come to light. Confession is good for the soul."

"Stop your mothering and my soul such as it is I can say is fine. I am a grown man. I do not fidget. Besides it is just unbearably hot in here. Do you not find the temperature rather uncomfortable? The aroma from that pitiful tree does not help. Could you not find a livelier tree if you insist we have one?" As he spoke his fingers worked under the cravat around his neck trying to loosen the stranglehold of that piece of cloth that suddenly seemed to tighten like a noose. The aroma from that pitiful tree did not help his comfort one bit.

"If we must have a tree why not purchase one from one of the lots around the city? Iím sure a better specimen could have been found. In just a day the pitiful twig has lost almost all the needles from every branch," said Erik in disdainful voice.

"Oh I do not know about that. The sad little fellow has grown on me. I think it has even perked up a bit." His eyes followed a few needles as they fell off a branch and landed on the floor. He stood up from his chair by the fire and nonchalantly walked over and used his foot to push the needles under the white piece of cloth that had been laid under the tree in a vain attempt to make it look like snow. Nadir had thought it would make the tree look a little more lively.

"Nadir that tree is all but dead. Show mercy and cut it up and pitch it in the fire. It would serve a better purpose in the fireplace than cluttering up my living room and shedding on the floor."

"I will do no such thing. If you so much as pull one needle from a branch I shall personally see you drawn and quartered," Nadir threatened.
Erik snorted and said, "I need not touch a branch of that pitiful excuse for a tree. A calm breeze would bare every branch in a few seconds. By morning I am sure it will be nothing but limbs."

Erik had not missed the needles falling or Nadir's sly bid to hide them. Even as they spoke more needles fell. The damn tree was almost completely bare. It was a disgrace to have it in his beautiful home.

"Nadir if I wait another day I will not have to make an effort to remove the tree. It will soon turn to dust. I too have seen the falling needles. Keep your tree. After tomorrow we can take it down anyway."

"Erik you are such an ungrateful man. The damn tree was for you. I do not need trees nor do I celebrate this holiday. Darius and I did this for you so you could have your first real Christmas. With your attitude no wonder St. Nicholas has passed you over all these years. If he had stopped by you would have more than likely shucked him in the fireplace. Before you say anything I know it is said he comes down the chimney. I am only using that as a reference to your poor attitude. I do not want anymore of your Bah hum bugs. I am retiring. Do not call on me for help if those ghosts come for you. I shall turn a deaf ear."
Nadir passed Darius on the way with a tray of milk and freshly baked cookies. He snatched the tray from Darius saying, "He does not deserve these. The man insulted our tree. With his attitude I doubt a visit from St. Nicholas will be forthcoming."

Frowning at Nadir's retreating back Darius then turned to Erik and said, "I take it your appreciation for the tree is less than stellar."

"Well just look at the damn thing. It is scrawny and if any more needles fall it will be completely bare. I am sure it must be infested with some sort of pest."

"If you don't mind my saying so Master Erik you could be just a little less critical. Nadir only had your interests in mind. He wanted to gift you with your first real Christmas. Might I suggest you spend the remainder of the evening contemplating on the generosity of your friend. He meant well. Can you honestly say anyone in your entire life has done as much for you? Now as we will not be sharing cookies and milk before the fire I think I will retire for the night if nothing further is required."

Erik shook his head not looking at Darius. Erik stayed in front of the fire until the last ember died then slowly went up the stairs to his bed. It was not such a terrible tree. Nadir had gone to a lot of trouble to give him this special day. Yes, it was a rather nice tree. In a certain light it might even be seen as pretty. More needles fell unseen from the tree. Erik went to bed thinking of his friend's thoughtful gesture. He fell into an untroubled sleep with the thoughts of Nadir and Darius' kindness on his mind. Someone had shown him, The Phantom a kindness. An unasked for and unexpected kindness.

Nadir and Darius had set up the tree in Erik's living room and surprised him the evening before when he entered his home. A pitiful attempt to be sure. Their were no shiny ornaments or decorations. Nadir and Darius had rented a wagon from the stable outside the city. The woods were not overflowing with the proper trees needed for a Christmas tree. The ones Nadir had seen in the store front windows were cedar or spruce or some type of pine tree. Most of the trees were to large even to consider cutting. Nadir did not want to be cutting a the tree for the next two months. Finding a small pitiful tree they accepted it could well be their only hope.

Popcorn had been popped and strung on thread. Cranberries snuggled against a puff of white popcorn all along the strand of thread created a pretty sight of red and white with the green background of the tree. Nadir cut a star from a piece of yellowed parchment paper. Unless he told you it was a star a person looking at it could be forgiven for thinking it a person with pointed and slightly askew appendages. A pitiful attempt but the thought behind the gesture came from the heart.

Nadir had purchased the special brandy Erik was so fond of. Darius bought a leather folder with music paper placed inside. He had paid to have the front engraved with gold lettering. It would be the first personal item Erik owned with his name showing proudly who he had become. Not much considering the man receiving those gifts could purchase a portion of the state and still have funds left in his coffers. The thought and love behind the gifts was priceless.

Nadir and Darius made it a point to be up long before Erik arose from his bed. They made coffee and tea. Fresh sweet rolls with various fruits and icing were placed on a tray having come fresh from the oven. Biscuits with fat slices of bacon and fried egg were added along with sugar, milk and honey. Darius carried the tray and Nadir carried a tray with silverware, plates, cups and fresh linen napkins. Taking the trays into the living room all that was left was to wait for the quest of honor. The wait was short as Erik came down the stairs and entered the living room moments later.

The look on Erik's face the morning of Christmas made the work and aggravation worth while. His speechless look of wonder had been reward enough. He had carefully unwrapped each gift as if even the wrapping were a precious gift more valuable than gold and as Nadir reflected later perhaps it was. Simple as the gifts were they could have been gold and diamonds. Erik valued them above anything he had ever had in his possession. These were gifts given to him by friends who cared about him and sought nothing in return. He would treasure them until his eyes closed for the last time and his body drew it's last breath. Erik shared his first happy Christmas with his two close friends. The gifts made Erik feel guilty for he had not thought to get them a gift. Never before had they exchanged gifts. From this Christmas on Erik decided he would buy gifts for his friends. The giving of gifts was almost as satisfying as receiving them.
Erik could count on fingers of both hands the number of purely happy days in his life and have many unneeded fingers. Christmas along with his birthday were days his mother did not think Erik should celebrate. He was deemed unworthy of receiving any gifts. The day of his birth was hardly a day to celebrate.

If Madame Giry could have been present his joy would have overflowed into the streets. Madame had written of her marriage and Meg's situation in Paris. He could not imagine Meg on her own in a city such as Paris. He felt she was far too innocent to be on her own. If Madame Giry, now Madame Messer, thought her daughter capable of living on her own who was he to pass judgment? He had sent a letter to his lawyer instructing him to purchase certain items for Madame and Meg. The gifts were to be delivered on Christmas morning. Monsieur Henri Leblanc delivered Madame's gifts personally. The young Mademoiselle would receive hers a few days later. He had to find an opportune time to leave them where they would be found.

Erik could not know of the troubles that poor Meg suffered. If he had known he would have moved heaven and earth to help his savior's daughter. The lawyer went to Meg's home only to find another tenant living there with no known forwarding address. He took it upon himself to inquire about her whereabouts. He found her safely ensconced at the home of Christine and Raoul de Chagny. He sent what information he found to Erik. He informed Erik that Madame Messer had received her gifts and sent him a letter which he was forwarding in the post with his report. Mademoiselle Marguerite Giry would receive her gifts a few days later. By the time Erik received the letter the gifts should be safely in her hands. He would not give any return address and would be leaving the packages where they could easily be found. She would know who sent them but not where they came from.

The reports with further details arrived a few weeks after Christmas. Now at least Erik could relax somewhat as Meg would be safe in the home of his hated rival. Christine and Raoul had taken her in. Erik wondered why she had not gone to another opera house. Dance had been her whole life. Why had it become necessary to leave Paris? Why not go to her mother? Erik wondered why he had that feeling of impending doom again. In time all these questions would be answered.

Posted on: 15 Jun 2008 11:26
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Re: Ascent to Power

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I find a lot to absorb in your chapters. I am disappointed in Erik's behavior. After all he'd been through to be so uncaring for the love he so desperately sought. Never thought of him like that. Good emotions and thoughts! Brava!

I forgot to compliment you on how well you did the love scenes. Very tasteful!

Please continue!

Brava, brava, bravissimi!

Posted on: 17 Jun 2008 21:16
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Re: Ascent to Power

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Thank you for reviewing. I have read some of your critiques of other stories and most of the writers seem to think you are fair and helpful. Thank you for taking the time to review mine. I know my chapters seem long but in real books chapters are somethimes even longer. It is my aim to make an attempt to look like an honest to God writer even if I never get published. That would be the ultimate compliment if I could be published some day. I think the only way that will happen is if I self-publish. Oh well dreams will sustain me.

Posted on: 17 Jun 2008 23:20
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Re: Ascent to Power

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If you are serious about getting published, I can help you.
Your writing is much better than a lot I've reviewed. If you want this one published, then I will critique it as such, but you will have to have an original story published first. Self published books are not looked on kindly by traditional publishers. So try not to think that way.

Personally, my second rewrite of my book is being reviewed by my publisher. I will advise you as we go along.

Keep up the good work.

Posted on: 18 Jun 2008 14:30
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Re: Ascent to Power

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Chapter Nine
The Art of Not so Gentle Persuasion

Nadir started his campaign to leave New York after the holidays. The city was too noisy, too dirty, everyone was in such a hurry and spoke too fast for Nadir to comprehend half of what was said to him. He complained of anything and everything.

Nadir spoke fluent English from the days when he was in Persia and many of the women in the harem were from English speaking countries. Kidnapped and brought to the harem no doubt by slave traders. Slavery had not been Nadirís concern in Persia. From the time he had brought Erik from Russia, at the request of the Shah, Nadirís sole purpose was to keep a watchful eye on the illusive and crafty Frenchman brought for the Shah as an architect and magician for entertainment at the court of the Shah.

Erik questioned Nadir's sudden loss of comprehension of the English language as he had shown no problem in England. Nadir surmised it was the way the locals butchered the language with their local colloquialisms. Erik agreed with him on that point. These Americans could take a perfectly good word and mangle it beyond recognition.

Erik had no love for the city but grumbled about starting again. Money can be made from any location with communication, prosperity and banking facilities. The choice of location was an every widening arena as civilization moved westward. The South looked promising.

The growth since the war was phenomenal. New industries were emerging as the rail system stretched further and improved. Having access to the ocean for shipping and importing was a must. Virginia looked to be the most promising. There was even a modern opera house there. This tipped the balance in favor of Virginia but Erik still procrastinated making a firm decision. With Erik dragging his feet Nadir had to find some inducement to help make his decision easier and more forthright. As luck would have it an unexpected helping hand came by way of the news in the papers.

The crime rate made Nadir wish he could pull out his police credentials once more. The crime rate was so bad even Erik hesitated to go out without his Punjab lasso, knife and boot hidden in his boot.

The newspapers were carrying the story of the indictment of William Marcy Tweed or as he was known in Tammany Hall and around the criminal element as Boss Tweed, furthered Erikís disenchantment with this city. The man was known as a bully as well as for his association with the criminals known as the Forty Thieves gang. The announcement of his indictment for larceny and forgery disgusted Erik. Funds had been mishandled and several questionable contracts had been made to associates of Boss Tweed and some funneled to his own company left the city in an uproar. Politicians wanting to disassociate themselves from the scandal withdrew any contact with the now suspect individual. Everyone denied even knowing the man personally. The rats were jumping the sinking ship quickly.

Perhaps a little jealousy came into play, as Erik did not have the same power here as he had in Paris. He had bullied the managers of The Paris Opera House for many years. Since he was a young man just turning twenty he had them under his ghostly thumb. Now he was a mere man with wealth. There was a certain power in that but it was not the same as the fear of just the sound of a voice. The fear on an unseen figure lurking in the dark. Nadir did think at times Erik missed his ghostly persona and the fear he invoked in everyone. He was correct. Erik missed that heady rush off power over the lives of others.

A few weeks after Christmas an incident took place that made Nadir's request much more acceptable to Erik. Erik was on his way home from a gaming facility where he had spent a prosperous evening playing a game of cards with a few rich gentlemen who were lighter in their wallets as Erik left.

Barely a block from the gaming hall Erik was attacked by four men. Normally this would not have bothered Erik in the slightest. His whole life had been a fight for one thing or another. Combat between him and more than one assailant was nothing new to Erik. Erik could fight with the best of them. This night he had drank a considerable amount of wine at dinner and several glasses of whiskey at the club. To say he was slightly inebriated would be a just statement.
Taking Erik by surprise the men jumped Erik taking his valuables. That alone humiliated the proud man in the mask.

Each of the men took a turn pounding a fist into Erikís face and body. The beating he took from the largest man hurt his pride in no small measure. Erik had apparently gotten a few damaging punches on the largest manís face.

Being a professional pugilist when not committing petty crimes the man became just a little put out. Instructing the other three to stand guard in the alley he began to beat Erik as he had not been beaten since his days in the Gypsy carnival as the freak attraction and later his last days in Persia as the enemy of the Shah and Khanum.

Erik could hold his own with the best of them but he did not learn the art of fist fighting. His battles were mostly with weapons. He was proficient with many weapons. He regarded his hands as instruments of music not weapons. The man Ox as Erik heard him called, beat Erik within an inch of his life.

Knowing he could not win this fight Erik did his best to defend himself. If he survived he wanted revenge. With this in mind he picked each mans pocket taking their wallets and any identification they might have. His grasp on their shoulders as he was hit and knocked about the alley were only half faked. Mostly they were real attempts to stay on his feet. Luckily he still had the presence of mind to use his slight of hand to get the information he needed. Erik is the only person Nadir knew who could be enduring the worst beating of his life and consider revenge while implementing a means of identifying his assailants at the same time.

"Gents this be my fight. A fortnight tis' been since I last laid glove or fist on a man. This fine gent will no mind sparin' a wee bit. You'd no' be denyin' me now would ya'? If ya' would no mind Iíll be takin' the mask. That leather does sting a mite. I canna' have me hands busted now can I?"
Making comments about his mask the larger mean eyed man hit Erik in his face several times. The man's ham hock fists nearly broke Erik's cheek bone. In one swift move of his hand he removed Erik's mask. Stepping back at Erik's roar of anger the man quickly recovered then momentarily froze when the light reflecting from the street lamp just for a fraction of a second illuminated Erik's tragic face. Now more firghtening than before because of the cuts on the left side of his face causing him to be covered in blood. The mask had somewhat protected his right side which already had the permanent horrors of his face. The mask was almost completely crimson with blood as it lay at their feet with a hollow blank stare. Anyone could be excused for thinking it a horrific sight. The mask and his face.

"Merciful God in heaven. Tis' the devil's own bairn before me. Do ye be searchin' for souls this fine evenin'? The devil will no be takin' ole Ox O'Sullivan's soul. I may have a noddin' friendship with the devil but he'll no' get me soul. Me dear Ma' would rise from her grave at such a thing."

Knowing he could not return the pain of contact with his fists as the man was extremely skilled Erik spent the time between jarring hits to his body studying the men. These faces he would remember and the next time it would be his turn to administer the pain. Most certainly his mind contemplated the rush of power he would feel as they beg for their miserable lives after he played with them a bit of course. Take pleasure in what you do tonight for the next time we meet will be your last night to draw breath. This was Erik's solemn vow.

During his monologue the man called Ox continued to pummel Erik as if they were opponents in a ring. A few rights then a left. All the while bouncing around on his toes. Erik thought if the damn man would just stand in one spot for a moment he might get more than one or two blows in. He had made contact and drew a little blood from the his adversary. Not a sufficient amount to cause any real damage. Just enough for Erik to salvage a little of his pride. Having at last tired himself sufficiently the man called Ox OíSullivan bid him good-bye with a smile. His cohorts followed him out of the alley and down the street.

Erik painfully staggered out of the alley. As pain shot into his chest at each breath he took he felt fairly certain a few ribs were either cracked or broken. Luckily it was his marred face that received most of the injuries. A couple of cuts on the right side was all Erik could feel upon investigating with his fingers.

It took a while to flag down a cab willing to take him as a pasenger. Flagging down a cab he gave his address. Hesitation on the drivers part turned to eagerness when Erik produced several bills from his boot. That was one lesson Erik had learned long ago. Always have spare funds available. As luck would have it the men had only wanted cash and not a warm coat or boots. Many on the street would value those two items over coins in the hand.

Erik slumped down on the comfortable leather armchair. He ached in every muscle. His face felt as if it had been slammed into a large stone several times. Shakily he retrieved the wallets out of his coat pocket grateful he had worn a coat instead of his cloak although the cloak could have served as a weapon. Erik was doubtful that one item would have changed the outcome in his favor. He simply must learn the art of fisticuffs. Erik could throw a hard punch with enough force to cause damage but against a knowledgeable fighting opponent he had little chance when caught unprepared for an attack and not quite steady on his feet. Clear headed and sober he more than likely could have put up more resistance.

Going through his pockets he noticed his house key had been lost in the shuffle. Damn. Could this fucking night get any worse? He'd have to pick the lock to get in. Carrying his lock pick set was one habit he was glad he had not fiven up. Regardless he was haveing a fucking spare key made. He would simply loosen one of the bricks hiding the key behind it.

Arriving home he discovered he would not be able to slip into his room unnoticed as he wished. Nadir was sitting in an armchair by the fireplace waiting. He pretended he was reading but Erik knew he had been waiting for his return. It had been the same since coming to this country. For some reason Nadir did not trust these Americans. Perhaps it was there lax concerns with the propriety of old world manners. Nadir could be a stickler for etiquette. At times even more so than Erik.

"Good heavens Erik. What happened? Is this a result of an inebriated fall? Not to point out the negative but your face is, to be blunt, quite a gruesome sight. I do believe your eye will be swollen shut by morning. The cut above your eye may need to be stitched. Your slumped posture would seem to indicate some rib damage as well."

"Could you stop taking inventory of my injuries and perhaps get me the medical kit and some ice?"

"Do not snap at me because your evening of debauchery ended in some mishap. Countless times I have told you that your carousing would at some point come to a nasty end. I have been proved correct in my observation."

"Damn it stop the sanctimonious lecture and help me or get the hell to bed." Pain made Erik a little less tolerant if one could ever call Erik tolerant at any time.
Nadir silently left the room and Erik collapsed into the armchair Nadir had recently vacated. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. It had been many years since he had been beaten so severely. Not since his escape from Persia in fact had he suffered any physical abuse.

Nadir returned and silently waited for Erik to open his eyes. His face looked as if many punches had landed hard blows on his cheek and lips. There was a gash just above his right eye. Erik would be thankful it was on the side he covered with a mask. There appeared to be bruising on his neck that continued down into his shirt. No doubt his ribs were either just bruised or broken. Erik continued to press his arm across his waist pressing against his ribs with his hand. He took short shallow breaths to ease the pain. His injuries did not look serious only extremely painful.

Knowing Erik the loss of his pride at having been beaten so severely would hurt as much or more than the beating. May Allah take pity on those who committed this horrible act. Erik would not forgive or forget such an action. He would eventually seek revenge and only a merciful god could save the perpetrators of this crime. Nadir could be safe in saying it was more than one man. If it were only one or two men Erik might have a bruise or two but nothing like he was suffering now.

"Well are you going to stand hovering over me or will you tend to my injuries? You took so long I assumed you had left me to my own devices."

"What have I told you about the word assume and being an ass? If you assume it makes an ass of you and me. I was only waiting for you to acknowledge me and tell me when you were ready. Do not snipe at me. I did not beat you although there have been times I have been sorely tempted. Now tell me what happened while I repair the damage. If you do not stop this abuse to your face soon you will resemble that monster we spoke of before. Do not give me that cross look. This is your own fault you know. I have told you many times that if you are going to stay out getting into mischief at night you should buy a coach and hire your own driver. Then you would have your ride already outside the door of the gaming hall or wherever you spend your time. Perhaps now you will admit I was correct and listen to me."

"How the hell can this be my fault? I did not go looking for someone and ask them to use my face as a punching bag. Speaking about punching bags I wish to find a teacher of the art of pugilism. My skills are somewhat lacking and I wish to remedy this immediately. I have an appointment with three men in the near future." As he spoke he removed the wallets from his pocket. He read the names and looked through the wallets. How ironic. The wallet of the man he knew as Ox had more cash than he had taken from Erik as Erik had put his winnings in his boot as he always did when he had a large amount of cash. Tonight's winnings had not been great but enough to want to hide from prying eyes and greedy pick pocketing hands. Thus the larger portion of cash had been in his boot.

"Erik what have you got there?" Nadir stretched his neck so far Erik thought he might fall to the floor. "Well what have you got? Do not even waste breath telling me to mind my own business. I demand to know this minute young man what sort of mischief you are planning."

"Nadir now you are beginning to sound like my mother. If I had one that is."

"Of course you had one idiot. Everyone has one. Yours just did not relish the roll. I do not enjoy my roll as the peacekeeper in your life. I long for the time you find a woman who can control your fluctuating moods. You are a hard man to manage."

Erik threw the wallets onto the side table. His mind was not on revenge per say. He was wondering how to go about finding himself someone who might teach him what he required. "These are the wallets of my attackers. Now I will know exactly who I am going to be killing in the near future. Before you bring up any promises I may have made during a moment of vulnerability let me say that this is a matter of honor. Besides the removal of these men will not be such a great loss to society."

"I swear Erik you are the only person I know being beaten about the head who would think to pick the pockets of the men attacking you in order to exact revenge. As for them not being missed how can you say that with surety? Perhaps they have families to support. People who love them dearly."

"Nadir the type of men who did this to me are not saintly. If they had families they would have been snuggled up next to a warm body instead of out looking for victims. Trust me these men have no one waiting at home for them unless it is an officer of the law or another person of ill repute. In the morning I would like for you to inquire discretely who the most proficient pugilist is in New York. As I said earlier I wish to perfect my skills. Iíll not be beaten senseless again. Since you abhor my own method of defense I must learn another."

Erik bided his rime. Watched from the shadows as he stalked his prey. That was how he saw them. Not as men but prey. Vermin to be removed as one would kill a rat. His skills returned more quickly than he thought. Each night he donned his cloak the power of his former personna invaded him taking him close to the edge where he lost control. Erik kept a tight reign on himself. He would remove only he ones necessary. In his past he would have stalked only as a means to trap and kill his prey. now he watched and observed to learn what the punishment for each man would be. He was sure he wanted to kill each man. His new found conscience forced him to consider all avenues of punishment.

He had to fight his inclination to deal out swift justice in the manner he used in Paris and Persia. He was a different man with different goals. He knew the veneer of control was very thin. He must keep a vigilent watch or he would lose himself in the darkness. Whenever he felt himself beginning to give into that old darkness that filled his soul he would take out the white feather from his breast pocket and remember. Remember what he had done and his promise to change.

This time he would not rush to seek his revenge. He would take his time. After all was it not more sweet to anticipate some reward or pleasure then slowly be given your prize?

Posted on: 21 Jun 2008 15:03
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Re: Ascent to Power

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Warning:Violence. Sexual situations. Language.

Chapter Ten.
Revenge is Sweet

It had taken Erik only a couple of weeks to find the men who attacked him. Erik waited and observed them from the shadows. He soon chose the perfect time to catch each man alone then exact what he considered appropriate recompence.

The first was Thomas O'Toole. A young man well on his way to prison if not redirected. Erik had learned he did indeed have a family. A wife and two children. The direction he was going with his life he would be in prison and miss seeing his children grow up. Erik wanted nothing more than to wrap that thin rope around the man's neck and slowly squeeze the life out of him. He might even have given into the urge if he had not caught sight of the man sitting on his front stoop one evening with his wife watching their children play. Had he not seen the care he gave his wife who looked to be with child again and then saw him go into the front yard and play with his children he would have taken that man's life gladly.

Deciding a good scare and threats of dire consequences if he continued on this criminal path would be more beneficial Erik waited to catch the man alone. On his fourth evening watching he got his chance. He slipped up behind the man as he entered the alley and put the Punjab over his head and around his neck. Pulling tight he made sure the young man could not move by knocking him to the ground and placing his booted foot squarely in the man's back.

As the man under his boot squirmed Erik jerked on the rope tightening it further around the neck of the man on the ground. It had been a long time since he had used his Punjab on anyone. It fact the last person had been his hated rival Raoul. The thought of that man had Erik instantly tightening the rope. The man's face turning an unbecoming shade of blue returned Erik to his senses. No need to make this man pay for the misdeeds of another.

"Lay still. Each movement only tightens the rope. Well Thomas, you must be wondering who I am. I am the man you robbed a few weeks ago. Forgive me. How stupid of me. No doubt you have robbed several people since then. I am the one you and your friends pulverized and then watched as Ox continued the beating. Not sure yet who I am? Perhaps you recall a grotesque face? Well it is of no consequence your faithful memory or lack thereof will not serve you in your current situation. It only matters that you listen and heed my words."

"I won't kill you tonight. Count yourself lucky you have a loving wife and children otherwise you would have been dead a couple of nights ago. I had all but snagged you with my Punjab when I saw your children come to greet you and then your wife joined them. You should count your blessings while placing a kiss on each of your children and your wife. I will let you go for tonight but on the understanding that you will no longer victimize anyone again. You will seek employment. I shall be watching and one misstep and no one will be able to save you. Not your wife. Not your children."

Before Erik loosened the rope and let the man go he put a wad of bills in his pocket and a piece of paper with an address and name written down. There were instructions when and where to go to seek employment.

Erik whispered one last chilling warning in the man's ear. "Do not disappoint me. You would not like to see me when I am angry. If you remember my face you can imagine all the demons of hell I can unleash upon you. Do we have an agreement?"

The man nodded vigorously. The sweat of fear was pouring down his face. He knew he was moments from death if he made one wrong move. Erik loosened the rope and allowed the man to roll over on his back. His eyes widened in shock and fear. Erik had decided not to wear his mask so he would have an even greater effect on young Thomas. If the face was not frightening enough the look in the eyes was terrifying. The man hovering over him had the look of a man yearning to commit an act of violence. Pure hate and the need for violence and blood shown out of his glowing eyes. The surrounding lights reflecting feebly in the alley reflected from Erik's eyes making them seem to glow evilly.

Thomas was well acquainted with that look. Many men in his part of the world held that same look. The urge to take a life, to release violence on another and cause the maximum amount of pain. The anticipation of having another helpless and begging for mercy under your hands. It was a powerful feeling. A feeling that was as seductive as it was addictive. He knew that look well. It had been mirrored in his own eyes on occasion.

Thomas nodded his head vigorously again with sheer terror reflecting in his eyes. Erik turned the man to his back to one last word of warning then disappeared as if he were but a puff of smoke. The hands gripping the rope had seemed to almost reluctantly release their grip. The rope loosened further and he quickly pulled it over his head and got quickly to his feet. By the time he was standing on his feet and turned to look at his attacker the darkly dressed man had disappeared as if he were only a figment of his imagination. If not for the throbbing in his neck as a reminder he could have convinced himself he had imagined the whole episode. Not one to pray much he did thank God for sparing him this night.

The second man Erik sought truly was a despicable man. The bottom of the barrel would be too high a rung on the ladder of humanity for this grotesque poor excuse for a man. Erik was not one to judge another because of poor hygiene or lack of proper clothing if the will to be better was present. If the slovenly manners are the result of laziness he was considerably less tolerant. Michael O'Reilly was a lazy, sadistic and cruel, pig of a man. Erik made sure he was always upwind of the foul smelling man. His bathing seemed to be nonexistent. Michael's unshaven face made a fastidious Erik cringe in disgust. A neatly trimmed beard and mustache were one thing but the scraggly facial hair on Michael's face made Erik's fingers itch to take a razor to the man assuming he could force himself to touch someone so unclean.

Erik observed Michael O'Reilly for a couple of days. He was a man in his early fifties but he looked much older. He was a dirty and unkempt man. The man was a drunkard and a cruel lecher. Drinking from early morning until late evening. In between bouts of non stop drinking he would beat on his wife and teenage daughter. When he found the time or energy to assault and relieve others of their valuables Erik could only hazard a guess that even that avenue to gain funds was not taken often by the overly lazy man.

The first night Erik had witnessed the man beat his wife and daughter Erik had longed to enter that dwelling and kill the man slowly and painfully that first night. The need for caution was the only thing between him and that man's fat neck. If he was to bring death to Michael O'Reilly and save his wife and daughter at the same time Erik had to plan his attack.

The second night Erik waited looking in the front widow while sitting on a limb of a big elm tree in the front yard. Luckily their apartment was on the ground floor in the front of the building. He watched as they ate a meal of cooked cabbage. Erik observed the man belittling his wife for the paltry meal. Even with the windows closed Erik was sure he would have heard that man's loud complaining voice. The meal was poorly cooked, no meat was served, why couldn't she have baked bread? The list of complaints went on during the whole meal. Neither woman said one word. To utter one syllable would invite a fist to connect with tender already bruised flesh.

As soon as the man left the table the two women cleared the table and went to their separate rooms. All was quiet. Michael continued to drink until his bottle was empty. Not finding any more to drink he started toward the room his wife had entered earlier. A moments hesitation and he changed direction. He went to the bathroom to relieve himself. He was in there for quit some time. Upon coming out he went into the bedroom with his wife.

Erik continued to watch for a while almost deciding to leave when he saw the bedroom door open and Michael step out. Erik watched as the man stealthily walked through his home to enter the room that Erik knew to be his daughter's room. Erik had been on his way into the house when a policeman walking his beat curtailed his plans of entering and killing the man that night.

The loud screams from the house only caused a moments pause from the gentleman in the uniform that was supposed to represent protection. Apparently you only rated protection if you had wealth and social status. The poor unfortunate girl behind the walls of this house had neither. Shaking his head the man continued to walk his nightly beat. The screams from this house were not a new occurrence. Almost nightly they were heard. Unless called upon to interfere the police did not interfere in family troubles. Best to ignore it and move along.

Erik shook with rage as he watched the uniformed policeman walk on down the sidewalk away from the screams. It took all his strength of will to keep from following that officer and slowly choking the life from him.
Erik consoled himself with the knowledge that by the next time darkness fell Michael O'Reilly would be a fading nightmare. This man would suffer slowly and painfully. In his last moments he would die with the knowledge that Erik was the one taking his life. Slowly his life would ebb. Slackening the rope would give false hope of release. As soon as hope took root Erik would snatch it away tightening the rope again.

Erik entered the hall of the building and found the door to the O'Reilly's apartment. He lost no time in entering the girl's room. Her father was on top of her doing what no father had the right to do. The girl lay quietly now with her head turned to the wall. Utter hopelessness in every feature of her face.

Michael was grunting and groaning totally engrossed in defiling his daughter. He heard not one sound. Not that he would have anyway. Erik's shadow on the wall alerted the girl to his presence. He allowed her to see him. He hoped she would not alarm the pig of a man taking such ungodly liberties of his own flesh and blood. Her head whipped in his direction. He placed his finger to his lips hoping she would not be frightened and raise the alarm.

Erik quickly took his rope off his belt and tossed it over the head of his target. One strong jerk and Michael fell to the floor gasping and clutching at his throat with both hands. Erik turned his eyes away momentarily from the half naked man. He lay exposed fully if anyone cared to look. No one did.

His eyes alighted on the young girl. She cowered in the corner as far from him as she could get. She clutched the blankets to her tightly. Fortunately for her modesty, such as it was, her father had not taken the time to remove her gown. His interest had been in quick satisfaction. Strangely she did not look at Erik in fear. Her eyes were widened more in wonder than fear.

"If I let you leave you must not alert anyone to my presence. Do not worry about your father he will not harm you or your mother again. Go into your mother's room and stay there until I come for you. Do you understand?"
Erik tried to instill kindness and reassurance in his voice. That was not an easy task considering he had his boot holding her father down on the floor and his lasso was wrapped tightly around his neck. He must have been somewhat successful as the girl quickly left the room. As she passed her father she spit at him. Her hatred was evident. He heard no outcries for help from the hall as she shut the door.

"Ah, now for you my friend. You fucking piece of shit. Turn around slowly and face me. I want you to see who is taking your life before your eyes dim and you see nothing."
Michael turned and a look of horror crossed his features. This was no man before him. This was a demon sent from hell. The creatures eyes burned with a fire seeming to see deep into his blackened soul.

"Why demon are ye' here? You'll no' ha' me to take back to hell."

"Demon? I assure you sir I am no demon. I am only a man. It is not I who will send you to hell. Your own lecherous and dishonest deeds condemn you. Look closely and perhaps your memory will return. I was a victim of your treachery. Oh, pardon me. You must have so many it will be hard to single me out. Well, perhaps not. My face should guarantee you remember me."

Erik brought his face closer to Michael's. He had purposely left his mask off so the man would be frightened by his demonic looks. He jerked on the rope tightening it around the rotund man's throat. Instantly the possibility of his impending death entered the man's eyes. His eyes started to bulge with the pressure of blood flow stopped and gathering in veins about to burst from the pressure. His face turned shades of red then blue. A kaleidoscope of color spreading over his face as the flow of air to his lungs ceased. Erik did not wish him to die too quickly so he loosened the rope slightly.

"Please," Michael choked out pathetically. The rope was tightened again. No more would pass his lips. No air entered his lungs. The burning in his chest demanded air be brought into his lungs. Panic consumed him. He thrashed about under Erik's heavy booted foot.

"Ah , you miserable fuck, you beg and plead for mercy. How many times have you heard pleas pass the lips of your victims? You think I am a demon sir, but it is not I who sneak in and fuck your daughter. You should have gotten down on your knees every day and thanked God for blessing you with a wife and child. Instead you use them to inflate your ego and feed your sick need for power over another person. Well the time for retribution is at hand. If you do have any religious convictions I would seek God's forgiveness now because tonight is the last night you draw breath."

Not wishing for his torment to be over too quickly Erik released him from the restricting rope. He placed it back on his belt. Grabbing a handful of the man's hair he hit the man with all the force he could bring into his lowering fist. His gloved hand hitting flesh made a pleasing sound to Erik's ears. His blood quickened, flowing with excitement upon seeing the first blood trickle from Michael's mouth.

The sight of the man's life giving blood brought about a frenzy in Erik. One he had not felt the likes of in such a long time. Not since his days in Persia had he felt this blinding rage and need for blood to be spilled. Not even Raoul had brought him to this dangerous level of near insanity. That rage had been brought about by jealousy and anger at Christine's betrayal and rejection. This was an altogether different rage. It was blinding and intense. A rage he could not relinquish until he felt the life drain from the body under his hands. Growing tired and afraid of damaging his precious musician's hands Erik removed the Punjab from his belt. With sure and deft movements he replaced the rope around the man's neck and began to tighten it slowly. The eyes looking into his begged for mercy but the mercy he sought was not forthcoming. Little by little his life slipped slowly away. His eyes glazed and lost their light. Even after the body grew limp Erik kept his stranglehold for a few seconds. The rage engulfing him slowly leaving him and his senses returning to normal Erik removed the rope and calmly hooked it back on his belt.

Erik stood over the body looking down searching his conscience for a flicker of guilt but found none. This murder would stain his hands but he felt no guilt and if God deemed him a sinner for that and could not forgive then so be it. At least the two innocent women would be safe and only God knew how many in the future would be spared. He would lose not one second of sleep over ending this worthless man's life. His ghost would not haunt Erik's dreams.

Needing to check on the women he left the room. He knocked softly before entering the room. He did not want to frighten the two women with sudden movement. What he saw when he opened the door made him quite ill and wished the man dead in the next room still had life so he could administer more pain.

The young girl was on the bed holding her mother who was tied to the bed on her stomach. The young girl held a rag which had more than likely been tied around her mother's mouth to silence her screams. Various objects were placed on the bed. Their use was clearly evidenced by the blood on them and the blood coming from the woman's backside. Erik removed his cloak and placed over the woman's naked torso. She deserved that bit of dignity.

"My name is Erik. I only wish to help you and your mother. We must leave here for your safety and mine. Will you trust me?"

"Did you kill him? Did you kill the bastard? If you wish to help that is the only help I ask of you. Please tell me he's dead," she commanded harshly as her arms tightened around her mother even more securely.

"Yes he is dead. I must get the both of you out of here. If you can trust me pack what you will need for tonight and the morning and come with me. Do not take so much that it will be noticed if things are missing. I will take you to a place where you will be safe."

Not saying a word the young girl got up and ran to Erik encircling his waist with her too thin arms. She gripped him tightly.

"Thank you. Thank you. God sent you as our savior. I knew if I prayed hard enough you would come. Jenny said you threatened her father and ever since he has been a changed man. She saw you that night. She was outside playing with her kitten when she was supposed to be fast asleep. When she saw you attack her father she hid behind the pile of trash in the alley. The night you threatened to kill her father changed everything for her and her family. I knew if you were an avenging angel you would help me if I asked and prayed hard enough. I prayed so hard you would come and you did." Her slender arms tightened and she buried her face in his chest.

Erik had never been embraced in such a way before. No one had ever consider him worthy of human contact as a friend. Nadir and Darius were his friends but contact between them was limited to a handshake or a pat on the back. Embracing another was much more satisfying. Susan and his other women held him in lust. All but Susan requested compensation for the nights he spent with them. She showed no fear or repulsion of his face. Not one person had ever told him thank you. Not that he had ever done much to deserve that sentiment but receiving it now felt strange and wondrous at the same time. Someone deemed him worthy of a warm embrace. No threats issued to obtain the embrace through fear, just the pure need to hold another close in gratitude. Quickly allowing himself one firm squeeze of his arms around her then he set her from him.

"Hurry now. Here take this knife and cut your mother's bonds. Iíll take care of what needs to be done in the other room. I must make it look like a random act of violence and kidnapping. If you leave with me tonight you can never come back."

"Why would we want to come back? To leave this nightmare life has been my dream for so long. That bastard took my childhood, took something that should have been kept for the one who would one day share my life. My mother has known only pain and suffering since the day she joined her life with that man's. I will not call him father. He may have been the one to plant the seed in my mother's belly but he was not a father. So no I will not miss this place or harbor any sentimental memories. The sooner they are forgotten the better for me and my mother."

The young woman's distress and anger at her father removed any guilt Erik had been feeling for his lack of remorse in taking another's life. When he saw the last light of life drain from Michael's body and felt no remorse, for a split second he wondered if he should feel guilt even if his death was just. Shaking off his maudlin thoughts he left the room, leaving the two women to prepare for their departure.

Erik left the girl and her mother to return to the body. Picking up the feet he drug the man back into the living room. He went to the window and pulled down the cord holding the drapes back. Wrapping the cord around the man's neck he also ran the cord down and tied the man's hands and feet. It would look as if the man had slowly died while struggling with his restraints.

Going outside he broke the window. The glass on the floor inside would give proof to the intruder breaking the window and entering the apartment through this opening. Making sure he had sufficient mud on his shoes he reached up and held onto the window ledge. He scraped his boots along the wall and pulled himself up and entered through the window making sure mud was left on the window sill and on the carpet by the window.

He entered the girls room and carelessly knocked into furniture moving it just enough to suggest a struggle. He swept his hand across the flat surfaces causing the items resting there to crash to the floor. Satisfied with the disarray in the room he continued on to the mother's room.

Entering the mother's room he asked the girl if she could manage to take her mother into the alley and wait for him. After handing him back his knife they left. The girl supporting her mother as they laboriously made their way down the hall toward the back door.

He would join them in a few minutes. After both women were gone Erik removed the restraints the woman had been tied with. He pocketed the ropes. Finding a sack he collected all the items used in the torture of the older woman.

Scanning the room to see if any other evidence of her husbands misdeeds toward his wife could be detected. He wanted no suspicions to lead to the woman killing her own husband. Seeing none he proceeded to make the room look as if a struggle had taken place in this room also. The blood would give evidence of the woman's struggle against her attacker. He left the room and walked down the hallway dislodging pictures and overturning chairs and small tables in his wake.

Closing the door Erik then raised his booted foot and kicked the door in. Better to have them searching for more than one culprit. It would look as if someone entered the front and overpowered the father as someone came in the back and subdued the mother and daughter. He would dispose of the sack further away from the apartment building. Perhaps a detour along the river was in order.

Meeting the women in the alley he asked if he could look in the bags to make sure she had not taken any items that would be missed. Only seeing a few pieces of underclothing, two simple dresses and a couple pairs of thick pairs of stockings with many holes Erik could find nothing that would raise suspicions by being removed from the apartment.

"Come we should get you out of the chilly night air and into a warm bed. We can not have you coming down with a fever. Please be assured that from today on no one will harm you or your daughter the way you were in the past."

Noticing the mother's fearful gaze and shivering form Erik spoke to her using his soft hypnotic voice he had used to lure Christine to the passage at the opera and then on to his home.

"Madame I mean you no harm. I have a carriage waiting a couple of blocks down the street. Do you think you can walk or do you need my assistance? It would be no hardship for me to carry you. Whatever you wish it will be my pleasure to make it so."

"Mr. Erik? My mother won't talk to you. She rarely speaks to anyone. The man back there has beaten the spirit right out of her. One day I'm sure he would have gone too far and she would have ended up dead. I would have ended up with an unwanted seed growing in my belly if it hasn't happened already. If she could she would thank you. I thank you for both of us. As much as she hates being touched I know she couldn't make more than a few steps. It took all her remaining strength just to come here."

"Madame I am going to take a step toward you. Then put my arms under you. I will be as gentle as I can be. You will need to put your arms around me. Can you do that?"

The frail woman put her arms around his neck. She breathed in deeply smelling his fresh clean fragrance. Never had she smelled anything so wonderful. Her husband Michael rarely bathed and smelled of sweat and drink most of the time.

Occasionally she had even smelled the scent of another woman on him. Not the pleasant smell of perfume but the odor of the aftermath of sex. To have him come to her smelling of another woman had sickened her but she had learned the lesson never to refuse Michael or complain. She turned a blind eye and thought of other things as he took her over and over. When the torture during sex started she began to fear for her life but also to beckon death closer.

Her daughter was the only thing keeping her grounded to this earth. When her husband began to go to their daughter in lust Julia began to fight back but he was much stronger and threatened to kill her and Marianne if she spoke to anyone or tried to leave. He even threatened to have her committed to an asylum leaving her daughter at his mercy.

Julia knew how easy it was for a woman to disappear into one of those dreadful institutions and never been seen again. What would happen to her daughter then? At least in the same place as her daughter she had the hope of one day freeing both of them. Just days ago she had thought to end both of their lives to free them. Now this God sent savior came and rescued them.

Erik was a little surprised the woman made not one sign of being disturbed by his presence or touch. Truthfully Erik was surprised she had gotten close enough to touch him let alone place her arms around his neck. Her body quaked in fear as he lifted her up. Softly he asked her, ďAre you ready Madame?Ē

"Julia, my name is Julia. My daughter's name is Marianne."
Using what little strength the woman had to voice those two sentences she fainted in Erik's arms. Not since Christine had he had an unconscious woman in his arms. Briefly it occurred to him that he did not feel the searing pain his in chest when he thought of his Angel. Later he would contemplate the reason why. For now he had two women depending on him.

Realizing that he may have to intervene and remove the women from the home Erik had rented a small apartment in a better part of town. He had stocked the home with all the things they would need from linens to food in the pantry. He would contact the small neighborhood grocery store and have fresh fruits and vegetables delivered. The milkman would deliver a quart of milk, butter and cheese daily after he left a note with the landlady informing her the women were now in residence. Erik could not believe how lucky he had been to find the apartment house owned by the gregarious Mrs. Hancock. An English woman transplanted to America when she married her now dead husband thirty years ago.

The coach was where he had instructed his new driver to wait. Nadir was correct. It was easier if one had their own coach and driver at their beck and call. This night he gave special thanks for Nadir's nagging ways.

The ride to the new apartment took only a few minutes. Erik bade them to wait while he opened the door and lit a few of the gaslights on the wall. He used the key that opened the front door leading into the hall. Being careful not to make a sound he climbed the stairs to the second floor. There was only one door leading into the apartment. At the back there was an iron fire escape. The ladder could be raised. There were only two windows in front. They were sufficiently high enough from the ground to cause no concern of unwanted intruders. The two bedrooms had windows but only one was accessible by the fire escape.
Lighting only a few of the gas lamps he deemed it safe to bring the women up.

He returned to the coach and again picked the frail woman called Julia up in his strong arms. Marianne followed behind. Erik strode directly to the bedroom. He waited for Marianne to pull the heavy covers back before placing his burden upon the freshly washed sheets. He covered her and motioned for Marianne to leave the room before him. He turned down the lighting so that only a faint glow shadowed the room then closed the door softly.

"Here is the key. There is sufficient food for a couple of days. Milk, butter and eggs will be delivered daily. If you need more or less just leave a note with the milk bottles outside your door. There is money in the jar on the shelf over the stove. It should be enough for your immediate needs. There is clothing in your room and your mother's. If anything needs altering just let Mrs. Hancock know. She is aware of your troubles. Not everything. Just enough to insure her sympathy and assistance. On the kitchen table is the name and address of someone who will give you and your mother employment when you both have recovered sufficiently to return to your normal routine. Until then take things slowly and regain your strength. You may tell Mrs. Hancock as much as you deem suitable. If you have need of anything just tell Mrs. Hancock. She has an address where she can contact me. If there is nothing further you need tonight I will say my good-byes and wish you well."

Wishing to thank him but not knowing how, other than with mere words, she offered him something she thought never to offer anyone but her husband. She stepped up to him quickly and wrapped her arms around him and pushed her body tightly against his.

"I have nothing to give other than myself. I want to thank you for all your generosity. You saved not only me but my mother as well. I can never give you enough to repay the debt I owe."

She pressed her young lips firmly to his. Her inexperience was evident in the tightly closed lips and the trembling of her body. Tentatively she opened her mouth and pressed her tongue to his lips. Her hands ran over his face and down his chest to the bulge in the front of his trousers. That betraying part of his anatomy surged forward into that tightly grasping hand. For a moment Erik returned that innocent kiss and continued to press his lower body into her hand as she stroked him through the clothe of his trousers. He felt the familiar swell and pressure needing a physical release. For one brief moment he thought to sink into her innocence and drown in that child's freely given kiss. It would be heaven to bury himself in her sweetness and for but a few moments forget the horrible misdeed he had committed only an hour before. To let her warm young wetness surround his throbbing shaft would be heaven for a few moments in this night of ugliness. He would not contribute to the ugliness by using her for his pleasure. He was not her father. He had respect and reverence for women. Coming to his senses he pulled away and gently removed her arm from his neck and very reluctantly removed her hand away from his now overly stimulated manhood. Erik set her away from him and out of temptation's reach. It was harder to push her away than it should have been. His darker tendencies still fought to control him.

As Erik watched her Marianne dropped her head to her chest in shame. Tears falling down her cheeks leaving dirty tracks to show the path of each tear. Each salty drip of moisture was like a needle pricking his conscience. How could he even for one moment have thought to violate this innocent child with his unclean hands and body?

Proud of himself for winning over his darker emotions he also knew they were tethered by a slender thread. At any moment they could rush to the surface and take over making him forget his good intentions in his lust for bodily pleasures. The Phantom had not been put completely to death he was merely in hiding under a thin veneer of respectability. Most of the time Erik found he could control his old urges but sometimes the need for releasing that strong feeling to dominate and control all around him surged to the surface. Recently he had been using those urges to benefit his business. The Phantom had little remorse for weaker natured beings. He had no qualms of turning out families from businesses he bought only to close and dismantle to sell off a piece at a time at huge profit to smaller businesses only to turn around and start a competing business driving the others into bankruptcy.

Gently he placed his fingers under her chin and raised her downcast face up to his. "I did not offer my assistance with the thought of a reward at the end. Your safety and appreciation are the only reward I need. Do not ever think of yourself as a commodity to trade for favors. There is no price that can be placed on ones dignity and self-worth. Set a high value on your favors. One that cannot be paid.

Nothing that came before was your fault. You hold no blame. Live from this night on as if you were a newly born person. Leave your past behind and make your future what you wish it to be." He kissed her gently on her forehead then left before his less altruistic darker side could change his mind.

All he wanted now was his bed and to sleep for a day until this night could be put firmly behind him. He would deal with his charges through Mrs. Hancock. There was no need for any personal contact. He also knew it could be dangerous for Marianne if she were to continue to see them. He had turned her away once but he did not honestly know if he could do it again. Better to remove the temptation than to test his will power. The Phantom had none. If he wanted something, he would use anything in his devious repertoire to obtain it. By fair means or fowl. This was one battle Erik was determined to win.

A/N: This chapter will end the first part of the story. The second part will be the years spent with Christine, Raoul and Meg. This will begin the second part of a triangle. Erik will be back it will just be awhile as the rest of the tale has to unfold before all the characters come together.

Posted on: 27 Jun 2008 1:35

Edited by Hot4Gerry on 27 Jun 2008 1:43:12
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Re: Ascent to Power

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Good description, introduction to characters and action. You had plenty of emotions and thoughts.

Now, just a little something to make your writing more professional, avoid the passive voice. What's that? Avoid the excessive use of "to be" and it's various forms, such as am,is,was,were,and be. One or two per chapter is all right, but no more than that.


You wrote - The sweat of fear was pouring down his face.

Possible rewording - The sweat of fear poured down his face.

You don't have as many as some, but there are a few more which could be eliminated.

I see the gift of writing in you. Very well done!

The end of the last chapter confused me. What do you mean 'end of the first part'? Huh?

Please continue.

Brava, brava, bravissimi!

Posted on: 27 Jun 2008 2:06
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Re: Ascent to Power

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PhantomnessFay what I mean by the end of part one is that the first chapters are getting Erik to America. Then headed to Virgia. The second part is telling about Raoul,Christine and Meg and their story. This will take them to Virginia where they will once again meet Erik. The third part is the back story of the character who will play a significant roll in Erik's life. When the three parts converge then the real story begins with all the characters in place.

Posted on: 27 Jun 2008 2:34
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Re: Ascent to Power

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I think I understand, but not sure why you even mentioned this. Maybe when I see the chapters I'll understand better. Sorry, I've never seen a story presented like that.

Keep writing.

Posted on: 27 Jun 2008 17:32
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Re: Ascent to Power

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I thought that since Erik would not be in the next few chapters I would let the readers know so they would not be disappointed when he was absent for a while. If this were a book of course I wouldn't have that author's note. But then if this were a book we wouldn't have the nice reviews to peruse at the end of chapters either. We wouldn't be having this back and forth discussion either.

Posted on: 29 Jun 2008 2:15
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Re: Ascent to Power

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Sorry folks. This authorís note was meant for this chapter not the last one. Oops!

Warning: Mild violence.

A/N: This chapter will end the first part of the story. The second part will be the years spent with Christine, Raoul and Meg. This will begin the second part of a triangle. Erik will be back it will just be awhile as the rest of the tale has to unfold before all the characters come together.

Chapter Eleven
Test the Man

One of life's many ironies faced Erik across the desk in his downtown office. Fate always had a cruel sense of fun at Erik's expense. Looking at the man across from him he could not help the sardonic smile that tugged at the corners of his lips.

Here Erik sat, three days after dispensing justice to Michael O'Reilly across the desk from the third culprit who committed a crime against Erik. Mr. Ox O'Sullivan lounged in the chair as if he visited private luxury offices every day. He sat slouched back with his legs out. His crossed ankles stretched out toward Erik's desk. The third man he sought to settle a score with using any means he saw fit would not stay in any peg hole Erik placed him in. As soon as Erik thought he knew what kind of man he was dealing with a contradiction came to light. This man was a true puzzle. His neighbors and friends saw him as a modern day Robin Hood. If he were English Erik would swear the man was that immortal legend passed down through the ages so that now no one knew fact from fiction. Much the same as the retelling of all the stories of The Phantom of the Opera by Joseph Buquet and all the little ballet rats including Little Meg Giry.

"So Mr. Ox O'Sullivan we meet again. This meeting is a little more to my liking. It shall be just you and I this time. I have not overindulged in drink. You do not know how lucky you were that night. I have killed men in the most tortuous ways for less than what you did to me. As Nadir has told you I wish to hire you to teach me what you know. For this service you will be greatly compensated."

"If you choose to accept my offer of employment I am willing to forget the slight misunderstanding from our first meeting. If not I intend to make the next few minutes most unpleasant for you."

"I'll no' work for the likes of you boyo. I work for no other than myself. Always have an' I always will. So if youíve notin' further Iíll be headin' back to my drinkin' stool. That Mr. Nadir is a might persuasive. Had me believin' Iíd be led to a wee pot o' gold. Mind ya' now this is a most pleasin' place but I see no gold for ole Ox layin' about."

"Perhaps Nadir was a bit unclear as to the purpose I shall need your services. I would advice to you is to accept my offer." Erik walked to the front of his desk sitting on the edge just in front of Ox. He kicked Ox's feet to the side then crossed his own ankles comfortably. He folded his arms across his chest facing the man with an icy glare. Most men would have cowered under that unrelenting stare. Not so Ox O'Sullivan. His face continued to hold his insolent smile as he returned Erik's look for look. Not a man given to cowardly behavior as far as Erik could ascertain from the information he had received on this complex man before him. Ox was more than what he showed the world. He along with his two cohorts had given Erik a severe beating. That night was an anomaly in what was otherwise an un-violent nature. From what Erik had learned Ox rarely used any form of violence on those he targeted to relieve of their valuables. Perhaps Erik had caught him on a bad night. Erik also had to concede that his pride had been stung by Erik getting the better of him with the few connections of Erik's fist to Ox's face.

"Looka here boyo I fleeced ye' fair an' square. I might have been a wee bit heavy handed with the fists but no harm done. I must confess I was a wee miffed to find myself on the receivin' end of your powerful blows. Not many men have laid a glove on ole Ox outside the ring. But let's no' harbor any hard feelins lad. You're here and Iím here so all is well." In Ox's mind that was the end of things.

As he finished the last words he got up to leave. As he turned toward the door he felt a slim rope fly over his head and encircle his neck in a life threatening chokehold. The more he struggled the tighter the rope became. He felt the menacing presence behind him. He heard the deep rapid breaths. His hands were useless grappling with the ever tightening rope. He stumbled backward. He felt a hard shove to his back knocking him to his knees. He fell forward to the floor. Erik's foot pressed heavily into the middle of Ox's back.

"You are in my world now. In this world I say who lives and who dies. You leave when I say you leave. Have no doubts that I will kill you without a momentís hesitation if you displease me. I have killed men for less than the disrespect you have shown me. Do I make myself absolutely clear? I would hate for you to lose your life over a mere misunderstanding. Now, will you return to your seat and listen to my proposal of employment or should I end this now?" Erik jerked the rope to make his meaning clear. He stomped his booted foot into the man's back for added emphasis. Erik had no real plan to kill the man. He was a petty thief who shared what he had with those less fortunate in his neighborhood. If he made a profit at the same time who was Erik to say he was totally wrong? Had he not stolen for many years from the opera house? He had not done so out of any altruistic intentions. His theft had been about survival.

Ox tried to speak but found that with rope so tight around his neck not one sound would leave his lips. All he could do was make rasping sounds. Ox tried to remove that tightening rope wrapped around his neck but with each struggling maneuver the rope tightened more. Again he tried to speak.

Just because Erik sympathized with the man's situation did not mean he would not exact some small revenge against the man. He did have his pride after all. "Oh, I do beg your pardon. It has been so long since I have had an occasion to us the Punjab lasso that I was lost in the moment. Well that is not quite true and I do wish to be perfectly honest in my dealings with you. I did have your friends Michael and Thomas ensnared within the lasso. Thomas fared much better than Michael as you may have heard. Ah, I see by your expression you know the circumstances of my meetings with both men. You as a criminal must understand the power of complete control over a helpless victim. One moment only meaning to frighten becomes an overpowering urge to take the life in your grasp." A gentle tug and the rope tightened further. Erik had been aware of all he was doing. His days of mindless torture of his victim's had long since passed as his insanity had left him. He now thought and acted with a clear head. His statement was to enforce the fact that he would have no hesitancy in relieving Ox of his pitiful life. He wanted to emphasize his power over this man that he had at this moment. A power he would only exert so far and no further. His control over his darker nature was increasing but never far from the surface.

"I ask again, will you return to your seat so that we may carry on a discussion as gentlemen? I will not repeat my offer again. Not many get even the second chance I have given you so think carefully and answer wisely." Erik allowed the man enough slack to roll to his side. He wanted to look the man in the eye so he would know that Erik spoke the truth or as much of the truth as Erik wished him to see.

Ox shook his head not taking his eyes from the fierce gaze of the man holding his life by a thin rope wrapped around his neck. The truth of this man's words stared back at him. His gaze did not waver or soften. The man looked as if he dispensed death threats daily as part of his routine.

The rope was immediately loosened and removed then quickly put back on Eric's belt under his suit jacket. Erik straightened and adjusted the jacket of his suit. He tugged his sleeves down over his shirt cuffs. One would never guess by looking at him that only a few moments ago he had threatened a man's life.

"Now some refreshments to sooth your throat and then we will discuss my proposition. No need to be uncivilized or hold a grudge. As far as I am concerned with your acquiescence all past ill will is now buried. I am sure the same can be said for you."

"Oh, aye. 'Tis a waste of time and energy to hold a grudge. Iíll be thankin' ye for a wee bit of good Irish whiskey if you have such a thing if not whatever sits on your shelf will be just dandy. I'll no' have none of that women swill called tea." His shudder when speaking the word showed how he viewed the drink. Personally Erik did not mind tea once in a while and until discovering coffee while recovering at Nadir's he had preferred it with his breakfast. He could not ever remember being offered coffee in Persia. Nadir assured him it was a favored drink as was tea. He had missed so much living underneath the ground for so long. Imagine not tasting coffee for thirty-two years.

Having served himself with a small tumbler of brandy he poured a generous portion of whiskey into another for Ox. The odd man had shaken his head each time Erik had been about to take the bottle away from the glass. When not one more drop could flow into the glass he nodded acceptance. It would seem Ox had a bit of a fondness for drink. His tolerance for the beverage was far greater than Michael's had been. He did not become violent or stupid under the influence. He just got friendlier and thought he could sing well enough to compete with any opera tenor. His songs tended to be a bit bawdy in nature so were not fit for mixed company.

Erik eyed the man for a moment assessing him. He was a brawny beat up man still handsome for all his battle scars. He had a thick head of light brown hair that looked as if a comb had never been used to tame the curly strands. He did not smell so Erik thought the wildness of his hair was more because of the unmanageable curls rather than lack of grooming. His piercing blue eyes were clear with no sign of repeated overindulgence of alcohol. Although his clothing was not of good quality it was clean. All in all Ox was a big lumbering man who had used the abilities he had to tend to his own needs as well as others along the way. The information Erik had received stated that Ox was basically an honest man. Once his word was given he stuck by it. Loyalty once earned was given for life. He was a Robin Hood if not the Robin Hood.

Ox downed the glass all in one long drink without pausing for breath until the glass was emptied. He thumped the glass down on the desk and addressed Erik in a mock friendly tone.
"Well now that the pleasantries are out of the way give the gist of your proposition. There'll be no skirtin' around the truth. Just what use would you be havin' for a tough beat up old Irishman?"

"Your skills with your fists. You will teach me how to, now let me see if I remember what Nadir called it, ah yes. Boxing. I wish to learn how to box. Learn the moves you made when you pounded me in that alley. I can hit well and hard with my fists but the way you fought was almost an art. I wish to learn."

"Pardon me if I'm steppin' a mite out of line but I can hear the French persuasion in your voice. Now Iíll no' be judgin' a man for his short cummins but the Frenchies I make a noddin' acquaintance with are a mite on the tender side. They make fine dandies but among real men they fall a bit on the feminine side. They fit well at women's teas or listening at that God awful opera but I fear a refined Frenchman would faint if he had but a few wee minutes in my world."

Erik may reject most of humanity and felt outside the circle of acceptable French society but he was a loyal Frenchman at heart. His heart would forever belong to his native French soil.

"Apparently you have forgotten my rope around your neck a moment ago. Must I refresh your memory? I am a gentleman who happens to be French. I am not a dandy. I do not have feminine tendencies. I have a passion for music and specifically opera. Tea is a beverage I enjoy from time to time. Make no mistake there is nothing soft about my nature." As he spoke Erik pulled the Punjab from his belt. He fingered the strong thin strands of rope with the fingers of both hands. His eyes burned with menace.

Ox swallowed hastily. The man before him gave Ox a real uncomfortable feeling. Not many men could disturb Ox. Ox saw something buried deep but still lingering in his eyes. A cruelty barely restrained. Ox had seen that look before in the faces of the men who entered the ring with one object in mind. The killing of the other man who challenged him. No mercy was given. No mercy was requested. "Now let's no' be doiní somthin' I will surely regret. Let's make no hasty decisions. I meant no insult. I spoke of what I have seen in others I have met. Put the rope back. No need for threats. I can see your not the usual Frenchman. Now what do you propose for ole Ox?"

"I wish to learn to fight properly with my fists. I know how to fight. I want to know how to fight to win. Iíll not be beaten again. Make no mistake if I did not have a use for you I would not be lenient in your punishment."

"Now what kind o' way be that to start a proper friendship? Threats. Youíll no find it an easy task learnin' about the art of fightiní. A bit a pain will come with the knowin'. Do I have your promise as a gent that you'll no' take any further actions agin me for the misunderstanding we had?"
"You have my word as a gentleman of honor that I will do nothing to harm you outside our training sessions of course. Within the ring I will make no promises to not seek to harm you as much as I can."

"Fair enough. We have a deal. Now when would ya' be wantin' this first lesson?"

"Would now be convenient?" The tone suggested Ox should make it convenient for his own safety. Not waiting for his consent Erik prepared to leave his office. He flagged a cab then boarded after Ox having given his home address. Erik took Ox to the basement of his home where he had set up a punching bag of sorts. He had placed padding around the walls. He did not wish for anyone to get severely hurt hitting the stone walls. Even with the protective head covering damage could occur to vulnerable areas of the head.

The lessons began. Ox did not go easy with the huge masked man. Erik had baulked at the request to remove his mask. Ox had proved it would be beneficial. One wrong hit and the mask would shatter, embedding pieces in Erik's face. His leather mask would not be so much of an obstacle but the dressier porcelain mask could shatter like glass. Ox would not concede to let Erik wear his leather mask either. His theory was that he should be allowed to face the man who was his opponent with nothing hiding the face of the man who would be hitting him back.

Nadir could not watch this senseless exchange of blows. Darius on the other hand could appreciate the skill. He likened the exchange of blows to a dance between two opponents. The objective was not to woo but to overpower your opponent. The movements of boxers did indeed at times resemble a strange sort of pagan dance. Erik learned well this new form of defense. He had heard Ox telling of bouts that were scheduled weekly but were not sanctioned by any authentic boxing club. The boxers were mostly newcomers looking to make a name for themselves. Older boxers who could no longer fight in the ring legally fought in this way to retain their dignity. They were not ready to be put out to pasture just yet.

Erik asked Ox to take him with him the next time he went. He wanted to have a bout with someone to test his skills. Ox warned him there would be no protective gear worn in this ring and he would not be allowed to wear his mask. There were no rules governing the fights. Honor was meted out by each individual contestant. No one expected gentlemanly behavior. These were for the most part highly brutal matches with no holds barred.

Erik agreed to the terms and understood all the risks. He just wanted the opportunity to release some of his aggression without risking going to jail. He could feel a storm brewing but had no idea of the cause. He just knew he had to release this pent-up energy in some form of violence. Violence was second to his music as a way to release the devils that chased at Erik's heels. If violence was to be a form of release from his demons he wanted to be in control of the violence so as not to endanger anyone who may be innocent. Erik was learning to curb his temper but at times he was overcome with emotions he could not control. He no longer wished for these urges to rule him. He wanted to be in control of them instead of the other way around.

The barn was located outside the city limits. There were more people than Erik thought there would be. Bleachers had been built to accommodate the large crowd in attendance.

When he thought of it at all he surmised it would be a few men looking for a fight and a few who would watch. The ring set up in the middle of the barn was surrounded by perhaps a hundred men and yes even a few women. Surprisingly most of the spectators were from the upper echelon of society.

The men looked for the brutality of the match, the women wanted see the raw sexual attractions of half naked men baring their well muscled bodies. The fights themselves provided stimulation that allowed them to enjoy a wicked hour exchanging passion fueled by brutality. The next day these same refined ladies would be sipping tea in some parlor discussing art or some new poem or great new literature that had recently been penned. For this one night each week they were allowed to lower their refined ways and be a little naughty.

When Erik entered the building with Ox he became the focus of almost everyone around him. Who is he? Will he fight or be a spectator? I hope he fights. I would love to see what is under those elegant clothes. My God he has been chiseled from granite. Look at those magnificent hands. I wonder if all of him is equally as big. Hush Miriam. Someone will hear you. So who gives a damn? This is my night and I will damn well enjoy it. I think I could enjoy it more with those marvelous looking hands stroking over my skin. You are shameless Miriam. Well just think how shameless I could be with a man like that. Stop it. Your husband will hear. No he won't. He's too busy sizing up the potential competitors for the next few bouts. Those were just a few of the comments bandied about. Erik did indeed look impressive. The white of his shirt contrasted with the black of the rest of his attire. He still wore his mask affording him some anonymity. He was quite a dashing figure. He stood head and shoulders above most of the men crowding around the ring. He walked with dignity and carried an air of authority. He neither looked left nor right. He did not hesitate in his powerful stride. Those in his path moved aside for he slowed his step not one bit until he reached the table where contestants signed in for matches.

The gentlemen sitting at the table gave a startled look then proceeded to ask him if he was sure he wanted to enter into this arena. The fights got fairly bloody at times. There were no rules other than the rule against having a weapon in the ring. The gentlemen preferred to watch. He could even place a bet on a fighter he felt looked promising. Nothing could sway Erik from his decision.

"No I wish to participate. Ox O'Sullivan can vouch for my ability to participate." Erik looked behind him to where Ox stood patiently waiting until he was needed.

"Aye, he'll give 'em a fair run for their money. I trained the lad myself. Do no' let the gentleman's dress fool ye'. He'll be givin' ye' a bit o' sport."

They discussed it amongst themselves. It was decided he would fight against Tornado Jackson. Tornado Jackson got his nick name because he quickly left destruction in the ring. He had not been beaten since he had fought against Ox. It rankled him that Ox would not step into the ring with him again. Even though Ox had almost killed him the last time he felt he was a much better fighter after two years. He had been in training constantly with a bout every now and then to keep his skills in the ring sharpened. His muscles had gotten larger since Ox had seen him. He no longer looked on in eager anticipation of having a bit of sport. Now he looked to maim and give as much pain to his opponent as possible. He was a popular fighter. Known for spilling blood and lots of it.

"Erik lad are ye' sure about this? Not to go mushin' or notin' like that but I have come to sort of a liken for ye. Tornado is a skilled fighter. He has always been good but now he is a mite dangerous now. He has no fear. Giving pain is his goal now not the sport."

"So I do not have to hold back. I can be as brutal as I wish? I would hate to fight against someone I had to be afraid of damaging."

"If your lookin' for a hard fight with no mercy look no further. Hope yae' know what your doin' lad. Erik I do think ye' might be as crazy as ole Tornado. I still have the name of your friend Nadir should ye' be in need of a doctor." Under his breath he said, "Or an undertaker."

There were four bouts ahead of Erik's and Tornado's. Erik watched the skills of the other fighters critiquing each man. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of the man Ox had pointed out to him as his opponent. The man was a massive wall of solid muscle. He had two ham hocks for hands. Erik guessed his height to be about five inches taller than his own six feet four inches. He glanced over at Erik. He caught and held Erik's eyes. The look he gave Erik would have had a lesser man running and hiding. Erik returned his look measure for measure. Erik cowered from no one any longer.

In between bouts young men hurriedly spread saw dust over the floor of the ring. The sweat and blood made it hard to stand upright. The surface got slippery so it was covered with saw dust to give the fighters traction.

It was time for Erik to head over to the ring. His heart had started to pound. There was a thrumming sound in his ears. His body hummed with anticipation. This was how he felt in Persia and in the opera house when he was stalking an intended victim. The adrenaline began to course through his veins.

"Erik a bit of advice before ye' face off in the ring. If ye' can manage to no' get yourself killed in the first five minutes ye' might have a wee chance of at least leavin' the ring with all your bits and pieces. He'll come out hard and strong. He usually hammers his opponent in the first few minutes. He may be big but he does no' have a strong constitution. For all his muscle he will no' be able to last more than four or five rounds. Hit hard then dance away a bit. Keep him chasin' after ye'. Keep jabbin' then steppin' away. Too many hits of his fists to your body would no' be good in any man's thinkin'. If ye' can stay away from him and no' go to meet your maker within that time I say ye' have a wee chance of takiní the dirty bastard."

Having listened to Ox give his advice Erik was now headed into the ring. He observed his opponent bouncing toward the ring punching his fists out in front of him jabbing an imaginary opponent. Erik wondered if he should attempt this display. Deciding he would feel foolish he would forego that part of boxing.

Erik heard his name called just as he reached the ring. Before he could turn Ox approached him hitting him hard on the back. Erik was nearly knocked to his knees. Erik's first impulse was to hit him back, hard. He then realized it was a friendly tap on the back. Or at least what Ox considered a friendly tap on the back. He had seen other men do the same to a fighter headed for the ring. He appreciated the fact that Ox treated him just as he would another man. Erik did not quite smile but he did nod his head once before heading for the ring.

Erik removed his shirt first. The women closest to the ring sucked in their breaths. Not only because of all the scaring across his back but because of the magnificent specimen of manhood he represented. With his partially handsome face coupled with his magnificent body many of the women were all but salivating in anticipation. He removed his gloves. The last thing he removed was his mask. He turned around to hand his mask to Ox along with his shirt and jacket he had placed on the ropes of the ring in front of him. Erik heard the gasps around him. Whether from fear, disgust or approval he did not know nor did he care.

Looking around at some of the other more experienced fighters he saw many who looked much worse physically than he did. Huge bulbous noses, enlarged ears, scars too numerous to count adorned the other men in different degrees of ugliness. Alongside some of them Erik looked like a Casanova or as he preferred Don Juan. Yes, in this crowd of mangled boxers he could easily be Don Juan.

Erik's penchant for being able to handle pain served him well. Tornado did just as Ox said he would. His fists flew so quickly at Erik's head and body he had little chance to avoid some of the heaviest blows. He would not have avoided them by running away in any case. Erik did not just stoically stand and let the man hit him again and again.

Erik's fists connected solidly with the man's jaw and eyes. At each opening Erik took advantage to pound several gut wrenching blows to his opponents midsection. Bout after bout Erik held his own. Not once did Erik fall to the floor. He withstood each blow while returning with his own attacks. Tornado was beginning to wear down just as Ox had said. He staggered when Erik's punches found vulnerable areas on his body. His hands dropped down giving Erik the opportunity to pound him in the chest and face. Both of Tornado's eyelids were split starting to swell shut. He was blinded by the blood flowing freely into his eyes. A small trickle of blood trailed from his left ear. His nose was dripping blood as if it were a water tap. Erik felt sure they would call the fight. Erik felt certain the man had a busted ear drum and broken nose. Tornado's stagger became more pronounced.

The bell rang after the fifth round. Erik felt the fight should have been stopped after the fourth round. Erik was beating the man senseless. Letting Ox wipe his face he drew in much needed oxygen. He gratefully took the cup filled with water. Ox warned him not to drink. He was only to swish the water then spit it out. A disgusting thing as far as Erik was concerned. Not something he would normally do. Swishing the water he spat into the bucket Ox put in front of him.

"Ox, why do they let us continue? It is clear Tornado can not fight adequately. He can barely stand. To continue is pointless. Anyone with eyes can see he is barely conscious."

"I told ye' afore Erik. This is no place for rules or sympathy. They want a knock out or worse. The fight will no' be stoppin' until one of ye' fine gents is holdin' down the ground. Remember there be no rules here ceptin' the rule of kill or be killed. So to speak. If you do no care to continue might I suggest ye' lay the bugger out?"

By the end of the sixth round Tornado barely made it out of his corner. Erik had been toying with him since the last half of round four. He did not want to end it too soon so he held back until the last of the fifth round. In the last few minutes of the fifth round he had pummeled the man senseless. In a legal match the bout would have been called after the fifth round. This was the sixth round. The thrill of victory had begun to wane as the man staggered hardly able to return Erik's punches. Thinking over his conversation with Ox, Erik decided it was time to end it. The man could not take much more and leave the ring breathing. This was supposed to be just a way to channel his anger not take another's life in needless violence.

A couple of good strong hits to the midsection and Tornado bent over holding his stomach. He gasped trying to catch his breath. Erik could tell the man was finished. He would not be coming back for more any time soon. Erik heard the chants for him to finish him off. They wanted more blood. The little trickle running from the side of Erik's mouth did not assuage their bloodlust. Erik's eye was bleeding. This was not enough. The mass of blood coming from Tornado did not satisfy them. They wanted a total knockout. They wanted to see a man down in the blood spattered sawdust.

Reluctantly Erik grabbed the man by his hair and lifted his head. He drew his fist back bringing it forward into the soft flesh of Tornado's broken nose for the second time. Blood spurted out over Erik's chest. Erik had broken his opponentís nose in round four now it was pulverized. The big man staggered a few steps then fell to the ground. He had lost consciousness. Erik took no pride in felling the man even though he knew if things were reversed the man would have gloried in his defeat.

The sight of the blood brought a frenzy of clapping and shouts of approval. Erik had never won approval from anyone publicly before. The masses had never thought him worthy to be a part of their species let alone give him approval for anything. It was a heady drug. Erik felt its power. He lifted his arms in victory and the crowd cheered. He had won not only the bout, but the approval of all those people out there looking at him, without judging him for his face. They saw only the man not the face that needed covering with a mask to hide the monster within. He took little pride in the defeat of the man but he did crave the approval of the crowd. If he could have one without the other he would perhaps find another way to dispel his demons.

In this arena he could allow his hidden monster free reign. The beast could be loosened from his chains. This could be his outlet for all the pent up anger and frustrations he suffered with no way to release the emotions that Nadir or society considered acceptable. This was raw, unrestrained brutality but it was accepted even by the noblest classes. Erik did not have any delusions of grandeur. He knew that outside the four walls of this barn he would still be either ignored or ostracized. In this arena of strength against strength he would hold their esteem. No doubt they would like to have him in their home for conversation value alone if they could have accepted him as he was. It would not occur as they would not openly acknowledge beyond these four walls that they delighted in this brutal sport. Even bet on the winners ridiculing the losers.

Erik's chest was heaving as he struggled to regain his breath. His knuckles ached. He hoped he had not damaged his hands. He looked down and saw the bruising already forming on his hands. His joints were already beginning to swell. His ribs were beginning to look like a dark rainbow in shades of black and blue. It hurt when he inhaled deeply. He had either cracked a rib or broken one.

Somewhat satisfied with his first fight Erik went home to face Nadir's criticism. He would no doubt have much to say to Erik concerning fighting for the express purpose of beating another senseless or being beaten senseless. If he was in luck Nadir would have gone to bed.

Since Erik did not have much good luck in anything other then making money he should have known Nadir would be awake and ready to pounce on him.

Quietly he opened the front door. He did not want to awaken Darius or Nadir if they had by some miracle gone to bed. Stealthily he crossed the foyer. He had just placed his right foot on the bottom step when he heard a voice call out from the darkened living room.

"Do not think you can sneak in without facing me. I would like for you to explain why you snuck out without Darius and I. Even though I do not appreciate the sport Darius and I were willing to accompany you." He reached out and turned on the lamp on the small end table at the end of the couch.
"Allah above. Erik did you get attacked again? Let me get the medical kit. The offer of some ice would be not be amiss I would wager." Erik looked as if he had been chewed then spit out.

When Nadir left Erik slumped in the chair that sat across from where Nadir had been sitting only moments ago. His muscles were starting to protest the recent brutal treatment they had received. He knew he had to face Nadir's censure but he did not feel up to it right at this moment. He would give his right arm not to have to listen to another lecture as if he were a schoolboy. For God's sakes he was a mature man. He made his own decisions and life choices. Why did he always feel so damn uncomfortable when he knew he had earned Nadir's displeasure?

Nadir came back into the living room carrying a larger basket than usual. There were several rolls of heavy bandages. It would seem Nadir anticipated Erik's injuries. He sat the basket down beside the chair and took his seat. He sat back and folded his hands together resting them in his lap. He let his glance travel over each bruise he could see. His mouth tightened in annoyance.

"So how was your night being beaten to a pulp? Was it worth the pain? Have you gained some new insight while participating in this barbaric sport? I hope you have not damaged your cranium. Lord knows I have begun to think you have lost your ability to think properly. Did you not suffer enough abuse in your past? Now you have to seek it out? Encourage it even? At the rate you are going, in a few years you will not have enough grey matter left to produce coherent thought. Do not expect me to wait on you hand and foot if you become a drooling self defecating idiot. If all you want is a thorough beating I can hit you about the head with my umbrella or walking cane any time you wish. It would be my extreme pleasure. I am quite certain Darius would not mind bashing you a bit himself."

"Nadir I know you do not understand why I have to do this. I need this outlet. I have so much anger in me all the time. I do not know if you realize what a struggle it is for me to face each day. As hard as I fight it sometimes it is overwhelming. I no longer wish to hurt others who are innocent of nothing more than displeasing me. The men I fight in that ring have chosen to enter the ring for reasons of their own. They expect the violence as do I.

Tonight I won. It was amazing. They were calling out for me in approval. No one turned away in disgust or horror at the first look at my face or the violence I did to the other man. We were mutual combatants. Evenly matched. The rush of power and acceptance is a very intoxicating feeling Nadir.

You have always had these things. Acceptance. Respect. The ability to walk among fellow humans without fearing a beating or being ridiculed mercilessly for the simple fact that God decided to play a cruel trick and give you only half a face. Until you have been without these for many years you will not be able to understand how I feel."

"It isn't even about my loss of Christine any longer. I have all but given up on having her in my life. In fact I have come to suspect I had a narrow escape. Before you ask yes I would still welcome her. I still have love for her. When I think back on our association, I realize that she must have known for a good while who I really was. It is not such a great leap from Angel of Music to Ghost to Phantom. After all how many specters did she think there were in the opera house?"

Without speaking for a moment Nadir began to assess Erik's wounds. He picked up some cotton dousing it with antiseptic. Leaning forward he cleaned the cuts. Erik drew back hissing in pain from the sting of the medicine. Seeing the gash over Erik's eye Nadir sighed heavily. He turned and got the needle and thread. Threading the needle he asked if Erik wanted a drink before he started the repairs to his eyebrow. Erik declined. The cut required seven stitches. Erik's ribs were not broken but possibly cracked. Nadir wound the bandages tightly around Erik's upper chest to give support to the injured ribs.

"Please give your body time to heal before you allow it to be used as a bag for punching. The next time might I suggest you try to keep your face as far from his fist as you can? You can not afford any more scarring. Women are finding you attractive now but if you continue to earn scars on your face your looks could suffer."

"Nadir you and I both know I could look like Quasimodo and I would still be able to attract certain women. If nothing else I have learned that over the past two and a half years living in so called polite society. As long as my pockets are full and I am generous with my appreciation I will not lack for a companion when I need one."

"I have to concede that their will always be those types of women but would you rather not find one who liked you even if you had not one coin in your pockets?"

"Those women would run in the other direction if I so much as took one step toward them. I have heard the way everyone speaks about me at gatherings. My days as the shadow on the wall have served me well when I need information. Unfortunately I hear things I would just as soon have no knowledge of."

"Well if you stay out of the gaming halls and taverns with ladies who will entertain a man for under an American dollar you might find a more suitable woman. As for the way others speak of you I will agree that not all find you acceptable. I have discovered that for every one who finds you unsettling there is one or two who find you fascinating. Your problem is you give up the search and head for the easy pleasures. Not many wives can be found in a dance hall or gaming room."

"Have I said I was looking for a wife? Besides, for the next few months it will not matter. I have plans for the next few months. I shall be extremely busy. I have been in contact with a man in Virginia. His name is Daniel Montgomery. He has been widowed and remarried soon after his wife's death. His daughter was taken or killed in an Indian raid on the coach taking them to San Francisco. He has three stepchildren. Two daughters and one son. He needs an investor and I need his sponsorship into the local society. His family has been prominent in Richmond for over one hundred years. I will not bore you with all the details my detective sent to me. I do not know everything yet but I will. He is in need of money to keep his family finances from becoming critical. I have a report I wish you to read. I would value your opinion."

This was a surprise to Nadir. He thought at the very least Erik would kick up a fuss about relocating again. He had not made any real responses to Nadir's hints about New York not being the best place to make their permanent home. The political scandal in the city gave credence to Nadir's reasons for wanting to move. For the last six months he had been hinting about not liking this city. Darius had even begun to show his displeasure. Darius really did not like this city. He swore that nothing he planted in the garden grew as well or tasted as good as it had in France or England.

It took another four months to settle Erik's finances. It took a couple of months to pack everything up ready for transport to their new home. Erik had hired an agent to find his new home. Erik was so specific with his requirements that it took less time to find something suitable rather than looking over several estates. He settled for an old manor home just outside of Richmond. His whole household was backed and sent on ahead so the servants hired by his agent could set the house in order before he took up residence. Erik had already chosen the bedrooms for the three of them. Instructions were sent as to how each room was to be furnished. The last week before they left would be spent in a hotel waiting for the day of departure. They would travel by train from New York to Richmond, Virginia. A coach had been bought and a driver hired to pick them up at the train station and then take them on the next leg of their journey.

The last leg of Erik's journey had been set in motion. He would soon meet his future, his fated other half. He could either embrace it or turn away from it. Fate had set the course for him. All he had to do was follow through. Obstacles would be thrown in his path. For Erik's sake it was hoped he could pass over the temptations then embrace a life more rewarding than anything he could imagine. He just had to be able to recognize the floss from the flotsam.

Posted on: 1 Jul 2008 15:57
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