For the Maple_60mins challenge on twitter!

Theme for Sunday, June 29 is "Music".

Written in 54 minutes.


As the master connoisseur of all things fine and precious, with a keen eye for skill and an even sharper ear for only the most beautiful of music, Phantom could say objectively and without bias that the greatest musician to ever roam the vast lands of Maple World — was Aria.

But then again, Phantom was in love.

He had decided this when he first landed on her balcony. To steal the glimmering gem known as the Skaia, of course. It was all pre-planned: he would unpick the magic lock of her window, slip inside, mask the weight of his footsteps so he wouldn't trigger any traps, glide past her dresser, unseal the box with the Skaia encapsulated within, and then make like a nightingale out the window.

If she was awake, he would charm her with his wit, misguide her gaze with a fancy light show or two, offer her a brilliant smile and a deep red rose of his own magic, and while her attention was turned for even the slightest of seconds, he would have the Skaia.

Two out of the million and one plans he had already planned. But he hadn't counted on hearing her laugh as his feet touched the smooth marble of her balcony.

'Hello, Master Thief.'

Her voice swept him off his feet. No, her voice knocked all the sense from him.

No. Her voice was addictive. Like a drug, like the first droplets of rain after a drought. It reminded him of gentle snowflakes drifting to the ground from the vast skies under a gentle, calming blue sky, of the first rays of the sun after a winter storm. Of starry diamonds falling from the dark velvet skies and tinkling onto the balcony, into the puddle of his heart around his shoes.

'Empress,' he found his tongue to say, his heart was suddenly hammering in his chest, a violent rhythm that jarred against the smooth melody of her voice, 'What an opportunity to catch you here, alone, unsupervised, unprotected, this late at night.'

'Curiosity kept me up and waiting for your arrival, Master Thief.' The Empress smiled. The gentle notes of her voice lifted his heart another octave higher.

With grace and a certain, confident dignity, the Empress glided silently over to him. Robes of silky moonlight trailed behind her, overlaid by threads of finest gold Phantom would love to sink his fingers into. He had to fight the compulsion to slide to his knees.

'Please, Empress. Call me Phantom. I apologise for having kept you waiting, it was both ungentlemanly and impolite of me. Rest assured, I was trying my best to strike within the week, as I am known for, but you had doubled the guards watching the perimeter of your palace and I decided to stay my hand.'

'Understandable.' She hummed as Phantom took her hand and dropped a chaste kiss on the back. She smelled of milk and roses. 'A wise decision. I will have to speak to the head of my security, though, since you still managed to land here unscratched despite the council's initial fears.'

'Can I plead for mercy on his behalf? It is, as they say, impossible to catch me, much less prevent my coming. It has become an event of great luck to even see my silhouette.'

'How confident, Master Thief. Gracious, too, but no. You conveniently decided to come on the day the chief pulled some troops out to inspect a weakened barrier south of Ereve.'

The Empress pulled away and Phantom had to school his expression carefully. He didn't let his gaze dart towards the interior even though the temptation to look for the little velvet box was almost overwhelming. 'I see. How unfortunate. As a gentleman I know better than to intrude on a lady's privacy, and as a Master Thief I know all my openings have long been closed and you are simply humoring me to see how far I will take my luck, tonight.'

'Acute,' observed the Empress, her smile growing.

This was all a game, but it was beautiful. It was a slow choreographed waltz and they were twisting in to one another and not step on each others' shoes. It was an orchestra, Phantom trying to fight for his solo and the Empress calmly directing her baton elsewhere. It was a duet, even, their voices sliding carefully in and out of harmony in the still midsummer night.

It was three days later that they met again. Phantom, with another rose, and Aria with a new installment on her balcony: an intricately carved table, a bottle of wine and two glasses.

Phantom didn't remember what they talked about. Only a few things stayed with him. That Aria had gone back inside to get a vase for the rose he offered her, that he felt like a bird, caught in an updraft, soaring higher and higher towards the silver face of the moon, and that Aria's voice warmed something deep inside him, something that he had thought he'd buried and suffocated under a pile of heavy gold and jewelry.

If hearts could fly, Phantom's did. Time flew by, his hopes soared, fluttering eagerly in the wind like his cape while he perched on the railing of her balcony, counting down the seconds until she appeared, like he was counting off the beats to his favorite song.

'Please, call me Aria,' the Empress of Maple World, the gem of the people, the holy child of Ereve said to him one day. They were seated on the floor, Aria curled into his shoulder while his heart drummed so furiously in his chest he was certain she could hear it. He watched her fingertips dart about the golden buttons of his uniform like she was about to begin playing the most intricate of sonatas there.

'I will only call you that if you let me call you mine.'

Phantom did not get any of the replies he expected. He did not get an affirmation, or a laugh, or a frown. There was only silence, a break in a long melody, though between the strands of the hair that could be spun out of the sun, he could see that she was smiling.

They stayed like that for a long time, entwined and almost like lovers but not quite, yet still enough, for Phantom. The stars themselves seemed to dance for them, thousands upon thousands of mirages that glittered, silent applause to their silent song.

How could Phantom ever have enough?

As perhaps the only man who had ever held so much of Aria's precious trust, with an eagerness to make her smile and an even greater desire to hear her laugh, Phantom would tell anyone fervently and without hesitation that the greatest treasure to ever grace his vast hoard of riches — was a song.

It was titled 'Aria', and he loved to feel it roll off his tongue, accompanied by the taste of her lips, the harmony of her breaths against his cheek, the percussion of her heart beating against him.

But then again, Phantom was in love.