Chapter 40

A Ghastly Graveyard

A dense fog was gathering over the cold ground as Meg and her horse raced towards the edge of town. Once free of the dense buildings of Paris's city center, the moonlight flooded the bare woods, filling Meg's path with eerie shadows they galloped towards the Elysian Fields cemetery. Wrapped in a thin grey cloak and atop a large grey horse, she looked like no more than a ghost in the swirling midnight fog.

Meg had visited the church long ago with Christine, and could remember the way clearly. She prayed that the Viscount had been forced to stop for directions to the small church, since he was not a Paris native and would be unlikely to know where to find the cemetery. She had to get there before him, and warn Erik!

As she approached the small church behind which Monsieur Charles Daae was buried, she could hear the faint sound of violin music permeating the air. Good; that meant that Raoul had not already found and confronted Erik. But the haunting music made Meg's stomach turn. Was the Phantom up to his old tricks? She kicked the horse slightly, not daring to slow down a moment before it was necessary.

Suddenly, a dark iron gate appeared out of the fog in front of them, and Meg had to grab the horse's broad neck to keep from being thrown as the large beast skidded to a halt in the snow. She clamped her teeth together to keep from crying out in surprise; she didn't want to announce her presence to Christine. Once her heart stopped racing, she turned the massive beast and trotted towards the shadowy treeline. She dismounted and looped the reins around a low-hanging, snow-laden branch in the most complicated manner she could think of, since she didn't actually know how to make the sturdy sort of knots that the stagehands could tie.

Patting the horse on the nose gently, she began trudging towards a small side gate as snow began to fall lightly. The violin music was louder now, and she thought she could hear singing in the cold night air. As she approached the gate, she noticed that the iron padlock was open even though there was no key in it. Had Erik picked it open? Just as she was about to slip through it, a snort from behind her nearly made her jump out of her skin. She turned, thinking that her horse had already managed to pull out of her inept knot, but instead saw another horse, this one coal-black and hitched to a small but elegant carriage.

Cautiously, Meg approached the horse. If this was the carriage that had brought Christine to the graveyard, where was the driver? The black horse eyed her suspiciously as she peered in the window of the carriage, but it was empty. She checked for footprints in the snow, but the only prints aside from her own were a single pair heading directly towards the small iron gate. The sinking feeling in her stomach intensified. If there was no driver waiting with the carriage, either the driver had followed Christine into the cemetery for some dark purpose, or…

If Erik had been the driver, then he was not acting at all like someone who simply intended to talk with his love. If he was her only way back to the city, then he could just as easily kidnap her, and no one would be any the wiser! Beginning to panic, Meg ran back to the small gate and squeezed through, careful not to open it very far lest it let out a tell-tale squeak and revealing her to the graveyard's living inhabitants.

She followed the haunting melody through the looming tombstones with their carved likenesses of angels and saints. Her snow-covered grey cloak disguised her in the freezing fog, despite the flood of moonlight. As she crept along, careful not to step on any fallen branches that could snap and announce her before she had assessed the situation, the violin music died away, replaced with a beautiful harmony of voices in the chill air. Meg sneaked faster, darting from one shadowy gravestone to the next. She knew that Charles Daae's crypt was near the back of the graveyard, and gave the area a wide berth so as to come upon the back of the scene.

As Meg approached, she could make out the words that were being sung. The song was from the final act of Faust, normally sung as a solo, but Erik's angelic tenor was providing an unheard-of and beautiful harmony line. The singers slowly emerged from the fog, which glowed in the moonlight and gave the scene a surreal, dreamlike quality. Christine was seated at the foot of the stairs to her father's crypt, her hand to her chest as if to hold her heart in, her eyes full of rapture as she gazed upon her accompanist. Erik stood, swathed in a swirling black cloak and wearing his mask and fedora to conceal his deformity, atop the crypt in a wide-legged, commanding pose, holding his violin in his left hand and its bow in his right. One glance at the pair, and Meg could tell that Little Lotte had given her self fully to the Angel of Music.

She could hear the climax of the piece fast approaching, and she knew that if Erik were going to make his move, whatever it may be, it would be very soon. She suddenly grew very angry. He had promised her that he wouldn't try to trick Christine into leaving with him! He had said that he just wanted to talk, and yet here he was, bewitching the young singer with his music, back to his old games. Still concealing herself behind large granite effigies, she approached the rear of the crypt and pressed herself against the cold marble wall. She had to find a way to get Erik's attention without being noticed by Christine!

Suddenly, a man's powerful voice rent the night air.

"Christine, wait!" the Viscount de Chagny cried, accompanied by a loud screech as the main gates to the cemetery were thrown open. Christine whirled to face the sound, staring blindly into the fog in the direction of the entrance, and Meg used the diversion to scurry forward and began climbing the small, leafless tree that Erik had used to climb to the top of the crypt. She clambered onto the small roof, trying desperately not to slide off on the layer of snow that was building up under her feet, and rushed forward to where Erik too was peering into the fog, awaiting the approach of his enemy.

Not considering what murderous thoughts must be swirling through Erik's masked head, and still quite angry that he had gone back on his word, she reached out and grasped his bony shoulder. In a swirl of his cloak, Erik had knocked her hand aside with one hand and tightened a grip on her throat with the other. Luckily, the hand that was trying to choke her also contained the violin bow, and though the resin-coated fibers pressed a deep groove into her neck and jaw, Meg was able to pull his arm away before any real harm was done.

"What are you doing here?" Erik hissed, an inhuman rage filling every syllable.

"What are you doing?" Meg shot back, almost as angry. "You said you only wanted to speak with her, and here you again, trying to enchant her again, trying to trick her into being with you!" A thought occurred to her, and she suddenly had the desire to shove him off the roof of the crypt. "Did you lie to me to get me to help you? Was all of that, all of your feelings – was that just an act?"

Erik stiffened, but it was the look of one who was proud of his superiority, not someone who felt guilty about being caught. Meg felt like she had been punched in the stomach. She took an angry step towards him, fully intending to push him to the snowy ground below, when the approach of heavy breathing and the clatter of someone wearing a sword reminded her of where they were. So instead, she stepped back again and quickly dropped to lie flat on the small roof, concealing herself with her cloak and staying out of the line of vision of the frantic couple on the ground. Erik turned his attentions to the newly arrived Viscount.

"Ah, Monsieur, how nice of you to join us!" he called in mock welcome. "Congratulations on finding your way. I wasn't sure you would make it!" Meg could hear the madness in his voice, and from under the edge of her cowl, watched him remove several small glass orbs from a pocket in the back of his cloak. She also heard a hiss of steel ring out as Raoul drew his sword. In her mind, she could picture the brave young man placing himself protectively in front of his fiancé, raising his sword to the spectral figure on the roof in a challenge.

"Leave her alone, you monster!" Raoul demanded, brandishing his sword.

"Raoul!" Christine cried, obviously upset at his actions and words.

"Are you challenging me, Monsieur?" Erik said, his mocking voice still tinged with his barely suppressed rage.

"To the death, Monsieur," Raoul replied immediately.

"Very well then." With that icy, emotionless reply, Erik hurled one of the glass orbs he was holding down towards the waiting Viscount. There was an explosion, and a column of fire shot up so high into the air that Meg could see the top of the flames over the edge of the tomb. Christine screamed in terror, but Erik only drew his arm back and hurled another orb down towards the couple. Meg couldn't tell if he was actually trying to hit them or not, but she could hear Raoul shouting for Christine to get away as fast as she could, so Erik must be missing his mark.

As Erik continued to pull a seemingly endless supply of the exploding orbs out of the folds of his cloak, Meg couldn't stand not knowing what was happening below. She inched over to the edge of the roof and peered over the side. As a pillar of fire erupted directly in front of the terrified couple, Meg watched Raoul shove Christine away from him, placing her behind a tall granite cross and diving the opposite direction himself. After a few more explosions, the Viscount was taking shelter himself, using the leafless branches of an enormous, gnarled oak tree as a shield between himself and Erik's bombs.

This appeared to be what Erik had been waiting for. With only a small shifting movement from the spectral figure, a thick rope net fell from the branches of the tree, where neither Meg nor the Viscount had previously noticed it, and attempted to drape itself ensnaringly over Raoul and his sword. As the net fell, Erik leapt from the roof in a cloud of swirling black cloak, the hiss of his own sword ringing out as it left its sheath. Christine let out a small, strangled scream from where she stood with her back pressed against the gravestone, watching helplessly as the two men engaged each other.

Luckily for him, Raoul possessed very quick reflexes in a combat environment, and he was able to evade the net entirely. As Erik landed, catlike on the fresh snow, Raoul met his attacker with a vicious slash. Erik was excellent at swordfighting, like he was excellent at everything he put his incredible natural talent to. Unfortunately, the Viscount had the benefit of having had live opponents to spar against for his entire life. The two men lunged and parried, slashing and stabbing for all they were worth, but for the moment they seemed evenly matched. Christine began circling the fight, pleading with the combatants to stop, wringing her hands desperately but too afraid to get close.

Under the cover of the noisy clang of steel, Meg slithered to the edge of the roof, grasped a large branch, and swung herself onto the powdery snow, landing with the grace befitting a lifelong dancer. Unsure of how else to stop the situation from getting out of hand, she bent and scooped up a double handful of the fresh, powdery snow and compacted it into a hard snowball, wondering how to throw it and get Erik's attention without being noticed by Christine.

As she was waiting for Christine's back to face the crypt, Meg heard Erik emit a hiss of pain. She peered around the edge of the building and saw the Phantom clutch his arm and stumble briefly from the pain. She watched in horror as Raoul took that opportunity to pick up the net that Erik had dropped from the tree and hurl it at its owner, attempting to ensnare his sword arm. As Erik whirled, using his injured arm to twirl his cloak and bat the net away without becoming entangled, Raoul sent a vicious slice at Erik's face. Meg was unable to stifle a gasp of fear, but the blow hit the side of Erik's head and was mostly blocked by the stiff porcelain mask.

Instinctively, out of fear for Erik's life, Meg hurled the snowball at Raoul and then quickly ducked behind a large statue of a cross. As Raoul spun to face this invisible assailant, Erik rolled behind a tombstone, snagged a tree branch in one gloved hand and catapulted himself around, and landed on the back of a granite headstone in the shape of a praying angel. Peering under the bend of the headstone, Meg was awed by his almost faster-than-sight movements, and could easily see how the attack would look ghostly to Raoul. If she hadn't just watched it, it would be easy to think that he was disappearing and reappearing. Noticing his opponent's movements, Raoul spun and slashed at the statue, but Erik ducked behind it, letting out a mirthless laugh as sparks flew off of the injured statue.

Now determined to assist in the fight, Meg moved several feet around the perimeter of the fight and readied another snowball. Christine was still crying for both her angel and her fiancé to stop their battle, but she was still afraid to venture near the fighters. Raoul circled the statue and lunged again, and Meg threw another snowball at the instant his back was to her. He overbalanced on his lunge, and Erik leapt off of the back of the gravestone, executing an elegant maneuver in which he whipped his cloak in a blurring circle and ensnared Raoul's sword in its folds. With a vicious jerk, he pulled the sword out of the young man's grasp. Erik then threw himself at the Viscount, thinking him unarmed, but Raoul pulled a long dagger from his belt that had previously gone unnoticed. Erik, careless in his attempt to surprise the Viscount, didn't notice the new blade until it had drawn a long, deep gash across his thin chest.

Panicking, and realizing that the snowballs weren't going to win Erik this fight, Meg thought of one last chance to stop the battle before someone was killed. She fled from the fight, using her snow-covered grey cloak as cover, and just as Raoul raised the dagger to strike again, she called out into the clear night.

"Christine?" she yelled, as loudly and calmly as she could while her heart and breath both caught in her chest.

Raoul and Christine whirled at the sound, and Meg could see that Erik used the distraction to vanish in a swirl of his cape. Smiling in relief, Meg retreated several more meters, hoping desperately that her cloak was making her blend into the swirling fog, and then called out Christine's name again. As she waited a few more moments to approach the couple, she saw Erik's shadowy form pass her in the darkness, and caught the red glint of his eyes behind the mask. He was still bleeding freely from his arm and chest, and she thought she heard him muttering something about swearing vengeance, but she couldn't read his expression, and she had more pressing matters to deal with at the moment. She had to give him time to get out of here safely. She hung back behind another large tomb until she heard the creak of the iron gate that told her that Erik had safely escaped the graveyard, and then she began walking noisily towards the heavily breathing couple standing near M Daae's crypt.

Panting, she hurried up to the pair, and only when Christine and Raoul turned to see who it was did Raoul notice that Erik had gone. Meg curtsied to the Viscount, truly breathless with excitement and fear, and manage to stammer, "Pardon me, Monsieur, but Christine prefers to not be disturbed when visiting her father's grave. I know that you feel you need to be here to support her, but she asked me long ago to make sure that she could make her vigils in peace. And anyway," she said, allowing her anger at the Viscount to show just enough to feign indignation, "you ought not to have accompanied her without a chaperone." Raoul's glare was fiery, and Meg was suddenly more afraid than ever that he saw through her excuses. Soon, he would have to figure out that she was helping his adversary. Swallowing nervously under his gaze, which bothered her in her guilty state as much as any fierce look from Erik had ever done, she continued, "I saw you follow her carriage here. If she had wanted you with her, she would have asked you to accompany her. I had to take a horse here all by myself to try and stop you from disturbing her, and now I find you shouting, with weapons drawn—"

Raoul sputtered in protest, stammering, "I came here to protect her! How dare you—"

She cut him off, giving the young man the most accusatory look she could muster. "With all due respect, Monsieur, I think that you should leave my friend in peace."

Raoul's jaw was tightly clenched as he was obviously debating how much to accuse Meg of in front of Christine. Meg waited, hardly daring to breathe, praying that the "concerned best friend" card had been played properly.

In the silence, Christine put a small gloved hand on her fiance's arm.

"It's alright," she said softly, but neither Meg nor Raoul knew to which one of them she was speaking. "I think I'm done here anyway. Meg, could you take me back to the Populaire?" A disappointed look in Raoul's direction told Meg that Christine was mad at Raoul for trying to kill Erik when she felt he was not threatening her.

"Of course," Meg said with a nod, fighting twin feelings of victory and guilt at the frustration and hurt on Raoul's face. "And don't worry – whoever brought you here will figure out you've gone. There's no need to wait." She hoped that Erik would have left with his black carriage.

Raoul followed the two young women out of the graveyard, unsure of what to say. As the girls mounted the enormous smoke-grey horse, Raoul could not stop himself from pleading one last time,

"Christine, don't leave me! You know I was just trying to protect you!"

Christine looked down at him from the high back of the stallion, her expression unreadable and more mature than Meg had ever seen it. "I will see you in the morning," she said cryptically, and turned her face away.

Raoul watched helplessly as Meg took up the reigns and turned the horse away, his dagger still dripping Erik's blood into the snow; his arm bleeding sluggishly from a blow Meg had not seen Erik land. Christine did not look back as Meg directed the horse back through the snowy trail towards home.

Halfway back to the opera house, with her arms tight around Meg to hang on, Christine buried her face in the hood of Meg's cloak and began to cry.