Author's Note: Phantom of the Opera and its said characters belong to Gaston Leroux, Susan Kay, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Warner Brother Studios, and whoever else happens to have a piece of the rights. It sure as hell ain't me.
So…I suppose I really need to clear some things before you read on. You can skip this part if you want, but please, don't leave me nasty reviews saying how this fic is ridiculous, that it makes no sense, blah, blah, blah.
First note, and this is very important: This is very much an alternate universe fan fiction. That means that timelines have become putty in my hands, and I can mold them to my will. The general idea of this story is a relatively loose re-telling of Erik's stay in Persia, only this time, Christine's been added as well. Even more so, it has been given a fantasy twist, which was heavily inspired by the movie Howl's Moving Castle. This isn't hard-core fantasy like that seen in Harry Potter and other such books, but is rather more subtle, even though it's still very much there. Think Phantom mixed with Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast meets Hayao Miazaki.
Before anyone questions the age of the two, Erik's a little older than he originally was in Persia, about around the age of twenty-three or twenty-four. Christine's seventeen years old. I'm not sure if this will stay on Christine's POV or not, either. If it does, the character speaking will be mentioned at the beginning of each chapter.
Perhaps I'm being too paranoid about this. There have been more extreme variations done to this story before, right? Who knows, maybe you'll enjoy it.
Also note, this fic may or may not be finished, but if you look under my profile, you'll see a strong trend; I tend to not finish what I start. But if the idea is there, then I might as well go with it while I can. I just hope I can contribute something to the Phantom community during my visit.
A million thanks to my beta, OritPetra, who was an absolute dear to offer to beta this fic for me.
The Rose and the Nightingale
By Omega Devin
Mask of Shadows
Have you ever heard the legend of the white rose and the nightingale?
Although I grew up with fairy tales and stories of romance and mystery – all of which my father told me – that even though we lived in a world of magic in its many forms, the legend of the white rose and the nightingale had gone completely unknown to me.
…until I went to Persia.
Until I met…him.
There are many types of magic in the world. That was one of the first things that I could ever remember my father telling me. There was the magic that was used for entertainment and pleasure, magic that could heal, even magic that could lift the soul to heights that one could never think possible. There was even a darker, more dangerous magic that was not to be spoken of on lighter terms. But, nonetheless, magic was the greatest of God's gifts to His children, even if there were the rare few who only ever had the special talent to use it.
But of all the types of magic in the world, there was none that could match the power and splendor that music brought to the world. The most marvelous of God's gifts, my father had always told me that although music could be heard by all, it was only in special individuals in which is actually lived, where it grew into something far more radiant than mist people could ever hope to understand. Music was as real as any magic, but it was a magic that could by shared by everyone, not by the few select few in the world that "real" magic seemed to favor.
My father was one of the lucky souls born with music flowing through his blood, and it was that same gift that was passed down to me. Oh, the times we would have, lost in the euphoria that music would bring us, even during the hardest times of our lives. Even though there were those who would have called my childhood "difficult" or "unfortunate", I never thought of it being such. As long as I was with my father, and he had his violin to play with my voice to sing to it, then all was right in the world.
That all seemed like a lifetime ago. Perhaps it was. Ever since my dear Papa died, ever since I was sent to live with my mother's dreadful sister-in-law and her family, everything in life had taken a dreary, grey turn for the worse. I was sent from my homeland of Switzerland to live in Paris, where magic was reserved only for the privileged. Magicians, who were so free to do as they pleased up north, were no better than pets to perform tricks for their masters and their guests.
When my father died, he took his music with him, and the same music that we shared died along with him. Once I was content with life. Now I was nothing more than an empty shell of my original self, without magic, without music, and no longer with the sight to see and appreciate the true beauty of the world.
Being dragged to Persia against my will did nothing to help my situation either.
But that was all before I met Erik.
It was the year of 1851 that I arrived, regrettably at the time, in Persia with my then guardians; my horrid aunt-by-marriage, her new husband, and her three daughters. My new uncle-by-marriage was busy with trade relations with the shah, whom I only knew to be the king of Persia.
So, there I was, in a foreign land with foreign customs and foreign religion, with my aunt by marriage (she was the sister-in-law of my mother, who was estranged by her family when she ran off to marry my father), her new husband (after my mother's brother died of pneumonia not more than three years ago), and her three daughters, Gisele, Francine, and Nicola.
My initial impression of Persia when I first stepped out of the carriage was one of indifference and apathy. Even in this strange and foreign land, the royal city of Tehran was hardly any different than Paris, which, at the time, served as my current home, ever since my father died five years back. The poverty, for instance, was the same. Some would argue that the poor of Paris lived in splendor compared to the filthy, diseased masses that crowded the gutters and ally ways of the mud-brick city, but how do you compare one street rat to another? Poverty was poverty, no matter where you were in the world, and, just like anywhere else, was vastly overshadowed by the towering edifices built upon wealth, greed, and corruption that served as the royal palaces of the small, elite upper class. And, just like Paris, the fate of the people were dictated by the cruel indifference of their lords, who spent half of their time squandering their wealth, and the other half playing a dark, dangerous game of blackmail that ended in betrayal, bankruptcy, and sometimes even the arrest of their most loathed threats and advisories.
Although, I do understand that in Persia, they skip the political affairs and move straight to the accusation, the torture, and then an execution. But that was a side that I would have rather not dealt with. My time in Persia with my loathsome relatives was going to be hell enough without the horrors of the public executions and tortures hanging over my head. Forgive my bitterness, but after spending a nearly two months on a small, merchant ship and then days upon days within a small servant's carriage through the harsh Persian terrains, I felt as if I had a perfectly justified excuse to be irritable.
It turned out that not only were my uncle and the shah trade partners, but they also turned out to be childhood friends of sorts, dating back from when their own fathers had a trade relation, so I knew that this by no means was going to be a short visit. I wasn't the only one unhappy about the voyage, though. None of the other women in the family were happy about it at first either – it was perhaps the only thing my distant family and I ever seemed to agree on, something which was remarkable in itself, seeing how they normally treated me like some nasty insect found under a rock in the gardens – but as soon as my cousins discovered that they were treated like royalty by the servants of the shah's palace without anyone saying otherwise, their complaining ceased immediately.
I, however, was not to share in this new found spoiling, nor would I have taken pleasure in it had I decided to indulge myself on the hospitality of our guests. Material goods never had much meaning to me. Long ago…back when I still enjoyed living…my father had taught me that the most beautiful things in life were not expressed in gold and jewels and silks, but rather in means that could not be touched, nor owned, nor could be worn on a chain around your neck. The rising of the sun, the rainbow that appeared after a rainstorm were those beauties that he spoke of, those beauties which could be seen by all, but owned by no one.
Magic, and music, were two of the most intangible of these beauties. But ever since my father died, I had lost that beauty in the world, and never regained the strength to find them again on my own. My life was as bland as a cold, gray winter day in Paris.
"Oh, for pity's sake, Christine, I do wish you would stop pouting." came a whiny voice from behind, digging me out of the sulk I had unconsciously fallen into. "It's so depressing."
I turned away from the wide window with its grand view over the royal garden, looking towards my oldest cousin. Gisele was sprawled lazily across one of the velvet divans that occupied the spacious and luxurious quarters that we were sharing during our stay in Persia. Two dark-skinned servants awaited her every beck and call; one was holding a tray that contained what I was sure was some of Persia's strange and strong tea, and the other held a gilded bowl full of plump green grapes and juicy figs. Out of the three of my cousins, leave it Gisele to milk our host's hospitality for all it was worth.
"Excuse me for raining on your parade, Gisele, but it looks like you're enjoying our stay here enough for the both of us."
Gisele smirked at me, the ugly gesture doing nothing to mar her perfect red lips. She plucked another fat grape out of the bowl, and the servant remained to stand as still as a statue. "Ah yes, I keep forgetting that this is a little over-the-top for you. Perhaps you'd feel more comfortable gallivanting about on the streets for a couple of hours. At least you would be among your own again."
Had we been back in Paris, I would more than likely had risen to her provocation, but the day was still hot, and I was in no mood, nor had the energy to come up with a decent comeback, so I let her words slide past me like water. If Persia itself wasn't miserable enough, the humidity made it unbearable, especially in the thick cotton dresses and confining corsets that I had to wear. Perhaps Gisele had the right idea, lounging around on a chaise all day, expending as little energy as possible to keep cool.
Instead of retaliating to her challenge, like I knew she was expecting me to, I returned my attention once again to the window and beyond. From here, I was given a clear view of the royal gardens. Out of everything I had yet experienced in this unfamiliar country, the gardens were the one thing that I was able to find the most enjoyment in. They were nothing like the meticulously kept gardens of Paris, where the trimmed bushes and flowerbeds were contained in brick planters centered around a fountain or paved walkway. These gardens were their own wilderness, like the exotic forests that surrounding the city -- forests of lush trees overtaken by tamed creepers and brightly colored flowers as large as dinner plates. And the birds…! The numbers of tropical birds within those gardens and the music they made! I had not seen true magic in this place since I arrived, but being in the gardens was the closest I got to the real thing since my father died.
The trees below me swayed gently in the warm afternoon breeze that did nothing to ease the heat, and a couple of bright red birds took flight from one branch to another. Perhaps I would go for a walk before dinner, to get my mind off of…well, whatever it was it happened to be on. I found myself wandering aimlessly through my thoughts more and more lately, but that was probably for the best. At least it would keep me from dwelling on any one thing in particular. At least I would be getting some fresh air in the process. Anything would be better than sitting up here, festering in this gilded chamber of white marble with my overly spoiled cousin.
Just as I was about to get up and leave for my walk, another movement below caught my attention. There was someone already in the garden. This would not had been something that would have caught my interest at any other time, but there was something about the person below my window that held it with rapt attention.
Standing in the gardens below was a young man – perhaps no older than his mid twenties, from what I could tell, but it was hard to tell from the height I was at – dressed all in heavy black robes despite the sweltering heat of the Persian afternoon. Longish, ashy-blown hair was swept into a ponytail at the base of his neck, bound by a black silk ribbon. What particularly caught my attention was his face…or, rather, what I could see of it. Most of it was covered with a flawless white mask that covered his whole face except for his mouth and chin, giving him a very cold, very inhuman look.
Time seemed to stand still as my world melted away and the whole of my focus remained on the man below me. He paused, unmoving, then lifted a long arm, holding one long, skeleton-like hand out before him – God, I had never seen hands like his before – and remained perfectly still until a single brilliantly blue bird came to perch on those spider-like fingers. Everything about him…his appearance, the way he moved…it was like…like…
Oh God, I didn't even know how to describe him.
The bird on his fingers flew off once again, but instead of continuing on his way, the man paused a moment longer, then turned his attention up to me, as if he had known I was up there the entire time I had been watching him. The sun glinted off something gold on his mask, about where the eyes would have been, and for a moment I wondered how he was able to see…
Until I realized it was his eyes I was looking at, and not a part of his mask.
Time stood still as our eyes locked, my breath seizing in my throat. It felt as if the air had been charged by an electric bolt, making the hairs on the back of my arms stand on end, thickening the air around me. Had I not known what it was, the sensation would have frightened me, but I knew what it was, what this unmistakable feeling was…
There was magic within those eyes, within his soul…
A thin, if not tight smile crossed his lips, a smile that did not quite reach his eyes, and he bowed shallowly up to me.
Then I blinked, and he was gone.
For a very long couple of moments, I continued to stand there, staring blankly out the window to the spot where the young man had been. Had I even seen him at all, or had I imagined him? Was this miserable Persian heat finally beginning to take its toll on me?
Somewhere behind me, I heard Gisele snigger. "You look like a great, ugly bullfrog with your mouth hanging open like that, Christine. It you're not careful, a bug will fly right in." I had not realized that my cousin had come up behind me until she was right over my shoulder. "What are you looking at that could be so interesting?"
"I…I just thought I saw someone down there…"
"Really, Christine, you are a simple creature."
"I didn't mean just anyone! He was…he was wearing a mask…"
Gisele snorted, clearly unimpressed. I should have known that she would not have found a man in a strange mask to be terribly exciting. In fact, the only time she ever really took an interest in anyone was when they displayed their wealth in the form of fine silk, eloquent suits or an array of gold and precious jewels that they wore on their being.
But I could also not help but to think that maybe I should have adopted Gisele's outlook on the man. This was Persia, after all. While you would have never seen anyone wearing a mask on the streets of Paris, perhaps it was only another fashion of the noble blood in this land. I had seen stranger since I've been here…
But not by much.
Besides, I could not help but to think back to the way he moved, those graceful yet skeletal hands, and those strange golden eyes…
"Well, there's no one there now, so come away from there. We're supposed to have dinner with Seth and the Shah tonight. We can't embarrass him by arriving late."
I turned away from the window again, a small sneer on my lips that Gisele either did not notice or chose to ignore. "Why should you be worried? You'd just end up blaming me regardless."
My older cousin shrugged indifferently. "Yes, you're probably right, but I'm really not in the mood to sit through another one of Mother's lectures tonight. I'm sure you'd agree with me. So, you can either stay here, and wait for your imaginary friend to return, or do yourself a favor by doing something right for a change."
I did not even bother to dignify her with a response as I brushed past her, bumping not-so-gently into her shoulder as I passed, leaving the grand marble chamber and making my way down the expansive halls to the servant's quarters. The few possessions that I owned that came with me were not kept in the same room I was staying in while at the palace, but rather with Rosie, who was one of the maids who worked for my aunt in her Paris manner. I was actually relieved when my aunt decided to bring Rosie with us on our journey, even if it was only to lace up our corsets and perform other such small tasks which my aunt was sure no one in Persia knew how to do. The old woman was the only one I could really confine in since my father died, and had always been there for me as a shoulder to cry on with a kind word to ease my anxieties. She was my only real friend in the world.
Rosie was working intently on her needle-point when I entered the small servant chamber she was put up in, on the bottom level of the Shah's palace close to the vast kitchens and stables. The room was surprisingly small compared to the sheer size of the rest of the palace but was really no different than the quarters she and the other servants lived in back in Paris. I knocked politely before entering, and when she turned her gray, withered head towards my direction a smile lit up her whole face.
"Christine, dear." There was a surprising amount of strength and confidence to her voice, which seemed out of place to her otherwise frail appearance. "I was beginning to think I wasn't going to see you today."
"I'm sorry, Rosie." I said with a small pang of guilt. Ever since I had arrived in Paris and Rosie took me under her maternal wing, I had made a point to visit the old woman at least once a day. I think being in each other's company did us both more good than we would probably ever know or realize. "The time just got away from me today."
Rosie waved a hand dismissively. "Oh, pish posh, no harm done. I assume that you've been spending the day exploring. If I were younger, I know that's what I would be doing."
I nod absently, putting on a fake smile for the sole sake of old woman. I hated when she worried about me, which I knew she did enough on her own without my unhappy person hovering about her. But I should have known better than to think I could fool her. Rosie had the talent of seeing through me like crystal. She smiled gently at me. "What's wrong?"
"Not in that tone of voice, it isn't. Is it Gisele? Has she been giving you grief again?"
"No…well..." What was the point? No matter what excuses I came up with, Rosie would see through them all. I sighed in resignation. "No more than usual. It's nothing to fret over."
Rosie frowned, deepening the lines around her mouth as she set down her needle-point before trying to raise to her feet in her usual still way. "Oh, Christine, dear…I do wish you wouldn't let her walk all over you like that."
I shrugged. "She doesn't. I've just taken to ignoring her. Besides, she wants me to defend myself. It's only a sign that she's winning. It was only for a few minutes today, though. This place is so big it's easy to avoid her, so I have more patience to deal with her when I do have to see her. Same goes for dear aunty Celest."
Rosie nodded wisely. "Perhaps that is all for the best."
"It would have to be. I'm supposed to have dinner with them and the shah at the end of the hour."
"Well, then, I supposed we should get you ready for that then, shall we?"
I pulled a face. "Do I have to go?"
"Unless you would rather face the wrath of the Mistress and her master for embarrassing them, which you know they would be if you didn't. Now, undress."
Rosie helped me out of the masses of layers of my sparrow-brown dress, the cooling evening air of Persia a welcomed relief compared to the weight of all the fabric. When I had first arrived in Persia, I was slightly taken aback by the way some of these women dressed…or rather, the lack of clothing they wore! Not even the whores of Paris dared to reveal that much skin while out on the streets. But, as time wore on and I spent my days sweltering in layers upon layers of cotton and wool, I was beginning to think that perhaps these women, in their silken braziers and sheer, billowing trousers, probably had the right idea. Of course, the idea of me walking around in such a thing was just as shocking, and I could not help the blush in my cheeks whenever I thought about it.
Besides, who was I trying to impress, anyway?
Rosie ran a quick bath for me in a small, traditional European-style bathtub while I waited in a bathrobe. The water was refreshingly cool, washing away the layer of sweat and grime I was sure had accumulated on me. Although I was well old enough to be able to wash my hair by myself, Rosie's natural maternal instinct implored that she did it for me, even if it was only every now and again. I knew that she was married once, and that she had a daughter who died when she was twelve from tuberculosis whom she missed terribly. I had no complains as she relived those days by scrubbing fingers through my soaped hair. It was a welcomed gesture for myself, as well, one of the few times when I felt truly relaxed, and all was right in the world.
After I was out of the bathtub and properly dried, Rosie helped me re-dress, including lacing up my god-forsaken corset and into a dress of pale-blue cotton. Although I truly did not care any which way, I knew that Gisele and my Aunt Celest were appalled when they learned that the servants of the Shah implored that they not wear silk, especially during the day. But when they learned how confining and hot silk became in the Persian heat, they stopped complaining immediately.
By the time Rosie was arranging my hair into neat ringlets that would fall around my face, a soft knock came at the door. "Come in," Rosie mumbled around a mouthful of pins.
The door opened by a crack, and my second-oldest cousin, Francine, stuck her head in. Francine looked more like her father – my mother's brother – than she did her own mother. One could almost see the family relation between us, even though her eyes were blue instead of my boring brown, her hair was perhaps a bit straighter, and even at the age of fourteen, she still retained her chubby, baby-like appearance in her face and limbs. She also took after her birth father more than Gisele could ever hope to accomplish. While Gisele was spoiled, bossy, and in her own means, cruel, Francine was quieter, kinder and more soft-spoken, but lacked the backbone needed to stand up to her older sister. Out of my three cousins, four-year-old Nicola included, Francine was perhaps my favorite.
"Mother sent me to fetch Christine." Francine squeaked, her voice barely audible. "Dinner's almost ready, and the Shah doesn't like to be kept waiting."
From behind me, I could almost feel Rosie roll her eyes. "That man's no more fit to be a king than a flea. I wouldn't be surprised if he still had a wet nurse to attend to him." I could not help but giggle, even though I was not sure if there was any validity behind Rosie's words. Tonight would be the first night I would see the Shah of Persia in the flesh. From where she stood at the door, Francine turned a deathly shade of white, as if she was afraid someone would overhear Rosie's words and go running off to tattle to the Shah on us. I would not doubt that was yet another false belief that Gisele stuck in her sister's head to keep her in line.
"Well, then.," Rosie continued, pinning up the last stray tendril of my unruly hair with a pin. "You shouldn't keep his Majesty waiting. Run along, the both of you. And Christine, don't let your aunt or cousin get the opportunity to get under your skin tonight."
"Oh, I won't." I said nonchalantly, smoothing my skirts out as I stood up from the stool I had been seated on while Rosie did my hair. "They'll be so obsessed with trying to make a good impression on the Shah that they probably won't even know I'm there. I don't know why they'd even bother dragging me along in the first place."
"I really with you and Mother and Gisele would try to get along better." Francine said meekly as we made our way down the expansive hallways towards the Shah's chambers, where dinner was to be held. "It would make things so much easier at home."
"I'll treat them with decency as soon as they decided to show me some of their own." I retorted, trying not to vent my annoyance on Francine. The last thing I needed was another enemy in this family, even if poor, timid Francine had the courage of a dormouse.
The chamber that Francine led me back to was large enough to fit both my aunt's manor and the grounds within its confinement. The large domed ceiling, inscribed from stone to stone in elegant gold leaf calligraphy, was supported by massive pillars as thick as trees, and just as tall. Lush colored pillows covered the floor, surrounding a low table arranged in a horse-shoe shape. And the cats! There were cats everywhere, and they were simply some of the most beautiful animals I had ever seen. I was rather fond of cats, and any other time, I probably would have been overjoyed at the sight of so many, but at that moment I could not find the energy to even smile. Ever since my father died, everything that once held any joy from me had been extinguished.
Sitting at the center of the table arrangement was my aunt and her new husband, whom were sitting next to a young, handsome Persian dressed in extravagant robes and jewelry. Although I had never seen him before, I could tell that this was the Shah of Persia, and yet I could not bring myself to feel impressed by the most powerful man in the country.
Note on the word "man". Based upon the rumors that I heard floating around the palace walls, his mother, the khanum of Persia, was by far more intimidating and powerful than her son could ever hope to be. Perhaps that was why she was ever only spoke of in such hushed whispers. I could not help but to feel slightly relieved when I recalled someone saying that she hardly ever left her private chambers, and therefore would not be joining her son and his guests for dinner.
Francine took her seat next to Gisele, looking down at the plate in front of her meekly. Nicola, my youngest cousin, was seated in between her oldest sister and her mother. At only five years old, she was completely oblivious to the importance that this dinner served to her new stepfather, but she was a well-behaved child, and wasn't one to cause much of a fuss about anything, so long as she had her favorite stuffed toy with her at all times. I knew full well what hell there was to pay if that toy ever left her sight.
I sat next to Francine, a welcomed one person distance from Gisele and myself. I should have known better than to think that Gisele would try anything to make me embarrass myself or my family during the dinner and not avoid drawing attention to herself, but it would be one less worry on my mind for the course of this very intense dinner.
For the most part, the dinner was uneventful, and rather boring. Ever since I arrived in Persia, my appetite was not as it should had been, so I was left with picking at all the strange, exotic foods set before me, listening to the snippets of conversation between my aunt, her husband and the shah. Further down the table, the man whom I understood to be the grand vizier to the shah was speaking to several of the men who followed him, but I could not hear, much less understand, what it was they were speaking of. A tall, darkly handsome man in his late twenties or so stood at the shah's side, wearing a sort of uniform that I could vaguely relate to a police uniform. Every now and then, the shah would ask the man a question, and the man would answer in obedience, only to sigh in resignation when his master turned his attention elsewhere. The stony, despondent look on his face reflected how I felt almost perfectly.
Dinner was at last cleared away and dessert took its place; a colorful array of succulent-looking sweets, tea and coffee that still, despite how delicious they all looked, held no appeal to me. As I let a sleek black cat lick sherbet from my fingers, the shah suddenly hailed all focus to him, keeping the attention of his guests out of obedience rather than respect. He spoke in his native language, so I stopped paying attention – what was the point if you could not understand? – and when his announcement was complete, I was curious to the mixed reaction of the dinner guests. Most of the people within the chamber looked pleased, and maybe even a little excited, while the grand vizier and his attendants suddenly looked surly and extremely displeased. Before I could wonder what the cause of these reactions were, a cloaked figure stepped out from the shadows – how long had he been there? Why had I only just noticed him? – and moved with cat-like grace to the center of the chamber.
My breath caught in my throat, and I fought to not choke. It was him! The masked man that I had seen in the gardens below my window! I knew I hadn't been dreaming, because he was right here, right now, standing in the middle of the grand room, commanding – no, demanding – all attention on him with a power that the shah could never hope to attain. Standing before us, I could now appreciate how tall he was, how graceful he looked, even when he was standing perfectly still as the shah spoke to him, the light from the torches and gaslights reflecting eerily off his flawless porcelain mask. There was an almost otherworldly quality to him, something that was almost…beyond human…
When the Shah was finished speaking, the man bowed, and spoke a single word that I could not understand.
…God, his voice! Did I really hear as I thought I just heard? Was it possible for anyone's voice to be that beautiful? Surely I must have heard wrong, and yet that voice lingered on, like a bell tolling with subtle magnificence in my head…
What followed was the most extravagant magician's show I had ever seen. This was far beyond even the magic shows I had seen while my father and I were traveling with the carnivals in Sweden and Norway. While there was true magic involved, there were even some tricks and illusions that still required mirrors and smoke to complete them. This, however, this was nothing more than magic in its raw form, wielded by someone who had the talent flowing through his veins as if it were his lifeblood.
It was a spectacle of lights and feats that boggled the human mind. During the display, I could not help my foolish grin of excitement, clapping my hands like a child. I had known there was real magic within him as soon as I saw him in the garden. He took one of the Shah's cats and with a swish of his cloak, he turned it into a flock of doves, and not a more than a moment later the cat crawled it's way out from under the grand vizier's robes. A bouquet of lilies at the table at the table suddenly erupted into a shower of multi-colored sparks that scattered along the floor. Fire jumped from torch to torch, chasing around the vast chamber until it jumped back to him and rested in his hand, a tame ball of flame that when it cooled, the most perfect red rose was left in his long spidery hand. Gasps of astonishment filled the chamber, and even the grand vizier, who had looked so displeased at the beginning of the act, looked the slightest bit impressed, even if there was no respect involved. The masked man paused in his act, oblivious to the praise around him, looking thoughtfully at the rose in his hand. Then he turned his eyes to our side of the table, those strange golden eyes sweeping over my family…
To finally fall on me. Once again, I found myself holding my breath. Did he remember me from earlier?
There was no smile as he bowed to me once more, no emotion to betray what he was thinking, as he held out his hand and the rose floated over to me. I swallowed nervously as the rose came to a silent stop before me, suspended in the air, waiting until I finally, cautiously, reached out to accept it. The rose was real, its petals soft as silk as its delicate scent washed over me. I looked back up at him, to smile at him in thanks, but he was looking away from me, back at the shah, who was speaking to him in the strange native tongue of Persia once more.
Dessert had been removed from the table during the performance, and so I assumed that with dinner over, the performance would be over as well, until an unearthly…no, heavenly sound…reached me ears that took me a moment to realize as singing. Not only was it the most divine sound I had ever heard, but it was coming from…him. The song of the seraphs, the voice of heaven itself, coming from the throat of this strange man who commanded magic as naturally as a normal person would breath air.
As the song continued, the further and further away I drifted from myself…I was no longer in Persia, I was no longer within my own body…
Instead, I was back at that little house by the sea, sitting beside the hearth at my father's feet, listening to his stories as he played his violin…
It was the tears flowing down my face that pulled me back to the here and now, and the unnamable, crushing emotions weighing down on my chest.
Why…why was this happening? Why was I crying? Was it his song? His voice? That angelic voice that made me think of my father and the way life once was? The life that I once adored, when I was happy?
"Christine?" I felt a small hand on my arm. I looked over to see Francine looking up at me. Even through my tear-filled eyes, I could see her look on concern. "What's wrong…?"
I tried to answer, to make up some excuse, but the tears would not stop flowing, and the emotion in my chest grew heavier. "I…I…" I choked, not bothering to fight it. "…excuse me."
Without trying to attract any more attention to me than I was sure was already there, I got up from my seat at the table and hastily made my way to the grand chamber doors, where I could be alone in the vast, empty hallways with my own tears and grief.
God in heaven…who was this masked man? More importantly, what was he? What was it about him that made emotion stir within my heart that I had not felt in a long, long time…
Emotions that I had thought I had forgotten a long, long time ago…
Author's End Note: So, here was chapter one. I kind of have a loose idea of where this is going, but whether or not the thought train derails on the way…well, only time will tell.