Chapter One

Erik stepped through the broken mirror into the shadows, his eyes quickly adjusting to the darkness which he knew so intimately. He took several steps and stumbled, not from blindness but from grief. His body racked with sobs as the realization hit him...he was alone again. Alone. Always alone. He dropped to his knees for a moment before he remembered that his life was in grave danger. He forced himself to stand and resolved to move forward at a quicker pace than before.
The hidden passageway was cold and he began to shiver from the dampness that still clung to his legs from the lake. The lake. Christine. She kissed me. And she left me. She left me. "Why! Why did I let her go?" He spoke in an angry whisper.
It seemed like an eternity before the passageway came to an end after many sharp turns and steps upward along the way. He stretched his hand out in front of him and pressed it to a thick wooden door.

Erik stepped into a small room—the darkness was even thicker than the passageway--and felt his way along the right side of the wall until his hands found the wooden crates that he had placed there long ago. He had been wise to plan for any emergency that may cause him to have to vacate his lair…he had hoped, however, that he would not be leaving alone. His eyes again adjusted to the blackness and he rummaged around inside the top crate until his hands found a candle and some matches. The glow from the single candle cast long shadows against the brick walls of the room, but its warmth did nothing to soothe him. With every breath he took, he felt as though his heart were about to split in two. His thoughts turned again to Christine. "The tears I might have shed for your dark fate, grow cold and turn to tears of hate!" I caused her to hate me. How could she ever do anything but hate me, after all of the LIES! I am not a man. I am a monster. I was never any sort of angel to her…I should just take my own life now and be done with this. All of this.

He shook his head as if to clear the thoughts from his mind. He focused on the task at hand. "Suicide?" he mumbled under his breath. "Oh, I am certain that is what everyone would WISH for me! I will not give them the satisfaction! I will not give their so-called GOD the satisfaction!" He began to search the large crate again. Where had he put it? He removed the top crate and lifted the lid to the one underneath. "Ah, here it is." He pulled a thick black cloak from the crate and smirked. "This will do." Laying the cloak across his arm, he buried his hands into the crate, reaching all the way to the bottom, resurfacing with several bundles of money. He stuffed the bundles into the pockets of his wet trousers and sighed. He needed no food. He had very little appetite, after all. No matter, he thought. If I have need of sustenance later, I should have more than enough funds to purchase whatever I desire.

Stepping over to the opposite left corner of the room, he felt along the brick wall until his finger rubbed against something metallic. He pressed it, and the wall gave a slight shudder as it began to shift. So many little surprises in this place, he thought. Who would ever guess that there was a way out of this tiny room? He took a deep breath and waited as the wall continued to slowly move until a small space opened, just large enough for him to squeeze through sideways. He wrapped the cloak around his body, bringing the large hood up over his dark hair. As he was ready to poke his head outside, the chill of the night air rushed against the right side of his face, and he gasped. Fool! He turned around swiftly and headed back toward the crates. He reached into the first crate and produced a black Don Juan mask, identical to the one he used in his opera. My opera. My last chance. If that boy hadn't followed us here… His thoughts trailed off and he quickly lowered the cowl of his cloak to put on the mask.

Dressing in black had always given Erik a great sense of menacing power…yet he could not feel that power now. He cursed under his breath as he again raised the hood, concealing his entire face. Heading back to the opening in the wall, he carefully leaned his head out into the night air, looking slowly in both directions. The alleyway was clear, and his hearing was impeccable. He knew that he would be aware if anyone were nearby.

Convinced that he was alone, Erik stepped through the small space and reached inside to click the metallic lever again. The wall began to slowly recede, and Erik turned on his heel, stalking down the alleyway like a black panther, senses heightened and alert to detect any danger.

Darkness had fallen over Paris, and Erik was glad of it. Seeing a hooded, dark figure during the daytime would surely have raised the suspicions of passersby. As he reached the end of the alley, he turned his head slightly in the direction of the opera house. He could hear quite a commotion going on, and he noticed that many patrons of the opera house were standing in the street, covering their mouths with handkerchiefs. Many women were crying. The Opera Populaire was in flames…no one even glanced in his direction. He turned back and began to head away from the opera house, careful to proceed at a normal pace, not wishing to draw attention to himself. He kept to the inside of the walkways, near the storefronts, keeping his head tilted slightly downward, yet his eyes were taking in everything around him.

Suddenly, he heard shouting coming from behind him. He did not stop--he could not allow himself to stop. The shouting grew louder, and he could hear footsteps pounding rapidly on the pavement. Erik's heart began to race wildly.

"Escaped! The Phantom has escaped!" the voice cried.

Gendarmes! He could hear the nervous voices of the passersby as they reacted to this news, and he looked around furiously for a place to hide. To his right, he saw wooden double doors and quickly tried the handles. Unlocked! He stepped inside and closed the doors abruptly behind him. Slinking into the shadows behind the doors, he crept away from them slowly and noticed something hanging next to him—thick fabric of some sort. He stepped behind it to conceal himself should anyone open the doors…and he stood, frozen like a statue, trying to calm his rapid breathing. He could still hear the footsteps outside and the voices of several gendarmes asking passersby if they had noticed anyone unusual. He could not quite make out their responses, but his heart skipped a beat when he heard the double doors open and two sets of footsteps entered…wherever it was. Again Erik heard voices…he could make out much of the conversation…but it seemed that whomever was speaking with the gendarmes knew nothing of his whereabouts. He listened to the footsteps as they left and closed the doors behind them. Relief washed over him like a flood, and he realized that he had been holding his breath. He tried to breathe normally again, slowly edging the fabric away from him. He managed to catch a glimpse of something. Candles? There was quite a warm glow about this place. Erik's eyes then focused on something that made his skin crawl. He looked at a figure on the wall far opposite him and sneered in defiance. So…we meet at last.