Erik sprinted across the empty helipad to the opposite side of the building's roof and grabbed onto the fire escape ladder at the edge and shook it, as if testing for stability.
"It goes to a balcony, probably outside the ballroom; but there's not another ladder from there. We'll probably need to break in from the balcony, and get back to the lobby via the service elevator, if there is one. I don't like the odds..." he called out with a distractedness that suggested he was evaluating dozens of different options at once.
"We can just take the stairs back down…" she proposed hesitantly, catching up to him.
"You're not grasping the magnitude of our predicament," Erik's eyes were darting around, surveying the nearby rooftops, and she hoped he wasn't contemplating a jump. "If Vrioni called ahead to his helicopter pilot, that means he anticipated my coming here. That means, at any moment, whichever of his guards are still walking and whichever others he can summon on short notice will be enroute. We need to get out of this building and out of the line of fire as quickly as possible."
"There were three guns," she recalled, trying to remember the blur of fighting at the restaurant in precise details, "One you emptied, one you took from the guard, and one that the last guard was holding…"
"Don't waste time counting. There are always more guns." He strode to look over the other corner of the building. "Too far a drop on this side, we'll have to -"
The door from the stairwell flew open and the two remaining guards ran out onto the rooftop. Before the gasp could escape from her throat, Erik lunged forward and a flash of red flew out from under his coat - and suddenly the taller of the two men was clasping his neck against what looked like a noose, rapidly tightening of its own volition. That man fell to his knees yanking at the rope, just as the other charged at Erik, weapon drawn, and the scuffle that ensued had Christine standing terrified on the sideline, horrified and useless and looking about for something she might try and hit the guard with.
The fists and knees were moving too quickly for her to tell who had the upper hand, but the sounds were shocking; the sudden noises of brutality shattered the quiet rumblings of the city in the evening. Violence on television was nothing like this - the sharp crack of bone and cry of agony as Erik slammed the man's wrist into the low wall, and the scrape of metal against brick as he withdrew the gun from the guard's hand; the rasp of leather shoe soles scratching and sliding on the pavement of the roof, punctuated by the heavy thuds and sickening crunches as they each landed blows against one another.
There was a awkward thump as the guard hit the pavement and lay there, groaning - and Erik took that moment to stride toward her decisively, his coat swinging to the side as he walked with great purpose, methodically untying the bow tie at his neck. Halfway between Erik and where she stood, the first man struggled to his feet, gasping for air, the red noose still tight around his neck - and without pausing in step or even looking at the assailant, Erik shot his arm out straight and emotionlessly pushed the guard off the edge of the roof to the balcony one level below.
His eyes stayed locked on hers, and he closed the remaining distance in seconds. Behind him, she could see the second guard moving to rise again - but Erik didn't seem to notice or care. "Take this," he commanded, pressing the gun into her hand and using his other hand to wrap her hands around it, the barrel pointed down. "This is how you take the safety off. Put it in your purse. If you need to use it, pretend you know how. You're an actress; act confident." He spoke quickly, calmly and resolutely. She tried to glance over his shoulder, worried the guard would be getting up any moment now.
"Look at me." He took her face in his hands and physically turned her gaze back to him. "I need you to listen. There are thirty thousand Euro and two passports sewn into the lining of your handbag. Your earrings are worth at least another six thousand. Take the stairs to the ground floor, take a taxi to Sirkeci station, buy a ticket on the very next train that's leaving tonight. Stay on that train until I find you. If it reaches the terminus, wherever that is, book a room at the best hotel near the station using the Swiss passport."
She started to speak, needed to know how he would -
"I'm not asking," he said firmly. "Go now. I will find you. I promise." His hands remained on either side of her face, and she could feel his thumbs pressing against her cheekbones; his fingers cupped around under her chin. Erik pulled her closer for a second and his face loomed over hers, an unreadable expression burning in his eyes. In that second, she wondered if he meant to kiss her, and her own pulse roared in her ears - but Erik just swallowed hard, and whispered: "Trust me. Run."
Down eight levels of stairs, ten, twelve — running as fast as she could, holding her shoes in one hand and the railing in the other, an infinity of spiraling down. Her heart was beating so forcefully that it felt like it was punching against the inside of her chest, and everything was so intense that the command to run was the only thing she could focus on.
The stairwell as as plain as the hotel had been opulent; fluorescent lights and pale grey walls. The signs at each landing with the floor level were the only thing that differed as she pounded down the flights of stairs — even if she couldn't read the rest of the sign in Turkish, each placard thankfully had a large Arabic numeral at its center — and finally the sign read "0" and she emerged into the lobby, on the opposite side from the elevators they'd originally taken, which means the doorway was… to her right.
Walk, walk now… she reminded herself, remembering Erik's earlier advice to blend in. A frantic and disheveled woman in an evening gown was conspicuous even here, where everyone was dressed for the formal event in the ballroom upstairs — how would she blend in at the train station?
Christine kept her eyes trained on doors of the hotel lobby, and without conscious thought, she reached out and plucked a scarf off the coat stand outside the hotel's restaurant. Wrapping it around her hair, under her chin, and laying the long ends over her shoulders, she knew she should be shocked at herself for stealing — and yet at the moment, changing her appearance and getting safely to the train station seemed more important than petty theft. She could see the taxi stand outside the lobby doors, a line of cabs with a uniformed bellman helping guests into the cars. Just 50 feet and she'd be there, safely in a taxi, while Erik was still upstairs in danger...
She couldn't think about Erik; she couldn't think about anything. She had to just keep moving forward, escape, survive, follow his instructions. It was almost like watching herself walk through the heavy glass door, down the carpeted front steps, over to the row of taxis, feigning a smile at the bellman opening the door of the car for her. Christine croaked out the name of the train station to the indifferent driver and he started the car.
Her heartbeat began to slow, and the singular focus of the command run began to dissipate; the strange state of operating on autopilot wearing off, and her own consciousness gradually returning. Each thud of her heart felt like a wave crashing on the shore, slow and forceful with enormous momentum behind it and blocking out all other sounds. Beat.
She had left Erik alone on the rooftop, fighting against an unknown number of assailants.
She was alone. She might be followed by Vrioni or his men.
She was alone, and had to keep running without Erik.
She had to keep running, because Raoul's plan to trap Erik had left her a wanted woman on the wrong side of the law.
"Trust me. Run." Erik had been so close he could have kissed her, and in that moment she felt -
Everything Christine had been desperately avoiding confronting came crashing down in her head like a tidal wave.
Every feeling she had buried in the last few weeks in the name of simply surviving another day came bursting to the forefront of her consciousness, pouring in at massive pressure, like water through the windows of a car submerged underwater. Her head and heart swam from the onslaught of emotion, visceral and overwhelming and she didn't know whether to sob or scream at the top of her lungs.
Her life was gone, and this harrowing new world of violence and fleeing was terrifying without Erik's reassuring presence. She was furious at Raoul and she simultaneously missed him, missed the easy life of brunch and cuddling and someone telling her it would all be ok. Raoul had blundered into getting her implicated alongside Erik and had likely ruined her singing career forever - and she didn't even feel comfortable feeling angry with him because she felt… guilty. Oh, god, that was this feeling. Betrayal and guilt because all of this — this series of escapades and escapes, the days of music and seeing the world and this entire secret parallel life - was enthralling. Erik was enthralling. He was impossible, and he was frightening, and he was brilliant and wicked and passionate and hers, if only she'd have him.
It was all too much.
What kind of person was she? Raoul was wonderful; everything he had done wrong, he had done in trying to save her, because he loved her. And she loved him - loved his sweetness, his supportiveness, his confidence and his kindness. Raoul was a good man and she felt like the worst woman on earth for even contemplating a life besides the one they were supposed to have together. The choice was so obvious - a happy, healthy, comfortable love - and it seemed like she must be a broken human being for wondering if she wanted something different. She was betraying him with every thought, betraying a man who was truly, genuinely, kind... And yet - her life with Raoul seemed so distant; back in the mirror world where she lived in the same existence with everyone else, the old Christine who always did the right thing, the safe thing.
She dropped her head in her hands and felt the dire ache of guilt flood her body. There was a United States embassy in Istanbul, surely; she should tell the taxi driver to change the route, take her there. Tell a story, call herself an escaped hostage, and whatever the circumstances and charges were against her, Raoul would make it ok. His family had the kind of political power to make this all go away. She could go home, back to New York, back to her life…
The taxi drove on, across a bridge, and the lights of boats glimmered on the water, bright yellow against the hazy purple sky as the sunset slipped into evening. She looked back over her shoulder at the buildings scattered across the hills of Beyoğlu, trying to make out the silhouette of the hotel's tower, trying to see if the helicopter had circled back around to the roof, hoping with a desperate anxiety that Erik was safe...
Christine didn't want to go home.
By the time the taxi was pulling into the circle at the train station, she had broken the mirror in her makeup compact with the heel of her shoe, and used one of the shards to slice through the lining of her purse, furtively checking every second to make sure the driver wasn't looking back at her. For three weeks, she had been a passenger riding passively on Erik's well-planned itinerary, and for five weeks before that she had been a pawn in everyone's plans; there was no one to tell her what the right thing to do was now and it felt like she was awake after months of sleepwalking.
Christine counted out a few hundred Euro and withdrew the Swiss passport from the space between the lining and the leather exterior of the handbag, and then left the rest concealed behind the lining. She had almost nothing useful in the purse: a lipstick, a few hairpins, some lozenges, the small wallet she had learned to carry with a day's worth of pocket money in the local currency, the pair of sunglasses Erik had advised that she always keep in her purse, even at night, and now she understood why. It was too dark to wear them now without seeming odd, but they'd come in handy tomorrow.
Christine wondered where she'd be tomorrow. Time to find out.
The gun lay in the bottom of the purse, sinister and intimidating - and she pulled the leather straps of the bag closed, twisted the clasp and prayed she'd never have to touch it.
Paying the driver in the few Turkish Lira she had left, she set out to find a currency exchange in the station. The exchange rate seemed painfully high, but she had more money than time, and five minutes later she was walking away with what surely would be enough Lira for a train ticket.
The next train departing was bound for Belgrade in 17 minutes. The train departing 8 minutes after that had a name she knew from storybooks, and its destination was Venice, where she could speak at least a few words of the language - nevermind that she'd learned them from singing Verdi. An hour after that and there was a train to Paris.
"The very next train," Erik had said - and knowing him, he would precisely calculate how long it would have taken her to reach the station, once he was free to follow. Christine took a deep breath, and hoped Erik didn't have any old business associates in Belgrade, and bought one ticket for the Balkan Express.
Even with the stolen scarf wrapped around her hair and shoulders in a halfhazard approximation of the way some of the women in Istanbul wore headscarves, she still felt vulnerably conspicuous walking through the train station in an evening gown with no luggage, alone in a largely empty train station. Announcements and advertisements played over the loudspeaker, and she was grateful for the noise, lest the only sound be the clicking of her pumps on the concrete floor. She could feel eyes on her as she made her way toward the platform for her train, and anxiety began to creep up her spine as she wondered if they were just fellow passengers curious about her unusual attire, or some of Vrioni's men, sent to the train station to block all egress points from Istanbul.
Christine made eye contact with a man wearing a bluetooth earpiece, and her stomach plummeted in fear.
He glanced away as quickly as she did, looking back to the phone in his hand; she summoned the courage to keep walking toward the train, her thoughts racing ahead. This was probably nothing. He hadn't been one of the guards at the restaurant. Lots of people had earpieces for their phones, it was a common thing, nothing to worry about. He was wearing jeans and a bulky green sweater, not the black blazer worn by the other guards - although the green sweater looked vaguely military, this could be an off-duty uniform.
She walked faster, and forced herself to keep looking straight ahead, keeping her eye on the sign for her train ahead. There was nothing else she could do.
Her coach was the third in the train, and the seating was in a series of small compartments, each compartment seating with three seats on a side facing one another, and each cabin having a door that opened out onto a common hallway running down the left side of the carriage. The seats were a garish green upholstery, but at least most of them were empty and she was relieved to see none of the seats were occupied when she reached the compartment that corresponded with her ticket number. No one else would probably board this close to departure; at least she would have some privacy. Christine shut the door and fell into the chair, and took several deep breaths, trying not to come apart.
A knock at the entry made her startle, but the voice that followed in Turkish sounded so bored and routine that Christine realized surely this was just the conductor walking along and checking for tickets, and she opened the door with hands that only trembled slightly, to find she was correct. The man repeated the same phrase and she realized she was clutching the paper envelope containing the ticket to her chest with her left hand; trying desperately to relax, she handed the ticket over for him to punch. He nodded, and walked down the hallway, knocking on the door of the next compartment.
She closed the door of the compartment again and wished desperately that it had a lock of some sort, then paced across the small space to examine the window. If she put her face very close to the glass, she could almost see the proper angle out the window to look backwards into the station, where the man with the earpiece had been standing… he had moved a few feet over and was smoking a cigarette in clear defiance of the signs forbidding it. He's just a guy with a phone waiting for a train, she tried to tell herself, again and again; his gaze flicked upward toward the train she was on, and Christine's sense of nausea grew.
The fabric covering the seat was scratchy as she sat down on it and drew her legs up, wrapping her arms around her shins and resting her forehead on her knees. Christine could feel the shredded hem of her evening gown, and had a fleeting thought that the poor dress had been through so much - before choking down something between a laugh and a sob when she realized she had been through the same. Erik had been through so much worse - she thought of his thin, bloodied knuckles, as he had taken her face into his hands - and he was still out there, probably still fighting an onset of old enemies, and she wished, in a rush, that she had just let him do whatever he had been planning to kill Vrioni and escape cleanly - and then she felt sick for thinking it. But if she had, he wouldn't have had to send her away, and he would be here now, instead of fighting on a rooftop with his life in danger.
Her arms and chest were shaking as she fought to keep from crying. Stay strong, stay alert, she told herself, but her thoughts were spiraling so rapidly, every worst-case scenario playing out in horrific detail in her mind. What did Vrioni do to enemies that Erik was so afraid to have her near? What if Erik couldn't catch up to her for days or weeks? What if something happened to Erik, period?
This is what it feels like to lose him.
Her heart twisted, and tears threatened again in her eyes, and she stood up and walked to the window, shaking her head, trying to find her strength and slow her breathing. If ever a situation had called for a level head…
The man with the bluetooth earpiece was gone. She pressed her cheek against the glass, craning her neck to scan the station, but he wasn't within sight. No trains had left and the next one wasn't boarding yet, meaning he had either left the station entirely, or boarded the train she was on. Being trapped on a train suddenly felt dangerous; not enough exits, not enough options, and it was taking every bit of resolve she had to remain calm and not slip into a full on panic.
Three sharp raps came at the door, and her heart began beating even faster, if such a thing was possible. Seconds went by, and the conductor's voice did not follow as it had before. Again, someone knocked on the door, so curt and sharp that the door itself shook - and the surge of terror and adrenaline narrowed her vision such that all she could see was her hands on the silver clasp of the purse, twisting it to pull the bag open and sliding her fingers in until they made contact with the cool metal of the gun. Swallowing slowly, she pulled it out, slid back the catch for the safety as Erik had shown her, and looked down at the potential for someone's death in her hands. She took several deep breaths, and pushed down a swell of nausea. Act the part and you'll never have to pull the trigger.
"Yes?" Christine uttered through gritted teeth, with as much confidence as she could muster, squaring her shoulders and pointing the weapon at the cabin's door, but not moving to open it. She pulled the hammer back to cock the gun, and the distinctive clink of metal on metal rang ominously.
"Smart girl." Erik's voice from the other side of the door was rough and tired, but distinctly pleased.
Her cry of shock must have been audible, because he slid the door back abruptly, and oh it was him, and he was there - battered and bruised and alive.
"Erik!" she choked out, some visceral sensation stronger than just relief rising up in her chest, and the emotional whiplash of swinging from terror to happiness left her reeling. Her arm fell limply to her side and he walked into the compartment to gently remove the gun from her hand, un-cock the hammer and slip it into his pocket. He tilted his head to gesture that they were leaving, and turned to go - but her feet were rooted in place and she struggled to process the deluge of her own emotions.
She couldn't find the words, and she was lost, and conscious thought wasn't in control any longer. Christine wanted - she needed - something and she didn't even know what it was, but a sense of desperation overcame her, staring at Erik's back as he took a step to leave. Before she knew what she was doing, she had closed the short distance between them and wrapped her arms around his chest from behind, pressing her face against his back as she finally gave in and burst into tears. Erik gasped, and his body went stiff; she kept trying to say something, to explain, but she was choking on sobs, on every bit of trauma and terror from the last few hours washing over her, her chest heaving with each new rush of tears. He didn't move, didn't speak, and eventually she steadied herself enough to say, with her cheek pressed against the hard ridge of his spine and her voice thick and weepy, "You found me, you found me."
"I will always find you," Erik rasped, raw with emotion.
For the first time, it didn't sound like a threat.
A minute passed, and then another, and eventually, drawing shuddering breaths, Erik leaned forward and steadied himself with one arm against the door frame. She could feel his ribcage shake, surrounded by her arms, but it felt like clinging to him in this moment was the only thing keeping her legs from collapsing out from underneath her. It was all so much to go through - to feel - to try and understand. She felt his arm move as his other hand come up, unsure and slow, to hover over her own on his chest, but after a few seconds he dropped it, without ever making contact.
"We... need to get on a different train," Erik said raggedly, pulling away. He turned, and took an awkward step back to regard her with eyes that were wet in the corners, with an expression that was helpless and apprehensive at once. Shakily, he passed a hand over his brow, pressing at the corners of the mask, then drew several deep breaths and removed his tuxedo jacket. He passed it over toward her, but she was momentarily preoccupied by the rumpled disarray of his white shirt - scuffed with dirt and splashes of blood she hoped wasn't his.
"Here," he walked over and held the dinner jacket for her to put on, his hands still trembling. "There's a train several platforms over that will be safer and... considerably more comfortable. We just have to get off this train before it leaves."
Bewildered, she nodded, slipped her arms into the jacket and followed him with lead feet stumbling, nearly tripping on the bedraggled hem of her gown. The back of his jacket was damp with her tears, and her head was hazy and off-balance.
Relief. She had felt relief, to see him, and holding him in her arms had felt -
"It won't be long now," he turned to the left and gestured that she should go ahead of him down the stairs, out of the train car and onto the platform. A uniformed conductor barked some kind of warning and Erik replied nonchalantly in Turkish, before moving to wrap his arm behind her, hovering just above the small of her back, featherweight brushes of pressure guiding her movements. "I told him we'd... forgotten our luggage in the taxi," Erik whispered, his voice still dry and shaken, as the train began to pull away and they walked in the opposite direction.
It almost felt like floating now, walking through the station in the cathartic afterglow of crying her eyes out. Erik was here. He was safe. They would be safe. If the man from earlier was a problem, Erik would deal with it. Scanning the station, she spotted the shifty figure with the headset again - pacing near the ticket booths. Wordlessly, and with much effort she raised her hand to gesture at him, and Erik squinted his eyes for a moment, then said distractedly, "Garden-variety drug dealer. Irrelevant, thankfully."
She had never felt safer in her life.
The calmness flowed through her veins and Erik's tuxedo jacket surrounded her in warmth, even as Erik himself seemed to be glancing down at her with growing concern. Past several rows of empty tracks and a train that wasn't leaving until morning and they reached another train, considerably older, but beautiful - all hardwood and brass, where the previous train had been plastic and aluminum.
Still leading, still wrapped around her protectively while hardly touching beyond the faintest taps at her elbow, Erik guided them to the first car and produced two tickets to show to yet another conductor assisting passengers with boarding. He pulled down his hat as he spoke to the conductor, and ducked his chin into his collar, and sympathy surged in her chest. A plushly carpeted hallway led to a row of wooden doors, and Erik opened the fifth to reveal a small cabin; lacquered cherrywood walls and a rich burgundy velvet train seat for two persons. A tiny restroom with a marble countertop and a fluffy white bed were visible through the door to the second room.
Christine dropped her purse on the floor, fell onto the seat and then yelped as the sore back of her head hit the cushion. Reaching up, she could feel a tender spot at the base of her skull. She leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands, drained. It could have been so much worse. Everything was going to be fine. She tilted her head forward and a sigh, light and strange, escaped.
From the corner of her eye she could see Erik look at her, alarmed. He slammed the lock shut on the door, tossed his hat on the side table, and dropped to crouch before her.
"Christine," he attempted a weak, worried smile, and she realized he was trying to be reassuring. "Do you remember how you got here?"
"What?" she asked dazedly, halfway smiling in confusion, at the silliness of his question.
His eyes roamed her face cautiously, and she couldn't tell if Erik was drinking her in or examining her.
"...Do you feel faint?" he asked softly.
"I feel… I'm really tired. A little… out of it, I guess." She closed her eyes, fumbling for words, before opening them again to say, "It's all so much… nothing feels real."
Erik's lips pursed into a grim line as he nodded, slowly, clearly trying to exert rigid control over the expressions on the exposed portion of his face. "My backup mobile phone is in the inner pocket of that jacket. Can you give it to me?"
She leaned her head into her left hand and reached into the jacket pocket with her right, halfway registering several other objects before finding the phone, and looked up to find his eyes trained on her, round with worry, as she handed it over.
The corners of his mouth turned up in a wince as he said, "Look straight ahead, please." The beam of light from the phone's camera flash was startling as he raised it to her left eye, then slid it across to shine it in her right eye as well.
"Why… what are you doing?" she asked, shaking her head, trying to make sense of this strange moment amidst the last two hours.
"Glasgow Coma Scale," Erik said hoarsely, helplessly. "You hit your head when the lighting beam cable snapped. You're exhibiting symptoms of disorientation. If you have a concussion, or worse…"
He looked away from her, his hands balled into fists and his brow furrowed, and she could see the physical changes in his posture as fear and despair became anger, before he even turned back to her and resumed speaking, snapping now. "None of this would have happened if I had handled the situation as planned. Do you have any idea of how dangerous it was?" Agitated, upset, and obviously containing his temper by only a tenuous thread, he raised the heels of his hands to his forehead and drew several long shaky breaths.
"Erik…" she began.
"Are you having any double vision?" he asked in a flat tone, his head still in his hands.
"No, really, I think I'm…"
"Can you whistle?" His eyes met hers. He looked exhausted.
All she wanted to do was to withdraw from reality and sleep until the day's trauma was a distant memory, but the empathy she was feeling for Erik - the ability, somehow at last, to start to understand his reactions - cut through the fog of detachment. Christine licked her lips, and his eyes followed the gesture with an expression that almost looked pained. She whistled a few measures of Jag Vet en Dejlig Rosa, and saw his shoulders slowly relax and lower from their hunched position. She wondered if he remembered playing it on the violin to calm her, when she had first feared she was losing her mind last year, as a glorious voice had come from nowhere in the rehearsal room.
"Your hearing?" he asked numbly, and it was clear now that he was anchoring himself in some pre-defined medical checklist, when the rest of his emotions were raging in opposite directions. Anger at her, and fear of losing her, and she could only guess what other extremes he was feeling at the loss of control of their circumstances.
"My hearing is normal," she said gently, with as much kindness as she could put in her voice. "I think I'm just a little… overwhelmed. A lot of things happened really fast."
The whistle sounded and the train lurched forward to leave the station, and Christine felt a bit of anxiety fade. Safely on the move again.
"If you would… put your hands in mine. Please," Erik whispered slowly, with evident nervousness that she would refuse. She nodded encouragingly and put her fingertips into his upturned palms, bloodied and bruised though they were. He glanced down at their joined hands and his eyelids fluttered shut, for the briefest of seconds, before he went on. "I want you to squeeze my fingertips with yours. Try to use the same amount of pressure in both hands."
She complied, pressing his fingertips between her fingers and thumbs, and tension seemed to drain out of his body in evident relief. Today she had touched him on more occasions than in the previous year combined, and it was suddenly easier than ever… Curling her fingers inward, she pulled his cool hands toward her, to grasp them in each of her palms, and tried to meet the eyes staring at her in bewilderment with compassion in her own, as she replied, "It's just a bump on the head. I'm going to be fine."
Erik sank back onto his heels, dropping her grip with some reluctance, and running a trembling hand over his dark, unmussed hair that she was now quite sure was a wig. He repeated the gesture and this time his hand remained curled around the back of his neck as he drew several breaths, before eventually seeming to gather himself and speak with relative formality. "No signs of neurological damage. You're likely experiencing the end of an acute stress reaction. That would be consistent with -" He closed his eyes, and shook his head as if to clear it, blinking them open again, and she wondered what he was remembering.
"I need to… do a sweep of the train. Make sure we weren't followed," he said abruptly, and was gone.
I think this might be a record for quickest time between chapters - all of the lovely reviews are a wonderful motivation to write quickly. :-)
This chapter is dedicated to the lovely and witty Nade-Naberrie, whose professional medical expertise was greatly appreciated during my research - it is absolutely fantastic to have such a community of smart, creative and savvy readers I can pose my questions to. (And about a million thanks again to Darcy, for the research and brainstorming into the evening gown I've trashed here.)
Settings, scenery, wardrobe and more are always at veroniqueclaire*tumblr*com - and longtime phans, if you don't know it yet, there is an amazing community on Tumblr nowadays. It's like the phandom in 2002 or so, when we were all kids - artistic and exuberant and supportive and reading nuanced interpretations into characters and everything I love about the wonderful kind of folks who appreciate POTO.
I'm going to try and get the images for this chapter published to my Tumblr in the next fifteen minutes before I board - but if not, check back tomorrow and I'll post them from the other side of the ocean. :-)