Hey all. Since the Poto idea seemed to win out in my recent poll as to what I should do next here is the first chapter! But just so you know this will not be nearly as long as Unseen Genius (though it will be closely related to that story). In fact, it will most likely be less than 10 chapters. And I also plan to work on the other two fics at the same time… So don't be disappointed if I haven't gotten to your choice yet! I will!
The basic premise of this story is that after Christine has left Erik down in the cellars he finds himself cursing God and his own ill-fated existence. But as he is on the very verge of death he is surprised to find that God has actually sent him a messenger to answer his questions. But will knowing what the world would have been like without him change his mind about his life? Read and find out!
Oh and P.S. for those of you who have not read Unseen Genius don't worry. This story can be read completely independently of my first fic. Though I do recommend reading Unseen Genius for some of the more subtle allusions to that story.
Chapter 1: The Messenger
Christine was gone. She had left with wide-eyed disbelief and tearful gratitude; left him alone, in the dark, cold embrace of the Opera's deepest cellars. In the end her fear of him turned his stomach, and her naive cruelty stung, but really, it was the relief he had seen in her eyes that had hurt the most. Despite any feelings of affection or pity she might have carried within her heart for him she could hardly wait to escape his presence. It was the fear that he felt within her when she kissed him that finally reached through his obsession and brought him back to reality.
He knew then he couldn't keep her. That she was as far out of his reach as the furthest expanses of heaven. And now death would be the sweetest form of relief he could hope for, the only measure of mercy to ever find its way to him in all his miserable years. His life was over.
Staggering with the weight of his grief; the man who had terrorized the Opera House for so long, the man known only as the Phantom, blindly made his way through the twisting passages of his underground home. With every step he took he could see Christine's face more clearly within his mind. The image of her fresh young features twisting in fear haunted him, breaking his heart all over again.
Now that she was gone he was cursed with the clarity of mind to see the true depth of her character more clearly than he had ever been able to before. The flaws that ran through the bedrock of her personality, like the fine cracks the ancient stonemasons had once feared to find within their marble, had widened under the stress of his attention. Her eagerness to please, her weakness of conviction, flaws he had once thought endearing, had finally pushed her into the safety of another man's arms.
She could never have been mine… he realized dully, the pain beating within him too great to allow for his usual barrier of rage to protect his heart. But it really isn't her fault… how could she have been expected to stay when she found out that her Angel was really a blackhearted demon? Don't fool yourself… this isn't her fault. It is mine!
Stopping in mid-step, no longer finding the strength to continue on, Erik raised both hands up to his face, finally giving in to the chilling tide of despair washing over him. Within the tortured tomb of his mind one thought repeated incessantly over and over. How could I have fooled myself so utterly? I should have known better. Love… my love… wasn't enough. I should have known better… I should have known better.
As all feeling drained out of his lower limbs, the Phantom of the Opera slowly sank to the cold stone floor. Leaning his head back against the wall, he stared blindly into the darkness that he had so long considered to be his one true ally in life, but found none of the comfort he normally did within the shadows. Closing his eyes against the sudden unbearable press of the Opera's unending night, he felt the warmth of his own tears fall down his face.
Just when he felt that his cursed existence couldn't get any worse a small stream of water dribbled down from the ceiling above, splashing mockingly over his shoulder and soaking the tattered remains of his shirt. It was the final straw. Dropping his hands to his sides, Erik couldn't stop the sob from tearing free of his lungs. As the grief over Christine's betrayal grew within him, becoming almost a living thing as it clawed through his system, the sobs wracking his body exploded into screams of pure agony.
The echoes of his own voice bounced back to him from the closeness of the walls, mocking him with amplified intensity. Let me die now. Let me die and put an end to this pain, he pleaded, sending his thoughts up to heaven and the God he had long ago learned to hate. Congratulations, You win… I finally know the extent of my worth. You turned a blind eye against me the moment I was born… I know now that I have always been beneath Your all-seeing notice.
The bitterness in his thoughts slowly burned its way through the misery of his broken heart. Hate, born from debris of a shattered soul, began to take away the sting of his sorrow, offering him a small reprieve. That is right… this isn't her fault… it isn't mine… It is YOURS! Turning his eyes upward, Erik welcomed the cleansing heat of his fury shimmering through his chilled body.
Well, I hope You have had a good laugh at my expense, Lord… It certainly must have been entertaining… a prolonged production for Your amusement. But I feel that this is a good time to put an end to this charade. Strike me down now… I don't care. You could do nothing more cruel than allowing me to be born in the first place. Damn You! And damn Your warped sense of justice. I should have never been born. If this was to be my end I should never have been born. Damn You! I hate You!
Gritting his teeth Erik gladly floundered in the waters of his fury, feeling his sorrow drowning under the troubled tides of his mind. It felt good to curse God; it made him feel as if he had some sense of control over his destiny. Perhaps his entire life had been a terrible mistake made by the Creator, but he would be damned if he would die clutched in the same helplessness with which he had lived. His death, at least, would be in a manner of his own choosing.
Now I have the opportunity to undo Your monumental mistake! It seems fitting that I should end my own life within this tomb. Perhaps I should even make use of one of my own creations to expedite my demise. Suicide… a terrible sin to be sure… but at least I will be certain to ensure my rightful place in hell.
Emboldened by this new sense of power Erik moved to climb to his feet, intending to find his way to one of the many torture devices he had installed within the Opera's cellars, but a deep protesting cough that shook his entire frame stopped his progress. Confused by this odd reaction, he finally began to take stock of his surroundings, something that the darkness of his thoughts had prevented until now. The acrid stench of smoke filled his lungs as he took an unsteady breath.
What the hell? he wondered, the barest hint of panic slithering through his veins as he coughed again. Where is this coming from? His moment of confusion was brief as the answer drifted through his mind. The fire that the fallen chandelier had sparked up above must have been burning for hours now. Obviously the smoke must have been funneled down into the tunnels when the upper floors could hold no more. Slowly, a humorless smile edged at the corners of his mouth and he purposely lowered himself back to the floor. Perhaps there is no need to go to any trouble after all. Apparently, Death is coming to me. All I have to do is breathe deeply… so very simple.
Certain in his present course of action, Erik sat passively as the air began to grow thick and heavy around him. Every breath burned and his body began to tremble with the need for clean air, his every cell crying out to him to get up and run to safety. Stubbornly ignoring the pain building within his chest, Erik welcomed the dizziness that was beginning to steal over his senses. Good, it will not be long now. I will lose consciousness… it will be like falling into a comforting slumber.
Feeling his head lolling to one side, Erik made no effort to right his slumping posture. For the first time in his life he did not care about proper appearances. Funny, that such a thing should be… so long in… coming, he thought vaguely, the wheels within his mind slowly grinding to a halt. It was becoming harder and harder to make a rational thought, to think on Christine and her hasty departure. Her haunting image began to fade from within his mind's eye.
But through the fog now clouding his brain he managed to cling to one last certainty before he fell into unconsciousness. I should never have been born… he thought with silent conviction before his mind went completely blank. The chill in the air, the hardness of the stone beneath him, the pain burning within his heart all bled away into a blessed sea of nothingness; leaving him alone, as he always had been, in an endless and impenetrable night. Never… should… have… been… born…
"Are you so sure of that statement then?" a deep, unfamiliar voice inquired from somewhere nearby, the slightest hint of annoyance sharpening each strangely pronounced word.
Starting at the unexpected voice, the processes of Erik's mind stuttered sluggishly back into motion. Now I am hearing things… It would be nearly impossible for someone to stumble this far down into the cellars. Just ignore it. Frowning, Erik shook his head to clear it of this irritating development. I will not start hallucinating. Just fall asleep… it will be easy. Determinedly concentrating on blanking out his mind, at finding the utter peace he had felt only moments ago, he relaxed his entire body, a deep satisfaction stealing through his system when the voice did not immediately return.
When a small pebble sailed through the air and bounced off the middle of his forhead Erik nearly jumped out of his skin, his concentration completely scattered to the winds. This wasn't a matter of hallucinating now, there must actually be someone standing with him in the darkness. The knowledge that he was no longer alone quickly cleared his foggy mind and renewed his waning strength. Jerking violently backward and away from the unwelcome touch, Erik lost his balance and fell flat onto his back. Somehow the wall was no longer directly behind him. Opening his eyes with a growl, with every intention of killing the man who had dared to disturb him, Erik found himself staring straight up at a clear blue summer sky.
Watching blankly as puffs of clouds drifted overhead all thoughts of murder were momentarily forgotten in favor of utter shock and confusion. Wait… this is not right. Turning his head to the side, Erik was confronted with a wall of sweet-smelling wildflowers and tall green grass. No… not right at all… I was in the cellars… I was dying… A cricket began to chirp somewhere nearby, its raspy music joining in the peaceful chorus of birdsong that was floating through the air.
Confusion quickly bled into panic as Erik realized he had no idea where he was or what he was doing there. Jerking up into a sitting position, he was slightly surprised at how light his body felt, the pain in his lungs no more than an unpleasant memory now. Looking out over an apparently endless field of waving flowers, with no sign of the Parisian skyline in view, Erik's jaw dropped open.
"What the fuck!" he exclaimed, his utter astonishment prodding the uncharacteristically callous profanity from his lips.
"Shame on you for using such a word in a place like this," the same masculine voice Erik had heard before admonished from behind him.
Whirling about to face the stranger, Erik automatically raised a hand up to hide the right side of his uncovered face. Spotting a young man casually lounging against a tall boulder a few yards away, Erik hastily jumped to his feet, his entire body tensing and ready for a fight. Without hesitation he launched himself at the intruder, fully intending to wring the other man's neck for simply being there.
The younger man merely shot him an insulted frown. "Stop that now. We have too much to accomplish to have time for such foolishness," the stranger stated, exasperation rather than fear sharpening his words.
Ignoring this, Erik barreled onward raising both hands to wrap around the stranger's neck. The young man sighed heavily and simply flicked his wrist in Erik's direction, his simple, unconcerned action coinciding exactly with the air around Erik's body solidifying around him. Frozen in mid-pounce Erik struggled against his invisible bonds, his eyes blazing in fury when he found he was unable to move.
Rising gracefully from his spot on the ground, the young man approached where Erik stood paralyzed, his movements slow and purposely non-threatening. Darkly good-looking, the stranger's strong jaw and black eyebrows gave his face a serious, brooding air. Coming to stand directly in front of Erik, he studied his captive with an openly curious gaze, his flashing blue eyes pausing briefly upon the deformity distorting the right side of Erik's face before moving on.
Dark boiling fury erupted within Erik's body as the stranger's eyes moved over him. An old, deep-seated humiliation turned sickeningly within his gut and he redoubled his efforts to free himself; so caught up in the overpowering wash of his emotions that he never once considered the supernatural aspect of his captivity. "Take a long look, you bastard, because when I can move again I'll make sure it is the last thing you ever see again!" he howled, a dark angry flush staining his cheeks a deep red.
Shifting his gaze up to meet Erik's eyes, the stranger's expression softened from intense curiosity to abashed regret. The younger man took a step back and turned his face to the ground. "Forgive me. I have just been wondering for a while what you would look like. I should have realized that at this point it would make you uncomfortable."
Surprised by the sincerity he heard in the young man's words, Erik was startled out of his growing temper. He apologized to me… as if I were an equal and not… not a monster. Having never been in such a situation before, Erik wasn't exactly sure how to react. His initial instinct was to lash out, just as he normally did in every uncomfortable situation, but something about the way the young man spoke, the way the regret creased his perfect brow, stopped him. It calmed the rage within him.
Taking a deep breath, Erik clenched his jaw into a hard line, taking a moment to make another quick study of his captor's face. There was something vaguely familiar about the younger man, as if they had met somewhere long ago. His young, rugged features were so unique that Erik was certain he would have remembered meeting him before, but the feeling of knowing him persisted. What is it? I feel I should know his name… The dark hair, the high sculpted cheekbones, the straight aristocratic nose and even the slightly arrogant tilt to the young man's mouth all added together into the very picture of masculine good looks. Looks Erik had always longed to possess himself. Maybe that is it… maybe he reminds of what I might have been… that must be it.
"If you are so contrite then release me," Erik snapped through clenched teeth, his voice lacking any true heat now. "I don't know how you are holding me still, but I know it is your doing."
Looking back up at him the young man nodded. "So long as you promise not to attack me again. We do have many things to do and not enough time to complete them."
Pressing his lips together in irritation Erik let out a steadying breath. "I promise I will not kill you until you tell me who you are and how I got here," he growled, purposely allowing the threat in his words to hang heavily in the air. He didn't like this stranger's total lack of fear of him. He had forgotten how to deal with a person who wasn't afraid of him.
A flicker of irritation almost identical to Erik's flashed across the stranger's face causing his lips to thin into a scowl, but slowly the young man's expression shifted into an amused smile. "Well, I suppose that will have to be good enough for now. It isn't like you could kill me anyway…" he muttered. With a casual wave of his hand the young man dissolved the invisible bonds holding Erik immobile. Finding himself suddenly freed, Erik fell unceremoniously to the ground with a grunt.
Scrambling back up to his feet, Erik faced off with the younger man, ignoring the pieces of dried grass and dirt now clinging to his clothing. "Now you will tell me who you are. You will tell me where we are. And you will tell me how you managed to spirit me here without my knowledge!"
Raising a hand up to ruffle through his dark hair, the young man continued to smile. "They did say you would be insufferable right now… but damned if you are an annoying old bastard."
Bristling at the insult, Erik could practically feel the need to maim this idiotic youngster thrumming through his blood. How dare he! Does he know who I am! I could rip that stupid smile right off his face! "What did you say!"
"I said you were annoying," the stranger repeated slowly without the slightest bit of proper decorum. When Erik took a threatening step forward, the impossible young man merely raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "But I suppose you are entitled to your tempers for now. Though if you don't shape up soon, it will only be harder for you later."
"And what does THAT mean?"
A spark of wickedness crept into the stranger's smile, giving him a light teasing air that Erik didn't like. "Oh, you will find out. But that is for later… after we finish our business here."
"And what is this business you keep going on about, boy!"
"Oh? So you don't know. Funny… I thought you had everything figured out in that head of yours the way you gripe all the time."
Just about fed up with the entire situation, Erik felt a muscle in the side of his jaw begin to tick with his frustration. Seeing Erik's thunderous expression, the young man's smile finally dimmed and he relented. "All right, I will answer all of your questions. You don't have to get so worked up."
"Where are we?" Erik quickly demanded, the biggest question that had been swirling about his mind popping out of his mouth before he could stop it. "Is this near Paris?"
"No, we are nowhere near Paris. In fact, we aren't even in France…"
Stunned, Erik frowned. "What do you mean? That isn't possible…"
Turning his eyes to the idyllic landscape, the young man allowed his gaze to sweep out over the endless fields surrounding them. "This place really isn't near… anything."
A new thought had Erik sucking in a sharp breath. It cannot be… "Is this Heaven? Did I die already and not even know it!"
"No, you are not dead. And no, this isn't Heaven. You wouldn't be going to Heaven at this point should your life have come to an end."
A strong rush of disappointment cascaded through Erik's heart at those words. He had always known he wasn't meant to receive God's grace, but somehow hearing it out loud made him feel rotten inside. "Then where are we?"
"It is hard to explain… but I suppose you could call this place a middle ground of sorts. It is a place between Heaven and Earth. I really have to commend you, though… the current landscape is a product of your own imagination. It appears differently to everyone who comes here, and I was expecting something truly terrible to be coming out of your head… given your attitude problem. But I really like the flowers… it is soothing. I suppose you aren't a completely lost cause yet after all…"
When the young man grew quiet Erik was left staring at him as if he had lost his mind. A middle ground… between Heaven and Earth? He says that so easily… as if it is the most natural thing in the world… but surely I must be going mad… because I am prone to believe what he is saying. Everything is just too… strange. Maybe this is a dream…
"Why am I here?" Erik found himself mumbling.
Looking slightly surprised the young man cocked his head to one side, his eyes calmly looking Erik directly in the face. "Well, God doesn't normally take kindly to those who casually go around cursing His name. Especially those who haven't the foggiest idea what they are talking about. You made the claim that it would have been better if you never had been born. So you were brought here in order to allow you to see if what you said is true."
Shifting slightly, Erik glared over at the young man, waiting for the usual feelings of humiliation and fury to take hold within him as their blue gazes locked. But as the moments ticked by, those feelings did not appear and he realized with a shock that he didn't feel uncomfortable under this stranger's gaze. And he suddenly recognized that not once in the time they had been talking had the other man's eyes darkened in disgust or fear. What is wrong with this idiot?
Continuing on after the short pause, the young man stuffed his hands into the pockets of his plain black trousers. "And I am here to guide you into the world that would exist without you in it."
"So who are you? Some sort of delinquent angel?" Erik snapped, hoping to barb the younger man. He was more comfortable dealing with anger, he wanted to wipe the graceful ease right out of his annoying companion.
Staring at Erik for a moment, the young man soon tilted his head back and let out a hearty laugh. "An angel? An angel you say?" Wrapping his arms about his middle, he struggled to control his mirth. "Oh… Lord-a-mighty! I haven't heard something that funny in ages."
Tensing up, Erik let his fists clench at his sides. The other man's amusement was both a surprise and an irritation. He felt like he was being laughed at and he hated being laughed at. "What is so funny!"
Stumbling over to the rock he had been leaning against earlier, the young man lowered onto it, so tired from his protracted guffaw that he had to sit down. "Don't look so insulted," he said, between chuckles. "I wasn't laughing at you… just that you thought that I was an angel…"
"Is that not the same thing, you buffoon!" Erik bellowed, throwing his hand up into the air in a furious gesture.
Sobering slightly, the young man raised a finger to his lips in thought. "Hmm… well I suppose you would think so."
"You are beginning to wear upon my limited patience, boy…"
Ignoring this growled threat, the younger man fastidiously straightened his clothing. "To be more serious now…"
"Thank God!" Erik interrupted.
Shooting Erik a dark look, the young man continued on. "To be more serious, I am definitely not an angel. Those stuffy old bastards have more important things to do than to go traipsing around with you. No… I am more of what you would call a spirit."
"Like a dead person? A ghost?"
"No, not a ghost… because I have yet to be born. I am a soul waiting for my body to be prepared for me on Earth. Until that time comes all of us wait in this place."
"Then why were you sent to pester me? I was content where I was… I knew what I wanted next! I do not want to be here!"
"I cannot tell you yet why I was chosen to lead you. Right now you wouldn't believe me… maybe later…" Looking slightly uncomfortable with his vague answer the young man straightened upon the rock, once again studying Erik with the same intense concentration of his that seemed so like that of a physician in the middle of a surgery. "But were you really content to finish walking the dark path you had chosen? To stubbornly trudge your way into Hell when it is not the only way open to you?"
Kicking at the gaily swaying flowers at his feet, Erik's expression turned wooden. "There is no other path for me… I learned that long ago."
"That is stupidity speaking if ever I heard it."
Whirling back towards his tormentor, Erik stabbed a finger through the air at him. "You have a smart mouth on you boy that I find abrasive. Rein it in or be prepared to lose it."
"Ohhh…" the young man mocked. "I am trembling in my boots. What do you think you can do to me? I am a bleeding spirit after all."
Erik snapped his mouth shut. The boy had a nasty habit of making good points. "All right… I am done speaking with you," he snapped as he turned and stalked off in a random direction. Not caring really where he was going, only knowing he had to get away from the stupid spirit which had chosen to haunt him, he plowed through the sweet-smelling wildflowers with a quick-footed gait.
There was no sound of movement behind him, but suddenly the young man was standing directly in Erik's path. "You cannot leave until we complete our journey," the youth stated matter-of-factly, his windswept blue eyes going hard with a no-nonsense determination. "You challenged God's divine plan and now must see for yourself the smallness of your own ignorance. You will see what the world would have been like without you if you like it or not. And you will not be allowed to leave until you have seen it all… no matter how horrifying it becomes."
Pausing for a moment the spirit stilled completely, his expression shifting darkly with a hundred secret intentions. "Are you ready to suffer the fruits of your lack of faith, Erik?"
Battling the urge to ram a fist into the young man's throat, knowing the action would be useless anyway, Erik tried to clear his head. There was no escaping this place. He could see no sign of an exit, just endless miles of gently rolling fields. Hating the helplessness he felt stealing through his system, Erik realized he had no choice but to follow this arrogant little bastard if he ever wanted to leave.
"How did you know my name?" he finally muttered when he managed to take control of his temper.
"Oh, I know many things about you," the spirit supplied, a smugly mysterious light glittering in his eyes. "They picked me for this job for that very reason."
Feeling suddenly tired from all the successive assaults against his explosive temperament, Erik raised a hand up and ran it down his face, his fingers skimming lightly over the distorted ridges and hollows that covered the right side. "How long will this take?"
"As long as you need it to…"
Lowering his hand, Erik gave in. "Fine… since you are to plague me for some time, I might as well ask your name."
"Your curiosity is touching, really…"
"Are you going to answer me or not?"
"Technically I do not have a name right now…" Worrying his bottom lip between his perfectly white teeth, the spirit gave an elegant shrug. "But they tell me that when I am born my name will be Daniel."
Harrumphing to make it very clear that this introduction would in no way lead to friendlier exchanges, Erik crossed his arms over his chest. "How stupid… Biblical names always show a lack of inspiration."
Cocking his head to one side, Daniel merely smiled. "You think so? Well, you are entitled to your opinion… I think my mother picks this name out."
"Well, that makes perfect sense. Women are known to be useless wastes of space," Erik spat, his mind wandering to Christine for the first time since he had woken up in this strange place. Brutally beating down the ache beginning to well up within him, he shot Daniel a vicious glare. "Are we going to stand here all day or do you actually plan to ever do your job? I want to get this over with… I have an appointment with the Devil that I do not want to be late for."
Pasting an impassive expression upon his young face, Daniel looked off towards the horizon. "Yes, I think this would be a perfect time to begin. Pray that you are ready, Erik, for I think you are about to have a nasty bout of enlightenment."
"Shut up and lead the way."
Turning away, Daniel motioned for Erik to follow him, a dark smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth as he looked back over his shoulder. "Then by all means… follow me."