Author's note: many thanks to LuckyLadybug for plot help with this! The soldier that Erik reads about in this vignette is an OC we co-created.
Erik frowned as he was awakened from his nap by a noise. It sounded odd… like a soft rumbling…
The boy's eyes opened to see a large, scraggly kitten curled up on his chest, purring. His eyes narrowed; this kitten seemed to enjoy wandering the hidden passageways of the opera house as much as he did.
"Get off…" he ordered.
The kitten looked up at him, meowed, but didn't move, prompting Erik to pick the kitten up and gently place him on the ground.
"Don't you have somewhere to go…?" he asked of the kitten.
The kitten merely walked over to the water's edge, swiped his paw at the water, and caught a small, jumping fish in his mouth. Erik rolled his eyes, pretending not to notice the cat as the girl who had helped him now entered the cavern where he was resting.
"Good evening," she said, unwrapping the food she had brought in her scarf.
"For you, perhaps…" he replied, as she began to greet the kitten. He began to munch on the fresh bread she had brought for him. "But the bread is nice. I shall be looking forward to this in the evenings."
"What…?" she asked, stunned.
Some time had passed after the aftermath at the fair. The hunt for the "dangerously mad boy" had subsided, and young Erik had made himself at home beneath the opera house. The girl had brought him spare food, along with blankets, pillows, and old clothes from the costume room, for him to spend some time here. She visited him frequently, talking to him, making sure that he was well-fed. But she had assumed that Erik would leave once the uproar had subsided; she appropriately astounded by this new announcement.
"You… you wish to remain… here…?" she asked, astounded, glancing around at the rocky, water-filled caverns.
"Yes…" said Erik. He surveyed his new kingdom, flinching as the bright light from the setting sun filtered in from gaps in the cavern walls and reflected off of the water. "There is no need for me to go anywhere else. This is a place where I can one day make my music."
"Music…?" the girl asked, taking the kitten in her arms.
"Does that surprise you…?" Erik said, frowning again.
"Well…" she said. "It's just that I didn't expect that from…" She trailed off, unsure of how to phrase what she wanted to say.
"You did not expect it from an uncouth, uncivilized monster, is that it…?"
"No…!" she exclaimed. "I mean…" She shook her head, placing her hand on the boy's shoulder. "You are not a monster; that was why I wanted to help you." She managed a smile. "If you wish to make music, I am sure you can."
The tolling of the bells in the Notre Dame cathedral made her start.
"I must get back to my dormitory…" she said. "Enjoy your dinner; I'll… I'll see to more furnishings for you when I get the chance." She would have to look through the old props and take what would not be missed.
Erik just gave a nod, continuing to eat. The second the girl had left, he began to tear more ravenously at the food, the kitten happily running around his feet, lapping up the crumbs and scraps. Once he had finished, he decided to take to exploring the passageways as he had been doing. So far, he had found pathways that led to various dressing rooms, backstage, up to the rafters, and a couple leading outside.
The kitten meowed, wandering through a different passageway. Erik rolled his eyes, and chose a different one. His steps were swift and silent in spite of the stone ground; if someone had seen him, they would have sworn they had been seeing things.
He needed no light; in a manner of days, he had grown accustomed to the darkness, as though the mysterious man's words had been right—darkness was more beneficial to him than the light.
He slid the panel open when he reached the end of the passageway, and he gasped upon seeing the contents of the room: there were shelves full of neatly-printed books with bindings of every color. Erik couldn't believe his eyes—the books he had read before were battered, torn volumes with faded letters that strained his eyes with every attempt he made to read.
Now, he took a small candle from the desk and lit it, raising it so that he could see the titles on the book spines. Some books were fiction—titles of stories he had never heard before, but didn't really interest him. But as he scanned the shelves, he paused as he reached a set of books on different areas of the world—one was on France, while others where on elsewhere in Europe, such as Italy and England. But to Erik's astonishment, there were books about places as far off as India and America, as well as books on ancient Babylon and Egypt. The candlelight danced in his eyes as he glanced at these books.
He took a quick look around, concentrating to hear the corridor outside to ensure that no one was anywhere nearby. Quickly, he took several of these books from the shelves, sat down, and began to read by candlelight.
He read about great conquests and battles; he read of the American colonials throwing tea into Boston Harbor and their battles with their oppressors. He read of the battles of Lexington and Concord, but he was more intrigued by the story of Bunker Hill, and how, it transpired, that one of the colonial soldiers betrayed his own friends to serve as a spy. The spy ended up captured and imprisoned for his treachery, and eventually died alone and friendless.
Alone and friendless… he thought, bitterly. Alas, that story seems all too similar to my own… But I have not betrayed anyone as he did; they have all betrayed me. So why am I the one to suffer…?
But then his thoughts turned to the girl who had helped him escape from the fair. Well, perhaps he had one friend… But that still did not answer his question of why he was treated like that treacherous soldier…
It is my face… he realized. I do not have a face suited for the light. That is why I am to stay in the darkness…
He glanced at the portrait of the turncoat soldier, glaring at the man's face. Angrily, he slammed the book shut. There was no justice in this situation; the man with the ugly heart had a flawless face, and yet he, and innocent boy, had been cursed from birth with this one.
But then his heart twisted as he remembered what had transpired when he had escaped from the fair. How he had attacked the man who had been his "keeper"… How the man had fallen, never to rise again…
Erik clenched his fists as he realized the truth. He was not innocent anymore; it was though it had been a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You little fool… he cursed himself. You fell into the trap they intended for you to fall in. Now you've proven to them that you are nothing. And you will never be anything.
He began to place the books back on the shelf, sighing. He would have to find some other time to read them.
He flinched as one of the books fell from his hand as he was trying to put it back—it was one of the books on Ancient Egypt, and it fell open to a page with an image of a man with a jackal head.
Now this was interesting… a face that looked less human than his own…? This warranted a closer look…
A voice suddenly called out in French from the corridor outside, demanding to know what was going on. Erik flinched; someone had clearly heard the falling book. He blew the candle out, placing it back on the table where he had found it, grabbed the Ancient Egypt book from the floor, and slipped back through the secret passageway, closing the panel behind him.
The man who had heard the noise now opened to door to see an utterly empty library, not even notice the smoking candle or the empty space in the bookshelf. He shook his head and exited, muttering something about working too hard and hearing things.
Within the passageway, Erik heard him, and smirked.
The boy carried the book back to the cavern where he had been resting. There were more candles there, giving him more light to read by, and he did so, losing himself in the world of Pharaohs and the laws of Ma'at.
After some time, he was jolted from his readings by a triumphant meow. The kitten had returned from his expedition, arriving with a large piece of fried fish in his mouth. It took Erik a moment to realize that the fish was indeed fried.
"Where did you get that…?" he murmured.
As though he understood, the cat glanced towards the passageway he had exited. Clearly, it led to the kitchens. And, clearly, Erik knew exactly which passageway he would traverse next.