LlaO – YES! I'M NOT DEAD! Yeah, I know I said I'd probably be able to update more during the summer. I'm a notorious liar. ^^" It's been, what... EIGHT months now?! Yeah, I'm horrible. Just read the dang chapter already! AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!

To the anonymous reviewer "Christine": Why you no write in proper English? Really now. Read my profile and you'll understand me. But thank you for finally tipping my review scale to 10!

Nope, I don't own Labyrinth or Phantom. And I also don't own the bit of Harry Potter I reference to in this chapter, either. What a shame...

Chapter 7 – Escape Attempt

Three weeks had passed, and there was still no sign of Caoilte King. Not that anyone had really noticed, anyway. Marius had tried anything in his power to bring the matter up to his superiors, but no one would listen to a lowly stagehand. Maybe this station was too covert for me, he thought as he walked down the hallway to the tucked-away dressing room. He knocked on the worn door and was swiftly admitted by Emily.

"Hi, Marius," she said as he stepped into the room, averting her eyes as she did so. I wish she didn't do that. Then I can't see her face right.

"Hey," Riley called loudly from the chair she was sitting in. As always, she had her iPod on a bit too loud and had to yell to hear herself over her music. She slid the earphones around her neck and paused the song she had been listening to. "What's up?"

"Have you seen Caoilte? I haven't seen her for a while, and I was hoping one of you would know."

"Who?" Riley asked. "Never heard of a 'Kael-chee' before."

"Caoilte, your roommate? The blonde one, about this tall, who sang the aria from Hannibal for the audition? Stop joking around, this is serious!"

"We are serious, Marius," Emily said in her soft Australian accent. "The name doesn't ring any bells for me, and Riley obviously hasn't heard of her either. If she's a roommate, then you've got the wrong girls." Marius was completely dumbfounded, but tried one last time before accepting their unawareness of Caoilte's whereabouts.

"So you're absolutely positive you don't know where she is, then?"

"Exactly," Emily replied as she shrugged. "Sorry we're of no help to you. But if you do get wind of her elsewhere, we'll be happy to help you look." She gave him a small smile as he turned toward the door.

"Well, thanks anyway, girls. I'll just be going now."

"Wait, Marius?" Emily stopped him right at the threshold of the doorway. She put her hand over his where he had rested it on the doorframe and leaned in slightly. "Good luck," she whispered, barely able to keep her voice from wavering because she was this close to his face. For a moment, they locked eyes.

"Thanks," he said. She was this close. He could almost imagine it; they were mere inches apart. Her pretty pink lips looked so soft, he brown eyes inviting and open. A moment later, and he would've closed the space with a kiss. But another stagehand called for him down the hallway.

"MARIUS! Where're yah, boy? We gotta' change tha' backdrops for tha' group onstage! Get yer lazy arse down here now!"

"I...I...I should go," he said with a weak chuckle, jerking his thumb down the hall.

"Yeah, sorry." Emily averted her eyes once more and slowly closed the door. Marius walked down the hall, thinking over all the things that had transpired. Caoilte gone, her roommates not knowing who she was...she tried to focus on his self-appointed mission and not on what had just happened at the doorway. I can't think about her right now. It's my fault he's out now, and if he has her...I don't even want to know what will happen.

As he opened the door into the wings, he heard a scream from onstage. He rushed in to see what was going on. From upstage, a flat scenery piece had fallen backwards and almost crushed one of the kids in the scene. He went over to where some other stagehands were helping lift the flat house piece back into place. One of the wooden legs used to keep the house up had been sawed at an angle so that it would break deliberately.

"Curiouser and curiouser..." he muttered as he leaned his shoulder in to help. What is happening here?

O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-O

After almost three weeks of tutoring, Caoilte began to grow restless. This awkward routine made her irritated. He would wake her in the morning, usually with a song from the piano lilting in from the other room, and she would come out and have a nice, small breakfast prepared by him. He never dined, just watched her as she thanked him, sat at the table, and ate. Once she was done, they started their lesson. Since she knew next to nothing about reading sheet music, he had had to go back to square one and teach her how to understand the staff lines and notes and beginning with simple songs for novices. Even without singing now the solfège rung in her ears, with their sharps and flats, its repetitive curve of up and down ranges burrowing into her head. No matter how hard or how often she tried to tell him that operatic ranges weren't her thing or that she wasn't right for the song, he simply dismissed the thought and persisted she began whatever song she was singing again.

Though being an unrelenting teacher, he was kind to her. He let her voice rest when she began to tire, though not before pushing her a little more. He gave her a break and brought her water when her voice started to sound hoarse, but would not grant her it before she was rigorously quizzed on different majors or key signatures. When she messed up a line he was always patient with her, sometimes singing the line— each time seamlessly correct—to address her error. She tried not to make mistakes to keep on his good side, but each time he sang a line, she listened wholeheartedly, hanging onto each note. His voice was beautiful; handsome in register and timbre, flawless in execution and powerful to the ear. By the time they were done, it was already well into the afternoon. He then amused her by passing the time with a story or two, a magician's trick (that she could easily see through but humored him anyways), or a song on the piano or pipe organ. He occasionally went out and about the Opera, but he never invited her to accompany him, or even gave her the option. His life seemed to revolve around music; when he wasn't otherwise occupied he'd always be at the piano or violin or organ, always making some kind of melody. It began to start grating on Caoilte's nerves. Does he have nothing else to think about? His family and friends? Some long-lost personal possession or pet? The insane asylum he escaped from? They must be missing him….

Though she mentally complained, she never voiced her protests. She could tell that something wasn't right about him; one or two crucial pieces missing from the puzzle. Without them she couldn't tell what the picture was depicting: who he really was. She could feel that he was powerful and menacing, perhaps not magically, but definitely with the human power of harsh life experiences. Yet…he showed no signs of knowing that. He went about his day like an automaton, repeating what looked like often-done, unvarying motions.

It was starting to become tedious to keep up the magick over her to make her appear human. Even though it was only a small spell, it was chronic and was beginning to fatigue her magic supply. She estimated that (at best) she had a week before the spell would wear itself out to conserve her natural magic reservoir. She had to think of a way to escape, and fast!

"I must go out for a time." His voice jolted her out of her thoughts. "I have business matters to attend to. I won't be longer than an hour." His black cloak was hung over one elbow, and he held his hat in the other.

"Business matters? What kind of business do you do here?" Caoilte arched an eyebrow.

"You must learn when it is properand improper—to ask questions, mademoiselle." With a curt spin of his arm, the cloak wrapped around him. Fastening the clasp, he began to walk towards the water's edge, where the boat was docked.

"Can I…come with you?" Though feeling offended by his dismissive statement, she still had to attempt some kind of getaway.

"No." his answer was clipped and immediate.

"Why not?" she whined, following him. "If I'm going to be here, I deserve to know things! I don't want to be cooped up here with nothing to do!"

"Practice your singing." Caoilte slapped her palm on her forehead.

"Like there's anything else I can do other than that! Please?"

"My answer will not be swayed by pleading. No."

"Why not?" Caoilte crossed her arms and huffed. She could hear the aggravation building in his voice.

"You are acting like a child. You may have privileges when you choose to act accordingly." She scoffed.

"Who're you to tell me that? You're not my parents!"

"Yes, but I am your teacher. You should treat me as so, with the respect entailed with the position."

"If I will, can I go?" Though the words were sincere, the smirk on her face said that she was winning. He sighed, eager to get off the topic. It was one simple note-delivering. She couldn't interfere too badly.

"Fine! If you must be so adamant about the matter, you may come along!" Caoilte smiled.

"Good."

O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-O

"How can you even stand being in these tunnels? And can you shine that light closer? I can't see anything!"

"Well, they were not constructed for more than one person," he answered flippantly. "I very well could have denied you this privilege, but seeing as I didn't, you must abide by my rules. Now hush."

"Wait, what're we—"

"Hush!"

Caoilte followed in the narrow dark shaft, illuminated by the lone lantern he held outstretched in front of him, until he stopped.

"We're in the middle of nowhere!"

He shot her a glare and stood stock-still, listening to the conversation coming from the other side of the wall to their left:

"—But if we're to sustain our current revenue at the moment—"

"I don't care about the damned revenue! These ridiculous notes are getting in the way of my thinking about anything else! " Papers were thrown down onto a surface, probably a table. Caoilte recognized the speakers as Madame Beaumont and Monsieur Émile, and assumed she was next to the manager's office. "I mean...look at this one!"

"Well, they're all the same monsieur, but I know the feeling. Whoever brought this charade back from the dead has to be found, and quick."

"'Quick' isn't quick enough! If the kids start hearing all these rumors and ghost tales, they might panic and call their parents. Angry parents equal money refunded, and that won't be good for any of us."

"Maybe if we give this imposter what he wants—just once, hear me out. Don't give me that look—if we do what he wants, just once, maybe he'll be content and stop doing it."

"Or maybe he'll assume we've given in and he'll commandeer the whole damn Opera! We are not going to—"

A door opened. A different voice spoke, though Caoilte couldn't hear his exact words.

"We'll be right out." The voices faded and a door slammed shut. Immediately, her companion sprung into action. She edged to the far wall as he slid a small panel at hip height to the side. Light streamed into their passageway from the manager's office and Caoilte had to shield her eyes from the sudden onslaught. He withdrew a folded paper from under hid cloak and, holding it in two fingers, tossed it through the open panel and onto the manager's desk. Caoilte looked back and forth along the passageway, deciding the best course of action. It was a straightaway down to her right as far as she could see, but it curved back to the left where they came from. There has to be some intersection further down, she thought quickly. It's just like the tunnels that connect the oubliettes. Only...without any light.

Her plan made, she slowly slinked towards the right then, looking behind her to make sure he was still occupied with his task, began to dash down the hallway. She heard him curse and slam the panel back into place. The lantern crashed to the ground and they were plunged into shadows. His quickened footsteps behind her broke into a run as he began to pursue her through the tunnels.

Adrenaline coursed through her as she ran through the dark passage. Finally seeing the faint outline of a crossroad up ahead, she took it and hoped for the best. She ran blindly down the tunnel, and, stealing a quick glance behind her, saw his silhouette turn the corner. She couldn't have known for sure from only her momentary look, but she could have sworn his eyes were glowing an unnatural yellow. Her nerves screamed at her, but she managed to keep her head under control. Don't freak out. You'll make mistakes. He'll catch you if you start freaking out. Figure something out. She turned down another corridor, and then another not far down the path. It ended with a door that she almost slammed into. Panting from exertion, she struggled with the doorknob in the darkness, but it would not budge.

"Dead-end!" she cried in surprise, then clamped a hand over her mouth and nose. She tried controlling her breathing so he wouldn't hear her. She gripped the knob and sent magic through her fingertips to unlock it, but was reciprocated with a sharp stinging in her fingers.

"Damn!" she yelped as she pulled away her had. The doorknob must have some iron pieces in it that block my magic!

Carefully, she snuck back to the crossroads and turned back, going in a different direction. She tried another door further down, and it allowed her entrance. Instead of being in a room, though, she was only thrust into more passageways.

"Oh, come on!" she muttered as she continued running down the hall. Suddenly, she stopped in the middle of the corridor. She listened keenly for any sounds other than her own harsh breathing, but could hear nothing. Maybe I finally lost him.

Being more cautious than ever, she walked towards the nearest door.

Thankfully, it led onto the fly backstage. She walked carefully around the catwalks and scaffolding, trying to find a way down. Quietly tiptoeing down two spiraling staircases, she stopped for a moment to admire the beauty of the empty stage. It was obviously nighttime, the stage and house lights were off, the only light coming in was the blue moonlight from the skylight above her head. The last time she was down there was three weeks ago, when Emily had disappeared down a trapdoor. I wonder how they're doing. I hope my spell worked well enough on them. With any luck, both of them have forgotten about that little incident.

She didn't hear the soft clicking of shoes on the scaffolding until it was too late. A hand gripped her shoulder and turned her around. Cold fear flooded her veins until she recognized who she was looking at.

"Oh crap! Marius! You scared the hell outta me! "

"Caoilte! I've been looking for you everywhere! Riley and Emily are being weird and kept saying that they don't even know you. What spell did you put on them?" Caoilte stood flabbergasted. How could he know she was magic?! She had hidden her magic well enough to fool the rest of them, so why not him too?!

"Spell?" she scoffed and tried to put on a confused, offended tone. "What do you think I am, magic or something? You have no clue what you're talking about!"

"I know exactly what I'm talking about, Faerie."

"SHHH!" she hissed, looking back and forth along the catwalks. "How do you know?!"

"Well, I can tell when there's a permanent magical imprint on someone, since I've been around magic my whole life." He whispered back to her. "I'm a squib." Caoilte's eyes widened in surprise.

"Really? Wow! But, if you don't mind my asking...why are you here?"

"Here as in the fly, or here as in the Opera house?" he lightly joked. "I was sent by the Ministry of Magic to investigate the Garnier. Something about ghostly readouts from the cellars."

"I thought muggles weren't allowed Ministry jobs! And it's based through England, what're you doing in France?"

"My family has friends in high places in the Ministry. We moved to France from London when I was a child, and—as I'm the only male out of my siblings—felt left out as my sisters were accepted to Beuxbatons and I knew I'd never be able to attend a magic school. They sent me back at 18, and got me a job at the Ministry."

"But that still doesn't say why you're here!"

"Let me get to that, impatient Fae," he laughed. "I was sent with a wizard Auror here to investigate the matters, and somehow we brought the spirit alive again. Now don't look at me like that! Neither of us had dabbled in dark magic in our lives, I swear." Here he dropped his voice lower, so that only the two of them could hear. "The ghost was already there, but only in its ethereal state. We had tried to reason with him, but he turned against us and tried to scare us away. Jones—the Auror—had cast some spell at the ghost, something to make it dissipate, but it somehow backfired and gave the spirit a body instead. He chased us and killed Jones. I only barely escaped with my life. He's the one who has been keeping you down there, hasn't he?"

"Wait a minute! So you're saying that the real Opera Ghost is alive again? The real Erik is keeping me hostage down in that hellhole across the lake?!" She tried to keep her voice low, but it disobediently rose as she got angrier. "Couldn't you have done something?!" Marius held his hands up in self-defense.

"Remember, I wasn't the one with the magic in that situation. I guess I could've tried fighting him off, but I probably would've been killed, too. So yes, if you want someone to blame about your predicament, blame me. It's my fault Erik is alive again."

"But...that can't be! This guy is just some delusional maniac! The real Erik would have to be over 150 by now! This guy doesn't look much older than you!" Marius shrugged. "And to top it all off, he doesn't even know who he is! When I try to ask his name, he always sidesteps the question. He thinks he's some kind of son or heir to the real Opera Ghost."

"If the spell backfired, it could've done other things as well. I don't know how it happened or why it happened—Jones was an expert spell-marksman—but maybe those were side effects. No, this is the real Erik, alive and in the flesh again. So how did you get away from him?"

"I...I convinced him to take me with him to do something. I ran away when he was preoccupied, delivering a letter or something to the manager. Went though the passages between the walls until I found this door." Marius shook his head with a serious frown.

"You shouldn't have done that. For whatever reasons he might have, he chose you. When he finds you again, he will be very angry at you, and will probably not permit you to leave again. If you want to stay alive, and I cannot stress this enough, do what he says."

"Then what am I supposed to do?" Caoilte threw her hands up in despair. "Just wait here until he comes to pick me up like a kindergartener from school?"

"That's one option," he chuckled and grinned at her analogy. "I think the best course of action would be to wait outside Christine's dressing room mirror."Caoilte raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms.

"It's the middle of the night. Riley and Emily would be sleeping. I'd need to sneak in there."

"Never stopped you before." He said with a smile. She sighed but smiled back.

"I guess I have no other choice, do I?"She asked, resigned to her fate.

"I don't think so. It'll be safer for all our sakes if you did this, including yours."

"You're probably right. And besides, at this moment, what have I got to lose?"

Marius nodded. "Come on. This is the way down." He led her down the staircases towards the wooden floorboards of the stage. Both were blissfully unaware of the looming shade that began to track and follow them in the darkness with bright yellow eyes.

AN: Read & Review, please! Reviews are the fuel to my creative fire, and the factory in my brain will churn out more chapters! :D