A/N: My apologies for the lengthy delay. I have no real excuses, only a new job, a new partner and far too many veterinary emergencies. But I'm back! With Chapter 27 in tow.

Hope all of you are enjoying the summer holidays. Out of curiosity, how many of you are on Tumblr? I'd love to follow you.

As always, I do not own the rights to Erik (Phantom), Christine, Nadir, Raoul or Meg.

Chapter Twenty-Seven – Monday, July 25, 2011

"Andrew Warner, ex-vocalist, unleashes secrets from the Fifth Cellar." Iron Hammer Magazine. Vol. 12, Issue 85. July 24, 2011.

The Fifth Cellar, the UK's premier power metal act, has seen some dramatic changes in its line-up over the past several months.

Last year, frontwoman Carmen Guidicelli was dismissed from the band and her letter of termination was posted to the band's website. Guidicelli was replaced this spring by Canadian newcomer Christine Daaé, a classically-trained soprano with no touring experience. In the last month, bassist Edward Gladstone and vocalist Andrew Warner quit the band; both musicians cited escalating difficulties with the group's reclusive keyboardist Erik Desrochers as the reason for their resignations.

Iron Hammer Magazine writer Mark Simms caught up with Warner while he was on vacation in Los Angeles following his recent split with the band. The singer was reluctant to discuss rumours of a relationship between Guidicelli and himself, but became passionate when describing the band's creative process and the reasons for its recent difficulties.

IHM: Welcome to Los Angeles, have you been here before?

AW: Yeah, The Fifth Cellar stopped here a couple world tours back and I expect that what's left of the band will be holding to their planned gigs here this fall. It's a great metal town, LA. So much of the American scene came from here – GnR [Guns n Roses], that whole glam metal thing, David Lee Roth. Big bleached hair and tight trousers. That whole crazy shit, you know?

IHM: The Fifth Cellar is scheduled to play in the city this September. What can we expect from the group, after so many line-up changes?

AW: [laughs] Not much, really. I hate to be a cocky bastard, but you can't expect the band to be in top form after losing Carmen, Edward, and me. Christine's a fair singer, but she's still learning the fan culture, the stage moves. And without a frontman, they'll have to change their whole routine. Either get Christine to carry them, or find some other bloke to step in.

IHM: Couldn't Erik Desrochers replace you as the band's frontman? He took that role in the band's early days.

AW: Yeah, he did. And it was an awfully good publicity stunt, I reckon.

IHM: Publicity stunt? Can you explain?

AW: I prolly shouldn't be telling you this – label's secrecy and all – but I did most of the writing and the studio work while I was with the band. Having Desrochers on board as "the man behind the curtain" got a lot of attention from the critics when the band was starting out. After I was hired on, the label wanted to keep him on, to keep some of the mystique, you know?

IHM: You're telling me that you've been The Fifth Cellar's primary songwriter for the last three years?

AW: I am.

IHM: Amazing. What's it like to write songs for The Fifth Cellar? How do you come up with your albums?

AW: It's a bit cliché, really, but loads of my ideas come from dreams. Just the other night, I had one about Alice in Wonderland as an amusement park. There was a batty old woman running about with a big clock and a bunch of theme park goers lined up to ride The Rabbit Hole, which was a big coaster. I think it'd make for a good album concept.

IHM: If The Fifth Cellar was largely your project, why did you choose to leave?

AW: It was all too much, y'know? Desrochers was keen on keeping a tight grip on everyone, doing the same sort of albums over and over, and I wanted to do something new. To expand creatively. It was almost impossible to get any new ideas through the band and the managers. Carmen, she's always shared my vision for what The Fifth Cellar could be.

IHM: There has been some speculation amongst fans on Twitter and Facebook that you've become involved with Carmen Guidicelli. Is this true?

AW: That's no one's f-ing business! Shite. Does anyone ask you who you're shagging these days? I expect not. Don't ask, don't tell. The Americans have it bloody right.

Christine had read enough. Frustrated with Andrew's lies, she crumpled the article and lobbed the rough paper sphere into the nearest trash can.

Two days after the Montreal show, Richard had handed copies of the article to each of the band members. In stunned silence, the four of them had read through the interview. From his seat at the front of the tour bus, Nadir swore loudly in Persian, a language only Erik understood. The composer had declined to translate.

"That bugger!" Michael muttered from the back of the coach. Before picking up the article, he'd been tapping away at a practice pad, perfecting rhythms for a composition Erik had begun to work on that required dozens of shifts in time signature. After reading the interview, the drummer's sticks had thumped harder, letting the practice pad feel the brunt of his frustration.

Only Erik was quiet. His fists were tightly clenched and Christine knew that he would carry the afternoon's tension into the date they'd planned tonight. The tour had brought the couple back to Toronto – the city of their first kiss, where it had all begun – and, after tonight's show at the Opera House, Christine had planned to take Erik to an unassuming restaurant in Little Italy.

After the show in Montreal, Christine was craving more time to explore her changed relationship with Erik. In the Quebec capital, the new couple had stayed out for most of the night, ducking in and out of coffee houses and strolling through darkened parkettes. They'd ended the night in a well-worn pub on Rue Saint-Catherine where they'd shared stories and confessions between sips of hibiscus-spiced craft beer. She'd lost count of the number of times they'd kissed and held hands.

A blissful interlude. And now this.

"What are we going to do about this rubbish?" Nadir asked, looking to Erik for an answer.

Erik remained quiet.

"Tell it all and tell it fast," Christine supplied, recalling the mantra her father had repeated during bouts of negative media attention. "We tell our version of the band's history. A tell-all of sorts. We've got the label's backing, right Richard?"

"Of course," the manager sniffed. "I suppose we could share some of the early material we have –sound tests, audition tapes, contracts and the like. You'd have a good legal case – for libel and defamation – but I don't know if it'd be enough for the fans."

"Wouldn't be enough?" Christine repeated, not understanding. The record label had everything they needed to prove that Erik had always led the Fifth Cellar's creative efforts. Erik was the composer, the designer, the wizard behind the curtain...

Behind the curtain. Christine understood now. "Without Erik onstage, some of the fans won't buy it. They'll think it's part of the ruse."

"Exactly," Richard said, looking to Erik with anticipation.

"I won't do it," the composer said, clenching his hands into fists and rising from his seat.

"But, Erik!" Christine cried. "You'll just let him steal credit for your work?"

"If that's what it takes to keep my privacy, then yes," he answered, stalking towards the back of the tour bus.

"Wait – let's discuss this," Richard said.

"Don't follow," Erik answered, ending the discussion with a low growl.

Christine didn't understand. She'd seen his face. He was an ugly man to be sure, but they weren't asking for the audience to see his face, just the performer. Just Erik. He could wear his flesh-coloured mask if it mattered so much to him. The fans would love him – who couldn't, she thought – and their performances would be spectacular. The Fifth Cellar would play its best shows yet, unencumbered by Carmen's shrill demands or Andrew's ploys to upstage the others.

Erik needed The Fifth Cellar. And, right now, The Fifth Cellar needed him.

Unable to accept a terse "no" for an answer, Christine followed Erik to the back of the tour bus, stumbling as the bus turned sharp corners near the city's centre. A particularly sharp lurch sent her elbow crashing into the side of Erik's bunk.

"Ergh," she exclaimed as a current of pain rippled through her left arm.

"What happened? Are you all right?" Erik asked, rising from his position on the bunk.

"I'm fine, just bruised," Christine answered, holding out her arm for inspection. Erik's cool fingers ran over her left arm and elbow, assessing the joint for damage. "I wish you wouldn't hide back here, though. It's a perilous business going after you."

"I'm not hiding," he said, keeping a loose grip on her left hand.

"Sure you are. You're hiding from the world, from the band, you're hiding from me. Let's talk through this, Erik. Don't shut me out."

"There's nothing to talk about," Erik protested. "You of all people should understand. You've seen my face. You know why I hide."

"No one's asking for you to reveal your face Erik. We just want you to take your place on stage, show the fans what you can do. You're so talented. It breaks my heart to see you ducking behind stage props when you could be at the front of the stage – with me – showing the world what you're capable of."

"Christine, I can't."

"You can, Erik, you've just decided that you won't."

"Christine," he whispered, grasping her fingers in a tight squeeze. "Please, let this go."

She considered his plea for a moment, weighing the consequences, both positive and negative, of letting Erik have his own way or of persuading him to leave the safety of the shadows. Their relationship was still new, and so many boundaries were untested. Having him perform onstage would be the best case scenario for the band and, Christine guessed, for Erik too. But, if she and the others pushed him too far, there was a risk of raising his ire and driving him further into the background, or out of the band altogether. The Fifth Cellar had already lost its frontman and its bassist. They couldn't afford to lose their keyboardist and composer as well.

And, if she was to be honest with herself, Christine was afraid to lose Erik. The new couple had only just begun to forge a fragile bond and to understand each other's motives and priorities. Calling Erik her boyfriend felt juvenile and the word partner felt terse and clinical. Erik was her mentor, her friend, her confidante and now her lover. She needed him, more than she wanted to admit. If she kept him close and didn't push, then perhaps, perhaps he'd let her linger in his life a little longer.

"You win this time, Erik," she said, conceding to him. "But, please, do give this some more thought."

The composer frowned slightly but pulled her forward and into his arms nonetheless. Placing her hands on his chest for support, Christine kissed Erik, moulding her body to his and sliding her hands upwards to wrap around his neck.

"I love you," he said, breathing the words into her hair.

"I love you too," she said, letting her attention stay with the arresting man in her arms and banishing all thoughts of the band, of Andrew and of the press.

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