"Shadow of God… your magician has turned up his nose at the girl you presented him."

The Shah of Persia's bloated head snapped up, black eyes like burning coals in his anger. "What?" he snarled. The greatest gift he could have presented the prideful, masked man was a virginal girl from the harem to claim as his wife… and the despicable skeleton thought he could just send her back?

The khanum, on the other hand, was perfectly calm, perfectly silent. She had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from smirking; Erik would never accept a random, spineless girl from the harem into his bed… he needed a woman who could combat his influence, competence, and burning temper. She had yet to coax him to sleep with her, but soon… soon…

"Let me take care of the girl, my son," she said in her tranquil-yet-dreadful way, "I will see to it that she gets what she deserves for proving so… useless to my Angel of Doom."

"Your Majesty, please…" the messenger began boldly, "the man said himself that he was incapable of using her, that she should not be hurt—"

"You dare defy my wishes?" she shrieked in anger, "bring her to my glorious torture chamber immediately!"

The messenger's olive face paled, and he quickly scuttled from the room to do the khanum's bidding. She sat back in her jewel-encrusted throne contently, plotting on how to lour the strange, masked genius under her employment to her bedroom.

"And good riddance…" her son grumbled, yellow teeth grit in his displeasure, "she was one of the best of her training group. And he just casts her aside, to a death in his own torture chamber!"

"He didn't want her hurt, my love, you heard his plead. He won't attend her execution," the khanum replied coolly, greatly displeased with this fact.

"I see…" the shah continued thoughtfully, and the khanum could practically feel the rusty wheels of his mind turning.

"What troubles your sweet mind, Your Highness?" she asked him with a shallow coo: a tone which was only ever used when dealing with the eccentric ideas of her useless son.

"Just that… he tried to save her. He believed it not her fault, but some fault of his own. Perhaps he thought her just not right for him," the shah explained slowly, stringing words together as they popped into his head.

The khanum thought of her recent classification of the sort of woman Erik and his long, sensual hands needed—essentially, her, despite their thirty year age gap—and smirked. "I would have to agree, my son," she replied casually.

"But he still must have a wife… but a wife of his race, not ours!" the shah was growing more and more delighted with his brilliant plan, struggling out of his throne to stand and pace sluggishly, "a wife of his Christian belief, who he could celebrate those musical masses he composes with… a wife born of a place he knows, calls close to home… a wife tailored perfectly to his strange, alien needs…"

The khanum found herself gripping the glittering arms of her chair. What was this foolish little buffoon thinking! Erik didn't need any more wives thrown at him, any pretty little flowers of his age to amuse him in the night! He needed to spend those nights slaving away on how to amuse her with tortures and tricks! "Son—" she began sternly, in a tone that had never before failed to stop him in his fantasies. But he didn't seem to hear her, now.

"That's it, the greatest gift of all for all the pleasures he has brought us. A wife of Europe. An imported of woman to be married to him in the traditional ways of his people!" he culminated with glee, clapping his fat hands together. But then his thick black brow furrowed, and he sank back into his seat as if the burden of thinking had taken out his knees. "But how to select such a girl, out of all those living in that great unknown… I'll need men to scout, to find the perfect girl… someone no one will miss when we whisk her away… someone who won't so easily cower when she sees that wretched face of his," he mumbled, wincing as he thought of the tear-stained, hysterical girl he'd gifted to his masked magician.

"You think you're going to just send a legion off into Europe to carry away some poor child completely unnoticed?" the khanum snarled, "I will not allow it! This is outrageous; Erik has everything he needs right here!"

But the shah's word was law. And, without Erik's knowledge, that very legion of fearless, ruthless Persian seekers was sent out into Europe but a few days later.

A/N: Hello readers! Thank you for taking the time to read the first chapter of "The Shah's Gift" (since I, in a moment of vast uncreativeness, couldn't come up with a better title). ;)

I just finished reading Susan Kay's Phantom, and LOVE LOVE LOVEd it. I mean, it's a lifechanger for phans, people. But it really got me thinking, especially after I read her author's note… what did she mean by "other romantic relationships" before Christine came along?

Had Erik fallen in love before? Or simply wallowed through the years until he met his Christine? That's what I explored here… I really hope you like it enough to stick with it for a while and see what lies in wait for whatever poor European girl is brought before the feet of our great, corpse-like genius!

Your Obedient and Humble Servant (meaning review or PM me if you have any ideas, comments, or suggestions; I'm always open to new ideas! :D ),