Friday, November 30, 2012

NaNoWriMo Update: *crash*

Grrrr.....I hate my own standards. What to do when you keep changing titles? What to do? Thinking it over, I'm not sure From the Ashes is the best I can do! *sniff* What now?

Your pal,

Thursday, November 29, 2012

NaNoWriMo Update: Excerpt #2

Here we go again! Here's a little something from the newly-revised (well, almost) From the Ashes. It seems I have a knack for dialogue; my readers seem to think so, at least. And this was so much fun to write, as it was full of dialogue between Erik, always a treat to interpret and quite the smooth talker here, and Vivienne, my own creation and my greatest writing achievement so far. The secret to dialogue is flow: it has to sound like natural conversation. With that in mind, have I succeeded?


I sat on the sofa after our lesson one day, watching him in his chair, his eyes riveted on the book he was reading. What I could see of his face was still and focused, those yellow eyes sliding back and forth as he read. One of his hands left its place supporting the book and turned the page. It was an odd thing, but I'd never realized just how beautiful a man's hands could be until I'd begun to study Erik's.
He sensed my scrutiny and looked up from the book. "What is it, Vivienne?" he asked.
"Nothing in particular," I replied. "I just like watching you. It's still strange to me, after knowing of you as the Phantom for so long, to actually know you as a human. Has anyone ever told you that you are a mesmerizing man?"
He laughed. "Never," he said. "And I never thought about it before, but now that you bring it up, I'm curious. Just how exactly am I mesmerizing?"
"The way you move, for one thing," I told him. "You have such grace in your movements that it's hard not to stare at you. I for one fail dismally at it. And your voice, Erik! Your voice was the very first thing that drew me to you, the very first time you ever spoke to me! And you just have this…aura around you, this elegance and mystery that's so magnetic. I couldn't imagine a more captivating man."
His smile was compelling and seductive, but his voice was kind and sweet. "Do you know what drew me to you?" he asked. "It was that fire in your soul. I noticed it that first morning you spent here. What binds you to me are the shadows around me; what binds me to you is your light."
"So in that sense, we complement each other," I said.
"You could say that," he replied. "Or you could say that's why we're always at odds with each other, you dear child."
"Child?" I repeated. "I'll have you know, monsieur, that I am a grown woman of the world and a former member of the ballet, and the Opera Garnier doesn't allow children in the chorus."
"A grown woman, you say?" he asked. "Just how old are you, mademoiselle?"
"Nineteen?" he said, laughing again. "My, my, you're quite ancient, aren't you? Why, you must have been there the day God created fire."
"Don't tease!"
"No, it makes sense. You were there when He created fire, and you took some of it into your spirit to keep with you forever. That's what makes you so ageless, my dear."
"Well then, just how old are you? You must have been there when God created night, to be so dark and mysterious all the time. Come on, monsieur, how old are you?"
"I'm old enough that I don't have to answer that question," he replied smugly. "That's my secret, little girl."
I got to my feet and stood before him with my hands on my hips. "Little girl?" I said. "Whatever happened to how ageless I am? I may be smaller than most women, monsieur, but I'm still a woman!"
"I have no doubt of that," he replied. "As I said, that fire within you is ageless."
That voice…was it so necessary for it to be so hypnotic? He leaned back in the chair, the book lying open on his knee, and his gaze held something akin to cockiness as he looked at me. His half-smile intrigued me, probably more than it should have. I paused momentarily in thought. Was he actually flirting with me?


Ah, I love these two! Is it wrong for me to be so biased? I created Vivienne, after all...

Your pal,

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NaNoWriMo Update: Excerpt #1

I've accepted that this project isn't going to get finished within the last few days of November, but if I can get it all done by New Year's, I'll have put in a valiant effort and I'll be satisfied.

First little tidbit for you! Just a short scene from chapter four of Maid of Iron and told in Constantine's point of view. You remember him, right? This chapter was one of my favorites, and made me realize just how much Jane Austen has served as an influence.


Well, lovers quarrel, I thought as I trudged back to Rosarian. I had decided to try again tomorrow, not because of the weather that had turned foul—it was pouring out enough rain to make another Lake of St. Francis—but because she probably wouldn’t even come to the door if I knocked again.
          We all gathered in the library after supper. Father was reading an old epic, Mother was working on her embroidery, and I was staring into the fire with Brennan snoring quietly at my feet.
          “Now, son, what have I told you about brooding?”
          I looked up. Father was ignoring his epic and watching me as intently as I had been watching the flames. “Did you go back to the smith’s today?” he asked.
          “Yes, I did,” I answered. “He said he would take the commission.”
          “That’s more like it,” he said. “But that’s not what’s on your mind. What are you thinking about?”
          “Anna,” I said dully.
          “Ah, your lass,” he replied.
          Mother looked up interestedly. “What lass?”
          “She’s not my lass,” I corrected. “But I’m trying to change that.”
          “Our boy’s in love, Winifred,” Father told her.
          “Why wasn’t I informed?” she asked.
          Father waved his hand carelessly. “Oh, you know young people,” he said airily. “They like to keep their secrets, at least for a while. Then the problem is getting them to talk about anything else.”
          “I actually do have a problem,” I confessed. “We’ve had an argument, and I’m trying to get back in her good graces, but nothing’s worked.”
          “And how many times have you tried to talk to her?” Father asked.
          “Twice!” he exclaimed. “You try twice and say nothing’s worked! Oh, son, you really should have studied battle strategy!”
          “It had occurred to me,” I muttered.
          Mother shook her head dismissively. “You men,” she said. “This isn’t warfare, it’s courtship.”
          “They seemed the same to me,” Father told her with a smile.
          “Really, Darius,” she chastised. “Constantine, try flowers. Young girls adore flowers.”
          “Flowers, eh?” I asked. I settled back into my chair and buried myself in my thoughts once more.

And now back to work we go!

Your pal,

Monday, November 26, 2012

Reviews From a Humble Book Nerd (The Eye of the World - Robert Jordan)

In which I take on another fantasy classic...

The Wheel of Times turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, and Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.


My review...

Oh dear. Add this to the list of authors Christopher Paolini ripped off for his Inheritance series, and do it fast. Seriously.

Moving away from that, I'm conflicted in regards to this book. It had a few things I genuinely liked, and a lot of things that I didn't. It had the absolute WORST prologue I've ever read, just pummeling you with names, places, events, incidents, ideas, histories, one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, and expecting you to somehow find some way to muddle through it before you even have a chance to dig into the story and the world that's being created. What sucks, though, is that it's a nice, vivid world that's being created. I expect it's like being pushed into a tank filled with sharks, jellyfish, electric eels and a giant squid to learn to swim...

I didn't finish this solely due to the pacing. I liked where Robert Jordan was going, but he really could have gotten there a lot faster (well, maybe he got there eventually, but I never found out about it). In all honesty, this could have been at least two hundred pages shorter if unnecessary speeches...*glares at Moiraine and Lan*...unnecessary journeys...*glares at Rand, Mat and Perrin*...and unnecessary exposition and descriptions...*glares at Jordan*...were cut. It all just seemed to be filled with a seemingly random string of events that just barely had a trace of plot to them, only remembering what plot was on occasion. In that, I was reminded strongly of The Phantom of Manhattan and Stone of Tears, and I really prefer not to remember those two. I had to deduct a lot of points for that.

But as I said, I'm conflicted, and I'll tell you why. The characters! Sure, they were a tad cardboard to me (how many times must I say it? Development with a capital D! Stereotypes won't cut it!), but I really liked Nynaeve, Moiraine, and Perrin. The rest were OK, but Mat started to bug me after keeping that stupid knife--and boy oh boy, was that part ever drawn out--and while I didn't stick around long enough to see more, I think I would have liked Elayne, Gawyn, and Loial. It's just...either too much happens all at once, or absolutely nothing happens for too long! It drove me bonkers!

I see there are plenty of other people who disagree with me, and I'll leave the majority of the complaining to the people who flat-out didn't like this, but I'll make it clear one more time. I did like certain parts of this book, and I might have finished it had it not taken me a month to get halfway through it only to stop and realize that I was having to make myself keep reading. I hate quitting on a book for any reason, but I also read for pleasure, and this one felt too much like a chore towards the end.

My apologies, Mr. Jordan. 

Your humble book nerd,

Sunday, November 25, 2012

NaNoWriMo Update: Even More Progress!

Well, I know at least one of you is curious about this one...may I present chapter one of The Phantom of the Chagnys?


The only light in the room came from the lamp on the dressing table; the candles were extinguished and the gas was turned down. There wasn't a soul in the little house except for Christine de Chagny—the maid had gone home for the night and Raoul was out walking. He didn't go out often, he'd mostly stayed inside since their return to Paris, but he always went out walking after they argued, like they had tonight.
They didn't often argue, Christine reflected sadly. As children in Perros they'd adored each other and would never have dreamed of fighting. Even in those dark days at the Opera House when there had been so much fear and uncertainty they hadn't really quarreled much. But it seemed that ever since they'd bought the little house in the Rue de Rivoli, it didn't take much to spark an argument between them. Mostly they argued about silly things married couples often argue about, but tonight it was more serious. As Renée, the maid, went to leave, there it was on the doorstep—a single red rose tied with a black silk ribbon.
It wasn't the first time such tokens had been found outside, and the Chagnys knew there was only one place it could have come from. It had been left by the one person they'd both tried to forget for the past three years.
After the disastrous premiere of Don Juan Triumphant and the scene at the house on the lake, Raoul and Christine had eloped to her native Sweden, hoping to leave the past behind them. They'd shed the name de Chagny, calling themselves M. and Mme. Lachenel. They'd
settled in Uppsala as a simple, newlywed couple seeking their fortune elsewhere, and for a while they succeeded.
Christine sat at the table and smiled to herself. It had been wonderful to return to the place she'd been born, where she and her father had traveled from fair to fair, he with his violin and she with her voice. For a while, she and Raoul had known happiness there.
But then, even in her homeland, Christine began to grow homesick. Just as Daddy Daaé had longed for Sweden while he was in France, so Christine now longed for France while she was in Sweden. Sweden belonged to the past. Sweden could never be home again.
Raoul, Heaven bless him, hadn't minded leaving. "We can go anywhere, Christine," he'd said. "Anywhere you like, so long as we're together."
So one year after arriving, they sold the house in Uppsala and went to the French coast in Brittany, near Perros.
Six wonderful months went by, during which they lived as though they were children again. They relived all their old memories: going for picnics, reading to each other, and listening to the villagers' stories. They'd been right to leave Sweden, they agreed. This was their home. They certainly felt more carefree and untroubled here, and everyone who saw them remarked what a charming, innocent couple they were.
But as it had in Sweden, the nostalgia began to wear on Christine. She and Raoul had been children here, and they couldn't be children again. France wasn't enough after all. She wanted Paris.
She sighed and reached for her hairbrush. She ran it slowly through her gleaming brown curls that still had streaks of summer gold running through them. Her sapphire eyes, usually sparkling, were slightly dimmed as she remembered those conversations.
Raoul didn't want to go back to Paris. "We're happy here," he'd said. "There are good memories here. There's nothing in Paris but darkness."
"Raoul, dear boy," she'd replied, "you don't know what other memories this place has for me. My father died here, and I feel like he's still here. After everything that's happened, I think I need to learn to let him go."
She hadn't needed to elaborate. They both knew what her clinging to her father's memory had done in the past. But still, Raoul stood his ground.
"Why Paris?" he'd asked. "We can go to Reims, or Nice, or to Brest. I have an aunt there; she practically raised me."
So they tried Brest, and Reims, and Nice, but after a year of moving from one city to the next, Raoul had given in, however reluctantly, and they'd bought the house in the business district in the Rue de Rivoli, where they'd been living for the past four months.
A noise outside the window made Christine start, the brush falling from her hand and landing on the floor with a soft thump against the rug. She bent to pick it up again, then sat motionless, listening intently. Around her, all was silence.
After several moments, she began to work at her hair again. It was probably just a cat. There were several strays running about; she often heard them fighting at night. Indeed, now she could hear a duet of mewling voices, sounding so much like strange, eerie singing.
The Rue de Rivoli was only a few streets away from the Avenue de l'Opéra. She'd been drawn towards it, even while Raoul had begged her that they find a house on the other side of the city. They'd avoided the Faubourg Saint-Germain, and stayed away from public places religiously, as they were both famous enough in Paris to be recognized instantly among the right crowds, but Christine couldn't stay away from the Opera House.
It was natural she'd be drawn to the place, she told herself. It had been her home since Daddy Daaé had died. Not three days after moving into their new house, she'd wrapped her face in a veil like Scheherazade and went back to the theater.
On the night of Don Juan Triumphant, she had seen only a brief glimpse of the crystal chandelier's descent from the ceiling, but Raoul had told her that its crash to the floor had started a fire. The damage had been repaired since then, and the Opera House looked as magnificent as ever.
She'd paused outside the building, looking up at Apollo and Pegasus perched on the roof. She'd fled there with Raoul the night Carlotta lost her voice and Joseph Buquet was hanged...
Heart pounding, she'd climbed the steps and went inside.
She replaced the hairbrush on the table and rose from her chair. How long had Raoul been out? It seemed like she'd been alone in the house for hours. Her eyes fell on the rose Renée had found outside.
She couldn't forget the look on the girl's face when she brought the rose to her. It was bewildered, startled, curious, and slightly fearful. Christine well remembered those feelings. They'd taken hold of her every time the Angel of Music left similar roses in her dressing room.
Her hand had trembled as she reached for the rose, but before she could take it Raoul had snatched it and thrown it aside.
"That will be all for the night, Renée," he said. "You may go now."
Renée nodded, murmured, "Bonsoir, monsieur, madame," and left the house.
Christine silently braced herself for what was coming. They’d been through it several times already, ever since her first visit to the Opera House. The morning after she'd gone, she'd found the first rose outside.
At first she could hardly believe her eyes. It must have had something to do with her trip back to his former empire. She'd somehow stepped back through time and was no longer in the Rue de Rivoli, but in her dressing room, after the gala performance, perhaps. She'd touched the ribbon hesitantly, then looked around her. It was early morning, and she was outside the front door of the house she shared with Raoul. Then she'd looked back at the rose. If she was in the Rue de Rivoli, then the rose couldn't be real. It just wasn't possible.
She'd gone to Raoul as if in a trance, holding the rose out before her. Her eyes were anxious as she presented it to him, half hoping he would tell her she was dreaming. But no; she knew as his own eyes grew wide with shock that she wasn't. The rose was real.
That first rose inspired disbelief. The second had filled them both with fear. But by the time they'd found the third, Raoul's fear had been replaced with anger. He'd known all along they shouldn't have come to Paris. How could they possibly leave the past behind them as long as they remained in this blasted city? And as rose followed rose, it only got worse. It was always arguments like those that made Christine thankful for her own separate bedroom and dressing room, where she could escape and think without Raoul’s diatribes about phantoms.
So she had stood there, preparing herself for the rant brought on by this latest flower—the rash words, the wild insinuations, and the furious assertions that they never should have returned to this godforsaken city.
But Raoul had surprised her this time. After casting the rose away, he'd only watched her for a minute or two, then he'd gotten his coat and hat and went out.
Christine slowly crossed the room and picked up the discarded rose, the sign that he was always there watching her, the proof that the past is never really gone, never forgotten, but always with us. Sometimes we carry our memories around like a stick to lean on or a spare glove in case we happen to lose one while we're out; sometimes our memories follow us silently, always stealing up behind us when we're not looking and reminding us that they are still there.
That's what he's doing, Christine told herself. He's making sure we never forget him, and if this keeps up we never will.
Maybe Raoul was right. Maybe it was a mistake to come back here.
She bit her lip in a moment of indecision, then threw the rose into the waste basket.
In the silence she heard the scrape of a key in a lock and the rattle of a doorknob. She inhaled sharply, startled out of her own unsettled thoughts. He's here, part of her whispered. He's come back for me.
There were footsteps in the foyer, rather quiet footsteps that in the stillness sounded like hammers driving nails into the paneled floors. She could picture him searching the house, his yellow eyes burning in the darkness as he hunted for her, his long cloak billowing behind him like a storm cloud, his deathly face hidden beneath his mask...
The footsteps came closer, approaching her dressing room. She could barely breathe as she backed away from the door, half thinking she should bolt through the adjoining door into her bedroom and lock it. The steps were right outside, there was no time left, the door was opening—
She gave a small scream and Raoul stepped back in shock. He recovered quickly, then went to her, concerned.
"What's wrong, Christine?" he asked. "Why did you scream?"
She sighed deeply and said, "I didn't mean to, you just scared me. I didn't know you were out there."
"I'm sorry," he said contritely. "I didn't mean to scare you. Were you in here daydreaming again?"
She shrugged a shoulder. "Something like it, I suppose. I've been uneasy since you left."
He saw the rose in the basket but didn't comment on it. He only kissed her on the forehead and said, "Well, I'm back now, and everything's all right. My poor Christine, you're still so pale! Let me get you a drink of water."
He left the room and she smiled after him. He still doted on her the way he had in Perros all those years ago.
There was a rustle outside, as if something were hiding in the bushes beneath her window. Those cats! Couldn't they ever be quiet?
She went to the window and threw it open to shoo them away, but it wasn't cats she saw. Instead, there was a great, dark shape, like the tall and lean figure of a man. She gave an audible gasp and the figure turned for an instant before darting away like a shadow.
She could have convinced herself it was a shadow, except she'd seen two eyes blazing like coals, burning into her before turning away.
The past is never gone, and never forgotten. The past was still with Christine de Chagny; it sent her roses and lurked outside her window. She stood there frozen, half leaning out of it, and whispered the name she hadn't uttered, even to herself, in three years:

Ta da!

Your pal,

Friday, November 23, 2012

NaNoWriMo Update: More Progress!

Yadda yadda yadda, I have another first chapter for you! The revised first chapter of From the Ashes, all new and improved! (Be warned, Phantom-y stuff, a scene of violence, and mature content ahead...)


"Don't come back until you've earned enough for a decent meal!"
My uncle's voice chased me out of the house, but I didn't leave yet. I waited patiently for my aunt to appear at the door with the usual bundle that I took whenever I was forced to scrounge for money. Inside, I heard the sound of a bottle smash against a wall, and I sighed heavily. Uncle hadn't been the same since the fire.
Life wasn't always like this. Uncle used to be a violist in the orchestra at the Opera Garnier, and I myself used to be a ballerina. The fire that destroyed the Opera House nearly two years ago turned our world upside down. Too proud to fall from a musician to a laborer and on too friendly of terms with cognac as it was, Uncle started drinking even more, and he was no longer the kind, jovial man who'd taken me in when my parents died under the Commune. He was bitter, angry, and sometimes abusive toward my aunt and me. He never raised a hand to us, but he made my aunt take in laundry for money and hurt her with cruel words, and he made me go out into the streets to earn whatever I could in whatever manner.
My aunt, however, would go so far as to smuggle me out some boy's clothes and Uncle's viola when I left. Back in a happier time, he'd taught me to play a little, and if I stood on a street corner, dressed as a boy playing for spare coins, it meant that I wouldn't have to sell my body so we could eat.
The front door opened again and my aunt appeared. She handed me the clothes and Uncle's viola, safe in its case. "Be very careful, Vivienne," she told me. "Your uncle would be angry if something happened to his viola."
"I know, aunt," I said. It was a risk taking it out of the house anyway, considering my uncle had no knowledge of it, but I refused to become a prostitute and my aunt, thankfully, didn't expect me to. I kissed her goodbye, then hurried off. If I was lucky, I'd be back before dark.
I found somewhere out of sight to change out of my dress, tucking my long auburn hair up under a cap and using long strips of linen to bind down my breasts. When I first started doing this, I'd been terrified someone would see through my disguise, but I'd learned since that people only see what they expect to. If I looked the part, no one would suspect that the small boy was really a young woman.
Appropriately attired, I took the viola and found a corner that was reasonably busy. The secret was getting a place where people would be sure to hear me, but where I ran the least risk of being shooed off or worse by a policeman, or of being robbed by some ruffian. I tuned the instrument, rosined the bow, set it to the strings, and began to play. I was by no means talented, but I had some skill, enough that every now and then someone would stop and listen and maybe even throw some coins into the open case at my feet. I'd always smile at them, then keep playing. If I encouraged them enough with my smile, sometimes they'd give me more money. I'd learned how to work a crowd long ago in the corps de ballet, and my experience served me well as a street musician.
I stood on the corner all day, until the sun began to set and I guessed I'd taken enough money to pay for our dinner. I put the viola back in the case, scooping the money out and stowing it in a pouch in my pocket. Then I headed off for home, taking my usual detour past the burnt-out Opera House.
The building looked ghostly in the gloom, a fitting kingdom for the phantom who had been said to live there. I'd never given credence to the stories the other ballet girls loved to share like the truffles they insisted would ruin their figures, but on the night of the fire, I'd seen him for myself from my place in the wings. He'd snuck onstage to join Christine Daaé in a duet destined to bring the house down—literally. When my former ballet comrade ripped away the mask he wore, the auditorium had filled with screams at the sight of his face, though that was the one thing I hadn't caught a glimpse of. It must have been terrible by the way everyone shrieked and gasped, yet they soon forgot all about it as the chandelier plunged from the ceiling, the gas lamps that lit it exploded, and the body of Ubaldo Piangi was discovered backstage. When the fire broke out, my only thought was of finding my uncle and getting out alive. We joined the stampede for the exits, Uncle still clutching his precious viola, and we stood out on the street watching our world burn, fearing what the future would hold in store.
It holds this, I told myself. Masquerading every day and practically begging on a street corner. Ah, well, at least we weren't starving and I wasn't forced to the indignity of selling myself for survival. I'd prided myself on being one of the few ballet rats who didn't flirt with the stagehands and fornicate with the subscribers. I might have been a lowly chorus girl, but I still had my self-respect.
I sighed and turned away from the Opera House. It was getting darker, and I still needed to buy food for the night before going home. I fished the money pouch out of my pocket and began to count my earnings.
"I'll take that, my good son."
I gasped at the sudden, gruff voice and the hand that snatched my money from me. "Give that back!" I demanded, knowing it was as good as useless. The man just chuckled, his grimy hands closing tightly over the little pouch. He was taller than me, broader, and much stronger. I couldn't hope to take my money back from him. His eyes darted down to the case in my hand and he said, "Now what's in here, boy?" He yanked the case out of my grip, and this time I struggled desperately to get it back. If I went home without the viola, Uncle would surely turn me out of the house.
"Give it back!" I cried. "Give it back!" I kicked at him and swung my arms wildly, but one blow from his fist knocked me to the ground and my cap fell off, my long hair tumbling down onto my shoulders.
I heard the man's surprised exclamation with a thrill of horror. My worst fear, realized. Someone had seen me for the fraud I was.
"Well, now," he said, his voice amused and intrigued, "what have we here, mon cher? A girl?"
I scrambled to my feet and tried to run, but he grabbed my arm in a vice-like grip and breathed into my ear, "What kind of strumpet tries to pass herself off as a boy? There are so much more profitable things you could do with your time, my sweet."
"Let me go!" I screamed. "Please, let me go!"
He dropped the viola and the money and clapped his hand over my mouth. He dragged me over to a shadowy recess near the Opera House where no one could see us and forced me up against the wall. Keeping one hand over my mouth so I couldn't cry for help, he tore at the waist of my boy's trousers. I fought tooth and nail to get free, but he was so much stronger than I was. I closed my eyes tightly and tried to take my mind away from this dark street, but I felt the tears force themselves from beneath my eyelids. Nineteen years of carefully preserving my innocence, and it would all end with this.
There was a terrible pain between my legs, and through it I could feel my attacker inside me. I couldn't breathe, I was so choked by stifled sobs. I could hear him breathing, grunting, laughing to himself at my helplessness. Please, God, let it be over soon, I prayed. Please, just let it be over.
Finally, I felt the man pull away from me. The pain in my body was too much; my legs folded beneath me and I fell in a heap to the ground. "There, now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" he asked, then he spat at me. I looked up to see him return to the fallen money and Uncle's viola, pick them up, then walk away.
I was shaking so badly I could hardly get my trousers up again, and when I was decent I collapsed in shame and despair. I couldn’t stand, the pain still too great to let me. My only thought was, What will Uncle say when he finds I lost his viola?
The sobs burst from me then. I couldn't go home. I couldn't face my aunt and uncle and tell them what had happened. I crawled across the ground to a gate that led under the Opera and pushed on it. It swung open with an earsplitting whine; I pulled myself through to the darkness beyond and gave myself over to my tears.

I sat staring at the music before me, but I couldn't bring myself to play. What was the use, I asked myself, when the heart and soul had been stolen away from me, when the music itself no longer held any comfort? She'd taken it with her when she left me that night two years ago. Had it only been two years? It had seemed like a lifetime.
I sighed, then swept my hand out and sent the music fluttering to the floor. There was no use in playing, no use in breathing, no use at all. Why I'd let myself go on for this long was beyond me, telling myself that perhaps the music would save me again, like it had in the past. Only now did I see the truth: Music couldn't save me any more than it could change my face, the face that had driven her away from me. I hung my head. "Christine," I whispered. "Christine..."
I stayed there for the longest time, her name still on my lips, when a new sound reached me—the metallic shriek of rusty hinges, then the weeping of a heart lost to sorrow. If it weren't for the sound of the hinges, I might have believed that the weeping was the sound of my own broken heart, but I knew otherwise. Someone was in the Opera.
Getting to my feet, I crept through my house and went to the edge of the lake. I could hear it clearer now. There was someone crying on the far shore.
With a curse, I climbed into the boat I'd recovered after Christine and her vicomte left and began to row. Since the fire, people had been sneaking into my Opera House, curious and eager to see where the notorious Phantom had made his empire. A few simple tricks were enough to drive most of them away: a disembodied voice in the darkness, a falling backdrop for the ones who made it backstage, a glimpse of movement in the shadows for those who still weren't convinced there was anything to fear from ghosts. Only a handful had ever penetrated to the lake, forcing the lock on the gate from the Rue Scribe, and I'd had to be harsh with them. The siren had sung on several occasions, and the Punjab lasso had seen some work. I knew exactly how to deal with this new intruder.
I lit on the bank without a sound and leaped from the boat, readying the lasso in my hands as I went. I approached with silent footsteps, closing in on the crying person. Tears wouldn't help them now. They had dared to disturb me in my misery, they had wanted to see the face of the damned, and their curiosity had damned them in return.
Light from the street fell upon the figure, face down on the ground and sobbing as though the world had ended. It was the sound that filled my mind during my waking hours and even my dreams when I could bear to sleep. My hands slackened their grip on the rope...
No, no mercy. It was mercy that had let Christine leave me in this hell. I was done with mercy.
I stepped forward and stopped again. I could see a long mane of dark red hair, like a cascade of fire. This intruder was a woman, and she lay at my feet, heedless that her end was approaching, defenseless like my other victims, probably not even caring.
I lowered the rope again. What was the matter with me? She was an intruder, she needed to be taken care of!
She suddenly looked up around her, finally sensing my presence, and her eyes fell on me for a moment before she lost consciousness.
I stood indecisively. I should kill her and get it over with right now, but something in the way she'd cried seemed to bind her to me. She had known suffering like mine; only one who had felt such utter heartbreak could recognize it in another.
Erik, you're losing your grip, I told myself, yet I knelt down and scooped her into my arms, carrying her to the boat and heading back to my house. The lasso I left lying on the bank where I'd found her.

How's that one?

Your pal,