|Summary:||In which the agents face the Music of the Night.|
|Source:||"Never Let Go" by Serena221b, a.k.a. Diantha17 and amhanna.|
|Continuum:||The Phantom of the Opera.|
|Timeline:||The same day as "Morning After."|
|Published:||June 4, 2015.|
|Rating:||PG-13/T - Math is important. If you don't do it, you get implied statutory rape and preteen pregnancy.|
|Betas:||Phobos and SeaTurtle with domirossi as additional French language consultant.|
There was a flash of blue light, and two figures appeared on the biggest dock in Barcelona, circa 1905. A few people glanced their way, but went back to their business just as quickly: by their plain, dark clothes and the sledgehammer slung at the tall one's hip, the pair were only workers. There was no reason for anyone to take time out of their own busy day to give them a second glance.
This was fortunate, because the pair might have stuck out just a little upon closer inspection. The short, sullen one with pale skin and a dark red braid was clearly not a native Spaniard. She was also a woman, and folding her arms over the best binding job in the world couldn't quite hide that fact.
The tall one had a darker complexion and might have fit in on looks alone, but even pulling the brim of his cap down as far as it would go couldn't shade his face enough to hide all his scars. In some places, facial scars wouldn't have elicited much beyond shock followed by passing pity or disgust, but here, in this corner of the multiverse, he couldn't be too sure. He looked around warily for a full minute, gauging the crowd, before feeling satisfied that he wasn't attracting any attention.
He turned to his companion. "Are you going to sulk for the entire mission?"
Gall stood in the same position, arms folded and glaring at him. "I'm not sulking. I'm angry."
Derik sighed and put a hand to his forehead, then gestured at their surroundings. "Look around you. This is Earth. There are no dragons here, not in this universe. I told you the options, and you chose—correctly—to leave him behind. Let it go."
"Just because I picked the least lame of two lame choices doesn't mean I'm not going to be pissed about it. Once again, you disappoint me with your lameness."
"In your words, I'm just a one-eyed old man. Get used to disappointment." He turned away from her and looked out toward the Mediterranean Sea. A ship was docking. He pointed it out to Gall. "Our target's on that vessel. Can you do your job, or not?"
She sneered at him. "Of course I can. I'm not going to give up hunting freaks just because my partner is an officious ass." Her expression shifted to one of resignation. She heaved a breath and dropped her arms to her sides. "So fill me in already. What's the deal with this world, besides being totally dragonless and uncool?"
Derik watched the ship and thought about how to respond. "I don't know if I can explain it. The appeal to Sues is the characters, their tragedy and their romance."
Predictably, Gall reacted with a gagging noise.
Derik rolled his eyes. "So you see, I'm not sure you would understand. I can tell you this, though: we shouldn't be here. No version of the story is set in Spain, and by this time the main character should be dead, or at least on another continent. But Intel says he turns up." Warily, he scanned the crowd again. "We can't let him see us."
"The Phantom of the Opera."
There was a pause between the agents, the sort one might expect to be filled with a dramatic music cue, lightning flash, and/or maniacal laughter, but there was nothing. The noise of the docks flowed around them unabated.
"Oookaaay," said Gall. "Paranoid much? I never thought you'd be scared of anything, let alone some ghost or whatever."
"I'm not—" Derik caught himself with a grimace. Denying that he was scared would be as good as admitting it. "He isn't a ghost, he's a man. One that I would simply prefer to avoid, if possible, so please try to be discreet."
"I can do discreet. Who says I can't?" Gall folded her arms again.
He didn't bother answering. The ship had moored, and a gangplank was extended. A PPC crash dummy in the shape of a dark-haired girl in a mask stepped onto the dock. She was immediately welcomed by a Spaniard who offered to carry her bags.
"And there she is." Derik's lip curled in disgust. "Not one full minute in a new country, and she's got some poor fool fawning over her."
"I'm Francesco Gonsales. What is your name?" Francesco asked. "Janessa Detris. It is very nice to meet you." I said. "And you as well. Is this your first time in Spain?" he asked. "As a matter of fact, it is. I'm actually from Paris, France." I said. "That is not surprising. A lady as beautiful as yourself must be from Paris." he said. I blushed just a little bit.
"Not that anyone could tell, what with the mask and all," grumbled Derik. He took his charge book out of an inside jacket pocket and started writing.
"Ow," Gall complained. "Both of my ears just popped. What the hell?"
"Paragraph compression. No line breaks." He opened his mouth wide to equalize the pressure in his own ears, something he'd practiced often as a dragonrider.
"Ow." She rubbed at the offended organs. "This sucks. It's getting harder to breathe, too."
"Aren't you glad you chose not to come as a lady and wear a corset?" Derik gave her a steely smile.
Once Derik was done writing, they followed Janessa just beyond the dock, where Francesco had shown some sense and dumped her and her luggage. Suddenly remembering that she was supposed to be a homeless, penniless orphan, she produced a violin and began to play for coin. She was quickly joined by a random cellist, because cellos were, naturally, all the rage among Spanish street performers. The music was haunting, but oddly, it seemed not to come from the musicians, but hovered in the air like fog.
A crowd formed to listen, and the agents sidled in among them.
"I suppose this is the same violin some old woman gave her out of charity, along with free lessons," Derik remarked. It had been mentioned in the prologue, which they'd skipped. "For the record, a fine instrument like that does not come cheap. Someone who could afford to waste such a treasure could have taken her off the street altogether for less trouble."
"Whatever." Gall vigorously rubbed at one ear, looked around, and scowled. "Hey, is it just me, or does the music sound wrong to you? This thing better not have permanently messed up my hearing . . . ."
"It's not your ears. If you look closely, you can tell she's not really playing. It's something about the Words. And perhaps the fact that there is no way she could know this song."
Gall scanned back to see what he was talking about.
I started to play one of my favorite songs, The Point of No Return.
"Huh. There's something funny . . . sort of shimmery, like a portal." She squinted. "Wait a sec. That's a link! Like on the Internet! That's how she's making the music?"
"That's a good trick! I wish I could do stuff I don't actually know how to do just by hooking into some fancy techno-gee-whizzery. I could make my own armor, or be the greatest cook ever, or learn every style of ass-kicking and beat-downing there ever was!" She grinned. "How do they do it?"
A new song began, this one sweet and full of longing.
"'All I Ask of You'," Derik muttered. To Gall, he said, "By eating away at the very fabric of reality." His voice was deep with disapproval. "Don't even—hsst!" A flash of white caught his eye, a half-moon at head level. He grabbed Gall by the shoulders and shrank back into the crowd, dragging her with him.
"Hey! What gives?"
"Shh. He's here. The Phantom of the Opera."
Again came that pause, begging to be filled with shrieks of dismay, the swell of an organ, and the whoosh of a dark cloak in the night, but the crowd took no notice and the violin played on wistfully.
Gall leveled a serious look at her partner. "Is this gonna be a thing the whole time we're here?"
Derik blinked. "I don't honestly know. I'll try not to do it again."
"Good. I didn't see anything, anyway. I don't even know what this Phantom guy looks like."
"Trust me, you'll know him when you see him." Derik absently scratched the scars along his jaw.
When I finished the song, I took a bow and I thought I saw that man again. But when I looked up, he was gone along with everyone else.
The crowd vanished in a blink, leaving the agents completely exposed. Their eyes darted to Janessa, looking for the first sign that she would see them and cry out, but she wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention.
But by my hat was a music box with a note attached to it:
Hey, Janessa! I didn't know that you could play violin. Since you played so well, I got you a nice hotel room for you to stay in. Don't worry, you don't have to pay a thing. Oh, and I got you this music box. I hope you like it! The address to the hotel is on the back.
Apparently Francesco hadn't quite enough sense to get out and stay out. Janessa turned the music box over, and sure enough, there was an address scratched into the lacquer. Seeing nothing odd about this, she happily picked up her luggage and walked off.
"That was close," sighed Derik when he dared breathe again.
Gall finally shook herself out of his grip. "I hate all this lame skulking around. Riddle me this, One-eye: now that I'm a full agent, what's to stop me from making a big scene and offing her the first chance I get? We're gonna kill her anyway, so why not cut to the chase?"
Derik opened his mouth to say something about Duty and Honor. Then he remembered who he was talking to and started over. "Would you believe it's the thrill of the hunt?"
She folded her arms. "I am less than thrilled."
"In that case . . . ah!" He snapped his fingers. "We are almost certainly going to kill her, but the question is how. The punishment should fit the crime, yes? So, how can we devise a most fitting punishment without knowing the full extent of her crimes?" He gave her a flat grin that didn't reach his eyes.
Gall mulled this over for a moment. Gradually, a smirk spread over her face. "Like with Vanya. All right, I'll buy that."
"Also, there's always a slim chance that we won't kill her, if Intel got it wrong and we don't get enough charges . . . ."
"Nah, I trust those guys. They're cool. Come on, we're missing some really important stuff, probably!" She strode off in the direction Janessa had taken.
Derik had no choice but to shake his head and follow.
They caught up to Janessa in her hotel room, which turned out to be a full suite with a bedroom, bathroom, dressing room, and sitting room. It also featured a very large Art Nouveau mirror built into the sitting room's exterior wall. It was fuzzy and indistinct due to lack of description, but nonetheless, Derik gave it one look and made a bee-line for the bed, which he crawled underneath.
Gall crouched down at the foot of the bed and peered at him, her head tilted to one side. "Seriously?"
"I recognize that room. She's stolen the hotel set from the sequel!" Derik hissed. "You watch: the Phantom is coming in through that mirror."
"I have no idea what you're talking about, and I'm not hiding under the bed like some stupid little kid. Can you even see anything from under there?"
"I can see the Sue coming. Get down here!"
Gall cursed and wriggled under the bed beside Derik. It was a large, posh bed, so there was plenty of room, but she made sure to jostle him with her elbow anyway, just because he couldn't do anything about it without giving them away.
Janessa unpacked her things, which included a surprising amount of nice clothing for someone who claimed to have been living in the burnt-out ruins of the Paris Opera House her whole life. Then she sat down on a chair in the sitting room and opened the music box. A charming little tune seemed to come from the walls.
"'Masquerade'," Derik identified it, puzzled. "That's not what the one in the sequel played."
"What sequel? You better start explaining things, or I'm gonna kick your ass."
He sighed. "It's like this: First there was Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, a novel by Gaston Leroux." His French accent was perfect, not that Gall could tell. "It tells the story of Erik, the Phantom of the Opera, a deformed musical genius who lives in the bowels of the Paris Opera House and makes a living by blackmailing the managers; Christine Daaé, the young soprano he tutors secretly and falls in love with; and the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny, a childhood friend of Christine's." He could see Gall's eyes glazing over. He frowned and gave her a nudge with his elbow. "If you want to understand, pay attention."
She rolled her eyes. "So it's a stupid love triangle, right?"
He was speechless for a moment, affronted by the reduction of a beautiful tragedy to such a simplistic summary, but she was basically right. "Yes, fine. The Phantom wants Christine to marry him, but he frightens her as much as he inspires her, and she also loves Raoul. In the climax, the Phantom abducts her and intends to force her to stay with him or else blow up the Opera House and everyone in it, but in the end her compassion moves him, and he lets her go with Raoul."
"Lame. Explosions are cool."
"Shut up! The story has been adapted many times, in many ways, but one of the most popular adaptations is a musical play by Andrew Lloyd Webber."
Gall nodded. "Musical. Acting and singing and dancing, but without the dignity. Explains the dumb songs."
Derik restrained himself from snapping at her again and pressed on. "Webber wanted to make a sequel, but he couldn't do it for many years. In the meantime, Frederick Forsyth wrote his own version of the sequel, The Phantom of Manhattan, and Webber got his play turned into a movie. The movie got very, very popular"—he gritted his teeth—"and Webber could finally make his sequel, using some of the same ideas as the Forsyth novel, such as the Phantom and Christine having a son. That sequel is Love Never Dies. It's a character-defiling mess, but of course Sues don't care about such things. She's taken some of the opening events of the sequel and transplanted them to Barcelona, shards if I know why. But this—wait. Shh."
The song had ended.
When the music stopped, it was oddly silent. Then, the music box played again even though I didn't turn it on. Something weird was going on and I didn't like it. Then, the music stopped. But this time, there was this light and the mirror opened like doors.
"See?" Derik hissed, scooting further back into the shadow of the bed.
Gall nodded, faintly impressed with the spectacle.
But the man who stepped out of the mirror was what surprised me. It was the Opera Ghost! I couldn't believe what I saw. Then, I blacked out....
Janessa tumbled off her chair. She was clearly trying to look elegant and tragic, one hand thrown over her head and everything, but there's just no good way to fall off a chair, especially in a dress. Gall snickered at her.
The Opera Ghost stood still a moment. He cast a look over his shoulder, as though contemplating where he had just come from and whether he could go back there. However, his head whipped back around with a jerk, pulled by an invisible force. With a sigh, he stepped forward and lifted the Sue back into her chair, arranging her feet on an ottoman so that she would not fall again. To the agents' disgust, he knelt beside her and began stroking her cheek.
"Oh, barf," said Gall, miming sticking a finger down her throat for good measure. "When will people learn that guys molesting you while you sleep is not sexy?"
"She's not going for sexy," Derik replied in a tightly controlled voice. "She's his daughter."
"How do you know?"
"Because it's obvious. And it was in the Intelligence report."
"And here I was almost impressed."
He scowled at Janessa. "Only, this scene she's ripping off was between the Phantom and Christine."
"In that case, this is even more disgusting."
After a little while, Janessa came around.
I jumped a little when he stroked my cheek. "It was you! You were the man who I kept on seeing! But, why are you here?" I asked. "I heard about your past. You went through a lot in France, didn't you?" he said. "Yeah, I did. But, how did you know that I would be coming to Spain?" I asked. "The billionaire told me." he said.
The two of them talked rapidly, almost cutting across each other's words, and the sense of pressure increased.
"Billionaire? What billionaire?" Gall groaned. "Something else I missed?"
"No . . . I don't know what she's talking about, either. Nor does she, I suspect."
"I knew that guy hated me! But, there's something I need to tell you. I can sing." I said.
"What does that have to do with anything? This bint makes less and less sense the more she talks."
"And of course he finds it 'interesting'," Derik growled, "though most people can carry a simple tune. Even you."
"Wait, you still haven't told me your name." I said. "It's Erik. Now," Erik helped me out of the chair. "Sing for me." he said. "I'm not sure if I want to." I said.
"Then why mention it? Stupid hypocritical freak!"
Erik then grabbed my wrist and took me through the mirror onto the balcony and slammed me into the railing. "Sing for me!" he yelled.
"Ooh, is he gonna throw her off if she doesn't?" Gall army-crawled out from under the bed and slipped into the sitting room to watch.
Derik followed her cautiously, not venturing much past the doorway and sticking close to the wall.
Sadly, Erik did not throw Janessa over the railing. Instead, she gave in and launched into "Love Never Dies," and the air filled with the disembodied voice of a decent but inexperienced singer.
Derik shuddered. "Ugh, this song. The man who penned Don Juan Triumphant would never write pap like this."
The tempo was slow, and the song went on and on. And on. And on.
"Can I please push her off?" Gall asked through gritted teeth. "I'm gonna die of boredom."
"No. It's almost over."
The song reached its climax, and both Derik and Gall cringed when the singer attempted to reach high notes too far out of her comfort zone and her voice shrilled like a broken whistle. Derik took a step forward, fingers twitching as though he had reconsidered his decision not to off Janessa then and there, but stopped short when Erik recovered a modicum of canon and threatened her himself.
Erik almost pushed me over the edge! "How do you know that song?!" he yelled.
"Good question," Derik muttered, backing against the wall again. "It's the climax of the sequel. If she's stealing the plot, it's completely out of place."
"I don't know. It just came to me naturally. Just like my desire to see the beauty of everything." I said. "Wait, what did you say?" he asked.
"What?" Derik demanded at the same time.
Gall gave him a funny look. Was it just her, or was there an echo in the room? "Hear hear," she muttered. "What is up with this chick and non sequiturs?"
The Sue repeated what she'd said, and if possible it made even less sense when she added "It's just what makes me who I am." After an uncomfortably long pause, Erik dragged her back into the sitting room, and the agents scrambled for the cover of the bedroom.
They both jumped when, out of nowhere, another song from the sequel began, this time accompanied by harsh, blaring electric guitar: "The Beauty Underneath," a duet between the Phantom and Christine's son, Gustave. Erik and Janessa stood facing each other with their mouths flapping as though they were supposed to be singing, but the intensity of the music didn't touch them at all, and anyone with even a half-trained ear could never have mistaken the young boy's voice for that of a teenage girl. They just stood there until it was over, cut off by a piercing scream.
When Erik removed his mask, I screamed because I was so surprised. Then, I blacked out.
Gall peeked around the door frame to see what had happened, and her mouth dropped open. She looked at her partner, who was breathing harshly with his fists clenched at his sides. She looked at Erik, then back to her partner. She inched closer so she could hiss in his ear, "Dude! When were you gonna tell me?"
"She made him take off his mask," Derik grated. "He would never do that so casually. The whole point of that scene was that he tested Gustave by showing him the freak show before he risked—"
"Hey!" Gall gave him a shove. "Come on, what's your deal? How come you look like him? And sound like him!"
"I don't." Derik rounded on her, a yellow light shining in his good eye. "I'm not him. We're nothing alike, except that some Sue thought it would be clever to give me his name and model my face after Gerard Butler's makeup job." He folded his arms across his chest and dropped his chin defensively, reigning in his volume and his feelings. "The film version is the most accessible, so that's how most Sues see him."
Gall just stared at him. Finally, all she could muster in response was a faint "Holy crap." She turned to see what was going on in the other room.
When I regained consciousness, I was in my chair with Erik by my side. "Are you alright, Janessa?" he asked.
"Uh, you never told him your name . . ." Gall muttered.
"Perhaps the mysterious billionaire supplied it," suggested Derik.
"Yes, I'm fine. But, please call me Nessa." I said. "Okay, Nessa. Now," he sat down beside me. "When I removed my mask, I could see it in your eyes that you were surprised before you passed out. Why is that?" he asked. "Well, I didn't scream because I was frightened, because I wasn't."
"Of course not," Derik sneered. "She's far too pure and good for that, I suppose. And even if she weren't, Gerik's face is hardly frightening. Mine is worse."
"You're a little frightening," Gall agreed. "Mostly cuz you're crazy messed up in the head, though."
"You flatter me."
"Just remove my mask." I said. Then, Erik removed my mask gently to reveal the deformity on the left side of my face. I felt a tear roll down the right side of my face. Erik stroked my cheek. "It's okay. You're not the only one." he said.
The agents both gagged on the cotton-candy fumes of saccharinity rolling off the Sue, making it even harder to breathe than it already was.
"I can't take this," Gall wheezed. "Can we get out of here? I feel like I'm gonna puke."
"Try to hold on," Derik said. "She must be about to discover he's her father. We should witness it for the charge list."
"Ugh. Don't say I didn't warn you if I hurl on your boots."
"It's just, when you removed my mask, you reminded me of my father before he abandoned me." I said. "You never told me much about your father and mother. What were they like?" he asked. "Well, my mother died giving birth to me. And my father, well, he looked exactly like you. He wore the same mask, had the same hair, sang just like you. I know because he sang to me before he left me at the orphanage." I said.
"This should suggest something to you, Sue," Derik said.
Logic, it seemed, was even more of a problem for Janessa than it was for most Sues.
I then got up from my chair. "Do you mind if I change clothes?" I asked. "Oh no, not at all." he said.
The agents quickly scrambled under the bed again.
Then, I went into my dressing room and changed into my favorite outfit. When I came back into the sitting room, Erik walked over to me. "You look beautiful." he said.
Derik and Gall stared as the Sue went by them. They disagreed with Erik's assessment, of course. Apart from being completely anachronistic to turn-of-the-century Spain, the new blue dress, shoes, jewelry, and mask appeared as two-dimensional images hovering in front of Janessa. In front, but not behind—she was nude in back.
"Still want that power?" Derik asked.
"Nah, I take it back. That's messed up. Who randomly changes clothes in the middle of the day, anyway?"
"Well, it wasn't unusual for wealthy European ladies to wear as many as four outfits over the course of the day in this time period, but—"
"How do you know so much about European ladies' clothing?"
"I don't. I only know this because—because I just do." He squeezed his eyes shut and massaged the spot between his brows. "As I was saying, Janessa isn't a wealthy lady, so I'm charging her. She can't have a tragic history of abandonment and poverty and go about with expensive musical instruments and fine clothing."
Meanwhile, Erik was managing to be quicker on the uptake than Janessa, though not by much.
"Now, while you were changing, I thought about what you said about your father. And when you sang, you sounded just like me. Which makes me think something that just doesn't make sense." he said.
"She's your daughter, we know, get on with it!" Gall groused.
Then, he grabbed my right hand(which was under a glove). "Why do you only wear one glove? It makes me think that you're hiding something." he said. "Then remove it and find out." I said. Then, Erik removed my glove, revealing my scarred hand. "This cannot be. This is impossible." he said. "What? What's wrong with my hand?" I asked. Then, he removed the glove on his right hand, revealing that there was a scar on his hand that was exactly like mine!
Derik's eyes flashed open. "What? He doesn't have a scar on his hand. Even if he did, you can't inherit a scar! This is meaningless."
Gall grinned. "Maybe he cut them both when she was a baby, like tribal scarification."
That gave him pause. "I suppose it's possible that he could do such a thing."
"But don't get me wrong, this is still stupid. If either of them had two brain cells to rub together, they wouldn't need matching scars to tell they're related."
Finally, the truth came out.
Then, he put the glove back on my hand after he put his glove back on. Then, he held my left hand. "Janessa, there's something that you should hear. Your father is here." he said. "He is? Where is he?" I asked as I looked around the room.
"Wow, she is dumber than a post!"
Erik then turned my head to him. "Janessa, look into my eyes." he said. I soon knew what he wanted to tell me. Erik was my father. I couldn't believe that the man that I was running from my whole life was actually the only man that I could trust. I stared off into space for a second, a tear rolling down my cheek. Then, I thrust myself into Erik's arms. "Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. You're my father!" I said. Then, I collapsed into my father's arms.
With the appearance of the Single Tear, another saccharine cloud washed over them.
"About fricking time," Gall managed between coughs. "Can we please leave now?"
"Yes—as soon as he's gone."
Janessa had passed out again, so Erik, being the kind, caring parent he'd been brainwashed into, put her to bed and left a note on her nightstand before leaving via the balcony. Once the mirror-doors were shut, Derik and Gall crept out from their hiding place and retreated through the hotel room door, like normal people.
In the hallway, they stopped to catch their breath.
"Jeez, I'm exhausted," Gall said. "We haven't been here that long, have we?"
Derik shook his head. "It's the paragraph compression. Want to find somewhere to rest?"
"Nah. Screw that. The quicker we get this over with, the quicker we get out. Next scene, please!"
They portaled to the next day, which also took them to a new location: a marble rotunda in what was "a very nice opera house," according to the Words. It was strangely empty, and the air felt lighter.
Derik's eyes narrowed suspiciously, and he turned around in a full circle, inspecting the pinkish columns, the floor, and the ceiling. "Very nice indeed!" he scoffed. "This is the Palais Garnier, or I'm a wherry."
Gall scrunched up her nose. "The whosie whatty?"
He pointed through a doorway. "See if there's a bronze statue of a woman through there. I'll be right back." He jogged off in a different direction.
He was right: the statue was where he said it was, under the arc where there joined the sweeps of a massive double staircase. Gall tentatively explored upward, letting out a low whistle in awe of the lavish ornamentation lit by massive candelabras. The place was huge, and perversely made her feel claustrophobic, like the whole thing might suddenly collapse and bury her in marble and bronze. She quickly retreated back to the rotunda.
Derik returned moments later. "It's the Garnier all right, but we're still in Barcelona. She stole the Paris Opera House!"
"How'd she steal a huge place like this?"
"Lack of description, I think. The story calls for an opera house, but she doesn't name it or tell us anything about it, so the continuum filled the gap as best it could."
"Damn! Does that mean we have to put it back? How do we do that?"
"Let's hope it goes back where it belongs when we kill her. It's a mess out there. Streets have been pushed aside, buildings squeezed together to make room." He shook his head.
The sound of humming heralded Janessa's arrival. The agents each took a position behind a pillar.
She was "wearing" a white getup consisting of an anachronistic mermaid-cut dress, a domino mask, and a pearl necklace mismatched with diamond earrings. Other agents might have charged her for fashion crimes. Derik just noted that, once again, instead of wearing a properly described set of clothes, their hyperlinked images merely floated in front of her. This Sue was lazy.
Erik appeared out of nowhere (which Derik did not charge for) and complimented the Sue on the tune.
Then, he dragged me to the catacombs of the opera house, where there was a boat waiting for us. I immediately climbed in, and Erik rowed until we reached some kind of underground lair. He then opened the door for me, and I walked into this very large room with a mirror, a piano, many pictures, and a lot more.
The agents did not attempt to make the treacherous journey themselves, but followed by portal. They crouched together behind the indistinct "a lot more" in the room. Viewed from one way, it appeared to be a quite normal sitting room set, but from another, there was an ominous impression of black, dribbly candles.
"Would you credit it," Derik complained quietly. "Did you hear his explanation for this place being here? 'A friend of mine made it for me, just in case I happened to come to Barcelona.' This must be why the Palais Garnier is here. The lack of description doesn't help, but even the Word World can't accept that Erik has a friend who could do this!"
"What, rich friends with lots of time on their hands are hard to come by or something? Ya think?"
"That, and Erik has precisely one friend in any given canon, if that."
"Now, about that song that you were humming. Can you sing it for me?" he asked. "Sure, I would love to sing it," I said. "But, I can play the piano. You don't have to do it." Then, Erik let me sit at the piano. Then, I began.
Again, the sounds seemed to come not from Janessa and the piano, but the air itself.
Derik pulled a sour face. "What is this?"
"You're asking me?" Gall rolled her eyes.
"It's not from either musical. And it's awful! Who sings like this? So nasal!" After listening a minute, he concluded, "This must be 'pop' music." After another minute, "The true crime is that she could sing properly if she wanted to. You can hear her resonance on the longer notes. Why would anyone choose to strangle their voice like this?"
"You're gonna drive me nuts if you keep this up. The songs are bad enough; I don't need you droning in my ear, too."
"It bothers me! I was a Harper first, you—"
Three things happened right on top of each other. First, the song ended. Second, yet another sugary Single Tear rolled down Janessa's cheek to be stroked away by Erik, polluting the atmosphere with a cloud of maple-candy sweetness. Third, Gall took one breath and horked up her breakfast.
Derik reflexively started back, landing on his ass, but he was never in the line of fire. Gall had been facing forward, not toward him, and she'd mostly hit the back of whatever they were behind and the floor. On hands and knees, she waited for the spell to pass, spitting to clear her mouth.
Derik shifted into a more dignified position on the floor. "Are you all right?"
"Is she done being disgustingly sappy?"
"I think so. For now, anyway."
"Then yeah, for now. Got any water?"
He pulled his backpack into his lap and fished out the water bottle. "Hold out your hands."
She did, and he poured a little into them, just enough to rinse and spit.
"Nah, not yet. Should I feel bad for ruining Erik's lovely whatever-this-is?"
Derik gave a wry chuckle. "The Sue's doing far worse. If we're lucky, she'll step in it."
"Hah! Let's hope."
Janessa had left the lair by now. Erik remained behind, pacing listlessly in front of his piano as though trying to remember an elusive bar or two. He had offered to give the girl voice lessons every Tuesday, and she had flippantly accepted. On her way back to her hotel, she mused that "Erik was definitely my father because he had this fiery yet caring personality."
"That makes no sense," Derik grumbled when he read the Words. He scanned ahead. "She can't sleep, so she sings another song I don't know, and she randomly has a guitar in her room just so she can accompany herself. And she passes out. Again."
"Jeez. Melodrama much?"
Derik nodded thoughtfully. "I'm starting to wonder if there's actually something wrong with her. Consumption was rampant at this time, and this bint is stupid enough to believe it's romantic."
"Are you kidding? Having an actual reason to swoon left, right, and center would imply logic." Gall grinned. "I bet you a round at Rudi's she's just doing it to look all angsty and twagic."
The partners shook on it.
Gall looked around. Nothing was happening apart from Erik wearing a hole in the floor. "Hey, did we miss a scene change or something?"
"I don't think so. There's a new chapter, but that hasn't mattered . . . ." He trailed off, and then his eyes went wide. "Three weeks?" he hissed. "She misses her special private lessons for three weeks and all he does is worry about her?" He gaped like a fish out of water. Ignoring a student's truancy was out of character for any given Master Harper, and the most demanding and temperamental of them was a warm summer breeze compared to the towering tempest of a spurned Phantom.
Gall summed it up in her usual succinct manner. "He should kick her ass. We'll put it on her tab. Can we jump ahead? I don't want to hang around next to a puddle of puke for weeks."
Derik took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Yes," he said at the end of it. He pulled out the RA and took them forward.
They emerged in a Generic Dark Alley and ducked into a recessed doorway of the sort that so often comes in handy during alleyway shootouts. By unspoken agreement, Gall leaned out to keep an eye on the action while Derik checked the Words.
"She's reaching for a knife," Gall muttered, perplexed. "Why does she even have one?"
"You're not going to believe this. Just wait."
Erik appeared out of the darkness in front of Janessa.
"Janessa, what are you doing?" he asked. "Don't come any closer, Erik. I don't want you to die." I said. "What do you mean?" he asked. "I received a threat three weeks ago that if I didn't become an assassin, you would die. Not only that, but I couldn't see you at all, or I would die. I'm sorry, Erik."
"What?" Gall had to clap both hands over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. She turned to look at Derik over her shoulder. "What?" she asked again, though it came out more like "Hlug?"
Derik just shook his head. He, too, was grinning, helpless before the sheer absurdity of what was happening.
"Janessa, listen to me. You are not going to die. There is not a sniper who is going to kill you. It is just your boss. Oh, by the way, duck, now!" he said. Then, I ducked as a bullet went over my head.
The bullet struck the ground right in front of the agents. They both jumped, bouncing off each other and the sides of the doorway before coming to rest with Gall crouched into a tight ball and Derik leaning protectively, if awkwardly, over her.
Out in the alley, a strange voice spoke:
"Very good, Janessa. Unfortunately, you didn't follow my orders. But I'm not going to kill Erik. Janessa, you're fired!" he said. Then, he shot me in the chest. "No!" said Erik.
There was a strange warping sensation, as though they were suddenly looking at reality from the opposite direction.
"What was that?" Gall whispered. The alarm of the bullet had passed, but she wasn't particularly inclined to move, since one of Derik's arms was wrapped around her shoulders. He smelled nice, musky and a little spicy, like cinnamon and nutmeg.
"I don't—oh. The point of view shifted to Erik."
Then, I stepped towards the man who killed my daughter. "Oh, you shouldn't have done that." I said as I pulled out my gun.
"Wait, she's dead?" Gall asked gleefully, watching Janessa bleed onto the cobblestones.
"He has a gun?" Derik demanded, enraged. His grip tightened on his partner. "He never!" Then his brain caught up with his ears. "Hold on, she can't be dead. If we let her die on her own terms, we can't undo her damage." He also realized what he was doing and retreated to his own side of the doorway with a muttered apology.
"She looks pretty dead." Gall stroked her chin.
And yet, the story kept going. Erik shouted a curse at the anonymous villain and shot him in the heart, then came to Janessa's side.
"Nessa, hang on. I can fix this." I said as I pulled out a knife.
For just a second, it looked as though Erik were going to cut her throat, finishing the job started by the assassin, but alas, he instead used the knife to fish out the bullet in her chest. It did seem like the manually dexterous Phantom was exercising less delicacy than he could have, however.
Then, I stopped the bleeding and stitched the wound.
The agents gaped as Erik performed a miracle of field surgery with, as far as they could make out, dental floss and a bit of gum. He then carried Janessa away to the Opera House.
Gall turned to her partner with a cockeyed grin. She was trying not to laugh again. "What the fuck did we just watch?"
Derik put up his hands in an "I don't know" gesture. "The Healer Hall would have a conniption if they saw that, let me tell you."
Fortunately, or not, the author was on hand to provide an explanation. A whole chapter was devoted to it. The agents were dumped into Generic Space and forced to listen to an ear-shattering voice in chipmunk register.
Hey guys! Serena221b here! So, I bet you guys are reading this because of what happened in the previous chapter.
"No, we're being subjected to it because you stuck it in the middle of the story," Gall groused, hands pressed to her ears.
In case you are wondering, I wrote this chapter from a dream that I had last night.
"And that's case in point for why dreams make terrible stories," Derik replied. "Still, I suppose that explains the total lack of logic."
I know, deja vu to the part of The Case of the Psychic Girl when Sherlock removes the bullet from Serena, but I couldn't let Janessa die so soon in the story and there wasn't any other way.
"You could have, ya know, not written it," said Gall.
"I pity whoever gets stuck with that Sherlock fic," Derik added. "Psychic Sues. Ugh."
But, it was good, right?
Ally's out, peace!
With that, they were dumped back into story-space. The point of view had returned to Janessa, and she was just waking up in a bed in Erik's lair; no doubt the same one Christine had used during her stays, part of the Louis-Philippe furniture he'd inherited from his mother. The agents crouched by the opposite side of the bed from Janessa as she read the note Erik had left for her. He was away "trying to make a contract with the owners of the opera house," because people who had recently been shot didn't need to be closely watched or anything.
So, since Erik was out, I decided to go to the piano and play my own composition. I recently had finished writing it and had never played it before. So, I decided to finally sing it.
"Oh, no," Derik groaned.
The title boomed out around them in the author's voice: "'Til Again I Hear You Sing." From the other room came, for the first time, the sound of Janessa's own voice. Despite the title's similarity to "'Til I Hear You Sing" from Love Never Dies, this was indeed an original song, with all the lyrics included, and there was no link piping in the music from the ether of the Internet.
She couldn't sing. She wasn't much of a lyricist, either.
I remember all the good times in the fall.
From the night that we waltzed, to the ball.
But now, those times are like a made-up land.
Oh, I wish I could hold your hand.
I've been through so much, and it's all without your touch.
Nothing is the same, not one thing.
Now I'll never know what happiness feels like.
'Til again I hear you sing.
It went on in much the same vein for another two verses and two repeats of the chorus. In what might have been a symbolic homage to Christine, but was more likely simple agony, Derik began beating the back of his head against the wall.
Thunk. "Who takes a breath every line?" Thunk. "This girl has no technique." Thunk. "There's no rhythm—" thunk "—no lyrical purpose to speak of . . . ." Thunk. "Oh, come now, 'end' and 'hand'?" Thunk. "She can't even rhyme properly!" Thunk. "It's bloody couplets—" thunk "—it's not that hard!" Thunk.
Gall considered all the words concerning hand-holding and touching with an increasingly disturbed frown. "If she's singing about Erik, this is really sick."
"I'll tell you what's sick: that anyone could consider this poetry, let alone music." Thunk. "If she were an apprentice in the Harper Hall, she'd be thrown out on her wooden ear!" Thunk.
Gall poked him in the bicep. "Does your head hurt yet?"
"Not as much as my brain." Thunk. The song attempted to rhyme "darken" and "broken," and he cringed. "Argh, she's not even trying!" Thunk.
"Well, thank Odin it's almost over."
Janessa's voice trailed off pathetically, like a rusty hinge. She immediately walked back into the Louis-Philippe room and dropped into the bed, asleep.
The agents held their breath. When it was clear she was out cold, they sneaked away into the main room.
"That's how many times she's passed out now? Five?" Gall smirked.
"She was just shot," Derik muttered, rubbing the back of his head. Standing up had started it throbbing.
"Yeah, but it's not like she mentioned it. And look, it's the end of the chapter. The only point of that was to torture us with her 'creativity'. Gunshot's got nothing to do with it."
"I feel a little lightheaded," Derik confessed, effectively dodging the matter.
Gall snorted. "Idiot. Do you want to take a nap now?"
He seriously considered it, thinking of the big, luxurious bed in Janessa's unused hotel suite, but his head wasn't all that bad. He'd just rattled his brain a little. "I've had worse," he said. "Let's press on."
They skipped to the next day and once again hid behind Erik's furniture. Janessa was up and about as though nothing had happened. Gall grinned and elbowed Derik in the ribs; he scowled at her and gestured for her to keep quiet and watch the fic.
Erik was positively chipper. It didn't suit him.
"Nessa, you are not going to believe this!" he said. "What, what is it?" I asked eagerly. "I told the managers of the opera house about your amazing voice, and they want you to be in their production of Les Miserables as C0sette!" he said.
Something about the size and shape of a fat paperback dropped to the floor with a thwap. Then it sprouted uncountable tiny legs and scuttled over to the agents. It grinned up at them, revealing a row of sharp, pointy little teeth.
Gall curled her lip at it. "What is that?"
Derik checked the Words. "Must be C0sette—spelled with a zero instead of an O, I see."
The mini bobbed at them, making its chestnut-brown curls bounce. "C'est moi," it said in a petite voice.
"Right." He fiddled with the remote activator a few moments, then opened a portal just large enough for the mini-Brick. "Off to L'Université with you."
The mini hopped through, and a mutter of "Merci beaucoup!" floated back to the agents before the portal winked shut.
"De rien," Derik muttered back automatically. He blinked, shook his head, and turned to Gall. "For the record, I'm quite certain Les Misérables the musical doesn't exist at the time this is supposed to be set. The novel, perhaps, but I don't know."
"Wonderful. While you were playing with that thing, our targets left."
"Well, we had better follow them, then, hadn't we?"
They portaled upstairs to the lobby of the Opera House, where the Les Mis actors were gathering for some reason. Janessa was just introducing herself.
"Well, I'm 18 years old, I'm from Paris, France, I play the violin, the piano, and I also dance apart from singing."
"Because of course she does," Gall sneered. "Can't have less than four special talents, can we?"
"Wretched little diva," Derik agreed.
They shared an exasperated look when the managers of the Opera invited Janessa and Erik up to their office. Gall started to follow them, but Derik caught her by the arm and led her off in another direction.
"Trust me," he whispered. "But be very, very quiet."
They came to a particular part of a little-frequented hallway, not noticeably different from any other part. Derik did something to the wall that Gall didn't quite catch, and they slipped out of the hallway proper and into a dark, cramped passage that led to a deep cavity beneath the floorboards of the office. One board opened like a box-lid, leaving a gap just large enough for a long arm to reach through, even to the desk with the assistance of some tool. For two people, the space was tight and uncomfortable, but it did allow them to eavesdrop in perfect safety.
It turned out that Francesco, the man who had welcomed Janessa upon her arrival in Barcelona, was one of the managers, along with his father, Alexander. Francesco praised her up and down, and of course it wouldn't do but she had to give them a demonstration of her superb talent. There followed another breathless, wheezy pop song. Of course, they ate it up.
Once I finished the song, I could tell that the managers were very pleased(especially Francesco:). "That was amazing! You're in!" said Alexander. "Awesome!" I said. This was so great!
The characters all left the office to start their first rehearsal.
"I have a question," Gall said when they were alone.
"How did you know about this place?"
"It's described in the book. The Phantom uses the trapdoor to deliver notes—"
"Yeah, but you knew exactly how to get here. You didn't even have to think about it. Spend a lot of time crawling around in opera houses that I don't know about?"
That he had to think about. He had never been in this continuum before, and only knew of the Palais Garnier by what he'd read . . . and yet, his brain insisted, he knew every inch of the place. How was that possible?
There was one explanation.
"It must have been the Reality Room," he said, trying it out to see if it tasted right. "I got a lot of memories I didn't have before. I just haven't had to use these before, I suppose."
Gall gave him a blank look. "The what now?"
"The—look, it's a long story. We don't have time." He opened a portal a little distance down the secret passage and went to watch the Les Mis rehearsal.
Gall shook her head and followed him.
The first rehearsal, it turned out, was more of a party. Nothing much happened except for the introduction of a boy named James, who was playing Marius. Then Janessa got a bee in her bonnet about finding the woman who would play Eponine, who was not present.
"I'm sure she won't be important in any way at all," Gall muttered.
Janessa got directions ("down the hall, make a left, and it's the final room on the right") and was drawn to a dressing room where someone was singing with "a beautiful voice." She knocked on the door.
Then, the door opened to reveal a woman in her twenties. She had short brown hair and hazel eyes. She wore a long red dress.
"Someone other than the Sue getting a description," Derik noted. "Definitely not significant in the least."
The agents shared a grim, knowing look. They leaned against the wall to one side of the door to listen in.
The two characters had a chat, during which time Janessa casually mentioned "My dad is the Opera Ghost here" and the other woman, Lena Reynolds, reacted not a bit. Instead, her dressing room began a slow, breathy song about love in absence.
As I listened to Lena, I felt like I had met her before. Her voice just sounded so familiar.
"Aw, hell," Gall groaned. "This had better not be what I think it is."
Derik didn't get a chance to respond. The world around them seemed to flip on both axes, and they were thrown against the opposite wall, where Lena's door now hung. Their heads spinning, they sank down to the floor.
Gall blinked dazedly. "What the hell—what the hell—was that?"
Derik shook his head, winced, and checked the Words anyway. "Erik's on the way," he noted. "It's his point of view again, and . . . ah. His directions were a little different from Janessa's. 'Down the hall, make a right, and it's the last room on the left'." He pushed himself to his feet. "Come on, look busy."
They got out of the way as Erik came up the hall. He entered the dressing room without bothering to knock and sat down to listen to the rest of the song.
"Oh dear. He recognizes this Lena, too."
The song came to an end (Derik sighed in relief), and the two women took notice of Erik. Lena got up and introduced herself, adding "You must be Janessa's father, Erik. She's told me a lot about you."
Gall scrunched up her nose. "When?"
A very odd exchange followed.
"It is an honor to meet you, Lena. Is this your first year working here?" he asked. "Yes, it is. But, I've performed at the Opera Populaire in Paris, as well. But, I was only a chorus girl in Hannibal." she said. So, that's where I knew her from. I actually went to see Hannibal at the Opera Populaire.
Derik slapped a hand to his forehead. "Because he lived there and Christine was in it, you nit."
"Really? Well, me and Janessa are actually from Paris. Have you heard of the mysterious Opera Ghost?" he asked. "Wait, you were the Opera Ghost that everyone was talking about? I should have known."
Now Gall facepalmed, too. "Janessa told her he's the Opera Ghost a few minutes ago! So yeah, she bloody should've!"
"Then again, you did look kind of familiar." she said.
The Words said they talked a while longer, but the conversation wasn't detailed. Then everyone went back to the party, including the agents. They were hoping to score some food and drink, but alas, none was mentioned.
Finally, the worst party ever came to an end, and everyone went home except Erik, Janessa, and Lena. Lena got up on stage to sing Eponine's solo, "On My Own," to herself, because the plot said so. Erik noticed that "her voice sounded different from when I first heard her sing, which was very peculiar." He decided he needed to eavesdrop on her without Janessa, so he sent the girl off to his lair and sneaked backstage by a secret passage.
The agents just went through the hallways the stagehands used.
As usual, the music was sounding from everywhere but Lena's throat, but for a nice change, the singer's voice didn't make Derik want to clean his ears with a rusty knife.
When she finished singing, she glanced over to me and collapsed on the stage. I then went over to her side and picked her up bridal style and carried her to my lair.
The agents didn't follow right away. Derik turned to Gall with a smile. "My, my. It seems that whatever Janessa has may be catching."
"If you mean the dumb, then yeah." Gall rolled her eyes. "I really don't like where this is going," she went on, changing gears. "That song was all about loving some guy who doesn't seem to know you exist, and then she looked at Erik and lost it. I'm sensing an icky, disturbing pattern."
Derik made a face. "I'm trying not to think about it."
They portaled down to the lair and hid in the washroom adjoining the Louis-Philippe room, where Janessa was sleeping and Erik had deposited Lena in a chair.
She soon regained consciousness and looked at me. "What happened? Where am I?" she asked. "This is my lair. You collapsed on the stage and I brought you here." I said. "Why?" she asked. "When I first met you, I picked up your very odd personality. Not only that, but I also found out that you can change your voice when you're singing, which not many people can do."
Gall covered her mouth and nose to stifle a snigger. "Yeah, only people who steal their voices from people on the Internet," she mumbled. "Are they seriously trying to lampshade that?"
"That's a charge for sure." Derik wrote it down. "Also, what personality?"
"I think it's time to discover the truth about you." I said as I took Lena's hand.
Erik stood stock-still, jaw flapping, with Lena's hand clutched in his. No one moved—until the song ended and the sound of applause erupted in the air, making the agents jump. Apparently the recording was of a live performance. They were startled again by the sound of harsh, clashing organ notes. The recording kept going, and Lena began mouthing Christine's words from "I Remember...". It continued straight through the unmasking scene (still the characters didn't move) and "Stranger Than You Dreamt It." The agents shared a disgusted look when Erik used Christine's name but continued to stare, glassy-eyed, at Lena.
Finally, the Phantom's voice declared, "Come, we must return—those two fools who run my theatre will be missing you," and the voiceover stopped. And there was movement of a sort: Erik and Lena teleported into the sitting room.
The reason for this was revealed when the point of view shifted back to Janessa. The agents, still in the washroom, had a good view.
When I awoke, I was feeling weak. I felt extremely dizzy and I felt so cold. I didn't know what was wrong with me. Why was I like this? There was only one thing that I could do. "Erik! Come in here now!" I exclaimed.
"Aha! See?" Derik grinned triumphantly at Gall. "She's sick! What did I tell you?"
"She's sick now, but what about before? This proves nothing. I think she's just tired of someone else getting all the attention and this is her way to steal it back."
Erik came rushing into the room and felt Janessa's cheek and forehead.
"You're ice cold." said Erik, still examining me.
The agents looked at each other.
"Well, that doesn't fit with consumption," Derik admitted.
"Or much of anything else," said Gall. "But still: Hah! Told you so."
There followed another scene of medical madness.
"And I feel so dizzy. What's happening to me Erik?" I asked. "I don't know, Nessa." he said. Then, Erik told me to lie down on the bed. "What are you doing?" I asked. "Trying to fix this. Just relax." he said. Then, Erik placed one hand on my wrist and held a syringe in the other. He then injected the syringe into my wrist. I no longer felt dizzy and my body temperature was restoring. Erik then placed two fingers on my pressure point and I blacked out.
"There was a reason for that one," Derik pointed out before Gall could say anything. "Doesn't count."
"Nuh-uh, you can't make someone pass out just by touching them. That's bullshit—and trust me, I'd know. Some of the kids in my village used to make themselves dizzy by squeezing one of the arteries in their necks. For fun."
Derik had nothing to say to this, because you couldn't meet that kind of stupidity with intelligence without risking some kind of explosive quantum reaction. He turned his attention to the charge list. "And I have no idea what he thinks he's doing with that needle, either." He mumbled something further that contained the words "Kerik" and "morphine," but he didn't clarify and Gall didn't ask.
The next chapter jumped to later that night, when Janessa awoke to the sound of Erik and Lena talking in the next room. She (and the agents) listened in on their conversation, which proved most enlightening.
"I know who you are, Miranda." said Erik. Miranda? Who the heck was Miranda? "I have no idea what you are talking about." said Lena. "Don't lie to me. You're Miranda Torano, the famous opera singer and, my wife. The wife who I thought DIED!" he said.
"Aw, son of a whore!" Gall groaned. "I knew it!"
"Oh, fine. You caught me. But, please don't tell Janessa just yet. I want her to know when she's ready. I don't know how she would feel if she found out that I'm her mother." said Miranda.
They learned the answer when Janessa burst into tears and slammed the door on them, then sobbed herself to sleep.
"That's fair," Derik remarked. "She just learned she isn't an orphan at all—she was only abandoned by both her parents. How lovely."
"Wait a minute." A disgusted look was developing on Gall's face. "How old did Janessa say she was?"
"Eighteen." He caught her train of thought and scowled.
"And Lena—or Miranda—is 'in her twenties'. So."
"In the best possible case, Miranda was eleven when Janessa was born. And that means . . . ."
"How old is Erik supposed to be?"
"Too old. Far, far too old." Derik shuddered.
There was another chapter dedicated to an author's note ahead, so they skipped to the next one. Janessa had retreated back to her hotel suite, where a hyperlink treated the agents to the lively violin strains of Lindsey Stirling. When the song finished, Miranda came knocking at the door. Despite having stated that she "needed to be alone for a little bit," Janessa let her in and served tea for both of them.
Then, she broke the silence. "So, are you alright?" she asked. "I could be better. After all, I just found out that you're my mother." I said. "Yeah, me and Erik heard you slam the door. Erik wanted to go after you, but I told him to just let you calm down." she said. "Wow, you really know me. No wonder you're my mom." I said.
"Bull. Shit," Gall whispered to Derik. They were hiding out on the balcony and watching through the two-way mirror, since Erik wasn't due to show up. "Miranda's known her for all of like two hours. She doesn't know jack diddly squat about her, and even if she did, that's not evidence of blood ties!"
Derik didn't answer. He was staring intently into the room and seemed not to be listening.
"Yeah. Listen, I really wish that I was there for you as you grew up, but I wanted to wait until the time was right. You'll understand in time. I just wanted the best for you, Nessa." she said.
Gall snorted. "Right. I really wish I'd been there for you, really I do, but I decided to go be an opera singer instead, because I was frigging eleven."
"I want that violin," Derik said, still staring. "The guitar, too. I hate seeing them used improperly, and it would be a pity for them to be destroyed when we kill her."
Then, I hugged her. I knew that this was meant to be.
His partner rolled her eyes. "Good grief. And that's to you, too, not just this idiot Sue who has once again dumped anything resembling conflict for warm fuzzy feelings. Speaking of killing her, can we do it soon? I think my brain will melt out of my ears if I have to put up with much more of her."
Derik shook himself, looked at his partner, then scanned ahead through the Words. "She goes to rehearsal . . . then there's something about visiting the grave of an old friend, where she sobs herself to sleep again—and how, I ask you, could she have an old friend in Barcelona when she grew up friendless in Paris? Then more rehearsal, and . . . hello. What's this?"
A grin spread across Derik's face, and he laughed, a rich, triumphant peal. Gall shushed him, and still in the throes of mirth, he quickly opened a portal to the next day, when the hotel room would be empty.
"It's perfect," he said when he'd calmed down. "You'll see. But first . . . ." He stalked about the hotel suite and collected Janessa's violin and guitar, then portaled to RC 1110 to deposit them in the supply closet. Fellrazer barely had time to raise his head from Derik's pillow and snuffle at him before he was back. He tucked something metallic into his pocket as the portal closed. "There. Now we can go ahead."
"You're insane," Gall said. "This had better be good."
"Oh, it is."
They hopped forward again, this time to the Opera House theatre—Box Five, to be exact. As they emerged, they heard "a very evil laugh, followed by a man's scream," and Janessa came running.
I rushed inside to find a man who was hanged. But it wasn't just any man. It was Francesco!
Gall wrinkled her nose at the sight of the corpse hanging from a catwalk. "Who was he again?"
"The one who only existed to praise Janessa and give her nice things for no reason."
"Ah, right. Good to know we weren't supposed to care about him, 'cause I don't."
Janessa shouted for help, and Erik, Miranda, and Francesco's father, Alexander, came running. They indulged in a brief show of grief. Erik comforted Janessa, and Miranda discovered a letter addressed to Alexander. He read it out loud:
As you know, your son has been hanged. Of course, I am the one who is responsible.
So, unless you want another misfortune, you must do exactly as I say. I would like to
see Mademoiselle Janessa Morguis tonight at 7:00 sharp in Box 2. There must be
no one observing our meeting. Miss Morguis must come alone. If these demands
are not met, someone else will have to die. If Janessa will agree to come, have her
send a letter letting me know. I demand your obedience, Alexander.
Derik grinned disconcertingly at Gall throughout.
When she finally noticed, she turned to him in irritation. "Jeez! What?"
"Do you understand what this is?"
"You mean other than incredibly stupid? She screwed up her own name fer cryin' out loud."
"Well, yes, but let me explain. You see, this is precisely the kind of stunt the Phantom of the Opera would pull to manipulate the Opera managers in the original story. However, Janessa has turned him from a half-crazed wretch into a sweet, loving father-figure. Despite being the Opera Ghost in name, the role in deed was left empty. If she wanted to model herself after Christine, as it seems she does, she had to invent a villain to take his place. And so we get this Descole."
Gall planted her fists on her hips. "So what? One more bit character for us to deal with—if she doesn't immediately ruin him herself, like she has every other possible source of conflict."
"Oh, she does. But—" Derik raised a finger, still grinning. "That's where we come in. We'll go to Box Two ahead of her, kill Descole, and wait. When she gets there, expecting another straw villain . . . ."
Now Gall grinned. "Ahhh, I get it. We show her what real bad guys do. I like it, One-eye."
"I knew you would." He glanced at the Words. "But we have some time before we need to be in place. Are you hungry?"
"Starving. How long has it been since breakfast?"
He shrugged. "Who knows? Come on; the hotel is bound to have a kitchen."
They walked the painfully compressed distance from the Opera House to the hotel and poked around until they found what they were looking for. A couple of patrons were annoyed and an unfortunate waiter was scolded when two seafood entrées mysteriously went missing, but the matter was soon resolved and forgotten about.
While they ate, the agents formulated the details of their plan. They also exclaimed a great deal over how weird the food was, but hey, it was better than the HQ Cafeteria. With their bellies full and their course set, they returned to the Palais Garnier and climbed to Box Two.
There was no light, and the plush red velvet lining of the box was transmuted to a sound-devouring blackness. The shapes of chairs were vaguely discernible, but there was no sign of a man.
"Hello?" Gall called tentatively. Her voice sounded flat and dead in the air.
"He's here," Derik said. "If he won't come out, we'll just have to go in."
"Ugh." Gall stomped in and felt around the curtains and pillars lining the walls until she laid hands on something warm and yielding. "Gotcha!" She gave a heave.
Descole stumbled out into the open with a yelp. He remained only barely visible as a slightly darker shape among the shadows. He had no description at all, so he was literally a shadowy villain.
Derik stood over him. "Descole," he pronounced, "on the authority of the Protectors of the Plot Continuum, I charge you with being a cheap stock bad guy and taking advantage of a continuum's weakness by usurping the role of its main antagonist. Your sentence is death. I deny your right to last words, since they can only be overweening and melodramatic. Gall?"
Descole pulled himself to his full height in an effort to intimidate them, but before he could speak, Gall delivered an uppercut that sounded like it shattered his jaw. He rocked back, then forward, and crumpled face-down on the floor. The agents dumped his unconscious body through a portal into the Mediterranean Sea. Even if he washed up on shore somewhere, no one would be able to identify him.
"Ow," Gall complained, shaking out her hand. "I didn't expect him to be that solid."
"Are you all right?"
"Split my second knuckle a bit, but I've had worse. Stupid bastard, stupid freaking . . . ." She trailed off into a mumble and sucked on the wound.
As she quieted, the sound of humming reached them from the corridor.
Derik's slightly ghoulish grin returned. "Wait!" His voice slipped into a mocking, sing-song lilt. "I think, my dear, we have a guest!"
Janessa appeared in the entrance to the box, a candle in hand. She looked startled to see two stagehands where she was supposed to be meeting a deranged murderer.
Speaking to her now, Derik continued: "Miss, this is indeed an unparalleled delight. I had rather hoped that you would come. And now my wish comes true—you have truly made my night!"
"Dude, what the hell?" Gall hissed. This was odd behavior even for him, and was it just her, or were the shadows actually clinging to him like a cloak? There was something about the way the candlelight flickered over his face, too, making his cheeks look hollow, his good eye gleam yellow, and the scars on the right side of his face stand out stark white, almost as if he were wearing a mask. None of this shit was in the plan.
"E-Erik?" Janessa stammered. She glanced over her shoulder; hadn't she just seen her father by the stairs?
"Not quite," said Derik, "though you may think of me as your angel if you like—your Angel of Death." He reached into his jacket pockets and began slowly pulling on a pair of tough leather gloves.
"What? But . . . Descole . . . I'm supposed to sing, and . . . don't you want me to sing?" Janessa took a breath.
"NO!" Derik and Gall boomed at the same time.
Startled, the girl took a step back.
"Try it and I'll break your ugly face," Gall said, raising her fist. "You better just stand still and keep quiet, got it?"
"In fact, close the door, would you?" Derik interjected smoothly.
"Merci. Now—" he chuckled "—I have a few little notes for you." He held up his charge sheet. "Janessa, I am here to charge you as an Agent of the PPC. You have been quite the curse on this universe—"
"And to us!" Gall put in.
"It's clear that you're a very blatant Mary Sue, as I'll prove presently."
Gall scowled as her partner went on in an oddly lyrical fashion.
"To start with, there's your trite backstory, full of wangst and clichéd woe. You grew up on your own, Franc-less and alone—so you said! But the clothes you're in and violin are signs you tell and never show."
She couldn't take it anymore. She delivered a sharp jab with her elbow to his side. "Hey!"
"Oof." He flinched away from the blow and gave her a cold stare. "What?"
"You're rhyming, jackass! Stop it!"
He blinked and shook his head. For a moment, he looked troubled, but a movement from Janessa caught his eye, and he turned cold and haughty again.
"Do not think you can escape. Your penance has barely begun, foolish mam'selle. Make no attempt to call out for aid." He looked down at his notebook and continued. "Of course, there's the little matter of your parents. Did you know your mother was eleven when you were born? Was a hug so much more important than keeping logic in its place?"
"Way too sticky-sweet for my taste," Gall broke in, much to her own surprise. "And seven kinds of gross besides! Had it up to my ears with your Single Tears . . . ."
Derik raised one elegant, gloved hand, and Gall fell silent.
"Please—!" Janessa broke in, taking a step toward the agents with her hands outstretched in supplication.
Derik overrode her, speaking in a voice that was low and dangerous, like a distant roll of thunder. "Mademoiselle, we have now told you only a few of many charges detailing what damage your poison has done. You have not heard the worst of them. To come to the heart of the matter . . . ." His eyes narrowed, and the air temperature in the box dropped a few degrees. There was a suggestion of eerie strings wailing at the edges of reality. "You're the Phantom's child, you say? You can't seal in words what isn't sealed in blood. A paper mask, a painless scar, all the songs you never sang! And the sham to crown them all: you stole the Opera!"
Each word was punctuated with such intensity that Janessa recoiled, cringing against the door. Derik began a slow advance on her.
"Your pretension has its price—I present you with the bill. It's time you saw the true face of a man who hunts to kill!"
He sprang. His hand darted into his jacket pocket and drew out something long and slender that flashed in the candlelight. Janessa suddenly clutched at her throat and her eyes bulged, but she couldn't cry out. The candle fell and went out, doused in its own wax. Derik pulled Janessa to the ground and dragged her to the box's edge, kicking and rolling from side to side in a futile attempt to free herself. The scarred man lifted her up to the velvet-lined ledge and leaned in close to her face.
"Au Diable, imposteur—vous n'êtes pas Christine!"
He pushed her over and held on tight, one booted foot braced against the low wall. Janessa couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds. She dangled there for a minute or two, suspended by the neck on the low E string Derik had taken from her guitar. When the twitching stopped, he let go. She landed on the floor in a broken heap.
Gall joined him in peering down at the mess. It had reverted to the form of an unpacked, deflated yellow crash dummy.
She looked at Derik. He was breathing hard, and the manic gleam slowly faded from his eye.
He blinked, started back from the ledge, and looked around. "What—? What just happened?"
"You don't remember?"
His eyebrows contracted. "I know we got Descole . . . and Janessa turned up on schedule . . . you yelled at me." He rubbed his ribs where she'd elbowed him. "And then . . . ." He looked down at the crash dummy again. "I do remember killing her. But it was like I was watching from inside my head. The words weren't mine."
"Well, the whole point was to step in as a proper villain, right? Maybe the world took you a bit too seriously, what with you looking like the actual bad guy and all."
"Maybe." He didn't sound too sure.
"Oh well. Job's done, and that's what counts. We have to go get that thing, don't we?"
"Yes . . . I hope it isn't too badly damaged. I think we'll have to find Miranda, too. And . . . ."
"And Erik? Make sure he's back to normal?"
Derik was silent.
"Right. Leave it to me, my psychotic friend."
They collected the crash dummy first. The neck was partially severed and some white fluff was poking out in a few places. It would definitely need to be replaced. For the time being, they stuffed it into Derik's backpack as best they could. Derik wound the E-string carefully and put it back in his pocket.
They found Miranda in her dressing room. She rose with a smile at the sight of Derik, but his sledgehammer quickly wiped it off her face, along with most of her other features. They dropped her through another portal to the Mediterranean.
"Will Erik be in his lair?" Gall asked.
"I suppose so." He hesitated. "Perhaps I should check the hotel suite for contamination."
"Don't be such a baby. Let's go."
They portaled down to Erik's sitting room. He was there, once more pacing in front of his piano. He stopped and looked up when the agents arrived. It seemed he had no trouble seeing them, or specifically, Derik.
The two locked gazes and stared silently at each other.
Just when Derik would have had to say something or go mad, a neuralyzer introduced itself into his field of vision, and he covered his eyes just in time.
"Erik, also known as the Opera Ghost and the Phantom of the Opera, you aren't a stupid goodie-two-shoes woobie, you don't have a daughter, and you don't have any reason to be in Spain. You're going to forget everything that happened here and go back to doing whatever you're supposed to be doing right now, up to and including being dead somewhere. Got it?"
It was a good thing she was a fast talker, because he recovered quickly from the neuralyzer trance. He looked startled, then angry and ready to attack. "Qu'est-ce que tu—?!"
There was a sudden lurch. All three were thrown off their feet. The world twisted, stretched, squeezed, and suddenly, the lair was gone. In fact, the Opera House was gone, and Erik with it. The agents were left in a random street in Barcelona, staggered and dizzy.
A horse-drawn cab clattered by, and the driver shouted at them: "¡Id a casa, estáis borrachos!"
The agents looked at each other and shrugged. Neither of them spoke a word of Spanish. They helped each other stand up and shuffled to the nearest alley.
"Are we done?" Gall said. "Please tell me we're done."
Derik nodded. "If the Opera House has returned to Paris, I think we can be sure any lesser disruptions have sorted themselves out, too."
"Thank the gods."
In a flash of blue, they returned to their response center and shed their disguises.
Fellrazer immediately jumped up and greeted his mistress with a resonant, thrumming purr. She knelt down and threw one arm around his neck, rubbing his head with the knuckles of her other hand.
"Hey, I missed you, too, buddy! You didn't destroy anything while I was gone, did you? Good dragon!"
Derik noted the slightly oily residue on his blanket and pillow with distaste. "I wish he didn't feel the need to sleep on my bed."
"Well, we wouldn't have this problem if he could just come along with us, would we? By the way, you owe me a drink."
Gall stood up and grinned at him. "You bet me Janessa was actually sick, and she wasn't. Never confirmed. So I win. Hence, drinks."
He stared at her. "You want to go right now?"
"Well, I gotta take Fellrazer out to do his business, but it's not like I have plans. You?"
He glanced back at his cot and considered the merits of falling into it, brimstone stink and all, but on balance Rudi's seemed like the better option. "Nope," he said. "You're on."
"Excellent! And then you can tell me more about this Phantom of the Opera stuff. Seeing you sorta in his shoes back there, the story might not be as lame as I thought."
She turned and led Fellrazer out the door, so she didn't see the look on his face as he followed her.
"If only it were just his shoes . . . ."
- "All I Ask of You" by Andrew Lloyd Webber, performed by the London Orchestra ft. Sarah Chang (violin) and Julian Lloyd Webber (cello).
- "Masquerade" by Andrew Lloyd Webber, on music box.
- "Love Never Dies" by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater, performed by DeadlyWhispers a.k.a. Jessy.
- "The Beauty Underneath" by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater, performed by Ben Lewis (Phantom) and Jack Lyall (Gustave). [This song is the only good thing about the sequel, IMO.]
- "Opera House Meetup" on Polyvore.
- "Young and Beautiful" by Lana Del Rey, performed by Tiffany Alvord.
- "A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri.
- "On My Own" by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer, performed by Samantha Barks.
- "Elements" by Trevor Morris, performed by Lindsey Stirling.
- "Doomsday" by Murray Gold, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales ft. Melanie Pappenheim (vocals).
Look, kids. I know it's the Internet and we CAN do fancy things like linking to external images and videos, but that doesn't mean we SHOULD; nor does it excuse us from using proper descriptions in our writing. See how I have included these things in my story with the use of endnotes in addition to giving descriptions in the narrative? This way, my readers can go view the additional multimedia content if they so choose, but if not—or if the links eventually break—they can still read the story without missing out on vital details.
Such as what the characters are doing during the songs. I honestly had no idea the characters in the fic were supposed to be acting out scenes from LND and PotO until a good way into the PPCing process, when I finally broke down and watched a filmed performance of Love Never Dies to make sure I could address those portions. Boy oh boy, did I have things to address afterward!
All that aside, this fic is just a hot mess. There IS a nascent plot if you read it to the end and squint sideways at it, but you have to think about it way too hard to get past the million things that don't make sense. I seriously considered PPCing the whole thing, but in the end I couldn't pass up the golden opportunity presented by Janessa's first meeting with Descole. It was just too perfect.
I know many people won't catch the nods to the PotO libretto during the charging sequence, but I hope it's effective anyway. I put a lot of work into it. Like, this mission probably would have been published about a month sooner if I hadn't done it the way I did. I'm rather proud of it. ^_^ If you want to know, Derik starts off by quoting the Phantom's greeting to Raoul in Act II, Scene 9; most of the following lines borrow their rhyme scheme and scansion from "Notes" (Act I, Scene 8) and "Why So Silent" (Act II, Scene 1); and "man who hunts to kill" is a callback to one of Christine's lines in "Why Have You Brought Me Here" (Act I, Scene 10).
Thanks to everyone who helped me out with Derik's critique of the author's original lyrics. Special credit goes to [EvilAI]UBEROverlord for the phrase "lyrical purpose," which I shamelessly snerched.