• The water splashed as I ran through it. I was in hot pursuit of a young girl, who had gotten into a tunnel. This was grave for this girl could be killed. I ran for what seemed like hours through the endless labyrinth, looking for anything that might lead to the girl. I arrived at yet another fork, this time taking the right path. My small dark lantern was giving me light as I ran down the path.
    My foot caught on something, which I realized was a wall. I had reached a dead-end. “Curse his tricks!” I said out loud.
    There was a black square in the floor. After a closer investigation, I saw that it was a hole. I felt around the hole, looking for a ladder. A piece of silk was stuck on the edge. It was white and pink, matching the girl’s dress! Oh no! What if she got into a trap? What if she had not survived the fall? all these hideous thoughts and more rushed through my mind. I would never forgive myself if the girl were harmed. It was my fault that she was here in the first place. I had to jump down, so I lowered the lantern, trying to see the depth of the hole. It was only about a meter deep, and I did not see the girl there, just simply another path.
    I dropped my lantern in first, giving me light. After tying the bottom of my dress to my waist, I leap down. My legs landed first, my final position being a crouch. Quickly, I snatched the lantern and kept going down the corridor.
    There was a faint light in the distance; it was getting bigger as I headed for it. When I got to the end of the hall, I noticed that I had arrived at the lake. This was exactly where I did not want to be.
    Reluctantly, I sat in the small boat, paddling and looking for the girl. I saw no sigh of her, but soon I heard a soft singing. It’s beautiful voice was drawing me to look over the boat. “Idiot!” I said to myself, “It is only the sirens luring you!”
    I began to paddle again. Every now and then peering over the edge of the boat, trying to catch a glimpse of the siren that was making that wonderful noise. At last, I could not take it anymore; I stopped in the middle of the underground lake, and looked over, almost to the point of capsizing. My face was centimeters from the water’s surface; the voice of the siren was doing its job.
    Suddenly, I felt two hands around me, grabbing me and rendering me motionless. The hands turned me around. It was him! He stopped grabbing me after realizing it was me.
    “What are you doing here?” he asked furiously, “You could have been killed!”
    “Please, just let me explain, monsieur,” I begged, looking into his golden eyes.
    He stood up, the water lapping at his waist and cape. “Follow me,” ordered the Phantom. He swam toward the little house near the lake. My paddle was paddling as fast as my arms would allow, which wasn’t very fast. The black surface of the water shimmered with an evil light. I looked up; up at the enormous cavern the lake was housed in. This lake was here for a reason, to keep the water supplied to the Opera and it’s surrounding buildings clean and running smoothly. The siren had stopped singing, probably commanded by the Phantom of the Opera, who was now waiting impatiently by the door to his house.
    I reached the edge at last and stood up slowly in the little boat, making sure not to tip it over. I stepped out and looked to the Phantom, wondering what to do next. He simply opened the door and walked in. I followed him in and found myself in a room decorated with red, gold and black furniture. The Phantom motioned for me to sit down. I found a red velvet chair and made myself comfortable. He sat opposite of me, in a similar back velvet chair.
    “So, why are you here, Mara?” he asked, with his normal small smile on his lips.
    I twiddled my fingers, playing with a white string hanging from my gown.
    “Erik,” I said, with a glow of desperation in my eyes, “I am looking for someone, someone who innocently wandered into your empire.”
    Erik looked at the door, as if a person was about to burst in. He turned his masked face towards me again. “Who are you seeking?”
    “A young girl, who looks to be only 5 years of age,” I said, worry overtaking my face.
    Erik sighed and gestured towards a door, the door, which I believed, led to his bedroom. “I found a young girl playing in the lake. I was worried, for the sirens would make a tasty snack of her, so I swam out to her. She turned to me and smiled, ‘Hello, are you friends with the pretty voice?’ she asked me. You hear that Mara? She didn’t fear me! Well, I nodded my head and said ‘Yes, I am, but that voice is not always safe, why don’t you come with me?’ and she came. She said she was tired, so I let her sleep in my bedroom. I believe she is sound asleep as we speak,” he told.
    A wave of full relief invaded my heart. ‘She is safe!’ I thought, sighing as I let all the pressure out of my body and mind. I looked back at Erik. He was a good man; he tried to be fair and would not harm a mere child. “Thank-you, Erik. I was worried to death!”
    “Of course, anytime Mara, but please, it is just too dangerous down here in this hell,” he admitted with a sad look in his eyes, I could only read his eyes, for half of his face was covered by a ivory-white mask. I thought he added. ‘It is also too lonely,’ under his breath, but I took it as a misunderstanding.
    “Well, I think I must take her above the surface of the earth. Her mother must be at least twice as worried as I was!” I explained, a smile curving on my face as I looked into Erik’s eyes.
    “Very well, go into my room and take her back on the boat. Be careful out there,” he added as I turned the silver handle. I nodded and swiftly went in. A little girl in a pink and white dress was sleeping peacefully on Erik’s bed, her bright red hair falling perfectly on the pillow. Making sure not to wake her fully, I carried her out the door, nodding in farewell to Erik.
    Once outside the small house, I set the girl in the boat, she was still sleeping, so I decided to go back inside the small house.
    Erik was still sitting in the black chair, staring into the distance. He turned towards me when I came in.
    “Is something wrong?” He asked, pure kindness in his eyes.
    “Yes, I just thought we could talk,” I said, my fingers again playing with a stray string from my dress. I looked down at my bear feet. How stupid am I? Why did I come back? I thought. I felt a hand on my chin; it was lifting my head.
    “Are you okay?” he asked, his face only about 10 centimeters from mine.
    Was I okay? Why had I wanted to talk to him? “Yes, I am fine, I just really wanted to talk,” I admitted. He smiled and motioned for me to sit next to him on a couch. I obeyed and sat myself down next to him. His amber eyes were staring into my ebony ones. “Well, what do you want to talk about?” he asked kindly.
    I said the one thing I had always wanted to know. “What is it like?”
    “You mean what is it like to be a living monster, living in this-this repulsive empire?” he asked grief and angry glimmering in his eyes.
    I flinched at the harsh words. I had not meant to set him off like this; I only wanted to know. His expression changed from grief and anger to compassion. “I am sorry, it is just…” he stood up and turned toward a crackling fire place, “It is just that, you have no idea how lonely or depressing it gets down here.”
    I stood up and turned him gently, looking into his eyes, I said, “That must feel terrible, but you are not alone always. And you might not be alone anymore…” I stopped, realizing what had just poured out of my mouth. An unknown feeling flashed through Erik’s eyes.
    “Think of what you are saying, Mara, you do not want to condemn yourself so easily,” his words were gentle and knowing.
    I nodded, too embarrassed to say more. I got over it and contained, “Well, I must take the girl up now,” I said, love shining in my eyes. I was surprised to see him turn away.
    “Very well, take her up and exit through the north exit, that one shouldn’t be too busy,” he ordered, not turning around as I left, not daring to turn back.
    We made it just in time before the show, the mother was ecstatic to see her child again and offered me many things, which I refused. Since I was not on duty for tonight’s show, I went to my room. I laid in bed and thought of the previous events. Was Erik trying to show me that he thought me as only a friend? I thought. I wish I could go back down, but someone was bound to notice me. I decided to visit tomorrow instead.
    The sun shone through the window, warming my skin and my plain black hair. I quickly got dressed and put up my hair into a bun. My heart was pounding as I raced through the set and stage, trying to get to an entrance to the cellars.
    I made my way down the southern opening. I walked calmly this time, not having to rush towards anybody. I saw a white figure ahead; it was Cesar! I ran to the beautiful white horse that belonged to Erik. After giving the stallion some treats, I continued my way down the trail, my pace fast and hurried.
    I finally arrived at the lake, being at the south side of the lagoon, I was right by the house. I went in the little house and looked around for Erik. He was not in the main room, so I opened the door to his bedroom, he was asleep on his organ. Don Juan Triumphant was on the music stand. That play was his life’s work; he treasured it and had once let me hear one act. The act was gloomy and at the same time, joyful.
    I exited his room and sat on a golden chair, waiting his awaking. I gazed at the room, it was decorated with worn furniture, but it was still quite beautiful. After several minutes, I heard a rustling in Erik’s room. The silver handle turned and a shocked Erik came out. “What do you need?” he asked, with a wondering look in his eyes.
    “We-well, I needed to tell you something,” I admitted.
    He paced around the room and finally settled in a crimson chair, he was fingering a black piece of felt. “Remember what I said yesterday and you will be fine, Mara,” he warned.
    Nodding, I opened my mouth to speak, “Well, I was thinking about it yesterday, lying in bed. I was thinking of the night before. I have been visiting you for many months now, Erik. Each visit I grew more attached to you. Each visit, my heart cleared a bit more space for you. I looked past the mask, past the face, past the history I looked in your soul and heart for the true man that you are. The man that I love,” I was now looking at him, tears skidding down my cheeks.
    To my amazement, he looked at me bewildered. We stayed silent for a few moments. “Mara, think,! Think! Why? Why me? I do not deserve you!” he exclaimed.
    “I already did, for months, Erik, months! You can not stop me from loving you,” I said.
    He got stood up with me and stepped closer to me, his masked face finally showing love as well. His lips brushed against mine in an embracing hold. I closed my eyes and kissed back, my heart was pounding. I touched his face and took the mask off, holding the face of the man I loved.
    “Thank you, Mara. I am not alone," he said, happiness and compassion sparking in his golden eyes. He put something around my neck. I realized that it was the black fabric, what I did not notice was that it held a black diamond. I looked in his eyes. “A figure of our love.”
    I nodding, still entranced by his eyes.
    It was true; the Phantom of the Opera was no longer alone.