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Whilst You Were Looking

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Raoul gripped Christine’s hand tightly as they dragged themselves up the stairs that would take them out of the theatre’s cellars. Christine trailed behind, the yards of material that made up the wedding dress making each step an effort. They were both exhausted and Raoul knew that Christine needed to stop and rest, but they couldn’t risk stopping, not now. He felt certain that the Phantom wasn’t truly going to let them go, wasn’t going to let Christine leave him. They wouldn’t be safe until they had left his domain and all Raoul could focus on at this moment was getting out of the theatre and to the de Chagny estate.

“Wait, Raoul we need to stop.” Christine panted, ceasing all efforts to continue moving forward.

He tugged on her arm, trying to coax her forward but not pulling hard enough to hurt her. “No we have to keep going Christine. We’re almost there, I promise. We just need to get away from here.”

“Please, just a moment,” She said, pulling her hand away from Raoul and leaning against a damp brick wall to try and catch her breath.

Raoul glanced around, certain that the Phantom was going to appear at any moment.

“That’s long enough.” Raoul said after a moment. They had been standing in the one spot for too long now and they had to move on. He grabbed Christine’s hand and started pulling her up the stairs again.

They walked in silence, their heavy breathing and the noise Raoul’s shoes were making the only indication that there was a soul in the cellars.

“I think we’re close,” he murmured, tightening his grip on Christine’s hand. “I’m starting to recognise things.” As they got closer to the surface there was more evidence of life. The people who lived and worked in the theatre may not have gone down to the lowest levels of the cellars because of their fear of the Opera Ghost, but the levels closest to the surface were still used for storage of old costumes, sets and props. The lower levels however, looked like they had been abandoned for decades.

“I think this is the final level.” He exclaimed, starting to move faster. They were so close; once they entered the main part of the theatre they would be safe. After tonight’s performance the Phantom wouldn’t dare show his face in the public areas of the theatre, not with the authorities still on the premises waiting to capture him. “Come on Christine.”

But whilst Raoul was moving faster, desperate to escape the cellars, Christine started to slow down again. Each step she took was a bit slower than the last and Raoul found that he needed to pull her harder to ensure that she was keeping up with him.

“Christine, please. We’re almost there.” He pleaded, continuing to tug her forward.

“The mob is coming. I can hear them.” She stated the fact so simply, like she was commenting on the weather.

Raoul couldn’t hear them but he felt it was best to accept that Christine could. “I’m sure that they’re further down in the cellars, they won’t find us here. But we still need to keep going; it isn’t safe for anyone down here.” He hoped that Christine was correct and that the mob was nearby. Hopefully they would be enough of a distraction for the Phantom to ensure that he could take Christine safely from the theatre without being followed.

“No!” Christine cried, twisting her wrist so that Raoul was forced to let her go.

“What’s wrong?” Raoul asked, looking around the dark cellars for some sign that something was wrong. Had the Phantom been able to evade the mob and find them already?

“Raoul, I can’t just...I have to...” Christine struggled to explain what she was thinking. Now that her hand was free she started walking backwards, away from Raoul. He lunged forward to try and recaptured her hand. She jumped backwards and turned around so she was looking back down the stairs. “You keep going.” She instructed, without turning around to face him. With that she took off, running down into the darkness, the dress no longer appearing to hamper her efforts to move.

“Christine, wait!” Raoul shouted, running after her. He couldn’t even imagine what she was thinking going back there. They were so close and he knew that she wanted to get away from this dreadful place as much as he did. Although the Phantom had told them to leave Raoul didn’t trust the creature for a moment. For all he knew it was just part of a trap to capture Christine again, letting her go but then luring her back. The thought made him run even faster, heedless of the risk that the smallest misstep could send him into another of the Phantom’s traps.

“Christine!” he called out again, the sound echoing off the stone walls. He slowed to a jog, hoping to hear her reply. When he didn’t hear anything he stopped completely, straining to hear any noise at all. The cellar was deathly silent and couldn’t even hear a shuffling noise that would indicate Christine’s slippers moving on the cellar floor. He didn’t understand how she could have gotten away from him so quickly. Unless there were other passageways that she knew about that he hadn’t seen or were hidden. He still didn’t know how many hours Christine had spent with that creature down here. Perhaps he had shown her the secret passageways that he used to move around the theatre and she now knew the subterranean levels of the theatre as well as she knew the above ground levels.

Not hearing anything he continued on, trying to keep his steps as quiet as possible so as not to attract any unwanted attention. Assuming that Christine hadn’t gone back the way they had come, he started walking down smaller side passages, until he realised that he was lost and didn’t know how to get back. Swearing under his breath, he continued walking forwards. He could only hope that if he walked for long enough he would find Christine. Once he found her and knew that she was safe then he would worry about getting them out of here. But right now, being lost was the least of his problems if he didn’t have Christine safely with him.

Meg gingerly put her foot on the ladder, hoping that the ancient looking wood wasn’t going to crack under her weight. When nothing happened she ventured to put more of her weight on it, but kept her hands ready to break her fall in case the ladder did give way. She took one last look down the hole she was about to climb into. She could see the first rungs of the ladder and if she brought her lantern in close she could just make out the last rungs as they reached the floor below, but there was nothing but darkness beyond the ladder.

She glanced around the level she was currently occupying; there was nothing of interest, except for the hole in the floor that she was currently standing by. The hole had been disguised, covered by a trapdoor that had blended into the floor. It had been entirely by accident that Meg had discovered the trapdoor when resting against the wall, part of the brickwork giving way slightly under her thumb. When she had pushed harder on the wall, the floor seemed to melt away, revealing the ladder. The entire chamber however, and the few items within it, was covered in a filthy layer of dust. It was obvious that no one had ventured down here in years, the dirt completely undisturbed until Meg had arrived and left a maze of footprints.

Did anyone even realise how deep the cellars of the opera went, she wondered. Even the bravest of the stagehands would only go down to the first few levels and they generally required a great many sips from a flask before they would do so. The mid levels must have been used at some point because Meg had found old costumes, although when she had gone to pick them up the more delicate fabrics had disintegrated between her fingers. But down here, there was nothing. She felt for certain that she must be near the bottom. Each level had become that much cooler and there was a smell of moisture in the air.

She readjusted her grip on the lantern and reached out with her other hand to hold onto the side of the ladder. She took a deep breath and shifted her weight onto the ladder. When it didn’t even creak Meg decided that it wasn’t going to break under her and she quickly started climbing down.

One she reached the bottom she held the lantern up to see where she was. She was somewhat disappointed to find that this level looked exactly the same as the previous one, although once again she could feel that it was getting colder. She paused for a moment and realised that she could hear the sound of lapping water.

As she started walking towards the source of the sound she saw that there were more shadows on the ground that her small lantern was capable of creating. She thought for a moment that the mob had beaten her down here but quickly told herself that it was impossible, unless the mob was silent, which she very much doubted.

Still, she started proceeding much slower than she had been and was ready to jump back into the shadows and snuff out her lantern if necessary. She could see that there was a passageway up ahead that was putting out a lot more light than any of the others. As she got closer she saw that the passage was lined with lamps, a random selection of which had been extinguished. As she walked passed one she stood up on her toes to peer in. There was still fuel in it and she could smell the smoke that indicated it had been burning recently. As she dropped back down, she looked nervously around, checking whether the person who extinguished the lamps was still nearby.

There was a door at the end of the passage way, but it looked like it hadn’t been shut properly, only pulled to. Meg placed her hand on the door and slowly pushed it forward. Peeking around the edge she saw a properly furnished room, and more curious than scared now, she walked in.

At first she thought that someone must have had some fun when putting props away but as she walked passed a small side table she realised that this was proper furniture, not the flimsy, easy to move pieces that they used on stage. The furniture was similar to what you would find in the drawing room of a wealthy home, all made from dark polished wood with velvet cushions and it was slightly out of date. The body of water on the other side of the cavern however was a stark reminder that this wasn’t an ordinary drawing room.

She walked further in, trying to grasp the idea that somebody could live underneath the opera. There was a large organ up against the far wall and the bench for it was lying on its side, as though whoever was playing it had stood up quickly, knocking it over. There were small stacks of paper on nearly every surface Meg could see and as she got closer she realised that it was covered in hastily written music.

She stopped at a small chaise longue where there was a neatly folded pile of clothes. She sat down and started unfolding them. She shook out a white shirt and nearly dropped it when she realised that it was part of Christine’s Aminta costume.

Christine had been down here. She could have slapped herself for being so stupid. This was obviously the Phantom’s home. Who else would be living this far beneath the opera house? But if Christine had been here, where was she now?

“Christine?” she called softly. She cleared her throat before calling out louder, “Christine?”

Meg didn’t know what she was going to do if the Phantom was still here. She could only hope that he wouldn’t hurt her because she was a woman and because she was Christine’s friend. As she thought about it more, she remembered how angry he had been when he had dragged Christine from the stage. If he was that enraged, she doubted that he would hesitate to hurt her if he believed she was a threat. Still, she had to know whether Christine was here, regardless of the risks.

She continued to call out her friend’s name, but there was nothing except silence in response. She kept walking through the Phantom’s home, noting that it consisted of a number of small rooms that all faced into the main room she was currently exploring. Seeing the title ‘Don Juan Triumphant’, she stopped to pick up a sheet of music. Quickly reading over the lyrics she saw that this was music for the last song of the opera, one that would likely never be performed now.

Suddenly she was aware of sounds coming from above her. There was no doubt that it was the mob, their angry voices carrying down into the cavern. They had obviously found another way down. She took one last glance around the room. Unless Christine was hiding she wasn’t here anymore. Nonetheless Meg risked calling out her friend’s name one last time. Her voice echoed slightly but there was no reply. The mob was getting closer and Meg knew that she couldn’t risk being caught.

Moving silently, she ran back across the room towards the door she had come through. She gasped slightly as she realised that once shut the door would become invisible and no one would even realise that there was a passage behind it. As she slipped through the doorway, she made sure to pull the door firmly shut behind her, ensuring that the mob wouldn’t realise that she, or anyone else, had left this way.