A/N: So this chapter gets a little intense, and may be uncomfortable for some readers.
I found myself standing in front of the address inscribed on the back of the note written to me from the shah. Knowing too well how little hi capacity for patience was and how immense his pining for torture was, I left as soon as possible, stopping only long enough to strap my cloak around my neck. Caesar was a bit disgruntled the first moments I retrieved him, as I'd never rushed him so much, but seeing as I was carrying Christine's life on my shoulders, I didn't comfort him until we were off at a quick pace.
Jumping off of Caesar's back, I half ran up the path to the small cabin on the edge of the woods. Not very long ago, I wouldn't have even given a second glance at the girl, but here I was running straight back into the din I had gotten out of so many years before.
The cabin was small and on the very outer rim of the woods. It was a two hours ride from the opera house and the sun was beginning to dip low on the horizon. It would be dark within the hour.
The windows were dark. Perhaps the shah wasn't there. Knowing it was most likely locked, I attempted to open the only door. Locked. No matter. It only took mere moments to jimmy the lock and push the door in. After the seconds it took for my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the room, I looked around. There were only two rooms. One large open bare room that you walked into as soon as you enter and another door leading to the other. My attention was immediately drawn to the figure slumped over in the chair; unruly chocolate curls falling over her face.
"Christine," I whispered, more to myself than to her. Taking a few steps forward, I could nearly reach out and touch her when something solid and hard hit my head, knocking me down and turning m vision to black.
I woke up sometime later, dreading what was to come.
"Ah you're awake. I wondered when you would come around." The man in the robes pulled behind him another man with his wrists bound behind his back. A white mask obscured half of his face, but the other half was strikingly handsome.
'Allow me to introduce you." He gestured to the man. "This is Erik." My eyes widened, but I said nothing. I had never given very much thought to what Erik would look like. The robed man walked to me and looked over his shoulder at Erik. I couldn't see the man's face but the look spread across Erik's told me it wasn't good. Suddenly and without warning, the robed man's hand slapped me across the cheek again, hurting the bruise that had already formed from his previous slap. I whimpered as the pain throbbed in my cheek. Erik let out a small growl and yanked at his bonds. I could see now that his wrists had been tied to the opposite wall by the stage hand, who now stood in the doorway overseeing the whole ordeal.
"How attached you are to her," the man commented. "I wonder…" the man turned to Erik once more.
"The khanum was unhappy when you left without warning."
Erik looked slightly amused. "I would have been dead by morning by your hand," he replied. I was confused by their conversation. Who is the khanum? Why did Erik know this foreign man?
"Just so, Erik. None can run from death. Not even a magician."
Erik shrugged, fire blazing in his amber colored eyes. "Depends on how fast you run."
The man laughed once again, though this time it was colder. He leaned toward Erik and spoke very deliberately. "No one can cheat death."
He then turned to me. "Not even her."
Fear flashed briefly in Erik's eyes and he yanked once again at his bonds. "Don't touch her, It's me you want." Erik said quietly but dangerously.
The shah let out an odd chuckle. "No, you see. Judged on your reaction, I do believe it will hurt you more to see her suffer than for you yourself suffer."
I too now pulled on my ropes. What was he going to do to me? The robed man looked to the door and motioned for the stagehand. The stagehand cracked his knuckles menacingly and walked to me. I flinched when he started to undo the ropes that held me to the chair. My heart leaped. Was he letting me go? What about Erik?
The stagehand turned me so my back faced the room and pushed me to the floor on my knees. I sucked in my breath as he retied my wrists to the arms of the chair, cutting into the raw skin that the ropes had left before. The stagehand left to reclaim his spot in the doorway. I couldn't see Erik but wondered if it was better to not see the fear in his eyes and make me more frightened.
"Let us test my theory, shall we?"
Suddenly, I felt something cold slide down my back, ripping the back of my dress and my corset from my back. A blade, I thought. Erik made another low growl from the other side of the room. I needed to see him now. I didn't want to go through all of this alone. The man's fingers trailed down my back. I whimpered and pressed into the chair, trying to escape his touch.
"Such beautiful skin." The fingers left and I heard the man's voice in the other side of the room. "Perhaps we shall match it to look like your back, Erik." Erik's back? What happened to Erik's back? I could hear Erik pulling wildly on his ropes and knew it wasn't good.
The man was behind me now, but I couldn't see him. My dress hung from my shoulders and, thank god, still covered my front. Something hard, but flexible ran down the length of my back. I shivered from the contact.
Pain exploded in my back, a hundred times worse than a slap to the face. A whip, my mind told me, although I could barely think through the pain racing through me.
Somebody screamed, but I didn't realize it was me.
"Christine, listen to me, okay? Listen to my voice. Close your eyes and focus on my voice." I squeezed my eyes shut and listened to Erik's voice. It lessened the pain, but only slightly.
I screamed again as another explosion of pain attacked my body. Tears ran down my cheeks.
"Christine, I'm so sorry. Listen to me. I'm here. I'm here. I'm sorry."
Crack, crack, crack
Three more licks in quick succession. My vision started to blur and black spots appeared on the edges of the room. Erik's voice was drowned out by the pounding of my heartbeat in my ears. I felt flames lick my body, but looked down and saw none. I'm dying, I thought. Surely, I'm dying. Pressure was on my wrists for one moment and gone the next. I looked up and saw that my wrists were untied. I pulled my arms around myself and hugged my elbows. My face felt hot as tears ran down it. I could feel something hot and wet on my back. With what little strength I had, I reached back and felt, crying out in pain at the contact. I pulled my hand back. It was red with blood.
"Christine, I'm so sorry."
"Erik, please," I hiccupped through sobs. "I-I need you"
"I know, but you need to untie me. You need to come over here." His voice was shaky and it seemed like he was speaking through tears.
I pulled myself, crawling to Erik, and raised my shaking hands to the ropes on his wrists. After a few tries when my fingers slipped, Erik's bonds were loose enough to pull out of. When he was free, I wrapped my arms around his neck and cried into his shoulder. Pain still radiated from my back. Blood wet what little was left of the back of my dress that hung limply by its sleeves. Not wanting to hurt my wounds further, Erik cradled my head to his chest.
"It's okay. I'm sorry. You're okay. We'll get out of here. You're okay."
I willed my crying to deescalate to whimpers. I knew everything he was saying was only to comfort me, and we may never get out, but right here it felt right.
I listened to Erik's words and fell asleep feeling the vibrations of his voice echo through his chest and throat. Yes, I thought to myself as the pain dulled with the coming of sleep, this felt right.