A/N: And here is another chapter… thanks so much for the reviews! :) I'm happy to see this story so well-received, and am eager to get into it…


II

Emotionally drained from the entire dilemma that revolved around the mysterious Master of Rosemont, what had spanned the entire week, Christine remained unaware of the passage of time as she continually nodded off and startled awake. Barely cognizant, her unconscious mind somehow perceived the slowing of the carriage, which at last rolled to a full stop and brought her eyes to fly open. Her heart beat a slow and painful cadence against her breast at the uncertainty of the grim future into which she had doubtless arrived.

When more than a minute must have passed while her thoughts raced loud in the oppressive silence, she tentatively clutched the handle and pushed the door ajar, noting at once that nighttime still visited the countryside. Whether minutes or hours had elapsed, she had no clue.

Her first glimpse of the great edifice that loomed ahead, ready to engulf her like a dark cloud into its oblivion, did nothing to steady Christine's nerves.

Nervously she jumped down onto the snow-encrusted pebbled drive, her small reticule that contained her mother's comb and a few ribbons bumping against her wrist. Save for her flannel nightgown of wool worn beneath her dress, it was all she had brought with her to enter this new life. Save for a book on fairy tales left behind, a cherished gift of long ago, it was all she truly owned.

Christine took a few sluggish steps while staring with awed horror up, up, up at the chateau to which she was about to consign three hundred and sixty five days of her scant existence. In the black of night, she could make out no details except that it was much larger than any establishment she had ever seen in her small village – ever seen anywhere. Not that she was well-traveled. Indeed, this night could be construed as the extent of her journeys, all of what she could remember. No torches or lamps were lit outdoors to welcome her, no candlelight illumined the windows. She would need to blindly feel her way up the short set of stairs that led to massive front doors and the mystery that lay beyond them...

Behind, the jangle of harness and sudden clop of hooves alerted her that the carriage was in motion. She turned to call out in question before it could disappear from sight, but after further consideration, resisted. The cloaked driver had been aloof, almost hostile, never once looking her way or offering a word in exchange, and she doubted she would get any answers from him.

Christine was well and truly on her own, and though the idea of it terrified, she could not count as a mistake this decision to help her Papa, now that circumstances had shifted and he needed her assistance for his well-being. No matter that he had not asked for her involvement...

This was right. This was how it must be.

She shook away what troubling fears gnawed at her self-confidence and set her resolve to locate another source of humanity and, with all hope, a kindred spirit. Surely a member of staff would direct her with her first course of action to take, though Christine hoped her unknown superior might take pity and allow her a few hours of rest on whatever cot was assigned to her.

Cautiously, she ascended the dark shadowed steps leading up to the front entrance and rapped the doorknocker against the door. When no one answered, she repeated the raps, increasing their number. After a third attempt garnered no response, she reassured herself that she was expected and tried the door, half supposing it to be barred against her.

Despite the late hour, it gave way easily, opening into a small antechamber which in turn led to a great circular room with a far wall that boasted a massive split level staircase, this room also depressingly dark. But ahead in the distance hope glimmered in the presence of orange firelight that flickered upon the wall and made it possible for Christine to see well enough to cross the wide floor.

The desperate need to be warmed, both in body and soul, led her past the monstrous staircase and into the corridor ahead, her footsteps a hollow echo on marble tiles. The narrow passageway continued on into bleak darkness, but to the left twin doors opened to a spectacular room that must be meant for dining. A banquet room, surely.

An incredibly long table covered in white cloth and replete with silver candelabra, each three-branched tier spaced a few feet apart, sat opposite a hearth fire that crackled merrily in the room and brought its details subtly to light. Everywhere she looked the stamp of wealth was apparent, from the dark, luxurious furnishings to the intricately carved beams of repeated swirls and leaves near the high ceiling – cornice mouldings, she presumed, from a book she once read that detailed a manor so sublime. Hand carved mouldings also decorated the large mantel, the high-backed chairs, and the wooden frame of a large landscape in subdued tones that hung along a wall adjacent to the hearth.

For a long moment she stood motionless, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings, when suddenly she felt the prickle of hairs stand to attention on her nape.

As she observed, so also was she being observed.

Christine quickly pivoted to the doorway, which remained an empty rectangle of darkness.

"Hello?" she called out a bit anxiously. "Is anyone there…?"

No answer met her query, and she wondered if the entire staff was abed. Of course, they must be! The hour was late, dawn not far on the horizon.

She was reminded of her father's tale of his experience in this manor so considerable that their humble cottage could fit twice into this room alone. He, too, had wandered indoors at a late hour to find rest and had not been met with staff or host. But he had not been expected and she was – her presence actually demanded.

With no other option, she dragged a chair closer to the fire and sat down to wait until someone should come to meet her with instructions. Her vigil lasted only a short while when she heard the clear sound of footsteps come from somewhere outside the door.

Hurriedly she quit the room and returned to the area with the stairwell, surprised to see a light above the stairs – a lamp that had been lit!

Encouraged to find another soul to talk to, she held to the carved wooden banister and took the set of staircases up and to the left, following the muted glow down a corridor with doors closed on each side. One door stood open, a second glow coming from within.

"Hello?" she said little above a hesitant whisper, not wishing to awaken the entire household with a shout. "Is anyone there, please?"

With her steps no longer determined, now somewhat wary, she came to the entrance of a bedchamber. It too was empty. The furnishings, save for the bed, were covered in white sheets, ghostly in appearance. The canopied four-poster, with its heavy bed curtains of green damask velvet pulled back to one side, had been turned down, as if awaiting its owner. Clearly a room intended for someone of importance, though why the rest of the furniture should be shrouded in cloth posed a mystery, as did everything else about this night.

Christine felt like an intruder and backed out of the room before she could be found and scolded for treading where she should not go.

Fraught with exhaustion, her nerves raw, she teetered on the edge of tears and hurried back downstairs to find someone – anyone. Yet the corridors stretched on into caverns of hollow darkness that unnerved her, and she abstained from her search at the first sofa she found in a dimly moonlit room on the other side of the staircase. She would rest here for the remainder of the night, or until someone found her…

If indeed anyone should be looking.

The bristly nap beneath her cheek soon became damp from her silent lament. She felt lost, alone and afraid, awash in her first bout of homesickness – the harsh truth of her plight coming boldly to mind: for one full year, she was indentured by threat to some cruel tyrant who did not even have the courtesy or decency to arrange for any sort of welcome to his household –

No matter that she was only to be his slave.

xXx

In the darkness, the Master of Rosement stood at a safe distance and watched the frail wisp of a girl who lay curled asleep on the sofa of his study. After countless years of living beneath the earth, his eyesight had refined to incredible depths so that he could perceive what others could not see in the darkness, and he could tell by the shimmer of wetness covering the cheek upon which she did not lay that she had been crying.

Curious.

Even more so that she rejected the clear comfort of the bed he had readied for her stay in favor of the harder and narrow sofa.

Was she dimwitted as well as frail? Or, perhaps, a martyr to her cause? When she entered and exited his carriage, she had come willing, with little hesitation. True, his note had left no other recourse but to obey, but there had been no tears, no pleas for his mercy - indeed, no words at all, save for her soft query if he was the one who had come to collect her.

When her delinquent of a father had glorified the traits of his daughter, he had listened and pondered, in the days that followed often recalling the man's words – a kind heart, a gentle disposition, a pure soul that reflected in a voice belonging to the realms of heaven…

And while steeped in such hopeful aspirations he had written the note to summon her to his chateau.

He desired a taste – only a taste – of such coveted interaction, never having been the recipient of such traits, and resolved that they would associate via the shadows that to him had become faithful companions. A hollow prize, perhaps. But then, that was more than he had ever known in this accursed and lonely life he was forced to endure.

He was no more than a beast, after all. And she…

He looked upon her slumbering countenance and recalled how the flames of firelight caught ruby glimmers in her long mahogany curls… how her dark gaze had so anxiously searched the room in hopeful expectation, her eyes so wide in skin so flawless …

She was a beauty. A beauty that by all counts he should not entrap within his cheerless home under the excuse of keeping house, no matter that an agreement had been arranged for her father's crime and he had every right to seek recompense. If he was a moral man with a noble heart, he would send the young woman back home to her father come the morn. Yet he was neither of those things. Many did not believe him even to belong to the species of man, and more than a few had called him monster…

They did not err in their regard.

For now that he had laid eyes upon Gustave Daaé's only daughter, he had no intention of ever letting her go.

xXx


A/N: Muwahaha ;-) Hope you guys liked it!

Just a note – usually for my birthday I start another story, but since I have quite a few ongoing, (and am nearing the end of one of them), instead of posting a new one on my bday this month, I'm going to be doing a chapter of every one of them I have in progress, (not all on that day - lol) -including those that have been on the back burner for a while. :) I'm doing this in alphabetical order, so that tells you which one will always come next…