Chapter 1 – Rescue
The day after the fire, huge crowds of curious Parisians went to the ruins of the Opéra Populaire to see what was left of it and maybe hear some rumors about what exactly had happened, how the fire had started. The fire was mostly extinguished by then, only the occasional flame flickered here and there and was quickly put out by the members of the fire brigade that were still working there.
The building had been declared unsafe and cordoned off to prevent unauthorized access, but a group of men and women had installed themselves in front of what had been the main entrance. They looked as if they had not been home since the night before. Their clothes were dirty, even torn and they had all sorts of items with them that could be used as weapons: pieces of debris, sticks, and similar devices. They had become heroes overnight, for they were the ones that had seen the famous Phantom die.
After they had followed the criminal to his lair and hunted him to death, they had celebrated their victory, and when they had finally been ready to go home, the first journalists and curious onlookers had shown up and they had started telling their story. Several hours later, they were still at it, repeating over and over again, how the fugitive criminal had been killed by a collapsing subterranean corridor. On occasion someone asked a question, but mostly their audiences cheered them on and congratulated them for having defeated the monster that had been haunting the Opera Populaire for so long and now had caused its destruction.
Once again, the self-proclaimed heroes had finished their story and kindly asked those that already knew about the beast's end to step aside so that newcomers would get a chance to listen to their tale. The group in front of them dissolved and those that had been waiting in the back approached so that they could hear the amazing story.
Two elderly men that had just listened to the mob's retelling of their adventures, left the crowd in front of the opera house walking in different directions, but they met each other again a few streets away.
"Do you think…?" one of them started a conversation, only to be hushed by his companion. "Not here, Darius," the other man said, "Let's go home first." They walked silently side by side, until they reached the apartment building where they lived.
Only once they had settled down in the sitting room of their apartment, did they discuss the situation. "Something is wrong," Nadir Khan said. "When I heard about last night's events I was so certain that Erik would come here to hide. He obviously has not done so. These people who have hunted him, seem to think he is dead, but…" he paused to think.
"If the corridor collapsed…" the manservant Darius reminded his master. "I know," Nadir acknowledged. "He might be dead. But they mentioned the passageway behind his mirror. That one goes straight to the only corridor that leads to the exit on Rue Scribe. I know that Erik had a trap somewhere along this corridor to fight off pursuers should he ever have to flee. I seem to remember that he mentioned something like a collapsible corridor, but if it were that, he would have been able to escape and most likely come here."
Darius looked at him. "Is it possible that the mechanism was somehow faulty? That something went wrong and a larger part of the roof came down than was planned or something like that?"
Nadir shook his head. "No, I don't think so. Erik does not make such mistakes. I am sure the trap was fool-proof." He suddenly interrupted himself and stared ahead. "The fire," he whispered. "Oh my God, the fire must have affected the building's structural integrity and might have caused Erik's mechanism to malfunction. He may very well be buried underneath the collapsed roof down there."
Darius did not have to ask what course of action Nadir was planning to take, he knew exactly what his master was thinking. "You are going down," he stated. "You want to know for sure if he is dead." Nadir nodded. "We can go in through Rue Scribe. Since access to that entrance is blocked from the inside by the cave in, nobody will have found the connection between the little gate in the Rue Scribe and the opera house. If he is dead, we'll see to it that he gets a decent burial, if he is gone, we know that he is alive, but if…" Nadir suddenly shuddered.
"We must go at once," Darius suggested. "Master Erik may be injured and need help." Nadir sighed. "We have to wait till it gets dark," he said. "Even if we can get in without causing suspicion, if he is injured we cannot get him out and bring him here safely until it's dark. If someone saw us and recognized him…"
Darius had to admit that his master had a point, yet he objected. "What if he is seriously injured?" he asked. "In a few hours it may be too late." Nadir sighed. "He is in Allah's hand," he murmured. "We cannot risk looking for him until it's dark enough. Fortunately today we have an overcast sky and in February it gets dark soon anyway. We may be able to leave in about two hours. Maybe we can put together a first aid kit in the meantime, in case we'll need that."
Two hours later the two men made their way to the Rue Scribe. Nadir thanked Allah that Erik had trusted him with a spare key. They would have had to wait till much later if they had to pick the lock. Nadir quickly unlocked the door and let them in, closing the door behind them. Once inside, he pulled a lantern from his bag and lit it. Then he led the way.
A few hundred meters farther ahead, the two men heard nervous neighing. "César," Nadir exclaimed. "I had completely forgotten about the horse. If the stallion is still here, Erik must be as well,…" He did not finish his thought. Dead or alive. Erik had obviously never left the building, but was it because he was dead – or injured and in need of help?
The two men hurried along, even more nervous than before. If Erik was still alive, he must be so badly hurt that he could not leave on his own. In that case every minute could make a difference. The question only was – would they still be in time?
Nadir turned yet another corner. When his lantern's shine fell on the debris of the collapsed corridor he gasped. A figure lay this side of the debris, pinned down by a large wooden beam. As Nadir approached to examine the body, he heard a soft moan.
"Quick, Darius," he called. "He is still alive, let's get that beam off him!" And together the two men hauled the beam out of the way, then Nadir crouched down next to his friend to determine the extent of his injuries. Erik was lying on his left side, his unmasked right cheek and temple clearly visible – as clearly as the open wound that ran across his deformity. It had obviously bled extensively, but at some point the blood had caked. The whole deformed side of Erik's head was badly bruised, showing all colors of the rainbow, his right eye was swollen shut.
"The head wound looks nasty," Nadir commented, "I will probably have to stitch it, though Allah only knows how his delicate skin in that area will react to stitching. Most likely he has a concussion as well. I don't like the fact that he is unconscious, though he is also feverish, which might account for that." He then proceeded to examine the rest of Erik's right side that had been hit by the beam. "His right arm is broken," he stated matter-of-factly, "but that will heal, and two or three ribs are at least slightly cracked, if not broken, and his whole right side is bruised."
He looked up at Darius. "We need to get him home, the faster, the better. The damp air down here is not helping any, and I definitely need more light in order to set the bone in his broken arm and to stitch his head wound."
The two men looked at each other helplessly. Erik was slender, but he was tall, therefore heavy enough that the prospect of carrying the unconscious man all the way back to their home did not appeal to them. "The horse," Nadir suddenly said. "Allah is looking down upon us. We will be able to use the horse to transport him."
Even with César's help, it took them another hour to get Erik first to the stallion's stable, then on the horse, with Nadir sitting behind him and keeping him from falling off, and finally back to their home. While Darius brought César to a nearby stable, where he would be cared for till Erik would be well enough again to claim him, Nadir started to work on his friend's injuries. He cautiously cleaned Erik's head wound, disinfected it and carefully stitched it. "I am afraid it won't look any better now," he murmured, while bandaging Erik's head.
He then went on to set the bone in Erik's broken arm, then splintered it and bandaged it as well. At last he wrapped Erik's torso to provide some support for the broken ribs. He then looked at his friend. Erik's skin was always rather pale, but due to the blood loss from the head wound his features now looked almost yellowish. He was still unconscious, and his fever had started to rise. Nadir was worried. He had done all he could for his friend, but he was not really a doctor and he did not dare ask a real doctor for advice, because he was not sure he could trust anybody except his own servant. If what he had been able to do was not good enough….
"Allah, look down upon this misguided young man," he prayed. "He has committed lots of sins, but I know that he has a kind, compassionate heart, and his crimes are just as much the fault of those that have abused him because of his face, as they are his fault. Let him make a full recovery, oh Allah!"
Several days followed that kept Nadir and Darius worried. Their patient did not regain consciousness, and his fever reached dangerous levels. When he got delirious they had trouble keeping him from thrashing too much and injuring his broken arm even further.
The first two or three days Nadir was glad, his friend was unconscious. Erik would have hated the headlines in the papers talking about the fiend's demise, and the huge announcement of the impending nuptials of the Vicomte de Chagny and the young diva, who the Vicomte had valiantly saved from the clutches of the monster, would have deeply hurt his friend. Of course, Erik would have to learn about these facts sooner or later, but Nadir preferred it to be later, once Erik would be sufficiently recovered to deal with the loss of his love.
The longer Erik's illness continued without any improvement, though, the more worried Nadir got. Had his friend sustained some internal damage as well? Why did he not wake up? Was the head injury more severe than he had originally thought? Was Erik's brain affected? Certainly the thin skin on the right side of his face did not provide as much protection as other people's more robust skin might have. What if Erik was comatose? What if his friend would never wake up again?
After about a week, Erik was going through some type of crisis. His fever rose up to incredible heights, only to drop again within the next few hours to dangerously low levels. Nadir and Darius barely left his side, anxiously waiting for a change in his condition. Praying to Allah for his life.
Almost an entire day went by, where the two men feared every moment for their friend's life, then Erik suddenly seemed to relax, and when Nadir touched the injured man's forehead, his temperature was the closest to normal it had been since they had brought him to their home.
"There is hope now," Nadir sighed, relieved. "I am sure now that he will live, though what we do if he does not wake up soon, I have no idea."
Erik stirred. He felt drowsy. And he was in pain. He had a terrible headache and the entire right side of his body hurt. What had happened? Why was he in such a condition? He tried to open his eyes, but heard a soft voice saying, "easy, Erik, stay put, try not to move too much, it will make your headache worse."
Erik? He wondered. Was this person speaking to him? Was his name Erik? Then realization hit him like a shock: He had no idea who he was, where he was, why he was in so much pain, or who that person was that had just talked to him, though the voice seemed vaguely familiar. "I am sure I know that man," he thought by himself, "but I do not know who he is, where I met him, what his name is."
He forced his left eye open. Why could he not seem to open his right eye as well? Then he glanced at the man sitting at his bedside. "Of course," he thought, "that's what he looks like, I knew it." Deep down his subconscious remembered that that was the way the person looked like to whom belonged the voice he had just heard.
"Where am I?" he rasped. Nadir stared at him, puzzled. Erik had been to his apartment before and should recognize the guest room. "Well, you are of course here with me in my apartment," he said uncertainly, holding a glass of water to Erik's parched lips so that the latter could take a sip.
Erik did not find this answer too satisfactory. "Who..?" he mumbled. "Your name…?" Nadir gasped. This was no joke. Erik was far too weak to think of pranks. "You do not remember my name?" he asked.
"No," Erik's answer was barely more than a whisper. Nadir closed his eyes. How was he to handle this? Erik was obviously suffering from a memory loss. How did one treat such a problem? Would it be permanent or would Erik eventually regain his memory? Nadir almost hoped this condition would be permanent. If Erik did not remember his past ordeals and crimes, he could start a new life. If he did not remember his lost love and broken heart, he would not suffer quite as much. But what was a person without his past? Without the knowledge of all the experiences and events that had shaped his personality? No, Nadir decided. He did not want that Erik would never remember. For the moment it was probably best if Erik did not remember too much, but Nadir hoped that his friend would eventually regain his memory.
"Nadir," he finally said. "My name is Nadir." Erik tried to nod, which made his head swim. Now that he heard the name he knew it belonged to the man sitting at his bedside. He still had no idea what his relationship with this man was.
"Do you remember anything, Erik?" Nadir asked, then paused before cautiously adding, "the Opera?"
"Opera?" Erik seemed at a loss. He had a vague idea what a opera was, but could not remember ever having been to one. "What about it?" Nadir sighed. By Allah, Erik did not remember either his role as the Opera Ghost or that young singer, and for the moment it was better, that he did not.
"That's where you got injured," Nadir explained. "There was a fire during the performance. You got hit by a wooden beam, which caused you a nasty head wound, a concussion, a broken arm and some cracked or broken ribs, but you are mending. Your current memory loss is probably a side effect of your concussion. I am sure that with time it will all come back to you." Nadir exhaled. It was so hard to decide what to tell Erik and what not. All he had said was technically true, though it was only half the truth. "At least Erik can't complain that I lied to him, once he remembers," he thought by himself.
"I will get you some chicken broth now," he finally said. "You should try to eat at least a few spoonfuls in order to regain your strength and then you should sleep. Relax, stop worrying. You will make a full recovery, and you will soon remember everything." He smiled reassuringly at his ill friend, then stood and went towards the door to get the soup.
"Nadir, wait," Erik's voice sounded weak and there was a troubled look in his visible left eye. "What is it?" Nadir asked. "Do you need something else that you want me to bring to you?"
Erik summoned all his strength and formulated an entire question. "My right eye," he murmured, "why can't I seem to open it?"
Nadir smiled at him. "Don't worry, Erik, there is nothing wrong with your eye, it's just swollen shut. Once that head injury of yours will heal, the swelling will go back and you will be able to use your eye again."
Erik mulled over the information he had just received, then asked, "so this injury is in my face? I will probably have an ugly scar?" Nadir's heartbeat almost stopped. Why would Erik care about an additional scar on his deformed face? Was it possible that… "The stitching will probably leave a scar on the right side of your face," he said cautiously, "going from your temple to your cheek."
Erik stared ahead, then finally said, "I guess I will have to get myself used to the idea of looking like a monster now." Nadir was at a loss what to say. Erik's words confirmed his previous suspicion – namely that Erik did not even remember that the right side of his face had always been deformed.