The man got out of the boat and stepped onto the shore. He turned back to me and held out a hand. He wanted to help me out of the boat.
I wondered if I could trust him. He did kidnap me and take me to a place I haven't even dreamed of. But there was a pleading, longing gaze in his eyes, as if imploring me to look past all of that and to forgive him.
Gingerly, I took his hand, and he grasped my other one. He gently walked me onto the shore. He let go of my hands.
By this time, my eyes had gotten used to the darkness, and I began to see what was around me. It was like a huge cave with an earthy, damp air to it. I saw a fair-sized house about a few feet away from us. I looked back, and I still saw the gargoyles, evil, watchful guardians.
The man turned my attention back to him, and he gently nudged me towards the house. I walked towards it. He opened the door for me, and I walked in. He followed, shutting the door behind him. I felt a tinge of fear as I heard the click of a lock behind me.
The insdie of the house was really something to be impressed about. There were little carved sconces with beautiful red pillar candles in them. The sconces themselves were carved out of bright polished cherrywood, and the candlelight danced in the reflections.
On the far corner of the house was an enormous desk with flowers surrounding it. There were fake paper-mache flowers and real, fresh flowers. I recognized a bouqet of the simple red roses I used to get from that unknown person.
The man walked to the front of the desk and looked back at me. I felt the blood drain from my face. I could now see the design of the mask. It was a black Masuqe of Death, the lines carving deeply into the material to make a very frightening, very real-looking skull.
"Do not be afraid, Catherine. You are in no danger," the man said. I knew that voice. I had heard it so many times. I wanted to distrust my ears and deny it, but I knew it was true.
It was the Voice.
My anger equaled my shock. I rushed towards him and tried to snatch off his mask to see the face of the Voice, to punish him for decieving me.
The man simply grabbed my arm with one hand, and with the other, he gently stroked my cheek. I stopped. My grandfather used to stroke my cheek when I used to come home from my school studies angry, scared, hurt, or sad.
"You are in no danger, so long as you do not touch the mask," the man promised. He grabbed my wrist and gently forced me into a chair. Then he kneeled in front of me and said nothing more.
I looked at the man in front of me, and I felt a tinge of sadness. I felt bad for this man who lived underground, but I also felt a little betrayal. There had been no Angel of Music after all.
The, without realizing it, I felt a tear roll down my cheek. My body began to tremble as I forced myself to keep the tears bottled up.
The man must have understood my sadness, because he cried, "It is true, Catherine! I am not an Angel, nor a genious, nor a ghost! I am Erik!"
He held me in his arms for a minute and stroked my back to comfort me. "I confess;" Erik continued, "I am a cheat and a liar and a disgrace. I have lied to a good honest woman, and that is as heartless as it can be! I'm sorry, Catherine! I'm so sorry! Please, please forgive me!"
"I... I forgive you, Erik, " I said. And I did. I forgave him because he had worked so hard for me and because I couldn't betray the man who inspired my voice.
"Please do not despise me," he begged, "for I only wished to repay your trust for the Voice. You believed in him and trusted him with your life. You never let anything get in the way of your studies, my dear.
"I wish to make you happy, to offer your freedom. But I only wish that you will stay with me for a little while, for I know you as you have never known me. My only condition for your freedom is that you do not attempt to remove my mask. Promise me, Catherine, that you will never try to remove my mask."
"I promise," I said, nodding. I meant that promise with my life. I did not want to displease him after showing me the beauty which no human eyes would never behold again.