Wintry moonlight fell through the cloudy hollows to the city below. It was just bright enough to bring a peaceful smile to face, but cold enough to rip the air from your lungs in chains of puffy white coughs. The sun had long since set and Unter der Linden Boulevard was alive with dazzling lights that hung like so many crystals. And, as expected, the parking lot and street of the Berlin Opera House was packed to bursting and only people who had already purchased their tickets could get inside.
Like a child inside a candy shop, Calleigh stared out the window at the sight. Never had she seen something to make her act so, but she really didn’t care at the moment. She was having the time of her life with a wonderful group of people she already felt she had known for years—well, minus a certain irritable blonde.
Across the limousine windows, the lights’ reflections glared like stars. Myles noticed the same light within the lass’ eyes and he leaned forward, a great grin on his lips.
“Are we going to be alright, Lady Clover?”
Calleigh felt a slight twinge of embarrassment.
“Sorry,” she laughed.
She looked to Myles, then to his wife and young daughter. The two women looked like a queen and a princess. Myles, himself, looked like a grand prince ready to ascend the throne. They had taken good care of Calleigh, as well. She was clothed in a brilliant green dress of the finest Chinese silk. It was a lovely compliment to her eyes and her flaming hair, which was pinned up in a lovely braided bun.
Calleigh watched with curiosity as Myles held up a finger and then began to rummage in his pocket. He eventually pulled out his wallet and showed Calleigh the medal embedded into the aged leather.
“You’re a knight!”
“Yes,” Myles’ wife, Cherie, replied. “He was knighted by Her Majesty after London’s Great Fire. He spared no thought for himself and braved the fires to save everyone he could find.”
Giving a cheese grin, the brunette hugged her tight. “I was partly responsible,” he whispered. “Just…don’t tell the Queen,” he hastily added at Calleigh’s grimace. “I didn’t mean too! I sneezed and blew coals everywhere! Then I tripped over my own feet and fell out my window. I woke up well after the fire started, and was halfway across the city in the hospital!”
His daughter, Emile, giggled. “Daddy’s stories are silly! He used to be a pirate, too! And a prince!”
“Really?” Calleigh replied. “I never would have guessed.”
Since meeting the girl and her mother earlier in the day, the lass had fallen in love with them. Emile was a precious bundle of sunshine and happiness, and Cherie was as elegant and kind as a fairytale princess. It was something Calleigh thought was only written about in stories, but Myles truly had the perfect family.
Everyone looked, even the chauffer evident by the slight swerve of the car. Adrian’s sudden word stunned everyone. Calleigh had forgotten he was sitting beside her; he had been so quiet, so lost in that other world of his.
“We’re here, Myles. Shut your mouth so I won’t have to kill you.”
True enough, the limousine pulled to a stop—without further incident—and the chauffer opened the door. Myles stepped out and held a hand each for his wife and daughter. After they exited, Adrian followed suite, eager to get away. After a rare glare from Myles, the blonde grimaced and held a hand to Calleigh.
Though she wasn’t too thrilled about it herself, Calleigh was polite, smiled, and accepted the offered hand. Yet, things took a strange turn the moment she planted her feet into the light snow.
A small chill shot through her spine and she was startled to find time had frozen around her. The snow hung like diamonds in the air. There was no sound. And people, all around, were stopped in mid-step. Everyone, except her and Adrian.
“You don’t belong here,” he said. Calleigh found herself lost in his arctic gaze. “This place is too dangerous for a fairy. What could you possibly do to help keep this world safe?”
Well, since he had taken the first step, Calleigh decided to get a nice load off her chest. “I know you had some kind of problem with me,” she snapped. “You weren’t the one to hire me, and you sure aren’t the one I’m taking orders from. Whatever your problem is you can take it up with Rosaleigh. You’re not scaring me away.”
As it had been in the elevator that afternoon, Calleigh witnessed a slight look of shock cross Adrian’s face. And then, a tiny grin began to bloom on that portrait of ruin.
“Spirit,” he said. “A good quality. But don’t think I won’t take every opportunity to test and break you. I will be the one to determine if you’ll make it in our world.”
As Calleigh tried to understand the meaning of what just happened, she found the world jumping back to life and herself walking in stride with Adrian as if nothing had happened.
“Does the air feel a little…stiff to you, Adrian?” Myles asked. He raised an eyebrow in his friend’s direction, knowing full well what had just happened.
Adrian stared on ahead, silent as the snow, as the group ascended the stairs and walked into the magnificent opera house.
Anticipation was a major player in all stage performances. It was so different from the type experienced in the movie theater—movies were perfect, no room for error or misfortune. There were scene-cuts, retakes and dramatic special effects. There was none of that in live theatre. Everything had to be timed just right; cues had to be noticed and acted upon. A single line could make or break a performance, could send shivers up the spectators’ spines or draw sighs of disappointment from their frowning mouths.
But tonight? Tonight was all about shivers.
From curtain rise to the tear-jerking scene with Raoul and Christine fleeing from the Phantom with fire on all sides, the audience was affright with a full spectrum of emotion. The final song was a masterpiece in itself; Calleigh felt her skin erupt in gooseflesh with each note the Phantom hit—nothing falsetto or screeching about them; each note was executed perfectly.
The young lass felt as if she were in a trance, as if the Phantom were singing to her and not his huffy and oh-so-confident counterparts. With the way the man appeared to be looking in her direction, Calleigh almost believed her own childish hopes.
All through the performance, Calleigh couldn’t help but glance next to her, at Adrian. His crystalline eyes reflected the show like little mirrors, yet no response resulted from the expressions of love or tragic fights.
“He’s always like this,” Myles whispered into her opposite ear. “I think he’s a robot or something.” Calleigh cracked a smile.
As the scene came to a close, the curtain fell and applause roared within the spacious hall. Many people gave standing ovations, tears streaming down their faces for what they called “the best performance yet!” A stinging crept through Calleigh’s hands as she clapped. What amazed her more than the play was that Adrian applauded along with the rest.
The curtain swayed a bit and the Phantom poked his head out. He gave a motion towards the section where Calleigh and the others stood.
The lass suddenly felt a tug at her elbow. It was Emile.
“Daddy says you need to follow him and Adrian.”
“Couldn’t he have just—?”
But they were already gone.
“Do you know where they went?”
“Uh-huh!” Emile nodded, bouncing her chestnut curls wildly about her head. Those locks alone suggested she was Myles’ daughter. “They went to see the scary Phantom! You need to see him, too!”
Calleigh smiled, patting Emile on the head. “Alright. I’ll see you two later. Cherie, thank you so much for all you’ve done.”
“No worries, dear,” the woman smiled. Those dazzling amethyst eyes threw Calleigh into a world of wonder. Was she just a mere human with gems like those? “When Myles takes a liking to someone, it’s a friendship for life. We’ll be seeing more of each other very soon. Better run off. We need to get home.”
With a friendly hug, the three parted ways and Calleigh made it down to the most likely place to find an actor after a performance: the dressing rooms. Yet, it proved more than arduous in that enormous building. And the creeping sensation that she was being followed didn’t help in the slightest amongst the crowds.
Finding herself completely lost, she turned to face two people staring at her with identical grins: two men as different as the sun and moon.
“Oy, y’think this is her?” asked the first, clearly a Scot, to a dark-skinned man Calleigh assumed to be from somewhere in northern Africa, judging from the beads in his hair and the tattoos on his cheek, neck, and what little could be seen on his hands.
“Yup. Good thing we followed her.” The accent confirmed Calleigh’s assumption. “Pretty little thing got herself lost.”
Instead of freaking out like a normal person would, Calleigh stayed calm and stood her ground. She sensed no hostility from the two. And the badge on their waists was a clear sign they weren’t some creepers after a good time.
“The name’s Khota,” the African smiled.
“Calleigh Colette,” she replied, shaking each of their extended hands.
“Pleased to meet you,” Felix beamed. “We wondered when ye’d get here.”
“Welcome to your induction to C.O.V.E.N.,” Khota cut in. “Good news: You’re in for one helluva ride. Bad news: you’re smokin’ hot, and I’m gayer than Sir Elton John.”
Back in Britain, people had never been so blunt about such things. Calleigh felt her face get hot again, but gave a giggle.
“I take it you’re here to guide the lost damsel to the Phantom?”
The two men shared a look.
“Read my mind,” they said at the same time. Each offering an arm, they escorted Calleigh down backstage, total opposite side of the building, to where a patiently waiting Myles and Adrian stood.
Grinning like the Cheshire Cat, Myles put a finger to his lips and pointed to the cracked door labeled “Simon Krausov.”
“Are you sure you can’t make it to Brussels for Thursday’s show?”
“Theatre isn’t my life, last I knew.”
Sounds of a clipboard hitting the table top came through the crack. An amused chuckle followed.
“Dammit, man, we don’t have anyone that can sing like you!”
“Well,” the second man continued in his silky Russian accent. Hard to believe that that was the same man who sang the perfect pitch for the French Phantom. “Then you’ll have to do some hasty searching, or clone me; take your pick.”
“Gah! Damn that Coven bullshit!”
“Watch your words, Kreutz,” came Simon’s tone, darkened greatly from his previous all-for-fun demeanor. “Say I signed a full contract with you—to travel the world over, gaining you fame and fortune.”
“Yeah? What about it?” Kreutz’ tone changed. He was happy, eager.
Simon gave a bark-like laugh. “You would get everything you dreamed of, while the world’s nasty little monsters picked their teeth with your wife’s bones. Find someone else to go on the road with your Tour de Farce. I have other, more important things to do with my voice.”
The dressing room door flew open and out stormed the director, cursing in all manner of languages. He nearly ran Myles over—“Get out of my way, you scoundrel!”—before storming his way up the Actor’s Alley staircase.
Calleigh felt a bit out of place and let Myles know as such with an anxious glance. Noticing the tension, Myles slipped an arm around the Fae.
“The Captain is…mmm…”
The dhampir struggled to find the right words, but it was Khota who gave the comparison. “Lovely as a vampire and as charming as a troll.”
“Why, Khota.” The Captain’s emergence right behind him made the African jump. His impish grin curled at the man’s fright. The stage makeup from the performance was still in place, but it only added a ghastly touch to his otherwise unearthly face. “I never knew you had such love for me. I believe a pay cut is in order.”
“Nooo!” Khota screamed, feigning death as he dramatically fell to the floor with his hand gripping his heart. “Alas, my heart, it beats nevermore!”
The African lay still on the floor, yet no one seemed to think anything of it. Felix, however, was all a twitter with laughter at his friend’s performance.
“Eh, Simon,” he chuckled, tipping his beret. “Think ye got competition.”
“Hardly.” Like a graceful wind, Simon stepped over Khota like the man wasn’t there and took Calleigh’s hand. Kissing it gently, he said, “A pleasure to meet you. I wondered when you would arrive. How did you like my performance?”
A foreign feeling—both wonderful and frightening—took Calleigh over by force as she stared into Simon’s burning auburn eyes. For once she felt like a normal person, not some mystical being trying her best to fit in. At the same time, she felt like a simpleton, rendered blank and dumb in the presence of this awing man. All the while searching for some words, the lass tried to figure out how she could be acting like such a dolt; as her eyes spied two odd strands of hair atop Simon’s head, she figured it out.
“You’re a siren.” It all made sense, and she felt relieved at Simon’s nod. Feeling her head clear, Calleigh began spouting all manner of things. “I have so many things on my mind. I felt so out of place in Britain, but here… Everyone just seems so normal. You all blend in and no one seems to notice you.”
Smatterings of laughter rang out around her. The Irish lass looked from face to face, feeling a small flash of heat on her cheeks.
“In our world,” Felix began, using the phrase freely, “Everyone does their part and keeps the peace. We aren’t singled out or anything like that.”
Myles squeezed Calleigh’s shoulder. She jumped, forgetting the man even held onto her for support. “We all live in peace and, true, there is slight panic when someone learns what we are, but it all fades with the setting sun. Acceptance comes easy here.”
Khota, having stood up a few minutes ago, snorted. Though his comment earned him a scorching glare, he said it anyway. “Yeah, we ain’t like those stuffy Brits. Always gossiping and blowing things way outta proportion.”
“Uh, yeah,” Calleigh replied. She actually agreed with him, but it still made her feel a little bothered. Turning to Simon, she asked, “So, was I called here to train, or is there something big happening?”
“A little of both,” the Captain replied.
Simon suddenly wrinkled his nose; his facial makeup was beginning to come loose and it was irritating him. He excused himself for a moment and began to peel it off. The scars crumbled like ash as he began to pick away. It soon revealed flawless features, eyes of boyish charm and a smile of profound beauty.
Looking to his group with expectant eyes, he said, “Everyone, to bed. We start early.”
“Aye, sir,” Felix replied. “And since we have a newbie amongst our ranks, maybe we should have a little fun.” With a great and goofy smile, Felix saluted and gave Calleigh a wink. “Weapons shall be cleaned and packed, ready for transport at 0600.”
Mirroring Felix, Khota chuckled. “Intel reports shall be prepped and ready for pre-game conference.”
“Medical supplies and dual kits shall be ready for transport and training,” Myles grinned, following along with the two pranksters—Calleigh could clearly see they gave everyone a side-splitting from time to time.
Expecting a grand finale, the pranksters—plus Myles—turned to Adrian. Those ice blue eyes narrowed in annoyance as he realized they expected him to contribute to the play-along. He remained silent, though, and crossed his arms, glaring at everyone he thought himself cursed to work with. Seeing their pushes weren’t going to work, the rest of the Agents pouted.
“Ye spoil-sport,” Felix grunted. “He’s the lead investigator.” In a whisper to Calleigh, he added, “Don’t expect anything from him right now. He needs his space.”
“Space? Did something happen to him?”
“You haven’t heard yet?” Khota replied.
He cast a look to Adrian and then to Simon and Myles. Both superior Agents adopted grim looks and stared daggers at the African, hoping to God the airhead would catch on to their meaning.
“Well, nevermind then!” he replied, all smiles and sunshine. “It’s nothing too important right now so let’s get in gear and get to bed!” Grabbing hold of Felix, Khota gave a salute goodbye and dragged the Scot out and into the night.
“I’ll be ready whenever you call,” Adrian said. “Until then.”
Without another word, Adrian vanished. He didn’t just leave; he actually disappeared into thin air. All that remained was a small wisp of white that melted away like a cloud in the sky. To Myles, Simon gave a polite bow, one which the brunette returned.
“Well, do you need a ride home?” he asked Calleigh.
“Actually,” Simon interjected. “I was hoping to steal her away for a little bit. I need to ask her some questions and figure out her strengths and weaknesses. That is, if the lovely lady wouldn’t mind?”
“Of course not,” the lass stuttered.
With that, she took Simon’s extended hand and the two walked off. As they went, they spoke about various things; like the Corporation, Calleigh’s role, and what she was expected to learn under Myles’ tutelage. Most importantly, they spoke about what Calleigh was to expect with this upcoming case in the next few days.
© Copyright 2017 JD Ledger. All rights reserved.
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