Seven: Descant

Author's Note: "Seven: Descant" is based off an initial premise by FrancesOsgood in her story "Seven." She's written a melody and I've written a descant. Many of our chapter have common themes, and borrow and intercut liberally from one another, but they are two very different stories. If you would like to play with this prompt, be our guest, but give FrancesOsgood a credit. The price is seven songs.

This is a scary story, and a sad one. Themes of "Seven: Descant" include Dark!Jareth (with all that that implies), the objectifying female gaze, rape, trauma, and revenge. Reader discretion is advised.

I. The Curtain Rises

He reached up as he fell, clawing with useless fingers against the spread of loose dirt and mirror-slick edges of an endless hole. And he landed with an ignominious bump that set his spine rattling from tailbone to skull.

"Ow," he said, picking himself up and dusting himself off. He shielded his eyes from the scree-flow of dirt and glitter and feathers that had accompanied him on his way down. When the storm had passed, he scanned his surroundings. Upward, nothing. Only darkness. As above, so below: this place seemed one long cavernous corridor of cold and heavy stone. It felt like a tomb. Worse than that, he seemed to have lost his boots in the descent, and the floor of this place was cold against his stockinged feet.

Fragments of memories scattered around him like the detritus of his fall. A ruined city, the broken arches of stairs, and the defiant green eyes of a woman-child giving him some terrible word. Two things he couldn't recall, and these two misplaced concepts bothered him greatly: he didn't know where he was, and he couldn't recall his name.

He heard an owl's scream somewhere far out in the distance, and he raised his hands to summon… something, anything in his defense, but his hands had lost some sort of implicit knack. He remembered that he was a magical creature. He huffed a sigh of satisfaction and straightened his shoulders. He had power, even if he couldn't remember how to use it quite at the moment. He wouldn't be afraid.

"Do you remember me?" a woman's voice murmured, jolting him into tension. It was a voice all made of pillow-talk and sweetness, but it frightened him nonetheless. He kept his composure with some difficulty and turned to face her. She was as lovely as her voice had promised. Her skin was white and her lips were red and her eyes were green, and her dark hair was so black that it seemed to melt in the high collar of her feather mantle. "Do you remember why you have come to me?"

"To the best of my memory, which is admittedly a bit fractured, my lady, I don't believe we've met before." He inclined his head in a way that was not quite a bow, but rather how he might have faced some sort of dangerous predator; obliquely, respectfully, warily. "So I couldn't have come to you willingly. However, I would be happy to be your escort out, if you would be so kind as to show me the way." She was so beautiful, so perfect, so commanding, that he gave her a nobility's accord without quite thinking about it. It occurred to him that he also was noble, and a king of his own country, just as she might be the queen of this one. And he knew with certainty that she, too, was a magical being; she fairly crackled with power.

"Lady," he asked haltingly, "Do you know who I am?"

"Oh yes," she said quietly, and stepped up close to him. "You are… dangerous." Her body was perfumed with something dark and heady, and her eyes were ringed with kohl, like a raccoon-mask in the dark. She smelled of old leaves of paper, and exotic liquor, and the sweet musk of a woman-child brought to bed for the first time. Familiar scents, beguiling ones, but he flinched away as she touched his face. "But perhaps you're not so dangerous as I am."

He backed away a careful step, keeping her always in his eyes. "I thank you for the compliment, Lady, but I am weary and I dislike riddles. If you won't give me directions, I suppose I'll have to help myself. Good day, or good evening, whichever it may be."

He turned on his heel and walked quickly away down the long stone corridor, ears pricking up for the slightest sound of noise, for any redoubling of the scent of her body, but caught nothing. Guts twisting in dread, he moved away down the dreary echoing hall as quickly as he could.

It seemed as though he walked for a very long time in that endless darkness. There was no breath of draft; even the air was heavy in this kingdom. He found it remarkably depressing, this sameness, this endless dark, where he had to keep his hand raised in front of him to avoid bashing his head against any sudden wall. After uncountable hours, when he saw the glimmer of green touchwood lamps ahead of him in the dark, he felt some hope. He could smell the smutty reek of desert incense, the smell of outside air, and he increased his pace until he was practically jogging. But all his hopes were dashed as the corridor widened and he saw a dark figure sitting on a throne on a dais.

It was the Lady again. Somehow, she had gotten ahead of him, and met him here. He approached her bravely and stood before her throne of black ice, but he did not kneel.

"Here you are again," she said lovingly. "Oh, how you must have wanted me, to run back to me so quickly."

"Do not," he said, feeling the beginnings of anger in his breast, "Think to play games with me, my lady."

She laughed, parting the devastating red wound of her mouth, the tendons in her neck pulsating. Her teeth were white as salt. "But I know you like games," she said in her courtesan's voice, smooth and warming as whiskey. "Games of the dark, games of the flesh, games to be won. I have a game you will like."

"Oh?" He laughed under his breath, but his heart was cold in his breast and it beat and beat.

"You've lost everything. Your name, your sight, your memory, your power. Your life. I hold all of you in my hand. But I will give all these things back to you for a price. That is my game."

"What price, then?" he asked, staring hard at her. "With what coin? For as you have said, I have nothing but myself and the clothes on my back."

"You can pay me with the one thing you have left, the one thing I cannot claim. You have your nature. Your soul thrums with music. Give that music to me. Seven songs you'll make for me, in the abandoned land of Oo-Belial-Yet. And if you can do this, I'll give you back what was stolen."

Oubliette, he thought. A place you put people to forget about them. A memory-hole. I remember I had such things in my kingdom. There are guardians set in such places, to eat up the remains of forgotten things. She may be one such.

"Seven songs in seven nights, and win back what was stolen. Seven true songs. Or fail, and lose yourself completely and forever, and not even the memory of forgetting what you've lost. Seven songs on seven themes, or you'll forfeit your hopes and the scraps of dreams." Her smile was like blood, her eyes like balefire.

"I will fight you," he said mildly, though the counter-threat was implicit in the stance of his shoulders and strong forearms.

"Oh, Jareth," she said, speaking his name in tones honey-sweet as an ache. "I'll welcome the distraction of any defense you make for yourself. That, too, will satisfy me greatly. Answer me now, no more delays. Will you play?"

His own name thrummed like electricity in his veins. I am Jareth, he thought. And if she knows my name when I do not, she can provide the rest of what she's promised. That is, if I win.

"I agree," he said.