Disclaimer: I do not own Labyrinth nor any of its characters (except my original villain here).
Sarah brushed her hair from her face, quickly gathering it all in her hands and tying it back before the wind could whip it up again. Ever since she had moved out into her own small home, she'd let her hair grow out almost down to her waist, and while she loved the extra length, it could get in the way of her gardening.
She took her sunglasses off as she sat down on the grass, setting them next to herself. The sun was already slipping behind the horizon, covering the rose bushes in shadow. The large blossoms were starting to close up, but that made it easier to reach the thin vines that were sneaking into the bushes, strangling them.
"Ow!" she jerked her hand back, wincing at the cut in her finger. "Damn thorns." She shook her hand for a moment, then started pulling the weeds again. Deeper through the leaves she could spot the roots of one of the longer vines, so she delved further in, gingerly extending her entire arm amongst the thorns. Her fingers touched the cool dirt, and she started to feel her way to the weeds. Halfway there, she brushed against something soft and warm. Feathers.
A bird? Do I pull it out?she wondered. If I grab it, it might peck me, but if it's dead..."All right, whatever you are, time to come out!" Being as gentle as she could, she pushed her hand up underneath it and slowly raised it up out of the thorns. Finally she could see what she had rescued: a snowy white owl, with splashes of blood on its perfect feathers.
"Oh, you poor thing," she whispered, softly gathering the owl up into her arms. "You must have got caught in the thorns." The small bird was obviously in no shape to fly, so she got up and took it inside, laying it on the couch. She could barely see its body rise and fall with each breath.
"Now you just wait here," she said, "and I'll get a box for you to sleep in." Sarah hurried to the garage and grabbed a large cardboard box and several rags, then started back.
When she reached the living room again, though, she froze. The box dropped to the floor.
The owl was gone, and in its place lay a very familiar man. The clothing was less elaborate than she would have expected, but it was him.
"Jareth," she whispered inaudibly. Her first thought was to dash to the kitchen and get a knife, a pan, anything to defend herself. She couldn't make her legs move.
Seconds ticked by, and as her adrenaline surge died down, Sarah realized that Jareth wasn't doing anything but laying there. In fact, it looked like he was asleep. She crept closer, avoiding the creaky spots in her floor, until she was standing right over him.
The feathers had disappeared, but the blood was still there, only now she could see that the scratches and cuts were still bleeding. They were all over his body, most of them fairly minor, but the worst ones were around his eyes. It almost looked as if someone had tried to claw his eyes out.
Sarah put her hand out, hovering it over the marks. They fit her fingers exactly. Someone with very sharp nails had done this to him.
Jareth turned in his sleep, groaning slightly with the effort, and as he did her fingertips lightly brushed his forehead. She winced in sympathy, he was burning up with what felt like a terrible fever.
Sarah felt torn. Her brother, Toby, would be a goblin now if Jareth had succeeded against her so long ago.
So long ago? Geez, Sarah, it was only a couple years back, just before you graduated school.
She sighed and glanced back down at him again. Should she? On one hand he'd tried to take Toby away, but then he was completely helpless now. He'd tried to hurt her and he'd threatened her friends...but then he'd given Toby back when she'd won. No cheap parting shot, no vindictive twist, he'd even left the doorway between the worlds open so her friends could visit. He hadn't been evil or vindictive. He'd...he'd even seemed sad.
No other choice, she went to her bathroom and soaked a washcloth in cold water, then came back and pressed it against his forehead. Jareth groaned again, but he didn't wake up. Sarah pulled the afghan off her other sofa and spread it over him, making sure he'd be warm. By now the bleeding had stopped, so she just dabbed away the excess blood to make sure the wounds were clean.
The faint whisper startled her, and she glanced down at his face. His eyes fluttered a bit, and he struggled to get his left arm back to raise himself. Before she could stop herself, she put her hand on his chest and pushed him firmly back down.
"You're safe," she said first, trying to calm him down. "You're in my home."
"What..." his eyes focused on her, and it took a moment for him to recognize her. "Sarah? How...this..." he turned his face away from the ceiling light, apparently too bright for him.
She left the cloth on his forehead, rising up to turn off the lights, and he sighed in relief. His eyes closed before he could ask her anything, and he was again fast asleep. Sarah looked around the living room, hoping to find someone kind of helpful message written on the walls telling her what to do, but of course all she saw was her faded white paint. It was simply amazing how life could change within five minutes.
Sarah stared out the window for a moment, and her eyes widened as she remembered how late it was. Supernatural former enemy or no, this was not a neighborhood to leave one's door unlocked at night. She rushed back outside and snatched up her discarded sunglasses, then came back inside and bolted the door shut. The kitchen door was locked, and every window was closed and the curtains drawn. As she was coming back to the living room, the phone rang. She picked it up before it rang again, so it wouldn't disturb Jareth.
"Huh huh huh huh...what're you wearing?"
"Oh, for the love of--not tonight, you sick pervert! One night, just one freakin' night, leave me alone! Can you manage that, hmm? Can your pathetic, twisted little mind grasp this concept? One night? Just go away into your diseased world and leave me--hello?" With a shrug she hung up. The last time she'd done that, he hadn't called for a month. It was kind of an ego boost, being able to frighten him off like that.
"Some...things...n-never change...it seems," came the low chuckle from the couch.
She looked down the hallway at him. Jareth was up on one arm, watching her with a wry smile. He'd slid the afghan back so it was partially behind him. Now that he was halfway up, she could see his clothing even more distinctly. His shirt was awfully simple compared to what she remembered him wearing before. It was nowhere near the ornate designs he usually dressed in. The entire thing was loose and the sleeves ended well-over his hands while the shirt hung an inch above his hips, and it was an off-white color with several small tears and blood stains on it. His pants were a little more in character, black and skin-tight, but they were also torn and blood-spattered. He was wearing boots, but they were obviously dusty and worn from use. And his hair! Years ago, it had been perfectly brushed and styled, but now it was matted in some areas, tangled in others, as if he had been living out in the open for several days.
"Do I look that terrible?" he whispered, glancing away.
"Like you've been running from something for a long time," she admitted, walking back over to him. "What happened to you?"
Jareth gave a short, bitter laugh. "Just a little sibling rivalry," he growled under his breath. "Nothing you should get mixed in." He forced himself to sit up further, but Sarah noticed the wince he tried to hide. She also noticed he was favoring his right arm. Without hesitating, she grabbed his left wrist and yanked it out from under him, and robbed of his only support, he started to fall backwards. He shut his eyes, expecting the jarring pain of knocking his head against the couch arm, but Sarah had put her other arm out to catch him, and she gently lowered him back onto the couch.
"You shouldn't get up yet," she said sternly. "You've got a fever, and what's wrong with your arm?" She reached over and softly set her hand on it.
Jareth couldn't hold in his cry of pain, and he pressed himself against the back of the couch, trying to shield his arm from her. "It's broken, damn it, are you happy now?"
Not answering, she put a pillow under his head and pulled the afghan back over him, then started to dab at his face with the cold cloth again.
"Look, Sarah, I appreciate your concern, but I am not an invalid to be nursed back to health!" he said too loudly.
"You appreciate my concern?" she raised one eyebrow at that. "Whatever happened to you must have been drastic, you'd have never lowered yourself low enough to actually thank someone before."
He didn't reply.
"Well, whatever happened, you shouldn't try to leave tonight. It's dark, and you wouldn't stand much of a chance out here in your condition." Not waiting to hear his response, she got up and went to the living room door, which she partially closed. "Um, your goblins aren't gonna pop in here suddenly, are they?"
He shook his head slightly. "Don't worry, no chance of that happening."
There was a catch in his voice, but he was too close to sleep again to ask him anything. She left the door half-closed and left the hall light on as she went into her bedroom.
I can take a shower tomorrow morning,she told herself, when he's still asleep. She changed into her night shirt and shorts and climbed into the bed, but she didn't fall asleep for a long time. Every few minutes she would glance her alarm clock, watching the red numbers tick by. Half an hour later and no closer to sleep, she got up and tip-toed to the door, looking in on her guest.
Jareth was still on the couch, already fast asleep, his left arm dangling from under the afghan and his right arm perched delicately on his stomach. Once in awhile his head would turn to the side, or he would mumble something. She caught the words "castle, riddle and heart" over and over, but the rest was incoherent. It seemed like he has trapped in a nightmare, and his distress was becoming worse as time went on. Against her better judgement, she snuck back into the living room, pulled the footstool next to the couch and sat down.
Once she was comfortable, she slipped her hand into his, gently covering it with her other hand. Almost immediately his body relaxed, and his breathing slowed back down to a normal pace.
Jareth, what on earth did this to you?she wondered. What was so damn strong you had to run? An unwelcome thought entered her head. What was happening to her friends right now? They were back with something the Goblin King himself had fled from. She nodded to herself. Whatever it took, she was going to get the answer out of him the next day.
Sarah woke up in the morning, still sitting against the couch. She opened her eyes and pushed her hair back, expecting to see her guest asleep next to her, but instead she found herself alone in an empty room. She stood up quickly, searching around the house, looking for either blood or goblins, but there was nothing. She checked the front door and found it locked, and all of the windows were still shut. With a muffled groan she went to her backdoor and found it slightly ajar.
When she opened it and went out, however, she sighed in relief. Jareth was standing outside in her backyard, staring out over the city. Her house was situated just right on a small hill, so that half of the city was spread out in a nice view. She quietly stepped out and joined him, noticing that he'd somehow managed to bandage and splint his arm, and put it up in a sling.
"You all right?" she asked slowly.
He nodded. "Your world...is very strange..."
"Some would say yours is stranger," she smiled.
"Perhaps, but it does not change. Every time I am here, it seems that everything has altered somehow. My world is fairly static, without variation. Your world seems to...thrive...on change."
"Were you getting bored?"
He laughed bitterly. "If only that were the problem...No, Sarah. I am unused to change. I had thought you could bring that to my kingdom. That was the real reason I took your brother. I thought if I could keep him, I could keep you."
She looked away at the flower garden. "Is that the only reason you wanted me there?"
Jareth smiled and shook his head. "No. Certainly not the only reason."
Everything was quiet for a few moments. The sun wasn't up over the horizon entirely yet. She took a deep breath and looked up at him.
"Jareth, what happened? What chased you out?"
"The most evil and terrible monster in my entire realm, something that even my goblins wouldn't stand a chance against, although that's not really saying much."
"What is it?"
"Your...sister?" she asked hesitantly. "Is she anything like you?"
"Arin is a cruel, deceitful little monster who'd rather see the labyrinth fountains flow with blood and the hedges grow poisoned apples than actually take care of the goblins and creatures inside," Jareth growled. "The oubliettes are probably full right now, and I shudder to think what she's putting the cleaner to use for."
Sarah didn't answer, and Jareth noticed her mild confusion.
"Look," he said slowly, "I may not be the nicest person in the two kingdoms, but I do keep things running smoothly in that labyrinth and that is certainly not the easiest job in the world. It's hard enough keeping the bog of stench from overrunning its boundaries every spring, and I had just gotten all of the faeries to stop attacking my goblins when suddenly I have to defend my kingdom from my sister, who for some reason become even more powerful than I remember."
"I guess if I had to take care of that maze, I'd have a bad temper, too," Sarah gave him a small smile. "Is she the one that hurt your arm?"
Jareth nodded grimly. "I didn't expect her to be so powerful. When she barged into my castle and started to attack me, I thought she would be an easy fight. I didn't realize what kind of power she had until she revealed the griffin's heart."
"A real griffin heart?" Sarah wondered. "Those exist?"
"Well...in a way. It was a living griffin, but the heart is a large ruby that channels magick and magnifies it. It...made her stronger than I am." Jareth shook his head. "I should have killed her outright, instead of playing my games."
"You would have killed your own sister?"
"Of course," he answered without hesitating. "Our family has always fought over the throne. My father hated me, so he made me heir to the kingdom just before he died."
"Why would he do that if he hated you?"
Jareth smiled and looked back up at the clouds. "In the hopes that one of my siblings would kill me. But I learned the maze as fast as I could, and I managed to trick each of my brothers into various traps."
"How many brothers did you have?"
"Four. I was always the lightest of the three, so I could maneuver around places they couldn't. I drowned one of them in the bog, left one in an oubliette, trapped one in his favorite dream, and lured one into the dragon's cave." He sighed. "But I never expected Arin to come after me. She said she was going to the second kingdom and wouldn't return."
"But now she's back," Sarah murmured. "And destroying your labyrinth."
Jareth nodded. "I have to get back there and stop her. Do you remember where you found me?"
"Yeah, you were in the rose bushes," she answered, pointing at her plants. "Why?"
Jareth turned and headed for the roses. "She doesn't know how to use the labyrinth's magick. If she managed to send me out, she had to use a pathway that already existed." He knelt down and peered into the darkness under the thorns and leaves. "So...if she didn't know how to close it off, it should...still...be...here!" He sat back and smiled smugly. "It's still under all that. I can widen it, return and--"
"And what?" Sarah interrupted. "Bleed on her?"
"Jareth, your arm is broken and you're obviously exhausted. Do you really think you can just take off and smack her around? You need time to rest."
Jareth sighed and shook his head. "I wish I could. Sarah, Arin is destroying my kingdom and everything in it. I have to kill her without wasting any more time."
Sarah groaned and ran her fingers through her hair. "Damn...all right, fine. I'm coming with you."
"No! It's too dangerous, you'll get killed."
"Look, you have to go through my roses and tear them out to get to your labyrinth, so I think it's fair that I go with you. Besides, you might need a pair of hands that work."
Jareth narrowed his eyes. "That was a low blow."
Sarah smiled. "Just hang on a minute, I'll be right back." Knowing he couldn't dig her roses up quickly, she ran inside and locked all her doors and windows, then wrote a quick letter to her father saying she would be out of town for a few days and could he drop by her house now and then to make sure it was fine? She slipped on her cheaper bracelets and rings, just in case she ran into that bird-headed man again, and went back outside. Jareth was still sitting by her roses, patiently waiting for her to get back.
"Well, are you ready?" he asked, a hint of a smile on his face.
She sat down beside him and started to pull her rose bushes out of the ground. "You don't mind anymore?"
"I might as well have some help," he admitted. "And I suppose it would be best if it came from the only person to ever beat me at my own games."
Sarah jerked the second bush out. "Of course, I did have some help."
"You were willing to have help," he said, helping her with one hand. "No one else ever did."
"Finally!" she gasped, digging the third bush out. "What's that?"
They both looked down into the ground, at what looked like a swirling whirlpool in the dirt.
"That would be the path," Jareth said. He grabbed the edge of the whirlpool and pulled at it, stretching it out in all directions until it was large enough for them to jump into. "We'll probably pop out at the beginning of the labyrinth, so watch out for those faeries."
He stood up and jumped down into the vortex, and Sarah took a deep breath before following. There was a brief feeling of disorientation as the darkness spun around her, tossing her backwards and forwards as she fell, and then a surprisingly soft landing on orange dirt.
"Jareth?" she called, looking around. "Where are you?"
"Over here!" he replied, and she spotted him standing next to the bushes outside the wall. "Get that lantern on the rock, will you?"
She glanced in the direction he pointed and found an old lantern laying sideways on a large boulder. When she picked it up, the candle inside crumbled to dust. She grimaced and blew out the powder, then opened the little latch and took it over to him.
"Hold it open," he said, leaning closer to the bush. Without warning, he darted forward and caught something in his hands. He turned as fast as he could and tossed something into the lantern. Sarah shut the door and looked inside. Jareth had caught a little faerie, blonde with a white gown and silvery wings.
"Why do you want a faerie?" she asked curiously, trying to ignore the creature as it hissed angrily.
"We'll be traveling during the night," he answered. "Those things give off enough light that I won't have to waste any magick for that."
They started walking around the wall, slapping away the occasional winged sprites as they dived at them, trying to free their trapped comrade. Sarah noticed that a lot of the hedges out here were dying and the blossoms had dried up.
"Things really are dying out here," she whispered. "Well, when do we go into the labyrinth?"
"When we find someone to open the door for us," he answered. "I'm sure Arin hasn't started her attack out here yet, so the door-gnomes must still be out here."
"Where's Hoggle?" she asked. "He should be out here."
"No, he and Bludo were trying to barricade off sections of the labyrinth when I was tossed out. With any luck, they're still all right."
Sarah sighed and kept looking around for anything vaguely resembling a door-gnome.
Sarah spotted the door-gnomes before Jareth did. At first they looked like smaller versions of Hoggle, but on closer inspection, she noticed that they also had a dull, blank look in their eyes. All of them were either running around in circles or hitting each other with huge wooden sticks, and then running around in circles.
"Are they dangerous?" she whispered.
Jareth chuckled. "No, just immensely stupid." He walked boldly up to them, with Sarah right behind him. "Which one of you is Wodkif?"
The gnomes, all of which looked the same to Sarah, grinned, pointed at themselves and yelled "I am! I am!" Then they started running around again, screaming "I am!"
"Then maybe you can open the door, since you're Wodkif," Jareth said. "The faeries said you can't, but--"
"Wodkif can open the door!" the gnomes yelled in unison. They ran in strange loops, heading for the wall around the labyrinth. Then they stopped there and started to jump again. "Open, open!"
"They are silly," Sarah nodded.
After the tenth or twelfth jump, the wall suddenly cracked and a huge wooden door appeared from beneath the stone surface. The gnomes continued jumping up and down, and the door opened up with a harsh grating sound, as if it didn't want to allow anyone inside. It started to close as soon as they could see beyond it.
"Hurry Sarah, it won't stay open forever!" Jareth said in a low voice. They both ran forward, and Sarah had to slide sideways to get through the narrow space. As it was, she nearly lost the faerie when it closed on the lantern. It stuck there a moment, and the door shuddered violently, trying to crush it in its rush to close. She put her foot on the wall and pulled back, dislodging the lantern and falling on the dirt amidst the deafening crash of the door locking in place once more.
"Are you all right?" Jareth called.
Sarah nodded and scooped the lantern back up. Inside, the faerie was hopping about and shaking her fists, obviously using words in her own language that Sarah would have blushed to hear, if she'd understood.
When Sarah looked around, she found Jareth leaning against a tall statue, cradling his arm. "How's it feel?" she asked.
"I'll survive," he replied. "I shouldn't have jarred it when I ran." He looked up, and in the distance they could both spot the castle, its walls dark and a strange black cloud hanging over it. "Well, let's get going. It'll be a long walk there."
"Can't you just...teleport to the castle or something?" she asked, walking beside him.
He shook his head. "We can't go to the castle first. I need to get something from the Gloom Dragon, and that means we have to pass the sphinx, and to get to her..." he sighed wearily. "To get to her, we have to go a very long way."
"Do you know how to get there?" she asked. "The maze'll shift before we get very far."
Jareth nodded. "Just a moment." He held his hand out, whispered something that sounded like what the faerie was screaming, and one of his familiar crystal bubbles appeared in his palm. Gently tossing it into the air, Jareth stood back as it floated before them for a few seconds, and then it languidly started off in the proper direction.
"We'll find a place to rest until the sun goes down," he whispered to her. "We can start off when it's dusk."
"Jareth?" she started to ask while they walked, "what happened here? It looks like all the hedges were burned up." She reached out towards one of the large bushes, and several of the leafs crumbled as her fingertips touched them.
"My sister despises plants," Jareth explained. "She prefers statues and stone walls and..." he shuddered at the thought, "...iron."
"Iron?" she wondered. "What's wrong with iron?"
"It's death to magick," he answered, as if she should know that. "An iron sword can cut through spells and magick forests as if they didn't exist. A tiny flake of it would kill that faerie, and it could poison me."
"What's the lantern made out of?" she asked. "And come to think of it, what is anything metal made of here?"
"What do you mean?"
"Iron is poison, I get that," she said. They both turned a few corners, watching their step as they crossed over pieces of dead branches. "But your goblins wear armor, they have cannons, they even had a robot until we destroyed it. And what about the cleaner? If it's not iron, what is it?"
Jareth sighed in exasperation. "Sarah, if you weren't helping me, I swear...I'm not supposed to reveal any of this to anyone. The labyrinth has so many secrets, but some of them are more important than others."
"But I am helping you," she smiled too sweetly. "Look, you know I'm not going to hurt you, and I want to save my friends from this witch."
They came to another turn, and instead of just more blackened hedges, the entire path had been destroyed. Stones were flung here and there, ashes lay on the ground, still smoldering, and strange unnatural insects ran through the mess. Each of them looked around and saw that the desolation spread for hundreds of feet in every direction. Absolutely nothing had been left standing.
Jareth gasped and dropped to one knee, as if he'd been struck. He lay his hand on the ground, ignoring the heat, and seemed to listen for something. Sarah watched him for five minutes, then knelt beside him.
"What is it?" she asked softly.
"It's dead," he whispered. "It's really dead. The magick's gone out of it." He lifted the charred remains up in his hand. "Salt...that monster sowed salt into the ground...it could take centuries to repair this..."
"Come on," Sarah nudged him, helping him stand. "We can't fix this now. We have to find a place to rest and then we'll start off again at night."
Still obviously shaken, and ashen from the sight, he allowed himself to be pulled through the scorched field up until they reached the far edge, where the burnt hedge started up again. Jareth paused and looked back, unwilling to leave.
"Jareth, don't stop," she insisted, giving him another tug.
"I can't leave it like this," he mumbled. "I have to fix it. I have to take care of my labyrinth."
"And you can do that by getting rid of Arin," she said. "Now come on, before we're spotted by whatever's running around out here."
"Wait," he said, creating a second crystal bubble and releasing it over the charred soil. It floated aimlessly, then slowly started creating another bubble. When there were two, both of those started to create more. "There. At least that will start to mend all this."
Finally, with his conscience assuaged, he followed her back into the standing maze.
By the time the sun was high up in the cloudy sky, they had stumbled across a large fountain in the center of several collapsed trees. Water had ceased to flow through the fountain, and what was left had coalesced into muddy pools full of cinders and dead leaves, but Jareth still smiled.
"She may kill the surface, but she can't get to the underground." He stepped up to the fountain and pushed against one of the ornate flowers on the side. Instantly the entire fountain slid to the left, revealing a deep hole with a ladder on the edge. "Keep the lantern ready. It's going to get very dark."
"Are you sure you can climb down with that arm?" she asked, readjusting her grip on the lantern.
"I'll be all right," he assured her. "I'm used to working under harsh conditions." He dropped down the ladder before she could ask what he meant by that. Looking around one more time to make sure they weren't being watched, Sarah followed him down.
"What's down this ladder?" she asked. The fountain abruptly closed over them, sealing them in and plunging them into darkness. She pulled out the lantern and was delighted to see that the faerie was glowing brighter than a neon sign.
"Hopefully we'll hook up with the ones who made it down here," he answered. "If we're lucky, we may find a few of your friends as well. And after a few hours, we'll head straight for the sphinx."
Sarah nodded and they both fell silent, the only sound their shoes tapping on the rungs of the ladder.
Sarah stepped off the last rung in the ladder, standing just a few inches from the space she could hear Jareth breathing in. She glanced around, but the gloom was too thick to see anything besides the faint glow coming from the faerie. Sarah held the lantern up and stared in surprise as the glow brightened around the huddled figure inside. Her little wings were wrapped around her body as she shivered, and her eyes were shut tight.
"Poor thing, why's she shaking?" Sarah asked.
"Faeries are afraid of darkness," Jareth answered. "She'll calm down, don't worry. The light merely makes her a target to frogs and other things that would eat her, but when she realizes she's safe in that lantern, she'll stop shaking and start cursing again."
He put his good hand in Sarah's free hand and led her down the twisted cavernous passages. Somewhere in the distance they could hear an underground stream rushing by, but the caves themselves were actually quite damp. Puddles covered the ground, she could tell by how often she splashed through them, and water from an unseen source continually dripped into them, echoing oddly through the darkness.
"Does anything live down here?" she wondered, whispering in a tiny voice.
"Nothing dangerous," he smiled reassuringly. "Maybe a few night butterflies, but nothing else. Unless other creatures have come down here for shelter."
"What's a dark butterfly?" Sarah asked.
Jareth was about to sigh in exasperation at the amount of questions she was asking, but when he looked over at her face, he held himself back. Unused to this sort of subterranean environment, Sarah was desperately grasping at anything that might take her mind off of her eerie surroundings.
"Well..." he started slowly, not sure how to describe them.
Suddenly the faerie let out a hideous scream that startled both of them, nearly causing Sarah to drop the lantern. When the lantern didn't break open, the faerie started another barrage of furious curses.
"Damn it!" Sarah growled, shaking the lantern angrily so that the faerie lost her footing and fell on her rear. "You get us caught and you're gonna get killed, too!"
"You can't reason with them," Jareth told her. "Faeries are notoriously bad tempered. They're like the bees on your world. She'll stay angry for hours and bite anyone who comes near."
"Bratty little thing," Sarah muttered. "Now everything down here knows where we are."
Jareth didn't answer, and she wondered if he was just as worried as she was. They continued down the path, and after a little while Sarah noticed something bright in the distance.
"Jareth, something's burning down there," she said softly.
"I know, I can see it," he answered just as quietly. "It looks like firelight. If there are any survivors from this part of my labyrinth, they'll be here. Unless they kept moving down these caves."
"Then why are the fires still burning?"
"Sarah, this may be a surprise to you, but I do not know all the answers, even in my own kingdom."
Sarah smirked, it was fun exasperating him. "Well, if someone is still down here, I'm sure whoever it is won't try to kill us." There was no reply. "Right?"
"Let's hope so."
They both fell silent and kept holding each other's hand, while Sarah occasionally jostled the lantern to hush the faerie. I'm gonna have to be far away from this little pest when we let her out, she smiled to herself. Otherwise we're both gonna get bitten.
As they came toward the light, they both stopped. Neither of them stepped forward. Jareth squeezed her hand once and let go, then went on ahead, cautiously creeping along the rocky wall. When he reached the opening, he peered around the corner. He suddenly laughed in relief and motioned for her to follow.
"What is it?" Sarah asked, running forward, unafraid. She came up beside him and a smile spread over her face.
Torches had been scattered around a large cave, sending just enough light around to maintain a dull orange glow. The flames reflected beautifully off of the mirror lake in the center of the cave, and a sizable boulder was set in the center with a thick layer of moss covering it. Stepping stones made of diamonds and rubies sparkled up at them. A narrow staircase had been chiseled into the side of the wall, leading up to a small plateau that broke off into a smaller tunnel, obviously handmade.
"It's so gorgeous," she whispered, walking in. Her footsteps echoed eerily through the cave, and there was a loud fluttering to her right. She turned and gasped in surprise as hundreds of black butterflies shot off of the wall and circled around her. Their dark wings reflected the light in rainbows, surrounding her with miniature prisms. After a minute, they calmed down and floated back against the cave wall.
She stood there in delighted amazement until Jareth came closer. "Those are dark butterflies," he whispered.
"They're so pretty," she replied, moving closer to examine them. Their wings were feathery and wet, as if they'd been dripped on. They shimmered like a cascading waterfall. "I wish they'd fly out into the sunlight."
"Then they'd burn up," he said, turning his back. After all, he was used to the strange things in his labyrinth. He glanced across the lake to the boulder. "I think we could spend the night here. I'm sure we'll be safe, and if not, we'd still be able to hear anyone coming."
"Yeah," she nodded vaguely. "Still...who kept those torches going?"
Before she had even finished her sentence, she heard shuffling scrapes on the plateau overlooking their lake. She looked up and saw a gigantic shadow dancing within the firelight, whatever was back there was coming closer. She pressed against Jareth, who also turned and raised one hand, preparing a crystal sphere. As it came closer, though, the shadow diminished to a reasonable size and the figure came close enough to be seen from their level.
Sarah yelled in joy and took off, running up the staircase with wild abandon. She raced towards her friend and threw her arms around him, hugging the shaggy pelt.
"Ludo, you're all right!"
Jareth stood back and watched the two friends reacquaint themselves, taking the time to look over Ludo's fur for signs of blood or scratches. To his relief, there were none, which meant that Arin had not yet discovered the world beneath the labyrinth. The majority of his subjects would be safe, then.
"Ludo, where's Hoggle?" Sarah asked, standing back a bit so she could look Ludo in the eye. "Where's everyone?"
Ludo pointed down the tunnel he'd come from and said in his usual lumbering voice, "far away."
"They probably went down to the shadow world," Jareth nodded knowingly. "It's a long distance from here, but if they make it, it would be worth the trip."
"If they make it?" Sarah mumbled.
"Oh, it's not that hard, just a few traps that are so old they may have forgotten not to spring open during an emergency. I'm sure they'll be fine. It's the safest place they could go." The look on Sarah's face told him his explanation didn't help reassure her any, and he shook his head. "In any case, we'd best get some sleep. We have a hard journey tomorrow."
Sarah nodded, and the three all used the half-hidden stepping stones to get to the boulder at the lake's center. She lay down beside Ludo, who allowed her to snuggle up against his warm fur. Watching with a touch of envy, Jareth settled for stretching out a few feet away at the boulder's edge, taking care not to disturb the delicate moss. He hated not being able to merely blink in and out of any spot at whim, which not only saved time but saved damage to the labyrinth as well. No unfortunate flower trampled underfoot, no wandering unicorns accidentally startled into knocking its head against a wall. He winced at that memory and kept telling himself it was the unicorn's fault for being so jittery in the first place.
"I will kill you, Arin," he promised quietly. "I'll trap you in a bubble and let it get smaller until you're crushed. Or I'll turn you into a rat and let my goblins eat you. Or I could settle for ripping that griffin's heart out of your chest." Careful not to jar his broken arm, he shifted to one side and turned to the lantern between him and Sarah, staring at the little faerie who'd fallen asleep. Her body only gave a tiny glow now that she was unconscious. "Bratty little thing," he mumbled. "To think, I'm trying to save a labyrinth full of stupid creatures who bite and scream and fight and curse...I must be a damn fool."
Jareth woke to the sound of bracelets noisily jangling, and he opened his eyes to see Sarah quietly turn, pressing closer to Ludo. The furry monster snored up a storm, making Jareth wonder how he hadn't been disturbed in his sleep. Wide awake, he sat up and gave the cavern a cursory glance. There was no way to tell what time it was just by looking, so he cupped his hand and created a bubble, gazing into intently. Linked to the other bubbles left in the dead zone they'd seen before, he could use this one in his hand like a window and see through those on the surface.
"Just a little after twilight," he nodded to himself. A tiny smile crept over his face. "And looks like my bubbles have been busy." He could barely see the dead area for the thousands of bubbles floating over the ashes, dripping magick back into the soil. With a sigh he pulled the magick from the bubble back into himself, and the crystal sphere disappeared.
"Hmm...Jareth?" Sarah mumbled, slowly waking up. "What time is it?"
"Time to go," Jareth said firmly. "It's night, we'll be able to move safely now. Well, safer than during the day, at least."
"Okay, then," she responded. "C'mon, Ludo, let's go."
Ludo hesitated. "Ludo...stay."
Sarah blinked in surprise. "What? Stay?"
Jareth stood, staggering a bit since he couldn't use one arm. "He has to. If Arin comes this way, someone has to be here to know about it."
"But what can he do against her?" Sarah cried.
"Go and tell the others," he said as if it was obvious. "Look, he's not stupid. He's not going to try to fight her. But the rest of the labyrinth dwellers must know that they have to move again if she tracks them down this path."
She shook her head stubbornly, trying to find a gap in that logic. Why not let someone who could move quickly do this? Hoggle, he was fast...but then, he was also one of the brighter people in the maze, and they needed him to lead them out. Sir Didymus...no, he'd "charge!" and that would be the end of that. But his trusty steed...no, the sheepdog would just scramble off with or without his master. And the goblins were too stupid to trust with the task..."Damn."
"He'll be fine," Jareth tried to reassure her, but unused to such speech, he came off sounding cold. "Arin won't know about this for some time to come, and we should have killed her before that happens. Now let's go."
"Ludo," Sarah started, turning back to her friend, "you will be careful, won't you? I don't want to lose you."
"Ludo...careful..." he nodded, giving her one last hug. "Stones friends."
Confused, she looked around the cave. Sure enough, there were dozens of other boulders situated around the cavern that she had failed to notice before. Rocks upon rocks made up the walls and the staircase, probably even the tunnel they'd come down. Ludo would probably know if anyone came down the path hours ahead of time and call the stones down on their heads, leaving no way to escape.
Having to be satisfied with that, she picked up the lantern and followed Jareth down another tunnel out of the cave, and the inclined floor told her they were heading back up to the surface.
Sitting up in the castle window, surveying her new kingdom, Arin smiled grimly as she spotted a lone bubble floating up at her. Apparently Jareth was back, and had been careless enough to lose one of his precious crystal toys. How ironic it had wandered straight to her. Flipping her red hair back behind herself, she reached a hand out and deftly caught the bubble, cradling it so it wouldn't pop.
"And do you have any pretty pictures to show me, darling?" she whispered, gazing into it. She frowned, unable to comprehend what she saw. It seemed like there were thousands of bubbles in its surface, telling her that somewhere, at the other end of this link, Jareth had created too many crystals to see through.
"I thought I didn't leave him with that much magick," she muttered. "He's trickier than I thought. But not that tricky. He left you behind, didn't he? Probably needed a guide to show him through his own maze."
She abruptly popped the bubble between two clawed fingernails. "And he's not the only one with tricks." Motioning for one of the goblins cowering in the corner to come closer, she waited patiently as the smallest one was pushed forward. It crept over to her, whimpering with every breath, and bowed as low as it could, hoping to win good favor with flattery. She smiled kindly, reached down, and picked it up, raking one nail across its throat. Blood spilled out onto the floor, drenching the stones that were turning brown from a previous victim. Tossing its body onto a heap growing outside her window, indeed growing outside every castle window, she dipped one finger in the puddle at her feet and let one perfect drop form at the tip. Instead of dripping off, though, it hung like slime and formed into a small, red faerie with wasp wings.
"Go find Jareth," she ordered it. "And tell me where he is. I want to play with him a little." As it darted away, she realized she still had the two card dogs to get rid of before she could dispose with that annoying passage straight to the castle. She would need several faeries for that. With a kind smile, she motioned for another goblin to come closer.