AN:Wow, it has been a long, long time since I've posted anything here. The last time, it was the story Cherish, and under a different name. I promised myself that I actually wouldn't start posting this story until I had ten chapters written. I'm up to chapter six… I just decided I couldn't wait anymore. I wanted to rejoin the world of fan fiction…and I wanted to put out this beginning as a sort of feeler…to see what you all would think. It's actually the first story of a planned series. I've been doing some general research of Celtic mythology, and, let me tell you, it's been wonderful. Being a first generation Scottish-American born Stateside, I've loved the chance to research a bit of my own history, as it were. Of course, what I do use, I'm going to reshape to the series (please don't hurt me for that…I promise not to make it too horrible). Anyway, I'm rambling so I'll stop now. Just let me say in closing, that I'm actually really very nervous (having been away so long), and I'd appreciate any and all input. Oh, and this hasn't been beta-ed…though I've done my best to correct any errors. Thanks. Anne Marie
Part One: Once Upon A Time
She just ran. There wasn't much else she could do. If she let herself wonder how much time she had left, she'd risk realizing that she might not make it…and that was too terrible to consider. That her brother should suffer for her selfishness was an unbearable thought, and, though the muscles in her legs protested heavily, she continued to race through the impossible Escher room trying to get closer to the wandering toddler. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew that the Goblin King was watching her, singing to her, but it was something else she couldn't dwell on right now, and so she didn't pay attention to his words.
It felt like she had been running forever and Sarah was beginning to get desperate. She knew that she didn't have that much time left when she made it to the king's throne room, and a fission of fear slid down her spine. Toby had eluded her the entire time, and she was at her wits end. She peered over the edge of the platform she was on to see her half-brother perched precariously below her on the edge of a sideways archway. Glancing around at her options, Sarah knew the minute she ran down the most likely set of stairs, her brother would move…and, in the position he was in, she wasn't willing to chance it. Taking a breath, Sarah did the only thing she could think of, she jumped off the ledge towards Toby.
At first, it didn't occur to her to be worried. Then, it sank in that she wasn't really falling. This was more like falling in a dream….almost like floating down. Gently, her feet touched the stone floor, and she looked dazedly around her. The Escher type room had seemingly dissolved around her. Chunks of stone floated around in space, and the floor she stood on was part of a ruin of some sort. Her half-brother was nowhere to be seen. The castle, indeed the entire Labyrinth, was gone. Spinning around, Sarah stopped suddenly when she spied the Goblin King's silhouette through an archway. Slowly, he stepped into the light and Sarah's breath caught. Dressed in a flowing cape of white feathers over a totally white outfit, he was every inch as terrifying and deadly as she had always imagined he would be. And yet, there was something off about him. He seemed paler than when she had seen him before. He seemed tired, almost bone weary, his lips drawn into a thin, tight line. Still, he exuded danger, and seduction, and grace was inherent in every step he took towards her. Idly, Sarah wondered if the king even knew how to be anything but graceful…. and cruel. Banishing these thoughts from her mind, Sarah spoke,
"Give me the child."
The king gazed at her coolly, his thoughts well hidden whereas Sarah felt he could read her like a book.
"Sarah, beware, I have been generous until now," his accent washed over her, but Sarah ignored it.
She had come too far, there was too much at stake for her lose her concentration now.
But, her ire rose, "Generous? What have you done that's generous?" she demanded indignantly.
The Goblin King's eyes bore into hers, and narrowed in frustration.
"Everything," his voice sliced through the air, his tone brooked no argument.
He began to circle her, his own ire rising, his voice pinning her in place,
"You asked that the child be taken, I took him. You cowered before me; I was frightening. I have turned the world upside down and I've done it all for you. Isn't that generous?"
For a moment, Sarah faltered, met the Goblin King's gaze…and saw something there. Before she could analyze what she saw further, though, she began to speak the words that were almost second nature,
"Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the Castle Beyond the Goblin City - " she stopped abruptly as she heard a clock begin to chime.
Frantically, she turned, trying to find the clock, but couldn't see it. The chiming seemed to come from every direction, and Sarah's heart contracted with fear. She spun around desperately to face the king, her eyes wide and pleading. Finally, the chiming stopped and there was only silence.
"No," Sarah whispered.
Her eyes were glued to the king, wondering what he would do now that he won. She expected to see his familiar smirk, expected to hear him gloating, but there was only a deafening silence. His face was neutral, a soft expression of something resembling sorrow in his eyes.
Finally, he spoke, "You should be proud, Sarah. No one else has been able to get this far in thirteen hours. No one has been able to get this far ever, with or without a time limit."
"But I didn't have thirteen hours! The time you stole from me!" Sarah protested weakly.
The king shook his head, "I gave those hours back to you," he said softly.
"When?" Sarah asked, her voice quiet as she forced herself not to cry.
"You were at the ball longer than you thought," he replied simply.
Sarah wanted to deny it, wanted to say that it hadn't felt that long, but, she knew that time moved differently in this place.
Instead, she questioned him, "Why? Why did you help me?"
The king wouldn't answer. After a long moment, Sarah couldn't hold back,
"What happens now? May I at least say good-bye to Toby before you…" she trailed off, unable to continue.
"Before I what? Turn him into a goblin?" the king almost smiled, "Sarah, I never intended to turn Tobias into a goblin."
"You said - "
"I said 'one of us'. He would have lived in the Labyrinth, but not as a goblin. However, it's a moot point, the babe has been home in his crib since you jumped from the ledge."
Sarah's eyes widened, "What?? Why?? I don't understand any of this."
The king smiled sadly, his hand raised, gloved fingers barely grazing Sarah's cheek,
"No, child, you don't. Young Toby was not the point of the challenge, Sarah. You were."
"Me?" Sarah whispered, "You mean I will stay here?"
The Goblin King nodded, "Yes."
"But my family - "
"Is not my concern. My only concern is you."
Sarah shook her head, "But they're my family! I can't leave them to think I've been kidnapped, or run away!"
"All consequences you should have thought about before wishing your sibling away," and though the words stung, his tone was gentle.
Still, Sarah bristled, "No! I'm not staying here! I won't! You can't force me!"
The king held up his hand and Sarah was silenced, "And how will you get home without my permission?"
"I'll find a way!"
The king shook his head, "You can't."
It seemed the two were at an impasse. Sarah was too stubborn to give in, but she realized the king was right. There was no way to get back home without his magic.
For his part, the king was amazed with the girl, and then surprised at himself for being amazed. He should have expected no less from her. Sarah had gotten much further than he had ever even dared to hope, and now, faced with an eternity in a place she hardly knew, she had yet to crumble. He could, however, see in her eyes that she wanted to plead with him. But, not for herself….for her family. The same family that barely acknowledged her, and Sarah was willing to prostrate herself before him on the off chance they might notice her absence. Not once since she had wished the child to him had she thought of herself. A ghost of a smile lifted the corners of the king's mouth. The girl would stay with him, but… maybe he could lessen the blow a little.
Before Sarah could blink, she found herself in what looked like a study. There were two lounge chairs turned diagonally towards each other, still managing to face a fire place that was currently not being used. Sarah blinked in confusion, and looked around to find the Goblin King.
"Sit," a voice said from behind her.
Sarah jumped in surprise and turned to find the king sitting down in one of the chairs, motioning for her to take the other, empty one. Seeing no other option, Sarah did as she was told and waited to see what was up the devious king's sleeve now.
"Are you familiar with Greek mythology, Sarah?" he started.
Bewildered, Sarah nodded, "Some."
"Do you know the story of how Hades claimed his queen?"
Sarah shook her head.
"Well, allow me to enlighten you. Hades, as you know, was the god of the Underworld. He ruled over both the Elysian Fields and Tartarus, and all the land in between. His kingdom was bound by the River Styx, and only the dead and immortals could enter. Hades was shy for a god and he couldn't boast of looks. Nonetheless, he fell in love. He had seen Persephone, young daughter of the goddess Demeter, who was responsible for the harvest, in a field picking Narcissus flowers. He opened the ground under Persephone and stole her to his kingdom. Upset at the loss of her daughter, Demeter refused to help plants grow, and the earth was barren. At Demeter's plea, Zeus agreed to help return her daughter to her. But, Hades had tricked Persephone into eating the seeds of a pomegranate. By partaking in the fruit, Persephone had damned herself to Hades' side for eternity. At last, an agreement was reached. Persephone was allowed to return to her mother, but had to spend one third of the year in the Underworld as Hades' wife, a month for every seed she had eaten. During the time her daughter was with Hades, Demeter lost her joy and refused to let the crops grow. The ancient Greeks used this myth to account for the changing seasons."
Sarah had been listening raptly, letting the king's voice wrap around her as her mind painted the scenes to go along with the story, so it was a moment before she realized he had ended the tale.
"But, what does that have to do with -"
"I will let you return Aboveground, Sarah," the king interrupted and Sarah gasped, "but only for six months. You will be like Persephone. Six months of the year you will spend here, in the Labyrinth. The other six months may be spent Aboveground."
"Like Persephone?" she echoed.
The king nodded, "Yes. Rest assured, Sarah, I will find you and take you back when the time has come. You cannot hide from me, nor can you stop me from taking you. Technically, I don't have to allow you to see the Aboveground again. But, I will prove to you once more that I am generous, and let you live in both places."
"And if I don't agree?" Sarah questioned.
"You remain here," he replied simply.
"How will I explain this to my family?" Sarah asked, resigned.
The king shrugged, "You have six months to figure that out."
And with that, she disappeared.