Chapter Eight: Bad Luck


Stephanie spat out a leaf. "Well that was fun," she had a smear across her cheek.

"Indeed," Jareth rolled his eyes and returned to scratch at the sap that clung to his coat.

"For sure, let's do that again," said Danyelle, making Jareth look up from his task, almost appalled to the agreement.

"You are not truly serious?" Davrin asked sincerely.

"Nah," Danyelle smiled. She was busily picking out leaves from her hair and visor.

"Oh, that's a relief,"

"You're telling me," Jareth said. He sighed and finally gave up removing the tree's sap.

They wandered around in another hedge section of the maze before coming across a stone wall with three wooden doors. There were no doorknockers, only metal handles; the one you press to unlock in order to open. Jareth glanced around his surroundings; again using the castle as an anchor. He was silently strategizing his next move.

"If I remember correctly," he mused. "and the transition was not overly done," he came closer to the doors. "That would mean that this one should lead up towards the castle with less eventful episodes." Pressing on the latch, he opened the left door; he then took a glance behind the door and around the entrance before heading through the opening.

Stephanie frowned in confusion. Usually when they would come across doors upon stone structures, it would lead them to a forest or an area full of foliage, or so she remembered; this one however, brought the group into another stone maze. It was just plain strange to her. Perhaps it was because she had never come across something like this. Corridors upon corridors stretched out in front of them. Choosing a way out of the corridors—which was like fingerprints laid side by side, overlapping each other—was confusing. There was no way to mark their progress, they had to rely on Jareth's instincts. At one point, the Goblin King stopped in his tracks, just as the section the group were in, shimmered as the Labyrinth merge more; he shuddered as the feeling increased, but just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone again and he continued unperturbed.

"What about that way?" Danyelle asked, she was looking into one of the corridors.

Jareth scratched the back of his head. His sharp canines were bared and he let out a low hissing whistle. "I suppose," he paused. "It does not seem to 'feel' it would hinder us from the correct path. The others feel strange to me, although it could be due to the merge." He rubbed his chin in thought. He then nodded and proceeded to follow Danyelle into the chosen hallway. Davrin was next and then followed by Stephanie who continued to rub the back of her right knee; she quickly picked up her pace and caught up to the others.

"Turn to your left," the Goblin King pointed out to Danyelle. "and do not venture too far ahead; I do not want to risk anyone to get lost." he finished. Or was it, he couldn't afford it? Stephanie wondered. No. That wasn't right was it? He had changed…He is on our side and not the villain, another part of her mind reminded. However, if the situation would have been different—the realms not merging—would he have made that statement? Jareth was not the villain she had placed him to be, not like before. It was true, the man was somewhat vain, a cad, egocentric, but there had been something hidden even during the first encounter; he had saved her from that fall…had gotten used to Chantal and herself, and had become friendlier, all the while never admitting it. On several occasions he did appear to keep track of their progress, or was it that the reason was it was his cure for boredom. You couldn't really tell with Jareth. She shook her head. He was an enigma, as complicated as his Labyrinth.

Stephanie approached the Goblin King, who only nodded at her presence. The group walked silently, choosing—more or less following Jareth—pathways and corridors. However, he did ask their opinion for a few decisions, which worried the rest of the group. Danyelle and Stephanie had exchanged glances.

Returning from a dead end, Stephanie asked about his procedure of keeping the town out. "I've prevented them to pass over the entrance walls," the Goblin King said. "they can never get to the other side, even if they did manage, they would either bounce back or stay within the same corridor in a loop."

"At least that keeps them occupied," she paused. "What are you planning to do with everyone's memories once all this is resolved??"

"As much as I might enjoy the publicity that I will be receiving after this, however, I shall be erasing their memories of this…situation." The Goblin King replied.

"How are you going to keep track of all the witnesses?" Danyelle asked.

"It will be difficult, I must admit, I might not be able to find them all,"

"That's going to be a task and a half," Stephanie muttered with a nod.

"Indeed," he nodded with a weary sigh. "There is not much I can do about it. I do have limits in your realm—even if mine is currently here."

They turned another corner and came to another dead end. Wary, the group remained close to the doorway as possible; they didn't want to experience the same event they had encountered. Jareth however, made his way across to the wall in front of them. He examined high on the wall. He reached up, trailing his fingers against the rough surface until he felt deeply grooved letters; he smiled. "Ah here's one," he mumbled.

"Give me a hand," he gestured for Davrin and the girls to approach. He started pushing upon the wall—they grunted with their effort—and with their help, it inched slowly away from the connecting wall. They pushed the door ahead of them, it was aligned by a groove in the middle of the stone network; it made a dead end for the next corridor.

Tired and panting, they stepped into the new corridor, this one also displayed many twists and turns, from what they could see there were a few hedge walls in a few of the hallways. The water bottles were passed around the group as they continued more slowly and deeper into the maze.

The group stopped in front of a tall cliff, it towered over them. A winding path seemed etched along the precipice's face, between the mountain and a section that had separated from it—perhaps from the merge, the earthquakes or due to natural causes. It stretched so high that it was impossible to see the top, the sun also prevented them to do anymore than squint.

"Don't tell me that we're going to climb that!" Danyelle exclaimed.

"All right, we won't." Jareth said.

Danyelle breathed out in relief. Her smile disappeared when she saw the Goblin King had started to climb up the path. A few sections had natural formed steps to help in the climb. "But you said—"

"I only agreed not to tell you that we are climbing," he replied, not stopping his progress.

Danyelle frowned.

"There are no other ways. I am not going to retrace my steps to find another; besides, this route is shorter."

"How do you figure?" mumbled Danyelle, taking another glance at the tall structure. Stephanie sighed wearily in agreement, but nevertheless started after Jareth; even Davrin seemed disheartened by the fore coming climb; he waited for Danyelle.

"Ready?" he asked.

"I guess," replied Danyelle and followed suite the King up the crevice. She didn't expect to climb, well not a cliff anyway; heck, she didn't expect to even have an eventful day, let alone a go through a maze, one as vast as this; her legs felt tired just by looking at the rock's face.

"Gods!! I didn't think I would be climbing today," Stephanie voiced her cousin's thoughts. She tried to get some traction with her sandals; the path had gone steeper uphill. It was starting to become a difficult climb; the path was almost smooth, the sand barely helped the group up the hill as though worn—the steps has also been worn by weather, there were no hint that it was by travels. It came to a point that the group had to more or less go upon all fours. Jareth was grumbling in his annoyance, pushing his coat from his way before he would trip. His boots didn't have much traction either, for the soles were worn, perhaps they were his favorite pair. The hill was getting so steep that they also edged closer to the cliff to grab hold of the walls to pull themselves up and not slip and fall down the mountain.

Stephanie's foot slipped and she didn't have the time to grab better hold of the rock wall. "Ah crap!!" she uttered. Her fingers received tiny slices from the sharp wall; she did manage to grab the end of Jareth's coat before sliding down the slope. He also lost his footing and slid; the way he bounced when he hit a bump, brought them both tumbling down the slope. Danyelle and Davrin were knocked over, as they had no warning, nor any room to move out of the way in time.

The nineteen-year old and the King tumbled one last time and slid to a stop halfway down the slope. Jareth sat up with a groan and rubbed the back of his head; he then wiped at the scrape that was on one side of his chin, frowned and shook out the sand from his clothes and hair.

"Are you okay?" Danyelle called out. Jareth waved in reply, almost apathetically.

Stephanie hissed in a breath as she inspected a large scrape on her elbow. She tried to brush some of the tiny rocks that clung to the broken skin—she almost felt ill—it was the only big injury they sustained other than a few small cuts and scrapes that covered the girl's arms and legs.

"For bloody hell Stephanie!" the Goblin King snapped as he got to his feet.

"I'm sorry!!" she apologized as she herself stood. "I haven't done it on purpose." She looked up from her elbow. Jareth opened his mouth to admonish her some more or to say a curt remark, but he nodded instead, then followed her as they started their climb.

"We shall meet you near the top." He called to Davrin and Danyelle. Davrin gave them a wave in understanding.

"Shall we?" Davrin asked the girl.

"Yeah," Danyelle finished brushing off the dirt from her pants. They resumed their trek up the cliff. It did not take them long to reach the top of the slope, however, they did have to continue around the next peak. Danyelle glanced back to see how her cousin was doing; both Jareth and Stephanie—who had pieces of her pants she ripped around her hands—were climbing the steep hill using the same method as before. "She should have found some better shoes," mused Danyelle. She did smile a little at how amusing it was to see them tumble, but she knew it would have been dangerous if they had slid more where the crevice was open at the ledge. She was certain that they had a few wounds—she herself had a bruise that would certainly appear before the adventure was done, on her backside.

"I wonder if it would have made a difference," Davrin countered. "The slope was steep, even I had trouble and our footwear are made for slippery mountain surfaces. We—I did live by a few mountains," his look again took to sadness, he lowered his eyes. "I would like to find out what had really happened," he said sadly. Danyelle gave his hand a squeeze.

O

Stephanie and Jareth arrived at the halfway point of the mountain, and were now taking a short break before continuing upwards.

"I could use some of the water Danyelle is carrying," Jareth said, standing upright with a stretch. Stephanie nodded; her tongue seemed to stick to the roof of her mouth. Looking up to the two waiting figures—one with water—gave her a little more determination to continue. She almost laughed aloud at the reason. She passed the Goblin King, tapping his shoulder to let him know it was time to go and stated to the climb up the slope. She would rather be walking through the vast maze or even give her brain a workout, than do any of this hard exercise. Her muscles ached. At least they weren't climbing the side of the cliff…yet. Why did they have to climb a cliff in order to get on the right path? Wouldn't there be other ways from a starting point? The trail on the next slope wasn't as steep, which she was rather glad of, it just went around the structure. It was easier, much easier. It took them a few more minutes to finally join Davrin and Danyelle.

The group was standing in front of a barricaded path, there was no way under or over the door, or even at the side where the walls were just as sharp. Stephanie peered over the edge, it wasn't too high that they could see the whole town. She did see that a path did disappear inside the mountain, but no pathways after that. True, they had went around the structure and had not encountered any other path than the one they had been on—again nothing is as what is seems.

Beside the doorway, protruded from the wall, was a tray placed near the edge of the cliff. It was hollow, about an inch deep and made out of wood; it contained several stone pieces, elongated to about the size of fingers. On the wall above the tray, was some sort of diagram. Each took their turns to inspect the pieces, not daring to touch them lest some form of consequence should occur. Did the loose pieces had to be removed or put together in order to open the door? The puzzle looked complicated. The group in exasperation, turned to Jareth questioningly, none knew how to start. He approached the try and poked at the pieces, mumbling to himself, and then looked at the chart.

"Exchanging the pieces, I believe, to put the right key here," he pointed to a slot near the doorway, which was already occupied. "This diagram is supposed to give us a hint to find the right one," he paused. He squinted at the wall and almost sighed. "I do not remember this one,"

"That's great," Danyelle said, dropping the bag with a loud rough thump. Jareth brushed off the sand that had collected into the grooves of the etched chart; the letters were nearly rubbed out from the weather, it was quite unreadable.

"Damn it all," the Goblin King cursed. He half muttered under his breath as he read the parts that were visible; he then went back to the tray and continued to prod at the pieces, they made a pleasant sound as they scraped against the wood.

Davrin was inspecting the slot to see if there were any way to remove the piece that was currently jammed into it, there was a crack barely big enough for a finger to pass. "Suppose, I should reach and take it out?" he mused.

"I wouldn't," Jareth countered. "At least, not until we are certain what it is that we must do. You never know what might happen if you do. Who knows if there is a trap or some form of creature living in the darkness of the walls," he glanced at a few pieces; he nodded to several that were obviously not going to fit. "From what I've managed to decipher, the six pieces here could possibly be the right key." In the tray—as the group advanced—four oddly shaped keys had ends were pushed aside. The remaining elongated keys had no ends, these they would not be able to pull them out if they were wrong, at least not without difficulty.

"Hey uh Jareth," Danyelle started.

"Yes?"

"What happens if we do choose the wrong key?"

"There are a few of the Labyrinth's puzzles that have consequences for solving wrongly; it is difficult to say for this one, our doorway might vanish if we choose incorrectly." He grabbed the three loose pieces. He explained his theory of the three long keys.

"You might be right, but—" Stephanie said.

"However, what if," Davrin interrupted. "they are actually the right ones? There would be no use to pull them out if they are, and the doorway will be open indefinitely." They mulled it over for a few minutes; Jareth holding the keys in one gloved hand, out in the center of the circle they made. After much consideration, they went with Davrin's theory. Without indifference, Jareth threw the four key pieces over his shoulder. The three keys were scrutinized to see any differences; the only thing was a tiny groove along one side of each key, the pieces within the tray had no grooves and by Jareth's statement that they were properly taken out of the choices with the instructions from the board. Stephanie picked up a key from Jareth's hand and inspected it—or rather doing anything but just sitting there guessing—she ran her finger against the groove.

"So basically we have to guess," she frowned.

"I'm afraid so," Jareth nodded.

"So what do we do? Pick straws. Rock, paper, scissors?"

The Goblin King raised an eyebrow at Danyelle. "I'm not putting my realm at stake by a game of chance; at least speculating which key has some thoughtful deliberation," he crossed his arms, hiding the pieces in his palm.

"Well doesn't the board say anything about the remaining pieces?" asked Danyelle.

"Nothing, other than 'a winding road,'" he shrugged. "It is all I can make out."

"Let me see the keys," she said. He held out his hand towards her again. All the pieces had the grooves facing the sky. After a moment, Danyelle chose a piece and no one objected by the decision; they had to decide and having no clue would only keep them longer.

Danyelle got up and headed towards the doorway. The rest of the group slowly got up, waiting for the girl to do the honors.

"Wait a minute Jareth," Stephanie said, stopping him from throwing the last two pieces. She squinted harder and closely, all of them had a straight groove, no curves to suggest "a winding road". That could only mean—

"Dani!! No!!" Stephanie yelled, running towards the girl. She stopped beside her cousin, picked up the key that she had thrown away, and tried to remove the piece her cousin had placed. She cursed under her breath when she couldn't remove the piece.

"But see, nothing's happening." Danyelle replied. It was true; nothing moved and Stephanie remembered that a usually long pause—which was the same result as saying "It's a piece of cake"—would result in something horrible happening.

Still nothing.

Stephanie was finally able to remove the piece and place back the original key with a squiggle for a groove. She gave a last look at it and sighed, relieved and satisfied that all was in order. "It was a trick puzzle,"

"Now that is done and over with, can we please continue?" the Goblin King said as he started down the path. The gate had opened up and revealed their new pathway. Stephanie rolled her eyes to Danyelle.

"Come on," she urged Danyelle and took a few steps forward.

Suddenly there was the sound of crumbling. A crack appeared and trailed between the girls, split into spider web patterns. The girls looked at each other, eyes wide.

"Shit!" Danyelle yelled.

"Pasta Vazoo!!" her cousin managed as the ground under them broke. The girls screamed as they fell.

A hand grabbed Danyelle's wrist. The girl looked up.

The Goblin King quickly pulled her up and tossed her to a solid edge, nearly landing on Davrin. She landed with a thump. It was too late to grab Stephanie.

"Bloody hell!" Jareth cursed, he peered over the ledge. A crystal appeared in his hand—he was still able to produce magyk—he gripped it and threw it down the cliff, towards the falling figure below.

O

Stephanie had stopped screaming. The rushing air made it difficult to breathe and she concentrated to save herself by trying to wake her powers. She didn't feel any electric static or any other feeling that always followed when her aura surrounded her. It was still too early to even rouse them. She fell at incredible speed, the ground neared every second.

Stephanie gasped. She was heading head first to the ground. She couldn't close her eyes on her impeding doom.

Suddenly, inches from the ground, she stopped in mid air. Her pendant swung and her long hair brushed against the ground.

She blinked.

She let out a sigh of relief. She placed her hands on the ground and was about to do the same with her feet, but whatever barrier Jareth had created, vanished and her knees hit the ground; better to have bruised knees than all her bones broken.

The damage from the cliff was scattered everywhere and from what she could tell, boulders blocked the path; there was no way to climb them and no way around—the rest of the group however, would be able to continue immediately.

"Crud," Stephanie mumbled. She waved to the group to show that she was unharmed and turned around to pick a path amongst the ruble, she managed to reach a corridor where her lone trek was about to begin. "At least I'm not in an oubliette,"

O

"Where is she going?" Danyelle asked, suddenly frantic.

"There is no way she can reach the intended path, she will have to find another way and journey on her own until she meets with us again." The Goblin King replied as he slowly climbed over a boulder that half covered the path, he held out his hand to help her up and over the ruble, he then helped Davrin.

"What happens if she doesn't meet us?"

"Then whoever reaches the castle first, must solve the situation before it becomes permanent." He said as he jumped down and landed smoothly on his feet.

Jareth squinted as the flame of the torch he held rose, the dry cloth burned with a crisp noise. The oily rag had given a moldy smell, smoke rose before finally fading in the air. He almost seemed unperturbed by it, whereas Danyelle had wrinkled her nose. Even if the entrance into the mountain brought in daylight from the outside, they took no chances and had taken the torch that was by the entrance.

Inside the cavern, the torch burned brightly. Even in the darkness, they could see a path and there was enough room for the group to pass all at once. The sound of their footsteps reverberated off the walls. The darkness was so profound that it was alleged that creatures stirred about, hidden in shadows from the harmful glow, staring, leering, perhaps waiting for their move. Every movement that Jareth made as he looked around, made the flames streak into the dark; it was a wonder how his long wild hair didn't catch.

"Are there any creatures living here?" asked Danyelle, peering into the dark corners. She hoped that if she knew what kind of creatures—hopefully minuscule and harmless—dwelled in the shadows, she wouldn't fear them but the jagged shaped of stalagmites provoked the imagination.

"There might be nothing larger than a rat," Jareth replied without turning, concentrating in the dark. Danyelle was not convinced. There were a few scuffling noises around them, but the creatures seemed more wary to avoid them than to confront them; even though, she neared Davrin, almost stepping on his heels.

Light shone upon the path ahead. That encouraged the group to move faster. The warm sun washed upon them, which made them all smile—at least they could see Jareth's mood lighten, he didn't have the habit to express emotions upfront. Jareth snuffed out the torch in the sand and placed it in a holder located at the entrance, or in this case, exit.

They were outside, yes, but they were still halfway down the cliff. The path continued around the cliff, making them second-guess if it would lead them to another, quicker, path or back inside the mountain. At the height they were, there were no signs of lost travelers; however, they could barely make out the tiny figure of Stephanie, going deeper into the Labyrinth.

Jareth had actually stopped a minute to survey the girl's progress. "She is doing well," he mused. The last time he watched her venture through his Labyrinth was when she and Chantal had first arrived to his realm; even then, her progress had been…remarkable. He could just visualize her now; sighing, mumbling to herself, all the while with a secret smile upon her features; he didn't need to glimpse into a crystal. He watched her until her form disappeared into the layers of his main attraction. The Goblin King made his way past the two figures who sat upon a rock structure, taking a small rest. He declined the offer of water with a shake of his head.

"Do you think we should have given her supplies?" Stephanie's cousin asked.

"I'm sure she'll be fine without them," Jareth replied. "Besides, how were we able to send them to her?"

"Well, I thought you would have, you know, with your magic."

"Unfortunately, it does not work that way. Transportation by oneself, yes, but not to send objects."

"Why not give them yourself?"

"The same reason why I cannot go home."

"Oh."

Jareth smiled a little. "Even if Stephanie is making wonderful progress, I don't think it means for us to dawdle."

"Yes." Davrin agreed, rising to his feet. "Your cousin will be alright, especially if she has done this before," he winked.

"Okay," Danyelle said. "I suppose you're right." She packed up everything again. "Anyways, it's not like we'll be here for days."

"Perish the thought." Jareth mumbled, a few feet ahead of them.

"We're lost aren't we?"

The Goblin King frowned at Danyelle. "We are not." He said. "Deterred or even maybe nonplussed, mislaid, but not lost."

'It's the same thing,' Danyelle thought.

He knew he was lost—his pride made sure of that—his senses were just confused with the merge. It was difficult to concentrate. He wondered, if bad comes to worse, would he be trapped to be as vulnerable as—ugh—a mortal. He almost shuddered at the thought and quickly dismissed the idea. He took another moment to clear his mind, trying to remember and to get a feel for the correct path; after all, how mortifying would it be if the Goblin King was lost in his own Labyrinth?

"We are not lost," Jareth repeated, more or less telling himself. Before anyone could remark the opposite, he chose a path to start their journey into the maze again. As they walked, Jareth had contacted the few goblins in charge within his castle to take over duties, only informing that he will be indisposed until further notice.

"But Sire—" the goblin started.

"If the situation changes, contact me at once," Jareth ignored with expertise. He turned the crystal to contact a few more goblins with their own assignments; all the while, never wavered from picking pathways, only glancing up to see where he was going. "Never mind that!" he barked into the sphere, making Danyelle jump. "Do as I tell you and it will be fine." He sighed. Lately he has been thinking of hiring different kind of help. Another sigh and the image within the crystal disappeared. He proceeded to juggle the crystal—coming to him like second nature—as he pondered possibilities of hired help, the situation at hand, and how to solve it once he reached the castle. He ran out of ideas and soon listened to Danyelle and Davrin's conversation, taking heed not to look like he was eavesdropping.

"The Labyrinth is not populated by infants." He replied to one certain wondering question. He continued when there were no remarks about his interruption. "Goblins do not originate by stolen children, at least not all of them."

"Do you ever get strange wishes?" asked Danyelle.

"This one is a first," Jareth half smirked. "Countless beings wished for someone to be taken away, even themselves. I do not always answer every call. Most of the time it's only to have an adventure thought my Labyrinth." He frowned. "They soon find out however, that it's not just a game."

Danyelle stared intently at the Goblin King. "What happens to them?"

"The child becomes a goblin, free to roam or serve me in years to come." He paused. "The others however, having no use for them, I send them home, or they remain here if they wish it so. I do not change them all into goblins."

"Well that doesn't sound so bad."

"They find out that it's not always a fairytale here. They don't live forever as they presumed, nor have powers, or any other expectations they might have."

"I see."

"The few who do return here—not the ones who wanted a second chance— are imprinted so deeply that they are able to return on their own." He stopped juggling the crystal. "For you see, when the realm's magyk touches a person, it leaves a mark; like you for example, are marked as well. The moment you leave the Underground, you take a piece of its magyk with you, afterwards you might be able to return on your own will." he paused again. "I suppose there are exceptions like Stephanie; not only has the Underground deeply marked her, but deemed her as suitable for its magyk." He finished.

O

Stephanie glanced in one direction. "No, that wasn't right," she frowned. She scrutinized the walls, dreading to find a familiar pattern of fallen bricks, the placement of a vine draping over a ledge or even a missing chink in a corner. She had backtracked when she reached a dead end; she didn't think she would get this lost. A sigh escaped from her, she was wishing she had some form of marker; it would help a little, that is, if there weren't any Brickkeepers ready to hinder her progress.

She stood on tiptoe to try to locate Jareth's castle. From where she was, it seemed really far, the Goblin City Gates partly hid the structure.

"All right," she peered around a corner, trying to see what options she had. Three passageways were in one way, and two in the other. She had to think like Jareth…but once she thought about it, he didn't designed the Labyrinth—or so she concluded—only the traps and detours to discourage the travelers; so she had to second guess and trust her instincts. Once she settled on which way to go, she chose the corridor on her right; she was convinced that the center one was too obvious.

She walked a ways before encountering another trio of corridors. She took the center, this one also brought her to another set, right, right and then left. She then came across—

A dead end.

"Damn," she muttered and turned around but something caught her eye.

Hidden in a corner, was an obelisk about in diameter made out of stone, it had several levers scattered on all four sides; a few of them were marked with strips of yellowing cloth wrapped around the handles. She wasn't sure if the cloth was there as marks to take heed or if they were marked for a way out, leading her to another passageway.

She made her way towards the pillar to closer inspect it, maybe there was a note from a previous traveler or even a riddle to help her out; she hated guessing.

At this moment, it didn't seem she had a choice. She sighed. Out of the marked levers, a few of the strips had unraveled and looked more used. That made her think. It could open up an oubliette. Who knew how many people took the certain handles. She held onto the structure as she deliberated to choose a marked lever. The sound of gears groaning echoed around her; after that, nothing much happened. She glanced around, hoping to see something, anything. But when nothing happened, a look of confusion came across her face. She then stood on tiptoe to reach an unmarked handle. Inside the walls, gears protested from misuse, she followed the sound behind the wall without moving from her spot.

She let out a short yelp. Holding onto the handle, her feet dangled over the trap door. She reached over to grab hold of another lever, it came down with her weight. The trap door didn't close up when she left the handle and she hoped that the one she had just pulled wouldn't open the floor any more or bring upon her another setback. Back on her feet, she balanced and made her way around the structure and chose the lever at the bottom, hopefully this will give her better results.

The sound of stone scraping against the same foundation sounded pleasantly comforting compared to the trap door scraping. Scanning around the pillar, she noticed a new opening upon one of the walls of the dead end.

Stephanie smiled. She made her way, as quickly as possible, for fear that it would close before she got there. She did had to swing a bit before jumping over the oubliette. She landed without a problem but immediately ran towards the doorway, you never know, it could be running on some kind of timer. There wasn't much room in the opening, she had to move sideways and squeeze her way through. It also wasn't a short corridor, she actually expected to be brought at the other side of the wall. Finally on the other side, she emerged in the middle of a passageway. Trying to get her bearings—as much as you can in a maze—she resumed her task of selecting courses and corridors.

As she walked, she arranged the strips of cloth around her fingers, mostly to prevent dirt from getting into her cuts while still paying attention to where she was going. She couldn't keep track of all the corridors she took, so, it wasn't long before she gave up the idea and decided to move forward without looking back, hoping this method wouldn't lead her in a circle or more lost. She figured backtracking, unless she had no choice, would only slow her down and waste time. It was ridiculous that it was still within a time limit. But it was a wish, there wasn't any alternative. They had to follow the rules. Even the King. However, he must have some power over the rules, shouldn't he? She pondered about it for a while.

She kicked the wall as though the action would amend for all her troubles. She lost count how many puzzles and riddles she went through; pulling stones, rearrange stones, picking doors—not to mention the endless corridors in stone and hedges mazes and forests, hearing the chatter of doorknockers, picking more doors, even following arrows that were grooved into the walls. One thing that would really aggravate her now, would be the presence of that damn riddling bird. She actually marched to the opening of the dead end, hands on her hips, and waited a few minutes. Satisfied that the Fiery-like bird would not appear to ruin her day, she made her way further down the corridor and resumed her trek.

It wasn't long before she came across four doors, starting with dark brown in color and fading to a tan or sand color. "Of course!!" Stephanie mumbled. She searched around for clues so she can quickly get by another detour. She noticed that several corridors ended up in front of some doors that were situated in a cul-de-sac. She chose the second dark door, again having in her mind the idea that the first and last were too obvious, but her hand stopped short of the handle. What if the scenario was predicted and the other two doors were actually the right way?

"Oh Hell, I don't care anymore," She said in exasperation. It was too confusing just to select a door. She stuck with her original pick and turned the handle. When she met with resistance, she tried pushing harder and pulling. Confused, she tried the other doors, ending with the same result. Knocking didn't help either. "Hmm," Stephanie sat in front of the doors, contemplating a solution—and having a rest didn't hurt either. She saw no riddles, no incantations to open the doors. "It's got to be with keys," she noticed keyholes and took another moment before searching for the keys; hopefully whoever had previously used them had left them for other people after they had gone through.

She had no luck.

"Well, that was pointless," she grumbled and began deciding if she should backtrack or choose one of the other corridors. From where she was, she noticed that there was a pond. She quickly walked over, hoping that the water would be drinkable. Even surrounded by stone, the water was clear and kept clean from mildew and creatures. Having sated her thirst, she wiped her hands on her pants. She caught glimpse of something shimmering at the bottom of the pond. She squinted a bit but recognized immediately what the object was. She plunged her hands in the amazingly cool water and pulled out a set of tarnished keys. Not losing a moment, she rushed back to the doors and tried a few keys, again, still settled with her first choice.

"Nope. Not that one either," she tried four more before the sound of success echoed within the wood. She then tied the keys with the strings that held her pants up; for the pocket was torn and was useless. Stephanie had entered another hedge section. She stretched before continuing. She was a little tired and sore, it had been a while since the last trek, but she enjoyed every minute of it. It was a change of scenery and it cheered her up, showing her that she was at least farther into the vast maze. She picked a few leaves out of boredom and let them float down behind her.

She skid to a stop and with barely a thought, went through the nearest passageway. It was awkward to run with sandals; there were hardly any grips at the soles and nothing to really support the top of the foot. She kept running, not paying attention to which corridor to choose. Untrimmed branches scratched and cut at her skin.

She ran as fast as her legs would let her. She stumbled on loose bricks that littered the path. She leapt over fallen branches and tree stumps, and ducking every so often; a few more sections were more unkempt than others, unfortunately it created more obstacles for her to elude. She let out a short groan of frustration when she ran into a dead end. She turned back, stopped only a moment to listen. How near were the creatures?

This was just what she needed. Getting lost, chased by raccoon creatures. They were still in pursuit, luckily, none were seen or were close by. She wasn't even sure what she had done for them to be chasing her; unless she was trespassing, but heck she was walking in a forest, there were no way around it. She wondered if they were tracking her by scent, maybe she'd be able to hide or not. Her side was beginning to hurt. A few more corridors, she leaned against a wall and tried to catch her breath. She looked at her surroundings to see if there was any way to evade her pursuers. There were no trees, no secret passageways, or any suitable hiding places. She wasn't cruel to animals but she wanted to go back and kick these furry creatures for delaying her, especially if she hadn't done anything, at least nothing that she could remember.

She waited until her heart stopped pounding in her ears. She desperately needed a drink, her mouth was so dry. She peered around the corner, trying to catch glimpse of the creatures. There were no sign of them yet. Though that didn't mean that she should sit around any longer than she had to. With a groan, she pushed herself off the wall and started her way—again—towards the castle.

Her pace was slow and steady to give her sides a break, but occasionally would jog a few minutes and then slow back down. She was back to picking pathways again before she heard the sound of chittering. "Aww, come on you guys," Stephanie groaned, picking up her pace. This went on for a while, she would slow down to catch her breath and ease the cramp in her side that had spread, and then started off again. "Buggers," she muttered.

She flew past several grey obelisks, some with pointing hands, then went through more quick decisions, she almost collided right into a door. Having no time to solve puzzles, she hoped that it would open easily. She pushed against the wooden frame but no luck; lack of use might be the problem. "Damn it!!" She quickly moved on.

Suddenly a few of the creatures appeared and blocked a few of the corridors, forcing her to run in another direction. She wondered how they got there so fast and if she was going in circles. She ran, pursued again by these annoying little things until the ground opened up from under her feet.

A short cry later, she managed to grab hold of a ledge before falling too deep. She had rubbed against the wall inside the soft almost mossy tunnel. She managed to get a foothold and pushed herself up, digging her fingers above, between the brick's network. She struggled a bit more, her footing wasn't very great on the mossy wall. Sitting, she then rested, her feet dangling in the opening. She was lucky that she hadn't broken or sprained anything; the trap door was so sudden. Too bad you couldn't sue the Goblin King.

Not a creature was in sight. At this point she would actually kick a few for delaying her this much. At least the creatures had given up, thinking that she was lost to the oubliette. Her right shoulder was smeared with a green substance, it went down to her wrist, a little of the sticky substance was up her neck, and up to her ear as well. "That's great," she scrubbed her fingers on her pants and managed to remove some of it. She let out a sigh. The pants were beyond saving.

Another hour had passed. She was sure that she had been on her own for at least two or three hours. She hadn't encountered any puzzles or any other creatures; for that she was relieved. It let her mind think of other things. She had been wondering what would happen if the Labyrinth were to remain here? She grinned. But what of the rest of Jareth's Kingdom? Her grin faded. Would the realm emerge and rearrange itself to adapt to the girls' world? Which world would overlap and will their realm adapt to such a change, or ruin the magyk of the Goblin King's realm. As much as she wishes it to be here, fear to ruin such magyk made her more determined to reach the center and complete the quest.

As she ventured deeper into the maze, it became more elaborate; there were more obelisks, some with engravings, several sections had stairs or archways, statues ornamented sectors that held several corridors. She passed border walls that were taller than the usual walls, perhaps they divided certain sections—she had the idea that they were originally the entrance walls, but with the Labyrinth always expanding, had to become another addition. She hadn't seen any sundials, she didn't need it to tell how late it was becoming; the sun was slowly setting, it could be early evening; her stomach growled. "Yep, suppertime," she laughed. But she could worry about that later, what she should worry about was the trap she had just stumbled upon.

"Crap!!" Stephanie uttered. The walls closed in behind her. She pressed her back against the wall, in case something opened up, or trapped her or whatever was in store for her.

There was an opening and she warily made her way, staying close to the walls. It was just another dead end. Another dead end but with a board. She let out a small frustrated groan and approached it anyhow. The board was raised about knee high, stairs led her onto it for a better look. At one end of the board, was a small row of scrambled words, so far that she could see was in English. It didn't take her long to figure out how to work the board. She went through three unscrambled words, before she let go of the metal ball and placed it on one of the letters that was on the board. She would have wished that the balls—the size of cantaloupes—were already on the correct words instead of placed neatly in a box, grooved at the edge of the board, near the steps.

"Am I the only one who goes through these damn puzzles??" she placed another of the heavy balls on the letter E.

O

The rest of the group was quiet.

The last puzzle was ages ago and there were very few run-ins with creatures, and when they did, the beings didn't chase or threaten them. However, that didn't mean they had it easy; they got lost and detoured countless of times with the shift. Detoured by corridors and dead ends was one thing, but going through people's houses was interesting. The Goblin King tried very hard not to lose patience with those who refuse to let him enter. If there had been a way around he would certainly go, the merge made it impossible now. Arguments, broken hinges and a lot of misunderstanding—dishes and other objects were thrown at the unfortunate group—later, Jareth led the group through the house obstacles and out the back door. He resisted the urge to grumble aloud. But once they went through several homes, it became easier. He waited in the backyard for Danyelle and Davrin, deciding which direction to start; he took this time to gather his instincts. At times, it came to him like a large breeze, as it did now, or it would only feel like a déjà vu.

He stood in one of the corridors, but not out of sight of the others. 'This one feels right,' he thought.

A noise made him glance behind him, breaking his concentration.

"So where to now?" Danyelle asked, shifting the backpack to be comfortable upon her shoulders.

"There," Jareth pointed, slightly leaning down to the girl. "The pattern should shift by the hedges and…" he trailed off. "Well, it does not matter how it works as long as we are getting closer, am I right?" he smiled a little.

"Yah." Danyelle nodded. She was then directed to the pathway. Davrin nodded as he stepped next to the Goblin King.

"We've made excellent progress," Jareth mentioned to Davrin. "I could lie and say were almost there, but," he chuckled.

"Well, it would certainly ruin the 'fun'." Davrin laughed.

"Consider yourself fortunate," Jareth resumed his serious expression, but his tone was light. "I throw just about anything to create obstacles to daunt those who come into my Labyrinth."

"That is not very fair," Davrin commented.

"I usually don't play fair," the Goblin King replied. His appearance returned to its usual cruelness. "especially if I'm determined to win; unless I find the challenge dreary." he trailed off. There were no guarantees that creatures and traps wouldn't hurt them. But lately things have been changing and not just with people appearing like before and odd merges. Creatures either evolved or have migrated—like the poisonous tentacle tree called an Utahn, that somehow turned up in his Labyrinth and bitten Stephanie—something he didn't have any power over. The creatures have never bothered humans before. However, he did manage to keep track of certain creatures to keep them at bay; luckily, he had, for now he didn't have to worry about it particularly with this predicament. He would never let the traveler be seriously injured; this was something no one would ever know; after all, it would ruin his reputation. He enjoyed a challenge but he wasn't that merciless. There were limits.

Davrin studied Jareth. 'So this is the High King,' he thought. He hadn't realized until the girl, Stephanie, had been calling for the Goblin King. It would have been absurd to bow or show any signs of respect now. At least the King knew first hand of the recent onslaught. From what he had heard from stories and rumors of the Goblin King, he expected that the Goblin King would resemble his title and minions; the troll Lord certainly did.

Ruthless, they called Jareth. Yet, he wondered...

Davrin followed silently and soon caught up to Danyelle. He would have to see what to make of the Goblin King.

The house soon vanished behind the tall walls and the trio was picking their way, with again no puzzles—compared to jinxed Stephanie. However, it couldn't be said that nothing happened, for all of a sudden, all three of them were caught on something and before any of them could react, they were swinging in the air.

Jareth swore, it was not in English, but it was obvious that it wasn't something nice. His voice clearly rung out his annoyance—practice had made it easier to overhear over the goblins. His hair hung over his head not like in the Escher room where gravity held no bounds for him. His jacket dragged on the ground behind him as he continued to swing upside down; one ankle was bound and he was trying to keep from swinging around wildly. He stretched out his arms above his head, his palms were pressed firmly against the ground; it stabled him, so that he was able to look up to view how he was tied.

From where Danyelle and Davrin were hanging, they heard Jareth who now resorted back to English, grumbling about a name of a creature playing tricks and setting traps. Inside the net, hanging a few feet higher than Jareth, Danyelle was trying to stay still and see what was happening. One of her legs went through an opening.

"Ah you suck!" she grumbled at the net.

Davrin, who was less fortunate, had both feet tied and was also suspended upside-down. But he was able to grab hold of Danyelle's net to keep from swinging and turning around.

"Davrin," Jareth called out. He managed to turn around on his hands to face them.

"Yes 'Lord?" Davrin looked down.

"Do you perhaps a dagger? Unfortunately, I am not equipped today,"

"Yes." the Sherpa struggled to reach his boots, but managed to unsheathe a decorative dagger. It caused the net to spin around.

"I want to get off this ride," Danyelle shut her eyes. Davrin threw the dagger down. It fell inches from Jareth, digging itself into the soft earth.

Jareth started to walk a ways and swinging himself, pass the weapon a few times before he was swinging hard enough to reach his ankles easily; he grabbed the knife during a swing, quickly sliced the rope and landed on his feet with a dull thump. Slipping the dagger in his belt, he began climbing the nearest tree to the others. "Try to bring yourselves towards me for when I cut you loose, you won't fall," He looked over a branch for one suitable to hold his weight. He waited until they were ready. Even if they would fall, the landing wouldn't be too severe. Once the girl and the Sherpa were grounded, Jareth decided to jump down from the branch in time to land next to Danyelle.

"Now that this is done and over with," the Goblin King said. He turned around and ran a hand through his hair. He was now more alert for more hidden traps; in fact, he should have been ever since he had started to take part of the current adventures through his Labyrinth. He let out a sigh and tried to determine the time of day. He frowned a little, he wanted to avoid forest areas before nightfall.

"Ready to go?" Danyelle asked.

"Yes."

The group chose a suitable path and walked silently again, they were more or less tired and weren't very talkative. Jareth was strategizing a way to prevent this sort of situation to happen again, though he had been taking precautions ever since he had met Stephanie and Chantal. He made several mental notes of certain matters to look into.

Danyelle suddenly tripped over something. Luckily, it wasn't another trap, however, it did sound that it had triggered something nearby.

"I do hope that was not our way out," commented Davrin.

"Unlikely," Jareth stated. He was looking in the same direction as the Sherpa. "We would have known by now." He turned to him. "Come," he said. "Let us continue," he gestured to the tiny group. "It's going to be night soon and the Labyrinth is quite different than what Stephanie went through." He started off.

"What do you mean?" Danyelle caught up to Jareth.

"Well, different time of day for one thing," Jareth explained. "therefore nocturnal creatures will come out. However, that doesn't mean that they will actually delay us,"

"Oh."


O O O

Okay, I know it's been a long while and this chapter is not quite completed. ; Yeah I know I'm sorry, but I felt like posting it for now. I'm not sure when we'll ever come back to it. Right now I'm working on the next part until it is suitable to ask Danyelle to return to the story; life has taken over and she has other things on her mind right now.

Thank you for being patient with us.