Unsatisfactory
By:
Ala

Toby wasn't particularly perturbed that his sister had vanished, nor was he concerned with the goblins that were scampering around the room, pulling up the bed sheets, swinging from the curtains, and generally making a mess of things. Even the white owl that had nudged its way through the closed window hadn't really bothered him.

No, the mind of one Toby Williams could only focus on a single phenomenon; how the hell could there be thunder and lightening if there was no storm?

Naturally, he would've assumed it was heat lightening, but it was highly doubtful that there would be heat lightening in Ohio in the middle of February, of all places. Maybe it wasn't lightening at all. Maybe a transformer had blown or something? It had looked far too flashy to be normal lightening. He supposed that was entirely plausibl--

"Ahem." There was a series of harsh coughs behind him, obviously carefully constructed to catch his attention.

With a sigh Sarah would've been proud of, the boy whipped around. His blue eyes had iced over somewhere between losing sight of the window and noticing a reasonably tall figure, which was tapping its foot impatiently on the carpeted floor.

"Can't you see I'm busy here?" he snapped, arms folding themselves habitually in front of his chest. "Jesus Christ. I try to pursue a scientific thought and get interrupted by a hacking Goblin King. If that's not divine intervention, I don't know what is."

A malevolent looking smirk graced Jareth's face. "I see you know who I am then..."

"No," the boy retorted, a sarcastic tone settling contently into place."I thought I'd wished my sister away to the Easter Bunny. Who are you?"

"Don't test my patience, child," Jareth ground out, his fingers reaching up to rub his temples in a vaguely familiar fashion. Teenagers--the bane of his existence.

An uncomfortable silence flooded into the room as an appraising staring contest he had shared with his sister no more than a half hour before began between Toby and the Goblin King. The boy lost again.

"Don't you have a Labyrinth to be solving?"

Don't you have homework to be doing?

God, did he hate that tone of voice. It was the same one his moth--Karen used when she didn't want him around, when other things were more important than her only child. It was condescending, and infuriating, and just so careless.

But he should have been on his way. If he lost Sarah to the Goblin King then there'd be no one left but his paren--Karen and Robert, and that was just totally unacceptable. It couldn't be that hard. It didn't look that hard, resting comfortably outside the bedroom window, half veiled in darkness. Maybe he just couldn't see all of it.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah."

His foot rested lightly on the windowsill, allowing his body to lean out and get a better look. The Goblin King was practically radiating superiority behind him.

Toby smiled, grabbing the top of the frame for balance and stepping up to crouch between the two worlds. One foot dangled outward, ready to drop into the challenge, but he turned back.

"Oh, and by the way," his finger pointed upward, gesturing to the place where the fake lightening had once been, "your special effects suck."

And then he dropped.

- - -

Goblins were only fun for the first five minutes. They start out not quite cute but bubbly and energetic enough to inspire a giggle or two with their antics. One might even consider keeping one as a pet for a moment, maybe two so the first wouldn't get lonely.

Then goblin two proceeds to throw a rotten tomato at goblin one.

Well, no matter. It was just those two, right?

Wrong.

Assume one decides to ignore the fight and have a half formed conversation with the creature to one's left. It can't follow a thought pattern for longer than four seconds, but it can speak well enough to recite a joke.

Then it insults one's mother.

By time one turns back to see if goblins one and two have resolved their issue, the entire lot of them have erupted into chaos over, of all things, a chicken.

Sarah learned this immediately upon reaching the Goblin King's throne room. They were a nasty pack of critters, and it was going to be absolute bliss having to spend the next thirteen hours with them. However, she figured she should be grateful that their pompous jerk of a ruler hadn't yet graced them with his presence.

Mad as she was, she secretly hoped Toby was giving him hell.

Sighing, she shifted her position, flinging a leg over the arm of the ridiculous looking throne she was sitting in. It appeared almost as if someone had hung a purple shower curtain from the arms of the thing, albeit a very expensive shower curtain, but a shower curtain all the same. A stone crown rested above it, serving as home to a raggedy vulture. Periodically, it would stick its head out from over the top of the crown to survey the room with a disdainful eye.

Quite frankly, the bird was the only thing Sarah didn't want to viciously kick at the moment.

"Your Majesty, the boy has found the entrance to the Labyrinth."

Sarah's head cocked to the side, an armed goblin coming into view with the motion. He was kneeling on the floor, obviously awaiting her instructions. All of the others had fallen silent. Seeing its opportunity, the chicken scrambled out of the room to safety.

"Uhm..."

The woman glanced up to meet the eyes of vulture, for a moment they shared a connection of collective awe. Was it possible that the goblins were really stupid enough to believe she was Jareth simply because she was sitting in the throne?

Swinging her legs back onto the floor, Sarah sat upright, waving her hand nonchalantly in the air. In her best regal manner she replied, "I know." What the hell would Jareth say? Sarah smirked, threw her head back, and laughed, forcing the sound up from the bottom of her throat. It was a wicked sound, and it perked the goblins' interest long enough to inspire them to laugh with her.

She stumbled out of the chair, laughing so hard, and swayed precariously to the hallway. Pausing only for a brief moment to lean on the wall and catch a glimpse of the oddly numbered clock that hung in the throne room, she slipped down the passage and out of sight. A tiny, genuine chuckle covered her exit.

"Half hour… not bad, Tobe. Not bad at all."

The vulture shook its head.

The castle was fairly easy to slip through. Doorways passed on left and right with a nodding sense of familiarity. Silence seemed to slither its way through the hallway at Sarah's mental pleas. Even the rugs that had been strewn about the ground randomly seemed to cup her every step and muffle it into stillness.

It was no surprise she jumped so high upon hearing the terrifying "bawlk."

The source of the sound was nestled just beyond the next corner, and beyond the corner after the exit was beckoning her with open arms. A harsh scratching jerked the silence that had permeated the hallways from Sarah's command. It sounded as if something were trying to burrow straight through the stone floor, and by the progressively loudening screeching its talons, or claws, or blood-covered fangs were producing, it sounded like whatever it happened to be was doing a pretty damn good job.

The woman steeled her courage, straightening a bit with the psychological effort. Whatever was around the corner didn't matter. All that did matter was that it stood between herself and the Labyrinth—herself and Toby. Cautiously, she slid around the corner, bracing herself for the worst.

The inhumane sight waiting for her inspired a muffled gasp of disgust and rearranged her facial features into a mask of utter horror. What had happened?

Carefully pointed talons had bloodied the scaled foot to which they were attached, trying to burrow through the floor. Bat-like wings were flapping madly, tapering off into feathers that were slowly molting off with the exertion of their strangled flapping. The plated scales that lead up the creature's graceful neck lead off into a greater plumage of the same grey-colored feathers, which themselves surrounded a jagged beak and a memorable glare, all set at an imposing ten inches in height.

Sarah shook her head in a form reminiscent of the vulture she'd left behind. Really, with all of the chickens and goblins running around it was bound to happen eventually.

Without another word, thewoman rounded the last corner. The Labyrinth was waiting.

- - -

Absolute blackness had completely swamped the Labyrinth, filling the high stone walls with a darkness so complete Toby couldn't see an inch in front of him. He had tried to grope his way along the walls, but his first encounter with the eye-moss had convinced him that there had to be other ways to go about navigating.

In the dark.

All alone.

He had never been more afraid of the dark than a normal child, but for some reason even at thirteen the boy was struck with an illogical desire to hear one of Sarah's stories. She hadn't told him one in years—he was far too old for such things, he felt inexplicably that it was the only thing that could fix the situation. Only words could twist the darkness to something helpful, only careful suggestion could coax his fear into something it was not.

"Once upon a time there was a boy," Toby glanced over his shoulder, as if he could check to see if someone was listening in on his moment of foolishness, "and he was destined to become King of the goblins. Though he had once accidentally wished his sister away, the creatures, the land, the very Labyrinth itself bent to his will and—"

"Bit presssumptious, aren't we?"

Scared witless, Toby jumped and attempted to turn at the same time, skidding his foot with just enough force to get it trapped under the root of something, and causing him to topple to the dirty ground. His first defense was anger.

"No, I'm actually the Oracle. I'm busy predicting the future. Do you mi—" The boy stopped mid-sentence, eyes widening as he looked upon what had spoke to him, "…nd?"

It was almost like a twisted version of an electric eel. Buzzing currents of blue light zapped over sleek, black scales that covered a serpentine shape. A flat head had risen above the rest of a thick line of muscle that was the creature's body. The light film of the snake's eyelids half narrowed over piercing emerald eyes.

"Har, har." The creature's tongue slid out of its mouth to waggle around mockingly. "You ssslay me."

"Yeah, whatever," Toby snarled, jerked to his feet and began brushing his pants off to the best of his ability. He whipped around, intending to storm away from the creature, but the hissing voice stopped him.

"Where do you think you are going, Tobiasss? We both know you can't sssee a sssingle thing." The snake's head lowered in a derisive dance, the rest of its forgotten body slithering up to speed. "Wouldn't you sssay you could ussse sssome help?"

The boy looked forward, out into the infinite darkness. He knew she was right. "All right, you can come along, but only because I'm so generous." A knowing moment of silence passed. "What's your name?"

"Sssen."

"Okay, then, Sen. Let's get on with it." Suddenly the darkness didn't seem quite so imposing anymore with the soft blue light illuminating the spider-web cracks that lined the stone walls of the Labyrinth. The place was looking a little bit worse for wear, but the boy supposed he should have been glad the fortress wasn't at its strongest.

The pair headed inward as Sarah pushed outward, and the clock struck one as Jareth finally entered his throne room.