Disclaimer: These are always mandatory when dabbling in fan fiction. If there is anything at all that is reminiscent of the 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth, then it probably belongs to Jim Henson, et al., including (but not limited to) the characters of Sarah Williams & Jareth, the Goblin King. Any other characters are the property of this author and will be noted. Also, the title of the story, as well as the lyrics included, are from the Nightwish song, Sleepwalker.
A place between sleep and awake,
end of innocence, unending masquerade,
that's where I'll wait for you…
She had said that he had no power over her but it did not last.
Three years later, Sarah finds herself up against Jareth for the second time.
But this time the stakes are different: she's now running for her freedom.
Part Thirty Two: A final confrontation
Sarah shook off the discomfort the glass coffin gave her, shook the glitter out of her hair and, as if the strange confrontation had never happened, she set off again.
The thing was this, though: it had happened. She could see the seemingly peaceful face of her future self every time she closed her eyes, as if the image was burned on the back of her eyelids; the "feel" of the illusion against the palm of her hand made it clammy. Sarah wanted to pretend it hadn't happened—to see Jareth's intentions splayed out like that made her stomach twist into knots—but it had and she couldn't deny it.
So every step she took down that latest path was hesitant, every glance searching. Sarah had been through too much—seen too much—to know better than to take the emptiness of the path for granted. Sure, it seemed as if she was alone, that the way was clear and the castle near, but she couldn't—she wouldn't—allow herself to believe it. Not until she had reached the castle, gone inside, defeated the smarmy Goblin King at his own game and was halfway back Aboveground again.
Still, she had to admit that it was easy to get lulled into a false sense of security when, more than a third of the way towards her destination, nothing had appeared to waylay her yet. Not a dip in the road or a trick, no wrong turns or a strategically placed oubliette. It was actually quite calm and quiet, but not unnaturally so; faint far away sounds of the Goblin Kingdom filtered in, growing louder the closer she got to the castle. Strangely enough, it was nothing that worried her, the humming and buzzing of distant conversations, and Sarah found herself trying to make out some of the words that where almost being whispered around her.
And then, as if unseen participants in the conversation knew they were being listened to, the noise just… stopped. Stopped so suddenly that she had to wonder if her tiredness had made her imagine it all in the first place.
That spooked Sarah more than anything else. She didn't mind the muted sounds but absolute silence was terrible. There was a touch of anticipation to the air that was only too familiar. Sarah was reminded of all of those horrible dreams she'd had, with the silence and the openness and the constant need to run. With the absence of any noise at all, she had the strange desire to escape it. It was almost as if, at any moment, she would hear the Goblin King's sultry voice calling her name over and over again.
Well, if he called, she wouldn't be around to hear it. For the first time since she reentered the labyrinth all those hours ago, Sarah Williams began to run.
It made her feel free and she asked herself why she hadn't thought to break into a jog before. It would've saved her time; with less than an hour remaining, she could've used extra time. Chalking it up to exhaustion, suspicion and just plain stupidity, Sarah stopped wondering about the past. She had the future to look toward.
What sort of future would it be?
She kept running, right out of the strait. Reaching the end, the rocky walls on both sides of her just came to a sudden stop, replaced by an even more unwelcome sight. There was a gap in the labyrinth, a football field-sized tract of open land and scattered trees that separated Jareth's addendum from the center of the maze.
The abrupt change in scenery didn't slow her down; in fact, the grassy green knolls and expanse of space only made her run faster. She could feel her frizzy, limp ponytail swaying frantically from her pace, the strands sticking to her damp neck. A cold sweat broke out on her puckered skin. Free from the confines of the maze at last, Sarah was greeted by a brisk breeze that sent chills coursing down her spine.
Or maybe it was the flash of recognition as she remembered the countless dreams and dogged nightmares that sent her running across this same ground. Wary of the sticks and pebbles and plenty of obstacles that littered the grass, Sarah put on a burst of speed until she'd run through an opening in the walls that surrounded the Goblin King's castle.
The set-up and the scene she stumbled upon were so like her first journey Underground that she couldn't help but stop suddenly. Her breathing slowed, her red-rimmed green eyes wide as she took it all in. For the moment, if only for a moment, Sarah managed to forget about the paranoia and the certainty that she was being followed. Her attention was solely occupied by the small encampment just outside the castle. If she'd had second thoughts about following this path to her destination before, they were proven false. She'd gone the right way.
She was right there.
Subconsciously ignoring the looming structure that cast a shadow on the grounds, Sarah focused on what was directly in front of her. The barracks and the makeshift huts that belonged to the Goblin Army were set up on the outskirts of the towering castle, just like she remembered. They'd been rebuilt, sturdier than before so that an onslaught of rocks wouldn't present a risk a second time. But—and this was what she found so strange—they were also empty.
Sarah wondered if the cadre she left by the Bog of Stench had gotten lost on the way back. She'd believed that, when they were chased away, the wayward soldiers had scampered back to their headquarters but there was no sign of them. It was easier to think they'd gotten lost over thinking that they were preparing to ambush her again. She'd seen the way they tried to pull off a stealth attack. It hadn't been pretty. Their effort and attempt to get to her had stunk almost as bad as the Bog of Eternal Stench itself did.
Her thoughts back on the earlier attack, she frowned. Thinking of the Bog of Stench made her think of Sir Didymus—which, in turn, made her experience those same unsettled, upset feelings again. She still didn't understand why he had ignored her in such a way. Maybe, if there was time after she defeated the labyrinth, she could ask the Goblin King what sort of trick he'd played to make the tiny knight pretend he couldn't see her. That, or visit Sir Didymus and Ambrosius herself…
And that was when, happily anticipating Didymus's reaction at seeing her, Sarah remembered. She would never be able to visit them ever again. There would never be any more time. Once she won—and she was going to win, she told herself confidently—it would be over. She'd go back home, the Underground nothing more than an elaborate dream. And maybe not even that. If Jareth held true to his end of the bargain, she would never remember any of her adventures again. It wouldn't be a dream; it would be as if it had never happened at all.
Never sounded so final…
It only hit Sarah at that precise moment just what she was running for. This whole time, the journey had only been about what she was running from—until now. When she ultimately beat the Goblin King, that would be it. There would be no more dreams, no more fantasies, no more ducking the amber eyes of a vigilant owl… but there would no more Sir Didymus. No more Ludo. And no more Hoggle.
It had been years since she saw her friends last but, suddenly, she realized she never really said goodbye to them. Like an old memory, they just seemed to fade away from her, just out of reach. One day they stopped appearing in the depths of her vanity's mirror and Sarah, desperate to put the past behind her, stopped looking for them. But now she would never get the chance to say goodbye.
Would they remember her when the Goblin King granted her wish to forget?
So wrapped in her forlorn thoughts, Sarah didn't realize that she'd stepped past and picked her way through the Goblin Army's empty forts until she was standing right before the castle. The sight quite took her breath away. She had spent the last nine and half hours or so trying to get there and, now that she arrived, she was speechless.
It seemed bigger than she remembered, and different. From the many dreams that she was certain took place in the castle and repressed memories from three years ago, Sarah had an idea of what Jareth's castle looked like—and it was nothing at all like this. For some reason, she was convinced it was dark yet crystalline, elaborate and suiting to a royal. If she thought back hard enough, the stone masonry and wide turrets were familiar enough; at the very least, it wasn't so foreboding up close—even if it was awe-inspiring.
Lazy ivy grew at the base from barren dry land; there was no sign of the lush grass and plentiful trees that were planted just outside the walls. There was a hazy aura of Goblin magick surrounding the pale stones that she could just make out. Wondering why it seemed kind of foggy outside—fog was the only excuse the eighteen-year-old Sarah's mortal mind could come up with; fantastical reasons faded long ago—Sarah purposely took a few steps closer to the castle. The closer she got, the bigger it seemed but, since her eyes could only take in so much, it was easier for her to take.
For all she wanted to make a dramatic entrance, Sarah stepped gingerly over the threshold. Like the open and inviting gateway, there was no one there to welcome her or even keep her from just waltzing right inside. She let out the breath she didn't even know she was holding as soon as the rubber sole of her sneaker touched down on the same stone masonry that covered the inside.
Sarah didn't know what she was expecting to find when she finally walked in. Her thoughts still dwelling on the last nightmare she had, she wouldn't have been surprised to find her shirt and jeans transformed into a ball gown, or her hair curled into a ridiculous pouf. But they didn't and, as some of her memories began to resurface, Sarah realized that the inside of the castle looked exactly as it had the last time she set foot inside.
Following the hunch that this part of the labyrinth, at least, hadn't changed, Sarah found her second wind and sprinted towards the stairs at the end of the hall. Whether he had done it purposely or that was just where he kept his timepiece, the elaborate mis-numbered clock was perched at the foot of the first step.
The face read 9:37. There were still twenty-three minutes left.
There was no way she could lose now.
Maybe it was that, maybe it was how certain she felt as spying the clock, which allowed Sarah to slow her pace. When she reached the top of the stairs, she stopped running. She worked hard to keep her breathing even—after all she had done these last nine and a half hours she would be humiliated to be caught panting and out of breathe—and even chanced a small pleased smile.
She wasn't really sure how she remembered, but her feet knew the right path to take. As she went, it finally dawned on Sarah that there was only one place to go. There was only one place, no matter how big the Goblin King's castle was, that would be fitting for this, their final stand-off.
Sarah had to go to the room of stairs. She had to find the Escher Room.
Striding confidently, taking turns and heading to the point where her gut and her instincts told her she would find her adversary, Sarah stopped only once. Though she wasn't entirely sure why it was there—she had a funny feeling goblins were involved somehow—she saw a single, solitary feather laying in the middle of a long, empty hallway. She was bending down, her hand extended, reaching for it before she even noticed she'd stopped.
At first she thought it was an owl feather but, once she had picked it up, she discovered that it wasn't. After having a snowy owl follow her around for these past few years, Sarah was certain she could tell the difference between an owl feather and another sort. The light brown feather she found, unless she was mistaken, was actually a chicken's feather.
Sarah had to bite back a small, ironic laugh. She'd just spent the last near ten hours worrying and running, trying to outwit the Goblin King and prove to him (and her) that she could do it. That she wasn't afraid of him. That she wasn't a chicken. And now, with the end in sight, she found this.
Her confidence at the victory she already supposed would be hers made her brazen and, with a mischievous twinkle in her dull green eyes, Sarah handled the feather until the tip was clasped gently between her thumb and her forefinger. She let it twirl, imagining what expression would finally cross Jareth's cold, impassive face when she confronted him in a few moments time.
With a quick motion and a satisfied nod, Sarah lifted her hand and tucked the chicken feather into her hair. It caught in her ponytail and there it stayed.
She felt invincible.
Sarah carried that feeling with her as she finished her journey through the castle. It never occurred her to wonder why there was no sign of anybody else in the castle, or just why it looked so different than it had in her dreams. In a way, she was glad that it did. When an opening appeared at the end of the hall she was on, and Sarah recognized it immediately as her final destination, she was grateful. How would she have found the Escher Room in the strange castle she visited while she slept?
There was no hesitation this time. Her watch felt heavy on her wrist, the near silent tick-tock counting down the precious few minutes that remained. It only dawned on her then how much her certainty might cost her. She'd been so convinced that he would be inside. What would happen if he wasn't? Eighteen minutes left and counting… what if—
Sarah tried not to think about that as she took a deep breath and entered into the room.
It was just the same as it had been. Steps and stairs and landings all intersecting until the room matched the drawing by M.C. Escher that Sarah had always adored. She'd found it an unbearable reminder after that one night three years ago and, along with her books and her toys and her costumes, it had been packed up and put away when she desperately tried to do her best to forget. It made her stomach lurch and her head spin to see it come to life again.
She suddenly felt weak, as if the events of the last few hours had suddenly reared up and reminded her what she'd gone through. Pushing the feelings aside, Sarah gulped and cast her eye around. She didn't see Jareth but she wasn't ready to admit that she was wrong. Not yet. She still believed he was here.
He had to be.
"Goblin King!" she called at last, trying to sound braver than she felt. And it wasn't that she was really that nervous; it was just that she was so damn tired. Looking wildly around her, Sarah lifted her hand up to cover a huge yawn before her body gave a small, uncontrollable shudder. Despite the anti-climactic gesture, she felt her heart race as she yelled again, "Goblin King!"
There was no one there and then, suddenly, she heard, "Sarah? Are you looking for me?"
There was no doubt that that was Jareth's voice. Just the way he said her name, the velvety manner in which he mockingly caressed each of the two syllables, set her on edge; he sounded just as disinterested as he had when they first met ten hours ago… it was like her arriving was a nuisance rather than the climax of her second run of his labyrinth.
His voice floated up to her and, as if entranced, Sarah walked slowly to the edge. She still had nightmares about the way he walked on the opposite side of the landing she was on, flipping up to meet her before she had the chance to get away—she didn't know what she would do if he frightened her like that again.
But he didn't and Sarah, peering cautiously over the side, saw that he was waiting a few stories below her. His head was cocked to the side, his chin tilted back as he gazed upwards at her. There was an amused smirk quirking his lips, perhaps a hint of surprise that she'd found him, but he said nothing else. He didn't move, either, or make any indication that he was coming up to meet her.
I'm just going to have to go to him instead, she thought stubbornly.
She could jump. It would only be so easy to step off the edge and let the wind catch her. She'd done it before, a reckless move; putting Toby before her own safety, the fifteen-year-old Sarah had jumped. When she landed, though, she had found herself in another room with only the Goblin King for company.
He'd almost gotten her that time. She refused to give him that opportunity again. If she had to meet him in order to beat him, Sarah was going to take the stairs like a normal human being.
Knowing that she was wasting precious moments, Sarah managed to go down three separate flights before she landed on a dead end. Jareth, wearing that same fluffy owl coat she remembered from her first adventure—the same owl jacket from the second of Alva's predictions—was tapping the toe of his leather boot against the stair he was standing on. If she didn't know any better, Sarah thought that he might actually be impatiently waiting for her to arrive… like he actually wanted her to get to him.
Which, of course, he did. The Goblin King watched as the girl stubbornly tried to follow the design of the many stairs—and failed. He bit back a groan when she stranded herself on a particular set and, unable to keep his patience from thinning, he waved his hand. In an instant, Sarah had transported from the landing down to his floor. It was a frivolous use of his father's lent power but, he decided, it was worth it. He'd waited three years for this moment. Jareth didn't want to wait any longer.
Not whenSarah was so close...
His action surprised her but she refused to give him the benefit of seeing that surprise. Quickly changing her look of amazement to one of determination, she made sure she was steady on her feet before she hurriedly took a few steps away from him. Being so close to the Goblin King was playing havoc with her. She remembered their conversation in the oubliette and took two more steps away.
Jareth raised an eyebrow but said nothing. He was waiting for her to begin. She was, after all, the challenger.
Sarah opened her mouth to oblige him… before clamping her teeth down and pursing her lips.
This wasn't the time for posturing or drawn out speeches, she realized. It would be pointless to delve into the same monologue she gave the last time she was there—though, Sarah marveled, she could still easily recall every single word—and, besides, she realized that she was better than that. Better than a lot of empty words that, in the end, meant absolutely nothing.
Facing off against the impressive Goblin King, her heart beating so fast that she could barely hear her own thoughts, Sarah reflected back on her meeting with that wizened old elf back in the Forbidden Forest. She couldn't say for sure why Alva popped into her thoughts all of a sudden but she did—and Sarah felt a surge of pride. She'd done it, after all. She'd challenged Jareth, she'd drawn him into another game and she'd won… and she hadn't fallen victim to either of Alva's strange prophecies to do it.
She was her own person. Now she just had to prove it to him.
With a simple shake of her head and a steely glint in her tired green eyes, Sarah just said simply, "I win."
That was supposed to be it. She'd beaten his labyrinth for a second time, conquering the Underground as she made her way to the castle that lay in the center. Sarah had made it in far less than the ten hours he had given her and, as all of the heroes and heroines in the stories always did, she confronted the villain and acknowledged her victory.
It was supposed to be over… but why hadn't anything changed?
The last time she defeated his labyrinth all she had had to do was acknowledge her victory—"You have no power over me"—and the effect was instantaneous. The Goblin King had known he was beat. Tossing his crystal into the air, the magick faded and the illusions shattered like glitter falling from the sky. Sarah had closed her eyes instinctively and, when she opened them again, she was home. The clock had chimed midnight—midnight, not thirteen o'clock—and Toby, she checked, was in her parents' room where he belonged.
She was back where she belonged—
—but not this time.
Loath to meet his gaze, Sarah dropped her chin to her chest, desperate to make sense of the situation. With the quick motion, she felt the chicken feather she'd worn so brazenly in her ponytail slip from its hold, brushing against her neck before it fluttered to the floor. It landed just by her foot. She left it there.
It was the soft tutting sound that the Goblin King let out that drew her attention back up to him. Sarah's head jerked up and then, almost panicked, she looked around. She couldn't find him at first and, her breath catching in her throat, she was afraid for the first time since she called him to her.
He tutted again, an unmistakable chuckle mixed in with the sound. It was coming from up above her. Somehow, in those few seconds when she took her attention off of him, he'd moved to a flight of stairs right above her. It was a startling reminder of who he was and what he was capable of doing. The Escher Room was part of his realm, working under his control.
Sarah didn't like the thought of that.
With a royal wave of his gloved hand, Jareth gestured for her to join him on his level. A touch too stubbornly, he felt, she shook her head, making a great display of keeping her feet planted where they are. Not that that meant anything to him—hadn't his magick shown her enough? He could bring her right up against him if he chose to… he had all the power now.
But Jareth, in a rare act of compassion, didn't choose to use magick to bring Sarah to him. Instead, with the air of an adult humoring a child, he took short, light steps towards her. He was graceful and quick. Before she knew it, they were sharing the same staircase.
He was still coming towards her.
"See now, my Sarah, that's where you're wrong," Jareth murmured as he stalked forward, the feathers on his precious coat fluttering with a nonexistent wind. A feeling of dread, of utmost trepidation, formed in the pit of her stomach but, frozen as she suddenly was—frozen out of awe and not her obstinacy—she couldn't move. His mismatched glare caught her eye and she was mesmerized. She barely remembered to breathe.
Jareth obviously enjoyed the effect he had on the young woman. A small, victorious smirk tugged at his lips, revealing the point of his canine tooth as it glinted predatorily in the light. This was what it was all about, he knew, the initial hunt and the subsequent chase. She hadn't come to him in all the dreams he gave her but now… now he had her.
And all he had had to do was wait...
Slowly reaching his hand out to her—her eyes widened but she didn't flinch away from his touch—the Goblin King didn't stop his predatory strut until there were mere inches separating them. But, unlike the last occasion when they'd been so close, back in his conjured oubliette, Jareth welcomed the proximity rather than was wary of it. He could touch her now, hold her next to him or push her away should he desire (as if he would desire that). He felt the magick welling up deep inside of him; his fingers enshrouded in their leather casing burned to touch her skin.
Who was he to be denied anything he did desire?
"You can't have won, Sarah," he purred, letting his gloved fingertips rest lightly against her gaunt cheek as he finally allowed himself to tell be forthcoming with her. She'd earned that much at least. "You can't have," he said again, savoring this moment, "because the victory has always been mine."
Author's Note: I can hardly believe I finally finished this chapter. I've had it partway started and bits and pieces of it planned out for so long now that I feel I've gone over parts of it a hundred times now. I guess that's what happens when writer's block comes in and other inspirations hit and then suddenly almost a year has gone by. I have no excuse either - I knew there were only 2-3 more chapters left and I just didn't work on it. But, after a few gentle nudges and a couple of recent reviews that reminded me that there are people who want to see an ending, I finally buckled down and decided to finish it. So, here we are. I gave you a nice long chapter to make up for the wait, as well as the final confrontation we've all been waiting for. It's not done yet, though, and I'm still deciding between writing one more chapter or two. I'll guess we'll have to see.