Sarah was ten steps into her first path in the Labyrinth, and already her heart was sinking inside her. Whether her memory had been playing tricks on her all these years, or whether she was getting more pessimistic with age, she seemed to have forgotten just how huge the maze was, how staggering and confusing its multitude of pathways. How Jareth must have been amused to see her rather simplistic description of its scope! She turned left, then right, hit dead-ends and backtracked, emerging twenty steps behind where she had first entered!
Sarah stomped her foot and snarled under her breath. How could she make any headway like this?
"Stop," she told herself firmly, "this isn't going to help. Besides, if the runner shapes the maze, then thinking that it is unsolvable will make it unsolvable. Relax."
Orders internalized, she started again.
At least the disorder of the maze forced her to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, and distracted her thoughts from the chaos that troubled them. The body of the maze was no less filthy than its skin; again, tree trunks and clots of muddy leaves littered the corridors, ringed by pools of cloudy water reflecting the swirling skies. If possible though, the wreckage here was more sinister. Instead of just the eyeball lichen, new plants with wide, toothy, gaping mouths snapped at her as she passed; one of them snagged her shirt sleeve and tore off a scrap as she went by. Sarah jumped and almost backed into another bank of the vicious things.
She rubbed her arm and went on, feeling her heart pound in her throat. She could have sworn that the plant smirked at her.
"Okay…" she muttered, examining the shredded hole on her sleeve, "keeping well away from the walls, then." She had no doubt that those teeth were strong enough to chomp through her flesh. Jareth said the stakes were higher now that she was of age, and it seemed like he really meant this time to give her true "dangers untold".
Keeping to the center of the path was harder than it sounded. The stones in the center were well-worn from the passing of many feet, and with the moisture they were slick with algae and her shoes found little traction. As such, she found herself more mincing delicately rather than striding resolutely along the passageways. Her blood boiled at the wasted time.
She stopped. Her shoes were not helping her. It might be disgusting, but…
She toed them off and stepped on the stones in her sock feet. After one or two steps, they were coated with filth, but at least her progress was faster. She knotted her shoes together, slung them over her shoulder, and broke into a jog, turning down the halls at random.
Rounding one corner, a stone gave out under her feet and she fell full-length, her hands clutching at the walls in panic and cracking through vines as she dropped.
"Ow," she said, whimpering as she examined her scratched palms, bleeding from tiny whip lines through the skin. Her left knee was bruised and the bones creaked as she shifted. Sarah gathered herself up and looked at the stone that had been her downfall.
Odd. It was bare of any mud or algae, and she couldn't tell what had made her fall over it until she saw the pale pattern of raised markings. It looked like a runic character, but she couldn't understand the language; it didn't quite look like anything she was familiar with from her world. Was it a language endemic to the Underground?
The questions, though fascinating, had to be shoved to the back of her mind. Sarah groaned as she clambered back to her feet. Five years in the international spotlight, worldwide stops of her book tours, and somehow, back in the Labyrinth, she could still feel like a grungy fifteen-year-old, playing games with her mother's makeup and high heels.
Also, at what age did it hurt so much to fall? Her whole body felt bruised, not just her knee, and it was hard to get her breath. Had she been so proud that she deserved to find herself at the bottom of this particular tumble?
Again, good questions. Not to be answered now.
A sudden roar behind her shocked her out of all abstract thought. Her heart began to pound again as she examined her surroundings; the path was empty, but also bare of anything she could use as a weapon…except…
Sarah knelt and pried up the stone from where she'd knocked it loose. It was a comforting weight in her hand, and she squared her shoulders as she faced the direction of the roar.
Hoof beats, sharp and decisive, sharp as gunshots, sounded against the stone, drawing nearer. Sarah stilled her breathing and prayed that whatever the threat was would pass her by. Just pass her by…
A hoarse, earthy snuffle sounded next, and Sarah saw the boar's muzzle as it sniffed her out.
The boat was a giant creature, standing three feet off the ground, and solid muscle covered with wiry hair. It, like its surroundings, was none too clean, and Sarah stepped back, edging down the corridor and praying that a side passage would open up so she could run.
The pig gnashed its huge teeth, incisors glistening with green mucous, and Sarah edged back another few steps. One bite from that and she'd probably have gangrene by the time she reached the Castle. Her fingers gripped the stone tighter; maybe if she hit it in the right place, she could knock it cold.
For three heart beats, the two held their positions. Then the pig squealed and grunted, starting a quick trot towards her.
Sarah hesitated a moment, then turned and ran.
Her shoes beat against her shoulders and her socks slipped in the muck, and she heard the pig's hooves like a ticking clock behind her, getting ever closer as she fled. Her breath was wild, uneven. She wasn't going to make it.
On her right, the wall was half crumbled down. Sarah took a chance and snagged a vine as she passed, using it for leverage to swing herself up and into the next hallway. She fell against the wall as she passed and scraped her jeans to ribbons against the teeth of the carnivorous plants that sprouted from the cracks.
The hole was too high for the boar could jump through, though it tried a few times and its hooves snagged the edge more than once. It squealed furiously and paced restlessly underneath the gap. Sarah's blood boiled. She yanked one of the tooth plants from the wall and leaned through the whole; the pig looked up and she raked its face with the plant.
The sound the boar made was horrible, and Sarah's ears rang with its cries. But it sped down the corridor and disappeared through a passageway on the left. After a few moments, Sarah only heard her own ragged breathing and the sound of the wind whistling down the hallways.
"Oh God," she panted, resting her head on her bent knees, the stone still clenched in her fist banging against her sore knee. As much as it hurt, she couldn't bring herself to let go.
"Okay," she said, trying to control her breath and the pounding of her heart. "Okay, you're all right. Get up. Keep going."
Sarah got to her feet, feeling her knees shake as they took her weight. Despite her body's reaction, she actually felt quite good.
First challenge overcome. She could certainly handle others. But she wasn't about to let go of her rock, and she was certain to keep her eyes open for other weapons as she went along.
It was like trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, Sarah thought, smiling to herself. Everything had potential to be used in her fight.
The pathway she found herself in now was partially shadowed by a curved wall on her right, and the ground underneath it was dry and clean, for once. The path veered slightly upwards as well, and was unbroken by doors into other halls. The course it was taking made Sarah's heart leap; perhaps she'd found herself a shortcut into the hedge section of the maze! As soon as the thought occurred to her though, she quashed it. It wouldn't do to give herself any false hope; she still had a long way to go.
She was enjoying the smooth stones under her feet when she felt another one give way beneath her. This time, she had enough balance to stay upright, but when she turned to look at the offending rock, she immediately caught sight of the raised markings on its surface.
"Oh crap," she said, holding it her hand next to the other stone she'd taken. The markings were not the same, but the runic script was unmistakable.
"Hell," Sarah said, just as a rumble started up ahead of her. "What now?"
As the rumble grew louder, Sarah decided that she didn't want to wait to find out.
Sticking to the dry ground, she fled back down the pathway she'd come, swearing under her breath the whole time. Some heroine she was, running away from every danger before even seeing what it was she faced! But the shape of the corridor, once something puzzling, was now more understandable, and she had a good idea of what was rushing down behind her.
Her breath was short, but she managed to yell, "I thought you were more creative than this, Jareth!" as the boulder burst into sight behind her, its round bulk filling the entire passageway and leaving her no other choice than run or be crushed.
She ran. If she could make it back to the gap in the wall, she could jump back into the hall she'd just left. But it was a maze of tricks, after all, and Sarah saw that the tooth plants had grown up into the gap during her ten minute absence, and now her choice was run, be crushed, or be cut to pieces if she tried to go back the way she'd come.
Sarah ran. The ground under her feet was more uneven and slick now, and she flew along, faster and faster, feeling her pace getting beyond her control. She shrieked as the inevitable happened; she tripped, and her momentum kept her rolling downhill like a log, so quickly that she could not get her feet under her again. As she rolled, Sarah flung one of her stones to the side of the passageway, hoping that it might wedge the boulder in place; the rolling sphere merely smashed the rock into dust as it rattled on.
She screamed, "Somebody help me!" but her voice just bounced from wall to wall in the passage and she couldn't hear the echo after a moment. Besides, who was there to help?
Dizzy-sick and so battered that she could barely get a panting breath, Sarah thumped to a stop at the end of the passageway. Her feet scrabbled underneath her, desperate for purchase against the wet stone, and Sarah dropped her other rock as her fingers gripped the cobbles for traction. She launched herself to her feet, but there was no where to go; the passage was closed and walled on all sides. She pounded the walls, feeling for some weak spot, some give in the stones, but there was nothing. No trapdoor underneath her feet, no vines to climb.
She was trapped. She had, at most, forty-five seconds before her life ended.
"Somebody help me!"