I've waited a long time to post this story... Actually, if I'm going to tell the truth, it was started during the middle of Limbo. But I didn't want to jump into another story without finishing at least one of the two already in progress, and this one needed to have my full attention for some time.
This is my favorite fanfic so far. It's a lot rounder, more full, than my others. I know this chapter is on the short side, but don't worry. This is more or less introductory material, and the plot really comes into things next chapter. The title can give away some information...I won't explain it, though, because where's the fun in that? You'll find out soon enough, if you return for more. And reviews are wonderful things...any writer will tell you as much. ;)
Below is a lovely little poem, very fitting, I thought, as a tribute to what our dear Goblin King must have felt after Sarah's victory.
He should be more careful what he wishes for.
Hoping you like it,
lie upon my breast, cruel, insensitive soul,
Adored tigress, monster with the indolent air;
I want to plunge trembling fingers for a long time
In the thickness of your heavy mane,
bury my head, full of pain
In your skirts redolent of your perfume,
To inhale, as from a withered flower,
The moldy sweetness of my defunct love.
wish to sleep! to sleep rather than live!
In a slumber doubtful as death,
shall remorselessly cover with my kisses
your lovely body polished like copper.
bury my subdued sobbing
Nothing equals the abyss of your bed,
Potent oblivion dwells upon your lips
And Lethe flows in your kisses.
fate, hereafter my delight,
I'll obey like one predestined;
Docile martyr, innocent man condemned,
Whose fervor aggravates the punishment.
shall suck, to drown my rancor,
Nepenthe and the good hemlock
From the charming tips of those pointed breasts
That have never guarded a heart.
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil
"It wasn't me, Andrew!"
"For the love of God, Sarah!" he yelled back, heedless of the apartments down the hall. "It 'hasn't been you' the past three times!" Andrew shrugged his coat on over his boxers and pushed away her hand. "This place is fucking haunted, and you," he turned to her bedraggled form, "are just a little bit insane. I will not continue to live with a woman who torments me in my sleep!"
Recoiling as if stung, Sarah shook her head. "Andrew, wait, please," she pleaded, choking on her tears. A few errant hairs were plastered to the salty tracks. "You have to believe me! I would never hurt you!" She scrambled to the door and tried to keep herself between it and her boyfriend. He brushed her willowy frame aside with hardly any effort. A laughable obstacle.
"How am I supposed to explain these, then?" His tone was part incredulous, part drunk with remnants of sleep. He yanked down the collar of his coat to reveal a set of fingerprints, positioned fatally around his throat, already bruising like thin shadows. Sarah did not bother to point out how tiny they were, much smaller than her delicate hands, or that there seemed to be six fingers instead of five. "I should have left the first time," he spat. "But some part of me was so caught up in you, I wrote it off as your nightmares." His eyes held a flicker of regret. The emotion died from his face too quickly. Sarah watched, tears cold on her cheeks, unable to utter any kind of plea. "I'll send someone for my things tomorrow." The door closed behind him with a snap.
Her door received an all too familiar stare. She had given it the same helpless look after Brian, Jack, and Max had all stormed out in a similar fashion, with similar causes. As if it could do anything.
After so many boyfriends and lovers, so many farcical heartaches, Sarah was numb to the cyclical course her love life had taken. Some terribly intimate, and yet strangely unsatisfying, encounter would conclude only for her partner to claim abuse. Usually they fled immediately. Her emotional state had degraded to the point of crippling her mental stability, and Sarah had become a quiet and inclusive testament to her strangeness. Curling beneath the covers and waiting for morning, pretending that they would return and she would be forgiven, was her instinctive reaction, but tonight something halted her.
It wasn't fair...so damn unfair, that all her chances for happiness had suffered irreparable damage. She was so careful in her selection for confidants in the first place. Someone to share her heart with, to lean on, to care for... So what if that stupid, irrational spark of love had never flared in the pit of her stomach? Who needed it? Nothing mattered more in that moment than her congealing sense of robbery and self pity.
With the new, raw emotion licking in her veins she raced to recover her materials. Tonight would be the night she had both dreaded and longed for...the night when she called them out. For thirteen years Sarah had ignored the calculated incidents in her homes. Only when the problems had followed and persisted, detailing several harried, fruitless attempts at relocation, had she considered goblins. Shadows had rippled on the edge of her vision before some minor catastrophe. The wind sighed endlessly to her of frosty promises. Winks of light toyed with the fragile veil between the worlds, and Sarah knew that it thinned with every thump of her pulse. The random escalation in mischief around her should have been a dead giveaway, but others merely deemed her unlucky.
The girl knew better. Much better. All along some understanding had ridden, carefully sheltered, in the recesses of her mind. She had touched magic, breathed it, lived it for a scant handful of hours. She was tainted, and it was not about to let her go.
Finally she had enough of a handful to begin. A wide circle of salt enclosed the bed along with a sprinkling of herbs. The holy water, legitimate or not, she scattered over her sheets and the window sill. Her friends and boyfriends had affectionately deemed these little oddities superstition. Outwardly she let them tease and taunt her silly imagination, but inwardly she felt a smattering of protection. The barriers, though small, she only constructed on occasions when she felt threatened, or the goblin devilry had amplified. Provoking them tonight was beyond reason for caution.
Last she slid on her ring, the iron one, and braced herself in the middle of the bed like a warrior. Her blood was singing, trying to drown out her anger and replace it with fear. Something irrationally vindictive was damming the flow of unease.
"You little pests...show yourselves!" she hissed, aware that enough noise had been caused that night. "I know you're here, and so help me God, I will find you out and—"
Little squeals and giggles of mirth erupted from behind furniture, under the bed, in the shadows. Thinks slunk forth and were gone again when she blinked. Even the air had changed, laden with the scent of stormy rain. She knew for a fact that the night outside was clear, and that the jilts of electricity pricking her skin were not from lightning. Something far more volatile stirred in her room.
"Show yourselves!" she commanded again, brandishing the tiny bottle of holy water. "I demand that you leave me the hell alone and go back to where you came from. Back to your precious king." The last word escaped as a snarl. "I won't have anything more to do with this," she choked, her pitch rising slightly. "I am done with that life! Now go!"
"I beg to differ," whispered a cultured voice. The goblins sniggered and slammed a few drawers.
Sarah's eyes widened involuntarily, but she gripped the ring tightly in a fist. God, no...
"It is rather conceited of you to assume that they will follow your orders, instead of mine," he continued. She spun around on the bed, trying to locate him. The silky sneer was coming from every direction. "You always were brash, though."
"Show yourself, Goblin King! I want to send you to hell," she spat in a sudden flare of rage, "then get on with my life!"
A shadow, much deeper than the others, shifted beside the window. He pulled himself from the dark amidst the gleeful mumbles of his subjects. If she hadn't known any better, Sarah would have thought that he was unfurling from a satisfied slouch, as if he had been viewing her antics for some time.
"Done? Why, Sarah." The Goblin King's lithe form glided into the light of the window. Outside the street lamp dusted his hair a stark white, serving as a crude spotlight. "We have only just begun." He paused to pull an orb from the air, rolling it along the back of his hand effortlessly. "How interesting that tonight you should call out to my world and its inhabitants, when I had planned on calling anyway. Convenient," he nodded in her direction, teeth sparkling like shards of glass.
Sarah schooled her face to combat the rising anger. She would not fall for his tricks of pretty illusions and promises. Hell, he wasn't even supposed to be here...the goblins had been her main priority. But, she reasoned, the creatures were dense and needed someone to pull the strings. How like him to orchestrate the whole thing and leave her steeped in confusion, only to sit back and enjoy the show.
He ceased the crystal's hypnotic motions with a jerk. "You are in no position to make demands tonight, Sarah," he drawled, voice laced with impatience. "You will listen, and then obey without question."
She snorted. Couldn't he see that she had the upper hand tonight? No matter that he had managed to get into her rooms...he wouldn't be able to lay a gloved finger on her. With a toss of her hand the holy water went spraying in every direction, peppering his dark outfit with moisture.
An amused look consumed his face before he strode toward the bed. Sarah backed to the headboard and a strangled wail of disbelief trickled from her mouth. "You can't do that!" she cried, watching him step resolutely inside the salt and herb circle, perfectly unharmed.
"I just did," he smiled wickedly. His eyes flashed with delight when she slumped, realizing that she had backed herself into a corner. With one swift movement he grabbed the vial from her hand, and Sarah watched, terrified, as he tilted it towards his mouth and emptied it. "Pure holy water," he nodded. Critical eyes inspected the simple container. "Terribly real, and yet...ineffective." He remained at the foot of the bed regarding her, barely moving, as he flung the vial behind him where it tinkled into a million pieces.
"Leave me alone," Sarah demanded hoarsely. It was the best she could conjure with no magic, no friends, and no means of defense. Her tongue would have to substitute for a weapon. "Why do you have to screw with my life like this?" Immediately she regretted her wording as he leapt onto the bed, graceful as a cat, and stood boot-to-toe with her.
"What life?" His tone had clenched from mocking to cold fury. It startled her to see a chink of his ageless, invincible mask slip away. Before she could place the naked emotions on his face they were gone, concealed by the hungry, secretive smile that twisted his lips. "You mean your pretty little suitors?" The laugh that followed held no mirth. "Did you honestly think that I would allow another to claim what is mine?"
"Yours," she hissed, eyeing the bureau to her left. A bubble of hope was expanding inside her chest, but she was careful that he did not notice it. The top drawer was slightly ajar where Andrew had pulled out his boxers minutes before. If she could reach inside...
"Yes," he purred, tilting his head to the side. His half lidded stare and feathery breath might have appeared wistful to her, had she looked. "You've belonged to me thirteen years and I've been unable to reach you. Such torment, but Underground prisons are impossible to escape. Even for me."
That halted her slow, labored movements toward the drawer. "Prison?"
"The High King does not take kindly to mortal escapists," was the growled response. "I received a just punishment of imprisonment for letting something precious slip through my fingers. But," he smiled hugely, "the sentence is up, and I am here. To redeem myself."
Sarah was inches now from the drawer. While this news was certainly startling, and worthy of her attention, she had only been listening with half an ear. For him to realize that could prove disastrous, so she decided it would be in her best interest to keep the conversation flowing. "And just how do you plan on managing that?"
"Tsk tsk," he sighed, although the disappointment in his tone was light and mocking. "Older, but not so much wiser. Little girl, can't you put two and two together? You are coming with me," he said, twirling the crystal briefly. "And then you will help me retrieve what is mine."
"Possessive much?" she snorted. It was strange that only hours ago Sarah had been docile and quiet. This man, this...creature...could always provoke the fire in her. Any other man would have made her silent in fury, but not the Goblin King. Oh, no. Never, ever would he receive the satisfaction of her submission. Her hand rested on the bureau drawer, and he hadn't even seemed to notice her careful movements. "Why do you think I would ever help you?"
His lips curled up into a sneer. "I am not giving you a choice."
She plunged her hand into the drawer during his boast, fist tightening around the gun and yanking it from its resting place. Andrew wasn't a very good police officer, she mused, to stalk out into the night without his gun on him. Sarah whipped it around to the king's face, cocking it in a lucky fumble.
"And my name is not little girl."
The Goblin King looked immensely entertained by her feigned bravery. "What about 'precious thing?'" He swatted at the gun easily and it wavered, but Sarah did not drop it to the floor. Instead she grasped it between both hands and pointed it squarely between his eyes. "Are you going to kill me, precious thing? Blow me away, and what then?" A soft chuckle caused gooseflesh to ripple down the length of her arms.
"I don't give a shit what happens to you when you're dead," she managed with a dry mouth. "But I promise that I'll pull this trigger right now if you don't get out."
For a moment he analyzed the crystal cupped in his palm. "This would have proved far simpler thirteen years ago. You were innocent and delicate," he sighed, choosing to study her over the weapon, "headstrong. And so perfect. But you really should not make promises that can't be kept."
Her heart was pounding blood to her brain so forcefully that it was becoming hard to hear. One would think that the gun had been pointed at Sarah herself. If nothing else, it irked her to find that his confidence overrode his fear, and the knowledge that she could never, not in a million years, shoot that gun. That he could laugh in the face of death when she crumbled. Before she formulated a reply the Goblin King had jumped from the bed to stand beside the window, his back to her. "Put it down, precious thing. Time is fleeting." Goblins began moving out of the shadows, hairy ones and leathery ones, horned and spiked, fat and thin. "The Goblin Kingdom awaits the return of its rightful ruler."
Sarah could not believe the force of the gun in her hand when she pulled the trigger. It rocketed up her arm and exploded sound into her ears. Mouth agape, she watched through the haze as the goblins stilled, and their king swayed. The bullet had hit him in the back, her amateur aim lucky. He caught himself with the window sill, dropped the crystal, and she lowered the gun shakily, waiting for him to hit the ground with a sickening thud.
The blood drained from her face as he continued to slump. Oh my God. She looked to her hand and threw the weapon to the floor as if it were a snake. I just...just...killed...
All of his minions were in a frenzy now, dashing around their king and the bed in a sea of grotesque figures. He was clutching at his chest opposite the entry wound and heaving strained, ragged breaths. Nothing remained of his form but a hunched swath of black, his wild mane drooped into the folds of his cloak.
Noises were stirring outside in the hall. Lights burst to life. People were awake. And then there was a pounding on the door.
"Sarah! Jesus, Sarah, open up! Oh God, no, no!" Andrew wailed. He was apparently flinging himself against the door with the full weight of his body, trying to break it down. "Sarah, can you hear me? Fuck!" The wood began to splinter a little.
She was frozen in place on the bed, which was fast proving inadequate to support her gelatinous legs. He'd assumed she'd committed suicide, she thought, vomit threatening to creep up her throat. Andrew continued to bang on the door, wailing apologies, while others attempted to break off the handle, hinges, everything. But they couldn't come in, not while all these—
The Goblin King walked to the gun, picked it up, and pointed it at the door. "I told you not to make promises you could not keep." His eyes were hollow, shadowed voids in his face.
"I killed you!" she screamed, forgetting the others outside. Her flip-flopping denial was making her sick. She couldn't have killed him... He couldn't be alive... "Why didn't you die?!"
"Sarah!" Andrew's voice was muffled through the wood. "Thank God! Open this door! Let me in, Sarah, I'm so sorry—"
"You are going to come with me," the Goblin King announced smoothly. His posture was taught like a bow, regal, and not a stain dripped from his wound. "I may not be able to die." With a menacing gesture he waved the gun toward the door again. "But he can."
Her legs threatened to buckle. "Don't you dare!" He took a step towards the door. "No!"
"Yes," he spat, taking another step. "I should kill him this instant, for that little stunt. But I am being generous, Sarah. Far more generous than last time. Come with me and the mortal fool will remain unscathed." His tirade had grown softer with each word, but held no less venom.
She only hesitated another moment before chunks of wood started flying from the door. Apparently there was a whole crew outside now, banging something heavy into it. As soon as the door was free everyone would represent a clear target. Sarah swallowed unsteadily, then stepped down from the bed.
"Good," he nodded with mock praise. "Now go to the window and open it up." Her hateful stare met his unrelenting one as she obliged, and the gun held its position in his steady gloved hand. Seeing the king perfectly sound, the goblins scattered about and vanished noiselessly. "Sit on the sill."
The apartment was on the fourth story up, overlooking a dirty alley where a few cars were parked. Dumpsters and debris made for an unsightly view downward, while cracked brick covered the building opposite, the windows dark and silent in the night. Light from the street lamp blanketed her sorry living conditions in a sickly glow. Sarah sat carefully on the sill, just barely, and clutched the frame on either side of her with white knuckles. Wisps of night air tickled her robed back, suddenly vulnerable to the world outside. If she were to fall, death would be a messy affair.
He took slow steps to the window, dark eyes concentrated on the girl. There was no hurry, no need to rush. Gun still aimed for the door, he had every bit of control. The Goblin King took his sweet time tossing the weapon onto the rumpled bed covers. Even as more door fell away he continued to stalk, rather than hasten, across the room. Sarah realized with ill timing that he was making a hard, strong point.
Faint clicks on the hardwood floor matched the rhythm of her breath before falling out of place. When they stopped she dared to look up from her lap, and found that he had halted his booted stride before her. Squarely he planted his black fists on solid hips, so close that his dark cape of tatters tickled the backs of her knees. It was either fall backwards to certain death, or forwards into shadowed arms.
"I would think an attempt on my life would require an equally devious punishment." His mouth was set in a firm, grim line. Sarah's blood chilled. After a moment of contemplation he grinned, and color flooded his thin lips again. "But such a daring spirit is your best quality. For that, I cannot blame you." A faint twitch of his lips knotted her stomach. There was a bit of cold humor within, and...victory. "And now it is time to go. Hold on to me."
She watched in horror as he braced both hands on either side of the window. He was close, too close, on the brink of pushing her out, and towering tall enough that she had to crane her neck for a glimpse of his face. A loud crack from across the room nearly startled her from the precarious perch. The door was almost down.
"Remember, precious thing," he warned in a whisper. "There are several bullets in that gun, and I will get to it before you." An answering crack of wood was his only response. "Or perhaps we should forego mortal methods, and see what my magic can do..."
The edge to his voice was wretched. Grudgingly Sarah uncurled her fingers from the window frame, where they had left tiny imprints of her nails, and loosely draped her arms about his hips. "Bastard." With the only ounce of power she had preserved, she touched as little of him as possible. Still her skin brushed delicious fragments of silk, whispers of velvet, delicate stitching...
Her compliance was rewarded with a smug grin and one of his sinuous, gloved hands entangling in the hairs at the nape of her neck. In misery she found her face firmly anchored to his chest, where even more decadent fabric lay—leather—and the spicy scent of magic.
"Wait until we are back home to unleash that wicked tongue, lovely," he purred as the door gave way. "It dishonors your pretty mouth in front of company."
He sprang, launching himself out of the window and pulling her into a fierce dive. Sarah shamed the banshees with her screech as she tipped backwards, reflexively tightening her arms about his chest, becoming swallowed in the folds of his cloak. Their heads were rushing down towards terribly solid pavement, and for an instant she was transfixed by the thought that one moment she would be alive and the next...
Something in her shifted. The scream became a frantic squeak and they were ghosting up. Below them the city began to fall away at a rapid pace, and she spotted Andrew leaning out of the window in shock. He appeared to mouth her name, for she could hear nothing but whistling wind, and stretched out his hand as if to bring her back. Something twinkled in his palm, round and smooth, as he watched the snowy owl fly towards the moon with a mouse clutched tightly in its claws.