A/N: Thank you so much for all the reviews and fave adds for this fanfic! I'm trying to update it as quickly as my muse will allow without losing the essence of my story. I hope you continue to enjoy!

Curse of the Labyrinth

Chapter Seventeen

With the keen eyesight of a falcon Sarah flew over the landscape, registering every hill, every swell, every briar, river, and canyon to her memory for her return journey. This new challenge heavily burdened her heart. Jareth had so much confidence in her, making her believe that she could do anything. But, as she surveyed the terrain she would have to traverse to save him, her kingdom, and herself, she felt hopelessness seep deep within her.

Most of the terrain was craggy, barren, and very treacherous with mountains of rocks. Being limited to the use of her magic meant that she would have to travel on foot, and even if she found a beast of burden of some sort, there were simply too many areas that even the surest footed animal would not be able to carry a rider.

The Forgotten Mages had honored their word, continuing to protect the Labyrinth boundaries with their ghostly, eminent presence. It was twilight as Sarah flew over the Labyrinth Kingdom, feeling the surge of an uplifting spirit. Drawing closer to the castle, she heard music, singing, and laughter as the inhabitants celebrated.

'They think it's over,' she thought remorsefully, seeing the celebration of every creature that had gathered in the Goblin City. 'They have no idea how much of a threat Sarlic still holds over us.' On graceful wings she swept over the festivities, hearing the cheers and shouts of triumph calling out to her as she made her way directly to Jareth's private chambers within the castle.

Once through the arched stone window, she landed on human feet, though staggered and tripped at first, nothing nearly as graceful as Jareth. Her heart wretched at the thought of him being captive, defenseless, with only the smallest amount of magic to protect himself. Falling to her knees, despair set in, wreaking sobs choked her throat, and her tears burned her eyes, as she fell into a hapless heap upon the cold stone floor.

"I can't do this myself!" she cried into the growing darkness of the room. "I can't…" Her entire body shook with her grief, burying her face in tear wet hands, wiping her nose and mouth with the hem of her dress.

"Sarah?" Hoggle voiced with tentative confusion from the doorway. Sarah lifted her puffy eyes and tear streaked face up to see her friend cautiously enter the chamber, carrying a torch lamp in one hand. "Sarah!" he exclaimed definitively at seeing her upset state. Then, anger filled his craggy features. "What has that rat done this time?" he demanded to know, rushing to her side.

Sarah shook her head, hiding her face in shame for being caught at such a weak moment. "It's not Jareth, Hoggle," she whispered choppily, trying to gain control of her emotions once more. "It's Sarlic. He took Jareth captive. I have twenty-six hours at morning's light to reach the Castle of Counsel's Great Hall or Sarlic gains everything." She tilted her head up to look beseechingly at Hoggle. "He'll kill him, Hoggle," she stated, new tears escaping her eyes unbidden. "Sarlic will kill Jareth, and rule over the Labyrinth Kingdom, if I can't beat this challenge!"

"Well, that's a fine mess, then, ain't it?" Hoggle stated simply, scratching his head thoughtfully with his free hand. "So, whats you all upset for?"

"Didn't you hear what I said?" she barked at him, unwittingly using her magic to light every candle within the chamber in her ire.

"I's heard you just fine," Hoggle barked back, shoving a hand on his hip. "I's jist don't know why you're all upset about it! You's beat the Labyrinth when no one else had ever done it before, and Jareth cheated, too!" He put down his lamp and wiped his hands on his trousers. He regarded Sarah cautiously. "You's growed up, didn't you's?" he asked in a soft tone.

"That's usually what happens, Hoggle," she answered facetiously. "Children grow up, it's inevitable."

"I suppose. But, the Sarah I knew feared nothing."

"I feared a lot of things, Hoggle."

"You did?" he asked taken aback, his eyes grew wide with her admission.

"Almost every step of the way," she admitted in a casual tone. "At least deep down I was afraid."

"Wells, you sures didn't show it!" Hoggle declared pointedly. "You's never gave up, and now you's got magic you can use, too!"

"I can't use it," she told him demurely. "It's in the rules of the challenge."

"None of it?" he asked with incredulous surprise. "You's can't use no magic at all?"

"Pretty much," she replied dejectedly. "I can't fly, I can't transport myself, I'm not allowed to change my form, not allowed to have other magic users do for me what I'm not allowed to do for myself…" She looked up to meet Hoggle's gaze directly. "And yet, Jareth still believes that I can win. Even now, he sits in an iron cell and waits for me to get back for him."

Hoggle's expression set with determination. "Of course he does!" he told her gruffly. "He knows better than anyone what you's can do! You's told him that his Labyrinth was a piece of cake, I's heard you say it! And then you's proved it!"

"I did, didn't I?" Sarah murmured more so to herself in a far away voice. "I had to save Toby, and I wouldn't let anything stop me from reaching the castle beyond the goblin city, and taking back the child which was stolen." She was quiet for a moment, her eyes roaming her lap. "This is no different," she compared thoughtfully. "I have an entire kingdom to help me. I have magic that I can use." She raised her gaze to stare out through the window into the darkened night sky. "And I have more than a small child to save this time."

Sarah rose to her feet with new resolve, turning to face Hoggle. "Go into the city and pass the word of what happened to Jareth," she commanded him in a firm voice. "I don't want one creature to think this is over."

"Whats is you going to do?"

"I'm going to prepare for a challenge I have no intention of losing."

"That's the spirit!" Hoggle exclaimed, jumping up while punching the air cheerfully. "I knews you's would come around!" he cackled laughingly as he made his way towards the door, then, paused to look back. "I hopes you ain't mad abouts me talking to you's like I did," he stated hesitantly. "I means, with you's beings the queen and all."

"Even a queen needs a friend sometimes, Hoggle," Sarah told him in a heartfelt voice. "And, I really needed a friend when you came along."

"Yea, you's was pretty lost when I's came in," he stated in a whispered voice. Then louder, and with more gusto he said, "It ain'ts the first time I had to helps you out! And I'm betting it won'ts be the last time, either!"

Sarah smiled and chuckled fondly as Hoggle left to inform the inhabitants of the latest news. The door wasn't even closed all the way when Brae entered with a handful of male goblins toting buckets of steaming water. "I sensed you were alone, my Queen," she stated respectfully, gesturing for the servants to start filling the bath. "Is all well with Lord Jareth?"

"No, Brae," Sarah replied evenly in a monotone voice. "All is not well. Not well at all."

Sarah explained what had happened to Jareth, about the challenge, and all her restrictions to the servant who hung on her every word. Slipping into the steaming water a few minutes later, she dismissed her servants to be alone with her thoughts, delving deep within her magical mind of knowledge for anything that could help her to be victorious.

XxXxX

"Whats alls that?" Hoggle asked, entering the throne room to find Sarah sorting through a mound of supply packs.

"This is what I plan to take with me," she answered, slipping a dagger into a leather satchel. Hoggle bent over to laugh uproariously, slapping his knee in his mirth. "And what, pray tell, is so funny?" Sarah questioned in an authoritive, regal tone.

Hoggle choke on his laugh, swallowing hard before standing straight. "You's can't takes all that with you," he explained casually. "Hows you's gonna carry it?"

Sarah grinned and lifted a hand before her. A crystal appeared at her fingertips. "With this," she answered simply with confidence. Focusing her gaze upon the clear crystal, the mound of supplies suddenly disappeared to reappear within her crystal in a three dimensional image. "I can place everything I need inside one crystal and summon whatever I might need at any given time."

"Then, whats you have all those packs for?" he asked in a curious tone, wondering if that was how Jareth had always had things available at his fingertips at any given time.

Sarah stared blankly at him for a moment before answering in a patient, simple tone. "Because, I categorized everything. I have one bag for weapons, another with rope and clasps, I filled one with clean cloths and medicinal herbs, and two bags with candles and burning oil. Is that enough of an example, or would you like the entire list of inventory, Hoggle?"

"You's don't have to get all uppity abouts it," he grumbled humbly. "And you's don't needs all that, do you?"

"I don't know what to expect, or what I'll need. I'm simply trying to be as prepared as possible."

"Well, since you's puts it that way, then I guess you's would need all that stuff." He scratched his head as though he had another thought. He looked up at Sarah as though to say something, then simply shook his head and turned away from her to pace the room a little before facing her again. "I thinks I found something that might helps." He told her in a quiet voice. "But, I's ain't sure if you's can use them or not."

"Really?" she quipped with curiosity. "What is it?" she asked, intrigued even more when no information came to her mind magically.

"Comes this way, and I'll shows you."

Sarah followed Hoggle out of the castle, through the gardens, and finally to the stables that she had previously been distracted from visiting. Hoggle opened the half door of one of the large stalls, whispering something in a strange language into the dimness within. Sarah jumped back with a start as the large head of a creature she'd never seen before appeared through the doorway.

"What the hell is that?" she asked, stepping back further when her magical mind still didn't provide an answer. The creature had a catlike head with long floppy ears, long whiskers on a small snout shaped nose, a walrus-like moustache, and a very small mouth nearly hidden behind a fuzzy soft chin with more long whiskers.

"We's ain't sure whats they are, but, theys is very gentle and quiet," Hoggle explained. "Jareth found thems wounded and scared near the boundaries of the labyrinth a long time ago. He brought thems back here, fed them, treated their injuries, and they jist never left."

"Such a strange looking thing," Sarah remarked in a curious voice filled with awe. She stepped closer with her hand outstretched to touch the creature's face. "But, it has kind, intelligent eyes." She smiled laughingly as the creature rubbed its nose against her open palm, its long soft whiskers gently tickled her forearm. "You said, they," Sarah stated. "How many are there?"

"Two," Hoggle answered. "We's think they are male and female but, we's aint sure. The other one is in there somewheres, theys don't likes to be separated."

The creature made a grunting noise, and gently pushed open the unlatched half door with its leg. Rising to its feet as it came out of the dimly lit stall, Sarah stepped back to get out of its way. Her eyes widened like saucers as the beast unfolded long spindly legs to rise its body high in the air. Its shoulder and hip joints stuck out oddly along the sides of its body. It's body was small in comparison to how long its legs were, and shaped similar to that of a giraffe. Its hoofed feet were in-proportionately small compared to the rest of its mass, the legs grew more narrow from hip to hoof by an enormous margin, making Sarah wonder how such a creature could walk at all.

"They're huge!" she commented, watching in awe as a second creature, slightly smaller than the first, unfolded itself from within the stall to stand next to its mate. "How do they fit in there? Why wouldn't Jareth make a larger space for them?"

"I's don't know why theys likes it in there," Hoggle shrugged. "But, it's plenty big for thems both on the inside."

"You said I might be able to use them," Sarah directed towards Hoggle as she slowly walked around the creatures with an appraising eye, both of them keeping her fully within their sights with shy wariness. "How? They're too gangly looking to walk over rough terrain. And they're so tall, I don't think they'd fit through most areas of the labyrinth to be any use at all."

"Oooh!" Hoggle exclaimed impatiently. "Do's I haves to tells you everything!" he sidled up to Sarah with his hands on his hips. "Yous is the queen!" he reminded her shortly. "You controls the labyrinth now, and yous of all people should remember that not everything is what it seems!"

Sarah paused in her critique of the creatures to look over at her friend. 'He's right,' she thought to herself. 'I keep under estimating things in this kingdom, even with the gift of magic, I forget to use its power.' She turned her head toward the nearest creature, the one who had come out from the stall first, and slowly raised a hand to touch the broad angular shape of the shoulder. The creature watched as her hand gently rested upon his shoulder blade, and made a quivering sound in its throat as she laid her hand flat upon soft leathery skin. "What are you?" Sarah asked in a soft hushed voice, looking into the depths of the soft dark eyes that watched her.

'We are called Landstriders,' a strange, gruff, yet kind voice answered within her mind. The sound gave Sarah the impression of a talking horse.

"Landstriders," Sarah repeated within a whispered voice, half closing her eyes to absorb the information that magically flooded her mind at her mental inquiry.

Landstriders once filled the open spaces between the kingdoms in great numbers, until the war between the Skeksis and the Mystics all but wiped them from existence. They were powerful creatures despite their ungainly appearance. They possessed great speed and endurance, and were extremely intelligent creatures with courageous hearts. Landstriders never faltered in their pace, and were sinuous across any landscape. They could travel across wide plains, through powdery craters, over hills, along ravines, and could also leap across smaller rivers.

But, they could also be extremely fierce when necessary, and would protect the underlings to the best of their ability from their greatest enemy, the Garthim, huge black creatures with multiple arms and armor for skin who scoured the forests and plains to capture the underlings for the Skesis, a superior race of fallen mystics who wished to dominate their entire kingdom in an age of darkness.

Landstriders were the most swift and fierce warriors working against the Skeksis race. Rangy in action they would use their agility and strength to ferociously attack the Garthim by springing from their hind legs so as to drive their front hooves into the hated foe. Landstriders were valiant creatures who allowed themselves to be ridden by the underlings, carrying them to safety on long, stiff legs, and white wispy haired backs. But, despite their valor, very few remain in existence.

Sarah removed her hand from the creature's shoulder and stepped back slightly. "That's why you stayed here," she voiced quietly, now knowing what kind of creature she spoke to. "You might be the last of your kind, and you don't know if the Skeksis won the war or not."

The creature by her side turned his large mass to face the queen that stood before him, and, with a bowed head, gently touched her shoulder with a soft nose. "I will help you find out about your kind, about the war that caused you to be separated from your home," Sarah solemnly swore. "But, I must save my own kingdom first, and if you are as fast as I'm led to understand, then you could help me reach the Castle of Counsel and end this threat once and for all." She gazed intently into the dark, understanding eyes of the Landstrider. "Would you help me?"

In response, the Landstrider backed away from Sarah, putting some space between himself and the queen, then reared up on his hind legs while emitting a throaty, guttural, trumpeting sound that clearly depicted a battle cry. The other Landstrider mimicked her mate in accordance.

"Well," Hoggle stated, shuffling to Sarah's side in fear of being kicked by the huge beasts. "I'd say that is a resounding yes!"

XxXxX

The night sky was beginning to lighten with the approaching dawn as Sarah made her final preparations for her journey. Slipping a leather satchel over her head, she adjusted the strap over her shoulder so that it rested comfortably by her side. Patting it lightly, she felt the handful of crystals she'd placed inside before preparing to mount up.

"I still don't knows why you needs me to goes with you," Hoggle grumbled as Sarah mounted the larger Landstrider, eyeing the other creature nervously.

"Because I don't always 'just know things', for one," Sarah replied casually. "And, secondly, I wouldn't think of going without you, Hoggle. I know you think yourself a coward, but… really, you're not. And I need to have a friend that I can trust with me if there's any chance of me beating Sarlic."

"Then whys don't you takes Didymus with you?" he grumbled, trying to climb up onto the other Landstrider. "He'd jist love an adventure like this, specially gettin to ride ones of these things!"

"Oh, Hoggle," Sarah voiced with eminent patience. Using her magic she hoisted Hoggle up into the soft leather 'saddle' they had fashioned to ride the beasts. Her mount became restless as soon as Hoggle was settled atop the other Landstrider, gathering his muscles in a tight contraction. "I would hold on, if I were you," Sarah warned. "I have a feeling that…"

The very first ray of sunlight suddenly streaked across the sky in hues of blues and purple, breaking the spell of darkness with its dawning light. The Landstriders bolted into action without warning, having been told by Sarah that her journey started at sun's first light.

"AUGH!" Hoggle screamed, holding onto the wispy hairs of from the beast's back as his body flapped up and down with the fast pace of the beast under him. "Makes it stop!" he screamed. "Makes it stop! I's can't holds on!"

Sarah had trouble keeping her own seat at first, but after a moment or two was able to shift her body motions with the choppy, uneven strides of the creature she rode. Extending a magical thought towards her friend she enabled Hoggle to settle back into the soft leather saddle, and ride more smoothly as the Lanstriders raced through the Labyrinth's extensive territory at a breath-taking speed.

XxXxX

Sarah urged her mount to slow his pace as they neared a burble of thicket. Something seemed wrong within the overgrown patches of thorns and shrubbery. Just as the beast came to a full stop Sarlic appeared amidst the brambles, his royal cape flowing behind him in the morning breeze.

"I would say you have disqualified yourself," he declared with an amused sneer.

"And just how have I done that, Sarlic?" Sarah called back from atop her mount who moved restlessly beneath her.

"You didn't wait for my leave to begin your trek."

"Oh, is that right?" Sarah quipped arrogantly. "Well, by your leave I was told the challenge started at sunrise, and that was two hours ago, Sarlic. I guess you simply decided to sleep in this morning and missed the splendor of the first ray of light as it washed over the landscape."

Sarlic fumed inwardly at her not falling for his age old deceit that had worked on so many challenged rulers of ago. "Never mind, then," he replied with forced diplomacy. "I've noticed you have made good use of the time given to you. But, by what magic did you conjure up those hideous beasts?"

"No magic at all," Sarah replied self-righteously. "Are you to tell me that you don't recognize the infamous Landstrider?" Sarah snickered, knowing that Sarlic had no knowledge of the beasts who agreed to help her. "They are survivors of the Crystal War in a kingdom far from here."

"The Crystal War?" Sarlic repeated with shocked astonishment, looking upon the beasts with renewed interest. "That war has been over for nearly a millennia, how is it that 'you', mortal, has any knowledge of it?"

"This isn't the only kingdom of fantasy, Sarlic," she replied easily, looking down at him smugly. "Nor is it the only kingdom of magic. Every mortal in the Aboveground is told the stories that you consider old and outdated." Sarah knew she angered Sarlic greatly, and relished every second of it. The High and mighty King himself had chosen to disregard things of the past, thinking them useless and benign. "And, I'd love to chat, Sarlic, but you're wasting my valuable time." She spurred the creature into motion with both thought and foot, his mate followed close on his heels. "I'll see you in the Castle of Counsel in no time, Sarlic!" Sarah couldn't help the laughter that poured from her throat as she and Hoggle rode off, leaving Sarlic to openly fume in their wake.

"Not as soon as you would think, Mortal," Sarlic growled under his breath, knowing she wouldn't hear his words. Motioning his hands in a circular way, Sarlic summoned a multi-tentacled beast with an immense, gaping mouth lined with several rows of sharp teeth to surface from under the sands just beyond the ridge that Sarah was heedlessly heading towards. "In fact, I'd say not at all after my pet devours you, your useless dwarf, and your legendary beasts!" He snickered maliciously before magically returning to his own chambers in his own castle.

XxXxX

Meanwhile, in a mystical land far away seven Mystic beings felt a magical disturbance directed towards their kingdom and opened their eyes to gaze into the gleaming Crystal that is the heart of their being.

"A time of old has been remembered anew," a Mystic addressed to the others.

"Yes," another member replied. "It comes from afar, a land we are not familiar with, but yet holds great power none the less."

"It is on behalf of two landstriders," a third member stated, slowly waving a transparent hand towards the Crystal, making an image of the honored creatures appear from within its magnificent light. A few members gasped with ghostly breaths of awe and admiration at seeing the creatures alive.

"They have survived."

"Yes. They give aid to battle a darkness in another kingdom."

"We must give them a sign. We must let them know they are welcome to return home where peace rules within our boundaries."

"Yes," all the other members agreed. "We will give them a sign to come home."

XxXxX

"Why's do you always do's that?" Hoggle complained from behind as they rode over treacherous terrain, almost reaching the top of a ridge.

"Why do I always do, what?" Sarah questioned, turning her head to peer over her shoulder at her friend.

"Why do you always has to piss off somebody that's powerful and intimidating!"

"Oh, that," Sarah laughed, turning back to face forward as they peeked the ridge. "I don't know. I guess it's because most of the time they're not as powerful as you think they are. They just want you to think they are."

"Oh, trust me, Sarlic is that powerful! You's jist too stubborn to sees it!"

Sarah had a smile on her features as they pinnacled the ridge, when suddenly an extremely bright light shone in her eyes from across the landscape in a single beam. She turned her head to protect her eyes as the landstriders came to a sudden halt, both of them gazed into the light valiantly.

"Sees what I mean?" Hoggle yelled in a panic. "That's how powerful he is! He's trying to blind us as we stand!"

"I don't think that's Sarlic's doing, Hoggle," Sarah voiced thoughtfully, feeling a wave of peace and tranquility wash over her as they stood within the light. "I think it's a message from far away."

"Oh," Hoggle voiced humbly, accepting that Sarah would know these things just like Jareth used to. "Allies?" he questioned. "Is they's going to help us beat Sarlic?"

"No," Sarah replied, turning her attention toward the landstriders, who were communicating with each other with small grunts and clicking noises while becoming restless. "Get down off the landstrider, Hoggle," Sarah directed with sudden understanding, following her own command as she swung a leg over the creature's neck, and slid to the ground. "They're being called home."

"Home? What do you mean, home? Home is backs that way!" he declared, pointing towards the Labyrinth.

"Not for them it's not."

Sarah magically removed the soft leather coverings they used to sit upon on the creature's backs, along with her satchel full of crystals. "Thank you for your help," she told the male landstrider. "You've helped us come so far in so little time." She reached her hand out and gently caressed the side of his face. "I hope your journey home is a swift and safe one."

The landstrider nuzzled Sarah's hand affectionately before stepping away from her, his mate honored Sarah with the same gesture before they both bolted into action and raced each other along the ridge, gaining speed once they reached the flatlands that spanned as far as the eye could see.

"Now why's couldn't you wait til we's was closer to the Counsel Kingdom before you let thems go?" Hoggle grumbled as the landstriders quickly became nothing more than specks in the far distance.

"Because they've waited long enough to go home, don't you think, Hoggle?"

"I guesses so," Hoggle mumbled demurely. "It's just that Jareth didn't even gets to say goodbye to them. After alls he's done for ems, they jist left likes that."

"Do I detect a fondness towards your former king?" Sarah baited with a sly smile, placing the satchel over her head so that the strap crossed over her chest, the bag rested comfortably by her hip.

"Huh?" Hoggle voice somewhat surprised. "Oh, no! I was jist saying is all!" he replied flustered, then added in a more controlled tone. "Besides, you's don't has to like someone jist because you shows them respect, you knows."

"If you say so, Hoggle," Sarah sing sung with a coy smile. She surveyed their surroundings with a quick glance, then decided the best route to take next. "I think going this way looks easier," she surmised, pointing along the ridge to their right. "Going straight down to the flats from here looks really treacherous."

"That was my point exactly!" Hoggle exclaimed as he followed Sarah's lead. "We's shoulda kept thems beasts till we's got closer to the Counsel Kingdom." They slowly made their way over loose shale stones and dirt, going out of their way to take the safer route. "And, I's 'don't' has to likes Jareth jist because I says nice things abouts him either!" he continued to mumble as they walked along. "Compared to Sarlic, Jareth ain't so bad, but you's didn't hears me say that!"

"Well, it's nice to know that you have your priorities straight, Hoggle," Sarah stated lightly, slowly picking her way over some loose gravel to make certain she had sure footing for each step she took. "And, your secret is safe with me."

"It better be!" he grumbled, just as he slipped on the same loose gravel that Sarah had just avoided, and slid halfway down the ridge on his behind.

Sarah chuckled at the sight of Hoggle sliding along on his butt, yelling and complaining the whole while. "Oh, Hoggle," she chastised lightly, using her magic to stop her friend from falling any further. "Do be careful, won't you?"

He gave her a dour look as she easily walked passed him, not even stopping to help him up. Dusting himself off after standing, he paused to give his attention towards the other side of the ridge swearing he'd heard a monstrous growl. An uneasy feeling settled deep into Hoggle's bones when a faint plume of dust rose in the air from the direction they had originally been heading before the beasts had been called home. "Hey! Waits for me!" he called out, hurrying to catch up with Sarah as fast as his feet, and the loose shale stones, would allow.


Further credits:
(Very important to give credit where credit is due!)

Landstriders: are fictional creatures from the Jim Henson movie "The Dark Crystal" (1982) the description of the creatures were found (in part) at: . -and also - .com/fantasy_?content=characters

"a multi-tentacled beast with an immense, gaping mouth lined with several rows of sharp teeth": It is called a Sarlacc. It is a fictional creature in George Lucas's science fiction saga Star Wars. It first appeared in the film Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) It was used by Jabba the Hutt who attempted to execute Jedi knight Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and the Wookiee Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) by dropping them into the creature's gaping maw.… I'm sure we all know how that turned out. This information was found at .org/wiki/Sarlacc.

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