Enormous thanks goes to both Anaknusan and Naheniel for their help!
Disclaimer: I don't own Labyrinth
The Land That Is Not
I long for the land that is not,
for everything that is I am weary of craving.
The silver runes of the moon tell about
the land that is not.
In the land that is not our dreams wondrously complete;
in the land that is not our shackles unbolt,
and dew of the moon soothes
the wounds on our foreheads.
My life was a fervent illusion.
But one thing I found, and one thing I won -
a way to the land that is not.
In the land that is not
my beloved one walks with a blazing crown.
Who is he? The night is dark,
and stars quiver in response.
Who is my beloved one? What is he called?
The skies curve higher above,
and an oblivious human child
is lost in the mists of infinity.
The child is a certainty;
reaching out beyond every sky,
and receiving the answer:
I am the one you love and always shall.
"The Land That Is Not" by Edith Södergran, 1923
She saw the crow that morning; a motionless pile of black feathers laying on the asphalt, with a broken neck, and a foreboding gaze in its dead eyes. Sarah shuddered at the sight and turned her head away quickly in order to avoid seeing the creature. It felt like the listless bird mocked her, heralding a certain doom in her life. Sarah sighed, turning her attention to the people around her, their worn faces and bleary eyes staring tiredly ahead. The cars purred with a loud voice while passing by; the sound of the engines swooshing in her ears. Sarah blinked, trying to cast the morning fatigue away, suspecting she looked no better than the by-stander next to her.
She covered a yawn, anxious for the bus to arrive, oddly restless - an aftermath of her weekend, and frowned. She shouldn't have agreed to her friend's request to go out on Saturday.
Lisa had arrived to her apartment triumphantly, with a pair of new shoes, a new bag, and two wine bottles and persuaded Sarah to share the latter ones with her, adamant that Sarah needed serious counseling only she and the wine could provide. Lisa was as impossible as Sarah was stupid to agree to her lure, Sarah sourly thought. The pounding headache she had awakened to on the following day didn't subdue before evening and prevented her from doing anything even remotely intelligent the whole Sunday. This morning she had nearly called her boss, wanting only to stay at home, curl under her blankets and sleep through the day.
"Yet, another weekend wasted…" Sarah murmured, tucking a strand of dark hair behind ear, still unaccustomed to her short bob haircut. She shivered at the cold wind, boring through her skinny jacket, and wrapped her bright red scarf more tightly around her neck, though it scarcely provided her with any protection from the gust. Sarah glanced at the sky. The dark clouds hovered above the peaks of the gleaming, dark skyscrapers that erected all around her, springing through the asphalt like some hard-edged flowers and defying the very force of gravity. "And a new day to lose…"
She nearly snorted, knowing how melodramatic she sounded. Hoggle would have most likely scowled at her and commented dryly that she had chosen her life herself. Annoyingly, he was right. Their last conversation had been less than pleasant, and weeks had passed since Sarah had last seen the dwarf. She sighed, realizing, she would have never left with Lisa if she hadn't quarreled with Hoggle. A pang of loneliness tore her chest, amplified by the sight of unfamiliar faces around her.
It just wasn't fair.
The corner of her mouth twitched; a shadow of her younger self appeared briefly in front of her eyes, stamping a foot on the ground and crying out loud with tear soaked face about the cruel and unjust world. As fast as it had appeared, the image vanished amongst the rest of her memories, retreating with the arrival of a bus. The yellow painted doors snapped open with a loud hiss, and Sarah hurried inside to find herself available seat before the others, wishing the mechanics would soon return her car to her. Sitting down, she noticed an angry look from a lady following her, who doubtlessly had have her eyes pinned on the same bench as her.
No, she knew - sometimes nothing ever was fair. Turning her face, she looked out of the window at the street and the dead black bird. She shivered again when meeting the lifeless stare; the bus jerked forward, and the sight got lost in the blurry buzz of the grey autumn weather.
She arrived at the office just the nick of time. Barely after taking off her jacket and sitting down, Sarah heard the door creaking on its hinges, a fluttering of a dark long-sleeved jacket and thudding of hurried steps followed the sound and her boss rushed in.
"Morning, Sarah," the man muttered his nose pressed against today's news while he strode past her, his hoary head hardly moving to her direction.
She returned the greeting, doubting the man even heard her, and stared at the blinking screen in front of her. Puckering her brows, she tried to recall what was on her things-to-do-list for today, before gasping in fright. She reached for her calendar, fingering the pages forward quickly, and let out a relieved sigh after confirming she didn't have any customer meetings for today. Sarah pressed her back against the rest of her chair, bringing up her gaze. The sudden tension in her shoulders ceased as she stared at the white roofing and the small lights casting their light upon the other people in the room. Because of her impromptu bar night, Sarah hadn't slept well the whole weekend, resulting in a bad mood. The jaded annoyance lingered in her mind, ready to burst out at any available moment. No - a client meeting wasn't on the top of her favorites list despite the fact that she normally enjoyed them.
"Sarah!" She heard Maryanne calling for her and looked up, spotting Maryanne standing at the doorway, clad in grey formal blazer, her dark curly hair tied up in a tight bun. Sighing, Sarah gave a wave at her colleague and got up from her chair. Taking a hold on her notebook, she made her way to the conference room.
"How was your weekend?" Maryanne asked after Sarah had taken a seat next to her.
"Lisa," Sarah simply replied, nodding at her other colleagues sitting at the table, "I swear this'll be the last time I believe in her 'just one more'…"
Her answer brought a smile to Maryanne's face. "Oh, the famous 'just one'…" Maryanne commented dryly, flashing her white teeth. "I thought you've already learned that lesson?"
Before Lisa had left after receiving a job offer from another company, they all went out together often: Sarah, Lisa, and Maryanne. Without exceptions, Lisa always left the bar last.
"It's not that she would have given me too much choice over the matter. She's still shocked I dumped David." " Sarah muttered, covering a yawn.
"That's hardly surprising. She was the one encouraging him to ask you out," Maryanne glanced at her from the corner of her eye and reminded her.
Sarah snorted, thinking of the blond man she had unfortunately dated. Luckily, she was interrupted from answering as Ed entered the room. The man glanced over his subordinates, shuffling a pile of papers he held in his arms. "Good morning all!" He bellowed, taking a seat at the end of the table, and started the conference.
Sarah found it hard to concentrate. She half-heartedly listened to him while drafting some familiar figures to her notebook, collecting her thoughts and waiting for her turn to come to give out a briefing of her current projects; eager to return back to her place.
"I received a call during the weekend," Ed hawked unexpectedly. Something in his voice caught up her attention.
"A curious person, Mister Hoopoe, requested from me a proposal for an advertisement campaign for the upcoming literature month this November. Understandably, I was surprised of where he learnt my private number and didn't call to EDAD Ltd. this week instead…" A slightly annoyed expression lingered on his face as he looked over his co-workers.
Sarah barely suppressed the smile the name of the advertising agency brought to her lips. From whatever Ed's character consisted of, modesty clearly wasn't a virtue of his. She shared an amused glance with Maryanne, before returning her attention to the man.
Ed was still frowning at the memory; apparently this Mister Hoopoe had annoyed him a great deal. "After my request, he explained he owns a bookstore with a strong niche on special books such as folklore, history, and fantasy. As I'm busy this week with two upcoming proposals, someone else should take over the work."
Sarah rolled her eyes at Maryanne, who leaned towards her and whispered. "My ass. I bet the project's due to be so small he doesn't consider it appropriate for himself."
Sarah grinned, and then sobered, feeling Ed's eyes fixing on her. "Sarah, you know all that sort of humbug, right? I've seen that junk on your table - those photo shopped pictures of dwarfs, toy-foxes and so on," he grumbled, his tone vibrating with half-hidden contempt.
Refraining from snapping back, Sarah only nodded and smiled thin-lipped. She sensed her colleagues' amused gazes upon her from around the table, and realized only then she had drafted Ludo's hairy outline on her notebook. Her cheeks flamed crimson.
"That's what I thought," the man nodded, a slight disapproval remaining in his grey eyes. "As you just finished your project with Barnes & Nobles and know of the subject already, I think you should take the task then, Sarah, unless one of you objects?"
None spoke up.
"So, it's settled then." Ed nodded and continued the meeting.
After her returning at her desk, Sarah heard her computer letting out a sharp bling, announcing the arrival of a new email. Sitting down, she opened the message, and frowned. Apparently she ought to have a meeting with this Mister Hoopoe already in two days. With crinkled eyes she reached for a pen, tapping its end with her thumb, click, click, click, staring blankly at her screen.
She sighed, reading the scarce information Ed provided her with. The email didn't appear to contain nearly anything but the name of the customer and some additional information on his store. Still tapping the pen with her fingers, she scanned the email. Suddenly, her hand froze. She gasped and leaned closer, not believing her eyes.
"You gotta be kiddin' me!" Sarah let the pen slip through her fingers. Her mouth gaped half open, and her stomach tensed in tight knots. She blinked her eyes, yet there it remained. Right at the end of the email, above Ed's initials, read the name of the bookstore: "Words from the Labyrinth."
The initial shock wore off soon. Decisively, she, opening the browser, started a research on the subject. The hours flew like they had wings; she hardly had time to have a lunch in a near-by cafeteria with Maryanne. After returning with a cup of steaming hot latte, Sarah continued drafting her preliminary sketches, immersed deep in her work, and it took some time to register the constant ringing of her phone. For a moment she stared at the beeping black mobile that flashed on her table, uncomprehending its purpose of existence. Sarah blinked, shaking her head, and stretched to grab it.
"Sarah Williams," answering, she whisked a strand of hair from her face.
"What took you so long? I almost gave up already!"
She smiled when recognizing the familiar tone and leaned backwards on her chair. "In that case, you should stop calling me at the office." She smiled widely at the opposite wall, dropping the pen out of her hands. It rolled on the other side of the table. "You know what I'm like when I concentrate."
She could hear Toby grinning at the end of the line. "Nah, what's the fun in there?"
She chuckled, lowering her voice, and quickly glanced at Ed's direction. "Of course I always have a minute or two for my favorite brother. Do you have something in mind?"
She could hear a rustling sound as Toby moved papers in his hand.
"Mom ordered me to tell you that you should pick me from the station at eleven a.m. The train's Twenty-Three."
"What a sec," Sarah reached for the pen. "Eleven a.m., this Saturday…Train Twenty-Three. You know the platform already?"
"Nah, they didn't know it at the office."
She nodded, circling the pen in slow motions over the page and gazing absentmindedly at the opposite wall. "That's 'kay. I'll check it later from the Internet. Anything else?"
He remained silent for a while, and when he next spoke, his voice was so low Sarah barely heard it. "Have you already talked with…Hoggle?" The name was only a hiss. When referring to her Labyrinth friends, Toby never missed a chance to sound like conspiring a revolution; a fact that had annoyed Karen to extremes during the times Sarah still lived at home.
Sarah frowned, and her gaze moved to the framed photograph on her desk with her, Hoggle, Didymus and Ludo standing by Brooklyn Bridge. Toby had taken the picture during a Halloween Eve some years ago, which was the only time of a year her friends could wander freely about her world. Sarah was hugging Hoggle so hard that the little man's face had turned red. Ludo was standing next to her and carrying sir Didymus; the poor knight looked crestfallen, sitting on Ludo's shoulders and staring gloomily towards the camera lens. Sarah had denied him from riding on Ambrosius, explaining that Halloween or not, a fox on the back of a sheepdog would simply be too much for people. Only after intensive coaxing, he had believed and agreed to do her bidding. In the picture, Sarah still had her waist long hair, and she was laughing, her eyes just narrow slits looking towards the camera.
Sarah sighed and, lowering her gaze, let the pen to fall from her hand. "No; not yet."
"Sarah…" Toby whined at the other end.
"Oh, cut it out, will you? I'll talk to him," she heaved exasperated.
"When?" He persisted.
She yanked in a deep breath and glanced toward Ed. The man had noticed she was talking on the phone and frowned at her disapprovingly. "Soon." Luckily, Toby remained silent. "Take it easy, bro," Sarah said lightly. "I promise I'll talk with him. But meantime, we two can have the whole weekend to ourselves!" She leaned her elbows on the table, resting her chin on her palm, and attempted to cheer him. "Just imagine it: no fixed bedtimes, loads of bad movies and piles of ice cream and cookies… You and me alone… How does it sound?"
"Just swell, Sarah." Clearly, he still wasn't taking the bait. "Hey, mom says she wants to talk to you."
She sighed. "Alright, pass on the phone to her."
"Bye, Sarah. See you on the weekend."
"Love you, Toby," Sarah answered. "See you."
She heard a rustling sound, then Karen addressing Toby, and finally her stepmother's familiar voice, "Hello Sarah."
"Hi, Karen." Sarah returned the greeting. "How are you?"
"Fine, dear, just fine. Did you know your father left to Boston today?"
"Yes, I remember him mentioning it…" Sarah said, and remembering her four-year-old stepsister, asked, "How's Christa?"
The girl looked very much like Toby with a pair of big azure eyes and blond hair. Every time she saw her, Sarah was reminded of those thoughtless and cruel words she had uttered in her parent's bedroom years ago - when she nearly lost Toby to goblins. Sarah furrowed her brows, annoyed at the direction of her thoughts.
Karen let out a pleased laugh, breaking off her reveries, "During these last weeks she's done her best in following Toby everywhere around the house, to his immense displease. She's keeping us very busy over here…"
Unnerved, Sarah attempted a smile, even knowing Karen couldn't see her. "Has she grown a lot since I last saw her?"
"You know, kids, Sarah. They always grow fast," Karen sounded amused.
Sarah sighed ruefully, spinning the chair she sat on slowly left-and-right. "That's right. Sometimes, I think, too fast."
"Speaking of which…the young mister here has declared he'll be moving away."
She arched up her eyebrow, freezing the chair in the mid-spin. "Oh, already now? And where might he be moving to, if I may ask?"
"Apparently, based on the maps he's laid down on your old room, New York's the place - your home, to be more precise," Karen chuckled. "He's been whining about it for last two weeks."
Sarah grinned, leaning back. "You can tell him it's perfectly alright," she assured. "I'd be more than happy to share my flat with anyone who's able to pay the rent."
Karen laughed at her words. "I'll be sure to tell him. He might not be so ready to follow through with his plan after learning of that condition…" She fell in silence, and then asked, "You're sure you'll be able to pick him up from the station, Sarah?"
"Of course!" Sarah said. "You seriously think there's anything that would keep me away from my brother?"
Karen coughed uncomfortably. "I know you might want to go out with your friends…"
"I'm not going anywhere the following weekend," said Sarah. "And still I'd give up all the bars in the world in order to be able to picking up my brother. And all the hangovers for that matter too!"
"But should you meet some nice man…or Daniel…" Karen had met the man only once, but she'd been smitten by his good looks, mild character, and polite behavior. He had been a perfect gentleman. And perfectly boring.
"Karen," Sarah interrupted, slightly annoyed, seizing on the pen again and continuing to draw casual lines. "I said I'm free. There's no bars, no men, and, most definitely," she emphasized, hitting the pen against the page, "no Davids! I want to have Toby with me."
"I'm sorry, Sarah…It's just…" Her voice faded away, and Sarah sighed.
"I understand, Karen. Forget about it. We've both passed that phase already."
"Yes, you're right," Karen readily agreed with her. "I didn't mean to meddle with your life. You're an adult now, and it's not my business."
Sarah's lips curved slightly at the words as she tucked the pen behind her ear, suddenly remembering her teenage years. Blushing, Sarah thought of how she had been ready to forever hate the woman she had believed to steal her father and turn against her. Funny, how things had evolved since then.
"Still, it's nice to hear you care…"
"Of course I care!" Karen exclaimed. "Sarah, you're part of the family, no matter what!"
Feeling a bit uncomfortable, Sarah swung on her chair, keeping the phone pressed against her ear, and realized Ed was eyeing her coldly from across the room. She graced the man with a forced smile, spinning quickly around.
"Umm, Karen…" Sarah hissed. "My boss doesn't seem to approve me speaking on the phone. For the sake of my future career, I think I need to quit…"
"How thoughtless of me!" Karen gasped at the other end; Sarah could imagine Karen's face wavering apologetically. "I'm sorry Sarah, I forgot you're still at work…being a housewife kind of has that effect."
She shook her head, softly laughing at the elder woman's worry. "That's alright. I can call you afterwards, if that's okay?"
"Do that; I believe Toby still has issues he wants to talk to you about later on. He's been hanging on my sleeve ever since I took the phone from him."
"No doubt of that…" Sarah muttered, gazing at her photo again. "Tell him I'll call after work."
"I'll do that. Have a nice day!"
Absentmindedly, Sarah cut the call, staring blankly at the mute phone in her hands, and allowed her shoulders to sag. For sure, Toby would be greatly disappointed were she not to conciliate with Hoggle before his arrival. Her forehead marred, she looked down at the notebook on her table, and her hands fell against the table. The thud caused a few heads to turn towards her, but Sarah didn't notice her colleagues' glances. She felt the earlier ominous foreboding return while she stared at the sight she had sketched. A black spiral dominated the whole page, its curves traveling an endless journey within.
Her hand trembled as she turned the page. The delight of the earlier call evaporated underneath her anxiety; the image of the dead bird flashed through her mind again as if it bore a monition she ought to heed for; and she gazed at her hands, which rested on her notebook, hiding it from any further scrutiny. Yet the memory of the sight on its pages prevailed.
Without even realizing it, Sarah had drawn a labyrinth.