foi; forms of imprisonment
a fanfiction by heist
two. sweeping seasons
"Are you awake?"
His breath ticked her ear and sent a pleasant shiver down her spine.
"Mmm." She smiled without opening her eyes, and snuggled deeper into the pillow and the warmth of his body. "Nope."
"Oh?" His mouth made acquaintances with the tender spot behind her ear, and she felt his lips curve into a smile on her skin. She shivered again, and he took advantage of the motion to turn her head and kiss her mouth. In her drowsy distraction, she didn't notice the way his hand migrated down to her hip, but she moaned in appreciation at the patterns his thumb played out.
He teased her bottom lip with his sharp teeth for a moment, and abruptly broke the kiss. His hand on her hip moved, and suddenly she was on her back, eyes open, and he was poised above her with the most wicked grin. "Jareth!" she gasped.
He recaptured her mouth for another scorching kiss, and his gloveless fingers quested for the hem of her nightshirt. She giggled into his mouth when the tips of his claws met buttons and hesitated. He sighed and leaned back on his heels, and she braced herself with her elbows and leaned forward with him. "Problems, love?"
"It is damned inconsiderate of you to not sleep naked like any other reasonable being," he said petulantly.
"Pardon me, Your Majesty, but we lesser mortals do get cold at night."
His lips quirked with the barest hint of a smile. "Excuses, excuses." He kissed the tip of her nose and made quick work of the buttons and the rest of the front of her shirt with his claws. "Now where were we?"
"I liked that shirt."
"I'll get you a better one."
He silenced further protests with his mouth. She hadn't liked the shirt that much anyway, and he was vastly distracting.
Afterwards, sweaty and comfortably sated, she snuggled back into his chest. "Mmm."
"Jareth? D'you think we—?"
"Soon." He skimmed his fingers down her back and kissed her eyelids. "It was certainly a pleasant diversion."
She chuckled. "That's one way of putting it."
"Yes. Awake now, beloved?"
Sarey opened her eyes, turned her head, and screamed into her pillow.
This was getting out of hand.
The Tuadi Baol were out in force in the city, and the lilit Night Guard with them. Sarey could scarcely walk three steps through the market without having to dodge around one of the Bright Ones, and she made sure to keep her head down contritely whenever she wasn't able to dodge quickly enough. A man with fire-crimson hair and predatory gold eyes sneered down at her as she passed, and his personal lilit snapped its slavering jaws and snarled at her.
She took extra care to bow away from him, and disappeared into the thick of the market crowds. Such was easier than usual, these days, and that, in addition to the increasing presence of the Bright Ones, was another thing to worry about.
The Labyrinth had gone mad. Its shifts and changes had ever been erratic, but now the Labyrinth's corridors and passages brought death to those who would trespass. Not even the native Goblinkin were safe, and no few children of the city had already been lost. Sarey grit her teeth in distaste at the thought; those poor souls had been thrown in by the Tuadi Baol, sacrifices to test the Labyrinth's sudden change in attitude. There was little consolation in the fact that dozens of the Tuadi Baol and hundreds of lilit had perished first.
Sarey hadn't been back to the forest in weeks. The only ones the Labyrinth wasn't inclined to slay outright were the Surrendered, and any who tried to return were none-too-gently forced back into the city. She could only guess where the Resistance Council was in hiding, and she hadn't seen Lord Fox or any of the rest of them in days. The usual orders were to wait until she was contacted or the situation changed, but Sarey chafed from inaction.
She bought a wedge of bread and crumbling cheese from one of the market vendors, and chewed her dilemma over with her lunch. There had to be something she could do. She was tired enough of making herself visible to her contacts and lying lazily about while the Tuadi Baol kidnapped and murdered the city's residents for sport. She was trained, and able, and damn it all but the Council still hadn't forgiven her for failing to murder the Goblin King.
In her distraction, Sarey bumped into a passerby and was knocked rudely back. She staggered briefly, tripped over an uneven cobble and fell back into the center of a group of lilit and conversing Tuadi Baol. Her palms scraped against the rough stones of the street as she met the ground, and the circle of unforgiving Bright Ones and lilit closed around her before she could scrabble away.
"Well, well, what is this then?" one of the Bright Ones said.
"An enterprising fool of a thief, perhaps, my lord Caelesh," another replied.
Sarey winced her eyes closed in dismay. She would interrupt a lordling's ramble through the city, of course. Someone ripped her hood back off her head, and she heard the hissing chortle that was the laughter of the lilit.
"If a thief, a pretty one," the lord said. Sarey dared to look up and spied steel-grey hair and sapphire-glinting eyes before he spoke again, his voice mellifluous and threatening together at once. "She'll do well, will she not?"
"Quite well, my lord Caelesh. Goblinkin are quite hale, and he ever did prefer dark-haired women. Slaizse sers."
Two of the lilit lunged forward and seized her arms with their clammy grey claws, and Sarey screamed. Everyone in the Kingdom knew the Tuadi Baol kidnapped their concubines from the ranks of the city's daughters. It didn't matter whether one was High Goblin or halfbreed, the Bright Ones bred true, and she'd heard no few horror stories of the spells they cast to keep their broodmares quiet and compliant.
This couldn't happen to her!
The Resistance wouldn't allow this to happen to her. She knew everything, identities, secrets, everything. A hooded creatures with eyes like burning coals stepped into the lordling's circle, and she renewed her struggles. She could see the crowds through the gaps in the circle as the creature began to speak, and Sarey searched for a familiar face, someone, anyone.
The Resistance couldn't allow this to happen. They'd kill her before it did, and she prayed for that small mercy as a burning trailed up her spine.
No one came, and the world went black.
Once upon a time, there was a girl.
Wishes will out, we whisper together, and the wind will weave and the waters will wend and we will carve out a space in this, the meeting place. Dream, little girl, dream.
"More than anything, more than life."
The king of the goblins has fallen in love with the girl, and he has given her certain powers.
"More than the moon."
This is a dead land. It is not like this in the other kingdom. We dare not meet, save for in your dreams, and that is not enough to keep us alive.
This is the way the world ends. This is the way our world ends.
"You're him, aren't you? You're the—"
THINE IS THE KINGDOM.
The truth hurts, little girl. Wake. Up.
She knew where she was before she even opened her eyes.
The trouble was, she didn't know whose life she was waking in.
She shifted, as if in a fitful sleep, and cracked one eye open against the pillow. Through her lashes, she saw every gradation and detail of the bounds between shadow and moonlight, and for a moment Sarey wished fiercely she hadn't wakened into her own world.
Sarey cast her limited gaze about the confines of the king's bedchamber. Beyond the bedcurtains, the black knife she'd thought lost lay waiting on the glass top of the bedside table, along with a slim red leather book and a pale feather. Further still, she spied the form of the Goblin King silhouetted against the moonlit night, shirt untucked and ungloved hands clasped behind his back.
Sarey turned her head against the pillow and drank in the sight of him. Even in his disarray, the king cut a commanding figure, and she'd dreamed enough of Sarah's life to have more than a passing familiarity with that same figure. She knew, inexorably, that he was waiting for something. There was a tension to the set of his shoulders, with just a hint of worry in the curling of his fingers. Were she Sarah, she'd rise from the bed and join him, wrap her arms around him and press herself to his back. Labyrinth Under help her, against all logic or sense and in defiance of the circumstances Sarey wanted to do exactly that.
Perhaps it was the change in her breathing or some other sense, but the Goblin King turned around and turned his luminous gaze on her, and Sarey realized she knew nothing about him whatsoever.
"Hello," the Goblin King said.
"I'm not her."
The king stiffened minutely, and Sarey could have sworn she saw the faintest expression of pity on his features. "I know," he said.
She sat upright, and in a flurry of motion seized the black knife and threw herself at the king. No matter that he looked the same, answered to the same name, as surely as she wasn't Sarah Williams the king wasn't the man in her dreams. She could kill him and save their world still.
Her steps were sure, her reflexes honed for this moment, and she drew the black knife high to pierce his heart. And yet... half a breath from completion, the instant the knife touched the king's flesh something stayed her hand.
Sarey's fingers whitened around the hilt of the blade and her arm trembled, but the knife rested against the king's skin, glittering death promised and undelivered. She discarded the black knife and reached again with her claws, but though her fingertips lit on his chest she couldn't bring her claws to touch him.
The king never moved, and in the sad resignation on his face she knew it was no power of his that prevented her efforts. Sarey fought until her head ached and spots danced in her vision, and still not a drop of the king's blood fell. She couldn't hurt him, and she refused to understand why.
At last, the king opened his eyes, and ever so gently took her hands in his. "I'm surprised it took Lord Fox this long to act. I never suspected that he might send another in his place."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Sarey said. "I acted on my own."
The king looked at her for a long time, predatory consideration staring out from sapphire and amber. "No. No you didn't." He dropped her hands, and Sarey reeled away from him as if burned.
"You don't know anything!"
"Nor do you. I gave the canny old fox that order decades ago, and that it was you to bring it to be..." The king looked away from her and perched in the windowsill. "The irony of it will kill me long before you ever do."
Sarey backed away, and took an uneasy seat on the edge of the bed. She didn't know what to do, or what there was she could do, but she didn't want to let the king out of her sight for even a moment. If he were any kind of smart at all, he would kill her and have done, if just as a mercy. She still had no idea what the Bright Ones had done to her, and a significant part of her didn't want to know.
After a long while, the king sighed. "I'm sorry."
"Why?" she asked warily.
"It never occurred to me that you would be here, in the Labyrinth. I understood what the terms of my imprisonment would be when the Tuadi Baol came, but if I'd known... I believe I would have held the kingdom longer. For that, for you, I am sorry."
"I don't catch your meaning," Sarey said.
"Lord Fox kept his secrets too closely, it seems," the Goblin King replied. "I can't imagine he explained to you why the Resistance required me dead."
"How do you know that?" Sarey demanded.
"What did he tell you?"
Sarey set her shoulders and stared levelly at the king. He had betrayed their world to the Bright Ones. That alone was reason enough.
"You're stubborn. I'm not surprised." The king smiled without humor. "The maze must always have a master, else its darker soul would rise and run havoc. Those of my line have always ruled the Labyrinth, and if I died without issue all the Tuadi Baol in this world or any other would not be able to withstand its anger." His lips curved again, but not into anything that could pretend to be a smile. "They aren't fools, the Bright Ones. He who holds the king holds the Labyrinth, after all."
Sarey began to understand. "Then the Night Guard are..."
"My snarling jailers, yes. Aren't they so charming."
Sarey nodded warily, not wanting to agree with him. If she agreed with him on one thing, she would agree with him on others, and she could not in good conscience do so.
The Goblin King studied her for a long time. "I am so sorry," he said again. "I've known about... you, for years. Before the Tuadi Baol came I knew, and after... I closed all the doors save one, but you were already here." His face was pained. "And now..."
"Now?" Sarey prompted.
"I'd been waiting for you to save my world," the king said.
He'd been waiting for her to save his world. He had been waiting for her to save his world. He was no longer waiting, which meant... what? He wasn't waiting to be free himself, so...
"Why can't I kill you?"
The king cocked his head, and his eyes were thoughtful. "That is the question, isn't it? The Bright Ones have ever been free with their magic, and their curses. They knew I was searching for someone Above; they would never believe their luck if they knew."
He didn't have to name it for Sarey to understand that she was under a geas. Such things were unspeakable, for their horror, but everyone knew. "I suppose I should be grateful then, to still be of my right mind," she said.
The king shrugged. "It was not meant to be a kindness."
She took to her feet again and paced the walls. "So, what are the terms of my of my imprisonment?"
"So far as I've come to understand from the others before you, you cannot leave my line of sight, nor bring me to bodily harm. Your life is tied to mine, so no harm should befall you so long as I remain hale." The king's voice was unflinchingly unfeeling, and she wondered at what cost he'd learned it all as she turned a corner of the expansive room.
"Hm. Is there any way to break it?" Sarey passed the king in her perambulation, and she felt him shiver in her wake.
"Only two. The cost of the first is a child."
Sarey froze. Of course it would be. It always was, where the Labyrinth was concerned. "In the other Labyrinth, she and her king are trying to..."
"Because he's not free either."
"No. No curse is strong enough to cross generations. An heir would free his people." There was so much he wasn't saying. Sarey turned to face him.
"What's the second?" she asked.
"Death. Though the first amounts to much the same thing. The Tuadi Baol would see me dead the second they had a replacement, and they would view your survival as trivial. The backlash would kill you as surely as anything."
Still so impassive, but his eyes would ever give him away. "Why do they hate you so?" she asked.
"The kingdom is fallen, not broken," the Goblin King said, and steel ran in his voice. "Everything the Bright Ones have, they have taken by force. I have given them nothing, and they know that I am not so powerless as they would wish to believe."
Sarey took a step forward, and another, and kissed him. The king was stiff in his surprise, but he kissed her back with fervor, and she welcomed him. He was familiar, yet not, and her instincts warred within her. He wasn't a traitor. He hadn't betrayed her. What that meant for the future was uncertain, but he wanted her, and she had always wanted to be wanted.
When their lips parted, she held his gaze in breathless silence until at last, he broke it.
"I know you aren't... her. What is your name in this world?"
"Sarey. My name is Sarey."
He mouthed her name a few times, as if tasting the fit of the word in his mouth. "Sarey. Almost the same, but different. Sarey... My name is—"
"Jareth. Your name is the same, but you are different."
She kissed him again, and the conversation moved to the bed and continued in a different form. Afterwards, she watched him, and he her as they learned each other in different ways.
"I will find a way," he murmured to her skin.
She didn't love him. She didn't know if she could. "We will," she murmured back. If she couldn't leave him, he would simply have to come with her.
Sarey sighed for her silent plans, and slept, and dreamed.
Rest for now, little girl. We'll be offering when you wake.
Don't let this come to nothing.
notes: Yes, that was parallelism there. And that was a Sondheim reference, and that one was The Hollow Men, and a smidgeon of costanza, too, for atmosphere. And the fact that this whole thing is a giant roiling cauldron of something that's pretty obvious if you look at it the right way.
Obviously, I didn't finish before New Year's. Life got in the way, but foi is at the top of my creative priorities list again. For the moment. We shall see if this new thing pans out.