Last time Sarah had been hurled through these winds she had been able to hide her face against Jareth's chest and to feel his strong arms hold her safe and secure. This time, as the Goblin King lay unconscious and the hot winds ripped passed her in all directions, she had no choice but to struggle to hold herself up while clutching desperately to his slack body. Squinting past the hot air she saw streaks of white, red, and yellow rushing past her, but there was no sense to the hurry and chaos that seemed to fill her head as the wind continued to roar in her ears.
"Jareth!" her voice sounded muffled against the gales pushing her around, but despite her cry and all the noise around them Jareth didn't move.
She grunted and tried to gain a better hold on him, but could only scrabble at his clothes as her hair continued to whip around her face and into her eyes. Her arms ached as she tried to keep him from falling. How long did this take the last time? Were they going even further? She was sure the last time had taken less than a minute, but as seconds dragged on, she became less and less sure how long she had been in this in-between place.
They had to stop at some point. She tried to look past her hair but could make nothing out but the same blurred colours she had seen before. "Jareth!" Her voice cracked from the volume of her scream, but there was no response. She screamed again, and then again, her body failing under the wind's assault and Jareth's weight. She knew she sound hysterical, and must look it too, from the way the hot salty tears had been spread across her face by the wind and her hair.
What could she do? What were the rules in this place between worlds? Her body heaved with a futile sob before she screamed again in frustration, "I wish this would stop!"
Her voice cut unnaturally loud amid abrupt silence, scaring herself from the sudden change. The winds had disappeared, along with the noise and the heat the moment she had cried out. Cool air soothed her wind burned skin and she quickly recognized the small clearing that Jareth had taken her to before. Arms unable to take the strain anymore, she quickly lowered Jareth onto the soft grass. What had made the winds stop? Wasn't it Jareth who had always granted her wishes? How could words like that have power over such a place?
She shook the thoughts aside. She couldn't get answers now, so she would have to focus on the more pressing issue: what had happened to Jareth. There had been something very wrong with him before they left. His shaking before they slept, his slow movements when he woke, the tight expression that she had attributed to merely his reaction to her anger. Looking at him now, as he lay in the grass, she saw his face was even paler than usual and his face remained lined with pain despite his unconsciousness.
This was bad. She didn't even know what was wrong with him, let alone how to fix it. She did remember him muttering about doing too much. Was this merely exhaustion?
She looked him over, noting the dust that covered his usually immaculate clothing. Where had he been before he came back to the house? Above or underground?
"I don't suppose that if I wished you better that would work would it?" she whispered. She reached out a hand to touch him, but stopped before she could rest it against his cheek. No touching. Despite sharing a bed, dragging him here, and now the worry that was clawing its way through her chest, she still felt nervous about letting herself go. She shook her head, and brought her hand back to herself.
What was wrong with her? He wasn't even awake and she was still worrying about some stupid little rule she had made just to make herself feel... feel what? Safe? She never felt in danger when he was around. Sure, she could feel the potential for danger, but there was always the tranquility of knowing he wouldn't hurt her.
So what was it? Her eyes travelled over his body, stretched out in the grass. Usually a sight that would make her blush instead caused her heart to tighten as she thought about the pain he must be in. She couldn't leave him. Not like this.
She was so afraid that she would want to leave everything behind for him.
Tearing her eyes away from the Goblin King, Sarah glanced around the clearing. Seeing the drop off that signaled the Star Pond, she remembered Jareth's words about burying Merlin next to it.
Not wanting to leave Jareth's side, but keeping in mind the whole reason she had asked him to bring her here, she stood and started to make her way to the Pond.
When Jareth had brought her here on, well on a date essentially, it had felt so calm and natural. Now, as she padded across the grass, becoming increasingly aware of the distance between her and the unconscious body laying behind her, the air felt stiflingly quiet. The cool breeze didn't rustle the trees. There were no bugs serenading the night. Just silence. Her ears strained to pick up anything as she glanced around the trees surrounding the clearing. Their huge presence made her think of powerful, ancient guardians, and she smiled at the thought.
She reached the Star Pond, but could find no raised hedgestone or plaque or marker for her beloved pet. Not that she had really expected something of that sort, but she wasn't really sure what Underground customs were for, well, final resting places. She searched the perimeter, looking for a hint for where Merlin could be resting, but found nothing.
What had Jareth done? She shot a look over her shoulder at the still King, but his prone form gave her no hints.
Maybe she had to just see instead of just look. Her head started to hurt again. What was she supposed to see in the first place? She looked into the Pond and felt her breath draw out again as she focused on the dance of giants taking place beneath the still waters.
Streaks of gold sparks shot by wide arrays of jewel-like planets. Blue and white galaxies spun in whirls and circles, and Sarah felt as if she could feel the music from this invisible dance waving through the air around her. The spinning, and crashing, and sharp movements made her feel dizzy as she felt the same hurry and purpose as their journey here. But as soon as she began to feel overwhelmed from the chaos and the enormity of the view, everything slowed down to near stillness. Bright silver sparks popped in and out of the deep blackness that held everything in the wide embrace of eternity. She stared into the empty Pond, feeling herself lean forward, letting the magic pull her face towards the surface.
Then pure contentment filled her. The worry about Jareth that had wound her up so tightly washed away. Her body relaxed as the grief from losing Merlin was taken from her. She could feel it. Could feel the emotions, could feel the strain, could feel all of her tears, flow out of her and her eyes widened to feel them all melt into the pond. To join the water, that was really space, that was really magic, and to leave her feeling whole again.
She felt magic sliding against her skin, just as she had the last time, but this time it wasn't cool and it wasn't new or different. It felt warm, familiar, and tears brimmed in her eyes as she realized it felt just as Merlin had whenever she had hugged him. His shaggy fur tickling her nose. His puffing sighs as he let his boredom show. The warm weight as he leaned into her. The thumping of his slow heartbeat. She could feel him.
"Merlin?" He wasn't really there. This was the magic of the pond. He had died, and she had held his body in her broken grief. She knew he wasn't here.
Then, the blackness of the pond seemed to soften and distantly Sarah could see the figure of a dog sitting. Shaggy, and white, and grey, and she felt love wash over her in a way she knew too well. She felt the loyal devotion of her shaggy dog, and as the magic and familiarity continued to surround her, she found herself smiling.
She didn't know how Jareth had done this. She remembered his comment about the secrets of the Pond being older than himself. But now, as she felt the essence of her lost companion, she knew that he was much stronger than he had ever shown her. That he could bind something from Aboveground to the eternity of space found in this pond, to tie magic and use it to make a memorial unlike any that existed on earth...
Laughter bubbled up in her. Merlin may be gone in the Aboveground, but here, where magic ruled the laws of the universe, she could always feel the heartbeat of one that had been lost to her.
"Goodbye," she smiled into the blackness. She could see the shape of Merlin move sharply as he woofed back at her, but the sound was lost to space.
Tearing her gaze away from the pond, she stood. Lighter. Head higher.
It felt a little ridiculous to know that losing a pet had affected her so deeply, but for those moments he had been gone, she knew that no friends were left to her.
She turned back to return over to Jareth, her thanks and gratitude and warmth ready to transfer over to the King that had done all this.
And felt her blood freeze in her veins as she saw the wide figure looming over his defenceless body.
"Get away from him!" The yell was tore from her as her body had moved before she could even think about it, and she was running across the clearing to get back to Jareth. This large creature looked up at her with red and yellow eyes, its face horrible and inhuman and its teeth jutting up in points best suited to a shark, rather than to something even vaguely humanoid.
She couldn't think about it. This creature, this goblin, was larger than any of the little goblins she had fought on the outskirts of Jareth's castle. Shorter than Ludo, but just as wide, she knew that she wouldn't be able to beat it, as long clawed hands came up in front of it to brace against her, she knew laughable, charge.
She screamed as she got closer, and jumped over Jareth's body, coming between him and the monster, and then slammed into it. It's hands dug into her shoulders, and she felt claws biting into her skin, as they both staggered from the momentum she had brought with her.
Fear and fury filled her as she punched and kicked and scrambled against the goblin that held her.
A deep voice spluttered as she attacked, "Stop, I'm—ouch!—trying to help you foolish—agh!"
The hands that held her shoulders pushed back and Sarah was pushed away, stumbling backwards, before tripping over Jareth and landing in a heap.
She pushed herself up again, having to stay between this monster and Jareth, when she was cut off.
"Stop!" the yell was piercing the silence, and the shock of it made Sarah's attempt to get up end with her on the ground once again. She looked up at the goblin in shock, and saw him straightening brown robes and harrumphing slightly.
"Are you quite done?" the tone of voice reminded Sarah of herself chastising a student, and she felt herself shrink in response.
"Who are you?" she asked in a small voice.
"Now, perhaps that is what you should have started with before so foolishly attacking something that could have snapped you in half?"He snapped impatiently. Her face, already flushed from exertion, turned a deeper red.
"I'm sorry," she answered hesitantly. "I thought you were trying to hurt him."
The goblin seemed amused at this, but it was hard to read any expression past the beak nose, red and yellow eyes, and horrible teeth.
"I'm afraid that would have me quite out of the job," he answered in a monotone, all previous bluster at her attack vanishing. "I am Jory, steward to His Majesty Jareth, and am here to collect him."
Feeling foolish sitting on the ground, Sarah pushed herself up to try and get closer to eye level with the goblin. "Why?"
"In case it has escaped your notice, His Majesty is currently unfit to be out and about."
"Well, yes," she answered slowly. "I had noticed. Why did he collapse when he did?"
The goblin stared at her. "Do you think magic is effortless? It takes considerable energy to travel between worlds, which, due to his obsession with you, has been very frequent these last few days. Add that to the Rock Callers he froze in the Silver Valley, and his meddling with the Star Pond, I would gather that he has exhausted himself." He did not stop to explain his comments despite Sarah's obvious confusion. "Of course, it will take a few days for his recovery."
Silver Valley? Rock Callers like Ludo? What had Jareth been up to this whole time? She felt ashamed to realize that she had never even considered that he might have things he needed to do while she cried upon his shoulder and kept him Aboveground.
Oh no. Aboveground.
"A few days?" The goblin—Jory, she should really call him by his name—nodded. "But how am I to get home?"
Once again it was hard to read the face of the goblin in front of her. Was that surprise at her question? Or disapproval of her selfish question? She couldn't be sure.
"You will have to wait until His Majesty is well enough for between world travel again."
Without waiting for her response, the goblin hunched over and gingerly pulled Jareth into his arms. He glanced at Sarah. "I suppose telling you to run the Labyrinth to get to the castle would have a most unpleasant response, wouldn't it?"
Was that a joke? Sarah narrowed her eyes, still unable to understand the motives of this odd goblin. "I think it most certainly would."
With what could be a sigh, Jory transferred Jareth over one shoulder. "Take my hand then. Unless you feel up for the jog."
What if this Jory wasn't actually Jareth's steward? Things had lied in the Labyrinth before. She looked up at him suspiciously, but he paid her no mind. Not able to think of any other options, she resigned herself to his plan. She could react to whatever happened when the time came. Hesitant, but not wanting to show any sort of fear, Sarah placed her hand into the much, much larger one extended out towards her. Long fingers and claws closed around it, and she felt as though she had very much just crossed a point of no return.
AN: Holy moley! Thanks for all of the reviews, my lovely, lovely readers! I'm blown away that people are still reading this and that new readers are enjoying it as well! I hope you all enjoyed this chapter, and I look forward to writing the next.
Thank you for all of your support!