Sarah awoke to silence, broken only by the beating of her own heart. For a few seconds she registered nothing out of the ordinary; she couldn't remember the last time she'd slept through the entire night. She was a light sleeper and hers was not a quiet dormitory. Which is what made the silence so strange. In a dorm with 103 students, to have complete silence, even at 3am, was unheard of.
Warily Sarah sat up in bed, straining to hear any sound. The silence was eerie. And worrying. Sarah switched on her bedside lamp and went to get out of bed, intent on investigating to make sure everything was okay. She never got further than putting one foot on the floor.
"And here I thought you'd never wake up."
She hadn't heard the voice in six years, but she recognised it immediately. His voice held a velvet caress, but it was overpowered, as always, by his mocking tone. Sarah remained with her head down for a few seconds more, trying to get her breathing under control as her heart tried to jump through her chest. As she slowly raised her head to look at the man leisurely reclining against her door, the memories invaded her mind. He took her breath away, just as he had the first time she'd seen him. That first time, years ago, on a night when a crying baby had suddenly gone silent...
"You can hardly blame me Jareth, I get woken up every night by the noise in this dormitory, why would I wake up the one night you make it quiet?"
She didn't like the anger in her voice, she knew it wasn't even directed at him, but borne from countless nights of interrupted sleep. The thought that she was not made out for dormitory life passed once more through her mind, but this was not the time for those doubts.
"How very perceptive, but yes, after waiting three hours for your dormmates" The sarcasm was thick in his voice on the last syllable "to go to sleep, I decided I would have to intervene. Don't worry, they'll all awake in the morning feel light and refreshed."
The mocking tone was back, but Sarah was glad it was no longer directed at her. She couldn't help but laugh at the thought that she wasn't the only one who hated the noise in this place.
"You find this amusing?" His voice had gone hard now, and this time it was directed at Sarah.
"Yes I do." She replied, refusing to be intimidated. "I find it highly amusing that you create quiet in this dormitory for the first time since us students moved in, making it the first night I could actually sleep through the entire night, and yet you do it for the sole purpose of making sure we're not interrupted when you wake me up."
The anger was back. She hated this, hated what these sleepless nights were doing to her. Closing her eyes she took a few deep breaths to calm herself and when she opened her eyes again she caught the concern on Jareth's face as he studied her. The look was gone instantly, leaving Sarah to wonder if she'd imagined it, but she wasn't given long to think.
"Indeed, I felt it was time we had a talk."
"A talk?" Sarah asked, curious now but still wary. "You've been out of my life for eight years and now you want to talk?"
"I shall rephrase that Sarah, we need to talk."
Her wariness was beginning to edge into fear now. His voice was too hard, his expression too serious. She couldn't imagine what topic would be serious enough that he would feel the need to appear in her bedroom in the middle of the night.
"I'd like to state that this was not my idea, but the Underground is facing some difficulties right now and so the Labyrinth has decided the time has come to contact some old runners."
The fear shot through her at his words, full blown now and extremely potent. She had grasped years ago that the purpose of the Labyrinth was to make people appreciate the person they were wishing away, and yet the fear that someday the Goblin King might return to take Toby away had never left her. Her thoughts were so clear in her face that the Goblin King sought to reassure her.
"Sarah there is no need to fear, Toby is safe, as he has always been. This matter is in regards to you and a few other runners, those you wished away are yours to keep, so please stop worrying and concentrate on what I'm about to tell you."
Sarah felt her apprehension fade away, but it lingered on the edge of her conscious, ready to return at any careless word pertaining to Toby's safety. However, now the immediate threat had been erased, Jareth had Sarah's full attention.
"Sarah, on your trip through the Labyrinth, my subjects grew... attached to you. This is not unique, but neither is it a common event. Very few who run the Labyrinth take the time to appreciate its inhabitants. You not only noticed them, you interacted with them, even befriended some. This is partly why you, along with a few other special runners, are remembered by the Labyrinth. You left an imprint on both the land and its people. In times of change or unrest, the Labyrinth has been known to call those who left an impression on it. It cannot have escaped your notice that after years of silence you've suddenly begun to dream about your time in the Underground."
Sarah sat stunned at his words. It was true that the Labyrinth was often in her thoughts during the day, but never at night. Not until the last few weeks anyway. Between the constant noise in the dormitory and her strangely real dreams, she felt like she wasn't sleeping at all. She didn't have long to dwell on these thoughts however as Jareth wasn't finished.
"Most people who run the Labyrinth follow the same path. Tests and obstacles are re-used time and time again. But every so often, a runner appears with an imagination so great, they infect the land around them."
"You make me sound like a disease." Sarah interrupted, grimacing slightly.
"Only in the best possible way." Jareth replied, grinning charmingly before continuing. "The land steals ideas from inside your mind, shaping the landscapes to fit the test you need. The stair room at the end, for example, never existed before you set foot in the castle."
"Technically that wasn't my imagination, that was genius of Escher." Sarah interrupted once more, not wanting to be dragged into this more than was necessary.
"Nevertheless, it was your imagination that saw the potential of that room. A test for all you took for granted, even the most basic laws of physics. The labyrinth simply stole your idea and made it a reality. The Labyrinth grows through people like you, you give it life, expand its borders, increase its potential. However, people like you are growing more and more rare. The Labyrinth fades as more time passes and fewer people help it grow, the old is destroyed, but nothing new is created."
Sarah could see where this was going and she didn't like it, but she didn't interrupt again, she wanted to find out the exact situation before she voiced her thoughts.
"Fewer and fewer people are wishing children away, those that do don't truly believe in it, they run a beaten track, wearing it out without ever affecting the land around them."
The Goblin King began to pace as he talked, becoming more animated as he did so, the frustration clear in his voice.
"The stair room is now our only ending, every time it is destroyed pieces crumble and disappear forever, soon there shall be no final test. The Bog of Eternal Stench is gone, worn dry by the passing of countless feet. The Fieries are dying, exhausted from too many dances. The Labyrinth is fading Sarah."
He stopped pacing at this point, fixing Sarah with a gaze full of pain. He loved his land, loved the creatures who inhabited it, it was killing him to watch what was happening to it.
"The imagination of this world is dying and as it does so does my land. I need your help Sarah, I need your imagination."
And there it was, the offer she knew he'd come to make.
"Come back to the Labyrinth, give it new life, show it new ideas, renew it, create it. Your mind is so full of ideas you don't know what to do with them. I can see even now your brain is thinking of all the amazing things you could create in the Labyrinth."
It was true, despite her initial horror at what he was asking, she couldn't stop herself imagining it as a reality. Her run through the Labyrinth had used a tiny amount of her imagination, there was so much more she could do and she knew it. The thought of that land dying hurt her, the thought of her friends fading with it was almost a physical pain. But the horror of her memories kept invading her mind, she could not forget the fear she'd felt whilst Underground, terrified of losing her brother.
"Do not ask me to put others through what I went through." Sarah asked, her voice so quiet she wondered whether he'd be able to hear her.
"What you went through?" Jareth repeated, mockingly. "What exactly did you go through Sarah? And be honest, you can lie to yourself all you want, but not to me."
"Do you have any idea what it's like to run your Labyrinth?" The words were almost shouted, the fear changed to fury in an instant. "The fear of not knowing what's around the next corner, not even knowing where the hell the corners were? Not knowing who to trust, who to fear. Not knowing if I was ever going to see Toby again, ever hold him in my arms. Facing the fact that one stupid mistake could mean I lost my brother forever. Can you even comprehend what that felt like?"
There was a sadness in Jareth's eyes that said he understood, but his job here was not to comfort her, he couldn't afford to forget that. He had to get her to agree to come back with him, it was imperative.
"And what if you hadn't faced that fear Sarah? You love Toby; can you really imagine life had you not run the Labyrinth? Forever harbouring your childish resentment against your little brother, cursing life for being 'unfair'."
His mocking tone cut Sarah deep. Memories of the selfish teenager she had been haunted her still. The dangers untold and the hardships unnumbered were nothing to the shame she felt at imagining her life had she not faced them. She had tried to hate her time in the Labyrinth, but the friends she'd made and the gifts it had given her had overpowered her stubbornness.
"What is it you're asking Jareth? What is it exactly?"
Jareth could hear the beginning of defeat in her voice, her resolve was weakening slightly. He felt the hope begin to rise, but kept his voice steady as he replied.
"I want you to come to the Labyrinth Sarah. Use your imagination to improve it, renew it. Help it survive." There was a note of pleading in his voice, but his face showed nothing but calm.
"I can't. I can't go to the Labyrinth."
"Why not?" The hope was gone now.
"Because I have a life here. I fought too hard to get into this university, I won't give up now. I can't. And then there's my family, how can I leave them? Just drop out of uni and disappear? I can't do that to them."
"You don't have to disappear. You can tell them you got offered a job and move away, you can still visit, they need never know where you really are. As for the university part, you're studying English Literature and Creative Writing, why? So you can become an author and write stories to entertain people? You can do so much more in the Labyrinth, your stories can become a reality. You won't be entertaining you'll be helping people, changing their perspective, improving their lives. Surely that's more important that being an author."
"But I fought so hard for this Jareth!"
Sarah refused to give in, it had taken her years to earn the money she needed for this prestigious university, years to build up the portfolio to allow her onto the course despite her lack of school qualifications. Writing was her only passion, she'd passed English with top marks, but no other subject held any interest for her, as a result English was the only qualification she had, but it wasn't enough to get her into university. Years of writing columns for magazines, stories for children's books and short stories for literature publications had finally gained her the interview that had led to her acceptance into university. It had taken too much for her to get to this point, she wasn't going to give up now.
Her thoughts might as well have been printed on her face, her expression was that obvious. Jareth knew what she was thinking, and he knew he was losing. He couldn't lose, she had to agree!
"Sarah, look around you. You're in a room the size of my shoe cupboard, you haven't had a single full nights sleep in months, you're five years older than your fellow students physically and about ten years mentally. You distance yourself from them in an attempt to focus on your studies. You lock yourself away in your room to do your work, which isn't half as good as it could be due to the constant noise and lack of sleep. You're wasted here, even if you pass this course and go on to be a world famous author you won't live up to your full potential. You'll never be allowed full creative freedom, this world simply does not allow it. Underground you can be free to create whatever you want, use your imagination to its full extent. No one will ever hold you back there."
The offer was incredibly tempting. Sarah was aware of the reality of authors nowadays, they were bound by rigid rules that halted their progress for the sake of 'sales'. The course she was taking was practically a 101 in how to write a best-seller, half of the course she'd already put into practice many times over and the rest of it barely held her interest. But with this degree she knew she'd be so much closer to getting publishers interest, to fulfilling her dream and becoming a real author. The stories in her head were practically overflowing, and the idea that she could use all of them in shaping the Labyrinth was a perfect carrot on a stick. But that was not her world, she didn't belong there, she'd come too far in her own world to give up now, she had to see if she could make it, had to see if she was good enough, she'd never forgive herself if she didn't. Going to the Labyrinth seemed too much like giving up.
With a sigh, she made up her mind. She belonged here, she'd stick it out, she would become an author. She had no doubt that she'd spend the rest of her life wondering what it would have been like if she'd taken up Jareth's offer, but she knew that if she did accept it, she'd spend the rest of her life calling herself a coward. There was no choice to make in the end, there was only one path she could take.
"I'm sorry Jareth, I can't, I just can't."
He felt the remainder of his hope crumble then. There was a finality in her voice that said she would not be swayed, nothing he could say could change her mind. He ran over the conversation in his head, wondering what else he could possibly say to alter her decision. There was nothing. In her mind, Sarah's choice was the only one she could possibly make. The Goblin King's face betrayed none of his despair, but his mind teemed with it. He'd been sure he could convince her, sure there was nothing in this world that held her here other than her family, which she'd still be able to see if she went Underground. He hadn't counted on her stubbornness. Yet the reality was very clear, she wasn't going to agree to his offer. With a sigh Jareth raised his eyes to hers, the pain in both easy to see. Sarah's at the thought of what she may have just given up, Jareth's at what he was about to do.
"I'm sorry Sarah, but my offer wasn't a request. You don't have a choice in this."
A/N In case anyone wonders about the title, it's from the following quote:
For last year's words belong to last year's language,
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
Thank you so much for reading! All reviews are welcome.