Preface: This is an alternate ending (taking the place of Chapter 25) to Talespinner. It was written as a gift to my beta reader, since he'd been hoping I'd go for a dark ending to the actual story, and I didn't. I'm pretty proud of it, so I figured I'd post. Be warned - this ending is far from happy. But it was surprisingly fun to write. (I've got a sequel in the works for TS, so I feel it necessary to assure you that this is not replacing the continuity I established in the story - just kind of twisting it a bit for those of you who like this sort of thing. You can safely ignore it without missing anything later.)
Sarah leaned out the window and closed her eyes, breathing in that peaceful, human scent of summer in a small city, adding it like a shining pearl to the string of memories. Then, clearly and decisively, she spoke the choice that she had not fully made an hour ago when she had stepped back into the mortal world.
"I wish the goblins would come and take me away, right now."
Chapter 25 alternate: Love Without Your Heartbeat
By Dreamer In Silico
When the rushing sensation cleared and she opened her eyes, the tableau before her was a scene out of nightmare.
The strange dissonance that she had felt just before she'd stepped back through to the mortal world was the first thing she noticed – it had risen to a grating whine that she could almost, almost hear, but that couldn't be blocked out by covering her ears. The throne room was cold, too cold – Sarah's breath puffed out in a cloud in front of her nose, and – was that frost on the floor?
And Yera was crouched at the base of the dais, beside an all-too-familiar shape that lay sprawled in haphazard disarray across the ice-rimed flagstones.
With an incoherent cry, Sarah ran, skidding, to them, the silk gown she carried falling unheeded to the floor, an early spring leaf felled by the vicious last frost of the season. Yera looked up dully at the clamor, and Sarah briefly registered the anguished shock in her face before she had gained a clear view of Jareth. One glance was all it took – it was like looking at a painted lantern whose candle has gone out, the crude form and ornamentation still plain to see, but dim and drab without that vital illumination from within.
The Goblin King was dead.
The cheek Sarah touched was slack, and cold as the stones beneath her knees, the eyes glassy and staring and somehow more horrible than the rest of the sight put together for how much life they had conveyed, and now lacked. Sarah's head was light, her thoughts skittering against themselves and falling apart as she tried to touch them, to shuffle them into line. She had forgotten to breathe, and the breaking of that pause came as a wrenched sob that clashed against the persistent whine in the air.
"What - ?"
"Crumbling... The realm was crumbling, caving in on itself right – right after you left." Yera's normally musical voice fell flat and toneless into Sarah's ears. "He… I could only see a bit, but I know he tried to stave it off. It worked… almost."
Right after you left. Those words expanded in Sarah's mind, echoing through her thoughts until they were all she could hear, all she could think. I left. I left him. And it all fell apart. Why did I – whywhywhywhywhy -?
Then the door crashed open, and faintly, through her own internal screaming, she heard a cultured male voice begin – "Jareth, I can feel the tremors from the Fens, you –" and fall abruptly silent as the scene before him must have registered.
Yera was speaking again, this time to Airgetlam, and it was only a faint buzzing to Sarah, prodding against the flash-frozen edges of her perception, but not breaching. Sarah didn't care. It didn't matter.
She had given up her place in the mortal world to return to him, and he was gone. His world (her world now, perhaps, but she could not think of it as such) was cracking, unstable… what if she had stayed, without making the brief trip back…? Surely she could have helped him, somehow…
…and what if she had taken Anann's bait the second time? She had known, then, that it would seal the breach between the worlds and she hadn't cared. She had smashed the trap and brought the Underground crashing down with it.
And Jareth had paid the price. His whole kingdom would pay the price.
"ANANN," she yelled, her train of thought frayed there at the end, with only one possible way to twist off the threads and make them whole again.
The buzzing words that whirled between Airgetlam and the sphinx fell silent, but the higher, ephemeral sound of magical strain remained.
"White Raven! Attend your duty!" What duty? She didn't know, didn't care, but would shout until the ancient fae appeared. "Anann!"
Current of yet-colder air swirled through the chamber, and the bleached-bone figure appeared, yellow eyes set in acid irony that widened to surprise a scant moment later. "The call – what passed here?" the clipped edges of her words bespoke faint curiosity.
"Your construct tore the guts out of – " Yera hissed at her, as if she wished to spit fire.
"Did not someone just invoke my duty?" the tall woman asked, archly. "I have done nothing but that. Why has the whelp called me here? As the fool lying dead on the ground so recently reminded me, I have no sovereignty in this place."
Sarah smelled leaves and murky water and felt a clawed hand placed gingerly on her shoulder, as if in comfort, but shrugged Airgetlam away, tearing her eyes from Jareth, where they had inevitably fallen again after registering Anann's arrival, to look up once more. "Put me back in. You can do that much."
"Sarah, what -?" Yera gasped.
Cloudy… her peripheral vision had washed into a haze, and the roaring in her ears could nearly compete with that nails-on-chalkboard grate; Sarah barely heard her own words as she spoke them. "The anchor. You need one. What I set up back at hom – in the mortal world – won't work fast enough, not now. Put me in the dream chamber… and give me Jareth back."
More buzzing – were they trying to argue with her? That was sweet of them, really, but it didn't matter. She couldn't hear them anyway.
She did, however, hear the frigid, wintry voice speak – quietly, almost reflectively, four words that brought dark curtains sweeping across her vision, and meant she didn't have to worry anymore.
"I can do that."
Flame-colored leaves were weaving lazy spirals in their long glide toward the checkered stone floor, tinting the air with the spicy crispness of autumn. She laughed as he pulled her into a spin, her skirt a whirl of umber and pale citrine that swept the settled leaves to new eddies that echoed their steps as they danced.
She caught a glimpse of other revelers from time to time, but they were far away across the floor, leaving the King and Queen a vast circle of free space to trace their intricate patterns undisturbed. Somewhere, music was playing, the tremor of the drums seeming to bring the floor itself to life, but it was the singing that held her attention, and the singing she heeded.
Your eyes can be so cruel… just as I can be so cruel…
Oh, I do believe in you… yes I do…
Live without the sunlight.
Love without your heartbeat.
I… I can't live within you. Within you…
The words meant little, for she was here – she was right in front of him, and had no intention of leaving, but his voice was high and haunting and achingly beautiful, and that was all that seemed to matter.
A glimmer of a thought, the scent of a memory teased at her mind… but then the odd sense of familiarity passed, and she focused on her steps and his warm, bare hands on her skin instead.
The room was awash in the deep violet tones of twilight sitting just upon the cusp of full dark, and through the window, she could hear the first sweet chimes of the stars as they greeted the night.
Half-clad in soft leather breeches, he took up her wrist in light fingers, kissing the inside of it before tugging her slowly toward the wide, sumptuous bed. She followed, heart skipping at the vibrant heat of his touch that contrasted so cleanly to the cool, dusken air as it swept her shift into filmy billows around her.
The gentle tenderness in his eyes when his gaze locked with hers caused her breath to catch in her throat, bright love and other, more shrouded emotions swelling in her chest. The thought was only a fleeting whisper in her mind as she climbed up into the silken sheets with him, quickly swept away by desire –
It's almost too perfect to be true.
Yerascaltidryx prowled the castle grounds in a restless pattern that the stones themselves must surely remember by now – she had begun it nearly a century ago, as the mortals reckon time, under the pretense of serving her post as a realm guardian… But now, even though no visitor from outside the realm had come in nearly half that time and the path held the muddy, dreaded taint of habit, she yet continued. She could feel the warm, constant presence of her sister on the edge of perception – Xera was in the hedge gardens on the inner ring of the great maze, and would likely remain there through the day; Yera would walk alone on four legs, undisturbed by passerby.
She blinked tawny, feline eyes in amazement. A slender figure in flowing green stood on the balcony above, gazing out over the silent Labyrinth beyond. Stranger still, Yera could see ephemeral lines of power trailing off her, like a web, just like - !
As quickly as thought, the guardian rose onto two legs and willed herself to that balcony – she would not risk the woman slipping away as she traveled by more mundane means. At close range, the woman's graceful carriage and the faded, dusty-looking silk of the ancient gown left no doubts as to her identity, but the bright maelstrom of influence around her was new, all new…
"Sarah?" Yera whispered, hope and confusion and concern so evenly mixed within her that she didn't even know which was the most important.
The figure's posture shifted ever so slightly, and Yera knew she had heard, but she did not turn around.
"My lady?" the sphinx tried again. "How -? I didn't feel you arrive, and no mortal has ever been able to leave the anchor chamber on her own…"
"That's quite correct." The voice was familiar, but clearer and more resonant, the words making an almost visible ripple in the air around her.
The woman turned, at last, and Yera took an involuntary step backward, feeling her dusting of golden fur all stand on-end at once. The face was that of the young mortal she remembered, and the eyes were still green… but seemed to have been re-cast in hard, perfect crystal, rather than flesh. They held a knife-edged, terrible beauty that grasped at Yera's attention and refused to let go.
"No mortal has."