A/N: Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and I was still just beginning to write, either fanfiction or my own stories, I began with and was greatly influenced by my most favorite movie of all time, Labyrinth. I've been watching it since I was less than a year old, (seriously), so it makes sense that the film would have a big influence on me. However, probably because I began so young, all of my attempts to create something even halfway passable in the way of Laby fics all flopped, and flopped hard. This is the first thing I've written for Labyrinth that I can say I'm really happy with. And it only took 26 years. ;D
For those familiar with the mini manga series entitled Return to Labyrinth, yes, this fic is somewhat influenced by it, but does not take place in any sort of continuity with it. So you'll recognize a touch or two, but you don't have to have read it to follow this.
Underground by David Bowie (Labyrinth soundtrack)
Suspiria by Goblin (Suspiria soundtrack).
Disclaimer: Labyrinth and related characters are © to Henson Associates, Inc.
It might have been an owl gliding through the night on velvet wings, or it might have been a dream, slipping through the inky coils of imagination. Far below its soft pinions and curled talons, a landscape unlike any other unrolled like a great, living map. In every direction the owl's round eyes looked, there it lay, motionless under its gaze, but ready to twist and change as soon as it chanced to look away.
The Labyrinth. A miles wide, sprawling maze that incorporated every kind of terrain into its structure, including forests and deserts, but most of it comprised of the stone walls that folded over and over on themselves to form intricate pathways, so the Labyrinth, taken whole from above, seemed an overgrown playground. There was more to the Labyrinth than even the owl, huge and white in the moonlight, could see. There was another maze beneath this one, almost as large, where anyone caught in its twists would have to solve it in the claustrophobic confines of earth and darkness. Those were two physical depictions of the Labyrinth. There were others less tactile, less forgiving than those, and were impossible to seen even for an owl who might have been less bird and more phantasm.
The fantastic maze rose as you approached its center, much like a giant anthill. At its center, overrun by its particular 'ants', lay the Goblin City. As convoluted as the maze that hemmed it in and untidy as those that lived within it, the City was a tilted, disordered gem of cobbles and brick. Even under the moon, goblins moved about the meandering streets, going about their own unpleasant business. The owl flew over it all without taking notice, and none taking note of it. It flew on to the center of the City, to the final jewel in this crown of chaos. The Castle.
The fortress of stone rushed up to meet its visitor as it swooped low. The Castle, a tower, a large window, its panes thrown wide to the night. The white shadow folded its wings and dove through the frame, snapping them open and back winging once through to land gracefully and unruffled on the perch just inside.
The room is obviously a private one. A large bed dominates one side, hung with heavy canopies and buried in plush pillows and duvets. Wardrobes line the walls, interspersed with the occasional bookshelf, crammed with tomes and scrolls. Beside the bed is a stand with a pitcher of water and basin for washing. A vanity stands nearby, arrayed with ivory handled brushes, a razor, shavers' brush and bowl. Tapestries hang from the walls, and two paintings, one of a beautiful girl with dark hair and eyes, staring off to some unknowable place beyond her frame, the other of a dragon in flight, emerald green with webbed wings of yellow, spewing fire over a war-torn landscape. Slender floor lamps placed around the room cast flickering amber light that made long, dancing shadows up the walls. A secondary source of light comes from a fire built in a large hearth. Other than the avian arrival, the room was empty of all living things.
The owl, a huge white barn owl, it proves, shifted on its perch, adjusting its grip on the naturally twisting branches. It ruffled its wings, seemed to sigh. If it were possible for a simple owl to look weary, this one looked weary.
A breeze suddenly sprang up, gusted about the room, blowing to the deepest corners, making the flames of the lamps and their shadows dance. For a moment the dim light of the room failed completely, leaving only the sound of the source less wind and a single, separate sigh to hang in the room. The wind died away as quickly as it had come, the light tentatively reclaiming the space back from the shadows. All was as it had once been, save one detail. The owl no longer sat at its perch, looking out at the cool shadows, but a slender man stood just beside the window, one foot up on the sill. Raggedly cut blond locks fell about his sharp featured face, into his odd eyes, one blue and one brown. A line appeared between his fine, arched brows, his thin lips tugged down into a frown. His clothes were refined, a linen blouse with lace at cuffs and collar, a stiff brown jerkin of leather, gray hose tucked into the tops of high leather boots. But under the fine garb his body was tense, wound, as though he were preparing to leap out of the high tower window and into the empty night air. About his neck hung a heavy gold pendant, his sign of office and his "crown."
His name was Jareth, and he was King over this land. King of the Labyrinth.
Jareth's frown turned to a sneer, his nose wrinkling and lip curling to reveal white canines. "King of the Labyrinth." It was a title so rarely used anymore that it was practically forgotten. Those who did, used it as a barb, a show of derision. No, what he was known as these days was "the Goblin King." Those dirty, filthy little creatures that infested his kingdom, and did in fact comprise the majority of the population, mostly due to how quickly they could reproduce. They gathered about him, built a City at the base of his fortress. Trying to rid himself of the pests was pointless, they returned with a tenacity that left the common cockroach wanting. So he used them. Capitalized on their natural tendency to follow whatever directions were given them – despite their other tendency to forget those directions often – and made the best of it. So came the title "Goblin King," and it had stuck.
But it failed, absolutely failed to take in all of what Jareth was, all that he ruled over. The Labyrinth's population was made up of much more than just goblins, prolific though they were. It was also home to countless fairies, dwarfs, pixies, nymphs, and a plethora of creatures he wasn't even sure had names outside what they called each other. And that was just the fauna; the flora under his rule was also worth consideration. Rulers of neighboring lands may not have understood it, but in the Labyrinth even the various lichens held an important position in the hierarchy. His Labyrinth was complex, changeable, and everything from the lowliest of caterpillars held a place within it.
But all of this was as nothing compared to the Labyrinth itself. His great, multilayered kingdom, it had not simply sprung up out of nowhere. No, his Labyrinth was the very extension of his own magic, his will, and his soul. It was truly his Labyrinth. More than that, he was the Labyrinth. More than any simple "Goblin King."
Jareth sighed, and sat down on the sill, watching the night. He could never sleep properly, even as a boy, but the predilection for staying up all night had only grown as he had. Now sleep was a kind of torture, for himself and his subjects, affected as they were by his dreams.
The Labyrinth was an extension of his soul, brought into existence by his magic and fueled by his will. It wrapped around the Castle like a protective web, keeping everything and everyone unwanted out, himself the untouchable spider at its center. His subjects could wander in and out almost as freely as they pleased, but anyone unwelcome caught in the passageways would find their path always leading them further from their goal, deeper into confusion. No one would find their way through the maze unless he wished it so. Many an army bent on claiming his throne had been lost in those twists and turns, their bones left to bleach in the sun for future travelers to speculate over. If they were lucky.
Such was as it had been for years, decades. Jareth had resigned himself to his unchanging fate surrounded by a kingdom that did nothing but change from moment to moment.
Then came Sarah Williams.
By all accounts, he shouldn't have noticed her at all. A girl of the human world, young and lacking any sort of patronage of his peers and neighbors. She was just as hundreds, thousands of other human girls. Not particularly beautiful, talented or intelligent, there was only one reason he became aware of her: she possessed a power. Not a rare power, even amongst humankind, but a particularly robust strain of it. She was a Dreamer, or more accurately, a Storyteller, or Teller. Those with this power could shape entire worlds out of nothing, using the powers of imagination and belief. Though power at that level was incredibly rare, only heard of anymore in dusty legends. Now the power of a Teller was generally limited to their immediate surroundings, and then only in minor or peripheral ways. Which was just as well, as a powerful Teller was just as easily a force for destruction as much as creation, perhaps more so. Sarah Williams was not this powerful. So far as anyone knew, she did not spin complete worlds out of nothing, but she did significantly alter those already in existence. And she caught everyone's attention when she began affecting the Underground.
She caught Jareth's attention.
Perhaps it had been foolish, firstly to take an interest in a human at all, and then in a powerful Teller, but she had intrigued him. The manifestation of her talents had resembled his own so closely that he couldn't help but be drawn to them. Exerting one's will on the world, shaping reality around you… yes, he understood that. In a human, untrained, unaware even of her abilities, perhaps he'd felt he found a kind of mirror to examine himself in, a portion of what he was, what he might have become.
But somehow, he had caught her attention as well. Things began to change in his Labyrinth. Creatures began to appear, modeled on the dreams of Sarah Williams. When her half-brother was born it only became worse, as she began spinning tales in earnest. Most centered on his Labyrinth, and things began to change even more.
Of course, she wasn't allowed to alter as she wished without resistance. Teller or not, it was a matter of pitting one's will against another, and Jareth had had several of her lifetimes' worth of experience. She was still little more than a child, after all, and ignorant of what effect her wandering imagination was having on his kingdom. She caused some changes to spring up, but Jareth maintained firm control.
Idly, the sleepless King pulled an iridescent crystal from the air and twirled it in his fingers. The weight was familiar, reassuring. In moments he had two more, and began weaving them around his fingers, hands and arms with practiced ease. Stars and moon were caught within them, as they danced to Jareth's whim, so did these miniature prisms of the night sky.
Had he underestimated her? Of course, it was a foolish question. Yes, he had underestimated her. He'd underestimated the force of her will and the insidiousness of her power, the cumulative impact it had had on his Labyrinth. He knew that now, but then? Could anyone have blamed him for thinking he could win against a human, even a Teller, if they had been faced with Sarah Williams themselves? A spoiled fifteen year old girl, clinging to the fading remains of her childhood, with a penchant for whining when she didn't get her way. Was he, Jareth, King of the Labyrinth, the most convoluted kingdom of the Underground, meant to be afraid of that?
No. The very idea was laughable.
So when she had called to him, no longer just touching the edges of his realm but making contact with him directly, Jareth had decided to indulge. Play her game, if even only for a moment, to see how she would react when she saw her own power – and his – in action. He was curious.
And he had been drawn into a battle of wills unlike any he could have foreseen.
She should have been afraid. She should have been shocked, terrified that someone she could have reasonably only thought of as fantasy was standing before her. But no, she took it in stride, as though the figures of her imaginings visited her every day. Was that a common trait among Tellers? He didn't know, and it only served to intrigue him more.
It was only after Jareth decided to step into the framework of her story that he started to realize some of the finer shades of her power. It was not enough to override his own by force, she could not simply throw him down, make him helpless with her power, and wouldn't have thought to even if she could, so naïve of her own talents was she. But she could subtly alter him. It was her story he chose to step into, and in her story, he had a very particular role to play. He was the villain, and she was the hero. And in her child-like world, the hero always triumphs in the end.
He had thought to throw off whatever shackles of character Sarah could clap on him, and in fact tried, but it had held tight. What she had done was very little, an oblique shift of perspective, it was difficult to pinpoint, much less rid himself of. And when their game began in earnest, he was in for another surprise: they were playing by her rules! Her Teller powers were strong enough not only to affect him, but through him his Labyrinth as well, altering every facet just enough to be something she could recognize, that fit her expectations.
A time limit to rescue her brother, consequences for failure, riddles and misleading advice and helpful inhabitants that befriended her along the way. These were all part of her story, things spun into being by her power.
The crystal balls became bubbles, which floated up from his hands and bobbed about him. Using his hands to move the air around them, pushing them with gusts and pulling them with small vacuums, he set the delicate things in an airy ballet.
It was her story, but it was still his Labyrinth.
Here was the true battle of wills, between Teller and King. The Labyrinth through which she travelled was his will incarnate, and unless he willed it so, she should not find her way through. Except her will, that is, the shape and rhythm of her story, overlaid his own. Jareth's will was solid walls and misleading trickery, hers was in the 'whys' and the 'how's,' as slippery and hard to hold as smoke. Her will could not crumble his, but neither could his trap hers. Sarah Williams was able to traverse the Labyrinth, encountering only a minimal number of it twists and turns, only those challenges that fit into her framework allowed to remain, or those personal touches that Jareth put forth himself. Even in those, he was hobbled, constrained by her expectations of him, her expectations of a proper villain.
And hadn't he played his part well? Stuck in the role the Teller had laid upon him, Jareth had played the part to the letter. If he were to be a villain, then he intended to be the kind that won. He followed the rules put down for him, moved to break her by any means… and again remembered too late that in the shape of stories, the hero, inevitably, wins.
Jareth dropped his hands. After a moment of stillness, the three bubbles were caught in a breeze and carried out the open window, floating freely in the night, skies caught in their shimmering surfaces. The King watched them go with eyes neither sad nor happy.
Had there been any chance in the end, any at all? Or was the hope of victory yet another layer of her tale, an empty possibility to ensure he played his part? How deep was the power that held him in the grip of her story? Was it possible that the coils of her story were wrapped so firmly that affected even how he thought?
The final confrontation... that had been his last opportunity to break free, to revert to his true self and not be a piece in a Teller's tale. Tell her his true part; make her aware of her power, and offer to teach her. Ironically, if she had been aware of what she was capable of doing, Jareth believed she would have been able to do less, at least without training. Her innocence lent strength to her convictions. But with both awareness and teaching, she could become a force.
His words, though he got them out when they met, were warped, twisted out of shape and context so all of what he'd meant to say became a puzzle. If Sarah Williams, intent as she was on the final hurtle to her triumphant end had even heard what he had said, he had no doubt that she didn't understand them. She just continued with the words, the words that were meant to undo him, and by the rules set forth by her Telling, they would.
"For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great."
And those were both true. As unbelievable as it was, her will had matched his, gotten her through his Labyrinth. And if her "kingdom" were her stories as his was his very magic and soul spun out into the world, they, too, proved to be equally matched. And then the final words, the words that ended the tale:
"You have to power over me."
It almost came as a relief. No longer did he have to play the part of an evil King in this Teller's tale, he sent back the troublesome Sarah Williams and her baby brother, glad to be free of them, to have his own mind and will back. His Labyrinth was his again, and while traces of Sarah would remain, those would eventually degrade to nothing more than a memory. If he ever chose to tangle with a Teller again… he would have a better idea what to expect. Jareth rejoiced, and felt easy in his kingdom once again.
She didn't let the story go.
Jareth's hand came up, his fingers curled around the cold metal that hung from his neck. His mark of office, his crown, the symbol that said to all he was King, the Labyrinth his own, it felt hollow under his fingers. Hollow and without the proper weight, as though it were a mere decoration. His grip tightened until his knuckles went white and his fingernails felt as though they would gouge into the gold as though it was no more than on orange peel.
Winning her game had not been enough for Sarah Williams. She demanded still more. She "still needed them." She needed the characters of the tale she spun out of his Labyrinth; Hoggle, Ludo, Sir Didymus, them and even more of the ridiculous subjects she had met on her journey, she claimed to need to make her life bearable, still claimed some kind of control over. He would have made a gift of them to her, them and any number of others, if she had not claimed what she had next.
"I need you. All of you."
It was the "all of you" that doomed Jareth, for "all" included him as well. Sarah Williams, Teller, claimed to need him, refused to let him go. But how did she know him? As a villain. He was still caught, still imprisoned in this role that did not fit him. And did Sarah Williams, after the tale was finished, offer him the chance at redemption, at any sort of evolution of his forced character, to shed the role of villain now the need had passed? No. She kept him trapped here, locked in the tight, constraining cocoon of her expectations. She still needed a villain, but… he was no villain! Neither in himself nor in any new tale she cared to weave, he did nothing! Unable to move, either forward or back, he felt himself slowly beginning to atrophy.
Caught in the limbo of Sarah Williams' dreams, her forever-villain.
The Labyrinth, a complex, knotted lock under a sky of stars stretched out in all directions. Once it had protected him, now he felt that it trapped him just as effectively. For in many ways, this was her Labyrinth, now. It followed her rules, obeyed her whim as it once did his, and he was tangled in it. Much as there was more than one layer of physical mazes to the Labyrinth, there were some made of shadow, some of imagining, and some of nightmare. Sarah had added a new layer all her own: a maze of story. This was the one Jareth was caught in, in the byways of her tale. To solve it was to escape, to be free of the role she forced on him day by day.
How long would he be forced to play this role for her? Unfairness be hanged! It was outright cruelty what she subjected him to.
Slowly, Jareth released the pendant in his grip, and studied his fingers. Made a fist, released it. Rubbed the tips of his fingers together.
He couldn't help but wonder when the exhaustion and futility crept upon him, if he ever could escape this new maze. Might he not, in fact, be a creation of the Teller's mind? What if she was capable of spinning entire worlds and the one she had created was the Labyrinth, ruled over by a delusional King who believed the control was in his own hands? Was it not possible? Could he simply be another story? And if he was… what then?
With a suddenness that startled even him, Jareth, King of the Labyrinth stepped out of his window and into empty air. By the time his second foot left the sill, the owl's wings were already beating hard, fighting for the power to send it higher and higher, spiraling up into the moon that lit the night. The glinting silver shadow in the darkness became a black silhouette against the glow of the moon.
It might have been an owl gliding through the night on velvet wings… or it might have been a dream, slipping though the inky coils of imagination…
A/N: Thank you for reading, everyone! :)
EDIT: I have to thank Unique Fantasiser here on FF net for pointing out a few grammatical errors - which have since been fixed - as well as a incongruity of the prose style - again since repaired.
I am also taking a moment to thank her and ~MidnaofTwilight3519 of deviantART for their reviews. Between the two of them, they've inspired, (and in one case blackmailed), me into continuing this storyline. I'm not sure when it will happen, or if additional chapters will be added here or to a new file entirely, but plotting is in the works. Thank you!
And of course, thank you to all of my readers and reviewers, whether you blackmail me into more chapters or not! ;)