I am exhausted from living up to your expectations of me, readers.

Well. Trying to, anyway.

Read the bottom.

ENJOY!

Nun Liebe Kinder

(Now Dear Children)

The weariness and strain burning in Sarah's legs had become dull, in comparison to the fire licking at the claw and teeth wounds on her thighs and hip. She could hear her breaths, and could hear them faintly echoing off the stone walls, heavy and erratic, from the fear and labor. Her eyes restlessly darted around to every black shadow, searching them for any signs of glowing eyes, in terror that at any moment a creature could spring forth and attack. She began to think she could see things moving out of the corner of her vision.

She didn't know how much time had passed already; it felt like forever, but it couldn't have been that long at all. She had finally made it to the last room on the left side of the corridor, including every side passage, all bared to her sharp, seeking sight and not the smallest hint of the Goblin King anywhere. She hadn't been speaking with him either. She refused. Mercifully enough, he hadn't uttered a word about anything.

She trudged into the last room, fully aware of the feeling of exhaust. Frustrated at how tired she felt, she took to viciously beating and tearing at a set of drapes in a sudden fit of rage. The dust fell down on her like snow, and she sneezed. Twice. Wiping her nose and eyes, she sauntered over to the small, burnt-out fireplace. It was only full of black ash, glittering—

Sarah carefully crouched, eyes narrowed in curiosity and puzzlement at a thin line of sparkling gold buried in the ash. She touched it lightly, running a finger over the delicate chain as the soft ash fell away to reveal more. She hooked a finger underneath and pulled it up, her eyes tracing the chain down to where a heart-shaped locket hung. With a thumb, she brushed off the black cinders to reveal an engraving of a name; Ayliana. Sarah flipped the little lock up and opened the heart. What might have been once a picture fell out in flakes, fluttering to the ground. Another engraving, a short sentence written in a different language.

Slowly standing, she clutched the locket to her chest for a moment before wrapping the chain around her hand, insuring she wouldn't drop it and lose it. Glancing up to the mantelpiece of the fireplace, she met her own gaze in the stained mirror.

With a small gasp of shock, it registered that her eyes were not blue, with screwed up pupils.

She whirled around, but there was no one. She was very alone in the dreary room. Releasing a shaky breath, she pushed her messy hair back from her face, and clutched her hand tighter around the golden locket.

She didn't know why she took the necklace; it was just pretty, and interesting. She wondered what the inscription said, and who Ayliana was. And what happened in that room? Was it Ayliana's room? Why was the necklace buried in the ashes of a fireplace. Had Ayliana tried to burn it? Why?

Sarah would probably never get the answers to those questions, but it was still exciting to think about. A distressed lover maybe. Had she been cheated on? Had she been distraught after her love died?

Sarah came out of her daydreaming to see she had sauntered to the door across the hall, the last on that side of the corridor. The door was arched and wooden; it looked cracked, but bars of metal reinforced the structure. She peered warily through a small vent on the door, but could see nothing but grey stones and a flickering of yellow candlelight. She slid down into a crouch and pressed her ear against the wood, listening hard to the echoing sounds for a minute. She could hear...something. It was all very indistinct. What she thought it sounded like...faint moaning.

She shuddered.

There weren't many other doors to check behind. That, and two more. Then she could move to the next floor of the castle, where hopefully it was nicer, and warmer. She couldn't just leave an entire room unsearched. With her luck, it would be the exact room Jareth was hiding in.

Rallying up her courage and strength, she climbed back to her feet and pushed the door open, a crack just enough to slip through. It was a rather heavy door, and creaked lowly. The two torches hanging on the wall flickered as a draft swept up the stairs in front of her. There was only one way to proceed forward, and that was down the stairs. Biting her bottom lip in a brief hesitation, she turned and picked one of the torches up off its holder. It weighed more than she expected, and she almost dropped it before she maintained its balance, and pressed onward down into the lower level of the castle.

She hoped to God it was the lowest level of the castle. She wouldn't be able to bare so many levels. With every apprehensive step down, she noticed the stones growing colder, the draft more frigid. By the time she reached the bottom of the spiraling staircase, her teeth were almost chattering. She took a moment to rest back against the wall, sucking in a sharp breath through her teeth as she deliberately pressed her wounds against the icy stones for relief. She hoped again they weren't infected.

Open before her was a large room, the ceiling high and occasionally dripping, two short staircases leading down to the floor of it. It was dimly lit with torches, and a small pit of fire in the middle. There was a large passage on the right, and another directly across on the left, but both were closed off by metal gates. Looking up, she could see another level of it, with several corridors lined up around the square, every other barred like a cage.

Right in front of her, across the room, was a very wide tunnel. She stared down into its darkness, and jumped when there came a sudden, loud noise. Her mind instantly pictured a whip being cracked, against stone or something... But immediately after it was followed by a reedy scream, and her heart leapt into her throat. A chocking fear, as she realized that she was quite clearly in some sort of a...dungeon.

Nearing hysteria, she grip tightened on the torch as she glanced behind her at the stairs, and then forward again. There was absolutely no telling what she might find if she chose to go on. She could find unfathomable horrors...or she could find Jareth. But what if Jareth wasn't even down there? To risk possibly her life just for—

But my life is at stake, she thought. This stupid game! Stupid Sarah! Why did I agree to this?

She flinched as the howl of a creature she couldn't begin to imagine reverberated off the walls. She choked back a sob.

Things aren't always what they seem. The words floated into her mind without warning, and she held onto them. They made her feel better. The castle didn't look all that bad, but it was horrible in actuality. Maybe the dungeon, which looked horrible, wasn't all that bad. All illusions, perhaps. A trick. Maybe a trick to keep her from finding Jareth. Things aren't always what they seem in this place.

Adjusting her hold on the torch, she straightened from the wall, and started carefully forward. She felt like a mouse creeping around. She felt vulnerable. She felt like she was waiting to be caught. Anxiously looking around, she forced herself into the dark tunnel. Every step forward was forced, as if the atmosphere was crushing her, threatening to incapacitate her if she didn't—

Turn back.

The deep, haunting voices and sounds of rock grating cut through her memory. This is not the way. Go back while you still can. Take heed.

Lining the walls of the tunnel were great statues of heads like false alarms, except...the eyes seemed more alive. And the mouths were hanging open, like in the middle of a scream, but no sound came from them. Sarah kept her eyes on the floor in front of her to avoid the frightening gazes.

Another lash of a whip made Sarah gasp and nearly throw her torch. She stood, trembling, for a long moment. Her eyes surveyed the shadows and stones for the Goblin King, but he was not there. The threads of her determination were wearing thin, but she held onto them and willed herself on.

The end of the tunnel emptied her into a small circle of a room, with several different corridors to go down. She felt like crying again, at the thought that she would have to check each and every one of them. Without much deliberation, she turned down the rightmost hall, and upon immediately entering, a foul, rotting smell almost gagged her. It was about as terrible as the Bog of Eternal Stench. Pressing a hand over her mouth and nose, her eyes watering, she continued to stalk forward.

There wasn't much in the corridor. She couldn't quite see the end of it, didn't know how long it was. There were less torches to light the way, and the stone beneath her bare feet was feeling a little wet and slimy. She wanted to vomit. Tired, she raised a hand to the wall for support. Her fingers first brushed against the slick bars of a gate, before she stepped forward slightly and touched the solid stone, resting there.

Then a ghastly groan emanated from beside her, and she jumped and looked down to see a hand shoot out from between the bars and grab her robe. The hand had long fingernails, dark brown skin, knobby and covered with warts. Her ear-shattering scream ran through the halls.

The creature in the cell was concealed mostly in darkness, but its eyes were a piercing purple. Its form was hunched over, half-dark and half-grey hair veiling its face, yet long fangs glittered dangerously. Sarah screamed again as she tried futilely to pull the clothe from the thing's grasp. She resorted to using the point of the torched to beat down on the hand, and with a screech of its own, the being released her and scuttled further back in the cell.

Inhaling her breaths in panicked gasps, her mouth dry and her throat becoming sore from screaming so much, she backed away quickly.

Another low moan caught her attention, and she spun around, heart hammering in her chest.

Faintly within the barrier of her light, her eyes traced the silhouette of an odd, massive shape. She held forward the torch a tiny bit, and more details were revealed. Matted, yellowish and red fur, and twisted horns sticking out on top. A cold shock of recognition shot through her. She gasped and fled forward, grabbing hold of the bars.

"Ludo!"

At first, there was no response. Then slowly, the beast turned its head, dark green eyes flicking up to hers. The beast's eyes were sad, despairing, and it was as if Sarah could see the broken soul of the creature. But it didn't take her more than a few seconds to realize that it wasn't Ludo. Just a beast that looked like him.

"'Ey!"

Before Sarah could respond, she was grabbed painfully hard by the shoulder and spun around. In the same second, she was pressed forcefully against the stone wall, her torch falling from to the floor. She whimpered, and gawked fearfully up at the being who seized her.

The creature was easily eight feet tall, incredibly muscled, and clad in black and armor. He removed his large hand from Sarah's shoulder, his skin a tint of blue, peppered with some warts. Set in his grotesque face was a pair cold, crimson eyes. He had dark, shoulder-length hair and a short beard. A husky, mirthful laugh came from the guard.

"What do we have here, huh?" he demanded. His voice was very deep, almost growling, yet powerfully loud. "A little girl escaped from her cell?"

Quivering and wide-eyed, Sarah shook her head. "N-no. No. I-I-I'm n-not a prisoner."

The troll—that was what Sarah assumed he was, it was what he looked like—raised an eyebrow. "Oh? No? Not a prisoner? Then what do you think you are? Because you look like a no-good, scraggly, little wench to me."

"I'm...I'm..." She floundered, eyes brimming with tears. "I'm Sarah."

"And stupid, too!" the guard exclaimed. "I don't have to know your name to chain you back up in your cell and beat you unconscious."

"Please," she begged quickly. "Please, believe me. I'm n-n-not from here. I...I'm...looking for the Goblin King. Please t-tell me...is he down here?"

The troll's lips curled back from his large, crooked teeth in an awful smile, his eyes lit with something horrible. "The king?" he inquired saccharinely. "I say, if the king were down here, we'd know from the tone of someone's agonized screams." He crossed his arms with a cruel, dark laugh.

A small cry escaped her, as she could manage no words. Her legs were shaking terribly, and she feared them giving out on her.

"Now I think it's time for you to get back in your cell, girly," the guard said, beginning to reach for her. "Playtime's over."

She cringed away, holding up her arms to protect herself, pleading weakly, "D-don't hurt me."

The creature froze. His eyes were suspiciously trained to her hand. "What is that?"

Confused, she lowered her hands, and realized her was asking about the locket. She had forgotten about it. Studying the guard carefully, she got an idea. Her trembling fingers quickly unwrapped the chain from around her palm, and she held it up between them two.

"It's a n-n-necklace," she said softly. "If...if you l-let me go...if you escort me out of this dungeon...I-I'll give it to you."

The guard narrowed his eyes slowly, leaning back as he appeared to be thinking about it. Then his mouth twisted into a sneer. "Or I could just kill you and take it, what do you think about that?"

Fear wrenched in her gut, followed by a wave of sickness. She held it in though, and continued to stare at the guard, silently begging.

He raised his chin, gritting his teeth. "You're not a prisoner?" She shook her head slowly. "What you doing here then?"

"I'm looking for the king," she told him again. "W-we're...playing a-a game, you see. I have to find him."

Another smile broke across the guard's face, but in a way that confused Sarah. It wasn't explained. He merely snatched the locket from her and put his hand on her shoulder again, turning her and pushing her forward. "Bargain accepted. Let's go."

She stumbled forward, and paused, turning back around. Once again, her gaze met that of the Ludo-like creature in the cell. She had a strong urge to break the beast out, but that was impossible, and she knew it. And it broke her head.

"Let's go!" the toll snapped again, with another rough shove forward.

She followed alongside the guard, tears slipping down her face as she left behind the miserable beast.

Her fear lifted only slightly. The guard could have been tricking her. But every step she retraced back the way she came, she felt less sick. As the sounds of screaming and moaning faded, she could breathe easier. The troll walked briskly, all the while examining the locket, which was far too small for his giant, fumbling hands.

Thank you, Ayliana, she thought. Whoever you are... Whoever you were.

At last, they reached the first staircase she ventured down, and the guard stopped at the bottom. "Up the stairs," he directed, though she already knew. "Out the door." He grinned widely at her, eyes wickedly gleaming. "Good luck with your little game, girly."

She nodded, swallowing roughly, before turning and darting up the stairs. She tripped three times, cursing every time as she banged her already bruised shins against the stone steps, but she didn't dare stop. Finally reaching the door, she yanked it open, straining her arms for the effort, and slammed it shut when she was on the other side.

She attempted to suppress the tears, but after just two seconds of her deep breathing technique, she rushed to the opposite wall and braced her hands against it, bending over slightly as she vomited. She coughed and spit the awful taste out of her mouth, gasping and crying.

"Jareth, you sick bastard," she muttered, shaking her head.

She could hardly feel her legs anymore as she moved on, back down the main hall. The burning sensation of the wounds was now numbed to the tickling of feathers. She felt absentminded as she looked down at the rocks and dirt and smoke on the ground. There was a small sense of relief as she reached the next door, one of the last two room on that entire level she had to check.

Please let him just be in here.

She slipped into the room, breathing out in some amazement at its large scale. It was as grand and beautifully disastrous as the ballroom. It had a purple checkerboard floor, covered with layers of dirt and grime, and several small chandeliers of amber crystal hung from the ceiling. One was unattached to the ceiling on one side, and she made a note to avoid stepping under it. The room was wonderfully warm though, the shadows dancing with the flickering candlelight, a grand fireplace blazing. It smelled musty, but also like flowers.

Scattered all around the room were dusty—some of them ragged—curtains. Velvet and silk, rich colors, all strewn around the floor, and draping off the walls. The golden candelabra stood in a labyrinth-like design, a few of them had fallen over. There were two areas, across the room from each other, for sitting; long couches, and loveseats, and armchairs. Pillows were thrown everywhere.

Sarah couldn't imagine what that room could have possibly been, but setting aside the distracting fantasies, she went to her searching. She checked beneath every couch and behind every curtain, around every statue...

She smacked over a candle in frustration.

She couldn't honestly be made to believe the Goblin King was hiding behind a curtain, or underneath a mountain of pillows and blankets. He was much more clever than that. But there was nothing else. There was nothing.

Yet, she allowed.

With a sigh, she shuffled over to a set of double doors. Not the ones she entered from. They lead where she suspected they would, to the adjoining room. The last room. She was utterly exhausted, but she still managed a small smile. It was definitely an accomplishment. Progress. She was getting closer.

It was another immense room. Magnificent. Like the other two, the ballrooms, it was dimly lit and warm. The floor was like a sandpaper stone though, cut in large squares, and bordering each cut was a thick line of gold. It, too, was decorated with large statues, placed almost strategically like the chess figures, but these weren't those. These were fairies, frozen in graceful dance. It was quite beautiful.

Close to the fireplace, on the right side of the room, was a long, stone table set with silk and crystal clear glass. Over a hundred people could have enjoyed a dinner, with plenty of elbowroom for each. And Sarah wondered where the guests were, because their meal was ready. The food that filled the table was the only thing pristine, without dust or dirt. The crystal chalices were without a single crack or spot of grime.

Of all the food, the plates of various fruits quickly caught her eye. They glistened wetly, ripe, and dark. She was nearly salivating at the vision.

Of course she remembered what happened the last time she ate fruit in the Underground. She remembered quite vividly.

But she was starving. She was tired, and her throat was sore and dry from screaming. She still had a bad taste in her mouth from being sick. She needed the energy. She needed it.

Her hand slowly moved towards the plate, reaching for a perfect bulb of purple fruit.

And it's just...one...little...thing...

She popped the grape in her mouth and bit into it, letting the sweet juice pour over her tongue and cool her mouth, and sharpen her senses...


I hope there were no typos in that. There probably were, cause I was too tired to go over it completely. I just kinda picked out the places where I thought I typo might have been hiding.

Speaking of hiding...

WHERE IS JARETH HIDING?

Tellmetellmetellmetellmetellme

The contest is still ongoing. No one has yet guessed correctly, though you guys all had awesome guesses. Some of them I wanted to actually write in, change his hiding spot to what you guessed! Great job.

But...WHY do most of you think he's just chilling in his bed? SO MANY of you guessed that, I laughed so much every time XD

HINT: There was a hint is this chapter.

So PLEASE REVIEW and TAKE A GUESS. Please. I WILL WRITE YOU A STORY IF YOU GUESS CORRECTLY!

P.S. It would be awesome if you could take some interest in a friend of mine's story. It is Labyrinth, and it's called Never Ending. By Grymmarie

THANK YOU!