The characters and situations in this story belong to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic, Warner Brothers, Kermit the Frog's alter ego, Henson Associates, Lucasfilm, Christopher Nolan, Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, and (deep breath) other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. All others belong to me, and if you want to play with them you have to ask me first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Still new to this fandom; still assuming that it's all been done already. Any unoriginality is accidental.
Another crack!fic. My muse apparently has a mild obsession with this particular sort of crossover. I will love Cincoflex forever for encouraging me instead of telling me the whole thing was insane, and she schooled this one carefully-and designed the beautiful banner! However, this has not been Britpicked, so please forgive any blatant Americanisms.
'I still don't understand.'
Lily rolled her eyes. 'I already told you. I messed up. I wished for Tuney to disappear, and she did.'
Her friend snickered. 'No, I mean, why do you want to get her back?'
'Sev, that's mean!' Lily smacked his shoulder, and he laughed harder, black eyes lit. She couldn't help but grin back. She was the only one who could make him laugh like that, and it made her feel special. 'She's my sister. I have to get her back or my parents will kill me.'
Sev sighed theatrically. 'I suppose. Though I don't know why even goblins want Tuney. They only like gold and stuff.'
'Different kind of goblins.' Lily folded her arms and stared at the moonlit meadow. This was the spot where she'd wished Tuney away; this was the place she had to start. 'Anyway, I don't know how long it will take to find her, so if I don't come back by morning—'
'Hey, I'm going with you!' Sev looked outraged at the thought of being left behind.
'You can't. It has to be just me.' Lily closed her eyes, reaching for the power she was just beginning to understand. There had to be a way, in the stories there was always a way—
'Yes I can.' She could hear the stubborn note in his voice, but she was too busy concentrating to deal with it. She could feel it, the gap between ordinary things beginning to part for her. It was difficult, asking her without words, was she really sure?
She's my sister. And as annoying as Tuney could be, Lily loved her. Because they were sisters, after all.
There. The gap widened, just enough. Lily ran forward.
The hard fingers grabbing her wrist weren't enough to stop her, and she slipped through—
—And it wasn't a damp Saturday night in England any more, it was someplace hot and dusty and sunny and different, and down below the hill she was standing on was the Labyrinth.
It was huge.
Lily's heart quailed, but before she could think about the impossibility of what she had to do, Sev's really bad word distracted her.
'Sev!' She rounded on him, yanking her wrist from his grasp. 'I told you you couldn't come!'
'Yeah, but you were wrong,' he pointed out with his usual arrogance. 'Besides, you might need help.'
Lily huffed, but the truth was she was scared, really scared, and having Sev there made her braver. Plus, she didn't know how to send him back anyway. 'Okay…but you have to do what I say, Sev. Because if we mess up, I'll never get Tuney back.'
'I get it.' He shoved his hair out of his eyes and squinted down at the Labyrinth. 'She's in there?'
'No, in the big castle at the top.' Lily pointed. 'We have to get through there.'
'Huh.' He frowned, then shrugged his thin shoulders. 'C'mon then. Race you to the bottom.'
They pelted down the dusty hill, laughing; Sev had longer legs, but Lily was fast, and unless it was a long race it was usually an even contest, and they ended up at bottom at about the same time, breathless and red-faced.
The sight of the wall close up sobered them. It was much taller than they, and half-covered in twining roses; and there was no sign of a gate.
'How do we get in?' Sev asked, almost whispering.
'Yes, indeed…how?' said a strange voice, haughty and cold, and both of them jumped. Right in front of them, where nobody had been just a second before, stood a tall, tall man.
Lily gaped up at him. He had streaky blond hair like a dandelion and strange, cold eyes, and he looked down at them over folded arms like he'd just caught them breaking all the rules. Her hand reached for Sev's, and the man's nose wrinkled. 'Ah. Moppets.'
'Who are you?' Sev asked, sounding haughty himself, and Lily squeezed his hand warningly; whoever the man was, he was probably not somebody they should annoy.
The man made a mocking bow. 'Jareth, the Goblin King. I take it one of you has wished away an irritating sibling?'
Guilt swamped Lily, and she bit her lip. 'I…I did. M-my sister.'
'She'd be the one snivelling in my castle, then,' the King said in a bored voice. 'Well, I'm sure you know the rules. Find your way to my castle beyond the Goblin City before the clock strikes thirteen, or your sister stays with me…forever.'
The way he said the last word made Lily shiver, but she lifted her chin and stared back at him. 'Sev's coming with me.'
The King barely glanced at Sev, which Lily knew would just make her friend madder. 'If you're going to bring along help, then perhaps you don't need thirteen hours.' His voice was silky and colder than ever, and Lily felt panic rising in her stomach.
'Actually, you should give us more time,' Sev said, sounding almost as bored though his fingers were pinching hers much too tight. 'Because we're little.'
The King laughed, but it wasn't a happy sound. 'Oh, not so little as all that. But…perhaps you're right.' He lifted a finger, and a clock appeared in the air next to him, showing thirteen hours instead of twelve. 'I'll just take away three hours instead of six.'
Lily watched in horror as the hands spun forward, stopping at thirteen and three. 'But that's not fair!'
'Fair has nothing to do with it,' the King said nastily. 'If you're wise, moppets, you'll give up now and go home.'
Lily glared at him. 'I'm not leaving my sister.'
The King shrugged. 'Then you have ten hours. Use them well…' As he said the last word, he simply faded away, disappearing like smoke. Lily shivered, hard.
'Creepy,' Sev said, letting her hand go. 'The least he could have done was tell us how to get in.'
Lily sniffed. 'We're smart, we can figure it out on our own.' She looked both ways to where the wall stretched away into the distance, but she couldn't see anything that looked like a gate. It was hard to tell, though, between the roses on the wall and the brush growing up against it in places. 'Maybe we should each go one way…'
'No!' Sev bit his lip. 'No, we shouldn't get separated.'
'I guess you're right. That's what they always say on telly, anyway.' Lily put her hands on her hips and frowned. 'But we have to pick a direction.'
Sev stuck his hands in his pockets. 'If we had brooms, we could just fly over.'
'We don't have brooms,' Lily pointed out practically. 'And anyway, I think that might be cheating.'
'He cheated,' Sev said grumpily. 'I say we go left.'
'Mm.' Slowly, Lily backed away from the wall, trying to get a better look at it. 'I think…'
Sev frowned. 'What?'
'I think the gate is right around here somewhere. It would be pretty stupid to have the starting place be on top of the hill and the gate be around the other side, wouldn't it?'
'But there's nothing here.' Sev gestured at the wall. 'It's all the same.'
'Didn't you say that magic doesn't always look like what it is?' Lily glanced over her shoulder to see where the hill was, and then looked back at the wall.
'This isn't magic,' Sev grumbled. 'This is something else.'
'Different kind of magic.' Lily decided she needed to lend him another book of fairy tales—if she made him read it in their tree fort, his Da couldn't rip it up. She lined up angles in her head, then walked over to her chosen spot and knocked on the wall.
The wall split in two and swung open, nearly knocking her down as it did so. They both yelped, scrambling backwards, but nothing horrible emerged—all they saw was another wall a few yards away.
The two of them exchanged glances and crept forward. The pavement of the Labyrinth was cracked and weedy, as if long abandoned, and the roses were as thick on the inner side of the wall as the outer. The new wall extended as far as they could see in either direction, and as they edged inside, the doors slammed shut behind them with an echoing boom.
They spun around. The wall was smooth; there was no sign that there had ever been doors there. Lily heard Sev swallow hard, but she merely lifted her chin once more. I wasn't going back anyway. Not without Tuney.
'Which way?' she asked Sev, turning completely around to look in both directions.
'Doesn't make much difference, does it?' He kicked away a dead branch lying on the ground. 'Both directions look the same.'
Lily reached into her pocket, fumbled among the collection of treasures she kept there, and pulled out a 5p coin. 'Cross we go right, pile we go left.'
Sev didn't object, so she set the coin on her thumb and flipped it—too hard. It spun wildly into the air and out of her reach, landing on the ground and rolling away. Lily made a snatch for it, and lost her balance, tumbling forward. She screwed her eyes shut, bracing herself for impact with the inner wall, but instead she kept falling, smacking down onto the ground with a small cry.
'Lily!' In an instant Sev was there, crouching next to her with huge eyes. 'Are you all right?'
Embarrassed, she pushed herself up. 'I'm fine.' Spotting the coin next to her, she grabbed it, ears burning. Nothing really hurt, but she felt really stupid.
'You found it,' Sev said in a hushed tone, and she looked up.
'What do you…oh!'
The wall she'd expected to hit was still there, but it was set back from the inner wall by another few feet so cleverly that it looked like it was part of it. It formed a niche on one side, and on the other was a narrow opening that led further into the Labyrinth. But both would have been invisible to anyone standing just a metre or so away.
'This place is sneaky,' Sev said admiringly.
'It's a pain in the arse,' Lily snapped, daring to use a word that would have gotten her punished at home. Huffing, she stood up and dusted herself off.
Sev laughed and pulled a twig out of her hair. 'Come on.'
The two of them slipped through the gap in the hidden wall. Beyond Lily saw lumpy, battered pillars perhaps twice her height, and tight, high stone walls—a maze within the Labyrinth. They stepped cautiously inside.
Lily didn't like it. The maze felt dead, like something forgotten, and she kind of wanted to hold Sev's hand again, but she didn't want him to think she was being a coward. 'Which way should we go?'
'Wait,' Sev said thoughtfully, and bit his lip, obviously thinking. 'I'm trying to remember...'
Sev nodded once, as if agreeing with something inside his own head. 'We need to go this way. Stick to the right-hand wall.'
'Why?' Lily asked.
'Because that way we won't get lost.'
It didn't really make sense to her, but having a pattern sounded like a good idea. Lily shrugged, and followed him.
It was creepy. She kept her eyes on the path in front of them, afraid that if she looked behind them she would see something whipping out of sight. The path twisted and turned, and they passed gap after gap in the walls, but Lily never saw anything through them but more pillars and walls.
'D'you think we're going in circles?' she asked at last. Everything looked the same.
'I dunno.' Sev frowned. 'I'll check.'
He shimmied up one of the stone pillars to look around, while Lily put her back to the nearest wall and pretended she wasn't getting scared.
'We're not getting any closer,' Sev said, dropping back down to the ground. 'It's weird, it's like we're not going in the direction it looks like we're going.'
'Maybe we should go back,' Lily said nervously. 'And try going down that long bit inside the wall.'
Sev shook his head. 'Not yet.'
They kept going. Lily wished she had some thread like the guy in the old myth, but it would take a lot of thread to get through someplace this big, and all she had anyway was her shoelaces. Which she sort of needed to keep her shoes on.
The turns they were making started to get closer together, until all of a sudden Sev halted, and Lily nearly bumped into him. 'What?'
'It's the middle,' he said. 'We made it to the middle.'
'No, we're supposed to get through!' Lily tugged on her own hair in frustration.
'No,' Sev countered, staring at the pillar in the centre of the little space he'd stopped at. 'No, I think this is the way.'
Lily opened her mouth to argue, but before she could think of what to say, he reached out and touched the pillar, pushing lightly at a knob of stone. Under his fingers, a door opened within the pillar, swinging inwards and revealing a dark space.
Sev threw a grin at her over his shoulder. 'See? It leads you here. This is the way out.'
'But it goes underground!' Lily sputtered. Sev ignored her and stuck his head into the opening, then carefully climbed inside.
'There's a ladder. Come on!' He began descending.
Lily wanted to scream, but he was already disappearing, and she couldn't leave him. Or drag him back out. 'Sev, no, come back!'
'It's not hard.' His voice drifted back up, already echoing, and Lily bit her lip…and followed.
The light from above ran out quickly, but the walls around them seemed to have some sparkling glow embedded in them, just enough for her to make out the rungs of the ladder they were climbing down. They seemed to go down forever, and her hands and arms were aching by the time she heard Sev's feet crunching on solid ground.
As soon as she was down too, she whirled on him. 'I said you had to do what I said!'
His grin faded and he looked down. 'Sorry. But—' When he lifted his head he was wearing the stubborn look she knew very well. 'I was right, Lily. This is the way out of the maze.'
Lily huffed, but she wasn't sure he was wrong. 'It's a tunnel.'
'It's three tunnels,' Sev corrected, pointing into the shadows. 'They go three different directions.'
'So how do we choose?' Lily peered uneasily at the openings she could barely see.
Sev hesitated, then pointed at the middle one. 'That one goes towards the castle...I think.'
Lily set her jaw. 'I hope it's not dark all the way.' She marched forward.
The tunnel wasn't quite wide enough for them to walk side by side, but Sev was close behind her as she stepped cautiously into it. It was dark the first few metres, but gradually the walls began to sparkle, and it was enough light to keep them from stumbling on the pebbly ground.
The tunnel didn't stay straight; it twisted and turned until Lily hadn't any idea which direction they were actually going. It was hard to tell how much time passed, either, but she thought they had been walking at least half an hour when the tunnel abruptly ended in a shadowy little room.
One with a ladder leading upwards, and two tunnel openings besides the one they'd just come out of.
Behind her, Sev groaned. 'It led us right back!'
Lily felt like saying another bad word, but she couldn't think of anything she would actually have the courage to speak. 'I guess we have to try the third one.'
Sev sighed heavily. 'Sneaky,' he repeated, but he didn't sound as admiring anymore.
The third tunnel curved gently back and forth, going up and down at times, and they kept seeing little things skittering past. To Lily they looked like dust-bunnies with feathers stuck in, kind of cute, but they moved too fast to catch.
Finally, when her feet were starting to hurt, the tunnel sloped upward and got brighter, and eventually they saw daylight, filtering greenly through heavy vines. They pushed the tendrils aside and stepped out onto a cobbled road, one that was bounded by stone walls on either side.
The road stretched on towards a hill in the far distance. Behind them came a squelching sound, and Lily whirled to see a snail almost as tall as she was gliding towards them. It had an iridescent shell and eye-stalks with blue lashes, and on the lip of the shell behind its head sat a creature that looked kind of like a fox with wings for arms, wearing a top hat. ''Ello there,' the creature said. 'Out of the way now.'
Sev and Lily exchanged glances and stepped back. The snail kept sliding forward, and Lily was reminded of the big one in the Doctor Dolittle books, though this one didn't have a see-through shell. ''Eaded for the Castle, are you?' the creature asked, and Lily nodded.
'The King has my sister,' she said.
'Does he now.' The creature blinked beady eyes. 'Well, now…I could take you there in a flash.'
'On a snail?' Sev asked, snickering.
The creature bared needly teeth at him. 'This 'ere's the fastest gastropod in the whole Labyrinth!'
Lily shook her head at Sev quickly. Nothing in the Labyrinth was as it seemed, and if the creature was offering to help them…
'What's the price?' Lily asked.
'Just a lock of your pretty hair,' it replied, looking more amiable.
Lily never thought of her hair as pretty—it was far too orange for that—but if that was all the creature wanted it seemed fair. 'All right,' she said hesitantly. 'Sev, give me your knife.'
Sev fumbled in his pocket for the old clasp knife he always carried, though his expression was suspicious. Lily took the blade, looking the snail over anxiously. 'Is your snail big enough for both of us?'
The creature made a delicate snorting noise. 'Oh, no, missy, I only said I'd take you. Don't want nothin' to do with that rude critter.'
Sev flushed indignantly. Lily glared at him, shaking her head again. 'You can have some of his hair too. Or more of mine—' The thought of having to cut off two hanks was a little disturbing, but she didn't see that she had much choice.
'You an' you only,' the creature said firmly. 'Get you to the castle faster than a fairy's nip, I can.'
Lily bit her lip hard. To get there so easily, so fast—this whole thing could be over and all of them safe, but—
Sev's flush had gone, leaving him greenish instead. 'No! Lily, you can't go without me.'
His voice was angry, but he looked more frightened than upset. Lily frowned. 'I wouldn't be long, Sev, I'd just get Tuney and then we could go straight home! No more wandering around trying not to get lost.'
'No.' His fists clenched. 'You can't. Anything could happen!'
The creature chuckled, leaning forward to pat the snail's neck with one claw. 'Make up your mind, missy, we ain't got all day.'
Lily hesitated. If she turned the creature down, and ran out of time—
'Please!' Sev's voice was painful to hear. 'Please, Lily, don't…don't leave me.'
She met his eyes across the snail's glistening head, and felt her stomach twist at the terror he was trying to hide. It reminded her of the time she'd found him hiding in the bushes of the park because his father had thrown him out of the house; of the way he'd tried to push her away, then clung to her hand so hard that her fingers had been sore for a day.
I can't, I can't hurt him.
Stepping around the snail, she took his hand firmly, then turned back to the creature. 'Thank you,' she said politely. 'But we're in this together.'
The creature snorted. 'Can't say I didn't try.' It raised its hat to her. 'Best of luck to you then—'
Before she could nod back, it whistled, and in a flash the snail was racing away, vanishing down the road and out of sight.
'Wow. It really is a fast snail.' Lily shook her head.
Sev let out a shaky breath next to her. He was still pale, and she could feel his fingers trembling where they were laced with hers. He was staring at the ground, and Lily could tell he was embarrassed.
She squeezed his hand gently. 'We're in this together,' she repeated. 'Since you tagged along, anyway.'
His head came up at that, indignant. 'You need me!'
Lily grinned at him. 'Yes. And you need me. Now come on.'
The road kept going for what seemed like miles, though the hill gradually drew closer. As they walked, Lily saw more of the feathery dust-bunnies rolling past, appearing and disappearing through cracks in the walls or pavement, but the only other signs of life were the weeds growing through the pavement and the vines that clung to some of the walls.
Lily's feet were beginning to hurt when she heard something squeaking. She stopped, and Sev stopped too, glancing around. 'What is it?'
'I don't know.' Lily cocked her head, trying to hear better. 'Something…sad.'
The squeak was sad; it sounded lost and lonely. Lily stepped forward quietly, trying to track it, and then a round object she had assumed was a stone moved.
She stopped as the round shape—smaller than a football—uncurled. It was a pale grey, with bulging eyes and a wide mouth, but it reminded her of nothing so much as a woodlouse.
'What is that?' Sev asked, disgusted.
'I don't know.' Lily crouched down for a better look, and the creature opened its mouth and wailed faintly, looking utterly helpless. 'But I think it's a baby.'
'It's revolting.' He shifted from one foot to the other, but made no other move. Lily set her jaw; apparently he remembered the one time she'd punched him, for throwing stones at a cat. He'd promised never to do anything like it again…
She had to admit that Sev was right, however. The thing was hairless, with a few warty protuberances on its back; if it had feet, she couldn't see them. It wasn't slimy, but it looked as though it might be if it weren't so dusty.
It wailed again, plaintively. Lily heaved a sigh; at least it didn't seem to have any teeth. Gritting her own, she reached out and picked it up, ignoring Sev's repulsed noise.
It was heavy, and it did have feet—short, flat ones that kicked as she lifted it. But it didn't struggle. She sat back on her heels and set it gingerly on her lap; it didn't jump off, just ducked its head in a slow rhythm.
Lily pulled off her worn cardigan—she was hot from walking anyway—and tied the arms together, then bundled the creature into the makeshift sling before ducking her head and shoulder through the sleeves' loop. 'You're taking it with us?' came Sev's voice from behind her.
'It's lost, Sev, it doesn't belong here.' She stood, settling the lump above her left hip. The creature didn't seem bothered; it had curled up again and stopped whimpering.
Sev shook his head. 'You're mad,' he commented, but he didn't argue. Lily lifted her chin and set off down the road again.
In fact, she kind of agreed with him. She had no idea what kind of creature it was, nor where it did belong, and it really was ugly.
But I can't just leave it there, all lost and unhappy. Maybe they could find someone who could tell her where it was supposed to go.
They kept walking. Unfortunately, they were still some distance from the hill when the road ended in a crosswise wall. There was a small door set into it, and the two of them looked at each other before Lily shrugged and tried the latch.
It lifted easily, and they stepped out into an old forest, the trees widely spaced and very tall. She glanced back, and just as the doors to the Labyrinth had, the little door disappeared behind them.
'I wonder where we are,' Sev said, looking around. 'I couldn't see any trees over the top of the wall.'
'I wonder where the castle is,' Lily said. 'We can't see it from here—how do we know which way to go?'
'I can climb a tree.' Sev tilted back a little to look upwards. 'I should be able to see the whole Labyrinth from up there!'
But when he reached up to the lowest branch on the nearest tree, it lifted up with a creak and he missed his grab. 'Hey!' He jumped, but it was still out of reach.
'Maybe try another one?' Lily suggested. 'Perhaps that one just doesn't like climbers.' It was weird to be saying that when the tree had just moved on its own, but it was pretty obvious that things were different here.
'I guess,' Sev said, but as he stepped away from the massive trunk the forest erupted in groans. All around them, the other trees were raising their lowest branches.
Sev scowled and ran at the next nearest tree, jumping as high as he could and almost catching the branch.
'Don't!' Lily darted forward and caught his arm. All she could think of was the apple trees in The Wizard of Oz.
'Why not?' he demanded, shaking off her grip.
'Because they're bigger than you.' Lily glared at him. 'What if you got all the way to the top and it decided to drop you?'
'Oh.' He deflated. 'Oh. Right.'
Lily thought for a minute, then tilted her head to look up at the tree again. 'Excuse me,' she said politely. 'Which way is the castle?'
With another groan, the tree moved one branch, pointing. Lily bobbed nervously. 'Thank you very much.' She grabbed Sev's hand again. 'Come on.'
They scooted off in the direction the branch was pointing. The forest was dark and felt really old, though the ground was mostly moss and it was easy to walk. The trees were wide enough apart that they could walk in a straight line, though Lily kept glancing back over her shoulder as long as the first tree was in sight, just to make sure.
As they went, they could hear birds singing in the canopy overhead—ridiculously long songs that sounded vaguely familiar—but they never saw even one bird. The only other sign of life was a herd of what looked like deer made out of silver light, grazing far away from their path; they were very beautiful, but they paid no attention to the children at all.
When they had got well out of sight of their starting point, Sev pursed his lips. 'How do you know the tree was telling the truth?'
Lily blinked. It had never occurred to her to think otherwise. 'Um…why would it lie?'
He gave her a scathing look. 'Why would it tell the truth?'
She couldn't think of an answer for that, but she glared right back. 'You answer first.'
'Because we're not supposed to get to the castle in time,' Sev said immediately. 'Why would the tree be on our side?'
'Because I was polite to it?' Lily knew it was a weak argument, but it was the best she had. 'Besides, what else are we going to do? Just wander around?'
He tilted his head. 'I suppose…'
'We can't decide really until we can see where we're going.' Lily marched on more quickly. 'And that means we have to get out of here first.'
Sev let her hand go and made a rude gesture at the nearest tree. 'I'm tired of walking.'
The creak this time was louder, and more ominous. Lily felt leaves brush past her face as a huge limb swept low to the ground, catching up Sev and lifting him high overhead. He yelled, flailing, and Lily screamed. No!
The branch passed him to another, almost tossing him through the air. Lily started to run as the trees handed Sev off to one another, all his struggles in vain, but she couldn't keep up. 'No, please, put him down, he didn't mean it!' she shrieked, but the trees paid her no attention at all.
Still she kept running, as fast as she could, watching his little figure get further away, hearing his shouts dying into the distance. And then she kept running because it was all she could think of to do, until she could run no further.
Lily cried for a long time, her face buried in the moss of the forest floor. She didn't know where Sev was or even if he was all right, she didn't know where she was; Tuney was still trapped with that horrid Goblin King, and though Lily didn't know what time it was she knew her hours were running out. But eventually tears and breath ran out too, and she rolled over to look blearily up at the canopy of leaves high overhead, scarcely conscious of the heavy lump of the cardigan sling next to her.
'He's like that,' she muttered at the silent trees around her. 'He just is. He's nice, really, underneath.' He's nice to me.
It was something she accepted about Sev without really thinking about it, the same way she knew his life at home was unhappy without really knowing why. He was angry a lot of the time, and it showed in rudeness and mean words and occasionally fighting, but though he and Lily argued sometimes he was never, ever, mean to her.
Sometimes she scolded him about it, but underneath she had a vague feeling that his miserable life was kind of an excuse. Me and Mum, we're about the only ones who are ever nice to him. It's no wonder he's…the way he is.
But, like it had in the past, his behaviour had brought trouble, and now he was gone and she was all alone, with two people to rescue instead of one and no idea how to find either of them.
Lily almost started crying again out of sheer hopelessness, but instead she mopped her face on her shirt and took a deep breath. Heroes in stories don't give up. I'm not giving up.
She stood up. The round creature hadn't uncurled, and when Lily peered into the sling it was giving off a tiny whistle that she eventually decided was a snore. Her headlong rush through the forest had to have jounced it, but it didn't seem to care.
She had no idea, now, which way the tree had pointed, and she didn't have the courage to ask again. Lily lifted her chin, and started walking in the direction the trees had taken Sev.
She didn't find him. She found the end of the forest—a grey wall just a little taller than her, over which some of the trees leaned but which showed blue sky beyond. Lily thought about going back in, but the truth was he could be anywhere, and she didn't know which way to go.
She had to jump to grab the top of the wall, but she managed to scramble up. One leg on either side, she looked up and up at the nearest tree figuring that she could slip down the other side and run if she had to. 'Excuse me,' she said sadly. 'Which way is my friend?'
The tree didn't snatch at her. Instead, it slowly pointed one branch…over the wall and away from the forest.
How do you know it's telling the truth?
'Thank you,' Lily said, and jumped down.
The other side of the wall was laid out like a parquet floor, big black and white tiles enclosed in more of the same wall. Lily stared down at it, and realised that half the squares held round flat things, about the size of a serving platter. It's a draughts board, she thought slowly. And…I'm one of the pieces. Looking across the floor, she saw the opposite pieces in position.
She tried to step to the next square, but she couldn't move. For an instant she panicked—what if I'm stuck forever!—but her next thought was of Through the Looking-Glass. And she was in the second row.
But no one seemed to be playing the game. Maybe…maybe I have to start it. After a few minutes—it was hard to think through her worry about Sev—Lily lifted a cautious hand and pointed at one of the pieces on her side. 'You—go there.'
The piece immediately slid into place. Within seconds, another piece edged out on the other side.
Lily felt herself start to grin. She liked draughts—and she was very, very good at it, especially after all the games with sneaky Sev, even if he liked chess better. Straightening, she pointed at another piece. 'You, there.'
The game didn't take long; her invisible opponent was a good player, but not good enough. Lily kinged herself by stepping onto a piece, and enjoyed the way it glided when she wanted it to go; she was almost sorry when the game was finished. But when she won, the wall at the far end of the floor swung open, and she walked through.
She was desperately worried about both Sev and her sister, but she couldn't think what else to do besides go on. Sev's tough, she told herself. He can take care of himself. Hadn't he told her just that many times?
And Tuney can't manage by herself. Her sister might be older, but she didn't handle weird very well. That King had probably sent her into hysterics just by looking at her.
The opening in the wall led to a marsh thick with cattails and dragonflies. It took Lily several minutes to realise that the dragonflies were actually tiny dragons, and she thought about trying to catch one, but they were spitting infinitesimal flames at one another and it didn't seem like a good idea.
She skirted the edge of the marsh carefully. Mud stained her trainers, but they hadn't exactly been clean to begin with; Lily was more worried about quicksand, or crocodiles, or—what had Sev called them? Hinkypunks.
Nothing appeared, though; there were burbles and hoots out in the water, but the reeds grew tall and she couldn't see what might be making them. Lily kept one hand on the wall that bordered the marsh, hopping over the occasional puddle and wondering how far she would have to go to reach the end of it.
Then her foot slid on a patch of mud, and she fell forward, landing on her hands and knees with a squelch.
Lily scrambled up quickly, disgusted with the mud clinging to her palms and shins, though it smelled weedy rather than rank. She rubbed her hands on the rough wall, trying to scrape the mud off, and jumped when she heard a now-familiar wail.
'What?' she demanded of her rescued creature. Its weight had made her shoulder sore, but it had at least been quiet; now it was squirming and flailing, trying to get out of the sling.
Alarmed, Lily fished it out, afraid that it would tumble to the ground, and then nearly dropped it herself when it put out a long tongue and began licking the mud from her palms.
'Are you hungry?' she asked. It wailed at her again, sounding more urgent than lonely now. 'Do you eat mud?'
A gurgling, rumbling roar sounded from just beyond the reeds, and Lily almost screamed. But the creature in her hands writhed, feet paddling frantically, and wailed in response.
Lily set it down hastily, not wanting whatever was out there to come through the reeds and find her holding…its baby? The creature, freed, barrelled clumsily forward, leaving flappy tracks in the mud, and disappeared into the reeds, still wailing. Lily hesitated, not sure what to do, but a moment later the wails and the roars blended and then ebbed into a bubbly purr. Splashes sounded, and the water rippled and lapped at the mud at her feet. The purr died away, and the only sound left was the dragonflies hissing at one another.
I guess that was its mum. Bemused, Lily wiped off more mud and untied her cardigan's sleeves, though the garment was stretched into shapelessness. She knotted it around her waist and kept walking. I wonder how it got so far from home.
The marsh eventually ended in yet another wall, though this one had an opening that was barred by nothing at all. Beyond was a green lawn, and Lily slipped through, relieved to leave the marsh behind, but when she looked up she gasped and ran forward. Beyond the lawn and the wall rose tier on tier of funny, close-packed little houses—the Goblin City. And crowning them was the fantastic edifice of the castle—
The tall figure appeared so suddenly that Lily almost ran smack into him. She stumbled back and fell, landing hard on her bottom. 'Well, well, well,' the King said softly. 'What an enterprising little moppet you are.'
Lily peered up at him through her disheveled hair, frightened all over again. He was grinning at her, but it was a really nasty grin. 'Have you lost your friend so soon?'
Lily scrambled to her feet, determined not to show him how much he scared her. 'I'm going to find him too.'
'Oh, I doubt that,' the King said, looking bored. 'Once the Labyrinth has claimed someone, it keeps them. I'm more concerned by how far you've come already.'
Already? Lily felt her spirits lifting. Maybe she wasn't as low on time as she thought she was. 'I have to get my sister back,' she said firmly.
'Yes, yes, so they all say.' His eyes narrowed as he stared down at her. 'It seems to me, moppet, that someone has been…helping you. How else could you have got here so quickly?'
Lily bit her lip. She didn't think he meant Sev, but the only other help she'd gotten had been from the tree…or maybe more than one tree, if they'd taken Sev on a path towards the city.
She put the idea aside for later, half-afraid that the King could read it in her face. 'Nobody's been helping me,' she said, crossing her fingers behind her back and thinking firmly that a tree wasn't a person, exactly.
'I think we both know that's not true,' he said, leaning down to stare right at her. 'Who is it, moppet? I don't like traitors…'
Lily was mesmerised by his strange long eyes, not human eyes at all. She seemed to see tiny flames within them, tiny flames burning tiny trees, and she gulped in horror at the thought of the whole forest going up in a rush of fire. 'Nobody said anything to me,' she whispered, which was the strict truth.
For a long moment his gaze held hers, and then he straightened with a growl. 'I think you're lying, Lily. But never mind, I'll find the one who helped you…and make sure they never help another soul.'
He was so tall and scary, and so unfair. Her fear turned to anger, and Lily glared up at him. 'You're mean!'
The King rubbed his chin, nasty grin reappearing. 'Insolence! Little flower, you're a fool as well as a liar.'
'I don't care.' She folded her arms. 'And don't call me that.' It was her father's term for his daughters, and no one else was allowed to use it.
He laughed. 'You stand here, in my Labyrinth, and defy me? Do you know what I could do to you with a word?'
'I don't care.' Lily all but spat the words at him, too angry to be wary. 'An' what's so special about your Labyrinth? I've got this far even without my friend, and your castle is right there!' She pointed up the steep slope.
'So near and yet so far,' the King said, voice suddenly smooth. 'Yes, perhaps you're right and you require more of a challenge.'
'A—wait—' It dawned on Lily that perhaps she should have kept her mouth closed, but it was too late. The King pulled a tiny jewelled box out of nowhere, flipped it open and extracted a pinch of what looked like dust, and blew the fine powder at her.
Lily screamed as a huge wind picked her up and blew her away.