I'm so sorry that it's been over a year since I introduced this story. If I had known it was going to be that long, I probably would have waited in putting this up, knowing how I feel about that myself. All I can say is that RL was insanely busy for a long time, and my muses took a long vacation.
I apologize for the delay again and thank you for reviewing my prologue. I adored reading each short piece of commentary. Hopefully, now that this more difficult chapter is out of the way, I can pick up the pace. Enjoy chapter one and please review again. ^^
- Chapter One -
Above . . .
The bell rang overhead, and the professor lowered the book she had been reading from. "That will be all for today," she announced, as she dog-eared the current page and returned her glasses to their case. "Check your syllabus for the next reading and pay attention to the material I posted online."
Sarah continued writing her final thoughts in her notebook as more of her classmates pushed their chairs back and headed towards the door. A large group milled around the entrance, talking about the next football match or complaining about the latest quiz. Neither subject held any interest to Sarah.
"It's not fair!" one of the students exclaimed loudly, most likely because of the pop quiz the professor had assigned yesterday and returned today. More than half the class had done poorly on it, prompting a short refresher on the guidelines outlined in the syllabus, which included the reading and familiarizing yourself with the supplemental pieces online.
In spite of herself, Sarah couldn't stop a small smirk from forming on her lips and chuckling. Ms. Bowens had warned them all that some weeks would have denser reading than others. She had been more than fair.
And they'd learn the truth sooner or later.
That kind of fervent denial is proof that your feel guilty, that you know that you weren't doing your work, and that you were falling short of the requirements, Sarah murmured to herself as she returned her pen to her pencil bag and started gathering her materials.
In the shadows something hissed its own amusement.
Sarah's smirk slipped, and she pushed the presence forming in her mind back again, keeping the creatures in the shadows where they belonged, out of the corner of her eye and just far enough to not crowd her thoughts. On the outskirts. However, due to her amusement at her classmates' troubles, she wasn't quick enough, and his voice echoed in her head.
'I wonder what your basis for comparison is.'
Sarah halted her inner voice before it could formulate a response for him or agitate the shadows. Thanks to the dream, her carefully planned border between what she knew and what she lived was slipping again. Sighing, Sarah pushed past the knot of people in the doorway to head outside for lunch break.
. . . . . . . .
Underground . . . .
"Your Majesty! Your Majesty!" A blur ran pat the tower of bookshelves, trailing leaves from his pink mane. "Trouble, trouble in the maze!" The pale goblin turned around. "Not here . . ." He whirled around another bend. "Your Majesty, it's an emergency." He took a breath, looking around. "Where," he shuddered, "oh, where are you?"
A smooth voice called out from his right. "No need to panic, Edgeport." Jareth the Goblin King propped himself upright from his sofa in the shadows, running a hand through his hair and setting his book aside. "I'm sure it can be fixed." He called forth a crystal and held it upwards. "There's little I can't do with this vibrant a spring. Don't underestimate your king."
Even as the Jareth rolled his crystal back and forth in a languid sign of power, the goblin's red eyes widened. "You can't just lie there, Your Highness. The river's about to flood the pixie arches. They'll drown." His body shook. "Such nasty waters."
"Pixies don't drown, Edgewickle," Jareth chuckled. As he heard his true name, the little goblin stood a bit taller and some of his trembles subsided. The Goblin King continued. "They'll move into other hedges or bother the false alarms until the river moves downwards. They do so every spring."
"But, but . . ." the little beast's face fell and he stuttered, fingers pulling at his tangled hair, "one of the trees fell over this time and they won't fix the hole."
'And now we come to the crux of the matter, the Goblin King mused to himself, banishing the crystal and leaning forward, chin on his hand. "What is so special about this tree, Edge?" he asked gently.
"It . . . I can lose my ball without it there. If I bounce it too hard, it falls into oubliette," the little creature explained quietly. "I don't want to go there to get it back." He titled his head back further to look into his king's eyes. "Do I have to?" he whined, moisture building in his beady eyes.
Jareth's eyes softened. "I'm sure there is something I can do-"
Before Jareth could finish, a bigger blur scurried through the open doorway, nearly knocking the little one over. Moving back and forth, knocking multiple piles of books down, it rolled and rolled as growling issued from within it. The small goblin began to shake anew.
Suppressing a sigh, the Goblin King stood to his full height. "I do not recall giving you dunderheads leave to knock my books down and about, ruining what you please, because you're not paying attention." Striding over to the blur, he reached inside and pulled two more squirming goblins out of a swirling leaky pot.
Covered in soot, these goblins were much bigger than the slight one at Jareth's feet, darker and heavier built. Helmets hung precariously from their horned heads as they wielded bent forks. With gleaming grey eyes, the one with a mop of dirty blonde hair swiped at the one with a runny nose and tangles colored rust red. Both sets of pointed ears twitched in rage as they swung their makeshift weapons at each other, oblivious to their current situation.
"I don't. Like. Being ignored," Jareth murmured in a slow, velvet tone.
Immediately the two in his hands quieted, blinking ferociously.
"Wha- how did we get here?"
"Where is here?"
"At the king's, idiot."
"No, it's yours."
"Why you -"
A curse flew and the dirty goblins lost what little of their small tempers had been recovered momentarily. Even apart, the two goblins managed to continue their bickering, spinning their arms at the other, fists closed tight over the rusted silverware. Hissing a slew of goblin curse words at each other and growling deep in their throats, a new kind of rage kindled in their dark eyes.
Little Edgewickle, still at the Goblin King's feet, inched backwards and reached for the Goblin King's nearest pant leg.
Jareth glanced down for less than an instant.
"Be still, hooligans." The two froze. He continued.
"If you miss the Bog of Eternal Stench that much," the Goblin King noted on a deceptively soft but cutting voice, "speak freely." The two remained silent. Cocking an eyebrow, Jareth shook the pair decisively. One troublemaker dropped his fork to cover his mouth, and one helmet tumbled to the ground with a loud clang.
The Goblin King had not raised his voice. He didn't say their names. However, both instinctively knew they were in trouble. More trouble than before. This time, both aware of their imminent danger, the two dark goblins glanced up at their ruler with wide innocent eyes.
After a few moments of blissful silence, one tested the waters.
"We be sorry?" he murmured in high whine.
"Really, truly?" the second one echoed.
"Completely, absta-tive-ly?" they finished, stumbling over the final syllabic word.
Jareth rolled his eyes. Abastively, indeed.
Both miscreants released heaving sighs of relief.
Well now, that won't do, Jareth deliberated in his mind. Not in the long run and not for my amusement. The Goblin King's mismatched eyes narrowed as he lifted the two up further, to his eye level.
"I am going to put you down now, and you are going to tell me what's the problem, without arguing, slowly. Understand?" He fixed a look of deep disapproval far into their dizzy pupils. "If you scare your brother here one more time, I'll box your ears, turn you into footstools for a day, and then throw you into the Bog of Eternal Stench until someone notices that you are missing. Am I clear?"
A few moments passed as they processed the layered threat, then they moved their heads up and down to show they understood, one after another, mimicking each other.
Jareth released a short chuckle.
He set the front one down just out of reach of the pot on the right then proceeded to do the same with the second on the left. Waiting a moment for Edge at his feet to let go of his pants, the Goblin King took a seat on his couch.
"Now..." Jareth waved his hand, materializing a crystal from the air. With another twist of his hand, it morphed into a red ball. Edge's eyes lit up. Chuckling, the Goblin King let it fall from his grasp to the floor and roll towards him. Wiggling happily, the child leapt. Bouncing into a corner and sucking on his thumb, Edgewickle stayed wrapped around his present. Jareth looked after him for a moment then leaned back into his current 'throne'.
"The one with a helmet on their head gets to speak first."
Edgewickle's little squeaks filled the quiet room as the troublemakers exchanged silent looks, pointing at each other, rubbing the wrinkles in their foreheads, before coming to an agreement. The blonde still wore his helmet. He approached the 'throne'…
. . . . . . . .
On a hill at mid-afternoon...
Sarah bit into her apple, wiping the juice from her chin with her free hand, as she continued to survey the Frisbee game further down the hill from her shaded spot above them. Honeysuckle filled the air around her and early white blossoms littered the carefully manicured lawn.
The Border collie's barkechoed loudly as he weaved around two boys whirling the neon green disk at each other. Flashlight tail up high, he spread his paws wide and waited, waited for one to falter in the game, either missing the catch or- There! He darted forwards as the taller guy in a red T-shirt fumbled. Leaping, the happy dog snatched the prize, walking away a few feet and standing immobile. Waiting for pursuers who were sure to come.
Sarah chuckled, taking another bite, as just like that the game changed from keep-away-from-the-pet to keep-away-from-the-human. The boy in the bright blue polo laughed and pointed with his water bottle as his friend trailed after the mischievous dog. Tail wagging furiously, the dog continued the game, pausing then skipped forwards, trotting around a tree before the human could grab his collar, and otherwise leading the human on a wild goose chase. Finally the boy collapsed to catch his breath. Ears flickering forward, the collie meandered closer.
A couple lying out on a picnic blanket nearby clapped, a small child giggling between them.
Suddenly, the Border collie barked shrilly and danced backwards away from his owner, barking again. Shrugging, the boys tried to calm the excited dog, but he backed away, still barking at a shaded section of one of the larger trees. Only Sarah could see more than the shadows of branches and leaves.
A little green goblin with golden eyes waggled its finger at the animal in front of him, shaking its head, as if to warn the dog about dire circumstances if it kept it up. Maybe because of the volume, Sarah thought to herself. Then, before her eyes and the eyes of the puppy, the goblin vanished. The collie tilted its head and sniffed at the shade.
A moment later, the green goblin popped into being in front of Sarah, catching the apple core she had just tossed away. Sarah schooled her features to show no reaction as she sipped from her bottle of water, watching as the goblin turned around, tucking her core into its apron. Waiting until it faded back into the shadows, Sarah stood.
When she started climbing back up to the campus, she passed one more goblin. A pale one, bluish grey, spun round and round in the branches of a young tree, releasing another wave of early blossoms to settle upon the ground. Sarah couldn't stop a small secretive smile but managed to resist the temptation of waving. She checked her watch instead.
Down the hill, the Border collie's owners held up a pine cone, puzzled.
That's the end. I hope you guys liked the goblins, especially little Edge. Next chapter, Jareth fights with a cousin and fumes at the Labyrinth. XD Meanwhile, an artist Above finds a way to suppress the red color, for now ~