When the gleam died, an enormous (and very angry) polar bear reared up on its hind legs in front of the trembling Fairy Queen.
Everyone jumped in fright as a thunderous growl split the awed silence and one of Jareth's huge paws swung at Mya's head.
The fairy shrieked as she darted into the air, just in time to miss the tips of the bear's claws.
"Why you-you big bully!" Mya seethed, hovering safely out of reach above the treetops. "I'll teach you to take a swipe at me!"
With a final scowl, Mya stretched her left hand over her head and with a snap of her fingers, vanished in a bright flash of light.
The ground began to violently shake.
"What's happening?!" Sarah screamed, seizing a tree trunk to stay upright.
"LOOK!" Hoggle shouted, pointing down the trail they'd taken to arrive at his house.
Something was tearing through the brush. Something thick and spiny.
"The thorns!" Sarah gasped as the pointy branches tore into the clearing. "RUN!"
The friends immediately took off down the opposite path leading around the back of the cottage. The vines followed close behind, curving over the roof and along the sides of Hoggle's home like a wild ocean.
"DON'T LOOK BACK!" Hoggle barked stumbling over a fallen sapling. Sarah snatched his hand to steady him.
Ludo howled in pain as one of the spikes slashes across his right arm.
After about eight more winding yards, a grassy rise came into view through the trees. It was about twelve feet tall, with a pile of giant rocks at the top.
"THIS WAY!" Hoggle yelped, hauling Sarah to the left, past the hill. The rest of the group hurried after them as the thorns smashed into the incline, toppling the boulders down the mound. A heavy crash signaled the end of the chase.
"I believe it's quite alright now." Sir Didymus declared, skidding to a halt and glancing over his shoulder at the immobile wreckage.
As bear, dwarf, girl and beast all slowed to a stop, Sarah flinched as Hoggle started cackling again.
"What is so funny?!" She demanded.
"What a dope!" Hoggle giggled, clutching his stomach. "What an unbelievable moron!"
"What are you talking about?!" Sarah groaned, pinching the bridge of her nose.
"I'm talkin' about ol' twinkle toes, back there." The dwarf chortled. "Didn't you see her face? She can't control what animal Jareth turns into! That's what ya get when yer magic's as weak as a pixie with a hangnail!"
Sarah stared at the dwarf in confusion. "Pixie with a…a what? Oh, whatever! What are you telling me, that Jareth can change into any animal and Mya has no say in the matter? He could even turn into more predators like that?" She gestured towards the polar bear.
"Not exactly, my lady." Sir Didymus explained. "His majesty has no control over his transformations either. He could turn into another predator, tis true, but there is no guarantee. At least we do know that as long as he is in this form," the knight stated proudly, "he can assist Sir Ludo and myself in protecting you."
"Hey! I help too!" Hoggle complained.
"You know, I don't get it." Sarah mused, staring at the Goblin King. "Mya said that Jareth doesn't have any magic, right? If that's true, then how come he was an owl before she cast the spell on him? Wasn't it magic that made him look like that?"
"Oh heavens no, dear lady." Sir Didymus smiled. "Magic does not work that way in our world. You see, fair maiden, magic is not an illusion, it is an alteration of reality."
Sarah quirked an eyebrow in confusion. "Huh?"
"When his majesty casts a spell," the fox knight continued, "he bends reality to his will. So when he transforms into an animal, such as an owl, he really does becomes an owl. With the exception of his personality and consciousness, his entire body functions and responds the way an owls' is supposed to. It is no farce, fair maiden. Whatever form his majesty chooses to take, is as flesh and blood as you or I. Understand?"
"Yeah, I guess." The girl shrugged. "But what about when he reorders time? He pushed time forward two hours while I was running the Labyrinth because I said it was a piece of cake."
"Consider yourself lucky, my lady." Sir Didymus chuckled. "But in answer to your question, his majesty simply aged you two hours."
"He did wha-?"
Her shock was cut short by a loud whine from Ludo.
"Flippin' Fireys, Ludo!" Hoggle exclaimed. "Gimme yer arm!"
"What wrong now?" Sarah asked nervously, approaching the behemoth.
"He got cut by one of those spikes." Hoggle muttered, fishing around inside one of his pockets.
"Oh, Ludo!" Sarah soothed, stroking the monster's chin.
"ARM HURTS!" Poor Ludo sniffed.
"Hold him still." Hoggle ordered. "I gotta get the poison out."
"POISON?!" Sarah's breath caught in horror.
"Yeah," Hoggle grumbled, "those spines are coated in Fairy venom. It's highly toxic, but only if it breaks the skin in large doses and his wound's pretty deep. Now, hold his hand or soemthin', it's gonna sting."
Sarah wrapped her arms around Ludo's right shoulder as Hoggle withdrew a tiny vial with an electric blue liquid inside.
"Take it easy, big fella." Hoggle comforted, as Ludo squirmed anxiously. The dwarf then uncorked the bottle and tipped three drops onto the bloody six-inch gash along Ludo's forearm.
The yeti whimpered and thrashed as the liquid fizzed like grease in a frying pan. Sarah squeezed her friend as tight as she could, whispering gentle words in his floppy ear to calm him. Thankfully, the froth settled after only a few seconds and Ludo finally relaxed with a smile.
Sarah gaped as Ludo's torn skin folded back together harmlessly. "Wh-what is that stuff?"
"It's Fairy antidote." Hoggle replied, stashing the vial back into his clothes. "We'll have to be more careful. It's all I've got."
Sarah tilted her head at the dwarf. "Why?"
Hoggle shrugged. "The ingredients are expensive and it takes months to make. Besides, before now, I never needed more than a few ounces. Fairies are poisonous, but they're only lethal when there's a whole bunch of 'em together. Normally, I get rid of about oh, seventy to ninety fairies a day. A deadly swarm takes thousands."
"Like now." Sarah murmured, unconsciously touching the spot on her finger where a fairy had bitted her when she first met Hoggle.
"Yeah," the dwarf nodded, "like now. They can see now too. The little ones are usually blind. They rely on the pain of their bite and their ability to fly to avoid danger. But now there's enough of 'em to see and kill."
Sarah bit her lip. "Does that mean Mya's venom is the most potent? Do you think she'll kill the rest of the goblins?"
Hoggle shook his head. "She's interested in power gain and labor, not genocide. But, yes, one bite from Mya and yer done for. Even my antidote isn't strong enough to fight off Mya's poison. Ya see, Mya's like a queen bee. She's the only one of her kind, commandin' the drones. Another fairy will replace her when she gets too old to rule."
"When the fairies were taking us to the castle," Sarah noted, "I saw that they were coming out of the crack. And when we crossed the bridge, I saw this purple liquid at the bottom."
"That's the Inner Lake." Hoggle mumbled. "It's concentrated fairy venom and it'd burn ya up like acid if ya fell in. The fairies live in that slime. They use it like roots use soil, to reach the surface. Jareth's magic makes it impossible for more than a handful to escape…or, at least it did."
So the fairies are like bees, fish…and plants. Sarah thought sourly. God, what's next?
"Begging your pardon, my lady." Sir Didymus piped up, tugging on the girl's sleeve. "But perhaps we should get a move on?"
"Oh, right!" Sarah blushed. "Sorry, um, does anyone have any suggestions as to where we should go first?" She inquired, turning to the rest of the group. .
There was a slight pause.
"Yer guess is as good as ours, Sarah." Hoggle uttered.
Sarah gazed around at the foliage, desperately trying to formulate a plan. "Well, I suppose…we could try to see if there's anyone left in the forest. You know, refugees? Maybe someone managed to get away from the fairies and…maybe they might be able to help us."
"I doubt anyone we find is gonna know anythin'," Hoggle scoffed, "but it sounds logical enough. Follow me." The dwarf proceeded down the path around the hill again. "This'll take us through the main part of the forest."
Around the backside of the hill, Sarah's was amazed to see that a cave had been hollowed out in its center.
Hoggle averted his face, bashfully. "Uh, it used to be my clubhouse when I was a kid."
The trail led straight ahead from the mouth of the den.
After another forty yards or so, the group turned left at a small fishing pond. Though it looked more like a collection of water at the bottom of a muddy ditch, at least ten feet deep.
At about half a mile of twists and turns, Jareth abruptly froze and bared his sharp teeth, rumbling low in his throat.
"Jareth?" Sarah's voice rang with concern as she and the rest of her friends stopped and gathered around the bear. "What is it?"
Hoggle's head snapped toward the path ahead, his expression aghast. "Crap."
"What?!" Sarah persisted, rounding on the dwarf. "What the matter?!" The leaves rustled and there was a familiar tapping sound that was steadily growing louder. The scent of burnt embers filled her nostrils. Oh no! Not them again!
The Fireys leapt out from the bushes and trees, cackling like maniacs and surrounded the five travelers.
"Hey look!" One of them taunted, jerking a thumb at Sarah. "It's the girl with the funny head!"
"Came back for more fun, did ya?" Another one jeered as the rest burst into their favorite song.
"How did they not get carried off to the castle?" Sarah hissed.
"Probably set themselves on fire so the fairies couldn't touch 'em." The dwarf grunted, before taking a brave step forward. "Get lost, all of ya! We're busy! We're tryin' to save the Labyrinth and the king ain't got time to bother with ya!"
"King?" A chubby Firey repeated in disbelief. "Where? I don't see no king!"
"What impertinence!" Sir Didymus bristled. "His majesty is right here, you fools!" The fox knight stepped aside so Jareth was in full view.
All the Firey's stifled their singing and stared at the polar bear for a few seconds before falling to their knees in hysterical laughter.
"That's no king!" The tallest Firey snorted. "That's a bear!"
The Firey then launched a blazing fireball at Jareth's feet. The Goblin King bellowed angrily and scurried out of the way.
"HEY!" Sarah yelled, smacking the Firey's head clean off his shoulders. "You leave him alone!"
The Firey's all blinked in surprise as their comrade's head rolled across the dirt.
"She done took off somebody else's head again!" The chubby Firey, grinned mischievously.
"And ya only allowed to throw ya own head!" Another one snickered.
"We gonna take her head for good, this time! And her friends' too!" The detached head on the ground promised. "Get 'em!"
"Have at thee, foul demons!" Sir Didymus cried, brandishing his staff, only to let out a startled squeak as Hoggle grabbed his arm.
"GET BACK TO THE CAVE!" The dwarf squawked, spinning on his heel and darting back down the trail, dragging Sir Didymus behind him.
The three remaining friends rushed after the dwarf, the Fireys in hot pursuit.
Swerving around a bend, Sarah tripped over a loose stone and the weight of one of the Fireys landed on her back.
"Get off me!" Sarah howled as the Firey gripped her neck and twisted upwards.
Suddenly, she felt the hands yanking on her head get ripped away. Rolling over, she saw the Firey that had pinned her was now caught in Jareth's powerful jaws.
With a mighty heave, the polar bear tossed the Firey over his shoulder.
Rising to her feet, Sarah opened her mouth to thank the Goblin King, but he nudged her back into a sprint before she could say a word.
Up ahead, she could see Hoggle, Didymus and Ludo dashing through the forest. There seemed to be a bit of a break in the trees ahead. We must be getting close to the pond.
Unfortunately, her friends must not have realized that, for in almost the blink of an eye, they vanished down the muddy slope of the pond.
Before Sarah could reach the edge to help, Jareth pushed her to the right and into some tall ferns off the trail.
"What about Hoggle and the others?" Sarah whispered, but Jareth just grabbed her shirttail in his teeth and pulled her into a crouch beneath the leaves.
Sarah covered her mouth as she heard the Firey's approach.
"Look, they're all washed up!"
The Firey's screeched with glee at their brother's terrible pun.
"We don't want no wet-heads!" A different Firey joked.
"Where'd the girl and the bear go?" That particular voice sounded dangerously close to Sarah and Jareth's hiding place. "Should we keep looking for them?"
"Nah, it's gonna rain soon." Another Firey said dismissively. "Bye, now!" He cooed at, Sarah assumed, her friends in the pit. "Don't come back, or we'll take off your heads!"
When the sounds of the Firey's mirth finally faded away, Sarah cautiously poked her head through the ferns.
"I think the coast is clear." She concluded, jogging over to the pond.
Hoggle, Ludo and Sir Didymus were slowly climbing up the filthy bank, each soaked to the bone.
"Oh gosh." Sarah spoke with sympathy. "Are you guys ok?"
"Yeah," Hoggle coughed with sarcasm as the trio crawled out of the pit, "just peachy! Let's just get to the cave. Those pests were right about the rain." The dwarf pointed towards the sky.
The clouds were a dark, depressing grey.
A while later, the quintet was safe and sound in the cave, huddled around a pathetically small fire. They hadn't had much time to gather kindling before the rain began to fall.
Sarah shivered and scooted as close to the flames as she dared. The temperature had to have dropped at least forty degrees since the storm hit.
"Well, this is just great!" Hoggle grouched, ringing the moisture out of his baggy sleeves. "We're right back where we started and we haven't learned anything!"
"Oh I w-wouldn't sa-say th-that, Hoggle." Sarah quipped through chattering teeth. "We l-l-learned we're n-not s-supposed to g-g-go th-through the"…yawn…"f-f-forest."
The dwarf peered curiously at her. "Sarah, when was the last time you got any sleep?"
Sarah's eyelids drooped. It had definitely been over twenty four hours since she'd slept and the exhaustion was finally catching up to her.
"I'm f-f-fine, guys." She tried to assure them while stifling another yawn. "D-don't w-worry about m-m-me."
"Sarah," Hoggle scolded, "you have to get some rest! You could collapse!"
"Sir Hoggle is right, my lady." Sir Didymus agreed. "You need your strength."
"We do-don't have t-t-time for m-me to take a n-n-nap!" Sarah argued feebly.
"It'll just be a short one." Hoggle bargained. "We'll wake you up, don't worry!"
"B-but it's too c-c-cold!" The girl whined as a gust of icy wind whipped through the cave. "I'll ne-never get to s-s-sleep."
"Hmm." Hoggle tapped his chin, thoughtfully. "Well, we're still soaked but…Jareth's fur is nice and dry. He'll keep you warm."
Without even thinking about it, Sarah stood up on wobbly legs and moved towards the Goblin King.
Immediately, Jareth scrambled away from the girl and snarled harshly.
Sarah cringed in alarm for a moment, before her eyes narrowed. "Ok, that d-d-does it! L-listen here, y-you!" She snapped, squaring her shoulders. "I d-don't know what y-y-your pr-problem is, but I am s-s-sick and t-tired of your bip-p-polar attitude! You're n-not exactly my f-favorite p-p-person in the world e-either, but I'm tr-trying to h-help you! W-w-we all are! A-and your f-f-fighting with m-me just ma-makes things w-w-worse! So wh-why don't you s-stop being such a sp-spoiled rotten ch-child and G-G-GET OVER Y-YOURSELF?!"
Everyone watched in astonishment as Jareth marched right over to the girl and roared long and loud in her face, but Sarah just glared right back, refusing to budge an inch.
When the bear saw that his rage had no effect, he huffed and stomped over to a far corner of the cave, plopping down in defeat.
Smirking to herself in triumph, Sarah bid her three friends goodnight before joining him. As she knelt down beside the animal, her confidence began to wane. After all, bear or no bear, this was still Jareth on the inside and…Jareth was a…a man.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Sarah laid down and snuggled up against the polar bear's massive form. Her cheeks flushed when, without warning, Jareth lifted one of his front legs and placed it around her waist, drawing her closer.
Sarah's mind raced with awkward images and implications. She forced herself to concentrate on how soft and toasty warm Jareth's furry body was…and how completely tired she felt. In no time at all, she drifted off to sleep.