Continuing Tales

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 4 of 18

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Second Chances

The transportation to Earth was harder than Jareth had expected, due to his weakened magic. Perhaps he ought not have "lent" so much of it to Hoggle. But without magic, the Labyrinth would grow completely out of control, possibly overrun the entire Underground, and the rulers of the other kingdoms would *not* be pleased…

He arrived on Earth in the middle of a forest and nearly passed out as an unfamiliar wave of exhaustion suddenly swamped him. That had never happened before! He fell to his hands and knees, gasping and shivering, trying to overcome the vertigo that gripped him. Eventually his senses came back to him and the disorientation left. But he was still shivering…and maybe that was because he was crouched in a foot of snow, with more of it whipping in a thick white sheet around him.

**Snow! Curse it!** he thought darkly. He’d been in such a hurry to leave, he hadn’t considered what he might find once he came Above. Considering the weather was always pleasant in the Underground, unless he willed it otherwise, he hadn’t even thought about things like snow, or blizzards, or any other type of foul weather there might be. Now he was seriously regretting it. He may have been fae, but he was not immune to freezing temperatures, and right now he doubted that he had enough magic to conjure a decent cloak, at least not until he’d regained some strength, which wasn’t going to happen with him sitting there like a nitwit in the middle of a blizzard!

Turning himself into the white owl and searching for cover in the trees was completely out of the question, so he stumbled to his feet, his tight pants soaked through and already beginning to freeze stiff. The leather, long-tailed jacket he wore over his shirt and waistcoat helped somewhat, as did his gloves, but his ears were slowly going numb, and his leather boots—since it never rained in the Labyrinth unless he said otherwise—were not exactly waterproof…

Pulling the high collar of his jacket close around his face, Jareth began to stumble through the forest, and for the first time he began to question if his sanity had completely deserted him. What *had* possessed him to come to the mortal world, *especially* as unprepared as he obviously was? He’d not even bothered to pack food, or the kind of clothes mortals wore…he guessed it was a good thing he’d arrived in a forest, after all, considering he’d probably get some pretty strange reactions should he be seen. He had also counted on being able to find some berries or something in the forest to keep from starving until he came into a "civilized" part of the world, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen. Even a Goblin King had to eat, though.

"I did not come up here to meet my doom in a bloody snowstorm!" he snarled. "I am not a frail mortal! I am stronger than that! I will survive!"

The wind howled around him, as though shrieking its laughter at his brave words, and blew all the harder to prove him wrong. Gritting his teeth against the biting, painful cold, Jareth determinedly struggled on.

* * * * *

The fallen tree came up out of nowhere. It was only a sapling, bent nearly parallel to the ground under the weight of the slick coating of ice that covered it, its roots torn out of the frozen earth and buried beneath the snow. It was one of these roots that unceremoniously caught Jareth by the ankle as he passed over it, nearly blind from the stinging sleet whipping in his unprotected face. He stumbled with a gasp, and perhaps would have been all right…except for the fact that there was a small ravine on the other side of the tree.

He tumbled down the rock-strewn hill for about five feet, rolling over frozen brush and sharp stones, and it was finally a large rock that halted his flight at the bottom of it. He hit it with a thud that sent a wave of pain through his side, and he lay there gasping with lights exploding behind his eyes. Something hot and wet dripped down his cheek. He raised a hand and touched it, and it came away red with blood. So that was why his head ached so. He’d hit it at some point or other. He groaned softly and tried to rise, but fell back with a moan of pain, his head swimming.

He, who had never had so much as a paper cut, now lay against the frozen ground, exhausted, in agony, and, for the first time in his long life, absolutely terrified, because he knew now that he was going to die…and die very badly, indeed.

* * * * *

The farmhouse stood isolated in the center of a large field, surrounded on three sides by forest, and on the fourth side the land suddenly dropped away in a breathtaking spectacle to reveal a small city nestled at the bottom of a gently-sloping mountain. The house had stood upon that mountain for fifty generations, and would stand for fifty more if the owner of the house had anything to say about it.

Right now, the owner of the house was curled up in a large chair before a roaring fire in the antique fireplace, listening to the wind howling like a Bane-Sidhe and rattling the glass in the windows, contentedly sipping a cup of Earl Gray tea. At first glance, one would think it was a frail old woman who sat there, her once-dark hair now gone mostly silver, her slight form seemingly as delicate as the china teacup she held.

A second glance clearly stated that looks could be deceiving. This was no china doll that sat there. The woman was a tough old bird, and in her eyes there shone a stubborn spirit and the same mischievous sparkle that one might expect to see in a fae trickster’s eyes. Perhaps that was why her mother had named her Pixie, having looked into those eyes and seen that certain gleam. Indeed, Pixie had done her best to live up to her name, having been quite the little prankster in her youth.

Though she had been warned of the dangers of living all by herself, Pixie knew what she was doing, living alone in this wilderness, and the fact that she was well into her sixties didn’t phase her a bit. She could still hoist a sack of grain over her shoulder with the best of them. Besides, she wasn’t alone. She had her animals for company, and in her opinion, her animals were much better company than people ever could be.

Yes, she had sold most of her livestock to a neighboring farm some years ago, for though she was stubborn, she wasn’t stupid, and she knew that even she couldn’t afford to feed five cows and six horses all on her own. She now kept only a single milk cow named Triss and two fine horses named Bonnie and Clyde, and numerous, nameless chickens with a sassy rooster named Napoleon to rule over them all. Not to mention a large, inky-black Newfoundland named Isaac who helped her keep the animals in line.

She also had a barn owl living in her loft that she called Mercedes. It had moved in three years ago, feeding off the numerous mice and rats that made themselves at home in the dark corners of her barn. It was apparently such good feeding that Mercedes had decided to stay there. Pixie didn’t mind, so long as the owl was willing to share her meals with the three cats that also ruled the barn. The cats had been strays before Isaac had found them, hidden under the porch, no more than half-starved kittens. Two were calicos, with such similar markings on them that they could have been twins, and the third one was black from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail.

Isaac must have felt some sort of pity for them, because once Pixie coaxed them out from under the house, the dog had immediately adopted all three of them as his own. Sometimes Pixie couldn’t help but wonder if those cats didn’t think they were part dog. She had stayed up all night thinking of names for the three of them, and had finally chosen three of her favorite names from the T.S. Elliot’s Book of Practical Cats. The calicos were dubbed Mungojerry and Rumpleteaser, and the black one was called, of course, Mr. Mistofolese.

Of course, Mistofolese had ended up growing into such a sleek, sassy tomcat that Pixie thought maybe she ought to have named him Rum Tum Tugger instead. The calicos fit their names perfectly, however, having turned into playful, trouble-making little imps. She’d tried to let them into the house one time during a snow storm, but after having shattered an antique vase and shredded Pixie’s grandmother’s Irish Lace curtains, they were quickly banished to the barn again.

Pixie stretched and yawned, reaching down to scratch Isaac’s head, who looked up at her adoringly. "Sound’s like the storm’s letting up a bit," she said, and he woofed in agreement. "What’s say you and I go check on our friends, aye?" she suggested. A slow thump of a tail on the floor let her know that Isaac was in complete agreement with that. But that was nothing new. Isaac was in complete agreement with everything she said. If she said she was going to fly to the moon, he’d have no doubt that she could do it. She chuckled to herself. "Too bad I can’t find a man who’s half as loyal as you," she teased, getting up and drawing on her heavy coat over her overalls and sweater. She pulled on her boots, wrapped a scarf around her neck, and grabbed a lantern, as it was getting to be quite dark.

"Come on, Isaac. Let’s go see what sort of mischief our friends have gotten into, aye? You know how restless they all get during times like this." She waded through the deep snow toward the barn a good ten feet away. The snow had stopped falling, and the air was so cold and clear that it almost crackled. Above her, the stars shone like brilliant diamonds in a deep, blue-black sky, and the full moon cast bright rays upon the thick coating of snow, making everything glow with unearthly light.

"Tonight would be a good night for the faeries to have a dance," Pixie murmured to herself as she gazed around in awe. Nights like this were rare, and so incredibly beautiful it took her breath away. Having come from the "Auld Country" of Ireland as a child, she had been told many and many a story of the Faire Folk. Sometimes she still thought she might believe in them, especially on nights like this. She could almost feel the eyes of the Sidhe upon her as she made her way into the barn.

The snow had piled up against the doors, and Pixie was forced to grab a shovel and dig them out so she could open them enough to get inside. Bonnie and Clyde, two big Clydesdales, nickered when Pixie and Isaac finally entered the warm barn. Mistofolese poked his nose out from a pile of hay, meowed in annoyance at the gust of cold wind that met it, and vanished again. No doubt the other two cats were in there with him. Triss blinked large brown eyes and went right on chewing her cud, and the chickens roosting in their small pen at the other end of the barn clucked in alarm and settled again. Napoleon, ever jealous in regards to his harem, watched the intruders suspiciously. A rustling came from above in the loft; probably Mercedes preparing to hunt. Usually, she usually ignored the chickens, but Pixie had added the pen to the barn, just in case.

"Well, looks like everything’s in order here," Pixie exclaimed, scratching Clyde under his chin. The horse butted his huge head gently against Pixie’s shoulder, hoping for some sugar. She laughed. "Sorry, not this time. Just came in to make sure nobody froze to death."

Suddenly, Isaac whined softly and moved to the door, his back and head held stiffly as he scented the air and pricked his ears. He whined again, looked back at Pixie, and scratched at the door with a heavy paw. "What’s the matter, boy?" Pixie asked. "Do you smell something?"

Isaac barked, a deep, shuddering bark that made the chickens squawk in alarm. Napoleon crowed to calm them, and seemed to glare at the offending dog. Isaac whined again and scratched the door, pushing at it with his nose. Something was definitely disturbing him. "All right. Hang on, Isaac. We’ll go check it out."

Pixie lit the lantern, exchanged her snow boots for a pair of high waders—she assumed she’d be trekking though deep snow, and it never hurt to be prepared—and lit the lantern. After pulling on a pair of fleece lined gloves, she opened the door, grabbing a sled and a length of rope along the way. She didn’t know why she did that. It was a gut instinct, and what with living alone out here in the country, she had learned to trust her gut instincts long ago. "Okay, Isaac. Lead the way," she said, and the huge black dog bounded out into the snow.

She held the lantern high, its golden light sparkling off ice crystals hanging from trees and bushes. She wished she’d thought to put on snow shoes; she thought there was an old pair stored somewhere in the barn, but it was too late now. She did the best she could in the rubber waders. **Besides,** she thought wryly, **if it gets too bad, I can always hitch the sled to Isaac’s collar and let him pull me!**

The dog moved slowly, mindful of his mistress following behind him. He paused every so often to sniff the air, then would plow through the snow at full speed ahead. Pixie followed along behind him, as it was easier to follow his trail than to make her own. She began to grow concerned when she saw that the dog was heading toward the forest. She knew better than to go into the woods on a night like this. She could trip over a buried root or branch and very well break something…possibly her neck. "Isaac, come along. Let’s go back," she coaxed. "It’s too dangerous to be out here."

Isaac looked back at her, his eyes soulful and pleading, and whined. There was something out there, and that something needed help, and he wasn’t about to abandon it, even for Pixie’s sake. She sighed. "Very well, but you’d better find whatever it is you’re looking for soon, or I’ll leave you here!" she warned, knowing all the while that she wouldn’t. Isaac barked, then trudged on, his fur hanging in wet, frozen clumps from the chest down. Pixie frowned. She hoped that this little excursion wouldn’t make her beloved dog sick. It was very hard to get a vet out here, especially during weather like this.

Suddenly, Isaac froze, head up and ears pricked. He gave a sharp bark, then lunged ahead. Pixie followed him as best she could, and found him pawing at a dark shape laying sprawled out on the ground, half-buried in snow. Her eyes widened in alarm as she drew closer. "Oh, merciful saints!" she breathed, and knelt down beside the silent, half-frozen form of a man.

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 4 of 18

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