Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 13 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

Her first thought was I am going to die. When she hit the water below with a painful splash, it changed to I am going to kill him. By the time she'd sunk to the bottom of the pool, both thoughts had found a way to coexist: If I don't die, I'm going to kill him, and if I do, I'll haunt him till he kills himself. Murderous inclinations thus organized, she became abruptly aware of the burning in her lungs. She was deep in the water. Unable to stop herself, she sucked in a breath, and the water rushed into her mouth.

He had transported her from the tower to a small dead-end, completely closed in except for a door in one high wall.

"Where are we?"

"Within the Labyrinth." She glared and he grinned. "I have a challenge for you."

She eyed him warily. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

"I would not suggest it otherwise. Earlier, you were solving for the sake of solving; now, you will have a goal in mind."

"What goal is that?"

"A challenger who enters the gate quickly and finds their way here with little delay would reach this place with nine hours remaining. The shortest route from the other side to the Castle would take another seven and a half hours to traverse. Therefore, I will give you ninety minutes to solve this portion of the Labyrinth. If you do, I will give you a gift. If you fail, you will give one to me."

"What gift?" This sounded a bit too easy, which meant there had to be a trick.

"Oh, that would spoil the surprise," he said, with a laugh in his voice. "A gift is the choice of the giver. I will choose my gift to you, should you win; you may choose yours to me, should you lose."

"Alright... I accept. Though your terms sound... unusually fair."

He leaned in, placing his hands on the wall and caging her between his arms, his good mood still firmly intact. "So suspicious still, Sarah?"

"Things are not always what they seem in this place."

He laughed. "Oh, indeed not." He vanished, but his voice lingered. "Your time starts... now."

She turned to the door. In the middle of the door was the carved face of an old man with a flowing beard. Arranged about him were a set of small crevices containing a strange collection of objects: a comb, a hairbrush, a mirror, a ring, a long-handled fishing net, and an axe. When she had finished examining the objects, she looked again at the carved man, and noticed that his eyes were open. Unlike the rest of the door, which was ordinary wood, his eyes were a stunning, intelligent blue.

"Hello," she said, tentatively.

"Hello," he sighed, sounding tired. "I suppose you'd be wanting to get in, then?"

"Yes," she answered. "Can you tell me what's on the other side?"

"No," he said. "Not allowed."

"I understand." She hadn't expected that to work. "I have to get through. How do I open the door?"

"You must choose one of these items. When you have chosen, the door will open."

"Ah." She considered her choices. "Which one would you choose?"

"Oh, I do believe I'd choose the ring," he said with relish, leering at her. "But then again, I'm just a door."

So the ring was something sexual? That didn't sound like a great idea, though it might be safer than physical harm. She considered the other items. It was easy to dismiss the comb and brush as useless; she didn't need to look nice in the Labyrinth. That gave her pause—things are not always what they seem—but it was impossible to do anything if you trusted to nothing, so she decided to trust her instincts this time. After a moment, she also discarded the fishing net. She didn't know how to use one.

That left the axe. When she pulled it out of the door, the door opened and intelligent blue eyes watched her with amusement. "Good luck!"

She stepped through the door and paused, looking about in amazement. She had seen many wonderful things in the Labyrinth, but nothing matched this place for beauty. This must be the water maze, she thought, remembering Jareth's words at the concert. Beware water sprites. He'd said they were beautiful, but so too had been the fairy who'd bitten her at the gate.

She had stepped through the wall into a beautiful watery marsh. Tall mangrove trees with spindly roots stretched down into clean white sand. The water was clear as crystal, and she could see that some areas were shallow and others quite deep. She stood on one of the few clear areas, on a small spit of sand that was neither underwater nor covered by trees. Far in the distance, she could see the raised line of one of the Labyrinth's larger walls; the exit would be in that direction, but it could also be left or right of where she stood.

No way out but forward, in any case.

There were two options, she decided quickly. She could use the axe to cut through the tree roots and walk on the sand in the shallow water, or she could swim, where the water was deep. There was no middle ground that she could see; the trees grew in the water until a depth of at least five feet. There was nowhere to walk that was not covered with the thin roots, too tightly grouped to go between and too spindly to bear her weight.

Thinking that walking would be faster, she turned to take her axe to the tree nearest to her, and suddenly found that she couldn't do it. Tiny fish darted about the roots under the water, and vines and flowers and moss grew on the trees and their roots. It seemed wrong to destroy the beautiful trees, and it would be a long, hard, hot journey. That left swimming, but what of the axe? She was unwilling to part with her only weapon, the gift the door had given her. All the gifts had significance, she was sure: the door would have opened for any of them. If there had been a right answer to the door's riddle, a riddle she still didn't understand, that right answer must also depend on the person. In other words, you made the right choice if your choice allowed you to find the way through.

Well, nothing would get done if she just stayed here. She launched herself into the water… and immediately regretted it. The axe dragged down her arms, her shoes filled with water and dragged as well, and her skirt billowed wildly, tangling her legs. This was not going to work.

Floundering, she dragged herself over to a shallow area, gripping the tree roots for stability. Bastard could have told me I'd be swimming. Jerk. She kicked the shoes from her feet; Jareth could replace them. She considered pulling the skirt off as well—it was floor-length and significantly impeded her legs—but she settled for folding the hem into the waistband, effectively shortening it to knee length. It wasn't pretty, but it was functional, and it was clothing. That left the problem of the axe, but she still didn't want to leave it behind. She couldn't carry it in one arm—it was too hard to swim that way—but after a little experimenting she found that she could float on her back and lay it across her chest, and swim that way. Not easy or quick, but she kept her gift.

Thus situated, she set off again in the direction she had been traveling. She made it all of twenty feet before an accidental movement sent the axe tumbling down into the deep water. So much for that plan. She flipped over—at least it would be easier to swim now—and finally made progress, easily navigating the twists and turns of the watery passages. The water was salty, and felt very clean. The shallower, tree-grown regions twisted and wound together something like the walls of the main Labyrinth, but could it really be as simple as working out this maze until she found the opposite door? That could take forever, and she estimated that she had probably used about half an hour of her time. She couldn't swim as fast as she could run.

When she got tired—she guessed it might have been as long as thirty minutes—she stopped to rest, and to think, grasping the roots of the trees in one narrow dead end. Water maze. Where had she heard that before? It reminded her strangely of intro psychology lectures… of course. A Morris water maze was a circular pool with straight sides, too deep for a rat to swim, but with one raised platform that it could climb on and get out of the water, the "exit" as it were. Landmarks on the walls outside the pool provided landmarks the rat could use to place the exit, once found, and once the rat learned where it was, he would go right to it based on the cues on the wall.

So maybe there was something like that here. Landmarks weren't guaranteed, but maybe there was a fast way out, disguised somehow. She pushed off to the side of the canal that let her look up at the wall she was trying to reach. Was there any clue up high? She scanned the high wall, slowly, and far off to the left, she found it: a slight shadow, a slight change in the smoothness of the rock, and if she had guessed the scale correctly, it was just the right size to be either a mistake in the masonry… or a door.

A door in the outer wall, forty feet above her present position.

Well, she wouldn't get closer sitting here. Moving to the left was probably still the best bet, but the dead end was in the way. She turned to push off and resume her swim, but when she turned around, a pair of eyes were watching her from the water just behind.

"Hello?" She did her best not to sound nervous; she didn't know for sure that the sprite would be dangerous. In some stories they were kind.

The sprite lifted out of the water, clinging to the roots next to Sarah. "Hello."

"Can I help you?"

"Actually, I believe I can help you." The little sprite's voice was sweet and breathy. "I believe you dropped something." From below the water, she held up an axe that gleamed gold.

"Umm… thank you, I did drop an axe, but I don't think that was it." She almost had to laugh. An axe made of gold? It was completely impractical, as well as just bizarre.

"Perhaps this one?" She placed the gold axe in the sand under the tree, and produced an axe of silver.

"No. Definitely not." A silver axe? This was like something out of a fairy tale. A little too much like a fairy tale. Was that they key to the door? Did they call out different fairy tales?

"Well, the only other axe I have is this one." And she pulled out the axe from the door, the normal, wood-and-metal, slightly dull axe that Sarah had dropped when she first started swimming.

"Yes, I did drop that one." She accepted it, carefully. "But I have to ask, why did you bring it back to me?"

"I like you," the sprite answered. "You chose to swim rather than chopping at the trees. The trees don't like being chopped at."

"I couldn't chop them either," she confessed. "Say… you wouldn't happen to know how to get out of here, would you?"

"Get out?" The little sprite raised both eyebrows in astonishment. "Why would I want to get out?"

"Oh, I know that you wouldn't, but I can't swim forever, like you can." She smiled at the sprite. "Why would you give my axe back if you don't want me to chop the trees?"

"It's what I do. I return lost things, if the person is honest."

"Well how about this. See that shadow on the wall over there? I need to get over there. If you tell me how to do it, you can keep the axe, and then no one will ever chop the trees again."

"You would leave it with me?"

"Absolutely. I don't need it."

"Then go this way." She reached out and stroked the tree she held, and whispered something Sarah couldn't quite hear. The tree roots shifted, and moved, and opened a corridor leading exactly where she wanted to go. She thanked the sprite and swam away.

The sprite had done her work well. At the end of the corridor of trees, she found a wide, deep pool, and along one edge of the pool, a waterfall splashed down from the tall wall of the Labyrinth. The smudge—or possible door—she'd seen was now overhead, and to the right.

She swam out into the middle of the pool. The start of the path had to be around here somewhere. But the water was so clear—was it invisible? Glass? Hidden? The water was so still. Still. Of course. The path was stable; it wouldn't move. Still water was the enemy.

She kicked her feet purposely above the water, watching for disturbance, and halfway around the pool, she found it, a sliver of something still in a sea of white foam. She stood on it, balanced carefully; it was narrow, a slippery balanced beam. It led straight into the waterfall. Under the base of the waterfall, stairs rose into the wall, and when she stepped behind the curtain of the waterfall, she could see stairs leading up the wall, shallow steps that hadn't been visible from below.

When she reached the top, Jareth was lounging in the shadow of the door.

"You did well," he said. A stopwatch appeared behind him. She had five minutes remaining.

"I win!" It felt good, to win and just be happy with it, no baby to rescue, no confusing offers to sort through.

"Yes, yes, gloat now, you win again." He was smiling as he pulled her close.

"Stop! I'll get you all wet."

"I sent you to the water maze, I knew you would be wet."

"About that—you could have warned me!"

"And spoil the surprise? I think not." He dipped his head; his nose drifted along the line of her neck. She shivered, and knew that even in her head she couldn't blame it on the wind.


"Are you ready for your gift?" The words were whispered into her throat. His hands closed on her waist.

"Jareth, I…"

He picked her up and threw her off the cliff.

She took a breath, and swallowed water, and didn't choke. She could breathe the water. She was breathing underwater. She opened her eyes, and the salt didn't sting, and suddenly she was laughing, spinning in place. What a gift! Okay, she wasn't going to kill him. Maybe threaten him, for the scare, but not kill. This was way to cool for murder.

She pushed off towards the surface just as an enormous splash tore through the water and Jareth descended to her level. He met her eyes, then grabbed her hands and pulled her towards the surface.

"You… you asshole!"

"I know you are not truly angry with me."

"You threw me off a cliff!"

"You are in perfect health." He sounded smug, which was annoying, and also sexy, which was doubly so. "How do you like your gift?"

Damn him. She couldn't stay mad, not even when he looked so damn pleased with himself. "It's amazing. Thank you." She swam closer, until they were almost touching.

"You did well, choosing the axe."

"So it was all about the door! What happens if you choose another item?"

"The door isn't the only answer, but the object you choose influences the way the sprite or sprites here react to you initially."

"I left the axe with the sprite in return for her help."

"Always turning my subjects against me." He laughed.

"But here's what I can't figure out—I thought you'd be more upset about losing, but you don't seem to mind at all."

"I did not truly lose, my dear." He met her eyes, drifted closer. "Unlike our previous competition, this time I got something I wanted either way." She opened her mouth, feeling that statement deserved a response, but found she had nothing to say. He watched her for a moment, waiting, but when she said nothing, he changed the subject. "Come. You'll find you can get quite close to the fish."

Following her tour of the fish—it was easier to navigate the mangrove roots if you could get down to the sand—she had taken the time to simply lie on the bottom of the pool, watching the sun dance across the surface of the water and listening to the quiet. Down there, there was truly nothing to hear, aside from the faint whisper of noise from the water falling into the pool. Now, the sun had set, and they sat at the top of the stairs, near the door, watching the stars come out over the Labyrinth.

"I've never been out here at night. It's beautiful."

"It is good to have someone to share it with. I think perhaps, after all this time, I take it for granted far more than I should."

"How long has it been?" He turned to look at her. "Since there was someone else here, with you."

He looked away again, back to the water. "One hundred and fifty mortal years, give or take, since another of my kind visited here. He departed forever not long after. But even before then, companions were not common. We were too far spread. There has never been anyone here… regularly… since I became King."

Nearly twice the lifetime she had expected to live; that was how long he'd been completely alone. And even before then, he'd been lonely. She couldn't imagine the span of time; she couldn't find anything to say, so instead, she slid a little bit closer, and laid her head on his shoulder.

"Look at the water, Sarah." She did as he asked. The stars reflected perfectly in the still water, but that wasn't all. As she watched, small swirls of green light began to appear, first one, then two, then five, then she lost count, each little swirl of bright green flashing and disappearing in an instant. All the water was alive with them, a beautiful, living, changing mirror of the stars above. The show went on and on, and they stayed quiet, just watching, and resting, close together. When he shifted so that his arm supported her back and her head fell further onto his chest, she didn't protest. It felt… good… to be close to him again.

They stayed there for a long time, even after the last little swirl had gone dark, watching the moon rise. Finally, at some private cue, he raised her to her feet and transported them back to the castle.

"Are… are you coming down, tonight?" The light of the corridor made the question harder to ask.

"It would be best."

She nodded. "Alright. I'll see you soon, then." She looked up, met his eyes. "Thank you… for today. I had a great time."

He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "So did I."

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 13 of 24

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