Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 9 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

True to his word, Jareth was waiting the next morning when she climbed the stairs to his rooms. In fact, if he'd moved from the desk at all overnight, it didn't show.

"Good morning, my dear…." He trailed off when he saw her outfit, as she'd expected. "Quite the provocative wardrobe choice."

"I'm off to conquer something. It worked last time." She grinned, looking down at the jeans and white poet shirt topped with a white vest. "Also, in all seriousness, I wasn't about to go attempt gravity-defying feats in a skirt." He quirked an eyebrow at her and she blinked; there was a hint of that old flirting in his eyes that she hadn't seen Above. "Though your reaction makes me think you're not the one who stocked that wardrobe." That was what she'd expected, anyway. And she really had chosen the outfit for more reasons than to be provocative: the fitted pants and tucked-in top would stay in place no matter what.

"No; the magic in these rooms is spelled into the stone of the tower. It provides things that will please you." He looked her up and down once more. "So you are off to battle gravity, then?"

"I was hoping for more of a lesson, but battle if I must."

"Asking for help, Sarah? That hardly fits."

"Really? I recall asking for quite a bit of help the last time I was here. Just not from you."

"Touché; and yet you ask me now?"

"I always asked for help from the best person available to help me get what I wanted." She leaned over the desk to meet his eyes. "This time, that's you. I don't want to fight today, Jareth." She did her best to sound sincere; it really was true. Fighting was tiresome and unpleasant, and the previous two days had seen enough of it, especially when they were fighting about little things, as they had the previous evening, not things that mattered.

She'd been halfway down the stairs, yesterday, when she finally connected the dots. That deadly danger, that sense of black foreboding that Jareth generated… it had happened three times now, in her presence. First in her room, where she'd balked at telling him what she felt about the dream about her friends. Second at the concert, when he'd said that Hoggle should not have told her his name. Third last night, when he'd told her that he had brought Hoggle as a concession to her. Each time, she'd thought the feeling that caused it was anger, but it didn't quite fit. He'd been angry with her other times, without that same result. And it had been a puzzle, but she'd worked it out.

Jealousy. He was jealous of her friends, especially Hoggle. The dream he'd given her: it was the strongest, happiest memory of her trip. And it had not been the ballroom, or the stairs, or the end; it never would be. The adventure and the camaraderie and her spirits high, her sense of danger low; nothing else could compare to that moment for happiness, though others certainly compared for drama and overall importance. He hadn't been in that memory, and she hadn't even wanted to share it with him. And he hadn't told her his name; Hoggle had. If he'd wanted her to know it, he'd wanted the introduction to be from his own lips. Hoggle had stolen that, as he had stolen the first kiss she'd ever given a non-relative (even if it had been just a peck on the cheek), and as he'd beat Jareth to telling her to trust… the third thing that had angered him. It wasn't a matter of anything physical, that was certain: the differences between herself and her friends were substantial, and Jareth must know his own beauty. But jealousy for affection, for time, for trust—those were another matter entirely.

Now that she knew, far from being afraid of that darkness, she could trust in it. It gave her power. Not much, but enough to know that even yesterday's bad mood wouldn't let him deny her request today. So long as he was the first to give her something, he wasn't likely to resent it later from another hand.

Well, most things, anyway. It would probably be different if they... but that was not a train of thought that was presently relevant or productive.

He was staring at her, expectantly. Waiting. "Ah… so, Jareth, will you consent to teach me how to manage the Relative Stairs?"

"Since you ask so very kindly," he said politely, and stood to hold out a hand for hers. When she took it, the world dissolved and she was standing on a stone ledge, impossible staircases stretching in every direction.

"That was a lot less disorienting than last time."

"Transportation is easier than transference."

"Ah." She'd think about that later. "But I thought I had to learn to get out of your tower? Why have you brought me to the middle of the room?"

"Two reasons. The first is that it will be easier to learn when you do not know the actual orientation of gravity out in the rest of the Castle. Later, you will develop a sense for the true direction, which will help you find doors leading from here, but for now, do not worry about that. The second is that to exit my tower requires you to almost immediately execute the second most difficult maneuver this room can support. It is better to start with the basics."

"The second most difficult maneuver? What is that?"

"Rotation." He disappeared from her side, reappearing above her on a platform that stretched straight before simply ending. He walked to the edge and, in one smooth motion, stepped around it, until he was walking along the underside of the stone. She remembered the maneuver; he'd done it years before, as she'd chased Toby. "Rotation is difficult because it is in essence a controlled fall, and there is little room for error in the shift from one gravity to the next." He disappeared again, reappearing beside her.

"So what's the most difficult maneuver one can perform in the Stairs?"

He laughed. "Free fall!" And suddenly he was gone, flying—no, falling—away from her, and he landed on the ceiling above her, bending his knees to cushion the blow. "You need not do that to access the Castle, but it is a great deal of fun." He was back beside her, laughing, a genuine laugh of pure pleasure, the first she'd heard from him.

"Ah…." She seemed to be saying that a lot, this morning, maybe because she was just a little bit intimidated. "I suppose we should start with the basics?"

"The basics" meant lying down flat on her back with her feet propped up against a perpendicular piece of stonework, and her eyes closed. It made sense; she certainly wouldn't fall and break her neck from that position. It also felt very silly.

"Feel the stone beneath your feet. Feel the weight." His voice was low, hypnotic. She didn't know how long he'd been speaking. "Your weight is on your feet, your feet support you, you trust your feet to support you. Your feet know which way is down." He kept up the murmur, and she let herself sink into a trance, focusing on his voice, feeling his instructions in her bones. Her feet were on the ground. On the ground.

Oddly enough, she felt the change first in her hair. It had been loose, splayed casually across the stone under her head; as she shifted, she felt its weight change; it was now hanging, around her face. Stranger still was to feel the change in her breasts, as they shifted from pressing apart and to the sides, as she lay on her back, to hanging normally, as she stood. The more she analyzed her situation, the better she could feel the other changes. Weight that had pressed against her shoulders and buttocks now centered in her feet, the wall behind her only a solid support, not a certain down. Her arms swung forward to a natural position; her fingers dangled, rather than splayed.

"Well done, Sarah. Now step forward." She followed his instructions, stepping away from the wall. Easy enough; the floor was solid and even, firm under her feet. "Now open your eyes."

Jareth was sitting sideways on the wall next to her head. With a squeak, she fell back, hitting the stone floor hard as she lost her sense of down when confronted with his alternate gravity. "That's not fair. Why did you do that to me?"

He only laughed, and she realized that she'd said those words again and that she probably did look ridiculous. Also, his laughter was infectious; she couldn't help but join in.

"Sarah my dear, as we will both be using the Stairs regularly, we may be confronted with any number of such situations at any time, and you must be equipped to deal with them. It was a test, to see if you had already grasped the necessary contradiction. You did well to achieve the initial shift so quickly."

"Quickly? I feel like we've been here all day."

"We have. I simply expected it to take more than one." He stood and offered his hand again. "Come. When was the last time you ate?"

The question startled her; more startling still was the answer, once she thought of it. "A pastry... yesterday morning."

He nodded. "As I suspected. Because time flows differently here, it is easy to forget such simple things. You will also find that your appetite is significantly diminished, though you will still feel hunger pangs if you wait long enough. It is best to make a habit of eating a little once a day, perhaps first thing in the morning; that will be enough even if you never desire a larger meal." The world blinked and they stood on the stairs outside her closed door. As she opened it, he bowed and disappeared.

She left the door open, and went to her tray to nibble on some cheese and a bit of fruit, before going to the window. The sun was just beginning to set, and the Labyrinth glowed gold in the orange light. That view, at least, was something she could get used to quickly. She watched, letting her mind relax, as the shadows grew and stretched.

Some time later, Jareth reappeared at her door, carrying the book she'd abandoned the previous evening, as well as another, which appeared to be some sort of ledger. He placed the book on the table next to her chaise, then settled in the opposite chair, frowning thoughtfully as he opened his ledger to a page that she could see was mostly blank. After a few minutes, he conjured a pen, made a notation, and flicked it away into nothingness again.

For a moment, she was annoyed. He couldn't even ask permission to enter? And he didn't feel the need to say hello? But before she could voice either of those thoughts, she remembered: her door was open. Open doors were an invitation. He hadn't asked because she'd already answered. Okay, so he was here, in her rooms, when he had just as nice a chair—and a desk—upstairs in his. Why? She crossed to the chaise and took up the book, but didn't open it. He was here, obviously working on something, instead of upstairs, because... he wanted her company? It must be; there was nothing else to draw him here. If he had simply wished to give her the book, he could have left it and departed.

A quiet evening in, then. She found her place in the book and began to read, but quickly abandoned a repeat of yesterday's detailed perusal when another question presented itself. Yesterday, she'd only made it through about a quarter of the huge volume, but she hadn't found any reference to a race that could be Jareth's. Eagerly, she flipped through the pages, examining titles and drawings carefully. He had to be here somewhere. She found a few that looked close, at first, but quickly discounted them. The "mouse elf" had his wild hair and slanted eyebrows, but the description indicated that they were as small as the name suggested, with an adult height of something like four inches. Of creatures that stood the approximate height of a man, all were too hairy, or too ugly, or were specifically described as lacking a power, such as shapeshifting, that she knew he possessed.

Finally, she put the book down in disgust, throwing her head back against the cushions. "I give up."

At her words, he looked up from his work. "Sarah?"

"I looked through the whole book, which I thought might have a description of your... race, or whatever... but you aren't here. What are you?"

"I see." He looked amused, now. "What do you think?"

"When you wrote, you always said 'my kind' or 'my kindred.' That doesn't provide many clues. I know you aren't like anything else the Labyrinth holds; you said so and I haven't seen anything to make me doubt you. You also aren't in the book, which is a list of the creatures that can be or were once found here Underground, but I know that back Above, humans aren't listed in every similar publication, either. The only thing I know is what you told me of the history of your people and mine being connected." She paused to think, and he nodded. Nothing wrong said so far, then? He was looking at her with interest. She thought back over half-remembered mythology, even past the point of fairy tale. "I almost hesitate to say it, because it seems too obvious, but... are you one of the Fair Folk? The... oh, there was another name, Gaelic maybe, not English anyway; I'm forgetting it."

"The Tuatha Dé Danann?" She nodded, and he looked mildly impressed. "You are closer than I would have suspected, though I suppose for one who knows her fairy tales it is not so very odd. In any case, you are not correct; my race was not so limited."

"So you mean there are—were—more of you?"

"It is hardly sensible to believe that we could have had the influence on Man which I described if we were confined to one small island of little significance, or even to only that island and its larger neighbor."

She thought back again over what he had written. Did she remember him claiming that they had taught men to write? And one of the earliest known form of writing was Sumerian cuneiform. Another was Egyptian hieroglyphics. And other than men, the only potential humanoids ever mentioned in those regions were... "...Gods?"

When he chuckled, she realized she'd said that last word aloud. "In many cultures, or so they wished Men to believe. We began that way in most interactions; some ceased to worship us after a time, but still knew we were real. Every single one of your world's myths of a powerful immortal has at least one of my people at its source. And though never as numerous as Men, we were equally widespread."

"Not just the British Isles, but... ancient Mesopotamia? The Greeks, the Norse, the Russians, the Indians? And... America as well?" She named every major pantheistic belief system she could think of off the top of her head.

He nodded. "And more. Once. No longer."


He laughed. "We are not so impressive as that. It is not difficult to impress a primitive people with a few parlor tricks, and Men have matured much since that time. We have our own faults." She nodded, then caught herself completely by surprise with a huge yawn. "The hour grows late; you should sleep." He stood and moved towards the door.

"Jareth, can I ask another question?"

At her words, he paused. "You just did, but you may ask another." Well, she'd walked right into that one.

"What do you want?" She hadn't meant to ask it quite like that, but it was what she really wanted to know, the reason, even, that she'd sought his race: to understand him, to understand what might motivate him. Analysis, maybe, but she was a product of her chosen career, after all.

He paused thoughtfully, then returned, "Immediately, or ultimately?"



He was gone before she realized that he hadn't given her any clue as to which question he was answering.

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 9 of 24

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