Continuing Tales

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 4 of 15

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A Forfeit of Dreams

Once upon a time there was a castle. No... A fortress -- with smooth, sheer walls that rose seamlessly from sandy rock as if they had been carved from it. On one side it was protected by a city, on the other by a dark, deep lake filled with insidious terrors.

The castle-that-was-a-fortress had high, far-reaching turrets. In these turrets were windows, and in one of these windows was a man. No... A prince (or a King) -- with rich lace cuffs spilling over elegant wrists, and wicked joy in his eyes. He cast an imperious gaze over the land, *his* land, lying before him, as far as any eye could see.

Once upon a time, the man-who-was-a-prince (or a King) had a hatred. No... A passion -- a dark desire, a longing he could not explain, even to himself. And so, secretly terrified by this unexpected weakness, he spun a cage of lies and deception for a girl with long, dark hair and proud eyes. All that was needed was for her to take the bait.

And, after years of waiting, she did.


It was such a simple thing, a brief name in careful script, written neatly along the spine of a slim book. But the past half-hour had taught her it was much more than that. That it might, in fact, hold the answers she had always craved.

And that wasn't all. Sarah's eyes widened as she realized it was but one of *many* volumes, placed side-by-side and all bearing the Goblin King's name in that elegant hand. It was clear these were only a selection of the entire set, as the volume numbers on the spines leaped all over, haphazardly -- from fifty-three to ninety one, then four to ten, and so on...

/How long has he lived?/ thought Sarah in wonder. /How much has he *done*?/

The highest volume was two hundred and nine, and she couldn't even know if that was the latest of the series, or simply the last that was critical to Chaucer's research.

/No... there is *one* way to find out.../

Her hand was reaching for the book before she even finished the thought. It trembled, and Sarah realized she was shaking all over as she stretched to grasp it -

Only to find her hand blocked by outspread razor-edged claws.

"Don't," Chaucer said quietly.

"Why not?" Sarah asked defiantly, although visibly shaken.

"Because, of all people, I can think of no one else he would least appreciate reading his records. As I'm sure you suspect."

Sarah lowered her outstretched hand, if reluctantly. "It's only a book."

Chaucer placed another book inside the case -- probably her own record that he had gone to fetch -- and slammed the glass doors shut, not bothering to be as careful as before. "Nothing is *only* what it is!" he barked. "Especially here!" But his relief that she had backed down was apparent. Still grumbling, he produced a lock from somewhere and snapped it over the door handles. "There," he said meanly. "Now let's see you try it."

She stood thoughtfully for a moment, gazing at the case. "I'm surprised he let you have it," she finally said.

Chaucer gave a sniff. "He might be a... unscrupulous personage, but he's not stupid. It's too much to ask of a person, having them keep their own record."

"Where's yours then?" Sarah asked tartly.

"Jareth's got it," he returned bluntly. "Somewhere. He didn't tell me where, I didn't ask. It's better that way."

"But you were going to show me mine," Sarah kept on. "I don't understand -- where's the harm?"

"Oh, seeing your own record for a moment or two won't do any irreparable damage," he said, dismissing the notion with a wave of his hand. "But one shouldn't *keep* one's living record because... well, because..."


"It's the rules," Chaucer ended peevishly. "Rules you should *respect,*" he growled. His voice rose as he continued, becoming louder and louder with his growing agitation. "I can't expect you, of all people, to understand this, but the Labyrinth is a highly unstable environment! It is perched," glaring at her fiercely, "precariously, ever so precariously, between fantasy and reality! The slightest breath would send it to pieces!" he roared. "The *rules* are what keep that from happening!"

Sarah gave a small sigh, hooking her thumbs into the pockets of her jeans. "Could have fooled me," she muttered.

"I think it would be very easy to do so!"

"But listen," she said impatiently. "I didn't get through the Labyrinth by playing fair! I tricked, I coaxed, I bribed -- do you call that playing by the rules?"

He had resumed working while she talked, hunched over his book. "Hmph. It all depends, you see, on who is playing the game. The rules change accordingly."

Her mouth dropped. "But that doesn't even make any *sense,*" she protested.

"Of course it does," not looking up from his writing. "The Labyrinth is not about which passageway you choose, or which door you walk through. It is all about *how* you get there."

Sarah rolled her eyes at the paradoxical contradiction, turning her attention elsewhere. "I'm sure."

Chaucer sniffed, giving her a sharp look over his spectacles. "What a silly girl. I don't think you were changed at all by your last encounter with the Labyrinth."

Sarah turned to look him in the eye. "The Labyrinth doesn't change people," she said, soft but stubborn. "It can't. It can only alter itself. It shows others their mistakes, and their dreams, but that's all. People change themselves. If they choose." Her expression stilled, and she when she spoke her voice held something like sadness. "That was the one real thing I learned from it."

Chaucer blinked at her, surprised. With a sense of finality, he closed his book. "Well," he said, in a milder tone. "I suppose there might be hope for you, after all." He trundled off in the direction of the stairway.

"Where are you going?"

"You want to get to the next layer of the Labyrinth, don't you?" he called over his shoulder. "Follow me, then."

Wonderingly, she followed him up the winding staircase. "You do know," she said conversationally, "that this place is a spatial impossibility?"

"Didn't we already cover that?" he replied scathingly, never pausing in his ascent.

Sarah grinned. "Yup," she said softly to herself. "I just forgot how much it takes to get used to this place."

"Well then, do not tarry in re-acquainting yourself!" Chaucer's voice boomed and echoed within the stone tower, and Sarah started. Getting a better grip on the ornately carved railing, she sprinted up the steps as fast as her legs could take her.

The wooden stairs led to a long corridor lit by hanging lamps that burned with cold, pale light. Through the flickering shadows she could just make out Chaucer's monstrous form, waiting for her. She sprinted to catch up, breathing rather heavily by the time she reached him.

"What?" she panted, as he seemed to have no intention of moving from the spot. "What's wrong?"

"Wrong?" Chaucer lifted his eyebrows. "Nothing's wrong. We're here."

Sarah looked around. "But... this is still your house."

He smiled, baring yellowed tusks. He pointed with one clawed finger to the wall on their right, where a huge painting hung. It was truly an incredible work of art -- life-sized and wonderfully proportioned. It was, in fact, a painting of hedges, intrinsically detailed. She could pick out the individual leaves, almost see them rustling in the soft wind...

With a jolt, Sarah realized she was looking at a painting of the hedge maze, with its high barriers of briars. And it was *moving* -- not obtrusively, but just enough for the viewer to realize that this was no ordinary oil painting. It was alive.

"Don't tell me," she said wryly. "I just walk into it and 'Voila!,' right?"

"Exactly," Chaucer replied, looking enormously pleased with himself. "Isn't that convenient? The one thing you ask of me, and it's so terribly easy for me to give."

Sarah shook her head in admiration, grinning. "Where did you get a thing like this, anyway?"

"From Jareth, in fact. The rest of the Labyrinth is terribly easy to navigate for one such as myself, who has studied all its records and knows about most of its tricks. It's only getting to the second level that is a problem -- the Alph, Ralph, and Co. once became sulky over some chance remark I made and refused to show themselves for over a week. Jareth decided to provide insurance that such a delay would never again occur."

"He made this?" Sarah asked in disbelief.

"I've heard rumors of a portrait hall in the Castle -- very off limits, you understand, but word gets around. Apparently he has an entire collection of such useful paintings, though I don't know whether or not he created them himself."

Sarah paused. "If *he* gave it to you, I don't know if I should -"

"Oh, don't be a ninny," Chaucer snapped. "It belongs to me, now, and you are allowed to take full advantage of my personal property. Go on, now." He made shooing motions in the direction of the landscape.

Taking a big breath, Sarah squeezed her eyes shut, stepped forward... and opened them with a smile of pleasure, feeling a pleasant breeze and warm sunlight. She was in the hedge mazes, the familiar greenery and stone workings surrounding her on every side.

"Very convenient, I must say," came a voice behind her, and she jumped slightly. There was Chaucer, beaming at her. "Oh," he chuckled, "Did I surprise you? My apologies. You see," he continued without waiting for her answer, "Since it was so terribly easy to grant your request, I thought to myself, 'what's the harm in helping her out a little more?'"

"What do you want to help me with?" she asked, a little wary.

"Remember those records, my reading of which upset you so terribly? Well, yours was not the only volume I studied. I," he winked at her, "have knowledge of a certain acquaintance of yours. If you'll follow me..."

Bemused, Sarah watched as he made his way down one of the green passages. She followed hurriedly.

They rounded the corner together, and Sarah gasped delight. There, bending over to prune the branches of an overgrown doorway, stood a familiar figure dressed in plain breeches and a leather jerkin, his diminutive form appearing even smaller as he hunched down to do his work.

"Hoggle!" she cried joyfully.

Hoggle started as if stung, then spun around. For the briefest of moments, Sarah thought she saw something in his eyes -- a flicker of happiness, of surprise? But it dimmed quickly, leaving his face blank and unimpressed.

"Oh," he growled sourly. "It's you."

Sarah blinked. This was in no way the welcome she had expected. "Hoggle?" she asked, now tentative. "It's me. Sarah."

"I know who you are." He turned back to the hedge, viciously clipping a few stray leaves.

"I..." her voice died, along with her excitement. "I though you'd be happy I came back," she said, bewildered.

"Well, show's how much you know, doesn't it?" he said snidely. "Now, if you'll *excuse* me." He marched off, clearly dismissing her.

Sarah turned back to Chaucer with a clearly hurt expression. "I don't know what's going on," she said. "He was never like this before -- well, he was, but that changed! And now..." She looked back at the doorway that Hoggle had stepped into. "Should I go after him?" she asked.

"Hmmm." Chaucer frowned. "Let me see what I can get out of him," marching through the opening in the hedges.

"Wait!" Sarah called after, following. And stopped.

It was a riotous blaze of color, spilling over the tan cobblestones and burning fiercely against the thick hedge-briars. A transplanted sunset -- smoldering oranges and yellows, shocking pinks, and a landscape of red that ranged from bright blood to deep, dark wines. Here and there a clear, shining, almost translucent white blossom would flicker; drops of purity lost in a sea of glorious passions.

It was a garden of roses on fire.

"Oh, my," Sarah whispered to herself. "Are they real?"

"As real as anything in this place," Chaucer grumped. "I'll go talk to your Hog-friend." He sniffed again, pockmarked skin on his bulbous nose wrinkling.

Sarah bit her lip, watching him waddle off behind one of the tangled green hedges. Part of her wanted to rush off with him so she could grab Hoggle by the shoulders and shake some sense into him, demand what was *wrong.* But she knew from experience that tactic didn't work as well in practice as it did in theory. The other part of her knew it was best to stay put and sit still.

Besides, she wanted to see the roses.

With a last glance in the direction that Chaucer had disappeared, she walked slowly toward the unusual flowers. A hand, cautiously held out, determined that they gave off no perceptible heat, and she crept even close to kneel beside them. They were breathtaking upon closer inspection -- each petal encased in a pure, flickering flame that danced merrily when disturbed by her soft sigh of wonder. In each rose's center was a glowing ember of color. When a soft breeze wandered around the surrounding hedges, the rose-flames devoured each other, briefly blossoming into whirlwinds of frenzied sparks.

Not even daring to breathe, Sarah reached out tentatively toward the impossible roses. Heart beating fast, she stretched her fingers out to them, hesitant... but the flames parted around them as smoothly as water, without harm. It felt, in fact, like a gentle tickling. She chuckled, playfully trying to pinch the fire between her fingertips. Shaking her head at her own foolishness, she drew her hand away and scrubbed it against the leg of her jeans, trying to rid it of the remembered sensation.

Then, even more cautiously, she reached to pluck one from its bed. The rose was thornless. Its sunset-pink flame flared for moment when its stem left the soil, then gently died. Sarah uttered an involuntary sound of disappointment. But no -- it wasn't quite dead. At the heart of the blossom the ember throbbed softly with false fire.

She brought the rose close to her face, inhaling its unique scent. She frowned -- it was so strange, not really like a rose at all. Sweeter, and more exotic, yet with a bitterness that caught in the back of the throat...

//The applause was thunderous. It rolled over the footlights like warm waves of love, bathing the smiling, open faces on stage.

A lone figure stepped free from the row of actors -- a young woman in late Victorian clothing, dark hair caught up in an elegant style. Sarah Williams paused at the edge of the stage to drop a deep, practiced curtsey. The applause swelled, was pierced with loud whistles and calls of "Bravo, bravo!" The excitement on her face bloomed into pure joy as she fell back into line, watching as the leads took their own bows.

It was her first professional New York performance. She didn't have the main role, of course, that was still years in coming -- but it was a good part, one she could be proud of. She had done well, really well -- people would remember her later, start to mention her name when auditions rolled around.

But that wasn't what was going through her mind. Not right now, as she stood dazzled by the bright lights and surrounded a sea of adoration and the feel of her fellow actors' hands clasped in her own. Right now, she was simply happy.

Later, in the privacy of her own cramped dressing room, she breathed a sigh of mixed relief and sorrow. Opening night was over, with all its terror and anticipation. It didn't mean the other nights would be any easier or any less exciting, but the first night had a kind of wonderful, horrible tension that could never be replicated.

Sarah was undoing her hair, carefully laying the pins that held it in place on her dressing table, when there was a knock at the door.

"Come in!" she called.

With a wide grin, her father opened the door. "Hi, Sarah," he said. "You were great tonight. We really loved it." Opening the door wider, he stepped inside, holding the hand of Linda Williams. His wife.

"Hey, Mom." Sarah stood, a terrible case of butterflies in her stomach. She was suddenly swamped with a terrible nervousness, even worse than that inspired by the thought of upcoming press reviews in tomorrow's papers. She faced her mother, Tony-winner and a still-celebrated name of the New York stage. "What did you think?"

Linda Williams pressed her lips together tightly, eyes shining with tears. Wordlessly, she held open her arms -- and Sarah went to them, resting her head on her mother's shoulder and wrapping her arms around her mother's waist as if she were two years old. Her mother's arms wrapped around her, so tightly.

"Oh, my baby," Linda Williams whispered into her daughter's masses of dark hair, "You were very, very good. My little girl." The tears slipped from her eyes, dropping onto Sarah's own cheeks. "I am so proud of you."

Sarah felt the weight on her father's hand on her shoulder as he refrained from intruding on this moment, this special understanding between mother and daughter. He squeezed her shoulder briefly, and then stepped quietly outside to let them be alone.

"Thank you for coming, Mom," she whispered into the material of her mother's expensive jacket, tears in her own voice. "Thank you so much. I always wanted this -- you to be here when this happened for me."

He mother hugged her even tighter. "Miss the chance of seeing my beautiful girl on the New York stage? Never," she laughed, her voice cracking with emotion. "You made me so happy tonight, Sarah..." Her hand stroked her daughter's head, soothed her daughter's over-excited tears. "You have no idea."

"I love you."//

Sarah started. She gazed blankly at the rose in her hand, now shriveled and brown. She touched her cheeks and found tears there.

"Was... was I dreaming?" she asked softly. "I don't remember."

She looked back at the garden of flaming roses. She wanted to remember. She wanted to define that unknown scent they carried. She wanted...

She reached for another.

Her tears slipped from her eyes still, unnoticed. They fell silently to the cobblestones beneath her, darkening their sandy surface.

Sarah failed to notice that, wherever they fell, the stone cracked -- very small fractures. She failed to notice that from each of these miniscule cracks grew, faster than thought, a wiry vine. Each vine was tough, brown, and bore long, slender thorns like miniature daggers. She even failed to notice as each thorn on each vine twisted of its own accord, piercing her clothing and driving themselves deeply, painlessly into her skin. She failed to notice.

She simply reached for another rose.

Brian *again* woke up in a dark place, and began to feel that life was deeply unfair.

With a moan he lifted his head up off the floor -- stone again, yet another sign Fate was out to get him -- and struggled to sit up. Every muscle ached, and even his bones felt distinctly fragile. And there was a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, like he'd experience a very rude awakening of some kind, and his subconscious knew he wasn't going to enjoy remembering -

/Oh. Yeah./

Brian sighed hugely. With amazing effort, he used his arms to drag his weary body over to lean against the rock behind him. It was a jagged, unpolished surface; a wall of some kind? Who knew. Who cared.

Light flared in the corner of his eye, and he turned his head. Jareth stood in one corner next to a (previously nonexistant) torch, which gave off a wavering, smoky light. The Goblin King seemed horribly at ease as he leaned against the stone wall, in crushed velvet boots the color of a storm and a half-cape lined with deep purple silk. The lace on his shirt spilled from his throat in a delicate waterfall, half-hiding a gleaming pendant.

"Hello, there." Jareth tilted his head to one side, examining his new acquisition. "I wanted to see how you were enjoying your stay."

"Where the hell am I?" Brian slurred.

"In an oubliette beneath my castle." Jareth ran an elegant finger down the wall and then brought it to his face, rubbing his fingertips together. "Really must have them clean down here more often," he murmured. He smiled at Brian. "*Terribly* sorry for the inconvenience."

"What the hell is an oubliette?"

"It's French. Roughly translated, it means 'a little place of forgetting.'" Jareth walked over to Brian, easily kneeling close. "It's a place to put things you don't want to think about." He flicked a bruise on Brian's cheek, and the boy winced away. "Things that take only a little effort in order to forget."

Eyes still stinging from the light, Brian tried to look around. "Is there any way in or out?"

"Oh yes, lots. But don't worry your head about it -- you won't find any of them."

Brian glared at the man blearily. "You're a dream," he said indistinctly.

Jareth grinned widely. "Flattery will get you nowhere."

Brian glared even more fiercely. "I mean, you're not *real.*"

"I'm not?" Jareth shook his head sadly. "What a pity. And you are, I suppose?"


"Prove it."

Brian blinked at him, stumped. Then: "I don't *have* to," he hissed. "Because I'm gonna wake up soon, and then you'll be gone."

Jareth rested his chin on his hand. "I find it amusing," he said dryly, "that your way of coping with the situation is based totally on denial. Very original. Very effective."

Brian sighed wearily, trying to lean comfortably on the ragged rock behind his bruised back. "Why can't you leave me alone? Please?"

Jareth stilled. Rising to his feet gracefully, he turned and walked a little way away from Brian, seeming to survey the uninteresting surroundings. "I am attempting to discern," he spoke distantly, "what is so very special about you."

"Special?" Brian looked confused. "About me?"

"That would make her decide to risk returning. It would have to be something *very* special."

"Her... You mean Sarah." Brian's head began to clear a little bit. "What do you mean... did you say, "return?" *That's* where she knew you from? She's been in the Labyrinth before?"

"Yes, to all your terribly insightful questions."

"Wait, I don't -" Brian rested his head in his hands, trying to make it stop hurting. Maybe then he could think straight. "I don't get it. I don't get any of this," he muttered.

"In smaller words, then." Jareth turned on his heel, cape flaring, in order to face his prisoner. "Precious Sarah," sneering, "with her heart of gold, has decided to run through the Labyrinth's gambit once more to save your sorry existence. In order to do so, we made a bargain. She promised me something, something *very* nice, in the event that she fails."

Brian went very still. "What?" he asked quietly.

Jareth smirked. "Wouldn't you like to know?"

"What *was* it?" Brian asked, through gritted teeth.

Jareth said nothing, only watched him with a small smile.

"Tell me, you bastard! What did she promise you?"

"Would you care to guess?" Jareth asked softly. "How much are you worth, Brian-my-boy? To Sarah, that is. What do you think she'd be willing to give up, to save you? *What are you to her?*"

Brian started at the intensity in the Goblin King's voice. He struggled to swallow, mouth suddenly dry. "I don't know," he admitted.

Jareth shrugged, relaxed once more. "Neither does she, I suspect."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Dearest Sarah was a little -" Jareth paused, obviously enjoying himself, "*hasty* in joining our agreement." A wicked smile pulled at his mouth. "If I didn't know better, I would suspect she didn't truly understand what she was promising."

"And what," Brian said slowly, "was that, exactly? Tell me." Then, with supreme effort: "Please."

Jareth laughed. "I'll do better than that. I'll show you." He again knelt down close to his prisoner, the gilded edges of his dark cape kicking up dust and dirt to make Brian sneeze. When he opened his eyes, Jareth was holding up a fragile-looking orb before his eyes.

"Now," Jareth spoke mischievously, "Make a wish."

Colors swirled beneath the crystal surface, slowly coming into focus. Brian squinted, trying to make out the perfect, tiny image inside.

"Are those flowers *burning*?" he asked in disbelief.

Jareth sighed. "She's in one of the hedge gardens. I should have guessed."


"Sarah," Jareth said wryly, "has a quaint attachment to one of my gardeners. I have no idea why. Then again," with a sideways look at Brian, "she's always had a soft spot for menials and fools."

Brian ignored the remark, instead leaning in closer to examine the bauble's vision. "Hey," a thread of uncertainty in his voice, "what's happening to her?"

Jareth turned back to the crystal, and his eyes widened a fraction. "My, my," he whispered to himself. "Little Sarah is playing with fire."

The rose was the color of early morning sunshine. She reached for it eagerly, didn't even flinch as its bright fire died in her hands. Its scent was like exotic spices, like nectar and sweet wine, like...

//Sarah slumped in her seat, yawning discreetly behind her hand. Prof.Plude had a tendency pick you out and ask, loudly, if he was boring you, if you weren't careful. Sarah really didn't want to get into a spat with her math professor. Not today.

Someone tapped her shoulder, and she looked back to see Nikki grinning at her.

"Tired?" the blonde asked with raised eyebrow.

"A little," Sarah whispered back, grinning.

Nikki shook her head. "Me, too. Maybe we should have gotten to bed earlier."

"Are you kidding?" Sarah scoffed. "And miss all the excitement?"

"It's just a party, Sarah."

"It was a chance to be with my friends," Sarah said firmly. "I would *never* pass that up for a few hours of sleep."

"They're your priorities."

"Ladies!" Both whipped their attention to the front, where a man in stereotypical brown jacket with tweed elbow patches was frowning at them. (Prof.Plude really took himself too seriously.)

Later they caught up with each other in the hall, giggling together. As usual, they walked out to their next class together -- it wasn't the same class, but it was in the same building. They chatted as they walked. People stopped as they passed, some waving, others actually running over to give hugs or trade quips about the latest gossip. All of them made straight for Sarah.

"I swear," Nikki said, slightly irritated, as yet another guy winked at Sarah while she walked by, "you get around! You must be the most popular girl on campus! No, really," Nikki argued as Sarah laughed, "if this we high school, you'd be the freaking homecoming queen."

Sarah made a face. "Ugh. I hated those girls."

Nikki rolled her eyes. "Well, okay, you're not like that. But you *are* really well known and liked around here. It's amazing. How do you do it?"

Sarah shrugged. "I get involved with a lot of stuff, make sure to talk to all kinds of people. It's not hard."

"Jeez, how do you find time to work?"

Sarah grinned widely. "I don't, often."

"Hmph." They walked in silence for a bit. "Aren't you really into theater stuff? I'd think that'd take a huge chunk out of your time."

"It used to."

"Used to?"

"Well, I kinda quit. Not that I dropped the classes or anything, I'm still majoring, but..." Sarah searched for the right words. "I just chose to do other stuff, you know? I wanted to really get out there and meet people. And I did."

"Hey, Sarah." Warm arms wrapped around her from behind, and someone placed a playful kiss on her ear. "What are you up to?"

"Trying to get to class. On *time,* Sean," She twisted out of his grasp, but she was smiling. "You know the concept, right? Class? College?"

He gave a lazy smile and slouched, sticking his hands deep into his pockets. "I'm familiar with the terms," he admitted. "I find them grossly overused, though."

"Amen to that," Nikki muttered.

"What were you guys discussing so intently when I walked up?" Sean asked.

"Nikki was accusing me of having a life," Sarah remarked wryly.
"That's mean," the blonde protested. "I only wanted to know your secret, is all."

"Sarah genuinely likes people," Sean spoke softly. "She likes to make friends. Believe it or not, it's an unusual trait. Most of us just want to hang around people who make us feel good about ourselves."

"What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing." Sean shook his head, unruly hair falling into his eyes. "But *everyone* seems to make Sarah feel good about herself. Isn't that right, Sarah?"

Sarah made a point of examining her watch. "Oh, my," she remarked, bored. "And here I thought I didn't have Psych class until Monday. Goody." She gave them both a hard look, shouldering her bag. "You make me sound like some kind of diva."

"Sorry, babe." Sean gave her a contrite look. "Didn't mean for it to sound that way. You're just one of those rare people who's easy to love. Now get to class," wrapping her in another bone-crushing hug. "You've got a big heart," he whispered in her ear. "And I, especially, love you for it. Now get." He gave her a gentle push and turned away, walking off in the other direction.

"He really likes you," Nikki said, watching him leave.

"Yeah," Sarah replied, feeling herself blush a bit. "I know."

"But you won't go out with him."

Sarah shrugged. "I love Sean," she said easily. "I just don't *love* him."

"Oh, I get it."

"I mean it!"

"Mmm hmm. Ice Princess."

"Nikki!" Sarah protested, watching her friend laugh in the autumn sunshine.

"But seriously," Nikki sobered, "you're happy, right? You're not being one of those people who's friends with everybody because they have a warped need for a huge support system?"

Sarah shook her head, feeling her curtain of hair swing with the movement. "Nope," she said cheerfully. "Perfectly happy."

"*Perfectly* happy?"

"Yup. Couldn't be happier."//

Sarah blinked, vision clearing. The rose in her hand was dying, the stem dry and curling. The limp yellow petals loosened and fell even as she watched.

"I *do* like people," she murmured to a dim memory. "I would love to get out and make tons of friends, but... I made a decision..." She let the rose drop, dashing a few scattered tears from her cheeks. "Stupid thing to be crying over," she muttered.

But was it really?

Brian watched, sickened, as wiry ropes of thorns wove themselves around Sarah's legs, driving their long needles deep into her flesh.

"What are you doing to her?" he burst out.

"It's not me at all," Jareth replied, gaze locked on Sarah's reflection within the bauble. "It's the roses."

Brian looked with horror at the image of the burning flowers, and the princess caught within their midst. "What the hell is going on?"

"It's a garden of lost dreams," Jareth spoke softly. "We all make choices in life, or life makes them for us, which we part regret, to some extent. Because of those choices we bid farewell to cherished fancies, hopes for the future. We force ourselves to forget, let them go. But the scent of the roses bring those dreams back to us more vividly than ever." His eyes darkened. "And those who linger -- to reminisce, to weep for lost dreams -- become entangled in their own sorrow." His mouth quirked in a mischievous smile. "Oh, dear," he said mildly. "Can our brave heroine come to her senses in time, before those wicked thorns bind her fast to the spot?"

"But she can get out, right?" Brian demanded. "It's not permanent or anything?"

"There are more than a few corpses enriching that soil."

"You're a monster," Brian said hotly.

"Everyone needs a hobby."

Brian glared. "If I weren't hurting like a bitch right now I'd -"

"What?" Jareth interrupted, expression elegantly bored. "Lay me flat with your brawny strength? I'm quaking in my boots." He returned his gaze to the delicate crystal, silent for a moment. And then, ever so softly: "I wonder what it is she's dreaming." <

The rose was hot, bleeding red: the color of desire. Intoxicated by the memory of their scent, Sarah's hand reached for another flower -- and paused. On a whim she changed her choice, picking instead one of clear, shining white. The hue of purity. The color of magic.

The bud was only half-opened, it's inner petals closed tightly over the glowing ember within. Its soft scent, delicate and sweet, like... like...

//Soft candlelight catching on crystal fragments, gauzy clouds of silk and velvet. Masked revelers dressed in tattered, tawdry finery danced a spell around her, entrapping her with the weave of their movement. Their vicious, leering faces fixed on her every move, tracking her from the corners of their eyes. Like snakes with their prey.

She wandered, lost among them. She was searching for something, she knew that. Something so very important... she *had* to find it, and she didn't have much time...

And she saw him.

A thin, arrogant mouth with a cruel twist. Pale skin with an ethereal glimmer. Pale hair falling to his shoulders unevenly, falling around his eyes. Cold, fascinating eyes.

/Was it you I was searching for?/ She asked him silently. /Was it you?/

The crowd swallowed him, and she chased the thought of seeing him again through their midst. The heavy, rustling folds of her dress smothered movement, the pearly fabric tugging at her limbs. Even the turn of her head was weighted by the dark, curling masses of her hair. She moved languorously, as if through deep water. As if in a dream.

/Is this a dream?/

But the dancers were in her way, moving in incomprehensible patterns across her path, tempting her to wander with tricks and distractions. Their laughter chased her into confusion, their empty stares causing her to retreat in fear. She struggled through them, searching...


He was a prince in darkness and midnight dusted with glittering stars. She was a princess in a dress the color of dawn, flowers in her hair. They belonged to each other. No questions were asked. He stepped forward to claim her, an arm drawn possessively around her waist. She surrendered to his embrace with the trust of a small child. Even the mockers made way for them, stepping aside to make space for their dance.

Firm hands led her across the floor, kept her safe from the hateful, suspicious eyes all around. The material of his coat was soft under her hands, the promises on his lips were soft in her ears. She had never been closer to a fairytale.

And then.

And then there was the jarring sound of a clock striking, breaking through the song of love. The room spun. There was a terrible sinking feeling in her stomach, and she was suddenly sure that she *should not be here* -- this was not where she would find what she was looking for. And she *had* to find it. She had to.

The other ringed her, jeering expressions frozen upon their faces like masks. She turned to him, stricken, but there was no comfort to be found. His face was impassive, his eyes distant. He didn't think that she would dare to leave his side.

At that moment, Sarah knew she didn't want to. She wanted to dance within the circle of his arms for as long as possible... forever, maybe (which is not long at all). And she would be beautiful and special and *magical,* because he made her so. But most of all, she just wanted to stay with him.

So she didn't break away. She didn't wrench herself from his grasp and fight through the mob of surrounding courtiers, leaving him to watch her with a lost look in his eyes. She didn't destroy the spell, destroy her dream.

Instead she stepped closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder, against the pricking fabric. She gave a small sigh of contentment, feeling his hand gently smooth her hair.

"I love you," she whispered.

Strong fingers cupped her chin, forcing her eyes upward. He ran his thumb caressingly against the smooth skin of her cheek, eyes emotionless. Then he laughed -- a rich laugh, deep in his throat. He lowered his head to hers, long strands of his hair tickling her face.

"I know," he murmured against her lips, and then he kissed her. Gently at first, then harder, almost bruising her mouth with his cold passion. He pulled roughly her against the line of his body, arms locked behind her back. They kissed, and the world fell down.//

... like a kiss that had never been given.

Sarah stared, numb, at the white rose in her hand. The ember had faded out, but otherwise it was intact, if a little wilted.

"I never wanted that," she spoke softly to herself. "I had to save Toby. I couldn't stay. I didn't *want* to!"

/Did I?/

Sarah shook her head stubbornly, tossing the rose aside. "No," she said firmly. "No more, anyway. I'll... I'll go find Hoggle and Chaucer -- they should have come back by now." In preparation to stand, she looked down.

And screamed.

"I ain't pretending to know nuthin'," came the grumble, accompanied by the "snip, snip" of shears. "But I ain't got nuthin' to say to her."

Chaucer looked extremely annoyed, bony arms crossed over his enormous stomach. "Look," he said. "No one is asking you welcome her home like the prodigal, er, daughter, but at least *talk* to the girl!"

"Dunno why I should," Hoggle muttered, not turning from his work. "I don't see no good reason to."

"Well, aren't you a bit curious as to why she's returned?"

Hoggle shrugged. "'Spose *you* could tell me that. You two seem to be gettin' along quite nicely."

Chaucer sniffed. "The young lady's business is her own. She has not chosen to volunteer the information, and I would never presume to press her on the subject."

Hoggle snipped a few unruly briars, morose. "Guess I'll never know."

Chaucer was decidedly put out. "Listen," he snarled. "I know not where this childish behavior stems from, but it is very unbecoming. *Why* are you treating Sarah like this? I know for a fact that you are friends -"

Hoggle whirled. "No we ain't!" he said vehemently. "Friends don't go off and forget about friends! I ain't *got* no friends!" He glared at the open-mouthed Chaucer. "What do you know about it, anyway?"

Chaucer's jaws shut with a snap. "Well," he said, "I had the opportunity to peruse your Library record, so -"

"Them's my personal secrets!" Hoggle roared, outraged. "You got no right!"

"Well, for simple amusement, perhaps not, but in the context of *research* -"


The shriek pierced the air, filled with pain and fear. Hoggle instantly dropped his tools.

"I'm comin', Sarah!" he shouted, shuffling off in the direction of which it came. After a moment of confusion, Chaucer followed.

Sarah sat perfectly still amid the roses, not daring to move a muscle. At the sound of Hoggle's footsteps she slowly turned her pale face in that direction. She began to tremble. Hoggle skidded to a stop as rounded the corner, horrified.

"Sarah!" he bleated

She attempted a wan smile. "At least you're talking to me again." Her legs were covered in dark vines, looping over her knees and thighs as she knelt on the cobblestone. Some had even climbed to wrap around her waist, pulling her shirt tight as they hugged her body. Now thick as ropes, the vines bound her tightly, thorns driven deep into her flesh to pin her to the spot. Her smile faded. "I don't think I can move, Hoggle," she whispered.

"You're a right idiot, you are!" he snarled. With abrupt, jerking movements he waded through the roses between them. "You just had to go pokin' your nose where it didn't belong, didn't you? Couldn't be content to go on your way, oh no. You had to look *me* up, and go sniffing in Jareth's gardens, and generally make a nuisance of yourself." He tugged at one of the vines, gently, but she winced all the same. "Yowch!" as a thorn stung his thumb. He popped it into his mouth. "S'all your own fault," he muttered indistinctly. "Maybe I'll just leave you here to rot like this."

"I know you wouldn't do that," Sarah said softly.

"I might!"

"It isn't like you, Hoggle. You're a good person."

He glared at her, bushy eyebrows drawn together. "People change."

"You haven't."

"You *have*!" he said angrily, continuing his attempts to pry the thorns out of her skin. Sarah tried to help, but the movement of her arms made muscles jerk against the sharp needles, so she simply sat as still as possible.

"What do you mean?" she asked quietly, trying to see his expression.

"Oh, don't try to fool me, missy. You know what I'm talking about. "If I ever need you, I'll call,"" he mimicked her in a high falsetto. He straightened, looking at her accusingly. "Well, you didn't bloody call, now did you? Not for months and months and months! Forgot about us, did you?" he spoke rapidly, and Sarah was astonished to see tears of hurt. "Having too much fun to bother with your old friends in the Labyrinth? Become too grown up, I 'spose," he rumbled. "Become too *independent* to have any need of any of us!"

"Ahem," Chaucer interrupted quietly, as Sarah stared at Hoggle in shock. He held up the gardening shears in a razor-clawed paw. "I went back to fetch these," he said mildly. "I thought they might be of some use."

"Give them here, then," Hoggle said roughly. Chaucer obliged, walking over, and began to speed up the process with his own knife-like claws. Between the two of them they made short work separating the vines from their roots. Chaucer began to work at those still imbedded in Sarah's skin, but Hoggle shook his head.

"Grab her arm," he said, doing just that himself. "We gotta get her out of here before pulling those things out. Won't do any good if she starts crying again, from the pain."

They hauled her out of the flowerbed fairly easily, and Sarah gasped as the circulation returned to her legs, setting them all a-tingle. They sat her gently against one of the hedge walls, where she looked up at Hoggle with clear eyes.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I know that doesn't really help, and I know that doesn't make me forgiven, but I'm sorry. I was wrong, I know."

Hoggle slumped, suddenly looking beaten. "What happened, Sarah? Why did you stop callin' for us?"

Sarah sighed. She reached down to rip away a length of vine, drawing a sharp breath as drops of blood trickled down her legs. "I convinced myself," she said, sounding bitter, "that none of you were real."

"That easy, was it?"

"No!" She looked up to him again. "I *wanted* you to be real, don't you understand that? More than anything! But when people tell you," she returned to the vines, as if wanting the pain to distract her from her own betrayal, "that magic doesn't exist, that they're all only stories, over and over again, you begin to believe them. You begin to doubt yourself. You can't help it."

"But you'd been to the Labyrinth! Seen it with your own eyes!"

"But I don't belong here, in the Labyrinth, Hoggle," Sarah said wearily. "I belong there. And it's hard to keep believing that you're right and the entire world is wrong. I'm sorry, Hoggle," she said softly. Curiously, it was now that she began to cry again, even as all the vines had been sliced or torn from her skin. The tears fell softly down her cheeks, almost unnoticeable. "I'm sorry."

He stared at her in soft astonishment as she cried. Then, awkwardly, he knelt down beside her, patting her shoulder with a meaty hand. She turned her tear-streaked face toward his, and he looked fairly abashed.

"There, there," he said, uncomfortable. "Didn't mean to make you cry," he muttered. They sat together, silently. "I missed you, Sarah," he spoke, suddenly very vulnerable.

With a broken sob she threw her arms around him. He started, then relaxed, cautiously hugging her back as she wept exhausted tears into his jerkin.

Chaucer cleared his throat discreetly, trying not to intrude. Hoggle and Sarah broke apart, smiling shyly at each other.

"Anyway," she spoke, wiping her face with her shirt, "thank you both for cutting me free. That was -" She shuddered a little, and then laughed at herself. "Maybe I should just let Jareth take my dreams, regardless. I don't fancy the nightmares I'll have about *that* particular experience."

She yelped in surprise as Chaucer's hand shot out to grab her arm. "What did you say?" he demanded urgently. "What are you talking about?" He gave her a little shake. "What have you *done*?!"

Brian frowned at the creature that had latched on to Sarah. "What's going on?" he asked, confused.

Jareth put a finger to his lips. "Quiet." He was completely absorbed in the scene playing itself out in his bauble. "We're getting to the good part."

Sarah stared at Chaucer's intent face. "It was our bargain," she said.

His fingers tightened on her upper arm, perilously close to slicing her open with his razored claws. "From the beginning, young lady. Tell me *everything.*"

She turned her head, including Hoggle in her narrative. "Ja - the Goblin King. He came back into my life, and he took my friend. He -- Brian -- he wished himself away, not knowing it was real. And the Goblin King let me know what had happened," she said quietly. "I had to get Brian back. In a way, it was my fault." She shook her head. "It doesn't matter. But I couldn't get into the Labyrinth without making... a kind of bet. With him." The both knew whom she meant. "I had to make it," and her mouth twisted wryly, "worth his while, he said." She shrugged. "So, if I reach Brian in time, we both go free. Which is what I'll *do*," she said fiercely. "But I had to promise him something if I failed."

"And what was it you promised?" Chaucer asked, his voice harsh.

"He asked for my dreams."

Chaucer dropped her arm and jerked back, horror spreading over his monstrous features. "Oh, Sarah," he spoke softly. "Why? Why promise something so precious to a man like Jareth?"

"It's not *like* that!" she protested. "It's just the dreams I have when I'm asleep!"

"Did he *say* that, Sarah?" Hoggle now demanded, stepping closer. "That's what he said? Word for word?"

"Well... no..." Sarah said, "I just took it for granted -" And she stopped. The blood drained from her face slowly, leaving her as pale as in death. "Oh God," she breathed. She raised hopeless eyes. "Hoggle, what have I done?"

He shook his head slowly, fear and frustration plain on his face. "You tell her," he spoke gruffly to Chaucer. "'Spose you know more about it anyway, with all that book-learnin'."

"Sarah," Chaucer stepped closer to her. "Humans can't survive without dreams. Not the real, true dreams -- the ones that carry us through bad days and cause us to strive for something better in life. You understand that, don't you?"

"Will I die?" she asked, voice shaking.

He sighed. "No."


"If Jareth wins. If you fail to solve the Labyrinth. If your friend Brian becomes forever trapped, then..."

Sarah waited, naked fear in her eyes.

"Then you will be a frail, diminished thing, utterly hopeless and despondent. You will have no joy in life, in any of its pleasures. You will be like a ghost, only very much alive. Terribly alive -- there will be no way to make it stop."

She stared at him, lost.

"But it gets worse. Because your dreams aren't vanished, you see, they'll belong to Jareth. You will be driven -- *driven,* Sarah, as if against you will -- to plead for your dreams from him. And it will never stop, you see, no matter how many scraps he throws you. You will return, again and again and again, desperate for his mercy. Your happiness will be dependant on his whims. Jareth's my King, but even that doesn't give him the kind of influence you have foolishly handed over. He will *own* you."

Jareth's eyes held a predatory gleam, oblivious to the world around him as he gazed into the crystal. "Come on, my love," he breathed, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Put the pieces together. *Understand.*"

Sarah felt numb. It was if she had suddenly detached from her body, and all her senses were misleading -- the sunlight was unbearably harsh, Chaucer's words striking forcefully at her ears.

"You're trying to tell me," she said dully, "That he'll have my soul."

Chaucer sighed, incredibly weary. "No," he said, gently. "But it will be something very like."

"He planned it all along, didn't he." Her voice didn't sound like her own, seemed to come from very far away. "All of it. From the very beginning. He violated the rules so that he could claim Brian. He knew I'd come. He knew I'd have to save my friend." She sank her head into her knees. "It was a trap. And I fell for it."

"Yes," Chaucer spoke, very softly. "I'm afraid you did."

She was shaken, torn, picked to pieces. She felt hollow inside, as if something had been stripped away to leave only a shell of her being within. She raised her head.

"It's not fair," she hissed. She slapped her palms against the cobblestones, oblivious to the stinging pain. "IT'S NOT *FAIR!*"

And Jareth laughed until there were tears in his eyes.

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 4 of 15

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