Continuing Tales

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 7 of 15

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A Forfeit of Dreams

The forest was filled with magic. Sarah could smell it -- it tickled and teased at her nose like the beginnings of a sneeze. The very air seemed to shimmer with it; lazy golden streams of sunlight cutting through the thick canopy overhead, setting the dust motes on fire. The trees they walked amidst were as she remembered them: thick, gnarled limbs that swung low to the ground, draped in thick tapestries of soft leaves. Wide, sticky cobwebs were spun between the spaces of fallen branches, and the barest wisps of fog tugged at their ankles. Sarah stepped carefully amidst the verdant undergrowth; large, star-shaped plants whose long leaves danced over the carpet of fallen leaves. Everything around them - withered golden leaves underfoot, the thick, irregular bark of the trees, the very air they breathed - seemed to glitter with magic.

"I'm glad you were able to get our stuff back," Sarah said, ducking beneath a low-hanging branch as she followed Chaucer's lead. Her shoes squelched slightly as she walked, and her feet were definitely going to remain damp for a while, but those were small worries.

Chaucer chuckled. "The naiads are a very friendly bunch, my dear. I was delighted to have the opportunity to finally meet them in person." He sighed, a trifle forlorn, as his bulbous body nimbly navigated the forest floor, cluttered with undergrowth and broken branches. "I only wish we had more time," he said mournfully.

Sarah laughed. "Sorry, Chaucer. Next time I'll get His Majesty to lengthen the time limit."

"And how would you propose to do that?"

She smiled impishly. "He deducted hours, last time. I want a refund."

Chaucer chuckled in response, but Hoggle, trailing behind them, groaned in frustration. "Wish you to would stop jokin' about him!" he barked, face like a storm cloud.

Sarah sighed, eyes on the ground as she continued to pick her way among the fallen leaves. "It's only play, Hoggle. Sometimes it helps if you joke about the things that scare you."

"Right," Hoggle barked. "I'll remember that, next time I meet th'bastard. I'll be laughin' all the way to stinkdom."

Sarah smiled at the image -- Hoggle sniggering in the enraged Goblin King's face - but ducked so that her hair hid her face. "Whatever you say, Hoggle," she replied demurely. "Chaucer," she spoke up before Hoggle could deliver his indignant retort, "last time I was here with Ludo. he disappeared on me. Luckily, we met him back at the bog, but --"

"And you are afraid the same might happen to us - or yourself - as your very large friend?" Chaucer nodded absentmindedly, red eyes scanning the area before them thoughtfully. "Fear not. Those are the Wallowing Pits, as Hedwig here --"

"HOGGLE! Damn you people, it's not hard!"

" - previously mentioned. And they are most predominant on the far left side of the forest, while we," he tapped a shining claw to this scabby cheek thoughtfully. "While we. seemed to have entered on the far right."

"Is that okay?" Sarah asked, catching the hesitation in his tone.

"Of course." Chaucer smiled, yellow tusks formidable. "With myself to guide you, there is really no wrong way to go about it. Just, er, ways with unforeseen circumstances."

"Such as?" Sarah asked, while Hoggle made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a whimper.

"Well," Chaucer said, skeleton-like arms folding over his enormous paunch as he waited for them to catch up, "It appears we will not be traversing though the Goblin City on our way into the Castle. Which will certainly alleviate some difficulties."

"What?" Hoggle paused. "But you have t'go through the City. It's either that, or." A look of horror blossomed over his features. "You wouldn't!"

"Our primary concern here is time!" Chaucer snapped at him. "I am merely bowing to that necessity! If you can figure another option, be my guest!" He stomped off, line of his back stiffly furious as he lead them onward.

"Um, Hoggle?" Sarah asked, disentangling a strand of her dark hair from a particularly grasping twig. "What are you guys talking about?"

Hoggle scowled at the ground as he trudged past. "Nuthin'."

With a sigh of exasperation, Sarah simply yanked her hair free and ran to catch up to Chaucer. "So, there's another way to get into the Castle?"

"Yes," Chaucer said primly. "That is, if certain members of our party," shooting the dismal Hoggle a really nasty look, "are not completely averse to it. He sniffed. "Then again, even if they are, I doubt there is a feasible alternative."

"To what?" Sarah asked impatiently.

"The Castle is completely surrounded by defenses, naturally, in case of attack. The City on one side, so that the goblin army can move quickly into defense mode. On the other side is a moat."

Sarah paused. "A moat?" She frowned. "That's it?"

"Yes," Chaucer replied shortly.

"Oh. Well, did you ever read the record of someone who had crossed it?"

"Many, in fact. Up until the point where they fell in."

Sarah blinked. "They. they all fell in?"

"Inevitably."

". and then?"

"And then, well." Chaucer licked his lips with a black tongue. "Then the records became very. strange. To be honest, I could never quite figure out what had happened to them, after that. It was very strange. yes, very strange indeed."

"Hoggle?" Sarah looked over her shoulder at the belligerent dwarf behind them. "Do you know what happened?"

Hoggle looked at her, and the fear was blatant in his eyes. "No," he admitted softly. "No one does. But they never came back up."

Sarah swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. "Okay, then," she said, gamely trying to smile. "Note to self: don't fall in the moat."

The forest was slowly becoming darker, the late afternoon sunshine relaxing into a shady twilight. The sky above them was turning a dusky lavender, stained by hazy grey clouds. Every now and again, if she strained her eyes through the canopy of leaves above their heads, Sarah could see the last, dying rays of the setting sun.

"He created the Labyrinth, didn't he?" She said suddenly, breaking the uneasy silence that had lay over them for the last few minutes. "It all sounds like something he would do."

They knew, of course, who "he" was.

Both Hoggle and Chaucer opened their mouths - judging by their expressions, to launch into another warning tirade or a pedantic lecture, respectively, but Sarah beat them to it.

"Chaucer, what exactly is the Labyrinth?"

That inestimable personage frowned; stooping to disentangle a loose root from his foot-claws and throwing her a disdainful look in the process. "I've spent centuries trying to decipher exactly that, young lady. It's not an answer you can memorize between meals."

"Oh. I forgot about that. how about the Cliff Notes? A summary," she quickly amended at his bewildered expression.

"Hmph. A summary. And why, pray tell," he asked peevishly, wrinkling his nose, "should I be required to boil down my life's work into a few sentences?"

"Because," Sarah answered. "A lot's at stake here. Things might go better if I had a better idea at how this game works."

"Ah." Looking properly abashed, Chaucer smiled. "Good enough. Well, then. Hmmm. A summary. Well, to begin with, I doubt your assumption of Jareth's omnipotence is entirely correct."

Sarah looked curiously at the former Librarian. "But he keeps on - you know, "my Labyrinth" this, and "my Labyrinth" that. I always assumed he made it in the first place."

"I sincerely doubt that," Chaucer remarked candidly. "The Labyrinth is very much its own entity. To be sure, being its king, Jareth has almost immeasurable control over the domain. But," and here he paused, "from my extensive research, I had always imagined His Majesty as more of a caretaker than a creator. a very, very powerful caretaker. With enormous responsibilities. In fact," he continued, pointedly ignoring Sarah's attempts to make her own reply to his theories, "I would even venture to say that he is almost a very part of the Labyrinth itself."

Sarah's mouth, which had been open in her attempts to get a word in edgewise, snapped shut. "What?" she asked finally.

"The Labyrinth, as far as I can discern, is more of a human creation than anything else. I believe Jareth was an integral part of that creation."

Sarah gave him a disbelieving look. "Unless anything in those records proves humans once had magic, I doubt we had anything to do with the Labyrinth."

Chaucer returned her look with a disapproving one of his own. "Belief is a very powerful thing, young lady. And your people have always placed incredible faith in their myths, legends, fireside stories. They have shaped the way mortals view the world. The Labyrinth, if one is to examine it closely, reveals itself to a kind of culmination of those stories: a collection of primal fears and wonder. And in most human cultures, the image of a maze, or a labyrinth, can be found in at least one story." He nodded to himself. "Yes, I believe that the Labyrinth is merely the personification of humanity's dreams." He frowned. "Or perhaps it goes deeper than that, and it is their origin." He shook his head, disgruntled. "There is a reason I've spent several lifetimes on this very subject - it is not an easy riddle to answer."

"Is that what makes you so certain humans created the Labyrinth?" Sarah asked doubtfully. "Stories?"

"You used to put very great faith in them yourself, didn't you?" Chaucer chided gently, and Sarah blushed slightly. "But no, it is not only for that reason. I am also greatly influenced by the fact that the Labyrinth alters with each new mortal that enters its gates."

("Why is it different?"

"Because you are different.")

Sarah hesitated, hand placed on the rough bark of a sparkling tree beside her. "That's right," she whispered. "I knew that."

"Take, for instance, your first journey through its boundaries," Chaucer continued, unhearing. "That impressive staircase room in the castle - that was not there before you arrived." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Interesting, that. Usually a mortal's influence doesn't overlap into Jareth's private realm. But to continue - the staircase room was your own contribution. As were the Fireys, I believe, and the Bog of Eternal Stench."

"What?" Sarah gasped. "Alright, I understand the Escher room, and the Fireys, even - but the Bog? How did I have anything to do with that?"

Chaucer smiled wryly. "You had a baby brother at that time, did you not?"

"I still do - well, not so much a baby, anymore. But yes."

"And as a very capable - if temperamental - young woman, I'm sure you were expected to perform diaper duty every once in a while?

"I -" Sarah's eyes widened.

"Didn't enjoy it much, did you?"

"That's what it reminded me of!" Sarah yelped. "But it was much, much worse."

"That would be the Labyrinth taking liberties. It takes the ordinary and transforms it into the extraordinary - yet still somehow familiar. Like any myth."

"But Hoggle knew about the Bog! Like it was infamous, or something."

"Stuff like that doesn't take long to get infamous," Hoggle muttered. "Word gets 'round pretty damn quick."

"And Sir Didymus lived there!"

"Oh, there was always a bog in that particular section," Chaucer dismissed her protests airily. "It just recently became the Bog of Eternal Stench. Thanks to you."

Sarah shook her head wonderingly. "That's incredible."á

Chaucer smiled.

Sarah was silent for a few moments, taking it all in. Suddenly, she spoke up. "Where does he come into all of this?"

Chaucer shrugged, bony shoulders protruding. "Every story has an evil magician, an enchanted prince, etc. Every tribe has a King of Dreams - or Nightmares."

"Not anymore," Sarah murmured to herself. "We've forgotten most of it."

"Perhaps. But they are still fascinated by the old stories, I would be willing to bet."

Sarah thought of a small red book that had had a permanent place on her dressing table for so many years, until she had firmly shut it in a drawer. "That, I can't deny." She was silent for a moment more, and then decided to take a risk. "I stole his pendant."

"You what?!" Two voices chorused together, and then the owners took a moment to exchange glares.

"How did you ever manage that?" Chaucer continued.

"What were y'thinking?!" Hoggle said, a beat later.

Sarah laughed softly. "I was desperate," she admitted. "I was lost and alone, without you guys. He was there to make fun, of course." She shrugged. "It was very much a spur-of-the-moment thing, I promise. Never to be attempted again."

"Sarah, did you have any idea. no, I supposed you didn't," Chaucer finished grimly, while Hoggle's simply struggled to deal with this new development, opening and closing his mouth like a frantic fish. "You took an incredible risk, my dear."

"See, that's the thing," Sarah continued. "I mean. he was angry at me, obviously. And I was really frightened there for a moment --"

Hoggle snorted in disbelief.

" - but he didn't. attack me, or anything. He simply asked for it back." She thought about it for a moment. "Come to think of it, he never actually touched it." She turned to Chaucer, who was watching, with great amusement, Hoggle turn a mottled red with impotent rage. "What is it, exactly?"

"Hmm?" Chaucer responded, still distracted by Hoggle (now turning an unbecoming shade of purple). "Oh. The pendant? Ah, yes," he said nervously. "Perhaps we should pick up the pace. Time is of the essence, of course."

"Chaucer," she said in a threatening tone. "What are you not telling me?"

"Please keep in mind, young lady," he answered testily, "that Jareth is still my sovereign, and I still owe my first allegiance to him."

"You betrayed that alliance the moment you decided to guide me through the Labyrinth," Sarah replied tartly. "And don't think he doesn't know it."

Chaucer's pockmarked face blanched unbecomingly, and Hoggle sniggered. "Oh. Mentioned that, did he?" Chaucer said faintly. "Ah. I believe I shall lengthen my sabbatical."

"You do that," Sarah said grimly. "It's probably a very, very good idea. But before that," whirling around to face him, "I want you to tell me everything you know about that damn pendant. Right now."

Surprised, Chaucer halted in his tracks. His bat-like ears flapped against his head, almost questioningly. "And why," he asked, scrutinizing her face carefully, "would it be so important to you? And how exactly," he continued, overriding her attempts to speak, "did you get it from Jareth? And if he didn't ever touch it with his hands," tilting his bulbous head to one side, "how exactly did he get it back, pray tell?"

Sarah sighed, knowing she was beaten. "You tell me, and I'll tell you. Deal?"

Chaucer nodded shortly. "Indeed." He resumed his path through the forest, waddling sedately ahead of the rest of them. "I must admit, I do not know as much as I'd like to. But," and he momentarily looked over his shoulder in her direction, "you remember the living records?"

"Couldn't ever forget them."

"Of course. Well, Jareth keeps his own records as they develop, you see. He has his own private library, and although I have, regretfully, never been granted access, I believe he has quite an impressive collection of both living records and mortal literature. Forgive me; I stray from the topic at hand - ahem. Yes, well, after a volume has completed itself, he decides whether or not to give it to my keeping. Needless to say, I have always been deemed trustworthy by His Majesty - ever since I assumed the post of Librarian. And when I began to compile my research in writing about the history of the Labyrinth, he was very gracious in making sure I received all the records from before I became Librarian." He paused. "All but two."

Sarah quickly looked up from the ground she was treading so carefully, almost tripping on a thick branch. "Two? Which two?"

"The first volume, of course, as it is natural to assume. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to indulge in these delightful philosophical debates about the Labyrinth's - and Jareth's -- origins. However, the other book. The only other record I am missing is the thirteenth volume."

"Oh." Sarah hopped ahead over tangling vines in the undergrowth until she walked abreast of her friend. "I see. should I think there's something significant about that?"

Chaucer shot her an amused look. "Perhaps, but with you, I would never expect too much."

Sarah smiled, recognizing the teasing for what it was. "Alright, so you have all volumes except the first and the thirteenth. What does this have to do with his pendant?"

Chaucer smiled, a trifle smugly. "There is a significant disparity between the volumes before the missing thirteenth record, and those that follow."

"What disparity?" Sarah asked, still concentrating on her footing.

"The pendant, in which you are so ardently interested." Sarah stopped in her tracks, turning to face Chaucer in amazement. "In volumes two through twelve," Chaucer continued, "there is no mention at all, even in the slightest detail, of its existence. And believe me - I have looked."

"So you're saying." Sarah trailed off.

"That the thirteenth volume concerns how he acquired that most interesting trinket. And he wants no one to see it; not even myself, his trustworthy Librarian." Chaucer grimaced. "Well, formerly trustworthy."

Sarah walked along beside him, momentarily introspective. "So he didn't always have it," she said finally.

Chaucer gave her an exasperated look. "No, not to put too find a point on it! But there is so much more to it than that, so much room for speculation. Where did he get it? Did he take it off a victim of the Labyrinth? Did he create it himself, using his ever-impressive powers? Or perhaps." Chaucer mused to himself. "Perhaps the explanation is even more convoluted than one might think." He sighed deeply. "All we know is, it is an artifact of incredible power."

"And. how do 'we' know that?" Sarah asked.

Chaucer sniffed. "It says so. In all the records."

"All the records after the thirteenth, you mean."

His pockmarked nose twitched in annoyance. "Well, yes. But those have absolute authority, of course. No one can alter the records, or in any way influence their narrative."

"Do the records have a bias?"

His ears stood up on his head in pure indignation. "Do the records have a - what are you implying, young lady?"

"I'm not implying - it's a simple question." She tucked an errant strand of dark hair behind one ear as she walked. "For instance: the account of my first trip through the Labyrinth in my record, and the one in his. Are they different? Do they echo our viewpoints? Or are they completely dispassionate?" She noticed, abstractly, that talking to Chaucer had the same effect on her as writing English papers in the wee small hours of the morning: the scholarly tone got away from her.

Chaucer sputtered for a moment, "Well, of course - I mean, I can't see any reason why -" His ears drooped. "To tell you the truth, I am not completely sure."

"Well, you've read my record," Sarah remarked dryly. "Don't you remember if there was any difference?"

"Yes, I have had the opportunity to peruse your record. I have not done with Jareth's."

"Why not?"

"Well, er." Chaucer ducked his eyes to the ground. "To be perfectly frank, he hasn't given it to me."

"Oh." Sarah thought about it a moment. "Well, maybe it hasn't completed itself, yet."

If anything, Chaucer managed to look even more dismayed. "No, no. I'm quite sure enough time has elapsed." He hesitated. "To be honest, enough time has elapsed for several new volumes to be delivered to my care - but Jareth has not been handing them over. He hasn't given me a new record, in fact, since you first entered the Labyrinth's gates." He turned his dark red eyes to her face, which was thoughtful. "It was one of the many reasons why I decided a vacation from life at the Castle was in order - in general, too much bad feeling around the place."

"Hmmm," Sarah remarked. Obviously wishing to change the subject, she began again. "So all we know is that it's supposed to have incredible power - and we only know that from his own records, which may be prejudiced."

"Huh. I know it's dangerous," Sarah heard Hoggle mutter behind them. "And I don't need no book t'tell me so."

Sarah stopped suddenly, turning around to face him. "Hoggle?" she said softly, "Is there something you know that you're not telling us?"

Hoggle shoved his hands deep inside the pockets of his jerkin, scowling. "Doesn' matter, anyways. Though you two'd forgotten about me, chatterin' away up ahead." He glared at the ground. "Besides. Some things don't bear repeatin'."

"Hoggle." Sarah knelt in front of him, forcing him to look her in the face. "Hoggle, it's important." He only scowled further. "Please?"

Reluctantly, Hoggle lifted his head, eyes pleading. "I used to live in the Castle," he began gruffly. "Ain't got no family. So I stayed there."

Sarah's forehead wrinkled as she thought back. "But you said you couldn't take me to the center, that time."

Hoggle laughed, a bit harshly. "Don't know how to work the maze, if that's what you're askin'. But there's ways to get quick from the Palace to the Gates, or anywhere else you need to. Magic and stuff."

"He's right about that," Chaucer broke in suddenly, appearing near Sarah's shoulder. "I told you about the rumors of a portrait hall, filled with paintings like the one we used together. Jareth has ways."

"Go on, Hoggle," Sarah urged softly.

Hoggle hunched inside the material of his jerkin, as if trying to disappear from sight. "S'only one big punishment in the Labyrinth," he muttered. "I mean, really big - kind where Jareth doesn't even get angry. He just goes cold." He swallowed nervously, eyes darting everywhere except Sarah's face. "It's banishment. If y'ever do something to make Jareth go cold, he banishes you. For good."

"Banished where?" Sarah asked, making sure to include Chaucer in the question. "The lands outside the Labyrinth?"

Chaucer was the one that answered, shaking his head slowly. "That would be punishment enough, I'm sure. The lands that borders the Labyrinth are harsh and barren - though I hear one may travel beyond that, and find a habitable realm." He frowned. "But what your loyal friend has just reminded us of. yes, I'd forgotten about that. I'd heard of it done, but never seen it. Those unlucky creatures are not abandoned to the mercies of the elements, or simply cast out of the gates. They vanish completely."

"When Jareth banishes you," Hoggle said, voice hoarse, "you stop existin'."á

Sarah looked at Hoggle a moment, taking in the stark terror in his eyes. Wordlessly, she wrapped her arms around him, hugging him close for comfort.

"I saw it done, once," he continued, speaking softly into her ear. "Magsley the bogwitch had done somethin' - nobody wanted to say what. She was crawlin' in front of the throne, begging for forgiveness. Jareth just looked at her. He didn' say nothin' - just held up on of those crystals he's always tossin' around, up in front of his chest. Right in front of his medallion. And the medallion shone, and it went through the crystal like a ray of light, and it hit Magsley --" He squeezed his eyes shut tight, and Sarah could feel him shaking. "She screamed, and was gone. There was nothin' left of her."

He pulled away from Sarah, gnarled hands clenched into fists and held tightly at his sides. "I was afraid he do that to me, if I didn' follow orders," he said shortly. "That's why I done what I did - givin' that peach, and all. I know that's no excuse." He raised his eyes to hers. "But that's what I thought. And then, after you'd left, I was afraid he'd do it to me 'cause you never called for us, and he knew you wouldn't care." He shook his head, slowly.á

Sarah just sat there, open-mouthed at his air of defeat. Unexpectedly, tears stung, her eyes. "Oh God, Hoggle." She lifted a hand to her mouth to muffle a sob. "I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

He patted her awkwardly with one hand. "S'okay. He didn't. And now you're back." He gave her a shy smile, and it was all she could do to keep from dissolving into tears.

"Ahem." Behind them, Chaucer was surreptitiously giving his reading glasses a vigorous rubdown, carefully not intruding. "I do not mean to be indelicate, but perhaps we should be moving along. Whenever you are both ready."

Hoggle and Sarah smiled at each other in acknowledgement. Sarah climbed to her feet, brushing off the dark dirt that had collected on her jeans, and they silently formed their usual procession through the trees. There was a companionable silence between the three.

Until Chaucer broke it.

"By the by, Sarah," he said as they trudged amidst the glooming forest. "How did you get the pendant away from Jareth?"á

"I kissed him," she said simply.

Two voices roared in perfect agreement: "You did WHAT?!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The ground underfoot had become suddenly loamy, sinking deep and soft beneath her feet. The rich, darker earth lacked the sharp glitter of before, and instead had the subdued quality of velvet underfoot. Kneeling momentarily, Sarah scooped up a bit into her hand, and it crumbled feather-soft between her fingertips, falling noiselessly back to the ground. She looked up, and found that the sky had also changed: it was now a calm, dark grey-blue, graced with a sprinkling of perfect stars.

"This is such a strange place," Sarah murmured to herself.

"What's that, my dear?" Chaucer asked, squinting his red eyes into the darkness ahead.

"Your Labyrinth," she laughed softly, feeling a bit silly. "It's so --"

"Fascinating?" Chaucer chirped.

"Treacherous," Hoggle muttered.

Chaucer frowned at him. "Captivating, you mean."

"Damn dangerous, I mean."

"Unpredictable, maybe?"

"Threatenin' - definitely."

"Absorbing!"

"Yeah, it'll swallow you up, alright."

"Full of surprises!"

"Full of shi--"

"It isn't that," Sarah hastily interrupted. "Though those are definitely all true - well, maybe not all of it," shooting a disapproving look at Hoggle, who grumped and refused to look apologetic. "It's just." She looked around her, that the trees that had changed, in the blink of an eye, from gnarled trunks and low-hanging branches to straight-backed sentinels. They loomed high against the dusky horizon, fir-edged filigrees in the sky. Sarah stood a moment, breathing in their peaceful silence.

"There's so much of it," she said finally. "Layers and layers and layers of - of different worlds. Like Narnia," eyes sparkling. "I feel like Jill and Eustace, braving the Underground to." her voice faltered, then resumed. "Well, I suppose I am rescuing Brian, but he's hardly a prince." She cast a challenging look at both of them, voice dangerously light. "Think I'll meet some genuine royalty on the way?

Hoggle, suddenly, was very interested in the way his feet shuffled in the soft earth. So was Chaucer. Neither made the obvious point.

(The aftermath of Sarah's kissing bombshell was, of course, spectacular, with both Hoggle and Chaucer attaining new decibels in admonition. This eventually degraded into some very pointed teasing, which Sarah promptly put a stop to with the statement that, since she was bigger than both of them, neither love nor wisdom would keep them from being thrashed if they continued.)

"Right," Sarah said, satisfied. She breathed in the musky scent of the dark earth. "Onward, then?"

Chaucer, as always, strode forward doggedly in what seemed a random direction, Hoggle grumbling discontentedly behind him, Sarah bringing up the rear. They walked together, talking a little, seemingly lost in perpetual night. Chaucer had backed up Hoggle's claim that the darkness would increase, slowly, as they reached the heart of the forest - and with it, midnight. From there, he assured Sarah, the going would be easier, and day would eventually break above their heads. Until then, they would have to wander in ghostly half-light, haunted by an ever-darkening sky.

Sarah was spooked. The tall trees, like decisive brush strokes, seemed to watch them walking by, and she had a constant itch on the back of her neck from the feeling of unseen gazes. She shivered slightly, crossing her arms protectively over her chest. Subdued rustlings and whistles followed their silent steps; rusty croaks and muffled growls.

"Um, Chaucer?" she called uncertainly. "Is there anything is this part of the forest that's, um, particularly dangerous?"

Hoggle shot her s dark look from beneath spiky eyebrows. "Take your pick."

Chaucer glared at him. "Nothing too strenuous, my dear, I promise. As long as we stick close together." But his clawed feet never paused in their speedy stride.

"Gotcha." Sarah picked up the pace, trying to shake her feet free from the treacherously yielding loam. The forest swallowed up the word, whole, and continued to watch.

They sped silently along the forest floor, surrounded by shadows and creeping sound. Their pace grew to a run - Chaucer waddling frantically, as Hoggle huffed grimly along, Sarah struggling desperately as her sneakered feet seemed to sink deeper into the earth with every step. Behind, ripples of movement followed them: a shivering of leaves that hinted at something hiding, just beyond the trees. It was slowly gaining on them, drawing every closer, gaining speed and confidence as they ran.

Sarah was badly winded, breathing heavily as they raced beneath the fir treetops. With the rasping gasp of sand, the dry, shifting earth beneath her feet gave way, and she sank down in it up to her knees. It made a cold, slithering sound as she struggled to find firm ground - like the coils of a twisting snake. Behind her, something screamed in predatory triumph.

"Hoggle! Chaucer!" she shouted, falling backwards as she tried to pull her legs free. As one they turned, not even pausing as they ran back to help her. Each grabbed one of her hands, wrenching her free as she finally was able to stumble onward. They ran, hands still clasped, as enraged yowls and gleeful chitterings pursued their flight. They ran, feet pounding and breath tearing at their lungs, blindly fleeing through that dark forest of sentinel trees. Sarah could hear the movement of fur and feathers right behind them, feel hot breath as jaws snapped at their heels like steel traps. Something brushed her back -

-- and the moon burst free in the sky. A pale globe, it flooded the forest with pure, white light that cascaded over the trees, gilding their bark with silvery luminescence and chasing away the shadows. There was a sound: as if something was sizzling, frying in a pan. and the rank smell of burned meat. A terrified howl.

. and they were safe.

"Well," Chaucer said brightly, as the others collapsed with relief, panting for air. "I think we handled that well enough, don't you?"

"I'm gonna kill him," Hoggle said hoarsely.

"No," Sarah gasped between breaths. "He's the only one who knows the way out of here." She patted him reassuringly. "Wait until we're at the Castle. Then you can kill him." She pushed herself into a sitting position, still breathing rather heavily. "Chaucer, what was that?"

"I have no idea - isn't that fascinating? It must be new."

Sarah groaned, while Hoggle muttered darkly about dwarf recipes involving Librarian.

"Now then," Chaucer continued, fairly oblivious, "are we all ready then? This next part is very easy going." With that, he waddled between two enormous slabs of rock right ahead of them; slate-grey guardians that rose high above their heads, almost as high as the treetops. On either side of them were wide, high-reaching rocks, scaling almost on a vertical slope. It seemed like they were now going to travel along the rift between two huge rocky hills - small mountains, even.

There was the thinnest opening between the slate slabs, small enough so that Chaucer has a tad of trouble wriggling his massive body through.

"Come on then," he shouted from the other side. "We have successfully triumphed over our first obstacle! Isn't this exciting?"

Hoggle wheezed with rage. "Dead. He's dead." With a murderous look, he got unsteadily to his feet. Although he made as if to charge toward his target, he hesitated and turned back to Sarah. "You alright?"

"Yeah." She was exhausted - just reveling in the fact she didn't have to run anymore. She waved a hand at him dismissively. "Go on, I'll catch up in a minute."

He looked doubtful, but was too motivated by the prospect of chewing out his favorite Librarian to really give pause. He forced through the slender opening between the two slabs of rock, the muffled sounds of their argument could be heard.

Sarah breathed deep, relaxing, feeling the cool strands of grass tangle with her fingers. After a moment, she jumped to her feet, briskly dusting herself off. She walked over to the two slabs of stone, finding they parted just wide enough for her body to fit through easily. Hands braced against the cool rock, she peered through to see Chaucer and Hoggle just ahead, highly animated and shouting loudly at each other as they walked along the ravine floor. It was, she was surprised to find, almost like a slender strip of valley laid between the two small mountains. Instead of being so totally sheltered from the elements are to become sparse and barren, the ravine had instead blossomed. Soft grass grew underfoot, and the tall trees growing on the mountains spilled down to the very edges of the ravine. The moon, shining softly in the sky, dappled the ground with patterns of light and shadow. Sarah looked up -

-- and gasped in perfect wonder.

The trees that grew on the mountains were huge, leafy things; their wide branches reaching almost close enough to touch over the gap of the ravine. They formed a soft, rustling ceiling that whispered gently with every breeze, waving with the wind. Between them were spun webs: huge, silvery webs that formed an intricate, lace-like pattern between treetops. The strands that formed them were as thick as Sarah's smallest finger, and looked to be as tough as wire. They sparkled beautifully in the moonlight, glimmering like precious metal with every twist of the tree branches they rested upon. But they moved a bit strangely, as if they were weighted. Squinting, standing on tiptoe, Sarah could just about glimpse the elegant forms of scaled, silvery creatures, curled up contentedly in their hammocks of silver webs.

"Dragons."

Sarah started. There, nestled in the shadows, was her favorite Goblin King. He was leaning comfortably against the solid line of a tree trunk, head tilted upwards. He was watching the webs, as she had been, and didn't turn in her direction as she continued to study him. He was wearing a strange outfit - a cloak of rags and tatters and lace, all in different shades of red: vermilion, scarlet, and ruby. It swathed his slender form in color and shapelessness, though, as he stood away from his tree, she could see the rags parted easily to allow movement. Beneath, a silken outfit the color of bone gleamed in the moonlight.

"Oh." She swallowed. Another look at the creatures above them. "They're beautiful."

"I think so, too," he said softly. Then he finally turned his gaze to her. "Are you enjoying your second trip though my Labyrinth, Sarah?"

"Sure," she said, still a little shaky from their race through the forest. "It's always a blast." And then, a little unnerved by the intensity of his gaze: "How's Brian?"

But unlike last time, the question failed to faze His Majesty. "Fine," he said casually, linking his hands behind his back, standing with his feet apart. "I'll tell him you inquired."

Sarah blinked, still standing uncertainly in the entrance to the ravine. "You. you see Brian?"

"What," Jareth asked, "you expected I had him locked up in the oubliette? Don't be silly, Sarah. Brian is well taken care of. And we chat quite often." He smiled to himself, as if he had a secret.

Sarah, on the other hand, was suddenly furious. "If you've done anything to hurt him," she threatened, "I will make sure you feel it."

Jareth laughed. "Really, Sarah," he mocked. "I say one thing, you assume the opposite is true. One would think you suspect me of duplicity." He chuckled again, the loose patches of his cloak fluttering. "But then," he drawled, "Brian informs me - he and I are quite good friends now, did you know that? - that you are not the most trusting of souls."ááááá

"I'd think you'd want to avoid me, if I'm such a brat," Sarah muttered. "But you keep popping up everywhere."

Jareth smiled widely. "Yes, well - what is it they say in your world? 'Women: can't live with them -'"

"No fun stealing babies without them?" Sarah finished brightly.

"Something like that," Jareth drawled. "You see, your friend is giving me quite an education about the mortal realm. Information I hope will come in handy, some day."

Sarah's blood chilled at the very thought.

Jareth walked a pace, eyes again on the silver strands above their heads. "He adores you, you know."

"What?" Sarah asked, caught off guard.

"Brian." He was quiet for a moment, contemplating the shining splendor. "He thinks the world of you." His tone was a strange mixture - regret, bitterness, and condescension - but Sarah was too bewildered to take much notice.

"That's nice," she said shortly. "We can deal with that if we get back home. When we get back home," she amended firmly.

Jareth began to laugh, softly, almost wearily. "Ah, Sarah." He leaned his shoulder against a tree on the opposite bank of the ravine. "Three years, and you still haven't learned any grace in accepting the affections of a suitor." There was a deep sigh from beneath the trees - but the shadows were so thick that she couldn't see his face. "I would have given you your dreams," he spoke softly, the disembodied voice drifting across the expanse between them. "Anything you wanted - you only had to ask. Was that so terrible a fate?"

("I ask for so little - just let me rule you.")

She wished she could see his face.

"I didn't want to go through my life frightened of the Goblin King," she finally answered, voice as soft as his own.

"If I remember correctly - and I do - that was hardly all I asked of you." He lifted away from the trees, and the moonlight shone on his angered beauty. "Or have you chosen to forget that inconvenient detail?"

("Just fear me, love me, do as I say.")

"Fearing someone you care about isn't love!" She protested hotly, hands clenched into fists at her sides. "It. it's worship! It isn't real!"

"Ah." His eyes glinted dangerously. "Then perhaps this will be real enough for you." One hand lifted imperiously, motioned the dragon webs above them. "You've been here long enough," he said shortly. "They're coming awake, now, ready for the newest hunt. And if they find you here, they will savage you for trespassing upon their territory." He let his arm fall, turning his cruel eyes upon her. "That is, if you don't escape."

Sarah swallowed, heart thudding in her mouth. "Wait a minute," she said doggedly. "This is the only way through the mountains!"

Jareth simply smiled.

Sarah stared in him in shock. "I'd have to turn back around, wouldn't I?" she asked, voice quiet. "I'd have to backtrack. loose all the ground I've covered." Her eyes blazed with rage. "You bastard."

Jareth shrugged lightly. "I play this game to win, Sarah - I always have."

"But what about Hoggle and Chaucer?"

"They have the scent of the Labyrinth's magic on them. As do I. You do not - and are therefore an intruder. An interloper. A threat." He smiled with his so-sharp teeth. "And don't think you can just run quickly through their territory - it continues for several lengths down the ravine, and they would be upon you quicker than thought. No," shaking his head in mock dismay. "I'm afraid you will have to start all over."

Sarah stared at him, and in her stomach she felt the sinking feeling of despair. She felt numb, empty - faced with the fact of her inevitable defeat. For it was inevitable, if she had to backtrack - there was no way she could make it to the Castle in time. She closed her eyes against the pain, and whispered dully, "I hate you."

More laughter.

She opened her dry, stinging eyes, glaring at his mirthful face. And made a decision.

She took a step onto the ravine floor, passing the slate-grey slabs that guarded the entrance. She stood firmly upon the soft ground, facing him, ready to fight.

"Give me the child."

Jareth blinked. "What?"

"Give me the child," she repeated lightly. "Through dangers untold," she continued, with the barest of smiles, taking another step along the soft carpet of the ravine floor, "and hardships unnumbered -"

"Have you gone insane?" Jareth asked, obviously bewildered.á

Step. "-I have fought my way here to the Castle, beyond the Goblin City--" Step.

"Sarah, did you hear me?" The Goblin King asked, a terrible intensity in his voice. "This is not a game - they will kill you. And I won't be able to prevent them!"

Step. "-to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours --" Step. Step. Step.

"Sarah, I am not lying to you." He reached out, almost as if to touch her, to push her back, but pulled away at the last moment. "Chaucer has already explained to you the limits of my rule - I command, I do not completely subdue. And dumb beasts like the dragons - I cannot prevent them from doing what is in their natures to do!"

"-and my kingdom as great." One step more - and she was so close to him, almost touching. If she took one more step, the line of their bodies would meet. Distantly, she realized how much taller she had grown in three years. Her forehead was just about level with his eyes. She looked up into those eyes - and saw amazement.

"And then the next line," she said softly. "That all-important next line. the one you made me promise not to say. Or - what would happen? I forfeit everything. Not just my dreams."

"It's been three years since that battle," he said dryly. "Try to keep your mind on the present danger - and let it go."

Her own eyes blazed with anger. "I might say the same of you." Overhead, she could hear the sibilant rustling and musical trills of the dragons, coming awake. Her heart beat faster. "Do you know what I realized? If I lose, if you get my dreams - that last line won't be true anymore. In fact, things will have so altered as to be the exact opposite. but then you already knew that, didn't you?" The sounds were growing louder, less sleepy - warning of danger in their midst. "In fact, that's the entire point."

Jareth nodded slowly, eyes on her face. "Congratulations," he said. "I always said that you were a very perceptive girl."

"But I have to wonder," she continued, and the higher pitch of her voice indicated how afraid she really was, "why you care. After all, I'm just a mortal girl, and it was only one loss - why do to so much trouble? Why do you care?"áá

á"I don't, really," he said casually. "But it helps to pass the time."

Sarah took a deep breath, hyper-aware of the movement above their heads. "See," she said softly, "that's where I think you're lying. So I'm going to stand here," voice a trifle strained, "and wait for the dragons. To savage me, as you said." Her dark green eyes looked steadily into his crystalline ones. "But I don't think you'll let that happen."

Eyes narrowing. "And why not? If you turn back, I win. If they kill you, I win. Why would I thwart such a sure chance for victory?"

Sarah laughed a little, feeling the nervous giggles bubble up inside her. "I have no idea," she admitted. "But my options aren't nearly as attractive - so I'm going to take that risk."

He broke away, finally, turning his back on her. The patches of his cloak brushed softly against her face, he was so close. He strode away, almost defiantly, moving several paces away to watch from the shadows.

"Die, then," he said softly. "Throw away your life."

She couldn't find anything to say to that - in fact, she was too terrified to move at all. She simply stood there, holding his gaze with her own. His mouth hardened - his face filled her vision, the only thing she could see as she waited. Above her head, she could feel the currents of air moving as the dragons sprung into flight, shining bodies streaking against the night sky. Their calls were sharper now, almost flute-like; musical shrills in their intent to attack. Through it all, she watched Jareth, her eyes locked on his. She could see them now, out of the corner of her eye: twisting, scaled forms with delicately clawed wings, flowing down from the webbed canopy. They were coming for her, shrieking as they fell to earth, faster than falling water, keening with their descent. Terror seized her and she couldn't help it - she cowered, falling back and screaming as a wingtip grazed her face.

She was consumed, enfolded, enveloped. Strong arms lifted her up, cradled her close. Color blazed before her eyes - crimson and garnet, tongues of flame-colored fabric. He pressed her against his chest, one arm under her knees and the other supporting her back; as if she were a small child. Around them, the dragons spiraled and unfolded along their silvery lengths, an unbelievable spectacle of wings and fire and jeweled eyes. One of them passed close enough to touch the fluttering patches of Jareth's cloak, screaming for its victim. Jareth's hand came up and pressed against the back of Sarah's head, forcing her to bury her face into his shoulder, away from the danger. So she didn't see the dragon pause in midair, see it arrest its serpentine movement. She didn't see reptilian eyes meeting his cold ones. She didn't see the dragon bow its head in reverence, respect - and not for any notions of sovereignty. It was responding to the blatant aggression, the attitude of possession, in the imperious stance of the Goblin King.

The dragon knew the rules of the world. It acknowledged, and apologized, that it had dared to hunt another predator's prey.

Unconsciously regal, Jareth swept through the mass of swirling silver bodies, and they parted like water. Still cradling Sarah in his arms, he walked the length of the ravine. The dragons fanned out behind him, following in a respectful escort, their wings and fire leaving a path of iridescent beauty in his wake. From the shelter of his arms, Sarah watched. Their leader keened, once, and they soared as one towards the sky, crying for the pure moon above.

And the beauty ended.

Sarah hardly noticed as Jareth placed her, ever so gently, back on her feet. She sighed, a little forlorn. She was abruptly aware that she was huddled against his still form, and she stepped away quickly. He had sheltered her.

He had saved her.

She risked a quick glance at his face, still a little unbelieving of what had just happened. He stood as silent as stone in his graceful hangings of scarlet, beautiful face turned impassively away from her. His profile was expressionless, as if cut from glass.

"Thank you," she said quietly. She opened her mouth again, and then closed it. What else could she say? She was frightened of him again. All the courage she had before had leaked out of her with that frenzied attack - like a shattering of stars. She turned to escape.

"Sarah."

She caught herself, heart in her mouth. "Yes?"

"If I ever need to do something like that again."

Slowly, dreading what she would see, she turned around. He was looking straight at her - eyes blazing in a too-pale face.

"Yes?" she whispered.

"I won't."

And then, in a swirl of darkness and shining dust, he disappeared.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Brian shifted against the jagged rock wall of the oubliette, trying to get a little comfortable in order to sleep. He had just managed to twist his back enough to avoid bruising when the Goblin King strode in.

Brian didn't even have time to think. He blinked, and the next thing he knew Jareth had picked him up by his ragged shirt, slamming him into the stone behind. Jareth pinned him against the wall, a gloved hand resting easily at Brian's throat.

Jareth could crush his windpipe without hesitation. Brian could feel that, could feel the hideous promise of strength in those slender, elegant fingers. He froze like a cornered animal, breathing shallowly through his mouth.

Jareth's eyes held his, crystalline blue filled with hatred. And something else.

"She's mine," the Goblin King said quietly.

Brian paused. "What?" he asked carefully.

"Sarah," the King said casually. "She's mine." Then the anger returned and he leaned in closer, applying just enough pressure to make Brian gag slightly. "Do you understand that?" Jareth asked, too softly. "Is it possible for me push that fact far enough into your brain that it actually registers on your adolescent mind? Hmm?" He tilted his head to one side. "She's always been mine. From the moment she called on my goblins, I've owned a piece of her soul. I don't care," with a quiet intensity, "If she somehow, miraculously, manages to solve the Labyrinth again. I don't care if she rescues you. Takes you home. Cleans you, feeds, you, tucks you into bed. Even if it's her bed." His gloved fingers tightened, black spots swimming before Brian's eyes. "If you married. If you managed to have two point five children and a lovely little puppy," he ended viciously. "None of that will change the fact that she. Is. Mine." He rested his cheek against Brian's. "And you, my fine feathered," he whispered gently into Brian's ear, "will live always with the knowledge that the one you love belongs body, mind and soul," he pulled back, looking directly into Brian's eyes, "to me."

He removed his hand abruptly, watching as Brian slumping to the floor in a violent coughing fit. Jareth waited until the boy was breathing normally.

"Stay away from what's mine," he said simply.

Then he turned and left.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sarah spotted her friends just up ahead, running to catch up. Her heart was still thudding frantically in her chest like a caged animal, but she managed to smile as she reached them.

"Any trouble?" Chaucer asked, brow furrowed. "You took a little while - we almost decided to go back for you."

"No, nothing," she lied. "You know me, always off in a daze, wandering feet." She laughed nervously, avoiding Hoggle's curious gaze.

"By the way, Sarah," Chaucer resumed in a quite tone, he and Sarah falling back to talk as they walked onward. "I have been pondering your Hog-friend's revelation about the power's of Jareth's pendant."

"Really?" Sarah asked, distractedly. "How nice."

Chaucer frowned in annoyance. "Well," he said huffily. "Never mind then. In future, I'll remember to keep my observations to myself." He waddled furiously ahead, expression sulky.

"Wait! Chaucer," Sarah lunged to catch up. "I'm sorry. I'm. please, tell me what you were thinking."

"Hmph." Looking as if he refused to be placated," Chaucer said airily: "Oh, nothing of great importance. It's just," and here the fašade fell away to reveal his deep interest in this new theory, "there's really only one way you can negate someone's existence entirely - if we are to believe that's what really happened."

"Hoggle says so, and I believe him."

"Yes, well. I would like to observe the process with my own eyes. But barring that possibility," he said hastily, "I assume that we may hypothesize that Jareth used the exact opposite power of that which fuels the Labyrinth - and its creatures. If this is true, than it's no wonder he reigns with such terror. He hold the greatest threat to the Labyrinth around his own neck!"

"But what would be the exact opposite of the Labyrinth?" Sarah asked distractedly.

"Not the Labyrinth itself - but whatever created the Labyrinth. Although I admit, we have no way of knowing what that is for certain. But, for instance, if we were to go with the theory that it was formed from mortal dreams and fears, we could trace back--"

"But what would be the exact opposite of that?" Sarah interrupted. "Mortal nightmares?"

Chaucer thought about it briefly. "No," he said after a bit, "that would not follow, as the Labyrinth is made up from as many terror as wonders. Perhaps the dreams of one who. is not mortal?"

"Oh my God." Sarah froze in her tracks, remembering.

("What is it?

"What did you promise me, should you fail to solve my Labyrinth in time?")

Sarah closed her eyes, feeling dizzy with the sudden shock of revelation. Chaos flooded her mind, a barrage of hints and clues she should have paid attention to coming at her all at once. Through the confusion, only one thought was clear:

It's his dream.

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 7 of 15

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