Continuing Tales

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 8 of 15

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A Forfeit of Dreams

A wall, rising a few feet above Sarah's head, made of worn dark stones - that was Chaucer's triumphant discovery. He grinned, tusks bared in the moonlight, tapping it with one sharp claw.

"What is it?" Sarah asked, stepping carefully through the tangling underbrush to reach his side.

"A barrier," Chaucer said significantly, "which means there is something of import behind it."

Hoggle snorted. "Ow, give it up - you're lost, and won't admit it!"

Chaucer frowned at him. "Lost, I am not," he said firmly. "Deterred, perhaps. The Labyrinth is not a static environment; you can't expect me to know every square inch of it. Hmph."

"Hmph yourself," Hoggle muttered. "We've been wandren' around this damn forest long enough. We're on a time limit, here!"

"I know that," Chaucer snapped. "This will help!"

"Is there a gate, or some way to get inside?" Sarah broke in. "I suppose we could climb over it."

Hoggle crossed his arms adamantly. "Nuthin' doin'."

"I'm sure there's an entrance somewhere," Chaucer said hastily. "Give me a minute," as he began to run his claws over the wall's surface, "and I'll - ah! Here it is!" He delicately pried a low door -- almost indiscernible from the smooth stones surrounding it, disguises as it was with grime and clinging ivy -- away from the rest of the structure. The door creaked complainingly on its rusted hinges, forcing Chaucer to tug rather sharply in order to wrench it free. With a groan, the low door - barely coming to Sarah's hips - opened. Beaming, Chaucer waved them inside.

Hoggle and Sarah looked at each other, and then shrugged. Hoggle fit easily through the entrance, as did Chaucer, but Sarah had to crawl through on her hands and knees, ducking away from dislodged dirt as she scampered through. Shaking herself off, she rose unsteadily to her feet on the other side. She could hear Chaucer shutting the gate, now more compliant, behind them with a satisfied click as she brushed the dust off her jeans and shirt. Satisfied, she looked around at their surroundings for the first time - and gave a low whistle.

Paradise was on all sides. That was the only suitable word for it - paradise. They were surrounded by greenery, lush and verdant. Trees sprang up around them, but not the blanketing, glittering trees of before, or even the straight sentinels they had just left. These trees were comfortably gnarled and bent, with wide, low-hanging branches perfect for climbing. Their broad, thick leaves whispered together with the soft breeze. Against their dark softness were flowers, opening delicate and curving petals into wide blossoms, shining like pale stars. Amidst the trees other flowers bloomed: on climbing ivy, their miniature buds clustered closely together, pale pinks and yellows in the moonlight, or on tall, proud stalks as thick as Sarah's arm, tear-shaped petals striped and freckled with exotic hues. They clustered at her feet in the thick grass, dainty steams bowed with the weight of their bell-like blossoms. To the right, Sarah could hear the steady rush and murmur of a stream - turning her head, she saw it cutting across the far border, running alongside the wall as velvety-dark moss bordered either edge. Her sneakers scuffed at a path of pale, pebbled stone that was born under her feet and wandered, idly, around the garden, only to suddenly split apart and run wildly in all directions.

"Where are we?" she asked, voice muted in astonishment. She watched Chaucer turn his head towards her, eyes shining in the bright moonlight. His head was curiously bowed - as if he were trying to hide between his shoulders.

"Oops," he finally said.

"OOPS?!" Hoggle roared. "OOPS?!? That's what you've got t'say for yourself?! Oops?" He lunged, grabbing the squat demon by the shoulders and shaking him frantically. "Do know what'll happen if he finds us here? With her?! He'll cut off our noses! He'll make it so our legs are on top of our heads! He'll drop us in the Bog of Eternal Stench! Well," he said grimly, firming his grip on the abashed Chaucer, "I won't have any nose after this, and walk around like I'm two days in the bottle, and stink like a pukin' cat, BUT I'LL MAKE SURE HE DOES IT TO YOU FIRST!!!"

"Hoggle, Chaucer, what the he-what is going on?" Sarah demanded. "Put him down, Hoggle. Hoggle!" With a surly thump, Chaucer was set - firmly - down upon the ground again. He shook his head as he sat, looking a bit dazed. He smiled weakly up at Sarah, waving one clawed hand dismissively.

"Nothing at all, m'dear," he croaked, still looking a bit worse for the wear. "Just a teeny mishap."

"What? Will someone tell me what's going on?"

"The genius book-learner, here," Hoggle growled, "has taken us straight into His Majesty's private gardens. That's what's happened."

"Oh." Sarah deflated a little, losing a touch of her confidence. "Um. why don't we just walk out?"

"Oh, no, that's not possible," Chaucer shook his head, a bit dizzily. "Jareth never makes things so simple. You should know that."

"What do we do, then?"

"Oh, there's an exit here, somewhere, I'm sure of it." Chaucer gestured with razored claws airily, taking in the entire area in swirling loops. "Just have to find it."

"Chaucer, are you all right?" Sarah knelt down next to the flummoxed creature, peering anxiously into his bemused face. "Hoggle, I think you shook him too hard."

"We could leave him here?" Hoggle asked hopefully.

"Hoggle."

"Sick people shouldn't be travelin'!"

"No." Sarah climbed to her feet. "He should be alright in a few minutes. You stay here with him - I'll go look for someway out. When he gets better, you can both find me."

"Sarah!" Hoggle reached up, placing one hand on her arm. "I'm sorry I messed that fat idiot up, I swear! Only don't go explorin' a place like this yourself. Please?"

"Hoggle, I'll be fine." She smiled down into his face, creased with worry. "I promise I'll be careful - but we should get out of here as soon as possible."

"You don't understand, Sarah," tugging on her arm. "There's things in here - things I wouldn't want you to see."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, nothing dangerous, I s'pose." He withdrew his hand, tucking it nervously behind his back, and avoiding her gaze. "Just. spook stuff. Creepy. This place used to be in the hedges, where you found me workin' before. I saw it then."

"It. moved?"

"Oh, yeah. Stuff does that all the time, here."

"Oh." Sarah looked around her, more wary than before. "Then I'll be double careful. Listen, just come find me when Chaucer feels better, okay?" And she sprinted off before he could say anything, waving as the shadows swallowed her up.

Hoggle sighed, watching. "Don't say I didn't warn her," he muttered.

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

Sarah trotted impatiently through the thicket of trees, pushing back branches bearing wide, soft leaves with her arms. A slender wand escaped her, hitting her softly across the face. She batted at it, spitting a leaf out of her mouth.

"Damn," she muttered. "I have no idea where I'm going."

She had been so eager to leap out of Hoggle's anxious grasp that she hadn't even bothered to follow one of the nicely plotted paths. She simply run straight for the trees - the result seeing that she could see little in front of her besides trees, trees, and more trees. It was annoying, and made her feel very, very silly. This was no way to combat the forces of darkness.

Or of whatever, she thought to herself. Forces of baby-snatchers? Nah. Forces of highly annoying, arrogant, better dressed than I am, overly tall goblin lords? She grinned. Sounds about right.

But Sarah was whistling in the dark, and she knew it. She could laugh at him, yes - when he wasn't in sight. When he wasn't standing right in front of her. When he wasn't holding her, protecting her.

"He saved me," Sarah said softly. A leaf became tangled between her fingers as she pushed her way through, and she rubbed its smooth surface absentmindedly. "He saved me."

She had counted on it happening. She had hoped for it, taken a terrible chance. And it had worked. But why had it worked? He had wanted her to fail - had pushed her into that fix, had laughed at her when she realized the terrible danger. But then she challenged him. and he saved her.

Why?

And the look on his face, when he had released her. Sarah shivered. No, it didn't make any sense. And that frightened her. An infuriated Goblin King was bad enough. An unpredictable infuriated Goblin King. that was the stuff of nightmares.

Lost in her thoughts, Sarah had ceased to pay strict attention to where her feet were wandering. Still frowning with concentration, her feet suddenly tangled in the creeping undergrowth - and she pitched forward with a graceless "oomph," just managing to catch herself before falling flat on her face.

"Ow," she said distinctly. Struggling in the dirt, she brushed cobwebs out of her hair angrily. "Pay attention, Sarah," she muttered to herself. She crouched, inspecting her knees, and hissed in pain when she found she had scraped them. They were just grazed, but her knees were bleeding, and her jeans were ripped. "Damn!"

Suddenly she heard the low, soft call of a bird, and her head snapped up. To her surprise, she found the trees - in the direction she had fallen, a little askew of her raggedy path - were thinning, allowing silvery shafts of moonlight to sift through the thick canopy overhead. In fact. she squinted, ignoring the pain in her knees, trying to get a better look. Yes, the forest definitely ended somewhere ahead. Spurred with new purpose, the struggled gamely to her feet and wrestled anew with the stout branches that blocked her path, which seemed to consciously wriggle out of her grip. Leaves thwapped her smartly in the face, and whippet-thin saplings clipped her sides as she walked on, but she simply scowled and trudged doggedly onward.

Eventually, she broke free of their tenacious grasping, almost stumbling into a secluded clearing. She pulled herself short just before falling on her face again, arms outspread to maintain balance. When she was sure of herself, she looked around.

This garden was very like the first she, Chaucer, and Hoggle had ventured into - shadowy and quiet, filled only with the sounds of grass and leaves rustling faintly in the gentle breeze. Flowers grew in wide, overgrown banks: oversized tiger lilies, silken orchids and the tiniest, most delicate rose blossoms she had ever seen, all entwined in overgrown plots scattered randomly over the grounds. The short, pale grasses were crushed beneath her sneakered feet, releasing a sweet scent. Over the entire scene the moon hung low in the sky, a gigantic glowing orb that cast a glistening sheen over everything in sight. It was, Sarah thought dreamily, lost in the wild beauty of it all, like a place from a fairytale. incredibly romantic.

She laughed softly, and whispered, "'Lady, by yonder moon I swear, that tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops'."

Suddenly, a loud rustle started in the bushes to her right, and she yelp, ducking into the safety of a nearby tree's shadow. She clutched desperately at the trunk, hands scraping against the rough, ragged bark, eyes darting wildly to see what - or who - had made the noise. Her breath froze in her throat as she caught sight of someone amidst the far trees: a slender figure in white, frozen against the darkness. Sarah crouched low to the ground behind her tree, heart thudding painfully in her chest.

When, after a few more anxious moments, no more sounds were heard, Sarah tentatively turned her gaze back to the intruder. Her or she stood with almost impossible stillness, upright and poised in the moonlight. Squinting to see better, Sarah kept watch for a few minutes, hands trembling slightly in anxiety. When the figure made no more movement, she stood, a sigh of relief carrying almost all the breath out of her body.

"It can't be him," she whispered to herself. "He would have done something by now. said something." She shook her head minutely, thoughtful gaze lingering on the motionless stranger. "Well," she murmured, "can't hurt to say hello, I guess."

She tentatively picked her way through the garden paths, made of the same smooth, pale stone as those in the first garden. Although her steps were cautious, eyes constantly trained on the silhouette of her strange companion, she knew she was being reckless. She was completely out in the open, the moonlight making the clearing as bright as day. She was alone, with no way to defend herself. If this person was an enemy, she was in trouble.

But they made no movement at all, not even as she drew closer and closer, even when she called a soft "hello," or whistled to get their attention. Frowning slightly, she abandoned caution and strode over casually, leaning slightly forward as to see their face. "Excuse me," she said politely as she began to make out their face, "but I -"

The words stuck in her mouth, clattering against her teeth in shock. She stared a long moment at that white, expressionless face, then collapsed where she was standing. Pulling still-trembling legs to her chest, she buried her face in her knees and giggled helplessly until tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.

A statue. That was what she had been so afraid of - what had sent her running like a deer into the shadows, shivering in terror. She fell backward into the soft, fragrant grass, still laughing weakly. What a silly girl she was.

Shaking her head, Sarah climbed to her feet. Her mouth was twisted in a wry smile as she circled the figurine, leaf-shadows flickering over her form as she traveled. She had to admit to herself, it was a damn good statue. No wonder she had mistaken it for a real person: the detail was incredible. Her eyes widened as they followed the lines of what was truly a work of art.

The statue was crafted from pure white marble, the moonlight softening its harsh brightness until the pale mineral looked almost soft to touch. The figure was a girl - a young girl, barely coming up to Sarah's chin. She was dressed in Grecian robes, folds of fabric falling gracefully around her sandaled feet. Her hair was schooled into careful ringlets that brushed her smooth shoulders, banded by a circlet that settled firmly on her brow. Her hands were clasped, beseechingly, before her - hands clenched so tightly that Sarah could almost see the strain. Her delicate, oval face was slightly upturned, as if begging favor from some invisible lord.

"Amazing," Sarah said to herself. She laughed a little. "So beautiful - who'd think you'd find something like this in his gardens?"

The silence surrounding her gave no answer, and Sarah shrugged. Reluctantly, she turned away from the demure Greek girl, instead finding her feet on one of the smooth paths. Shoving hands deep into her jean pockets, she walked slowly, gaze intent on her surroundings for any hint of. well, of anything. Not exactly a happening scene, she thought.

The path took her deeper into the garden, further into the dappled darkness beneath the weeping-willow trees. The silvery strands floated gently across her gaze, curtaining the shadows beyond, and she pushed them aside as if stepping into a magical realm. She grinned at the thought, and then froze in her tracks as her eyes took in the scene before her.

Here, within the circle of willow-trees, was a wonderland. The moonlight poured down from the sky, gliding over rampant wild flowers and slender lemon trees, leaking even into the most shadowed corners. And it was filled with statues.

They were everywhere - sitting by tree-trunks, resting on stone benches, paused in flight with laughing glances thrown backwards over one shoulder, all frozen in time, captured in pale marble. All kinds of young women - English ladies with stiff, unyielding collars, Japanese princesses with the ends of their kimonos fluttering about their embroidered slippers, Colonial girls with wide aprons and hair tucked under starched caps. To her right, an African girl wearing skins and a proud, noble profile knelt behind a tree trunk, spear tucked against her side. Ahead, Sarah could see a young woman wearing the straight, patterned garment and elaborate headdress of the Incan civilization - dead for hundreds of years.

Sarah drew a long, unsteady breath as she threw her gaze across the enormous clearing. There were dozens of them, she could tell, each and every one standing alone and apart from her company. There were probably dozens more she could not see, hidden behind leafy curtains and solid trunks. Who knew how many there really were.

"This is just bizarre," Sarah muttered to herself. She hesitantly kept to the path, which wound aimlessly amidst the stone menagerie. She could see that each statue was constructed from the same flawless marble as the first, each imbued with the same faultless detail. She could even pick out the threads of embroidery, the single hairs that were braided into a natural crown. Lost in her amazement, she nearly ran into a statue that stood directly on the path she traveled. Springing back from colliding with the still figure, Sarah gave it a passing glace as she walked around. And then her head snapped back, eyes intent as she whirled around for a second glance.

This girl was different. She was small, probably younger than Sarah, with hair cut short to frame a heart-shaped face. Her posture was submissive, almost dejected - shoulders slumped, feet paused in scuffling the earth, lips caught in a childish pout. The sculptor had captured the delicate shadows of lashes against her full cheeks, the fragile veins of her lowered eyelids. Strangest of all, she was not - like all the others - dressed like a fairytale princess of some lost and hallowed time. She was an ordinary girl, dressed in jeans, tennis shoes, and a ragged sweatshirt.

Sarah paused, one hand lifted in the air. Hesitantly she reached out, traced the subtle curve of the girl's cheek. "So strange," she murmured. Why would anyone want a statue of, well, a normal girl? True, it was still a beautiful work of art - life frozen perfectly in a sliver of a moment - but it wasn't stunningly lovely or exotic, like the others.

Sarah stepped closer. The surface was wonderfully smooth and cool beneath her roughened skin, an almost hypnotic sensation as she ran her fingertips along the flawless marble. Sarah smiled, to herself, contemplating the statue's sulky countenance, the slight downward turn of the bottom lip. She reminds me of myself, before.

Sarah's fingers halted in their light tracing of the smooth, glass-like features, smile fading to a sickened expression. This close, she could. she could. Sarah took a step back, hand suspended, as if forgotten, in the air, emotions of disbelief and horror warring across her face. For a moment she simply stood there, breathing lightly though her mouth, gaze trained on the statue's immobile stance. Then, with the suddenness of a bird alighting, she stooped slightly, placing one hand on the statue's cold shoulder, pressing her own warm cheek against the statue's chill one. She looked, for all the world, like an older sister comforting the younger. Desperately, Sarah shut her eyes, and listened.

. to the soft, petulant crying of an abandoned child, echoing inside the statue's lifeless marble frame.

Sarah sprang back, almost falling over her own feet in her eagerness to gain a few steps of distance between herself and the statue. She was shaking, heartbeat loud in her ears. He wouldn't, she thought, mouth dry. He couldn't.

And a familiar voice inside her chuckled: Ah, Sarah. You are such a child.

A twig snapped and Sarah ran to the shadows without thinking, survival instincts forcing limbs frozen in shock to move, to hide, to get away from danger. She leaped off the path and into the trees, ducking beneath swaying strands of slender leaves. She crashed through the underbrush, prizing speed instead of stealth. She could hear footsteps behind her, coming closer. With a last burst of speed, she spotted a group of willows grown too close together, trunks entwined and twisted around each other. She dashed for them, using an outstretched hand to snag their trunks, papery bark rasping against her skin as she swung herself behind them. Her sneakers slipped in the soft loam and the sat abruptly, huddling behind the barrier of malformed trees. Her hands grabbed at the slender trunks in a white-knuckled grip, straining for purchase as she nestled in shadow. She pressed one cheek against the peeling bark, eyes shut as she listened intently for sounds of pursuit.

The footsteps had continued, unhurried, stepping deliberately off the smooth stone path and onto the soft grass. They were followed by a sinuous whispering - the sound of soft fabric being dragged across stone, and then softer strands of grass. Sarah pulled her knees even closer to her chest, pressing her back against the willow trees, desperately trying to disappear. The trees formed an adequate barrier between herself and whoever followed, but she still felt horribly exposed to whatever danger her pursuer presented. She didn't, however, trust in her ability to outrun them, so she must stay put.

The footsteps stopped.

They had sounded very, very close before ending. Sarah waited, shaking slightly from anxiety and exertion, breathing as soundlessly as possible through her mouth. She waited for the duration of one, measured breath. and another. and another. Nothing. No sound at all, except the soft trills of night-flying birds, and the breezes ruffling the willow leaves.

Slowly and carefully, Sarah relaxed her cramped muscles, allowed them to support her weight. Barely moving, she angled her head so that she could peer through a slender, almost indiscernible gap between two of the twisted tree trunks, straining to see if any danger waited. When her eyes focused, sudden shock froze the gasp that would have given away her hiding place.

In her reckless flight, she had failed to notice another statue which dwelled in the shelter of the trees, white marble shining like a muted pearl in the shifting darkness. Tenacious as her view was, Sarah could only see that the statue was that of a young woman, like all the rest, with her head held proudly, graceful arms falling to her sides. Her back was straight, the line of her body, clothed in flowing garments, was strong and poised. She stood so that Sarah could see her profile, delicate features and a thick braid of hair thrown over one shoulder.

Before her stood a shadow: a tall, proud figure dressed in deepest black velvet (her pursuer, Sarah guessed). The figure wore a robe that fell in graceful folds about its feet, face obscured by shadow inside the deep hood of the garment. It stretched a graceful hand towards the statue, and that too was sheathed in black velvet, long fingers almost tracing the line of the young woman's cheek. The darkness of its attire seemed to eat up the light; a figure of midnight in a world of moonlit shadows.

With a graceful movement, the figure stretched out both hands to throw back its hood. Pale skin gleamed, almost as pale as the marble before him, feathery hair falling about dark, intense eyes.

Jareth, of course.

Sarah squeezed her eyes shut, swallowing down the sudden panic that rose in her throat like bile. She gripped her clothes tightly, folds of her jeans caught between straining hands. If he finds me here, she thought with bleak certainty, he'll kill me.

Once, she would have never thought of such a thing. Taunt her, yes. Threaten her, certainly - but before, she had never considered him capable of cold-bloodedly removing the annoyance that so plagued his kingdom. Before. Before she had seen his face. Before he had said.

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

"Yes?"

"I won't." )

Why wait for such good fortune? She thought bitterly. He could just kill me and get it over with. It was her own fault. She had provoked him, deliberately, not even half-expecting it to work. The results had eclipsed her wildest expectations. and frightened her with their implications. And Jareth had been most displeased - but whether with his own actions, or the fact that she had witnessed them, she didn't know.

I just won't take any chances, she thought, the taste of fear bitter in her mouth. She huddled even further into shadow, feeling the fragile bark scratch lightly against her cheek as she leaned against a tree trunk. She waited, eyes wide open in the muted darkness, waiting for some sound to tell her he had left. None came.

She frowned. What, is he just standing there? Another thought sent a chill through her. Or maybe he knows I'm here. maybe he's just waiting it out. She bit the inside of her cheek thoughtfully. Maybe I should look - damn. She shook her head slightly, expression rueful. I'm gonna get myself killed this way. Just like a little kitty cat.Mentally, she shrugged. Hell. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. She twisted her head around again, neck muscled protesting, and squinted through the unobtrusive opening.

He was just standing there. He hadn't moved from the time she'd looked away, relaxed and motionless before his lifeless marble conquest. His eyes roamed intently over the still, white features, as if seeking the answer to some unspoken question. He stepped forward, one hand reaching to catch at the statue's delicate one, lowering his head to touch her cold mouth softly with his own.

Sarah stared. At the statue's hand, her face, where Jareth's robe slid against her feet - everywhere he touched her - a slow, flickering flame of warmth and color was running though her body. It caught at her, licked its way through her, igniting every part of her with life. She was alive; warm brown skin and soft dark hair replacing white stone. She was dressed in the elegant folds of a sari: rose silk and silvered embroidery, beautiful even in the washed-out light of the full moon. The tiniest of silver bells whispered a sweet melody at her ankles, a filigreed circlet of the same metal around her forehead. She opened her eyes, still in the kiss, and pulled away in surprise. With a cry of delight, she threw herself back into Jareth's arms.

She was weeping, Sarah realized -- softly and joyfully, shoulders shaking as she buried her face into the folds of his robe. She wrapped her arms around him, tightly, and he let her. His gloved hands smoothed her hair as she wept, face expressionless.

Soon she recovered herself, stepping back to look him full in the face. Her cheeks glistened with tears, but her large, eloquent eyes were clear. "I am sorry," she spoke quietly, her voice musical. "But I was so happy to see you." Smiling, she lifted her arms and placed them around his neck, possessively, hanging on him as she laughed. "You came back," she said triumphantly. "You came back for me."

Jareth's lips twisted, whether with humor or distaste, it was difficult to tell. He caught her wrists in a strong grip, hands like steel sheathed in velvet. He said, mockingly, bringing her arms down from around his neck: "You're half right."

She froze, eyes locked on his face. Her mouth had fallen open in shock, and her lips trembled slightly as she tried to speak. "No," she finally whispered, pleading, "you wouldn't!"

He gave her a wry look.

"No - please!" she begged, fingers grasping at the folds of his robe. "You said we would be together!" she wailed. "Forever! You promised!"

He paused in his attempts to disentangle himself from her grip. He gave a low laugh, and reached out to cup her chin in one hand. She subsided in her struggles, dropping her hands at that velvet caress on her tear-streaked face. "But don't you see," Jareth spoke, soft voice rich with amusement, "that we are?"

She stared at him, confused. With another twist of those thin lips, he gave a small shrug. Slowly, deliberately, he slip his fingers along the base of her chin, drawing away his touch. When the velvet hand ceased to touch her dusky skin, her eyes widened and she reached for him, screaming a denial -

-- which faded into echoes as she became, once again, a figure of lifeless marble.

For a long moment, there was silence amidst the trees as Jareth simply stood, his eyes on the imploring gaze and outstretched hands of the statue before him. A small explosion to his left didn't turn his gaze; the tangled, leaping, rustling, pounding sounds of someone emerging from a hiding place, running as if the hounds of hell were on her heels. For a long time afterwards, even after those sounds of flight had faded into the distance, Jareth stood as still as the statue before him.

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

Sarah ran. She ran as fast as her feet would take her, leaping over fallen braches or severed tree stumps, ducking hurriedly beneath swaying willow leaves, and of course, avoiding any flash of marble whiteness that she was threatened to encounter. Her side was a mass of burning pain, but she kept running, lungs on fire, blood pounding like drums in her ears. The force of her fear carried her far, far away from the garden of willows and statues. or so she hoped. she had no idea where she was going, how this garden worked. She could only run.

Eventually, though, she had to stop. She didn't want to, but her feet stumbled in her flight and she lost her balance, sitting heavily to keep from falling flat. Her legs felt to weak to stand, and so she gave up - leaving against a stone wall covered in thick ivy and drawing in huge, gasping breaths of sweet air.

Oh my God. Oh my God. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod.

He was a monster.

She bowed her head, eyes shut in pain as her body protested loudly at the abuse it had just endured. One hand rested just below her throat, rising and falling with her heaving chest.

A fucking dyed-in-the-wool, sadistic, baby-eating, torturing monster.

A dry sob shocked her throat, and she shuddered against the cool, almost velvety feeling of ivy leaves sliding along her back. I have to get out of here. I have to get Brian and get out of here.

"Hey hey, wot 'av we here?"

Sarah started, head flying up as her eyes darted to catch the speaker. When they landed, her mouth fell open in surprise.

"What are you guys doing here?" she asked in amazement.

Four grins and eight waggling ears were her response. Before her were the open, grinning faces of all four Red and Blue Guards. They hadn't changed - each a tangle of dangling legs and clutching hands behind a broad stone shield, painted in a symmetric design of reverse colors: a tessellate of opposites. Four small heads with cat-like muzzles peeked out at her, adorned in the same red-or-blue motley with a golden spike on top.

"Slummin'" One cheerfully replied as the others snickered, peering out at her from his position beneath the red shield decorated with a diamond. "Question is, what're yoo doin' here?"

"Trying to find my way out again," Sarah said ruefully, standing and brushing herself off. "What happened, did your little door riddle get boring after a while?" she smiled.

"And you're one t'talk!" Another growled, rolling his 'r's in the curious brogue they all adopted. "S'you're fault we're here, y'know! Never stopped t'think wot you're little stunt would cost us, now, did'ja?"

"Now, now," another of the creatures said in a soothing tone. " No use cryin' over spilt milk, is there?"

Sarah paused, gaze lingering on each of the creatures. "I forget," she said, "Which one of you tells the truth, and which."

"Ach, we're done with that nonsense," the first scoffed.

"I thought it was a rule."

"Rooles, smooles!" One of them barked. "We none of us d'not tell the trooth, anymore. Unless we choose."

"Um," Sarah stalled, looking a bit uncomfortable, "Then I really did get you, er, transferred?"

"Summat," the last acknowledge, blinking at her from over the top of the shield with blue designs. "No purpose hangin' 'round when the riddle's answer is out, is there? So we got new posts," he finished comfortably.

"Oh," Sarah said, pointlessly. "I see." She stood for a moment, lost, as four pairs of bright eyes regarded her intently. "Well," she ventured, "could you tell me how to get out of here, too?"

Instantly, they each ducked behind their respective shields, sibilant whispering filling the clearing. Sarah waited; shifting nervously from foot to foot as her eyes constantly scanned her surroundings. Did Jareth know she was here? It felt naive to suppose otherwise. Would he allow her to get out of these gardens, unharmed, without incident? Paranoia was like the tickle of fingers on the back of her neck.

"Ahem," one coughed, drawing her attention back to their mischievous faces. "Y'want some help getting' out of here, d'ye?"

"Yup. Could you help?"

They smiled at her, and the picture they presented was eerie, and slightly sinister: four demonic faces, smug with unshared knowledge. "What exactly d'ye want to know, now?"

"Well." She turned a helpless gaze across the clearing. The section that lay before her was bare, compared to the pervious gardens. There were no exotic flowers, or whispering streams: just a smooth, perfect expanse of grass. The walls that surrounded it, though, were of a haphazard construction, with some sections rising above other, or shaped slightly different. one slab of wall even had a tiny turret, perched precariously. They were pieced together messily, without care or concern for aesthetics, so that the line of wall zigzagged wildly around them. Every stone of every wall, however, was completely concealed by thick curtains of vibrantly green ivy. "I don't suppose there's an exit anywhere around her," she finished glumly.

"F'course there is!" one of them snapped, his brassy helm falling into his eyes with the violence of his speech. "Wot's the point of us bein' here if there isn't?"

"Oh. I didn't think of that."

"Sh'never does, this 'un," one of them muttered darkly, and the others snickered beneath bushy mustaches.

"Well, what can I do, then? Another riddle?"

"Nope," another spoke cheerfully. "Try again!"

Sarah blinked. Her eyes darted between their identical faces, momentarily taken aback. "You're going to make me stand here until I guess what the challenge is?"

"Right!" One said happily. He grinned cheekily. "Yoo'll never guess."

Sarah sighed, slumping where she stood. "I don't have time for this, guys. Really."

Her response was only gleeful chuckles.

Sarah swallowed her anger, her sense of utter helplessness. "Fine," she spoke through gritted teeth. "I have to find my friends, anyway. We can play your little game later."

"Hoo, hoo, hot-headed gel!" one of them caroled from beneath his blue shield. "Those friends over there?"

She spun around, half-expecting it to some kind of joke - but there they were, two bedraggled and weary figures stumbling along one of the paths and into the very clearing where she stood.

"Hoggle! Chaucer!" She bounded across the distance separating them joyfully, as if it had been years since they'd last seen each other. She was just ridiculously relieved to see them both - to see a friendly face.

"There's a way out of here," she said excitedly as she finally pulled away. "I stumbled into this place and met --"

"YOU!" Chaucer roared, baring his tusks. The Red and Blue Guards waggled their ears in response, grinning widely. "All of you! You. you putrefied weanlings!!"

The two top Gauds exchanged glances.

"Do y'know what that means?"

"Jimmied if I do."

"Sarah," Chaucer growled, "I would be highly suspicious of any information these. characters. have imparted to you."

"Ach, go shake yer ears, old fart."

While Chaucer trembled in indignation, Hoggle marched up to them, obviously determined.

"Right," he barked. "You've got a job, we all do. She," jerking his thumb towards Sarah, "is tryin' to get through the Labyrinth. Help her," he ended curtly.

The bottom Red Guard wrinkled his cat-like face in a parody of hurt, ears wiggling. "Awwww. Y'don't let us have our fun?"

"Not today," Hoggle returned grimly.

A collective sigh from all four Guards.

"Right, then."

"F'that's th'way yoo want it!"

"Spoilsport."

"Whatcha do is," the top Blue Guard began confidently, "see that fountain over there? Drink from it."

Sarah whirled around, straining her eyes. There was nothing to alter the smoothly manicured lawn they stood on.

"What fountain?" she asked, distressed.

They snickered as one. "Over there, y'ninny!"

Frowning, Sarah stepped over in the direction to which they had jerked their heads. There, nestled in the corner of two ivy-covered walls, a stream of water was piped in through the bricks. The water sparkled, dripping over the glossy ivy leaves and eventually falling into a small, round basin. The water was overflowing. however, where if fell to the ground was not soggy and muddy, as one would expect. Instead, the purest white blossoms, dainty and perfect, grew against the dark ivy.

"Oh. I found it," she said, a bit uncertain.

"Give the gel a prize!"

"Now drink from it," another added, impatiently.

"Wait, wait just a minute!" Hoggle interjected. "How do we know this ain't some clever trick? What's the water for?"

"S'th'Water of Trooth," one of the Guards said succinctly. "Or summat like that. Drink, an' y'see the way out. Trooth revealed!"

"All kinds of trooth," the bottom Blue Guard added, obviously enjoying himself. "Secret desires! Disgustin' fantasies! Y'better watch yourself, mate," he stage-whispered to Chaucer, who made to lunge at the grinning Guard. Hoggle pulled him back, firmly.

"I don't like it," he said, loud enough for Sarah to hear. "It's too easy!"

Chaucer calmed himself, though he glared at the still-snickering Guards. "No, it sounds just about right," he muttered.

Hoggle looked at him in dismay. "You're crazy! Nothing's that easy in this damn Labyrinth! Especially not in his garden!"

"Well, perhaps not under normal circumstances," Chaucer expanded. "But I know of this Water of Troo- erm, Truth. I've read about it," he said, ears twitching with self-satisfaction. "And I believe what we may proceed without fear."

The expression on Hoggle's face was one of utter bewilderment. "You want Sarah to take a chance like that - because of something in a book?"

"Yes."

"What about the people who didn't get out, eh? Don't they read books?"

"Perhaps not the correct ones," Chaucer answered stuffily. "But I am well acquainted with the situations of those unfortunates, as you must know. And I can confidently say that Sarah is a special case."

"Don't do it, Sarah," Hoggle warned. "It don't feel right!"

Sarah hesitated, caught between the two of them. Finally, she turned to the Guards. "Are you sure it's the only way out?"

"Sure as puddin' pie!"

"Well." She turned back. I'm sorry Hoggle, but I think I have to try it."

"No!" Hoggle wailed. "Sarah, think about this a minute! Think whose gardens these are!"

Moonlight, and marble. And a figure in black.

"I know who they belong to, Hoggle," she returned, determined. "That's why we have to leave. Now."

"Off y'go, then, lassie!" They Guards whistled and catcalled, encouraging as she knelt beside the shallow basin of water. She dipped both hands in.

Sarah hesitated, the water in her cupped hands leaking through her fingers. She turned her head to Chaucer, heedless as the cool water escaped her grasp. "You're sure about this?"

"Positive," he said assuredly while Hoggle looked on, miserable.

Sarah took a deep breath and plunged her hands back into the fountain, scooping up a mouthful of clear water. Lowering her face to her hands, she sipped the shimmering liquid tentatively, swallowing its sweetness with trepidation. She waited, empty hands dripping, for some horrible consequence to fall on her head.

But nothing happened.

Sarah smiled, looking over at the confident, beaming Chaucer. "I guess you were right," she laughed. "I feel fine."

"Of course you do! Now, look around you. that's it, take your time."

She straightened, absently shaking the water from her fingers as her eyes roved over the surrounding walls. The stones were obscured by rampantly growing vines, leafy filigrees etching a spinning, chaotic pattern that teased the eye and muddled the brain. The wind rustled through their layers gently, tossing shafts of dancing sunlight amidst their green depths, exposing secrets. Revealing.

"There!" She shouted excitedly, pointing. In a corner of intersecting walls, to her right, she could glimpse the faint rectangular outline of a door. "Up there! Do you see it?"

They both started, bulky bodies swiveling wildly as they turned every which way. Finally Chaucer stopped, shaking his head, discouraged.

"It truly is a magical thing," he said. "We won't be able to find it ourselves. Take us to it, Sarah."

Sarah laughed joyfully, grinning with pure delight. "No problem! This is so much easier than I thought it would be." She walked easily over to the doorway, kneeling on moss thick with pale starflowers with unconscious grace. She beckoned to them, attempting to clear away the thick, encroaching ivy with her hands as they scurried to meet her. She turned to them, face lit up with excitement.

"Here, put your hands on the stone. Can you feel it? The edges of a doorway!"

They both followed suit, Hoggle's gnarled fingers batting at errant leaves, Chaucer's claws slicing through them like butter. Both of them turned to look at her in puzzlement.

"Nothing?" They shook their heads. "Alright. You'll have to take my word for it." She bit her lip in concentration, tangling her hands in the growth as she searched by touch. "And I can't seem to find. and way to open it." She frowned with frustration, glaring at the shifting curtain of impervious leaves. Drawing a great breath, she pounded hard on the soft wood she could feel, but barely see, beneath her hands. "Hello! Can anyone hear me? Can you open the door?"

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

On the other side of the wall a shadow stirred, lifted, and became solid. A breeze ruffled through soft fur like Spanish moss, the color of autumn leaves. Moonlight shone in large, gentle eyes set in a broad face, patiently seeking. Ears pricked attentively, a lumbering body tensed as faint strains of a familiar voice. Familiar -- and dearly loved.

"Sawah?"

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

Her cries were greeted only with riotous guffaws, and she turned her head to see all four of the Guards positively hooting with laughter. She grimaced, admitting to herself that she probably looked foolish. "You guys stay here," she muttered, "keep trying to find a doorknob, or knock it down, something. I'll go talk to those bozos."

She marched over to her mockers, jaw set in anger. "Is that all you're good for?" she demanded. "Laughing at other people?"

"Well, s'fun," one guiltily confessed.

"How are we supposed to open the door if they can't see it?"

"Yoo can't open th'door. Yoo can only find it."

"Who can, then?!"

"Those on th'tother side, f'course!" one chortled. "Who'd yoo expect?"

"Well who are they?" Sarah demanded. Without waiting for an answer, she spun on her heel in order to look towards her friends. "Try banging and calling for help!" she shouted to them. "There's someone on the other side!"

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

On the other side of the wall, the lumbering shadow, still listening like a small, patient mountain, was joined by another figure. This one was much more slight, spring in its step as it scurried over to its companion. Its shadow, faded and dancing in the moon's light, had small, bowed legs and a distinctively fox-like muzzle.

"Prithee, did I just hear."

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

"Will they let us out?" Sarah turned back to the Red and Blue Guards, her curtain of hair swinging with her movement. "The people on the other side?"

"No reason they should!" One spoke cheerily. "I s'pose they've got strict orders about that sort of thing."

"What?" Sarah cried, obviously distressed. "But you said. but you promised -"

"That th'water would let yoo see th'way out," one of them returned, peevishly. "Nothin' more!"

"But --" And Sarah stopped. She blinked, swallowing heavily. for just a moment, the world had. spun, almost. or shifted.

"Th'problem with yoo, y'know," she heard them speaking as she struggled to regain her equilibrium, "Y'too headstrong! Always jumpin' into situations b'fore you know what they're about."

It felt hard to breathe. not as if anything was preventing her from drawing breath, but. her lungs heavy in her chest. as if they were made of lead.

"Y'haven't changed a bit, have yoo? Oh, maybe yer a bit more mature around th'edges -- lost that pesky sense of entitlement. That's pretty good, can't have none of that, 'specially in a place like this. But in the end, yoo're still too innocent --"

In fact, her whole body felt strangely weighted.

"-- too nave--"

As if she were drenched, her clothes sodden with water.

"-- and far too trustin'."

As if she were made of stone.

She fell to the ground, letting her dizziness carry her down to the soft, yielding grass. She shuddered, feeling strangely sick. I'm cold. why am I so cold?

"And that nancy-pancy demon of yours, thinkin' he's so smart," a Guard sniffed. "Show's wot 'e knows."

"What's happening?" Her voice was choked, struggling to escape a body that wanted to forsake movement, and life. Her hands. She gazed at them, blankly. They were tangled in long strands of grass, fingers splayed to support her weight. They looked strangely white and bloodless. Too pale.

"Wot always happens to foolish young gels who poke their noses where they down't belong."

Pale as marble.

"You lied," and her voice was also thick with fury. "You lied to me."

Strangely, their expressions were, as one, not triumphant. Instead, they seemed regretful. One of them sighed, red-banded ears drooping with discontent. "Seems like yoo've been lyin' to yourself, little 'un."

"Aye. Nasty thing, trooth is. Kinda sneaks up on yoo."

She staggered to her feet, desperation fueling sluggish limbs and clouded mind. She almost fell again but managed to catch herself, leaning into the ivy-covered wall. She breathed deep, trying desperately to think past the screaming panic in her head. "Hoggle!" she croaked, as it was becoming harder and harder to speak - to even move her mouth. Her lips felt stiff, and cold. She licked them, and tasted mineral: the cool, clean taste of virgin marble. "Keep shouting! Maybe." her voice faltered, growing weaker. She gasped, loosing her balance and pitching forward. She managed to stagger a few steps closer to her friends before collapsing into the grass again. It was an unguarded fall, as her legs just gave out from under her and her unresponsive simply toppled over. She landed on her side, head thankfully cushioned beneath one outflung arm. She gasped, fire racing along her body. Whatever was happening to her, whatever was transforming her into a statue like the others, it hurt.

She lay there, panting and half-crying, helpless as a half-drowned kitten. The hem of his dark, fathomless cloak crossed her vision, but she was too far gone to even care. He knelt gracefully beside her, sitting comfortably on his heels to watch her suffer. His gloved fingers touched her hair, brushed aside the strands that had fallen forward to obscure her face. She cast her eyes, dark with pain, up at him. Her voice was gone. She couldn't speak, but she moved her lips, barely: "Please." Begging him to take away the hurt, to make it all better.

And Jareth simply watched.

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

Hoggle was still pounding on the wall, shouting his throat hoarse as he felt his gnarled fists slide against the slick ivy leaves, when he heard Chaucer gasp.

"My liege," the demon whispered, barely audible. He spoke, however, almost directly into Hoggle's ear, and the dwarf whirled immediately.

Sarah lay collapsed on the lawn, looking strangely pale and lifeless in the moonlight. Kneeling - too close to her - was a sinister figure cloaked in depthless back.

Hoggle was running before he could think, panting as he raced over to his defenseless friend. "You get away from her!" he bellowed. "Get away!"

The shadow looked up, revealing the face that lay in the deep hood.

Hoggle gasped, blood freezing in his veins. He hadn't laid eyes on Jareth since. since the Goblin King had given him the enchanted peach. Jareth had never again called him into a private or public audience; his new post and all other orders had been delivered by courier. He hadn't changed at all, of course: same cruel, pale eyes, the same ragged-cut platinum hair - the same look of latent malice, ready to rise to the surface whenever needed.

Hoggle's breath was ragged in his throat, and his hands clenched into fists. "Get away from her," he said, voice hoarse with fear.

Or you'll what?, the sudden uplift of a sweeping eyebrow seemed to ask.

"Or I'll box your ears!" he shouted, knowing it was foolish, knowing the danger - not caring. He had failed her once. Never again.

A smile tugged at the corner of Jareth's mouth, but he rose gracefully and stepped away. His gaze lingered a moment longer on Sarah, still wracked with silent pain. It was a look of distant interest - as one might regard a work of art in passing. He turned on his heel, edge of his cloak whispering sibilantly against the cool grass. The night consumed him.

Hoggle crouched down beside Sarah, laying a gnarled hand on her white cheek. "Sarah?" he asked, eyes desperately searching her face. "Sarah, come on, get up. He's gone now, you can get up."

Her eyes were closed, dark lashes forming delicate shadows against her pallid cheeks. She didn't respond to his voice.

"Is she alright?"

Hoggle looked up to find Chaucer fidgeting nervously a few feet away. "Did he hurt her?" the demon asked, ears drooping at the thought.

"No," Hoggle said dully. "I dunno. She won't wake up."

Chaucer started, red eyes bulging as he stepped closer. "Oh lord," he whispered, finally catching a glimpse of her ashen skin. "Oh, Sarah." His tone was incredibly sad. "Oh, my poor girl." After a moment of shock, he quickly pulled himself together. "I have miscalculated," he said finally, as if the words pained him. "It is my fault to bear, but it is Sarah who will suffer, so for now we must work together." Hoggle nodded. "You, my friend, must find a way to open that damn door. We must leave this garden as soon as possible." He touched a razor-like claw to her cheek, ever so gently. "We still have some time - but precious little. Hurry!"

Hoggle leaped to his feet, running over to the corner where Sarah had insisted there was door. It was easy to find again, as the ivy was slashed and flattened by their previous attempts. He began bellowing again, banging his hands hard enough to bruise against the solid stone wall.

Chaucer stooped next to his human friend, bandy legs kneeling in the grass. With infinite care, he used his claws to sweep an errant lock of hair away from her face. "Poor child," he murmured. "Ah, but it will be harder for you, because of this." He sighed deeply. "If only I had known."

"But y'didn't, did yoo?" One of the Guards jeered from the top of a shield. The rest peeked out, checking to make sure the coast was Jareth-clear. "Heh heh - stoopid demon, thinks he can know everythin' out of books! Little pieces of paper!" They chortled together.

"You shut up - all of you," Chaucer said quietly. They hesitated, then shrank from the rage that shone in his red eyes. "If she dies," he continued, snarling through yellowed tusks, "I'll undo everything Jareth did the day he soldered you together. And I won't be half as gentle."

After that, he paid no attention to them - his eyes constantly on the bloodless face of the girl on the grass.

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

The wall remained impassive and unyielding beneath Hoggle's fists, and deaf to his shouts. The muscles in his arms were afire, and he was breathless from shouting. Weary beyond belief, he slapped uselessly at the unmoving stones. And then -

"Good sir, cease your uproar!" A shrill, oh-so-familiar, if muffled voice came from the other side of the stones. "I command you to stop, for such noble knights as ourselves require slumber!"

Hoggle's mouth dropped open in shock. "Didymus?" he whispered to himself. And then, shouting: "Didymus! Didymus! It's me, Hoggle! Open the door!"

A slight pause. "Forsooth, if it is thee, Sir Hoggle, how canst thy prove thine identity? For many would attempt to deceive our peerless intellect in order to escape His Majesty's justice!"

A lumbering voice spoke a beat later, in a deep tone that made the rocks tremble. "Hoggle?"

"Ludo!" Hoggle yelped. "Ludo, old buddy, it's me! It's Hoggle! Open the door!"

A chaotic response followed, Didymus' shrill protests and admonitions mixed with Ludo's slow, baffled questions. Hoggle, making a mental note to apologize to Didymus' wounded honor later, decided to get straight to the point.

"LUDO!" he shouted, desperately trying to be heard through their din. "It's Sarah! She's in danger!"

Their mingled discussions cut off abruptly, giving way to startled silence.

"Sawah?"

And the wall fell in.

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

She was cold. She was terribly cold, the kind that made one feel numb and boneless. She felt as if she was drifting in an icy lake. Which was buried beneath a snowdrift. That was lost in a dark, smothered forest.

Suddenly, pain broke through. Huge arms lifted her up, disturbing the equilibrium of her existence, and she cringed. The arms cradled her into feathery softness, kept her safe. but it hurt. She whimpered slightly, but the arms continued to lift her up, and carry her. She was rocked along as gently as if she were floating, but every movement sent crippling shivers through her body.

And then the person carrying her stepped down - as if crossing a threshold, exiting a doorway. The cold began to melt away, agonizingly slow, leaving her shaking and trembling. Her teeth chattered violently, and she attempted to curl up, to preserve warmth - someone held her close, a massive hand stroking her forehead and other, smaller hands tugging at her limbs, her clothing. She inched her eyes open.

Hoggle and Chaucer stood by her, watching her face anxiously. They breathed identical sighs of relief when she opened her eyes, only to turn and glare at each other as one. At her feet a prancing, impatient figure was jumping erratically in order to see her face, demanding the others move aside so that he get a better view.

"Sir Didymus?" she asked, voice still weak.

The fox-like creature beamed at her with his one good eye, tattered plume draping artistically across his head. "My lady! I am overjoyed to see you again! And, of course, Sir Hoggle also, and er, the Castle Librarian, certainly -"

"Sawah?" The gentle question cut through Sir Didymus' prattle, and Sarah craned her neck upwards. He still held her protectively in his gigantic arms; fur the color of autumn leaves brushing against her clothes. His huge, friendly eyes belied the enormous yellow tusks that protruded from his wide mouth.

"Ludo!" Sarah cried softly. She wrapped her arms around his neck, burying her face into his feather-soft fur. "Oh, Ludo."

She began to cry quietly - whether from happiness or exhaustion, she couldn't tell - and the sympathetic heavens answered with a rain of their own.

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

Sarah and Chaucer huddled together under the cover of a large oak tree, it's outstretched branches a decent cover from the gentle downpour. A fire blazed before them, providing warmth and light in the midnight forest. Sir Didymus and Ludo, being provided with the particulars of their journey, of course insisted on accompanying them. Didymus, however, insisted on going back to their home in order to "collect appropriate weaponry!" Ludo had been drafted to carry it all, and Hoggle had gone along, grumbling about making sure Didymus didn't get carried away and recruit an entire army on the way there. Sarah had pleaded near-exhaustion, and remained behind to wait for them. Chaucer had stayed with her.

They watched the flickering flames together, backs against the wide tree trunk. Sarah waited before the last rustlings of everyone's departure faded into the distance before breaking the companionable silence.

"What happened?"

Chaucer started. "My dear?"

Sarah let the movement of the flames hypnotize her, lull her away from remembered terror. "In the garden."

"Ah." He dug out his half-moon spectacles and began to clean them furiously. "That. Well. Ahem. You see, there are certain, er, statues in Jareth's garden, which --"

"I saw them."

He dropped his glasses. "You did?"

"Yeah." She swallowed, concentrating on the muted colors within the fire. "And I saw him there. Who are those girls? And why. why did they come back to life when he touched them?" She turned her body towards him, twisting where she sat. "Why did the Guards lie to me?" she demanded. "I mean, the Water was what did that to me, right?"

Chaucer sighed deeply. "Not exactly. Let me begin from the beginning - and please, do not interrupt me. What I have to say might distress you, I know. But you must hear it all.

"Jareth's gardens are much like himself - mysterious, tricky, and even vicious. They are also like him in the respect that they offer the fulfillment of a person's dreams."

"What --" Sarah's mouth snapped shut. "I'm sorry, I forgot. I'll be quiet."

"No," Chaucer shook his head. "I suppose it will be inevitable for you to have questions. But please - do not argue with me. Not until I am finished."

"Alright." Subdued, Sarah settled against the rough bark. "So, why would hundreds of girls dream of being turned to stone?"

"I told you the gardens could be vicious, did I not? Of course, no one wishes to spend eternity as a statue. But all of those girls did wish to spend eternity with Jareth."

She gaped at him, and he chuckled.

"You underestimate what a rare girl you are, my dear. You may find it surprising, but I feel that if you look at him objectively, you will find my king is quite a captivating person. And not a few women have fallen for his charms." He sighed sadly, pensive. "As you have seen for yourself.

"The garden maliciously twists this desire into something nightmarish. Jareth is an immortal. Those girls were not. In order to be with him, they would have to be transmuted into a material that could withstand the ages - stone.

"Of course, not all is lost. If Jareth chooses, he might simply lay his hands upon these young women in order to turn them back to flesh and blood, as it were." He hesitated. "But, being Jareth. there is little sign of life within the garden."

Sarah sat in silent horror, staring into the fire.

"You were safe, my dear, for obvious reasons. You are not an infatuated child - and for that I thank the gods above."

"Then what does the Water of Truth have to do with anything?" she demanded. "And why did I."

Chaucer closed his eyes, as if he wished not to see her face while he spoke. "The Red and Blue Guards, as you called them, spoke the truth - as they are required. The Water is there for any who make it safely to that end of the garden, revealing the hidden door, though I suspect we are the first to make it through. But they warned us - do you remember? - that the Water reveals all truth, even hidden ones."

Sarah stared at him, uncomprehending. At her silence, Chaucer reluctantly continued.

"What that means, Sarah," he spoke gently, "is that somewhere within your heart, you are drawn to Jareth."

A freezing silence was his only reply.

"I do not believe you even knew this yourself," he hastily amended. "Otherwise, you would have become a marble statue like the others, long before the ever-capable Ludo could carry you to safety, out of the gardens. The spell would have consumed you if you were actually conscious of your feelings." There was no reply, and he nervously began to scrape his claws through the soft dirt beneath their tree. "I understand how this may alter your feelings about this quest, now that you know you love--"

"So what?"

Chaucer jumped at the harsh words, stilled in his fidgeting. "I beg your pardon, my dear?"

"I said," Sarah enunciated clearly, "so what?" She turned her face to him - jaw clenched tightly and eyes bright with emotion in the fire's light. "So I'm attracted to him. So he's gorgeous and mesmerizing and makes me feel. So what? It doesn't change the fact that he's a monster. A beautiful monster, but a monster all the same." She turned her gaze back to the fire, flames throwing deep shadows over the bones of her face. "He plays with people the same way children pull the wings off insects."

Chaucer hesitated before speaking. "Humans don't always love wisely, I've observed."

Sarah laughed harshly, shaking her head. "You don't understand. When I was younger, he terrified me so much. But he was so beautiful. And I almost gave up everything. Because he was," and the word was transformed into something alien with the bitterness in her voice, "beautiful." She looked down at her hands, twisted painfully together in her lap. "And he knew it. Not only that: he found it amusing." She looked straight into Chaucer's eyes. "He played with me - like all the others."

"But now --"

"Now? Now it's even worse. He wants to punish me. All I did was get my brother back and now he wants me to suffer. You should have seen his face, Chaucer, when he saw what was happening to me." She shuddered.

"But. you are not unaffected by him."

Sarah drew her knees up, burying her face in them with something like a sob. "I hate it. I hate it. It's pathetic and disgusting and if any of the others found out they'd toss me into the Bog. But I look at him, and he's so." She turned her face without lifting it, so that her cheek rested on her knees, a curtain of hair falling over her features. "It isn't even the way he looks," she confessed. "It's the way he talks, and the way he carries himself, even the way he laughs. I can't look away. And sometimes I think, if only he were different."

"Asking people to be different is like asking the sun not to shine."

Sarah sighed. "I know. I know that. But I can't help wondering what it would be like, if he." She laughed, a little sadly, sitting up. "I can't believe myself, sometimes." She wiped her face with her hands. "I always did have a thing for villains."

Chaucer watched her solemnly. "I know I'm no longer a human, with human emotions," he began. "Haven't been for longer than I like to dwell on. And I know I'm much more at home with dusty piles of parchment than with people. What I said about people is true. But perhaps, just perhaps, there is a bigger picture that you are missing."

"He wants me humiliated and crying in the dust. How much bigger does the picture get?"

"But why, child," Chaucer asked intently, leaning forward. "Why does he want that so badly?"

Sarah hesitated. "Because. because I hurt his pride."

There was a long silence, in which the only sound was the crackling of the fire. Then Chaucer sighed.

"You're probably right. In any case, it's not my place to meddle." He fell back against the tree trunk next to Sarah, joining her in watching the sputtering flames.

"Chaucer?"

"Yes?"

"You said only the hedge maze part changes around in the Labyrinth."

"And so it does."

"But Hoggle says the royal gardens used to be a part of the hedge maze - not the Forests of Endless Night. Does that mean chunks of it can just appear and re-appear wherever?"

"No, not at all. But as the gardens are Jareth's, he may relocate them wherever he wishes." He tilted his head to once side. "Come to think of it, that is odd. I wonder why His Majesty would choose to put them in the Forests all of the sudden?"

Against the brightness of the fire in her eyes, dark memories danced. A hunt of dragons screaming for her blood. A swirl of flaming cloak patches. I forced him to admit something, she thought to herself. What, I'm not sure - but for a moment, I had an edge. And now.

"Payback," she whispered to herself.

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

The others came back shortly after, Sir Didymus bristling with daggers and riding his beloved Ambrosius. Ludo was wearing a rough sling that carried a food pack, and Hoggle actually looked pleased at having minimized the damage. They quenched the fire and moved on, quickly, speeding silently thought the forest. The sky lightened with their steps, growing from a pale grey to a rosy dawn sky shot with burning clouds. The sun rose as they hurried, throwing glorious sunshine down upon their heads.

The forest began to thin, trees becoming sparse as they walked. Birdsong began to drift through the woods, and the chirps and gurgles of regular woodland creatures. Golden sunlight speared through the leafy canopy overhead, filtering down to light their path. Eventually, they broke free of the woods. They stood at the top of a hill, long grasses waving in the soft breeze.

Ahead, rising from the dark waters of the moat, lay the Castle.

A Forfeit of Dreams

A Labyrinth Story
by KL Morgan

Part 8 of 15

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