Continuing Tales

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 13 of 19

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The Lady and the Knight

Sarah realized that she was being slowly but surely dragged away from the safety of the circle of reflected firelight. She was knee deep in the little beasts. The creatures were relatively small compared to the white things they had encountered earlier, about the size of her old dog, Merlin. They were black and spiky, their chitinous quills rustling against each other. It gave them an eerie, insectoid rattle as they moved in the darkness. Their eyes were huge and bulbous and utterly white, blind and milky looking in the dark. She had no idea how they could see, but they certainly seemed to be able to tell exactly where she was. Sarah punched hard at a nearby muzzle with a glittering, golden fist. It gave an odd yipping noise and Sarah recoiled in horror as it clutched at its face with two tiny human hands.

Sarah heard a horse scream and whipped her head around. To her dismay, she saw the little beasts crowding close to their mounts, creeping silently on their human fingers. They were crawling on the tree the horses were tied to, tugging on their lines. Sarah turned back to the ones clustered around her with murder in her eyes and whipped her knife out, slashing left and right, trying to clear a path so she could get to the mounts before they got injured.

By the time she'd cleared enough of them to move she had a deep bite on one forearm, and a cluster of glistening quills protruding from one thigh. They burned like hell, but she didn't have time to remove them.

She lifted her head, taking a breath, and saw Jareth was already moving among the horses. The clouds covering the moon broke for a moment, bathing the area in a soft glow. Jareth's spear glittered in the light, the markings on the wood flashing as if they were alive. The horses were making terrified noises and Jareth defended them with unearthly grace. He was leaping and dancing through a dark horde of the vile little creatures, and everywhere he stepped more of them fell.

Sarah relaxed at the sight, still moving generally in that direction but taking less chances. She was surprised to realize how far from their camp she'd been drawn. Sarah looked out at the fields around them as she jerked her knife out of the gut of one of the little beasts, frowning. She thought she'd seen, just over the hill...The clouds passed back over the moon, plunging them once again into darkness.

Disturbed, Sarah started to retreat back toward the fire. For a moment, moving up the hillside toward them, she'd seen a different kind of monster. Monsters that walked upright. With clothes and shoes and dead white eyes. The moon broke clear again and Sarah swallowed bile at the sight of them. One of the little dark things went for her throat, distracting her. She slashed her knife across its neck, kissing its flesh in one quick motion that splattered cold black blood on her face. The fluid clung to the blade as Sarah dropped her arm, turning to face the terrible things headed her way.

The approaching creatures moved like marionettes, like wooden dolls on strings. They lurched and stumbled awkwardly, because the thing that controlled them had no real idea how they ought to move. These had been thinking beings once, with lives and feelings and friends. All taken by the Black Road.

She looked down at the smaller creatures drawing close to attack her. There were lots of them, but they were only attacking in twos and threes. Wasting her time while abominations lumbered closer with blind eyes. Drawing her out.

With a flutter of panic, Sarah looked around her for the fire, and found that she'd been pulled even further away. If she tried to run for it now they would take her down before she got halfway.

Sarah heard Jareth cry out sharply and stiffened.

"No!" he shouted, his hand out flung as if to call something back. The moon shone brightly down on them, and Sarah saw their horses quite clearly, galloping free across the grass. Their lines trailed after them as they fled in a panic, the little black beasts chasing after them at a slower pace. Bim galloped right by her, avoiding the circle of beasts surrounding her and tearing off into the night.

Oh, they were too damn smart.

Gritting her teeth, Sarah pulled a Ziplock baggy filled with white rice out of her belt. She was smart, too. She tore a corner open with her teeth and scattered the tiny granules in a wide circle on the ground, furious. If they were intelligent enough to plan an attack out, they were intelligent enough to be ensnared by this little trick.

Around her, extending out from the circle of terrible little things surrounding her, came a general scream of anguish, and the beasts put their snouts to the earth and started to scrabble about franticly, as if they'd become deranged.

Jareth, already running in her direction, froze at the sound. His splendid weapon was sparkling, seeming to catch the moonlight and concentrate it until Sarah could swear it was actually glowing. He turned to look at her, far outside the edge of the firelight but clear and sharp to her eye under the moon. His torso was streaked with splatters of dark blood, and she saw the alarm in his eyes as the cry spread outward. It filled the fields around them, hundreds of terrible animals raising their voices in anguish.

They could hear their numbers, now. There were so many...

Jareth jogged up to her, looking down at the monsters clustered at her feet with interest. The creatures ignored him as they ignored her, tearing with single-minded desperation through the grass with their little human hands. Sarah stepped outside of the growing circle of them daintily, smiling a terrible smile.

"What are they doing?" Jareth asked, leaning on his spear, puzzled. Sarah checked the empty Ziplock baggy, shook out the two grains of rice that were still left inside. She held them out to him.

"Counting," she said with satisfaction. He leaned over, obligingly, to look at her hand, then raised an eyebrow at her. His wicked-looking pendant dangled over her hand. It was glowing with the same faint intensity as his spear, as if irritated by the dark things surrounding them. Sarah looked down, and saw her own pendant responding similarly. Something about that bothered her, snagging at her mind like old thread. Something she was forgetting...

Jareth was staring at her expectantly, and she shook her unease off with a faint, sheepish smile.

"An old Chinese trick," she explained. "They have to count the rice where it falls. They'll climb over each other, kill each other to get at it to count it," Sarah said with a slight smile and a shrug.

Jareth looked from her, to the creatures fumbling about anxiously in the grass. When he turned back to her there was fire in his eyes, and he began to smile. He reached out and snatched her close, kissing her roughly. A hot, electric sampling of her mouth. She jumped, startled, and he released her, laughing. His eyes flashed admiringly and he tweaked her chin with one hand.

"Clever girl," he said with a wicked grin, and then he was off, moving among them, striking them down easily while they were magically distracted. He carved a line of death through the crowd of creatures and continued on his path in more or less a straight line, running off into the night.

"Wait," Sarah said, startled, staring after him. "Where are you going?" she cried, but he was running hard and didn't hear her. The man ran like a cheetah, he was gone in a flash. A second later she heard a sharp, distinctive whistle and relaxed, recognizing it. Jareth was trying to call Bim back to him.

She turned from the sound, lifting her knife to begin the grim work of dispatching the terrible bespelled things digging at the ground behind her. She lifted her eyes and froze, looking right into the face of a taken creature that had been standing directly behind her. The pendant at her breast flared like a small sun.

It had been a birdlike creature with a small head. It was still wearing its little hat.

"No," Sarah said faintly. She remembered now. She had not thought to grab Bemony to chew. They had been attacked so suddenly...she'd forgotten. Jareth had forgotten. Now the horses had run off with it...

Its dead white eyes swelled in her vision for a moment, and then the thing fell to its knees and began to crawl around on the ground, hunting for rice. Sarah staggered back from it, horror spreading like a living thing inside her. It had felt, for a moment, as if it had reached inside her and touched her heart with one cold finger. One touch. It was enough.

Faintly, Sarah felt her hands start to burn.

She continued to back away, retreating as if mere distance could keep her from what was beginning inside her. She shook her head faintly, hysteria bubbling to the surface as she looked down at her hands, watching them flare hot and golden.

Somewhere deep inside herself, she felt something small and terrible begin to grow. Her pendant continued to increase in brightness, shooting streaks of pain though her chest. She turned her face from the light, suddenly finding it nearly unbearable, flinching and stumbling. She fell to her knees, crumpling, holding her hands away from her body as the dreamstuff started to eat into her skin.

Taken. She'd been taken.

Alone and aflame, Sarah started to scream.

She could feel it pulling at her heart, dragging her down and away into a dark place she would never return from.

"No!" she screamed, only stopping to draw breath, to scream again. She writhed and tore at the grass, fighting for all she was worth.

"Sarah." A breathless gasp, as if the person had been running. "Sarah!" he fumbled with her, grabbing for her arms, trying to stop her frantic struggling.

"No..." Sarah ground out, slitting her eyes and glaring balefully at the man. He had to get away from her, couldn't he see what she was? He reached out to cup her face and she threw her head back and shrieked. It was all she could do not to bite at him, claw at him.

She hated him. Hated. Hate.

"Getawayfromme," she snarled, her voice inhuman, almost unrecognizable. Her teeth felt strange in her mouth, larger than they ought to be, and she burned...

The man jerked back from her with horror rising behind his eyes.

"No," he gasped faintly, and then, as if in a panic, grabbed hold of her head, hard, trying to look in her eyes. His thumbs pressed at her eyelids, peeling them back as he leaned over her, pushing her flat against the ground with the weight of his body. She wanted to bite him. She wanted to bite...

Sarah snapped at his face and he jerked back from her. Fast, he was...Sarah grabbed two fistfuls of her own hair, streaking it with golden fire as she turned her face into the grass, away from him, the sounds coming out of her mouth far gone into panic and hysteria. She was on fire, she was so afraid...but something was eating at the fear, downing it in little bites, and Sarah shuddered in revulsion.

"Jareth," she gasped, pulling the name out of the very depths of her. She moaned high in her throat. "Leave me," she choked. "Go!" her humanity was disintegrating, melting in her hands like candy floss in the rain.

Jareth made a terrible, mangled sound above her.

"Never," he said faintly, helplessly. He stoked her hair as she writhed and growled beneath him. "Never." His voice was bizarrely sweet, given the situation. Painted with the delicate watercolors of his emotions as if he'd been whispering into her ear in his bedchamber.

She was crying, in great gulping sobs, when she went for his throat. He brought the handle of his spear up, and hit her in the face with it. She was flung to the ground, stunned. She was burning, but her heart suddenly felt very cold. He made a wounded sound above her, as if he was the one who had been struck. She lifted her head, black blood filling her mouth, dripping down her chin. His eyes went wide and round in horror.

She watched this with animal eyes, and lifted her flaming hand, tearing the burning thing from her throat and flinging it away. The man leaped for it with a cry, and she ran from him into the darkness.

She fumbled as she ran, her movements increasingly jerky, increasingly angular and strange. A huge dark thing swelled inside her, bursting at the seams, murmuring, hissing. She ran.

Dark. Good.

Something landed on her back. She staggered, snarling, trying to turn and rend its flesh...

she would taste flesh tonight...

...but it clung to her back, its arms wrapped tightly around her chest, pinning her arms. It pressed its face into her hair, her shoulder. It was crying, she realized.

"Never, Sarah," it wept, squeezing her tight. Her heart reacted strangely to the anguish in its voice. "Never." It brought something over her head, hung it from her neck. A small star that burned her, worse than her hands, and she screamed in rage.

"Shh," it soothed brokenly, as she struggled with frantic strength. It lifted her body, dragging her backwards.

"Jareth." It was a rough, raw sound that seemed to come from nowhere inside her, and she stilled for a moment, confused and conflicted. The sound felt strange and dead to her lips.

The thing that held her stumbled, and squeezed her tighter with a little moan, pushing its face into her shoulder. She did not like the sound. It upset her. She turned her head and snapped at him, but he was too quick, and pulled his head back before she could catch him. He pressed his mouth to the top of her head. His arms were shaking where they pinned her.

"I won't let it have you," he said desperately, his voice thick with determination. "I won't let it," he growled. "I promise."

She felt the words like a blow, but did not know why. There was something small and insistent inside her, urging her to be calm. When he started to drag her along again, this time she did not struggle.

Then he brought her to light and heat, and she remembered her hate. She growled and snarled at him, flinching from the fire, contorting her body in raw agony. He pushed her to the ground face first, his weight on her back, pinning her to the ground. She clawed at the dirt, howling, hearing her fellows in the dark howling in return. Trapped, as she was.

He was pulling things out of a bag, shiny round things, and she bucked underneath him, trying to use his distraction to break free. He lifted off her a little and she twisted onto her back, reaching out to claw at his face. He settled his weight back upon her quickly, snatching at her arms with one hand, pushing her back down. Strong. Very strong.

In his other hand he held a shiny thing. She latched onto his unprotected wrist with her sharp teeth, exulting at the sudden, sweet taste of blood. The man cried out, and with a grimace of pain he pushed his wrist further into her mouth, pinning her back against the ground with the force against her jaw. She tried to spit it out but he would not let her. He was doing something with the shiny thing, it was getting brighter, it was hot...she flinched away from it, and gave a muffled growl into his flesh. So much heat...

With a desperate snarl, he pushed the ball of fire into her chest.

Sarah drew in a sharp, shocked breath, and screamed.

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 13 of 19

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