Continuing Tales

Power Struggle

A Labyrinth Story
by bobmcbobbob1

Part 19 of 50

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Power Struggle

Marek greeted his monarchs at the gate, shivering at the omnipresent chill that even the sickly sun filtering through the black (not grey) clouds could do nothing to abate; crossing the border into the darker lands came with the additional baggage of "are you really sure you want to be here?" to where Marek was debating the merits of disobeying his king, if not in a fully serious sense. Following the carriage, Marek noticed that the goblins were huddling in a small ball (one of which appeared to holding a shred of cloth) underneath the carriage, gripping on painfully but refusing to be out in the open. Thankfully, the horse was well-trained (though Marek guessed its nerves were frayed to the point of breaking should anything truly unexpected happen) and stopped just before the main entrance. Marek opened the door and bit back a laugh. He hadn't seen quite an expression on Jareth's face like that, simultaneously amused and highly irritated, in a long time. Sarah reflected much of the same until she took a good look at where they had arrived. All mirth was lost as she set a rather stoic mask over her features, unknowingly mirroring Jareth's.

To say that Sarah was uneasy would be a delicate way to phrase it. When even the sunlight seemed as though it was seen through a scratched and filthy camera lens, Sarah realized that this was certainly not somewhere she'd like to spend any longer than necessary. The castle itself was in every sense gothic, flying buttresses like spider legs in a deep grey shaded with black.

Spotting the goblins, Sarah instructed, "Bring our things to the room and wait for us there." They rushed to obey, eager for the relative safety of the rooms of the King and Queen of the Labyrinth. Jareth stood behind Sarah and rested a hand on her shoulder, the leather of his gloves creaking softly.

"You do realize that there is a distinct possibility that our room will be completely uninhabitable by the end?" he muttered in a low voice.

"Honestly," Sarah replied back in equal tones, "I think they're too scared to do much but hide." Sarah shivered. "I can't say I blame them."

"I could say that you get used to it but it's simply not true. The taint seems to grow more than anything else," Jareth answered matter-of-factly. "Your signet and your office will protect you. Marek and I will not be far. Betray no weakness if you can."

With a surge of willpower, Sarah stopped shivering. "Let's go put on a show then. What're we doing here anyway?"

"We'll get into that."

Marek—who had been overseeing the goblins clumsily, if faster than Sarah could have believed possible, unloading the carriage—returned to their sides.

"Have a good trip?" he asked cheerily, already with some idea.

"It was interesting," Sarah replied diplomatically.

Marek laughed, though it sounded hollow given their surroundings. "I'm sure it was. There'll be more time to talk later, in safer quarters." He bowed gently and left, catching up with the scurrying goblins, one of which was trying to fit into a suitcase rather than walk in the open.

Jareth took Sarah's arm and led her up the stone steps, cracked and worn as they were, to the oversized doors. In typical horror movie fashion, the doors slammed shut behind them; neither appeared to notice. They stood in a small vestibule, dimly lit by some unseen light source. Sarah glanced around and eventually looked up.

"They even have a murder hole," Sarah murmured.

"A what?" Jareth asked suspiciously.

"A murder hole. In old castles, when there is this tiny vestibule like this, they'd lock invaders, or whoever I suppose, between the doors and a guard would wait above the murder hole, chucking spears or shooting arrows or pouring boiling oil—"

"Yes, I know what it's used for but it's such a crude name."

"Well, what do you call it?"

"'Justice From Above,'" called a new voice into the semi-darkness. "There are several names or euphemisms to choose from. I must say I rather like 'murder hole.'"

A bat fluttered down the "Justice From Above" shaft and smoothly transformed into a humanoid form. While he was certainly striking, his features in sharp angles, Sarah happened to notice his fangs within his brilliant, wide and malevolent smile.

Jareth inclined his head slightly. "Orion."

"Jareth," he replied simply, a similar acknowledgement with the addition of a slightly extended hand, palm up. "And this would be your queen?"

Sarah gave a tiny curtsy, in accordance with her position. "Sarah," she stated, finding no need to say anything else.

"Yes, a pleasure," Orion acknowledged benignly. "I have been looking forward to meeting Jareth's mortal bride. We have heard about you."

"What kind of terrible stories have been passed about me?" Sarah asked lightly.

"Ah, nothing terrible, I assure you. And none of the descriptions do you justice."

Sarah nearly laughed; regardless of his true meaning, it was straight out of some old movie, and she didn't believe it anyway.

"Let's get you out of this drafty hallway. Surely it cannot be good for your fragile health?"

Sarah nodded, fairly certain that he was trying to be gallant, though by what he meant by "fragile health" she wasn't sure at first…until he remembered his earlier reference to her mortality. Sure she was (or had been?) fragile compared to immortality. Sarah mentally shrugged it off, sharing a quick amused glance with Jareth. So far, it didn't seem that there was really much to worry about, if Orion was a sufficient sampling.

"Good thing he didn't try anything," Jareth whispered next to her.

"What?" Sarah whispered back, her confidence splintering.

"He didn't even try glamour. He may have honestly been interested in meeting you."

"Ah," Sarah replied laconically. So much for that theory. Vampires couldn't have been that simple anyway. Jareth patted her hand briefly, as though sensing her unease.

Orion led the two of them down the hallway, the portraits actively staring rather than leave any doubt of wandering eyes. He thrust open the doors at the end of the hallway. Sarah blinked. The room wasn't any brighter than the rest of the castle she'd seen thus far so she wasn't entirely certain of what she was seeing. Doing her best to keep to her role, she surveyed the others in the room without making direct eye contact (though this was extremely difficult with some of the creatures that had multiple eyes, glaring independently off of tall stalks). Every sort of nightmarish monstrosity she could imagine and some that she hadn't filled up that room. Some goblins had defected to the darker lands years ago—hundreds of years ago by Sarah's reckoning, noting the malevolent twistings within their features that weren't typical in the usual ugly-but-somehow-vaguely-cute-and-harmless variety she was familiar with. They hung in a corner with a particular look of disdain for their ex-sovereign. Elves of a similar caliber had their own sort of smirk, and the trolls next to them had a strange half-grin, as though displeased but still holding a delicious secret. Many more without name intermixed within the mess. Vampires kept to their own side in a relaxed and intimate tangle. Sarah wondered somewhere in the back of her mind why she thought Orion might have been a threat; he and his people were obviously too regal to do something terrible. Shaking her head, the rational side of Sarah's brain kicked back in, and she remembered warnings of their glamour…she'd read something about it in Terry Prachtett besides all the random information Jen, Elizabeth, and Jareth tried to shove at her. She glanced at Orion through the fuzzing of her vision (though at least she was now aware of it) who smirked at her as though aware she was trying to fight it all off.

Two of the vampires—a male (if not a man) in a deep blue shirt and smooth black trousers and a female (if not a woman) in a dangerously low cut dress (even for a Napoleonic era) of the same shade of blue against her pallor—stood and extended their arms over their dark company. The male spoke: "On behalf of all the darker lands, we welcome you, Jareth and Sarah, King and Queen of the Goblins and Keepers of the Labyrinth."

He dipped a small bow, Jareth and Sarah following suite, as the rest of the company rumbled in some sort of response, sounding more like gnashing of teeth and growls than anything else (a couple, seemingly bored, starting gnawing on furniture).

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Queen Sarah," the male vampire oozed, suddenly just in front of Sarah. "I am Fabian and this is my Anya. I believe you have already met my son, Orion?"

Not quite sure what to do, Sarah nodded and dipped another small curtsy. "Yes, he was kind enough to show us in."

"Certainly you must be tired after your journey," Anya mentioned sweetly, hanging on Jareth's shoulder.

"Mother, I would be delighted to show Jareth and Sarah to their rooms," Orion nearly demanded, still in a smooth, rich tone.

"The work of a servant? You honor us too much," Jareth replied simply, though Sarah still could still feel that something was amiss in his reply.

"I insist." And Orion did insist, not so much in voice but the peculiar venom within his eyes was much more efficient at conveying his sincerity.

"We look forward to deepening our acquaintance, Sarah," Fabian whispered in a sultry voice.

Gallantly taking Sarah's arm and leading her far enough ahead to untangle her from Jareth's arm, Orion whisked her from the hall, Jareth following close behind. Orion pointed out several aspects of the castle along the way, reciting pieces of history or an occasional story from his childhood. He spoke quietly so Sarah had to lean in to understand what he was saying; trying to keep her distance and being polite at the same time proved tricky. Eventually, Orion announced that they had made it to their temporary chambers.

He leaned in close to Sarah, placing one hand on her shoulder and touching the base of her bare neck with his fingernails. "Should you need anything, I'm only down the hallway. Do not hesitate to call." He slid away, with a polite (if curt) nod to Jareth. Sarah opened the doors and sat down on the nearest chair or flat surface, she didn't really notice what (it turned out to be a suitcase, placed close to the door as the goblins weren't keen on unpacking, perhaps almost subtly trying to push that the sooner they left the better). Jareth closed the door behind them quickly.

Sarah shivered before she could stop it. "I really don't think I like it here, Jareth."

"An understatement, I'm sure. Not that I say I blame you," Marek stated flippantly, taking a sip of…something…from a teacup and making a face.

"If you knew what was in that, Marek, I doubt you'd be willing to try it again," Jareth advised.

Not needing any more details, Marek spluttered on his current second sip. "So how was your trip?" he asked after recovering from a mild coughing fit.

"Not bad," Jareth answered, noting the Sarah was still trying to recover from the whole scene.

"No more to it than that?" Marek replied, rolling his eyes. Jareth was seldom more forthcoming than he wanted to be, but Marek enjoyed the occasional dig all the same.

"Is there anyone else here? I mean someone not from the darker lands?" Sarah asked hopefully. If all her company for the next while were restricted to those in that ghastly room, Sarah feared for her sanity.

"No, you two were just the last to arrive, save for Sal and Triton but they probably weren't coming anyway," Marek answered while Jareth set about inspecting the room.

Sarah breathed a sigh of relief.

Marek glanced at her sympathetically. "Perhaps you should turn in early tonight, your majesty." With a smile, he politely excused himself with, "I'll talk to you two tomorrow."

Sarah waved lightly, beginning to find herself again.

"Did we do alright?" Sarah queried gently, setting a gently hand on Jareth's elbow.

Jareth sighed; he didn't turn around. "Everything will be alright, Sarah. Now we have some idea of how this will all fit together. Follow what I say and we'll be home soon enough."

Home. The Labyrinth was home. Sarah mentally shrugged; it was true enough. She nodded and wandered back to their luggage. Cracking open the first, she took the first load over toward the closets.

"I can get that Sarah," Jareth tossed over his shoulder, along with a crystal.

"No, please, doing something helps me think," Sarah replied. The crystal dissolved before it contacted with the pile. She opened the closet and found the goblins, huddled and pleading for her to close the door. Rolling her eyes and almost wishing she could do the same, Sarah set everything in its temporary, proper place. Jareth still hadn't moved from his brooding spot in front of the window.

It was too early to go to sleep, so Sarah pulled out a book from the shelves in the room. The room itself was not bad, per say, but it really wasn't home. The bed, small table with chairs, bathroom, and even the tall bookshelf were not in any way lacking but there was still an invisible taint, all the way to the cream colored (though whether this was due to age or any dying process, Sarah was not sure) curtains. Looking from one ghastly title to the next, Sarah heard a voice.

"Sarah? Are you there? Can you talk?"

Sarah grinned and, with a flick of her wrist, produced a crystal. Toby's face shone on the other side, distorted slightly by the curves of the surface.

"Toby! It's great to see you."

"Mom! Dad! She's there!"

"Yes, we can see that, Toby," her father chided, though with a wide smile and a wink, Sarah knew that he was just teasing.

"How're things in the Aboveground?" Sarah asked, her cheeks aching dully from smiling so hard.

"Much the same," Karen replied. "We miss you terribly. Jen's been calling, trying to see if we can tell her much else. I'm not sure how much we were allowed to say so I told her the truth."

"What did you tell her?" Sarah asked warily.

"Oh, more or less that it's all some strange mystery, which is true enough."

"So she's still looking then?"

"Absolutely. It's good to know that you have such a good friend."

"Yeah," Sarah agreed with a bittersweet smile. "Toby, have you tried out that foil yet?"

"I'm going tomorrow! It looks like it's going to be so amazing, even though there are all these rules and no blood or anything."

Toby was ever full of stories and quickly riled in Sarah all the detailed wonders of school and everything else in between.

Eventually, Karen broke back in: "Is he treating you well, Sarah?"

"Perfectly fine, I promise."

"Good," her father replied bluntly.

"We're actually on a sort of diplomatic mission. I still don't know all of what's going on, but it's one heck of a crash course."

Naturally, the details of her "diplomatic mission" required a little more explanation, particularly as to what sort of system they actually had in the Underground and what sorts of nobles there were, stumbling all importantly on where she was now.

"Real vampires? Cool!" Toby replied obviously envious.

"Maybe not that cool, Toby."

"I should say not. Sarah, you should get out of there immediately."

"Dad, I'll be fine. Jareth won't let anything happen to me." Her father still looked skeptical, but Sarah knew it was true.

"He'd better," Karen agreed.

Sarah yawned. "I really hate to say goodbye, but it's been a really long day."

"Can we call back soon?" Toby asked eagerly.

"Wait a couple days. I think I might need a pick-me-up by then. This place is pretty freaky."

"Alright, remember we love you, Sarah."

"I will, Dad. Love you guys, too. Talk to you later."

The crystal popped in Sarah's hands as the connection dissolved.

Jareth still hadn't left his spot at the window, except to pace a couple rounds every now and again (though he'd changed clothes at some point). Sarah could feel his tension from where she was. She started walking toward him but realized that she had no idea what to say. Instead, Sarah found the least offensive title given her choice and changed into her pajamas. Eventually, her eyes began to cross, and Sarah dimmed the lights, placing the book (How Not to Give Your Torturer the Satisfaction) to the side table. Despite how tired she felt, Sarah could not manage to fall asleep. Each tiny noise from somewhere else could quite literally belong to the boogeyman (he sat on top of one of the gargoyles in the room where she'd been introduced). Wrapping the blankets about herself didn't work. Counting sheep quickly became counting goblins which became the twisted goblins. She vaguely wondered again if she'd feel safe enough in the closet with the goblins, provided they didn't also suddenly become the evil variety.

"Jareth?" she called out eventually.

He made a small grunt of reply.

Sarah bit her lip, but she was tired enough to where she reasoned that she didn't care anymore. "Could you do me a favor?"

Jareth turned slightly. "Yes?"

"This place is giving me the creeps—"

"The creeps?"

"I'm scared," Sarah admitted.

"Understandable," Jareth replied, turned around fully now.

"And I was wondering…if you could, well…"


"Could you just hold me?"

Though surprised, Jareth slid next to her and wrapped an arm around her middle. "I suppose I could do that."

Despite her first reaction of "This is a really bad idea, Sarah," she had to admit that she did indeed feel much safer, and both slept remarkably well.

Power Struggle

A Labyrinth Story
by bobmcbobbob1

Part 19 of 50

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