Continuing Tales

Power Struggle

A Labyrinth Story
by bobmcbobbob1

Part 45 of 50

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Power Struggle

The pages in Sarah's journal steadily cluttered, the binding plumping out with the additions of pictures and small mementos as she continued to tell Jareth every time she felt a kick, felt uncomfortable, felt particularly maternal, been given another onesie by Jen, been teased by Toby, tried to argue with her doctor, been talking about him to a friend, and whatever else spilled onto the page. One scathing entry began with a photo, officially Karen's favorite: Sarah pointing to the first stretch mark (one of very few, due to the steady progression) with a growling accusation set in her face. One happy entry came after a long discussion with a new mother and what sort of fun to expect. There were serious portions, too, where Sarah recapped conversations with all persons she could contact that had something to say on where the veil between worlds was thin. Even Toby helped by Google-ing "veil between worlds," and going from there. Unfortunately, many of these options did not sound particularly safe, that the shift would be jarring and possibly detrimental.

Soon she filled a journal and went for another. The first page of the third began with "This waiting thing really sucks."

Eleven months. It was almost Halloween. She had been Aboveground in the home she grew up for eleven months. It was even a leap year. Sarah was not about to give up on her husband, but after eleven months of nothing, anyone would think those terrible what-ifs that had been steadily avoided four months ago. Still, most every night, Sarah wrote in her journal and checked the communication crystal, which was unfailingly black and opaque. That it hadn't merely shattered or disappeared gave Sarah hope. The Underground couldn't simply cease to be without her knowing, could it?

A month of nothing taught Sarah that doing nothing was not an option. On top of whatever research she could get her hands on, she found places to volunteer (since finding a job would be entirely too awkward when it came to the pregnancy issue, particularly as she now looked to be a the cusp of six months) and some basic projects. Still, it felt as though she were biding her time, not signing up or trying anything lasting in the eventuality of leaving it behind again. She'd get used to reading to a group of kindergarteners at the library and have to stop a month later, before anyone would ask questions. Her mother had insisted that she try these new neonatal gym classes and after a little more than a month, polite inquiries and the conglomeration of little half-lies made that atmosphere uncomfortable to a point where Karen suggested they find another way to keep her healthy.

LT was true to Sarah's mental timeline, much to her chagrin. If anything had sped up due to a lack of magic in the Aboveground, well, it hadn't sped up noticablely, yet, anyway. Maternity shopping, Sarah was sure, had never been so ridiculous. She could find seasonal items for next year in the clearance rack. Amazingly, with all the hitches (and a little insurance fraud), the only persons who knew about LT's special circumstances were her family, Jen, her doctor and a few trusted nurses (after the initial "this is impossible" was thankfully outweighed by his curiosity and a few threats from his cousin), a very understanding new friend named Amber, and even Derek received the highlights.

Still, as Sarah riffled through the decorations, Halloween was something she was looking forward to. By all reports, there was just something weird about it. Surely, there would be some sort of sign. It was difficult not to get her hopes up. Though, she thought ruefully, she could always wait for the official year mark and pray for a breakthrough then, or there was Christmas, or any number of days she hoped to be significant to the cosmos.

She stopped and took a long breath. Something had to happen on Halloween or she might just tumble off the deep end. She grabbed a package of fake spiderweb and went out to the porch. Amber would be arriving later to help, but Sarah needed to keep busy, having finished all her morning projects. It was a slow process, particularly whenever she tried to reach or bend farther than her abdomen would allow, but by the end, the cotton fluttered menacingly in the breeze, still attached to the porch aside from one final piece. Sarah had no intention to drag out a ladder only for this, so she held on to it, wondering if she could fish it into place with a broom handle.

A lumbering figure hunched along the sidewalk and called up to her, "Do you need some assistance?"

Sarah stared. Halloween was a week away, but this guy had one hell of a costume. Whoever this weirdo was, he had thick, matted hair sprouting out from his collar all over his head, ears shorter than Ludo's, thick and expressive eyebrows, long woody claws…

Sarah's mouth went dry. "Ack? My God, it is you!"

The figure in question flashed a grin. "It seems I finally have the right house. It's good to see you, your majesty."

Sarah bounded—as much as she could bound, anyway—down the step as Ack opened his arms to receive her hug.

"God, it's good to see you. Where's—"

"It's just me, Sarah. Jareth isn't here. Can we talk somewhere out of direct sunlight?"

Sarah's smile fell momentarily, but she nodded. "Right, creature of darkness, got it. Let's go inside before the neighbors freak out."

He flumped heavily on the couch inside with a loud groan of protest from the injured furniture. Out of the sun, Sarah took a long look at him. "You don't look so well, Ack."

His fur and clothes were dirty and frayed, tinting grey. More importantly, his entire demeanor was dull and subdued, looking more like something that had come out from under the bed than she had ever seen him.

"On your part, I must say that you're looking quite well, perhaps larger than I last saw you. Myself, I've been away from home for a while, now. I'll explain in a moment, if we could please draw the blinds?"

Sarah obliged. "And I'll put on some tea. It always seems to help."

"Then, by all means."

As surreal as the transition had been returning to real life after the Labyrinth, serving Ack tea while he collected himself in her living room was certainly weird. Oh, how she missed the healthy dose of bizarre.

"How long have you been here, then, Ack?" Sarah asked when she couldn't stand the silence any longer.

"I've been Aboveground for forty-seven days, now," Ack replied solemnly.

Sarah's eyes widened. "And you're just coming here now?"

Ack heaved a great sigh. "It is a complicated ordeal."

"Please, enlighten me." Sarah crossed her arms and met Ack with a stare. "I assume this will also explain why my husband has not arrived?"

"Again, the entire matter is complicated. Let me find a way to word it." He took a deep draught from the bowl of tea Sarah had given him (his claws would have made for an interesting display with a mug) and scratched the top of his head.

"All of the magic in the Underground has shifted. It works in similar ways than it once did, but never quite the same. Even time has aligned itself with the Aboveground method, linear and frustratingly stable. It has caused a bit of an uproar. It's all because of the veil's recalibration. It does not have a set period, but it will finish in time. Another affect of this was the sealing between our worlds."

"But you've managed to cross over."

"Yes, well, that was considerably more difficult than it had been. It took a lot of variations and trials, but eventually I found the gap again. I slept upside-down in a closet with the bed angled against it, underneath but decidedly not. Even that was less, shall we say, seamless as usual." He gestured toward his arm, which appeared to have a strange, albeit healing, burn. "This was not the only scar from the process."

Sarah let out a slow breath.

"The owner of the room that I ended up in was confused but most helpful when I offered to traumatize the victim of his choice in exchange for some information," Ack continued. "As for what took me so long, are you aware that there are many who go by the name of 'Sarah Williams' in your world? I couldn't risk returning to the Underground not to find a way back again after the trouble it was to get here, so I started walking. You had mentioned this Halloween custom before and I think it has indeed made searching much easier. The methods I used were varied and aided in part by some interesting folk, though they still seemed to need to remind me that it wasn't yet Halloween. The telephone was most useful in narrowing down my search. Finding someone who replied to 'Queen of the Goblins?' with 'she's not home right now' was actually not always helpful. I'm quite pleased to have found you. Otherwise, I would have had to walk another few inches on my map, and those inches are quite deceptive in regards to actual distance."

Sarah knew she was staring. Her father had mentioned that phone call a couple weeks back. She had blamed Derek at the time, since he had taken to calling her "your majesty."

Shaking herself out of it, Sarah asked, "Did Jareth send any sort of message with you?"

"No, he did not."

Sarah's hopes deflated. It must have shown on her face because Ack immediately went to reassure her.

"There is a very good reason for that. I'm sure he would have. However, he simply does not know I'm here."

"He doesn't?"

"Not that I am aware of. I am quite certain he is still angry with me. After the veil took you in and shockwave was done, we had a little, shall we say, discussion. He demanded all information I could give him on the veil and where you were. I told him what I knew and what I speculated—that you had been sent to the Aboveground, probably in one piece—and this was evidently not something he wanted to hear, particularly when it came around to the minor detail that nothing could be done until everything had settled back together. Then there was the accusation of me knowing this all along and my counter of how the fun would be entirely ruined. He was not pleased indeed. Oh, the worst was when I told him even I could not pass through the veil by my usual means. I hid for days, particularly as I could not readily transport out of the castle and was otherwise forbidden from leaving. After such a time, I decided to try and find you on my own. Honestly, I would find no fun otherwise."

Sarah nodded. "Ack, how is he?"

"A master of the public front, but even without those particular moments where he, hmm, 'expressed his frustration' I would agree that there is some definite strain, magic being as facetious as it has been on top of rebuilding from a war. He has been most insistent in finding you again. The goblins, when they realize someone is actually upset, can be very good at comforting in their way. Last I saw him, he was in quite a rage. I advised him to check the Prophesy again, because I'm sure I included something about fixing the veil—"

"Hold it, you included something?"

Ack gave a sheepish little shrug to her accusing finger. "Well, yes. I did not mean to mention it. It just slipped out."

The gears in Sarah's mind were at a loss on whether to jerk to a halt or chug forward faster than they could safely turn. "The Prophesy is your doing? This stupid, ambiguous mess that complicated as many points of my existence as it possibly could was just something you made up?"

"In a way, I suppose. I did not drum it all up. The original prophesies were passed down and fairly extensive. After they had been forgotten about, I stumbled on them and did some—how shall I put it?—creative editing. The best thing I ever did was put it all in a new language." He was animated now. "That made everything delightfully muddled. After that, I merely made sure they were found by the right people and could be confirmed."

Sarah nearly saw red. She couldn't form words.

Ack's ears fell slightly.

Sarah was fairly certain Ack didn't share this information very often, for the same reaction she was feeling. Quite emphatically, Sarah wanted to maul her friend.

He was saved by a knock on the door.

"Come on in, Amber," Sarah bit out.

Amber's smile shifted to a curious look as Ack scrambled to hide under a blanket that was a few feet too small to cover him.


"Amber, this is Ack. Yes, the real Ack. Ack, Amber. Excuse me, I'm going to go outside and scream."

Sarah pulled herself up from her seat and began to make her way from the room, until Amber caught her shoulders. "Sarah, what's wrong? Isn't this a good thing?"

Sighing, Sarah met Amber's questioning eyes. She could tell that Amber wasn't all too sure about whatever was going on, as Ack peaked out from under the blanket, but regardless of what she really believed about the whole story, Amber was blessedly adaptable, perhaps too analytical to get the whole magic factor but she could give the Underground a good run.

"That's not the problem. Remember what I told you about the Prophesy?"

"That it pretty much screws with everyone?"

Sarah pointed at Ack. "He wrote it."

Amber's eyes widened. Then she rounded on Ack. Sarah felt more civil after watching her eight-month pregnant friend chew out the boogeyman. She even managed to sneak out her camera; that was a picture for the journal.

After Amber stopped to catch her breath, she sat down next to where Sarah had placed herself to watch the onslaught.

"I'm…sorry?" Ack attempted.

Amber huffed. "That's right, mister."

"Well, now that you've been introduced…" Sarah trailed off with a grin. Ack for his part looked back and forth between the two women, as though expecting either of them to eviscerate him if he so much as swapped his syntax.

"Despite all that, Ack, it's good to see you again," Sarah assured him. "I'm not sure yet what to do with this new information regarding the Prophesy. Suffice to say, I'm not happy about it."

" and that's a doozy of an understatement," Amber added.

"But more importantly right now, I would like to hear anything you can tell me about what's happening in the Underground, particularly anything relating to the Goblin Kingdom."

"Jeeze, Sarah," Amber commented, "You sound so official."

"Yes, well, queen and all, you know." She stuck out her tongue for good measure. "Anyway, Ack, please, anything you could tell me."

"I regret that I do not have much to say. Again, I was not much in the King's confidences."

"Ack, we both know that you have your ways, much as you like to know everything."

Ack chuckled. "Well, I suppose if you put it that way. I can tell you that Orion is continually faced with his nightmares in an undisclosed oubliette. Since the echoing screams have stopped, the general assumption is that he has taken care of that matter for us. The darker lands made to stage some new attack, but those nastier sorts of goblins tripped things up in addition to the majority of the Underground standing alongside the Goblin Kingdom, once the real threat to both worlds was brought to light. Your husband was heavily lauded in that, particularly with the sacrifice of his queen."

"So popular opinion in the Underground is that I'm dead?"

"Close as you were to that explosion and given the current state of magic, many others think that you've embodied the magic somehow, just to spite everyone. It makes for some interesting alter displays, I can tell you. Jareth has not had a shortage of visitors either, given those circumstances. This has been increasingly frustrating from what I can gather, particularly as he has continued to search for you. He nearly missed the ceremony held in memorandum of the heroes of this war which most popularly has been named the Battle of the Veil or the Short War."

Ack gave a grimace and shrank back in his seat. "Sarah, I wish there was more I could tell you, but my return is more pressing. All this iron and having been away from the Underground for this long, it is taxing."

Sarah nodded. "What do you need?"

Amber had shaken herself out of her amazed stupor. "If you can make it here, doesn't that mean Sarah's hubby can, too?"

"I don't think it will work that way," Ack reported sadly. "It is incredibly unlikely that even I would find it again, given the shifts. It does however prove that something is trying to set to rights. I would guess that the veil is a little less than halfway done recalibrating."

Sarah quickly did the math in her head. "I don't want it to be another eleven months, Ack. That's cutting it too close. Can't I just go with you?"

Ack shook his shaggy head. "Even if that would work, even if that were safe, I would not recommend bringing the child back when the magic is this unstable."

Sarah wrapped her arms around herself. It was a timeline, at least, but it wasn't good news. Amber rubbed Sarah's hand with a sad, sympathetic smile.

Ack grimaced again. "I would like to go."

"Right, what do you need?"

"My theory is that this way should not have changed. I just need a bed to be underneath."

"Alright, follow me. I hope you'll fit." Sarah led Ack up the stairs to her room, Amber tailing up the rear. "Are you sure I can't just go with you?"

Ack took Sarah's hand in his claws. "I apologize, particularly as it will mean my further imprisonment in the castle, after I relay the message of your wellbeing. I will see you again, your majesty. Then we can have our devious conversations once more."

"I will be forming a 'keep Ack amused so he doesn't screw around with your life' coalition, when I get back. I've said it once, but I mean it."

He chuckled. "I look forward to seeing what you intend to schedule."

"A ball of yarn?"

Ack laughed again, kneeling down on the floor. He had slid himself halfway underneath when a thought struck Sarah.

"Ack, wait." He paused and watched as Sarah sped to the bed stand.

"Please, take these to Jareth. Tell him we're still waiting." She handed Ack her journals.

"Perhaps it will pacify him enough to allow me to return home. There is more prophesy to work with."

"It's best that you don't mention that to either of us right now, or I'll leave a note asking him to leave you in an oubliette."

Ack scowled. "No appreciation for a brilliant piece of art."

"Not right now, no. Ask me in a few years. Please, just take these to him."

"I shall. Goodbye, Sarah."

"Take care, Ack."

"Now if both of you will pretend to be asleep, this should work."

"I think by this point, it's just time for a nap," Amber commented.

Sarah took her spot on her bed, Amber making due with propping her head up seated at Sarah's vanity. The room was silent except for Ack's low, rasping breaths until they suddenly stopped. Sarah peaked under the bed. Nothing was there but her slippers.

Amber fixed Sarah with a stare.

"What?" Sarah asked finally.

"When I mentioned that we should hang out more often, I didn't know this kind of thing typical."

"Hey, I'd told you the back story, come on."

"Yes, well, it's still different seeing it in your living room drinking tea."

Ack took a deep breath. The Underground felt decidedly welcome. A few more days with all that nasty iron and he was certain he wouldn't have been able crawl under a bed. He needed a good long rest, but the books jabbing into his chest reminded him he should probably see to that matter first. If he were to withhold these from Jareth for any reason, he would indeed find himself in an oubliette. The sheer boredom would do him in within a week. Pulling himself out from underneath the bed, he was not surprised to find himself in the castle beyond the Goblin city, though he was relieved all the same. Scuffling to his feet, Ack made his way down the nearly empty corridor, past a couple ladies loudly whispering on how best to comfort a widower.

He spoke to a goblin who, in its own nonsensical way, indicated that the king was in his study. Ack shuffled a little faster. He stopped in front of the door, catching his breath and wondering at himself. Here he was about to do something nice and he was surprisingly more concerned with doing it for Sarah rather than watching the ensuing reactions. Ack shook his head and knocked with the back of his hand, lest he get his claws caught in the wood. Marek opened the door and gave Ack a perplexed look, moving aside to let him in.

"It's been a long while since we've seen you. How did you leave the castle?"

"It doesn't matter," Jareth stated from his seat behind the desk. "He wouldn't tell us anyway, Marek." He eyed Ack, taking in his appearance. "Well? You've obviously been up to something strenuous by the look of things and something duplicitous by character."

"Indeed," Ack agreed, giddily waiting for Jareth to ask the right question.

"I'm in no mood for a long, circular interrogation. Unless you've been to the Aboveground, I suggest you leave or you will be forcibly removed."

Ack stood where he was, cocking his head with a small, terrible grin.

Marek and Jareth shared a quick glance. With a growl, the King of the Goblins stood and marched in front of the boogeyman. Taking a handful of Ack's shirt, Jareth pulled him to eye level.

"There are two reasons why you would still be standing here—that you know something useful or you want to be thrown out—both of which are incredibly unlikely."

"Sarah asked me to tell you 'we're still waiting.'"

Marek gave a start and Jareth's eyebrows shot up, the rest of his face in a long line of shock.

The grip around Ack's shirt tightened one more time. "If this is any sort of trick…"

"Here, let her tell you herself," Ack supplied, holding out the journals. "She asked me to give that to you as well. If there's anything in there about throwing me into an oubliette, however, I'm sure it's utter forgery."

Jareth took the journals from Ack's outstretched claws, releasing him in order to flip through the pages.

He closed his eyes, one hand still sprawled over her words. "She's alive."

"By the 'we,' I would assume they both are," Marek added with a grin.

"By the size of her, I would have to agree," Ack asserted, picking himself off the floor and easing onto a chair. "Though, she's still not due for a while, I would say."

Jareth opened his eyes, gently folding the journal shut, still resting his hand on top as though to assure him of its presence. He fixed a perplexed stare at Ack. "How did you—"

"Get up there? Unfortunately by no means I think can be duplicated. Nor did I think it was worth the risk to try to drag her back through," Ack explained tiredly.

"If you did it once," Marek insisted, "you can do it again."

"Perhaps," Ack agreed reluctantly. "But certainly not now. If you would excuse me, I will soon rival the Bog if I wait much longer for a bath. Somehow, I was relatively sure that had I seen to that first, before delivering these, I would never hear the end of it."

He began to amble toward the door.


He turned at the sound of Jareth's voice, an uncharacteristic trepidation settling over his tone.

"How is she?"

"You know Sarah. Resilient as always. She looked quite healthy and, again, growing larger. I'm afraid she has forgotten some etiquette. Here I was on her doorstop, going through so much trouble to see her, and she would only ask about you and the kingdom. Quite impatient in that regard, actually." Ack's mouth split into an impossible yawn. "I suspect she has told you much more than I could in her own words. Read those first and wake me, if you must, in a couple days. Undoubtedly you'll find a reason to interrogate me further."

Ack gave a small, pained bow and shuffled out the door.

Marek peered over Jareth's shoulder to get a better look, but Jareth had hunched forward slightly as though to protect those small books.

"They're safe."

"I don't understand why you sound so surprised, adamant as you have been."

Jareth gave Marek a disdainful look, despite the teasing grin on Marek's face. "Of course I knew, Marek, but it's quite different to have reassuring evidence in your hands."

"Vice grip, more like."

Jareth gave a short chuckle.

"However," Marek pointed out, "I'm guessing this news is too good to pass on?"

"At this point, I think so. If you would excuse me, Marek. Please inform all my appointments that I am indisposed. Make up some story."

Marek nodded with an understanding smile. "I think I will tell half the group that it's your dead wife's birthday and the other half that you've gone to inspect a mysterious new area of the Labyrinth. That'll cover both major camps, I think, the mourners and the kingdom supporters."

"Barricade the library while you're at it. I do not want to be disturbed for any reason."

"You will give me the abridged version, won't you?"

Jareth waved him off, heading toward the door himself. "We'll see."

"Oh, just because it's your wife you…" Marek trailed off as the door shut behind Jareth, one magical ability still intact if no others seemed to keep it straight. He barely had had the heart to tease Jareth. This was the best news they'd had in almost a year.

Ordinarily, Jareth would have poofed into the library and made the door disappear, but there was no way of telling what the magic might do. It wasn't worth the risk that he might end up in the main hall or in the wrong oubliette; either way, surrounded by a gaggle of admirers or left without any light to read by, his purpose that afternoon would be defeated.

Instead by some stroke of luck, he made it to the library undeterred. It seemed quite peculiar to have to lock a door rather than magically sealing it, but such small habits had been generated out of necessity over the last…Jareth stopped for a moment. Nearly a year. It had been nearly a year. He sat down on the couch, the spot that had come to be one of his favorite parts of the castle because it still smelled like her.

Jareth took the journal with a large "one" scrawled across the cover in a fat, black marker. Torn between the desire to savor and the need to devour as much of her message at the same time, Jareth began to read.

Power Struggle

A Labyrinth Story
by bobmcbobbob1

Part 45 of 50

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