Continuing Tales

Most Prized Possession

A Labyrinth Story
by Jester3

Part 24 of 42

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Most Prized Possession

Sarah trudged up to her tiny room feeling quite anxious. Since Jareth's earlier warning, he hadn't been outwardly cruel, but his demeanor was cold and business-like. The fact that they had kissed only days ago had apparently changed nothing between them. They hadn't even spoken of it, and there was absolutely no sign that it might happen again.

In truth she didn't know how to feel about it. On one hand, she might have been spared from making a big mistake, but at the same time she couldn't rid herself of the sinking disappointment that plagued her these last few nights. She fell into a fitful sleep as she exhausted herself with so many questions that seemed no closer to an answer than they had been when she first arrived in the underground.

Sarah awoke very late the next morning. Her window had been opened and sunshine spilled onto her pillow. She could hear the distant chirping of birds as the magic smell of the labyrinth wafted through her chamber. She groggily sat up, wondering why the goblins hadn't come to rouse her. For one startled moment she hoped they hadn't forgotten. If Jareth had overslept too, there would surely be hell to pay.

Her worries were abandoned as she noticed the breakfast tray sitting on her vanity, meaning that the goblins had already come, and for whatever reason, they had been instructed to let her sleep.

In her nightshirt and bare feet, she padded over to the tray and lifted the ornate silver cover. There was a plate brimming with mixed fruit and some very tempting looking sweet cakes. Beside the small pitcher of milk she noticed a neatly folded piece of parchment. Overcome with curiosity she snatched up the paper and opened it. Elegantly written in large scrawling black letters was the message...


I trust you slept well, I hope you will be well rested for tonight's festivities. Some last minute arrangements will prevent me from putting in an appearance until just before the ball, however I will come to collect you before our guests arrive. You will find your gown behind your dressing screen, and the goblins will see to anything you might require. You have until sunset to prepare.

Until tonight,


Sarah had barely finished reading the message when she made a mad dash to find what lie behind her dressing screen. The gown was fitted on a dressing stand and was covered with a large sheet of glittery material. Unable to contain her wild curiosity, she threw back the fabric covering her dress, and gasped.

In a word, the gown was gorgeous. It was comprised of a gathered full skirt and an exquisite embroidered corset of a bodice. The entire dress was crafted from a shimmering gold fabric, the likes of which Sarah had never before seen. With shaky fingers she tentatively examined the material of one fine sheer sleeve. Magic must have been a involved in the crafting of such a dress, for it was too magnificent to have been made by conventional means.

The massive sparkling skirts, paired with the elegantly simple corset and sheer sleeves were a winning combination. Never before had she seen a more beautiful gown. Even the gown she had been wearing in her peach induced fantasy during her first trip through the labyrinth couldn't hold a candle to this one. The pale innocence of that previous gown had been replaced with a more refined and wholly adult concoction that would no doubt win her much attention if it looked even a fraction as enticing on her as it did on the dressing stand.

With a deep breath Sarah reasoned that there was only one way to find out. Sarah removed her clothing and reverently slipped into the dress. She fastened the corset as best she could, discovering that she would definitely need assistance dressing for the ball, since she could not get the bodice as tightly laced as it should be. Still, she only wanted to see how it fit, and more importantly, how it looked.

She slipped her feet into the delicate matching slippers and carefully gathered up the skirt as she shuffled before her mirror. She stared at her reflection with wide eyes. Jareth could be a bastard, but he had impeccable taste. The gown was breathtaking. The hue of the gold fabric brought out the warm hazel of her eyes and complimented her dark brown locks beautifully.

The fit of the dress was just as flawless as the striking design. Her eyes dropped to her reflection's chest. She had always been naturally well endowed in the bust area, but the corset...well, she had heard that they did miracles for the female form, but not until this very moment was she a firm believer. Regardless, of the anxiety she harbored about the upcoming ball, she couldn't help but be excited at the prospect of wearing so beautiful a dress.

Sarah carefully arranged the gown back in its proper place on the stand. She dressed in her own clothes and returned to her vanity to peruse her waiting breakfast. No sooner had she finished eating, did she hear the sound of footsteps racing down the hall towards her chamber door. It was sort of a scuffling sound and she knew right away that it couldn't be Jareth.

She opened her door and peered out to notice a very out of breath dwarf running at full speed towards her. Sarah called out to him, overjoyed to see a friendly face, "Hoggle!"

The short dwarf stopped before her, couching down as he fought to catch his breath as she hurriedly embraced him, "Sa...Sarah,'re alright?!?"

Sarah led him into her room as she remarked, "Of course I'm all right. What are you talking about?"

Hoggle glanced wildly around the room finding that they were indeed alone before he explained, "I...heard about the Alicorn, and I...just wanted to make sure you were all right."

Sarah gave him a peculiar look and assured him, "I'm fine."

Hoggle nodded hastily and replied, "Right. Well, I just wanted to make sure...can't be too careful."

Sarah was quick to ask, "Hoggle, what would make you think I wasn't OK?"

The dwarf muttered, "I told ya, I just heard about the beast's death and I just wanted to make sure everything was all right here."

Sarah considered his answer and immediately thought back to Jareth's warning about not leaving the castle unescorted. Her brow furrowed as she rested one hand on her hip and prodded, "What would a dead Alicorn have to do with me?"

Hoggle remained silent, though his mouth hung open and his eyes rolled about suspiciously. Sarah tried again, a little more firmly, "Hoggle? What's going on?"

The dwarf finally stammered, " know about the Alicorn then?"

Sarah nodded, "Of course I do. I was with Jareth when the Goblins came to fetch him. I saw it for myself."

Hoggle's eyes widened as he breathed, "You were with him? Wha...what did he say about it?"

Sarah sighed and admitted, "Not very much. He doesn't seem to want to talk about it. I'm not sure, but I think he's more disturbed by it then he's letting on."

Hoggle nodded slowly and ventured, "Did...did he say anything about the..." He lowered his voice to a hushed whisper and finished, "...Shadow Horde?"

Sarah knitted her brow and mused, "Shadow horde? No, he didn't say anything about that...not to me anyway...not that he's saying much of anything to me lately."

Hoggle looked slightly more at ease before he suddenly became concerned again and demanded, "Why? Something happen?"

Sarah let out a deep breath and huffed, "Yeah...I mean no, I mean, he's just doing what he's best at...making me crazy."

Hoggle nodded and cautiously began, "But, he didn't mention who he suspects?"

Sarah shook her head, "No, I tried to talk to him about it but he was being difficult. He said he didn't want me to get involved and that it wasn't my concern...he was very persistent about it too."

Hoggle's eyes widened, "He was, was he? Well, I guess he'd best handle it anyways. Might be dangerous...maybe you better do as he says."

Sarah crossed her arms and muttered, "Not like I have much of a choice." She seemed lost in thought for a moment before she ventured, "Hoggle what IS the Shadow Horde?"

Hoggle shook his head wildly as he backed away and protested, "I...better not say. Jareth might get angry and I don't want him takin' it out on you missy."

Sarah shrugged, "I can handle myself. He doesn't scare me. C'mon tell me."

Hoggle was adamant, "No Sarah. I probably shouldn't even be here. I just wanted to be sure you're alright. Leave it to Jareth. I better go...but if you need me."

Sarah nodded, a little disappointed that Hoggle wouldn't tell her, but she reasoned that if he was keeping it from her it was probably for a good reason. She said her goodbyes and urged him to visit her again soon.

Sarah spent the afternoon reading before she began to prepare for the masquerade ball. She had plenty of time to get ready so she reasoned that a nice hot bath might ease her mind and relax her. After a leisurely bath she dried off and with the help of a female goblin servant she got dressed in her ball-gown. The energetic little attendant was even resourceful enough to procure some cosmetics for her as well.

Sarah was just applying the finishing touches to her makeup when the blazing orange light of the setting sun crept across her tower room in the Goblin Castle. As she took one last appreciative look at the picture she presented, she could scarcely believe it was herself that stared back at her. The brilliant orange light that penetrated her otherwise somber chamber gave everything a fantastic surreal look.

She barely had time to take it all in, when, as if on cue, a gentle draft stirred behind her. Cool air engulfed her, gently ruffling her dress as the image of the Goblin King appeared in the mirror just behind her own reflection.

Sarah didn't have to glance over her shoulder to know that he was really there right behind her, she knew just by the magic aromatic scent that was uniquely his.

His sharp mismatched gaze hungrily wandered over her reflection and it occurred to her that he had the eyes of a practiced hunter, piercing and fierce. They seemingly missed nothing. At that moment she doubted that even a falcon could possess the kind of sight that he probably did.

As Jareth took in the vision of the dark haired girl before him, he felt as though he had to remind himself to keep breathing. He knew the gown would be perfect, but now as he looked on her, he realized that his imagination could never have done her appearance justice. She looked absolutely stunning.

The side tresses of her rich dark hair had been pulled back and were held with a gold clasp at the back of her head in a naturally simple, yet elegant fashion. The rays of the setting sun bathed her face in light and reflected in her dark auburn hair causing the blazing fiery red highlights that mesmerized him. Her green eyes, flecked with brown and gold, sparkled in the reflected sunlight. Her features, from her delicate nose to her petal soft mouth looked even more captivating in the natural light.

The fine porcelain skin from her cheeks, down to the ivory flesh of her décolleté was glowing with a pearlescent luminescence. The bodice of the dress, a corset of shimmering gold fabric, gracefully flaunted the charms of her young body. Her lovely full breasts could scarcely be contained by the garment, as they were pushed upward and together, making for the most tantalizing display of cleavage that the Goblin King had ever seen. The corset terminated at her slender waist where the massive gold skirts seemed to dare the onlooker to imagine the feminine curves that were concealed beneath.

The sheer glistening sleeves were off the shoulder and terminated at points on her delicate hands. The rich gold of the gown was truly meant for Sarah as it glittered in stark contrast to her fair skin and dark hair. In the instant that he drank in the sight of her it seemed the storm of bothersome thoughts that clouded his mind were lifted. Tonight she would be on his arm. Tonight she would be his.

Sarah's full red lips parted in surprise as she took in the reflection of the Goblin King looming behind her. His formal attire seemed the product of a combination of whimsical fantasy meets dark and wicked nightmare. Over a pristine and gauzy tunic of the purest white, he wore a jewel encrusted silver doublet that sparkled with every type of silvery stone. His breeches were black as were his shiny black boots.

The most breathtaking component of the outfit however, was the midnight black cloak, which was adorned with hundreds of tiny glittering jewels that twinkled just like stars in the night sky. The ominous high collar of the cloak added to his sinister appearance. What was most fascinating though was that his imposing stature rivaled the ethereal beauty that graced his fair face.

Sarah's breath hitched in her throat as she unsuccessfully tried not to stare. The wheels of her mind seemed to grind to a halt as she struggled to think of something intelligent to say. Another moment passed by as she continued to gawk in disbelief, at that point she would have settled for any thought of something to say, anything would be better than retaining that look of dumb astonishment. Before she could say anything though, Jareth had pulled a crystal from thin air, balancing it before her eyes as he offered it to her.

Sarah's eyes darted to the orb with a mixture of curiosity and caution as she stammered, "What is it?"

His mouth twisted into that arrogant smirk that she both loved and loathed as he drawled, "For you...take it." As if commanded by his very words, the crystal burst in a shower of glitter and in it's place was a golden half-mask with seven points meant to mimic the rays of the sun.

She tentatively lifted the mask in her hands and shot him an inquisitive look. He grinned and mused, "You can't attend a masquerade without a mask now can you?"

Sarah's eyes met his as she breathed, "This is mine?" He merely nodded as she demanded, "Where's yours?"

With a teasing smile he pulled another crystal out of thin air and with a puff of glitter he was left holding a black half mask adorned with a silver crescent that curved about one half of the mask.

Sarah glanced at his mask before she remarked, "Is this your way of joking about the fact that we are about as different as day and night."

Jareth smirked knowingly and offered, "Once, we were adversaries. opposing...forces. I thought you might find it appropriate."

Sarah could scarcely stifle the small smile that crept across her face when suddenly he stepped closer. His arm ventured around her front and she glanced down to see what he offered this time.

There in his black leather glove he held a perfect golden rose, which he now presented in an obvious offering gesture. Sarah swallowed as her eyes fell on the extraordinary flower. Just the thought of him doing something so traditionally romantic made her insides weak with nervous excitement. She wished she could have stepped outside herself and given herself a good hard smack for being so affected by the gesture, but unfortunately she was of the female persuasion and he, damn him, looked as though he had just stepped right out of her dreams...her innermost secret dreams that verged on sensual, if not wholly naughty.

Sarah shook herself out of her thoughts and stammered nervously, "Wha...what's this for?" His crisp accented voice seemed to caress her ear as he answered, "It's for you. I am your escort. What would our guests think if I didn't present you with a flower to compliment your fairness?"

Sarah lamely replied with a rather breathless "Oh." As he added in a silky whisper, "Though, truth be told...I had a hell of a time hunting for a flower worthy of you, as you are truly radiant."

Sarah's head swam as her knees started to go weak. She swallowed in euphoric apprehension, praying that he would stop talking to her like that, as it made her entirely lose her senses. In a panicked attempt to stop his seductive words she blurted, "Oh...Uh thanks. You look...really nice too."

His mouth formed a predatory grin as she turned to face him. He took another step towards her and her and she felt her pulse quicken.

His sensuality was positively suffocating and before she could even attempt to dwell in the hazy euphoria, she had to purge her mind of the question that had been eating away at her. She needed to know more about the threat that, like a switch, had caused him to turn so cold. She fumbled, haphazardly changing the subject, "I...was wondering...if I could ask you a question?"

He tilted his head, his smile was of pure amusement as he answered, "Certainly."

Sarah's eyes strayed from his as she weakly ventured, "Um...What is the Shadow Horde?"

Jareth's expression changed instantly, changing back into a cold unfeeling mask as he demanded, "Where pray tell, did you hear that expression?"

Sarah knew he wasn't pleased, and she had no desire to get Hoggle into trouble, but she suspected that he would know if she lied and she had a feeling that she might get her friend into worse trouble if she didn't come clean. She cautiously began, "Well, Hoggle sort of...mentioned it."

She paused and angrily muttered, "That blasted dwarf..." He quickly started to pull a crystal out of thin air as he sneered, "He simply cannot keep from meddling where he shouldn't. Well this time I shall teach him a lesson he won't soon forget..."

Sarah grasped his sleeve and desperately cried, "No! Please...don't!"

Jareth's mismatched eyes darted to her face as the words tumbled from her lips, "He...didn't know. You see, he thought I already knew. Once he learned that you hadn't told me of the Shadow Horde he refused to tell me any more...please...don't punish him!"

Jareth noticed the manner in which she still clutched his arm. He frowned, but seemed a little less perturbed as he prompted, "Very well...go on."

Sarah explained, "When I asked him what it was he wouldn't tell me. He asked me if at any time you had said anything about it. When I said no, he seemed relieved, and he told me to forget about it." Her eyes pleaded with him as she finished, "Now, I know that if you don't want to tell me you won't, and I'll have to live with that, but I'm asking you, not in defiance but because nothing has been the same since the Alicorn... I feel I'll go out of my mind if things don't start to make sense...please...can't you tell me anything?"

Jareth sighed and was quiet for a long moment. Finally he looked at her and something in his cold expression softened a fraction as he replied evenly, "The shadow horde was a sect of the ruling class of the Fae, a brotherhood forged in secret, a faction of the Seelie court with its own politics and it's own idea's about the boundaries of Fae magic."

Sarah listened intently as Jareth went on, "At one time they held the majority of the elders, but they became consumed by their greed and ambition. They indulged in abhorrent practices, and like a delusional plague they contaminated my race. They were a blight on the face of the underground, and eventually those who opposed them revolted. The struggle lasted for decades, but eventually the Horde was dispersed and as it's last members died out it went extinct. In it's day the horde was so feared that its evil acts became legendary. Even today the mere whisper of it is enough to stir a whole kingdom into a panic."

Sarah furrowed her brow and reasoned, "So...that's what Hoggle and the Goblins are afraid of?"

Jareth nodded and replied, "Yes. Among its long list of reprehensible acts, the Horde frequently engaged in the slaughter of Alicorns, and in the height of it's power it nearly drove the Alicorn herds to extinction. You have to understand, Goblins are simple creatures, and they have a tendency to be over when the slain alicorn was found, they automatically assumed the worst."

Sarah nodded, "Oh. So they were afraid that the horde had returned...but that..."

Jareth finished with a nod, "Is quite impossible and utterly ridiculous. Still...something did slay that Alicorn, so I thought it pertinent to be cautious."

Sarah thought for a moment and nervously ventured, "So is that why you didn't want me to leave..."

Jareth finished, "The castle? Yes. I don't know what killed that Alicorn, and until I do I'm not taking any chances. The goblins are armed and they have the labyrinth to protect them, but you are vulnerable outside the castle walls."

Sarah considered his concern and remarked, "What makes you think that I might be in any danger?"

Jareth leveled a stern gaze at her and argued with a sigh, "Sarah, its getting late. Our guests are arriving. This can wait until after the festivities."

Sarah nodded, a little intimidated by the fact that it was time to attend the ball with him. She swallowed and conceded, "Fine...what happens now?"

Jareth circled her slowly, a smile creeping across his face as he stopped in front of her. With a feral grin he caught her hand in his own and purred, "We attend the masquerade and pretend that we are having a wonderful time. Do you think you can handle that?"

Sarah arched an eyebrow as she stammered, "Uh, problem. Piece of cake."

He flashed her an amused grin before he pursed his lips and drawled, "Our guests must believe that we are...involved. Remember, your affection must appear genuine."

Sarah nodded absently as she ignored the voice in her head that scoffed, "Oh...don't'll be genuine all right..." She was just violently stuffing that annoying little voice into a very dark mental box, when Jareth lowered his head and raised the back of her hand to his lips. As he placed a tender kiss on the back of her hand he glanced up at her, and as he raised one fine arched eyebrow the heat in his gaze was unmistakable. His mouth curved into a seductive smile as he drawled, "We best start the evening off right then..." Sarah's heart stuttered in her chest at the sight of him looking up at her like that.

Sarah could hear wistful music and playful chatter as soon as they began to descend the immense stone staircase that wound through the center of the castle. As they rounded the last corner Sarah feasted her eyes on the grandest party she had ever seen. The bare room that she had come to know as the ballroom, had been completely transformed.

Warm orange firelight blazed in every corner. Elaborate sconces and great gothic style candelabras adorned the room, throwing enough light to dimly illuminate but retain enough darkness to allow for a certain amount of mystery.

The room was alive with movement. A sea of myriad masked revelers twirled in oblivious pleasure. There would be no shortage of guests at this masquerade. That was plain. The huge open floor was swarming with swaying bodies. All about the perimeter of the room were great tables piled high with lush fruits, sweet meats, and just about every type of delicacy one could think of.

The once bare walls were now tastefully draped in rich crimson and black fabrics. Ornate gargoyles and mad grinning goblin-like faces peered from every nook and cranny of the lofty walls, some perched up high among the flying buttresses, seemingly part of the immense cathedral ceiling.

As Sarah glanced up in wonder she found that the darkly decorated ballroom reminded her of a twisted sort of church. Having attended parochial school for a good part of her life, Sarah had set foot in many grand cathedrals and churches and being here made her think of them.

The whole room had a somewhat shadowy and sinister feel to it, though it was also alluring with it's rich dark beauty. It thrummed with life and the sights and sounds of the revelers was inviting and hypnotic. Sarah was scarcely in the room and she already felt the pull to become lost in the rhythmic sea of party-goers.

One more step and they would be in plain sight of the mob. Jareth caught her nervous gaze and shot her a confident roguish grin as he offered his arm. Sarah made sure that her mask was straight before she tentatively slipped her arm through his. Right before he began to descend, he whispered in a final reassurance, "Relax. You look stunning. Just keep your head up, and remember to smile.

Follow my lead and everything will be fine."

It was as if everyone had suddenly noticed the King of the Goblins at the same time. All activity simultaneously ceased as every voice fell silent and all eyes turned to the grand staircase. Many of them had never before seen the Goblin King, but there was little doubt of the monarch's identity as he made his way down the ebony staircase. It was a mixture of the way he carried himself and the way his appearance just seemed to mesh with the sinister style of the castle, as if he was a very part of it.

Though the upper half of his face was masked by the visage of the moon. His silvery platinum hair, his lithe frame, his fair alabaster skin, and his formal royal attire all confirmed that he was an important member of the Fae aristocracy. Once every pair of eyes had appraised the Goblin King they immediately proceeded to peruse the striking figure on his arm.

It was uncommon to see such dark hair in the underground and the assembly buzzed with curiosity. The crowd was captivated by the strange brunette beauty on the King's arm. Though the hazel eyes that peered out from behind the bronze mask were apprehensive, and her steps uncertain, she seemed to radiate a charming warmth that was seldom found in Fae society. No visage could have been more appropriate for the girl than that of the sun, for she was wholly radiant in her golden gown. Her bronzed sun kissed skin was exotic and refreshing to a race that only knew faces of pale complexion. At that moment there was much speculation about the race of the King's escort, since she certainly didn't look Fae.

Before Sarah even had a chance to take in the massive assembly of guests, Jareth had begun to address them. He welcomed them all to his Kingdom and after a few welcoming words he encouraged them all to dine and dance. As suddenly as the silence had begun, it ended. Haunting music filled the room and the guests resumed their various states of reverie.

Jareth escorted Sarah down into the midst of the crowd and as they walked across the dance floor, the crowd parted for them, eagerly accepting the Goblin King and his mysterious partner into the dance. With breath taking formality Jareth made a gracious gesture and requested in a sultry voice, "May I have the pleasure of the first dance?"

Sarah felt her pulse quicken as she answered under her breath, "You ask as if I had a choice."

Jareth placed one hand on her waist as he caught her other hand in his. He pulled her rather close and his voice came as a warm rush in her ear, so that the intruding crowd would not overhear, "You may not have a choice, but that doesn't mean this has to be unpleasant."

Sarah nearly gasped in surprise as he led her forcefully into the dance. It was a much faster paced dance than the one she had initially learned and as she glanced about frantically, she noticed all the male partners were leading their female counterparts with a startling degree of aggressively commanding movements.

She quickly caught her breath and started to get the feel of the movements. It wasn't difficult, as Jareth was doing an impeccable job of leading her, but his close proximity and the sexually reminiscent nature of the dance made it difficult to concentrate and relax. She did however, manage to recover and once she was reasonably comfortable she hissed back, "You're right. This doesn't have to be unpleasant...if you can keep from baiting me."

He chuckled warmly, his very breath teasing her skin as he silkily replied, "Tell you what...If you can keep from provoking me, I'll try and refrain from antagonizing you. All you need be concerned with, is doing what I ask of you."

Heat crept across her skin as she ventured, "Why should I trust you..."

She sensed his predacious smile as he playfully retorted, "Why not?"

Sarah swallowed and admitted a little apprehensively, "Well, you haven't exactly been very up front with me. I've seen your devious side...and...I hardly know you...I...I don't know what your motives are."

He turned his head slightly as he whispered into her hair, "All you need know is that I am a man of my word."

Her voice dropped an octave as she answered breathlessly, "How can I be certain of anything when I barely know you..."

He murmured, "The solution is simple...Get to know me Sarah..."

She couldn't deny the prospect was intensely tempting as there was so much she was curious about. She took a sobering breath and replied, "Alright. If, like you say, you are a man of your word, then be straight with me...what am I doing here?"

He answered, "Surely, you jest. You know full well that you opted to be here. You struck our year of your life for Kayla's freedom."

She cautiously ventured, "Yes, but if you think I believe that Kayla's wish was an accident or a mere coincidence you'd have to think me a total dunce. I wasn't born yesterday Jareth, I KNOW this wasn't some unfortunate accident. Let's just stop pretending. You wanted me here...Why? What is it that you want with me?"

Jareth considered her question carefully and conceded that a degree of honesty was necessary if his plans were to be successfully completed. His only concern was whether she was ready to handle such honesty. Her lingering mistrust made him think perhaps not, yet the kiss she had initiated only days earlier presented a strong argument that she might be more than ready. Jareth was confident when it came to taking risks with such high yield, so he made the conscious choice to chance it.

His arm tightened possessively about her waist as his breath came hot against her ear, "I thought that would be fairly obvious by now. You fascinate me Sarah..."

His breathless confession and his sudden tight hold on her was overwhelmingly exhilarating and the wave left her temporarily disoriented.

Jareth relentlessly went in for the kill, his lips brushing against the pulse of her neck before he breathed against her skin, "I admit...this infatuation is most assuredly inopportune, but I never have been very good with self-denial..."

Sarah was drowning, the more he spoke, the more she was inundated by the implications of what he was saying.

He was admitting that he wanted her. The revelation was staggering, and her heart lurched in her chest. It was by a sheer miracle that she managed to continue dancing with him, as he was professing all this. Somehow she knew that if she stopped moving, she would be even more vulnerable.

Unfortunately, his torment didn't stop there. His mouth descended upon her throat, branding her neck with a single smoldering kiss before he raised his head to meet her eyes. He was still wearing his mask, as was she, but his eyes burned into hers with a ferocity that made her shudder.

He lowered his mouth, so that it hovered a hairs breadth over hers as he breathed, "You maintain that we are adversaries...that you are the victim...yet your kiss the other day suggested otherwise..."

His mouth formed a deliciously seductive smirk as he finished, "Since then, I've had some pressing matters to tend to but I admit...I've been unable to think of little else."

She returned his intense gaze, desperately wanting to kiss him again, but she managed to refrain, as she realized with trepidation that he was seducing her...quite effectively.

Suddenly the dance came to an end as the mesmerizing music faded.

Jareth paused, the inevitable kiss was left suspended, implied, but not carried out. The music died and he was satisfied by the emotion that washed over her face. Even with the mask covering the upper portion of her face, he could see the heat that flushed her cheeks, and the desire that sparked in her dark eyes.

She didn't say anything in response to his admission, but she didn't have to. He could plainly see that her resolve was crumbling. He felt assured that his possession of her was only a matter of time, however it wouldn't do to forget himself in this room full of dignitaries from the various Fae kingdoms. Whether his plan would be brought to completion this night or not, one thing was certain...tonight was bound to be interesting.

Another heartrending melody began, and Jareth offered Sarah a satisfied smirk as he led her toward the perimeter of the room. Pleasure would play a large part in the evening's festivities, but the Goblin King had business to attend to as well. He took her by the hand and instructed, "Come with me, the Northern Ambassador and his party are here...diplomacy is in order."

Sarah followed suite and asked, "And what am I supposed to do when we go over there?"

Jareth glanced over his shoulder and smugly replied, "Simply play your part. Be the charming and adoring escort of your King."

Sarah shook her head and snorted, "Oh is that all..." Then she added a rather sarcastically, "Shall I bow and scrape...maybe kiss your boots..."

His glance held a warning but his grin gave away his amusement as he muttered teasingly, "Tempting...but Perhaps later."

She hesitated a moment and quickly reassured herself that he was certainly joking.

The room was very crowded and Sarah clung to Jareth's hand for fear of being swallowed up by the crowd. She glanced to and fro as they made their way through the claustrophobic crowd. Many of the passers-by stopped to stare at Jareth and one or two even gave Sarah a cursory glance as if to satisfy their curiosity to see the King's escort up close.

However, as they progressed further towards the edge of the room Sarah couldn't shake the feeling that she was being watched. She noticed a rather large group of men to her left and she simply glanced over as she passed by, and that's when she saw him.

In the midst of the predominantly male group, he was watching her pass by from behind the visage of a raven's face. He was about the same height as Jareth but strangely, he had shockingly dark, shortly coiffed hair.

How strange, she thought. Besides herself, he was the only individual in the room with dark hair. She wondered if maybe, he too was from aboveground. At first she assumed he was just staring at the Goblin King like all the rest, but no...his gaze was directed specifically on her. His eyes followed her unrelentingly as she moved with Jareth through the crowd. Slightly unnerved, she looked away, and resumed following Jareth.

When they finally reached the far side of the grand room, a man with graying hair and electric blue eyes watched their approach with a warm smile. Even with his silver half mask in place, Sarah recognized the older gentleman immediately.

He was the ambassador from the North, and Desdemonna's father.

With a slight bow he graciously began, "Ah, your Majesty. How wonderful it is to see you once again."

Jareth acknowledged the older man with a polite nod and replied, "Lord Taibaar, how very fortunate that you could make it to the festivities."

Taibaar's cool blue eyes drifted to settle on Sarah and he remarked, "And who is this...ravishing young lady?"

Jareth smiled in amusement as Sarah's cheeks flushed in embarrassment. He cleared his throat and drawled, "Lord Taibaar, allow me to introduce...the lady Sarah."

Taibaar stared at the woman before him as Jareth went on, "She has come to us from the Aboveground, for a bit of a visit."

The old man's blue eyes widened as he breathed, "Not THE Sarah? The human girl who solved the labyrinth?"

Jareth grinned, showing his pointed canine teeth as he smugly replied, "The very same."

Sarah smiled awkwardly as she ducked her head in a manner of a bow. The Northern ambassador caught her hand in his and humbly replied, "You must forgive my surprise lady, for your story is infamous. I had never imagined that I might

have the chance to meet you in person. It is an honor to make your acquaintance Lady Sarah." With that he bowed his head, placing a respectful kiss on the back of her hand. It struck her that no matter how nice the gesture, it just wasn't the same as when Jareth had done it. The mere thought of it made her stomach flutter. With that thought in mind she unconsciously glanced up at the Goblin King, who was smirking knowingly at her.

As Jareth watched the unnerved girl glance up at him, he could scarcely contain his satisfaction. With every step, every moment, Sarah was inching further and further into his grasp. She was doing just as he asked. He could practically see the submission reflected in her sparkling sage eyes. Things were going beautifully.

Lord Taibaar finally straightened and ventured, "If I may...what brings you back to the Underground my lady?"

Sarah hesitated for half a moment before Jareth quickly supplied, "Sarah and I have...resolved our differences. She wished to see the Labyrinth again, so I accommodated her wish and have made her a guest in my kingdom."

It took all of Sarah's willpower not to roll her eyes and snort rudely, for his explanation could not have been any further from the truth. She had to admit that at least he was a convincing liar.

Lord Taibaar smirked at Sarah as he conceded, "I see."

Jareth promptly responded by arching an eyebrow as he addressed Sarah in a most civil and mellifluent tone, "My dear, would you mind obtaining some wine for us...there is a matter I wish to discuss with Lord Taibaar."

Sarah raised her brow in open dismay at his uncharacteristically diplomatic tone, knowing full well that the expression was concealed by her mask. Finally she nodded, giving Jareth a shrewd look before she offered a departing smile to the ambassador. Obviously Jareth was about to have a conversation that he didn't want her to overhear. She was dying to know just what he was up to.

With little choice but to go off and fetch them some wine, she descended back into the oscillating crowd. Straining to see over the top of the mass, she managed to spot a table on the far side of the room boasting ostentatious looking golden goblets, which certainly had to contain the wine Jareth was talking about.

As she traversed the dense crowd, this time devoid of her more infamous escort, she noticed that several male guests glanced appreciatively in her direction. Sarah's first thought was that she was imagining it, but as she ventured deeper into the mass of revelers, it became much more apparent. They were actually, unabashedly checking her out.

Interestingly though, not one of them dared to approach her. Apparently, Jareth's wrath was notorious, not only among the goblins and creatures of his labyrinth, but among his peers as well.

For half a moment she considered calling one of the gentleman on his lecherous looks by approaching him, just to get a rise out of the Goblin King, since it would only serve him right, but somehow she doubted that Jareth would see the humor in it. Not to mention that such a bold and public display of defiance would come with a heavy price, much heavier than what she was willing to chance. Still, if she hadn't retained that intrinsic fear of the Goblin King she might have just gone through with it.

Sarah finally reached the table where the full goblets of wine awaited when she again experienced the peculiar sensation of being watched. Naturally, she first turned to glance in the direction where she had left Jareth, but no, he was still engrossed in conversation with the ambassador. She slowly started to turn her attention back to the goblets when she caught sight of the man in the raven mask with the dark hair.

He was standing off by himself, much closer to her current position, and as her gaze fell on him, their eyes met. Somewhat unsettled, she quickly looked away. She hurriedly grabbed two glasses of wine, and very cautiously looked out of the corner of her eye to see if he was still watching. To her surprise he was suddenly gone. "That's weird." She thought to herself, as she hastily turned to head back to the other side of the room. As she quickly turned and started forward, she nearly collided with someone entirely dressed in black leather...someone wearing a raven mask.

Wine sloshed over the top of the goblets but fortunately she didn't spill any on herself or the stranger. He looked down at her with a mixture of mild interest and amusement before he softly spoke, "Forgive me, my intention was not to startle you."

Now that he was right before her eyes, she had a much better opportunity to size up the intruder. He was dressed entirely in smooth black leather. His hair was jet black where hers was a rich dark brown. Though the raven mask concealed much of his face she could immediately discern that his eyes were striking. They were a turbulent mixture of stormy blue and silver.

He was graced with a sensual mouth, marred only by a thin scar that ran vertically over his upper lip. Oddly though, the scar didn't take away from his looks and only increased his mystique. Another peculiar fact was that though his appearance was a bit dark and even melancholy, there was no sinister tone in his voice. If anything, he was quite soft-spoken, giving his voice a silken pious quality. Strangely, her first thought was that he had the same reverent and serene presence one might expect to find in a priest.

Sarah quickly caught her breath and assured him, "Oh. You didn't startle me...I just didn't see you there." He was quick to help her steady her wine glasses as she set them back on the table. With a smile he handed her a napkin to dry the wine from her hands.

He glanced over to where Jareth and Lord Taibaar were still talking and remarked, "You are the escort of the Goblin King are you not?"

Sarah nodded and gushed, "Um...yes. I'm Sarah...I'm sorry you are...?"

His gentle eyes held hers as he offered, "I am Nyx. It is a great pleasure to meet you Sarah..." He bowed his head devoutly, and gently lifting her hand in his own he placed a meek kiss on the back of her hand.

Ignoring the fact that her cheeks had grown hot, she politely replied with a smile, "Pleasure to meet you Nyx."

He returned a peaceable smile and ventured, "Might I escort you back to his Majesty?"

She was at a momentary loss for words, as she had no idea what the proper etiquette was in such a situation. With a shrug she conceded, "Sure." He offered to carry the wine goblets as he began to lead her back through the oppressive crowd.

Halfway across the dance floor he turned to inquire, "I'm curious...from which Kingdom did you venture here from?"

Sarah stammered, "Oh, no kingdom...I come from Aboveground."

Nyx halted in his tracks looking her over with interest, "It is you then...YOU are the human girl that solved the labyrinth!"

Sarah nodded and awkwardly admitted, "Yeah. That's me."

A puzzled look clouded his face as he demanded, "Forgive me, but I've heard the stories. Why would you come back to the Underground only to stay as a guest in the Goblin City?"

Sarah dodged the question as best she could, "Well that's...a bit of a long story...perhaps you might ask the Goblin King..."

Meanwhile in another corner of the ballroom...

When he had seen that Sarah was out of earshot, Jareth asked, "Lord Taibarr, tell me...what news from the North?"

The older man smiled and replied, "Not much in the way of news your majesty. From what I understand though...there has been much commotion right here in the Goblin Kingdom."

Jareth cautiously ventured, "What commotion are you referring to exactly?"

Lord Taibarr simply answered, "Why, the Alicorn of course. I heard that one was found slain at the border of your kingdom."

Jareth replied with casual indifference, "Ah...yes. The Alicorn."

Lord Taibaar continued undauntedly, "I wonder...have you had a problem with bloodwraiths before?"

The King raised his brow at the ambassador's question and repeated, "Bloodwraiths?"

Taibarr nodded, "Yes, they've been a nuisance to us in the past, but recently we've been driving them from our lands. I hear that another Alicorn was found dead further west and that a lone bloodwraith was captured not far from the site."

Jareth nodded as he listened. Now that was an idea that made perfect sense. Bloodwraiths though rare, still existed in the underground, preying upon whatever bloodsource they came across. The more magic in the blood stream, the more sustenance it offered to a bloodwraith. Without blood to sustain it, a bloodwraith would perish.

The gaunt monstrocities possessed a single sharp talon on each appendage, which they used to slash at the throats of their victims before they feasted on the resulting blood flow. They weren't pleasant creatures by any means, but they could effectively be dealt with by means of magic. The news relieved Jareth greatly, as there was a world of difference between a few bloodwraiths and the resurgence of the Shadow Horde.

Finally Jareth replied, "Ah yes, well...I suspect the wraiths will be found and dealt with promptly."

Taibaar smiled and ventured, "Now...if I might change the subject to a much more pleasant topic of conversation... Sarah."

Jareth leveled a gaze at the ambassador and asked, "What about her?"

Taibaar smiled wolfishly and ventured, "How ever did you manage to get her back here?"

Jareth chuckled warmly and replied, "Ah. I can be persuasive when the need arises. As I said before, Sarah and I have reconciled...and now you'll find her entirely devoted to me."

The old man smiled brightly and mused, "You are courting her then..." he chuckled and added, "I never would have thought it possible, though I admit if anyone could successfully woo a human away from that wretchedly advanced culture, it would have to be you Jareth."

The Goblin King laughed genuinely at the compliment and Taibaar went on, "She is a lovely specimen too. Tell you intend to make her queen?"

Jareth smirked, his eyes wandering in the general direction Sarah had gone as he replied, "Only time will tell."

Lord Taibaar chattered on in delight, but for the moment Jareth was not listening. He had spotted Sarah, and watched as a young male aristocrat approached her. He was dressed in black and was presently saying something to her...what, he couldn't tell. But, as he took her hand and kissed it he knew one thing...he didn't like it.

He unconsciously took a step towards them just as the young man started to lead Sarah back through the crowd towards him. Taibaar suddenly looked over too and remarked, "Oh. I see Nyx has met your Sarah."

With the mention of the young the man's name and upon seeing his dark hair, things suddenly became clear in the Goblin King's mind. Nyx was one of the most influential, and youngest members of the Northern Fae aristocracy. He was notorious for his mild mannered charm and his persuasive intellect. He was said to be the favorite candidate for the Northern empire as the current emperor had grown ill and frail, and had no offspring to relinquish his title to.

Nyx also happened to be Taibaar's step-son. Taibaar's late wife was said to have taken a human lover long before they had married. The brief union had produced Nyx who was the only known living half-blood in the Underground. Surprisingly, Nyx's exotic parentage didn't affect his popularity. The Fae, though proud, had come to embrace diversity in all its myriad and even odd forms. Nyx was also Desdemonna's slightly older step-brother. Her mother, Taibaar's first wife, had died giving birth to Desdemonna.

At last Nyx and Sarah reached Jareth and Taibaar. Nyx promptly bowed his head in respect and delicately addressed the Goblin King, "Your Majesty, It is an honor and a privilege to finally make your acquaintance."

Jareth regarded the newcomer cautiously and coolly replied, "Likewise. Nyx I presume?"

The young man straightened, consciously keeping his gaze lowered as he softly answered, "Yes, Your majesty. I see you and my father are already well acquainted. I happened upon your escort, and I thought I'd see her back safely to your side."

Jareth's gaze drifted to Sarah as he distantly replied, "I thank you. I hear you are becoming quite the diplomat in the North."

Nyx dismissively replied, "Yes, well I am learning the ways of politics, however I am but a humble novice in your company, your majesty."

Sarah could already sense the tension. Obviously Jareth had seen them talking and wasn't pleased. She decided she had better intervene before things got messy. With a forced polite smile, she thrust a wine goblet in Jareth's direction and interrupted, "Your wine..."

His eyes narrowed, settling on her face as she finished in a honeyed tone, "...Your majesty." That was enough to get his attention. His mouth formed a satisfied smirk as he took the wine out of her hand and promptly placed it on the table behind him. Having his fill of diplomatic relations for the time being, Jareth was relieved to hear a much slower melody fill the ballroom. Dismissively he replied, "I look forward to discussing politics with the both of you...but for the moment...I believe I owe my escort a dance."

Sarah pulse began to pound in her ears as he swiftly caught her by the hand and pulled her onto the dance floor.

They were promptly swallowed up by the crowd, once again alone in an ocean of anonymous macabre faces. Jareth pulled Sarah roughly to him as he started to lead her into the dance. The dance, being far slower, was similar to the one Sarah had practiced, and once again she tried to grow accustomed to Jareth's close proximity. She swallowed with anxiety at the prospect of finishing their previous conversation, so she opted to set a fresh topic for discussion. She licked her lips and asserted, "You didn't have to be so curt with him. That was rather rude."

Jareth merely raised a fine eyebrow as he admitted playfully, "Maybe so, but that is one of the advantages of being a King. You can...for the most part, say and do whatever you please."

Sarah didn't miss the flirtatious nature of the remark and before she could stop herself she coyly replied, "And do you always do whatever you please?"

His eyes locked with hers as she twirled her gracefully and smirked, "Whenever it suits me."

She shrugged elegantly and softly replied, "No wonder you are so used to getting your own way."

He contemplated her words for a moment before he breathed close to her ear, "Perhaps...but I don't always get my own way."

She boldly replied with sarcasm, "Oh really?"

He nodded, and his hot mouth tasted the side of her neck.

The smile vanished from her face as he purred against her skin, just loud enough for her to hear, "If things had gone my way you would have never left the underground. If I had my way now...we'd be in my bed at this very moment."

Sarah tensed as if she had just been doused with cold water as she finally realized just how dangerous this game was that she was playing.

He wanted her sexually. It was something that she had wondered about and had recently suspected. It had many times been implied, but never so blatantly admitted.

She wasn't sure what frightened her more, the fact that he had just so brazenly made it known, or the fact that she had been secretly and apprehensively yearning for the same thing for years, though she would never in a million years be so quick to admit it.

Though the prospect of sleeping with him dangled before her eyes like a very tempting sweet fruit, she was not so naïve to think it would all go down like some wonderful fairy tale. Jareth was not a chivalrous prince. He was the cold and quite often cruel King of the Goblins. He was sadistic enough to enjoy the game he was forced to play as ruler over the Goblins.

She didn't even want to think of how many poor unfortunates, who unlike her, had failed to transverse the labyrinth in time. It nearly sickened her that despite all these shortcomings, she still found herself drawn to him. For every sinister trait, there seemed a multitude of enticing qualities.

Where he was cruel he was also capable of being generous. Where he was cold he could also be concerned, and where he was arrogant, he could also be charming. Though she tried to convince herself that there was no hope, her heart clung to the idea that underneath it all, there was the possibility that he was just misunderstood.

Sarah closed her eyes against the maelstrom of uncertain emotions that threatened to overtake her. Her mouth had gone dry and breathing had become entirely difficult. It took a moment to compose herself as she gathered what remained of her will. If she had ever needed a level head on her shoulders, she needed one right now.

Her subconscious warned with startling conviction, that she could and should resist the urge to just give in. That it would be perilous and premature to submit to his whim at this point. She let out a shuddering breath before she opened her eyes and answered in an imploring tone, "Jareth...don't..."

He suddenly pulled back. He hadn't expected the admission to elicit her surrender, however he thought it might be advantageous to let her mull over the idea for the remainder of the evening. His hope had been to simply ignite the fire, then he could leave her to simmer in her desire for a while. She would have to reach her breaking point eventually. However, when he pulled back and saw the weight of conflict behind her eyes, he knew she was near the end of her rope. What struck him even more was that she was plainly wrestling with more than just lustful desire, the longing reflected in her eyes had to be attributed to a more complex emotion than mere sexual frustration.

His mouth twisted into a wicked grin as the music faded and he teased, "So you see...I am not the wholly overindulged villain you once thought."

Sarah was thankful for the jest as she regained her composure and conceded, "Well maybe villain is a little strong, but at the very least you've meant big trouble for me."

He smugly remarked, "Trouble? I suppose trouble is compliment enough...I can live with that."

As the music died away he tugged her from the dance floor and offered, "How about some wine?" Sarah nodded, a little out of breath, as she followed him to the outer edge of the room. He handed her a brimming goblet of sweet wine, which she began to drain rather quickly.

He smirked at her over the rim of his goblet before he lowered his own drink and teased, "You have quite a taste for mind altering drinks, don't you?"

Sarah shrugged innocently and replied, "Just thirsty."

Suddenly Jareth looked down in puzzlement as he felt a sharp tug on his breeches. He set down his goblet as he murmured, "What in the Underground...?"

He pulled back a bit of the linen tablecloth to see a small goblin hunched under the table.

The goblin blinked in surprise and flashed a nervous toothy grin.

Jareth quickly let go of the cloth as he straightened, pinching the bridge of his nose between his elegant gloved fingers as if he were either warding off a terrible headache or an imminent outburst of rage, as he muttered angrily to himself, "Blast it all...what is it now?!?"

Sarah looked down, trying to discern what was under the table as she inquired, "What's wrong?"

Jareth took a sobering breath as he met her eyes and artfully inched back the table-cloth with his boot, so she could have a look at the goblin who was now hesitantly waving with trepidation.

Sarah's eyes widened as she remarked under her breath, "Uh-oh."

Jareth quickly scanned the room and hissed, "Cover me...will you?" Sarah turned her back to him, inching in front of him as she kept an eye out to make sure that no one was looking, or worse, approaching.

Jareth crouched behind her, thankful for her voluminous skirts as he pulled back the tablecloth and roughly grabbed the Goblin by the front of his dingy tunic. The trembling goblin found himself nose to nose with the irate Goblin King who demanded in deadly serious voice, "WHAT...IS...IT?"

The goblin quaked as he stammered in a rather high-pitched voice, "Sire...There is young lady at the gate."

Jareth leered at the goblin and hissed, "What young lady?" The goblin stuttered, "The lady Ddddd...Dessssss...demonnna...Your highness."

The King's brow rose in curiosity as he prodded with scorn, "She wishes to see me...does she?"

The goblin shook his head frantically and gushed, "Nnnn...No...she wishes to see your ppppage boy...I tried to tell her that we didn't have a page boy...bbbbut she wouldn't..."

Jareth dragged the goblin closer and growled slowly so that his pea-sized brain was sure to understand, "Let her into the throne room. Tell her to wait there. Do NOT let a single soul see you or that understood?!?"

The Goblin squeaked in fright, "Yes Sire."

Jareth released the goblin with a hard shove, who after stumbling backwards, scurried away in a panic.

When Sarah saw that Jareth was standing at his full height she turned and hissed, "What was that all about?"

Jareth took a rather heavy drought from his wine goblet and mused, "It looks as though I'm going to need your assistance."

Sarah gave him a curious look and replied, "With what?"

His eyes settled on her face as he declared, "The lady Desdemonna is here...and she desires a word with my page."

Most Prized Possession

A Labyrinth Story
by Jester3

Part 24 of 42

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