Continuing Tales

Most Prized Possession

A Labyrinth Story
by Jester3

Part 32 of 42

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Most Prized Possession

The cool morning breeze wafted through the barn as Sarah quietly lead Jareth's alicorn from the stable aisle to the grassy paddock just outside. Five armored Goblin soldiers with long spears watched silently from their bizarre wide-eyed bipedal mounts as she passed by. Tempest snorted impatiently as Sarah led him past the strange creatures. As she threw the reins over the alicorn's thick crested neck, the laughing equine voice sounded clearly in her mind, "I was wondering how long you'd stay away lass."

Sarah lowered the stirrups and as she mounted the black stallion, she mentally answered the voice in her head, "I've been meaning to visit, but Jareth wouldn't allow least not until today."

The gentle voice replied, "Naturally...and even still, I see he has sent you with a small goblin army for an escort." Before Sarah could respond the voice finished, "I wouldn't expect any less from Jareth, especially with all this nasty business of the murdered alicorn."

Sarah halted in her attempt to properly gather the reins in her hands and gaped, " know about that?"

The stallion moved into a brisk walk at her signal as he solemnly remarked, "Of course I know. Just because I live in the stable doesn't mean I don't hear the gossip of the kingdom. The goblins who tend the stable talk as much as any of 'em."

He was quiet for a moment before he went on, and there was a touch of sadness in his words, "I didn't know the mare, not really, just knew of her. She would have been foaled long after I came to his majesty. If I'm not mistaken, she was part of the northern herd. Winter, they called her. One of the sharper mares in the herd. 'Tis a shame she met her end like that. Too few of us left these days. Any loss, 'specially a mare is not to be taken lightly."

Sarah was moved by the regret and sadness in the stallion's voice. Suddenly she felt foolish for avoiding him. He had known all along. Sheepishly she admitted, "I'm sorry Tempest. I'm sorry that this happened. I should have come sooner. Jareth didn't want you to be upset, and I was afraid if I came, you would sense something was wrong. I should not have stayed away as long as I did."

The gentle voice reassured her, "Never you mind that lassie. No harm done. Sides, Jareth wouldn't have wanted you here alone, not safe for you to be wandering around by yourself. No, I'd wager he still doesn't like the idea, since he sent those armed fools to tag along."

Sarah sighed, "You might be right about that. Tell me you know what happened to Winter? Who's responsible?"

Tempest tossed his head and supplied, "No more than you do. I've heard talk of two possibilities, but I've heard nothing that proves either one. Some say it was a bloodwraith, others think it might be the Shadow Horde."

"What do you believe it was?"

Tempest nickered softly as though troubled, "I don't know."

He felt her frame sag with disappointment. Picking up the pace to a brisk jog, he reassured her, "Now don't you worry your pretty head, nothing to be done for it now, except find those responsible, and I'm sure Jareth is looking into it. I 'spect he's already got things well in hand. He's very clever you know."

She exhaled wearily, "I know. I just...wish he'd be more up front. You know how he is."

A whinnying laugh erupted in her head as the alicorn mused, "That I do, lassie." Sarah remained quiet as her thoughts turned to Jareth and all that had happened between them.

Tempest gently urged, "There's more than the alicorn that troubles you lass, I can sense your feelings. So much dread and a dark storm cloud in your mind."

She sighed heavily, no longer wanting to conceal the emotions that were surging within her. There was no reason to hide anything from Tempest. He was a friend who would never reveal her secrets.

Sarah let her guard down. She drew a shaky breath and confessed, "I know. It's Jareth."

Tempest slowed to a walk as he sensed the depth of the girl's feelings for the Goblin King. He remarked simply, "You love him." It was a statement more than a question.

Sarah swallowed as if finally accepting the magnitude of her feelings and all that it meant, "Deeply..." With solemn finality she added, "...Terribly."

The equine voice calmly ventured, "Is he aware of your feelings?"

Sarah quietly affirmed, "He is now."

Tempest coaxed, "This makes you uneasy? Surely, he didn't reject your affection?"

Sarah hesitated, "No, he didn't. Quite the opposite actually."

The equine voice was clearly perplexed, "He returns your feelings then?"

"So it would seem."

Tempest pranced forward and pressed, "You're confusing me lass...what happened then?"

Sarah took a deep breath and explained, "He told me he loved I..." She had trouble finding the right words and finally finished, "...spent the night with him."

They were trotting along the wooded side of the paddock near the edge of the dense fir trees when the stallion incredulously ventured, "He confessed his love? And this troubles you because...?"

Sarah swept a dark strand of hair away from her face and supplied, "It's complicated." She halted suddenly as she noticed that one of the mounted Goblin guards was pointing in her direction and shouting something. The others immediately started forward, and that's when she heard the sound.

It was the earsplitting combination of splintering branches and an inhuman guttural shriek. Sarah's eyes widened in horror as a creature, the likes of which she had never seen, dropped down in front of them from the pine branches above. It landed in a crouching position but quickly straightened to its full height. In the instant it stood up, Sarah took in its size. It was easily eight feet tall.

Startled by the sudden attack, Tempest reared up in defense, striking out at the monster with his sharp front hooves. Sarah hadn't been anticipating the attack, nor the alicorn's reaction.

Caught off guard she slipped down the saddle. There was no way to avoid falling off, but that was the least of her worries. More pressing was the instinct to get far away from the hideous thing that was advancing on her and Tempest.

Sarah landed with a hard thud on the ground. The impact hurt enough to steal her breath away, but the pain was trivial to the mortal terror that rose like cold dark water within her.

The creature backpedaled, just missing being struck by the stallion's hooves. From her position on the ground Sarah was better able to see their attacker.

The creature was unnaturally tall and walked upright on two extremely long bony legs. Its elongated sinewy arms hung down well past its knees. The color drained from her face as she noticed its monstrous hands; they were disproportionately large, with three long slender fingers on each hand adorned with black razor sharp claws. Its skin was a sickly bluish gray, stretched taut over it's gangly frame. It was disturbingly thin, giving it a ghastly, emaciated appearance.

Sarah looked down the field, but the goblins guards were still a long way off. It was unlikely that they'd be able to get to her in time to help.

Tempest snorted loudly, pawing the ground furiously before he lowered his head and bolted forward, charging at the creature that threatened them. Sarah watched in amazement as Tempest attempted to run the creature through with his glinting silver horn.

The monstrosity moved with terrifying purpose. It was incredibly fast and agile, easily out maneuvering the bulky alicorn. Tempest slid to a halt and bolted to the left upon realizing that the creature had evaded him. Due to his momentum, the stallion had far overshot the distance, and had quite a bit of ground to cover before he made it back to where Sarah had fallen.

To her horror the creature had now turned on her, its slitted red eyes assuring her that not one bit of reason was driving it, for it had soulless eyes, like one suffering from the worst sort of madness, as if consumed by fever or rage. Its lipless mouth contorted, the skin pulling back from the teeth as it snarled. It opened its mouth and hissed at her.

The sight and sound made her blanch with fear as every hair on her body stood to attention. It had enormous curved fangs that jutted from its mouth at the most disturbing angle, as if the fangs themselves were straining to reach her. If the sight of those fangs wasn't horrible enough, clear liquid poured from the beast's mouth upon seeing her, making its intention dreadfully clear. It was salivating.

It meant to devour her.

Ignoring the pain that screamed through her body as she leaned back on her arms, she scrambled backwards, her only intention to get the hell away from it.

In her haste to retreat, Sarah had neglected to notice that she was backing up deeper into the dense pine forest. She had only become aware of her surroundings once she was about fifteen feet within the cover of the trees. By then she had felt the soft fallen pine needles sticking to her sweaty palms as she scurried backwards.

The creature advanced cautiously, stalking her slowly, as it followed her deeper into the woods.

By this time, Tempest had turned around and proceeded to charge the creature again, but by the time he had neared them, the creature had already slipped into the trees. The forest was so densely populated that the gaps between the massive fir trees were too narrow for the giant alicorn to maneuver through. The Goblin guards were also approaching, but they were not yet near enough to protect Sarah from the imminent danger.

Though Tempest could not penetrate through the dense branches, he stayed close by, prancing back and forth, trumpeting wildly, as loudly as he could.

Sarah backed up uselessly against the fallen tree trunk that blocked her path, for even if she were to try and run she was sure the creature would be faster and would eventually pounce on her back. At least this way she could keep her eyes on her attacker and see what was coming.

Massive clawed hands reached out towards her as the deranged looking creature advanced on spindly legs. Its vicious jaws opened, unnaturally wide, saliva pouring from it's gaping mouth as it hissed its deadly intent in an inhuman voice, "Sweet young lady...prepare yourself...for you are about to be sucked dry."

Even without the chilling warning, the ghastly voice was the most terrifying sound she had ever heard, making her blood run cold, colder than death. She felt as though she were being drowned in icy black water.

She was so overcome by her panic that she barely saw the streak of white that dove down from the branches above. There was a frantic beating of wings as the white bird darted between her and the monster. The creature, startled and confused by the flurry of white feathers and fabric, stumbled backwards.

In a heartbeat the owl was gone and an incensed Goblin King stood in its place, glaring fiercely at the creature. He stood imperiously, his feet braced shoulders width apart, and one gloved hand reached back, gesturing for Sarah to remain behind him. His sharp accented voice rang out with sinister authority, "Not bloody likely..."

The creature blinked in confusion before it bellowed in a shriek of rage. It lurched forward, moving with lightening speed to strike the Goblin King, but Jareth was ready for it. He was holding a crystal sphere in his right hand and hurled it with deadly accuracy. The crystal struck the creature between the eyes, shattering upon impact causing the monster to disappear in a burst of glitter.

Jareth turned, his worried eyes assessing Sarah for any sign of injury. Extending his gloved hand down to her he softly asked, "Are you alright?"

Sarah quickly grasped his hand and he pulled her up. She wasted no time in throwing her arms about him. Normally, she wouldn't have acted so emotionally impulsive, but in truth she had been terrified beyond reason and never had she been so glad to see anyone in her entire life.

Jareth pulled her close, exhaling heavily into her hair and Sarah felt some of the tension leave his frame as he held her.

The mounted goblin guards were just breaking through the trees and their leader halted them upon seeing that the girl was already safe within the King's arms.

Sarah clung to him for a moment, not quite ready to trust her own two trembling feet. After a while she breathed, "What was that thing?"

His voice was grim as he answered, "A bloodwraith." He noticed that her face was still pale with fright. Struck by the desire to assuage her fears he soothed, "It's alright, it's gone now..."

Sarah pulled back noticing the nearing guards. Looking up at him she asked, "Where'd it go?"

Jareth solemnly replied, "I sent it into an oubliette."

The worried look in her eyes gave away her doubt and he was quick to reassure her, "It's in a very secure oubliette, close to the castle where I can keep an eye on it until it is...disposed of."

She was briefly distracted as one of the Goblin guards finally caught the agitated alicorn by his reins. Upon seeing his distress Sarah called to him, "It's Ok boy, it's gone now." She immediately heard the equine voice respond in her head, "Are you ok lass?"

At precisely the same moment Jareth too asked, "Are you sure you're alright?"

She brushed off the back of her thighs and answered loud enough for both of them to hear, "I'm fine."

Now that she was out danger she realized that her butt was sore, but it was nothing more than a few bruises, nothing compared to being 'sucked dry'.

Suddenly she looked up at Jareth and quipped, "How'd you know? About the bloodwraith I mean?"

He glanced at her and began, "When I questioned the captain of the guard this morning I learned that the watch spotted something that sounded like a wraith in the forest. I went in search of the creature, but the underground forest is a vast place."

She met his eyes and responded, "How'd you know it would come after me?"

Jareth's voice sounded distant as he looked away and admitted, "I didn't. Bloodwraiths don't care much for sunlight, but they will venture out in it if the need arises. I started searching the darkest parts of the forest and found nothing. Then I remembered..." His tone was grave as he finished, "That some of the densest fir trees border the stable, I recalled that you intended to ride today and I came as fast as I could."

Leveling his intense gaze on her, he added, "Fortunately, I heard Tempest from a ways off, and knew right away something was wrong. He alerted me to your location, and when I saw that he was riderless, I dove into the trees and that's when I found you."

Jareth was uncharacteristically quiet as he escorted Sarah back to the castle. They had lingered at the stables only long enough to return Tempest to his stall with his supper and some reassuring words. Unfortunately the Goblin guards who had been assigned the task of protecting Sarah were not so lucky.

Sarah recalled Jareth's harsh words vividly. Though she had attempted to recoil from the tirade he unleashed on his subjects, she had managed to overhear a good part of it. His voice seethed with fury as he had informed them that they never ceased to amaze him with their gross incompetence, and perhaps their senses would be better attuned to danger if they spent a little time in the bog of stench.

Despite Sarah's feeble protests, Jareth sent all five of them sailing into the bog of eternal stench with a mere wave of his hand.

With the guards gone, he stormed off in the direction of the castle and barked, "Come, Sarah." She stood staring with a gaping mouth before she stumbled after him stammering, " didn't have to do that. They did try to get to me Jareth!" He didn't even turn around as he snapped with authority, "They shouldn't have left your side to begin with." His tone was grave as he finished, "You could have been killed Sarah."

She could think of no response as she hurried after him. Some time later his pace had still not slowed and she practically had to run to keep up with him. He had not said another word to her and she wondered why he bothered to walk at all. If he was in such a damn hurry he could have transported them.

She hurried to walk beside him, and as she glanced at him she noticed his somber expression. His mouth was set in a pensive frown and his brows were drawn together as though something deeply troubled him. It was then she realized. He was still angry, or he was greatly worried, she wasn't sure which. Perhaps storming back to the castle in utter silence was just his way of blowing off stream.

Sarah followed in silence as Jareth barged into the castle. The few goblins that lingered in the throne room scurried off as soon as they saw their leader's grim frown. Jareth didn't halt until he had reached his throne, and there he stopped suddenly as if he had just realized that Sarah was trailing behind him. Without even turning to face her he warned, "Sarah, this is not the place for you at the moment. There is much to do..."

Her eyes widened as she stared in bewilderment. Her mouth fell open as she gawked at his back. After all that had happened, he was simply brushing her off? She felt the slow burn of embers of anger, which after lying dormant, had finally sparked back to life.

After everything they had admitted, even after they had been intimate, nothing had changed! As white-hot anger surged through her system she wondered, would anything ever change between them? She had been hopeful that their night together would at least start to forge some understanding between them, but as he coldly stood there with his back to her and his voice crisp with icy authority, she realized she was not one step closer to understanding him. In fact as she stood there, at a loss for words, she found herself more hopelessly confused then she had ever been.

Impartially he went on, "It would be best for you to spend the remainder of the day in the castle library. There you'll find some documents that need to be copied."

Was he actually suggesting that she fulfill her scribe's duties for the rest of the day?! The words replayed in her head and she was amazed to discover that he had, in fact, suggested exactly that. His unjust audacity dealt her quite a blow and she barely managed to refrain from slinging a slew of colorful four-letter words at him. Though she managed to bite back the curse words, she couldn't help angrily cry out in protest, "Jareth!"

Unlucky for her, he had already managed to anticipate her inevitable argument and he cut her protest short by insisting rather forcefully, "I won't have you gallivanting outside the castle walls. You will go to the library Sarah. It is not up for discussion." He sighed wearily and added in a slightly softer tone, "There is much to be sorted out."

His softer statement affected her, reminding her of so many other things he'd said. Some of those things he'd spoken just last night. Things she didn't dare think of now.

Her emotional voice was wrought with urgency as she implored him, "Jareth, please..."

His back was still to her, so she didn't see him close his eyes. She didn't see that his expression softened for a moment as many powerful emotions began to bleed through his usual mask of indifference. When he opened his eyes again his expression became somber and tired. His reply held no arrogance, nor malice. It simply insisted on her compliance, as though he were tired of arguing, "Just do as I say, Sarah."

Almost gently he finished, "I will come for you when I can. I'll have some food brought to you in the library. Under no circumstances are you to leave that room. Is that perfectly understood?"

The manner in which he said it informed her that he was gravely serious. She could tell that any further arguments would not be tolerated. In fact the degree of his seriousness rather alarmed her. She wondered if other dangers might be lurking in the kingdom. The terrible visage of the bloodwraith invaded her thoughts and a horrible possibility occurred to her. There could be more of them. Was Jareth's sudden icy demeanor a side effect of his concern?

Yes, he was being cautious, she was almost certain of it.

She licked her lips slowly, casting him a sidelong glance as she conceded, "Fine. I'll go to the library." He turned to face her as she began to back out of the room. She turned around and strode from the room. Just before she tuned the corner out of sight, she glanced back at him. Her eyes met his briefly as she challenged, "Don't make me wait too long."

Most Prized Possession

A Labyrinth Story
by Jester3

Part 32 of 42

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