Continuing Tales

Return to the Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by ArtemisFallen

Part 13 of 24

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

Sarah trudged despondently through the maze of tunnels, paying little attention to the direction she was being led. Batson, oblivious to her melancholic disposition, prattled happily about things Sarah couldn't even begin to make herself care about. She had barely said anything since she had awoken from her dream trip. Her companions had been too preoccupied during breakfast to notice her sullen demeanor. Sir Didymus and Batson had chatted cheerfully about the splendors and tactical advantages of living underground while Prell raved over Hoggle's gallantry at making them all eggs.

However, now that they were away from the comfort and warmth of the Batson's home and the very awkward farewell Prell had given Hoggle, her companions were beginning to notice her distant mood. Hoggle muttered something to Sir Didymus and Batson, dropping behind them and matching stride with Sarah.

"Are you okay?" He asked, concern lining his features. "You don't look well."

"I had a rough night," Sarah whispered, feeling a heavy pit of dread settle in her stomach in her stomach as Euryale's words echoed in her mind.

"You and me both," Hoggle chuckled. "I thought I'd have to barricade the door! And can you believe she kissed me when we left?" Hoggle shook his head ruefully. "Cor! What a thing to-"

"Hoggle," Sarah interrupted, unable to keep the questions that were eating away at her at bay any longer. "I have to ask you something and I need you to tell me the truth."

Hoggle gazed up at Sarah, the humor leaving his eyes when he saw how serious she was. "Of course."

"Did Jareth seek out Euryale?" The words felt sour and gritty as they left her mouth. Sarah didn't even like thinking of the possible validity of the statement, let alone saying it aloud.

Hoggle stopped, his jaw nearly unhinging with shock as he gaped at Sarah. "What!? I-er-don't know what you mean."

Sarah stopped walking and crossed her arms over her chest. She swallowed several times, forcing the knot of emotion that clustered painfully in her throat down. "I went to him last night."

"Oh, ya-you did, did you?" Hoggle stammered. "What'd he say?"

Sarah heaved a sigh, swiping viciously at a tear that began to form in her eye. She shook her head angrily. She wasn't going to cry. Not again.

"Nothing. Nonsense." Sarah watched Hoggle as he exhaled in relief and the tension left his body. It was obvious he was hiding something.

"But Euryale was there," Sarah continued. "And she told me something about Jareth." She sniffled as the tears began to brim in her eyes once again. She wondered how there could still be tears. Hadn't she cried enough?

"And no matter how hard I try, I can't shake the feeling that it was true." Sarah gazed intently at Hoggle. "So, I need you to tell me the truth."

Hoggle kicked at a small rock on the ground distractedly. "I don't know nuthin' 'bout nuthin'," he murmured, unable to meet Sarah's gaze.

"Hoggle, please," Sarah whispered, her voice cracking with emotion. "I have to know. Did Jareth trick her? Did he intend to gain her love to mend his powers? Was he using her?"

"Sarah," Hoggle warned, refusing to meet her gaze. "I don't think now's the time."

"You do know something!" Sarah retorted shrilly, her hand flying to her mouth in astonishment and despair. Part of her had known there was truth to Euryale's tale, however she had been unable to accept it. Until now.

Hoggle shot a worried glance down the tunnel. Sir Didymus and Batson had drastically slowed their pace, giving Sarah and Hoggle privacy, but remaining close enough to give them light as Sir Didymus held the flaming Firey hand. Hoggle shifted uncomfortably.

"Tell me," Sarah whispered, powerless to keep the tremor from her voice. "I need to know."

"I-I can't," Hoggle mumbled.

A whimper of sadness escaped Sarah's throat and the tears she had fought against so diligently spilled freely from her eyes. "I thought you were my friend."

Hoggle gazed up at Sarah, wild dismay flashing through his features. "You are, Sarah! You are my friend. That's why I didn't tell you. I didn't want…" Hoggle trailed off and sighed heavily, his shoulders dropping in defeat. "I didn't wanna see you hurt."

"It's too late for that," she whispered hollowly. "Please, Hoggle. Tell me. I have to know."

With his shoulders slumped and his eyes focused on his feet, Hoggle resumed walking down the path. Sarah plodded along next to him while Sir Didymus and Batson resumed their pace.

"When Jareth lost his powers, he did everything he could to get 'em back," Hoggle began hesitantly. "But he couldn't 'cause he was cursed. He decided to do somethin' awful. He found a lonely, powerful Queen and tried to trick her into loving him." Hoggle's sad eyes drifted up to Sarah. "Euryale."

Sarah felt an icy stab of cold slash through her heart and spread throughout her body until it embodied her very soul. It was as if her very breath had been taken from her. She had asked for the truth, but nothing could've prepared her for the anguish it brought. Sarah had never imagined that the truth would be more painful than anything had ever endured.

"Go on," Sarah encouraged numbly, lost in the bleakness of her thoughts.

"I don't know much beyond that," Hoggle confessed. "Just that he never trusted her and he locked away part of himself so she could never have all of him."

"So, it's all true," Sarah muttered, disheartened.

"I always said Jareth was a rat," Hoggle offered sympathetically.

Sarah grimaced at the memory of Euryale's words as they rang repeatedly in her ears. "All of this was just a way for him to get back at me. All of this was part of his master plan to exact his revenge."

Hoggle tilted his head inquisitively. "His revenge? Whaddaya mean?"

Sarah shivered, wrapping her arms over her chest and cradling her elbows. "Euryale told me that she walked in on Jareth staring at images of me in his crystal balls and announcing his victory over her heart and that the time of my suffering was at hand." Sarah relayed. "She said he wanted vengeance against me for bringing about his curse and fracturing his magic."

Hoggle was silent a moment as they walked beside one another. "I never heard that," Hoggle mused softly. "I heard lots of things, but never that. Not once."

Sarah looked down at Hoggle, who appeared to be in deep contemplation. "What're you saying?"

Hoggle's mouth twisted in thought. "It's just that, well, isn't it convenient, what she said? I mean, you believe her?"

Sarah shook her head angrily. "I don't know what to believe any longer. I'm at the end of my rope! I feel lost and betrayed. I don't know what to think, Hoggle. I don't know who I can trust."

"You can trust me, Sarah," Hoggle soothed.

"Can I?" Sarah hissed spitefully. "You haven't exactly been forthcoming about this."

Hoggle recoiled from Sarah, visibly wounded. Sarah closed her eyes, immediately regretting her outburst. She rubbed her hands over her face. "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have said that. It was cruel of me."

Hoggle shuffled quietly beside Sarah, shoving his hands inside the pockets of his billowy shirt.

"Can you forgive me?" Sarah asked hopefully.

"Nothin' to forgive," Hoggle said with a shrug. "You got every right to be upset. I didn't tell you, but I should've and I will from now on." Hoggle looked up at Sarah, his eyes warm and friendly. A wave of remorse and guilt crashed through Sarah. She shouldn't have lashed out at him like she did. He hadn't deserved it.

"So, I'll tell you this," Hoggle started. "You know how I feel about Jareth. I think he's a devious, spoiled, self serving worm." Hoggle's eyes darted in panic up ahead, making sure Batson hadn't heard him. He sighed in relief as he saw Sir Didymus and their little worm friend were too preoccupied with their own conversation to have heard Hoggle's slanderous remark. "That bein' said, he loved you." Hoggle continued earnestly. "And he kept loving you even after you'd left him in ruins. Never once did I hear talk or rumors of revenge."

Sarah felt her heart slowly begin to thaw and beat again. "Really?"
"Honest," Hoggle swore. "I don't like Jareth, never have and I think he got a taste of his own medicine. But I won't lie to you. Despite my feelings for him, that don't change the fact that he really did love you. And still does."

Sarah exhaled forcefully, feeling as if a great weight had been lifted from her chest. For the first time in a long time, she felt as if she were finally able to catch her breath. "Thank you, Hoggle. I needed to hear that. You really are one of the best friends I could ever ask-"

"Go back!" A booming voice commanded, interrupting Sarah and nearly making the bones in her body jump out of her skin. Sarah gripped her chest, her eyes darting with rapid frenzy to the origins of the booming voice.

"The path you take will bring nothing but pain and despair!" Another voice boomed.

"You will not survive-"

"Oh, Shut up!" Hoggle growled, kicking dirt at the false alarms that littered the chamber they had entered.

"My, my, such a chatty bunch today," Batson remarked. "Wonder what's got into 'em?"

"They're pests is what they are," Hoggle growled.

"We're just doing our job," one of the false alarms complained.

"Yeah," another piped up.

"You don't gotta do it with us!" Hoggle griped.

"But we never get to do it!" Another false alarm whined.

Hoggle waved his hand dismissively at the false alarm, catching up to Batson and Sir Didymus. "Which way?"

Batson appraised the tunnels and inclined his head to the third entrance. "This one."

"You really shouldn't go down that tunnel," a false alarm with a crumbling nose called after them.

"Oh, quiet, you!" Hoggle blustered, smacking the stone fixture's nose. Pieces of rock cascaded from the false alarm and landed on the ground.

"Hey!" The false alarm moaned, going crossed eyed as it tried to look at the gaping hole where its nose used to be. "That's not nice!"

"Well, serves you right!" Hoggle grumbled unapologetically.

"Oh, but I was only trying to help," the false alarm whimpered pitifully. "You really shouldn't go down that tunnel."

Sarah stopped, scooping up bits of the broken rock in her hand. The false alarm gazed at her miserably.

"Hold on," she said softly, walking over to Ambrosius and unzipping a pocket in her backpack. She pulled out a pack of gum and unwrapped a stick, popping it into her mouth.

"It's not glue," she explained. "But it's the only thing I can think of to get your nose back on."

"Aw, you don't hafta do that!" Hoggle groused impatiently. "He deserved it."

Sarah chewed on the gum, ignoring Hoggle's outburst. She pulled the gum from her mouth and stuck it against the stone and then carefully tried to fit in back onto the false alarm. The fixture grinned happily at her.

Sarah smiled back, trying not to laugh at the crooked nose. "Sorry, it's the best I can do."

"Thank you," the alarm said appreciatively. "But please, don't go down that tunnel."

"Really!" Sir Didymus huffed. "After she showed you such kindness, you still play your tricks? You ought to be ashamed!" Sir Didymus turned with a flourish, mounting Ambrosius and trotting towards the tunnel, followed by Batson and Hoggle.

"No, really! There's something hiding in the distance. Don't go that way!" The false alarm called after them. The alarm looked at Sarah, it's rock features twisting with concern. Sarah felt a chill rush up her arms at the warning. The other false alarms had always announced their lines with rehearsed vibrato, but this one seemed truly concerned.

"Maybe we should listen to it," Sarah started hesitantly.

"Nah, them's just false alarms," Batson said, continuing forward. "There's never been any danger down in these tunnels. 'Sides, we're almost there!"

Sarah bit her lip, looking between her companions and the false alarm.

"I'm sorry about your nose," she said genuinely. "I hope it holds."

"Be careful," the false alarm whispered earnestly. "Something sinister lurks in the dark."

A spike of dread crept down Sarah's spine, leaving her feeling as if she had just walked through a large spider web and there was something crawling on her.

"Thanks for the warning," Sarah mumbled, jogging to catch up with her companions. She threw a backwards glance back to the false alarm. The alarm continued to watch her, worry and fear creasing its rock hewn features.

"Maybe we should've listened to them," Sarah panted as she caught up with her companions. "They seemed serious."

"Thems false alarms for ya," Batson reassured her. "Pay 'em no nevermind."

Sarah nodded in compliance, unable to quell the feeling of dread and tension that began to build inside her. However, she held her tongue and continued after her friends.

In a matter of minutes, the tunnel opened up into a large, rocky cavern. Sarah blinked as the flame from the Firey hand seemed to bounce and reflect off the jagged rocks that littered the chamber, making everything incredibly disorienting.

"Right!" Batson announced. "Now we go through there and make a left down to-"

A sinister growl cut through the cavern, effectively cutting off Batson.

Sarah's stomach dropped and her feeling of dread gave way to full fledged terror. Her eyes widened in fear as she stood rigid and frozen in place. Hoggle mimicked her stance, terror sweeping through his features.

"Wha-wha-what was that?" He trembled.

Sir Didymus growled and held the Firey hand up high in an effort to illuminate the chamber. Sarah squinted against the dim light, her eyes meticulously scanning the cavern. Her breath quickened, coming out in short, rapid gasps.

"It came from over there," she quavered.

"Careful now," Batson remarked quietly. "Back to the tunnel."

"You start back," Sir Didymus ordered, unsheathing his blade and dismounting Ambrosius. "I'll hold whatever foul thing lurking in the darkness off." He walked cautiously towards the origins of the growl.

"Sir Didymus!" Sarah hissed, urging him to not be so foolhardy. "Get back here!"

Before Sir Didymus could respond, another ground shattering growl erupted and echoed through the chamber. Sarah felt her heart nearly stop as she realized the growl had come from behind her this time. Instinctively, Sarah dropped to her knees at the sound. The beast sprang at her. She felt the wet, fetid breath of the creature brush hotly over her cheek as it lunged past her and into the darkness.

"Didymus!" Sarah shrieked, flopping unceremoniously across the ground on her stomach.

"Milady!" Sir Didymus shouted, turning towards Sarah.

The creature landed heavily on the ground, turning quickly to face Sarah and the others. Sarah clambered to her feet, her mind racing and her blood pulsing loudly against her temples. Even in her terror addled and irrational state, a strong sense of understanding gripped her. Sarah didn't need to see the attacking creature to know what it was, for it had been stalking her ever since she had arrived back in the Labyrinth. It had been obsessively hunting her ever since it had tasted her blood. Sir Didymus jumped in front of Sarah, barking and swiping viciously at the creature. As the flame from the blazing Firey hand bathed the mighty beast in orange light, Sarah's fear was confirmed.

The Chimera stood panting shallowly, its twisted gaze setting ravenously on Sarah. It's long tongue snaked from its deadly maw, trailing wetly over the fur around its mouth. The dark tongue flicked through the air, as if it were tasting something.

Sarah's breath caught in her throat. It can taste my fear.

The Chimera's tail flicked with anticipation, the snake head rising up in a predatory pose. Sarah noticed its deadly ruby red eyes were also focused completely on her.

Sarah stood frozen, hypnotized by the large beast whose jaws snapped hungrily for her flesh.

Run! Her mind screamed in panic at her. Just run!

But Sarah was unable to heed the voice inside her head. She was literally frozen in place by the deadly gaze of the creature's tail, trapped as a fly becomes ensnared by the spider's web. There was no escape for her. There was only death.

"Run, milady!" Sir Didymus screeched, noticing her hypnotic state. He struck his sword out quickly, slashing the beast across its broad snout. The creature howled with unholy rage, swiping at Sir Didymus, causing him to lose his grip on the Firey hand as he was knocked across the cavern. Sir Didymus collided with Hoggle who had been unable to move due to his own shock and fear. They both rolled into the wall and slumped together silently on the ground.

As suddenly as it had taken hold of her, the trance was broken and Sarah was once again in control of her own body and senses.

"Didymus! Hoggle!" Sarah cried, looking in dismay to her two unconscious friends. The Chimera snarled, pulling Sarah's attention back to the lumbering beast that approached her. Long strands of saliva fell from its snarled mouth. Its teeth gleamed yellow and deadly in the dimming Firey light. Sarah felt the freezing sensation once again begin to drift over her as she stared horrified into the horizontal slit of the creature's eyes. What terrified her more was the recognition she saw in them. It knew who she was and it wanted her.

"Suuraah," it growled.

The monster knew her name.

Sarah felt herself shrivel to the ground as every hair on her body stood on end. It was the sound only a nightmare would make, but from this particular nightmare, there was no waking up.

"Oi, beasty! Looky, ya big, nasty galoot!" Batson shouted, trying to get the Chimera's attention.

The Chimera wasn't phased by Batson's attempts to distract it. The beast was only interested in Sarah. She could feel its murderous desire for her blood come off it in waves.

"Oh, God," Sarah trembled as the Chimera lunged at her.

"Help!" She screamed, squeezing her eyes shut tightly and bracing for the penetration of teeth and claws into her flesh. Sarah felt the ground beneath her open up and she was yanked downward, her scream following her into the deep, earthen darkness of the ground.

Sarah gasped for breath, her eyes snapping open. Dazed and disoriented, she saw she hung suspended in the air as the Chimera howled furiously, swiping at her in futility.

"What?" Sarah muttered looking around her. "What's going on?" White rocks dangled all about her. Sarah squinted in the dim light, realizing the the things dangling about her were not rocks at all, but hands! It took her only a moment longer to realize that they were the ones suspending her in the air as well.

Several sets of hands laced intricately together in front of her. "You asked for help, we're helping!"

Sarah gawked at the hands, a distant memory surfacing past the confusion and terror that soaked her mind.

"Hands," she panted. "Helping hands?"

Another set of hands spoke behind her. "That's right!" They exclaimed happily.

"You saved my-" Sarah's gratitude was cut short as the Chimera suddenly lurched further into the hole. Sarah screamed again as the hands dropped her out of the beast's reach. The Chimera snarled with frustrated anger, pawing viciously at Sarah who cowered against the hands.

"Thank you," Sarah gasped breathlessly, keeping her eyes trained on the enraged Chimera.

"Where would you like to go, my dear?" A new set of hands with an elderly voice asked her.

"What?" Sarah asked, confused and unable to process the request while death hovered and swiped at her from above.

"Up or down?" Another set of hands asked impatiently.

"Might I suggest down?" The hands with the elderly voice stated helpfully.

"What? No! I can't leave my friends!" Sarah shouted. "That thing will kill them."

"Then what do you want to do?" A third set of hands asked her.

Sarah's mind raced indecisively as the beast continued to grab at her. The hands did well to maintain her out of the creature's reach. They neither seemed phased nor injured by the Chimera's teeth, claws or persistence. Sarah felt the hands reposition themselves against her body, ready to drop her down if the Chimera wedged itself further into the hole. Even though the position in which the hands held her was incredibly uncomfortable, not to mention some highly inappropriate placements of a few hands, and their grip was painful to say the least, Sarah was grateful for their intervention.

"Sir Didymus?" Sarah yelled, hoping her voice would drift past the infuriated beast. "Hoggle? Can anyone hear me?"

"They're not in good sorts, love," Batson responded beside her ear.

Sarah jerked with involuntarily surprise at the sound of Batson. She craned her head to see him peeping through a hole beside the hands.

"Batson!" Sarah breathed in relief. "Are they okay?"

"Got a knock on the 'ead, I reckon," Batson murmured, looking up in great surprise at the snarling beast. "That's a lively one, that is!"

The creature roared sinisterly, sending streams of drool from its snapping jaws.

Sarah shuddered in disgust as she was showered with the noxious smelling saliva.

"Ugh," she groaned, her stomach turning. "Batson, how did you get down here so fast?"

"I'm a worm!" Batson boasted. "It's me job to tunnel."

"Can you get back to them?" Sarah asked eagerly. "Can you-"

The Chimera roared again, wedging itself further into the hole and nearly grabbing Sarah with its scaly claws. The hands quickly dropped Sarah out of reach again. Sarah hissed in pain as their fingers dug torturously into her arms and the underside of her legs as they gripped her. However, it was a price she was more than willing to pay in order to keep safe.

"Batson?!" Sarah cried, searching frantically for the little blue worm.

The wall beside Sarah crumbled slightly and Batson emerged, eyes bright and alert. "Sorry for the delay. I'm not quite as fast as I used to be."

Sarah struggled to control her rampant, shallow breaths. The Chimera would eventually make it down the hole and she wasn't sure how much further the hands could go.

"Batson," Sarah breathed gratefully. "Listen, I have an idea, but I need your help."

"Of course!" Batson answered, leaning back as the Chimera swiped at the air again, edging painstakingly close to Sarah.

"Here's what we need to do," Sarah explained hurriedly to the hands and Batson, grasping the vial that Titania had given her which still hung from the chain around her neck.

"Got it?" Sarah asked.

Batson nodded in compliance and several pairs of hands murmured in agreement.

"Okay, are we-" The hands dropped Sarah without warning as the Chimera very nearly grabbed her. Sarah felt the brush of rough scales against her cheek as it swung for her and missed. The creature bellowed its discontent.

Sarah whimpered, clutching the vial tightly.

"Best hurry," a group of hands warned. "We got no more room to go."

"Batson, go!" Sarah commanded, unable to see the little blue worm any longer. She prayed that her plan would work.

Unable to see or hear her companions, Sarah waited anxiously, the seconds agonizingly ticking away as if they were hours. With every moment that passed, the Chimera drew closer to Sarah. She trembled, squeezing her eyes shut, as if somehow not seeing the creature would protect her from its presence.

"Suuurah," its guttural growl wafted over her, closer than before. Despite the heat that emanated off the creature, a cold chill spread through Sarah, causing a prickling sensation to resonate down her arms and legs. Sarah leaned back into the hands, slight whimpers of dismay escaping from her with each panicked breath. Long strands of drool pelted her and Sarah felt her stomach twist and heave with revulsion.

In a moment of weakness, Sarah opened her eyes. A scream of fear welled up in Sarah's throat as she realized the creature had made it even closer to her. It was very nearly on top of her now. The hands grabbed desperately at the beast, holding it back and endeavoring to keep it at bay.

"Come on, Batson, Didymus," Sarah whimpered as she stared up into the creature's eyes. They burned with an unnatural desire, filled with more than just feral fury. They were bloodthirsty, voracious. The Chimera had tasted her blood and it wanted more. Much more.

The creature was so close now that she could feel its fetid breath washing damply over her face.

"Suuuurah," it rumbled once more and Sarah felt her heart seize in her chest. In that moment, she was convinced that there was no escape. She knew she was going to die. This nightmarish monster would be the last thing she would see and its guttural growl of her name and her own screams would be the last thing she would ever hear.

Sarah grasped the vial that hung around her neck tightly, deciding that she wouldn't go down without a fight when suddenly, the creature's back erupted in a shower of brilliant orange and yellow flame.

The creature bellowed angrily, causing Sarah to release her death grip on the vial and press her palms tightly against her ears.

Unable to reach the flames that burned it, the Chimera was forced to retreat from the hole, its bloodthirst momentarily quelled by the need for revenge.

Sarah hadn't realized she'd been holding her breath in anticipation of the attack. She exhaled forcefully, relief flooding through her body and burning lungs. However, she knew that the danger was far from over.

"Sir Didymus!" Sarah screamed. "Are you ready?"

"Ready!" Sir Didymus shouted.
Sarah watched anxiously as the creature reversed itself out of the hole to turn its angst on its attackers.

"Now!" Sarah told the hands. "Lift me out and be ready!"

Numerous hands held her firmly, deftly raising her up and through the hole. As she ascended, Sarah once again found her hand resting on the glass vial.

"Please let this work," she mumbled to herself as the hands hoisted her up and over the edge of the hole.

Sir Didymus, having reclaimed his sword, stood rigid and ready for battle. He was poised in a snarling standoff with the smoldering Chimera. The smell of burnt fur and flesh hung acridly in the air. Hoggle trembled behind Sir Didymus while Batson peeked curiously at the scene from Hoggle's shoulder. Ambrosius was nowhere to be seen.

"Now!" Sarah commanded the moment her feet hit solid ground. Sir Didymus promptly slashed the Chimera across the face with his sword. The Chimera reeled back in pain and surprise. While the creature was preoccupied, Sir Didymus tossed his sword to Sarah. The creature reared up, flailing its arms wildly at Sir Didymus and catching the sword with a heavy paw as it sailed through the air.

Time almost seemed to stop for Sarah as she saw the sword bounce off the creature's paw and fly opposite of her and into the cave wall. The sword struck the stone sharply, tumbling to the ground with a noisy clatter.

Without thinking, Sarah bolted for the sword, wrenching the vial free from her neck as she did. The creature swiped in retaliation at Sir Didymus who swiftly retreated behind a pile of rocks for cover. It was here Sarah finally saw the shuddering tail of Ambrosius.

Sarah dove for the sword, scraping her knees and elbow in the process. She hurriedly yanked the top off the vial with trembling hands, pouring the contents of it onto the tip and blade of the sword.

By now, the creature had realized the ruse and had turned its attention back to Sarah. It bounded ferociously across the chamber after her. Sarah's eyes went wide at the pure, unbridled fury of the creature and the vial slipped from her fear numbed fingers. Unable to retrieve it in time, Sarah opted to run from the creature, hoping she had spilled enough of Titania's blood on the blade to do the trick. Sarah scampered quickly to the hole, but the beast had anticipated her move and quickly cut her off.

Sarah gasped, brandishing the sword with inexperienced wildness at the creature. The Chimera dodged her efforts easily, striking out with its claws and slashing at her outstretched arm. Sarah cried out in pain and shock as she felt the creature's claws tear through her already ripped cardigan and through the flesh of her forearm, knocking the sword from her hand. The sword skittered across the ground, bouncing off a rock and coming to a rest beside the hole.

Sarah grabbed her arm reflexively, gaping in sheer terror at the creature that loomed towards her. Warm blood trickled down her arm and seeped through the bandages that covered her hand. Sarah watched as the creature's nostrils flared as it inhaled the scent of her blood. Its eyes rolled back in its head, as if the smell of her blood was nearly as satisfying as feasting on it. The snake tail of the creature rose without warning, its cold, ruby red eyes fixating on Sarah. There was a satisfaction reflected within the depths of those eyes. The Chimera was about to get everything it so desperately wanted and no matter how hard Sarah fought to look away, she was powerless to break the spell. All she could do was look into those horrible, glowing eyes and see the delight in them as the beast went for its kill.

"Sarah!" Hoggle shrieked, throwing a heavy rock at the Chimera. The stone struck the snake head tail, causing it to turn and hiss in rage at Hoggle. Immediately, the trance was broken and Sarah was once again able to move. However, the Chimera wasn't about to give up its prey so easily. It leapt at Sarah, a savage growl of victory echoing off the walls. Sarah dropped heavily to the ground, banging her shoulder painfully against stone. She rolled under the creature as it sailed over her, landing hard where she had been only seconds ago. Sarah continued to roll away, scrambling to her knees and palms and making a frenzied grab for the sword before plunging head first into the hole.

Sarah didn't have time to think or hope the hands were ready for her. She relied completely on trust. She wasn't disappointed as the hands caught her, slowing her descent as she fell through the hole.

"Turn me over!" Sarah commanded. The hands awkwardly flipped her over and Sarah gripped the sword tightly, anticipating her next move.

As the hands righted Sarah, she was shocked to see that the Chimera had already dove into the hole after her and was nearly upon her. The creature reached for her, its claws shredding through the material of her jeans and ripping her skin. Sarah screamed in pain and reeled her arms back in response. She held the sword in both hands and aimed for the creature, cautioning herself to wait. She didn't want to drop the sword or have it knocked from her hold at a crucial moment.

"Come on, you bastard!" Sarah shouted over the guttural and incessant snarls of the beast. "You want me? Come and get me!"

The Chimera forced itself through the hole further at her taunt and Sarah made her mark. She ruthlessly plunged the tip of the blade as hard as she could muster into the right eye of the sinister beast. The creature let loose an unholy wail of rage and agony, swiping no longer at Sarah, but at the blade imbedded in its eye.

Sarah continued to force the blade even further into the monster that hovered above her until she had no more leverage. She released the sword and fell back against the hands, cringing as the beast bled and foamed in anguish.

Sarah swallowed hard and closed her eyes, waiting for the gut wrenching howls and screeches to come to an end. The wails were deafening and felt as if they would consume her entire soul. Sarah knew they would plague her nightmares for the rest of her life. It was the Chimera's dying curse. It wanted her to remember its pain. Then suddenly, the cries stopped and everything was eerily silent.

Sarah kept her eyes closed, hearing only the sound of her ragged breaths and the massive thudding of her heart. After a moment, she reluctantly opened her eyes. The Chimera hung mere inches from her, it's one good eye still open and gazing intently at her. It's tongue dangled lifelessly past it's hideous teeth, foam and blood dripping from the end of it. Sarah felt her stomach twist into horrible knots as waves of sickness overtook her.

"Get me out of here," she sobbed to the hands. "Please."

The hands quickly began lifting the creature out of the hole first, testing it to make sure it was in fact dead. As soon as the path was clear, they began to ascend Sarah as well. She concentrated on taking deep breaths, endeavoring to calm the queasy feeling that had taken hold of her stomach. She shuddered from the damp sweat that made her clothes and hair cling to her body. Her thigh and forearm throbbed in red hot pain and she worried about infection. As soon as the hands lifted her out of the hole, Sarah stumbled forward uneasily on her feet. She clutched her stomach and collapsed to her knees.

"Sarah?" Hoggle gasped, running over to her. He tentatively touched her shoulder. Sarah shook uncontrollably, her stomach twisting and untwisting with waves of nausea. She grabbed Hoggle roughly and hugged him tightly, bursting into relieved and frightened tears. He returned her embrace, brushing his stubby fingers through her tangled mess of hair.

"Is it dead?" Sarah trembled, unable to look upon the creature.

"Yes," Sir Didymus confirmed, striving to pull his sword which was still imbedded in the creature's eye. "Never have I seen such a valiant effort, milady. You are not only a fair maiden, but a brave warrior. Blessings upon you. We owe you our very lives."

Sarah sniffled against Hoggle. "I owe you guys." She forced herself to take a few deep, calming breaths before looking over her shoulder and to the hole.

"I owe them, too," Sarah murmured, a small relieved smile touching her lips.

Hoggle chuckled reflectively before exclaiming in shock at the blood that caked Sarah's forearm and pants. "Cor! You've been hurt!"

Sarah nodded numbly, gazing at the wounds. "Yeah, it scratched me." She looked worriedly at Hoggle. "Can I get sick from the scratches?"

Hoggle shook his head rapidly. "I-I don't know."

Sarah's breath hitched and fear began to percolate through her system. Everything was far too overwhelming. She could not think straight.

"What of that vial?" Batson asked.

"Vial?" Sarah replied dumbly.

"Right, that vial with that stuff in it," Batson remarked patiently. "What was in there?"

"Titania," Sarah whispered. "There might still be some blood left. We have to find the vial."

"S'right 'ere," Batson announced. "Looks like it's got some stuff left."

Sarah stood up quickly, taking a few clumsy steps towards Batson before collapsing again the cavern wall. Her hands shook at her sides. Obviously, she was still in shock.

"Hoggle," Sarah muttered. "Would you?"

"Of course!" Hoggle said, jumping up and running to Batson.

Sir Didymus came up beside Sarah, placing a friendly paw to her cheek. "You look unwell, milady. Allow me to fetch the bandages and I will tend to those wounds."

Sarah nodded weakly, unable to find the strength to form any words. Hoggle returned with the vial and handed it to Sarah. She held it up against the dim light provided by the discarded Firey hand and was relieved to see a small amount of blood still left in the vial.

"I think I'll be okay," she whispered, pooling the precious liquid against her fingertips and running it over wounds the Chimera had inflicted upon her.

Sir Didymus returned with the bandages. He and the others watched in awe as the deep red and raw sinew of the wounds in Sarah's skin began to knit themselves together and slowly heal. Sarah began to suspect that Titania's blood not only counteracted the Chimera poison, but contained healing properties as well.

"I suppose you won't be needing these," Sir Didymus remarked in wonder as he appraised Sarah's nearly healed forearm, stowing his wrappings back in Ambrosius' saddle bag.

"I think I need to rest now," Sarah replied sleepily, her head lulling to the side. "I'm so tired."

"Sarah, we can't stay here." Hoggle reasoned reluctantly.

"Let the girl rest, lads," Batson said softly. "She's earned it."

"I don't dispute that, but my friend is right, it's not safe here for the fair maiden," Sir Didymus rebuked. "We must keep moving."

Sarah strove against the beckoning slumber. She wanted nothing more than to drift away from the carnage and the pain, but her companions were right. She wasn't safe. None of them were.

With considerable effort, Sarah forced her eyes open. "You're right. We need to keep moving."

Batson gawked up at Sarah with admiration as she struggled unsteadily to her feet.

"You sure about that, love?" He asked with concern.

Sarah nodded, leaning against the cave wall for support. "Yes. Which way, Batson?"

"Jus' down the corridor there," he mumbled, shaking his head slowly in awe of her resolve.

"Alright, let's get moving." Sarah walked warily over to the hole, avoiding the body of the Chimera as best as she could.

"Thank you for your help," she called down sincerely. "Without you, the Chimera would've killed me."

A bunch of hands formed a face. "Happy to help, Keeper. We are helping hands, after all. If you need us again, just call."

Before she could reply, the ground quickly closed and the hands disappeared. Sarah's forehead knotted in consternation.

"How'd they know?" She mumbled.

"Know what?" Hoggle asked.

Sarah looked over to him, her fatigue replaced by intrigue. "How'd they know I was the Keeper?"

"Why just 'bout everyone knows that," Batson interjected. Sarah and her companions turned to the small worm who beamed up at them brightly.

"What?" Sarah gaped. "How could you know? I never got a chance to tell you!"

"Rumors, 'member?" Batson replied. "No one worries 'bout what a worm 'ears. Stories 'bout you've been all over the Labyrinth these past few days." Batson explained. "I wasn't sure 'til you told us your name. Your return is somethin' of a blessing, it is. It's bein' said that you're descendant from the Keepers of old. The last of the Keeper bloodline."

Sarah painfully bent down to Batson. "The last of the Keeper bloodline? What else have you heard?"

"That's 'bout the gist of it," Batson said truthfully. "Except that you needed to 'ave your powers awakened."

"Awakened?" Sir Didymus murmured contemplatively. "How?"

"Couldn't say," Batson tilted his head as if to shrug. "But from the looks of things, you've already got some power."

Sarah nodded, peering down the tunnel, lost in her own thought. There were so many questions, but so few answers. Sarah only knew one thing for certain; time was running out for her and for Jareth.

"How did it get down here, I wonder?" Hoggle mused, chancing a glance at the massive, dead creature. He grimaced at the hulking body of the dead beast.

"I reckon he burrowed," Batson observed. "That nasty must've wanted you pretty bad." Batson's eyes drifted to Sarah.

She nodded, unsettled by the revelation. It gave her all the more reason to press on to the heart of the Labyrinth despite her many maladies.

"We should get going," Sarah muttered, deep in thought. She stood up stiffly, striding over to the discarded Firey hand and picking it up. She was immensely grateful for the lump of cold meat now. It had played a vital part in saving her life.

"Are you alright to travel, fair maiden?" Sir Didymus inquired, scrutinizing Sarah studiously. "We can rest a moment longer if you desire."

Sarah shook her head, striking the Firey hand against the rocks to encourage the flame to burn brighter. "No, we're so close," Sarah whispered. "I can feel it. I can't rest until I retrieve the pendant."

"Then what're we waiting for?" Hoggle announced, coming up beside Sarah.

"Batson," Sarah motioned to the little worm. "If you would be so kind as to take the lead?"
"It would be me pleasure," he smiled deviously at her. "Keeper."

Return to the Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by ArtemisFallen

Part 13 of 24

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