Continuing Tales

Return to the Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by ArtemisFallen

Part 15 of 24

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

Time seemed to stand still in this part of the Labyrinth. It felt as if it had no meaning as Sarah wandered through the inky black darkness. Even with the Firey hand ablaze, it could not penetrate the deepness of the pitch which pressed in upon her.

Despite the heaviness of the dark, Sarah didn't feel oppressed by it. Instead of feeling frightened, she felt comforted. She likened the sensation to crawling into a bundle of warm, soft blankets on a cold and stormy night.

Sarah was surprised that the darkness didn't feel more overwhelming. The fear that usually accompanied anyone trapped in such a heavy dark was nowhere to be found. She felt warm and secure, as though she were in a cocoon.

Sarah endeavored to remain cautious, knowing that the Labyrinth was a dangerous place and these sensations could be misplaced feelings of euphoria meant to trick her into letting down her guard. However, despite her suspicions, a calm acceptance flowed through her and Sarah knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that for the first time since returning to the Labyrinth, she was safe. She was unable to deny the certainty of the feeling that arose within her as she continued to walk through the darkness. It was something she had not experienced since she was a child. She felt like she was home.

Sarah began to hum softly to herself, a pleasant mood gracing her for the first time since her last encounter with Steven. The darkness around her began to slowly fall away, giving into a gentle light which began to illuminate her surroundings. Sarah gaped in awe as giant pillars rose into view, phenomenally carved and crafted by creatures so skillful, it made her want to weep. The ground itself had become smooth as it seamlessly transformed into a stone walkway. The pleasant light grew brighter, beckoning Sarah to come closer. She searched for the source of light, amazed by the sudden transformation of her surroundings. However, even as the light grew stronger, she was unable to identify its source. Sarah extinguished the Firey hand, stuffing it into her backpack before continuing along the great hall of pillars. Her fingers danced over the delicate designs carved out of what appeared to be quartz. The pillars glistened pleasantly in the soft glow and Sarah nearly found herself dancing. She spun herself around, throwing her arms in the air as she twirled incandescently. All of her tribulations seemed to fall away as she spun herself around and around. A gleeful laugh escaped her lips and Sarah's mood soared. She hadn't remembered the last time she felt so lighthearted and carefree. She spun again, facing a pure white marble altar which shone brightly in the pleasing light. Sarah panted shallowly from her exhausting dance and gawked in awe at the beautiful crystal pillars which spiraled up to the ceiling. They glowed strongly and Sarah realized these pillars were the source of light within the great hall. A clouded crystal throne with purple and pink veins running through it sat empty and lonely above the white marble altar. Sarah approached the throne. It called to her, entreating her presence. Almost casually, Sarah sat upon the throne, languishing against the smooth and cool crystal. As she stared down the great hall, she saw the black tunnel had disappeared. She realized now that she was in a grand throne room which rivaled and far surpassed Jareth's.

"The Kingdom of the Keepers," Sarah whispered to herself. "I found it. The heart of the Labyrinth is close."

"Halt," a deep voice thundered, causing Sarah to catapult herself from the throne in surprise. She scrambled away from the voice, taking refuge behind the large, white altar. With her eyes wide and filled with panic, she frantically scanned the room for the owner of the voice.

A figure stepped out from behind the throne and Sarah felt her jaw unhinge in shock as a behemoth of a beast approached her.

"You have got to be kidding me," Sarah breathed, unwilling to accept the existence of the creature she beheld.

Of course, she thought cynically. It wouldn't be a Labyrinth without a bloody Minotaur!

"How have you come to be here?" The Minotaur demanded gruffly, towering over Sarah.

Sarah gazed up in dumbfounded disbelief at the great beast. His body, though that of a man, was far more muscled than any human she had ever seen. His dark skin was taut and appeared to be straining to keep the bulging muscles confined within it. His veins snaked up his arms like pieces of twisted rope. His neck was thick with tufts of dark, coarse hair sprouted from the sides leading to his face. Thick, brown leather straps crossed his chest and circled around his waist where she could see the handle of a dagger peek out from a sheath. A simple cloth supported and covered the Minotaur's private parts, leaving very little to Sarah's imagination. It made her fleetingly think of Jareth's fashion sense and she wondered if her imagination had done him justice.

Not the right time to be thinking about what's hidden in his pants! She scolded herself.

The Minotaur advanced from behind the throne and Sarah covered her mouth in wonderment and fright. She didn't want to appear rude by gaping at him. She continued to study the Minotaur. He had a broad nose that stretched from his face into a snout. His mouth was that of a man, but much larger. His eyes, though much too large and dark, were also nearly human. At the sides of his head spiraled two very long, twisted, incredibly lethal looking horns. Sarah saw that a spike of black, coarse hair adorned the line at the top of his head and ran down his back. The Minotaur's bull like ears twitched in anticipation underneath the horns on his head as he waited for her to answer his query. Sarah's eyes widened as she saw the creature's tail swish impatiently.

"I will ask once more, how have you come to be here?" The Minotaur bellowed, his tone hinging on a warning.

"I-I-" Sarah stammered, frozen in place by her trepidation. The wonderful sensation of safety had been shattered, leaving her quaking where she stood.

"I'm the Keeper of the Labyrinth," Sarah squeaked, her throat scratchy and dry.

The Minotaur snorted in disbelief. "The Keepers have long since gone from this place."

Sarah felt herself tremble. She'd never been fond of bulls after having been chased down by one and nearly trampled to death on her Uncle's farm as a child. Though this creature appeared more man than beast, he was still a frightening concoction of the two and a terrifying sight to behold.

Sarah forced herself forward, placing one leaden foot in front of the other. She approached the Minotaur cautiously, but endeavored to convey confidence. She raised her eyes to the beast who waited impatiently in front of her, striving to eliminate the wavering effect her tone had taken.

"Within me thrives the Fae blood of the Keepers," Sarah began assertively. "I am the last of the bloodline. I have come here to save the Labyrinth from the decimation which threatens it."

The Minotaur eyed Sarah warily. "What is your name?"

Sarah blinked in surprise, nearly falling back against the altar. She'd prepared herself for a barrage from the great beast and had readied herself to run if he gave chase. However, his civil demeanor and reply had effectively disarmed her.

"Oh-uh," Sarah stammered, doing her best to regain her commanding disposition and failing. "My name's Sarah."

The Minotaur nodded, but did not respond. Sarah fidgeted uncomfortably, feeling like a child.

"What's your name?" She inquired politely.

"I have no name," the Minotaur replied simply.

"What? No name?" Sarah mumbled sympathetically. "That's so sad."

"I have no name because I am the guardian of the Keeper's kingdom. It is my duty to stop trespassers and interlopers who get past the door," the Minotaur continued.

"Do many get past the door?" Sarah asked sheepishly.

"Only one has come beyond the door since the time of the Keepers," the Minotaur answered.

"The Goblin King?" Sarah asked, knowing the answer.

The Minotaur nodded in reply.

Sarah swallowed hard. "Guardian, I need to pass through this area and venture into the heart of the Labyrinth. It is there I will find the power to put an end to the evil that plagues the Labyrinth above." She observed the Minotaur, who stood stoic and unflinching.

"May I pass through?" Sarah asked hopefully.

The Minotaur narrowed his unnaturally large eyes at Sarah. "No."

No? The word jolted Sarah as if she'd been struck. She hadn't known what to expect, but given the pleasant exchange between herself and the Minotaur, she had anticipated more than a resounding 'No'.

"But you've allowed others to pass," Sarah argued shrilly, her calm demeanor evaporating and giving way to indignation. "Jareth has been here! You said so yourself! He's hidden something within the heart which will give me the power to save the Labyrinth from Euryale. How can you deny me that chance?"

The Minotaur crossed his massive arms over his broad chest and stood silent, listening to her tirade. Sarah stared in at him in disbelief. "Why did you let him in and not me? What did he do in order to get into the heart of the Labyrinth?"

"He did nothing for he did not venture into the heart of the Labyrinth," the Minotaur replied calmly.

"But you just said he was here!" Sarah nearly screamed, seething with anger.

The Minotaur shook his heavy head. "No. You asked how many get past the door. I answered only one, the Goblin King. He did not get past me and therefore did not gain entry into the heart of the Labyrinth."

Sarah's mouth hung open in protest and then she quickly snapped it shut as she realized the Guardian had truly never said Jareth had been to the heart of the Labyrinth.

"How did you stop him?" Sarah pondered. "Didn't he use magic against you?"

"Magic not of the Keepers has no influence here," the Minotaur explained. "Anyone who is not of Keeper blood is powerless once they enter this hall. Therefore, only the Keepers are allowed within the center chambers."

"But, I was told-" Sarah stumbled over her words, confusion soaking her brain. "What of his pendant? If he didn't put it in the heart of the Labyrinth, then where is it?"

"He gave it to me," the Minotaur answered simply. "It is safe within the center chambers."

Sarah focused her attention on the Guardian who stood smugly in front of her. She felt her patience wearing thin, hanging by a mere thread.

"I need that pendant," she pleaded ardently. "It will give me the power I require to save the Labyrinth. Surely, as Guardian, you can sense that I am of Keeper blood and cannot deny me the power and the right to save the Labyrinth!"

The Minotaur remained still and stoic, seemingly unmoved by Sarah's plight.

Sarah growled in exasperation. "Then what must I do to prove to you that I am who I say I am?"

"If you are truly of Keeper blood, you tell me," the Minotaur taunted.

Sarah felt her teeth clench together and grind in exasperation. She wanted to attack the Minotaur and make him tell her what she wanted to know, but knew the fight would be short lived and she would only end up a crushed stain on the beautiful stonework floor.

Sarah ran her fingers through her hair, rubbing her scalp furiously in frustration. How was she supposed to tell him how she could prove herself.

Riddles, Sarah thought petulantly. I am so tired of riddles!

Suddenly, Sarah stopped and glared at the Minotaur.

"I invoke the rite of the gauntlet," Sarah growled menacingly, her voice low and measured.

The Guardian unfolded his arms, dropping them to his sides. "As you wish," he replied.

Sarah stood, stunned by the words that had just left her mouth.

The gauntlet? What in the world is that? Her mind screamed.

Sarah had no idea, but was encouraged by the reaction it had elicited from the Minotaur. It definitely meant something. She suppressed the urge to look impressed with herself.

"Let us begin," the Guardian said. "You have already proven your mettle by withstanding the allure of the jewel and passing through the door. Now you face another trial."

Sarah steeled herself in front of the Minotaur. "I am ready," she said confidently.

"Every creature has seen it and experienced it, but no matter how much they long for it, to their dying day, they will never see it again," the Guardian recited.

Sarah blinked in surprise, tilting her head unconsciously to one side.

Are you kidding me?! Her mind screamed in protest.

"I-I'm sorry, is this a riddle?" Sarah babbled. "The gauntlet is a riddle?"

The Minotaur nodded. "Choose your answer prudently."

"And if I answer incorrectly?" Sarah asked hesitantly.

The Guardian reached down and unsheathed a pitted, twisted dagger from his belt. He brandished it at her and Sarah's eyes went wide with comprehension.

"Then you will never leave these chambers," he promised in a low, foreboding tone.

Sarah nodded fervently, running his words through her head again. What has everything seen and experienced before, longed for it again, but will die never having it?

"Answer," the Guardian demanded.

"I'm thinking!" Sarah retorted crossly. She hated being put on the spot.

Come on, Sarah. Think! You can do this. What have I experienced before, but will never have again no matter how badly I want it?

Birth? No. Why would I want that? A sunset? Maybe, each one is different. A moment in time? A day?

The answer crept into Sarah's mind so suddenly that she nearly squealed with joy. She looked up at the Minotaur, an arrogant smile twitching at the side of her mouth.

"Yesterday," she boasted without a shred of doubt. "The answer is Yesterday."

The Guardian slowly replaced his dagger and Sarah felt a sigh of relief crash from her lungs.

"It is not meant for one, it is meant for two. But when the two become more, it exists no longer," the Minotaur recited.

Sarah's mouth dropped open in shock.

"Another one?" Sarah gaped. The Minotaur nodded, waiting expectantly for her answer.

"Fine," Sarah grumbled, closing her eyes and thinking of the riddle.

Meant for two, more makes it disappear, she thought. Love? No, that doesn't make sense. Families make love grow. But something shared between two people. Something sacred. Something special.

"A secret," Sarah answered confidently, opening her eyes.

"Hmm," the Minotaur rumbled. He reached into a leather pouch at his side. Sarah watched him attentively, still mistrustful of the giant beast. The Minotaur produced a keyring from his pouch and Sarah felt her heart thunder with anticipation. She hoped there were no more riddles.

The Guardian turned from her, slipping the keys from the heavy ring and setting them one by one on the altar. Sarah sheepishly peeked around the large creature to get a glimpse at the keys. They were large, brass toned skeleton keys which looked exactly identical. The Guardian placed the final key upon the altar, turning abruptly to Sarah and nearly knocking her back. She hadn't realize how closely she had encroached upon him while inspecting the keys.

"Choose the correct key and the path to the chambers beyond will open to you," he stated.

Sarah eyed the great beast warily. "What? That's it? It's that simple?"

The Minotaur snorted again, ignoring Sarah's questions. "Choose."

Sarah appraised the keys laid out before her. There were seven keys and each one was identical to the other. There was absolutely no defining marks upon them or ways to tell them apart.

"And if I choose the wrong key?" Sarah asked.

Once again, the Guardian touched the dagger at his side.

"Of course," Sarah muttered sardonically. "I should've known."

She gazed at the keys apprehensively, not knowing how to decide which key would open the chamber and lead her to her long sought destination. Sarah reached out her hand, hovering it slightly over her seven choices. Her eyes slid closed and she cleared her thoughts. Her fingers dropped and danced unbidden over the keys, as if she were being led by some unseen force. Her hand drifted down and she felt the cool metal caress her fingertips. She opened her eyes and saw that the key almost seemed to glow under her touch. Without hesitation, Sarah picked it up and presented it to the Minotaur.

"This is the chamber key," she announced resolutely.

The Minotaur nodded, unimpressed or moved by her amazing ability. "You have proven yourself. You may pass through into the next chamber. The entrance is hidden beneath the throne. In there you will find a chest which contains the pendant of the Goblin King," the Guardian summarized. "May it give to you the power you seek, Keeper."

Sarah scoffed at the Minotaur, flustered and confused. She had expected more. A lot more. Even though she knew she shouldn't complain, she felt the gauntlet was far too easy. She wondered if there was a catch or if it only seemed simple because of the Keeper magic flowing through her veins.

Without another word, Sarah strode brusquely past the Minotaur and to the throne, noticing for the first time that there was a key hole in the arm of the throne. Sarah's brow knitted as she assessed the opening. She was certain it hadn't been there before. She looked to the Minotaur who had resumed his standoffish demeanor, his arms crossed tightly over his chest while his tail swished lazily behind him.

Sarah turned back to the throne and delicately placed the key inside the keyhole. It slid in easily and turned with a satisfying click. The crystal throne began to rumble, making a teeth rattling scrape against the stone floor as it slid away from Sarah, revealing a twisted staircase that led down into yet another chamber.

Sarah peered down the staircase, realizing that her goal was within reach. She knew she should start descending the stairs, but something was making her hesitate. For some reason, part of her didn't want to go down into the center chamber.

"You knew who I was all along, didn't you?" Sarah surmised, turning to face the Minotaur. "You always knew I was descended from the Keepers."

The Minotaur nodded solemnly. "I did."

"Then why the charade?" Sarah asked, her voice taking on a slight shrill quality. "Why did you make me take the gauntlet?"

"Because you need to believe in yourself and your abilities in order to conquer the enemies who threaten the Labyrinth," the Guardian stated matter-of-factly. "You need to learn to trust your instincts and the power which has resided dormant within you for your entire life. Your powers have only just awakened. Even now you do not realize the potential of those powers. The trial was merely a way of boosting your confidence; making you believe in the magic that already runs through your veins."

Sarah's patience had come to a screeching halt and animosity now encompassed her. "So, what? You thought it would be a good idea to just waste my time?" She nearly shouted, aghast with the creature.

"This chamber does not obey the constraints of time. Its passage has no meaning here. As we stand, we are immune to it and its decay. Nothing has been lost, only gained." The Guardian replied reassuringly.

"Oh, you just have an answer for everything, don't you?" Sarah grumbled under her breath. She was frustrated and wanted to scold the Guardian. She was overcome with anger and wanted to lash out at the creature, berate him for making her look ridiculous by taking the trials.

Why am I so upset? Sarah wondered.

Because he made me look like a fool! Her mind screamed back.

"Keeper," the Minotaur ventured, ripping through her aggravated thoughts. "You are safe within this place. No harm will come to you. I will not allow it. Take all the time you need here. Rest and collect your thoughts. Seek the answers to the questions which plague you."

"How do you know what plagues me?" Sarah hissed, glaring at the Minotaur.

He shifted slightly, taking her ire in stride. "I am your Guardian. It is my duty to protect you and this place. I know you better than you know yourself." He narrowed his large eyes at her. "I know of your life, of your joy and sorrow, of your pain and strife. I know of your dreams. And I know of your doubts. You are not vexed by me, but by your own self."

Sarah was staggered by the comment. She wanted to dispute the Minotaur's statement, but found she could not. The rational part of her realized that the Guardian was right. Her outrage and foul temper had only begun after the path to the chamber was revealed. Sarah wasn't angry with the Guardian at all. She was in denial. She was on the verge of accomplishing her task and yet her thoughts and feelings for Jareth were still mired in doubt.

"You're right," Sarah muttered, chuckling ruefully. "I'm so close, but I still have no idea what to think or what to do. I keep telling myself that I'm going to banish Euryale from the Labyrinth, but then what?" Sarah asked. "What happens with Jareth? What do I do then? Do I dare trust him?" She bit her lower lip contemplatively. "Can I trust him?"

The Minotaur stood silent, either unwilling or unable to answer her inquiry. His large eyes gazed sympathetically at her.

Sarah sighed defeatedly. She needed answers and she knew that Guardian could given them to her. However, she didn't want to ask the questions, fearing the answers she would receive. "Guardian, I need to ask you something," she finally said hesitantly.

"Anything, Keeper," he answered pleasantly. The Minotaur was treating her with such reverence that Sarah felt horrible for being belligerent. Her mood had shifted significantly since her arrival in the great hall, racing from an euphoric elation, to self imposed indignation and now to melancholic guilt that gnawed hungrily at her conscience. She despised the feeling of being wrenched between several emotions so quickly.

"Can you tell me about the powers the Keepers of old possessed?" Sarah finally asked, delaying her original question. "Can you tell me why I am the last of their bloodline?"

The Minotaur advanced towards Sarah casually, casting off his unapproachable demeanor. "The Keepers of old were Fae as you well know. They were the first to master the art of slipping between different worlds. An art that has long since been lost to the Fae kind over the years."

"But the Goblin King has that power," Sarah corrected.

The Minotaur nodded. "Yes, he has mastered that forgotten magic, but only after increasing his power with that of the pendant. Without it, he would not have enough power to sustain himself in your world. The Keepers were exceptional magic wielders. They were able to carve and create worlds with their powers."

Sarah was intrigued by the story. "So, what happened?"

"Without warning, the Keepers fell to a sickness," the Guardian continued patiently. "They began dying and after some time, were unable to continue on in this world."

"Dying out? Why?" Sarah asked apprehensively.

The Guardian shrugged sadly. "That remains a mystery. Some say they were cursed for using their magic with such reckless extravagance. Others claimed they had thrived too long, spread their magic too thin. In the end, there was no explanation. We do not know why. The fact remains that a sickness plagued them and they could not overcome it. The Keepers built the Labyrinth and this kingdom as a way to escape the plague. They thought that perhaps something in Underground contributed to their illness and hoped that the Labyrinth would provide a reprieve from their ailments."

"But it didn't work," Sarah interrupted. "The sickness came from within them."

The Minotaur nodded grimly. "Yes. Once they discovered the sickness they endured did not come from the outside world, they built this chamber as a haven. But it wasn't enough to simply lock themselves away." The Minotaur explained. "After all, this chamber only suspends a single moment in time. A life cannot be lived when everything around that life is frozen."

An indescribable sadness gripped Sarah as she listened to the plight of the Keepers. Even though she felt she could reside in these chambers forever, she knew living a full life confined in this hall would be impossible. In the end, the Keepers were not living, just simply surviving..

The Minotaur continued. "A choice was made. The remaining Keepers used their waning powers and departed from Underground. They went to your world to live out the rest of their lives among the mortals. They co-existed, combining the bloodlines with the hope that their descendants would once again be able to return to the paradise they built."

Sarah felt a cold wave of sorrow pass over her. "How long ago was this?"

"I cannot say," the Guardian replied. "I have not departed from this place since the time of the Keepers. I have remained vigilant, guarding their legacy until their return."

"You haven't left and gone to the surface in all this time?" Sarah asked, astonished.

"I cannot leave," the Minotaur explained. "I am bound here. It is my purpose and my duty. I am sworn to this position of servitude and that will never change."

"I'm sorry for you," Sarah said in a heartfelt tone, placing her hand against the Minotaur's arm sympathetically. "You suffer their fate, but not their disease."

The Minotaur flinched, unable to hide the surprise in his eyes. "It is all I have ever known."

Sarah felt pity for the creature. He'd never experienced anything outside the Labyrinth, condemned to guard an ancient utopia which acted as a memorial for a race that must have died out countless centuries ago.

"You and the Goblin King are the only ones I have seen since the Keepers fled," the Minotaur recounted.

"I don't understand," Sarah murmured contemplatively. "How is it that I'm the only one with the magic after all this time? Surely there must've been others?"

"Unfortunately, the magic of the Fae lies dormant within the mortal vessel," the Minotaur explained. "It takes another Fae to discover and awaken the power within. The Keepers knew this, but risked everything to perpetuate their bloodline. They left clues and codexes scattered throughout the Labyrinth, detailing their power and how to master the art of slipping between worlds in hopes that another Fae would discover the mystery and bring their descendants back to the Labyrinth."

Sarah felt as if she'd been kicked in the stomach. It was as if he'd sensed her unspoken question. "And if a Fae were to successfully transcend into another world, are they drawn to those with dormant Fae bloodlines and powers?" She asked reluctantly.

"Yes," the Guardian replied.

Sarah felt a crushing despair within her chest. Her knees buckled slightly and she stumbled against the Minotaur. He caught her, holding her firmly in place. Sarah shuddered involuntarily as her heart nearly ripped in two. She'd known. Somehow she had known, but she didn't want to believe it.

"Keeper, are you alright?" The Guardian asked, his large, soft eyes upon her.

Memories of Titania's words rang in a cruel taunt through Sarah's mind.

Some answers may be given while others must be sought.

And some questions are better left unanswered, Sarah thought bitterly.

"Guardian, I need to know..." Sarah trembled, her voice constricted. "My power, the power over the Labyrinth, can it be shared?"

"Yes," the Minotaur answered. "He who holds your heart holds dominion over the Labyrinth for this place is as much your heart as the one that beats within you."

Sarah let out a shuddered breath, tears burning at the edges of her eyes.

"I was afraid you'd say that," she whispered.

Return to the Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by ArtemisFallen

Part 15 of 24

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