Continuing Tales

Return to the Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by ArtemisFallen

Part 21 of 24

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

Sarah anxiously clenched and relaxed her hands as she stared at the decimated gates which led to the Goblin City. The City itself seemed dead, burned and abandoned long ago. Her stomach fluttered and a shiver vibrated from her core, shaking her entire body. She was more nervous than she'd ever been in her whole life.

Ludo came up behind her, pushing against her comfortingly. "Sarah scared?"

She nodded, unable to speak as her mouth had gone dry. She swallowed several times in an effort to reclaim her voice.

"Yeah," Sarah replied hoarsely. "But I'm okay."

The goblins were engaged in some very lively chatter behind them, murmuring in awe over the ruins of what had once been their home. Grub sauntered up to her, shaking his head sadly.

"What a grim sight to behold. They destroyed our homes first, run us out," he recounted somberly. "We didn't stand a chance. When word reached us that the Gorgon Queen had killed the master, we fled."

Sarah stared down at Grub who met her gaze remorsefully. "If we'd known the master lived, we woulda never run."

"I believe you," Sarah replied softly, feeling sympathy for the goblin.

"Awful quiet, it is," Batson murmured from Sarah's shoulder. She jerked slightly in surprise. She hadn't even known the little worm had made his way from Ludo to her. "Wonder if they've gone an' set a trap?"

"Maybe," Sarah mused. "But they're in for a surprise if your friends have done their part."

"Oh, they've done it alright," Batson replied. "Them beasties won't know what 'it 'em! We got traps of our own!"

"Good." Sarah turned and saw Sir Didymus and Hoggle had crept close to her. She bent down and addressed them.

"Sir Didymus, Hoggle, I need you to protect Titania," Sarah began, raising her eyes to the Fairy Queen who was passing out reeds and blood dipped thorns amongst the goblins.

"What?" Hoggle yelped, his voice registering his immense shock. "You can't be serious!"

"But who shall protect you?" Sir Didymus protested. Ambrosius whined under him as if to concur with his statement.

"Ludo will protect me," Sarah answered softly. "But I need you both to look after Titania. I can't keep her safe, so I'm counting on you to do that. While you guys are drawing the Chimera into our traps, Ludo, Toot, Batson and myself will enter the Goblin City through the hidden passage. Then we'll go to the castle and into Jareth's secret throne room. Once I'm there, I will face Euryale alone."

"Why do you always have to do it alone?" Hoggle griped. "You need us! Let us come with you!"

Sarah reached out and took Hoggle's hand. "I need you to stay safe! I couldn't bear it if something happened to any of you. Can't you understand that?"

Hoggle shuffled his feet obstinately, refusing to look Sarah in the eyes.

"According to her majesty, the fairies claim less than a dozen Chimera remain," Sir Didymus reported quietly.

"That's good," Sarah replied. "That means Euryale is weak and exposed. She'll send everything she has left to stop me. I need you guys to make sure you keep the Chimera away from the castle so I can rescue Jareth."

"All the more reason for us to go with you!" Hoggle contended. "Strength in numbers!"

"No! Euryale will be ruthless," Sarah asserted. "She will do anything to get the upper hand. She won't hesitate to strike at me where it hurts the most. I can't risk any of you."

"Then why does he get to go?" Hoggle sneered, pointing to Ludo.

Sarah pulled in a deep breath, endeavoring to be patient with her concerned friend. His heart was in the right place and he was only worried for her safety. "Ludo and I faced her before. Because of his affinity with rocks, he seems to be immune to her stone gaze. And because of Jareth's pendant, I am as well. But you guys aren't and I know she'll use that against me if she has the opportunity." A small whimper left her throat. "Hoggle, please, I just want to keep you safe."

"No one's safe no more," Hoggle muttered stubbornly. "But I know what you're sayin'." He sighed heavily. "I'll stay behind and protect the Fairy you."

"Thank you, Hoggle," Sarah whispered softly, leaning forward and placing a kiss on Hoggle's cheek.

"This isn't goodbye," Hoggle muttered, his voice gravelly with emotion. "Ain't no way, no how." He turned abruptly and walked a short distance. Sarah knew he didn't want her to see him cry.

"I detest these farewells, milady," Sir Didymus confessed. "But I have the utmost confidence that you will emerge victorious."

A sad smile traced over Sarah's lips. She leaned forward and kissed Sir Didymus on tip of his cold nose. "Thank you, kind sir."

Ambrosius whined and Sarah responded by ruffling his head. He panted happily under her touch.

"That being said," Sir Didymus began. "Should you need us…"

"Yes," Hoggle echoed, turning around to face Sarah. His eyes gleamed brightly with unshed tears. "Should you need us…"

"I'll call," Sarah whispered, fighting the tears which welled up in her own eyes at the memory that sang through her mind. It was the last thing she had said to them before confronting Jareth.

She felt Batson nudge comfortingly against her neck. She slipped her hand up and stroked the little worm lightly with her fingertip.

"It's been a great privilege, love," he began softly, his big red eyes gazing at her with reverence. "And I know I'm jus' a worm, but I'm glad to be by your side."

"Thank you," Sarah said again, swelling with pride. The loyalty and love emanating from her friends was almost more than her heart could bear.

"Sarah, come," Ludo murmured gently, pulling at Sarah's arm. "Ready."

Sarah swallowed hard and noticed that the goblins stood armed and prepared for battle. It was time. She threw one last meaningful glance to the friends she was leaving behind. Hoggle gave her a little wave and Sir Didymus lowered his hat to his chest. It was a heartbreaking farewell.

Sarah walked over to the army of goblins, nearly colliding with a dancing Firey.

"Augie," Sarah gasped, annoyance overshadowing her grief. "Are you guys ready?"

Augie tossed his head casually to Bodkin, who failed to catch it. The dismembered head bounced on the ground before Bodkin kicked it like a deranged soccer ball. The head soared through the air, landing delicately back on Augie's shoulders. He wrenched his neck unnaturally, so that his head faced Sarah while his body did not.

"You betcha, lady. You know I'm always willin' to lend… a hand!" Augie popped off his returned hand and waved it at Sarah, while the other Fireys cackled raucously at the crude joke.

"I've to you, Augie, youse a bad hep leader!" Krew quipped.

The Fireys laughed again and Sarah rolled her eyes impatiently. She wondered if it was too late for Titania to put them all in an enchanted sleep again.

"Cute," Sarah grumbled. "Augie. Augie!"

The Fireys bounced and laughed, their body parts flying as they traded limbs. Krew grabbed Augie's leg and took off with it. Augie howled in surprise, crashing to the ground while his pilfered leg thrashed violently in Krew's grasp.

"Hey!" Jojul complained. "That's not your hand, that's my hand! Give it back!"

"No, it's mine!" Bodkin argued. "I'd recognize it anywhere." He tried to connect it to the stump of his wrist. The hand writhed uncooperatively, rising up and striking Bodkin repeatedly across the face until his head went flying off his body.

"Told ya!" Jojul jeered smugly.

"Alright, enough!" Sarah shouted, finally meriting the Firey's attention. "Augie, do you guys know what to do?"

"Yeah, lady, we's bad hep and ready to chilly down!" Augie replied happily, hobbling towards his discarded leg. "We draw out the beasts n' shield goblins from fire. Fire don't hurt us! Then beasts chase us, falling in the holes and goblins use they's weapons from the fairies to kill the trapped beasts. All the while, you go off n' fight the mean queen. We gots it, we gots it!"

"Okay," Sarah muttered skeptically, not entirely thrilled with the oversimplification of the plan, but grateful the Fireys at least understood the concept of it. "Remember, this is for Clash."

The Fireys quickly sobered up and looked at Sarah seriously.

"For Clash," Augie reiterated somberly.

"For Clash," the others echoed.

"Okay, you guys-" A series of vicious howls cut off her thought and Sarah felt her skin prickle with disquiet. In the low light of the early morning, she could see dark figures rushing through the ruins of the Goblin City, heading toward the decimated gates. Sarah pulled in a ragged breath. She had thought they'd have more time.

"Augie, get ready!" She warned the Fireys. "I'm counting on you!"

"We won't let you down, lady," Augie swore. "Come on, Fire Gang, let's show 'em how to play!" Augie took off towards the gates leading into the Goblin City, nearly rolling as his arms and legs fluidly switched positions with one another.

"Yeah!" Bodkin cried, bounding after Augie. Krew and Jojul cackled insanely, tossing limbs to one another, but keeping pace with the other two despite the exchange.

Sarah turned quickly, only to come face to face with Titania. She handed Sarah at least a dozen blood tipped Thundelbrush thistles.

"Take these as a precaution. The beasts come. Go now, Sarah. Go quickly and worry not for us," Titania said hurriedly, her wide blue eyes fixated on the Goblin City. "We will keep them occupied and away from the castle."

Sarah threw her arms around Titania, mindful of her delicate wings. "Please be careful," she whispered earnestly.

Titania returned the embrace. "The same to you, Keeper." She looked over Sarah's shoulder to Ludo, who stood stoically behind Sarah. "Take care of her, noble beast. And you, brave little worm, keep her safe."

Batson, who Sarah had forgotten about due to his quietness, bowed to Titania. "I'll see to it, majesty."

"Ludo protect Sarah," Ludo swore solemnly, reaching out for Sarah's hand. "We go now."

Sarah carefully placed the thistles in the somehow intact pocket of her cardigan, hoping they would remain there if she needed them. She took Ludo's hand, throwing a remorseful glance to Titania before allowing herself to be pulled around the back of the goblin battalion. Already, Sarah could hear the beginnings of the battle.

"Make 'em breathe fire!" One of the Fireys commanded.

"Ha-Ha-Ha!' Another Firey shouted. "It tickles!"

"Hey!" Augie's distinctive voice yelled. "It ain't polite to bite!"

Snarls and howls followed the jesting and jeering of the Fireys as they cackled maniacally. The battle was just a big game to the Fireys, but as long as they did their duties and kept everyone safe, Sarah was thankful for their presence.

"Over here!" Grub hissed, crouching against the stone wall surrounding the city.

Ludo had just barely swung Sarah flush against the wall when a horrendous screech filled the air, causing Sarah's heart to stop cold in her chest. A Chimera came soaring over the wall above them, raging in anger and pain. Attached to its tail was Augie's head, gnawing mercilessly at the appendage. The Chimera landed roughly on the ground, snarling with discontent. The creature howled, spinning around and flipping its tail hard, sending Augie's head, along with a good portion of the beast's tail, soaring. Augie's ears fluttered rapidly, causing his head to float in the air like a disembodied nightmare. He spit out the tail which had been hanging limply from his mouth.

"See what happens when you bite? We bite back!" He shrieked, flying down at the Chimera with the wild eyes of a rabid animal. He dropped to the Chimera's back where he resumed to chew and gnaw at the woeful beast.

"This way!" Toot cried, followed by six goblins. Sarah watched as the goblins began to pelt the angry Chimera with the blood dipped thistles.

The Chimera roared, twisting around until it faced the goblins, looking like an angry pincushion. The goblins froze, locked in a ruthless showdown with the enraged creature. The Chimera launched itself at the goblins.

"Retreat!" Toot yelled and the goblins scattered, all except one. The rat-faced goblin, the naysayer, stood petrified with fear as the Chimera bore down on him.

"Slop!" Toot shrieked. "Run!"

Slop didn't budge, he trembled as the Chimera bounded with the fury of a fiery explosion directly at him.

Sarah began to run towards the goblin. "Hey!" She screamed, picking up and rock and hurling it with all her might at the Chimera. It bounced harmlessly off the beast's backside, barely missing Augie's head. The creature wasn't deterred in the slightest.

"Run!" Sarah yelled at the motionless goblin as she felt Ludo encircle his big arms around her waist and carry her back to the wall. "Run, now!"

Slop closed his eyes as the Chimera neared him. Sarah watched in horror as the beast leapt at the goblin.

Toot tackled Slop, rolling him out of the way of the oncoming death machine. Slop screamed out in fear and shock, anticipating a pain that had yet to come.

"Move, dunderhead!" Toot commanded, angrily pulling Slop to his feet and kicking him in the butt. He half ran and half dragged his wailing goblin comrade to the others. The Chimera growled in protest of its quick footed prey. The beast's movements were rapidly becoming weak and sluggish as the fairy blood began to take effect.

"Over here, beastie!" Toot shouted. The Chimera drunkenly swung around, futilely trying to shake Augie's head from its back. The Chimera stalked forward. The goblins waited for the creature, callously taunting it.

With one more burst of energy, the Chimera charged at the goblins, bearing down on them menacingly. Sarah was just as surprised as the Chimera was when the ground suddenly vanished and the Chimera descended into a pit.

"The traps," Sarah breathed, relief sweeping through her tensed muscles.

"Yep!" Batson chirped. "I knew we'd get 'em."

The Chimera moaned unhappily as the goblins surrounded the hole and mercilessly pelted it with thistle thorns. In a matter of seconds, the creature ceased its pain riddled wail and fell silent.

Sarah's stomach twisted at the utter carnage of it all. She had known the battle would be violent and that the deaths of the Chimera would be unpleasant, however she hadn't prepared herself for how grotesque their deaths actually would be.

"Best not to think of them, lass," Grub insisted. "Only makes it harder to stomach."

"I know," Sarah replied shakily. "At least it was quick."

"Aye," Grub agreed. "It was at that."

Augie's head popped out of the hole and he let out a victory cheer.

"Another beastie bites the big one!" He crowed happily. "That was killer bad hep!"

The goblins cheered proudly, dancing around the dismembered head. "Let's find the Fire Gang and see what the score is!" Augie announced, his head half flying, half bouncing against the ground.

"Yeah!" The goblins called, chasing after the strange Firey head.

Sarah drew in a long breath. The battle had just barely started and already her nerves were shot.

"That worked out well, lass," Grub commended. "You should be proud."

"I am," Sarah said genuinely. "Let's just hope they can handle the others."

"I wouldn't fret, love," Batson comforted. "What we got to worry 'bout is gettin' you to that castle."

"You're right," Sarah agreed. She turned to Ludo and patted his arm. "Thank you for keeping me safe."

Ludo panted, touching Sarah's arm in return. "Ludo protect Sarah."

"Right, now follow me," Grub interjected, leaning closely against the wall. Sarah and Ludo tucked in behind him. They hadn't gone far when Grub stopped.

"Here we are!" He announced.

Sarah scrutinized the wall closely. Nothing appeared out of place.

"Are you sure this it is?" Sarah asked.

"Am I sure?" Grub chuckled, palming a few rocks in no specific order. "Whaddaya think, lass?" He asked, grasping the last rock. The wall shuddered and tiny particles of crushed rock dust puffed into the air as a portion of the wall moved, revealing a door sized entrance.

"Wow!" Sarah gaped in amazement at how perfectly camouflaged the door had been.

"Told ya, lass." Grub clicked his tongue and gave her a wink. "I still got some magic up in this ol' ticker of mine. Let's get going now."

Sarah followed Grub through the doorway and Ludo trailed her, grumbling in distress as he struggled to push himself through the narrow entrance. Sarah helped pull on him, successfully wedging him out of the passageway. They stood inside the decimated remains of the Goblin City.

Battle cries and victory cheers carried through the air near the entrance of the city, helping alleviate Sarah's burdened conscience.

Grub slinked through the deserted streets and Sarah observed the desolation of the city. Only a few houses had withstood the attacks, all others were reduced to piles of rubble or scorched remains with only a few boards precariously bracing the structures upright.

"We're here," Grub reported softly.

Sarah blinked in surprise. She'd been so preoccupied with the destruction of the city, she hadn't realized they had approached the stone steps leading up to the castle. She gazed at the once magnificent fortress. Like the gates to the Goblin City, its doors had been abolished, leaving shattered fragments of wood and iron in its wake. The two stone pillars surrounding the entrance to the castle sagged dangerously, as if they would topple under the pressure of a harsh word.

"It's almost too easy," Sarah muttered to herself as they ascended the steps.

As if to punish her for the observation, a lone Chimera stepped through the gaping entrance to the castle and snarled at them viciously.

"Did ya have to say it, lass?" Grub groaned as he fumbled with his Silca reed.

Without hesitation, the Chimera charged at them, heading directly for Sarah.

"Sarah!" Ludo cried, picking her up and swinging her out of the way as the beast swiped maliciously at her.

"Bonzai!" Grub shrieked, launching three thorns at the Chimera. Two thistles landed on the creature's snout, the other puncturing the beast's left eye, effectively blinding it.

The Chimera wailed in anguish, clawing ruthlessly at its impaired eye.

"Sarah, go!" Ludo shouted, ushering Sarah up the stairs. "Ludo help!"

"No, Ludo, come with me!" Sarah called. Ludo ignored her, raising his head to the Heavens and unleashing an earth shattering howl. The steps to the castle began to quake, staggering the Chimera.

"Run, lass!" Grub shouted. "We'll handle the beastie!" He launched another trio of thorns at the creature, striking his mark with all three.

Indecisiveness gripped Sarah as she was torn between running and defending her friends.

"Go!" Batson urged, securing himself with a strand on her hair.

With a heavy heart, Sarah turned to face the castle doors. "Hang on, Batson," she yelled, hunkering down and charging up the steps. The half blind and confused Chimera swiped at her as she passed. She could feel the rush of air from the attack as it swept harmlessly over her arm, missing her completely. Sarah heard the thunderous crack and rumble of the pillars, gasping in shock as they began to crumble and fall, blocking the entrance to the castle.

"Gotta jump for it!" Batson cried, pushing himself tightly against her neck.

Sarah did as the little worm instructed, half jumping, half diving into the entrance of the castle as the pillars collapsed and buried the doorway. Sarah landed hard on her side, sliding against the floor. Her skin burned against the rough edged stone and she wondered how much flesh she'd left behind. She sat up quickly, her heart thundering in her chest. Clouds of dust and grit floated thickly in the air, causing her to choke and squint through the haze of grime.

"Batson, are you alright?" She asked worriedly, reaching her hand up instinctively to her shoulder.

"Jus' fine, love," he answered, coughing a bit. "You alright?"

Sarah lifted her arm, hissing at the raw, pulsating sting in her elbow. She looked down to see her pants had torn and she could see the ripped and chaffed flesh of her knee. It reminded her of a piece of raw meat.

"I'll live," she mumbled. She got up quickly, hobbling to the pile of rocks. She listened intently for the battle outside, but could hear nothing except for the continuous tumbling and creak of the rocks as they shifted and settled. She dared not push against the unstable pile which had effectively trapped her inside the castle for fear it would give way and crush her.

"Ludo!" She called loudly. "Grub! Can you hear me?"

"Let me peek," Batson offered, racing down her arm and into the pile of rubble. Sarah waited impatiently for him.

"What do you see?" She asked fretfully. "Are they okay?"

Batson returned. "They're leadin' the beastie to the gates," he reported. "Away from us."

Sarah bit her lip, detesting the helpless feeling which washed over her.

"You can't do anythin' for 'em now, love," Batson advised. "We must go on."

Sarah shook her head, unwilling to accept the reality of the situation. However, she couldn't deny Batson's rationalization and logic. It was like having her own version of Jiminy Cricket.

"Please be careful, Ludo," Sarah whispered reluctantly to the stone. She closed her eyes for a moment, endeavoring to come to grips with a situation that was far from of her control.

"Come on, Batson, let's go." Sarah waited for the little worm to resume his place on her shoulder. With one final, remorseful glance, Sarah walked away from the blocked door and away from her friends, unsure of their fates. She painstakingly climbed the stairs, taking them two at a time, then only one at a time as the dull burning sensation in her knee became a wildfire.

"Look there," Batson announced, nudging her ear gently.

Sarah glanced down to see a time ravaged goblin skeleton clutching a spear.

"Might want to take that," Batson murmured. "Couldn't hurt."

The weapon reminded Sarah of the thorns Titania had given her. She reached into her cardigan pocket and felt for them, sighing in relief that they remained securely tucked away where she had placed them. She reached for the weapon, a slight queasiness drifting over her as she struggled to remove the spear which seemed to be attached to the skeleton.

"Sorry," she whispered. "But I think I need this more than you right now." She wrenched the spear from the goblin's death grip. The bones clattered, falling apart and bouncing down the stone steps. Sarah cringed, feeling as if she had just desecrated the poor corpse. She pushed on, forcing herself to climb the stairs.

Once again, she found herself weaving through the corridors of the castle as if she had always known them, coming at last to the Escher room.

"Whoa," Batson gaped in amazement.

"Yeah," Sarah agreed. "It's quite a sight."

She hiked stiffly up more stairs and wove through the law bending, physics defying world until she reached the portal which led to Jareth's secret throne room. She gazed down at her reflection, reaching up and clutching the pendant.

"What now?" Batson asked.

Sarah pulled in a deep breath. "Now you go back," she answered determinately. "You go back and tell the others how to find me."

"What?" Batson asked, surprised.

"If I fail and I can't stop Euryale, then they need to know where she's hiding. You're the only one who knows how to get to this chamber," Sarah explained.

"What 'bout them goblins?" Batson asked. "Won't they know?"

"It's not a risk I'm willing to take," Sarah reasoned. "I need you to find Titania, Ludo and the others. You're the only one who can."

She heard Batson sigh. "Alright," he relented begrudgingly. "I'll go. But you promise me somethin'; you come back to us."

Sarah smiled weakly, painfully bending down and allowing Batson to slink off her arm. "I'll do my best," she promised.

"The missus would never forgive me…" Batson trailed off. "I''d never forgive me."

"It'll be okay, Batson," Sarah assured.

He gazed up at her with melancholic red eyes. "Good luck, love."

Sarah swallowed hard and nodded, unable to find her voice.

She stood, peering down once more into the portal. Her hand gripped the pendant once again.

Here I go, she thought, clutching the spear tightly with her other hand. She took a step, falling into the portal and shattering her reflection as a broken galaxy of stars and colors rushed around her.

And if I do win, what then? Her mind asked as the galaxy whirled around her. What am I going to do about Jareth?

It had been a long time since Sarah had been pestered by such questions. She had been so preoccupied with organizing the strike to take down Euryale's Chimera that she'd been granted blissful relief from her chattering mind. But now those doubts and questions began to resurface.

What am I going to do?

Surrounded by the darkness of this unknown galaxy, Sarah felt a hollowness begin to spread numbly throughout her weary body. She'd never felt so completely and utterly alone.

Return to the Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by ArtemisFallen

Part 21 of 24

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