Continuing Tales

Return to the Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by ArtemisFallen

Part 7 of 24

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

Sarah's blood ran cold as her memories rushed chaotically through her mind.

"No, no, no, not those horrible things! They're crazy! They tried to tear my head off!" Sarah shouted emphatically.

Titania's amusement didn't fade. "That does seem to be the game they are fond of playing."

"Fear not, fair maiden, for I shall protect you from such nightmarish fiends!" Sir Didymus announced, slashing his spear for embellishment.

Sarah shook her head and gazed pitifully at Titania. "You can't be serious."

"I do not jest," Titania replied coolly. "Especially in dire times such as this."

Sarah chewed on her lip. "Is there no other way?"

Titania shook her head. "You need allies in this fight. Though the Fireys are ghastly and dangerous, they see and hear things others do not. If Jareth has hidden his pendant within the boundaries of the Labyrinth, they may know."

"Why don't you know?" Hoggle interrupted. "Seems like you know everything."

Titania's blue eyes darkened as her glare set upon Hoggle. Her small mouth twisted into an ugly sneer. "Do you believe you are the only one beset by the fallout of Euryale's wrath? The lichen vines and my fairy children have long been my eyes and ears. When the Labyrinth began to decay, my reach diminished and my sight became veiled. I am as much in the dark as you are now."

Hoggle nodded, noticeably abashed.

Sarah sighed, resigning herself to the inevitable journey ahead. "Okay, if you think they can help us, then I'll go. I don't suppose you can you come with us?" Sarah asked hopefully.

Titania slowly shook her head. "I am saddened to say that I must stay under the guard of my fairies. For if I were to perish, they would all meet the same fate." She raised her hand and delicately caressed the passing hands of several tiny fairies. "I am their life force. I must not let anything happen to them."

Sarah nodded, disappointed. "I understand. Is there any aid you can offer us?"

Titania thought for a moment. "My blood and the blood of my children has proven to be fatal to the Chimera. I am not a skilled craftsman, but I can conjure a serum from the blood that flows within our veins that can be used to imbue the weapons you will need for combat."

Sarah nodded, exhaling forcefully through her lips. The word combat sent an unsettling shiver up her spine. "I'm grateful for any assistance you can give us." She looked down at her healed leg. "Thank you again, Titania." Sarah bent down to pick up her discarded backpack. She noticed that it was open and wondered if some of the fairies had been playing with the zippers. She reached in and picked up her book to make sure it was still there. She trailed her fingers over the worn cover and wondered if it was still writing her story.

"That book," Titania inquired. "Where did you get it?"

"My mother gave it to me," Sarah confessed, slightly confused by Titania's intrigue.

"I see. Remember, that story has already been unfolded and played to its end." Titania riddled. "Yours, however, is a journey yet to be written."

Sarah placed the book back in her bag, zipping the backpack closed and slinging it over her shoulder. She stood, facing Titania. "What do you mean? How do you know what's in the book?"

Titania smiled, reaching out and brushing Sarah's hair behind her ear. "What it means, dear mortal one, is that you hold the fate of us all. Here," Titania said, cunningly changing the subject. "I offer you this token before you depart."

Titania's eyes flickered up and Sarah flinched as she felt a heavy chain slide down over the back of her head and tops of her ears, coming to rest on her neck and chest. A small, beautifully crafted vial hung from the end of the chain. Tentatively, Sarah picked up the vial and looked into it. A dark red substance with brilliant streaks of bright purple swirled within the constraints of the glass. Sarah imagined that this is what bottled magic must look like. It almost seemed alive. Instantly, Sarah knew what it was.

"Your blood?" Sarah inquired.

Titania nodded. "In its purest form. It is more than enough to cure you should you become stricken once again." Titania clasped her hand over Sarah's which still held the small, crystal vial. "But let us hope that does not happen."

Sarah nodded vehemently. She was in no hurry to experience the effects of Chimera poison anytime soon.

"You must make haste, Sarah. For Euryale's minions roam the Labyrinth in search of you. From the moment you stepped back inside this world, you have been hunted. Find the pendant, restore the Labyrinth and return Jareth to his throne." Titania grasped Sarah's hand tighter, an urgent pleading within her wide blue eyes. "You are the only hope we have left."

It had been hours since Sarah and the others had left the sanctuary of the fairy thicket. Sarah walked aimlessly through the Labyrinth, unsure of each twist and turn she took. Her companions were of no help as Sir Didymus rarely left the bog of eternal stench and Hoggle claimed that the area of the Labyrinth they had entered was completely foreign to him. Sarah trudged on and after a time, her stomach began to rumble with protests of neglect. Sarah ignored her increasing hunger which gnawed at her unpleasantly. She endeavored to occupy her mind with the arduous tasks that spread before her. However, her mind kept wandering back to the last time she ate and she actually found herself longing for more of Hoggle's rumpleshrew stew.

Despite her tenaciousness and determination to forget about her stomach, something in her demeanor must have changed enough to warrant the attention of her companions.

"Sarah, is something the matter?" Hoggle inquired as he hobbled next to her.

Sarah shook her head, reluctant to complain. "I'm fine." She said, brushing him off. Sarah reflected on how often she'd used the same term with Steven in the short time it took to lead to the devastating end of their relationship.

You mean when he just walked out without any real explanation or reason, Sarah's mind taunted. Sarah frowned deeply. She hadn't even thought of him since arriving in the Labyrinth. A pang of inexplicable despair tore through her as she wondered if she was simply replacing one object of love for another. She wondered if she was just deferring her heartbreak by pouring her soul into this quest to save Jareth. Was she truly so misguided, blinded by her unhappy state that she had convinced herself of a love from a mysterious, magical creature that was never really there?

No! She hissed sternly in her mind, the dark thoughts abating and scattering at her inner tone. Stop this right now! She chastised herself angrily. She had enough hardships to endure and knew that she didn't need to add to them with her own insecurities.

Hoggle tugged gently on her hand. Sarah glared down at the concerned dwarf.

"What?" She snapped, projecting her anger onto her friend.

Hoggle retracted his hand, but still gazed up at Sarah. "Ya know you can talk to us," he said gently. "We're your friends. You need friends."

Sarah scoffed ruefully as she continued to walk. She couldn't deny that Hoggle was right. She needed to talk to someone because it appeared that keeping things to herself was causing her mind to turn against her. She needed other voices of reason to keep her grounded. Furthermore, she needed to lay her burdens out before her brain imploded.

"What's on your mind?" Hoggle pressed.

"Everything," Sarah griped loudly, throwing her hands out from her sides in frustrated gestures. She looked down to see Hoggle's wide eyes appraise her curiously. "It's just… I have so many questions and only riddles to piece together the answers. I don't know where to begin. The Labyrinth's changed so much and somehow I'm supposed to find the Fireys when no one knows where they are anymore. Even if we do find the Fireys, we have no idea what they're going to do. They might help us or more likely, they'll just try to dismember us! I don't know how I came to be back in Underground and I have a mysterious book that seems to be writing itself. People keep telling me that I possess a magic that I have no idea how to utilize. There are nightmarish creatures hunting me at this very moment and a snake Queen who would probably like nothing more than to turn me to stone and keep me as some macabre prize! Jareth's been captured and I need to save him by somehow locating his pendant that no longer works in this living, ever changing maze full of unfathomable danger. And the worst part is, it's all my fault! None of this would've ever happened if it weren't for me. " She ranted. Her stomach growled menacingly at her outburst. " And I'm hungry!"

"Why didn't milady say something before!" Sir Didymus announced, trotting up beside Sarah on Ambrosius. Sarah stopped and watched as Sir Didymus rooted around in the side saddle. Hoggle continued to peer with wide eyed worry at Sarah. Sir Didymus mumbled a few things about having to organize his saddle at some point before producing a large, round cloth bundle tied together with a piece of leather strapping.

Sarah took the bundle and untied it to reveal a concoction of dried fruits, nuts, and cured meat. Her stomach rumbled appreciatively as the aroma of the assortment wafted through her senses. "Oh, Sir Didymus, thank you!" Sarah said gratefully. " Are you sure I can have this?"

"Nonsense, you shouldn't even ask!" Sir Didymus exclaimed. "I have a whole saddlebag full of such provisions" He grabbed another satchel and tossed it to Hoggle. "Here, my friend, one for you as well."

"Ooh," Hoggle murmured in excitement as he pulled at the leather strings.

Sarah looked around them and spied a small clearing over a crumbling wall. A dead tree stood silent and lonely in the middle of the rubble and decay.

"Let's go eat over there and rest a bit," Sarah suggested.

"Wonderfully proposed, milady!" Sir Didymus agreed, barely able to control Ambrosius as he dove for the glade in anticipation of the meal they were about to share.

"Are you alright?" Hoggle asked as he and Sarah made their way to the small clearing.

Sarah nodded, placing a friendly hand on the dwarf's shoulder. "Yes, I'm alright. I'm sorry I snapped at you. I'm just under a lot of pressure." Sarah gave him a soft smile. "But thanks for listening."

Hoggle returned the smile and they settled in and began enjoying their meals. Sarah leaned up against the dead tree, thankful for the reprieve of the journey. She began chewing on a piece of cured meat, unable to hide her amusement as she recognized the taste.

"What is it?" Hoggle asked as Sarah tried to hide her smile.

Sarah shook her head. "Nothing," she giggled as she continued to chew. "It's rumpleshrew."

"Correct!" Sir Didymus announced. "You have keen senses, milady."

Hoggle shot Sarah a wry smile and they continued to eat. Sarah was delighted that the fruits had retained a full and rich flavor despite having been dried and even though Sarah had never overly cared for legumes, she found herself rather fond of these.

"It's not, ya know," Hoggle said after a short period of silence.

"Not what?" Sarah asked, popping another piece of fruit into her mouth.

"Not yer fault," Hoggle said.

Sarah's mouth pulled unhappily as she chewed. She knew Hoggle was only trying to make her feel better, but that didn't make it true.

"You don't have to say that," Sarah mumbled, pulling absentmindedly at the strings of the satchel. "If I'd only known what I know now, I could've stopped this from happening."

"But ya didn't know," Hoggle said gently. "How could you? Jareth was a brute. He pushed you around to get what he wanted. He was a bully who didn't know any other way."

Sarah smirked. "A lot like the schoolboy who pulls the hair of the girl he likes."

"It may not be my place to say, milady, but you shouldn't place blame upon yourself," Sir Didymus interjected. "It was the Goblin King himself who condemned the Labyrinth with his foolhardy antics. Had he only been truthful to you and told you his true feelings, this might have been avoided."

Sarah ran her hand through her hair and sighed. "But he did tell me. I just didn't understand the words at the time. I was too young to understand what he was offering to me."

"Then that's not your fault," Hoggle insisted. "It's his. He's been around long 'nuff to know better. If what Titania said was true with the pendant, then he put himself in this situation."

"Here, here," Sir Didymus agreed.

"And all of you suffer for it," Sarah added. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, but the fact still remains that I could've stopped this from happening. Maybe I'm not totally at fault, but I am partly to blame." She gave her friends a sympathetic smile. "And for that, I am sorry."

"There is no need for apologies. We bear no ill will towards you, milady," Sir Didymus assured. "You are a light in the dark that surrounds us all. We are gladdened and humbled by your presence." He gave her a toothy smile.

"Yeah," Hoggle interjected. "What he said!"

Sarah felt her cheeks flush as a bittersweet sadness crept through her chest. She couldn't have asked for better friends. She'd forgotten about them, yet they still remained loyal and steadfast by her side. She vowed to herself that despite all the darkness that had befallen the Labyrinth, she would do everything within her power to make things right by them.

"Thank you," Sarah said genuinely. "Both of you. Even though this isn't the most ideal of situations, I'm glad to be here with you."

After some more idle chatter, the group settled into a light silence that was occasionally interrupted by Sir Didymus scolding Ambrosius for eating too quickly.

"It's a wonder you got such nice eats seeming hows you never leave that Bog," Hoggle mumbled after some time.

Sir Didymus heaved a sigh. "My personal garden is the only thing I have left any longer. The Bog to which I have been entrusted has grown ever so dark," Sir Didymus recanted sadly. "Once a thriving oasis of beauty, it now decays and its wondrous odor has begun to sour."

"I thought it smelled worse than before," Hoggle remarked.

"It never had a foul stench before!" Sir Didymus contended violently. "The air was always crisp and clean. It was a paradise!"

Hoggle huffed, but didn't say anything else. Sir Didymus began to hum a jolly ditty, seemingly lost in memory.

Sarah tied the remainder of her food back into the bundled satchel, placing it in the front pocket of her backpack. "I wonder whatever became of Ludo?" She asked, almost absent mindedly.

Sir Didymus stopped humming abruptly. Sarah looked up and was surprised to catch Hoggle and Sir Didymus as they exchanged worried glances.

An icy tendril of unease snaked through Sarah. "What? What is it?"

"Uh, well, we didn't know how to tell ya this," Hoggle muttered, clearing his throat and shuffling his feet nervously.

"Tell me what?" Sarah asked, concern rapidly growing within her.

"Milady," Sir Didymus began, his dark eyes pained and full of sadness. "Brother Ludo was with us when we opposed the Gorgon Queen in battle."

"You were in the battle?" Sarah asked, bewildered. "I didn't realize... I only saw goblin bodies."

"Jareth called on all those he could for aid near the end," Hoggle explained. "His goblin forces weren't enough to fend off the impending attack."

Sarah bit her lip, her brow creasing in sadness. "I'm sorry."

"It was a gruesome battle with many lives lost, milady. A bloody campaign of which I would rather not regale a lovely woman such as yourself with the overly hideous details. I will, however, get to the heart of the matter which is that of Brother Ludo," Sir Didymus relented.

"He...he fought valiantly, giving no thought to himself, but only to his brethren in arms," Sir Didymus recalled. "He called the rocks to our aid, fending off hordes of Chimera. I fought tirelessly at his side, but the legions of ghastly creatures pushed us back. We were overwhelmed." Sir Didymus let loose a heavy sigh and scratched his furry head in regret. "It was Brother Ludo who saved the last of us from annihilation. As the enemy closed in, Brother Ludo called upon the rocks one last time, constructing a solid wall that separated us from him and our attackers."

"What?" Sarah asked feebly, her voice barely a whisper over her disbelief and despair.

"He, uh, sacrificed himself to save us," Hoggle added sadly.

Sarah swallowed thickly, her mind racing to grasp and understand a situation she could not possibly comprehend without having been there. "You left him?" She set her gaze on Sir Didymus. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Sir Didymus shook his head sadly. "It was not without great regret and anguish, milady. The wall he constructed was our only hope. The Gorgon Queen and her army had driven us to the borders of the Labyrinth. We were trapped with no safe retreat. Brother Ludo sacrificed himself to save us. He kept the enemy at bay long enough to ensure our survival." Sir Didymus dropped his head, closing his eyes tightly. "That was the day the Gorgon Queen won the Labyrinth and captured the Goblin King. Countless goblin lives and creatures were lost on that dark day."

"Burned to the bone," Hoggle muttered, lost in memory. "The air rained ash."

"I-I've never been able to forgive myself for letting my valiant brother sacrifice himself for me and the others. I should've remained at his side." Sir Didymus whimpered.

Sarah swiped at the tears that she felt come to her eyes. Ludo had been such a gentle giant. She had hoped to see him once more.

"He did it to save you both. You were his friends," Sarah soothed, reaching out and gently rubbing Sir Didymus' paw. "He wouldn't want you to blame yourselves."

Sir Didymus sniffed and patted Ambrosius on the head, who whined in sympathy. "As always, you are correct, fair maiden. There is nothing we do can change the past. We can only hope to fight for a better tomorrow."

Sarah nodded, reflecting on the charred bodies of the goblins she had seen when she entered the Labyrinth. She hadn't seen the remains of anything that was as large as Ludo.

"Maybe he escaped," Sarah ventured hopefully.

Hoggle and Sir Didymus sat quietly fidgeting, their silence only finalizing what Sarah already knew in her mind, but refused to believe in her heart.

"Cor! Sarah!" Hoggle exclaimed in awe. "Look!" Hoggle pointed to the tree which Sarah had been leaning against.

Sarah looked up and gaped in wonderment. The tree above her was brimming with life. Sarah twisted around so that she could get a better view. The dead tree which had once stood with broken and crisp brown branches now glistened in the sunlight with vibrant green leaves that shifted and fluttered in the wind. A thick vine with small white flowers had begun to weave itself along the body of the tree. Sarah could actually see the vine growing with life.

"I don't believe it. She was right," Sarah whispered, stunned by the dramatic transformation that was taking place right before her very eyes. Curios, Sarah began to take in her surroundings. The clearing they had taken their rest was not teeming with life. The lichen, once shriveled and blackened, began to grow and lengthen. Their eyes reluctantly opening and squinting against the harsh brightness of the sun. Insects began to audibly buzz and the cave worms cautiously crept across the newly grown grass.

"My word!" Sir Didymus remarked. "All this has taken place right under our very noses. It's like the Labyrinth is being delivered from chaos. It's returning to life!"

"Yeah, but I ain't ever seen it this lively before," Hoggle remarked warily.

Sir Didymus nodded vigorously. "Yes, it does seem to be rather- Ambrosius! Get that out of your mouth this instant!" Sir Didymus yelped as Ambrosius sidled up to the group with a flailing creature.

"Your mother was a hairless mole rat!" The creature screeched, squirming in Ambrosius' mouth.

"Ugh! What is that thing?!" Sarah gasped, disgusted.

Hoggle jumped up, pulling the creature from a stunned Ambrosius' hold and releasing it. He set it on the ground.

"Uh, we're terribly sorry," Hoggle fumbled over his words. "He don't mean no harm."

"A vex! A vex and a pox on you and your stupid beast!" The little creature screamed, picking up a small rock and hurling it at Hoggle before scampering off to the path. Quickly, the agile little creature overturned a stone on the path and hopped under it. He let loose a moist raspberry before dropping out of sight under the stone.

"Hmph, that's gratitude for ya," Hoggle muttered, shaking his head.

"Ambrosius, how many times have I told you not to pick up strange things?" Sir Didymus scolded. "Mercy knows where that creature has been!"

Ambrosius whined pathetically in response to the scolding.

"What was that?" Sarah asked again.

Hoggle wiped his hands on his pants, as if trying to wipe away remnants of the creature. "We call 'em Brick Keepers. I thought they'd all gone. Greasy little beasts. They're kind of a nuisance."

"Huh," Sarah mused. "Looks like lots of things are coming back."

"They are," Hoggle agreed, gazing at Sarah. "What'd ya mean when you said she was right?"

Sarah's attention snapped back to Hoggle. The ordeal with the Brick Keeper had completely made her forget about her conversation with Titania.

"Oh," Sarah replied. "It was just something Titania said to me. She told me that I was the keeper of the Labyrinth."

"The keeper of the Labyrinth?" Hoggle echoed. "What does that mean?"

Sarah shook her head. "I don't know, but I'm starting to believe her. The longer I'm here, the more I see the truth of her words. It's like the Labyrinth knows I'm here. It's coming alive again."

Sir Didymus scratched his chin. "Fair maiden, you're speaking as if the Labyrinth is an entity. As if it were not a place populated with life, but that the Labyrinth itself is actually...alive?"

"Yes," Sarah said, shaking her head. "And I know it sounds crazy, but everything Titania told me is coming true. The Labyrinth is alive. It's like a living, breathing entity of its own and it always has been." Sarah placed her hand to the ground. "And if the Labyrinth lives and breathes, it must have a heart that beats."

Sir Didymus and Hoggle exchanged confused glances.

"You're saying that the Labyrinth is a living being? Like an animal?" Hoggle asked skeptically.

"In a sense-I don't know. I don't know what I'm saying," Sarah confessed, suddenly frustrated. "I just know how I feel and I feel like the Labyrinth is alive."

A kind of realization began to dawn on Sarah and her mouth dropped open as she suddenly understood. "We need to find the heart of the Labyrinth!"

"The heart of the Labyrinth?" Hoggle asked. "Why do we need to go there?"

"Because," Sarah said, excitement in her voice. "That's where Jareth's hidden his pendant." She smiled. "Where his heart is."

"Wha-" Hoggle gaped in surprise. "How do ya know?"

Sarah shook her head, a wide smile brimming her face. "I don't know how I know, I just do." She clasped her hands over her heart. "I feel it."

"Cor!" Hoggle muttered, unconvinced. "You feel it?"
"If the fair maiden says she feels it, then we must support her!" Sir Didymus argued, backing up Sarah. "She's never steered us wrong before."

"Okay, okay. Fine," Hoggle relented. "But how do ya propose we find this heart? I've never heard of it."

"If it's as important as Titania made it out to be, then Jareth would've been very careful not to let anyone know about it," Sarah stated. "But that doesn't mean he could've kept it a secret from everyone. As much as I hate to say it, I think Titania was right. We need to find the Fireys."

"Well, what're we waitin' for then?" Hoggle asked.

"Alright then!" Sarah announced, standing. "Let's go find that rambunctious bunch of dismembering lunatics."

"Here, here!" Sir Didymus announced enthusiastically. "Come, Ambrosius! Our adventure awaits!"

Ambrosius moaned pathetically in reply as Sir Didymus hopped up on his back. Sarah began to lead the trio out of the glade which was now thriving with flowers and plants. Sarah pondered Titania's words and wondered what it meant to be the Keeper of the Labyrinth. She also wondered why the Labyrinth suddenly became so vibrant at her presence now and not when she had visited before. Was it because Jareth's magic was keeping it in check and now it was able to thrive unrestrained because of her? Sarah considered this and many more things as she and the others continued on through the Labyrinth, her hopes high despite the memory of Ludo tugging sadly at her thoughts.

Return to the Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by ArtemisFallen

Part 7 of 24

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