Continuing Tales

Return to the Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by ArtemisFallen

Part 8 of 24

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

"We been walkin' for hours!" Hoggle complained, bending down to rub his aching feet. "Are ya sure ya know where you're goin'?"

Sarah sighed in exasperation. Hoggle had been complaining nonstop and his constant whining was beginning to grate at her nerves. The Labyrinth appeared to be much larger than it was when she had last visited and absolutely nothing appeared to be the same.

"What do you want me to do?" Sarah turned to Hoggle, hostility building within her. "Should we ask for directions?"

Hoggle stopped, wide eyed surprise overtaking his features. "Oh, well, ur, um...I…" He looked around, as if searching for anyone else. "I guess not."

"I'll scout ahead," Sir Didymus offered. "You two take rest. Come, Ambrosius." Sarah watched as Sir Didymus trotted off around the bend, grateful to the old fox for his positive disposition.

"Look, I'm tired, too," Sarah relented, leaning against a stone statue. "But we've gotta keep going. We're not safe here out in the open."

Hoggle nodded in agreement. He looked at Sarah, his eyes widening in surprise and fear. "Uh, Sarah," he uttered, pointing behind her.

Sarah stood up quickly, turning on her heel and backing up quickly until she was beside Hoggle. She followed his trembling finger. He was pointing to the statue she'd been leaning against seconds ago. Her hand flew up to her mouth to suppress a gasp.

"Is that… the old man with the talking hat?" Sarah asked, appalled that she'd just used the poor creature as a backrest.

"Yeah, I think it is," Hoggle confirmed softly.

Sarah appraised the figure carefully. The old man appeared to be sleeping in his stone form. His hat, however, had a gruesome look of terror as its mouth gaped open in scream that was forever frozen in time. Sarah shuddered at the thought and wondered if those who were turned to stone were simply trapped within themselves or if they ceased to exist. Either way, it was an unpleasant fate that Sarah didn't want to suffer.

"How long do you suppose he's been like that?" Sarah wondered aloud.

"Not long," Hoggle muttered, holding his hand to his stomach. "Not long at all."

Sarah turned to Hoggle, whose skin had paled. He looked ill. "How do you know? Are you alright?" She stepped toward her small friend, bending down and placing a hand on his shoulder.

Hoggle placed his hands on his knees, pulling in a deep breath. "I'm alright. It's just, I saw him right before I ran into you," Hoggle said. "He was just fine and that hat of his was still babbling nonstop."

Sarah felt a cold shiver run through her as she suddenly understood Hoggle's reaction. The Chimera were not the only things hunting Sarah. "She's searching for me, too."

Hoggle nodded, his features twisted with fear and concern. "And she's close."

Sarah stood up stiffly, her senses hiking with the spike in her pulse. "We've gotta keep moving."

Hoggle nodded, backing up. "That's a good idea."

A hand grabbed Hoggle's shoulder and Hoggle let out an unholy screech of terror. Sarah jumped, turning around and readied herself for a frenzied fight.

Sir Didymus let out a startled yelp as Ambrosius lept back in surprise at Hoggle's reaction, dismounting Sir Didymus in the process.

"Ambrosius! You cowardly steed!" He swore. He picked himself up and looked at Hoggle and Sarah in confusion. Hoggle panted heavily, his hand grasping his chest over his heart.

Sir Didymus studied his two flustered companions. "What in blazes is going on here?"

Sarah breathed a sigh of relief. "Sorry," she whispered. "We made a frightening discovery. This just happened recently," she gestured to the statue of the old man. "It Euryale's doing."

Sir Didymus squinted at the statue, shaking his head ruefully.

"Did ya have to sneak up on us like that?" Hoggle blustered. "You coulda killed me!"

"You are not the only ones to make a harrowing discovery. After what I've seen, it seems likely that 's the fate we shall all suffer if we continue to dally," Sir Didymus huffed.

"What do you mean?" Sarah asked, the cold clammy feeling of dread once again seizing control of her body.

"There's trouble up ahead," Sir Didymus announced distractedly as he grabbed Ambrosius' reins and righted himself onto the saddle.

"What kinda trouble?" Hoggle asked, still clutching his shirt over his heart.

"Given that it's the only path forward, as the others have been closed and rearranged by the Labyrinth, it's best if I simply show you," Sir Didymus said softly. "But be warned, milady, the path that lies ahead is not a pretty one. Stay close to me."

Sarah nodded, chewing slightly on her bottom lip. She threw one last regretful look back at the statue of the old wise man with his terrified hat and shuddered.

"How is she so close?" Sarah asked as she trailed Sir Didymus. "How does she know where we are in this whole entire Labyrinth?"

"She's got spies," Hoggle mumbled, his gaze nervously twitching about. "I'm guessin' that Brick Keeper wasn't there by accident."

"I would concur with that assumption," Sir Didymus said. "Brick Keepers are rarely seen and for one to be so easily captured by Ambrosius means it was watching us."

Sarah shook her head, angry with the circumstances that surrounded her. "Could we be heading into a trap?"

"Unlikely," Sir Didymus responded.

"Why do ya say that?" Hoggle asked.

Sir Didymus' ears fell as he shook his head. "You shall see momentarily."

Sarah didn't like the ominous tone in his voice. Furthermore, Sir Didymus' demeanor had become repressed and sullen. She worried about what he'd seen and what she was about to see.

As she ducked through a low archway, the presage of Sir Didymus' words and demeanor came to fruition.

Sarah gasped in horror and disgust, her hand flying over her mouth and nose to impede the acrid scent of charred fur and flesh from further imposing upon her senses.

Hoggle stopped behind her, his own hands pressed tightly against his mouth as he gagged profusely. He leaned behind the archway, loudly emptying the contents of his stomach. Sarah swallowed repeatedly, suppressing the urge to vomit as her stomach heaved. Listening to Hoggle was nearly her undoing.

"Oh, my God," Sarah coughed, blinking back the tears of exertion that rose to her eyes as she repressed the sickness that rose violently within her. She reluctantly scanned the carnage and horror that lay before her.

Several Chimera bodies lay bloodied and butchered on the ground leading up to two doorways. The large, heavy doors themselves hung pathetically off strained hinges, large claws marks gouging the charred and battered wood. Sarah saw that there were two heaping masses which still smoldered in front of each doorway. Sarah edged closer to get a look at the remains, careful not to get too close to the Chimera bodies. Though they appeared dead, Sarah wasn't about to take any chances. As she drew closer to the charred bodies, the caustic black smoke that rose from them forced Sarah to pull her ripped and tattered cardigan over her nose and mouth. She coughed again, swallowing her revulsion as she reached out to touch the decimated, wooden shield which lay on it's face beside the smoldering corpses.

"Sarah, be careful!" Hoggle gasped, still shuddering from his expulsion in the safety of the archway.

Sarah gently lifted the shield and whimpered as she recognized the red insignia at the bottom.

"The shield brothers," she whispered. "The doors red and blue." Sarah shook her head in dismay. "Oh, no."

"They must have fought with the bravery of an army to have done away with so many of these monsters," Sir Didymus said quietly. Sarah looked up to see him knelt beside the bodies of the shield brothers on the right. He pulled lightly at the remnants of their shield. They had once been the blue shield brothers.

"Sir Didymus," Sarah started sadly. "Did you know them?"

Sir Didymus bowed his head. "They were the knights and knaves, sworn by duty to guard their doors as I am sworn by duty to protect the bridge and the Bog." Sir Didymus raised his dark sad eyes to Sarah. "How little honor there is in their deaths."

Before Sarah could comfort Sir Didymus, a wretched moan of horror flooded through the door on the left. Sarah stood up quickly, her eyes wide with fear. Sir Didymus leapt in front of her, his sword at the ready.

"I shall not go down without a fight, you fiends!" He snarled, barking angrily.

Hoggle grabbed the spear off Ambrosius' saddle and ran up beside Sarah, holding it in front of him defensively.

"Wait," Sarah said, putting her hand down in front of Hoggle. "It doesn't sound like an attack. That sounds like something in pain."

"You think someone's in trouble?" Hoggle asked fearfully, his voice rising shrilly. "Whatta we do?"

"I don't know," Sarah replied, stepping around Sir Didymus and cautiously approaching the door.

"Milady, be careful!" Sir Didymus entreated urgently.

Sarah nodded, creeping up to the entrance and peering warily through it. Her jaw dropped open in utter surprise as she never expected to see what lay beyond the door.

The ground below her opened up into a massive valley that was littered with thousands upon thousands of bright yellow flowers that kept going beyond the horizon. The sea of yellow and green floral was dotted with a dozen large, dark brown forms. Sarah's breath caught in her throat as she realized that the figures belonged to the Chimera. As their mournful wails and whines pierced through the air, Sarah almost felt sorry for them. They sounded like they were in horrible pain.

"What's hurting them?" She asked herself as she scanned their bodies. Finally, Sarah noticed that white vines had started to wrap themselves around the incapacitated beasts. The Chimera whined pitifully as the vines seemed to fasten themselves around the creatures. Sarah squinted and a cold rush of fear struck her as she saw that the vines were covered with large, sharp barbs that were implanting themselves inside the Chimera's flesh. Sarah watched in horror as the white vines began to take on a pink tinge and then a deep red as they filled with the blood of the bound beasts. As the vines drank the blood, the yellow flowers became streaked with red as well. A sickening understanding settled on Sarah.

"They're feeding off them," Sarah whispered. "They're killing them. The flowers…" Suddenly, a sweet, heady scent filled her lungs. Sarah shook her head hard. It was as if someone had dropped her in a pool of water. Sarah felt as if her body was being encompassed by some unseen force. Her senses became dangerously dulled and an overpowering calm claimed her mind. Sarah felt herself languidly drift closer to the doorway, as an invisible energy beckoned her to enter the field. The closer she got, the more intoxicating and desirable the scent became.

"But they're so pretty," Sarah mumbled, unaware she was even speaking. She was no longer in control of her own body. Her legs moved on their own as her eyes focused on the glorious field of yellow and red streaked flowers with deep green leaves and white vines. In that moment, she wanted nothing more than to lie with the flowers. She wanted to be surrounded by them.

She stepped through the entrance.

"Sarah, what're you doing?!" Hoggle yelled.

"Milady! Stop!" Sir Didymus shouted.

Sarah took another step, the stone stairway crumbling beneath her shoe. Sarah tumbled through the doorway, landing hard on her knees, but her eyes remained unwaveringly focused on the field of flowers.

"So close," she slurred, reaching out for the flowers. In response, a tiny white vine reached out for her, wrapping itself around her finger and sinking its thistles into her skin. More white vines began to appear, slinking around her arms and wrists, stabbing her with their needle like thorns, dragging her deeper into the field.

"Ah," Sarah murmured, the pain cutting through her delirium. She blinked several times, shaking her head once more as her thoughts began to clear. She looked down and saw the vines begin to flow red with her blood and suddenly, the trance that had overtaken her shattered. Sarah screamed.

"Get off me!" She cried, fighting violently against the sharp vines, ruthlessly ripping them from her arms and hands. She turned to see Hoggle and Sir Didymus approach the door.

"No!" Sarah screamed. "Get away! The flowers trick you. Don't breath the scent. Run!"

"But Sarah…" Hoggle started.

"JUST RUN!" Sarah screamed, clambering to her feet and running for the doorway. As she ran up the crumbling stone steps to freedom, a large vine wrapped around Sarah's waist and yanked her.

"No!" Sarah yelped, grabbing onto the side of the doorframe for support, successfully suspending herself in the air. The vine tightened ruthlessly around her stomach and sharply ripped through her shirt. Sarah groaned in pain and exertion, pulling herself through the door as the vine struggled to tow her back into the field. A piece of wood splintered in Sarah's hand and she lost her grip. Sarah desperately clung to the frame of the entrance with only one hand.

"Sarah!" Hoggle shouted, clamping both hands around her wrist tightly. "Don't let go!"

"It's too strong!" Sarah gasped, struggling against the vine. In response, the vine tightened even more and Sarah could feel the barbs pierce her flesh and burrow deeply inside of her. Sarah screamed in pain.

"Hold on, fair maiden!" Sir Didymus shouted, leaping underneath Sarah. He brandished his sword and swiped skillfully at the vine. "I demand you release her at once!" He snarled, hacking at the demonic plant.

As Sir Didymus continued to land strikes, a white liquid began to spew from the vine. Hoggle grunted with exertion as he pulled Sarah to him. Sarah could feel the vine loosen its grip as she began to ever so slowly gain the advantage. Suddenly, Sarah felt herself flying through the doorway. She screamed as she was hurtled forward and landed on top of a stunned Hoggle. Without even thinking, Sarah twisted around and violently kicked the marred wooden door closed before she fell against the ground, panting heavily.

Hoggle groaned in pain next to Sarah. Sir Didymus was by her side in an instant.

"Milady, are you hurt?" He asked, fear and concern laden throughout his dark eyes.

Sarah took in several deep breaths and exhaled slowly. Every fiber of her being felt like it was on fire with pain.

"A little, but I'm okay." She winced as she struggled to sit up. "Hoggle?"

"I'm alright," Hoggle gasped. "Just got the breath knocked from me."

Sarah groaned in disgust as she realized the white vine was still wrapped around her waist.

"That is so disgusting!" She growled as she unbound herself and flung the limp and shriveled vine against the closed door.

"You appear to be bleeding," Sir Didymus observed gently.

Sarah looked down and noticed blood seeping through the holes in her shirt around her waist and through the mangled sleeves of her cardigan. She rolled up her shirt and inspected her stomach. Sir Didymus respectfully turned away.

"It's alright," Sarah muttered, gently prodding the wounds. The punctures were deep, but did not appear to be bad. "I think I'll live."

"I have some bandages," Sir Didymus said. "I'll fetch them for you and we can clean the wounds properly."

"Oh, no, it's…" Sarah began.

"There's no call to be foolhardy," Sir Didymus scolded. "It's best we tend to these now before they become infected." He quickly scampered off to Ambrosius before Sarah could argue.

"You don't suppose you've been poisoned, do you?" Hoggle asked fretfully.

Sarah shook her head. "No, I think they use their scent to lure in their victims. I don't think the vines were poisonous." She reflected on her Chimera bite. "Or at least, I hope they're not."

"Were those Chimera bodies in there?" Hoggle asked.

"Yes," Sarah confirmed. "At least a dozen. They must've been lured in like I was with the intoxicating scent. Except, they couldn't get away."

"You are very fortunate, milady," Sir Didymus said, returning with a bundle of clean wrappings and water in a wineskin. "You must not have been a priority meal since it appears the flowers already had a full plate."

"Yeah," Sarah agreed. "Very lucky."

She dabbed at her wounds lightly, applying a horrible smelling salve to them that Sir Didymus supplied her. Although the smell was not something that was altogether pleasant, Sarah was grateful for the fact that it caused the burning sensation of the wounds to dull quickly. Hoggle wrapped bandages around Sarah's stomach while Sir Didymus worked on her wrists and hands.

"You guys don't have to take care of me like this," Sarah mumbled, flushed with embarrassment from all the attention.

"Nonsense," Sir Didymus replied. "We are your friends."

"And friends take care of each other," Hoggle echoed, tying off the bandage. "There, all done."

Sarah rolled down her tattered shirt and smiled at her friends. "Thank you. I don't know where I'd be without you both."

Sarah's smile faltered as she gazed at the door.

"What is it?" Hoggle asked, following Sarah's gaze.

"The first time I was here, the guards warned me about the doors," Sarah explained. "They said that one door leads to freedom and the other to certain death."

"Well, they weren't lyin'," Hoggle scoffed.

"I asked the question and I knew which door to take," Sarah muttered almost incoherently. "I knew it all along."
"Milady?" Sir Didymus inquired, concerned.

Sarah drew in a ragged breath. She remembered the riddle and the choice she had made. She had been absolutely sure of herself when she had chosen the blue door. Her deadly brush with the field of vampiric flowers only lent more credence to Titania's words. Sarah was truly beginning to believe that there was more at play than what met the eye. For if it was truly just all luck, surely it would've run out long ago.

"Are you fit for travel?" Sir Didymus asked, interrupting her thoughts.

Sarah nodded. "Yes, let's get out of here."

"Only one way to go now," Hoggle observed dismally.

"Yeah," Sarah agreed, grimacing as she stood, her aching muscles and wounds complaining with the effort.

"Be careful," Sarah warned her companions. "There's a trapdoor that leads down to the oubliette."

Hoggle chuckled. "Oh, so that's how you ended up in the oubliette."

"Uh-huh," Sarah replied, unamused.

"Well, the Labyrinth's full of surprises," Hoggle said, throwing a glance back at the other door.

"You can say that again," Sarah griped. "It just goes to show you that the right path doesn't always mean it's going to be easy."

As they approached the door, it turned out Sarah's warning was not needed after all. It was easy to see that the trapdoor that had ensnared Sarah remained gaping open. The snarls and howls of several angry Chimera floated up through the hole, causing the hair on the back of Sarah's neck to stand on end.

"How many do ya think are down there?" Hoggle asked as he tentatively gazed down into the pit.

"Too many," Sarah replied.

"Be careful gazing into the abyss," Sir Didymus remarked. "One never knows when the abyss will stare back."

Sarah peered at Sir Didymus, bemused. "Where did you hear that?"

"Somewhere long ago," Sir Didymus said. "I don't remember who said it at the time."

Sarah nodded, recognizing the quote as it was one of her favorites.

First Shakespeare and now Nietzsche, she thought to herself. How many people in the human world were influenced by the Fae?

More than you know, her mind answered. Sarah stopped as a large piece of Titania's riddle slowly became clear. It was as if an obstruction had come loudly crashing down around her and she could finally see the truth. Sarah swallowed thickly, visibly staggered by her revelation.

"Milady, is something amiss?" Sir Didymus asked. "You've become quite pale."

Sarah shook her head. She knew that this was neither the time nor the place to discuss the pieces of the puzzle that were slowly forming a picture inside her head.

"Nothing," Sarah muttered. "We have to keep moving," she continued as Hoggle eyed her suspiciously. "We've lingered here too long. We still need to get to the Firey forest."

"Yes," Sir Didymus agreed. "We must continue onward."

Sarah turned and continued down the passageway, avoiding Hoggle's stare. She needed time to think about the truth she just realized about herself and what it meant. She needed to sort it out for herself because she was having difficulty coming to terms with the implications of her revelation.

Could it be? She asked herself. How can it be true?
No matter how many questions Sarah asked herself, there was no denying that she knew the truth in her heart.

She was Fae touched, that part was obvious given her past with Jareth. What Sarah had come to realize was that she was not only influenced by those in the Fae world of Underground, she was actually part of it.

You are the Keeper. Titania's words swirled through her head and Sarah couldn't deny the truth any longer. You are more powerful than you realize. Your humanity stifles your magic.

At one point in time, someone in her family had come from Underground. One of her ancestors had gone to the human world and left traces of their magic in her bloodline until it had manifested in her.

Sarah now understood and the realization weighed heavily upon her heart.

Sarah was part Fae and Titania had known the truth of her origins all along.

Which meant Jareth had known as well.

Return to the Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by ArtemisFallen

Part 8 of 24

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