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Darkness Has a Heart

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Hello lovelies old and new. I finally got an AO3 account and so I decided to start cross posting my works from ff.net. First thing to go up? Of course something from my main fandom. Anyways, enjoy!

He was enraged. How dare she! How dare that impudent mortal wench defy him and all he had to offer her, only to while the hours away in celebration with the dregs of his kingdom! Infuriated could not begin to describe the burning, seething ire boiling within him. To get a handle on his emotions he flew off into the moon, into the night. Sooner than he liked he arrived back at his castle. It was still in one piece, as he knew better than any other how the game worked. Yes, it was all a game. Nevertheless, it was his game and he didn’t like to be beaten at it. He had been begrudgingly impressed when she had made it to the Goblin City despite everything he had thrown at her. Why did nothing ever seem to work on her? Plenty before her had tried, and failed. Most usually gave up within the outer wall, not even bothering to look for a solution. Few that made it into an oubliette attempted again once brought back to the beginning. The handful of runners left: easily distracted by the old and familiar, or the darkest desires they kept locked within their hearts. He was a master of dreams, he knew how to weave them, how to use one’s own fantasies against them. So why did her dreams do nothing to dissuade her? This adventure, tailor-made for her, where had it gone wrong? Why had nothing prevailed over her? Why had the twists and turns of his ever-shifting maze fallen beneath her will? He sat in the windowsill of his private chambers, pondering these questions for many an hour. Even when not alone, whenever there was a quiet moment, his thoughts turned to these diversions. He grew more and more frustrated with no answer to be found, especially when other runners after her had succumbed to the temptations those before her had. He also contemplated revenge, but quickly realized there was no feasible way to accomplish it. She had banned him from her world, which spiked his temper all the more and made him more desperate to know how she had succeeded, the first to do so since he had become king. Sarah Williams was an anomaly in his world, and he just didn’t understand why.

“You underestimated your opponent,” a voice from the shadows said, “That was your first mistake.” Jareth turned from the view of his kingdom: he did not see who was there, but he knew exactly whom it was, “Runners before and after her proved no different from each other. When then, did she?” “You are King of a land where everything seems possible,” the voice replied, “And yet nothing is what it seems. The lesson all others have learned from your Kingdom, and most notably your rule is not to take anything for granted. Yet, that is exactly what you did.”

Jareth tossed his head, Fae pride smarting, “I did nothing of the sort.”

“Yes you did,” the voice argued, “You sized her up and decided her mettle and worth far too early in the game. That left you unfocused, and ultimately the loser.”

“Don’t say another word!” the Goblin King hissed.

“Fine,” the voice said, “And here I was about to tell you the exact moment it all fell apart for you. So be it then, it matters not to me the next time a girl like her comes along you fail yet again."

“Again?” Jareth quietly fumed as he turned to face the shadows, “What makes you think anything like this will ever happen again?”

“Because you refuse to understand, or even publicly acknowledge you made a mistake. Your ego and its little wound will grow to be the ruin of your entire kingdom if you do not heed my words.”

“And why should I?” He felt the sharp sting of a piercing glare and winced ever so slightly.

“You would do well to remember just whom you are speaking to,” the voice spoke lowly, voice measured and just the slightest bit threatening.

Jareth huffed, “Very well, tell me oh wise one: where did I go wrong with the mortal Sarah Williams?”

“Simple,” the voice replied, “You catered the challenge to her.”

“It is what is done with all runners,” Jareth protested, “They are made to face their own dreams, their own fears: and all the unworthy fail, fall to their traps.”

The shadows tutted, “And still you fail in understanding. You make a challenge around dreams and desires. But you have never faced a mortal like Sarah Williams.”

“She’s naught but a child-”

“You are right, but you are also quite wrong Jareth. The female was both woman and child. And that was why nothing you threw at her worked.”

“I do not understand,”

“Of course you would not. You could not understand, because she could not understand. Mortals of that age do not know their own mind. Indeed, they are just barely beginning the journey of discovering who they are. A young adult coming into their own will have a taste for the power an adult wields: they will rage against authority since they realize adults cannot possess all the answers. Therefore, childish temptations will not prove effective.

“At the same time it is a woman-child you were dealing with, a flower just beginning to blossom. Great care is needed to fully bring out its beauty or the bud will not open. Just as you cannot force a flower to bloom at your demand, you cannot force a young maiden into a situation she is not prepared for. She will bolt like a frightened animal which is exactly what happened. True fear will win over temptation every time.”

The detailed reasons for his failure failed to make him feel any better about the situation. Jareth turned to survey all that was his. His city that had but a few hours past been reduced to rubble was already pristine and back to its former glory: no trace of the rock storm that had taken them by surprise. The Labyrinth flexed and shifted as it always had, much like a sleeping feline rearranging itself for more comfort. In fact, there was no physical sign a runner had been there at all, just like every time before it. But he knew: in spite of her probably just being a mortal with no magical abilities, there was something different about Sarah Williams. Something that had left an indelible mark on everyone who encountered her.

Take for example, the dwarf. Before Sarah, Jareth had been able to intimidate him with scarcely a look. The coward would follow orders without question, never take a bribe with the threat of the King’s ire and the Bog hanging over his head. Now he had been one of the main perpetrators who had helped the girl succeed. Sir Didymus, one of the most loyal soldiers he had ever had among his ranks: swayed from his liege, abandoned his post, and attacked his former comrades in order to help her succeed.

This girl, she frustrated him to no end. And yet, at the same time… No. No, he refused to admit it, even to himself. Not after she had refused him so callously.

“You care for the girl, don’t you?” the shadows observed with amusement.

“Bite your tongue,” Jareth gritted his teeth.

“And if I refuse?” the voice continued airily, “What are you going to do? Toss me into the Bog? Ha! I think not,”

“Don’t tempt me,”

“You forget your place in regards to me,” the voice rebuked him.

“I think that after all these years you have forgotten your place,” Jareth countered.

“Perhaps,” the voice allowed, “But you are in no position to do anything about it.”

“How is that so?”

“Just like with the girl Jareth,” the voice sneered superiorly, “you have no power over me. And you never will, if you continue the way you are now.”

“No power over you?” Jareth sputtered angrily, “I own you!”

“You do not,” the voice replied, “You haven’t for the last five-hundred years. I serve whom I desire, when I so desire. That has always been the agreement.”

Jareth opened his mouth to argue, but realizing the futility of such an endeavor closed it once more.

The air surrounding the shadows grew wistful and concerned, “Jareth, there is no need to act this way. You lost, you will have learned. Now all there is to do is move on with your life.”

“We all cope with defeat in different ways,” Jareth muttered in response, “Let me deal with it on my own.”

“Very well Jareth,” the voice conceded, “But don’t think I’ll be leaving you to your own devices for too long. You are a King, and a king is not all there is to a kingdom.”

The shadows suddenly grew lighter and the Goblin King knew he was once more alone. He raised his hand and conjured a crystal.

“Show me Sarah,” he ordered, knowing this would be the only way he could ever set eyes on her again.

***********************************

The smell of autumn was slowly making its way through the streets of the quaint rural New York town. The leaves were beginning to change in preparation for their dance that would being them towards the ground. The fall festival that had started only five years prior was already in full swing: tourists and locals alike wandering up and down main street with candied and caramel apples in hand.

Nineteen-year-old Sarah Williams waved to people she knew as she slowly drove her way through the crowded avenues. Finally, she arrived at the old Victorian house she had called home for so many years. The color had faded with the wear and tear of time, and Merlin was no longer at the door to greet her. As she exited her car to spend a long weekend home with the family she paused. There was a distinct scent in the air, one reminiscent of a summer evening three years passed. And as Sarah’s eyes slid to the porch she half expected raindrops to cloud the vision of her stepmother irately waiting her sodden arrival.

The haze of nostalgia receded and Sarah shook her head, vision clearing. Grabbing the duffel bag from the passenger’s side Sarah slammed her door shut and made her way up the front steps. Her keys jangled in the front locks, followed by the creak of the ancient and heavy oak door.

“Karen?” Sarah called, “I’m home!”

Karen had become the stereotypical housewife, devoting her life to the running of the household and raising of the children. And after the adventure through the Labyrinth, Sarah had stopped being such a thorn in the woman’s side: allowing the two to develop a sort of kinship for the sake of Robert and Toby, as well as a tentative mother-daughter relationship cemented during Sarah’s high school graduation where Karen had cried at how proud she was of her daughter. Not step, just daughter. It had hit even harder in light of the fact that Linda, Sarah’s biological mother, hadn’t even bothered reply saying whether or not she had planned to attend. Sarah had realized at that moment that though Karen could never replace her mother, and thankfully never had tried, she had become the type of mother Sarah needed at that point in her life. And a real conversation with Karen had proved that the woman was more than amendable to Sarah becoming an adult at her own pace.

But there was no response from Karen. Sarah set her bag down in the foyer and started wandering. She found a note on the kitchen counter saying that her step-mother had gone out to run some errands and would be back before Toby arrived home. The note also said there were some leftovers in the fridge she could heat up if she was hungry.

Sarah shook her head; if nothing else, Karen was always the perfect hostess absentee or not.

She returned to the front of the house, grabbed her duffel bag and headed up the stairs, down the hall and to the left. The room that had been hers since her birth was seemingly unchanged: books lined the dressers and shelves, pictures were stuck into the frame of her vanity mirror, and there were whimsical reproductions of art hanging on the walls. However, a more trained eye would notice that where once the books were escapist fairy tales, now there were novels about heroines who saved the day all their own. The older fantasy books, well-worn with love had been relegated to a shelving unit which had once housed stuffed animals. The reddish canopy that had hung above her headboard had been refashioned as a changing area curtain. The closet, once filled with costume dresses of all makes and colors, now held more sedate and active types of clothing. A toy maze sat collecting dust in the corner, guarded by an odd statuette.

Once in her room she set about unpacking her clothes and books. Even on a long weekend there was still work to be done. Sarah decided to work at her vanity, which had long since been been cleared of childhood trinkets. Of course, there was that one drawer. Sarah glared at her reflection: no, that drawer would never be opened again. But as she tried to do her readings for class her attention continually wandered to that drawer. It wasn’t locked, had never been locked, Sarah gave herself more credit than to necessitate a lock on that drawer. Now however, she was questioning the wisdom of that decision.

“No!” she scolded herself when she realized her hand was reaching for the handle.

She was stronger than that. She would not succumb to the temptation of her past. She was a grown woman now dammit! She, Sarah took a good look at herself in the mirror, she needed her friends.

“Guys?” she said tentatively as she touched her fingertips to the glass, “I need you,”

instantly the visions of Sarah, Sir Didymus, and Sarah appeared.

“Sarah?” Sarah began.

“What vexes thee My Lady?” Didymus asked.

“I,” Sarah began as she ran a hand through her hair, disheveling it rather spectacularly, “I don’t know, I just needed to see you.”

“Sarah sad,” Ludo rumbled.

“No Sarah,” Sarah replied, “I’m fine.”

“It doesn’t look that way to us Sarah,” Hoggle told her, “Is something wrong?”

“Yes, what ever is the matter My Lady?” Sir Didymus looked at her with his good eye.

“I guess, I just wanted to know how you were,” Sarah said quickly, “It’s been a while since we last talked.”

“Been even longer for us,” Hoggle muttered under his breath.

“Sir Hoggle!” Didymus admonished, “Hold your tongue from saying such horrid things!”

“T’s true,” Hoggle replied without shame.

“Be that as it may you should not say such things. It could cause distress to our Lady.”

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked, “About it having been longer for you guys, I mean.”

“Time moves a lot differently down here Sarah,” Hoggle explained, “Just like when you came through the first time. Hours, days, weeks, they either move quickly or slowly: change back jars ya either way.”

“I’m not sure I understand,”

“Worry not about it My Lady,” Didymus cut in, “It takes a great deal of time to merely come to terms with it. We have all lived here quite some time and have barely a better grasp on that than when we first learned of it.”

“Sarah’ back to yer question: we’re fine,” Hoggle replied.

“And everyone else?”

The three males looked at each other for a moment and then looked anywhere else besides their friend. Finally, Hoggle cleared his throat,

“Goblins is Goblins Sarah. Ain’t othing’ that can really hurt ‘em sides time itself.”

“And,” Sarah paused, biting her lip and seriously deliberating on whether or not she wanted to ask this next question, “And the King?”

Goggle looked shocked she’d thought to ask. He glanced to Didymus, who gave a subtle nod. Goggle took a deep breath, steeling his resolve.

“Sarah, none of us ‘ave seen hide nor hair of ‘im since the night you won.”

“Is he,” she couldn’t bring herself to finish the statement.

“Course not!” Goggle was quick to reassure her, knowing that while she might not like him very much she’d be concerned for everyone she’d encountered: such was the size of her heart, “He’s just shut ‘imself away. Doesn’t leave the castle, but occasionally Didymus sees an unlucky fool go tippin’ headfirst into the Bog.”

“Oh,” Sarah breathed a sigh of relief, “Well, that’s good to know. I’d hate for anything to happen to you guys, or even the Goblins because of me.”

“That Rat’ll probably outlive us all,” Hoggle said without thinking, “His kind are unnaturally long-lived.”

“Thanks you guys,” Sarah said honestly, “I need to get back to work, but I’ll call you guys later, okay?”

The trio in the mirror nodded and said their goodbyes. Sarah glanced at her reflection where her friends had been scant seconds before and sighed. Furtively she glanced around before opening the drawer she’d sworn she wouldn’t and pulling out two objects. The first was the little red book which had started her on her whole crazy adventure. In spite of all the trouble it had caused, she had never been able to really hate the book thanks to the lessons the ensuing events had taught her. The second was a unique and ornate music box, unlike any other Sarah had ever seen. It depicted a beautiful princess in a silvery white gown, dancing in a little pavilion. Without really thinking about it Sarah wound it up and placed it on the vanity, resting her head on her arms as she watched the little princess spin to the music.

She couldn’t remember the tune it played before. Now it only played His song. It was part of the reason why she tried to keep away from the drawer. Because the last time she had opened it, in an attempt to put away the past for good by getting rid of the objects contained therein, she had dug out the music box and rather stupidly wound it up. Sarah couldn’t remember what song she’d been expecting, but His song wasn’t it. Hearing it again had jarred her so much she hadn’t been able to get rid of the items, the memories the melody evoked too strong and painful to erase completely.

Just as the tune stopped Sarah heard the front door slam accompanied by two distinctive sets of footsteps. One was excited and quick, the other measured and slow. Toby and Karen must have arrived home. Sarah rose from the vanity chair and opened the door to her room, heading to the stairs and stopping on the landing midway down. She didn’t see anyone. Odd, Sarah checked her wristwatch: what time did Toby usually arrive home? It was almost two o’clock, sounded roughly the right time for him to be home from kindergarten. Sarah headed down the rest of the stairs, calling out as she did.

“Karen? Toby?” no answer. Sarah headed for the kitchen, the same direction the footsteps had headed earlier. There she found Karen preparing food presumably for dinner while Toby munched on a sandwich and chips.

“There you guys are,” Sarah said with relief.

Karen looked up at her step-daughter, seeming surprised, “I called out that we were home when we came in, didn’t you hear?”

Sarah flushed, “I must’ve had my headphones in or something,” she mumbled. Turning to five-year-old Toby she grinned, “What’s up squirt?”

Toby looked up from his meal, “Sarah!” he exclaimed happily, bouncing out of his seat and into his sister’s arms.

“Hey there, I missed you,” Sarah said into his mop of curly hair.

“I missed you too Sarah,” Toby replied, burrowing into the older girl’s shoulder.

“How have you been?”

“Good,”

“You been lonely since I haven’t been around?”

Toby giggled, “No silly, I gots the Goblins that play with me!”

Sarah paled, “What did you say?”

Karen chuckled in that grown-up way that suggested whatever a child was saying was complete and utter nonsense but it was best to go along with it anyways, “Shortly after you left for college Toby says that the Goblins have come over to play with him in his room. He blames them for all the messes I find shortly before bedtime.”

Toby pouted, “And then Mom makes me clean them up all by myself. She doesn’t punish the Goblins who made the mess.”

“How can I believe that there are Goblins who make the messes if they’re never around when I come in?” Karen asked playfully.

“They like to hide,” Toby announced with all the solemnity a boy of four years could muster, “You just gotta look for them.”

“Oh do I?”

Toby nodded, “You gotta, you gotta,” he tugged at Sarah’s hand, “Come on Sarah! Let’s go look for Goblins!”

Sarah pulled back and stood up, “Um, not right now little bro. instead of looking for Goblins, how about we go to the park and play knights and dragons?”

“But I wanna look for the Goblins!” he whined.

“Toby, I promise I’ll look for Goblins with you later,” Sarah fibbed, “But right now I could really use some fresh air. Please?”

Toby pouted, but nodded anyways, “Okay…” he said reluctantly. He ran off shortly after to grab his shoes and anything else he wanted to bring with him, leaving Sarah and her step-mother alone in the kitchen.

“Sarah,” Karen said as she finished her prep-work and set it inside the fridge for later, “If you’re taking Toby to the park I want the both of you wearing sweaters. I don’t want either of you catching a cold through the weekend.”

“Yes Karen,” Sarah replied in that singsong way that meant she’d heard the spiel before and was only going along with it to avoid further lecturing, “We’ll be good and take our sweaters. Should I make Toby take his knit hat just in case?”

Karen gave a small quirk of her lips, amused instead of irritated by the younger woman’s sass, “No, I don’t think all that will be necessary. How long do you two plan on staying at the park?”

“Not for too long: maybe a couple of hours at the most. We’ll definitely be back before dinner, earlier than that if it starts getting dark.”

Karen hesitated, as though she had something to say. Instead what came out was, “Very well then, have a good time you two!”

“We will!” Sarah called as Toby, already in a sweater and shoes, started pulling her towards the front door, “Bye, we love you!”

***********************************

Hours later found the entire Williams family in the living room, minus Sarah who was heading to her own room to lie down. The park had been a fun trip; Toby had been excited to get out and play for longer. On top of all that, the park was a popular attraction for many families in the area during the fall, as the groundskeepers always left piled of leaves raked up around the premises for both children and adults to leap into if their hearts so desired. And Toby did, over and over again he leapt into the leaf pile, throwing leaves and getting them all over himself, and getting his big sister to join in. Sarah caught herself looking for other spectators to what she was about to do and stopped. Since when did she care what other people, especially those from her own home town, thought about her? She was her own person and if she wanted to enjoy an autumn leaf pile romp with her little brother than it was her prerogative to do so. So, throwing further caution and censure to the wind, Sarah took a running start and bounded into the pile: tackling Toby to the ground and tickling him mercilessly. That had started a leaf war: Toby and Sarah throwing balled up wads of leaves at each other for goodness only knows how long. It had been an enjoyable battle that ended with a truce, flushed cheeks, and heaving chests. Suddenly realizing the bite in the air and the position of the setting sun Sarah rose to her feet and half-walked, half-dragged Toby home while it was still light out.

Dinner had been a less but still pleasant affair. Toby regaled his father with stories of his adventure at the park for a good twenty minutes or so: exaggerating the details of what really happened and even throwing in a few things that didn’t, his sister only correcting him when he said something that would have caused Karen worry. After the little boy’s pseudo-epic was completed attention turned to Sarah and with it all the perfunctory questions that came along with a college student’s homecoming for any length of time. How is school? Are your classes interesting? What are the professors like this semester? Is the work load difficult? Are you getting enough sleep? On and on, and then Karen struck. She proceeded to ask Sarah about her dating life, or rather: her lack thereof. So, have you met any interesting people at school? Made any new friends this semester? Any problems with anybody?

Thankfully the family had been finished with their dinners at this point and Sarah had been able to excuse herself without seeming too rude. Declining dessert Sarah quickly darted out of dodge and up the staircase, only pausing when she overheard the adults talking about her.

“Oh Robert I just don’t know what to do about that girl sometimes,”

“What are you worrying about now Karen dear?”

“She’s nineteen years old, shouldn’t she have gone on at least one date by now?”

Sarah resisted the urge to scoff but not the one to roll her eyes. Though it might not have qualified in the strictest of senses, and though she would never admit it to anyone aloud: Sarah Williams had been on a date. At least, that’s what she considered most of the latter half of the fever dream she’d had while journeying through the Labyrinth. True, some of the memory had been tainted with the fact that the Goblin King had been using it in order to make her fail in her quest, but the ball had been inordinately lovely all the same. From an aesthetic and detached point of view anyways. And the dance, she’d never danced like that before: it was a wonder she’d been able to at all. Then again, if she were ever forced to say one positive thing about her former adversary –and even that was only under threat of death or extreme torture- : it was that he was quite the exceptional dancer. Of course, she mused without meaning to, he was a King. It was probably one of the requirements in the genteel society he seemed to prefer being a part of. Shaking her head to rid herself of too overly deep thoughts about the man, Sarah decided to continue her eavesdropping.

“Karen, please,”

“Not one man outside of family has ever been able to get close to her!” Sarah snorted softly, “Not to any of her proms, not to a graduation party, and not even since she started college!”

“Karen, calm down,” Robert pleaded, “Why are you so concerned about this? Sarah’s a grown woman who’ll date when she feels ready.”

Sarah couldn’t see the expression, but she could only imagine that her step-mother was pouting, “But Robert, is it so wrong for me to want to see her happy? She’s such a special girl, so unique and beautiful. In spite of everything we went through with her the first couple of years after our marriage, she’s become like my own daughter to me. Is it so wrong for me to want to see her settled down and happy with someone?”

That gave Sarah pause, that had been the whole reason Karen wanted her to start dating all those years ago? For some reason she had assumed that the older woman had pushed dating on her as a way to get her out of the house for an evening so she could play the happy family with the two other people she actually wanted to be a part of it.

“I know,” she heard her father say, “Sarah is all that and more. She’s intelligent and witty and incredibly eloquent. She’s so different from a lot of other young women her age. And when she talks about something she’s passionate about?” he whistled, “I haven’t seen her with such fire in her eyes since before Linda-” he cut himself off, probably being mindful of Toby’s presence in the room.

“Sometimes I wonder if she isn’t a little too different,” Karen said concernedly, “Perhaps I should get in contact with some of my old school mates, surely one of them must have a nice young man we could introduce to-”

“Now Karen,” Robert interrupted, “Sarah is her own woman. She’s a lot like her mother was: incredibly independent and someone who moves to the beat of their own drum. Sarah will date whomever she wants to, when she wants to and not a moment before. And we as her parents will be supportive of whomever she brings home to us, whether we like them or not.”

Sarah was speechless. She’d never heard her father set his foot down when disagreeing with her stepmother. Usually Karen would be able to win him over to her side of the argument because her father, ever the peacekeeper, didn’t like too much friction and conflict in one place. She brushed a tear aside at the way her father had defended her, thankful she had family like that in her life.

After her father’s declaration of neutrality on her love life, Sarah decided to really retire to her room for the remainder of the evening. With a heavy sigh she trudged up the rest of her stairs when she remembered something. Earlier today Toby had said something about playing with Goblins, Sarah’s brow furrowed. He shouldn’t have been able to see the Goblins; the Goblins shouldn’t have even been able to go near him. Unless… damn that glittery bastard! Sarah stopped at the door to her room with a start. She had won the baby back dammit! His royal annoyingness had no authority to go and set his unruly subjects loose around the boy.

Sarah felt her temper boil as she stood outside her room, hand on the doorknob and seething something fierce. Oh he was so gonna get it, power and kingship over the Goblin realm be dammed she was not going to stand by and let her little brother fall prey to the horde of creatures she had risked her life trying to rescue him from. With the thought of telling the Goblin King off once and for all Sarah furiously flung open the door to her abode.

“So you finally decide to show up, hm?” a condescending voice said from within, “It’s about time. Very rude to keep an audience waiting you know.”

Sarah stopped short, very confused and still somewhat angry. She looked towards the vanity where she had heard the voice come from. Upon the table top she saw a young adolescent woman, no more than seventeen at the very most, sitting with her legs crossed and painting her nails silver. She had long ebony hair that appeared to be braided back, ivory skin, and she wore odd clothes: almost medieval in style but clearly modern in appearance. The young woman was utterly engrossed in the task of decorating her fingertips, yet seemed to be waiting for Sarah to say something back.

Finally, Sarah regained her ability to speak, “Who the hell are you? And what are you doing in my room?”

The young woman chuckled rather indulgently, “Temper, temper dear,” she chided amusedly, “And you really should watch your language, it’s rather unbecoming for a young lady to be so vulgar with her words.”

“Answer the damn question,” Sarah hissed.

At last finished with her mundane task the young woman set the brush back in the bottle and vanished it. She waved her hands a few timed before finally deigning to meet Sarah’s gaze. Sarah, for her part, held in a gasp: the young woman was Fae. She could tell by the odd yet familiar eye markings she had seen on one Goblin monarch. Her eyes were even a similar shade of blue, but these eyes held far more wisdom within them.

Setting her arms behind her and bracing her weight against them the young woman gave a smile, “Very well then, but shall we allow for introductions first? I’m sure that would be far easier in the long run.”

“You wanna give me a name to curse to the high heavens?” Sarah quipped.

The young woman laughed, “Your father described you quite aptly: that rapier wit of yours is truly something to behold,” ignoring Sarah’s gaping expression she continued, “Of course, I already knew that.”

Sarah rolled her eyes in exasperation, “Could you please just tell me your name?”

“My name?” the woman tilted her head and looked at Sarah owlishly. The latter fought off the urge to shiver at how familiar that gesture was. A low chuckle accompanied the former’s next words, “My you are direct, aren’t you? But to answer your query, you can call me Ciara.”

“I can call you Ciara?” Sarah questioned, “What does that mean? Ciara’s not your real name?”

Ciara brushed imaginary dust from her shoulder, “Heavens no. My real name comes from a language that has long since uttered its last breath. I’ve been known by Ciara ever since.”

“So, what are you doing here?”

“So businesslike,” Ciara remarked, “And what if I told you I came without a purpose?”

“I’d tell you to quit wasting my time and leave,” Sarah replied, “I have work to do.”

Ciara ran a finger along the spine of the textbook Sarah had left behind, “I’m sure,” she commented lightly, as though any work Sarah may or may not have had was inconsequential. That sort of superior attitude had always infuriated Sarah.

“And I’m sure your visit here doesn’t have a purpose: so you can leave now,” Sarah gestured to the open window, assuming that’s how the girl had gotten in.

Ciara leaned forward, leaning her head into her hand, “And if I refuse?” the words were a lightly veiled insult, belying the fact that the Fae didn’t believe Sarah would be able to back up whatever threat she’d make.

“I’ll,” Sarah paused, not in all actuality knowing how to get rid of an unwanted Fae. Her eyes landed on the little red book and she had a plan, “I’ll, I’ll say the words!” she declared.

Ciara’s eyes widened, but it wasn’t in fear like Sarah had hoped. Instead she received a superior smirk, “You’re going to say that I have no power over you?” she guessed, “How adorable!”

She laughed, a clear ringing sound that Sarah would have found beautiful if it’s condescending tone hadn’t been directed toward her. Her face grew red with barely concealed fury.

Ciara paid her no need, continuing to proclaim her mirth. When she finally finished she took one look at Sarah’s expression and the smug smirk returned fill-force, “Oh calm down,” she chided, “I’m not laughing you: merely at the notion that you think one set of words can rid you of any and all Fae related problems. Hate to burst your bubble dear,” she continued, “But those words only work if a Fae is trying to claim power over you. I have no such intentions.”

Ciara’s mannerisms and patterns of speech were very reminiscent of someone Sarah didn’t particularly care for. Sarah groaned, “You’re so annoying. You remind me of someone that is just intolerable!”

Ciara leaned forward, “Intolerable you say?” she put a finger to her chin in mock-thought, “That someone wouldn’t happen to be a certain big-headed, aristocratic King, now would it?”

Sarah was taken aback at the knowledge this woman seemed to have into her head, “Maybe,” Sarah neither confirmed nor denied, “How do you know about anything like that?”

The inky-haired woman leaned forward like someone about to let another in on a secret, “Why do you think I’m here?”

Sarah felt her face flush, “You know then, about what happened between me and-”

“Jareth? Of course I do, it's not every day someone -especially a mortal like you- wins a game against the Great Goblin King.”

The mention of the Goblin King reminded Sarah of why she had come in the first place, “That damn King!” she swore, “I came in here to tell him off!”

Ciara looked even more amused, if that were possible, “Oh? Praytell, why?”

Sarah huffed, “I won back the child, he has no right to let his Goblins run amok around Toby. I don’t want that; he’ll be led astray if this keeps up.”

The Fae held a hand out to stop the inevitable rant, “Hold your horses dear: there’s no need to get mad at Jareth,”

Sarah raised a skeptical brow, “And why not?”

“Because,” Ciara explained, “he’s not the one who placed the Goblin Guard on your brother; I did.”

Sarah opened her mouth with a retort about the Goblin King, but it died when Ciara admitted her own involvement, “Wait, you’re the one who let those Goblins hang around Toby?”

“Of course,” replied the adolescent, “He needed the protection and you and your little self-righteous declaration prevented Jareth from doing anything.”

“Self-righteous?” Sarah exclaimed angrily, “What the hell do you mean by-”

“‘For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great’,” Ciara mimicked Sarah’s voice, “Words have power, what did you think would happen?”

“Okay, okay,” Sarah tried to calm down, remembering that Fae were never as they appeared to be, “Let’s back up here and try to get through this logically. My first question is, why do Toby and I need this supposed protection?”

“You’ve both been touched,” Ciara explained, with only a slight hint of annoyance in her tone rather than the extreme mount Sarah was sure she must have felt, “You are not only the Champion of the Labyrinth and by extension of the Goblin Kingdom, you were also bitten by a Fairy prior to starting your quest, and the both of you have eaten Fae food.

“While I’m sure that, given enough time in the mortal world, the Fae touch would fade, as it stands now your Changeling status is more than apparent to any magical creature in the area, as well as any human that can sense magic.”

Sarah tilted her head, obviously confused, “Wait, what do you mean Toby and I ate Fae food?”

The Fae woman rolled her eyes and looked about Sarah’s room, noting the collections of Fairy lore that still adorned many of Sarah’s shelves, “For such an avid collector of Fairy tales, you seem to have forgotten the most important rule of Fairyland.”

A brunette brow arched, “And that would be?”

“Never, under any circumstances, eat any food given to you.”

Sarah’s eyes widened as she remembered that enchanted, or rather cursed, peach she’d been given.

“Damn that King!” she swore, then sighed, “Okay, that accounts for me, but when in hell did Toby eat Fae food?”

“I know your opinion of Jareth is quite low, but do you really think he’d be so cruel as to let a child starve for eleven hours?”

“I,” Sarah began. The truth was that she had thought him cruel, but in her defense he had said as much in the Escher room. However, she had never thought he had interacted at all with Toby. She had assumed that the child was put into an enchanted sleep and kept elsewhere in the castle than wherever it was that Jareth was during her run.

“I didn’t think so,” Ciara remarked smugly.

“I didn’t think about it at all,” Sarah begrudgingly admitted.

“Most people don’t,” the girl assured her, “So I really can’t fault you on that account. But getting back to my point: Tobias was fed Fae food and so he’s a Changeling like you. The only difference is that you have the title of Champion of the Labyrinth to protect you, he does not.”

“What do you mean about that title protecting me?”

The Fae sighed, “You have been titled by the crown whether you ever realized it or not. That title marks you as above all other Changelings and it protects you. Only a fool would dare use you for any political gain. Tobias on the other hand, was simply fed Fae food, he has no title that would protect him but the scent of a Changeling. That could attract far darker creatures than Jareth and his Goblin minions. I have a deep-seated worry for children, so I asked a few of Jareth’s more competent Goblin soldiers to keep a guard on him. And it’s worked incredibly well.”

“Why?”

“Most Fae, and quite a few of those other dangerous creatures, cannot stand Goblins. They avoid them at all costs, and since the Goblins guard Tobias, the creatures that could harm them would have to battle against creatures they detest: and Goblins do not go down without,” she looked at Sarah, “Oh what’s the expression? Ah yes, Goblins do not go down without one hell of a fight.”

“Goblins?” Sarah asked in disbelief. That hadn’t been the way she’d seen them fight.

“Yes Goblins. I’m sure they weren’t quite so tenacious during your journey. But then again, they are smart enough to know the difference between a game and a battle.”

“That whole thing was a game?”

“In essence, yes. Sarah, do you really think you were in any true danger during your stay in the Goblin Kingdom?”

“When I was hanging over the Bog maybe,”

Ciara laughed, “Yes well, smelling bad forever is not the same thing as mortal danger. The Goblins can tell when a runner is running for the game, or when they are trying to invade and they adjust their behavior accordingly. Believe me when I say that you would not have wanted to face the Goblin Army if they were being serious.”

“I’ll take your word for it then,” Sarah said simply because she could think of nothing else to say in regards to that statement. She mulled over all this new information, “Okay, so Toby has a group of Goblins that protect him on your personal order. How did you do that? What sort power do you have in regards to the Goblins?”

Ciara’s smile turned a combination of both knowing and teasing, “Me, dear Champion? I am someone very important, and very, very close to Jareth. Naturally the Goblins respect my authority.”

Unbidden, Sarah’s eyes flickered to the ring finger on Ciara’s left hand. There was no ring to indicate she was tied to anyone, but then again Sarah didn’t really know how they exchanged vows in the Fairy Tale world. How long had he been involved with this woman? Sarah’s indignation grew that the thought that the glittery jerk of a king had been flirting with her, damn near seducing her when he was already spoken for.

“That damn Git!” Sarah growled, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do when I see him, but you can bet it’s going to be extremely painful!”

Ciara’s laugh echoed off the walls again, “Your reactions are quite amusing Champion,” she said.

Sarah whirled on her, “How can you be so calm about the fact that he was flirting with me when he was,” she didn’t know what stage their relationship was at, so she improvised, “involved with you?”

Ciara merely continued to laugh, “I’m both flattered and insulted. But calm your jealous rage my dear: I’m not romantically involved with Jareth in any way, shape, or form.”

“I’m not jealous!” Sarah sputtered, though inwardly relieved about the Fae’s admission.

“Hmm,” Ciara hummed amusedly, “Keep telling yourself that.”

“But that doesn’t answer my question,” Sarah continued as if the other female hadn’t spoken, “Who are you? And what are you doing here?”

“Who I am, is why I’m here,” the ebony-haired girl replied enigmatically.

“I’m afraid I don’t quite follow,” Sarah told her, “So, if you’re not his partner, for lack of a better word: what’s your relationship with him?”

“Why the curiosity?”

“I’m simply trying to figure out how you had the authority to make Goblins do what you told them.”

“I didn’t tell them to do anything, I merely asked and they were all too happy to accept. You aren’t the only one who loves that little boy you know.”

“Regardless, what’s our connection with the Goblin King? Are you like his sister or something?”

Ciara gave a light blush and patted her cheek in a preening manner, “Flattering, but wrong.”

“Okay,” Sarah examined the woman and tried to figure out how she could be connected with her former adversary, “Some distant cousin?”

“I’m far too close for that.”

“The only other thing coming to mind right now is mother,”

“Now I’m both flattered and insulted!” Ciara exclaimed mirthfully.

“How so?”

“I’m flattered you think I’m young enough to be his mother, insulted you think I birthed him. I mean, we look nothing alike, though I do suppose that guess is the closest you’ve gotten.”

“Alright,” Sarah sighed, “I give up. Please tell me who you are?”

Ciara continued to laugh, “My dear girl, I’m neither Jareth’s mother nor any other female relative of any degree.”

“Then, as I’ve asked at least five times already, who are you?” Sarah asked.

 Ciara leaned forward both and smiled both superiorly and conspiratorially, “I’m his nanny.”