DISCLAIMER: The general Underground up to the Labyrinth borders and familiar characters therein are property of Henson and Co. The Ourobryd realm is mine. I'm just having fun and promise I'll put them back when I'm done - I just can't guarantee in what condition.
The Goblin King rarely took leave in the private castle gardens. Especially not so early in the morning. The cool pre-dawn air was just enough to lift him from slumber, but not enough to withdraw the heavy bedding, cozy and twisted around his lanky build. Mornings were not his forte—he preferred the mystery and inky depth of night.
All the same, this morning he stirred unusually early and did not desire to suffer the squawks and shrieks of his subjects just yet. A shift of energy awakened him, settling into his joints and urging him to move. A walk in the garden could dispel it and offer peace and quiet.
A gentle breeze rustled fresh leaves. Branches waved from root to leaf tip, chilled as the wind puffed through. Delicate flower petals fluttered, tittering excitedly as the air tickled them.
The sound of the wind-rustled foliage pleased him. Only nature could create such magical music, even beyond his own species’ abilities. He half-smirked. Mortals could not hear or sense nature like he could. Where humans only heard leaves turning in the wind, his kind experienced something akin to laughter as sounds danced.
A memory flashed through his mind. He pursed his lips as he recalled an altogether different tune. Masked figures in lush gowns spun and swayed just as the flowers in the garden. His dance partner; fresh-faced and wide-eyed, secure in his grasp.
The winds in the garden shifted and swept his focus back to the present. Clouds accompanied the fresh gusts, casting the garden in a dull gray. Jareth returned to the castle and steeled his focus to the day’s tasks. A cold drop landed on the back of his neck as he crossed the threshold. He slapped the spot with more force than necessary, his mind still willing away the memory of the masquerade. Frustration bristled on his neck as the raindrop reminded him of the cold glass shards when the chair shattered the ballroom.
A sturdy, long-faced goblin cleared his throat as Jareth entered the throne-room. “Morn, Highness,” he said, voice wheezing with excitement. He bowed low. His helmet slipped off, bowling over a brood of chickens.
Jareth glared at the goblin. “Oh come now, Slurm. It is seven twenty-two in the morning. The armor is unnecessary,” he chastised his subject. “It displeases me to see it yet again.”
The goblin’s beady eyes widened at his king’s subtle threat. “Oh, Highness! Forgive me!”
Jareth pointed to an archway that flanked his throne. “To the armory. I will not see you in battle garments again today. Do not return until you have successfully locked yourself out.” When the goblin squeaked a protest, his king’s ice-cold stare immediately silenced him. He slinked off dejectedly. Jareth pretended not to hear sniffling between Slurm’s grumbles.
He stared at the goblin as he retreated. Jareth clearly recalled the day Slurm first donned that armor. It was the same day he received a promotion: Royal Messenger to the Castle Beyond the Goblin City Who Alerted His Royal Highness that the Girl Who Ate the Peach and Forgot Everything was About to Storm the Castle. Rather: Senior Messenger in short.
To his credit, Slurm’s appreciation for his new appointment never waned. Loyal above all others, he carried his duties as enthusiastically as he did on the first day. To Jareth’s chagrin, the charm did not last as long.
At the precise moment the messenger disappeared from sight, another goblin scampered in from another doorway. He carried a tray above his head, poorly disguising his clumsy balance; even with two hands, the platter slid back and forth. The aroma of fresh cooked lean meat and potatoes wafted from the tray when the cover lifted. “Breakfast, your Highness!”
Jareth sniffed appraisingly and his stomach rumbled, even as he winced at the stumbling subject. “Are any of you remotely capable of performing a simple task without difficulty?”
Without waiting for an answer he reclined into the throne, casually draping his leg across the armrest. He speared a link of rabbit sausage and stuffed it into his mouth with less grace than Slurm accepting his promotion. A burst of wind streaked through the throne-room at that precise moment, assaulting his inguen with a blast of frigid air.
Coughing and immediately dropping his leg, Jareth turned to the goblin awaiting his leave. “Ensure all fires in the castle are lit before I finish my meal, and go fetch one of my furs,” he wheezed.
In truth, the king’s powers were more than sufficient to complete these tasks with no trouble. However, much of his staff would find any excuse to stay inside unless required to venture outdoors on cold mornings. The particularly pathetic goblins would simply beg and refuse. If his mercy permitted them to stay indoors, so should they continue to earn their salary.
Half-hearted moans and lewd grunting couldn't silence ominous creaks of the shaky bed frame. Near-rusted mattress springs squeaked in protest under the pair as he thrust faster. Nothing else in the room so much as shuddered as he pushed harder, his granite-hued curls bouncing on the opposite beat of his gyrating hips.
With a shiver and a gasp, he came. Sarah felt him fill the condom, swelling against her cervix. She failed to conceal her gasp; Cassius failed to recognize it wasn’t from pleasure. Locking her gaze, he relaxed and slowly wriggled out of her, but did not remove the barrier. A silky smile creased his face. This was his favorite part for her to complete.
"Go on. Show me."
It wasn't a request. She did not dare look away.
She did not flinch as she fished out the condom, even as it squelched when the seal released from her vaginal walls. Pinched between her thumb and forefinger, she held it at eye level. It hung limp like a snake’s molted skin. Unlike dry, stiff, snakeskin, however, the limp condom dripped with equal parts spermicide and semen. The stench stung Sarah’s eyes.
Cassius savored the moment, the silence punctuated by an occasional drip of fluid onto the bedspread. Sarah’s stomach churned. Cassius’ gray eyes flashed and bored into her green ones. He dipped his head in a single nod.
"Very good, poppet."
Sarah immediately dropped it into the wastebasket next to her bed. It landed with an audible, wet plop. She suppressed the urge to deposit her stomach's contents along with it.
She reclined onto the dingy pillow and closed her eyes, wishing he would just go away. Self-preservation held her tongue from slipping the precise right words that would do exactly that.
Cassius grasped her slender hips, pinning them. She screwed her eyes tighter as he positioned himself over her. She held her breath and clenched for a second entry.
"Look at me, Sarah."
His faint accent piqued her imagination, and a memory flashed through her mind. In these quiet moments, with just a few words and no visage of reality to shatter her fantasy, she could believe for just a moment that Cassius' voice was not his own.
Yet every time she opened her eyes, she met his frigid silver irises, instead of the ones she associated with haughty English accents.
Sarah blinked once, willing herself to cast the thought away. She could not lose herself in nostalgia when in the present, his hands slithered upwards, exploring and caressing at will. Sarah steeled every drop of her minuscule strength not to slap his hands away. Still, her hands twitched, eager to swipe with one misplaced touch.
Cassius crawled up and caged her with his supple thighs. His member rested on her stomach. Though still sheathed in viscous goo from his finish, Sarah thanked the stars he was not erect again.
One strong hand cradled her head, lifting it from the pillow. He lowered his face, his sharp nose nearly touched hers. Sarah steadied her breath and steeled her expression. His other hand rummaged around on the bed for his discarded jeans. Cassius allowed several heavy breaths to pass, moistening her lips and cheek.
Don't you dare, she growled internally. She clenched her jaw to prevent herself actually screaming the words in his face. Don't you fucking dare.
Cassius quickly turned his head just so and flicked his tongue on her earlobe. "Always a pleasure, Miss Williams," he hissed. He shoved a wad of cash in her bra with his free hand.
Sarah did not move. She remained supine on the bed, only her eyes betrayed and followed his every move as he dressed and let himself out. He did not look back at her or offer any goodbye.
She sprang up from the bed precisely when the door latch clicked. She cloaked her nearly naked form in a blanket and stumbled to the door. With a shaking hand, Sarah turned the deadbolt and slid the door chain into the keeper.
"This mornin’ word arrived that Queen Adelina of Ourobryd expired two evenings past,” Slurm delivered the news in a flat tone, a stark contrast to the enthusiastic servant before his wardrobe change. “Ceremonial details to follow." His impish eyes gazed toward the nearest window. Even reporting a death of royalty—a true rarity—was not as captivating as what occurred outside.
Jareth also stared through the same window. Snowflakes fell, some captured in fierce eddies. He furrowed his brow as he watched them, sipping the last of his breakfast tea. He recalled at least three other snowy days of various intensity in the past fortnight, and several more in similar patterns in recent years. His sharp instincts flared; the anomalies were not independent of each other. His patience for them had worn thin.
"Majesty, look! It's...is it another...?" a captain asked, worry thinly veiled as his voice cracked. A stiff gust quickly burst against the windows and the goblin startled, even as the heavy velvet curtains muffled the impact.
Jareth scowled. "Unless those are soap flakes, and a washtub has also fallen from the sky for your filthy hide, Berk, I daresay that yes, it is another ," he hissed. In a single fluid motion, Jareth leapt from his throne and retreated to the stairs of the highest tower. "I will not be disturbed until I return if any of you know what is good for you," he announced over his shoulder.
Anxious chatter bubbled the instant his cape flickered out of sight. Gold plates and goblets clanked as the cabinet descended on the spoils of their king's breakfast, dutiful stewards attempting to snatch the dishes away to the kitchens.
Jareth ascended the stairs two at a time, resolutely—as if he could cease the snowfall with sheer will. With every few steps, his senses heightened, relaying instinctual information about the pressure and intensity of the storm. He could hear the wind gusts streak through the structure even before he stepped on the landing atop the tower. Gentle snowfall had graduated into a full-scale storm.
Jareth set himself in a window and observed his kingdom, sighing in exasperation. What on earth, he wondered to himself, is causing these storms?
Winters in the Underground occurred much like a summertime Aboveground thunderstorm. In prime conditions, they would dissipate as quickly as they formed, leaving nary a trace aside from wet grass. Some stretched for days. In most of the Underground—and most especially the Labyrinth—seasons did not exist and were not a mark of astronomical calendars. Weather changes were shifts in the Labyrinth itself—its soul crying in sorrow, or raining tears of joy.
Usually, these snowfalls offered mild temperatures and little accumulation. Still, the inhabitants of the Goblin City abhorred the winters. A pregnant silence and stiff wind, much like this morning's phenomenon, were just enough to empty the streets and fill their homes. A storm's fierce strength could accumulate so quickly that it appeared the snow oozed from corners and crevices from the ground.
Jareth quieted his mind and focused. He closed his eyes and listened, still sharply attuned to the elements, hoping for a clue to answer why these storms descended so often. Surely, the news of an old queen’s expiration from a politically neutral kingdom could not be the cause.
From his tallest tower, he watched the snow. The flurries spun together, dancing to a worldly tune only he could hear.
The flakes swirled and entwined. As he watched, he could just barely discern shapes of flowing gowns and the macabre masks that concealed the entities behind them. The wind laughed in his ears and carried traces of her scent.
His eyes narrowed. His pulse quickened as understanding dawned. Jareth vainly denied the answer he knew to be true. This was not about boredom or Queen Adelina. Winters descended in increasing frequency since...
His leather gloves creaked as he clenched his fists.
...since Sarah defeated the Labyrinth.
The lamp across the room cast the only light in her shabby studio apartment. A dim glow barely reached her toes where she remained at the door. The dank air and bare furnishings reminded her of a distant memory.
It's a place you put people to forget about 'em.
She lowered herself to the floor, shivering. Cassius' eyes pierced her memory. She did not bother to conceal her contempt for him in her stare. His craving for her submission was equally visible in his own gaze upon her.
A familiar cold spiral of fear crept up her neck from the pit of her stomach. Sarah could not shake the feeling that his motives had less to do with overpowering her body, and much more to do with her soul.
Shivers gave way to sobs. She wished for him to forget her, to be left in her mortal oubliette.
Her shaking hands retrieved the cash he'd stowed in her bra. Sifting through the bills, she found a tiny plastic bag filled with a white powder. She massaged it delicately in her fingers.
Hot tears dripped onto her cheeks. Sarah knew Cassius would not release her from his grasp anytime soon. If his intention was to chip away at her one bit at a time, to see if she would crumble on her own, she had to begrudge credit where it was due. Every time, she felt just a bit less than she did before.
He carried a scent. It intoxicated her as deeply as the cocaine and drew her in every time. Like a mysterious spice in a favorite stew that the chef would not disclose, she suspected no mortal parfumier possessed the oils that could replicate his scent.
Sarah could smell the Underground in him. Sometimes, his eyes flashed in a knowing way when they met hers. He knew. He knew everything.
Sarah scowled and tore at the seal of the bag, exerting more force than necessary Stop it. You're imagining things. She dipped a wet fingertip into the powder and ran the tip along her gums. Instantly, her brain buzzed happily. Momentarily energized, she stumbled back over to the bed. Light bounced off a mirror she retrieved from the nightstand. Patterns and shadows shifted on the walls as she emptied the bag on the glass.
Sarah arranged three slightly uneven lines on the glass. With a rolled up bill, she wasted no time inhaling the first line. After the familiar initial sting as the powder contacted her sinus membrane, Sarah's despondency melted within minutes. She smiled and reclined on the bed, happy memories flooding her memory. It's not an escape, she reassured herself. Never an escape.
The ballroom and his hand on her back. The heady musk of hedonism among the revelers. The petulant satisfaction and spike of fear in her chest when she shattered the glass...and tore his world apart.
It's a way to remember.