The Goblin castle.
Chaos reigned. Small, filthy creatures scrambled about the throne room in pursuit of squawking chickens and feathers flew as the birds panicked. Goblin guards were scattered through the mob, some joining the chase for chickens, some yelling orders and beating their companions with short wooden spears. Petitioners from the goblin city milled about the entrance to the great room, drinking ale and muttering unpleasant comments about their ruler. In a corner that had thus far remained clean of drink, feathers, and goblins, a group of visiting dignitaries huddled and cast baleful glares at anyone who approached.
Thus had the kingdom remained for three days. Three days since the king had vanished without a trace. There had been no word of warning and no preparations for his absence. The petitioners had appeared the first day and found the castle goblins already enjoying their revelries. More had come from the city with each day, staying to enjoy the drink and good times with the Goblin King gone. The foreign embassy had arrived on the second day, gaining a temporary control over the mass…until it was realized that the foreigners had no more idea where the king was than his own subjects did.
Now the fourth day dawned, and subjects and guests alike stretched stiff limbs and shifted on the cold stone floor that had been slept on for several nights. Thunder rumbled as a few goblins stumbled sluggishly out of the room in search of food, promising for a long, damp day. Angry muttering rose from the corner as the visitors argued amongst themselves.
The Goblin King's realm threatened to crumble without him.
Far away from the anarchy of the throne room, in the castle's innermost rooms, she stirred in the warm darkness. Gently disentangling herself from Jareth's embrace, she rose from the bed and stepped to the window. The cool morning breeze caressed her naked flesh, bringing her fully awake. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she had barely eaten in the last…well, she wasn't sure exactly how many days it had been. Not more than two, surely.
She had returned to the Underground to prove her love for the Goblin King, but after her confession he had fallen into her arms, sobbing hysterically. Shocked by the unexpected reaction, Sarah finally realized the depths of the pain she had caused him. She held him until his breathing calmed, stroking his hair as he laid silent in her lap.
Just as she began to wonder if he had fallen asleep, he lifted his head, snaking an arm around her neck. She had a glimpse of wild eyes before he pressed his mouth harshly to hers, kissing her with such passion and desperation that she gasped in surprise and tried to pull away, but he held her tightly against him.
The kisses continued until their breathing grew ragged. Only then did he release her enough that she could see his face. It was a ghostly white, and his eyes appeared to glow with inner madness.
"Please, Sarah…please," he whispered, searching her face for signs of rejection. She knew then what he wanted, and that turning him away now would cause him to retreat so far within himself that she may never get another chance. Fighting down her trepidation, she summoned a smile and nodded bravely. Then with a grateful sigh, Jareth was upon her again, kissing her, stroking her hair, pressing her gently to the cold floor.
There in the madness of the Escher Room, Sarah gave the Goblin King her virginity.
It was not how she had imagined her first time to be, crushed against the cold stone floor while Jareth ravaged her body with an intensity that made her cry out in pleasure and pain. But it was necessary. Only a small sacrifice, she told herself. Such a little thing.
The king had certainly made up for it later. A blush stained Sarah's cheeks as she recalled the past few days.
She glanced at the sleeping form on the bed. He looked so relaxed. She hated to leave him, but she doubted his palace ruled itself. Someone had to take care of things and the sooner she established her position, the better. She lifted a silken robe from the floor and drew it over her shoulders.
Then with a last lingering glance at her beloved, Sarah slipped quietly from the room in search of more fitting attire to greet her soon-to-be subjects.
This chapter really ran away from me. It looks like this may be a longer, much more complex story than I initially intended. I know nothing about wyvern, I just didn't want to use the term 'dragon' because it seems overused. The Dryn are my own creation, but I believe they're essentially going to be a vampire-type race.
The Goblin castle.
Chaos reigned. Drunken goblins, panicked chickens with feathers flying everywhere, the rise and fall of angry voices. Such was the scene that greeted Sarah when she emerged from a side passageway behind the throne. The carousing goblins nearest her nearly ran into her before stumbling backwards hastily with startled squawks. Their cries alerted others and silence swiftly fell, as every eye in the room turned to study the beautiful stranger.
Sarah had chosen to wear a crimson velvet dress, accented with black lace. It revealed just enough skin to tempt without scandalizing. The bodice was cut low, but not too low, and molded smoothly down her body until reaching the narrow skirts that stretched to brush the floor. Dark powder made her eyes large and expressive, and lipstick a shade darker than the dress matched the color on her perfectly manicured nails.
Her hair was the finishing touch. After a full hour of washing, combing, and styling ("However did you let it get so tangled, milady?"), Sarah had discarded the elaborate curls of the court for a much simpler look. She instructed the maid to use a single, crimson lace ribbon to pull the dark mass from her face, letting the majority of her hair cascade down her back in loose waves. The full effect of dress, hair, and makeup revealed a dark enchantress capable of attracting and holding the attention of all who saw her.
Exactly the reaction she desired.
Sarah allowed a humorless smile to touch the edges of her lips as she stepped further into the room, knowing that all eyes were riveted on her slightest movement. She approached the throne with solemn deliberation, goblins tumbling out of the her path. The soft swish of her skirts was the only sound as she turned to face her audience and elegantly seated herself in the great stone chair.
"The Goblin King is indisposed," she proclaimed. "I will hear your requests today."
Silence. Sarah's eyes scanned the room, settling on the goblin nearest her. "You! You're here on presumably important business." She didn't bother to hide the disdain that laced her imperial words. "Let's hear it then."
The poor creature jumped at Sarah's bark and fell over, scrambled to his feet, bowed three times, and stuttered with wide eyes, "Y-your Ma..that is, Your High..er.."
"Milady," Sarah prompted, softening her tone slightly.
"Milady," the goblin nodded and bowed again. "Milady, three days ago my business was overrun with termites from my neighbor's. You see, he runs a termite business, milady, and they got loose and..."
Sarah nodded encouragingly as he continued to ramble. Her attention was focused, though, on the strange crowd in the far corner of the room. Too tall and too well-dressed to be citizens, she mused. They were all dressed in identical pale robes, deeply cowled. Pale skin and slender builds made them look almost elfin, but it was difficult to tell the way they huddled in the shadows with their loose clothes distorting what she could make out. She wondered how Jareth dealt with visiting dignitaries. At least they seemed content to wait, for now.
The goblin before her finished his story and she offered him a remedy, to which he bobbed a thank you and hurriedly scuttled out of the room. Another grubby creature took his place, requesting help removing a curse that made his ears sprout leaves, and then another looking for a way to repair a hole in his roof. And so the afternoon progressed. Is this the job of the Goblin King, Sarah wondered, Royal Problem Solver for the decision-challenged subjects? She marveled that he had the patience for it.
Finally, the last of them stood before her.
"...and if that doesn't work, come back in three days and I will speak to King Jareth personally on your behalf," Sarah intoned. After dozens of repetitions, the words she had at first spoken with passion fell dully from her lips. Still, the goblin merchant bowed respectfully and hurried from the room. It didn't matter to him who the mysterious lady was, as long as he had someone to blame if his problems didn't go away as expected.
Reclining her head against the hard back of the throne, Sarah permitted herself a moment of rest. But only a moment, as a polite cough then drew her attention. Opening her eyes, she rose to her feet to face the strange guests, hiding her weariness behind a welcoming smile.
"I thank you for your patience," she said with genuine warmth, nodding her gratitude.
Elfin faces watched her solemnly and exchanged silent looks before returning her greeting with careful bows. A tall, thin man with extravagant gold embroidery on his sleeves stepped forward to speak for the embassy. He pushed the hood of his cloak back, revealing a completely shaven head. In fact, there seemed to be no hair whatsoever on his face...even his eyebrows were non-existent. He eyed Sarah cautiously with impossibly pale eyes.
"Milady," he began, "we were not aware that King Jareth had taken a...mistress." The raised eyebrow and polite tilt of the head took some of the sting from his words, but she felt his keen eyes upon her as she struggled to keep her injured pride from showing.
"I'm a recent acquirement," Sarah said wryly, crossing her arms beneath her breasts. "What is your business with the Goblin King, Sir...?"
The group visibly stiffened, faces going blank as one. The speaker spoke with thinly veiled disdain, "Our business and our names are to be discussed with the king, not his concubine." Six alabaster statues watched her and Sarah could read nothing from their expressions, except that they would have nothing to do with the king's woman. Sarah contemplated them from under lowered lashes. Their reaction was not unexpected. Truthfully, she had been surprised with the goblins accepted her 'return in three days' idea so willingly. But a goblin's grasp of politics was nonexistent compared to these dignitaries.
Finally she raised her eyes and offered them a small bow of her own. "Then let me have rooms made for you, that you may wait in comfort for-"
"No." The word snapped like a whip, cutting her invitation off and making her blink at the speaker in surprise. "We will speak to the king now."
Her patience with the guests was quickly evaporating. "I am afraid that is not possible," she replied, smiling through gritted teeth. "Please. Let me show you to your rooms and King Jareth will speak with you as soon as he is able."
Pale eyes stared at her intensely and Sarah tensed as if expecting an attack. The blank expressions were falling away to reveal a hateful menace that suddenly made her feel no more than a silly woman playing dangerous games. The truth of it made her blood run cold. She had made a bold move, assuming that she could control Jareth's kingdom, but she had not planned for such unfriendly outsiders. She had no authority to force them to her will if they pushed their demands.
Sarah swallowed against the dry lump in her throat. The guests' eyes moved almost hungrily to watch her neck bob, before riveting again on her face. Just as quickly, they darted to the side before becoming blank and unreadable again.
A chill ran down her spine as the low voice seemed to travel across the room to caress her skin. Turning in the direction the visitors now stared, she dropped smoothly into a curtsey so low she was almost kneeling.
Jareth reclined casually against the archway, dressed in glittering black. In the darkness outside the room, he looked like a deadly shadow assessing both Sarah and the guests from his murky domain. Sarah trembled at the black energy emanating from him and lowered her eyes.
"My King," she whispered breathlessly, praying the foreigners took her tone to be lust or flirtation or anything but the fear and anxiety that twisted her stomach into knots. She claimed to love the Goblin King, had spent the last three days in his bed, but had she overstepped herself in attempting to rule in his stead?
Footsteps approached slowly and polished black boots stepped into her downcast vision. "Sarah..." A gloved hand extended to her. She took it, kissing the covered palm before raising her eyes to meet his and allowing herself to be drawn to her feet. His eyes were clouded, wary hope battling the pain of bitter betrayal.
She looked deeply into his eyes, praying that he would read in hers all the love and devotion that she felt for him. And the fear that she had angered him. "My Love," she murmured so softly it could barely be heard. Still, the words rang through the thick silence. He merely stared at her, face unreadable behind his customary mask. Just as Sarah thought her trembling might become visibly noticeable, he abruptly turned away, her hand still formally on his arm.
"What business do the Dryn wish with me, Alryn?" he asked the guests in a flat voice.
The visitors glanced at each other meaningfully, their expressions speaking volumes that Sarah wished she understood. The leader, Alryn she imagined, stepped forward again, bowing respectfully to Jareth. "Your Majesty, I bring greetings from the Dryn Kingdom. We present you with this gift as a token of our good will and gratitude for safe passage through your lands." He nodded at a fine-boned woman standing behind him and she stepped forward, dropping gracefully to her knees before the Goblin King as she held her offering out with bowed head. Alryn's eyes flicked to Sarah, a slight smirk on his face as if to say 'this is how a kingdom is really run.' Sarah pointedly ignored him.
Instead, she studied the offered gift. The woman waited with the stillness of a statue, a pale lavender silk pillow cradled in her outstretched hands. In the center of the pillow rested a large egg that glittered silver. In spite of its icy appearance, Sarah could swear she felt a tingling warmth emanating from it. She glanced inquisitively at Jareth, but his attention was focused on the egg. He stepped down from the dais, leaving Sarah standing alone, and held a hand momentarily over the gift.
"A wyvern egg," he breathed. "How did the Dryn come upon such a thing?"
Alryn smiled mysteriously. "It is our gift to you."
"Wyvern egg?" Sarah asked.
"They're very rare," Jareth replied, turning his back on the guests momentarily as he strode up the dais again. His eyes flashed a warning at her before he took his seat on the throne, gesturing for her to stand near him. "Wyvern live in the skies. They make their nests in the clouds. Acquiring a wyvern egg is a truly astonishing feat." He sounded genuinely impressed.
"Indeed," Alryn inclined his head. "The Goblin King understands the trials the Dryn faced to attain this gift." He cocked an eyebrow at Sarah. "Not that I would accept a mundane to appreciate such things." She merely returned his arrogant gaze coolly, refusing to be baited.
"Come now, Alryn," Jareth said, in the taunting tone that was so familiar to Sarah, "did you come here to taunt my subjects..." Sarah forced her face to remain serene at the label he gave her. "...or did you have legitimate business?"
Alryn touched the kneeling woman's shoulder and she rose, head still bowed. "Business, yes, Your Majesty. Important business. Of a personal nature." His eyes focused pointedly on Sarah.
Jareh followed his gaze. Expecting sparks to fly, Sarah tensed, but instead Jareth merely replied with mocking humor. "Speak now or not ever, Alryn. I have...better things to do than deal with the Dryn." A chill ran down her spine at the intimacy he had managed to instill in that simple comment.
Alryn's expression darkened, as did those of all the others with him. "So be it." He stepped forward and, with a flourish, dropped to one knee. The rest of his party followed suite.
"Your Majesty," he began formally, "the Dryn Kingdom has traveled through your lands to speak with you regarding a matter of utmost important to the survival of our race." He smiled a terrible smile and Sarah felt her eyes widen as she noticed for the first time the pointed edges of his teeth. He ran his tongue over the fangs as he glanced at her hungrily, his pale eyes darkening to the color of dried blood. She felt more than saw Jareth stiffen beside her.
He reentered the throne room after showing his 'guests' to their rooms to find Sarah gazing out the large window, her back to him. She had not yet noticed his return. He paused momentarily, pushing thoughts of the Dryn from his mind, to watch her. She had a slight frown on her face and a soft breeze caused whisps of her hair to flutter gently. Jareth felt his heart flutter in response. She was so beautiful, his Sarah.
He slid silently across the room. She started to turn as she finally noticed his presence, but he stopped her by wrapping his arms about her waist, pulling her back tightly against his chest. He pressed a kiss to her neck and relished the way she softly sighed at his touch. She turned her head and met his lips with her own. Jareth's hands traveled over the bodice of her dress and she gasped, pulling away from him.
"Jareth!" Her eyes were wide and luminous in her flushed face.
He favored her with a seductive grin, enjoying the way she trembled in his arms. "So the enchantress thinks she is the Goblin Queen now, does she?"
Sarah's already pink face darkened a few shades. "Well someone has to run things around here!" she retorted, careful to keep the playful tone in her voice.
"Mmhmm," Jareth purred as he led her from the window. "You did an admirable job handling the goblins, I must admit. The Dryn, however..." His voice trailed off as his expression became serious. "Not that there really is a proper way to handle the Dryn," he muttered.
"Jareth." The teasing quality had also fled from Sarah's voice, he noted. He met her intense gaze and read the nervousness there. Good. Better she be prepared for whatever may come. The appearance of the Dryn so close to Sarah's return could only mean trouble. Trouble for her. Trouble for both of them.
Her return still baffled him. He was torn between marrying her on the spot or throwing her into the blackest dungeon. She had to have a reason. Everyone had private reasons for their actions and he could not believe that she would come back, offering to give willingly whatever Jareth chose to take, without some great hidden agenda. He touched fingertips to his forehead, feeling a headache beginning. Now was not the time for personal matters.
With a sigh, he plopped (plopped? the king of the goblins does not 'plop'!) into his throne. "The Dryn are-" He stopped in surprise as Sarah settled herself into his lap, twining her arms about his neck. She smiled innocently and rested her head on his shoulder. He cleared his throat and began again.
"The Dryn are from a very distant land. They are not creatures such as you and I. They are immortal and their life force is sustained by draining energy from other beings. This is most commonly done in a blood-letting, though I have seen…other methods used as well." Sarah chose not to question what those other methods may have been.
"Mating season?" she prompted gently.
He nodded. "Mating season occurs only once every century or so. They mate at other times, of course, but only at this one time are they able to create more of their species. The Dryn do not reproduce in the same what that you and I might," Sarah blushed at the subtle reference, "but instead by draining sufficient energy from their...victims and then feeding it back into them. The cycle ends in the victim becoming Dryn. During normal times, a Dryn is not able to hold enough of a person's life force to change them. No one knows why the species is limited this way, but it is thought to be a result of their long lifespans. Could the Dryn reproduce whenever they pleased, we would easily have been overrun by them long ago."
"So," Sarah said in a quiet voice, remembering Alryn's fanged grin. "They're vampires."
"In many ways, they are. The scholars of your world manage very complete research, considering they have probably never met the creatures they write about."
"But it's not quite the same, is it?" Sarah frowned. "They obviously aren't hurt by the sun and I doubt the Underground has any cross-toting holy men."
Jareth chuckled. "No, the sun doesn't bother them. They do, however, take on similar physical attributes. Pale skin and eyes, hair loss, the fangs...they're almost impossible to kill except by a member of their own race."
Sarah pondered this for a moment, and then asked the question she feared to know the answer to. "So then why are they here? Obviously, it's their mating season, but why did they come here of all places?"
Jareth's arm around her waist tightened reflexively. "For centuries, the Dryn have always been given much leeway in all kingdoms during their mating season. It's an unspoken agreement amongst us all, perhaps our way of making even for the rest of the time when we scorn interacting with them." He sighed again. "I believe your scholars often thought vampires found human blood more attractive than any other kind?"
Sarah nodded, a frightening suspicion forming in the back of her mind.
"The Dryn are similar," Jareth said emotionlessly. "They discovered goblins, having once been human, make the mating experience the most rewarding for both partners. And ultimately, they make the best Dryn. Alryn was once one of my goblins, known then as Al. The ryn appellation following each name is a convention used by all of their race. So the Dryn most commonly choose my kingdom for their mating ground, and at this time I revert all of my subjects to their human forms. They enter a trancelike state, never realizing the true portent of their actions until it's over."
The words struck a chord of memory in Sarah. "The dream," she blurted. "The ballroom inside the crystal...the dancers were all untransformed goblins, weren't they?"
Caught by surprise, Jareth could only stare at her for a moment. Then a sly grin twisted the edge of his lips. "So you do remember that, do you? I was never quite certain."
Sarah's eyes flashed. "Of course I remembered! It was-" She winced suddenly, looking away from him. "It was one of the few things I had to show me that you really cared."
A thick silence fell. Neither of them was willing to discuss the issues of the past yet.
So much trouble... over such a little thing...
Sarah's fingers traced nervous patterns on Jareth's chest and she shifted in his lap as if suddenly uncomfortable being there. He covered her hand with his own, clasping it tightly to still the movements. She obviously didn't realize the effect her touch had on him. Her head came up, eyes seeking his worriedly.
He met her with the full fury of his own gaze and all the emotions that burned in it. Beneath all his arrogance, the Goblin King felt very scared and uncertain right now. He didn't care for it one bit, yet his rage melted away when Sarah looked at him with an expression so full of tenderness. He was unprepared for this beautiful young woman who had turned his world upside-down.
I have turned the world upside-down, and I have done it all for you!
To her credit, Sarah stared back at him with her own steely determination to take in everything that he was silently telling her. She did not draw back from him, as he had half-expected and half-feared she would do. Instead, she leaned forward, wrapping her arms tightly around him, and buried her face against his neck. She was pressed as closely to him as possible, as if her nearness could drain away the pain he felt.
Jareth felt himself responding involuntarily to her embrace, breathing in her scent as his hands stroked her long ebony tresses. Her actions, whatever the reasons, did manage to calm him and he drew strength from her presence.
"Sarah," he said quietly, though not coldly, "what were you doing this morning?"
Her breath caught and she pulled away from him. He had not realized until that moment that she was crying. She touched his face with one hand, tracing the lines and shadows that worry and exhaustion had etched there. "You're not well," she whispered.
He caught her hand again, watching her with a hunted look. First the tears and now the fear in her voice. Tears for him. Fear for him. For all the times of hopelessness and despair, it was too much for him to believe that she cared so much for him. He could feel his face closing to her, shutting her out behind the mask he so often wore.
"Alryn will be wanting to talk with me," he murmured finally. He was still looking at her, but it was as if from a great distance. Her eyes fell in an attempt to hide her own pain. He lifted her gently to her feet as he stood. "Have one of the goblins show you to the library, or perhaps the gardens," he said over his shoulder as he strode from the room, leaving her standing alone by his throne. "You have free reign of the castle now, Goblin Queen."
He knew she would hear how he mocked her with those last words. His Sarah never missed the subtle nuances. His Sarah. Not his Sarah. He resisted the urge to look back over his shoulder at her one last time before the stone hallways whisked him from sight of the throne room.
As he neared the Dryns' rooms, he spied Alryn pacing outside the door. The man was snooping around already, no doubt. Jareth's mouth twisted in a frown of distaste. He, like most of the Underground, found the Dryns' ruthless procedures with their prey revolting. It was rare to find a Dryn that cared about his partner's willingness to lose energy, or worse become Dryn. It was rare to find a Dryn that had any moral qualms about forcing a person to their whims.
It was hard to believe many of them had once been stupid, sniveling goblins of his own kingdom.
He cleared his face as Alryn looked up. "Jareth," he greeted, with a polite nod of his head. His hood was thrown back, revealing his pale, hairless scalp. Alryn was the closest thing the Dryn had to a king, and he made sure none of the other rulers forgot that he was to be considered their equal.
Jareth responded with an equal nod and his customary smirk of a smile. "Alryn. Your rooms are acceptable?"
"Quite accommodating." The Dryn leader dismissed the question with a wave of his hand. "Tell me, who was that charming creature I met in your throne room?" The glint of hunger in his eyes made Jareth's jaw clench. "She's yours, is she not?"
"No," Jareth croaked. He cleared his throat. "No," he repeated more clearly, "not mine." He cursed his reaction, wondering what Alryn would interpret it as. Fool king, have you become so weak? he growled to himself.
The Dryn was studying him with a curious expression. "Good, then you won't mind if we take her." There was no mistaking what he meant by take. The door to the room nearest him swung open and a soft female voice murmured from inside. Alryn raised an eyebrow and stepped towards the door. In the archway, he paused and looked back at Jareth. "She'll lose all that luxurious hair though," he mused, with a shiver of delight. "Such a pity."
The door shut behind him, and Jareth collapsed on the nearby window ledge, trembling with rage and shock.
He wanted to scream at the Dryn that no, they couldn't have Sarah. He wanted to scream at Sarah for having the arrogance to rule in his stead and thus reveal her existence to the Dryn. He wanted to scream at the age old agreements that said he had to yield to the Dryn whoever they wanted. He wanted to scream at the horrible wreck his life had been since Sarah entered it.
Dragging a hand over his haggard face, the Goblin King transformed into a snowy white owl and launched himself out the window with a terrible cry of sorrow.
Again, the Dryn and the wyvern (though the term exists) are my own species. My ideas for the library were inspired by J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame.
Her legs trembled as she watched Jareth walk away from her, his back straight and proud, his mocking words echoing in her ears. She felt exhausted. Between advising the goblins, the intimidating meeting with the Dryn, and Jareth's layers of masks, she felt as if she had received a thorough physical workout. She glanced briefly at the imposing throne before settling gingerly on the steps before it. Even with no one near, she wasn't quite brave enough to use the chair of the king.
There, curled alone on the cold floor of the empty throne room, Sarah felt suddenly abandoned. Reflecting on the events of the day, she wondered if she had truly made the right choice in returning to the Underground. Jareth had taken her to his bed readily enough, proving that he still felt at least some kind of lingering affection (or lust) for her, but now he seemed wary, mistrustful, as if waiting for her to spring some grand trap.
Stop it! I'll say the words!
She shivered. And why shouldn't he be mistrustful? She had given him no reason to trust her. None that he would accept anyway. Only time would heal the injured bond between them, though Sarah feared the long years of loneliness after his defeat had greatly compounded Jareth's agony.
Shaking off such morose thoughts, Sarah rose and, remembering Jareth's parting words, wondered how exactly one summoned a goblin to one's bidding.
No sooner had she thought it than, as if by magic (which was indeed the case), a smallish goblin scurried into the throne room. The goblin bobbed a quick curtsey as she neared.
"Lady Sarah! Where'd ya like ta go?" She peered up Sarah with wide, luminous eyes, full of wonder. I imagine I look like quite the fantasy to her, Sarah mused, hiding a smile behind one hand.
"Hello, what's your name?" she asked the goblin girl.
The child (Sarah had decided she must be quite a young goblin) blinked in surprise and took a moment to answer.
"Um. Emily, ma'am. I mean, Lady Sarah." Her eyes widened fearfully. "I'm sorry Lady Sarah! King Jareth said you're a lady, not ma'am." She looked so agitated by her small slip that Sarah immediately knelt beside her and pulled the girl into her arms.
"No, it's okay, Emily. I'm not used to being called Lady or ma'am, so you can call me just Sarah if you like." She heard a muffled sniffle. This had once been a human child, she reminded herself.
"Really?" Emily asked. "You won't yell at me or kick me or..or throw things at me?"
Sarah was mildly appalled. "No, of course not sweetie." She released the goblin and stood up. Emily beamed at her. With her distorted features, it looked almost grotesque, but Sarah smiled back anyway. She wondered bleakly if it was hurt fault Jareth mistreated his subjects.
" 'd ya like ta go, ma'am? I mean, Lady-..I mean Sarah!" After a quick nervous glance to see if Sarah was upset, Emily giggled at her own mistakes.
"Hmm, I think I'd like to go..." Sarah hesitated indecisively. Jareth had mentioned a library and some gardens, but she was also curious about the Dryn. Dare she meet them on her own? What about that strange egg they had offered Jareth? She had forgotten to ask him what it meant. She wondered...
But no. She sighed. She'd tested Jareth's control enough today. "...to the library," she finished. Perhaps she would find some books about Dryn, or wyverns.
Emily nodded, strangely solemn. "I know where that is. Follow me!" She trotted off down one of the long hallways, waving her new friend after her. Brushing her flowing hair back over her shoulders, Sarah followed slowly, careful of her long skirts.
At first, she tried to keep track of the route, but the halls twisted and turned and seemed to even wind back upon themselves. Finally she was forced to give up and follow Emily blindly. She wondered how such a young girl could remember her way about this complicated place.
At last they reached a tall pair of engraved wooden doors. Emily stood up on tiptoes to reach the handle and pushed her full weight against the heavy door to throw it open. Murmuring her thanks, Sarah stepped through the entrance.
She was vaguely aware of her mouth hanging open. Her hands grasped blindly for something solid to hold onto, the dizzying sight before her having totally destroyed her sense of balance. Finding a chair, she clung to the high back and tried to calm her racing heartbeat. "This," she gasped finally, "is the library?!" Emily was nodding and said something, but Sarah didn't hear the words. Her eyes were still fixed on the astonishing sight before her.
The walls were not flat as walls should be, but instead curved and rippled, as if someone had poured them into place from a great overhead waterfall. At least, she assumed that's what the walls must look like. She could not be entirely certain, as they were all completely covered with books. The room was large, oval in shape (though it was hard to be certain of that also, with the walls protruding at such odd angles), and stretched up higher than Sarah could see. Up and up into the ceiling it stretched, like a neverending, flowing tunnel. In fact, the walls really did look like they were flowing...
Sarah gasped. "Emily! The walls! Are they...spinning?" She forced her eyes to the ground before the dizzying sight caused her to completely lose her sense of balance.
The young goblin was watching Sarah curiously. "They always do that," she said matter-of-factly. "But I don't know why. Nobody does." She watched Sarah a moment longer, as if wondering if this new person might magically provide the answer. Sarah darted a few cautious glances upwards, slowly adapting to the strange sight. As long as she didn't stare too far up the tunnel, she managed to keep her bearings. She cleared her throat and took a hesitant step from the chair she had been clinging to.
"How...how do you reach the books up there?"
Emily's face split into a giant grin. "I'll show you!" She took off running without waiting for a response. With a nervous gulp, Sarah hurried after her.
In the center of the large room was what appeared to be a giant stone well. Without stopping her headlong rush, Emily leapt over the side and vanished into the dark hole. Before Sarah had a chance to really register what had happened, she heard the goblin girl's voice from inside the well. "Up!" she yelled. A moment later, Sarah was startled to see Emily come shooting out of the well, flying upwards at an astonishing rate. She soared up through the tunnel, waving her arms and giggling.
Recovering from her surprise, Sarah waved an arm tentatively over the well, expecting to feel a powerful breeze or some kind of force propelling the girl. Nothing. The well could just be an ordinary decorative hole for all Sarah could tell. She glanced up and saw that Emily had almost vanished from sight. She very faintly heard the girl yell "Down!" and watched as her form began to grow larger again as she plummeted back towards the ground.
Just as she reached the floor, she yelled "Stop!" and Sarah could only stare as she watched Emily float contentedly over the opening of the well. The goblin girl stepped quite calmly from the open air to the lip of the well and then hopped to the ground. She turned to Sarah with a big smile.
"Now you try it!"
Sarah realized her mouth was hanging open again and quickly shut it, smiling reassuringly at the girl. "Maybe later," she replied. "For now, I think I'll just look around a bit. Thank you for showing me here." She knelt down so she was face to face with the child. "I'll call again when I'm ready to leave, okay?"
Emily nodded, understanding that Sarah wished to be alone now. She started to leave, hesitated, then briefly threw her arms around Sarah before scurrying out the door.
Sarah smiled after her, reminded of Toby. A pang of loneliness hit her and she quickly pushed aside the memories of the family she had left behind to return to the Labyrinth. Carefully avoiding the well, she approached the nearest wall and began looking for books on the Dryn.
After several hours of fruitless searching, Sarah was ready to give up. Her feet and back ached fiercely and the thought of food made her stomach rumble, but she hated to quit without having found a single piece of information. She fell into a nearby chair with a sigh.
"Someone needs to introduce this place to the card catalog system," she muttered in annoyance, "although I imagine that would take up a whole room of its own." She sulked in silence for a moment, contemplating black things that could be done to whoever created such a vast library with no cataloguing and a well for transportation.
Sarah's eyes widened. "The well! Could it be..." Eyeing it warily, she stepped carefully to the edge. Zipping around at high speeds wasn't exactly her cup of tea, especially in these voluminous gowns, but if it could help her find books?
Gathering her skirts carefully in one hand, Sarah climbed up onto the lip of the well. Remembering how Emily had plummeted until yelling her command, Sarah carefully spoke as she stepped forward.
"Up!" she ordered the well as her feet touched empty air. Instantly, her skirts pressed flat against her, ripping themselves from her hands, and she found herself soaring upwards. Glancing down, she saw the floor trickling to a mere pinpoint. "N-no," she stammered. "Down! Down!" The movement reversed and Sarah had a small glimpse of the floor growing larger before her dress billowed up into her face, her hair flying upwards. She shrieked in surprise, flailing against the yards of heavy fabric.
"Down slowly!" she screamed. Instantly, her dress and hair calmed and Sarah wrestled the heavy material of her skirt back to it's proper location, combing her hair over her shoulders. Watching the floor, she saw that it was approaching at a vastly decreased rate. Her racing pulse beginning to slow, Sarah was extremely relieved no one had been around to witness her learning experience with the well.
Gathering her wits, she studied the walls around her as she slowly descended. There had to be some way to find things...
"Dryn," she told the well. No reaction. "Find books on the Dryn," she tried again. Still nothing. "Wyverns?"
Finally something happened. She began to move upwards again, thankfully not at the alarmingly fast rate she previously had, but still at a smooth, swift pace. Sarah watched the ground shrink and swallowed nervously, hoping that magic didn't often malfunction. Her flight drew to a halt abruptly and she looked around nervously. She was hovering in mid-air at a dizzying height. How was she supposed to reach the books on the walls?
With a deep breath, she lifted one foot, moving it forward through the empty air. Gingerly stepping forward, she found the air to be solid. With her eyes fixed on the wall before her, Sarah walked slowly through the open air to the shelves. Once there, she couldn't help but grasp the rows of books tightly before glancing nervously at the gaping hole below her.
"This has got to be the most exhilarating library experience of my life," she gasped, jerking her gaze away from the dizzying sight. Focus, she repeated to herself.
The books in front of her were thick, ancient looking volumes. Sarah's eyes locked on one. Wyverns: History, Habitat, and Heraldry. "Found it," she whispered, elated.
She pulled the heavy book from the shelf. "Heraldry?" she murmured. "What in the world?"
Thumbing through the book, intent on her discovery, she didn't hear the library doors open far below her.
The excerpt from Sarah's book is a slightly modified article from Wikipedia.
"A wyvern is a winged reptilian legendary creature often found in ancient heraldry. It is similar to a dragon, but it differs in that it has only two legs, cannot breathe fire, and has a barbed or snake-like tail. Occasionally, it is said to be smaller than a dragon or to be able to breathe fire. In heraldry, it represents pestilence, conquest, or other such ideas. Another mythical creature that is similar to the wyvern is the cockatrice. Variants of the wyvern include-"
"Wyverns, is it, my dear?"
A voice in her ear, so unexpected and startling that Sarah jumped a foot in the air, the book slipping from her grasp. As she watched it plummet down the long shaft below her, she noticed idly that she had not come down from her jump and now floated a foot higher than she had previously been. A moment later the book reached the floor with a low, echoing thump and Sarah raised her eyes to the man standing before her.
Alryn was smiling at her, that horrible feral grin that revealed his sharp teeth and hid his sinister thoughts. He had changed from his formal clothes into robes of deep, dark purple, which made his already pale skin appear translucent.
Sarah swallowed, endeavoring to regain the serene composure she had faced him with previously. "I was curious," she said finally, pleased at the steadiness of her tone.
"Oh, really?" Alryn drawled. His eyes were entrancing, so clear and white and first glance, but the longer one stared, the darker they seemed to appear. Or was it her mind playing tricks on her? "Perhaps you would like a closer look?" He held out his hand to her in a courtly gesture and Sarah took it without thinking. It wasn't until they had descended to the ground level and almost reached the library doors that she realized what had happened.
"Wait!" She pulled her arm free of Alryn's grasp, hesitating. "I... I wanted to do some reading..."
Alryn smiled at her again, and she again felt herself drawn into his eyes. She wasn't aware of leaning towards him until he lifted a hand and gently caressed her cheek. "So beautiful," he murmured, his hand trailing down her neck and along her collarbone. His touch stirred fire within her and her eyes widened in shock as she realized she couldn't pull away from him. "No surprise that Jareth claimed you as his own."
Another kind of fire rose in Sarah and she glared at the Dryn with angry eyes. He hissed as if burned and drew his hand back, studying her gaze. She found that she could move again and did so, deliberately stepping away and turning her face away from him. "Jareth didn't claim me, Alryn. I claimed him." Her voice was like cold stone.
"Lord Alryn," he corrected. "And King Jareth at that, or perhaps you think you're beyond such trivialities with him?" He stepped towards her. "And perhaps you wish to be with me also?" he purred.
Sarah raised a hand to him. "Stop," she ordered, half-commanding, half- pleading. Alryn didn't miss the worry in her voice and awarded her a sly smile before taking the hand she had lifted against him.
"Come, Sarah. Come see the egg. That's all I ask of you." He gently pulled her towards the door as he spoke, turning to look back at her as he pushed it open. Involuntarily, she met his eyes again and felt his powerful gaze boring into her. "I promise."
Sarah was lost. She knew it. A part of her mind pleaded with her, screamed for help, for Jareth, for anyone to save her. Yet her body moved of its own accord, taking Alryn's arm, smiling prettily at him. Was that really her, giggling like a brainless idiot at the inconsequential things the Dryn murmured in her ear? She moved in a deep fog, scarcely aware of her own actions or surroundings.
They were headed towards his chambers, she knew. What could she do? What could she do...
But I'll be there for you, As the world falls down...
She wanted to scream, but not a sound escaped her lips. Jareth, where are you?
He returned late in the night, long after he expected Sarah to be asleep. To his surprise, she sat waiting for him, a single candle illuminating her face. He landed on the balcony and, after returning to his human form, entered the room silently, studying her in the darkness. She was curled within the folds of a thick, cream-colored bathrobe and her dark hair was shimmering and damp, smelling of scented soap.
A step forward and she noticed him, eyes wide in the darkness as she strained to see. "Jareth?" There was fear in her voice. Fear of him? Fear for him? He couldn't read her expression in the dim light. He stepped into the small pool of candlelight and she stood, reaching for him. He took her into his arms, pressing a gentle kiss on her forehead. Sarah curled against him, the soft skin of her cheek caressing his neck.
"Sarah..." he breathed, intoxicated by her, by her scent, by her touch, by everything that made her who she was. "Is something wrong, Sarah?"
"Not anymore," she whispered, arms twining about his neck as she pulled his head down into a fierce kiss. She let the robe slide to the floor and his hands moved hungrily across her heated skin. Fingers like ice caressed his face, his neck, his shoulders, any exposed skin that Sarah could reach. "I want you," she whispered in his ear. The contrast of her warm body and cold fingers almost made him gasp, but she covered his mouth again with a long kiss. His fingers tangled in her hair as he pulled her hard against him, eliciting a low moan from her throat.
He loved her, he admitted it, in all of her innocence. As a temptress, he found her completely irresistible.
They barely made it to the bedroom.
Waking came slowly the next morning. Light filtered into the room through the dark curtains, falling in patches on the bed. Jareth found himself feeling supremely, deliciously pleased. Finding Sarah curled in his arms, he kissed her softly, watching her eyes flutter as she awakened. He opened his mouth to tell her he loved her, he would always be there for her, and he would do anything to protect her from the Dryn...and then he saw the mark.
Where the sunlight fell on her face, she frowned and twisted away from it, her hair falling back as she did so to reveal the twinned scars like the bite of a snake. Or the bite of a Dryn. Jareth's words caught in his throat.
As the world falls down...
The peaceful atmosphere shattered around him as he rapidly pieced together what must have happened. Alryn's threat, his own absence, Sarah alone and unaware of the Dryns' abilities. Her mood the previous night, the way her body had burned while her fingers were frozen, and just now, how she had turned away from the sun.
Was it already too late?
Sarah opened her eyes, smiled up at him, unaware of his dark thoughts and she snuggled closer against him. "I'm a little chilly," she murmured against his chest. He stroked her hair as she shivered against him.
"Sarah," he tilted her chin so she was looking up at him. "You saw Alryn yesterday. What happened?" He touched her neck. "How did you get this mark?"
"What?" She touched the scar and her eyes clouded momentarily. "What...I- You told me not to go near the Dryn. I went to the library after you left. I didn't see Alryn after that." She frowned. "No, that's not right. I did see him. Didn't I?"
Jareth sighed and she turned worried eyes on him. "What's going on? What do you know that you're not telling me?" With each word, hysteria built in her voice.
"Shhh, calm down, Sarah. It's nothing to worry about." He tried to pull her into his arms but she pushed him away, searching his face.
"What's nothing to worry about? I feel strange...why?!"
"He's marked you, Sarah. It's the first bond to the Dryn." She stared at him, mouth open in confusion and shock. Jareth threw back the covers. "Get dressed. We have a lot to talk about and there isn't much time."
He's marked you, Sarah. It's the first bond to the Dryn.
She didn't bother getting dressed, only pulled her robe from the floor where it had been haphazardly tossed the night before. Her hands trembled so badly that she had difficulty wrapping the warm cloth around herself. She took a deep, calming breath before turning to face the Goblin King. He was fully dressed, perched casually on the edge of the desk as if he had not risen merely a few minutes earlier. His arms folded across his chest, he was frowning thoughtfully into space. It was a moment before he noticed Sarah watching him and his face became an unreadable mask as he turned slightly away from her.
"I should not have left you alone, not with Dryn in the palace," Jareth murmured harshly.
She flinched, misinterpreting his angry tone. "I'm sorry," she began, "I didn't mean-"
"He will pay, I will see to it!" Wide-eyed, Sarah realized he had not heard her speak. She couldn't see it in his face, but she could hear the anger in his voice, and the anguish. His body was tense, ready to snap from the casual pose at the slightest provocation. Swallowing her fear, Sarah stepped forward and embraced him, resting her cheek against his shoulder.
For a moment he stilled under her touch, but then he grasped her wrist firmly, prying her free and thrusting her away from him. Caught off guard, she stumbled, tripping on the hem of her robe and half falling onto the bed.
"Why did you come here?" he demanded. "Were you expecting some new and exciting adventures? I doubt you anticipated being seduced by a Dryn." Sarah drew back as he stalked towards her menacingly. "Or perhaps you were having too much fun playing the seductress yourself? Do you think I've not had enough women that I wouldn't recognize such games? Do you think I am so foolish as to believe you are here out of some honest emotion? Out of love?" She started to stand and he shoved her back down on the bed. She stared up into his angry gaze with wide eyes, afraid for a moment that he was going to hit her.
He turned away from her abruptly, tiredly. "Sarah…must you torment me further?"
Sarah rose cautiously to her feet. There had been a time when her actions mattered more than any words she could have said, but now was the time to prove that what she did had a deeper meaning.
Just fear me, love me, do as I say...and I will be your slave.
Sarah swallowed. "You're right. You've been very…generous…and I have been cruel." She stared at the floor, the words flowing out of her as if it had only been yesterday that he had first spoken them to her. "I asked that the child be taken, and you took him. I cowered before you and you were frightening. You reordered time... You turned the world upside-down..."
Jareth turned to face her slowly. His expression was unchanged, but somehow she could see beyond the mask he wore.
"You're exhausted..." she whispered.
...And I've done it all for YOU!
His lips twitched in a ghost of the familiar smirk. She was throwing his own words back at him. He supposed he should be flattered that she remembered after all this time. "Desperate words," he shrugged. "I didn't think you heard them."
She stared at him solemnly, her dark eyes sad. "I was only a child."
"You are still a child!" he snapped, advancing on her with one gloved hand raised. Sarah flinched, but the touch on her cheek was gentle, delicate, as if she were made of the finest porcelain. "The Dryn, Sarah, you're no match for the Dryn. I cannot protect you from them." There was a plea in his voice and Sarah clasped his hand in her own, meeting his eyes boldly.
"I'm stronger than you think."
Smoothly, she pulled him down beside her on the bed, his head cradled in her lap. She ran soothing fingers through his silky hair and he gave in to her ministrations with a regretful sigh. Sarah hummed softly, unconsciously choosing the song he had sung to her once upon a time. She broke off abruptly, tracing the contours of his face with the tips of her fingers, smoothing his hair out of the way.
"Jareth?" He opened eyes filled with hidden pains and she swallowed the words of comfort that sprung instinctively to her lips. She had to focus on the future, not the past. Her gaze met his and echoed his torment, but all she said was, "Tell me about the Dryn."
He reached up with a gloved hand to touch the mark on her neck. His eyes closed and the mask slid back into place again. Sarah wondered if he knew how easily and how often he let down his guard in her presence.
"In two days time, there will be a ball. You remember the ball, Sarah." She stiffened in surprise, caught him watching her with half-lidded eyes, and forced herself to relax.
"But...that was just a dream..." she breathed.
"No." Jareth pulled away from her, pacing across the room. "For you, Sarah. But for everyone else it was very real." He gazed out the window, arms folded across his chest, the sunlight in his hair momentarily dazzling her.
"At that time, every creature under my control will be returned to human form and offered as prey to the Dryn. They don't take them all, of course. Most Dryn are only capable of taking one in that time, though some can manage two. It's a night of blood and lust, and in the morning the Dryn leave and take their new...children," his lip curled, "with them and we are free of them for another hundred years."
"But, if they can only take people at the ball, then why-"
"No!" Jareth cut her off fiercely. "No, Sarah, he could have had you yesterday if he so desired." Sarah's face paled. "But it amuses him to toy with you, to toy with someone so close to the throne. Someone so...powerful." His hands were in her hair and Sarah gasped. She had not realized he had moved until she felt his breath against her ear.
"How can they do that?" she whispered. Her heart was pounding from his nearness and she could feel the heat radiating from his body. "How can they just take anyone they want?" She gripped his shirt in her hands, seized with a sudden panic. "You? Could they take you?"
A smirk played across his face. "All of the royal line are protected. The ruler can request protection for others and the Dryn will often obey, but it's still merely a request. You," he studied her calmly, "are not protected."
Sarah gaped at him. "You…you wouldn't ask them...?"
He stared at her with that undecipherable expression until she felt her cheeks burn and lowered her gaze.
"So," she whispered, wrapping her arms around herself with shiver, "that's how it's to be. I have to resist the irresistible to prove my love." She turned away from him, missing the way he twitched at her words. She laughed softly. "That's so like you, Jareth. Still playing these games as if pitting me against my dreams will grant you yours."
...For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great!
Sarah spun back to face him, her loose robe fluttering open to reveal more than it concealed. She spread her arms wide as if offering herself to him. "Don't you see that you've already won?"
He was taken aback by her response, by the brazen way in which she displayed her body before him, by the implication behind her words and actions. Since her return to his kingdom, Sarah had done nothing as expected. She had lived only in his thoughts and dreams for so long that now when she had finally appeared in reality, he did not know how to cope with the way she had changed. He had been constantly off-balance since her arrival. In fact, he realized...
"You've been taking me for granted."
Jareth froze, realizing too late that his face was revealing more than he would have liked. He raised his eyes to see an expression of wonderment on Sarah's face as her outstretched arms lowered in disbelief. "You have, haven't you?" she demanded accusingly, eyes narrowing. "You've been taking me for granted!"
He made no move, refusing to confirm her words but unable to deny them. He, the king of the Goblins and master of the Labyrinth, had made a grave error. He had expected one girl to remain unchanged through the years, even after passing through a world where time had no meaning. He watched her silently, waiting for the vindictive words, the triumphant smile, as he was beaten at his own game. Again.
You have no power over me...
Frowning at him, Sarah drew her robe closed, folding her arms across her chest. "It's not fair!"
"What a horrible place this is!" She stamped her foot childishly and Jareth raised an eyebrow. "All this time, all these years, and I finally decide to face my past...no, I finally understand my past and embrace it! I've finally grown up, and what happens?" She chuckled sardonically. "The man of my dreams thinks I'm still sixteen."
"Be careful, Sarah..." Jareth's whispered words cut through Sarah's laughter, silencing it. He strode towards her, predator approaching prey, and saw fear worm its way into her eyes. He cupped her chin in his hands, leaning close enough to inhale her scent. "You call me the man of your dreams, but you know I'm much more suited to nightmares." He let his gaze wander over her lips, her body, before locking again on her startled eyes. He was close enough to feel her tremble.
Don't defy me!
Sarah's lips parted, whether in fear or anticipation he was not sure, and her breath mingled with Jareth's, but at the same instant he gave into temptation and pulled her close, she twisted away just enough to make him pause.
Flushed, she laid one hand against Jareth's cheek. "Your evil tyrant act won't work on me," She smiled coyly at him. "Three years can make a big difference." She moved back into his embrace, but this time it was Jareth who pulled away, alarmed.
"Three years? Sarah, surely you realize that time here does not flow with the same consistency it does in your world."
Sarah frowned in puzzlement. "What are you saying?"
He studied her expression carefully. "Sarah," he hesitated, "it's been over a century."
For the second time that day, Sarah found herself stunned to silence.
First the mark of the Dryn, now a hundred years lost!
She felt dizzy and the room danced before her vision. She didn't realize she was about to faint until Jareth caught her and lowered her gently to the bed. Though she reached for him, he moved cautiously away, watching her through an expressionless mask.
"A hundred years," she breathed. "I had no idea. A hundred years..." She looked at him with new sight, piecing together all the oddities she had witnessed since her return. How he trembled at her slightest glance. How the fathomless walls he hid behind had eroded into nearly nothing. How the despair had twisted within him. "So it was all because..."
"It wasn't only that," he said quickly. He was uncomfortable, she could see. He didn't want her to say it, to announce his weakness, so it might be seen and studied and used against him. She stared at him for a long moment, letting him know that she knew the truth, and it would be no less true whether it was said or not.
Jareth looked away first. She was not from this world. She did not know how the spoken word could give things power. "It wasn't only that," he repeated.
Sarah studied him, a slight frown creasing her forehead. Though he sat only a few feet from her, she felt as if he was flying away as fast as his wings could carry him. She wondered what he was trying to escape. "What was it then?" she prompted.
"It was defeat." His hands clenched on his thighs. The rays from the sun were streaming through the window to light the hard planes of his face and sparkle in his hair. Sarah thought that he looked both noble and tragic at once. "Think of your fairy stories, Sarah. Think of the evilest villain you can recall, the one who lived in your nightmares and lurked behind every corner, waiting for you."
"That's not you," she told him firmly. Jareth inclined his head marginally, accepting her remark for the moment.
"Even so," he continued, "What happens to that villain when he is defeated? Who fears him then? Who believes in him? No one." His voice had become as desolate as a frozen wasteland. "No one fears the defeated. No one believes in them. In the end, they are all forgotten."
He looked at her then and she saw an eternity of emptiness in his eyes. An infinite Alone. He was a child who had looked into the coffin and seen himself lying there, and known the meaning of Death.
His eyes begged her. If no one believes in me, am I real?
And Sarah knew that in that moment she could reach out her hand and take him into her arms and, in that moment when he was defenseless before her, she could touch his pain and take it away.
"I believe in you, Jareth." She reached for him, but he blurred before her eyes and the room seemed to dim. She fell back against the pillows and the chance was lost. His yes, like windows into his soul, shuttered, closing him off from her, and Sarah wanted to scream at the weakness in her body.
And then something strange began to happen.
Jareth breathed deeply, eyes closed, struggling to rebuild the barriers that Sarah so easily broke through. He couldn't afford to give her this control over him. He didn't want to give her the power to destroy him again. Yet somewhere deep within in, refusing to be smothered, was the faintest flame of hope.
He opened his eyes when he heard Sarah rise from the bed. She was moving towards the door slowly, as if sleepwalking. "Sarah?" She didn't answer, though she turned her head to look at him. He came alert at once, seeing a flush on her cheeks and a blank look in her eyes. He wondered if she was even seeing him. After a moment, she again began moving, trancelike, towards the door.
"Wait," Jareth leapt up and grabbed her arm, surprised when she only struggled weakly. "Stop, Sarah," he commanded. She ignored him, continuing her attempts to pull free. Her lips were moving feverishly and he leaned closer to hear.
"Alryn, I'm coming, I hear you, Alryn, Alryn, I'm coming..." She repeated the strange litany over and over under her breath.
Jareth's surprise and confusion melted away into a heated glare. He moved firmly between Sarah and the door. "No," he said calmly. "You are not going to Alryn."
She paused for a moment and then, the blankness never leaving her eyes, a feral rage twisted her features and she lunged at Jareth, kicking and clawing like one possessed.
That was exactly it, Jareth realized, as he fought to hold the struggling woman. She has been possessed.
Wrestling her backwards, he threw her onto the bed, pinning her gently but firmly with the weight of his body. "No, Alryn," he snarled into Sarah's blank eyes. "You can't have her, not this one! She belongs to me! Do you hear me?" The struggling stilled and something dark moved through Sarah's vision. As Jareth watched, a pool of inky blackness poured across the warm brown of her eyes. Then her entire body went taut, fingers crabbing into claws and back arching even with his weight bearing down on her. Her neck craned and her mouth gaped open in a soundless scream.
A sense of Alryn filled the room, darkening the sunlight, dripping off the bed sheets, and sluicing over Jareth like a viscous, omnipresent slime.
"No!" Jareth growled again, and for a moment, through the black nothingness that had become her eyes, he thought he saw Sarah looking out at him. It was her own helpless fear and desperate struggle that wracked her body now. She tossed her head from side to side in frantic terror, and he cradled her face gently between his palms, smoothing her hair back. Her eyes darted across him unseeing, so he kissed her, putting into the caress all of the love and passion and devotion that he could not put into words.
I'll be there for you...as the world falls down.
She stilled finally and, with a shuddering breath, Alryn's presence seemed to withdraw.
Then Sarah began to move again and Jareth broke the kiss with a gasp, for now her struggles had turned to seduction. Her body, which had previously twisted away from him, now molded against him and her fingers scraped down his back, tearing away the fabric of his shirt. She buried her face in his neck, nipping and teasing her way across his flesh.
He threw himself away from her, horrified that Alryn had such power over her that he could control her body in this way. But the gaze that looked up at him was again Sarah's chocolate eyes, though filled with a hunger that nearly staggered Jareth in its intensity. "Please," she whispered. "Please..."
He realized then that it was not as he feared. Alryn had left her, but he had left behind his own lusts that had not been satisfied. What Sarah felt now was the full hunger of a Dryn in heat. A hunger that could not be staved off or denied, but could only be...fulfilled.
"Jareth, please…" Her hands begged for his touch, pulling off her robe, offering herself to him, but it was only her eyes that he cared to look at. In them, he saw fear, regret, and understanding. In his, he hoped she saw the same.
He let her draw him forward, giving in to the wild desire that threatened to consume her.
It wasn't until much later, when she had fallen into a restless, exhausted sleep, that he climbed weakly from the bed and fell to his knees, weeping silently.
She woke to the dim light before morning. The events of yesterday were a cloudy haze in her mind. Jareth was sleeping beside her, his back to her, and she wrapped an arm loosely about his waist, snuggling closer.
Something rough brushed her cheek and she ran her fingertips over Jareth's back curiously. She couldn't yet see what the narrow grooves were, but the sunrise was quickly approaching. As the room brightened, Sarah stared in amazement at the long scratches covering Jareth's back. She pulled him towards her and saw that his front was the same, but riddled with small bite marks, some of which appeared to have drawn blood. He opened tired eyes and surveyed the damage with smugness and a touch of trepidation.
"You seem to have enjoyed yourself at my expense," he smirked.
Flashes of the previous night began to return to her. She felt light-headed suddenly as memory overwhelmed her. "I did this to you," she whispered. She licked her lips and tasted the sweet tang of blood. Lifting her hands, she saw her nails were stained red. She swallowed against the bile rising in her throat. "What kind of monster am I becoming?"
"Sarah?" Jareth touched her cheek, turning her face towards his. "Are you alright?" The concern in his voice threatened to send her into hysterical laughter. How could he speak to her so tenderly after what she had done to him? Would she never do anything but cause him pain? She began to tremble uncontrollably.
"I did this to you," she repeated numbly.
Jareth pulled her into his arms, stroking her hair gently. "Shhh, it's fine. It couldn't be avoided." Sarah buried her face against his warm chest. He continued to hold her and murmur comforting words until her trembling subsided.
It was only then that she realized she was crying, tears streaming silently down her cheeks.
"Sarah?" Jareth asked, realizing she had quieted.
Sarah sniffled. "I never wanted to hurt you again," she mumbled against his chest, voice quavering. "I love you so much." His arms tightened reflexively around her, but he made no other movements.
Finally, she cried herself out. She felt empty and somehow cleansed, more like herself than she had since the arrival of the Dryn. She relaxed in Jareth's arms, feeling safe and warm, and drifted towards unconsciousness. Just before sleep claimed her completely, she thought she heard Jareth speak, his voice a warm rumble in her ear.
"I forgive you, Sarah."
But then, perhaps she was already dreaming.
He sat in the darkest corner of the bedroom, his face hidden in shadow.
In the center of his bed, Sarah lay in a deep and peaceful sleep. It was not the nervous sleep of one who rested in the bed of an enemy, nor was it the troubled tossing of one driven by guilt. But then, he was already coming to understand that she neither hated nor pitied him.
Sarah sighed softly, contentedly, and rolled onto her back. The movement pushed the covers to her waist and Jareth's eyes glittered darkly as they roamed over the revealed flesh.
How often had he imagined this very scene? A century of longing, and now it seemed like a only another crazed dream that he was lost in. Sarah, lying willingly in his bed.
Sarah, resting happily in his arms.
Sarah, pleading for his touch.
Sarah, helpless beneath him…
Jareth passed a trembling hand over his face as he fought back the roiling emotions. He ached both physically and mentally, but he had to find a way to protect Sarah from Alryn. His foolishness had allowed the Dryn too close to her once already. If they thought she was the established queen or a mere plaything, there would be no appeal to her. But they had seen from the start that her status was uncertain and yet she wielded an unprecedented amount of power. Jareth could only hope that they were unaware of the previous victory that made Sarah easily his equal, regardless of what position she took with regards to the king. If they discovered that, he knew they would stop at nothing to make her one of their own. The results could be catastrophic.
He straightened suddenly, the beginnings of an idea tickling at his mind. Sarah began to stir and he pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. When her eyes fluttered open he was already gone.
Sleep felt like a long blink to Sarah. She closed her eyes with Jareth's arms around her and opened them when she felt his kiss. Yet the room was empty and it was clear from the angle of the sunlight through the window that considerable time had passed. She slowly pulled herself into a sitting position, feeling incredibly weary in spite of sleeping half the day. She felt a heavy weight over her heart.
Looking down at herself, she found Jareth's pendant resting on her bare chest. She touched it curiously and something rippled at the edge of her vision. A piece of parchment rested on the pillows, threatening to flutter away in the light breeze. She snatched it up quickly and read.
Wear it always, with my love. –Jareth
Sarah fell back on the pillows, the note clutched in one hand and the pendant wrapped in the other. She felt like a schoolgirl experiencing her first love. It didn't matter that the emotion had been biding its time for years (or in Jareth's case, much longer). Nothing else from the past mattered anymore. Not her first journey through the Labyrinth, not her traumatic history with Jareth, not her problems with the Dryn…
Sarah sobered and sat up again. The Dryn did still matter. She pushed aside the thick sheets, rising to hurriedly bathe and dress. She had to find Jareth and speak with him about the power that Alryn held over her. The ball was only one day away, but that was plenty of time for Alryn to finish what he had started. If she didn't find a way to resist his call…
Sarah shuddered. She could too vividly recall the sensation of the Dryn's consciousness slithering through her mind. She thought she had prepared for anything before returning Underground, but 'anything' had mostly involved the Goblin King and his minions. It made sense that there were other realms outside the Labyrinth, but she hadn't thought to be dealing with any of them so soon or so directly.
As she prepared to leave, Sarah paused with her hand on the door, checking her appearance in the mirror. She looked like a proper queen. The pale blue satin dress had an intricate pattern on the bodice. Jareth's pendant hung over her chest as if it was made to be worn with the dress, the shape interacting with the bodice pattern in an optical illusion that made the two look conjoined. Sarah shook her head wryly. It was somehow fitting.
The corridor outside of Jareth's rooms was empty and Sarah hesitated, perplexed. She had no idea where Jareth was and even if she did, the palace was still a maze to her. She could spend days exploring and never find him. Or worse, she could run into Alryn. Sarah glanced quickly up and down the hallway, as if thinking of the man who could invade her thoughts would lead him instantly to her.
Something touched her shoulder from behind and Sarah stifled a scream as she leapt away. She was flattened against the opposite wall before her brain caught up with what her body was doing. Pulse racing, she stared in wide-eyed terror at the figure before her.
It was not Alryn but a petite girl in a cranberry dress with a full, ruffled skirt. Fine golden curls tumbled over her shoulders to the middle of her back. As Sarah fought to calm her nerves, she noticed incongruous things like the way the girl's lips and nails had been painted to match her dress, or how the pale yet vibrant blue of her eyes seemed to glow in the dim hallway.
The girl giggled prettily. "Are you okay, Lady Sarah?" she asked in a sweet voice that immediately made her seem much younger than the dress and makeup made her look. She was barely into her teens, Sarah guessed.
"Fine, you just startled me," Sarah replied, stepping closer. "How do you know my name?"
The girl giggled again. "You don't recognize me!" She twirled, showing off her dress. "It's me, Emily!"
Sarah was astonished. "Emily?" she asked, trying to reconcile in her mind the image of the shy little goblin child with that of the beautiful giggling girl before her.
Emily nodded. "King Jareth said we get to look different for a few days!" Her voice dropped to an awe-filled whisper. "I feel really tall."
"You look lovely," Sarah assured her. Emily beamed.
"A nice man gave me this pretty dress," she confided. Sarah grinned, unable to imagine all of the goblins suddenly wandering around as normal people, especially if their mischievous nature stayed intact.
"Emily, do you know where Jar- er, King Jareth is?"
The girl nodded again. "I saw him go into the gardens earlier. They're really pretty. Wanna see?" Without waiting for an answer, she grabbed Sarah's hand, tugging her down the hallway. As they traversed the twists and turns of the palace, Sarah was amused to find Emily as talkative as a human as she was as a goblin. By the time they reached the courtyard leading to the gardens, Sarah had heard in detail about Emily's experience of waking as a human and about her new friend who had generously given her the lovely dress and helped her with her hair and makeup.
"Well, here you go Lady Sarah," Emily said finally. "Just don't get lost or King Jareth might never find you." Her eyes went to the pendant around Sarah's neck and she giggled uncontrollably, as if she had just made the most amazing joke.
Sarah smiled and shook her head. "Thank you, Emily. Have a good time with your friend." Emily gave a little wave, a distant expression on her face as if she was already far away. As she turned away, the gentle breeze brushed her curls away from her shoulders and Sarah froze.
Low on the girl's neck, almost at the junction between neck and shoulder, the skin was marred.
The mark of the Dryn.
"Wait! Emily!" Sarah called after her, but the girl had already vanished back into the labyrinthine walls of the castle.
Sarah was horrified. The new "friend" Emily had talked about so much must have been one of the Dryn. He must have given her such pretty clothes and makeup in exchange for marking her. A child like Emily would never have understood the consequences of that trade. And had it been only blood, or had the Dryn asked for more? She was only a child!
Sarah shuddered, and suddenly wondered if Alryn had been the one to find Emily. Could he have taken her when he was denied Sarah? Had he known that Emily was the guide Jareth had assigned her?
Was this her fault?
Sarah felt suddenly exposed, as if ten thousand eyes were watching her accusingly.
With a strangled sob, she darted into the gardens, running as if she could somehow escape her own fears.
By the time Sarah stopped running, she was deep within the gardens. She paused by a small pond and stared into the dark water, mentally berating her reflection for such foolish actions. The girl in the water no longer looked queenly. Her hair was a tangled mess and her dress was stained from her headlong rush through the flora. Even tinted by the murky color, it was clear that her eyes were red and puffy.
Sarah laughed harshly. "You are the Queen of Fools," she told the watery image, before turning her back on it.
Because of her foolishness, Jareth had spent a hundred years in mental anguish. Because of her foolishness, he had suffered physically at her hands. Because of her foolishness, Emily would suffer for the rest of her soon-to-be immortal life. Because of her foolishness, Sarah was on the brink of joining her.
It's only forever, not long at all…
Sarah sank to her knees, fighting back another sob. Even if Alryn was unable to finish his work with her, what kind of future would she have? Would she always be under his spell?
And poor Emily. At least Sarah had the Goblin King fighting for her. Emily had no one, and furthermore Jareth had been clear that the entire purpose of altering his subjects' appearance was for the Dryn to take them. He would not lift a finger if Alryn came for the girl.
A shuffling noise and a surprised grunt brought Sarah back to her surroundings with a cold stab of terror. She froze in a huddle on the ground, tensed to spring away at the slightest provocation.
"Who's…there…?" she whispered so softly that it was almost lost in the wind.
A squat figure lumbered into the clearing.
The tension flowed out of her in a rush, leaving her dizzy. She rose unsteadily to her knees, oblivious to the muck now staining the pale blue satin. Time moved in reverse and she was a young girl again, scared and alone and yet certain of her own power. She turned ever-so-slowly to look at the newcomer. Perhaps time had indeed stopped, because he looked no different than she recalled, from bushy eyebrows to scuffling feet to twinkling baubles.
At the sound of her voice, reality came crashing back into place, the background murmur of birds and insects and the wind through the trees picked up again, and time resumed its inexorable march forward.
Hoggle grunted. "So yer really back."
Then he turned and disappeared back through the bushes.
Sarah struggled to her feet, absently smoothing the grime from her dress, and hurried after him. Passing through the narrow opening in the shrubbery, she found herself in a perfectly round clearing. Hoggle stumped to a low stool midway around the circle and plunked himself onto it, but Sarah's attention was drawn to the center of the clearing. There was a round pit dug into the middle of the ground and, halfway buried in warm sand, was a large, glittering egg.
"That's…the wyvern egg, isn't it?"
Hoggle grunted again. "Jareth set me to guarding it," he grumbled. "Told me ta hide it somewhere no one would see. Woulda tried harder if I'd of known you were the one comin' looking." He lowered bushy eyebrows at her.
"I wasn't really looking for it," she replied, approaching the pit slowly. "I wasn't looking for anything, I guess." She reached a hand toward the egg, startled at the warmth emanating from it.
"No wonder yer lost!" Hoggle barked a short laugh and Sarah's foot slipped on the edge of the pit. She found herself half sprawled in the sand as Hoggle, cackling quite merrily, hurried over to help her up.
"The Sarah I knew weren't so clumsy," he told her smugly.
Sarah winced again at the horrible mess she'd made of the beautiful dress. She raised her chin stubbornly and retorted, "And the Hoggle I knew didn't work for the king! Any more." She hesitated uncertainly. "At least, I didn't think he did…" Hoggle, who had returned to his stool, squirmed a bit under her intensely curious stare. "Why are you working for Jareth again, Hoggle?"
"Why are you?"
Sarah blinked. "I'm not…I mean, I asked you first!"
Hoggle snorted and mumbled something under his breath.
"What was that? Hoggle!" The dwarf squirmed again, something curiously like a blush painting his features.
"I said, he promised ta take me ta see you."
Sarah gaped at him a moment and then impulsively threw her arms around the dwarf's neck. "I missed you too, Hoggle." He harrumphed and patted her back awkwardly.
She smiled as his obvious pleasure and embarrassment, releasing him to turn her attention back to the clearing's main attraction. "So that's the wyvern egg," she murmured, approaching the sandy pit again.
Hoggle grunted. "Don't touch it," he warned. "Jareth put some kinda…spell on it." Sarah glanced at him curiously, wondering how so much scorn could be put into one little name. She seated herself gingerly on the sand, just over an arm's length from the glittering egg. It sparkled hypnotically and Sarah remembered the soft warmth of it on her fingertips.
She snatched her hand back with a faint blush, not realizing she had been mesmerized and reaching for it.
"So…er…why is ya here?" the dwarf asked.
Sarah dragged her eyes away from the egg to shoot him a piercing stare. "You really don't know then?"
Hoggle harrumphed. "The Sarah I know wouldn't be stayin' nicely in the castle. Or wearin' Jareth's necklace! Or…arrrrgh!" He hunched his shoulders and twisted around on the stool until his back was towards her.
Sarah sighed and lifted a hand towards the egg again. Even from several inches above the surface, she could feel the heat radiating off of it. "Maybe…I want to be there."
"Hoggle," she said quietly, "I love him."
He shifted uneasily on the stool. "Y…y'do?" he queried, glancing suspiciously over his shoulder at her. He sounded so like he had years ago, appearing in her mirror that first night, that she laughed out loud. Her fingers danced above the surface of the egg, soaking up the infectious warmth. Hoggle's eyes widened at the sight of her tempting the magic and he rose halfway to his feet.
"Yes, I do," Sarah said dreamily. After fighting the black coldness of the Alryn's mark, this felt like a soothing balm. Hoggle could only gape as Sarah's hand drifted closer to the shining surface, her eyes distant and oblivious to the danger he could see so clearly.
Gulping, Hoggle gathered his courage and took a step forward. "Sarah…"
At that moment, Sarah gave in to the spell and placed her palm flat on the egg. A great crack appeared in the middle of the shell, running neatly under her hand, and Sarah shrieked as the ground dropped out from beneath her. She heard Hoggle curse and yell her name but the sand was swallowing her up, filling her nose and mouth so that she couldn't even breathe, let alone cry for help.
Oddly enough her last thought, as she clutched her prize to her chest, was that Jareth would be terribly unhappy if she damaged the wyvern egg.
He'd known immediately that something had happened, of course. He felt the spell on the egg trigger and traced the pendant's location to the same area. Unfortunately, he wasn't the only one able to locate Sarah with a thought…
Soft wings deposited him in the clearing at the same instant as a black-robed figure emerged swiftly from the gap in the shrubbery walls. Both figures froze, eyes narrowing speculatively at each other.
"She's mine, Alryn," Jareth said harshly.
Alryn merely smiled, approaching the hole where the egg had been with an expression of complete serenity. "You're too late, your majesty." The title was proper but the tone was clearly mocking. "She is, quite obviously, mine as well."
The two circled the lip of the pit cautiously, neither willing to allow the other down first, yet equally unwilling take the lead and bare an unprotected back to a rival. A soft mewling came from the depths of the pit, causing both men to frown in concern.
Jareth glanced at Alryn, startled to see the Dryn's worried expression. Alryn grinned at him, baring sharp fangs. "Why does it surprise you that I do not wish what is mine to be damaged before I can have…full use of it?" Jareth bristled, but the Dryn merely turned his back, striding smoothly from the clearing.
"Take care of my sweet Sarah, Jareth," his voice echoed back. "Tomorrow night, at the ball, we shall be glorious together."
Jareth trembled in impotent rage. A feral growl began deep in his throat, but then his eyes fell on Hoggle. The dwarf was trying to tiptoe from the clearing.
"HOGWART!" The king bellowed. Poor Hoggle jumped a foot in the air, too terrified to even correct his name. "You puny little sniveling idiot!" He waved his hand and the dwarf vanished to an oubliette at the far edge of the Labyrinth. Which was, of course, no concern to Hoggle, who could find his way out of any oubliette without much trouble.
Jareth clenched his gloved hands bruisingly against his thighs. He would have much rather pummeled the dwarf; hand waving was so unsatisfying when one was in a rage.
Unfortunately, he had no time for such indulgences. He extended one hand over the pit and, with a gesture, a crystalline bubble appeared and drifted gently down into the darkness. Jareth hesitated only long enough to be certain that the crystal captured its quarry and magically transported it before he took to the skies again, winging towards the high tower that was his bedchambers.
He could only hope that the he would find Sarah (his Sarah, a little voice added) waiting for him, whole and unharmed.
What happened at the end of the last chapter? Time will tell….but now… The scene is set, the pieces are in play…on with the show! Without any further ado, I give you…the beginning of the end.
A soft chiming woke her and she opened her eyes to the coppery light of dusk.
As she sat up, the noise stopped and a parchment fluttered into her lap.
Time is short. The ball begins at sunset tonight. Your attendance is not required, but you will have my protection there. If you do not attend, remember that Alryn will be able to leave the ball to search for you; I will not. The choice is clear. Your dress has been laid out.
I trust you are recovered from your recent mishap. Next time listen to the dwarf.
Sarah huffed. "Recent mishap? What's he talking about?"
She remembered talking to Hoggle, and then glitter and drowning and darkness. And then light…
Confused, she looked around the room. Jareth's room, but she didn't remember arriving there or departing the gardens. The last fading rays of sunlight glittered on a jagged shape sitting on a low table. Sarah rose and approached the object on wobbly legs, wondering at her weakness. Her eyes widened as she realized what she was seeing.
Fragments of a great golden shell.
"What have I done?" she whispered.
Was this why Jareth greeted her with a note instead of his presence before what was surely to be a night of great turmoil for both of them? Had she unwittingly caused the death of a rare magical creature? Sarah pressed a hand to her stomach, feeling ill.
Then she saw the dress. Of course it was The dress. That glittering frothy concoction she had dreamed up at her last Goblin Ball. She fingered the poufed sleeves and sighed softly. She imagined that Jareth wanted to reenact their dance, in much the same way that they had reenacted their final confrontation a few days past.
Too bad for him, Sarah thought. The past is gone and it's time we make some new memories.
She pulled open the doors of the heavy wardrobe in the corner, brushing past dozens of dazzling gowns before finding what she was looking for. She studied it thoughtfully, a smile curling her lips.
"Perfect," she said aloud. "Time to give the Underground something it's never seen before."
She was late.
He tapped his fingers against the arm of his chair irritably. His magic had told him she'd read his note hours ago, yet she still failed to make an appearance at the ball. He hoped the little fool hadn't opted to hide in her room all night. Thus far, the Dryn seemed happy enough with the…selection before them, but he knew Alryn at least had very specific prey in mind.
Jareth scanned the crowds again. Most of the Dryn were lost in a lustful haze and the wanton mood was infecting his subjects as well. In a sickening display that was half-dance and half mad orgy, wild-eyed Dryn threw themselves at the other dancers, their victims clinging to them seductively only to whirl away moments later. Marveling at the madness before him, Jareth was torn between disgust and perverse pleasure.
And then she arrived.
He rose to his feet without consciously realizing it, hungrily drinking in the sight of her. She was not wearing the dress he had given her, nor was she wearing anything like the rest of the women at the ball.
She looked like a greek goddess who had mistakenly wandered into the halls of corruption. Every other woman in the room wore a gem-encrusted, many-layered ballgown cut to scandalously reveal her body. Sarah wore a length of unadorned silk so white it appeared to glow. It was knotted at one shoulder, leaving the other bare. That pale shoulder somehow seemed more enticing than any of the other women's dipping necklines. The dress was trimmed in silver and bound with a silver cord around her waist. Her arms were bare as well, save for a silver circlet on her upper right arm, and dainty silver sandals peeked from underneath that silken folds when she walked.
The contrasts didn't stop there either.
Where the other women caked their faces with makeup and darkened their lips to blood red, Sarah's face glowed with cleanliness and only the lightest dusting of powder.
Where they wore great horned masks in bold, dark colors, Sarah wore a delicate silver net in the shape of a half-mask that made her eyes appear large and luminous.
Where they teased and sprayed their hair to match the size of their gowns, Sarah's was curled into tiny ringlets and held in place with two twisted silver bands.
Where their lush over-ripeness and lowered lashes meant nothing to the king, Sarah's serene gaze left him trembling…
He stepped down from the dais and began winding his way through the crowd towards her.
It seemed so much more corrupt than she had remembered.
She faced the crazed throngs with the same grace that she had faced the goblins in the throne room several days past, though the icy touch of fear lurked in the back of her mind. The mob swirled around her and she held her calm exterior with effort. Where was Jareth?
A gloved hand stroked her bare shoulder and she turned, relieved.
"Such a lovely dress, dear Sarah. It looks…so easy…to remove." Alryn leered at her, eyes glowing with a hunger that Sarah didn't want to understand.
She stepped away, but he grabbed her wrist and pulled her to him, molding his body against hers through the thin silk of her dress. She felt his breath warm on her neck and shuddered, struggling free from his grip. "Don't touch me!" she said coldly, backing away.
Instead of following her as she expected, the Dryn studied her suspiciously. "The mark…impossible. Where is the mark?" Sarah's eyes widened and her hand went to her neck, finding only smooth skin where puncture marks had previously marred her throat.
"Gone…" Sarah whispered. She found herself smiling at Alryn in helpless relief. Gone!
Her reaction only enraged the Dryn further. He lunged for her…
And a figure emerged from the frenzied chaos to step protectively between Sarah and her attacker.
She gave a trembling sigh and rested her forehead briefly against Jareth's back. Then he whirled, taking her into his arms and spinning her across the dance floor. She glimpsed Alryn all but snarling in impotent rage before they were lost in the frolicking crowd.
Then there was only Jareth, staring down at her with that little trademark smirk of his. He was dressed exactly as she remembered, down to the blue streaks in his wild hair. She smiled at him and his eyes glowed with a warmth that made her blush.
"Your attire is unexpected, but it suits you."
"Thank you," she said simply. "I hope you don't mind, but I wanted to wear something that was less of a fantasy and more…me." She laughed. "And I feel more like myself now than I have since…well…" Her expression grew serious again as she scanned the crowd for black-robed figures, looking a question at Jareth.
His arm tensed around her waist. "They wouldn't dare come near, not while I am your partner."
Sarah nodded and let herself relax for a moment, leaning closer to rest her head on Jareth's shoulder. "He said the mark was gone," she murmured. "Is it true? Did you…?"
Jareth rested his chin on her curls, inhaling the scent. "As much as I would have enjoyed it, I'm afraid credit for that little miracle goes to another."
"What?" She drew back to stare at him. "Who?"
"Time enough for that story later," he replied, the edges of his lips curling into a smile as he pulled her close again. "I've waited too long for this moment."
As if on cue (and it probably was), there was music. Sarah tumbled through her memories, powerful déjà vu leaving her as dazed as if she was again drugged by an enchanted peach, and Jareth lowered his head so sing softly in her ear.
Lost in a time and place where the Dryn were only pale shadows in the background, the Goblin King and his lady slowly swayed across the marble floor.
She took a deep breath and then exhaled it slowly, relaxing in Jareth's arms. Just one more night. One more night and it would all be over with. The Dryn would be gone, Alryn would be gone, and she, free of the marks as she somehow was, would be safe. One more night.
If forever was 'not long at all', one night should pass in a heartbeat...right?
There's such a sad love, deep in your eyes...
Jareth was singing softly to her, his face only inches away and his eyes locked on her own. Between the way he looked at her and the intense music that was washing over her, Sarah felt like she was floating through a heavenly dream. Jareth guided her through the other dancers and her feet moved automatically to follow, a beatific smile on her face. She remembered the only other time they had danced like this, three...or a hundred...years ago.
As the world falls down...
Last time she had fallen completely under his thrall, barely able to think at all, when he had leaned closer and her fogged mind knew he was going to kiss her. But at that moment, something made her look around. The other dancers had gathered around their king and were laughing and jeering at her. Frightened, she had pressed closer to him before pulling away entirely as she realized what she was doing.
It hurt to run from him, but she had no choice. Toby needed to be rescued and she was the only one that could do it. It was her duty and responsibility. Nothing else could come before that.
Falling...falling in love...
Jareth pulled her closer, his arms strong and solid around her back and his fingers lost in her curls. Her arms automatically twined around his shoulders, teasing the wisps of hair at the back of his neck. Part of her mind wondered if he was getting glitter on her satiny white dress.
Another part of her mind was rather preoccupied by the fire burning in his eyes. The cold, empty things she had seen in the Goblin King were fading away and she felt a thrill of pleasure at knowing she had done something to help him instead of hurt.
He was leaning towards her...
A sense of deja vu swept over Sarah and she felt the need to turn away as she had last time. Stubbornly, she ignored the little voice in her head. Her eyes fluttered shut and she felt Jareth's breath warm on her lips.
Cold fingers wrapped around her upper arm and she stiffened in shock as she was pulled bodily from Jareth's embrace. Her eyes snapped open just in time to see his startled expression before he too was pulled back into the frenzied crowd. She thought she heard him yell her name, but her attention was focused more on the robed figure dragging her through the mob. She stumbled, tripping over the hem of her long gown, and tried to wrest her arm free, but the Dryn had a vice-like grip and hefted her easily back to her feet. Whipping her other arm around to strike him, she only succeeded in knocking his hood back.
To her surprise, it was not Alryn that had grabbed her. Seeing her confused expression, the unknown Dryn gave her a sly smile. Before she could react, he released her and gave her a powerful shove. She squeezed her eyes shut as she flew backwards, waiting for the hard impact with the marble floor, but instead she was caught by strong arms around her middle. She opened her eyes cautiously to see bloodless hands gripping her, lightly stroking her stomach just below her breasts. She shuddered.
Sarah was hauled to her feet and then tossed back like a rag doll where still another Dryn was waiting. She was getting dizzy as they spun her back and forth between them, their hissing laughter chasing her on all sides, their caresses sampling her body without blatantly violating. Were there four Dryn or forty? She couldn't tell anymore. It was all a massive blur of robes and hands and whispers. Where was Jareth? What was going on?
She cried out as she hit the floor at last, the space around her suddenly clearing. The blur seemed to recede, leaving her alone in the center of a circle of Dryn. One hand firmly planted on the cool marble, Sarah told herself firmly that the floor was not moving. She cradled her pounding head with her other hand and willed her vision to clear.
As the room slowly spun to a stop, she realized she was not alone. Most of the Dryn hung back at the edge of the circle like flickering shadows, but one Dryn was right out in the middle, only a few lengths away from her.
Sarah thought he was wearing maroon robes until he turned slightly and she realized he was holding a woman tightly against him, her full skirt spilling over him haphazardly and her head lying limply against his shoulder. She saw one of his hands was buried underneath the voluminous folds of the skirt and shuddered. With a soft sucking noise, Alryn lifted his face from the girl's neck and grinned at Sarah with bloody fangs. The girl's head lolled backwards, glazed eyes starting at Sarah without seeing.
Sarah's stomach heaved. "Emily..." she whispered.
He had been so close!
He beat and kicked at the grasping hands that pulled him away from Sarah before remembering his magic. Instantly he vanished and reappeared a small distance away, blessedly free of the the traitorous mob. Most of them were female, he noted, probably jealous of Sarah's closeness to their king.
Jareth cursed. Would he never be allowed to finish a dance with that girl?
The women had noticed his escape and were now eagerly scanning the room for him, so he slipped gracefully through the twirling dancers, losing himself from sight. Unfortunately, he also completely lost track of Sarah.
In his mind, he pulled at the necklace he had given her, but it traced back to his rooms. Now that he thought of it, he couldn't recall if she had been wearing the thing when she arrived. If she had shunned the dress he gave her to make her own statement, why not the necklace as well? It certainly wasn't the perfect accessory for the unusual style of gown she had chosen. (If nothing else, Jareth did have a keen fashion sense.)
He cursed Sarah's independent nature and cursed himself for not explaining to her that the necklace was more than just a trinket. Tensely, he scanned the crowd.
She couldn't tear her eyes away from Emily's limp form. Even as a goblin, the girl had been such a beautiful, lively, intelligent child. Of all the strange and wonderous things she'd seen in the Underground, the most disturbing and unnatural was the broken rag doll in Alryn's arm.
Give me the child.
Her hands reached out unconsciously and her pale, trembling arms caught her attention, distracting her focus from the girl. She drew back into herself. There was something dark and hopeless in her eyes as she glared at the Dryn.
Alryn smiled at her, neat white teeth flashing below bloody lips."Come now, Sarah," he said quietly. "It's not all that bad. This child can still be...saved." His mouth twisted around the word, but he effected a regretful expression. "I do hate to take one so young and innocent but alas, I am denied any other." The Dryn stroked Emily's blonde curls gently and Sarah lowered her eyes as his piercing gaze filled her with shame, confusion and disgust.
He lowered his face to the girl's neck, nuzzling it gently as he inhaled her scent. "She's so close," he breathed, baring his fangs. "Just one more little sip, and then-"
"Stop!" Sarah hissed.
A triumphant grin twitched at the corner of Alryn's mouth and was quickly smothered as he paused, fangs lightly brushing Emily's neck, and raised his eyes. Sarah had her head bowed and was staring so fixedly at the floor that he could not make out her expression at all. She lifted one arm to him imperiously. "Come here, Alryn."
With a smirk, he took a step towards her.
"Stop!" she commanded again, face still turned away. "Leave the girl."
Obligingly, he opened his arms and the girl slumped bonelessly to the floor. Stepping over her, he continued forward without another thought for her crumpled form.
His fingers brushed Sarah's outstretched palm and curled around her wrist possessively. He wrapped his other arm gently around her waist, the trembling she had been concealing now apparent to him. "Very good, Sarah," he murmured, feeling her muscles tense beneath his hands. "I knew I could persuade you in the end. So innocent, so foolish."
He inhaled the scent of her fear, burying his face in her curls as he whispered maliciously in her ear, "This will destroy him, you know..."
She went momentarily limp at his words and he pulled her tightly back against him. She did struggle then, but he had her firmly pinned. He swept aside her hair from the base of her neck and she felt his breath warm against her cheek. "Jareth!" she screamed.
And he appeared, bullying his way through the rows of Dryn. "Sarah! Alryn!" The warning was plain in his tone, as was the naked pain on his face.
Alryn grinned at him, fangs bared above the pale skin of the king's beloved. Then he lowered his face...and bit.
Chapter 12: Interlude: What Came Before, and What the Wyvern Saw.
Why are events running out of order? Because that's the way they came to me. Once again, remember that this is my version of wyverns and doesn't (to my knowledge) follow the usual description.
Which came first, the wyvern or the egg?
Even the wyvern would be hard-pressed to say, for wyvern and egg are as one for the first months of their awareness. Wyvern is aware of shell as human is aware of skin and bone. It knows only that it is protected by something solid and seemingly impenetrable.
Through shell, it can feel sand and wind and touch. And moreso for touch, it can feel the thought behind the touch, or at least the emotion. Before it has even learned to recognize itself as an intelligent, unique being, wyvernandegg is aware of other beings.
It can learn fear from the touch of cold, hungry beings who steal its egg from the safety of the clouds, or sadness from the touch of one who has spent centuries alone and dares not hope for better.
It can also learn joy and love and bravery. It learned all these and more in an instant when Sarah laid a hand upon its shell. So many wondrous emotions that it felt it must burst from all the feelings!
And then it did.
It lunged within itself, instinctively knowing the action without understanding.
Wyvernandegg to wyvern and eggshells.
The wyvern's first moments of fragile awareness were filled with confusion and splotchy darkness. It recognized that the warm softness it was sitting on was not sand but a living being. Taloned feet dug gently into the shoulders of the one who had prompted the wyvern's release from the darkness and silence of its egg. Nuzzling her gently, it noticed that both of their skins were sticky, though where one was the familiar stickiness from inside its shell, the other had a tangy scent and filled the wyvern with a sense of wrongness. She did not move. Angry voices echoed from above. It mewled piteously.
Scent, Speech, and Hearing. Its newfound abilities were not shaping up to be enjoyable.
It craned its neck towards the sounds, aware for the first time of Sight as a crystalline bubble floated gently downwards. The wyvern touched its muzzle to the delicate gem, which burst in a sparkle of light and showered glitter over the pit and its occupants. The world spun away and the wyvern spun with it, burying its head and clinging wildly to the only good thing it had found so far.
When it looked up again, the world had calmed itself. Sarah was still there, the wyvern was still there. But 'there' was not there, it realized with alarm. 'There' was someplace else entirely and the wyvern did not like this drastic, unnatural change.
Nor did it like the strange man nearby.
Perceiving a threat to Sarah, it drew itself up to its full (if diminutive) height and hissed, brandishing small but sharp claws at the stranger.
Come closer, it wanted to taunt. Come closer and I will eat you!
In spite of the fact that there was no way a baby wyvern could possibly eat a fully-grown man, Jareth was taking the creature quite seriously. There was blood on Sarah's face and she had not moved in spite of the commotion around her. When he took a small step forward, the wyvern snapped at him viciously. With a growl and a gesture, he summoned a crystal and made as if to throw it at the creature, but reconsidered at the last moment.
Though the wyvern flashed its claws and teeth at the king, the talons of its back legs perched gently on Sarah's shoulders. Jareth frowned thoughtfully. Could it possibly be...protecting her?
Stripping the leather glove from his right hand, he slowly lifted it towards the creature, palm up. He caught the wyvern's gaze and held it. The hissing cut off abruptly as the wyvern observed him.
Jareth took a step forward, then another. The wyvern watched intently, but its posture was curious now rather than menacing.
Another step. Jareth was an arm's length from the bed now. He held his hand perfectly still while the wyvern caught his scent, then slowly began to lower it towards Sarah. His eyes flicked over her still form.
As soon as his gaze broke with the wyvern's, the creature gave a surprised start and screeched at Jareth's descending hand. It lunged forward and bit, digging its beak deeply into the soft flesh of Jareth's palm. The king froze.
He made no sound as the wyvern clung stubbornly to his hand. Their eyes locked again, blood dripping between them and spattering on Sarah's pale skin.
The wyvern's eyes were catlike and round, boring into Jareth as if seeing deep into his soul. Which in a way, they were. Even with the limited knowledge he had of wyverns, Jareth knew that much more than the taste of his blood was being sampled. The creature's eyes grew heavy-lidded, and he felt an alien mind prowl through his thoughts with a lazy feline grace. He struggled against resisting the contact. It would have been quicker and easier to blast the creature off Sarah and encase it safely in one of his crystals, but that would alienate the hatchling forever, and if they were both trying to protect the girl...he would take all the extra help he could get.
Abruptly, the wyvern released his hand with a gentle chirp and stepped back, settling at Sarah's side with its tail curled about its scaly body.
Jareth wondered what the creature had seen in his mind. He shook himself and dropped swiftly to Sarah's side, healing the bite on his hand with a thought. He delicately traced the line of blood across her face and into her hairline, where a deep cut was still slightly oozing. Her right hip was also badly bruised and her right wrist was broken. She was covered in bits of shell and an unknown fluid he assumed came from within the egg.
Badly injured, but nothing he couldn't repair.
He sat back on his heels and glared at the wyvern with a mixture of frustration and relief.
"She landed poorly," he told the creature. "She was protecting you with her body." It mewled sadly, placing its head disconsolately on Sarah's chest in understanding.
He placed his ungloved hand gently on Sarah's forehead, his eyes fluttering shut briefly as he concentrated on healing her. The wyvern chirped a query at him and then gave a startled squawk as the wounds vanished. Even the stains and spilled blood faded away like...well, like magic. Jareth opened his eyes to see the creature crouched respectfully, watching him.
He smirked. "Not so arrogant now, are we? Teeth and talons aren't everything." He brushed Sarah's hair back from her face, smoothing it away from her neck. Tilting her head gently to one side, his fingers brushed the scar of the Dryn mark. His expression darkened. "Magic isn't everything, either."
He stood with a sigh, then startled as the wyvern also jumped up. With an indignant warble, it perched on Sarah's shoulder, talons slashing wildly. A cut appeared on Sarah's neck, slicing directly across the Dryn mark. Before Jareth could react, the wyvern was tearing at its own soft belly with teeth and claws. It lifted a muzzle soaked with its own blood and time seemed to lurch to a stop. The wyvern blinked very deliberately at Jareth, then lowered its head with aching slowness. He could only stare as it bit down firmly on the slash on Sarah's neck.
Jareth swore, reaching to pry the creature away from her. He had obviously been mistaken about its intentions. But as his hand touched the scales, the wyvern went limp and the distinctive feel of alien magic filled the air. The king froze, old defenses snapping into place as he struggled to identify what was happening. He dared not remove the wyvern from Sarah, nor even remove his own hands from the creature's body, until he identified what spell had been activated.
Could it be a trap set by the Dryn? Slowly sinking to the bed, careful not to disturb its occupants, Jareth's mind raced wildly. The ball was in a few hours. If he hadn't deciphered this spell by then, he would have to risk breaking it and destroying all three of them. Hemust be at the ball when it started, or the Dryn were likely to destroy his subjects in their frenzy and come looking for him. The last thing he wanted was Alryn to discover him in such a vulnerable position.
Looking at Sarah's pale face, a pang of sorrow wracked the king's body. The girl had been in constant danger since returning to the Underground. He should never have let this happen. He should have been there to protect her. Though, he snorted, would it even have mattered if he was? Here he sat now, so easily held powerless, his hands full of injured wyvern and sticky with its blood. His shoulders slumped.
He certainly didn't deserve Sarah.
Shaking himself out of his depressing thoughts with a sigh, Jareth decided he could at least heal the wyvern's wounds. He didn't want the creature dying in the middle of whatever magic it was working, especially not if it involved Sarah. Plus, the gruesome wounds were distracting and he needed to concentrate if he was going to decipher this spell.
As his magic brushed against the wyvern's, he felt a strange answering pulse. The creature's body was unconscious, but its mind was awake and alert, and concentrating intensely. He felt a brief surge of relief from it when the self-inflicted cuts healed from its body, but when he turned his attention towards the new cut it had made on Sarah's neck he found himself forcefully rebuffed. Frowning, he tried again, and was again turned away.
Whatever the wyvern was doing, it seemed it did not welcome Jareth's involvement.
"I healed you, you wretch," Jareth growled aloud, suppressing his rage with difficulty.
Surprisingly, the alien mind quivered in response, and then Jareth found himself pulled into the wyvern's consciousness. Fighting the vertigo, Jareth struggled to make sense of the wyvern's thoughts. Newborn, its mind was still chaotic and uncertain, with only two steadfast beliefs in its head.
One, Sarah was a beautiful, magical creature and should be protected at all costs.
Two, Jareth was competition.
Jareth's anger dimmed in amusement at this latter thought. You can't be in love with a human, silly creature!
The wyvern responded quite calmly that Jareth was in love with a human, so why couldn't a wyvern be?
Before Jareth could retort, the wyvern mind directed him gently to the dark miasma hovering nearby. It was thick and sooty black, almost oily in the way the fog roiled and curled upon itself.
Dryn, his mind whispered to the wyvern's. The creature queried him with a thought and in a rush of images and feelings, Jareth passed on all his knowledge and his encounters with the Dryn. Anger colored the wyvern's thoughts where those memories touched upon Sarah.
Pleased by such righteous rage, Jareth revealed his own dark feelings for the Dryn, though he was careful to keep his guilt over not protecting Sarah hidden, lest he provoke another attack from the creature. Strangely, the wyvern's anger seemed to double upon realizing Jareth's thoughts, its mental presence growing sharper and stronger. Almost as if it was feeding off Jareth's emotions, he realized. And with it, the ugly darkness of the Dryn mark seemed slightly fainter.
Allowing his anger and frustration with the Dryn to run free, Jareth's suspicions were confirmed as the wyvern's energy seemed to blossom. With each drop it absorbed from the king, it grew more powerful, until with a frightful mental shriek it attacked the darkness of the Dryn, greenish light dissolving the ugly fog wherever it touched.
With something like a mental BANG! the connection broke and Jareth found himself blinking back into consciousness. Dazed, he shook his head slowly, trying to comprehend what had just happened. His hands fell away from the wyvern as it released Sarah, gently climbing off of her to curl again at her side. Sarah seemed no worse for the wear and, though tired, he detected nothing unusual in the wyvern or himself.
The wyvern chirped expectantly, drawing Jareth from his thoughts to focus on the scene before him. The wyvern nudged Sarah, clearly wanting Jareth to heal the scratches it had inflicted on her. Chiding himself for not doing so sooner, Jareth waved his hands and the marks on Sarah's shoulders and neck vanished.
It took a moment for the significance of that to sink in.
Slowly, disbelievingly, he touched the smooth, unblemished skin of Sarah's neck.
The wyvern gave a low, satisfied purr and Jareth lifted his eyes to stare at it.
"You are quite the gift, indeed."
He shoved through the wall of Dryn and stumbled forward with a hoarse cry. He had a glimpse of Alryn's sharpened teeth flashing above Sarah's neck and knew he was too late. Too late, far too late, but he couldn't stop himself from lunging forward. Tripping over Emily's limp body, he landed jarringly on his knees. Around him, the Dryn laughed and jeered. His jaw clenched shut around a slightly hysterical wail and he bowed his head, trembling with impotent rage and pain. He refused to watch Alryn take Sarah away from him.
Closing his eyes, he realized the depth of his failure to the poor girl, who had wanted only to love him.
An inhuman scream rent the air suddenly, silencing the noise of the mob and bringing Jareth halfway to his feet. There was a startled yell from Alryn followed by a strange, painful yelping and Jareth's eyes zeroed in on the source of the commotion.
Sarah had fallen to the floor and Alryn's face and arms were a mass of deep, jagged slashes. Hovering in midair was a squat, ugly creature the size of a goblin with sandpapery wings spread protectively between the Dryn and the crumpled form of Jareth's beloved. The creature's talons glistened red-black with blood and it opened its mouth for another blood-curdling scream, lunging at Alryn again.
With a bloody snarl, Alryn pulled a dagger from his belt and slashed at the creature, tearing through fragile wings and slicing open its belly. Wounded and unable to fly, it latched onto the front of Alyrn's robes, biting and pecking at anything it could reach. The Dryn stumbled back a step before ripping the creature away and tossing it forcibly on the ground. It flopped pathetically over to Sarah, still apparently trying to protect her. Jareth could only watch in sickened shock as Alryn lifted a booted foot and brought it down hard on the creature's head, shattering its skull.
The entire incident had taken less than a minute, but it had broken the Dryn from their drunken revelry. Somber eyes were fixed intently on their leader as Alryn stood, wounded and panting for breath, over his victims. One of the Dryn slithered forward from the crowd, fixing a steely gaze on Alryn.
"You killed the wyvern, our sacred gift to this kingdom."
Alryn drew himself up haughtily. Even wounded, he was still intimidating. "What of it?" he demanded. "It was an unprovoked attack, you saw it." The amassed Dryn began to murmur softly in the background, slowly gathering behind the new speaker. Jareth's eyes narrowed and he pulled himself together, forcing his fears for Sarah to the back of his mind as he caught on to what was happening.
Alryn was being replaced.
The new Dryn spoke again, apparently unfazed by Alryn's arrogant dismissal. "The gift ensures our entrance and safety in this land."
Jareth caught the subtle widening of Alryn's eyes as he finally realized the danger he was in. The Dryn spun to face Jareth and suddenly all eyes were on the Goblin King.
Who no longer looked like the weary and weakened man they had seen throughout their stay. The expression on his face was smugly vengeful and he stood casually, comfortably, in the center of the dark-robed figures. The cat that knows its next meal will walk meekly right into its jaws.
He stared down at the broken body of the wyvern, not letting his gaze wander to Sarah...an amazing act of willpower.
"Yes, such a pity," he murmured silkily, lifting his gaze to Alryn with a black glare that was completely unfeigned. "I demand restitution for the loss of this...gift."
Alryn took one step backwards as if to flee, but his opponent made a small gesture and the hovering circle of Dryn tightened, pale hands grasping at Alryn. Within seconds he was lost from sight, covered in blood-frenzied, black-robed figures. Jareth heard the sound of fabric tearing, and then another strange ripping noise that was definitely not fabric. He had never known how the Dryn chose a new leader. He forced himself not to look away from the swarming mass. Alryn never screamed.
The would-be Dryn leader who had challenged Alryn hadn't joined the mob of attackers and instead was still watching the Goblin King. Finally noticing the attention, Jareth quirked an eyebrow sardonically. The Dryn approached and Jareth matched his movements, but only as far as Sarah. Standing over her, he crossed his arms and waited for the usurper to speak.
The Dryn eyed the king speculatively, as if taking his measure before proceeding. "I am Devryn," he said at last. "Do not think that this changes anything between our peoples. We will be back in one hundred years and we will expect the courtesies we are due."
Jareth inclined his head, face an expressionless mask. "Of course. As I expect the deference owed to me." He did not look at Sarah. Devryn did.
"Of course." He made to turn away.
"Wait," Jareth commanded. Devryn paused warily and Jareth continued with a chill in his voice, every inch the reigning Goblin King. "You are done for this year. Your people have betrayed my trust and destroyed their gift to me. You will leave," the desperate anger was beginning to slip past his mask. "…Immediately."
Devryn turned back to fully face the king, realizing that Jareth had been pushed too far and the menace emanating from the ruler would be directed upon him next if he wasn't very, very careful. No matter that the other rulers would penalize Jareth; Devryn would still pay the price.
Still, he gave a mocking bow. "Of course," he repeated in exactly the same tone.
Suddenly, the other Dryn were gathering around Devryn, silently watching and waiting. No sign remained of Alryn. Devryn smirked and gave another half-bow. "By your leave?"
Without another word, Jareth summoned a crystal and hurled it at the Dryn with rather more force than was necessary. He had the pleasure of seeing Devryn flinch just slightly as the crystal headed straight for his face before it shattered into a million pieces, scattering over the assembled Dryn and carrying them away, back to their homeland like so much sawdust.
Another wave of his hand and the luxurious ballroom vanished, the goblin dancers returned to their homes and beds to sleep out the rest of the night.
Then, at last, Jareth allowed himself to look upon Sarah.
"This will destroy him, you know..."
She'd blacked out at some point.
Even at the very end, with Alyrn's gloating words echoing in her ears, she'd held out hope. Surely, Jareth would save her. Surely.
She saw him pushing through the crowd, his anguished expression making her heart plummet. Her eyes begged him to hurry even as she read the fear in his face.
He wasn't going to make it.
She was frozen by the knowledge of his failure. There was a pinch at her neck.
This will destroy him...
Closing her eyes, she realized the depth of her failure to the poor king, who had wanted only to love her.
She had a single moment to taste the intoxicating pleasure that comes with the bite of the Dryn, before...nothing.
Her eyes popped open and she found herself sprawled on the floor. Jareth was standing over her, facing a Dryn she didn't recognize. She had no idea how much time had passed, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from Jareth. His pose was both menacing and mocking, something she hadn't seen him pull off so well since their first meeting. In fact, he seemed more confident now than he had in…a century or so.
Even more, the strange Dryn seemed to be a bit afraid of him.
Sarah held herself perfectly still, wary of attracting attention to herself. Her neck stung, but she didn't seem to be bleeding to death. Nor did she feel the terrible bleakness that had consumed her with Alryn's first mark. How had Jareth managed to stop Alryn? She let her eyes roam about the room...
Emily was lying not far away, pale and unconscious, and Sarah felt a pang of sorrow before sharply reprimanding herself. It couldn't be too late for Emily, it just couldn't. If Sarah's mark could be removed, so could Emily's! Unless Alryn lied and had already completed the task...
She turned her eyes away, refusing to contemplate such a morbid thing, but that left her staring at a bloody mess near her feet...some kind of lizard creature. Whatever it was, the poor thing had had its skull completely crushed. A tremor ran through Sarah's body before she could suppress it and she quickly closed her eyes, feigning unconsciousness. She could feel someone watching her, but Jareth was still issuing commands that he clearly expected to be obeyed, so she kept up her ruse.
Then there was a whooshing noise, followed by complete silence.
Sarah dared to crack her eyes open again just as Jareth turned towards her. Something flashed between them and she knew the Dryn were gone. The ordeal was over. Her breath caught as she stared at him, hardly daring to believe they were safe and free at last.
Jareth extended a hand to help her to her feet, but before she could unfreeze her body, he slumped down beside her on the floor, gathering her in his arms and burying his face in her hair. Without a thought, she wrapped her arms around him tightly.
They clung to each other in the empty grayness that was all that remained of the magical ballroom, until at last they fell almost simultaneously into an exhausted sleep.
He paced back and forth before the bed angrily. Sarah had pulled a chair to the opposite side of the bed and was holding one of Emily's hands. The girl had not stirred since the Dryn abandoned her. Why they had left one so close to being turned was a mystery to Jareth.
Sarah was convinced the girl could be saved. Even now, she was watching Jareth with pleading eyes. He turned to face her abruptly, his expression resigned.
"All right, I'll try. But," he raised a hand to forestall her joyful response, "I have no guarantee that it will work. I have only the barest understanding of what the wyvern did to you. Even if I can duplicate it, Emily is much further gone than you are."
Sarah nodded quietly. "Thank you," she replied simply. She let go of the girl's hand and moved away from the bed as Jareth withdrew a vial of the wyvern's blood. He'd retrieved it from the creature's broken body once he realized what Sarah was asking him to do.
"Hasn't there been enough sacrifice?" she'd pleaded with him.
Gently spilling the blood over the ragged bite marks on Emily's neck, Jareth stripped off his gloves. With a final glance at Sarah and deep breath, he laid his hands upon the girl.
As before, he was drawn inside a dream. He could see the power of the Dryn swirling around Emily's energy, threatening to drown it out forever. It was much, much larger than the darkness he'd seen in Sarah. Marshalling his anger, he reminded himself that this darkness that had threatened his beloved and that it now threatened this innocent child. His anger reacted to the wyvern's blood even without the wyvern to guide it. He channeled his magic into the darkness, struggling to overcome it as he had before.
The evil cloud absorbed everything he threw at it like a black hole without growing any smaller. In fact, it almost seemed to pull the power from him of its own accord, Jareth thought with alarm. He felt himself weakening and struggled to break away, but the darkness held him immobile.
Perhaps it was no use. He was simply not powerful enough to overcome the evil of the Dryn on his own.
It was swallowing him up along with Emily.
She nibbled her lower lip nervously as Jareth entered a magical trance. All of her hopes were resting on Emily. Jareth had explained to her what the wyvern had sacrificed, how it had purged the Dryn magic from her body and removed the mark, how it had died to save her from Alryn's grasp when Jareth failed. Everything was her fault, but if Emily could only be saved...
She gasped as Jareth slumped suddenly, his features pale and tense. Though still unconscious, he looked to be in pain. Without thinking, Sarah reached out to catch him as he fell across Emily. The moment she touched him, her skin began to tingle and she feltJareth's urgency.
"I love you," she whispered cradling his head in her hands. "I love you. Please be okay." As if he heard her words, Jareth relaxed and color returned to his face. Sarah stroked his hair, her hands tingling. She didn't understand what was happening, but it seemed to be helping.
A few moments later, Jareth opened his mismatched eyes and caught her hand in his own. He met her gaze and she saw her own emotions echoed in his eyes. He pulled himself back into a sitting position tiredly. He brushed Emily's blonde curls back from her neck. The skin was smooth and unblemished.
Sarah gasped. "You did it!"
"We did it," he corrected. At her astonished stare, he explained, "I didn't have the power on my own. But I felt you, your...love," the word seemed to catch in his throat, "and the evil of the Dryn couldn't stand against us both." He touched her face gently. "Thank you."
Sarah found herself blushing under his praise. "I just…knew you needed me," she murmured. She looked startled, "I knew."
Jareth frowned thoughtfully. "I noticed it as well…a side-effect of the wyvern's magic, perhaps."
She blinked at him. "You mean, you and Emily…?"
He chuckled, "I doubt it. I don't love her." Sarah found her blush deepening.
Jareth stood and lifted her to her feet, drawing her away from the bed. "She needs rest now more than anything. I believe she'll be back to her old self in no time." As they backed away, Emily's form shimmered and shrunk into her tiny goblin self. She curled into a ball with a content sound that reassured Sarah more than anything else.
Dizzy with relief, she allowed herself to be led from the room.
They buried the wyvern in the royal gardens. Emily stood solemnly beside Sarah as Jareth magically lowered the small coffin into the ground. Even the goblin girl understood the seriousness of the ocassion.
As the coffin vanished from sight, brilliant green grass and a rainbow of wildflowers grew up instantly over the grave. A small crystal statue of a wyvern marked the site. Jareth bowed his head, acknowleding the loss of one who had helped save that which was most precious to him.
Sarah felt tears prick her eyes and she shivered, turning to lead Emily back into the castle. Jareth caught her hand suddenly. Head still lowered, he indicated that Emily should go on ahead. The little goblin ran off happily and Sarah smiled to see her acting so normally.
Jareth stepped closer to her, his hand caressing her cheek. Gloved fingers brushed the tears gently from her eyes, trailing downwards to catch on the pendant he had given her. "The wyvern died nobly," he said quietly. "It will be honored forever in my kingdom."
Sarah nodded. "Yes. That would be fitting." She lifted her eyes to Jareth's and was caught by the strong emotion of his stare. Taking a step forward, she brushed her lips gently against his before resting her head on his chest. She felt his arms go around her tightly.
"It's over now," she murmured aloud. "We can be happy, right? It's what the wyvern would have wanted."
Jareth stiffened and she pulled away just in time to catch the strange expression on his face before his features smoothed suspiciously.
"What is it?"
"Nothing, nothing." His face was an inscrutable mask. Sarah frowned at him worriedly.
"It is not. Tell me!" At the urgency in her voice, he relented.
"Well...I don't think it would want that," he began. Sarah thought he looked slightly...embarrassed? "When I merged with the wyvern's mind to heal you, I saw that it was...intensely jealous. I believe you would say it saw me as...competition."
Sarah's lips twitched.
"It's not a laughing matter! At first I couldn't even get near you because the blasted creature..." He trailed off as he saw Sarah was grinning openly at him now. He folded his arms indignantly and glared at her. "I should toss you into the Bog," he muttered.
Sarah couldn't help laughing. "And have your bedchamber smell like that? Or perhaps you plan to sleep alone now?"
Jareth gave her a feral grin. "No, that would be a waste of your considerable talents."
With a self-satisfied smirk, Sarah leaned in to kiss him again. This time there was nothing light or innocent about it. Jareth returned her passionate embrace and she felt the nightmare of the last few days begin to slip away. They were together at last, no more dangers looming over them or battles separating them. It was enough.
As Jareth transported them to his chambers, their thoughts were one.
Yes, they echoed together, let that be enough.