Everything is dark.
So very, very dark.
It presses in on her, caressing against her skin and penetrating through the thin, fickle layer. What was skin to this darkness? This power? It was nothing, really. If it so wished, it could smother her right now - choke the life from her and she knows that. It's the reason she keeps running; keeps pushing on in an attempt to stop the darkness from attacking her.
Yet, there's no escape.
She has bested this Labyrinth before. It was easier then - it was brighter and easier and there were friends who helped her.
Now there is no-one.
No caterpillar to show her that the walls were playing tricks on her; no Hoggle to help free her from the oubliette and defeat the guard of the Goblin City; no Ludo to summon rocks and knock down the goblins who came to attack her; no Sir Didymus who's courage and bravery lead to her facing the Goblin King and bringing Toby back.
There is no-one to help free her and so she runs on and on and on with no turns in sight - no hidden doors or secret passageways. She's doomed to rot in this Labyrinth for eternity.
Then she hears it. Hears the clock chiming from its hiding place.
She stops and counts the chimes. One, two, three… six, seven… twelve, thirteen.
She's ran out of all her time.
She stumbles to the ground, tripping over a branch that is hidden in the darkness. Her hands scrape along stone and she can feel the blood pooling on her palms; feels the burn that comes with broken skin and knows that the Labyrinth is already craving more of her blood. Her breath comes out short and sharp, feeling tears already stinging her eyes as it sinks in that she's failed - she won't be able to beat the Labyrinth again.
'My, my, my,' a voice drawls and she can't help but look up and meet his uneven, mismatched eyes, 'how far you've fallen.'
'Jareth,' she cries out in a whisper, her voice soft and full of plea, 'please, Jareth, I'm begging you, please…'
'Such a pity.'
'Jareth!' He's backing away, moving further and further from her, fading from view even as she scrambles on her knees towards him. 'Jareth, please! Jareth, no!'
She stands and takes a step forward, but she doesn't find the ground and she's sent falling, falling, falling-
Sarah jerks awake with a scream, her hand flying to cover her heart that's thumping against her ribcage; battering an erratic beat as if it's trying to break free from its confines. Her free hand moves to brush through her dark hair, combing it away from her dewy face.
'Sarah, everything all right?' Annie's voice comes through the darkness and Sarah jolts again, her heart still not slowing even as she repeats in a mantra: it's only Annie, you're not in the Labyrinth, you're in your dorm room. And as if to convince herself of the truth, she reaches over and switches the bedside lamp on.
The light filters throughout the room, allowing her green eyes to sweep over the room - the books stacked in the corner, the desk covered with paper and pencils and more books for research, the drawers and closet that have clothes strewn over them and the photos pinned on the wall of her friends and family, most of whom are miles and miles away.
It's fine. You're fine.
'Sarah?' Annie's voice comes again and she finally clears her throat, pulling herself into a sitting position. She knows she should go to the door and show Annie that she's fine and still in one piece, but she doesn't trust her legs to carry her that far.
'I'm fine.' Her voice shakes and so she tries again. 'I'm fine, honestly, just a bad dream.'
'Anything I can do?'
'No, don't worry about it. Just going to read for a bit then go back to sleep. You should too - I know you have that test tomorrow.' Sarah smiles at the door, reassuring, even though she knows Annie can't see her.
'Okay, if you're sure.'
'I am, honestly. Night, Annie.'
'Yeah, night Sarah.'
Sarah waits, listening as she hears Annie's feet shuffle back towards her room, and only when she hears the sound of her door closing does she let out a sigh of relief. Her hand brushes along her chest, trailing up to cup her throat, her fingers splaying out around her slender neck and collarbones.
'What the hell was that?' She questions aloud, looking around her room for one book in particular - that little, red leather-bound book that turned her whole world upside down. She had considered leaving it at home when she was packing up her room to move into the college dorms but in the end, she couldn't part from it.
She was the Champion of the Goblin King's Labyrinth, and that little red book proved that to her - reminded her of that every day she felt down and the college work was piling up, and she felt she couldn't do anything. She just needed to look at that book and it would relight the fire in her veins.
She had bested the Labyrinth. She could damn well do anything.
Yet now, as she searched for the book, it was for an entirely different reason. Not to ignite a fire but to smother the ashes.
Sarah throws away the covers and stands from the bed, wandering over the pile of books in the corner that form a rainbow. Rather surprisingly, the book sits at the very top of the pile. Her heart never lets the book sit atop the pile, so how the hell did it get there?
Already too shaken to care, Sarah gathers the book in her grasp and wanders back over to the bed, running her finger along each letter that forms the title: L A B Y R I N T H.
With a shaky exhale, she opens the book and starts thumbing through it for the once specific page she's looking for - a page so worn and torn and dog-eared due to her constant reading; both from before the events of the Labyrinth and after it.
When she finds it, she reads aloud: 'Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the Castle beyond the Goblin City. For my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great.' She closes the book over and closes her eyes, no longer needing to see the words to recite them as she lets her head fall back against the wall with a dull thud. 'You have no power over me, Jareth.'
After reopening her eyes minutes later, she half expects him to appear in her room in a cloud of glitter just like he did so many years ago. But her room remains empty and silent, nothing stirring except her heavy breathing that still hasn't managed to eased yet.
With a sigh, she sits the book aside on her bedside table before she slides back under the covers. After only a moment of hesitation, Sarah repositions herself so she lays facing the book before closing her eyes.
For the first time in years, Sarah Williams sleeps with the light on.
It's dark outside. Not as dark as her dream, which she's put as far to the back of her mind as possible, but it's still dark enough to make something claw at her throat. Her pace quickens as she walks from the small, bookshop she works back to her dorm where Annie, Jane and Irene are waiting on her; waiting on her to go out and she'll have to disappoint them by telling them she just isn't in the mood.
At least she knows Annie will back her up, after hearing her scream earlier that morning. Yet she hates the idea of letting them down. They have had this night out planned for weeks and she told herself she would be fine when she heard the date they decided on. She should have known that the date would have an effect on her.
Seven years since the Labyrinth and it still haunts her.
This year more than others, it seems.
Sarah runs a hand through her hair, pushing it away from her face as she readjusts her backpack, tugging it up her shoulder and trying to ignore the ache in her back from the heavy books she's carrying.
She lets out a huff through her nose, painting a map in her head of the path home, knowing that she doesn't really have long. Another five minutes or so of walking and she'll be there - yet, after that nightmare, she can't let herself trust her instincts.
Shaking her head, she turns the corner and stops dead in her tracks.
It's pitch black.
No light shines from the houses nearby - the street lamps are all off and offering no light. Even the moon doesn't reach the only street that will take her back to her dorm room. She swallows hard and gnaws on her lips, knowing that she's just being foolish - there was no truth in her dreams and things aren't always as they seem. Not here nor there.
She takes a step forward, pushing any fears to the back of her mind as she keeps pressing on. One foot, then the other. One foot in front of the other foot. The mantra she repeats in her head over and over again as she delves deeper and deeper into the darkness, unsure of how long she's got left before she'll reach home.
It's then she hears it.
The footsteps that aren't her own.
Sarah considers stopping but knows that will just make her an easier target, but despite herself, she can't keep the same pace from before to give the impression she hasn't noticed. She has and her heart is already ramming against her ribcage. Her pace increase and increases until she's suddenly running, tearing down the deserted and dark sidewalk in an attempt to flee whatever is lurking behind her.
Over the wind howling in her ears and her heart thudding in her throat, she hears the footsteps pick up too - hears them thud, thud, thud against the sidewalk as they quicken their own pace to a run. To match Sarah or to catch up with her, she has no idea. She isn't about to let herself find out, either.
She pushes herself harder, faster, her breathing harsh and erratic as it's torn from her lungs. Her hand tightens around the strap of her bag, keeping it from flying off her shoulder because she knows she wouldn't be able to stop and pick it up if it fell.
And she needs the books within the bag.
Her mind registers that the footsteps behind her are faster than her own; that they're gaining on her and before long, they'll catch her and drag her to whatever hell they plan on inflicting on her. She may have bested his Labyrinth, but she doesn't know what other darkness he has lurking in his realm.
She hopes she never finds out.
With a tiny whimper, Sarah turns her head over her shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of the predator that is stalking her but there is only darkness behind her. Another gasp breaks free from her lips before she turns her head forward and stumbles to a halt.
Bright light surrounds her as she stumbles onto the grounds of her dormitory, every window alight as people get ready to celebrate the weekend after a hard week of work. Sarah blinks, thinking it may dissipate before her eyes but the building remains and her erratic heart is the only proof that she hadn't imagined the darkness and the running and the footsteps.
They had been real.
Closing her eyes and standing stock still until her breathing and heartbeat return to normal, Sarah conjures the image of the Goblin King for the first time in so long. Sure, he has managed to worm his way inside her dreams, but this is the first time she has actively chosen to picture him in her mind since the anniversary last year. Her breath catches in her throat at the image of him her mind creates. So real and yet still not right.
Mismatched eyes, blonde hair, pale skin, sharp teeth. She can remember everything about him, including the silkiness of his voice but can never seem to do him justice.
She reopens her eyes and shakes her head. That's enough, Sarah!
Taking a deep breath, Sarah fixes her bag strap and heads to her dorm room.
'Aww, come on Sarah! We've had this planned for weeks! Months, even! You can't do this to us,' Irene declares in a whine as Sarah dumps her bag onto the sofa after breaking the news. If she hadn't been in the mood earlier, the shock of a few minutes ago was enough to convince her to stay at home.
'I'm sorry, Irene but I'm just not in the mood - I didn't sleep that well last night and I'm tired.'
'Sambuca will wake you up!'
'I don't care, I'm not going.'
'But nothing, I just can't be bothered.'
'Ah, shut up, Irene,' Annie cuts in, stopping Irene's protest short, 'she's said she doesn't want to come, so leave her be. She'll come out next time if she wants. This is the first time she's bailed on us, so I think she deserves a little less protest.'
Sarah smiles at Annie in thanks, hovering at the side of the sofa as she watches her friends put the final touches on their outfits. She feels her heart sink when she realises she's not going but she knows she can't - that she'll be the worst company. She always is on this night normally. Recent events mixed in? She's honestly surprised she's still managing to stand upright.
'If you change your mind, you know where to find us.' Jane murmurs as she pulls Sarah into a hug as she passes her to leave. Irene follows suit with only a tiny pout on her lips and when Annie pulls her in for a warm embrace, she knows she's made the right decision.
'You're not going to wallow in pity are you?' Annie questions and Sarah can't help but laugh.
'Of course not, I'm probably just going to go to bed and read. Very exciting.' Sarah replies before she pulls back with a smile on her face. 'Go, before you're late and Declan's shift ends and can't let you in.'
Annie looks like she wants to protest but Irene takes her hand and drags her from the room, all three of them shouting their goodbyes to Sarah and the orders to join them if she's bored.
Sarah looks around herself, the room eerily quiet and without thinking, she wraps her arms around her chest, trying to comfort herself. She always spends this night alone - but it's the first night she's spent it truly alone, with no-one else around her, simply in a different room.
With a harsh swallow of her suddenly dry throat, Sarah wanders through to her room and doesn't even bother to turn on the light. Not at first. She needs to get over this aversion to darkness, she realises, and so she stands in the centre of the room for thirteen minutes exactly, counting every second and ignoring the way her chest clenches in fear, before turning to flick on the light.
And as soon as the light floods the room, and her eyes fly shut at the sudden change of brightness, the voice comes: that smooth, silky voice she still remembers seven years later.
'My darling Sarah, how long it's been.'