Sherlock barged into Mycroft’s room, still fully dressed, even though it was late. Mycroft didn’t look up from his papers.
“How was your day with cousin Cynthia?” he asked, though he figured it hadn’t gone well. Cynthia was thirteen, and while bright, was still very much an average girl. She didn’t have what it took to entertain Sherlock, though she kept trying to spend time with him.
“Dull,” Sherlock said. “She read children’s books and tried to tell me fairy stories.”
Sherlock huffed. “She said if I wasn’t good, the goblins would come and take me away.”
Mycroft turned the page of his book. “Sometimes I wish the goblins would come and take you away. Right now would be preferable. I have a deadline on this, you know.”
When he picked up his pen, the room went dark, save for the illumination provided by the fireplace.
“Power cut,” Sherlock muttered. “Wonderful.”
“I’ll get a torch.”
There was a scraping noise outside the window. An owl was flapping and skittering against the glass. The next second, the windows flew open and the owl morphed into a man dressed in black. He gave the room an unimpressed appraisal and then turned his gaze to them.
Mycroft’s eyes narrowed fractionally as he stood. He wasn’t one to believe in fairy stories, but he also wasn’t one to deny impossibilities happening in front of him.
“Who are you?” Sherlock demanded, never one to be impressed by shows of power.
“The Goblin King.” Then he turned to Mycroft. “I don’t usually get wishes for ones this old. I must say, this is rather inconvenient for me.”
“Perhaps we should put the matter behind us,” Mycroft said diplomatically.
“What’s said is said.” The Goblin King stalked lazily around them. “It cannot be undone.” His eyes flicked to Sherlock. “The babes I simply whisk away, but I find it so much more interesting with the older ones to allow them this moment. It creates such familial feelings,” he finished, his voice sardonic.
He turned to the window, which now revealed a dusty, barren landscape. “The rules are simple, Mycroft. You have thirteen hours in which to solve my Labyrinth, and reach the heart of the Goblin City, or you’ll never see your little brother again.” He grinned, feral. “Of course, you could save yourself the trouble and simply relinquish him.”
“I’m afraid not,” Mycroft said. “Mummy would be displeased. And it’s my responsibility.”
“As you wish.” Then the Goblin King turned to Sherlock. “And you, my young friend, must come with me, and we’ll see what your brother is made of.”
“No!” Sherlock yelled, in a rare tantrum. “No, no, NO!”
“I’m afraid you have little choice in the matter.”
Sherlock glared, crossing his small arms. “Don’t be stupid; of course I’m going with you. It’s hateful here. But I don’t need Mycroft. Mycroft gets to do everything interesting, and it isn’t fair. I will solve the Labyrinth.”
The Goblin King laughed. “You? You’re a child.”
“I’m exceptionally good at puzzles.”
“Be that as it may, that is not how this works.”
“Fine,” Sherlock said with feigned indifference. “Then as soon as Mycroft solves it—and he will, though he won’t have nearly as much fun as I would—then I’ll wish him away simply so I can play the game. I will play the game.”
The Goblin King regarded Sherlock and slowly smirked. “You hate your brother, don’t you, little one?”
“He’s my archenemy.”
The Goblin King looked at Sherlock with indulgence. It was an arch sort of indulgence, but it was indulgence nonetheless.
Sherlock hated that.
“I propose this, then,” the Goblin King announced. “Sherlock may have thirteen hours to solve the Labyrinth. If he succeeds, he wins his freedom. If he fails, then you, Mycroft, will still have an opportunity to challenge your wish. However, as payment for these unusual terms, you will only have six hours in which to solve the Labyrinth.”
“Agreed,” Mycroft said easily. “Sherlock, have fun.”
The Goblin King looked incredulous.
Mycroft shrugged, turning back to his papers.
Sherlock appeared with the Goblin King on a hill that overlooked the high walls of what could only be the Labyrinth.
“There it is,” the king said, pointing into the distance. “That castle is the point you must reach. And you have thirteen hours.”
A clock appeared out of nowhere beside him.
“Yes, yes,” Sherlock said, already blocking out everything except the problem before him. It was the least bored he’d been in weeks.
“Are you listening, boy?”
Sherlock didn’t even look at him. A maniacal grin spread over his face. “The game,” he said, “is on.”
The Goblin King gave him a dirty look before disappearing. Grownups. They hated it that he was cleverer than them.
Sherlock started toward the wall. It wasn’t long before he came upon a dwarf who was spraying fairies.
“How do I get in?” he demanded.
“Oh, no, I’m not doin’ that again,” the little man said. “I got into enough trouble the last time.”
Sherlock focused on the sprayer the man had. “What’s in that?”
“What’s it to you?”
“May I examine it?”
Suspicious but curious, the man handed it over.
Sherlock unscrewed the top and took a small sniff. He rolled his eyes at the incompetence. Then he said: “If you show me the way in, I’ll tell you how to make a deadlier chemical compound.”
Two minutes later, he was well through the gates.
The walls were stone and unending. They were nearly identical.
But Sherlock had a photographic memory plus the mind to apply geometry practically, and it was very easy to determine if he had been down a particular corridor before. From there, it was a simple matter to take a different turn than he had last time.
It wasn’t long before he stumbled across a pair of guards. All he had to do was ask the correct question and he would be halfway done. It was a bit disappointing, that.
The guards tittered to themselves. “One of us always tells the truth, and one of us always lies.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. Word games. “Child’s play.”
The Goblin King appeared shortly after that.
Sherlock stopped. “What?”
“Are you enjoying my Labyrinth?”
“Not especially,” he said frankly. “I thought it would be more challenging than this.”
“Oh, you find it easy, do you? Well, then you won’t mind if I up the stakes a bit.” The clock appeared and wound forward three hours.
Sherlock brought his hands together. “Excellent.”
The Goblin King narrowed his eyes.
In the gardens, Sherlock ran into another dwarf creature who had a bird thing for a hat.
He rattled his cup at Sherlock. “Wouldn’t you like a piece of advice, young man?”
Sherlock continued on.
Guards were easily avoided.
Most creatures seemed stupid, and the few he encountered were easily outsmarted.
Perhaps he should have let Mycroft come after all.
“Tell me, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
The Goblin King again.
“A pirate,” Sherlock answered.
“How ambitious.” He conjured a crystal and threw it into the air, where it became an apple.
Sherlock caught it automatically when it came toward him.
“Aren’t you getting hungry?” the king offered.
“I never eat when I need to think. It slows me down.”
He flung the apple over his shoulder and into the dirt.
“I do, however, have a question,” Sherlock said.
“You may ask me anything, of course, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll receive a helpful answer.” He flashed Sherlock a mocking smile.
Sherlock was unaffected. “What’s the murder rate here?”
The city itself was full of goblins. They had spears, but they were easily confused and he set them to fighting each other.
It was hardly worth his time, really.
When the Goblin King finally walked into the throne room after overseeing the ‘battle’, he found Sherlock sprawled across his throne.
Sherlock’s fingers were steepled under his chin, and he was studying the ceiling with boredom. “What kept you?”
The king’s jaw dropped.
Sherlock sprung up. “I see by your clock that I have five hours to spare. If you don’t mind, I’d like to try to find something dangerous and amusing in that time. This trip needs to at least be worth my while.”
He stalked out of the room.
No one stopped him.
It should not, Jareth thought crossly, be this easy to evade him in his own Labyrinth. But by solving the Labyrinth, one gained a certain amount of control. They were no longer bound to the game, and so were not bound to him. Which meant that the second the boy walked out of the throne room, Jareth could no more magically trace him than he could take children without permission.
But there were other ways of locating things, and the Labyrinth itself was obliging. Sherlock, no longer checked and driven by a single goal, was leaving chaos in his wake.
Jareth finally caught up to Sherlock wandering the Fiery Forest, a Fiery head tucked under his arm.
“You,” Jareth announced, “are leaving.”
Sherlock dropped the head, which exclaimed: “Take me back to my body, man!”
Jareth fixed Sherlock with a stare. “Where is his body?”
The boy shrugged, careless. “I’ve never had the chance to perform a vivisection, nor will I again. These creatures clearly don’t feel pain; they take out their own eyes for fun. It was an unparalleled opportunity.”
“Mycroft won’t even let me dissect things that die naturally,” he complained. “He says my interest is a warning sign. Ugh. Killing people would be boring, anyway. It’s hardly a challenge.”
Jareth suddenly halted, sniffing the air. “What is that smell?”
“Probably the incendiaries. I never get to blow things up back home. The trees here seem unnaturally impervious to fire, though I did find a way around it, of course.”
Jareth stepped forward and grabbed Sherlock’s arm. He dragged him close, and a moment later, they were both standing in the room of the boy who started it all.
Sherlock became furious when he saw that he was home again. “I was supposed to have two more hours!” he yelled. He writhed and actually kicked Jareth in the shin.
The other boy, Mycroft, was still awake. “You’ve returned early, I see. Am I to assume that Sherlock is here to stay?”
Jareth flung Sherlock away from him, causing him to land roughly on the carpet. Sherlock scowled. Jareth scowled in return.
“I can think of no one I would rather have in my kingdom less. Your brother won himself back—he’s your problem now.”
“Indeed,” Mycroft said.
“I do pity you.”
With that, Jareth disappeared.
Sherlock pouted from where he lay sprawled on the rug. He stared up at Mycroft, waiting for him to speak. When he didn’t, Sherlock said, “So there are other realms.”
“It would seem.” A pause. “Are you interested?”
“Influencing one world is quite a high enough goal for now, I think.”
“For a magical wild land, it was very dull,” Sherlock admitted. “No challenges at all.”
“I wouldn’t have let them keep you,” Mycroft said seriously.
Sherlock glowered. “I did it by myself. I don’t need you.”
“Still. As the situation was my fault, it would be no reflection on your abilities had it also been of my fixing. But it seems you managed admirably.” Mycroft smirked. “And possibly made an enemy.”
He had, Sherlock realised. His first real enemy.
“Though I doubt you’ll be seeing him again.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Sherlock said. “I did steal something.”
“And what would that be?”
Sherlock opened his coat, pulling out a skull he’d found in the castle. “He talked to me, so I brought him. But I don’t think he can talk here. A shame—he was actually tolerable company.”
“You should keep him anyway. He looks like a fascinating specimen.”
“Well, obviously.” Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Where else am I going to get another human skull?”
Sherlock stood and went back to his room, cradling the skull in his hands. The skull had been friendly, and if he admitted the truth, Sherlock had looked forward to future conversations with it. He stood on his tiptoes and set the skull on the mantelpiece, giving it a nice vantage point of his room.
Just in case it was still aware.
Sherlock smiled. After all, he could hardly allow his one-time friend be bored.