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The Council in session

"Off to bed with you, Sarah! It's been a long night and we have an early morning tomorrow," Julianne demanded the moment they stepped over the threshold to their petty apartment in the old Chelsea townhouse. Sarah exhaled silently, feeling her shoulders slump. Suddenly their abode felt so lacklustre and mundane. It was chilly and the low-energy light had a bleak, grayish quality to it, making everything looking washed out, like a picture left to bleach in the sun. After seeing the wonders of Whitehall, she couldn't help wondering why her mother had chosen for them to live here, when they were obviously having another alternative.
"But it's Saturday tomorrow," she protested meekly.
"Which doesn't mean that you're supposed to stay all day in bed. We have laundry and cooking to make and I assume you haven't even opened your homework books yet."  

Mumbling a non-committing answer, Sarah turned and began striding up the creaking stairs to her room, but halfway up Julianne called her again.
"Sarah! One more thing," her voice suddenly different. Less sharp and commanding. Hesitantly Sarah turned, her hand still on the handrail. "I'm sorry, dear. But while you might have had fun, young and innocent as you are, it was quite an ordeal for me to go there tonight. To face all those people, knowing that a lot of them condemned me as a traitor and a trouble-maker fifteen years ago and not knowing how many still regard me as such. I felt their eyes upon me, heard the whispers behind my back, Sarah. I know they gauged you too, that's why I was death scared that you should taste too much alcohol. And Jareth...."

Sarah swallowed, silently waited for her mother to continue.
"Jareth," she asserted herself. "Jareth has always been on the irresponsible side – to put it mildly. He's something of a jester, a trouble-maker and he likes to pitch people against each other just to see what happens. He thrives on the strife and the commotion. But he seldom involves directly, most of the time he chooses to saw his spite and then standing by the side watching it develop. And he's usually slick enough the get away with it."
"He didn't come off that way to me," Sarah replied.
"Perhaps not at first sight. But he can be very convincing. Don't mistake his suave flirting for a real interest; honestly it's all a game to him. You remember that obnoxious woman Mizumi, right? Not that I have the slightest sympathy for her, she's a real bitch to be true. But she's also been snubbed by Jareth."

"You seem to have some experience of him," Sarah probed cautiously. She'd never heard her mother call anybody a bitch earlier, thus deducing that the Eraldan people affected Julianne more than any of those here in England.
"Not personally," Julianne sighed. "But I've seen him hurt others and I've comforted them for lengthier times when they took the plunge. I don't want anything like that to befall upon you, my dear."
"Then why went we?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why did we go there, if you disliked it so much, mother?"
"Because," again Julianne vacillated. "Because I wanted for you to finally see Whitehall. To try to grasp that part of you which might've belonged there if things hadn't gone so horrifically wrong that year back when you were but an innocent little new born. And perhaps because... I hoped it had somewhat changed. That the people of Whitehall were less haughty, less superficial. But I was wrong, it's still the same power games going on there, still the same inconsiderate scheming."

"It seems to be... some threat to that world too," Sarah added. "Some beast they believe came from – well, some other universe somewhere else."
"I've heard about that too," Julianne sighed. "I wouldn't put too much concern into that. It's their problem, even if there should be an alien in Eralda, we'll be quite safe back here on Earth."

----------------

"Nobody's safe. Anywhere." High King Angarian's words were severe like sharp daggers as they rung out towards the members of the Intercosmic Council. "Not until this beast is caught and neutralized."

In the wake of his short but succinct announcement even the sunlight beaming in through the high windows blanched, the sky outside seemed less blue. In their sumptuous armchairs surrounding the heavy and ornately carved oak conference table, the rest of the assembly cringed and felt sweat break out upon necks and foreheads, their sensitive minds tuning in on the complex waves emitting from the king and penetrating the air around them. Angarian was afraid – and that was new to most of them. Disquietingly new, chafing uncomfortably against their own impressions of safety. Yet they all did their best to try not to show how they were affected.  
"Since I don't assume you simply brought us all here to scare us, I deduce you need some kind of help," Sarentona of Terandabar said from her place at the opposite side of the oblong table. "So what is it you desire, Angarian?"
"Your best trappers," the King's reply came briskly. "Your best killers."

"But what if this organism isn't hostile," Aitoola the Human Illuminate let up her voice, her large, dark eyes focusing on the king as she folded her veined hands in front of her slender form, her golden nail polish gleaning in the overhead light, the sequins on her orange sari sparkling barely notably along with her intake of breath.
"Trust me it is," Orinian of Alozzia said. "I saw what it did to a mortal of my homeworld."
"What if it was just an accident?" Aitoola asked, her eyes dipping at Orinian. "What if that person just happened to come in the way when the Alien broke through? Just like we might step on a beetle when we put our foot on the ground."
"Even in uncertain matters, I wouldn't take any risks," Angarian was stone-faced.
"I can offer killers all right," Torikam of Thule said, his voice graveled as he struggled with the L's and the R's which sounded all the same in the back of his throat. "I can send you men who..."

"...can handle guns and drive jeeps," huffed Empress Jyn of Xanadu. "But know no the better when it comes to traversing the void and handle the finer sub nuclear magic. Leave that to my Shar-Jui fighters. They can launch rays of megaruth magic within the limits of deciangstroms and weave protection spells with the speed of..."
"Pussies," Torikam cut in.
"Excuse me!" Jyn jerked her dark head in the Thulean's direction.
"You heard me," the bearded man replied, his pine green eyes narrowing beneath bushy brows. "I called them pussies, because that's what they..."

"Enough," Angarian interposed as Sarentona put a calming hand on Jyn's slender arm. "We do not solve any problems with in-fighting." He paused as he shifted in his ornate seat, crossing his legs and his voice changed timbre, softened. "Now, I have not heard anything from you, Jareth. Which is quite unusual, my friend, so I wonder what's disconcerting your heart."

Jareth pulled his brows together, it felt quite awkward to hear Angarian calling him 'friend' since just a handful of things could be more untrue. Still he imagined it was done on purpose, the King sought to provoke him somehow. Shaking something out of him. Hastily Jareth met the yellow eyes of Aryesyle, the Arch Wizardess of Avalon, saw the tick around her thin, silvery lips, the old crone was trying not to laugh. Empress Jyn on the other hand was still glaring at the President of Thule, who looked incongruously content, as if he just had made a two-score in that unbelievingly boring ball game they were playing on his cold planet.  

Leaning back in his chair, the King of the Labyrinth listened to it creak, a dramatic pause before he flashed off his trademark grin. He wasn't going to take the bait.
"Lad's and Gent's," he began, listening pleased with how Sarentona breathed something about 'sexist'. "I assume we all are here to provide with more brains than brawns. It may be hard for some," he said, barely avoiding to dart his eyes in the direction of President Torikam. "We may have all those fancy fighters at home, that is true. Me more than others when it comes to the darker parts of magic, which I assume will have to be used here. If we are to fight, indubitably. Now, I don't underestimate your black-clad belligerents, Empress Jyn. I've seen what they can acquire. Even down in Infraheim. A bleak and tender woman turning her parasol into a killer blade." He bowed slightly in the midnight beauty's direction. "But what we foremost must know about our undesired visitor is where and when and why."

"And what exactly are you going to do to find that out, Goblin King?" Torikam scoffed, disgruntled that Jareth extoled the intermediary of the inner habitable planet in the Niid Chanedra system. The hot Xanadu and the cold Thule had always been rivals for the power over their Cosmos.
"The beast came through by Taronda," Jareth went on with a nod towards Orinian, pretending not to have heard the Thulean's cliché of an insult. "You saw it, as did the High King's people. I believe your cyberbrain agent, Angarian, traced the Alien to the periphery of Earth Cosmos, before losing track of it, unable to discern if it went through to Earth or not. Something I highly doubt, since the reality fabric between Taronda and Earth is rather thick and well-knit. A rupture there combined with the powerful nuclear forces of the so much younger Earth, would've been noticed more or less immediately. Sensitive people, like you, Queen Sarentona, would even be disturbed in your sleep. Yet nothing even remotely like that occurred." Jareth finished his speech with a courteous nod of his head towards the Terandabarite.

"So what you're saying is that the Alien is still in my dominion?" Orinian turned towards Jareth.
"Yes, either it's there or it may be here – in Lealia, the most central of the Cosmoses."

"There's one more thing we haven't considered," Arch Wizardess Aryesyle let up her creaky voice. "That the Alien has returned back where it came from."
"Do you really believe that," King Angarian echoed all the other's doubts.
"We've seen no trace of it since that robot of yours lost it. Since then nobody else have observed it. At least somebody ought to have, should it still be around within our Multiverse. Wouldn't you all think so?"
"No, we wouldn't," Orinian protested. "Why risking that it's still around, perhaps plotting against us as we speak? I suggest we all do what's in our might to find it."
"You'll just waste vigor on nothing," Aryesyle averred. "It'll cost you and tire you and take energy from other matters of more importance."

"Let us be the judges of that," Angarian proclaimed.
"If you want out, witch, feel free to portal home," Torikam grumbled.
"That's not really an option," Aryesyle faced the Thulean with a 'who asked you anyway' expression.
"Before I see more people getting at each other's throats, may I make a suggestion," Angarian began, putting all of his presiding voice behind the matter. "Let us put together a small but efficient search party, consisting of people who are no strangers to traversing the voids. People who can look for this Alien. I've already got two of your citizens, Torikam."
"The Voidwalkers," the President didn't sound all that delighted or proud of his planet's contribution to the upcoming quest.
"Yes," Angarian nodded. "Then I can offer my Atrey, the Cyborg. She's not only good at these things, she's more or less invulnerable too. In return I'd like to borrow Tilathian from you, Sarentona and Chervin from Orinian." He nodded at the named Council members before facing the rest. "Anyone else who might make an auspicious difference? Jyn what do you have? And Jareth?"

As he glanced over at the Human Illuminate, Jareth noted that she looked forlorn and disappointed, her emotive dark eyes lowered. Then again, the humans were no good in this case. Their fledgling race almost completely lacked supernaturally accomplished individuals and those around were puny and untrained. As a matter of fact, the Illuminate herself was among the best there were. That was why she had been elected by the trifling group of deliberately picked and responsible humans who had a say in the matter. He put that matter to the side, turning to the king.
"Yes, I have a few. Let me go home and select the best one for you!"
"Yes," Angarian offered a haughty smile. "But make it fast. Something tells me we don't have long before the Alien choses to act."

***********

With a knock on his office door Jareth found his consciousness drawn back to the present reality.
"Come in," he called absent-mindedly and tucked the protocol away in a stack of papers, neglected work waiting to be attended to. The door fanned open and crossing the threshold was a woman in a short red leather dress and knee-high platform boots made of the same material. Her long, golden hair hung in a waterfall of silk to her shoulders and she displayed sultry features and clear, shining silvery eyes. Mizumi.
"Hello, o mighty one," her words dripping with sarcasm. Not batting an eye-lid, he folded his hands in front of him on the large, obsidian desk.

"Hello, Mizumi. What brings you around? For your sake, I hope you've approached me with more than trivial matters," Jareth warned, narrowing his eyes at the visitor. "You are in my domain, after all."
"My domain doesn't distinguish any boundaries. For all you know, Jareth, my domain might be here and now," Mizumi shot back with an incisive smirk.

Pulling back his shoulder in a stiffening, brooding pose, Jareth tried to ignore this annoying twist. She was right after all. Mizumi, the Royal Intercosmic Auditor of Deep Magic, the only one with permission to enter everywhere. Such was the edict of the Intercosmic Council. No one was to hamper Mizumi, the protector of magic salubrioty and the overseer that the rules of Deep Magic was upheld, that no magic was used in any way that could endanger cosmic stability, something hard enough in a collection of Cosmoses with almost 165 billion of inhibitors, about 12 percent of those gifted in magic.

"Kindly arrive to the point of your visit!"
"Your mistake of exposing me to affronts while in society."
"There were hardly four people listening."
"Take into account that four sets of ears at Whitehall inevitably turn into all ears!"

"I consider such a matter as trivial," he huffed but Mizumi was relentless, her eyes were shooting killer rays of silver.
"Hear my caveat, Jareth!" The sharp, berating words sounded terrible coming from such a lovely visage. Remaining silent, Jareth raised his brows in an attempt to feign amusement. "If this should occur anew, if you dare underestimating my station, you will find your personal matters to wax complicated. Your professional tasks will follow." She tossed her glossy mane behind her shoulders. "Now, tell me one thing. You are allured by her, right?"

"Whom?" he snarled in a paroxysm of aggravation, regardless of knowing exactly which young woman the auditor was referring to.
"Don't play me for stupid! I saw very well the way you were ogling young Saphira at the ball of two nights ago. You want her, even a donkey could see that. But don't you think you're a bit too old for her? If not, I bet her mother categorically would do. Lady Julianne is very protective of her only child and she definitely do not want the lord of distant Infraheim to lay one single finger on the virgin form of her precious girl. A word of warning and you might never see her again."

"Listen to me, Mizumi, and listen closely!" Jareth stood swiftly, enraged at her gall. "What you and I once had is over. Over and forgotten, buried fathoms beneath the surface of my conscious memory and I will not under any circumstances bring it up again. What has been remains unchangeable, but regardless of those hot nights together, those dances at the balls and masks in Avalon and Dorixantha we are strangers now. You will never have power in the realm of Infraheim. You will never have power over me. I will never be your subject, just as you will never be mine. Now, get out of here!"

Mizumi let hear a strident laugh and turned to leave, heels slamming against the floorboards and hips swaying as she disappeared through the door. Sensing something sinister linger in her wake, Jareth found himself with balled fists, however he sat back down, counted to ten in Xanaduine and decided on his next move. He knew he had to act before Mizumi involved herself in his plans.

Picking up the crystal orb from his desk, Jareth entered those Earth coordinates he had earlier received from Nurah and soon he returned his focus to the vision of the London outskirts. A mist of shimmering magic coiled up from the ball and parted in less than a moment and he found himself looking at the home of Sarah again. The building was made partly of white wattle-and-daub and partly of brick with black timber beams built into the walls. Above the tiled roof stood two stacks of chimneys, made of the same sandstone as the window frames, but twisted in spirals like sticks of old-fashioned barley sugar. In the evening light it held a mellow pear color and the roof gleaned mattedly in the amber-pale sun rays beaming between burly gray clouds.

Jareth eyed the hologram of the house for a while, hoping to see anyone exit or enter, preferably Sarah. But there was nobody bar an old man with a fluffy white dog. The sun dipped, the moon blossomed and one by one by one the lights went out in the house.

For the next step he needed to venture out in person, to leave Labyrinth City and Infraheim for Earth and London. However it would be too bothersome to travel disguised as a human. Unlike for instance King Angarian, Jareth had never been found of those masquerades, he preferred to disguise himself as something else, something that could remain more or less unnoticed as he crossed the lands of the humans. He established that he would continue this endeavor under the dark of the night in the part of Earth where London was. Therefore he would travel disguised as an owl.

Sweeping out of the room, Jareth passed down grand halls and corridors of his castle, beyond cold parleys and sitting rooms with high ceilings and painted walls with stiff, silk curtains, descending three stories in a spiraling back stair. He exited from a small deliberating room and into the long throne room, designed to hold festivities and delegations. Without glancing at his empty throne, he crossed the large, black and white squared floor, his steps echoing hollowly beneath the vaulted ceilings from which just a few pale lanterns burned. At the other end of the throne room was a wide terrace overlooking the city below, more or less the same view he was used to see from his penthouse office. Labyrinth City underneath its burning red sun and pale green sky, the spires and towers glittering as if coated in blood. This was nothing like the sterile splendor of Whitehall or the realm of patchwork cultures where the humans dwelled. This was his world and he loved it for all its horrors and drama!

He jumped up on the iron bannister, and as he leaped, he was changing his shape, turning into a white-feathered owl with gleaning yellow eyes. The owl which was Jareth spread its large wings and took into the air where it circled three turns before it flew into the sun.
The riddle of the Labyrinth 18-The Council in sess
The riddle of the Labyrinth 18 - The Council in session
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King Angarian ambled up to his wife, who was standing erect by the large and oblong panoramic window, calmly gazing out in the moonlit garden, her armless snow white robe shimmering translucent like mother of pearl in the dim light. Those lovely dark eyes were serene and remote, lost in contemplations, he could tell by the ambiguous reflection of her expressive face superimposed upon the tranquil, motionless exterior. He let his hands trace across her soft and warm shoulders, caressing her gently.
"Something's bother you, my love?" he asked while resting his cheek against her hair, inhaling its apply fragrance – bright visions of summer flickering joyously in a remote corner of his mind.
"Yes, it's young lady Sarah," Colombina replied absentmindedly, reaching up with her right hand to catch his, moving it up to her lips to place a gentle kiss upon it.
"You believe her too lenient to acquire what's expected of her?"

"It's not that," the Queen almost whispered. "Sarah seems so – well, naïve. She knows almost nothing about our world. Her mother may have been forced into exile and chosen to settle down on Earth, but why did she have to keep the daughter in the dark about her true origins? Why didn't she teach the little girl anything about who she was and where she came from? Educated her? I've seen those Earth schools – they're a joke. It's correct the humans are slow learners and you have to repeat all things to them several times. Regardless one would think they could offer their children a little bit more than just force-feeding. Cramming without adding some depth to it. Sarah is an intelligent young woman. Early on she grasped that something in her life was amiss. I visited her more than once, just to watch over her. I felt repentant for her and anticipated to find a way to let either you revoke Julianne's exile or for Julianne to let Sarah travel to Lealia. The last time I couldn't help myself, I had to tell the young woman bits and pieces of whom she was, just to see if it was possible to kick-start her brain. To have her undertaking some research on her own."

With a small sigh Colombina rested her chin upon Angarian's chest, listening to the comforting sound of his steady heartbeat. That sound was real for the heart never slept, a reassuring syncopation companioning shadows in slumber. By its beat Colombina knew life continued and with it both love and worries. Angarian touched her silken skin, caressed a velvet cheek, and rippled warmly in the thick, dark set of flowing tresses, at this late hour unbound and wild, undulating as if with a life of their own.

"And if Julianne wouldn't let Sarah travel?" Angarian moved his hand forward and covered her breast, feeling its curved smoothness through the satin of her dress.
"Then there was always the Cordelia option."
"Your cousin, the Guardian of the European Magic, she who dwells in the Alpenland?"
"Yes, she misses her own children, perhaps she could educate Sarah if Julianne refused. Angy, Julianne might be Sarah's mother, still Sarah is not an item to be owned, Julianne has responsibilities for her a well. According to the law of Eralda she has to let her daughter become erudite. If she refuse to do that herself..."

"Honey, Julianne is officially in exile. She's not a de-facto citizen of Eralda at this moment in time and since she dwells on Earth, Eraldan laws do not apply to her."
"But you've chosen to revoke that exile, haven't you?"
"Yes, I have, but there's still a step to be taken by Julianne. To decide to come home again."

***

Another man kept awake that night was Jareth. As soon as the party had started to dwindle, he and his entourage had bid good night to the King and withdrawn to their assigned guest rooms. The Lord of the Labyrinth felt warm and clammy and kind of restless. The clamor of too much people and too loud music was still ringing in his head and his brain was working on so many different matters he feared it would take the whole night to just wind down.

Pushing the balcony door open, he stepped out into the balmy night. Around him the air was musical; sung with a chorus of temperate sounds, the whirring of insects, the song of nocturnal birds, frogs and crickets and the gentle cadence of a running streamlet over polished stones and through pliant reeds. The sliver of a half-moon lied broken in the moving water of the reflective pool, a ribbon of argent stars trailing from a horned copper point. For a while he stared at the intricate multi-level fountains with their exquisite statuary and crafted tile work. Spray floating from the fountains on a light breeze rained onto his cheeks, and the nocturnal garden lights wove miniature rainbows through the vapor. Soft light glittered from bioluminescent flowers like fallen stars in the grass. Somewhere near in the highest bough of the towering poplar a nightjar called, a swirling crescendo that cut like a scimitar through the tranquility. Above his head a comet traced the obsidian vault, thin as a pin, jeweled and trailing a flaming thread. Craning his neck he followed the traced line across the sky, marveling at its beauty.

He spotted the sidereal constellations; they fascinated him since his home sky lacked such adornments. Infraheim had but one single solar system, the Labyrinth world and the gas giant Enziphar were the only planets, the latter seen as a dainty, pale orb in the night sky if you got far enough from the light pollution of the city. But here on Lealia, the stars shone bright, clearest of them all a large spiral galaxy off to the north, the Mercury Whirlpool. He recognized a few additional constellations and clusters, like the trumpet, the horse-shoe, the crossed keys and the man-on-the-tricycle.

Jareth's casual stance against the railing belied an unfamiliar tension knotting his stomach. As he ran his hands across the cold steel of the bannister he found himself thinking of Sarah. The details lay in figuring out where the elusive Julianne had hidden her daughter from prying eyes. His source had refused to give him the location but had hinted it was somewhere on the British islands. Hearing that, Jareth had to brace himself to not show his exacerbation. Fancy that! Jareth of Labyrinth, the toughest of the tough guys, who cast women aside like so many empty bottles of Scotch. It was undignified for him to be up in arms over this young woman, still he felt the seed of a foreign emotion taking root within.

Somebody must know more accurately where Julianne and Sarah dwelled, he contemplated. Yes, he knew that somebody. He had but spoken her name when there was sparkle and a pop in the air as she phased inside, the moment he lowered his protection shields.

She appeared before him with a heavy-looking purple velvet cloak draped about her curvaceous body and the hood tossed back, displaying her dignified beauty, her deep red hair stroked with silver falling back from a high forehead, clear blue-green eyes regarding him with intelligent curiosity, full lips slightly pulled up in a polite smile. In her left hand she clutched a slender staff of spiraling synthebony with a taper flickering at the top, the right one carried a crystal view-ball.

"Nurah," said Jareth, more to himself than as a greeting. She bowed her head silently, the orange flame throwing the wrinkles on her face into a demarcated relief.
"Jareth, correctly did I imagine that you would need my services," her deep, husky voice reverberating with confidence as her lips curled upwards. "Because you just can't seem to find young ones to do the job right."

"Levantine told me everything I wanted to know," Jareth returned diffidently.
"But she didn't nose around enough, did she?" Nurah pondered, tilting her head. "Oh, I thought so. That's what you need me for." She gyrated the crystal ball in her hand with nimble fingers, silvery reflections flashing across the room, before positioning it in mid-air as though resting it on a solid surface. With a tap from the top of the staff, a vision appeared of two island in a sea of blue, the one to the right almost twice as large. "Behold the islands Britain and Ireland, the coordinates are arriving in your mail as we speak, so I'll leave you to it. Unless ..."

Jareth looked away from the hologram.
"Unless what?"
"Unless you'd also like me to consult the astrologicans regarding your courtship," Nurah said wickedly.
"I'm fine, thank you," Jareth scoffed. "Besides, whoever mentioned courtship?"
"Certain things doesn't have to be said," his chancellor grinned. "I'm sorry I cannot stay, but as you can tell I'm still dressed. A certain young woman is waiting for me on the other side of the castle." Suddenly there was almost despondency in her voice and he wanted to scream at her that he certainly could get laid as well. Only that it didn't interest him at the moment.

"Goodnight, Nurah," he said forcibly as she flashed him a smile and turned upon her high heels and stepped right through the dimensions, vanishing with a pop of air rushing in to replace her form. As Nurah disappeared, Jareth turned his attention to the hologram vision, concentrating upon making it move north. The trees and rocky coasts and the deep-blue Atlantic sea flew past and Jareth slowed only to reach for his mailbox. Opening up he was finding Nurah's coordinates resting in a neat little package and he folded it open and added the information in the search field. After that he watched the holovision home in over an urban area. Northern London. Chelsea was the name that popped up in red capital letters on top of the vision. No surprise, Julianne had always loved the Anglo-Saxon life style, the old Empire of No Sunset.

He zoomed in over roof-tops and long, curving roads, rows and rows of narrow, almost identical houses with steep saddleback roofs with narrow chimneys on their pinnacles. The screen took him through streets and parks, across a railway and a small pond and finally there was a hill covered in chestnut trees with an old house sitting on its top. Suddenly he found himself surrounded by a brilliantly white and gold flash of magic.
"There you are!" Jareth didn't need to venture closer in order to know he had found the right place. He recognized Julianne's bold imprint on the area the instant he spotted the house.

With a few quick commands he stored the information and plucked down the glittering orb, placing it next to one of his own on the desk. It clicked softly as it connected with its mate and small bluish sparks were set off in a miniature firework before fading into darkness. Precipitously he felt drowsy and the king-sized bed on the other side of the desk suddenly appeared very beckoning.    

*-------*-----------*

Reikan was leaning against the rough wall of the pathetically minute cell where he lived out his meager existence these days. A lockup about the size of a cage housing wild animals at the zoo, deprived of windows, pictures or any signs of warmth and which contained only a narrow cot, a rickety chair, a sink with a cold water faucet and a hole in the floor as an excuse for a toilet. Over the sink was a small mirror made out of softmeld. No glass here or any other hard stuff that you could break and harm yourself or anyone else with. He turned to eyeball his visage in that blotchy and blurry mirror, noticing with dismay that he was getting less and less handsome for every day that passed in this ghastly hellhole.

He was gaunt and feeble these days, with stubble covering his sickly insipid and dough like skin and his hair hung in greasy and unkempt, lacklustre strands down below the nowadays reedy shoulders. The lips formed a razor thin line and his eyes looked somewhat milky. Add to that those crisscrossing lines, they were deeper now than ever before, like sharp canyons running across his face, marking out the expression that had fermented upon his face these days, burnt into his features. Defeated. Fated to spend the rest of his miserable life in a crumbling, tenebrous and foul-smelling prison. Urine, fungi, and the stench Reikan could only describe as "wet dog, but worse" permeated the interior.

With a profound sigh he let himself slid down the rough wall, so he lost sight of his miserable appearance, felt the rugged wall scratch at his back through the rogue textile of the gray-brown convict's outfit. Landing in a sitting position he grabbed his knees and pulled his legs up so that he could rest his chin upon the knees. Sitting like that he closed his eyes and felt a shudder run through his body caused by the chill of the dirty, unpainted concrete floor. With a moaning elegy he reached out for the only thing he had left in life – the only thing they couldn't take away from him. His memories.

---------------

Stunning. The woman was absolutely stunning. No work of art of any revered old master could even begin to compare. It had been impossible to look away from her. She - glowed. Or was it the air around her that did? One glance at the emerald-eyed vision held him spellbound. Hair coloured like a rich shade of coffee curled about a head resting upon a long, gracious neck almost like the one of a swan. Her body was supple, elegant and he could imagine her running cross country, or perhaps on horseback. Yet now she was restive, standing beside the centerpiece podium, facing him with semi-interest, as if he was just one more man she had to shake hands with before the formal reception was over. Words bubbled to Reikan's lips, but all died before they ever reached his tongue. So she beat him to it.

"Julianne Managdon, daughter of Utrorion Narsondra," her modulated contralto was rich, like syrup did it trickle into his ears, almost warming them.
"Reikan of Ursain," he offered in return deploying his winning aspect.
"I know," her full lips split into a heart-warming smile that somehow penetrated deep into his soul. She wasn't the flashy type, Lord Reikan mused. Lady Julianne possessed a more subtle, richer kind of beauty. Genuine and unadorned. One that worked on a man like him. Got under his skin. Into his blood.

"I've come to see your father, to press his hands and to thank him for his long and relentless struggle to make this world a better place. Eralda sure needs more people like him," he bowed courteously, reaching out to take her offered hand and placing a gentle kiss upon it. "You must be proud to be his daughter," Reikan continued.
"I'm pretty much proud to be me," her voice adopted a grain of feistiness, yet her sparkling eyes were far from hostile. Instead they were scrutinizing him and something in that attentiveness gave away that she liked what she saw.
"Oh, I'm pretty much certain of that," he tried for apology. "You have every right to be just that."

"Why thank you," she said, still with her guard a bit up.
"So is Utrorion still signing his book here today? I'd like a copy."
"He's gone to see some, uh, acquaintances," her eyes let go of him to dart a bit to the left, almost as if she was expecting her old man to return at any moment. "Or rather, make that sponsors."
"That is something I wish to talk with him about too," Reikan admitted. "Sponsorship of his campaign."
"I can handle those things as well," came the quick retort. "Have you eaten?"

Reikan almost made a double take. He had never been asked out for lunch by a woman before - and never in such a direct, straightforward way. Indeed, this was Utrorion's daughter and she showed the same burning zest as her rebellious father. He was floored. Down for ten.
Jareth! His name sprouted in Sarah's mind and slid down to almost kiss her lips as she advanced down the long, refined hallways towards the main ballroom where the party was now in full swing. The sound of up-tempo music led her way like an audio beacon, otherwise she would probably have been lost in the enormous palace building of Whitehall.

Yes, Jareth would be the one to ask. No matter that he acted as a self-proclaimed comic relief, there was an undercurrent of solemnity and honesty beneath all his jesting. He didn't seem to be all that impressed with the High King Angarian or his palpable power and glory. With his low-keyed street wisdom Jareth appeared like the man who might as well know what this alien thing was all about and moreover not the slightest afraid to tell. Perhaps he might even offer her an advice or three.

When Sara returned to the ballroom she noted that the music was performed by a live orchestra on a low stage by the yonder wall and the lights had been dimmed save for the floodlighted stage and colour gels glittering in large disco balls which hadn't been there earlier. The music was strange and captivating, savage almost - it reminded Sarah of techno performed on flutes and deep-sounding drums. The long tables were cleared away and a bar had opened up where Tormenius' Vizelians were serving drinks to thirsty souls. Drinks which reminded Sarah of colourful and glittery toys rather than beverages. People were dancing in pairs or alone and there were those who stood to the sides to merely watch and engage in conversation, glasses in their hands as they grouped in three and three or four and four. Her mother nodded to her from nearby, but did not come over; she was conversing a woman in a long, white cloak with wide sleeves and the hood drawn over her head.

Continuing on, Sarah contented herself with being as invisible as possible while trying to locate Jareth. However he was nowhere to be found, he wasn't dancing or in the bar and not among those groups to the side. As she passed by, several people turned their heads, looking like they sought to engage in conversations with her but eventually they just smiled. This kind of behaviour was starting to annoy Sarah a little, made her feel as if she was an entertainer or a conversation piece rather than an invited guest.

The music died down for a moment, until someone in the crowd yelled a suggestion that seemed agreeable to the entertainers. Just as the starting notes echoed through the hall, Sarah heard someone near her.
"Might I have a word with you?" A little surprised she turned, finding Jareth standing there, looking rather expectant.
"Why, of course! I was actually looking for you, worried that you'd left the party."
"That's flattering," he said with a tiny smile. "Follow me!" He led her over to the bar and had soon procured two high-steamed glasses of wine. "Care for a drink?"
"As long as mother doesn't see..." she sheepishly replied as she accepted the beverage. He took a sip from his.

"Surely your mother gives you wine?" Jareth seemed puzzled.
"It's usually soda or water. The way it's done on Earth. Mother was a little displeased with Tormenius when I asked about him and his Vizelians," Sarah explained as she tasted the wine. It was dark red but perfectly clear, smelling strongly of a bouquet of flowers and tasting strident and sweet and bitter all at once. There was also a dryness to it that she could have done without, though.
"No doubt she told you about their spiritual practices?"
"Yes... it...um, is it true they're drunk all the time?"

Jareth frowned for a moment. The trademark smirk was gone from his face and his voice took a deeper, more solemn tone.
"That's a bit of an exaggeration, even for coming from Julianne. She was probably just listening to the rumor mill. People talk a lot about things they don't understand and find exotic and a bit on the forbidden side. I'm sure you're already aware of that, my dear Sarah! But no, the Vizelian cult is a very active and wild mysticism, consequently when you practice it right you feel drunk on spirituality, not in control yet concurrently totally in control. This Principle is sacred to many who may not even know it and trodden on by simple partying that gives the Vizelian disciples a bad name." Jareth paused, still thoughtful. "Their practice is not recommended without an initiate to supervise."
"What do they worship, then?" Sarah asked.
"That's a good question, but one I would not dare to answer here. Perhaps another time."

Sarah was disappointed but would not let this opportunity slip through her fingers.
"Jareth, there's something else I'd like to ask, if you don't mind."
"Feel free," he divulged.
"I heard from some people here tonight, uh, they were talking of some kind of Alien thing. Which was believed to have come from – well outside the known universe. Well, universeS - I tend to forget."

Jareth seemed to mull her ponderings over while sipping on his wine, she saw held-back emotions flicker like sudden sparks in his eyes. Incentives of reminiscences he would not disclose. The blue eye seemed oddly more calculating than the hazel, more expressive one and the asymmetry confounded her. This man sure was a multi-levelled, intriguing enigma.
"Sarah..." he finally resumed. "Who told you about this Alien?"
"Well, folks," she shrugged her shoulders, not wanting to confess on having eavesdropping on the group upstairs.
"I accept your secrecy," he affirmed. "There's a lot of things voiced here by those alarmed by the concept of something strange and different coming through. But I wouldn't say it's all bad just because it's different. You know, I used to be that different Alien once. Me and my dominion. We were the last to be found. Infraheim is a young, small and sundry realm, often believed to be artificial. Or at least made by some inexperienced god."

"Infraheim? Inexperienced god? Jareth, I must admit you lost me now."
"Curious, aren't you?" Jareth asked, smiling when Sarah nodded enthusiastically. "Infraheim is the name of our universe. Which does not really consist of much more than the City of Labyrinth, a few pastures outside and a bright ruby sun in the sky. The smallness of it makes people feel claustrophobic, so they would rather not come there. Or even pretend it exists. Since our universe is so young and so rudimentary, we believe that the god who made it was an unexperienced dawdler. But I digress, you desired to know about the Alien."
"Yes," Sarah sipped on her drink, while trying to banish the whole Alice in Wonderland feel. "Tell me about it, please!"

"I guess the proverbial cat is out of the bag anyway," Jareth shrugged. "According to those who saw it happen -  among which I wasn't one - this thing broke through in a place which we've always thought was the toughest, thickest part of our Cosmoses. The extremely old realm of Taronda, an universe almost ten times as old as this one and perhaps fifty times as old as yours, the Earth realm." He paused, watched Sara's mouth fall in surprise at these figures and what they might implicate. "Your table mate was Chervin of Alozzia and your mother had his Lord Orinian as her table mate. Both of these men are Tarondeans, and Orinian is perhaps the oldest living person known. He's so old he can even recall some of the gods. Some of those who were the last to leave. Reaching that age is only possible in a realm like Taronda, because it's so sturdy, the atomic structure so dense. Thus the bodies can hold the souls so much longer. Now, with this strength of atomic structure, no one would consider it possible to break through there. Yet this Alien did. Which must mean that it's extremely powerful. That what's scaring people."

"Where is it now?" Sarah asked, almost feeling as if it was proximate, slipping just beneath the surface of the perceivable world. Observing them. The very thought of it almost made her shiver in the warm room, a prickling sensation traversing from the back of her head and down her spine.
"Wish I knew," Jareth emptied his glass and obtained a new one from a white-clad servant passing with a tray. "Everyone else wish that too. Comprising those people who you spied upon."
"How did you know I...?"
"Easy enough, young lady. Had someone had spoken directly to you about this, you wouldn't have come to me with your questions, but asked them instead."
"Point taken," she made a face. It seemed impossible to deceive this man.

"Now, may I give you one advice which could help you a lot when moving through this world?"
"Yes..."
"Don't listen too closely to those whispers in the wind. Things said here can be pitilessly misunderstood when heard outside their context. Especially for ears unused to how talks generally go around."
"Jareth, those people, uh, they talked about me."

"And they said what?"
"They said that I was prophesied to fight this Alien."
"Reikan's talks no doubt."
"My father's?"
"Yes, your father's. The man was a seer and he claimed to have sighted a certain future involving you. But truth is that no other seer have perceived anything of that kind, not even close. And there are seers all over those old Cosmoses. Especially here in Lealia. One of the few notions I share with King Angarian is that your father Reikan made up this 'prophecy' to save his poor ass. Not that it helped him in the end, he was imprisoned and forgotten and his county Ursain was handed over to his younger brother, Calen the alchemist. But don't you worry about that, Sarah, Calen is childless and there's doubts that he'll ever have any, as he's apparently homosexual. So you might get your birthright back one day."

"I don't care about that kind of birthright," Sarah protested. "I just want to be let off that hook when it comes to some kind of believed participation in an alien-hunt."
"Now, you're a wise one for being so young," Jareth praised her. "Trust me, I will see what I can do."
"What can you do about it?"
"Too early to say at this moment."

Sarah was disenchanted again, but tried a new question while enjoying another sip of wine.
"What about that name everyone called me?"
"Saphira." Jareth took a long swig of his drink. Sarah could see the wheels turning in his head and she knew he was torn. "It's the name everyone believed your mother would give you."
"She never corrected them before now?" Sarah thought it rather odd.
"That's Julianne for you."
"Saphira is a nice name. More exotic than plain old Sarah. I wish it were mine..." she said. There was something unreadable in Jareth's eyes.

"Sarah!" Almost flinching to the familiar voice, Sarah turned around. Several other people looked up too and upon seeing her mother approaching, Sarah realized she was holding her glass of wine in plain sight. She wasn't sure if she felt comfortable with Jareth witnessing what would inevitably come next. Thankfully her mother lowered her voice considerably for the next part. "I told you not to drink that!"
"I thought you told me to stay away from those people," Sarah feigned innocence.
"Ah, that would be my fault, darling," added Jareth, covering for her quickly while whisking the glass away from her. "I thought it would be a nice thing to do."
"You know how I feel about the Vizelians," Julianne spat.
"Yes, but I wasn't going to assume your daughter felt the same way," Jareth retorted stiffly.

"What's going on here?" came a light voice. All three turned to spy a woman advancing on high stiletto heels and with a face barely masking impudent curiosity. Sarah recognized her as Jareth's dinner partner from earlier.
"Mizumi," Jareth and Julianne choired in ersatz glee.
"And Sarah! Let me greet you for real this time," said Mizumi with arms outstretched to hug Sarah. Awkwardly, Sarah accepted the embrace, being swept into musky fruity scent and a sensation that this friendliness was all an act. "So," Mizumi recommenced while pulling away from Sarah. "I haven't seen you two converse in a long time. On speaking terms again?"

"Jareth is forgetting his limits." Julianne wasn't hiding the ugly look on her face very well.
"Now, now, Jareth," Mizumi tutted. "Don't ruin Julianne's first Whitehall party in years!" As Sarah lifted her eyes from the striking blonde, she noted that Jareth also had a dark look overcoming his face.
"I know my limits better than most," he murmured.
"Really? I wasn't the one who insulted my dame at the table with old gossip," Mizumi hinted nastily. Listening to the tang in the newcomer's voice, Sarah didn't think this was heading in a good direction.

"Gossip with more than just one grain of truth nevertheless," Julianne deigned sarcastically.
"Neither were the yarns spun about you or your part in the futile uprising, Julianne," Mizumi shot back. "I imagine my taste a tad more carefully honed than yours. Jareth's disinterest is just contrived, you know."
"Mizumi, don't flatter yourself!" Jareth said in a surprise move of attempting to keep both women from going for each other's throats. "With her daughter present I have to be modest towards Julianne, otherwise I may acclaim her splendor as I praise yours."
"Don't start, Jareth," Mizumi said with malice, "You don't know the first thing about diplomacy."
"It doesn't matter," he snarled at the woman in black and Sarah sensed a wave of cold off him. "Real diplomacy sits by gunpoint in any case." With that Jareth turned and left, quickly disappearing into the crowd. Directing one last glare at Julianne, Mizumi also left, striding off in the opposite direction without so much as a 'bye'.

"Sarah," Julianne said as soon as they were alone.
"Yes?" Sarah all but whispered.
"I've ordered up the stage coach. We're leaving as soon as we'd said our due fare wells to the King Angarian."

****

"How much do you think she heard?" Chervin asked while letting the last wafts of tobacco smoke escape his nostrils. He felt faintly relaxed by the weak drug, that was something he missed in his own world – the opportunity to get affected by biochemical like this. In Taronda it wasn't even possible to get drunk. Sure, they had wine and sure, it tasted him well, especially together with a good, rich dinner. However the effect failed to hit him.

"Very little," Atrey replied as she leant against the door-frame gazing out in the nocturnal dusk, following with her eyes where Sarah had gone, still sensing some of her resuidual body heat and auric traces in the air.
"I should hope for 'very little'," Tilathian put in as he butted out his own cigarette in an ashtray of matte glass.
"I know 'very little'," the Cyborg avowed. "I've analyzed how far away she was the closest, how long she could have been there the most, based upon her auric traces and finally the decibel level of our voices, comparing that to the general hearing-level range of a Celestian. She heard me slight your Queen, Till, but I wouldn't worry about that. Then some of that crap about the Alien's ability and aspiration to surmount us."

"That's not crap, Atrey," Chervin huffed.
"Yes, it is crap, Cher. Pure speculation. We know absolutely nothing about that – well, thing. So to judge and deduct is purely a pointless waste of time and oxygen. We won't know anything before Antolas and Cleanthia have done their thing. If even then, since..."
"Who's Antolas and Cleanthia?" Tilathian cut her off, almost sounding irritated.
"The Voidwalkers," replied Atrey. With her cybernetic brain she didn't suffer the same difficulty as the organics with noticing and recognizing those extraordinary humanoids. She only renowned their habit of phasing in and out of the matter universe, their own brains operating on other wave-lengths than the rest. But she saw them quite well, especially when using augmented sensoring and she was never the one to forget them. As a matter of fact, Atrey never forgot anything if she didn't delete it on purpose, which could be irritating at times.

"Oh, the Voidwalkers," the Terandabarite diplomat exhaled, annoyed with himself for disremembering the Thulean duo AGAIN.  
"Yes," Chervin said and cast a longing glance at the cigarette box, "but I wonder if even they would be able to discern this creature for real. Learn about its purpose. What do we do when or if they find it? What about Saphira? Or Sarah as she calls herself these days?"
"It's too early to conject," Atrey replied. There was an idea haunting the back of her mind, merely a whisper first, so easily ignored, but one that would grow into a persistent nagging shout. The deliberation had edged its way in deeper with each quick synapse, milliseconds for regular people, eons for someone like her. Finally she voiced it aloud. "There's one thing I want to do before confronting the daughter of Lady Julianne. A visit to Undermoor."

"Undermoor?" Chervin went noticeably pale, even in the faint yellow glow of the small lamp.
"Yes, I'm beginning to consider it necessary or at least educating to speak to Saphira's incarcerated father."
"But Reikan is off limit, even for your Secret Service. Or at least that's what I was austerely informed when I tried to do some research on him," Tilathian stressed.
"Yes, normally the traitor is off limit for all and everyone. King's ordinance," the Cyborg asserted. "Nevertheless, I imagine these as pretty special circumstances, that even the most stalwart person would see the tragic benefit in me visiting that man."

"In my world Undermoor is a place spoken of in whispers," Chervin's voice deepened, gained a narrating cadence. "As the most abysmal of penitentiaries holding the most formidable felons away from society. It is said to inhibit even the visitors with its dour and forlorn despondency."
"Oh, I don't scare easily," Atrey replied cockily.
"Yet I can offer to supplement you if you so should wish," the Torandan went on with a genteel bow.
"Me too," added Tilathian, who wanted to be none the less.
"That's all very kind of you, but I think I go alone."
"But I'm curious as well," Chervin displayed a tilted smile.
"Me too."

"Guys, I'll see what I can do," Atrey tried to sound annoyed, but she couldn't help a small smile from pulling at her lips. She wasn't always that cool and stiff cybernetic organism - undoubtedly organics like Chervin and Tilathian were affecting her. If that was the case she didn't think she minded. "But first I have to make sure at least I get the permission to go."
Cardinal of the Sun by cosmicwind
Cardinal of the Sun
Cardinal of the Sun - for a story yet to be published
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