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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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After five – or was it seven enjoyable dishes – the extravagant banquet was coming to an end and Sarah was beginning to feel exhausted. The airless heat in the room, generated by too many people and too many candles embraced her like a soft and clammy cocoon, making her almost drowsy. There were old-school spinning fans mounted in the ceiling, ornate and gleaming brass fixtures, but they didn't seem to help a lot. She could kill for some fresh air right now, she felt while resting her head upon her knuckles and listening to Chervin. He was telling an essentially interesting story about his home Alozzia on Taronda. That exotic planet was located in a universe far older than this one or Earth's or any other among the Seven Cosmoses and on any other occasion he would have held her captivated, yet now she had a hard time focusing.

"Tormenius!" High King Angarian suddenly called, lifting his empty goblet. Most of the nearby guests quieted as the outburst cut like a thunderclap through the ambient buzz. "Have you any of that special wine of yours? The one from the land of Further Yonder."
"I thought you'd never ask!" came a response from someone who Sarah couldn't see. As she bent herself backwards and stared beyond the chair of Aitoola the Illuminate, she spotted a heavyset but stately man stand and then haste down the aisle in the other direction followed by a long-legged young girl with flying, purple hair.

Only a moment later his spot was claimed by a tall woman who had imperious facial features and purple-and-gold robes. An ornamental tiara which shone like the moon was mounted on her forehead, augmenting an elaborated updo of jet-black hair and her make-up displayed sharp contrasts of red and black against white. Her dark eyes flashed as she turned to the King, saying something which Sarah couldn't hear, yet Angarian's face took on a virulent look which didn't become him the least. A brief exchange took place before the King suddenly lifted his head again, glancing down the table.

"Saph.. uh, Sarah," the King called out and when she understood she was being addressed, Sarah felt her cheeks starting to burn at the fairly unwelcome attention. Once again was she remained of that strange name and conjecturing where it might be cropping up from. "Sarah, come on over here! Her Majesty the Queen Columbina of the Seven Illustrious Islands wishes to have a word with you!" he then called and diffidently, she excused herself to Chervin, stood and walked past the dozen or so dinner-sets over to where Angarian was sitting together with a few dignitaries encompassing that spectacular woman who was Queen Columbina.

Colombina turned her attention to Sarah and a held together smile split her face. "Pleased to meet you," her voice was polite but affection-less. There was something about her moderate attention that made Sarah think she was appraised – and even beneath that, the most unexpected and peculiar sense of familiarity, as if the two of them had in fact met earlier – a sudden strange sparkle ablaze in the dark eyes of the Lady. Yet the notion was gone as quickly as it had appeared and Sarah tried to understand if it had really transpired or if she had imagined it all. Accepting the outstretched hand, she curtsied graciously, intuiting it was expected of her.
"Here's a girl who's manners are sensibly polished," Colombina glanced at King Angarian. "I still don't understand why you won't do something about your sister Fabienne." The name was spoken with utmost contempt.

"I'm a lord over the natural magic, not of souls," King Angarian gently reminded Colombina as he too stood and took her hand. "It's not in my power to control the natures of people. I wouldn't be able to rule as king should it be otherwise. I'd be accused of being a tyrant then, indicted of controlling people's minds." The way Colombina let him step into her personal sphere with such an ease told Sarah that she was Angarian's wife. "And you wouldn't be Queen, sweetheart," he rounded off with a tilted grin, which Sarah in spite of herself found charming.

"I hear humility in that," Jareth cut in, where he came strolling from the other side, clearly still playing at exasperating everyone he could get at. "Colombina, that's a pretty good bargain so I wouldn't keep quibbling..."
"Who asked you?" Colombina spat before dramatically swirling around and marching off with her head up high and crimson dress billowing formidably with each step.
"You just made everything much worse, Jareth!" King Angarian snarled as he glanced over to where his wife had disappeared.
"I live to serve," the spiky-haired man smirked in return, a fine grain of mockery in his voice, just as in his leer, while he made a sinuous gesture with his right hand which was just this side of being gay.

"Now, is there something on your mind?" King Angarian asked impatiently. Several people turned their heads at the debase tone of his voice and Sarah felt her nerves strain, the sweat travelling down her spine wasn't just from the heat of the hall. She hated being caught right in the middle of this and she craned her head to see where Chervin went, but his dark curls were nowhere to be found.
"As a matter of fact, yes," Jareth said, suddenly completely staid, surprising Sarah with his abrupt shift in demeanor.
"Is it unclassified?" King Angarian asked with a glance at Sarah.

Jareth seemed to hesitate.
"No. I am sorry Sarah," he added with a sober nod to her, making her feeling awkward and even more aware of her junior age and poor clothing. Smiling the best she could she curtsied and left, making as quick an exit as possible to avoid the mingling people.

As she made it down a long hallway, she cut a detour into a ladies' room where two young women, a blond and a brunette, were enhancing their make-up, generously borrowing each other's tools while gossiping about some people Sarah didn't know. They paid her no attention whatsoever as she slipped inside of a booth and then exited again, quickly washing her hand afterwards, turning decorative porcelain faucets which squeaked and buzzed as they sputtered out their liquid content. She managed to wet her dress and blushed when the brunette glanced over at her. But her gaze was rather uninterested and she soon went back to paint a mouche at the left corner of her mouth instead and Sarah slipped away more or less unnoticed.

The area off the hall where the feast was taking place was much less boisterous, but the goings-on were more distinct. She saw large wooden barrels rolled through a vaulted opening and into the hall, a group of uniformly dressed women chatting about the vintages of the wines brought in. There was also Tormenius, the heavyset, moustached man from earlier, standing near and talking to her mother, Julianne, while smoking a pipe. He was wearing a white and red-striped three piece which looked at least one size too small, straining over his wide belly and he had shiny red shoes with golden fastenings.

As Julianne was seemingly asking him something, Tormenius reached inside of a west pocket and brought out a large, golden watch-case hanging on a chain. He scrutinized the clock with a grin and Julianne nodded curtly at his reply. Was it late or early? Sarah had no way of knowing, it felt to her as if they had spent days at the dinner table, still she was far from ready to leave this spectacular fiddle-faddle for the dullness of Chelsea again. She had no inclinations to be a runaway Cinderella and she didn't think Chervin would be the prince that came chasing after her. Or Jareth for that matter.

When Sarah approached, the quintet of women smiled at her. A thoughtful smile, full of soul. Sarah couldn't contain her own smile in return as she regarded them in their purple and black outfits of short dresses with wide tutus, small sequin-covered boleros and satin sashes accenting their slender waists. On closer inspection, she realized that they were all magnificently beautiful, each in their own way with elegantly applied although a bit too generous make-up. She also noticed that her mother kept throwing them looks of disdain.

"Ah, this lovely girl sure must be your daughter, Julianne, dear!" Tormenius said as he laid his warm, dark eyes upon Sarah. "Need I introduce myself?" Sarah shook her head, now very shy and he beamed at her, holding out a pudgy, short-fingered hand. "Tormenius, Royal Sommelier." His grip was warm and firm in spite of the dough like hand. "I was just assuring your mother that the wine will be absolutely perfect!" Julianne seemed nonplussed, as if it were all an accident. "And that the time was not too late. Especially not on a night like this - it never gets too late. Not even if the sun should happen to raise."
"Oh, Tormenius is known for partying way into the midmorning," came a voice from the thong of uniformed young women and almost startled the obese man jerked his head towards them.

"Oh, how rude of me! Sarah, these ladies over here are part of my following, among my most devout. They are called the Vizelians."
"Hello," one of them, a petite and curvy oriental girl greeted kindly. "Delighted to finally meet you in person, Sarah, as I've heard so much about you. My name is Ezmeralda." Instead of holding out her hand, she put her palms together and bowed. Sarah wasn't sure what to do, so she gave a small curtsy back.
"Uh, I hope those words spoken were, well, nice," she replied, trying hard not to blush.
"Rest assure they were," the first speaker, a tall and black woman beamed. "I'm Yoona." After her the others introduced themselves as Lesiri, Kazia and Jezebra.

The expressions of Tormenius and the Vizelians were all either pleased or hopeful but her mother had a very stern look marring her features. Sarah faltered once she met her mother's judgmental gaze.
"I'll leave you alone now," Julianne said, "I'm sure you're capable of handling it from here."
"Oh, of course... of course," Tormenius acceded, nodding gallantly. Julianne beckoned for Sarah to follow as the group they left behind recommenced their work. Once out of earshot, Julianne turned on her daughter.

"I don't want you around them."
"Oh? But they seem like nice people," Sarah was puzzled, she could envision worse people to be around, both here and back home. "They all appeared sincere, mannered and..."
"They're not good people in practice, it would be highly improper for you to be seen in a company like that!"
"Would you please, for once, just explain?" Sarah's voice had risen a little. She was sick of being left in the dark about everything. "I can always ask someone else if you won't tell me now," she added mischievously.

Julianne regarded her daughter as if she was searching Sarah's soul.
"You've been around drunks before, right?"
"Well, there are those dudes in Whyte Park," Sarah offered blandly, brow furrowed as she briefly recalled those old and haggard men with ragged clothes who were ever so often sitting on the benches, drinking from bottles in paper-bags. "But it's not like I've been talking to them or anything."

"Now, these people are always drunk. It's a religious practice. It's said they don't even need wine at times. Something about ecstasy and revelation through, well..." Julianne looked like she was struggling. "It's something about spirituality through wild nature and it's believed that alcohol makes it easier to get there. Those disciples following Tormenius have done quite a few pretty crazy things over the years, so don't let their appearances fool you," she consummated darkly. Sarah was floored at first, then she became suspicious.
"You aren't just saying that to scare me off, are you?"
"No. I really mean it," Julianne shook her head.

She had never seen her mother like this, perhaps it was actually good advice. Lowering her head she said nothing.
"I'm going back in to the feast. The dancing will probably start soon," Julianne went on. "Don't wander too far and don't talk to strangers," she added before turning around and leaving Sarah in the hallway to roll her eyes at the pointless guidance her mother had just given her. Everyone was a stranger at first, before you got to know them. Besides, she not knowing anybody around here was mostly thanks to her mother. She figured that knowing men like Chervin and Jareth earlier in her life would have made her life and outlook on the world a whole lot different.

Shrugging it off, Sarah tried to find the nearest exit so she might get a little fresh air. Upon turning in the other direction, she discovered a broad flight of stairs carrying upwards in a dimly lit shaft. Classic art of the kind she assumed was valuable covered the walls and in niches stood polished armor panoplies. Intuition told her that this area was not private dwellings, so she confidently kept going, letting the stairs carrying her up and deeper into the palace building. The treads alternated between black and white, making her think of piano keys as she ascended.

The stairs ended at a small landing where only a tiny lamp with a beaded shade relieved the dusk. On the other side of the parlor was a heavy oak door with a stained-glass window, it was partly ajar, and with a nudge Sarah pushed it fully open. She smiled at what she found beyond, a courtyard lit with nocturnal lanterns and with a neatly tended garden of delightfully smelling roses, tulips and flowers she didn't recognize, espaliers with wine and benches and tables of wrought iron around a fountain spring with an angel statue of pink marble. The lenient gurgling sound of the fountain was almost the only thing heard. Surrounding the small space was the sheltered, colonnaded walkway she now stood in. Thick stone pillars lined the inner side of the walkway and mullioned windows were mounted at even intervals along the outside, some of them with stained glass depicting flowers and birds. Walking all the way around the courtyard, Sarah found stairs exactly opposite the ones she came up. The copper-coloured moon was canvasing the walls of the Whitehall palace and tiny fireflies had come out. It looked magical even for a dwelling of Celestians.

The grass was soft and cool as it brushed against her bare ankles, somewhat long, with tiny white and pink flowers sticking up here and there and Sarah walked across it right to the spring. She saw her reflection in the softly swirling water and after deciding she didn't look all that bad, she kicked off her shoes and stuck her bare feet in the cold water, wriggling them against the sudden chill. Little bright fishes swam up and darted away, sometimes forgetting they had done so and repeated the routine. When Sarah, tired of watching them and could no longer feel her feet, she stepped out and dried her feet on the grass. While putting on her chaussure she seized one wistful glance back at the trees, before heading for the next flight of stairs.

That was when she heard muted talks emitting from the gap of a slightly open door. Faint light and the smell of tobacco was also seeping out and she lapsed as she recognized the voices. Sarah had never been the overly nosey one, but when she heard that name 'Saphira' again, it became impossible to not listen in.

"... your opinion of Saphira then? You think she has what it takes?" that was Chervin, her tablemate.
"I'm not sure really," the voice of Tilathian. "She's still so very young and have lived her whole life on Earth. But mainly because we don't know what's needed to defeat the Alien."

What Alien? Sarah frowned.

"According to her father's prophecy she's the one who will deal with this threat." That was a woman's voice which Sarah didn't recognize.

Whose father? Sarah thought. Mine? The imprisoned one?

"My Queen seems to think differently," Tilathian contemplated. "Besides, I've never given that much for Lealian seers. They often let their own personal subjectives cloud their judgement. Hypnosis or no hypnosis."
"Your Queen probably want someone from Terandabar to take care of this anyway," the woman returned, her voice deep and handsome yet somewhat character-less. "So that she may bask in the glory. Or at least the reflection of it. No offence, old friend, but I know your kind well after all those years of co-work."
"Suffice to say you're bothered with insulting me but not my queen."
"You insult her all the time, Till," Chervin's voice was mocking merrily.
"Yes, that's my prerogative," the Terandabarite diplomat giggled.

"She has a point," Chervin interjected, suddenly with a sedate edge honing his voice. "We need to have the best people our Cosmoses can offer if we are to go up against that strange thing. Taken that those Voidwalkers can find it, foremost."
"And what do we do if they find it?" Tilathian asked. "We still don't know..."
"I guess we simply have to cross that bridge when we get to it," the woman deduced. "I'm all for a good fight, but as Till says, we don't know what kind of battle it'll be. If any."
"Atrey, don't believe for a second that the Alien is going to succumb, let itself be defeated," Chervin's voice deepened. "It sent a piece of Mitarium through the realms. Into OUR universe, mind you. Do you know how hard that is?"

At that the woman, who apparently was named Atrey, replied something Sarah didn't understand, but involved the word 'nuclear'. Yet it sounded dreadful enough for Sarah to take a small step back and she became aware that eavesdropping on these people was probably not a good thing. She might have dined with them, but she was far from acquainted with them anyhow and she didn't know how they would react should they discover her.

"I insist on being cautious," Tilathian went on. "Know thy enemy and all that jazz. If we run headfirst into a fight shorn of any preparations we might as well..."

Sara turned around and slipped back into the shadows, she felt as if cold and heat was running down her torso and mingling in her belly to congeal into thorns of pure fear to bane her viscera. What was that threat they were talking about? What Alien? Why did they believe she was going to fight it and even defeat it? And why hadn't she heard about all this before now? Was this a trap, were they going to lure her into this madcap scheme, up against a creature apparently even more bizarre than those who dwelled here? As a sacrifice or what?

Quickly but silently she retreated from her vantage point, slipped back the way she had come and down the stairs. She needed to talk to someone, and that someone was not her mother, so much was for sure.

Journal History

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