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.