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cosmicwind
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With her mind doing its best to catch up with the last hour's fast paced course of crazy events, Sarah surveyed the elegant sitting room, remarking a certain continental hotel room feel to it, a sumptuous coziness making her feel like she was in an old French movie. Finally her eyes fastened on the books Jareth had left her, diffident as if one of them would jump out and bite her if she made any sudden movement. Tentatively she picked one up and opened it to a random page. Then she wrinkled her brows. It was written in a foreign language. Or no – perhaps that was old English. The language of Shakespeare. Or at least something similar to it - the wordings reminded her of last semester when they had spent literature classes with struggling through the original words of the old playmaker. She felt embarrassed and even a little ashamed of her inability.

While time passed and sunlight moved away from the windows, she laboured on deciphering a language she hardly knew. The words she sounded out began to form phrases and the phrases a story, this writing seemed to describe a large lizard that subsisted on smaller creatures. While reading a few lines of text out loud to herself, she noted something moving in the corner of her eye, a flickering shadow of something blue. Snapping the book shut she looked up in alarm, spotting a voluptuous lady standing in a doorway, leant against the jamb, the shadows falling over her facial features making them almost impossible to make out. Still Sarah would swear this woman had been at the party of Whitehall.

"Hello?" Sarah said tentatively.
"Oh hello, young lady. Are you enjoying the book?" The voice was like a song to Sarah's ears, a deep soprano laden with hidden power. "But my, you're smart! It's quite a read, as I recall. I wouldn't have guessed that Julianne taught you to read the Old Language."
"I was taught in school," Sarah replied while biting back the palpable question.
"The Old Language?" The woman let hear her surprise as she took one step forward and her heart shaped face of indeterminable age came in view, framed by a flamboyant waterfall of poppy red hair. As she closed in, an indefinable warmth flowed through Sarah, who became aware of a faint smidgeon of musk. Musk and... vanilla?
"Not really," Sarah replied, feeling immediate reliance – even a kind of affection for the spirited stranger. "But it reminds me a lot of Old English. The English spoken five hundred years ago or so."

"Milady, let me introduce myself. I am Nurah, Chancellor of the Labyrinth City and the right hand of Lord Jareth." She advanced further into the room, her deeply signal blue dress billowing around her curvaceous form and Sarah was surprised how elegantly she carried herself. Back where Sarah came from women like Nurah were – if not referred to as fat, so at least over-weight, and they usually dressed themselves in large mu-mus in vain attempts to conceal their shapes. However this woman did not even try to hide her outline. Sarah wondered how old Nurah really was, in this world where nothing was the way it first seemed.  

Standing up at once she respectfully accepted the Chancellor's outstretched hand.
"I'm Sarah Williams," she introduced herself.
"I know," Nurah smiled as she guided Sarah back to sitting on the divan. "Now dear girl, I can deduce that considerable enquiries troubles your young soul. Tell me what burdens you!"
"What burdens me? Let's see - my top ten? Or the whole freaking list?"
"Speak freely!" The Chancellor's blue-green gaze firmly held Sarah's and a pulling sensation tugged against her mind. There was simply no choice but to comply. Words spilled out so fast that Sarah almost couldn't believe her lips were forming them.

"To start with, who wouldn't be upset by learning that their world was falling apart, overrun by a kind of Alien, who seems to be scaring even King Whitehall himself? Then 'rescued' from your home, the only home you've ever known and brought here. By a man you hardly know. Not that this seems like such a bad place or that Jareth would intimidate me mind you, but my mother is still back in England. What when she begins to worry about me? What if she ends up in danger too? What if the Alien is still around in the London area? Threatening other people I hold dear, like my best friend Doris and her little sister Mary?"

Nurah's expression remained serene, her blue-green eyes like calm tarns. Despite her respect for the Labyrinthine woman, Sarah fought to not ball her fists at her sides from the sudden frustration, anger and fear boiling up inside of her. It was all she could do to keep her own expression as collected and controlled as possible.

"Your mother will be cognizant as soon as Jareth has spoken with the Intercosmic Council."
"What Council?"
"The sovereigns of the Seven Cosmoses. It might sound strange to you, who's from such a fragmented world of humans only, but there are supreme beings living in the other six universes, including this one. They established a council formed not only to rule but also navigate through situations of this extraordinary kind. Taken in mind the Alien's sudden appearance, disconcerting pattern of behaviour and distinguishable power, it was natural for Jareth to prioritize the Council before informing your mother."
"Can't anyone else go then, while Jareth travels to the Council?"
"I'm sorry but no. Not many of us out of Infraheim would know how to carry themselves on Earth, not to mention that quite a few looks quite fearsome and they don't know how to conceal it – they're hardly even aware of it. They might scare the inhibitors and end up in trouble. I might accomplish such a trip, but with Jareth absent, I am the one in charge here."

***

After having completed his recapitulation of the misadventure on Earth and his findings afterwards, Jareth leaned back in the chair and studied the countenance of each member of the Council thoroughly. The ladies and gentlemen around the large table might all be keeping a stoic facade, but the tension was almost tangible in the air around them. For a while the only thing heard was the crackling of the fire in the large nook. Then Queen Sarentona became the first to speak, her deep contralto rasp with strained tautness.

"Do you suggest a course of action, Lord Jareth?"
"Someone needs to go after this thing," came Jareth's immediate answer. "To follow it through the torn structure and discover where it really went." More silence. He knew this meant no one knew who to send. The Council members faced each other, no one willing to make a suggestion and Jareth was partly relieved that his earlier words exempted him, and partly guilty for feeling that he would be responsible for putting someone in harm's way. After moments of silence Arch Wizardress Aryesyle spoke up and he knew her meaning.

"I've always been interested in the atoms of the matter, the quantum physics. I will work on this right away."
"You should not go alone," High King Angarian said stiffly as he looked across the table at the blonde woman, his golden headband gleaning in the ambient light when he turned his head. "I'll send the two Voidwalkers with you. Antolas and his daughter Cleanthia." A momentary relief crossed his handsome face before it closed upon itself again and he assumed his ordinary indifferent expression. Probably the High King was thankful for remembering their names, Jareth thought.
"Milord," Aryesyle protested. "These people are too – well I'm not used to work with that ilk. This is not a picnic in the park and anyone who goes out there need to be reassured the people with them are to be trusted.

"Antolas and Cleanthia are exceedingly trustable people," Angarian tried to sound reassuring, without really making it. "I've been – interviewing them about their experiences."
"It's not about experience," the Avalonite Arch Wizardess emphasized firmly as she stapled her arthritic fingers in front of her and faced the others with a stern face. "I cannot rely on – Voidwalkers. They spook me. Now you see them now you don't – how can you be sure they're still there, that they don't dessert you when the going gets tough? As a matter of fact, I won't go with them."

"Lady Aryesyle," the King was staring back at the Avalonite with blue eyes just as stern, as if the two of them had entered some kind of rubbernecking competition. "What if I send with you an object which will help you see these Voidwalkers? I'm not sure you've heard of a Radphaser."
"Can't say I have," Aryesyle's voice was cold and biding.
"The instrument called Radphaser is a new invention that shows us the Voidwalkers. It has been devised by a man at my court named Garvil of Orsiria. It works like a regular kind of glasses, you wear them and you can see the Voidwalkers all the time, as if they were regular people. Don't ask me how it works, it involves meta-waves and subatomic magic, which I know next to nothing about. But I'll ask Garvil to hand you a pair and teach you how to use them."

"They will help me to actually see those beings?"
"Those people," the King insisted. "Yes, you will not only see them but reminiscence their looks and names too with this ingenious apparatus." Aryesyle bowed her head slightly at the firm words from the man at the head of the table. There was no use speaking against Angarian when he had made up his mind about something like this. Still she feared that the stake were too high. A rupture in the spatial texture. On a sub-atomic level. That did not sound right and all the science and magic she knew and all the gut feelings she nurtured told her that this was anything but good.

***

That afternoon Julianne excused herself at work, blaming a growing headache. But that wasn't her real reason for fleeing her duties. It was a call she had received from Sarah's school teacher, her daughter hadn't been in her classes that day. Julianne's first assumption was that Sarah hadn't felt well and gone home. But then why hadn't she called - or at least texted, the way they had agreed she should? Cradling her phone she felt the urge to give Sarah a call, asking why on earth she wasn't in school. Then Julianne let it go, not wanting to upset the tentative peace she had just found with her beloved child. Instead she contented herself with making a fast exit, getting her colleague Charles to cover for her during the rest of the afternoon. After all he owed her one. The least.

However, when she returned home and there were no signs of Sarah, she began to worry in earnest. She also noted that the school bag and her daughter's phone were absent. Sarah had left for school then but never gotten there. Something had happened to her on the way and it was not regular human hazards that worried Julianne. The feeling that something was wrong could no longer be ignored. Julianne stepped inside the small kitchen, poured herself a glass of orange juice and tried a few bites of honeyed bread before she threw it back on the plate, grabbed her jacket and left the house again, now with hurried steps.

Julianne didn't have to go far to find the neighbor girls Doris and Mary, who were merrily playing in the tree swing in the garden while colourful autumn leaves where whirling around them in the unseasonally mild wind. As Julianne closed in their chatter became absent and left a cold void in the air, as two pair of dark eyes turned to her, the swing coming to a halt like a pendulum when a clock ceases working. A twirling call of a bird cut through the air and the wind seemed to still, the leaves dwindling to the grassy ground.
"Where's Sarah?" Julianne asked, worry overtaking all normal politeness of saying hello. Silence resumed while the two brunette girls regarded her with worry in their deer-eyes. Finally Doris, Sarah's classmate spoke up.

"There was this guy," she said with the candid brevity of a teenager.
"What guy?" Julianne felt discomfort travel like a sliding ice cube down the back of her spine.
"He looked funny," Mary spoke up, her voice a more pitched version of Doris'. "Like something out of a cartoon. Funny hair, funny clothes. All that."
"He said he knew you," Doris added. "And Sarah stayed behind to talk with him."
"Did he say what his name was?" Julianne was beginning to feel an uncomfortable suspicion taking shape in her mind.

"Jack something... I think..." Doris seemed to ransack her brain.
"Jareth?" Julianne's control was nearly dissipated, which shocked her like a jolt to her chest and caused her to step back.
"I'm not sure," the older girl admitted. "Sarah stayed to chat with him when the bus came."
"And you didn't wait along?" Julianne tried to keep the austere temper and the worry out of her voice.
"No, we had to make class," The eleven year old gave her a look such as Julianne had never seen on her before. So desolate.

"We assumed she went back home," Doris added, chewing her lower lip. "I waited for her to drop in late. But she never did."
"Where did this Jareth show up and where was the last place you saw her?"
"Um, by the end of the Corner Park, across the street from the bus stop," Doris answered with reluctance in her voice. "Is this guy.. dangerous?" she added a bit hesitantly, her voice turning small and eyes large.
"I... No, he isn't," Julianne couldn't help hearing how false that sounded, but she must at least try to reassure the two neighboring sisters. For the time being at least. Another worry now was that the girls would be talking to their parents and that someone would call the police. An investigation was the last thing Julianne needed now. She couldn't have her life and Sarah's scrutinized by the British authorities. Thinking about the implications made her nauseous.

Moments later Julianne was on the move again, following the way to her daughter's school. At said park, which was really nothing more than a triangular patch of greenery where two diagonally running streets intersected, she noted that two trees had recently been removed and a bit away she spotted an elongated, jagged crevice marring the street blacktop. There was also some damage done to the a few of the neighboring houses, seeing windows bordered up and debris littering the ground, she wondered what might have happened. She paused by one of the uprooted trees, its demise had formed a small glen in which a shallow pool of water gleaned in the afternoon sun. In the water sailed a sole empty soda bottle and next to it...

Julianne bent down and plucked up the red cap lying on the ground. She recognized that all too well. It belonged to her daughter. The agony tore at her with wolf's teeth. Clamping her jaws shut, she willed herself not to cry out. What made it even worse was the gash in the ground nearby that smelled of evil.

*** ***

"And just why should I Cooperate?" Reikan, once known as count Ursain, narrowed his eyes at the three visitors who were crowding inside of his tiny cell.
"For the benefit of your daughter," the synthetically beautiful, chocolate-skinned woman said as she faced him. There was something familiar with her, yet he couldn't place her - he had forgotten most faces now, save for those few which still haunted him in his dreams and even beyond the boundaries of sleep.
"I have no daughter," Reikan said, the sentence oddly cut off at the end.
"Yes you have," one of the men gainsaid, an extraterrestrial with curly dark hair and an air of potent magic surrounding him. "Saphira, I think you remember her."
"Then you think wrong," Reikan snarled without taking his eyes from the woman.

Atrey in turn was regarding the haggard and gaunt man who was sitting upon his bed in his ill-fitting washed-out prison uniform, pulling at the thready arms to cover his hands, marred by scars, which her trained eyes could tell were acquired by banging his hands repetitively into the harsh concrete wall. Pent up frustration no doubt. Atrey noted the tick around his right eye and the red discolouring of the left sclera. Yet most of all she felt the aggressive thoughts his mind was broadcasting. He wanted to jump up and kill them all, start with her, laying his hands around her neck and snap it. Still she wasn't scared. Which wasn't so much about knowing that she was approximately twenty times as fast as him and fifty times as resilient – even if he had been on a good day. No, because she pitied him. Revolutionary or not, most probably a tyrant and a dictator had he won, she still pitied him for sitting here. That didn't mean she wasn't convinced he deserved every day spent in Undermoor, far from it. But there was still something uncomfortable with knowing that this man would spend the rest of his life within those confining walls fermented with despair. That he would never feel the warmth of the sun upon his face again. Ever.

"Then allow me to invigorate your mind," Chervin smiled. "The daughter you have with Lady Julianne."
"What's it to yah?" Reikan spat.
"She's in trouble."
"And you can help her," Atrey tried when Reikan didn't seem interested in replying to Chervin.
"Fuck you!" came the response as the convict's eyes darted over to Tilathian, who stood leaned against the door frame of the cell, arms crossed over his broad chest. In that instance Atrey felt a small jerk of exacerbation in the back of her mind, she knew that the Terandabarite had sent the prisoner a spike of agony through his seventh sense. Desist from that! she mindspoke him.

But you need a bad cop, came the swift response. Not now, she sent back. Chervin, who noted the brief exchange even if he hadn't caught what had been communicated, sighed and glanced over at Tilathian before focusing on the convict again.
"Reikan, before you were locked in here, you had a vision where you saw your daughter fighting an alien beast. That time has come now. The Alien is here and your daughter might face him unprepared if you do not help us."
"And of what help could I be?" Reikan scorned. But while his tone was still dripping with aversion, there was something there – a miniscule change in his stance, a recollection of parenthood and an emotion he hadn't felt in years and years. Care. Followed by a faint vestige of a memory of a sweet smelling baby body. Then the little window in his brain slammed shut again, as Reikan brutally forced those memories away.

"Tell us what you saw of this alien! However slight it was," Chervin implored.
"Why should I?"
"For Saphira's sake." The Alozzian mage held back the sudden diatribe that rose up in his throat.

Now Reikan looked down at his marred hands and his shoulders began to shake. Something was breaking down within him.
"I don't fucking remember," he said, through tears. "I don't remember a thing of that sight. It was the night Utrorion was killed. When I realized everything was lost, I tried to run away. Then I saw something I didn't understand, but it scared the shit out of me. I saw it again, when you guys hypnotized me. I saw it and I knew that it would kill us all. If not Saphira...  If not Saphira...."
"What?" Atrey asked.
"If not Saphira sacrificed herself."
Sarah was trailing a bit behind Doris and Mary on the way to the school bus that sunny and serene Monday morning. The weather was lovely and she took time to enjoy it in partial solitude. It wasn't warm enough to still call it summer, however it was a certain tang of soft mellowness to the air and the yellow leaves on the ground looked brighter than usual, the birdsong sounding merrier. There were no traces of that discrete crispiness that signified the autumn season. Something was different, but she wasn't really sure yet what – but the air felt effervescent, brimming with the potential for mystery, adventure and terror. Perhaps it was due to the fragments of unusual dreams which lingered like sticky cob webs in the bends of her brain. Whiteout and indistinct phantasmagorias of the Whitehall Palace, of Jareth and of music. A faint recollection of having danced with the blonde man.

Just as she thought she had got a hold on one of those remaining little slices of another existence to sculpture recollections and imagination around, a cry rose up from ahead and shattered her fragile memory into a thousand of spent pieces – and her dream was lost again. Pushing disappointment to the side, Sarah rushed forward to see what was going on. Her friends were standing by the edge of the little triangular park, chattering excitedly and they hushed as she drew near.

"What happened?" Sarah asked as she closed in on the junction where two roads intersected, just across from where the school-bus used to stop. Doris and Mary moved aside and revealed the object of fascination - a throng of electric pink flowers were growing just at the edge of the diminutive park. This afforded the group much entertainment, though Sarah reached ennui much faster than the two sisters.

In any case was she enthralled by this new specimen. She squatted and plucked one to inspect closer. It looked like a face. A face of petals, perhaps framed by hair swept about in the wind, formed by the meandering curves of the petals. She stared at it for a long time, seeing a face of both dejection and beauty, selfishness and reflection. A face turned inward; a face turned outward.

The reverie sundered when she discerned the movements of a shadow falling over her body and the new flowers on the ground.
"You!" Realizing she sounded daft she almost clasped her hand across her mouth while regarding him warily as he emerged, holding up a flower similar to the others. "Did you have something to do with this?"
"Sarah, dear!" Jareth bowed his head. "I instantly regretted not having something to give to a like-minded individual." Sarah couldn't have named it, but she did enjoy the wry humor. Standing up she gave him an honest smile.

"Who's that?" Doris' girlie voice cut through the surreal situation.
"That's a, uh, an acquaintance of my mother," Sarah stuttered and Jareth smirked.
"Oh, come one – since when did I become a mere acquaintance? Let along to your MOTHER."

Sarah almost groined while Doris and Mary were making eyes big as ferris wheels. She tried to say something to patch the situation up without either embarrassing Jareth or make her friends even more confused. But she got saved by the bell – or at least by the obtuse purring sound of the school bus's engine as the yellow vehicle came rolling down the intersecting road and pulling to a wheezing halt across the street.
"C'mon we gotta go!" Doris urged, pulling at the red jacket sleeve of her sister.
"You go ahead, I'll catch up," Sarah said and stared down her best friend, trying with telepathy to convince her that she'd explain later what this all was about. That she needed to talk with this man now.

"Sarah!" Doris exclaimed, consternated.
"I'll catch up," Sarah repeated, what else was there to say? Her friend made a worried face as the bus driver honked at them to hurry up. "I've gotta talk to him."
"Him!" Jareth mused.
"You're not helping," Sarah groined between her teeth as Doris cast her one last worried glance with her big, dark, squirrel's eyes before she pulled her sister along and they dashed across the street, identical Nike backpacks bouncing against their backs and dark ponytails swaying. With somewhat mixed feelings did Sarah watch the sisters climb on board the bus. She so wanted to do the sensible thing and go with them, on the other hand she knew that here was her one and only chance to have the time of her life. Jareth was opening a door for her, offering her everything she could ever desire, and if she was dumb enough to not apprehend it, she might as well spend the rest of her life in this boring corner of the world called Chelsea. Perhaps marrying some of the dorks in school and having kids and a dog and repeating her mother's life. Or rather Doris' mother's life.

Tongue tied and muddled did she watch the buss purr off and disappear down the lane. Then she turned to Jareth, for the first time really laying her eyes upon him. Yes, he sure was a sight to behold! While he might have looked like being in his natural element at Whitehall, here in the so very English London suburb he appeared more like some kind of eccentric with his spiky manga mane of white-blond hair, angular, thin brows over miss-matched eyes. Not to mention that he was wearing a purple, sequined vinyl frock to scarlet leather pants and a black lace shirt adorned with a huge red stone where other men might wear a bow-tie.  

"So?" she tapped her foot against the sidewalk platters.
"You're not overly delighted to see me?" came the smug return. "Why am I not hearing you pleading with me to save you from this miserable existence?"
"Because I'm not doing it," Sarah shot back quickly. "Why should I?" she added after a brief hesitation.
"Why?" Jareth jerked his head, taking in the intersection and the lines of more or less identical houses, the parked cars, the poles with telephone lines prickled with birds, the corner pub with one window bordered up after having it smashed by some disappointed customer during the weekend. "Why indeed? This seems like such a joyous and exciting place. An endless adventure of – well, school and bus rides and homework. Weekends in front of the TV. Take-away dinners. Call me envious!"

"Jareth," Sarah snarled. "What do you really want? Besides dissing my life?"
"Sorry about that," the King of Labyrinth suddenly looked apologetic. Now this was new, Sarah decided and lowered her wards a bit in return.
"It's OK," she affirmed. "Chelsea ain't really the funniest place on Earth."
"I actually came here to apologize," Jareth went on, meeting her gaze, he seemed somewhat softened up, less arrogant. As if his mood had fluctuated in just a few heartbeats. "To say I regret being a prick over at Whitehall."

"You weren't a prick," Sarah replied, her voice a bit unperturbed.
"Yes, I was, because I alienated your mother, when that was the most pointless thing to do. Neither did I explain all those things you needed to hear."
"Like what?"
"How to carry yourself, how this place called Whitehall works, and what it might do to you if you're not..."

Jareth was cut off tersely when the ground started to tremble, first hesitant then quickly more violent. Almost as if... Well, it wasn't supposed to be earthquakes in the London area, was it? Yet the very foundation was rocking and swaying like the sea and the asphalt of the streets cracked up in several places. In the corner of her eyes, Sarah saw how a fire hydrant broke and started to spew water in a frothy geyser way up in the air and in a cacophony of warning-calls, the scared birds took into the air, their grainy plentitude blackening the sky, the flutter of their wings filling every corner of her inner ear. Blending with that was a pot-puree of worried calls, car alarms and barking dogs as the ground beneath them fractured.

A branch snapped off from the elm above and flung itself in front of them, quashing the flowers. The moment of stunned silence was transient before the rest of the tree came free of the ground. The roots showered dirt like the sky did the rain. When Sarah skipped to the side to shelter herself, she thought she caught a glimpse of a huge, dreadful beast. She turned back to look but saw nothing but trees becoming torn apart; she didn't hear Jareth calling her.

The next moment he swept her up into his arms, embracing her firmly as he leaped with her out of danger. Just as he stepped to the side, the ground underneath splintered - opening up into a chasm and swallowing them, Sarah yelping out in terror. The world went hazy then black. Sarah couldn't hear, couldn't see and her skin numbed.
For a flash she couldn't feel Jareth's firm hand and a burst of quavering fear clawed at her chest, seizing her breath. What if she became lost in this frightening vortex Jareth was taking them through?

Up above, the ground began to close and trees were shredded to pieces. Once escape was ensured, Jareth looked back over his shoulder and noted that the thing weren't following them anymore. The air was filled with debris and Jareth kept still in the roaring darkness.

"What's happening?" Sarah felt as though she was suffocating; her throat closing on her own panic.
"Shh..." Jareth hushed soothingly. He was trembling too, but he wouldn't let that get in the way of dealing promptly and effectively with the situation. She started to sob and he hugged her close, gently stroking her chestnut brown hair. It calmed him down too. The rumbling faded slowly and after the last rubble had fallen they were descending in silence.

"We're fine, dear," Jareth tried to assure her. "Don't worry. Once I am absolutely certain it is safe, I will escort you back to Chelsea and your mother. For now, though, please let me bring you to my place. You are sure to be safe there."
"Safe?" she staggered. "Safe from what?"
"I will tell you soon, but it's quite a demanding explanation. Including tying together parts of what you already have heard. But there are a few urgent matters I have to attend to first. If they remain unsettled, if certain persons are not warned – let's just say that a few people might not be as lucky as you just were." He waited for her to answer. She nodded with some hesitation, still lost for words.

Moments later she squeezed her eyes shut, blinded by a brilliant light shining right into her eyes. It was a clear and bright, somehow reddish sheen, like a setting twilight sun – yet more crimson than any sunset she had ever seen and the light came from quite a different angle, warming her cheeks and prickling her eye-lids. Surprised she opened her eyes – and gasped as she beheld what was lying in front of her, hiccupping and cradling Jareth harder around his neck as vertigo threatened to overtake her.

They were way up in the air and below and in front of them sprawled a vast and powerful metropolis of increasingly tall skyscrapers of glistening chrome and glass, most of them seemingly as high as Burj Kalifa or even higher and shaped in many ways. Spears, pylons and candles, slim needles or multitudes of spheres stacked upon each other. There were ziggurats and cones, cupolas and spiraling spires – this city seemed to move on forever, only intercepted by a broad, glittering river filled with boats and crossed by several suspension bridges. Over the city spanned the empyrean, green as jade and streaked with a few clouds which looked fluffier and more stylized than any clouds in the skies she was used to. From this altitude the edge of the world could only be imagined, indefinite and distant, as if envisioned through a screen of mist rising up.

Sarah knew it without asking, this was Labyrinth. The city of Infraheim, the small universe which was Jareth's home. Even though the concept scared her, she felt excitement bubbling under, tickling her mind.

"Told you so," she heard Jareth in her ear, his voice soft and almost sensual.
"What?" she clasped his neck harder.
"I knew you'd like it." He paused. "Now turn your head a bit to the right, so you may see the large park with the silvery structure in the middle!"
"Uh-hm." A nonsense-word as she complied, allowing herself to be mesmerized. As Jareth banked in the sky, she spied a park larger than the Hyde Park and surrounded by a moth. In the middle of it stood a structure consisting of a large torus-shaped bartizan circumjacent a smaller park with a mighty high-rise in the middle of it, a scintillating tower which by far dwarfed every single skyscraper on Earth.

"That's..." she became lost for words.
"That's where we're going. The Eon Tower. My castle."
"Impressive," she murmured while Jareth began to descend, slowly to not pop her ears.

They landed on top of the tower, at an area which might've been a helipad if this had been Earth. Here it seemed to be a place where people like Jareth hit the ground. People who could – fly. Like Superman. Would that make her – Louis Lane?

No, she must not get carried away, Sarah thought as Jareth sat her down. He had merely salvaged her from whatever occurred in the street corner just opposite the bus stop. He would soon bring her home, hadn't he assured her of that? She glanced at him and he smiled gently. As her feet met concrete, she was certain she'd tip over if Jareth hadn't gained a hold on her. Then he supported her as she walked weak-kneed, letting him escort her over to a pair of brushed steel doors, each with an etched crown in gold upon. The doors slid to the sides with a hissing sound of decompression and admitted them inside of a large two-story room, where they entered upon a narrow catwalk with orange floor and a matte black iron railing. She followed him to a spiraling staircase which took them down to the main floor, all the time she kept glancing around, admiring the view from the large panoramic windows and the original interior decoration which looked like something from The Jetsons.  

Jareth led Sarah down another flight of stairs and to a smaller, comfortable sitting room in which she could rest and gain her bearings. It wasn't a large chamber, more like a comfy den to be true. The wall directly across from the door was dominated by a fireplace, leaving the center of the room for a smattering of chairs and tables. When she settled onto a lavishly-cushioned divan and leant back with closed eyes, he could feel that her hands were cold as ice cubes, apparently she was still in a state of shock. Setting a hand on her shoulder, he did his best with trying to radiate confidence and safety.
"I will be back in a little while," he assured her. "Make yourself at home in this room, but I don't recommend wandering around just yet. I'll assign someone to find you a guest room while I'm gone. If you should need the bathroom though, it's that second door to the left," he concluded, nodding his head in said direction.

"But Jareth? Why can't you simply bring me home?"
"I'm uncertain if your home is safe right now. I must find that out first, to assure I don't expose you to the danger we just left behind us." With these words he stood and walked over to a bookshelf and pulled out a few books, which he stacked next to her on a table and next to it he laid a remote, indicating a TV-set in the corner, a large plasma screen. Finally he assuring her that if he should be gone for long, his order had gone out among his servants that any of his guests would be fed according to their tastes. Sarah wanted to reply that he couldn't possibly know what she fancied, however the next moment she realized the imprudence of such words and kept quiet.

After making sure Sarah was safe for the while, Jareth left the castle and Infraheim, hasting back to Earth and the site where the attack had occurred. The place was still a mess and filled with emergency vehicles, police cars, TV-crews and the mandatory bunch of curious people. Doing his best to blend in, he was glad that people seemed too preoccupied to notice his unprecedented guise.

Using senses both physical and supernatural, he felt along the border between the Earthly realm and the other six universes. Where three of the realms intersected, a rift was poking through. Atoms had been separated on a very elementary level, the texture of the universe torn apart and he was not sure how such a deed could have been performed and what implications it might have, other than being dire. The King of Infraheim was startled when he discovered the anomaly. The humans though with their dull senses hadn't detected a thing, they were more worried with their asphalt and broken glass and a few parked cars smashed to pieces by falling debris.

Hesitantly he closed in upon the sore rupture in the spatial fabric, trying to understand what he was really seeing. The sheer command of reality would need to be staggering to tear into the realm of the Multiverse the way this entity had. The perpetrator could be no other but the Alien which Orinian and his people had come upon and Jareth was glad he had discovered the threat in time and been able to whisk away Sarah before anything befell upon her. Still he wondered if Sarah had been the target. Or was it him? And why? Or was it just coincidences, had they simply became singled out and beleaguered as preys to a hungry carnivore? No, some importuned eight sense of his insisted that there was more to this attack than what met the eye. Safe to say, High King Angarian and the other members of the Intercosmic Council would have to learn as soon as Jareth could get words to them.

Something shifted and Jareth felt pain course through his body. He let a disgraceful shriek out - it had been eons since the last time he underwent a distress like this. Yet almost as soon as it started, it was over. The lord of Labyrinth comprehended that it was not yet safe to leave. Earth needed to be protected. While the more powerful races held very little affection for the fragile and very often ugly humans, they were dependent on them for the balance of their worlds. It was the plentitude and diversity of the human race - the sheer multitude of them - that kept the balance of energies up. Otherwise the soul power of the other cosmoses would have been disintegrated and intelligent life as it was known would have collapsed upon itself. Therefore the human Earth had to be safeguarded at every cost.
The riddle of the Labyrinth 20 - Attack
The riddle of the Labyrinth 20 - Attack
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The Prison of Undermoor

Undoubtedly the new surroundings were a shock. The air had more substance, the gravity a heavier, more sinister pull and it wasn't as still as Jareth would've liked. On top of that the funk of fossil fuels irritated his sensitive nostrils. Moonlight hit in cold monochrome blotches splattered over the ground. His wings took him across the land, close to the ground for stealth, weaving in and out between the houses of the London suburbs as he retraced the path given to him in the crystal vision orb, remembering every twist and turn. Beyond the rocky crags the woods grew denser, and he knew he was drawing nigh. The ground looked rain soaked and a small grove with a pond appeared in the corners of his sight, glittering like a mislaid coin in the moonlight. Parklands. Then even more houses and a road that curved like a snake oscillating right and then left again, a sole car travelling in the opposite direction, its red rear lights glowing like a ruminating pair of eyes.

Water made a tinkling sound as it trickled over stones. The scent of decaying autumn leaves and rain-cleansed air swept through the meadow as the owl landed in a tree and then re-assumed humanoid form. The King of Labyrinth clutched the bough he had been sitting on and somersaulted down, jumping the tree metres to the ground where he landed with a mute thud in the wet grass. He found himself standing in a large, more or less overgrown back yard, grass lashing his knees. Soon the first heavy snow would compact these tall blades.

The townhouse was dark save for a single, red lamp burning in a small room where Jareth felt the pristine presence of an infant. That dim light seemed to watch him as though it were the single sullen eye of something in a bloody mood, guarding its protégé against all possible threats with zealous determination. Someone had weaved a charm here, laid out a magic protection and it astounded him. Not many humans were able to do such a thing and those who were, did usually become absorbed by the Illuminati for planetary safeguarding. He shrugged it off, it was none of his business anyway.

Everyone in the house was asleep, the only thing going on in their minds were the fragmentary patches of dreams, rudimentary tries at analyze the deeper levels of their minds. Transmutation of experiences into memories, the refinery of understandings into knowledge. The human brain was different, there was a creative, chaotic rawness to it that lacked with most other specimens. There was the brutal and dreaded ability to hate and to kill in atrocious ways but also vast and astonishing aptitudes to create beauty beyond mind's eye. Humanity had spawned Hitlers and Bin Ladens but also Mozarts, Michelangelos and Shakespeares. Jareth found himself torn amid envy and pity for this intense and rich short-living, fast-pacing and relentlessly innovative race.

But there were two brains in there which were nonhuman and they were thoroughly disguised, safeguarded by strong equivocal magic so if you hadn't known they were there you'd never found them. Julianne might be skilled in evasiveness, yet for Jareth her protection proved very little delinquent, he had soon located her and her daughter on the top floor, in a small and insignificant flat.
"Damn woman, she could've lived in a palace and no one would've known any better," Jareth muttered to himself as he scrutinized their petty hole-up. "Talk about overdoing it. Who is she really fearing? It can't be Angarian, granted that he's a bastard, he would never harm her. Beats me." The last phrase was added almost as an afterthought, he figured that Julianne still believed she had lethal enemies within the Learian society because of who she was and whom she'd been married to.  

Pacing, Jareth scouted the defense for the best spot to place his inception – somewhere unnoticeable to Julianne, but a spot where Sarah could be reached. Luck! There was a round window almost up by the roof-ridge, a pretty little oculus, and behind it the minute, cozy space Sarah called hers, saturated by her vivid, still immature energies.

It demanded great concentration for the Lord of Infraheim to create a dream in this world. Visions of Whitehall, painted in if possible more glory than the real thing, visions of dances and of him. He envisioned the remembrances of endless balls, twirling, vivacious dances involving himself and countless of women, including Mizumi – and Julianne. Then he carefully replaced the visualization of Julianne with that of Sarah and finally he repositioned the focus from himself and over to her, professed the dance as if he had been Sarah instead of the other way around, making her perceive him. It wasn't perfect, but he glossed it over in several layers of dazzling haze, making every gleaming object blinding her eyes, every shadow blur deeper than the real thing, dulling the colours. It would work, he figured, it was a dream after all. Lastly he sent the reverie of the dance through a kink in Julianne's magic and watched it soar like a well-aimed arrow into the mind of Sarah.

After finishing the first dance, Jareth made another and yet another, until nearly thirty dances of different kinds had been performed between him and Sarah. He wondered if it wasn't overkill, but felt it would be appreciated nonetheless.

A cerise glow was cast over the treetops, dew glittering like jewels, the sun had begun its ascent. Jareth let go of the final fragment of dream and hurriedly reverted to his owl form. His actions were timely; just as he perched himself in a tree nearby a door opened up and a lopsided rectangle of honey-yellow light shone out on the frosty ground. The next moment a portly man in a thready beige bathrobe was letting out a black and gray striped cat before he walked down to a post box and retrieved a sticking-up newspaper, eagerly glancing at the front page as he returned to the house.

***

Standing on the deck of the ferryboat, Atrey felt the ice-cold water dash her face, salt spray a parched kiss on her lips as she took in the stark scene in front of her. So close that it might be reached and touched was an island of towering cliffs anchored sluggishly in the centre of the vast, flowing ocean. An island rippling in a drapery of vacillating lucidity and eclipse. The ink-dark and frothy waves of the sea were crashing on the jagged escarpment, wetting it until glistening daggers of icy moonlight were flung from it. These cliffs went clean out of the salt-sea waters and straight up without division or fracture, melded and polished and flashing in the moonlight aspiring vainly to the heavens.

Following them upwards with her scrutinizing eyes, she beheld the foreboding gray buildings on top of the island. The structure looked rather insignificant, but she knew that most of the compound was underground, located inside of those unforgiving rocks. Flashes from a lighthouse beat at regular intervals, the light rays cutting through the mist reminding of large propeller fans. Switching to infrared sight, she was able to pick out some of the guards patrolling the perimeter, their guns carried at the ready, pointing out into the night. As if there would be anything but seagulls to shoot here, the Cyborg thought sarcastically.

The transport ship bore the shape of a cuttlefish bone, but with outriggers on either side holding torpedo-shaped weapons nacelles. It was painted in the dark red of old blood and smooth as polished stone and she gripped and ungripped the cold iron railing of the head. For the first time she felt a grim chill - a feeling she'd experience regularly throughout her visit to Undermoor.

"A cheerful vista indeed," said a breathy voice beside her ear, and she tilted her head, taking in the youthful yet sharp profile of Chervin, the Alozzian wizard. Or what little there was to see, as he had folded up his gray hood against the wind and the spatter of sea. Just like most Tarondans, his eyes were pale and glowed in the dark, thus he often kept his hood down, to not be recognized for whom he was – one of the 'old folks'.
"This must be a new definition of 'cheerful' of which I have been unaware. Would you like to elaborate?"
"I was merely sarcastic."
"Don't you know I'm cybernetic," Atrey kept her expression bland as she licked off the brine that stuck to her lips. "I'm not wired for sarcasm."
"Oh, come on," Tilathian said from the other side of the wizard in the same moment as the boat landed against the pier with a dismal thud. "Let your hair down for once in a while, dear Cyborg."
"And get it all wet in this weather," Atrey joked back. "I wouldn't think so."

Granting she had tried to protest when the question was firstly brought up, she was quite happy to have the men following her to the Undermoor prison to see Reikan, father of Saphira. She could need their company, not only to help her question this man, but also keep her mood up. Undermoor was one of the safest prisons in the Seven Cosmoses, security was rigid and prison-breaks were unheard of. Oh, there was some legend from some 3000 years back but it was all shrouded in forgetfulness these days. Even among prisons this place was known for its forlorn gloominess and she could feel the perpetrating dreariness almost seeping out between the atoms of that jagged island, where it sat, several miles outside the northern coast of Vandellia, the northernmost Eraldian province.

Letting go of the railing she nodded to her companions.
"You're ready to take on this place?" she asked of the men.
"Sure thing, can hardly wait," Tilathian avowed, taking his turn to display pungent disdain.

The passengers were now heading for the gangplank. Atrey picked up her seabag and followed, relieved to leave the ship. While she got the concept of sarcasm, even if she disliked it, boat rides was nothing she was made for. The constant rollings were affecting her gyros, meters and sense of balance more than any human. And how did you say you were sea-sick when most people regarded you more or less as a machine?

Atrey, Chervin and Tilathian followed the general horde off the boat and into a reception area with lifts up to the top of the island. It was a terrible place indeed, stark and utilitarian, unpainted concrete everywhere, the only decorations what nature had precipitated in the form of since long dried water leaks, everything grey save for the yellow warning tape on the floor and the red and green led-lights over the lift doors. Inside the halls they separated from the main crowd, which continued on to the receptionist desk ahead, where two young officers were ready to scrutinize their IDs and invitation passes. Instead the trio stepped to the right and up to a glass door hiding a diminutive office space. Atrey raised her hand and knocked and as a response the door slid open with a grating sound.

Inside sat an elderly-looking regular, his weathered face covered in a trim salt and pepper beard and the crewcut crowning his head quite a bit more whiter. Without preliminaries he addressed her.  
"Are you Atrey Oine?" A nettled voice.
"Yes, I'm Oine," she confirmed, presenting her identification card. "From His Majesty's Secret Service. Here to meet the prisoner number 2863, with the permission of the King himself."
"And the men?"
"Chervin and Tilathian, also here with Royal Permission," Atrey replied as her companions produced their IDs. Then she placed the invitation on the table in front of the officer, king Angarian's bold signature and royal seal almost jumping from the sheet. The officer grasped the paper and scrutinized it, stone-faced.
"We've been expecting you. Come over here."

Moments later the visitors were escorted out of the reception building where the other passengers were still lining up for the admission process, getting themselves and their bags and briefcases scanned, their ID's matched against their DNA structures. The majority seemed to suffer through this with stoic faces, telling Atrey that most of them had been here before, perhaps visiting relatives. However Reikan was one of those 'hi-sec' prisoners who were not allowed to receive visitors - as a matter of fact, Atrey and her comrades were the first ones to see the old revolutionist since he had been detentioned 13 years ago.

They followed the officer some fifty yards east, down a narrow and rugged path of withering concrete, lit with greenish fzergas lamps and Tilathian asked why that the man had not given them his name. As their guide failed to produce an answer, Atrey explained that this was common procedure among those serving here. A kind of protection. A nameless employee was harder to bribe or to threat, both by prisoners and by visitors. The Ebraan hummed in response, quivering in the cold air as he seemed to mull over the answer.

In moments when there was a lull in the wind, Atrey realized how quiet it was. The seagulls seemed content to sit huddled into their feathers and the only thing heard was the constant white noise of the water. They finished their walk without saying anything more and where the path ended, there was an even smaller building, which held two lifts.
"For personnel," the gnarled officer said laconically as he called one of the coaches down with an access card he carried in a titanium chain around his neck. As Atrey gazed at it, trying to spot a name, she saw that it only carried a number plus the man's mugshot, which seemed far from recent.

The lift arrived after about another minute spent in silence and they all cramped into a narrow compartment of brushed steel. A comparable procedure followed where their guide used his card to take them up to their designated floor.
"For those who here enter, abandon all hope," Tilathian laughed lightly before his stomach jumped with the sudden jolt of the lift. He hated these damn things. It always felt like it was just going to shoot your ass out of the top of the building. The gravitational shift didn't faze Atrey though, her internal gravitational stabilizers adjusted to keep her footing solid against the floor of the lift during a ride which took them a little bit less than a minute. A little magic provided Chervin with the same aid.

Atrey's eagerness was tempered with apprehension as they walked through the door and found themselves in a foyer with halls leading off to the right and left. Directly in front of them was a barred gate with a double door beyond it. She stole a breather for a minute there taking in the surroundings, the sounds and the institutional odors. Undermoor was painted battleship gray outside and inside. The Eldarian Prison System must surely have an exclusive on this color of paint. She didn't suppose it ever drove anybody crazy, but she doubted it ever cheered up anybody either.

Looking in the direction of a new voice, she spotted the officer who had addressed them. He was inside an office that had big somewhat milky windows - bulletproof glass, no doubt. That would be the armory or control center. Kind of a small one. Talking through an open section of the window, the officer was asking for their credentials and once again the process from the entrance building became repeated. Finally, the man nodded his balding head in acceptance, returning their IDs.
"Turn to your right, milady, gentlemen, go straight ahead, and you will find Kastra's office. She's the associate warden." Then he faced the man who had accompanied them up, telling him that he was dismissed, and without so much as a word of bye he turned and left the way they had come.
"Merry fellow," Chervin pointed out and gazed after him.
"Guess this place did it to him," Tilathian answered with a knowing face. "It gets to you, sure you can feel it?"

For the first time someone told a name, that must be because of their Royal degree, Atrey figured as they began following given direction. Turning a corner they came upon a tall and lithe woman standing in the door opening to an office looking at some papers, dressed in the same, non-descript and unisex khakis as the two men they had encountered earlier. Upon hearing the approaching steps, she looked up and faced the arriving trio with an uninterest that bordered on catatonic, as if she had been numbed by Undermoor, rendered incapable of displaying human emotions after spending too many years in this miserable place.

"Officer," Atrey began, as she didn't really know how to address the woman in the doorframe. "I'm Mrs. Atrey Oine, here to see the prisoner number 2863. The man known as Reikan. The King's directive."
"The king, huh?" the woman raised a rugged brow, she had dark, brown eyes in a pentagonal face, she would have been quite pretty with some make-up on and a bit of a smile. Then she looked down in her papers again, her eyes darting to and from as she seemed to read something.
"You're Officer Kastra, right?" Atrey pressed on in annoyance, and again the woman looked up.
"Yes I am," her voice still nonplussed.
"Well, are you going to help us or not?" Chervin cut in. "We don't have the whole day, you know."

"No, I don't know," the woman bit back. "But follow me and I'll bring you to the man you wish to see." With that she tossed her stapled together heap of paper back into the office, it landed with a thud on something hard. Then she turned around and began walking down the hallway, not even bothering to check that the trio of visitors was following her.

Atrey would have rolled her eyes, had she been wired that way, since she was getting more and more annoyed. Even the cheerful Tilathian was beginning to grumble under his breath, saying things in his own language which undoubtedly weren't nice. However Atrey's indignation gave way to curiosity as they were directed through the security system that separated the Eldarian kingdom's most ingenious escape artists and most violent and feral prisoners from the rest of society. The gates were controlled by some kind of coordination between the armory and the gate officers, who had keys. Atrey, Chervin and Tilathian were quietly moved along and when one gate closed behind them, another one opened in front of them. With one exception, the gates were constructed of gray steel bars, allowing clear visibility of the person wishing entry. However, the last gate to be dealt with before entering the cell house was made of thick steel with a bulletproof window and safeguarded with that greenish sheen which spoke of static hard-magic.

Finally they stood inside the cell house, several levels underground. Atrey looked and listened. The visitors' room was right up front. There were three blocks of cells with six tiers each. There were no windows, the only light came from pale lights powered by earth-magic; electricity was a rare commodity here.

Atrey heard echoing sounds of grating steel as cell doors were opened, the reverberation of the final bang as they were closed and the voices of convicts as they talked with each other from cell to cell. She moved a few feet to her left, to the entry of a main aisle with occupied cells on either side. Here she waited, noting that a convict pressed his face against the bars of his cell to get a better look at the civilian trio. He was an ugly fellow with an eye-patch and tattoos all over himself, as if someone had splattered black and blue ink over him and no matter that he was behind bars, he had chains restraining his arms and legs and a collar with another chain connecting him to the wall. Perceptibly dangerous, Atrey thought to herself, before Kastra began heading up an iron staircase, paying no heed to the things the tattooed man was beginning to yell at them. Something with cyborg freak, not exactly original.

They ascended two floors then they turned towards the installation to the left, Kastra walking them to the very end, to what had now become a cacophony of jeering voices and clanking sounds of objects banged against the iron bars.
"Prisons," Tilathian huffed. "No matter where in the Seven Cosmoses you come, they're all the fucking same."
"You been in many?" Chervin turned to look at the Terandabarite.
"A few," Tilathian replied. "On the other side of the bars as well," he added as an afterthought and Chervin felt his lips twist in surprise at that, he could sense an atrocious story behind those words, but that was for another time.

Kastra turned one more corner and now they stood in front of another locked steel door.
"Here's where the high-risk prisoners are detained, the ones needed to keep in isolation from other prisoners."
"Is that really necessary, when it comes to a man like Reikan?" Tilathian felt the need to ask. "An insurgent, doing it for political reasons, not for his own gain. Thus he's no regular criminal like, I presume, most of the people out there."
"He's in here because he might have bad influence on the other prisoners," Kastra stated and brought up a new key, an old-fashioned steel one this time. "Revolutionaries can be dangerous even to professional criminals, they might promise them everything. Reikan's real power was his voice, he could convince people of anything!"

Pushing the key into the lock, the officer turned it twice and this final door swung up with a slight creak. Now the foursome entered a corridor where the air was even staler than in the large chambers outside, the light dimmer and the putrid prison stench even more notable. It was a stench Tilathian recognized from his 'earlier life' and it made him slightly nauseous as old memories were resurfacing. Memories he had tried for so many years to suppress.

It was silent in here, the noise from the large chambers faded away as the door slammed shut behind them, the only things heard were the air condition fans and a dripping from a water leak somewhere.
"How many prisoners do you have here?" Atrey asked, mostly to conclude the eerie silence, counting to sixteen brown painted steel doors lining the narrow corridor.
"Only three convicts at the moment," Kastra replied as she walked them to the second last of the sturdy-looking doors where she ceased. "Reikan, the serial killer Dukam Greidur and Zolama Bewdin, leader of the Moth Circle. Necromancer and escape artist."
"I know her. I got her once, cost me a hand, and a mighty fine one too," Atrey nodded solemnly as she regarded her present left hand, turning it and flickering the fingers as if displeased with the replacement. "In the end we Cyborgs were the only ones who dared getting after her since she was so lethal. So tell me, how do you make sure she doesn't get away one more time."

"We don't," Kastra admitted. "She's kept under stasis now, but not even the pros can guarantee that her mind won't slip away even as her body is incapacitated. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as a completely safe prison. Now, I'll let you have half an hour with this man inside. I'll be right outside, should anything occur. He's on tranquilizers, but you never know."
"You really think he can beat down three people," Tilathian raised a brow. "Then what can you do against him?"
"What you need to worry about is not his strength in body, it's inadequate to say the least, because of the drugs he has been receiving over the years. No, beware of his voice, he can promise you everything and then some. If you're not careful enough you will believe it and he might lure you into liaising with him."

"I think we can manage," Atrey affirmed. "We're here about his daughter. Trying to save her life more or less."
"Then good luck to you," was the last thing Kastra said before she unlocked the cell door to the petty dwelling of Reikan the revolutionary.
The riddle of the Labyrinth 19-The Prison of Under
The riddle of the Labyrinth 19 - The Prison of Undermoor
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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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