The riddle of the Labyrinth
Inspired somehow by the movie Labyrinth featuring David Bowie as the daemon king Jareth. But what started out as a mere fanfic soon became something else, more original. But I still kept Sarah and Jareth as a sentimental gesture to what this one once was, even if so much else, including both their roles, is changed.
1. Kisses and strange artefacts
Everything felt smooth, soft and calm in the orange light of the sinking sun. The Island of Alozzia stretched out across the sea like a sea lion sunning itself on the rocks. It was hilly and green with great rounded boulders jutting up through the lush jungles and white sandy beaches. Ternilia was lighting the lamps on the front porch when Lord Orinian walked up the steps, the small sounds of clinking of his armors as a counterpoint to the creaking of the wooden steps. The firelight brought out the strands of reddish gold in his long black hair and the bronze of his skin. He walked up to his wife and wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her strawberry blond ringlets, breathing in the residual lavender fragrance of her shampoo.
"Bad day?" she asked, leaning back into him.
"Long day," he answered. "Time moves slowly when nothing goes wrong."
"I thought the saying went 'time flies when you're having fun'."
"Let's just have fun tomorrow, then," he said, kissing her shoulder.
Orinian kissed her again before detaching and heading into the manor, stepping over an old hound that was stretched across the threshold, its prominent belly rising and falling with each snore. He whistled, and the old dog lumbered to its feet and trotted after its master. The floors inside were dark mahogany, polished so they shone in the lamplight. Dark red marble columns and mantelpieces accented each room, while bright, colourful paintings lined the walls, exotic, patterned rugs from the lands beyond sunrise covered the floor, together with pelts from bear and elks and a single, striped one of a tiger, complete with its majestic head. A fire was roaring in the fireplace already, to keep away the approaching chill of early fall. In front of the fire was a large table and half a dozen ornately carved high-backed chairs with plush red seating.
The master bedroom was on the second floor. Lord Orinian took pity on his plump hound and carried it up the creaking stairs. A pack of trained hounds were constantly roaming the grounds of the estate as guard dogs. This old beast had served well for many years, but could no longer keep up with the pack, so he had been retired to an indoor dog.
A large four-poster bed filled most of the bedroom room with the painting of a pastoral landscape hanging above it. One wall was lined with windows and a door looking out onto the balcony, while the other side had doors leading to the closets and bathroom. The wall opposite of the bed was lined with bookshelves with leather-bound tomes, and by the window stood Orinian's brass telescope aimed at the sky.
The Lord grunted as he removed himself of the armor, feeling the stiffness in his joints when he strained and bent them. No, he was not twenty anymore. A lot of springs and summers had passed since he had been in the flower of his youth. These days both of his sons could outrun and outlift him, however he was still the master with the sword, years of intense training had paid off well, and his speed with the way of handling the blade was still amazing. But tiredness was sneaking in, just like the approaching fall; he could feel it, the chilling of the bones the strain upon his eyes whilst reading. Still he hadn't acquired spectacles though, he kept on pushing that disappointment forwards, hoping his eyes would last another season and another. Spectacles made you look old, in spite of the hair still being without too many gray strands.
He made a quick detour into the bathroom, relieving himself, brushing his teeth and washing off the face before he dived down between the sheets, pulled them over his head, and closed his eyes. The old dog has already cuddled up by his feet and was snoring mutedly. Orinian had planned on waiting for Ternilia, but the sandman would not let him. He was already asleep by the time his wife joined him in bed, and they were both dreaming when the sudden baying of the hounds startled them from slumber. The old animal in the bed woofed and struggled to get up.
Orinian was on his feet like a cat. Jumping in his pair of hoses, he grabbed his blade and helmet and ran through the house, dashed down the stairs and out on the porch where he more or less leaped into his boots. His mares had begun to whinny, incensed by the dogs. In the dim of the night he could just make out the pack, snarling and barking as they surrounded a dark figure. One brave dog lunged and was thrown back with a flash of purple light. A circle of purple formed around the figure, illuminating a black hooded cloak with pale hands extending from the sleeves. The circle blasted out, tossing all the hounds backward and causing his mare to rear in terror. Orinian stopped within a safe distance as he recognized the man in front of him.
"What are you doing here, Chervin?" he growled. The intruder lifted his small yet strong hands and folded down his leather hood, revealing a handsomely youthful fudge-brown face framed with a mass of black curls. He had dark brows, thin lips frozen in an eternal scorn, and his mother's gray eyes. He didn't flinch the slightest when Orinian raised his sword, didn't back off an inch.
"We need to talk," the wizard said quickly, raising his hands in surrender.
His mother's eyes and his father's grin, Orinian thought, but he wasn't smiling now. The younger man looked wane and worried, more so than the knight had ever seen him. The sound of running feet across the flagstones and the dancing, orange light of a swinging lantern marked the arrival of Ternilia, who observed the scene with surprising calm, her left hand gripping a blanket across her narrow shoulders against the chill.
"What has happened?" Orinian asked, not taking his eyes off the wizard.
"Come with me. Outside the city. I need to show you." Chervin spoke in short rapid bursts, eyes strangely wide, his whole being signaled adrenaline-infused tension, a watchfulness as if the woods were filled with red-eyed ogres. Without hesitation he turned around and started downhill the way he had obviously come.
"Stay here. Look after the dogs!" Orinian told Ternilia before he sped back to the stable to saddle his horse. His wife responded with just a surprised monosyllable as she watched him speed off. Then she shook her head and turned around, started back towards the house. Men! Always in such a hurry, as if the weight of the world was depending on them gaining a few moments more by stressing along. She shook her head and bent down to scratch the gray fur between the ears of one of the dogs, who spun his tail in elation by the attention paid by its mistress.
On horseback, Lord Orinian was soon galloping off in the opposite direction. A gray striped cat glanced up at the Lord of the Mansion as he thundered past, then turned his attention back to the rodent it was stalking. Orinian caught up with the wizard down by the end of his estate and following him, they made their way down the meandering road, lit only by the light of the Smaller Moon and the fireflies. An owl hooted in the vicinity, a mating call and the wind whispered in the high-trunked pines. Thick swirling mists were now covering the fields and down the road a thin crust covered the puddles in the tracks wheels had made in the gravels.
Orinian followed Chervin towards the gates of the town, the wizard using magic to run faster than any man could. Almost as fast as a horse in fact. Orinian nudged his mare. She ran hard, trying to keep up with lithe young man ahead of them, and soon worked up a lather of sweat. The terrain was rough and mountainous outside of the town. The ground was mostly slate, which broke away beneath the sharp hooves of the mare. A few scraggly shrubs and sparse grass determinedly pushed their way up through the rock.
They raced through a pass between two high peaks, with the Larger Moon just starting to poke up behind the horizon, and came out in a small meadow. Here a tall female Elf stood in the lea with a longbow in her hand and two hounds at her feet, her leather hoses and jacket sky-blue and clinging tightly to a supple body. Her neck was draped with beaded necklaces and she had a gage in one ear. She had catlike features, like all Sprits in their true form. They could take on a more humanoid form, but preferred to be in their true forms, with flexible pointed ears, big golden eyes, small button noses, and sharp teeth. This Elf had dark purple skin with even darker stripes like a tiger, and her hounds were black and muscular with short fur, their intelligent brown eyes regarding the newly arrivals with a healthy dose of suspicion, ready to attack if their mistress was threatened. But they did not bark, they were too disciplined.
Wordlessly she gestured for the men to follow her, and then slipped through a crack in the mountain to the left of the meadow, followed by her hounds. Orinian dismounted and followed her into a dark and narrow cave, Chervin moving swiftly next to him. Flecks on the elf's skin glowed faintly in the dark, so he could follow her. They went down deep into the earth before coming out into a vast cavern filled with an underground lake.
A tall and fair High Elf stood to one side of the cavern, holding a torch of blue fire, her blonde hair floating like waves of the ocean down her shoulders and she was crowned with a tiara of gold and with gems of jade, resin and lapis lazuli. Several Sprits stood around her, all of them armed and looking nervous. Orinian gripped his blade tighter and contemplated unsheathing it.
"Greetings, my Lord," the High Elf curtsied slightly, still showing that her gesture was not one of compliance but politeness. The Sprits of Alozzia might recognize the human rulers and most of their laws and held suffrage and were eligible to run for office, however few of them ever did. Still they had their own society and upheld their laws, and were allowed to do such as long as it caused no notable friction with the human majority.
"Greetings Milady," Orinian replied.
"My name is Aliopa," the blonde Elf said. "We have something we wish to show you."
"Where?" the Lord Knight looked around.
"Over there, on the far bank," said Chervin, pointing.
"Show me," Orinian prompted. They walked slowly through the stalagmites. By the green light of the torch, the Lord began making out more figures in the gloom. A ring of Sprits sat in a ring around something. Orinian halted.
"No!" he said. "Not possible."
A single blue stone was lying on the ground in the middle of the circle, shining with a bright cyan sheen, and he could feel its radioactivity tickle his nerves. At that time he blessed his birthright as a Celestial, as their race, just as the Elves, was not affected.
"But it is," Aliopa said. "It is Mitarium."
"Here?" Orinian said, as if questioning her words would make the presence of the stone less real. And Aliopa just nodded her head solemnly at the rhetoric question. Mitarium. Here. The implications were dreadful.
Forcing his eyes from the hypnotizing glow of the stone, Orinian lifted his gaze and took in the rest of the scene. There was a young man sitting outside the circle of Sprits. His arms were wrapped around himself and he was shaking tremendously, though it was warm inside the cave. He clothes were rags, his face dirty, and his skin covered with cuts and bruises. Despite his swollen face, Orinian recognized the man. He had come to Orinian's dominions weeks ago, asking to be admitted to the Caves. It wasn't the first time an adventurer had done this, and they all came for the same reason – the believed location of another Portal. A Portal to the Beyond, the believed universe beyond the Known Six. All of them carrying new maps and new approaches, seeking glory in going to a place where even the beings of the higher worlds feared to travel.
This lad had been cocksure and haughty. Doubtlessly he had killed some badasses on the battlefield and thus imagined himself invincible. Orinian knew better. And his map, which he had probably paid a fortune for, was almost certainly a forgery. Nevertheless, Orinian had sent the man on his way down into the caves, and with so many others never expecting him to return. Yet he had returned, though, beaten and battered, but alive, and he had brought that with him.
Orinian turned back to the Mitarium piece. He had heard of them before, but had never seen one. They were of the transuraniums and in any other realms than his Taronda, the matter would be lethally unstable, causing nuclear reactions that could wipe out cities. But a single one down in a cave in Taronda was not too much of a danger. They could send it back to the Outer Universes without too much trouble.
But the real trouble laid in which it had gotten here in the first place. It wasn't like there were any humans around playing crazy games with particle accelerators and nuclear reactors. As a matter of fact, you couldn't do much with nuclear powers in Taronda, this realm was too old, too stable. But someone or something had brought it here. And where from? Was it really a portal down there? And if that stone had gotten here, what else might come here?
"How did it get through?" Orinian asked Chervin. The wizard just shrugged.
"He brought it," Aliopa said, indicating the young man and Orinian turned to look at him for real for the first time. Very little remained of the aristocrat who had approached him three months ago, the brawny and majestic man in purple silk and brow fur, carrying a heavy sword on his back. Now he was unarmed and almost stripped down to his bones and injured all over. But what were worse were his eyes, they were nothing like the defiant emerald from earlier, now they were clearly marked by madness, insanely staring at the Lord as if not really understanding what they were seeing.
"What do you want us to do?" Aliopa asked.
"We have to send this stone back. I'll leave for Lealia and Whitehall as soon as it's gone. I must inform the board, and King Angarian."
Sarah Seibe was frequently discouraged from daydreaming for too long. Her mother, Julienne, claimed that the activity - or lack thereof - was detrimental to her health and school. So, Sarah tried to be aware of when she drifted off - especially in the presence of her mother. However, if she grew bored, or simply tired, she would give in quite easily to the wanderings of her mind. She would imagine far-off places that fairies whispered about in excited tones, or about herself – seeing her future in a glorious vein, where she was standing in the spotlight, being and actress or a star.
Countless of times had she had heard her mother telling her that pride and vanity would get her nowhere, but she couldn't help but want to think of herself as becoming something great. Her mother declared it to be nonsense, since Sarah was just a regular middle class girl, and therefore ought to not think herself capable of doing much better. But Sarah longed for adventures beyond her everyday chores. She wanted something more than the suburb the two of them were living in, the school bus and the toiling in class with grammars and math and sports. She was not meant for this, she was sure. She was meant for something more, she was meant for adventures and excitement beyond the dull little triangle of school, home and the art afternoon school where she was practicing theatre two afternoons a week.
By the time Sarah was fourteen years of age, Julianne had moved the two of them from the small rental where they had lived almost as long as Sarah could remember – yet she had faint recollections of the mansion they had inhibited when mother and father had still been married. Instead Sarah found herself in Chelsea outside London, in an old nineteen century townhouse which had been converted into flats. And for the first time in her life did she get her own room. Nothing fancy, but the little attic den which you reached by a steep and narrow set of stairs, was the first private space she had ever had. The first time she had been able to close a door behind herself, if you didn't count the bathroom.
The room was tiny, all that could be fit into it was her bed, a small working desk with a chair, a bookshelf and a beanbag. The white-painted wooden ceiling was sloping, cuddling the room in and adding a cozy atmosphere and on the wall by the stairs was a round window letting in daylight. Not much – but it was hers and hers alone, and in that Sarah took delight.
On top of that, there were the neighbors. The family in the five roomer below had two kids her own age, there was Doris, who also was fourteen and her little sister Mary, twelve. Doris and Sarah ended up in the same class, and had soon formed that kind of bound only girls at a certain age do. Best friends forever, sharing every secret, every dream and making bright future plans together.
One of these dreams included acting, in movies or on stages, dressed up sequins and lace and bathed in the bright beams of super troupers. Together they made up small plays, practicing at the yonder end of the back-side garden where nobody could overhear them, writing down corny lines in notebooks and reading out loud.
"Oh, my dear Doris," Sarah started out in a child's voice. "You are positively glowing! What is the occasion? Has something great happened since we last said goodbye?"
"Sarah. Oh, sweet Sarah," Doris giggled lightly. "I wish you could know the wonders of men, but alas! The honored Queen is set in her way."
"Pray tell me, what way is that?" Sarah asked.
"It's..." suddenly Doris fell silent, forgetting the line, and for a brief moment did Sarah get annoyed before the saw the V between Doris' brows and the uncomfortable darting of the eyes.
"What?" she too dropped the pretense, feigning naivety - but underneath, calculating the answer. Just as the words slipped past Doris's mouth, the girl's freckled countenance paled. Sarah kept a stilled expression over indignant despise, and pressed on.
"I wish I could have some of your luck, but perhaps I am well-off enough just to know you!" Sarah reached gently for her friend's hands and squeezed ever so lightly at the exclamation. "Please, tell me what it's like, for it'll take ages before I know half of what you know."
Doris blushed slightly, and then she faced her friend.
"You know Luke?"
"Yes, yes," Doris nodded her head eagerly and Sarah urged her to spill all the beans, envisioning the boy in the class above with the ruffled blond hair and bluest of eyes.
"He asked me if he could kiss me!"
"And... I said yes!"
"Wow," Sarah's voice dropped in pitch as she was taking it in. Then she let the voice pitch up again as she repeated herself. "Wow!" Doris let hear a ringing laughter at her friend's reaction, a laughter spiced with pride.
"It's not that impossible, you know, flirting them down," she replied, still pleased and with a tad of benign lecturing in her tone.
"Well, tell me," Sarah pleaded and pulled up her fingers inside of her jacket sleeves. Now, when they were not pretending to be actresses anymore, reality let itself be known in the biting autumn afternoon air.
"You just flirt with them, show them you like them. And they'll eat out of your hands!"
"How? Not in school, right?"
"No, there's too much gossip going on there, too many people being aware and death scared of making a fool of themselves. Being turned down – or something worse."
What could be worse than being turned down, Sarah thought but she didn't voice that pondering loud. Instead she regarded her friend intensely.
"Come to the Friday disco at the youth's club," Doris suggested. "That's where you meet them."
"My mother won't let me," Sarah paled visibly.
"Really?" Doris raised a brow. "I mean, what could happen? There are grown-ups there, some of the teachers even. Old McJoseph. And the strongest thing you can get to drink is a coke."
"She thinks I'm too young."
"Have you asked her?" Doris pressed on.
"No," Sarah looked down at her shoes. "Not really."
"So go ahead! Do it!"
Sarah took her friend's advice and at dinner time that night, she asked her mother if she could attend the disco. But her mother's answer was a No of the not open for discussions kind. Still Sarah tried, demanding an explanation.
"You're too young," Julianne stated firmly.
"When you're eighteen you can attend as many discos and night clubs you want, you may even go into London doing it, but not at the age of fourteen."
"Mum! Doris is going. Her dad will drive. And pick us up afterwards, it ends at eleven. And there's teachers watching us over."
"You're still not going, I don't want you do be the victim of anything stupid. I know how kids can be at that age."
"At what age? My age?"
"Sarah," Julianne's voice was sharp but she quickly tempered down. "How about you and I getting some Thai delivery from that place you love, and then we can watch TV together instead. Have some mother-daughter-time. We've lacked that for quite some while now."
"That's because you're working all the time," Sarah snarled as she stood and took her plate to the sink before stomping up the stairs to her room.
That night, there was a heavy silence in their three-roomer.