The day had been a long one, clinging desperately to a depressing grey-green tint, colouring the foaming waves of the river Ergenad a sickly green, pounding them against the jagged rocks of the cove below. Knowing it was Jareth coming through the door even before she heard him, Sarah turned away from the picture window and faced him, brooding what she had to say, quickly going over her words in her mind. His rigid posture made her hesitate though.
"The others are ready for their report so we'll be congregating in my conference room. But first there's one thing you and I need to discuss." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"What?" Sarah watched him settling into a chair by a small wooden side table, indicating the opposite one for her. Those chairs were ornate and spindly and more nice looking at than actually sitting in.
"Your conversation with the Alien. Did anything it said to you actually make some sense?"
"To a certain extent," she lifted a resin paper weight from the table, regarding the trapped insect in the hard transparently orange material. "This Alien out there nurtures a crazy dream of toppling the gods and it has the idea that I, the daughter of a revolutionary, might be able to help it."
"Do you know what's wrong with that picture," Jareth locked his variegated eyes with hers and she returned a nonplussed gaze.
"The picture is not entirely wrong," he went on. "That's what's so uncanny. This creature is supposed to be from so far away that we cannot really understand the distances with our minds. Still its reasoning is making more or less sense. Which it by any perspective shouldn't."
"Do you think it's adapting, Jareth?"
"Yes – or playing us in a mad game. I believe the only one with a brain fast enough to analyze that kind of gambling will be Atrey. I've already asked her, she'll back you up down there."
"Don't you think I can stand my own?" she stopped tossing the paper-weight. "Why does everyone believe I need protection? First my mother, now you. Do I look like I'm made out of glass?"
"Sarah, listen," Jareth took a deep breath. "Don't turn this into a coming of age-rite! Those men and women are trained."
"Not trained against Aliens like the one out in the river. They're as much novices as I am. But at least I have a clue about the beast's soft spots and where I might hurt it. Things I learned during my brief conversations with it."
"I'm sure Atrey is interested in hearing what you have to say then."
"You speak as though you expect me to help you," a hard edge in her voice.
"You cannot do this all by yourself. You need aid in that venture."
"My father's prophecy said me and me alone. I won't risk it to backfire by bringing anyone with me. Not even if that one is a robot."
"A Cyborg. She might not be what we envision as flesh and blood, not on a molecule level at least, but she's alive nevertheless."
"The more reason she should stay behind," Sarah's riposte was rapid and smart and Jareth actually found himself losing the round, cursing under his breath at the thought of her tricking him. Sarah made a move to return the resin item to the table again, but hesitated. "I had a dream last night," her voice now sounded adamant and vulnerable at the same time. "In this dream there was a soul trapped in hard matters very much like this poor insect. It yearned to be free, and I pitied it. I knew it was the Alien, still it was so hard to turn away and leave it there. You know, it's trying to bait us with emotions. Those emotions we shrink from the most – like guilt and inadequacy. I don't suppose the calculation of a cybernetic brain would be much help against that." Her firm words sent a twinge of pain through him and Jareth felt his jaw set, he'd feared it would come to this.
"You talk so wisely, at the same time you seem to be walking right into the Alien's trap, by letting emotions blind you, Sarah. Isn't this really a try from you at remedying yourself in the eyes of the Celestian nation after what you believe your parents caused to your pride?"
"It is not my pride which is hurt and you know it. Or my parents'."
"So why are you refusing offered help? Letting all our efforts be thrown away?"
"Are efforts truly thrown away on a woman who finds what lies in her depths?"
Jareth let out a heavy sigh, he was quite sure she understood what he had asked and instead chosen to answer a question he had not asked. Or at least one not yet asked.
"That discovery will do you no good if you are dead," he said bitterly.
"Yes, because for just a brief moment I might've felt alive. Which would be way better than to have remained a walking dead on Earth. Going to that insipid school, and existing only as a pawn in a game."
He hated to admit it, but Sarah was right. Earth was not a place for a vibrant soul like her. She had flourished in Infraheim and she seemed to belong. But this game she talked about was still on and they were both pieces on the intricate board it was played upon. Regardless how much it pained him he had to make sure she was returned to her mother in one piece, he couldn't risk the liability for her death. Or – for that matter – keeping her in his realm, the implications would be too high. People would think he'd taken advantage of Julianne's poor reputation and stolen away her daughter. Or received the young girl from her mother in return of some support. None of these alternatives were good for his political health. Steeling himself, he told her what his ultimate aim was.
"But you can't send me back to Earth!" she stared at him with a contorted face.
"I have to. Besides there's nothing tying you here and I will not let our transitory union become anything of the sort."
"I was that bad, you mean? Even for a virgin?" When he didn't answer, she angrily tossed the resin piece at him and only his fast reflexes made it possible for him to clasp the piece in a one hand catch. "Did you ever really care about me?"
"Sarah, what are you..." His eyebrows drew together in a confused frown as he put the item back down on the table.
"Just answer the question, Jareth!"
"Honestly, Sarah, you're beautiful and attractive, but..." he broke off abruptly. "What is this about?"
"Just curious. I wondered if you would keep lying to me. Looks like I got my answer." Sarah stood up. "Now, let's go talk to Atrey!" With that she turned and began marching out from the room, head held high. For a moment she couldn't breathe past the pain in her chest. Then she blinked hard to keep the tears from falling as her heart-rendering hurt ravaged at the very core of her being, bidding to be set free, yet held in by pitiful chains of hopelessness.
"Sarah!" He caught up with her and gripped her arm. "Sarah, please listen! I only wish to keep you sa..."
"Don't you dare say you don't know what I'm talking about!" she snarled and shook off his arm. Jareth halted his steps and sighed, deciding it was better to let her fume for the moment. He'd plan ahead later how to keep her from getting killed by the beast. For Julianne's sake and most of all for his own. He knew now that he would never forgive himself if anything happened to this young girl.
When Cordelia mentioned 'another guest' and 'help on its way', Julianne couldn't even begin to guess who her host might mean. But definitely not Mizumi. When the Royal Inter-Cosmic Auditor of Deep Magic swept through the entrance door in an air of perfume and spangled sequins, haughtily handing her fur cape to a waiting servant, Julianne was once again reminded of how she hated the evident way which the Celestian nobility took up the room, the way they let their own presence imbue all and everything in their surroundings, expecting every pair of eyes to be trained on them as they made one of their many grand entrances. They thought they had the right to behest every amenity available and then some, and such was their arrogance that they failed to even consider that the world was not revolving around them and them alone. Julianne knew it all too well – she had been just like that too. Before...
An elongated 'darling' was called by both women, cheek kisses exchanged and winter-cold hands placed on warm upper arms before Cordelia ushered them both into the dining room, where a moss-green, moist-drippled bottle of Champagne awaited them in a brushed-steel ice bucket on a tray together with three high flutes of slightly pinkish glass. Even Cordelia appeared surprised at the newly materialized items.
"What exactly are we celebrating?" she asked as Mizumi ambled over to the bucket, lifted up the bottle to the crunching sound of unsettling ice and elegantly proceeded with opening it, managing to do so without popping away the pudgy cork somewhere where it might do harm.
"My impending marriage," Mizumi beamed as she began filling and distributing the glasses. The fizzing froth did bulge above the rim of the glasses, but the beverage didn't spill a single drop. Classy, Julianne had to reluctantly admit.
"Now, did I miss something?" Cordelia's brows lifted and Julianne hinged in.
"To whom are you joined?"
"Jareth of Labyrinth," Mizumi flippantly elucidated as she watched the other's faces fall. If the cat had eaten the canary, it couldn't have sounded more smug than her. "Cheers darlings!"
"Cheers," both Cordelia and Julianne echoed, even though their voices were by far more subdued.
"And no, the joint is still to be created," the Auditor went on. "But we're picking up where we finished the last time, only with a slight but important difference this time. You see, darlings, now he and I have the blessing of the High King himself. Angarian has finally seen the importance of curbing the unruliness of that young universe and that deranged, recalcitrant city of his."
Julianne's eyes darted to Cordelia's, she wasn't so sure what to think of this. On one hand, she wasn't overly found neither of the conceited Mizumi nor of the pesky rascal Jareth. On the other hand could she presage severe problems here. There was something with the over-optimistic glee in the voice of Mizumi and the sudden Champagne which made Julianne envision a precarious plot being set in motion, a plot which she absolutely didn't want to be part of – or even near. Not wanting to display her qualms though, she smiled brightly and raised her glass to chink it with Mizumi's, expressing her hope of a wedding invitation.
"Sure enough, you'll all be welcome," Mizumi affirmed.
"Is any date set?" Cordelia probed with an innocent look upon her face, which made Julianne aware of her friend nurturing the same worried thoughts.
"Not yet," Mizumi emptied her glass and made the move to refill both the other's glasses before helping herself. However, both Julianne and Cordelia had but sipped their beverage, not yet ready to have more. "As a matter of fact, I have still not spoken the good news to the groom himself and I imagine he'll need some warming to the thought of us together again. After all it's been almost twenty years gone by now."
"In which a lot of things have happened, both to him and you," Cordelia reminded gently, to where Mizumi's silvery eyes blacked over before quickly return to their usual vain glee.
"Yes, I know I might be facing an upgrade with the old boy," the Auditor admitted almost cavalierly. "But what is life barring its challenges? Totally, utterly boring if I might say so. As a matter of fact, he'll be a hard nut to crack. But I have a few cards up my sleeve too. Including a reason why he cannot stay king without marrying me."
"Oh, is that so?" Julianne felt herself pale. This was getting worse and worse. "Mizumi, I assure you, that man is not an easy one to trick."
"I know very well he's not. I'd love the challenge! Already tonight am I going to Labyrinth to see him for a preliminary little chat."
"But the portals are down," Cordelia saw the need to remind. "Besides, I'm afraid he'll have his hands full with that Alien thing."
"Oh, I'm sure that won't present a problem, he has the finest women and men facing that beast, so he can with all good consciousness sit back and watch the drama unfold. When it comes to the defunct Portals – that was exactly why I asked if you if I could come, Cordelia dear. I will be in need to use this little special hearth of yours to reach Infraheim."
"Fine," Cordelia nodded her head in concordance. "In return, I wish you'll take Julianne with you too, she also needs to get in there." Cordelia's brown eyes flickered over to Julianne. "Her daughter Sarah is caught in Infraheim."
"Sure thing," the Auditor confirmed before she turned to Julianne with a shrewd smirk upon her red-painted lips.
"How about you and I making a little covenant, dear Julianne! I get you inside of Labyrinth and you get to see your daughter. In return you'll stand by me in my case. Old rebel, you do know how to defeat a king after all."
"It's not as large as it seems," Atrey explained as she met the King's scrutinising gaze from the other side of the elliptical wooden conference table. "At the same time it's even larger than it seems." Sarah in turn was regarding Atrey from where she sat next to Nurah. Fatigue showed in the way the Cyborg carried herself and the others looked even worse for wear.
"Quit speaking in riddles, Eraldan!" Jareth leaned forwards in his seat, elbow on armrest he was clutching his chin in his long-fingered left hand, the rings on his fingers scintillating in the overhead lamplight. His right hand was grasping a fist-sized crystal ball, in which he up until now had regarded the recorded drama of the two group's events in the edifice referred to as The Orb in lack of better words.
"Riddles are the best I can accomplish, since our common language lacks the words to describe the anomaly we're dealing with. But the Saningers refer to such an item as a singularity. A place of indefinitely smallness but which still contains everything."
"Like the central point of a black hole if one might say," Chervin added.
"But how can possibly a black hole exist in the middle of a city? Without engulfing the whole kit and caboodle within its immense gravity?" Chancellor Nurah asked where she was sitting to the right of Jareth, she too displayed an enervated look upon her face, the lassitude of a lengthy travel perceivable in her manners.
"I never said it was a black hole," Chervin replied, bowing slightly at the woman he hadn't met in a long time, but whom he still referred to as a good friend. "Just a singularity."
"And it's not a normal singularity either," Atrey went on. "Neither is Infraheim a normal universe. A black hole would be impossible here, because there's not enough matters to create an event horizon."
"The word 'impossible' has always been given a severe battering throughout history and recently it's been dealt a near fatal blow," Jareth huffed.
"But what is an event horizon?" Levantine asked, her head perking up from her almost unperturbed state. Sarah had thought the daemon agent's mind to be drifting lightyears away, but apparently she was paying attention to the discussion going around.
"An event horizon," the Cyborg expounded, "is when you get sufficient matter assembled and confined together for a black hole to be created. An object large and heavy enough that nothing can escape subsequently to reaching inside of a certain limit, not even light. Or time. That limit will then be referred to as the event horizon, and the object will be termed 'black hole' as it imbibes even the light."
"What really happened to Endrara?" Jareth cut in, finishing the brief astronomy lesson. The whispers and mutterings should have been enough of an answer. Sarah was thinking back to the last time she had seen the Commander in Chief – yesterday night. Tilathian spoke up.
"She was killed in action," he confirmed. "One of those gargantuan beasts we faced got her. She and Dominaldo hit the dirt therein. And Levantine and I'd be goners too if not that colourful bird creature had shown up."
"Rashyndra," Sarah's face lit up. "So she's well! I wish there was a way to free her."
"I wouldn't recommend that," Chervin replied drily. "Because while she might have appeared prima facie benign inside of the orb, who knows what kind of creature she really is and how she might react to this world. From what you guys told and what I saw in Jareth's orb, that specimen is extremely powerful and avid, and we can't even begin to presume how she might react to our world, what effect she might have upon it."
Several heads turned to look at each other, expressions varied from surprised petrified. It remained unspoken - the Orb held dangers no one knew how to deal with.
During the brief hiatus Cleanthia reached within a pocket of her utility belt. Open it up she retrieved an object which she placed upon the polished surface of the table. It was a hexagonal hyperdiamond roughly twice the size of Jareth's crystal ball and with a pulsing, luminescent pink object inside of it. It seemed to shine brighter now than she had ever seen it before, even more so than the horrid night when they had ventured out in the void in search of the Alien. The night her father had died.
"What is this?" Jareth asked in a consternated voice.
"This is the Orb. And a part of the Alien's soul."
"You don't say?" involuntarily he backed off just the tiniest bit, his eyes widening.
"Yes, it's all in here."
"Tarondan magic," Chervin elucidated. "We can contain most things using the enchanted hexagons. Especially using hyper-diamonds because of the unique atomic structure. It even works in younger universes. Like yours."
"But if this is the Orb, it means it's no longer out in Labyrinth?"
"No, your Majesty, it all looks like it did earlier down there," Atrey smiled. "It'll probably confuse some of your subjects, but they'll live."
"Which is more than can be said about poor Endrara," Nurah huffed but Atrey faced up to her too.
"She knew the risks with getting in there. We all knew. Now, tomorrow I and my comrades will go down to the river and have a little chat with the creature hiding down there. About pieces of a certain soul." Then she turned to Sarah, sitting next to Nurah. "And no, you don't have to worry, Earthling. You do not need to involve yourself anymore. As a matter of fact, I believe you already did your part."
Sarah nodded, yes, she heard what Atrey were saying, yet she was not believing a word of it.