Chapter 22: Hell Hounds
She couldn't be entirely certain, but Sarah felt nearly positive that her lack of concentration was linked closely to Jareth's presence so close to her that she could feel the heat radiating from his torso behind her back. She sucked in a shaky breath as his cool gloved fingers slid down her arms and covered her hands. Electricity raced through her body leaving tingling sensations that all seemed to concentrate where he'd last touched. Leaning back, she could feel his lean frame immediately behind her. His arms and body had effectively created a tiny cave just perfect for her to shelter in. A light teasing tickle could be felt along her right cheek as he leaned down to whisper in her ear. "You're not paying attention, Sarah."
Well no duh! How could anyone pay attention to such an inane thing as learning scales on the piano when they had an extremely handsome and inviting fae king standing so close behind them? "You keep distracting me," she accused.
She could feel his mouth smirk against her ear. "I don't know what you're talking about. You asked me to teach you to play the piano and that's what I've been doing."
"Do you have to do it with so much touching?"
"I'm merely showing you where to place your hands. How else am I supposed to teach if my pupil is blind?"
He did have a point, but it was still extremely difficult to concentrate when his cool gloved digits were skimming along with her own hands over the ivory keys. Sarah took another shaky breath and tried to calm her libido, difficult as that seemed. Jareth backed off a little, still standing behind her, but not touching. "Play the scales you just learned," he commanded gently.
Sarah relaxed her shoulders and let her fingers find their starting places before pressing down on the keys and moving up the first scale. They'd done seven scales so far, the last two being where she lost concentration. Her thin fingers flew over the keys in scale after scale and she even managed the sixth one, but she faltered on the last. "Oops…" she muttered.
Jareth's hands came back to her shoulders, squeezing gently. "You did quite well… on the ones you paid attention for," he assured.
"Thank you," she blushed.
Sarah could feel the soft tickling of his hair as he bent forward over her. His breath ghosted over the side of her neck right before his lips pressed against it gently. Suddenly the door to the music room banged open loudly. "Sire!" an urgent voice called.
Jareth's presence behind her was gone in an instant and she reeled from the sudden cold feeling. "This had better be important, Kip," he threatened in a low voice very much different from the low voice he used when being intimate with her.
"It is, Sire, it is! Kip be sent from throne room. Blurg returned! Lord Utgard say Kinga want to know," the goblin's high pitch voice explained quickly.
Silence filled the room for a moment before Jareth reached out and pulled Sarah to her feet in one swift motion. She fell against him as the unexpected movement set her off balance. "Thank you, Kip. I appreciate your telling us immediately."
Before Sarah could ask what was going on, she felt the familiar whirling sensation that happened when Jareth transported them. The whirling stopped after a moment and she could feel hard stone floors beneath her feet. The confusing din of many goblins speaking at once filled the air as well as the stale smell of ale. She was pretty sure Jareth had ordered no drinking in the throne room, but it was obvious that the goblins had been ignoring him.
Jareth pulled Sarah down to sit beside him on the throne and the cacophony died as the goblins noticed their monarch. Herm, I think I need to see what's happening. Sarah requested of the quicksilver dragon wrapped about her upper arm. It squeezed her arm silently in acknowledgment then Sarah felt the tendrils connecting them creep further into her mind. The gray, fuzzy shapes that usually filled her vision cleared slowly as though a filter were being lifted from her eyes. The shapes solidified and took form into that of the many goblins littering the throne room. One in particular caught her attention and Herm turned its head toward it to study it closer.
The goblin was standing very still before the throne, much more still then the other goblins. Usually goblins hopped from foot to foot, swayed back and forth, or twitched their limbs like they couldn't bear to remain still. However this goblin was standing motionless, his armor loose and hanging from his slouched form like he'd been through hell and back. His body looked battered and Sarah could see he was favoring his left leg. "Blurg, approach and report," Jareth commanded, his tone clearly that of the Goblin King.
The tired and weary goblin took a few steps forward and gave a feeble bow before beginning. "Blurg did as King asked. Blurg has gone to Above to find battalion."
"And? Did you find them?"
Blurg took a shuddering breath and nodded. "Blurg found battalion in dark forest… evil forest. Battalion dead."
Silence filled the throne room and Herm looked back and forth between Jareth and the goblin scout. The fae wore a stunned look, his eyes wide and his mouth slack. However the expression quickly changed into rage. His eyes narrowed and his thin lips grew thinner. "Everyone? There was no one left alive?" he asked in barely contained anger.
"No, Sire," the goblin shook his head.
"I see…" the Goblin King murmured. "Was there anything else, Blurg?"
"The dark evils in the forest. They the ones who be eatin' the battalion. Blurg barely escape to tell Kinga."
"Nasty big black vicious hounds… lotsa pointy teeth and they has big eyes and good ears and noses. Blurg knows cuz theirs slobbery teeth gots real close. Blurg don't like thems at all!" The goblin shook his head so hard, his helmet moved about.
"Sire, if I'm not mistaken, and I pray I am, I believe the goblin just described one of Beelzebub's Hounds," Lord Utgard said, as he stood aside Jareth.
Jareth nodded. "I'm afraid you're not mistaken for that is what I thought as well, Lord Utgard."
"What's a Beelzebub's Hound?" Sarah asked.
"I'll explain later, I promise, but right now immediate action needs to be taken," Jareth replied turning to look at her. She nodded and he stood, drawing himself up as though sucking up the magical energy in the room to make himself bigger. He faced the goblins in the throne room with a mask of fury on his visage. "Goblins, your kin have been attacked and brutally murdered. As your King, I cannot allow this to pass without meting out retribution." An angry murmur followed the King's words and the goblins moved about tightening their armor and waiting for their King's command. "I call on those of you here to spread the word through the labyrinth that we are at war. Make ready the necessary preparations. Now go!"
With a roar of fury, the goblins swept from the room en masse. Herm turned to look at Jareth who was still bristling and still looked every inch the fierce Goblin King he was. He turned to Lord Utgard, "Assemble the generals and explain the situation to them. I have to raise the Labyrinth's defenses."
"Yes, your Majesty. It will be done," Lord Utgard said with a small bow and left the throne room as well.
Jareth turned back to Sarah, his face blank and expressionless. "Come, it's time you learn to use some of that magic I had given you."
Sarah placed her hand in his waiting one and once again felt the whirling sensation of a transportation spell. When the shifting world stopped, she saw they stood in the middle of the hedge maze in the labyrinth. It was the same place where she'd met the old man with the talking bird hat. The old man was not here now, and Sarah could see that the hedges, though not as brown and withered as when she first passed through with Todd, were not back to their vibrant green yet. The stone chair the old man had sat in stood on the other side of the small square and the flagstones across the square were uneven and jutted up at odd angles. Jareth drew her attention back though when he placed a hand under her chin and led it to face him. "You might want to break the sight-link with Hermaphroditus before we begin this. You'll need to concentrate on connecting with your own power."
She nodded and mentally gave Herm the command to disengage the extended link. It withdrew from her mind and her sight went dark once again despite the brightness of the sunny day. Jareth could tell at once when she was no longer seeing through Herm's eyes and he gently turned her to face the open courtyard. Taking her hands in his, he pulled her to the center and stood still. "Now, the first thing I want you to do is clear your mind."
Sarah did as he asked and relaxed every muscle in her body in the process. Jareth still held her hands and he felt her go slack. "Good, now we are going to raise the labyrinth's defenses together. By doing it together, we establish that we are the rulers of this kingdom and assert our authority."
Sarah's blank mind suddenly flared up. Did he just suggest that I was his Queen? she asked herself. But that would mean marriage? And wow… I want to be with him, but marriage?
Sarah, calm down. Herm commanded in that voice that seemed to vibrate through her.
She took several deep breaths in an attempt to follow the dragon's command. Jareth seemed to notice, but thought she was clearing her mind. He squeezed her hands in support. Sorry Herm. Kinda freaked out there.
We'll examine what he meant later. Lord Jareth needs you to pay attention now.
She nodded and allowed her mind to go blank again. "Are you ready?" Jareth asked after she'd nodded.
"Alright, I want you to open your senses. Listen to the breeze rattling through the leaves, smell the clean air and the earth, feel the air shift around you."
She did as he requested and opened herself to her surroundings. Perhaps her loss of sight was starting to enhance her other senses, because Sarah could soon hear every leaf in the hedges as it moved, the rich smell of earth combined with the dry flagstones and the clean air filled her nostrils, the light breeze brushed its cool tendrils over her skin raising small goose bumps in response. There was a kind of thrumming in her chest as she reached out further to experience more. The thrumming grew to a low murmur that she could hear as if every living thing were emitting a low hum and it was all combining into a chorus. "Can you hear it?" Jareth's voice asked.
"Yes," she breathed.
"That's the labyrinth."
"Amazing…" she whispered.
"Yes, it's quite magnificent. I'm going to open my mind as well. You'll be able to feel it as another living thing in the multitude of life surrounding you. Once we are connected I'll lead the way in communicating with the labyrinth. Just follow me."
Sarah nodded and waited for Jareth to join her. She could tell the exact moment he did, because a kind of cool confident spearmint flavored consciousness appeared. She took in a deep breath and felt as though a small cloud should be visible when she exhaled. The coolness suddenly seemed to tug at her and she felt herself rising with it until if felt like they were supported by the air itself. The coolness held her close and suddenly they were joined by a third consciousness. This one was a personification of all the things Sarah's senses had picked up when she'd emptied her mind. There was a strong earth smell and a warm touch like a ray of sunshine warming her skin. There was a low humming suddenly that changed pitches, almost like the sounds a whale makes to communicate. However these sounds were translated in her head and words replaced the humming. Are congratulations in order?
No, not yet, though I hope it will be soon.
I am pleased.
I hoped you would be… we need your help.
Yes, I can sense it. They will come soon. Preparations are being made?
Yes, as much as I can.
Then I shall ready myself as well, though I require the necessary sacrifice.
I know. We offer twice the amount you usually require in repentance for the neglect you have suffered recently.
And she… she knows what she gives?
It must be willingly given; you know this.
The source of the warm voice suddenly seemed to examine Sarah intently. Greetings youngling.
Sarah hesitantly sent out a reply. Greetings…
There is no need for shyness dear one. I am quite pleased with you, though not with Lord Jareth's choice of keeping things to himself.
Sarah grinned, knowing exactly how the presence felt. Yes, thank you.
In order to help you I must take something from you.
What do you want?
The necessary sacrifice is all the available magic in your body at the moment. Not to worry though. Magic is replenishable and you will recover, though it may take some time.
Not more than a day, usually a few hours. Do you willingly give this in return for my assistance?
Sarah seemed to consider this and knew there was no other choice. She didn't understand what was coming, but she could sense from the cool presence of Jareth who she was currently connected to, that whatever it was, was bad. Yes, she gave her answer simply.
Thank you, youngling.
Sarah felt the gratitude emanate from the being and then suddenly she felt weak… like she had run for hours on end. She continued to weaken until staying awake became too much and she sank into darkness.
o O o O o O o
The large black beast put its nose to the ground, searching for the scent that would lead it to its quarry. The others of its kind were spread out along the edge of the forest they'd just exited. Their master had brought them to this land after giving them a taste of the prey they would be searching for.
The massive dog-like creature was as big as a Great Dane and twice as muscular, but its head was held low and long fangs protruded from its jaw. Sharp claws dug into the dirt as it turned sharply to turn back and cover another area. The sound of a scuffle broke out between two others as they crossed each other's path, but the fight broke up quickly and they went back to searching for the scent. They'd been at it for nearly a half hour when he found it. His head jerked up in surprise then quickly lowered again to double check. This was it… this would lead them to their prey. He raised his muzzle and let loose a long low howl, letting the others know where the trail started. Answering howls and barks filled the air and soon the thudding of heavy paws could be heard as the pack gathered for the hunt. The pack's alpha led the way; his jaws open to catch the wind to better taste the scent of his prey. Soon… they would be able to rip, shred, tear. Soon…
o O o O o O o
Jackie stood at the window of her second story room and gazed out at the massive labyrinth spread before her. She still had a hard time believing that Sarah made it through the thing in only ten hours. However it appeared that the labyrinth was shifting, creating new pathways and more dead ends. It almost appeared to be making itself tougher and more formidable.
Suddenly a warm arm drew about her waist and she was pressed against the now familiar form of Rynn Orin. She relaxed in his easy grip and leaned back into him. Because of her need of him while she slept, they'd formed a relationship that went beyond friendship and allowed them to feel comfortable in each other's presence. "Why is it doing that?" Jackie asked of the elf behind her, pointing to the shifting labyrinth as a sinister looking tower suddenly sprang up.
"It prepares for battle. Our King and his lady have asked it to help defend us."
"Is that why I didn't see them around this afternoon?"
"Yes, the labyrinth requires a sacrifice of magic in order for its help. I'm guessing that our King and his lady both offered the sacrifice to give the labyrinth more magic."
Jackie stiffened. "Will they be okay?"
"Yes, they'll be fine. They'll just need to rest to allow their magic to replenish itself."
She relaxed again. "Thank goodness. So what will we be fighting?"
"YOU won't be fighting anything. And if I understood Lord Utgard correctly, Beelzebub's Hounds will be attacking soon on the command of King Zuul of the UnSeelie."
What do you mean I won't be fighting? And what are Beelzebub's Hounds?"
"They're very dangerous, that's what they are, and you'll be staying far away from them."
"But I could help…"
"How, Jackie? You are human, you have no magic to wield and as far as I know you are not proficient with any weapons."
She shrunk a little at his reproach. He was of course correct; she couldn't help in the battle itself. "Well then how can I help? I won't sit around twiddling my thumbs while others go out and get killed!"
"If you insist on helping, you can assist me in the Healer's Wing. There will most likely be casualties and I will need help attending them."
She considered his words and figured this was the best she could hope for. "Okay… I'll help you."
"For not volunteering to go out and get killed," he said mimicking her words.
She smirked and pressed closer against him. They stood in silence before the window, watching as the labyrinth readied itself for battle and took comfort from each other, hopeful about the future.
o O o O o O o
The slow steady pounding in Sarah's head was lessening. It was almost down to the point where opening her eyes didn't seem like such a chore. The ground beneath her was hard and unyielding, making her position lying on her side quite uncomfortable. With a groan, she rolled to her back and sat up. Blood rushed from her head leaving her dizzy and slightly nauseous. She opened her eyes and there was nothing but pitch black. Usually she could see some hazy gray shapes, but now there was nothing. "Jareth?" she called out.
A slight shuffling from her left drew her attention and she stiffened until she heard a familiar moan. Her hand moved out, seeking the form of the man she knew to be there. Finally she found his outstretched hand and grasped onto it, using it to pull herself closer to him. He was lying on his back and seemed to be just coming around to consciousness himself. "Sarah?" he grumbled.
"Here." Jareth's hand gripped hers then and he sat up. "Where are we?"
"In an oubliette. After the labyrinth took our magic we were vulnerable, so it put us in an oubliette for protection until we woke."
That explains the darkness, she thought to herself. Herm? she projected the thought at the dragon, suddenly concerned for it.
I am well, Mistress. it replied from its perch around her arm.
She let out a relieved sigh. "So what now?" she asked of Jareth.
He let out a sigh before answering. "Now we wait to get some of our strength back."
Sarah had to admit that she did feel rather weak. "Well while we wait, care to explain what a Beelzebub's Hound is?" she asked shifting so she was leaning against him.
"I doubt you'll like the answer…"
"Does it matter if I like it?"
"No," he replied. "First of all, have you heard of the demon Beelzebub?"
"In passing… isn't he like the Devil's right hand man or something?"
"Something like that…" he responded and she could hear how his voice was lighter and could imagine a smile on his face. "Beelzebub is also known as the Lord of the Flies or one of the seven princes of hell. He's a demon high up in the hierarchy of demons. He reports to higher-ups on the demons beneath him and is known for his cruelty. Anyone he chooses to kill does not die a quick death. No, it's quite laboriously drawn out and painful."
"Sounds like a swell guy…" Sarah deadpanned.
Jareth chuckled, "Yes… anyway, the hounds are not his directly, more that they were named after him because of their ability to draw out a victims death. They don't go for the immediate kill as most vicious animals do, but instead make sure their victim will not be able to recover then leave them to die."
"That's horrible! And they killed one of your battalions?"
"Yes. I suspect King Zuul was raising a pack of them and he needed something to feed to them. Goblins are high in protein after all… just what a growing hell hound needs," the sarcasm on his voice was almost tangible and Sarah flinched away at the thought of all those goblins dying so horribly.
"Is he going to use them to attack us? What's his purpose behind attacking us anyway?"
"He wants the Goblin Kingdom under his rule. And yes, he will attack us, which is why we needed to contact the labyrinth to raise its defenses."
"But why would he want the Goblin Kingdom?"
"Because it is the easiest to transport between worlds here as a result of my duty collecting the unwanted."
"So he wants the Aboveworld?"
"The UnSeelie have always wanted the Aboveworld if only as a place to gain slaves. Humans are their slaves of choice because of their lack of magic."
"That's terrible! Just because we don't have magic doesn't make us any less of a person!"
"You don't have to tell me, my dear. I'm actually quite fond of humans, especially one in particular."
Sarah was glad of the darkness for her entire face had just turned a brilliant shade of red. They were silent for a minute before she asked another question. "So, how do you kill them? The Beelzebub's Hounds I mean…"
"YOU won't be killing anything except time."
"No, I don't want you in harm's way. I won't chance you being hurt."
"But I want to help, Jareth!"
"You can help my sanity by staying out of the fray."
"No, I can do more than just sit around waiting for you to die. If you won't let me help kill the hell hounds, then what about something else?"
"Like what, Sarah? I don't want you getting hurt."
"Healing. Herm can talk me through it. If these monsters don't go for the kill, then what if I came through after them and help to heal the injured with magic?"
"I'm hoping the battle won't range that far and won't last too long."
"Jareth!" she cried out exasperated.
"Sarah, you are my love, my lover, you've promised to stay with me, and I have every intention of making you my Queen and my wife. Please don't risk yourself. I couldn't live without you."
This stopped Sarah dead. He wanted her to be his wife? His Queen? She wasn't sure why this surprised her so much. After all, it was assumed that she would continue living with him as Keeper of the Mortals' Belief in Magic. Wow that was a long title. She would have to come up with something shorter… perhaps just Keeper? Sarah mentally shook herself and came back around to the topic. She still really wanted to help Jareth. His dying was incomprehensible to her and if she could do anything to prevent that from happening then she would. Finally she let out a heavy sigh and tightened her grip on his hand. "I'll stay out of the fight if you promise me one thing."
"What's that, Sarah love?"
"Don't you risk yourself either! I can't be your Queen if you aren't around to be my King."
Jareth chuckled and drew her into a tight embrace. "I promise."
They held each other for a while just listening to their slow breaths and taking comfort from one another. It must have been at least a couple hours later when Sarah was startled from her light dozing. She'd heard something and was straining to hear it again. And there it was… a long low howl could be heard from a distance and it raised the hairs on the back of her neck. "What is that?" she asked of the fae beside her who was also listening intently.
"Beelzebub's Hounds… the battle is about to start."