I Move The Stars For No One
(Late Summer, the Fae Realms of Earth, Goblin Kingdom, somewhere in the center of the Labyrinth)
This particular challenge was not going well, Jareth had to admit. At least, not for him. He leaned around the upside down staircase for another quick glance at the girl. Serah. She stalked up a narrow stone arch, seemingly unconcerned that she stood head downwards. Hmm. She seemed almost leaner than she had only thirteen hours ago; probably because her motions were quick and lithe now, like a hunting cat. Her agate green eyes glinted as she whipped her head around to stare at him, drawing a blade from the bandolier of them strapped across her chest.
Her thrown dagger struck bright sparks off the stone a few inches to the left of his head. Jareth was warded against most physical harm, but cold iron was cold iron. It would still hurt. Toby giggled at them and crawled away along the side of a wall.
When did she learn to use throwing knives? He wondered. Time could run strangely in the Labyrinth, true enough. Usually it was only a matter of hours stretching into days, though. Not enough time to go from a callow and defiant girl to the confident huntress she seemed to be.
Jareth frowned, elegant brows twisted into a brief scowl. Surely, she couldn't be a Slayer. No. I would have scented it in her blood.
He strode away across the ceiling, in search of advantageous ground for a final end to this mockery of a Challenge. As he went, he hummed to himself, brief phrases of the ballad he was already writing to commemorate this Challenge. “I move the stars for no one… but your eyes can be so cruel, just as I can be so cruel…” Yes. He'd keep those lines in the song, most certainly. Her boots rang closer behind him as she took the bait and followed.
Not a Slayer, surely. He sniffed the air, flicked his tongue across his lips, tasting the hot blue scorch of her anger. And another burn of magic underneath, nearly like his own Fae aura. Green and old, like the crumbling wall between the fairy realms and the kingdom of dreams. No, not…quite.Something similar, though. Wouldn't that just be the ultimate irony though, he thought, if the first decent Challenger to the Labyrinth in simply ages was geas-bound to hunt half the inhabitants here.
He reached a wide paved courtyard. Yes. This would do. He turned and wrapped a terrifying glamour around himself, and prepared to speak.
She was already yelling at him, though, as she sprinted through the broken archway towards him.
“I claim right of Challenge!” She yelled.
Jareth winced. He hadn't remembered her voice being quite so piercing.
“But of course you do. Why else are we here, in the castle beyond--” he began.
“Look, you utter tit,” she interrupted, “I've fought my way here through dangers and hardships I don't even want to talk about. Don't ask me about spiders. Huge horrible mutated spiders. Just don't. Now here I am lost again, in this floating castle in the Black City, and you're one of Corypheus’s mob, I'm guessing. Start talking. Answers. Now.”
"Do you truly want simple answers, when I can give you your dreams?" He asked.
She advanced on him, drawing a long black knife from a scabbard on her back.
“Well,” she spat, “If I'm stuck here and I'm never going to see my brother again, or any of the rest of my friends, at least I'm going to put a few inches of steel in your gullet as payment for what you ancient magisters stole from us, from all of us, humans, elves, and dwarves alike.”
“Serah!” He snapped, raising both hands in readiness to cast a warding glyph or step away through the shadows. “This is senseless. Think of what you're throwing away. Forget this foolish quest. Stop at once.”
“Stop?” She threw her head back and laughed, a pirate's laugh, or a rogue's. “I don't take orders from you; your kind’s got no hold over me. C’mon, what flavor demon are you, really? Greed? Ambition? Desire? You sound like a pride demon, mister full-of-himself.” Her eyes narrowed. “No matter. You've got nothing I want. And you all die the same way.” She stepped forward again.
Jareth stopped himself from taking a step back. This really was too much. The Labyrinth bordered on the lands of Dreams and Nightmares, so sometimes people journeying here found themselves greatly changed. But not, in Jareth’s experience, quite so utterly as this.
Still, some things were constant. Like family, and the bonds of blood and guilt that drove them together. “Nothing? Nothing, tra la la? Ah, but you're forgetting, Serah, I have your baby brother.”
It didn't have the effect he'd hoped. His words halted her predatory stalk forward, but made her anger darken into a deadly edge, razor keen in her dark green eyes. “My brother? What have you done with Carver, you son of a bitch, I'LL KILL YOU.”
The Goblin King had lived thousands of years, beaten hundreds of adversaries in his time, and battled countless dozens of Challengers for the Champion's place. He'd walked the nine Fae realms and all mortal kingdoms, seen wonders strange to tell. Very little could surprise him now. And so, he could easily count the times he'd found himself wrong-footed and stammering. Today's events added to that small number.
“Carver? Do you not mean Toby? The infant boy in the hall of stairs-- the baby boy, is he not--”
The woman straightened from her ready crouch. She snorted. “Carver’s a right infant at times, I'll grant, but he's not an actual baby, speaking literally. Wait. You steal babies, too? That's it, you wanker, I'm killing you slow.”
Jareth found himself taking another small step backwards, towards the shadowed archways surrounding the courtyard. “Only unwanted children, freely given, by ancient compact.”
“Stolen for your evil blood magic,” she hissed, and leapt, blades first.
He sidestepped, moving like a shadow before a lit flame. “All blood is magical,” he admonished her, “And I am not a thief, Serah.”
“Stop calling me that!” She yelled, and slashed at him in a backhand sweep that sliced a thin ribbon of cloth from his trailing sleeve.
“Why?” He taunted, buying a moment to summon a thin blade of living darkness into his hand. “Is it not your name?”
“No!” She roared, patience at an end, “It's my stupid noble title. Serah Marian Hawke. Why is everyone in the Fade either an idiot or an arsehole, or both? No wonder Solas is such a tit, with all the time he spends here.”
He smiled, canine teeth indenting thin lips. “Ah. I believe there has been a misunderstanding, Milady Hawke.” He let the shadow-sword scatter like ash in a strong wind, and swept into a deep bow. “I am Lord Jareth, King of Goblins, first Champion of the Labyrinth.”
Serah Hawke lowered her own blade, but didn't sheath it. “What's a Labyrinth? Not the Black City? Not the Fade? Where in Thedas have I ended up now?”
Jareth tilted his head and arched one brow slightly. “That would depend, Milady, on where Thedas is.”
“Why am I not surprised,” she sighed. “Look, I need to find a Fade rift, or an Eluvian mirror… some way back through the Veil. Can you help? I… I can't exactly pay, not in money or goods. But I'm the best there is at solving inconvenient problems. I can trade, favor for favor.”
He nodded, the faintest incline of his chin. “I know much of veils between worlds, pathways and portals. Perhaps there is some way I may aid in your search. But I make no promises. Be warned, I move the stars for no one.”
At last, she slid her wicked blade back into the hard leather sheath. “Hm. What's your price?”
Jareth chuckled. “How are you at finding people who have gone missing? It seems a young man named Toby has misplaced his older sister.” He turned in a whirl of tattered gray robes, and motioned her to accompany him. She fell into step alongside, keeping up more easily than most mortals could.
Hawke smiled, a hard thin grin. “Missing people? I could tell you stories. For instance, this one really wet winter in Kirkwall…”
(Early Spring, the near borders of the Fade in Thedas, the Kingdom of Ferelden, somewhere near Skyhold.)
Solas folded himself smaller behind the rough carven sandstone pillar, tucked his shoulders inward. The girl, if she was truly a human girl and not some kind of new rage demon, seemed to have an endless supply of stones at hand, and limitless energy for hurling them at him.
It would have been near effortless to freeze his attackers in sharp cages of ice, or convulse them with crawling coils of lightning. Likely, that was what a human mage would do. And so, therefore, he did not. Besides, if they were spirits, he was the guest - or the trespasser - in their territory. If they were not spirits, well, then they were actually physically in the Fade. Which was interesting.
He lifted his hand to shield the side of his face from the spray of broken stone chips as another rock smashed into the side of his hiding place.
Down the slope of tumbled shale, a beast shaped much like the shaggy red-furred spawn of an ogre and a pride demon howled incessantly. The brute’s voice alone could almost serve as a weapon. As if that weren't enough, it seemed the odd being had power over the stones. The earth rattled and rumbled with the vibrations of small boulders rolling along like a herd of panicked druffalo. Solas’s barrier spell had kept the animated stones at a distance thus far, but the furry red creature appeared to have no limit to how long he could wield his strange power.
The young human woman and a very surly dwarf had been picking up the most conveniently sized stones and hurling them after the elf for quite some time.
“We have the miscreant on the run, my Lady!” The tiny fox terrier yapped. The little dog-man darted forward and seized the hem of Solas’s coat in small sharp teeth, growling and yanking at the fabric in a frenzy of ineffective rage. The apostate Elf stared at his attacker thoughtfully.
It's not impossible to learn to change your shape in the Fade, Solas thought, but neither is it easy. Why would any being go to such effort, only to choose such an inefficient form?
He was pulled from contemplation of the small mystery as the young woman shouted again.
“Jareth! You can't hide forever!”
Solas winced. Her tone was very like Cassandra's when she was in one of her moods.
“Give me my brother back! What have you done with Toby?!” She yelled. It sounded as though she was very near now.
Toby? Jareth? These are the strangest Fade spirits I've encountered in longer than I can remember, Solas thought. Surely, I can spare a few more hours dreaming in order to puzzle out this mystery.
He picked up the angry terrier Knight by the scruff of his surcoat in one hand, took the polished ironbark staff in the other, fingers automatically tracing the dragonbone inlay the Herald had carved for him.
“I believe this belongs to you,” he began, holding the snarling terrier out towards the young woman.
She lowered the apple-sized rock with a slightly guilty expression in her dark green eyes. “He's Ser Didymus; my friend, and a noble Knight. Please, let him go.”
“Man let brother go,” the ogre-thing roared. The girl smiled and reached up to pat his shoulder. “Oh. And Ser Ludo’s sworn brother, as well.”
The elven apostate nodded and lowered the small warrior carefully to the ground. “My apologies for the misunderstanding.”
"Er, yeah," the dwarf agreed. "Misunderstanding. Right. That's all it was. Could happen to anybody."
The dog sniffed and looked away. “Yes. Well. These things happen. No harm done, I suppose,” he offered.
The young woman dropped the stone with a clatter. “Uh. Yes. There's been a mix-up. We're lost. Can you help us? I don't see the Goblin City, or the castle anywhere. Actually, I'm not even sure we're in the Labyrinth anymore. We thought we were chasing Jareth, uh, he's the King of all the Goblins. But we got turned around, and went down an abandoned hall in the Goblin castle. There was a dead end, and this huge glowing mirror, and…” she shrugged, “And here we are, I guess. Wherever here is.”
She met his eyes, and he knew by the tightly controlled tension in her face that she was worried, even a bit frightened, and driven by events beyond her control. But she was not afraid. The Herald often bore just such a look in her eyes.
“Indeed,” Solas said, schooling his features to a calm and pleasant expression, “Here you are.” He held out his hand, and after a moment's hesitation, she took it. “I suspect you have questions,” he guessed.
“That's quite an understatement,” she muttered, and let him help her up the jumbled rocky slope.
“Then let us all seek your answers, together, ” he offered. “I confess to some curiosity about this-- Jareth, did you say?”
The small group trailed along the wide ledge that skirted the base of a floating mountain, under the emerald fade-light of strange skies, voices steadily dwindling smaller and quieter in the distance, until they vanished around the furthest curve of the path.
Then there was only the steady wind that always blew from the direction of the Black City. It carried drifting motes of ash, like the feathers of a white owl.