If you think you’re brave enough to wander around further, take your choice of the paths above.
Beware . . . Beware . . .
Soon it will be too late.
If you think you’re brave enough to wander around further, take your choice of the paths above.
Beware . . . Beware . . .
Soon it will be too late.
It felt like another person was banging around in her head, trying to get out. Madeline found herself talking to a voice that sounded just like her but had a personality that she reviled. It was the person that bashed that creature to death, the one that went off about rank and file, the one that demanded all knew who she was, daughter of Stala and Dorian of the Fey, heiress to the kingdom, intended to Jareth, the Goblin King. Saving grace of both their worlds. Maiae. Madeline wanted to beat herself about the head and scream for it to shut up.
“I thought I was Maiae,” Madeline said as she stepped around a cluster of Jareth-looking stones. “Me. Like this.”
I am you, you rat. I am the you you need to be to survive.
“I survived this long being this me right here, Madeline with a different name. I was bitch-free until you came along.”
You need to accept me, Madeline. I was hidden for so long but finally you broke open and set me free. Don’t you remember?
She did remember. After the woods, the light, the death, something cracked open and another life came spilling out. A home she never knew, parents that were more than dreams, a life came flooding back. She was assertive and forthright, molded by her parents for her future. With him. Then the sadness came and her parents’ light, the light she now saw in her own skin, started to dim. The air became thicker, tensed, and then her mother and father were speaking to her, their words a babble she didn’t understand. Her mother laid her hand on Madeline’s head and her life began to fade. All her thoughts, her memories, her strength, coalesced into a pool of images before it slipped through a crack and was sealed inside her. The knowledge of who the people in front of her were began slipping away, replaced by the orphanage, a crystal pendant and a book.
Madeline pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead and sat on the nearest stone. When it complained and tried to buck her off Madeline merely jolted up and sat back down on the ground, as if petulant stones were normal. She was cooked, done. This Labyrinth needed to be over with. Maybe now that she’d gone insane and fractured into two people Jareth would let up.
Your hopes are far too high. And you know very well you’re not insane.
“Do you what?” the rock grumbled, its voice as gravely as the ground.
Its mouth was a cluster of cracks off to the side.
“Not you,” Madeline said, unphased by the talking rock. “I have someone taking up space in my head and they won’t shut up.”
“Hmmm,” the rock said. “That is a problem. Perhaps you can take my brother here and bash it out.”
The rock wiggled over to her left and nudged a smaller rock, definitely hand-sized. It sputtered to life, kicking up dirt and small stones with it and grumbled in a series of bass thumps to its sibling.
“I’m going to pass on that.”
“All the same,” the rock said. “He prefers not to get blood on him.”
“His lucky day, then.”
The rock settled back to the ground and fell silent, becoming just a rock again until someone else tried to sit on it.
I am you, Madeline. I am you that’s missing.
“I like me—”
Do you? You who was kicked around your whole known life? You who was abandoned? You who never stood up for herself until that moment when everything shattered?
-a wicked woman, is that it?
Madeline nodded and she hoped, just a little, that she’d rattle around the Maiae in her head. At that thought she could actually feel the phantom smile.
That was our breaking point, Madeline. That’s we who hang from the edge. Do you really think that you are capable of that savagery all the time?
“I don’t want to be capable of it at all.”
Madeline brought her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, anchoring her to herself.
Listen to me. You cannot be a meek little girl and stand next to the king. Our marriage alone is not what will save this world from the darkness closing in on it. You must do what you need to do, what is required of you as a queen. That is far different from liking it. From reveling in it. That will just turn you into the darkness you’re trying to fight.
“I don’t know if I can.”
A caw sounded overhead and Madeline looked up to see something huge and black dotting the sky. It reminded her of the vulture-looking thing outside the Labyrinth walls.
You must. You must accept Maiae. It is the only way everyone survives. Now you must move. That is not a friendly sight overhead. Go.
Madeline scrambled up, caught sight of the castle and walked in its direction.
“How do you know about the things here? You’ve been locked in my head for eleven years.”
I have been kept separate from you, yes, but I’ve played at the borders to both worlds. I’m a means to make you not so blind when you actually awaken. I kept making sure you never grew out of the fantasies.
Were not my doing. I was merely the conduit to which the king was alerted to your needing a reminder.
“You-you spoke to him?”
Madeline brushed some shimmering leaves out of the way, barely paying attention to her route but she had a feeling Maiae was helping to guide her. There was a chuckle in her head and it made her smile by association.
Hardly. As I said, I was a conduit. A filter. A crystal crashing to the floor or a goblin muttering madness was a sign I was poking too far in. The king would do what he saw fit. The veil would shatter if I did more than poke.
“And you couldn’t come the other way, to me, on your own.” Madeline felt her head shake without actually moving it. “You were in limbo.”
If you wish. Accept me and you shall see it all, unpleasant as it was at times.
More horror, more unpleasantness. She didn’t think she could take anymore. Something landed directly in front of her and the noise alone drew her back. When she looked at the fluttering blackness before her, really looked, she saw the bird flying overhead, its wing span large enough to wrap her up. On the ground it was enough to swallow her whole. It resembled her friend from the outside but this thing’s claws, caked in gore from its meals, its eyes the red of the moon from before, clashed against her memory of the vulture-thing from earlier. Was it the same?
Yes. Perverted. The Dissenters got to it.
Madeline opened her mouth to speak but was immediately silenced with a curt hush.
Just listen. The Labyrinth has far more protection with you in it. The king made sure of it. But these get through. Minor rebels, disposable soldiers, can be slipped inside. You must fight. As a queen you cannot always be rescued.
Madeline tried to say something but Maiae silenced her again.
I am the memory of this life and I have some knowledge of the magic in you. That is the only way to get through this.
The demented vulture cawed at her when she put out her hands, as if to soothe it. The sound was like scraping a fork against a plate and Madeline couldn’t stifle a shudder.
You must compose yourself far better than that.
Lips pursed against the nagging voice in her head. Madeline straightened her shoulders and pulled herself up, bringing her hands back to her sides. She lifted her nose up, stuck her chin out and said, “Go,” as surely as she could.
A snort echoed in her head and Madeline bit her tongue against the eye roll she so desperately wanted to do.
That will absolutely not do. I’m surprised it hasn’t attacked by now.
Was her goal not to make herself look crazy in front of this screwed up bird? Was that why she wasn’t just talking to herself?
Madeline fumed at the lack of privacy in her own mind, taking a deep, loud breath through her nose. She had to prove to Maiae that she could do this on her own. She didn’t need to be rescued and she didn’t need to merge with an errant personality to get the task done.
This task. I am your light, Madeline. You are not who you need to be without it. You have no hope without it.
Her skin tingled with an energy that she was just now noticing. A light shimmered just beneath its surface, giving her hands and arms a radiance she didn’t have when she first met this creature, when it was something other than polluted. Her presence sent a subtle glow onto it, a hint of light that made it wince ever so slightly. She was changing; there was no doubt about that. But how much of herself would she lose in the process? How much was she willing to give up?
When you grow from child to adult what do you lose? And what do you gain? You mustn’t think you’re forfeiting who you are but simply growing up.
Except most kids, or Madeline at least thought, didn’t have to contend with their adult selves in their heads. They didn’t have drawn out conversations with themselves on who they are as they grew.
No. But they neither had a piece of themselves removed and stored away. You’ve unlocked a trunk filled with your history and you’re finding out who you are. It doesn’t change who you are now. It just alters the course of who you’ll become.
The vulture hacked, gagging as it tried to dislodge something. It made thrusts with its head, retching up whatever it was trying to. With one last resounding hack a blob of black bile came rocketing out and landed just at the toes of Madeline’s shoes. Almost immediately the grass and dead leaves underneath started to sizzle and curls of smoke carrying the stench of burnt up to her nose made her step back. The putrid mucus burned through the forest floor quickly, gouging itself into the ground. The first time it spit at her it was just a partially digested animal carcass. She’d rather go back to that.
Now can we please take care of this thing? I’m bored with it.
If its spit could burn the ground like acid what else could it do? What did the Dissenters do to it? It cawed again and flapped its sail-like wings, sending a gust whipping through Madeline’s hair. She could do this. Just point and shoot, right?
No. I’m getting tired of your inability to listen, Madeline. You need me. Accept me and we can be done with this thing. Quickly.
Accept. Accept. And how the hell was she supposed to do that?
“Okay, let’s do it,” Madeline said and thrust out her hands.
The vulture didn’t so much as flinch.
At this point I’m hedging my bets for that ghastly bird. Stop resisting me. That’s it. Let me all the way in.
She didn’t think she was resisting anything. Apparently she was wrong. Except now didn’t seem like the best time to lower her defenses. Except it was do that or get torn apart by the black razor claws now digging into the ground as the thing edged closer. Okay. Just let her in. Let Maiae in.
Madeline dropped her arms to her sides, her palms turning out to open up. She inhaled deeply through her nose and found herself straightening out. A settle came over her body, her shoulders, her torso, traveling down to her feet to anchor her to the ground. It was as if her veins were opening up to the shot she was about to get. Madeline gasped as her mind opened, as if a door was just thrown open in her forehead and knowledge marched its way in.
Maiae smiled and Madeline could feel the pull on her lips, the corners pulling up. ‘Girl’ was an echo in her mind as the presence taking up space of its own in her head thread its way into her brain, melted into her soul. Madeline could feel herself grow bigger, fuller. The barricades around her seventh year were moved and all of a sudden memories as clear as day flooded the other side of the curtain. They were dreams made real as Maiae blended with her.
A heat pulsed through her veins with every beat of her heart and with each beat the world grew brighter. The glow was back in her skin, a radiating light that made the vulture creature squeal and step back. A distinctly Maiae thought crawled into her mind except it was in Madeline’s voice: “save the creature.” There was no cuddling involved in this saving and Maiae no longer left like a separate entity. This thought was coming from within Madeline. At her deepest core she knew what she needed to do, Maiae knew what she needed to do but it may very well kill this creature.
She inhaled deeply, getting faint whiffs of decaying leaves and earth mixed with burnt gore from the creature’s bile. She took this in and her light, her radiance, glowed brighter. It pulsed out of her as it worked, purifying the death and decay as it reached out to the vulture from the tips of Madeline’s fingers.
The creature sank back, its eyes fluttering against Madeline’s brightness, the red a shock against its darkness. Burning feathers coiled around Madeline’s nose as wisps of smoke curled up from the vulture’s body. Then it started to wail as its darkness, its Dissenting taint, was burned out of it. The red of its eyes dripped down its face in rivulets, leaving behind the black that Madeline remembered seeing when she first saw it. Clumps of wing dropped to the ground in fizzling lumps as its wing span shrank to something less formidable than an airborne sail. Its razor-like claws receded back into its feet, pushing and cracking at the skin as they forced their way back in.
Through the shrieks of pain Madeline watched the vulture transform back into something recognizable, less threatening, more of the Labyrinth than something perverted and unnatural. With every distortion of bone and molting feather Madeline could feel the energy leech out of her, forcing its way into this creature, using her light to cleanse it. Was this how they would win the war against the Dissenters? She wouldn’t survive it if that was the case.
It was a gut feeling she had more than a disembodied voice telling her no, this wasn’t the way to win the war. It was just an exercise, a way for Madeline, Maiae, to stretch out her light stored for so long in the recesses of her mind.
The gurgling cries of the vulture were silenced and Madeline, Maiae, stopped putting out effort and the light faded immediately, withdrawing back into her to rest and recharge. The luminescence on her skin was brighter, a glow that was noticeable on first glance instead of something caught with the corner of her eye. She stepped toward the blackened, aged leather-looking creature collapsed on the ground and her heart broke with its stillness. Maiae dropped to her knees and rested a hand on the vulture’s body, stroked its surprisingly soft feathers. Tears prickled at her eyes and Maiae bit her lip against it. A creature of her world was lost but it wouldn’t do anyone any good for her to crumble over this loss. Instead she folded the pain into herself and slotted it into the need for revenge that would surely come later when the real battle against the Dissenters began.
Her knees cracked as she stood and she flexed her muscles, bending and twisting her joints as if feeling them for the first time. In a sense she was. Madeline had let Maiae in and now, as one, they were testing out the body Madeline formed for them. It felt like a good fit except it was lonely and still a little sad in her mind. Not to worry. Soon there won’t be room enough for those old world feelings.
Maiae looked around and spotted Jareth’s castle in the distance, its form hovering ever closer. It won’t be long now. She knew, at that moment, Jareth was watching her through one of his crystals. She could feel his eyes upon her, assessing her. Judging her. Her parents were there too, waiting. Now, though, her eyes were only for Jareth.
Maiae turned to the castle, her stance wide, her chin high, and looked directly into the spec of window she somehow knew from Maiae’s stored knowledge belonged to Jareth’s throne room, and glared. Her jaw clenched and she made fists at her sides. Madeline’s pain and frustration and Labyrinthine torture mixed with Maiae’s being to form a perfect storm of contempt and drive. She would complete this Labyrinth and be his queen. She had no doubt about that. That didn’t mean she wouldn’t tear him a new asshole for making her go through all this shit to do it.
The corner of her mouth quirked up into a sinister smirk, something hidden deep within Madeline and pulled up by Maiae. This was going to be so good.
“I’m coming for you, you son of a bitch.”
Jareth watched the girl’s lip twitch into a seductive sneer and his own jester’s smile split his face. He heard the words in a voice that was no longer lonely, broken. Madeline’s on a face that shown with the proper Fey light and he knew all would be fine. Their worrying was over.
He looked up to find Dorian and Stala looking at him expectantly, waiting for his word. At his jeering smile their bodies visibly slackened and a collectively held breath was released.
The bubble popped on his finger as he stood up from the throne.
“Maiae is coming.”
Goblins started scrambling and Jareth looked to the clock ticking on the wall. Down to the wire, he saw, as the hand struck twelve. Leave it to a princess to make an entrance.
<–11. Vengeance Under the Blood Moon +