Sunset came, and Stephanie decided to get moving while there was some light. She held the golden sword in one hand. It was really more like a short sword. It must have been the hour hand. Hoggle, Ludo, and Beynon insisted on coming with her.
“You should stay here,” she told the young pygmy griffin. “It’s probably going to be dangerous.”
“It’s dangerous to stay here, too!” Beynon argued. He looked over at the goblins. “They’re planning to eat me as soon as you’re gone.”
Stephanie looked at them, too, and sighed. It was obvious from the way they were licking their chops while staring at Beynon that he was absolutely right. “All right, but stay close to me.”
Beynon was a little big to ride on her head this time, so he flew above her head instead. Jareth installed himself on Ludo’s shoulder.
In the orange glow of the sunset, some details that Stephanie had missed before became clearer. There were islands floating up in the sky, pieces of the labyrinth that had become suspended in the air. Up and down, the labyrinth was coming apart in all directions. There was also a rift only a short distance away from their camp. It stretched on as far as the eye could see, and the ground had become uneven, with the side opposite them appearing to be about ten feet higher. Staring up at the cliff above them, Stephanie was startled when a man walked into view and stood at the edge. Her eyes were wide, and her lips parted. She stared up at the man in shock.
She heard herself ask in a small voice, “Jeremy?” She could hear a humming similar to Jareth’s magic around him.
“You!” Jareth exclaimed, beating his wings. He took off from Ludo’s shoulder and hovered next to Stephanie. He seemed equally shocked, if not more. “I banished you.”
“It seems you can’t keep me out anymore,” Jeremy said with a dark smirk. “So this is what’s become of you? You used your power to create this labyrinth from your heart to protect yourself, and now it’s falling apart. Look at you, a fallen god.” He looked at Stephanie. “I’ll teach you take what’s mine.”
Jareth also looked at Stephanie, wondering what the connection between them was. The fire that usually burned so brightly in her eyes was a weak, flickering flame.
Stephanie was shocked not only by his appearance but the revelation that he and Jareth knew each other, but she found her voice again. “I am not yours.”
“You are,” Jeremy insisted. “After everything I’ve done to be with you, everything I’ve done for you, don’t you dare reject me now. I love you.”
“So you say,” Stephanie said with a frown. “Everything you’ve done to be with me? You mean, other than seducing my mother?”
“Yes. You look like you still don’t believe me, but I’ve wanted you ever since we first met. Remember? Your mother brought you to the theatre with her. I was sitting on my own, reading the script. Your mother was arguing with the director. You came over and sat next to me. When I asked you what you thought you were doing, you said: You looked lonely. And I realized that I was. No one had ever seen through me like that before. My life was empty before you came into it.”
Stephanie thought she might throw up. She had only been ten-years-old when they met.
“Who do you think convinced your mother to keep you when she abandoned your sister? I knew your father would never let me anywhere near you.”
“Did you have something to do with their divorce?” she asked, appalled.
“Your parents’ marriage was already in trouble. I just gave your mother a little nudge.”
“How could you? You saw what that did to me!” Stephanie yelled as tears formed in her eyes. “How can you say you love me when you were willing to watch me suffer like that? You used my illness to your advantage, didn’t you? I thought you wanted to help me, but you were just helping yourself! And this whole time, you were just using my mother? She’s not a piece of meat! She’s my mother! You think I could ever be with someone who would hurt her that way?” Stephanie was trembling. She felt so betrayed. She couldn’t forgive him. “Love? You don’t get to use that word!” The fire in her eyes roared back to full strength. She wasn’t having it.
Jeremy glared down at Jareth. “You’ve turned her against me.”
“You have done that yourself,” Jareth told him. “I don’t know what’s passed between the two of you, but it’s clear she doesn’t want you.”
“I refuse to accept that,” Jeremy said. “I will take the power of this labyrinth for myself, then I’ll make Stephanie mine by force and exact my revenge upon you.” He held his hands in front of him and fired a bolt of lightning at them. It was aimed at Jareth, but they all ducked, just in case.
“I see your aim hasn’t improved, Jerwyn,” Jareth taunted, unscathed.
“Jerwyn?” Stephanie asked.
“You won’t be laughing when I’m sitting on your throne,” Jeremy told him. With that parting shot, he disappeared again. Stephanie blinked, and he was gone.
She ripped her glove off and pulled the emerald ring Jeremy had given her off of her finger. She raised her hand, ready to throw it into the rift. She hesitated. She thought of what the ring meant to her. How it had saved her the last time she was in the labyrinth. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she brought her hand down, clutching the ring. The ring was more than just a gift from Jeremy. It was a symbol of her triumph over depression, the strength she didn’t know she had, until it was needed. She couldn’t bring herself to throw it away. She put the ring and glove back on.
“So, what’s the story with you and Jeremy?” she asked Jareth.
“Jeremy? Is that what he’s calling himself?” Jareth asked.
“Yes.” If his name was Jerwyn, Stephanie could see why he changed it. “So…?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Jareth said. He landed on the ground, pacing. “I don’t understand how he still has that much power. I banished him ages ago. Without worshipers, he should be a mere shell of his former self.”
“Do you get your power from worshipers?” Stephanie asked.
“We need people to believe in us,” Jareth answered. “If not, this is what happens.” He spread his wings and looked down at himself.
“Are you saying you’re in this state because my sister rejected you?”
Jareth didn’t answer. Stephanie took that as a “yes.”
“So, it’s like ‘clap your hands if you believe’? The stronger the belief in you, the stronger you become, and the weaker the belief in you, the weaker you become?”
“You could say that.” Jareth wasn’t really comfortable answering these questions in front of the others, and was seriously regretting his promise not to lie.
“Well, then, it could be because Jeremy’s a popular actor,” Stephanie said. “He’s got tons of fans who worship the ground he walks on.”
“But not you,” Jareth said.
Stephanie shrugged. “I know him, so I know he’s just as human as the rest of us mere mortals. At least, I thought he was… Who is he really?”
Stephanie stared at the owl with wide eyes. It was another bombshell, but suddenly, the uncanny resemblance between the two of them made perfect sense. “And you banished him?”
“He betrayed me. As I’ve said, I don’t want to talk about it. What is your relationship with him?”
“He’s my mother’s boyfriend. I don’t really want to talk about it either.”
“Then we’re agreed, no prying.”
“Uh, I still have a lot of questions,” Hoggle said.
“Stephanie—sad?” Ludo asked.
Stephanie realized her cheeks were still wet with tears and started wiping them off. “I’m not sad. I’m angry.”
“Now, Stephanie,” Jareth said. “I thought we agreed not to lie to each other.”
“Leave Stephanie alone. She’s been through a lot,” Beynon said.
“You’ve read my mind, haven’t you?” Stephanie asked.
“Are you mad?” he asked. “You know I can’t help it.”
Stephanie wasn’t mad, but it wasn’t something she wanted to burden a child with.
“It’s okay,” Beynon assured her. “I’m used to it.”
“Well, surely you can answer one question,” Hoggle said. “What’s with the dress?”
Stephanie looked down at herself. The dress was still a little dusty from crawling through the tunnel. “Oh, this. I was invited to a dance.”
“Stephanie—dance?” Ludo asked.
“Yeah, but only if I get home in time,” Stephanie said. “So… any idea what direction we should go in?” she asked. “Hoggle?”
“What’re you asking me for?” he asked.
“You helped Sarah get through the labyrinth last time,” she reminded him.
“Well, there is one thing,” Hoggle said. “But I don’t know if it’s still there.”
“Lead the way, Hogbrain,” Jareth told him.
“It’s Hoggle!” Hoggle said. But he took the lead, and they began walking along the rift.
“You’re doing that on purpose, aren’t you?” Stephanie asked Jareth.
“Sometimes I use the wrong name to remind certain citizens of how insignificant they are,” Jareth replied.
Stephanie shook her head. “You’re horrible.”
“Actually, he really does keep forgetting Mr. Hoggle’s name,” Beynon said.
“I am still king. You are not allowed to reveal anything you read from my mind,” Jareth ordered him. “Is that clear?” He didn’t need to say the threats of what would happen to him if he did out loud. Beynon received them loud and clear.
“Yes, sir,” Beynon said, wilting a little.
“He’s just a kid,” Stephanie said.
“A dangerous one,” Jareth said.
Stephanie found that a little suspicious. “Only if you have something to hide.”
“Everyone has something to hide,” Jareth stated, unruffled.
“That’s true,” Beynon agreed. And he would know.
Sunset ended, and there was a moment of darkness before the sun rose again. Now it was dawn.
They continued on until they came to a silver puddle on the ground. Stephanie thought there was something very familiar about it. “Is that what I think it is?” she asked.
“It’s a piece of the portal!” Beynon said.
“But we can’t be sure where you’ll end up,” Hoggle said. “It might work like the main portal used to, or it might only take you part of the way there, or it might only connect to other pieces of the portal.”
“Even if it only takes us part of the way, that’s still better than nothing,” Stephanie said.
“Agreed,” Jareth said. “You and I will go through first.”
“Together?” Hoggle asked.
“I can’t afford to be separated from you,” he reminded Stephanie. “Not until you’ve fixed time and Jeremy has been thwarted.”
“Okay,” Stephanie agreed. Jareth landed on the ground, and she picked him up and held him close. She paused. “Hoggle, Ludo, could one of you go through with Beynon? If we end up getting separated, I don’t want him to be alone.”
“Ludo—go,” Ludo said.
“If I have to,” Hoggle agreed reluctantly.
Stephanie smiled at them. “Thanks.” She turned her attention back to the portal. “Here goes nothing.” She took a deep breath and jumped in, wishing to be in the throne room with the clock.
Stephanie found herself standing in a beautiful forest full of sunshine. There were clumps and banks of flowers, daisy-decked hillocks, dingles and dells, shady trees all around. She heard giggles, splutters of suppressed laughter, honks, and hoots. Instinctively, she started to grin herself. She looked hard for the creatures who were enjoying all this merriment. All she could see were the forest plants.
“This is bad,” Jareth said, recognizing the place. Fortunately, they were only a few yards away from the door leading out of there.
Unfortunately, Stephanie laughed. “Why?” she asked, giggling. The laughter was infectious. She felt giddy. For some reason, everything seemed funny.
Jareth was already flying for the door.
“Hey, wait up!” Stephanie laughed, following him. “What’s your hurry?”
A small laugh escaped the Goblin King.
Stephanie giggled, finding it hilarious. She continued to laugh until her ribs hurt. She stumbled and fell over laughing.
Jareth was already at the door, flapping his wings and pushing against it. He was laughing, too. He couldn’t get the door open. “Stephanie!”
Stephanie was laughing so hard that she couldn’t breathe. She felt faint. She was only a few feet away from the door.
Jareth flew back to her. His movements were jerky. He was having trouble flying because of his laughter. He wrapped his taloned feet around her wrist and pulled, but she was too heavy for him. She only moved an inch at most. “You can’t—” he howled with laughter, “—die here!”
Some of what he said got through to Stephanie, and she managed to roll herself closer to the door. He pulled on her wrist again, making her roll again. She was right next to the door now. Stephanie’s face was turning from red to blue, and the laughter around them had reached a hysterical crescendo, but she got the feeling that someone was telling her to push. She made her arms move out in front of her and pushed the door open. A draft of fresh air blew in her face and she gasped, catching a mouthful of air. Someone was pulling her in that direction, she pushed herself forward across the ground, holding the thing she had pushed open.
She lay there with her head sticking out of the door, which was propped open against her arm. She stopped laughing and started breathing hard, long breaths. Jareth was panting, too, watching her face return to normal. She pulled herself the rest of the way through the door and let it shut. The laughter stopped dead.
“What was that?” Stephanie gasped when she could speak again. “I was laughing so hard, I felt like I was going to die.”
“You nearly did,” Jareth told her. “That place makes any who enter it laugh to death.”
“What did you say?” a voice asked loudly.
Stephanie looked up in its direction and saw a door knocker whose ring went through its ears.
“Mumble. Mumble. Mumble,” another voice said.
Stephanie looked over and saw another door with a door knocker whose ring was in its mouth.
“What? Can’t hear you!”
She recognized the knockers from Sarah’s description when they had shared their experiences from the time they were apart in the labyrinth.
“Just ignore them,” Jareth told her. “Knock on the door to your right.”
“What about the others?” Stephanie said. She looked back at the door they had just come through. “They could be in there.”
She stood up, brushed herself off, and tried to open the door. It wouldn’t budge.
“You have to knock,” Jareth told her.
Stephanie knocked with the knocker, and the door opened. She stared into the forest of laughter. She didn’t see anything. She waited, and waited.
“They aren’t coming,” Jareth said. “The destination of that portal puddle must be random.”
“I hope they’re okay…” Stephanie said, letting the door close. She knocked on the door that had the knocker with a ring in its mouth. Behind this door should be a forest.
The door swung open to reveal a forbidding forest. On this side of the wall they were in sunshine, but through the doorway was a dismal and brooding prospect. Jareth flew through the open doorway. Stephanie stepped into the forest. The door swung shut of its own accord, with a resounding thud. The echo lasted a long time.
Stephanie shivered. The sky was the color of cast iron, and the forest plants looked shriveled, as though the sun had never shone on them since their first day on earth. It was a depressing place. A path ran in front of them into the forest. Stephanie started walking, letting Jareth lead the way.
Looking closer at her surroundings, Stephanie saw that the trees were not made of wood, but bone. She saw something else, too, which made her pause.
For a moment, she thought she was looking into a mirror, but then she realized that there really was another her standing some distance away from. “What the?”
Jareth turned his head to look, too, and his eyes widened when he saw it. “Run.”
“What?” Stephanie said.
“Run!” Jareth repeated urgently. “If it catches you, you’re dead.”
Stephanie took off running as fast as her feet could carry her. Jareth flew swiftly beside her.
“Keep going,” Jareth urged her. “Faster!”
Her doppelganger was right behind her, reaching out with grasping hands. It missed her by inches. The earth opened up beneath Stephanie and swallowed her into a great hole. She had no time to utter more than the first note of a surprised yell before the earth closed again above her head.
“Stephanie!” Jareth called, but she couldn’t hear him.
She was sliding down a wide chute to an unknown destination. She saw a pinprick of light at the end that was growing bigger at an alarming rate. Since she didn’t know what it was opening up too, she thought it might be wise to slow herself down. She stretched out with the heels of her feet and hands dug into the earth around her. She pressed harder and harder, until the light was right in front of her. She stopped, and it was a very good thing she did. Had she not applied the brakes, she would have slid right out into the Bog of Eternal Stench.
“Oh!” Stephanie moaned when the smell hit her like a brick wall. “God!” She stopped talking and focused on trying to breathe without inhaling too much of the overwhelming stench. She found that breathing through the corner of her mouth, with the rest of her lips pressed tightly together, while she held her nose helped. But not really. It was unbearable. And the sounds—it sounded like an orchestra of farts and other rude sounds.
She looked around for her next move and saw that there was a narrow stretch of shore beneath her chute. She carefully climbed out and set herself down on the dry land, suppressing her gag reflex. The fumes from the khaki-colored swamp were so horrendous that she was in danger of asphyxiating. She forced herself to breath the foul air and coughed. She looked behind her and saw the great Goblin Wall, with no end in sight. In front of her was the swamp from hell, but there were stones leading from one side to the other, creating a causeway. Stephanie tried to go back the way she came, and put the golden sword between her teeth to climb, but she just slid back down and came dangerously close to falling into the swamp.
She decided to try the causeway, and walked along the shore, careful not to get the disgusting liquid on her. She guessed from the indescribable odor that this was the Bog of Eternal Stench and remembered what Sarah had told her about stinking forever if even a single drop of it got on you. If her memory served her correctly, she should be close to the garbage wasteland where she and the others found Sarah after the ballroom bubble burst. That wasn’t very far from the castle.
Stephanie carefully made her way from stone to stone until she was able to set foot on dry land again.