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Title: Knew you at all
Summary: Sarah Williams wants to be a wizard.
Author's Notes: Crossover between the movie Labyrinth and Diane Duane's Young Wizards series. Co-written between [livejournal.com profile] katarik and [livejournal.com profile] ilyena_sylph.
Word count: 7869

Prologue

Chapter One


Sarah woke up the next morning with a headache from sleeping wrongly. When she checked her windows, they were still latched, and when she moved silently to Toby's room, peeking in, she could see Toby's blond hair gleaming from the child's bed he was coming close to outgrowing.

She took a careful breath and went back to her room to see if she'd imagined things.

Holding the book in her lap, a little thicker than it had been last night, Sarah said aloud, "What's said is said," her voice firm, and flipped it open to the registry of wizards.

WILLIAMS, SARAH it said in bold font, listing her address and phone number. NOVICE, PRE-RATING.

"So," she murmured to the room, a habit of talking to herself and the world around her that she had never outgrown. "I guess that means there's an Ordeal coming. Well. It can't be harder than Jareth."

Then Sarah remembered a little of the history the book had mentioned, about a Lone Power who bound death into the worlds and was cast out for it, and the war between It and the other Powers, and she said quietly, "Or. Well. Maybe it can."

Sarah put the book on her dresser, turning to look into her mirror, looking automatically for faces that weren't there.

She hadn't done this since she came back from the Labyrinth. She hadn't needed them, and -- Sarah would admit this to herself, even if not to anyone else -- she was worried about attracting Jareth's attention. But right now, with this familiar feeling in her skull and drawing in around her like the world was listening to her (and would send goblins for her brother), she needed to talk to her friends. So she turned her gaze to the mirror. "I need you, Hoggle," she said, looking for his face in the reflection of her room. "Ludo? Sir Didymus? I need you."

She said the words as though they were an invocation, and as though the concept of the people she was calling not appearing simply didn't occur to her.

The mirror did not ripple, or change, or do any of the things that an observer might have reasonably thought it ought to do when an incantation was said into it. The girl in the mirror, and then the girl in the room, simply suddenly had company behind her.

Sarah grinned, tension fading out of her as she spun around and crouched to hug her friend tight. "Hoggle!"

"Sawah!" Ludo bellowed cheerfully, nearly covering Didymus' howl of "My Lady!" as Ludo picked her up off the floor with one massive furred arm. For a moment, he'd lifted Hoggle too -- but he'd quickly let go.

She laughed, more relaxed than she could remember being in weeks, and buried her face in his orange chest, wrapping her arms up around his neck. "Ludo! It's so good to see you!" She took a moment of feeling fourteen again, safe in Ludo's uncomplicated affection, before she poked his shoulder with a fingertip. "I need to get back down, though."

Ludo rumbled a complaint, but he put Sarah down. She shook her shirt free of his long hair, then reached to pet Ambrosius -- so much like her Merlin -- hugging Didymus with her other arm. "I'm so glad you came," she said quietly, murmuring the words into Didymus' fur. "I'm so, so glad you came."

Hoggle's touch to her hair was light and gentle. "Said we'd come if you needed us. Guess you do."

Sarah nodded silently, the enormity of what she had invoked last night suddenly feeling as though it would drown her. She didn't regret taking the Oath -- it wasn't anything someone like Jareth would try to trick her into. There hadn't been any tricks at all, with the book. No tricks and no illusions, and tricks and illusions were what Sarah had gotten good at dealing with. She would have recognized those. "I do. I do need you."

"Fair maiden," Didymus said gently -- Sarah had been expecting brashness from the fox-knight, not this quiet certainty -- "Anything you need from us, we will give."

Sarah took a breath and lifted her head to look at them. "I'm a wizard."

None of them argued that that wasn't possible, or expressed any surprise at all, really. Hoggle just tilted his head curiously. "You weren't when you were in the Labyrinth."

"No. I wasn't." Sarah got off the floor, sitting on the bed and lifting Didymus with her to sit in her lap. Hoggle clambered up to sit next to them, while Ludo sat on the floor, head level with Sarah's. She shifted, leaning her head on Hoggle's shoulder while she talked. "I found this book. So You Want to be a Wizard. And I... read the Oath that was there. 'In Life's name, and for Life's sake... '" She didn't complete the sentence, closing her eyes, suddenly unaccountably tired.

"Do you regret it?" Didymus asked quietly, his fur brushing her chin when he lifted his head to look in her eyes.

Sarah shook her head, Hoggle's vest cool on her forehead. "No. I don't. I'm just scared."

"When I became a knight, I was afraid." Didymus' voice was oddly distant and quiet as he spoke. "I was afraid I would dishonor my crest. My family. I was afraid I would stain the name of knighthood. I was afraid I would be a coward."

"You aren't a coward," Sarah murmured, only barely hearing the odd slur to her words, her eyes still shut, yawning faintly when Hoggle started stroking her hair lightly.

"No, my Lady. I am not. But I might have been." Didymus' nose was cold on her jaw. "Nor are you. You have nothing to fear, my Lady -- did you not defeat Jareth himself? Did you not fulfill your quest?"

Sarah nodded, blinking her eyes open against the sleep that wanted to fall. "Yes. This just... might be harder."

"But you have sworn an oath, my Lady."

"Yeah," Sarah admitted. "I have." With them, Hoggle and Didymus and Ludo, Sarah knew it was just that simple. She'd sworn an Oath. Now to do her best to keep it.

"Tired, Sawah?"

"A little," she answered, knowing it was more than that but unwilling to see them go.

"Looks like more than a little to me," Hoggle said softly, still stroking her hair. "Should we leave?"

"No," Sarah replied, shutting her eyes again. "Will you stay a little longer?"

"Sure, Sawah," Ludo rumbled, petting her cheek carefully with one huge hand.

Sarah smiled sleepily, letting the rest of her tension go, and drifted off with Hoggle's hand on her hair.

***

She opened her eyes to pale stone and rainbows that shimmered around her. For a long moment, lying on sun-warmed cobbles and watching the rainbows dance, Sarah was happy.

Then it occurred to her where she was likely to be and a rush of adrenaline propelled her to her feet, spinning and nearly stumbling, to look at Jareth's inscrutable face, fear blazing up in her. She took a breath that clogged in her lungs, but she managed to push out, "My will -- "

"Hush," Jareth interrupted softly, and Sarah went silent, though she barely knew why. It wasn't as though listening to him had ever gained her much. But his voice was strangely quiet, different than she'd ever heard it... why was he different? He smiled a little at her, the triangle of crystals in his hands continuing to dance rainbows in the room with the sun shining down on them as he spun them over and around his fingers. "You aren't here for that, Sarah. The words won't work."

Which was logic Sarah could understand; she hadn't wished anyone away. She wouldn't do that sort of thing again. She glanced around the room, noting that she hadn't been here before. High up in the castle, the lack of a roof left the room open to the breeze and the sun, the Labyrinth spread out wide and bright beneath them. "If I'm not here for that, why am I here?"

For a long moment, all she heard was the wind and the nearly noiseless clink of Jareth's crystals. Then, finally, he spoke. "You're a wizard now, Sarah?"

Her fists clenched at the idle tone of his voice, at the casual proof that he had still been keeping an eye on her.... "Yes."

She heard him move before he spoke again, quiet rustle of leather on leather and the sound of the crystals still turning over his hands, quietly clicking together and brushing against the gloves, as he came to stand beside her. He stepped into her vision, leaning hip-shot against the balustrade, and she could feel the weight of him looking down at her with his bi-color eyes. "What made you decide to do such a reckless thing?"

Sarah didn't look at him, glancing away to focus on the Labyrinth. "I was thinking about fairness. Why?"

"You're not the little girl that wailed to me about unfairness anymore, Sarah," he said, quiet acceptance and something else shading through his voice. "And whatever made you think a wizard's life would be any more fair?"

Sarah snorted, lowering her head to hide her smirk behind her hair. "I didn't. It was just the right thing to do."

She could hear the rustle as his hair rasped against the collar of his vest when he shook his head. "You made the Choice, it can't be un-made... but be careful, Sarah.

"You will meet worse things than me, now."

She was silent for a moment, stilling -- he sounded calm, and she was used to that, but underneath was a flicker of anger and a shadow of worry (why was he worried? Why was he angry?) -- then she lifted her head to the sun, looking up into its ruddy brightness. "I know. I'm supposed to be having an Ordeal soon." That he had admitted she would meet worse things than him... Sarah didn't want to know what those things would be, though she knew that sooner or later she would find out.

"That is the way of things," he said after another few moments, quiet and almost solemn. "I wonder what They will find for you, who faced me already."

Sarah shrugged. "When I woke up this morning and saw that it was real, I told myself it couldn't be harder than you. Then I thought about it." There was still a piece of her that thought nothing was worse than Jareth, all his casual power and easy arrogance. Most of her knew better, now.

"I will take the compliment for what it is worth," Jareth said, a low chuckle in his voice beside her. "And at least you have learned to think about such careless statements."

Sarah huffed out a sigh through her nostrils, ignoring his amusement at her. That wasn't new, but she still hated it. "How much longer am I going to be asleep?"

"As long as you wish to be, I suppose. Nothing holds you in sleep, now."

Sarah wasn't really as surprised by that as part of her thought she should be. Jareth hadn't had the chance to give her anything, and. And she just wasn't that surprised. "Oh."

He tipped his head, gesture as avian as one of his forms, and asked, his voice ever so casual, lighter than she had ever heard it, "Oh?"

"Oh," Sarah repeated, turning her head to look at him, and there was quiet for long moments, not a sound but the rush of the wind through the stones, before he spoke again.

"Do you want to wake up, Sarah?"

There was something odd about his expression, Sarah thought, and couldn't place what it was. He'd been being odd all through this conversation, really. "Not really."

That drew a smile to his lips -- not the cynical smirk, or the dangerously edged look he wore when he wanted to be amused and couldn't, quite -- but a smile that was strangely small, yet reflected up in his eyes. "Good." He looked out for a moment, his eyes turning bright as his smile sharpened with pleasure, and he gestured with one casual motion, crystals balanced on the other hand. "Look out there... the hedges are migrating."

Sarah turned her gaze to the Labyrinth spread out under them, blinking when she spotted the, yes, walking hedges, a wave of moving dark over the ground. "There used to be a dead end there... " she said quietly, reminiscently. "I suppose that explains a lot about this place."

"Nothing is as it seems in this place," he agreed, watching the hedges rustle their way slowly across the ground, all crawling roots and waving sprigs of branches, smiling as they made their way elsewhere. He wondered to himself if someone would soon be making a wish. The larger movements of the Labyrinth were normally warnings that another mortal was about to try to be rid of a burden they felt unable to hold.

"Do they do this every day?" Sarah watched them nervously as she asked.

"Not every day, no. Though something is always in motion."

"It never stands still. Doesn't that ever get tiring?"

"It would be more tiring if it didn't move. Boring and static and dead, just... walls and halls and nothing real? No, thank you." His mouth was creased with the distaste he felt for that idea, and his voice was sharp.

"Things aren't dead just because you can't see them move," Sarah argued, still watching the hedges wave in the sunshine, all bright green shimmers from the leaves and dark shadows from the trunks...

"The Labyrinth would be," Jareth replied shortly. "Other places can have their still walls and their unmoving walks."

She had to admit he had a point: this was the Labyrinth's own way, and it grew well. She didn't like the place, couldn't entirely look at the hedges without remembering her own frustration and rising panic, but she could admit its boisterous, cheery insistence on its own life was beautiful, in its fashion.

Jareth smiled again as she stopped arguing with him and just watched the hedges as they seemed to reach a consensus that they had found the right new place -- and then began to nudge the walls further apart with impatient brushes against them.

"They're moving the walls?" Sarah asked in amazement, laughing a little as she stared down in disbelief. "No wonder I had such a hard time with this place without Hoggle."

Jareth couldn't help laughing with her, his smile changing into something bright with... what was that? at the incredulous pleasure on her face. "They can be very... insistent on the proper distances between them. Apparently the walls are too close, this time. And what would be new about rock yielding to plant?" He paused for long moments, then spoke again, ruefully. "Now, they do know not to try that with the oldest walls, the inner ones. That was a bad few days before they learned better..."

"The walls are grumbling about it," she answered promptly. "And they aren't... breaking, that's what's new. They're just moving." She tilted her head up at him, looking at that brilliant, almost... happy? smile on his face. She had seen Jareth smiling before, generally when she was making a mistake. She had never seen him smile without that edge of malice. "What happened with those?"

"Their foundations run all the way down to the False Alarms. They don't care to move for any plant. It took five of the goblins to settle that mess, before it was all said and done."

She hadn't expected to get an answer, and wasn't entirely sure why he had told her. She was even less sure if she was glad she had, or more uneasy. Jareth didn't answer questions, he just told more riddles. "Hm. The False Alarms... they like their job, don't they?"

"They do. They were quite pleased you'd gotten yourself down there. It had been a long time since anyone came through the tunnels."

She looked away from him, back over the sprawl of the Labyrinth. "I'm glad I had help with them. I might've listened if I hadn't."

"You might have. You might not have. And you might have found another way, if you had turned back."

"Would I have done it in time?" Her voice was serious, and she shifted again to lean against the balustrade, looking at him.

He thought about it, flipping a crystal back and forth over his hand as he did, and after a small stretch of time, he replied. "... possibly. You're very inventive."

"But possibly not, because I... take things for granted."

"Yes," he agreed, his voice calm. "Or you did, then. Now? You seem better about that."

"After I met you, I worked on it." Sarah wrinkled her nose. "I didn't realize how much the world worked off taking things for granted."

"I'm glad I could be useful, then." His voice was had that same kind of rueful tone as he smiled over at her again. "But of course it does, Sarah."

She closed her eyes, leaning her head back into empty space, sunlight glowing red through her eyelids. Looking at that was easier than looking at the way he smiled... why did he look like that? "It makes life easy. Taking things for granted. And when you're wrong, it's never your fault. God, I was a coward when I was fourteen."

"No. No coward would have beaten me. Child, yes. Foolish and careless. But not cowardly."

She opened her eyes reflexively at the unexpected heat in his voice, flinching away from the sun in her eyes, bringing up one hand to shield her face. "... Thanks."

"Only truth," he said with a slow shrug, as if shaking off her words.

Sarah eyed him from beneath her makeshift visor, wondering what on earth he was thinking, then moved again to watch the Labyrinth, dropping her hand now that the sun wasn't in her eyes. "Why do you do this?"

"Do what?"

"Rule the Labyrinth. Take children. ... Talk to me."

"I am what I was made to be," he shrugged, dismissing that as if not worth another moment's attention, then smiled slyly after a little stretch of time, answering the rest of her question. "I talk to you because I want to. You are a rarity, Sarah." He paused, and spoke again a moment later. "And because you listen, I suppose."

"I'm not that special," she said automatically, shutting up the part of her that was still fourteen and thought she was, then rewound the conversation. "Don't the goblins listen? And -- made?"

"Goblins are many things, but good conversationalists they aren't. Well, most of them. And then, I am their King."

"You mean you don't like listening to people calling you 'Majesty' all day?" Sarah had meant it as a joke, but the comment came out bitter, and hearing her words hang in the air between them she wondered how much of a joke she'd really meant to make.

Jareth's lips skinned back from his teeth for a long moment, before he took a breath and answered her evenly. "It has its perks."

Sarah glanced away from him, and the book's words about entropy -- about the wizardly ways of decreasing it, and the non-wizardly ways of speeding it up -- flickered in her head. Sarah had always had a pretty good memory for lines, and what was in her head now was entropy fed by emotion. By people being bitter, or hateful. "... Sorry."

"Don't worry about it, Sarah. You have reason, after all."

"It was petty, and you haven't done anything to deserve it. This time," she added. "Yet," she finished.

Jareth chuckled quietly, nodding once. "This time, indeed."

"Why am I in the Labyrinth?" If he was going to be so obliging, she was going to keep asking questions. And not think too hard about whatever his reasons were. Jareth was... not useful, was not obliging, did not answer her questions, and why was he changing that now?

"Because I heard you call to it... and because now you're a wizard, so they're going to send you on Ordeal. People die that way."

"Couldn't I have died here?"

It seemed to take a moment for him to answer her. "Did you believe you could?"

Sarah shook her head. "I still thought it was a story, at first. Until the oubliette. The brave heroine never dies in the story."

Jareth's voice was... careful, as he answered. Slow and cautious. "Mmm... not in modern children's fiction, certainly."

"But she used to."

"Those aren't the stories that people like to tell, though." He was either agreeing with her obliquely, or just stating another fact. She was more inclined to believe the second, actually.

"No. I think I liked the stories where she didn't die better. But they're not true."

"Well, they are... they just aren't all of the truth, either."

"I'm here because people die on Ordeal?" She glanced at him, even more confused by that than anything else he had said yet. "Why would that bother you?"

Jareth gave her a long, odd look, as if he was quietly waiting to see if she would put it together herself; then shook his head at her. "If you don't know, why would I tell you?"

"Because I listen." She had known that sooner or later he would stop being obliging; she wished he had waited until he'd answered this question, the core of the rest of them. Why would Jareth care that Sarah was a wizard, why would he care that she would meet worse things than him, why would he care that people died on Ordeal and she might be one of them?

Jareth had terrified Sarah when she was fourteen, an otherwordly apparition gleaming black and glittering silver, and he had never quite stopped terrifying her even though she had only seen him since then in her nightmares. A friendly conversation with him had not been high on her list of probable ways to ever spend her time, and he... had not once been threatening this time. Had not once been anything other than the "kind" he had called himself back then.

She didn't understand, and Sarah hated that. Things were supposed to work the way she expected them to. What was he planning?

He laughed at that, tossing his head back with true humor as he did. When had she learned to read his moods so well, Sarah wondered, that she could tell the difference? "Clever girl. Yes, you do... except when you don't."

Sarah raised an eyebrow, turning again and crossing her arms. "Oh?"

"Mm... if you listened -- or remembered -- you would know..." He looked sideways for a moment. "That dog of yours wants your attention, I think." His voice was wry, almost playful... and faintly, she heard a yip that did not come from the room around them.

Sarah blinked. "Merlin? He's not here -- "

She stirred, irrationally cold, and yelped when a wet nose touched her ear. "Didy -- oh, Merlin, it's you." Sitting up in her own bed, she said, "I'm awake already, huh?"

Reaching to rub at his shaggy ears, Sarah continued musing aloud. "He heard you before I did. It was my dream, and he heard you before I did. I wonder why... "

Sarah knew herself to be the sort of girl who talked to her pets and her stuffed animals and anything else that she wanted to, and they generally talked back. Merlin had been talking to her for years.

She had never heard Merlin say anything quite so prosaic as, "He was probably paying more attention," in a series of yips and quiet barks.

Sarah blinked, startled before she considered the matter. "Well. The book did say I could hear what a plant was thinking. I suppose talking to you is par for the course."

"Yes. You hear me now!" Merlin agreed, wagging everything from his ears back with the pleasure of it.

Sarah smiled. "You were always talking, huh, Merlin?"

"Yes! ...you were good at guessing, before. No guesses now. You hear for real! ... scratch? Ears itch," he added, misery in the roll of his eyes up and the hunch of his shoulders.

Sarah scratched, focusing on the base on Merlin's ears, wishing for a minute her nails were longer so that she could really get the itch that liked to live there, before reminding herself how impractical that would be. "Better?"

"Yes!!!" Again, his entire body wagged.

"How does a walk sound? The park." She wanted to study the book, after running with Merlin to clear her head, and she had always done better studying in the sunshine, away from other distractions.

And the last time she had seen an owl in daylight, it had been in the park. She'd wondered later if it had been Jareth, and had stayed out of the park for a month, just in case. She was sure, now, that it had been.

Merlin bounced energetically, even his nose getting in on the wag of "yes, yesyesyes!!!"

Sarah had to laugh at Merlin's obvious glee. "Give me fifteen minutes, Merlin." Just long enough to tie her hair back and put her shoes back on. It was still bright outside, despite her nap after seeing her friends again. Maybe it hadn't lasted as long as she thought -- and then again, she had gotten up pretty early. She didn't normally sleep the whole day away.

"Walk! Walk walk walk," he barked, then went to bump the door open and thump down the stairs.

Sarah grinned, shaking her head, then reached for her brush. Sometimes she thought seriously about cutting her hair, mostly when she was brushing it after waking up. Today was not one of those times, as it ended up only taking her ten minutes to finish, then she raced downstairs to grab her shoes and Merlin's leash and head for the park.

***

Tom had still been the one who ended up calling Nita, though he had given it until ten that morning in deference to how hard she had worked against the Pullulus. In Tom's view, she had earned at least one morning of sleeping in before the Powers called her in for backup.


Which didn't make it any less exasperating to have to wait for her to pick up.

"Callahan residence, Dairine, whoever you are calling on a Saturday had better make it good." Their young firebrand had apparently reached the phone first.

"Put your sister on the phone," Tom replied, amused at the behavior of even wizarding preteens and teenagers as he pulled the phone away from his ear -- before the yell he knew was coming could deafen him.

"NITA! Tom's on the phone!"

"I'm COMING," Nita bellowed back in the distance, before her much quieter voice came clearly through the phone. "Hi, Tom."

"Hi, Nita. Grab your partner and come over, we've got something that might need you."

Nita's voice was a little wary. "Is this the sort of something that means we can walk, or should we get there a little faster?"

"Don't break spacetime," Tom advised wryly, "but you might want to put a hustle on it."

"Gotcha. Give us ten minutes; I'll run interference with Carmela so Kit can get moving. He's still asleep," she added with the easy knowledge of a wizarding partner, bringing another smile to his lips. They were a good team.

"See you in ten," Tom agreed, and hung back up.

Nita grabbed the toast she had planned on savoring, shoved her shoes on, and ran out the door yelling over her shoulder, "Tell Dad I'm with Kit!"

"Sure!" Dairine yelled back as the door slammed.

She shoved the toast in her mouth as she ran, taking enough time to swallow her last bite before she knocked on Kit's door. Mrs. Rodriguez opened the door, shaking her head as she recognized her, and the signs of hurry. "You'd be wanting Kit, then." She turned her head towards the stairs, holding the door open for Nita as she called, "Niño!"

Nita grinned up at her, breathing a little hard. "Yeah. Thanks." She had to stifle the urge to ask where Ponch was -- it had been so recent, Nita still expected to hear the explosion of barks as Ponch headed her way.

It wasn't but a minute before Kit was at the door, blinking as he saw Nita standing there... or possibly just at the brightness of the light coming in the open door, given that his hair was still a mess from sleep and he was in an oversized T and basketball shorts. "If you'da called, I'd be more with it... hi, Neets."

"I wanted breakfast. Besides, I wouldn't want to miss the approach of the Hair Monster."

"You're not funny," Kit told her sourly as he turned around to head back up. "What brings you this early?"

"Tom has something for us."

"This quick?" Kit asked, twisting around on the stairs to look back at her. "Have I got time for breakfast?"

"I ate a piece of toast on the run," Nita admitted. "And I told Tom ten minutes about four minutes ago."

"Mama, is ther -- "

"I will get food for you, and you too, Juanita," his mother replied, vanishing into the kitchen. "That man, giving you no time to prepare..."

"Gracias, mama," Kit said before he vanished into his room.

Nita took a minute to be very, very grateful to the Powers for Kit's mother and her tendencies to feed people. She also took a minute to sit back down on the couch while she waited for Kit.

He came back down in real clothes and his hair tamed into its current-usual slicked-back fall, and wrapped an arm around his mother when she came out with morning tortillas for them both. Nita eyed her share hungrily. One piece of toast, her stomach was telling her in no uncertain terms, was not good enough next to Mrs. Rodriguez' food. Her conscience was telling her they were going to be late unless they really, really hurried.

Kit held the plate out to her, arching a brow as he said something with his mouth full that she only understood, because she knew him very well, to be, "eat, you need it."

Nita shot him a half-hearted glare – even while she was grabbing her fair share and bolting them down.

"Awright," Kit said as he finished off his share and slung the bag of his usual gear over his shoulder. "Let's go."

"It shouldn't be anything too big," Nita said, to ease the worried look on Mrs. Rodriguez' face. "I mean, I haven't heard of anything major, and I think the Powers are still trying to take it easy on us after the last thing."

"We'll be fine, mama," Kit said as he ducked back to kiss his mother's cheek, then headed out the door into the back yard. They both knew the transit spell by heart, and the coordinates for Tom and Carl's were almost engraved on the backs of their hands, as many times as they'd used them. They still double-checked each other's parts of the spell diagram, quick but thorough, and then started the active spell, feeling it as the universe listened to them... then did what they'd asked it to do.

They landed in the back yard, and Nita still beat Kit out of the circle and to Tom and Carl's door, grinning a little painfully when Annie started barking and tore around the edge of the house.

Kit's eyes closed for a second before he shook the flare of grief off and followed her in, running his hand over Annie's head as Tom came up and got Annie off of him and snapped his fingers at Monty, who promptly turned and jumped up on Nita, slobbering all over her hand.

"You made good time," their Senior said as he pulled the dogs off Nita too, shooing them both away before they went through the doors. "C'mon, Carl's in here."

"Hey, Carl," Nita and Kit chorused in unison, wandering in to sit down. Oddly for one of their appearances in the Seniors' house, Carl wasn't tinkering with some piece of machinery -- and doing it badly -- which meant either that this was very serious, or that Tom had threatened him with something dire if he messed with one more thing this week. "What do They want?" Nita asked.

"Carl, you found this one..." Tom said, willing to yield the floor to his partner.

Carl nodded, glancing at Kit and Nita. "The Powers want you to be backup for an Ordeal."

Kit's startled "Us?" was overrun by Nita's incredulous "Backup? What, we're specializing in that now?"

Tom had to admit that Nita had a point. Between her sister, Darryl, and some other events in their careers, it did almost seem like they were getting a lot of the really strange Ordeals. "This wizard is older than most. We thought you two would be a good match for her, give her a little more power than she has."

"How old is older?" Kit asked, tipping his head to the side.

"Sixteen."

Kit didn't complain aloud, but the 'aw, man,' was written all over his face, and Nita was sure of why. He complained enough about dealing with his older sisters -- a strange teenage girl going through Ordeal was probably about as high on his list of fun things to deal with as a root canal. Not that she really dealt a lot better with the older boys in school...

"They called her at that age?" Nita asked instead of saying any of that, both genuinely curious and trying to get their attention away from Kit's rueful expression. Most of the wizards who went on Ordeal were anywhere from twelve to fourteen -- even the extra year of fifteen cost a wizard in power. Nita had never personally heard of someone being called at sixteen -- at least, not a human person. And she was pretty sure that in most of the other species she normally worked with, the early-teens equivalent was still the more usual age. Every species grew more jaded, less willing to believe, as they aged. But that was one of the traits humans in particular were known for.

"Yeah," Tom nodded. "She had a run-in with one of the... odder entities in our part of reality at a little over the age you took the Oath, Nita."

"Not a servant of the Lone One?" Nita really hoped the answer wasn't yes: she couldn't imagine dealing with Its minions as personally as it sounded like this girl had when she hadn't even been a wizard.

"... not so far as anyone's ever been able to prove. And believe me, more than a few wizards have tried." Tom's voice was threaded with some other emotion as he spoke. "No, 'just' a manifestation of human fear."

Nita blinked, cocking her head to the side. "Run this one by me again?"

"Check your manual," Kit told her, already flipping through his, trusting it to find what he needed to know.

"He won't be in there," Carl told them. "Unless the Powers decided you needed the information in ways we couldn't tell you."

Kit's hand froze as he looked up. "What's not in the Manual?"

"... Things the Powers don't think wizards under a certain level need to know," Tom answered slowly, as if wondering what Kit was thinking. "Wizards have lost their magic before, thanks to finding out about things like him too early."

"Well yeah, Tom," Kit sighed. "I do know it's normally only got what we need to know, but if we're getting sent at something like that..." The young wizard looked at his senior worriedly. "And if it's not in here, are you two really supposed to tell us?"

Carl and Tom looked at each other. "I'm not sending them out against him without at least explaining what he does," Carl said finally. "Whether he's in their manuals or not."

Tom nodded after another fraction of a second. "I'm with you there."

Nita looked at Kit, raising an eyebrow. When Tom and Carl talked with that tone in their voices, Nita had learned to be worried. Kit looked back at her, his dark eyes just as concerned, and waited for their Seniors to start talking to them again.

"You aren't going up against the Lone One," Carl said abruptly. "You aren't even going up against one of Its servants. The Powers have decided that Sarah Williams' ordeal is a rematch with the Goblin King."

"The what now?" Kit asked blankly, glancing at his partner to share a confused look.

But Nita... Nita was sitting completely still. "... you can't mean what I think you do. He can't be real..."

"You've heard of this?" Kit asked, looking at her, seeing... fear? in her expression. That worried him even more than Tom and Carl's tension, He knew very well what it took to make Neets afraid, and he couldn't figure how whatever they were talking about could pull it off if it wasn't even from that One.

One of Tom's dark brows arched just as much as Kit's had, then he looked at his partner. Sometimes the Powers were really not subtle.

Nita shook her head and started to talk to Kit. "When I was a kid, I found this book called Labyrinth. The main character was a princess who had accidentally wished away her little sister and had to run the Labyrinth to get her back. The ruler of it was the Goblin King. I remember having nightmares about that place before my mother convinced me that nobody was going to wish me away, and the goblins couldn't get me if nobody wished me there." Her mouth quirked. "I thought about wishing Dairine away a couple times."

"Thank the Powers you didn't, Nita!" Carl's voice practically snapped with the sincerity in it. He didn't want to even think about what would have happened if Dairine Callahan had never had the chance to take up wizardry. He'd had more discussions with interplanetary Seniors in the last year than he had in most of his career, but she was worth every minute of the hassle just for the result of her Ordeal. The Lone Power had taken the opportunity for redemption her Ordeal had offered, even though from Carl's perspective in time the reverberations were still ongoing... and that was worth more than anyone could say.

Nita slumped slightly, looking up at her Seniors as she tried -- very, very hard -- not to think about what her mother would have said if she had. "I didn't want to run the Labyrinth. And I knew I couldn't just leave her there."

"Well. Our new novice wished her brother away... then ran the Labyrinth and won. That's happened... not even a handful of times since he appeared -- that someone won, we mean."

Nita stared at them. "She won?"

Tom nodded. "She won. And now she has to face him again... we don't know how that's going to start."

"Can someone explain to me why this is so weird to believe?" Kit asked wryly. "So he's a goblin. We've dealt with way worse than a goblin."

"He's not going to be real susceptible to our kind of magic, Kit," Carl said. "We're normally forbidden to interfere with him."

"What?" Nita's voice was sharp, incredulous. "He takes people's kids. Why can't we deal with that?"

"Nita... how does he take them?" Tom asked, looking at her with compassion in his dark eyes as he waited for her to think through it.

"People... oh." Nita sighed, "People wish them away."

Carl nodded slowly, agreeing with her. "Their choice... which is what makes him so dangerous. That and, like I said, he isn't part of our kind of magic."

"What kind of magic is he?" Kit asked sceptically.

That drew a long sigh from Carl and a shake of Tom's head before he answered. "You ran in Tir na nOg, Kit. He's myth."

Nita's head jerked in a sharp nod as she thought it through. "He's a legend. A story. He's just been around for a while -- he's as much a person as we are, by now, probably. Every time that story gets told, it probably makes him more real. Wizardry might not affect him, but we can still use the Speech, right?"

Carl tossed a pleased look and a small flick of a casual salute Nita's way. "There's not a lot of information on his realm, because we're not supposed to interfere. What we do know is it's... more alive than most places. And it's not kind. Be cautious, both of you."

If she could still use the Speech, she'd be all right, Nita told herself, and was pretty sure she was lying at least a little.

"How ba -- " Kit shut up at the look Nita was giving him. "All right, all right."

"How bad was the Lone One's alternate world?" Tom asked quietly.

Kit flinched at the question, at the memories it stirred up, but his head cocked as he kept talking. "You said we aren't dealing with It, though. Maybe I'm just being thick, but I don't see how something that's not even part of It could be worse."

"We can use every wizard we can get. You two know that. And the Powers still gave her over a year to put herself back together after she ran the Labyrinth. I'm not saying it's worse, Kit. Don't get me wrong. I am saying you shouldn't be too cocky. You two have won a lot of battles. That doesn't mean you'll win every time," Tom answered, softly enough that Nita had to strain to hear him.

Kit took a slow breath, then nodded his understanding of what Tom was trying to get through to him. "Overconfidence is stupid. Gotcha."

"We don't know if you can die in the Labyrinth, Kit." Carl had apparently decided to back up the lesson. "We don't know how wizardry behaves there. Most people don't run it, and almost no one wins it. The Goblin King is in our manuals, but even we don't have a lot of information on his kingdom."

Kit nodded again, letting the warning sink in. "All right. So, do we get her name now?"

"Sarah Williams. She should be in your manuals, too -- we don't expect her Ordeal to start immediately," Tom added. "The Powers normally give most wizards a little time to get used to the concept of wizardry. But I would feel better if you three met sooner rather than later."

"... I had what, three days? Kit, you had... a week? Dair -- well." Nita's eyes were sharp, but her voice was amused. "She has to do everything weird, but I'm with you on not taking that chance, Tom."

"According to my manual," Carl put in, "Right now our novice is in Brother Bryant Park. The address is listed, so you can jump there." He looked up, and his eyes were sober. "You two are already listed as auxiliary on Ordeal. She isn't listed as on Ordeal yet, but I imagine from yours it will start soon."

"We're on it, Carl. And we'll be careful," Kit added after a second. "Neets, you have anything you want to grab?"

Nita shook her head. She didn't want to rely too much on wizardry -- besides, most of her big spells she carried the tools for. Just in case. Some of them were in her charm bracelet cache, at home, but those were for specialty spells, not the kind of thing she'd need right now.

"Me either. See you when we see you, Tom, Carl." Kit stood up, stretching.

It was easier for Nita to convince herself that this didn't worry her when Kit seemed so nonchalant. Her partner didn't know anything about what they were going to fight, but his calm made Nita's farewells a lot less shaky than they might've been. It was dumb for her to be this nervous, Nita told herself. She'd beaten the Lone One before. It had to be worse than the Goblin King, even though Nita had still had nightmares about him, even after her mother had calmed her down, until she'd turned thirteen and convinced herself she'd gotten too old to be wished away.

"You okay, Neets?" Kit asked once they were outside and away from their Seniors, arm slung around her shoulder before the words finished, tugging her in against his side for a minute. She'd finally gotten used to him being taller, and right this moment it was a comfort to lean into that height and let his calm settle her down.

"Fine. Just a little nervous," Nita admitted.

"We're just backup," he reminded her, his voice dropped low as he flipped through his manual with his other hand, looking for the location.

"Yeah, and why do the Powers think she needs backup if she's fighting somebody she already beat?" Nita muttered back, not nearly as easy with that as he seemed to be.

"Cause she's got crap for power? And she won't be any more used to this than we are to whatever her problem is?"

"She beat the Goblin King when she didn't have any power," Nita reminded him. "All she's supposed to be doing is going up against him again. Why do They think that will take three wizards when last time it didn't even take one?"

That did give Kit pause. "I dunno. So let's go and find out, huh?"

Nita stopped for a long minute, remembering Fred laughing next to her ear, whispering the same advice where she stood in the endless Now of Timeheart, before she took a breath that shuddered a little. "Let's."

They settled to building another short-distance transit spell with the ease of long practice on the parts they were used to. Their names in the Speech were written into it quick and certain, as was the general outline of the spell -- they used it all the time, after all. Where they took their time was in writing in the specific location they wanted to reach and the rest of the spell's equations, all of which were carefully double-checked before they joined their voices in the spell, matching each other word for word and pace for pace, still racing through the bits they spoke together... the universe bent its ear to listen, and as they finished the spell it took, throwing them from Tom and Carl's backyard into the park where they would find their new wizard and the latest challenge the Powers had seen fit to set them at.


magic continues in Chapter Three

Date: 2009-01-18 02:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] second-batgirl.livejournal.com
Oh, DIDYMUS. *hearts him*

This is still fabulous, and you do such a good job with everyone. *wants the next part*

Date: 2009-01-18 03:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katarik.livejournal.com
:DDDDDDDDDDDDD I adore Sir Didymus, so it's nice to hear that you think I did well with that scene.

*bee hee hee* Next part should come out today.

Date: 2009-01-19 02:36 am (UTC)
ilyena_sylph: picture of Labyrinth!faerie with 'careful, i bite' as text (rhiow answer)
From: [personal profile] ilyena_sylph
Thank you so much, honey! +grins like a fiend+ I am so happy you enjoyed.

Also, it's up.

Date: 2009-01-18 02:58 am (UTC)
sharpest_asp: Nate Ford sitting on a bench, Sophie Devereaux resting against his lap (Default)
From: [personal profile] sharpest_asp
Another brilliant piece.

Date: 2009-01-18 03:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katarik.livejournal.com
*curtseys, grins*

Date: 2009-01-19 02:36 am (UTC)
ilyena_sylph: picture of Labyrinth!faerie with 'careful, i bite' as text (rhiow answer)
From: [personal profile] ilyena_sylph
Thanks baby. glad you're sticking with us through this.

Date: 2009-01-18 07:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] foomf.livejournal.com
Very nice. Seamlessly integrated Sarah and the Wizardry book, and without breaking any of the rules of either universe. Yet.

My suspicion is that her Ordeal is still going to eventually be facing the Lone One, and I have a hopeful suspicion about who and where and what the Choice is going to involve. Not going to speculate too explicitly here, in prevention of spoilers.

Date: 2009-01-18 03:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katarik.livejournal.com
Emphasis on yet... ? Heh.

Word of God does tell us that the Lone One can choose to abstain from an Ordeal, of course, but what fun would *that* be?

Date: 2009-01-18 07:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] foomf.livejournal.com
I believe that the one thing that makes Wizards special from anyone else who has the Speech or who uses some other kind of magic is that Wizards are the answer to the Lone Power. They exist to fight entropy, decay, death, the gifts of the Lone Power, and their vow immediately pits them against the Lone Power ... hence the Ordeal.

So, yeah, while I see that Sarah's ordeal _appears_ to be unusual, with no confrontational face-off with the author of evil (even an urbane, beginning-to-be-redeemed author of evil) ... it's going to be there, somewhere. Hopefully so subtle that it's not going to be obvious until the reveal at the anticlimax. :)

Date: 2009-01-18 08:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katarik.livejournal.com
*grins* I am sitting on my hands to avoid telling you whether or not you are right.

Date: 2009-01-19 02:37 am (UTC)
ilyena_sylph: picture of Labyrinth!faerie with 'careful, i bite' as text (rhiow answer)
From: [personal profile] ilyena_sylph
+grins+ thank you so much. We try to stay within the rules of the 'verses. What's the fun in not?

+grins again+ I do hope you enjoy her Ordeal.

And thank you very much for sticking around with it.

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