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Elspeth Empyrean

The newly-coronated Empyrean

0 · 132 views · located in The Underground

a character in “Labyrinth: New Tales of the Underground”, as played by Fear of a Female Planet

Description

The Newly-Crowned Empyrean
The Celestial Cloudwalker
Queen of the Stratosphere


Description
Age they appear and/or are: Looks to be about 28 human years; her real age is unknown, but is approaching wiser years by Empyrean standards.

Physical Description: A typical Empyrean, Elspeth possesses a healthy complexion sustained by their constant exposure to the clearest sunlight the sky has to offer. However, it's traditional that Empyrean royalty never descend upon "The Ground" without wearing a full mask regalia. Her repertoire of masks is full of variety and colors to suit her moods and intentions when she emerges from the kingdom to discuss important matters with other councils and rulers. At home in The Empyrean she doesn't wear the mask; with brown hair and brown eyes and a rare but pleasant smile.

Image

Personality

Personality: Elspeth has been trained to possess an expressionless shell and to apply a sense of humor and dosages of personality where necessary in order to be a smooth, efficient, bold, and patient leader. She's learned to take emotions out of decisions and to be decisive and determined. Her inner core, on the other hand, exists as a sensitive, thoughtful person with unbridled interest in the arts, writing, history, and geography. However, this side of her she only shows to a select few, either in her family or her most closest circle of friends and confidantes.


Equipment
Mask when below The Empyrean, ancient compass kept as a good luck charm

History

History: Elspeth's life has been spent preparing for her recent coronation, after both of her parents passed away. She is the sole heir to The Empyrean and is wresting with the idea of needing to designate heirs for the kingdom's future. For now she is content to deliberate over the fate of the kingdom and its neighbors.

Currently, she's infuriated with the way that Jareth has put their world in jeopardy by opening it to glimpse by a human, and fears a decline in the power and balance that all kingdoms have held for hundreds of years. She'll stop at nothing to ensure that Jareth's title is revoked and his powers taken away, in order to keep peace.


Magical Ability (if any): Royalty from The Empyrean thrive in light, and even possess a strange glow about them when below the kingdom, especially while visiting The Underground. This creates an air of mystery and surrounding folklore. While they do not in fact have any real magic abilities, their cultural emphasis on serenity and study of non-verbal communication makes them appear reflective and wise, almost even clairvoyant.

So begins...

Elspeth Empyrean's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ozias Sayer

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ozias Sayer

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Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ariadne

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ariadne

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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ariadne

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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ariadne

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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jareth The Goblin King Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ariadne

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The castle was far too high over the clouds to ever experience anything except for the brightest sunshine during the day or the starriest dark at night. It looked below on rain and lightning, on snow and thunder, even the occasional cyclone that passed by The Land of Oz.

Elspeth looked downward from the white windows, her skin showing yellow-white in the light as the moon traded places with the sun. She hadn't enjoyed her coronation celebrations as much as she'd hoped to; after all, the circumstances of being crowned The Empyrean weren't pleasant. Her father had been sick for some time and her mother had only recently died suddenly. They spoke to her for hours on end about ruling and the considerations that must be made while doing so. Some of it she understood, and some of it she really didn't... but, perhaps those questions were supposed to be cleared up as time passed on. Her father had once wisely told her that not all leaders know the right answers, and that it's only natural to be wrong at least every once in a while.

The door knocked. She smoothed down her long white tunic and turned to face the noise.

"Elspeth?" Sayer asked as he opened the huge wooden door and stepped just a pace inside her outer apartment. "Your guests are looking for you."

She nodded and put a hand on a nearby table. "But I'm busy," she said through a sigh, bringing her fingernails up to investigate them. "There's much that needs to be done."

"I'd anticipated you saying that," he said sing-songily, pointing a finger at her. Behind his back he pulled out a flask. "Which is why I made sure you weren't going to miss out on the blackberry mead that was send up from Below."

Elspeth's face lit up. Of all the fruit located far away on The Ground, blackberries were her favorite. "Oh, thank you, Zi!" she said brightly. "How considerate and kind of you."

He pulled up a chair and grinned as he flicked his blonde hair out of his bright eyes. "Don't mention it," he said as he pulled two cups from the center of the table and poured the contents of the flask within. He raised his cup into the air, nodding in a faux-worship manner. "'My Empyrean!'" he squelched, mocking the priest who'd bestowed the honor upon her. "'For nothing of this world shines such as you.'"

Elspeth rolled her eyes and took a sip of the mead. Its sweet tones aired gently through her nose. That had to be Queen Bee Honey bonding the flavor together... and there was only one place that came from. "This came from The Enchanted Forest," she remarked astutely.

"Aye," he affirmed. "The Knights of the Labyrinth send this to you, with their blessings."

Elspeth's face fell just slightly. "Even Jareth?"

Sayer stopped suddenly. "Why, yes," he admitted. Why didn't he just say something else? "Jareth also dispatched this, I suppose."

Elspeth stared at her glass for a long moment, then finally opted to drink the whole thing down in one attempt. "That was the finest thing he's ever done for anyone," she added wryly after dabbing a white cloth on her lips to soak up any leftover purple-gold liquid. "I'm most concerned."

Sayer tilted his head and sighed. "You are truly fixated on serving Jareth justice," he said resignedly. "It's all you talk about."

"What he did was dangerous," Elspeth insisted darkly, pulling the white window frames off of their latches and shutting them against the sky for the night.

Sayer lit a candle, and casually walked about the room, connecting the small flame to lanterns intended to illuminate the large room. "I rather like Jareth," he volunteered with a grin. "Never much of a man for combat. But his sense of humor is far better than yours."

Elspeth offered him a sharp glare. "As long as Jareth is still permitted to conduct his activities in the fashion he does, the realm just isn't safe," she rattled for what must have felt like the eighteenth time. She remembered the havoc caused when Sarah Williams was brought into their world. Sarah was a lovely girl, and Elspeth admired her tenacity and headstrong nature, so it wasn't Sarah that she blamed. She blamed Jareth for the scare, for the terror it caused those in Empyrean.

"Patience," Sayer said as he set the candle down and stood in front of the table. He patted the hilt of his sword and nodded to her. "Perhaps you'll have your chance to make your case. But in the meantime, I've got a door to watch and you've got to get rest for your first day as Empyrean."

Elspeth smiled feebly at her older cousin. She did feel tired. "Thank you, Zi," she offered quietly. "See you tomorrow."

On the next day, Elspeth's white and gold robes flew behind her like fire in the wind as she sped unattended through the old halls of the castle. Her strong jaw was stiff and her eyes blazed ahead, burning amber with frustration.

Her hands pushed the door to her counsel chambers, the wood banging against the stone wall. Sayer and a small group of elderly wise men were gathered around a large table studying a map and a letter. They all looked up at her when she entered.

"When were you planning to discuss the nature of a certain invitation to The Goblin City?" she fumed. She stood before them and folded her bare arms, and noticed the invitation itself laying flat on the table.

"Your Grace, we were—" one white-bearded advisor attempted.

"This is unacceptable!" she pitched, staring each man directly in their eyes as she studied their faces. "Under no circumstances is a dispatch from The Underground ever to be circulated like this before I am consulted."

No one said anything. Not even Sayer, as he stood quietly at the table for the duration of the long silence. Elspeth's angry stare wasn't helping. "Your Grace?" he finally stated politely.

She shot him a nearly-poisonous glance. "Keeper?" she responded, opting to call him by his formal court title rather than the nickname she'd given him as a child. 

"If you'd like to have a word with me about the developments, I'd be happy to provide you with the latest news," he volunteered smoothly.

She eyed him stoically before nodding. He was giving her a way to save face after what he must have perceived to be a breach in politeness. "Please wait outside in the hall until you are summoned," she managed calmly to the four older men. They wordlessly exited, their footsteps and the shutting of the door the only noises heard for several seconds.

Sayer let out a long sigh. "Elspeth, you certainly have a way with words," he mused aloud with a broad smile. "You've no idea how nervous you've made them. What's got you so rattled beyond recognition?"

She wanted to laugh. She did. But there was pressing business. "What's this that I hear about a ball in The Goblin City?" she inquired. To-the-point.

Sayer nodded. "Yes, and we're attending," he said simply, smiling as he offered Elspeth the invitation from the table.

She reached out a small hand and took it quickly, reading it over and inspecting every inch of it. "Why were we invited?" she asked aloud. "I've never been there. To The Underground, I mean. Why would I want to go?"

"Because The Labyrinth is a unique place in the world," he assured her. "And it's better to visit as an honored guest than as an unwelcome visitor."

She shook her head. "I can't go down there," she insisted. "Not after what happened."

Sayer gestured toward one of the ornate wooden chairs in the middle of the room. "Please?" he offered with a smile. "I'd like to discuss this with you."

Elspeth wove her way toward the chair and politely stood by it, gesturing similarly to another chair beside her. "What is there to discuss?" she asked mildly, her eyes betraying the frenzy ensuing in her mind.

Sayer nodded as they both took their respective chairs. "The Centennial Ball is a tradition," he said. "Your parents used to attend annually."

"Was it always held in The Goblin City?" she asked with staid curiosity.

He shook his head. "No, it's a revolving honor," he affected. "But that's the idea. It's an honor. We are attending. In fact, this ball was held in The Empyrean before you were born. I remember. I was a very small child."

Elspeth shook her head. "Zi, I don't think that will be appropriate," she spoke bluntly in an attempt to be commanding.

Sayer rolled his eyes. "You're never willing to provide details about Jareth's apparent offense against you outside of the Sarah Williams incident," he observed tacitly.

"The plague," she fired back quietly, "the plague is what-"

"That was never proven," Sayer volleyed in return, "and you know it. Why do you despise Jareth so much? You've never even met him in person."

Her eyes blinked glossily at him for several seconds. "No, I've never met him in person," she confirmed. "I know all that I need to know about him and his ways."

Sayer sighed. "You really ought to be focused on finding someone to spend the rest of your life with that you don't constantly find yourself wanting to throw off the Skybridge," he chastised. "That is far more important than Jareth. For the last several weeks you've been conducting the kingdom's business in an orderly, fair fashion. Today you're simply not being yourself."

Elspeth bristled and opened her mouth to say something, but caught herself and held back. She paused as she looked at him. "You're right," she quietly stated, her eyes looking out at the golden sky through the huge pane of glass positioned at the front of the room. It was no use trying to get Sayer on her side. The real story was much too embarrassing. "There are plenty more important things." She cast a look back at her cousin. "And you're right. The Empyrean would look silly if it wasn't in attendance." She looked down at her own hands. "And you always talk about how you're so fond of Jareth."

Sayer laughed. "Oh, so I'm trying to force you to go to this event so that I can spend time with my comrade in The Underground?" he quipped. "Your sense of humor sometimes, Elspeth."

She cracked a smile. "I do what I can," she chirped. "I can't guarantee that I'll have a good time."

Sayer laughed again. "That's all right," he assured, "having a good time is never anyone's primary purpose or mission at a setting such as this. These events are tedious and silly." He sighed. "I personally do lament that it's being held in The Goblin City. I'm sure their local women are absolutely hideous," he added with a twinkle in his eye.

Elspeth laughed through her nose. "Zi, you never have a shortage of things to say," she crinkled.

He smiled and stood from his seat. "I hate to overrule you here, Elspeth, but I must insist that we maintain relations with other kingdoms on The Ground," he said resignedly. "You'd advise that anyone in your position do the same."

She also stood. "I suppose I'll have to decide which masks to bring," she thought aloud. "And what to attend the ball in. I wore my silver ensemble at the last one a few months ago. Something different this time."

Sayer shrugged. "As long as I don't have to wear a dress, you can pick what you like," he sighed. "Just remember your mask."

~@~

Ariadne's favorite pastime when not concocting her secret spells and potions, was to eavesdrop on everything going on among the Empyrean. Ariadne was a very good spy. And paid attention to every whisper, every word, every secret sordid thing that went on in the castle and sometimes beyond it. Ariadne insisted upon knowing everything at all times and as a result she had gotten into the habit of using her skills of sorcery to never sleep or hunger or thirst. she was like a piece of well maintained marble. Beautiful, timeless, and fixed.

Ariadne had been around a long time. Much longer than anyone suspected. Longer than Elspeth or Ozias, longer than Elspeth's parents. She had been Elspeth's mother's nursemaid as an infant and rocked the child to sleep weaving her magic and biding her time. Ariadne had of course disappeared from public view from time to time for appearances sake and had occasionally altered her appearance and age to accommodate the belief that she was the accumulation of many generations before her when really she had used her secret magic to live on.

In this time and place she was Elspeth's personal servant and handmaiden. A position she'd served in to Elspath's mother before her untimely death. Her present position was one Ariadne had carefully cultivated. It was a place of great privilege, honor, and trust though Ariadne was neither honorable nor particularly trustworthy by nature, Nevertheless she gave off an air of absolute devotion and demure loyalty when she secretly felt no such thing for anyone out side of herself.

Naturally Ariadne Had been eavesdropping most of the morning. She particularly liked when Elspeth's advisers were trying to keep things from her, or better yet when they were trying to make choices for their leader without her full consent. the fact that an invitation had arrived regarding the High Council's Centennial Ball was of peak interest to her. Specifically for the fact of where in the underground the festivities were to be hosted.

Ariadne knew enough about the Goblin Kingdom to realize its vast potential and untested power. And Ariadne hungered to grasp a piece of that power for herself. while she had long delighted in manipulating events within the Empyrean empire. Ariadne wanted more than the lofty sky kingdom could offer alone. She wanted to rule and she wanted to rule something less fleeting then the dying culture of the Empyrean that was only vaguely aware of their own long overdue decay. 

About the only person she absolutely knew that she had to be careful of was Oziar Sayer. He was not a stupid man nor was his loyalty and honor easily bought. There was many a time when Ariadne wished to simply kill him and be done with it. But ever patient she knew it would be easier and more effective to get rid of Elspeth's guardian and potential inheritor in a more conventional and less incriminating way. So she did nothing but stay away from him and present the most stoic and glossy surface she could muster whenever he was around. A surface that like smooth water under moonlight was mirror reflective instead of revealing.

Ariadne did not need to spy to know that Elspeth would be furious that morning once she got wind of what had been going on right under her nose. And sure enough the young woman was furious and no doubt behaving in a highly uncooperative manner.

Now Ariadne needed only to wait and enjoy the resulting calamity. Ever the dutiful servant, for Ariadne was very good at fulfilling her role, the middle aged woman waited stoically in Elspeth's chambers and in an anticipatory manner had ordered the lesser servants to fetch the Empyrean several of her mask cases, more then a dozen, that each housed three to five masks of varying decoration, colors, size, and grandeur. Most had been apart of the royal family's collection for centuries and there was at least one for every generation that had been born.

Ariadne waited silently for the impending storm, oh how she relished conflict in all its many forms.

Elspeth opened the large doors to her inner chambers later in the evening and sighed as she closed the large doors behind her. She stood in one place for a few moments, shutting her eyes and reflecting on the day.

She hadn't meant to lose her temper in front of her advisors; after all, serenity was the value that The Empyrean treasured the most. But Sayer was there to come to the rescue. As always. She didn't always like how Sayer could just be so bossy, telling her that she needed to do something that wasn't at all in line with what she actually wanted to do--but usually he was right, and had her best interests in mind.

Elspeth drifted over to her small vanity table, sitting down on its cushioned stool and staring at herself in the mirror. Her large brown eyes were ashy with fatigue, and uncharacteristic dark circles were appearing under her eyes. She reached her fingers up to massage her cheekbones distractedly as she stared ahead, inspecting her tired face. Her eyes then drifted to the mirror's ornate frame... the mirror that her mother used to sit in front of when Elspeth was a little girl, playing on the floor close by, watching the former queen have her hair fixed, practice speeches, or even stare just like this at the end of long, difficult days. The same white marble table with the reflective glass surface. The same scratches on the table's leg where the stool had hit too many times as generations of Empyrean queens had done those very same things for millennia. 

She blinked back a tear and choked back a sigh. She missed her mother dearly.

Elspeth then drew her spine up straighter, and unpinned her hair. "Ariadne," she called out softly. She'd even inherited her mother's handmaiden, a golden-haired woman who embodied the very ideals of serenity as The Empyrean so loved. Her own former handmaiden, Teiss, was relegated to being an attendant at court. While she missed Teiss' friendship that they'd enjoyed every day for over 15 years, she couldn't help but feel far more like a real queen when Ariadne was attending to her. There was something very special about her, indeed. "Could you please assist me with my hair?"

Ariadne as always was at the ready to serve her mistress. When she stepped behind Elspeth, it was as if she'd been there all along. Ariadne undid the intricate seed pearl strands that had been carefully braided through the woman's hair. Undoing the intricate design without causing any discomfort as she loosed Elspeth's hair. 

"Do allow me to brush it through for you. You'r mother was very fond of this ritual with you when you were a little girl. She was always so proud of how you would hold so still. She would remark to me often how she knew you would one day become a great leader of our people whether you chose to sit upon the throne or not." The statement was true.

Whenever possible Ariadne preferred to employ the tactic of real truth, fore it tended to better mask other denials and lies she might have otherwise employed in other situations.

"Don't worry about the events of the Goblin Kingdom. I know you will represent our people with all the grace, beauty, and wisdom that has been your heritage and birthright since the beginning of time. In fact, I think you will find yourself quite apt to turn every head who gazes upon you and that is a mighty power indeed. But not the only gift, nor the most important one, at your disposal. Have you decided upon the Mask you will wear?"

Elspeth smiled. Ariadne always seemed to know what to say to make her feel better. While she lacked Teiss' subversive sense of humor and vibrant personality, she possessed such an aura of elegance. At times Elspeth wondered if Ariadne remotely had any Empyrean royal blood running in her veins.

"Thank you, Ariadne," Elspeth responded softly, her face folding into an appreciative smile. "That's very thoughtful of you." She paused as she let her handmaiden's long, pale hands pull the ivory-handled and boar bristled hairbrush through her long brown hair. There was nothing as refreshing as the feeling of calmness and poise that came with a head of fully-brushed hair.

Finally, she cast a glance at the window. They'd be traveling soon. "As for the gowns..." Elspeth started, trailing off as she caught a glimpse of the aurora borealis beginning to fan itself over the western portion of the sky. She permitted herself a smile. The Empyrean possessed all the beauty of other parts of the world, and more. Her empire was truly breathtaking... She caught herself quickly. "I simply cannot decide. We will be there for days. I do love my emerald ensemble. And the white with red lace." She drew in a deep breath, and the thought of Jareth and his transgressions crossed her fatigued mind. "It'll be important that I make the most striking and commanding presence that I can," she added wryly.

"Yes, my lady. If you wish it, it is sure to be so." Ariadne affirmed, having no doubt in her own mind that the woman would surpass her own expectations.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: Jareth The Goblin King Character Portrait: Madam Mim Character Portrait: Joby Jones Character Portrait: The White Huntress Character Portrait: Hoggle the Dwarf Character Portrait: Queen Mab Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ozias Sayer Character Portrait: Scheherazade Character Portrait: Ariadne Character Portrait: Marten Gwyndion Character Portrait: Prince Dedric of Astraea Character Portrait: Magdalene

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YOU KNOW YOU'RE A NOTHING CHILD" snarled a towering black dragon. Joby couldn't figure out if it was growing larger or if she was shrinking smaller. She tried to run but her legs wouldn't budge.

"WHAT ARE YOU EVEN GOOD FOR? the creature roared FOR BEING ANOTHER BURDEN I HAVE TO CARRY THANKS TO YOUR DEAD BEAT FATHER? FOR BEING A BLACK STAIN IN MY LIFE? LOOK AT YOU WITH THAT BLANK, STUPID FACE! ARE YOU EVEN THERE? HELLOOO! ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING? ANSWER ME!"

The dragon stepped closer, its march causing the earth to tremble. All she wanted to do was to turn and flee, but she was helpless.

Yeah, you just keep sitting there staring into space. said the dragon leaning in close, its eyes glowing a smoldering red "I have something that will get your attention." With that, it reared its head back, opened its mouth, and released a fury of fire.

Suddenly, Joby was eight years old again sitting in an unsteady dining chair in a cramped, yellowed kitchen that reeked of smoke and burned tar. She could feel a hot pain in her left arm, she looked up to see a pair of watery, crazed blue eyes burning a hole right through her soul as sure as the cigarette was burning through her skin.

Her eyes snapped open.

She could vaguely make out the large, wooden beams above her. She sighed and tried to relax back into her pillows.

Seventeen years later and that last night still haunted her.

She could remember the torrent of insults as she sat stock still facing the window, eyes fixated on what looked like a barn owl perched on the fence around her yard. Her mother stepped in front of her blocking her view as she carried on while Joby chose another means of escape by creeping back inside her own mind. It would be after that first and only incident of physical abuse, after her mother shut herself back up in her bedroom, after Joby crawled into her own bed made of layers and bed sheets and old clothes, that she would be taken away by a bizarrely dressed man and left sleeping on the front porch swing of her future parents twenty-five miles away with a note asking them to take care of a girl with a name that wasn't hers.


She tried to go back to sleep, but she could hear the bustling of activity outside. Inside, things were quiet which meant that Mag had already gone. This would be the day all the the kingdoms were to arrive at the castle. Today was also the day Finchie had told her that her dress would be finished. In exchange for her labor, she only wanted something simple. No embellishments or fancy accents necessary. After all, she planned to simply blend in and just enjoy watching the spectacle. She felt like a party crasher even going in the first place, but Mag invited her, and there was no way she was skipping out on the chance to see people and creatures from the whole Underground. She also looked forward to actually looking like a proper lady for a change with dirt-free nails and tidy hair. The commotion outside got to be too much. She sprung to her feet and threw open her window. The early morning air nipped at her face with its chilly breath, and she fetched a shawl which she threw over her dressing gown. She took her perch at the window sill, letting one leg dangle outside over the wall. Still bleary-eyed, she gazed across the city, almost jumping at the sight of the sudden straight path cutting through the twists and turns right to the castle which also looked possibly bigger or brighter than she had remembered it looking yesterday.

"It's absolutely garish, I do agree." Jareth had a way of seemingly just being there suddenly in the presence of people.

Half the time it was simply that people didn't notice him right away or that he didn't wish them too which was almost the same thing.

"I think you would not be surprised by how much effort it took me to get the maze to formulate that pattern. Not surprisingly its very sticky about matters of its own defense." Jareth was leaning his back into the wall just next to Joby's window sill with his arms crossed as he looked out along with her over his maze still rather bemused that he'd convinced the labyrinth to open itself up the way it had. It was perhaps the first time in centuries if ever that the maze had such a obvious and direct path running through if.

Joby jumped with a squeak and grasped the window frame to keep from falling back onto the floor. She spun around and glanced up to discover the Goblin King standing just behind her.

"My room has a perfectly functioning door you know," she said as she regained a normal pulse. She had been told that the man had quite the knack for appearing out of the blue, but she never expected to receive such a visitation. She tried to smooth her stubborn curls as she got to her feet. He was lucky to catch her awake.

The fact that he began to talk to her so casually took her by surprise, but she decided to go along with it. She also heard plenty about his frequently shifting moods. She took a bow before turning her attention back outside.

"I can imagine. Even now, I can feel her discomfort." Her brows drew together and her lips tugged down in a frown. "I don't like it either."

The tension in the city was so palpable that she felt her own uneasiness grow. She tried to shake it off, straightening her shoulders and facing her visitor.

"You know I ca-"

The familiarity of his face caught her off guard momentarily.

I swear I know that face...those eyes.

She found her words again.

"I can't say that I would have ever expected you to drop by here, Your Majesty. Is it Mim? Do you have any news?"

The tone of her voice struggled between hope and disappointment.

Jareth noted silently how Joby refered to the Labyrinth as a her. Was it possible that she so instictually understood the moods and personality of the great maze? possible and very unusual. Jareth also noted that Joby had a different feel to her than when they'd first met. She felt like one of them, instead of like an outside intruder. Such adaptability and calibration to the underground was surprising in such a short ammount of time. It was almost as if she'd been born to there world.

The familiarity he felt towards her also caught Jareth off guard. while he was accustomed to dropping in on people as if they were already in the middle of a conversation, with Joby it somehow felt like an old conversation had been interrupted and that it was one Jareth instinctually kept trying to continue with her without remember what the original dialogue had been.

"She is a trifle unhappy with me but end the end she knows perfectly well that I serve her first above anyone else." he said it lightly and then changed the subject quickly. " I have it on good authority that Magdalene has invited you to the ball and that you have a lovely dress and everything. I also see that you're doing well under the curcimstances. you've made friends as most girls like yourself are apt to do...But I do believe I still owe you some consideration as a guest in my kingdom that I perhaps had not thought to extend to you before. To this end I would like very much if you would consider joining my private party during the ongoing festivities over the next few days." Jareth tried to ask casually but since he really did need her to agree there was a tinge of urgency in the request.

"Mim will be required to be there and the benefit of you being in my party means we will both have our chance to deal with her together since she's taken it upon herself to meddle with us both simultaneously." Jareth debated the wisdom of telling her more then this but ultimately he figured it would be better if she understood that by agreeing to his request she was taking on a role of some importance.

"There's something else...Im asking this of you as a personal favor to the kingdom if not to me. The labyrinth has always served as a connection point between our worlds. It's my duty to faithfully represent that union in my party. For all intents and purposes you are currently the best representative I could ask for to stand in for the Above. Will you agree to join my party and stand up with me when needed? It's very important and it must be your choice."

"As does the rest of the kingdom I believe," commented Joby thoughtfully. Despite whatever choices he made in recent years, the goblins seemed to hail the man as a fine leader of their kind.

She smiled at what she perceived to be a change in the man's attitude toward her and his unexpected gift of courtesy and kindness. Her heart leapt at the notion of being a special guest, but she kept a lid shut firmly over her excitement as to not make herself seem silly in the Goblin King's presence.

She felt slightly apprehensive about facing Mim again mostly because she wasn't sure if the woman was entirely at fault for her presence in the labyrinth. After hearing about the usual methods that people had used to arrive to the Underground, Joby questioned how exactly she managed to arrive. Sure, Mim facilitated the trip, but sometimes Joby felt as if maybe, possibly, she had been...invited. When she saw the city through the crystal in her shop, she remembered feeling a pull of sorts, like a powerful, invisible hand motioned her to come inside and she happily obliged. Still, Mim had intended to stir trouble, and Joby wasn't going to take any hostility towards the city that had accepted her as one of their own.

Her initial excitement faltered a little at Jareth's final request. Already, people from the Underground were crowding into the city, people that would surely be watching. For all of her grandiose daydreams and wishes, Joby really didn't do so well in the spotlight. She thought about standing there in her simple gown, in her mortal, boring body before a crowd of ageless, powerful beings all with the ability to look right through her, measuring up her inadequacies. She looked back out the window, Jareth's request echoing out into the walls like a desperate plea, as if they were asking the same. Joby swallowed, realizing that this was her chance to return the kindness the city and her new friends had granted her.

She breathed in, put on a brave face, and nodded.
"I'd be honored," she said sincerely.

~@~

Now that the festivities had begun in the kingdom the castle beyond the goblin city loomed ominously upon its hill at the center of the Labyrinth. All its banners representing past rulers flying except for Jareth. Jareth had no banner perhaps because he did not consider himself a real king nor was he. The goblin king had more in common with his Goodnaighbor cousins and was both a man and a magical being, regonized and also disregarded as someone of any real importance outside of the great maze. Jareth prefered matters that way and had worked very hard over the centuries to keep his exact activities and purposes shrouded in obscurity. But now the worth of his kingdom was destined to be put on display and whether the other powers believed in him or not no one could dispute the hearty magical significance of the Labyrinth or the castle that stood in the center of it.

Jareth had ensured in his protection of the castle's greatest secrets and properties that once people entered the main hall, any time they tried to go anywhere outside of their designated quarters or one of the great mirrored ballrooms, the would find themselves back where they started. Even queen Mab herself was expected to respect the castles boundaries unless invited by Jareth to do otherwise. While this meant that guests had limited access to the castles interior, most were free to enjoy the pavilions and gardens Jareth had linked directly to specific exit points within the castle's grounds and everyone was informed that it was I'll advised to walk the maze itself and it had its own interests that were not completly within Jareth's control. Respect of the magical nature of the kingdom was paramount and edicts regarding the matter had been passed down by the High Council on Jareth's behalf.

the other purpose to limiting guests to the ballrooms and their personal quarters within their specific groups was to avoid any unwanted conversation. If people wanted to whisper and plot Jareth saw no reason to give then the advantage of privacy in his own home. The ballrooms had any number of corners and semi sequestered area for people to whisper and plot with each other. Whether they realized it or not the goblins would be carefully listen and would report anything of interest to Jareth as the need to know occurred. while the goblins wouldn't catch everything, they would do their best and Jareth himself would be highly attentive to the goings on around him.

Now the great hall was already filled with people nd the rooms in use would accommodate as many an nessisary without ever seeming cramped. everyone would have as much breathing room as they required with perhaps the exception of Jareth himself who would not have the luxury of being comfortable no matter what kind of mask he put on for his observers benefit.

the first order of business was to greet every great household personally as they arrived, with queen Mab and the rest of her Council and entourage due to arrive last since it was they who were really the guests of honor and Jareth only the host kingdom. After speaking with Joby Jareth had informed her that Hoggle, Sir Didymus, and the others would meet her and escort her to the castle to sit in his party. She was instructed to remain silent until Queen Mab arrived and formally acknowledged them.

Jareth would be in his most menacing attire that day.

Dressed in his full black firm fitting goblin armor that made his shoulder mantel and heavy embroidered cape make him look much taller, much more feral, and much more menacing then he'd perhaps looked in years. Once again Jareth had fashioned his hair in a large wild mane and one could have almost sworn his teeth and ears looked slightly more pointed then usual making all who looked upon him forget that he had any real humanness to him. the horned amulets he always wore was hidden but its emblem rose up upon his breast plate. Jareth was in peak form, his very life force permeating much othe the space because his magic was so tightly woven into everything around everyone. there could be no question who was lord and master in this place and first impressions were important. If Jareth was to be seen Asa villain and dark sorcerer by most of the people in attendance then that was the role he would cast himself in for the moment. everyone was taken back by his presence, even is own subject who had not seen the Goblin King put forth so much effort and ability in recent memory.

Everything was in place. Everything was ready to be set in whatever motion the other players wished things to flow. Jareth had decided he would not fight against the tides of fate nor would he cower before anyone. Queen Mab would expect the very best from him and he could feel her power, even now, pressing up against his own weighing and measuring him.

Jareth was the Goblin King and there was a reason he had dominion over one of the most important if misunderstood species in the underground. He would live up to people's first expectations of him and turn the rest on their ear when the time was right.
Try as she might, Joby could not loosen the knot that coiled tightly around the pit of her stomach. She sat in one of the stools in Mag's kitchen, hands clasped on the table, a nervous thumb drumming against her wrist. Today was the day. For two weeks, she had walked along the Goblin City as a nurturing friend and accepted visitor. Now she was to be elevated as a symbol, as a physical representation of what made the ancient city and integral and necessary part of the Underground. It was an honor and a privilege that she felt unworthy of bearing.

She didn't even know what was to be expected of her, if she were capable of achieving those expectations, how she was to conduct herself, which fork was she to use for the main course.

She had to step outside.

She padded barefoot out the back door into Mag's little gated garden. In the open air she could breathe. She leaned against a pillar, next to which say a scrubby little bush covered in yellow flower buds. She reached out to touch one.

I bet you look lovely in full bloom, she thought.

Just as the notion crossed her mind, the the petals of that bud sprung open, the others quickly following suit.

Joby gasped, whipping her hand back. She stared at the flowers, then down to her open palm, then back to the flowers, then once more at her hand. She flexed her fingers. She didn't feel any sort of odd sensation. Was this normal? Was it a good thing? A bad thing?

She heard a sudden loud knocking from the front door. Finchie had arrived with the dress.

She chalked up the incident as something typical and entirely harmless before pushing the thought from her mind and running back inside.

Finchie strode inside as soon as she opened the door. The old goblin carried a small satchel and wore a wide, toothy smile.

"I hope I'm not late, honey" she said. "So many damn outsiders crowding about, interruptin' how we carry on here, not ta mention the walls having been shifted about to accommodate, took my usual route and nearly wandered into the Forbidden Forest. However, I have yer dress and I think you're going ta be quite pleased."

"You're an absolute saint, Finch. Um, where is it?"

Finchie winked and opened her satchel. A dark green bird made from what appeared to be some sort of fabric leapt out and began flapping around the room.

"Now, I know yew said you wanted somethin' simple, but I 'ad a feelin' the king was going to ask you to be our representative, so I made a few changes to the original design. A girl like yew shouldn't have ta face the High Council in something so dreadfully plain. I have ta say, this is one of my proudest creations."

With that, she snapped her long, wiry fingers and in a poof of smoke the fabric bird unraveled and tranformed into the most stunning gown Joby had ever laid eyes on.

She took a couple steps back, hand over her heart and slowly shook her head.

"Oh, Finchie....th-this is too much...Oh, I couldn't possibly....you really shouldn't have gone through all the-"

"Trouble, honey? Nonsense! Yew know Jareth ain't the only one here capable of performing a few tricks. It took no time ta whip up this beauty. Now I didn't make it fer ya just to stand there and gawk at all day! Put 'er on!"

Joby circled around the creation that hovered motionlessly above the floor.

"I don't even know how to get in it."

Finchie shrugged. "Like this I reckon."

She waved a hand, and in one fluid motion, Joby's clothes were whipped from her body and the gown glided across, the fabric going right through her until it hung perfectly from her shoulders. Another wave of Finchy's hand, and a full length mirror rose from the satchel.

Joby blinked at her reflection, hardly recognizing the woman in front of her.

Layers upon untold layers of chiffon-like fabric cut into spade-shaped petals expanded out and around her waist into a wide, full skirt, the fitted bodice looked like a thick multitude of bare branches that intertwined and crossed over each other, thinning out as they extended around her shoulders and stretched all the way down her arms and towards a few of her fingers. The branches hugged her body as if she were made of them. The whole ensemble was a deep, dark green accented in glittery dew-like silver. Somehow, Finchie managed to change her hair and face as well.

Her curls, tamed at last, coiled in large, loose loops, stopping just at the nape of her neck to frame her heart-shaped face. Her freckels, though not entirely gone, were faded, her lips stained a deep shade of maroon, and her eyes accented to stand out most of all. She looked like some otherworldly being born from the earth and the sight alarmed her and brought a sense of comfort at the same time. It could be her disguise, she could creep back into her imagination and create an identity of someone far braver and far better suited for her role. She put herself in the mindset of a noblewoman well acquainted with the world of diplomacy and magic.

Then, looking down at Finchy, the illusion was temporarily shattered by an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. She dropped to her knees, throwing her arms around the small creature.

"This is unbelievable Finch, you have just saved my night. I don't know how I can possibly thank you enough."

Finchy stiffened, being unaccustomed to such an outpouring of emotion. Heartfelt feelings were usually unexpressed and avoided as much as possible in the Gobin City. She lightly patted the girl's shoulder.

"Alright, missy. Just see to it that that blasted council leaves here happy and that will be thanks enough. Now if yew keep dirtying up that gown, I'm gonna take it back."

Joby quickly stood, brushing off the skirt.

"Right! Sorry, so sorry! I promise that I will do my best to do some good for this place."

"I know you will, honey. I better git goin.' Yer party ought to be here soon ta pick ya up."

Joby teetered on the verge of tears as she watched the goblin disappear back into the city.

Shortly after Joby was ready Mag arrived with their entourage which consisted of Mag who was mounted an a white and gray Fell Pony in full pristine plate armor with her hair combed back in a tight efficient bun. Behind her were fifteen armored goblins, some of the best and most Intellegent and educated Mag had trained. Behind them was an open seated platform being carried by for strange little fluffy black goats with long sturdy horns that steeped back behind their head and curving up at the tips. The four goats walked in unison carrying the platform atop the elongated length of their horns And upon the platform were seated sir Didymus and the Sleeping Wiseman with his alert hat looking about as well as a uncomfortable looking Hoggle who was dressed in blue velvet and the child-like Tilly-Whim dressed in her pink Tulle ballerina dress occasionally whispering things into Hoggle's ear and smiling. Near the back of the procession was a enclosed seated box big enough for a human person to comfortably sit in with uncovered windows that allow the person inside to look out but also allowed others to look in. The box was being carried by four squat goblins. more of Mag's guard and behind it was another platoon of fifteen goblins soldiers.

Upon stopping in front of her home, Mag swung down from her pony and approached the enterance of her home, not bothering to go directly in. Mag was in her regalia and would follow the good for. Of her position. When she knocked the door opened on its own accord catching Joby while she was standing in the center of the room.

Magdalene smiled slowly at the impressive sight and, remaining just outside the entryway bowed slightly and offered Joby a gloved hand

"good morning, My Lady. Your box awaits you. Please permit me to take your hand and assist you to your seat. I will ride beside you. I promise. His majesty awaits our arrival in the castle."

The arrival of Mag's procession brought with it another wave of anxiety in Joby, especially after her friend bowed to her in greeting.

"Aw, do you really have to go through the formalities, Mag?" she said as she bowed in return. But of course she did. Joby lived with her long enough to know the knight was a professional through and through even among friends. She took her hand, perhaps grasping it a little tighter than she intended. Her heart beat so intensely, she could feel the blood rush to her head. She smiled in greeting to the guard, and stopped to take another bow as they approached the platform that carried the rest of her party.

She beamed at Hoggle. "You look just dashing, Sir Hoggle. It is a privilege to be travelling to the castle in the company of the Goblin City's finest."

She straightened her shoulders, trying to muster a formal air about her. She acknowledged the rest of the party with the same respect, but inwardly, she fought a compulsion to squeal and gush over the adorable Sir Didymus. She broke the persona momentarily to compliment Tilly-whim's tutu, speaking to her as one would a small child.

As she approached her own box, her heart sank a little. She felt somewhat uncomfortable at the prospect of being hoisted on the shoulders of others as if she were a monarch. She took the time to pay her respects to the carriers.

"I am honored to be carried on the mighty shoulders of His Majesty's outstanding guardsmen."

She stepped into the box with the assistance of Mag. As the door shut behind her, she exhaled a long breath. She leaned into the back of her seat. Already, she felt overwhelmed by the burden of her position. She had the gown, the escorts, the prestige, but nothing could quell the nasty little voice reminding her of all of her shortcomings.

She was driving herself crazy. She had to pull herself together before she reached the castle.

She had an aunt who had been instrumental in pulling her out of her own mind. She taught her how to calm herself whenever she became nervous or frightened through a series of breathing exercises. All though her adulthood, Joby used them. She closed her eyes, focusing on her breath and heartbeat. She hardly felt the movement of her box as it lifted. Her breathing slowed. Her pulse normalized. She centered herself.

You can do this. Everyone here is on your side. You're not alone this time.

She opened her eyes. She was ready.

She held onto her serenity as her entourage passed through the growing crowds.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jareth The Goblin King Character Portrait: Joby Jones Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Marten of Astraea Character Portrait: Prince Dedric of Astraea

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The Labyrinth was bracing itself.

With the influx of so many new and strong personalities all arriving at once and the presence of so many non indigenous magical species, the maze almost groaned in its obligation to accommodate them all. Some groups that were arriving attracted its attention like the Astraeans whose people and magic was similar to the Labyrinth's own energies and hungers. But there were other groups that seemed to repel the Labyrinth and cause a kind of oppression like the Empyrean whose primarily leader was to descend to the ground for the first time. It was hard to say if the Labyrinth's attitude was somehow a reflection of Jareth's own projected anxieties, and this would not have been such a far fetched theory if it were not for the fact that while the Labyrinth and Jareth were consciously linked their subconscious wants and needs were separate and unique to each individually. Indeed Jareth's primary relationship in his life was the Labyrinth itself. Even the goblins took second place over the wants and needs of the great maze and that was one of the many seldom understood and known truths about the kingdom and Jareth's position there.

Jareth could feel the Astraeans arrive. And was relieved privately at the thought that both ruling brother and outcast had come with their party. While Jareth had had personal dealings with Marten, who was a weak but redeemable man, Jareth had had little reason or desire to deal with Dedric. When Marten had been punished Jareth had been included in the formal inquirers by the high council and had originally acted as a character witness and spoken in Marten's defense. Jareth had been honest about what he'd seen in the man. Technically, despite his position and the goblin King Jareth was also considered a figure among the ranks of the Good Neighbors (a collective grouping of magical men and women able to cross worlds in the interest of aiding those that fell in some way into the human vein). Jareth provided less services than others who shared his duties but nevertheless he had his obligations just like any of the Good Neighbors did.

He just didn't generally discriminate when it came to the type of people he was willing to help. Some had spoken against his bargain with Marten. But Jareth had always defended his role in the business reminding his critics that it was not in his nature regarding the subject of the aid he provided to pass unneeded judgement. Jareth would be glad to see Marten again, even if he hadn't thought about the man in a long time.

as for the Empyrean, Jareth's reactions and vice verse would be hard to predict. Ozias had made it clear in no uncertain terms that Jareth should expect resistance if not outright defiance and misplaced anger. in some ways he was almost expecting another Sarah and a part of him hoped that the lady Empyrean would indeed live up to her hype. At least then Jareth could respect her for her spirit if not the depth of her understanding regarding his perspective of their worlds and their individual roles there in.

It was all bound to be very....Interesting.

The Astraean nobles and their representatives approached the wall that surrounded the Goblin City and its labyrinth. Dedric watched a distracted Marten lean towards the window, shoulders slumped, hands clasped, one thumb tapping an anxious beat against his wrist. Marten, like most Atraeans, struggled in concealing his emotions. Dedric on the other hand was well practiced in the art of revealing nothing but a facade of cordial charm and impeccable manners. However, within the walls of the carriage, he hid none of his growing irritation at the state of his younger brother. He found it unseemly for a ruler, even an exiled one, to show any kind of nervousness or apprehension when conducting business outside of his borders.

"Will you stop that" he snapped, leaning forward to slap Marten's restless hands. "And sit up straight. They're going to present you like a real prince for a change so start acting like one."

Marten straightened his shoulders, Dedric's words doing nothing to ease his anxiety. He knew he had a real chance to prove to the High Council that twenty-five years under exile changed him for the better, that he had freed himself from the clutches of darkness' influence and was ready to reclaim his place and perform his rightful duties as a prince of Astraea. All he had to do was not choke. He just had to stay close to his brother, pay a little lip service to Mab, admit his wrongs if asked, and carry himself with the confidence and ease of a man who had never known shame. Simple.


The carriage halted. It was time.

From seemingly out of nowhere, flower petals began to fall on the main road that lead to the castle. In the distance, came the echoing of bells and flutes as well as a chorus of voices chanting;

Ringle-rangle, ringle,rangle....

Flickering lights whizzed to the front of the parade. They rained a shower of sparks before transforming into their full size. In a flash, about a dozen winged creatures, a little smaller than the average human danced and sang in merriment, donned in glittering thin cloth that appeared to grow from their bodies. Some transformed their appearance to look just like some of the onlookers in the crowd. Following them were the childlike greenies. Donned in thick, woven cloths of brown, they bounded in playing pipes and rattling tambourines. Others performed acrobatic feats, flipping and tumbling with incredible energy. The last of the representing fae were the dwarves. Some pounded deer hide drums, others handed out tiny bottles of wine, and others performed their own set of tricks for the onlookers. A loud clanging of bells signaled a brief silence and then all the creatures began to sing:

Deep there above the greenery
Meddle and mischief sing the Wee
Hidden among the greenery
"We are the Free-Folk," sing the Wee

Nettles and nuisance bring the Wee
Tingle and tangle sing the Wee
Under the forest canopy
"We are the Free-Folk," sing the Wee

Tatter and scatter bring the Wee
Freckle and fumble sing the Wee
Getting you from behind a tree
"Fun is a wonder," sing the Wee


Illusions of forest animals appeared and bounded through the parade. Deer trotted along greenies, rabbits hopped around the sprites' feet, and birds looped and darted around banners. One of each magical being proceeded to the front, joined hands, and sang:

We are the Wee
As you can see
So wild and free
So sing the Wee

This would be the first Centennial Ball in which the beings of the forest would have proper representation. Despite the ills Astraea suffered under Lord Darkness' curse, the union of Jack and Lili brought a deeper understanding and friendship between the humans of the city and the creatures of the forest. Their reign, though marred by some infighting, brought forth a stronger bond and respect between the two cultures. Under Jack and Lili's rule, Astraea became a truly fair kingdom in which all voices were heard. The party of sprites, greenies, and dwarves, collectively known in Astraea as the Wee, symbolized that bond and trust; they were the overseers and watchers of the forests of the unicorn.

Unicorns were a rare and incredibly important element to the underground. As the purest of all creatures, they anchored the light to the underground and kept the scales from tipping towards the darkness. They only lived in Astraea, leading many interested scholars to debate if they stayed there because of the eternal spring, or if their very life and presence was what kept the spring in Astraea. One thing was certain, the nobles and denizens alike made their protection the highest priority. As a means of keeping their unsteady word tethered towards the light, the people too were encouraged to keep their own hearts pure and serene. To symbolize the pure spirit of Astraean life, several dozen young maidens clothed in soft pastels paraded behind the Wee. They carried the banners of the kingdom and performed another important piece of music. They sang Lili's song, a beautiful trilling of the loveliest voices in the kingdom:

Come down sparrow, sing me good morning.
Rise up sun like the arch of the sky.
Living river, turn light to diamonds
When I look in my true love's eyes.
Like a child feels watching a rainbow.
Like a bird feels the first time it flies.
I feel magic stirring within me,
When I look in my true love's eyes.
Young as any spring, his eyes almost sing.

Come white moss, weave us a carpet
Spreading oak make a shade where we lie.
Leaves and branches, whisper a love song,
When I look in my true love's eyes.
Young as any spring, his eyes almost sing to me

Come down sparrow, sing me good morning.
Rise up sun like arch of the sky.
Living river, turn light to diamonds
When I look in my true love's eyes.
_____
Dedric and Marten followed close behind at the very center of the parade. Dedric's horse was white and gray with a long, elegant waved mane. Its bridle was adorned in bluebells in the same soft shade of blue as the enormous mantle that graced Dedrics shoulders. The rest of his ensemble consisted of a cream-colored tunic underneath a cream and gold embroidered vest. He wore a fitted pair of tan breeches and dark brown knee high boots. A gold crown topped his head.
Marten rode beside him, his steed in shades of black dappled it in white, starbursts that dotted its his hindquarters in constellations. He wore his standard black attire nearly from head to toe, save for his cuffs, gold collar, his own gold vest, and a cape that hung across his chest and over his shoulders in an unbecoming shade of lavender. His own crown was a simple gold band that hung a little loosely on top of his limp hair.

Dedric maintained a warm, jolly persona as he waved at the detestable creatures of the city.
He hated goblins and everything about them. He found them to be ugly-spirited little brutes with selfish, self-serving hearts and a thirst for dark magic. They gravitated to darkness and power. He would never forget the story of Blix, Lord Darkness' right hand man, and the one Dedric found solely responsible for the near murder of the unicorn stallion. To him, it was that wretched animal more so than his sweet mother, who nearly destroyed Astraea. He was the one who shot the dart. It was he who stole the horn.

He successfully drove the lot of them deep into the swamps, in the mucky mires with the witches where they belonged.
The notion of having to be amiable around the little monsters and their keeper was the biggest thorn in Dedric's side. He was the first of his family to have any real goals outside of his kingdom's borders. Astraea was an integral part of the whole underground, but no one before seemed interested in expanding its influence, especially his poor parents who were content with making house calls to commoners and frolicking in the forest rather than conduct some actual work in the interest of their people.

Behind the royal party came wagons filled to the brim with foods, ales, and other gifts for the hosts. At the rear, marched a fleet of royal guardsmen.

At last, the train came to a halt before the castle.

The announcement ceremony featured more than a dozen kingdoms from across the underground. Just a few of which included representatives from the Earthlong and Drow elven people, Several dwarves clans, and representative parties lead by the child-like Ozma of Oz, the White Queen of Underland, and representatives from Narnia and Never Neverland. A large assortment of Good neighbors from across the underground were also present along with many individual sorceress and underground folk who held no particular titles but who served various functions in the Underground.

One by one the titled parties came, announces by Scheherazade.

Jareth greeted them all in accordance with tradition. Most he'd only ever heard stories about and some he'd never heard of at all. As they came Jareth studied their parties, mentally making notes regarding what their appearances and demeanor s revealed. Ozma was one he planned to speak to about an alliance in the future between she and the child-like Empress whom was currently serving as a member of the High Council. He could also detect signs of a few who looked eager to bring forth their own business when the time was right. Many of the rulers were women, a common occurrence in the underground considering Queen Mab being a female herself and the embodiment of great mothers everywhere.

Finally, the proceeding were due to conclude with only the Empyrean Empire and the Kingdom of Astraea left to e announced. Jareth found it ironic that the two groups had managed to be left for last. Jareth had had dealings with both and was curious to see their reactions to his presence. The Empyrean specifically was of personal interest given that if thing had turned out differently it might have been he and Elspeth walking together in the procession as husband and wife, mutual leaders of the Empyrean empire. Granted Jareth would never actually see Elspeth's face since the traditions of her people required her to remain asked, but never the less Jareth was deeply curious about the young woman who by all reports deeply hated him. Jareth was good at being cast in the role of villain. He hoped he didn't disappoint the Empyrean, whatever she thought of him.

The brothers dismounted and took their place near the rear of the line. Marten took his position behind Dedric who was to lead their party inside.

"Feeling nervous, brother?" he heard Dedric ask.

Of course this was a redundant question. As much as he tried, Marten was a true Astraean and struggled to mask his emotions. Still, he tried to maintain a casual air, running a hand through his hair as he gave a shrug.

"Oh, a bit I suppose," he said. "But I think things will go smoothly as long as I keep my head down. Besides, you're the one who's about to step in the spotlight."

"About that," Dedric responded still facing forward. Marten caught a note of humor in his voice he was not sure he liked.
"I believe I forgot to mention that I spoke with Mab before we left home. She and I have both agreed that you should be the representative of the kingdom. After all, you need a proper opportunity to show how you've improved, and to exhibit your skills in diplomacy. She wants to see if you would be prepared to take on your duties as a prince should she decide to free you from exile."

Dedric finally turned to a stunned Marten with a somewhat mischievous glimmer in his eyes.

"My, and I thought you couldn't get any paler."

He only felt slightly displeased about having to step from the spotlight on this one, but Dedric reasoned that he could conduct business much easier as a result. While Marten fumbled through the formalities, he could watch the floor and plan his future meetings with the Underground's upper echelon.

The younger sibling stared into the approaching doorway as if it were the entrance to a slaughterhouse. The man slowly shook his head.
"Do you think it wise? I-I mean I haven't really been in a position of leadership in decades, and I certainly don't possess your mind for diplomacy, I'm shamefully unpracticed in court affairs, I'll make everyone uneasy, and what if I'm called to speak? You know my voice doesn't carry well a-and-"

Dedric sighed, grabbing the man's shoulder and turning him towards him.
"You're going inside and meeting your friend, not your doom. Relax, little brother. It's nothing more than politics. Now, straighten your back, tilt that chin up..."

He fixed Marten's collar and smoothed his cape over his shoulders. He gave a firm clap to his back.
"...and breathe for goodness sake. You can do this."

Dedric rarely expressed affection towards his bother in the public eye, but he temporarily stepped down from his position as Marten's hard-nosed warden to ease his nerves.

He then unclasped his own mantle and passed it on to a servant. He also removed his cown and swapped it for his brother's more simple circlet, an action that promted gasps and smiles of approval from some of their party. It wasn't like him to be so humble, but he felt the action would set him up to be the warm, shining star the rest of the underground was expecting to see. Even kind deeds could be strategic moves in Dedric's book. Some small factions back home had begun to see him as a power thirsty egoist, an image he planned to conceal from the others. Even the party was hand picked to ensure attendees were sympathetic to his rule.

He still expected to outshine his brother, but he wanted to do so as little as possible. Not only would he be free to carry out his plans to build alliances, he would also be able to evaluate Marten. He was as curious as anyone to see how he would perform. On one hand, he would be sad to lose the best helper he ever had, but he would be thrilled to see Marten freed from his terrible reputation once and for all.

Dedric was right. It was high time that Marten showed his true capabilities as a leader. He had the knowledge and skill, he just needed to channel some of Dedric's confidence and control. The queen of the Forgotten Desert call his name. He stepped to the front of the line and led his group into the ballroom.

He could feel the eyes watching him, he caught expressions of curiosity, apprehension, and disgust. He willed himself to maintain his dignity, to carry himself like a proper nobleman. He knew he was trying too hard. His posture felt too stiff, his jaw clamped tensely, and even the rhythm of his footsteps seemed too calculated. The burdens of his over thinking eased however as he neared Jareth. His face softened and a hint of a real smile tugged at his lips. He clasped the Goblin King's arms with an unexpected enthusiasm.

"We come in friendship, we come in unity."

Marten didn't have any friends to speak of, but he considered Jareth to be the closest thing he ever had in the Underground to one. While their whole world seemed divided as to whether or not he was a good man, Marten saw in Jareth a kindred spirit, another individual whose actions both shook the realm and brought uncertainty to his kingdom's future. Perhaps he didn't know Jareth that well, but he had an inkling that he shared the same regrets, that he too was haunted by his own selfish past. He knew how it felt to be hated, feared and kept at a distance from the rest of society. Much of the realm had a very fixed definition as to what goodness meant, and it made no room for the likes of men like them: men who had made unsavory choices in the past and aimed to change. For many, good and evil was a black and white matter; there was no standing in between.

He remembered approaching him, empty-handed and desperate. He knew Jareth had conditions tied to his ability to travel to the Above. But he only had to hear Marten's story to take the bargain, and in seventeen years he had yet to call for his end of it.

Marten's gratitude and admiration of the man shone through his face. Perhaps at last he would get a chance to thank the Goblin King in person for saving his Lilian.

~@~


Truth be told, Elspeth hated her mask regalia. All of her masks were hand-crafted in the Empyrean artisans' workshop in the palace, the very same one she often poked her head into to see what works were underway amongst those granted access to its use. When she was a child, she'd wait until her governess might fall asleep in the afternoon, as she was so prone to do, and sneak into the great hall where the masks were put on display for guests to see during public court or significant functions. She'd always peered up to the dozens of masks shining from their dependable posts upon the great stone walls, wondering how it was that the sunshine never tarnished their quality. What a sad day it was when she discovered that those masks on display were replicans--the real masks were stored safely in a guarded wing. They were still well cared-for, but part of the romanticized aspect of wearing the masks on the wall that she'd grown up seeing had been just slightly dashed.

Those who took care of the masks were masters of their craft. She was so surprised upon examining the secured masks to discover that while durable, they were also light and easy to breathe through.

What she hated, perhaps, wasn't the regalia itself—but the stark reminder of her parents' memory.

But as much as she hated her mask regalia, it felt far more inconvenient to suffer the idea of being required to wear it when outside of the kingdom. She'd only been out and about a few times, but never on The Ground. But today marked the day where her feet would walk on solid earth for the first time.

The luckdragons, ten in total, descended upon the upper landing of the castle, not far from the tower where Jareth had considerately chosen to house The Empyrean and her entourage. Sayer stood by vigilantly, watching the flying beasts as they all touched down expertly. Elspeth's small fleet were smaller, more nimble creatures than the ones that had spirited Sayer and his knights from The Sky to The Ground, not causing too much strain on the ancient castle's structure.

Elspeth descended from atop her own magical beast, much to Sayer's chagrin. He strode to her side and walked alongside her. She could feel his chastising eyes boring through her blue-and-white travel mask. "Riding your own dragon is not considered Empyrean-like conduct," he reminded her gently, but predictably.

Elspeth didn't allow him a verbal reaction, simply walking on as she felt she ought to. It was rare that she didn't provide a snappy comeback or outright comply with Sayer's recommendations. Besides, who was he to tell her that she couldn't ride the luckdragon she'd trained and loved since she was a small child? "We appear to be on time," she reported, her voice not obscured by the covered mouth of the mask. "Who has arrived below?"

"The Astraeans," Sayer answered dutifully, nodding to two of his knights ready to open the door into the castle. "Here is our home for the duration of your visit."

Elspeth waited until the doors were shut to remove her headpiece and mask, her long brown hair covered by the blue scarf that had also edged the mask itself. "It'll do," she said quietly, not wanting to admit that she was quite impressed with whatever trick had been pulled to adorn the ceiling so beautifully. "We've arrived with plenty enough time to prepare for the ball. Ariadne is not far behind."

Sayer nodded and gestured toward her chambers. "Then you'd better be on your way," he remarked quietly, watching her gather her skirts and move forward, shutting the door behind her. He knew she'd be poor company until she permitted herself to have a good time. He was sure that the only person who'd know how to deal with her otherwise would indeed be Ariadne, as much as he hated to admit it.

He exited back onto the landing and decided to keep an eye out for the handmaiden to pass the time.

As was customary Ariadne was due to arrive on the tail of everyone else. It was her duty to ensure everything had been packed correctly and that all the lesser servants under her were in top form that were coming with the Lady Empyrean as well as those where were to stay behind and manage the basic functions of the kingdom.

The other benefit of this duty was that Ariadne had plenty of her own time to prepare for the journey to the underground. It was time to change things. Ariadne had served the Empyrean in one way or a other for centuries, whether the current leaders realized it or not. Much of her magical abilities were rooted in her attempts to remain ageless and flawless in everything she did. Yet immortality was not natural to the Empyrean people and the cost of Ariadne's maintenance had been costly. All magic came with a price whether it came naturally to an individual or was learned or acquired later. Ariadne had taken about as much as could be taken from the empire without it completely crumbling.

The time had come for a change of scene.

The Labyrinth was the most ideal candidate for her relocation in centuries. Its largest appeal being that the kingdom was naturally regenerative, meaning there would be no plausible limit to what Ariadne could utilize for her own interests. Unlike many of the powers that were currently in route to the castle, Ariadne had no interest in the Kingdom or Jareth specifically. Her ambition was not to seize the kingdom. Rather, she desired only to immerse herself into the flow of its neutral magic. Magic that she would intimately twist to her own desires and needs. As a sorceress her own power and knowledge likely rivaled Jareth's but was perhaps more limited despite that she was more mobile than he was. Once the Goblin King caught onto her presence and intentions he would surely find it difficult to isolate her from the greater design.

Ariadne planned to seduce and entice the labyrinth as much as she repelled it. in this way it would both resist and accommodate her will until she was so inter grated into the old magic that it would naturally protect her interests.

But the business was complicated. In the past when Ariadne had need to change her identity it was a simple matter of retiring as her old self for awhile and re-emerging as a slightly new identity. But this time wouldn't be so easy. Ariadne intended to create a diversion that would cause the Empyrean Empire to take up issue with Jareth and fan the flames of their distrust for him. Ariadne had to fake a terrible demise that would free her up to conduct her business and caste suspicion on Jareth and his people. There were stories of course that assassinations were not unheard of in the kingdom. Ivor the Hammer Fist was proof of that and Ariadne was so good at spinning the sins of the past into the realities of the present. she simply needed to bide her time.

final loading of the luck dragons was almost finished and Ariadne was due to mount and arrive within the half hour. It was time to summon her favorite pets in preparation for their arrival. Reaching into her skirts Ariadne removed a handful of small obsidian stones carved with vicious little faces. Kneeling as if to secure one of the last of her personal boxes, Ariadne poured them onto the ground and removed a small vial that was disguised as one of her teardrop earrings. Unplugging the stopper she gentle poured the small liquids contents over the stones and made a mooching sound as if she was calling a small animal to attention. within seconds the stones broke apart revealing little black gremlins about the size a bats with yellow eyes and chattered and bickered I. Some sort of chattering language.

Ariadne smiled almost lovingly and opened her box witch the creatures promptly climbed into. she then stood. It was time to leave the Empire for the last time. Ariadne had no intention of ever returning.

True to form a half hour behind her mistress Ariadne arrived. Dismounting on the platform and moving elegantly and in a calm and reserved manner toward Ozias. "I assume my lady is inside, let us see if we can improve her temperament before its time to be announced."

Ariadne offered Ozias a placid though friendly smile and for once her benevolence seemed completely genuine instead of its usual fabrication. And why shouldn't the sorceress be generous? The Lady Empyrean was about to get her first taste at real leadership and even Ariadne who normally didn't take real pleasure in anything was very interested in seeing how Elspeth faired.

"You have to do it." Ariadne said firmly.

The Empyean empire was due to be announced within the half hour and in classical style Ariadne was going over the expected protocols of the announcement ceremony that all the kingdoms were required to participate in.

At the moment Elspeth was in the middle of taking issue with the finer points of what she was expected to do when she came face to face with the Goblin King.

Elspeth shook her head as she frustratedly smoothed her hair back, sleekly pinned back to make her mask easier to apply and wear for long periods of time. Her clear face was devoid of any makeup or pigment of any kind--but was beginning to cloud with a burgundy tone, standing out against her pure-white ensemble. "There's no reason Sayer can't do it," she grumbled back, refusing to look Ariadne in the eye as she gazed ahead into the massive mirror above the silver vanity table, which no doubt Jareth had specifically picked just for her.

"Actually, there's every reason that Sayer can't do it."

Elspeth glanced over her shoulder at the sound of his voice. Her cousin stood in the doorway, armored arms folded across his metal-plated chest, the pinned drape of fabric bearing the Empyrean crest clipped to his shoulders. She didn't waste any time. "But you're the one who's got the relationship with The Goblin King," she spat sullenly, refusing to acknowledge their host by name.

Part of her knew that she was being more than absurd. Part of her knew that there was every reason for her to be the one to lead the procession and greet Jareth. Part of her knew that by this time in her life, she should be able to just let that hurt go. She'd never even been face-to-face with him before. But the rest of her knew that she had every single reason to be affronted by him, to have him arrested where he stood if he even dared think of setting foot into her skyborne kingdom. Yet, here she was in his subterranean kingdom, on his turf, taking temporary residence in his castle, partaking in his food, his drink... It was insufferable.

"Elspeth." Sayer gave a short nod to Ariadne, stony and steadfast in her expression. "Ariadne's right. You're The Empyrean. This is your first Centennial Ball, and your first major engagement in your position. You must do right by all of us and represent us."

She let out a small growl through her teeth, then shook her head. "I just won't do it."

Sayer glanced again at Ariadne, smirking the corner of his mouth just slightly, then back to Elspeth. "Okay, Elspeth. You win."

A small part of her loved hearing those words. She smiled satisfactorily and turned to the large table not far from Sayer, reaching her hands out for her mask. Sayer watched as Ariadne seemed to gracefully fly to the table, deftly picking up the strong, light, simple mask, adorned with feathers and the very slightest crystal detail. She placed the mask upon Elspeth's ready face. "Thank you, Sayer," Elspeth drawled out, hardly muffled by the material. "It means a great deal to me."

He turned on his heels and gestured toward the door. "Onward we go," he said warmly. He let the younger woman lead the way as she reached two small gloved hands to pick up her skirts. Ariadne shot a quick glance at a few of Elspeth's attendants; they scurried forth to follow behind her as part of the procession, dressed in robes of sunshine yellow and cerulean blue, but devoid of masks, themselves.

Sayer and Ariadne stood in the room, watching after them. "I'm going to slip away," he informed the handmaiden. "This was the only way we were going to get her out of there."

It was as the Queen of the Forgotten Desert called her name that Elspeth realized that Sayer wasn't beside her. She silently cursed behind her mask, thankful to have the exterior shell to mask her surprise and sudden bolt of frustration. Of course he would do something like that.

No matter, though. She looked ahead into the vast ballroom, surprised at the assortment of emissaries and attendees from far-off lands. For it being such a backwards kingdom, the formality assigned to this grand event surprised the young Empyrean as she took a step ahead. She could see hundreds of heads turn in her direction at the sound of her name. Undoubtedly, many of those gathered had never seen her before--at least, not in the traditional mask garb of generations of Empyrean royalty. The unspoken mythology of Empyrean rulers who wore masks beyond the borders of the kingdom was easily on their lips and minds as they measured her against their own expectations. Very few of them had ever ascended into the clouds to visit her kingdom, where no one had to wear masks. Surely at least one of them would have met her at home at some point, to provide some kind of friendly or familiar face...

She confidently strode ahead, seemingly floating along in place as she'd practiced for so long. She kept her focus ahead, not wishing to distract herself from her goal: getting away from Jareth as quickly as possible.

Finally, she stood before the tall man with the unique features. She worked to stare at the middle of his forehead instead of into his slightly mismatched eyes, not wishing to give him the benefit of a full lock on eye contact. She kept her posture rigid as she braced her eyes and let her calm voice carry without shouting, "... we come in friendship, we come in unity."

She kept her eyes up and raised as she wound about to stand beside the other rulers gathered. The sooner this was over, the better...

When it was Elspeth's turn to walk the procession, Jareth noted that Ozias wasn't with her and the thought made him smile slightly to himself. The knight must have pulled a fast one on her. Jareth was sure given how hard she stared in front of herself. Jareth could almost imagine the little wrinkles around her young eyes as she furrowed her brows behind her mask in fustration and forced decorum. Of anyone that had come, the Empyrean was the most mysterious. Both her mask and outfit shrouding much of her physical features and making it hard to determine her age or anything else about her if one didn't already know. That was the point of the custom, he supposed. The people of the sky rarely trusted ground dwellers and most all of them tended to have a very high opinion of themselves. The Empyrean were no different as a people in that regard.

Still in spite of all the pageantry the most important indicator of who Elspeth really was was the only thing that was clearly exposed. Her eyes. seeing into her eyes was all he needed to get a glimpse of her true character and of course when Elspeth approached him and said her dutiful words, he noted how she would not truly look at him.

The behavior was both childish on her part and disappointing to Jareth. He wanted her to face him, to look into his own eyes and see that they were both more than they appeared to be. He hoped on some lever she would catch a glimpse of his humanity and, in spite of anything else she might ever think of him, remember it. But Jareth wasn't going to force the issue. Sooner or later she would have to deal with him directly and the sooner she accepted his hospitality if not his nature the better for both of them.

While Elspeth was speaking, Jareth noticed that she forgot to extend her arm, no doubt because she consciously had no desire to touch him. Procedure demanded the gesture however and there could be no exceptions. To avoid breaking with the flow of their greeting Jareth subtly over reached with his own arm and lightly circled her smaller wrist with his thumb and pointer gently tugging it so that it would appear they were making the proper contact but in a slightly daintier way than the rest. The audience would hopefully assume that Jareth was simply taking more care with the Emprean given that it was her first ball and that they shared a unique history that the others did not. If Elspeth was smart she would keep still and not react even though Jareth was quite sure that if she wasn't being watched by over a hundred people that the young Empyrean might have assaulted him over it.

"You may go in friendship, Elspeth. We are all united in peace."

Elspeth didn't permit her body language to waver, but couldn't do much to hide the sudden glare that bore through the mask. She inconspicuously tugged her arm back with a slight pivot of her elbow, not visible to anyone else but Jareth as the most subtle warning for him to let her go.

How she wanted to take that moment to spin around and address the crowd, to tell them of Jareth's grave sins against The Empyrean and its people. How his irresponsible actions put her in this insufferable position before she was ready to carry the kingdom on her shoulders. How he'd robbed her of the two people she cared about most in the world. She could make her case passionately as those gathered would listen to her every word. And even if they didn't believe her, at least the truth was out in the open.

And action would have to be taken to investigate the allegations.

But, she'd have to wait. She had no idea if she had allies or enemies before setting foot into the kingdom. She'd have to meet the others. She glanced about quickly, catching sight of the Astraen Prince Marten (intriguing, indeed, that he be here), Queen Mab, and more. Surely, there had to be someone sympathetic to her cause.

She stepped backwards carefully, hoping that this would be a more direct indication that Jareth ought to return her hand. As she stepped backwards she flicked her brown eyes up, shocked to see the startling contrast between his irises. Intriguing. She blinked, and finally crossed her eyes back to the ground.

The moment he didn't have to touch her anymore, Jareth let Elspeth go. Ironically that moment occured about the same time she looked him in the eyes and he caught her startled expression at the realization that one eye looked diffrent than the other. Jareth knew that most people assumed his irises were diffrent colors. One being a blue green and the other practically black. But the truth was Jareth's pupil on one side was perpetually open to its widest point and thus dominated the middle of his eye. It was generally startling to people who ever bothered to really take a good look at him and almost no one ever considered wondering why he looked that way or the effect the anomoly had on the Goblin King's sensory experiances.

For his part when Jareth caught a glimpse into Elpeth's eyes, he mourned for her. The anger and hostility she presented on the surface was nothing more than a mask covering a much deeper hurt. A hurt she undoubtedly held him responsible for.

Its only forever
Not long at all
Lost and lonely,
That's Underground...

Jareth knew he would have to tread carefully with the Empyrean. The temptation to hurt her in order to free her would be strong in him. At this point cruelty would be the only thing she would trust from him. She was so young. Old by human standards perhaps, but young by his. He pitied her for it. While Jareth knew he was not responsible for the things Ozias implied she was accusing him of, Jareth suspected that someone somewhere was culpable somehow and he did not look forward to the day when the truth was foxed out.

But the Goblin King had little time to think on these matters fore he felt Mab arrive with the rest of the High Council. Her presence was like a balmy summer fragrantly blossoming all at once with sudden opressive yet alluring warm. For an irrational two seconds Jareth instinctually wanted to grabbed Elspeth and drag her behind him as if to shield her from Mab's gaze which was trully timesless, all knowing, and all seeing.

Jareth's eyes swiftly scanned the room for Ozias who he knew was not far from Elspeth. Even though he and Jareth were friends, at any sign of impropriety Ozias would have intervened to protect and defend the Empyrean and wouldn't have hesitated to cause permanent bodily harm against Jareth if the situation had warranted. But for now Jareth wanted to hand Elspeth off so that Ozias could help get her out of the way as Queen Mab and her Council announced themselves. Jareth as both the host and one of Mab's favorite children would be expected to come to her side as immediately as possible.

"Mab, she's here. Go." Jareth warned under his breath just audibly enough for Elspeth to hear him.

Jareth's tone and alert expression was less dominating and more full of acute concern that not even he was probably aware was discernable.

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Character Portrait: Jareth The Goblin King Character Portrait: Joby Jones Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ozias Sayer Character Portrait: Marten of Astraea

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Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ozias Sayer

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Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ozias Sayer Character Portrait: Ariadne

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Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ozias Sayer Character Portrait: Ariadne

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Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ozias Sayer Character Portrait: Ariadne

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Character Portrait: Jareth The Goblin King Character Portrait: Joby Jones Character Portrait: Hoggle the Dwarf Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ozias Sayer Character Portrait: Scheherazade Character Portrait: Ariadne Character Portrait: Marten of Astraea Character Portrait: Magdalene

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Character Portrait: Jareth The Goblin King Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean

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Character Portrait: Jareth The Goblin King Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean

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Character Portrait: Jareth The Goblin King Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean

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Character Portrait: Jareth The Goblin King Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean

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The moment he didn't have to touch her anymore, Jareth let Elspeth go. Ironically that moment occured about the same time she looked him in the eyes and he caught her startled expression at the realization that one eye looked diffrent than the other. Jareth knew that most people assumed his irises were diffrent colors. One being a blue green and the other practically black. But the truth was Jareth's pupil on one side was perpetually open to its widest point and thus dominated the middle of his eye. It was generally startling to people who ever bothered to really take a good look at him and almost no one ever considered wondering why he looked that way or the effect the anomoly had on the Goblin King's sensory experiances.

For his part when Jareth caught a glimpse into Elpeth's eyes, he mourned for her. The anger and hostility she presented on the surface was nothing more than a mask covering a much deeper hurt. A hurt she undoubtedly held him responsible for.

Its only forever
Not long at all
Lost and lonely,
That's Underground...


Jareth knew he would have to tread carefully with the Empyrean. The temptation to hurt her in order to free her would be strong in him. At this point cruelty would be the only thing she would trust from him. She was so young. Old by human standards perhaps, but young by his. He pitied her for it. While Jareth knew he was not responsible for the things Ozias implied she was accusing him of, Jareth suspected that someone somewhere was culpable somehow and he did not look forward to the day when the truth was foxed out.

But the Goblin King had little time to think on these matters fore he felt Mab arrive with the rest of the High Council. Her presence was like a balmy summer fragrantly blossoming all at once with sudden opressive yet alluring warm. For an irrational two seconds Jareth instinctually wanted to grabbed Elspeth and drag her behind him as if to shield her from Mab's gaze which was trully timesless, all knowing, and all seeing.

Jareth's eyes swiftly scanned the room for Ozias who he knew was not far from Elspeth. Even though he and Jareth were friends, at any sign of impropriety Ozias would have intervened to protect and defend the Empryean and wouldn't have hesistedd to cause perminent bodily harm against Jareth if the situation had warrented. Butr for now Jareth wanted to hand Elspeth off so that Ozias could help get her out of the way as Queen Mab and her Council annouced themselves. Jareth as both the host and one of Mab's favorite children would be expected to come to her side as emmediatly as possible.

"Mab, she's here. Go." Jareth warned under his breath just audibley enough for Elspeth to hear him.

Jareth's tone and alert expression was less dominating and more full of acute consern that not even he was probably aware was desernable.

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jareth The Goblin King Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ozias Sayer

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As though appearing out of nowhere, but in fact having actually trailed the light processional of blue-and-sunshine-clad attendants, Sayer's heavy armor clanking along with him as he took his steps forward in order to stand a respectable distance away. He watched the awkward exchange and denied himself a chuckle. The tiny Empyrean lacked the height and trained grace of her predecessors—nearly all of them—and the sight of the white-clad young woman next to the indomitable Jareth was almost comic.

For a split-second, he pitied his younger cousin. He remembered being remarkably jealous as a child when he discovered it would be her that would inherit the throne and not him. He used to stare at the royal baby, measuring himself against her and trying hard to determine what made her so special; she was a baby, after all. One day Elspeth's father, his uncle Ansel, clapped him on the shoulder and invited him to come talk to him outside. The precocious youngster begrudgingly followed along, believing he'd been in trouble for his nearly-treasonous thoughts. Surprisingly, The then-Empyrean, also golden-haired like himself, followed him down the long hallway to the large courtyard primarily used for military ceremonial events. A massive brigade of troops stood packed in formation, holding still. No sounds could be heard—not even a rustle of collective breathing. The late Empyrean clapped a hand on his shoulder and groused proudly, "When you're Keeper, this will be yours. This is your reward after I'm gone and you've taken care of Elspeth."

Suddenly, the youngster decided that being The Empyrean didn't have as many perks as being Keeper.

Sayer watched Jareth take Elspeth's wrist. His training had part of his consciousness on guard despite being long-acquainted with the Goblin King. The moment didn't last long; Jareth's quick instructions to have Elspeth taken to her spot as Mab arrived were heeded, the tall man stepping ahead gracefully to guide the white-clad royal to her spot amongst the emissaries standing in front of the great crowd.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ozias Sayer Character Portrait: Scheherazade Character Portrait: Prince Dedric of Astraea

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Sayer rolled his eyes dramatically and turned about to avoid having to watch Dedric, who'd broken in before having a chance to obtain his approval. He'd briefly met him once during his travels from lands distant from The Empyrean. He shook an errant lock of hair out of his eyes as he half-listened to the conversation and half-watched the crowd, full of familiar faces, many of those he'd seen during those travels. He waved a friendly hello to Snow White, and marveled at the attire Sir Didymus had chosen for the occasion. He gave a respectful nod to Madmartigan and Aslan, both talking to one another for what must have been the first time since the last Centennial Ball.

It was then that he finally spotted Scheherazade, both her beautiful skin and white robes making her bask in a glow that made her stood out from the others around her as she stood speaking to a growing group of enraptured guests, smitten with every word she spoke. He blinked as he felt his chest tug. She really was a lovely woman, he observed to himself as he still maintained a listening ear on the two royals behind him.

# # #

Elspeth eyed the Astraean prince carefully as she listening to his well-practiced voice speak to her as though more familiar with her than he really was. She tilted her head as she considered what could possibly lead this Astraean to come to her so aggressively. She'd always been taught to not be too trusting too quickly--something she knew she was susceptible to. She truly did want to be outwardly demonstrative of her good feelings... but always felt as though making any error would cause some kind of horrific problem she couldn't think or figure her way out of.

Maybe she was constantly afraid.

... the thought had never hit her before.

She smiled behind her mask. Maybe it was time to stop being afraid.

"Prince Dedric," she greeted brightly, concealing her surprise over him slighting the host of the event. She dutifully extended a hand toward him. Despite the fact that hearing him say such things truly was gratifying, she wasn't sure about divulging her feelings. Or her secret. The one that Sayer didn't even know. Or the fact that she almost felt an electric sense of familiarity when finally locking eyes with Jareth. A strange feeling. Almost as though a white buzz lifted the stress and disdain from her mind and allowed her a brief moment of calm. The moment where she might have considered that he wasn't a monster.

She blinked her eyes. She admonished herself briefly. She knew better than that. Jareth's charms were no match for her own psychological resilience.

"I trust your journey treated you well!" she stated politely. She turned her eyes to focus on his response, and suddenly felt the pierce of his blue eyes capture her attention. She quickly surveyed his face. He was handsome. She'd always heard that Prince Dedric was easy on the eyes. To her, that was an understatement. She smiled behind her mask and blushed. Maybe her hunt for a suitable husband wouldn't be too difficult here...

She blinked. No. No sense in getting ahead of herself. Besides, that's not what she was there to do.

And then it hit her. That familiarity with how he spoke to her about Jareth...

... did he know?

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Prince Dedric of Astraea

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Dedric surveyed the mask as she spoke. The detail was actually quite fine and carved in detailed patterns in the white porcelain. It surely had to be Empyrean porcelain to be light enough to be worn for an extended period of time.
He wondered about her appearance. He had traveled to the sky kingdom as a very small child while his mother still carried Marten in her womb. He remembered marvelous, gravity-defying architecture and the people in delicate, flowing garb rusting against their sun-kissed skin. The Empyrean people were known for their seraphim-like beauty, and what fuzzy detials he struggled to recall of the former rulers, he figured Elspeth was just as lovley.

"Indeed it was. A long road, but we had several wonderful neighbors that offered us room and board. My people have always had a fondness for taking the scenic route, but I bet travel by luck dragon is far more efficient and thrilling."
Thrilling was a bit of an understatement for Dedric. He had a horrendous fear of heights.

"So I hear this is your first visit to the ground. I'm terribly sorry that you're going to miss some of the more splendid sights the Underground has to offer. The Emerald City is a truly enchanting place. Ah, speaking of which, there goes Queen Ozma's second hand Glinda over there."

He gestured to the woman trailing Jareth.

"Wonderful, wonderful she is," he said admiringly. "She's on the council you know. Fair sense of justice, and an excellent ability to read others. Be sure to speak with some of the council during your stay. They appreciate the ones who take the initiative to do so."
It felt good to relay a little advice to a new ruler.

"I've been on a mission to develop deeper ties with the kingdoms of the Underground. I have some big plans that I'm afraid my predecessors never shared a similar interest in. So, to pull Astraea out of its isolation, I'm seeking out possible import markets. I'm sure the ladies back home would happily empty their purses for your excellent porcelain. Spring blooms eternal in Astraea and as a result we have the biggest variety of plants and flowers in the Undergound, some of which have some remarkable properties.
He fished a small glass vial from his vest pocket and a small bottle with a dropper. The held the vial up so the Empyean could see the tiny seed inside.

"Watch this."

He uncorked the lid, unscrewed the dropper, and very carefully squeezed a few drops of water from the vial. The seed broke open and a tiny stalk of green lazily snaked out. At the top, a little bud began to form and blush into a bright crimson. The petals slowly yawned open into a delicate blossom. Dedric smiled and corked the lid.

"As long as there is Astraen water inside, it will never die. For you, my lady."
He handed her the tiny gift.

"If you have any interest in discussing the potential for trade between our two kingdoms perhaps we can do so over a dance this evening?"

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Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean

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Elspeth smirked behind her mask. The striking prince was charming. And clearly ambitious. It didn't bother her, however; she understood the purpose of presentation and for at least declaring an agenda up front, ahead of time.

"Flowers," she mused aloud as she took the small vial, inspecting it thoughtfully, "flowers are such an intriguing concept. We have no dirt in The Empyrean, for anything to grow. We prioritize trade in the area of food and nourishment." She batted her eyelashes. "Consider a few ideas before our discussion. Impress me," she challenged in a passive tone, a somewhat giddy smile forming on her obscured face. How she loved it. "But the Keeper must be involved in our discussion," she emphasized, indicating the tall armored man nearby. "I don't do anything without consulting with my most trusted advisor."

Sayer raised a hand silently in acknowledgment, specifically so that Dedric could see.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Elspeth Empyrean Character Portrait: Ozias Sayer Character Portrait: Prince Dedric of Astraea

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Dedric grinned. He hadn't accounted for the Empyrean in any of his plans for commerce or alliance-building, but here stood a promising young ruler who took him by surprise. She wasn't going to simply sway to small charms and flattery. No, she had a level head, a proper sense to weigh the possibilities. He peered through the mask as if surveying her face. He had no doubt with or without it, the lady's expression was as placid as a skilled gambler.

"You're in luck, Lady Empyrean" he said as he reached into his vest and removed a small stack of cards. "I always come prepared." He handed one each to her and Sayer.

"There, you will see a list of our ten biggest exports. We have an immense variety of fruits, truffles, and the sweetest honey in the Underground. In recent years, our perfume industry has soared. Astraea is practically covered in flowers, and our craftsmen have created wonderful elixirs. I hope business will eventually rival the Forgotten Desert's, but we're still some ways from that. Speaking of which..."

He noticed the Keeper's frequent glances in Queen Zade's direction.

"the queen of the Forgotten Desert is just over there in white. It's rare to catch her unoccupied. She's Mab's right hand and one of the most influential members of the council. Why don't you have your Keeper escort you to her and introduce yourself? You'll get a good footing in the public forum if you acquaint yourself with the council early. They respect those who take the initiative to connect with their neighbors. Besides, I think your advisory would appreciate the change of scenery."

He spotted a dwarven noble that he had told Marten to speak with about steel shipments. He wasn't holding the rolled scroll of a contract which meant that his brother had not performed the task. His eyes darted around as he realized that Marten was not to be seen.

"Discuss the list with your associate. I'll have a servant deliver a few bottles of our fragrances. The bluebell is a favorite among the locals. I'm afraid I have some business to attend to. Until the eve, my lady."

He bowed gracefully and flashed her a smile.

"Lord Keeper."

He took another, more stoic and rigid bow, and turned to leave.