Once Upon a Nightmare
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Dumas ran. Blinded by tears, he slammed into walls and stumbled down staircases, not caring where his flight took him. In the end, it wouldn’t matter. As long as the heart-shaped mark still scarred Dumas’s chest, Jareth could use it inflict enough pain to make the changeling come crawling back from any corner of the Goblin Kingdom. But, for the moment, Dumas needed the comfort of movement. He needed a simulation of escape, even if it was ultimately impossible.
Less than an hour ago...
“You’re going to sell me?” Dumas gawked at the Goblin King, while a sense of dread squeezed his heart in its unrelenting grip. He knew that other fae sometimes visited Jareth’s court, usually with the purpose of selecting changelings to become their slaves. But he’d never imagined that terrible fate might befall him. Didn’t he and Devon amuse Jareth with their antics? Didn’t Jareth relish the chances to scold them, to make them grovel and suffer?
“Don’t think of it as being sold.” As always, Jareth appeared completely unconcerned by any distress he happened to be causing. Like a sleek cat, he lounged on the throne he’d stolen from others, with his legs carelessly draped over one of its armrests. “Think of it as...being rented. She only wants you for a month.”
A month. After countless years in the Goblin Court, a month shouldn’t seem like anything at all. But there was a reason that it filled Dumas with terror. “But Devon--? We’ve never been apart for more than a few hours.”
Jareth shrugged, an impossibly fluid movement that seemed to ripple from his shoulders all the way down to his toes. “She doesn’t need two of you. And, let’s be honest, you’re much more housebroken than your twin. He’s likely to bite the hand that feeds him.”
Utterly exhausted, Dumas finally staggered to a halt. Cobwebs covered his tattered clothing and dust choked his straining lungs. Coughing, the changeling glanced around his surroundings, startled to discover that he’d accidentally ended up in the dungeon. Dumas always shunned this area during explorations with his brother, regarding it as depressing and dull. Even other changelings rarely got imprisoned here. Jareth’s ability to inflict either agony or ecstasy via their marks gave him much more effective methods of discipline.
Turning in a slow circle, Dumas surveyed the maze of hallways and empty cells. Since he’d never ventured this deep before, he now found himself uncertain how to get out. And, considering what awaited him back in the Goblin Court, he wasn’t even sure that he wanted to get out. Being lost for a little while seemed like a welcome respite.
Dumas wiped away his tears with a dirty sleeve. Then, in no particular hurry, he set off down the nearest hallway. His footsteps echoed along the stone passage like disembodied handclaps, occasionally mixing with the sound of water dripping somewhere in the distance. But it was a different noise that made him freeze in his tracks -- a faint rustle of movement that seemed to come from behind a nearby cell door. For a moment, Dumas remembered a changeling who had insisted that the dungeon was haunted by a terrible ghost, and he nearly bolted. However, curiosity quickly overcame fear. Creeping up to the door, Dumas peered through the bars in its small window. Inside, instead of a vengeful spirit, he saw a pretty girl.
“Hello?” Dumas began, before he could consider the wisdom of interacting with someone who Jareth feared enough to lock away in such a remote prison. “Are you a changeling?”
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Dumas nodded, confirming the girl’s description of changelings. “We used to be human children. But Jareth stole our youth to fuel his magic.” Dumas wasn’t sure how much time had passed since he and Devon were kidnapped. It was hard to measure such things in a realm without seasons, where each day passed much like the last. Regardless, it had been long enough to erode his recollection of the human world, until little remained except a handful of disjointed images. A favorite toy. A word of praise. A kiss on the cheek at bedtime. “Now we can never go home. Few among us even remember where home was.”
So, if she wasn’t a changeling, what was she? Not a goblin, surely. Goblins could use spells to appear beautiful. But it required a lot of magic, and their vulgar manners usually gave them away. In Dumas’s small world, that only left two options. Human or --
Just as the possibility occurred to Dumas, his companion confirmed it. Fae. The changeling’s eyes widened in terror and he took a step backwards. Although Dumas had glimpsed other fae from afar, he’d only ever interacted with one. So he assumed that they were all like Jareth. Clever. Arrogant. Equal parts whimsical and sadistic. The fact that they were willing to buy slaves certainly seemed to support his hypothesis.
However, before Dumas could flee, the sound of cracking earth came from within the girl’s cell. Briefly, fear warred against curiousity. Then, as always, curiousity won. Pressing his face back against the cell window, Dumas gasped in wonderment as a plant sprouted from the ground and jumped into the girl’s hand.
“That’s amazing!” Dumas had never seen Jareth create something. The Goblin King only used his magic to intimidate and deceive. This was a far more wonderful spell, and the girl who’d cast it must be a very different sort of fae.
Dumas’s stomach rumbled as he gazed at the orange root. A...carrot, if he remembered correctly. Jareth never fed them anything except gruel, when he bothered to feed them anything at all. The twins had quickly learned to supplement their diet with whatever scraps they could steal from the goblins. Occasionally, they found a fruit or vegetable during their explorations of the Labyrinth. But those always tasted bitter and rotten, no matter how beautiful they might appear on the outside.
Pushing his hand through the window bars, Dumas strained for the carrot. He didn’t want to take it from the girl. He just wanted to touch it, to trigger the memory of its sweet flavor. At the same time, he also attempted to satisfy his curiosity about another matter. “Why are you locked away down here? I thought that all fae got along with each other.”
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Dumas didn’t understand how the fae could view Allutheria as a prison. They seemed to rule it like kings and queens, twisting reality to satisfy their every whim. “But you’re all so powerful,” he protested. “If you don’t like Allutheria, can’t you just leave? What’s strong enough to keep you here?”
When the girl actually offered her carrot to him, Dumas couldn’t believe his luck. Eagerly, he snatched it out of her hand before she could change her mind. She might not consider the vegetable to be one of her best efforts, but it tasted wonderful to him -- fresh, and sweet, and completely unlike old porridge. After wolfing down his first bite, Dumas forced himself to chew the next one more slowly, which kept him from bombarding the girl with even more questions.
Until she mentioned being a princess. Dumas’s eyes grew wide as she described her former court and he felt his curiosity swelling to the bursting point. Hastily, Dumas swallowed, to avoid spewing chewed carrot at his companion when he could no longer remain silent.
“This used to be your home?” Surprise and awe mixed in Dumas’s voice. Jareth always acted like he’d produced the entire kingdom with a wave of his hand, but Dumas had stopped believing that years ago. Clever as he might be, Jareth was no creator. His magic revolved around deception and pain. And all his precious goblins couldn’t cooperate long enough to build a mudpie. During Dumas’s explorations, he occasionally encountered remnants of the former residents -- especially depictions of a particular animal. Dumas had seen it in smashed statuary, tattered tapestries, and faded paintings. “You belonged to the Court of the Really Big Cow?”
Thinking about those explorations reminded Dumas of the person who usually accompanied him during them. Devon. Guiltily, Dumas looked down at the carrot in his hand, already mostly devoured. Devon would have saved half for him. No, Devon would have given him the whole thing, insisting that he wasn’t hungry. But Dumas was not his brother. For better and for worse.
“I’m Dum, by the way. I mean, that’s what Jareth and the goblins call me. Tweedle Dum.”
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