Everyone stared at the still and quite clearly lifeless form on the ground. Holly blinked slowly, her throat convulsing madly. “Why…?” she whispered.
“I did what I had to,” Gustav said curtly. “She’d have been a danger to us all. Don’t go thinking I wanted to do that… I didn’t.”
“You killed Jareth. Of all the things you could do, you *killed Jareth*. You bastard… how could you do that!” Pixie snarled at him. Her eyes glittered with the fury of someone who had never before felt ice-cold rage… which wasn’t Pixie’s case, but the ice showed more closely than anything any of them had seen. “Jareth was the one thing that you had done right… flesh of my flesh… blood of my blood… you killed her, you heartless bastard…
“I think that if anyone here is… or *was*…” Zurath paused, focusing on Gustav, “A threat, it would be *you*, Gustav. *You* are the threat to us. Even under possesion, Jareth wouldn’t hurt us. At least… I don’t think she would.”
“Don’t be so sure.” Winston floated up to Jareth. “You never know what she’ll do. It’s like what Holly said… the instant you think you’ve got her figured out you’ll do something to contradict every belief you’ve come to have about her.”
“I don’t know about *every* belief.” Suezo stood up. “There are some things that never change…”
“Like the fact that the old fart just killed Jareth.” Tiger walked up to Gustav. “I don’t want to go traveling with the likes of him.”
“There’s one thing you would do well to remember…” Winston said coolly. “Those who are dead don’t necessarily *stay* dead.”
“People like Jareth do. We aren’t stupid.” Durandel sighed. “Well, maybe *some* of us are…” he added, giving Kunari a meaningful look.
“I’m *not* stupid,” Kunari growled. “But that is of no consequence. What matters right now is Jareth… and what to do with her sorry excuse for a father. Any opposition?”
Durandel walked over to Jareth and pulled the dagger from her chest. Dark blood dripped off the tip of the blade. “I don’t suppose you still want this?” he asked, turning toward Holly. “I don’t blame you if you don’t.”
“I’ll keep the dagger,” Holly said quietly. “It’s not going to bite me just because it’s got Jareth’s blood on it. Besides… blood is a powerful bond. Who knows? It might protect me.” She took the dagger from Durandel and wiped the blood off on her pants.
Rain began to fall gently. “It’s almost as though our tears fall from the sky,” Winston mused. “Or as if the heavens mourn with us… who knows what’s going to happen to Jareth? Who knows what fate lies beyond the gates of death?”
Nobody heard him.
“So what do we do about Jareth?” Zurath asked coldly. “We can’t just leave the body here. Any ideas?”
“I could take the body…” said voice that was quiet and rusty, as if it had gone a long time without being used. “That is… if there are no objections…” a tall, sturdy-looking figure shrouded in a cloak stepped from the shadows. “I am an undertaker. Your… friend… will be safe with me.”
“All right. All yours then.” Zurath said in a detached voice. “Take care of her… she’s the only family I ever had.” A tear trickled down his face. “The only family I ever had…”
“I will take care of your friend,” the undertaker told him. “There will not be a problem. That is a promise to you, sir. For I too once knew the great Jareth Solaris.” He picked up Jareth’s body and began to walk away.
“Truly great, eh?” Gustav smiled sadly. “She was the one thing I did right… and she ain’t even my kid. Well, not really…” his eyes filled. “We’re all gonna miss you, Jareth… I hope that some day you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me for what I’ve done to ya…”
“At least Tiger gets the ‘serious role’ back…” Durandel shook his head. “At times like this I’m grateful to just be a suit of armor. Even an immortal one who never forgets anything…”
“That’s a real curse,” Kunari said, putting a hand on Durandel’s shoulder in a rare gesture of sympathy. “Why did that ever happen to you?”
“It’s the triat,” Durandel tolk him. “Don’t you remember? ‘One will fight, one will remember…’”
“And one will walk the trail of blood. I remember that much… *big brother*.”
Nobody really noticed the blood trickling down Jareth’s face like tears.
Chapter Thirty-two: Iced
Everyone was silent as they packed up camp. Kunari didn’t insult anyone and Tiger and Hare didn’t fight. Gustav had finally stopped acting stupid, but everyone had come to regard him as comic relief and his humor, un-humorous as it was, was almost missed. Mocchi refused to work, sitting and sulking. Suezo blinked constantly, trying to keep his tears at bay.
“Jareth would laugh at us to see us like this,” Zurath said bitterly. “She’d say we were stupid to dwell on what we can’t change and tell us to move on. She wouldn’t want us to grieve for the one who was a great evil…”
“Maybe not, but can we help it?” Winston floated up to Zurath. “She’s not evil anymore, and hasn’t been for a while. Against my better sense, I let myself like Jareth, despite her bitter, cynical personality. You guys made her one of your group, probably knowing that she’d die young. You’re just going to have to face it.”
“You know, I really don’t like it when I’m upset and other people are right.” Zurath glared at Winston. “You aren’t being helpful, Ghosty-boy.”
“I’m not the only one who’s right,” Winston countered. “Jareth *would* be laughing at us right now. She’d say you’re acting like her when you’re supposed to be the voice of reason… bitter instead of practical.”
“Winston, it’s possible to be both, and I think that you’re too right for your own good. So shut up.” Zurath slithered away.
Winston sighed. “They’re always unreachable when they’re sad,” he muttered. “It makes *me* sad… and I’ve had my fair share of misery.” With a shrug he began to follow the others.
Nobody said anything for a long time. They just walked in silence, the rain wetting their hair, trickling down their faces and the backs of their necks. Gustav in particular seemed bitter and unreachable. He stared at the ground in front of him, muttering under his breath as tears poured silently down his cheeks, mixing with the rain until they were all but undistinguishable from each other. His feet stomped the mud and it splatted up when his feet hit puddles but he didn’t bother to wipe the mud from his face.
Zurath was as dejected as Gustav, or even more so. His face was unreadable, like a mask, and his red eyes were sad and angry at the same time. He didn’t have feet, but if he did he’d have been kicking up puddles the way Gustav was. Instead, he left sullen, chiseled-out trails on the muddy road.
Kunari had lost his usual arrogance, and his stride had narrowed to what would typically be called a ‘normal stride’, but on Kunari it looked sad—pathetic, even. His sword hung at his waist limply… that was sad, if anything, because it was usually alive, dancing around in an effort to punctuate Kunari’s speech.
Durandel looked mildly confused by the whole thing. “I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be sad,” he mused aloud, “But now I feel like an idiot because of it.” He sighed.
“You *are* an idiot,” Winston grumbled. “You’re all idiots. Jareth’s *dead*, sure, but acting stupid isn’t going to make us feel any better and it sure as hell isn’t going to bring her back! You guys need to get used to that and grow up a little!”
“This is stupid, chi.” Mocchi grumbled. “You guys are all being too sad.”
“I’ll say…” Genki rolled his eyes. “I’m the cheerful one and I’m depressed. Jareth was our friend and I say we should honor her memory without acting like a bunch of proffesional mourners!” He pulled himself up. “Let’s go!”
Winston smiled. “That’s the spirit! Let’s get out of this deep blue funk we’re in!”
Durandel blinked. “What do you mean, ‘deep blue funk’?”
Winston shrugged. “I don’t know. It just sounds about right. But whatever you call it, let’s shake it off!”
Everyone straightened up a little and walked a little faster. Genki had managed to find a shadow of his old, reckless grin and was wearing it like a stylish new costume.
Zurath glared at the sky in anger at the author for adding a horribly stupid simile to the otherwile decently written story.
Somewhere, in a place so deep and distant from the knowledge of the living, a touch of warmth filled the hearts of Jareth’s old friends for a moment.
Chapter Thirty-three : Dead Jareth Walking
The hooded figure who had taken Jareth’s body from her friends what seemed like an eternity ago looked down at the still, almost peaceful features of his one-time friend. He leaned down and blew a puff of air into Jareth’s face.
“Wake, my friend,” he whispered. “Wake, and walk the living realm once more. It is not your time to go… not yet.” He traced a rune in the air, and it left a glimmering outline of the rune before falling on to Jareth and sinking into her skin. Her face twitched slightly, as if she had been asleep a long time and wanted to wake up. Finally her eyes opened.
A wind blew, and even though he was almost insubstantial his hood fell back, revealing Sir Frostbit’s pained face. “Welcome to death, old friend,” he said sadly. “Or un-death, really. I almost hoped that this would never happen. But I suppose I did get one wish…”
“What’s that?” Jareth may have been dead, or un-ead really, but every bit of her soul—the dark inner flame—was alive. “What was the wish you got from me dying?”
“I wanted to see you again, old friend. And it seems I did.” Sir Frostbit smiled sadly. “It seems I did.”
“I suppose you’re going to want your sword and medallion back.”
“No, Jareth. They’re yours now. I am truly dead, and can’t walk this realm for very long. You are… more than anyone either of us know. The sword I gave you is a symbol of our friendship that I want you to have for as long as you care to remember me. The medallion is the Black Gold of the Blue Devils. You, I think, are a Devil at heart, and a very blue person. Find them… they will help you.”
“I’m dead, Sir Frostbit.” Jareth stared at him blankly. “How can I get help if I’m dead?”
“The Devils don’t really care about that sort of thing. They’ll understand. You can return to the living, Jareth. You have the strength.”
“Not yet I don’t. I think I should be dead for a little while—or a long while—before I show up again. I don’t want to unsettle them more than I have to.”
“All right. Will you take me up on getting help from the Devils? Jareth, please promise me you’ll do that. They can help you more than I can.” Sir Frostbit looked at the ground. “If I were still alive, I’d be crying. You’ve changed so much, I barely even recognize you any more.”
“I’m not promising you anything, Sir Frostbit.”
“Don’t ‘Jareth’ me, Sir Frostbit. I can take care of myself.” Jareth glared, her almost-black eyes glittering angrily.
“I don’t doubt that. You’ve been taking care of yourself since you knew how to walk. Most humans learn that in their early thirties.”
“We both know that I’m not exactly human, Sir Frostbit. I don’t even know why I’m listening to a dead guy.”
“Because you know that of everyone you knew as a kid, I actually care what happens to you?”
“I guess you’ve got me there.”
“I should hope so.” Sir Frostbit smiled. “That was my last line of defense.”
“You *suck*,” Jareth said vehemently. “All those years of knowing you and I *still* don’t have you figured out!”
“If it’s any consolation,” Sir Frostbit said meekly, “I don’t know any more about you than you know about me.”
“Fat lot of good that does me.”
“I detest you.”
“I’m sure you’d love to believe that, Jareth.”
“What’s *that* supposed to mean?”
“We both know that it isn’t true.”
“Well, if I don’t hate you, I’d damn well like to.”
“Of course you would. Jen used to say the same thing.”
“Blue Devil. A Mint, if my memory serves me.”
“I thought you were *dead*, not senile.” Jareth grinned.
“I’m glad to see you haven’t lost your sense of humor.”
“What sense of humor?” Jareth tried to glare and failed. “Are you saying I’m funny?”
Sir Frostbit shrugged. “Something to that extent. But we both know that looks don’t really count.”
“I’m sure we all saw that one coming.” Jareth grinned. “But looks *do* count. Only thing is they can only take you so far.”
“You’re right there.”
“So what else is new?”
“I’m glad to see that you haven’t changed all that much.” Sir Frostbit smiled slightly. “Unfortunately, you *have* grown up, and that’s too much of a change for anyone.”
“Bloody hell, old man, I’ve grown up too much for the common good…” Jareth rolled her eyes. “Do the dead see what happens to the living?”
“Yes, I’m afraid we do… and I don’t really blame the ‘Evil Lord Jareth’ for anything. You were conditioned toward cruelty from the beginning, just like Gustav, and it didn’t help that your mother gave you a genetic tendency to be unnaturally aggressive… even if you hadn’t killed Gustav someone else would have.”
“I never felt guilty about killing Gustav. Not even after I met him.”
“Do you feel guilty about anything, Jareth?”
“No… I just feel empty.”
“Let me show you what death can do, Jareth… let me show you everything and everyone to pass beyond what you all called ‘life’.”
Chapter Thirty-four: Truth of the Dead
Jareth and Sir Frostbit sunk slowly through the ground, letting reality around them ooze and run.
“Let me show you what the dead have ahead of them,” Sir Frostbit said softly. “See what you have done… it is the promise I must keep to them.”
“Why are you taking me to see the misery I caused? They’ll all hate me!”
“They hate the *evil* Lord Jareth,” Sir Frostbit said simply. “Most of them don’t begrudge you for killing them once they get used to it.”
“How many did I kill?”
“Too many to keep track of. Jareth, you’ll have to face it eventually. Why not now?”
“I’m not ready now.”
“When will you be?”
“When I’m as dead as them.”
“You *are* as dead as them.”
“No.” Jareth shook her head. “They’re past-living dead. I’m walking-dead.”
“By the time you’re as dead as they are now most of them will be true-dead, beyond any reach.” Sir Frostbit sighed. “What have I told you about procrastinating?”
“If putting it off will help you, then for the gods’ sake, put it off!” Jareth smiled. “Those were your exact words.”
Sir Frostbit sighed. “You always did have a good memory.”
“I take pride in that, old friend.”
“I’m so sure you do.”
They fell throught the roof of a large stone building.
Jareth leapt to her feet. “WHAT THE F*** WAS THAT?”
Sir Frostbit sighed. “That’s what they all say…”
Jareth arched an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Well… yes. Just… not usually quite so profane.”
“I’m so glad you find me amusing.”
“I do, and I would laugh, but I can’t find the energy.” Jareth sighed. “I’ve only been dead a few hours and I already hate it.”
“It’s not so bad once you get used to it.”
“I just never realized that I liked being alive, that’s all.” Jareth sighed again. “Everything was so much… realer. Where are we going?”
“To the realm of the dead… where else?”
“What *is* the realm of the dead?”
“Hard to say, really.”
“You sure that’s it? Hard to say?”
“The realm of death is whatever you believe it to be.”
“That really helps me a lot, Sir Frostbit. I think you’ve lost a bit of personality since you’ve been dead.” Jareth glared at him. “I think I’ll leave if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Jareth, you can’t leave!”
“I’m walking-dead, Sir Frostbit. I can go anywhere I want. I’ll find the truth if it’s the last thing I do.”
“That’s all you seek? The truth?”
“For now, yes, that’s all. I want the truth more than anything, Sir Frostbit. It’s what I need to find my fate.”
“Find your fate? If anyone can do that, it’s you. But why just find it? Why not change it? You have the strength, Jareth.”
“Nobody can change fate, not even me. What I *can* do is rise to meet it, and that’s what I plan to do.”
“I never understood you, Jareth, and I never will.”
“I don’t ask you to understand me. All I ask is that you care.”
“That I *can* do.”
Chapter Thirty-five: Numb the Pain
“Did you guys feel that?” Zurath asked suddenly.
“No,” Kunari replied. “Feel what?”
“I don’t know…” Zurath replied. “Just a sense of… something. Strength maybe. I’m not sure.”
“That doesn’t help us any,” Durandel pointed out. “I felt something, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
“I’m being called!” Genki shouted suddenly. “I’ve been summoned to a place for the final confrontation in this war!”
“You’re sure?” Suezo blinked his large eye once. “You think we’re actually going to fight Moo?”
“Yeah, chi! We’re gonna defeat Moo once and for all!”
“I think that’s what it means…”
Zurath smiled. “Sounds good to me! Let’s win this war and find a place to call home.”
“Yeah!” everyone joined the sudden cheer. “Let’s find this confrontation and give it everything we have!”
“Nice new body, old friend.”
Moo sighed. “Jareth, I’ve always respected you. I thought you’d be smarter than to come back here. You know you’re going to die.” An easy, cruel smile painted the face of the dark dragon’s face.
“I’ve learned something, Moo. I’m not going to die.” Jareth smiled a cold, cruel smile that mirrored Moo’s perfectly, glare for glare, smirk for smirk.
“And what, pray tell, *is* that something?”
“Holly. See if you can get the Magic Stone to show us the way to the final battle.” Zurath straightened. “If it can show us the way maybe we can ambush Moo.
Holly shook her head. “There’s no ambushing Moo. He’ll know we’re there. He always does.”
“We’ll all die, you realize.” Durandel faced them with a calmness that unnerved them. “And don’t forget about Thanatos.”
“Don’t worry…” Gustav said quietly. “We haven’t forgotten. But most of all, I’m worried about Jareth.”
“She’s a mage. Mages don’t die that easily.”
“Gustav, it was a knife through the heart.” Pixie glared. “Not even Jareth could survive that.”
“That doesn’t mean that there is no Self left to become walking-dead.”
“You see, my friend… the power of Moo…”
“I won’t be giving you any more trouble.” Thanatos materialized before them.
“How are we to believe that?” Gustav glared.
“I have walked the Trail of Blood, Gustav, and I have come to its end. It is time for me to die.” Thanatos stood in the air before them. “One will fight, one will remember and one will walk the Trail of Blood. My life will end, then the life of the Memory, then the life of the Warrior.”
“No!” Kunari shouted.
“You can’t fight your fate, but you can rise to meet it, Audrehkan Kunari, but you can rise to meet it.”
“I don’t want to die!”
“Neither do I, my Audrehkan.”
“I haven’t been called that for ages.”
“And you may never be called it again.”
“I, Dyevasin Durandel, declare the death of Behlkarin Debuki Thanatos.” Durandel glared impartially at everyone around him. “You will fall at my blade, as it has been said to happen. Join the ranks of the dead, Thanatos. We will meet again.”
The blade fell.
“Is the power…”
“…of Lord Jareth.” Jareth smiled. “And I’m already dead, Moo. And now I take what strength you have taken from me for myself, for my friends and family… and for the honor and power of the Blue Devils.”
Jareth raised her right hand into the air and Moo’s life force drained out of him and into a glowing orb of light that rested on Jareth’s palm. “Feel the pain, Moo…” Jareth whispered fiercely. “And feel the wrath of the Bringer of Destruction!”
“That’s it,” Durandel said shortly. “He’s dead. Let’s go.”
“Go where?” Kunari growled. “We don’t know where to look for this ‘Final Confrontation’ place.”
“We’ll find it,” Zurath snapped. “We don’t have much of a choice.”
Moo collapsed and disappeared. Jareth smiled. “Yosho Mercris, am I correct?”
“Yes…” The man who had once been tall and strong was now withered with age and pain. “What have I done…?”
“Are you going to kill me?”
“You are the reason I exist. Fate was meant to run this course. There was nothing you could do but to meet it. By being the reason I existed, you were also the reason Moo existed, but there is no Moo. Not anymore…”
“Moo’s life force came from my strength. When I took it back I took his sife force and thus killed him. But I must go now… the Final Confrontation awaits.”
“But Moo is gone!”
“My dear man, the Final Confrontation does not involve Moo in the least. It is the battle between the Bringer of Life and the Bringer of Destruction… who is me.”
“And this Bringer of Life?”
“The Phoenix, of course.”
“And you are the Bringer of Destruction.”
“No, I am but a vessel, as is the boy Genki.”
“The human boy, the one who is so full of energy. The one who brought my mother to her senses.”
“Yes… the human boy I remember. So who is the actual Bringer of Destruction?”
“You will see.”
“So how are we going to find the Final Confrontation?” Kunari grumbled. “There’s no way of knowing when and where it is, so why are we even bothering? It’s not like we can win the battle against Moo, let alone the war.”
“Thanatos is dead, and we never expected that to happen,” Pixie pointed out coolly. “And even if we all die, I’d like to put a few more scars on Moo for what he’s done with the world. Even if we lose, there will be others, and others after them. Because, as Genki’s shown me, there can always be hope.”
“Brave words,” said a cool voice from behind them. “But are they brave enough to show you the true Final Confrontation, *Mother*?”
Everyone turned toward the voice. Jareth stepped from the shadows. “I don’t think you guys really even know what the Final Confrontation is, or what it’s about. You see, the Final Confrontation is far from final…”
Genki blinked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You will understand in time, my boy.” Yosho stepped out of the shadows to stand beside Jareth. “You’ll understand in time.”
Holly blinked. “Dad?”
Yosho rolled his eyes. “Well, I’m standing here, aren’t I?”
“But that means that…”
“Moo’s dead. I know that.” Yosho shrugged. “What’s the big deal here?”
“So what’s this whole Final Confrontation thing then?” Genki snapped. “What’s this whole thing *about*?”
“It is the confrontation…” Jareth said smoothly, “Between the Bringer of Life and the Bringer of Destruction.” She plunged her hand into Genki’s chest and tore out his heart. Genki gasped, his throat convulsed and his body burst into flame. “Feel the wrath of the ages, Bringer of Life,” Jareth roared in a totally inhuman voice.
Blue flame rose from Jareth’s body as she tore out her own heart.
Two great flaming birds flew from the hearts that Jareth held in her hands. The Phoenix, which everyone recognized, rose from Genki’s heart. From Jareth’s rose a great blue Phoenix-bird. The two birds rose into the air, shrieking.
Beams of powerful energy and flame burst from the fighting birds. They flew at one another, raking at flesh and air with razor-sharp talons. They flew at one another, matching flame for flame, strike for strike, bright gold blood dripping from their wounds on to the hard earth… and neither one showed signs of letting up.
The many friends stared at the fight, totally helpless to do anything. Feathers began falling, blue and gold flames erupting wherever they touched the ground. The flames around the human bodies grew larger and stronger, leaping higher and higher into the air. The dark gold medallion around Jareth’s human neck shattered, sending shards of power and a wave of energy through the whole area.
And the Blue Phoenix struck.
The Phoenix fell from the sky, leaving a trail of gold light. The Blue Phoenix followed, and when the two birds touched the ground, the great fires consumed them both, leaving nothing behind.
Or is it?