The two heroes walked down the road through the forest. It had been only a few days since Hercules had returned from Olympus after giving up his opportunity to become a full god. He had decided that his family meant more to him than being a god on Olympus. And to his friend’s amazement that family had turned out to be Iolaus.
Iolaus was still warmed by the words Hercules had told him the day he had returned to earth. “I realized what my family means to me. And…you’re it.”
Iolaus had almost broken down in tears at that moment. He had to walk away from Hercules to get his composure. Hercules had run after him, “Iolaus...wait! Is something wrong?”
“No, no! I’m…just glad you’re back,” was all he could say, as he stepped ahead of his taller friend and wiped his face of the tears threatening to spill. The moment had been too full of emotion, but Iolaus would never have changed a minute of it. Those words had nestled in his heart causing it to overflow with contentment and warmth. The two friends had always looked at each other as brothers, but Hercules had never made the term ‘family’ mean as much to Iolaus as he had that day. He was Hercules’ family. Yes, it was true that Iphicles, the King of Corinth was Hercules’ half-brother, and that they would always be family. It was also true that Iolaus didn’t have blood connections to Hercules, but there was still the ever-present connection that bound these two men by more than just the word ‘friends’. They had gone through life and death together. They had fought side by side, forging that connection to a strength more powerful than Zeus’ lightning bolts, or Hephaestus’ metals. Iolaus wondered if Hercules regretted not having the same type of connection with Iphicles. Their relationship, though based on blood ties, was still very fragile. They had not grown up together, like Iolaus and Hercules had. They had been forced apart by the fact that Hercules had divine blood and Iphicles did not. The younger half brother to the demigod had been taken away to live with his uncle and aunt when the boys were still very young. Then came the jealousy of learning exactly who Hercules was. The name the demigod had created for himself had spread throughout all of Greece. The name that people either feared and hated, or welcomed and loved. Iphicles, a mere mortal, had given into his jealousy and had used Hercules’ name to impress the woman he had grown to love, Rena. There had been a ruckus between the two brothers over that incident, and Hercules had found out the extent of Iphicles jealousy of him. But, when everything had settled down, and Iphicles had come clean with Rena about who he really was, that he wasn’t the son of Zeus but a mere mortal man who was in love with her, there had come a time of healing between the two brothers. Iphicles could finally take pride in who he was, and not worry about walking in his older brother’s shadow.
But, though their relationship had been healed, the two reconciled, Hercules still found it difficult to allow himself to get close to his brother. There was the blood connection, but what the demigod shared with Iolaus was more definitive to the term ‘brother’. Iphicles was Hercules’ brother by blood, but Iolaus was brother by soul. Perhaps because the two had literally grown up together, had learned to fight together, had learned to trust each other implicitly. Iphicles and Hercules had never truly been allowed the opportunity to become brothers in the true sense of the word. Yes, Iolaus often wondered how much Hercules regretted that twist of fate.
As the two of them traveled together down the road, a silence surrounded them. An uncommon silence. Hercules took it to mean his smaller friend was thinking about something very heavily. So heavy that it had forced him to not babble, as he was constantly able to do. The demigod stopped and rested a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Out with it, Iolaus.”
“Huh?” The small blond man looked up at him with curious blue eyes. “What?”
“What’s on your mind? You’ve been silent for the last sun width. Unlike you in any given situation. Something’s on your mind and I’m curious to know what’s captured your thoughts.”
“Oh, it’s nothing, really, Herc. Just basking.”
“Yeah, you know, pondering. I guess I still can’t believe that you’re back. That you and I are back to doing what we’ve done most of our lives.”
“Do you find it that hard to believe that I would give up Olympus to come back and live my life the way it was supposed to be lived?”
Iolaus pondered, yet some more. “Well, I mean, you have to admit, it’s an opportunity for you that you passed on without even blinking an eye. I mean, selfishly speaking, I’m glad you’re back. I knew it would be difficult for me to adjust with you being gone, but, to have you really back, really here…at my side…it just seems…I don’t know…like it’s too good to be true.”
Hercules chuckled. “That’s much better, Iolaus.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re babbling again. A sound that I hate to admit I missed, but it’s good to hear.”
Iolaus chuckled with him. “I guess…Herc…don’t take this the wrong way, okay? But…it feels like…you had died…and now you’re back again. Can you understand what that means to me?”
Hercules smiled warmly at his friend and put an arm around his shoulders, hugging him to his side. “I can understand, Iolaus. You forget, I watched you die a couple of times myself.” The two started off again, and after a few steps Hercules released his hold on his friend. “One of the things I missed up there on Olympus was you, my Friend. I guess it took my leaving earth to really appreciate the people in my life. My mother may have died, and Jason is a good friend that I will always cherish. Iphicles will always be my brother, even if the two of us aren’t that close, but you…you’re still here. And…it seems fate has decreed we remain friends.”
Iolaus smiled, then something happened. A sense of cold went through him. He started and took in a breath. “What was that?”
Hercules saw the surprised look on his friend’s face and studied him curiously. “What was what?”
“That whoosh of cold air. Didn’t you feel it?”
Hercules was quiet for a moment as he took the time to listen and feel. “Nothing,” he replied.
Iolaus shook himself. “It was like ice going through me.”
“Are you feeling all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Never better, in fact. Just a quick icy plunge into my chest. It just…felt weird.” He reached out and grabbed Hercules’ arm. “There it is again!”
Hercules saw the puzzled look in Iolaus’ eyes. “Iolaus? What is it?”
“I…I don’t know. I…” Iolaus took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He shook himself and stood up straight. “The strangest thing.”
Hercules noticed that Iolaus’ face had suddenly turned pale. He put a hand to his friend’s forehead. “You don’t seem to have a fever. How are you feeling now?”
“I’m…I’m all right, Herc. Really. Just a wave of coldness just washed over me, like a spirit walked right through me.” Iolaus was obviously rattled by the incident, but he seemed to gain some control of himself. “Let’s get going. Jason is going to be so happy to see you.”
Hercules studied his friend, worried. “Maybe we should take a breather for a few moments. Make sure you’re up to the journey.”
“Herc, really, I’m fine.” Iolaus retorted rather sharply.
Hercules flinched. “You’re sure?”
“Yes, I’m…” Iolaus stared off down the road and saw shimmer in the air, like a ripple of water. “Iolaus…” a soft…familiar voice filled the smaller man’s ears. He gazed out ahead as if straining to see what was there. “Yes? I’m here.”
Hercules looked down the road, following Iolaus’ stare. “What is it, Buddy?”
“Didn’t you hear that? Someone called out to me.”
Hercules listened intently. “Iolaus, I don’t hear anything.”
Iolaus shivered. “There it is again.” He said. He looked up at Hercules. “Don’t tell me you can’t feel that?”
“Iolaus, what’s gotten into you? I can’t feel, see, or hear anything you’ve described!”
“Iolaus…” the voice came to him again.
Iolaus jerked back. “What’s…going on? What’s happening?”
Hercules reached out a hand to his friend, but Iolaus jumped back. He was beginning to shake. “Herc? Maybe something…is wrong with me.” He stared off down the road again. “Something’s happening…”
“Iolaus, you’re really starting to scare me now. Tell me what you think is happening.”
“I don’t know!” Iolaus shouted, running a hand through his hair. “Do you think I’d be reacting this way if I knew what was going on?”
Hercules looked around him. Something was disturbing Iolaus, and Iolaus never got disturbed easily. “Show yourself! What are you doing to him?!” The demigod shouted to the sky. “Leave him alone!” Hercules placed protective arms around his friends’ shoulders and he could feel the smaller man trembling. “I…don’t know what’s going…on, Herc. I feel so…strange.” Iolaus collapsed to his knees, Hercules went down with him. “Iolaus!”
Iolaus fell to his side, Hercules pulled him into his arms. “Iolaus!”
“No…” Iolaus began to stop shaking, but he was becoming incoherent. “It’ s…all right, Herc. Don’t…worry. Don’t…be…afraid.” Iolaus passed out. Hercules shook his friend, trying to rouse him. “Iolaus! What is it?! Don ’t do this to me! Don’t you even dare think about leaving me!” Hercules placed his ear to Iolaus chest and heard the heartbeat, but it was strange. It was slow…even, but slow. Hercules looked down at the unconscious face. “Don’t do this to me, Iolaus. I can’t lose you, too. I won’t!” Suddenly, dizziness overtook the son of Zeus and he gently laid Iolaus on the ground. He crawled off a few paces, trying to regain his senses. When he saw the flash of light above his head, he lifted his hand to it, then, he too passed out.
Iolaus felt strange. The coldness was gone. The fear was gone. He felt no warmth, no cold, only a gentle peace. Upon waking, he sat up, then stood. He was in the same place he and Hercules had stopped only a few moments before, but things were different. He looked over to see his friend lying on the ground unconscious. “Herc?!” He ran to his friend’s side then reached out to touch him…when his hand passed through Hercules’ body. Startled he jerked his hand back up. He looked back to where he had been and found…himself…on the ground, unconscious as well. “What is this? What’s happening?”
He jerked around and saw… “Alcmene?”
Hercules’ mother stood before him, dressed in a white gown with gold trimmings. Her hair radiated in an ethereal light that surrounded her form. “Forgive me, Iolaus. It was the only way I could communicate with you. Don’t worry, both of you are all right. Hypnus agreed to help me. You both are simply in a deep sleep. I needed to speak with you. I had no time, really to talk to you before I died. And what I needed to say to you could not be said in front of Jason and Hercules. So…I’ve chosen this method to convey to you what has been on my heart since I found out I was going to die.”
Iolaus smiled at the woman who had been like a second mother to him. “Alcemene, is something wrong? Are you hear to warn me about something?”
Alcmene’s blue eyes clouded over with caution. She reached out and took his hand. He felt her hand slip into his and grinned. “I can feel you.” He said with amazement. “When I tried to touch Hercules, my hand slipped right through him.”
“Yes, Iolaus. Come, sit with me. I must tell you what is on my heart.”
Iolaus walked with her to a log and the two sat down, their hands still clasped. Alcmene cradled his hand in both of hers, and she began to caress his fingers with such love and affection, that it reminded Iolaus of how much she had done that to him when he had been growing up. “I don’t understand what this is all about, Alcmene. You should be talking with your son, not me.”
“You are my son as well, Iolaus. The Son of my heart. And my message is for you alone. Can you understand?”
He smiled at her with love. “Of course, I can understand. What is it that you need to say to me?”
Alcmene looked over to where her son lay sleeping and she sighed heavily. “Iolaus, I’ve always known how much you love Hercules. How much you have given of yourself to walk by his side. How you would sacrifice your own life to save his. The friendship the two of you have shared over your lives has filled me with such joy…there are really no words that can describe how it has touched me. I knew of Hercules becoming a god, leaving you to reside on Olympus. I also knew he would not be staying there long. He was never meant to be a full god, to reign as one of them. If so, he would not have been born half mortal. I knew he would find his way back to where he truly belonged, by your side, the two of you fighting for the people, helping them, and giving them hope. Three sons, Iolaus, have blessed me. Iphicles has made me proud as he has turned into a good king over the people of Corinth. Hercules has made me proud in realizing his true destiny, and you, Iolaus, you have made me proud in your loyalty and love to both him and myself. I realize that I don’t really have to ask this of you, but I felt cheated at not being able to say these things to you before I died. And now…now, I must say them to you.”
Iolaus studied the woman before him, and realized she was treading dangerously close to tears. “Alcmene, what is it? Why this sudden need to speak to me from beyond?”
Alcmene reached up and gently placed a hand to Iolaus’ face. “The treasureyou are to him, do you realize how much you mean to him? Even if he never actually tells you?”
“But he did, Alcmene. When he came back from Olympus. He told me I was his family.”
“Yes, Iolaus, he did.” The fight against the tears lost, Alcmene allowedthem to fall. “But there is something you must know…my special Son. A dark time will arise before the two of you. Zeus has allowed me to see what awaits the two of you down the road. Hercules will think himself lost to this world. He will believe that he has lost you as well as the others in his life that he has loved. A time of trial such as neither of you has ever experienced will come upon you. I’ve come to you, Iolaus, to ask that you do not give up. When that time arrives, I ask that you will hold onto your ability to fight. A powerful darkness threatens the world. Hercules and you will face it together, and in that moment, you will be lost to Hercules for a short time. He will lose his hope. He will lose his desire for life, his desire to help others. His will to live will vanish.”
Iolaus felt the sting of tears as they welled up in his eyes. “Alcmene, what are you saying?”
“You both will be separated by this dark force. Iolaus, I’m asking you, even when all seems hopeless and lost…do not give up on Hercules. He will think he has failed you. He will blame himself for what will happen. Do not let go, even in the darkness…hold onto him, Iolaus. Hold onto him as you have never held onto him before.” She clutched his hand tightly between hers, bringing his hand to her face. She kissed his palm. He placed his palm to her face and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Alcmene…”
“Iolaus, just know that you both will find each other again, if you hold onto your faith in him. He may lose his faith, for he will think he has lost you, but you must fight the darkness in order to overcome it. Can you trust me in what I’m saying to you? I’m asking you, even though the two of you will be separated, I’m asking you to watch over my son.”
Iolaus looked over to his sleeping friend. “Alcmene…am I…am I going to die?”
The mother of Hercules gazed at Iolaus for a long moment before replying. “I’m…not certain, Iolaus. I only know a terrible sadness will fill Hercules ’ heart because of something that will happen to you. I was not allowed to see more than that. And I know that you will be lost to this darkness for a time. For both of your sakes, I’m asking you to hold onto your friendship with Hercules. Hold onto it as if you would a lifeline. For I believe it will be that lifeline that will end the darkness and bring the two of you together again.”
Iolaus gazed into Alcmene’s eyes, and as the tears fell down his face, he reached out and embraced her tightly. “Alcmene…know this. I swear by my own soul that Hercules will not be lost…to either of us. I will stand by that vow from now until forever.”
Alcmene broke down in the hunter’s arms at these words. And Iolaus held her tightly. She whispered into his ear. “And I will hold onto both of you as tightly as I can. I refuse to lose any of my sons to this darkness. I will hold you both in my heart with all my strength.”
Iolaus’ voice broke as he replied, “Then…we have nothing to lose, Alcmene.”
She laughed a little through her tears, and then pulled herself from Iolaus’ embrace. Forcing a smile to her quivering lips, she reached out and brushed his ever-mangled golden hair from his face. “My Iolaus. Thank you.”
“Thank you, Alcmene, for trusting me with Hercules’ life.”
She took his hands and stood, raising him to stand with her. “I also trust Hercules with yours, Iolaus.” She led him back to where his sleeping body lay. “It’s time to say ‘good-bye’ once more.”
He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “I’ll remember your words to me, Alcmene.”
“I know you will, Iolaus.” She returned his kiss and stepped back, releasing his hand as she did so. He watched her disappear from his sight.
Iolaus jerked awake, and after a few moments of disorientation he looked up into the worried eyes of his friend. “Herc?”
Hercules sighed with relief, shutting his eyes. “Gods, Iolaus, you had me scared there for a moment.”
Iolaus looked around and realized he was in Hercules’ arms. “What happened?”
“I was hoping you could tell me. You passed out, then something happened and I must have passed out. I woke up a few moments ago and found you still unconscious. How are you feeling?”
Hercules helped his friend to sit up and Iolaus took a moment to assess his physical status. “I’m…all right…I think.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, help me to my feet, would you?”
Hercules stood and held out an arm, which Iolaus grasped. The demigod pulled his friend to his feet and kept his hold on him for a moment longer until he was certain Iolaus could stand unaided. Iolaus grabbed his friend’ s arm and held onto it tightly. “Iolaus? What is it?”
Iolaus looked up into his friend’s worried eyes. He remembered the entire conversation with Alcmene and though sadness filled his heart at what would be waiting for them in the days ahead, he managed a small smile. “Whatever happens, Hercules…just know…that I’ll always be with you. Okay?”
Hercules gazed at him, uncertain how to take this. “Um…sure…okay. Do you…have something you need to tell me, Iolaus?”
“No, Hercules. Only what I just said.” Iolaus gripped Hercules' arm one more time then released his hold. Hercules released his and gazed down at his friend. “Another premonition of the future, Iolaus?”
Iolaus straightened his vest and amulet. He studied the amulet with a sense of foreboding. “No, Hercules. A premonition of hope.” He started walking on down the road again, caressing the amulet between his thumb and forefinger, gently tracing the crack that went down the middle of it.
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