Introduction: I know, I know, the challenge actually was 'only' to fill in the missing scene in 'Maze of The Minatour', but somehow my imagination got the better of me. Anyway, I always thought Hercules got off too easily and this is my attempt to correct this tiny 'error' in the movie ...
Images and sensations:
Hercules pulling at his arm, trying to free him from the ground that had opened beneath him.
The feeling of being torn apart, his arm almost being ripped out of its socket.
The regret in Hercules' face when he finally had to give up the uneven battle, knowing that else he would seriously injure his friend.
The ground that rose to meet him, to swallow him.
The promise in the deep blue eyes that Hercules would come for him, find him, no matter the cost, no matter how long it would take.
The struggle for air as sand and earth engulfed him, filling his mouth, suffocating him.
Falling, then sliding.
Then ... nothing.
Mist covered the grounds of the narrow underground tunnel, moving in thick waves almost as if alive, having a mind of its own. The mist seemed to glow from within, its white waves the only source of light around. It was not very deep, barely lapping up to the ankles of the being that walked through it, stirring it only so slightly.
The white mist was also the first thing that crept into Iolaus' awareness when he came to from the depth of unconsciousness that had swallowed him the moment he had been pulled into this underground world. The mist and the fact that somebody carried him slung over his shoulders not unlike somebody would haul a sack of grain or potatoes. His first instinct was to struggle, to wind himself out of the powerful build arm that held him. But another equally strong instinct told him to be quiet, not to let the person who carried him know that he was awake.
A thousand questions filled his mind, not the least of them the one what in the name of Hades had happened and where he was. The last thing he remembered was being awaken rather rudely by Hercules. His friend had shoved their packs and his bow with arrows in his hands and all but pulled him out of a bed he had no recollection of getting into. The sound of an angry mob had woken him far enough by then to understand that they were in trouble - no good trouble, but bad trouble and no small trouble, but big trouble. He willingly followed the demi-god when he shattered one wall of the inn to create a back door, while the mob all but broke down the regular door of the place they had spent the night in.
The two friends had been ready to fight for their lives when the people of Alturia had cornered them in a dead-end street. The villagers didn't really give the impression that they were willing to listened to the voice of reason or Hercules. Then, suddenly, the earth had begun to tremble and one of the villagers had vanished into a hole in the ground. Iolaus had barely had time to comprehend what had happened when all of the sudden a similar hole had opened beneath his own feet and something had circled his ankles with iron-like claws.
He had fought to hold on, reaching for Hercules as his line to safety, to security. But the iron-like claws wouldn't let go, pulling him deeper and deeper into the ground. Hercules had tried to pull him back out but soon the son of Zeus realized that he only had the choice to either let him go or to tear Iolaus' arm out of its socket. The last glance Hercules had cast his friend had held the pain of being forced to let him go, but also had contained the promise that he would go after Iolaus and find him.
And then there had been only darkness.
So, where was he now?
The illumination - or rather the lack thereof -- hadn't changed a bit since he had come to and he still couldn't make out a lot. From the distance his head was above the ground Iolaus concluded that the person who was carrying him was pretty tall, probably taller than Hercules. And he was pretty strong as well. It didn't seem as if his weight slowed him down at all as he was walking through the tunnels.
Iolaus twisted his body a little, giving the illusion of a natural movement brought on by the motion of walking. Now he could see that he was not the only load that was carried by the stranger. Under the left arm his captor held the body of the villager who had been drawn underground moments before Iolaus.
Suddenly the inert body of the villager moved. He was coming to and immediately realized that something was terrible wrong. However, unlike Iolaus, who had decided to wait and see, the villager did what probably most people who found themselves carried by some sort of giant trough dark and strange tunnels would do. He screamed and he tried to twist himself out from under the arm that held him.
The man who had carried the two stopped.
"Stop this!" a dark voice commanded.
But the villager was not willing to listen to a strange voice he didn't know. Instead he clenched his fists and started to pound at the person who hold them.
"Stop!" the voice commanded again, this time with a dangerous sounding growl. Again the villager ignored him.
The stranger bent over and lowered Iolaus to the ground, probably suspecting that the hunter was still out. He used his arm that until now had held Iolaus securely over his shoulder to get a better grip on the struggling villager.
Iolaus knew that if he wanted to do something he had to act now. His foremost instinct of survival told him in no uncertain terms that he should put himself first and use the opportunity the villager had presented him with, and run. He still was somehow dazed and he didn't really think he had a very good fighting chance against the guy who, from the position he was in now, looked even taller than he had thought him to be at first. Also his head ached and his right shoulder informed him in not uncertain terms that fighting might not be such a good idea right now.
But there was this little voice that told him that he couldn't just make a break without at least trying to help the villager, who, unlike him, most likely had no experience with fighting whatsoever.
Before Iolaus could decide which voice he should follow, the tall guy had knocked the villager out and bent down to retrieve Iolaus again.
Iolaus knew it was now or never.
Deciding that running and seeing another day to fight, was better than being dead and never fight again, he rolled aside, got to his feet and ran.
For a second he thought the guy had a grip on his vest, but with a tearing sound it came free. Then Iolaus was around the next corner and gone.
From behind the deep rumbling voice called after him: "You can try to run, little man, but you won't escape. Nobody has ever found a way out of my labyrinth."
The last words of the monster still echoed in Iolaus' mind when he rounded a bend in one of the tunnels and suddenly found himself in a large underground chamber. For a change this room was adequately illuminated by a set of torches that stuck in holders on the walls.
Iolaus had been walking for what seemed to be hours along dark corridors and tunnels. More than once he had been sure to finally have found a way out, only to discover that instead he had wound up in another dead end. Signs he had left on the walls to mark his way vanished all of the sudden and when he tried to pull a stick after himself to set a trail it also had vanished, or, as in another instance, it had doubled and tripled when he backtracked his way. Most of the tunnels were indistinguishable from the other tunnels and without a fixed point to orientate at he had soon lost all sense of direction.
Looking around in the chamber he didn't get the impression that this was his way out of the maze of tunnels. He rather had the feeling that he was at the very heart of the labyrinth, the center of this crazy maze.
The room was set on two levels. The ground of the lower level was covered with the same mist he had noticed the very first moment he had come to. Out of the mist several spiked stalagmites reached for the ceiling, some of them merging with their twin brothers from above, forming solid columns. From the lower level a set of wide stairs led up to the upper level and it was there Iolaus now crept noiselessly. Beside a large hole in the wall stood about a dozen man-high constructions made of mud. Some of them were empty as if awaiting something to fill them. Some were closed up like tall cocoons with their contents deeply asleep, awaiting the transformation into butterflies.
Only, Iolaus had his doubts that something like a butterfly would come out of them.
"See, see, look who came back to visit me," a voice coming from the stairs said.
Iolaus whirled around. He had been so intent on the cocoons, knowing that they hid something important, that he had totally forgotten to look over his shoulder for that monster that seemed to be the master of the labyrinth.
"I knew you would show up here sooner or later. You are not the type to vanishing without saying good-bye."
For the very first time Iolaus got a good look at the monster that had pulled him underground. His estimate that he was as tall as Hercules was at least half a head off. This.. thing ... was even taller than the demi-god. From shoulders down he looked like a rather ordinary human, stronger than most maybe, but nothing really different there. From the shoulders up, however ....
It was like a mad god had taken the body of a man and the head of a bull and merged it into one being. Considering the world he lived in this was actually a not totally unlikely prospect.
"Who ... what are you?" Iolaus was glad his voice didn't tremble.
"Why does everybody has to ask me that question? To put it simply, I'm the next ruler of the world. That's what I am."
"Why does it always have to be megalomaniacs?" Iolaus muttered to himself. Then, louder, "I think there are a couple of people who might object to that idea."
Slowly Iolaus moved away from the cocoons.
The monster stepped up a couple of steps. "Like your friend Hercules?" He snorted.
"Yeah, I think you could put him on the list." Frantically Iolaus looked around, but his only route of escape had been blocked by the approaching monster.
"Don't set your hopes on him, little man. He will be dead soon enough."
"There have been others who had tried to kill him before. And he is still very much alive." Iolaus remembered there had been a couple of close calls but he didn't think it wise to mention this.
"But there has never been an attempt on his life by his friend." The monster took the last step of the stairs and approached Iolaus whose only route now was back. Soon Iolaus' back pressed against one of the cocoons.
"If you think there is a way you could force me to fight Hercules, you are dead wrong, buddy." Iolaus had to keep the monster talking. As long as he was talking Iolaus had time to think of a way out.
"That is where you are wrong," the monster said in a low tone. "Show him!" he then called out in a louder voice.
The wall at Iolaus' back began to tremble. Before the hunter could react, it broke and two hands circled around Iolaus' throat, trying to steal away his breath.
In a reflexive move Iolaus' hands went up and this thumbs wedged in between the hands that tried to choke him and this neck. Only he couldn't get a very good grip, as the stranger's hands were covered in a slimy substance. On the other hand this prevented his attacker to get a very good grip himself and with a sideways move Iolaus managed to slip away from him.
The walls of the cocoon crumbled completely and a dark haired man pushed his way out. He was covered from head to toe in green slime and madness shone in his eyes. Without hesitation he started to attack Iolaus.
Iolaus was a warrior of long standing. He had fought in more wars than he cared to count, clashed his sword and other weapons with many a man and sometimes woman. He had fought against monsters and bandits and even Amazons (though he had to admit that his memory of this fight was somewhat hazy as he somehow recalled having being killed - what, considering that he was still alive, couldn't be). But never before had he fought a man like the one he was fighting now.
In the beginning Iolaus held back, figuring that the guy was somehow controlled by the monster who had stepped back to give the two combatants enough room. Iolaus figured that he couldn't hold the guy - who was barely old enough to be called a man -- responsible for what he did.
But soon enough was he fighting for his life.
The attacks came at lightning speed and he needed all of his considerable skill only to defend himself. Soon one attack came through, then another, delivered with brute force. His arms, which still hadn't fully recovered from the strain that had been laid on them earlier, ached. He knew it wouldn't take very long till his attacker delivered a killing blow.
Iolaus changed his tactic. Instead of being in the defense the went into the offense. Only, it didn't help him very much. Though the guy barely made any effort to deflect his blows and kicks he didn't seem to be fazed by them. It was as if he didn't feel them at all.
Iolaus was covered in sweat. Never before had he been in a situation where he seriously considered that he could loose a fight. But he was there now.
His body ached in the strangest places and he had difficulties to hold himself on his legs.
"Enough!" The commanding voice of the monster put an immediate end to the blows that rained down on him, only in the first moment he almost didn't notice it.
Only marginally he registered that a dark and looming figure bend over him. The minotaur picked him up and put him into one of the empty cocoons.
"Soon the pain will be gone. And then you will be mine."
A cold, slimy substance touched his skin, cooling it, taking the pain away. And with it his consciousness.
Ania smiled at him from the other side of the blanket that he had laid out on the small meadow. It was a sunny summer day, warm, but not too hot, a cold breeze rustling the leaves in the trees.
He reached for her and with a move that was pure poetry she slipped into his waiting arms, snuggling up to him. On the grass little Jason was playing with a ball, rolling it to and fro, crawling after it on his short stumpy legs and arms when it rolled off to the side.
(One moment, hadn't Ania died at childbirth? How could it be that Jason and she . . . ? The thought was pushed aside)
"Oh, Iolaus. I love you." Her voice, the voice he loved so much, sounded husky, eager.
"I do love you, too, Ania." He bent his head down to kiss her.
The kiss was interrupted by Jason crawling up to his parents, wanting his share in the hugging and cuddling.
With a smile that held a promise for later, Ania peeled out of Iolaus' embrace and moved over to the picnic basket she had filled with home made delicacies.
(Ania couldn't cook to save her life. What was wrong here? The question vanished like mist in the summer sun.)
Iolaus leaned back and let himself be fed with grapes by his wife.
"I'm so happy, Iolaus."
Yeah, he never had been more happy in his whole life.
Suddenly a loud crashing sound shattered the peace of the afternoon. A tree thundered to the ground, letting the earth shake in the process. A tall man stood in the gap the tree had left behind.
The man had something familiar about him, but Iolaus was sure he had never seen him before in his life. Tall and muscular, with wavy brown hair and startling blue eyes. Only the snarl that distorted his otherwise handsome face didn't fit into the picture.
With a growl he stepped into the meadow.
"Who are you?" Iolaus asked, positioning himself protectively between the stranger and his family. Ania had gathered Jason up in her arms, holding him tightly against her breasts. The toddler started to cry.
"I'm Hercules. I'm here to destroy you."
With no further explanation he attacked.
Iolaus barely had time to shout the command to run at his wife, then he had his hands full defending himself. Soon he was overpowered and at the ground, bleeding from several wounds. He knew he would die now.
Then Hercules let him go. With horror Iolaus had to witness as the stranger ran after Ania, who had stopped at the corner of the meadow, afraid to leave Iolaus alone. Hercules grabbed her and broke her neck in one swift move, then he took Jason and threw Iolaus' son against one of the trees. His tiny, lifeless body fell to the ground to lie beside his mother's body.
"Nooooo!" Iolaus screamed, at the death of his family and at his own helplessness.
As Hercules turned around and glowered at Iolaus, the hunter knew that he would kill this man, and if it was the last thing he would ever do.
When he was pulled out of the cocoon, it was as if Iolaus woke up from a terrible nightmare. Still somehow dazed he looked around, but he didn't see the monster that hold him at the neck, only the man who stood at the other side of the room. The man who had haunted him in his dreams, the man who was responsible for the death of his family. The Enemy!
"If you don't want to fight me, surely you don't want to fight your friend as well." The voice came from far away. It wasn't addressed at him and he didn't care. All what mattered was the Enemy.
"What did you do to him?"
He didn't really listen to the minotaur explaining something to the Enemy. "I showed him happiness, dear brother. And I showed him how you took it away from him. He is mine. And for me he will kill you. Here is your chance, Iolaus. Kill him!"
He didn't need to be told twice. Like a rocket he blasted out of the cocoon, spraying dried mud everywhere, and launched himself at the Enemy. He didn't notice the shock and the confusion that darkened the taller man's eyes.
All he knew was that this was his chance.
A high kick snapped the Enemy's head around. Only when Iolaus followed his first kick with a second one the taller man managed to sidestep and avoid the blow. In a scramble the Enemy tried to get out of his way.
"Hah, this time you are not that brave," Iolaus shouted and followed his adversary down the stairs to the lower part of the underground chamber.
"Iolaus, what are you doing?"
"You need to ask? I'm going to kill you!"
In his search for a weapon Iolaus' eyes fell upon the torches that lit the room. Without knowing that he echoed what Hercules had done earlier, he grabbed two of them and went after the demi-god.
"Iolaus, it's me. Hercules!" With lightning fast reflexes Hercules deflected the next attack, all the while trying to talk some sense into his friend.
"I know who you are, Hercules. Did you really think I could forget your name after what you have done to me? Your biggest mistake was to let me live." Again the Enemy deflected his blows, though, strangely enough, he didn't try to start an attack of his own.
For the moment all the Enemy was doing was retreating, watching Iolaus as he was coming after him. "What did I supposingly do to you?" he finally asked, his voice calm. But why did Iolaus get the impression that Hercules was shaking from the inside?
Iolaus laughed a dry laugh."Have you killed so many people without any reason that you have forgotten how you killed my wife and son?"
Hercules' eyes widened in shock. However before he had a chance to reply to the last accusation he had to fend off another attack from Iolaus. Each attack had been closer to the target and this last time he barely managed to deflect the blows.
"Iolaus, listen to me. Ania died giving birth to your son. And Jason is still well and healthy, waiting for you to come back."
Iolaus didn't honor the lie the Enemy dished out to him with a remark. His only reply was another attack. And this time he got through. Hercules staggered from a blow to his head.
"Iolaus, you must remember. I speak the truth. I didn't kill Ania."
A double blow to the head of the Enemy. Hercules broke down to his knees.
"Iolaus!" Hercules looked up to him, his eyes fixed on Iolaus' face.
Iolaus raised his weapons to deliver the killing blow.
Something was not right. He was supposed to feel satisfaction for having the Enemy at his mercy, relief that his hunt was finally coming to an end.
But instead it felt ... wrong.
"Kill him!" somebody screeched from behind. "Kill him!!!"
"Iolaus, don't listen to him. Think of Ania, of Jason. Your son will be alone without you." Carefully, as if he didn't want to scare Iolaus, Hercules stood up. He stretched out his hand. "Iolaus, the minotaur has fed you a lie. But you know the truth. Look inside your heart. You know the truth."
Something in Iolaus' mind snapped. Yes, Ania was dead. But it had not been Hercules who had killed her. And Jason was alive and safe with his grandmother and her husband.
It was as if the light in the underground chamber changed all of the sudden. Where there had been a red haze fueled by his hate, all what remained was the golden glow of friendship.
The Enemy was gone.
Iolaus lowered his torches. "Hercules?" His voice quivered.
He now knew his dreams for what they had been. Simply dreams that had tried to influence him, to control him.
A smile crossed Hercules' face. If Iolaus had ever thought that Hercules was his enemy this smile, directed at him and only at him, made sure that he would never doubt again.
"It's good to have you back, Iolaus." Still a little hesitant he reached out to the hunter, who grabbed his hand in a firm warrior handshake.
Iolaus returned Hercules' smile. "It is good to be back, Herc."
Like one person, only separated by the fact that they had two bodies instead of one, they turned around and faced the minotaur.
"Your plot has failed. I remember Hercules for what he is - my partner and best friend." Iolaus gripped his torches tighter. One battle might have been won, but there still was another battle ahead.
The minotaur snarled at the two friends. His plot to draw Hercules into a fight with that little friend of his might have not worked, but then there were always other plans to put into motion. With the speed given to him by the gods who were his parents, he moved over to Iolaus, grabbed him by the neck and pulled him over, before the hunter could move a muscle to defend himself.
"Let him go!" Hercules roared. He got into a fighting stance.
"Now you are ready to fight! I think I should have used this method from the beginning, dear brother." With a careless gesture he threw Iolaus to the side, not caring that his head collided with the walls of the cave.
The last thing Iolaus saw, before he was engulfed by a now familiar darkness, was Hercules who threw himself at the minotaur with a fierce battle cry.
He came to in Hercules arms. For a second he didn't understand where he was, thinking that he was still in the minotaur's clutches. With a yelp he got ready to fight, only to relax when he recognized who held him.
"Iolaus! Are you all right?" Hercules' voice was concerned, a feeling that was echoed in his eyes.
"What? Where ...?"
"It's over, my friend."
At the side, impaled on a stalagmite, lay the body of a man.
"You don't remember?" Hercules looked puzzled.
Iolaus tried to remember. But all he could recall was how the ground had opened beneath his feet, after he and Hercules had faced that lynch mob in Alturia. And then ... nothing. He shook his head and told Hercules that much. Iolaus looked down on himself. "Yikes!!! What is this green stuff?"
Hercules sighed, then a smile crossed his face.
"I'll tell you later."
Iolaus never noticed Zeus who stood to one side of the cave, his eyes resting on the son he had just lost. But then, maybe he had lost him already a hundred years ago.
While Iolaus started to free the other prisoners from their cocoons Hercules stepped to his father.
"You made him forget?" he asked him in a low voice.
The king of the gods nodded. "He doesn't have to live with the burden on his shoulders that he wanted to kill his best friend. And that he did come very close in succeeding."
Hercules sighed with relief. Iolaus had had to go through so much already and who knew what the future would hold for him. Maybe it was for the best.
"Thank you, father."
But by then Zeus was already gone.
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