Maze of the Minotaur - missing scenes

by Ishtar

Something was pulling Iolaus down; something that was too strong to fight against. He tried to resist whatever had a hold of him, but the more he struggled, the tighter the grip around his lower legs became. He could not actually feel hands around his feet; it was more like being sucked down by an undertow in the water, but this was the strangest undertow he had ever felt. How could it get stronger, the more he resisted? And hanging on to Hercules, and his friend's considerable efforts to halt his sliding descent into the ground, had only aggravated the situation by making Iolaus feel as if he was being pulled apart. The sudden pain that had caused had been enough to force Iolaus to actually push his friend's helping hands away from him, and brace himself to be dragged into the ground. Once he could face what or whoever was pulling him, he might have a fighting chance; being pulled in two left no chance at all.

But now Iolaus was no longer sure that this had been such a good idea. As his face was pulled below the surface, it became dark almost instantly, and the voices, including that of Hercules, though they had been shouting a minute ago, became silent. He felt a sudden panic when dirt and soil trickled close to his mouth and nose, forcing him to keep his mouth and eyes closed, making breathing almost impossible. Roots and little rocks snagged and scratched his skin, as if trying to halt his descend into unknown depths, but without any success.

And then he was through. First his feet and lower body were free from the tightness of surrounding dirt, and a moment later his upper body and head entered the openness of a large underground cave. Fleetingly, Iolaus considered how it was possible for the residents of Alturia to apparently be completely unaware of this other world below their feet, but then he was in mid-air and fell to the ground, some 15 feet away. He managed to break his fall, though the ground was uneven, and rocky outcroppings and stalagmites were everywhere. He got to his feet and looked around, crouched slightly, and ready to face whatever monster or enemy might show himself. The cave he found himself in, was vast, and illuminated by torches set in wall sconces; passages seemed to leave the chamber in every possible direction. Who maintained all this? Iolaus peered into the semi-darkness above him. Where he had been sliding through the earth below Alturia only moments before, there was rocky cave ceiling, without any openings, or devices that might have snagged him. Iolaus wished he had his weapons, but his bow had stayed above ground, and he had lost his sword somewhere during his subterranean travels.

Along one of the walls there was a row of coffin like structures, made from clay or earth, standing upright across the whole length of the cave. Iolaus listened, but there was no sound other than his own breathing, and the soft hiss of the steaming torches. He remembered the other man who had disappeared from amid the town mob just moments before whatever had pulled him down, also went for Iolaus. Where was he?

The hunter slowly made his way towards the strange artifacts lining the wall, and examined them more closely. He quickly turned in a circle to make sure he was alone, and then reached out a tentative hand towards the first cocoon-like object. Though the thing appeared to be made from clay or a similar material, it seemed resilient under his probing touch, and surprisingly warm. Suddenly there was movement under his hand, and the warmth increased to an uncomfortable level. A strange inner light seemed to emanate from the coffin-like structure, and steam began to rise. Iolaus pulled his hand away as quickly as possible, and jumped back a few feet, curiosity and wariness born from experience keeping each other the balance, as he crouched slightly to prepare himself for whatever might be happening next. A wet plopping sound preceded a crack down the length of the strange thing standing in the underground cave, and for a second Iolaus considered the absurdity of it all. One minute he had faced a vicious town mob on the verge of lynching Hercules for a hideous crime he could not possibly have committed, and prepared to kill the hunter as an added bonus, and the next minute he found himself underground and in front of a clay coffin whose inhabitant was apparently tired of being cooped up inside.

The crack in the cocoon widened, and thick reddish mist drifted from the opening. Iolaus bit his lip, as he cast a searching eye to the ground around him, in the hope of finding something suitable to be used as a weapon. He settled on a jagged fist-sized rock, and grabbing it with a quick movement, went back to observing the developments around the object in front of him. A low moan escaped the opening, and as the mist began to clear, a human hand reached through it and high into the air.

Then the similarity to a regular person ended, and the creature that followed the hand out of its confines, caused Iolaus to cringe in surprise and distaste. A muscular body, covered in greenish scales, supported by two thick legs that ended in hooves rather than feet. The eyes were pupil-less, the lids unblinking. The open mouth showed long needle-like fangs that were dripping with saliva, and looked absolutely deadly. The ears were long and tufted, and stood ridiculously upright on the creature's head, orienting on the man in front of them. A long tail trailed behind, completing the image of a living puzzle that had been put together the wrong way.

Inexplicably, the thing in front of Iolaus was wearing ordinary peasant's clothes, split and torn by the bulging muscles, but recognizable as homespun breeches and shirt nevertheless, but Iolaus did not have the time to ponder this strange fact in any detail.

As soon as the creature reached the cave floor it began to advance on the hunter. It moved quietly and almost cat-like with a flowing stride that quickly brought it within reach of the hunter. Iolaus tried to assess his unusual opponent, and -following an intuitive urge - managed to duck sideways, moments before the strong jaws closed on where his left shoulder had been. As he rolled down and under his enemy's grasping hands, he kicked it from behind as hard as he could manage, bringing it to its knees. Iolaus quickly jumped to his feet, and still behind the creature's back and out of its reach, pulled on the tattered clothing, bringing the body crashing down onto its shoulders. Before the now screeching cocoon hatchling had a chance to regain its balance and get back up, Iolaus had jumped around it, and onto its chest. Pinning its arms with his feet, and sitting down to prevent the thing from getting back up, he hauled the rock he still carried over his head, and smacked the side of the head in front of him. He had to repeat this procedure twice, before finally knocking the creature out, and Iolaus had almost given up on the whole idea when the body under him relaxed, unconscious.

Breathing heavily, the hunter regarded his opponent for a few more minutes, and then remembered where he was. He got up and tried to decide which way to go to leave this cave, when he froze where he stood.

The laughter that had erupted behind Iolaus almost turned his blood to ice. The sound echoed back from the stone walls, emphasizing its inhuman quality. Iolaus stiffened and swung around, coming face to face with a strange creature Iolaus only knew from stories meant to scare children. It had a man's body, very large and muscular, but where the human head should have been, a bull's neck and head grew above the wide shoulders. Iolaus swallowed hard; he had never heard about anybody ever meeting one of these rare monsters, and to be actually seeing one less than twenty feet away from him, was something entirely different from listening to a bard's tale. Then again, there was the thing behind him...

"Well done." The minotaur spoke in a deep and raspy voice, and for an absurd moment, Iolaus actually wondered how the bull's head managed to produce speech at all. He shook his head to clear these distracting thoughts, and renewed his grip on the rock that had served him as a weapon before. The minotaur meanwhile was advancing slowly, apparently unarmed, but Iolaus knew better than to see an advantage in that fact; the creature's claws were at least four inches long, and looked razor sharp, and the horns were a formidable weapon in themselves.

Large unwavering eyes stared at him, and something of a sneer appeared on the animal features. "How do you like my creations? I had the feeling that this batch of metamorphs still had some flaws, but so far I only had inferior stock to work with; once I turn you into one of my soldiers, your strength and cunning will be incorporated into my soldiers too, and the final product will be formidable indeed. Hercules chose well when he made you his friend. And you will serve me beautifully."

Iolaus had been backing up, and by now stood with his back against the unopened cocoons that were still lining the cave wall. A minotaur who was working on making his own creatures for an army of zombie-like soldiers? The reason for that could be nothing good. Iolaus needed time. Time to think about how to fight the minotaur, time to warn the world above about what was going on down here, and time to give Hercules a chance to find his way to this place. "I don't even know you, so I don't think you can expect too much servitude from me. Now, if you were to tell me who you are and what you want, maybe I could help you." Iolaus knew that he was babbling, but stalling was one of his specialties, and the more time he had the better his chances to find an opening in his opponent's defenses.

"Ah, but that's the beauty of it. Not only will you serve me as a means to get Hercules to voluntarily enter my domain. With your fighting skills you will also make a much improved model of soldier in my army."

Iolaus snorted, more to reassure himself with the sound of his own voice that he had not lost his mind yet, and regarded the creature in front of him with contempt, "I am no soldier in any army, and I certainly won't be fighting for you. I don't know who put you up to this, but the only way you will see me fight will be just before I kill you, and by the way: Hercules is much too smart to be lured down here by the likes of you." He sounded quite a bit more confident than he felt, but he would not let this bull headed monster see how worried he really was.

The minotaur laughed, "Funny, I seem to know him better than you do, because he is on his way here already - just as I thought..."

Iolaus gritted his teeth, and tried to get his breathing under control. There was no way he would be able to go against the minotaur barehanded, and hope to survive long enough to do any mentionable damage to the creature. But he had to do something. The bull man planned something with the people he had kidnapped, and was even now turning into an army of mindless soldiers. That alone was reason enough to stop the minotaur, or die trying. But for whatever reason, this whole elaborate set-up was also a trap for Hercules, and Iolaus had to try to warn his friend, no matter what the cost.

Though preferable to the blond man, an honest fight was out of the question, but Iolaus had spent his youth in mercenary camps, and had painfully learned every dirty trick there was. Surprise was on his side. Before his decision could show on his face and alert his opponent, Iolaus let out a yell, and launched himself at the minotaur, the rock he had had in his hand, now at chest height and swinging. He made contact with the minotaur's sensitive muzzle, and the creature's grunt of surprise and pain was music to the hunter's ears. He did not lose his footing though, and only reeled backwards, seemingly off balance, for a few steps. Buoyed by his recent success with the minotaur's creation, and now with the creator himself, Iolaus pursued his new opponent, jumping forward with the rock held high in his hand.

Too late he noticed that the minotaur was holding something in his right hand, and by the time he saw that it was a greenish blob of viscous slime, he could not change direction of his attack any longer, and the gooey stuff landed in his face with a quick movement of the bull man's hand. The first sensation Iolaus felt was a painful stinging on his face, but even as he instinctively tried to clear his face with his left hand, all feeling ceased around where the slime had landed, and numbness began to rapidly spread from his face through his body, completely immobilizing him within seconds. For a moment panic began to invade his thoughts, especially when he saw the smiling face of the minotaur inches before his eyes that had lost their ability to blink and block out the sight. "Like I said, you will make a vast improvement to my army stock, and don'tworry; the next time we meet you will see things my way..."

Go on to the next story in the challenge.

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