This one was different.
When He had pulled His other victims down into His underground lair, they had either been paralyzed with fear to begin with, or had frozen in terror at the one glimpse of His face that He allowed them. It had then been easy, disappointingly easy, to cover them with the greenish slime that made them His creatures - anointing them, He thought of it, as members of His own army. Once beslimed, they would no longer struggle, but instead allow Him to wall them into the catacombs, to await His commands - silent, helpless, submissive.
Not this one.
The Minotaur had given the final tug to bring His prize below ground, when the leather-clad legs flexed within His mighty grip, and a heavy kick landed on His nose. The surprise was such that the Minotaur dropped His prisoner with a bellow.
In the murky torchlight, the man's hair flashed golden as he rolled to his feet, coming upright into a crouch that the Minotaur dimly remembered as the stance of an experienced fighter. The blue eyes that regarded Him were filled with anger and resolution - not the mindless terror of His other captives.
Yes. This one was different. It was clear that this one would dare to fight.
The Minotaur felt a faint throb of pleasure. Since His liberation from the cavern, His plans had gone smoothly and His victims had shown no resistance. It would make an amusing change, then, to watch this one struggle for a while against his inevitable fate.
There had been little time for Iolaus to think. One minute he had been standing in the blind alley next to Hercules, facing down the vengeful mob - and the next he was caught in a grip of iron, being hauled down into the earth. There was time to grab a single breath before the dirt closed over his head, and then he was suddenly down in a world of dull smoky light and narrow, rock-hewn walls.
It was simply reflex - his body reacted completely independently from his stunned mind. He kicked out and felt the grip loosen, and that was enough for him to twist away, eel-like, and land in a ball on the rock-toothed floor. A bellow echoed off the rock walls and nearly split his eardrums.
Now he faced It - the owner of those trap-like hands that had seized him - and the sight of his captor pulled a heartfelt and exceedingly profane word from his lips.
The creature stood at least half again as high as Iolaus and weighed three times as much, by his hasty estimation. He got the jumbled impression of red eyes, horns, and huge, clawed hands. That was enough. This was one fight that Iolaus was quite willing to avoid, and after a single glance, he whirled and took off down the nearest rocky corridor.
There HAD to be a way out. That ...thing ... had to breathe, which meant that air was coming in from somewhere, and where air could get in, Iolaus could get out - or so he told himself. He had to get back to help Hercules.
Never slackening his speed, he snatched a glance at the torch fastened to the wall ahead of him. The flame bent, ever so slightly, in his direction. So, the outside world was ahead.
It was what was behind him that had him worried. A roar chased him down the echoing tunnel and the sound of heavy footfalls shook the ground beneath his feet.
Iolaus whipped his head around. Nothing was visible in the murk that filled the tunnel beyond the range of the torchlight, but the sounds told their own tale.
He poured on more speed.
Ahead and to his left, the inky mouth of another corridor, unlit, yawned in the wall. He grabbed a torch and plunged into it. The sounds of pursuit faded in the echoes of his own swift footsteps.
The corridor wound and turned upon itself like a broken-backed snake. Now and then Iolaus would stop abruptly and study the flame of his torch, and always it showed the air flowing towards him. He was making progress... wasn't he? Escape had to lie ahead. 'Just keep on running, Iolaus' he told himself, gulping the smoky air into his lungs, 'that ugly mother is way too big and slow to catch you!'
He rounded a corner and tripped over a body.
The torch flew from his hands and a curse, from his lips. He scrambled across the rough floor and snatched the light up again, and knelt to see who had tripped him.
It was a man, at least by his clothing. Iolaus could see little of the man's face, for it was covered with a thick coating of greenish slime, and he jerked back in startlement, when the man's eyes suddenly flew open. The green-encrusted mouth worked for a moment and then a hoarse voice came forth.
"Get out of here! He'll be back soon!"
"Who will?" Iolaus suspected he knew the answer already.
"The Minotaur!" The man took a whistling breath. "He - he grabbed me and my friend and - dragged us down ...""
"Where's your friend now?"
The man raised his hand and gestured weakly. "There."
Iolaus looked and saw that the tunnel had widened out into a cave, the walls which were lined with rounded clay chambers, rather like bee hives. "He's in one of those?"
The man nodded. "The Minotaur walled him in.... said we'd all come forth soon ... to follow him ... He started to wall me up - and then ... he heard something... and dropped me here... You've got to get out of here!"
Iolaus shook his head. "We'll both go! I've got to get back to Hercules and tell him what's down here. With his help, we can rescue your - "
The man grew agitated. "No! I can't ... walk. The slime sucks up all your strength ... save yourself..."
There was no time to argue. Iolaus grasped the man by the wrists and pulled him into a sitting position, then hauled the dead weight onto his back. Staggering a little, he bent down to pick up the torch.
A sound came from behind him, as the man on his back abruptly whimpered, "No ..."
Suddenly heedless of the weight that burdened him, Iolaus spun around.
The Minotaur stood at the mouth of the tunnel that led to freedom.
For the third time that day, an extremely rude expression dropped from Iolaus' lips. As gently as he could, he let his burden slide to the floor. Grasping the torch in both hands, he swung it in front of himself, like a weapon.
A creaking, gasping sound came from the monster's lips. It was laughter. "And where did you think you could run?" asked a voice which sounded like wind blowing through a narrow space - a deep, booming bellow.
Iolaus did not answer, but instead lunged at the Minotaur, shoving the torch into the hideous bull-like face. The laughter did not slacken, but a massive hand struck at the flame, knocking the torch out of Iolaus' grasp. Iolaus hurled himself backwards to avoid the swipe of the monster's other claws.
"Come on, human!" chortled the hateful voice. "Do you really think you can win against ME?"
"Maybe not," replied Iolaus, panting a little as he dodged another fistful of talons, "but Hercules can! All I have to do is keep you busy until he arrives!"
The mention of that name brought a bellow of rage from the Minotaur. "Hercules! And what does a little mortal like you have to do with the great hero?" A tidal wave of sarcasm rolled out along with these last words.
"He's my best friend!" Iolaus watched warily as the monster moved towards him - and away from the opening to the tunnel. Now, if he could just get the Minotaur to circle away a little further.
"Not that you'd know anything about friends!"
This last had the desired effect. The Minotaur bellowed, put its head down and charged him.
Iolaus had once seen the bulldancers of Crete and had been impressed by the way they leapt effortlessly over the back of a charging bull. "Well - now's *your* chance" he thought to himself as he launched himself high in the air, grabbing the great horns they sliced through the empty space where he had been standing. An twist of his body sent him vaulting over the Minotaur's head. He bounced heavily with both feet off the small of the monster's back and watched with satisfaction as it overbalanced and staggered forward.
Now was his chance. Shouting "Don't worry! I'll come back for you!" to the Minotaur's prisoner, Iolaus flew like an arrow into the mouth of the tunnel.
It should have been easy. He was smaller, lighter and much faster than the creature that he had just left snorting in rage, sprawled upon the floor of the cavern. The wind of his passage sang of escape as he hurtled through the narrow, winding tunnels, the flame of his torch bending back towards him as he ran.
It should have been easy.
But as he rounded the turn of the tunnel, and saw the first, greyish light of the outside world filtering down towards him; as he took the breath into his lungs, to be sighed out in relief at freedom so close at hand ... a huge blackness stepped into his way, and a voice like thunder split his ears.
"No. There is no escape."
Iolaus threw himself backwards to dodge the heavy, clawed hand that fell from above like one of Zeus' thunderbolts, but he was a split second too late. It connected and his world shattered in a burst of light, and the last thing Iolaus heard was the voice of the Minotaur echoing down the tunnels that were his kingdom, shouting in defiant pain, "Yes, Hercules! I have you now! I hold your heart in my keeping! Come and get him - if you dare!"
And then the darkness took him.
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