The ground was vanishing under his feet. It was sucking him down, down, as if some great force was pulling him under.
"Hercules! Help me!" he cried, and felt the strong hand of his best friend grab his arm.
But, the force still pulled him down. His head was now under the level of the ground. Dirt and gravel got into his mouth, so he had to stop screaming. He could still feel his friend's grasp on his arm, trying mightily to save him from whatever waited for him underground and was pulling him deeper and deeper.
He felt as if he were being pulled apart. But then, Hercules' grip loosened, and Iolaus slid easily down into darkness. It felt as if he were in some sort of chute, or slide. His heart was in his throat as he closed his eyes and waited to find out what was to happen next.
Suddenly, he felt himself pop out of the chute and hit a hard surface with a mighty thud. It knocked the breath from him, and he wildly looked around as he tried to begin breathing again.
His eyes fell on a cloven hoof at his left side. He quickly turned his head, to see another hoof at his right side. Then, he let his eyes slowly travel upwards. The hooves were attached to the dark, heavily-haired legs of a man--a huge, bestial man. As Iolaus' eyes traveled upwards, his heart felt as if it would erupt from his chest. He'd never seen a creature such as this one. It wore only a loin cloth, so it was easy to view the beast's heavy muscles. At the ends of its fingers were long, deadly-looking claws. Its fearsome head was not that of a man, but of a bull! A strong stench emanated from the creature. Iolaus shook his head, to make himself awake from this nightmare.
But, it wasn't a nightmare. The beast growled a horrid, guttural sound, then reached down with one clawed hand and grabbed Iolaus under the chin, lifting his whole body off the stony ground. Now, with his feet dangling above the floor of the cavern in which he found himself, Iolaus looked straight into the eyes of the creature.
"This can't be true!" the beast addressed Iolaus in deep, bass tones. "This little man *can't* be the best friend of the great Hercules." It then threw back its huge, disgusting head and roared in laughter.
Now, Iolaus considered himself a fair, even-tempered, easy-going kind of guy, but one thing (well, he realized, one of several things) that really ticked him off was any derogatory reference to his size. Words like short, shrimp, runt, small, and little, when used to describe his stature, just didn't sit well with him. Even when uttered by a huge, ugly beast!
Iolaus delivered a mighty kick into the mid-section of the beast. It bellowed out in surprise and pain, and dropped the blond warrior back onto the floor. Iolaus quickly scooted away from the beast, and frantically looked around the cavern for a way out. He noticed several tunnels leading away from the room. He also noticed the unconscious form of the man who had been sucked under the ground just before he had been. The man was standing in a mud cocoon-looking thing against one wall of the cavern, his face covered with some sort of green, gooey-looking stuff. There were other cocoons standing next to his, all closed over with mud. Iolaus didn't know what in the world was going on here, but he did realize that he desperately needed Hercules' help to kick this particular monster's butt.
As he dashed into the opening of one of the tunnels, he heard the beast bellow in laughter behind him. "Run, little man, run! You'll never get out of my maze. No one ever gets out. I'll get you yet, mark my words!"
As Iolaus ran, he heard the laughter get dimmer and dimmer. The beast wasn't following him! So, Iolaus kept running. The tunnel twisted and turned every few yards. Myriad other tunnels opened into it. Iolaus stopped to catch his breath, and looked around. There were so many tunnels, going all directions! Which way led to the outside? There were no directional signals with which he was familiar from his hunting experiences--no lichen, no breeze of fresh air, nothing. He couldn't tell where he was. For all he knew, he was running in circles!
His head popped to the left as he heard a faint sound. The beast appeared in one of the tunnels! It began its evil laugh again. Iolaus promptly turned away from it and began running again.
On and on he ran, staying always to the right. All the tunnels looked the same. He didn't know what else to do. He'd stop for breath occasionally, and the beast would appear again, one time to the left, another time to the right--it was the same over and over again.
Breathless, Iolaus ran into a large room. As he stood doubled over, his hands on his knees as he panted for air, he saw he had indeed run full circle. There were the cocoons again. How was he ever going to get out of this maze? He had to get out. He had to warn Hercules of just what was down here. How, though--how, how, how?
Then it hit him. He'd just return the same way he'd come! He sprinted over to the chute he'd tumbled down when he was sucked under the ground. He dove into it, and began to inch his way back upwards. It was very slick, but he was able to make progress by jamming his back against one side and slowly pulling and pushing himself upwards with his hands and feet. He was going to make it, this time!
But, the horrible happened. He felt something grab his foot. It wickedly jerked him back out of the chute. It was the beast! It was not a happy beast, either.
"You're really beginning to get on my nerves, little man," the beast growled, and it threw Iolaus against the wall of the room. The warrior hit with a thud, and, stunned, sank to the floor. The beast approached him, its hands and claws stretched out to grab its victim. Iolaus didn't want to be grabbed, though, so he tucked himself into a ball and rolled between the beast's legs. The creature roared in anger.
Iolaus jumped up again and headed back toward the chute. However, something hit him between his shoulders, and he hit sprawled on the floor again. He turned over to face the beast, and it latched onto the front halves of his vest and lifted him from the floor. Iolaus struck out with his fists doubled, and hit the beast in its ugly, oxen face. It didn't seem to faze him, but succeeded in hurting Iolaus' hands.
Iolaus then drew up his legs and used all his strength to kick the creature in the chest. The beast staggered backward, but didn't lose its hold on its prisoner. Iolaus kept up a steady barrage of kicks to the torso of the beast, but still it didn't lose its grip on Iolaus' vest. All Iolaus accomplished this time was making the creature angrier.
"I've had ENOUGH!" the beast bellowed, and delivered a terrible backhand blow to Iolaus' face. This completely stunned the warrior, and he went limp in the monster's hands.
The creature laughed and carried his prize over to the cocoons. He stuffed Iolaus into an open cocoon, and then smeared the green, sticky goo over the warrior's face. Iolaus was conscious enough to feel his body begin to turn numb. He tried to move his hands, but they wouldn't obey him. He wanted to kick out again at the beast, but his legs also wouldn't move. He looked into the retched green eyes of the creature, and was able to ask, "What are you doing to me? Why are you doing this?"
The beast gave an evil chuckle. "What am I doing, little man? I'm preparing you to be one of my army, for when I take over the earth and Olympus. When I come for you next, you'll have no memory of who or what you were. You'll be my willing slave, doing whatever I tell you, following me into battle as I defeat anyone who gets in my way. You'll kill family and friends and gods, if I order you to do so. You'll belong totally to me, heart and soul.
"As for why I'm doing this--Iām doing it for revenge! Revenge against the one who made me this way. The one who resented my growing power against him, and turned me into a horrible monster and banished me to live in these caverns for eternity. I'll show him! I'll make him suffer for what he's done to me!"
Then creature then leaned over and got right in Iolaus' face. "And you know how I'm going to make him suffer? I'm going to make him suffer by killing his beloved son, Hercules. He'll curse the day he ever tried to punish me, when he sees Hercules' blood splattered over the walls of this cave, and sees his body lying broken on this floor." The beast then stood up, sneering at the imprisoned Iolaus.
"Yes, I'm going to kill Hercules. And I will have used you as bait. I know enough about him to be certain the fool will come to rescue his best friend. I must thank you for 'dropping in' so conveniently to help my plan come to fruition. For reward, I may just make you a commander in my army." The beast then threw back his ugly head again and roared that hate filled laugh.
Iolaus fought against his invisible bonds. "NO!" he shouted. "You'll never kill Hercules! He's too good for you. Your evil is no match for his goodness. Your horrible plan will never work. You'll see--you don't have a chance against Hercules! You'll...."
"Shut up, little man!" the beast roared. "I've grown very tired of you. You'll have a completely different outlook when next you see the light of day." With that, the beast began to close up the front of the cocoon. Struggle as Iolaus might, he couldn't make his body move. He wanted to scream out his frustrations and warn Hercules, somehow. But his screams stayed inside his head, as the beast threw on the last handful of mud, and Iolaus was plunged into darkness.
His heart broke there, imprisoned in the darkness. He thought of his best friend, whom he would be unable to help. He thought of his baby son, who would never remember the father who loved him so completely. He silently wept for his son and his best friend. Who would take care of them, now?
How was he ever to get out of this mess?
Then Iolaus' limitless resolve took over. No matter what that beast said, or what this immobilizing goo did to him, he would never, NEVER, follow that evil creature, except to put an end to its rotten life. If it should do harm to Hercules, Iolaus would make sure the beast paid for that. If his son was to grow up now without either a father or mother, the beast would pay for that, too.
And so Iolaus stood there in the darkness, concentrating on defeating the beast in its insidious plan to rule the world. He would get the chance to right this wrong, some day, and right it he would. As he felt his strength and consciousness ebb completely away, he kept his mind on this one thought. The beast *would not* win!
He didn't know how long he'd been unconscious, when suddenly the mud before his face began to disappear. The beast pulled Iolaus' head out of the cocoon. Iolaus could do nothing as he watched the beast's awful clawed hand head straight for his face and throat. Then he heard the wonderful sound of Herc's voice screaming, "NOOOO!"
(And you know the rest of the story.)
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