"The Slaughter of Biblos!" the centaur named Derek shouted out, the memory of where he had seen Sera finally penetrating his brain. But it was already too late.
Sera gasped in delight as the sea monster thrust his ugly head over the parapet and down into the festive courtyard. Screams of surprise and terror rang out as the wedding guests realized what was happening.
"Hera's Will be done!" Sera proclaimed, her arms raised to the heavens as Hera's pet began attacking randomly, people scattering everywhere.
"She tricked us, Jason!" Alcmene cried in distress as the Blue Priest's soldiers--disguised until now as waiters--pulled out their knives and waded into the crowds. "I can't believe we trusted her!"
"Alcmene!" the former argonaut and king of Corinth yelled as he pulled his fiancee out of the deadly path of a soldier's knife. "Where's Hercules?!"
"Right here!" the demigod yelled back as he pounded the soldier who'd threatened his mother.
"So what's the plan Hercules?" Jason asked spinning out of another soldier's path.
"I'm thinking!" the half-god replied as he bashed two more soldier's heads together.
Sera laughed with glee at the scene unfolding before her. The Blue Priest watched the proceedings proudly from higher up on the castle wall. Sera decided to join him.
"And just where do you think you're going, Missy?"
Sera halted as she felt a hand clamp down on her arm and turned to face a woman with long dark braided hair.
"Get your hands off me!" Sera spat, yanking her arm free.
"You tricked these nice people into thinking you were doing all this for their benefit!" Dirce shouted, waving her arms around her. "And you were working for Hera all this time?! Well, that is just so.so.well it's just really mean!"
"Look, you're way outta your league!" Sera replied nearly laughing. "So just back off and wait for your turn to be eaten by Hera's little pet!"
"Oh!! Why you little--"
Iolaus let a round house punch land squarely on one of the soldier's jaws and spun around to see Dirce with her hands around Sera's neck.
"Good grief!" he muttered under his breath. Then he couldn't help but smile. That was his Dirce. But he had to put a stop to this.
Iolaus dodged two more soldiers as he rushed over to the two women and tried to pull them apart. Just as he managed to break Dirce's death grip he looked up in horror to see the sea monster's head descending rapidly in their direction, jaws wide open.
"Dirce, get down!" he yelled as he pushed her to the ground seconds before he and Sera were swallowed up by the huge beast.
"Iolaus!" Dirce cried just as Hercules, Jason and Alcmene reached her side.
"Dirce, what happened?" Hercules asked, holding the shaking woman by the shoulders.
"That.thing.just swallowed them.Iolaus and Sera." she replied, staring at the demigod in shock.
"Well let the little treacherous witch rot in there but Hercules you have to get Iolaus out!" Alcmene demanded, taking the frightened girl in her arms.
"Jason, take mother and Dirce! Head for cover.stay away from the soldiers!" the demigod instructed as he ran to the middle of the square and started waving his arms in the air to get the animal's attention. Just as he planned, it dived toward him. The demigod's fist connected with its snout and the beast shook its head. Then as it dived toward him again, Hercules took a deep breath and jumped into the huge maw.
Down and down Hercules slid. The monster's esophagus seemed to go on forever. The long slippery tube was lined with mucous and acrid-smelling juices. Finally with a great splash he landed in a pit of the sticky stinking stuff.
"Whoa!" the demigod shook his head and realized it didn't smell any better than the last time he'd ended up in the belly of such a beast. "Somethings never change."
He carefully got to his feet and began to wander around the huge viscous landscape that was the inside of this monster.
"Iolaus!" he called out, watching where he stepped. If he remembered correctly, the inside of a sea monster was not a very sturdy place and in places it was possible to step right through. "Iolaus.where are you?!"
"Herc!" a voice choked out causing Hercules to turn.
"Ah, I knew it wouldn't be long before you came after your buddy here!"
Sera had Iolaus on his as she slowly tightened a length of rope around his neck--rope that looked suspiciously like the slippery entrails of a certain sea monster. The girl's laughter echoed through the cavernous room as the hunter saw the edges of darkness.
"Let him go Sera!" Hercules said slowly closing the distance between them. "It's me that Hera wants.as usual. Now let him go!"
"Oh you're such a hero Hercules," she sighed in mock admiration.
Iolaus used her distraction to his advantage and with one last burst of energy he knocked his head back into her chest. Winded by the blow, she glared at them and fairly hissed in her rage. Regaining her wits, she spied a shard of broken bone on the ground, no doubt part of the monster's previous meal. She quickly grabbed it up and charged the demigod with a battle cry that ricocheted around the room.
Hercules simply sidestepped her. She slipped on the jellied floor and found herself sliding over the edge of a large pit filled with an acidic liquid that bubbled and hissed and popped. Seeing that she had managed to claw her nails into the edge of the wall, the demigod ran to his friend.
"Iolaus! You okay, buddy?" he asked throwing the mucous-coated rope to the side.
"Sure, sure," Iolaus panted, rubbing his reddened, sticky neck. "Piece of cake."
A low, strangled voice caused them both to look toward the edge of the pit.
"Give me one more chance! Please!"
Iolaus glanced at Hercules and shook his head slowly.
"Help!" she now screamed as she managed to hang onto the edge of the wall. "Please Hercules.don't let me die like this!"
Hercules briefly recalled first meeting Sera and how she had seemed so perfect. Too perfect perhaps. She'd been so helpful with the wedding plans. She'd befriended them all. And for what? Hera's vengeful will.
"Surely a man such as yourself couldn't allow someone to die when you could've saved them! What sort of hero would do that?!" Sera cried.
He'd actually started to like her. Why did every woman he meet have to be in service to Hera? Did they all wish to see him dead?
"Please! I'm sorry! Really I am!" her sobs were now frantic and both men edged closer to see her dangling precariously over the acid from the monster's huge stomach. It was the terror in her eyes that caused Hercules to move.
The hunter laid a staying hand on his arm and the demigod whispered, "We can't just leave her here, Iolaus."
"Why not?!" he replied. "She was going to kill us all!"
"It was Hera who wanted to do that," Hercules explained. "She just used Sera, like she always uses mortals for her pleasure."
"Please! I don't want to die!"
Iolaus shrugged and Hercules knelt beside the edge of the pit and put his hand out to Sera.
"Give me your hand," he said.
Slowly she reached one hand toward the demigod's waiting grasp. Just as his strong hand closed over her wrist, her free hand brought up a wicked-looking dagger and lunged at the demigod.
"For Hera!" she cried.
Iolaus eye caught the gleam of the knife and launched himself at Sera and Hercules, effectively knocking the dagger from her hand. His momentum, however, carried them both over the side of the pit.
"Iolaus!" Hercules yelled as he watched them fall toward the acid pool below.
After a seemingly lengthy free fall suddenly Iolaus' hands closed over something slimy hanging inside the monster's stomach. It was made of the same slippery rope material Sera had used to try to strangle him with earlier. It momentarily stopped his fall. He looked below and winced as Sera splashed down into the acid. Her screams were agonized but brief, and shortly after, Iolaus saw the skinless skeleton bob to the surface a few times before sinking completely.
"Oh gods, that was disgusting!" he mumbled, his breath coming in gasps.
"Iolaus!" Herc called down to him. "You alright?!"
The hunter let out an exasperated giggle. "Just peachy!"
"Let me pull you up."
"Good plan!" he called back.
Suddenly Iolaus was slipping. Mucous covered the hunter's hands as he tried to hold onto to the sinewy stuff. But it was no use. He realized he was sliding back down towards the deadly acid.
"Uh, Herc! You might want to hurry it up!"
Now aware of Iolaus' situation, the demigod pulled the rope up hand over hand as quickly as he could. The problem was that Iolaus was slipping faster than he was pulling.
"Hold on!" he cried down to his friend.
Faster and faster the hunter's hand slid down the slimy rope. He could almost feel the heat from the acid just below his feet. Taking a deep breath, Iolaus closed his eyes and tried his darmdest to move up the slippery lifeline.
Just as Iolaus' hands slipped from the end of the rope, the demigod grabbed his hand.
Slowly opening one blue eye, then another Iolaus looked up at his partner. "That was close!"
Suddenly Hercules felt the hunter's fingers start to slip from his. Both of their hands were covered in gunk.
"Give me your other hand Iolaus!"
The hunter thrust his hand up and this time the demigod grasped his gauntlet and finally pulled him over the edge to safety.
Panting, Iolaus lay on his back. As he caught his breath his hand swiped at the sticky substance that was now covering his bare chest as well.
"Uuuggh," the hunter groaned. "I hate it when they're slimy."
"You okay?" the demigod asked, eyes and voice full of concern and more than just a little guilt.
"I'm fine," Iolaus assured him, as he slowly sat up. "What a workout, huh?"
"Iolaus I should have listened to you," Hercules said with a shake of his head. "You warned me about trying to save Sera, and I didn't listen. And it almost got you killed."
"Hey, she nearly killed you too, ya know," Iolaus interjected.
"Well it would've been my own fault if she had," Hercules replied, his voice edgier than intended. "I'm sorry Iolaus. I should have listened to you."
"Come on buddy," Iolaus persisted. "There's nothing to forgive. I understand why you did it."
"Care to tell me?" the demigod responded with a derisive snort.
"Yeah, because you knew that Hera was using her and you wanted to save her from that," Iolaus explained carefully. "The only problem is.Sera didn't want to be saved."
Hercules looked up at his partner then sighed, dropping his head into his hands.
"What is it Herc?"
"When she was begging for one more chance," Hercules mused aloud, "I thought she was talking to us. She was really talking to Hera."
"And that's how she got the knife," Iolaus concluded.
The demigod shook his head again, pushing his damp hair away from his face.
"There was nothing more you could've done Herc," Iolaus said quietly, placing a comforting hand on his friend's arm.
Hercules nodded silently.
"Now I don't know about you," the hunter continued, "but I really don't care to stay in the bowels of this foul beast a moment longer.how are you going to get us out of here?"
Hercules stood up and glanced around. Spying the large pumping organ above and to their left, he cocked his head to one side and suggested, "Ride the waves?"
"Huh?" Iolaus replied doubtfully.
"I'm gonna go give the old ticker a good squeeze. The serpent drowns, then when the water floods in through the mouth, we just.float on up to the surface," the demigod explained.
"Great," Iolaus replied, cringing at the thought. "Sounds like a totally tubular way to rejoin the wedding party."
"Would you rather stay here?" Hercules asked as he started walking off.
"Yeah, right," the hunter said under his breath. Suddenly he realized his friend was moving on without him. "Hey Herc! Herc, wait up!"
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