Encounters

by Ceridwen andRhiannon

Chapter 1

There was a ghostly silence outside.

The skies darkened and the birds had long stopped singing. The meadow below, which just minutes before was full of life, full of rabbits and deer and the occasional bird settling in the nearby tree, was now empty. There was a slight breeze blowing through the trees, but it was as if it held back and waited. It was as if the world held its breath and waited for something.

A cold shiver went over Hercules' back as he turned back from the window and looked around him and then up the dark stone walls of the castle. His eyes gazed up onto a gallery lined with wooden shelves. It was uncomfortably silent in the room. In fact it was uncharacteristically silent in the entire castle since they'd entered it. All that seemed to echo through the dark corridors was the whispering sound of the wind. And it didn't sound like the normal wind, that would gush through his house or through the stables. It was almost howling. Probably an open window somewhere in the castle, he thought as he shook his head. Still, the demi-god felt uncomfortable and wondered why he'd agreed to take at look at this castle for Jason and Alcmene.

The couple had decided that Alcemene's house was too small for them and Salmoneus had heard about this place, eager to broker a deal and get his share of the sale: A big provision.

The castle was located only a couple of hours north of Thebes and used to belong to an eccentric old soldier. Actually the term 'castle' wasn't quiet doing the place justice. It wasn't as far as big as Jason's old palace in Corinth, but it was still massive. From the outside, it almost looked like a temple with its one tall tower in the centre and a massive entrance gate in the front of the building. To each side of the entrance gate, two huge harpies stared down at the visitors and as Hercules and Iolaus had walked through the gateway, the demi-god felt as if they were staring down at him, their eyes following his every move. The courtyard was spacious and the area was enclosed by a high stone wall.

The old soldier had died leaving no children behind and the remaining relatives had no need for the old walls and now sought to make a quick dinar, by selling it to a willing buyer. And Salmoneus had stepped in to find *just the right people for such a mansion full of character and atmosphere*.

Iolaus of course had been eager and excited to 'check out this *kewl place*' as he'd called it, and before Hercules knew it, their long planned vacation at home had turned into another adventure.

At least that's what Iolaus had hoped for.

Hercules was more wishing for a nice and quiet look at the castle and its surroundings, making sure that there were no monsters and avenging Gods around and that the area was safe and free from bandits.

The moment, Hercules had given in to his small, blond friend's nagging and exuberance, the moment Hercules had agreed to take a look at this proposed new home of Jason and his mother, and the moment they had walked into this neo-Babylonian style castle, that was the moment when the demi-god started to feel unsettled.

Hercules and Iolaus had only travelled a few hours and when they'd finally arrived at the castle, Hercules had sighed in relief. Traveling with his best friend was never boring and Iolaus always had a story to tell. And those stories usually covered everything - a joke or a song, a sad story or a funny one. But this time, Hercules wasn't sure if he should be laughing or blushing. He looked down at his best friend as the blond licked deliciously over his lips.

"Herc, I tell you, what that girl did with a handful of straw!" Iolaus giggled. "It was the most amazing experience I ever had! No - more than amazing ... it was - it was ..."

The hunter stopped and tilted his head slightly.

"Imagine this," he whispered "There we were, just the two of us in that barn behind the festival tent. At any moment somebody could have walked in, but we didn't care."

The hunter smiled as the memories of last night rushed back in.

"Tanya was just ..."

With a wicked smile, she had closed the barn door behind her and without another word she turned, a satisfied smile on her face as she studied his expression. Then she walked up to him. Iolaus leaned against the bars of the barn window behind him, the open window allowing the gently night breeze to cool his hot body. Wine had been flowing and he couldn't remember how often he had danced with Tanya before she had asked him if he wanted to 'go for a walk'. Hercules seemed to be busy receiving the usual "Hercules, you're a hero" treatment and he surely wouldn't miss his friend for a few minutes.

Gently, Iolaus bend down and planted a soft kiss on Tanya's lips, then her cheeks, then her neck. He could taste the remains of the wine on her mouth and he breathed in her perfume as his tongue nibbled on her earlope. The hunter could feel that each touch, each kiss made Tanya's breath come more quickly. And he could feel the fire of desire spreading through his own body as his fingers started to explore her soft skin.

Iolaus raised his hands and traced a light line across her shoulders and then down her arms, to her sides and then up again. As the kiss deepened, he could feel her body press eagerly against his in response. She gasped as Iolaus began to un-button the front of her dress and started to pull the light blouse over her shoulders. He bent down to cover her body with teasing kisses, his feather touches growing more forceful as their passion rose.

"Oh, Iolaus ..." Tanya whispered longingly.

Her hands tangled in his hair as she began to take the initiative, covering his mouth with kisses. Then her hands moved, making their way slowly down his body, caressing his back then his muscular chest and wandering down his and across his abdomen. Vaguely he was aware of laughter, music and singing from the festival, which was still going on. Hercules was in there and would probably come looking for him any minute now.

Maybe this was not such a good ...

"Iolaus." Tanya whispered. "Do you want me?" she asked.

But the hunter knew it wasn't a question. His mind raced, his head span and outside he could hear a voice shouting above all the others.

"Iolaus?"

Hercules!

The demigod was looking for him.

"Do you want me?" Tanya whispered again.

Iolaus knew he had no choice.

"Yes." he whispered and tried to steady his ragged breathing.

"Iolaus ..." Tanya whispered sensuously.

"Iolaus!"

"Hummmm" the hunter mumbled contentedly as drank in the feelings which washed over him.

"Iolaus!"

Hercules stood in front of his best friend and had shaken him with a grin.

"Greece to Iolaus! Wake up, buddy!"

Iolaus opened his eyes and stared up at the demi-god's big grin.

"Oh, Herc - " he started and his mouth dropped open. "I - was - I must have - it was just ... Did I ...?"

Hercules shook his head.

"Iolaus, my friend, there are things about your love life I think you should keep to yourself!"

He slapped the hunter on the back and continued to walk towards the castle. Iolaus cleared his voice and shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably.

"Well Herc, so many women, so little time and you're not really ..."

Hercules turned around and gave him a reprimanding look and then smiled.

"My friend," he said and wrapped his arm around the hunter as he caught up with him. "I never know what it is women see in you. But I know that if we don't hurry up, we won't be back home for dinner."

Iolaus smiled.

"Yeah, we can't miss that!"

Chapter 2

They had reached the castle just as the night had broken and started to turn dark and misty. Strangely dark and misty.

The demi-god sighed heavily as he started to rub his arms to create some warmth as he stood on the window and stared at the clouds outside. This place could do with some sort of heating system.

He turned away from the window and walked back into the centre of the room to have another look around. This must have been used as the main sitting room. The walls were covered with large paintings and wall hangings and in the far corner was a large inviting chimney.

The room was lined with a gallery running all around the sides of the room. The demi-god focused on one of the paintings hanging not far away from him. It was relatively large and showed a middle-aged man wrapped in a black cloak. To his feet sat a black wolf-like dog, his white teeth flashing angrily and foam running down the corners of his mouth. Only the man's face was visible and his piercing green eyes seemed to stare at Hercules. The demi-god tilted his head and couldn't rid himself of the feeling of being watched by the figure. His eyes wandered from the painting across the room to the other side when he suddenly heard a noise coming from his right side. It sounded like some sort of animal breathing heavily. Hercules drew around and tried to see where the noise had come from, but all he could see was the painting.

The man and the dog.

This wasn't possible.

Hercules walked up to the canvas and looked at it closer. The dog was still there, his white teeth flashing and foam dripping from his mouth. The man was still covered in the black cloth, only revealing his face and his hand, which was poised on the dog's head.

Hercules drew back and gasped.

The man's hand on the dog's head?

It hadn't been there before, Hercules could have sworn. The demi-god shook his head.

"C'mon, Hercules, get a grip!" he thought aloud. "This is just some trick of the light!"

Suddenly it felt as if a gush of cold air blew through the room, and Hercules shuddered involuntarily. It was almost as if he could feel somebody was standing behind him and Hercules turned around.

But he wasn't quiet prepared for what stood now before him.

*Standing* wasn't actually the right word. Hovering was more like it.

It was the figure of a man, but not just any man. The man from the painting. Hercules took a deep breath and couldn't help taking a step backwards as he stared at the figure in front of him. No doubt, this was the man from the painting. But how was this possible? Hercules took a deep breath and straightened his back.

*Cecrops and Timos* he though. *I've seen spirits before. They can't harm anybody.* But it didn't convince him at all.

The figure moved slowly towards the demi-god and Hercules could see the wall of the room behind through the figure's body. Then it extended a pale hand and whispered

"Return what is rightfully mine and no harm will come to him!"

Hercules eyed the translucent figure with suspicion.

"Return what?" he asked. "I don't understand."

The form continued to move towards him and he backed off further, his eyes poised on the form.

"I don't under - ... who are you?" Hercules asked again.

But the form was silent. The pale hand still extended, he now pointed out of the door and he whispered again. "Return what is mine. Now! Or he will suffer my wrath."

"Hercules??"

A voice echoed through the corridors outside the room and brought the demi-god out of his frozen state. He turned towards the door.

"Iolaus? I'm in here!" he called. "Come here quick! You better take a look at this! Now."

As Hercules turned back at the ghostly figure of the man ... it was gone.

"How did he do that?" Hercules asked and his hands moved in front of him as if to see if there was something to feel that he couldn't see.

But there was nothing except air.

As he turned around, he shuddered again as he looked from the strange figure on the painting up against the high ceilings and started to moved backwards. The light from the candles he'd lit before produced strangely shaped shadows on the ceiling and as his gaze was fixed upwards, he suddenly backed into something warm and moving. The sudden impact made the demi-god's heart jump into his throat as he drew around. For a moment, he didn't know what to expect behind him. He never had panicked like this before in his life and he was not yet ready to call it fear. His eyes focused onto the object, which had suddenly appeared behind him.

It was another figure.

Of another man.

Small, blond and dressed in black leather breeches and a patched purple vest.

Hercules' brain settled down and he shook his head as he recognized the form of his best friend. "Iolaus!" Hercules said as he released his breath with a big sigh. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"

Iolaus grinned mischievously.

"Did I scare you?" he smiled, trying to restrain himself from bursting out into loud laughter.

"Say, Herc, this place is something, isn't it?" he went on, as he looked around the spacious room, bringing his hand up to his hips. "My father told me about this castle. Apparently he was friends with one of the previous owners and they fought together in many campaigns. I think Jason and Alcmene will love it here!"

Hercules followed his friend's eyes and searched the room for something he felt was still there, but he couldn't see.

"Yeah, they sure would." he replied.

Iolaus could hear the sub-tone in his friend's voice and looked up at him.

"What's wrong Hercules? What was it you wanted me to see?" he asked.

Hercules kept staring up onto the gallery and onto the ceiling then back at the strange painting of the man and the dog and had to think of the appearance he'd just witnessed.

Or did he?

"I don't know." he said, his voice almost a whisper. "But I have a strange feeling about this place!"

Iolaus looked around him and was trying to see what the demi-god saw. But he couldn't find anything unusual.

"What 'strange feeling'?" he asked carefully.

He knew Hercules. If he had a strange feeling, then in most cases, that meant trouble. Actually, in all cases.

"Hercules? What do you mean *a strange feeling*?"

But all Iolaus received was his friend's hand on his vest pulling him towards the door. The words of the ghost echoed in Hercules' head *... or he will die!* Whatever this was about, Hercules knew that the ghost had meant Iolaus and the demi-god had no intentions of risking his friend's life.

"Mother would hate this house!" Hercules decided suddenly as he walked resolutely towards the door, pulling the hunter with him. "Let's get out of here."

As they walked towards the door, rolling thunder was audible outside and as Hercules opened the door, heavy rain started to poor down mercilessly. Iolaus shrugged back and a shudder ran over his body.

"Well," he said as he eyed the now pitch-dark skies. "It looks like we're not going anywhere for a while."

Hercules stared up at the blackening skies.

"It's not that bad, Iolaus. Looks like it's just a passing cloud. We'll make it."

He started to drag Iolaus outside with him. The hunter frowned and pulled back.

"Hercules? Are you insane?"

He pointed up at the even darker clouds forming on the horizon.

"Passing cloud? Buddy, this is a full-grown storm! If we go out there, we'll get soaked!"

Hercules didn't seem to listen as he started to walk through the door.

"We'll make it if we hurry up."

Iolaus shook his head and stopped dead in the doorway. There was no way he was walking into the heavy rain, which had started to pour down.

"What's with you, Hercules?" Iolaus asked his friend as he pulled him back into the house. "I've never seen you like this! There's a heavy storm outside and we're in a perfectly dry and stable house. Why in Zeus' name are you so eager to rush out of here?"

The hunter eyed his friend from the side and suddenly he had to grin. The grin turned into a giggle.

"You're scared!" he said as he watched Hercules' face carefully.

Hercules shook his head, but his eyes never left the room they'd stepped back into.

"Don't be ridiculous, Iolaus. I'm not scared. It's just that ... this house ... Mother wouldn't like it here ... so I think we're wasting our time."

Iolaus was still giggling. "I'm right. You're scared!"

The hunter's giggling became louder. "The mighty Hercules! Scared of a little old castle!"

Hercules punched Iolaus playfully into his arm. "Iolaus, stop it. I'm NOT scared. I'm worried about - mother. She'll be wondering whether we got caught in the storm. I don't want her to ..."

"Aach don't worry about your mother, Hercules." Iolaus interrupted him. "She's a smart woman and I'm sure she'll know that we will wait the storm out somewhere warm and safe."

He titled his head and started to giggle again.

"Admit it, Herc. You're scared of the castle! What is it? See any ghosts while I wasn't there?"

"Of course not, Iolaus. Don't be silly. There's no such thing as ... ghosts!"

But the subtle tone in his voice wasn't convincing him or his friend. And both couldn't help but think of their adventure with Timoron. Hercules' thoughts trailed off and back to the painting and the strange encounter with the figure.

The voice echoed in his head: *Return what is mine or he will suffer my wrath*.

There it was again. The sudden gush of cold air and Hercules shuddered. He looked down at Iolaus, who was still grinning across both cheeks.

"Can you feel the presence of something?"

Iolaus stared at his best friend in disbelief. "Presence? Hercules what are you talking about? There is no presence here apart from us. This castle is empty!"

Hercules looked past the blond hunter and took a deep breath.

"Oh yeah?" he asked. "Who's this then?"

Iolaus turned around and stared straight onto the face of a pale translucent figure. His chin dropped and he took a step back, stumbling into Hercules.

It took Iolaus a while to work through the emotions which flowed through him. Instant panic, fear, disbelief and then something replaced them all. Anger. The last time he'd been that scared and afraid was when his father had punished him for his frequent disobedience and made him stay on his own in the dark forest over night.

Back then he'd sworn to himself that nothing would ever scare him again and that he would never allow anybody again to use intimidation and fear to teach him a lesson. And he also remembered well the time he and Hercules had helped the young boy Timoron. Iolaus was certainly not afraid of ghosts anymore and he stepped resolutely forwards, facing the figure.

"How dare you go around scaring people! Who do you think you are?" he asked, the annoyance quiet obvious in his voice.

The ghost just stared at him and raised his hand.

"It is you. You've finally come back. Now return what is mine and no harm will come to you!" it whispered.

Hercules swallowed hard. he'd been right. It was Iolaus the ghost was after. But why?

Iolaus creased his eyebrows. "Listen, pal. I've never seen you in my life and I've taken nothing from you, so why don't you just shove off and scare somebody else. We're not afraid of you!"

Behind him, Iolaus could feel Hercules shift uncomfortable and then he felt the demi-god slapping him in the back.

"Iolaus!" Hercules whispered. "Don't you think we should show him a little more respect? Maybe try to find out what he wants and see if we can help him? Ghosts usually have some sort of unfinished business, remember?"

Iolaus shook his head. "He's a bully and I don't take that from anybody! If he wants us to help him, then he should apologize first!"

He turned back at the ghost. "Right then, are you gonna apologize?"

The ghost continued to hover in front of the two friends and pointed his pale hand, almost touching the hunter. "Return what is mine." he whispered, the voice growing louder and more intense.

Iolaus shrugged his shoulders and crossed his arms in front of his chest.

"That's not the way to apologize, I'm afraid." he said and looked at the figure in front of him.

Hercules stepped next to Iolaus and stared at the figure.

"Why don't you tell us what you've lost and we might be able to help you find it?"

The ghostly figure continued to fix on Iolaus.

"Before the full moon rises, what is mine must be returned or your life will be mine."

Iolaus laughed. "Our lives will be yours? What's that supposed to mean? Can't you speak like a normal person?"

Then Iolaus realized who he was talking to. " ... or at least like somebody we can understand!"

The ghost moved closer and leaned down towards Iolaus.

"You will die." he whispered toneless.

Iolaus laughed out loud and pointed at the demi-god standing next to him.

"Oh yeah? Well, this is Hercules you know!" he said mockingly. "People with more guts than you have tried that."

Then he looked up at Hercules and giggled.

"Guts ...!" he smiled. "Get it? Ghost - Guts?"

Hercules just shook his head as he continued to watch the form in front of them. The hand had not stopped pointing at the blond hunter.

"Return what is mine or ..."

Iolaus waved him off.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Or we will die! You said that before. It's getting old."

"No," the ghost said and pointed again at Iolaus. "YOU will die."

With those words, the ghost vanished and a deadly silence filled the room.

Chapter 3

Iolaus waved at the vanishing spirit.

"Yeah, shove off! And you better not come back! You can't scare us! Go and look for your stuff by yourself!"

Iolaus turned around and smiled triumphantly at his tall friend.

"See? That's that taken care of."

Hercules shook his head in disbelief.

"Iolaus! Didn't you hear what he said? He said that you'll die if we don't ..."

"C'mon Herc, he's a ghost! A spirit! What can he do to us? And besides - just a minute ago you told me you didn't believe that ghosts could do anything to us. So what's your problem now?"

Hercules stared at him unbelievingly.

"What's my problem? Well, let's see here, shall we? There is a ghost in this house who thinks you've taken something from him and if you don't return it by midnight, he's going to kill you." He tilted his head. "Now call me a worry wart, but this does but a slight damper on our holiday excursion, don't you think?"

Iolaus shrugged his shoulders. "I think you're overreacting, Herc. I haven't taken anything from this ... this ... *thing*. I haven't even seen this guy before in my life, so I think he's a few sandwiches short of a picnic! Must have something to do with being a ghost. You know, being light-headed and all that"

He giggled again.

"Light-headed!"

Hercules shook his head.

"Iolaus, I don't think this is the best time to joke around. You might not think a threat to your life is worth taking seriously, but I do. There's no point in staying here, so we're leaving. Now."

"Oh, Herc, come on, I told you, you're overreact ... yeeeeow!"

Iolaus' words ended in a strangled yelp as Hercules grabbed him by his vest and lifted him several inches off the ground. Looking into his friend's eyes, now only inches from his own, the demi-god said, speaking slowly and clearly,

"Watch my lips. I said, we're leaving NOW. Got it?"

"OK, OK, enough already. I've got it! Let me down!" the blond man grumbled in resignation, knowing that when his friend used that tone of voice there was no point in arguing.

Hercules set the hunter back on his feet and headed for the door, grabbing a handful of purple vest as he did so, just in case Iolaus' capitulation was faked.

"Will you let go of my vest? You're gonna tear it to pieces!"

Hercules looked at him suspiciously, but Iolaus put up his hands in defeat.

"It's OK, I'm coming with you. Even though there's a storm out there!"

Hercules let go and continued walking. Iolaus didn't stop complaining, but followed his big friend as he headed for the main entrance hall. Angry as he was at this situation, and even though he didn't really believe in ghosts, Hercules' fear was beginning to get to him too and he was starting to think that maybe leaving was a good idea after all.

When they reached the entrance hall, the sound of thundering rain and howling wind was much louder now. Hercules approached the large, solid front door, slid back the heavy iron bolts and tore the door open. The next minute he was on his back on the floor, beaten back by a tremendous blast of wind. Everything in the hall that wasn't bolted down was flying out of the door. Hastily grabbing hold of a nearby wall fitting, Hercules glanced round anxiously and finally spotted Iolaus struggling to his feet near the staircase, having been blown clean across the length of the hall. As a huge armoured statue flew past him, nearly decapitating him in its flight, Hercules began crawling along the wall towards the door.

A scream of "Hercules!" caused him to look round, to see Iolaus clinging in desperation to the staircase, both arms wrapped round the banister, struggling to keep his feet on the floor as the wind tried to drag him away.

"Hold on!" Hercules shouted back.

Iolaus nodded. "Good plan. I hadn't thought of that!"

Hercules finally reached the door and it took all his considerable strength to push it shut and get the heavy bolts firmly in place again. He let out his breath in a relieved gasp, then made his way back down the hall to the staircase.

"Iolaus? Are you all right?" Hercules asked in concern.

Iolaus, now sitting on the stairs still clutching the banister for support, replied shakily, "I'm fine. What in Hades name just happened?"

"The storm must've gotten worse. The wind's up to hurricane force. There's no way we can leave until it dies down a bit."

"So, looks like we're stuck here after all," Iolaus said, trying to make his voice light and hide a sudden stab of fear. He jumped as a clap of thunder shook the room.

It was darker now, the few wall lamps throwing eerie shadows around the hall. Hercules looked at his friend for a moment, realizing that Iolaus was now taking their situation seriously. Hercules clapped the blond on the shoulder.

"Right. Well, now we're really stuck here, we'd better take a look round this place. If this ghost is for real, we'd better try and find out what's going on."

They began to search the castle, moving methodically from room to room. The place was huge, rooms leading into each other in a thoroughly confusing fashion. By unspoken consent, they stayed together, although they'd probably have got round faster had they split up. But neither man was too keen on meeting the ghost again without his partner at his back, although neither was prepared to admit it.

As they entered each room they lit the huge torches in holders on the walls. Most of the rooms obviously hadn't been lived in for some time. Dust coated everything and there was an almost unnatural silence, broken occasionally by a particularly loud clap of thunder that penetrated the walls whichever room they found themselves in.

At length, they arrived in a large room that might have been the study. It looked less abandoned than the other rooms they'd visited. The walls were lined with shelves holding hundreds of parchments and scrolls, stacked in a haphazard fashion. Portraits lined the walls and the furniture looked comfortable and well used. Bowls of fruit, ornaments and a large wooden sand clock stood on several of the tables. Strangely for a supposedly deserted castle, a fire burned brightly in the hearth, an obvious indication of habitation.

Hercules ran his finger along one of the tables and raised his eyebrows when he found it was clear of dust.

"Looks like someone's living here after all," he remarked.

"Well, I guess that explains our ghost," Iolaus responded, trying to keep the relief out of his voice.

While Hercules began to examine the scrolls, Iolaus wandered around the room, absently picking up anything that seemed of interest. He was getting more and more frustrated with this whole situation. He absently took an apple from one of the bowls and bit into it.

Hercules found a scroll that seemed to tell the history of the castle and turned towards his partner. "Hey, Iolaus, look at thi .......IOLAUS! PUT THAT DOWN!" his voice ended in a yell.

Iolaus jumped about three feet in the air, almost dropping the apple. He wheeled round angrily.

"Hercules! Don't DO that!"

Hercules rushed over and plucked the apple out of his friend's hand.

"Iolaus! What were you thinking?"

Iolaus looked at him quizzically.

"Well, I thought I was eating an apple because I was hungry. What did you think I was thinking?"

Hercules rolled his eyes in despair.

"This isn't funny, Iolaus. This house has been deserted for months. How can we be sure all this," he waved his arms, "isn't a trick played on us by that ... ghost? Just ... stop thinking through your stomach and don't touch anything else!"

Iolaus was opening his mouth for a smart retort, when the air in the room suddenly went cold.

"Oh, oh." Iolaus said uneasily, shivering apprehensively at the sudden drop in temperature.

"I have a feeling our ghostly buddy is about to make another appearance."

Hardly were the words out of his mouth when he heard the sound of ghostly laughter coming from no-where. A quick glance at Hercules convinced Iolaus that his friend had heard it too. The two men moved to the centre of the room, back to back, scanning the shadows. Then the air shimmered and the ghost appeared before Iolaus, still laughing and with a glint of triumph on its face.

"Uh, Herc?" the hunter said softly. "You might want to turn around now."

Hercules turned around slowly and found himself facing the ghost.

"I'm glad you're finding this amusing," Hercules said dryly, while his mind raced. If this wasn't a ghost, who or what was it?

The ghost ignored him, looking instead at Iolaus.

"You should be more careful .... friend," it said. "That was no ordinary apple."

"I knew it," Hercules muttered under his breath. Both the ghost and his friend ignored him.

The ghost continued, "The apple contains a deadly poison. One bite is all it takes to kill a man."

Iolaus swallowed.

"Who are you trying to kid?" he challenged the ghost, trying to bite back the stab of fear that had run through him at the ghost's words. The apple had tasted fine. Surely just one bite of an apple couldn't kill him?

"You're a ghost! You can't touch anything! How could you poison an apple?"

The ghost continued to fix Iolaus with a deathly stare.

"I have friends in high places," it replied, with a mirthless grin. "The poison will run its course and you will die at midnight unless you return to me what is mine."

"Just wait a minute, here," Hercules said, figuring that there was nothing to be lost by reasoning with the apparition and putting a hand firmly over Iolaus' mouth as he opened it for a scathing retort. He stepped protectively in front of his friend.

"We don't know what you're talking about. If you tell us what you're looking for, maybe we can help you find it."

The ghost laughed and addressed Iolaus once more.

"You know what your family has taken from me."

Then he pointed to the large wooden sand clock on the table. As they watched, he traced his finger in the air and the clock slowly turned over and sand began running from the top through the narrow opening into the bottom.

"The sand will run out at midnight. If you don't return what's mine, you will die!"

The ghost laughed again, then disappeared. Dematerialized was a better description of the way the figure had almost melted into nothingness. Hercules wasn't sure if the coldness in the air was real or caused by the sudden fear he was feeling.

Chapter 4

The two heroes looked at each other for a moment. Finally, Hercules broke the silence tentatively.

"How do you feel?"

"Fine. I feel fine, Herc, really. He's just bluffing."

"Maybe, but if he isn't, we don't have long to figure out what he's after. Do you have any idea what he's talking about? What does your family have to do with it?"

Iolaus shrugged helplessly.

"I have no idea, Herc, really. I've never seen the guy before."

Hercules was beginning to feel helpless and it was a worrying and uncomfortable feeling. It wasn't often they were in a situation where they couldn't talk or fight their way out of trouble. This time, they didn't even know what the trouble was.

"OK, well, we'd better keep looking round. If you see anything at all that seems familiar, holler."

As they walked up the main staircase to investigate the upper floors, Hercules' eyes wandered over the paintings which lined the walls at the stairs leading up to the first floor of the castle. Paintings of men and woman. They must have been all members of the family who had previously lived in this castle, as he could recognize an obvious resemblance. There was something about the last painting at the top of the stairs, which held the demi-god's gaze and as he looked closer, he froze.

"Iolaus ..." he whispered as his eyes stared at the figure of a young man. "Come and see this!"

Iolaus turned around and walked back to stand next to his tall friend.

"What?" he asked, staring at the painting.

Hercules raised his hand and pointed at the painting.

"Look! Around his neck!"

Iolaus moved closer to get a better look and his eyes widened in shock as his hand went up to his chest and enclosed his ever-present pendant.

"It's my medallion!" he said, his voice shaking. "But, this isn't possible."

"It's your medallion, all right," Hercules agreed. "Do you recognize the boy in the portrait?"

Iolaus shook his head.

"Fine. Let's think logically about this. You got the medallion from your father, right?"

Iolaus nodded dumbly, still shaken by seeing the familiar object in such an unexpected place.

"So," Hercules went on, "where did he get it?"

"From my grandfather," Iolaus replied absently, still staring at the picture.

"Well, where did he get it?"

Iolaus continued to stare at the picture, at the face of the young man. There was something about the boy's expression, a complex mixture of defiant pride mixed with a desperate desire to please. Suddenly, looking into the boy's face, the whole story came flooding back to him. He turned to Hercules excitedly.

"Herc! I remember now! This must be Emon."

"You *know* him?"

"Yes ... well, no, I've never met him, he was a friend of my father's. Look, can we sit down? I'll tell you the story."

Hercules looked at him worriedly as the hunter dropped down wearily on the stairs. It was hard to tell in the gloom, but he definitely seemed paler.

"My father told me the story of Emon and the medallion. Emon was a friend of my father's. When they were little more than boys, they joined my grandfather Festos' army. I've never met Festos, but he was a great general and my father talked about him all the time. Festos took a liking to Emon and treated him almost like another son. Anyway, they were fighting in a campaign, I forgot where, and Emon was killed saving my grandfather's life. As he was dying, he gave my grandfather this medallion, because he thought of him as a father. Later, Festus gave the medallion to my father."

He paused, looking up at Hercules, unable to hide the bitterness in his voice.

"Skouros saw his friend Emon as a symbol of loyalty and sacrifice." he laughed mirthlessly.

"When I was a kid, I hated Emon. I'd never even met the guy. He was killed long before I was born, but whenever I screwed up, my father would always hold Emon up as the ideal to aim for. Emon was brave. Emon was a trusted friend. Emon was a good warrior. Emon was loyal to our family. Emon, Emon, Emon."

He paused, and Hercules waited quietly for him to go on.

"But, you know what I always wondered?"

Hercules shook his head.

"I always wondered what Emon's relationship with his own father had been like, for him to have looked to Festus as a father and to give him the medallion rather than asking for it to be sent to his family."

He was silent for a moment, then he said softly, "Maybe Emon had the same kind of relationship with his father as I had with mine."

After a moment, Iolaus went on, "But I don't understand, Herc. Who is this ghost-guy and why does he want the medallion?"

"If it's Emon's father," Hercules replied, "it would make sense that it's the medallion he wants. Maybe he resents the fact that Emon gave it to your grandfather. Perhaps, in some twisted way, he thinks if he gets the medallion back, it will in some way compensate for losing his son."

Iolaus closed a fist protectively around the medallion.

"Well, he's not having it. Emon must have had a good reason to give it to Festus, and I'm not going to give it up to some ghost just because he thinks he can throw his weight around."

Neither of them had the heart to laugh at the idea of a non-corporeal ghost throwing his weight around.

"Iolaus," Hercules said carefully, knowing that in one way his friend was being irrational, but also knowing how important the medallion was to him.

"I know the medallion means a lot to you, but it isn't worth dying for."

"Yes, it is." Iolaus retorted stubbornly.

Hercules sighed. He knew that Iolaus had very mixed feelings about his father and that somehow, for his friend, the medallion was a symbol of the relationship he had always wanted with Skouros, but never really had. The demi-god also knew that if Iolaus was going to be stubborn about this, he was going to have a hard job persuading him to give up the medallion. But every moment they spent discussing this was a precious moment lost and Hercules played with the thought of punching Iolaus out for his own good. But he knew that Iolaus would never forgive him for that. There had to be another way.

Hercules wondered how much time was left, and as the thought passed through his mind, he was startled to see a ghostly image of the sand clock appear in the air before him.

The sand seemed to be running out alarmingly quickly.

Then the clock disappeared again, accompanied by the faint sound of cold laughter.

Chapter 5

"All right," Hercules said decisively. "We have a bit of time to play with. We'll look round a bit more, but you have to know Iolaus, there may be no alternative."

Iolaus snorted at the thought of giving up and jumped quickly to his feet. He was taken completely by surprise as a sudden stab of pain and a wave of dizziness washing over him. It felt as if he'd been run through with a sword. Gasping, he doubled up, clutching his stomach where the pain originated, and almost fell as the pain pulsed through his whole body and the world around him started to spin. Hercules grabbed him before he fell, easing him gently into a sitting position and held onto him tightly until the convulsion stopped.

After a few moments, Iolaus raised a white face and met the look of fear in his friend's eyes.

"Well," he gasped finally, voice shaking, "Guess the ghost was right - one little bite seems to have done the trick! And they say: An apple a day ... " but he couldn't finish as another stab of pain ripped through him.

"That does it," Hercules said firmly. "You're going to give up the medallion."

"No, I'm not." Iolaus replied equally firmly, pulling himself out of his friend's grasp and carefully standing up again.

"Iolaus ..."

"Let's try the upper floor. Maybe we'll find something there."

He started up the final flight of stairs, walking a little unsteadily. Hercules bit back a retort and followed. He'd let his friend have his way for a little longer, then he was going to make him give up the medallion. The demi-god was also reluctant to give in to the threats, but at this moment he couldn't think of another way out of the situation and he certainly wasn't willing to risk waiting until midnight to find out if the ghost was right about the poison.

They made their way slowly from room to room, but found nothing of note. Eventually, they made their way back downstairs. Hercules was getting desperate. Iolaus was obviously getting weaker by the moment and the attacks of pain were becoming more frequent.

Hercules left Iolaus in the study while he made a quick foray back to the main door, but the hurricane was still raging. He returned to the study to find Iolaus leafing through the piles of scrolls.

"I thought there might be something in one of these that might help."

Hercules crossed to the room, just in time to catch his friend as he was seized by another spasm of pain. This time, the attack went on longer, leaving the hunter dizzy and weak.

"Iolaus, sit down in a chair and rest. I'll have a look through the scrolls."

He was even more worried when Iolaus obeyed him without complaint.

Time passed.

Hercules had looked through dozens of scrolls, but found nothing of help. Gods, he didn't even know what he was looking for. He glanced at the sand clock. The stream of sand seemed to be passing faster and faster through the narrow opening and there was now more sand in the bottom than in the top. Hercules reckoned there was very little time left.

He glanced at his friend, cuddled in the chair. Iolaus was trying not to show it, but the pain was now constant and getting worse. He felt as if he was on fire inside, his head was now thumping and he was having trouble focusing and putting thoughts together.

Enough was enough.

Hercules said firmly, "Iolaus, time is almost up. You have to give him the medallion."

Iolaus shook his head slowly.

"I'm not giving in to a ghost." he whispered faintly.

"Iolaus, please ..."

Iolaus shook his head again, his hand firmly clasped around the medallion.

Hercules knew he could easily tear it out of his friend's grip and give it to the ghost himself, but he was sure that wouldn't work - for the ghost to be satisfied, Iolaus had to give it up of his own free will.

Desperate now, the demi-god played the only card he could think of. Deliberately raising his voice angrily, and it wasn't difficult for he was getting angry with his stubborn friend, he shouted,

"OK. Die then. But I want you to know that'll be the most selfish thing you've ever done You're prepared to die for your stubborn pride? Well, fine. But stop for a minute and think about all the people who love you. What am I going to tell Jason and my mother and Erythia and Pandion? That you gave your life for a stupid medallion? How do you think they're going to feel?"

He paused in his tirade for a moment. Iolaus was looking at him wide-eyed, a look of shock on his face.

Good.

This was working.

He continued relentlessly, "And what about me? Have you stopped to think about me? I *need* you Iolaus. I need you to watch my back in a fight. I need you as my friend, as the only person I can be myself with! Don't you understand? I don't think I can go on without you!"

He stopped abruptly and turned away, the truth of his words hitting him suddenly. After all they'd been through together and all they meant to each other, he really didn't think he could go on without his friend. He felt a hand on his arm and turned back, looking into a face filled with shame.

"I'm sorry, Herc," Iolaus whispered. "You're right ... I ... I hadn't thought about it like that. I'll give him the medallion."

His face creased in a grimace as another wave of pain spread through his body, then he reached up a shaking hand and pulled the medallion from around his neck.

At that moment, the air shimmered and the ghost reappeared.

"So, son of Skouros. You've remembered what your family did to my son!"

His son? They were right. Emon was his son! Iolaus painfully stepped up to the ghost and held out the medallion.

"Here, Tonius. That's your name, isn't it? Father told me about you. The medallion - take it, it's yours."

Hercules added, "He's giving it of his own free will." Then he took a step forwards. "You have what you want Tonius, so you can heal him now!"

The ghost of Tonius ignored the shaking hand holding out the medallion and shook its head slowly.

"It is too late, Iolaus" the ghost of Tonius whispered coldly. "I want to be repaid in full. A life for a life."

Hercules paled and cast a quick glance at the sand clock, which hovered above the table.

"What are you talking about?" the demi-god hissed. "A life for a life? Iolaus has given you the medallion - now give him the antidote!"

He closed his hand reassuringly around the hunter's shoulders. There was still a small amount of sand that hadn't run through.

"It isn't yet midnight! You said we had until midnight - here's the medallion. Now, take it!"

"I make the rules, son of Zeus and I can change the rules. My son died because he was lured from home to fight in another man's army. He was blinded by that family and he died for his stupidity. The life of Skouros' son will avenge the life of my son."

Hercules was outraged.

"Iolaus hasn't done anything! He didn't even know your son! You can't punish him for something that happened so long ago!"

But Tonius remained expressionless.

"My decision is made. I will have my vengeance. A life for a life it is." he repeated as he slowly dissolved.

Hercules jumped up and threw himself at the disappearing form.

"NOOO!" he shouted angry as he launched forwards.

"Come back! You've promised!" But all he found was emptiness. The ghost had vanished.

"Herc ..."

A weak voice behind him brought the demi-god back to his senses and as he turned around, Iolaus collapsed to the ground. His hands had tried to grab hold of something to hold him upright as his legs gave way beneath him, but he had found nothing. The poison had reached its final stage.

Chapter 6

"Iolaus!" Hercules cried in panic and rushed over to where the blond had sunk to the ground. He fell to his knees and pulled the shivering body of his best friend into his arms.

"Iolaus, no ..." he whispered as he placed his right hand on the hunter's chest.

It was rising slowly and painfully and Hercules could see the truth in the blond's blue eyes.

Iolaus was dying.

"I guess I've gotten myself into a mess again!" Iolaus tried to lighten the situation as he looked into the demi-god's face.

Hercules swallowed hard and all he could think of what another time when he'd held Iolaus like this.

"Yup, you've really done it this time, Iolaus!" he said, but there was no anger or blame in his voice. Just fear, pain and sorrow.

He had lost Iolaus before and had been able to bring him back, but this time there were no Gods involved and no more favours to ask or deliver.

"I - I'm proud to have been your friend, Hercules! Promised me you'll keep going - keep on helping people after I'm gone." Iolaus said, his voice shaking with pain. He trembled in the demi-god's arms and Hercules tried to hold back the tears, which he could feel building up. He took a deep breath as he closed his hand more firmly around the hunter's.

"Iolaus, you're not going to die. Forget it. You can't die. I won't allow it. Not you."

Iolaus smiled.

"Herc ... it's cold. I - I ..."

Hercules looked around. "I'll find this Tonius and I'll get him to give us the antidote. You'll see. Just rest for a moment. I'll be ..."

"You know, Herc," Iolaus interrupted him." I've been thinking."

Hercules looked down. "Thinking? About what?"

"About Emon. All he wanted was his father's attention and love and to be treated with respect. And in the end he found it from a stranger."

Iolaus grew silent and then took an agonizing breath.

"I had no right to hate him. He's just like me. That's all I ever wanted from my father and in the end, he drove me away."

Hercules swallowed hard as he watched Iolaus struggle for every word. But he hadn't the heart to tell his friend to be quiet and to save his strength. This could be the last time he heard that familiar voice, saw those eyes reflecting Iolaus' emotions so expressively.

"Skouros was a fool." Hercules said heavily. "You always had a brave heart and a loyal spirit. How could he not see that?"

Iolaus looked up at his friend. "You saw it. And Alcmene saw it."

He sighed.

"And for that I'll always be grateful. I'd give my life gladly to protect you and your family."

Hercules shook his head slightly.

"No, Iolaus, you don't have to ...."

"Yes, I do, Hercules." Iolaus said. "I want to thank you for everything you and your family have given me. You believed in me and if it wasn't for you ...."

"You would have been just fine!" Hercules interrupted.

He was afraid. He'd never been so afraid in his life. Iolaus was trying to make his peace with him and that scared him. The man in his arms was slowly slipping always and there was nothing Hercules could do.

"Iolaus, you know that mother loves you like a son and you're like a brother to me."

His eyes closed for a brief second and then looked back down at Iolaus.

"She remembers well the time you risked your life to save her from Callisto. You saved her life and mine, Iolaus. Because of you, I was born."

Hercules swallowed hard as he tried to control his shaking voice. "I've always treasured your loyalty and so have the rest of my family."

Hercules' eyes wandered across the room. "You know, you're right, Iolaus." he said. "Skouros was a fool not to see how brave and loyal his son was and this ghost is just the same. His son was brave and loyal and he didn't see it."

Hercules closed his arms firmer around Iolaus' body. "They both deserved what they got and they certainly didn't deserve the love of their children. I just wish that the sons didn't have to pay the price for their fathers' pride and stupidity."

Iolaus smiled gently, but suddenly his body was shaken by a coughing fit, which robbed him of all breath. It was like an ice-cold hand had taken hold of his lungs and squeezed the last bit of air out of them.

Hercules' eyes widened in panic as he tried to lift Iolaus into a sitting position.

"Don't Hercules." Iolaus whispered. "It's okay."

He tried to take a few deep breaths but it felt like there were no more reserves to tap into.

"At least Tonius is still showing some feelings for his son. All I got from mine the last time I saw him was more anger and accusations." he whispered, the raw emotion in his voice betraying the pain he still felt at the memory.

"Herc?" Iolaus asked weakly. "Would you do me a favour?"

Hercules nodded silently.

"Go and see my mother. Please tell her that I've always loved her and that even though I've only been there for her during the past couple of years, I would have so much liked to make it up to her now. All the time we missed because of my father."

Iolaus tried to draw a deep breath as he could feel his lungs emptying and his heart beating heavily into his throat. Its suddenly racing beat made him struggle for air.

"T - tell her I hope ... her life with ... Pandion will be a ... long a - and happy one."

Hercules swallowed hard and felt tears beginning to form. His voice came out as a sob.

"Iolaus, you're NOT going to die! You can tell her yourself. I ... Iolaus ..."

Iolaus watched his best friend and smiled gently. But deep down, he felt angry at himself for causing the demi-god such grief. If there was anything he could do to stop the pain Hercules was feeling. He struggled helplessly as he watched his friend trying to gain control over his feelings. Then he raised his right hand up and handed the medallion he was holding to Hercules. The demi-god stared at it, not understanding.

"You are my best friend, Hercules." Iolaus whispered weakly. "And I ... want ... you t- to ... h-have it."

As Hercules' shaking hand reached for the medallion he shook his head in denial.

"No Iolaus ... please ... don't ..."

"It has been ... a symbol of the friendship and loyalty between Emos and my family and now it is a symbol of the friendship and loyalty between me and you."

Iolaus' eyes closed and his head sunk slowly to the side to rest on the demi-god's chest.

Hercules eyes widened in fear.

"Iolaus?" he asked carefully.

Then he started to cry.

Chapter 7

He didn't know how long he had been sitting there, rocking his best friend's motionless body in his arms, crying and knowing that there was no God he could call on to safe the hunter's life.

He felt cold.

But Hercules knew that this cold didn't only come from the weight in his heart.

"Why have you come back?" he asked angrily. "Did you want to watch a brave man die?"

The ghost moved from behind him and stopped in front of the demi-god.

"I'm not cruel." he said and looked down at Iolaus' still form. "I've heard what he said and it made me realize what I should have realized a long time ago."

Hercules looked up and met the ghosts' steel blue eyes.

"I know now why my son had left me and followed Skouros. It was my fault. I drove him away."

Hercules looked down into his hand, still holding Iolaus' medallion. He knew that his best friend had given it to him as a symbol of their friendship, but he also knew that he had to end this. He raised his hand and held the medallion out to the ghost.

"Here!" he said in disgust. "Take it. Iolaus gave his life for it. That's what you wanted, wasn't it? Symbol or no symbol - it is not worth asking a life for."

The ghost just stared at it and Hercules straightened his arm further.

"Take it!" he repeated. "It's what you wanted, isn't it?"

The ghost looked at him, then at the medallion and then down at Iolaus.

"No," he whispered. "I never wanted this."

He looked at Hercules.

"I understand now why I hadn't crossed over. You're right. I had unfinished business. But it wasn't the medallion. It was to understand why I hadn't crossed over, what I had done to my son."

And then he fell down to his knees and buried his face in his hands.

"My son!" he whimpered. "What have I done? How could I have been so blind!"

He looked up and down at Iolaus. "And you helped me see."

Then he looked back at Hercules.

"I wished that I had a second chance with my son the way Iolaus has taken a second chance with his mother."

Then he looked back at the hunter.

"I can't let him die." he stated. "His mother . she would feel the pain I feel now. It's not right."

Then he stood up. "It's not right." he whispered and moved his hand over Iolaus' body. A shower of blue lights rained down on the still body and Hercules watched in amazement as Iolaus' colour started to return and his chest rose and sunk as his breathing stabilized.

Hercules looked up at the ghost. "Thank you." he whispered and then smiled. "You did the right thing, Tonius."

Tonius sighed heavily. "Yes. I just wish that Iolaus and my son could forgive me for what I've done."

Hercules closed his hands firmly around the hunter's shoulders almost as if to reassure himself of the returning life in the body he held in his arms. "I know Iolaus will." he said and as his gaze went up to the ceiling, he could see a circle of light opening. Hades stood there and nodded with a smile. Hercules turned back at Tonius.

"You will get a second chance with your son. In the Elysian Fields."

The ghost looked up to the ceiling and smiled as he slowly vanished.

"You're right, Hercules." he said. "I can see him. He's waving at me. My Son!"

And he vanished.

Chapter 8 (Epilogue)

Hercules didn't know how long he sat there, holding Iolaus in his arms. He couldn't bring himself to let go of his friend, needing the contact, the reassurance of hearing the blond's steady breathing and feeling the rhythmic beating of his heart. Iolaus seemed to be sleeping naturally, the white, drawn look had gone and his face now held its usual healthy colour.

Eventually, just as Hercules was beginning to wonder if something was wrong, Iolaus began to stir and after a few moments, opened his eyes. He looked up at Hercules blearily.

"Herc? How ... what ... what are you doing here?"

Hercules realized that his friend thought he was in the Elysian Fields.

"It's OK, Iolaus," he said gently, "You're not in the Elysian Fields. You're alive. Everything's all right. You're going to be fine."

"A ... alive? But ... I was ... I was dying, Hercules," Iolaus said weakly.

Hercules swallowed hard. "Yes, you were. But Tonius realized that what he was doing was wrong, and healed you."

"Where ... where is he?"

"Hades came for him. He's gone to the Elysian Fields, to be reunited with his son."

"Oh," Iolaus said vaguely, closing his eyes again. "That's nice."

Hercules looked down at his friend worriedly. "Iolaus? Come on buddy, you have to stay awake now. How do you feel?"

"Feel?" Iolaus mumbled, half opening his eyes again. "I feel fine, Herc."

Suddenly cerulean eyes snapped open fully, the expression of confusion gone, as the demi-god's words finally penetrated.

He was alive!

Not only that, but the pain had completely gone. Iolaus looked up at Hercules, eyes widening.

"He healed me?"

"Yes."

"Kewl!"

Suddenly realizing to his embarrassment that he was still lying in Hercules arms, Iolaus scrambled hastily to his feet, ignoring his friend's protest. Hercules grabbed him firmly as he swayed alarmingly.

"Woah! Hold on, Iolaus. I think you'd better take it easy for awhile."

Iolaus shook him off impatiently. "I feel fine, Herc, really. Just a little dizzy there for a moment. Don't be such a worry wart!"

"Worry wart!" Hercules exclaimed indignantly. "I think I can be excused for worrying a little when my partner almost dies on me!"

Iolaus looked at his friend sharply, catching the shadow in Hercules' expression before the demi-god hid it with a smile.

"I'm sorry, Herc," the blond said sincerely, realizing just how hard the past few hours must have been for his friend. How would he have felt had their positions been reversed?

"I'm sorry I put you through all that because I was so ..."

"The word is 'stubborn'," Hercules supplied helpfully. "Or how about, 'pig headed', or ..."

"Actually," Iolaus interrupted grinning, "the word I was searching for was 'principled."

Hercules raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, OK, OK, I admit it," Iolaus held up his hands in defeat. "I was being stubborn. Satisfied?"

Hercules nodded happily.

"So, do you think we could get out of this place now?"

Hercules laughed and put an arm around his friend's shoulders.

"I can't think of anything I'd rather do!"

They made their way back to the entrance hall. This time as they approached, there was no sound of howling wind. Iolaus stood to one side as Hercules tentatively unbolted and opened the door. They were greeted not by a thundering wind and black clouds, but by a clear blue sky and the sound of birds singing. Iolaus pushed past his friend and eagerly moved out into the sunshine, stretching his arms out, delighting in the warmth of the sun on his body. Hercules closed the heavy door and joined his friend.

Together, they began to make their way down the path. Reaching the entrance gate, they turned as one to look back at the castle. Bathed in sunlight, it had lost the feeling of menace and foreboding and now had the appearance of an elegant and attractive residence. Even the harpies seemed to have a companionable air about them. Iolaus grinned suddenly and looked at his friend out of the corner of one eye.

"You know," he began, "This place may have potential afterall, now that Tonius is at rest ..."

"NO!" Hercules said firmly. "Don't even think it! We're going to tell mother and Jason that the place is completely unsuitable. I couldn't come back here, knowing it was the place I almost lost my best friend."

"Yeah," Iolaus agreed, sobering. "Now you put it like that, can't say I'd be too keen to come back here in a hurry."

With a final look at the castle, they turned and continued on.

Hercules filled Iolaus in on his final conversation with Tonius. Iolaus was silent for a while, thinking about what he'd heard, then he stopped suddenly and looked up at his friend.

"Herc, when we've been back to see Alcmene and Jason, I think I'd like... I'd like to go and visit my mother."

"Of course you should," Hercules agreed. "Do you want me to come with you? Because if you'd rather go alone, I can easily ..."

"No!" Iolaus interrupted. "I want you to come. I want ... I need to spend some time with my family. And that means my mother and Pandion - and my brother."

Hercules smiled happily. "So, say we spend a week with Alcmene, then a week with Erythia - that means two whole weeks when I won't have to put up with your cooking!"

"Hey!" Iolaus yelped indignantly, deliberately giving Hercules the opening he wanted. "What's wrong with my cooking?"

From the Elysian Fields Tonius watched the two heroes, the sound of their laughter getting fainter and fainter as they walked away from the place that almost ended their friendship forever.

As Hades closed the window to the world above, Tonius put his arm around Emon's shoulder and gave silent thanks to the man who had shown him the way to regain his son's heart.

The End



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