Cast A Giant Shadow

by Marcia

Story originally written for Hercules: the Legendary Journeys by: John Schulian

The day began like any other day when they were on the road, bringing them to a thickly wooded area plush with lacy green ferns and towering trees. The sun filtered through providing shadows and shapes of all kinds, but making it difficult to see far ahead. At times, Hercules lost sight of his partner, but that was okay because it meant Iolaus was back to his own self again--the usual bundle of energy tied up with spring and bounce in his every step. Hercules thought how good it was to see Iolaus like this; he’d almost lost him on the quest to free Prometheus. ‘We beat you again, Hera; Prometheus is unchained and my best friend is with me again, better than ever.’--the demigod thought with no little relief.

“Hurry up, Herc; you don’t want to be late for that dedication. What’s the matter--can’t keep up with me?” Hercules had to laugh at Iolaus’ words and even more when he heard him break out into one of those bawdy songs of his.

That normalcy was short lived, as was Hercules’ boast to Hera. It wasn’t long before Hercules passed Iolaus on the path. “Just catching my second wind, Herc.” A nagging fear surfaced in the demigod. Iolaus never stopped to catch his breath unless..........

“What is it? Iolaus? I’m the one who occasionally needs to take a break to keep up with you.” Hercules paused there with his friend a short while, carefully observing the hunter’s every movement.

“Really, I’m okay, Herc; just a little out of breath.” They set out with Iolaus leading the way again. Just a short way down the path, Iolaus stopped again. Now Hercules really began to worry.

“Herc, I’m really exhausted. Guess that little scratch took more out of me than I thought,” he finally admitted reluctantly.

“Little scratch my foot--that was a significant wound and you lost a lot of blood. Is it bothering you? Are you sure you are okay?” Herc asked, concern building in his voice.

“Sure, I just need rest. Look, Herc, you don’t need my help to dedicate a statue. Why don’t you go on; without me to slow you down, you can be there by nightfall. I’m a big boy now and I can take care of myself. There’s a village nearby. I’ll stop at an inn there for a meal and a good night’s rest. Then, I’ll meet you in Plinth tomorrow. Besides, who knows what feminine company awaits me there in the inn?” Iolaus insinuated with a gleam in his eye and a seductive grin on his face.

“How can I argue with that? But are you sure you don’t want me to stay with you?” Hercules wished Iolaus would say yes, but he knew the answer even before he asked the question. He had to allow his pal the freedom to follow his heart and trust his judgment, even though he didn’t like to leave Iolaus when it was clear he was not yet well.

“You’d just be in the way! Anyhow, Mother, I’ll be just fine.” There was a hint of sarcasm in his voice, but deep inside he appreciated his friend’s concern for his well-being.

“Okay then, go on. Just be careful, Iolaus; it was just a few days ago that I wasn’t sure I’d have my partner by my side or not.”

Iolaus smiled as he patted Hercules on the arm. Then, with a cheerful goodbye, he started toward the village alone. He stopped, turned, and shaking his head, accused fondly, “I knew you’d be standing there watching me. Relax, I’ll see you tomorrow in Plinth.”

“Sure, but just remember that you are stopping to rest and get a good night’s *sleep*.”

Iolaus flashed him that come what may devilish grin and continued on; he was soon out of sight. Hercules breathed, “Rest well, my friend,” as an uneasy feeling came over him. “Get a grip, Hercules. You can’t be with him every minute of every day to protect him. You heard him. He’s a big boy now.” Then he set out, hoping to reach his destination before dark, relieved that Iolaus had finally admitted his need to slow down a little until completely healed.

“This sure is a small village. Should be easy to find the inn,” Iolaus laughed. And he was right, but much to his surprise there was no inn--just a tavern. “Looks like I’ll be sleeping under the stars again tonight,” he grumbled as he pushed open the door to enter a ‘small hole-in-the-wall’ type tavern, with immense logs holding up the high roofed ceiling.

Glancing around, he spied an empty table and sat down. A well-endowed young woman came to the table to take his order. He felt her eyes roaming over him, appraising his body, and he grinned; obviously she served more than food and ale to customers who caught her eye. ‘Wonder if I pass the test?’

He ordered a pitcher of ale, lamb stew, and a loaf of crusty bread. The attractive serving girl soon returned with the ale, brushing against him as she set it on the table, leaning over so he’d have a great view of what she had to offer.

“I’ll be right back with your food.”

Iolaus watched her walk away and liked what he saw, but he realized he was too tired for anything but sleep that night. ‘Damn, what a time to be tired. You must be getting old, Iolaus.’ He passed the time sipping on his ale and visually exploring his surroundings . Behind the bar were two men and the serving girl. One man, the older of the two, was a short, elderly man with a mustache and a nervous way about him. The other was your typical run-of-the-mill, nondescript bartender. Iolaus quickly decided that the older gent must be the proprietor. Looking around the room, he assessed his fellow patrons. There were several women--he wouldn’t call them ladies unless there was a phrase following the word--each sitting with a man who certainly didn’t look like husband material or treat the woman the way a man should treat his wife. Iolaus snickered to himself and wondered what kind of place he’d stumbled into. ‘I’d better eat and run if I expect to find a comfortable place to spend the night in the forest before it gets too dark.’

The little elderly man had noticed the blond warrior as he entered. Quietly he told his employees, “I know that guy; he’s Hercules’ partner. Sarita, you keep him company while he eats. I hear he likes the ladies. See if you can find out why he’s here, where Hercules is, and where he is going. You’re a pretty girl, so he might talk to you.”

Iolaus responded to a tap on the shoulder; it was the girl with his food. He nodded his approval when she asked if she might join him while he ate. He might be tired, but never too tired to enjoy female company during dinner. Surprisingly enough, the stew was quite good. The girl chattered on asking all kinds of questions about him. Since he never brought up Hercules’ name, she couldn’t learn anything about the demigod. Iolaus gracefully sidestepped anything he didn’t want to answer, including his destination.

At the completion of the meal, Iolaus asked the girl if she knew of any place he could spend the night. As much as he liked to be outdoors, the thought of a nice warm bed with a roof over his head really appealed to him. He was growing wearier by the minute; the pitcher of beer wasn’t helping the situation any.

“I know a place about two miles west of town; it used to be an inn until they closed it a year ago,” she informed Iolaus.

‘I don’t want or need to know why they closed it’ he thought. ‘As long as it’s warm and dry, it’s for me.’

She continued, “ People who need a place to stay for a night or two still stop there even though no one is around and no services are provided. I can take you there if you want and provide the services that are missing.”

Although Iolaus was a man of the world, he was rather surprised by her frankness and her invitation. Then he realized his question to her must have sounded like he wanted company. Looking her right in the eyes and grinning from ear to ear, he sighed, “Any other time, that would be a pleasant offer. But I am totally exhausted and just stopped for a good night’s rest before meeting a friend tomorrow. Maybe next time.”

The disappointed waitress returned to the bar where she told her boss the scant bits of information she’d learned. “Nothing mentioned about Hercules?” “No, not a word,” she sighed. “But he did say he’s meeting a friend tomorrow.”

After paying for his meal, Iolaus thanked the girl, gave her a big tip, and kissed her on the forehead. He noted the disappointment in her eyes and made a mental note to return to this place some day.” See you the next time through,” he proposed as he headed for the door.

Iolaus found the abandoned inn with no trouble, stowed his gear, and lit the torches since darkness was approaching. Spying several logs in the corner, he built a fire to ward off the chill which already was creeping in. He dusted off a counter, and using his carry sack for a pillow, stretched out for the night.

No sooner had he closed his eyes than images of the trip to free Prometheus flashed through his mind, haunting him with the realization that he could have lost Hercules, as well as died himself. The soreness in his side was a constant reminder of that. Flashes of the argument he’d had with Herc bothered him too; it all appeared so stupid now. The last thing he saw in his mind and heard was the story about early people having four legs and arms, two heads and one soul. Then, when they split, the two wandered forever searching for the other half of their soul. ‘ My search has ended,’ he thought drowsily with a sleepy grin’-I’ve found my soulmate. It’s as plain as the nose on my face--it’s Hercules.’ With that, he drifted off into the arms of Morpheus, enjoying the deep sleep he desperately needed. Nothing would awaken him until morning.

The eight men, six in battle gear and carrying weapons, and two in more casual type attire but still part of the group, plodded wearily along the path toward the village. Moonlight glistened on their weapons and the silver adornments on their uniforms. Several of the men carried knives in their boots. The silence of the night was unbroken as though conversation would slow the men down. They shared the common interest of reaching their destination as quickly as possible, anticipating the rewards that awaited them there. Their leader, a large man with salt and pepper hair visible from beneath his helmet and with a large mustache from which dangled a single braided section of hair, picked up the pace. Never hesitating, the others followed his lead.

Finally, their journey drew to a close as a large, dark old tavern came into sight. Impatient, the men practically ran as they followed their leader across the open space to the tavern. As he threw open the door, the patrons inside stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at the new men, causing a silence to fall over the place. The assembled customers all knew these men and were ready to comply with their every demand, fearing for their own safety.

“Wine for my warriors,” shouted the large leader.

”And women, too,” added the second in command.

“Anything they want” was the final demand made by their commander who obviously was used to getting things his own way.

Women ran to pick the their partner for the evening and serving girls immediately started circulating with bottles of wine and pitchers of ale. This is what the men had been waiting for after days of battle and travel and each intended to make the best of it.

A small man with white hair and mustache, dressed in casual clothes including a vest, came running over to the lead man. “You heard him! Hop to it! Hop to it! Great to see you again, Maceus. Always an honor to have you grace my establishment. The way we’ve been hearin’ it, there’s not a fightin’ force in the whole of Thrace that could stand up to you. Glad to have you back with us.”

The crashing of glass could be heard in the background as the warriors finished a drink and threw the glasses at the mirror behind the bar. Soon, sounds of wooden tables and chairs breaking could be heard as wrestling matches began as the men let out many heretofore pent-up emotions. From the crowd could be heard, “Stupid barbarian.” and “The killing was good.” Along with these shouts came the laughter and squealing of women being chased around the room.

Maceus just laughed at the behavior of his men. “Boys will be boys,” he snarled as he picked the man up by his vest, raising him a foot off the floor.

“Oh, they’re gonna be writin’ stories and singin’ songs about you in the future. That’s what they’re gonna be doin.” said the little proprietor. “I could tell ‘em....”

His words were cut short as Maceus interrupted his joy. “Where is he?”

“You didn’t hear?” said the owner, the happiness going from his voice like the wind out of a sail when the breeze dies down.

“Hear what?” the angry leader said, displaying the look many foes must have seen on the battlefield.

Not wanting to be the one to tell him, but knowing that he must, the little man said the words he knew would infuriate Maceus: “Demetrius---is dead.”

Being close enough to hear the words spoken to Maceus and seeing the violent look in his eyes, his lieutenant Pylon said, “What’s that the little man said?”

“It better be a joke, sump’in crazy Demetrius put you up to. I’m too tired for this foolishness,” he bellowed, shaking the man.

Scared out of his wits, Maceus’ captive sputtered, “Oh, I was, no it was--gosh--I truly do-- (here Maceus’ evil glare scared the words right away from the trembling little man but he tried to continue)-but---I’m afraid your---your brother really has gone over to the other side. I’m so sorry.”

“Spare your sorrow.” Pulling the squiggling man right up to eye level, Maceus continued. “I wanna know what happened.”

Knowing he had better tell all that he knew, the owner squeaked out his answer. “Hercules defeated him---that’s who it was! Down in the cave--where Echidna lives. Demetrius and Hercules went in --mm-mm-mm--but only Hercules came back.”

“Too bad for him--’cause I’m gonna cut his heart out,” Maceus said as he dropped the proprietor onto the floor.

Knowing what violence Maceus was capable of, the little man feared for his life and the lives of his employees, let alone the damage that could be done to his establishment. He figured he’d better do something to distract Maceus and his men.

“Come on men, Hercules is mine. Let’s find him.” These words acted as a battle cry for the men as they gathered around their leader, ready and willing to do whatever he told them to do.

“Wait a minute, Maceus,” the proprietor said, taking his life in his hands. “I have some information that might be of some help to you,” hoping against hope his words would get Maceus and the men out of the tavern before any more damage would be done.

What do you mean, little man? What do you know about Hercules?”

“I don’t know anything about Hercules himself; but not three hours ago, his best friend Iolaus sat right over there, pointing to a table not two feet from where Maceus was standing. I think he is meeting Hercules tomorrow.”

“What good is that--you think you know? I thought you said you had information for me,” Maceus said with a threatening tone in his voice.

“I can tell you where Iolaus is right now and how to get there. You can find out whatever else you need to know,” he said. ‘I hope Iolaus went there and didn’t change his mind or I’m in deep trouble,” the proprietor thought.

“Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Come on men, we’ve got some work to do.”

The eight warriors left the tavern as quickly as they had arrived much to the relief of everyone else in the place.

Hercules ambled along the path, appreciating the brilliant blue sky and warm sunshine that worked their way through the trees. ‘What a day! Glad to be outside where I can enjoy it. Maybe Iolaus and I can get in some relaxing time--maybe fishing; he’d like that. Do us good to have some time to kick back’ Thoughts of his partner brought a smile to his face and he quickened his pace to get to Plinth just a bit sooner. Just before the woods parted to reveal an open field, Hercules heard the sounds of someone calling.

“Won’t someone help me, please?

‘Not again. Will there never be a day someone doesn’t need to be rescued?’ Hercules readied himself for the upcoming fight and wondered what the odds would be this time.

Just as he broke out into the open, the voice called out again. “Who’s there? Uh--pardon me, but--I’m stuck! Wanna be the one to set me free? Just a little--kindness is all I’m asking. I’ve been here so long.”

Hercules heard the voice, but couldn’t find the mouth uttering the words until he had put his head as back as far as he could, searching upward until the face came into the view. ‘He must be 18 to 20 feet tall! What’s a giant doing out here? Didn’t know there were any left. Unbelievable!’

The trapped man seeing the look on Hercules’ face implored, “You aren’t going to hurt me, are you?”

“It never entered my mind.”

The giant responded with another question. “And you won’t laugh at me or call me names, either?”

“No. Why would I do that?” Hercules looked at the giant and noticed his lower lip trembling. ‘He’s just an overgrown kid at heart. What’s a gentle man like him doing out here like this?’

“Well, all the other travelers who stopped here did.”

For the first time, Hercules noticed the rocks where the giant’s foot was imprisoned. On it clearly marked was Hera’s symbol. ‘Now it’s beginning to make sense’ “The sign of Hera usually does bring out the evil in people--but I’d rather bend the old witch out of shape.”

The giant looked amazed, concerned, and a little bit afraid. “You called Hera an old witch?”

“Yes, I was just being kind.” Hercules stepped over to the stone, raised his arm, and struck the rock with one gigantic motion of his fist; the rock shattered into hundreds of pieces, freeing the foot.

“Whoa! Wow! I don’t believe it,” the giant bellowed with a grateful look on his face

“Uh, that’s okay--most people usually don’t” grinned the demigod, pleased he’d been able to help but most pleased that he’d again foiled one of Hera’s plans.

The giant lifted his foot and twirled it around, then jumped up and down in place like a kid who’s been made to stay inside too long. “This is great! I mean, nobody ever said I was graceful, but it feels so good to get around like a normal human being again! Ha-ha-ha! You know what? I haven’t even thanked you yet. I don’t even know your name.”

“It’s Hercules, and you don’t have to thank me.”

“Well, I’m Typhon---and I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to pay you back.”

The giant sounded so serious and so upset that Hercules tried to ease his mind. “Don’t worry about it. Just--try to stay out of Hera’s way.”

“Oh, that’s not enough--I wanna do something nice for you, Hercules--come on, please?”

Hercules was stumped for a minute; he expected nothing. ‘Spoiling Hera’s plans is more than enough for me!’ He didn’t want to involve this gentle giant in the middle of that, so he said, “Look, Typhon, I really --can’t think of anything.”

“Hmm. Ohh.”

So much disappointment and dejection reflected on Typhon”s face. Hercules knew he couldn’t leave with the giant feeling so bad. So, he suggested to Typhon, “But I--have to meet a friend in Plinth, if you’d like to walk with me.”

“That’s great.” He started to walk off but found his legs shaky; before he or Hercules could do anything, the giant sprawled forward, flat out on the ground. “Whoa! I’m okay, I’m okay.”

Hercules helped Typhon rise and the two set off for Plinth. As soon as their backs were to the area, a set of brilliant peacock blue eyes appeared in the sky watching the departing men.

Even the sunlight creeping into the room wasn’t enough to awaken the sleeping warrior. He was still in the original position he’d been in when he fell asleep, with his head resting on his carry sack. A gentle snoring helped disguise the soft sound of a man sneaking up on Iolaus. Just as the man reached him, Iolaus sensed his presence and his blue eyes popped open. Too late, by that time Maceus had him by the hair and had placed his knife against the hunter’s throat.

“I need directions,” he threatened.

Iolaus sarcastically replied, “ Yeah? Well, I’ve got a direction for you, friend, drop dead.” Feeling the knife gingerly nick his throat, Iolaus thought ‘Maybe that’s the wrong answer to use. Guess I should have waited until I find out what they want.”

“You can do better than that. You see, the directions I need are very special. I wanna know where Hercules is and you’re gonna tell me.”

“Never heard of him.”

The knife dug a bit more at this answer and Maceus said, “Why don’t we find out for sure.”

‘These guys mean business,’ Iolaus realized as two other men joined their leader, standing around the table with knives poised for action. “What’s this, your Greek chorus?”

“No, my truth squad” Maceus said, nodding for his men to move in as he backed away.

Feeling the knife leave his throat and seeing Maceus move away, Iolaus decided it was then or never. He sprang from the table to an upright position and leaped at the two advancing men, knocking the knives from their hands and sending them reeling backward from the thrust of his feet. He quickly turned to deliver a crunching blow to Maceus’ cheek, causing him to fall back into the wall. Sensing he didn’t have much time before the three men would be at him again, Iolaus gathered his belongings and headed for the door, knocking the sentry out of the way with his carry sack. Just as he reached the outside, four more men appeared.

‘This isn’t good!’ He drew his sword and rushed unexpectedly toward them, using the element of surprise to his advantage. Employing the techniques he’d learned in the East, he disposed of two of the attackers and had gained an upper hand over the remaining warriors. Then, the lights went out and he sank to his knees, only to feel total blackness and a sharp pain as Pylon kicked him in the ribs.

“Take him back in there and tie him up good,” Maceus growled.

The beaming Typhon, still overjoyed that Hercules had stopped to free him and that he was able to move around again, sat on a rock and spoke to his rescuer, sighing as he began.

“Hercules, this is even nicer than I remember! So much room to run around,”-- he paused to wiggle his feet again, as though he were afraid the sensation might have left him--“looking at flowers, trying to catch butterflies. Ah, this is what I’ve been dreaming about.”

Typhon’s exuberance and joy at being free was contagious, and Hercules found himself smiling in response. “Typhon, how long did Hera have you trapped in that rock?”

“Uh--a hundred and one years, seven months, fifteen days, and--I don’t know how many hours. Hera never let me have an hourglass.”

Hercules shook his head, as he insisted, “It’s typical. Why was she so mad at you?”

“Because of my wife. Hera wanted her to do bad things, but she was always happy when I was around.” The gentle giant had a far-away look in his eye as he spoke of his wife. But that quickly changed; he stood up, jogged in place, and said, “Wanna race to Plinth?” The words were no sooner out of his mouth than he staggered, waving his arms in the air to balance himself before he fell again.

“I--are you sure you are ready for that?” Hercules asked .

“You bet I am.” He started out and nearly fell again. “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” he shouted, but he didn’t fall.

“Typhon, what do you say we just --walk?”

“Okay, Hercules; maybe we’d better.”

The two set out for the short journey to Plinth--Typhon like a kid just set free by the bell on the last day of school and Hercules relishing in his friend’s reaction.

Plinth was a typically small village with its thatched roofed buildings and tiny marketplace. Its inhabitants were busily going about their daily activities with women shopping, men repairing apparent damages to a building, kids racing everywhere as they played in the lane, and noises and smells of all kinds.

A group of children chasing another ran by, calling out, “Oh yeah. Yes we will. We’re gonna get you.”

Hercules grinned as he watched the boys and girls at play, being reminded of the antics of Iolaus and himself when they were youngsters.

“Here we are, Typhon. Welcome to Plinth.”

Typhon’s eyes widened in amazement as he glanced around.” Boy, this place really has grown since the last time I was here.”

Hercules wondered if they were looking at the same small place.” Really?” he inquired with a puzzled look on his face.

“Yeah. Hey look, somebody threw a kite on top of that house.”

“Uh--Typhon--,” cautioned Hercules as the giant reached to retrieve the kite; but his feet were too big for the place and inadvertently, he knocked the stones flying and completely demolished a small stone wall someone had put around a freshly planted tree.

“Sorry,” he gasped, stricken with an all too familiar humiliation and sorrow.

The mood of the village suddenly changed as people heard the noise of Typhon’s feet hitting the stones. Instantly, people began screaming and running in all directions. Mothers gathered their children as they rushed away from what they thought was great danger.

A man’s voice rang out from a group of people running. “It’s a giant! Run for your lives.” A frantic woman cried out, “He’s gonna kill us.”

Typhon called out despairingly, “Wait! Don’t run away!” Turning to the demigod he begged, “Do something, Hercules.”

“I’ll try!” Hercules ran to a group of people nearby. “Wait! There’s no danger! Wait! He won’t harm you!”

No one seemed interested in what Hercules had to say. The size of the giant had taken away their power to reason; they just reacted to his size and their fear. Sizing up the situation, he stopped an older man and an attractive young woman who were running a few steps behind the rest of the fleeing crowd. Throwing his arms out in a T-shape position, Hercules tried to impede their progress.

“Get out of our way,” the frightened female screamed in Hercules’ face. The man with her threatened, “ If that giant needs someone to satisfy his bloodlust---it can be me! Let my daughter go.”

“You’re both going to be fine,” Hercules assured the couple.

“Huh?” responded the white-haired man.

Typhon, encouraged by Hercules’ words, took a step toward his friend and the others.

“Oh, Papa!” exclaimed the terrified young woman, clinging to her father, her eyes open from fear.

“I’m not afraid of you!” the older man bluffed, determined to protect his daughter.

“I don’t want you to be afraid of me. I want you to be my friend,” Typhon appealed sincerely.

Puzzled by this turn of events and the giant’s words, the man whirled around to face to Hercules. “He means it,” Hercules asserted in the most reassuring manner he could use, patting the man’s arm. Convinced by the demigod’s eyes, and his tone of voice, the man and his daughter calmed down and they turned to face the giant.

“I mean it with all of my heart Typhon pledged, taking his arms and crossing his heart, hoping to gain their acceptance he so desperately wanted and needed. Typhon’s face broke out into a huge grin that covered his face from ear to ear as group by group, the townspeople edged closer out of curiosity now that they felt reassured of their safety.

Taking his cue from their action, in an attempt to prove his words true, Typhon took the kite he’d rescued, and reached out to a young boy standing nearby. “Here you go, little fellow,” sighing as the child trusted him and took the offering from the giant without hesitation.

The boy’s words, “Thank you, mister” were music to the giant’s ears and a new friendship was formed.

That broke the ice. If the giant were this gentle with a child, he could mean them no harm. The feeling of fear dissipated as the villagers gathered around a smiling Hercules and a radiant Typhon.

Iolaus’ mind slowly cleared. He found himself back in the area where he had slept, arms tied by ropes suspended from beams in the ceiling. Most of his captors were gathered in a corner listening to Maceus, with just one man left to guard him. Iolaus warily watched the men clustered by the only door into the room, barring any possible escape; his lips clenched together and his jaw tightened as he heard their low murmurs still wondering each time he heard his partner’s name mentioned just what they wanted with Hercules and why. Closing his eyes and chewing on his bottom lip, he wondered how he was ever going to get a warning to his best friend this time.

“Look who’s back with us,” Pylon smirked as he glanced in Iolaus’ direction. “Time for a little fun.”

Maceus approached Iolaus and taking his face roughly in his hand demanded, “Now, where is Hercules?” Wordlessly, Iolaus glowered back at him, his eyes narrowed in contempt. “You might as well save yourself some time and pain--tell us now and we’ll let you go.”

At these words, Iolaus shook his head and rolled his eyes.

“Okay, men; he’s all yours. See if you can refresh his memory.” Maceus stepped back and two of his warriors took their places in front of Iolaus. The first hit caused the hunter’s mouth to bleed and made him groggy. Still, he said nothing.

“Let me at’em,” insisted the other thug. He doubled up his fist and slammed it into Iolaus’ midsection, driving the air out of him. His stubborn silence infuriated the two men and they repeated their actions, causing more blood to flow from his cut lip. Iolaus panted and gasped for air, grimacing as he tried to get his breath.

“How’s that tongue of yours now? Loose yet?” asked Maceus as he stood eye to eye with Iolaus, contempt on his face and in his voice.

Iolaus growled belligerently, “Oh, no. You’re gonna have to hit me a lot harder than that.” His bravado masked the hollow awareness that he’d be lucky to get out of this alive.

Pylon, just itching to get back at Iolaus for the savage blow he’d received during the escape attempt, approached with an evil sneer on his face and hatred in his eyes. He stood there making a show of his ability by cracking his knuckles as he readied himself for the harder blow. He swung his arm back and then bought it forward, striking Iolaus with the full weight of his body behind the fist. Iolaus’ head snapped back as he felt the pain and the blood from his damaged nose running down his face. Temporarily knocked senseless, his head sagged against his chest---but only until he stubbornly gathered his strength to endure, not wanting to give the satisfaction of knowing the blows hurt.

“Like that?” Pylon taunted the hurting warrior.

“That’s a little better,” Iolaus rasped. He then raised his head and spat directly into Pylon’s face.

“Why you miserable little runt,” Pylon hissed, unloading another vicious blow to Iolaus’ cheek this time, opening a cut and sending fresh blood mingling with that from previous wounds streaming down the side of his face.” Again, his head sagged against his chest.

Impatient with the games and realizing they could beat the man senseless without satisfaction, Maceus decided to up the ante.

“This will get us nowhere. Beating him isn’t the answer. He’ll never tell us what we need to know. Enough games.” As he spoke, Maceus walked in front of Iolaus over to where his right hand was tied. “Remember Demetrius? He was my brother--” he closed his hand around Iolaus’-“and Hercules killed him!” With those words, he savagely bent Iolaus’ hand and wrist back, resulting in a loud crack as the bones broke.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhh,” Iolaus cried out as the pain shot throughout his body. Laughter filled the room as his captors enjoyed his cry of agony.

Gritting his teeth, Iolaus pushed the fiery pain to the far corners of his mind. Blearily he could see Maceus coming at him.

“Noooo---no!” the golden hunter shouted in agony as Maceus plunged his fingers into his solar plexus, as if he were reaching for his spine--and twisted. Instinctively, Iolaus tightened his muscles and jerked, trying to escape the probing fingers.

“Where’s that smart mouth of yours now, huh?” Maceus taunted, twisting even harder and causing more pain to vibrate throughout Iolaus’ body. The hunter felt nausea threaten, and darkness flickered on the edges of his vision-the agony was indescribable.

“Noooo--no. Stop! Stop!”

But Maceus just probed deeper, harder, relishing the agony in his victim’s face and eyes, and he smiled as he snarled, “Not until you tell me where Hercules is. Come on! Talk!”

Iolaus shook his head no, so Maceus continued. The last squeeze left the blond warrior wheezing for air.

“He’s in---Hellespont,” gasped the tortured hunter, gritting his teeth, and shaking his head as if unable to believe what he’d just done.

Maceus pulled back, and Iolaus finally could take a breath without pressure. The warrior collapsed, hanging limply from the ropes binding up to the ceiling.

Pleased that his captive had finally given up the information he needed, Maceus barked out orders to his men.

“Put him back together for the road; he’s gonna lead us to Hercules!”

The kids in Plinth were having a good time with their new playmate-and the gentle giant seemed to be having as much fun playing with them. Some of them ran in and out between his long legs-playing tag and hide and seek. Some threw a ball to Typhon and then ran backward to receive his throw. Then, they all concentrated their united effort in tickling him. Hercules smiled as he approached, hearing the giant’s delighted giggling.

His friend called out, “Whoa. Wait, wait! No tickling! Hey Hercules-tell ‘em to play fair.”

To this request, Hercules replied, laughing, “No, not on your life. I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun.”

Typhon looked down at Hercules and said, with shadows of sorrow in his gentle eyes,

“Playing with these little rascals makes me think of my own kids.”

Hercules leaned back as he looked up toward the giant. “You’re a father? Uh-it’s the best feeling in the world, isn’t it?”

“Yep, especially when you’re getting’ tickled,” Typhon said, laughing. “Hey, what are you kids doin’ down there?”

As Hercules turned to abandon Typhon to the depredations of the delighted children, he was hailed by the young woman he’d encountered earlier.

“Hercules, it looks like I owe you and your friend an apology. He really is a nice man, isn’t he?” Breanna observed, a fond expression on her face, as they watched Typhon play with the little ones.

“Most people are if you-give them a chance,” the demigod mused with a soft smile.

“Oh, I’m sorry if we seemed a bit short on hospitality, but this village has seen some rough times lately. A bad harvest, and a hard winter, and always bandits of some kind.”

The attractive woman lowered her voice slightly, her face clouding with the memories as she hid the embarrassment that had arisen on her face from realizing what her village’s reception of the two newcomers must have seemed to them.

Hercules patted her shoulder consolingly, as he said, “I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, one bandit in particular seems to think this village is his personal whipping post. His name is Demetrius, she grated, her expression flattening with loathing as she recalled the monster’s vicious attacks: looting, killing, women violated in front of their own children, men viciously slaughtered in front of their families, and so much physical destruction! Her eyes flashed with rage, and she began to tremble violently.

When, concerned, Hercules gently touched Breanna’s shoulder, she recoiled from his touch as though a red hot poker had been applied to her skin; her eyes widened more.

Immediately, Hercules pulled back, allowing her time to calm down. Glad to be able to ease her mind about one of her troubles, Hercules reassured her, “If he’s the Demetrius I’m thinking of, you don’t have to worry about him anymore. He’s dead.”

Overcome with relief at the welcome piece of news, she threw her arms around the hero’s neck, planting a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you, Hercules! Oh, I hope it is the same one, but there’s still the damage he and his gang did to the village meeting hall and the people he raped and killed. We have a lot of children in this village without fathers. My father seems to think he’s the only one who can repair the hall.”

“Maybe I can give him a hand,” Hercules offered.

“What about your friend ?” she questioned, motioning to Typhon.

“I’m pretty sure the kids can take good care of him. Come on.” They headed off to the hall to see what assistance Hercules could give, leaving Typhon with his new playmates.

Iolaus still bore the signs of his recent beating. Bruised and battered, his lip still bleeding, the hunter was roughly shoved along a forested path. Maceus’ men had patched him up, if tying a few dirty rags around a couple of sticks bracing the broken arm constituted treatment. He still felt the pain of the inadequately set broken bones grating together, but he ignored it, not having time for it.

The path Maceus and his men followed kept close to the river with its rapidly moving water to their left and thick brush and trees to their right. None of this was of any interest to anyone, except Iolaus who glanced from left to right, searching for any means of escape. The others had but one thing on their minds, reaching Hellespont as quickly as possible to find Hercules. No chatter was heard among the men; they wanted nothing to take away their focus on obliterating the Son of Zeus.

Maceus led the undisciplined procession while Pylon marched directly behind Iolaus in the center of the motley group where he would stay until they neared Hellespont and time for him to lead them to Hercules. Pylon was watching their captive closely, wary of any more escape attempts. Seeing the hunter repeatedly glancing toward the river, and then toward the forest, he roughly shoved Iolaus to the ground as he shouted, “Don’t even think of running!”

Iolaus swore, and grimaced, when he landed on his broken arm. Pylon, enjoying the warrior’s discomfort, laughed nastily.

In a flash, Iolaus was on his feet, his devilish blue eyes sparkling-“Why did you do that?” he mocked. “I wouldn’t dream of escaping! I really love you guys-great conversation-great social skills-excellent dental hygiene.”

“Why you-” Pylon growled, as he again backhanded Iolaus-hard enough to reopen a cut on his cheek and send the blood flowing again.

“That’s enough, Pylon,” his commander said, repressively.

Chuckling, Iolaus jibed, “You know, you should take it easy on poor Pylon. It’s not his fault that he’s intellectually challenged.”

“What do you mean-huh?” This reply from Pylon made Iolaus think, ‘I rest my case!’

He grinned at the confused soldier, infuriating him even more.

“Enjoy yourself now, funny man,” Maceus smirked. “But you’re the one who’s gonna help us kill Hercules. The smile faded from the bandit’s face. Contempt flashed briefly in his eyes, before Iolaus schooled his expression to bland indifference as he turned away from Maceus. “And, before I kill him, I’m gonna make sure he knows it was you who gave him up! Try laughing then!” Maceus brushed passed, indifferent to the glare the warrior shot him. He could care less about his captive’s guilt or anger.

“Get movin, little man, and no more funny stuff,” Pylon snarled, once again roughly shoving Iolaus forward along the trail by the river.

As Hercules and the young girl entered the village hall, they heard the sounds of a man grunting. The girl broke away and headed quickly into the main room, with Hercules close on her heels.

“I knew it! Papa--what do you think you’re doing? You’re gonna hurt your back again!”

Even as she spoke, the white-haired man tripped and the heavy beam he was attempting to lift began slipping from his hands.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it,” Hercules called out as he easily took the large beam and safely rested the end of it against the floor.

Just as the man reached out to shake Hercules’ hand in a gesture of thanks, he cried out “Ahhhh!”and found he couldn’t straighten up. He kept trying and soon was standing tall again.

Freeing one arm, Hercules took the man’s extended hand and said, “Are you sure you are okay?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Septus grimaced as the pain intensified. “This getting old is for the birds. Are you sure you can handle that by yourself?” the elderly man questioned this visitor to their village.

“Oh, I’ll manage,” the grinning Son of Zeus insisted as he lifted the huge beam with one hand and easily carried it out of the way.

“Papa, you shouldn’t ask him a question like that. It’s Hercules.” She then lowered her voice, not realizing Hercules could still hear her. “Well at least that’s what I heard his big friend call him.”

Hercules smiled and told them, “He had it right.”

Blushing when she realized he’d heard her whispered statement, the young woman replied, “Well, I’m Breanna and-this is my father, Septus.”

Septus forgot his age and his sore back when he heard for sure this was Hercules. “Hey-is it true what they say? That you’re the one that defeated Echidna?”

Herc modestly answered, “It was.”

“Oh, we owe you a debt of thanks. She was a mean one, that Mother of all Monsters. And to think, she was so close-oh! Ohhh!” Septus groaned, clutching his back, the pain again registering on the man’s contorted face.

“Oh, Papa. I was afraid that would happen again! Why don’t you come home and rest awhile?” Breanna pleaded with her father.

Hercules reinforced the daughter’s suggestion. “Go on with Breanna, Septus. I’ll see what I can do around here.”

“Oh, well, yes-I suppose I can fix anything you mess up.” Septus let his daughter guide him toward the door. Breanna turned and gave Hercules a ‘What can I say look’ and started out.

“Oh, uh, before you go-I was-wondering if you’d seen a friend of mine? His name’s Iolaus?”

Septus replied, “Never heard of the man.”

With a concerned look on his face, Hercules quickly responded. “ Thought he’d be here by now.”

Breanna noted the change in Hercules’ demeanor and asked, “Are you worried about him?”

“No, I’m just hoping he’s not somewhere having a good time without me.”

Not wanting to push the issue any further, Breanna guided her father away, but she sensed Hercules was more concerned about his friend than he let on. ‘It must be nice to have a friend who cares about your well-being so much’ Breanna thought as she replayed Hercules’ words in her mind.

Maceus and his men hadn’t bothered Iolaus the last few miles, giving him plenty of time to think and to begin working the ropes binding his arms loose. Each tug shot pain from his injured arm, but there was no time to dwell on that now. ‘I’ll ignore them.’ The thoughts of the problems and danger that lay ahead for his best friend spurred Iolaus on, encouraged the hunter to work even harder on the ropes, and strengthened his resolve to escape.

“Not saying much anymore, is he Maceus?”

“Nah, Pylon, betrayal’s a heavy burden to bear, especially when it is your best friend you’ve betrayed.”

“Yeh, giving up Hercules the way he did.”

Unnoticed, Iolaus grinned to himself. ‘Like I’d ever betray Herc!’

“Yeah, but you’re forgetting one thing, Pylon. It’s what Hercules deserves for killing my brother!

Iolaus had to restrain his desire to put things straight. “It was your brother’s own stupidity that killed him! All in good time, Iolaus; play it cool for now.’

Not realizing it, Iolaus had slowed his gait causing the others ahead of him to have to wait. A warrior’s voice could be heard, “Move along! Don’t hold us up!” A now familiar shove in the back from Pylon sent Iolaus stumbling ahead, almost causing him to fall again.

They soon came to a clearing where someone had placed a large log across a narrow place in the river, anchoring it on both sides. It was a crude bridge, but a bridge no less.

Maceus instructed his men-“All right-single file across the bridge.” With that, he began the slow procession across the slippery, swaying log, making it safely across.

“You heard the man-one by one,” repeated Pylon, taking his turn. He too made it across, but not as gracefully as had his leader. His arms flailed a few times as he lost his balance, but he made it to the other side.

Iolaus watched each crossing with great interest and smiled to himself as a plan formed in his mind. ‘All those times at the Academy when Cheiron made us practice balancing on that thin pole might actually pay off. We all thought it was so stupid-we’d never need to do that. It’s taken me a long time to find out you were 100% right. Thanks Cheiron.’

Just two of Maceus' men and Iolaus remained on the original side. Maceus motioned for one of his men to start. When that man was part way out, the other shoved Iolaus from behind; he stepped onto the mildly twisting log. He sensed the entry of the other man onto the log by the vibrations he felt in his feet. Just then, Pylon’s voice taunted him from the other side. “We’re waiting for you to say something, big mouth,” he sarcastically called to Iolaus.

“Oh, okay. Uh-I’ll say something. How about---goodbye?” With that, he pulled his arms apart, releasing the already loosened ties, immediately beginning a delicate balancing act, carefully causing the log to spin just enough in each direction. First the warrior ahead of him tried to keep his balance, but couldn’t, and toppled into the water. Iolaus turned to watch as the one behind him suffered the same fate.

Maceus and Pylon and the rest of the men stood dumbfounded, unable to comprehend what they were seeing. Iolaus raced back to the safety of the shore, reaching there just as he heard the voices of Maceus and his men on the other side. He recognized Pylon-

“What happened? He can’t escape!”

Maceus bellowed, “Don’t just stand there with your mouths open. Get after him!”

Mixed cries from the warriors could be heard. “Get him.” “After him.”

One warrior had actually made it out onto the log when Iolaus quickly stooped down, putting his good shoulder and all his weight behind pushing the end of the log into the water, grimacing and grunting as the weight of the log taxed his energy level to the fullest. “Sorry,” he called to the man who had slid into the water with the log.

Well satisfied with what had just happened, Iolaus laughed and saluted Maceus and his men, then turned and hightailed it out of there while he could.

“He’s a dead man,” Pylon shouted.

“If he is, so are you! I want him alive so he can take us to Hercules. Now get him.” The men knew their leader was greatly displeased and didn’t hesitate-they ran into the water, the only way they could now get to the other side. Soon, all eight, soaking wet men emerged.

“I see him. Don’t let him get away,” exclaimed Pylon catching a brief glimpse of the fleeing Iolaus far ahead of them, darting in and out from among the trees.

True to his word, Hercules had gathered the necessary materials and was on a ladder pounding a nail into the wood as Typhon, down on all fours, poked his head into the meeting hall.

“Hey! Whatcha doing, Hercules?”

“Hi. Oh, a --little--manual labor,” Hercules said, puffing a bit from the heavy work he was doing and realizing his mortal side made him experience this physical tiredness from time to time. “It’s my good deed for the day.”

“Isn’t that whatcha do all the time?”

“I wish it was, Typhon. I like working with my hands, but-other things keep getting in the way.” Hercules climbed down off the ladder and for once stood where he could see the giant without twisting his neck.

“Like that girl I saw you with?”

“Breanna? Oh, no, no. I mean she is very pretty, but ever since my wife died, I haven’t been interested in anyone else.” Sensing the giant’s distress and noticing a tear in his eye, Hercules asked, “What’s wrong, Typhon?”

“Oh, you just got me thinking about my own wife, that’s all.”

“I’d say you’ve been away from her too long.” Hercules empathized with his friend, realizing what a cruel trick Hera had played in keeping them apart.

Hercules’ words brought a twinkle back in Typhon’s eyes. “I know. Boy, is Echidna gonna be surprised to see me!”

The gentle giant’s words stunned Hercules for a moment. “Echidna? The Mother of all Monsters?”

“Yeah, that’s my wife. Know her?”

Caught by surprise, Hercules didn’t know how to respond. “Uh, kind of…” was all he could get out right at that moment. ‘How can I ever tell him what happened to his wife? He’s been through too much already.’

As Hercules stood contemplating the answer to his own question, Typhon crawled completely into the building, and very carefully backed into a comfortable position against a post. He’d started on a bad foot in this village. Things were fine now and he didn’t want anything to change the way things were for him here.

“Hercules, is something wrong?” Noticing the pained expression on his friend’s face and his hesitation in answering, he repeated more forcefully “Is something wrong?”

‘Here it comes; he knows something is wrong-I can’t put it off,’ the half god thought.

“No, everything, uh-- everything is-is-I mean everything is fine. It’s just uh-you see, I shouldn’t have---I need to sit down” ‘ You have to tell him sometime and it’s best if it were now, right at the beginning.’

“It’s Echidna, isn’t it?”

Hercules felt a little relieved since Typhon had brought up her name. He started again.

“Yeah, it is. It’s like this….” But Typhon interrupted before he could finish.

“Just tell me what she did.”

“It’s a long story, Typhon. You see-it’s like this---it, it---“

“Did she hurt you?”

“Well, you know, at-- at first, she wanted to, but we-we found a way around that.”

“Sounds like Echidna has changed. In the old days, if I wasn’t with her when she blew her stack, people got hurt-hurt really bad.”

“To tell you the truth, that’s what I thought was going to happen to me.”

“Hercules, were the kids with her? The Hydra? The Stymphalian bird? The She-Demon?”

With the mention of each name, Hercules cringed inside. ‘This is getting harder every minute! How do you explain to a friend that you’ve killed his children and imprisoned his wife in her lair?’ “Well, you see,it was like this---”

“I hope they weren’t getting into trouble again.”

“They do have a reputation as a wild bunch, don’t they, Typhon?”

“Only because nobody ever took a look at their good qualities. I bet you never knew the Hydra could knit-or the Stymphalian bird was a great dancer. And the She-demon? Oh, you should have heard her sing.”

All Hercules could hear in his mind was the screaming she did as she attacked him in the cave and that certainly wasn’t what he would call singing. “The-the She-Demon was a singer?”

“Now, right there’s what I’m talkin’ about. You would have known all about it if I’d been around. But Hera kept that from happening when she made me a prisoner. She robbed my children of their father-and my wife of her husband. I’m gonna tell Echidna just that when I see her,”

Hercules knew it was selfish of him not to want that meeting to take place any time soon. ‘How can I deny him the pleasure of seeing his wife? He hasn’t seen her in a hundred years. And he never knew the joy of watching his children grow up. I know what that’s like. No man should be denied that. I have to tell him the truth before that meeting takes place.’

Hercules knew what the answer to his next question would be, but he had to ask.” A-any idea when that might be?”

“Soon-real soon, I hope.”

The sound of children’s voices interrupted the discussion between the two friends.

“Typhon! Typhon! Come play with us!”

“The smiling giant answered, “Be right there!”

“Come out soon-we all miss you!”

“You don’t mind, do you Hercules? We can finish our talk later.”

“No, no, not at all. Typhon. Go play with the kids.”

“Ready or not, here I come.”

Hercules heaved a big sigh, knowing another opportunity to tell Typhon the whole story had slipped away again.

Iolaus raced through the forest staying a reasonable distance ahead of the warriors chasing him for awhile, but his ribs were beginning to feel as though someone were sticking a hot knife into them and his old side wound was throbbing. Now that the bandage and flimsy splint were partially gone, leaving his broken arm unprotected, he had to cradle it against his body and he was slowing down a bit. Still, he kept ahead of Maceus and his men, leading them on a mad chase. Just when they thought they had him, he’d slip away again.

He heard them cry out, “There he goes,” “Do you see him?” From another spot someone shouted, “This way. Hurry up or we’ll lose him again.” Pylon added, “He’s over there-run!”

Iolaus ducked behind a large tree to catch his breath for a moment. Feeling something at the corner of his mouth, he rubbed his hand over it. “Ouch! That hurts.” His hand came away with blood from the wound covering part of his fingers. “Oh, those guys,” he muttered, remembering the reason the blood was there. He heard sounds of someone or something rustling through the brush not far behind him and glanced that way to see what it was. “Are they getting faster or am I getting slower?”

He heard Maceus bellow, “There he goes! After him. Go! Move!”

Using a few of his old hunter’s tricks, Iolaus was able to elude his pursuers for quite some time, leading them in circles. Tiring rapidly, he knew he needed a place to rest but had seen nothing he could use as a hiding place. Just when he felt he couldn’t go any farther, he spied a large mud pool a short distance away from him. Checking around, he saw no signs of Maces and his men. He could hear them, but they couldn’t see him.

“Perfect!” he said and he jumped into the mud, rolling around in it until he was completely covered. He closed his eyes and waited.

Hercules sat at a table, staring off into space, a spoon full of food suspended between his lips and his plate. He was so engrossed in his thoughts he didn’t see Breanna enter.

“A diner for your thoughts. You’re supposed to eat that, not stare at it, Hercules.

Startled by the sound of her voice, Hercules stammered “What? Oh, yeah--yeah. How are you?” He realized he was still holding his spoon and carefully put it down on his plate.

“That’s a question I should be asking you after all the work you did.”

“Oh, there wasn’t much to do. Your father took care of most of it.” Suddenly realizing he was neglecting his manners, Hercules jumped up, pulled out a chair, and invited “Oh, sit down, Breanna.”

Breanna smiled at his politeness and hurried to where he waited to seat her. “Thanks!”

“Are you hungry?” he asked the smiling young woman?

“No-it doesn’t look like you are either.” Noticing Hercules’ preoccupation, Breanna asked,” Is that what you get when you have the weight of the world on your shoulders?”

Hercules smiled, thinking she had made a mistake. “I think you are confusing me with Atlas.” he asserted, shaking his head in amusement.

“No, Hercules. I’ve heard enough about you to know you’re always worried about someone beside yourself. Right now I guess it’s either Typhon ---or that friend of yours who hasn’t shown up yet.”

“It’s both of them, actually,” the pensive warrior responded.

“Yeah, well you shouldn’t worry about Typhon, Hercules. The kids will take care of him.”

“Hmm. Sooner or later he’s gonna have to learn that life isn’t all fun and games.”

‘I know because I’ll provide his first lesson.’

“And your missing friend. Does he know that?”

“Iolaus already knows how tough life can be. I just hope he’s not-finding out all over again.” ‘He has already learned that lesson over and over again.’

Breanna saw that look of quiet concern cloud Hercules’ eyes when he spoke of his missing friend. ‘I hope you know how much Hercules cares about you’ were her unuttered words to the half-god’s missing friend.

Iolaus lay right there in plain sight but blending right in with his surroundings, covered from tip to toe in mud. His brilliant blue eyes popped open to see where the men whose voices he heard were. He quickly closed them again when he found they were right there next to him.

He listened as the warriors communicated with one another.

“Do you see him?”

“No!”

“Try over here/”

“I already looked over there.”

“Get movin’-flush him out of the grass.” The men searched the area stabbing at thick places in the grass, hoping to encounter their escaped prisoner and get back into the good graces of their leader.

“He can’t hide forever.”

“He’s not over here!”

On and on the men searched, hollering to each other back and forth across the river.

“Anything?”

“Nothing at all.”

“He’s gotta be hidin’ somewhere.”

“Check the riverbank.”

Iolaus held his breath as the men came down the embankment. He mouthed an inaudible

“Oh,” as one of the men stepped right between his legs, then continued onward.

“He could be anywhere.”

“Where did he go?”

Maceus realized what lay in the direction they were now headed and shouted to Pylon,

“He lied to us! He’s not goin’ to Hellespont. He’s goin’ to Plinth. I’ll bet that’s where we’ll find Hercules.”

“If he was lying to us, he dies.”

“It’s your call, Pylon,” Maceus promised bringing an evil smile to the mercenary’s face.

Knowing that Maceus would be heading to Plinth, Iolaus found it painful to lie there and wait, but he knew he must. ‘Herc’s life will depend on me getting to him first. I can’t let these guys see me.’

The bandits continued their chatter as they vainly sought Iolaus.

“Anything there?”

“No, I’ve searched the whole area.”

Pylon shouted, “What are you morons doing over there? He went this way!”

“What did he say?”

“I don’t know, but this is ridiculous.”

“He’s gotta be in these bushes!”

Maceus again shouted to his men. “Check every inch of this place. You hear me?”

“Yeah!” seconded Pylon, reiterating his commander’s words in an attempt to ingratiate himself.

“Hurry up!” called the other goons to the one straggler still searching Iolaus’ side of the river. He came within inches of Iolaus’ location but was called back to the other side of the river.

Breathing a sigh of relief now that the river separated him from his pursuers, Iolaus waited until he was certain they’d all gone. Unnoticed, he climbed out of his mudhole, quickly turned and began running toward Plinth-temporarily giving the mercenaries the slip. Hera’s peacock eyes soon flashed in the sky as the evil goddess sent a lightening bolt that struck right behind Iolaus, sending him sprawling. Maceus and his men turned at the sound.

“Whoo!” Iolaus exhaled as he struggled to his feet and started running again. ”That was too close.”

“There he goes!” thundered Maceus.

Pylon answered, “We’ll get him this time!”

Again Iolaus heard voices shouting as the men closed the gap between them and him.

“Get him,” came from one tired follower.

“Follow him,” came from another.

Then, even closer to him they shouted-“Don’t let him get away again!”

“Quick, go around that way. Box him in!”

Luckily, the hunter’s quickness enabled him to elude the men once more and he made a beeline for Plinth with the warriors close on his heels. Maceus brought up the rear, the only one to see the brightly colored peacock feather float down to earth, coming to rest in front of the startled man.

“At your service, Hera,” he exclaimed, realizing she’d been responsible for the lightning bolt that directed them to Iolaus. He smiled when he understood she would help with his plan to rid the world of the Son of Zeus and hurried to catch up with his men.

The air was full of happy sounds-children laughing, squealing, giggling and calling out to one another as they chased each other around. Typhon was right in the middle of all the kids.

“Tell ya what. Just because you’ve been playing so nice-I’m gonna let you take turns climbing on me. Would you like that?” he said, bending down to his knees as he spoke to be closer to his little friends.

In unison, the group of excited boys and girls gave him the answer he’d hoped for-

“Oh, yeah!” The kids looked up at him with love in their eyes. The oldest of them asked,

“When can we start?”

“Just a minute,” Typhon promised as he spotted Hercules walking hesitantly toward them. “Hey, Hercules! Come on! Join the fun!”

“Maybe later. Can I talk to you now, Typhon?” he asked rather hesitantly.

“Important talk?” the giant asked.

The warrior reluctantly replied, “Yeah-I think it is!”

“Give me a second and I’ll be right with you.” He turned his attention to the kids who had started climbing up his leg. Apologizing to them, he vowed, “We’ll have lots of time to play as soon as I finish talking with Hercules.”

The kids dejectedly climbed down, but kids are trusting and they knew Typhon meant what he said. The air was immediately filled again with happy kids’ voices---“Come on. Where’s Marcus now?” questioned an older boy, seeking a playmate who’d left earlier.

“Let’s go home. I’m tired,” came from the tiniest girl.

“Hey, you wanna play ball?” All the kids responded to this request and came running, even the tiny girl who had wanted to go home.

Typhon took one look at his friend’s face and guessed that something was tormenting him. “What’s wrong, Hercules? You look like something’s bothering you.”

“Well, something is. I’ve been trying to tell you about it all day.”

“Oh, you can talk to me about it. I’m your friend.”

Hercules cringed at these words. “I know. That’s what makes this so tough. Uh, it’s----”

He was interrupted by the sounds of hollering coming from the woods beyond; he heard-

“Herc! Herc! Help me, Herc!” Just then, a man covered from head to toe in brown muck emerged.

Chuckling, Typhon shouted, “He looks like he’s been rolling around in the mud.”

“Herc!”

“That’s my friend, Iolaus,” Hercules quickly responded in a concerned voice.

Maceus and his men had emerged from the woods and were in hot pursuit of the elusive Iolaus, swords drawn and ready to take on anyone in their way.

“Those men look like they don’t play nice!”

“Quick, Typhon, get the kids out of here! There’s gonna be a fight.”

Responding to the urgency in Hercules’ voice, Typhon gathered the kids. “Okay. Come on, kids. Come with me,” he instructed as he led them to safety.

“Now would be a good time to give me a little help here, Herc,” Iolaus shouted out as he ran passed his friend, panting from the stress of the run and the chase.

Maceus’ thug who had been right behind the fleeing Iolaus never stopped chasing him.

“Coward!” he called out. Hercules stuck out his arm, catching the speeding man in the chest, knocking the wind out of him and sending him sprawling on the ground.

Turning to Iolaus, Hercules looked at his friend, now doubled over from lack of oxygen,

“What’d you do this time?”

“Hi. It’s great to see you too. Just-give me-a minute ‘til I catch my breath!”

Spotting Hercules, Maceus shouted, “There’s Hercules! Kill him! Kill him like he killed Demetrius!” He and his seven remaining goons headed straight for Hercules.

“Make it a fast minute, Iolaus.” Sounds from the gathering village onlookers could be heard in the distance. “Oh, no!”

Iolaus ran toward the three warriors headed in his direction, surprising them by running headlong into them, grabbing one and sending the unprepared man into his friend, both of them ending up on the ground. Turning to the other one, he raised his good arm, threw a punch that hit the man square on the chin, sending him forcefully to the ground. Hearing noises from the other two, the angry hunter turned and faced them. “Now you’ll see what it feels like to be on the other end of my fist,” he said to the attacker who had so eagerly given him the blows back in other village. Blood spouted from the man’s nose as Iolaus successfully landed a punch, knocking him back down on the ground.

He turned just in time to ward off a blow from the second attacker, but not before the man had grabbed his broken arm. “Oww! You shouldn’t have done that! Try this for size,” Iolaus said, leaping at the stunned man and kicking him to the ground where he lay unconscious. “Two down, one to go!” were the words Maceus’ advancing man heard as the angry Iolaus turned his full attention to him. Assuming a fighting stance he’d learned in the East, Iolaus frightened the thug and stopped him in his tracks. This was like nothing the man had ever seen before.

“Ah! Ah! Ah! Ay-yi-yi!” The mesmerized attacker learned what the technique involved for he too bore the brunt of a whirling Iolaus who concluded the move with a vicious kick to the man’s head, sending him sprawling-out like a light!

Sounds of cheering and approval came from the onlookers.“Yeah!” came from Breanna.

Septus chimed in with “Yes, that’s the way!”

Hercules, meanwhile, was having no trouble disposing of his attackers. He used the first man who attacked him as a battering ram, swinging him around into the others, knocking their legs out from beneath them. None of them stayed down for long,

Maceus shouted, “Kill him. Kill the Son of Zeus!”

“Who is this guy? Hercules shouted to Iolaus, nodding toward the man he recognized as the leader of the pack.

“It’s Demetrius’ brother, Iolaus replied.

“Oh!” Hercules said. The fight took on new meaning for him now. He knew these men were seriously out for revenge. This wasn’t just any fight-it was a fight ‘til the end by the man seeking to avenge his brother’s death.

Just as Iolaus had gotten the words to Herc out of his mouth, two different warriors attacked him. Spinning him from one to the other, they landed a few punches and kicks, causing him to reel backward

Typhon saw Iolaus’ predicament. “Stay here.” He said to the kids. “I’ve got to go help Hercules’ friend.”

“Okay, Typhon,” the wide-eyed children gasped from a mingling of fear and excitement.

Typhon hurried toward Iolaus, so intent on getting there to help that he didn’t see Hercules running toward Maceus and Pylon. The demigod tripped over Typhon’s large foot that had come down right in front of him. He went tumbling over and over on the ground, coming to rest a few feet from the enemy.

“Oh, no!” said Typhon when he realized what had happened. Hercules just looked at him, shaking his head to clear his vision.

“Oh, yes!” exclaimed Maceus and Pylon as they saw their chance to get Hercules. They advanced, ready to thrust their swords into Hercules’ defenseless body. “Now!” shouted Maceus and they lunged, ramming their swords downward. Fortunately, Hercules had seen what was coming and rolled out of the way. The swords, embedded deeply into the dirt, would have both impaled the hero.

Infuriated, Hercules jumped to his feet and ran toward Maceus and Pylon who were backing away from the scene. Maceus chose the better part of valor-retreat and live to fight another day. “Retreat,” he called out and his men were only too happy to oblige. They had seen enough and had enough of Hercules and Iolaus, at least for the time being. The two men thrashing Iolaus released him and ran toward the rest of Maceus’ bedraggled warriors.

Iolaus and Hercules watched as the fleeing men limped and staggered away as quickly as their legs would carry them.

Cheers erupted from the village townspeople. Led by Septus and Breanna, they headed toward the two smiling heroes. “Come on, let’s go tell them what a great job they did,” Septus said. Advancing upon the heroes, the exuberant crowd called out their congratulations-“Well done,” “A regular two-man army!”-“Hooray for Hercules and his friend!”

Embarrassed by all the adulation, Hercules turned to his best friend, grinned,” Is there-uh, something you want to tell me?”

Iolaus smiled back at him. “Oh, yeah. I thought I wasn’t gonna make it in time to warn you.”

“Some warning. What’d you do to your arm?”

“Ah, it’s, you know, just a little bit of torture,” Iolaus mumbled, trying to mask the pain the arm was causing.

His attempt didn’t fool Hercules who compassionately said to his partner, “Come on. Let me take a look at it.”

“Yeah, okay,” Iolaus grimaced, relieved that something was finally going to be done for the worsening pain in his arm and glad Hercules would be the one to take care of it.

Breanna had been intently staring at Iolaus the whole time. ‘All you can see through that mud on his face are those gorgeous, brilliant blue eyes and that captivating smile. How courageous he is to suffer that pain and push on to warn his friend. Wonder what he’ll look like when he’s cleaned up?’ She hoped Iolaus, her father and Hercules hadn’t seen her staring at the wounded hero.

Septus spoke for the entire town when he said, “Well done, Hercules. Come on everyone!

Let’s celebrate!” The people of the village enthusiastically boisterously replied, “Yeah!” and headed off to prepare for a night of festivities.

Hercules and Iolaus walked together, Hercules’ arm draped over his friend’s shoulder.

“You need a bath.” He teased as he wrinkled his nose.

“Yeah, I sure do!”

Everyone had left the scene except for one person--Typhon. The forlorn giant hung back, feeling he had no right to join in the celebration. Because of his clumsiness, there almost was no celebration. ‘I couldn’t do anything right. Couldn’t help Hercules’ friend. Almost got Hercules killed-things never change. I’m just a big no-good clumsy oaf. Couldn’t even defend my home and family against Hera.” Watching the happy revelers, Typhon longed to be part of the festivities, but knew that he probably wouldn’t be welcome there.

Tears ran down the giant’s face-tears for all he’d lost.

She heard the mud-man’s voice as she approached the bathhouse door.

“---if he’d taken one more step, I’d be a soprano!”

Laughter and an inaudible comment greeted this remark.

“Yeah, better a broken arm than-“ the rest of this was lost in the creak of the door as Breanna opened it.

“Well, hi there!" came a voice she now recognized. Wrapped in a linen sheet, with the dirt scrubbed off, the mud-man proved to be a combination of blond hair--now wet and slicked back-and bronze skin, marred here and there with cuts and bruises. Nevertheless, his brilliant blue eyes met hers brightly, and he smiled. Her heart turned over at the sight and she smiled back.

Hercules watched the process and then cleared his throat.

Breanna hastily remembered what she had come here about. “I brought the things you asked for,” she told Hercules, handing him a basket that contained linen strips, yarrow ointment, and two sturdy sticks. “I also brought this.” She held out a small pottery flask.

“It’s poppy-wine. I thought you might need it.”

“Thanks, I really appreciate that.” Hercules turned to his friend. “Come on buddy-let’s get this over with.”

“Stay and hold my hand, will you?” asked the blond man of Breanna as he seated himself on a stool beside the fire and stretched his splintered arm out towards Hercules.

“It always hurts less if there’s a beautiful woman to talk to while I-OW! Watch it, Herc!”

The half-god had begun to unwind the filthy cloth that had wrapped his friend’s arm. “All I’m doing is taking off the splint~”

“Well be careful, will you?” Iolaus turned back to Breanna, as Hercules continued to strip away the bandages. “You know, he almost got kicked out of Asclepius’ first aid class, back when we were kids.”

“I did not!” Hercules was almost finished. He pulled away the last of the cloth.

“Only because you were a relative!” The blond man grinned wickedly at Breanna, then suddenly went ashen as Hercules gently ran his fingers over his arm. “Oh, DAMN that hurts!”

Even to Breanna’s eyes it was clear that there was something seriously wrong. The skin of his arm was red and swollen and there was an unnatural bulge along one side.

“Did they even set this?” Hercules demanded.

“I don’t know. I was kind of out of it, at the time. Anyway, I bet THEY didn’t take a class with Asclepius!”

“Buddy, I’m going to have to -”

“I know. I know! Just do it, okay?” He looked up at Breanna and gave another heart-melting smile, though there was suddenly sweat on his face. “Actually, you might not want to stay around for this. I have a feeling I’m going to say some very nasty words in a minute.”

Breanna shook her head vigorously. “Don’t be silly,” she said briskly. She moved closer until she was standing over him, took his good arm and put it around her hips. “Just hold onto me, and I’ll hold on to you.” She put her hands on his head and pressed his head gently against her waist. “You’ll be fine.”

“Oh, yeah. This is great,” came the muffled reply. “Go for it, Herc!”

Breanna met the demigod’s eyes and nodded gravely. She saw him take a deep breath and square his shoulders. His hands went to his comrade’s arm.

There was a single swift movement.

Breanna felt, rather than heard, the scream. It resonated through her entire body as Iolaus stiffened, burying his face in the softness of her belly, trying to escape the pain. His arm tightened like a steel band across her bottom. For a split second, it was impossible to breathe. Then, he went limp against her.

“He’s fainted!” she said in an alarmed voice.

“Just as well. I’ll get this done before he comes to,” replied Hercules grimly, wrapping linen strips around the arm which was now straight. Speedily he strapped the two splints, one on either side, and wrapped the whole arm in more bandages.

In the meantime, Breanna gently stroked the blond head that lay heavily against her. His face was marked with bruises, and there was a cut at the corner of his mouth that was bleeding slightly. “It’ll be all right,” she whispered over and over, even though she knew he could not hear.

“Done. Let’s lay him down.” Lightly, Hercules picked his friend up in his arms and ever so gently set him down on a pallet by the fire. His partner began to stir almost immediately.

“Just lie still, will you?”

“Asclepius…should have…flunked you…” came the mumbled words.

“You’re welcome,” replied the half-god with a snort. “Here-have some poppy-wine.”

Breanna held the flask to his swollen lips as Hercules helped him sit up and steadied him. Two swallows and the blond man pushed it away with his good hand.

“S’enough,” he said quickly. “Thanks.” Gingerly he lay back down, wincing as he did so. “Good stuff. Room’s starting to spin already……”

“Go to sleep, buddy,” said Hercules, heading for the door. “Back in a minute-I’ll get some wood to build up the fire.”

“No hurry…..” again he smiled at Breanna. “Just the two of us now.” His eyelids came down and the smile faded.

Breanna brought out the yarrow ointment and began to spread it gently on the marks on his face.

“That’s nice….”

“You’re a very brave man.”

“Nah…”

“No, really. I watched the way you fought for your friend’s sake even though you were hurt.”

“Herc’s done… the same for…me.” The words were coming more and more slowly as the poppy took hold.

“I can tell. You two have the look of sword-brothers.” She took another dab of the yarrow and began to spread it over the bruises on his ribs.

“Oh…..yeah.”

For a moment, he lay still and his breathing became slow and steady. Breanna was certain he had fallen asleep, lulled by the medicine, but suddenly he opened his eyes and frowned.

“Did I hurt you?” she asked quickly.

“No…no…just realized…..” His gaze was becoming increasingly unfocused and he struggled to get the words out. “I…don’t even know… Wha’s your…name” The golden lashes fluttered and his head rolled limply to the side. The poppy-wine had won at last.

Breanna smiled to herself as she drew a blanket over him and brushed the drying yellow hair back from his face. She took a quick, guilty look at the door-then moved by an impulse she didn’t quite understand-swiftly but tenderly kissed him on the forehead.

“My name’s Breanna,” she whispered so softly that only the fire heard her.

Hercules rushed into the room with the logs for the fire just as Breanna leaned over and kissed Iolaus’ forehead. He smiled to himself.

After adding the logs and getting the fire going good, Hercules turned to Breanna,

“He’ll sleep like a log for a few hours best thing for him. Why don’t you go on. I’ll stay with him now.”

Nodding her head in agreement, Breanna took a last glace at the sleeping warrior and left the room. ‘Id rather be here when he wakes up to see that smile again, but I’d better not push my luck. Maybe they need help cleaning his muddy clothes!’

In a dimly lit, cool cave, Maceus’ warriors sprawled around on rocks, blankets, crates--whatever they could find. A fire had been built to help ward off some of the chill and to provide additional light, but Maceus and Pylon hogged that spot not caring that the injured men would profit more from the heat. As they tended to each other’s wounds, the gloomy silence was broken only by an occasional “Ouch! Take it easy, will you!” or “That hurts.” It appeared that no one had escaped injury, ranging from those with minor scrapes and cuts to deep wounds and a few broken bones. Once the wounds were treated, conversation broke out among the dejected, somewhat disillusioned unit of men not accustomed to being beaten, let alone trounced. Reactions to the recent fight were soon heard echoing throughout the cave.

“How did two men beat eight fighters like us?” complained one injured man.

“My whole body aches,” moaned another.

“They’d better watch out the next time we meet,” promised a warrior who wished he had chosen different words once he saw the looks he got from his friends. No one was sure it would be a smart move to ever meet them again if this were a sample of what it would be like.

Maceus watched his men and listened to their comments, growing angrier by the minute at their responses and with their performance in the recent fight. His face turned a vivid red as his displeasure boiled in his gut. When he could stand it no more, he bellowed, “Act like warriors. You fought like a bunch of new recruits today. Aren’t you ashamed that you let two men-one of them injured-send you packin’?” He turned to Pylon and glared, “We were not meant to lose!”

“But Maceus, it was Hercules,” Pylon whined. “ Mortals aren’t supposed to defeat him.”

Maceus’ eyes lit up and an evil grin spread over his face.” When they have the help of Hera, they are.”

“How do you know she’s helping us?”

The mention of Hera’s name and the newly delivered lecture by their leader brought the mercenaries’ attention to Pylon and Maceus’ conversation, hoping to learn something they could use to get back on his good side, if there was one. “Having Hera on our side couldn’t hurt next time we come up against Hercules and his smart mouthed little friend,” whispered one thug as they began gathering around Maceus and Pylon to hear more.

“First the lightning bolt to show us the runt’s location”---Maceus insinuated-“and then THIS,” he emphasized, holding up a brightly colored peacock feather.

“What good’s a feather gonna do?” Pylon snickered, thinking his commander had lost it for sure, but afraid to say so out loud.

“That’s for Hera to decide,” Maceus suggested, dropping the feather into the fire that flared up the moment the feather entered its glowing flames.

“What is that?” Pylon asked as a green, squirming shape became visible through the flames.

“It’s Echidna--the Mother of all Monsters,” Maceus chuckled as he sensed Hera had sent them this sign.”

“Why would Hera send Echidna to help us?”

“Because, you fool, Hera hates Hercules as much as I do!”

This revelation gave Maceus and his men a renewed commitment toward being the instrument that would be used to wipe the bastard Son of Zeus from the face of the earth. Their wounds were forgotten in the anticipation of what was yet to come, and they were exceptionally glad that Maceus now seemed preoccupied with thoughts of Hera, not them.

Nestled in an area of great beauty-lush green ferns, tall stately trees, and a spectacularly large waterfall--- lies a stark, damp, dim lair, the home of Echidna. This Mother of all Monsters--a scaly green bodied creature with blue scales framing her face and head, six writhing tentacles for arms, a slender body culminating in a long tail to serve as her means of movement, sharp uneven teeth, and a shrill voice that makes the hair on your head stand on end--is obviously distraught, slithering around her lair. The object of her displeasure soon becomes known as her shouts and cries ring out, echoing and bouncing from wall to wall. “I’ll get you yet, Hercules!” she screams over and over. “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

Hercules sat by his friend’s side for a few hours, watching the warrior sleep, thankful that he was able to fix Iolaus’ broken arm and repair the mutilated flesh and bones before any permanent damage could occur, yet sorry he’d caused his partner pain and experiencing guilty feelings that the injury was brought on because of him.

A gentle knock on the door snapped him out of the guilt. Opening the door, the demigod found Breanna standing there with a pile of clothes in her arms. “I wanted to bring these so I could check on Iolaus. Hope you don’t mind the intrusion,” she apologized.

“Not at all, Breanna. Come in and see for yourself. He is sleeping peacefully, thanks to the poppy wine. He’ll be as good as new after a much needed rest.”

Breanna glanced at the sleeping figure on the pallet, satisfied that Iolaus was indeed looking much better. She placed the pile of clothes onto a stool at the foot of the bed and turned to leave, only to be stopped by Hercules.

“Could I impose on you for a few minutes? I need to attend to a few things and to get more wood for the fire. I’d rather not leave Iolaus alone, just in case he wakes up and needs something.”

“Not a problem,” the young woman responded. “Take as long as you need.”

Hercules smiled at her and left the room, checking on his partner once more before he went. Breanna went to the stool, picked up the warrior’s well-worn patchwork garment now free of its crusted mud. ‘ I wonder whose hands pieced it together for you?’ She replaced the vest and began fingering her way through the other items, her mind creating a picture of a day in the life of this young warrior, dressed in these items. If the stories she had heard of Hercules’ partner were true, such a day would be an exiting one, often filled with flirtatious encounters. She smiled, thinking that such an encounter wouldn’t be all that bad!

Just then, a voice called to her, “I heard you before-your name is Breanna, right?”

Startled, Breanna dropped the items of Iolaus’ clothing and turned to him, “You’re right, Iolaus, but how did you hear me? You were asleep.”

“You only thought I was asleep. I was still awake enough to feel you kiss my forehead. What a way to fall asleep! You can do that for me any time you want.”

Breanna knew a line when she heard one-‘I wasn’t born yesterday! Still, let’s see where this leads.’ “How are you feeling, Iolaus? Are you in any pain? Is there anything I can do for you?” She realized what she had just said and kept eye contact with the injured hero to see his reaction.

“I’m actually feeling pretty good. In fact, I could eat a whole boar right now. That’s a good sign. There is this little cut on my face that you could kiss and make it better.” Breanna grinned and busied herself picking up Iolaus’ clothes and putting them at the end of his pallet.

Iolaus was about to ask her again for a medicinal kiss when sounds of laughter and music invaded the room from a building across the way, accompanied by the smell of roast lamb and other delightful scents.

“What’s that?” Iolaus never could resist musical sounds or food aromas.

“It’s just the start of the party to celebrate your victory today--I mean yours and Hercules’ victory.”

“Then what are we doing cooped up in here? Do you like to party, Breanna?”

Ignoring his question, Iolaus’ attractive nurse asked one of her own. “Iolaus, are you sure you are well enough to party. What if someone bumps into you and your arm is injured again?” She really was looking out for his well being, not just putting him off.

“I’m fine, Breanna. How would it look for one of the honored guests to miss his own party? Besides, I’ll have my personal nurse right there with me.” Puzzled by her mixed reaction-playful and flirting, yet with a concerned look on her face, Iolaus took her hand in his and assured her that he would take it easy. He gave her his heart-melting smile and gestured toward the door.

Breanna’s concerned look faded; the intriguing smile that replaced it convinced him that she too was eager to see what lay ahead.

“Let’s get out of here while we still can.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something? Iolaus?” Noticing his bewildered look, Breanna teased, “So you always take a girl partying wearing a linen cloth?” Iolaus started to giggle as she went out the door. “Don’t take too long dressing!”

Hercules returned to Iolaus’ room with more poppy wine, logs for the fire, and some salve for the cuts and bruises his friend had received. To his surprise, the room was empty. A temporary look of deep concern flooded his face-where could Iolaus and Breanna be? Is he well enough to be out of bed? Glancing at the stool, he saw that the purple vest and the rest of the hunter’s clothes were missing. He was just about to go on a search for his partner when he heard a familiar giggle coming from the building across the street. Glancing out the window, he caught a glimpse of golden curls and the familiar vest entering the building across the street, arm in arm with Breanna. Hercules ran from the room, crossed the street, and entered the town hall building. Iolaus again was nowhere to be seen but he did encounter Septus, who sidetracked him and began a conversation.

The village hall had been transformed into a festive scene with colored lanterns, flowers, banners, and torches everywhere-- nothing there to remind anyone of the destruction that had been present just that morning. Thanks to Hercules, everything was back where it belonged, stronger than ever and the village people were determined to make this a night Hercules and Iolaus would always remember.

“Hercules, you’ll never know how great it is to have a party like this. Most times after marauders have been to town, all we can do is -lick our wounds.”

“I’d still like to apologize for bringing so much trouble here, Septus.” As he waited for Septus’ reply, Hercules attempted to relieve the growling of his empty stomach by enjoying a delicious apple. He continued to glance around the room, searching for Iolaus and Breanna, but not finding them.

“Aw, no apology necessary. Eh, just to satisfy my curiosity. Why were they after you?”

“You know, it’s---” Hercules never had a chance to finish his answer as a voice from behind them spoke up. Iolaus had come up behind his partner, unnoticed, as Breanna had done behind her father.

“It’s like this, Septus. Their leader wanted revenge on Hercules for--how can I put this politely, uh? Eradicating his brother.” Iolaus snatched the apple from his dumbfounded friend’s hand and took a bite.

“Are you sure you should be here, Iolaus? Are you okay?”

“Of course I’m okay. Did you think I would let you have all the fun and glory? Besides, I brought my own nurse with me. Relax, buddy!”

“Back to your answer, Iolaus. Any fool should know that revenge only breeds more pain,” Septus insisted.

“Well then, Papa, you shouldn’t talk about it when we’re supposed to be having fun.”

Breanna turned to Hercules and asked, “Is your friend much of a dancer?”

“Well-Iolaus and I have never danced, but he’s always looked pretty light on his feet.”

“Yeah. Allow me to demonstrate.” Iolaus handed the partly eaten apple back to Hercules, then took Breanna’s hand and led her onto the dance floor. After a few practice spins, Iolaus laughed and told Breanna that she danced pretty good. “Try this. Just follow my lead.” Soon, Iolaus and Breanna danced as though they’d been partners all their lives.

Septus looked a little perplexed and concerned watching his usually conservative daughter following Iolaus’ every move.

“Don’t worry, Septus, he always brings ‘em back alive.”

“Well, I guess I’d better go check and see how that lamb’s coming. We can’t have you say that we never fed you properly,” leaving the half-god again minus the apple Septus had confiscated as he left the room.

Suddenly the floor shook and the roof creaked as it was lifted off its foundation. For a moment, it looked as though panic would set in, but someone cried out, “It’s only Typhon!”

“Yeah, it’s only me. Am I invited too?” Typhon asked this question as though he were afraid of the answer, reminding Hercules of a little boy just learning of a party for which he’d received no invitation.

“Of course you are,” Hercules told his friend. “The party wouldn’t be complete without you,” knowing how much it meant to the giant to be included.

“I was afraid you were uh, mad…mad at me, Hercules,” the giant stammered, still reliving the events of the afternoon in his mind.

“Now where would you get an idea like that?”

“You know-‘cause I almost messed up everything for you today. I wanted to help, but-I was too clumsy-just like always.”

“Typhon, the only thing that matters is that your heart was in the right place. You were headed to help my friend. How could I be mad at you for that?”

“My heart maybe-but not my feet.”

“Typhon, I never had a chance to thank you for trying to help me today. It was really nice of you to offer to help someone you’d never even met.” Iolaus’ words, Hercules’ smile, and the applause from the villagers made the humble giant feel very accepted and he soon forgot his clumsiness.

A lavish meal was served and numerous toasts were made to Hercules and Iolaus, both of whom were a little overwhelmed by the scope of the attention. Hercules was used to such adulation. Iolaus, on the other hand, quite often was left out of the praise and adulation so he basked in all of the attention paid to him, but kept insisting that he didn’t deserve such copious admiration.

After a few more dances, Iolaus began to pale and asked Breanna to walk out in the fresh air awhile. “I think I’d better turn in, Breanna. I feel a little lightheaded.”

Breanna agreed that it was a good idea and insisted on seeing he got there okay. When they reached the room, Breanna immediately went to straighten out the bed linens and to replenish Iolaus’ supply of water and medicine so it would be available to him during the night.

“You make a good little nurse,” he told Breanna. “There’s just one thing wrong. A nurse needs to tuck her patient in and calm his mind so he gets a good night’s sleep.”

Breanna motioned for the warrior to hop into bed, turning her back to him so he could remove his clothing-but noticing that there was a mirror across the room which provided a clear view of the opposite side of the room for the viewer. “Are you under the covers?” knowing full well he was for she’d seen him climb into bed. She turned and went to the bed, tucking the covers up under his chin. “Everything you might need is right here by your bedside.” Reaching across, she kissed him on the forehead. “Sleep well, Iolaus. See you in the morning.”

Iolaus grinned at her and started to protest her leaving. As he glanced at her retreating figure, his eyes caught a glimpse of a mirror where he saw his own reflection. ‘Why that little minx, she could see me the whole time I was undressing and getting into bed!’ The hunter burst out laughing, realizing she’d put one over on him. ‘Just you wait until tomorrow!’ The day’s activities and the evening’s festivities had taken their toll. The blond warrior’s eyes closed and he was asleep as the last word in his promise was uttered.

A brilliant sun shone through Hercules’ window warming his body and awakening him. As the Son of Zeus stretched his long arms and legs, mixed emotions immediately filled his mind. Part of him wanted to extend his time relaxing in his nice comfortable bed, but the other part was filled with the realization that a dreaded task lay ahead of him. He reveled in the glorious sunshine just a moment longer, but he was convinced that he could no longer postpone the task. He had to give Typhon the facts of Echidna’s imprisonment and his part in it. Worse than that would be informing the giant of his children’s deaths at the hands of the remorseful warrior himself. Having seen the depth of his friend’s love for his wife and kids and his excitement in anticipation of a prompt reunion with them, Hercules knew it wasn’t going to be an easy job. The news wouldn’t be easy for the man to accept under any conditions. ‘Better he hear the news from me. My stepmother ruined Typhon’s family, so it’s only right that I clean up her mess and that he hear the news today.

Through the open window, Hercules heard the sounds and smelled the aromas of daily life and its routine activities springing to life as men and women opened their businesses, setting up their stands. The smell of freshly baked bread, pastries, and brewed coffee permeated the air. The town definitely had come alive with its inhabitants still relishing the previous night’s celebration and the events that had brought them so much satisfaction.

As he stepped outside, Hercules nearly collided with a group of children flying their kites and racing in the street. Their happy squeals and laughter caused Hercules to look for Typhon, surprised that the giant wasn’t right in the middle of the fun. Thoughts of his new friend quickly returned the warrior to reality. First on his mind was a need to ascertain the condition of his best friend. Nothing was more important to him than knowing Iolaus was okay. Hercules had gone to check on Iolaus before turning in last night and found his partner asleep-alone, resting comfortably. He sat by Iolaus’ side for a few minutes, making certain everything was all right. Then, he’d turned in himself. A big grin spread from ear to ear as he thought of his heart-brother’s lovely nurse and companion at last night’s party. ‘Yes, Iolaus is okay!’

The demigod strolled along the street, sampling the fruit and pastries that tempted him and making small talk with many of the young women of the village. Glancing ahead, he saw a flash of purple leaning against one of the stalls. Recognizing Iolaus’ vest, he hurried to join his partner. As Hercules drew nearer, he saw that Iolaus was staring off into space with a far-off, dreamy look in his eyes and a smile on his face. The golden hunter never even knew his friend--or anyone else for that matter--was anywhere around. He was in his own little world and enjoying every minute of it. Sneaking around behind him, Hercules attempted to get Iolaus’ attention with a long, drawn out “He--ll--ooooo!”

At first, the greeting fell on deaf ears, but the hunter finally sensed that he wasn’t alone, turning to face his best friend. With the grin and the dreamy look still very much in evidence, he turned slightly red and responded “Hmm--oh, it’s you,” and giggled.

“I’ve seen that look before. It must be love!” Hercules teased.

Now that Iolaus was back in the real world, he sighed and confided in his friend, “Well, you have to admit, Breanna’s”-- and he paused for a few seconds to find just the right word--“exquisite!”

The look was the same he’d seen on Iolaus’ face so many times before-his partner seemed to take a shine to a girl in every town they visited-the newest name on the list was Plinth’s own Breanna. Hercules studied his partner’s face more carefully and finally just smiled and uttered an all-knowing “Hmmmm!”

Iolaus clarified his reaction, “You know, after all I’ve been through these passed few days, Breanna seems to make my problems disappear.” A touch of the dreamy look returned and his lips and eyes registered as smile of satisfaction.

Hercules concurred with a shake of his head and sighed, “Yes, but I wish I could find someone to make my problems disappear.”

The two men sauntered along the street as they talked, but Herc’s words brought Iolaus to an abrupt stop. With a puzzled look on his face, the blond warrior, not used to Hercules having a problem, --asked his friend, “What’s that?”

The half-god breathed deeply, and with a pained expression in his voice responded “Typhon.”

“Did you say Typhon?” Iolaus questioned and then immediately laughed and joked, “Can’t find sandals to fit him, huh?” Expecting the warrior to enjoy the joke and chuckle in response, the hunter was totally surprised when Hercules gave only a half-hearted, muted laugh instead, and responded, “No, what I can’t find are the words to tell him about his wife.”

Sensing that joking around was not what was appropriate at the moment, nor was it what his buddy needed, a puzzled Iolaus inquired, “His wife?”

Hercules astounded the bewildered Iolaus even more with his answer, “ Yes, his wife---Echidna.

Iolaus was stunned and unusually speechless for a few moments as he digested the news. “Wait a minute. Echidna? You mean Typhon is married to Echidna--our Typhon? I must not have heard you right.” Shaking his head in disbelief, Iolaus reiterated--”Echidna and Typhon?”

Nodding to reaffirm his remarks, Hercules could only reply,“Yeah.”

Protesting the whole idea of a relationship between Echidna and Typhon, the blond warrior exclaimed, “Wow, that doesn’t make any sense at all. He’s so gentle and good-natured. I mean, uh--she’s a killer.” Iolaus just couldn’t believe what Hercules was saying could be true.

Rationalizing the situation, Hercules stressed to his friend, “Ah, but he loves her. It’s Hera that made Echidna the monster she is. Typhon insists she isn’t like that at all whenever he’s around.”

The only response from Iolaus was a deep sigh-“Ohh----.”

“I’ve got to tell him what happened at the lair and why I had to seal the entrance. He deserves to know the truth and it needs to come from me.” Hercules spoke these words to his friend, but they were really meant to further strengthen his resolve to do the right thing.

Iolaus’ next words evoked another deep sigh from Hercules. “Uh, it’d be easier to fight the Hydra again.”

“Except for one thing, Iolaus.”

‘Nothing could be worse than that.’ “What do you mean? You know actions speak louder than words. Give me a good fight any day over having to use words to explain something.”

“Normally, I’d agree, but the Hydra was one of Typhon’s children. What action could justify that? It’s not bad enough that Hera kept Echidna and Typhon apart all those years. She had to see to it that their kids turned evil as well. She destroyed the whole family. Now do you understand why he must hear about all of this from me--and hear soon?”

Realizing the dilemma facing his friend, Iolaus thought a moment and replied, “Oh--yes I do. This only strengthens my feeling that I have to be there for moral support when you tell him. I was there when all this happened, I need to be there when it ends.”

The grim, darkly dressed mercenaries passed by the picturesque waterfall and verdant shrubs, ferns, and trees as they searched for Echidna’s lair. “Not much farther,” Maceus shouted to his tired and disheveled men, ordering them to pick up the pace.

A hesitant Pylon whined in response, “How do you know Echidna won’t kill us?” Although Pylon uttered the words, they were the same ones racing through the minds of all the other thugs. They felt the same way but feared asking Maceus. Pylon’s fear of Echidna overcame his dread of incurring Maceus’ disfavor. Even the promise of Hera’s support hadn’t assuaged the panic the men felt.

Maceus scowled at Pylon and hissed, “She’ll be too busy getting ready to slaughter Hercules.” He flashed a look Pylon’s way that closed that discussion in a hurry.

Not an inch of open space could be seen as the wannabe warlord and his silent, dejected cronies approached what seemed to be a cave with an entrance totally blocked by rocks. “This can’t be it,” Pylon complained, shaking his head in disbelief.

Maceus opened his mouth to reply but the words never came. Instead he heard----“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh----!” a long, mournful, shrill, hair-rising wail that pierced the air from deep within the cave.

“Well, well, well--Hercules must have sealed Echidna in there. No wonder she didn’t come out to kill him,” Maceus scoffed, glancing at the cave and then at his cowering men, mocking their cowardice. Pylon broke the silence of the eerie mood with his child-like comment, “Yeah--but how do we get in?”

Not sure whether Pylon was mentally challenged or just a plain coward, Maceus shouted forcefully, “With the help of Hera,” giving Pylon another of those looks

Encouraged by finding the lair and by the sound of Echidna’s cry, Maceus instructed his men to settle in until some response came from Hera. The resourceful commander used the time to clean his fingernails with an evil-looking knife. His men amused themselves in various ways--talking and telling jokes, cleaning their equipment, but Pylon just paced back and forth. Finally, after much time had passed, he approached his leader. “How long do you plan on staying here, Maceus?” the shaken, second-in-command whimpered.

Getting right in Pylon’s face, Hera’s confident servant loudly taunted, “What’s the matter, Pylon? Don’t you believe? We’ll stay here as long as Hera wants us to!”

Pylon backed away, but still responded to his agitated leader’s command. “Yeah, sure--of course I believe. But waiting in front of a pile of rocks in the wet--it’s crazy!”

As the word crazy came from Pylon’s lips, a longer scream--more chilling than the first--came from Echidna. “Eyahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” All the men except Maceus shivered as the blood-curdling sound raised the hair on their arms.

“I don’t think Echidna likes your choice of words, Pylon. I certainly don’t!” Everyone felt the intensity of the last three words, but Pylon was the one who got the message. Again, he backed away, this time putting considerable distance between Maceus and himself.

Maceus glanced over the thugs, checking their reactions to the implied threat to Pylon. As he did so, he spotted a pale, shaking young man ducking behind some large rocks.

“Well--who do we have here?” He gestured to Pylon and two of the men to capture the uninvited guest and escort him to their leader. The gruff mercenary presented a formidable appearance to the visibly frightened youth as he ordered, “Come here, pilgrim.”

A tall, skinny young male carrying a knapsack was brought forward. “I didn’t mean no harm. I was just curious--that’s all. I just wanted to see what was goin’ on. Honest.” His statements were directed to Maceus, who greatly enjoyed the youth’s stammering, his shaking limbs, and his obvious discomfort.

“Then you don’t want to leave. The show’s just about to start.”

Pylon never learned. Again he spoke out in a mocking tone, apparently questioning his commander’s words. “You sound pretty sure of that.”

Suddenly, thunder roared, bringing with it brilliant flashes of lightning. Maceus put his finger up into the air where it was immediately struck by a bolt of lightning that he directed to the cave entrance. The rocks blocking the entrance were either pulverized or blasted away from the door, leaving a clear passage into the lair.

Maceus glared again at the dumbstruck Python. “Satisfied? If there’s anything else you’d like to say, I’m sure Echidna would be glad to hear it.” Pylon froze in his tracks, speechless. Turning to the trembling young intruder, the smug leader commanded, “As for you, get to Plinth as fast as your banty legs can carry you. And tell Hercules that Hera has set Echidna free.”

“Yes sir,” stammered the intimidated youth as he stumbled forward, gathering his possessions and racing away from the would-be warlord and his men, receiving a kick in the butt as he sped passed the men.

A subdued Pylon tempted fate once more commenting to his beaming, cocky commander, “Hercules will know it’s a trap.”

“Of course he will, you moron, but he’ll come anyway. The fool always acts like he can’t be beaten.” An evil laugh escaped Maceus’ lips as he continued, “I’m sure Echidna will agree with that.”

Six men stood in awe of what they had just seen, but Pylon wasn’t sure what had happened. Maceus simply reveled in the events Hera had brought about. “You men remain here while I go in to tell Echidna that Hercules will soon be here.” His men were overjoyed to wait outside, willing to give the originator of those wild screams a wide berth.

Hercules and Iolaus continued strolling along the street in the brilliant sunshine, receiving handshakes and congratulations from the citizens of Plinth who had not attended the party and from those who just wanted to thank the heroes again. Normally, all of this would have been enjoyable for the two heroes at any other time, but Iolaus knew his pal churned inside, not knowing what lay ahead. Trying to make it easier for his tormented friend, Iolaus asked, “Herc, do you really have to do this?”

Sighing deeply, Herc responded “Unfortunately, yes I do.”

“Okay, but at least let me be there when you talk to Typhon--you know, for moral support. Iolaus had pledged to be at Herc’s side in battle, so being at his side in this trouble just seemed natural to the blond warrior.

“Thanks, buddy, but I really gotta handle this by myself.”

“Look, there’s Typhon!” remarked Iolaus, temporarily changing the subject as they saw the giant towering over a group of people gathered at the edge of town. The two friends hurried to see what their friend was up to this time and found him helping repair a building damaged when the last warlord had attacked the village.

“I got it!” the giant cried out as he lifted a large branch off the roof.

The Son of Zeus quickly assessed the situation. When he saw what Typhon was doing, he chuckled and with a smile in his voice commented to his pal, “You know, Iolaus, if he’s not careful, he’s going to kill them with his kindness.”

His partner shook his head in agreement and called out to the giant, “Hey, Typhon! Let us give you a hand with that, okay?”

Glancing over in their direction, Typhon grinned at the sight of his two new friends, recognizing that the pair of heroes was actually offering to help him--the one whose feet had almost cost them yesterday’s victory. “Oh, great! he shouted, positively glowing with their acceptance of him. Unfortunately, in his desire to please and to accept the help offered, he let go of the branch--causing it to crash down on the damaged house roof and collapsing the entire structure.

“Oh, Typhon,” a sympathetic Iolaus groaned, joined in his response by the throng of assembled villagers.

Typhon uttered another familiar “Oh, no!” and then gasped “Sorry, I did it again!” Hanging his head in embarrassment, the humiliated man backed away from the villagers, not wanting to hear their comments or see the disappointment in their eyes. Nor did he want to acknowledge that he’d let his new friends down after they’d tried so hard to help him gain acceptance in the village.

Prepared to ingratiate himself with Echidna by bringing her good news, Maceus entered the lair, quietly inching along--not fully aware of what he’d find in there nor what his reception would be. He was glad the rocks and shadows provided him a sense of security and safety until he could acclimate himself to the surroundings and see just what to do.

Hopefully, Hera and his good news would protect him from Echidna’s wrath.

“Who is it? Who’s there? Eyyyyyaaaaahhhhhhhhh!” This screeching, banshee-like cry from the Mother-of-All-Monsters stopped Maceus cold in his tracks-- frozen to the spot by the sound, a cross between the Siren’s dangerous song and a banshee’s wail.

When Echidna appeared in front of him, Maceus responded to her questions in his usual gruff way, “It’s Maceus--you know, the brother of Demetrius.”

Echidna slithered closer and after inspecting him from all angles jeered, “He got the looks. I hope you got the brains.”

Her insults didn’t seem to faze Maceus. Boldly he asserted, “You’re proof that I did, Echidna. I convinced Hera to free you from your imprisonment.”

Shaking her head and flexing her many tentacles, the enraged green monster ignored the arrogant, puffed up mercenary’s boasts, screaming, “Freedom is not enough. I want revenge--revenge on Hercules for taking my babies from me!” Tears had formed in her eyes at the mention of her loss, revealing the depth of her grief over the loss of her children.

“Hercules will be here.” Maceus hoped this promise would be enough to placate the monster and make her realize he was on her side.

Echidna kept him in suspense, staring at him for a moment. “If he is not, YOU will take his place!” she threatened.

Typhon continued in his effort to apologize to the villagers. “I am sorry--I am so sorry. I-am--”

“Typhon. I really need to talk to you about Echidna.” Hercules knew there was no time like the present to get things out in the open and tell his friend the circumstances that had occurred while he was Hera’s prisoner.

Taking a break from his apologies, the gentle giant agreed. “Okay.”

But it wasn’t to be. Just as the discussion between the two began, a loud “Hercules, Hercules,” interrupted the conversation when the frightened young man sent by Maceus came running into the village. “Hercules, Hercules, Hercules,” he yelled as he ran toward Typhon, Iolaus, and Hercules--eyeing the giant as he approached the trio.

“Hey, you. Take it easy,” Iolaus advised, slowing the youth down by taking his arm and smiling, informing the breathless young man, “This is Hercules.”

“What’s wrong?” Hercules tried to calm the frightened messenger, but his efforts had little effect on the trembling boy.

Whimpering and stuttering, the lad struggled to deliver Maceus’ message to the demigod. “I--uh, it’s Echidna. Hera unsealed her lair.” The tempo of his words increased as he spoke. “I--I saw it with my own eyes. There were warriors there too.”

“Some warriors! That’s got to be Maceus and his men,” Iolaus pointed out, remembering only too well that Maceus and his goons were anything but warriors.

“Yeah, I think you’re right, Iolaus,” Herc replied, glancing at Typhon to see what effect the news was making on the giant. He didn’t have long to wait to know how Typhon felt.

“Uh--what do you mean, ‘Hera unsealed Echidna’s lair?’ ” The stammering giant’s face was an open book with its pages spread. The mention of Hera’s name had brought back all kinds of painful memories for him and opened new wounds once he heard of Echidna’s problem.” Go on,” he urged the young man.

“Hercules left her there after they fought. I thought everybody knew that.”

A mixture of rage and betrayal imprinted itself on the pages of Typhon’s book for all to see. The giant looked down at Hercules, the hurt and pain clearly reflected in his eyes as he thought his new friend had mistreated his wife. “You shouldn’t have done that, Hercules.”

Knowing this was just one more thing Typhon had to suffer, Hercules damned Hera for making it necessary for him to imprison Echnida. “I had to do it, Typhon,” the suffering warrior sighed.

“You had to hurt a woman? Then you’re not as nice as I thought you were.” In Typhon’s book now, only the rage remained--rage at Hercules for the injustice done to Typhon and Echidna.

“I didn’t hurt her. She was going to kill my mother. I had to fix it so Echidna wouldn’t harm her or anyone else.” Hercules pleaded with the giant to understand what he’d had to do and to remember Hera was the cause of it all.

Rushing to stand in front of the fuming giant, Iolaus insisted, “It’s true, Typhon. I saw her almost kill him.”

Glaring down at the blond warrior, Typhon snarled, “Stop it! I don’t wanna- hear it,” covering his ears as Iolaus began to speak again.

Hoping to restore reason and a sense of normal behavior to their friend, Iolaus begged the infuriated giant, “Typhon, wait! Wait a minute.” Typhon uncovered his ears just as Iolaus concluded, “Listen to him!”

Typhon’s reaction was far from what the hunter sought. Without warning, Typhon reached down and backhanded Iolaus. The warrior’s body gracefully arced far across the field, landing roughly head first with a thud heard all the way back to place of origin. Iolaus lay still, not moving a muscle.

The bellicose giant stomped away from the village as fast as he could, never once glancing at his unconscious victim.

IOLAUS!” Hercules raced to his friend’s side and knelt beside him, checking for a pulse. Finding it, he very carefully cradled his friend’s motionless body in his lap, making sure he didn’t aggravate any injury that might have occurred. “Can you hear me, Iolaus? Come on, I’ve seen you take better punches than that.” No response came from the fallen warrior.

Townspeople shook off the fear the giant’s rage had renewed in them and ran to offer their help. Pushing her way through the crowd, Breanna soon knelt by Hercules and Iolaus, placing her hand tenderly on the hunter’s knee. A shaky voice revealed her fright as she gasped in a faltering voice, “What happened, Hercules?”

Seeing Breanna’s concern, Hercules reached toward her hand and started to answer her question--”He--”

“The giant went crazy,” Septus interrupted before Hercules had time to finish his sentence. “Well, that’s what everyone is saying.”

Iolaus stirred and held his head as he began to respond to Herc and Breanna’s attention. The dazed look lasted just a short time, then he began shaking his head to remove the cobwebs from his mind and checking his teeth to see if they were in place. He struggled to get up but was restrained by his partner and his friend.

“No, they are wrong!” Hercules stated emphatically. We were talking about Typhon’s wife and things got a little out of control.”

“A little out of control? Come on, Hercules, who’s the big lunatic’s wife anyway--the Queen of Corsica?” jeered Septus.

From the ground came the answer as Iolaus interjected his dinar’s worth--”No, it’s Echidna.”

In unison, the assembled villagers groaned a loud “Oh!” This news was definitely not what they wanted to hear; it made their feeling of safety short-lived.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Hercules grabbed his partner’s hand-“Welcome back. You’ve had a rough couple of days, haven’t you?”

Iolaus responded to his friend’s words with a brilliant smile rivaling the brightness of the sun on this golden day and a nod of his head. His eyes turned to Breanna, taking her hand in his as she insisted, “You’ll be all right--I know you will.” Iolaus squeezed her hand and with a devilish glint in his eyes promised retribution for her trick last night. His captivating smile was meant to allay the fears of both of his friends, and it worked.

“Forget about your friend, Hercules.” An indignant Hercules, a dumbfounded Iolaus, and an infuriated Breanna stared at Septus, not believing what they’d just heard him say.

Breanna was the first to speak to her father. “No, Poppa!” she protested in a strong voice unfamiliar to her father.

Septus ignored his daughter’s reaction and attempted to defend his comments. “What about us? Have we gotta live in fear that we’ll wind up in Echidna’s path?”

“I’ll deal with her just as soon as I’m sure Iolaus is all right!” No doubt existed as to Hercules’ intentions. His friend’s well- being came first with him.

The demigod’s words did little to allay Septus’ fears, calm his nerves, or ease his anger. “You just can’t deal with her. You will have to kill her.”

Vehemently opposed to killing unless it was in self-defense, the hero rebuked Septus. “Killing never solved anything!”

Septus foolishly continued his tirade. “No, but--how else are you going to stop her?”

Iolaus had listened to Septus’ remarks as long as he could. No longer able to sit quietly, he had to speak out in his partner’s defense. “Hercules will find a way if you give him a chance.” Struggling to get to his feet, Iolaus continued, “I could use a hand up if that’s not too much trouble.”

“Are you sure?” Hercules asked, still concerned about a possible concussion or other injuries.

“Yeah, I am.” With the strong arms of his pal helping, the groggy warrior stood--swaying at first, but regaining his balance. He soon stood on his own, very carefully and under the watchful eyes of his best friend.

Hercules knew Iolaus’ trick of covering up pain, so he was still concerned and requested of Breanna, “Take care of him, Breanna; I won’t be gone too long.” Breanna smiled knowingly and took Iolaus’ arm.

Gently, Iolaus removed Breanna’s hand from his arm. His eyes caught hers, showing her his resolve and letting her know he had seen the mirror! To his partner, Iolaus scolded, “You’re not going anywhere without me, Herc.”

Breanna then realized what the hunter ‘s eyes had been saying. “No, Iolaus--the next time you might get killed.”

“I think you should stay,” urged Hercules, agreeing with Breanna.

Iolaus determinedly shook his head. Looking his best friend straight in the eyes, he recalled for Herc a similar incident when the shoe was on the other foot. “Wait a second. Remember the state you were in when we last fought Echidna? It’s my turn to be a mess, that’s all.”

Seeing the determination on his heart-brother’s face and in his eyes and remembering vividly the encounter mentioned, Hercules sighed--”All right, then--let’s go.”

Hercules started away in the direction Typhon had gone with Iolaus following, but the hunter stopped in front of the lovely Breanna who stood there, not knowing what to expect as he took her into his arms and kissed her tenderly at first. Her eyes widened as right there in front of her family, friends, and the entire village the kiss grew more passionate as it lengthened. ‘Now we are even!’ He flashed her one final grin, and then ran to catch up with Hercules, listening to comments of the villagers as he left. “Oh, did you see that?” and the response, “I sure did!” A broad smile broke out on Iolaus’ face.

“At least your lips are working, “Hercules laughed as his partner reached his side.

With the broad smile still on his face and a twinkle in his eye, Iolaus replied, “That’s not all that’s working!”

Pylon and the rest of the mercenaries grew impatient waiting outside Echidna’s lair for Maceus to emerge from his encounter with Typhon’s wife. The sudden appearance of Typhon brightened their mood and took their minds off the long wait. “There he is, the big oaf!” ridiculed Pylon as he spied the giant and remembered the near-fatal mistake the huge man had made during the fight.

A second thug, easily bored with watching the giant, questioned,” But where is Hercules?”

“He’ll be along, him and that smart-mouthed friend of his,” Pylon smirked, his lips curling into a snarl at the mention of Iolaus. “Watch for them! I’m going in to tell Maceus the fun’s about to begin.” Pylon strutted off into the lair, delighted to be able to take Maceus some good news.

Hercules and Iolaus hurried along a path lined with lush green plants and trees on their journey from town to their destination--Echidna’s lair. Still bewildered by the marriage of the two total opposites, Iolaus continued to express his concern to his buddy.

“How could a sweet, innocent guy like Typhon get hooked up with the likes of Echidna?”

Hercules’ response emphasized his belief that there is good in all beings. “Go figure. I guess there is someone for everyone.”

“Yeah, but those two?” The hunter tentatively agreed with his partner, but shook his head, dumbfounded by the thought of them together.

Snickering at Iolaus’ reaction, Hercules added, “He says Echidna’s a completely different woman when he’s around. It’s when he’s gone that her mean streak starts showing through.”

Turning to his friend, the blond warrior scoffed, “Come on, Herc. I don’t care how lovey dovey they get. She’s going to remember how you left her trapped in that lair.” Iolaus felt a sudden chill come over him, thinking about the dangers that lay ahead for them in the second meeting with Echidna. The hunter in him cried out that you don’t separate a mother and her children--whether it be animal or human--and get away without paying a price.

“Uh, I don’t think she forgot. We also have Maceus and his men to worry about. Hercules’ mention of Maceus came with a momentary glimmer of apprehension for himself, but an even stronger foreboding for Iolaus who knew only too well what Maceus was capable of and still bore the injuries to prove it. These thoughts of Maceus slowed Iolaus’ pace and he realized he was a short distance behind his partner.

Soon catching up with his partner, Iolaus attempted to lighten the mood and the tone of their bantering. “Oh, yeah, Maceus. Hey, Herc~”

Hercules stopped when he realized his partner had caught up with him. “Hmmm. What did you say? ” Iolaus posed a rhetorical question. “Are you going to let him kill you?”

Chuckling, Hercules jokingly answered, “Nah, I don’t think so.”

The partners trekked on, laughing as they went, enjoying this time together thinking all Tartaurus could soon break loose.

Still waiting outside Echidna’s lair, the mercenaries clustered in two groups as they awaited the arrival of the two heroes and their chance to redeem themselves in Maceus’ eyes. Typhon is their object of quiet ridicule, none of them willing to make comments directly to the giant. It was a case of talking about the man as if he weren’t even there. Their attention shifted as Maceus and Pylon returned from deep within the lair to join the rest of the group.

First to vocally acknowledge the appearance of the two men, Typhon called out, “Where’s my wife? Where’s Echidna?”

The wannabe warlord patronizingly responded, “Right where she’s always been, my friend.”

The giant stared at Maceus, trying to place his face. “I know you,” he bellowed, his face coming alive as he recognized the man. “You’re the man who tried to hurt Hercules.”

Angered by Typhon’s accusation, Maceus pointed out “Yes, and I’m the man who saved your wife too. Indicating the pile of rocks near the cave entrance, Maceus continued, “See that? That’s what stood between Echidna and the rest of the world until my warriors and I removed them with our hands, rock by miserable rock. And, you know who trapped her there? Hercules!” Maceus’ anger increased with each word and his voice grew louder and louder. Maceus knew he had to convince Typhon of the need for revenge, and he used his indignation as a tool to achieve his goal, hoping to whip the giant into a frenzy. Much to his surprise and chagrin, the giant grew gentle again, not enraged as the mercenary intended. Typhon pulled the plug on Maceus’ plan with his response.

“He already told me. Now, let me see my wife!” the giant demanded.

“You’ll see her, Typhon,” the lead mercenary insisted, not giving up on Hera’s plan, but first, Hercules must be punished for what he’s done to you and your wife. Maceus paused, allowing the giant time to digest his words.

“He never hurt me. He set me free after I was held prisoner by Hera for all those years,” the giant stated emphatically.

Maceus’ face reddened and his eyes flashed in anger as Typhon defended his hated enemy and showed no interest in punishing the warrior. Maceus growled, “So what! He didn’t do it until he trapped Echidna down in the bowels of the Earth. And I’ll tell ya something else, Hercules killed all your kids, too!”

Typhon recoiled at this piece of news, pulling away from Maceus. “My kids?”

“That’s right,” scoffed the angry goon, “every last one of ‘em.”

“No, that can’t be true/ I would have known.” The giant felt suddenly small at that moment, smaller than he’d ever felt in his life when he realized he wasn’t there to help save his kids or to provide comfort for his wife. ‘All my kids? How had Echidna survived such a blow?’ Typhon knew she must be hurting and felt a stronger than ever urge to be with her.

“Well. Typhon, there’s one way you can right all these wrongs. You’ve got to kill Hercules,” Maceus instructed the forlorn giant.

‘Something just doesn’t seem right. I need more time to think this out.’

Hercules and Iolaus approached the area surrounding the lair, still engaged in conversation. Realizing that Iolaus hadn’t babbled once since they left Plinth, Hercules was conscious of his friend’s old hunter’s tricks being used as the blond warrior constantly searched right and left, forward and backward, in the trees and bushes--everywhere!

“You know, Herc, just once I’d like to see us sneaking up on someone. Wouldn’t that be a nice change?”

“But think of all the fun you’d miss, Iolaus,” the demigod teased his partner.

Iolaus just snickered, “Yeah, like being watched” Your idea of fun and mine must be different.” The tall half-god sighed, “You noticed!” He watched Iolaus continually seek out any additional spies as they grew closer to the lair.

“It’s a force of habit. Herc. Once a hunter, always a hunter and always using hunter’s tricks.”

“Wanna turn back?” Hercules asked anticipating his partner’s usual response to that question.

“Yeah,” the blond warrior replied, laughing out loud as he continued forward down the path. Turning back was not an option, even though the two heroes were pretty certain what lay ahead for them. Iolaus actually looked forward to a rematch with Maceus and his men and smiled in anticipation of the meeting.

Hercules also looked forward to the meeting--to avenge Iolaus’ torture and for his own personal reasons.

Hightailing it back to the lair, Maceus’ spy arrived just as Maceus ended his unsatisfying conversation with Typhom. “He’s coming! Hercules is coming!”

“Now you can get your revenge, Typhon,” Maceus promised.

“Whoa, I’m a lover, not a fighter.” The giant was adamant in his remarks, making it very clear to Maceus that he had no intention of fighting Hercules or anyone else.

TYPHON!” The name rang out loud and clear as Hercules and Iolaus reached the site.

Maceus drew the giant’s attention away from the newly arrived duo the only way he could. “You’re not gonna fight him, Echidna is. All you have to do is lure him into the cave. Now, come on! Maceus shouted.

Those were the wrong words for Maceus to use. ‘I don’t want Echidna to harm or kill anyone and she won’t if I am there with her.’ “Hey, now wait just a minute.”

Hercules admonished his friend, “Stay right where you are, Typhon.”

The unscrupulous Maceus knew what would get the giant into the cave. “Come on Typhon, your wife awaits,” he sweet-talked, enticing the giant with words he couldn’t resist.

The mention of Echidna’s name and the promise of a reunion with her were more than Typhon could handle. He glanced at the two warriors with a ‘what can I do?’ look and turned to follow Maceus. Forgetting that he was too tall to enter the cave without ducking, he ran headfirst into the upper part of the opening--knocking himself backward onto the ground. “Ouch! Oh! Owww!.”

A disgusted Maceus berated the clumsy giant, “Pick yourself up. I’ll go warn Echidna,” and he dashed off into the lair.

Hercules and Iolaus started toward Typhon but encountered a belligerent Pylon who couldn’t wait to taunt Iolaus. Sneering, he jeered, “If we eat you first, Echidna can chew on your bones!”

Iolaus took up the challenge, drew his sword, and charged into Pylon and three other goons, shouting to Hercules, “Charming, isn’t he?”

“Very!” Hercules mocked. disposing of a thug who had charged into him and turning to hold off another Straight-arming him, sending him staggering back into Typhon. The giant again crashed into the ground.

Pylon landed a blow to Iolaus’ jaw, but that’s the only one he threw that did. The golden hunter was ready for the next punch and counteracted with a series of kicks that sent the slow witted goon sprawling flat on his back, bringing a smile to the hunter’s face as he paid Pylon back for his part in the torture.

One desperate mercenary jumped on the half-god’s back, expecting to bring Hercules to his knees but the warrior reached back, grabbed his attacker’s shoulders and sent him sailing through the air right into two of his buddies. All three went down.

A golden whirlwind swung around, headbutted an attacker coming after him from the back, and used the goon as a battering ram to knock down two more advancing goons. “Don’t these guys ever stay down?” he yelled, grabbing the arm of a bandit he’d already disposed of but who came again, this time with a large, ugly club. The warrior grabbed the arm with the club and twisted it, knocking the club away. Iolaus twisted the arm repeatedly, gaining great satisfaction in returning the pain he’d felt when his arm was broken. He kept twisting while he watched a goon climb on his buddy’s shoulders as they prepared to rush Hercules. The Son of Zeus had taken a long spear away from a mercenary trying to use it on him. He knocked the spear’s owner away with the end of his own spear and then used it to trip the tandem duo, hurling them to the ground.

“Whoo! Hey, nice move, Herc.” Iolaus complimented his partner, still twisting the arm of the cringing thug as he did.

“Thanks. Can you handle the rest by yourself?”

“Ha, is the Aegean Sea wet?” his grinning partner jested. giving one last damaging twist as he wrapped up his punishment of the shaking man.

Hercules smiled at Iolaus, knowing he was leaving things in very capable hands and stepped over to the still prostrate Typhon, hoping to clear up the misconceptions the giant had about his treatment of Echidna

“What are you gonna do to me?” Typhon asked, expecting the worst.

Hercules realized the giant was expecting some type of punishment, if for no other reason than the way he’d treated Iolaus ."Nothin,” he assured his friend. “Now, please just listen to me. This is all Hera’s plot to get Echidna to kill me. You were just the bait to lure me here.”

“Are you gonna kill her like you killed my kids?” the giant sighed, causing Hercules a painful moment.

“No, Typhon. I’ll do everything can to keep her alive.” The injustice of the situation weighed heavily on Hercules. He thought how wrong it had been for Hera to tear this family apart.

In a voice near the breaking point and with his eyes brimming with tears, the gentle giant whimpered to Hercules. “But you did kill my kids, didn’t you?”

The warrior pleaded with his friend as he tried to explain. “They didn’t give me a choice, Typhon! What else could I do?”

The giant choked back a sob, “Not even one of ‘em?”

Typhon’s words cut deep in Hercules’ soul. He knew what it was like to lose a child. “Hera had them under her control. There was no way they could do anything good.”

“But it was Hera that kept me away from my family. She’s my enemy.”

“Your kids didn’t know that. And Echidna didn’t either,” Hercules responded to the giant’s agonizing comments.

“Is Hera controlling Echidna too, Hercules?”

The tall warrior, dreading what he had to say, admitted, “I’m afraid she is!”

Typhon’s tears and sobs disappeared. “Them, I’ve got to go in there. Echidna will be good when she sees me," insisted a beaming Typhon.

Hercules breathed s huge sigh of relief. “Then, let’s go!”

The giant rose and followed Hercules to the cave entrance. Again he slammed into the top of the entrance

Pylon stood directly in the path of the falling giant, frozen to the spot as he saw Typhon plummeting toward him. The force of the huge body pounded the screaming mercenary into the ground.

“Typhon,” Hercules shouted.

His answer--”Mmmmmm---ahhhhhhhhh! Uhhhhhh” the giant sighed as things went totally black.

“I’ll wake you when it’s over,” the demigod exclaimed as he headed into the lair.

Familiar with the lair from his previous visit, Hercules carefully made his way into the cave, expecting to see and hear the monster at any time. He wasn’t disappointed. A shadow outlined by the torches burning along the caves walls slithered out into the open--the Mother of all Monsters herself.

“So, Her--cu--lees! Have you come back to die?” she screamed, eager to oblige. After waiting for such a long time, the excited creature could hardly keep herself from attacking the enemy she blamed for her children’s deaths.

Hercules answered her immediately, seeing and sensing her wrath. “Not exactly!” He then adeptly changed the subject, hoping to sidetrack Typhon’s wife until he could explain the truth and until the giant could be reunited with his love. “So, where have you hidden the coward Maceus?”

“You won’t live long enough to care!”

“We’ll see, Echidna!” Hercules threatened. “Oh, by the way, your husband is outside.” The demigod’s words infuriated the monster even more.

“How dare you mention Typhon.!" Just as she approached Hercules with hatred and rage flaming in her eyes, a loud cry echoed throughout the walls of the cave. Maceus had come out of hiding,

The newest minion of Hera, sword drawn, advanced toward the warrior, ready to dispose of the Son of Zeus. --fulfilling Hera’s and his own ultimate goal. “Ahhhhhhhhh!” he shrieked, lunging at Hercules.

The half-god dodged the thrust and in a flying kick, knocked the weapon from the thug’s hand, sending him reeling into the wall headfirst--stunning him.

Echidna grabbed a sword from the bony hand of a skeleton reclining against a rock in one of her tentacles and picked up a second sword lying on the ground. She lunged at Hercules, intending to thrust them into the weaponless warrior, but he grabbed a large thick club and met Echidna head on. “Ahhhhh” screamed the green monster, thrusting again. Again, Hercules countered the strikes of both swords

Frustrated by her inability to kill her enemy, an enraged Echidna screamed again, shriller and louder than before.” Eyahhhhhhhh!” as her protruding tentacles made another lunge toward Hercules.

“Kill him, Echidna” rang from the corner. Hercules had two attackers to contend with again, but Echidna had to be dealt with first.

“You escaped me once. You won’t again! Ahhhhhhh---,” the mother of Typhon’s children screamed, advancing toward Hercules again.

Hercules broke his club into two pieces and again foiled her murderous thrusts.

“A-ha! Mmmmm-wah!” Iolaus shouted, twisting the attacker’s arm one more time; then, he suddenly let go. He overwhelmed the goon with a wallop from his good arm. He finished the thug off with several well-delivered punches. The blond warrior glanced around and found no mercenary still standing. ‘That takes care of them.’

Once Typhon awoke, he lay perfectly still, afraid to move. “Uh oh!” he cried out, knowing something was wrong. Getting to his knees, he looked below him and saw a deep, human-shaped hole, still smoldering. “Where’d he go?”

An amused Iolaus giggled, “You don’t wanna know!” ‘Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”

The hunter helped Typhon to his feet and the two headed toward the lair, Iolaus reminding Typhon to duck this time.

“You must pay for what you did to my children and me!” Echidna threatened Hercules and came at him again. The hero matched her blows and knocked one of the swords from her tentacle.

Echidna backed off, then made another run at the warrior. Hercules saw her coming and stepped out of her path. The force of her movement carried her passed him, directly into the path of Maceus who was sneaking up behind Hercules to run him through from the rear. Evil met evil, and Maceus was impaled on Echidna’s sword. “ Echidna,” he screamed, eyes widening in disbelief as his life slipped away.

“Look what you made me do!” Echidna pouted and slapped her tentacles against the rocks like a small child who’d lost her favorite agate in a game of marbles.

“Don’t expect an apology,” Hercules protested, startled by the monster’s behavior.

Just as Echidna started to reply, Typhon’s voice bellowed. “Honey, I’m home!” Did we make it in time?” Iolaus quipped, stepping over the body of Maceus.

The belligerent monster’s demeanor and voice softened when she saw her husband who’d left so long ago--never seen or heard from again until today. “Typhon, is it you?” Echidna’s voice echoed her pain. She continued pleading, “Where on earth have you been?” not knowing whether to hug him or hit him for being away so long.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I would have been back ages ago, but Hera kept me prisoner. It was Hercules who set me free.” The ecstatic giant motioned to his friend, thanking him with his eyes and the tone of his voice.

Echidna screamed, Mb>“Hercules? He’s the one who--”

Typhon interrupted his wife,” I know about the kids. It was all Hera’s fault. She’s the one who made them all do bad things. Hercules is just trying to make the world a better place.”

Echidna, listening lovingly and attentively to her husband’s every word, found it hard to believe them, but she knew he would never lie to her. She turned to Hercules, a puzzled look on her face, ready to speak.

Hercules beat her to it. “I would have told you if you’d given me a chance!”

“But Hera--” Echidna started to protest, but stopped when she saw the look on Typhon’s face and the love in his eyes.

“Hera wanted to keep you and Typhon apart because she knew how angry it would make you!”

As the Son of Zeus revealed his stepmother’s plan for Typhon and herself, Echidna formed a new opinion of the vicious goddess. Hatred blazed in her eyes, then tears replaced the hatred as she groaned “And it did! I’ve been such a fool and I’ve done such horrible things!” A sound escaped her lips--not the usual shrill scream; this time it was a low guttural moan from deep within. Her soul cried out for forgiveness.

The monster, agonizing over her mistakes, glanced toward her husband, her eyes pleading with him to forgive and understand her.

Typhon ended her suspense--”But I still love you, Echidna.”

Overwhelmed by his response, Echidna waved her tentacles, motioning to her beloved husband. “You do? Then come here, lover boy,” she commanded in her most seductive voice.

“Oh, baby! You’re the greatest!” and Typhon rushed to his wife, taking her in his arms

“Oh, oh!” Echidna moaned, running her tentacles through his hair and over his body.

The giant chuckled and responded to his wife’s romantic overtures. “Oooh, it’s been so long!”

Hercules and Iolaus stood by, a bit uncomfortable, watching the reunion. “Oh, those tentacles,” Iolaus gasped, imagining what it must be like to have them caressing your skin.

“Yeah, I just hope they can stay together forever,” Hercules commented, seeing the change in Echidna once Typhon was with her.

Iolaus nodded in agreement, “Yeah”, remembering first hand what the giant was like when he was worried about his wife.

Echidna and Typhon continued their reunion, becoming more romantic with every kiss.

“I need you, Typhon,” Echidna breathed in her husband’s ear.

“Oh, you’re---” the beaming giant sighed as Echidna’s tentacles drew him into a closer embrace.

With a devilish glint in his eyes, Iolaus turned to his partner, teasing “Uh, well it looks like we’re finished here. Do you think they’ll miss us if we hit the road?”

“They’ll never notice,” Hercules agreed with a sigh and a look of satisfaction.

Sounds of the happy couple reverberated throughout the lair bringing laughter from both of the warriors as they made their way out of the lair. Echidna’s voice tenderly called out. “Oh, Typhon. Ohhhh!” Typhon’s response, “Mmmm, ohhh! Ohhhhhh!” Then there was silence!

EPILOGUE

The partners squinted as their eyes adjusted to the brilliant sunshine. Looking around, not one of Maceus’ men had stayed once their leader and their second in command were dead.

Iolaus immediately took off practically running back toward Plinth, leaving his puzzled partner staring down the path at his disappearing partner.

“Hey, Iolaus. Wait up.” His buddy either didn’t hear him or chose to ignore him. A bit miffed by the hunter’s actions. Hercules increased his pace and called again. “Stop a minute. We need to talk.”

Still no response from his friend, so the half-god turned off his mortal speed and overtook Iolaus, roughly stopping the warrior by grabbing a handful of his vest. His partner glared at Hercules.

“Iolaus, what’s bothering you? Why are you headed back to Plinth?”

“Okay, you really want to know? You’re not going to like what I have to say,” the hunter commented, giving Hercules a chance to change his mind about wanting an answer.

The Son of Zeus nodded, waiting impatiently for an explanation.

“I didn’t say anything before because we had a job to do. But now--,” Iolaus paused to pick just the right words. “I thought we had agreed that you’d stop making decisions for me and treating me like I wasn’t even around.”

Hercules started to interrupt, but his best friend cut him short. “No, just listen to me!” You never even asked whether I wanted to stay with Breanna while you went off to be a big hero again. Didn’t you think I’d worry about you? No, in front of all those people, you just decided I was to stay, even asking Breanna to look after me. How do you think that made me feel? There I was standing right there by your side, but you acted as though I were invisible. That’s what’s bothering me!”

“Now for question number two. Don’t you think the people of Plinth deserve to know that Maceus is dead and that Echidna is no longer a threat? So there!”

The agitated warrior ended his remarks, finally giving his pal a chance to speak.

“You are absolutely right, Iolaus! It really was wrong of me to ignore you and worse to ask Breanna to babysit you. I was only looking out for your well-being and I never thought it would trouble you. I guess I just didn’t think--that’s the problem! If our places were reversed, I’d be furious with you. I am so sorry that I didn’t live up to my promise. You can be sure I’ll think twice before I act the next time!”

Hercules offered his hand to his friend. For a brief moment, he was afraid his partner wasn’t going to accept his apology.

“Did I hear the Son of Zeus say he was wrong about something? Will wonders never cease!” Iolaus’ solemn face broke out into a roguish grin and he not only shook his friend’s hand, but he also gave him a hug and thanked him for the apology. “There’s another reason I’m headed for Plinth. I have some unfinished business there that needs to be settled. You’ve never known me to run away from a challenge, have you?” The hunter quickly turned and headed again toward Plinth with a new springy bounce in every step. Hercules didn’t even get a chance to respond.

Iolaus’ mischievous grin and sparkling blue eyes made his friend wonder what’s going on, but gave him no clue. Whatever it is, the warrior’s happy to see his best friend so high-spirited and ready to take on a challenge, whatever it might be. The demigod hurried to catch up with his friend. ‘He’ll tell me about it when the time is right. I’m betting a woman is involved!”

“Come on Herc, hurry up. I’ve got a date with a mirror!”

Finis

Disclaimer: No mirrors were broken during the writing of this story.

(Author’s Notes)

Thanks to Owlharp for allowing me to use her Cast a Giant Shadow missing scene story verbatim. It just fit perfectly into the concept I envisioned for this episode. The words thank you alone can’t express my gratitude to Arianna for so many things: her ideas, her words, her constructive criticism, but most of all for her undying patience with me and her friendship. Thanks also to Ceryn for giving me the chance to write and for all her help.



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