The End of the Beginning

by Baisden

Story originally written for Hercules: the Legendary Journeys by: Paul Robert Coyle

The room in the castle was becoming dim as the last rays of light signaled the end of another day, the guard ushered the patrons out of the room that once served as the vault to a king. It was closing time for the museum and it's collection of artifacts; treasures that used to belong to King Quallus.

The guard walked by the premier piece of the collection, a green stone. Its conical form swirled up to a peak and sat on a golden base one an even more elaborate pedestal.

"It's closing time. The Quallus collection will re-open for viewing tomorrow," he announced as he walked by a life-sized statue of Hermes. The statue of the messenger of the gods sported its familiar winged shoes and hat and was posed as if running to Marathon.

A woman, admiring the chalky statue said, "How lifelike- you can practically hear him breathe."

The guard didn't have patience with the woman. He was ready to quit his shift, and felt a certain loathing for the menial task of ensuring the artifacts in the museum didn't mysteriously walk off. "Don't you understand Greek? Come back and ogle tomorrow."

Another guard ushered out several other patrons out of the museum. "Come on. Come on."

Before leaving the museum, the guard surveyed the silent artifacts in the room. His eyes rested on the messenger of the gods. Regarding the statue of Hermes once more, the guard could almost imagine the fisted arm of the winged-footed god turning imperceptibly. "Nah," he reasoned and then turned to the other guard. "Okay, let's lock her up."

When the doors closed, flames around the green stone grew in size as they surrounded and protected the stone from theft.

Autolycus waited for the sound of a lock clicking, a sound the King of Thieves was intimately familiar with, before he pulled off the winged hat of Hermes and shook the white dust off of him. All too pleased with himself, he said "Yeah, ho, ho, ho! Oh, one of these days, they're going to erect a statue to you, Autolycus."

Autolycus sneezed and wiped the powder from his sleeves, "Ooh, that mercury dust."

"Good Work," Hercules said as he patted the villager on the shoulder. They had just finished re-building the home for an old woman who had lost hers in a tragic fire.

"Thanks, Hercules. That would've taken us all day if you and Iolaus didn't help us," the man said as he walked through the square with the demigod and his partner.

"Well, the day is still young, Hemnor," Hercules teased, finding the task of helping the villager's particularly satisfying.

Hercules looked around the village of Ceryneia. It was the village he and Serena called home, and the villagers were like an extended family.

Hemnor and Iolaus watched the bright eyes of the demigod suddenly turn sad.

"You okay?" Iolaus asked as seemed to focus on a vision that seemed so far away. Iolaus could feel his grief.

Hercules' gaze disconnected from the diaphanous ghost of his memories and he turned toward Iolaus. "I'm fine," he said, and then nodding in appreciation added, "We were happy here."

"I know," Iolaus said as he reached up to clasp the shoulder of his partner and best friend, "Serena was special."

The conversation was interrupted by a young woman as she walked by Hercules and Iolaus. "Fishcakes," se said, as she gave Iolaus a sultry look and then ambled away.

"Hey, Herc?" Iolaus asked as the fragrant odor of the fishcakes wafted across his nose. "Do you mind? I'm hungry." Fighting monsters was one thing, but building a community and getting to know the villagers always seemed to pique Iolaus' appetite more.

"You're always hungry," Hercules laughed, "Go ahead." He turned back to Hemnor as he watched Iolaus go.

Hercules looked around the village for some other project. Spotting an old, crumbling well filled to the top with dirt, he said, "That old well looks like it could use some fixing."

"Uh." Hemnor stammered somewhat embarrassed, "we're a bit superstitious about that. A few years back, a little tyke named Mardus fell in, and, well, it was a real tragedy. We've just left it, as a sort of shrine to him."

"I understand." Hercules said as memories of his own children briefly flooded his mind.

Iolaus followed the young woman with the fishcakes, grabbing one as he caught up to her, and then stepping backward and matching her stride, he introduced himself. "Hi, I'm Iolaus," He took a bite of the fishcake and gave her a errant smile. Off in the distance, Iolaus heard the sound of a familiar voice.

Falafel, a chef of less than ordinary skill was hawking his wares inside a small kiosk at the edge of the main square. "No more wasted time, slaving over hot cauldrons. The falafelometer measures the exact boiling time of eggs." Seeing his friend in the distance, Falafel called to him "Ah, Iolaus!"

With his attention diverted to Falafel, the young woman quickly meandered on without an introduction. Feeling somewhat spurned, but not wanting to ignore Falafel either, Iolaus walked toward his kiosk. "What'cha got there Falafel?" Iolaus asked.

"Watch. Precision timing." the meager chef responded as he turned the sand-filled hourglass over and sat it down on the kiosk's ledge.

Not particularly impressed with the new precision timer, a villager came up to Falafel. Trying to impress his friends around him, he said, "Hey, chicken man! I'll take mine barbeque style."

"Ha.ha. Sorry. These are egg-laying chickens." Falafel tried to reason.

"Yeah? Well I say they should be eating chickens. So, start plucking before I turn you and your whole table into an omelet." The bully said, trying to incite Falafel.

"You know," Iolaus said, "that's not very polite".

"Oh," the villager answered, now trying to enflame Iolaus instead of Falafel, "Oh? Excuse me, I'm sorry then. Instead allow me to.turn you into an omelet," he said enraged at the idea he was being made a fool of by this little blond man. He quickly brought his fist back to took a swing at Iolaus.

Iolaus was expecting the punch, and quickly stepped to the side, grabbing and twisting the arm of the bully behind the bully's back.

Seeing the altercation as he talked with Hemnor, Hercules quickly came to the aid of Iolaus. With the bully still in a strong-hold, Hercules facetiously asked, "Need any help?"

"Nah, I got it," Iolaus answered as he pulled the bully's arm higher along his back, "I'm sure he'll think egg-stra ordinarily hard the next time he wants to act up."

Iolaus laughed. "Get it, Herc, egg-stra ordinarily hard." Iolaus said and then shoved the man to the ground.

Smiling briefly at Iolaus' play on words, Hercules put a had on his partner's shoulder and said, "Come on. It's time to go."

Expecting that to be the end of the fight, Iolaus turned around.

The bully, even more enraged than he was before, pulled out a dagger from the back of his waist. As Hercules encouraged Iolaus that it was time to go, the bully quickly tested the precise aim of his target, the blonde man, and threw the blade with a swift flick of his wrist.

Laying his winged hat onto the floor, Autolycus walked over to the green gem. He brushed his hands on his pants and then carefully maneuvered his left hand between two jets of hot flames.

But the hot flames and acrid smell of singed hair made Autolycus realize he could not easily steal the art piece. Summoning his grappling hook from underneath his sleeve, Autolycus swung the hook up and onto the beam above Quallus' stone. He climbed up the lead rope, and hung upside-down from the beam.

"Ooh." Autolycus said, his voice dripping with avarice. "Come to papa," He stretched his fingers to reach the gem, "Closer.closer."

Outside, the soldier propped himself against the museum's outer wall and began sharpening his axe with a whetstone. Absently mulling over the day's events, the guard suddenly realized there was one more artifact in the museum than there was before. "Hey! We don't have a statue of Hermes," he mused.

"Guards!" he yelled, engaging the attention of the other guards.

As Autolycus continued to dangle from the beam support above the gemstone, his fingers outstretched to grab the stone, three guards burst into the museum.

"A thief!" one said as he rushed toward Autolycus.

Plucking the crystal from its home on the pedestal, Autolycus quickly pulled himself back onto the beam. Using the beam as leverage, the King of Thieves flipped over the pedestal and away from the guards. But the guards had the entrance blocked.

"He's got the crystal!" the first guard said as he pointed to the King of Thieves.

Autolycus, with no immediate way out, needed to buy some time as he thought of an escape. Knowing guards generally did not have quick intelligence, he decided on an implausible lie, "Oh, no, no, no, gentlemen." He said holding out the gemstone with one hand and shaking his finger with the other.

The guards continued to advance on him.

"Wait. Wait. I know what you're thinking."

The guards stopped, so Autolycus continued, "And, um, you're right. Your security system failed at our test. I'm...uh, with Autolycus without measure for." he looked at Quallus' stone again, ".all kinds of treasure."

His implausible lie was just that, unbelievable, and the first guard was intent on separating the thief's head from his body. He yelled as he rushed the King of Thieves, "I'll measure you.for a coffin."

Autolycus responded as two guards approached him from the front. He threw the green gemstone up in the air and then flung his arms, straight out in front of him, with a balled fist. The two guards connected with his outstretched fist and fell to the floor.

The large mallet that one guard was carrying, became dislodged from his hand.

Autolycus gracefully caught the green stone as it came down with one hand and the oversized mallet with the other.

He used the mallet to thwart another guards attack, by delivering a blow to his stomach, and then stopped the blows of two swords using the handle as a stave.

"Grab him!" One guard said as Autolycus flipped again and sailed over another guard.

"Come on!" the guard said as he advanced on the King of Thieves, perturbed that the thief was making a mockery of the guards.

As the guard he somersaulted over, approached him again, the first guard yelled more encouragement. "Grab him, you can do it."

But Autolycus, again, flipped up and over the guard, using a backward flip.

"Thief!" the guard said, tired of the thief's shenanigans. But the first guard was even more tired of the ineffectualness of the other guards. "He's mine." he spat as he quickly approached Autolycus. He had the handle of his axe in one hand pounding it into the fist of his other. The second guard was also in pursuit.

Realizing he was about to get caught, Autolycus pulled up the Kronos stone to protect himself and shield his face from the impending axe, and yelled, "Stop". Suddenly every one in the room froze. The sound of the thief's nervous breath was the only sound he heard.

The knife was within inches of the blonde man's back when Hercules saw the glint of the metal out of the corner of his eye. Turning abruptly, he pushed Iolaus out of the way when suddenly everything outside, save Hercules and Iolaus became still: the birds, the villagers and the knife.

Autolycus didn't know it, but the green stone owned by Quallus was a magical gem created by the Titans. It could manipulate time; transport its user to the future, or bring people from the past. As the possessor of the stone, Autolycus controlled time, but not everyone was effected by it. As a demigod, Hercules was immune to its affects, and while Iolaus would not normally be, the demigod's protection was transferred to Iolaus when he pushed the blonde man down.

Iolaus quickly fell to the ground, but noticed the eerie inactivity in front of him. Picking himself up, he pricked the sharp tip of the knife; the knife he knew was meant for him. "Thanks, Herc," he said in appreciation, and then as if believing it was some kind of trick, he pricked the knife again. "This is really weird."

"I'll say," Hercules agreed, "Someone has stopped time," He looked around, sure the answer must somewhere be in front of him. "Even the gods can't interfere with time." He stepped away from the main square and looked toward the castle. "I wonder who's behind this."

Autolycus opened his eyes and saw the blade of the hatchet only inches from his face. Startled, he gingerly slipped out from under the frozen blade aimed at his neck and then said, "Thanks, I've already shaved. And by the looks of those chin whiskers, what a hatchet job you would do too. Ho-ho-ho."

As he sidestepped the motionless guard, the thief looked at the gemstone clutched in his hand. Touching the green conical jewel, he talked to it in a lascivious voice. It seemed to glow with his touch. "You must be much more than the precious little gemstone I thought you were."

His stoking of the stone sprung a hinge on the golden base. Unexpectedly, the bottom of the base opened and a parchment fell out.

Autolycus picked it up with his other hand. "Ooh, what's this? Instructions." He began silently reading them to himself as he wandered around the still museum. "This should be fun," he said, and as he stroked his mustache. He said in the same lascivious voice, "Couldn't be in better hands than.the King of Thieves."

Autolycus felt an enormous power with the magical green stone. Feeling invincible, the thief went about posing and changing the expression of the frozen guards within the room. Deciding one had an unusually menacing scowl, that he knew was meant for him, Autolycus decided to turn his frown upside down. "Now, don't'll get wrinkles."

Autolycus laughed again. "This little gem is even more powerful than I imagined. Whoa! All those years of admiring it from afar. Never knowing its true nature."

He continued to talk to himself as he languidly left the confines of the castle, "Okay, let's see.frozen time.time travel.selective temporal manipulations.selective thought projection.Ah-hah! Now that's the ticket. Why, I can just imagine what the future will hold for you, Autolycus."

"Okay, let's see.right a quarter turn, left two turns." Autolycus walked out of the castle still absorbed in the green gem's power. As he walks out of the museum, the manipulation of the stone unleashed a horse from the grips of the magic. Free from its invisible reins, the horse quickly galloped off.

"Okay, This is going to take some practice," Autolycus said disappointed as he watched the horse gallop away.

Iolaus weaved his way through the bizarre, frozen montage of villagers and followed Hercules to the edge of the square. Also looking in the direction of the castle, Iolaus saw a man with dark hair and a green tunic emerge from the museum. He immediately recognized the King of Thieves. "Autolycus," Iolaus muttered.

"Why am I not surprised?" Hercules answered.

Iolaus, not able to hide the acrimony for the thief, said, "I thought we'd seen the last of Autolycus in Midasius."

"Evidently not," Hercules answered. He remembered the first time Autolycus and Iolaus had crossed paths. Iolaus was accused of stealing the Dragon's Eye Ruby and almost beheaded because of it. While bringing the King of Thieves back for justice, Hercules was able to see a side of Autolycus that Iolaus would not see; the side that could not let Iolaus die for the thief's wrongdoing. "Still sore about what he did to you in Scyros?"

It was a rhetorical question, Iolaus believed, but he answered it anyway. "Wouldn't you be?"

Even with his forgiving nature, Hercules could still understand why Iolaus continued to hold a grudge. "Yeah, I guess I would," Hercules said and then shrugged.

Autolycus, finding nothing left in the castle to pilfer, walked toward the main square to try his luck there. His thoughts were still on the green gem and its possibilities, and he was oblivious to Hercules and Iolaus standing in the square, waiting to confront him.

Quickly recognizing the stone the thief clutched in his hand, Hercules challenged the King of Thieves. "So that's why everything is frozen. That's the Kronos stone."

Surprised, but not undaunted, Autolycus exchanged a greeting with the demigod, "Hercules." and then, he looked toward the demigod's partner, "and Ignoramus."

"That's Iolaus," the blonde man argued.

"Whatever," Autolycus said, waving a hand casually to dismiss the argument. He knew Iolaus' name, but preferred to goad the sidekick to Hercules.

Hercules grabbed the back of the thief's collar and issued a challenge as he pointed to the stone, "You better hand it over. It was never meant for mere mortal hands."

Autolycus had a challenge of his own, "Hey! Not so fast, I may be mortal but I'm hardly mere."

Even with the demigod's hand firmly gripping the back of his tunic, Autolycus began daydreaming out loud, "Ah, just imagine, Hercules.I can travel through different eras, pulling off historical acts of larceny."

And then hitting upon a particularly marvelous idea, Autolycus said, "Hey, I could get another shot at the Quallus collection."

"You just stole it!" Iolaus said.

Autolycus replied, "Nah, that's just the stone. I'm talking about ALL of the king's jewels."

Turning to Iolaus, Autolycus continued, "I actually tried that once, in my impetuous youth, when Quallus was still alive, ah.but stealing from him today, when he's not around to see it, just doesn't provide the same.oomph."

"Hey, I know," Autolycus laughed. Even hanging from Hercules' grip did nothing to deter Autolycus from daydreaming about his thievery. "I'll go back and get it right this time. That's it."

Without warning, Autolycus began rubbing the base of the Kronos stone between his palms. He thought about stealing the green gem in the past, and greedily thought about what that theft could mean for him in his future. But the impetuousness of the thief was not to be outdone by his ignorance. Autolycus really had little idea what chaos he was about to unleash.

"Oh, no you don't," Iolaus said, trying to grab the gem from the thief.

The sudden shift in time that Autolycus had created by rubbing on the gem's base began as Iolaus' hands converged onto the Kronos stone. Without warning, the gemstone transported all three men into the past.

The shift in time also brought everything back to life. Around them was the bustling city of Ceryneia. People were moving around the trio and without real notice that they had just appeared, literally, out of thin air.

Suddenly, there was the thundering sound of a horse galloping toward the three men.

"Watch out!" Hercules yelled, as he let go of Autolycus and then pushed him to the ground. Iolaus and Hercules quickly stepped out of the way of the galloping steed. In the disorder to get out of harm's way, Autolycus dropped the Kronos stone and it fell in between the horse's thundering hoofs and broke apart.

As the horse galloped past him, Autolycus crawled to the stone and lovingly picked up the pieces. "Oh, no. Ahh.Oh, my stone!" Autolycus said as if in pain, and then he turned to Iolaus. "Look what you did!"

"Look what I did," Iolaus shot back.

"Enough, both of you. We don't have time for this." Hercules chided. "And speaking of time," Hercules said as he looked around. There were the same landmarks Hercules recognized, as the city of Ceryneia, only the small village was hardly more than a few cottages, and a few stores, "those mountains.the castle. We're still in Ceryneia from the looks of it. Only earlier."

"Is this the time you were thinking about? You know, during your careless youth?" Iolaus asked.

Auto answered, "Yeah, okay, but so what? I'm stuck here.with you. And the Kronos stone is history."

"Like I'm happy about that? There is one history I'd like to change! Come to think of it, there's two. Today and the first day I met you," Iolaus said.

"Okay! Stop it, both of you. For everyone's sake, we have to find a way out of here. We can't afford the risk of interfering with time. And in order to do it, the two of you are going to have to learn to work together, okay?" Hercules said.

Both Iolaus and Autolycus became quiet. Iolaus tried to think of a way to fix the predicament they found themselves into, preferably, without Autolycus' help, and Autolycus was trying just trying to find a way to get out.

Deciding there wasn't a way, Autolycus sat down on a rock wall and asked, "But how, by the gods?"

Iolaus turned to Autolycus, "Well, we can't expect the gods to help us, that's for sure." But then Iolaus struck on an idea. "Hey wait! The undamaged stone still exists in this time period, right?"

"Well, yes. I guess so," Autolycus said, understanding Iolaus' idea. Pulling himself up from the stone wall, Autolycus snapped his fingers in realization. "Whoa. Good idea. I get your point. All I have to do is steal it again."

"Well, that wasn't exactly what I was thinking," Iolaus said and turned to Hercules. His idea was to use his skill as a former thief to steal the Kronos stone.

Thinking out loud once again, and rubbing his hands together in avarice, Autolycus continued, "Hey this should be interesting, knowing what I know now. You know, about Quallus' security. I won't make the same mistake twice."

Hercules understood how easy it would be to muck up time, even if unintentioned. And the smallest interference could create catastrophic events. As much as he hated to admit it, he could think of no other way to solve their current dilemma. He would be wise not to trust Autolycus to steal back the Kronos stone, but he did trust Iolaus. Finally, he conceded. "I can't believe I'm saying this. Let's just get the stone and go. The longer we stay the more chance we have of interfering with this timeline."

"Exactly, and you don't know what kind of trouble Autolycus will get into." Iolaus said as he watched Autolycus mimicked his own words in distain.

"Not just Autolycus. It could be any of us," Hercules admitted.

"Wait a minute. I just thought of something." Autolycus said. He had been actively thinking of his plan to steal back the Kronos stone.

"What?" Hercules asked.

"How can I steal the Kronos stone now, if I'm going to steal it again from the same place later?"

"Good question," Hercules said, but didn't have an answer. "Iolaus. Go with Autolycus. Make sure he doesn't get us into more trouble."

Walking back up to Hercules and Iolaus, Autolycus protested, "Hey, I work alone."

The idea that Hercules could trust Autolycus to do the right thing after what had happened in Scyros and Midasius, began to gnaw at Iolaus. He wondered what redeeming qualities Hercules could see in Autolycus that he couldn't, and worried that Hercules would allow the thief to steal the Kronos stone alone. Hedging his bets, Iolaus said, "Oh, no you don't. You aren't going anywhere alone."

"Then, it's going to be pretty cramped in the thrown room. Besides, I always work alone. What's the matter? Don't you trust me?"

Iolaus answered, "You really want me to answer that."

"No," He told Iolaus, giving him a sour look. Then, he turned to Hercules. "Look Hercules, I want to get back just as bad as you. Besides, I want to set things right. Why the first time I went up against Quallus, I failed because I was young and reckless. Now with a little seasoning, it should be a snap. With age comes wisdom."

"Then you're wise enough to know, you're not going to steal it without Iolaus," Hercules said.

Suddenly, Hercules heard the sound of a mother calling for her son, "Mardus, lunch is ready" she called.

"Mardus," Hercules said under his breath. He had heard that name before.

"What's the matter," Iolaus asked seeing the look of consternation on his partner's face.

"That name. Hemnor said." Recognizing the name as the child that fell into the well, Hercules looked toward the stoned structure. There, a young boy was teetering on the brink of falling in. Rushing toward him, with Iolaus closely following, Hercules reached down into the well as the boy tumbled in.

Grabbing one hand of the boy, while Iolaus reached in to grab the other hand, the two men pulled the boy from the well. Letting him onto his feet just outside the stone structure, the small boy ran to his mother without regard to the efforts of the two men who saved him.

"Oh! Oh! Mardus. Are you all right?" The mother questioned, picking him up and checking out ever inch of her boy to ensure his safety.

"Kids, you can't take your eyes off them," Iolaus said trying to soothe the mother's panicked look. It was advice he hoped the mother would take to heart, knowing just what kind of trouble he used to get in to when he was a boy.

"Oh, thank you. Thank both of you," the mother said.

Returning back to the spot where they left Autolycus, Iolaus said with a distinctive smile on his face, "What was that you said about not interfering with the timeline?"

"Well, you know how it is. It's hard to go against one's nature." Hercules said as he smiled back.

"Speaking of going against one's nature, where's Autolycus," Iolaus asked as he could not see the thief any where in the square. It wasn't the first time, or the second time the thief had made a timely escape.

"You don't think he left." Iolaus began.

".to steal the Kronos Stone by himself? That's exactly what I think." Hercules said as he began a fast pace toward the castle. Iolaus walked quickly to catch up with him.

When the two heroes ran to save the falling boy, the thief found the perfect opportunity to escape to the castle and abscond with the Kronos stone alone.

Autolycus grumbled to himself as he walked toward Quallus' castle. He had no intention of allowing Iolaus to help him steal the Kronos stone and voiced his opinion loudly to himself. Not knowing Iolaus' background as a young thief, Autolycus had already determined that the partner to Hercules would only make a mess of the King of Thieves' attempt to steal the Kronos stone. Besides, he knew leaving him behind would irk the sanctimonious partner to the demigod, and Autolycus had decided he loved the idea of rankling Iolaus.

Autolycus approached the castle, and began looking for a copse of bushes that held the secret passage to the vault and the Kronos stone. He had discovered it only hours ago, or would that be years from now, he thought. The time-paradox thing was beginning to give him a headache.

Autolycus carefully approached the place he believed the secret passage to be. "If I only knew then what I know now," Autolycus stated remembering the first time he had tried to steal the Kronos stone.

But another person was watching the King of Thieves move through the brush. Fearing another thief was about to steal the bounty of Quallus, he immediately moved toward the King of Thieves, intent on confronting the man.

Autolycus was bending over, and about to go through the secret opening when he felt someone gripping his shoulder.

Expecting that the annoying sidekick to Hercules, Iolaus, had found him, Autolycus turned around. "You." he said and then stopped. Instead of Iolaus, Autolycus was staring back at his younger self.

The younger Autolycus was dressed in a studded-black tunic and pants. He sported a silver earring in his left ear. A curled lock of hair rested on his brow. "Me?" The younger Autolycus said, immediately recognizing the nearly mirror image of himself.

Smiling to himself, and now knowing the point in which he had transported himself, Autolycus said, "That's right. You. Only better. And I'm going to help you steal the Kronos stone."

Iolaus and Hercules approached the dense brush that surrounded Quallus' castle. "Tell you what. I'll take the left and you take the right. Maybe we can surprise Autolycus before he breaks into the castle," Hercules said.

Iolaus nodded and then slowly moved around the stand of bushes and toward the perimeter of the castle. Walking around the bushy stand, he could hear the distinct baritone voice of Autolycus. And it sounded as if he was talking to himself.

Continuing around the bushes at a faster pace, he saw Autolycus in the backdrop. "Autolycus!" Iolaus yelled, annoyance evident in his voice.

But the blonde man had to stop a minute. The Autolycus he saw sported a black tunic instead of a green one.

The present Autolycus, who was secreted in the bushes that surrounded the secret passageway, recognized Iolaus' voice. He quickly peered through the bushes. "Uh, oh," he said under his breath.

"Who's that?" the younger Autolycus asked.

"Trouble," the present Autolycus answered, "As if I'm not in enough."

Autolycus pushed his younger self toward the portal into the secret passage way. "And I'd advise, if you don't want your share of it, you'll listen to me."

The area was cramped, and was meant for only one person to proceed through the door at a time, so the present Autolycus stepped back to allow the younger one entrance. When he did, he was exposed once again.

"Autolycus!" Iolaus called again, and beat a path toward the thief's location.

As Autolycus looked back, before he disappeared into the brush, Iolaus caught a glimpse of the thief's tunic. Autolycus was now wearing the familiar green jacket.

Iolaus suspected what was happening. "Two King of Thieves?" Iolaus questioned, "As if my day wasn't bad enough all ready."

Soon, Iolaus found the secret tunnel that Autolycus had used, and followed him into the earthen chamber.

"Here we go," the present Autolycus informed the Autolycus from the past, "Come on!" He waited until the younger version of himself caught up. "What did I tell you. See?"

Remembering the brashness of his youth, the older Autolycus told the younger, "If you had bothered to study the plans, you would know that there was already a tunnel here."

The past Autolycus was already getting annoyed with the officiousness of his present self. "All right." he conceded, doubting that the Autolycus in front of him could actually be himself in later years. "Let me get this straight. You're supposed to be me from the future?"

"I'm the walking talking proof, junior. You better believe it."

Still trying to believe it, he stated, "And I failed this heist? And now you've come back to help me get it right. Oh please!"

Equally annoyed with his intractable past self, Autolycus said, "Was I really this pig-headed?"

Well, I'll give you this, you are a handsome devil," the younger Autolycus said to the older one.

The present Autolycus stroked his mustache in satisfaction.

"Stop doing that," the past Autolycus said at his signature gesture.

"Doing what?" the present Autolycus asked seeing that his unique gesticulations were annoying his former self. Then again, he guessed they weren't unique to his younger self.

Mimicking the actions of his elder self, the younger Autolycus said, "This.this.and that. I'm not a mirror. I'm you. Separate but equal. Younger and sharper."

"No, wilder and stupider. Well, at least you finally see what's plain as the nose on my face."

"Yeah? Okay. You're me and I'm you. Whatever. Are you going to help me get the stone or not."

"Of course," Autolycus said, "Only this time, we're going to go past the traps we didn't know about last time. Through the tunnel, genius." Autolycus pointed toward the juncture to the left.

Autolycus knew about the tunnel, but didn't know there were two paths to the vault, One path led to the left was the more circuitous route. The other path led to the right.

"I like the way you think, old man. Sure," the younger Autolycus said as he proceeded into the tunnel. He shook his fist in front of him in enthusiasm. "They'll never know what hit them. The two Autolyci."

"Nothing will stop us," they said as they proceeded through the tunnel. They had only made a few steps into the darkened tunnel when they heard the menacing voice of a guard.

"Hold it right there," the guard said as he seemed to materialize from the tunnel's rock face.

"Except, maybe that," Autolycus lamented.

With a lethal steal point on a spear, and the two cowardly thieves in front of it, the guard led the two Autolyci into the dark tunnel and toward the vault.

When they reached the opening of the vault, he encouraged them with a stab of his spear. "On your knees, scum!" the guard demanded.

"Hey!" the past Autolycus said, as the spear got a little too close to his derriere.

Once forced to kneel, they watched as the second door to the vault opened from the tunnel entrance. "So my not-so-secret passage has proven an irresistible lure yet again," Quallus said as he paraded in.

"You'll show me the way. Right!" the younger Autolycus whined to the older Autolycus. Once uttered, he received a stern look of disapproval from the older and more experienced Autolycus.

At least HE knew when to shut up, the older thief was thinking.

Iolaus followed Autolycus into the tunnel as quickly as he could, but he immediately felt that the thief had the advantage on him by having used this tunnel at least one other time before.

The tunnel was dark, and there were many small recesses and cul-de-sacs along the main path. Any number of people could be waiting to ambush him, including Autolycus, Iolaus thought.

Before long, Iolaus could hear the rumbling of several footsteps coming toward him from the entrance to the tunnel. Quickly, Iolaus hid in a hollow of the cave.

From his vantage point, he could see several guards running by. Iolaus feared that his impatience in catching up to Autolycus had made him careless. If the guards regularly patrolled the perimeter of the castle, which they should; they could have seen him enter the passage into the cave.

The two Autolyci were in big trouble.

Iolaus waited until the sound of the footsteps receded into the distance, and then he stepped out from the darkened recess, deciding on his next plan of action. He had to go after the thieves to save them; not from their reckless selves, as he first thought, but from the guards that just rushed by him.

Two steps from the hollow, Iolaus heard the distinctive voice of Autolycus from behind. "Finally," the voice of Autolycus exhaled, "a friendly face."

Iolaus breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that the wily thief had escaped capture yet again. But before turning around, Iolaus wanted to set the record straight, "Autolycus, I am not, nor will ever be, your friend."

"Whoa. What picayune peccadillo are you blaming me for, now?" the King of Thieves said, knowing that Iolaus could always find something to blame him for. Not that he didn't always deserve it, nor had he done anything recently that would deserve such a reproach. Then he added in confusion, "Wait, what time is this?

"Excuse me?" Iolaus said in incredulity, not quite believing the thief's flippant remarks. "First of all, did you forget what you did to me in Scyros? And second, 'What time is it?' Did you see me carrying a sun dial a few minutes ago?" He turned around to remind Autolycus that his open vest and tight pants left little room for a time piece.

The figure that stood in front of Iolaus looked very much like the Autolycus that had left him only minutes before; however, the grommetted, green tunic, the gray around the temples and the deep wrinkles around his eyes told Iolaus this was not the Autolycus that he knew.

Little did the present Autolycus know that when he began manipulating the Kronos stone, not only had he transported himself, Iolaus and Hercules into the past, he also managed to transport his future self into the past. By thinking of what the future would hold for the King of Thieves, Autolycus' thoughts brought his future self along with him into the earlier period; a kind of selective thought projection.

Unfortunately, suddenly being transported from the grip of one almost-stolen gemstone to the outside of Quallus' castle confused the King of Thieves from the future. Trying to get his bearings, he walked the perimeter of the castle until he saw Iolaus enter the tunnel. Having lived through an earlier time travel experience, Autolycus remembered what the event felt like, but the future Autolycus had no idea of how or what time he was transported to so he followed Iolaus into the tunnel in hopes of getting some answers.

Iolaus' enmity was a surprise to Autolycus. Searching from the memories of his past, the future Autolycus finally remembered where he was and what was about to transpire. Even though the Autolycus from the future knew how Iolaus felt about him in the past, he also knew his thoughts about the thief would change in months and years to come.

Yet, the bitter sentiment Iolaus felt now still hurt the King of Thieves' ego. Not being able to contain himself, Autolycus provoked the clueless partner to Hercules he said, "You say that I now, but just wait. Why, one day, we'll be so close, we'll almost be joined at the hip," and then he finished by an exaggerated, "Imagine, Iolaus: sidekick to the King of Thieves," knowing the idea of partnering with him in the future would irk the Iolaus of now

Iolaus snorted, "Sidekick? Over Hercules' dead body," he said in an effort to silence the notion of them becoming a team of anything, let alone partners.

Suddenly, the two disparaging men heard footsteps entering from the inner chamber of the tunnel. Looking toward the sound of the footsteps, the Autolycus from the future knew Quallus, the owner of the infamous gem he had stolen, would soon be traveling through the secret passageway. The thief quickly grabbed Iolaus by the arm and pushed him back toward the recesses of the tunnel, safely hidden from Quallus. "Any how, I don't have time for a history lesson now. Quallus is coming. And we've got to go."

"Quallus, here? In a cavern?" Iolaus said.

"Pretty ingenious secreting a vault in the middle of a cave, isn't it?"

As the footsteps grew louder, Iolaus said in a whisper, "Wait. You're not going to leave Autolycus here, are you?"

In an equally hushed voice, the future Autolycus said, "When you earnestly believe you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there's no end to what you can't do," He stopped as they watched Quallus and two guards angrily marching through the tunnel and toward his vault. Then, they watched him open a door just feet away from where they stood.

"Hey, I didn't know that door was there," Autolycus from the future said, "That's why we were so easily caught."

He turned to Iolaus for an explanation. "It's too late to save the past imperfect Autolyci. They mucked up this heist and got caught. Now, if you don't want to share a dungeon with them, I say we should blow this joint."

Iolaus refused to go. He couldn't conceive of the selfishness of the future Autolycus. "I don't believe you," he said in derision, "You haven't changed a bit. You're going to leave yourself to rot in jail, just to save.yourself?"

"No, to save you." the future Autolycus said, "The guards will be coming back to patrol this not so secret passage. And if we don't get out of here soon, we'll join them. Besides, the lack of common sense when I was younger, is only bested by my exceptional skill at escaping." Autolycus said.

Looking back in worry, the future Autolycus zealously pushed Iolaus out of the tunnel as the guards footsteps echoed closer. The older Autolycus was right, the guards were coming back. This time, Iolaus was more agreeable to go.

"How'd you get here, anyway?" Iolaus asked.

"The same way you got here," the Autolycus from the future answered.

After a swift and understanding pause, they both answered in annoyed unison, "Autolycus."

Outside of the tunnel, Iolaus had time to reflect on what the older Autolycus had revealed to him. Iolaus couldn't conceive of a way he would partner with the likes of Autolycus.

Walking away from the tunnel, but still within the perimeter of the castle, Iolaus thought. The only thing that would make Iolaus leave Hercules' side would be if something happened to Hercules, and if this was the Autolycus from the future, then maybe he could give Iolaus some information that could save Hercules. This way, Iolaus could watch Hercules' back; save him from.whatever.

Iolaus stopped. Not that he particularly believed anything the King of Thieves would say, but Iolaus had to know what circumstances would lead him to partner with the thief. Iolaus asked, "Not that I believe you in the least, but why would I even want to be your partner?"

Autolycus was about to give him an answer when they heard Hercules behind them.

"There you are," Hercules said as he walked up to Iolaus and the Autolycus from the future. "Did you find the Kronos stone?"

"Not exactly," Iolaus answered. "But I found something else while I was in the tunnel."

The Autolycus from the future had his back facing Hercules. He turned around. "Hercules! Long time, no see," the elder Autolycus said.

"Autolycus?" Hercules questioned as it was clear this version of the King of Thieves had grown considerably older than the one that made his escape just minutes earlier. "What happened?"

"Actually," Iolaus interrupted, "this Autolycus is from the future."

"From.the future. How get here?"

"Believe me, you don't want to know," Iolaus said. "As if one Autolycus isn't bad enough, we've got more trouble."

"What kind of trouble?" Hercules asked.

"Autolycus.that is.the Autolycus we all know and detest, is in the dungeon right now with the past version of himself."

"Wait. Past version of himself? What past version of himself?"

"The Autolycus that tried to steal the Kronos stone in this timeline, I would guess by the looks of him," Iolaus said.

"Yeah, guess you could say I'm beside myself with concern," the future Autolycus answered and smiled on his play of words. "But, not to worry, big guy. Me, myself and I escape."

"That's refreshing to know," Hercules said, remembering Autolycus touting that no prison cell could hold him.

"But without the Kronos stone," Iolaus added.

"I see," Hercules said, taking it all in.

The older Autolycus stroked his mustache in thought. "Of course," he said, "I could try to steal it myself."

Iolaus snorted. "While the guards may be looking for your counterparts? So much for stealth and surprise."

The future Autolycus knew what the former thief was thinking. His jealous rivalry with Iolaus suddenly renewed itself and the elder Autolycus said, "What? You think you can steal it? After all, I've tried this gambit before."

"Tried being the operative word. You don't think they've got every guard in the place looking for you? They're expecting you to steal it."

"Iolaus does have a good point," Hercules said.

"Yeah, yeah," The future Autolycus answered annoyed. He was determined to answer Hercules objection. "Not if I steal it before they escape."

"Another good point," Hercules said to Iolaus, "but what if you get caught?"

"The downside of being better than everyone else, is that people tend to assume you're pretentious," Autolycus said to himself, "Okay, see.I've been thinking about that. In this little exercise of thievery, I'm expendable," he maintained.

"Boy, you said a mouthful," Iolaus answered.

"Iolaus," Hercules said, chastising him.

"Meaning, if something happens to me, my life will still go on, the Autolycus in your time line will still be alive, and I will still be the King of Thieves of the future. Can you say the same thing, Iolaus? There's only one of you, and might I add, thank the gods, for that. Talk about too many of a good thing."

"He's got you there, Iolaus."

But Autolycus wasn't through with his carefully thought out diatribe. If he couldn't steal the Kronos stone, the future Autolycus was confident that at least one of his past counterparts would be successful in stealing the magical jewel. "There will still be two chances for me to steal the Kronos stone, the past Autolycus and the present Autolycus. Remember? I escape.we escape..they escape.whatever. You get the picture."

"Yes. But I would still feel better if both of you worked together, you know, watch each other's backs." Hercules said and then turned to Iolaus. He knew the animosity Iolaus harbored toward the King of Thieves, "Do you think you can do that? At least until we get the Kronos stone?"

"Fine," Iolaus said relenting.

"No problem," Autolycus from the future agreed, "as long as I'm the one to steal the Kronos stone," He began proceeding toward the tunnel opening once again but realized Iolaus was not following him. He turned around and called out to him, "Well, you coming.partner?"

"Let's just get this over with," Iolaus said to Hercules, "Autolycus with morality, imagine that."

Hercules reminded him, "Remember, Iolaus. This is the same Autolycus that came back to Menelaus' castle to clear your name. And we don't know what other considerations he gave us.or will give us in our future."

Iolaus suddenly remembered the conversation outside the tunnel's entrance. "I hope you're right, Herc," Iolaus said, "I just hope he watches my back instead of stabbing me in it," Without anything else to say, Iolaus quickly caught up to the elder Autolycus.

Quallus, upon seeing the set of thieves in his vault said, "Either I'm seeing double, or it's time to start cutting wine with breakfast."

"Uh, actually, we're.twins," Autolycus said trying to think of a plausible explanation, of why there would be two of them.

The younger Autolycus tried to get up from his kneeling position. "Look, the name's Autolycus, King."

The older Autolycus stopped the younger one's verbal confession with a stern look and a jab to the midsection.

"Down," the guard ordered.

"I'm sure you've heard of me," the past Autolycus defended.

"Us," the present Autolycus corrected.

"No," Quallus answered honestly, and then scrutinized the prisoners in front of him, "and somehow, you don't look exactly identical."

The past Auto laughed, "That's because my brother has lived a hard life, as you can see. He's paid the price in bad skin and premature hair loss."

The present Autolycus getting particularly annoyed with his past self's indiscriminate remarks and insults warned, "You shut up, or you're going to suffer premature teeth loss."

Quallus laughed at the two bickering twins. He could see the advantage in having a twin, "Your duality must prove handy in the alibi stakes. I salute you."

"Thank you," the two Autolyci answered simultaneously. And then the past Autolycus chimed in, "You know."

"Shut up," Quallus ordered.

"Yeah, shut up," Autolycus agreed.

"No bags, so you must have been after something small, easy to carry," Quallus said as he walked in between the two Autolyci. He gestured toward the Kronos stone on its fiery pedestal. "Like my new acquisition perhaps, the Quallus Crystal?"

"Oh, that's original," the past Autolycus said, commenting on the gemstone's name.

"I take it you don't know it's pedigree," Autolycus said, remembering its alternate name and its magical traits. He had gone back to the past to steal it, and wanted to know if Quallus understood its notoriety.

Quallus answered the veiled question, "Ooh, I know its history. The more men lust to steal it, the greater its legend grows."

"Well, in that case," the past Autolycus stated, "then let us go. We'll gladly add to its history."

"No. I think not," Quallus said, as if genuinely giving it some thought, "Guards! Lock them up!"

A guard poked the younger Autolycus in the back with a spear. "Okay, let's go. On your feet."

"I'm going, I'm going," the two grumbled, as they were escorted out of the vault.

"Quit shoving," the younger Autolycus said to the older one as the iron door to the dungeon was opened and they were forced inside with a heavy push from the guards. Both were bound with manacles.

Once inside the dungeon, the past Autolycus said, "Next time you feel the need to share your gift of wisdom and experience, don't."

Moving away from his counterpart, Autolycus sat on a stone bench and said, "You know, if you looked before leaping, we wouldn't be in this mess."

The past Autolycus looked at him and said, "It's a little more than a mess. In case you haven't noticed, we're in a dungeon. That chopping block outside is being expanded to fit two heads."

"Well it's going to have to be as big as a house, just for yours."

Getting angry, and blaming his elder self for the mess they were in, the past Autolycus said, "You know what? You're pathetic! You're cynical, cautious. What happens to me that turns me into you?"

Paying little mind to his younger self, Autolycus regarded the fingernails on his right hand and said, "You know, I've often wondered how I ever survived my reckless youth to become the master knave that I am."

"I'd hang myself if it would just put me out of my misery," the past Autolycus expounded.

Autolycus got up. "Hang yourself with what, junior? They took our grappling hook, our cables, all of our tools."

The past Autolycus looked at the present Autolycus incredulously, "Has your memory gone too? We keep extras in a secret place. Sheesh!" the past Autolycus took boot off, turned it upside down and shook it vigorously. Several burglar tools fell from the boot and clanged on to the floor. There were lock picks, crowbars, cables, a Greek army knife and other unrecognizable tools.

"Well, I didn't forget," Autolycus said, excusing his absentmindedness, "I just stopped keeping them there, because it started to make me limp."

Hearing the footsteps of a guard coming, Autolycus said, "Hey, someone's coming. Throw me a line."

The younger Autolycus tossed his elder self a line. Covering up their motives, the two Autolyci faked laughter as the guard walked in. In an angry voice the guard asked, "What are you two so happy about?"

With his back to the guard, the present Autolycus began to unwind his line as the past Autolycus explained, "Ah, well it's the company. You see," he laughed again, ".he's a very witty guy."

Then the present Autolycus craned his neck and added, "Of course I've heard all of his jokes before." He was trying quickly to work a knot that had developed in the line.

Stalling for time, the past Autolycus continued, "Yeah, but did you hear the one about the tavern? Oh, it's a screamer." And then not thinking of a single joke he could tell, the past Autolycus turned to the present Autolycus and said, "Go ahead, tell him."

The present Autolycus shot his former self a deadly look. He was equally absent of any jokes. And the situation they were in now, hardly put him in a good mood. He tried quickly to think of a story, "Uh, yeah," he said as he still tried to untangle the line, " Egyptian and a Sumerian go into a tavern. The Egyptian's got a monkey on his shoulder, He.Now! Noose him!" Autolycus said as he threw the line toward the guard.

Almost simultaneously, the past Autolycus also let his line sail. The two lines wound around the guard's waist, effectively binding the guard's hands to his side and rendering them useless.

Trying to best the other, they each began playing a tug of war with the guard. "All right, I got him." Autolycus said as he pulled the line tighter and forced the guard toward him.

"Oh no! I've got him," the past Autolycus said, pulling the guard back toward him.

"Oh no! I've got him." Autolycus said as they continued their tug of war. Finally tiring of playing the tug of war, Autolycus heaves and pulls the guard close enough to him to grab the keys.

"Hey, give those back." The guard protested loudly.

Once the present Autolycus grabbed the keys, he let go of the line, sending the guard sailing back toward his younger self. Autolycus quickly unlocked his manacles.

Quick to react, the younger Autolycus, pulled his foot up and booted the guard in the derriere, causing him to careen into the wall of the dungeon and passing out.

Autolycus quickly tossed his younger counterpart the keys, and the past Autolycus made quick work of his bindings.

The past Autolycus ran out of the dungeon with the present Autolycus following closely behind. The twin Autolyci hurried toward the vault.

"Hey," Iolaus said to the future Autolycus, "I'm not sure this 'hide inside until everyone leaves' idea is going to work."

The future Autolycus was not flustered by Iolaus' lack of confidence, "Sure it will. They think all the Autolyci are safely locked up. Once the guards leave, we'll have the whole place to ourselves."

Iolaus and the future Autolycus watched as the guards below them began walking toward the door, promising the two men that they will be sealed in an empty vault. As the doors began to close, Quallus raced into the vault with several guards.

Quallus bellowed, "The twins are loose! Triple all patrols." Quallus began pacing around his vault, "Come on. We can't let them get away." Concerned that he had two thieves in his midst, and his vault would be soon be in jeopardy, he urged another guard to dispatch his troops to quicken the search. "Come on, come on!" he said at their sluggishness.

"Yes, sir," the guard agreed.

"I want a human net thrown around the crystal," Quallus commanded.

Up on a ledge, peering down into the vault, Iolaus and the future Autolycus looked down on the confusion. "I told you this wouldn't work," Iolaus complained.

"Come on! Before we're locked in," the future Autolycus announced as he quickly snatched his grappling hook from a behind his belt and began swinging it in a low and tight circle. He let the iron hook fly and it easily caught onto a wooden beam support.

"Last one down is a rotten thief," Autolycus from the future said. He smiled before he sailed over the balcony and toward the stone floor below.

Iolaus quickly bounded down the stairs, not particularly because he didn't want to be labeled as a "rotten thief", but he could see the potential melee that would result with the elder Autolycus' swashbuckling ways.

"There's one of them now. Get him," the guard ordered, upon seeing the older Autolycus descend from the balcony.

Half of the guards rushed toward Autolycus as the other half continued their sentry, as ordered by Quallus, around the Kronos stone.

The head guard saw Iolaus as he hurriedly descended the staircase. "Another thief!" he said as his attention was diverted away from Autolycus and toward the blonde man. The guard rushed to confront him.

Knowing the guard was about to block his only exit, Iolaus quickly sailed over the balustrade and kicked the guard in the midsection.

An audible 'oomph' could be heard from the guard as Iolaus' feet connected to the guard's stomach and he sailed across the floor.

Two other guards converged on Iolaus as three surrounded the elder King of Thieves. Not as spry as he once was, and no longer able to flip out of the path of the guards, Autolycus from the future was momentarily trapped.

Still on their original mission, and without knowing Iolaus, as well as their future counterpart were attempting to steal the Kronos stone, the twin Autolyci quickly ran into the vault. When they saw the throng of guards, the two thieves swiftly put the breaks on their forward momentum.

Upon seeing the two men, one guard left the elder Autolycus and ran toward the other Autolycus dressed in green.

The guard hesitated just long enough for the present Autolycus to reward him with a strong left hook. That sent the guard into a spin, and right into a stone column. Pleased with himself, Autolycus pulled on his tunic and said, "Like I always say, it's always darkest, just before it goes pitch black," and then he turned toward another guard.

Quallus quickly counted the number of dark-haired thieves in his midst. "I don't believe it, there are three Autolyci."

"Three of us?" the past Autolycus said and looked around.

The statement was just what the eldest King of Thieves needed. The inattention of one guard, as he actively counted the collection of thieves, was rewarded by a sweep to the legs, causing the guard to fall to the ground. This gave the elder Autolycus the opportunity to escape; however, the statement quickly drew the notice of the twin Autolyci. They both looked over to their elder self.

"Talk about your triple threat," the past Autolycus said as he looked toward the Autolycus of the future.

The present Autolycus managed to wrap his grappling line around a guard. He pulled on the line, forcing the guards face into his balled-up fist and then let it relax, pulled on it again, and in a yo-yo effect, continued punching him until the guard fell into unconsciousness. Stopping momentarily, Autolycus asked of his elder self, "How'd he get here?"

Answering him in irritation, Iolaus said, "You brought him here," and then rushed to the defense of the youngest King of Thieves, The youngest Autolycus was loosing the battle against another guard. But before Iolaus could reach him, the young thief was punched in the stomach, which caused him to double over in pain.

The guard was about to deliver a blow to the back of his skull when Iolaus jumped on the guard's back, and pushed his helmet over his eyes. He began fiercely beating on the metal headpiece, creating a concussive sound that brought the guards to his knees.

Quallus, watched his trained guards getting beat by the three thieves, but what concerned him most was that if they won the battle, they might escape. The door into the castle's interior was still wide open, so Quallus quickly ran toward the lever which controlled the massive doors.

Iolaus heard the grating sound of the door closing and shouted to the trio of dark-haired thieves, "Quick, the door's closing. Get out of here!"

The youngest Autolycus, still winded by getting hit in the stomach, dove through the door as it inched closer to closing.

The present Autolycus was still surrounded by several guards and at that moment it was impossible for him to move forward. With only one way to go, Autolycus retreated from the door, but only momentarily. Running in the other direction, he quickly ran up a pillar, flipped over and then turned in mid-air, landing behind the advancing guards.

Free from his attackers, Autolycus quickly ran toward the door, squeezing through with only inches to spare. They were safe from the pursuing guards.

With only two thieves left to fight, the throng of guards turned toward Iolaus and the oldest Autolyci.

"Uh, oh," the King of Thieves said as he watched the guards advancing.

"What now?" Iolaus asked, as he knocked out the last guard he had been fighting.

"There's only one thing we can do. Run!" The future Autolycus said. He turned around and began running toward the back of the vault.

The Autolycus from the future looked determined and confident in his escape. Iolaus, considering the number of guards still left to battle, figured retreating at the moment was smarter than fighting. He quickly followed Autolycus and silently hoped he was making the right decision.

"Well?" Quallus asked as the guards that were surrounding the Kronos stone remained steadfast. There were no other guards left to pursue the retreating men.

Iolaus had second thoughts, as the elder King of Thieves began running toward what appeared to be a stone wall. With a mighty push, the future Autolycus moved the stone and revealed another secret passageway.

Iolaus followed him through and then the two men quickly pushed the stone door shut.

Once outside and away from the perimeter of the castle, Autolycus decided it was time to confront his younger self. Annoyed at the Autolycus from the past and angry at himself for not being able to steal the Kronos stone, said, "Are the words, 'stealth, plan, and think before you act' in your vocabulary?"

He would never admit it to his younger counterpart, but he was just as concerned that his younger-self's brashness created the whole mess in the vault; a situation that primed Iolaus to attempt to steal the Kronos stone. Now, Iolaus was trapped in the castle with the future King of Thieves and somehow the present Autolycus felt responsible.

Equally annoyed with his present counterpart, the past Autolycus said, "Are the words, 'over the hill' in yours? Why don't you go back to the old has-beens home where you came from."

Irritated and worried, Autolycus had enough of his former self. He challenged the past Autolycus. "All right, Okay. That does it!" he implored, "Come on! You want a piece of me? Huh? I'll show you who's a has-been." He began dancing around the younger Autolycus with his fists up, ready to fight.

Hercules could hear an altercation and in the distance, the distinctive voice of Autolycus. He quickly walked toward the squabble, fearing the worse; that Iolaus and the thief had finally had that confrontation that Iolaus had sought since Scyros.

The past Autolycus, figuring the his older self was too elderly to put up a good fight, said, "Oh, this ought to be interesting," and then lunged toward the older version of himself.

The present Autolycus quickly dodged his younger counterpart. "Ho! Ho! Ho! Pretty quick for an old guy, huh? I'll drop you like a sack of fools' gold."

"You and who's army, Grandpa? Huh?" the younger Autolycus said as he reversed direction and began circling the present Autolycus.

The older Autolycus said, "I'll show you who's a has-been," before he lunged at his younger counterpart.

Hercules quickly stepped through the bushes, and saw one Autolycus deliver a right punch to another Autolycus. "Hey, hey, hey, hey. Not the face.not the face," the younger Autolycus said.

Narcissism still very much alive in the present King of Thieves; Autolycus realized that if he were to damage the face of his younger self, then he wouldn't be as dashingly handsome as he was now, "You got a point," he said, and relented.

The younger Autolycus had the advantage to his older self. Through the complexity of time-travel, any physical damage the older Autolycus did to the younger Autolycus, would really be done to himself. He knew how vain he was, and how vain his elder self would be. The past Autolycus retaliated by stepping on the foot of his present counterpart.

"Ow," Autolycus lamented as he danced around and frenetically hopped on his one good foot.

"Ooh, that's gotta hurt," the past Autolycus chuckled.

Not to be outdone with the childish pranks, the present Autolycus looked up and pointed toward the heavens. He said, "Oh, look."

When the younger version of himself looked up, Autolycus grabbed his hair. "Not the hair," the younger Autolycus pleaded, as his older self had him in a head lock.

Finally seeing enough of the fighting, Hercules ran up to the two men, and after breaking them apart, lifted each off the ground several inches by their collars.

The demigod's head turned back and forth as he quickly sized up each of them, trying to quickly figure out which of the King of Thieves he was dealing with: past, present or future. "Break it up! Both of you."

In a show of good faith, Hercules lets both Autolyci down. "I've heard of being your own worst enemy, but this is ridiculous. Settle down."

"He started it," each said as the pointed to the other.

Realizing that he had the escaped present and past Autolycus in his midst, Hercules asked, "I don't care who started it. I just want it finished," then, changing the subject Hercules asked, "Did either of you two see Iolaus?"

"Yes, well, about that," the present Autolycus began as he stroked his goatee in thought. It was a nervous habit he had picked up when he was quite young. "well, you see, the doors were closing and."

"What the Old Pooh-bah of Pilfering is trying to say is Blondie was trapped inside," the past Autolycus abruptly finished.

"Old Pooh-bah of Pilfering? You watch your mouth," Autolycus said defending himself.

"Oh? Why? Is the old geezer embarrassed?"

Finally, having enough insults in one day, first by Iolaus and then by his younger self, Autolycus hit his counterpart with a haymaker to the jaw. The younger thief landed on the ground, unconscious, with a thud.

Autolycus looked at Hercules. "Let me give you advice, Hercules. Never argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience."

"I'll keep that under advisement," Hercules said.

Then, pulling his tunic down, Autolycus continued, "I know this is a huge shock, Hercules, one time, I was actually.obnoxious. Now, if you don't mind. I have something I have to do."

"What?" Hercules said.

"Rescue Iolaus and get that stone so we can get out of here - before it's too late."

"Maybe I should go with you," Hercules said, worried that Autolycus could not accomplish both feats by himself. "I'll rescue Iolaus and you get the stone."

"No. I got us into this mess," Autolycus sighed and then said, "and I've got to get us out. Alone."

"I see," Hercules said, realizing that his offer to help injured the thief's already bruised ego. He had to give Autolycus another chance to make it right. " You've got an hour. After that, I'm coming in after both of you. Have you got a plan?"

"Do I have a plan? Why, it's so simple, it scares me." Autolycus said and smiled wickedly.

"Okay, then. I'll.wait right here," Hercules said in resignation, "One hour," he reminded the thief as Autolycus headed back toward the castle's perimeter.

Inside the castle's vault, Quallus blustered, "The collection will stay closed until all of the Autolyci are recaptured. I expect your swords to make the three of them into sixty. But stay alert! Watch every corner, every trapdoor. You snooze, you lose.your head!" To emphasize he meant business, Quallus' finger brushed caustically across his neck in a quick, slicing motion.

A lone figure, standing in the open doorway and darkened by the shadow of the light behind him, spoke up. He had his hand to his ear, mocking King Quallus. "I think my ears are burning." Autolycus took two steps forward, to reveal himself.

"There he is!" One guard said, pointing to the King of Thieves as if it was not obvious he was there.

Quallus was cautious, having been duped by the Autolyci before, "Wait! There's only one of him! It's obviously a trick."

"But , sire." the guard said in protest, eager to get the infamous thief.

Quallus dismissed the protestation. "The other 's have got to be around here, somewhere. Keep searching."

"Sire, quick!" the guard said as he watched Autolycus pull out his grappling hook from the holdout underneath his tunic. He swung it in a tight circle.

"Don't be distracted, That's what they want." Quallus said looking around for the other Autolyci. He did not see Autolycus pull out his grappling hook.

And that was the beauty of the King of Thieves' plan. Autolycus reasoned that the guards would be so busy looking for the other two Autolyci that he would be able to sneak in and grab the stone.

Even though his pride stole some of his stealth, Autolycus let the grappling hook fly. He looked up at the dangling line, as if he were going to use it to propel himself over to the Kronos stone, but instead of grabbing the grappling hook, Autolycus jumped up and flipped into the crowd of guards.

Some of the guards were frantically searching for the other Autolyci, and the other guards were aimlessly pursuing the King of Thieves and sloppily bumping into each other. Autolycus flipped up again and somersaulted toward the Kronos stone.

The guards trying to capture Autolycus were having trouble keeping up with their moving target. As soon as they would converge toward him, he would flip up again and twist and turn in the air, making his capture near impossible.

On his final approach to the Kronos stone, Autolycus flipped up and swung from the bar, his knees were crooked over the beam like an acrobat. Quickly, he reached down and plucked the Kronos stone from its perch.

"Confounding, aren't I?" He said, as he continued to hang upside down. With another flip Autolycus landed on the head of an adjacent guard.

With the crystal in his right hand, Autolycus make a quick escape. He serendipitously used each of the guard's heads as an escape route, skipping easily from one head to the other, until he was at the last guard.

Once there, the guard was ready for him, but Autolycus quickly flipped over the guard and ran toward the same door he had escaped from earlier, the door that lead to the interior of the castle.

"Autolycus! You're alone." Quallus said.

Stopping, Autolycus sighed, "Ah! Now you've heard of me."

He nodded toward Quallus as a sign of respect, both to him as a King and for himself as the King of Thieves and then quickly ran out of the castle and toward the waiting demigod. As soon as he safely delivered the Kronos stone to Hercules, he would go back to save Iolaus and his future self.

Iolaus and the future Autolycus walked briskly through a secret passageway. It was dark and curvy and it was new to Iolaus, but Autolycus seemed to be intimately familiar with every twist and turn. Not hearing any guards behind them, Iolaus figured that Autolycus had the advantage in this darkened tunnel.

"How'd you know about this secret passage way?" Iolaus asked as he saw the light of daylight only moments away. He finally believed that they would get out of there alive, although without the Kronos stone.

"How do you think?" Autolycus asked. There was a playful hint of a secret in his voice.

"Just how many times have you stolen the Kronos stone?" Iolaus then asked.

A sly, crooked smile crossed the elder thief's face. "I'd explain it to you but your brain may explode." Indeed, Autolycus had stolen the stone, several times. In fact, he was in the midst of stealing the Kronos stone when he was abruptly transported to the past.

The elder Autolycus sighed to himself and thought, "Maybe this time, I will get it right," as they left the darkness of the tunnel and proceeded out into the light of the day.

Not waiting around for any persistent guards, they walked toward the last place they had seen Hercules and found him a short ways away. The past Autolycus was on the ground, nursing his jaw from the blow his present counterpart delivered to him.

"Talk about your blast from the past," the elder Autolycus said as he greeted his former self. "Why, I feel like I've known you all my life."

The past Autolycus rolled his eyes in disgust.

"That has got to be strange," Iolaus said regarding the two thieves. He had his own sense of uneasiness dealing with one Autolycus he couldn't like and another one that had definitely mellowed with age.

"You have no idea," the Autolycus from the future said.

"Did you see Autolycus?" Hercules asked. The hour he had promised the thief would soon be up. He feared the worst.

"Didn't he make it out?" Iolaus asked.

"He made it out," the past Autolycus whined. "How do you think I got this?" He pointed at his prominent chin, which was becoming more prominent with the swelling.

"He went to steal the Kronos stone," the Autolycus from the future said.

"How do you know?" Iolaus asked and then realized, "Oh, look who I'm talking to."

"So, if it's not against some kind of time-traveling rules, can you at least tell us if he gets it?"

The future Autolycus was about to speak when a breathless Autolycus appeared behind the bushes and stopped.

"Did you get the stone?" Hercules asked.

With a grin, Autolycus revealed his right hand which he had hiding behind his back. The Kronos stone's glow increased in brilliance. "Was there any doubt? After all, I am the King of Thieves."

"Yes, you are," Hercules said, knowing when to give the King of Thieves his dues.

"Why.thank you.but, I think we better go. It won't take long for Quallus to come looking for me."

"Don't you mean me?" the Autolycus from the past said.

The Autolycus from the future had the solution for the youngest Autolyci, "Autolycus. This is goodbye. You won't remember any of this when we leave, and neither will Quallus. So with that, let me say that you are going to age like a fine wine. Bon appetit.

The future Autolycus turned around and walked away. Iolaus shrugged his shoulders and followed him, with Hercules and the present Autolycus following behind.

"I hope you know what you're doing," Iolaus said as Autolycus asked the heroes to place their hand on the Kronos stone. "With our luck, he'll boomerang us back into the future. He saw the sour face of the future Autolycus. "No offense," he said.

"None taken. You belong in your world, Iolaus, and I belong in mine." With that, the future Autolycus rested his hand on the Kronos stone, with the hands of Hercules, Iolaus and Autolycus. "I guess it would be too corny to say, 'One for all and all for one,'" he said.

"I guess so," Autolycus said as he saw the cynical frowns of Iolaus and Hercules as the Kronos stone brought them back into their timeline.

The four men looked around. It looked like city of Ceryneia, and then they heard the unmistakable voice of Falafel. "Iolaus, Hercules. Where did you go in such a hurry." They knew they were home.

"I'll take that, now," the future Autolycus said as he plucked the Kronos stone from the present Autolycus' hand.

"Hey! I worked hard to steal that stone."

The future Autolycus smiled, "And you'll have the opportunity to steal it again. After all, who do you think put it back in Quallus' museum."

Flipping it up in the air, and easily catching it, Autolycus from the future turned and left the three men and Falafel in the square.

"Now it all makes sense," Iolaus said shaking his finger and thinking as Autolycus disappeared behind a building.

Itching to go, and to get away from the pious Hercules and Iolaus, Autolycus said, "Well, I'd like to say it's been fun, but it hasn't, so with that, I'll be going. By the way, where are the two of you heading off to?"

"I don't know. Herc?" Iolaus asked and then turned to Autolycus. "Why are you asking?"

"Because I want to make sure I'm going in the opposite direction," Autolycus answered and began to walk away.

"Autolycus," Iolaus said, getting the thief's attention again. He still wanted an apology for what the thief had done to him in Scyros. Unfortunately, he knew the apology would have to wait. They were bound to meet up again, "See you around?" he finally said.

Autolycus smiled. "I can almost guarantee it," Autolycus turned around again, and after a few steps turned down a warn path away from the city.

Hercules, remembering Iolaus' earlier comment said, "What makes sense?" as the two heroes began walking in the opposite direction of Autolycus, and away from Ceryneia.

Iolaus looked at Hercules in confusion. "Funny. I don't remember. Maybe it will come to me later."

Hercules smiled at Iolaus' lack of memory. Unlike Iolaus' fading memory of his journey to the past, Hercules would always remember.

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