The fog clung to the ground, the trees, the foliage turning common objects into grotesque menacing shapes in the dark. The wind created eddies and currents in the fog causing the indistinct shapes to ripple and distort even further. The fallen leaves took on new life as they swirled on the wings of the stiff breeze.
A tall, lithe woman raised an arm to ward off the cyclone of leaves. They twirled around her and moved on. She combed her long brown tresses with her fingers, dislodging the several leaves that had gotten entangled there.
She moved forward cautiously. The hem of her long gown obscured by the mist at her feet. She felt compelled to continue. She was being drawn toward something ahead. The ground rumbled beneath her. She turned to run but the earth rocked and bucked. She fell, tried to rise but couldn’t regain her footing before the ground split apart beneath her. In a final effort to save herself, she clawed a hand hold in the side of the fissure. She glanced down to look for a foot hold. Her gaze was engulfed by a black, bottomless pit beneath her. Terrified, she tried desperately to keep her tenuous grip on the side. She screamed as her hold failed and she began to fall.
A hand grasped her wrist, her fall stopped instantly, she opened her eyes and looked wildly up into a face she’d never seen before. He was tall with long brown hair and an angular jaw. It was a gentle face; a kind, reassuring face. She knew he would protect her.
She woke with a start and sat up in her bed. After endless nights dreaming of destruction, this night she had been saved. She gazed out the window into the darkness, “He’s coming.”
Iolaus stood staring out the porthole in the darkness. He leaned wearily against the night stand and watched the dark water roll beneath the flashes of lightning from the storm ahead. He stifled a yawn, he hadn’t slept well since they’d boarded the ship. Every night it was the same nightmare. Hercules saves the beautiful woman only to be tortured and then buried alive under a collapsing building. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the horrible images. He tried to talk to Hercules about it but he never got further than the girl before Hercules dismissed the whole thing. Iolaus was always dreaming about girls and that was the end of the conversation for Hercules. Iolaus was girl crazy and always had been, of course, silly old Iolaus is dreaming about girls. Iolaus signed heavily. This dream was different. Iolaus could feel it. But Hercules wasn’t listening. He had that headstrong, demigod always knows best attitude going.
A crash of thunder broke through Iolaus’ thoughts and he realized the ship was entering the edge of the squall line. Glancing again, out the porthole, Iolaus could see the beginnings of St. Elmo’s fire around the edges of the ship. The hunter grabbed his vest, slipped it on and pulled on his boots before he headed top side to help. There were rough seas ahead.
Iolaus arrived on deck to find the crew scurrying around like a swarm of mice. He spied Hercules standing at the bow with Demitrius, the ship’s captain. Iolaus headed their direction trying to keep his balance on the rocking deck. Demitrius was a stout man, not short, not tall, but muscular and fit. Demitrius moved to give Iolaus room to stand between them as he listened to Hercules over the howling wind and the first large drops of rain.
“I have the feeling that we’re off course.”
Demitrius nodded, “I think you’re right, Hercules. And if we get caught in this we’ll be blown even further off.” He turned to his first mate and yelled down to him, “Secure the main. We’ll keep the sails up and try to skirt the storm. Keep a sharp look out.”
Iolaus glanced around, looking for something useful to do, not finding anything, he turned back to Demitrius, “Anything we can do to help?”
“I’d like to say yes, but I don’t know what it would be.”
A green fog descended over the ship accompanied by a low humming. The hum began to build.
“What is that sound?” Demitrius asked.
Hercules shook his head, “I don’t think we should stick around to find out.”
Demitrius moved to the wheel and relieved his first mate, hollering orders on the way, “Stand by to come about!”
The crew scrambled into action, leaning against the ever increasing wind. The men struggled with the main sail. Hercules moved quickly to help pull the rope and turn the sail.
The hum continued to rise in volume and pitch. A green bolt of lightning shattered the fog. The ship tipped wildly with the impact. The smell of burning wood filled the air. Iolaus grabbed the railing and barely kept himself on board. Hercules managed to maintain his balance but Demitrius was knocked to the deck. He slid across and hit a barrel which stopped his fall but the barrel was knocked over in the process. Oil spilled across the deck as the ship tipped the other way. The first mate cried out in terror, “She’s done! We’re going down!”
Iolaus ran to Demitrius and helped him up.
“To the lifeboats!” Hercules ordered.
The crew turned toward the lifeboats as another bolt of the strange green lightning struck amid ship. The oil ignited as the ship bucked under the stress. The men who weren’t already on fire dove for the railings as did a few who were.
Hercules was thrown overboard as a third bolt struck the already doomed ship.
“Hercules!” Iolaus turned toward the opposite railing where his friend disappeared.
“Iolaus, no! We have to get off the ship,” Demitrius grabbed Iolaus’ arm. Iolaus struggled as Demitrius wrapped his arms around Iolaus’ torso and bodily threw him over board and dove in after as the ship wrenched completely in two.
The men swam for their lives to keep from being sucked under with the ship as it sank. When they’d made it a safe distance, the men gathered together. Treading water, they did a head count as the mysterious fog lifted and the waters calmed around them. Only half the crew had survived and Hercules was not among them.
“We have to swim back. Look for them,” Iolaus said.
“There’s no one to look for, Iolaus,” Demitrius replied. “He’s gone.”
“You don’t know that, he’s-”
“Half god, I know, but look, the water’s calm now, quiet, like glass. The fog lifts. There is no one there. When a ship goes down like that it may well take more than a demigod’s strength to survive. He may not even have survived that last lightning bolt or whatever it was. He’s gone and we have survivors to see to. We don’t have the strength for searching, if we are to survive. Iolaus, you know this.” Demitrius could see the stormy look in Iolaus’ eyes and knew his heart was torn, “Tell me you know this is where your duty lies. Iolaus, I need your help keeping the men together and alive.”
Iolaus took a good hard, long look where the ship went down and then glanced around at the men floating around them. Some were hurt, bleeding, burned. Slowly, he nodded his head and turned away from the wreck.
Two boats glided out of the rising fog, ”Ahoy there. Do you need assistance?”
No oars or sails or other means of locomotion could be seen. The boats simply glided across the water as if pulled on invisible strings.
“Praise the Gods,” Demitrius cried, “Where have you come from?”
“An island. Your ship went down just off our shores. Let’s get all of you in the boats. Is this all?”
“Yes, we lost half the crew with the ship.”
“A shame, we could have used more help in the mines.”
“Pardon?” The first mate asked as they helped him over the side.
“Nothing, you’ll be officially informed later. Just have a seat.”
Iolaus and Demitrius shared a bench in the boat, “Hercules always has a nose for land, Demitrius.”
“You think he made it to shore?” the captain asked.
“I know he did.” This part wasn’t in his dream.
“I hope you’re right because I’ve got a bad feeling about his bunch.” Demitrius indicated with his eyes, a metal ring in the floor of the boat. A ring that could only be used for prisoner chains. Iolaus and Demitrius shared a dark look.
Hercules rolled himself over in the sand. His feet were still getting wet in the tide but his nose would stay dry now. He closed his eyes and rested. That last bolt of lightning had been close enough to singe him and he ached where his body had hit the surface of the water. He needed to start looking for other survivors that had reached the shore. He needed to find Iolaus. He rolled back over and found a hand helping him rise to his knees. The hand was attached to a tall, dark-haired beautiful woman. She smiled at him.
“The ship,” Hercules began.
“I know. I saw it break up but you’re safe now.”
“Any other survivors?” Hercules asked.
She looked up the beach, “None that I’ve seen. I’m sorry.”
Hercules’ heart fell but surely he couldn’t be the only survivor. The shore wasn’t that far. “Where am I?”
“On the island of Atlantis.”
Hercules had never heard of it. Again, he closed his eyes a moment to rest. Maybe the shore had been farther than he thought. He felt exhausted.
The girl began brushing sand off his arm and his face. Hercules opened his eyes and looked at her.
“We should get you back to my home so I can clean and dress these cuts properly.”
Hercules looked down at his arm in confusion and saw a gash on his upper arm that was still oozing blood.
She touched his forehead, “You have another cut here.” She took his arm and helped him to his feet.
“No, we should start searching...”Hercules took his first real look at his surroundings. The beach was completely deserted. There wasn’t another living soul as far as he could see. He turned to look out to sea and found the same. Nothing was moving except the water and the trees. There was nothing to look for. He turned back to the woman.
“Thank you, for your help. I’m Hercules.”
“Nice to put a name to the face. I’m Cassandra, and I’m glad to help you.” She led him slowly toward a path through the woods.
Cassandra lived alone in a small cabin. Her furnishings were utilitarian and home made but functional. Hercules sat at the small table and watched as Cassandra finished applying ointment to his arm and tied a bandage around it.
“That must have been some storm,” she commented.
“It was,” Hercules agreed. “Lightning hit our ship. We went down. They were a good crew.”
She set a cup in front of him. “It’s tea,” she explained, “it’ll help you.”
Hercules nodded and took a sip.
“Hungry?” she asked.
Hercules nodded and glanced around remembering his spartan surroundings. “But only if you can spare it.”
“I can. It’s just me here now and if my visions come to pass and they always do, we won’t be here much longer. We might as well eat it before it’s gone.”
Hercules felt as though he’d missed something. “Where’s it going?”
“Atlantis is going to be destroyed. I’ve seen it in my dreams. I’ve had dreams of things to come since I was a little girl. They always come true. Although you’re taller than I thought you’d be.” She smiled again.
“I think you have me confused with someone else.”
“No. I’ve seen you in my dreams. I one of them, you save my life during the destruction and here you are. You’re going to save us.” She picked up an empty bowl and gestured for Hercules to follow her outside.
Beside a little garden patch that had obviously seen better days, she kneeled and began sorting through the corn stalks in search of something edible.
“I’ve had this garden since I was little. It was my father’s. He would always say, this is where life begins.” She held up a wilted corn husk for Hercules to see. “They look sick, don’t they? I’d hoped to pick us lunch, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to keep the garden alive these days.”
Hercules kneeled beside her, “Let me help.” He picked up an ear of corn and began helping to sort out the still edible ones.
“I know how this must sound to you, Hercules, but I’m not imagining it.”
“You say Atlantis will be destroyed. What happens in your dreams?”
“What I see, is chaos and ruin. I’m falling and that’s the end of me, until last night. You caught me. That’s when I knew you were coming.” She stopped and looked hard at Hercules, “You don’t believe me, do you? Of course not, how could you? Silly woman living alone in the woods, carrying on about the end of the world. Her world anyway. But it’s real, Hercules. IT is real. I know it.”
“You’re that certain?”
“At first, I hoped it was just a nightmare. But now you’re here, I know it’s real.”
“Have you told anyone? I assume that other people live here on Atlantis.”
“No, I’ve been afraid to. I don’t exactly fit in here. The people here are all alike. They dress alike, they think alike.”
Hercules understood her problem, “But you don’t and that’s a problem for them.”
“I don’t want to live in the city, to be told when to come and when to go and what to do. What to think. I don’t have to have everything my neighbor has to be happy. I’m like my father. People were afraid of him, too, because he was different. It didn’t matter to him. We had a wonderful life out here. It didn’t matter to me, either, until now. I wish I could convince you.”
Hercules took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze, “I believe you believe, Cassandra. That’s good enough for me. But you’ve got to tell people what you know.”
“That would mean going to the city.” She obviously wasn’t sure about going there.
“Yes, but I’ll go with you. I’ll help you. If there are other survivors of the ship wreck, they must be in the city. I was traveling with a friend, that must be where I’ll find him.”
Iolaus leaned against the wall of the cell. His head ached terribly. Demitrius sat beside him in similar condition.
“What was that thing they used on us? They never even touched us.” Demitrius wondered.
Iolaus thought about the scepters that had sent the green lightning to shock them all into unconsciousness when they resisted the order to enter the cells. “I have no idea. I’ve never seen anything like it but I don’t think we should encourage the men to riot anymore. Another blast from those scepters and I think my head will explode.”
“So, how do we get out of here if we can’t fight our way out?”
“We wait for Hercules.” Iolaus replied with conviction.
“Iolaus, what if Hercules doesn’t come?”
“He will. He made it to shore alright and he’ll be here. He’s survived much worse.”
“And what about the machine? Hercules can withstand that too, I suppose.”
“We’ll figure something out. He’ll be here. Hercules hasn’t let me down yet. And I know I’m not going to spend my life digging pretty rocks out of the ground. I’ve got better things to do. What do you think they want these rocks for anyway? They aren’t gold or silver.”
Demitrius replied, “I have heard that you can use clear rocks like this to focus the power of the sun to start fires but that was only a small rock. I suppose that there must be one of these rocks in that machine. You think?”
Iolaus nodded, “From the size of my headache it must be a huge one.”
A ruckus from down the cell block caught their attention. The sound of doors opening and closing.
“What now?” Iolaus wondered.
Their door opened and two large guards stood outside with chains. “Let’s go, come on.”
“Time for the sailors to become miners, I think. Hercules better hurry or we might have to find another way out.” Demitrius replied and hauled himself to his feet.
Hercules pulled at the hem of the clothing Cassandra had given him to wear. It resembled the clothing Hercules had seen high ranking Romans wear. Hercules thought it felt more like women’s garments. He felt exposed.
“I feel ridiculous,” he finally voiced.
“Outsiders aren’t allowed on the island,” Cassandra explained. “The people here think the rest of the world is, well, let’s just say, ‘less than civilized.”
“And wearing this IS civilized?”
“You don’t understand. You have to pass for a native. You’re an outsider and any citizen caught with an outsider is punished.”
“I don’t know. No one’s ever broken the law.”
“And this is how everyone dresses here?”
“Yes, you look fine.”
A familiar humming sound approached quickly from behind them. Hercules grabbed Cassandra and pulled her behind a tree. A large winged vehicle of some sort flew over the treetops and vanished behind the hills. A man was suspended beneath the wings and a crystal hung above them.
Hercules moved out from behind the tree to watch it disappear, “What was that?”
“One of King Panthius’ latest advancements. His guards use them to patrol the island.”
“I’d like to meet this king of yours.”
“You will. He’ll be at the council meeting this afternoon.”
They continued walking and as they reached the top of the hill, the city was revealed below them in the valley. Shining white spires reflected the sun’s rays. Hercules had never seen a city look so clean and beautiful. He could see a steady stream of gliders approaching and taking off from the roof of one of the larger buildings. Cassandra explained that was the palace.
As they neared the city Hercules could see that the people did, indeed, dress as Cassandra had clothed him. She, however, stood out in the crowd wearing her hand woven garments. The crowds were large and everyone seemed to be in a terrible hurry. Street vendors peddled their wares as in every other large city Hercules had visited but here Hercules wasn’t exactly sure what it was they were peddling. He also noticed that many of the people were whispering and staring as they passed.
“I thought you said we’d fit right in.”
“I said you’d fit right in. I told you I wasn’t very popular,” she corrected.
“Everyone’s in a hurry. It’s like a circus,” Hercules commented.
“That’s putting it mildly.”
A group of citizens rushing by separated the pair. One of the street vendors caught Hercules in his web before he could rejoin Cassandra.
Hercules turned and pointed to himself with a bewildered expression. What could he have done to give himself away already? The vendor took him by the arm and led him toward one of the merchant tables. His banter reminded Hercules of Salmoneus only he was usually able to get a word in edgewise with Salmoneus.
“This is your lucky day! Or should I say, you little woman’s lucky day. Thanks to the miracle of crystology, and my price to you that’s a steal of a deal. You can now have your own crystal-wave oven! Pop in your food, press a button, and zap! Instant feast. A demonstration.”
The salesman placed a plate of raw meat into the box and touched the controls. The box buzzed with a familiar hum. He looked up as Cassandra appeared next to Hercules. The vendor’s demeanor changed completely. He turned to Hercules.
“She with you?”
“Is there a problem?” Hercules asked.
“What are you trying to do? Ruin my business?” He purposefully turned away from them as the oven signaled it was done. “Citizen! Today is your lucky day.”
Hercules and Cassandra drifted away, “Is everyone here that friendly?”
“People think I’m strange because I don’t have to have all their gadgets.”
“Who’d trust food cooked in a crystal wave oven?” Hercules grimaced at the thought.
“Just about everything on the island is powered by crystals. The gliders, the street lights, King Panthius calls it progress.”
“And I thought the Gods were misguided.”
Cassandra turned in surprise, “You believe in the gods?”
It was Hercules’ turn to be taken aback, “I don’t really have much choice. My father’s one of them.”
“I knew it, I knew the myths were true.”
“Myths?” Hercules asked.
“The people of Atlantis haven’t believed in gods for centuries. They worship science here. Everything has to be provable by scientific principles. Come on, the King’s Council meeting will be starting soon, we’d better hurry.”
A citizen already stood before King Panthius with an easel beside him displaying the diagrams for a new building. Hercules and Cassandra stood in the back of the crowd. Hercules watched with interest.
“It will dwarf the tallest building we now have. It will house hundreds, so our children’s children can enjoy the comforts of Atlantis into the next millennium. It will be your legacy, King Panthius.,” he finished with a deep bow.
Panthius rose from his seat and spread his arms magnanimously, “Your proposal is approved, Citizen. Good work. Submit your designs to the council.”
The citizen again bowed deeply, “Thank you, Sire.”
Cassandra whispered to Hercules, “I can’t do this.”
“Yes, you can. I’ll be right here.”
Panthius resumed his seat, “Next citizen, step forward.”
Cassandra took a deep breath and feeling Hercules’ hand on her back, gently prodding her to move, she stepped forward. There were moans and groans from the others in attendance. Evidently, she’d been here before.
“She’s not one of us! Don’t let her speak!”
Panthius waved his hand for silence, “Every citizen has the right to speak, even if they choose to reject our way of life.”
Cassandra drew herself up to her full height, “Thank you, King Panthius. Citizens, I know what you all think of me, but Atlantis is my home, too. Which makes what I’m about to say all the more difficult. We’re in danger, our island is going to be destroyed.”
The crowd murmured not taking Cassandra seriously. Some laughed outright. Hercules frowned with concern.
“I warn you,” Panthius pointed at Cassandra, “don’t mock this council. If you don’t have a legitimate subject for discussion, then step down.”
“I mean no disrespect, but you have to believe me.”
“Why do you think we’re in danger?” Panthius asked.
“I’ve seen it in a vision,” Cassandra nearly whispered fearing the reaction.
The crowd laughed and jeered. Cassandra visibly shook afraid of what might come next.
Panthius sneered, “In a vision! Still trapped in the dark ages, are we? And where do your visions come from, the gods, perhaps? You’ve wasted enough of our time, step down, now.”
Hercules joined Cassandra on the platform, “Wait a minute, she isn’t finished.”
Panthius disagreed, “Yes, she’s quiet finished, citizen.”
“I know it’s hard to believe in something you can’t explain, but what if she’s right? Are you willing to gamble with the lives of your families, your children? Shouldn’t you at least think about it? Look into it?”
The crowd’s murmuring became concerned. Panthius didn’t like the change in attitude he was hearing.
“We will not let you spread fear in our kingdom!”
“If you don’t listen to her, there may not be anything left of your kingdom,” Hercules warned.
“Enough! I have no idea what motivates your superstitious lies but reason and logic expose them for what they are. Now leave this city, until you can conduct yourselves in a more civilized manner.”
Hercules had wanted to ask about the ship wreck and survivors but the unrest from the crowd convinced him that this wasn’t the time or the place. He took Cassandra’s arm, “Let’s get out of here.”
“I’m sorry you didn’t get to look for your friends.” The king’s guards had escorted them to the city edge, Hercules hadn’t a chance to ask about Iolaus. He and Cassandra were making their way back to her home. Obviously, they couldn’t turn around and reenter the city right away.
“You said that strangers weren’t allowed on the island?” Hercules asked.
“So, what would they have done with any of the survivors that might have made it to shore?”
“I’m not sure. Imprison them, I guess,” Cassandra thought about it a moment. “You know, there have been other ships. None of them have ever been allowed to land. They are all destroyed as yours was.”
“You mean that green lightning was something they did?”
Cassandra nodded, “Yes, I’m sure of it. It comes from the palace.”
“So if they intentionally sank our ship...what did they do with the survivors?”
“I don’t know and it’s too late to return to the city tonight. “Cassandra was intrigued with this line of thinking, “But tomorrow, we should go back and start looking for them.”
They walked through the woods in silence for a time, enjoying the quiet and solitude after the crowds of Atlantis both lost in their thoughts.
“Hercules, why didn’t you tell them you are the son of a god?”
“Because it wouldn’t have made a difference. If we’re going to convince them of anything, we need to find proof.”
“The look on their faces, before they thought I was just an animal, now they think I’m crazy, too.”
“You may be the only sane one here.”
Cassandra nodded and they continued walking.
“My family’s lived in this forest for generations. All my ancestors are buried here. My mother used to say their souls would always be with me, alive, in the wind, in the song of the birds, in this place. Listen.” She closed her eyes as a nearby bird sang to her. “I can’t believe it’s all going to disappear.”
Hercules was woken by the sound of someone having a bad dream. He looked across the room and saw Cassandra in her bed thrashing around. He rose quickly and went to her side.
“Cassandra, wake up.”
Her eyes opened and she sat up in one sudden, frightened movement. “Hercules.”
“It’s okay, you’re all right.”
“No, I saw fire.”
A flaming torch crashed through the shutter of a window. It landed on the floor and a line of flames streaked up the curtains and into the thatch roof. Through the window Hercules could see a crowd had gathered, an angry crowd.
Hercules grabbed Cassandra and pulled her off the bed. They ran for the door but a burning beam fell from the ceiling, blocking the door. Hercules looked around for another escape route. He glanced up and saw stars through the hole in the roof. He turned back to Cassandra, “Do you trust me?”
She nodded, “I trust you.”
“Hold on, I’ll catch you on the other side.” He picked Cassandra up and threw her through the hole in the roof. He turned to the wall on the same side as the hole in the roof. It was burning, he ran straight at it, using his divine strength to bust through the wall and escape the building. Once outside, he turned immediately and caught Cassandra as she rolled off the edge of the roof.
“Are you all right?” Hercules asked.
Cassandra was surprised to find herself again in his arms, “I think so.”
The crowd, awed by the escape, backed away in fear.
“And you call yourselves civilized?” Hercules asked them. “She’s trying to help you!”
Hercules set Cassandra down as the crowd all but fled the scene. She couldn’t take her eyes off the burning house. She slid to her knees.
“My father built this house. I was born here. It’s all a cruel joke. It’s a curse. The people won’t believe me, the gods won’t help. I never wanted this responsibility, never.”
Hercules kneeled beside her, “You had the courage to come this far. Don’t give up now.”
“Why is this happening to me?”
“I don’t know. I do know, growing up, I thought my strength was a curse. It took me a long time to understand that it’s a gift. Like your visions.”
“But what’s the point if I can’t use them to change things?”
“But maybe you can. It doesn’t matter why you have the gift, the important thing is how you use it. Some good will come of all this.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Hercules wrapped his arms around her and held her as they watched the home burn.
King Panthius was not happy. He didn’t like things that he couldn’t explain. “Say that again.”
The two citizens before him nearly quaked at the request, “It’s true, Sire. He walked through a wall of fire.”
“No ordinary man could have done it, yet we saw with our own eyes, your majesty.”
“And your minds? What do they tell you? Think! Since what you describe is impossible, it stands to reason that it was a trick.” The two citizens glanced at each other, unsure about this idea. Panthius continued, “I promise we will get to the bottom of this. Thank you, citizens.”
As they were led from the room, Panthius gestured his head guard, Skirner, forward. “How many others saw it?”
“From accounts, a dozen, maybe more. Word spreads quickly, Sire. The people will demand an explanation.”
“And that’s exactly what we’re going to give them. Are you certain you rounded up all the sailors from that crash yesterday?”
“We didn’t search but the seas were calm, we brought in all that were still alive and floating.”
“If he’s as strong as they say, he could have swam to shore.”
“How can you be sure he came from the ship, your majesty?” Skirner questioned.
“Where else would Cassandra have found a friend? Certainly not among our citizens. Find the girl and her friend and bring them here.”
“What if he resists? He sounds like a very strong man.”
Panthius shared a malicious grin with Skirner, “I’m sure you’ll think of something, you always do.”
Iolaus struggled with the basket of dirt and rocks. His arms and back ached with the effort. He’d already experienced first hand the effects of the big machine outside the palace. He’d seen the effects of the smaller hand held versions that that guards carried. The long scepter-like devices seemed to pack the same green lightning and the same punch as their larger counterpart. The guards had no qualms about using the devices on prisoners that couldn’t keep up the workload in the mines.
Demitrius practically dropped his load of rocks on the pile. He leaned back and stretched his back before picking up the basket for another load. Iolaus dumped his rocks and smiled at the guard as he turned with Demitrius to head back into one of the many, many tunnels.
“I’m kinda glad we’ve got the guards here. I’d be hopelessly lost,” Demitrius commented. “They’ve already turned the underside of their island into a labyrinth of several levels. I don’t know what’s keeping the surface level from collapsing.”
Iolaus agreed, “One of the prisoners whose been here awhile told me that they’ve had a number of cave in’s and sink holes that have opened up. Looking at it from down here, I don’t think this island is going to last much longer.”
“I don’t know where else they’ll find those crystal things. There can’t be many left down here.” Demitrius kneeled and began scooping dirt and small rocks back into his bucket.
Another prisoner kneeled with them. Iolaus recognized him as a local instead of a former sailor. He addressed Demitrius, “Captain, did you have a strong man in your crew? A very strong man?”
Iolaus and Demitrius exchanged looks. Demitrius slowed his filling of his basket. “I had such a man on my ship but he went overboard and wasn’t seen again. He wasn’t picked up with my crew.”
The man smiled and his happiness showed that he was missing several teeth. “I knew he could not be one of the surface dwellers. This man risked his life in a burning building to save a woman thought to be insane, an Atlantean would never do such a noble thing.”
Demitrius’ first mate kneeled beside them and whispered, “Hercules! That has to be Hercules!”
Demitrius motioned him to be quiet. “If anyone could survive and make it to land, it would be Hercules. He is the son of a god, you know.” Demitrius and Iolaus shared a smile.
“The gods. They have forsaken Atlantis and allowed us to see to our own demise down here. Can your son of a god save us from ourselves? Any of us? Will he know we are down here?”
Iolaus patted the man on the back reassuringly, “He will find us. He has a nose for locating those who need his help and for dealing with the trouble that follows. Just hold on a little longer, friend.”
Dawn found Hercules and Cassandra slowly making their way back toward the city. After her house had been reduced to ashes, Hercules had pulled her back to a large tree where he’d built a fire and made a bed from soft pine boughs. She was so exhausted that thankfully, she didn’t dream. Now she had to begin the process of rebuilding her life and she assumed that it wouldn’t be on Atlantis. She had nothing left to hold her here. She was free.
“What’s it like out there, Hercules, beyond Atlantis?”
“It’s hard to say, every place is different. It’s own unique people, customs.”
Cassandra took a moment to think about it, “I’d like to see that.”
Before she could continue asking questions something ahead of them caught her eye. There was a small fissure in the ground. A crack that she could swear she saw growing right in front of them; growing and getting deeper and darker. Like in her dream, just like in her dream. The ground opened up and she would be swallowed whole by it.
Hercules shook her arm and she woke from the flashback of the vision to find him looking very concerned.
“Cassandra, what is it?”
She pointed to the fissure ahead, “The ground, this is how it starts in my vision.”
Hercules nodded, “And I’ve got more good news,” he pointed up, “The birds are gone.”
“The birds, they know, it’s instinct.”
“Like rats leaving a sinking ship, whatever’s going to happen, is going to happen soon.” Hercules predicted.
Suddenly, the hum of a pair of gliders landed beside them and two men in guard uniforms moved menacingly towards them. Hercules pulled Cassandra behind him. Skirner and the other guard unholstered their scepters and stepped forward.
“Let me guess...you’re lost, and you need directions,” Hercules offered.
Skirner charged the demigod who sidestepped and tripped him. Skirner crashed into the ground. The other guard came at Cassandra who grabbed a large tree branch and swung catching the guard midtorso, sending him back several feet. Skirner rolled bringing his scepter to bare on Cassandra, he pulled the trigger. Hercules leapt in front of her and took the full charge. He crashed to the ground in a heap and remained there motionless.
Hercules was aware that he was laying on a hard floor. He was also aware that his hands were shackled together at the wrists. His head pounded and he felt tremendously weak. He hated feeling weak. He tried to open his eyes but they didn’t seem to work. He tried again and was rewarded with a blindingly bright light. He squinted and rolled to his side. Someone shaded him with their body. He squinted up into the face of King Panthius.
“Well, look who’s back from the dead.”
Cassandra tried to help him to his feet. He hands were also shackled. She was very concerned. She had never seen Hercules look so unsteady and weak. “Are you all right?”
Hercules nodded at her as he found his balance. He glanced around, they were surrounded by guards, each one carrying a scepter.
King Panthius remained within the circle of guards. “It’s unusual for someone to survive the full force of one of our scepters. Are you one of Cassandra’s gods?”
“The son of a god, if it matters.”
“It doesn’t. People who need you may believe in you, but this is Atlantis. We don’t.” He turned to Cassandra, “And you, harboring an outsider, a god no less. We’ll have to make the punishment fit the crime.”
Hercules rallied, “Leave her out of this, Panthius. She’s done nothing but try to help you.”
Panthius disagreed, “Wrong! She has greatly upset the order of our society by bringing you here! Order and progress are supreme here, you might say they are our religion.”
“And what about the sailors you rescued from the ship wreck yesterday? They are outsiders as well. What have you done with them?”
Panthius narrowed his eyes, “I have given them a life as long as they choose to serve Atlantis.”
Hercules could have laughed, “Serve? You mean they’re slaves to do your dirty work. Slaves so that the people of Atlantis can continue to live in luxury.”
“Every society requires it’s menial labor force. As long as they provide the necessary labor, they will be given the chance to continue supporting and preserving the greatest society man has ever known.”
“If you really cared about your people,” Cassandra retorted, “You’d tell them to leave the island.”
Panthius smirked and moved toward a control panel on a nearby wall. He pulled out a thin crystal and played with it. Twirling it between his fingers. “Even I couldn’t get them to leave. And why should they? There’s nothing we can’t overcome.” He held up the crystal as a case in point. “Science is a proven safeguard. And as you’re about to see, we’re quite prepared for any outside threat.”
Panthius placed the crystal into a slot on the control panel. A door slid open in the floor, a wall swung out to reveal the ocean. A giant piece of crystal inside a machine rose up out of the hole in the floor. It pointed at the ocean outside. Suddenly, Hercules had a feeling he knew what really happened to the ship. His suspicions were confirmed when the crystal caught the sunlight and began to hum. As the hum rose to an ear-deafening pitch the crystal began to glow brightly. Hercules and Cassandra had to avert their eyes from the brightness but they didn’t miss the green ray of lightning that streaked across the bay and decimated an outcropping of rocks.
Hercules turned to face Panthius, “You destroyed the ship! That was no lightning bolt!”
“Yours wasn’t the first and I promise it won’t be the last.”
“Good men died because of you!”
“That is incidental. I’m only concerned with preserving our way of life.”
“We were no threat to your way of life. We weren’t even coming here.” Hercules held his rage to a slow rolling boil. “I’ve got news for you, you’re in for a big let-down.”
Panthius was tired of this game, “There’s no place for you here. Too bad we could have used your strength in the mines.” He turned to the guards, “Dispose of this ‘god’ for good.”
Skirner and the other guards lowered their scepters and pushed Hercules toward the door with them. Hercules went along with them and called back to Cassandra as he was shoved through the door. “I’ll come back for you, I promise.”
Panthius snorted, “Only in your dreams, my dear Cassandra, only in your dreams.”
Hercules was pushed down stairs and into an underground chamber. The door closed behind him. The walls of the small square room were inset with more crystals. As Hercules stood pondering the purpose of the room, the ceiling slid aside revealing the blue sky above. A mirror came into view that reflected the sun down against the wall. As the light hit the crystals, they began to hum. Without warning a ray of green light shot toward the bottom of the room. Hercules side stepped the first blast but how long would he be able to keep up the pace?
Hercules rolled to miss the second blast. The third he saw coming in time to throw his arms in front of it. The beam spilt the shackles and they clattered to the floor. Hercules sidestepped the next blast. His back to the wall, the demigod waited for the light to hit the next crystal. He used his gauntlets this time to reflect the beam away from him and into the wall. Hercules was pelted with bits of wall as it exploded under the force of the crystal’s beam.
Hercules didn’t take the time to look but dove through the hole in the wall before another beam could come his way. Hercules rolled to a stop as the dust cleared in an adjacent tunnel. This tunnel was different, unrefined, not clean and pristine like the world above. Hercules was lying on something hard and uneven, he rolled to his knees to discover that he’d landed on tracks. Tracks like you’d find in a mine. Hercules smiled, “They use prisoners in the mine.”
Citizens milled around in the plaza beneath the royal balcony. They had heard the stories of the stranger that could walk through fire. Suddenly, the balcony erupted in flames. The people shouted the alarm but were stunned to silence when King Panthius calmly walked through the flames.
“A stranger has entered our great kingdom. He wears the mask of deceit, now rumor spreads like wildfire. Look behind you citizens.”
The crowd turned to see a very small fire on top of a nearby hill with a mirror behind it. Panthius motioned to Skirner who lowered his scepter and blasted the mirror. The fire on the king’s balcony vanished as the mirror shattered.
“A simple trick,” Panthius continued explaining, “done with mirrors. Gods do not exist, tricksters do. The only threat to Atlantis is fear, and we must unite against it. Anyone who chooses not to must feel free to leave the city. But know this, out there, beyond the cliffs, that is wilderness and you will live as a savage among savages. Who among us is willing to take that chance?”
Receiving no answers from the awed populous below him, he continued, “Then the future is ours. Are you with me?”
A resounding cheer rose from the crowd. A smiling Panthius turned and walked back inside.
Hercules crept along the tunnel. He couldn’t believe the number of passages down here. This was worse than the minotaur’s labyrinth. He didn’t think he could find his way back the way he had come. And after running into several cave ins, Hercules had decided that he knew exactly how this island was going to destroy itself. These tunnels were not properly shored up and even if they were, he didn’t think they would support the weight of the entire surface area of the city above. This island had been badly destablized and it wasn’t going to last. So much for high technology. Doesn’t do you any good if you destroy your environment to get it. What good is a crystal wave oven if you have no place to use it?
He came to yet another dead end. But this time he could see light shining in around the debris. Trying to be quiet, he shifted a couple of the beams and they slid away outside, down a slope into the sea. Hercules stuck his head out and saw the ocean below and a long pier where several ships were moored. Evidently, not all of the ships suffered the same fate as Demitrius’. This tunnel appeared to not be used anymore, it could be a good escape route once he found the prisoners. Hercules turned back and retraced his steps to the last intersection. There he used his boot to carve an arrow into the floor. It would also direct any guards that happened to be chasing them but it was better than to get lost and Hercules still had to go back to rescue Cassandra. He moved ahead into yet another tunnel. At least the small crystals embedded in the walls gave off a faint light, enough to see where he was going at any rate.
He could hear activity ahead. The sound of tools clanking and dirt scraping, the sounds of mining. There was definitely light ahead of him. Hercules came to a cavern. The workers and their guards were below him. His tunnel turned into a ledge to cross the cavern and then back into a tunnel on the other side.
Flattening himself against the tunnel wall, Hercules peered into the cavern. There were about a dozen men working here. Some had obviously been here for awhile judging by the condition of their clothing and the emaciated look of their bodies. Obviously Panthius didn’t think much of feeding these men more than survival rations. Other prisoners were newer, their clothing that of Greek sailors. Yes, Hercules could recognize some of these men from Demitrius’ crew. And there was Demitrius carrying an empty basket out of a side tunnel, a familiar mop of dusty blond curls and patched vest followed him. They both looked a little battered but in good shape. Hercules breathed a sigh of relief.
First, checking the tunnel behind him to make sure it was still clear, Hercules counted the guards at six, all carrying those blasted scepters. He’d have to figure out some way of getting them out of the way without anyone getting blasted. They couldn’t afford to have anyone out of action that long. Not if they were all going to get out of here alive.
Hercules dropped to his knees and began crawling across the ledge, out of sight of both the guards and their prisoners. Hercules had spied an entrance into the lower levels of the cavern that might hook up to the tunnel on the level he was on but it was on the other side of the cavern.
Cassandra’s arm was held securely by a guard on either side. In other circumstances she would be flattered to have caused so much concern. Now, however, with Panthius circling her, she was more concerned about what was going to happen next.
“You are a pariah. Living in the forest like an animal, hated, despised, alone. We all need to be connected to something, Cassandra. And I think maybe we can help each other.”
Cassandra recognized manipulation when she heard it, “I doubt it.”
“Your power could be very useful to us. I’m prepared to offer you a seat on the council, a position of respect, advisor to the king. As your first official duty, tell me what is going to destroy Atlantis?”
“There are limits to my vision. I don’t know how the island’s going to be destroyed, but I know there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”
“Your vision doesn’t show what causes the destruction?”
“No, only the result.”
Panthius leaned in so close she could smell his breath, “You don’t know who or what attacks us? Your gods maybe?”
“Nothing attacks, it all just falls apart.”
Panthius sat up amused, “all by itself?”
“Ridiculous!” Panthius had a good laugh about it. “My dear, have hallucinations ever ran in your family? Because I think you’ve got a raving case of them. All by itself, ridiculous. Atlantis is a modern well build city. It can’t just fall apart. That’s absurd.” He motioned to the guards, “Take her away.”
Skirner hesitated, “Where, Sire?”
Panthius obviously didn’t really care having now dismissed her visions in his own mind. “She’s a criminal, treat her as one.”
“The mines, Sire?”
Panthius was rapidly losing patience, “If that’s what you do with the others. Yes.”
“But we’ve never sent a woman to the mines.”
Suddenly, the floor began to move beneath them. Things fell, dislodged from the walls. Light fixtures swung wildly on their chains.
“Earthquake!” One of the guards yelled as he tried to keep his footing.
Hercules scrunched down behind the pile of rocks and took careful aim before launching the pebble toward Iolaus’ back.
“Hey!” Iolaus’ hand shot up to rub the back of his neck. He turned to see who was responsible. Hercules shrugged in response. Iolaus smiled and turned back to his work nudging Demitrius.
Dust began falling from the beams in the tunnels around them. The floor shook violently, throwing everyone to the ground. A fissure opened up in the floor of the cavern directly under three of the guards. They scrambled for the sides. The other three guards ran to help them. The prisoners scrambled for the top of the rock pile. Two of the guards couldn’t manage foot or hand holds and slid screaming down into the abyss. The other guards grabbed hold of the one still within reach just as water began pouring down the tunnels. The water ran into the fissure creating a water fall that became stronger by the second. The guards couldn’t hold onto their friend in the face of the rushing water, as they let go, they all tumbled over the side and vanished from sight.
Iolaus turned to Hercules as the ground finally stilled it’s shaking. “Pretty good, Herc, we didn’t have to lift a finger.”
“Good to see you, Iolaus.”
“And you,” the two friends shared a quick clasping of forearms. “What took you so long. We’ve been waiting.”
“I had some other difficulties.”
Iolaus smiled knowingly, “Tall, dark-haired...”
Hercules remembered Iolaus’s dream, the one he’d dismissed so quickly, “Yeah, something like that. You have to get everyone out of here. This tunnel leads to an opening in the hillside. You can get out that way. There are ships out there, lots of them. Demitrius, you can have your pick.”
“Excellent! And with all these fine workers, I’ll have a full crew again.”
A cheer went up.
Hercules still had business to conduct, “Is there another way back up into the palace?”
“Why would you want to go up there, Herc?” Iolaus asked.
“I left a friend in trouble. I have to go back for her.”
“You’re not coming?” Demitrius asked.
“I’ll catch up.”
“We’ll wait for you, Hercules,” Demitrius affirmed.
“There’s no time. If this place goes, I want you to leave without me.”
“But my dream...you...” Iolaus protested.
“I have to go back for Cassandra, I promised. Promise me, if this place goes, that you’ll leave.”
Iolaus thought a moment before offering his hand. Arguing with Hercules would be useless. If Hercules had given his word, Iolaus knew he wouldn’t break it. “Be safe.”
One of the older prisoners spoke up, “This way Hercules.” He pointed to a third tunnel.
The sailors emerged on the hillside and raised their faces to the sun. Even after only a couple of days it felt wonderful to bask in the warm rays. They began to pick their way down the hill discussing the merits of the various ships they could see in the harbor. There were no guards or anyone in sight. Iolaus was concerned, “Why would they leave this all unprotected?”
Demitrius had the answer, “Because they are arrogant and short-sighted. They don’t see the danger in digging tunnels under their island, their greed for the crystals is too great. It blinds them. They don’t believe anyone can escape their deadly green lights, therefore they don’t need to guard this. It is a blind spot that I will gladly claim my freedom from.”
“That and they patrol on those big flying bird things!” One of the men shouted.
The gliders were nearly upon them. The men scattered as they fired, blasting big chunks out of the hillside. Out in the open, they were easy targets.
“Demitrius, get your men into the water. I’ll draw them off,” Iolaus yelled and ran down the open beach. Iolaus zig zagged as the gliders made another pass at him, their strafing fire narrowly missing him. Iolaus dove into an old beached shipwreck. It had gaping holes in the hull clearly visible since the ship was upside down but it was solid. He glanced out to see the gliders turning and coming back his way, one after the other. The first fired as it passed, blowing huge holes in the hull.
Iolaus glanced around amid the debris and found several pots. They weren’t much as weapons went but he wouldn’t last another blast under this old wreck. The hunter waited until the second glider was almost upon him before he darted out and took aim. The pot flew true, not exactly where he had aimed it but he managed a hit to the wing where the blasts were coming from.
The glider spun out of control, blasting everything in it’s path, the wreck, the hillside, the other glider. They both turned and smashed into the hillside, exploding on impact beneath the palace.
“That couldn’t have been good for the stability of the island.” Iolaus took off running back toward the ships. He hit the water as the first tremors struck.
Cassandra had tried to run when the guards released her but Skirner grabbed her arms and held fast.
Another guard ran in, “Sire! The prisoners have escaped from the mine!”
“What!” Panthius cried. Could this day get any worse?
“The stranger set them free.”
Panthius moved to his control panel and began moving crystals around. The giant crystal began moving up from the floor again and the wall swung open to the outside.
“I don’t think so, Panthius. You’ll have to deal with me before you can go shooting that thing at anyone else.”
There were a pair of gliders swarming around outside. Hercules hoped that Iolaus and Demitrius weren’t the targets and if they were, that they could handle it.
Panthius motioned to Skirner. He practically drug Cassandra to the king’s side. His scepter pointed at her neck the whole time.
“Another step and she dies!” Panthius threatened.
“I would expect better manners from someone as ‘civilized’ as you.”
“An etiquette lecture? Save your breath.”
“When does it stop, Panthius? What can you gain from this that you don’t already have?”
“The future, Hercules, the future.”
The two gliders chose that moment to streak flaming past the open wall of the palace and crash into the hill beneath it. The shock wave shook the palace, off balancing everyone. Cassandra took a deep breath and with everything she had, she shoved her elbow into Skirner’s stomach. She was gratified as the air in his lungs was expelled in one huff and he doubled over, falling to the floor.
Hercules grabbed the scepter and Cassandra. He shoved Panthius to the side and smashed the control panel with the scepter.
The multiple layers of tunnels beneath them began to collapse and the palace with it.
“Are you all right?” Hercules hurriedly asked.
“Ask me later!” Cassandra replied.
All around them the island began to fall into the mine levels beneath. People screamed and panicked and ran everywhere. Nothing could be done now except run for their lives. But to where? The whole island was falling in on itself.
Hercules and Cassandra tried to make it down the stairs but they were crumbling away beneath their feet. Cassandra screamed as she fell. The floor gone from beneath her. She looked down and saw nothing but blackness, a void so dark and deep. Hercules grabbed her hand and she turned back and saw the face from her vision.
“Don’t let me fall!”
“Never.” Hercules pulled her up and she wrapped her arms around him like she would never let go. “Let’s not celebrate yet.”
“What now?” She looks and sees that there is no where for them to go. The stairs are impassable. “Oh no!”
“Don’t panic. I’ve got an idea.” Hercules began pulling her up the stairs, past the throne room and toward the roof.
The men waited anxiously in the ship. Watching as the island began to collapse and some of the citizens began to make their way out to the other ships. Some of the people would survive if they could get those ships underway in time. Before the island collapsed completely and they got sucked down with it.
“We must go!” one of the men shouted.
“Not without Hercules.” Demitrius was firm.
“If we stay, we’re all going to die!” another man implored.
Demitrius looked to Iolaus. The hunter nodded not taking his eyes from the sinking island, “Go.”
“But Hercules.” Demitrius looked again at the hillside, willing the demigod to appear.
“He’ll find a way, Demitrius, go. The men are right, we can’t stay, we’ll be caught in the undertow.”
“All right, pull the anchor! Raise the mains.”
Iolaus continued to watch the island for signs of his friend, “Don’t betray my trust, Herc. Get out of there.”
Hercules and Cassandra arrived on the rooftop glider runway just as the whole building dropped a few feet. They ran toward the gliders. Hercules secured himself in the seat and Cassandra climbed in behind him holding on for dear life.
The roof was developing huge cracks, their time was up. Hercules hit the power switch and held on to the controls. The crystal began to glow and hum.
“Do you know how to fly this?” Cassandra asked.
“There’s a first time for everything.” He found and released the brake. The glider shot across what was left of the roof and into the air. Cassandra buried her face in Hercules’ back and refused to look.
The roof collapsed entirely behind them. Hercules was concentrating on what was in front of him. They cleared the bluffs and soared out over the sea.
“Tell me when it’s over.” Cassandra was still waiting for the crash. She thought it should have come by now.
“We’re safe, you can open your eyes.”
Cassandra raised her head and looked around. There was nothing but ocean below them. “I’ll say one thing, you sure know how to sweep a girl off her feet.” She smiled and hugged him from behind. Then, she had a thought, “I know this isn’t the best time, but...”
“Yes?” Hercules asked.
“We don’t have anywhere to land.”
“We’re not looking for land.” Hercules pointed out a ship under full sail.
“But how will we land on that?”
“We don’t.” He angled the glider downward toward the ship. “We get as close to the water as we can and we jump. Tell me, you can swim.”
“I can swim.”
Hercules turned the glider and brought it in on a line parallel to the ship. He didn’t want to risk hitting it. He could see the crew cheering on board as they got close enough to recognize the glider’s occupants. “Hang on, this is going to be fast.”
When the glider came by the ship, only a dozen feet from the water, Hercules pulled himself up to squat on the seat, wrapped an arm around Cassandra and launched them both into the air far enough for the glider to clear the space beneath them and they fell into the water.
Demitrius immediately pulled the large ship around and let down Iolaus in a row boat to gather in the last two stragglers.
Cassandra pulled the blanket tighter about herself and leaned on the railing. Hercules finished drying off and handed his blanket to Iolaus who traded him a pair of mugs of something steaming and hot. Iolaus nodded toward Cassandra and winked.
Hercules approached her, handed her a mug. She smelled it, “tea?”
“Drink it, it’ll help.”
She took a sip and held the cup in both hands, warming them watching the sun set ahead of them. She was very quiet.
Hercules leaned on the railing beside her. He could guess what she was thinking about. “You did everything you could, Cassandra. You can’t save people from themselves.”
“I’m going to miss my home.”
“It will always be with you. Look.” Hercules pointed to the side of the ship. A flock of birds were flying beside them.
“They’re flying west.”
“What a coincidence. We’re heading that way, too.”
She smiled at Hercules then leaned over and gently kissed his cheek.
“What was that for?” he asked.
“For believing in me.”
Hercules stepped back and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. He pulled her back against his chest, she didn’t resist. “All you really needed was to believe in yourself.”
“You know, Hercules, I’ve got a feeling.”
“Not another vision.”
“Just a hunch. We’re going to be friends for a long time.”
“You should get to know my friend, Iolaus. He has visions, too.”
“He does?” she asked surprised.
Hercules nodded, “Usually after he’s been hit on the head, which happens fairly often.”
The two friends remained long after the ship sailed into the sunset.
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