title

by Barbara

Story originally written for Hercules: the Legendary Journeys by: Melissa Rosenberg

The quiet of the tomb was disturbed by the faintest of scratching sounds, as if a mouse sought entry. Every once in a while, it would halt only to resume, as if the mouse needed to take breaks. Eventually, the scratching was replaced by the blows of a sharp object until sudden torchlight rushed in through a small hole. There were more blows until the hole grew from mouse size to one large enough to let a man’s head and shoulders through.

With a laugh, Epeius dropped the pick and reached back toward his companion. “Hylas! Hylas, we’re in. Hand me the torch.”

Hylas, partner in crime, reluctantly handed over their only source of light. “Do you feel all right? Any sudden fever or boils? Plague?”

“For the last time, there’s no such thing as a curse. It’s told only to keep people like us from treasures--like that.” The light from the torch shone over the room’s occupant and the many gifts that were buried along with him for his afterlife.

Hylas ignored the mounds of jewelry and gold. He only had eyes for the central dais, which held the sarcophagus of one of Egypt’s past Pharaohs. “Epeius, maybe we should leave--before the curse begins--”

Epeius interrupted him. “Don’t be ridiculous. Someone will pay handsomely for this treasure.” He broke into laughter, delighted that this time, his scheme would pay off.

“Whaddya call this thing, again?” Salmoneus, dressed in a bright blue and purple turban with matching tunic, slapped the object of his inspection, raising a cloud of dust.

“A mummy--yours for forty dinars.” The owner of the object looked about nervously. Workmen were delivering busts and full wax sculptures of some of Greece’s most notorious monsters. Salmoneus put it down to the authentic look of his wax figures. If he didn’t know better, he’d be nervous too.

“Forty?! It’s all wrinkled!” Salmoneus touched the dirty wrappings of the mummified body, looking it over with a connoisseur’s eye. “When’s the last time you washed it? Look--it’s falling apart here.” He pulled a part of the face mask off, exposing the eye beneath.

“Fine--twenty dinars. Look--give me ten dinars, and I’ll leave.” Epeius was anxious to be quit of the mummy. Hylas had been right. It had brought them nothing but bad luck. The ship they’d been on had nearly capsized in a storm. Their other stolen goods had gone down to Poseidon’s kingdom when the ship had been hit by a giant wave. The crates full of urns, gold, and jewelry from the tomb had broken loose, and slid across the deck to crash through the railing. When they’d landed in Greece, Hylas had taken ill and within a day had succumbed to some strange malady. The healer had said it was his heart, but Epeius knew better. Truth be told, he’d have gladly paid the entrepreneur to take it off his hands.

Hiding a look of triumph, Salmoneus held out a handful of dinars. “Deal.”

“May the gods protect you.” Epeius snatched the coins and fled out the door. The poor fool would need all the protection he could get.

Salmoneus waved a hand in the general direction of the fleeing man, his attention on what was to be his central piece for the museum. “You, too, friend.” He ran a hand lovingly along the mummy’s side, then pulled out the ankh resting between the wrapped hands. “Huh! This trinket alone is worth more than ten dinars. You, my friend, are gonna make me a mint.” As he walked away to check on the recent deliveries, he failed to see one of the hands twitch.

Epeius felt as if a load had been lifted off his shoulders as he left the unfortunate who now would be the recipient of the mummy’s curse. The venture hadn’t turned out as he’d planned, but he’d gotten away with his life and had ten dinars to start anew. He crossed through the market, carefully adding the coins to his small purse. He didn’t hear the cries of alarm over the general sound of merry festival participants, and so was unaware of the runaway chariot until it was too late.

Sound came to his ears as if from across a body of water; sometimes loud as if nearby, other times distant and indistinct. The words spoken had no meaning. Little memory of the past remained. Only the ‘now’, filled with a hunger that tore through his soul. Ishtar, Pharaoh of Egypt, had awakened.

Iolaus had agreed to meet Hercules in Opus. His stay with Leandra and then a brief, albeit enjoyable tryst with Evanthea, had put him behind schedule. He’d been nearly running since dawn to make up for the lost time. As he entered the port town, he found Fortune had smiled on him. He didn’t remember any festival being set for this time of year in Opus, but he wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Trying not to get sidetracked, he headed for the Winged Boar first. Hercules had agreed to meet him there and he was expecting to find the demigod sitting in a corner, drinking watered down ale, and looking bored. What he found was a full tavern and no Hercules. Leaving a message with the tavern owner to let his friend know he’d be back, Iolaus decided he’d done his duty and could look around a bit. Shouldering his pack and checking to make sure his bow and sword were well secured, he sauntered out into the festive atmosphere.

A cacophony of noise greeted Hercules’ entry into Opus. He was barely into the city before he was having to fend off vendors and still manage to make some progress through the crowd.

“Over here!”

“Coming through.”

“Wait till you see my mask.”

“Have you tried the witches’ brew?”

“Wax skulls! Get ‘em here! Fine quality.” The vendor caught his eye and shoved some of his wares at Hercules.

Hercules’ eyes nearly crossed as he tried to focus on the mask thrust in his face. “Uh, no, thanks.” This is odd. I don’t remember a festival in Opus this time of year. At least Iolaus will be happy when he gets here. Casting a quick glance back to make sure the merchant wasn’t following him, he nearly ran a man over. Sputtering apologies, he recognized an old friend. “Phineus?”

“Hercules! I didn’t expect to see you in town. We don’t have any monsters for you to slay.”

“For which I’m glad. It’s good to see you again, Phineus. The place looks---different.”

The older man shrugged. “The children have decorated it for the festival. They wanna scare away the ghost of King Cecrops.”

“The ghost of King Cecrops?” Hercules and Iolaus had rid the city of the despot a few years previous.

“You’re not afraid of the king’s ghost? Even though his dying words were to swear vengeance against you?!”

With a chuckle, Hercules answered, “If I worried about every threat I’d never leave home.”

“Hey, you!”

Hercules turned, his attention caught by the tone of aggression in those two words. Behind him stood a man dressed in a white, knee length tunic and a colorfully striped linen headdress. By the dress and features, he thought the newcomer to be from Egypt. If he was, he was a long way from home. He was flanked by several men wearing more simple versions of the same attire, only bearing weapons instead of a scepter.

With a weary look, Hercules muttered to himself, “And at the moment, home is lookin’ pretty good.”

Phineus tapped his shoulder and whispered, “Bye!” before beating a hasty retreat. Speaking in heavily accented Greek, the leader of the group spoke again.

“If I were you, I’d turn around and leave now!”

“Thanks, for the advice, friend, but I have business in town.” Why did every town have to have a bully? This one was even imported!

“Well, let me change your mind!” The Egyptian grabbed a spear from one of his cohorts and flung it at Hercules. Not even stepping aside, Hercules simply leaned away from the trajectory and caught the spear with one hand. “They never learn,” he sighed. Without turning, he dropped to one knee and swung the spear like a quarterstaff. Catching the two men charging from behind, he flipped them head over heels before he reversed his grip to catch the other two on his left.

Keb, the leader of the Egyptian guard, signaled the men with him to join in the fray. Soon, Hercules was swatting foreigners right and left. He tossed the spear lengthwise into an oncoming attack and used the weapon as a brace as his demigod strength flung the two he’d hit across the square and out of the fight.

Following Iolaus’ modus operandi, he made use of his surroundings and grabbed a decorated skeleton to use as a shield as swords came into play. He’d have to say this for his attackers, they were certainly persistent. Muttering a ‘sorry’ to the skeleton’s shade, Hercules clubbed several of the men with its arms. Swinging skeletal remains took out several more Egyptians who’d recovered from his initial strikes until the only two standing were Hercules and the man responsible for the fight.

Their leader swung a fist at Hercules only to have the blow halted as a large hand closed over his. Grabbing his wrist, Hercules twisted under and around him. Another quick move and the Egyptian was thrown in a somersault to the ground. Before he could rise, a leather boot slammed down on his shoulder.

“You need to brush up on your etiquette.”

“On the contrary---that was perfect.” The words came from a woman. Hercules’ attention was drawn to her low, melodic voice. She was also Egyptian. Richly dressed, she carried a black cat which she absently stroked. Several guards with spears followed in her wake.

“Really? I’ve always felt that a, ‘Hello. How are you? Nice to meet you.’ is more appropriate.” Hercules removed his foot from Keb’s shoulder and took a few steps towards her, keeping an eye on her guards.

An amused smile played on her lips as she approached a little closer. “Hello. How are you? Nice to meet you.” Large kohled eyes looked him up and down briefly, approval apparent in her expression. “Well, actually, we haven’t met. I’m-- ”

“Hercules---yes, I know. I’m princess Anuket---daughter of Ramses the Third, Pharaoh of Egypt.”

He raised his eyebrows slightly. “That’s a big title. And this must be your---royal welcome wagon.” A touch of sarcasm crept into his tone.

“It was the only way for me to make sure that you were the right one.”

“The right one for what?”

“To find my mummy.”

“Your---mommy?”

“Not my mommy, my mummy.”

Hercules, curious as to what the Egyptian princess was talking about, found himself being escorted by her entourage into a nearby building. Music played as dancing girls swirled and dipped about the room. Iolaus would have enjoyed being here. He frowned. This was delaying his reunion with his partner. Of course, if Iolaus was already in the city, he was probably out enjoying the festivities. Anuket sat down on a couch as if it was the Egyptian throne itself.

Keb, recovered from his ignominious defeat, hissed from behind Hercules, “Kneel before the princess. ”

“Thanks, but I’ll stand.”

“You may go now, Keb.” Hercules was the son of the Greek King of the Gods, therefore he was royalty of a sort. She’d overlook his lack of respect for now.

“Yes, your Highness.” He bowed and left, humiliated by his failure.

“He was only acting on my orders,”Anuket said.

“Does he do everything you want?”

“Everybody does, for someday I will rule all of Egypt.” She shook her head at the slave girls who offered her food. “Now---we must talk about my mummy.”

“Sorry, Anuket, but mummies give me the creeps.” Hercules felt there was something very wrong about wrapping people up to preserve their bodies. The dead should be buried in the earth or burned on a pyre as warriors were, the remains given back to the earth. Anything else was barbaric.

“How dare you speak in such terms?! This is the body of the great Pharaoh, Ishtar---from whom I am descended. It was stolen from its burial place. Its trail has led us here to Opus.”

“You’re worrying about a dead man when you’re denying real, live people their freedom.” Hercules detested slavery. He’d more than once championed the cause of abolishing the practice in the various city states of Greece. In spite of the economic hardships that immediately followed such a change, he couldn’t help but trust that time and innovative leadership would remedy the initial problems. Egypt was well known for its practice of slavery, and while he couldn’t change the minds of Egypt’s leaders from here, he hoped that he might change one person’s mind set.

“You want me to free my slaves?” She smiled at his naivete. “Surely the great Hercules cannot be so ignorant. Have you never learned the privileges of royalty?” She signaled and two slaves offered him wine and food.

With a sigh, he shook his head. “No, thank you. I’ve lost my appetite.”

He watched her try to hide her annoyance and shift to another tactic. “Hercules---come--sit.” Anuket patted the cushions next to her. “Enjoy.” She let the invitation color her voice and shine from her eyes.

“Not on your life, lady.” He had no patience for that game.

The smile disappeared. Setting the cat aside, she rose. “I will not be insulted!”

“I think you just were.” He ignored that part of him that said it was useless trying to change her mind and he’d be better served leaving to find his partner. “How can you treat human beings like property?”

Hating herself for feeling she had to justify what she thought was obvious, she replied, “They have good lives. I feed them, clothe them, shelter them.”

“And what if something happens to you?”

“They are buried with me, of course.” She said it in a matter of fact way that left Hercules momentarily nonplused.

Finally finding his voice, he asked, “Even though they’re still alive?!”

“Their fates are intertwined with mine. It makes perfect sense.”

He’d had enough. “Ah, no---I’ll tell you what makes perfect sense---my leaving.”

Anuket let her anger finally show. “I command you to stay!” This didn’t quite have the effect to which she’d grown accustomed.

Hercules stopped, his expression turning hard and cold for a brief moment. He turned. “Excuse me?”

“I want you to find my mummy---and I want you to find it now.”

“Manners aren’t your strong suit, are they? Bye-bye, Princess.”

He left her, mouth agape at the audacity of the man’s disobedience. She started after him, but stopped before she reached the door. A princess didn’t beg. She’d have to come up with an alternative plan before it was too late.

“Keb! Come quickly! We have work to do.” She could not give up now.

Lidio looked into the darkened interior of the building. There was something creepy about the place. He swore he could see bodiless heads floating in the air. That was enough to almost make him forget the delivery and beat a hasty retreat. However, his family needed to eat and frankly, his boss frightened him more than any floating heads. He called out tentatively. “Hello?” A garishly dressed figure loomed out of the dark, nearly making his heart stop.

“Oh, good, the wax! Put it down with the other crates.”

“You’re making a bunch of candles?” Lidio moved the barrel of wax deeper into the gloom.

“Candles? Candles, my friend, are a mere utilitarian object. This will become art. And the art will become part of Salmoneus’ House of Horrors.” He gave a deep, macabre laugh. “All wax except for the centerpiece of my exhibit.” He gestured toward the mummy, then turned back to the delivery man. “My greatest find---the part that exhibits man’s deepest, darkest nature-“ A cold wind wound through the building. “---the evil curse that permeates---” Unbeknownst to him, the mummy moved, struggling as ancient bones answered a call from a curse cast centuries ago. It rose to a seated position, and raised a trembling arm toward the dim light entering through the doorway.

Lidio screamed and rushed out of the room into the light of day where such things couldn’t-he hoped-follow.

“Everybody’s a critic! What, you’ve never seen a mummy before?!” The mummy’s body shuddered and dropped back to its resting place. Salmoneus shrugged and turned back to his prize possession. “Don’t listen to him. You and I are gonna make some serious dinars, together.” He gave another laugh. It still needed practice. He’d get it right eventually.

The remnants of intelligence left within the mummy’s body had recognized the light for what it was and had responded. Weak, it had tried to reach for the source of warmth only to fail. Vision blurred and the voices it heard receded to a background drone. Temporarily defeated, it went dormant. For now it had lost the struggle.

Iolaus had settled on a hunk of cheese, an apple, and a small loaf of bread to tide him over until he found Hercules and they could have dinner. He was contemplating buying a tankard of ale to wash it down with when a line of people singing and dancing paraded past. Nearly all were wearing hideous masks. He swore one looked like Hera’s Blue Priest. “Definitely creeps me out-whoa! Hey! Watch out!” He backpedaled as a group of children raced by, giggling and shouting in play. His attempt not to get run over ended with him stumbling backwards through the open door of the building behind him.

The sudden transition from late afternoon to dimly lit interior left him nearly blind. Iolaus blinked and caught the silhouette of a tall man lurking to his right. Turning to apologize for the intrusion, he got a good look at the face towering above his. Letting out a shout half of fear, half of defiance, he fumbled for his sword. Cleared of its scabbard, he swung it at the minotaur that had tried to sneak up on him.

There was the sound of metal striking stone and a granite column began to topple, the horned head of the monster sliding toward the floor.

“What are you doing, you crazy-!” A garishly dressed man rushed to the rescue of the bust and caught it just as it became airborne. “How dare you-Iolaus?” Salmoneus peered between the horns of the Minotaur’s head. “What are you doing here?”

“Uh, meeting Hercules. What is that?” Iolaus pointed at the burden Salmoneus was trying to juggle. Realizing he was doing so with his sword, he hurriedly sheathed it and righted the fallen column.

“This is a Minotaur.”

“I can see that, I meant what is it doing here? For that matter, what are you doing here?” He helped Salmoneus settle the bust back on top of the column.

“Welcome to-Salmoneus’ House of Horrors! Mwahahahaha!” Getting only a skeptical look from the blond warrior, he relented. “Everyone’s a critic. Let me give you a tour. And keep that sword sheathed. These works of art are expensive.” He led Iolaus through the building, pointing out each monster and giving abbreviated histories of the beasts. Iolaus, who was known to embellish tales of Hercules’ and his adventures, barely recognized the same stories as told by Salmoneus. Somehow they sounded more frightening than the actual events had been. Or maybe it was just the atmosphere of the place. He refused to turn around and see what monster was ensconced on a pedestal behind him.

As the tour progressed, Iolaus found himself more on edge. They were too realistic for his taste. It was like taking a stroll through his nightmares. “Um, Salmoneus, what’s this?” He reached out and touched the draped-body---it looked like a body under there.

“Don’t touch!” Salmoneus slapped his hand away. “That’s my masterpiece. It’ll scare the Tartarus out of you. No one sees that without paying.”

“Fine.” Iolaus gave it a last look, the hairs on his neck rising a little. He blamed it on a sudden chilly breeze that ran through the room.

“Say, you said Hercules was going to be in town. Do you think he’d-“

“No.”

“I didn’t finish-“

“If it has anything to do with promoting your House of Horrors, then the answer will be no.”

“I think I know Hercules well enough to know he can make his own decisions.” Salmoneus drew himself up to his full height, not about to be intimidated when potential money was on the line.

“Sal, I’m only trying to protect you from disappointment. Herc just isn’t into commercialism.”

Deflating slightly, Salmoneus nodded. “I know, but you can’t blame a man for trying. When you see him though, tell him to stop by. Uh, but leave any swords at home.” He’d just ask the demigod in person.

Iolaus laughed. “I’ll do that.” He didn’t point out that Hercules rarely used a weapon against monsters. He hoped Salmoneus had a backup Minotaur should the demigod be--startled-by a wax version of his half brother.

Iolaus checked back at the Winged Boar after his tour of Salmoneus’ next greatest venture only to find Hercules hadn’t been seen yet. Shrugging philosophically, he decided to once more tour the market. His discovery that his grandmother was still alive had him thinking about family more and he decided he’d find a gift to send to her and something for Alcmene. After all, Alcmene had been a mother to him as often as not. Maybe he’d splurge and even get Hercules something just to watch the demigod get tongue-tied from the shock. Giggling to himself, he made his way back into the heart of the festival

The preparations for the festival were in full swing. Everything needed to be ready by dark. It was a great day for vendors, especially those hawking their masks.

“You can be anything you please tonight!”

“---the mask... straight out of Tartarus.”

“There she is.” The crowd wasn’t totally oblivious to the Egyptian princess and her retinue. They hastily made way for her as she passed through their city.

Unfortunately one of them wasn’t as alert and blundered not only into her path, but into her person as well. Phineus looked at her in horror, realizing his mistake too late. “Please, excuse me. I-I wasn’t looking.”

Keb, eager to make up for his bad showing before his mistress, rushed to her defense. “How dare you touch Princess Anuket?! You will die for this offense!”

Catching sight of a large figure in the shadows, Anuket put out a hand to stop him. “No, Keb---release him.”

“But---!”

“Do it. Now.” Sometimes one had to swallow pride and play the opponent’s game. She watched the demigod move out of the shadows into the mid-afternoon sun. Phineus scuttled away before she changed her mind.

“That’s better.” Hercules had reluctantly returned to the festivities after finding the Winged Boar, but no Iolaus. He’d spoken with the tavern’s owner and gotten his partner’s message. Rather than stay and wait for him in an overcrowded taproom, he’d decided to brave the festival. If Iolaus was out here, he’d forget the time and probably not return to the tavern until dark. “Does he ever relax?” He nodded in Keb’s direction.

Anuket gestured to her guards. “Leave us.”

“Yes, your Highness.” Keb bowed, not at all pleased. They’d go out of earshot of normal conversation, but not out of sight.

“He protects me only when I don’t want to be touched.” Anuket pressed close to Hercules, sure of her power as a woman to get a man to do her will.

“Hmm. Uh-oh.” Hercules backed up, putting daylight between them. “ I’m sorry, Princess, but I’m---not in the market.” Iolaus would have been rolling on the ground about now over his attempts to elude her advances.

“But I come seeking your help.”

“You know, if this is about your mummy again, I-I’m still not interested. I mean, a body wrapped in cloth---I mean, why would anyone want such a thing?” Yes, Iolaus definitely would be enjoying his discomfort.

“Please---you are talking about my ancestors.”

“My apologies.”

Reluctantly, she began to explain the situation. She’d hoped to forgo sharing this with a barbarian Greek, even if he was the son of a god, but time was running out. “He’s much more powerful as a mummy than he ever was as a Pharaoh. When his crypt was opened and the mummy removed, Ishtar’s curse was activated. The world is in danger, for the mummy will grow hungry.”

“Hungry---in what way?” He didn’t like the sound of this. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rise.

“It hungers for human life. If it kills, its victim’s life-force will give it unspeakable power. Then the only thing that can control it is the ankh.”

“The ankh?” He wrapped his mouth around the foreign word.

“A special pendant made of gold---exactly the kind of thing whoever has the mummy is likely to sell.”

“Oh.” Why did it always have to be some artifact of power that would solve the problem? This never would have happened if they’d burned their dead like civilized folk.

“Please, Hercules,” she said, daring to lay an hand on his well-muscled arm, “ you must find the mummy---for the good of the world, if nothing else.”

Not as oblivious to her charms as he’d tried to persuade himself to be, and very conscious of the warmth of her hand, he stuttered out, “Right, uh---the good of the world. I better go find my mommy---uh, I mean your mummy.” He turned right into a woman carrying a basket of fruit, nearly knocking her off her feet.

“Oh!”

“Uh-- excuse me.” He apologized and hastened away, wondering where he was going to start looking for a linen-wrapped body that might or might not be alive.

Lidio’s benefactor stood before the bust, admiring it. He was a tall man, muscular, his head shaved, but his face sporting a goatee and mustache. As if just realizing he wasn’t alone, he acknowledged his inferior’s existence by commenting on the work before him. “What refined bone structure, such noble features. Look at that strong chin, those commanding eyes. I take it he was someone of importance.”

Lidio glanced at the marble bust. “King Cecrops. It’s---was---King Cecrops.”

“That explains it. A king always recognizes a king when he sees one.”

“You?! You’re a king?” Lidio had just thought the man was a foreign warlord.

“Soon!” he snapped. “So---you know where the mummy is.” It was a statement of fact. The man had been told not to return until he’d found it.

“It’s in the new attraction, the one called Salmoneus’ House of Horrors.”

“The House of---he’s lying. Kill him.” He gestured to several of his men who moved forward eagerly to do his bidding.

Backing up, Lidio cried, “No! I swear by the gods! I saw the mummy when I made a delivery there. It was wrapped in bandages, and--and it tried to grab me.”

This caught Sokar’s attention. “It’s gaining strength but it has not yet killed. This is good. What of the golden ankh?”

“The ankh?”

Impatiently, Sokar rounded on the Greek. “Don’t play dumb. You must have seen it. Here--it looks like this.” He sketched the shape in the dust laying on a stone ledge.

Eager to please, Lidio nodded his head vigorously. “Yes! The curator was wearing it!”

The man who would be Pharoah gazed thoughtfully at Lidio. “Not for long. Once I have the mummy and the ankh, I’ll finally be Pharaoh, and Anuket, my bride. Unfortunately---you know more than you should.”

Realizing he’d lost his usefulness, Lidio tried to retreat. “Me? I won’t say anything.” He didn’t get far. Sokar’s men grabbed him by the arms, holding him in place.

A wicked light shone in the Egyptian’s eyes. “Bring me some wax. I want to make a contribution to the arts.”

“Nooo! Noooo! No! No! No!” The cries of the doomed man were drowned out by the merriment of the crowd outside.

Salmoneus was entertaining himself as a break from preparing for his grand opening. Not having anyone working for him at the moment-employees meant less profit for him-he found himself carrying on a one-sided conversation with the mummy. “You think this is too gaudy for this outfit?” He held the ankh up to his robes. “Nah, you’re right. You never can wear too much gold, huh? Huh.” There was a commotion at the door. He hastily set the ankh down on an empty pedestal and went to see who the unexpected visitor could be. “Wait a second! Be right there--hold it! Wait a second! Wait a second! Whoa!” He held up his hands as if that alone would stop them. Several men were carting a stiff figure through the doorway.

“I have another delivery for you. Where do you want him?” The delivery was a wax figure of a horned man whose face seemed to be melting down his chest. It was positively gruesome-and perfect for the wax museum.

Salmoneus switched gears and gestured for them to continue with the delivery. “Very realistic! Bring it in before it melts. Come on, bring it on in! Thank you! Bring it on in--nice horns--love those horns. Bring it in here, yeah. Wait a second. Wait a second. The workmanship is terrific, but, uh---I didn’t order this.”

“It’s a donation---from a patron of the arts.”

“It’s free?” His eyes lit up. “ Love those patrons. Huh. This guy looks familiar-“ His voice drifted off as he tried to think of why that was the case. Finally, avarice overcame any memory that might have given him warning that something wasn’t quite right. “Ah, it’ll scare the tunics off ‘em. Bring him in, bring him in.”

Playing foreman, he directed them to set it in the entry way. Having this greet the customers as they came in was sure to cause tongues to wag and spread the word about Salmoneus’ House of Horrors. “Go ahead---over to the left. Thank you. Yes, indeedy, they will faint with pleasure. Right there is good. Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey--grand opening is tonight---tell your friends. Thank you. Thank you.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll let our patron know.” The delivery man, one of Sokar’s followers, had seen the ankh resting on the pedestal. He couldn’t get closer without raising suspicions and Sokar had specifically ordered them to keep a low profile. He nodded at his cohorts and they left, their job accomplished. Lidio’s information was confirmed. Salmoneus laughed to himself as he gave the gift a good once over. “You look terrific. I can’t wait to see my customers’ faces when they get a look at you!”

Hercules had returned to the inn, hoping to find Iolaus. Two sets of eyes could cover more territory in the search for the mummy, plus Iolaus was the best tracker he knew. He’d see things Hercules might miss in all the activity taking place for the festival.

Hercules left a more urgent message with the tavern owner, along with a few dinars for his trouble. As he began his own search, he came upon some Egyptians haggling with a Greek.

“You promised two dinars,” the Greek was insisting.

“All right!” One of the Egyptians handed over another coin. This group wasn’t dressed in the pristine white clothing of Anuket’s slaves, but in blue and gray tunics and striped headdresses.

“Hi---need a hand?” Hercules was surprised when his countryman beat a hasty retreat and the Egyptians took on aggressive stances. “ Ahhh, just trying to help. I mean, we’re all on the same side.” One of the Egyptians pulled out two swords and began an impressive display of twirling them as he advanced. “Aren’t we?” Now the rest unsheathed their swords and did the same. “Apparently not.”

As they didn’t put away their weapons, Hercules gave it one more try. “Can we talk about this?” He gave them a tentative smile, but their only reaction was to spread out, still threatening him with their weapons. “I see.”

A masked patron passed Hercules, then stopped. Taking one look at the Egyptian guards, he turned to run. “Oops! Wrong party!”

As he passed, Hercules noted a whip resting over his shoulder. He snatched it off the man who, in his hurry, didn’t notice part of his costume had gone missing. “Good timing,” the demigod muttered to himself as he shook out the whip.

As the swordsmen charged, swords raised, Hercules struck with the whip, catching their weapons and sword arms together. Noting a heavy support beam set up overhead for decorations, he tossed the whip’s handle over it. “Goin’ up!” He pulled and the makeshift pulley lifted the men up till they hung several feet above the ground. He tied off the end. “Hope you don’t mind hanging around while I get to the bottom of this.”

Salmoneus, bored while he waited for dark and the opening of his new venture, was entertaining himself with his wax creations. One in particular lent itself to his amusement. The hinged jaw of the great tusked boar moved in sync with Salmoneus’ voice.

“‘Hey, Sal-- how are you?’ ‘I’m fine.’ ‘Oh, I’m a little long in the tooth. Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh!’” Too busy entertaining himself, he didn’t see the mummy rise from its resting place and approach him. As it came within arm’s reach, the sound of yelling outside the museum’s door caught Salmoneus’ attention. Curious, he left off what he was doing to learn the source of the commotion. He barely missed getting snagged by the long claws on the end of the mummy’s hands. Foiled, the weakened creature stumbled back to it’s resting place to wait. After all, it had waited several hundred years. What was a few hours in comparison?

Salmoneus opened his door and stared out to see four men hanging in front of his doorstep. “What are they hanging around for?” He looked beyond them to see the demigod. “Hercules!”

“Salmoneus?”

“Excuse me. Coming through. Coming through. Sorry!” Salmoneus batted the legs of the unfortunate Egyptians out of his way, setting them swinging.

“What are you doing here?” Hercules looked down at the salesman, wondering what complications this might bring. Salmoneus had a knack for getting into trouble and now wasn’t the time to be sidetracked.

“Haven’t you heard?”

“No--”

“Everybody’s talking about it! Tonight’s the grand opening. But since you’re a friend, I’ll give ya a special preview.” Salmoneus slapped him lightly on the shoulder.

“Of what?”

“Salmoneus’ House of Horrors! Mwahahahah-ha-ha-“ The laugh faded as he got a look at Hercules’ expression. “Okay, it’s hokey. My latest venture is the greatest collection of monsters, maniacs, and murderers of all time.”

Looking incredulous, Hercules asked, “And people pay to see that?” He hoped the former toga salesman didn’t actually have a host of criminals on display. He was relieved to see the sign Salmoneus was pointing to indicated the criminal element was made of wax.

“Are you kidding? People love to be scared to death! They pay big dinars for thrills and chills! I prefer a good romantic comedy, but, uh, hey!---they demand, I supply. And with the endorsement of-“ he mimicked a fanfare, “---Hercules!-it’s got to be a hit.”

“Ah---thanks, but---I’ve seen enough fiends for one day.”

“Does that include Iolaus? He said you’d refuse.”

Hercules tore his eyes away from the gaudy display. “You saw Iolaus?”

“Yes. Unlike you, he was gracious enough to be impressed-dare I say it?-horrified by my displays.”

“Salmoneus, if he comes back this way, can you tell him to wait for me here? It’s important.”

“Uh, sure. What is it? You have that look in your eye. Monster? Warlord?”

Ignoring his questions, Hercules gave his shoulder a friendly squeeze. “Thanks. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a---spoiled princess to meet who needs to learn some manners.”

“Spoiled princess---does she have a sister?” He gave up with a shrug. Talking to a demigod’s back wouldn’t earn him any dinars.

“Hercules! Hercules is here.” Sokar was not happy with the news Userhat, his favorite slave and guard, had brought. He’d heard tales of the mighty Hercules even in Egypt.

“It is said he is half god.”

“I know,” Sokar replied.

Userhat pointed out, “It’ll be difficult to get the mummy if he guards his friend’s door.” He then went on to explain how the demigod seemed to be friends with the wax museum’s proprietor.

“How powerful would the mummy be---if its thirst for blood was joined with the strength of Hercules?”

Userhat hesitated, than admitted, “It would be unstoppable.”

This had possibilities. Sokar smiled. “Then we must make it so.”

Hercules returned to the Egyptians’ base of operations. As he entered, Keb noticed him and immediately approached.

Pointing a finger at him, an angry Hercules admonished him, “Stay.” Keb backed off, but followed as Hercules approached the princes. “What is it with you, Anuket?”

“How dare you speak to a princess so rudely?” She turned to face him.

“Will you tell your men to back off? I’m spending more time fighting them than searching for this---mummy.”

“But I ordered my slaves to stay out of your way.”

That wasn’t the response Hercules was expecting. “Well, maybe your slaves have minds of their own.”

“They must not have been Egyptians.”

“Same headdresses, same clothes---maybe not as well-dressed as usual, but---”

“My slaves are always perfectly dressed.” she protested. “ I allow no--“ Her voice grew softer. “I allow no rags.” A troubled expression crossed her face. “How could it be? It must.”

Hercules immediately focused on that. “What?”

“Sokar is here.”

“Sokar.”

“He was my father’s high priest---an evil man---who asked for my hand in marriage, but my father refused. So Sokar vowed vengeance. If he finds the mummy first---we will all be doomed.”

Usually, Iolaus had no problems getting into the swing of a festival. However, this time he kept finding himself looking over his shoulder, trying to spot his best friend. A few days without Hercules was fine. A week, well, that was pushing it. Normally they could find each other without problems when they met up in cities bigger than Opus. It was like a lodestone always pointing north. They just gravitated toward one another. Today, though, it was almost as if something were trying to keep them apart.

Iolaus stopped abruptly at this thought, getting jostled by a man walking behind him. “Get out of the way!” was spoken in heavily accented Greek as the stranger pushed past him. Iolaus watched him go. Another Egyptian. He’d been seeing them all over the town. Opus was a port city, but not one exactly on an Egyptian shipping route. Something fishy was going on. He’d stake his reputation on it.

“I gotta find Hercules,” he muttered to himself. In a city this big, tracking would be a challenge, but years of dealing with the odd and unusual led him to trust his instinct that something was rotten in the city of Opus. He’d start with the market place and then check in with Salmoneus.

From across the market square, Sokar had watched the demigod enter Anuket’s chosen domicile while in Opus. He frowned. The man was tall and handsome by any standards. Anuket couldn’t help but notice. There was more than one reason now to rid the world of Hercules. He spoke to Userhat. “So there’s Hercules. No doubt, his head is filled with dreams. But he will not have Anuket for long---and he will not deny me the throne of Egypt. Bring me that mummy---now.”

Salmoneus walked a winding route through his displays, speaking to them. “You know, boys? Today, ya see me suave---debonair---self-confident. I wasn’t always like this! Oh, no! I had doubts! Yes, me. I had doubts that this was a good idea. But, now that I see you here---I gotta tell ya---ya look fabulous.” He stopped by the life-size figure of Proteus. The sound of a distant wind scouring sand along stone walls seemed to come from further inside his establishment. Puzzled, and trying to ignore the goose bumps running up his arms, he turned around. It was suddenly colder. Scanning the room, all he could see were his wax busts and figures. “Hello?”

When there was no answer, he turned back to the Proteus wax figure, and with a chuckle commented, “You’re tricking me, right? I think I should learn---never to doubt my own sense of w---.” There was a sound from behind him. Approaching the draped mummy, Salmoneus steeled himself and reached out to pull the sheet aside. It was a mouse, he kept telling himself. Beetles. Beetles liked dead things, and what was deader than a mummy, right? He pulled the cover off and stared at the gold mask covering its face. Nearly nose to nose, he got a good look at the empty eye socket as it suddenly opened and then blinked several times.

Salmoneus screamed like a woman and tried to retreat out the front door only to see sword-bearing Egyptians stalking toward his building. Slamming the door shut, he retreated back inside.

“What do I do?! Wh---where?! Yeah! Yeah!” He grabbed a length of dark fabric left over from his remodel of the interior and threw it on the floor. Dropping down into it, he rolled, pulling the cloth after him. Hopefully, in the darkened interior, he’d just look like a bolt of fabric on the floor and neither the men entering his door, nor the mummy, would notice him. He should have known such a bargain price on the mummy had a catch to it!

“The mummy’s in here!” Userhat shouted as they busted in. “There it is!” Sokar’s men lifted the rolled up body, grunting with the effort.

“I thought mummies would be lighter,” one grumbled as they carried Salmoneus out the door.

The mummy sensed the absence of life in its immediate surroundings. This was not good. Though it didn’t understand fully what had happened to it, it understood hunger. It knew with a certainty it couldn’t explain that human life was essential to its own well-being. Calling on reserves it didn’t know it had till now, it began to move.

Sokar watched eagerly as the wrapped body was dropped at his feet. He wasn’t expecting it to grunt in pain as it landed, nor giggle when he prodded it with his foot. He snatched at the free end of cloth and pulled so the body rolled away and out of the covering.

Salmoneus, certain he was in trouble, stumbled up and with his back to his kidnappers, tried-and failed miserably-to sound like a mummy.

“Uh! What a relief! I’ve been waiting for centuries for someone to do that! Thank ye! Now---if ya don’t mind---I’ll see ya later”! Two swords crossed in front of his face, blocking an immediate exit. “Or, I could see ya right now. Hey!” Two guards grabbed him and dragged him back to Sokar.

“It looked like a mummy,” Userhat offered, afraid he’d end as Lidio had for this blunder.

“A dummy, more like it,” Sokar snarled. “Only a pharaoh may wear this.” He ripped the ankh from around Salmoneus’ neck.

“Ow! Then you’re a pharaoh, huh?” Salmoneus rubbed his neck.

“I will be---soon enough. And you are the curator of--?”

Salmoneus straightened up proudly. “Salmoneus’ famous House of Horrors! Mwa-uh, never mind. We offer two-for-one group discounts---and bargain matinees---”

“Silence!” Sokar lowered his voice. “You have something I want.”

“Wonderful! Maybe we could work out a deal. Uh---that head of King Cecrops, for instance, is a wonderfully gruesome item.” Salmoneus, ever the salesman and a fast talker in times of trouble, pointed at the bust of the late king. “Now---I’ve got an extra Harpie back in the shop---”

“You know of King Cecrops?” Sokar interrupted.

“Oh, yes---I remember when my good friend---Hercules!-“ Salmoneus raised his voice in the hopes that the demigod might be in the neighborhood and hear him. “---brought about his untimely demise!”

“You mean---Hercules killed him?”

“Well, technically, Cecrops tripped over the cliff, but he blamed Hercules for his downfall---and vowed to exact revenge---even from beyond the grave.” Salmoneus nodded his head and whistled. “Evil, huh? And perfect for my exhibit.”

“You will bring me the mummy.”

“I-I’m sorry. The mummy is worth a lot more than the bust of Cecrops.” Salmoneus mistook the comment for haggling.

“Is it worth your life?” Sokar smiled, having gotten the measure of the man.

“Good question. But we have a tiny problem, here, sort-of--your Pharaohship. Uh-uh, th-th-the-the mummy is, um---how can I put this? Alive. And I’m reluctant to---”

“You will bring it to me---or die.”

“If you put it that way---”

“Take him away.” Sokar gestured to his guards.

As Salmoneus was dragged off, he called back, “Nice to meetcha, Mr. Almost-Pharaoh!” Userhat protested, “But, Lord---if you let him go---might he bring Hercules?”

“That’s what I’m counting on. Now, come with me. We must work quickly.”

The Greeks were a superstitious lot. He grabbed the bust of Cecrops. With this and superior Egyptian thinking, he’d capture the demigod and offer him up to the mummy. At the very least, he’d drive the demigod away in fear for his life.

Hercules and Anuket had searched every logical place they could think of short of people’s homes. They’d scattered her men to aid in the search, much against Keb’s better judgment regarding her safety, and still no results.

“Everybody dance!”

“Come on!” The citizens of Opus had started their festival and were out in full costume, eating, laughing, dancing, totally unaware of the danger they could soon face.

Hercules frowned. “I think we’re just about out of hiding places.”

“But my sources say the mummy is definitely here in Opus.” Anuket’s unblemished brow was now wrinkled in worry. “And if Sokar has come, my sources must be accurate.” There was a too familiar sound and an arrow appeared, embedding itself in a tree trunk near Hercules’ head. He reached up, eyes searching for the source as he plucked it from the wood. “Right on the money, I’d say.” He caught movement as the Egyptian archer retreated. “Stay here. Stay out of sight.” He took off after the disappearing man.

Anuket hesitated a moment, then ignored his command. She’d recognized the clothing of the archer. He was part of Sokar’s household. She followed Hercules, nearly losing sight of him as he dodged through the crowd.

He followed Sokar’s man to a crumbling, abandoned stronghold. He hadn’t seen the place since Cecrop’s death. The citizens of Opus had stripped it of most of its finery once the king had died, but shunned it now after numerous people claimed to have seen his restless spirit wandering the halls. Not that Hercules knew about any ghosts. He was only intent on finding the mummy.

Hercules didn’t hesitate, but entered it. The hall was decked in cobwebs and dust, but for the narrow path cleared in the center, giving lie to the deserted status of the buildings. He skidded to a halt in a candle lit room, further evidence someone was using the place. As he looked around, he heard light footsteps racing up behind him. Whirling, he nearly took out the Egyptian princess.

Iolaus didn’t have any luck spotting his friend in the market place. Even as crowded as it was for the festival, he was sure he’d have spotted the tall demigod. “This is pointless,” he grumbled before he dashed off toward Salmoneus’ establishment, taking time to question people randomly as he went. This tactic paid off when he ran into Phineus only to learn that not only had he spoken to Hercules, but that the demigod seemed to be in tight with the Egyptians.

“I knew it. I knew they had something to do with-with whatever is going on! Where can I find these Egyptians?”

“Down two streets and to your right, but-“ Phineus didn’t get to finish his warning as the hunter had already taken off through the crowd. “Oh well, it’s not like he can’t defend himself,” the old man muttered to himself as he went back to enjoy the festivities.

Hercules glared at Anuket. “Don’t you do anything you’re told?”

“You don’t---why should I?” she shot back. At that moment, disturbed by the noise and activity, several rats raced past her feet. She screamed.

“I guess it’s too late to ask you to be quiet,” Hercules muttered, sarcasm heavy in his voice.

“You’re not funny. Now, where are we?”

“This was King Cecrops’ favorite retreat. It’s his war room.” The sound of metal moving against metal was all the warning he had. “Look out!” He grabbed Anuket and flung them both out of the way as a large armored ball, decorated with spikes, swung through the space they’d occupied to embed itself in the opposite wall.

Startled into screaming again, Anuket had landed on top of the demigod, pinning him to the ground. Noses but inches away from each other, she whispered, “You saved my life.” “I hope I did it well enough to meet with your approval.”

“May we go now?”

He smiled slightly and pointed out, “You’re the one who’s on top.”

“Uh!” She glared at him, all too aware of his muscular frame beneath her. Levering herself up and off of him, she stomped toward the room’s entrance. A sudden moan from behind them caused them both to stop and turn back. Floating midair, the wall behind visible through the slightly opaque form, was a richly dressed figure. It called to the demigod.

“Hercules!” The voice was rusty with disuse.

“You said we were looking for a mummy. You didn’t say anything about a ghost.”

“A ghost?” Anuket felt a shiver run up her back. This wasn’t the same as dealing with an ancestor they could control with the power of the ankh.

“I will have my revenge!” the ghost threatened.

However, Hercules was no longer looking at the apparition. The colors were wrong. Cecrops had favored blue robes, not red, and the voice had an accent. Nor was it as deep as the former king’s voice. He’d dealt with ghosts before, and they’d always sounded as they had in life, if a bit distant, as if speaking from far away. He caught a flicker of something in the shadows above. Meanwhile, the ghost continued its threats.

“I’m going to tear your heart out--and feed it--to the vultures.”

“It’s nice to see you again, too. You don’t look too good, Cecrops.” Hercules astounded Anuket by approaching the ghost.

“I’m dead!” It almost sounded peevish.

“That explains it.”

“I think you look very---well---for a dead person.” Anuket dared to approach, only to grab Hercule’s arm and hiss, “May we go, please?” She tried to pull him back toward the entrance. She might as well have tried to move a pyramid.

“Wait a minute.” Hercules refused to leave.

“I’m going to drain the life from you---drop---by---drop---as you did to mine.” The ghost tried again to frighten them.

“But you fell off a cliff.” Hercules gave it an amused smile. The ghost started to splutter, trying to find a suitable response.

“Don’t---you’ll make it angry,” Anuket warned him. She clung to his arm, afraid for both of them.

Finally, Hercules’ eyes had adjusted enough to the candlelight to spot a mirror above them. “I haven’t even started.”

He moved over to the scarred table and picked up a skull laying on its surface. It looked and felt like one of the wax ones a vendor had tried to sell him in the marketplace. He hefted it and then drew back his arm to throw it.

“What are you doing?! Don’t do that! Nooooo!” the ghost shrieked.

Perfect aim took out the mirror, shattering it into hundreds of fragments. Anuket gasped as the ghost disappeared. Hercules nodded to himself. Just as he’d suspected. “That should keep me busy for another seven years.”

“Where’s the ghost?” Anuket looked around, expecting it to reappear any second to punish them for disturbing it.

“There wasn’t one. It was a simple magician’s trick, all done with mirrors.” He gestured toward the shattered mirror.

“Well, who was the magician?”

They looked at each other and said in unison, “Sokar.”

Iolaus found the Egyptian residence easily. Getting past the guards wasn’t quite so easy. He was about ready to leave them nursing headaches when a lovely young woman, eyes darkly kohled, appeared in the doorway to eye the source of the commotion. Masika was Anuket’s most favored personal slave. As such, she had been well schooled, including learning several languages. Greek was not her best, but she’d taken advantage of their time in this land to practice it.

“Faki, what is going on?” This was spoken in Egyptian to one of the guards who indicated the crazy Greek on their doorstep.

“I think he’s a beggar. His clothing is well patched.”

“Oh.” She switched to Greek to address the blond man who was handsome in a scruffy sort of Greek way. “Greetings from the household of the royal princess, Anuket, daughter of Ramses, Pharoah of Egypt. If you wait here, I will be most happy to bring you something to eat.”

“Thanks, I am kind of hungry-wait, that’s not why I’m here. I’m trying to find a friend of mine. Someone said he’s been, uh, hanging around-I mean, seen with your princess. Big guy,” he raised his hand well above his own head, “broad shoulders, long brown hair, kind of good-looking. Goes by the name of Hercules-“ Iolaus’ description trailed off as the guards and servant girl broke into Egyptian and carried on a rather animated discussion. “Uh, hello? No speak Egyptian?” He waved his hand to get their attention which startled one guard enough to earn him a spear in the face. “Sorry! I didn’t mean anything by that!”

Masika gave Faki an annoyed look and shoved the spear away from the golden haired stranger. “My apologies to you. Please accept them. The Hercules is with the princess. They go to seek-“ She stopped herself before letting their secret be known. He might be a friend of the giant Greek demigod, but that didn’t mean he could be trusted with such sensitive information. “He is helping the princess find that which she seeks. We do not know where they are now, only that they travel through this city.”

“Great.” Iolaus ran a hand through his hair. “Look, if they return soon, tell them, tell Hercules, Iolaus was here and that something fishy is going on.” Masika nodded gravely and watched the man leave. Turning to Faki, she asked, “What do fish have to do with our mission?”

Salmoneus, returning to his wax museum, cautiously opened the door, calling out, “Mr. Mu-u-u-mmy---are ya here? Someone wants to me-e-t youuuuu.” Finding the platform empty of the mummy’s remains, he let out a sigh of relief. “Thank the gods! They must have taken him.”

Behind him, the mummy rose up from where it had fallen as it reacquainted itself with life on this plane. Salmoneus turned and looked up into the now unmasked face. He managed to duck as the creature tried to grab him. Heading for the door, he looked back to find the room empty. Puzzled and wondering if he’d imagined it, he turned back to the entrance. The mummy stood before him. The jaw dropped and it growled.

“Why don’t you hide---and I’ll seek!” It snarled and moved toward him. “Guess not!” Salmoneus flung himself past the creature and out the door. He didn’t have to go far before he ran into Hercules and Anuket. They’d returned from Cecrops’ former home to get reinforcements to search the structure for the mummy and Sokar.

“Uh, Hercules! My exhibit’s tryin’ to kill me!”

Hercules gave him a puzzled look. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talkin’ about a big, mean mummy!”

“A m-- a mummy!” He threw a glance at a shocked Anuket. “You have the mummy?! Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Showmanship! It’s a surprise! Besides, he almost had me a moment ago---and if he doesn’t, that lunatic quasi-pharaoh will!”

“Quasi-phar--?! Sokar?! You are working for Sokar?!” Anuket went from shocked to furious. “I will have you killed for this treasonous thievery!” She forgot she was in a foreign land and had no power over its citizens.

Salmoneus protested, “I didn’t steal it! I paid a fair price for it! A low price, but I paid in full!”

“You are a liar as well!”

Hercules stepped in at that point. “Salmoneus may be a lot of things, but he’s not a thief, and he’s usually not a liar.”

“You defend him?”

“You betcha he does!”

Salmoneus patted Hercules on the shoulder until the demigod grabbed his wrist and admonished, “If he brings me to the mummy.”

“I could do that. In fact, I could just tell you where it is, while I wait over here.” He tried to step past Hercules.

“Show me.” Hercules grabbed him and pulled him back.

“Right this way!” Salmoneus changed direction and took them to the museum.

Hercules cautiously opened the door and took the lead as they entered. Looking around, he saw only wax statues and an empty room. “It’s not here.”

“Whoo!” Salmoneus peeked out from behind Hercules, where he’d been hiding.

“Sokar has the ankh.” There was no mistaking the worry on Anuket’s beautiful face.

“Ankh?” Salmoneus questioned.

“If the mummy consumes the life force of a human, it will become a monster---and Sokar will have complete control.” Now she’d not only failed her people, but condemned this land as well. “It’s not monster enough as it is?!”

“Nothing compared to what it will be if it kills.”

Not one to admit defeat, Hercules spoke. “Then we better find it.”

Salmoneus looked alarmed at his words. “Whaddya mean, ‘We’? Hey!” Hercules dragged him out the door. The salesman had played a part in this mess, he could help them recover the mummy.

They didn’t bother looking for Keb and the others, but raced back to Cecrop’s castle. If Anuket was right, the mummy would seek out the priest as the bearer of the ankh.

As they approached the ruins, they saw a tall, tattered figure break through a servant’s entrance on the east side of the main building. Hercules frowned at the obvious strength it displayed and wondered if they were too late. “It didn’t even knock. Let’s go.”

They followed, Salmoneus bringing up the rear. As they entered, it was apparent that not only was somebody home, but they’d lit the place up well. Wall sconces were lit, showing a long stretch of stone walls and intersecting corridors. Hercules knew it had to be a trap, and not for the mummy. It wasn’t the first time that day that he wished Iolaus had his back.

They caught sight of the mummy turning right into a cross corridor. “Stay here.” Hercules ran after it and skidded to a halt at the turn. There was no sigh of the mummy. “So, you wanna play hide-and-seek.”

“No, he hates that game.” Salmoneus had caught up with him, puffing slightly.

“This is one fast mummy.”

Salmoneus agreed. “What happened to the foot-dragging classic we all know and love?”

Hercules looked back down the hall. “Where’s Anuket?

“Huh?”

“Great.” He didn’t know why he bothered giving either of them orders. Neither seemed inclined to follow them.

Iolaus had finally struck gold. A merchant on his way home mentioned seeing a couple who fit the description of a foreign woman and a tall, well-built man having passed by in a hurry. From the description of the third member of the party, Iolaus made the supposition that Salmoneus was involved. That could mean there was trouble, more trouble than just finding some lost article. Salmoneus tended to attract unwanted attention from various nefarious elements of the population.

His pursuit of his partner soon brought him to the path that led up to the former king’s home. Iolaus paused at the base of the incline and looked the place over. It appeared deserted until he thought he saw a flicker of light in a window. The sun had dropped below the tree line and darkness was minutes away. Iolaus tried to ignore the feeling that crept along his back and caused goose bumps to sprout along his arms. The breeze that played along his skin seemed somehow colder than the loss of the sun warranted.

“Stop it,” he scolded his imagination. “It’s probably just some warlord, a wannabe king. It’s not like old Cecrops escaped from Tartarus and is running around the halls here.” Besides, his partner had headed this way and no doubt was in there now. Maybe the princess had had her jewelry stolen and the thief was holed up here. It could even be Autolycus. “Yeah, it’s Auto doing what he normally does.” Iolaus shrugged off his unease and entered.

Pale light streamed from a doorway. He was edging toward it when two armed men wearing Egyptian clothing stepped into the hall. Who was the most startled was a toss up. Iolaus was the first to recover, or at least the first to strike. As the man to his left went for a blade resting on his hip, Iolaus punched him in the face and then ducked the blow from the guard on the right. He came up close and personal and rammed the butt of his palm into the man’s solar plexis. There was a whoosh of escaping air and then the gasping sounds of someone desperately trying to suck in oxygen. Taking advantage of the distraction, he turned back to the first guard and landed a series of blows to his face and upper chest until he went down for the count.

Iolaus blocked a half-hearted blow from the recovering guard with his right arm and followed it up with another strike to the same spot. The man was out before he hit the floor. Taking a look into the room they’d come from, he saw no other guards. Moving quickly, he pulled them into it and tied them up with strips torn from their own kilts. There wasn’t much left to work with, but he used what he could to gag them. The last thing he needed was the alarm being raised.

The light had come from several candles resting on a table. He blew them out so anyone passing by wouldn’t see the trussed guards. That done, he headed further into the maze that made up Cecrops’ former base of operations.

He was the lodestone, and Hercules was his north. Nothing was going to get in his way.

Anuket had thought she’d glimpsed the mummy in a side corridor as she’d followed Salmoneus. She’d deserted the garishly robed friend of Hercules and cautiously entered the hallway. Reaching up behind her head, she extracted a sheathed stiletto from the black wig she wore. She didn’t know if the poisoned blade would affect the mummy at all, but perhaps she’d get lucky and find Sokar.

A rattling noise sounded down the hall. Gripping her knife, she swallowed her fear. She would be queen of Egypt one day. This was her duty. Fear had no place in her heart. She took another step and gasped as a hand shot out and grabbed the wrist of her knife hand. She never got a chance to call for help.

Hercules and Salmoneus retrace their steps. “Anuket! Anuket!”

“Maybe she’s off flogging her slaves,” Salmoneus suggested.

“She was right behind us. You take the left. I’ll go up here, all right?” Hercules had taken a few steps into another corridor. When he got no response, he looked back. Salmoneus was gone. “Salmoneus? Salmoneus! Anuket? Where is everybody?” He looked to the right, hoping Salmoneus went the wrong way. Behind him, he heard a barely audible plea.

“Help me!” Whirling, he found his friend trapped in a death grip by their quarry. He grabbed the mummy’s arms and managed to break its hold enough for Salmoneus to drop to the ground and crawl out of the way.

The mummy slammed a fist into Hercules, dropping him to the floor. The demigod made a quick recovery and swung a fist into the chest of the monster. His hand broke through into the chest cavity. He yanked it out, covered in maggots.

“Yuck.” Hercules shook them off only to be struck a painful blow that spun him around. The mummy grabbled him and flung him down the corridor. He came to rest on the lip of a hole where the floor had collapsed into the dungeon level far below. Hercules scrambled back from the edge.

“Hercules! Watch out!” Salmoneus cried out as the mummy followed. Ducking as it swung its fist, Hercules twirled around the mummy and kicked back. His foot landed square and the monster fell into the hole, its angry cry echoing back. There came a satisfying thud as it finally hit bottom.

“So much for your friend.” Hercules leaned to look down the hole, trying to make out how far below it was and if it would hold the creature captive until they retrieved the ankh.

“We never really connected on an emotional level. He was always kind of a stiff.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. Come on---let’s find Anuket.” Hercules turned away and they began to walk back down the corridor. The dungeon should hold the mummy until they found her.

“Yeah.” Salmoneus nodded his agreement. The sooner they got out of this place wasn’t soon enough for him.

“Help!” The cry came echoing up from below. They looked at each other and then back at the hole.

“She’s in the pit.” Hercules was sure this day couldn’t get any worse.

“Uck! That’s terrible!” Salmoneus turned away. He didn’t want to see what the mummy might do to her. Disturbed by all the commotion, a colony of bats took flight at that moment and tangled with what little hair Salmoneus had on his head. With a scream, he slapped at them and backed up. “ Ahh! Ahh! Ahh! Ahh! Ahh!” He bumped into the demigod, causing Hercules to lose his balance. No amount of arm whirling stopped the inevitable. Hercules’ cried out as he lost his battle with gravity and plummeted into the pit.

Salmoneus turned around and called after him, “So-o-o-o-rrry!”

Hercules slowly rose, spitting old straw and dirt out of his mouth. That had hurt. “Thanks, Salmoneus,” he muttered as he slowly straightened. He found that he’d landed in an iron barred cell. A growl issued from behind him. “Oh, that can’t be good.” Turning, he saw the mummy struggling to rise from where it had fallen and gotten tangled up in some rusty iron chains hanging from the wall.

“We have got to stop meeting like this.”

Iolaus had managed to avoid any further surprise encounters. Half of that he put down to skill on his part, the other half to the fact that the opposition wasn’t that numerous. Or maybe they were all collected in one spot. That spot would probably have to do with Hercules in some way. It always did. Of course, his partner would say the same about him. It was one of the reasons they got along so well.

He peered around another corner. Coast clear. As he stepped out, another figure halfway down the hallway did the same and then screamed when it saw him. He knew that scream.

“Salmoneus?!”

“Iolaus?! Oh, thank the gods! I was trying to find help, but I got confused in all these corridors! I ended up back where I started and it didn’t sound like it was going well there. I didn’t mean to bump into him, but accidents happen. You know how it is---“

“Slow down, slow down. What accident? Where’s Hercules?” His stomach felt like it had just dropped out as he heard the salesman babble on.

Salmoneus tried to explain and only confused the warrior more. “Look, just take me to where Hercules is.”

“How about if I take you to where I last saw him?”

“Fine. Just hurry. Then I want you to go for reinforcements.” It would serve two purposes: bring help if needed, and get Salmoneus out of the way.

When they arrived at the hole, they could hear grunts and moans. Salmoneus had been right. It didn’t sound good. “Okay, if Herc can fall down there and battle some kind of monster, I can too.” Besides, it would be a controlled drop. He conveniently ignored the fact that Hercules was a demigod and came with built in resilience. He gave Salmoneus simple directions to get out of the building. With luck, he’d find his way out in time to bring help. If not, well, he and his partner had plenty of experience in taking out monsters. What was one more?

Hercules readied himself, wishing he didn’t feel every bruise from his impromptu landing.

“Hercules!” Anuket’s voice came from outside the cell. At least she was safely on the other side of the bars.

“I’m---busy.” Or soon would be.

One more ugly reality raised its head. A man’s voice called out, “Welcome, Hercules. I trust you find your quarters quite comfortable.” It could only be Sokar.

“Well, I was hoping for something with an ocean view---and it is a little cramped.”

Amusement colored the baritone voice. “Oh, one of you will make room for the other. I’m betting on him.”

Annoyed, Hercules shot back, “That’s a bad bet.”

Anuket had to try reason, though she was fairly certain that wouldn’t work with the priest. It hadn’t before and he’d burned all his bridges back then. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain if he proceeded with his plans. “Release both of us immediately, Sokar, or you will suffer the consequences. You’ll never get away with this.” She squeaked when he tightened his grip on her.

“The only thing I’ll suffer from is the weight of all the gold your father will heap upon me when he sees I control the mummy.” Not to mention the power when he took the throne. It should have been him anyway. He was of royal blood every bit as good as Ramses’. He’d thought the priesthood would give him the power he hungered for, but it had turned out to be empty promises and tedious rituals. He released his hold on all but her arm and fingered the ankh. Now those promises would become a reality.

“Only a pharaoh may wear that.” Anuket tried to pull away to no avail.

He jerked her to his chest again. “And I will be a pharaoh---as soon as that mummy tears Hercules limb from limb. Then it will absorb his life force and his strength.”

“Don’t count on it.” Hercules dared a quick glance back. It wasn’t encouraging. Anuket wasn’t strong enough to break Sokar’s hold and provide any kind of help.

“Oh, but I am.”

Anuket tried to kick the priest in the shins. “Let me go, Sokar.”

“Certainly---as soon as we’re married.” He laughed at her futile struggles and dragged her to the dungeon’s door.

“Let me go!”

“Sokar!” Ineffective though it was, Hercules cried out after them before turning back to a much more immediate problem: an irate mummy.

Ishtar, when it remembered who it had once been, was angry. The mummy had struggled to rise, using precious reserves, only to find itself drawn not to the prey it sought, but away from potential food. The pull had ended when it entered the castle. The brief battle with its gods-touched adversary had ended with the drop into the dungeons.

Anger fueled the mummy enough to rise once more and seek vengeance on the one who’d gotten in its way. Once it had satisfied the need to smash and tear, it would feed. Then it would go after the bearer of the ankh.

It wasn’t going well. He’d been slammed against the bars of their prison a dozen times. Hercules swore the creature was getting stronger each time it laid hands on him. An attempt to draw out the demigod’s life force had met with a resistance that puzzled the creature. Angered, it was taking it out on its would-be victim. After bouncing yet again off the bars, Hercules complained, “Don’t you know anything else?!”

As if in answer, the mummy grappled with him and then shoved his face into the bars. “That’s better,” he gasped out. For a moment he was afraid he was stuck. Attempting to extricate his face, he shoved against the bars and stumbled back into his opponent who in turn was forced back to the center of the cell.

As Hercules turned to face the mummy, a purple and black clad body plummeted out of the ceiling far above and landed square on top of the mummy. Both went down, but Iolaus recovered first to bounce up and face his partner.

“Gee, Herc, I can’t leave you for one week without you getting yourself into trouble.” A cheeky grin accompanied his greeting. Unaware that the bundle of rags that had broken his fall belonged to the monster now rising up behind him, Iolaus held out his hand to shake that of his friend.

Hercules smiled down at his partner in relief as he took the offered arm in a warrior’s greeting. “Glad to see you too. Duck!”

Iolaus was quick to respond with a drop and roll. Hercules, a little slower, didn’t quite make it. The mummy’s fist connected with his jaw and he saw stars as he hit the ground.

“Hercules!” Iolaus finally got a good look at what they faced. “Whoa! What in Tartarus is that?” He spun away from it as the mummy tried to grab him, and attempted to kick its legs out from under it. He might as well have tried to bring down Mount Olympus.

“It’s Anuket’s mummy.” Hercules rose unsteadily.

“Anuket’s mommy?”

“No, mummy. As in dead ancestor.”

Iolaus dodged the grasping claws and drew his sword. “I hate to tell you, but it doesn’t look very dead from here.”

“Yeah, I noticed. It’s strong. Don’t let it grab you.” Hercules moved in. Now that it had to watch out for the two of them, they might be able to subdue it.

“I hadn’t had that in my plans.” Iolaus swung his sword at the mummy only to have it grab the blade. Instead of the blade slicing through as was fully expected, the edge wedged into the bone. The mummy closed its hand and yanked the blade out of Iolaus’ hands. In a rapid maneuver, it pulled the sword from itself and reversed it.

“Iolaus, you aren’t supposed to arm it!” Hercules flung his arms around those of the mummy, trying to pin them to its side before it skewered his partner.

“I wasn’t trying to!” Iolaus slammed a fist into the mummy and managed to add another hole to its chest. Withdrawing his maggot encrusted hand, he grimaced. “Yuck!”

“I know.” Hercules manhandled the monster toward the cell door. Maybe he could bash their way out of the tight confines and somehow end this fight so they could rescue Anuket. Between his slamming the mummy against the door and Iolaus kicking at the hinges, they finally managed to crash through, the mummy landing beneath Hercules. Iolaus scrambled out to grab the sword as it skidded from the mummy’s hand.

Hercules looked around, hoping to spot something to tie up or hold the mummy in place. The other cells’ doors were askew or too rusty to hold the creature captive. He spotted an iron maiden, its spikes nearly a foot in length. Vicious, but effective. “Iolaus, get the door open on the iron maiden!”

“What? Oh! Yeah, got it!” He jerked it all the way open and waited for Hercules to wrestle the mummy back up on its feet. As soon as the demigod shoved it into the torture device, he slammed it shut. Hercules shoved the latch into place.

“That was-disgusting,” Iolaus commented.

“Tell me about it,” Hercules replied as he leaned against the wall by the iron maiden and wiped the sweat from his face.

“I’m taking that as a rhetorical comment since you were here. Where in Tartarus did that come from?”

“Egypt.”

“I knew it. I knew they were trouble the minute I saw them.”

“Who?”

“All those foreign-Egyptians.” Iolaus remembered what he’d heard about Egyptian burials. “You know, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen if they buried their dead.”

“It would certainly have made my day easier. Come on, we have to rescue Anuket.” He took off, Iolaus close behind, and filled his partner in on how his day had proceeded.

“That’s it, Herc. I’m not letting you out of my sight again. You get into way too much trouble.”

“Me?! What about you?” They had stopped in the midst of the festival patrons, surrounded by garishly masked men and women laughing, shouting, and dancing. It made it seem surreal.

“I don’t get myself chased by dead people.” At Hercules raised eyebrow, he added, “Foreign dead people.”

Before Hercules could retort, he spotted Sokar and Anuket weaving through the crowd. “There!”

Its assailants hadn’t been gone more than a few minutes before the mummy managed to shove the iron maiden’s door open. It was angry and hungry. It had waited too long to feed. What little of it remained human wanted vengeance on the ones who had been thwarting it all along. It would feed on them and anyone who got in its way.

Sokar’s plans were unfolding well. He had the ankh, the mummy would soon be in his full control with Hercules’ death, and he had Anuket for his bride. He jerked his captive along, heedless of any pain he might cause her. He didn’t love her; she was merely a means to an end. They would board his barge this night and leave for Egypt once the mummy was aboard.

“Anuket!”

The voice brought tears of joy to the Egyptian princess’ eyes. Hercules had somehow managed to survive the mummy! Sokar, however, wasn’t pleased. “Where did he come from? He should have died!” He turned to flee, no fool when it came to knowing his chances taking on the demigod. His way was blocked by a short Greek brandishing a sword and a smile. “What is happening here?”

Hercules relaxed, now that his partner had circled around the fugitive. “I would say you were outnumbered. Now, let her go.”

“Hercules!” Anuket cried out as Sokar pulled her to his chest, his knife at her throat.

“It would appear that we’re at an impasse,” Sokar sneered.

Iolaus and Hercules exchanged glances across the clearing that had erupted in the crowd with the sight of the drawn knife. A wealth of information was exchanged regarding a possible solution with just a few shoulder shrugs, raised eyebrows and over twenty years of knowing each other's moves.

They needed a distraction. The Fates provided them with one, though fickle Fortune would have it be from a less than desired source.

“Great costume!”

“It looks so real!”

“Where’d you get it?”

“I want one!”

That was their only warning. Shoving aside its admirers, the creature that had started this whole adventure reached its quarry. The mummy could have taken any of the humans it had crossed in its path to reach its goal, but enough of what had been the Pharaoh Ishtar remained for it to want its own revenge on those who had abused it.

“Uh oh,” Hercules got out before he found himself busy with the creature. Iolaus tried to take advantage of the distraction and edged toward Sokar only to halt when the Egyptian priest pressed the knife more firmly against her throat. Then he found himself very busy as several of Sokar’s men arrived to aid their master. Frustrated that he couldn’t help his partner against the unnatural creature, he worked to rid himself of his opponents as quickly as possible.

Sokar didn’t have long to gloat though. One of the festival’s patrons got in the way of the mummy as it continued its fight with Hercules and was tossed to the side. Sokar had to move to get out of the way.

Anuket took advantage of the distraction as Sokar’s knife dropped away from her throat and elbowed him. He released her as he fought for air. The princess whirled and grabbed the ankh that rested on the priest’s chest and ripped it free. Backing away, she tried to use it on the mummy. Unfortunately, nothing happened. “It must not work until the mummy has consumed a human life force!”

Hercules struggled up from where he’d fallen after a particularly vicious blow had landed. “Now you tell me.” He glanced at her and cried out a warning. “Anuket, behind you!”

Sokar once again grabbed the princess and held her tightly. “If I can’t have Anuket---nobody will.”

“No!” Anuket struggled to free herself as Sokar laughed and raised his knife for the killing blow. Hercules couldn’t get past the mummy and Iolaus, though done with his opponents, was too far away to reach her in time. He’d pulled his knife to throw it, but the angle was wrong and he didn’t want to hit Anuket by mistake.

The tableau was interrupted by the arrival of Keb and his men. Salmoneus had finally found them and made them understand he was on their side. They’d been on their way to Cecrops’ old stomping grounds when they’d been drawn by the sound of their princess’ cries.

Keb moved to grab Sokar’s knife hand and in the ensuing struggle, the priest let her go in favor of striking his new opponent. Keb went down, blood staining the pristine white of his garments.

“No!” Anuket crawled to Keb’s body, oblivious of the danger she put herself in as she cradled the fallen slave’s head in her lap.

Too busy to take note of the arrival of reinforcements, Hercules landed a punch packed with all the anger and frustration that had been building up since he’d run into the Egyptians and their problem. The mummy took it square in the belly and flew across the battleground to land behind Sokar.

Patience hadn’t been its strongest suit in life and it hadn’t changed much in death. Tired of the fruitless battle, it gave in to its hunger and grabbed the nearest human. This happened to be Sokar.

“Nooooooooooooo!” The priest struggled as the mummy pulled him to its chest. A taloned hand grasped the area above his chest and he felt as if his heart was being pulled, still beating, from his chest.

Salmoneus, having tagged along with the Egyptian contingent covered his eyes as the mummy pulled the life from its victim. “Oh, that’s disgusting. Wow! This puts my house of horrors to shame!”

Hercules was the first to recover from the shock of seeing a man’s life energy torn from him. He scanned the area for the ankh. Anuket had said it would control it. Now that the mummy had taken a life, it should work. He shouted to his partner, “Find the ankh!”

Iolaus was the first to spot it where it had fallen when Anuket had been taken prisoner again by Sokar. He dove under the grasp of the mummy to grab it, rolling on his shoulder so he could pop back up, ankh firmly grasped in hand.

“Hey! Rag man!” He held out the Egyptian symbol of life as if to force the mummy back by its very presence. “How do you work this thing?”

Anuket, grieving over the man who’d been by her side since she was just a child, looked up, confused by the change of events. “I-I don’t know-“

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Iolaus muttered as he ducked away from the blow intended to take off his head. The creature seemed revitalized by the energy it had stolen. It kicked aside the shriveled husk that had been Sokar, as it advanced on the warrior before it.

Iolaus found himself dodging a much faster opponent. Apparently absorbing life force endowed the creature with more human reflexes. Unluckily, they were as quick as Iolaus’ own. He soon ended up cornered with nothing to defend himself with other than a rather useless ankh. As the mummy closed in for the kill, Iolaus tried to dodge between its legs only to feel the talons score his scalp as the mummy’s hand closed on a fistful of his hair. “Ow! Damn, why do they always go for the hair?!” He was jerked back painfully and felt the touch of the other hand over his heart. “Uh oh!”

“Iolaus!” Hercules wove through the panicking villagers and guards and dove across the clearing to crash into the mummy. The force of impact loosened its hold on Iolaus who rolled out of the way. Hercules managed to recover his feet before the mummy did and took advantage of it by grabbing the monster’s feet. With a heave of his shoulders, he swung the mummy up and began turning rapidly in a circle. The force of the spin kept the mummy from curling up to reach its captor, and gave Hercules the impetus to fling it into a large vat of wax that the vendors had been using to create their wax skulls. The weight of the liquid wax dragged the mummy down as it rapidly seeped into the openings between the linen wrappings.

Iolaus reached the vat before Hercules and grabbed up a mixing paddle. “Oh, no you don’t!” As the mummy tried to pull itself out of the wax, he struck it head on with the paddle. “Herc, quick! Put out the fire!” He tried to kick dirt onto the flames beneath the vat as he kept whacking the mummy each time it tried to escape. Hercules joined him and put the fire out. With another mixing paddle, he helped Iolaus beat the mummy down into the wax. Before long, the weight of solidifying wax was too great to defeat, and the mummy sank down to a new resting place.

Spying the ankh on the ground where Iolaus had dropped it in favor of the paddle, Hercules scooped it up. At his touch, it began to heat up. Hit by one of his demigod hunches, he slapped the ankh down on top of the cooling wax. It sank down only a little, then a flash of light from it nearly blinded both of the warriors. The sluggishly stirring wax stilled.

Iolaus finally relaxed. Looking at his partner, he broke into a giggle. Hercules had globs of wax spackling his face, hair, and upper chest where the hot wax had come to rest as they’d splattered it trying to beat the mummy down.

“Don’t start. You’re just as bad,” Hercules admonished before setting his paddle down and going to check on Anuket and Keb.

The princess still held her slave, one hand trying to stop the flow of blood from the wound. Keb’s dark skin had paled with the loss of blood, yet he still tried to speak. “Princess--- please---”

“Anything, Keb. Ask anything.” Tears ran unchecked down her face. This was her fault. He was dying because she had been foolish.

“I only wish to die---a free man.” His dark eyes pleaded with her for understanding.

She looked up at the demigod who now stood over them. “You were right, Hercules. But now it’s too late.”

He shook his head. “It’s never too late.”

She nodded and then looked down at Keb. “You are a slave no more, Keb. And I will return to Egypt and work to make sure that everyone like you is freed.”

He smiled and then the light faded from his eyes.

Anuket left the next morning as the town of Opus began to waken from its wild night of revelry and in some cases, horror. She’d told him she’d keep her promise to Keb and then gave them an open invitation to visit her country any time they wished. She’d left them, stopping long enough to reward Hercules with a kiss for opening her eyes to the world around her. The two heros watched the wax encased mummy being carted aboard her barge.

“Did you see that?” Iolaus swore he saw the one free hand twitch a finger. “It moved!”

Hercules watched a moment, but when nothing happened, he shook his head and insisted it was just the rising sun reflecting light off the water and tricking the eye.

“I don’t know, Herc-I really think-“ He was cut off by the appearance of Salmoneus come to see them off as well.

“You know anybody who’s in the market for some cheap thrills?”

Hercules shook his head.“Are you giving up on the house of horrors?”

“Yeah, looks like it, especially after that excitement last night. But I have all this wax left over--about a ton of it. What do I do with it?! I’m thinking---crayons---wax candles--- chariot wheels---wax---”

Hercules interrupted, “You could always donate it to a good cause.”

“Donate it?” Salmoneus said it like it was a foreign phrase.

“It’s just a thought.”

Iolaus added, “You’d be a hero.”

“Wait a second. Wait a second! Hero?! Wax! Hero?! Wax! Her-- ?!” The salesman’s eyes lit up. “Wax heroes! A house of wax heroes!” Iolaus made a face at Hercules as if to say See what you started?” They both began to retreat, but Salmoneus followed, like a hydra on a mission. “No, no, no, no! Think about it! Think of it---celebrities--- politicians---gods! Sports figures! Hercules! You would look terrific in wax! Whaddya think?! Huh?!”

Hercules looked around desperately for someone to come running for his help. Where were they when he needed them? “Eh-Iolaus and I have to be in, um, Corinth. Yeah, Corinth. Iphicles---”

“Huh?! No, really! Think of it! Little dolls---in action poses! That could work.”

Iolaus walked beside his partner, grinning and shaking his head. It was hard to say which amused him more, Salmoneus’ enthusiastic pitch to make a dinar, or the hunted look on Hercules’ face as he tried to back gracefully out of the latest scheme. He decided to help rescue his partner.

“Really, Sal. Iphicles needs us. No rest for the heroes. You know how it is.”

“Oh. Well, you’ll give it some serious thought, right? We could even do one of you, Iolaus. A companion figure for Hercules!”

“Of me? Really? Hey, Herc, maybe we-“ The demigod’s arm shot out and his hand grabbed Iolaus’ vest to pull him along.

“Goodbye, Salmoneus,” Hercules intoned as he dragged his giggling partner away.

Iolaus paused at the top of the hill that abutted the grounds of King Cecrops’ old lair. “So, where are we really going?”

“Wherever the wind takes us,” quipped Hercules.

“How about-Egypt?” Iolaus smiled at the grimace those words caused. “No, really. Maybe not right now, but soon. I’ve been to the East already. West and North are good.”

“What’s with the sudden interest in Egypt? I’d think you’d have had your fill of it from this little escapade.”

“Hey, I wasn’t the one who got myself into all that trouble with foreigners.”

“For once.” Hercules evaded the punch to the arm.

“Ha ha. Look, I figure it would be a great place to vacation. No one would know us, so we wouldn’t have our down time cut short by someone wanting our help. Uninterrupted rest. Plus, I heard they have these big-things-they call pyramids. It’s where they bury their kings and all.”

“Like Ishtar?”

“Well, yeah, but think about it. After all, wasn’t it Cheiron who taught us that we should broaden our minds?”

“I didn’t think you remembered anything he tried to instill in us.”

“You’re a funny man, Herc. Just give it a thought. We don’t have to decide right away. We have that open invitation to show up there any time.” Iolaus started back down the hill, throwing a glance back at the ruins behind them. For one second, he thought he saw a flicker of movement in an upper window, but decided Hercules was right. The light was playing tricks on his eyes.

Within the ruins of Cecrops home, a shade flickered in and out of existence as it watched the two small figures in the distance. Hate boiled within what was left of its soul.

“I’m a patient man, Hercules. I can bide my time. It’s all I have now. I was king of Opus and you took that from me! I’ll get my revenge. Soon enough you’ll learn the consequences of standing in my way.”

The sun rose higher and the shade flickered out of view.



Some images, characters and other things used in these works are the property of others, including but not limited to Renaissance Pictures and Universal Studios. Everything else remains the property of the artist or author. No money will be made on anything appearing on this webpage and no copyright infringement is intended. This site was created by fans for the enjoyment of other fans.

For information on reprinting text and/or artwork (including privately owned photos, photo manipulations, and other images) from this website, please contact IolausianLibrarians , who will assist you in contacting the original creator of the piece. Do NOT reprint, republish, or in any way link to items on these pages without obtaining permission from either the original creator of the piece or the webpage owner. A written one-time use statement may be issued to you at the discretion of the artist or the author. Please respect the legal and artistic rights of our contributors.