These gods are fools. Their little dominions are so easily toppled; the faith of their followers so easily turned. Without their heroes they begin to doubt their gods and the gods fall. It was the same everywhere. He only had to remove those influences of the light. In all of Greece, he only saw a handful of individuals that could pose even the slightest threat to his plans. Hercules was the greatest of them. Once he was gone, the faith of the people would wane. However, the demigod's body was superior and he would be needing a physical form soon. This body was desirable. Perhaps there was a way to serve both purposes. He would need assistance. There, the woman warrior sealed in the cave. She was a good prospect.
Iolaus hefted the heavy stone and with great apparent effort lugged it over to the unfinished wall where he stood waiting for Hercules to finish meticulously placing a stone in the wall. He watched Hercules test the position by wiggling it to the right, then the left, then back to the right again. He sighed and shifted the rock to a new position in his arms. “Herc...it's a rock wall. It doesn't have to be perfect.”
The demigod continued to keep his focus on the stone before him. “Better to do it right the first time than have to do it again when it falls down.”
“But if it takes forever to finish the first time...What's the point?” Hercules shot him a look, “Yeah, I know, I know...It's for your mom. Phase 2 of the Great Wall. Just when a guy thinks we’re done, we turn the corner and build in a new direction. Would you just take this rock?”
Hercules looked back and realized Iolaus was holding a stone, “Oh sorry, yeah, let me have it.” Hercules took the stone and turned toward the house to see his mother approaching with a concerned expression on her face.
“Hercules, a messenger just came for you. From Queen Leda. I'm afraid it's bad news.”
The two heroes traded knowing glances as Alcmene joined them at the unfinished end of the wall.
“Has something happened to Tyndareus?” Hercules asked.
“No, no, the king is fine, but their daughter ran away and got married, and Leda's afraid he's going to start a war because of it,” Alcmene explained.
Hercules sat the stone he was holding on top of the wall.
Iolaus sighed, “Tyndareus...another word for hothead.”
“He's a good man,” Hercules responded, “He'll come to his senses.”
Alcmene wasn't as sure, “He's been making offerings to Ares. And raising an army.”
Iolaus rolled his eyes, “Ares...Terrific!”
Hercules picked up another rock from the ground and fitted it into place under the loose stone. He tested it and seemed satisfied that it wouldn't move.
“Queen Leda wouldn't bother you if she thought it wasn't serious.” Alcmene pointed out.
Hercules nodded and picked up his shirt. He put an arm around his mother as the three of them turned toward the house. “I promise, my next visit will be more than only a day.”
His mother smiled at him, “That'll be something for me to look forward to. You know son, I am so proud of you. You're never too busy to help. People know they can count on you.”
Hercules looked forlorn for a moment, “Maybe one of these days, you can count on me,” he continued after registering her look of surprise, “to finish that wall.”
The shadow floated near where the cave opening once was. The collapse hadn’t been long ago. Not long enough for the single occupant to have gone as obviously mad as she currently was. Dahak didn’t deal with the insane, too unpredictable but this one had the smell of the gods on her. She was connected to them somehow. She had been given some divine power which explained how she could survive alone in the cave. She was probably a servant of some sort, now fallen from favor. Yes, that fit the ramblings he’d been listening to. She was too dangerous to leave loose; she knew too much about them; knew too many secrets. She would serve his purpose.
Shadowy arms raised and the rocks blocking the entrance shuddered. The stone flew outward and fell to the earth leaving a black hole in the rock face. For a long moment nothing moved, then from deep inside the cavern an unsteady figure emerged. Her blond hair was dirty, she was covered in mud. One look in her eyes, told that she didn’t care. Her eyes were lifeless and empty. She was a picture of dispair. She staggered a few feet past the entrance and raised an arm to shield her eyes from the unaccustomed light. She turned in a circle, looking around for the reason she had been released. Her eyes came to rest on an indistinct, shadow figure. Her eyes narrowed as she realized that it was transparent. There was nothing inside it; no face, no body, no feet touching the ground, just a black, cloak-like shape with nothing inside. She didn’t have time for mysteries, she didn’t care anymore.
“Why?” Silence met her query. “Leave me Alone.” She turned and began to walk away, not caring why anyone or any thing would want to release her.
The shadow glided from the dark shelter of the rocks and followed her. “Your work isn’t finished, Callisto.”
Her hands moved to the sides of her head. The voice wasn’t coming through her ears, it was inside her head. “I’m finished. I’ve done all I can.”
“Not yet, not when your whole future lies ahead of you.”
She turned and bore down on the dark cloud. “What future? There is no future. Immortality is a curse. My whole life has been cursed. There’s nothing left.”
“A minor problem, easily fixed.”
“Oh?” She didn’t believe a word of it, “And just how do you propose to do that?”
“We start by ridding the world of its greatest hero. Hercules.”
Ares was in his element. There was nothing better than arming a king for war. “You made the right choice coming to me, Tyndareus.” The King was determined to right the wrong done to his daughter. It showed in his stance and demeanor. Ares had only to tempt him with the right tools and the war would be on. He loved it when the mortals dropped it right in his lap and the God of War didn’t even have to lift a finger. Iniative that’s what it was, glorious initiative. Ares held up an arrow with a black metal tip. Strife danced around him as if to say, “Ta da!” as the war god carried it over to the king. “A thing of beauty, itsn’t it? Honed by Hephaestus and worthy of a god.”
Tyndareus took the arrow. He could feel the power pulsing through the thin object. “It feels alive.”
“The fit, the finish, the balance.” Ares pointed out the finer specifications as he guided Tyndareus to nock the arrow and aim at a pile of Mycenaean armor. “Feel the power, how it draws, smooth and sure. Be one with the arrow.”
Tyndareus let the arrow fly. It sliced through the armor and embedded itself in a column, splitting the column in the process. Impressive.
Strife clapped the King on the shoulder, “Call him Tyndareus the Terrible!”
Ares shot a warning look at Strife as he put his arm around the King’s shoulder and lead him into the next room. There were stacks of quivers filled with the divine arrows, “All this is yours. Your army will slaughter your enemies, thousands, tens of thousands, will die by your hand.”
Tyndareus stepped back appalled, “I only want my daughter back.”
Ares feigned rage, “That sweet, innocent little girl, ruined. Deceived by his smooth talk. He tricked her into the marriage. You’re right to do this. Any good father would do as much.”
The King stood a little straighter, finding his backbone again, “Yes, of course, you’re right. And I appreciate your help, but...”
Strife stepped into the conversation, trying to help push the king along, “No guts, no glory, King. You snooze, you lose.”
“I’m trying to help you save your little girl,” Ares prodded. “I could give the arrows to your enemy. It doesn’t matter to me who butchers whom.” He stepped back to separate himself from the friendly behavior he was just demonstrating toward the king.
“But you’d never see daddy’s girl again,” Strife added to seal the deal.
The King’s lips curled in a sneer, “You’re right. I’ll kill him with my own bare hands!”
“That’s the ticket. And the beauty of it is, it costs you nothing!” Ares pounded the King on the back, once again being a ‘friend’.
“Only your soul...” Hercules added from the entranceway.
Ares closed his eyes and sighed. “Who invited him to the party?”
Hercules and Iolaus walked toward the trio, “I want to talk to my brother, Tyndareus. You go with Iolaus.”
The King was not without his newly found backbone. “But Ares has agreed to help me get my daughter back.”
Iolaus reached for the King’s arm and gently pulled him away, “I think Herc’s telling you this is a time to walk and not talk, Your Majesty. After you.”
Tyndareus glanced around, unsure, and not getting any support from those around him, he followed Iolaus back out into the courtyard.
Hercules observed Ares, debating how best to handle his angry half brother. “Don’t you have any scruples?”
“Any what?” The God of War snapped.
“You feed on desperation,” Hercules shook his head in disappointment.
“Tyndareus had potential but inside he’s too goody, goody, like you. I’ll find someone else.”
“Not with these toys, you won’t.” Hercules glanced around the ruined castle and gave one of the columns holding up the archway a shove. Without the supporting column the entire ceiling over the arrows crashed down, smashing them to bits.
Strife threw his hands over his mouth in mock terror, “Oh the horror, the horror.”
Ares rounded on Hercules, “It took Hephaestus months to forge all those arrows.”
Hercules shrugged, “Hephaestus needs a new hobby. Like maybe knitting.” Without warning Strife let out a yell and charged Hercules. without even seeming to put any effort into it, Hercules raised his fist, allowing Strife to smash right into it and bounce back to land in a heap at Ares’ feet. Ares glared down at him.
“Uh, Unc,” Strife asked from the floor, “you don’t suppose Zeus has lifted that pesky no-gods-killing-other-gods rule, do you?”
Ares sighed, “And this day started out so well.”
Hercules turned and strode outside, “Bye guys, it’s been fun.”
As he strode toward Iolaus and Tyndareus he could hear Ares screaming at Strife to, “Get up and act like a god, you worm!”
“What are you?” Callisto asked still visually examining the floating apparition before her. “Are you a god? Are you dead?”
“I am as I have always been since the beginning. The form is insignificant. The rest remains unchanged. The eternal battle continues.”
That was a little deeper than she had bargained for. She was too tired to bother figuring riddles out, it wasn’t worth the effort anymore. “And you want to kill Hercules? Everybody’s tried but nobody’s pulled it off. I can’t believe you’d disturb me for this.”
“To refuse would be a mistake.”
“Or what? You’ll kill me? I can’t die. Too bad, it would probably be a rush.”
“Your life is empty. You need a purpose.”
“My life,” she almost laughed at the irony. “My life will never end but it was over years ago, in Cirra. Ten years old, I watched my family die. And I died inside. It just took a few more years for the outside of me to catch up.” She sighed surrendering to the hopelessness again. “There’s nothing you can do for me. Go away.” She turned back toward her cave.
But Dahak wasn’t through tempting her yet, he was long from through, “I can redeem your life. Rid you of your demons. In a way you never thought possible.”
She paused, then turned and sat on the ground with her chin in her hand and her elbow on her knee, waiting. Waiting to hear how she could be redeemed. She still had no hope but what else did she have to do, might as well listen.
Tyndareus was still agitated as Hercules and Iolaus helped him into his coach, “I appreciate your intentions, but it’s my daughter’s future at stake.”
“And not your own fatherly pride?” Hercules asked.
“Well, certainly not!” Tyndareus bristled.
“Do you know the guy she married?” Iolaus asked.
“Oh yes! I know him.”
“So what’s wrong with him?” Iolaus raised his hands in query.
“He’s not good enough for her, that’s what!”
“Because she’s a princess?” Hercules guessed.
“No, it’s not that. He’s from a royal family himself, but...,” Tyndareus could see where this line of questioning was leading and he found himself doubting his resolve again. “She deserves better.”
“Did you talk to her about it?” Hercules asked.
“I did. I forbade her to see him, let alone marry him.”
“So, she did the obvious thing. She ran away and did it,” Iolaus replied matter-of-factly.
“Tyndareus, I’ve known you a long time. I know how much you and your daughter love each other. Don’t let this come between you. You have to trust her, respect her decisions. It’s her life. Really listen to her this time.”
The King sighed, “I wouldn’t want to live if I couldn’t have her in my life.” He paused, still processing the situation, “Come with me. There’s going to be a wedding feast.”
“Good for you,” Hercules closed the door of the coach, “We’ll try to be there.”
The two heroes watched as the royal guards led the coach away. Iolaus turned away first, “A hothead, but a nice guy.”
“I needed that war!” Ares was in full rant, “To reinforce my position on Olympus. Those other fools up there can’t see what’s coming, but I can. I know!” He turned toward Strife who happened to be a handy target. “And you! You’re a worthless excuse for a god. You let him make a fool out of you time and time again.”
“Hey! I’m not the only one afraid of crossing Zeus. I still don’t see Herc’s skull hanging from your belt, Mister Big-Bad-God-Of-War!” Strife froze as Ares smoldered. He knew he’d let his mouth get away from him again. Ares’ frown became a sneer and a yell of outrage as his fist connected with Strife’s face sending him flying back into a wall.
“Hit him again. He deserves it.”
Ares turned in surpise, his frown reversing into a half smile as Callisto stepped out of the darkness. “Callisto, you’re looking better than ever. Immortal and a goddess now.”
“I’m flattered, Ares. I wasn’t sure what reception I’d get as myself. When we got together before, I was in Xena’s body.”
Ares obviously had very fond memories of the encounter, “Oh, I remember.”
“Callisto?” Strife had climbed back to his feet. “She’s a twisted sister. Next to her, the Furies are mellow.”
“Shut up, Strife,” her eyes narrowed and she flicked her hand, sending a fire bolt to knock Strife back against the wall again. The dent in the stone was getting larger.
Ares laughed, “Nice technique. Pyro could take lessons.”
She continued to play with a finger of flame in her palm, “I love fire. It’s been part of me since Xena’s army burned my home. That fire turned my family to ashes. And everybody in the village died.”
Ares encircled her waist with his arms, “I love it when you talk like that. What delicious carnage. Xena would have laid waste to the entire mortal world. She would have ruled in my name, if Hercules hadn’t interferred. What’s he got against fun?”
Strife had again climbed back to a standing position. He was still smoking slightly, “Don’t trust her, Unc. She may be a god but she’s not one of us.”
Ares didn’t even bother to spare a look, “Shut up, Strife,” as he flicked his wrist and this time Strife went completely through the wall.
Callisto settled back against Ares, enjoying the feel of his muscled torso against her back. “I admire your technique, too. Like hammer to anvil.”
“Some people practically beg to be pounded.”
She grinned, “I didn’t think you’d noticed.”
“I’m talking about Hercules. Sooner or later he’ll go too far. I won’t be able to restrain myself.”
“That’s a problem, isn’t it? What Zeus would do if that ever happened.”
Ares nuzzled the back of her neck, “What’s eternal life without the occasional risk, hmmm?”
She turned in his arms reaching a hand up to play in his hair, twirling a dark curl around his finger. “You’re always trying to kill Hercules. What if you could get rid of him in a way old Zeus would never find out?” One look into his eyes told her that he knew she was playing him but it also told her that he was willing to play along for awhile. “Then we could really have some fun. I’ll give you carnage you never dreamed about with Xena. Think about it. A landscape littered with body parts.”
Strife staggared back through the hole in the wall, determined to stop Ares from making a mistake. “Unc, can’t you see? She’s playing you like a lyre, jerking your strings!”
The response was in unison, “Shut up, Strife!” Twin flames blew him completely out of the temple.
Ares turned back to the blonde in leather, “He’s right about you, isn’t he?”
“And you want to hear more, don’t you?” She baited.
“I’m all ears...Well, not all ears... Okay. I like it, but there’s no rush.” He moved in closer to her. She grined mischieviously and disappeared in a puff. The God of War brooded a moment, “Damn.” He popped out at well.
They both reappeared in the now empty courtyard outside. “This is the spot,” Ares confirmed.
“I’m ready if you are.”
“Oh, I’m ready!” Ares replied as he slid in behind Callisto. They focus on the spot where the gateway once appeared and with arms raised, they combined their divine powers. Lightning, fire, all the power they possessed poured into the air before them. In response a small vortex appeared growing rapidly. Ares and Callisto fell back on top of each other.
“Was it good for you, too?” She asked.
“Not yet,” Ares replied making a grab for her.
As the gateway opened fully, the familiar figure of the Sovereign stepped through. The pendant of Hind’s blood still around his neck. He stood just out of the range of the vortex and surveyed his new surroundings, “I’m rested, I’m ready, and I’m here.”
Ares looked up at the newcomer, “So that’s the Sovereign. You know, I like the beard.” He released Callisto and they both climbed to their feet.
Sighting the pair, the Sovereign was confused, “Ares? You got me out? Why would the God of Love spring me?”
Ares scoffed, “You’re not in Neverland this time, pal. You’re in my yard now!”
The Sovereign moved closer to see Ares’ companion, “Priestess Callisto? What are you doing here?”
She smiled, “Priestess Callisto? That’s got a ring to it. Go forth and destroy.”
Ares reached out and snatched the pendant, “Come to papa.” The Sovereign made a grab for him but Area vanished. He turned toward Callisto but an instant later she vanished into flames herself. Screaming in outrage, the Sovereign strode forward kicking and smashing everything in his path, taking out his frustration on the new world he found himself in.
“As a fashion statement, it comes up a little short, but since it's filled with the blood of a Golden Hind...” Strife appraised the pendant now adorning the God of War's neck.
“I think I'll keep it. Hind's blood. Nasty stuff,” Ares said.
“The only thing that can kill a god. And the god who has it...is top god.” Strife was obviously pleased to be hanging on the coat tails of the god who possessed such power.
Callisto made a smoldering appearance through a burst of flame. She was all seduction now as she draped herself over Ares, making sure to keep the pendant within easy reach. “Now where were we? Oh yes, ready to-consummate our partnership and move ahead with the plan.”
Ares removed her hands from his chest, “One thing at a time. First we consummate.”
“I don't think you trust me,” she pouted. “What can I do to convince you?”
“Don't trust her, Unc! Dump her now, it's what she deserves.”
Callisto had had enough, “You little weasel!” She turned on him and stalked toward him. Strife dove behind Ares and peered back at her from behind the God of War.
Ares shook his head in disappointment, “He really is an embarrassment.” Ares turned and flicked his finger toward the hapless god sending him crashing into a corner. Strife clmbed to his feet and dusted himself off, reconciled to working with Callisto. “Okay, okay, you made your point. What do we do now? How do we get Hercules where we want him?
“That's the beauty of unleashing the Sovereign, you nitwit,” Callisto explained as though she were talking to an idiot.
Ares smiled throughly enjoying the explanation, “Being a predictable do-gooder, it won't be long before Hercules has his hands full with his own bad self.”
“And while he's busy with the Sovereign, we have our own fun and games,” Callisto again began her seductive exploring of Ares body with her hands and now her lips. She bit his lip and knew she had him where she wanted him when he growled in return.
Iolaus pushed his plate away and smiled at the waitress who picked it up, “We're gonna go to Tyndareus' wedding feast, aren't we? Should be a great time; food, wine, dancing girls.”
Hercules smiled, he knew that dancing girls would figure into this somehow. “Of course we will. I want to see how he handles having a son-in-law under his roof.” Hercules stood and moved toward the door. A flustered man dove through the doorway and plowed directly into the demigod. He jumped back in terror.
“Whoa! Big guy! Sorry! My fault! Don't get upset. I'm your friend.” He paused and peered at Hercules for a moment. “How'd you get here so fast? Shaved. New clothes. How'd you do that?”
Hercules and Iolaus traded looks. “I think he's been into the single-malt mead,” Iolaus commented.
The man spared him a look, “Whatever works. Just don't get him mad. I've seen what he can do, and I don't want to see it again.”
Hercules was confused, “Just what do you think I did?”
It was the stranger's turn to be confused. He looked from Hercules to Iolaus and back again. “Arcadia. This morning. You tore the place up. Of course, it needed it! Not a problem.”
“Are you sure it was him?” Iolaus asked.
“Sure, I'm sure. Except he had a beard and that black leather outfit but it was him.”
The two heroes traded a look of alarm, “The Sovereign!” They exclaimed in unison.
“Let's get to Arcadia,” Hercules said and turned to the man, “Thanks.”
“Whatever you say,” he replied as he watched them run out the door still not sure what had just happened.
In the throne room of the temple, Ares and Strife conspired. “Just curious, Unc, but what are your plans for the Hind's blood? In the wrong hands...” Strife knew he'd suggested too much. Ares withered him with a glance. Strife had no wish to crash into any more walls today. As a god he couldn't be killed that way but it didn't mean that it was a pleasant experience either. Ares played rough, he always had and Strife had taken the brunt of that rough play before. There were safer places he could hang out but the rewards were not nearly as great either. He started a strategic retreat, “Not mine, not my hands, but somebody could.”
“That somebody could be Callisto. I don't trust her, Strife. She's a devious piece of work. But as long as I've got the blood, we're safe enough.” Ares conceded the concern but he'd taken precautions and he didn't intend to let this blood out of his hands.
The Sovereign was appalled at this world. What sort of place was this. Everyone knew him as they should but they smiled and greeted him as though they were all good friends. No one was quaking in fear and he didn't like it. His runaway temper remained unchecked. His wrath vented on anything that happened to be nearby. Pottery was smashed, carts overturned, passersby thrown through a roof, he punched a horse and kicked a chicken. This world was not to his liking at all. “You people should fear me, hide from me, tremble at the sight of me! But all I get are-happy faces!”
Hercules and Iolaus watched as people and farm animals dove for cover, “Doesn't look like time has mellowed him any,” Hercules observed.
“You should see him when he gets really mad,” Iolaus commented not as blaise as he sounded, “Herc, he's just as strong as you. This could take forever.”
“Maybe not,” Hercules walked toward the undisturbed end of the market. Iolaus followed hoping that meant his friend had a plan.
Hercules paid for a large root from the apothecary and turned to Iolaus as he began crushing it. “How's your throwing arm, Buddy?”
When they caught up with the Sovereign a short while later, he was still the cause of much mayhem, “That's enough,” Hercules ordered. “Behave yourself.”
The Sovereign whirled around to face him, “Nobody talks to me like that!”
The two twins looked each other over and began to slowly advance toward the other. “You! You trapped me in that place, but now I'm out and I'm not going back.”
Hercules was just as determined, “Oh, you're going back. One way or another.” They charged like two bulls in a bullfight. Each man threw his hardest punch and they both flew backwards crashing through carts and storefronts on the way.
The Sovereign gained his feet first and snarled with anticipation, “This is gonna be good!”
Hercules hollared, “Now, Iolaus!”
The hunter appeared in a doorway and tossed a clay pot toward the Sovereign. It shattered at his feet engulfing him in a cloud of white powder. The Sovereign sneezed and caught Iolaus' eye, “I get my revenge on both of you. This is too good.”
Iolaus stepped into the street and walked slowly toward the doppleganger, “I think you're all talk.” Hercules warily approached from another direction.
The Sovereign took a few strides and paused. He wobbled and nearly lost his balance but his caught himself. He sneezed again and realizing that something was going on, he raged at Iolaus, “What did you do?”
Hercules caught his attention. The Sovereign hadn't realized that his twin was so close, “That's narcolepsus dust, “Hercules explained. “I recommend a pinch of it for a good night's sleep.”
“Nighty-night,” Iolaus waved as the Sovereign crashed to the ground and began to snore loudly as the crowd in the market cheered.
Hercules hefted his doppleganger over his shoulder and turned to find Iolaus spreading the rest of the dust into the dirt with a thoughtful expression on his face.
“You know, Herc, something tells me he didn't get out on his own.”
Hercules nodded, “We'll find out who it was, and why they did it, but first we've got put him back. This time, for good.”
As they made their way out of the market and back toward the road, Iolaus had another observation, “Herc? Where's the Hind's blood?”
This was something the demigod had already noticed, “It's not on him. Whoever freed him has it now.” There was no reply. What could either of them say. They both knew it wasn't over when they sent the Sovereign back. It would only be the beginning.
Ares and Callisto watched from the cover of a storefront as the two heroes left with their charge. The pendant in question still hanging from Ares' neck. He chuckled as his plan unfolded on schedule.
“What did I tell you?” Callisto rejoiced, “He's doing the right thing and going right where we want him to go.”
The God of War nodded, “Even knowing full well that it might be a trap. That's my sad excuse for a brother, pathetically noble to the bitter end.”
The Sovereign woke as they arrived at the courtyard of Ares' temple. Still under the influence of the drug, he began to struggle. Hercules held him more tightly.
“Let me go!”
“Don't fight it. You're going back.”
Iolaus was concerned. “This is where it should be, but there's nothing here.”
“It's here,” Hercules confirmed. “We just can't see it. Now, how do we open it up?”
The Sovereign tried to struggle free but he had not regained enough of his strengh to be more than an annoyance to the demigod. “Be still!” Hercules ordered.
“We'll be glad to help,” Callisto offered as she and Ares came out of the entrance to the temple.
“Callisto and Ares.” Hercules greeted them coolly.
“Herc, there it is, the Hind's blood.” Iolaus pointed out the pendant around Ares' neck.
Hercules nodded, “I knew it would be.”
“How so, brother?” Ares asked.
“Who else would feel the need for it? Only you.”
“It's mine!” The Sovereign began struggling again. “Give it back, or I'll tear it off your rotting corpse.”
Ares laughed, “I like your style. Too bad you won't be sticking around long enough for us to get acquainted.”
Callisto was bored, “Enough chit-chat. Do it!” Again, Ares cradled Callisto in his arms and they combined their power, sending their energy toward the vortex which opened and remained open as long as they continued to pour power into it.
Hercules, Iolaus and the Sovereign were too close to the gateway when it opened and the pull of the gate knocked them all off their feet. Hercules lost his hold on the Sovereign but that was no longer his concern. He latched onto Iolaus and tried to pull them both free of the vortex's power but they were too close, it was too strong here. Instead, Hercules put his effort into shoving Iolaus out of the suction. Then, he'd worry about himself. As Iolaus rolled free he saw the Sovereign passing Hercules in his attempt to escape his former prison. He called a warning, “Herc, watch him!”
Hercules followed Iolaus' pointing hand and made a grab for the Sovereign, “Oh, no you don't!” The two grappled and both lost their footing. The Sovereign vanished into the cyclonic effect almost immediately. Hercules continued to fight to stay in his own universe but he was slowly losing the battle. He could hear Iolaus urging him on but he was tiring. Just before Hercules was pulled into the vortex he was startled to see a dark figure floating behind Ares and Callisto. It seemed to be pouring energy into Callisto, supporting her effort to hold open the gateway. Ares and Callisto were straining and shaking with the effort but this ominous figure was not affected, it continued to generate power as though it were effortless. The figure raised a hand and a ball of energy hit Hercules in the stomach and he was gone.
Ares and Callisto released the gateway both of them gasping for air from the effort but elated at their victory. “I'd say a celebration is called for,” Ares grinned and they both vanished in a burst of flames and sparkles.
Iolaus climbed to his feet and ran to the spot where the vortex had vanished and taken his best friend with it. But there was nothing there. Nothing left for Iolaus to hold on to. He was alone.
Hercules rolled over and sat up. He looked around. He was in a desolate country. The ground was grey rock as far as he could see. The wind had eroded it into smooth spires. The sky was red with no sign of a sun, a moon or even stars. None of that existed here. This was no where. There was no where to go. This was all there was. He was lost. Hercules pulled himself up to rest against a rock while he regained his strength from the recent fight with the vortex. He'd nearly forgotten his prison mate.
“Tell me the cup is half full and so help me...”
“But there's got to be a way out. Where's this road go?”
The Sovereign's tone had turned bitter, “It's an endless circle. It leads right back here. I should know, I've tried it enough times.” He was beginning to lose what little sanity he had. Hercules knew he would have to be wary of his cellmate. The Sovereign could not be trusted.
“I finally escape, and where do I end up? Right back where I started, thanks to you!” The Sovereign punched a boulder, turning it to dust. His frustration mounted as the boulder immediately reformed and restored itself. He screamed in outrage. Hercules tried to ignore him as he focused on the problem before him. He had advantages that the Sovereign didn't have. He had friends on the other side of that vortex. Friends that would do everything they possibly could to help him. He had to do everything he could to try and help them on this side. Together they would get him out of this mess.
Hercules rose on shaky legs and moved to a small pool of water. He drank his fill and remained sitting on the side, thinking through what had just happened. He knew now that Callisto wasn't working alone. He had sensed a terrible evil around her and just what exactly was that shadowy figure that was pouring it's energies through her so effortlessly. It was a powerful something, that was certain. And now Iolaus was back there alone with whatever it was.
At the thought of his friend, Iolaus's image appeared on the surface of the water. Hercules could see him still standing outside Ares' temple. “Iolaus?” he said. Hercules touched the water, wondering if he could reach Iolaus but with his touch the image wavered.
“Get used to it,” The Sovereign advised, “It's torture. We can see the world outside, but we can't get back to it.”
Hercules watched Iolaus' building panic. He didn't know what to do. Hercules sighed, he couldn't help his friend. He didn't know what to do either. He watched as Iolaus was distracted by something in the temple and ran off toward the entrance. Iolaus would find the plan. “There's always a way. There must be.” Hercules wouldn't dampen his optimism.
“I can't take this anymore.” The Sovereign picked up a rock and tried to smash Hercules' skull with it. Hercules sensed him at the last moment and grabbed his wrists. The image of Iolaus faded as Hercules changed his focus.
“Are you crazy? If I die, you'll die.”
“I don't care about dying anymore,” the Sovereign screamed. “I kill you, or you kill me, it doesn't matter. Either way, this ends now!”
Hercules shoved him off but the Sovereign charged again and the battle Hercules and Iolaus had tried to avoid in their world was on in this one with both foes equally matched.
Callisto held her glass high, “To victory!”
“To a world without Hercules!” Ares added.
“There's no stopping us now!” Strife added his glass to the pair.
Callisto stared a hole through him, “Us?”
Ares frowned at him, “Obsequious toad, you weren't even there.”
Strife was quick to defend himself, “Far be it for me to steal your thunder. You're the man with the plan, she's the Mistress of Mean. I'm just proud to be on the team.”
Turning to Ares, Callisto had an astounded expression on her face, “Does this brazen brown-nosing actually work with you?”
The God of War shrugged, “What can I say? A little stroking never hurt anyone.”
The pendant around his neck again caught her eye and she dropped the pretense of joyful victory. She reached for the pendant only to have Ares swat her hand away and shake his finger at her. “Eh, eh, eh! Look, don't touch.”
“I want it,” she declared.
Ares smiled an evil, knowing smile, “Figured you did. Come and get it, if you think you can.”
Her smile matched his for evilness, “Oh, I know I can, and I was hoping you'd put up a fight.” Strife barely leaped out of the way before Callisto collided violently with the God of War.
“Get her, Unc! You're the man! She's nothing!”
Ares was surprised by her veamence and rage. She just kept coming. He gave back as good as he got but she was relentless. He grabbed a shield to deflect a fireball back toward her. Callisto snapped up her own shield and they fired it back and forth against each other until Ares sent it flying out a window. “You're good, girly, but when it comes to physical punishment, I invented the art.”
Strife remained behind Ares' throne but he kept tabs on the battle by peering around the massive arm rests. “Teach her a lesson!”
“I've got your lesson, punk!” Callisto sent a fireball ricocheting off the wall and ending up landing right behind the throne. She giggled at Strife's screams as he tried to put out his burning clothes while running to another safe place.
“That was low,” Ares commented. He took advantage of her distraction to send her flying into a dark corner. “I guess that was, too. Oh well.”
The shadowy figure grasped her hand in the darkness and a crackle of energy passed between them. Ares was startled as Callisto leaped back into the battle with renewed strength. She kicked and hit and pummelled the God of War with fireballs.
Iolaus ran into the middle of the battle, and wisely took refuge behind a large trunk.
“You're finished, Ares. Washed up. Wrung out. Everything will be different, now. And the thing no one will have any use for, is a has-been god like you.” She continued her attack. Ares was down, blood trickled from a split lip. After expending the energy to open the vortex twice, he didn't have enough left to adequately defend himself from Callisto. Where was she getting the energy? He didn't have time to figure it out. She kicked him over onto his back and stepped on his chest. “Want to know something Ares? The thought of being with you makes my skin crawl.” She tore the pendant from his neck. “Come to mama.” she turned and walked away, pulling the knife from her belt.
Strife thought about just popping out but the sight of his Uncle on the floor held him in place. If he left Ares now, the God of War would never forgive him and Strife knew enough to know that the God of War was the last person he'd want for an enemy. If the mighty Ares couldn't defeat Callisto, what could he do? What did he always do? He moved toward her thinking placating thoughts.
“No hard feelings, okay? You got the chops, and that's a fact. If there's one thing us gods of aggression appreciate it's a good show of solid brute force, no mercy. Lemme be the first to welcome you to the club.” He held out his hand.
Callisto smiled, “I wouldn't want to be in a club that would have me for a member.” She accepted his hand with one hand and with the other, she savagely thrust her blade into Strife's stomach. His hands unconsciously moved to hold the knife at his belly. His eyes were wide with the shock of being stabbed, the pain, the sudden feeling of impending death. He was a god, how could this happen?
The ground shuddered beneath their feet. Birds took flight. The wind stopped. Silence reigned as the universe paused to witness the passing of a god.
Even in the between world, the two evenly matched contestants were startled from their battle as the ground shook and the wind moaned.
“What in Tartarus?” The Sovereign asked.
Hercules had a bad feeling about this, “Something terrible has happened.” As Hercules pondered the posibilities, his combatant took advantage of his distraction to punch him and the fight was on again.
Ares climbed to his feet, staring in shock. “What did you do?”
Iolaus ran from the shadows to catch the hapless god as he fell backwards. He lowered Strife gently to the floor. Fingers touching the side of the god's neck confirmed his worst suspicions, “He's-dead.” Iolaus couldn't believe it.
“Dead?” Ares exclaimed in disbelief. “He can't die! He's a god!”
Callisto's giggle was the only sound in the temple. “Now we know the stuff really works.” She turned and vanished in a burst of flame.
Ares fell to his knees beside Iolaus. He didn't know what to do, he had never lost anyone before. He reached out to caress Strife's cheek, “He wasn't so bad. He tried hard. He just wasn't very good at the job.” He raised his head to address the ceiling, “You didn't have to do this!” Ares picked up the limp Strife in his arms and carried him to a marble table. He straightened his clothes and laid out the body in a comfortable position.
Iolaus approached slowly. He felt sympathy for the god. Grief was a new experience but he had Hercules to think of as well. Herc was depending on him. He stood beside Ares, “Callisto didn't do this on her own.”
“No, there is something evil here. We've sensed it, all of us on Olympus have. This force of darkness has the power to be the end of us, gods and man alike. That is the evil that is powering Callisto. The great evil has finally come.”
“We've got to stop her.”
“Stop her? You saw what happened. She can't be stopped. Now that she has the Hind's blood, she's invincible.”
Iolaus played his trump card, “If we get Hercules back, she can.”
“Hercules? What could he do that I can't?”
“Think about it. Whatever Callisto and this Evil are up to, they had to get rid of Hercules first. It's him they're afraid of, not you.”
Ares wasn't listening. He was planning, ever the strategist. “If I go to Zeus, gather all the gods together-No, he'll blame me for getting Strife killed.”
Iolaus didn't have time for this, “You're wasting time. Forget Zeus, it's Callisto we've got to deal with. She killed one god. You could be next.”
That was a new thought for Ares and one he didn't like. Vulnerable was not something the God of War cared to deal with. “Go away! I can't think.”
“Listen to me!” Iolaus yelled, “She played you for a sap and then she kicked your butt.”
“Enough!” Ares whirld and grabbed Iolaus, lifting him off the floor. Iolaus waited to be thrown across the room but it never came. Ares lowered him until they were eye to eye, then he grinned, “But you're right. Let's get the witch!” He dropped Iolaus who sagged with relief and followed in Ares' wake.
Outside the temple, the pendant vanished into the folds of the shadowy cloak. “It's time. The first part's finished, Hercules is gone. It's time for you to complete the second part. Then you may have your reward.”
“Hercules is gone. What good will it do anyone to get rid of him again?”
“A dead Hercules would still leave a legend. Memories of a hero. Now, he'll die before he's born. No hero, no legend.”
“Fair enough, I'll do this for you, then it's my turn.”
“Your pain will be gone. It'll be like it was never there. The promise stands. You'll live with a free heart. But first, this.”
She nodded,” Do it.”
“The ability to cross time is yours, all gods can do it. You'll master the gift eventually, but for now, you'll be shown the way.”
“If all gods can do it...?” she querried.
The pendant re-emerged from the folds of the ethereal cloak, “They can't interfere as long as you have this.”
Callisto took the pendant and returned it to her neck.
“There she is! On the edge of the woods,” Iolaus called. “Callisto!” He ran toward her not seeing the dark figure fade away behind her.
She turned to face them, “You're too late. It's too late for all of you. When I'm through, Hercules will never have been born!” She vanished in a blinding flash.
“Where did she go?” Iolaus asked.
“Back in time,” Ares confirmed.
“But how?” Then, it hit him, “Alcmene. Callisto's gone to kill Herc's mother! All gods can travel in time, right? What are you waiting for?”
“I'm not going to go chasing after her. I've got responsibilities here. Strife's gone. Someone's got to look after things. Prepare our defense.”
Iolaus wasn't buying it for a moment, “Admit it! You're afraid of Callisto.” He knew he was playing with fire and he could get burned if he pushed the God of War too far. Ares wasn't used to being bested by anyone and Iolaus played a hunch that he could goad Ares into doing what he wanted. The game had changed. Now, he had to save Hercules before he was born and then he'd deal with getting Herc freed later. He couldn't remember a day when things had moved so quickly. He didn't have time to catch his breath. “Send me!” he urged.
Ares gave it a moment's more thought, “Very well, it's your funeral.” He waved his hand before Iolaus. Iolaus didn't feel any different. “You can follow Callisto wherever she goes. And you can come back to the present. But that's it. Make the most of it.”
The brilliant light engulfed the hunter and he, too, was gone.
Iolaus looked around. It was Thebes but it wasn't exactly a Thebes he'd ever known. Everything was where it was supposed to be but it wasn't the same. The fashion was older and the faces younger. It was weird. Knowing time was of the essence, he approached a group of older women. Women of the age he associated Alcmene with. “Excuse me, Ladies. Uh, this looks like Thebes.” He knew immediately that it was the wrong thing to say. Their expressions told him that they thought he was not of sound mind. “Of course, it's Thebes,” he corrected. “I'm looking for someone. She's tall, blonde and has a very bad temper. I'm not sure if she's here now, or is going to be later, it's complicated.”
“Haven't seen her,” replied one of the women. She sniffed at him, “Have you been drinking?”
“No, not yet,” though he thought it might be a very good idea. “Hercules! Do you know Hercules?”
They shook their heads. He tried again, “Alcmene? You know her?”
Oh yes, their reaction told him that they did. A bunch of gossips, these women were. They traded knowing looks, knowing and disapproving looks. Suddenly, Iolaus didn't like these women so much. He knew their type, they judged all who were outside their little group to be beneath them.
“Oh, we know her all too well-the harlot.”
“What? Are we talking about the same Alcmene? Her husband's Amphityron.”
“Her husband's dead. Went off to war, but,” could this woman be any more pompous? “Alcmene couldn't be bothered to wait. She's with child.” She guaged his reaction closely, “What do you think?”
“I think,” Iolaus began calmly, “that you are presuming to know the facts when you don't. Things are not always what they appear to be. Alcmene has always been an honorable woman. She always will be. You do her a disservice with your attitude. I don't need directions. I know the way.” He turned and headed down the one path in Thebes that he knew best.
Hercules felt like they'd been at this for hours and maybe they had. He and his doppleganger were so equally matched that they may never best each other. He was relieved when the Sovereign finally fell back and ended the mutual punishment. They both leaned against boulders, catching their breath.
“This is getting us nowhere!” The Sovereign exclaimed.
“I told you it wouldn't. Listen to me. If we work together, we can find a way out.”
“For you, you mean!” the Sovereign exploded, “Even if I did help you, and we found a way out, you'd still try to leave me in here.”
Hercules rose and walked to the edge of the road. There was no horizon. The land ended at the edge of the road. He stared out into the abyss, into the endless red sky. “Then, I”ll do it alone.”
“Sure, go ahead, for all the good it'll do you. You're a fool, you know that?”
“You know nothing about me,” Hercules replied.
“Oh yes, I do. I've watched you, through the window. You should make people worship you, tremble in fear. But what do you do? You help them out. Solve their puny problems. You're pitiful.”
“Maybe it's you that's pitiful. Think about it.”
The Sovereign rolled his eyes, “Forget it!” He rose and wandered aimlessly down the road.
“You said the road always leads back here?” Hercules asked.
“It does! There's no getting away from each other. Welcome to the nightmare.”
Hercules was alone. He sighed and continued to ponder his new world and new situation and how he was going to get out of it.
With difficulty Alcmene lowered herself to the ground beside the grave of the man she loved. It wouldn't be long now, a few more weeks but not long. She finished packing the dirt around the flowers she'd recently planted. She sat back to look at her handy work, her hand on her swollen stomach. She jumped as the baby kicked and rubbed her stomach. “Oohh, so strong. Our baby, Amphitryon, no matter what anyone says. It was you in my bed, I know it. Even though they say it's not possible.” She pondered the impossibilities of her pregnancy. “They say you were killed before the night you came to me. If that's true, I have to believe, because our love was so strong that you came to me in spirit. I know it was you. That's the only explanation that makes sense.” Her musings were interrupted by a visitor.
“Alcmene!” Iolaus skidded to a panting stop before the woman who had come to mean so much to him. He was shocked at how young she looked and so beautiful. No wonder Zeus was enamored of her. Iolaus had never thought of Alcmene that way before, she was always Herc's mother. Always the woman who gave him shelter and food and a home when he needed one. She was family but at this moment Iolaus had to remind himself that none of that had happened yet. He was a stranger to her now. “Look, you don't know me. I'm Iolaus, I'm a friend.” Her suspicions remained, that much was clear as she waited for him to continue. “Has anyone else been around here? A stranger? A girl?”
“No.” She climbed to her feet, “Just you.”
Iolaus felt relieved, he'd beat Callisto here but she wasn't the only one here was she? “Where's Iphicles? Your son Iphicles, is he inside?”
“No, he's away, with friends until after his sibbling is born. Who are you? What do you want?”
“I'll explain everything, but right now we've got to get away. It's dangerous for you here.”
She began to back up, obviously not willing to leave with this stranger.
“Come on, let's go. I told you, I'm a friend.”
She shook her head, “I'm not going anywhere with you. I don't know you.” She turned and found a young woman approaching from the opposite direction. She felt a moment of relief at not being alone with the frantic man behind her, “Hello?” she called.
Callisto didn't reply. She walked straight at Alcmene and raises her hand. Iolaus dove toward Alcmene and knocked her to the ground as a fireball engulfed a young tree where Alcmene had been standing. Iolaus pulled her to her feet and grabbed a hand, “Run!” He instructed. This time Alcmene allowed Iolaus to lead her away. At this point anyone not shooting fireballs at her was a preferable companion.
Callisto continued to follow them at a walk, “Running errands for Ares now, Iolaus? Go on, run. Run as hard as you can, but you can't get away and I have plenty of time to finish my task....all the time in the world.
To be continued in part 2
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