Alcmene allowed Iolaus to pull her across the field but once they had outdistanced Callisto, she began to wonder about her own safety again. “Who are you? Why is that thing after you?”
Iolaus spared a glance behind them and slowed slightly when he didn't see their pursuer in the distance behind. “Not me! It's you she's after.”
This made no sense to Alcmene, “But I don't know either one of you.”
A flame appeared on the horizon behind them, “I can't explain it to you if we're on fire, now come on!” He pulled her behind him, “You've got to believe me, I'm here to protect you.” Iolaus racked his brain, what could he say to her to convince her without scaring her even more?
Iolaus suddenly stopped, Alcmene bumped into him from behind as Callisto appeared in a burst of flame in front of them. She sent Iolaus flying to the side with a flick of her hand and reached toward Alcmene's swollen stomach.
“How's the baby, Alcmene? Let me feel him kick.”
Alcmene screamed and stumbled backward and fell as the hand burst into flame only inches from her stomach. Iolaus knocked Callisto's feet from under her with a tree limb. She laughed and popped out.
“See? You don't know her, but she knows you. And it's you she's after.”
Alcmene took Iolaus' offered hand and he pulled her up. He had kind eyes and he seemed to know what was going on even if she didn't. She nodded that she understood and they were off and running again. The hunter began a zig zag path as Callisto rained fireballs down on them from a nearby hill.
“Why are you people so terrified to die? I don't get it,” Callisto wondered with an amused smile.
The Sovereign walked. His outlook was bleak. He was trapped again only this time with the worst possibly company. He'd rather be alone. He couldn't even walk alone. He shot a look at his companion.
“Beautiful Day,” Hercules greeted.
“Shut up! Stay away from me.”
Hercules didn't leave. They walked in silence for a time before Hercules ventured to speak again. “I know your world is the opposite of mine. And every person in my world has a counterpart in yours.”
“So? What's your point?” He knew all this already.
“We've got these two worlds. And this place we're in here, is right in the middle. If we can understand each other, where we're from, we can figure out what makes this place tick.”
What good would getting all touchy-feely do? The Sovereign wondered. “Am I gonna have to listen to this for eternity?”
“You said you watched me through the window. How'd that happen?” Maybe if he could figure out how that worked, he could contact Iolaus and if he could do that, he knew they'd find an answer.
“I was thinking about you putting me in this place. The window popped open and there you were. I tried to reach through it to strangle you.”
“And when I saw Iolaus, it was when I'd been thinking about him.” A nearby pool lit with moving images. Hercules and the Sovereign stepped to opposite sides of the pool to watch. Iolaus and Alcmene continued to run. “Iolaus! My Mother?”
Alcmene stopped short jerking Iolaus to a stop. “This is all too strange. I don't know you, I don't know what's going on. There is no reason for a total stranger to be trying to attack me. This makes no sense.”
Callisto appeared at the edge of the woods, “Give it up, Iolaus, you can't save her.”
“I'll explain as soon as I have time, Alcmene, until then, you'll have to trust me. I know it's hard to trust anyone with the life of your unborn child, but you have to believe me when I tell you that saving you and your baby is the most important thing in my life.” He turned to face Callisto. “We're doing okay so far!” He gave Alcmene's hand a little squeeze before they took off running again.
“I just have to kill her, Iolaus. I don't have to get in a hurry about it! Running will just delay the inevitable. You can't run forever.” To herself she said, “I love a good chase.”
Iolaus looked around, trying to place exactly where they were in his mind. He knew his way around Thebes better than anywhere else. This was the place of his youth, but the time was a little early. Iolaus wouldn't start roaming around here for a few years yet. “Isn't there a water tower around here?”
“Yes, that way,” Alcmene pointed. Iolaus helped her over a fallen tree as she wondered what his plan was. He obviously had one. They ran to the tower and Iolaus released her hand. She leaned against the tower base to catch her breath. “Iolaus, is she from the gods?”
Iolaus shrugged, “She's kind of a goddess, herself.”
“What did I do? Why is she doing this?” Alcmene wondered, trying to make sense of her morning.
“It's not you. Nothing you did. I'm not sure I can explain this so it would make sense to you.” He paused to think a moment, “I'm from the future. See, I knew you'd think I was crazy.” Her expression told him all he needed to know. “It is crazy. But it's true. I came here to stop Callisto from killing you and your unborn child. Look out!” Iolaus threw Alcmene to the ground as a fireball incinerated a nearby building. He pulled her to her feet.”
The Sovereign watched appreciatively, “I could use this Callisto. We could do some damage.”
Hercules shook his head in amazement, “Don't you get it? If Callisto kills my mother, your mother in your world will die at the same time, Neither of us will ever be born.”
“Which means I won't be stuck here with you. I'll take it,” he paused a moment. “Let me ask you something. You must have had a family just like I did.”
Hercules nodded, his family was the last thing he wanted to talk about to this jerk. “I did. Hera killed them.”
The Sovereign flew into a rage and grabbed Hercules' shirt front, “She kills your family, for something you did, and when yours died, mine died, too!”
“I'm sorry that happened,” Hercules really was, no man should have to live through that. “I'm sure you loved them.”
The Sovereign nodded, lost in thought, “My beautiful wife, when she was twelve she poisoned her own mother. So cool. My boys, the youngest wanted to grow up to be an assassin. And their sister, what a funny kid. She loved to torture small animals. They all had such potential. You're to blame for everything! You can forget about getting out of here. You're mine!”
“I'm not responsible for what happened, what you became. You're not a victim. You are who you chose to be. We all are.”
The Sovereign knew he'd get nowhere, he turned and continued his long, endless walk. Thunder sounded in the distance. Hercules looked out at the sky and saw clouds forming around their lost island; clouds and lightning.
Iolaus hid Alcmene in a bush. He piled branches around her. “Stay here and don't make a sound.”
“Iolaus, be careful,” for some reason she did trust this man. There was something about him. She didn't know him but she knew him. It wasn't any more strange than the rest of her morning.
“If anything happens, just, be quiet.” Iolaus advised.
Callisto appeared and looked around. Iolaus stepped out in front of the tower.
“I'm tired of waiting. Where is she?”
“You'll have to go through me.” Iolaus hoped his voice sounded more determined than he felt. He knew he was good but usually it was Herc that went up against the power of the gods. He didn't usually have to do this sort of thing alone.
“Would you prefer extra crispy?” She asked sweetly.
“Let's see what you've got,” Iolaus dared.
“Too bad there's no one to scatter your ashes,” and she lobbed a fireball at Iolaus. He dove out of the way at the last possible moment and the fireball crashed into the base of the tower. The water tower tipped over sending a flood of water racing down the hill. Callisto couldn't get out of the way in time, the raging river picked her up and carried her away. Her efforts to dematerialize failing in a puff of steam.
Iolaus turned to help Alcmene out of hiding to find her already standing beside him. “I told you to wait,” he chided.
“I was afraid for you.”
Iolaus sighed, “Now I know where Herc gets his stubborn streak. Let's go.”
Hercules and his nemesis circled each other.
“She's dead by now,” the Sovereign threatened. “It's your turn.”
Hercules voiced his frustration, “I can't get the window to open if I have to keep watching out for you.”
“Tell someone who cares,” The Sovereign lunged at him and Hercules evaded the blow. “So your mother dies. And mine. So what?”
“Everything changes. Bad things happen.”
The Sovereign shrugged, “So what's the down side?” He swung again. Hercules caught his fist and flipped him over. The Sovereign rose and charged wildly at Hercules. The crash was tremendous. They both flew in opposite directions and lay unmoving.
Iolaus led Alcmene through the woods. They had to take advantage of the time they'd gained while they had it.
“Iolaus, what does Callisto want?” Maybe they could bargain with her?
“She wants to kill you because of your child, your son, Hercules. He'll be a hero. Helping people in need. Fighting oppression, injustice. He'll be the most famous hero in history.”
She felt for the reassurance of her wedding ring, trying to take in what he was saying. It didn't make sense. “How could a son of mine be a hero? He'll grow up with no father.”
“Your son's father, the man you thought was your husband, was really Zeus. Your son is also the son of the king of the gods.”
Now she knew he wasn't talking sense. “Why would you tell me things like this? Impossible things. Why?”
“Because they're true,” Iolaus replied simply.They continued in silence until they reached the old mill. Iolaus opened the door and peered inside. It was filled with grain sacks and a large cog wheel for grinding the grain. He motioned Alcmene to come in.
“Will we be safe here?” she asked.
“There's no safety anywhere as long as Callisto knows you're alive. I've got to stop her.”
“How? She's a goddess.”
“She's wearing a pendant. It looks like a piece of jewelery, but it's filled with the blood of a Golden Hind.”
“I thought that was only a myth.”
“Oh, it's real,” Iolaus couldn't believe he'd learned the truth of that myth just a few hours ago. It seemed so much longer a time. “Hind's blood can kill a god. Or a goddess. If I can get to that, we win. If not...”
He left the rest unstated. He didn't need to say it, they both knew. Iolaus turned and started to leave but Alcmene put her hand to his arm.
“You're willing to risk your life for me and my son?”
Iolaus nodded once and took a deep breath to calm his emotions. This was not the time for feelings. They had no time, as much as he wanted to spend hours talking to this Alcmene, they had no time. “He'd do the same for me. He has, many times. I'd gladly die, that you and he would live. I am who I am because of him. I'm one of those whose life he changed, one of many. And I love him like a brother.”
Alcmene put her hand against his cheek, a familiar gesture she would repeat many, many times over the years to come but rarely would it mean as much to him as it did at that moment.
“With a friendship like yours, my son must be very special. He has a lot to live for...and so do I.”
Iolaus took her hand from his arm and kissed the back of it, “I can't imagine a world without him or you.” Iolaus quickly turned and was outside before she could reply or his emotions got out of control.
Callisto walked with determination along the road. She'd dried out as she walked. They had to be nearby somewhere. Iolaus stepped from behind a large tree and approached her with caution.
“Can't we work something out here?” He asked.
“I have to admit, you were better than I expected,” she conceded.
Encouraged, Iolaus continued, “What would it take? To get you to forget about Alcmene.”
“Nothing in this world. I'm doing this for a price. For killing Alcmene, I get to change everything that went wrong for me. So if I have to scorch the countryside to do it, so be it.”
“The thing is, I grew up here. I'm in the same boat as Hercules. You torch everything, you may wipe me out, too.”
“Oh, I'm so sorry for you. Too bad, so sad.” As she stepped around him, Iolaus grabbed her by the waist and pulled her down with him. The sudden move caught her off guard and Iolaus had the Hind's blood pendant before she kicked him into the pile of hay 20 feet away. She stood regarding the haystack thoughtfully when Iolaus emerged a moment later.
“You can have it. I don't need it anymore.”
“Why?” Iolaus asked. “What does it matter to you if Hercules lives or dies?”
“It doesn’t. He's nothing to me. But I made a deal, and if I don't deliver, I don't get what I want. Now, where is she? I've got places to go.” She looked around at the countryside knowing that Iolaus would not have left her too far away. She was too precious a prize to risk leaving her unattended.
“I won't tell you,” his tone brokered no argument.
She shrugged, “Doesn't matter anyway, there's only one place she could be.” She turned toward the building.
“Alcmene! Run!” Iolaus screamed and jumped onto Callisto's back. She staggered a moment before flinging him hard to the ground. She took a firm stance on the ground and braced herself and flung the largest fireball she could manage into the mill. The contents of the building exploded into flame. The roof collapsed inward everything below it incinerated. Callisto vanished without a second thought.
Iolaus climbed to his feet. His legs could barely hold him. He couldn't believe his eyes. He couldn't grasp what had happened. He had failed, failed to keep safe the two people who meant the most to him. He was alone. “Herc, I let you down.”
Hercules stared numbly at his friend, watching as he buried his mother's ashes. Iolaus' voice sounded distant. He felt so far away. He had to lean forward to make out the words.
“I'm sorry I failed you, Alcmene. The world will never know your son. And I've lost the best friend I ever had. But this won't go unanswered. I'll follow Callisto. I'll make it right.”
He vanished and having left the timeline, the window in Hercules' world vanished as well.
Hercules rose slowly, “Mother..”
“Mom's dead?” The Sovereign called from a nearby rock where he was attempting to look mightily bored. “Let's party!”
Hercules had enough. He shoved his doppleganger and sent him flying back against a rock face. “You have no idea. Our mothers are both dead. And we can't leave here now, because out there, we don't exist. All history has been changed...” Hercules looked down at himself, “But I'm still here. It's this place. We don't exist here.”
The Sovereign pulled himself to his feet. “We don't exist out there,” he corrected. “Here is the only place we exist and here's nowhere. Your history's just starting, hero. And I promise you, it'll be one of pain.”
Hercules backed away as the Sovereign moved forward. He wasn't looking forward to another round of equally matched punishment. He didn't have time for this. He needed to think. There had to be a way to get through to Iolaus. A way for Iolaus to return and right the wrong and save his mother. He just needed time to think.
The King spared a glance toward the two battle-hardened warriors that had ahold of his arms. There would be no escape and as the King it was his duty to suffer the fate of his kingdom. If they were meant to fall to this warlord, then so be it. The heads on the pikes leading to the entrance seemed to laugh at him. It was all a big joke. He had inherited his crown. He was trained in diplomacy, not fighting. For all the good it did him. He knew there would be no diplomacy today. Just as there had been no diplomacy when the neighboring kingdoms had fallen. It wasn't Xena's style. The King took one last glance at the disembodied heads and silently asked them to wish him luck for he should be joining them soon.
The warriors shoved him toward the throne. He stumbled and fell at the feet of the woman on the throne. He didn't look up. He knew better.
“I come to pay tribute. Take it and save yourself the time and trouble of coming to my pitiful country to sack and pillage.” He risked a glance to see how he was being received.
She smiled at him but it wasn't a nice smile. “No trouble. But nice of you to come. And nice groveling, too.” She kicked him into a corner of her tent.
Ares leaned over and whispered in her ear, “These mortals offer you no opposition. They have no spines. You'd think they'd get tired of it. A champion would come forward to lead them and inspire them.”
She nodded, “It would make it more interesting. Of course, I'd just have to kill him. Or her.” She watched with amusement as the King crawled back to the center of the platform before her dragging a small chest with him.
“Please consider my offer, Princess Xena.” He continued to stare at the floor in front of her.
“All right, what is it?”
“A rare jewel unlike any other,” He opened the box, “possessing a strange power.” Inside the chest was a large green gem. It glowed with power. Xena was intrigued
“What's it do?” She asked.
“That wasn't revealed to me. But spare us and it's yours.”
Xena smiled again and snatched the chest away, “But it's mine already.” She threw the chest onto a pile of gold and gems behind her throne. The stone rolled out and sat glowing on the ground.
The King dared to rise to his knees but kept his eyes averted. “Then I may return to my kingdom?” He questioned with a growing sense of hope now that she had accepted his offering.
“Mmmm, yes and no,” she answered. “Send his head back to his palace. Put the rest of him out there with the others.” She smiled up at Ares and pulled down her ornate silk robe into a more comfortable position. “It's not polite to drop by unannounced.”
“Your manners have always been impecable,” Ares complimented.
Defeated the King allowed them to haul him away without a word. He knew his diplomacy would not win him any favors here. This was not a place where battle could be won with words, only with a strong sword or a sharp axe and he had neither. At least it appeared that it would be quick.
Xena watched him leave and then rose turning to Ares, “Let's take a break, and play.” She dropped her robe. Ares took a deep breath. She was a lot of woman even for him.
“No one will stop us. All of Greece will be ours.”
Xena approached him, wrapping her arms around him. Pressing her body to his. “And is that your idea of romantic talk?” she asked.
“It works,” he replied off-handedly as they fell into the bed.
Iolaus found himself in the middle of mass panic. People ran everywhere gathering their belongings and their families and leaving in obvious haste. Fear was in the air. Something bad was about to happen here, that much was certain. Iolaus approached a man who was loading a cart. “Excuse me, where am I? What village is this?”
“You’re in the wrong place. This is Cirra.”
“Cirra, Callisto's town,” Iolaus said more to himself than to the man who was listening. “What's going on?”
The man's eyes widened slightly in surprise. “Xena's what's going on, mister. Already laid waste to half the countryside. Now she's headed for us.”
Iolaus took that in, “I'm still in the past. Xena destroyed Cirra, and Callisto's come back to change that. That was her price, for Alcmene.”
“What are you muttering about?” The man asked. “Are you alright in the head? You'd better get out of here before you get grabbed up by Xena's men.”
“I'm looking for someone. Callisto.”
“Only one Callisto here. Pankos and Arleia's kid.”
“Where can I find them?” Iolaus asked.
“In this?” he gestured at the chaos going on around them. “Fat chance.” He finished his loading, grabbed the front of his cart and began pulling it away.
Callisto heard her mother calling. It was a voice that was unmistakable. Every child knows without a doubt their mother's voice no matter how long it has been. She turned and saw he mother coming toward her. She held out her arms to the woman anticipating the touch that had been ripped from her so very young. Only the woman passed by her and took the hand of a young, blond child. A child Callisto recognized as herself.
“Stay close to me. I don't want to lose you.” Callisto agreed wholeheartedly with her mother's sentiment.
Xena finished buckling her armor over her leathers. She turned to face the half naked God of War who had elected to remain in her bed.
“Can't you put off this attack for another hour or so?” He asked.
“A good fight's a turn-on,” she replied.
“Then, by all means, don't let me keep you.” Ares waved her toward the door and vanished.
Xena's almost smile turned to a frown as her two right hand men, shoved into the tent. She waited for the report.
Darphus began, “We caught Beckerus talking bribes from the villagers.”
She turned to the man in question, “For what?”
He looked at the floor, “Protection.”
“They actually thought you'd help them?” She was amazed.
He shrugged and handed over a pouch filled with dinars. Xena was delighted, “I'm impressed. Cute, Beckerus, cute.” Her voice turned cold. “But I don't think you planned to share this with me. You're back on the first skirmish line.”
“That's the worst spot in our army!” he protested.
“Maybe you'll luck out.” She dismissed him and turned to the other, “Darphus, you're my new lieutenant. Learn a lesson.”
“I'll never betray you, Xena,” he avowed. She nodded and he left pulling the tent flap down as he went. Xena poured a handful of coins into her palm and scrutinized them, “One day, my face will be on these coins...” She smiled.
Callisto followed her mother and her young self while Iolaus followed Callisto. He was watching for his chance to take his revenge. He was nominally aware that she was following someone else. He could tell by her stance and demeanor. But it didn't matter what she was here for, he had his own agenda. He was determined to see it through. He pulled his knife, the knife he and Hercules had made together so long ago. Ironic that a knife made by Hercules would be the instrument of his revenge. Iolaus dripped Hind's blood onto the blade. He turned the angle of the blade back and forth until it was coated with the precious red liquid.
He moved closer and closer to Callisto, gaining on her with each step. He was mindful of every sound he made. He was right behind her. He could reach out and touch her. He edged around the corner of a building and stopped. A knife was at his own throat. He had been so focused on his objective that he didn't see the three rough-looking warriors behind him. One of them grabbed the knife and grinned at the bloody blade.
“Looks like you've already been at work.”
“I need that,” Iolaus stated mater-of-factly.
“Maybe later. You look like a guy who can handle himself. How'd you like to join up?”
“I get the feeling that there's not a lot of choice here? Who are you guys?”
Callisto watched as a handsome, blonde man joined her little family, “Daddy,” she whispered.
The man spoke to his wife, “Arleia, take Callisto and go, I'll meet you in the barn.”
As she started to lead young Callisto away, her adult counterpart called out to stop them, “It's not safe! You've got to get out before it's too late.”
The man stepped forward, “Who are you?”
“Someone who wants to help. If you stay here, you'll die.”
“I've given every dinar we have to Xena's lieutenant. We'll be spared.”
“No!” How could she get through to them. She grabbed her mother's shoulders fiercely. “Please, listen to me.”
“Let go of me!” she screamed.
Callisto's desperation frightened her younger self, “mommy!”
Her father stepped between them and shoved Callisto away, “Leave us alone.” He turned to his wife. “Get Callisto out of here!” Her mother pulled her away. The adult Callisto could only watch helplessly.
Xena tossed the sack of coins on the pile of loot as Iolaus was shoved in. She turned to Darphus, “It's time. You know what to do.” He nodded and left. Xena turned her attention to Iolaus and the scarred warrior.
The warrior stepped forward, “All the others were too old, too fat, or too scared. This guy liked the idea.” He handed Xena the bloody knife. She examined it with an appraising eye.
“Mercenary,” she assumed. “Fleecing the sheep before I do.” She motioned the warrior to leave and tossed the knife to Iolaus. He caught it deftly and returned it to it's sheath. He waited patiently for her to speak.
“What makes you think you could cut it in my army?”
“I don't want to join your army. I want to talk to you.”
“About what? Spare this pitiful town? I don't think so.” She whipped out her chakram and threw it at Iolaus.
He used his foot to flip a tray off the floor and into his hands, just in time to block the weapon and send it back toward Xena. She caught it and looked at Iolaus in a new light.
“Not bad. Who taught you that?”
She raised her eyebrows at him, “Then here's another lesson.” The warrioress grabbed a staff and attacked. Iolaus flipped and leaped and dove all over the tent interior avoiding her powerful strikes.
“Please listen.” he gasped between leaps. “You know me.”
“And I'm trying to make you feel welcome. I don't know what you're up to, but whatever it was, it didn't work.” She flipped over his head and knocked his feet out from under him. Iolaus landed flat on his backside not willing to give up yet.
“I'm a friend!”
“I don't have any friends. And around here, neither do you.” She pulled her sword and prepared to strike.
“I can prove I know you! I know all about you.”
She paused, “A lot of people do. I’m a legend.”
“But they don't know about the birthmark on your...uh...” At least he hoped that it was still there in this alternate time line.
“Like I said,” she replied, “I’m a legend.” Who was this guy? She wondered. How did he know about that?
“Your lieutenant will betray you. Make you run a gauntlet,” Iolaus said.
“Darphus hasn't got the guts. He knows I'd kill him.”
“Because of what will happen in Cirra today, a little girl will grow up to be a monster goddess. So many people will suffer. But you can change all that.”
Suddenly, it all came clear to Xena, “You can see the future.”
“No.” Iolaus corrected. “I'm from the future. I know your destiny.”
“And I'm getting a handle on yours. Guess what? It's not far off, and it involves a lot of pain.”
Iolaus didn't give up, Hercules was able to reach her good side. He could, too. “There's good in you, Xena. Greatness is ahead for you...as a hero.”
“Me? A hero?” She pondered the implications. “Instead of fearing me, and hating me, people will like me?” Her voice took on a sarcastic quality, “My life of pillage and plunder, replaced by the admiration and honor of my countrymen. Maybe I'll even find a true love.”
“Please, what I'm telling you is true.”
“That's some line you've got. Bet it works great on the yokels.”
Iolaus played his trump card, “I know about your son, Solan.”
She stared at him with disbelieving eyes. He couldn't know that. She turned hard and Iolaus knew he'd have to move fast when his break came. He'd hit her one vulnerable spot and she was furious. She paced away from him ranting.
“Nobody knows about Solan. Nobody! Who are you? What do you want?” She turned back to him and Iolaus was gone. “Darphus!” She screamed.
Her lieutenant ran in.
“Where'd that guy go?” She asked.
“I didn't see anybody,” he reported.
“He wanted me to spare this miserable town. Get the women and kids out and waste that place!” Nobody would beat her at this game.
Hercules continued to watch the surface of the pool. His body ached from the beatings he had endured. He was certain the Sovereign felt the same. There had to be some way to contact Iolaus, some way to fix this. He couldn't accept that he no longer existed. That just wasn't possible. There had to be an answer here. He examined the contents of Xena's tent and his eyes fell on the glowing green gem on the floor...”The Chronos Stone...” he breathed. If he could only tell Iolaus about it. The demigod shivered as a frigid breeze passed. He looked around but there was no sign of wind.
Hercules didn't see the shadow floating to rest between the rocks behind him.
So there are two of them here and neither one of them exists in the current time line. His for the taking. He had only to wait until one of them killed the other and then get Callisto to open the portal. He could be patient a little longer. Once again in physical form he would gain certain advantages but would also lose the advantages of his spirit form. The present world was changing with alterations to the past time line. He needed to know what the final result would be before emerging in his new magnificent body The shadow form took flight yet again and dissolved back through the barrier into the real world leaving his prey safely behind. It would take time for one demigod to wear down and defeat the other.
Hercules shivered again feeling as though someone had stepped on his grave. He heard the Sovereign approaching. He dunked his hand in the pool to dissapate the image. He tossed water on his face as his brother leaned on the edge of the pool.
“It's eating you up, isn't it? You can watch but you can't help. That's better punishment for you than if I did kill you.” He pushed away from the pond and wandered off. Hercules sighed. He felt helpless. He didn't know what to do. His eyes rose to the horizon at the rumble of distant thunder. Lightning streaked across the sky. He wondered...
Cirra burned. Smoke filled the air. Callisto ran to save her family. She burst into the building and breathed a sigh of relief at seeing her mother and younger self there. She approached slowly, not wanting to frighten them this time. “The village is burning. You're not safe here.”
“Go away!” her mother screamed savagely, clutching her daughter closer to her.
The door burst open. One of Xena's warriors scowled at them, “Women and children are supposed to be out of here! Come on!” He roughly grabbed Arleia's arm and began to pull. The younger Callisto screamed and fainted. The adult Callisto flew into action. Her sword slashed and tore at the warrior. He fell into a bloody heap on the floor. Another man shouted and ran closer. Eyes filled with battle rage, she turned and impaled the man on her sword. Only as his body slid off the blade did she recognize the dying face as her father's.
“Pankos! Pankos!” her mother screamed and threw herself on the body of her dead husband. She turned and screamed incoherently at Callisto.
This was wrong. It was more wrong than before. There was only one choice left. If she couldn't have her family in this world, she would make certain she was with them in the next. She sent a fireball toward her mother but turned toward her younger self as it hit so she didn't have to see the result of her deeds. She knelt beside the unconscious form of the young Callisto and stroked the side of her face. “I'm sorry. So sorry.” The flames were rapidly consuming the building. It wouldn't take long. Callisto was relieved that she didn't have to commit suicide herself, the flames would do it for her. “You must die, for both of us.” She left the building and went to wait for oblivion.
Iolaus saw Callisto run from the building. He pulled his knife and followed. As he passed the building he heard the one sound that could stop him from completing his task; the voice of a child in distress. There was no decision to be made, he ran into the burning building. There were several bodies in the smoky murk but only one of them was moving. Iolaus scooped up the girl and ran from the building.
Outside, he sat her down and tried to determine if she was unharmed. She wouldn't let go of his vest. He pried her fingers open. Her eyes were wide and she was in shock.
A man's voice called, “Callisto!” Iolaus turned as his approached. “What are you doing with my niece. Where are her parents?”
“They're dead,” Iolaus said. “I'm sorry.”
The man is not surprised considering the devastation around them. He moved forward, “I'll take care of her.”
Iolaus glanced back at the young Callisto to see if that was alright. Her face had changed. She no longer looked in shock. Her expression was hard and hateful. Iolaus tried to help. “If you want to cry, it will help.”
She took her uncle's hand and turned to Iolaus, “No. I'll never cry.”
Iolaus watched them leave at a loss for words. He turned and looked around at the burning village around him, “Okay, Callisto, where'd you go?” He felt his body dissolving automatically as he followed Callisto to her next destination.
Iolaus appeared in a large courtyard. It looked familiar. The line of this wall, the angle of that staircase. “This is...Corinth?” Iolaus asked himself. He'd been here many times but it had never looked like this. Dead bodies littered the landscape. They'd been slaughtered, hung, crucified. Something horrible was happening here. A dirty beggar sat on the ground. He had one leg. He grasped at the leg of a warrior passing by.
“Remember me to the conqueror. I fought with you when we took Sparta.” The warrior looked disgusted but tossed him a few coins. One of them rolled to Iolaus' foot. He bent to retrieve it. It had a familiar picture on it. He turned it over and read, “Xena the Conqueror.” He handed the coin to the beggar.
The courtyard began to fill. Everyone wore rags, no one smiled. The soldiers were in evidence everywhere. No one dared make a wrong move. Trumpets declared a royal arrival. The people parted to make way for a procession of banners and soldiers and a golden sedan chair carried by large slaves. Xena had artfully draped herself in the chair. She wore robes of the finest silk. She carried an ornate staff that was topped by a large glowing green stone.
Xena stepped from the sedan chair onto the platform above her populous and regally took her throne. A pair of soldiers roughly drug another recognizable face before the Conqueror. Gabrielle held her head high. She would not be broken, her posture told it all. “You go girl!” Iolaus thought. At least someone here was still willing to lead the good fight.
“What is your crime?” Xena asked.
“I spoke,” She said simply.
Xena regarded her a moment, weighing and measuring her. A fat, well-dressed man stepped forward from behind Xena, “She incited the people against you. Encouraged them to revolt.”
Xena turned back to Gabrielle, “True?”
“I gave voice to the people. The starving people, the fearful, those who disappeared in the night, never heard from again.” She turned to the crowd, “Have you no dignity? No rights? A right to live? To be safe from harm?”
Silence met her rallying cry.
Xena rose and walked toward her, “Guess they don't hear your voice.”
“Mine's not the only one. You can't break our spirit!”
“The cure for spirit is fear. You'll be an example.” She turned to her soldiers, “Put her on the cross, and leave her 'til she's dead, but first, break her legs.” She rapped her scepter on the platform and returned to her throne as the soldiers hauled Gabrielle away.
Iolaus made his way quietly out of the city. If this was the present, he couldn't waste any time in setting things right again. Once out of the city, he turned toward Ares temple and ran.
Breathless, Iolaus collapsed at the foot of Ares throne, “Ares! I'm back, but something went horribly wrong.”
Ares materialized sideways on his stone throne. His legs hung over one arm rest while his shoulders leaned against the opposite arm.
Iolaus continued his report, “Callisto succeeded. Alcmene's dead. Hercules doesn't exist. Send me back again, please, to make it right.”
Ares held up two finges, “Two questions. One, who are you? And two, Who in Tartarus is Hercules?
Iolaus frowned as he sensed something gone very wrong here in the present. “He's the only person who can stop Xena.”
“Xena,” Ares smiled and drew out the name with obvious sensuality. “The sound of her name excites me. Cruel, heartless, merciless Xena!” He turned to look seriously at Iolaus, “Why would you want to stop her?”
“She'll conquer all of Greece.”
Ares snorted and his voice took on a sarcastic tone, “Oh, will she? She already rules the known world. The Roman Empire, the Far East, and Gaul. All roads now lead here. Everybody knows that.” Ares leaned forward and gazed at Iolaus appraisingly, “Are you getting enough sleep?” The God of War vanished in a shower of sparkles.
“Ares!” Iolaus called in frustration. No answer, Iolaus didn't expect there would be. This world was exactly what Ares always wanted. A world without Hercules. He rose and wandered outside. “Oh, Herc, what are we gonna do?”
Hercules watched as Iolaus sat on the stone steps of Ares' Temple. He looked exhausted and no wonder, how far had his friend gone for his benefit while the great Hercules sat and did nothing but watch. He sighed, there had to be a way to fix this, “The Chronos Stone...If only Iolaus could hear me.”
Iolaus sat up, “The Chronos Stone? Herc?”
Hercules nearly jumped for joy. He could communicate, maybe he could have communicated all along, he just had to stop trying so hard. Maybe Iolaus had to be listening, too? Maybe Iolaus has to be near the portal? It didn't matter, it worked.
“Xena has it,” Hercules said.
“If I had that, I could go back in time without Ares' help.”
“Xena has it,” Hercules repeated wondering if he was getting through.
“Xena's got it! That was the Chronos Stone on her scepter. But, how would I know that?” Iolaus looked around to make sure he was alone. “Is it you, Herc? Are you there?”
“I'm here! Right with you! Where I've always been.” Hercules replied.
Iolaus leaped for joy and cheered, “Herc! I knew you were alive. I knew it!”
Hercules smiled at his friends jubilation as Iolaus ran back toward Corinth. The thunder sounded again, this time much closer. A storm was coming. Lightning flashed. The mineral in the rocks reflected the flash. Hercules knew what he had to do. He hastily broke off a pair of the rocky spires and began to tie them together.
Seeing the sudden activity the Sovereign took an interest, “What are you doing?”
“Making a key.” Hercules explained.
“A key,” The Sovereign repeated, “This place got to you, didn't it.”
“The place isn't so bad, it's the company. Turns out I can communicate with Iolaus...through the window...I wouldn't stand too close to this.” Hercules finished putting his lightning rod in position and backed up. The Sovereign scowled obviously considering defying his brother's warning. But maybe the do-gooder was on to something here. So, he backed up as well. They sat side by side on a rock watching the storm approach.
“Now what?” The Sovereign asked.
“We wait,” Hercules replied.
Iolaus had to wait hours. He returned to the courtyard to find Xena's people providing entertainment. Slowly, as the crowd ooo'd and ahhhh'd as various warriors exhibited their fighting prowess in duals that were occasionally to the death, Iolaus worked his way to the edge of the platform. The scepter did, indeed, feature the Chronos Stone at the center of it's crown but Xena never let it far from her grasp. As all eyes were on a particularly intense battle, Iolaus hopped silently to the platform and using every ounce of thieve's training and stealth that he'd ever learned, he made his way toward the throne and the Stone.
The victor of the fight turned to look at Xena and await the inevitable rapping of the scepter which would end the fight. Xena turned to grasp the staff and screamed in outrage as she saw Iolaus grabbing the scepter.
“Catch him! Kill him!” Couldn't these types ever come up with something new to scream at him in moments like this? Iolaus knew he was dead if this didn't work. The warriors circled him and as they made their circle ever smaller, Iolaus rubbed the stone and vanished.
Alcmene nearly screamed as Iolaus appeared from thin air. Quickly, he stepped forward and covered her mouth, releasing her when he felt her relax. He took a quick look out the window to see himself being tossed into the haystack.
“I thought you were outside,” she said.
“I was...I am. Come on, I've got a plan.” He took her hand and led her away from the window.
Outside, Callisto launched her massive fireball and the mill burned.
Hours later, after the fire had finally died away and only the smoking ashes remained of the building, the large grinding stone in the center still stood. It was black but it survived. The stone moved. Gradually, it was shoved over enough that two people could climb out from inside it. They were battered but unharmed.
“Alcmene, you're safe now. I hate to leave you like this, here, but I really have to go. Will you be alright?”
“Yes, we'll be fine. Here feel.” She took his hand and placed it on her stomach.
He felt a solid kick against the palm of his hand. He grinned, “Now, that's a kick I'd know anywhere. He's strong.”
“He'd better be, if he's the son of a god.” Their eyes met, he finally saw trust in them at last. She kept ahold of his hand for a moment before allowing him to pull away, “Iolaus, there's a two-year-old in the village named Iolaus. He steals pasteries.”
“That's...that's some other guy.”
His blush belied his words and she knew she was right. Releasing him, Iolaus moved away from her and pulled a green glowing stone from his bag. “I'm glad my son has a friend like you,” she said.
Iolaus nodded not knowing what to say. He settled for a nod and a wave before vanishing.
Lightning flashed closer and closer before finally striking the makeshift lightning rod and being reflected back into the sky. The portal opened as the lightning hit. Hercules and the Sovereign were sucked into it. Before they could arrive at the other end. Hercules turned and punched his doppleganger with everything he had. The Sovereign turned end over end and spun back the way they'd come, screaming in outrage.
Iolaus appeared again outside Ares' temple. He had barely gotten his footing when he was sent flying. The Chronos Stone landed several feet out of his reach. Before he could retrieve it, Callisto manifested a fireball which consumed it.
“You went to all that trouble for nothing.”
Iolaus climbed to his feet, “Don't you remember me? I saved your life...the burning barn in Cirra.”
“No, you didn't. Because you meddled, and saved Alcmene's life, I never got to go there. But now you're stuck here in the present. And I'm going back to finish what I started.”
Lightning cracked the sky and the portal opened. Hercules hit the ground rolling. He knocked Callisto off her feet. She rolled back up as did Hercules who found himself looking forward to the fight.
“I've always got time for you, Hercules. I've looked forward to it.”
“I wouldn't want to disappoint.”
They slammed into each other, kicking and hitting. When the dust cleared, Hercules stood with his foot on Callisto's back, pinning her to the ground. She wiggled and squirmed but there was no escape.
Iolaus ran forward and handed Hercules the pendant, “Here.”
“This isn't an option.” He twisted and threw the pendant into the still open vortex. Callisto followed a moment later, just before the portal closed.
Iolaus took a deep breath and released it slowly.
Hercules clasped his shoulder, “It has been a full day for you, hasn't it?”
The hunter nodded and remembered one more thing. He pulled out his knife and handed it to Hercules. “What do we do with this? It's got hind's Blood on it.”
Hercules took the knife and looked around. He walked over to the temple stairs and with one tremendous blow, he drove the knife into the stone up to the hilt.
“Think that's the last of Callisto?” Iolaus asked.
“No,” Hercules replied looking around as he shivered with a sudden chill that was just as suddenly gone. “But she's not the one that I'm worried about. The evil that was behind all this is still out there. It'll have to be dealt with.”
They began to walk toward Corinth, “Yeah, but now you're back to do that. Everything'll be okay.” Hercules didn't answer him. “Won't it, Herc?” Still no answer. “I mean, both of us, together, we can beat it. Right?”
Hercules wrapped an arm around his friend’s shoulders, “Both of us, together, yeah, it'll be okay.”
“So, are we going to stop in Corinth?”
Hercules nodded, “I don't know about you but I feel beat, literally and figuratively. That twin of mine's got a mean right cross, I wanna soak in a hot bath. Your day didn't look much better from what I could see.”
Iolaus chuckled, “No, I guess it wasn't. I can't tell you how many times I got blasted today. I don't know about a bath but a bed that's not on the cold, hard ground sure does sound good.”
“Besides, Mother and Jason are in Corinth at the moment. I'd like to see her,” Hercules said.
Iolaus nodded but kept his thoughts to himself.
The screaming alerted him to the arrival of someone new. The Soverign straightened the hind’s blood pendant around his neck and rose from the rock he’d been lounging on to see who his new companion would be. “Well, well, maybe that goody-two-sandals isn't so bad after all. You could be a lot of fun to spend time with.”
Callisto climbed to her feet and gave Hercules’ doppleganger the once over. He looked like Hercules but she didn't think Hercules ever graced his face with an expression of such pure lust like the one facing her now. “Where is this place?” she wondered.
“Better back away from there, that's our ticket out of here.” He pointed toward a second home-made lightning rod, positioned at the point opposite of the last rod. “I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I am The Sovereign and I'm very pleased to meet you. I think we'll get along famously. As for where you are, it doesn't matter, it's nowhere and we're about to be somewhere else.”
As he spoke the words lightning struck and a second portal opened. They were drawn into it together.
“Hercules! Iolaus!” Alcmene cried in welcome as she practically ran down the castle hall to meet them. She hugged her son first and then turned to Iolaus. He hugged her fiercely. She wondered briefly what could have caused this but when he finally loosened his grip and she pulled back and looked into his eyes, she knew.
“It's happened, hasn't it? You were there, all those years ago at the mill. I knew it was you. You had the same eyes as Erythia's boy. And the last time I saw you, I knew we must be getting close to the time it would happen. You were the same man that had saved me.”
Iolaus couldn't make himself release her completely, “Alcmene, if you hasn't recognized me, if you hadn't known, would you still have taken me in?”
She smiled her big beautiful smile at him, “Of course, you were my son's friend. I didn't orchestrate your meeting or your friendship. The two of you made all that happen. You may have strayed from the straight path from time to time, Iolaus, but you've always had a good heart. I just made sure that you had food in your stomach and a roof over your head when you needed it.”
“You did way more than that,” he corrected.
“And it was always my pleasure.”
“Would someone please tell me what is going on?” Jason demanded. “What are you two talking about?”
“It's a long story,” Iolaus replied.
“Yes, it is and we'll tell all after these two have had a chance to clean up and refresh themselves.” Alcmene laced her arms through one of each of theirs and led Hercules and Iolaus toward the family quarters. She wrinkled her nose, “You reek of smock.”
Foiled, his elaborate plot, utterly failed. Hercules had been returned to his rightful place by the loyalty of his friend. He had underestimated the bond between these two. A mistake he would not make again. Before Greece fell, these two would have to be delt with. No matter, Greece could wait. There were other lands, other plots that were coming to fruition. Other pantheons to be destroyed. The shadowy cloak-like figure dissolved into nothing. He would return.
Finis for now
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