Title: Dark Terror
Pairing: None. Young Hercules
Archive: Yes, please. Let me know if you take it, OK?
Disclaimer: The characters are not mine. They belong to Studios USA or
Whoever owns the Rights to Young Hercules.
The doors to Jason's throne room flew open and Hercules raced in, laughing. Iolaus dashed in behind him, covered in melon. "I'll get you, Herc!"
Hercules hurried over to Jason and skidded to a halt in front of the young Prince. Iolaus noticed too late that Herc had stopped and ran right into him. The two fell on top of Jason, who was enjoying a big bowl of pink berries. The berry bowl toppled onto the floor and the bright pink berries rolled in every direction. Jason yelped in surprise and shoved his two friends onto the floor.
"Hey! Watch what you're doing! Those are Sandersonni!" Jason yelled.
"Ah, who cares about some dumb old berries?" Iolaus said as he picked himself up off the floor. He wiped at the sticky mess of squished berries on his leather shirt and pants. When he lifted his hands, they were stained a dark pinkish red. "Hey! This is going to stain my clothes!"
"Iolaus, with all that melon on you, no one will ever notice." Hercules laughed as he rested on the floor, propped up on one elbow. He picked up a plump berry and tossed it into his mouth. An exotic taste exploded across his tongue. The Demi-God had never tasted anything like it before in his life. He figured if a banana and a strawberry ever crossbred, they'd taste like this. He licked his lips and reached for another. His blue eyes shifted to Iolaus. "That is, no one except the flies and the hornets. I bet they'd love you!"
"Hey! Quit eating all my berries!" Jason complained as he frantically scooped berries off the floor and back into the bowl.
"Geez. What's got you tied in such a knot?" asked Iolaus as he tried to wipe his stained hands on his pants. This, of course, didn't do any good.
"These are not ordinary berries." Jason explained as he crawled around on all four, peering under his throne for any that he missed. He straightened up and banged his head on his chair. He moaned loudly as he rubbed his sore head. "As I said, these are Sandersonni berries. They were just discovered and grow *only* underground. They're very rare."
"Underground?" Hercules asked in surprise. "I never heard of that before. Where in the world did you get those things from?"
"Yeah," Iolaus added. "Even I know that plants can't grow underground!"
"Well, these do." Jason told them as he settled back into his throne. "Some miners in one of my iron mines just discovered them not too long ago. They perfectly safe to eat and they taste very good! Mmmmmm....I could sit here all day and eat these."
"And they're all yours because you're the Prince, right?" Iolaus said. "Well, I don't want your dumb old berries! I'd rather eat something more solid."
"Iolaus, you'd eat anything!" Hercules laughed.
A man stumbled into the throne room and collapsed onto the floor, gasping. "I carry an urgent message for the Prince!"
"I'm Prince Jason of Corinth." Jason stated as he leaped to his feet. "What is the message?"
"Something is killing the miners! We need your help."
Jason, Hercules and Iolaus left for the mine. When they arrived Master Gristle greeted them. Gristle was a short, muscular man that carried a huge battle axe. He had dark eyes, a large bulbous nose and a long gray beard. The thick beard hung all the way to the center of his chest. A metal helm with two horns rested on top of his head. A chain mail shirt covered his chest but his arms were bare. "Welcome, Prince Jason! It is a great honor to have ye here at Mine Silverhome. Too bad we meet under such dire conditions."
Iolaus stared at Master Gristle in shock. The top of the man's head only reached the cadets' waist. "You're a...a..."
"They're Dwarves." Jason explained to Iolaus and Hercules. "Dwarves love to mine. It's what they do best. They live underground and feel at home in the deep mining tunnels."
"Aye, that be right." Master Gristle said as he led them into the opening of the mine shaft. "And we have infravision, so we can see in the dark. But something has been killing me workers. They be getting spooked, as this thing leaves no tracks at all. They be saying it be a ghost or evil spirit."
Hercules turned to take one last look at the faint light from the surface. He just saw a dim square of light and then that disappeared, too. He held the torch in front of him as he followed the others. The stone tunnel descended at a steep angle, the floor smoothed from thousands of booted feet. The rough rock walls around him seemed to press against him the deeper he went. Faint sounds drifted to his ears from up ahead. The party rounded a corner and entered a large cavern.
"Wow." Hercules breathed as he gazed across the huge expanse of the underground cavern. Hercules stepped forward until he pressed up against the metal railing that circled the ledge they stood on. The multi-layered room shimmered below them in a cloud of pink steam and grayish-black smoke. Pots of molten metal bubbled as the dwarves hurried about doing their jobs. They produced fine weapons and exquisite jewelry here, both for their clan and for others to buy. This was Clan Silverhome's smithy. Only Hephaestus himself made better armor than the dwarves. Since Jason couldn't afford to buy from the God, he bought from the Dwarves. They, of course, made human sized weapons too.
"I never really believed this place existed." Hercules said as he continued to stare out across the smithy room. "I mean, it's like a legend."
"I know what you mean." Iolaus agreed as he carefully followed Master Gristle down a pair of steep and narrow rock stairs. The stairs, he noticed, were carved out of the natural rock wall itself. "This place is unreal."
They reached the main floor without incident. Thick steam hung in the air and it was very hot. Sweat dripped freely down their faces as they followed Gristle through the room towards a distant doorway.
"Nay, Lad." Master Gristle explained. "It be down in the lower tunnels, where we do the mining. We need to go down a lot farther."
They followed Master Gristle through another doorway into a dark tunnel. Hercules wrapped his arms around himself and shivered. After the hot steam-filled smithy, the tunnel felt as cold as winter. He was glad Iolaus was carrying the torch for the moment! The light flickered and threw large shadows on the rough stone wall. "Well, do you have any idea what might be doing this? Does anything live down there?"
"Aye, lad! Lots of things live down there." The dwarf paused in the hallway and turned to face them. The torchlight reflected off his face, giving him a spooky look. "There be more tunnels then ours down there. Some say they descend to the center of the planet. Things live in them. We know about some of the beasties: giant spiders, bright yellow bugs that look like caterpillars, floating eyeballs and more. Once in a while these things come up into our mining tunnels looking for a free meal and we kill them. But this, this be different."
"All of those things live down there?" Hercules asked, his voice a high squeak. "And you think this is something else? Something new?"
"Aye." Master Gristle replied as he continued down the tunnel. "There have been disappearances in the tunnels ever since we dwarves lived in this mountain. It be normal in a way. A creature finds its way in, gobbles a few dwarves, we find the beastie and kill it. But lately too many dwarves are gone without a trace. There be no clues. There be fifty dwarves missing in one month. That be too many."
"And we're supposed to find this thing?" Iolaus asked as he followed along. "I don't know. We can't even see in the dark! If you can't find it and you live here, how are we supposed to?"
"Maybe ye see things that we miss." Master Gristle replied.
"Oh, that's just great!" Iolaus complained as he hurried past an open doorway. He peered inside the room and waved his arm. "Hey! Look at this!"
"Whoah! That's incredible!" Hercules breathed. The room was filled with giant mushrooms. The light from the torch revealed their colors: pale white with splotches of purple. An elderly dwarf moved between the rows of mushrooms, tending the giant plants. He had a head full of wild white hair that stuck out in every direction. All sorts of objects stuck out of his scraggly beard and his gray overalls were smeared with what appeared to be manure.
Hey, do you grow those berries somewhere around here?" asked Jason as he squeezed between Hercules and Iolaus to see into the large cavern. "I would really like to see those plants."
"That be Master Furze. He's in charge of our food production." Master Gristle explained as he called the other dwarf over. Master Furze led them through several large connecting caverns filled with mushrooms. Finally they reached the Sandersonni plants. The tall plants glowed silver in the lightless cave. They provided enough light that they didn't even need the torches to see. Each plant stood about four feet tall and many were covered in glowing pink flowers. The center of the flowers had yellow and red splotches and was round with ruffled edges. A pair of pink "rabbit ears" stuck up above the round part while a long curved tail hung down at the bottom. The plants that didn't sport flowers were heavy with clumps of the plum-sized berries. Jason reached out for a handful and stuck a few into his mouth. "Man, these are so good!"
"I don't know." Iolaus said as he stared at the plants. "I think it's kind of freaky. I mean, plants belong on the surface. And mushrooms...bleeh! That's as bad as those oats Chiron feeds us!"
"Ah, what do you know about the finer things in life?" Jason asked as he filled a sack with the bright pink berries. "I'm going to take these berries with us, just in case. Chiron says we should always bring food along on dangerous missions. You never know when we might need it."
"Yeah, but Chiron said FOOD, not those things." Iolaus shook his head as he watched Jason pick his berries. "How do you even know those things are good to eat? Maybe they all died from poison berries."
"Iolaus, if they died from poison their bodies would be there." Hercules pointed out. But he watched his friend with concerned eyes. Jason seemed to really like those berries. The young Demi-God walked over to Master Furze. "Where did you get these berry plants from?"
"Me found them growing down in the lower tunnels." Master Furze told Hercules. "Me likes to go exploring down there."
"Do you know anything about the missing dwarves down there?" Hercules asked.
"Yeah, that they be missing." Master Furze replied. "Everyone know that!"
"I can see why they made him a gardener." Iolaus whispered to Hercules. "He doesn't seem too bright in the head."
"But he's smart enough not to get caught by whatever it is." pointed out Hercules. "Maybe he knows something he isn't telling us."
Jason pushed past his two friends and headed towards the doorway. He carried a heavy sack of the pink berries. "Come on! Let's get going. We need to find whatever it is that's down there and get rid of it."
"Why don't you come with us?" Hercules asked Master Furze. "You seem to know your way around down there, don't you? We could use your help."
"OK." Master Furze replied as he gathered a few items he would need. After he was ready, they left the plant room and continued their way down into the bowels of the Earth. Finally they reached a heavy metal door that blocked their path. Master Gristle waved to a troop of armed dwarven guards and the door opened. They entered the mines with a troop of armed dwarves hot on their heels. After they were all through, the door clanged shut with the sound of doom.