On the next all-new Autolycus: The King of Thieves....
(Autolycus milling about in a crowd picking pockets; the crowd is rapt on a fight taking place in an elevated wrestling-style ring; Autolycus glances up, and his jaw drops as he notices... Hercules is one of the fighters!)
Voiceover: a competition to end all competitions...
(Hercules back in the ring, circling around as a burly, bearded, kilt-wearing Scotsman circles him; the crowd is going wild; we hear a voiceover of a gruff-sounding man saying "By the end of this weekend, we'll know who the best fighter in the world is!")
VO: A daring plan...
(Autolycus is in a tent; Salmoneus and Hercules are in front of him. "You have GOT to be kidding," Autolycus says, rubbing his temple. "We'll get killed..." Salmoneus and Herc seem disappointed with this reaction)
VO: And a few unexpected twists of fate....
(Shot of Hercules with a wine flask, singing happily, drunk out of his mind, as Salmoneus and Autolycus look on in stunned disbelief; cut to... Salmoneus throws a mask over the head of Autolycus, who is arguing fiercely. "No time to debate this," Salmoneus declares, dragging him into a large tent. In the tent, the crowd turns suddenly, virtually in unison. "Ladies and gentlemen," Salmoneus declares loudly and proudly, "I give you... THE MASKED TERROR!!!" He holds Autolycus's arm in the air, and the crowd goes wild. Up in the fighting ring, his soon-to-be opponent, a musclebound African prince clad in animal skins, grins and cracks his knuckles).
VO: Just another typical day.
(Autolycus, still wearing the mask, runs along the tops of the ropes that line the fighting ring, dodging as the African prince tries to grab hold of him).
VO: Kevin Sorbo guest-stars on the next all-new Autolycus: The King of Thieves!
(Hercules has Autolycus and another man, a thin guy with curly brown shoulder-length hair, in headlocks on either side of him; he playfully bounces their heads into one another, and they clunk together with a coconuts-bouncing-together-like noise; both men stumble back, dazed, as Herc laughs his head off).
VO: Coming soon...
Autolycus and Muran sit around a campfire. It is a starlit night, and they are in a clearing in the middle of a lush forest. Autolycus is sipping out of his winesack, and Muran is eating on the last of a piece of beef they had roasted over the fire earlier.
"Now, when we meet Salmoneus, I want you to pay attention," Autolycus tells her, taking an almost professorial tone. "One thing you're going to have to learn if you want to be a master thief one day is how to spot con artists, and this guy is one of the biggest I've ever met."
"Do you trust him?" She asks, wiping her chin.
"About as far as I could throw him," Autolycus replies with a smirk.
"Then why do you do business with him?"
"We have an ... arrangement," he says with a shrug. "It seems to work for both of us. I don't have time to sell all the artifacts I steal. Salmoneus has a knack for getting the best price for them, and we split the profits."Autolycus pokes at the wood in the campfire, and continues. "Of course, I screw him over every chance I get, and I assume he does the same to me. As long as we maintain an even balance, things'll work out fine." He looks up. "Just before you and I met, I gave him the sceptre of Ahn-Ah'ra and a few other trinkets. Since we're passing by Soterios -- where he started a moneylending operation, last I heard -- I decided it was time to pick up my share. He's had my money long enough."
"So how did you meet this guy, anyhow?" she asks.
"Long story." Autolycus contemplates his winesack as we....
FADE BACK TO THE NOT-SO-DISTANT PAST
Autolycus strides briskly along a road that leads through a wheat field. He seems focused, eyes straight-forward, intent on his path. A sign he passes reads 'Voska 10 miles'.
"Hey, wait up!" comes a voice behind him. Autolycus winces a smidgen and keeps walking.
"I said wait up!" the voice repeats. A man jogs up next to Autolycus. He is lanky, with curly, shoulder-length brown hair. He is relatively young, but his hairline is already receding. "Boy, you walk fast!"
"I'm trying to get away from you," Autolycus says dispassionately.
"Aw, come on! It's not MY fault we lost that ride!"
Autolycus spins. "It's EXACTLY your fault, Terrail! What, you're going to blame ME? I didn't try to grope that farmer's daughter!"
"She was comin' on to me, dude," Terrail says defensively.
Autolycus rolls his eyes and picks up his pace. Terrail has to struggle to keep up.
"Look, man, if we're gonna be partners we've got to have an under---"
Autolycus stops in his tracks. "We aren't partners, you twit! You're like some damned puppy following me... and I'm allergic to dogs." He resumes walking, leaving Terrail standing there to contemplate this.
"That's COLD, man!", Terrail says, then resumes following.
Dusk. Autolycus (and, a few steps behind, Terrail) has finally reached the town of Voska. It is a small town, but seems unusually active and vibrant. People mill about, and torches are lit all along the center of town.
"I thought you said this was a quiet village, dude," Terrail whispers loudly.
Autolycus rolls his eyes. "There's no such thing while you're around. But this IS odd." He looks around, and sees some children running along. He reaches out and stops one of them. "Hey, kid, what's going on? Is there some sort of festival in town?"
The kid, an 8-year old boy with spikey brown hair and freckles, looks up at him quizically. "What are you, kiddin', mister?"
"I've been out of town..." Autolycus says, adding "you little brat" under his breath.
"This warlord named Gebereal has arranged a competition to see who the best fighter in the land is. We're on our way right now to see a fight."
Autolycus looks ahead to see that everyone seems be gathering around a tent, trying to get in and see what is going on inside. The kid runs to join up with his friends, and they all scramble into the tent as well.
"This has potential," Autolycus says.
"I didn't think you were a fight fan," Terrail replies.
Autolycus rolls his eyes. "Pick-pocketing, you moron. Rowdy crowd, all close together and focusing their attention elsewhere. What more could you ask?" He heads toward the tent, and adds over his shoulder, "Besides, after you lost the money we got back in Anthea, I need some way to pay for a room for the night."
"I already apologized for that, dude!" Terrail says, starting to follow.
They move into the tent. "You don't know how to do this," Autolycus whispers. "So just watch the fight, and try to keep your mouth closed so the flies don't get in."
"Hey, I'm a thief too!" Terrail says in a whisper, but more loudly than Autolycus would have liked.
"You can pick a lock, I'll grant you that," Autolycus whispers back. "And that's ALL I'll grant you." He moves away from Terrail and into the crowd.
"Oh, pardon me," he says to one patron, then "excuse me" to another, and "oh, sorry" to a third. He steps aside to quickly examine the contents of the three moneypurses he has snatched. "Not bad.. not good, either... That'll do..."
"Get him, Hercules!" comes a voice from the elevated ring the fighters are in. Autolycus glances up, then his jaw drops.
The elevated ring has a rope fence around it. In one corner, a pudgy bearded man is shouting words of encouragement to one of the fighters. Autolycus's attention is focused at the center of the ring, and he mutters "It can't be..."
A muscular, blond-haired man with a cleft chin is circling around the ring, trying to avoid a punch from his opponent... Hercules, the son of Zeus.
FADE OUT. OPENING CREDITS ROLL.
TITLE CARD: "THE CONTENDER"
SPECIAL GUEST STAR KEVIN SORBO
SPECIAL GUEST STAR ROBERT TREBOR
Terrail slides up next to Autolycus. "Hey, dude, didn't you tell me you were friends with that guy?"
Autolycus is still shocked, but snaps out of it. "Oh.. oh, yeah. We go way back. He once helped me fight a big labyrinth serpent. But what would he be doing in a mindless brawl like this?" Autolycus starts to move closer to the stage. "I've always heard he tries to avoid fighting. And he certainly had his chances to knock my teeth out, but didn't...."
Up in the ring, the blond man snarls. "I'll de-feeeat you," he sneers through clenched teeth."You caaaan't win..."
"Ah, get stuffed," Hercules says, throwing a wide punch. The blond man dodges it.
Back in the blond man's corner, a frail man with curly black hair is pantomiming each punch thrown and dodge made in the fight. "Ooh, watch it," he says. Then he yells, to give encouragement to his fighter, "You can beat him, Sparta---"
Suddenly, one of Hercules's punches makes contact with the blond man's jaw. The man is knocked back, and lands on the mat with a thud. Everyone leans forward to see what will happen now, but the man does not rise. Part of the crowd cheers, and another part jeers.
A small man with a rounded nose holds up Hercules's arm and turns to the crowd. "The WINNER!!" He announces in a loud voice, to more cheers and jeers from the audience. Hercules bows to the crowd, and moves back over to his corner, where he plops down on a stool.
"Excellent work out there," the pudgy bearded man says, offering him a swig from a winesack. "You really showed them." He turns to a passerby in the crowd, which is now dispersing. "And you guys said Hercules couldn't live up to his reputation," The pudgy man says with a smirk.
The passerby shrugs and moves on.
"Excuse me?" Autolycus asks.
"Yes, can I help you?" the pudgy man asks.
"Perhaps. Who are you?"
"Hercules's manager. My name is Salmoneus." He extends a hand. "Pleased to meet you."
Autolycus shakes hands with him. "I'm Autolycus..."
"The King of Thieves?" Salmoneus asks, incredulous.
"Well, I'm not one to brag, but yes..."
Salmoneus pulls his hand back and counts the rings on his fingers to make sure none have been stolen. Once he's satisfied they're all there, he looks back up. "What do you want?"
"I just wanted to say hello to my old friend Hercules," Autolycus says with a smile.
"Old.. friend? Why, of course! Oh, Hercules, look who's here!"
Hercules looks over, and doesn't seem to recognize Autolycus at all.
"It's your old friend Autolycus, Hercules," Salmoneus says carefully. "You know... the old friend you've told me so much about."
After a second, this seems to register with Hercules, who climbs out of the ring and shakes Autolycus's hand. "Yes, of course," Hercules says eagerly. "Good to see you again."
"Same here," Autolycus says, then arches his eyebrow. "I haven't seen you since we fought those Amazons and stole the shield of Reidun."
"Oh, yes," Hercules says, then glances over at Salmoneus. "I told you about that, didn't I, Sal? Great adventure, that."
"Sure was," Autolycus says wryly. "Too bad I was with Caybr the Younger at the time, and you were nowhere nearby... HERCULES."
Hercules' expression goes flush. "Um... er..."
"He's obviously confused and a bit dazed from the fight," Salmoneus says quickly, pulling Hercules away. "If you'll EXCUSE us, he needs his rest before the next fight." They scurry off, leaving Autolycus standing there looking pensive.
Terrail comes up beside him. "You'd think Hercules would've remembered he wasn't on that adventure," he says. "Boy, I guess it's true, the bigger they are, the dumber they---"
"Shut up, Terrail," Autolycus says sharply. Then, Autolycus strokes his goatee and continues, to himself... "Obviously, that's not really Herc, but then who the Hades is it?"
A small nearby tent. Salmoneus and Hercules rush in. Salmoneus looks around behind them to make sure they aren't being followed, then closes the tent flaps.
"That was too close," Salmoneus says, breathing a sigh of relief. "I wonder if that really WAS Autolycus."
"What's it matter if he figures it out?" Hercules asks, splashing his face with water from a bowl. "He's a thief, right? Who's gonna believe him?"
Salmoneus rolls his eyes. "Hello, is anyone home?" he asks, thunking Herc's head with his forefinger. "Any seeds of doubt, and our little plan is shot."
Hercules dunks his head in the water, lifts it out, and shakes his head, his wet hair flying in all directions. "Aaah, that feels better," he says.
Salmoneus paces. "This is important. We have to figure out what to do about this guy, before he blows your cover."
"Want me to beat him up?"
Salmoneus groans. "Of COURSE not! That's all we'd need. One punch from you and he'd realize you don't have anything NEAR demigod strength!"
"Hey, I'm strong," Herc says defensively.
"And as long as no one we run into has met the real Hercules, they won't realize you're not strong ENOUGH." Salmoneus glances nervously out the tent flaps again. "I'm beginning to think this was all a big mistake..."
The main tent. The crowds mill about, watching another fight. Autolycus, still wandering around, watches the chaos. A gigantic thug with shaggy blond hair is in the ring. He looks almost Neanderthal-like, with a sloping forehead and dim little eyes that show no signs of sentience. In the ring with him is a rail-think man with pale skin and a mop of shockingly black hair. His face is lean and angular, his features feral. His eyes practically glow with hatred. The big man moves clumsily, trying to take a swing. Before he realizes what is happening, the smaller man has jumped on his back and is pummeling him. Autolycus grimaces as he watches this. "I'd hate to run into that guy in a dark alley," he mutters.
"Yeah," Terrail says beside him... then after a second, adds "Which one?"
Autolycus ignores him and keeps moving around. "Ah!" He cries out, moving through the crowd quickly. At one open flap of the tent, a tall, ruggedly handsome man with strawberry blond hair in a ponytail stands signing autographs for a group of children, parents, and admiring young women. The man is clad in a vest with no shirt underneath, and a plaid kilt. He is about 6'4" and muscular. He kisses a young woman's hand, and smiles up at her, his dimples showing as he grins. She practically swoons.
"Quit stealing my techniques, you rat!" Autolycus says in a friendly tone.
The man turns. "Autolycus!" He grabs Autolycus around the neck and pulls him close, playfully mussing the King of Thieves' hair. "What are you up to, you withered old scoundrel?" The man speaks with a faint Scottish accent.
Autolycus manages-- with great effort--- to get out of the neckgrip, and punches the man in the shoulder. "Cut it out, ya big bully. I was just passing through and found this... party going on. Pretty wild."
"Isn't it, though?" the man laughs boisterously.
A little girl pulls on the trim of his kilt. "Excuse me, Mister Caybr, would you sign this picture for me?"
"Sure thing," Caybr says, cheerfully autographing a crude parchment drawing that must be a five-year old's attempt at a portrait of him.
"So, what exactly is going on, Caybr?" Autolycus asks, frowning as teenage girls try to crowd past him to get closer to the big man.
"A contest," Caybr replies.
"But what for?"
From behind Autolycus comes another voice. It is gruffer, with a more pronounced Scottish accent. "By th' end o' this weekend, we'll know who th' best fighter in th' world is!"
Autolycus turns. The speaker is almost as tall as Caybr and a bit wider in the shoulders and around the waist; he has a thick red beard with white streaks, and is also wearing a kilt. His hair, the same color as his beard, flares out in all directions and looks like no comb has ever been near it.
"Caybr the Elder???" The two shake hands. "I didn't know you were still alive!"
"An' I di'n know ye wairen't rottin' in a prison somewhair!" The older man replies, embracing Autolycus in a bearhug that would probably snap the back of your average bear.
"He hasn't heard of the contest, father," the younger Caybr says.
The older one looks incredulous, then grins. "An' why would th' whippersnapper hae heard o' it, laddie? It's only fer REAL fighters, not cutpurses!" He laughs until he coughs, and playfully punches Autolycus in the stomach. Autolycus grimaces, trying not to show pain.
A smaller tent. Autolycus and the two Caybrs sit around a small table. They are feasting on a vile-looking concoction of organs that Autolycus doesn't seem to be the least bit interested in.
"Look, I know this warlord Gebereal is sponsoring this 'Ultimate Warrior Competition,' but WHY is he doing it?" Autolycus asks.
"Who cares why?" Caybr the Elder says. "Th' importan' thin' is, we get tae FIGHT! You wouldn'a believe the thug they had me agin' this maernin'. An Arab, taller and more muscular 'n me boy here, with long black hair an' a patch over one eye. If it waern' for 'im being blind in that one eye, I'da na'er stood a chance...."
"I was wondering why myself," Caybr the Younger interrupts, "but I haven't seen any sign of foul play. It seems to be a legitimate contest. Maybe the warlord intends to recruit the winner..."
"But neither of you would join a warlord's army..." Autolycus ponders, stroking his goatee.
"An' nei'er would 'Ercules," Caybr the Elder adds. "Or Kor of Lubomir, 'e's fightin' 'ere too... or Otthild, this huge woman from th' Northlands tha' would scare a whole squad o' Amazons... Lot'a what ye might call 'independent types' 'ere..."
" Good point... but you know, I don't think Hercules really IS here."
"I saw him this morning," Caybr the Younger says. "He fought this warrior named Ligongo to a standstill, and then a few hours later beat this Roman slave named ... dad, what was that guy's name?"
"Nae sure," Caybr the Elder replies. "Couldn'a make out all th' wairds.... 'e talked foony."
"Named Spartanus or something," Caybr the Younger guesses.
"But Hercules hates fighting," Autolycus says. "He has a reputation for avoiding it at all costs."
"But 'e's ALWAYS fightin' somebody!" Caybr the Elder replies. "Ya always 'ear about it... oooh, 'Ercules fought this big dragon-baird... didja hear aboot 'Ercules fightin' this 'ere Cyclops... 'Ercules wen' up agin a 'yrdra and beat evry las' one o' it's 'eads... 'Ercules whupped a labyrinth serpent single-'anded...."
"Yeah, yeah," Autolycus says, cutting the old man off in mid-sentence. "But he still claims that he doesn't like to fight when there's not a good reason for it. He wouldn't compete in a bloodbath like this contest. This guy seems more mercenary."
"This guy? You're not telling me you think that's a fake Hercules?" Caybr the Younger asks.
"Of course it's a fake!"
"But his brother Iphicles stopped impersonating him a while back, and who else looks that much like Herc?"
Autolycus shrugs. "Maybe it's a shapeshifter. Or maybe it's another half-brother... his dad has quite a reputation with the ladies, you know..."
Behind them, a pudgy shadow moves across the back of the tent and away.
The figure is stealthy until he bumps into an old woman carrying a basket full of chickens. "Watch where you're going, tubby!!" the woman yells. The chickens cluck in disapproval of the sudden jarring motion. "Pardon me," Salmoneus replies as graciously as he can under the circumstances. He storms off, brushing feathers from his cloak as we...
Muran leans back against a tree trunk. "I've heard you mention Caybr, but I didn't know there were two of them."
"There aren't, now," Autolycus says, a bit grimly. "This was about two years ago. A lot's changed since then."
"Was it really Hercules, or just someone that looked like him?"
Autolycus smirks. "Boy, you probably skip right to the end of a mystery scroll, don't you? I'll get to that part, just pay attention. I didn't know it at the time, but Salmoneus was getting worried about my presence, and thought he'd better get me out of town..."
CUT BACK TO:
Salmoneus stands in the front of a tent. Before him, a handsome blond-haired man lies on a pile of pillows, being massaged and fed grapes by some beautiful, pleasingly plump women. The man has curly hair and a goatee, and is nibbling on a pomegranite in between mouthfuls of grapes.
"So you see, Shenk.... er, Mister Shenk... this fellow sounds like nothing but trouble."
"He is 'King of Thieves', you say?" Shenk says in a pronounced, almost Russian, accent, then swigs down a cup of mead. "I did not bring much gold vith me, and do not care how much money I vin here. Point is, to prove I am mightiest varrior in vorld. Let him steal vhat he can."
"But you don't understand, he... what do you mean you don't care how much you vin... er, win?"
"I believe statement means I do not care how much money I vin. Vhat part you not understand? This your language, not mine."
"Well, maybe we could make an arrangement, if you win you could let me.. um, handle the money for you, so you won't be encumbered on the trip ba---"
"You come to Shenk for help to remove this King of Thieves, then you try to steal from Shenk yourself." Shenk sounds more amused than troubled by this.
"No, no, I wasn't.... well, never mind. The point is, this fellow is a menace. Why, he might try to seduce one of your lovely maids here..."
Shenk glances at them. "There are more vomen in motherland. Let him steal these too." He leans in closer to Salmoneus and grins. "Of course, I not say this if these vomen know your language." He winks playfully. "They might try to choke me vith grapes othervise."
Salmoneus is in the front of another tent. The interior is dark. In the center of the tent, a figure sits crosslegged on the ground. There doesn't appear to be anything in the tent other than him... no blankets, no food, no furniture of any kind. The man is rail-thin, with a cadaverous face and pale, almost ghostly skin. His hair is black and shaggy, worn at shoulder length. He is the fighter we saw earlier making short work of the neanderthal-like thug in the ring.
He is naked, and stares at Salmoneus with burning, hateful intensity, his eyes following Salmoneus's every movement as if watching for an attack.
"So you see, Luxian... Mister Luxian... this fellow sounds like nothing but trouble."
Luxian sneers. "If he comes to fight me, I'll amputate his head with my teeth. Otherwise, he leaves me alone, I leave him alone."
"But he's a thief!!"
Luxian cocks his head to one side. "Nothing so wrong with being a thief, is there?" He hisses.
Salmoneus gulps, nervous that he has said something wrong. "uh, no, of course not."
"Then why have you interrupted my meditations?"
"I just wanted to warn you. You might want to use your considerable... um, presence to convince him to leave town and not interfere with the competition."
Luxian laughs wickedly. "Sounds to me like you're afraid he'll beat your fighter. Shouldn't worry about that. Moot point, since I'll eat the liver of whichever of them makes it to the next round."
Salmoneus stands just outside a tent, trying to keep from looking inside the tent.
"So you see, Miss Bong-Cha, this fellow sounds like nothing but trouble."
Water splashes inside the tent. "I wish you would not bother me during bath time," comes an Asian woman's voice.
Salmoneus turns toward the tent opening. "A thousand pardons, ma'am, but.... oh my..."
Inside the tent, the woman has stood in the bathtub. She is glistening wet, naked, and is being dried off by servant girls. Salmoneus blushes and turns back away. "As I was saying," he continues, flustered, "He's the most nefarious thief in the land. Who knows what mayhem he might cause if not---"
"Is he cute?" Bong-Cha asks, stepping outside the tent to talk with Salmoneus. She is wearing a long kimono-like robe, but has not closed it in the front. She is pulling her long black hair back and tying it into a bun as she talks, and seems oblivous to Salmoneus's discomfort. She is a compact but obviously athletic woman with delicate features. Her age is hard to discern; she may be just out of her teens, or might be in her mid-thirties. On her face, just below her right eye, is a rose tattoo, the stem of which goes down her neck. Another rose is beneath it, starting on her collarbone, and its stem arcs around in a direction Salmoneus is studiously trying not to notice.
"Well... I don't know if I'd call him cute, per se..."
"Because I've heard Autolycus was a real cutie. And if that's true, I'm not going to chase him out of town." She grins mischievously. "Might wear him out, but won't chase him out of town... I've always had a weakness for handsome rogues..."
Salmoneus rolls his eyes as he finishes his speech one more time. "So you see, Prince Ligongo, this fellow sounds like nothing but trouble."
In this tent, a musclebound African man is engaged in combat training with three opponents. Ligongo has harsh, weathered features-- though he is probably no older than 40--- and is clad in a zebra skin loincloth and nothing more. The opponents, all muscular black men, are armed with swords, but Ligongo is unarmed.
"This man sounds like a bug to be squashed underfoot," Ligongo says in a booming voice a he flips one of the men roughly. "Not a menace worth worrying about." As another opponent swings his sword, Ligongo swats it, hitting the flat edge of the blade and knocking it out of the man's hand. "I told you not to hold back, Masamba," he says disapprovingly just before head-butting the man, who crumbles. "Aim the blade at me, not the flat edge," he says to the unconscious figure.
"I think you're underestimating him, sir," Salmoneus says, trying to get the prince's attention back on the subject at hand.
"I think YOU are underestimating ME," Ligongo says, turning to face Salmoneus. Behind him, the third opponent raises his sword and advances.
"Behind you, sir," Salmoneus says, wide-eyed.
"You see?" Ligongo says harshly. "AGAIN, you underestimate me!" Ligongo executes a spin-kick that hits his opponent squarely in the jaw, then continues the spin until he has come back around to face Salmoneus again. "I know how to fight. And I know how to protect my treasures. And I don't need a chubby little merchant telling me what to do. Now get out, before I choose you as my next sparring partner."
Salmoneus scurries away. "This is NOT working," he mutters. "I have to find someone I can convince." He strokes his beard. "But who among the fighters is dumb enough to fall for this?"
'Hercules' puts down the leg of lamb he was gnawing on and stares up at Salmoneus. "What do you mean, it's up to me? How am I supposed to chase this guy out of town?"
"Flex your muscles. Be intimidating. Tell him about the time you slew the hydra."
'Hercules' rolls his eyes. "But he's on to us. He KNOWS I'm not really Hercules, or at the very least suspects it."
"Oh, he knows it," Salmoneus says, pacing. "But try. Do something to scare the guy. Maybe you can tell him you're Ares in disguise, and you'll kill him if he doesn't leave now."
"Look, why don't we bring this guy into the plan?"
"Split the money THREE ways?" Salmoneus gasps. "But I... but that means less for us..."
'Hercules' frowns. "Boy, for a con artist you're too darned honest, Sal." He thumps Salmoneus in the forehead. "We TELL him we're going to split the money three ways, and when the contest is over, and we've won, I knock him out and we take off."
"Hey, that's a good idea!" Salmoneus says, relieved.. then he glances suspiciously at 'Hercules'. "Saaaay, how do I know that's not what you plan to do to me, so you can take ALL the money?"
'Hercules' grins, then swigs down some wine.
Another crowd gathered around the ring. 'Hercules' is in there now, circling around a squat, muscular man. This opponent is in his late 50s, bald, with a nose broken in no fewer than three places, cauliflower ears, and scars all over. 'Herc' swings a punch, which the man dodges. "You need to distract the opponent before trying such an obvious punch, kid," the bald man says, dropping to the mat and kicking 'Herc's' legs out from under him. "You've got good moves, but you have a lot to learn still..."
In the crowd, Salmoneus is watching excitedly. "Don't listen to him, Herc! He's trying to distract you!"
The man kicks 'Herc' in the stomach and rolls back. "I'm just giving the kid advice you should have given," he snarls back at Salmoneus. "Some trainer you are."
Hercules throws a roundhouse punch that takes the bald man off his feet. As he lands, he is already analyzing it. "Not bad, not bad, but you need to hold your fist so the back of your hand is even with your forearm..."
The crowd continues to cheer and jeer as the fight goes on. Autolycus suddenly slides up beside Salmoneus, who is startled.
"Hey there," Autolycus says with a grin. "Just wanted to thank you."
Salmoneus seems confused. "Thank me for what?"
"Well, seems you convinced Prince Ligongo that I was a menace, and needed to be run out of town..."
"But he didn't seem to... I mean, what makes you think I did any such thing?"
"I overheard Ligongo talking about it as he was sending goons to chase Terrail out into the woods. I had no idea how I was going to shake that little pest ,and you did it for me." He pats Salmoneus on the shoulder, and smiles wickedly. "Thanks for not telling Ligongo what I look like."
The crowd roars. "What did I miss?" Salmoneus says, turning back to the action.
"Hercules knocked Kor out cold," an elderly woman in front of him says. In the ring, the referee is holding 'Herc's' arm aloft as part of the audience cheers for the winner, and another part boos and hisses.
Salmoneus eagerly collects money from losing betters. Autolycus follows, and leans in close.
"Maybe it's time you tell me what's really going on here," Autolycus says. "Before I get all loose-lipped and sink your little gravy boat here."
Salmoneus looks back at him, glowering at first... then something dawns on him and he smiles. "Alright, but let me make a little business proposition to you...."
Autolycus is inside 'Herc's' tent. Salmoneus sits propped on the edge of a table, and 'Herc' stands next to him.
"You have GOT to be kidding," Autolycus says, rubbing his temple. "We'll get killed...."
Salmoneus and 'Herc' seem disappointed with this reaction.
"No, we won't," Salmoneus says, trying to sound reassuring. "It's very straight-forward. Those people out there don't know Silas isn't REALLY Hercules. I mean, just LOOK at him..."
Autolycus turns his gaze from Salmoneus to 'Hercules'/Silas, who flexes a muscle and poses heroically. Autolycus rolls his eyes. "Yes, he does look like Herc, but if he's not a demigod he's not going to be NEARLY as strong...."
"I've brawled in taverns from here to the Orient," Silas says cockily. "I know how to fight. And I'm plenty strong."
"All he has to do is keep winning fights, and we keep placing sidebets," Salmoneus says. "Plus, the publicity from 'Hercules' being here is sure to help draw more spectators, and I've made certain... arrangements with the concession stands to get even more dinars out of this. You hungry?"
A food stand. Falafel, the traveling chef, smiles a scraggy-toothed smile as Salmoneus, Silas and Autolycus approach. "Three specials, Falafel, if you please," Salmoneus says.
"Certainly, sir," Falafel says as he starts preparing food.
Salmoneus motions around them. "I've made deals with three-fourths of the booths here. 'Hercules' is seen eating there at least once, and business picks up. It's kind of an endorsement thing... for an extra 5 percent, they can even have him talk loudly about how wonderful the food is."
Falafel hands a gyro-like concoction to Autolycus, who takes a bite and winces. "I'd charge this guy extra for making you swallow the stuff," Autolycus says, spitting to get the taste off his tongue.
Silas starts eating away at his, not seeming to notice if it tastes bad. Autolycus cocks an eyebrow at this. "He's a sailor," Salmoneus whispers. "Six months of picking weavils off your biscuits, and anything will taste good by comparison."
As Silas feasts on two gyros and the remnants of Autolycus's largely-untouched third one, Autolycus and Salmoneus stroll away a few paces.
"There's something more to this," Autolycus whispers accusingly.
"Don't know what you mean," Salmoneus replies.
"You know this guy isn't going to beat all these warriors. I mean, both Caybrs are here, for Zeus' sake!"
"Even if we don't go to the top, we can make enough dinars from the elimination rounds. Anyhow, you'd be surprised how good a fighter Silas is."
"What's the deal with him, anyhow? Why does he look like Hercules?"
Salmoneus shrugs. "Who knows? He had a beard when I met him, but I got him to shave it and presto! Maybe he's a long-lost cousin or something. You know Herc's friend Iolaus?"
"I met him," Autolycus says, a bit guiltily.
"About a month back, I met this king who you would SWEAR was Iolaus's twin bro---"
"Who is this?" a woman interrupts. Autolycus turns... and finds himself having to look up.
She is 6'8" in her high-heeled boots, and would be 6'2" without them... a fiercely beautiful woman who could easily be an Amazon queen. She has flowing, curly black hair and dark green eyes. Much of her outfit is made of bronze, and is an ornate Valkrie-like costume that pushes her substantial cleavage to the forefront. On either side, she wears longswords in scabbards; her bronze headdress almost makes it look like she has horns.
"Ah...Otthild of the Northlands, this is Autolycus... a friend of mine."
"The 'King of Thieves' you were warning everyone against a few hours ago?" she says coldly.
Salmoneus is flustered. "Oh, no, no, no, no... I mean, yes, but no... You see, he's an old, dear friend of mine, and I was just playing a little prank!"
She looks at the two men suspiciously and turns away from them, moving off into the crowds and ignoring autograph-seekers.
"Wow," Autolycus says under his breath.
"I wouldn't try, if I were you," Salmoneus says. "Cross her once, and she'll cut your heart out... if you're lucky."
Autolycus keeps watching as she leaves. "It might just be worth it..." he says, then snaps out of his lustful daze. "But we were still talking about your little scam here. I don't buy it. You're playing some other angle, aren't you?"
"Don't know what you're talking about."
Ringside. Ligongo paces about, waving his fists in the air triumphantly as several men drag an unconscious Roman centurion out of the ring. Ligongo is escorted out of the ring... he obviously wanted to stay longer and bask in the cheers of his fans.
Silas climbs into the ring, leaning against the ropes in one corner. Autolycus and Salmoneus are below him, with a bucket, some towels and a stool for Silas to sit on. "Now, this one should be no problem for you," Salmoneus says. "He thinks a lot more of his skills than reality does."
In the other corner, Shenk climbs in and waves to the crowd.
"He uses those kicking maneuvers a lot," Salmoneus continues. "Just avoid those, and a few punches should lay him out."
"Sure thing, Sal," Silas says as the bell rings and he moves into the center of the ring.
As the fight progresses, Autolycus and Salmoneus watch on, their expressions changing as each opponent gets the upper hand on the other.
"That Shenk is a lot better than you told 'Herc' he would be," Autolycus whispers accusingly.
"Trying to increase the boy's confidence, what's so wrong with that?"
Above, them, Silas is slammed into the corner and slumps against the ropes.
"You're doing fine, kid," Salmoneus says, trying not to seem too much like he's lying. Silas staggers back into the fray.
"Look at that," Autolycus says disdainfully. "You're gonna get his head knocked off! He did fine in the early rounds, but these are the finals, and he's up against tougher competi---" A light goes off, figuratively speaking, over Autolycus's head. "You bastard!"
Salmoneus looks confused. "Huh?"
"He gets past the lower-level combatants easily, and everyone says 'Oh, that's because he's Hercules'.... then he enters the final rounds, and everyone wants to bet on the 'Son of Zeus'..."
"Don't know what you're talking about," Salmoneus says, a bit too defensively.
"So YOU bet against him, because you know he won't stand a chance against the likes of Prince Ligongo or either of the Caybrs...."
"Okay, okay, that WAS the original plan, but Sila... Hercules is pretty good! I think he really stands a chance!"
Autolycus crosses his arms. "Against Caybr the Elder? I wouldn't bet on a full-blooded god against him, let alone a demigod, let alone a demigod imperso--"
"Doesn't matter, he's already been eliminated."
"Caybr? The elder? You're joking."
"Nope. Bong-Cha, this woman from some land in the Far East, beat him. He wouldn't even defend himself."
Autolycus laughs. "Of course. Big old goat couldn't bring himself to hit a woman."
"And Caybr the Younger isn't AS tough, and most of the other competitors are getting tired."
"So is 'Herc' up there."
They look over. Silas has finally knocked Shenk unconscious.
"Told you," Salmoneus says cockily as he starts gathering money from betters.
Another round is underway. Autolycus stands at the corner of the tent, watching from afar. Caybr the Younger is in the ring with Luxian, who is in full feral mode.
"I wouldn'a be surrprised if tha' fella were a wairwulf," Caybr the Elder, standing beside Autolycus, comments.
"He IS pretty scary," Autolycus replies.
"I wouldn'a use any phrase wit' th' waird 'pretty' in it ta describe tha' beastie. I'm affeard he'll bite me boy an' give 'im rabies."
Suddenly, someone taps at Autolycus's shoulder. He turns. "Aw, no..."
"Hey, dude, long time no see," Terrail says. He is filthy, covered with grass stains, bits of greenery, and mud. "I thought those big dudes were gonna rip me a new---"
"Terrail, I have a mission for you," Autolycus says, interrupting him.
"Go find Kor of Lubomir. He's one of the greatest trainers on the continent, and I need to discuss Herc's fighting style with him."
"Sure thing, dude!" Terrail says, and runs off.
"Say, did'na Kor leave town after 'e lost 'is fight?"Caybr the Elder asks.
"Yep," Autolycus whispers, "But it'll take Terrail awhile to figure that out, and til then at least he's out of my hair."
Caybr laughs heartily and slaps Autolycus on the back, knocking the King of Thieves forward a few steps.
He regains his composure in time for another tap on the shoulder. "What is it now?" He starts, turning to see Salmoneus... who looks stricken. "What's wrong?"
"Come with me," Salmoneus says, panicky.
Autolycus waves bye to Caybr the Elder, who nods at him and then turns his attention to the ring. "A LEF' 'ook, boy!," he yells. "Hit th' bugger wit' a lef' 'ook!!!"
Silas's tent. Salmoneus is dragging Autolycus to the door. "Can't you just tell me what's going---" Autolycus's voice trails off as he looks inside the tent. There is Silas holding a wine flask. Two other flasks lay on the floor, emptied out, as are two small burlap sacks that once held cheese and crackers. He is singing happily, 'I'm a little goblin,' and raises the flask to toast Salmoneus and Autolycus. They look on in stunned disbelief.
A few moments later. Salmoneus and Autolycus pace back and forth. Silas continues to sing about goblins and swig the wine.
"His next round is in five minutes," Salmoneus stammers. "What will we do?"
Autolycus looks at Silas. "Lose," he replies.
"Not an option! The bets have already been placed! Hmm.... I have an idea!" Salmoneus darts past Silas and grabs one of the small sacks. "I should have known, you don't leave a sailor with free access to all the wine he can drink," Salmoneus mutters as he works at something. "There!" He holds up the sack, which he has cut two holes in.
"Swell, now when you put more cheese in it, it'll fall out the holes..." Autolycus starts, then pauses. "oh, No you don't!"
"No time to debate this!" Salmoneus says, throwing the sack over Autolycus's head and turning it til Autolycus's eyes can be seen through the two holes. "You look great."
Autolycus looks more like a man with a burlap sack over his head. The word 'Cheese' is upside down across his face, right below the eyeholes.
Salmoneus drags Autolycus out the tent door.
"Wait!" Silas calls. "Don'tchu want to hear more about-- hic!--- the goblin?"
The crowd mills about impatiently. "If the fight doesn't commence soon, we'll have to declare Prince Ligongo winner by default," the referee announces.
The tent flap is flung open, and Salmoneus races in. "Ladies and gentlemen!" He announces in a load voice, and the crowd turns, virtually in unison. "I give you... THE MASKED TERROR!!"
He hold Autolycus's arm in the air, and the crowd goes wild.
Autolycus tries to maintain his composure despite the fact that he's standing there with a burlap sack over his head.
Up in the ring, Ligongo grins and cracks his knuckles.
"This is most peculiar," The referee says. Salmoneus slips him a handful of dinars. "But the show must go on, so... Ladies and gentlemen, a last-minute substitution! Owing to... unexpected illness... Hercules will not be able to participate. In his place, the Masked Terror!"
The crowd cheers. Autolycus, up in the ring, turns harshly. "This isn't going to work! I'm a lover, not a fighter! And besides, the smell of cheese inside this sack is making me woozy."
"Just get out there and win," Salmoneus says, slapping him in the back. Autolycus walks uncertainly toward the center of the ring as the bell goes off. Ligongo sneers and lunges toward him.
Autolycus vaults over him, landing in a crouch, and then tries to head-butt Ligongo in the stomach. His opponent staggers back a step or two, then grins and brings his fists down hard on Autolycus's shoulders.
"Aaaah!" Autolycus cries out, then rolls aside to avoid another hit.
Ligongo lunges at him again, and Autolycus has to leap into the air to avoid him.
Autolycus lands on the ropes that line the fighting ring, and awkwardly maintains his balance on them.
"Noo!!" Salmoneus cries. "If you fall outside the ring, you lose automatically!"
Autolycus looks down and sees Ligongo moving toward him. The King of Thieves balances on the rope and runs along on it, dodging as the African prince tries to grab hold of him.
"This isn't fighting!" Ligongo protests. "He's just dodging!"
Autolycus flips back off the ropes and kicks Ligongo in the chest. "That better?" He rolls to one side as Ligongo, infuriated, races toward him.
Ligongo is strong, but can't seem to catch the spry thief. "Will... you... slow... down..." Ligongo cries out after a few moments, obviously winded.
"No, but it looks like you will," Autolycus taunts. The African prince growls and races at him. Autolycus falls to the mat, and lets Ligongo leap toward him.
Then, Autolycus kicks upwards, knocking Ligongo over the ropes and into the crowd.
The referee holds Autolycus's hand up. "The winner is... the Masked Terror!"
"He cheated!!!" Ligongo yells, climbing back into the ring.
"There can be no cheating," says a commanding voice from the tent door, "As long as there are no rules. And the only rule of the competition is, no weapons."
Salmoneus leans in to Autolycus and whispers, "That's Warlord Gebereal," in his ear.
Gebereal is lean and imposing, with a clenched jaw and steely eyes. His hair is worn short, and slate grey. A long scar across his throat is the only visible flaw on him.
"Well, it looks as if we have our semi-finalists now," Gebereal continues. "Tomorrow morning, Then Bong-Cha will face Otthild, and the Masked Terror will face Luxian.. then in the afternoon, the winner of each of those rounds will face one other... and the winner of that round will receive eight thousand dinars and a chance for eight more... if they can beat me tomorrow night." Gebereal sneers as the crowd murmurs over this new twist, and he turns and leaves the tent.
"So he's narrowing this down to the best fighter imaginable, and then going up against him... or her?" Autolycus says, stunned. "Gebereal looks tough, but not THAT tough. More of a strategist than a warrior, I'd guess... Salmoneus, are you listening?"
"Sixteen thousand dinars," Salmoneus says, his eyes glazed over with delight.
Dawn. Autolycus sits staring at his cheese-sack mask.
Terrail rushes up. "Dude! I never did find that guy Kor!"
"Never mind then," Autolycus says absently. "Turns out 'Hercules' is out of the fight after all."
"But I took his place."
"Cool! I mean, you told me how you beat that ogre and all, I'm sure you can kick whatever a--"
"Oh, shut up," Autolycus says irritably.
Behind him, the tent door opens. "I feel GREAT!" Silas says, stretching.
"Nothing like spending the night lying facefirst in a puddle of your own vomit," Autolycus grumbles.
"Don't be such a grouch!" Silas says, playfully grabbing Autolycus in a head lock and rubbing his knuckles on the top of Autolycus's head.
"Hey, don't hurt my partner," Terrail says.
Silas grins and grabs Terrail with the other arm, and has them in headlocks on either side of him. "It is SUCH a beautiful day!" Silas yells happily, then bounces the two men's heads into one another. They clunk together with a 'coconuts-bouncing-together' noise. Both men stumble back, dazed, as Silas laughs his head off.
"Who is making all this noise?" Salmoneus says sleepily, emerging from the tent and rubbing the crust out of his eyes. "Feeling better, I see."
"Absolutely," Silas says. "Ready to fight!"
"You can't. Autolycus has to. They're expecting 'The Masked Terror'."
"That's... okay..." Autolycus says, stumbling to his feet. "He can... wear the.... mask."
"But that body! No one'll believe it's the same man!"
"I WANT to fight," Silas protests.
"Let him... wear a poofy shirt or something...." Autolycus says. "So you can't see how many muscles he has. Anyhow, he's given me a concussion."
Salmoneus looks uncertain. "Okay, but he needs to train til fight time. Why don't you go scout out the competitors, see what they're doing?"
"I'd rather just curl up on the floor til the world stops spinning," Autolycus mutters.
"Well, I'd rather live in a castle and be waited on by naked nymphs. You can't always get what you want." Salmoneus leads Silas, who is practically bouncing off the walls (though there are no walls around), away. Autolycus looks down at Terrail, who is unconscious. "Lucky bastard," he says, then splashes cold water on his face.
Autolycus sneaks around the edge of a tent, glancing around. There is no sign of anyone. He turns, and almost runs into a short, pretty Asian woman.
"Oh, excuse me..." he stammers. "Just got... lost..."
The woman, Bong-Cha, smiles. "Really, now? You know, if I didn't know better, I'd swear you were Autolycus, the King of Thieves."
Autolycus tries to laugh this off. "What gives you that idea? Why, I'm just a passerby, a tourist come to watch the festivities...."
"You have that roguish charmer look that one would expect from a 'King of Thieves.' I was warned you'd be sneaking around trying to find my treasure," she says, practically cooing the words. "Let me tell you something.... " she leans in to whisper in his ear. Autolycus's eyes go wide... then wider... then practically pop out of his head as she continues whispering.
"Well, I can hardly refuse an offer like that, can I?" He says, straightening his jacket as he prepares to follow her into the tent. Suddenly, he is grabbed by the back of the jacket's neck. "Hey!"
He looks back to see 'Hercules' standing there.
"Not funny, Silas. Now scoot, you've got to practice and I've got... plans."
'Hercules' lifts Autolycus into the air, continuing to stare intently at him.
"Um... Silas? ..." Autolycus says uncertainly.
"Who's Silas?" Hercules asks.
Autolycus looks back at Bong-Cha. "This may take a few minutes, my dear," he says weakly.
Hercules drags Autolycus away from the tent and toward the edge of the woods.
"Talk," Herc says firmly.
"This con artist named Salmoneus..."
Hercules puts a hand to his forehead as if a migraine has suddenly developed.
".... has gotten a guy who looks just like you to compete in this 'ultimate fighter' competition." Autolycus continues.
"And you know Salmoneus from?"
"Just met him," Autolycus explains. "I figured you weren't the type to compete in these exhibition fights, and started trying to figure out what was going on. Salmoneus tried to pay me off by giving me a share of the profits..."
"And you took it," Herc finishes.
"No, no, I was continuing my undercover investi... you're not buying this, are you?"
Herc shakes his head 'no.'
"Okay, I was going to take the money. What's the harm?"
"I don't have time to debate this. I want this fighting stopped. If that imposter is going into the ring, he can do it under his own name."
Autolycus and Hercules striding toward the central tent, where a huge crowd has gathered. "And so I had to go in to the ring as 'The Masked Terror.' Fortunately, I won, so now Silas is wearing the mask and continuing."
"You beat Prince Ligongo? I'm impressed... though I'm sure you cheated."
"Whatever. But Silas isn't pretending to be you anymore. He's the Masked Terror now. Your reputation is safe from here on."
They walk into the tent. The Masked Terror is fighting a fierce battle with Luxian, who is practically foaming at the mouth.
Herc makes his way through the crowd, reluctantly shaking hands with a few patrons, as he makes his way to ringside. There, Salmoneus and Terrail cheer the Masked Terror on.
"How's he doing?" Hercules asks over Salmoneus's shoulder.
"Fine, fine," Salmoneus says. "He's a bit too hyper, but---" Salmoneus then does a double-take.
"Hi," Hercules says.
"Oh, Hercules!" Salmoneus breaks into a sweat. "Good to see you! How's it been?
"Oh, fine," Herc says. "Someone's been trashing my reputation, but other than that..."
"Sorry to hear that. Your brother again?" Salmoneus tries to force a smile.
Herc just glowers at him.
In the ring, The Masked Terror has managed to grab hold of the collar of Luxian's black leather vest and uses it to swing Luxian out over the rail and into the crowd. People scatter as the snarling warrior leaps to his feet, enraged.
"Hercules!" He sneers, turning his attention to the real Hercules. "I may have lost the fight on a technicality, but I get to prove I can beat you!" Luxian runs toward Herc, who stands there impassively. At the last second, Herc dodges to one side and brings up a fist that connects with Luxian's jaw with a bone-cracking noise. Everyone around winces as Luxian flies a few feet into the air, then lands on his back, out cold.
Hercules walks briskly with Salmoneus, Autolycus, Terrail and 'The Masked Terror' back to Salmoneus's tent.
"I wish I could say this was disappointing," Hercules says under his breath, "But I should have expected it from either of you."
"You're not talkin about me, are ya, dude?" Terrail asks.
"I don't even know who you are."
"And you don't want to know," Autolycus adds.
They get back to the tent. "Take that mask off," Hercules says.
"Fine with me," Silas replies. "The cheese smell is making me kind of woozy."
He pulls off the mask, and Hercules steps forward. It is like he is looking in a mirror. Silas has the same features, hair, everything. They slowly walk around each other, each examining the other carefully.
"I don't see the resemblance," Herc says, shaking his head.
He then sits down on a stool. "When I heard that I was fighting in a competition nearby, my first thought was that it was just some petty imposter using my name to make a quick dinar." He looks up at Salmoneus. "Funny how first impressions are usually right, eh?"
"Well, opportunity just... knocked..." Salmoneus says with a shrug.
"We still have another round, at the very least," Autolycus says. "So who's going to fight it?"
"I'm not joining this 'competition'," Hercules responds. "In fact, I'm taking 'Hercules's' portion of the proceeds and giving them to an orphanage that needs help." Salmoneus starts to protest, but thinks better of it when he catches Herc's dead-serious gaze.
"But if you help 'The Masked Terror' here win, there'll be more money for those orphans," Autolycus says slyly.
Hercules grunts derisively. "Well, I guess if he's going to fight anyhow, he may as well know what he's doing."
"While you guys are training, I'm going back to see how the second round went," Autolycus says.
"I'll go with ya, dude," Terrail says.
"Not if you know what's good for ya," Autolycus replies.
Autolycus arrives back at the tent just as the second fight has ended. Otthild is victorious, but shows no sign of joy at that fact. She is cold and sour as the referee holds her arm in the air.
Meanwhile, Bong-Cha's servants are helping her out of the ring. She is badly bruised, with both eyes swollen almost shut, but forces a smile as she sees Autolycus approach. "Wish we'd had our 'workout', big guy," she says, fighting pain. "I think I have some broken ribs now, so we couldn't..."
"Don't worry about it," Autolycus says with a grin, helping her down the steps. "Get better. We'll meet again... I promise."
He helps lead her out to her tent, then steps back as the servant girls start bandaging her. "Until then, my dear," He takes a bow, and she smiles as much as the pain will allow.
He turns, and finds himself face-to-face with an elderly man in colorful robes.
"By Zeus, you frightened me!" Autolycus says. "Pardon me, old man." He starts to step around the man.
"Beautiful young lady, don't you think?" The old man says with a grin.
"Sure. Who are you?"
"A spectator." The old man turns and walks off.
Autolycus watches him go. "Ohh-kay..." he says uncertainly, then heads on.
The big tent, later in that same day. Salmoneus is busy circulating and making bets with patrons. Hercules leans over to Autolycus. "I'm curious about one thing," Herc says. "You don't seem to be STEALING anything. Don't tell me you've turned over a new leaf?"
"Nah," Autolycus replies. "I just enjoy watching a good fight every now and then. And it's more fun when you're not the one in the ring."
"My friends!" Falafel calls out. His stand is in one of the doorways to the tent. "I am frying up something new I am sure you will enjoy!" He holds up a flat brownish-white round thing. "I call it a flatcake! Delicious!!"
"I think I'll pass," Hercules says, forcing a polite smile.
"Why don't I believe you?" Herc continues to Autolycus.
Autolycus shrugs. "Because I'm lying?"
"Herrculeees!" Comes a raspy voice behind them. They turn. It is the clench-teethed, blond warrior Autolycus saw in the ring with Silas when he first arrived. The man moves forward and embraces Herc, who is caught off guard. "I wanted to congraaatulate you on your vicctory!!" The man continues. "It was woooorthy battle!"
"Um... yes, I'm sure it was," Herc says, gently pushing the man away.
The bell rings, and their attention turns to the platform. The Masked Terror climbs into one corner, and Otthild waits ready in the other. They move forward, and circle each other.
"Here we go," Salmoneus says to Herc and Autolycus. "If he can win this one, eight thousand dinars, and a chance at---"
"Ahem," Herc interrupts, pointing to the ring. Salmoneus turns back to it.
The fight was short and none too sweet. Otthild has already clobbered the "Masked Terror," then continues pummeling him until the referees risk their lives to pull her away.
Salmoneus's face drops.
"It wasn't supposed to end like this," he whines.
They pick Silas's unconscious body off the mat and drag him off. "Let this be a lesson to you two," Herc scolds Autolycus and Salmoneus, who hang their heads like naughty schoolchildren...
"You've got to be kidding!" Muran whines. "All that buildup, and your man LOST?"
Autolycus grins. "Nah, just kidding. It really went like this..."
"Here we go," Salmoneus says to Herc and Autolycus. "If he can win this one, eight thousand dinars, and a chance at---"
"Ahem," Herc interrupts, pointing to the ring. Salmoneus turns back to it.
Otthild is chasing the 'Masked Terror' around the ring, and is doing one heck of a job of deflecting each blow he tries to deliver against her.
"He needs to work on his punches," Herc mumbles. "The back of his hand should be even with his forearm..."
Otthild kicks Silas's feet out from under him. As he falls to the mat, she reaches out and grabs the mask... revealing what to the crowd appears to be Hercules's face! They gasp, then some of the audience looks around to where the real Hercules stands.
"It's... a cousin?" Herc explains with a shrug.
"Identical cousins?" a thin middle-aged man questions, then remarks to his wife, "You could lose your mind...."
In the ring, Silas has used Otthild's momentary confusion to his advantage. He slings her against the ropes, but she bounces back and aims for him. He dodges, and she rolls past. They exchange punches.
"This is brutal," Herc says. "I have to put a stop to it..." He starts to move forward. A sword descends right in front of him.
"I wouldn't advise that," Warlord Gebereal says coldly. "The fight's not over."
"Oh, yes it is," says a voice from the ring. They turn, and see Silas standing triumphant over the unconscious Otthild.
"You made me miss it!" Gebereal hisses at Hercules. "If only there was some way to replay it."
Silas climbs out of the ring, aching in pain.
"I warned you about women, didn't I, boy?" says the old man in colorful robes who Autolycus met earlier. "If they're not breaking your heart, they're breaking your bones."
"Yes, I know, but I won..." Silas says, then notices that Salmoneus, Autolycus and Herc are approaching. "Father, I want you to meet---" Silas stops, looking around. "Father? Where'd you go?"
"Good work!" Salmoneus says, bouncing up and down gleefully.
Evening. The crowds are larger than ever before, and the town is lit up. The fight between Silas and Gebereal has just started.
"The warlord's doing better than I expected," Autolycus whispers.
"Never underestimate the little guy," Herc responds. "That's one of the first lessons I learned with Iolaus."
In the ring, Silas doubles over as Gebereal increases the intensity of his attack. It doesn't take long before Silas is staggering and obviously in trouble.
"Psst," comes a voice behind Autolycus. He glances back. It's the old man in the colorful robes. "Look at the mat."
Autolycus's brow furrows, and he turns back to the fight. "The mat?" He looks back at the old man. "What--- mat... where the Underworld did he go?" There is no sign of the man.
"Where did who go?" Herc asks.
"Never mind." Autolycus says.
Silas staggers forward into Gebereal's fist and then trips as he tries to dodge the warlord's attacks.
"He's making a lot of clumsy moves," Herc comments.
"Sure seems to be..." Autolycus starts, then his eyes widen. "Ah-ha!"
He runs away from ringside, to the surprise of Hercules and Salmoneus.
"Where are you--" Herc starts.
Autolycus runs to Falafel's booth, where Falafel is preparing some of his 'flat cakes' and boring the customer with details. "Now, you flip it in the pan to get it tender and ---hey!" Falafel is caught off-guard as Autolycus grabs a bag of flour off his stand. "I need that flour!" Falafel calls after him. Autolycus leaps up, landing on the shoulders of some patrons, who are shocked, to say the least. He bounds across several pairs of shoulders until he is closer to the ring, then flings the contents of the flour sack.
"Giddown!" Yells a burly man who brushes Autolycus's feet off his shoulders, causing the King of Thieves to land hard on the ground.
In the ring, the flour lands on Gebereal and Silas.... and a third figure, invisible to the naked eye until now.
"I hate cheaters," Herc says through gritted teeth as he grabs the ropes and pulls himself into the ring. While Silas fights Gebereal, Hercules takes on the formerly invisible warrior, and makes short work of him. After the figure has been knocked unconscious, Herc leans down and takes a helmet off its head... the unconscious form turns visible... it is Shenk.
Autolycus stumbles up next to Salmoneus.
"How did you know?" Salmoneus asks.
"A few clues. One, Silas was stumbling around like he was being tripped or pushed. Two, you could see slight indentations on the mat where the third fighter's feet were. And three... a little bird told me."
Silas takes hold of Gebereal's collar and lifts him. "Before we finish this, one question: Why?"
"I think I can guess," Herc says, joining his almost-twin and looking Gebereal square in the eyes. "You wanted to increase your reputation, and what better way than showing you can beat the mightiest warrior in the land? Am I close?"
Gebereal nods weakly.
Silas tosses Gebereal out of the ring, and the crowd parts so that he lands on the ground instead of hitting them.
"You're pathetic," Hercules says disdainfully.
"And you owe us 16,000 dinars," Salmoneus adds.
Gebereal stands, wincing. "Turon, bring the chest."
A soldier leans down and picks up a bronze chest about the size of a picnic basket, and lugs it over to his master.
Gebereal sneers. "I'll give you the dinars, but let me warn you... I never forget somone who has crossed me."
"Sorry, I missed the part after 'I'll give you the dinars'," Salmoneus says, practically drooling.
Hercules and Silas climb out of the ring, and Hercules glances around. "Where did Autolycus go?"
Gebereal unlocks the chest. Salmoneus eagerly throws it open, and cries "It's EMPTY!!"
Gebereal seems shocked.
Hercules smirks, and mutters "Why am I not surprised?"
Salmoneus's tent. Hercules is gathering his provisions.
"I can't believe it," Salmoneus grumbles. "How could you be friends with such a low-down, dirty, double-crossing thief?"
"I have a soft spot for scoundrels," Herc says, fighting not to smile.
"Don't fret it, old dude," Terrail says, patting Salmoneus on the shoulder. "Maybe we can travel together some."
"Oh, joy," Salmoneus says unhappily.
Hercules turns and shakes hands with Silas. "No offense, but I'd prefer if you'd go back to sea," Herc says. "Less chance for confusion that way."
"Now that you mention it, I am missing the life on the waves," Silas says. "Maybe I'll go back to that. Dry land is just too... steady for me."
As Silas watches Herc walk off, a figure comes up behind Silas. It is the old man in colorful robes. "What did I tell ya?" the old man says warmly.
"He does seem to be a great guy," Silas says. "So why didn't you let him know you were here?"
"He's not too happy with me," the old man says with a shrug. "Can't blame him. I figure I'll give him a few years to cool off." The old man punches Silas in the shoulder. "But YOU, you made me proud today! You've got fighting skills I never even suspected!"
"Thanks, father," Silas says, smiling.
A few hundred yards from the tent, Hercules shifts the bags he carries over his back. "These seem heavier than they should," he grumbles.
He drops the sacks and rummages through them for a moment, then comes up with an unfamiliar sack inside one sack that holds spare clothes. He opens it. Inside are dozens and dozens of hundred-dinar pieces, and a note. Herc pulls the note out and examines it.
"Half the treasure. For those orphans. ---A."
Hercules smiles, pulls his load together, and heads back down the road, whistling.
The campfire, late at night.
"So that was my first meeting with Salmoneus," Autolycus concludes.
"But he hated you for stealing the treasure," Muran protests. "How come he agreed to this dinar-laundering partnership?"
"That's a different story," Autolycus replies. "And I'm too tired to tell you tonight." He stretches and yawns.
"So did you ever meet Bong-Cha again?" Muran asks.
"Yes, and that's a different story too. But you won't be hearing that one anytime soon, kid. Not fit for little ears." Autolycus starts to cuddle up under a blanket.
Silence settles over them. Muran continues to stare at the embers in the fire.
After a few moments, Muran stirs. "Are you awake?" she aks.
"No," Autolycus says harshly, refusing to open his eyes.
"I was just thinking..." Muran says, contemplating... "Something you said may have triggered a memory... It's been so long ago, I can't be sure, but the rose tattoo you described on Bong-Cha..."... she gulps... "sounds like one I think my mother had."
Autolycus sits bolt-upright and stares at her in disbelief as we...
END CREDITS ROLL, then shrink back to tiny proportions.
VOICEOVER: On the next Autolycus...
(Autolycus swinging on a banner across a crowded street during a parade)
VO: An old rival...
(Autolycus on his knees, wincing in pain as he grabs at an arrow in his leg; in front of him, a handsome dark-haired man in brown leather kneels and smirks "Long time, no see..." The man is a few years younger than Autolycus and has long hair parted in the middle)
VO: A new challenge...
(Autolycus trying to shimmy along a windowsill, struggling as he tries to lift himself up to the window. He is drenched in sweat. We hear a voiceover from the same man we saw earlier: "The poison will kill you in 24 hours, 'old friend'... unless you can steal the antidote.")
VO: A desperate situation...
(Autolycus's grip on the windowsill gives way and he falls backwards; cut to Muran propping Autolycus up and saying "You're getting weaker!"; cut to a shot of the handome man smirking)
VO: Billy Zane guest-stars on the next all-new Autolycus: The King of Thieves!
(Muran helping Autolycus, who is soaked with sweat and seems wobbly, as they run through a hallway ducking behind pillars to avoid arrows fired at them).
VO: Coming soon...