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The Less Than Legendary Journeys http://www.rtis.com/nat/user/chimera/legends.htm
Home is the Hunter
by Martha Wilson
Author's Note: This story is a sequel to Home is Where the Heart Is and begins the day after that story ends. Thanks to Liz Sharpe for the title.
"Our timing is way off
"Look, I hate to wake you, but you have to get up."
Correctly interpreting that noise as a "no," Hercules persisted patiently, "I have to go into the village. Maug showed up and he's tearing the place apart."
"Mmmph mmmph." Iolaus rolled over in the warm nest of blankets and buried his head in the pillow.
"Yes, I'll tell him hello for you. But you have to be awake when I leave because Perseus will know who stole the shield by now. He'll be coming here to find Autolycus."
Iolaus managed to struggle a little closer to consciousness. He lifted his head just enough to say blearily, "Auto'll scream really loud when Perseus starts killing him so I'll have plenty of time to get out there."
"That's not what I'm worried about. Somebody needs to keep an eye on Jason in case Perseus shows up while I'm gone."
Iolaus moaned into the pillow, then managed to push himself up on his elbows. He squinted at the dim gray light leaking through the cracks in the shuttered window above the bed. "Why do you think Perseus is going to get here so early?"
"It's late afternoon." Hercules sounded smugly amused, as if he had been up bright and early while most of his friends had remained sprawled around the house in various states of incapacity. Which Iolaus knew he had. "I've got to go now. Are you really awake?"
"Yeah, yeah," Iolaus said. Hercules stayed long enough to watch Iolaus struggle out of the blankets, then left, grinning.
The room was still dark, the candles unlit and the fire on the hearth long gone out, and Iolaus had to fumble around on the floor looking for his clothes. He found his pants and vest, managed to pull them on, then located his boots by tripping over them.
Carrying the boots, he made it into the main room. Jason was sitting at the carved armchair near the round hearth, sharpening his sword. The former King of Corinth smiled with the cheerful condescension of someone else who had also gotten up early and was not handicapped by a pounding headache. "Get your beauty sleep?"
Iolaus grunted at him and dropped his boots. There was a water jug on the table and he poured a cup, drained it, poured another cup and sat down heavily on the bench near the table. The front door and the shutters were open, letting in gray daylight that was so dim a couple of the bowl-shaped oil lamps on the mantle had been lit. The cool air stirred the window coverings and carried the heavy green scent of wet earth and foliage and recent rain. For some reason the rain surprised Iolaus, though he couldn't think why. Rain was never a surprise in the spring. Maybe he had been in Egypt too long.
The silence in the house told him no one else was awake yet. Iphicles had returned to Corinth last night and Iolaus knew Xena and Gabrielle and Joxer had meant to leave today. Considering the condition the three of them had been in by the time they had all returned from the village tavern last night, it wasn't going to be a very pleasant trip.
Iolaus took a deep breath and blinked, feeling his head clearing already. He eyed the sword Jason was sharpening so carefully. Its hilt was set with dull red rubies that King Aeson had brought back years ago from one of his wars against the barbarians. Despite the ornamentation, it was the sword Jason chose when he was deadly serious. "What are you planning to do with that?"
"Might go hunting later." Jason sighted down the long blade, looking for nicks and dents.
"Oh." Iolaus nodded, leaning back against the table and resting his elbows on it. Hunting. With a sword. After it rained all morning. "Better take a shield too, if the deer are going to be fighting back."
Jason just grinned and Iolaus grinned back, thinking Well, now I know why Herc was worried. He couldn't tell if Jason was really planning what it looked like he was planning or not. He might simply be whiling away the rainy day by sharpening his favorite sword, and since he had company he might have decided to supplement the larder by hunting, despite the fact that the weather was less than ideal for it. Or he could be planning to kill Perseus. Iolaus rubbed his face wearily. He could already tell this was going to be one of those days. If he was going to have to stop Jason in battle rage, he needed to be more awake. Right now all he felt competent to do was throw himself down and hope Jason tripped over him.
"Speaking of shields," Jason began thoughtfully, "where's the Shield of Invisibility?"
"The Shield?" Iolaus said vaguely, looking out the door and scratching the stubble on his chin. If he's going to kill Perseus, of course he'll want that. It's the bait. "Uh...." In fact, he couldn't remember where it was. Let's see. Xena had handed it to him and wandered back to the house after Gabrielle, who had been sick into the bushes next to the goatshed. Iolaus had had to drag Autolycus out of the woods after the King of Thieves had decided to sleep face down in the creek.... I couldn't have been carrying it then. Oh, great, I must have left the Shield in the woods. Worse, he wasn't sure where. Iolaus sighed to himself, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He had to find it before some traveller did. He leaned down for his boots. "I think I'll go take a walk."
"Hmm?" Jason glanced up, brows lifted. "Don't you want to go hunting with me?"
"With what?" Iolaus said as he pulled his boots on. "I don't even have a sword to defend myself from the ferocious attack deer."
Jason's mouth quirked but there was a serious light in his eyes. "Sure you do." He set the sword aside and stood, going to one of the cabinets across the room. Iolaus trailed after him, puzzled. Jason opened the vine-carved door and the first thing Iolaus saw was his good hunting bow. Feeling like he had unexpectedly run into an old friend, he picked it up, the smooth wood familiar in his hand. It was still in good shape though the string had rotted. His sword was there too, standing against the side of the cabinet in its scabbard, and there were a couple of his old travel packs shoved into the back.
Jason leaned against the cabinet door and added casually, "Oh, and the forge is doing fine. I stopped by last month to pick up the rent from Darius and took a look around."
Iolaus set the bow down to pick up one of the packs. The blue and green blanket Alcmene had made for him was tucked into the top. He pulled it out and saw his battered water flask, a few fishing hooks, a spare knife, a couple of earrings he had gotten tired of, other odds and ends. He started to speak and found he had to swallow past the lump in his throat. He managed, "I'm just surprised...."
Jason sighed. "Iolaus, I haven't done anything about Alcmene's things yet and it's been a year."
Iolaus dropped the bag back into the cabinet. He frowned, trying to think of a way to ask what he needed to know. He said hesitantly, "People don't seem to remember. Even when we were in Corinth yesterday.... Nobody thought it was strange that I was...me." He looked up at Jason, his eyes intent.
"They don't remember, Iolaus. They don't remember Dahak. I'm not even sure I remember." Jason shook his head, frowning. "Parts of it are just a blur. I remember what happened afterward, but...." His expression turned grim. "I'm sure that's why Perseus' damn lies got spread so far. All most people around here know is that Hercules came back from Sumeria without you."
"Jason, we can take care of Perseus." Iolaus rubbed his forehead. And speaking of Perseus.... He needed to find that damn Shield. "I've got to go take care of something. I'll be back soon."
Iolaus stood outside in front of the garden for a moment, taking a deep breath. Salmoneus' covered wagon was still parked between the house and the barn, near the outdoor bread oven. The tarps were drawn tightly over the openings and muffled snoring came from within. The forest on the surrounding hills was a deep green band, as thick as a fortress wall. In the farmyard vines climbed the porch and the barn and other outbuildings and the rain had beat down the yellow grass in the fallow fields. So many familiar smells. Damp earth, the pines, wet foliage. I'm home, he thought. It was...unreal.
Trying to shake off the lingering effects of his hangover, Iolaus stopped by the water trough to fill a bucket and dump it over his head. He ran both hands through his hair and shook himself vigorously, than started down the path under the dripping trees for the woods. Sidestepping a muddy puddle, he rolled his shoulder to ease an ache that wasn't there. The long-familiar gesture made him stop in his tracks; he remembered why waking up to rain had surprised him.
Ever since Demetrios' brother Maceus had broken his right arm and Hera's first Enforcer had broken it again when it was only half-healed, Iolaus had been able to predict rain with only slightly less accuracy than the rainbow goddess Iris. He should have woken this morning with a stiff shoulder and a pain in his wrist.
He worked the shoulder, frowning. It hadn't felt this good in years. On impulse he turned into the garden, brushing past the flowering bushes heavy with water droplets. He found Alcmene's grave, unchanged except that the mound was a little more weathered, showing the buds of the spring flowers planted in it. It was easier to look at now, not raw and bare like the grave he had dug for her when Callisto had gone back in time to prevent Hercules' birth. With a sigh he nudged a few stones, dislodged by the heavy rain, back into place. He stood there a moment, knowing he should say something but not sure what. For a lot of reasons he was glad she hadn't been here to see the past few months. Iolaus tried to clear his mind, to think of a message to send to Alcmene in the Underworld, but the words wouldn't come. He shook his head. Maybe later.
He wandered around a little more, finding the old grave where Iphicles' father Amphitryon lay, but there was nothing else here. Huh. Iolaus planted his hands on his hips, frowning, looking out over the fields. On a sudden alarming thought he went around the back, to the yard between the house and the vegetable garden, where they put all the bandits, mercenaries, Blood Eyes and assorted Hera-created monsters who attacked the farm. He breathed a sigh of relief to see the ground hadn't been disturbed, but then that didn't answer his question.
The sky threatened rain again and the air felt like a wet blanket, but he looked in the vegetable garden, around the cowpond, behind all the outbuildings front and back, under the treefort and the shade trees along the path where Alcmene had liked to picnic, then quartered the fields close to the farm. After that he tackled the woods, starting with the places they had played in as kids.
He found the Shield of Invisibility near a stand of tall pines, beside the creek where he had dropped it last night. The burnished metal was muddy, but it had been forged by Hephaestus and hadn't even noticed the damp. Lost in his own thoughts, scraping the mud off the burnished surface with his gauntlet, he barely glanced up when Autolycus came flying through the air and slammed into a nearby tree.
The King of Thieves slid to the ground in a shower of wet leaves, then staggered away from the tree. Still red-eyed and bleary from last night, he groaned, "Oh, my head."
"'Morning, Autolycus," Iolaus said absently.
"Don't 'morning' me," Autolycus growled, unsteadily tugging on his grappling hook. It came loose and fell in a tangle of rope. He collected it and straightened up, clutching his back. "Just whose bright idea was it to take off all my clothes and put them back on inside out, hey? That's what I want to know. It took me forever to find all my tools, my disguises were all out of order -- this dashing outfit isn't just for looks, you know! It's a very sophisticated..." he gestured helplessly, wavering back and forth, "...thing."
"It was Xena's idea," Iolaus said, still preoccupied. He spared Autolycus a glance. His normal fastidious appearance was certainly in disarray.
While Autolycus stumbled around coiling up his rope, still muttering to himself, Iolaus looked upslope toward the tree-covered hills. Not anywhere around the house or yard. Not any of the obvious spots in the woods. In Corinth somewhere? Or maybe at the old house, next to Ania and the boys? Oh, he didn't take it to Thebes and let my relatives bury me next to my father, did he? It would be just like his cousins there to pull something like that too, sanctimoniously nodding to each other about family pride the whole time. Erythia had given up fighting a long time ago and wouldn't have objected, and his stepfather Pandeon might not have realized it was an issue. He turned impulsively to Autolycus. "Auto, were you at my funeral?"
Autolycus stopped picking the hay off his disheveled green tunic and folded his arms, looking away. "I wasn't invited. And as one of your dearest friends, I'll have you know I'm a little hurt."
Iolaus rubbed his forehead, trying to quell the return of his headache. "In the first place, you are not one of my dearest friends, and in the second place, I wasn't the one who sent out the invitations." He looked up, frustrated. "But I did have a funeral, right? Something? A grave, a pyre, a ditch with some leaves? What did they do with my body?"
Autolycus stared at him, brow furrowed in confusion. "As opposed to the one I'm talking to now?"
"Yeah, this is--" Iolaus ran a distracted hand through his hair. It was no big deal in Egypt; every time they had gone anywhere, someone had come up to tell him about their ancestor or cousin or aunt who had come back from the dead for whatever reason. Being buried someplace while you were out walking around was nothing unusual either; some of their most important gods were like that. "It's a long story, but yes."
"Ah, all right." Autolycus shook it off, then applied himself to the problem, stroking his goatee thoughtfully. "Well, you've got a monument -- it must be there."
"Where?" Iolaus demanded.
"Why, it's right up there on the road. Hey!" he called as Iolaus strode off into the undergrowth. "While we're on the subject, there's been something I've been meaning to ask you--"
"Autolycus, you just thought you saw it," Iolaus said impatiently as they walked the muddy track that led along the first line of heavily forested hills and eventually to Corinth. "Look, I'll explain later." He couldn't make head or tail of the story the thief kept trying to tell him about seeing Hercules and Iolaus after Iolaus was dead. It must be that Dahak-inspired confusion Jason had spoken of. If Autolycus had seen Dahak itself he was just lucky Dahak hadn't seen him; Iolaus had tried to bury the knowledge of his friends and family deep enough that Dahak couldn't reach it, but he wasn't sure how well he had succeeded. In Nebula's case, he had failed completely. He shook that uncomfortable thought off. "Where is this thing anyway?" He was beginning to think Autolycus had hallucinated this marker he kept talking about too.
"Hold your ponies, Curly, it's right up here, see?" Autolycus said in annoyance, pointing ahead impatiently as they rounded the bend. "Every where I went I kept hearing these rumors, really wild stuff see, and that was why--"
Iolaus stopped listening, halting in his tracks as he saw the dark stone marker near the side of the road. The tree branches arched over it, heavy and still dripping with rain. After a moment, he started forward again.
Reaching it, he circled around to the front. His face was carved there, his name under it. The new spring grass was just starting to grow back over the ground around the base.
He stood there a time, the light mist of rain dripping from his hair. Autolycus shifted uncomfortably beside him, scratched his chin, folded his arms, and finally said, "So that must be it, hey?"
"Yeah. I guess I'm under there." Iolaus lifted his arm, absently using the Shield of Invisibility to scratch his head. He wasn't sure why he had wanted to see this now; it hadn't been much of a revelation and he wasn't sure what he had been expecting. Something a lot more modest, surely. Being honored by statues was one thing, but this looked like the kind of monument put up as part of a shrine. A stele for a cult figure, not a person. More disconcertingly, a wilted handful of flowers lay at the base. Now that he looked, he could see the remains of others, buried in the mud the rain had stirred up.
He hoped they were just funerary offerings, left by friends from the village or travellers who hoped his shade might give them some protection on the road. Not.... Not people who wanted to offer to Dahak.... He shuddered, his empty stomach trying to turn in disgust at the thought.
"Weird, huh," Autolycus commented soberly, dropping a sympathetic arm around Iolaus' shoulders.
"Yeah," Iolaus agreed, shrugging to dislodge the arm. He was suddenly very aware that what was left of the body he had been born in, lost his virginity in, died four times in was under this marker, degraded and mauled by Dahak.
Iolaus looked up abruptly, hearing footsteps on the road. He relaxed when he realized it was only one man, walking briskly on the muddy track. He started to step back, meaning to head down the hill through the trees and not treat some passer-by to the sight of him standing at his own grave. But as the figure came into view, he found himself rooted to the spot.
Beside him Autolycus swore softly in astonishment and Iolaus' eyes widened.
That's...me... Same height, same build, the face that he saw in every pool of water, every burnished shield. But not quite the same. This man's hair was short and neat, his skin pale, and he was dressed in brown pants, low boots and a maroon shirt. He had a pack and a cloak slung over one shoulder, no weapons and he wasn't wearing a warrior's braces.
And as if the situation needed to be any stranger, the guy wasn't reacting to his or Autolycus' presence at all. Iolaus looked up at the thief and was reassured by his expression of growing incredulity. At least if he was hallucinating, he wasn't alone.
The man stopped a bare ten paces away, gazing solemnly at the monument. All right, that's it, Iolaus thought in exasperation. As he planted his hands on his hips and drew breath to speak, the stranger's head jerked toward him. His blue eyes widened, he gasped, took a step back, and fell like an unstrung puppet.
"What in the name of--" Autolycus began.
"Damned if I know." Iolaus stared down at the unconscious figure sprawled in the dirt. He started to lean over him, cursing when the Shield banged into his knee. "Oh no, it was this damn thing! He couldn't see us." He rolled his eyes in annoyance. Autolycus had been standing right at his side and the Shield had hidden both of them. When Iolaus had lowered his arm, it must have looked as if he had appeared out of thin air standing next to the grave. Great, Iolaus, that's just freaking great. And it's only your first full day back home, too. Now what'll you do for an encore? He pulled the Shield off his arm and shoved it toward Autolycus, then knelt at the man's side.
The thief accepted the Shield absently, peering curiously down at the stranger. "Well, that explains...that, anyway. Is he breathing?"
"Yeah, he's just out." Iolaus pried up the man's eyelids to check his pupils than probed gently under his head. "There's a rock under the mud here, I think he must have hit it when he fell." The curved scar above the stranger's right brow was easily visible under the short bangs. Iolaus blinked, startled, one hand moving involuntarily to trace the identical mark on his own forehead. Not just somebody who looks like me, but somebody who is me. "I know who this is," he whispered.
"Yeah? Then enlighten me, Blondie, 'cause I'm stumped."
"This is the Iolaus from the Sovereign's world. But what's he doing here?" Iolaus said, more to himself than Autolycus. He shook his head, baffled. It didn't make sense. "I'd better get him back to the house."
"The Sovereign? You mean that story didn't just come out of Gabrielle's wild imagination? Huh." Autolycus nodded wisely, straightening up. He gestured extravagantly. "Well, there we go. It was him I saw with Hercules that day." He gave Iolaus a triumphant poke in the shoulder. "Ha! I told you I wasn't nuts."
Iolaus looked up at him, started to disagree, then went still. After a moment he said quietly, "You were right."
"You bet I was right!" Then Autolycus blinked. "Oh. Oh. Ooh, uh, yeah." He added hastily, "But I'm sure it wasn't what it looked like. Not that it looked like anything. Of course, I didn't see very much. Not that there would have been if I had been there longer to see--"
"Autolycus." Grimly, Iolaus dragged the unconscious man over his shoulders and stood up. "Shut. Up."
"I have a friend...we back each
other up. It feels...odd not having him
It was so dark in the barn that Xena had to lead Argo out into the yard to finish saddling her. The gray daylight was enough to make her wince; her head pounded and she cursed herself for that last rhyton of wine last night. She vaguely remembered standing on top of a table in somebody's market stall, serenading an appreciative crowd from the tavern.
She had kicked Gabrielle and Joxer out of bed a little while ago though so far neither had managed to make it out into the farmyard. She had wanted to make Pallantium by sunset, but she had to admit there was no way they could manage that now. She squinted up at the sky. The clouds were low and threatening, promising more rain for this evening.
As she slung the saddle onto Argo's back she saw Iolaus and Autolycus coming down the path from the woods, Iolaus carrying something over his shoulder. Xena leaned down to adjust the cinch, then straightened up again, staring.
Xena was still staring when they passed the garden and approached her. Frowning, she asked, "Am I still drunk?"
"I wish I was," Iolaus told her grimly as he carried the unconscious man up onto the porch and into the house.
"Huh," Xena commented thoughtfully. Then if her eyes weren't deceiving her, there was only one other possibility.
Autolycus stopped beside Xena and Argo, an unfamiliar pack slung over his shoulder. "You'll never believe who that is," he said, smoothing his mustache confidently.
"Iolaus' double from the Sovereign's world," Xena said absently, watching the house with a faint frown. She raised her voice to call, "Gabrielle!"
Autolycus looked affronted. "You knew? Why am I always the last to know?" He folded his arms, looking away. "It's a conspiracy."
"Yeah, it's a conspiracy," Xena agreed laconically. "You're onto us now."
Gabrielle appeared in the doorway, carrying her bag and her staff, Jason escorting her with one hand on her elbow. "I'll just be out here," she was saying. As Jason turned back into the house, she stepped off the porch and crossed over to Xena and Argo. "I think Jason and Iolaus wanted to have a private conversation," she explained.
"Yeah." Xena nodded. She tried to hold back, but she wasn't made of stone. She leaned toward Gabrielle and asked in a low voice, "What happened?"
Gabrielle glanced at the house and replied in a whisper, "He fell and hit his head, up on the road. I don't think anyone knew he was coming here."
Autolycus, who had leaned close to hear too, stepped back and snorted derisively. "That's an understatement."
Xena had no idea what he meant, but she lowered her brows and gave him a hard stare, just on principle.
Iolaus came out of the house, his expression intensely preoccupied. He scuffed one boot in the dirt, then noticed his audience and walked over reluctantly.
"You okay?" Gabrielle put her hand on his arm, watching him worriedly.
Iolaus nodded sharply. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just...startled."
Xena eyed him for a moment. He didn't look fine. She jerked her head toward the house. "So that was the other guy."
Iolaus stared at her. "You knew about that?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Everybody knows."
He let out his breath and planted his hands on his hips. He said dryly, "Not everybody."
Xena's brows lifted. "You're kidding."
"You didn't know?" Gabrielle echoed. She and Xena exchanged an incredulous look.
Behind Iolaus, Xena saw Autolycus about to go through the stranger's pack. Iolaus followed her gaze and whipped around to confront the King of Thieves. Before he could say anything Autolycus spotted his grim expression, yelped and tossed him the pack.
Autolycus looked from Iolaus to Xena, then slipped the Shield onto his arm and disappeared. Iolaus stood there a moment, then said, "You know what? That's someone else's problem." He put the pack down on the porch and turned back to the two women. "Look, I've got to...." He made a vague gesture away from the farm.
Xena started to step toward him but sensed him pull away. She settled for giving his shoulder a quick squeeze. "Go ahead," she urged him. "We'll be in Pallantium."
"We'll never make Pallantium by dark," Gabrielle told her reprovingly, stepping close to hug Iolaus and not giving him a chance to avoid her.
Watching him go, Argo snorted and tossed her head. Xena ran her fingers through the mare's mane and sighed in agreement. Part of her -- the part that didn't know when to keep its mouth shut -- was tempted to weigh in and help settle this. But she had learned, even before the walls around her heart had broken, that interfering in Hercules and Iolaus' relationship was a quick trip to Tartarus. Giving them a common enemy to unite against might speed things up, but they would settle it on their own soon enough. And besides, she had had a shitty year herself and didn't need to make it worse by spending a day with two friends yelling at her.
"He's really upset," Gabrielle said softly, still concerned. "I wish--"
Autolycus popped back into visibility suddenly beside them. Gabrielle sighed in annoyance and Xena rolled her eyes.
"This is gonna be bloody," Autolycus predicted wisely. He hefted the Shield on his arm. "I got dibs on invisibility. The rest of you will just have to take your chances."
"Autolycus," Gabrielle said reprovingly.
The King of Thieves dropped an arm over her shoulders for a reassuring squeeze. "Oh, don't worry, honey, they won't hit you," he said kindly. "Just don't get too close."
"Autolycus..." Gabrielle said, this time through gritted teeth.
That's it, Xena thought. Maybe if they left and Autolycus lost half his audience, he would take himself off too. She checked Argo's girth again and told Gabrielle, "We're leaving."
The younger woman shook her head, frowning thoughtfully. "I think we should stay and help."
"They don't want help," Xena explained patiently. She turned toward the house to call, "Joxer! We're leaving!"
"I'll talk to Iolaus and you talk to Hercules--" Gabrielle began. "No, they'll expect that. Maybe we should do it the other way around. What do you think?"
"I think we're leaving. Joxer!"
Joxer hurried out of the house, his battered helmet tucked under his arm. "Isn't Jason going to kill Perseus? I wanted to see that. Gabby could write a scroll about it."
"Nobody's killing anybody," Xena told him. "Get moving."
"Joxer." Gabrielle turned to him earnestly. "Don't you think we should stay and help Iolaus and Hercules work this out?"
Joxer looked down at her in disbelief. "Yeah, right," he snorted.
Gabrielle shook her head, turning back to Xena. "I don't think Iolaus was that mad."
Xena turned impatiently to her. "So if you died and I found another version of you to travel with me, who looked exactly like you but she was utterly useless in a fight and couldn't write a scroll or tell a tale worth a damn, and then you came back to life and found out about it on your own, after I had every opportunity to tell you and didn't, you'd be perfectly okay with it?"
"If that happens, I'm not carrying her stuff," Joxer muttered darkly.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and leaned on her staff. She said deliberately, "I would understand what you had been going through, and realize that this was just an expression of your pain over losing me." She thought about it for a moment, staring off across the muddy fields with narrowed eyes. She nodded to herself and shrugged. "Then I'd kill you."
"That's what I thought. Let's go." Xena gave Joxer a slap on the butt to get him moving, then swung up into the saddle.
Hercules jogged down the forest path, the woods shadowed by the gray clouds overhead. He was hoping to get back to the house before the heavy rain started. His shoulders still ached from Maug's parting hug, but at least the ogre had calmed down and would probably stay away from the village for another month or so.
It was just another reminder of the responsibilities he had abandoned for his fruitless wanderings in Eire and Norseland. He wished he could attribute that long detour into self-pity to Dahak, but he had only himself to blame. If he had remained in Sumeria or returned directly to Greece, he might have realized that Dahak had trapped Iolaus sooner, might have prevented.... He shook his head with an impatient sigh. There wasn't any point in going over it all again.
When he reached the place where the path turned down the hill to wind through the last stretch of woods, he was surprised to see Salmoneus pacing under the dripping trees. The merchant's blue and gold patterned robes were as bright as a bird's plumage against the deep green of the shadowed forest.
Worried, Hercules called, "Salmoneus, something wrong? Not Perseus...."
"No, no, not him." Salmoneus folded his arms, tapping one sandalled foot on the muddy path. "Guess what we all found out?"
Hercules halted near him, puzzled by his grim expression. "What?"
"Well," Salmoneus said deliberately, "apparently, there's two Iolauses--"
Hercules' jaw dropped. "Oh no."
"--but it's not hard to tell them apart, because one has short hair, and the other is really pissed off at you."
Hercules grimaced, looking past Salmoneus toward the trees that blocked the view of the farm from here. "Oh, no."
Salmoneus threw his arms in the air. "And I have a question: What! Were! You! Thinking!?"
Hercules rubbed his forehead. "Salmoneus--"
The merchant paced back and forth, gesturing in agitation. "I can't believe you did this. Did you give no thought to me? How is this going to look in your biography?"
"Salmoneus, I didn't-- It wasn't-- I had to save his life, I couldn't leave--" Hercules halted in exasperation. "Why am I explaining this to you?"
Salmoneus planted his hands on his hips. "Because you need practice for explaining it to somebody else?"
Hercules stared at him a moment. "Good point."
"Well if that's all it was then why didn't you tell me? And Iolaus?" Salmoneus demanded a few moments later as they were walking up through the field toward the farm.
"You weren't here. And I didn't tell Iolaus because--" Hercules broke off as he saw the other Iolaus step out onto the porch of the house and look around.
It struck him immediately how different this man was from his Iolaus. It wasn't just that he had cut his hair in the time since Hercules had seen him last; it was the way he stood, the way he held himself. And though the two were exactly the same age to the heartbeat the man standing on the porch looked at least a good ten years older.
The first night after they had come back through the portal from the Sovereign's world had been awkward. They had spent it in the shelter of a shallow cave with rain pouring outside and the dark rumble of thunder in the distance. Hercules had lain awake, turning over the same bitter regrets, falling into disturbed sleep only to be woken by unpleasant dreams and the realization that this was going to be much harder than he had thought.
He badly wanted to help the other Iolaus, but he wasn't sure if this was the right solution. If the man would be able to find a life in this world. It had to be just as hard for him to trust himself to the double of the man who had tortured him for most of his life. Hercules stirred uneasily. Looking across the cave, he could see the man shivering in his sleep, cold because he had picked a place too far from the fire. Hercules knew better by now than to go over to take him the extra blanket. You'll make it work. For Iolaus' sake. Both of them, he told himself. It would be a little easier if he could tactfully talk the man into finding some decent clothes. It was the hat that Hercules mainly found it hard to look at. The hat and the shoes. Those just couldn't be comfortable....
Hercules shook the unhappy memory off now as he crossed the farmyard to the porch. In a way he was glad the man had shown up; he had left Hercules early one morning, saying goodbye only in a note. Maybe the fact that he had returned meant he had adjusted more to this world and that he was willing to trust Hercules a little further now. "Uh, hi," he said.
Iolaus looked up at him a little uncomfortably, giving him an apologetic smile. "I came at a bad time."
"No, I..." Hercules gestured vaguely, "this is all my fault."
"I'm glad we all agree on that," Salmoneus put in.
Hercules resolutely ignored him. "Where's...?"
The other man had no need to ask who he meant. He winced. "He went somewhere."
Oh, that's not good. Hercules tapped his fingers on his belt thoughtfully. "Did he look...upset?"
"I don't know, I was unconscious."
Hercules shook his head slightly, baffled. "Why were you unconscious?"
"Apparently there's a Shield of Invisibility and it was just the wildest coincidence--"
Listening to the story, Hercules tried not to wince. And he found the marker. Great. He had meant to tell Iolaus about that this morning, maybe take him up there to show it to him and talk about what they should do with it now. Hercules looked away into the dense forest on the hills above the farm, frowning. It was hard enough to track Iolaus when he didn't want to be found; if he had the Shield of Invisibility Hercules had no hope of finding him at all. "Did he take the Shield with him?"
"No, Autolycus has it," Salmoneus answered. The merchant was hovering nearby, not even bothering to pretend not to listen. "And don't ask where he is because we don't know, he's invisible."
Oh, that's just great . Hercules took a deep breath. "All right. I'll...deal with that later." He managed to smile reassuringly down at Iolaus. "Excuse me, I need to talk to Jason for a moment."
He stepped into the house and found Jason in front of the hearth, building up the fire.
Holding on to his patience with some difficulty, Hercules asked, "Jason, why didn't you explain to Iolaus?" He kept his voice low and even, mindful that the other Iolaus was just outside with Salmoneus and any display of even mild annoyance on Hercules' part tended to stir bad memories for him.
Jason, to his credit, didn't bother to say "which one?" He glanced up at him, keeping his expression neutral. "I'm not your apologist, Hercules--"
"--and I can't explain something I didn't understand myself," he finished, getting to his feet and dusting off his hands.
Hercules shook his head, frustrated. "I told you what happened--"
"You told me where he came from," Jason interrupted.
Hercules stared at him for a long moment. "I didn't tell you what happened."
"Not really, no," Jason said patiently, folding his arms.
Hercules took a deep breath, looking away. He ran a hand through his hair, shaking his head ruefully, then turned back. "Sorry, Jason. I should have talked to you more at the time." He gestured helplessly. "Do you know where he went?"
Jason let out his breath and the set of his shoulders relaxed. "He went for a walk, Hercules. Don't follow him. Just give him some time."
Hercules pressed his lips together, staring absently at the door. The fact that Iolaus hadn't stayed to tell him just how angry he was suggested he was very angry indeed. Hercules badly wanted to find him right now and explain, but if he needed time.... He nodded reluctantly. "All right."
Iolaus didn't realize how long it had been until he pushed past a low-hanging branch and the leaves heavy with water brushed his face. He jumped, startled. It was growing dark, the sun setting somewhere behind the heavy gray clouds above the hills, and the wind had turned cold.
I drifted off, Iolaus thought, looking around. He was in the forested hills above the farm, on the narrow path that wound up the west side. He had been trying so hard not to think he must have put himself into a light meditative state, and a few hours had gone by without his noticing. He ran a hand through his dripping hair. He had meant to take some time to collect himself, not disappear for the rest of the day. Hercules would be wondering where he was. Oh, great. Yeah, you needed to make a bigger spectacle of yourself.
Iolaus started back down the path, cursing under his breath. It was raining lightly and the clouds he could see through the trees were dark and heavy. And his stomach was empty.
It was quiet, just the wind moving through the tall pines and the tap of raindrops on leaves. Iolaus realized this was the first time he had really been alone since he had come back to life. Anaket's household had been far larger and more active than Kheper's; there had been her friends and relatives and servants and the servants' friends and relatives. And with the celebration of the Pharaoh's return to life and Wahankh's defeat, the city had been one continuous party.
No, that wasn't quite right. That first night at Kheper's house, late, after everyone else was asleep, he had walked out in one of the hot moonlit courts. He had been afraid to go to sleep. He still hadn't been able to remember much of what happened while he had been dead, but he did remember that for a long time whenever something had changed, things had gotten worse.
A lot worse. He had been afraid that if he went to sleep he would wake up somewhere else, somewhere he didn't want to be. The feeling had receded with every morning that he woke since then, but it still lurked in the back of his mind.
Stop that. Just stop it right now, he told himself firmly, ducking under a branch.
The heavy rain started before he made it out of the woods, taking the rest of the fading gray daylight with it. As the path came out of the trees at the last hill, he could see the house past the dark bulk of the barn, warm light escaping through the shutters, lamps burning on the porch. He paused, realizing he was breathing hard, vastly relieved and not sure why. What did you expect to see? he thought, then decided he didn't want the answer.
Hurrying, he missed the muddy patch where the path turned, slipped, hit the ground and slid down the rest of the way, coming to a stop in a prickly bush. Cursing, he untangled himself, kicked the bush, and stamped across the field.
Iolaus stopped on the porch, vainly trying to scrape his boots off on the boards. Mud and water dripped off his clothes; he considered lying down in the horse trough in the barn but Salmoneus' mules would need clean water. He sighed and shoved the hair out of his face and eyed the partly open door. He could hear Jason shifting in a chair and coughing, and knew they had probably heard him out here cursing and bumping around. Right. He took a deep breath and pushed the door open.
Jason, Salmoneus, and -- Iolaus -- were sitting at the table. Iolaus nodded to the first two men, then forced himself to make eye contact with the third. "Sorry about earlier today," he said.
"That's all right," the other man said hastily, self-consciously. "They explained about the Shield. I...didn't know you were alive and it was just a surprise."
"Yeah, well...." Iolaus took a sharp breath and scratched the back of his head, searching desperately for something else to say.
Salmoneus got up and bustled around the table, saying, "You okay? You look awful."
Iolaus smiled, grateful for the break in the awkward moment and the chance to escape. "Yeah, I know. I'm going to go clean up."
He reached the room he and Hercules were sharing and stirred up the banked fire in the hearth. He was chilled from the wet night and angry at himself for being so unnerved. He glanced around and saw somebody had moved his things in here from the cabinet in the outer room. His sword and bow stood propped in the corner and his old travel packs lay atop an oak chest carved with grape and laurel leaves. He noticed Hercules' pack still sat in the chair where it had been this morning.
Jason stepped in, pulling the door closed behind him. He dumped an armload of drying cloths on the little table and regarded Iolaus seriously. "You okay?"
"Sure." Iolaus nodded firmly, dropping the poker back on the hearth and sitting on the floor to wrestle off his boots. "I slipped in the mud and was attacked by a bush, no big deal. Where's Herc?"
Jason studied him a moment. He sat down on the bed, absently smoothing a hand over the blue and black patterned blanket of Alcmene's weaving. "He went out when it got dark, claiming he wanted to take a walk."
"Damn," Iolaus muttered, pulling his first boot off. Water ran out of it into the muddy pool that was already forming around him on the stone flags. "I lost track of time, I didn't mean to.... Damn."
Jason waited as if he expected Iolaus to say something more, then nodded toward the front room. "He's been living in Athens. He heard the rumors that moron Perseus started and came here to see if he could help, if we needed somebody who was with Hercules around that time to attest to what really happened."
"Oh?" Iolaus busied himself with a broken lace. "So he's really okay about this morning?"
"Oh yeah, he's fine. Well, he's jumpy, but he's got reason to be. I take it the farm didn't exactly look like this where he comes from. And I've managed not to ask what kind of psychotic warlord my double is in his world. Salmoneus has been helpful; I'm going to ask if Iphicles needs a good interrogator in the Corinthian army; that man could get conversation out of anybody. And Autolycus has been appearing and disappearing randomly around the place; we've all just been ignoring him." He hesitated, his face troubled. "Iolaus-"
Iolaus looked up inquiringly, keeping his expression casual. "What?"
Jason watched him a moment, then shook his head in resignation. "Never mind." He tossed Iolaus a towel, getting to his feet. "I'll scare up some dinner for you."
Iolaus set his boots aside. He was feeling like he had already caused enough trouble for everybody today. "Don't bother, I'm not hungry."
"Yeah." He laughed at Jason's surprised expression.
Still shaking his head, Jason stepped out, closing the door behind him.
Iolaus took a deep breath, rubbing his face. After a moment he got to his feet, stripping off his wet clothes and draping them over the bench near the fire. Vigorous work with several towels removed the mud from his hair and chilled skin. Finally he was clean enough to dig into the chest at the foot of the bed for something to wear. As he hoped, his old clothes were still there. He pulled out a faded shirt but a pair of pants stubbornly failed to surface. Incredulous, he sorted through disintegrating boots, a threadbare himation, an old leather vest that something with large teeth had bitten chunks out of and other assorted items, but nothing like a pair of pants. He sat back on his heels, shaking his head in disbelief. I can't believe I don't have another pair of pants. He couldn't blame it on being dead, either. These were the same clothes that had been in here since before they had left for Sumeria.
Swearing under his breath, he dragged out an old faded blue tunic and stood up to pull it on. Looking down at himself, he rolled his eyes. Part of the hem was ragged and didn't come near as close to his knees as it should; he remembered having to tear off a hunk of it to staunch a wound. Yeah, tonight I need to look like a Nemean rent boy who can't get clients.
He mopped up the puddles on the floor, thinking guiltily of what Alcmene would say if she was here. Finally admitting that what she would say was that he was stalling, he ran his hands through his damp hair and took a deep breath. Well, here we go again.
He wandered out into the main room, trying to look like this was just a normal evening. Jason glanced up, registered the outfit and started to grin. Iolaus threw him a dark look that plainly said that blood would be shed if this became an issue. Jason's expression immediately sobered.
Salmoneus had been talking about something to do with their friend Atalanta and broke off to tell Iolaus, "Nice legs."
"Thanks," Iolaus said dryly. He sat down on the bench near the hearth, glad his still damp condition gave him an excuse, so it didn't look like he had chosen a seat as far away from the other Iolaus as possible.
The man was looking at him with an oddly tentative expression, as if he wanted to say something but couldn't quite bring himself to. Iolaus found himself ducking his head to avoid the man's eyes. Before he could gather his wits and think of something to say himself, a familiar step on the porch made him look up sharply.
Hercules halted in the open doorway, staring at him. He was dripping wet and his boots were muddy, though it didn't look like he had rolled down the hill too. After an instant he shook his head slightly and said mildly, "There you are."
"Yeah." Iolaus sat up, taking a deep breath. "Sorry."
Hercules concentrated on scraping his boots off on the wood outside the door. "Oh, no, I uh...wanted to take a walk anyway." A rumble of thunder underlined the inanity of that statement and the demigod winced a little.
"Oh, yeah, well." Iolaus looked away, scratching his head. He couldn't help flicking a quick glance at the other Iolaus. He was trying not to watch them but doing it anyway and he had tensed noticeably. What's he so nervous about, Iolaus wondered. Then he shook his head at himself. Oh Tartarus, if you spent your whole life as the Sovereign's animate toy, you'd be nervous all the time too.
Hercules was looking around absently. He noticed the other Iolaus' tension and smiled reassuringly. Iolaus found himself studying the stains on the old hearthstone. Stop it, he told himself. You have no right to complain. You're lucky to be here at all, he told himself fiercely. He looked up suddenly to find Hercules standing over him. The demigod said, "Ah, we really need to talk."
Suddenly Iolaus really, really didn't want to have this conversation. He had been unconsciously avoiding it all afternoon. He shook his head, getting to his feet, remembering just in time to tug the tunic down in front. "Actually, Herc, I'm kind of tired...."
"I think we really need to--"
"No, really we don't--"
"Iolaus, I have to talk to you--"
"No, you don't--"
"Yes, I do--"
"NO!" Iolaus stepped closer to Hercules, lifting his chin, all his uncertainty giving way to fury. "What do you care what I think? You've got your property back, isn't that all that matters?"
"What?" Baffled and angry, Hercules stared at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Isn't that what you told the Sumerian Death God? It had something that belonged to you?"
"I...didn't...know you heard that." Flustered, Hercules made an attempt to take the high ground. "That's not the point--"
"Isn't it?" Iolaus insisted, still too irate to think about what he was saying or where it had come from. "Was that what it was? You didn't want another god taking your toys?"
"Of course not!" Hercules gestured angrily.
"So if I wanted to leave here tomorrow, leave you, you'd let me walk out that door?"
"You know I would!"
"And you wouldn't follow me?"
"I--" Hercules turned abruptly and made for the door. "I can't talk to you if you're going to act like this."
"Well that was kind of the point, Hercules. What part of 'I don't want to talk' did you not understand?" Iolaus followed him to the door, shouting after him as the demigod stalked off into the rainy night, "Oh, and could you have buried me any further from the house? Was the cranberry bog too crowded?"
Suddenly aware of the stunned silence in the room behind him, Iolaus turned and the first face his eyes fell on was his own.
The man had pushed back from the table a little, as if bracing to dodge for cover. Seeing that mix of fear and incredulity on his own features stopped him dead in his tracks.
His anger disappeared as quickly as it had surfaced. Iolaus tore his gaze away from his double's arrested expression and stamped down the hallway to the back of the house. He flung out the back door onto the raised porch and dropped down on the bench, burying his face in his hands. I can't believe you did that. You and your big mouth.
Jason stepped out the door and sat down next to him, stretching out his legs to prop his boots on the wet mud-splattered boards. After a moment he said, "Salmoneus owes me five dinars."
"Oh?" Iolaus looked up, resting his forearms on his knees.
"We were betting on who would storm off first and end up sleeping in the barn tonight." Jason stretched and cracked his knuckles. "I remembered that time I had to practically drag you off the battlement at the siege of Megara and figured you just wouldn't be able to give up the ground no matter how mad you were."
"Great." Iolaus propped his chin in his hand. That he had blown up in front of Jason and Salmoneus didn't bother him as much as losing his temper in front of the other Iolaus. I'm one of the only people here who know what his world was like, what he had to deal with; I don't need to be causing him anymore grief. "So I guess that scared him pretty bad, huh?" he said ruefully.
"Sure did," Jason chuckled. Then he blinked. "Oh, you meant Iolaus. Actually, I think that did him some good." He paused thoughtfully. "Hearing Hercules say that you weren't with him against your will, that you were his partner and not his slave, that's one thing. Seeing you tell Hercules off is another. We'll set aside the incongruity of saying Hercules thinks he owns you and then chasing him out of his mother's house."
Iolaus winced. "I shouldn't have said that--"
"Probably not, but I got quite a kick out of it. No, I think that may have been one of the things Iolaus needed to find out for certain, whether he realized it or not."
"Maybe." Iolaus looked out at the dark fields. "The Sovereign.... You don't get over a lifetime of that in a few days, that's for sure." He looked back at Jason. "You and Herc been fighting?"
"Ah, not...too much." Jason shifted uncomfortably. "Things were a little strained. Well, a lot strained. I don't know about Hercules being the perfect blend of man and god. Personally I couldn't see it from where I was sitting. I guess if you don't have to live with him...."
Iolaus snorted wryly.
Jason grinned, then sobered. "I felt like I couldn't reach him. It was as if he was only pretending to be there, just going through the motions. Even for Morrigan. He did tell you about Morrigan, didn't he?"
"Yeah, he met her in Eire. He said he asked her to stay here with him, but it didn't work out." He thought about it, frowning. He had thought the relationship was a good sign, showing that things hadn't been too bad for Hercules while Dahak had been on the rampage. But now he realized that Hercules had talked about Morrigan, but not much else. "What was he doing in Eire, anyway?"
"I don't know. He just headed out in Nebula's ship, got caught in some storms, went aground somewhere."
Iolaus lifted his brows. "He sailed from Sumeria to Eire by accident?" He wasn't sure of the exact geography, but it sounded improbable at best. For Hercules, it sounded impossible. "Then beached Nebula's ship?"
"I think he was trying to kill himself, but he was just too damn good a sailor to let the boat sink. Anyway, he almost pretended himself into a marriage with Morrigan. Lucky for both of them it didn't happen." Jason leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees and looking down at the wet boards. "In some ways, I feel like yesterday was the first time I've actually spoken to the real Hercules since you two left for Sumeria. Iolaus," he hesitated, "what you said he told that Sumerian Death God...he was out of his mind."
"I know." Iolaus shook his head impatiently. "I know he didn't mean it--"
"No, you were right, he probably did mean it at the time, but I talked to Nebula, and I think he was out of his mind, literally. Like after Deineira and the kids." The bench creaked as Jason shifted. "You know, Alcmene used to talk about the day he came here after it happened. She said he just sat there and calmly told her his plan to destroy all of Hera's temples, and she just couldn't reach him, it was like talking to a statue."
Iolaus wet his lips, thinking about it. He shook his head. "Maybe I should just get out of here, go over to my old place. Darius is just using the forge, right?"
"Why?" Jason sounded startled.
The long wet walk with nothing but the cold empty house at the end of it was not attractive, but maybe it was better than being here, feeling out of place and causing all this turmoil. Iolaus said firmly, "Because I've caused him enough problems. I'll come back in a couple days when things settle down." He started to stand.
Jason's hand on his shoulder halted him. "Iolaus, don't be an idiot," he said, exasperated, tugging him back down on the bench. "Look, I just know he needs you. You, not your double."
"That's not it, I'm not mad about that. That's not what this is about," Iolaus protested.
Frustratingly, Jason ignored that, continuing, "When he showed up with Iolaus, he was better, trying harder, but he still wasn't himself. I think he could have held it together, but...I just can't shake the feeling that doing the things he has to do, while he felt like that, was just a disaster waiting to happen."
Iolaus subsided unwillingly, but sat quietly for a while, watching the raindrops collect in pools, the reflected light from the flickering lamps inside the house making them gleam. "Kheper said that gods are what their people think they are," he said finally.
Jason nodded. "Maybe that's true. I've always thought it's the god half that makes him vulnerable, not the human half."
Salmoneus appeared in the doorway, carrying a clay hand lamp. "Hey, guys. Are you still mad?" he asked Iolaus, then waved a hand conspiratorially. "Never mind, I'll tell him you're still mad."
"Salmoneus, don't--" The merchant had already bustled back into the house. Iolaus sighed. "Dammit."
The man rode up out of the rainy dark into the farmyard, reining in near where the lamps flickered on the porch. He dismounted, stumbling a little in the mud, and stepped up onto the wet boards. He approached the open door cautiously, calling, "Hello! Anyone there?"
"Who wants to know?" Salmoneus demanded, appearing suddenly in the doorway. He lifted his lamp, eyeing the stranger suspiciously. The man was dressed as a soldier, in ring-set leather mail mud-splattered by long hours of travel.
"I'm sent by King Pheidon, to find Hercules," the man said diffidently, pulling off his leather helm. "Is he here? We heard he was returning to Greece."
Salmoneus sighed. "Well, yes, but it's kind of a bad time. Can you come back later?"
The man stared blankly, then jumped violently when Hercules said from behind him, "I'm here. What's the problem?"
"You're Hercules?" the man sounded uncertain, staring at the figure who had loomed suddenly out of the dark farmyard. He probably hadn't been expecting to find a demigod soaking wet and almost as mud-spattered as he was.
"I don't think you should take on anything right now," Salmoneus protested as Hercules stepped up onto the porch. He lifted his brows significantly. "You know, what with everything else you have to deal with."
"Salmoneus--" Hercules sighed and turned to the soldier. "Just..tell me why you're here."
The soldier took a deep breath. "There's trouble near Cenchreae, a monster."
"What kind of monster?"
"No one knows. It attacked another village last night and killed a dozen people. All the young men. They think it's a lamia. You've got to--"
"Hold it." Hercules lifted a hand to stop the flood of words. "Salmoneus, go ask Iolaus to come out here."
The merchant shook his head. "I'm not sure you two should get involved. I don't think you're up to it. Why don't we send for Xena? They probably didn't have a chance to get too far today. I bet--"
"Salmoneus--" Hercules took a deep breath. "Just go get Iolaus."
Salmoneus folded his arms and said archly, "Which one?"
As Salmoneus vanished into the house, Hercules turned back to the soldier, who was watching him dubiously. "I... It's been a strange night," the demigod said apologetically.
A moment later Iolaus appeared in the doorway. He sized up the soldier with a glance then flicked a guarded look at Hercules. "What's up?" he said.
"Village near Cenchreae was attacked by something."
"Huh. What did--" Iolaus noticed the soldier staring at his state of dress and said with grim menace, "What are you looking at?"
"Nothing," the soldier said hastily, looking down and shuffling his feet.
"They think it's a lamia," Hercules explained. "You want to go take care of it?"
Iolaus eyed him warily. "Sure. You want to?"
Hercules nodded. "Yeah."
Iolaus shrugged. "Fine. Let's go."
"Right." Relieved, Hercules turned to the soldier, who was watching them both as if they were crazy. Hercules supposed he couldn't blame him. "Why don't you take care of your horse and then come inside and tell us everything you know about this."
The man nodded gratefully, either at the assurance of help or the opportunity to escape, and led the weary horse toward the barn.
"Iolaus--" Hercules stepped into the house, reaching to put a hand on Iolaus' shoulder but Iolaus absently turned away, moving out of reach.
Without looking up he said, "Herc, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said those things."
"No, that's all right, but what I wanted to tell you--"
"I've got to get dressed if we're going to go after this thing." Iolaus walked away down the hall.
Continued in Part 2
The Less Than Legendary Journeys http://www.rtis.com/nat/user/chimera/legends.htm