Loyalty

Loyalty


By Emily


Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine (except Bad Guys and Kiara). They are all owned by the producers of the show and Fox Kids.
Author's Notes: This story is the continuation of Love and Life. If you haven't read Love and Life yet, I would encourage you to so you will know how the characters came into this story.


“Heads up!” Iolaus yelled as he threw the leather ball to Hercules.

“Got it!” the demigod yelled back and dodging Jason, dove between two trees Hercules and Iolaus were using as their goal box. “Oh yeah.” Hercules cheered, spiking the ball and thumping chests with Iolaus.

“I wouldn’t be celebrating yet,” Jason laughed. “I’ll get you next time.”

“In your dreams,” Iolaus snickered, dodging the Prince of Corinth’s playful swipe at him.

“It’s getting late. Don’t you think it is about time you boys came in?” a voice announced, interrupting the three boy’s play.

They turned to see Kiara and Lilith, the only girls at the Academy, walking toward them.

Hercules grinned and playfully wrapped his arms around Kiara’s waist.

“Hercules! Stop!” Kiara laughed when he started to tickle her.

Jason and Iolaus rolled their eyes while Lilith came to stand beside them. They knew that Hercules and Kiara were in love but it always seemed to ruin their time together away from the Academy. They use to have lots of fun times before Kiara came into Hercules’ life.

“Well we’d best follow the love birds or we’ll miss out on Chieron’s lovely dinner.” Lilith said sarcastically, and started to follow Hercules and Kiara, who were walking ahead of them hand in hand.

“Jason, have you noticed a change in Hercules?” Iolaus whispered, so Lilith and the others couldn’t hear.

“Yeah, but you have to take into account that Hercules finally has a girl that loves him back. He is happy, even though we aren’t.”

Iolaus sighed and rubbed his forehead, feeling a headache begin. “I know that. It’s just that Hercules isn’t the same anymore. He spends a lot of his time with Kiara and hardly any with us.”

Jason smiled. “I guess love does that to a man. Don’t worry Iolaus. Hercules still likes us and a guy always needs sometime away from a woman. Just wait and see.”

Jason ran to catch up to the trio, leaving Iolaus with a frown on his face. He felt tired and irritable, especially toward Hercules. He felt a pain in his stomach, like a cramp of some sort, which made him even more ticked off. Hercules was the best friend he could ever have. And now a girl was taking his place. How could Hercules forget his best friend so easily, after all that they had been through together?Iolaus sighed and started to follow the rest of the group.

Suddenly a bolt of pain in his side brought Iolaus to his knees, gasping for breath. He clutched his side as a convulsion ripped through him, barely able to stifle out a groan before he collapsed into unconsciousness.

Jason heard a noise behind him. “Iolaus, what are you doing?” Jason sighed and turned around only to see Iolaus laying on the ground behind him. “Iolaus? Come on, this is not funny.” Jason said, walking back to Iolaus. But when he noticed the young cadet not moving and barely breathing, his face pale and twisted in pain, Jason quickly knelt beside him. “Hercules!”

Hercules was beside him before Jason knew it with Kiara and Lilith close by. “What happened?” Hercules frantically asked, gently cradling Iolaus’ head against him while Kiara also knelt beside him, already checking his pulse.

“I don’t know. He was following me last time I looked, then he just collapsed.”

Kiara, shook her head. “His pulse is very faint. I can barely feel it.”

Hercules looked up to see Lilith’s face blanched and wringing her hands. “Lilith, please go and get Chieron. He’ll know what to do.”

Lilith quickly snapped out of her daze and dashed off toward the Academy.

“Just keep him still until Chieron gets here.” Kiara instructed, Iolaus’ hand still clasped in hers. It didn’t take the centaur-teacher long to gallop up to them and ask what had happened. After explaining, Chieron instructed Jason and Hercules to carry Iolaus back to the treatment room.

“Lay him here,” Chieron said, laying a blanket on a table while Hercules and Jason gently laid Iolaus onto the table.

Kiara fetched another blanket to put on Iolaus while Chieron checked Iolaus all over. Hercules and Jason glanced worriedly at each other, each wondering the same thing, would Iolaus be all right? Iolaus had grown paler, his face looking like a ghost, and Hercules knew just by Chieron’s stern look, that Iolaus was getting worse. “I can go and get some of the palace doctors...” Jason said, breaking the uneasy silence in the room.

“No, nothing would help.” Chieron muttered, picking up a bottle from one of the shelves and looking inside of it.

“What...what do you mean? Iolaus will be all right won’t he?” Hercules said, swallowing the lump of fear he had in his throat. Kiara’s firm but gentle hand on his stopped him from losing control.

Chieron brought the bottle to Iolaus and put a piece of brownish gray substance in Iolaus’ mouth. “What I mean is Iolaus has a very rare disease. I have heard about it when I was in training but have never seen it myself, and never wanted too.”

“How do you know Iolaus even has this disease if you have never seen it effect anybody?” Hercules asked, walking closer toward Chieron and Iolaus. “I mean Iolaus could have the flu or something like a cold that can easily be cured with herbs and medicine.”

“Hercules, I know how much you want to believe that Iolaus will be fine in a few days. So do I. But I have read about this disease, Hoggin Disease it is named. It is a very rare disease and very few come down with it. It is a genetic disease passed down, unlike the common cold or chicken pox. I have read it’s symptoms and Iolaus has all of the beginning stages of this deadly disease.” Chieron sighed and looked down at Iolaus. “There is no cure for it yet.”

Hercules followed Chieron’s gaze. Iolaus almost looked dead if it wasn’t for his chest rising and lowering slowly. Just a half hour ago, Iolaus was up, running, playing, and laughing with them. How could this have happened so quick? And to his best friend?

Hercules looked up at the centaur. “There...there has to be a cure.”

“There may be a possible cure.” Chieron answered. “But it is a legend and probably doesn’t exist.”

“What is it Chieron?”

“Legend tells of a spring, deep in the Aspen Mountains. It supposedly holds the cure for any disease around. People have gone looking for it and have never returned.”

“You mean Iolaus would have a chance of living if he got some of this water?” Hercules asked, afraid that this was too good to be true. A spring.. to cure Iolaus. There was a chance for him.

“Yes that is what people have said. But the Aspen Mountains are far away and even if someone gets there, they say the spring is guarded by the wooded people, the Yahrim.”

“How long does Iolaus have?”

Chieron glanced at Hercules and noticed a determined look in his blue eyes, a look that a god would possess. “I would say about a week, maybe less. The herbs will help prolong the disease. But it is not long enough to find the mountains and the spring."

“It is worth a try.” Hercules muttered. Noticing Chieron’s eyes turn worriedly upon him, Hercules went closer. “Look, I know where the Aspen Mountains are. I can find this spring...”

“Hercules, it is very dangerous..”

“I don’t care. Iolaus is my friend. He stood up for me at times when I needed him. I will do the same. I can’t live knowing I didn’t do anything to save my friend.”

Chieron knew inside that Hercules would not be convinced. “It is more than a week’s walk. To have any chance of reaching the mountains you would need a horse, and a fast one. One that could take the strenuous journey.”

Hercules sighed. His horse was lame and both Jason and Iolaus’ horses weren’t fit enough to make the journey. Hercules knew he’d end up killing the horse if it weren’t fit. The only horse that could make the journey would be Stardust, Kiara’s beautiful white mare. Hercules also knew that if he did not get a horse, Iolaus would be dead.

Hercules then felt Kiara take his hand in hers. “Hercules...take Stardust. She will get you there and back.”

“Kiara, I can’t. I know how much Star means to you.” Hercules said, looking down at Kiara, remembering when she had told him that her dad had bought Star for her before he was killed by marauders.

“Please Hercules,” Kiara begged, grasping his hand in both of hers. “I love Star, but I love

you and Iolaus more. If you don’t take her, Iolaus will not have a chance. You are his only chance of life.” Hercules looked up at Chieron. Chieron nodded and turned away, putting some things in a knapsack. Hercules looked back at Kiara. “If you insist.”

Kiara smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll go and get her saddled for you.”

Hercules smiled and turned back toward Iolaus’ still figure. Laying a hand on his shoulder, Hercules blinked back the tears of frustration. “I promise you, Iolaus. I will return and bring you this cure. I swear my life on it.” Hercules shut his eyes for a moment then opened them to see Chieron standing beside him, knapsack and a water flask in hand.

“Here is some supplies for your journey.” Chieron said, handing Hercules the flask and knapsack. “There is food and water inside it and the flask is for the spring water.”

“Thank you Chieron.” Hercules said, looking back at Iolaus.

“Just come back in one piece please.” Chieron said smiling as he laid a hand on Hercules’ shoulder. “I don’t want to lose two cadets.”

Hercules nodded. “I will. Just take care of Iolaus for me until I get back.”

Chieron nodded back and Hercules sighed, stepping outside. He noticed Kiara with Stardust already saddled and with them were Lilith and Jason.

Hercules tried to not let his nervousness and fear show through as he walked toward the three cadets.

Jason was the first to greet him, shaking his hand. “Good luck Hercules.”

“Thanks. And tell Iolaus that I will be back soon. I won’t let him down.”

Jason smiled grimly and patted Hercules’ arm.

Hercules was about knocked down as Lilith hugged him fiercely. “I won’t be gone forever. I’ll come back.” Hercules said chuckling.

Lilith let go and smiled. “Make sure that you do.”

Hercules then went to Kiara, who was holding and petting the white horse’s neck. “Hey,” he said, gently lifting her head up to meet his gaze. “You don’t have to do this you know. I could try finding another horse.”

“No Hercules. I have to because I know Star won’t let you down. She’ll get you there.”

Kiara brushed back a few tears that had escaped. “Just come back, OK? We need you.”

Hercules gently pulled Kiara into his arms. “I love you and I promise I will return.”

Kiara smiled and looked at Hercules. “I believe you and I love you too.”

Stardust suddenly snorted and stomped a hoof as if demanding to get down to business.

Hercules tied the knapsack to the saddle and swung the flask around his neck. He expertly mounted up on the tall mare and looked down at Kiara.

“She shouldn’t be too hard to handle because she knows you. Good luck.”

Hercules grasped her hand and kissed it. “I’ll be back. Don’t give up.” Letting go he clucked to the mare and they galloped off into the woods, in the direction of the Aspen Forest.

*************************

Hercules knew that it would only take a couple of days to get to the mountains if he rode fast and hard. But he also knew Stardust would collapse if he allowed that. So after galloping for fifteen minutes, he would let Stardust walk, to catch her breath, then they would gallop again. They made excellent progress and were almost half way to the Aspen Mountains when the sun disappeared.

When they got to a place that was safe to settle for the night, Hercules shakily dismounted and leaned against Star to steady his legs. They were stiff and sore from all the riding he had done. After unsaddling Star, he sat down against a tree and watched the white mare graze. He felt the long and hard day’s ride pass over him like a cloud, his body aching and his stomach growling in hunger. That reminded him of the food Chieron had packed. After eating his fill, he fell into a troubled sleep, all he could hear was Iolaus’ dying plea for help.

Hercules awoke with a start to see Stardust standing a little ways away grazing, the sun just starting to rise. He groaned and rubbed his right hand through his tousled blond hair. “Come on Star. We’d better get going if we plan to reach the mountain before sunset.”

Hercules could tell that they were getting closer to the mountains because the wide grassy plains were slowly changing to hard, rocky ground. Luckily the weather was on their side and the sun stayed bright.

As another long day ended and the sun was starting it’s descend, Hercules could see the tall Aspen Mountains looming up ahead. “We’re almost there, Star. Once we reach the mountains, we’ll rest.”

Star shook her head and they picked up a gallop into the forest which surrounded the mountain.

The sun was setting but Kiara did not feel like going inside. Iolaus was getting worse as each day passed. She felt depressed and lonely without Hercules.

“May I join you?” Lilith’s voice woke her.

Kiara smiled and looked up at the young cadet. “Sure.” she said, making room for Lilith on the log she had been sitting on. “How’s Iolaus?”

“Same. I think Chieron’s herbs are helping keep the fever down but...he doesn’t have much time left.” Lilith sniffed back tears. “I...I’m scared Kiara.”

Kiara turned to look at the little blond cadet. Lilith had never shared her feelings with Kiara before. She always kept any feelings or fears she probably had hidden.

“I know. I am too. I’m scared for Hercules; scared that something will happen to him....” Kiara broke off, afraid to go on.

“When I first came to this academy, there were no other girls. All the guys would tell me that I didn’t belong, that this academy was no place for a girl. But Iolaus, Hercules, and Jason helped me and I began to have fun here. I also found myself trying to impress them, so that... well...Iolaus would notice me a little more.”

Kiara could barely hear the last sentence, but she already knew what Lilith had meant.

“You’ve never told me this before.” Kiara said, turning to face the cadet.

Lilith shrugged her shoulders and looked at the taller blond. “I know. I trust that you won’t tell anyone.” Kiara could hint a little threat in those words but she shrugged them off.

“No I won’t. Your secret is safe with me. But why did you not tell Iolaus how you feel about him?”

“I was scared that if I told him he wouldn’t feel the same way and it would ruin our friendship. Hercules, Iolaus, and Jason were my only friends until you came along.”

“Well, lt’s not give up on Hercules yet.” Kiara said smiling as she put an arm around Lilith’s shoulders and the two girls watched the sun set.

The night was cooler then the others and Hercules was relieved when the sun finally rose.

He wearily stood and looked toward the Aspen mountains, so close and yet still far away. He was glad he had finally made it to the mountains, but now the hard task of finding the mystical spring arouse, if it even existed. Hercules shook his head, as he saddled the horse. He couldn’t think like that. The spring had to exist.

The thick tree branches hid the sun and made the woods look dark and foreboding. Hercules could feel a difference in the air as he rode throught the forest, almost like magic. The tree leaves and bushes would rustle and move like a wind would be moving them, but there was no wind. Star nervously mouthed the bit, arching her neck and spooking at any little noise or odd movement, sensing the difference in the air. Hercules patted the already sweaty neck and talked soothingly to the high strung mare. “I feel the same way.” Hercules muttered looking around, expecting someone or something to jump out. When everything remained quiet, Hercules let Star canter. He caught himself wondering if anyone had ever made it out alive and as if the forest heard his wondering thoughts, the wind pick up, blowing the fallen leaves around them. Then Hercules caught sight of a skull laying by a tree, it’s empty eye sockets staring right at him and it’s pale form standing out amoung the fallen leaves. Hercules ripped his eyes away from the skull and concentrated on the path through the woods, which seemed to go on forever.

Suddenly Star abruptly halted, snorting angrily at Hercules’ carelessness as he collided into Star’s neck. “Owww..man Star, why did you stop?” Hercules muttered, rubbing his sore nose. But then he saw what Star had seen. “Oh, no. This can’t be.” Hercules groaned as he dismounted and walked stiffly toward the deep cavern which had suddenly appeared, blocking the path.

Hercules looked into the deep cavern which cut throught the path like a giant’s sword had made it. “It’s a dead end.” Hercules angrily muttered, kicking the loose rocks over the side. “Stupid, stupid, stupid. Now what am I going to do?” Hercules nervously ran a hand through his hair as he turned toward Star, who had already found a good spot to graze.

Star looked up from her grazing and looked at Hercules, as if to say ‘you brought me this far to see this?’ and went back to grazing. “Well, I’m not going to be so easily discouraged. There has to be another way around.” Hercules said, walking back to the horse. “I’m going to find this spring if it is the last thing I....”

Just then, Hercules felt the ground give way under him and he was falling! It felt like falling through an hour glass. He could feel the rocky tube under him as he slipped and rammed into the sides in the inky blackness. Suddenly the tube emptied into open space and he fell free for an instant before landing hard and rolling in a mound of soft sand.

Hercules gasped for the breath that had been knocked out when he fell. When his lungs finally quit screaming for air, Hercules groaned and, making sure nothing was broken, stood up. The room he had fallen into was lit by a single torch and beside it, a black tunnel revealed itself.

Glancing up, Hercules saw the small black hole which he had just fallen through and he knew that there was no other way out. Walking toward the tunnel, Hercules grabbed the torch off of the wall and taking a deep breath, entered.

********************

The tunnel wasn’t to big and at some parts Hercules had to bend over to make it through.

Everything was black except for the space around him where the torch lit the way. After a few minutes the tunnel finally widened and Hercules stepped into a cavernous room that was surrounded by torches, casting shadows along the stone walls. Hercules stepped closer to the side wall and noticed several etchings, probably done by the Yahrim.

Suddenly there was a ‘Twang’ noise and Hercules barely had enough time to throw the torch away and fall to the ground as several arrows flew over his head and embedded themselves into the wall behind him. “Whoa,” he muttered as he started to sit up and looked in the direction in which the arrows had come. There before him stood four men, each dressed in animal furs except for one towering figure, which had a fanged, bulb-eyed, horned, devilish face and a long, crimson cloak.

It took a step toward Hercules, then stopped rather casually, arms crossed, studying him.

The other men surrounded him, their spears pointing right at him, ready to use them if Hercules made one false move. Finally the horned demon spoke, his voice deep and almost mesmerizing. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

Hercules tried to stand but the Yahrim quickly moved in with their spears, the sharp steel end pointing dangerously close to his throat. “Ummm...my name is Hercules. I am looking for a spring that can cure any illness.”

“Hercules, huh?” The demon said, looking at Hercules with interest, “I have killed men for intruding on my domain. But I can see you are still young so I will let you live to see another day.”

Then the masked being turned to leave, expecting Hercules to obey his order. The guards started to back away from Hercules as the demon left. Seeing his chance, Hercules stood up and pushing past the guards, ran towards the demon-god. “Wait!” He called but before he could catch up to the god, three angry Yahrim stopped his pursuit, pointing their spears at his chest.

The demon turned around hearing Hercules call. “Nobody orders Anak to do anything.”

“I’m sorry, but my friend is terribly sick and he will die in a few days if he doesn’t get the spring water. I owe my life to him.”

Anak growled as he walked up. “Then you just gave it. Kill him!”

One of the Yahrim thrust his spear at Hercules but the demigod quickly and expertly dodged it and grabbing the end, yanked it from the man. The other Yahrim attacked but Hercules used his newly acquired weapon in his defense and held off the other men’s attacks. Soon, he had all three men on their backs, groaning in pain.

Anak smiled, his sharp, ugly teeth glowing yellow in the candle light. This boy could be of use to him. “You are a great fighter. But I expected that from a mortal son of the almighty Zeus.”

“You know Zeus?” Hercules asked, not letting his guard down.

“You can say I know of him. But enough of Zeus. You have proved to me you are worthy to enter my lair, and partake of the Spring.” Anak smiled again, and pointed the way through a doorway. “Follow me and I will show you all that you have wanted to see.”

Hercules didn’t trust this Anak fellow at all, but he knew that Iolaus’ life hung in the balance so, still holding onto the spear, he reluctantly followed the god.

They walked through another tunnel which exited into another big room, this one though was lavishly decorated with jewels and gold. Then Hercules eyes caught sight of the spring. It glowed bluish-green and was the most beautiful thing Hercules had ever seen.

Suddenly Anak stepped between Hercules and the spring. “I will give you a chance to rescue your friend. You must fight my champion, Gorah and the first one down, wins. If you succeed, I will let you go home with the water. But if you don’t, you stay here and serve me.”

Hercules swallowed, feeling the lump of fear in his throat. If he failed, he would never see Kiara of any of his friends again and Iolaus would die. Hercules glanced back at the beautiful spring and knew that he would have to take that chance.

“Do you accept?” Anak growled, not liking the demigod’s hesitation.

Hercules looked into the glowing red eyes of Anak. “Yes. I accept.”

*********

“How is he doing Chieron?” Kiara asked the centaur as she entered the treatment room.

She had to choke back a sob, seeing Iolaus laying so still on the bed, his skin deathly pale, making the young cadet look dead. Kiara shuddered at the thought.

“He is still hanging on but he hasn’t waken once since he was brought in here. Iolaus is strong though and the herbs are helping.” Chieron turned away and laid his hands on the table next to Iolaus. “He doesn’t have much time left I’m afraid.”

Kiara bit her lip to control the tears she felt rising. “Well, Hercules is still searching. I wouldn’t give up yet.” But even as she spoke the words, she felt her faith in Hercules draining. Would he make it in time? What if the spring never existed? Kiara glanced at the teacher but she could tell that he had lost hope too. She rushed out of the building, holding her tears until she reached the safety of the woods. There she cried until Lilith found her and brought her in.

***********************

Anak laughed wickedly, his voice echoed in the cave. “Then it is done boy. Follow me.”

Again Hercules found himself following the tall demon god and he was led into another room. A vast collection of huge, hideous weapons hung on the wall: a spear, many blades of all shapes and descriptions, chains, arrows, whips, and also a deadly, curved sword with a shining, razor-sharp edge. “Let’s begin shall we?”

Hercules prepared himself for Gorah, noticing Anak slink off into the shadows and that’s when he heard a low growl. Suddenly a tall beastly figure walked out of the shadows in front of him, it’s teeth and claws long and sharp, his one eye seemed to glare at Hercules with hate. Hercules gripped the spear he still had in hand harder and watched the beast disappear back into the dark recesses of the cave. He suddenly heard metal scrapping beside him and turning to look at the weapon case, Hercules noticed in horror that the curved sword was gone.

Anak snickered as he noticed Hercules looking around for Gorah. Anak knew that Gorah wouldn’t kill the kid, but he would brake him enough to where Anak could win the bet. And Anak wanted to win this one bad. To have a son of Zeus as his slave would please him greatly.

Hercules heard it before he saw and quickly rolled out of the way as the deadly sword came crashing down beside him. He quickly got back on his feet and aimed the spear at Gorah. The sword came down again, and Hercules barely had enough time to move out of the way, as the sword crushed his spear.

Now Hercules was weaponless and the beast stood between him and the weapon case.

After dodging another blow Hercules knew he wouldn’t be able to keep this up much longer. His legs were about to give out on him and his muscles screamed in pain with every movement he made. The long ride here had take too much out of him and Anak knew it.

Gorah smiled a toothy grin when Hercules stumbled as he lept out of the way again.. Just then Hercules noticed a torch on the wall next to him. As Gorah came up to him, Hercules grabbed the torch off the wall and stuck it on the Cyclop’s belly. Gorah screamed in pain, dropping his curved sword and Hercules got his chance. Running towards the weapon case, he grabbed one of the swords hanging there and turned around to face his enemy, who was just recovering from his pain and was mad. Hercules thrust his sword at the Cyclops, but Gorah was fully recovered and he easily backhanded Hercules, knocking the sword and Hercules to the ground. Hercules struggled to stand but before he was on his feet, he was picked up by the strong Cyclops and thrown across the room. Hercules hit the wall and groaned as he tried to stagger to his feet, but pain flooded his entire body, making his movements slow and painful.

Gorah grinned again, knowing he had this fight won and grabbing Hercules by the shirt front, hoisted him up in the air and threw him onto the ground, hard on his left shoulder.

Hercules could barely breath as his body was filled with pain and the breath knocked out of him again. He could hear Gorah’s laugh coming closer as the beast came up to him to deliver the last blow. Just then, Hercules spotted the curved sword beside him. As Gorah bent down to pick up Hercules again, he grabbed the sword and with all his strength left, thrust it into the Cyclop’s belly. Gorah, staggered back, in shock that a little runt could do this to him. Making one last dying gasp, Gorah fell down and didn’t move.

Hercules lay there for minutes, trying to gather what strength he had left, to stand up.

Finally he struggled up, gasping as he moved his shoulder. He knew by the pain that it was going to be badly bruised if not worse. That’s when he saw Anak step from out of the shadows, an angry scowl clouded his face.

“I won.” Hercules said as he turned his back to the god and walked out of the room. He felt a wave of relief when his hand went to his belt and felt the leather flask by his side, remembering he had tied it there so it wouldn’t get lost. Untying it, Hercules went to the spring and quickly dipped the flask into the beautiful water. Carefully tying the flask securely shut, Hercules tied it back on his belt and turned to see Anak standing beside him.

“You won’t be able to find your way out of here.” Anak growled with a smirk on his face. “You are mine.”

“I won fair and square.” Hercules said, backing up as Anak got closer.

“You should know, we gods never tell the truth.” Anak said grinning now. Then he looked at the guards who were surrounding the room. “Get him!”

Hercules made a dash out of the room. He could hear the guards coming close behind him and Anak’s shouts to them. He had to get out of here and quick. As he came into the room in which he had fallen in, Hercules frantically looked around for an exit.

There had to be a way out of this god forsaken place. He could here the guard’s shouts and Hercules looked up and noticed something he hadn’t before. It was another hole in the wall, just as large as the one he had fallen into. Hercules quickly scrambled into the hole, and followed it’s long dark path up.

He could still hear the guards behind him. Suddenly he saw light and using all of his might, climbed out of the hole, onto solid ground. Hercules gasped as he put all of his weight onto his left arm and almost fell back into the hole. But somehow he managed to climb out and he lay there, catching his breath. The shouts of the guards were gone and Hercules sighed with relief.

He heard a nicker and turned to see Stardust standing a few feet away, looking at him, just where he had left her. Hercules slowly rose and limped toward the white horse. He quickly put the flask of water into one of the saddle bags and was about to mount when he heard the voice.

“I told you. You will never escape me!” Anak growled, his tall figure striding towards Hercules, with sword in hand.

Stardust shied away from the god, and Hercules moved away from the mare so Anak wouldn’t hurt her.

“I will not stay with you.” Hercules shouted, as he moved farther from the mare and closer to the big canyon.

“You are mine now boy.” Anak laughed. “You can’t escape me.”

Anak suddenly swung the sword but Hercules could not move fast enough, and the sharp blade, caught him in the left arm, the force knocking him to the ground. Hercules stifled back a cry of pain, his arm feeling like it was on fire. All Hercules could do was lay there, watching Anak walk up to him laughing. “You can’t defeat me. You are too weak. How pitiful for a son of Zeus to be defeated so easily. Your father would be ashamed.”

Hercules was inching his way toward the canyon’s edge, trying to lure Anak closer. And it was working. Anak laughed seeing Hercules trying to get away.

Hercules suddenly felt the edge of the cliff and Anak laughed again. “Dead end now boy. Face it, you are mine.”

Anak stepped closer and Hercules, seeing his chance, thrust his legs between Anak’s booted ones, tripping the god. Anak cried out as he lost his balance and fell into the canyon, his scream echoing until you could hear it no more.

Hercules shuddered as he staggered to his feet once again, clutching his left arm. Star, as if knowing he was hurt, trotted toward him and gently nuzzled his chest.

Hercules smiled and patted the mare’s silky neck. “Let’s go home.”

********************

Kiara sighed as she watched the sun go down. The week was almost gone and Iolaus was worse. Lilith was spending all her time by Iolaus’ side and Kiara had seen Jason a few times. But Kiara couldn’t keep Hercules out of her mind. He had to be alive. “You promised me Hercules.” she muttered.

“Am I interrupting anything?” Jason asked smiling at her startled gasp.

“Geez Jason,” Kiara smiled as he sat down with her on the bench. “You scared me.”

“Sorry. Do you want me to leave?”

Kiara shook her head. “No. I believe that I need some company.”

“Look, I know you are worried about Hercules. He is a good friend and I am worried too. But if you want my opinion, I think that Hercules would want you to continue on with life then to be moping around here worrying about him.”

“I do not!” Kiara said, turning a shocked face upon the prince of Corinth. “I... I just...”

Kiara turned away, suddenly realizing that that is exactly what she had been doing.

“I’m sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have said it that way. I know you care about Hercules.”

Jason went to stand but Kiara stopped him. “No, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I have acted this way and I wish somebody had pointed it out sooner.”

Standing up with Jason, Kiara smiled. “Let’s go join Lilith and see if she needs anything.”

Jason chuckled and they walked toward the treatment room.

*******

The next morning was cloudy and over cast, and Kiara’s moods sunk. The sky looked exactly like she felt. But then she remembered what Jason had said and brightened. He was right and getting dressed, she ran to the treatment room.

But once she got there, her good mood faded, seeing Lilith’s sunken face as she sat by the pale figure that didn’t even resemble Iolaus anymore. Lilith looked up and half grinned but it disappeared as she turned away. Kiara stood beside her, watching Lilith’s hand gently caressing Iolaus’.

“He is worse then before.” Lilith’s voice was low and barely heard. “Chieron said that it will be a miracle if he makes it through today.”

“Oh, Lilith,” Kiara muttered, putting a hand on the blond cadet’s shoulder. “Don’t lose hope now. Iolaus is strong and can make it. You just have to believe.”

Lilith shrugged. “My belief is not strong enough. I wish I could believe like you believe. You have so much faith in Hercules.”

Kiara looked away. She wasn’t going to tell Lilith all that she had been struggling with.

****

The day was slowly coming to an end and everybody at the Academy was on their seat, hoping and praying that Iolaus would be okay. But they all knew deep down that Hercules had failed and Iolaus was dying. He had gotten worse and Chieron could do no more for the young cadet. Kiara squeezed the tears of frustration back. She would not cry, not now. Lilith and Iolaus needed her. Jason stood beside her. He had stayed here all day even though he was needed at the palace.

“Hey, Kiara,” Jason’s voice broke through her trance. “I’m gonna step outside for a bit. Yell if something happens.”

Kiara nodded and watched the muscular young prince step outside.

Jason sighed as he stepped into the cool fall air. He had to get out of there. Iolaus was his friend but Jason could not stand another minute in that room.

Suddenly Jason heard a snort. Turning toward the woods, he saw a white form galloped into view. “Hercules?” Jason muttered, not quite able to believe his eyes. But as the form got closer, he knew it was true. “Hercules!”

Hercules half waved and halted the sweat-drenched horse, which was now covered in dirt and sweat, causing the mare to look more like a brown horse.

“Hey Jason!” Hercules yelled but slowly dismounted. His body ached and Hercules had to lean against Stardust in order to stand.

“Herc, you hurt?” Jason said, putting an arm around Hercules’ waist.

“No, but...Iolaus...is he?"

“No he’s still alive but barely.”

“Here,” Hercules said taking out the little flask of water. “Give this to him right now!”

“You found it?” Jason couldn’t believe it.

“Yes, now please Jason, go and give it to him.”

Jason grabbed the flask. “But what about you?”

“Don’t worry about me, just go and give Iolaus the flask.”

“Hercules!” came a cry and Kiara ran into Hercules’ arms, hugging and kissing him. “You’re alive.”

Jason quickly left the two of them alone as he ran to the treatment room.

“Yes.” Hercules said smiling but groaned when Kiara accidentally touched a tender spot.

“Your hurt. Let’s get you into the treatment room. Iolaus will love to see you.”

Another cadet came towards them and offered to take care of Stardust. Kiara helped support Hercules as they slowly made their way to the treatment room.

Chieron was giving Iolaus the water as Hercules and Kiara stepped into the room.

Chieron smiled at Hercules but quickly turned back towards Iolaus. Soon the flask was gone. “It way take awhile for the contents to take affect. I think that everyone should go to the mess hall and have dinner.”

The students filed their way out of the room leaving Hercules, Jason, Lilith, and Kiara with Iolaus and Chieron.

“Hercules, I am proud of you. I have to say, I almost lost faith in you.”

“Thanks Chieron, but will Iolaus get better now? I mean...”

“Only time will tell. I pray that it wasn’t too late and that the water does work.” the centaur teacher said, then turned toward Hercules. “Right now I want to have a look at you. You look like you have been through a war or something.”

Hercules grimaced, seeing Kiara turn worried eyes toward him. He knew he must look like something the cat drug in. Blood, dirt, and sweat covered his shirt and face. He reluctantly let Chieron look him over.

****

The sun had gone down hours ago when Hercules woke up. He groaned as he sat up from the pallet he was laying on. His arm was bandaged and he felt sore. He could hardly move as he got down from the pallet and went toward Iolaus, who was still laying unconscious on the table. Hercules put a hand on Iolaus’ shoulder. He noticed with relief that Iolaus’ color was less pale. The water had to be working.

“Hey buddy,” he murmured. “I made it back with the water, like I told you I would. I just hope it wasn’t too late. I tried...”

“Oh, Hercules, please. I know you tried. Now just pity me some and get me a drink”

Hercules stared in shock as Iolaus’ blue eyes twinkled up at him. “Iolaus? You’re...awake?”

“No, I’m just laying here talking to you because I’m dead, of course I’m awake.”

Hercules laughed, glad to see Iolaus’ funny side had not been damaged. Hercules picked up a cup of water that was laying off to the side and brought it to Iolaus. Iolaus took the cup and eagerly started drinking. He sighed and set the cup down then looked at Hercules. “Man Herc, what happened to you?”

Hercules then realized he hadn’t gotten a chance to clean up because when Chieron had finished inspecting him, he had fallen immediately to sleep. “It’s a long story, Iolaus. A very long story.”

The End


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