The Secret of Artemis' Temple
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The following is an episode of the Young Hercules Fan Fiction Seasons, a non-profit virtual season project; written for fans by fans this is done to help keep the legacy of the short-lived television series Young Hercules alive on the Internet. The overall direction of the story that takes place in this virtual season may not be exactly what took place if an actual televised season had been produced.
(Hercules and Iolaus run through a forest at night)
(Man lays dead on a bed, dripping in blood)
(The roar of a creature echoes throughout the woods)
SOMETHING IS WATCHING
Iolaus: "Show yourself."
(Something watches Iolaus from behind a row of trees)
SOMETHING IS WAITING
(Hercules puts his hands over his nose)
Hercules: "The stench of rotting flesh"
(Something chases Hercules and Iolaus)
SOMETHING IS RIPE TO KILL
Jason: "That Beast is nothing but a legend."
(Several people lay dead on a forest path)
(Hercules and Iolaus follow a path stained in blood)
(Jason puts on his armor; soldiers ready their weapons)
Man: "You can't hide anything from a god in their own temple"
ON THE NEXT YOUNG HERCULES
In a beautiful Temple of Artemis, one of her servants ran through the corridors, holding the hand of a man, who was wounded. "These are my quarters. You can hide in here."
"This is nuts. You can't hide anything from a god in their own temple."
"And I can't let you just stay out in the storm, and die. Now get in there. It's not going to quit raining for awhile."
The girl looked around, as she pushed the man into her quarters. The hallway was clear, and shewas certain no one had seen them. "Are you okay?" she asked as she shut the door behind her.
"I will be. It was only a graze."
The man lay on the red pillows. His blood dripped on the gold embroidery, as he held a hand over the arrow's wound.
"Let me see." She knelt down next to him with rags, and tried to clean up every drop she could find. "Here hold this."
"Thank you, for helping me. If you had not been gathering your offerings for Artemis, I would be dead for sure."
"Artemis is not fond of poachers in her forest. They were tracking the hinds. I'm sure she will be grateful to you for stopping them."
The man watched her hands as they work on his wound, and made small stitches. He looked into her eyes, and saw that they were as soft as the hinds themselves.
"You should be ready to leave by the time the rains quit."
She tried to stand, but he caught her hand in his. She turned and looked at him, and melted at his sweet smile.
"Thank you, again for saving me."
"You're welcome. Now I have to get to prayers before they miss me. Stay here and don't make a peep. I'll bring you some of my dinner."
He let go of her hand, and etched her smile into his memory. She was definitely a god-send to him. He watched as she left, and then wanted to kick himself in the rump.
What was he doing? There was no way he could have any feelings for her. She was a sworn follower of Artemis. With her oath there was no way she could fall in love with him, or any other man. He had to keep a straight head or there would be trouble.
Days went by, the rain did not stop, and his wound did not heal. She could not understand it. It should have healed, but it barely closed to stop bleeding. She did not know how long she could keep him hid like this. Someone was bound to figure out why she was spending so much time in her quarters, why she was not eating very much, and why she was late for prayers and offerings. It was only a matter of very little time before they started looking into all the "why's."
"You're developing a fever, and you wound won't heal. I don't understand. You should be gone by now."
"Why do you keep me here then?"
"Because you need help. With your fever, and that wound not healing, you wouldn't last long enough to make it out of the forest, and the closest village after that is another five miles. I can't let you do that."
"What do you mean, 'why'? You think because I'm a follower of Artemis that I don't have any feelings?"
He could not help asking. It was bugging him from the day she had brought him there.
"Of course I have feelings. I'm not a statue."
He put his hand to her face, and brushed away a piece of hair. She tried to move away from him, but he grabbed her hand.
"Please don't leave now."
"I have to. I have offerings to over see."
She did not move though. Her head screamed at her to move. Not to look into his eyes. To just let him leave the temple. Trouble was coming, and she would be caught.
"What goes on here!" Boomed a voice.
The two looked around, but saw no one. She knew who it was though.
"Artemis. I can explain. He was stopping poachers from killing the hinds. He was wounded, so I brought him here to heal."
"You concealed a man in my temple, and thought you could get away with it?"
"I was help-"
"Silence!" a crowd of other followers had gathered outside her quarters at the sound of Artemis' voice. " It does not matter that you were helping him. You have broken your oath, and have fallen in love with him, and tried to hide him from me." The man looked at her in surprise. She had never shown that she had the same feelings for him, but before he could object to the goddess, she continued with the judgement. "You shall be punished. You and all those who knew what was happening, and ignored it."
Outside the temple, a bright light flooded from inside the beautiful temple, and a multitude of screams called out as one, in a loud anguish. Then all was silent.
Even the rain hushed.
"This fishing trip really bites," Iolaus spat as he poked a long twig into the night fire's, sparking timber.
"You mean you wish there was some bites," said Hercules with a smile. He was attempting to cheer up his comrade. When it did not work, he cleared his throat, and brought out the bread they had packed for emergencies. "I don't get why there was not even one bite in our whole day here."
"Maybe your Uncle Poseidon called a meeting of his whole world."
The two looked at each other a moment from their opposite sides of their night's warmth. After a moment of silence they gave a small laugh at each other with the picture of the underworld convention.
"It should get better tomorrow," the demi-god tried to reassure as he tossed his friend some food, and settled back on his heels to stare at his own, piecing it off to last longer.
Behind them a twig snapped, causing the two of them to jump and wait for what ever it was to show itself.
"Jumpy for academy boys," came an old man's wheezing voice. "I won't harm you. I only ask for a bite of your food."
"Show yourself," called Iolaus, his hand on the hilt of his knife, tucked in his belt's side.
Josephine Davison as Artemis
Angela Dotchin as Kora
Based on "Young Hercules"
Created by Renaissance Pictures
Tern O'Brien & Medea
Edited by Tern O'Brien
"You won't need that." A dirty hand poked out of the shadows and waved at the youth as the rest of a short, dirty, old man, dressed in rags, and hunched over, walked out with it. "I only wish for some company, rest, and a share of your food."
"We don't have much, but you're welcome to it," offered Hercules, as he relaxed.
"I may be able to add to what you have, and maybe together we could have something decent to eat."
Hercules moved to sit beside Iolaus, and gave the man what was left of the bread.
"Oh, this will go perfect with my meat and cheese. I was so hoping to have some bread to eat with it, or maybe some vegetables to make a stew with it. But a sandwich will fill this old stomach just fine."
"What are you doing out here, this late of night?" Iolaus asked as his stomach growled and pleaded for the man's share of the feast. He hoped no one else heard it.
"I'm on my way to the Temple of Artemis thats out this way. The one that is protected by a beast."
"A beast?" Hercules was now more curious to his story. "What kind of beast?"
"One that use to be a beautiful girl, until she angered Artemis by helping a man stop some hind poachers. She was accused wrongly and turned into a horrid beast. One with the strength of a herd of oxen. Teeth and claws that could rip a mans head off, or snap his body in two with on simple touch. But I think they exaggerate. You know how stories get bigger on down the line."
"She's a legend," said Iolaus. He went on and on when his friend gave him a look of confusion. "It's said that after one of Artemis' most faithful followers helped this man, and was turned into a beast, she became enraged about her distorted body, and killed all the other followers in the temple. It's a child's story to scare children to stay away from the crumbling temple. I'm surprised you never heard it Herk."
"I'm surprised you did and remembered it."
"You kidding me? The tales use to give me nightmares as a kid. And I never went into those woods. Everyone who has, is said never to return."
"Well," said their strange company, "that's not stopping a mob of villagers that are going to hunt her down."
"Why would a mob of villagers want to hunt down a legend that no one has ever seen?" Hercules said. He noticed there was something sad in the man's eyes as his crumpled hands put down the sandwich he never ate.
"Once again, dear little Annie is being accused wrongly."
"Annie? You have given a name to this legend?" Iolaus finished off his sandwich. Full his stomach let out its gratefulness. "Excuse me."
"It was not the name I gave her. It was the name she gave me to call her. I know she is more then a legend. I was there the day that she was punished. And because she helped me from the poachers, I will do the same for her. I do not believe her to be a killer, without just. Her transformation was not just to punish her, but to give her more strength and ability to protect the hinds, and all the creatures under Artemis' protection around the temple. But Artemis herself will not protect her. Not from an angry mob who need a scape goat for all their dying cattle."
"Why won't Artemis protect her?"
"I don't know. Who knows how these gods think. I just know that was the answer I got when I prayed to her and asked."
"You prayed to Artemis after she almost fried you for hiding in her temple? Whoa. You have guts."
"Iolaus," his friend hissed to hush him, as he gave a compassionate look at their companion. "What village is going after them,...." He just realized in all the excitement of the legend being real, he had not heard the man give a name.
"Sykles. I'm sorry. I have no manners. I am Sykles. And it is Corinth that is going after the beast."
The two friends looked at each other, and the only thought that came to both was...
- * *
"Jason, please you can't believe The Beast that is only a legend is killing your people's cattle," Kora pleaded the next morning, as the soldiers put on their armor and the strong king sheathed his sword.
"Kora. I don't know what is out there. All I know is there is something that is vicious and killing cattle that my people are needing for food and farm work. The same that cattle belongs to the people you buy your meat from for your inn."
"I just don't think that you should barrel out there, before you know what you are getting into. You don't even know what is killing these animals, and yet you succumb to people's fear of a legend."
"I have to find out the truth and stop it, before all Corinth goes out there and get themselves killed by what ever it is. I'm only out to find the truth, and stop the killing before it starts killing people. What is your concern with this legend anyway?"
"I just don't think that people should get all bent out of shape until they know the truth. May I ask what evidence you have that points to the legend?"
The young king gave a sigh at the fact that she was stalling him and his troops departure. "We've had some hair left behind by the beast that does not match any known animal around here. The footprints are unlike any of my trackers have seen, and as soon as it leaves the village, it disappears into the woods that the beast is believed to live in."
"It could have been anything though. What color was the hair?"
"What?" Jason was walking to the horse being held for him, as his soldiers were already mounted and waiting orders.
"What color was the hair?"
"Because... I just need to know what to look out for while I go to get my mushrooms this afternoon."
"You buy your mushrooms in the market."
"Not since the scare of 'The Beast.' My merchant won't go anywhere near those woods. Please. What color was the hair?"
"Young Lady, you are speaking to the King. You will address him as your-"
"Not now," Jason held up a hand to the man who meant well. But he was not in the mood, and knew neither was Kora. "The hair was," he looked around and whispered in her ear. He knew if the color got out to too many people, there would be no way to control the hunt. He feared that with the gossip that flames like wild fire, that it all ready was too late. "Now I really have to go. Please. Stay out of the woods. Find something else to use instead of the mushrooms. I'll bring you back some when I return."
She gave her friend a smile, and walked away. She had her own things to do now. No one realized that the direction she left in, was straight towards to one of Artemis' temples.
- * *
"Hercules, we have a few days. We could see if Jason needs some help," Iolaus said as he was satisfied with his first catch on their fishing trip for breakfast.
"You would not be going to kill the beast, now would you?" asked Sykles, as the he rolled his old body off his mat, and looked towards the smell of the wonderful food.
"No. Not unless it is necessary." Hercules reassured him.
"What do you call necessary?""Self defense, or protecting the innocent lives that could be hurt if she is out of control."
"Sykles?" Iolaus pulled the salted fish off the fire and handed his company the first bite. "Why do you think that after all these years, she would all of a sudden start all this trouble for herself."
"I do not believe it is her. I believe it is people who know what her hair is made out of, as though it were a treasure trophy."
"What is her hair made out of?" The young curly haired youth put another fish on the fire, and looked at the sad man.
"Part of Artemis' curse was making her long hair out of the same gold as the hind's fur. The only protection that Artemis gave her was her strength. After that, she would have nothing to do with her."
"Whoa. That's harsh.," Iolaus handed Hercules his breakfast. "So, because this mob is going after her, you want to defend her, and give her the protection that Artemis wouldn't?"
"I want to keep her as a legend. If people found out that she had the same gold on her, as the hinds, there would no end to her hunt, as there is no end for the hinds. Every hunter thinks to destroy these beautiful animals, though they are part human, is the greatest trophy that there is. They are so bent on greed, that they don't care about the punishment of the goddess, and actually think they can hide their crimes from her. "
"So why did you tell us what her hair was made out of, if you want to keep it secret?" The young demi-god could not help asking.
"I was hoping I could trust you and have your help. I am an old man. I need your strength and speed to help protect her. I owe her, and now that she needs me, I can not do it on my own."
"Come on, Herk. Things have been pretty dead around here, and it would be a chance to see Jason . To fight by his side again." His friend was whispering in his ear, as he watched the old man's face.
"Ok. But I won't be forced to fight against Jason. If he has a good reason why this thing should be killed, then I'm going to trust him."
"Your king has the influence of his people. Their fear may cost him to make the wrong decision."
"Jason has a good head on his shoulders. He knows what he is doing. Let's get going."
- * *
"We can't just stand here, and wait while that Beast comes every night to our lands, and kills our herds. Who knows when next it will be one of our children, our women, or even us." A man shouted to a crowd holding pitch forks and torches. They raised their weapons and encouraged him on. "The legend is true, and it is dangerous. For the safety of our own lives we must kill her."
As the crowd gave another yell of agreement, a voice stomped all their hopes of them going anywhere."There is no need to go out there and start more trouble." It was King Jason on his horse, with his soldiers behind them. "I'm going to get to the bottom of what ever this is."
"It's Artemis' Beast. She created it, and now we are made to suffer at the madness she has become over the years," the mob leader said.
"You don't know that. You're just saying anything to stir them up and get themselves killed by what ever it is. Anyone in a good costume could have done this to start all this fear. That Beast is nothing but a legend. I will find out what is slaughtering your herds, and I will handle it. Until then, go home, and stay there. Tend to your means."
"And who will keep Corinth safe while you are gone?" The crowd had the same question.
"There are plenty of soldiers still at the castle and patrolling all through here. There is no need to worry. I will be back in a couple of days."
With that said, he turned his horse and troops, and headed into the woods. Some of the soldiers stayed behind to make sure that the crowd dispersed to their homes, and then caught up with their king.
"Why do you raise their hopes that there is nothing out here?" His captain of the guards asked.
"We don't need a bunch of them out here, scaring up themselves, and then killing each other on their own paranoia. The fewer people out here, the better. It's bad enough they're jittery in their own homes."
"I still say that you should let us tend to this, so that you can keep Corinth under order."
"No. This is the only way to see that this thing is taken care of."
"But, sire. If it is a plan to get you to do as you are, to assassinate you, then there is no heir to take over Corinth, and the council will choose. It fears me of who that will be."
The young king sighed, but kept a strong form to encourage his soldier. "I know. But no talk of this to anyone. I want them to all stay focused to the task at hand."
- * *
"Sykles," Hercules said from behind the old man. "You're sure that Artemis' temple is this way?"
"Yes. But be quiet. Listen for Annie. She's here somewhere."
They all looked to the trees and all around them. They listened to the birds, and to the wind and bushes. They had no idea what they were coming up against, except for that is was strong, and disfigured by an angry goddess.
"There it is."
All three looked to a cliff, and saw the crumbling ruins of a temple. Though it was broken down, the setting sun behind it still made it look beautiful.
"What now?" Iolaus asked as he looked around and noticed that it was too quiet.
"Shh. We're being watched."
"Great, and me with out my bow." Iolaus was hushed again as the old man listened and looked at the trees that surrounded them.
"Move slowly, and be glad you have no weapon. If you are a threat to any of the animals here, you are more of a target for her."
They walked on to the temple as a storm was starting to form fast, and the night air grew colder.
"We'll seek shelter in the temple."
"Are you sure that's such a good idea?" Hercules asked as he looked at the dark and haunting ruins. "Ruined or not, gods are very possessive of their temples."
"We'll have to chance it 'till morning. Besides. I want to show you something."
The three men walked in, and were as cautious inside as they were out. But what they saw, turned their fear to awe.
Inside, it was as though stepping back in time. The temple was in perfect shape, and there was a fire glowing in each room, but no extra wood to throw on it for the night. In one room was a table set, with fruit, salad, bread, and cheese. More then enough for the three.
Everything seemed brand new. The carpets, the tapestries, even the walls. After the shock wore off, the two youngsters' fear returned.
"Where are all the falling walls, the broken floors, the over grown foliage, the dead bodies of those who have not returned?" Iolaus asked, with even more questions in his head.
"Artemis must have cared for her a lot to have kept the temple to be so comfortable. This is too good to be real."
"The enchantment is only in this area. We must not go out of it without protection. Annie was expecting us, and more to the looks of it." Sykles pointed back to the food.
"When will we see her?" Hercules asked.
"She will not show herself to us. We will have to find her, but gain her trust. So she knows that we mean her no harm."
"So if the curse is broken, do you think she'll go back to being as beautiful as she was, or do you think she will have aged too."
"Iolaus." His friend warned his lack of control for his tongue and his timing.
"Oh. I didn't fall in love with her for her beauty, though she was more so then the other followers. No. It was her kindness that brought me to her. And the fact that she took all the chances she did to make sure that I lived. I had hoped she felt the same, but I had done nothing to earn it back. I just laid there as she took care of me. So if she never changes back to human, or if she does, and has aged right along with me, I will have the same love."
"Sykles," Hercules wanted to pull him out of his thoughts to show that they had company.
Looking to the entrance of room, they saw a tall, broad figure that kept in the shadows. They could see her stand there, and watch them. Her eyes glowed of golden embers, and breath huffed in a low growl. She did not move, but just stared and watched.
"I told you to never return, Sykles. She will kill you this time." The voice was not even female, nor did sound human. Just a low growl forming words of warning. "I can only protect you for one night."
"I came to warn you about the villagers you have angered."
A startling voice behind her, answered her question. "Corinth."
It was King Jason and his men. Though this was her home, the beast still had respect and honor for the royalty that stood before her.
"Your majesty, You are welcome here for the night. But after that I can not protect you from Artemis. And I must ask that you leave all your weapons outside. This is a temple."
Jason was the first to put down his sword, quiver of arrows, and bow. He nodded to his men to follow, and then stepped drenched in to the fire lit room. The heat was welcoming to his cold bones, and bare skin that was not covered by his clothes.
"Jason." His friends ran over to greet him.
"What are you guys doing here?" He didn't know if he should be grateful to have his friends there, or to send them on their way. After a moment, he knew he could use them. After not seeing them very much with his time consuming responsibilities, it would be great to have them along. But something inside wanted to treat them like one of his people, and tell them to go home.
"We came with Sykles to protect her from the Corinthian mob. What are you doing here?"
"I came to find out the truth about what's got Corinth on nerve."
"Forgive me, your majesty, but I do not know of you are talking about. I live in the forest, protecting it, and stay here at night with my friends."
Annie became silent and thought for a moment at how to explain it. "The forest animals." That was all she would say, as she shrunk back in her cloak some more.
"If it is not you that is coming to Corinth, then who is it?" Jason had to ask, knowing that time was short. His men were tired, his people were paranoid, and dangerously so. Then there was the warning of only being able to protect them through the night.
Before she could answer there was a loud scream ringing through the hallways. It was a woman's scream of pain.
"Stay here, and please eat. You'll need your strength." The large figure ordered, and she disappeared into the shadows.
Jason looked around to make certain that all his soldiers were there with him. After a mental count, and seeing everyone there, he sat and gave an order for everyone to enjoy the provisions. "Might as well eat while we can. Who knows what the night holds with this place."
"Jason," Hercules said after leading his older friend over into private council. "How long do you figure we have until the mob gets restless and comes here on their own?"
"I figure tomorrow is all we will have. I'm trying to convince them that she is only a legend. If they knew that she really existed then they would blame her for everything that happens, or everyone that gets killed. I think we'll be lucky if we figure this out by tomorrow after noon, and they haven't shown up yet."
His friend nodded. They knew that when mysterious things happened, people wanted to kill what they blamed right away, so to extinguish the fear. But a lot of times, that only made things worse, and another fear comes along. One that is worse in many ways, and maybe even harder to kill.
"I think we should talk to her as soon as she comes back and see if she knows anything." Jason said as he noticed that no one was eating. Everyone was too restless.
"Yeah. Sykles can help. He's had an encounter with her before. He's here to protect her."
"Great. We'll deal with that once she gets back. Go eat, Herk. I'll try to take the tension off my men by setting up guard posts."
"Good idea. And Jason?" The young King had turned to go to his men when his friend put a hand on his arm for his attention. "Thanks for not telling us to go home."
"As if it would have done any good." He laughed and gave a clap of his hands to get his men's attention, and to give a stretch to loosen his own muscles.
Just as orders were given, and men were about to make their posts around the room, a dreadful sound came through the whole temple. One that curled and froze the blood of everyone. A cry of pain that made your hairs stand on end, with their own brittle quiver. Everyone froze in their place, and in their breathing.
"Annie," Sykles whispered as he looked to the ceiling. It was almost like he could feel where she was in the ruins.
Iolaus thought his muscles would break like frozen glass as he turned to look at the old man's face. It did not calm him at all.
There was a loud thunderous sound that echoed. Before the echo ended, another magnified the sound, and another. The crashes evolved into small tremors in the floors, and parts of the ceiling rained down. Soon everyone had to cover their ears, and lock their legs for balance.
"What's happening?" Iolaus asked his mysterious companion.
"One of the other followers has been killed."
"What? She killed them out her rage when she was transformed."
"No. That was added into the legend so people would fear her and leave her alone. No one was killed the day of the curse. That's part of the Temple's secret."
"So where have the other followers been all this time?" Hercules almost had to yell as the painful cries came back. Closer to them."Here in the ruins. They too were transformed. She protects them as much as she does the hinds, and they protect her. "
"What were they transformed into?" Jason asked only to have his answer thrown in front of him on the table.
A large fox laid there and bled all over the food. Her wound was in her chest, and open to the void.
The beast perched at the end of the table, hidden in her cloak. Her blood soaked claws held her balance, as her breathing was harsh. "It seems your mob has made it's way here already. and knows it's way around here. Tera was defenseless to them as she was leaving for her surveillance."
"You know for sure that my people did this?" Jason had to ask. With all the blood on her 'hands' he couldn't point a finger anywhere else. "We came here to find out if it was you who was slaughtering the animals in Corinth."
"This is the way we would find the animals," A soldier said.
"Whoa," Iolaus breathed as he saw the dead foxes fur roll back to reveal flesh, and claws turn back into human hands.
The beast snatched a soldiers cape from his armor and threw it on the exposed body. All the traces of the fox were gone, except for the red hair upon the young girl's head.
"I want whomever did this to pay!" The deep voice echoed as a 'finger' pointed at Jason.
She picked up the wrapped body, and jumped off the table. Her moves out of the big room, where agile like a grasshopper avoiding a pouncing kitten. But there was no playful attitudes that night.
Everyone's fears expanded as their hearts grew heavy with sadness. The young girl had looked as young as them, though if was there on the day of the curse. She should have been as old as there new found friend.
"If someone is here taking out the cursed followers of Artemis, and someone is taking out the livestock of Corinth in the same way, what does that tell us?" Iolaus asked as he, Hercules, Jason, and Sykles sat at a now cleaned off table.
"Tells me that someone is trying to either start a war, or just a whole bunch of trouble that they will benefit from." Jason said as he looked at his hands that were shaking like a young child who had just had a nightmare.
"Either way, people will die," Sykles said as he stared at the blood stain left on the table. "Whether by reckless paranoia, or by defending themselves against what ever is doing this.."
Hercules had a question that did not make any sense. "So far it's only killed animals. Now why would it do that?"
"Annie protects animals." The new comer tried to keep in mind. "Whom ever is doing this must be after her. Trying to make it look like she is the one doing all the killings. That way more people will come after her, and her death is inevitable. People will come after her, so that the deaths of their live stocks will stop, or they will find out about her, and kill her for what treasure they think they might get off of her, as if she were a hind."
"Do you think that it will all disappear, should she be killed, like the vixen?" Jason had to ask. The more knowledge he had, the better he could protect her, and get down to what really was happening.
"I don't know. That's the first time I had ever seen that happen."
"Do you know what the other followers were transformed into? I mean it's obvious that they were turned into animals, but which ones, and how would anyone know?"
"Annie, and the followers can know how to tell who is who. But to get her help, especially after Tera's death, will be difficult. She has no reason to trust anyone."
"How do you know so much about her?" Jason said as he looked the old man over.
"It's a long story," Hercules said with a wait-for -later tone. "Right we need to know all that you know, and all that Sykles knows. Then we'll have to see if Annie will talk to us. If she can tell us about what happened with Tera, we can possibly fit a lot more puzzle pieces together."
"How are we going to talk to her?"
"We'll have to go through the ruins to find her," Sykles said with a far away sound in his voice. "It will be dangerous though. The enchantment does not go through the walls, and the other followers may not welcome us. Especially me."
"We'll have to chance it," Jason said. "But first let's exchange what each other knows. Our evidence is her footprints , and a mess of her hair. Now we've kept her hair's evidence quiet It was founded by one of my men, and he knew it would start trouble for a lot of people. Then the fact that the animals were slaughtered in the same way as Tera, points it's way here."
"What I know about Annie is that she would not leave here and start trouble. I've watched her from a distance over the years. She's kept to herself, and ashamed of the distortion that Artemis gave her. All the other followers were turned into animals of the forest, and she was... not. She still has her gentle heart."
"And she must want to help. Otherwise she would not have let us stay." Hercules said as he looked to the doorway in with all that was said swimming around in his head. He thought he saw her bulk form in the shadows listening. He even thought he saw her cloaked head raise to reveal two glowing eyes, but it all vanished as soon as he imagined it. Or thought he did.
"She needs our help too," Sykles said. "Whatever is trying to blame her for the livestock is here. She was here, with us, when we heard the scream. It knew that what it was attacking was not a regular animal. And it knew it's way around."
"Have you brought anyone else here, with you while you have come to keep an eye on her?" Jason asked, trying to figure out how someone would know all this information.
"No. And I make sure that I am never followed. Until I met up with these two to ask for their help with her, I never even told anyone that I was here when everything happened."
"That's the long story made short," Iolaus said as he looked at Jason and Hercules.
The demi god only gave his questioning friend a half smile.
"All right. If that is all the information we have, and we only have the night here, let's get to looking around. There has to be something we can find out."
"But we don't know what kind of animals the other followers were turned into. If we so much as step on a mouse, or an insect, we could be fried instantly, or ripped to shreds." Iolaus tried to get his friend to reconsider.
"Then watch your feet," his tall blond friend said as they stood from the table.
Jason divided his men up in groups. Giving some an opportunity to rest, to stand guard of the room, and to come with him.
- * *
"Artemis. Let me be the guardian of the Beast. Without her, we would have little protection for the hinds. For as long as they exist, she needs to also. " Kora was on her knees in prayer at the temple's idol. "Give me the power of the Huntress, so that in your might, her life will be spared."
With her eyes closed, and her arms raised, ready to receive the gift of power from her goddess, she felt it flow through her. Her strength in her body, and spirit were changed. Her hearing was sharpened and so were her other senses. She knew her prayer had been answered.
"Go!" Thundered the voice of the goddess. "You are very brave to want to do this, for the evil that is trying to kill her is very strong."
"What is it, Artemis? What is trying to kill her?"
There was no answer. The goddess' presence had left her alone. She was chilled through her blood at what it could be that was doing this. But she knew that she had her job. She knew that there was nothing more to do, but to find the true murderous evil, stop it before it killed the Beast.
- * *
"Do you really think this is such a good idea. These ruins are in real bad shape, and we were told to stay in the main room," Iolaus questioned as Jason and a couple of the soldiers held torches. He squirmed at the cob webs, and the slimy moss on the walls.
"We don't have much time, Iolaus," Jason said, trying to keep focused on where he was going. "Sykles, do you know where we are?"
"This is the main hall to the prayer room. Maybe we'll find something in there."
"Do you think that they'll still pray in there after what the goddess did to them?" Iolaus had to wonder.
"Yeah," Sykles said as he turned and looked at them with sad eyes. "They pray for a way to break the curse and that they are not hunted down."
With that he turned and went back to leading the way. All was quiet as they watched their feet, and looked for any signs of any other life.
"Annie?" Sykles called into the dark room.
Through the ruins dinginess, and stale smells, the beauty of this room still shown. The moon shone through a small whole in the roof, showing paintings and tapestries still up on the walls. Though they were slanted this way, and that. Some a little. Some only hung by one end. In front of an altar, there were some coals that were kept warm to burn spices and incenses during prayers.
"What makes you think she would be here?" Hercules said as he was in the same awe as the rest in the size of the room, and how the moonlight took away the age.
"The spices are freshly burnt. Someone just either finished their prayers, or we interrupted them.." Jason pointed out.
The coals glowed bright, and the smoke was thick coming off it.
Chills gave the soldiers a shiver, and a feeling of being watched.
Jason felt their edge. "Stand fast, men. We need to keep sharp so we know who is with us."
"Annie?" Sykles called again. His voice was gentle and coaxing. Like he was talking a stray dog to some table scraps.
"You were told to stay in the main room, with the food, and the fireplace." Echoed the hollow growl. It sounded like she was above them.
"Annie. We want to stop this before it goes any further. We know they are after you. Maybe for your fur, or just to end your life," Sykles called out. Though his voice was a little louder, it was still soothing, and calling her to come out.
"I believe you that you are not responsible for the attacks in Corinth. But what ever was attacking there has come here. We want to help before anyone else gets killed. There was no need for your friend to die like that."
"It ended her pain and her curse I put on her. " There was a wind, like the beast changed places from one side of the walls to another. "I am to blame for their lives of misery in being animals. For the only way for the curse to end is for their lives to."
"Maybe there's another way," Hercules called out. "Maybe we can work together. You said we would be safe here through the night. We want to end it in that time, and it doesn't give us much. As soon as the sunrises and we're still here, Artemis will come. I know I don't want to live through what you did so many years ago, and I know that you don't want to relive it. Please. Help us."
"How? And why would you want a creature like me to help you?"
"We don't have time for this." A soldier whispered into Jason's ear. He was silenced instantly.
Jason knew that they had to take a little time to get her trust. He feared without her, they would all end up like the vixen. "We need your knowledge of the others, and of the ways through the ruins. We need to know how to tell them apart from the other animals. Which ones that are strong enough to do this, or defend themselves from whatever it is. So far we know it has your strength. But I also believe it was not you, since you were in the main room with us when your friend was attacked."
"So were all your soldiers." She jumped from her comfort of the shadows, and stood before them. Her gold hair covered her entire body, as she had a ragged, white dress-like garment on that tried as it did to cover her expanded, muscular features. "I do not believe that one of the others would attack each other, or try to have my life ended. We made amends a long time ago about the curse. About it being my fault."
"Then we are no where further along in finding out who is behind it," Iolaus sighed with irritation.
"Annie. Please come with us so that we can get behind this, tonight." The young king held out his hand to her. He wanted her to take it and tried not to show that he feared it being crushed or swiped off by her grip.
"I will help you," she said, but did not return any gesture. "Only because I do not want to see anymore of my friends to be killed. We are all that each other has." She pushed past them and went out of the room. "I'll take you to where I found Tera. But dont' go anywhere that I don't."
"What's so dangerous around here?" Jason asked. "Besides the ruins caving in?"
"Artemis' followers are protectors of the temples. Their transformations give them more strength. "Sykles explained. "Whatever animal there were changed to, they have the same senses, strength, and smarts."
"An animal with smarts?" Iolaus whispered into the conversation.
"You'd be surprised."Sykles said as they entered a room that had it's roof still, but a wall with East exposure was out. "One of Annies temper tantrums." He said under his breath to the others.
Annie heard him, but did not move to show it. She stood at the corner where the floor had a smoothed out hole in it. "This is where I found her." There was a stain from the wound, and a two trails. "She was taken by surprise as she was leaving for her look out."
Her large, hairy claws came up and covered her face. Her body shuddered from her cries. Hercules put a hand on her shoulder, and sighed with her loss.
"Don't touch me!" She said. She stood and her eyes glowed gold, just like her fur. "Please. Never touch me."
"Sorry." The youth backed off and gave her a friendly smile. He knew she was in pain. "You'll see her again. I'm sure Tera is running as a human in the Elysian Fields."
"That doesn't take away the emptiness here."
"Why don't we see where one of these trails goes," Jason said, changing the subject, and not wanting to waste any more of their time. "Hopefully we will be able to find something else."
"The trail is bloody footprints just like we would find in Corinth," a soldier pointed out.
"Annie. Please show us your feet." The young king requested.
The beast was hesitant at first. "Isn't it bad enough you have seen what you have seen?"
"Annie," Sykles stepped forward. "Show them your feet. We already know that you did not kill Tera. But we need to know what made the footprints."
She looked at each of them again, and then turned her head as she held up the huge, hairy, claw that she walked on. The padding was dry, and cracked from the rough terrain she explored, and from being unprotected. The gold fur was matted with mud, and twigs she had picked up from outside.
"These match your feet. How would someone leave a trail of your foot prints?" Iolaus pondered.
"I don't know. But I know I didn't kill Tera."
"Is there anyone else that has as big of feet as you?" Jason asked, and put up a hand before she could repeat herself about her friends. "We just need to know. Maybe someone else was here and saw it. That's all."
"There is a bear. Her feet is as big as mine. Almost. She sleeps in the lower areas. By the main room. "
"We need to split up then. We need to see where this trail leads, and go and talk to the bear. " Jason couldn't believe what he was saying. "Or have you talk to her. I don't know how this works. To see if she saw something. But we don't have time to do both."
"If you split up, I can not protect the party that is without me."
"I can," came a voice from the hole in the wall.
"Her again?" Iolaus asked shocked to see the one woman who could be beautiful and frightening at the same time to him. "Where did you come from?"
"I asked Artemis to let me help. I can protect the other group as they fill me in with what is going on."
"The Huntress is right. All the animals know the servant of Artemis well. I will take the group to see Bellis, the bear. I will take the king and Sykles and half the soldiers. You take the others. We'll meet back here in a little while. "
The Huntress looked at Hercules who gave her a wave and a nervous smile. With a sigh, she took the lead and walked along to where the trail led. "Let's go. Sunrise is coming."
Annie looked at who she had. Jason had divided the men, and she trusted that they would listen to her warnings. Along with the animals' senses, and cunning, the transformed follower also had their hungers and instincts. "Let's go." She growled at them and led the way.
"This blood is spoiling fast," The Huntress said as she kept an arrow ready in her bow. "That happens when a curse ends in death."
"What a stench!" One of the soldiers said as he looked down. He gasped at what he saw.
The spoiling blood was also boiling away, explaining the stench and fast rot. The trail was evaporating, and leaving them less time.
"It leads to that room at the end," Iolaus pointed out with his trackers skills. "It may not end there though. This place is a maze."
The Huntress nodded in her surprising agreement. She led the way as Hercules kept the torch behind her, and they were followed by Iolaus and the soldiers.
As they were about to enter the room, the halls were filled with another scream. Everyone's blood froze them in their steps from the closeness. Only their eyes moved to see what it was.
"That didn't sound like a bear, or a woman." Iolaus said.
"No it was an angry animal. An owl. It was not wounded. Let's move before ..." The Huntress began, but it was too late. The trail was gone, leaving only the stench behind. "Too late."
"There is a slight scarring on the floor from the boiling. I think I can track it."
Hercules and their protector moved back so that his friend could lead the way. He gave the great tracker the torch for better light.
"Do you smell that?" He asked after following the slight trail through room after room.
"All I smell is the stench from the boiling blood," one of the soldiers said.
"No." The Huntress said as she fear what it was. "That passed away already. This is fresh. Almost."
"This way." Iolaus said as he sprinted into a lit room.
A small campfire glowed in the middle of rot eating insects filled room. Their group had to cover the mouths and noses from the stinging odor that invaded on them.
"What is it?" Another soldier asked. His question was answered when Iolaus moved the torch in further.
"Hearts." Iolaus said. "This is more gross then when you had the fates' eye Herk."
"Hera," was all Hercules could say as he looked at the wall where the decomposing organs were laid on an altar.
"What?" The Huntress was shocked, but looked and recognized it too.
At the altar was Hera's sign and array of peacock feathers.
"What would Hera have to do with this?" Iolaus asked as he took a chance to breathe.
"I don't know," Hercules' defenses were up as he stared at the altar and then looked around at the sacrifices. "But I'm going to find out. "
"She should be going to bed by now," Annie said as she entered the den of her friend.
Something was not right. All was still in the darkness.
A loud screech echoed through the room, and a gust of wind hit them, as some sort of large bird flew over them.
"Olivia is upset." Annie said as she held out her arm for the owl to rest on it. She did not say anything to the ruffled feathered bird, but listened to a series of screeches and hoots. "Stay here. I mean it."
The owl took off, and the beast followed. There was more anger in the gruff of the voice that she used. Something definitely had happened.
"What do you think happened?" Jason asked Sykles as they went further in the room with the light.
"I fear that whatever is doing the killings, has hit again."
"Do you think it was the bear?"
"Can't say. Won't know until she gets back."
"We can't wait long."
"Jason." Came Hercules' call from down the hall. "We've got real big trouble."
"Herk. How'd you find your way..." Before the young king could finish his question, The Huntress had her bow armed and looking for a target.
"Who ever is doing this is changing who they follow." Hercules started as he was out of breath.
"What are you saying?"
"We found a room full of rotting hearts on an altar made for Hera."
"Artemis would allow an altar to Hera made in her temple?"
"Either she doesn't know, or fears Hera and has no choice."
"If she does not know, she will find out soon enough, and there will be Tartarus to pay. Where is it?" Sykles asked. The memory of the screams on the cursed day was running through his head.
"Back this way."Iolaus pointed.
Jason left the half of the soldiers that had stayed with him there, with one of the soldiers that could lead Annie back to them. He followed the others back with Sykles and had the same reaction as the others from the foul smell.
"Spread the torches out so we can light the whole room," Sykles said as he handed a soldier his torch.
Everyone with a torch watched where they stepped on the floor.
"Where are we?" Jason asked as he stared in shock at was in front of him.
"In the lair of the follower that was ..."
His answer was interrupted. From the ceiling above a creature dropped before them. It had the same golden hair as Annie, and the same size feet, but it did not look like her otherwise. It heaved a husky breath and let out a loud growl to scare them back.
"... a lion." Continued Sykles.
"That doesn't look like a lion to me." Hercules observed, and stood closer to the old man, to protect his frail body from the monster.
"Thanks to my pact with Hera." Came a soft female's voice from behind a mask the creature wore on her face. In a glowing light, the creature vanished, replaced by a young woman with long flowing blond hair.
"What pact?" Hercules asked. He could not understand how anyone could want to make a deal with his step-mother.
"My human body, and eternal youth, for the life of the Beast. An easy exchange I think. But Artemis would never let us kill her. Never were we to harm the guardian of the hinds."
"So you frame it to look like she had gone mad, and was killing the livestock in Corinth?" The Huntress asked.
"That way, the people of Corinth would be here like a lynch mob. To claim the treasure of her hair, and to stop the Beast."
"But there would be no treasure to claim." Iolaus said. "As soon as Annie was killed, all the gold from her hair would disappear and her corpse, would be human. The same as it was the day of the curse. The only way to break the curse is to die, or to barter with Artemis. "
"I'm tired of waiting for Artemis. Hera has given me everything I need."
"But it was not Hera's curse. She will never let you be fully human." The young-demi god pointed out.
"Fool. I don't want to be fully human. I just want that part for the beauty. I need the lion's strength, senses and instinct to do the things I need to do."
"As Hera's slave." He had a knowing smile on his face, as he crossed his arms across his chest and mocked her.
"It's worth it. For eternal youth.""You really think she will give it to you?"
"Of course. Look for yourself." She laid her hands on her swaying hips for a view of what she meant.
The demi-god was not impressed. "So for this beauty, and 'way out' of Artemis' curse, you are willing to kill your friends."
"They are no friends of mine. I pleaded with them to tell Artemis about him!" She pointed at Sykles. "I knew the day he was brought here. I was going to tell her in prayers, and they tied me up and hid me. When Artemis' anger came, she would not listen to me; that I had nothing to do with it. I wanted to kill them all that day. But I waited. And Hera came to me with her plan."
"And now that you are planning for Annies death, you think that this youth and beauty will last forever?"
"Hera gave me an apple from the Tree of Life to insure it. Do you think me a fool?"
Hercules spit out a laugh. "Yes. How do you know it was from the Tree of Life? She could have given you any fruit from anywhere."
"I felt the power of the fruit."
"A small spell. If you trust Hera's word, you are a fool."
The woman became angry, and transformed back into the creature, enjoying all the gasps around her. By now everyone had forgotten the stench of decay, as they watched her movements towards the demi-god.
"You are the fool to mock Hera," the growling mutant said as she circled him.
Hercules rolled his eyes and did not change his attitude. "What's she going to do? Put me at the top of her 'Bad List'? Too late. Already there."
"Good. Then killing you, will be more enjoyable."
"Uh, Hercules," Jason said in a nervous tone. "I hope you know what you are doing."
"Uh, Herk. We left our weapons outside, remember?" Iolaus said standing next to him and staring at the huffing creature.
"Oh yes. I remember."
"Then what are you doing."
"Having her confess to her victim." He nodded his head to the shadows of the entry way.
Annie was standing there. Listening. Waiting. Controlling her anger.
The mutant had followed the conversation and in her shock, calmed herself. She transformed back into her human form with a surprise waiting her.
"Is it me, or does she look a little older then the last time we saw her?" Iolaus pointed out. He could see his friends point, and plan.
Annie threw down another body. "I had brought this back for King Jason to see. I thought the mob had attacked. But now I see that you are as you always have been. A traitor. How could you kill Tera, and now Bellis? How many more to satisfy your new master? How many will you kill?"
"As many as it takes. For as long as it takes. I have found a goddess who has real power."
"Too bad she didn't share it with you." Hercules smirked, and then straightened up when he saw Annie's glare.
"Thank you, gentlemen, for finding her out. Artemis will have her way with her now." Annie gave a bow of appreciation.
"You think she can touch me. I have Hera on my side! The queen of the gods."
"And her spell is wearing off."
The mutant looked at her aging self. "No. This can not be happening. Hera promised."
"This is Artemis." Said the Huntress. "You have been caught in your game. You actually thought that in her own temple you could hide this? She knew all along, but made it so that we could see. Now she is making an example out of you. Hera messed with her curse, now she is messing with you."
"As she will you. Sun's up."
Sykles looked out into the corridor where there were holes in the wall. Sure enough the rays of first light were seeping in.
"Your punishment will be greater this time, old man!" The girl laughed as her aging hit her again. "All of you. Hera still wins. Corinth in chaos without a king, the favored son of Zeus destroyed by his own sister, and what ever your future holds," she pointed a wrinkled hand at Iolaus, " will never be."
Iolaus rolled his eyes. "Sure. I'm just the friend of the son of Zeus, and the King of Corinth." Her words nor the sunlight did not frighten him. He did not know why.
"Artemis!" The Huntress called out to her goddess. "The killer of your followers has been found. Your justice be done. Now I ask that the curse of this place be lifted."
<IMG SRC="http://lwofanfictionproductions.myqth.com/younghercules/website/artemis.jpg" align=right>
A blinding light flashed in the room. There stood Artemis. The boys gaped, having never seen a clear image of Hercules' half sister. Tall and strong, long golden curls flowing down over he shoulders, the muscular body clothed in a short golden skirt and revealing golden top. In her hand was the Golden Bow, a quiver of her magickal arrows over her shoulder. Piercing blue eyes were filled with rage. "I will release the survivors of my curse, except for the Beast."
"Artemis, please. She has paid her price." The Huntress knelt before her goddess.
"It is as you said, Huntress. Without her, the hinds would have no protection. As long as they exist, they will be hunted for their fur. They need her protection."
Annie bowed her head and nodded. A golden tear hit the dirt floor at her clawed feet. "Thank you Artemis for releasing my friends. I am thankful you trust your creatures to me."
"But Annie," Sykles came over and took her fur covered hand. "I have waited for this day for years. For you to be released. Artemis. Please. There must be a way."
There was no answer as the goddess stood there. No one could tell is she was thinking it over, or if she was just waiting for something.
"Give me the strength of the Beast." the Huntress stepped forward. "For as long as the hinds live, increase my power, with the Beast's strength, and let me protect them."
"No." Hercules stepped forward. "You can't."
The Huntress smiled at her friend. The one who had kept her secret. Taking his hand she smiled. "You are a great friend, Hercules. And we will see each other again." The Huntress faded to show Kora. "I promise. But being Artemis' follower, and protecting the hinds is what I have been doing all this time. Now I will have more strength to protect them even better, and the Beast can remain a legend."
"Kora?" Jason and Iolaus chorused together. "Whoa."
"Kora. What about your friends, and what about the inn?" Hercules asked.
"Did you ever see me happy there? Did you ever see me really happy in that work? The only time I am really happy, is when I am free as the Huntress, with the forest creatures, helping Artemis protect them. Please, understand. I want to do this." She dropped his hand, and looked to the goddess. " I volunteer my devotion, Artemis, to protect the hinds, with the combined power of the Huntress and the Beast."
"I still need you as the Huntress, for reasons you do not need to know yet. I shall give you the power of the Beast, but juggling the two lives will be difficult." Artemis said. Kora nodded.
"I am ready."
"If that is what you wish, Huntress, then you shall be rewarded for your devotion."
The room was once again filled with a blinding light. The curse was lifted. Power transferred itself to Kora, who had resumed the guise of the Huntress, but now she had a faint golden glow around her.
When they could see, the group of friends, found themselves outside, surrounded by many people.
The followers of Artemis, released form their curse. The people who had disappeared into the forest, the soldiers, and the dead body of a lion. It's body was shriveled thin, and grey. It looked to have died from old age.
Annie and Sykles looked at each other. They were amazed at the blessing also given to them. They looked as they did the day of the curse.
"You are free from me. You may choose to stay in another temple or stay together. The choice is yours." With that, Artemis left.
"Annie. We can now be together," Sykles said. They had been given a chance to start over.
Annie was so excited, all she could do was leap into his arms, and hug him. She squealed as he twirled her around in his arms.
The other followers went to King Jason to bow, and thank him for his help. Before they left, one pointed to the woods.
There came the mob from Corinth. They had swords, crossbows, pitchforks, and anger. They wanted their justice. Swift, and deadly.
"Sykles, I think it best if you two left now. Good luck to you both," Hercules said.
The two rejuvenated youth gave their thanks, and made their way through the dumb founded guards and people.
"Where's the beast? It killed again last night, in a horrible mass!" The ring leader said as he encouraged the lynchers.
"There's your beast," said Jason as he kicked the decaying corpse. "This is what you thought was the legend. You got these people all paranoid and brought them out here for no reason. No go back to your homes. Corinth and your livestock is safe again."
"This can't be the Beast. It's it's-"
"It was insane."
"How did it die?"
"What does it look like? From old age, and its madness. It dropped itself from the ruins."
"This can't be."
Jason's Captain of the guards stepped forward. "Are you calling the King of Corinth a liar? If you are found wrong, the punishment is banishment, or death."
The leader stumbled over his own tongue, looking for words. "Forgive me your majesty. But I do have one more question. How do you explain that this... was found in front of the Artemis temple, told to have been cursed, and who are these people?"
"Coincidence, and travelers, lost in the woods," Jason smiled as he pointed for the man to turn around and to leave. "Back to Corinth. All of you. I will return shortly." He commanded, and dispersed the crowd, as he continued aloud to himself, " I need to say good-bye to a friend."
The three friends turned to the temple, and saw their friend showing herself from one of the windows. Then in a flash, she was gone. They waved to her, and smiled.
"So, Herk," Iolaus said. "You knew that Kora was the Huntress? For how long?"
"Iolaus. If I told you that, she would have to kill you." He put a arm around his shoulder and led him away.
"Sire," came one of the soldiers to Jason's side. "What did happen here?"
Jason looked at the man like he was crazy, and then knew what Artemis had done. "Just like I said. The lion was insane with it's old age. Don't you remember the lair of hearts?"
"Hearts, sir?" Jason turned him to the other soldiers, and explained a story to them that would keep the Beast a legend, and a dear friend safe.
TERN 0'BRIEN AND MEDEA
Old Skyles: Derek Payne
Annie: Kelly Addis
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