Author's Note: The practices of voodoo were first established in the late 18th century, and it doesn't take a historian to realize that this time frame occurred long after the days of ancient Greece. However, since the basis of voodoo came from African traditions (not to mention the fact that this is a fantasy series based on gods and monsters) I decided I could get away with the following. However, readers that put a high priority on historical accuracy may want to avoid this chapter. Enjoy, and as always, I mean no copyright infringement on the characters owned by RenPics and Universal Studios. May the Bokor curse you and steal your soul if you attempt any legal action.
Iolaus rose as carefully as he could in an effort not to wake Elissa. He quickly got dressed before going to the window and peeking out of the shutters. The lateness of the day surprised him.
“What’s wrong?” came the sleepy murmur from behind him.
“Nothing,” the hunter reassured his wife. “I think Hercules and Jason are back.”
When they had returned home from their journey to Hestia’s temple, they had found a note from their friends. It said that Jason was doing well and that he and the demigod had gone fishing for a few days.
“Why don’t you go back to sleep?” Iolaus suggested, sitting back on the bed next to the healer. She had been up for most of the night, caring for her brother.
“Maybe,” Elissa replied noncommittally. “I should check on Argeon, though.” The hunter nodded his understanding. He would have offered to look in on the sailor so that his wife could rest, but he knew that she wanted to tend to her brother herself. The healer yawned and stretched, flexing her fingers gently several times. Her hands had been a mess after the hours of gripping onto rock crevices when she and Iolaus had been trapped inside the mountain, but finally the soreness was beginning to recede.
“I’ll put some water on,” the hunter told her, knowing that she could do with some hot tea. He let himself out of the room and entered the kitchen just as Hercules came through the door.
“Welcome back,” the demigod grinned, greeting his friend warmly. “How did everything go?”
“That is a long story,” Iolaus answered, emptying the water bucket into a small pot. He deftly started a fire and hung the pot over the flames so the water could heat. “Where’s Jason?”
“In the barn, putting up his horse,” Hercules replied. “Are you just getting up?”
“It was a late night,” the hunter began, but his friend interrupted.
“I don’t need to know the details,” the demigod insisted.
“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Iolaus told him, poking around the kitchen for something to eat, preferably something that didn’t involve much cooking. “Argeon was here waiting for us when we got back. He got into some trouble in Africa, but that’s a whole other story.” The hunter finally contented himself with a handful of figs and began popping them in his mouth one by one. “I hope you brought some fish back with you.”
“We did,” Jason announced, entering the house with a string of fat trout.
“Music to my ears,” Iolaus grinned, taking the fish from the Argonaut. “How are you, Jase?”
“Good as new,” Jason replied, sitting at the table. “Or at least, as good as an old man can be.” He smiled to show that he was only joking.
“Elissa will be glad to hear that,” the hunter said, sitting across from the former king and beginning to clean the fish.
“She’s also going to have your head for doing that there,” Hercules commented wryly as a spray of fish scales scattered across the clean kitchen table.
“Nah,” Iolaus bragged. “She worships the ground I walk on.”
The three men turned to see Elissa standing behind them.
“I was just kidding,” the hunter sang out quickly. But as he looked at his wife’s face, he immediately saw that something was wrong.
“Argeon’s gone,” she said quietly.
“Maybe he just went out for some air or something,” Iolaus suggested, trying to keep her from worrying.
“I don’t think so,” Elissa replied, attempting to stay calm. “I found this in his bed.” She held out a small doll that bore some superficial resemblance to the sailor, stuck through with several needles.
Iolaus rapidly wiped his hands off and went to hug his wife while Jason and Hercules examined the object.
“Elissa, please don’t cry,” he comforted, stroking her hair. “Everything will be all right.”
“I can’t lose him,” the healer whispered, fighting back the tears. “Not now. Not after everything.”
“We’ll find him,” the hunter vowed, knowing that he didn’t have to tell her that it might already be too late.
“I think you’d better tell us the whole story,” Hercules interjected. He didn’t know what the doll meant, but it obviously had ominous intentions behind it. Jason offered to make tea, but Elissa insisted on doing it. It gave her a task to briefly occupy her mind while Iolaus recounted to their friends what Argeon had told them the night before.
“The ship he was sailing with ran into a bad storm and sustained a lot of damage,” the hunter began. “They were forced to make an emergency landing on the African coast. While they were trying to get supplies and materials to make repairs, they explored the surrounding villages. One day a group of villagers came to their camp, accusing one of the sailors of attacking a girl. The man denied it, but the villagers demanded justice. During the night, they raided the camp and stole the sailor away. The ship’s crew tracked them back to their village, but they were too late. Argeon didn’t go into detail, but he said what they had done to the poor man defied description. The crew were forbidden to take the body, but they weren’t about to let their shipmate go unavenged. They battled the villagers, and finally escaped with the man’s body. They expected a retaliation, but it never came. Not directly, anyhow. A lot of the men began having strong feelings about an evil presence among them. They quickly repaired their ship and sailed off, but whatever had been haunting them in Africa followed them. Argeon said that he thought it was a bunch of superstition, until the crew all began falling ill with mysterious ailments.”
“Argeon was the most straight forward man I’ve ever known,” Elissa interjected. “Even when we were little he never believed in all the fantasies and magic that children believe. Cimon and I would always be going on about some nonsense, and Argeon would just look at us like he wanted to knock our heads together. If he couldn’t see it, touch it, and hear it, then it just wasn’t real. So I know that he wasn‘t imagining this. And it must have been a strong force if he believed in it.”
“He said that one day he felt it come over him,” Iolaus continued. “Like a shadow had fallen over him. Dark and malevolent. And it followed him, no matter how far he tried to run. He started to become sick, and was plagued with unexplained pain. He didn’t know what else to do, so he ended up here, hoping that we could help him.”
“I couldn’t find anything physically wrong with him,” the healer explained, picking up the doll from the table. “But there’s a needle in this thing in every spot where he complained of pain.”
“Herc, have you ever seen anything like this?” Iolaus asked. The demigod shook his head.
“I haven’t either,” Jason said slowly. “But I think I know where we can find someone who has.”
“I keep forgetting how much I like this place,” Iolaus beamed as a pretty serving girl with ample cleavage held out a tray of food before him.
“You’d better watch those wandering eyes,” Elissa advised him. “Or you just may find yourself exiled here.” As the girl blushed, the hunter made a big show of covering his eyes as he reached out and helped himself from the tray. The girl quickly took her offerings to Hercules, then moved hesitantly toward the healer. Elissa winked at the girl as she selected some grapes to show that she had only been joking.
“You know I only have eyes for you,” Iolaus told her as he sat beside her on a large, soft chair, big enough for two.
“Sure,” the healer drawled, rolling her eyes. She never doubted that her husband loved her, but from time to time she did catch him “looking”. But Elissa knew that it was an innocent gesture, so it was easily forgiven.
When they had arrived in Corinth, Iphicles had been engaged in a very important meeting with his heads of state. He could not greet them personally, but he had given orders that his guests were to be well received and given anything they desired. Naturally, Iolaus and his insatiable appetite had taken full advantage of that offer.
“So who is this guy that Jason brought us to see?” the hunter asked around a mouthful of food.
“I don’t know any more than you do,” Hercules answered him with a shrug. “Just that he was originally from Africa.”
“Whoever he is, I hope he can tell us something,” Elissa remarked, leaning back against her husband. Iolaus looked at her with soft eyes and vehemently echoed that hope. Ever since Jason had mentioned that he knew of someone that might be able to help them, the healer had been very optimistic and in much better spirits. Iolaus knew she was putting all her trust into this stranger, and if he failed to live up to the Argonaut’s expectations, it would be a crushing blow for her. The hunter just had to make sure that didn’t happen.
Finally, Jason returned to the room where they had been waiting. The man who had accompanied him moved to stand uncomfortably among them, head bowed respectfully.
“This is Asa,” the Argonaut announced, making the introductions. “He’s in charge of the palace stables. He served me and my horse faithfully all the years I was king.”
The trio greeted the dark skinned man warmly. Although his position sounded lowly, all of them knew how much Jason valued his stallion. If he had been in charge of it’s care, then the Argonaut must have thought highly of him.
“Asa, we need your help,” Jason continued. “Can you tell us anything about this?” Elissa pulled the doll out of her bag and handed it to the man. He grew visibly nervous as he studied it.
“Where did you get this?” he asked softly.
“My brother disappeared and this was left in his place,” the healer answered. Asa handed her back the doll quickly and looked expectantly at Jason.
“You can speak freely,” the Argonaut reassured him. “You’re among friends.”
“It’s the work of a Bokor,” the man explained.
“What is that?” the hunter asked curiously.
“I guess you’d call them priests,” Asa replied. “Whenever someone is wronged, for a fee the Bokor can extract vengeance. They call upon the loa, the divinities, to give them power. They’re surrounded by mystery and myth, but I’ve seen them make things happen. This doll is a curse. It’s fashioned in the form of the victim, using a personal item. The cloth around the doll probably belonged to your brother. A shirt or blanket, perhaps. Everything that the Bokor does to the doll affects the victim.”
“Let me get this straight,” Hercules began, taking the doll from Elissa. “Whenever this Bokor stuck a needle in this thing, Argeon was supposed to feel it?”
“It sounds strange, but I’ve seen them do much worse.”
“Well why do we have this now?” Elissa demanded. “What happened to my brother?”
“The Bokor took him.”
“You’re telling us that a Bokor came all the way from Africa, entered our house, and took out a man without anyone hearing him?” Iolaus was distinctly skeptical.
“Whatever wrong this man committed, it must have been very great,” Asa said softly.
“Argeon didn’t do anything wrong,” Elissa insisted belligerently.
“Forgive me, miss,” Asa whispered, lowering his eyes. “But someone thinks so.”
“All right,” Jason said calmly. “Where would the Bokor have taken Argeon?”
“Back to his village,” Asa answered. “He would take him back as proof for whoever hired him.”
“So he’s dead?” the healer asked quietly.
“Maybe not.” The man took the doll again and studied it. “There are no marks over the heart. The damage to the doll was meant to cause pain, but not meant to be fatal. There’s a good chance that he still may be alive.”
Asa didn’t have to tell them that if Argeon was still alive, he probably wouldn’t remain so for long.
“Then we need to get to Africa,” Iolaus announced, folding his arms across his chest. “And we don’t have any time to waste.”
“As soon as Iphicles is through with his meeting, I’ll ask him about a ship,” Hercules stated, shooting a consoling glance at Elissa. The healer nodded slightly and took the doll back, carefully pulling out the needles that were protruding from the body before placing it gently back into her bag.
Iolaus emerged from the hold of the ship and took a deep breath of the sea air. Iphicles had generously given them one of his best vessels and had provided them with several good men for a crew, so they had wasted no time in starting the journey to Africa. The king had watched them depart with a longing in his eyes, wishing that he too could share the adventure, but his duties had unfortunately kept him home. So he had entrusted the ship to his brother and to his predecessor and had wished them luck from the docks of Corinth.
The hunter had come up on deck with the intent of finding something to do. Iphicles had seen to it that they had been given ample food supplies, but fishing would help to pass the time. He was just about to grab a pole and try his luck when he noticed Asa sitting off to the side. The man hadn’t wanted to come with them, but Jason had finally talked him into it, saying that they would need a guide familiar with the African ways once they had arrived. Still, he was on edge and nervous about the mission. But, he was finally getting comfortable with the fact that he was not their servant on this voyage and he should treat them as equals.
“Asa, can I ask you something?” Iolaus asked, approaching him
“Of course,” the man replied, sliding over to make room for the hunter on the bench he was sitting on. He’d been busy making repairs to a large fish net, and Iolaus picked up a corner of it to help.
“I got the feeling that you were holding back something before. What do you really think our chances of finding Argeon alive are?”
“I didn’t want to upset Elissa,” Asa said hesitantly. “But I think that this is a wasted journey. If Argeon is not already dead when we arrive, then he will have suffered a fate worse than death.”
“Worse than death?” the hunter wondered.
“The Bokor has the power of evil behind him. He can make unspeakable things happen. You should prepare her for the event that we can’t save him. Forgive me for speaking so bluntly, but I don’t think she should be here.”
“That was her decision to make,” Iolaus told him. He shielded his eyes against the sunlight and watched as Elissa came up from the hold and went to lean against the railing, looking out over the sea. None of them had thought she should come, including the hunter. He would have felt much better knowing that she was back in Corinth, safe with Iphicles. But when he saw the fire in her eyes, he knew that there would be no leaving her behind. The healer was a woman of determination, and if anyone was going to risk his life to save her brother, then she was going to be a part of it. Iolaus left Asa and went to his love, encircling her from behind with his strong arms.
“I love the sea,” she said softly as the wind tossed her hair in a wild dance. “I was on a boat once, when I was little, but it was nothing like this.”
“We’ll see if you feel the same way by the time we get to Africa,” the hunter declared. He knew that the confines of a ship were just too small for his pent up energy, and by the time they arrived at their destination he would be tired of continuously looking at the sameness of the blue-green horizon.
“Thank you for doing this,” she whispered, turning around to face him. “It really means a lot to me.”
“Elissa, I don’t mean to be negative,” Iolaus began. “But we don’t know what we’re up against. I don’t want to worry you any more than you already are, but there’s a possibility we may not make it in time to help Argeon.”
“I know,” the healer replied. “But he’s my brother. I have to try. I know that we’re probably wasting our time, and maybe putting everyone in danger, but I have to know for sure. If there’s even a small chance that he’s still alive, then I have to do what I can to save him.”
“I understand that,” the hunter told her, hugging her tightly to him. “And we’re all here to help. If he is still alive, then we’ll bring him home.”
The journey was long, but uneventful. No unforeseen problems or complications had arisen, and the clear weather had held for the duration of the trip. The ship had made good time, and they landed on the African coast on schedule. From what Argeon had told them, they were able to estimate the location where his ship had landed. Leaving the crew with the ship for safety, the quintet disembarked and began searching the surrounding villages for any sign of the Greek sailor. Unfortunately, their search produced nothing.
“The religion of Africa is not like that in Greece,” Asa was telling them. “Every village has its own faith and worships its own loas. African people worship spirits that walk the earth. They have rituals meant to honor them, and to invoke the loas to help them. But one thing every village has in common is its silence. It is disrespectful to speak of such practices, especially to outsiders. They fear that they will bring the wrath of the loas onto themselves. If anyone here has seen Argeon, they are not going to tell us.”
“We have to keep trying,” Hercules announced. “We didn’t just come all this way to turn around and go home. Somebody must know something. Let’s try the next village.”
But still they found nothing. As the group pressed on, they began to get more and more discouraged. Even Elissa was beginning to think it was hopeless, until they entered a large village in a secluded part of the forest.
“He’s here,” the healer called out as she stopped walking.
“Where?” Iolaus asked, looking around him quickly.
“I don’t see him,” she replied slowly. “I don’t know how I know it, but he’s here somewhere.”
Jason, Hercules and Asa all exchanged a look. They were clearly skeptical, and maybe thinking that the heat had gotten to the young healer. Or maybe that she just wanted it to be true so badly....
“Then we’ll find him,” the hunter told his wife, taking her hand. He wasn’t sure what to make of her announcement, but he did know that Elissa was never one to give in to hysteria. If she said that Argeon was in the village, then he was inclined to go along with it.
“Well, why don’t we split up and see what we can find out?” Jason suggested. “We’ll take the north side of the village and you two can take the south side. We’ll meet back here.”
The group obligingly dispersed and began questioning the villagers that were milling about town. As in all the other villages they had checked, the people looked at them with open suspicion and refused to answer any of their questions.
“I know he’s here somewhere, Iolaus,” the healer said in frustration.
“It’s ok,” the hunter consoled her. “Just because nobody’s talking doesn’t mean that he’s not here. This Bokor probably has him stashed somewhere, but he can’t keep him hidden forever. We’ll find him. Come on, let’s go ask that man over there.”
Iolaus walked over to where an elderly man was trying to pull a cart full of wood through the village. One of the wheels had sunk into a soft spot in the ground, and the hunter quickly helped him extract his load and maneuver it to a firmer area. Elissa sighed and uncorked her water skin, taking a long drink. The heat of the day was upon the small village, and even the shade of the surrounding forest did little to counteract the blazing sun overhead. She wasn’t used to the sweltering heat, and found that it was sapping her energy very quickly. As she watched her husband talking animatedly with the old man, the healer became aware of a small sound behind her. A woman sitting in the doorway of a small hut motioned her to come forward. Elissa glanced back at Iolaus before she approached the woman. She looked positively ancient, and she reached out a gnarled hand to stroke the healer’s cheek.
“What you seek you will find,” the woman rasped in a voice like sandpaper. “And if you have courage, you will overcome the darkness.”
“I don’t understand,” Elissa told her. “How do you know what I’m seeking? Do you know something you can tell me? Something about my brother?”
“The light is in you child,” the old woman continued. She looked pointedly over to where Iolaus was still engaged with the man. “And the light surrounds you. Do not lose your faith in it, or in those you love.”
“Please,” the healer begged. “If you know something.... If you’ve seen Argeon, you have to tell me.”
“I’ve told you what I’ve seen,” she replied cryptically. “And I can tell you no more. But here, take this to keep you safe.” She held out a small pendant on a chain and pressed it into Elissa’s hand.
“Thank you,” the girl said, trying not to sound disappointed. She examined the charm, running a finger over the intricate design before she slipped it into her bag.
“Go now, and find what you seek,” the woman instructed. Elissa nodded and turned away, walking slowly toward Iolaus. He was watching the old man limp off, lugging the heavy cart behind him.
“Did he tell you anything?”
“No,” the hunter sighed, running a hand through his unruly golden curls. “In fact, once I started asking about Argeon he couldn’t get away from me fast enough.”
“That old woman didn’t tell me anything either,” Elissa remarked. “At least, nothing that made any sense.”
“What old woman?” Iolaus asked.
“Over there...” the healer trailed off as she saw that the doorway to the hut where the woman had beckoned her was now empty. “Oh, it doesn’t matter. She wasn’t any help anyway.”
“Let’s hope the others are having better luck than we are,” Iolaus said grimly.
Hercules, Jason, and Asa had been receiving the same treatment from the villagers on the north side of town. People hurried away quickly as soon as they began questioning them, and the group was about ready to give up.
“I guess we should head back to the center of the village and meet up with Iolaus and Elissa,” Jason suggested wearily. Asa quickly agreed with him, but Hercules had become distracted.
“What is that?” he murmured, almost to himself. The others followed his gaze to the trees that surrounded the edge of the village.
“What?” the Argonaut asked, failing to see anything amiss.
“I saw something glinting in the trees,” the demigod insisted.
“It’s probably nothing,” Jason tried to tell him, eager to head back into the village in the hopes of escaping the heat of the day. He wondered briefly if they had ale in Africa. But Hercules was already moving towards the trees, intent on getting a closer look. “Hercules, it was probably just a bit of metal caught in a branch. A spearhead or something.”
“I just want to make sure,” the demigod called over his shoulder. Reluctantly, Jason followed him with Asa close behind. But as Hercules stepped onto the path that led through the stand of trees, Asa suddenly took his arm and pulled him back.
“What are you doing?” he demanded, noticing that his comrade was looking distinctly terrified. Asa pointed to a large tree that had a symbol carved into it. Blazing against the dark bark of the tree was the shape of a skull and crossbones.
“What is that?” Jason asked, squinting at the symbol.
“It is the sign of Bacalou,” Asa explained. “This forest is sacred to him.”
“And who is this Bacalou?” Hercules asked suspiciously.
“He’s an evil spirit. Listen to me, Hercules. He’s very dangerous. We have to leave here, now.”
“Evil spirit?” the demigod echoed. “The kind that a Bokor might serve?”
“Possibly,” Asa admitted. Hercules nodded once and began striding purposefully down the path. Jason shrugged and quickly followed. Asa hesitated nervously for several moments, before finally setting off down the path to catch up to the other two.
“Looks like an ordinary forest to me,” the Argonaut observed after they had disappeared into the depths of the woods.
“Please,” Asa begged. “Let’s leave here before it’s too late.”
“Not yet,” Hercules muttered, catching sight of something. As he ventured closer, he saw it was a large hut, partially concealed by vines and shrubs. “Asa, what is this?”
“Looks like some kind of altar,” Jason commented, peering in through the door.
“It’s a hounfour,” Asa whispered. “It is an altar. The Bokor and his followers gather here and perform their rituals.”
“It’s deserted now,” the demigod said thoughtfully. “How often would they come here?”
“By now, the Bokor knows that we are in the village looking for Argeon,” Asa gulped fearfully. “They will probably assemble tonight.”
“Why? To curse us too?”
“I know you think I’m overreacting, Jason. But if the Bokor wants to get rid of us, he can make it happen.”
“Then we’ll just have to stop him before he has the chance,” Hercules vowed.
“I think I hear something,” Iolaus whispered. Hercules strained his ears, and in the midst of the usual forest sounds he thought he could hear the rumblings of approaching people. Looking around him, he strained to see his friends hidden in the darkness. They had returned to the hounfour at nightfall and had hidden themselves among the brush, hoping that Asa had been right and the Bokor would return that evening. As it turned out, they had not been waiting in vain.
A group of people marched up the trail towards the hut with torches flickering against the night. Iolaus felt Elissa squeeze his hand tightly, and he knew that she had seen what he had just noticed. Argeon was among the group, lumbering along in a strange, shuffling stride. The hunter desperately wished that he could have convinced his wife to stay in the village. There was something distinctly ominous about this group, and he began to have a bad feeling. As the people filed into the hut, which quickly became alive with light, Hercules motioned the group to creep closer. They gathered silently along side the hut and tried to unobtrusively observe the actions within.
“That’s the Bokor,” Asa whispered in Hercules’ ear as a tall, glowering figure stepped up on the altar.
“What’s he doing?” the demigod whispered back.
“Making a veve,” Asa answered as the Bokor began sprinkling flour over the altar. “Each loa has its own veve, its own specific pattern. Its part of the ritual to invoke the loa.”
The people watching the Bokor began chanting, growing louder and louder as they began to get caught up in the ritual. Two men were pounding out a distinctive rhythm on large drums, and the assembly began to dance.
“That’s the asagwe,” Asa continued as the people covered the floor with circular, sweeping motions. “Meant as a salute to the gods.”
“What’s next?” Jason whispered, moments before the Bokor pulled a squawking chicken out of a basket.
“Animal sacrifice,” Asa answered. “An offering to the loa.”
“I think it’s time to crash the party,” Hercules commanded.
As the demigod’s bulk filled the entrance to the hut, the wild dancing within came to a screeching halt. The crowd parted, giving Hercules room as he stepped in and moved up to the altar. Elissa followed close behind him, and the rest filed in silently.
“You are not welcome here,” the Bokor said gravely, staring daggers at the intruders. Hercules met the priest’s stare with one of his own, his gaze never wavering against the unspoken threat.
“Then just give us what we’ve come for, and we’ll be gone.”
Elissa impatiently grew tired of the staring match and moved around the demigod to approach her brother, who was standing motionless at the side of the altar.
“Argeon, are you all right?”
The sailor continue to stare straight ahead, not acknowledging that the healer had spoken. Elissa glanced briefly behind her to Iolaus, then turned back to her brother.
“Argeon,” Elissa said softly. “Look at me.” She reached up and took the sailor’s face between her hands, forcing him to meet her gaze. He seemed to stare right through her, with no hint of recognition. “Argeon, what have they done to you?” the healer whispered.
The Bokor rose his hands to the air and let out a piercing yell. A bright flash and a loud explosion appeared right in front of Hercules, temporarily blinding him. Undaunted, he reached out to where the Bokor had been standing, but his fingers closed around air. Iolaus and Jason were trying to fend off the rest of the crowd, hampered by the thick smoke that was rapidly filling the hut. Coughing, Elissa managed to slip out of the hounfour, tugging Argeon along behind her. Eventually, her friends joined her. The rest of the people had fled in the confusion and the Bokor had seemingly disappeared in thin air.
“Well,” Jason said, clearing his throat from the acrid smoke. “That went well.”
Argeon had remained silent and unperturbed throughout the chaos, but suddenly he turned and began walking down the path.
“Where are you going?” Elissa demanded, holding on to his arm. The sailor shook her off and tried to continue, but she caught hold of him again and held on. With a mighty shove, Argeon sent his sister sprawling backwards and kept shuffling onward.
“No, let him go,” Asa commanded as Hercules and Jason started after him.
“What are you talking about?” Iolaus asked. He had caught his wife before she had hit the ground and was still holding on to her. “We came all this way to get him. We can’t just let him go off.”
“What was wrong with him?” Elissa whispered. “His eyes were so empty. It was like he wasn’t really there.”
“He wasn’t,” Asa began sadly. “I was afraid of this happening. The Bokor has stolen his soul. What you saw here tonight was merely a shell; a vessel to act as slave for the Bokor. He controls Argeon’s body now, using it to serve his purposes.”
“We have to do something,” the healer insisted. “We can’t let him go on like this. I’d rather see him dead first.”
“He cannot be killed,” Asa continued. “He is, in fact, undead. He has no free will. No memory. His only purpose is to obey the Bokor’s commands. And his soul will never be at rest as long as he is under the Bokor’s power.”
“A fate worse than death,” Iolaus muttered, finally realizing what Asa had been trying to tell him on the boat.
“Is there anything we can do?” Jason asked.
“They may be a way to help Argeon,” Asa said thoughtfully. “But first we must release him from the Bokor’s power. It will not be easy, if the Bokor has the strength of Bacalou behind him.”
“Well, we’ve come this far without any trouble from Bacalou,” Hercules reasoned. “I think we can handle the Bokor.”
“Please don’t be so quick to dismiss the danger,” Asa begged the demigod. “You have to trust me that its very real.”
“All right, I’ll keep my eyes open,” Hercules placated him. “Now how do we deal with this Bokor?”
“I’m starting to think that I’ll never see my brother alive again,” Elissa said dejectedly.
“Don’t worry. We’ll find him,” Jason tried to comfort her, but his words seemed to lack conviction.
“We’ve searched this entire village top to bottom and he isn’t here,” the healer protested. “I’m worried that the Bokor’s done something horrible to him.”
The Argonaut put a consoling arm around her as they sat together in the small clearing that they‘d been using as a campsite as they waited for the others to return from hunting. He tried to think of something to say to reassure her, but he had his own doubts, and he didn’t want to lie to her. She was above that kind of patronizing.
“Are you still getting headaches?” he asked quietly, seeing her massaging her temples. Jason had long since heard the story of Calais. After the healer had been struck by the warlord, she had continually been plagued by frequent and severe pain. Iolaus had voiced his worry more than once, but gradually the headaches had begun to subside.
“Not really,” Elissa answered him. “Just sometimes when I’m tired.”
“I’m sure this damned heat isn’t helping either,” the Argonaut told her sympathetically. He rose and retrieved his water skin, pouring a little into a mug for her. A slight rustle in the bushes distracted him, and immediately he was on guard.
“What in Tartarus is that?” Jason murmured, not even aware that he had said the words out loud.
Elissa heard and followed his gaze, astounded to see a large walking stick approaching, moving by itself as if an invisible person were coming toward them. Both the she and Jason watched in silent fascination as the stick moved right up to them and paused. Quickly it leaned forward to gently tag the healer before rapidly moving off in the direction that it had come.
“Are you all right?” the Argonaut asked.
“Fine,” the healer replied, staring in puzzlement after the vanishing stick. “I just wonder what that was all about.”
When the others returned, Jason immediately told them of the strange encounter with an animated walking stick.
“Did it touch you?” Asa asked quickly.
“Yes, me,” Elissa answered. “Why, what was it?”
“It’s called a coco macaque,” Asa said nervously. “It belongs to the Bokor, who sends it out as a omen. Who ever the stick touches will be dead by morning.”
“I’m getting really tired of this,” Hercules said angrily. “Which direction did this stick go?” Jason pointed the way. “Asa, you and Iolaus come with me. It’s time we finished this once and for all.” The hunter took a minute to hug Elissa tightly to him.
“You’ll be all right,” he whispered to her. “I’m not letting anything happen to you.”
“I want to go with you,” she protested.
“Elissa, please. Stay here where its safe. I promise you, we’ll bring Argeon back.” Reluctantly the healer nodded, and Iolaus turned to Jason. “Take care of her for me, ok?”
“You got it,” the Argonaut replied. He was a little disappointed at not being able to get in on the action, but he knew that being asked to protect Elissa was a great honor. With a last look over his shoulder, Iolaus began following Hercules and Asa.
“Are you hungry?” Jason asked, examining the birds that the hunters had brought back. He didn’t know what they were, but they bore a resemblance to quail.
“Not really,” the healer replied absently, her mind on other things.
“Elissa,” the Argonaut began. “Try not to worry. Hercules and Iolaus will find Argeon. And I’m not about to let anything happen to you.”
“I’m not worried for myself,” the girl explained. “That whole dead by morning idea is just ridiculous.” She stared at the tree line where her friends had disappeared. “I’m going after them.”
“Come on, Jason. You can’t tell me that you really want to stay here and miss out on the showdown with the Bokor.”
The Argonaut hesitated a moment, then grinned. He knew Elissa much too well to even try and argue with her.
“What are we waiting for?”
They quickly caught up with the others, who were more than a little annoyed. Iolaus glared at the Argonaut, who merely shrugged as Elissa and Hercules argued back and forth.
“We’re wasting time,” the healer finally said. “I’m coming with you, so let’s get going.” She turned and began walking away from them.
“I thought YOU were stubborn,” Hercules sighed, looking at his friend.
“I guess she’s coming with us.” Iolaus echoed Hercules’ sigh. “So I probably should tell her that she’s going the wrong way.” The hunter was certain that they were heading into a dangerous situation and would have much preferred if Elissa were out of harm’s way. But he also loved and respected her enough to understand that she needed to be a part of this mission.
The newly expanded group pressed on, following Iolaus as he tried to find the way. Being the skilled hunter that he was, he could always follow animal and human tracks with no problem at all. But he had never needed to trail a stick before, so it was slow going as his sharp eyes scanned the forest and his mind tried to process what he saw. Iolaus masterfully picked up on every bit of disturbed ground and every bruised leaf, leading them on until they came to an immense rock. The hunter searched and searched but could find no other signs that a magical walking stick had gone by.
“If the trail ends here,” Hercules began thoughtfully, staring hard at a large, downed tree next to the boulder. “Then this must be the place.” With his great strength, the demigod pulled the tree away to reveal a small cave containing the coco macaque, a covered basket, and Argeon. Iolaus entered, taking the sailor by the arm and pulling him out of the cramped confines. Elissa hugged her brother, even though Asa had made her aware that he no longer knew her.
“Look at this,” Jason called, turning the basket upside down. Out tumbled five dolls, all formed to look like each one of them, and stuck full of sharp thorns. “If the Bokor has these, how come none of us have felt anything?”
“He cannot use these,” Asa explained, picking up his doll and examining it. “They will not work unless they are constructed with a personal effect of the victim.” He had well warned the group to keep a tight hold on all they possessed, lest they provide the Bokor with just such an article to complete his evil spell.
“Since we’ve found Argeon, let’s get out of here,” Elissa suggested, feeling a shiver of dread run up her spine, not really knowing what caused it. But the sailor refused to move, standing as if he were rooted to the ground.
“It’s no use,” Asa told them. “The Bokor is commanding him to stay.”
“Think you could carry him?” Iolaus asked Hercules, but it was Asa who answered.
“He will fight you if you try. He has been ordered to remain here, and he has no choice but to obey. Be ready, my friends, for I fear the Bokor is near.”
Iolaus moved protectively closer to Elissa, and she drew up tightly to him. Both of them felt something dark hovering around them, and the very air seemed malevolent. From the nervous expressions on the others’ faces, they all felt it too.
“Asa,” Hercules called. “This Bokor has his magic tricks, but ultimately he’s still a mortal man, right?”
“You fool,” came a deep voice. “I have power much beyond the limits of a mortal man.” The Bokor stepped into view from around the boulder and Elissa shrank back against the hunter. He had adorned himself with magnificent finery and had painted his face so that he no longer looked human, but ghoulish. With a wave of his hand, the coco macaque came to life and moved out of the cave, straight toward Hercules. Before it could touch him, the demigod seized the heavy oaken stick and snapped it in half over his knee like a twig, throwing the pieces down to the ground. A look of rage crossed the Bokor’s face and he turned to Argeon.
“Kill them,” he hissed. With a blank look that never wavered, the sailor began to lumber forward. Hercules intercepted him.
“Don’t hurt him, Hercules,” Elissa cried out, watching as the fight began. She needn’t have worried, as hurting the soulless man turned out to be an impossibility. He felt nothing, completely unaffected by the demigod’s blows, shrugging them off effortlessly. Hercules however could feel the stinging punches, but fortunately he was able to duck most of them, as the sailor was moving slowly and stiffly. Iolaus ran to help him, leaping on the sailor’s back to distract him. The two partners worked in concert, only trying to subdue Argeon, but he had a strength and energy that defied their restraints.
As Hercules and Iolaus attempted to stop Argeon, the Bokor turned to the remaining three. With an evil smile, he raised his hands to the air and began to chant. Instantly, black clouds rolled up to block the sun, and a cold wind swept down upon them. The Bokor finished speaking, and lowered one hand down, palm up, to point at them. Slowly, he curled his fingers into a tight fist. Asa, Elissa, and Jason crumpled to the ground, hands clawing at their throats as they found themselves unable to breathe. Iolaus saw this, and immediately left the struggle with Argeon. He ran and dove at the Bokor, tackling him to the ground. The Bokor pushed him off and rolled away, getting back to his feet, but Iolaus had done it. His friends were gasping, but were unhurt as the spell over them was broken.
Livid, the Bokor raised his arms once more and opened his mouth. But before he could begin another chant, Iolaus was all over him. The hunter finally overpowered the larger man, pinning him to the ground with one hand clamped firmly over his mouth.
“What do I do with him now?” he called over his shoulder to Asa.
“You have to kill him,” came the solemn reply.
“I can’t just kill him,” Iolaus protested.
“If you do not, than you will never be free of him. Argeon will never be free. The only way to escape his power is to kill him.”
“There has to be another way,” the hunter argued, but he was interrupted. Jason had suddenly crashed into him, knocking him off the Bokor and sending him sprawling across the ground. A bright flash of lightening zig zagged down from the black clouds and hit the Bokor square in the chest, exactly where Iolaus had been seated seconds before. The Bokor screamed as he was engulfed by the bolt of crackling electricity, which coursed through him until he was reduced to a small pile of ashes that quickly scattered to the wind.
“Are you all right?” Elissa asked worriedly, coming forward to crouch between her husband and the Argonaut.
“I’m fine, thanks to Jason,” Iolaus said slowly. “Good thing you saw that coming in time.”
“I think it’s the only thing I’ll be seeing for awhile,” Jason joked as spots caused from the brilliance of the lightening danced before his eyes.
“That was from Bacalou,” Asa told them. “The Bokor was sworn to serve him, but he had failed. Since you would not kill him, Bacalou did it for you.”
“I thought this Bacalou was supposed to be evil. Why would he help us?”
“He wasn’t helping us, so much as he was punishing the Bokor. Bacalou’s deeds are often wicked, but since we have defeated the Bokor, he will probably let us go.”
“What about Argeon?” Elissa asked softly. The moment the Bokor had died, the sailor had ceased struggling and had collapsed in a heap.
“He’s still alive,” Hercules confirmed, checking the man carefully.
“The body is alive, but will not be for long. With no soul, and no Bokor to command it, the shell will eventually waste away and die.”
“Then we just have to get his soul back,” the healer stated firmly.
“Elissa, please. You do not know what you are asking.” Asa looked to Iolaus to back him up, but the hunter’s gaze was fastened firmly on the green depths of his wife’s eyes. He knew she needed this, and he wasn’t about to disappoint her.
“I’ll go cut some branches,” Iolaus said quietly. “We can tie them together to make a litter to carry him.”
Elissa smiled at her golden hunter to let him know of her appreciation. She knelt down beside her brother and took his limp hand. As suddenly as it had began, the wind stopped. The black clouds began receding, until the sun shone once more in the bright blue sky.
The road they walked on looked like any other road. It was well traveled, and they kicked up a trail of dust behind them as they went. They had left the protection of the forest behind them, and were now out in the open, feeling the sun baking down on them. Asa had called it the bush. Short scrub trees dotted the landscape, which was mostly comprised of tall grasses, bleached pale in the relentless boiling sun. But this seemingly innocent landscape was not ordinary, and the road was not like any other. It was the road that led to Guinee, the realm of the dead.
Asa had flatly refused to accompany them on what he considered a suicide mission, but Hercules and Jason had refused to stay behind. So the foursome trekked silently down the lonely road, with Argeon stretched motionless on the litter that the hunter and the demigod carried between them. They didn’t really know what they were going to find on this road, but after all they had been through, they mutually didn’t want to give up a chance to restore Argeon. Finally, after what felt like hours in the blistering sun, Hercules spotted a figure up ahead. As the group neared, they saw it was a man dressed in black, standing next to a signpost which none of them could read.
“Are you Ghede, lord of the dead?” Elissa asked faintly. They had discussed things beforehand, and the men had reluctantly agreed to let her handle the situation.
“I am, but why are you here? Living mortals cannot cross over into Guinee.”
“We don’t want to cross over, and we don’t mean to bother you,” the healer continued, bowing her head before the strange god before moving to stand beside Argeon. “This is my brother. A Bokor took his soul and we’ve come to ask you to give it back to him.”
“Really.” Ghede folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the signpost. “What makes you think I would do such a thing.”
“We’ve been told that sometimes you do,” Elissa explained. “Please, my brother is all I have left of my family. He’s a good man, and he doesn’t deserve this fate.”
“No one ever deserves their fate,” Ghede said casually. His dark eyes traveled from Iolaus, to Hercules, to Jason. Three men who were obviously warriors, and yet they were content to stay silent and to let the woman speak. It confused him slightly at first, but then he saw the fire in the girl’s eyes. “I admire your bravery,” the god continued. “Few mortals dare to come down this road before their time. And if you have this body with you, then you have obviously defeated the Bokor. Such courage and determination impresses me, but my favors do not come free. What do you have to trade?”
“Trade?” the healer echoed.
“If I release his soul, then I must be compensated. What is he worth to you? What will you give me in return?”
“I don’t have anything,” Elissa whispered. She looked to her friends, but they had nothing to offer either. Finally, Iolaus stepped forward. He hesitated for a moment, then reached up and pulled his talisman over his head.
“Here,” he told his wife, pressing the treasured object into her hand. “Give him this.”
“Iolaus, no.” Elissa refused to take it. She knew how much the hunter loved the talisman. It was a part of him, and he’d never been without it. As much as she wanted to save her brother, she couldn’t let Iolaus give it up. But as she looked at the polished stone in his hand, she remembered something. Digging in her bag, the healer pulled out the small charm that the old woman in the village had given her.
“Here,” she said, thrusting it at the god. “I know it isn’t much, but it’s all I have.” Ghede looked at the object for long moments.
“Keep it,” he said finally. “And wait here. I’ll bring his soul.”
“Where did you get this?” Asa asked in a hushed voice.
“I told you,” Elissa answered. “An old woman in the village called me over and gave it to me.”
“This is the symbol of Ayza, the protector,” Asa continued. “He is very powerful. None of the other gods would dare to cross him. Of course Ghede would do as you asked, if you were under Ayza’s protection.”
“But I don’t understand,” Elissa said in exasperation. “Why would Ayza want to protect me? Why would he have given this to me?”
“I don’t know,” Asa admitted. “Perhaps someone asked on your behalf. Or on Argeon’s. Or perhaps he merely wanted to get involved on his own accord, because there was something about you that he liked.”
“I hate all this ambiguity,” the healer grumbled. “I never thought I’d say this, but give me the Greek gods. At least with them, their motives are clear.”
“Hey.” Argeon poked his head into the room. “Where’s Iolaus?”
“Up on deck, I think,” Elissa told him.
The sailor nodded and went to check. Once he had been restored, the group had wasted no time in getting back to the ship and setting sail for Greece. Argeon found the hunter alone on deck, looking out over the waves.
“Iolaus, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure.” He turned away from the ocean and greeted the sailor with a friendly grin.
“I just wanted to thank you,” Argeon began. “For everything you did to try and save me from the Bokor, and what you did with Ghede. Elissa told me about the sacrifice you were willing to make for me.”
“It was nothing,” the hunter said dismissively.
“It was a lot more than I deserved,” the sailor argued. “I never even gave you a chance. Because of me, my own sister was almost killed. And if that wasn’t bad enough, then I ran from it. I wasn’t there to help you and Hercules save her, and I wasn’t there for the wedding. I know how much that hurt her, and I can never make that up. But in spite of the way I acted, you were still willing to help me, and risk your life for me.”
“What can I say?” Iolaus grinned, a bit embarrassed. “We’re family.”
“Elissa has always been adventurous,” Argeon continued. “I never approved of it, but I’ve come to accept it. I guess I owe my life to it. Anyway, I’m glad she’s married to someone that can keep up with her. And someone that can take care of her, and love her as much as you do. I’m proud to welcome you to the family, Iolaus, even if I am long overdue.” He stuck out his hand, and the hunter shook it firmly.
“Thank you, Argeon,” he said sincerely.
“You know, Jason told me something that Elissa told him when she married you. She said that if she took you as a husband, then she might as well marry Hercules, too. That you two came as sort of a package deal, and if she wanted one, then she had to take the other. So I guess that I should go find him and give him this speech, too.”
Iolaus laughed as Argeon started to walk away, but then the sailor turned back.
“I envy you, Iolaus,” he said wistfully. “You inspire so much loyalty in everyone you meet. Without even trying, you seem to earn everyone’s love and respect. And I can only wish that I had a friendship like the one you have with Hercules. A friend that means to much to me that I would want to call him ‘brother’. Or a girl that loves me as much as Elissa loves you. I’ve seen the way that she looks at you. You are her whole world, and there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for you. Most people go through life without ever finding one person to care about them like that. Someone who would gladly give up his life for them. You’ve got two. I hope you know how lucky you are.” Argeon abruptly turned and quickly walked off.
Iolaus turned back to the waves, letting their gentle rhythm soothe his spirit. He did know how lucky he was. Hercules and Elissa were everything to him too, and he couldn’t imagine his life without either one. He felt sorry for Argeon though, and sincerely hoped that one day the sailor would know what it was like to truly be loved. Thinking of that, he pushed away from the railing of the ship and went off to find Elissa. There was no doubt in his mind that his beautiful healer knew how much he loved her, but it wouldn’t hurt to tell her one more time.
Disclaimer: Argeon’s soul was not harmed during the writing of this story. Ghede kept it tucked away nice and safe until it could be returned.
The Story So Far Index
The Iolausian Library