Chronicle 5

A Herculean Evil

It is known as the Waste Lands.

The land was dark. The ground was barren. No vegetation existed anywhere, for the sun never shined here. Located at the far outskirts of Greece, the Waste Lands were rarely traveled. There was little to see, and many who ventured across them did not return. It was said that you could smell its evil in the air.

In the center of the Waste Lands lay a castle, if one could call it that. It looked almost like a massive dead tree branch. This was the lair of the Lord of the Wastelands.

Deep inside this dark lair was a throne room. Sitting on a throne of bone was a lone figure. He was adorned in a black outfit with a hood and cape over his head. His face showing out of the hood was completely black except for two glowing eyes whose icy stare made all feel cold who were unfortunate to be glanced upon.

He had no soldiers, for he did not need them. He carried no sword, for he did not need one, either. His magic was more powerful than any weapon forged by man. This creature was not human, yet not god either. His origin was a mystery. Few knew of him, but he was planning to change all that... very soon.

Mesmeron stood up from his throne, his dark confidence flowing off the black cape that adorned him. His voice was not loud, yet it was so deep and powerful that it had a thunderous effect.

"Come to me, Thundermare."

A horse came slowly walked out of an entranceway. This was no ordinary horse. This was Thundermare. Flames danced across his entire form, for this was a horse forged completely of fire. Its body was a flaming red that shined evil everywhere it went.

Thundermare stopped at Mesmeron, who stroked the horses' fiery head without showing any hint of pain.

"I have waited long enough," Mesmeron said. "The time for action is now."

Thundermare let out a loud snort in a language only Mesmeron could understand.

"Perhaps," Mesmeron answered. "But the Warrior Princess is nowhere near him. She will not be able to interfere."

Mesmeron climbed onto the saddle on Thundermare's back. "No, she will not be able to stop me."

He grabbed the reins. "We leave now. The Son of Zeus shall fall into my hands, and, once that happens, the entire world will soon follow.

"So swears Mesmeron."

Thundermare took off down the corridor, eventually reaching the outside of the massive lair. Then the fiery horse began to gallop faster and faster. Soon it was speeding across the stretches of the Waste Lands, the only light that could be seen among its unholy darkness.

***

Hercules and Iolaus had their hands full.

As if just saving an entire town from a raging 35-foot giant wasn't enough, they were now encircled by a group of the giant's marauders.

One of them men snarled, "You may have killed Kormatese the Giant, but we've got you outnumbered 10 to 2."

"10 to 2", Hercules repeated. "Those aren't very fair odds."

"True," Iolaus shrugged. He looked at the marauder, "So if you'd like to surrender, we'd be happy to accept."

"Kill them!" the man yelled with rage and charged forward, as did the others. Hercules reared back his fist and, with a single punch, catapulted three men thirty feet into the air. Their descent was broken by a large oak tree. They hit the branches and then plummeted to the earth below.

Hercules raised his eyebrows. "Now that's what I call boldly going where no man has gone before." His thoughts were interrupted by another marauder who jumped onto his back. As Hercules grabbed at him, Iolaus had a frying pan in each hand and was clobbering his opponents left and right. Hercules threw the man off him and knocked down three more with another punch. Iolaus clonked the last marauder over the head with several swings of his frying pans.

Iolaus smiled as the man got up and ran off. He looked at the two dented frying pans he was holding. "I guess you could say I cooked your goose." He then tossed the frying pans aside and walked over to Hercules, patting him on the back.

"Well, that's all of them," Iolaus said.

"Yeah," Hercules smiled. "At least that's all... over... with." He stared off into the distance. Rising above the hill was an army composed of at least two hundred men. "Uh-oh."

"Uh, Herc," Iolaus gulped. "This might be a little too much... even for us."

"You may be right."

Suddenly, a voice rang out from nearby.

"Never fear!"

Hercules and Iolaus glanced around, trying to figure out where it came from.

"Joxer the Mighty is here!"

Joxer came swinging towards them on a vine. When he was close enough to the ground, he let go of the vine, and fell flat on his face. "Ooooof!"

"Joxer?" Iolaus asked.

"That's your partner, isn't it?" Hercules said with a half-smile. Iolaus glared at him. Joxer suddenly sprang to his feet and drew his sword.

"Begone, marauders!" he smiled. "Or suffer the wrath of Joxer the Mighty!"

The commander of the marauders brought them all to a dead stop. "That's Joxer the Mighty..." he gasped. The other men were in shock as well.

"...he slayed the fire-breathing dragon of Kolon..."

"...destroyed the massive moving fortress of the Taurians..."

"...defeated the all-powerful Slavers of Menga..."

"...but he looks like such an idiot..."

"...it's just a ruse to get us to underestimate him..."

"...he can defeat entire armies..."

"...destroy entire cities..."

"We don't have a chance!"

The commander of the marauders was petrified. "No one can defeat Hercules, Iolaus, AND Joxer!" He signaled to his men. "Retreat! Retreat now! Quick! At once!" The entire group of marauders turned around and made a mad dash for cover.

Hercules and Iolaus stared after them in total disbelief.

"Joxer turned the tide?" Iolaus said flatly, his mouth still open.

Hercules shrugged. "I never would've believed it if I hadn't seen it without my own eyes."

"Of course," Joxer smiled cockily, sheathing his sword. "My reputation is legend. It's only a matter of time before all of Greece realizes just what kind of warrior I truly am."

"You better pray they don't," Iolaus answered. He couldn't help but smile. He and Hercules had first met Joxer not too long ago during the messy Golden Hind affair. Iolaus had been rather irritated with Joxer, especially at his constant pandering to get Iolaus to be his partner. But Joxer had made Iolaus realize what a jerk he had been to decide not to attend Hercules' wedding. He had rushed back just in time to see Hercules take his vows, and it was a moment he would never forget for the rest of his days. With that, he had gained some respect for Joxer. Despite all his cockiness, Joxer undoubtedly had a good heart within.

"Tell me something, Joxer," Hercules began, "how did you get such a... grand reputation?"

"Simple," Joxer smiled, drawing his sword again. "It was my skill, my daring, my courage, my heroism..." He swung his sword around wildly, lost his balance, and fell on his back. "Aaaagh!"

Iolaus looked at him. "Why do I get the impression that dumb luck might also have had something to do with it?"

"Beats me," Hercules smiled.

Joxer got to his feet. "Hey, look. Why don't we travel together? At least for a little while? Think about it! It'll be great. The three of us taking on all evil... with me doing most of the work, of course. I'm great in a threesome. Just ask Xena and Gabrielle."

Hercules and Iolaus stared at each other.

"I'm sure," Hercules answered.

"Joxer," Iolaus said, "why aren't you with Xena and Gabrielle now?"

"Well, I'm having a little trouble finding them."

Iolaus smirked. "They're hiding from you, aren't they?"

"Well, they just don't want me to get all the glory like I usually do. By the way, did you ever hear the story of how I defeated Callisto..."

Hercules and Iolaus sighed. As they walked down the old road, they realized it was going to be a very long day.

"Where is the Son of Zeus?"

Mesmeron was sitting on Thundermare. He held a carpenter up in the air by the throat. "Tell me where he is."

The man was gasping for breath. "I-I saw him here... yesterday. I don't... know wh-where he... went."

"Fine."

Mesmeron threw the man down to the ground. He would live, but he would never forgot the deep depth of the horror that had just stared him in the face.

Mesmeron urged Thundermare to trot towards the tiny village which was right in front of them.

"If Hercules was just here yesterday," Mesmeron began, "then he could not have gone far. Tracking him down would still be difficult... and likely unnecessary. Our best strategy would be to get him to come to us. And I think I know just the way."

Mesmeron dismounted from Thundermare as they reached the entrance to the town. People were already scattering at the sight of the flaming horse.

"Thundermare," Mesmeron commanded. "Go play."

More people began to run as Thundermare charged towards a wooden house. The fiery creature smashed into the wall, and its flames suddenly began to spread like wildfire.

"And then there was this time when I single-handedly stopped this Xena look-alike, gosh, she was pretty... from replacing another princess who looked like Xena, and it was amazing because the real Xena took on the identity of the princess who looked like Xena, and then the princess who looked like Xena took on the identity of the Xena who looked like Xena and... er, something like that. It was all kind of confusing."

"Sure sounds like it," Iolaus answered. He and Hercules had heard the tale of how Joxer defeated Callisto, conquered the Bacchae, stopped the Taurians, and saved Kolon. Iolaus had a feeling that a portion of it all was true, but he didn't want to guess as to how much.

Joxer was really into the stories of his exploits. "And let me also tell you about the time I-"

"Hercules!"

A old woman was running towards them. "Hercules, help!"

"What's wrong?" Hercules asked.

"Our village! It is aflame! There is a man, a man with no face. He has a flaming horse that has attacked us, setting everything on fire!"

"Is anyone hurt?" Iolaus asked.

"No, not yet, thank god," she answered. "But everything we hold dear is being destroyed."

"Let's go," Hercules said. He and Iolaus began to run off in toward the village. Joxer stood there for a moment, watching them go.

"Hey, guys, wait for me!" And he took off after them.

Four more villagers were knocked to the ground by Mesmeron's fists. Almost the entire village was a conflagration. If Mesmeron had the ability to show a smile, he would have.

"If you wish for you pathetic existences to continue, then I would suggest you find Hercules. For only he will stay my hand."

A young man stepped forward with a sword in his hand.

"I don't know who you are, monster, but you've destroyed my home. What I'm going to do to you is for everyone who you've hurt, everyone you've-"

"Please, spare me," Mesmeron sighed. With the wave of his hand, the man went flying backwards into a wall. He slumped to the ground.

"I don't kill weaklings. I only kill warriors, opponents who are truly worthy of my steel."

"Am I worthy enough?"

Mesmeron turned to see Hercules standing thirty yards away.

"Ah, the Son of Zeus. I was getting tired of waiting."

"Who are you? What do you want?"

"My name is Mesmeron. What I want is simple. You wish to stop evil. I wish to spread it."

Hercules sighed. "So you want a fight. If I fight you, will you leave this town alone?"

"Granted," Mesmeron answered. "They mean nothing to me. Only you, Son of Zeus. Only you..."

Iolaus and Joxer watched from behind a nearby house.

"Joxer, stay here," Iolaus said. "I'm going to see what laughing boy over there is made of."

"If you need back-up, let me know," Joxer answered.

"I will," Iolaus answered. But if it comes down to us needing Joxer's help, then I think we're done for.

Iolaus ran up beside Hercules. "I'm with you, Herc."

"Thundermare," Mesmeron said. "Go play with the sidekick."

The fiery horse came forward and charged towards Iolaus. "Oh, boy," Iolaus gasped. He turned and ran, keeping a good distance between himself and the horse.

"This is between you and me, Mesmeron!" Hercules yelled. He ran forward.

Mesmeron didn't move. "Take your best shot, my friend."

Hercules smashed Mesmeron in the face with all his strength, knocking him thirty feet into the air. He landed hard on his back.

Iolaus made a frantic dive to the left just as Thundermare caught up with him, barely dodging the flaming horse. The horse sped by him, but then quickly stopped. Slowly, he turned around and snorted. Iolaus struggled to his feet.

"I think I'm in trouble," he gulped as Thundermare started to charge forward once again.

Mesmeron slowly got his feet. Hercules walked over to him and punched him again, knocking him another thirty feet into the air. But Mesmeron slowly got his feet once more. Hercules, even more angry than before, came at him again, but Mesmeron stood still.

Hercules swung again but Mesmeron, with uncanny speed, dodged to the left. Hercules swung at him again but Mesmeron ducked. Hercules swung at him several more times with no success.

"The key to evading your blows, Hercules, is speed. Dazzling speed... which I now possess."

"You're pretty fast," Hercules answered. "But sooner or later..." He finally connected with Mesmeron's face. But this time, the same punch that had sent him flying backwards thirty feet twice before now didn't even force him back a single step. Hercules was agasp. "What in the name of..."

"Is that it?" Mesmeron asked. "Is that your very best?"

Hercules simply stared at him in amazement.

"You have much sheer strength, indeed, Son of Zeus. But the answer to sheer strength is invulnerability."

And then Mesmeron threw a punch that sent Hercules flying backwards into the air.

"Total invulnerability. Which, unfortunately, you do not possess."

Hercules stumbled to his feet, but Mesmeron was already upon him.

"Still, your stamina is rather impressive. But I'm curious as to how you would stand up to dozens of punches..."

He stared pelting Hercules left and right with blows. In a matter of seconds, the Son of Zeus was unconscious. Mesmeron stared down at him.

"A pity," he sighed. "I was expecting more from the world's greatest hero."

Iolaus had grabbed a piece of wood and was using it to try and hold Thundermare back. The fiery creature seemed to be playing with him.

"Thundermare," Mesmeron commanded. "Down, boy." And the horse backed away from Iolaus, who was now seeing for the first time the unconscious form of Hercules.

"Hercules!" Iolaus yelled. He charged forward at Mesmeron.

"So predictable," Mesmeron said to himself. With a single blow, he knocked Iolaus unconscious. The sidekick collapsed at his feet. "And the predictable is so easily defeatable."

"Hold!"

Mesmeron looked over to see Joxer standing there with his sword drawn. "And just who are you?"

"I am Joxer. And those are my friends."

"You... are Joxer... the Mighty?"

"You've heard of me?"

"Yes," Mesmeron answered. "I've been looking forward to meeting you. I've heard of your exploits. And now that I've gotten a good look at you, I can see they all must have been greatly exaggerated."

"Let them go."

"Come, Joxer," Mesmeron invited. "Make me."

Joxer yelled and charged forward, and Mesmeron easily knocked him off his feet. Joxer was on the ground in a daze with the dark being standing over him.

"You have quite a grand reputation, Joxer, although I have no idea how you ever got it. So pitiful are your fighting skills that killing you would be scarcely worth the bother. It's rather funny. I chose now to attack because I knew Xena would not be in a position to interfere. But if the Warrior Princess would associate herself with a fool such as you, then perhaps I've overestimated her abilities. Still, please run an errand for me. Go to the shrine of Zeus and tell him that I have his wretched son, and I will release him for a price. I want ambrosia. I want to become a god. He can find Hercules and I at the top of the Sinai plateau near Dierra. I want the ambrosia delivered to me there a half hour before sunrise. Otherwise, the Son of Zeus shall die. Farewell."

He waved his arms in the air, and the unconscious forms of Hercules and Iolaus levitated into the air facing down. He mounted Thundermare and rode out of the town, using his magic to bring his prisoners with him.

Joxer slowly got to his feet.

"Oh, boy. I think I may be in over my head this time. But I've gotta do something."

He headed off to a massive temple nearby which contained what was known as the Shrine of Zeus. Joxer went inside, ignoring the stares of the temple priests who probably thought he was some kind of heathen. It was truly a magnificent temple. Nothing but the best for the King of the Gods, Joxer thought. Kneeling before the altar, Joxer closed his eyes and said aloud everything he knew, wondering if Zeus or any other god would be able to hear him.

Suddenly, robed figure adorned with jewels appeared before him.

"Oh, Zeus," Joxer gasped.

"That is correct," he answered.

"Hercules and Iolaus", Joxer began, "They're-"

"I know," Zeus answered. "I was watching. I've got to help Hercules. I can't let that monster just kill him."

"I want to help... sir," Joxer said. "I know I can help."

"You?" Zeus raised his eyebrows. "What exactly could you do?"

"I can... be a distraction."

"I suppose," Zeus sighed. "Since Xena isn't anywhere nearby, I guess I don't have much of a choice. But if you're going to have a fighting chance against Mesmeron, then I'll have to let you borrow a weapon. The Hammer of Thor ought to do it."

"The Hammer of Thor? Wow! When do I get it?"

"When the time is right. The only way we'll have a prayer of rescuing Hercules is by catching Mesmeron off-guard. Now, here is the plan..."

Joxer listened intently. He felt both scared and excited. But this is what being a hero was all about. And, of course, no one knew more about being a hero than him...

Mesmeron arrived at the top of the Sinai plateau with Thundermare and his two prisoners. It was a large plateau, at least a mile high. The view of the city of Sierra below was breathtaking. Mesmeron took it all in as he stood on the edge of the cliff.

"A magnificent sight, don't you think?"

Hercules and Iolaus were conscious again, but they didn't respond. They were still trying to break free of the magical bonds that held them prisoner.

"Once I have the ambrosia and gain the power of a God, my own powers will be augmented ten-fold. And then the entire world will have no choice but to kneel before the might of Mesmeron."

"Hercules," Iolaus said. "I can't move at all."

"Me neither."

"I think you'll find those bonds more powerful than anything you're used to."

"Zeus will never go for this," Hercules said. "He'll never give you ambrosia. He cares more about protecting his position as king of the gods than he does about me."

Mesmeron stared at him for a moment. "Let's hope you are wrong, Son of Zeus. If not..."

"Mesmeron!"

They all turned to see Joxer coming towards them.

"Joxer?" Iolaus asked dumbfoundedly.

"Joxer..." Mesmeron sighed.

The warrior drew his sword as he approached Mesmeron.

"You will let my friends go... now."

"Surely you jest," Mesmeron said, walking forward. "Or perhaps you have a death wish."

"I have my ideals," Joxer said. "They're well worth dying for."

"Certainly," Mesmeron answered. "It is always Mesmeron's pleasure to grant such a foolish request. Thundermare, go play."

The fiery horse began to move forward. Joxer gulped. Zeus suddenly materialized behind Mesmeron and the others, hovering over the deep chasm below. He raised his hands in the air, and Hercules and Iolaus' bonds suddenly disappeared. Mesmeron was too busy watching Joxer to notice. He felt a tap on his shoulder.

"Excuse me..."

Mesmeron turned around.

"Hello, again..."

Hercules fist sent Mesmeron flying backwards over Joxer's head. Iolaus ran up to Hercules.

"You did it," Iolaus said.

"No, I didn't," Hercules answered. Mesmeron quickly got to his feet. "Go help Joxer."

"Right," Iolaus agreed.

Mesmeron had no visible face inside his dark hood, but his glowing eyes gave away his rage.

"You don't have a prayer, Hercules. I can adapt to anything you can throw at me."

"Perhaps you can with him," Zeus answered. "But not with me." He raised his hand and fired an electric bolt. Mesmeron, with his uncanny speed, managed to dodge it.

"True," Mesmeron snarled. "But you must hit me first. Let the battle begin."

Joxer knew he was in trouble. Thundermare was charging at him full speed. There was no way he could move out of the

way in time. Suddenly, Iolaus dived into Joxer, knocking them both out of the creature's path.

"Are you all right?" Iolaus.

"Yeah," Joxer answered. "Thanks, Iolaus."

"Don't mention it," Iolaus answered. "But if you have any ideas about how to deal with that flaming pain, I'd sure be willing to listen."

Thundermare had turned around and was let out a loud snort. Then he moved forward again.

"Zeus," Joxer said softly. "I sure could use that hammer about now."

As if in answer to his wish, a large golden hammer suddenly materialized in the air in front of him, hovering with a light warm glow. Joxer reached out his hands for it.

Mesmeron dodged another of Zeus' bolts. Then he grappled with Hercules. Hercules hit him in the chest, but to no effect.

"You are no match for me," Mesmeron said. "To be defeated by Mesmeron is no shame, Son of Zeus. For against Mesmeron even the mightiest must fall!"

Mesmeron punched Hercules. The blow was so powerful it sent the half-god flying backwards toward the edge of the cliff. Hercules landed just before the edge and then rolled backwards, falling over the edge. He managed to grab the edge of the cliff, breaking his fall. But he was dangling over a mile high drop, and he was defenseless.

"No!" Zeus shouted. He fired another flashing bolt at Mesmeron, who again easily dodged it.

"The time has come for the king of the gods to feel my power!"

He fired one of his own magical blasts at Zeus, knocking him backwards several yards. Mesmeron was aware he hadn't really hurt Zeus, but it bought him a few seconds. And a few seconds was all he needed. Mesmeron casually walked over to the edge of the cliff and stood over the dangling Hercules. The half-god felt fear as he looked up to see the dark being gazing down at him.

"Now things are about to get very interesting..."

Joxer grabbed the large hammer just as Thundermare was upon him. He brought the hammer back and then swung it forward with all his might as the deadly stallion was in range. The sound of impact was deafening. Thundermare wailed as he was catapulted several miles into the air. The horse soon disappeared as he descended behind a distant mountain.

"Wow," Joxer said. "Imagine if that had been a ball... Y'know, that could make for an interesting game. Nah, they'd call me an idiot."

"Joxer," Iolaus said. "What is that thing?"

"I believe that is the Hammer of Thor," Mesmeron answered. "On loan from Zeus, no doubt. I applaud you for defeating Thundermare, but you will not so easily defeat me."

"Oh, my god," said Iolaus. He saw Hercules clinging to the edge of the cliff.

Mesmeron turned to Zeus who was hovering in the air before them. "Give me the ambrosia, Zeus. Or you son dies!"

The king of the gods stared at him for a moment. Then he gave him an answer.

"No ambrosia, Mesmeron."

Mesmeron's shoulders slumped briefly, as if in defeat. Then his eyes glowed brighter.

"So be it."

Hercules saw approaching death as Mesmeron pointed his finger at him. He closed his eyes.

"Hang on, Hercules," Joxer said as he raised the Hammer of Thor and walked forward. "I'll save you- Whoa!" He then tripped over the large jutted rock in front of him and fell forward. The Hammer of Thor hit the ground with thunderous impact, shattering the entire cliff all around them.

"No!" Mesmeron shouted as he, Hercules, Joxer, and Iolaus began to plummet into oblivion. Suddenly, Hercules, Iolaus, and Joxer, and the Hammer of Thor were suspended in mid-air, but Mesmeron continued to plunge.

"No! Joxeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrr..."

They all watched as he disappeared into the chasm, tons of rock plummeting after him. If the fall didn't kill him, he would likely be buried forever.

The three of them slowly gravitated toward the mountain. They all knew it was Zeus who saved them. Once they landed, Hercules looked up at his father, but said nothing.

Zeus stared down at him.

"I'm sorry, my son." Then he and the Hammer of Thor disappeared.

Iolaus walked over to Hercules. "Hey, are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. He did the right thing. If Mesmeron had become a god, it would have meant disaster for the entire world. What bothers me is that my father did it more to protect his own position among the gods than anything else. I don't think I'll ever be able to think of him as a real father."

"I'm sorry, Herc," Iolaus answered.

"Don't be. But I think we owe our real thanks to our new friend here." Hercules walked over to Joxer and extended his hand. "Thanks, Joxer. I won't forget what you did for us."

"Me, neither," Iolaus smiled. He patted Joxer on the shoulder.

"Think nothing of it," Joxer answered. "I'm always glad to help. It's been a lot of fun, guys, but now it's time for mighty Joxer to take his leave. I'm off to Thebes!" He drew his sword. "Ha Ha!" And then he ran off into the distance.

Hercules and Iolaus watched him go. Hercules smiled.

"Should we tell him he's going the wrong way?"

"Nah, he'll figure it out," said Iolaus, "You know, maybe deep down Joxer's not so bad after all."

"It's too bad we tend to judge people by what's on the outside, when it's what's on the inside that really counts. Deep down, I think Joxer's got that hero inside of him. It's just a question of when he has the courage to let that hero out. Fortunately for us, today... he did."

The two friends turned and started to walk off.

"But there's still no way he's ever going to be my partner," Iolaus added.

Hercules laughed and patted his best friend on the back as the two of them headed off for a new adventure.

***

Several hours later at the bottom of the mountain, there was a massive explosion as tons of piled rock instantaneously shattered. Mesmeron slowly walked forward, emerging from the deep smoke. He did not appear to be injured.

His eyes glowed brighter, yet not enough to penetrate the darkness that made up his face.

"Joxer," he spoke with calm. "You have not heard the last of this encounter."


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