he pillar swung downward at Hogan, who was gritting his teeth and clenching his eyes at the impact would soon take place. He spent a moment wondering if this was the way his life was going to end: failing the first part of his training on a mission he'd only learned of hours ago.
The pillar continued to fall, more and more quickly, screaming down at Hogan. Then, suddenly, it struck him, squarely in his arms. Hogan grunted in exertion as the pillar came to rest on his shoulders. He could barely be amazed at the fact that he'd actually caught the pillar; all that was registering for now was the immense pain that he was feeling from the burden he ws carrying. It felt like the muscles in his arms and torso were being shredded by the strain the pillar put upon them.
"Your first task," Ilgaira explained, "Is to carry this pillar in a full circle, without letting it touch the ground, and then placing it back on its end."
"You... want me... to carry this thing?" Hogan asked, the words barely escaping as a growl from his gnashing teeth. "I can... barely hold on to it!"
"This is the first test the Ki'rath must face. Until you do so, I am unable to train you any further."
Hogan felt his grip slipping away from him. "I... can't... hang on... I'm sorry..." With a final grunt, he used what little strength he had in his reserve to dump the pillar to his side, barely missing his feet. The ground shook as the pillar crashed onto the floor. Hogan gasped for air, his lungs burning with the need for oxygen.
Ilgaira waited a few seconds before saying anything. "Are you all right?"
"I... I'm fine," replied Hogan. "I'm sorry. Maybe I'm not the one to take on A'nake."
"No, that is not true. I did not expect you to pass this test on your first attempt. Nor do I expect you to pass any of the tests without failing several times. The important part is that you develop your power over time." With that, Ilgaira waved his hand again. As if by remote control, the pillar lifted back, rebalancing itself on the ground.
Hogan was dumbfounded. "How- how did you do that?"
Ilgaira smirked. "I have powers of my own, you know."
"If that's the case, why don't you go after this A'nake guy?"
"Because, Hogan, I am not ageless like A'nake is. If I were to accompany you to Earth and face it, I would age over three weeks for every second of Earth time. I would grow old and die before I ever had a chance to fight it."
"Damn," Hogan said angrily. "I was hoping I could find some way out of this."
"There is no way out, Hogan. This is your destiny. Your time on Earth was a preparation for the duty you now have. You are the Ki'rath, the defender of the talisman and its ceremony. You cannot avoid your fate."
"But how am I ever going to beat this thing if I can't even pass my first training lesson?"
"It will come with time, Hogan," Ilgaira answered. "You will find as you train, your powers will grow stronger, until you reach a point where they will carry you through this test, as well as the others."
"What are the other tests, anyway?"
"I cannot say. All I will tell you is that there are three tasks you must first complete before you are ready to learn the fighting techniques that will be used against A'nake."
Ilgaira turned around and began walking away. "But for now, Hogan, it is time for you to rest. We will have time to attempt this test again tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Hogan asked, following Ilgaira out of the arena. "But, the full moon is days away on Earth! How am I going to finish my training in time?"
"Hogan, you forget. We do not operate on the same timespan as on Earth. You will have plenty of time to train here, and when you return you will find that only seconds have passed on Earth. Come, let me show you your quarters. We can return to this test tomorrow."
Ilgaira led Hogan out of the room and back to the main area of the temple. As Hogan looked around, taking in the surroundings, he noticed many of the other Ki'rathians, standing, pointing, mumbling amongst themselves. "It looks like you guys don't have guests too often," he chuckled.
"Pay no mind to my fellow people. Like your world, we have very little contact with life outside of our own planet. You are the first life this planet has seen in millions of Ki'rathian years."
"But a year to you guys is a few minutes on Earth," Hogan argued. "How can you be sure that other lifeforms don't, I dunno, take this place over?"
"Well, Hogan, we operate at a speed much faster than most other civilizations. If any hostile life attempted to attack us, chances are we would be much too fast for them to defend against. We have developed a friendly relationship with those who are even faster than us, so that we do not fall victim to the same disadvantage."
"And every world uses a different speed?'
"Most of them do. You will find that many worlds run on a similar speed as Earth, while others are faster and others are slower. It depends on a number of factors - the size of the planet, its distance from its star, how many planets are in front of it in its solar system, and so on. Of course, if a planet harbors no life, there is no way to detect this change in speed, but it does occur."
Ilgaira stopped at well-adorned door, guarded by a large Ki'rathian. "This will be your living quarters during your training. If you need anything, Melar here will attend to them. I shall see you tomorrow morning." With that, Ilgaira walked away.
"Wait, Ilgaira!" Hogan shouted. "When's morning?" Ilgaira did not answer. He sighed, looking back at the Ki'rathian standing by the door. He was easily a foot taller than Hogan, and violet like the others he had seen. "Well, it looks like it's just you and me now."
"I am at your service, Ki'rath," the creature replied.
"Please, just call me Hogan." He started to turn the doorknob. "So, when do you expect Ilgaira to return?"
"He said morning. That would be about six hours from now."
Hogan sighed. "That barely gives me any time to sleep before tomorrow. And I haven't eaten anything in a while."
"Shall I get you something?" Melar asked, his voice jumping as if eager to please. "Perhaps some faoals or a plate of shi'phu?"
"Uh... yeah, whatever. I'll try anything once." Hogan opened the door and went into his room.
"Right away, master," Melar scampered off.
Hogan's room was larger than the one at home, but didn't have the TV or computer he enjoyed at Earth. The walls were made of the same stone that the rest of the temple - and that pillar - were constructed of. There were some bookshelves filled with numerous volumes, and a large table, empty for the time being, with a wooden chair at its side. A large bed was pushed up against the right wall, its top blanket decorated with the familiar symbol of the Ki'rath as he saw on the stone altar was was teleported onto. He flopped on to the bed and let out a large gasp of relief. The day had been a long one, and it was obvious that the worst of it was yet to come. He rested is head on the pillow.
Minutes later, there was a knock on the door. "Hogan? It's Melar. I brought you some food."
Hogan got up and opened the door. There stood Melar, with a blue plate of noodles and three oatmeal raisin cookies on the side. "Here you are. A plate of shi'phu and three faoals."
Hogan laughed. "I guess there will be a language barrier around here after all. Thanks."
Hogan took the plate and sat down at the table. There were no utensils, so he wound up eating the food with his hands. Luckily, there was no sauce on the pasta, so he avoided getting his clothes dirty. After eating, he went back to his bed and laid down, quickly drifting off into sleep.