he next day, Hogan groggily returned to the arena. He had barely had four hours worth of sleep the night before; he was continually awakened from the stress he had been feeling from recent events. He stood in the same spot where he was the last time the pillar test had taken place.
"Did you rest well?" Ilgaira asked.
"What does it look like?" Hogan slurred, the circles under his eyes plainly visible.
"Unfortunately, it is time once again to face the first test. Are you ready?"
Hogan nodded. "As ready as I'll ever be."
"Then let the test begin," Hogan raised his right hand, as he had done the day before.
Hogan looked back, seeing the giant pillar begin to tip forward. He steeled himself, anchoring his feet against the floor, his arms out stretched to catch the pillar. Seconds later, he felt the pillar come down on his hands. He gasped, the impact knocking much of the air out of his lungs. He struggled to hang on to the pillar.
"Now, you must carry the pillar in a circle," Ilgaira instructed.
Hogan gurgled, growled, groaned in exertion. His right foot slid to the side. He moved in that direction a few inches, trying to begin the trip around the arena. His arms burned with the weight of the pillar on them. He took another step to the right. The pillar continued to bear down on him, but it was now somewhat more manageable. Another step to the right, and another. By the time Hogan stopped to resteady himself, he realized that he was a quarter of the way around the circle. Shocked, he dropped the pillar.
"Impressive," Ilgaira commented. "Your powers are growing more quickly than I anticipated."
Hogan was hunched over, trying to catch his breath. "I don't believe it... that thing has got to weigh at least 10 tons. And I was actually moving it around."
"You were. But you did not pass this test. You only carried the column about a quarter of the way around the room."
"I'll do it next time," Hogan vowed, his confidence beginning to grow along with his strength.
"Perhaps. But for now, you should return to your room and rest up for another few hours before trying this test again."
Hogan nodded and left the room.
Hogan spent the time in his quarters reading some of the books found inside. Some of them discussed the legend of the Ki'rath, and Hogan learned that although he would come across others who would aid him in various places, only he could fight against A'nake. Still, there was no word on what exactly he would face in the other two tests.
Other books detailed some of the other worlds that possessed talismans. It seemed that they were originally created as calling cards of an ancient race that explored these planets. The race was a mystical one, and they left a talisman on each planet they visited so that the Ki'rath could acquaint himself with all the lifeforms of the universe as he accumulated his power. When evil spirits began pursuing the talismans, though, the Ki'rath would be required to keep them from falling into the wrong hands.
Several hours later, he walked back to the arena. Ilgaira was waiting, in the same place where Hogan had left him earlier. The pillar had returned to its upright position.
"Don't you have anything else to do?" Hogan joked.
"I am the shaman of the Ki'rathians. You are my sole responsibility. Are you ready to attempt the test again?"
Hogan nodded. "Third time's the charm."
Ilgaira smirked, and motioned for the pillar to drop again.
Hogan watched as the pillar fell downward for a third time. He caught it handily, not even needing to clench his eyes shut this time. He lifted the column over his head, and began side-stepping his way around the room again. The pillar felt lighter than it ever had before; his arms were not straining to the degree they had been previously, and Hogan was almost eager to pick it up entirely off the ground.
He was making much better time than the last attempt, making it well past the halfway mark in the same amount of time it took him to carry it the quarter-circle before. As he began to make his way back to the starting point, the weight of the pillar was becoming more and more difficult to handle. Fearing another failure, he sped up a little, sidling around more urgently. Before his grip gave out, he managed to complete the circle.
"Well done!" Ilgaira praised. "Now, you must return the pillar to its original position."
"That's the hard part," Hogan grunted. He lifted the column over his head once again, walking it up with his hands. The burden was slowly shifting from in front of him to behind. When he got halfway, he felt gravity begin to take over for him. The pillar began tipping back into place, speeding up as it made its way back to the center.
"I did it!" Hogan shouted. "I passed the test!"
Ilgaira remained still. "Not yet."
"What do you mean?" asked Hogan.
The pillar swung back into place for a moment, then began tipping backwards.
Oh no, Hogan thought, it's going to fall the other way!
He started for the other side of the room, trying to outrun the pillar, but it fell too fast for him to reach it in time. The ground shook like an earthquake was happening when the column crashed to the ground.
Hogan stopped in his tracks. "Damn it! I thought I had it this time."
Ilgaira frowned, bringing his hand back up to return the pillar back to where it started. "You did quite well, Hogan. As you have already discovered, your strength will continue to build with each new attempt at this test. I am sure that you will succeed tomorrow. But for now, it is time for you to rest again. I shall be waiting here when you return."
Hogan returned to his quarters for the rest of the day. Melar suggested a daxo with spalins; that turned out to be a mushroom pizza. He managed to get through another of the books as well; it didn't offer much more information, although it described Hogan's childhood in stunning detail.
When he returned the next morning to the pillar room, he was as determined as ever to finish the first test. "Let's get this started," Hogan instructed.
Ilgaira, having never moved since the day before, began the test once again. The pillar dropped onto Hogan; he caught it as if catching a cardboard tube. Carrying it over his head, he nearly scampered around the room. When the circle was completed, he once again began propping the pillar up, and when it crossed its center of gravity, he ran to the pillar's base to hold it in place. When it finally settled on its bottom, Hogan took a few seconds to make sure of his work, then pumped his fist triumphantly. "Yeah! I did it!" he shouted.
Ilgaira smiled. "Well done! Your first test is complete. You have now reached the height of your strength."
Hogan walked back over to his guide. "So, I'm guessing that my next test will have something to do with my speed?"
"Actually, it will encompass much more than that. You will be increasing several of your abilities at the same time."
"So, what's the test?"
"I cannot say, nor can I tell you what powers it will build," Ilgaira replied, beginning to exit the arena. "But if you come with me, I shall show you your next challenge."
Hogan smirked. He flexed his muscles a little; they were quite a bit more massive now, although not to the degree of the football players he had seen at school. "Well, if they work as well as the last test did, then A'nake's gonna have one hell of an opponent to fight off when I get to him."