ain. That was all that was going through Hogan's mind as he looked vacuously at the ceiling, his line of sight being interrupted by the muzzles of countless werewolves surrounding him.
"And now," A'nake bellowed, "attack!!"
The wolves continued to look upon Hogan with predatorial rage. They didn't pounce on him, however; they simply remained in place, their faces fixated in one communal expression of anger.
"What are you waiting for?!" A'nake shouted. "Get him!"
Hogan chuckled. "Looks like there's a little hiccup to your plan," he said, dredging up barely enough strength to sit up. "Now that you don't have the talisman, you're no longer their master."
"That's impossible. I was the one who enacted the ceremony! I held the talisman in my hand! They should be under my power!"
"Wrong again," Hogan explained, weakly standing. "You don't know as much about the ceremony as I do."
"Oh, really?" A'nake fumed. "So who's controlling them?"
"Nobody," Hogan replied, jumping into the air and hovering over the crowd. "Since neither of us have the talisman, they're not in anyone's control."
A'nake laughed. "How helpful of you. So all I have to do is possess another body and pick up the talisman."
"That's if I don't stop you," Hogan retorted.
"I'd like to see you try."
"It'd be my pleasure."
Hogan clenched his fists again, trying to build up his energy for another attack. His hands glowed violet again, burning its spiritual fire. His face was pushed into a growl of concentration, transferring as much of his power as was possible to his hands. With a scream, he charged at A'nake with his right hand outstretched.
He flew right through the spirit.
Hogan stopped in midair, dismayed at the ineffectiveness of his attack. A'nake laughed cruelly. "Fool. You still think you're fighting that girl." It moved further up in the air, slowly reaching the ceiling. "You wanna see a spirit attack? Then try this!" A'nake dive-bombed into Hogan, catching him right in the chest. He crashed into the drum set on stage.
Hogan groaned as he lay on the floor. He had been lingering on the brink of blacking out for quite some time, but each time he had willed himself to get back up again. This time, though, he slowly started to see his vision turn dark. His hand reached out for some unknown destination, then slumped to the floor.
Hogan could now only see what his mind was feeling. He no longer could see his body, his hands, his face. He couldn't sense anything other than touch and sound. And pain.
The familiar maniacal laughter of A'nake rang in his mind. Slowly, he saw the spirit's humanoid shape fade into his sight.
"Your body is dying, Ki'rath," A'nake bragged. "You have taken too much of a beating for it to be of any more use. Bodies are weak. They feel pain. They bleed. They break apart. They die. Even you, and all your powers, are no match for one who has no body. My energy is limitless. I can fight you all day without tiring. And yet, you must rely on your body, a body that I can easily invade, as I'm doing right now."
Hogan was in a daze. He could feel his mind fogging up, under siege from A'nake's hypnotism.
"Give up now, and I may be willing to show you mercy by killing you quickly."
Hogan whined, knowing that he had been defeated, but that he could not betray his purpose. "I will never give up."
A twang of pain rolled like a concussion through Hogan's psyche. Even though it was only in his mind, the pain he felt was no less crippling. "Give up!" A'nake demanded.
A second flare seethed through Hogan. "I am giving you one last chance. Refuse me once more, and I shall see to it that your death is slow, miserable, and agonizing. You are powerless to fight me. I will rule this universe. Surrender now."
Hogan crackled with pain. "Get out of my body!!"
Suddenly, he felt his energy level rise again. His willpower was driving him on, refueling his body one last time. He felt his soul flushing itself out of all impurities. With a start, his eyes snapped open. There he was, on the concert stage, where A'nake had left him. He couldn't tell if what he had just gone through was merely a dream, or if A'nake truly had invaded his mind. He didn't have time to think about it, though - his primary responsibility was something much more important.
"So, it appears as if the Ki'rath is ready for another generous serving of torture."
"I told you..." Hogan snarled, "the name's.... HOGAN!!"
He flew at A'nake, colliding his shoulder with the apparition's chest. He felt an impact, and saw the spirit recoil almost all the way to the back.
A'nake chuckled. "Good hit. If I didn't know any better, I'd think you actually believe you hurt me."
Hogan made another pounce at A'nake, connecting his left foot to its head. He hit it again with a left uppercut and a spin kick.
"Go ahead," A'nake huffed. "Wear yourself out again. There is absolutely nothing you can do to damage me. Only one thing can save you now - and you'd have to find it first."
Hogan smirked wryly. "Then that's just what I'll do." He zoomed towards the front of the audience, near the vicinity of where the talisman fell into the crowd. He looked at the beasts under him, like a diver studying the water he was about to enter. He steeled himself one more time, then descended into the mass of monsters, searching for the relic.
A'nake watched as Hogan scrambled on the floor, desperately searching for the talisman admist the garbage on the ground. It then looked back up at the ceiling, where it spotted Nadine, still watching the events that were taking place.
"Have you forgotten your guest?" A'nake asked devilishly. It reached out at the rafters Nadine was standing among, and suddenly they began to tremble violently.
"Hogan!!" she screamed. "Help me!"
Hogan looked up and saw Nadine, barely able to control her balance on the quaking beams. Her feet gave out from under her, and with a frantic swipe of her arms she managed to catch the bottom of the catwalk.
"Nadine!" Hogan abandoned his search for the time being, flying up to the ceiling to retrieve his girlfriend. When he grabbed her, her face was red with tears.
"Hogan," she said, "what's happening?"
"I have to find that talisman," he explained. "It's the only way I'm ever going to defeat that thing."
"Let me help you."
"I can't," Hogan sighed. "That thing is on the floor around all those wolves. They'd tear you apart before you'd ever find it."
"I can handle them. I took some self-defense classes at school. Please."
"Are you sure?" Nadine nodded. "All right. I'll take you around the place where it fell. As soon as you find it, let me know."
"I will." Hogan returned to the front of the audience, carefully lowering Nadine down to the crowd. He marveled for a moment at how well Nadine was managing to fend the werewolves' attacks. A punch in the face here, a knee to the groin there; she almost looked like she could take A'nake on.
Hogan turned around to face the evil spirit. "And as for you, have a taste of this!" He charged at it once again, kicking it in the head. He tried to fight A'nake as best he could, but his energy was waning again and many of his attacks went right through it. Soon, he found himself getting fatigued again, and A'nake quickly seized the initiative, clotheslining Hogan in the neck and sending him into the side wall.
"You still haven't learned," A'nake bragged. "My powers are well beyond yours. All you can do is exhaust yourself while you try to hurt me." He grabbed Hogan again, throwing him against the opposite wall. "How much longer will you fight it? How many more times must I knock you down until you realize it's pointless to get back up?" He took Hogan by the throat, squeezing the air out of him. "Tell me, Ki'rath. Tell me the limits of your will."
"Hogan!" Nadine shouted. "I found it!" Hogan's eyes trained on Nadine, who was waving her arms. In her right hand, he saw a shiny round object - the talisman. He socked A'nake in its stomach area, causing it to lose its chokehold on him. He flew towards Nadine's location.
"Catch!" she called to him, throwing the charm into the air. It hung for a moment, and as gravity began to pull it back down, Hogan snatched out of midair.
"I got it!" he shouted. He made his way back to the stage.
A'nake watched in dismay as he held the talisman out in front of him, and began the same chant that A'nake made earlier.
"Nagasu hi'eria, voraesilifu axina kum, shiri akaraa!!"
Instantly, Hogan was engulfed in a bright red flame. The opaque aura enveloped him for a few seconds, then gradually began to fade away.
Hogan stood. His body had been completely transformed, almost exactly like the lycanthropes that were under him. His leather jacket hugged a new muscular form, suffused in crimson fur, thick, black claws ornamenting his hands, his face contorted into a muzzle, baring razor-like fangs. He looked down at the wolves under him. They stood calmly, waiting to receive their orders from their true leader - the Ki'rath.
"Guys," he announced, his voice like a sonic boom, "I'll cut you loose in a few minutes. But right now, I want you to keep Nadine safe, all right?"
The werewolves under him growled and snarled, as if to voice their acceptance of Hogan's command.
Hogan then turned his attention on A'nake's form. If it had a face, it would no doubt bely an aghast expression.
"And now," Hogan declared, "to finish this."
Coming Thursday: Now that Hogan has retrieved the talisman, will his newfound power be enough to defeat A'nake once and for all?