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Guardian of the Ceremony

A Serial by Tim Connolly

In the previous chapter, a newly transformed Hogan survived one last attempt from A'nake to destroy him, but had to rescue Nadine from the collapsing arena before he could finish the spirit off.

Chapter 13: Ageless Evil, Ageless Good

Moments after Hogan had ended the full moon ceremony, he heard a small groan from behind him. He turned around to see Nadine waking up from her unconsciousness.

"Nadine! Are you okay?" he asked, dashing to her side.

Nadine's eyes lazily opened. "I... I think so." She blinked a couple of times. "I can't believe what just happened..."

"I wanted to tell you, but I didn't think you'd ever believe me," Hogan explained.

"What was that thing?"

"Its name is A'nake," Hogan answered. "It's a spirit that's travelling from world to world trying to find a series of magical talismans and assemble an army to conquer the universe."

"And you're the one who has to stop him?" Nadine asked.

Hogan nodded. "I found a book last week. It was written in a language that only I could read. It told the story of someone who's chosen to guard the talismans from harm. Then, there was the thundestorm. I was hit by a bolt of lightning. I was transported to a new planet, and that's where all my powers came from."

"So it wasn't a dream," Nadine pondered. "You really were flying. You really did turn into a werewolf. But... didn't you kill that guy when the stadium collapsed?"

"I doubt it. A'nake's a spirit without a body. It probably went unharmed when the place fell apart."

The rain began to fall harder. Hogan knew that the change in weather wasn't a coincidence.

"Listen, I..." the words felt impossible to find. "I have to go soon."

"Where?" Nadine asked.

"I don't know. And I don't know how long, either. All I know is I'm the one who has to keep that thing from finding the other talismans."

Considering the recent events, Nadine was resigned to the news. "I wish I could go with you."

"I'm sorry, but every planet in the universe has a different timeline. I was on that other planet for over a month, and I was gone only a few seconds here. I'm the only one who can adapt to all the different timeframes."

The rain had graduated to an all-out downpour. A rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance.

"When do you have to go?"

"Soon. This rain means that I'm being summoned again. I only have a few moments left here and I don't know if I'll ever get to come back." Even in the midst of the rain, Hogan could see the tears staining Nadine's cheeks. "If I ever do, though, I'll make sure to find you."

Nadine smiled. "Thanks, Hogan." She brought him into a hug, where they traded a kiss for a moment. "I'll never forget you."

"I won't forget you either. Without you, I never could have done any of this." Hogan said as they broke the embrace. He took a few steps back from Nadine.

"I will," Nadine replied. "Goodbye, Hogan."

"Goodbye, Nadine. Tell Mom I love her." Barely a second passed when a bolt of lightning crashed into the alleyway. Hogan disappeared.

The rain ended as suddenly as it began.

Hogan found himself standing on the very same pedestal that he had been brought to before, in the same altar as well. The sky was just beautiful as he remembered. He drew in a deep breath, then turned around.

The being that he saw was not unlike Ilgaira, only that his skin was colored green and his hair had an odd widow's peak to it, like a concave triangle. "You have returned!" it exclaimed jubilantly.

"I take it you're the shaman of Ki'rathia?" Hogan said, smiling as he stepped off the stone marking.

"My name is Gauno," the Ki'rathian said. "I am the 13th descendant of the one you know as Ilgaira. You are correct; I am the shaman."

"Thirteenth?" Hogan asked. "That's less time than I anticipated." He came near Gauno, extending his hand. "The talisman on Earth is now secured."

Gauno shook his hand in response. "As I had hoped."

"But something weird happened afterward - when I reversed the ceremony, it disappeared. It was right in the palm of my hand, and poof, it was gone. What happened to it?"

"The talisman is part of you now," Gauno explained, "just like the book that originally told you of your quest. The book is the source of your power; the talismans augment it."

"If that's the case, then why am I not a werewolf anymore?"

"The power of the wolf can only be activated during the full moon, much like the talisman itself. But do not worry; the talisman also has lasting effects."

Gauno led Hogan towards the very temple he had trained in.

"Lasting effects? Like what?"

"Most notably," Gauno replied, "you have gained the one power that is paramount in fighting an ageless spirit such as A'nake. You have become ageless yourself."

Hogan stopped in his tracks. "Wait a second. Ageless? As in immortal?"

Gauno chuckled. "It would seem like that at times, but unfortunately, that is not the case. Agelessness simply prevents you from dying on account of your body getting too old. Your aging functions have now ceased. But you can still die if you are too heavily injured."

The pair continued walking. "So, the other talismans - they also have lasting effects? What are they?"

"I am unable to say, largely because I myself do not know." When they reached the temple, all the Ki'rathian beings looked upon Hogan and cheered, much in the same way as they had when he had first arrived. "Your return marks a momentous day here in Ki'rathia. It is the proof that the ancients chose the right person, and that you indeed are the one who is destined to retrieve the talismans."

"So, which one should I go after next?" Hogan asked.

"A'nake will no doubt try to take advantage of a fast planet with a short moon cycle," Gauno replied. "If my predictions are correct, then he should be heading for the planet of Dracon. They run on a timespan similar to ours. However, the people there also know the legend of the Ki'rath. Moreover, since this planet and Dracon run almost in almost synchronous time, I will be able to join you and be your guide there." Gauno led Hogan into a familiar room - the column room where Hogan had begu his training. Only now, the column was gone, a small monument in its place. "But first, I felt you may want to speak with your original guide."

"Ilgaira?" Hogan asked. "But he must have died hundreds of years ago."

"Almost 200 years, actually. But while his body has died, his soul has ascended to the realm of spirits - what you call Heaven. The ancients have granted him the opportunity to speak with you when you returned."

Slowly, Hogan walked towards the statue - obviously a grave - and reached out to touch it. As he did, he heard Ilgaira's voice in his mind.

I am glad you have returned, Hogan.

"Ilgaira!" Hogan shouted. "I did it! I retrieved the talisman on Earth!"

I know. I was watching over you from this realm when I passed away. I cannot say how proud I am of your achievements. A'nake now knows that wherever the talismans are, so shall you be.

"I wish I could see you," Hogan said softly. "I wish there was some way to bring you back."

My destiny has already been fulfilled, Ilgaira explained. My mission was to bring you to Ki'rathia and train you for your fights with A'nake. Even if I were still alive, there would be little more I could do to help. Gauno, my descendant, shall act in my stead.

"Gauno said that now that I have the first talisman, I've become ageless."

That is correct. With the other talismans, you shall undergo further transformations, and your powers will grow as well. As you become more and more powerful, however, you must remember this: you are the protector of good, the guardian of righteousness. You must never let your powers corrupt you. Your spirit is that of the wolf: pure, fierce, and unwavering. The ancients chose you because of your spirit. Do not let it become tainted.

"I won't, Ilgaira."

And now, I must bid you one last farewell. But I will always be looking down on you from this realm, doing what I can to protect you from harm. I hope someday I may see you again, but until then, this is goodbye.

A tear fell onto the floor of the grave. "Goodbye, Ilgaira."

The room was silent for a long moment. Then, Hogan turned around to face Gauno.

"We'd better get going."

Coming next week: Hogan and Gauno reach Dracon, and immediately find themselves in a precarious dilemma.

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