ven though he was floating, Hogan was laying in midair, his mind still recovering from the compounded mindshock that A'nake had dealt him. His ears were still ringing, but he slowly managed to flip back into a standing position. He shook off the last vestiges of the psychic attack just in time to see a speck float back up into the sky and zoom southward. He knew immediately who it was.
Knowing that Drax was down below, obviously defeated by A'nake, left him with a difficult decision: either tend to Drax and let A'nake continue towards the town, enacting the ceremony and transforming all of the townspeople within earshot, or abandon Drax and pursue A'nake. He sighed, looking to his conscience to make the proper choice. A moment later, he turned downward, heading towards the ground.
He cleared the upper foliage of the trees, leaving him with a view of the forest. "Drax!" he shouted. "Where are you?" He floated onto the soil, his head constantly turning to inspect as much of the area as possible. "Drax! Can you hear me?"
He turned around to see the prince lying against a tree, limp and unconscious. He dashed over to Drax's side. "Drax! Wake up!" Hogan gave Drax's face a couple of slaps.
It took a few seconds, but eventually Drax began to open his eyes. He groaned in agony. "Unnngh... what... what happened?"
"A'nake got the talisman," Hogan replied. "I saw him head towards the town again."
Drax attempted to get to his feet, but he lacked the strength. He could only adjust to a more comfortable position against the tree trunk. "I guess we've failed, then."
"Not yet. It'll take some time for the ceremony to finish. I just have to get to A'nake before everyone's changes have completed."
"We'd better get going, then," Drax said weakly, coughing.
"I don't think you should come with me, Drax. You need to rest here until you're strong enough to fly under your own power, then head back to the castle."
Drax's face crinkled in a frown. "I will not let that fiend get the better of me. I have my pride."
"You're lucky he didn't kill you just now," Hogan retorted.
"Please, Hogan... these are my people. It is my duty to protect them. I cannot let them down."
"You're in no condition to fight, though."
"Who said I was going to fight?" Drax asked. "I can help in other ways."
"The town has a military base there. I can provide some aerial support. I know it isn't much, but it'll be something."
"All right." Hogan took Drax by the shoulders. "Let's go."
Hogan lept back into the air, clearing the treetops. He began heading southward as fast as his cargo would allow.
The borders of the town were coming into A'nake's view, illuminated by the light of the full moon. Many windows were lit, although few people were outside at the time.
A'nake laughed cruelly. "This may not be as many people as I had back on Earth," it said to itself, "but this will have to do." It opened its palm, studying it for a moment, then held it outward.
"People of Dracon, hear my voice!" A'nake shouted. "I am Gauno, the shaman of Ki'rathia! Face me, for I need your help!"
Those that were outside turned towards A'nake, and others began filing outside. Oblivious to the status of the Ki'rathian, they had no way of knowing that his body was possessed.
"Draconians," A'nake continued. "I have received word that A'nake his headed towards this town from the north. We must band together and fight this evil spirit."
A low grumble from the townspeople signified their compliance.
A'nake smirked. "This is almost too easy."
The spirit looked down at the people, all ready and waiting to hear the next statement. A'nake began the chant. "Nagasu hi'eria, voraesilifu axina kum, shiri akkk-"
Suddenly, A'nake's mind went numb. It felt as if a second presence was trying to fight its way out. A'nake reeled at the realization that Gauno's spirit was beginning to fight back.
"No..." A'nake groaned. "I won't let you beat me..." The body's flight began to waver. "Stop it. I command you!"
You command no one, Gauno retorted from inside A'nake's mind. I will not allow you to use my body as a pawn for your evil deeds.
"You already have..." A'nake replied. "Drax is dead, and Hogan is paralyzed from your mindshocks..."
You are wrong again. Drax is alive. Hogan has recovered. They are both heading this way.
"You lie!" A'nake shouted. "I won't let you regain control of this body. This body is mine."
It appears as if you lack the willpower to maintain this body, Gauno countered. I was foolish enough to fall for your ploy, A'nake, but now I shall reclaim that which is rightfully mine.
Then, A'nake felt it. The same mindshock that the possessed body had unleashed on Hogan earlier. The body could no longer maintain its alititude; it began erratically rising and dropping as A'nake tried to fight back the pain.
"I won't leave this body," A'nake persisted. "Ever. Even if I have to die."
That is what you say. But is your will prepared to honor that claim?
A second shock panged through A'nake's skull. It lost all power of flight, plummeting to the ground below. A'nake rolled around in pain.
"My will is stronger than yours!" A'nake screeched. "I will contain you!"
If you are merely seeking to contain me, Gauno replied, then you have already lost.
A'nake's host body crackled with the surplus of spirit energy, beginning to take on a yellow glow.
"No!!" A'nake yelled. "I will kill us both before I ever let go of your body!"
I am willing to sacrifice my life if it means ridding the universe of you.
"Then go ahead," A'nake growled. "Kill me. Kill us both."
From overhead, Hogan and Drax arrived at the town. Hogan surveyed the people within the town's borders "Doesn't look like they're changing. Something must have happened."
Drax, who was hanging under Hogan and looking downward, spotted a strong discharge of energy to his right. He looked in that direction to find the body of the Ki'rathian priest writhing on the ground. "Look! It's A'nake!"
Hogan saw it. "Something must be going on," he said. "It's as if he's being attacked by something."
"Could Gauno be doing this?" Drax asked.
"Let me go into town," Drax said. "I can fly on my own now. You take care of A'nake."
"Deal," Hogan replied. He let go of Drax; Drax dropped for a moment but lifted back up when his wings began to flap. Slowly, he made his way across the walls of the town.
Hogan looked back over to the proceedings outside of the town. His hands went ablaze, and he swiftly dove towards the possessed shaman below. The collision was almost earsplitting. It sent A'nake fifty feet away, landing in a nearby puddle.
This sudden jolt caused Gauno to lose his toehold on his body. A'nake sensed that he had regained control of the shaman. It laughed once more. "Ah, Hogan," it said, a tinge of false sympathy, "if only you had known what your little friend was doing, you wouldn't have butted in." It picked itself back up off the ground, floating up into the sky. "You know, it seems your guide was willing to give up his life to defeat me. And he just may have done that if you hadn't interrupted. But of course, that would require you to be a lot more perceptive."
Hogan, knowing fully well that A'nake could give him another psychic attack, was tentative. "You were just lucky I came in when you did."
"Ah, you may be right." A'nake hissed. "You know, Hogan, when I take over someone's body, I see everything in their mind at the very moment I possess them. You wanna know what I saw in Gauno?"
Hogan stood silently, defiantly.
"I saw disappointment. He knew he had just let you down. He knew that I was going to take this body and try to destroy you. If I didn't know any better, I'd say he looked at you like a father looks at a son. I would almost say that he loved you, Hogan."
Hogan's eyes widened for a moment. A'nake's body began to glow.
"That's right. He'd barely known you at all, and yet he loved you. He felt as if his very purpose was to protect and guide you. He loved you enough to die for you. And you know what? If there is one emotion I loathe more than any other in this cosmos, it's love."
There was a burst of light coming from the spirit's host body, and when the light died down, A'nake and Gauno had been separated. The newly freed spirit floated a few yards away from Hogan.
Hogan took a fighting stance, his arms glowing with energy. "You just committed the biggest mistake you could make. You didn't even enact the ceremony when you had the chance."
There was no expression visible on A'nake, but its aura obviously sizzled with anger. "The ceremony can wait. First, I'm going to show you the true meaning of pain."
Coming Monday: Can Hogan fend off a newly enraged A'nake? And what will happen to Gauno?