rom atop one of the rock formations near the vicinity of Liarna's hideout, Hogan - back in his regular clothes - crouched patiently as he waited for an animal to pass by. He had been sitting there for much of the day, and while he was anxious to bring something back for the kids, he wasn't having any luck. The sun was beginning to sink into the horizon, casting an unusual red hue on the green-shaded rocks of the landscape.
"Here, critter critter critter," he cooed softly.
Just then, he noticed some movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked to his left, and there stood a large creature, primarily feline in physique although nothing he could compare to the big cats on Earth. Hogan smirked. Finally. He watched it for a moment as it slinked across the wasteland, oblivious to the being that was spying it. As it came closer to him, he sensed the right moment was near, and pounced on it from above, his fists charged with spirit energy. The cat looked up as Hogan descended upon it, unleashing a bone-crushing downward punch to the beast's neck. It immediately slumped onto the ground, not even having the opportunity to make a noise.
He looked at the creature for a second. "I'm sorry I had to do that," he said, as if the now dead predator could have heard it. "But you're going to make a lot of kids happy." He slung the cat over his shoulders and began to head back for the hideout.
It was a half-mile trek to the same boulder that he had pushed over for the kids that had found him the day before. He flipped the stone back, revealing the large hole that served as the secret entrance to the hideout.
"Look out below!" Hogan called into the pit, then seconds later dropped the body of the cat inside. Hogan flew up a little before slowly descending himself.
When he came back inside, the children amassed around the entryway were obviously pleased. For the first time, he actually saw smiles on their faces as they spoke to each other about Hogan's catch. "Wow, that thing is huge!" one of the boys said.
"You killed that all by yourself?" another kid asked incredulously.
"We'll be eating that thing for a week!"
"You're almost as good a hunter as Liarna!"
Hogan smiled back. "What can I say - beginner's luck."
Liarna soon arrived after hearing the commotion. Even she was mildly shocked at the quarry Hogan had just brought in. "That's quite a catch you have there, Hogan. Once we skin that maulcat, we'll have another week's worth of food - not to mention hides for clothes."
"Anything I can do to help," Hogan replied. "Now, for your end of the bargain."
Liarna sighed. "Very well. Come with me."
Hogan was brought into a medium-sized room. Unlike the children's bunks on the other side of the hideout, this one only had one bed and a modest nightstand. Liarna closed the door behind them and walked to the middle of the room.
"These are my quarters," Liarna explained. "I wanted to tell you this in private because I didn't want you to get angry in front of the kids. But the fact is... well..."
"You don't know where the talisman is, do you?" Hogan asked.
Liarna shook her head. "I'm sorry, Hogan. I wish I could help you. But Varzen made it a point to hide that talisman as soon as he used it so that if the Ki'rath ever came, he'd never be able to find it. Even he probably doesn't know where it is now."
"So why did you say you'd help me look for it?"
"Why do you think? I have almost 40 kids to take care of, and our supplies were running short. We were desperate. I was desperate. And besides, I never said I knew where it was. I just said I'd help you find it."
"What are we going to do, then?" Hogan asked.
"I don't know, but I'll think of something."
They both stood silently for a moment, both puzzling on the subject of how to go about finding the talisman. If worse comes to worst, Hogan thought, maybe I could just abandon this one and move on to another planet. But I wouldn't have been sent here if I wasn't supposed to get this talisman next - especially since this planet is so slow.
Suddenly, the door burst open. The same freckle-faced girl Hogan woke up to earlier came inside, obviously in a panic. "Mom, they've found us!"
Liarna's eyes went wide. "What?? How?"
"I don't know, but there's a whole bunch of monsters headed for us!"
"Monsters?" Hogan asked. "Does that mean what I think it means?"
"Most likely," Liarna replied. "I'm not surprised Varzen would go after these kids with their own parents." She looked at the girl. "Rena, take the others into the dining room and wait there. Make sure everyone stays quiet. Hogan, let's go."
Hogan nodded, and the two of them left the room.
There was a small hatch on the north side of the hideout that served as the exit for Hogan and Liarna as they crawled out onto the rocky ground of the wasteland. "We'd better do this away from the kids," Liarna suggested, "just so they aren't in danger."
"Good idea," Hogan replied. "Grab my shoulders." Liarna did so, and Hogan leapt into the air, flying away from the hideout. Within a minute, he spotted what looked to be a large platoon of soldiers about 200 yards away. "That must be our welcome wagon."
"I'll bet," Liarna said. "Let's show them our hospitality."
Hogan smirked. He dove towards the ground, depositing Liarna onto the ground. She immediately drew out the long rapier she had sheathed on her hip. "Be careful, Hogan!" she said. "There's no telling what kind of tricks Varzen has up his sleeve!"
"Gotcha." Hogan said, charging up his body for the spirit attacks that would be used. He remained in the air, figuring that Liarna could use the aerial support.
As the troops continued to march onward, Hogan noticed that there was something peculiar about their appearance. Most notably, they didn't look human. Then he remembered - Varzen already enacted the ceremony. This is the kind of army A'nake is trying to build, he thought.
As the werewolves closed in on the two of them, Hogan swooped down, trying to pre-empt any onslaught that the wolves would attempt. He connected on punches with two different wolves, the force knocking them into the group behind them. They were dazed for a moment, but got up immediately.
"Damn it," Hogan snarled. "They're too resilient when they've fully transformed." He tried another series of spirit punches from above, and they all had the same effect; harming the wolves minimally if at all. He turned around to Liarna. "My attacks aren't working!" he shouted. "All I can do is stun them!"
"That's all right," Liarna shouted back. "I can take care of them."
"All of them?"
Hogan looked on as Liarna drew her sword back, charging at the three wolves leading the pack. With one slash, she sliced the abdomens of all three of them, causing them all to go down to the ground. She continued on the next row of wolves, killing them handily as well.
Hogan went back down to try and slow the troops down somewhat. Each time, his spirit attacks seemed only to faze the werewolves, but not do any significant damage. Meanwhile, Liarna was hacking her way through the crowd.
Minutes passed, and the group of wolves had been whittled down somewhat, although there was still a teeming mass of them. Liarna was beginning to tire, and Hogan still wasn't having any luck against them. "Hogan, I think we'd better retreat," Liarna called upwards again. "I don't know how much longer I can keep this up."
"OK, I'll be right down," Hogan answered. He turned around and flew downward to take Liarna back to the hideout. When he turned his back to the troops, though, he heard a small blast behind him, followed seconds later by the sensation of something closing around his neck. Startled, Hogan grabbed at his throat; a collar had attached itself there. Suddenly, he felt his ability to fly disappear. Already heading downward at a high speed, it was only a split second before he crashed into the rocky terrain below. He managed to get his arms in front of him to shield his face in time, but he tumbled for about 20 feet before his body finally came to a stop. The force of the impact had caused him to lose consciousness.
Liarna saw the entire display; watching Hogan slam into the ground caused her to lose focus of what was going on. "Hogan!!" she screamed. That gave one of the wolves enough time to strike her in the back of the neck. She too blacked out, and collapsed onto the ground.