ogan lay on a long table of some sort, his wrists and ankles shackled painfully against it. He writhed and struggled, but they wouldn't give. The room itself was dark, save for a cone of light shining down on top of him. He felt the collar against his neck nearly choke him; somehow they must have found a way to cancel out his powers with it.
A loud, cackling laugh could be heard all around him. Hogan immediately recognized who the laugh belonged to - it was the laugh of the ageless evil spirit, A'nake.
"Well, Ki'rath," A'nake gloated. "It appears I have you right where I want you now. You had plenty of opportunity to surrender, but you were too proud to consider it. Now, not only will I see to your death, I will see to the death of all those you hold dear."
Hogan screamed. "You monster! You won't get away with this!"
"Ah, but who is left to stop me? You were the only one who had the potential to defeat me, and now look at you. The only power you have left is the power to watch as I kill your family and friends."
"No!!" Hogan shouted. "I won't let you!"
"Hogan!" a male voice boomed. It belonged to Drax, the one whose life he had sacrificed the second talisman to save. "Help! I can't move!"
Hogan tried to look around as best he could. "Drax? Where are you?"
A female voice then echoed in the room. "Hogan, please! You've got to save me!"
This voice was also familiar to him. "Nadine!" Hogan responded. "Hang on, Nadine! I'm coming!" He lurched against the shackles once more, to no avail.
"Hogan!" another woman's voice shouted. "Help me!"
Hogan's eyes widened. "Mom?!" He bucked again, trying to climb out of the restraints, but still to no use. "Mom! Don't worry! I'll be there as soon as I can!"
Another voice entered into the room. "Hogan! Hogan, don't let me die! Please."
It took him a few seconds, but Hogan suddenly remembered who the voice used to come from.
"Dad?!" he shouted. "Dad, where are you? I can't see you!"
"Hogan! He's going to kill me first!"
"No!!" Hogan continued to struggle on the table. "Dad! Don't give up!"
"Hogan! Stop him! He's going to..."
"Dad??" Hogan called into the darkness again. There was no response. "Dad?! Don't leave me, Dad! Dad!! DAAAAAAAD!!"
Hogan awoke with a start, sweat running down his forehead, eyes wide and lungs heaving. It took him a few seconds to realize that it had only been a nightmare. It was only after coming out of his reverie that he realized he was in a prison cell of some sort. All he had inside with him was a wooden plank for a bed and a makeshift sink. The gateway was typical of a jail cell: thick steel bars running across and down, forming a makeshift wall.
He reached for his neck again, and still felt the collar around it. He got up, the clank of a chain prompting him to look down and see the large iron ball shackled to his right leg. He grabbed the chain and pulled as hard as he could. Normally he would have been able to snap the chain right off, but with the collar on it was a pointless gesture. His original wardrobe was gone, replaced with what could be considered a tunic, red in color. He felt along his arms and face, noticing that his body had been cut and scraped quite badly from the fall he took earlier.
He sighed. He knew that he had to find some way to get the collar off of him in order to have any chance of escaping, let alone finding the talisman or confronting Varzen. But all he could do now was wait until someone came along and brought him to this person, and see what happened from there.
It turned out the wait would be several hours. There was nobody else in the neighboring cells; he was all alone in his imprisonment, which made the long wait excruciating. Eventually, a guard came along with a plate of bread and a small glass of water. "Eat up, runt," he said, sliding the plate through the small gap in the bars in the lower right corner of the cell.
"What do you guys want with me?" Hogan asked, not really expecting an answer.
"You'll find out soon enough," the guard replied. "But you aren't going to be any use to us if you don't eat."
"Maybe I'm not hungry," Hogan retorted.
"Suit yourself," the guard said snidely. "But if I were you I'd keep my strength up so I'd have a chance to get out of here."
Hogan paused for a moment. "What do you mean?"
"He means you'd better eat so you can do well enough to win your way out of here," a voice from across the hall replied. Moments later, the source of the voice came into view: he appreared to be some sort of military officer, decorated in a dark blue uniform and matching beret, with polished black boots and pure white gloves. He was a somewhat elderly man, with a white moustache and gray sideburns to accompany a farily wrinkled face. "If you're going to have any chance of freedom, you'd best eat up."
Hogan scowled. "I take it you're Varzen."
The man chuckled. "I'm flattered that you think that, but no. I am merely one of his advisors." He walked up near the metal gate of the cell. Hogan tried to pounce at him, but the ball and chain stopped him short of the door. "Professor Sconder is going to be delighted when he finds out how beautifully his anti-spirit collar worked on the Ki'rath, wouldn't you agree?"
"Go to Hell," Hogan replied.
"Ah, I wouldn't say that sort of thing, not when I'm about to give you a chance to be set free."
Hogan knew it wouldn't be that easy. "What is it you want me to do?'
"The people of this planet need something to keep their minds off of their miserable conditions. They need something to bring up their morale. They need... entertainment. I just happen to be the man in charge of supplying that entertainment. And I don't think there could be a bigger event than the Ki'rath and the leader of our resistance battling to the death for their respective freedoms."
"You mean, you want me to fight Liarna?" Hogan asked.
"Smart young man, aren't you?" the advisor replied. "We have these sorts of duels going on all the time. Only now, there's a lot more at stake. If you win, we will free you from your detainment, and you will be able to leave this world and find the other talismans."
"And what will happen to Liarna?"
"She will die. Varzen shows no mercy for the weak."
"Forget it. We're allies. I'm not going to let you force me to do your dirty work."
"Fine. I guess you'll just have to spend the rest of your life here in this cell." The man began to walk away. "Guard, this prisoner is to no longer receive food or water. We'll let him starve like the rat he is."
Hogan watched as the officer - and potentially his only chance at getting out - leave his view. "Wait!" He saw the officer turn around and come back to his cell. "I need to think about this."
The officer smirked. "I would think this is a fairly easy decision. Either you accept this offer, or you die. This is your one shot at getting out of here. Don't squander it."
Hogan sighed. He couldn't bear to see those kids die of starvation, but at the same time he couldn't allow any more talismans to be stolen. "All right. I'll do it."
The officer smiled. "Good decision. Guard, open the cell."
Apparently, the prison cell Hogan had been in was part of a large arena. The guards brought him into the entryway to the main battlefield, a primarly dirt area with small obstacles littered around. He looked at the stands, and saw thousands of people seated, cheering, waving red or yellow flags. It was then that he realized the significance of his new clothing. They're rooting for me, he thought.
"And here's our first duelist!!" a hyper voice boomed over a loudspeaker. The cheering swelled.
Hogan slowly made his way out onto the field, being pelted with rocks and discarded food by those rooting for the other color. The entryway shut behind him, leaving him alone on the arena floor. He looked around, bewildered at the new surroundings.
Moments later, he saw the gate open on the other side of the field. As he expected, out walked Liarna, dressed in a skimpy yellow outfit. Against her right hip sat the sheath of her rapier. Hogan's heart pounded when he realized that he would have to fight Liarna with his bare hands, while she kept her sword.
"And there's our second contender!!" the announcer declared. "Well, folks, our combatants have entered the arena. Now it's time to get this contest started. As always, that decision is made by our noble and fearless leader. Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you... Varzen the Magnificent!!"
The crowd's cheering reached almost deafening volume.
Hogan looked behind him, directly over the gate he had emerged from. There, he saw a squat, rotund man sitting on a large throne. His blood boiled.
The man rose from his seat. "Ladies and gentlemen," he announced. "I bring you what will go down in history as one of our most exciting battles. I have promised both of these fighters - these scurrilous dogs who were arrested for treason and murder - that the one who defeats his or her opponent today will be granted their freedom, and with it, one last chance to pledge their allegiance to me."
Hogan looked back at Liarna. Obviously she hated this man fiercely, but was interested in his words nonetheless.
"It shall be known that in this bout, no holds are barred. They may use anything at their disposal to fight each other. Should the loser survive, he or she shall be put to death tomorrow at sunrise. There shall be no quarter given to the weak."
The crowd applauded again for this statement.
"Combatants, take your positions."
Liarna took a fighting stance, drawing her sword from her sheath. Hogan, unarmed and powerless, could only brandish his fists.
Hogan took a deep breath, readying himself for the fight.