hen Hogan changed on account of enacting the ceremony himself, the transformation was an extremely powerful sensation. It felt like all the energy around him rushed into his body, like a shot of oxygen into the bloodstream. Now, though, with the ceremony being used on him by Varzen, it felt horrible. Painful, nauseating, but most of all unavoidable. Hogan tried to will himself into aborting the change, but the entire process seemed automatic, like a sneeze or a yawn. There was no way to fight it, mostly because he didn't know how to do so.
Varzen looked on, watching the Ki'rath writhe in pain and anger. "I wonder what I'll do with you first," he said. "Maybe I should send you back to that hideout of yours so you can accelerate the inevitability of those children dying. Or maybe I'll use you as my personal bodyguard. Or maybe..." An evil glint appeared in Varzen's eyes. "Maybe I'll send you to Dr. Sconder for observations."
Hogan rolled onto his back. He could see the beginnings of a fur coat develop along his arms and legs, and his mind was growing less and less sharp. He knew that once the change was complete, there would be no way to reverse it; he would be Varzen's slave, in essence, forced to obey his every command. His hands became too strong for the metal cuffs, snapping them apart. As he brought them into view, he saw that they had already grown into thick, black claws. He was choking for air now.
Varzen watched in obvious glee as his foe reached the halfway point of his transformation. Fur covered his entire body, claws poking from his hands and feet. He laughed wildly, gloating from such an easy victory.
A sharp piercing sensation stung in Varzen's throat in mid-laugh. An arrow had skewered it. He dropped to the floor, choking, his hands grabbing around his neck but theshaft of the arrow getting in the way.
His mind in a daze, Hogan barely had the sense of mind to look and see what was the source of that arrow. From the right, an adolescent girl entered into view. It was Rena, the girl from the hideout several days ago. He wanted to say something, but his vocal chords were no longer suitable for human speech. His words came out as a garbled snarl.
Rena inspected the now fallen man outside the prison cell. In his right hand was the talisman. She scooped it up, effectively halting Hogan's transformation. "Are you OK?" she asked.
Hogan tried to answer with speech, but that didn't get him anywhere. Instead, he pointed at the collar still wrapped around his own throat.
"You want me to get that off of you?" Rena asked. Hogan replied by nodding. "OK. Let me open up this cell and I'll see if there's a way to take it off."
She rooted through Varzen's pockets, looking for a set of keys, but none could be found. "Damn it, now I'm going to have to go through all those guards again. Wait here, OK?"
Hogan didn't have much of a choice. It took all of his willpower to maintain control over his own body; lapsing at any time would bring about the instinct of a ravenous beast. In the meantime, he tried to figure out some way to tell Rena how to change him back. He knew the words, but communicating them to Rena without speech would take some effort.
About 15 minutes later, Rena returned, a little more scuffed up than before. "OK, I got the key to the cell, but I still don't know how to get the collar off."
Hogan waved Rena off, then pointed at the talisman in her hand. "You want me to use this on you?" Hogan nodded. "OK. Nagasu h-"
Hogan grunted, shaking his head.
"What? Isn't that what you say?" Rena asked.
Hogan shook his head again. He thought for a moment. The reversal chant was also in Ki'rathian, and the only way he could get Rena to say it properly was to relay it one sound at a time. An idea popped into his head. He brought his index finger in front of him.
"One? One what?" Rena asked.
Hogan then repeated the motion for the number one, drawing it against his arm.
"Wait a second... first syllable?"
Hogan nodded enthusiastically, then brought his hand to his ear.
The charades continued for quite some time.
"OK, a wall. No? You're looking through it. Window? Yes? Now you're hitting it? You're hitting the window? No? OK, try another one. You're drinking... you're drinking out of a glass. Glass? Is that it? So it sounds like glass. Rass, Nass, F- no, the end of the word? OK. Glad, glaf, glam, glan, glax... Glax? Is it glax? Great! What's the next one?
"First word, second syllable. Sounds like. OK, you're sitting. Sitting? Sit? Wow, first try! OK, sib, sic, sid, sif... sif? Glax-sif. All right, move on.
"First word, third syllable. Sounds like. Eight? Sounds like eight? Weight? Mate? No? What's that? Cut in half? Four? You mean, cut the word in half? OK. Ay? That's the sound? Glax-sif-ay. That's the first word. All right, what's next?
"Second word, first syllable. You're singing. No, you're pulling your mouth open. A sound's coming out. You're saying something. You're saying 'Ah'. That's it? Ah? Keep going.
"Second word, second syllable. Sounds like. You're reading a book. Book? No, read? Cut in half... first half? Ree? Ah-ree? How much more is there? One more? OK, let's do it.
"Second word, third syllable. Sounds like. Your foot. Your toes. Toes? No, just one? Toe? Sounds like toe... zo, yo, wo, vo... vo? That's it! Glax-sif-ay Ah-ree-vo! Glaxifae Arivo! I got it!!"
Immediately, Hogan collapsed to the ground, moaning. He felt the changes inside of him begin to subside, and within seconds, he was back to normal. The collar was still on his neck, but at least he was human again and the shackles around his wrists were broken.
Hogan took a few moments to catch his breath, then got back up on his feet. "Wow. You're one hell of a charades player."
Rena blushed. "Thanks."
"How did you find us, anyway?" Hogan asked.
"Everyone knows about the coliseum. All the people who are arrested for treason have to fight their way out. And even the winners usually don't get freed unless Varzen's in a good mood."
Hogan looked down at Varzen's body, Rena's arrow obviously having killed him. "I guess we won't have to worry about him anymore."
"I don't think it's over yet," Rena replied. "Someone is probably ready to take his place."
"Well, let's get out of here and then we can decide what to do next." Rena unlocked the prison cell, and Hogan walked out. "Oh - and may I have my talisman, please?" She handed the talisman over to Hogan. "Cover your ears so you don't hear this."
Rena shrugged for a moment, then complied.
"Nagasu hi'eria, voraesilifu axina kum, shiri akaraa!"
Moments passed, but nothing happened.
"What's going on?" Hogan asked. "I thought the full moon was out."
"It was when I came in. I don't think the sun's risen yet."
"Let me try this again. Nagasu hi'eria, voraesilifu axina kum, shiri akaraa..."
The ceremony again failed to start.
"I bet my collar has something to do with this. It's screwed up my spirit energy ever since it got put on."
"Let's head back to the hideout while we figure out how to take that off," Rena suggested.
Hogan and Rena made their way out of the dungeon. Moments later, they emerged from the gates into the battlefield of the coliseum. The stands were empty, given that it was the middle of the night. Sure enough, the full moon was shining brightly from directly above them. In the middle of the field, Hogan and Rena saw the silhouette of a tall, lanky man, dressed in light green coat, presumably for a laboratory, bearing a tall neck that wrapped its way around like a trenchcoat.
"I've been waiting for you..." the man said, ominously.
Hogan took a few tentative steps forward. "Who are you?"
The man turned around. His rectangular face carried a unique expression, wryly smug despite a weak build. "Varzen was an incompetent buffoon. He was a swindler. The only reason he had so much power was because he took it from me."
"Varzen's dead," Hogan retorted.
"I know. And I want to thank you for doing me that favor. I was going to kill him myself, but now I can usurp his position without doing any of the work."
"I'm giving you one more chance to tell me who you are and what you're doing," Hogan threatened, "or we'll put a hole through your windpipe too."
"Very well. I guess I owe it to you to introduce myself before I send you to your deaths. My name is Dr. Ralmon Sconder. I was Varzen's chief scientific officer."
Hogan sighed. "So I guess asking you to take your collar off of me is out of the question."
Dr. Sconder chuckled. "That collar of yours. Do you realize what it does?"
"All I know is that ever since I've had it on, all my powers have disappeared."
"Very observant, Ki'rath. But that's only half the story. It hasn't been eliminating your powers, merely collecting them. Your spirit energy is incredibly powerful, and I knew that the best way to defeat you is by using your power against you. Which I'm about to do."
Dr. Sconder whipped off his lab coat. A similar collar was attached to his neck, with a large red button on the left side.
"All I have to do is press this button, and all the energy stored up in your collar will be transmitted into mine. And correct me if I'm wrong, Ki'rath, but I do believe you attempted to enact the full moon ceremony... twice."
Hogan's eyes widened. If both attempts were stored in his collar, it would give Dr. Sconder the power of two talismans.
"Feast your eyes, Ki'rath," Dr. Sconder said amidst evil giggles, quickly pressing the button on his own collar. Hogan could still hear the scientist laugh loudly as his body was enveloped in a wave of energy.