or the short moment before Hogan and A'nake engaged again, it felt like the world was frozen in time. Hogan, right fist drawn back, ablaze with spirit energy; A'nake, the comparable appendage ready to strike. In slow motion, they both began to thrust forward, Hogan screaming in concentration, while A'nake was silently focused on its target.
Their punches landed synchronously in each others' chest. The force of each attack sent them both back well over 100 feet. It was then that real time resumed, and the battle returned to normal speed. A'nake quickly split itself into three parts to complicate matters for Hogan; while he was able to defend most of the attacks dealt by each of the replicants, they were swirling around him much too fast for him to get a lock on which version of A'nake was susceptible to harm.
Rena watched all of this from the rock formation where she had been the entire evening. Sprawled next to her was Hogan's clone, the body A'nake had originally used to attack Hogan until the collar was closed around him and eliminated all of his inherent powers.
Hogan attacked like a whilrling dervish. While dodging and parrying the attacks of A'nake's duplicates, he would get in a few punches and kicks of his own. Only occasionally did they seem to hit their target.
Within about three minutes, Hogan began to tire out. He had been fighting almost nonstop since sundown, which had been a while ago by now. The split-off A'nakes were starting to catch Hogan from behind, hitting him in the back and sending him into the front-positioned apparitions. Soon, they had began a sort of tag-team routine, with each one getting in their licks on Hogan. When Hogan tried to retaliate, they would switch off, and the next spirit in line would continue the assault.
A punch in the stomach, followed by an uppercut to the jaw and a roundhouse kick to the torso, sent Hogan falling onto the rocky ground of the wasteland. His lip was bleeding, and he was heaving for breath. Satisfied, A'nake recombined itself and hovered tauntingly in front of Hogan.
"Is your body shutting down again, Ki'rath?" A'nake asked. "Once again, you find yourself helpless to my power without the talisman to give you a way out. It's a good thing that full moon is more than a week away, or else I'd actually be worried about my prospects."
Hogan could barely speak. When he did, it was a growl. "I'm... not done yet..."
"Oh, I'm sure you have another ace up your sleeve, Ki'rath. You always do. On Earth, your girlfriend helped you find the talisman. On Dracon, Gauno distracted me long enough for you to enact the ceremony. But who is left to come to your aid now? That little girl? She's already used up all of her tricks." With an outstretched left hand, A'nake began to build up a mass of energy. "Enjoy these last few moments of your life, Ki'rath. And prepare to meet your father... in the afterlife."
From the crags, Rena watched hopelessly as Hogan seemed unable to fend off what would certainly be a fatal dose of spirit energy. Suddenly, she heard a voice beside her.
Rena looked to her left to find Hogan's clone - the same one A'nake had used against him earlier - reaching his hand out to Rena.
"...Please... help me..."
Rena was astonished. She never thought that the clone would ever act of his own volition. "What... what is it?" she asked.
"The collar... you've got to... get it off me..."
Rena scrambled over to the clone's side. The collar was very flimsily attached - the chunk that had been chiseled off of Hogan originally was reattached using an iron band. Still, she had no idea what the clone would do.
"Why should I take this off?" Rena asked. "What are you going to do if I do take off the collar?"
"I must... avenge... my father..."
"Please!... The collar... take it off of me..."
Convinced, Rena pulled against the weakened portion of the collar. It took a few tugs, but eventually the iron band was wrenched loose and the collar slipped off. The rush of power that returned to the clone seemed to surprise even him; he instanty bounded onto his feet.
"Thanks, miss," the clone replied. He scanned the landscape for his target, and spotted it below, almost finished amassing enough energy to obliterate Hogan. "Oh my God..." the clone said breathlessly. "That looks like... me!"
"He's the one you were cloned from," Rena explained.
"No... he's killing him too?" The clone leapt into the air. "Not if I can stop it!"
Hogan watched helplessly as A'nake stood proudly over him, brandishing the giant ball of energy that would soon be thrown at him. "Say goodbye, Ki'rath," A'nake gloated, and drew its arm back to wind up for the kill.
Suddenly, A'nake was tackled from the side by some mysterious assailant. The force of the collision sent them both sliding into the ground. When the momentum came to a stop, the clone swiftly flipped back into a leaping position.
"How... how did you do that?" A'nake asked, still thinking that it was Hogan who somehow pre-empted the attack. Then it noticed that this one wasn't wearing the war paint on its cheek. "No... it can't be..."
The clone took a fighting stance, enraged at the figure in front of him. "You..." he snarled. "You killed my father!"
"What? That's- that's preposterous!" A'nake stammered. "That's nonsense! You never even had a father! You're just a piece of meat, cooked up and served for my use!"
"Don't lie to me!" The clone shouted. "I saw you do it. I watched everything from behind that window. You picked my dad up and threw him against the wall. And as soon as you did that, you took my body hostage and used me as a pawn for your work." His fists charged up again. "And now, you're going to pay."
By now, Hogan had recovered enough to haul himself onto his feet and watch the proceedings. He wanted to join in, but his conscience told him to avoid confusing matters.
The fight between A'nake and Hogan's clone was awe-inspiring. Somehow, it seemed like the clone was even more powerful than Hogan was. He didn't even need to transform to do damage to the spirit - all it took was a few flurries of punches and kicks and A'nake was on the ropes.
A'nake split into two halves, and it was then that the clone began having trouble. Sensing that he might not be able to handle both forms of A'nake at once, the real Hogan stepped into the battle. The clone quickly noticed. "You take the one that can be hurt. I'll be the decoy."
Hogan nodded. "Deal."
With half of its energy devoted to the sattellite, A'nake felt the sting of Hogan's attacks even more. Making up for lost time, Hogan unleashed a barrage of spirit punches, bruising the apparition even more. He knew he wouldn't be able to completely defeat A'nake this way, but at least this would teach it a lesson. Within a couple minutes, A'nake was sent to the ground again, Hogan and his clone proving too strong for A'nake to cope with. Before running out of strength completely, it rose high into the night sky, where it merged with its extra manifestation.
"Once again, Ki'rath," A'nake taunted, "someone has come to your rescue, even if it was a duplicate of yourself. I tire of these tactics for now, and so I shall be leaving. But rest assured - the next time we meet, it will be alone. No longer will you be able to rely on the aid of others. And then your defeat will be final - and permanent."
With incredible speed, A'nake shot up and out of Hogan's view.
Hogan and his clone looked up in silence as they say the pale yellow streak whiz up into the sky and fade out of sight.
"Damn it," the clone muttered. "He got away."
"That's all right," Hogan explained. "I have a feeling that he can't keep this up much longer."
He turned to his clone; it felt incredibly bizarre to look at someone who looked completely identical to him. "Thanks for stepping in back there. I thought I was a goner."
The clone smirked back. "It's the least I could do for my cell donor."
They slowly walked back to the rock formation where Rena had nearly fainted from the events that had taken place in front of her. "Are you guys OK?" she asked.
Hogan poked at his stomach, wincing a bit. "I'm a little sore, but I'll live." He flew back up to the top of the rocks, the clone following close behind. "That was a close one."
"If this guy hadn't come to when he did," Rena said, "you would've been destroyed."
"Believe me, I know." Hogan took the talisman into his right hand. "We've still got nine more days before I've gotta go. Let's head back to the hideout and give the kids some good news." He looked over at the clone. "You're more than welcome to come with us."
"Are you sure?" the clone asked. "I don't want to get in the way."
"You won't, trust me." Hogan grabbed Rena by the shoulders, and lifted back into the air. "In fact, you might be the best thing that ever happened to them."