hen Hogan and his two cohorts returned to the hideout, it was the middle of the night. Only a couple children were awake, guarding the entrance to the hideout. Hogan was the first to drop in, and the guard on duty quickly noticed the war paint on his cheek.
"Hogan! You made it back!" the guard shouted. "Hey, guys! Wake up! Hogan's back! He's still alive!"
It took a few moments for the word to spread throughout the bunks, but soon the entire cave was flooding into the entryway. Rena was next to come down, and the crowd gave off a large cheer when they saw that she had made it back as well.
"I didn't think you guys were going to make it," one of the children said.
"We were so scared!" said another.
"I'm so glad you guys made it back!"
"Way to fight off the bad guys!"
As the celebration continued, a third person came down from the opening above. It was the clone, who got up off the landing mat and dusted himself off. The crowd was oddly quiet all of a sudden.
"What's he doing here?" the kids asked. "Didn't you tell us to be careful of your clone?"
The clone smirked. "I guess my reputation precedes me."
"That's only because of the ones who were using you," Hogan replied. "Guys, I want you to meet our new guest..." He thought for a moment, but was drawing a blank. "Uh... I'm sorry - I don't believe I caught your name."
The clone shrugged back. "I don't remember getting one, actually."
"OK, that complicates things." Hogan turned back to the crowd. "We'll just call you... Bob. Everyone, say hello to Bob."
"Hi, Bob." It sounded like a classroom greeting a substitute teacher.
The next nine days went very slowly for Hogan, but that was fine with him - it gave him and Rena more time to practice spirit fighting, not to mention giving Bob the opportunity to acquaint himself with the others. Being without parents himself, Bob fit in quite well with the other residents of the hideout.
Finally, the night of the full moon arrived. It was both an exciting and sad time for all the children, as now they would have to say goodbye to the one who had been protecting them for the last month and a half.
Hogan brought all the children outside to watch him enact the ceremony and then depart from the planet. As usual, he instructed them all to cover their ears as he recited the ceremonial chant, and everyone gasped in amazement as they saw the transformation take place. Hogan felt the blaze of energy swirl around him as he assumed his werewolf form, his fur coat now a deep indigo. When the change was completed, he turned to face the others.
"Well," he said, clearing a lump in his throat. "I guess this is it."
The first few drops of rain began to fall on the ground.
Amazed, Rena began to look around her at the raindrops that were coming down. "Oh my God... it's raining!"
Hogan nodded. "It always rains before I leave."
Rena was almost euphoric. "No, you don't understand. It almost never rains here in the wasteland. And after it rains, all the plant life starts to grow again and the animals come back. The rain's always been a sign of good luck around here." She slowly walked towards Hogan. She was obviously close to tears. "Hogan, I want to thank you. For everything. For teaching me how to fight with my spirit. For helping us beat Varzen and Dr. Sconder. But most of all..." a tear fell down her cheek. "For giving us hope. For years, we've been living in fear in this world. We had nobody to turn to for help. It got so bad we actually had to go into hiding. But now, I know things are going to get better. I can feel it."
The rain began to intensify. Rumbles of thunder could be heard from the vicinity.
"I hope I'll get to see you again. But if not, just remember." Rena took Hogan's hand. "I will always love you."
Hogan smiled. "Thanks. I... love you too, Rena."
They both paused for a moment, then swiftly brought their lips together in a long kiss. The children around them whooped loudly in their usual immature way. When the kiss broke, Rena drifted back into the crowd.
Hogan looked to his clone. "Bob, you take care of these kids, OK?"
Bob smiled and nodded. "You have my word on that, Hogan. I hope we see each other again someday."
Hogan smiled and waved slowly. "Goodbye, everybody."
The kids energetically waved and bid farewell to Hogan as a bolt of lightning struck the Ki'rath. Instantly, Hogan was gone.
When Hogan rematerialized on Ki'rathia, he found that he had already returned to human form. The talisman was gone, now incorporated into his spirit. He turned around, expecting to see the current shaman to be awaiting him, but there was nobody there.
"Hello?" Hogan asked. "Is anyone home?"
Hogan slowly walked to the temple where he had spent his training a couple months ago, noticing how nobody was around to greet him this time around. He started to worry until he saw a group of people just outside the temple doors. They didn't all appear to be Ki'rathian, though; most of them looked quite humanoid in appearance. As he neared the temple, he began to hear them engaging a Ki'rathian in a bit of an argument.
"I can assure you - the artifacts you seek are not the same as the ones that we oversee."
"But we've been hearing stories all over the place about magical objects that grant wishes!"
"They do not grant wishes. And there are only six of them, not seven."
"I told you we should've just waited a year."
"Quiet, Earthling. I want to become immortal as soon as possible."
When Hogan came closer, he noticed that there were three other people. One of them was a short, bald man wearing an orange gi; another was a tall, muscular man with erratically spiky hair wearing the same outfit; and the third was of below-average height, with his hair pointed up in a similar manner and wearing some sort of blue armor.
"I'm giving you one more chance to tell us where they are before I start getting nasty," the blue one said.
Quickly, Hogan stepped in. "Uh... can I help you guys?"
The Ki'rathian looked over to Hogan, obviously delighted at his return. "Ki'rath!" he exclaimed. "You have returned!"
"I got back from that other planet just now," Hogan explained.
"Good." The man in blue said flatly. "Then maybe you can tell us where to find them."
"Don't be so hard on the guy," the tall one said in a cheerful voice. "I'm sure he must be tired if he's just come back from another planet."
"OK, can someone tell me exactly what's going on here?" Hogan asked.
"These people are apparently from Earth," the shaman explained. "Although the Earth they refer to is actually a different planet from yours, only with the same name. According to them, they have come here to find some sort of magic orbs."
"Magic orbs?" Hogan asked. "We have orbs now?"
"Well, that is what I have been trying to explain to them - they apparently have your talismans confused with what they call 'Dragon Balls'."
"'Your' talismans??" the group asked in unison.
"Well..." Hogan stammered, "yeah, I guess you could say they're mine."
Instantly, the man in blue grabbed Hogan by the collar. "Hand them over. Now."
"Hey, hey! Take it easy! I don't have them!"
Hogan was plopped onto the ground again. "Then where are they?"
"Well... they're gone. Three of them, anyway. See, the thing is, once I use them, they just become a part of me. That's why I just came back from a different planet; I was sent there to retrieve their talisman."
"Aw, man!" The short one whined. "You mean we came all the way out here for nothing? That's just great."
"Don't worry," the tall one said. "I'm sure this guy can help us out. Right?"
Hogan thought for a moment. "Let me guess - they're kinda yellow, with stars in the middle?"
The group nodded.
"OK, now I see what the problem is. I think your coordinates were off by a light year or two. The closest planet I can think of with those things is over in a different solar system. If you want, we can take you there instantly with the transporter."
"You'd do that for us?" the short man asked, giddily.
"No problem. I just ask for one thing in return."
The tall man smiled. "Sure. What can we getcha?"
Hogan smirked. "An autographed picture from each of you. They'll make fantastic collector's items."
The group was dumbfounded. "Well..." the tall one replied, "I guess... we could do that."
"I didn't know we had fans!" the short one exclaimed.
"Shut up, Earthling," the one in blue barked. "I don't do autographs."
"Aw, come on Vegeta," the tall one pleaded. "He is helping us out here."
"Oh, very well." The man in blue sighed, rolling his eyes. "I could've done this all by myself, I would've had the Dragon Balls in no time, but nooooooo, I had to bring these idiots along..."
"The transporter's a couple miles to the north," Hogan explained. "You can't miss it."
"Great!" the short one cheered. "Thanks a lot!" They quickly dashed off towards the transporter.
When they were gone, the Ki'rathian directed Hogan into the temple. "I thank you for resolving that situation. I must say, those people were awful... pushy."
"Oh, they're all right," Hogan replied. "You don't have to worry about them unless they have blonde hair."