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loogslair.com As I've said before, Grrr.


Guardian of the Ceremony

A Serial by Tim Connolly

In the previous chapter, Hogan became one of the 64 fighters to reach the elimination brackets. But he also became the target of scorn when A'nake managed to convince the other fighters that he wants the talisman for evil purposes.

Chapter 36: Sabotage

The second day of the tournament began, and all 64 remaining fighters made their way into the ring. An official came to each of them with a large sack. Each competitor was to draw a number from the sack, and that would determine the seedings for the rest of the competition.

Being the last person in line, Hogan watched impatiently as his two chief rivals - Toma and A'nake - each stuck a hand into the bag and pulled out a number. Toma got the number 26; A'nake got 54. Hogan winced as he saw their names placed on the large scoreboard on the southern end of the arena. They ended up in two completely different brackets; the only way they would meet each other was if they both reached the final match. Obviously, Hogan did not want to see that happen.

After close to half an hour of waiting, the official came to him. There was only one number left; Hogan grabbed a plastic ball with the number 41 emblazoned on it. Looking up at the scoreboard, Hogan deduced that he would meet A'nake in the semi-finals, provided he made it that far.

The entire day was set aside for the first elimination matches. Now, the rules were a lot more relaxed. No more did the fighters wear the sensors on their body; at this point a knockout or sending the other fighter out of bounds was needed to advance. This caused the fights to last much longer than the bouts in the preliminary rounds. Meanwhile, Hogan got to watch Toma's first head-to-head match. His unlucky opponent appeared to be advanced in age, with a long white beard and a red and violet body that hunched over. Certainly he must have been skilled to reach this stage of the competition, but Toma barely took a minute with barrages of punches and kicks to send the old man crashing into the ground. A ten-count was administered, and Toma was crowned the winner.

A short while later, Hogan heard his number announced as his turn came up. He mounted the ring, looking across at the dragon he had been conversing with the night before. Knowing his opponent's reaction to the rumors that had been spread about him, Hogan knew that this was not going to be an easy fight. The horn sounded to start the fight.

The two competitors watched each other intently, waiting for the other to make the first move. Slowly, they began to close in on each other, and when they got within a few feet, the dragon made the first move. It whipped around, sending his tail towards Hogan. It caught him in the chest and sent him back several feet. Hogan quickly got back up, charging up his fists at the same time. He didn't want to resort to using his spirit energy, but given the circumstances it looked like it was going to be necessary.

Hogan charged at the dragon, catching it by surprise. A swift uppercut to the jaw sent the dragon flying back a considerable distance, although it didn't seem to take too much stamina out of him. Hogan pounced again, and the two of them sparred for a few seconds. Only when Hogan saw an opening in the dragon's stomach did the match really turn in his favor. With a sock to the gut, Hogan managed to knock the wind out of the dragon, and it didn't take much after that to take control of the fight and unleash a series of punches and kicks that the dragon had no chance to defend. With one final spin kick to the head, Hogan sent the dragon to the mat, unconscious. The referee standing on the edge of the ring counted to ten, then waved Hogan's opponent off.

Hogan sighed. One down, five to go.

Later on in the day, it was A'nake's turn to face an opponent. Unfortunately, that other fighter didn't have a prayer. Being less than four feet tall against the gigantic stature of A'nake's host body, the other fighter practically got squashed. The one-sided bout barely lasted half a minute before A'nake finally just picked the other fighter up and threw him out of the ring. Hogan rolled his eyes at the freebie that A'nake had been handed.

It was late afternoon when Hogan's number was called up again for his second-round match. His opponent this time was close to humanoid in form, but with pale skin and large ears that pointed outward. He wore a dark blue cape when he entered the ring, but when the starting horn sounded, he quickly whipped it off. Hogan was not impressed by the show being put on by this competitor, and managed to overwhelm his rival with a barrage of spirit punches. Fatigue was starting to creep up on both of them, but it was Hogan who managed to suffer through it. Using a foot sweep to finish the humanoid off, Hogan found himself victorious for the second time, and only somewhat winded.

Both Toma and A'nake also reached the next round handily, and the prospect of facing them became even more imminent as Hogan looked at the way the brackets were shaping up.

That night, Hogan rested in the hotel room he shared with Balatin. Hogan lay against the bed, recuperating as much as he could before the next day.

"Well, it's down to 16 people," Hogan declared. "I've got a 1 in 16 chance of winning this thing."

"I'm telling you Hogan," Balatin said, "You've got nothing to worry about until at least the quarterfinals."

"Which is one round away now." Hogan sat up on the bed. "Not to mention the fact that everyone else thinks I'm the one who's going to use the talisman for all the wrong purposes."

"Don't worry about that, Hogan. A'nake will be exposed as the liar he is soon enough. Just don't do anything that would make you suspicious."

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Balatin answered it, and a doorman presented him with an envelope addressed to Hogan.

"I wonder what this is all about," Balatin said as he handed Hogan the envelope.

"I don't know," Hogan replied, tearing the envelope open and pulling out a slip of paper inside. "But I have a feeling I'm going to wish I didn't find out."

Hogan unfolded the slip of paper, and a fine red powder fell onto Hogan's shirt. He dusted it off himself, then began to read the note.

Dear Hogan -

Have you ever been to Zhilub? Of course not. There's no talisman there, so you wouldn't bother to visit that planet. If you did, though, you might have found the natives there to be quite fierce. Care to know why? Well, the night before a battle, they rub a powder all over themselves, made from a mixture of the indigenous flowers. This powder heightens their strength and power immensely, but it also has a bit of a side effect: those who use it usually can't tell friend from foe, and they tend not to stop attacking their targets until they're dead. Obviously, this powder is reserved for people who fight alone, lest they waste their strength on allies. But since everyone suspects you of having evil purposes for this tournament's prize, I don't figure you have many allies right now anyway.

The powder doesn't start to take effect until its user falls asleep, but overnight it works its way into the bloodstream and by the time its user wakes up, blood is just about the only thing he can think about. I'm sure you'll win the other fighters over once you convince them that you weren't responsible for the murderous rage you're going to be in tomorrow.

Sweet Dreams.

PS: Tell your Draconian friend I said hi. Before you kill him, that is.

Hogan gasped. "The powder... I've just rubbed it all over my clothes! And my hands!"

"Maybe it doesn't work on humans," Balatin said, looking for some excuse to cling onto. "Maybe your spirit energy will cancel it out. Hell, maybe that wasn't the same powder and he's bluffing."

"No..." Hogan groaned. "A'nake has always done whatever he could to get the best of me. This is right out of his bag of tricks. Problem is, how am I going to fight tomorrow?"

"Do you think you should still compete, though?"

"Of course!" Hogan barked. "The only reason A'nake did this was to try and get me to drop out! No way am I going to let him get what he wants!"

"But... how are you going to go out there without snapping on someone?"

Hogan thought for a moment. "Got any rope?"


"Do you have any rope?"

"No, but they may have some in the lobby. Why?"

"I want you to tie my hands and feet to the bed," Hogan explained. "Make sure you get them really tight. If I don't act like myself next morning, then we wait until this stuff wears off."

"But what if you're given a match in the morning?"

"The round of 16 doesn't start until noon, so that shouldn't be a problem. OK?"

"All right," Balatin said as he made his way out of the hotel room, "but I'm sleeping somewhere else tonight, just in case."

"I don't blame you. Check back here at about 10 o'clock tomorrow morning. If I look like I'm OK, then I'll head for the arena."

Balatin nodded, and exited the hotel room.

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