orning came. Hogan's eyes flicked open as sunlight streamed into the hotel room. He blinked a couple of times. He felt fine; there didn't seem to be any effects of the powder A'nake had sent to him the night before. Relieved, Hogan was about to turn over and climb out of bed - before he realized that his wrists were tied to the bed. His feet were also bound to the bedposts.
"Balatin?" He shouted. "Balatin, you can come in now! I'm OK!"
Seconds later, the hotel room door opened, and Balatin walked in, a small knife in his hand. "You don't feel any different?"
"I don't think so. I probably didn't get enough of that stuff into my system for it to really affect me."
"All right," Balatin sighed, using the knife to cut the ropes that were immobilizing Hogan. When they were cut, Hogan sat up, massaging his wrists where the rope had chafed him.
"I'd better get going before my matches start," Hogan said as he got up off the bed and changed back into his clothes. "You got the powder off my shirt and everything, right?"
"Right," Balatin replied. "I gave your clothes a good rinsing, so we shouldn't have to worry about anything."
"Balatin..." Hogan groaned as he inspected his shirt and jeans. "These things are still sopping wet."
Balatin shrugged. "Well, I never said I got a chance to dry them."
Hogan's match was the first one of the day, and as he entered the ring for his third head-to-head combat, he tried to put the events of the night before in the back of his mind. He watched as his opponent stepped onto the ring as well - a merman-like creature with webbed arms and a dorsal fin protruding from its back. It gave Hogan a smirk as if to psych Hogan out a little. Hogan grimaced in response.
The horn sounded.
Hogan pounced at the merman, fists charged with energy. As he closed in, the merman whipped around, scratching its sharp fingers against Hogan's face and sending him back several feet. Hogan pressed his hand against his face; he was bleeding from the wounds. It was the first time anyone had managed to get a good shot in against him, and Hogan was angered at this development. He quickly dashed in to meet the merman again, and they sparred for another 15 seconds before a slash to the abdomen shredded Hogan's shirt and managed to break the skin there as well. He tried once again to go on the attack, and the merman responded by kicking Hogan in the stomach, then elbowing him in the ribs when he doubled over. Hogan crashed into the ground.
Hogan was now growling with anger. None of these hits really did any major damage to him, but they did sting and Hogan wanted to deal just as much pain to his opponent. He jumped back to his feet and continued sparring, but again the merman overtook him and used a spinning clothesline to send him flying back to the far edge of the ring.
The pain was overloading Hogan's senses. All he could feel was sheer rage at the other fighter in the ring. Lying on his back, his bloodshot eyes wide open, Hogan let out a deafening roar. Suddenly, he jumped back to his feet, fists drawn, ready to strike at the next thing that moved.
From the stands, Balatin was watching the fight unfold, and watching Hogan go berserk sent a chill through him. "Oh no... he's losing it!" He jumped out of his seat, and with his insect-like wings, began to fly towards the ring. "I've got to calm him down!"
Balatin flew past a couple dozen rows of seats, annoying the spectators. "Hey! Down in front!"
Meanwhile, the tables had suddenly turned in the fight. Hogan, infused with heightened strength on account of the powder in his system, was beating the merman to a pulp. All the while, his scarred face was transfixed with the same demonic scowl that had grown on it since the opiate took hold. He was no longer even thinking about the tournament; all that was in his mind was the goal of utterly destroying the creature in front of him.
The merman, flat on the ground, was continuously pummeled without any chance to defend himself. "Stop! Please!" the merman begged. "I submit! I submit!!"
The referee raised his arms above him. "That's it! Stop the match!"
The second horn sounded. But Hogan wasn't listening; he was too busy assaulting the merman.
"That's enough!" The referee shouted. "The match is over!" He tried to grab Hogan and pull him off, but Hogan merely flung the judge away - and now there was a second target for his rage.
Balatin managed to land just outside the ring to Hogan's right. "Hogan, stop it! Get a hold of yourself!"
Hogan began to close in on the referee.
"Hogan, listen to me! You've got to stop this! Please!"
Hogan was now standing over the referee, his fists clenched and charged with ample amounts of spirit energy. The referee shielded his face.
"Hogan!!" Balatin screamed. "Stop! You're gonna destroy him!!"
Hogan roared again, drawing his fist back. But he didn't bring it forward. It stayed there, pausing as Hogan's mind began to reclaim itself. He could remember the parallels between what Balatin had said and what Nadine was saying the first time he fought A'nake. "Hogan, stop! You're destroying the place!"
His mind suddenly flashed through dozens of memories that he had accumulated over his lifetime, as if his mind was rebooting from a shutdown. Catching his first fish during a family camping trip. Kissing Rena for the first time. Watching his dad flatline in the hospital bed. Bobbing for apples at the 5th grade Halloween party. Finding the book about the Ki'rath. Speaking to Ilgaira's spirit when he returned to Ki'rathia. The Ki'rathian's last words echoed in his mind. The ancients chose you because of your spirit. Do not let it become tainted. Do not let it become tainted. Do not let it become tainted.
Slowly, Hogan began regaining his bearings. His drawn fist fell back to his side. His eyes were no longer bloodshot. He was heaving for breath. "What... what happened?"
"You just about took that guy's head off," Balatin said from just outside the ring. "I guess enough of that powder got into your system to affect you a little bit."
"I didn't hurt anyone, did I?"
"I don't think so," Balatin replied, "but you really did a number on that other guy."
Hogan suddenly remembered about his opponent. "Oh no!" He dashed over to where the merman was laying. He had fallen unconscious, and a medical crew was checking on him. "Is... is he...?"
"He took a pretty good beating," one of the medics answered back, "but he should be OK in a few days."
Hogan sighed in relief. "A'nake is going to pay for this."
The referee returned to Hogan's side. "Number 839, I'm giving you a warning. Next time you disregard my orders, you're disqualified. You got it?"
Hogan nodded. "Yeah. I understand."
"Good. Now go back to the stands and wait for your next match."
Hogan was a bit numb as he watched the matches involving A'nake and Toma. Once again, they both handily defeated their respective opponents. He noticed that as A'nake walked out of the ring after winning its match, it glared at Hogan as if to display its disapproval at how Hogan had overcome its trap.
That evening, the quarterfinal matches took place. Hogan's was the last match of the night, and he already knew who he would be going up against if he won - A'nake. As he got into the ring, the loudspeaker boomed.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the speaker explained. "we have an announcement to make. Due to injury, number 132 has withdrawn from the competition. As a result, the judges have no choice but to deem number 839 the winner of this quarterfinal bout by default. This will conclude tonight's festivities; we hope you enjoyed the events of the day and encourage you to return tomorrow for the final matches. Have a good night and please drive safely."
Hogan stood blankly for a moment, watching as all the spectators made their way out of their seats and towards the exits. "I... made the semifinals?"
"Congratulations, Hogan!" Balatin shouted from the sidelines, as he made his way back toward the ring.
Hogan walked off in astonishment. "I... I made the semifinals!" He pumped his fists in triumph. "YES!!"
"I told you that you were going to get far in this tournament." Balatin helped Hogan down from the ring, and they both made their way out of the arena. "Not even A'nake's dirty tricks could keep you from winning this thing now."
"Oh, believe me, Balatin," Hogan said with a glint in his eye. "A'nake is going to wish he never messed with me when I'm through with him tomorrow."