Seeing Hogan's original Ki'rathian guide was a definite shock to him. He'd forgotten that Ilgaira had been watching him from the realm of the ancients ever since he passed away. Ilgaira was instantly recognizable to Hogan, even though he had obviously aged considerably; his face was now deeply wrinkled and his skin was a little more pale than Hogan had remembered him. He instantly went over to Ilgaira and gave him a big hug.
"Oh my God, it's so good to see you again!"
Ilgaira smiled and returned the embrace. "I am happy to see you as well, Hogan."
"Still no contractions, eh?" Hogan chuckled as the two of them broke away again. "So I guess you're going to be my coach again for a while?"
"It would appear that way." Ilgaira stepped into the large room. "I am sorry that I did not teach you these posturing techniques earlier. When we were on Ki'rathia, I noticed your homesickness, and in my haste, I stopped our training as soon as you were able to surpass A'nake's strength while empowered with the talisman. I should have spent more time with you until I was certain your power would have overwhelmed A'nake."
"Water under the bridge, Illy," Hogan replied, resorting to his nickname for the shaman. "So, what exactly is this whole 'posturing' deal anyway?"
"Basically," Karsh explained, "your spirit power is at a level that could easily defeat any opponent - even A'nake. But unless you have your body in the right position, a lot of that energy is wasted. It's like you're a race car, but you won't get top speed if you can't get out of second gear."
"What you must learn," Ilgaira continued, "is how to control the movements of your body so that the spirit energy that you waste is held to a minimum."
"Great." Hogan went back to the center of the room. "So how long will this take?"
"We have all the time in the world, Hogan," Karsh replied. "And I want to make sure you realize all that potential inside of you while you're here. So this is going to take a while. A long while."
"Could you give me a number?" Hogan asked.
"In terms of Earth time, I'd say about... two years."
Suprisingly, Hogan barely batted an eyelash at that answer. "I was afraid you were going to say something along the lines of a hundred years."
"Posturing is a relatively simple skill to learn," Ilgaira instructed. "The bulk of the time will be spent acclimating yourself to this new technique."
"Well, I guess I'd better not keep you guys occupied," Karsh said as he began to fly away from Hogan and Ilgaira. "I'll check back on you guys in a little while. Well, a little while for me, at least. See ya!" The hatch on the far wall opened, and Karsh exited the room.
Hogan sighed. "We'd better get started then, huh?"
Ilgaira nodded. "Very well. First, I want you to show me your fighting stance. From there, I shall tell you how to improve your posture."
"All righty." With a deep breath, Hogan assumed his preferred offensive position: left foot forward, knees slightly bent, his fists closely drawn to him. For good measure, he charged up some spirit energy into his hands. "How's this?"
Ilgaira frowned. "The problem is that you are adopting the fighting stance that humans use for a fistfight. Incidentally, this is one of the worst stances you can use for spirit fighting. Remember, your spirit energy flows outward from your body, towards your appendages. The optimal stance is one in which that energy has the most direct route to its focus."
"OK." Hogan took his fists and crossed them against his chest. "How's this? Keeping it close to my body like this?"
"To be frank, that is even worse."
Hogan dropped his arms. "Well then, what am I supposed to do?"
"The position you are in now is quite conducive to spirit fighting, actually."
"Are you serious?" Hogan asked. "Look at me. I'm standing around like an idiot. I'm leaving myself wide open to attack like this."
"Your joints are the key to maintaining your spirit power," Ilgaira explained. "In your previous stance, your energy would pool in your elbows and knees, resulting in very little of that energy actually reaching your hands. That energy is then weakened even further by balling your hands into fists."
"So basically, keep my arms and legs as straight as possible?"
"For an offensive stance, that is correct. However, for a defensive stance, you were right in bringing your arms close to yourself. When you want to defend from a spirit attack, you want to centralize your spirit energy as much as you can. This time, try to channel the energy into your hands while in the position I suggested."
"Okay." Hogan took another deep breath, and charged up his hands while they remained at his sides. Hogan was astonished to see his hands roaring with the blaze of spiritual energy. He could actually see it arcing into his legs as it flowed through him. "Niiiiice."
"Your level of power is currently so great," Ilgaira explained, "that if you maintained the straightness in your arms, it would send a veritable shockwave of energy into your target. The hardest part, though, is keeping your arms straight after years of fighting at close quarters."
"Old habits die hard," Hogan replied.
"My suggestion is to use centrifugal force to your advantage. By standing at an angle with your opponent, you can give the other fighter a smaller target while taking your offensive posture. Then, when the opportunity presents itself, you can swing your outstretched arm at your opponent, resulting in an attack that is both physically and spiritually devastating."
"And this is supposed to take two years for me to learn? Sounds simple enough."
"Knowledge is one thing. However, putting your knowledge into practice is what will take the longest. You have grown so accustomed to your original fighting techniques that it will take a lot of time and effort to adjust to this new method of fighting. Also, as you have already mentioned, it is more difficult to fight this way, as you must be more able to anticipate your opponent or else you will be quite susceptible to attack."
Hogan smirked. "I don't suppose you'll be my sparring partner again, will you?"
Ilgaira shook his head. "I am afraid not. I am much too old and weak to be a suitable partner. However, we do have access to some of the greatest fighters in the universe; certainly they will be able to help you develop your fighting prowess."
"Well then, bring 'em on."
Hogan's new training began against comparably weak opponents. However, the conditions set upon Hogan during the training were stringent: Ilgaira would not allow him to progress to a new fighter until he could last a full day without either being hit by the other combatant or resorting to his old style of fistfighting. The latter requirement turned out to be the most difficult one for him to follow; early on he was reflexively bending his arms to wind up for his attacks, but every time he did so Ilgaira was quick to point it out and start the time over again.
He spent upwards of a month at a time with the same opponent in the early going. Fighting in this new style turned out to be more difficult than he had anticipated. But as time went on, the concept of straight-arm fighting became more natural to him. Within a year, he hardly ever used his fists. Instead, he found himself slapping his target with an open hand. The attacks seemed somewhat goofy to Hogan, even effeminate at times, but he noticed that each time his hand made contact with his opponent, the result was a near-explosion of spirit energy. Also, by defending himself more efficiently, any attacks sent in Hogan's direction were barely even felt, much less effective.
Within a year, Hogan had reached a point where just about every fighter that went up against him never got in a single blow. Meanwhile, Hogan's skills had increased tremendously; even though his energy level had never increased, the amount that was put into his attacks were nearly five times more powerful than he had previously reached.
"You are progressing quite well, Hogan," Ilgaira instructed during a break in the bouts. "More quickly than we had anticipated. However, the people you have previously faced should have been no match for you even with your old methods. However, before I can release you back to Sarlow, you must first demonstrate your skill against someone whose level of power is more evenly matched with your own. Once you are able to last a day with this final opponent, your training will be complete. For this final test, we have enlisted your friend from the desolate planet."
Hogan looked toward the one door in the room, where all of the fighters had entered from. Watching it open, Hogan watched as another familiar face entered. It was Bob, the clone that Dr. Sconder had made of him while he was on the desolate planet, only a few years older.
"Bob!" Hogan said as he scampered over to his lookalike. "I can't believe it! I'm just running into everyone I know!" The two shook hands.
"I guess you're training for another one of those talismans?" Bob asked.
"Yeah." Hogan came back to the middle of the room. "I kinda goofed this time, though. Someone broke the talisman, and now they're training me to go back in time and make sure that doesn't happen. And I guess they're using you as my sparring partner now."
"When we found out about the clone that was made from your cells," Ilgaira explained, "it was obvious that this person could be of great help to us. While there can be only one Ki'rath, it was comforting to know that the only person who could come close to the Ki'rath's power was derived from the Ki'rath himself. We waited until another three years had progressed on his planet, though, so that he could have established himself on his own before bringing him here."
"I should've known that you were going to be dragged into this eventually," Hogan joked. "So how's Rena?"
"Rena?" Bob repeated nervously. "Well... uh.... she's... doing good."
The chance in Bob's tone of voice concerned Hogan. "What, is there something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong. Rena's fine. But... after you left, she..."
"Tell me, Bob. What's going on?"
"She..." Bob seemed to have difficulty finding the right words. "She had a son. Your son, Hogan."