t took a monumental effort for Hogan to not faint. "I... I have... a son?"
Ilgaira smiled. "Congratulations, Hogan."
"The day after you left us, Hogan," Bob explained, "Rena started getting morning sickness. Of course, I thought it was just because of all the stress that had gone on. Then she started getting bigger. And nine months later, she had the baby. He's 2 ½ years old now. Looks just like you."
"I don't know what to say," Hogan stammered. "I mean, she was younger than I was when we..."
"She was 15 when she had him," Bob said, finishing Hogan's thought. "But after all she had gone through, she was more than mature enough to handle it."
Hogan smiled meekly, the joy of the news starting to set in. "What's his name?"
He stared blankly for a moment. Then, suddenly, burst into laughter.
"Hogan," Ilgaira said, concerned. "I do not see the humor in this."
"It's an Earth thing, sorry," Hogan replied amidst his giggles. "I just don't know how I'm going to be able to keep a straight face when I look at this kid and say, 'Luke, I'm your father.'" After a few moments, Hogan settled down. "So have you noticed if he's got any of my powers or not?"
"You bet," Bob replied. "The kid has more spirit energy then he knows what to do with. And I've already given him a couple of flying lessons."
Hogan felt himself swell up with pride. "Apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I can't wait until I actually get a chance to see him. I'm definitely going to be there for him as much as I can once all this is over."
"I don't suppose they'll let you take a vacation, will they?" Bob joked.
Hogan chuckled. "Probably not. Definitely not on a planet that slow. But maybe when all this is done, and I've gotten all the talismans, I'll get to retire or something." He looked at Ilgaira. "What do you think, Illy? They've got to let me see my own son, right?"
Ilgaira met Hogan's words with silence and a small frown.
"Hogan," Ilgaira sighed. "I was hoping we could have talked about this at a later time, but, unfortunately, once all six talismans are found and activated, you will be brought back to the realm of the ancients to reside here... permanently."
The joy and euphoria Hogan was experiencing was now replaced with several other emotions. Shock, fear, but most of all, anger. "WHAT?!"
"I am sorry, Hogan. But once you enact the full moon ceremony on the sixth and final talisman, the transformation you undergo will be irreversable. You will be in essence changing into your true spirit form. At that time, your duties as the Ki'rath will change as well. No longer will you be a mere warrior and guardian of the physical realm; instead, you will become an archangel, the chief guardian of this rea-"
"Hold on a second!" Hogan protested. "I didn't sign up for this! Nobody ever told me that once I was done, I'd have to leave everyone else behind! And if somebody did, then maybe I wouldn't have volunteered to be the Ki'rath so quickly!"
"I am not going to let you guys use me like some sort of metal detector because someone naughty was after the coins you left behind, and then keep me away from all my friends and family when I'm done!"
"I have friends on these other planets, Ilgaira. I have loved ones. I have a son, for God's sake. You want my son to be fatherless like I was? I had a life before I found out I was the Ki'rath. I was hoping that I could have it back when I was through."
"Please!" Ilgaira implored. Obviously this was troubling him as well. "I understand how you feel, Hogan. Honestly, I do. It hurts me to be the one who has to explain all of this to you. I know that you must feel... betrayed by the ancients for taking you away like this. But, you must understand. The Ki'rath is your destiny. It always has been. You were not randomly chosen for this task. There was a reason behind your fate. That reason is-"
"That reason is my father," Hogan interrupted.
Ilgaira was dumbstruck at Hogan's words.
"Yeah, that's right. I had a feeling that's what was behind all this as soon as A'nake made that offer on the desolate planet. My dad probably worked for you guys too. So what do you do? You find his son and get him to continue the family business. Isn't that right?"
Ilgaira could only look down at the floor like a scorned child. He had been forbidden to tell Hogan about his heritage, but it was now obvious that Hogan had already figured it out.
"Tell me, Ilgaira. Is that what happened to my father?"
Ilgaira slowly looked back up at Hogan. "That is... correct. The truth is that your father, Keith, is the ambassador to the ancients."
Bob, who was standing in the middle of the argument, slowly excused himself to the edge of the room while Hogan and Ilgaira continued.
"You see, Hogan," Ilgaira explained, "the ancients cannot leave this realm. If they did, the forces which they govern would fall into chaos. If Karsh were to leave, for example, the entire space-time continuum would become distorted. If Polid, the ancient who rules over physics, were to leave this realm, forces such as gravity and friction would become erratic.
"For that reason, they enlisted someone to be a liaison between them and the other worlds. That person would travel from planet to planet, accumulating information about the life on each one. Your father was that person. It was ultimately your father's decision as to which six planets would be the ones upon which they would deposit the talismans. The talismans themselves were an extension of your father's work. It was his way of bringing you into the 'family business', as you described it. To this day, he continues to visit countless worlds, interacting with them and learning which of them are in need of the ancients' help."
"But... he died when I was a kid. How can he still be doing all this?"
"Your father dies on every planet he visits, Hogan. That is how he returns to this realm without drawing any suspicion onto himself. He can never spend more than 37 years on any one planet before being called back to this realm."
"That's right..." Hogan thought aloud. "My dad was 37 when he died. And now that I think about it, he didn't seem all that depressed about dying. He just said it was his 'time to go'. "
"When your father visited Earth," Ilgaira continued, "something unexpected happened - he fell in love with the woman who would become your mother, married her, and had a child with her. He was strictly forbidden to tell your mother about his true self, however, and so he had no way of telling either of you that he would have to leave when you were a small boy."
"So, why was it that nobody could have told me this before? Everyone was so secretive about my dad's past until now."
"Learning about your father would have led to us having to tell you of your eventual role as the Ki'rath. The ancients feared you would have abandoned the quest on account of the bonds you have formed in the physical realm. But we could not afford to allow even one of the talismans to go unclaimed, so it was decided to withhold your father's true identity until you discovered on your own that your father was part of your destiny."
Hogan nodded. The memories of his father's last days brought tears to his eyes. "Is he here?" he asked. "Can I see him?"
"Your father is currently on assignment on another planet," Ilgaira replied. "However, when your quest is completed, you and your father will be reunited - as well you should. So you see, Hogan, there is an incentive for you to complete your duties as the Ki'rath."
"I trade all my relationships on all the other planets for the one I lost." Hogan sighed. "But... wait a second. There's a loophole to all this. You said once I enact the final ceremony, then my transformation is permanent. What if I just hang on to the last talisman then? I'll keep it safe and everything - I just won't use it. I mean, as long as I haven't fully transformed, then I can still stick around, can't I?"
Ilgaira nodded. "You are correct, Hogan. You should be able to finish any business you have on the other planets prior to enacting the final ceremony."
"That helps a little. At least I'll get to tie up the loose ends before I'm stuck here forever." Hogan chuckled. "OK, well I guess we'd better finish up in here so I can go back to Sarlow and kick A'nake's butt already."
"Are you sure?" Ilgaira asked. "If you do not wish to continue for the time being, we can rest for a while longer until you regain your bearings."
"You know me, Illy," Hogan jibed in response. "I've always been the impatient sort. Let's get back to work."
"I guess that means break time is over," Bob said from the far wall, returning to the group.
"Yeah." For a moment, Hogan looked up wistfully. "I can't believe it... my dad, an ambassador. And all this time I thought he was just an architect."