s Hogan woke up on the morning of the finals, he couldn't help but feel weird about the whole situation. The last time he was in this position, he felt completely powerless; he had lost his match against A'nake and was desperate for someone to keep the spirit from winning the talisman. Now, though, Hogan not only felt satisfied of his previous victory, but was almost certain that his match against Toma would have the same result.
He made his way into the arena, noticing all the onlookers pointing and staring. He'd forgotten how unusual it was to them that someone from Earth would have even signed up for the tournament, much less excelled to the degree Hogan had to that point. He even had a few people come up to him and ask for an autograph, which he was more than happy to provide.
All thoughts began to center on the fight, though, as he entered the arena floor, nearing the ring for the final match. He looked around, watching the stands packed with cheering fans.
If only Luke could see all this, Hogan thought.
Hogan climbed onto the platform and took his position. Shortly thereafter, he saw Toma take his place on the opposite side of the ring. Hogan shook off the last remaining butterflies as he waited for the starting horn to sound. He looked straight into Toma's eyes, both of them concentrating heavily on their opponent.
The horn bellowed for one last time, signaling the beginning of the fight.
Hogan and Toma slowly came towards the center of the ring, Hogan with his arms charged up, Toma brandishing his claws. When they got within 10 feet of each other, Hogan took the first shot, leaping towards his opponent and whipping his right arm around. Toma managed to block the attack, and countered with a slash at Hogan's torso. It scratched the skin, but didn't draw any blood. Hogan winced in pain.
He quickly recovered, though, and used a powered-up foot sweep to send Toma to the ground. Toma flipped back up onto his feet and came in with an uppercut to Hogan's chin. It caught him off-guard, and he recoiled some distance from the force of the blow. Hogan retaliated with a chop to Toma's ribs, the energy explosion causing them both to jump back.
"I'm surprised an Earthling like you could fight so well," Toma said, catching his breath. "Manipulating spirit energy like that isn't something that should be attainable for humans."
"Well, to be honest..." Hogan replied, "there's more to me than meets the eye."
"What are you saying?"
They jumped back into the fray, Hogan and Toma both engaging in a flurry of punches, kicks, blocks and dodges. It reminded Hogan of the training he had done in the realm of the ancients; he would simply keep defending until an opportunity presented itself. When it did, he capitalized on it. Within a few minutes, Toma was starting to show signs of fatigue.
"Damn, kid, you're really giving me a run for my money!" Toma said.
Hogan grabbed Toma by the wrist. "You can have the money." He then slung Toma over his shoulder, causing him to crash into the ground below. "I just want the talisman."
The referee ran over to the competitor laying on the ground. "I'm starting the count now. One!"
Hogan stood by Toma's side.
He could see that Toma was still conscious, but completely exhausted - maybe for the first time in his professional career.
Hogan offered a hand to Toma. "Come on. This was starting to get fun."
Toma barely had the strength to move his head in Hogan's direction. "Ungh... No thanks. I think I'll just lie down here for a while."
"What are you talking about, Toma? This is your job. This is your living. Don't throw in the towel."
"Why do you want me to get up, anyway?" Toma asked. "It's obvious you're stronger than me. No sense in carrying on."
"Seven!" the referee continued.
"All I know is you've got just as much spirit in you as I do. It just doesn't flare up in your hands like mine."
"Come on, Toma," Hogan urged, reiterating his open hand. "Get up."
Toma looked back at Hogan again. Dredging up the last reserves of his energy, grabbed Hogan's hand. Hogan hauled the other fighter back onto his feet.
"All right, you're back up," the referee instructed. "Let's continue."
Hogan stepped back a bit, allowing Toma to stand under his own power.
"Why... why did you do that?" Toma asked, bewildered.
"I wanted to show you..." Hogan answered. "A'nake wouldn't have given you a second thought about you if he'd beaten you. He would've taken that talisman, used it immediately, and turned you and everyone else here into a monster to do his bidding. I wanted to show you that everything he said about me was a lie."
Toma resumed his fighting stance, but was too wobbly to maintain it. "You know, I've never lost in one of these tournaments before." The slightest hint of a smile crossed Toma's face. "I guess there's a first time for everything." He turned to the referee. "I've had enough, ref. I'm gonna cash in my chips now."
"Are you sure?" the referee asked. Toma nodded. "Number 16 has forfeited! Number 839's our winner!!"
"That's it!" the announcer screamed. "We have a new champion! Number 839 has won the 1000th annual Sarlow fighting tournament!!"
The crowd went berserk as they watched Hogan - the underdog from the beginning of the competition - pump his fists in celebration of his victory. Meanwhile, Toma finally released himself from a standing position, and slumped back on the ground.
"Toma, are you OK?" Hogan asked. He smirked a little when he saw Toma quietly napping.
The full moon was shining brightly in the sky as the three top winners in the tournament were brought back into the ring for the awards ceremony. This time, Hogan found himself in a much better position that he had been when he had first fought in the final rounds.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," the announcer began with the same spiel as Hogan had heard before, "it is now time for us to award our top three competitors. Everyone who participated in the tournament has our appreciation for showing their courage and their valor the last five days. But the three people on the field now have shown the most skill in this competition. Here to award the prizes is our very own esteemed leader, the great King Umor!"
As the king approached, Hogan remained watchful in case A'nake tried to swipe the talisman away.
"In third place, we have someone who seemingly came out of nowhere, but did quite well for his first year in the tournament. Everyone give a round of applause for A'nake!"
A'nake was not enjoying himself in the slightest. It didn't even bother looking at the check that it was given.
"This is humiliating," it scowled. "I should be the one at the top of the podium."
"And in second place, our former champ who's sure to come back next year to try and reclaim his title - the great Toma!!"
The audience showed their affection for the crowd favorite, and Toma smirked as he was handed his silver medal and his check. "251 thousand? I guess this was worth it after all."
"And last, but certainly not least, our champion. Whoever would have thought that someone from Earth would have made it past the first round? But not only did this guy get that far, he ended up our champion. Everyone, please give a hand for your Sarlow tournament champion - Hogan Atwater!!!"
Hogan smiled for the crowd and waved as he basked in the adulation given to him. In one hand, he took the prize money - which amounted to over half a millon rogles - and in the other, he took the talisman from the tray. Putting it around his neck, he studied its intricate detail for a moment.
"Why don't you show these people what that thing can do," A'nake taunted. "After all, that's what why they gave it away."
Hogan glared at A'nake, the height of the podium putting the two of them at eye level. "I'd bet you'd be anxious to do that, wouldn't you?"
"The moon phase is very slow on this planet, Ki'rath," A'nake said. "It'll be another nine months before the next full moon. You sure you want to wait that long?"
Hogan looked up at the moon. "What's the point now? I've done everything I needed to do here - no sense in wasting its power." He thought for a moment. "In fact... I think I'm gonna hang on to this one."
"What??" A'nake blurted out, surprised at Hogan's decision.
"You know, save it for a rainy day. It doesn't matter if I use it on a different planet - just as long as the moon's full. Besides, now you know without any doubt that I don't need one of these to defeat you now. So I suggest you start finding some hiding places."
Hogan then turned back over to Toma. "I'll be seeing you in the future, I hope."
"You can bet on that," Toma replied, shaking Hogan's hand. "I've finally found some competition."
As the handshake broke, the rain began.
"Well, that's my cue." Hogan stepped off the podium. When he dismounted, he turned around and faced A'nake. "How does it feel to know you lost to me while I was human, A'nake?"
A'nake could only give Hogan an icy glare.
"While you were human?" Toma asked. "What do you mean?"
"Like I said earlier," Hogan replied. "There's more to me than meets the eye. I'm not just an Earthling. I'm the son of an ancient."
"Ancient?? What are you ta-"
A bolt of lightning struck, and in an instant Hogan had disappeared.
And so, Hogan has now claimed the fourth talisman - a talisman that has so far gone unused. Little does Hogan know where he will be sent next - and how important having a spare talisman will be. But it still won't be easy to retrieve the fifth talisman, especially when he finds out whose home planet he's landed on. He'll have to decide who to trust in this new world, and fast. What adventures await our hero? Stay tuned for the next saga of Ki'rath: Guardian of the Ceremony, coming in 2004!