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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 returned to Ki'rathia to rest up before his next assignment - the war-torn planet of Du'im.

Chapter 47: Less than Welcome

Each time Hogan arrived on a new planet, he always ended up by himself. It came as a bit of a shock to Hogan, then, when the lightning bolt deposited him on the surface of Du'im. There were five other people in his sights - and that was before he turned around.

They were all of the same species, mostly humanoid in appearance, but with their skin colored blue and the slightest indication of fangs poking out from the bottom of their mouths. They were all dressed in the same manner, in what Hogan quickly assumed was some sort of military uniform. None of them looked particularly pleased with this new visitor.

As best he could, Hogan flashed a timid smile. "Hello. Uh... take me to your leader?"

Hogan's words were met with a moment of silence. Then, one of the soldiers turned to a colleague.

"Hey... I think he means you," the Du'imite whispered.

The other soldier gave an annoyed sigh. "Very well." He stepped out in front of the other troops. "My name is Commander A'ris, and I am the commanding officer of this battalion. Who are you, and why have you come here?"

"Well, my name's Hogan, and I'm looking for one of these." Hogan pulled the talisman out from under his shirt collar and displayed it to the crowd.

Quite visibly, a stunned silence fell upon the Du'imites.

"I guess... you've seen it before, then?"

The amazement in the crowd dissipated slowly, and Hogan could hear the troops around him whisper amongst themselves. "It's him!" he heard one of them say. "He's the one they told us about!"

A'ris gave a faint smile, but Hogan sensed that it was not completely genuine. "You must be the visitor that we had been told about."

"What have they said about me around here?"

"Only that you are the one to whom the talisman belongs." A'ris extended his hand. "It is truly an honor to meet you."

A little more comfortable now, Hogan shook A'ris' hand. "The pleasure's all mine."

"Actually," A'ris replied, "it's all mine." Suddenly, A'ris unleashed a spirit punch right into Hogan's jaw. It didn't hurt much, but the force sent him recoiling into the ground.

"W... what was that for?" Hogan sputtered.

"That's for my wife." A'ris then kicked him in the stomach. "And that's for my daughter. If it weren't for you and your accursed talisman, they'd still be alive now."

Hogan slowly picked himself up back onto his feet. "You mean it's already been used?"

"You don't know?" A'ris snapped. "Your precious talisman is the cause of all the suffering we Du'imites have endured for the last 120 years! Thousands of us, slaughtered at the hands of A'nake and his minions!"

Hogan felt a chill sweep through his body. "A'nake? He's already got the talisman here?"

A'ris gave Hogan another backhanded slap to the cheek. The strength behind these attacks was surprising to him. "We got rid of A'nake a long time ago, no thanks to you. Now we've spent the last hundred years cleaning up the mess he left behind." A'ris looked back at his troops. "Arrest this man. Take him into camp and see to it he doesn't get away."

"Yes, sir!" the troops shouted in unison. Several of them came toward Hogan, grabbing him by his arms and wrists. When Hogan tried to break free, one of them pressed a small, black device against his neck. He felt engulfed in searing waves of pain, and shouted in agony.

"Spirit tazers," A'ris explained. "I suggest you not make any trouble. We have spirit weapons which would make that feel like a massage."

Deciding that now was not the time to rebel, Hogan reluctantly allowed himself to be taken to the Du'imite camp.

The camp was a group of tents situated on a flat part of the landscape. As they headed there, Hogan began to notice his surroundings. The terrain was much like that of the desolate planet: rocky, full of mountains, and not too hospitable. The sky appeared to be at dusk, the stars glimmering in a field of purple. In front and to his right, he noticed one of the moons in crescent form. He then looked left, he saw a second moon, nearly full but just slightly in gibbous.

At the back of the camp was the largest tent of all of them. The troops who had apprehended Hogan shoved him inside. A'ris entered soon after. Two soldiers guarded the entrance, both armed with what appeared to be ray guns. Remembering his experience with the tazer, he decided not to press his luck.

"Look," Hogan explained. "I'm sorry about what's happened here. But let me help you. If I can get that talisman, I can absorb it and you'll never have to worry about it again."

A'ris' face was cold. "Even if we had the talisman - which we don't - we're not going to let you just warp out of here without paying any pennance for the crimes you have committed."

"Crimes??" Hogan barked. "What are you talking about? How could I have committed any crimes on this planet? I just got here!"

"My point exactly," A'ris responded. "Your absence was what led A'nake to find the talisman and unleash its power upon so many people, and cause the rift in our people that started this war."

"Hey, I didn't even know about these talismans until about four months ago. What was I supposed to do?"

"That isn't the point." A'ris came within an inch of Hogan's face. "If the talismans hadn't been created, none of this would have ever happened. The blood of all the Du'imites killed by Minions are on your hands."

"So what's my pennance?" Hogan asked defiantly.

"That's not for me to decide. But mark my words - you will be brought to trial for what you've done to this planet." A'ris walked back to the entrance of the tent. "I suggest you get some rest before tomorrow. And don't try anything funny while I'm gone; the guards here will shoot to kill if necessary." With that, A'ris exited the tent.

Hogan sighed. Looking around, he realized he was in the barracks of the camp. Why did he throw me in here? Hogan thought. Wouldn't these guys have a prison of some sort?

He slowly walked around the place, taking care not to make any sudden moves in case A'ris' threat was sincere. There were a handful of other troops inside, but none of them were very pleased with their new guest. Hogan saw one of them lying on an upper bunk, reading a book in an unfamliar language. "Hi. Can you tell me-"

The soldier looked down from his book and scowled angrily at Hogan.

"Uh... never mind."

He looked around some more, and overheard two other soldiers talking.

"I don't believe it," one of them said. "he finally came here."

"Yeah," the other said unhappily. "It's about time. He'd better not show his face around me, that's for sure. Just let me get in a room alone with him. I'll take his head off."

"Get real. The Ki'rath's too st-"

"Hey!" the second troop interrupted. "Don't use the K-word around me!"

"Sorry! It just came out of my mouth."

"Just look at him over there." The other soldier looked straight at Hogan. "So pompous. He thinks he could just waltz into this place and expect us to swoon over him or something, like he's some sort of hero. That piece of garbage. Such an ugly creature, too. His skin's the same color as my vomit."

Throughout the barracks, Hogan noticed all the Du'imites glaring, sneering, and spitting in his direction. That's why he didn't throw me in prison, Hogan deduced. He wanted me to see the expressions on everyone's faces when they look at me. I'm a pariah around here.

Slowly and quietly, Hogan made his way to a corner of the room, where he sat down and looked down at the floor. He closed his eyes, trying to take his mind off his current situation.

Minutes later, he felt himself get yanked up by his arms and dragged back into the center of the barracks.

"Hey!" Hogan shouted. "What are you doing to me?"

"Shut up." That was the only reply he got.

"Hey, let go! I didn't mean to cause all this! Really!"

Hogan was thrown onto the bottom bunk of one of the beds. A soldier held each of Hogan's arms and legs down. A fifth soldier walked up with a ray gun and aimed it point blank at Hogan's chest.

"A'ris thinks that you ought to be tried for what you did," the fifth soldier said sternly. "Well, I say it's pointless - everyone knows you're guilty."

He held down a button on the back of the gun. Hogan could hear the weapon begin to power up.

"So I suggest we speed things up and skip right onto the sentencing." He put his finger on the trigger. "And the sentence is death."

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