ogan's eyes widened as he looked down at the spirit ray that was inches away from him. If the tazer was any indication, a shot from that gun would most certainly have been fatal.
"Don't do this! Please!" Hogan cried.
"Sorry, kid," said the Du'imite with the ray. "Time for you to experience what we've had to go through for so long."
Hogan clenched his eyes, bracing himself for the weapon to discharge.
"That's enough!!" A voice shouted from just inside the barracks. The soldiers turned around to see Commander A'ris, who was obviously displeased at what was happening. "Lay down your weapon, soldier!"
The soldier was frustrated. "You want me to spare this monster's life?"
"Emperor O'bire wants him left alive," A'ris instructed. "I've been ordered to deliver him to his eminence immediately."
"Do you question the emperor's intentions??"
The Du'imite looked back at Hogan contemptuously. Reluctantly, he powered down his weapon. "You got lucky... this time."
The other soldiers let go of Hogan's limbs, throwing him out of their hands.
A'ris looked straight at Hogan. "You're coming along with me."
Hogan lay there on the bed for a moment, unsure if he should follow A'ris' directions. But slowly, he got up off the lower bunk and walked towards the commander.
"Mongrel," he heard one of the soldiers say behind him.
When Hogan reached the opening of the tent, the two guards flanking it got behind him, each with a tazer in hand.
"Where are we going?" Hogan asked.
"To the capital city of Du'im," A'ris replied. "That's all you need to know."
There was a hovercraft outside, parked nearby the barracks. A'ris entered first and started the engine. Hogan watched the craft slowly lift off the ground. "Get in, across from me."
Hogan complied, climbing in the back seat. The two guards then mounted the craft, each of them still training their weapons on Hogan. When all four of them were aboard, A'ris began to pilot the craft, maneuvering it away from the camp. Once it had left the vicinity, the craft shifted gears and sped up significantly.
"What happened here?" Hogan asked. "How did this war start?"
"Don't ask questions," A'ris answered coldly. "I'm not in the mood to explain everything to you."
"But how am I supposed to make amends for what's gone on if I don't know how it all beg-"
"The emperor will tell you all you will need to know. He has an offer to give you in return for your absolution."
Hogan frowned. "I don't like the way this is going."
"You don't have any say in the matter," A'ris said back.
The trip only took about half an hour, but it seemed like they had traveled hundreds of miles in that time. Just as the sun had disappeared from the horizon and the sky began to turn dark, Hogan watched as what appeared to be the ruins of a large city began to come towards them.
"What is this place?" he asked.
"This is Lo'pon, the capital city of Du'im. It used to be the center of trade and culture for the entire planet. Its population numbered almost a million people. Thanks to this war, less than 200,000 people live in this city, almost all of them in poverty."
Hogan watched as the city limits came closer and closer, until they had entered the outskirts of the capital. As the hovercraft slowed down, Hogan noticed the Du'imites standing outside, looking positively destitute. If they knew who he was, they seemed more saddened by his presence than angered.
As they reached the center of the town, they arrived at a large house. Compared to Earth it was only somewhat luxurious, but set against the shacks and tenements Hogan had seen in the city, it looked like a palace. A'ris stopped the hovercraft.
"The emperor is waiting."
One by one, each of the passengers exited the craft and made their way towards the mansion. A'ris opened the door, and the rest followed him inside. They made their way up a flight of stairs to what looked to be some sort of throne room, although it was nowhere near the scale that Hogan had seen in Prince Drax's castle on Dracon. This room was half as wide and barely a third as long.
A'ris walked across the room to the Du'imite seated on the throne. He hardly looked like royalty, with few marks of regality on his wardrobe. Only the bejeweled sceptre he held in his right hand belied any sense of being an emperor.
"Your eminence," A'ris proclaimed as he got down on one knee, "It is good to see you again."
The emperor nodded. "Is that the young man you spoke about back there?"
"Yes, your eminence. He is the... if you'll pardon my language... the Ki'rath."
"Bring him here."
One of the guards nudged at Hogan's back. Hogan slowly made his way across the room to just behind A'ris. He also knelt, making sure to be as accomodating as he could.
"So, young man," the emperor began, "what do you have to say for yourself?"
Hogan felt trapped. He didn't know how he could explain himself, and what good it would have done anyway. But still, he decided any words were better than none. He stood back up. "I don't know what I can say that would make any of this better, but I swear I will do whatever I can to make amends for what's happened."
"What is your name, young man?"
"H- Hogan, your eminence."
"Hogan. My name is O'bire, and I am the emperor of the Du'imites. I brought you here because as much as my people have developed a great hatred for your part in this war, you may be the only one who can stop it."
"If I may, your eminence," Hogan butted in, "how exactly did this war begin?"
O'bire nodded. "As Commander A'ris has probably already told you, Du'im used to be a pinnacle of civilization. We had established a trade network that rivaled the best in the galaxy. Our academies were among the most sought after. We had pioneered many technological advances and forged ground in art and literature. But that was before A'nake came into power."
"A'nake... is a Du'imite?" Hogan asked.
"That's right. He was a master of the ancient craft of sorcery. But with all the advances in technology, he began to feel obsolete and unappreciated. He despised mechanics and all of its trappings, and sought out to reform this world to his own wicked tastes.
"Somehow, through hypnotism, assassination and other treacherous means, he managed to convince the emperor at the time to appoint him as the Imperial Officer of Mythological Expeditions or some such nonsensical post. This gave him the perfect opportunity to organize a massive effort to search for a lost relic that he claimed would imbue its subjects with mystical power."
"He didn't mention that that power would then be controlled by whoever unleashed it, did he?" Hogan interjected.
"Right. Not long afterward, the relic that he spoke of - your talisman - was found. The next night - with one of our moons being full - he assembled a thousand of Du'im's best soldiers, and enacted the ceremony on them all. Before anyone knew it, the emperor was slain, and A'nake took the throne.
"His evil rule on this land lasted over 20 years. During that time, our trade network collapsed, our academies were destroyed, and our scientific research ground to a halt. There were numerous attempts to overthrow him, but during his reign he enacted the ceremony on numerous other people, transforming them into Minions as well."
"Minions? As in werewolves?"
"If that's what you call those beasts, then yes."
Hogan nodded. "So what happened to A'nake after that?"
"A'nake was not only a devious man, but very warped as well. He theorized that he could sustain his army by having those under his power... breed with each other."
Hogan began to feel nauseous at the thought of what O'bire has just mentioned. "The bastard," he muttered under his breath.
"But A'nake miscalculated. He didn't realize that the children of these Minions would retain all of the strength of their parents, but since they had never experienced the ceremony themselves, wouldn't be under his control. Somehow, they managed to lead A'nake into believing that he was commanding them until most of them were 16 or older. Then, they orchestrated a giant coup and ousted A'nake from power. Just before they could apprehend him, though, A'nake cast an incantation on himself to separate his soul from his body, allowing him to escape."
"But... if this all happened 100 years ago, what caused war to break out?"
"Simple," O'bire replied. "The Minions claimed that since they were the ones who overthrew A'nake, they ought to be the ones in power. Admittedly, it was a logical conclusion, but our forefathers would not stand for it. They had seen too much destruction at the hands of the Minions and wanted them to relinquish power and form their own civilization elsewhere. They refused. This caused a rift between the two races which quickly grew into war."
"Can't say I blame them," Hogan admitted. "It sounds like they were being treated as outcasts."
"Earlier, the Du'imites would have been willing to negotiate. But when the Minions threatened to use the talisman again if they did not get their way, it became obvious that we needed to defend ourselves. And so we have."
"I don't understand, though. You've been fighting for 100 years? How come neither side has managed to gain the upper hand?"
"Minions are quite resilient to most attacks. Unless it is a spirit attack of immense power, or the weapons used against it are made of silver, they cannot be harmed. But they tend to attack our forces with brute strength, as most of them are unable to harness their spirit power. That weakens their effectiveness against our own defenses."
Hogan nodded. It was a lot of information to take in all at once, but it seemed to make sense. "So where do I fit in with all this? You said I might be the only one who can end this war."
"For the last month, the Minions have mounted almost no offensive campaigns against us. That worries me. They must be working on some way to shift the balance of power in their direction. In which case, they must be stopped before any plans of theirs are realized and any more lives are lost - on either side."
"What do you want me to do, then?"
"First, I need you to find out what it is that the Minions are working on, and get rid of it through whatever means necessary. Secondly, I need you to relay a message that we Du'imites are willing to discuss a truce."
Hogan thought about the request. "Those sound kinda contradictory to me. You want me to go in there, dismantle their defenses, and then tell them that you want a truce? Besides, just because I'm the Ki'rath doesn't mean they'll welcome me with open arms when I get there. I know you guys didn't."
O'bire sighed. "Hogan, you yourself asked for some way to atone for what you have wrought on my people. I am giving you that chance. If you decline, I will have no choice but to send you to trial." His voice became very insistent. "And as you could probably surmise, no jury would ever exonerate you if a trial were to take place."
"I'd like to help," Hogan pleaded. "Really, I would. But I don't see how..." Hogan suddenly had an epiphany. "Wait a sec. I got a better idea."
"What would that be?" O'bire asked, intrigued.
Hogan pulled the talisman he had kept up from under his shirt. "Last planet I went to, I didn't use the talisman. If I enact the ceremony, I transform into a we-... I mean, a Minion. I'll go undercover."
"Undercover?" O'bire repeated. "You know nothing of the Minion culture. They have customs and traditions that are quite unconventional. How would you fit in?"
"I don't plan on fitting in," Hogan explained. "If you guys can tell me the basics, I can probably stick around there long enough to do some sabotage."
"It's a trap," A'ris warned. "He's just going to use this opportunity to escape our custody. He might even join their side."
"Look, I swore that I'd do whatever I can to help you guys out. I know you think I'm a fiend of some sort, but you'll just have to trust me on this."
O'bire considered the offer. "Very well. However, once you leave for the Minion's territory, you are not to return unless you are delivering the Minions' leader to me. If you do, you will be put to death."
Hogan gulped down a lump in his throat. "All right. We have a deal."