fter each of the previous talismans were recovered, Hogan found himself back on the planet Ki'rathia, where a shaman was there to greet him and inform him of his next mission. It was surprising to Hogan, then, that the place where he rematerialized from Du'im was much different from Ki'rathia. It was a large room, dimly illuminated by deep blue lights that seemed to emanate from within the walls.
"Hello?" Hogan called out to the open space, noting that he still had the deep, booming voice he had grown used to when transformed. He looked down at himself, and discovered that he hadn't returned to human form, as had been the case in the past. The talisman was gone, absorbed into his body like all the rest, but the effects of the ceremony were still active. "What's going on? Why haven't I changed back? Where am I?"
A familiar voice startled Hogan. "You're always just full of questions, aren't you?"
Hogan turned around to see Karsh, the ancient of time, hovering directly behind him. Karsh giggled.
"Don't you get tired of sneaking up on people like that?" Hogan asked, mildly peeved.
"I've been around since the beginnings of the universe," Karsh replied, "and that's the one thing that never gets old. So, it looks like talisman #5 is in good hands now?"
"Uh-huh," Hogan answered, "but I don't think it's worn off yet."
"What do you mean?"
"Look at me," Hogan explained. "I'm still a werewolf. Everytime I've used the talisman before, I change back as soon as I get hit by the lightning bolt again. Why isn't it doing that now?"
"Well, Hogan, let me ask you something," Karsh said. "Do you want to change back or not?"
"Are you kidding?" Hogan barked. "I can't go back to Earth like this! Of course I want to change back!"
Suddenly, Hogan was engulfed in a flash of light. A moment later, the light faded, and Hogan found himself in human form. Startled, Hogan inspected himself frantically, looking at his hands and arms in shock.
"What the… how did…" Hogan stammered. "Did I…?"
Karsh chuckled. "Since the next talisman causes a permanent transformation, the one before it gives you the ability to change without the need for a ceremony."
"You mean…" Hogan still had trouble regaining his senses, "I can transform… whenever I want?"
Karsh smiled and nodded. "It'll probably take some practice in order to change without telling yourself to do so. But it's like all the other things you were taught: after a while, this thing will become second nature to you."
"I hope so." And awkward silence filled the room for a couple of seconds. "So, when do I get to go back to Earth?"
"Go back? Oh, yes, that's right!" Karsh replied. "Well, if you noticed, that's the reason you're here and not on Ki'rathia. See, those guys don't even know you've left Du'im yet."
"They don't?" Hogan asked. "I'm sure they'll find out eventually."
"Ah, see, but that's the secret. When Zeim kicked the bucket - that's right, I didn't tell you he died, did I?"
"No, but I figured he would since Du'im is much slower than Ki'rathia," Hogan answered. "Go on."
"OK, well, when Zeim gave up the ghost, he told me you wanted to head back home for a little while, say goodbye to Mom, et cetera, so I decided I'd do this little favor for you."
"And what's the 'little favor'?"
"Remember what I said the last time you were here? About what happens when you time-travel?"
"I think so," Hogan replied, thinking back to his last visit to the Realm of the Ancients. "Since this place is a black hole, you can go backwards and forwards in time without breaking a sweat, right?"
"That's half of it," Karsh said back. "The other half was that if you ever went back, you'd overwrite what you'd done in the past. Sooooo…"
"So, I go to Earth, do my stuff there, come back here, go back to the time I had left originally, and teleport to Ki'rathia without them ever knowing I was gone!"
"That's absolutely correct!" Karsh shouted. "Tell the man what he's won, Johnny!"
"Sounds like a plan to me," said Hogan. "I guess I'll see you later, huh?"
"Not so fast," Karsh replied. "I may be the all-powerful master of the time-space continuum, able to bend, stretch, compress, reverse and accelerate time at will, but I'm not just gonna let you romp around on Earth for a few years. You've got three days. Got it? 72 hours. As soon as that time is up, I expect you to be back here, ready to head back to Ki'rathia. All righty?"
Hogan nodded. "Fine with me."
"Good. Now this time I'll be a nice guy and let you use our transporter. You'll find that it's been about a year and three months on Earth since you left, so you might have some catching up to do. Have fun!"
"I will. Thanks, Karsh." Hogan walked out of the large room and through the same hallway he had seen his mentor and his friend emerge from while helping him train in the past, towards a large square, black metallic platform with spires on each corner. He sighed for a moment, then stepped on top of the platform. Within seconds, the spires each unleashed a bolt of lightning towards the center, spiriting Hogan off the transporter and towards Earth.
When the white faded out from Hogan's view, he found himself staring at a dank, gray, brick wall. He could hear the sound of cars whooshing past him nearby. Where did they drop me off? Hogan thought to himself. I don't recognize this place at all. He turned to his left, and noticed that his pathway opened up some distance away. As he walked out into the open, he saw that he was about a quarter-mile away from what looked to be a construction site, building a massive structure of some sort.
That's when it dawned on him. They left me in Ocean City. This was where I was when they took me last time.
He looked around meekly, trying to refamiliarize himself to the world he was in. Earth hadn't changed much since he had left. He located a passrbey walking down the sidewalk - a young businessman in a suit and tie - and stopped him.
"Excuse me, sir," Hogan said nervously. "Do you know what day this is?"
"I sure do," the man replied. He checked his wristwatch "It's the 15th."
"17th?" Hogan repeated. "What month?"
The man gave Hogan an odd look. "June, of course."
"OK, thanks." Hogan walked past the other man.
How am I going to get back to Riverton from here? He thought. I don't have any money on me. An idea popped into his head, and he looked skyward, pondering the consequences of the act he was considering. After a few seconds, he shook his head. No, I shouldn't fly around here. No telling what would happen if I blew my cover.
He continued walking aimlessly. The cloud cover overhead which brought the storm Hogan rode in on was breaking away. Hogan stopped in his tracks and looked up again, holding up his hand to block the glare of the sun - a sun he hadn't seen in three years. Memories began to rush into his mind of that fateful day, the day he'd discovered the peculiar book, written in the unusual language that only he could read. He sighed wistfully. Hard to believe I've accomplished so much, he thought.
He walked for hours, passing intersection after intersection, feeling lonely despite returning to his home world. Soon he found himself in downtown Ocean City, the streets now awash with people from all parts of the country. He considered approaching some of them for a ride back, hoping that one of them might be going in the same direction, but the few attempts he made were hastily rejected by the other tourists.
He walked past the city's concert hall, and that's when a sign on the front of the building gave Hogan a brainstorm. He stared at the poster, half-surprised that he could have come across such a coincidence.
Live at the Zeus Theater: Red Riding Hood. June 16th. One Night Only. Tickets available at Box Office or call (909) 555-7564.
Hogan had to blink a couple of times to make sure that he was actually reading the advertisement right. Red Riding Hood - the band whose lead singer A'nake possessed for its use on Earth - was playing at this hall the next day. Surely they can help me get a ride, Hogan thought.
It would cost him one of his three days on Earth, but it was the only way Hogan could have a chance at returning to Riverton without walking his feet off. Now the only things left for him to do was find a place to rest and get some food. And with no money, Hogan realized that both would be harder than they sounded.
Next chapter: Hogan meets up with Red Riding Hood once again - but can they help him get back to his mother?