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Guardian of the Ceremony

A Serial by Tim Connolly

In the previous chapter, Hogan won the fighting tournament in Sarlow and received the fourth talisman as the grand prize. But instead of enacting the ceremony, Hogan has decided to keep the talisman for later use.

Chapter 46: Across the Void

When Hogan reappeared on the transporter on Ki'rathia, his first instinct was to check and make sure that the talisman that he had retrieved from Sarlow was still in his possession. Looking down, he saw the charm innocuously dangling from a chain around his neck. Sure enough, he had managed to hold on to a talisman without having to use it.

Zeim, the current shaman, was praying silently in front of the altar, kneeling on the ground with his eyes closed. He was so focused on his meditation that he hadn't heard the lightning which had brought Hogan back.

"Uh..." Hogan said meekly. "I'm back."

Zeim snapped out of his reverie, slowly standing up and offering Hogan a hand off of the transporter. "My apologies, Ki'rath. I was so busy with my prayer that I had become oblivious to my surroundings. I trust that you have retrieved the talisman on Sarlow?"

Hogan smiled, brandishing the talisman. The orange sunlight reflected strongly off of the mystic metallic substance that composed it. "Yup. I got it right here."

"Well done, Hogan!" Zeim exclaimed. "But, I must admit that this is quite unusual. You should have absorbed the talisman after enacting the ceremony, like the others."

"I didn't enact the ceremony, though."

Zeim felt a pang of shock. "I beg your pardon?"

"I didn't use the talisman. I decided to save it for later."

"Save it... for later?"

Hogan nodded. "I figured there were too many people around for me to say the chant. Besides, I was able to beat A'nake without the talisman, so there really wasn't any point in me using it."

"A'nake was there as well?"

"Yeah. He came in third."

"Hogan, I do not understand..." Zeim said slowly, trying to wrap his brain around what he had been told. "You had the talisman. I assume that A'nake was with you when you were awarded the talisman. You had a perfect opportunity to eliminate A'nake once and for all. And... you let him escape?"

Hogan felt his stomach turn a little. Only now did he realize what an opportunity he had wasted. "Oh... crap."

Zeim and Hogan made their way back to the temple. "Is there any other reason besides the risk of others overhearing the chant that caused you to forgo the ceremony?"

"Actually, yeah, there was. It's kind of complicated, though."

"I am willing to listen." Zeim actually sounded a little irritated.

"See, the guy who won second place - if he knew what I was going to do, he was going to destroy the talisman. And if that happens, then all this effort is for nothing."

"But how do you know this?" Zeim asked.

"He did it once already. Originally, I lost against A'nake, and A'nake wound up winning the tournament. When I told him that A'nake was possessing someone else's body, he called A'nake a cheater and broke the talisman. I actually had to go back in time to replay my own match so I'd win."

Zeim still looked confused, but he seemed resigned to the events that had occurred. "Very well. I still believe that it was quite absent-minded of you to let A'nake get away like that, but this mistake can be overcome. You do realize that the talisman can work on another planet, correct?"

Hogan nodded again. "I read in one of those books that as long as there's a full moon in the sky, it works. Doesn't matter which planet I'm on."

"You are correct. For this reason, I shall send you to the planet Du'im for the fifth talisman." Zeim and Hogan reached the front door of the temple. Hogan entered first, while the shaman followed closely behind. "Du'im has four moons, each with varying phase cycles. One moon will almost certainly be full when you arrive there, allowing you to enact the ceremony immediately - provided that you do it out of anyone else's earshot. But first, I suggest you get some rest before embarking. I suspect that you will be spending a considerable amount of time on that planet before you will be able to return."

"Why's that?"

"Du'im is currently in the middle of a worldwide power struggle. It has been for the past 100 years there."

"Power struggle?" Hogan asked. "You mean a war? What happened?"

"I do not know," Zeim responded. "But in my prayers, I have felt a violent aura coming from that world. And I fear that this war will have to be resolved in order for the talisman on that planet to become available to you."

"All right. Oh, and one more thing."

Zeim looked over at Hogan. "Yes?"

"When I get this next talisman, is there any chance I could take a vacation?"

"A vacation?" Zeim asked. "Why would that be necessary?"

"I want to go back to Earth for a little while," Hogan replied. "I know that once I use that last talisman, I'll have to leave this realm and never come back. I just want a chance to say goodbye before I leave for good."

"But who told you about-"

"I spent some time in the realm of the ancients while I was gone," Hogan explained. "They told me everything. About the final ceremony. About what's gonna happen when this is all done. And about my dad. If I'm gonna go through with this, I want to be able to see them one more time."

Zeim thought for a moment, then sighed. "Very well. We shall discuss this other excursion when you return from Du'im. I shall see you at the transporter tomorrow morning. Good night, Ki'rath." Zeim turned around and exited the temple.

Hogan sighed. Instead of heading immediately for the bedroom that he had used during his original training, he made his way over to the large room that was converted into Ilgaira's shrine. As he slowly walked towards the statue of his original guide, he wondered if this trick was actually going to work. Still, he decided it was worth a try.

As he approached the statue, he bent onto one knee, bowing his head and closing his eyes - the same pose that he had seen Zeim in when he arrived.

Ilgaira? He thought. Can you hear me?

The room was perfectly silent.

Ilgaira, if you can hear this, please answer me.

He waited for another moment, but still heard nothing.

All right, he thought. Maybe you can't say anything back. But if you're there, I want you to send a message to my dad.

Hogan took a deep breath, then continued his prayer.

If you see my dad, tell him... tell him that I'm OK with this now. I really was scared when you told me what was going to happen once I was done, but now I understand. I'm accepting this path that he's laid out for me. I might not really like it, but I guess my dad knows that this is what's best. If you could tell him that, I'd appreciate it.

Hogan blanked out his mind for another second.

I guess that's it, then. I wish you could let me know if you heard this.

Hogan opened his eyes, looking up at the statue. He could almost see Ilgaira's likeness displaying his trademark smirk.

Hogan smirked back. Thanks, Illy.

Hogan had only seen the sun rise on Ki'rathia a few times during his training, but each time he had marveled at the beauty of it. He'd made it a point to get up early this time around just so he could see the orange dawn one last time. When he came up to the transporter, he saw Zeim once again praying in front of it.

"Who exactly do you pray to?" Hogan asked.

Zeim ceased his activity and stood back up. "The ancients, of course."

"All nine of them?"

"They must be addressed as a group," Zeim replied. "It would be pointless to ask one of them to act on our behalf when they can collectively be more beneficial."

"Do they talk back?"

"Verbally, no. But our prayers have been answered every time, so I would imagine that they are listening. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, nothing." Hogan paused awkwardly. "I just thought there was a way to communicate with others over there."

"Others? Besides the ancients, you mean?"

Hogan nodded.

"If your connection with them is strong enough, they will receive your prayers. However, they are typically unable to respond. To whom were you attempting to converse? Your father?"

Hogan shook his head. "No, I figure my dad's still at work on some other planet right now. So I tried to speak to Ilgaira and give him a message for me."

Zeim nodded. "Are you ready to depart?"

Hogan shrugged. "Guess so."

"Very well. Du'im is faster than Earth, but still considerably slower than here, so I am unsure if I will be here when you return. If not, I shall inform my successor of your request. Goodbye, Ki'rath."

"Goodbye, Zeim."

Hogan mounted the altar. Seconds later, the bolt of lightning struck the transporter, sending Hogan off to his next destination.

Next chapter: Hogan finds himself on the planet Du'im - and right in the middle of trouble.

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