ogan stared meekly at the talisman that Captain I'kali was hanging in front of him, swinging back and forth like a hypnotist's watch.
It tooka few seconds for Hogan to finally find his voice. "I- I can explain-"
"I'm sure you can." He set the talisman on the table. "Actually, I knew you weren't a normal A'nakite the moment I laid eyes on you. Your fur gave you away."
"My… fur?" Hogan asked.
"Look at yourself. You look like you just took a bath in metallic paint. Nobody has a fur coat that shiny. Your name's not O'gane either, I imagine."
"No, sir. It's Hogan." He took a moment to inspect his pelt. Indeed, it caught the light much more than natural hair would. "Look, I know you have no reason to trust me, but please - you gotta hear me out."
I'kali walked right up to Hogan, getting up within inches of his face. Then, surprisingly, his expression softened considerably. "Don't worry, kid. You're not in any trouble. Something tells me you didn't exactly volunteer for this job."
Hogan breathed a sigh of relief, and slouched back into his seat. "You got that right. It was either this or stand trial for my negligence."
I'kali chuckled. "Those Du'imites are still holding a grudge against you, aren't they?"
"They said this whole thing is my fault," Hogan replied. "If it weren't for me and my talismans, this war never would've started."
I'kali turned around, pacing towards the far wall of the room. "You know, I used to hate those people as much as they hate us, but now, I almost feel sorry for them. They've been brainwashed ever since they were born to blame this war on everyone but themselves."
"What do you mean?"
"This entire war is their doing," I'kali said coldly. "The Du'imites had no intentions of living side by side with us. They looked at us as second-class citizens. We did all the dirty work; we were the ones who drove A'nake off of this planet. But they wanted to reap all the rewards."
"The emperor said you guys wouldn't relinquish power to them," Hogan explained.
"That's a lie!" I'kali snapped. It took a moment for him to regain his composure. "Sorry. But that's the entire reason this war began. When we overthrew A'nake, there were of course negotiations to help figure out how to pull ourselves out of the mess that was left behind after over 20 years of A'nake's reign of terror. We knew that the Du'imites would not be comfortable having the same monsters who had brutalized them for so long living alongside them. We were more than happy to have a place of our own where we could live peacefully, away from the Du'imites."
"Sounds like a reasonable request," Hogan mused. "So they didn't agree to that?"
"No, they agreed to give us a parcel of land… out in the middle of the desert! They couldn't have picked a more inhospitable place to send us. They wanted to just wash their hands of us and never have to deal with us again. So we go back to the table and say we can't accept the land they gave us, and what does the emperor do? He goes back to his people and says that we demanded to take their land or else we'd use the talisman on him!"
"You mean you guys never made that threat?"
"Of course we didn't!" I'kali replied. "Do you honestly think that we'd put anyone through the hell we had experienced doing A'nake's bidding? As far as we were concerned, we never wanted to see that talisman again."
Hogan shook his head. This was a completely new story, and he was having a hard time who to believe. "Where is the talisman now?" he asked.
"It's in our capital city, locked away in a royal vault somewhere. But I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you - it's strictly against A'nakite law to even open that vault. Not even you would be allowed to go-"
Before I'kali could finish his sentence, a loud boom and a fierce tremor wracked through the interrogation room. Moments later, a loud siren could be heard from outside.
"Damn it!" I'kali hissed. "The Du'imites are attacking!" He looked out the window to examine the scene.
"I was afraid of that," Hogan said. "Commander A'ris said that if-"
"Wait a second," I'kali interrupted. "You mean A'ris put you up to this?"
"Yeah. He said he'd attack if that communicator was destroyed."
I'kali grimaced, shaking his head in disgust. "That no good, lying weasel…" He walked over to Hogan. "Hogan, I'm afraid you've been set up. It explains why you were given such bad intelligence in the first place. Obviously, he figured we'd throw you in prison and they'd be able to destroy both you and us in one fell swoop."
Another explosion rocked the small building.
"We'd better get out there before this place collapses!" I'kali said, running towards the door. When he got there, he stopped and turned around. "So, are you going to help us?"
"Help you?" Hogan asked. "What for?"
"Listen, if the Du'imites take over this base, you can be sure you'll be back over there, standing trial for these ridiculous crimes they've charged you with." Hogan didn't move. "Please, Hogan. I give you my word - if you help us defend against the Du'imites, I will do everything I can to help you get our talisman. The Du'imites can't promise you that."
It took Hogan another second to make his decision. Looking down at the table, he saw the fourth talisman sitting on its corner. He grabbed it and put it around his neck.
Hogan and I'kali ran out of the interrogation room, just in time to watch what looked like a giant ball of energy fall about a quarter mile away. When it hit the ground, the explosion caused a collossal shockwave within a 100-yard radius, visibly shaking any structures in its wake.
Hogan's jaw dropped. "What the hell was that?"
"It looks they've managed to harness spirit power into their heavy artillery," I'kali explained. "Firepower like that could easy take out a small town if they got anywhere near one."
"So what do you want me to do?"
"My troops will take care of defending a base," I'kali instructed, "but we need someone to take care of the big guns."
"I'm guessing that someone is me," Hogan deduced.
I'kali nodded. "Can you handle that?"
"I'll do what I can." With that, Hogan lept into the air and flew west, in the direction of the attack. Looking down, he saw at least five hundred Du'imite soldiers storming the base, each of them armed with a high-tech rifle and firing blasts of spirit energy at the base. As he surveyed the land further out, he spotted his target: a battery of six large tanks were planted on the landscapes, their turrets pointed directly at the base. Without hesitation, he dove towards the ground, aiming straight for one of the tanks.
When he landed, he quickly grabbed one of the turrets by the barrel, wrenching it free from its mooring. He turned around, seeing a good two dozen Du'imite soldiers facing him, each pointing a spirit rifle at him. Hogan managed to brace himself before they could fire, and each shot dissipated off of Hogan's arms on contact.
"Not a good idea," Hogan growled as he jumped off the incapacitated tank and started to fight with the soldiers. They again fired their rifles at him, but even though Hogan wasn't able to fend them all off, none of the shots harmed him in anyway. It was then that he suddenly noticed his hands giving off an odd glow, like the energy inside him was being stored in them.
He watched in astonishment. Is this… the energy they just fired at me?
Testing this theory, he drew is arm back and quickly flung it at the soldiers, like a pitcher throwing a fastball. A globe of energy, similar to the one fired by the tanks although much smaller, was launched at the Du'imite troops. It caught one of them squarely in the chest, and the ensuing blast sent every soldier within 10 feet of him to be thrown back as well.
Hogan resumed his melee fighting, unleashing his open-handed style of attacks that he had learned from the Realm of the Ancients earlier, and almost singlehandedly took care of all of the soldiers that were guarding the tanks. But he had forgotten the tanks themselves. Satisfied with his work, he turned around to see one of the tank turrets pointing straight at him.
Before Hogan had a chance to react, the tank fired, and the projectile - a massive ball of spirit power - was a direct hit on him. Hogan was quickly enveloped in a gigantic wave of energy, and the force of the blast sent him backwards by almost 100 feet.
The Du'imites inside the tanks climbed out to see what had happened. In the distance, they saw Hogan lying face up on the ground, his body literally ablaze with the excess energy he had just soaked up.
"This is Tank D-4 speaking," the Du'imite said. "We are reporting a direct hit on the target."
"Good. Can you confirm that the target is deceased?" was the response from headquarters.
Suddenly, a horrifying scream echoed from Hogan's body.
Shocked, the soldier fumbled around for the right button on his headset. "Th- th- that's a n- negative, C-c-commander…"
Next chapter: With Hogan having just absorbed a megadose of spirit power, the Du'imites discover just how powerful - and how enraged - the Ki'rath has become.