ogan's body was twitching violently. The fourth talisman had given him the power to absorb spirit power, but the amount he had just been hit with from the tank was too much for his body to handle. And his mind was overloading just as much.
His body, in an attempt to contain the power inside of him, suddenly started to expand at an alarming rate, his trademark leather jacket and blue jeans quickly tearing apart as he grew far beyond his original dimensions. In mere seconds, his original 6-foot-1 stature had increased by more than three feet, and his build was proportionally larger as well.
Still, the energy that was engulfing him in a blue fire continued to burn around him. As Hogan recovered enough to stand again, Onlookers were only able to see the dark silhouette of Hogan's lupne form inside the blazing energy - and the glowing eyes that seemed to pierce right through anyone who looked at them.
"That was the wrong move," Hogan shouted, his voice a combination of boom and snarl. "Not only have you made me even more powerful - you have just royally pissed me off."
The pilots of the tanks, originally petrified at the events unfolding in front of them, quickly ducked back into their turrets to hide from Hogan. But it was too late; Hogan immediately pounced at the battery of tanks like a giant fireball. The contact alone with Hogan's momentum was enough to send the first tank flying off of its treads. A punch to the second tank - with a closed fist this time, as Hogan saw no need for extra posturing - caused that tank to go airborne for a split-second as well. The three remaining tanks were quickly abandoned by the Du'imite troops.
His job now done, Hogan leapt back into the air and returned to the A'nakite base. When he spotted I'kali, he descended back to the ground, landing right in front of him. Hogan's new condition caused I'kali to noticeably tremble.
"Hogan!" I'kali gasped. "What… what happened to you?"
He couldn't actually see Hogan's mouth move, but was jarred enough by the major drop in the pitch of Hogan's voice.
"Those bastards caught me with one of those tank blasts," Hogan replied. "What was it you said about A'ris setting me up?"
"I just thought… I figured they'd give you faulty intelligence when you came to us, so that we'd throw you into prison and they could attack both of us at the same time."
"Really," Hogan mused. "Then maybe it's time I paid A'ris a little visit of my own."
"No, Hogan, don't!" I'kali pleaded. "Don't do anything stupid."
"The only way this war is going to end is if I do something to stop it," Hogan replied. "And I know just how to do it."
Before I'kali could stop him, Hogan was aflight once again, and the last the captain saw of the Ki'rath was a bright streak heading west.
Now that the Du'imite attack had been stopped, I'kali realized that he now had a completely new responsibility. "Sergeant O'brin!" he summoned.
The A'nakite sergeant ran to I'kali and saluted. "Yes, sir!"
"I want you to man an envoy with two other soldiers."
"What are our orders, sir?" O'brin asked.
"I need you to find the Ki'rath and prevent him from harming Commander A'ris. You must convince him to reverse his transformation."
"Sir, all due respect - but you want us to protect a Du'imite commander?"
"The Du'imites hate the Ki'rath. If he were to kill A'ris on our behalf, they would most certainly take it out on us."
"That's an order!" I'kali barked.
O'brin reluctantly saluted again. "Yes, sir."
Hogan had already reached the Du'imite base. Wanting to get the soldier's attention, he formed a ball of energy into his hand and lobbed it down at the buildings below. The ensuing explosion was similar to the one that had first jarred him and I'kali earlier.
"A'ris, where are you?" Hogan shouted. "Show yourself, you coward!"
The troops instinctively manned their rifles, aimed them squarely at Hogan, and opened fire.
Hogan didn't even bother defending himself, since he knew that any shots that connected would simply be absorbed by him and recycled for his own use. "Keep shooting, fellas," he instructed. "You're only making me stronger."
Whether the soldiers actually heard Hogan or not, their attacks certainly did not diminish. A moment later, Hogan decided that he had had enough playing around. Almost without trying, he coalesced another ball of energy in his hand and threw it at the assembly of troops. He almost laughed when he saw the force of the blast scatter all the troops around like leaves in a hurricane. He came back down, landing in the middle of the vacant space his bolt of energy had created.
"I know you're hiding somewhere, A'ris!" Hogan announced, even his voice having been amplified by his surplus of energy. "Come out, come out, whereever you are!"
Hogan's words were met with silence.
"I am going to find you," Hogan taunted. "And I don't really give a damn who gets in the way."
Another globe of power was formed in his hand, and he threw it at a nearby tent, which easily came off of its moorings when it made impact. The troops inside, who were obviously trying to hide from Hogan, quickly fled. He was using both hands now, throwing two energy balls at a time in an attempt to flush A'ris.
"I'm losing my patience." He took a few steps forward. "I certainly wouldn't want to kill anyone in order to find you, A'ris." He launched yet another energy sphere at a tent in the distance, and among the crowd of soldiers whose shelter had just been eradicated, Hogan finally spotted his target.
Standing defiantly in the middle of where the last tent used to stand, Commander A'ris was giving Hogan his best poker face. Internally, though, A'ris could barely keep his knees from shaking.
"What do you want from me, you slime?" A'ris shouted back.
In the blink of an eye, Hogan almost literally had A'ris in a stranglehold. "You're just as rotten as before," Hogan said with tangible disdain. "You tried to trick me. You sent me to the A'nakites' base knowing fully well that nobody would believe my story. Well, look at what's happened to me now, thanks to you and your little plan."
"I don't see much change," A'ris managed to sputter out. "You're just as ghastly now as you were when you first came here."
"You bastard!!" Hogan screamed, tossing A'ris the entire length of the base, and sprinting to the other side to watch A'ris hit the ground. "I wanted to go home after this! I never got a chance to say goodbye to my mother before I had to start on this little scavenger hunt they have me going through! How am I supposed to do that now?"
"You think you're the only one who never got to say goodbye to a loved one?" A'ris retorted. "I had a wife and child before those monsters attacked my hometown and slaughtered them."
Hogan picked up A'ris and slammed him against the ground again. "That doesn't give you a right to screw around with my life!"
A'ris was now barely conscious, but as defiant as ever. "Then kill me. Go ahead. We won't have to make up charges to try you for then."
"I don't care about you damn trials!" Hogan growled. "All I care about is the fact that I can't see my mother now. Not looking like this."
A'ris scowled, even though he was resigned to his fate. "Enough of your sanctimony. Kill me now if you're really gonna do it."
The qualms he had about killing in cold blood in the past were a faint memory behind the rage Hogan was feeling. "Say your prayers, A'ris," he said as he drew his hand back for a finishing move.
"Stop right there, Ki'rath!" a voice shouted behind Hogan. He turned his head to see a hovercraft manned by three A'nakites, one of them appearing to be a ranking officer.
"I have a message from Captain I'kali," the sergeant said. "He is ordering you to unhand Commander A'ris at once."
"He's ordering me?" Hogan asked. "Since when am I one of his groundlings?" He looked back at A'ris. "Besides, I'm just about to do him a favor."
"I'kali was generous to give you a second chance after you tried to spy on us," O'brin explained. "I suggest you do as he says."
"It doesn't matter anymore." Hogan's fiery body turned around to face O'brin again. "Look at me. I've absorbed so much energy, there's no way I can get rid of it all."
"But there is, Hogan," O'brin explained. "Reverse the ceremony."
"What do you mean?"
"If you reverse the ceremony, all the excess energy you have will dissipate. You'll be back to normal again."
Hogan blinked a couple times. "How do you know all this?"
"Hogan, we're A'nakites. We know all about the talisman."
Hogan sighed. He looked at the Du'imite commander laying on the ground and sneered. But still, he had no other choice.
The blue fire surrounding Hogan quickly disappeared. As his transformation reverted, Hogan felt all the energy inside him escape his body. Suddenly overcome with exhaustion, Hogan's human form collapsed face down on the ground, unconscious.
Next chapter: Hogan becomes a prisoner of the Du'imites - but rather than go to trial, the Du'imites suggest a doozy of a plea bargain.