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Guardian of the Ceremony

A Serial by Tim Connolly

In the last chapter, Hogan was confronted with his final test: a maze of passageways that would give out if he stepped on the wrong one. He managed to pass it, and now is ready to learn how to fight A'nake.

Chapter 7: Fighting from Within

"This is the first day that you will truly learn how to fight A'nake. Remember, it is an ageless spirit that you are facing, and so you will not be able to defeat it through contemporary means."

Hogan nodded, standing in a large field a few miles away from the temple. Ilgaira had brought him to this spot so that they could train without any interruption.

"Your first task while facing A'nake is to find some way to bring it out of the body it possesses," Ilgaira explained. "Since A'nake has no physical manifestation, it must use a host body to perform the full moon ceremony. However, since it must use much of its energy to maintain its hold on the body it controls, its powers will be significantly weaker than they are when in spirit form."

"I guess the question is how do I get A'nake out of that body."

"Removing a spirit from a body is difficult, to be sure. For one thing, you must take care not to do anything that might injure the actual person; remember, it is not the body you are fighting, so do your best to keep it unharmed."

"What do I do, then?"

"You must fight from within yourself. You must combat the evil spirit with your own spirit. To do this, you must concentrate the energy in your body to that which you will use to fight. This will take a lot of concentration at the beginning, but as with all your other powers, fighting with your own aura will come more naturally to you."

"I guess I'd better get started, then," Hogan said.

Ilgaira nodded. "First, close your eyes." Hogan did so. "Envision that your body is simply a coalescence of energy. The blood that pumps through your veins carries not just tangible things such as oxygen and water, but the energy of your spirit."

Hogan balled his hands into fists.

"Now, visualize this energy that is running through you. Center it somewhere, such as your hands."

Hogan's eyes clenched in concentration. His hands began to glow a faint purple color.

"Keep focusing your energy towards your hands. The longer you charge them, the more powerful your attack will be."

The light surrounding Hogan's fists were becoming stronger and stronger, gaining a fiery quality to them. Hogan began to growl. After a little more than two minutes, he stopped. He took a fighting stance, his fists completely engulfed in violet flame.

"When you are ready, strike that tree to your left."

Hogan looked to his side. There stood a large oak tree, the bark running up its trunk in an inconspicuous pattern. Hogan yelled, charging at it. With a quick left jab, his fist went into the tree, going in as deep as his wrist. He caught his breath for a moment.

"Damn," he said. "I really did a number on that thing."

"That is only a fraction of your power," Ilgaira remarked. "Ideally, you should be able to have punched all the way through the trunk. However, you must be aware that A'nake is not a tree. And the attack you have just done would barely scratch its spirit."

Hogan's left hand ached somewhat, and he rubbed it with his right to soothe it a little. "I had a feeling you were going to say something like that."

"Your attacks will become stronger as you gain more willpower and develop a larger capacity to focus your power. Remember, it is not the physical actions that are important in combating A'nake; it is the energy behind those actions that will harm it."

Hogan nodded. "How much time do you think it will take for me to be able to take A'nake on?"

"That I do not know," Ilgaira replied. "You are a smart young man, however that does not always correllate to a strong will. If you wish, I can test your will right now and tell you how strong you are."

"All right. Test away."

"Are you sure?"

"Well, no. But I'm not here to screw around. Go ahead and do this test."

Ilgaira smirked. He squinted a little, his eyes flashing momentarily. Suddenly, Hogan felt an almost paralyzing pain between his temples. He dropped to his knees, screaming in agony.

"Argh! Stop it! It hurts!"

"If you want me to stop, I will. But if your will is strong enough, you will fight off this pain."

Hogan writhed. Eyes, teeth, fists, toes, everything was clenched. It felt like a sledgehammer was being slammed against his brain. "Please! Ilgaira! Stop!"

"You can stop this yourself, Hogan. You must simply have the will to fight this off."

Hogan moaned, the pain inside him continuing to fester in his mind. I can't bear this, he thought. I can barely move! "I can't fight it, Ilgaira," he said. "Please. I'm going to black out."

Ilgaira frowned, and stopped his squinting. Hogan collapsed on the ground, gasping for breath. "Next time, warn me before you do something like that."

"It was not my fault. You agreed to the test, and you should have expected something of this nature." He offered Hogan his hand, and hauled Hogan back to his feet. "You were able to withstand my energy for some time, but unfortunately you will need to focus more intently on getting through the pain you may be suffering. If you allow it to incapacitate you, then you can imagine what A'nake will do to you in such a state.

Hogan took a deep breath, then looked into Ilgaira's eyes. "Do it again."

"What was that?"

"Do it again. I'm ready. I can fight it off this time."

"Are you sure you want to try again so soon? I cannot guarantee that you will not be harmed from this."

"Listen. I know we've got all the time in the world here, but I'm starting to get a little anxious about this. I've already been away from home for close to a week, and I want to get back as soon as I can." Hogan turned away from him. "Do it again."

"Very well." Ilgaira once again looked upon Hogan with brighter eyes. The pounding sensation returned in Hogan's skull.

Hogan once again lost control of his knees, falling to the ground in pain. Part of his mind tried to combat the force within, while the other desperately wanted to give in. I've got to fight this, Hogan repeated to himself. I've got to fight this.

Slowly, he began to counteract the pain in his mind. It was still there, but it encumbered him less and less. He began to lean back up, raising his right knee to plant his foot on the ground.

Ilgaira, sensing Hogan's attempt to fight off his energy, squinted harder, sending more powerful shockwaves into his mind. Hogan squealed in agony, dropping back somewhat, but continued to fend off Ilgaira's brainwaves. He was now standing. His concentration refocused on his fists, which again began to glow. Ilgaira's energy strengthened again, but Hogan was unaffected by it now. His fists got brighter and brighter, the flames suffusing them starting to envelop his arms. He snarled. Almost instantaneously, he whipped around, leading with his right fist.

It landed squarely on Ilgaira's jaw, sending him flying. The pain ended. Ilgaira landed twenty feet away, tumbling.

Alarmed, Hogan ran to his guide's aid. "Ilgaira! Are you all right?"

When he reached Ilgaira, the Ki'rathian was smiling proudly. "Well done, Hogan. Not only did you increase your will, your energy has just become three times more powerful than it had been just minutes ago."

Hogan smiled back. "What can I say? I'm a quick bloomer."

The next three weeks were spent on Hogan's fighting abilities. Each day began with the same will-testing exercise as Hogan had experienced before, and they all ended the same way: with Ilgaira getting sent further and further into the air as Hogan put the finishing touches on his opponent. He progressed quickly, to the point that he and Ilgaira began to spar, all while Hogan had his willpower twisted by Ilgaira's mind. By the end of Hogan's training, he was readily knocking Ilgaira to the ground within seconds.

A month after Hogan arrived in Ki'rathia, Ilgaira decided that his training was complete. Less than three seconds had passed on Earth, and now it was time for him to return. The two of them went back to the same stone formation that Hogan had been summoned to.

"Hogan, the time has now come for your training to end and the true fight to begin. It is now time for you to go back to your home planet and seek out the talisman and the ageless evil who pursues it. There is a chance that A'nake has already obtained the talisman, and if that is the case, then you must separate the host body with the talisman before the full moon."

"I understand," Hogan said. "I won't let all this training go to waste. But how will I find the talisman? There are over six billion people on Earth."

"The talisman will find its way to you, do not worry." Ilgaira took a step closer to Hogan. "And now, Hogan, it is time for us to say goodbye. I have admired your spirit in the time that I have known you. I am glad we have had this time together."

Hogan's face crinkled into a frown. "You're making it sound as if I'm not going to see you again."

"I am afraid that that is the case."


"I already told you. In the time it will take you to find and recover the talisman, thousands of years will have passed here. I will have long since passed away. When you return, a new shaman will be here in my place."

Hogan sighed. "I never thought about that. I guess this really is goodbye, then." He stepped forward, shaking Ilgaira's hand. "Thanks, Ilgaira. Thanks for everything. I promise I won't let you down."

"Thank you, Hogan," Ilgaira replied. "For all that you have done, and all that you will do. I am sure you will succeed."

Hogan smiled for a moment. Then, he brought Ilgaira into a quick hug, sealing the bond of their friendship. They separated, and he walked back onto the stone altar, turning around to face his guide. "Goodbye, Ilgaira," he said, waving.

There was a flash of lightning, and Hogan was gone.

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