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loogslair.com As I've said before, Grrr.


Guardian of the Ceremony

A Serial by Tim Connolly

In the previous chapter, Hogan and Gauno traveled to the planet Dracon, where they were quickly imprisoned. A fellow prisoner mentions a change in the prince's behavior ten days ago.

Chapter 15: An Audience With Drax

When the hatch overhead began to open, Hogan's hands immediately started to flash with energy again, energy he'd wanted to use originally on the soldiers when he and Gauno were first caught. He knew that this time, he would not stifle himself.

A square of sunlight shone down onto the floor of the room. Hogan stepped into the light. A gruff voice shouted from outside. "All right, everyone, here's your rations."

Immediately, Hogan jumped up out of the hole. Seeing as none of the guards expected anyone to get out, they had no opportunity to defend themselves. Hogan grabbed the head guard and threw him into the rest of the men on duty. They fell with a crunch to the ground some 100 feet below.

"All right, guys!" Hogan shouted into the cell. "The coast is clear!"

"Very well," Gauno replied, "I shall help the others out of here."

"You'll find Prince Drax's castle several miles to the east," instructed the prisoner who had pleaded for their help earlier. "Hurry, the sun is about to set!"

Hogan took off to find the castle.

Gauno walked to the illuminated square and looked around him. "All right. Let me get you all out of this place."

"Take me last," the talkative prisoner said. "Let the others go first."

"Very well. I am afraid I can only take one of you at a time. Will the people on this side of the room come into the light with me, please."

Several Draconians shuffled their way into the lit area. They were similar to the ones that he and Hogan had been arrested by earlier, only their clothes had become tattered and soiled from what looked like days without laundering. Gauno took one of them by the waist and slowly floated his way up out of the cell.

Hogan surveyed the area from overhead. It seemed that the planet was by and large a desolate one, with only pockets of civilization here and there. Most of the centers of population he came across were designed much like the one he had just come from; a fortress-like enclosure with plenty of bustle.

He looked behind himself, and saw that the sun was beginning to sink into the horizon. In a short while, the full moon would take its place.

Within 15 minutes, he had reached the castle. Again, it was very similar to a medieval setting; there were even orange flags flying from each of the towers. He dove into one of the windows of the castle.

He felt like a secret agent infiltrating an enemy stronghold as he explored the castle. He knew that he had to keep as low a profile as possible so as not to be caught by the many guards inside. This task proved to be only more difficult as he neared the throne room, as more and more soldiers stood guard the closer he got. Eventually, he resorted to an old cartoon trick - grabbing a potted shrub and hiding behind it as he neared the door. He quietly hoped that the guards standing watch didn't watch cartoons.

When he actually entered the throne room, however, he noticed that none of the soldiers did so much as take a step towards him. The room itself was a large one, yet somehow intimate, with a crimson red carpet leading down polished wood floor. On either side of the carpet stood the soldiers, bearing arms but still remaining motionless. At the far end of the room - which must have been over 100 feet long - was a large redwood throne, where there sat a lavishly dressed Draconian wearing a jeweled crown.

"Come in, Ki'rath," the Draconian beckoned.

Hogan slowly walked down the carpet, passing the lines of guards one by one. When he reached the foot of the throne, he got onto one knee, knowing that now was not the time to blow A'nake's cover.

"Prince Drax, I presume?" Hogan asked.

The Draconian chuckled. "Please. It is not necessary for you to kneel. In fact, I should be the one kneeling for you; your arrival marks an important time in our planet's history."

"We suspect that A'nake wants to steal the talisman from this planet to enact the full moon ceremony," Hogan explained.

"I was afraid that A'nake had arrived here," Drax sighed. "That is why I declared martial law on the area. I wanted to make sure that anyone acting suspiciously was detained at least until the end of the night. Then we'll have another two weeks to find him and cast him away."

"I was told that the talisman is secured in the castle."

"That's right. Now that you have arrived, though, there is no further need for it to be hidden. Come, I shall show you where it is."

Drax stood up from his throne, walked towards a small doorway to his right. Hogan swiftly followed.

The corridor was cramped; they barely had any room to move around. When they were partway down the hall, Hogan seized his chance. He latched his hands around Drax's neck.

Drax gasped in shock. "Hogan! What are you doing?"

"Cut the act, A'nake. I know it's you in there."

"A'nake? No! That's preposterous!"

"Is it?" Hogan asked. "The king is murdered ten days ago, and suddenly the prince gets pretty testy about throwing people into prison. You just wanted to lock me up so you could have the talisman all to yourself!"

"No! I'm not A'nake! I swear!"

Hogan let go of Drax's neck. "Prove it."

"If I were A'nake, would I hand you the talisman hours before the full moon?" Drax asked.

Hogan sighed. "You have a point. But... if you're not A'nake, then where is it?"

"I don't know," Drax replied. "I've got a bad feeling about this. I know A'nake had to have been behind my father's slaying."

They reached the end of the corridor, where there laid the indentation of a hand and a locked wooden box. "The box will only open if a member of the royal family is present," Drax explained. He placed his hand in the indentation. The surrounding area glowed for a moment, and within moments the box popped open. There, amidst a bed of red velvet, sat the talisman. Drax took it and handed it to Hogan. "Here is the talisman, as promised."

Hogan smiled. "Thanks. Sorry for choking you back there."

Drax smiled back. "Think nothing of it. I'm surprised it didn't choose me to invade, or even the king himself."

"Something tells me he has something more sophisticated in mind." They headed back out to the throne room. "I'd better get back to the fortress and see how Gauno's doing."

"Gauno's with you too?" Drax asked.

"Yeah. He's back helping the others get out of that prison cell."

"What?!" Drax shouted. "You're letting them out?"

"Well, yeah. One of them said that the troops were arresting anyone who protested the martial law."

"I would never do such a thing," Drax said sternly. "Now all of those criminals are going to be running loose again - including the person who killed the king."

"He was in there too?"

"Of course! He was the first one in there!"

Hogan put two and two together. "Then we'd better get there fast!!"

As the minutes wore on, Gauno managed to get almost all of the prisoners - which amounted to close to 50 Draconians - out of the prison cell. Now, all that was left was the one who had asked for help originally.

"Well, it looks as if you are the last one left, as you requested."

The final Draconian walked into view. Unlike the others, this one was in relatively good shape.

"Thank you," he said. "I'm so glad the two of you came when you did."

"Gratitude is unnecessary," Gauno responded. "We came here for the purposes of good, and that extends beyond the talismans."

The prisoner nodded. "Well said."

"I must say, however, that it is peculiar how you were among the first prisoners, and yet you were in a much better condition than the others in this cell."

The prisoner gave Gauno a wry look, then suddenly remembered what he had said. "Oh, yes! Well, uh, I just tried to stay in one place as much as I could."

The answer satisfied Gauno. "What shall we do now that we have escaped? Should we join Hogan in his search for Drax?"

"No, let's stay in here," the prisoner answered. "He's probably well on his way to the castle by now. And besides, we need a place for him to meet us when he retrieves the talisman."

Gauno thought for a moment, then nodded. "Very well. We shall wait here."

"Oh, and another thing - I was wondering if you could do me one more favor."

"Favor?" Gauno asked. "What sort of favor?"

"Well, it's like this." The prisoner put his hand on Gauno's shoulder. "When Hogan gets back, I'll need to borrow something from you."

"Very well. What shall I lend you?"

"Well, your body, of course." With that, the prisoner shoved Gauno into the back wall with incredible force. The impact and suddenness of the attack caused Gauno to slump onto the floor. With his last few moments of consciousness, he saw the Draconian stand in front of him.

"The Ki'rathian bloodline is getting weak, I see," the prisoner chortled. "Your forefathers would have easily known my true nature. But now, my plan is working beautifully. When Hogan returns, he will find that his guide will not be as helpful as he once was!"

The realization sank in just as Gauno blacked out.

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