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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, A'nake - who had taken over Gauno's body - was about to unleash the talisman's power on a nearby Draconian village, but Gauno fought the spirit off. Hogan came tried to break it up, but that ended up disrupting Gauno's resurgence. Now A'nake has separated from Gauno's body, and is ready to unload on Hogan.

Chapter 18: The Prince Has Fallen

Hogan and A'nake stood silently for a moment, face to face, both awaiting the start of the duel that was about to take place.

"I know that there's no way for you to beat me without the talisman, Hogan," A'nake taunted. "I saw how weak and desperate you became on Earth. Without the talisman, you are nothing."

"What's your point?" Hogan asked, smugly.

"Such an arrogant boy. It clouds your judgement. You should be on your knees, begging me to kill you quickly. But I guess that's a lesson you won't live long enough to learn."

A'nake dashed into Hogan's body, bringing its ethereal shoulder into the young man's chest. It sent Hogan flying backwards, where he landed sprawling on the grass some 30 feet away. He quickly got up, sweeping the dirt off of his jeans.

"It's easy to hit someone when they don't expect it," Hogan retorted. "Let's see you try that now."

"Impudent brat," A'nake said softly. "You still defy me?"

A'nake charged at Hogan again, but this time Hogan leapt up in the air in time to dodge the bum rush. "You're just as gullible as the next person." He charged up his energy, and made a dive into A'nake's spirit. For the first time, his human body apparently made contact with A'nake's aura; the bodiless spirit recoiled somewhat from the hit.

"How... how could you hit me?" A'nake asked. "Your human form has never even scratched me before."

Hogan retreated a bit, floating back into the air. "The talisman on Earth increased my powers. I might not be strong enough to defeat you without transforming, but at least I'm strong enough to fend you off."

"We'll see about that," A'nake snarled.

Quite visibly enraged at being struck by Hogan, A'nake immediately unloaded on a fierce barrage of spirit punches and kicks. Hogan could barely keep up with the speed of the attacks, but managed to block each move. He tried to get his own shots in, but that proved to be pointless as he never had a chance to charge his attacks before the next blow from A'nake was being attempted.

In the distance, Gauno's body began to move slightly. The spirit that had been dominated when A'nake possessed his body was reemerging from the abyss it had been in before. The Ki'rathian's eyes opened, his face turned up from the grass slightly. He let out an aching groan as he readjusted to his own body. He turned his head back, and saw Hogan and A'nake duking it out.

When Hogan noticed that Gauno had regained consciousness, he lost focus of the being that was fighting him. The distraction proved harmful; A'nake sent a punch into Hogan's abdomen, sending him back several feet. The spirit got in a few extra shots while Hogan tried to recover from the first, and soon Gauno was witnessing his friend get sent to the ground again with a series of crushing blows. Hogan flopped onto the grass.

Gauno was too weak to get up, not was able to communicate to Hogan through telepathy. Hogan! He said. You must not give up!

Hogan, who was woozy from the battle, was slow to respond. "I don't know how much longer I can do this..."

Please, do not surrender to the pain. You are the Ki'rath; you must fight back against A'nake.

"Urgh... but I don't have the talisman... how am I supposed to stand a chance against it?"

I still possess the talisman. I am too weak to move, but if you can reach me, you can take it from me and enact the ceremony.

"I can barely move either..."

Please, Hogan. You must not give up.

Hogan sighed, and closed his eyes. He willed his body to coalesce enough energy for him to stand up. A'nake, who had been standing proudly over its quarry, seemed concerned. "I have learned from past mistakes, Ki'rath. I will not let you get away this easily."

A'nake was about to act on its threat when it felt a small stinging sensation from behind. It turned around to see Prince Drax flying overhead, brandishing a firearm of some sort. "You!!"

Drax smirked. "Looks like this Spirit Ray does work after all." It flew in closer to the evil spirit. "You'd better give up right now, A'nake. I've got troops coming in from behind with the same spirit rays, and they're aiming to take you out."

A'nake looked unmoved. "I've never heard such an empty bluff in my life." It flew up towards Drax, who unloaded another beam of light into the spirit. "You honestly think that toy can hurt me?" In a gesture of insult, A'nake slapped it out of the Draconian's hands. "You could fire a thousand of those at me and I would barely feel it." It grabbed Drax by the throat and help it up in the air. "And now, I'll swat you like the insect you are."

Taking the opportunity of the distraction, Hogan began slowly ambling towards Gauno 30 yards away.

Meanwhile, A'nake was having its way with Prince Drax. Using its free arm, it grabbed one of Drax's dragonfly-like wings. "Turn this planet over to me, and I'll let you live."

Drax replied by spitting into A'nake. It went right through the apparition.

"That was the wrong choice." With a yank, Drax's right wings were pulled out. Drax screamed almost deliriously in pain. "I wonder how proud the Draconian race will feel when they find their beloved prince can only fly in circles."

"Go to Hell!" Drax shrieked.

Hogan now found himself more than halfway to Gauno's immobilized body. He paused for a moment to see the wings fall to the ground. "Drax!!" he shouted.

Drax looked over to Hogan. "Don't worry about me - just get the talisman!"

At that moment, A'nake reached around to the Prince's left side, quickly wrenching the wings there out of his body. Blood dripped from the wound. Satisfied, A'nake simply let go of the Draconian's body, letting it plummet unabated to the ground below, landing with a thud.

"Drax!!" Hogan shouted again. Drax had lost consciousness.

He turned switfly back to Gauno, who was now sitting up. "Hogan," he called out. "Take the talisman, quickly!"

Hogan ran towards Gauno as fast as he could, but before he could reach teh Ki'rathian, A'nake landed in between them. "Where do you think you're going?" It quickly uncorked another uppercut, catching Hogan in the chin and sending him flying. He tumbled to the ground, his body making a sickening crunch as it made impact.

A'nake stood proudly over its victim again. "Time to end this. Say goodbye to your friends, Ki'rath."

Gauno watched in horror as A'nake began to charge itself up for one final devastating attack. Fearing the worst, he summoned up as much energy as he could and unleashed another mindshock against A'nake. Being composed of spirit energy, A'nake was completely paralyzed. "No! Not again!"

Hogan, barely strong enough to get on all fours, again tried to close the gap with the shaman. Gauno was quite obviously weakening from his psychic attack, but kept it going as long as he could, keeping A'nake from moving.

He was just a few feet away from Gauno when the shock ended, the Ki'rathian fainting from the exertion. Hogan looked back to see A'nake recovering from the attack, and scrambled to Gauno's side. He opened Gauno's hands to see the talisman sitting there, sparkling in the moonlight. He quickly snapped it up, immediately starting the ceremonial chant.

"Nagasu hi'eria, voraesilifu axina kum, shiri akaraa!!"

A'nake tried to interfere with the ceremony, but it was too late - this time it was a violet fire that consumed Hogan, causing the spirit to recoil from the blast. Within seconds, a powerful lupine being lay next to Gauno where Hogan once was, with the same violet-colored fur, energy crackling around him, his golden eyes belying his augmented power.

A'nake was petrified, knowing that the transformed Ki'rath could easily destroy it. It flew up into the air, between the two unconscious companions. "You are very lucky, Ki'rath," it said. "I never thought you would ever find one talisman, let alone two."

"I've had enough of your talk," Hogan boomed, meeting A'nake in the air. "And you aren't getting away this time."

"I know I can't defeat you," A'nake taunted. "So I'm not even going to try."

"You're finally starting to learn." Hogan flew in closer. "You are to never show your face in this dimension ever again."

"Oh, I'm not surrendering, Ki'rath." A'nake flew in towards Hogan as well, until they were mere inches from each other. "In fact, you'd best not get so arrogant just yet."

Hogan scowled at his opponent. "And why not?"

"Because, Ki'rath, you forget - you have two allies who have been seriously injured. I can easily kill one of them, if not both. If Drax dies, the entire Draconian royal family is gone. There will be brutal wars to determine who will ascend to the throne next, and Dracon's nearby planets will surely take this planet over in the confusion."

Hogan stood unmoved. "Then I'll protect him. You already said Gauno is prepared to sacrifice his life for me."

"Ah, but it takes a shaman to operate the transporter in Ki'rathia. If Gauno dies, your ride home will be gone, and you'll be stuck on this planet while I find all the other talismans!"

Hogan looked quickly at Gauno, then at Drax. Both were on opposite sides of him some distance away, and both were unconscious.

"So which will it be, Ki'rath? Who will you choose to protect? Or, more accurately, who will you choose to die?

Coming Thursday: What will Hogan's decision be? And what new powers has he unlocked with the second talisman?

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