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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 retrieved the talisman and enacted the ceremony, but now finds himself between Gauno and Drax - both heavily injured. Hogan must now decide which of them he will protect from A'nake.

Chapter 19: An Act of Sacrifice

Hogan looked to his left - there lay Gauno, passed out from exhaustion from unleashing the mindshock which allowed him to reach the talisman. He looked to his right - there lay Prince Drax, wingless, also unconscious at the hands of A'nake. He knew he would only have enough time to aid one of them; the evil spirit would certainly kill the other one.

"Have you made your decision?" A'nake asked, its aura beginning to split into two separate entities. "Have you chosen which of your friends will die on account of your absence?" The splitting was complete; both A'nakes went off in opposite directions, towards both of the incapacitated fighters.

Within a split-second, Hogan made his choice. Without Gauno, he could never return to Ki'rathia, and would be unable to pursue A'nake any further. He bolted to the left, chasing after the spirit that was heading for the Ki'rathian shaman. Before A'nake could reach the comatose body, he began a barrage of spirit attacks on it, every one of them hurting the apparition immensely. He was lucky enough to have chosen the form of A'nake that could be damaged.

On the other side of the field, the second A'nake easily reached the body of Drax. Satisfied with its work, it laughed savagely. "It seems the Ki'rath doesn't hold you in too high esteem, your highness," it said, toying with its prey. "But don't worry - I'm sure they will respect you much more when I send you to the afterlife!"

It reached out with its right hand, beginning to charge what would be a fatal attack on the prince.

Meanwhile, Hogan was doing reasonably well against the other half of A'nake, but couldn't buy enough time to get Gauno out of harm's way. A'nake, realizing Hogan's plans and knowing that it would need more than just brute strength to get at him, took its attention away from Hogan for the moment. Instead, it flew up towards a medium-sized tree next to Gauno, charging into it. The force of the attack cracked the trunk of the tree, and it began to fall downward towards Gauno's body.

Hogan's eyes widened when he saw the tree start to fall. "Gauno!!" he shouted. He flew to the falling tree, catching it before it hit the ground, much as he did months ago with the marble column. Seizing its opportunity, A'nake appeared in front of Hogan.

"Ha ha! Your concern for others has once again put you in a precarious position, Ki'rath. Now, I shall finish you off!"

It drew its right hand back, charging its own attack. Hogan, weary from battle, struggled to hang on to the tree trunk. His eyes clenched in concentration.

Suddenly, A'nake began to falter. Its aura started to wane. "What... what's happening to me?" The energy coalescing in A'nake's hands were drifing away, surrounding itself around Hogan. "What are you doing? The energy... I'm getting weaker..."

Hogan finally managed to throw the tree out of the way. "That's my new power," he said. "I can now drain your energy, or at least the energy you charge up."

"No!!" A'nake shouted. "That's impossible!"

Hogan held out his left hand. It glowed with the same yellow light that composed A'nake's shape. "I can't use this power myself, but I can give it to others." He brought his hand on top of Gauno's forehead, which began to glow as well. He felt as if he had become a conduit of energy, transferring it from one vessel to another. Gauno slowly began to regain consciousness.

"You monster!!" A'nake shrieked. "How dare you play one of your tricks on me!"

It charged into Hogan again, but before making contact, Gauno unleashed another mindshock. "Argh!!" A'nake wobbled, unable to fight the pain within its intangible mind. "You'll pay for this, Ki'rath!"

Hogan suddenly looked across the field, where A'nake's second half was finished charging up its attack on a helpless Prince Drax. A ball of light was floating above its outstretched hand, and with one swift motion, it was lobbed at Drax.

The resulting explosion nearly blinded Hogan and Gauno.

It took several seconds for the light - akin to staring at the sun - to die down. When it had, there was no sign of A'nake anywhere.

"A'nake!" Hogan shouted. "Show yourself!" It flew up into the air, trying to spot the spirit's location from above.

"He is gone," Gauno said. "He used that explosion as a cover to escape. He likely has already left this planet's atmosphere."

Hogan's breathing slowed, beginning to relax from the frenzy of the fight. He looked to his right to see Drax's body, lifeless on the grass below.

"Drax!!" He zoomed down to Drax's side, Gauno meeting with him at the same spot. They both beheld the Draconian prince. He wasn't breathing. Hogan pressed his lupine hand against his neck, but couldn't detect a heartbeat. Tears stung in his eyes. "No..." He dropped his head. "It can't be..."

Gauno swept the prince's hair off his forehead. "I am sorry, Hogan.There was nothing we could have done."

"NO!!" Hogan boomed. "I won't let this happen!"

"Hogan, please. The prince gave his life so that this planet and so many others would be sa-"

"Shut up!" Hogan looked at his right arm, the talisman hanging delicately from it. "There is something we can do." He took the charm off and pressed it against Drax's body.

"What are you doing?" Gauno asked.

"The talisman has its own power, right?" He pressed the talisman firmer against the prince's chest. It started to glow. "I'm going to use this power to bring him back to life."

"Hogan, stop. If you use the talisman on Drax, you will lose the power to absorb A'nake's energy. That may be the best weapon we have against it."

"I don't care!" Hogan retorted. "If Drax dies, this planet will lose both its leaders, and it won't matter that A'nake didn't take over this planet. Someone else will." The talisman glowed brighter, redder, more powerful. "Come on, Drax." He felt his own body grow weaker. "Come on."

The glow of the talisman started to spread across Drax's body. Gauno watched in amazement as the talisman began to dissipate. As it did, the transformation affecting Hogan reversed itself and he slowly returned to human form.

When the change was complete, the glowing stopped. The prince was still motionless on the ground.

"Come on, Drax." Hogan whispered. "Do something."

Seconds later, Drax's eyes began to twitch slightly. They opened, sluggishly. "Unnnngh... what happened?"

Hogan and Gauno shared a relieved smile. "We woke you up from your nap."

"You mean I missed everything?" Drax asked. "Damn it. I wanted to see what you looked like as a werewolf."

Hogan giggled. "Well, that's one less talisman to worry about." He removed his hand from Drax's chest, and sure enough - the talisman was gone. "I wasn't able to bring back your wings, though."

"That's OK. They can fit me with a hovering device at the castle." As Drax sat up, bringing his knees up by his chest, a few sprinkles of rain began to fall to the ground. "I guess A'nake is gone."

"He is," Gauno replied, "but we have cast him away once again."

"You do realize that Dracon will be in your eternal debt," Drax said. "I will never be able to repay you for what you've done."

"Don't worry," said Hogan. "Just make us a statue or something." Gauno gave Hogan the slightest twinge of a mindshock. "OK, OK, never mind the statue."

The rain started to fall harder and harder, The sky rumbled with thunder.

"I guess that rain means you guys are leaving," Drax said.

"I am afraid so," Gauno replied. "We must find another talisman before A'nake does. But I wish you well in the future, Prince Drax."

"No, not Prince," Hogan corrected. "King Drax."

Gauno smiled. "Yes. King Drax. Farewell, your highness."

"Goodbye, Gauno. Goodbye, Hogan."

The Ki'rathian and the human began to walk away. As they did, a flash of lightning struck them both, and they disappeared.

They returned on the same altar that had grown familiar to Hogan. Gauno began to step down.

"Hogan, it is now time for me to leave your side. Unfortunately, the next planet you must journey will have one of the slowest chronologies in the universe, even slower than that of your planet. As such, I will be unable to follow you there. But I and my descendants will be here, at this shrine, to pray for your success. I wish you luck in your next quest."

"Wait, Gauno," Hogan interrupted. "Before I go, I need to ask you something."

Gauno turned around. "What is it?"

"When you were unconscious, A'nake said that... when he invaded your body, he could see that... well..."

"There is a word in the Ki'rathian tongue," Gauno replied, predicting the question that would be asked. "Kelarn."

"Kelarn," Hogan repeated. "Does that mean love?"

"No, Hogan, not in the way Earthlings commonly use the word. Where you come from, love is most often the word described for the attraction of one person to another, such as a man would feel for a woman."

"And Kelarn?"

"That is different. It is a sense of duty, of responsibility. It is the pledging of your life for that of another." Gauno took another step away from Hogan. "But more than that, it is the willingness to make that pledge, and the eagerness to fulfill it. As the shaman of Ki'rathia, it is my duty to be your guide through your trials across the universe. But to me, this was not only my duty - it was my aspiration."

Hogan closed his eyes for a moment. "Did... my dad feel Kelarn for me?"

Gauno smiled. "Your father was the inspiration for the term." Gauno stepped off the platform. "Farewell, Ki'rath."

"Farewell, Gauno."

A second bolt of lightning struck, sending Hogan to his next destination.

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