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Guardian of the Ceremony

A Serial by Tim Connolly

In the previous chapter, Hogan used the Draconian talisman to save Prince Drax's like. Now he is on his way to another planet, completely blind to what he will face.

Chapter 20: Desolation

For the few seconds that passed while Hogan traveled through the wormhole, the gateway to the next planet opened from the lightning bolt that had struck him at the Ki'rathian altar, he thought about exactly what was going to face him on this new world. This was the first time he would be on a planet that was completely foreign to him, and without anyone to help him along the way.

The lightning struck on the new planet, depositing Hogan on its surface. He had grown accustomed to the white that consumed his field of vision the moments after he landed, gradually fading away to reveal the area he had been spirited to. When his vision returned, all the he saw around him was rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. He turned around - it was the same thing. It reminded him of the rock formations that he had seen on Earth in the southwest, although these stones were given a bit of a green tint, rather than red.

He took a small step forward. The sky was dark; the moon hovering overhead was in gibbous form, but he didn't know if it was waxing or waning. It must have been the middle of the night, and there was no way of knowing if there was any civilization nearby. He took a few more steps, as if he knew where he was going. The planet - or at least the region he was in - seemed completely desolate, with no sign of life anywhere. Of course that damn lightning bolt had to drop me in the middle of nowhere, Hogan thought.

Hogan looked around him again. His stomach rumbled. He hadn't eaten since he had left Earth, or slept for that matter. It was beginning to take a toll on him - he felt as if he was running on fumes. "Hello!" he shouted, his voice echoing against the boulders surrounding him. He waited almost a minute before calling out again. "Can anyone hear me?" He waited again, but no answer could be heard.

Well, I guess I might as well pick a direction and start walking, he thought. He looked around one last time, and began making his way across the wasteland.

The hardest part for him was trying to keep his mind sharp. He had no sense of timing on this planet, no way of knowing if he had been hiking for an hour or just a few minutes. The only timepiece available to him was the moon starting to favor the left side of the sky, but even then that gave him no true indication of direction. He wound up signing songs to himself, running through every song he knew by heart, and even a few he didn't.

His feet were aching; the sneakers he had been wearing since the beginning of his adventure were obviously not made for the rugged terrain he was crossing. He knew his clothes - the same leather jacket and burgundy shirt he had worn when he had been whisked off to Ki'rathia - must have been heavily soiled by now, considering all the fighting he had been doing recently. Why was Gauno so quick to send me here? He thought, trying to keep his brain going so he wouldn't have an excuse to stop. If this planet is so slow, I could've at least gotten some rest and something to eat before leaving. I'd have lost less than a fraction of a second out here.

His stomach growled again. He was really starting to develop some hunger pangs. Never having been taught about how to survive without food, he didn't know which would be more helpful - thinking of food to somehow trick his body into thinking he was eating, or putting food out of his mind and not tempt himself with something he obviously lacked.

Onward he walked. The land stretched out like an infinity; there still was no sign of life anywhere, human or otherwise. No rivers, no trees, nothing but rocks, the same sorts of rocks he had seen when he first landed on the planet. For a while, he accused his mind of playing tricks on him, replaying the same patches of terrain he'd already traversed in some maniacal cycle.

His thoughts began to drift on his home back on Earth. MIt seems like only yesterday, he thought. I was on Earth, with Nadine, watching that concert, finding that first talisman, fighting A'nake for the first time. He blinked a couple of times. Wait a second. It was yesterday. Dammit, Hogan, you're losing your mind out here.

A few minutes later, he stopped walking in front of a medium-sized boulder. He sighed. He must have been walking for at least two hours, and seemed no closer to finding anyone else as he had been when he started. Weary in mind and body, he decided that his journey could wait for a while as he rested. He took off his leather jacket - it was cool outside, but temperate enough to be out in a T-shirt - wadded it up into a make-shift pillow, and laid it against the rock. Sighing again, he got down on the rocky ground, swept away any pebbles in the vicinity, and lay on his side, his head resting as best it could on the jacket. Crossing his arms, Hogan closed his eyes and took in another deep breath. Despite the discomfort of laying against such a hard surface, the fatigue his body felt outweighed it, and Hogan found himself quickly drifting off into sleep.

He didn't know how much time had passed while he slept, but it must have been several hours. As his eyes began to slowly open, he saw the sun's piercing rays shine directly into them. He squinted as he moved his head down, bringing the sun out of his view. When he did so, he realized that he was not in the same spot he had been in when he had fallen asleep the night before. He readjusted himself to a seated position, looking around him. The rocky scenery passed by quickly, and he heard the dull putter of an engine under him. He was obviously on a vehicle of some sort, although he had no idea where the destination was or who was taking him there. He coughed once.

Seconds later, he heard a young voice. "Hey, look, he woke up!"

Hogan twisted his head to look be hind him. His face was met by the face of a young girl, like something out of a school picture: blond hair in a ponytail, blue eyes, freckles dotting her face. She wasn't smiling, though, and when their eyes met, the girl swiftly turned back around. He looked behind him the other way, and saw the back of the brown-haired head of the boy that was driving the craft.

"Uh, hi," Hogan said, meekly. He climbed up on his knees, turning around so that he was facing forward. He was riding in an open-air truck, with no roof overhead and no walls to fence in the back. It reminded him of the carts they would use to take injured football players off the field. "Where are we going?" Neither child answered his question. "Uhh... thanks for picking me up over there. My name's Hogan. What're yours?"

Hogan's words were again met with only the drone of the engine.

"Where are we going?" Hogan asked again.

"Quiet," the driver responded.

Hogan shrugged. "As long as there's food when we get there." He sat back down against the back of the truck bed. "What is this place, anyway?"

Suddenly, he felt the truck come to a halt. The engine stopped. He heard the kids climb out of the car, and soon saw them come around back.

"You're coming with us," the boy said. He did not sound amused.

"But where are we?" The boy grabbed Hogan by the ankle, tugging it towards him. "OK, OK! I'm going! Geez!" He crawled forward, then dismounted the truck. Times like this I'm glad I don't have a younger brother, he thought.

The landscape looked just as lifeless as the rest of the planet. The two youngsters leaned up against a rock, trying to push it. "It's not moving," the girl said.

"Come on, you need to push harder!" the boy retorted. They both pushed hard against the side of the rock for reasons unknown to Hogan. They struggled as hard as they could, but the rock didn't budge.

"Allow me," Hogan said. His strength had been waning, but he had enough left to shove the rock to the side. It flopped over, revealing a large hole. The youngsters nudged him towards it.

"Get in."

"But where does thi-"

The boy shoved him forward. "I said get in!"

Hogan looked down. There wasn't any light coming from inside the hole. For all he knew, this might be his grave. He sighed, stepping forward, slipping down the hole.

Next week: Hogan finds out what lies inside this pit, as well as why the children acted so surly towards him.

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