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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 reluctantly agreed to fight Liarna for the opportunity to escape. They were both led into a large arena, where the signal has just been given to start.

Chapter 24: A Clever Trick

When Varzen signaled for the duel to begin, the crowd's roar was almost enough to give Hogan a concussion. He barely had the mental resources to see the Liarna had already jumped in the air, her sword behind as she apparently readied herself to end the battle with one swift blow.

A split second was all the time Hogan had to dive out of the way. He jumped to his left, rolling away from his new opponent. He looked up to see Liarna poised above him.

"Liarna! What are you doing?" He shouted.

"I'm sorry, Hogan," she replied. "I have to do this." She drew the blade back for another attack.

Hogan stopped it with a foot sweep, much as he did on Earth against A'nake's host body. She fell to the ground, giving Hogan a chance to scramble back onto his feet and get back into some sort of offensive stance.

"You know I don't want to hurt you," he said. "There's got to be some way for us to work this thing out."

Liarna flipped back onto her feet. "That's the problem. There isn't." She began swinging her sword at Hogan, Hogan barely having the chance to dodge each slash. "You can't do anything with that collar on you, and that means I have to take matters into my own hands."

Hogan retreated, locating a large stone pipe. He leaped over it and crouched down, hiding behind it. "Liarna, please. If you kill me, all the rest of the talismans will be easy pickings."

Liarna ran over to the pipe. Hogan tried to roll it back onto her, but it was moving far too slowly for it to be of any use. She easily stepped out of the way. "You don't seem to be interested in my side of the story at all."

Hogan stood back up, encountering a series of kicks and punches from his opponents to accompany the occasional swings of her sword. He suffered some blows to his face and stomach, and the sword managed to make contact against his forearm, drawing blood.

"What's your side?" he asked.

"Those kids," Liarna explained. "They don't even know where I am, much less what we're doing here."

Hogan managed to uncork a right cross to Liarna's cheek. It didn't have any spirit energy behind it, but it was enough to cause her to recoil a little. "I'll take care of them. I promise."

"No you won't. You'll let them starve while you go out on your little scavenger hunt." Liarna slashed again at Hogan's abdomen, missing the flesh but cutting up his tunic.

Hogan turned tail and ran to a nearby pile of boulders, figuring he could better negotiate something if he was out of reach. He climbed the rocks as best he could, and looked down at Liarna. "Listen. I'll do whatever I can to make sure we both stay alive. Just don't do this."

Liarna looked back up at Hogan. "At least one of us is going to die today. If you don't kill me or I don't kill you, we both die. Stop worrying about trying to have it both ways and fight me."

"But I don't want to!"

"I don't care!!" Liarna began to scale the rock formation herself, prompting Hogan to head back down. The chase continued through several of the other obstacles littered around the arena; mainly fences, raised platforms, and other means of separation. All the while, Hogan was more focused on evading and defending himself from Liarna than mounting any sort of attack himself.

Finally, he managed to evade a sword attack from her, and got behind her to put a Full Nelson against her neck. The crowd cheered as Hogan seemed to have the advantage in the duel for the first time.

Liarna grunted in exertion. "Go ahead. Snap my neck."

"This collar is made of aluminum," Hogan snarled back. "Your sword could cut through it like a knife through butter."

"What are you trying to pull?" Liarna asked.

"Look over there, to your right," Hogan replied, maintaining his hold on Liarna. "I'll climb those rocks again and try to jump onto you. You take me down and use your sword to cut off this collar."

"And then what?"

"And then we'll take care of Varzen."

"You really are clueless, aren't you? You want us to take on Varzen? Right here??"

"It's probably our only chance."

Liarna looked back to Hogan, even though her neck couldn't turn that far. "This'd better work." She rammed the butt of her sword into Hogan's stomach, causing him to double over. He saw the blade of her sword come down at him, but rolled away in time again. Climbing up onto his feet again, he scurried over to the boulders once more.

Once again, he saw Liarna, sword raised and ready to attack.

Hogan took a deep breath. Here goes nothing. With a flying leap, Hogan dove off the top of the rocks, headed straight for Liarna. Liarna put her sword out in front of her for protection.

A half-second later, Hogan collided with his opponent. The tip of Liarna's rapier pierced Hogan's left side, poking all the way out the other way.

The crowd cheering for yellow erupted in applause as they both tumbled to the ground.

Liarna pulled the sword out of Hogan's body, his blood thoroughly coating the last six inches of the blade that had punctured him. Hogan rolled onto his back, his body nearly convulsing in pain. With hazy vision, he saw Liarna stand before him.

The crowd began to draw out their hands, everyone's thumbs pointed straight down. They obviously wanted to see Liarna finish the job.

"It looks like we have our winner!!" The announcer declared in an all-too-excited voice.

Liarna grabbed her sword with both hands, firmly grasping the handle. She brought it over her head once again. Hogan closed his eyes, anticipating the final strike. He swallowed hard.

Liarna began her swing downward. The steel blade made its way down towards Hogan's bleeding body. She let out a scream of rage as the sword seemed to move in slow motion.

Hogan clenched his feet, ready for Liarna to slice him in half, even if she did agree to his plan.

It felt like an eternity to him, but Hogan soon heard the high-pitched whine of metal against metal, followed by a sharp pain in his right shoulder. Dazed, he opened hs eyes, and looked down towards his neck. The collar remained on him; Liarna's sword did not come close enough to break it off entirely. Instead, it slipped off the outside and stopped itself in Hogan's shoulder.

The crowd was astonished that Hogan had not been finished off, and soon began to jeer them both. Food scraps and stones were thrown at them again.

"What's this?!" the announcer spoke. "It seems our combatants wish to make a mockery of this arena!"

Varzen bolted from his seat, fuming in anger. "This is an outrage!" he shouted. "Guards! Take these prisoners back to their cells! I will see to it personally that they get the executions they deserve."

Almost immediately, the arena floor was flooded with soldiers. Liarna was overwhelmed; the sword was stripped from her hand and she was carried off through the south gate of the stadium. Two other guards dragged Hogan out to the north, leaving a faint red trail where Hogan made contact with the ground.

Hogan had somehow lost consciousness during the incident, and woke up in a daze inside his prison cell. The collar was still on, and now his hands were cuffed behind him. His wounds had been bandaged up; for what reason he didn't know. If they're going to kill me, he thought, why would they patch me up first? Why not just let me bleed to death?

He sat up against the wooden board that served as his bed. "Hello?" he called out. "Is anyone there?"

"Good. You're awake," was the reply. Seconds later, Varzen himself had walked up to Hogan's cell, flanked by two guards. "Well, if it isn't the mighty Ki'rath: battered, bloody... and beaten."

"What are you going to do to me?" Hogan asked, not terribly sure he wanted to know the answer.

"You know, putting you to death would be a waste of so much potential. I'm quite aware of the sort of power you can wield, Hogan. I wouldn't dare throw it away by killing you. In fact, I'm almost glad Liarna didn't kill you earlier today."

"What's going to happen to her?"

"It's already happened. I sliced her throat with the same sword she wanted to use on me."

"No..." Hogan felt his anger well up inside his stomach. "I won't let you get away with this!!" He tried to pounce at Varzen, but again the ball and chain held him in place.

"Oh, I'm not done. You know what time it is, Hogan?"

Hogan scowled in reply.

"It's nighttime. And I bet you'd never guess what phase our moon is in." Varzen reached into the pocket of his shirt, pulling out a large, circular object - the talisman.

"I thought that was supposed to be hidden away," Hogan scoffed.

"That's what I told people so they wouldn't bother to look for it. Truth is, it's been in my robe all along." Varzen fiddled with the sacred object, passing it from finger to finger. "This is so ironic, wouldn't you agree? The one thing you've been searching for, and I've had it all along. And now, I get to do what countless other beings out there could only dream about - bringing the Ki'rath under my power." He looked down at the artifact in his hand. "Guards, would you leave me alone with this boy for a moment?"

The guards silently left. Hogan tried to turn away, but knew it was hopeless. With his hands restrained, there was no way to cover his ears to block the chant.

Varzen chuckled one more time before beginning the ceremony. "Nagasu hi'eria, voraesilifu axina kum, shiri akaraa!"

Hogan fell to the ground, his mind beginning to grow cloudy. A sickening sensation started uncoiling in the pit of his stomach. He felt pinpricks develop across his arms and legs. Varzen laughed cruelly as Hogan began to transform.

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