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Guardian of the Ceremony

A Serial by Tim Connolly

In the previous chapter, Hogan's involuntary transformation was stopped by one of the children from the hideout. As they escaped, they encountered the scientist who created Hogan's collar. With his own collar, the doctor siphoned two ceremonies worth of pwoer from Hogan, and now he intends to use it.

Chapter 26: Keeping a Promise

Hogan and Rena watched in horror. The energy that had been drained out of him through the collar was now being transferred into Dr. Sconder's body. The scientist was smiling psychotically as the power surged into him, crackling like electricity. His straight brown hair was being blown upward. Turquoise flashes pulsed around him.

Amidst the chaos, Hogan could see him growing, both in size and height. His shirt tightened around his torso, showcasing his augmented musculature. Within seconds, the seams began to split, and another moment passed before he completely tore out of it. His feet and legs were getting more massive as well, and the loafers he wore were destroyed as Dr. Sconder quickly outgrew them in all dimensions. His pants tightened up around his enlarged thigh and calf muscles, and tore holes at the knees. All the while, Dr. Sconder continued laughing maniacally; it seemed as if he was thoroughly enjoying what was happening to him.

The laughs became deeper, more ferocious, as the werewolf transformation took over. In one swift motion, Dr. Sconder developed a thick coat of blue-green fur. His finger and toenails thickened into claws. His canine teeth grew into fangs and his ears gracefully became pointed and conical as his face pushed out into a wolf's snout. In a blink, his green eyes became gold. It was then that the power surges around him began to fade, leaving an 8-foot-tall werewolf standing in front of Hogan and Rena.

Rena was petrified, and Hogan was almost as scared.

"Yesssss..." Dr. Sconder hissed, revelling in his new form. "I can feel it... all the power you've had stored in your collar... it's amazing!"

Rena was still frightened beyond belief. "Hogan... what do we do?"

Hogan swallowed down the lump in his throat. "When I give the signal," He explained, "I want you to run to the right, OK?" Rena nodded numbly.

Dr. Sconder focused his sight on the young man standing before him. "Want to know what powers your talisman holds? Here, have a taste!" He drew back his right arm for a moment, then whipped it back at the two of them.

"NOW!!" Hogan shouted at Rena. Rena bolted to the right while Hogan dashed to the left.

Whatever Dr. Sconder had thrown in the pair's direction, it was distorting the appearance of its path. It was as if one was looking through the surface of a river to the other side.

"What is that?" Hogan asked, breathless.

"That is a stasis beam," Dr. Sconder replied, turning in Hogan's direction. "Anyone who comes in contact with it becomes trapped in the space-time continuum. You will remain frozen in that spot forever."

Hogan shuddered. "Thanks for the warning."

Dr. Sconder unleashed another beam at Hogan, who dove out of the way.

Meanwhile, Rena was behind the scientist, lining up another arrow at Dr. Sconder's back. She released the arrow, and it made a direct hit, square at the juncture of his vertebrae. It then bounced off and fell on the ground.

Dr. Sconder turned his head. "You insolent little girl! You actually thought your weapons would have any effect on me?" The transformed scientist turned around, facing the girl. "Now hold still... this won't hurt a bit."

With Dr. Sconder's attention turned away from Hogan, he seized the opportunity. He made a running dash at Dr. Sconder, jumping onto him and grabbing him around his neck.

Dr. Sconder snarled. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Rena!" Hogan shouted. "Aim for the collar!"

Rena loaded up another arrow in her bow and drew the string, just as Dr. Sconder began charging up another stasis beam. They both released their respective attacks at the same time. The beam caught the arrow in mid-flight, leaving it hanging stationary in the air.

"Damn it!" Rena shouted back. "That was my last arrow!"

Dr. Sconder grabbed Hogan from behind him by the arm, and flung him onto the ground. Hogan scrambled to his feet just as the scientist made a swipe at him with his right arm. The impact sent Hogan back another ten feet, plopping him onto the ground.

Hogan was slow to get up; the claws on Dr. Sconder's hands had scratched his face and drawn blood. His face stung with pain. "You're gonna need a lot more than that to take me out."

Dr. Sconder laughed. "I see why you were chosen as the Ki'rath. Even without your powers, you've got enough swagger to fill three kids your age."

Hogan wiped the blood off his face. "I'll bet you feel really good beating someone into a pulp like this when they can barely defend themselves. Why not take off my collar and make it a fair fight?"

There was a short silence from the scientist. "You know, I'm so confident I could destroy you either way that I'm almost willing to take you up on that offer. But no sense in me wasting any extra time or effort on you." Instantly, Dr. Sconder lunged at Hogan. But Hogan saw it coming, ducked under the pounce, and responded with a swift kick to the scientist's groin. Dr. Sconder howled in pain and came crashing to his knees.

Hogan looked defiantly at his opponent. "I guess that region isn't any less vulnerable that before."

"You punk!!" Dr. Sconder snarled. He made another move towards Hogan, this time overtaking him. A crushing kick to the midsection followed by an uppercut left Hogan sprawled in front of Dr. Sconder, barely able to move. The scientist stepped towards the fallen hero.

"How does it feel?" Dr. Sconder asked, menacingly. "How does it feel to know that you will meet your doom at the hands of your own power? Any energy you try to expend will only make me stronger. How does it feel to be in such a predicament?"

Hogan stood for a moment, when an epiphany came to him. He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out the talisman. "Maybe you should ask the same question. Nagasu hi'eria, voraesilifu axina kum, shiri akaraa!"

Another wave of energy suffused Dr. Sconder. Seconds later, he was now 10 feet tall, his fur coat a deep indigo, and almost disproportionately muscular. "Fool! Don't you realize that every time you enact the ceremony, all you do is give all the power to me?"

"That's the point. Nagasu hi'eria, voraesilifu axina kum, shiri akaraa!"

Dr. Sconder grew even larger. He now towered over his two opponents.

Hogan continued repeating the chant over and over. By the fifth time, Dr. Sconder was well over 15 feet tall. As the fifth enhancement progressed, he felt a quick, tight constriction close around his neck, then quickly dissipate. He knew immediately what had happened?

"What?? NO!!" Dr. Sconder screamed as he looked down to see his collar shattered into pieces on the ground. His neck had outgrown its dimensions, and broke it off. As quickly as the power had flooded into him, Dr. Sconder felt it drain from his body, like half his blood was being sucked out. He slumped to the ground, barely conscious, as he returned to his normal, scrawny form.

Hogan approached the scientist. Rena came in as well, drawing a small knife from her belt just in case.

"Now," Hogan said, angrily. "You have two choices. A: You get this collar off of me. B: Rena here takes her knife and jams it right into your heart. Assuming you have one."

Dr. Sconder groaned. "You just don't get it, do you? What good will killing me do for your cause?"

"Probably nothing," Hogan replied. "But it'll mean one less madman for those kids to hide from."

"Then what's stopping you? Nothing. Nothing but your fear of sinking down to our level." Dr. Sconder looked Hogan right in the eyes. "Go ahead, Hogan. Do it. Kill me. Thrust that knife into me. Cover your hands with my blood. It's the only way to protect those children."

Hogan gave the scientist an icy glare, not willing to let Dr. Sconder get the better of him. He looked over to Rena. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

Rena joined Hogan at his side, and they both turned around heading for the exitway.

As they walked out, Dr. Sconder taunted them. "Don't think this is over, Ki'rath. We will meet again. You can bank on that." Dr. Sconder then passed out.

Hogan and Rena escaped the coliseum and began the trek back to the caverns.

"What are you going to do about your collar?" Rena asked.

"We'll figure out how to take it off over at the hideout," Hogan replied.

"The sun's going to rise in a couple of hours, though. The next full moon isn't for 44 days. What are you going to do in the meantime?"

"I promised Liarna..." Hogan said, pausing for a moment. "I said I'd take care of you guys if I had to."

"You'd do that?"

Hogan nodded.

Rena and Hogan continued for a couple minutes in silence.

"You know..." Rena began, "Liarna wasn't really my mom. We just called her that because she was the only one around who'd provide for us."

"That's what I figured."

"I guess we'd better tell the kids there that they have a dad now."

"Yeah," Hogan said, with a faint smile on his face. "They have a dad now."

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