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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 and Dr. Sconder joined in a plan to destroy Hogan by using a clone of him as a host body for A'nake. Meanwhile, Hogan finally got the restraining collar off and has offered to teach Rena how to fight with her spirit.

Chapter 28: Dealing With The Devil

"Fighting with your spirit's a lot like fighting normally," Hogan explained, his hands aflame as he stood on a large rock formation with Rena. "It takes some practice, but eventually you get to a point where it's kinda automatic."

"So, what do I do?" Rena asked.

"Well, it's like this. First, close your eyes." Rena complied. "Clear your mind of everything. A total blank slate." He saw Rena take a deep breath, then continued. "Now, imagine your whole body as just a big blob of energy. Focus on that energy to build it up."

He watched as Rena clenched her eyes tight, deeply focused on trying to build up her spirit energy. Then, with a sigh, she slouched. "I can't do it," Rena whined. "I'm not feeling anything."

"You're trying too hard, I think." Hogan moved to Rena's side. "You've got to relax. Let it just well up inside of you. Don't think about it too much."

"OK, let me try again." She shook the nerves out of her arms and resteadied herself. She closed her eyes again, not clenching this time. The deep breaths continued. It took a few minutes, but Hogan started to notice Rena's hands glow just a bit. The glow became brighter as time passed, until her hands her immersed in a pale blue light.

"That's it!" Hogan shouted happily. "You're doing it!"

Rena's eyes snapped open, looking at her hands. In doing so, her concentration lapsed, and the glow died away.

"Wow..." Rena breathed. "I don't believe I just did that."

"Try it again, but this time don't stop. And when you're ready to strike, hit me in the chest."

"You want me to hit you?"

"Yeah. Don't worry, it won't hurt me too bad."

"All right." Rena started once again. She felt the energy come more quickly to her now, since she knew how to harness it. Still, it took about 20 seconds for the glow to reach the same level it had been before. Moments later, she unleashed a right cross that landed directly in Hogan's chest. The force of the blow actually caused Hogan to recoil.

"Not bad. If that collar was still on me you probably would've knocked me into next week."

"Really?" Hogan nodded. "I can't believe I did it so quickly."

"Hey, by the end of my first day I was sending my teacher to the ground with one punch. It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it."

"This'll really help when I have to start hunting. I won't have to make arrows anymore."

Hogan smiled. "It does come in handy."

The rest of the afternoon was spent scouting the landscape for wildlife. They had managed to kill a couple small animals, but nothing of the scale of the cat Hogan bagged earlier. As the sun began to sink into the horizon, Rena seemed uncomfortable about something.

"You OK?" Hogan asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine." Rena was silent for a few seconds. "Well... I mean, I wanted to ask you..."

"Yeah? What is it?"

"Hogan, do you have a girlfriend?"

"Gi-girlfriend?" Hogan stammered. "Well, y- yeah, I d-... I mean, I did, but... I dunno. She was my girlfriend, but I had to leave her when all this started. It's probably been a couple years on Earth since then."

"Did you love her?"

"Of course! ...Well... I liked her. We didn't really go out on dates or anything, but I did have feelings for her."

Rena frowned. "Oh, OK. Just wondering."

Hogan smirked. "You're jealous, aren't you?"

"Me? Jealous? Why would I be jealous?"

"Oh, come on. Why else would you ask if I had a girlfriend."

Rena smiled coyly. "'Cause I was curious!"

"Sure. Look, for both our benefit, I suggest we drop this subject before it gets too... well... cozy."

"Fine," Rena said unenthusiastically. They scouted for a while longer, during the last hour or so of sunlight. Then Rena suddenly came alive. "I think I see something."

"Really?" Hogan asked. "Where?"

"Down there, by those bushes." Rena pointed out towards a small bunch of shrubs. "It doesn't look like anything I've seen around here before, though."

Hogan looked out where Rena had shown. There he saw a glowing yellow figure. His heart skipped. "A'nake!" he whispered loudly. "Rena, I want you to stay right here, all right?"

"Why? What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong... yet."

With a leap, Hogan was flying down towards the ageless spirit. His hands charged up, he hit A'nake with a dive-bomb attack. It caused the evil apparition to recoil several feet.

"It looks like we meet again, Ki'rath," A'nake said, in an oddly passive tone. "I haven't seen you in, what, five days? I've missed you."

"Cut the crap," Hogan barked. He brandished the talisman, hanging around his neck on a small gold chain. "You're a little late, you know; I already have the talisman, and if you think you've got the slightest chance of taking it from me, you're in denial."

"I wouldn't be so quick to make that assumption, Hogan." Hogan resumed his fighting stance. "There's no need for that - I have no interest in sparring with you for the time being."

Hogan was understandably wary. "What do you want, then?"

"Ah, I simply wish to strike a bargain with you. You see, Ki'rath, for once I come in peace, but it is your decision as to whether or not I leave in the same tidings." A'nake chuckled. "Although I only arrived on this planet today, I heard that you have recently acquainted yourself with one Ralmon Sconder. I also know that the two of you had a bit of a scuffle, which you somehow managed to win."

Hogan scowled. "What about it?"

"Well, Ki'rath, it seems that the good doctor was more than a little miffed at the way you defeated him in such a humiliating way. He's a tad narcissistic, wouldn't you agree?" Hogan remained silent. "Anyway, he actually has gone so far as to use a sample of your blood to construct a clone of you, which he now wants me to take over once it matures so that I can destroy you."

Hogan smirked. "How nice of you to tell me all this ahead of time."

"Ah, but I haven't mentioned my little bargain yet." A'nake gleamed for a moment, chuckling to himself about the predicament he was about to put Hogan in. "I know that you have somewhat of an attachment to your past - namely to your father. What if I were to tell you that I know something about your father that would completely bowl you over?"

"My father?!" Hogan repeated, flabbergasted. "What is it?"

"Well, that's the bargain," A'nake explained. "Now, I'm not going to ask you to simply hand the talisman over to me. I know you'd never do that. What I do want you to do is to take that talisman... and break it in half."

Hogan frowned. "Why would I do that?"

"That is simply your end of the bargain. You give me one half of the talisman. You keep the other half. When the time comes for me to usurp this clone's body, I shall do so, and we'll head out to some uninhabited area and have it out. Winner take all. In return, I will enlighten you on some of your family background."

"And if I refuse?"

"If you refuse," A'nake said, "then you will simply have to glean this information from another source. But that will prove to be an impossible task; the Ki'rathians have been expressly forbidden to tell the Ki'rath of his ancestry."

Hogan shook his head. "How do I know you're not making all this up?"

"Because, Ki'rath, while I may be seen in your eyes as evil, I do not lie. I'm powerful enough that I don't have to."

A sigh escaped Hogan's mouth. It seemed like the most completely idiotic thing to do, but for some reason he felt inclined to take A'nake up on his offer. "When are you coming back?"

"In five weeks. So you can forget about the full moon bailing you out this time."

Hogan looked down at the ground. Even though his conscience had to this point been reliable, he couldn't fathom putting himself at such a disadvantage. The talismans were what made him strong enough to defeat the evil spirit, and now he was about to give up that advantage. He reached at the talisman hanging around his neck, taking it into his hand.

"Why are you doing this?" Hogan asked. "Why are you playing these little games when you could be fighting me for the talisman? Giving you half doesn't help you any. What do you have to gain?"

"Hogan, if you really knew where you came from," A'nake replied, "Then you would become so paralyzed with emotion that destroying you would be like swatting a moth. Besides, I think you deserve to know the truth about yourself before I killed you."

Hogan paused for one last moment in thought. His mind was imploring him to refuse, to tell A'nake to go pound sand. But his heart was encouraging him to accept this offer, and put an end to the mystery behind his past. With a quick tug, the small chain that bore the talisman came off his neck. "All right. I've made my decision."

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