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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 turned down A'nake's offer of learning about his father in exchange for half of the talisman. Back at the hideout, Rena confessed that she had fallen in love with him.

Chapter 30: Ki'rath vs. Ki'rath

The five weeks leading up to the confrontation with A'nake consisted mainly of the same routine: Hogan took Rena up to the surface to hunt and help her develop her spirit power, and at night they helped work on some way to outfox A'nake when it was time to fight it. The end of the fifth week arrived, and there was a palpable tension in the dank air of the hideout. Just before it was time to leave, Hogan and Rena stood next to the exit hatch, addressing the children one more time.

"OK, kids," Hogan announced. He wore a small streak of green war paint over his left cheek. "I have a few things I need to say before I go. First of all, if I don't come back by sunrise tomorrow, then you should assume I'm dead. Remember, A'nake might try to pretend it's me if it comes across this place, so don't trust anyone who looks like me but doesn't have this paint on." Hogan paused for a moment, letting his instructions sink in to the crowd. "All right. Second, besides Rena, who is the oldest person here?"

A hand raised in the middle of the crowd. A blond-haired boy spoke up. "I am. My name's Yavi."

"All right, Yavi. If we don't come back, you're in charge." Yavi nodded. "OK. One more thing. Even if I make it back, I'm still going to have to leave in about nine days. I don't want to jinx myself here, but when I go, one way or the other... I'm really going to miss you guys."

The other children responded in turn. "We'll miss you too. Thanks, Hogan."

Hogan sighed. "All right. Are you ready, Rena?"

Rena nodded, holding up a large sack in her hand. "As ready as I'll ever be."

"OK. Let's head out. Kids, you take care of yourselves while we're gone."

Hogan opened the hatch, and the two of them left the hideout.

There was still some time left before sunset, but Hogan and Rena wanted to set up before A'nake arrived. They reached the same rock formation where they had encountered A'nake five weeks before. Hogan landed on top of the boulders and let Rena down there, then flew out another 100 yards before coming down onto the terrain. All that was left now was to wait.

After an hour, the sun was finally beginning to disappear in the horizon. Hogan scanned the area for a while, and soon spotted something approaching in the air from the north. As it came closer and closer, Hogan shook off the remaining nerves in his system. He charged up his fists, readying himself for battle.

The figure slowly closed in on the area where Hogan stood, and as Hogan got a better view, he noticed that it did indeed look just like him. He was even wearing the same leather jacket, burgundy shirt, and blue jeans that he had worn throughout much of his tenure as the Ki'rath.

The clone landed 15 feet in front of Hogan. "Well, Ki'rath, I'm glad to see you here on time," he said. "You know, you could have just hid from me like a coward and let the next nine days elapse hoping I wouldn't find you, but of course - you have way too much honor to do that."

Hogan sneered. "Let's do this, all right?"

"Oh, don't worry - we'll get to your destruction in due time. But first, I want to ask you something."


"What do you know about your father?"

Hogan burned with anger. It was as if his father was Hogan's one weakness, A'nake was exploiting it, and he was letting it do so. "My father was a good man. He taught me right from wrong. He worked hard to provide for me and my mom. That's all there is to it."

"Oh, Hogan," A'nake said plaintively. "He was much more than that - but you're not interested in hearing it. I offered you everything you ever wanted to know about him, and you turned me down." A'nake began charging up energy of its own into the clone's fists. Its entire body glowed with power. "I'll give you one last chance. I won't even ask for anything in return this time. Just say the word and I'll tell you everything. Consider it a last request for the condemned."

Hogan quickly charged at A'nake, completely enraged. "Go to Hell!"

A'nake's host body barely flinched. With one quick jab, the clone punched Hogan right in the abdomen, knocking all the air out of him and sending him back over 50 feet. He gasped for air. The clone zipped over to Hogan, picked him up, and slammed him into a nearby boulder.

From atop the rock formation, Rena watched in horror as A'nake threw Hogan around like a rag doll. Meanwhile, A'nake was barely exerting itself.

Every one of Hogan's attacks was blocked. Every charge was dodged. For a short moment, A'nake even stood right in front of Hogan, letting him have free reign on its host body. Despite a flurry of punches, A'nake didn't budge. Exhausted, Hogan fell to his knees in front of A'nake.

"I've always wondered what it would be like to invade the Ki'rath's body," A'nake taunted. "It's as close to being a god as a human could ever dream of." It flew up in the air, then dropped back into Hogan's chest, causing him to slide across the ground. "And when my own power becomes amplified by yours, you end up with... well... you tell me."

Hogan barely had the strength to get back up on his feet. It was like the concert hall again, when he and A'nake first locked horns. All that was left at his disposal was to put the plan that he and Rena had made in motion.

He jumped into the air, flying directly over Rena's head some 100 feet above her. Hogan's clone then charged at him, sounding a battle cry along the way.

"Wait!!" Hogan shouted. "I call for a rest."

A split-second before A'nake was going to crash into Hogan's body again, it stopped. "What do you mean, a rest?" it asked, annoyed.

"I think it's pretty obvious that I can't hurt you, now that you've taken over a duplicate of my body." Hogan smirked. "I just want to ask you something before you finish me off."

A'nake chuckled. "What is it?"

"It's obvious that you and Dr. Sconder teamed up to destroy me. You told me he was a bit of an egotist. What did he brag about?"

"You no longer have to worry about the good doctor," A'nake replied. "I've already killed him."

"I figured."

"But since you're asking - and since these are the final moments of your existence - I'll humor you. Ralmon Sconder said he had you in a perfect position for defeat. He'd invented an energy-siphoning collar to steal all your powers, then transfer them to him at the press of a button."

"So you know about the collar?" Hogan asked.

"I sure do."

"Thanks for sharing." He looked down. "Now, Rena!"

Perched on the rock formation was Rena, armed with a crossbow. There was a specially-made arrow loaded into it - instead of a pointed head, the old collar that Hogan had worn was attached to the front. Before A'nake knew what was going on, she fired the crossbow. Within half a second, it clamped itself around A'nake's neck.

"You... bastard!!!" A'nake screamed, the collar cancelling out A'nake's powers, sending him crashing onto the formation.

Hogan looked down at his clone, sprawled up against the rocks. It looked like he had been killed, but Hogan flew down to investigate.

"Is... is he...?" Rena asked.

"I don't know," Hogan replied, lightly kicking him. "This could just be a trick." He crouched down to get a close look at the body.

Suddenly, a bright flash of light and a burst of energy sent Hogan and Rena recoiling. Rena slipped off the rock formation; as she fell, Hogan managed to grab her wrist, leaving her hanging over the edge.

"Hogan!!" Rena shouted. "Help me!"

"I've got you, Rena! Just don't let go!"

With a heave, Hogan pulled Rena back onto the formation. He got back up on his feet to see A'nake separated from the clone and hovering directly above him.

"Did you think this was over?!" A'nake boomed, obviously enraged by the trick that Hogan and Rena had just pulled. "Did you think that collar would be enough to defeat me? All it did was negate the clone's powers, which I admittedly was relying on most of the time. Now that that body is no longer of use to me, though, that still doesn't mean you have any chance against me. Even without the Ki'rath's powers, I can still easily defeat you."

Hogan gave A'nake another smirk, charging up his fists with spirit energy. "We'll just see about that."

In a flash, Hogan leapt back into the air to confront A'nake once again.

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