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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 was brought to the Du'imite palace again to watch as the two sides agreed to a cease-fire. But soon after, the trap was sprung: A'nake - in the Du'imite emperor's body - had tricked the A'nakites into giving him their talisman.

Chapter 54: Unholy Alliances

Hogan had just recovered from the blast that the Du'imite emperor - who had obviously been possessed by A'nake - had connected with when he once again saw the scepter in the emperor's hand pointed at him.

"I must say," A'nake gloated, "after all the talismans you've accumulated, all the powers you've acquired - you still don't have a clue when I'm around, do you?"

Commander A'ris could only stand next to the usurped emperor in abject shock. "Impossible!" he shouted. "How could you overtake his eminence's body? He was surrounded by guards at all times! And even if you had caught him, he could easily have willed you out. How could you do such a thing?"

A'nake smirked. "Easy. 'Your eminence' let me take his body."

A'ris could barely make a sound.

"That's right. Your proud, courageous leader saw no end to the fighting that was going on between his side and my pets." He glanced over at the A'nakites to his right, who all sneered at the derogatory term. "It just so happened that I infiltrated his throne room just as he seemed to be most desperate. I promised that I would bring victory to the Du'imite side if I could just 'borrow' his vessel for a short while, and the emperor agreed."

A'nake's captives were in total shock. "This is outrageous!" A'ris screamed. "There is no way the leader of our people would align himself with the likes of you!"

A'nake chuckled. "Ah, that's what he's led you to believe for so long. In truth, the two of us have had our little pact for the last week."

"The last week?" Hogan repeated. "So that means you were the one who sent me to the A'nakite base?"

A'nake laughed openly. "Just as I said, Ki'rath - you're always totally clueless when I'm playing you like a fool."

"I wouldn't get so cocky," Hogan retorted. "So you have the fifth talisman. Big deal. What are you gonna do, use it on us? It won't work on the A'nakites, and A'ris and aren't going to just stand here and listen to the chant."

The emperor's body started to levitate. "Quite perceptive, Ki'rath. Maybe you aren't so clueless after all. But I learned a thing or two from you when we last met. Specifically, just because I have the talisman doesn't mean I need to use it right away." A'nake was now in mid-air, floating ominously between the opposing sides. "So I'm off to my little workshop - which I know none of you have ever found. I'd invite you to come along, but I've got too much work to do." A'nake again pointed his scepter at Hogan. "But first, there's some business I must take care of right now. That first shot got you pretty badly, didn't it, Ki'rath? Let's see what happens when I turn this thing on high." The gem at the top of the scepter glowed for a few seconds, then unleashed a second beam of energy, much larger than the first, directly at Hogan.

Hogan crossed his arms, defending himself as best he could. But rather than feel the force of the beam, he felt someone shove him out of the way, sending him tumbling to the floor. When he got up to look, he saw Commander A'ris in the same place where Hogan had been standing, his body shaking in pain.

"A'ris!" Hogan shouted. Everyone scrambled to his side.

A'nake, disappointed at the result of his shot but still in a hurry to get out, flew up and out of the palace, leaving a hole in the ceiling where he busted through.

Nobody was paying attention to his escape, though. They were all watching as A'ris was writhing on the floor, the force of the second beam obviously having injured him severely.

"He's going into cardiac arrest," I'theki warned. "The energy from that scepter must've been more than his body could take."

"Isn't there anything we can do to help him?" Hogan asked.

I'theki slowly shook his head. "Even if I knew how to revive him, we don't have any equipment."

A'ris was coughing and sputtering, fully aware that his final seconds were drawing near. "H-Hogan…" he managed to choke out.

Hogan looked down at A'ris, his pupils beginning to dilate.

"I… I was wrong," A'ris said. "We got ourselves into this w-war. It was our own…" A'ris clenched his teeth in agony.

"A'ris!" Hogan shouted. "Fight it! Don't go out like this!"

"I'm… sorry." A'ris groaned. "Please… you must… defeat A'nake… do it for me… for all of us…" A'ris took one final breath, and his body went limp.

"A'ris!!" Hogan shouted again. "A'ris, talk to me! Please!!"

"It's no good, Hogan," I'theki sighed. "He's gone."

Emotions were once again mixing inside of Hogan. Sadness at the lost of the commander, guilt that he had sacrificed his life for Hogan when he could've easily defended himself, anger at the emperor for causing all of this. But underneath it all, he felt a new sense of duty, as if A'ris' passing was giving him new motivation to eliminate A'nake once and for all.

"So where is this 'workshop' of his?" Hogan asked.

"Nobody knows," I'kali replied plaintively. "There are all sorts of rumors as to where it could be - in the northern mountains, the desert in the southwest, even underwater. We were so busy fighting each other that nobody ever bothered to look for it."

"Great. So we have no idea where A'nake's going, then?"

The three A'nakites left in the room shook their heads in unison.

"Damn it. In that case, we'd better come up with some sort of plan."

"I'm afraid we have bigger problems than that," I'theki said.

Hogan rolled his eyes. "A'nake's got the fifth talisman, we have no idea where he's going, and you're telling me we have bigger problems?"

I'theki nodded. "Look around." Hogan scanned the room, then quickly understood what I'theki meant. "The Du'imite emperor's gone, A'ris is dead, and the only other people in this room are the four of us. Do you think the guards will just let us stroll out of here? Even if we weren't the enemy, they'd still hold us for questioning."

"And meanwhile," Hogan continued I'theki's train of thought, "A'nake runs off scot-free. Crap." He pondered the situation for a moment, then noticed the hole in the ceiling. "Wait. I've got an idea. I'kali, grab my hand. I'theki, take my other hand. Your eminence, grab my shoulders."

Unsure of what was going on, each of the A'nakites followed their directions.

"Everyone have a tight grip?" Hogan asked. "All right. Hold on tight." Aiming for the breach, Hogan jumped up in the air and took flight. He was much slower than before because of the extra weight he was carrying, but Hogan finally managed to go through the hole and out of the palace. "Anywhere specific you want me to take us all?"

"The A'nakite palace," Emperor I'taina replied. "We can plan our next move there. It's to the northwest."

Hogan nodded. "All right. Let's get out of here." Slower than normal but still faster than most humans are capable of moving, Hogan began to fly to the northwest.

It took about two hours for the whole trip, but finally Hogan and the A'nakites had made it to the A'nakite capital of Ni'mar. The emperor directed Hogan to their own palace - which was similar in size and magnitude of the one in Lo'pon - and they landed at the doorway.

"Come," I'taina beckoned. "We shall discuss this matter inside."

I'taina's throne room was somewhat more ornate than the one they had just come from, with banners lineing the walls and statues of armor on each side of the red carpet leading to the throne, but at this point Hogan wasn't worried about the trappings of royalty.

"I bet A'nake's already in his laboratory," I'kali sighed. "The question is, what does he have there that he needed so much?"

"What do you mean?" I'theki asked.

"Think about it. If A'nake really wanted to use the talisman, he would've gone to the nearest town and used it there. So why is he wasting his time in his lab?"

The group thought about that question for a minute, then Hogan had an epiphany. "I think I got it. Didn't A'nake cast some kind of spell on himself before he could be captured?"

"That's right," I'kali answered. "He managed to escape by performing an exorcism on himself, separating his soul from his… his body!!"

"You mean that A'nake's body is still around?" I'taina asked, shocked.

"I'm sure of it," I'kali replied. "His escape was probably a three-step process - first, he casts a protection spell on himself so nothing could happen to his body. Then, he performs a homing spell to send his body to a specific location - like his lab - and then he performs the exorcism!"

"And if A'nake does reclaim his own body," I'theki added, "then we're in serious trouble. His spirit form is powerful enough, but he's even stronger with his real body."

"That's exactly what I didn't want to hear," Hogan sighed.

"Your eminence!" a voice shouted from outside. An A'nakite guard ran into the throne room, kneeled down in front of the emperor, and presented them with a red cube. "We just found this communication cube a moment ago."

"Who sent it?" I'taina asked.

"I don't know, your eminence," the guard replied, "I never saw the person who left it. But there was a note attached saying… it's from A'nake."

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