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Guardian of the Ceremony

A Serial by Tim Connolly

In the last chapter, Hogan completed the second test, traversing a narrow pathway against unpredictable wins. Swifter than ever and now able to fly, he faces his final challenge.

Chapter 6: Gridlock

It never occurred to Hogan that the temple may have had a basement. But on his next day of testing, Ilgaira led him to a downward staircase near the back of the temple.

"Wait here, Hogan." he said. "I will tell you telepathically when you are to come down." Ilgaira made his way down the steps. Hogan had to stand at the top of the entryway before he felt Ilgaira's voice in his mind. You may now enter the bottom level.

Hogan slowly descended. As the ceiling above him opened up, he saw that the stairs were leading to some circular platform with planks going in each of four directions. As his feet left the staircase, he looked around the room. He felt like he had just been dropped into a Pac-Man game: The cellar was a network of hubs and routes, much like the one he was standing on. The stairway had somehow disappeared, which unnerved Hogan somewhat. In the distance, he saw Ilgaira standing far away at another spot.

In order for the Ki'rath to defend himself from A'nake's attacks, Ilgaira spoke into Hogan's mind, he must first learn to trust his instincts and his feelings. To pass this test, you must find the correct route that will lead you to the circle I am standing on. Your heart will tell you which paths are safe and which are not. But be warned; if you attempt to cross a trapped pathway, it will break away.

Hogan looked down. Unlike yesterday, there was no ground to break his fall. "How far down is the drop?" he asked.

This pit is bottomless, Hogan. If you fall, you will drop straight into the planet's core.

Hogan's stomach did a somersault. There was no more playing around this time.

There are multiple routes to this destination; however, at least one path at each circle is trapped. And once you cross a path, you may not use it again. When you pass this test, you will be ready to learn how to fight A'nake. I wish you luck, Hogan.

Hogan took a deep breath, shaking all of the jitters away from him. The grid seemed to be eight circles across and eight long, with him standing one circle down and in. Ilgaira seemed to be in the same position in an opposite corner. He knew that the first path would be the hardest, as he would have four to choose from. Sighing resolutely, he took a step towards an eastward path.

Before he stepped off the circle, though, he stopped. They wouldn't make it so obvious, would they? He stepped away, rethinking his strategy. Instead, he took the opposite route, walking away from Ilgaira and towards the edge of the grid.

When he reached the next circle, he made a combination chuckle and sigh. South was the next direction on his mind, and as he came to the next row, he felt it sufficient to continue in that direction one more time. Then, it was three moves to the east, and he suddenly found himself in the center of the field.

Two more moves to the south and two more east followed. He was now standing diagonally from Ilgaira.

"I'm almost there, Illy!" he said, now within earshot of his guide.

"Perhaps. But being close in distance does not necessarily mean we are close to reconciling."

"In other words, I need to go all the way back to the other end first."


"Have you taken this test, Ilgaira?"

"Why would I take the test?" Ilgaira replied. "You are the Ki'rath, not me."

"Hmph. You are no help at all."

"I am not here to give you help. That is why you have a conscience."

Following his hunch, Hogan began moving to the north. He continually looked back to see Ilgaira slip further and further away. After four northward moves, he sensed a bend in the road, and went west once before moving to the northern border. It was then three spots east, and Hogan found himself at the northeastern corner of the field. He didn't anticipate another quick bend, so he began returning southward. One route. Then another, and another. His instinct led him again and again down the south path. Before long, he had gone all the way across the grid. Ilgaira once again stood mere yards away from him.

The only direction left to him was west. He started in that direction, but stopped just short of the pathway. It's the only path left, he thought. Why am I so reluctant to go that way?

On a hunch, Hogan reached into his pocket. He pulled out a quarter, from the pocket change he had when he was spirited away from Earth. He held it in his palm for a moment, then tossed it onto the westward route.

When the coin landed on the path, it shattered like an anvil through glass.

Hogan wiped the sweat off his brow. He was now stranded in the southeast corner of the field. Ilgaira was tantalizingly close, but he couldn't go back on the north path and the west one was a trap. I don't see how I'm supposed to get to Ilgaira's circle, he thought. Wait a second. Maybe I don't see it because... That's it! I'm not supposed to see it!

Hogan turned at a forty-five degree angle, facing Ilgaira's circle. Well, either I'm right or I'm in for a tumble, he thought. Slowly, tentatively, Hogan began to walk towards the edge of his circle, coming closer and closer to the oblivion in front of him. Taking one final deep breath, he extended his right foot and moved forward again.

The foot made contact with ground.

Hogan looked down. He appeared to be standing on absolutely nothing, but his platform was firm enough. He brought his left foot over to take another step forward, now standing completely on an invisible pathway, then another step, and another. Ilgaira was coming closer and closer.

With one final step, Hogan's left foot touched the same yellow circle that Ilgaira had been waiting on at the beginning.

"Yes!!" he shouted, his fists in the air as if he had just won a marathon.

Ilgaira smiled. "Congratulations, Hogan. You have passed the three tests of the Ki'rath. You have accepted your destiny, and it appears that destiny has accepted you."

The abstraction faded from the room. It turns out that Hogan had been performing his test in some sort of holographic chamber. The entire room was made completely of solid ground; he even saw the quarter he had thrown some 50 feet away.

Hogan was furious. "You... you tricked me!!"

"If you were to learn to trust your spirit," Ilgaira explained, "I first had to convince you that your life was at risk. Be assured, Hogan, that when you fight A'nake, there will be no illusion. Your life, as well as the lives of countless others, will indeed be at stake."

They both made their way back to the staircase, which had been raised up off the floor to get it out of the way.

"Now you have completed the first part of your training, Hogan," Ilgaira said. "You now have the strength, quickness, balance, and most of all, the courage to face the ageless evil A'nake."

Hogan smirked. "Thanks, Ilgaira. Now comes the fun part. Learning how to kick some ageless ass."

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Final chapter

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