If Garou were to describe his current predicament, the only words that came to mind were “utter chaos”. Only moments ago, he was fighting a gladiator on the backwater world of Juno, keeping his fighting instincts sharp in case he was called upon by the Planetary Trade Organization. But as Garou’s iron fists struck an unsuspecting Kassack relentlessly, time slowed to a crawl. His perception was sped up thousands of times, while his limbs continued to effortlessly flow and dispatch his foe. As the gladiator fell before Garou, the distortion snapped him back into a reality that he could not recognize.
No longer was he in Juno’s colosseum of scrap metal and bloodied dirt. Instead, he was apparently in another brawl, surrounded by bar-stools, pirates, and grunts of the PTO. He faced the pirates with the grunts, blaster shots flying wildly around him. Nausea and vertigo gripped the brawler, his pupils dilating and contracting rapidly. Instinct moved him more than anything else as he ducked and weaved under an approaching pirate’s vicious swings. Garou shut his eyes and ears, focusing only on the sensations of Ki around him and the scent of victory which would inevitably lead him to safety.
Garou’s body began to respond automatically to the various aliens around him. His mind issued only had to process what attacks were flying his way; when an uppercut approached the white wolf’s jaws, Garou flipped backwards and kicked at his assailant’s jaw. A sharp roundhouse targeted his neck as he landed, but the white-haired warrior snatched at the pirate’s ankle before it ever reached its target. With a vicelike grip, Garou dug into the pirate’s flesh and swung him brutally into the surrounding furniture. Garou refused to release his prisoner and weapon, whipping the man brutally into whoever came close.
As the ki signatures in front of him dwindled, Garou slowly relaxed his breathing and allowed his sight and hearing to return. Turning to a sight of astonished PTO soldiers, the white wolf could only raise an eyebrow in confusion. One grunt, perhaps the squad leader, stepped ahead of the rest. His purple and yellow skin stood out in Garou’s memory, somehow familiar and yet more distant that reason dictated. Garou was not one to forget a face, unless it was no longer relevant. Judging by this squad leader’s status as “living”, he was certainly relevant.
“Thank you for your assistance, sir! I had believed your orders here were to remain incognito; have the mission parameters changed, sir?” The leader was apparently versed in talking to his superiors as well. His careful word choice made Garou hesitate – this grunt was smart enough to know that stepping on any officer’s toes would result in an immediate termination of both contract and life, but was also clearly worried about the repercussions of his superior’s actions. Which meant, of course, that Garou was his immediate superior.
Where the fuck am I? Garou thought to himself, staring down what must have been his squad carefully. “Well, do any of these shitheads look like they’re alive to you? No? Then clearly I’m still incognito. What’s the status on our exterior?” Garou’s calm reply masked his uncertainty well, as he broke into a logistics analysis with the squad. Several bystanders had heard the commotion inside the bar, and called the planet’s authorities out of concern. That much was normal – if this were a standard PTO procedure, the authorities would not be coming. Only more PTO agents, planted in order to keep their hold strong. But unfortunately, it seemed like this was not a standard PTO procedure.
“Sir! The Keliouxian Empire has sent a dispatch; they will arrive in 17 minutes according to our interspace highway trackers. What are your orders, sir?” The leader may have learned his manners, but his ability to think was clearly lacking. Which, actually, was perfect for the egg of a plan that Garou now saw hatching in his mind.
“Gather the bodies, except that one,” Garou ordered while pointing at his makeshift club. “Your squad will come with me on The Interloper. We’re ending the mission now, due to recent developments and orders from above.” Garou ordered the grunts with finality, and a glare that told them any backtalk would be met with a stern punishment. He needed to figure out what was going on before anything got out of hand. If he had the misfortune of ruining a well-planned mission, Lord Frost would not treat him kindly. Especially if it involved the acquisition of another empire’s planet.
“Sir, yes Sir!”
At least that squad seems obedient. Now, where the hell is my ship, Garou wondered, stalking off to find what he had called home during his last memories.
The squad leader had said that Kelioux’s dispatch would arrive in 17 minutes. Garou had gone and trusted the splotchy officer, which had proven to be a phenomenally bad decision. He recalled the alien’s face from somewhere, but his amnesia had given great cause for confusion about memorable faces. As it turned out, the PTO soldiers and grunts were not a squad under his control. There was no mission, and there wasn’t even any PTO presence on this piece of shit planet, wherever it actually was. The Keliouxian dispatch had been there from the start, attempting to capture the pirate crew called the Flying Aces.
When their officer caught wind of Garou, they made the most of the confusion and attempted to capture him instead. It was an added bonus for the splotchy fucker that Garou had taken care of that pirate gang for him as well, one that would likely end in a promotion. The only blessing here was that Garou had utterly failed to lead the Keliouxians to his ship – The Interloper was safe for now. Hopefully.
In what felt like less than an hour, Garou had gone from reveling in gladiatorial combat to extreme nausea and murdering a crew of pirates, ending with his capture and imprisonment in a ray-shielded high-security prison. And at that moment, the splotchy purple Keliouxian decided to come question Garou. The alien stood several feet away from Garou’s cell despite its ray shielding, as if he were afraid that Garou would somehow break out anyway.
“What do you want?” Garou spat through a thin smile. “You’ve already seen what I can do, and now you’ve got me trapped in this cage. I am at your whims, Officer...?”
“Sergeant, actually. Sergeant Gomi. And I just wanted to look you over a few times before you’re transferred away from Juno. Naturally, there’s a bounty on any of the PTO thugs that happen to set up shop within the Keliouxian Empire’s borders, but you really managed to outdo yourself. I’m honestly surprised you didn’t run when you saw me. You’re slipping, White Wolf.”
Despite Garou’s circumstances, his thin-lipped smile grew full. He could see a light at the end of this tunnel, one that illuminated his grand escape and return to the PTO. He gave a hearty laugh, sitting back against a hard metal wall. “You’re certainly right there, Sergeant. I’m glad you told me your name. Where I come from, that means ‘trash’. I may be slipping, but what you just did would have earned you that name in my culture.”
Garou’s eyes began to whiten and glow, a sinister energy filling the cell. His ki spread like smoke, filling the metal vessel until even with ashen hair on Garou’s head could not be seen from outside. All that Gomi could see was his own reflection in the ray shields, and the endless rows and columns of cells behind him. A low rumbling began to spread throughout the entire prison from Garou’s position, shaking the very foundation of the building. When the haze inside the cell was so thick that Gomi thought he was looking into a mirror, he started running for backup. But he was too late.
Cement and metal shattered, the explosion powerful enough to decimate not only Garou’s cell but all the cells around it. And lucky for Garou, that meant the energy emitters for the ray shielding were destroyed as well. The sergeant was literally blown away, vaporized either by the blast or an unfortunate collision with one of the ray shields on the opposite side of the prison; Garou couldn’t tell and didn’t care, so long as he felt that garbage’s ki signature wink out of existence. Hovering in the midst of his handiwork, the slender figure waited. Smoke and falling debris hid his hair and face while the jet-black clothing he wore camouflaged his body. Guards ran around in a panic as Garou bid his time, thinking of the last few words that Sergeant Gomi uttered in his life.
You’re slipping, White Wolf.
Am I slipping? I still don’t know what happened to me back then, in the gladiatorial fights. When I came back to my senses, I was in a new place with people I didn’t recognize. My body acted on its own, and I’m free now. So was I really slipping? But I can’t say for certain whether I’ll always be able to get out of this mess...
Garou didn’t have time for an internal debate just then, as a number of guardsmen stormed the hallway to keep any escapees in hand. Unfortunately for them, Garou was positive that the inhabitants of the cells surrounding his had been vaporized as well. The white wolf snorted, blowing away some of the smoke that obscured his face. His golden eyes pierced the very soul of the first guard to meet their gaze; the burst of ki that followed pierced a hole in the guard’s skull.
Screams echoed in the metal and cement structure; guards had become prisoners, and their captor felt no mercy. Garou descended to a walkway filled with Keliouxians, imperials who at their core were no different from the PTO. They just disguised their lust for power and control. The closest to Garou discharged his weapon at the white-haired warrior, but the blast never reached its mark. It dissipated just as it met the black of Garou’s chest, reforming around him as a vest of flame that stretch from his fingertips to his toes. “Now, who else wants to try that?”
Garou laughed menacingly as he took a single, slow step forward. With all the weight of his body in the toes of his left foot, Garou took off in an instant to land a right cross on the unsuspecting guard’s nose. Flames leapt from the lone wolf’s hand and engulfed the being unfortunate enough to come into contact with them. The guard sputtered, stepping back and almost lighting her fellow guardsman on fire. She caught her bearings and launched towards Garou, but the Zoranite was waiting for an attack in the first place. After all, being on the offensive was too boring.
As the guardswoman stepped into her own wild haymaker, Garou slipped under her arm, flowing like a snake about to constrict its prey. When her weight was too far forward and there was no way to step back, Garou wrapped his arms around the woman’s midsection and turned his back to the other guards. Squarely in the middle of the cluster, Garou arched his back and hugged tightly, slamming the woman’s head and neck into the pavement behind him and sending her flying into her comrades.
The wolf didn’t wait to defend another attack, fearing that wasting time would lead to a lockdown. While he was certain that he could escape any prison of this level, any further delays would lead to a tighter search net, and that would be nothing but a pain in the ass. Engulfing his fist in devilish ki, Garou punched the weakened ground and let it shatter, taking the certainly underpaid guards with it. Garou remained as he was, unaffected by such a silly thing as gravity with the weight of his ki keeping him afloat. Instead, the warrior cloaked himself in a dazzling aura of white and launched upwards. The ceiling didn’t hold him for even a moment as he blasted into an infinite sky over an even more infinite wasteland of scrapped ships.
The beauty of the infinite scrapyards covering Juno did not interest Garou, however. His only interest at the moment was finding his ship, and getting off this planet. As he scanned the horizon for a good starting point, Garou began to recognize the surrounding area. Without a doubt, he was close to his initial landing spot. Which meant, he hoped, that said ship of his would also be nearby. Before the white wolf could set off, his honed battle senses gave him a premonition. But even Garou could not react to an attack of that scale.
Juno’s red skies were filled with white pillars of light, consuming the landscape like the heavens swallowing the land. Except, this light came from below. Garou had felt the energy rapidly building, yet his instincts led him to dodge upwards and he lost the time to react adequately. His mind was white with rage, barely registering the massive attack that had torn through his body from below. The light had ripped away a piece of his side, as if some creature of impossible strength bit into his flesh and swallowed it whole. Blood was everywhere, even dying Garou’s snow-white hair with the crimson that he so often saw from his foes.
This is bad gotta run gotta get out of here gotta escape can’t fight like this-
Garou’s mind ran through every possible route of escape from an enemy that he didn’t even know existed until it blew a hole in him. He had no indication of the scope, yet suspected that it couldn’t be any of those idiotic guardsmen. One had died to his eye beams, the rest surely fell to their deaths. Even if they had survived, they didn’t have the strength to launch an attack of that scale.
All it took to answer Garou’s every question was a single voice, calling through the still air.
“I told you, Wolf. You’re slipping,” the loudspeaker was filled with static and interference, but Garou recognized the speaker nonetheless. “I’m not holding back here. You think we care about this backwater planet? All they’ve got here are some ships! You’re worth much more than that to the Empire, you fucking stray.”
With every word, Garou’s rage grew, overcoming any sense of rationality that the former monk may have had. That TRASH was alive?! That’s not possible. It SHOULDN’T BE POSSIBLE! I FELT HIM DIE! What pain he may have felt vanished, replaced by a berserk power that had laid dormant since his childhood. Purple and yellow splotches with a flat nose, Sergeant Gomi ascended to Garou’s height from the wreckage of the prison. The sergeant was grinning with a demented confidence that Garou himself was intimately familiar with. It was the confidence of a hunter, closing in on his target. “KNOW YOUR PLACE, TRASH!” Garou shouted, ki overflowing from every orifice on his body. It was not his normal aura, but malignant and alive on its own. The energy burned everything it touched, searing even the massive area on Garou’s side shut. Blood bubbled away from the wound, condensating back onto Garou’s head. His own eyes began to boil and rupture, turning the whites as crimson as his bloodied hair. A sickly pallor was taken over by the visage of death itself as Garou faced the sergeant.
“You think a little hair dye is gonna scare me, son?” Sergeant Gomi was unfazed by the Zoranite’s transformation, flying closer with a battle cry. Jab, jab, hammerfist and haymaker fell upon Garou’s frame, still bubbling over with sinister ki. Gomi’s attacks yielded little reaction, as if bouncing off an invisible force field. The sergeant reacted quickly, drawing a fist back and encasing it with ki before striking at Garou’s chest with a blade of pure energy.
Finally, Gomi elicited a reaction. Coated in crimson, Garou’s hand slapped away the ki blade in a single motion. He allowed his momentum from the quick slap to carry him, spinning 270 degrees into a backhanded hit aimed at the Keliouxian’s jaw. Gomi evaded deftly, leaning back and swiping with his ki blade at Garou’s arm. The blade skimmed along Garou’s figure, failing to cut but managing to push back the enraged Zoranite.
Everything feels... muted, Garou thought, his body mindlessly fighting on his behalf. I just want to get back to my ship. I need rest. What’s happening to me? I had all the energy in the world moments ago. Am I dying...?
With force of will alone, Garou blasted the burning ki away from his body in an omnidirectional shockwave. Blood dribbled from his lips as he spat at Gomi’s face, landing a sucker punch in the sergeant’s gut while the splotchy alien dodged sputum. He took full advantage of the opportunity, slamming both arms down on the doubled-over sergeant and sending Gomi back down into the destroyed prison.
Without waiting to see if he would be followed, Garou blasted himself away from the area towards the nearest nice-looking spacecraft in the hopes of finding a working rejuvenation tank. He lowered his ki to the minimum and stumbled into a nearby hangar. Engineers and technicians all stared wordlessly, watching a man covered in blood and missing his left abdomen walk onto one of the Keliouxian Empire’s warships. Bloodied and tired, Garou somehow found his way to a rejuvenation chamber without incident and collapsed into the tank. It shut automatically, and after several minutes, the lights in the room dimmed. To most, it would appear that nobody was even there.
Restless and painful sleep shrouded Garou as he slowly healed, yet even within his own mind the White Wolf was not alone. He could feel the presence of another stirring, sharing his body like a parasite. It taunted him from the shadows of his own mind, nagging and fraying on the edges of his consciousness.
White Wolf, fallen monk, why do you resist? Do you not recognize me? The sinister presence announced itself at last. Ever-weary, Garou did not respond to his unseen adversary. You should feel ashamed, Garou. You gave in to my call years ago, why not just hand me the reigns once again? Your old master has always adored you. Will you not pay back what I am owed?
The pitch black behind Garou’s eyes shifted as the ominous speaker seemed to take corporeal form within the Zoranite’s mind. A grassy lawn sprouted into existence, equipped with a rock garden and a pond filled with Koi fish. Standing in the center of the pond was a face that Garou had not seen in decades. As the voice had claimed, it appeared in the form of his former master.
Master Karthus? Garou’s thoughts seemed to reverberate around the mental chamber that housed this vision. Karthus stood taller even than Garou, almost 7 feet with thick arms and legs earned from centuries of labor and training. The inhabitants of Zoran were long-lived, and even at almost 300 years old, Karthus’ flawless complexion dated him at not a day over 25 – frankly, his appearance was even more youthful than Garou’s.
I see you do remember me, then. Good. I have come to take what I am owed, child. I made many sacrifices for the sake of our livelihood, Garou. The Gods promised me immortality and a blessing of strength. But you sought to undo my hard work, claiming it malevolent and calling me such hurtful names as “sham” and “traitor”. But my existence here is proof enough of the Gods’ blessing, and through you I shall wield their strength. Submit now, and our power will be unmatched. The bastard who dared hurt MY apprentice will be dealt a quick death, and we will continue on the path you have set over these past 20 years.
The phantom of Karthus stood before Garou, clearly invoking memories that none other than those two could have shared. Eternally in his peripheral vision, a younger Garou played in the fields of his memory. Even then, his hair was white as snow and spiky like a hedgehog’s. Karthus stood to the side, watching over the young boy. They were happy days, spent training and studying in the monastery village of Karinsys. Their planet, Zoran, was extremely isolated and divided within itself; any one village had no neighbors but forest, tundra, mountain, or sea.
But that all came crashing down, one fateful day. Karthus had desired too much, and came up with a plan to sacrifice the villagers to their Gods in exchange for strength. Garou was only 16 at the time, preparing to become a fully-fledged monk of his own, and had been sent on an errand to the mountains when Karthus struck. With his own hands, the senior monk murdered every villager and apprentice that remained in Karinsys and set about his foul ritual. Garou returned, expecting the traditional greetings of his fellow villagers, only to find empty streets and bloodstained walls.
When Garou stumbled upon the scene at his monastery, he lost himself complete. Karthus stood alone, a mound of corpses surrounding him and an ancient table of prayer. Karthus was lost in his own chanting, and Garou attacked in a rage. Even as a teenager, the White Wolf had earned his nickname, claw-like fingers ripping through Karthus’ iron flesh. Garou’s former teacher hadn’t even the time to explain before the apprentice dug his hand deep into the master’s chest and silenced him permanently.
Master Karthus, was it you who stole away my control all those years ago? You, who has stolen so much from me? You call me your apprentice and grow angry when I am hurt, but you only seek gain for yourself. What you did in Karinsys, what you’ve done now, is nothing more than a feckless lust for a power which you could never attain alone!
Garou’s emotions shook the setting, his mind and heart quivering as he faced the man who he once treated like a father. Karthus, to his credit, seemed surprised at Garou’s outburst.
Child, you misunderstand. But I have wounded you, though less severely than you wounded me, Karthus replied, chuckling audaciously. Very well, then. I will reward you with a fraction of what I was promised, and shall lay no more claim to it. But I will remain here, for there is no longer a body of my own to inhabit. In time, you will need my counsel once more. All you need to do is ask...
Karthus’ words faded away, growing distant like the faintness of a memory from infancy. Unsure if it had ever even happened, Garou’s eyes opened again. Blue goop covered his form, the hole in his side healed as if by magic. Sounds of a commotion rang through the metal hallway just outside Garou’s temporary hiding place, and a jolt ran through the ship as it launched. Once again, the White Wolf had no idea where he was, or how long he had been out of it, but here he was presented with a golden opportunity to rectify all that. He opened the hatch of his recovery chamber, stepping out in near silence. Only the steady dripping of rejuve-juice off his clothes onto the metal floor gave off sound as the Zoranite stalked towards the door. But in the sheer reflection of the metal door, he noticed something different about himself – no longer could he be called “White Wolf”.
His once-snowy hair had taken on a crimson hue, as if dyed with the blood of his enemies. Or perhaps, the blood of Karinsys. The hunter stalked down metal hallways, silently and mercilessly dispatching Keliouxian soldier after soldier. Only the captain had the wherewithal to realize an intruder had been aboard, but that alone couldn’t save him. Garou set the ship’s coordinates to fly for Planet Frieza as he stepped over a headless body, the captain’s medals no longer able to glisten in their pool of blood.
The hunter sat cross-legged, meditating while his new ship blasted off through space. Breathing slowed, and eyes closed as Garou began to process the most recent and strangest of his adventures. When he next opened his eyes, his hair had returned to its natural snowy color.
The disembodied voice of Karthus echoed in his mind once more, and Garou knew that what he had seen was no dream.