The encroachment of Helheim. The invasion of Megahex.
After overcoming multiple disastrous incidents in a row, the city of Zawame was gradually progressing in reconstruction, and more and more people were coming and going with cheer — or, at least, that was how it was supposed to be.
But it would not be long before the city fell into turbulence once more.
“Stop! Please stop!”
It started in the central heart of Zawame.
On a weekend in a busy downtown area, a woman’s shriek suddenly pierced through the air.
A man in a suit, who seemed to have been accompanying her, had been severely assaulted, and was surrounded by two other men.
The other men appeared to be those of a so-called street gang.
“What, givin’ up already?”
“That’s what happens when ya pick a fight with us in this town, don’tcha know? Hey, get up!”
The ruckus had started when the man had lashed out at them for insulting the woman accompanying him, but he’d fallen completely to their mercy and was unable to put up any resistance.
“Someone, please, help!”
The woman had no recourse of fighting back violently against the men in front of her, and was desperately seeking help from the surrounding people passing by, but…everyone around her was too afraid of getting involved, and no one stepped in to interfere.
“Shut the hell up, quit with the whinin’!”
As the woman kept screaming desperately, one of the men yanked and grabbed her arm.
“Stop it, don’t touch me!”
“I told ya to shut the hell up!”
Even with so many eyes on them in the middle of a busy downtown street, the gangsters pushed on with violence.
It was a strange sight for a city that should have returned to peace.
“Hey, you over there. What do you think you’re doing!?”
One of the people passing by had reached their limit and reported it to the police, and two officers rushed in from a nearby police box and prodded through the crowd.
Normally, this would have settled the issue.
But even though they could see the police officers approaching, the men made no attempt to escape and simply continued their assault.
“Hey, we told you to stop!”
“Argh, don’t get in the way!!”
The men completely ignored the police officers’ warnings, and even turned on the police officers themselves and started trying to punch them.
Seeing resistance, the police officers took out their batons from their belt cases and swung them down in their direction.
They were expandable police batons intended for self-defense, but they should have had enough power to strike fear into bare-handed thugs.
But even despite being hit with the batons, the men seemed to feel no pain and kept waving their fists towards the police officers.
“What’s with these guys…!?”
The police officers worked in the downtown area, and were particularly specialized in breaking up fights and disputes there.
They had extensive experience in subduing gangsters and drunks, but something was different about their opponents today.
They were unusually aggressive, and even when they were beaten down, they didn’t seem to feel any pain…
It was as if they had taken some kind of drug, and there was no doubt they were incredibly dangerous opponents to have.
Eventually, the police officers were backed into a corner to the point the men there were thoroughly beating them up.
“Hey, let’s beat ’em until they die!”
“Sounds fun, let’s do it!”
The men’s eyes were tinted with the color of insanity.
Feeling that their own lives were in danger now, the police officers pulled their pistols out from their holsters and turned them towards the men.
It was a reflexive action from how deep the crisis had gotten, but they’d intended it purely as a warning and had no intention to shoot. But…
“Oh, it’s just a pistol.”
“C’mon, go ahead, shoot!”
Even with pistols pointed straight at them, the men showed no fear whatsoever.
Their eyes were still dull and distorted, and drool was spilling from their mouths as they lurched closer.
Giving into his terror, one of the police officers accidentally pulled the trigger.
The gunshot echoed through the downtown area, and there were audible screams from the civilians looking on.
The bullet from the revolver hit the man’s shoulder right when he was about to fully converge on the policeman. The blood from the wound dyed his shirt red.
At the moment of impact, the man staggered for a moment, but he seemed to completely ignore the bleeding from his shoulder, and gave off an ominous laugh.
“Heh heh heh…too bad, doesn’t hurt at all.”
He took out something that looked like a decorative charm and showed it to the police officer.
“As long as I’ve got this, I’m invincible!”
There was no doubt about it; the man was holding a Lockseed, an item that was once popular among young people in Zawame.
“We’re the strongest, y’know. Ya can’t kill us.”
“These guys are insane!”
The police officers had no choice but to continue staggering backwards.
But at that moment, a slingshot round flew in out of nowhere and struck the Lockseed out of the man’s hand.
“Got it! Let’s go, Zack!”
The voice came from a young man standing behind the onlookers, wearing a red and black coat and holding a slingshot.
While the gangster was distracted, another person jumped out right in front of him.
“Nice one, Peko!”
Just like the one with the slingshot, he was a young man in a red and black coat, and had a stern look on his face.
They were well-known among many in Zawame; their coats were the uniforms for the dance team “Baron”, which was famous within the city.
The young man named “Zack” quickly threw a punch at the man who had dropped the Lockseed.
The man, the same one who had spat in the face of being shot by a gun, lost consciousness in an instant and fell over on the spot.
“Zack!? No way, you’re the one who crushed Neo Baron…!”
Zack looked back at the other man, who was now trembling in fear, and pointed his fist at him.
“Come get me if you want. I’m not letting you get away with this in our city.”
“Don’t get cocky, ya brat!”
Zack deftly avoided the man’s sharp punches aimed at him, one after another. But…
“Hm? Ya tryin’ to do somethin’?”
“Gh…nothing’s landing at all, huh…”
It was the same as before; the man was attacking with no sign of pain.
In terms of sheer physical strength, Zack was stronger, but against an opponent devoid of pain or fatigue, he was slowly being pushed into a corner.
Zack’s friend, Peko, started shooting from his slingshot to help him, but there was no effect.
The gangster, pleased at his own triumph, laughed loudly.
“Gyahaha! Long as I’ve got this Lockseed, I ain’t losin’!”
“Hmmm…you mean this, right?”
A small and lanky young man had managed to sneak up behind him. In contrast to the gangster, he came off as someone who had been raised in a high-class family. He certainly didn’t seem the type to be suited for fighting at all…but his expression was sharp, and he gave off an unusually shrewd impression.
The young man raised his hand to show what he had to the gangster — and in it was a red Lockseed.
Seeing what he was holding there, the man quickly checked his clothes pocket…and realized something was missing.
“Ya little…when did ya…!?”
He hadn’t even finished what he was about to say when Zack gave him a solid punch from behind, and he lost consciousness on the spot.
“You saved us there, Micchy.”
Giving his thanks, Zack approached the small young man — Mitsuzane Kureshima.
Mitsuzane had an intense expression as he stared at the Lockseed he’d confiscated.
“I knew it. It’s this Lockseed. It’s the one my brother told me about.”
“…The Pomegranate Lockseed?”
The gangsters had been holding red Lockseeds — Pomegranate Lockseeds, which had originally been manufactured by Black Bodhi. Why were they circulating between street gangsters, and why now, of all times…?
“Would be nice to ask them about it, but…looks like we’re out of time.”
A police car siren was audible from a distance. They were most likely reinforcements, sent in after reports about the gangsters had circulated.
“We’ll be in for trouble if they drag us into this, so let’s hurry up and get out of here,” said Mitsuzane, calling out to Zack and Peko.
The three of them started rushing out.
But Peko seemed to be anxious about something, and was scrutinizing Mitsuzane’s facial expression closely.
He had been eyeing Mitsuzane with apparent suspicion, but after a while, he spoke, as if he’d internally decided on something.
Hearing Peko say the best words he could manage, Mitsuzane smiled happily back at him.
One could still see traces of the disaster in Zawame through the abandoned burial mounds and debris around the city.
Reconstruction had been progressing quickly, but the unfortunate reality was that there was still a long way to go.
The ruins were hotspots for unrest, and street gangsters were starting to gather there and cause trouble in the city as of late.
At first, the gangs had merely been large delinquent groups, but after a while, they began rapidly increasing in organization and ferociousness, and eventually escalated into dangerous groups much like organized crime syndicates. Neo Baron had been one of those, and had spread to the point where it was undoubtedly a huge influential factor among such street gangs.
Recently, the violence had been getting even more intense, to the point of spreading beyond their usual areas of red-light and abandoned districts, and causing damage to open areas in general public.
One such abandoned area was a back-alley area known to some as Blackhawk Street.
In the past, it had been a bar town where people had gathered in droves, attracted to its shady atmosphere.
But when the city was flooded with Invase, most of the stores there had burned down in a mysterious fire, and were not reconstructed but completely abandoned.
People without homes and people who wished to avoid society began occupying the remaining houses that had survived the fire, and as the area deteriorated in stability, it became unsafe enough that it was now completely inaccessible to the general public.
Around the end of Blackhawk Street was an abandoned pool bar, from which light was leaking and crude laughter was echoing.
At the entrance was a broken neon sign reading “Sweet Water”.
Inside the shop, which had been remodeled out of an old brick warehouse, was a group of street gangsters, who had made the place into their home base, and were hanging around idly and drinking there.
They were outlaws who had named themselves “Night Warlocks”.
Currently, among the street gangs that were causing mayhem in Zawame, they were a group that could easily claim themselves to be at the first or second rank.
The many gangs competed against each other for dominance, and although they could be said to be reminiscent of the old Beat Riders, their goals were in the complete opposite direction.
At the back of the bar was a luxuriously built sofa. A man wearing sunglasses was sitting on it, with a woman sitting close to him and pouring alcohol into his cup.
He was the leader of the Night Warlocks, and was referred to as “King” by his fellow gang members.
Next to King was a man with a burly-looking physique, who was staring at their surroundings.
“You there, come a little closer!”
A young gang member stepped forward in front of King.
It was a newcomer who had just joined the Night Warlocks. As King, who was leagues above him, beckoned him forward, he was obviously shaking with nervousness.
“What’s your name?”
“Kenji, huh? You’re the one who was workin’ real hard in our little brawl with Inferno, right?”
Inferno was another street gang much like the Night Warlocks, and they often got in skirmishes with them.
That same day, they’d gotten into yet another brawl over something trivial, but Kenji’s wits had gotten them out of it.
“Nice job. You’ve got some real guts there.”
“N-No, I was just…”
“You’re sellin’ yourself short. For us Night Warlocks, might makes right. Strength is something to be proud of. Don’t you wanna be stronger?”
“Yes, I do!”
“Good answer. Bring it here, Queen.”
The woman sitting next to Queen pulled up a suitcase that had been under her feet, put it on her lap, and opened it.
Inside the case were multiple devices shaped like locks, buried in urethane cushioning and lined up in a row. They were Pomegranate Lockseeds.
“I’m acknowledging you as a warrior, so I’ll give you this.”
King took a Lockseed out of the case and casually tossed it to Kenji.
“You got one of these, and it’ll make you into an unbeatable gangster. Keep it on you at all times. Got it?”
“Thank you very much!”
Deeply moved by King’s actions, Kenji bowed his head multiple times, and finally departed from his sight.
King looked back at the suitcase.
There were only two Lockseeds remaining in it.
“We should restock soon, huh.”
King was in a good mood.
Ever since he’d gotten the gang members to carry Lockseeds on them, everything had been going perfectly for them.
All they had to do was keep them on their person, and it would eliminate their fear and make them feel invincible against all odds. And it did, in fact, make them stronger and faster than usual.
Thanks to the Lockseeds, the Night Warlocks were the strongest gang in the city.
Nowadays, the fun was starting to get ruined by other groups starting to get their hands on them within the market, but they were still leagues far above the rest.
We just gotta keep this up, and I’ll really be king of this town.
King tilted his glass in satisfaction.
There was a noisy ruckus going on at the front of the store. Had some of the members gotten drunk and started a fight, or — ?
“Hey, stop right there, you — !!”
A strange pair was rushing towards the back of the store and approaching where King was, breaking past the gang members trying to hold them back.
King was nervous for a moment, wondering if they were under attack by another gang — but when he actually saw the two up close, he was almost disappointed.
A guy in a coat, and a kid who looked like some kind of rich heir…very obviously not gangsters, no matter how you looked at them.
The man in the coat took notice of King’s suitcase and turned to the young man next to him.
“Looks like we hit the bullseye, Micchy.”
“So there really were a ton of Lockseeds out there. With a group this big, of course they’d get involved.”
Despite being surrounded by ferocious gangsters, the two of them — Mitsuzane and Zack — did not budge an inch.
Instead, they stared straight at King with sharp gazes.
“Are you the Night Warlocks’ leader?”
“And what if I am, little boy?”
“Hand over your Lockseeds.”
King was surprised to hear the word “Lockseed” from Mitsuzane, but tried not to show it on his face.
“The hell is that? No idea what you’re on about.”
The suitcase was right there in plain view next to him, but King stood there with complete confidence.
He had an unpleasant smile, and it was obvious he was mocking them.
“That’s not something people like you should be having. If you don’t want to get hurt, be good and hand it over.”
“What’d you just say? You say you’re gonna hurt me? Gyahaha!”
Zack’s words were so inconceivable to him that he burst into laughter.
He was the Night Warlocks’ big boss, the one who struck fear into all others, and here they were saying “if you don’t want to get hurt” to him? What a joke.
“Hey, guys, let’s slaughter ’em!”
It took only one sentence from King to get the other gangsters to converge on them, ready to kill.
“Yeah. It’s not like we’ve got a choice.”
The gang members started rushing Mitsuzane and Zack. But one moment later, King’s grin was wiped right off of his face.
His subordinates had been been completely trounced one after another, despite being up against only two people.
It was only natural. Said two people had experienced the literal embodiment of powerful enemies, and gone through huge numbers of deadly fights before.
Tons of Invase, Overlords, and more…and even battles to the death with other Armored Riders.
Those battles were still memories inscribed in the cores of their bodies, not to mention the deep wounds and regrets.
Such things were on a completely different level from a mere handful of rampaging gangsters. They were long prepared for much greater things. Even if they were greatly outnumbered, they were completely unmatched.
“All right, hand over the Lockseeds.”
The man who had been standing next to King, who had been serving as his guard, came forward in front of Mitsuzane and Zack.
“Get lost, or we’ll really hurt you.”
As if trying to provoke Zack, Jack stuck his fist forward. He was clutching a Pomegranate Lockseed.
“Bleh, seriously? Even he’s got a Lockseed?”
“Zack, be careful. They…”
“I know, they might self-destruct.”
We have to take away their Lockseeds before it comes to that, thought Mitsuzane.
Takatora had already contacted Mitsuzane from abroad and informed him about the dangers regarding the Pomegranate Lockseeds.
But the Black Bodhi cultists had been brainwashed and turned into mindless puppets. The gangsters here had no sign of being anything resembling that.
Jack screamed like an animal and lunged at Mitsuzane.
Unlike the gangsters they’d just fought, his speed was at a completely inhuman level.
Mitsuzane rolled away from Jack’s tackle and dodged it by a hair’s breadth. Jack’s momentum prevented him from stopping, and he plunged right into a counter with bottles lined up on it.
“You okay, Micchy?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. But…”
Jack’s tackle had torn the thick wooden counter in two, and the liquor bottles on it were crushed into glass and scattered everywhere.
Jack stood up from the counter wreckage. He was bleeding all over his body, and his arm was bent in a location that was definitely not a joint.
“You gotta be kidding me…”
“It’s probably the Lockseed’s trance state.”
The Lockseed eliminated any sensations of fear and pain, meaning the user could exert power beyond the usual limits of their body. Even if their fist or arm were broken, they could use all the energy they had.
Even a street gang could create an invincible soldier. They had every reason to use such a convenient option. But the price for such power would inevitably lead to ruin.
They absolutely could not allow such dangerous Lockseeds to spread unchecked. Both of them hardened their resolve.
As Jack lunged on them again, both of them dodged.
As they passed each other, Zack threw a punch at him, but Jack completely shrugged it off.
Jack used incredible force to tear off a brass railing that had been attached to the wall, and swung it down on Zack with fierce momentum.
Zack waited until the last minute and barely dodged the blow — using the split second to sneak around right behind Jack. He then pulled his arm right around Jack’s neck and tightened it close.
Even though he couldn’t feel pain, he could no longer retain consciousness once the flow of blood to his brain stopped.
Jack’s eyes went completely white in only a few seconds, and he collapsed onto the ground.
“Micchy! The Lockseeds!”
After picking up the Lockseed that Jack had dropped, both of them got up to approach King again.
But King and Queen were no longer in the shop. They seemed to have escaped during their brawl with Jack.
“Dammit, they got away!”
“Let’s drop it here.”
Zack was about to run out of the shop in pursuit, but Mitsuzane had called out to him.
“We don’t know the area well, and the layout around here is tricky, so I doubt we can catch up with them anyway.”
“Gh…And I thought we finally had a lead on them.”
“Well, anyway, let’s head back to the garage. Once we’re there, we can talk about our next move.”
As Mitsuzane said this, he stared into the dull luster of the Pomegranate Lockseed.
The garage served as Team Gaim’s home base.
Once all of the team conflicts had come to an end, other teams had started visiting regularly.
While it was less common these days for the entire team to get together, it was still an important place filled with memories for them.
But in the last few weeks, Team Gaim members like Chucky, Rica, and Rat, and even other Beat Riders like Zack, had been visiting more frequently.
Naturally, it wasn’t because they were getting together to dance, nor for mere nostalgia for the old days.
Now that Zawame was drenched in turbulence yet again, they’d gathered to discuss how to clear the air over it.
“Micchy, Zack! Welcome back! You look tired…How’d it go?”
Seeing Mitsuzane and Zack returning to the garage, Chucky called out to them in a cheery voice.
The clock had already reached around midnight, but Chucky, Rat, and Team Baron member Peko were still in the garage.
Mitsuzane and Zack quietly shook their heads in response to Chucky and sat down on a floor bench.
“I was really hoping to get a hold of the Night Warlocks’ boss this time, but…”
The Pomegranate Lockseeds were spreading in droves among the local street gangsters, and Black Bodhi was behind all of them.
Takatora had analyzed the data he’d retrieved, and discovered that the Lockseeds had been manufactured and distributed all over the world. Most pertinently, Zawame was receiving particularly large amounts of them.
Mitsuzane had received this information from Takatora, and since Takatora was still carrying on the fight abroad, Mitsuzane was working in Zawame on his behalf.
And so, Mitsuzane and the other Beat Riders were still trying to locate the Black Bodhi hideout in Zawame…but after a few weeks, they hadn’t managed to uncover a single clue.
“What about you guys?” asked Mitsuzane.
Chucky scratched her head.
“I tried tracking down some Inferno members, but I just ended up going in circles downtown…”
“I didn’t get anything interesting either…”
Rat and Rica shook their heads.
“…Nothing at all, then,” muttered Zack.
Peko turned to face him.
“Hey, are you sure there’s a Black Bodhi hideout in Zawame?”
“There’s no way they could go through all those Lockseeds unless they had some kind of major base here. If the data my brother sent me is accurate, there should be a hideout somewhere…” Mitsuzane was the one who responded, but it seemed like he was still collecting his thoughts as he spoke.
“So does that mean the Saver System is somewhere here? In this city?” said Rat.
“Probably,” said Mitsuzane, nodding in response.
The Saver System — a weapon of mass destruction, and a copy of the Scalar System once created by Yggdrasill as part of its Project Ark.
“Remember what happened with Shura? It’s hard to believe they’re not making these somewhere in Zawame,” said Zack, thinking back on their fight against Neo Baron.
Shura — the leader of Neo Baron, a man who had been hosting illegal underground martial arts events. Shura had been attempting to use the Saver System to rid Zawame City of people he deemed to be worthless.
“But Micchy, Black Bodhi’s trying to make the Saver System, right? Why would they hand Lockseeds out to gangs?”
“The Pomegranate Lockseed can brainwash anyone who holds them and control them against their will. None of the gangsters realize this. If anything, they just think it’s something that makes them stronger. So in other words, Black Bodhi gets an easy way to raise a huge army…and if push comes to shove, they can make them all self-destruct.”
Rat still didn’t seem to be convinced by Mitsuzane’s explanation.
“That part I get, but…what does Black Bodhi even want to get out of all of this? What’s the point of killing people here in Zawame?”
“I don’t know either. But they’re a cult, so maybe there doesn’t even need to be a logical reason.”
But even as he made his case, Mitsuzane himself was thinking: but is that really it?
Mitsuzane had gone through Yggdrasill’s documents and learned that Black Bodhi’s leader, Kugai Kudou, was an extremely talented researcher.
Unfortunately for him, he’d happened to be working alongside a certain genius, Ryouma Sengoku.
And then, an unusual turn of events — although Kugai should have died in the initial Lockseed experiment, he’d come back to life, and formed Black Bodhi. Takatora had said there must be another leader this time — Mitsuzane had also agreed.
But there was one particularly concerning thing among Yggdrasill’s documents, within Ryouma Sengoku’s reports.
Normally, when writing his reports, Ryouma was the kind of person who left no room for ambiguity and described everything in detail.
But for some reason, whenever it came to Kugai and Black Bodhi, his descriptions suddenly became unnervingly vague.
“Well, I guess…”
Realizing this question-and-answer session was getting them nowhere, Mitsuzane quickly tried to divert the conversation.
“Either way, if we keep letting Black Bodhi get away with this, Zawame will be in even more trouble. And something is definitely going to happen sooner or later…”
All of the other members of the group could only respond with silence.
Another huge disaster was about to take place in Zawame. How much time did they have left to stop it?
“Man, Micchy, if only your brother were here too…”
“My brother’s already got his hands full in other countries. We’ve got to hold down the fort here ourselves.”
Zack’s face was full of anguish as he stormed out of the garage.
“Hey, what?…Did I say something wrong?”
“Give me a moment, I’ll go check on him.”
Peko looked on in confusion as Mitsuzane headed out to chase after Zack.
Shortly after, he found Zack in a nearby park, standing there, alone.
As Mitsuzane approached, Zack started mumbling in a weak voice.
“…I’m so pathetic.”
“I could say that about myself.”
Mitsuzane could only nod in response to what Zack had said. His thoughts were painfully clear to him.
“Kaito and Kouta left this city in our hands, but it’s turned into this, and I can’t just sit here and watch and do nothing…”
“But you’re not. You’re still putting up a proper fight.”
“…I’ve done some awful things to all of you guys. I can try to make up for it all I want, but no matter what I do, I’ll never be able to. But that’s also why I can’t give up, no matter what happens.”
Mitsuzane’s words weren’t for Zack as much as he was reciting his own words to himself, but his words still managed to get through to Zack despite that.
“Yeah, you’re right. I don’t think I’m strong enough to really replace them, but…I gotta do what I can. Sorry, I made myself look really stupid there.”
The two of them were finally able to smile again.
Standing side by side, they headed back towards the garage — but a sudden feeling of discomfort washed over them, coming from the darkness ahead. The two of them stopped in their tracks.
Within that darkness was a man, standing there in silence, as if he had been waiting for Mitsuzane and Zack to approach.
A thin man in a dark suit. There was something disturbing about the strange aura around him.
“I will not allow you to get in the way of my ideals, Mitsuzane Kureshima.”
The man’s voice was low in volume, but there was a sense of coldness in it, as if echoing from the depths of the earth.
“…Who are you?”
Mitsuzane lashed out in a harsh tone, but he knew this man’s face very well.
It was a face he’d seen in Yggdrasill’s documents. But he also knew this shouldn’t be possible. This man should have been…
“My name is Kugai Kudou.”
“You’re supposed to be dead!”
“You are correct. I am already dead.”
“What kind of joke is that?!”
Zack headed towards the man, attempting to punch him, but his fist went straight through empty air.
The man, who had been there a split second earlier, had vanished.
Confused at what was going on, Zack looked back at Mitsuzane.
Mitsuzane still couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Kouta Kazuraba could not save this world.”
Hearing the voice suddenly cut back in from behind him, Mitsuzane turned around.
The man was now close enough to touch him.
“When did you — !?”
Mitsuzane quickly jumped aside. His intuition as a fighter, which had saved him from near-death experiences multiple times, was setting off alarm bells in his head.
Preparing for what might come next, Mitsuzane pulled out his Sengoku Driver.
“…You know about Kouta?”
“Kouta Kazuraba took the Golden Fruit, abandoned humanity, and left this world behind.”
“The hell are you saying?!”
Zack tried to land another hit on the man, but the man was no longer there.
He had disappeared yet again, as if he had melted into the darkness.
Within that darkness, they could only hear the man’s voice echoing through it.
“Come and accept my salvation. Now that Helheim is gone, I am the only one left who can save humanity.”
No matter how many times Mitsuzane and Zack looked left and right, there was no one there.
It was as if nobody had been there to begin with.
“Micchy, what the hell just happened…!?”
“I have no idea…”
That answer was as much as Mitsuzane could muster.
As the days passed, the local gangs were getting increasingly powerful and vicious.
Even worse, once they realized Mitsuzane and the others were after them, they started relocating their hideouts at a faster rate and keeping their higher-ups hidden, making it even harder to get a hold of them.
And even when they did manage to capture a gang member, most of them were simple grunts who knew nothing about what went on behind the scenes, so they were still completely left in the dark about where the Black Bodhi hideout was or who their Lockseed distributor was.
Back in Team Gaim’s garage, Zack stood in front of a map of Zawame hanging from the wall, where all of the areas they had investigated were filled in with highlighter.
Most of the map was already covered in bright colors.
“Another day of nothing…seriously, where the hell is that hideout?”
“Well, as important as the hideout is…oh, here, I have some leftovers, so come and have them if you like.”
Having just entered the garage, Hideyasu Jounouchi — a Beat Rider who had helped them in the fight against Helheim — had joined the conversation.
Jounouchi placed a box on the table. In it was a bunch of cakes in different colors.
“Whoa, Jounouchi, you’re so thoughtful!”
Chucky, Rica, and the other girls who liked sweet things all crowded around the cakes.
“I’ve got my hands full with the store now that Oren’s not here, so I can’t do much to help. Please take this as my apology.”
After the Neo Baron incident, Oren was rarely at the store. After returning from South Asia, he was helping Takatora by tracking Black Bodhi down from different directions.
Meanwhile, Jounouchi was handling his pastry shop, “Charmant”, in Oren’s place. One could say that Jounouchi had earned Oren’s trust so well that he was now allowed to run such an important shop for him.
“Moving back to the subject. The hideout’s certainly important, but you still need to figure out where the gangsters are getting their Lockseeds, right? If you can get at least that part, you can figure out where the hideout is from there.”
“It’s not like we don’t know anything at all. We managed to prod into one of the gangs’ higher-ups and got a bit of info.”
Looking at the cakes lined up in the box, Zack picked up a banana chiffon cake that didn’t seem to be too overwhelmingly sweet and took a bite.
“They arrange a specific time and place, and only one person is allowed to go retrieve them. The distributor also comes alone, and leaves the Lockseeds with them.”
“Only one person…so would that be a Black Bodhi cultist? Or a specialized seller like Sid?”
“Seems like even they don’t know who it is,” said Mitsuzane, chiming in to assist. “They tried tracking the person down to figure out who they were, but they suddenly just disappeared…or at least, that’s what they said.”
“Disappeared? What, are they saying it’s a ghost or something?”
“A ghost…yeah, something like that. But…”
“Didn’t Micchy and Zack run into a guy in the park? They also said he disappeared,” said Chucky, chiming in while still enjoying her cake.
“Yeah. We saw a man in the park. He called himself Kugai Kudou, and he just up and vanished right in front of us…”
“Kudou…you mean the leader of Black Bodhi, right? So we really are dealing with a ghost…?”
“Of course not. There’s gotta be some kind of trick going on.”
Peko was snorting with laughter, but Mitsuzane and Zack didn’t have it in them to laugh.
That night, they’d felt the cold shiver going down their spines, and they could still clearly remember the indescribable, eerie feeling they’d gotten from the man who had melted into the dark, like a phantom.
The Beat Riders had fought Overlords, and Megahex, and all sorts of overwhelmingly powerful foes, but what if they really were up against Kugai Kudou, a man who was already dead?
How were they supposed to fight an enemy they couldn’t even touch?
The same day, midnight.
At an old commercial building within the main city.
The building was already old enough that it was set to be demolished soon, so most of the building’s tenants had already moved out, and everyone left was too uncomfortable to be around there at night.
But on this night, there was a single person standing on the roof.
It was King, the big boss of the Night Warlocks, standing there on the rooftop with a trash pile of rooftop billboards and air conditioner outdoor unit pipes.
He had been waiting on the roof for twenty minutes.
“Damn, how long is he gonna keep me waiting…?!”
King looked down to light his cigarette, and when he looked up again, he jolted back in surprise to see a man in a suit standing there, on the same rooftop where he should have been alone.
“T-There you are! When’d you get here…!?”
A thin man in a dark suit.
He didn’t seem to be aggressive, but there was something distant about him.
There was no doubt about it; it was Kugai Kudou.
Kugai faced King and gestured with a nod.
Looking in the direction Kugai was indicating, King saw a silver case lurking under the stairs leading up to the decaying penthouse.
He ran up to the case and opened it to find ten Pomegranate Lockseeds buried in cushioning material.
King nodded in satisfaction and turned back to face Kugai.
“How much for these?”
“I have no need for money.”
They had already gone through several transactions — no, several one-sided deliveries — like this. This question and answer had come up every single time.
“You’re giving these to us for free? Again? What the hell are you even trying to do?”
“I have only one purpose. I must save humanity.”
“Save humanity? Well, whatever. Hahaha!”
King burst into laughter at the unusual answer.
But Kugai was staring back at him coldly.
“No, no, I’m laughing too much…”
Kugai quietly started heading back towards the emergency stairs going down.
“Hey, wait a sec. When can we come get more Lockseeds?”
“I will contact you again.”
Every time they received a delivery from Kugai, it was always completely one-sided.
And whenever they needed to restock, somehow, he always got in contact with them at the exact right moment, as if he already knew.
King approached the emergency stairs and looked down, but Kugai was nowhere to be seen.
“Man, that guy creeps me out…but who cares what he says, he’s giving me these, and that’s all I need.”
King opened the case again and looked back at the Lockseeds.
“With this many, we can finally do something real big…”
King stood up and looked over the view of Zawame at night, spreading far beyond the rusted railing on the roof.
Zawame was spread out before his eyes, like a toy made just for him.
It was payday for most companies, so Zawame Central Bank was crowded with people.
A security guard smiled at a woman pushing a stroller with a baby.
But that smile completely froze as soon as he saw a few men rushing into the bank.
The men were all wearing the sort of animal head-shaped rubber masks that would normally be worn at parties, and were holding pistols.
One of them began yelling into the bank.
“Everyone here freezes where they are, right now! You over there, close the window shutter!!”
All of the bankers and customers hadn’t processed what was going on, and were staring at the men with their jaws dropped.
But once one of the men had fired his pistol at the ceiling, the loud noise echoing through the bank snapped them all out of it. Now that everyone there realized they were in the midst of a bank robbery, everything went in an uproar.
“I told y’all to shut up!! Or else…”
Hoping to silence the women there screaming in panic, the robber fired his pistol at the elderly security guard standing near the entrance.
The guard’s thigh was pierced by the bullet, and he fell to the floor.
“Idiots who don’t do what we say get shot to bits!”
The bank suddenly fell completely silent.
The bank clerk scrambled to hit the switch for the window shutter.
The shutter fell down with a loud clang, and the bank was now isolated from the outside door.
“The clerks kneel on the floor with both arms up! The customers go face-down on the floor!”
One of the robbers climbed over the counter, standing right in front of an elderly bank clerk.
“You the one in charge? Open the safes and hand over the cash! Hey, lady over there! Take it and fill up this case!”
Despite how unusual it was for a bank to have their shutters down during business hours, everyone outside only tilted their heads in confusion, and nobody called the police.
Nobody even entertained the idea that a bank in such a prominent place would be robbed in broad daylight.
But during all of this, a group outside had been observing the entire affair, from the point the men had broken into the bank to the moment the shutters had been brought down.
Beat Riders Rica and Rat had been tracking them, hoping to figure out what the Night Warlocks were up to.
“That escalated real bad…”
Rat pulled out his phone and called Mitsuzane, who was waiting back in the garage.
“Got it. Keep an eye on it until we get there. But if things start looking really dangerous, don’t push it too far and get out of there as soon as you can, okay?”
After hanging up, Mitsuzane explained the situation to Zack and Peko, who were also waiting in the garage with him.
“A bank robbery…what should we do?”
“Well, of course, the first thing to do is call the police. Our biggest priority is making sure all the civilians in the bank are safe. But if it looks like they’re getting away from the police, we’ll keep a tail on them and find out where the Night Warlocks moved their hideout.”
The three of them piled into a car, and Peko stepped on the gas to get them to the bank.
As the men drove out in their minivan, the Night Warlocks member Kenji took off his rubber mask, cheering and tapping the suitcases piled up in the back seat.
“That was way too easy, wasn’t it, Ace?”
“Yeah, I seriously didn’t expect it’d go this well.”
On top of Jack and long-time member Ace, there were four other Night Warlock members, including Kenji. All of them were in a good mood, with the bank robbery having gone far more smoothly than they’d anticipated.
They’d packed enough cash from the bank safes to fill five large suitcases, loaded them into the minivan that they’d parked outside, and managed to escape before the police cars arrived.
“King was right, we’re gonna get even bigger at this rate.”
“Well, this is just the first step.”
— Who says we’re gonna stop at taking over the town?
We’re gonna get even bigger, big enough to control the entire country from the shadows.
In order to do that, we need money —
Right before their attack on the bank, King, the Night Warlocks’ boss, had sent them out with those words.
“Seriously, King is so cool. We’re the Night Warlocks, and we’re the greatest!”
The gangsters were so caught up in the success of their bank robbery that they took no notice of the passenger car on their tail.
“Hey, Peko, shouldn’t we stay a little further back?”
“It’s okay, there’s tons of cars here, they won’t notice us.”
Mitsuzane’s group had met up with Rica and Rat, and at first, they had kept an eye on the bank while waiting to see if the police would arrive.
But the gangsters had taken their leave before any sign of a police car arrived, so they had left the bank to follow them instead.
The gangsters’ minivan headed away from the city center and towards the suburbs.
“Damn it, the road’s clearing up,” muttered Peko, clutching the steering wheel.
The further they were from the city center, the more the traffic cleared up, and they were likely to get caught at this rate.
“Give me a minute…”
Mitsuzane used the car navigation system to check the map of the nearby area.
“They’re trying to avoid wide roads, so let’s take the national highway and intercept them here.”
Mitsuzane was banking on the idea that, based on the surrounding traffic conditions, the gang was unlikely to make a major change of course.
The car stopped following behind the minivan, turned right at the next intersection, and passed by a large factory as it headed towards the national highway.
The road was still open, and it seemed like they were closing in on them, but —
Peko had slammed his foot on the brake. Zack yelped in shock.
“Hey, what the hell was that!?”
“Look! Can’t you see there’s someone there?!”
Zack leaned forward and looked through the front window.
He hadn’t noticed him earlier, but there was a man standing there, only a few meters from the car, and he was staring right back at them.
Zack recognized his face.
“Micchy, we know this guy…”
“Yeah, that’s definitely him.”
Mitsuzane and Zack got out of the car and faced the man directly.
It was most certainly the same man from the park, the one who had called himself Kugai Kudou.
As the man gazed back at him in silence, Mitsuzane spoke up.
“You’re involved with Black Bodhi, right?”
“I believe I already gave you my name.”
“Kugai Kudou is dead. So who are you? Why do you have his face?”
“You seem to be more dimwitted than I expected, Mitsuzane Kureshima.”
A Sengoku Driver had suddenly appeared around the man’s waist as he stared coldly back at Mitsuzane.
In his hand was a Pomegranate Lockseed, and another mysterious lock that shone with an unusual color of blood.
Pomegranate! Blood Orange!
Blood Pomegranate Arms! The twisted bloom of sacrifice!1
Blood Orange Arms! The heretical advent on stage!2
A Crack opened above him, and a blood-red colored Armored Rider appeared from a flash of light.
One who reflected back the sinister fate of those who gazed upon him, the savior of freshly shed blood, Armored Rider Saver…!
“He’s an Armored Rider!?”
“…Just like the Armored Rider my brother told me about.”
Mitsuzane’s older brother, Takatora Kureshima, had once fought alongside Ryouma Sengoku against Kugai Kudou, who had transformed into an Armored Rider.
Could this man truly be Kugai Kudou?
“Well, it doesn’t really matter who this guy is! Let’s go, Micchy!”
“Yeah, you’re right. Whoever it is, as long as he’s causing trouble, we’re here to fight!”
Mitsuzane and Zack simultaneously put on their Sengoku Drivers and held up their Lockseeds.
In response, two Cracks opened above their head, and steel fruits came down from above.
Two warriors emerged from the flash of light.
One who stood there with atonement and resolve dwelling in his heart, the young dragon who surpassed even the greatest in fighting arts: Armored Rider Ryugen.
One burning with passion and fighting spirit, the gladiator burning with the flames of courage: Armored Rider Knuckle.
Seeing the two in front of him and side by side, Saver spoke.
“As long as you still utilize the system created by Ryouma Sengoku, you are obstacles to me. If you reject my salvation, I must eliminate you.”
“Cut the crap! Come on, Micchy, let’s get him!”
Yelling angrily, Knuckle quickly jumped closer to Saver and aimed a punch at him.
Saver deftly avoided Knuckle’s fist as he roared, dodging it by a hair’s breadth.
With his attempt at a huge attack completely dodged, Knuckle quickly switched to jabs with smaller ranges of motion, rolling them out left, right, left in quick succession — but Saver anticipated every single one of them.
As Knuckle found Saver constantly slipping out of his reach and evading all of his attacks, he prepared for Saver to launch a counterattack. But Ryugen had aimed his Grape Dragun at him, and fired.
Saver managed to kick up from the ground in time, and jumped right over the incoming shots.
But Knuckle had managed to use the interval of time to get away safely.
“He’s really too strong…he dodged every single one of them.”
“Yeah…he’s really pissing me off.”
Saver showed no sign of being provoked, and stood there calmly without even attempting a counterattack.
“Is that truly the extent of your power?”
“We’ll have to try this…”
Ryugen quickly glanced at Knuckle.
Knuckle immediately understood what Ryugen was thinking.
“We just gotta shoot until we land a hit!”
Ryugen started firing the Grape Dragun in quick succession.
The shots barraged Saver like a whirlwind.
But Saver continued dodging all of the shots, as if he could predict exactly where they would land.
“I have been watching your battles for all of this time. I already know how you fight.”
“You sure about that?”
As if realizing what Knuckle was getting at, Saver turned to look back at him.
While Ryugen had been distracting Saver, Knuckle had attached a Genesis Core to his Sengoku Driver.
It was the one recovered from Kaito Kumon’s Genesis Driver.
It should have been destroyed thanks to Ryouma Sengoku’s self-destruct program — the Kill Process — and even Zack had no idea why it was still usable.
But Kouta Kazuraba, who had awoken as an Overlord, had once used his powers to restore a broken Victorious Lockseed.
So in that case, perhaps Kaito, who had obtained power comparable to that of Kouta, could have restored a Genesis Core.
— To entrust his wishes to those who would follow in his footsteps.
Either way, Zack didn’t quite understand, and the only thing he could do was fight back with all of the strength he had.
Zack pulled out a Chestnut Lockseed and attached it to the Genesis Core.
Light burst out, and the electronic sound of the Lockseed reverberated through the air.
Jinba Chestnut! Ha-hah!
Knuckle was now wearing armor summoned by the Chestnut Energy Lockseed.
Armored Rider Knuckle, Jinba Chestnut Arms.
Running like a warrior heading onto the battlefield, he slammed his spiked fists into Saver.
The energy gathered in Knuckle’s fist coalesced into a huge impact that pierced through Saver and exploded.
Saver was completely swallowed up in the explosion.
“Did we get him!?”
” — I see. You simply managed to survive the battle against Helheim, and nothing more.”
Only a moment later, Saver was now standing right behind Knuckle.
Even Ryugen, who should have been able to see the entire thing from a distance, was unable to follow Saver’s movements.
He seemed to have completely disappeared and reappeared in a split second.
“No way, I swear that should have done something!?”
“You truly are the greatest obstacles to my salvation, I see.”
Ryugen shot his Grape Dragun at Saver.
But Saver vanished, like a phantom.
Looking around, there was no longer any sign of the red Armored Rider.
“What the hell…”
The two of them released their transformations and got up in a daze, utterly confused as to what was going on.
Peko rushed in to meet them.
“Peko! You saw that, right!? He just disappeared…”
“Y-Yeah, I saw it…But now…”
It was immediately apparent what Peko was getting at.
They had been dragged out of the way by Saver and kept aside for a long while.
In all of the rush, they had completely lost track of the gangsters’ minivan.
“Seriously, great job, guys.”
Five large suitcases were stacked in front of King.
Looking at the suitcases that were overflowing with bankrolls, King drank from the glass of Western liquor in his hand, in high spirits.
They were in a group of warehouses in the suburbs of Zawame.
The Night Warlocks had relocated their hideout to the basement of an abandoned warehouse.
Their raid on the bank had been successful, and the gang members under Ace’s lead had returned to the hideout without a single scratch.
They had been concerned about potentially being tailed on their way back, but even that seemed to have no problems.
This was only one step in King’s overall plan, but things had gone so well up to this point that it was hard to feel worried.
It was as if God had blessed his ambitions — at least, such was how King saw it.
However, he was not completely satisfied.
King had two goals in conducting the raid on the bank.
The first was to collect money for the future.
The second was to test how strong the gang members were with the Lockseeds.
If the Night Warlocks were to expand as an organization, it was only natural that they would eventually get into conflict with police officers and other gangs.
Once that happened, how well could their members with Lockseeds handle themselves in a fight?…King had wanted to put that to the test.
While it would have been an unfortunate loss if any of their members had been shot down by police officers, the four gang members besides Ace had been picked for the job because they had no fear of death.
“Well, I can’t complain, I should enjoy this. I’ll just have to test them again later…”
Muttering under his breath so that his subordinates wouldn’t hear, he brought the glass to his lips again, but there was no amber-colored liquid there, and he had already drained it completely.
“Hey, I’m out of booze.”
He prodded the woman sitting next to him, nudging her to bring him more, but received no response.
“Hey, you heard me!”
Queen, completely ignoring what King was saying, was entranced by the Pomegranate Lockseed in her hands.
“Ah…as long as I have this…I can be happy…”
Queen was whispering her words, addressing them to no one in particular.
“Gh, do the Lockseeds have side effects or something?”
The Pomegranate Lockseeds erased people’s ability to feel fear, made them feel powerful, and even eliminated their pain.
The holder would bypass their unconscious limitations and exert extraordinary levels of force, but the burden would accumulate in their body and brain. Eventually, they would wear themselves out physically and mentally, and become completely unable to function — King knew this, and thus avoided carrying one at all costs.
“What the hell is that guy trying to pull on me?”
King momentarily recalled the memory of “that man” in his mind.
“He’s totally trying to use me, and I can’t have that. I’ll have to yank him out of the sheep’s clothing sometime…”
Seeing that Queen was still entranced by the Lockseed in her hands, King called out to the gangsters in the basement.
“Hey, someone, bring me some liquor!”
Normally, everyone there would rush in all at once in the hopes of buttering up their boss, but…something was different on this night.
The basement was lightly illuminated by the construction lamps hanging from the ceiling, and the gangsters there were split into small groups, drinking and gambling, but for some reason, despite their boss calling them, not a single one responded to King —
“Why the hell is nobody answering!?”
Now yelling and in a bad mood, King approached Kenji, the one sitting closest to him. He grabbed his chest violently and dragged him upwards.
“Y’all making fun of me?”
But Kenji’s eyes were as hollow as Queen’s, and his Lockseed was in his hand.
King started looking around frantically.
Looking at them more closely, he realized all of the members in the basement were holding their Lockseeds to their chests and staring at the faint glow coming off from them.
“What the hell…”
Is this what happens when we overuse the Lockseeds? thought King, but there was something strange about everyone becoming like this at the exact same time.
“Kenji! Throw it away!”
“That…I cannot do…”
“Seriously, just do what I say and throw it out!”
King started dragging Kenji into a scuffle, but Ace walked up and pulled King off of him.
“Ace! You trying to turn on me, too?”
“King…Pick up the Lockseed…”
“…The fruit of miracles…shall lead us to salvation…”
The air around his subordinates was feeling more and more dangerous by the second, and King pulled out the pistol he kept in his belt, pointing the muzzle at Ace.
As if on cue, the gangsters in the room all stood up together and surrounded King.
“Don’t come any closer!”
King shot his pistol at Ace’s shoulder, but Ace’s facial expression remained frozen.
“Why…must you reject salvation…?”
He fired again and again.
One person collapsed after he managed to hit their vitals, but the others continued to approach King without any hesitation.
“Indeed…You…were not chosen…”
The gun started clicking to signify there were no more bullets left, and King’s screams echoed through the dim basement.
But his screams were soon buried under the words of prayer leaking from all of the gangsters’ mouths in unison.
“The time of the end…is near…”
“Save us…who are lost…”
The next day —
According to a news report, a body had been found in a warehouse in the suburbs of Zawame. The body was that of the boss of the Night Warlocks, a gang on the police’s wanted list, and he had been referred to by the other members as “King”.
Stacks of money stolen from Zawame Central Bank had been found in the warehouse basement, completely untouched.
But there were no other gang members found within the basement, and police was continuing to track down their whereabouts —
- While the word kuruizaki (狂い咲き) usually means “blooming off season”, the kurui (狂い) component refers to having fallen into insanity, or being against the natural order of things.
- The Blood Orange Arms call is an obvious parody of the original Orange Arms “blossoming advent on stage” (“hanamichi on stage”) call. In the original call, “hanamichi” refers to the portion of a kabuki theater stage used for characters to make their appearance, but is also wordplay on its component parts being “flower” and “path”. The phrase used for the Blood Orange Arms call is “ja no michi (邪ノ道) on stage”, with component parts being “wickedness” and “path”. Although the word 邪道 (normally read “jadou“) exists and means “improper/unconventional method”, the text here explicitly instructs to read it “ja no michi“, most likely to reinforce the parallel with the Orange Arms call.