It was like a palace made of concrete.
A myriad of columns lined up in a dimly-lit, vast space, much like the Greek Parthenon.
It was a strange place that seemed somewhat detached from reality, with over a hundred people gathered there.
They were office workers, housewives, students…many others. And sticking out the most among them were young people who seemed to have been cast out from all other places — in other words, street gangsters.
Many of the former Night Warlocks were there as well.
There were also several members of Inferno, and the other gangs that had been in conflict with the Night Warlocks.
The one thing common to all of the people there was that each one had a Pomegranate Lockseed in hand.
All of them had been staring at their Lockseeds with unfocused eyes, before suddenly raising their heads at once to look at a singular point.
A giant concrete wall towering and looming over the crowd, stretching as far as the eye could see.
The staircase slithered on the ground before reaching up to the ceiling, and on the landing stood a thin man in a black suit.
“The time of the end is near…”
“Save us who are lost…”
The people’s collective voices echoed throughout the area made of concrete.
“We are Black Bodhi.”
Kugai spoke his words in a solemn voice.
“The time of the end approaches. As our apostles, you must guide those who are still uncertain. Once the end is reached, our time of salvation shall come.”
Overcome with emotion and ecstasy, the people began to cheer.
As if resonating with them, the Lockseeds in their hand began to glow with a faint red light.
“It’s our new fruit parfait. What do you think?”
The group had gotten together at Drupers, a local fruit parlor.
The owner, Kiyojirou Bandou, had shown up at Mitsuzane’s table, and was addressing Jounouchi, who was indulging himself with the parfait.
“It’s good. The mango sauce goes with it perfectly.”
“I’m so thrilled to hear that from someone from Charmant~”
As Bandou grinned with satisfaction, Mitsuzane turned to address him.
“Are you sure you want to give us all of this for free?”
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”
Bandou waved the silver tray in his hand around like a fan.
“We don’t have a lot of customers today, so if you don’t eat it, the fruit will spoil anyway.”
Just as he had said, despite it being the weekend, the store was mostly empty.
At the cash register, Iyo, a part-time worker there, was standing there with her usual face devoid of expression.
“…Is it because of the explosions?” asked Zack.
Bandou shrugged and smiled.
“I was hoping things would improve once the gang wars went away, but…it’s getting to be a problem.”
Bandou returned to the counter, and Mitsuzane, Jounouchi, Zack, and Rica all looked at each other and sighed.
Once King’s corpse had been discovered, somehow, all of the gangs had vanished from the city at once. It hadn’t been only the Night Warlocks; even the other gangs, like Inferno, had also dissolved.
Why did they disappear, and where had they gone…?
Nobody had any clue, but the citypeople were relieved, and for them, as long as the gangsters and threats to public safety were gone, that was enough.
But Mitsuzane and the others knew that Black Bodhi was behind the gangs, and were afraid that it could be an omen of something coming.
And, indeed, only a few days later — their fears had been spot on.
There was an explosion in the heart of Zawame.
At first, it was thought to be an explosion caused by hazardous materials, but witnesses present at the scene testified that it was a human carrying some kind of explosive object, or, in other words, a suicide bomber.
Following that was a whole series of explosions, all caused by suicide bombing. Many civilians had also been injured in the aftermath.
Normally, this would be labeled as suicide bomb terrorism. But the most important part — the statement of intent — had yet to be made.
Who was causing all of this violence, and why?
“It’s gotta be the brainwashed gangsters, right?”
“The street gangs disappeared all around the city, but then this happened right after it. It would at least explain why King of the Night Warlocks was killed.”
As he spoke, Mitsuzane mulled over what the leader of Black Bodhi — the man who called himself Kugai Kudou — must be planning.
Had he been supplying gangs with Lockseeds in order to increase the number of people caught up in these suicide bombings?
What was the point of all of this suicide bombing in the first place? Perhaps it was a ploy to keep the world distracted until the Saver System was complete — but no matter how much he thought about it, the only thing he could do was make haphazard guesses.
“There’s no point in worrying about it. The bigger question is what we should do now.”
Zack had plucked the words right out of Mitsuzane’s thought process.
It was just as Zack said. Right now, they needed more information about Black Bodhi.
“For now, can’t we try catching the suicide bombers before they explode?” said Jounouchi, with cream stuck on his mouth.
“We won’t know who they are until after they’ve already blown up.”
“Well…we can try and track down some of the missing gang members, right? That would probably help narrow it down.”
“Oh, you’re right. But we don’t have enough people to do a whole search around Zawame…”
“Ah! If that’s the problem…”
Rica, who had been listening in on the conversation from the side, raised her right hand.
“I got a call from a friend yesterday…”
According to Rica, she’d been contacted by members of other dance teams — Raid Wild, Pop Up, Souten, and many others who wanted to help out with the investigation.
“All of these gangsters and explosions are making it really hard to hold dance sessions, so everyone’s really mad about it.”
Mitsuzane had nothing but gratitude for all of the other teams offering their assistance. He nodded at Rica.
“That’ll be great. Tell them we’d love to have their help.”
Now that the Beat Riders had even more people helping them out, they all immediately got to searching around Zawame.
Their goal was to track down and secure any potential terrorist bombers. But unlike with gangsters, who would cause trouble in groups, it was terribly difficult to find a potential culprit when they were acting alone and blending into a large city.
On top of that, it was hard to predict where an explosion would happen. Normally, this kind of thing would occur in large company buildings or other public facilities…but in this case, such places were rarely made into targets.
Explosions were occurring one after another, in places that would be incomprehensible if this were actual planned terrorism, such as private houses, small parks, and back alleys with few people. Fortunately, it meant that there were few victims overall, but…because it was always uncertain when and where one would happen, the civilians were only getting progressively more and more anxious.
— And then, the sudden change happened with little fanfare.
It had initially been advertised as a “good luck charm” that spread through communication apps and social media. The original source was unknown. Anyone who touched a mysterious power item called a “Fruit of Life” could purge their body of toxins and recharge themselves with new life energy.
In practice, most people scoffed and refused to bother with it. Eventually, they forgot that such a concept had even been up for discussion.
But there were always exceptions. And on top of that, Zawame was at the mercy of shocking incidents with suicide bombings. Faith was, after all, an enthralling thing. It was only natural that anxious people would start trying out this “good luck charm”.
It was as simple as touching this “Fruit of Life” through a cloth. The explanation was that “the fruit’s power is too strong for a human to touch it directly before getting used to it”.
Such a meaningless “good luck charm” eventually became a fad in Zawame.
Everyone who tried it out felt a strange, uplifting feeling and a sense that they could do anything. All they had to do was touch this “Fruit of Life” for several seconds. No strange symptoms would come up afterwards.
It made sense. The “Fruit of Life” was nothing like a narcotic drug, and generated no physical dependency.
The “good luck charm” started to spread, little by little. Those who used its magic over and over again eventually gathered together, and they started actively advocating to spread the word of their wonderful experiences.
They eventually adopted the same name as a certain minor religious cult that had once existed in Zawame.
“What the hell are you trying to do?!”
Peko’s angry voice rang out in front of the station. People were staring as they passed by.
Peko grabbed a weak-looking middle-aged man by the chest and started aggressively interrogating him.
“Excuse me…Please calm down. I am simply here to spread the word of Black Bodhi’s teachings…”
“Are you another Lockseed puppet!? Where’s your hideout!?”
“Um…ah, yes. If you’re looking for our church, you can take one of our flyers…”
“Don’t play dumb with me!”
Mitsuzane rushed in to stop Peko, who looked like he was about to punch the man in the face.
“Micchy!? But look, this guy here…”
“We’ll be in trouble if the police get involved. Let’s go.”
Mitsuzane apologized to the man for the trouble and started dragging Peko away.
“They don’t understand anything. They’re just ordinary people.”
“But they’re from Black Bodhi…!”
“They’re just a bunch of people who happened to gather around a good luck charm. They’re not from the actual Black Bodhi.”
“…You’re saying it’s just a coincidence?”
“Of course it’s not. They’re calling it the ‘Fruit of Life’…that’s got to be the Pomegranate Lockseed.”
“…So there is a connection!”
“Yeah. That man — the one calling himself Kugai Kudou — is definitely behind this.”
It was called a “church” — but in practice, it was more like a small multi-tenant building rental.
They mainly were involved with missionary work and some volunteer activities. There were no particular obligations forced on them.
Anyone could come and go as they pleased. If they lost interest, they were allowed to leave at any time — a flexibility that left more and more Black Bodhi followers eager to join.
After a “trial period” of one week, they would be officially registered as believers and offered the “Fruit of Life”.
A young woman had just finished her trial period, and was going through with the procedure to be confirmed with the church.
— It was Chucky of Team Gaim.
“Then, once again. Welcome to Black Bodhi. We look forward to your patronage from here on out.”
A mild-mannered elderly man welcomed Chucky with a smile.
“T-Thank you very much…”
Feeling somewhat tense, Chucky bowed her head.
One of the executives brought over a suitcase. He was an executive with strong features and tattoos all over his arms, and certainly the last kind of person you would expect to be deeply religious. But in spite of his appearance, he had a perpetual gentle smile on his face.
The executive opened the suitcase and showed its contents to Chucky.
In it was the “Fruit of Life” that had been hidden under cloth during her trial period — the Pomegranate Lockseed.
“Please carry it close with you at all times.”
Chucky instinctively took the Lockseed from the executive with both hands.
In that moment, a numbing sensation spread from her palms through her entire body.
Joy was swelling from deep within her chest, and her body felt light, as if she were flying.
She wanted to throw everything away and give into the euphoria — or at least, such thoughts floated through her head for a moment.
(Yeah, this thing is real scary…)
One week earlier, in Team Gaim’s garage.
Mitsuzane and the others were discussing the Black Bodhi members Peko had encountered in front of the station.
In front of them was an open suitcase.
The Pomegranate Lockseed, which they’d stolen from the street gang earlier, was inside.
“So this is the Pomegranate Lockseed…”
Mitsuzane had to hold Rat back from reaching out to touch it.
“Try not to touch it. If you come into contact with it for too long, you might end up brainwashed.”
Rat quickly drew his hands back. Reorganizing his thoughts, Mitsuzane continued the conversation.
“The ‘good luck charm’ probably originated from some of the missing gang members. They were brainwashed, and then they started spreading the Pomegranate Lockseeds into the general public.”
“So all of those recent suicide bombings…” said Rica, addressing Mitsuzane.
“They’re trying to make everyone nervous. More and more people will want something to cling onto, and they’ll be in the perfect position to go for the Pomegranate Lockseeds…”
“Dammit! This Black Bodhi cult’s making a mockery out of human lives!”
Zack couldn’t hold back any longer. Black Bodhi was at the point of dragging ordinary people into this and getting them to self-destruct.
“But that should make it easier to track down the Pomegranate Lockseeds. We might be able to get a lead on where their hideout is.”
“Did you come up with a plan, Micchy?”
Mitsuzane suddenly fell silent. He had, in fact, come up with an idea, but he was reluctant to say what it was.
Back in the old days, he wouldn’t have hesitated for even a second. But now that he was carrying the burden of once having betrayed them all, he was wracked with indecision.
He didn’t want to get anyone else in danger ever again…
“Why don’t we send in a spy to infiltrate Black Bodhi? I can do it!”
Chucky said exactly what Mitsuzane had been thinking, sending him into momentary shock before he quickly got himself together.
“Wait, wait! That might be too dangerous. If anything, I should…”
“That Kugai Kudou guy already knows who Micchy and Zack are, right? It’ll probably be too obvious if either of you go.”
“Hey, Micchy…we all know you’re holding back because you’re too worried about what happened back then. We’re your friends, so let us help you.”
…They’d seen right through him. Mitsuzane was thoroughly embarrassed. In the end, they were the ones who were worried about him.
He was all too painfully aware that he hadn’t grown a single bit since then. He’d tried to behave as prudently as possible, and as a result, he’d lost sight of everything around him. In his desperation, he’d only considered his immediate future and nothing ahead of that…and what came out of it was that one awful year, the one that had left deep scars on himself, and on everyone else. Was it even possible for him to become at least somewhat of a better human being at this point?
As if she could still tell what Mitsuzane was thinking, Chucky continued.
“We all know you’ve changed, Micchy, so…don’t worry about it too much.”
Seeing that Mitsuzane was still silent, Zack spoke up to encourage him.
“That church doesn’t seem too shady, right? It’s probably not that dangerous. And also — “
Zack stared straight into Mitsuzane’s eyes, and then turned to Chucky.
“If something happens, we’ll come back you up right away.”
“…!…Yeah. That goes for me, too, of course!”
Saying those words helped Mitsuzane make up his mind. There was no point in having so much self-pity, like some kind of coward. No matter how awkward and unsightly he was, he had to keep moving forward. At the very least, he had to make sure to not repeat the same mistakes all over again.
“Thanks, Chucky…all right, this is my request. Please go in and join Black Bodhi as a member, and find out what’s going on in there.”
“Got it, leave it to me!”
And thus, Chucky was there.
“Excuse me, is there a restroom…?”
Having finished the process of receiving her “Fruit of Life”, Chucky rushed into the bathroom.
Now that she was out of sight, she pulled out a case from her bag, placed the Pomegranate Lockseed into it, and put a replica Lockseed into her pocket.
“There we go…”
She then started whispering her report into a small radio she’d hidden.
“Chucky here. I got the ‘Fruit of Life’. As we thought, it’s a Lockseed.”
“Try not to touch the Lockseed for as long as you can. We’ll come get it later.”
Mitsuzane’s voice was audible from the other end of the radio transmission.
“Got it. Oh, also, Micchy, it’s exactly as you thought. One of the executives was a gangster. Yeah, it was an Inferno member. I’m pretty sure I saw his face earlier when I was tracking him down.”
“Are you okay? Do you think they’ve caught onto you?”
“Don’t think so. I think I’m good for now. I’ll keep prodding around.”
“Okay. Be careful.”
The church Chucky was infiltrating had a parking lot around 200 meters from it.
A car was parked deep inside, in a space that couldn’t be seen from the main street. Mitsuzane, who was in the passenger seat, sighed in relief.
“Looks like things went okay so far. But now, what happens after…”
If Chucky kept a good eye on the former gang member, she could probably find even more clues that would lead them to Black Bodhi. But at this point, they needed to have even more caution.
The gang members were likely to be brainwashed. In other words, they were directly connected to Black Bodhi. The risks were high.
If they rushed too quickly into it and made a mistake, Chucky herself would be put into danger.
“They’re definitely planning something big back there…We’re going to get to the bottom of this.”
“The cycle of life. The passing of all.”
A concrete palace. Countless columns lined up side by side. A staircase that crawled up the wall.
Within the vast space, Kugai Kudou’s voice echoed in all directions.
“Let us rejoice. We, who were exiled from the forest, shall climb a different staircase to salvation.”
There were more than ten times as many “believers” as there were before.
The Pomegranate Lockseeds were slowly eating into the minds of their holders, and into the entire city of Zawame.
“The time of the end is near…”
“Save us who are lost…”
Like the souls of the dead clawing for a spider’s thread hanging from the heavens1, the believers reached towards Kugai.
“At the end of this ever-changing universe, my wishes and salvation shall bear fruit!”
As Kugai chanted his words, the believers’ Pomegranate Lockseeds began emitting red light in unison.
“We’ve got an emergency! Something’s happened with Chucky!”
The stress was clearly apparent in Zack’s voice through the smartphone receiver.
Zack had been watching the church from the car in the parking lot, but something seemed to have happened inside.
As he was asking the question, Mitsuzane grabbed his jacket from a chair and leapt out of the garage.
“Seems like all of the church believers were locked in a trance. An executive is driving them somewhere on a minibus.”
“What about Chucky?”
“She pretended she was also in a trance and joined them on the minibus. I haven’t heard from her since.”
“You know where she is, right?”
Chucky’s radio had a GPS tracker on it, which let the others know of her location through a dedicated device.
“Yeah. They’re headed right down New Zawame Street2.”
“Keep an eye on them. I’ll call a taxi and get us over there. We’ll meet on the way.”
The minibus headed north through the city, with Chucky and the cultists onboard.
On top of the one minibus, there were other passenger cars and buses accompanying them to the same place.
It seemed there were others being controlled by the Pomegranate Lockseeds who were going in the same direction, far more than simply just the church members.
Zack and Mitsuzane had met up and were now following the bus from a kilometer behind, following the GPS signal coming from Chucky’s radio.
The icon indicating her position moved at a steady pace along the map, stopped nearby the river in the central area of the city, and suddenly vanished.
It seemed she must have entered some kind of building where radio signals were jammed —
“Wait, isn’t that supposed to be an empty riverbank?”
They parked the car at a short distance from where the signal had disappeared and searched around the area, but there was no sign of any building.
“No, but right here, there’s…”
The Zawame Underground Floodway — a huge underground channel made to discharge waterfall from the heavy rain and prevent it from flooding the city.
It had been completed around ten years prior, but poor quality construction had led to erosion and land sinking, and the area was largely neglected.
Right where Chucky’s signal had vanished, there was supposed to be a huge underground pool made to store the water from the floodway, or in other words, a surge tank.
“Are they using this as their hideout?”
“It’s out of the way and hard to run into by accident, and they can use the underground water tunnels to go anywhere in the city.”
It was still hard to tell what Black Bodhi was up to, but there was no doubt things were only going to get worse from here.
“Our first priority is getting Chucky out of there as soon as possible.”
Seeing Zack full of resolve, Mitsuzane nodded in response.
“We don’t have time to waste. I know we don’t have much of a plan, but let’s just charge in and see what happens.”
“We can’t allow you in here without permission.”
A fence had been set up around the underground surge tank, and a guard was standing in front.
“Please, I’m a university student, I need to take field notes on the underground floodway for a report…”
Mitsuzane was lying with a straight face, but it wasn’t long before he noticed the guard’s empty and unfocused eyes.
“Ah…we’re in trouble.”
The guard pulled out a Pomegranate Lockseed, and Mitsuzane and Jack immediately were set on edge.
“We’ve got a problem here. He’s gonna blow himself up!”
“Knock him down before he can!”
But neither of them had anticipated what the guard was about to do.
The Pomegranate Lockseed clicked open, and a Crack opened up.
There was something resembling black mist pouring in from the other side of the crack. Just then, a jarring noise started to fill the air.
No, it was something else. The “noise” was actually the humming of wings, and the “black mist” was a swarm of flying insects.
The huge swarm of insects latched onto Mitsuzane and Zack.
“Gaaaaah! T-This! This is…!”
Zack and Mitsuzane desperately tried to shake off the insects swarming around them. They seemed to be much like the kinds of grasshoppers and locusts one could find on Earth.
But once Zack and Mitsuzane finally managed to shake off the insects, they began gathering into a small area of space —
The myriad of insects “transformed” into a single, abnormal shape.
If you had to call it something, it would be something akin to a grasshopper man, or a locust monster. It was an alien lifeform that did not exist within the Earth’s ecosystem.
But the two of them were already familiar with something very much like this.
“…Something like that. There was an Armored Rider named Kougane, and he used one of these.”
Seven months after Helheim had vanished, Mitsuzane and the others had been attacked by an Armored Rider who called himself Kougane.
In the end, they never truly figured out who Kougane actually was. Since he had knowledge of the Femushinmu, a race of beings that Helheim had once annihilated, Mitsuzane’s older brother, Takatora, had speculated that Kougane was “a remnant of the Overlords”.
There had been another incident earlier, when an Overlord named Lapis had created a world out of the collective unconscious — that is to say, a dream world — and trapped everyone in it.
Kougane — a demon being created from a false Golden Fruit — had also been trapped in that world, and had engaged them in a fight to the death.
…But Mitsuzane had no memory of that, nor did the others. The only one who remembered was Kouta Kazuraba, who had long since departed Earth.
The locust monster lunged at them with terrifying force, and Mitsuzane and Zack only managed to dodge it at the last second. As they dodged, they pulled out their Lockseeds.
The locust monster attempted to attack them while they were still unprotected, but the steel grapes and walnut that emerged from the Cracks continuously kept getting in its way.
The locust monster was pushed back and blown away. As if acting in response, the two fruits headed straight back to where they were over Mitsuzane and Zack’s heads.
The steel fruits unfolded into invincible armor, and covered both of them.
Armored Rider Ryugen and Armored Rider Knuckle had appeared.
Knuckle went on the attack. Boiling with anger, he struck the locust monster with repeated punches. But instead of fighting back, the locust monster simply backed away, and it took only one deadly blow from Zack to tear it apart…
But in that same moment, the locust monster’s body became a flock of smaller locusts, slipping right through Knuckle’s punch.
The flock reformed into the locust monster right behind Knuckle. Knuckle was hit from behind, and was sent flying backwards.
Ryugen managed to distract the locust monster with the Grape Dragun while Knuckle stood up again.
“Ow…you gotta be kidding me.”
“Looks like we’ll have to blow up the entire thing in one shot.”
“Yeah…all right, you ready?”
Ryugen would start loading a shot on the Grape Dragun, while Knuckle would keep it occupied with his punches.
Knuckle and the locust monster fought back and forth in an offensive and defensive cycle, and after the battle had raged on for long enough, Knuckle managed a straight punch on the locust monster with his right arm, causing it to stagger.
“There’s your chance! Go for it, Micchy!”
While Knuckle had been fighting off the monster, Ryugen had finished charging up energy.
He pushed down the cutting blade attached to his belt buckle, and the system voice could clearly be heard.
The Grape Dragun shot out a powerful energy burst that took the shape of a dragon and headed towards the locust monster!
The locust monster, feeling pain through its body, attempted to disperse into a swarm once again, but…
“Not so fast!”
Knuckle pushed down the cutting blade three times. His entire body was surging with power.
Knuckle released a large burst of walnut-shaped energy from his fist.
Crushed between all of the energy bursts, the locust monster exploded.
Any smaller locusts trying to escape from its body were also swallowed up by the explosion and burned to a crisp.
“That’s more like it.”
Feeling proud of himself, Zack released his transformation, but Ryugen could still sense incoming danger.
“Zack! The security guards!”
They turned back to see the guard attempting to activate the Pomegranate Lockseed.
“He’s gonna blow himself up!?”
Ryugen shot precisely enough to send the Pomegranate Lockseed flying out of the guard’s hand. Not wasting a moment, Zack followed up with a punch, and the guard collapsed.
Finally able to release his transformation, Mitsuzane let out a deep breath.
“Don’t let your guard down.”
“…Sorry about that. Thanks.”
“We knocked out a guard, so it’s only a matter of time before they figure out we’re here. We’d better hurry.”
“…That’s a lot,” muttered Zack.
The two of them were standing on a catwalk above the surge tank, and were looking down into it.
The Pomegranate Lockseeds had manipulated the people into gathering there, in a 20-by-200-meter area made for collecting rainwater. There was no doubt about it; this was the Black Bodhi hideout.
“Even the thought of all these people being used for terrorist stuff creeps me out…”
They could easily use the waterway to cause explosions in any part of the city.
Police stations, fire stations, hospitals…they could destroy every single public essential utility and facility.
And on top of that, there was the Saver System…if they brought that out in all of the chaos, Zawame would be completely wiped off of the map.
“Anyway, we gotta find Chucky…”
“Let’s head down.”
Mitsuzane and Zack looked around the crowd, searching for Chucky. No one there took notice of them. All of them were standing there doing nothing, staring ahead with empty eyes.
But since the two of them were making themselves obvious by moving through the crowd in search of Chucky, it wasn’t long before she caught sight of them.
“Chucky! You okay!?”
“Yeah. It was pretty scary, but I had faith in you guys, I knew you’d come and help.”
“We promised, after all. Now that we’ve found you…”
Mitsuzane looked around. There was still no reaction from anyone, and everyone was still standing there and staring into space. But the more he looked at them, the more he started to feel something strange…
“It’s been like that ever since I got here. I tried shaking someone around a bit, but…everyone else did the exact same thing.”
It was just as Chucky had said. Even the slightest movements were synchronized between all of them. Was this also from the Pomegranate Lockseed?
“Well, as long as they’re not bothering us. Let’s use this chance and get out of here.”
“…Zack. Take Chucky and go. I’m going to stay here and look a little deeper.”
“Hey, wait, it’s too dangerous! We can’t just leave you here by yourself.”
“But if this really is the Black Bodhi hideout, they must be keeping that here.”
“You mean the Saver System?”
“If we’re right and the Saver System really is a scalar weapon, it’ll be too big for them to find an easy place to hide it. Which means…”
“…It’s probably around here.”
After hearing what Mitsuzane had to say, Zack nodded.
“All right. I’ll take Chucky from here. But be careful, okay?”
“I will. Thanks.”
Once Mitsuzane had made sure Zack and Chucky were through the waterway and on their way back to the city, he headed deeper into the surge tank.
He emerged from the passageway to find the sunlight beaming down from overhead.
He’d been used to the darkness inside, so his eyes took a moment to adjust.
A pit, like a mine shaft, was drilled far into the ground.
Water had been collected from all over the city, and was flowing into it like a giant well.
Abandoned construction work, a seventy-meter deep tunnel with steel frames exposed in some areas — and something that caught Mitsuzane’s eye.
“It’s the Saver System!”
An antenna with a complex shape was installed in such a way that it fit snugly into the pit.
It was like a giant Bodhi tree growing within the depths of the earth.
“That antenna must be emitting electromagnetic waves. The core unit for the output device would be…over there.”
The bottom of the pit. A group of mechanical devices arranged around the base of the antenna — it seemed to be the Saver System’s core.
Mitsuzane started running down the stairs that spiraled around the walls of the pit.
” — I expected you would come, Mitsuzane Kureshima.”
In only a blink of an eye, a ghostly man was standing on top of the Saver System.
It was the man who called himself Kugai Kudou.
“When did you…”
“I have already told you. If you reject my salvation, I must eliminate you.”
A large number of Cracks opened around the man. Swarms of locusts poured out of them and rushed towards Mitsuzane.
He shot the Grape Dragun at a locust monster as it lunged towards him. The locust monster exploded, but in that same moment, another one grabbed Ryugen from the side.
The scuffle caused Ryugen to lose his grip on the Grape Dragun, and it fell to the bottom of the pit.
Left barehanded and without his specialty weapon, Ryugen was blown back by the next attack as the staircase railing behind him broke off.
He fell dozens of meters and hit the bottom of the pit, where the Saver System output device’s ceiling was. The Armored Rider armor protected Mitsuzane to some extent, but he still took enough damage that he struggled to stand up.
The locust monsters lunged together on Ryugen to finish him off.
“I won’t die yet…not here…!”
With trembling hands, Mitsuzane replaced the Grape Lockseed in his belt with another one. A different set of armor appeared over Ryugen and covered him.
Kiwi Arms! The ring of onslaught! Sei-yah-ha!
In a bulkier set of armor, Ryugen had a large circular weapon — a Kiwi Attack Wheel — in each hand.
Trying to push back the locust monsters coming at him from all directions, Ryugen swung both wheels around as they spun.
Ryugen’s circular movements spread energy from the wheels’ blades, cutting through all of the locust monsters at once!
But using such huge attacks, let alone after taking damage from a fall, took a toll on Mitsuzane’s body. His transformation released itself automatically to prevent him from taking any more.
As Mitsuzane fell to his knees and started breathing heavily, Kugai Kudou looked down at him with a cold expression.
“Well done, Mitsuzane Kureshima. But this seems to be your limit.”
As Kugai said this, more Cracks opened up and more and more locust monsters started piling in. Mitsuzane’s heart was starting to fill with despair.
“…I can’t give up! If Kouta were here, he wouldn’t give up, either!”
Mitsuzane was desperately trying to encourage himself, but the locust monsters were relentless —
Arrows of light rained down on the locust monsters, piercing through all of them.
“Wait, I know that attack…!”
Mitsuzane’s eyes widened in shock. Even Kugai’s expression had changed.
Mitsuzane had very clearly seen Kugai’s blank expression turn into obvious irritation.
“You had to come and stand before me again…”
Kugai looked up towards where the arrows of light had come from.
On top of the spiral staircase, backed by the sunlight shining through the open pit, was the majestic sight of a white Armored Rider, holding a bow and standing firm.
Or, in other words —
Armored Rider Zangetsu Shin had arrived!
As Zangetsu Shin leaned onto the staircase railing, he started up a device that resembled his Lockseed. It was the Dandeliner, a flight vehicle developed by Yggdrasill.
Zangetsu Shin jumped onto the Dandeliner and descended into the pit.
Kugai Kudou used both of his Lockseeds to transform into Armored Rider Saver.
In his hand was the Saver Arrow, a bow much like the Sonic Arrow that shot arrows of darkness. Energy arrows started heading towards Zangetsu Shin as he rode the Dandeliner down.
Zangetsu Shin deftly steered the Dandeliner around the arrows, occasionally using the blades on the Sonic Arrow to deflect them, and charged straight towards Saver.
He jumped off the Dandeliner above Saver and swung down the Sonic Arrow.
At the same time, Saver slashed the Saver Arrow from the other direction.
Their blades clashed against each other, and energy collided against energy into scattering sparks. In the midst of their locked blades, the two Armored Riders glared at each other.
“Kugai Kudou! How are you still alive!?”
“I have transcended life and death itself. Ryouma Sengoku seems to have held you in high esteem, but in the end, you, Takatora Kureshima, are still bound to a human body.”
Both of them jumped back, as if repelled by impact, and began shooting arrows at each other.
“I heard about everything from your friends! Good work, Mitsuzane!”
Even as he addressed Mitsuzane, his attack remained forceful. Zangetsu Shin and Saber placed Lockseeds on their bows, increasing their energy output even further.
Their special attacks collided between them, and the opposing forces repelled each other into an explosion.
“I’ll take care of him here! Mitsuzane, go and destroy the the Saver System!”
Still recovering from the whiplash and pain, Mitsuzane started running towards the main Saver System unit.
This distracted Saver for a moment as he turned towards Mitsuzane, and Zangetsu Shin took the opportunity to slash at him.
Saver managed to catch the attack by holding the Saver Arrow and a single-bladed sword — a crimson Great Orange Arc — in a cross formation.
“What are all of these terrorist attacks for? What’s Black Bodhi trying to do?”
“This is not terrorism. This is salvation.”
“Brainwashing people with Pomegranate Lockseeds and getting them to self-destruct? What nonsense is that?!”
His anger was strong enough for his slash to break through both weapons. Saver fell back and staggered, but he continued to look straight at Zangetsu Shin.
“It is not self-destruction. It is simply that their bodies can no longer contain the Pomegranate Lockseed’s energy.”
“But that was the blessing of evolution — just as the way I was before.”
“What do you mean by that?!”
Zangetsu Shin went further on the attack. His attacks were faster than the eye could see, but Saver managed to deflect them with the Saver Arrow’s blade. Yet he still could not completely block them, and seemed to be doing his utmost to avoid getting fatally wounded.
“What is the Saver System meant for!? Why would you use a scalar weapon to destroy Zawame!?”
In that moment, Takatora felt chills run up his spine.
He could feel it — Kugai Kudou’s cold smile behind the mask.
“The Saver System is not anything like a scalar weapon.”
Mitsuzane had arrived at the Saver System’s main unit, but he hadn’t been prepared for what was now before his eyes.
The system certainly did seem to be that of a scalar weapon, but there was a very clear difference.
The Saver System’s core was full of Helheim plants.
But it wasn’t mere cultivation. The plants were intricately combined with the Saver System’s machines, to the point of fusing together and forming a carefully managed system. Mitsuzane had seen a device like this before.
“…It’s like the one Redyue made.”
Redyue. A part of Mitsuzane’s past regrets.
She had survived Helheim’s annihilation of the Femushinmu, and was the most cunning and brutal of the Overlords.
Mitsuzane had worked with Redyue once before. At the time, she’d developed a device that would fuse Earth machines with Femushinmu magic in order to revive her queen, the wife of the Femushinmu king Roshuo.
The Saver System, right there in front of Mitsuzane, was very much like that. A grotesque system made with another world’s technology.
This was not a scalar weapon…but something much more horrifying.
“Ryouma Sengoku initially attempted to create an Apple Lockseed by using a system that produced false Golden Fruits. The experiment was a failure, and he decided to abandon that approach. But he built off of the data from the reconstructed Apple Lockseeds to complete the Sengoku Driver…”
Saber kept talking as Zangetsu Shin continued to barrage him with attacks.
“No. It was not a failure. As the test subject, I lost my physical body, but my very being evolved into a higher plane. Ryouma Sengoku was a fool to have abandoned his initial theory!”
“Higher? What are you even talking about!? Who even are you?!”
The force of Zangetsu Shin’s attacks was as strong as ever through the questioning. One of his attacks resulted in an explosion, and Saber fell to his knees.
“With this many followers, we should have more than enough energy to activate the Saver System.”
Takatora could feel even stronger chills.
We have to stop this man before he goes any further — so said his intuition, the same intuition that had brought him through many levels of hell.
“Not on my watch!”
While Saver was still struggling to get up, Zangetsu Shin put all of his strength into a single ruthless blow.
Melon Energy Squash!
The trajectory of his blade, shining in emerald green, cut Saver in two.
Yes, that should have done it.
“…I don’t have time to be sitting around here in shock. I’ve got to destroy the Saver System.”
Regardless of whatever black magic the Saver System was made of, all he had to do was destroy it now, and that would be the end of it.
Mitsuzane took out his Lockseed and was about to transform into Ryugen —
“You cannot stop my salvation.”
With no warning whatsoever, Kugai Kudou appeared right in front of Mitsuzane.
“No way…Weren’t you back there fighting my brother!?”
“I will be the one to bring Ryouma Sengoku’s discarded plans to fruition! Let us rejoice, for now is the time we have long awaited!”
Kugai’s voice was full of emotion as the Saver System began emitting a red light.
“What are you doing!?”
“Come, all, and witness the creation of my paradise!”
“The time of the end is near…!”
“Save us who are lost…!”
The believers gathered in the surge tank had their Pomegranate Lockseeds in their hands, which were now glowing a bright scarlet.
In that one moment, all of their thoughts and feelings were synchronized through the Pomegranate Lockseed.
They were together in Kugai Kudou’s world.
They were Kugai Kudou, and they were the world itself. They had reached a place of so-called omniscience and omnipotence, and were drenched in unprecedented euphoria.
And then — their physical bodies disappeared. Their minds had become energy of a higher plane, dwelling within the Saver System.
The savior’s machine — the Deus ex Machina — had started.
On that day, the city of Zawame was engulfed by the Bodhi.
- The “spider’s thread” is an easily recognizable literary reference to the 1918 short story “The Spider’s Thread” by author Ryuunosuke Akutagawa, which centers around a spider’s thread being lowered from heaven to lift a sinner out of hell. The thread breaks when the sinner selfishly attempts to claim the thread as his own over the other sinners attempting to climb up from under him.
- Zawame is a fictional city, but its format of “Zawame-shi” (沢芽市) follows standard Japanese naming convention for cities of equivalent size. The street here is named “Shin-Zawame-doori” (New Zawame Street), which similarly follows the kind of common naming convention one might often see for certain major streets in such cities.