It loomed over the city of Zawame in the same way Yggdrasill Tower once had.
The giant Bodhi tree broke through the underground floodway and rose into the sky, as if reaching for the heavens.
It invoked the memory of a tower that was once there, occupied by the Overlords and covered in Helheim plants.
Seeing such a familiar nightmare, did the people of Zawame tremble with anxiety, or fall into panic?
They did neither.
After the encroachment of Helheim and the invasion of Megahex, there was now a third catastrophe in the city of Zawame — but this time, no one paid any heed to it.
— Like the Pomegranate Lockseed puppets, every single person in Zawame had fallen into a trance state.
“The time of the end is near…”
A young man was hobbling left and right as he wandered around the main street.
His eyes were as empty as the others, and his heart seemed to be completely absent.
“Save us…who are lost…”
…A large bowl came swinging downwards.
It struck the young man on the head, and he crumbled to the ground.
As he stared back in a daze, a giant man was looking back at him from above.
“Dear goodness…I thought I trained you better than this. Look here, I brought you a Driver from Sir Melon.”
The man placed a Sengoku Driver on the young man’s waist. A belt emerged from the buckle, and the young man now had the Sengoku Driver wrapped firmly around him.
“Ow ow ow…Huh? Oren? When did you get back…actually, wait, what happened to me…”
The young man — Hideyasu Jounouchi — had returned to his senses. He looked around, confused as to what had happened.
“Whatever you do, don’t take off that Driver. As long as you have that on, Kugai Kudou won’t be able to do anything to you for the time being.”
The giant man — Oren Pierre Alfonzo — also had a Sengoku Driver wrapped around his waist.
After an attempted coup in a certain country and the Neo Baron incident, Oren had been busy flying around the world and investigating into Black Bodhi, but once he’d learned about the ongoing crisis in Zawame, he’d immediately returned.
“I don’t understand what’s happening right now, but…it seems to be something very awful,” said Jounouchi.
He looked up at the giant Bodhi tree towering over them, a bitter expression on his face.
“Yes, we’ll discuss it later, so come with me. But first…”
A swarm of locusts, buzzing with a piercing noise, was flying towards them.
Seeing the swarm of locusts turn into a locust monster, Jounouchi had a very obvious look of dismay on his face.
“I fought something exactly like that before, but it beat me to a pulp…”
“Seems they’re not fans of us being un-brainwashed.”
Oren threw a Lockseed towards Jounouchi. After catching it and realizing what it was, a huge smile spread across his face.
“Oh! It’s the Acorn! Hell yeah!”
Jounouchi held up the Acorn Lockseed while Oren held up his Durian Lockseed, and their next word rang out through the air.
The feeling of the armor wrapping around him — it was something Jounouchi hadn’t felt in a very long while.
There had been many stressful things about his days as an Armored Rider. There were many memories that were too painful to remember.
And yet, all of it was precious to him. That was undeniable fact.
Acorn Arms! Never give up!
The esteemed champion that harbored Jounouchi’s carefully refined training and fighting spirit: Armored Rider Gridon!
Durian Arms! Mister Dangerous!
Oren transformed into Bravo and stood next to Gridon.
“All right, let’s clean them all up!”
“Yes! I’m afraid you’re out of luck today! Know the power of a pâtissier! Hyah!”
It was the return of the Armored Rider duo of teacher and disciple.
It was the day after their battle in the underground floodway.
The Saver System had activated, and the Bodhi tree had sprouted out of the pit at a rapid pace.
Once Takatora and Mitsuzane had managed to escape, they saw a giant Bodhi tree large enough to overlook the entire city, and the people there wandering around with vacant expressions.
Apparently, the Bodhi tree was spreading the Pomegranate Lockseed’s effect over a wide area. Even their Beat Rider friends were not immune.
However, Takatora, Mitsuzane, Zack, and Oren, who all were wearing Sengoku Drivers, were safe. The Sengoku Driver had originally been made to resist Helheim’s influence, and so Takatora had deduced that, since the Bodhi tree was likely to be using Helheim’s power, it would be unable to affect anyone with a Sengoku Driver. After all, Kaito Kumon had once used a Genesis Driver to control his Helheim infection.
Takatora, Mitsuzane, and Zack were now gathered together in Team Gaim’s garage.
Chucky and the other team members were also there…but they were all staring into space, their eyes devoid of light.
Seeing all of this happening around him, Mitsuzane’s face was a mixture of anger and agony.
“Don’t make that face, Micchy. Everything’s quiet for now. Things should still be okay.”
Zack put a hand on Mitsuzane’s shoulder to encourage him, but it was more like he was encouraging himself.
“But when something does happen…What if they all end up like the people down there…?!”
“Here’s our most important question. What is Kugai Kudou’s ultimate objective?”
Takatora, who had been pondering all of this in his head, had finally spoken up.
“Objective…he’s trying to brainwash everyone in Zawame, right?”
“And what would he accomplish by doing that?”
“Kugai Kudou kept talking about salvation. He said he was blessing everyone with evolution, to make everyone the same as how he was before.”
“…The hell does that mean?”
“…The same as himself? Didn’t he die in the Lockseed experiment?” Mitsuzane was also deep in thought, grasping for some kind of idea.
“J’ai une question! Is that really Kugai Kudou? Shouldn’t that be impossible?”
In came Oren, accompanied by a very exhausted-looking Jounouchi.
Zack suddenly brightened up at the sight of Jounouchi.
“Jounouchi! You’re back to normal!”
“Yeah, well…I had a bit of a hard time after that…”
“Goodness…you really had trouble with that much of a small fry? It was hardly that big of a deal.”
“Okay, but I pulled it off in the end, didn’t I? I took the Malletcorn1 and smashed it flat! Like a bug!”
“Yes, yes, well, let’s get back to the subject. So…what do you think, Sir Melon?”
“Well, it sounds ridiculous, but…it’s definitely the same Kugai Kudou as before. I have no choice but to admit that.”
“So he really is a ghost…?” muttered Zack.
Mitsuzane shook his head in response.
“No, he’s definitely got some kind of substantial presence. We fought him directly, remember?”
“But every time we finish him off, he keeps coming back to life.”
“The key to all of this has to be in the initial Lockseed experiment, the one where he was a test subject. If we start there…”
Takatora seemed to have also reached the same conclusion, and, nodding, he followed up on Mitsuzane’s words.
“But any information on that experiment has been erased from Yggdrasill’s records. If anyone knew anything about it, it would be…”
Takatora’s words faltered as he parsed all sorts of emotions at once.
After a while, Takatora finally said the name.
The international conglomerate known as “Yggdrasill” no longer existed.
Yggdrasill Tower had also been dismantled, and with it, Ryouma Sengoku’s laboratory.
Takatora had intended to dispose of a large amount of their materials and experimental data, because they were far too dangerous to be allowed out in the open.
But in actuality, Takatora had been collecting data related to Ryouma Sengoku in secret and keeping it on tight lockdown.
At the Kureshima residence, everyone gathered around a computer that Ryouma Sengoku had operated in the past. Although it took a long while, they eventually managed to get through its tight security.
But now, even though they’d found a folder that seemed to have data relevant to the Apple Lockseed experiment, when they tried to open it…
“No dice. I can’t remove the lock…”
Mitsuzane sighed. They’d tried every possible option, but nothing had come out of it.
“Is this really as far as we can go…?”
Ryouma was the kind of person who would never allow his own data to be hacked.
Are we back at square one? thought Takatora, about to give up…and then.
“Hey. If someone’s accessing this file, that means Kugai Kudou’s back, right?”
A window on the screen had opened out of nowhere, and a video was playing there.
The person in the video was, without a doubt, Ryouma Sengoku.
“I wonder who’s watching this right now? Is it you, Mitsuzane? Or is it Takatora?…Well, either works.”
“What’s going on!?”
“I don’t know…It started playing on its own…”
The computer no longer responded to any inputs. The video with Ryouma continued playing.
“I prepared this program just in case. I don’t know what the world will look like if I’m not there, but…the thought of that third-rate piece of trash getting ahead of himself is truly unpleasant.”
“This is a surprise…”
Both Takatora and Mitsuzane were shocked at Ryouma Sengoku’s sheer level of preparation.
And on top of that, he’d even predicted that either Mitsuzane or Takatora would be the one to open the file.
“We’ll start by cutting straight to the chase. Kugai Kudou is an Overlord.”
Hearing the word “Overlord” put everyone at a loss for words. Ryouma continued from within the video.
“To be more accurate, he’s something resembling an Overlord. He lost his physical body in the initial Apple Lockseed experiment and became a being of pure energy. He’s no longer constrained by this material world. For that reason, he can appear in unexpected places and return from death many times over.”
As Mitsuzane listened to the explanation, he remembered Mai Takatsukasa.
Ryouma Sengoku had ended her life in his quest for the Golden Fruit. But after losing her body, she became the “Woman of the Beginning”, the one who observed and confirmed the final direction of the Golden Fruit.
As the Woman of the Beginning, she was no longer constrained by physical space, and was even able to travel through time. Did this mean Kugai was the same kind of being as her?
…Even now, every time he remembered her, Mitsuzane could feel a tight and painful sensation in his chest. It would likely still be that way for the rest of his life. No, it needed to stay that way. That was the price he had to pay for his own sins.
And he had sworn to Mai and Kouta, many times over. He would protect the world they had entrusted to him. He had to become a true hero. That was the only way he could atone.
It didn’t matter what they were, even if they were something that resembled gods. The oath he had made to them would never change.
They had to stop Kugai Kudou, no matter what. Mitsuzane shifted his focus back to what Ryouma was saying in the video.
“But his presence is quite weak. Normally, he shouldn’t be able to interfere with the physical world. That’s right, Kugai Kudou is truly like a ghost. The only thing that lets him have any kind of physical presence is his Driver.”
“He means that unusual Driver he was wearing, right?”
Takatora thought back to his fight against Saver. He’d been using a Genesis Driver prototype, which was similar to the Genesis Core that served as an expansion unit for the Sengoku Driver. But…
“It’s not the one I created, of course. When I fought against him earlier, the Genesis Driver was still incomplete. He was using a system that shouldn’t exist.”
It wasn’t just the Genesis Core. Saver had carried a black Sonic Arrow even before Ryouma had finished developing it.
“I don’t have the slightest idea how Kugai Kudou got his hands on that system. Although I do at least have a hypothesis. For instance, if there were a parallel universe…ah, no, we’re getting off-topic. In any case, that Driver is sustaining Kugai Kudou’s presence in this world.”
“So in other words, we just gotta destroy that Driver.”
Now that there was an actual possibility of defeating Kugai Kudou, Zack was getting excited. If their opponent truly had been a ghost, there was nothing that could be done, but if it was an opponent they could actually strike and defeat, they had far more of a chance of winning.
“I had to destroy that Driver, too. If he comes back, I imagine he’ll probably have used the Pomegranate Lockseeds and manipulated his Black Bodhi cultists into building him a new one. Truly, a nasty piece of work.”
It would take a large amount of money and time to create a new Driver. Black Bodhi’s international branches were likely created as an organization meant to revive Kugai.
“As for that Pomegranate Lockseed. It’s a device that aligns its holder’s spirit with Kugai Kudou’s. How incredibly pathetic! He’s attempting to use the Pomegranate Lockseeds to reproduce the experiment.”
“Reproduce the experiment?”
It seemed that Ryouma’s explanation was finally about to touch on Kugai’s true intentions.
Takatora had a feeling they were about to fill in the missing pieces and get a full picture.
“When I was developing the Sengoku Driver, the first thing I tried to do was to confirm that the Golden Fruit existed. I tried to create an artificial Golden Fruit with the Apple Lockseed. If the Apple Lockseed worked as planned, it would prove that the Golden Fruit could actually exist. The end result was, well, you know.”
In the initial experiment, the Lockseed had gone out of control, and Kugai Kudou had lost his life. Or, at least, his life as a human being.
“Kugai Kudou became something like an Overlord, and it seems he’s gotten the wrong idea and thinks he can become a god. So now, he can only think about one thing: advancing the original Apple Lockseed theory.”
“…I can’t keep up with this, I’m lost.”
Jounouchi had given up on thinking. Oren was silent, but his stunned expression made it apparent he was in the same boat as Jounouchi. Zack was already lost in thoughts of physically beating up the enemy.
Only Takatora and Mitsuzane fully understood the gravity of what Ryouma was saying.
“Kugai intends to create his own Golden Fruit.”
The Golden Fruit. The one who obtained it would become the one who oversaw evolution — such had been the case with Kouta Kazuraba.
Yet Kouta Kazuraba had rejected the idea of destroying the human world for the sake of evolution. He had taken all of Helheim and departed for a distant star.
But now, Kugai Kudou was trying to create a Golden Fruit and become a new god —
“How incredibly ludicrous. He seriously thinks he can be like a god? Even if he did manage to create a Golden Fruit, an artificial one would still be a fake. It would be a far cry from the kind of Golden Fruit that guides evolution. It wouldn’t be ‘gold’ as much as ‘gilded’.”
Ryouma’s words were full of spite. It was as if he could tell what everyone was thinking, and it was hard to believe this was actually a prerecorded video.
“Kugai Kudou managed to gain a small amount of higher perspective, and no more than that. Such a thing cannot be called a god. Hey, what do you think the definition of a god is?”
Ryouma’s expression reminded Takatora of what he had been like when they’d first met.
A pure seeker of knowledge with shining eyes, who would enthusiastically gush about his new theories through the night and into the morning.
“A god is something that creates a new world. Kugai Kudou has no concept of such a thing. He has no sense of possibility.”
Ryouma Sengoku was, ultimately, a truly evil human being. He was a man who had never hesitated to trample on others and steal away their future.
He was that kind of person, and yet he’d still dreamed of a distant future. He’d dreamed of creating a new world.
“Kugai Kudou is neither a god nor a savior — he’s a meaningless, empty ghost.”
Each and every person had the same movements and the same pace, going in the same direction.
Everyone in Zawame was moving in unison.
Large groups of people were pressing forward, in an uncannily orderly manner.
Their destination was, of course, the giant Bodhi tree overlooking Zawame. The next part of Kugai Kudou’s plan was about to begin.
But at the same time, explosions were going off everywhere around the Bodhi tree. The flames from the detonations spread around the leaves and branches, dyeing the Bodhi tree in red.
A large round object was flying around the Bodhi tree, and a giant hand fired cannonballs from its fingertips at the Bodhi tree.
Watermelon Arms Gyro Mode. Inside it was Armored Rider Zangetsu.
In order to make use of Watermelon Arms, Takatora was wearing a normal Sengoku Driver instead of the Genesis Driver.
A swarm of locusts started latching onto Watermelon Arms, but a beam of light appeared from elsewhere and burned them away.
“Takatora! I’ll support you from back here!”
“All right, thanks!”
Ryugen was riding the Dandeliner and providing support behind Zangetsu Watermelon Arms, and the Dandeliner was also making its own attacks on the Bodhi tree.
As the swarm of locusts grew even bigger, Watermelon Arms landed on a large branch to face it directly.
The swarm of locusts formed into dozens of locust monsters on their way to attack Zangetsu.
Watermelon Arms changed from its flying Gyro Mode to its reinforced Armed Mode.
The giant warrior swung around the double-edged spear and slashed through the locust monsters one after another.
Bravo, Gridon, and Knuckle were fighting more locust monsters under the Bodhi tree.
They still didn’t completely understand what this Bodhi tree was, but it was clear that Kugai’s plans had something to do with it.
If they attacked the Bodhi tree, they would be an obstacle to Kugai’s plans, and he would have to show up in person.
Such was how the Armored Riders’ counterattack had begun, from both the ground and air.
While the Acorn armor was still deploying over his head, Gridon flew straight at the locust monsters, blowing them all up at once.
“H-How was that? Fear me, you little grasshoppers!”
Jounouchi looked around as he stood up, trying to put on a brave face. There were no longer any locust monsters around them.
“Were those the last ones?”
“Reinforcements should be coming soon. Don’t let your guard down.”
Just as Oren had said, something near the bottom of the Bodhi tree was firing tree nut-like objects.
As they fell to the ground in droves, they coalesced into new kinds of monsters right before the trio’s eyes.
“This one’s different!”
They were completely distinct from the locust monsters, and their bodies seemed to be made of plants.
They had vines growing out of their bodies, making them look like pitcher plants walking on two legs.
Letting out a shriek, the pitcher plant monsters raised their sharp claws and attacked.
“Fine, if that’s what you want, keep it coming!”
The Armored Riders boldly laid down their challenge, without a single sign of exhaustion from all of their repeated battles. The curtain for the second act had fallen.
There was more trouble going on in the air.
After annihilating the locust monsters, Zangetsu Watermelon Arms Gyro Mode and Ryugen’s Dandeliner were attacking the Bodhi tree again.
Countless petals were dancing in the air around them.
The moment Watermelon Arms came in contact with one of the petals, it exploded.
Other petals were caught up in the blast, and exploded in turn, leading to a chain of explosions.
Ryugen sped up the Dandeliner and managed to escape from the blast, but Watermelon Arms was too large to avoid it.
“…Don’t worry about me. I pulled through that one.”
But the system had taken a large amount of damage from the explosion. How much longer would it be able to hold out? — They had to settle this as quickly as possible.
“Your efforts are pointless. None of you can stop my salvation.”
Kugai Kudou’s voice echoed through the air.
“Where are you, Kugai Kudou?!” yelled Mitsuzane in the Dandeliner.
The only response was the electronic voice echoing above both of them.
The heretical advent on stage!
At the top of the Bodhi tree was a giant flower bud.
As the voice spoke, the bud began to open. It was a flower out of place in this world, blooming against the laws of this world.
At the center of the flower was the red Armored Rider, who had now completely made himself into a part of the Bodhi tree.
Sitting in the center of the lotus was the great heavenly demon who carried forth the world’s end — the awakened false god of the lotus, Saver!2
“The Saver System has reached completion. The time for salvation has come.”
“Salvation…you mean, creating a Golden Fruit and becoming a god?”
“It seems you have finally arrived at the truth, Takatora Kureshima.”
The voice from behind his mask was faint, but there was an all too apparent sense of superiority within it.
“I shall not abandon humanity as Kouta Kazuraba did. I shall be the one to save all seven billion humans who were exiled from the Helheim forest.”
“How dare you! Kouta carried all of our burdens and saved us all! He worked so hard to create that peace, and now you’re here…!”
The insult to Kouta had set Mitsuzane off, but Kugai ignored him.
“Helheim granted us the blessing of evolution, but Kouta Kazuraba’s actions eternally robbed us of our opportunity to evolve. And now, humanity has no choice but to slowly advance towards ruin.”
Kugai’s voice was getting progressively clearer. Now that he was closer to his world of euphoria, his calmness was dissolving away.
“But this time, I shall truly guide humanity towards its ultimate evolution! The energy of Helheim’s chosen people in Zawame shall bear the Golden Fruit! Humanity shall attain eternal peace!”
Takatora and Mitsuzane recalled the events in the underground floodway, where everyone had been overpowered by the Pomegranate Lockseeds, lost their physical bodies, and turned into energy to power the Saver System.
“We won’t allow that! I will never allow this world to be torn apart by malice! I’ve made that oath many times over!”
“This city is ours! We’re not letting you toy with it any longer!”
Zangetsu Watermelon Arms and Ryugen’s Dandeliner headed towards Saver.
They were greeted by a myriad of vines sprouting from the Bodhi tree, and a number of exploding petals.
“Mitsuzane! Get down!”
Watermelon Arms went around in front of the Dandeliner. Instead of dodging, it shot cannonballs directly at Saver from its fingertips.
As the cannonballs flew, the Bodhi tree’s vines punctured through Watermelon Arms’ outer shell, and the exploding petals set the entire vehicle on fire, but Zangetsu continued to press on.
“How impulsive of you, Takatora Kureshima!”
“You’ll have to excuse me, I’ve only ever known how to fight on impulse!”
Watermelon Arms was on the verge of collapsing, but Zangetsu forced it to accelerate even faster, with the engine screeching at the sheer degree of damage.
But he was finally in front of Saver, at close range.
Watermelon Arms opened up and transformed into Armed Mode. With the Watermelon Spear, he swung it down in a single blow — !
“Unfortunately for you…”
Saver only sneered back at him…and the spear stopped right in front of his face.
Vines were piercing through Watermelon Arms from all directions, stopping Zangetsu’s final desperate attack right before it was about to hit.
Having reached its limit, Watermelon Arms finally succumbed and was engulfed in a giant explosion. Zangetsu was blown aside and engulfed in the blast…
“I’m still not done yet!”
The flames from the explosion cleared up to reveal a jade-colored steel plate.
The Melon Defender.
It was Zangetsu’s Arms Weapon, an ironclad shield that could be used as a blunt or throwing weapon.
Zangetsu was flying towards Saver on the Melon Defender.
He had used the Melon Defender as a foothold to protect himself from the explosion — no, rather, he was using the explosion to propel himself forward. In other words, he was surfing through the air using the blast momentum.
While launching his next attack on Saver, Zangetsu unlocked his Lockseed.
Zangetsu’s Sengoku Driver had a Genesis Core attached to it. It had been extracted from Zangetsu Shin’s Genesis Driver — the one originally used by Megahex’s clone of Ryouma Sengoku.
Zangetsu attached the Melon Energy Lockseed to the Genesis Core.
Mix! Melon Arms! By the providence of Heaven!
Jinba Melon! Ha-hah!
Another set of Arms wrapped around Zangetsu.
It was the advent of the armored warrior unrivaled by all under the heavens — the dazzling and shining Armored Rider Zangetsu Jinba Melon Arms!
The fluttering petals became a storm of petals, and the chain of explosions became a tornado of flames, all heading towards Zangetsu.
The Melon Defender automatically sensed the attack through its force field, and deployed an electromagnetic shield around him.
Relying fully on the Melon Defender as a foothold, Zangetsu broke through the tornado of fire.
Directly right in front of him was Saver, merged into the otherworldly flower.
“This is the end, Kugai Kudou!”
As Takatora yelled out those words, he fired the Sonic Arrow. The arrow of light converged directly on Saver’s abdomen — piercing right through his Sengoku Driver.
Saver stared at the destroyed Sengoku Driver in shock.
The jade-colored shield — Zangetsu and the Melon Defender — was approaching.
Melon Squash! Jinba Melon Squash!
The Melon Defender’s force field had now become a melon-shaped ring of energy.
Zangetsu kicked the Melon Defender with all of his might.
The energy-charged Melon Defender flew at Saver and crushed him under it.
The petals of Saver’s lotus flower — Kugai’s flower — began to scatter rapidly.
The three Armored Riders on the ground had seen what had happened up in the sky.
They saw Saver getting caught up in an explosion, and petals falling everywhere. The trio began to cheer.
“They did it! They did it, Oren!”
“Truly wonderful, Sir Melon!’
Knuckle was on guard against the remaining pitcher plant monsters when he suddenly caught sight of something strange.
The people of Zawame were gathering under the Bodhi tree.
Civilians were walking in through the street, looking up at the Bodhi tree in a daze. Their eyes were still devoid of life or light.
“Kugai Kudou’s gone now, so why are they still brainwashed?”
“…I have a bad feeling about this,” said Oren.
Ryugen rushed in with the Dandeliner to catch Zangetsu in midair.
Below them was Saver’s lotus flower, which had lost most of its petals and had been reduced to the calyx.
“We’re done here, right, Takatora…?”
“Yeah. We’ve completely destroyed his Driver, so this should have finished Kugai Kudou off for once.”
” — It is indeed the end, and also the beginning.”
On top of the lotus flower that had been reduced to a calyx —
The sight of him was dim and faint, as if he were covered in fog. But it was undoubtedly Kugai Kudou.
“That’s impossible! He shouldn’t be able to exist here without a Driver!”
“That is correct, Takatora Kureshima. That Driver was what bound me to this world. But…I no longer have need for it.”
“…You don’t need…?” said Mitsuzane.
Kugai Kudou smiled back at him. It was terrifyingly calm — a very dreadful smile.
“Yes. Once humanity has evolved, we shall no longer need this world. Now, the time has come for humanity to break free of its physical restraints and escape the cycle of life…!”
“By evolution, you mean…!”
Takatora’s voice was shaking as he realized the true meaning of Kugai’s words. Kugai’s smile was now completely skewed across his face, like a torn pomegranate.
“All seven billion humans shall become like me. They shall transcend life and death itself — and become true Overlords.”
Kugai’s distorted laughter was accompanied by a golden light surrounding him.
The light was so blindingly dazzling that Zangetsu and Ryugen found themselves completely swallowed up in it.
“Humanity shall attain enlightenment under the Bodhi tree! The time of salvation has arrived! I, Kugai Kudou, am humanity’s savior!”
Jounouchi released his transformation and fell to his knees.
Staring at the Bodhi tree, the people around them dissolved into light and rose into the air.
“…So we’re too late?”
Zack, who was also at a complete loss for what to do, could only look upwards.
The light gathered at the top of the Bodhi tree, where Kugai Kudou was.
And finally, Kugai Kudou himself, who was shining with light, dissolved into it as well.
The light of the people melted together into the calyx of the lotus, and formed into a new creation.
The fruit of the goddess Idunn. The ambrosia fruit of immortality. The forbidden fruit of Eden…
“…The Golden Fruit.”
As Oren mumbled the name in shock, he began dissolving into the light. No, not only Oren; the same was happening to Zack and Jounouchi.
Kugai Kudou’s salvation was at hand, and even the Sengoku Drivers’ protection had been reduced to nothing.
“…It can’t just end like this!”
But no one was there to hear those words of regret. Everything had become light and dissolved.
And so, everyone in the city of Zawame disappeared.
It would not be long before it reached the entire planet.
Kugai Kudou’s salvation of humanity had finally been achieved.
…Or had it?
The first, most immediate sensation was color.
He was being swallowed by every kind of color in existence.
After that was every other sensation. Sound. Scent. Touch. Visceral sensation — no, everything. Everything was engulfing him.
Everything, a mixture of everything, enveloping him into chaos and beating around him like a storm.
The same state, recurring eternally — and yet all still in a single moment.
The infinite colors eventually condensed into shapes. What had once been an explosion of color had now become a myriad of different scenes.
Taking all of it in, he understood what the flood of sensations was. He had come to understand everything.
Everything before his eyes — everything he could feel was “the world”. Every space and every time was unfolding in front of him.
But there was no joy to be found there.
As he desperately tried to hold his sense of self together, he was swept away by the vast universe.
The infinite plane of worlds, each shining with its own history.
Countless stories of countless worlds, and with them — countless amounts of malice and hostility.
There was something wicked that treated mass slaughter as a game. There was something that resembled an angel of God. There were those who used monsters to kill each other.
Those who had evolved in a different way from Helheim. Those who were beyond death. Evil spirits who devoured humans. Extraterrestrial beings who imitated humans. Demons who wished to alter history. Those who resembled vampires.
And there were more. Those with the memories of the Earth. Incarnations of desire. Those who exploited the energy of the universe. Illusory demons born from despair. One hundred and eight artificial life forms —
Countless stories of countless worlds unfolded in front of him, all tied together by a thread of malice and hostility, made up of one common idea.
“Conflict” — the one thing they all shared was “conflict”.
“Life is a cycle of death and rebirth. The world itself is an endless cycle of destruction and recreation. It is nothing but endless hell. We are confined within an unbroken circle.”
He could hear a voice.
The voice was like that of a saint, one who came to save those who were lost and guide them towards the truth.
“All love has been lost. We are trapped in hatred. We can no longer reach anything. There is only suffering — but I shall overcome it, all of us shall overcome it. Once we are released from our physical bindings, our spirits shall sublimate, and we shall become one with the vast universe. One in all. All in one. There shall no longer be any suffering. This is our ultimate evolution.”
— You’re wrong.
There was something within him, something that denied the saint’s words of truth.
In this state, he couldn’t identify what it was. His sense of self was weak, and he was on the verge of melting into the world and vanishing. But even so, there was “something” that was desperately resisting — something he couldn’t let go of, something important.
The saint laughed back at him, as if mocking him for his struggles.
“I am not wrong. You, of all people, should know this best.”
The colors exploded yet again. Another violent rush of sensations. And then, silence.
There was someone standing in front of him.
A white silhouette. An armored warrior.
Armored Rider Zangetsu Shin.
Someone he knew very well. But if this really was him…why did he seem so full of hostility?
As if confirming his instincts, Zangetsu Shin attacked him, with a slash that indicated clear intent to kill.
“What’s going on, Takatora!? It’s me, you know me, right!?”
He barely managed to avoid the attacks as Zangetsu Shin continued the onslaught.
— I’m going to be killed!
He was suddenly filled with a desire to kill, one far beyond merely just wanting to escape.
He transformed and faced Zangetsu Shin.
He let out a battle cry and used the entire strength of his body to strike back.
Strike back. Strike back. Strike back. Strike back. Strike back…
If he missed a single step, he would get hit and buried under an attack.
Don’t run away. Fight. I’ll fight. I can’t survive unless I fight.
Throw out any doubts. No matter who my opponent is or what I have to sacrifice, it’ll all be for nothing if I don’t win…!
Zangetsu Shin prepared for a final attack and, with no sign of holding back, struck him down with a finisher.
Up against another enemy who was truly out to kill him —
Zangetsu Shin mercilessly slashed him down.
He collapsed and looked up at Zangetsu Shin, whose transformation had released to reveal their true face.
As he sank into the pool of blood, the person there stared back at him with a cold gaze.
His face was all too familiar.
He had been killed by Mitsuzane Kureshima — by himself.
No, that wasn’t it. The person Mitsuzane Kureshima had killed was not Mitsuzane Kureshima.
Their perspectives had swapped. Mitsuzane Kureshima was now looking down at the person he had just killed.
Takatora Kureshima. His own brother.
…That’s right. Yes, that’s right. I was the one who took everyone around me and —
The graveyard realm…Yomi…Yomi…Yomi…!
His appearance had changed.
Surrounded in miasma, in the garb of a dead man past the point of no return — Ryugen Yomi Deathly Feast Arms.3
The memory of this sensation came flooding back.
— I’ve killed someone yet again.
On the other end of his blade, pierced by the sword and covered in blood, was a familiar face.
Kouta Kazuraba was dead. A meaningless death, like that of an insect.
Ryugen walked away, leaving Kouta Kazuraba’s corpse behind.
Swing down the blade. Someone else was dead.
Swing down the blade. There was a familiar face among them.
Swing down the blade. There were people who had been important to him.
Swing down the blade. Another one, and another. Someone else around him was dead.
Swing down the blade. Each one left him emptier and emptier.
Swing down the blade. And.
Swing down the blade. Right in front of him.
Swing down the blade. The girl whose heart had been gouged out.
Mitsuzane’s grief and sorrow echoed out through the darkness. But there was no one there who could hear.
He turned around to see a mountain of corpses.
The bloodstained footprints he’d left were proof of his victory.
Yes, Mitsuzane Kureshima would be alone for all eternity. There was no one there to watch him.
— His wish would never reach anywhere.
“Such is the essence of life. As long as you continue to live, as long as you continue to fight, you shall continue to kill. You shall continue to lose everything.”
Mitsuzane heard the saint’s whispers as he cried.
“Helheim is our spider thread sent down from the heavens. Climb it and accept my salvation, or else this world will be eternal hell for you.”
Everything spread out in front of Mitsuzane.
It was a barren wilderness, full of the “enemy”.
It was everything that had once been an enemy. Everything that had the potential to become an enemy.
That was — everything in the world.
All of the enemies in the world were attacking Mitsuzane. It was an army of hell.
A swarm of Invase. Locust monsters. Pitcher plant monsters.
An army of Kurokage troopers. A whole unit of Dandeliner and Tulip Hoppers. Watermelon Arms acting without operators.
And even the Overlords.
Overlord King Roshuo. Demushu. Gurinsha. Dyudyuonshu. And…Redyue.
There was an Armored Rider in black who called himself Kougane. There was a golden Armored Rider he didn’t recognize.
Megahex, the invader who had converted its own planet into a machine. And. And. And —
Mitsuzane was killed by the enemy. Each time, a voice would say “Live,” and he would be revived. And then, he would be killed once again.
It was truly hell. But that was simply the truth of life.
Engulfed by the shadows, Mitsuzane sank into the darkness, and his existence melted into the world.
…Within the darkness, he could sense someone there.
Someone was preventing Mitsuzane’s spirit from completely vanishing.
Who are you? There was uncertainty in Mitsuzane’s consciousness.
“I’m just passing through,” said the person there in response.
Hearing his answer, Mitsuzane was somehow able to guess who he was.
— Ah, he must be the “hero”.
The universal archetype within everyone’s hearts. When powerless people fell victim to horrifying forces, and were reduced to tears — such heroes would rush in faster than anyone else, like knights4.
The passing hero asked a question.
You know a man like that, don’t you?
— Yeah, I do. Even if I disappear, he’s the one thing I could never forget.
And you’re a knight4, too. You vowed you would become a hero.
— But I’ve always been helpless, and I still am…
It’s too early to lose faith in yourself. You’re still on your journey right now. Everyone has to struggle with themselves as they walk forward.
Those words reminded Mitsuzane of what a certain person had once told him.
“…Don’t be stupid, Micchy. How old are you right now? You know you still have a long way to walk ahead of you, right? Compared to that, it’s no big deal.”
Mitsuzane, who had been on the verge of melting into the world and vanishing, had a fire within his heart. Within him was the burning fire of the “hero”.
The passing “Rider” spoke again.
Now look at the world again. Look at the countless stories of countless worlds. You’ll find there’s something besides just malice.
And the “world” unfolded again in front of Mitsuzane.
There was a warrior who fought against the ultimate darkness. There was a warrior who reclaimed the destiny of mankind from the Creator. There was a warrior who struggled to end conflict at the cost of his life.
There was a warrior who fought to protect dreams. There was a warrior who fought to save both the world and his friends. There was a warrior who trained in the art of sounds.
There was a warrior who super-accelerated and fought through gaps in time. There was a warrior who journeyed through time on a train. There was a warrior born between a human and a devil.
There was a warrior who fought as two detectives in one. There was a warrior who wished for the power to reach anywhere. There was a warrior who lived through his youth with many friends.
There was a warrior who fought as a magician of hope. There was a warrior who rushed forward as a police detective in a super vehicle.
Countless stories of countless worlds. All of them had conflict. All of them were filled with countless amounts of grief and pain.
But even so, the world was not hell. There were those who protected the world. There were heroes. And everyone had a hero in their heart.
— Anyone can be a hero.
Mitsuzane Kureshima had completely remembered who he was.
There was a solid object in his hands. He was holding a familiar Lockseed.
He opened the lock. It was the lock that would pave the way towards a new dawn.
Tearing down the darkness, the young dragon continued down the road.
He awoke to see Zawame spreading out beneath him.
But it wasn’t Zawame as he knew it. The city had been overrun by the giant Bodhi tree’s roots, and the buildings had deteriorated as if hundreds of years had passed.
It was like the remains of the Femushinmu planet after it was swallowed by Helheim.
And, most prominently, everything was completely still. There were no humans, nor birds or stay dogs or stray cats, nor even a single mouse or insect.
Even with all of the greenery, it was the sight of a world completely devoid of life.
Mitsuzane’s intuition told him that this was Kugai’s world of salvation.
After all of his talk about ultimate evolution, he had been nothing but a false savior who denied the concept of life itself.
If this was all in front of him…had he not made it in time after all?
— No, that’s not it. This isn’t the real Zawame.
He looked up at the sky. There was a giant, shining lotus flower shining where the sun should be.
This was only one possibility. There were countless possibilities in the world, and when those possibilities converged, a fleeting illusion like this would occasionally come forth.
In other words, this was Kugai Kudou’s dream world. It was Kugai Kudou’s hollow ideal dystopia.
“…Why, Mitsuzane Kureshima?”
Under the Bodhi tree towering above, Mitsuzane Kureshima and Kugai Kudou stood across from each other.
Kugai Kudou’s expression had lost all of its prior calmness. His eyes were trembling in fear of what he couldn’t understand.
“You should have melted into the world and become one with my will. How did you manage to maintain your ego?”
“Because I know something with more certainty than you could ever imagine.”
His words were firm as he unlocked the Lockseed in his hand.
He shouted the word with his vow to never give in.
The Lockseed in the Sengoku Driver. There was his core. There was where all of his soul was concentrated.
The Sengoku Driver played the battle herald to spur on the warrior.
The cutting blade swung down, and the hero’s armor was called into the world.
Grape Arms! Dragon blast! Ha-ha-hah!
Ryugen appeared in a flash of brilliant light, and for a moment, Kugai Kudou felt fear. He shouted with all of the anger he had, as if trying to deny the terror springing up within him.
“Do you think you can defeat me on your own, Mitsuzane Kureshima?!”
Kugai Kudou held out the Golden Fruit in his palm.
A multitude of Cracks appeared around them, and locust and pitcher plant monsters began to appear in droves.
“I have obtained the Golden Fruit! No, I have become Golden Fruit itself, the source of all evolution! You have no way of destroying me!”
Ryugen continued to fight the army of monsters alone.
“Why must you refuse my salvation? Why do you choose to struggle in vain within this hell?”
“If your salvation means giving up on life itself, I’d still rather choose a future where I have to keep fighting!”
Energy concentrated around both of Ryugen’s legs, and he leapt into his special finisher kick — the Ryugen Kick.
Jumping over all of the monsters heading for him, he headed straight for Kugai Kudou in a straight path — !
“Are you so enthralled by the idea of slaughter, Mitsuzane Kureshima? You are the one who continuously betrayed others and sowed the seeds of conflict. Your soul is already tainted.”
Kugai Kudou held out his palm again, and the Golden Fruit shone.
As Ryugen descended on Kugai, someone appeared between them.
A single powerful shot sent Ryugen’s kick flying. Ryugen managed to land on both feet.
Ryugen turned to face his new opponent, and, upon realizing who it was, yelled in shock.
The arrogant nobleman ruler in shining amber — Armored Rider Duke.
“Now that I have become one with the world, nothing is impossible for me as the Golden Fruit. If you wish for eternal conflict, I shall create endless enemies for you.”
As Duke silently shot arrows from his Sonic Arrow, Ryugen shot the arrows down with his Grape Dragun.
“You are fighting in vain, Mitsuzane Kureshima. You could not win against this man. You understand, do you not?”
Kugai Kudou seemed to have regained his bearings, and had now resumed speaking in a calm voice. But his mouth was distorted with sadistic pleasure — a smile one could not imagine on a savior.
Duke attached a different Lockseed and changed into a different form.
Armored Rider Duke Dragon Energy Arms.
It was the Arms that Megahex’s Ryouma Sengoku clone had used.
In front of an enemy that should have easily sent him into fear, Ryugen was silent.
What Kugai had said was true. In the end, Mitsuzane had been nothing more than a clown dancing in Ryouma Sengoku’s palm. In the end, he had lost the one most dear to him. But —
“Aren’t you the one who couldn’t win against him?”
“…What did you say?”
Before Kugai could figure out what his words truly meant, Ryugen started running forward.
In response to Ryugen’s rather impulsive attack, Duke attempted to intercept him, but —
“What’s the point in making such an empty vessel?”
Ryugen was much faster than Duke, and had already gotten within reach. Using all of his strength, he grabbed the Core Unit with the Lockseed in it and yanked it off.
Duke’s transformation released…to reveal nothing inside.
“Ryouma Sengoku was the worst kind of human being, but he was most certainly a genius. You, Kugai Kudou, were the one who was afraid of him.”
“…I was not. I valued Ryouma Sengoku’s research more than anyone else. I considered him to be an indispensable person for humanity’s salvation, but he refused my offer. Alas, it was Ryouma Sengoku’s greatest mistake. If he had only taken my hand back then…he could have witnessed the birth of a god.”
“Ryouma Sengoku saw right through you. You’re just a ghost who can’t create anything. You’re just trying to drag all of humanity down with you.”
“…You simply can’t comprehend the loftiness of my ideals.”
“Yeah, of course I can’t…not with your third-rate line of thinking!”
Kugai was wearing the same expression Ryouma had in the video. His face was distorted in anger, more disgustingly hideous than ever before.
” — You shall be sent to hell.”
Kugai’s declaration was accompanied by an army of Kurokage troopers and a swarm of Invase.
It was a recreation of the hell he had seen earlier. But before the army of hell managed to reach Ryugen —
Walnut au Lait!
Arrows of light from the Sonic Arrow, energy bullets from the Walnut Bomber, energy waves bursting from the Duriking Casque’s crest, acorn energy emitted by the Malletcorn — all rained on the army of hell, one after another.
“This cannot be…this should be impossible…!”
Listen from afar, approach, and see for yourself.
In front of the agitated Kugai were four brave figures standing side by side.
Armored Rider Zangetsu Jinba Melon Arms!
Armored Rider Knuckle!
Armored Rider Bravo!
Armored Rider Gridon!
Ryugen was overjoyed to see his friends. Of course, he had no doubts about their safety. If he had managed to overcome his own hardships, it was only natural that they had overcome their own as well.
But it was the exact opposite for Kugai, for whom this turn of events was completely incomprehensible.
“Beyond just Mitsuzane Kureshima…All of you escaped my salvation…?!”
“Idiot! Well, of course an arrogant fool like you would never understand.”
“You seriously think that’s hell? That’s nothing compared to Charmant during Christmas season!”
“We’ve gone through way more of this stuff than you.”
“That’s right, Kugai Kudou. Your so-called salvation is empty, and nothing more.”
Aiming the Sonic Arrow at Kugai, Zangetsu spoke his words firmly.
“All right, everyone. We’re saving the world.”
It was the cue for their final battle.
“You are not worthy of being saved! I must erase you completely here, or humanity shall be forced to wander the depths of darkness once again!”
Kugai Kudou held his hand over the Golden Fruit.
A Sengoku Driver and the reformed Genesis Core appeared on Kugai’s waist.
And then, the Golden Fruit —
“The Golden Fruit turned into a Lockseed!?”
The sight of the Lockseed evoked a painful memory in Takatora. It had the exact same shape as the one his childhood friend, Touka Akatsuki, had used.
The Apple Lockseed. The first Lockseed developed by Ryouma Sengoku.
Everything had started from there. So had Kugai Kudou’s own destiny.
Kugai Kudou’s Lockseed shone with a golden light. The Pomegranate Lockseed appeared in his other hand.
” — Transcend.”5
Kugai Kudou’s body was covered in golden and blood-colored armor.
Blood Pomegranate Arms! The twisted bloom of sacrifice!
Gold! Golden Arms…The Golden Fruit…!
Covered in the color of blood and a golden glow, the grotesque savior descended upon them.
Armored Rider Saver Golden Arms!
Bravo wasted no second in slashing Saver with his Duri Saws.
Saver blocked one of them with his Saver Arrow and the other with his double-edged longsword, the Sword Bringer.
“The spider’s thread has broken for the sinners who refuse salvation!”
Toppled by the attack, Bravo staggered and fell. A cross of slashes from Saver’s double swords converged on him.
“Not so fast!”
Zangetsu jumped out in front of Bravo and blocked Saver’s slash with his Melon Defender.
“Ah, Sir Melon…You came to protect me…!”
Gridon and Knuckle followed up by jumping on Saver simultaneously.
With the Malletcorn and Wallet Bombers, they lunged at Saver with a flurry of hits.
But Saver deftly used his swords to endure all of them.
Saver’s bloody shockwave blew Gridon backwards.
“I’ve got more coming!”
Knuckle attacked the Chestnut Energy Lockseed to his Genesis Core.
Jinba Chestnut! Ha-hah!
As the armor wrapped around Knuckle, spikes protruded from his fists, and ejected into arrows pouring onto Saver.
Both of Knuckle’s fists, with their chestnut shell armor removed, were now burning with fire.
His burning fists burst as they headed towards Saver!
Melon au Lait! Jinba Melon au Lait!
Zangetsu’s blade of energy followed only a split second later.
Saver was engulfed by the force of two simultaneous Jinba Arms finishers. But he did not fall, and powerful energy began to accumulate in both his Sword Bringer and Saver Arrow.
Having exhausted their energy with their finishers, Zangetsu and Knuckle were left wide open. Gridon was still on the ground. Bravo would not make it in time. The situation had become dire, but then, at that moment —
” — !?”
Everyone turned their heads to look at the source of the electronic voice.
Ryugen was standing there in new armor. His Sengoku Driver was equipped with a Genesis Core and a Dragonfruit Energy Lockseed — indeed, it was the one Ryugen had snatched from Kugai’s phantom of Duke in their prior battle.
The fire of the hero burning in his heart, the double dragon of the gale — Armored Rider Ryugen Jinba Dragonfruit Arms!
“This is…the end!”
Ryugen’s Sonic Arrow released arrows of energy that turned into two dragons and converged on Saver!
Knuckle, Zangetsu, and Ryugen. The impact of three finishers in a row finally caught up to Saver, and the final wound was fatal.
The gold on Saver’s armor cracked and peeled off like gilded plating. Saver screamed his death throes as he was caught up in the explosion.
And yet still —
“It’s futile…it’s all futile…!”
Kugai’s voice was coming from nowhere —
Darkness Arms…The G…lllllden Fruit…!
The golden glow was gone, and he was now dyed in tattered red and dull, dark colors, but Saver had reappeared, completely unharmed.
Armored Rider Saver Darkness Arms.
“I have become the Golden Fruit, and am now one with the world. You have no way of destroying me…do you finally understand?”
It was exactly as Kugai had said. Before, he had needed a Sengoku Driver to remain in the real world. But now, he no longer needed anything of the sort. This was a world created by Kugai himself.
How could one do anything to an intangible spirit of malice that had merged itself with the world?
But even in such a hopeless battle, not a single one of them would give up.
“Then we’ll just have to keep fighting you until we finish you off.”
So continued the battle between the five heroes and the false savior.
Kugai Kudou, who had considered repeated fighting to be hell, was now himself trapped in that hell.
Such a man should have overcome life and death itself.
He should have become a transcendent being free from physical bounds, integrated into the vast multiverse.
He had surpassed time, surpassed space — but because of that, such a man had no future.
With no future, he thus had no concept of creation.
Life evolves. Evolution is creation. Even with the cruelty of the cosmic system called Helheim, there was one thing that was certain.
No matter how much the man had overcome life and death, if he could not understand creation, it was no different from “death”.
Thus, the man had not overcome life or death after all — he was simply just dead.
A meaningless shadow that merely happened to be projected onto the world — a ghost.
Such a man was fighting to erase the five living beings who denied his ideas.
In the midst of his battles, the man had perished many times. Each time, the cycle would repeat. And then, he would perish once again.
The more the cycle repeated, the more the man lost the gold dwelling within him.
The man had now completely lost sight of his own self.
It was truly hell. And that was simply the truth of his existence.
The man had obtained a truth that was nothing but the emptiness of death. The man who had transformed many times had finally reached his true form.
“O serpent…guide me…who is lost…”
There was the image of the “serpent” that had once guided the man. And the “death” flowing through him joined with it and took shape.
It was a Lockseed shaped like a cross of bones. The lock opened, and the voice of emptiness rang out.
How long had they been fighting?
It felt as if they had always been fighting, and yet it felt as if they had only just started.
But still, they had fought. They fought. They fought to the very end.
Their enemy had revived after every single defeat, and they were hurt and exhausted.
But they refused to give up. Their hearts would not falter.
The world is not hell, because we know we’ll never be alone.
We are not weak. We’ll overcome any kind of pain we suffer.
So we’ll stand up to protect. Not for our own sakes, but for the sake of the world.
We’ll never let an empty ghost like you make the world into your toy!
And they defeated him many times over — tens, hundreds, thousands of times.
Their enemy had finally revealed his true form.
Bones poured out from the Cracks in droves, as if amassing into a vast collection of “death” itself.
Maja Arms…The heretical path of the serpent…!
The giant vacant skeleton that revealed the emptiness of Kugai Kudou’s soul — Armored Rider Saver Maja Arms.
“Hmph…I guess we’re really getting started now!”
Zack was laughing confidently, but there was still a tinge of apparent fatigue in his voice.
And beyond just Zack; Mitsuzane, Takatora, Oren, Jounouchi…all of them were at their limit.
But they could not afford to lose. If this was their limit, they simply had to exceed that limit.
That was how they had always fought, and that would always be how they fought.
We’re not afraid to fight. We believe in the hope ahead of us…!
Saver swung down his sword of calamity — the Graveyard Blade — and the myriad of bones became a rushing wave.
The five heroes gathered all of their strength to confront the wave and stood —
Countless stories of countless worlds.
When possibilities converged with other possibilities, occasionally, a new world would come forth.
It would be a fleeting one like an illusion — but it would still be a world.
And although this was a world of death envisioned by Kugai Kudou, it was also a gap between the worlds.
It was a place where possibilities converged with other possibilities.
Ryugen. Zangetsu. Bravo. Gridon. Knuckle.
There was one shared image between all five of their hearts.
— The hero.
If there was something that must be protected, they would rush in like a knight4 in a gale, even if it meant going to the end of the world.
The hope that the five of them — no, the hope that all of humanity envisioned — was the true gold that would crush the gilded lies.
The people’s emotions drew in those possibilities, and incarnated them into a new story.
Now, the world shall play out this tale! The heroes of the grand finale — the Deus ex Machina!
Banana Arms! Knight of Spear!
The aura of a giant banana, shining like a golden spear, blew away the mass of bones rushing towards them.
Zack looked around, but he could see nobody there. He couldn’t even hear any voice.
But Zack had no doubt about it. He could feel “his” presence.
“Kaito…is that you?”
Pinecone Arms! A single strike! In the shadow!
Then, a large flurry of black spears — Shadow Pines — flew towards Saver.
As the Shadow Pine spears pierced through Saver, he screamed in pain, like a roaring beast.
Oren and Jounouchi watched the spectacle in a daze.
“…What just happened?”
Full to the brim with fury, Saver gathered a large mass of bones and formed them into a giant bone arm looming over their heads.
He swung the bone arm down with a thunderous roar.
Zangetsu had his Sonic Arrow and was about to fire, when —
Peach Energy Arms!
Cherry Energy Arms!
The bone arm was barraged with a rain of light arrows.
All of it was completely crushed and ground into dust.
— Nothing’s changed after all, has it, Chief?
— Can’t believe you had to get me to step in for you, though.
Somehow, Takatora felt as if he could hear those voices. And then —
Lemon Energy Arms!
Fight power! Fight power!
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! F-F-F-F-Fight!
Saver had a giant hole in his chest.
A deadly Sonic Volley from a Sonic Arrow had pierced right through him.
Saver let out a blood-curling shriek and fell to the ground.
And with that, Saver’s deathly Zawame began to collapse.
Before anyone could process what exactly had just happened, everything around them began to collapse.
The earth split into pieces. The Bodhi tree had collapsed, and the lotus flower in the sky withered and scattered into petals.
“Hey, wait, what’s happening to us now!?”
Zack was caught off guard by the sudden turn of events.
“Kugai Kudou’s world…is collapsing.”
Mitsuzane understood what that meant. If Kugai Kudou’s world was collapsing, that meant Kugai Kudou himself had finally been destroyed.
“…So it’s finally over.”
“S’enfuir! This isn’t the time to be dwelling in sentiments, Sir Melon! We’ve got to get out of here!”
“But Oren, when you say ‘get out of here’, where and how do you mean!?” said Jounouchi.
— No. It wasn’t over yet.
A vast number of bones was gathering around where Saver had fallen.
The giant mass of bones engulfed Saver’s body and formed into a giant.
It had fangs that could tear through anything. It had a jaw that could crush anything.
It was a huge predator in the shape of a carnivorous dinosaur, made up of skeletons.
The head of the skeletal dinosaur split into four, revealing a large skull with Saver embedded in it.
“Gaaah! Not again, dammit!”
“My, we really are in trouble…”
A roaring skeletal dinosaur in a collapsing world. The Armored Riders were ready to fight, but the ground was crumbling so quickly that they couldn’t even stand properly.
The sound of the bones cracking and the shrieks of resentment rang out as the skeletal dinosaur attacked.
…But there’s no need to speak of every little thing that happened anymore. After all, there was only one person suitable to appear at the very end.
A whole bundle of steel fruits barraged the skeletal dinosaur, one after another, causing it to flinch.
There, between the Armored Riders and the skeletal dinosaur.
There was a single man there, one shining with light and standing with his back to them.
The steel fruits formed a ring and flew around him. The ring converged, getting smaller and smaller, until all of the fruits became vast energy within him.
Ultimate Arms! Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Ruler!
He was the sacred silver and bane of evil who cut through all demons. The form of the hero that dwelled within everyone’s hearts.
Indeed, it was —
Mitsuzane was the one to shout his name. He was the hero who had saved and lost everything. He was the true savior.
And, above all — our most important friend.
The warrior in silver turned back slightly towards Mitsuzane and the others. Mitsuzane could sense that, under the mask, his usual smile was on his face.
A Crack opened in front of them.
Mitsuzane and the others were suddenly pulled into it.
“…Does this mean we’re returning to our original world?”
“Huh!? Hey, you! Why do you always have to be like that!? I can still fight too, you know…aaaaaaack!”
“Yes, yes, don’t worry, my dear boy. There’ll be another time, and another one after that. We’ll probably have many more chances to meet again.”
“Sorry, Kouta! Take it down in one shot for me, okay?”
Mitsuzane was the last one to speak to the warrior in silver.
“You won’t have to bail me out all the time! I’ll be there to help you, too! If you or Mai ever end up in trouble, I’ll run to the end of the universe if I have to! We’ll always be your friends!”
The warrior in silver answered only with a firm and powerful thumbs-up.
And thus, only the warrior in silver and the bone monster were left behind in the collapsing world of death.
Saver, who should have almost completely lost his sense of self, called out the name of the warrior facing him.
There was still a faint sense of will within his voice.
The skeletal dinosaur lumbered towards the warrior in silver, step by step.
“…I…will use that power…to save…humanity…”
“Hey. What was it you actually wanted to save?”
The silver warrior’s question was not one that came from a transcendent being, but from a single mere human.
“I…wanted…I…wanted to…save humanity — “
“You melted into the world and disappeared, and what you actually wanted to save was…yourself, right?”
Saver’s last remaining sense of will completely disappeared.
What was left was nothing more than an empty monster, one that roared its death knell in a perishing world.
The skeletal dinosaur leapt into the air, trying to trample the warrior in silver with its overwhelmingly giant body. The ground gave way under the impact and shattered even further, creating a crater.
But the warrior in silver was no longer there.
Still embedded in the skull, Saver looked above him. There was the sky of the sunless world — but now, a giant ball of orange-colored energy was burning there. It illuminated the night sky with the brilliance of the morning sun.
— Ultimate Squash!
Enhanced by an orange aura, the silver warrior’s kick pierced through Saver and the skeletal dinosaur.
Saver and the skeletal dinosaur were engulfed in a shining gold explosion. Saver dissolved into the light, like a dead soul being reduced to ashes and dust. The false savior had disappeared.
Within the light, the man who had once been Saver saw a silver warrior who embodied the idea of a hero — Armored Rider Gaim.
“Kouta Kazuraba…how long do you intend to keep fighting?”
In the very last moment, he had regained enough of his consciousness to ask a final question.
It was surely a question about his entire life itself. Sure enough, the warrior’s answer was brief.
“Forever, as long as I live.”
“…I see. Then live, and die, in this world overflowing with agony.”
Was it a curse? Or a blessing?
So spoke the man who was once Saver, with a terribly calm voice.
“I…will fall…into a place with nothing…alone.”
And with that, the man disappeared.
The warrior in silver — Kouta Kazuraba — spoke his final words for him.
Words that could no longer reach anywhere, for the one who had melted into the world and vanished.
“May you sleep well — Kugai Kudou.”
He spoke the name of the man who was no longer anywhere.
- Gridon’s weapon is the “Donkachi“, a pun on “tonkachi” (hammer) and “donguri” (acorn).
- In Buddhism, the lotus flower is an easily recognizable symbol associated with fortune and enlightenment, and the Padmasana cross-legged meditation sitting position is known as the “lotus position”. The epithet of “dai-tenma” (大天魔) also invokes the Japanese Buddhist “Devil of the Sixth Heaven“; originally derived from Mara, the “heavenly demon” is said to use people’s desires to tempt them away from true enlightenment. The famous warlord Oda Nobunaga infamously had a similar nickname for his ruthlessness in his campaign to unify Japan, particularly in regards to his siege of Mount Hiei and the Buddhist shrines and monks there.
- The name of Ryugen Yomi’s Arms is “Yomotsuheguri” (usually written 黄泉戸喫), which refers to the idea that anyone who eats food in the world of the dead will become a permanent resident of the underworld, and will thus become unable to return to the world of the living. In Japanese mythology, the goddess Izanami-no-Mikoto was unable to return to the world of the living for this reason. Those who know Greek mythology may also recognize a connection between this concept and a certain pomegranate.
- Written “knight” in the text, with furigana instructing to read it as “Rider”.
- The word for “transform” is “henshin“, usually written 変身, but here, Kugai’s call is written “変・神”, with the “shin” kanji being the one meaning “god”.