Ultimate Blade: Chapter Twenty-three prologue

 

Angel Grove, one night ago

 

Benjamin finally tracked Nicolas to an abandoned night club close to Demon City. The boy sat casually behind the bar and shuffled a deck of cards. He looked smug and arrogant, nothing like the boy Benjamin knew.

 

“Nicolas…” Benjamin said quietly as he walked towards the bar.

 

“Garren…” Nicolas said with a smirk. “Perfect timing. If you’re here to chat…you may as well have a seat.”

 

“Chat?” Benjamin asked with disbelief.

 

Nicolas smiled and shuffled the cards. He started dealing, slowly laying the cards onto the bar. Benjamin knitted his brow quizzically and took a seat across from Nicolas. 

 

“What are you doing here?” Benjamin asked. He feared the answer. He feared the Spider Undead controlled the boy completely.

 

Nicolas ignored the question and continued laying the cards. “The Undead called Chalice…Let’s defeat him. You and me.” 

 

Benjamin narrowed his eyes. “Why worry about Zayden?”

 

“Zayden,” Nicolas said the name mockingly. He shook his head and laid down the last card. “From cards one through 52, it’s a numbered game. Each card can only go one place. But…” He slid the Joker card aside. “This card can go anywhere.”

 

“The Joker…” Benjamin said, uncertain of the point.

 

Nicolas lifted the card. “Just as the Joker can become any other card...there’s an original Undead created by INET that can become any other Undead.”

 

“You’re saying…You’re saying that’s Zayden? That Zayden’s this Joker?” Benjamin asked.

 

Nicolas nodded. “Every sealed Undead becomes power for the Joker. When that happens…” Nicolas smiled and shrugged. “Well, nothing good can come from that.”

 

“He’d essentially be the ultimate Undead,” Benjamin said.

 

“I’ll defeat him well before that happens,” Nicolas said.

 

The boy swiped the cards into a deck, stuffed the deck into his pocket, and started walking off. 

 

“Nicolas, wait!” Benjamin called as he followed the boy.

 

Nicolas smirked and turned to face Benjamin. “So, does this mean you are interested in partnering up?”

 

Benjamin narrowed his eyes. “You’re not Nicolas…”

 

“Not anymore.”

 

Nicolas shoved Benjamin across the bar, and he crashed through a table.

 

Chapter 23: Kamen Rider Blade

The Destroyer’s Secret

 

Ken returned home bruised and battered. He walked through the empty house and moved into the office. He didn’t see Bobby or Megan, meaning they probably left for a grocery run.

 

He sat at Megan’s computer and activated the Undead Tracker program. But the program found no signs of Undead.

 

“Nothing…” he whispered. “Zayden…where are you?”

 

The Caucasus Undead, a Category King, ambushed Ken less than an hour earlier. Zayden stumbled into the middle of the battle, and the Caucasus Undead captured him. The Caucus had help from a Category 10, the Scarab Undead, which could freeze time.

 

Ken leaned back and waited. The Tracker would pick up Zayden’s signal as soon as he started fighting to escape. Unless the Caucus Undead already won. But Ken refused to believe that.

 

Suddenly, the home shook as if from a slight tremor.

 

Ken stood and narrowed his eyes, looking for signs of trouble. The tremor could have been just that — a tremor — but Ken highly doubted that.

 

An arm suddenly reached out as if from nowhere, grabbed Ken by the neck, and hurled him across the room. Ken smashed against the wall and crashed against the couch.

 

blade-vi-trialdThe teen looked up to face his attacker: An odd looking Undead with tubes across its dark-orange body. The creature wore a black mask with purple eye sockets.

 

“Undead…” Ken cursed beneath his breath.

 

The creature lunged and swung its arms at Ken. But the teen dove for cover and rolled across the floor. He quickly stood and glanced at the computer — which showed no signs of Undead activity.

 

Ken barely had time to wonder why. The Undead swung a hook punch towards the teen. Ken grabbed the monster by the arm and used its momentum to push the creature away.

 

The teen armed his buckler. “Transform!” He snapped the buckler, which spoke the command “TURN UP” and emitted a field of energy.

 

Ken leapt through the field, transformed into his armor, and punched the monster with enough force to hurl it backward. The creature shattered through the window and crashed outside.

 

Kamen Rider Blade leapt through the window to follow.

 

The Rider landed and immediately lifted the Undead from the ground. Blade bashed a sidekick against the Undead’s chest, then followed with a flurry of punches that bashed the monster back several steps.

 

The Undead sidestepped and glared at Blade with cold, calculating eyes. It spoke with a metallic, computerized voice. “Blade, designate Kenneth Grayson…”

 

Blade tilted his head. “How to do you know my name…?”

 

The Undead lunged with a flurry of punches that Blade dodged. He blocked several of the blows and swung a punch towards the creature’s head. But the Undead blocked the blow and smashed the back of his fist across Blade’s helmet. The blow whipped the Rider off his feet.

 

Blade crashed against the ground and rolled into a crouched stance. He unsheathed his sword and pounced.

 

Kamen Rider Blade slashed the Undead with bursts of spark that knocked him back several steps. Blade continued his advance and swung upward with a powerful blow that sparked against the Undead and hurled him off his feet.

 

Blade opened his sword fan and pulled out three cards: The Locust Undead Five of Spades, Deer Undead Six of Spades, and Jaguar Undead Nine of Spades. He swiped the cards through his sword slit: “KICK; THUNDER; MACH.”

 

The Rider crouched down as three cards of energy projected from his sword and splashed across his armor. He charged forward through a burst of speed, leapt through the air, and aimed a flying sidekick that crackled with lightning.

 

The kick bashed against the Undead with a thundering boom that hurled the monster off its feet.

 

Blade pulled out an empty card and snapped it at the monster. The card stuck against the monster’s chest. But the monster managed to absorb the card into its body.

 

Blade took a step back with shock. “How…”

 

The monster rose to its feet and extended its hand towards Blade. “Kenneth Grayson…your existence is forbidden.”

 

“Forbidden?”

 

The monster lunged and punched Blade with a burst of spark that knocked him through the air.

 

Blade tumbled across the ground as the monster stalked towards him.

 

Suddenly, explosions sparked against the monster and sent him staggering backward. Blade looked to see Kamen Rider Garren arrive on his cycle, with his blaster held forward.

 

Garren skid his cycle to a halt and opened fire. His bullets sparked against the Undead and whipped it off its feet. 

 

“Benjamin!” Blade called as he ran to his comrade’s side.

 

“Ken…what is that thing?” Garren asked.

 

The Undead climbed slowly to its feet.

 

“Garren…” the monster said. “You are not the target…”

 

The monster’s body transformed into gel that spilled onto the ground, making a puddle. The monster’s buckler rested on top of the puddle, and then dissolved as if teleporting away. The gel was absorbed into the earth and disappeared.

 

***

 

Minutes later, Benjamin helped Ken clean up the broken glass inside the home.

 

“That Undead could be in league with King,” Ken said, speaking of Caucasus Undead, who called himself King when in his human guise.

 

“King?” Benjamin asked.

 

Ken nodded. “I ran into him again earlier today,” he said. “He kidnapped Zayden and then…disappeared. I have no idea where they are.”

 

The front door opened, and in walked Bobby and Megan. Megan opened her eyes wide with surprise when she noticed the shattered window in her office.

 

“What…” she said as she walked towards the broken window. She looked to Benjamin and Ken. “Did you two fight again? Seriously?”

 

Ken sighed. “You may want to sit down.”

 

Bobby’s shoulders sank. “That’s never good. I’ll get the milk…”

 

***

 

King sat in his human form in a dimly lit room. His single chair decorated the room, otherwise bare and gray. Zayden lay in a corner, weakened. But the Undead didn’t pay the Rider any attention. King kept his eyes fixed on his smart phone.

 

Zayden lifted himself to his feet and tried to make a break for it.

 

blade-vi-scarabKing kept his eyes on his phone. “Stop.”

 

Time froze around Zayden, holding him in place. The Sacarb Undead appeared with a flash of golden light.

 

“Go,” King said.

 

Scarab released his temporal grasp on Zayden and bashed the Rider in the chest. The impact hurled Zayden across the room, and he smashed against the wall before crashing to the floor.

 

King turned his chair to face Zayden. He pulled Zayden’s cards from his pocket and spread them in his hand. “It looks like all your cards are here…except the Two of Hearts. Hand it over.”

 

Zayden sat up on the ground. He didn’t bother making eye contact with the Undead. “Just defeat me…”

 

“No, no, no…” King said with annoyance as he shifted in his seat. “I’m not interested in that. I want to see your true form…Your Joker form. I hear it’s an INET original…not like the rest of us, cloned from the Mogralord’s Undead.”

 

Zayden lifted his head but said nothing.

 

***

 

After Ken finished explaining the Undead attack, Benjamin told his friends about Zayden’s true identity.

 

“Wait a second…” Bobby said. “So the guy living with my sister and niece isn’t just an Undead. He’s a Joker? Some kind of ultimate Undead?”

 

Megan listened from her computer. She searched her BOARD files for any relevant information. “I can’t find anything about this Joker…” she said. “But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist.”

 

Benjamin nodded. “The Joker seals other Undead,” he said. “And he has the ability to use their forms and powers. Zayden has that ability.”

 

Ken nodded. “That’s true. When he lost his change card once, I saw him transform into the Eagle Undead…”

 

“That’s proof he’s the Joker,” Benjamin said. “He also uses a card when he turns back into Zayden. That might be another borrowed form.”

 

“Back up,” Bobby said. “So he’s not Chalice or Zayden…he’s something else? Really?”

 

“Joker’s true form…” Benjamin said. “Whatever that is.”

 

“Wait a minute,” Megan said. “If he uses a card to transform into Zayden…does that mean…is there some kind of Human Undead sealed in that card?”

 

“Or maybe a regular human,” Bobby said. “I need more milk…”

 

Ken shook his head. “It can’t be…” he said quietly.

 

“He’s not our ally. We have to stop kidding ourselves and accept the truth,” Benjamin said. “He just seals Undead to use their power.”

 

“But…” Ken started to say, but trailed off. Could Zayden really be this Joker? A killer, and nothing more?

 

***

 

Scarab Undead bashed Zayden to the ground.

 

King leaned forward on his chair to face the fallen Rider. “Why won’t you show me your true form?”

 

Zayden rolled onto his side. “Why do you want to see that form so badly?”

 

King smiled. “That’s a fair question. I’m…bored. This whole Rider versus Undead thing we have…I want to throw it off balance.”

 

Zayden narrowed his eyes. “Off balance?”

 

“The Undead fight each other. The Riders seal them. Humans go about their lives pretending everything is normal, even though they live in a city with a rotting demon pit at its center,” King said. “Isn’t it absurd?”

 

The villain looked towards Scarab Undead. “I can control the minds of other Undead. I’ll do the same to you…and then...I’ll smash this world.”

 

King turned his smart phone to face Zayden. The phone showed a video of Zayden leaping and transforming into Chalice. “Show me your true form. Or I’ll e-mail this to the Jacaranda Café, to the humans who have taken you in as their pet.”

 

Zayden narrowed his eyes. He rose to pounce at King. But Scarab Undead bashed the Rider back to the floor.

 

King smiled mockingly. “OK, then. I’m sending it…”

 

Zayden snarled and rose to his feet. He stood in a crouched position as his rouze buckler appeared with a flash of crimson light. He howled with anger and rage as the buckler glowed with a fierce burst of jade-tinted power.

 

***

 

Benjamin walked into his small studio apartment to find a man sitting at the kitchen table. The man wore a gray suit and stared ahead as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.

 

“It seems you’ve finally stumbled upon the Joker,” the man said.

 

Benjamin opened his eyes wide with shock. “Dr. Sarc…” Dr. Sarc was Megan’s father, a scientist with INET, assumed dead when the Dark Shaper’s robotic army attacked BOARD. Benjamin and Dr. Sarc worked together briefly before that destruction. “We thought you were dead…”

 

The teen shook his head and took a seat. “Where have you been all this time? And you haven’t…You haven’t even reached out to Megan?”

 

“I have no intention of contacting my daughter,” Sarc said.

 

“Why?”

 

“I still have work to do…” he said. “Did she ever tell you why I joined INET? Why I joined BOARD?”

 

Benjamin shook his head.

 

“I wanted to solve the mystery of immortality,” he said. “I wanted to find a way for mankind to finally escape the fear of death. After I watched my wife die of cancer…I could think of nothing else.”

 

“Why are you telling me this?” Benjamin asked, although his mind couldn’t help but wander to memories of Emma, the girl he had loved and lost when the Peacock Undead killed her. 

 

“I want you to understand,” Sarc said.

 

“Understand what?” Benjamin asked. “What do you have to do with the Joker?”

 

“The Joker is dangerous,” Sarc said. “And your friend Ken…” Sarc shook his head. “Ken is on the same path.”

 

Benjamin narrowed his eyes. “Give me a straight answer. How is Ken on the same path as the Joker?”

 

“‘Black and White,’” Sarc said. “Use that passcode to open a firewall and access all BOARD’s records. You’ll get your answers then…”

 

Sarc stood and walked from the apartment without saying another word.

 

***

 

Ken lay on the couch within the attic of Bobby’s home. He stared at the ceiling and thought of Zayden, and the information Benjamin passed on about the Joker. He didn’t know if he could believe the story. But he didn’t know if he could truly trust Zayden either.

 

A knock sounded from the floor, and Bobby poked his head into the attic. “Hey Ken. I brought breakfast…since you haven’t been down to eat anything yet and it’s almost noon. So I guess this is brunch…whatever.”

 

He stepped into the attic carrying a tray of cereal, toast and milk. Bobby set the tray on the coffee table and took a seat in the chair. “So what’s up? It’s not like you to just sit around like this all morning.”

 

Ken sighed and shook his head, keeping his eyes on the ceiling. “It’s nothing.”

 

“Right, of course,” Bobby said. “Look, I know you’re probably all confused and stuff. But the one thing we know for sure is that the bad guys have Zayden. Whether you can trust him or not…I’m thinking that bad guys with an ultimate Undead in their hands is a bad thing.”

 

“That’s…That’s actually a really good point,” Ken said.

 

“I make a lot of those…if people actually listen to me,” Bobby said.

 

Ken smiled and sat up. “You’re right.” He grabbed a piece of toast, took a bite, and grabbed his motorcycle helmet while heading for the attic door. “Thanks, Bobby. I mean it.”

 

Ken left the attic and headed towards the front door when Megan called to him from her office. “Ken, I’m picking up a faint Undead reaction! There’s two, maybe three of them!”

 

“Perfect timing,” Ken said as he dashed out the door.

 

Megan looked out the window and watched Ken speed away on his motorcycle. She couldn’t help but smile. That’s our Ken...no matter who it is, if someone’s in trouble, you can always count on him…

 

***

 

King leaned back in his chair and smiled. He stared at a hole in the wall where Zayden fled after transforming into Joker.

 

The villain smiled, despite the loss of his captive. “That was…impressive. That power will be mine.”

 

***

 

Zayden assumed his human form and limped through the edge of an abandoned retail district. He glanced up at a security mirror mounted on an overhang, and he stopped to look at himself. His human self.

 

I will never take that form again…

 

He didn’t hear footsteps approach from behind. Someone threw a deck of playing cards at him, and the cards scattered across the ground. Zayden turned to see Nicolas standing with an arrogant grin.

 

“What do you want…Nicolas?” Zayden asked.

 

Nicolas simply smiled and looked down at the cards. Zayden looked down as well, and noticed each card was a Joker card.

 

Zayden looked back up. “So…you’ve completely absorbed the Category Ace.”

 

“That’s right,” Nicolas said. “I am the darkness. And it feels really good.”

 

He armed his buckler, which wrapped around his waist.

 

“Transform.” He flipped open his buckler. The belt spoke the command “OPEN UP” and emitted a card-shaped wall of energy that slid across the boy, turning him into Kamen Rider Leangle.

 

Leangle lunged and smashed the back of his fist across Zayden. The blow hurled Zayden off his feet, and he smashed against a wall before crashing to the ground.

 

Zayden pushed himself into a crouched position and glared at Leangle.

 

The evil Rider tilted his head and stalked towards Zayden. “Oh, right…you can’t become Chalice, can you? Then show me the power of Joker.”

 

Zayden climbed to his feet. “I won’t take that form…”

 

Suddenly, a motorcycle throttled onto the scene. Ken sped down the street and smashed his bike against Leangle, hurling the Rider aside.

 

Leangle crashed against the ground, and the impact knocked him out of his armor with a flash of purple light.

 

Ken skid his bike to a halt between Zayden and Nicolas.

 

Nicolas glared as he pushed himself to his feet. “Ken…don’t get in my way.”

 

“I don’t have time to deal with you right now,” Ken said.

 

“Do you know what he is?” Nicolas asked. “What he is really? He’ll hunt the Undead until the very last one. He’s a cold-blooded killing machine.”

 

“You’re thinking of yourself right now,” Ken said. He looked to Zayden. “Zayden, let’s go.”

 

Zayden reluctantly sat on the back of Ken’s bike. Ken swerved the bike around and sped away.

 

***

 

Ken rode as far as the nearest bay area and pulled his bike to a stop. He stood from his bike, as did Zayden. Neither of them said anything, until Ken decided to break the silence.

 

“Nicole Metros,” Ken said.

 

Hm?” Zayden asked.

 

“That’s the name of this girl I liked in the first grade,” he said. “But I never told anyone. I thought about it…and that’s really the only secret I have.”

 

“Okay,” Zayden said as he turned and started to walk away.

 

“Wait,” Ken said. “I told you my secret. Tell me one of yours…”

 

Zayden kept walking. “That’s ridiculous.”

 

“Listen,” Ken said as he followed. “I don’t care about your true form. To me, you’re Zayden. But…but I have to know. Your Two of Hearts…what’s sealed in that card?”

 

Zayden stopped and looked to Ken. He hesitated, and then glanced away as if ashamed. He walked slowly towards Ken’s bike. He couldn’t face the rider while he explained.

 

“Sealed in that card…is a Human Undead created by INET,” Zayden said.

 

***

 

Benjamin sat in front of his laptop in his studio apartment. He accessed BOARD’s records and browsed through the Kamen Rider files. He input the code “black and white” and gained full access to the data.

 

He pulled up the Joker file and read.

 

An INET competitor codenamed the Dark Shaper designed the Joker Undead, around the same time INET began cloning the Mogralord’s Undead. This Dark Shaper created the Joker for the purpose of absorbing and using the powers of the other Undead.

 

INET’s BOARD division based the Kamen Rider system on the Joker’s power. The situation seemed…ironic. The Dark Shaper spied on BOARD and used the information about the Undead to create the Joker. Then BOARD spied on the Dark Shaper and used the information about Joker to create the Rider System. Maybe they were in league somehow? 

 

Benjamin kept reading, and his skin crawled more and more with every sentence.

 

***

 

“I first awoke nearly two years ago,” Zayden explained as he looked out upon the bay. “I was given the Chalice card — a card too powerful for any human. I sealed the Beetle Undead — your Category Ace. My instinct controlled me. I defeated Undead after Undead, making their power my own. Then I finally found…him. The Human Undead.

 

“INET created the Human Undead based on the data from the other Undead. They tried to create an immortal. But they failed. He wasn’t strong enough. So they let him free, along with the others.

 

“When I found him, he wouldn’t fight. He smiled, and he sat down, allowing me to seal him. Ever since I sealed him, ever since I used his card to take his form, the thought of returning to the Joker form has been — detestable.”

 

Ken nodded. “Thanks…for telling me the truth.”

 

Suddenly, Zayden snapped his head around and opened his eyes wide. He sensed the presence of another Undead.

 

“He’s coming,” he said as he ran off.

 

Ken followed, and they moved into the Angel Pier outdoor shopping center. Shoppers walked across sidewalks and stairwells as wide as streets, between tall buildings with columns at their base.

 

Then time stopped. Everyone froze, including Ken and Zayden.

 

King walked down a nearby stairwell with his hands in his pockets. He smiled at the sight of the frozen riders and pedestrians.

 

“So much commotion…” he said. “Everything’s much easier to handle this way.”

 

The villain stopped near Zayden. “Joker…”

 

King looked over his shoulder and silently summoned the Scarab Undead. The Undead landed on the walkway and resumed time. Shoppers immediately screamed and ran.

 

“Blade’s in the way,” King said to the Scarab Undead. “Remove him.”

 

Ken snapped around. But the Scarab Undead smashed the back of its hand across Ken’s head, knocking him aside.

 

King looked to Zayden. “You’re coming with me, Joker. You can’t resist…” King lifted the cards of the heart suit. “I have your cards.”

 

Ken climbed into a crouched position. He looked to see King holding Zayden’s cards, and he knew what he had to do. “Zayden, fall back!”

 

Ken activated his belt and snapped the buckler. “Transform!”

 

The buckler spoke the command “TURN UP” and emitted an energy field. Ken dashed through the field, transformed into his armor, and charged towards King.

 

The Scarab Undead stood in Blade’s way. Kamen Rider Blade swung a punch at the monster. But the Undead vanished and reappeared behind the Rider.

 

Blade turned. And Scarab Undead bashed the back of its fist across the Rider’s helmet.

 

The blow knocked him back several steps as the Undead pressed forward. The creature bashed its palms against the Rider and kicked him twice in the gut. Each blow knocked Blade a step backward.

 

Kamen Rider Blade couldn’t believe the Undead’s speed. The monster moved too fast for the Rider to adapt. Blade realized the monster likely accomplished this by manipulating time. He couldn’t defend against such an attack.

 

A kick knocked Blade off his feet, and he rolled across the ground to gain distance. The Rider lunged with a roundkick Scarab Undead blocked. The monster slashed Blade’s chest with bursts of spark, forcing him back.

 

Blade countered with a punch that bashed the monster’s chest. But the monster barely felt the blow; Scarab Undead swung the back of his hand and slashed Blade with a burst of spark.

 

King walked towards the battle. “Stop.”

 

Scarab Undead froze time.

 

King walked slowly to Blade and unsheathed the Rider’s sword. The villain held the blade in a reverse grip.

 

“Go.”

 

Time resumed, and King slashed Blade with a flurry of quick and powerful strikes that sparked against armor, whipping the Rider off his feet.

 

King didn’t notice Zayden watch from the cover of a pillar. The rider stayed far enough back to avoid Scarab’s time bubble. He watched intently. King can still move when time is frozen…Why? What gives him that power?

 

Kamen Rider Blade rose to his feet, and King hacked relentlessly at the Rider. The sword slashed Blade with bursts of spark that forced him back several steps. The villain swung upward with a powerful blow that whipped Blade backward, and he crashed against a stairwell.

 

Zayden watched closely. He noticed a small, white piece of cloth tied to Scarab Undead’s forearm. The same type of cloth wrapped around King’s forearm as well.

 

“That’s it,” he said as he rushed forward.

 

Zayden slammed against King and ripped the cloth from his forearm, knocking Blade’s sword free in the process. King bashed Zayden aside, and he tumbled across the floor.

 

“Zayden!” Blade shouted as he ran to the rider’s side.

 

Zayden sat up against a wall as Blade crouched next to him. Wincing with pain, Zayden handed the cloth to Blade. “This is probably the key to staying unfrozen in time.”

 

Blade took the cloth and wrapped it around his left fist. A flash of golden energy suddenly splashed through the area as the Scarab Undead froze time. But Blade could still move. He stood while lifting his sword from the floor, and he stalked towards Scarab Undead.

 

“That trick can’t help you now…” Blade said.

 

The Rider held his sword back, leaned forward and charged.

 

He swung his sword wide, but Scarab Undead ducked beneath the blow. Blade front kicked the Undead’s chest and slashed the monster upward with a burst of spark.

 

The Rider twisted his grip and slashed the monster again, and again, each blow sparking on impact and forcing the Undead back several steps. He slashed wide, then chopped, then swung upward, each blow slashing its target.

 

Blade stabbed the Undead with a massive burst of spark that knocked the monster off its feet.  

 

The Rider stepped back, held his sword in a reverse grip, and snapped open the card fan on the weapon’s hilt. 

 

He pulled out three cards: The Five of Spades, Six of Spades, and Nine of Spades. He swiped the cards through his sword slit: “KICK; THUNDER; MACH.”

 

The Rider crouched down as three cards of energy projected from his sword and splashed across his armor. He charged forward through a burst of speed, leapt through the air, and aimed a flying sidekick that crackled with lightning.

 

The kick bashed the Undead with a thundering boom that hurled the monster off its feet.

 

Blade snapped an empty card at the fallen monster. The card stabbed into the Undead, absorbed the creature completely, and then shot back into Blade’s hand. The Ten of Spades and word “time” marked the card.

 

Kamen Rider Blade slid the card into his fan hilt and looked across the plaza for King. The Rider heard a mocking gasp of excitement come from above. He looked up to see King standing on a stairwell.

 

“Impressive,” King said. “You human Riders sure can fight.”

 

“Quit screwing around!” Blade shouted.

 

King laughed and looked to Zayden. The villain held the cards of the heart suit and spread them for Zayden to see. “Don’t forget, Joker. Your BFF may have just sealed my pet. But I still have these…”

 

The villain used the cards for a mock salute and stepped backward as his body rippled, vanishing from sight. He didn’t realize he dropped one of the cards: The Jack of Hearts.

 

Ken powered down his armor and ran to Zayden’s side. “Zayden!”

 

***

 

Ken helped Zayden to his feet, and the riders left the pier. Zayden insisted they go where no people could run into them, so they went beneath a bridge that looked out upon the bay. Ken helped Zayden sit on the polished rocks that lined the shore.

 

“You should head home and get your strength back,” Ken said. “Then we’ll go after King.”

 

“You’re meddling,” Zayden said. “I’ll take my cards back on my own.”

 

“Let me help you,” Ken said. “We’re friends, right?”

 

Zayden looked down and sat silently for a moment before answering. His typical cold and emotionless face betrayed reluctance. “Are you sure you want to say that? My true form…”

 

“Is Zayden,” Ken said. “Your identity is what you make it.”

 

Zayden glanced up, and for the briefest of moments, smiled — an odd sight; just a slight grin many wouldn’t notice.

 

The riders heard a motorcycle pull to a stop on a nearby road, and they looked to see Benjamin pull to a stop. He stood from the motorcycle and walked towards them with a grim look on his face.

 

“Benjamin…” Ken said as he rose. “What’s wrong? If it’s about the Scarab Undead…I sealed him.”

 

Benjamin shook his head. “The Undead I’m after’s behind you. The Joker.”

 

“Listen, Benjamin,” Ken said. “It’s not like that. He-”

 

“You listen,” Benjamin said firmly. “I know his secret. Do you know what happens when the Joker seals all 52 Undead? If he’s the last one standing…he’ll become unstoppable. He’ll destroy everything.”

 

“He wouldn’t-”

 

“He wouldn’t have a choice,” Benjamin said. “It’s like he’d become a force of nature. The Joker’s a death machine, Ken.”

 

Benjamin armed his buckler, which attached around his waist. “Transform.” He flipped the buckler, which spoke the command: “TURN UP”

 

The buckler emitted a blue energy field Benjamin walked through as he transformed into his armor.

 

Benjamin aimed his blaster at Zayden. “Help me seal him, Ken. Now.”

 

Ken stood between the blaster and Zayden. “Don’t do this, Benjamin.”

 

Zayden climbed to his feet and glared at Garren. He started to push Ken away. “Step aside, Ken.”

 

“No,” Ken said. “Benjamin, I believe in him. You don’t have to trust him. But trust me.”

 

“Move out of the way, Ken,” Garren said.

 

“No,” Ken said again. “He won’t destroy humanity. I know it.”

 

“Move out of the way, Ken!” Garren shouted.

 

“No!” Ken shouted. “I told you, he won’t get to that point. If he does…if he does, I’ll seal him myself.”

 

“I’m not backing down,” Garren said.

 

Ken sighed. “Fine…”

 

He armed his buckler, which attached around his waist. “Transform.” He flipped his buckler, which spoke the command: “TURN UP”

 

The buckler emitted a blue energy field. Ken walked through the field and transformed into his armor.

 

Garren armed a Rouze Absorber on his left gauntlet. Megan had tracked the device down weeks ago.

 

He slid the Queen of Diamonds into the Rouze Absorber which spoke: “ABSORB QUEEN.” He swiped the Jack of Diamonds through the Absorber’s slot. “FUSION JACK.”

 

The Absorber pulsed with golden light that washed across Garren and shifted his armor into Jack Form. His chest armor and faceplate turned from silver to gold, with green trimming, and beetle-like wings formed on the Rider’s back. A golden dagger formed on the underside of his blaster.

 

Blade armed his Rouze Absorber. He slid the Queen of Spades into the Rouze Absorber which spoke: “ABSORB QUEEN.” He swiped the Jack of Spades through the Absorber’s slot. “FUSION JACK.”

 

The Absorber pulsed with golden energy that washed across Blade and shifted his armor into Jack Form.

 

Blade unsheathed his sword but kept the weapon low. Garren kept his blaster low too. The two Riders started circling each other slowly. Neither wanted to attack first.

 

So they attacked as one.

 

Blade’s sword clashed against Garren’s blaster dagger with a massive burst of spark. Their weapons locked together as they pressed forward.

 

“Benjamin, you’re acting crazy again…” Ken said.

 

“I can’t just ignore Joker,” Garren said. “He’ll wipe out humanity.”

 

“He won’t do that!” Blade shouted.

 

“Open your eyes!” 

 

Garren knocked Blade’s sword aside and stepped back. He lifted his weapon and chopped at Blade. But Blade parried and countered with a low strike meant to take Garren off his feet. Garren hopped back to avoid the blow. 

 

Kamen Rider Garren stopped holding back. He pressed forward and swung his weapon brutally and without mercy. Blade parried the strikes, which forced him further and further backward. Garren’s dagger clashed Blade’s sword with bursts of spark with each block and parry.

 

Blade stayed on the defensive until he realized he had to fight back. He had no choice. He parried and swung upward. But Garren parried the blow and slashed his weapon towards Blade’s chest. Blade sidestepped and swung high. But Garren dove and somersaulted beneath the blow.

 

Garren rolled to his feet and opened the card fan on his blaster. He pulled out three cards and swiped them one by one through his blaster’s rouzer slit. “BULLET; RAPID; FIRE”

 

Three cards of energy projected from his blaster and splashed across his armor.

 

His wings snapped open as he shot into the air. Hovering, he aimed downward and fired rapid bursts of fiery energy. Blade held his sword in a block stance as the bullets exploded around him with massive bursts of spark and flame.  

 

Blade stood his ground, much to Garren’s surprise. “How could he block that attack…?”

 

Blade flipped open his sword fan, pulled out two cards, and slid them one by one through his hilt’s rouzer slit. “SLASH; THUNDER”

 

Two cards of energy projected from his sword and splashed across his armor.

 

His wings snapped open, and he shot upward as his sword energized with crackling power. He slashed past Garren with massive bursts of spark that knocked him from the air.

 

Garren crashed against the ground, and his armor powered down with a flash of light.

 

***

 

Dr. Sarc watched Blade and Garren’s battle from the computer in his secret lab. One of the display windows showed energy readouts that analyzed Blade’s attack. 

 

Sarc knitted his brow with concern. “If he keeps this up for long…”

 

He shook his head and looked to a chamber embedded in the wall. The chamber contained his project: Trail D, the artificial monster that attacked Ken in his home.

 

To be continued…Chapter 24