Chapter 31: Kamen Rider Blade

Leangle Revives

 

His name was Dr. William “Billy” Cranston, but he was not the Billy of our world. Cranston, the Dark Shaper, came from Demon World Earth, an alternate reality where evil ruled. And the Dark Shaper served on the side of that evil.

 

Tennoji stood in his lab and spoke with the Dark Shaper through a holographic screen. The Dark Shaper leaned forward with his hands laced on his desk.

 

“I need you to accelerate your timetable…” the Dark Shaper said.

 

“Oh?” Tennoji asked. “You abandoned this project, Shaper.”

 

“I did no such thing…” the Dark Shaper said. “I simply turned my attention to other matters. My VOLT organization still needs the Undead.”

 

“You may need us,” Tennoji said. “But we’ve outgrown our need for you.”

 

Tennoji terminated the connection. He smirked with arrogance and turned to the lab techs scattered about the secret lab.

 

He stepped towards a casket-shaped chamber on the floor and traced his fingers across the lid. “Dr. Sarc…your research won’t go to waste.”

 

***

 

Ken, Benjamin, Bobby and Megan sat in the living room of Bobby’s home. Ken laid his cards across the coffee table, as did Benjamin.

 

“Ken has 13 sealed Undead…” Megan said.

 

“I’ve sealed 11,” Benjamin said.

 

“And Zayden has 13 too, right?” Bobby asked between sips of his milk.

 

Megan nodded. “And Leangle only has three cards left.”

 

“If you count whatever sealed card Sarc had…that’s four unsealed Undead,” Benjamin said.

 

“Just four more…” Megan said with a hint of relief.

 

“Then it’s all over,” Bobby said with excitement.

 

“No,” Benjamin said. “There’s a fifth…”

 

“Joker…” Megan said.

 

Benjamin nodded. “I know right now he’s in control. But I believe what Dr. Sarc said. That if the Joker is the last Undead standing, he’ll somehow wipe out humanity.”

 

“We’re forgetting someone else too, now that I think about it,” Bobby said. “That kid, Nicolas. With the Spider Undead in control…maybe he’s not fully sealed.”

 

“I’ll go check on him…” Benjamin said.

 

“I’ll go too…” Ken said as he followed Benjamin out the door.

 

***

 

Nicolas’s girlfriend Nikki spoke with young Ava in the Jacaranda Café.

 

“Are you sure it was Nicolas?” Nikki asked.

 

Ava nodded. “I recognized his voice.”

 

“Ava…” Cassie said as she walked towards her daughter. “You saw Nicolas? You never mentioned that before.”

 

“Well…” Ava said. “Zayden said I probably shouldn’t…”

 

“So where is he?” Nikki asked.

 

“I’m not sure but…I think I have an idea…” Ava said.

 

***

 

Nicolas paced back and forth in the abandoned nightclub he called home. At the bar, Taiga chomped on a leg of meat.

 

“Ken and the Joker…” Nicolas said. “They’ve both come across new power…and I’ll be next. I have to be…”

 

Taiga set her meat aside and looked over her shoulder. “Whatever…Do as you like…”

 

The Undead slid her plate aside and walked away from the bar.

 

Nicolas moved after her. “Where are you going?”

 

“You’ve started to bore me,” she said.

 

“What?”

 

She turned to face him. “I’ve watched you closely…are you the Category Ace? Or the human?”

 

“What do you mean?” Nicolas asked.

 

“You’re much too weak…” Taiga said. “Too insecure. You could never be an Undead.”

 

Nicolas narrowed his eyes. “I’ve been changed by the Category Ace’s will...”

 

“You’re weak,” Taiga said. “As you are now, you have no chance of beating me.”

 

Nicolas glared and charged at the Undead. The boy swung a hook punch. But Taiga blocked and snapped a spinning heel kick that bashed Nicolas across the head. The blow knocked him off his feet.

 

***

 

Nikki ran to the area Ava described and found the abandoned nightclub. She went inside and stayed near the entrance when she spotted Taiga and Nicolas.

 

“I’m strong…” Nicolas said as he climbed to his feet. “And I’ll become even stronger.”

 

“For what purpose?” Taiga asked.

 

“Do I really need a reason…” Nicolas charged towards her.

 

But Nikki dashed from the entrance and threw herself against Nicolas, wrapping her arms around him. “Nicolas!”

 

“Nikki…” Nicolas said.

 

“This is dangerous,” she said. “What you’re doing…this isn’t you.”

 

“Why did you come here?” he asked as he pushed her away.

 

“Wait…” Nikki said as she moved back to him. “Let’s go talk, just the two of us…we can-”

 

“Get back,” Nicolas said as he pushed her again.

 

Taiga turned and walked away.

 

***

 

Taiga walked down a landscaped sidewalk that led away from the nightclub. She stopped in her tracks when she sensed something approaching.

 

“Something’s near…” she whispered. “An Undead…”

 

She walked off to investigate.

 

Nearby, Ken and Benjamin pulled their motorcycles to a stop near the nightclub. Ken pulled off his helmet and immediately recognized Taiga in the distance.

 

“Benjamin…that woman’s an Undead,” he said.

 

Taiga stopped and looked over her shoulder to face the riders. “Pests…”

 

She turned and ran.

 

Ken and Benjamin hopped off their bikes. They armed their belts and chased after her.

 

“Transform!” They flipped their bucklers: “TURN UP”

 

Kamen Rider Blade leapt through the air and tackled Taiga just as she shifted into her monster form. The villain fell back and rolled away from Blade.

 

She rose to her feet and turned just as Garren launched a flurry of punches she blocked. Each punch forced her back a step.

 

Blade moved in with a spin kick. But she ducked and clawed his faceplate, sending him staggering backward.

 

Garren swung a punch she blocked. And Blade moved in with a pair of punches of his own. She blocked the punches and clawed the Riders with bursts of spark.

 

Nearby, Nicolas ran to the scene. He watched the Riders circle around the Tiger Undead with punches and kicks. She blocked some. Others bashed against her body.

 

He hesitated.

 

***

 

Nicolas had locked Nikki in the nightclub. She bashed her shoulder against the door repeatedly until it knocked open.

 

***

 

Garren aimed his gun and opened fire. Bullets sparked against Tiger Undead. But she charged forward and swatted Garren through the air.

 

Kamen Rider Garren crashed against the ground and tumbled aside. The impact knocked him from his armor with a wave of light.

 

In his winged Jack Form, Kamen Rider Blade swooped through the air. He slashed Tiger Undead with a burst of spark as he flew past her.

 

The Rider climbed upward, turned, and dove towards Tiger Undead.  

 

Tiger Undead jumped onto Blade’s back before he could attack. “You pest…you can’t beat me with just this power!”

 

Blade swerved and bashed through the corner of a building with a burst of concrete and debris. The Rider and Undead crashed against the ground.

 

Kamen Rider Blade tumbled aside, and the impact knocked him from his armor with a wave of light.

 

Tiger Undead rolled to her feet and ran off.

 

Nicolas watched the Tiger Undead with a sense of awe. “She’s that strong…?” He started to run after her. “Wait!”

 

Benjamin dashed in front of Nicolas and grabbed him by the shoulders. “Nicolas…stop. We need to talk.”

 

“Get out of my way, Garren!” Nicolas shouted.

 

He shoved Benjamin aside and ran after Tiger Undead. He armed his buckler and almost flipped it open. But then he noticed Nikki run towards him.

 

“Nicolas!” she called.

 

Nicolas stopped and turned to face her. He looked annoyed, and yet a part of him looked like he longed for the girl.

 

Ken and Benjamin ran towards the girl to keep her safe.

 

“Nikki, stay back!” Ken shouted.

 

“Nicolas…” Benjamin said. “That look you just gave her…a part of that was you. Not the Category Ace…you.”

 

The boy lowered his head and knitted his brow.

 

“You might have the Spider Undead inside…” Benjamin said. “But the way you are now…sometimes you hold back that evil. At least part of it.”

 

“That’s crap!” Nicolas said as he pushed Benjamin back.

 

The boy armed his belt. “Transform!” He flipped open the buckler. “OPEN UP”

 

The buckler emitted a purple energy field that slid over him and activated his armor.

 

He stood as Kamen Rider Leangle in front of Nikki for the first time.

 

The girl opened her eyes wide with fear and took a step back. “Nicolas…?”

 

Leangle breathed heavily, a guttural sound. The Rider rolled his hands into fists, lifted his head, and screamed with pain and loss, anger and guilt.

 

Nikki screamed and ran away.

 

“Nicolas,” Benjamin said as he and Ken moved in front of the evil Rider. “This isn’t you…”

 

“This is me!” Leangle shouted as he pushed both riders away.

 

Benjamin slammed against the ground and tumbled aside. He rolled into a crouched stance and armed his belt.

 

“Transform!” He flipped the buckler. “TURN UP”

 

The buckler emitted en energy field Benjamin ran through while transforming into his armor.

 

Garren tackled Leangle and grabbed him from behind. The Rider looked to Ken. “Head after that Undead. I’ll handle Leangle.”

 

Ken hesitated. “But…”

 

Leangle elbowed Garren in the gut and back-fist struck him in the head. Garren stumbled back but managed to grab Leangle by the wrist and twist him into an arm lock.

 

Garren looked to Ken. “I’ve got this. Go.”

 

Ken turned and ran after the Tiger Undead.

 

Leangle twisted free. But Garren punched the evil Rider in the chest with a burst of spark.

 

***

 

A man with glasses walked down a sidewalk nearby. He wore a yellow shirt beneath a brown jacket, and kept his hair slicked back.

 

Suddenly, Taiga leapt through the air and launched at the man with a flurry of kicks and punches. The man blocked the blows and leapt backward, landing on a pedestrian bridge above.

Taiga snapped a roundkick at the man. The man caught the kick, and his body rippled into his true form: The Giraffe Undead.

 

“Category King…” Taiga said.

 

The Undead pushed her leg away, and she spun backward.

 

Taiga smiled wickedly. “It looks like I’ll finally get a real fight…”

 

She shifted into her monster form and pounced.

 

***

 

Garren slid the Queen of Diamonds into his Rouze Absorber: “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.

 

Leangle charged. But Garren swung his bladed blaster, and the weapon slashed Leangle with a burst of spark. The blow sent the Rider staggering backward. Leangle fell to his knees and used his staff for balance.

 

Leangle leaned on his staff to rise to his feet. “I won’t…I won’t lose to you!”

 

“Nicolas…” Garren said. “I can’t let you keep going on these rampages…”

 

Garren swiped two cards through the slit on his blaster. “DROP; FIRE”

 

The Rider’s wings snapped open as he shot into the air. He dove downward with a flying sidekick that energized with fiery energy, and the kick bashed against Leangle with massive bursts of spark and flame.

 

The impact hurled both Leangle and Garren through the air. They crashed and tumbled across the pavement.

 

Kamen Rider Garren climbed to his feet, and when he looked up, he saw no sign of Leangle.

 

***

 

Tiger Undead clawed and kicked at Giraffe Undead with bursts of spark that forced the monster backward. The Giraffe Undead sidestepped and dodged, but didn’t fight back.

 

“There’s no reason for Undead to fight Undead,” he said as he dodged a flurry of slashes and kicks. “Join with me…”

 

“Join forces?” Tiger Undead asked with a jumpkick and slash of her claws. “We’ll fight each other until the last one stands.”

 

Giraffe Undead grabbed her arm and twisted. “Did you ever ask why? Who made that rule?”

 

Tiger Undead pulled away and clawed at the monster, forcing him back. The Giraffe Undead blocked a kick and sidestepped a swipe of the villain’s claws.

 

Giraffe Undead back-hand slapped Tiger Undead to the ground. The monster crashed against the bridge and rolled into a crouched stance.

 

The Giraffe Undead armed two, double-pronged swords. “This fight of ours if fabricated. Fake…”

 

***

 

Ken pulled his motorcycle to a halt near the bridge where the two Undead fought. He stepped off his bike and looked to see Giraffe Undead aiming a sword at Tiger Undead.

 

“Another one too…” he said.

 

Ken armed his belt and ran onto the bridge. He dashed towards the two Undead, and the Giraffe Undead faced the teen while lifting his swords in a defensive stance.

 

 “Transform!” Ken flipped his buckler, which spoke the command: “TURN UP”

 

The buckler emitted an energy field. 

 

But Giraffe Undead slashed through the field, which shattered and knocked Ken back with a shockwave. Ken slammed against the bridge’s railing.  

 

The Undead turned back to Tiger Undead and slashed her repeatedly, blades sparking on impact and forcing her back several steps. The monster swung both swords through a wide arc that sparked against Tiger Undead and knocked her to the pavement.

 

The Tiger Undead grabbed hold of the railing for support and climbed to her feet. Her weakened body waivered.

 

The Giraffe Undead charged his swords — one with purple energy, and one with orange energy. He swung the blades and hurled bolts of energy that exploded against Tiger Undead with bursts of spark and splatters of ichor that splashed across the bridge.

 

The Giraffe Undead shimmered back into his human guise and stalked towards her. “So…now what? What will happen?”

 

He stopped and looked towards the sky. “I’m sure you’ve fought countless Undead since your re-creation. But why? The only ones capable of sealing us are the Riders and Joker. No matter how much we fight each other…there’s no resolution.”

 

The non-man placed his hands on the railings. “There’s a human controlling this battle royal of ours,” he said. “You’ve seen him for yourself…Others may control his strings, but he controls ours.”

 

Tiger Undead remembered. She remembered watching Tennoji as he viewed the fight between the Riders. Surely Giraffe Undead spoke of Tennoji.

 

The man placed his hands in his pockets and started walking from the bridge.

 

Tiger Undead tried to climb to her feet to call out to him, but she collapsed.

 

Nearby, Nicolas ran onto the bridge and spotted the injured Tiger Undead. He ran to her side and leaned next to her, draping his arm over her shoulder to help her sit up.

 

Ken climbed to his feet behind them. “Nicolas…”

 

“Stay away from her, Ken,” Nicolas said. “Don’t touch her…”

 

“What is she?” Ken asked. “Your pet?”

 

“She…” Nicolas said. “She’ll be sealed by me.”

 

***

 

Nicolas helped Taiga walk to a nearby park, where they sat on a bench.

 

Taiga looked at Nicolas quizzically. “Why didn’t you seal me?”

 

“I…” Nicolas hesitated. “Maybe I’m just like you said. Maybe I’m weak.”

 

Taiga nodded. “Within you is a…light. It’s that light when you’re near that girl from before.”

 

“That’s not exactly a good thing,” Nicolas said.

 

Taiga smirked. She stood and punched Nicolas in the back of the head. The blow knocked him off the bench. The boy cursed beneath his breath.

 

“What was that-” He stood, but Taiga was gone.

 

***

 

Taiga ran from the park and headed towards the abandoned BOARD compound. By nightfall, she made it to the abandoned building and moved into the hidden tunnels underground.

 

The Undead bashed through three techs and moved into a hallway.

 

But she stopped in her tracks when she sensed a presence. The presence felt like an Undead but slightly different. Twisted.

 

A figure blurred into view behind her. The strange monster looked like a future of chameleon and scorpion characteristics.

 

Taiga turned to face the monster. She tilted her head quizzically. “Is this…an Undead?”

 

The creature growled, which sounded more painful than fearful, and stepped into a fighting stance.

 

Taiga leaned back and almost shifted into her monster form.

 

But a voice shouted from behind the monster. “That’s far enough…”

 

The Undead turned to face Tennoji, who walked down the hall along with two BOARD techs.

 

“Titan…” he said to the monster. “Your goal is to destroy the Riders. Not her.”

 

Taiga narrowed her eyes. “The Riders?”

 

“Titan possesses an Undead poison,” Tennoji said. “This substance can transform people into Undead. If this is injected into a Rider…he will go on a rampage.”

 

He looked towards the monster. “Go, Titan.”

 

Titan blurred from view and vanished.

 

Taiga knitted her brow. “Weren’t you the ones who created the Rider System?”

 

“Correct,” Tennoji said. “INET created the Riders to seal the Undead. But now…their duty is over. Come…and I will explain…”

 

***

 

Nicolas ran near the base of a nearby building and looked for Taiga. “Where is she…?”

 

He didn’t notice Titan blur into view next to a squared pillar. The monster pounced through the air to tackle Nicolas, but the boy managed to dive aside just in time.

 

Nicolas rolled into a crouched position and pulled out his buckler. He stood and armed the belt. “Transform!” He flipped open the buckler: “OPEN UP”

 

An energy field slid across his body and activated his armor.

 

Kamen Rider Leangle lunged. But Titan blurred from view and vanished. The Rider stopped in his tracks. “What…”

 

Titan reappeared in midair and landed while slashing Leangle with a burst of spark that knocked him back a step. The monster clawed the Rider’s chest with a burst of spark, then clawed again, forcing the Rider backward.

 

Leangle punched the monster. But the creature clawed upward with a burst of spark that sent the Rider staggering backward.

 

Titan thrust its palm and fired a tendril that snapped at Leangle like a snake. Leangle sidestepped and dodged, but the tendril kept snapping at him.  

 

***

 

Tennoji led Taiga into a hidden chamber. Within the chamber sat a large, jagged chunk of black ice that nearly reached the ceiling.

 

Taiga narrowed her eyes. Something about the ice seemed familiar. “What is this…?”

 

“This is what we used to spark life into you and the other clones of the Mogralord’s Undead,” Tennoji said. “This…is a piece of the fallen Mogralord’s heart.”

 

Taiga opened her eyes wide with surprise. “How…Why show me this.”

 

“To prove something,” Tennoji said. “You Undead were instruments of the Mogralord. But now…you are the tools of INET. Of me. We recreated you for the sole purpose of sealing you and using your powers. But we quickly realized that, to truly tap into your power, you needed to be sealed through combat. So we programmed within you instincts to fight each other, to fuel your power. And we set you free, only to hunt you down and seal you through battle. We manipulated your very drive and will.

 

“Now…” he continued. “Soon all of the Undead will be sealed. And the Riders will be…cleaned up. All by my design. Dr. Cranston started this project. The Dark Shaper meddled in it. But now…I control it. I control your fate. And the fate of this world.”

 

***

 

Leangle swiped a card through his staff. “BLIZZARD”

 

The staff emitted a card of light that splashed across Leangle’s armor.

 

He thrust his staff and fired a stream of ice of snow at Titan. The blast froze Titan in a shell of ice. But the strange Undead shattered through the ice and lashed out with its tentacle.

 

Leangle dodged the tentacle while rushing towards the Undead. The Rider swung his staff. Wide. Downward diagonally. Upward diagonally. But the Undead dodged and blocked each blow.

 

Leangle swung wide. But Titan grabbed the staff and clawed the Rider’s chest with a burst of spark.

 

***

 

Megan and Ken sat around the coffee table in the office and ate dinner. Bobby sat nearby at the computer.

 

Ken looked to Bobby. “Why don’t you come over here and eat? Or are you still trying to research Tennoji…?”

 

Bobby nodded. “I’m telling you, when I talked to my agent about my Kamen Rider book — which totally keeps all your secrets — I mentioned Tennoji, and he nearly flipped out on me.”

 

The computer suddenly beeped an alarm. Megan rushed to the computer, nudged Bobby aside, and activated the Undead tracker.

 

“Ken, it’s an Undead,” she said as she pulled up the signal. “But I can’t get a Category reading…What is this?”

 

Ken walked next to her to look. The Undead signal looked odd—like two signals merged into one blurred reading.

 

“I’ll check it out,” Ken said as he bolted out the door.

 

***

 

Titan hacked Leangle’s chest with a burst of spark and clawed again, knocking him several steps back.

 

Leangle swung his staff high. But Titan ducked and clawed the Rider with a burst of spark.

 

Nearby, Ken sped onto the scene and skid his bike to a halt. He hopped off his motorcycle and ran towards the fight. “Nicolas!”

 

“Stay back!” Leangle shouted as he swung his staff into a defensive stance. “I don’t need your help.”

 

Ken ran and armed his belt. “Transform!” He flipped the buckler. “TURN UP”

 

The buckler emitted a field of energy Ken ran through while transforming into his armor.

 

Kamen Rider Blade lunged and slashed Titan with a pair of strikes that sparked on impact and knocked the creature backward.

 

***

 

Tennoji stepped closer to Taiga. “I know you want to defeat the Riders too…and I can give you the power to do so.”

 

“And be your puppet?”

 

“You already are my puppet,” Tennoji said. “This battle was not designed by fate. It was designed by INET. And it was carried out by me.”

 

***

 

Blade slashed Titan with a burst of spark. Leangle practically pushed Blade aside and rushed the monster. He twirled his staff through a series of strikes the creature blocked and dodged while stepping backward.

 

Leangle speared the monster with a burst of spark, and then swung upward. His staff sparked upside Titan’s head and flipped the monster to the ground.

 

Leangle rushed at the fallen Undead. But the monster snapped its tendril at Leangle. The tendril wrapped around Leangle’s neck and stabbed, piercing his armor and skin.

 

Kamen Rider Leangle convulsed, and his armor powered down with a wave of a purple energy field.

 

Titan retracted his tentacle, and Nicolas collapsed.

 

The strange Undead stood and blurred from sight.

 

“Nicolas!” Blade shouted as he ran towards the fallen boy.

 

He leaned down next to Nicolas and tried to help him to his feet. But Nicolas winced with pain and grasped his neck.

 

***

 

Taiga narrowed her eyes at Tennoji. “Have the Riders seal the Undead…and then kill each other…What are you really after? Tell me!”

 

She moved close to Tennoji but hesitated. She felt something evil emanate from his body.

 

Tennoji smiled wickedly and pulled an Undead card from his pocket. “You sense this…don’t you?”

 

Taiga took a step back. “What is that…?”

 

Tennoji said nothing. He merely stared at her with a wicked glare.

 

Taiga turned and bolted from the room.

 

***

 

Ken laid Nicolas on a couch within the attic of Bobby’s house. Megan sat next to him and placed a cold washcloth on his head. The boy winced, in and out of conscious, as his body dripped with sweat.

 

Benjamin stood nearby. “You’re saying that Undead was different?”

 

Ken nodded. “And that’s the second new Undead I saw,” he said. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you, but after I chased down Taiga, I saw her talk to this other Undead. He took me down before I could even transform. So that’s three of them active right now.”

 

“I’ll see what I can find…” Benjamin said as he left the attic.

 

***

 

Nikki walked into the abandoned nightclub Nicolas called home. The club looked disheveled, with tables and chairs knocked everywhere.

 

She heard shuffling from behind the bar. “Nicolas…” she said as she stepped further inside. “I’m sorry I ran. You scared me when you…”

 

Nikki froze with fear when she noticed Taiga step out from behind the bar.

 

***

 

Zayden walked through an arch that extended over a pathway, cutting between a garden of flowers and bushes. He looked stoic as always.

 

Ahead, the Giraffe Undead in human form stepped onto the path. The man adjusted his glasses and looked to Zayden.

 

Zayden stopped but didn’t looked startled. He rarely did. “An Undead…Why are you here?”

 

“I was thinking we could make a deal,” the man said.

 

“I don’t make deals with Undead,” Zayden said as he pulled out his Two of Hearts. His belt rippled into view around his waist.

 

“Transform.” He slid the card through his belt. “CHANGE”

 

He rippled into Kamen Rider Chalice and charged. The Rider chopped his bow. But Giraffe Undead shifted into his monster form and knocked the bow aside, knocking the Rider off balance.

 

***

 

“Why…” Taiga said as she stepped from the bar and stalked towards Nikki. “Why do you humans prosper? While my kind hides in corners?”

 

She moved closer to Nikki. “Get out…get out, or I’ll devour you!”

 

The Tiger Undead shifted into her monster form.

 

But Nikki stood her ground. The girl narrowed her eyes.

 

“I’m not afraid of you…” she said between heavy breaths as she forced down her fear. “I’m not afraid of you…or Nicolas…I won’t be.”

 

“Nikki!” a voice shouted. The girl looked to see Benjamin rush into the bar.

 

Benjamin tackled Tiger Undead off her feet and stood between the monster and girl. He kept his back to Nikki to protect her.

 

“Nikki…Nicolas is with Ken,” he said.

 

“He’s…”

 

“He’s sick,” Benjamin said. “You should be there for him…”

 

 Nikki nodded and ran from the bar.

 

***

 

Bobby placed a washcloth in a tub of water while sitting next to Nicolas. The boy, barely conscious, convulsed on the couch. He tightened his jaw as his blood vessels fluttered beneath his skin.

 

Bobby arced an eyebrow at the sight. “Okay, that’s not…natural.”

 

Nicolas’s eyes snapped open. Within his mind, he felt the Spider Undead whisper with satisfaction: “You belong to me…”

 

***

 

The Tiger Undead faced Benjamin. She rippled back into her human form and dropped to her knees. She thought of the boy’s reaction to seeing Nikki. And the girl’s determination to save the boy she loved. Those memories touched something within her.

 

“Nicolas…” she whispered.

 

***

 

Nicolas hurled Bobby down the stairs. The boy moved like a beast, with his back hunched and hands clawed. He breathing sounded deep and guttural.

 

Ken ran to the foot of the steps and helped Bobby sit up. He looked to Nicolas and knitted his brow. “What are you doing?”

 

Nicolas screamed and pounced. He knocked Ken aside, hurled a table across the room, and stormed into the office.

 

Megan screamed and backed into a corner, as Nicolas flipped over the coffee table and kicked a chair.

 

Ken ran into the office and grabbed Nicolas from behind. “Nicolas, calm down!”

 

The boy hurled Ken across the room.

 

***

 

Giraffe Undead slashed Chalice with a burst of spark that hurled him off his feet. The Rider smashed through a brick wall and crashed onto the ground.

 

Slowly, the Rider stood and held his bow in a defensive stance. He crouched, and then leapt through the hole in the wall while chopping his bow.

 

The Undead parried and slashed Chalice. Chalice spun with the blow and slashed Giraffe Undead with a pair of strikes that sparked on impact. But the blows barely fazed the monster.

 

Giraffe Undead chopped Chalice with a burst of spark and swung upward with a powerful blow that sparked on impact and whipped the Rider off his feet.

 

The Undead stalked towards his foe. “There’s no point in fighting me…” he said. “This path leads only to our destruction, and the Riders destroying themselves.”

 

Chalice rose to his feet and swiped the King of Hearts through his belt: “EVOLUTION”

 

His cards shot from his buckler, lined up in midair, and then shot towards him. The cards splashed against his midsection as his body transformed and rippled into Wild Form.

 

***

 

Nicolas ran from Bobby’s home and made it as far as a park before Ken, Bobby and Megan caught up with him. Ken lunged and grabbed Nicolas’s arms from behind.

 

“Nicolas, you have to stop!” Ken shouted. “Something’s wrong with you!”

 

untitledNicolas hurled Ken aside. The boy leaned back and screamed as his body rippled and transformed into the Spider Undead.

 

Ken opened his eyes wide with shock. “What the…”

 

Nicolas’s body rippled back into its human form, and he lunged at Ken with a tackle. Ken sidestepped and grabbed onto Nicolas. But the boy struggled and knocked Ken aside.

 

Nicolas turned and ran.

 

***

 

Chalice slashed Giraffe Undead with bursts of spark that forced the monster several steps backward. The Rider needed to channel all his strength into every swing to make the blows count.

 

Chalice swung both weapons outward, slashing the Undead with bursts of spark. The Rider swung upward, but the monster leapt backward to avoid the blows.

 

Kamen Rider Chalice connected his daggers into a bow. His cards shot from his buckler, and they combined into a single card that shot into Chalice’s hand.  

 

He swiped the card through his bow’s slit: “WILD”

 

Chalice triggered a burst of jade energy. But Giraffe Undead leaned forward and fired a burst of power from his horns. The energy blasts exploded against each other with a shockwave that hurled the Undead off his feet.

 

When the smoke from the explosion cleared, Chalice saw no sign of Giraffe Undead. The Rider lowered his bow.

 

***

 

Nikki rode her bike through a landscaped park, on her way to Bobby’s house. Ahead, she saw Nicolas walk across a path. His footsteps looked slow and labored, and stiff, almost zombie-like.

 

She pulled her bicycle to a stop and smiled at the sight of him. “Nicolas…”

 

The boy looked up at her and glared. He hunched over, screamed a growl, and charged.

 

Nicolas knocked Nikki from her bike, and she tumbled across the ground. The boy lifted her and screamed.

 

From behind, Ken caught up with Nicolas and pulled him away from Nikki. “Get off her!”

 

Ken tossed Nicolas to the ground, and he tumbled across the path. Ken stood in front of Nikki to shield the girl.

 

She looked towards Nicolas from behind the rider. “Nicolas, what’s wrong?”

 

Nicolas screamed, and he shifted into the form of the Spider Undead. The Spider Undead leaned forward and growled.

 

The Undead lunged and swatted Ken aside. The teen hit the ground hard and tumbled across the trail.

 

He struggled to climb to his feet. “Nikki, run!”

 

Nikki ran — towards the Spider Undead. She wrapped her arms around the monster in a hug.

 

“I don’t care how you look…” she said. “I won’t run away from you, Nicolas…”

 

His breathing slowed, and his body rippled back into its human form.

 

“Nicolas…” she whispered.

 

Nicolas lowered his gaze. He shifted uncomfortably as pain shot through his body. Not physical pain, but the pain of guilt and anger.

 

“Get…” he whispered. Then his face hardened. “Get out of my way!”

 

The boy knocked Nikki to the ground and ran. Nikki called after him, but he didn’t slow.

 

***

 

Nicolas ran through the park and into the woods. His movements looked human, but panicked and frightened. And angry.

 

He stopped when he noticed Taiga through the corner of his eyes.

 

Nicolas smirked, a glimmer of evil in his eyes, as he hunched his back. “So…I’ve finally found you.”

 

“The Undead poison…” Taiga said. “It’s affecting you…”

 

Nicolas narrowed his eyes. “What?”

 

“The Undead within you is awakening,” Taiga said. “Soon you’ll be an Undead. You’ll think of nothing else but the urge to fight…then the other Riders will defeat you.”

 

Nicolas shifted awkwardly, his brow knitted with confusion. “You…”

 

“Before that happens…” Taiga said. “I’ll stop you.”

 

Her body shifted into her true form: The Tiger Undead.

 

The Undead lunged at Nicolas, who dove aside and rolled across the ground. The boy rose into a crouched position, and the Tiger Undead faced off with him.

 

“Don’t keep your guard down…” she said. “I won’t go easy on you.”

 

The boy’s breathing sounded deep and gruff as he armed his belt.

 

Tiger Undead charged at him.

 

Nicolas changed back. “Transform!” He flipped open his buckler. “OPEN UP”

 

His buckler emitted an energy field that slid over him and activated his armor. 

 

Leangle chopped his staff. But the Undead dove and rolled beneath the blow.

 

Tiger Undead stood, dodged a staff swing, and swung her claws. Leangle parried the blow and swung his staff towards the Undead’s gut. The Undead blocked and slashed Leangle across the head, whipping him off his feet.

 

Kamen Rider Leangle crashed and rolled to his feet. He swung his staff into a fighting stance and pulled two cards from his holster.

 

He swiped the cards through his staff’s slit. “BITE; BLIZZARD.”

 

The staff emitted two cards of energy that splashed across the Rider’s armor.

 

Leangle leapt forward, somersaulted through the air, and aimed his descent towards Tiger Undead. His legs pulsed with icy energy, and he snapped a scissor kick.

 

But Tiger Undead grabbed his legs and hurled him aside. Leangle crashed and tumbled down a hill, landing next to a nearly dried-out creek.

 

Tiger Undead stalked towards him. “Do you plan to defeat me fighting like that?”

 

Leangle stood and swung his staff into a fighting stance.

 

“I’m the strongest!” he shouted, more to convince himself.

 

The Rider charged, twirled his staff, and swung at Tiger Undead. But the Undead dodged and clawed Leangle’s gut with a burst of spark.

 

Leangle swung his staff wide. Tiger Undead swatted the staff aside and slashed Leangle with a burst of spark that whipped him to the ground.

 

Leangle dropped his staff and tumbled into the shallow creek. He stood just in time to block Tiger Undead’s claws. He bashed an uppercut against her gut and punched her chest.

 

But the Undead stood her ground and kicked Leangle’s gut, knocking him into the creek.

 

Leangle stood and lunged with a punch. But Tiger Undead dodged and clawed Leangle’s chest. She swung again, upward with a powerful slash that sparked on impact and whipped Leangle backward.

 

The Rider crashed into the creek.

 

Tiger Undead leapt through the air and angled her descent towards Leangle.

 

Kamen Rider Leangle grabbed his staff and stabbed her through the gut with a burst of spark before she could land. The Rider pulled his staff free with another burst of spark, and the Undead collapsed.

 

The monster breathed with a rasp as green ichor seeped from her wound. “Nicolas…”

 

Weakened, Tiger Undead climbed to her knees and reached towards Leangle — and she pulled a blank card from his holster.  

 

“Well…done…” she said.

 

Her body pulsed with green energy and seeped into the card, which dropped into the creek.

 

Leangle lowered his staff. He breathed deeply, confused by the Undead’s actions.

 

The Rider looked to the card, the Queen of Clubs, and lifted it. That’s when he noticed Garren’s Rouze Absorber had dropped from the Undead after her defeat. 

 

***

 

“Nicolas!” Nikki called out.

 

Nikki, Bobby, and Megan walked on a wooden staircase that ran up a hill in the park.

 

“Nicolas, where are you?” she shouted.

 

The trio stepped onto a dirt path at the top of the staircase. Nikki looked to her right and gasped when she saw Zayden.

 

Zayden looked as stoic as ever. “What’s happened…?”

 

***

 

Ken ran through the woods nearby as he looked for Nicolas. He heard someone call his name and looked to see Benjamin run towards him.

 

“Benjamin…” Ken said. “Have you seen Nicolas?”

 

Benjamin shook his head. “But by now, he’s already sealed the Category Queen,” he said. “He’s going to force himself to become stronger. That’s when he’ll get his final fight.”

 

The two riders moved towards the nearly dried-out creek and saw Nicolas standing. He waited with his belt around his waist.   

 

“Ken…” he said. “Benjamin…Come.”

 

Nicolas started walking towards the riders and flipped open his buckler: “OPEN UP”

 

The buckler emitted a purple energy field that washed over Nicolas and activated his armor.

 

Kamen Rider Leangle held his staff back and charged.

 

Ken and Benjamin armed their belts and returned the charge. “Transform!” They flipped their bucklers. “TURN UP.”

 

Their bucklers emitted energy fields, and they ran through the fields while transforming into their armor.

 

Kamen Rider Blade unsheathed his sword and slashed. But Leangle ducked beneath the blow and twirled his staff. The weapon clubbed Garren’s gut with a burst of spark.

 

Leangle twirled his staff and slashed at Blade. Blade dodged. But Leangle swung again, and his staff slashed Blade with a burst of spark.

 

The Rider speared Garren back with a burst of spark, twirled his staff, and bashed the weapon across Blade’s head.

 

Nearby, Zayden, Bobby, Megan, and Nikki ran to the edge of the woods and watched the battle in the shallow creek.

 

“Nicolas…” Nikki said.

 

Zayden narrowed his eyes. He remembered the Giraffe Undead’s words: “This path leads only to our destruction, and the Riders destroying themselves.”

 

Blade armed his Rouze Absorber: “ABSORB QUEEN; EVOLUTION KING”

 

His cards shot from his buckler, circled his body, and splashed against his armor to activate King Form.

 

Kamen Rider Leangle lowered his staff and lifted a Rouze Absorber.

 

Nearby, Bobby opened his eyes wide with shock. “That’s Benjamin’s?! How’d he get that?”

 

Kamen Rider Leangle opened his belt holster. He pulled out the King of Clubs, labeled with the Tarantula Undead, and the Queen of Clubs, labeled with the Tiger Undead.

 

He attached the Rouze Absorber to his left gauntlet and lifted the cards.

 

“Blade…” he said. “Behold my King Form…”

 

He slid the Queen of Clubs into the Absorber. “ABSORB QUEEN” He swiped the King of Clubs through the Absorber’s slit. “EVOLUTION KING”

 

The Absorber emitted a golden energy field emblazed with the symbol of the King of Clubs. The field splashed against Leangle with a surge of power that nearly knocked him off his feet. Energy discharges sparked against his armor as he staggered backward.

 

His buckler emitted a purple energy field that shattered with shards of power, releasing the Spider Undead and powering down Nicolas’s armor. The Undead landed on the ground and breathed deep, its voice dark and raspy.

 

Megan opened her eyes wide with shock. “They’ve separated the Category Ace...”

 

Nicolas closed his eyes as images flooded his mind…

 

Nicolas walked across a landscaped pathway that wrapped around a grassy hill. Ahead, he saw Shima sitting on a park bench.

 

Shima, the human guise of the Tarantula Undead, looked to Nicolas and smiled.

 

“Long time no see…” he said as he stood.

 

Nicolas opened his eyes wide with surprise. “You…”

 

“So…” Shima said. “My power has finally taken hold. Thanks to her…”

 

Shima looked aside. Nicolas turned his head to see Taiga sitting on a bench. She didn’t look at them. She stared aside, aimlessly. Sorrowfully.  

 

Nicolas looked back to Shima. “What’s happened to me?”

 

“You’ve been freed from the Category Ace’s curse, as well as the Undead poison,” Shima said.

 

Taiga spoke to Nicolas without looking at him. “Nicolas…seal the Category Ace.”

 

“What…?”

 

Taiga stood and walked towards him. “Don’t be manipulated by the light or the darkness,” she said. “Carry both of them within yourself…and fight. The battle within yourself…has no end.”

 

Nicolas looked to her and felt a renewed sense of resolve and strength. He nodded his understanding, and she nodded back.

 

Nicolas looked to the Category King.

 

Shima…” Nicolas said, a silent thank you.

 

Shima smiled and nodded.

 

Nicolas snapped open his eyes just in time to see the Spider Undead race forward. The Undead swatted Nicolas aside, hurling him into the creek.

 

“Nicolas!” Garren shouted.

 

Nicolas screamed with determination as he stood and charged at the Spider Undead. The boy’s body rippled with waves of energy that looked like ghostly images of the Tarantula Undead 

 

Nicolas punched the Undead in the head. But the Spider Undead back-hand slapped Nicolas across the face. The boy crashed and tumbled aside, his body still rippling and distorting, shifting between images of his true self and the Tarantula Undead.

 

Megan opened her eyes wide with recognition. “That’s Shima!”

 

Garren nodded. “He’s using Shima’s power…”

 

Spider Undead charged at Nicolas. But Nicolas grabbed the Undead and flipped him into the creek.

 

The Undead stood and swatted the boy’s face. The blow knocked Nicolas back. But he stood and smashed the back of his fist across the Undead’s head, whipping him aside.

 

Nicolas pressed forward. He launched a flurry of punches that bashed the Spider Undead’s chest and gut. The Spider Undead swatted towards Nicolas’s head. But Nicolas ducked and bashed an uppercut against the Undead’s gut.

 

Nicolas punched towards the Spider Undead’s head. But the Undead grabbed his arm and tossed him aside.

 

The boy landed in the creek. He tightened his fists, narrowed his eyes, and stood.

 

“Nicolas!” Blade shouted. “Take this!”

 

Blade tossed his sword through the air.

 

Spider Undead charged at Nicolas.

 

Nicolas grabbed the weapon and dashed past Spider Undead while slashing through the monster with a massive burst of spark.   

 

The monster staggered and groaned with pain. The Spider Undead collapsed as secondary explosions ripped through his body with massive bursts of spark and flame.

 

Nicolas turned to face the fallen Undead. The boy snapped a card at the creature. The card stuck into the Undead, absorbed the monster, and shot back into Nicolas’s hand.

 

Nicolas looked at the card. The Ace of Clubs, typically tinted purple, shimmered and changed to gold.

 

Ken and Benjamin powered down their armor and joined Nicolas near the creek.

 

Ken smiled with pride. “You did it! You sealed the Ace…”

 

Nicolas kept his eyes on the card.

 

“Nicolas…” Benjamin said. “With what you just did…you’re a true Kamen Rider now.”

 

Nikki walked from behind the riders and moved towards Nicolas. She took him by the hand. “Nicolas…are you okay?”

 

He looked at her and nodded. He still felt taken aback by what happened. He still felt shocked. He beat the Spider Undead. He really did.

 

He looked to Benjamin. “The Tiger Undead…she let me seal her…”

 

Benjamin nodded. “She asked to borrow my Absorber. She was…quite a mystery.”

 

Nicolas looked down as sorrow clenched his throat. A part of him missed her. And a part of him felt guilty for sealing her. “I…if only I would have been stronger.”

 

Memories of his actions flashed through his mind. Memories of the fallen Taiga. Tears streamed down the rider’s cheek as he started to cry.

 

Nikki stepped closer and held him. And Nicolas hugger her back.

 

  To be continued…Chapter 32