Chapter 36: Swords and Souls

As the Wheel Turns

 

Black flames of rage erupted through the lower levels of the Hellfire mansion. The flames consumed several dozen demon-possessed men. Loyal men. But Azmodai didn’t care. He let his fire rage.

 

The villain walked upstairs to the nearest balcony, where the Black Queen waited. “What is this meaning of this?”

 

“Brandon…” Madelyn said as she stared into the night sky. “He’s gone.”

 

“I needed him…” Azmodai said. “I needed all our children.”

 

“What would you have me do?” Madelyn asked. “He’s gone. I can’t change that.”

 

“And Owen?” Azmodai asked.

 

“Still here,” the Black Queen said. “But he nearly lost control.”

 

“Very well…” Azmodai said. “I suppose a stand-in will have to do. We must accelerate our time table.”

 

“Why the sudden rush, my dear?” Madelyn asked.

 

Sudden?” Azmodai asked, his voice thick with irritation. “It’s been one year since we broke the First Seal to the Dark One’s prison. I grow weary of delays and excuses. Gather my children. Gather my army. It’s time. Now.”

 

***

 

Moridin sat on a rooftop along with Graendal and Mesaana. He smiled and straightened his suit jacket. “You watched him, then?”

 

“The Simon boy?” Graendal asked. She had witnessed the ranger’s fight with Brandon. “Yes…and I don’t know what you see in him, quite frankly.”

 

“You couldn’t sense it?” Moridin asked. “He has the blood of the First Demon, and the blood of the First Angel. That makes him rarely suited to the task we have at hand.”

 

“We have many tasks at hand,” Mesaana said.

 

“I’m speaking of the most important one, my sister,” Moridin said. “The release of the Dark One.”

 

“What about the Second Seal?” Graendal asked. “They can’t be broken out of order.”

 

“Leave that to Lanfear and Rahvin,” Moridin said. “Surely one of them will succeed.”

 

“You say that with such confidence,” Graendal said.

 

“Not confidence,” Moridin said. “Faith. We’re not simply warlords, demons or monsters. We are Immortals. We are Priests of the Dark One. We are older than time itself, and mankind will never comprehend our power, let alone learn how to stop it.”

 

“Such arrogance never served us well in the past…” Mesaana said.

 

“The foes of our past are gone,” Moridin said. “The gods? Sealed on another plane of existence. The Priests of the One Power and their Dragon Knights? Gone. The Heavenly Saints? They refuse to interfere in the mortal realm. My sisters, nothing short of a miracle can save these humans from the Dark One’s reign. And mankind stopped believing in miracles long, long ago.”

 

…to be continued in “Hell Scorn”

 

Hunter stood on a skyscraper and looked out upon the city. He felt the power of the Phantom Demon swell in his chest, but he suppressed that power through force of will. Still, the energy of the Phantom Demon flowed through his veins. Corrupted him.

 

He felt other Phantom Demons grow in number throughout the city. The ceremony called the Sabbath allowed the Phantom Demons to enter the mortal realm for the first time. Now those demons seemed organized. They drove people known as Gates to the point of despair to give birth to even more Phantoms.

 

The Phantom Demons organized under a leader called Wiseman.

 

Hunter planned to hunt down Wiseman, kill him, and take control of the Phantom Demons. Hunter knew that with an army of Phantom Demons, along with the Hand and Ikkazuchi already under his control, he could crush evil across the entire world.

 

No one would stop him. No one could. Not even his brother.

 

***

 

Four hooded figures met in the darkened woods outside Angel Grove. Their faces hidden in shadow, these cloaked men and women had manipulated Hunter into taking control of the Ikkazuchi, and then the Hand. Further, they manipulated him into taking part of the Sabbath and giving birth to the Phantom Demons.

 

They called themselves the Snakeroot Clan, a group that stayed hidden within the ranks of the Ikkazuchi and plotted to bring that order back to greatness.

 

“Chiyome did well,” the leader said. “She crafted the Crimson Thunder Ranger into the perfect weapon.”

 

“And then he killed her…” one of them said.

 

“A minor loss,” the leader said. “She was never truly one of us. She was Hand. A mere puppet.”

 

One of the robed figures scoffed. “The whole goal was to gain control of the Phantom Demons…”

 

“He can still do so,” the leader said.

 

“Can he? He has done nothing for an entire year.”

 

“He has built a power base and eliminated many of his enemies in secret,” one of them said.

 

“Enemies? Street gangs and thugs.”

 

“He’s turned this city into his personal fortress. And no one, not even the Rangers, has noticed…” the leader said. “He will bring the Ikkazuchi to a level of greatness untold of in history. Then the world will tremble within our grasp.”

 

“What if he grows too powerful for us to control?”

 

“Oh, he already has,” the leader said. “Luckily, we don’t need to control him. Once he’s accomplished his goal, we can simply end him. And I will take his place.”

 

The leader’s eyes flickered black beneath his cloak.

 

***

 

He called himself the White Mage. He crafted the powers of Kamen Rider Wizard so the teen named Austin could fight the Phantom Demons. Now he crafted new powers — the powers of Kamen Rider Mage.

 

He stood in a dark chamber in the mountains outside the city. A white magick circle glowed on the floor nearby. The girl named Miranda stood at the center of the circle.

 

Miranda’s twin sister Lisa died during the Sabbath when a Phantom Demon burst from her body. That Phantom took Lisa’s appearance and killed her parents.

 

Miranda nearly fell to despair and died, which would have given birth to a new Phantom. But she overcame the Phantom with hope. As a result, the Phantom Demon remained inside her, but completely tamed, which gave her the power to become a mage.

 

She looked ahead with solemn determination in her eyes. “I’m ready.”

 

“You are,” the White Mage said. “You have finished your training. You have become a mage, and you will fight the Phantoms that took your family.”

 

He pulled an orange-stoned ring from his belt. “Take this ring…and become the next Kamen Rider. Kamen Rider Mage.”

 

…to be continued in “Second Sabbath”

 

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.

 

The Dark Shaper stood on the bridge of the former Shinzon fortress. He activated a holographic viewscreen that showed Zayden, otherwise known as the Joker Undead, as well as Kamen Rider Chalice.

 

INET started cloning the Undead shortly after the Second Countdown to Destruction. The Dark Shaper copied the Undead research to create an original Undead of his own — the Joker, who could use the power of other Undead and take their form. He intended the Joker to become the ultimate form. An immortal.

 

But the Joker left the Dark Shaper after sealing the Human Undead, INET’s own failed attempt at creating an immortal.

 

Still, despite the failures of the Undead initiative, the Dark Shaper believed the creatures held the secrets of immortality. And he desperately wanted those secrets.

 

The Dark Shaper tilted his head as he watched Zayden play with a young girl, Ava. “How…disappointing.”

 

Nearby, his three agents Jaedus, Kaidaron and Caemlyn walked onto the bridge. Formerly students of the INET school called Academia, they were seduced into joining the Dark Shaper’s own sham organization, which he called VOLT.

 

The agents looked worn and battered, following a fight with the Bio-Beast Rangers.

 

The Dark Shaper didn’t need to face them to sense their shame. “Why am I not surprised…”

 

“There are five of them now,” Jaedus said.

 

“There are always five,” the Dark Shaper said. “Or six. You have my entire army under your command.”

 

“Grunts and monsters,” Jaedus sneered. “We need warriors.”

 

“You need to learn your place,” the Dark Shaper said. “You’ve let these pointless brawls with the Bio-Beast Rangers cloud your mind. Do we care if they’re defeated?”

 

Jaedus hesitated. “…No, but-”

 

“No,” the Dark Shaper said. “You know our plans. You know our goals. Focus on using the opportunities here to grow your mind. That’s all that matters.”

 

“But the Rangers-”

 

“They’re barely even Rangers,” the Dark Shaper said. “My…competitor at INET can’t make Ranger powers that energize anything other than the Body. He tried to change that with the Bio-Beast powers by harnessing the DNA of animals. The rhino and bison first…but those failed.

 

“So he tried harnessing human energy. Human DNA, extracted from Simon Kaden, Justin Stewart and Rachel Gray. He tried to mimic their Animal Spirits. But he failed.”

 

“The morphers clearly work,” Jaedus said.

 

“Because they happened into the hands of teenagers with matching Animal Spirits,” the Dark Shaper said. “Still, the morphers do nothing more than energize the Body.”

 

Caemlyn shook her head. “Why does that matter?”

 

“Because you’re fighting primitive apes,” the Dark Shaper said. “Their brute strength is nothing compared to the power of the mind. They may have overpowered you…repeatedly…but they haven’t come close to stopping you. This isn’t something they’re capable of understanding…and they won’t. Not until it’s too late.”

 

He watched his young pupils’ eyes glimmer with pride. And he silently cursed them as fools. They believed VOLT aimed to create a world of superior intellect. The Dark Shaper never revealed the true scope of his plans — plans that required the resources and energies of his home reality, Demon World Earth.

 

…to be continued in “Demon Shift”

 

The Vorlock Emperor Kraigen stood in his massive throne room, lined with heated stones. His loyal soldier Cye-Axe kneeled before him.

 

“My Lord…” Cye-Axe said. “We are finally ready.”

 

“The Endless Night?” Kraigen asked.

 

“Yes, sire,” Cye-Axe said. They planned to blanket the skies of Earth with ash, blotting out the sun, and then attack the surface full force. “We are more powerful than ever…”

 

“Yes…” Kraigen said, his voice a rumble. “The surface will soon become home to a new, stronger Vorlock race.”

 

***

 

The Vorlock Knight Kiros followed Juzou through the woods like an obedient pet. Juzou claimed he possessed nothing of Prince Brai, other than some of the prince’s memories.  

 

But Kiros believed his prince still resided within Juzou. And he believed Brai would break free from the demon.

 

I see his face, and I know, he thought. Delicate, yet strong like steel. A warrior, hardened and strong. You are there, my prince. And I will feel your flesh again. 

 

***

 

Serrator hummed the sound of Dayu’s shamisen as he watched the warehouse burn. He found the sorrowful tune catchy. Each note rang with sadness — although that sadness didn’t equal the cries of despair from the people trapped in the warehouse.

 

The villain looked to the compass he held in his left hand. “Just one more wedge to go…”

 

…to be continued in “A Crack in the World”

 

The Heavenly Realms sparkled like gems. Crystal clear lakes within clouds, rolling mountains of gold and fields of emerald grass.

 

Mikhail, the Heavenly Saint of Fire, hovered in the Heavenly Realms and looked down upon the mortal plane. Wings of golden fire extended from his back, and he carried a double-edged blazing sword with a golden hilt. Small tendrils of fire wisped from the being’s golden eyes.

 

Those eyes lowered with regret. The Heavenly Saints tasked themselves with watching over the mortal plane, but they didn’t interfere. This never bothered the Saint — not in the slightest — until he met the Dragon Ranger on the Astral Plane months after what the humans called the Second Countdown to Destruction.

 

Tommy opened his eyes wide with awe. “Who are you? And where am I?”

 

“I am Mikhail,” the strange being said. “And you, mortal, are on the Astral Plane.”

 

“I know I’m on the Astral Plane, but what is it I’m seeing?” Tommy asked.

 

“The Kingdom of Heaven,” Mikhail said.

 

Tommy’s breath caught in his throat. He had to remind himself that he had been to Hell, so Heaven shouldn’t have been that big of a shock. “So are you…some kind of angel?”

 

“I am the Heavenly Saint of Fire,” he said. “We Heavenly Saints watch over the mortal realm.”

 

“And do what exactly?” Tommy asked.

 

Mikhail narrowed his eyes. “I will pretend I did not just hear a mortal question a Heavenly Saint. Why are you here?”

 

“I need answers,” Tommy said. “I…I don’t know if what I’m doing is right.”

 

“It is not our place to question the gods,” Mikhail said.

 

“That’s not what I mean,” Tommy said.

 

“Then explain,” Mikhail said. He casually swung his blade over his shoulder.

 

Tommy took a deep breath. Where did he start? “I’ve basically been told that the world was supposed to end, but I broke free from Fate and stopped it from happening. But just because I stopped it doesn’t mean Fate is going to stop trying to end the world again.”

 

“Correct,” Mikhail said. “The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and go. You have prolonged your world’s existence, but not forever. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and it wills for your world’s existence to end so the cycle of time can begin anew. What has happened before, will happen again, time without end.”

 

“That doesn’t make sense,” Tommy said.

 

“The gods forged the mystical Wheel at the beginning of time as a means to bring order to all of creation,” Mikhail explained. “Although not a physical object, the Wheel has seven spokes, and each spoke represents an Age. As the Wheel turns, Ages come and go, and Fate weaves its pattern. Each life is a thread in this pattern. You were essentially powerful enough to break your string. So now, it seems, Fate will weave a new pattern from the one you ruined.”

 

Tommy shook his head. Maybe he was asking the wrong questions. “I was told the gods use reality as a gaming board, and that they essentially wipe out the board and start over by wiping out reality each time.”

 

Mikhail tilted his head. “That is a crude way of putting it, but yes. However, the gods do not control the Wheel. The currents of the One Power turn the Wheel of Time. Fate comes from The Power, and The Power seeks balance.”

 

“Am I still a part of the pattern or not?” Tommy asked.

 

“You are an enigma,” Mikhail said. “In the infinite eons since the Wheel of Time began, no one has ever broken free from the strings of Fate. Except for you. You are still a part of the pattern, but are, in a sense, a loose thread that is throwing off the grand design of Fate and prolonging the pattern of your Age. And yet a new Age has started. A new generation.”

 

“I won’t let the universe be destroyed,” Tommy said.

 

“You won’t have a choice,” Mikhail said. “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills. Your cycle of time began eons ago, during the First Age, when Sauron ruled the universe, and it was meant to end months ago, during the Seventh Age. The universe would have been shrouded in darkness, as it was when Sauron ruled, and the First Age would have begun anew. And a champion would have arisen, as had Jestin, to challenge the darkness. What has happened before was meant to happen again. Time without end.

 

“You may have prolonged your Age, you may have delayed the inevitable, but you have not stopped it. Nothing can,” Mikhail said.

 

Tommy narrowed his eyes. “I can try.”

 

Mikhail sighed in frustration.  “Stop speaking to me as you would a villain. I love humanity. I love your world, your universe, as much as I loved the universe before it, and the one before it. I have seen Ages come and go, and start again, and loved them all. But I can not stop the nature of things. No one can, not even you, Dragon.”

 

“If you could, would you?” Tommy asked.

 

Mikhail hesitated. “It is not my place to question the nature of things. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.”

 

“How will it happen?” Tommy asked. “Fate brought the Mogralord last time it tried to wipe out existence, how will it happen this time?”

 

“There is only one prophecy that remains in the mortal realm, but this prophecy does not come from the One Power, it comes from the Power Cosmic, the power of creation.”

 

“The Final Prophecy?” Tommy asked.

 

Mikhail nodded. “The path to the Ultimate Secret, the Ultimate Truth to all of creation and reality. This truth is enough to drive the mortal mind mad.”

 

“So what is the Final Prophecy?” Tommy asked.

 

“It is constantly changing and consistently vague,” Mikhail said. “But once the Ultimate Secret is revealed, your reality will end, and a new cycle of time, a new pattern, will begin. The Ultimate Secret is the final outcome.”

 

“The Final Prophecy…” the Saint whispered.

 

“Mikhail?” a voice called from behind.

 

A man walked towards Mikhail. The figure appeared as a blur between two translucent images, which shifted with each movement. One moment he appeared mostly as a dark-skinned man with tattoos and eyeliner, dressed in a red cloak, embroidered with golden hawks, falcons and birds. The next moment he appeared mostly as a falcon-headed warrior dressed in white cloth and golden armor.

 

“Osiris,” Mikhail said to the deity the Egyptians and Triforians worshiped as the God of the Sky. “I thought you would be in the Fields of Hotep.”

 

“What are you doing, Mikhail?” the god asked.

 

“Watching…” Mikhail said. “The Forsaken will soon break the Second Seal to the Dark One’s prison…then the Third and Fourth. They are too close.”

 

“Soon? That is a mortal concept,” Osiris said. “You know you are not to interfere. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.”

 

“But what is happening now-” he hesitated. “It is not my place to question the gods.”

 

“No. It is not,” Osiris said. “But speak your mind, Saint.”

 

“What is happening now should not be happening,” Mikhail said. “If the Dark One is freed…”

 

“Your place is not to interfere,” Osiris said.

 

“But you have, Sky God,” Mikhail said. “You kept the Dragon Ranger from stopping the Sabbath. You appeared to the one named Simon Kaden as he bore the sigil of the lion. Even though you and the other gods are sealed from the mortal realm, you find ways to-”

 

“Enough,” Osiris said. “Go back to your watch, Saint.”

 

“I do not answer to you,” Mikhail said. “I answer to Yaweh.”

 

“Then go cry to Him…if He will listen.”

 

“He hears us always.”

 

“Yet never answers,” Osiris said. “Never speaks.”

 

“He doesn’t play games like the rest of you,” Mikhail said.

 

“No…” Osiris said. “He just sits back and watches as his precious world burns.”

 

***

 

The Dark Man waited.

 

He stood within his lair and stared into the shadows. So many plans set into motion. Many by him. Others not. All strings in the new Pattern; a Pattern struggling to take shape as the fabric of reality unravels.

 

He despised the Wheel of Time. Tommy should have crushed it with raging hellfire when he had the chance.

 

The Dark Man hated the gods above and the demons below. All tried to use the human race as playthings.

 

He couldn’t help but smirk at the hypocrisy of the thought. But his goals were far nobler. He wanted to end the endless cycle.

 

And he was the only being on Earth to have lived through each cycle. To have lived through the constant destruction and rebirth of the universe. Countless eons’ worth of lifetimes.   

 

No one understood the pain of existence greater than Akuma.

 

The Dark Man placed his palm on a computer terminal and pulled up an image of the battle in Angel Grove East — the battle between Samuel, Brandon and Simon.

 

He watched the Silver Guardians kill Brandon, and Simon react by bursting the killer into black flame.

 

The Dark Man grinned. “Simon…Tommy may have failed me, but with each and every day, I’m growing more convinced that you will not.”

 

To be continued…Chapter 37