Chapter 45: Kamen Rider Blade

Demon Shift: Eternal Trump

 

Kamen Rider Garren pushed himself to his feet. He flipped his buckler and pulled out his Ace of Diamonds, powering down his armor with a field of blue light.

 

He saw no sign of Kamen Rider Kabuto, Gattack or Dark Kabuto. But he still heard the commotion of Dark Roaches in the far distance.

 

His portable Undead tracker beeped from his pocket. He pulled out the tracker and activated the monitor, which showed Category Undead signals continue to spread across the city, state, and farther east.

 

Sirens blared down the street and grew louder as they approached Benjamin. He looked to see a Silver Guardian SUV drive towards him.

 

Benjamin knitted his brow. He didn’t trust the Silver Guardians, pawns of INET. The organization let the Undead loose, and Benjamin despised them for it.

 

The SUV skid to a halt, and Dr. William “Billy” Cranston stepped from the backseat.

 

“Benjamin…” Cranston said. “You look well…”

 

“You…” Benjamin said with a glare. “What are you doing here?”

 

“I’ll explain everything, but first we have to find Ken. You can contact Megan…she’ll vouch for me.”

 

“Megan…?” Benjamin asked. “After what happened to her father, you honestly think-”

 

“We have to move, Garren,” Cranston said. “There’s one more Undead left to seal. Joker…and as long as he’s loose, Ken, and everyone, is in danger.”

 

***

 

Red Falcon stood over the remains of Kerberos. When the Ranger defeated the Dark Shaper, the Undead tore free from the villain and erupted into flames.

 

“Good riddance…” the Red Ranger said.

 

Kamen Rider Blade walked to his side. “You did it…”

 

“Apparently,” Red Falcon said. “All the bad guys seem to be gone…except for those roaches.”

 

“I think that has something to do with-” Blade gasped with pain and grabbed his head. He dropped to his knees and winced.

 

Through his mind’s eye, he saw flashes of Zayden struggling to maintain his human form, losing his battle to the Joker.

 

“Zayden…” Blade said.

 

Kamen Rider Blade grabbed his sword, staggered to his feet, and hurried off.

 

“Hey! Wait!” Red Falcon shouted. But Blade kept moving. “Fine…okay, then. You’re welcome for beating the bad guy and saving the world. Nice team up…we should do it again sometime…Ass.”

 

***

 

Nicolas lost consciousness after his battle with Dark Kruger. The DECA team called in a Silver Guardian unit to take the boy to the nearest hospital, where he lay silently.

 

Nikki found him in a matter of hours. She sat at his side and held his hand. “Please wake up…” she whispered. “I finally got you back…I can’t lose you again.”

 

***

 

Kamen Rider Blade rushed through a plaza area. A massive group of Dark Roaches blocked his path. But he didn’t slow.

 

Still in King Form, the Rider plowed through the Undead while swinging his blade left and right, ripping them apart with massive bursts of spark.

 

He speared his massive blade through an Undead and pulled the weapon free while swinging wide, slashing through a Dark Roach with a burst of spark and fire.

 

He chopped, swung upward, and slashed wide, tearing through the creatures.

 

The Rider felt a primal urge grow with each swing. He felt the need for battle start to consume him. Overwhelm him. Like when his King Form almost turned him into a second Joker.

 

The Rider kicked an Undead, stabbed a creature and smashed the back of his fist across a Dark Roach’s head.

 

Blade swung wide, and his sword tore through the remaining Undead with bursts of spark. The creatures collapsed and exploded into spheres of flame that dissipated into the air.

 

The Rider lowered his sword and breathed heavily. He flipped open his buckler and pulled out his Ace of Spades, powering down his armor with a field of blue energy.

 

He sat and leaned against a wall, taking a brief moment to rest. He felt exhausted. But also restless. He wanted a fight. He craved it.

 

“Ken!” a voice shouted from nearby. Ken looked to see Bobby run to the scene.

 

Megan tracked Ken’s signal but couldn’t reach him by phone, so Bobby went after him, despite his near crippling anxiety about the thought of entering the Dark Roach infested city.

 

The teen leaned down next to his friend. “What are you doing fighting these roaches instead of tracking down Joker? He’s the key to what’s happening…And yes, Megan told me that, it’s not like I figured it out on my own.”

 

“Bobby…” Ken said between heavy breaths. He nearly toppled over but grabbed onto Bobby’s shoulder. “I need you to hit me.”

 

Bobby arced an eyebrow. “Huh?”

 

“I feel like…I feel like I’m going to pass out. But I can’t…” Ken said. “I have to keep going.”

 

“I’m not…” Bobby shook his head. “I’m not going to hit you, Ken.”

 

Ken winced and climbed to his feet. He started to stagger off, his footsteps heavy and labored.

 

Bobby stood and called after Ken. “It’s your King Form!” he shouted. “It’s doing this to you. If you keep this up, you’ll start acting all…weird again. This time you might become a Joker.”

 

Ken kept moving forward. “I’ll deal with Zayden…” he said. “Please, just…have faith in me, OK?”

 

***

 

Megan joined Nikki in the hospital, and they sat in the waiting room.

 

Megan tried to smile as reassuringly as possible. “The doctors say it’s not life threatening…that he’s doing his best.”

 

Nikki stared ahead silently, saying nothing.

 

***

 

Ken throttled his bike beneath an underpass. He leaned forward and sped as fast as possible.

 

Zayden…he thought. I won’t let you destroy the world…not after everything we went through. That’s not what you’d want…

 

***

 

Zayden staggered along the shore north of the Glimmering Coast. He collapsed to all fours and breathed heavily. Each breath sounded raspy and guttural. Like a monster.

 

He felt the Joker’s urges swell. Even with all his cards, he couldn’t suppress the primal instincts of his true self. As the last Undead, the Joker’s instincts surged with undeniable strength.

 

Zayden screamed as his body rippled and shifted into Joker form.

 

Above, dozens of dark portals rippled and dropped Dark Roaches to the shore. The Dark Roaches opened their beetle-like wings and flew east.

 

***

 

The sun set. Ken sped through the empty night streets.

 

A group of Dark Roaches dropped to the road and blocked the rider’s path.

 

Ken skid his bike to a halt and hopped off. He armed his belt.

 

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

 

He ran through a field of blue energy to transform into his armor and attack the Dark Roaches.

 

Blade plowed through the Dark Roaches while hacking his sword. The blade cut through Undead with massive bursts of spark that knocked them aside.

 

Their numbers grew, and they pushed forward with their attack.

 

Kamen Rider Blade slashed through the creatures faster than he had ever swung his blade before. He moved with a flurry of swings and strikes that cut the Undead down and whipped them backward.

 

Eventually, the Dark Roaches manage to leap onto Blade and tackle him to the ground, piling on him and clawing his armor.

 

“EVOLUTION KING”

 

Blade transformed into King Form with a burst of golden light that hurled the Dark Roaches through the air.

 

The Rider lifted his sword with both hands and plowed through the Undead. He swung wide and powerful arcs that ripped the Undead to pieces.

 

A Dark Roach snuck up behind the Rider. But he turned and stabbed his blade through its chest.

 

Fatigue burned with each swing of his sword. But the fatigue couldn’t match the primal instinct to fight.

 

Through the corner of his eye, he saw a man stagger and collapse in the darkness. A group of Dark Roaches surrounded the stranger.

 

Kamen Rider Blade charged to attack. He stabbed an Undead through the chest, pulled his sword free with a wide swing that slashed a Dark Roach, and chopped the last Undead to the ground with a burst of spark.

 

Blade looked down to the man — Dr. Cranston. “It’s you…”

 

“Blade…” Cranston said as he climbed to his feet. “So this is your King Form…”

 

A trio of Dark Roaches leapt towards them.

 

Kamen Rider Blade shoved Cranston aside and slashed an Undead from the air. But the remaining two creatures clawed Blade’s sword from his hand and tackled him.

 

They smashed Blade against a wall and grabbed him in a chokehold.

 

A hand lifted the sword and slashed through the Undead. The Undead exploded into flames that quickly dissipated.

 

Blade’s armor powered down with a field of blue light, and Ken collapsed. He looked up to see Benjamin holding the golden sword.

 

“Benjamin…” Ken whispered.

 

Benjamin leaned down next to Ken and helped him sit up, Ken breathed heavily and leaned against the wall.

 

“You’re okay…” Ken said.

 

Benjamin nodded. “I was in a scrape, but nothing I couldn’t…” He shook his head. “I got lucky. Dr. Cranston found me afterward. We’ve been looking for you.”

 

Ken closed his eyes and slipped from consciousness.

 

“Ken!” Benjamin shouted. “Ken!”

 

Dr. Cranston leaned down next to him. He knitted his brow with concern.

 

“It’s his King Form’s influence…”

 

They lifted Ken’s arms over their shoulders and carried him off.

 

***

 

Benjamin and Dr. Cranston took Ken back to Bobby’s home, where they found Bobby and Megan waiting. They laid Ken down to rest, then joined in the living room to watch the news.

 

Reports said the wave of Dark Roaches reached the Midwest. The president declared a state of emergency across the whole country.

 

“I’ve got to go back out there,” Benjamin said quietly. “You all should get to a shelter.”

 

“No,” Megan said. “Not until I know Ken’s okay…and we stop this.”

 

***

 

Cassie and Ava watched over Ken in his attic room. The mother and daughter refused to go a shelter without Bobby, who refused to go to a shelter without Megan, who refused to go to a shelter and leave the Riders behind.

 

So Bobby brought Cassie and Ava back to his home, hopefully safe in its rural area.

 

Ava watched the news broadcast. A group of Dark Roaches attacked the television news crew. They screamed and tried to run, but the Undead pounced on them.

 

The girl turned off the TV.

 

From his bed, Ken stirred awake and started to sit up.

 

“Ken…” Cassie said. “You shouldn’t get up yet.”

 

“I’m okay,” he whispered as he winced and pushed himself to his feet.

 

***

 

“I have Initiative forces spread throughout the city,” Cranston said. “ZECT, the Silver Guardians, Jet Force, the DECA Rangers, Bio-Beast Rangers, Rescue Force…but they’re spread thin. The only way to stop this…is stopping Joker.”

 

Benjamin nodded and stood. “I’m heading back out.”

 

Ken staggered into the room and blocked Benjamin from leaving.

 

“No…” Ken said.

 

“I’m sealing Joker,” Benjamin said. “That’s our responsibility.”

 

“Do you think I’ve just been mindlessly fighting these Dark Roaches?” Ken asked. “I know what I’m doing…I’m fighting…and waiting.”

 

“Waiting?” Benjamin asked. “For what?”

 

“If I fail…” Ken whispered. “If that time comes. Take care of it. Okay?”

 

“Ken…” Cranston said. “Are you really going to seal the Joker…or is it something else?”

 

Ken turned and staggered from the house, leaving the others behind.

 

***

 

Zayden sat near the base of an abandoned building. He held his knees close to his chest and stared ahead.

 

“Come…” he said quietly. “There’s no time left…so come…”

 

***

 

“Dr. Cranston…” Benjamin said. “Do you know what Ken’s planning?”

 

Cranston nodded. “If he’s doing what I’m thinking…It might work, but…”

 

***

 

Ken walked to the darkened building where Zayden sat. Ken recognized the building as the place he discovered Zayden’s secret identity as Kamen Rider Chalice.  

 

“How nostalgic,” Zayden said.

 

Ken nodded. “This is where it started for us…”

 

“That’s why…this is where it ends,” Zayden said.

 

“Zayden…” Ken said as he leaned down next to his friend. “These Dark Roaches…are you really behind them? Are you…causing them?”

 

“There’s no point in discussing it with me,” Zayden said. “I am…Joker.”

 

Zayden winced with pain and staggered to his feet. He howled with agony as his body rippled and shifted into Joker form.

 

The Joker leaned his head back and screamed. His buckler emitted a blinding jade shockwave that decimated the city block.

 

***

 

The sun rose.

 

Ken’s vision blurred into focus. He pushed himself up to see the landscape destroyed, completely.

 

Zayden climbed to his feet, back in his human form.

 

The friends looked at each other and glared. They knew they had to fight.

 

Ken armed his belt.

 

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

 

Zayden pulled out the Two of Hearts.

 

“Transform.” He swiped his card through his buckler. “CHANGE.”

 

They transformed into their armor and charged at one another. Blade armed his sword, and Chalice armed his bow. They slashed each other’s armor with bursts of spark as they dashed past each other.

 

They turned and clanged weapons. Chalice parried Blade’s sword aside and swung wide. But Blade blocked and sidekicked Chalice back a step.

 

Kamen Rider Blade chopped, then swung wide, but Chalice blocked both blows, then sidekicked Blade in the chest. The blow knocked the Rider back several steps.

 

Kamen Rider Blade quickly regained his footing and lunged with a flurry of sword swings. Their weapons sparked and clanged as they parried, blocked, and countered.

 

***

 

Silver Guardian and ZECT Troopers stood side-by-side and formed a barrier. They opened fire at the approaching Dark Roaches.

 

But the creatures pounced and clawed through the soldiers.

 

***

 

Nikki returned to Nicolas’s room and sat quietly. She hummed as she traced her fingers across his hand.

 

Slowly, his eyes fluttered open. “Nicolas?”

 

“Nikki…” he whispered.

 

***

 

Blade swung twice, slashing Chalice with bursts of spark that hurled him backward.

 

The Rider crashed against the ground but quickly pulled out the King of Hearts.

 

He sprang to his feet and charged while swiping the card through his buckler. “EVOLUTION.”

 

He shifted into Wild Form and dashed at Blade. Chalice launched a series of slashes that sparked against Blade’s armor.

 

Blade tried to strike back. But Chalice dodged each blow and countered with strikes of his own, slashing Blade with bursts of spark.

 

Kamen Rider Blade swung high. But Chalice ducked and swung low, slashing Blade’s chest. Chalice swung upward, slashing Blade with a burst of spark that whipped him off his feet.

 

Chalice activated his Wild Card.

 

Blade tumbled across the ground and rolled into a crouched stance. He opened the card fan on his sword hilt and pulled out three cards.

 

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 against his armor. He charged forward through a burst of speed, leapt through the air, and aimed a flying sidekick that crackled with lightning.

 

Chalice started to swipe his Wild Card through his staff but stopped when he spotted the flying kick.

 

Kamen Rider Chalice lifted his weapon to block. Blade’s energized kick smashed against Chalice’s staff with a shockwave that hurled the combatants through the air.

 

The two Riders crashed and tumbled aside, and Ken’s armor powered down with a field of blue light.  

 

Ken rolled to his back and started to climb to his feet. “Come on, Zayden…” he said as he struggled to catch his breath. “Aren’t you going to fight for real?”

 

“What?” Chalice asked.

 

“Why didn’t you use your Wild Card?” Ken asked.

 

Chalice swiped the Two of Hearts through his buckler: “SPIRIT”

 

He rippled back into human form. “You noticed?”

 

“I did…” Ken said. “You’re trying to let me seal you. Aren’t you?”

 

“Is there any other way?” Zayden asked. “My body…I can no longer control it at will. When I’m attacked, I just return to being another animal, and think of nothing but battle. The only one who can defeat me, is you, and you alone.”

 

“Zayden…” Ken said. He knew he needed to provoke his friend, no matter how much it hurt. “All the Undead are sealed. You’re the last one. Joker!”

 

Zayden narrowed his eyes. He crouched forward and glared. “You and I…we can only understand each other through fighting.”

 

Zayden’s body shifted into Joker form, and he stalked towards Ken. The Joker cast a wide shadow, and from the shadow rose several Dark Roaches.

 

The Roaches scurried past the Joker and moved towards Ken.

 

Ken stepped into his transformation pose and narrowed his eyes. “Transform!” He flipped his buckler. “TURN UP.”

 

His buckler emitted a field of blue energy. Ken walked through the field and activated his armor.

 

The Rider stalked forward and slashed the Dark Roaches aside one-by-one. They threw themselves at the Rider like a wave of claws. But he slashed and chopped them back with bursts of spark.

 

The Rider swung wide and slashed the last two Roaches to the ground with bursts of spark.

 

Blade lowered his sword and faced Joker. “Zayden…come at me for real this time. Show me the Joker’s power.”

 

Blade sprang forward and chopped towards Joker’s head. Joker blocked, clawed Blade with a burst of spark and kicked him backward.

 

The Rider stumbled but stayed on his feet.

 

Joker pounced forward and clawed the Rider to the ground.

 

***

 

Benjamin narrowed his eyes after hearing Cranston’s explanation. “You really think Ken’s trying to become an Undead?”

 

“He’s trying to make himself a second Joker,” Cranston said.

 

Bobby shook his head. “That’s why he used his King Form to fight the Dark Roaches. So he could fuse with the Undead…”

 

“He worked so hard to stop himself from turning into a monster…” Megan said. “Why would he do the opposite now?”

 

“If he becomes an Undead….there will be two in the world,” Cranston said. “Joker won’t be the last. That might be enough to reverse what’s happened.”

 

***

 

Blade swung wide. But Joker ducked beneath the blow and clawed the Rider with bursts of spark.

 

Kamen Rider Blade twisted his grip and slashed again. But Joker parried and hopped forward while clawing the Rider with enough force to hurl him off his feet.

 

Blade crashed against the ground and tumbled backward.

 

He pushed himself to his feet and armed his Rouze Absorber: “ABSORB QUEEN; EVOLUTION KING.”

 

He shifted into King Form with pulses of golden light.

 

The Rider used both hands to swing and chop his blade at Joker. Joker ducked and dodged, but Blade’s attacks forced the Undead several steps backward.

 

***

 

Benjamin shook his head. “He’s going to just throw away his humanity? I can’t let him do that…”

 

Benjamin rose to his feet and bolted out the door.

 

Megan closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “Oh, God…”

 

“There is no God,” Cranston said. “But there is a Dark One. And whatever’s happening now…is tied to him directly.”

 

***

 

Benjamin sped his motorcycle towards the city. But he skid to a halt when he noticed a massive wave of Dark Roaches blocking his path.

 

“I don’t have time for this…” he muttered.

 

He opened his throttle to full and sped towards the creatures. The rider popped a wheelie and jumped his bike over most of them, and then landed behind them. He sped forward and plowed through the Undead.

 

But they knocked him from his bike.

 

Benjamin hit the ground hard and tumbled aside. He rolled into a crouched position and armed his buckler.

 

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

 

He activated his armor and blasted the Dark Roaches.

 

***

 

Nicolas and Nikki heard screams from the hospital hallway.

 

Nicolas knitted his brow with concern and climbed from bed. “Stay here…”

 

“But Nicolas-”

 

“Stay here,” Nicolas said.

 

The boy stepped into the hallway and saw a wave of Dark Roaches scurry from the nearby stairwell. 

 

They charged towards him.

 

Nicolas narrowed his eyes and leaned forward.

 

The Dark Roaches tackled him relentlessly. The boy fought back with kicks and punches but could barely stand in his weakened state.

 

“Nicolas!” Nikki shouted as she stepped into the hallway.

 

A wave of Dark Roaches tackled her to the ground.

 

***

 

Dr. Cranston leaned back. “I’m not sure what will break the seals, or when, but I know who does. Tommy Oliver. He set everything in motion.”

 

“But you recreated the Undead…” Megan said.

 

“I had nothing to do with that,” Cranston lied again. “It was Tennoji and Sarc. I meant for BOARD to study the Undeads’ remains, true, but for advancements in the medical field and sciences. Not to recreate them.”

 

Suddenly, they heard Cassie and Ava scream from upstairs. The mother and daughter scurried down the steps. And Dark Roaches followed.

 

“Cassie!” Bobby shouted as he sprang to his feet.

 

More Dark Roaches crashed through the windows, and the creatures attacked.

 

***

 

Kamen Rider Blade swung wide, slashing Joker with a burst of spark that forced him several steps backward. The Rider felt rage burn through his body. Hunger. Bloodlust.

 

Joker howled and pounced at Blade. The villain clawed. But Blade parried and countered with a flurry of strikes that tore Joker’s body with massive bursts of spark, hurling him backward.

 

The Undead crashed and tumbled as pale-green blood seeped from his wounds.

 

Kamen Rider Blade slid five cards into his sword: “SPADE TEN; JACK; QUEEN; KING; ACE — ROYAL STRAIGHT FLUSH”

 

Five energy fields slid into place between Blade and Joker, who climbed to his feet. Blade charged through the fields. They splashed against his armor one-by-one while energizing his sword. Kamen Rider Blade swung his sword through a streak of golden energy that tore through the Joker with a massive shockwave that hurled them both into the air.

 

The two combatants crashed against the ground and tumbled aside; Blade dropped his sword. Slowly, they pushed themselves to their feet and faced one another.

 

They stalked towards each other, each step labored and weak. Fatigue burned through their bodies. But so did the urge to fight. And keep fighting until one, and one alone stood.

 

Kamen Rider Blade lunged with a duo of punches. Joker blocked both and punched back, but Blade sidestepped the blow.

 

Blade hook-punched Joker’s head, and Joker punched Blade’s chest. They pommeled each other with their fists, each blow landing with a boom that shook the ground beneath their feet. Each blow knocked the other Rider back a step, but the Rider recovered each time with a punch of his own. Back and forth. Relentlessly.  

 

Blade punched Joker’s chest. Again. And again. Each punch landing with full force.

 

“Ha!” Blade swung a punch that bashed Joker off his feet.

 

Suddenly, Blade staggered backward. A wave of vertigo washed over him. One-by-one, the Undead symbols on his armor rippled in rhythm with his heartbeat. The symbols glowed and flickered with power.

 

The beetle symbol on his chest glowed green and pulsed like a heartbeat. Blade grasped his chest and breathed heavily.

 

***

 

Throughout the country, the Dark Roaches burst into globs of shadow that dissipated into the air.

 

The Roaches that surrounded Garren. The creatures in the hospital. The Undead in Bobby’s home. All Dark Roaches, everywhere, burst and vanished.

 

Megan moved to her computer and activated her Undead Tracker. “All the Dark Roach signals…they’ve vanished.”

 

She shook her head as the scanner narrowed in on Blade’s fight with Joker.

 

“No…the Joker’s signal…there’s two of them.”

 

***

 

Do it now, Ken,” Joker said. “Seal me…”

 

Blade flipped his buckler so the Ace of Spades faced front. He pulled out the card and deactivated his armor with a field of blue energy.

 

The wounds on his face looked red with old blood. But fresh blood dripped down his hand. The blood’s color: Pale green.

 

Ken tossed aside his buckler to reveal the green buckler of the Joker.

 

Joker slid the Two of Hearts through his buckler. “SPIRIT.”

 

He ripped into his human form, his eyes wide with terror and disbelief. “Ken…you…So you’ve become an Undead.”

 

Ken breathed heavily, exhausted. He gave a brief smile of reassurance.

 

Zayden shook his head. “This is why you fought me…this was what you wanted.”

 

Ken nodded.

 

“With two Undead…” Zayden said. “It’s not over.”

 

“Not until one’s left,” Ken whispered. “Right? Now…Now that won’t happen. Because I won’t fight you.”

 

“Ken…” Zayden said as he started to walk towards his friend.

 

“Stay back,” Ken said as he took a step backward.

 

“Ken…”

 

“You and I…We’re Undead. As long as neither of us is sealed, there won’t be a victor. Nothing will trigger the end, like with the Dark Roaches.  That’s why we can’t fight,” Ken said. “That’s why...we can’t be near each other. Not anymore.”

 

“No matter how far apart,” Zayden said. “Our instincts will still drive us to fight. That’s the fate of the Undead.”

 

“Then I’ll fight fate,” Ken said as he wiped the blood from his mouth. “And I’ll win.”

 

“That’s your response?” Zayden asked.

 

“You should continue to live with the humans,” Ken said.

 

“And where will you go?” Zayden asked.

 

“Where we can’t meet,” Ken said. “And to find answers…answers about the meaning of all this. The Undead. The Riders. The Dark One’s Seals…”

 

Ken smiled fondly at his friend and started to back away. “Someplace we can’t contact each other. That should be good enough…”

 

He turned and walked away.

 

“Ken…” Zayden whispered. He stood perplexed. He wondered why anyone would go to such great lengths for him. To save him.

 

Then he remembered: Ken cared about saving people. Especially his friends. The teen put the needs of his friends before his own, always.

 

“Ken!” Zayden shouted as he ran after him. But he lost sight of his comrade.

 

“Zayden!” a voice shouted from nearby. Benjamin scrambled through the woods. “Is that you?!”

 

Benjamin caught up with Zayden. “Zayden…where’s Ken?”

 

Zayden shook his head. “He’s…gone.”

 

Benjamin lowered his head. He understood what that meant.

 

They heard footsteps come closer. Nicolas shuffled to the scene, still weakened from his hospital stay.

 

“Where’s Ken?” he asked. “Where is he?”

 

“Nicolas…” Benjamin said as he laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

 

Benjamin looked to the distance and thought of his comrade. His friend. Ken…where will you go now?

 

***

 

Later that day, Benjamin sat with Bobby and Megan and told them everything.

 

“We don’t know where Ken went…” he said. “But instead of losing his humanity…he protected humanity. And the world…Even now he continues his fight. Somewhere. With fate…”

 

***

 

Alone, Nicolas shot a basket in the school gym. And missed.

 

“Well that’s embarrassing…” he whispered.

 

“Nicolas…” Nikki said as she walked into the gym while carrying a picnic basket. “Want to try that picnic? One more time?”

 

Nicolas smirked. “Yeah...I’d like that.”

 

***

 

Zayden tended the flower bed outside the Jacaranda Café. He planted fresh bulbs and softened the soil around them.

 

Inside, the café bustled with activity. Cassie handed a tray to Ava, who smiled and happily helped her mother wait on their guests. 

 

The regular customers complimented Ava and her new clothes, and she soaked in the praise.

 

Cassie walked outside and handed Zayden a grocery list as he worked. “Zayden…when you have a minute, can you run to the store? I’m short on a few supplies.”

 

Zayden smiled and took the list. “I will.

 

The teen walked towards the nearest store instead of riding his motorcycle. He moved across a landscaped path, thick with fallen leaves.  

 

He passed a bench, and thought about the possibility of running into Ken on that bench. Ken would smile and say hi, like nothing happened. Like they were normal.

 

Zayden remembered his friend’s words: “You should continue to live with the humans.”

 

Zayden smiled sorrowfully at the thought, and walked on his way.

 

***

 

Dr. Cranston returned to his main office in the INET building. He reviewed a status report on his tablet. The DECA team and Jet Force would recover, as would the Gene-Tech Task Force. The damage to the Tor Carrier reverted following the departure of Demon World Earth, but the dead stayed dead.

 

Luckily Colynn survived. Cranston still needed her to lead the Bio Beast’s technicians.

 

Cranston leaned back in his chair and smiled. He had merged with the Dark Shaper. It had worked. Cranston still possessed his own body, mind and soul — now augmented by the Dark Shaper’s being, broken down and absorbed on a quantum level.

 

The merger felt differently than when his older self fused with his younger self. That felt like waking up with memories of the future. Or waking up in the body of yourself in the past. That felt unified.

 

His merger with the Dark Shaper felt like a violation. Billy possessed all the Dark Shaper’s memories and experiences, but the villain remained a separate, maddened voice locked in Billy’s subconscious. Dr. Cranston occasionally heard the Dark Shaper cry out with rage from the darkest corners of his mind.

 

He heard the voice now, though he couldn’t understand the words.

 

“Scream while you can,” Cranston said with a smirk. “You’re nothing but a side effect. One I’ll soon quiet…”

 

With the merger of his knowledge and the Dark Shaper’s knowledge, his plans and the Dark Shaper’s plans, for the first time, Cranston knew exactly what he needed to do to reach his goals.

 

“No more games…no more needless experiments,” he said.

 

The final outcome of BOARD played a key part in his plans, but only one step. To reach the next step, he needed to clear the playing field of a few pieces.

 

He activated the comm panel on his desk. “Miss. Fairweather…get me the schematics of the Hayate Way.”

 

To be continued…Chapter 46