Chapter 48: Hurricane

Second Sabbath: Last Hope

 

PRELUDE: Ride

 

Ken rode his motorcycle across the outer streets of Angel Grove. The Kamen Rider felt…odd. Now a Joker Undead, he felt strong and powerful. He felt lust for battle.

 

But he kept his emotions in check. In doing so, he protected his friends. His loved ones.

 

The rider sought answers to the deeper meaning behind the Riders, Undead and Seals. For the longest time he suspected INET manipulated the Undead’s battle. He still did — but now, Dr. Cranston led him to believe that battle had something to do with the Dark One, and a larger conflict connected to the former Dragon Ranger, Tommy Oliver.

 

Ken sought Tommy for answers.

 

***

 

PART ONE: Shadowland

 

The Five Nails of the Hand assaulted the rangers relentlessly. Blake silently cursed his brother for letting the attack happen.

 

Hunter, when this is over, you’re so getting your ass kicked, Blake thought.  

 

The ranger dove aside to avoid a cloud of energy petals that shot towards him. The petals belonged to the pink-cloaked ninja, Zakura.

 

The villain swung her bladeless sword to command the energy petals. She snapped the weapon to her side, and the energy petals shot towards the teen.

 

Blake narrowed his eyes and armed his morpher. The rangers didn’t typically morph unless they faced meta-level threats, not ninja with magic swords. But Blake didn’t seem to care at the moment.

 

“Screw it,” he said as he lifted his bracer. “Ninjetti change! Ha!”

 

Energy surged around him as he morphed into his armor.

 

Navy Thunder snapped his staff open like a ring, which formed an energy shield. The shield blocked the ninja’s petals with bursts of spark.

 

The Navy Thunder Ranger snapped his staff into its cross formation and hurled the weapon like a throwing star.

 

Zakura leapt through the air to avoid the twirling staff.

 

The Navy Thunder Ranger struck. “Lightning bolt!”

 

He hurled a bolt of lightning that blasted the sword from the ninja’s hand with a burst of spark.

 

The sword clanged harmlessly to the ground, and Zakura landed next to it, her hand burnt from the lightning blast.

 

Ichinose charged at the Ranger from the side. Navy Thunder dashed past the ninja while slashing through his sword, shattering the blade into shards of light.  

 

The Ranger shifted his staff to attack the rest of the Five Nails and help his teammates.

 

But suddenly, a crimson blur crashed into the plaza with a massive shockwave that hurled everyone off their feet.

 

Navy Thunder smashed against a wall that cracked on impact, and crashed to the ground. The impact knocked him from his armor with a burst of navy light.

 

Blake climbed slowly to his feet. Smoke and dust clouded the plaza. Through the corner of his eye, he saw the other rangers barely conscious, along with the Five Nails of the Hand, in no better shape.

 

Ahead, the Crimson Thunder Ranger stepped from the cloud of dust and debris.

 

Blake narrowed his eyes. “Hunter…”

 

“Brother,” Crimson Thunder said. “You shouldn’t have come here.”

 

“Just wanted to say hi…See what you’ve been up to,” Blake said as he stumbled forward, nearly falling. “How’s the whole ‘evil empire’ thing working out?”

 

Crimson Thunder stared silently.

 

Blake tilted his head. “No? Well, you’ve done great, seriously. I mean…Dad would be proud.”

 

The Crimson Thunder Ranger tilted his head.

 

“Take him,” he said to the shadows.

 

Dozens of Jonin leapt into the plaza and slammed into the fallen rangers. The grunts captured the teens and leapt to the rooftops.

 

Crimson Thunder hesitated. He stood in the plaza as the Five Nails climbed to their feet and regrouped.

 

“My lord…” the ice ninja Yukionna said.

 

“Don’t say anything,” the Ranger said. “There’s a Rider in the Crimson Cells. Get down there.”

 

The ninja nodded and backed away, leaving the Crimson Thunder Ranger alone.

 

***

 

Tommy slammed his hand against a table in Ops. “Blake…”

 

“You can’t blame him, Tommy,” Ashley said.

 

“I can and I will,” Tommy said. “This is exactly what I wanted to avoid. I thought for once, maybe we could be smart about something. Get information before we started throwing Rangers and Riders at the problem.”

 

“It’s his brother,” Ashley said. “What would you have done? If you were still a Ranger, and Zordon tried to hold you back from saving Teddy? Or Chelsea?”

 

Tommy sighed. “I know…That doesn’t make this less aggravating,” he said. “Have we heard anything from Maya? Maybe she has good news. Or news that isn’t as bad.”

 

Ashley shook her head. “I haven’t been able to get through to her.

 

Tommy closed his eyes rubbed his forehead. “It’s funny that you mentioned Zordon…because if he were here, none of this would have happened. He would have known what to do…”

 

***

 

A Japanese temple sat on top of the Hand skyscraper. Jonin dropped the rangers into the temple courtyard. They lay unconscious, with their hands and feet bound by chains.

 

Hunter crouched next to Blake as the Jonin stirred him awake.

 

“Hello again, brother,” Hunter said. “Let’s try this without the backtalk.”

 

Blake narrowed his eyes. “What the hell happened to you? We’ve never exactly been sane, but you’ve lost it this time.”

 

“Maybe,” Hunter said. “Or maybe I’m seeing clearly.”

 

“People who see things clearly don’t build psycho ninja fortresses on skyscrapers,” Blake said.

 

Hunter smirked. He stood, and walked closer to the edge of the skyscraper, keeping his back to his brother.

 

“Do you remember when we were younger? Dad would lock you in that dark room, just to scare you. I still remember the sound of you screaming and crying…You’ve never left that room, have you? You’re still that scared, frightened kid.”

 

Blake glared. “You know what, screw you. I don’t care if you are possessed, or whatever the excuse is this time, screw you.”

 

“I’m trying to help you, Blake,” Hunter said. “I’m trying to help you step out of that room,” Hunter said.

 

Blake struggled against his chains and tried to lunge. But a Jonin bashed his pommel against the back of the ranger’s neck, knocking him down.

 

Hunter didn’t seem to notice. Or maybe he didn’t care. “Ever since the Jakanja attacked, we’ve wanted to make the Ikkazuchi into something more. I’ve done that. I’ve come out of the shadows. I just want you to join me.”

 

Blake grunted with pain. “I’m sorry, could you say that again? I don’t speak Psychopath.”

 

“You’ve used that joke before,” Hunter said. “You’re losing your touch…”

 

“Why does everyone keep saying that… Blake muttered.

 

“I need fighters like you. And the Rangers,” Hunter said. “I’m on the verge of something great. Once I’ve taken control of the Phantom Demons, I’ll have an army. We can lead that army, as a team.”

 

“Great,” Blake said. “You and Simon can get together and have a little demon party in the Hamptons. Leave us out of it.”

 

“You wouldn’t like that…” Hunter said. “Because if you’re not with me, you’re against me.”

 

“Cliché much?” Blake asked.

 

Hunter turned, his face twisted into a scowl. He stared at his brother with eyes like ice. “Take the girl.”

 

A pair of Jonin lifted Rachel from the ground.

 

Blake sprang to his feet. But Jonin grabbed his chains and smashed him down. “Don’t you touch her!

 

Hunter smirked. “Predictable much?”

 

***

 

PART TWO: Wiseman

 

The panther familiar tracked Wiseman to a mansion east of the city. Austin throttled his motorcycle to the scene and skid to a halt in the yard.

 

He hopped off his bike and held his hand over his buckler. His Driver Ring pulsed with energy and activated his belt. “DRIVER ON.”

 

The teen charged towards the house and barged through the front door. He typically acted cool and collected, with planning and tact. Not today. The White Mage…Wiseman…took Luna. And he took Kane, an innocent child.

 

No…Today, Austin lacked patience.

 

The mansion sat empty except for furniture, covered in cloth.

 

“Wizard…” a voice said from above. Rahvin walked down the stairs, his voice and face stern.

 

Austin narrowed his eyes. “Wiseman…or should I call you the White Mage?”

 

“I am called Rahvin,” he said. “A Forsaken.”

 

“So you are one of them…” Austin said. “I started to suspect…What game are you playing?”

 

“This is no game,” Rahvin said. “This is a ceremony…or it will be. A Second Sabbath.”

 

Austin knitted his brow. “You can’t be serious.”

 

“I am,” Rahvin said. “And to carry out the Sabbath, a more powerful Sabbath, I need the power of you mages.”

 

Austin shook his head. “This whole time…you never wanted to stop the Phantoms…you never even wanted more Phantoms. You wanted more mages. Like me.”

 

Rahvin nodded.

 

“What does Luna have to do with this?” Austin asked. “She’s innocent.”

 

“I gave her to you,” Rahvin said. “To watch over her, and keep her safe, until it was time.”

 

“Time for what?” Austin asked.

 

“She is central to the Second Sabbath,” Wiseman said. “When I arrived in your world, I noticed her in the same pit I found you. She had died, a Phantom had burst from her soul, but her body remained. That…should not have been possible. From the presence of her body, I learned the truth. She descended from men possessed by angels. I brought her back using a fraction of my power…I turned her into a living Philosopher’s Stone. But an imperfect one. One that required your power to sustain her.”

 

“You’re saying she descended from a…a…”

 

“An angel,” Rahvin said. “Now, I have her, and I have my Four Mages. The Second Sabbath can begin.”

 

“Why…?” Austin asked. “For more Phantoms? For what?”

 

“I care not of the Phantom Demons,” Rahvin said. “Before time, they were creations of my brother, Aginor. I preferred the creation of weapons. I crafted the first Kamen Rider — Kamen Rider Beast — by harnessing the power of my brother’s first Phantom Demon, the Chimera.  I lost the Beast Driver and rings in the war before time, before the Turning of the Wheel.

 

“But the breaking of the First Seal awoke the belt, which sought your comrade. Kamen Rider Beast,” he continued. “Now…he means nothing to me. He is simply an archetype, the foundation for the Riders that followed him, the material of his rings the basis for the King Stones that powered the Riders of this world before the Second Countdown.”

 

“But you said you have four mages,” Austin said. “If not Beast, then-”

 

A man dressed in black stepped from an adjoining room. He stared ahead blankly, his mind under the influence of Rahvin.

 

“I have four,” Rahvin said.

 

The strange man placed his right hand over his buckler. “DRIVER ON”

 

He shifted his buckler and slid a ring onto his left hand. “Awaken…” He placed his hand over the buckler. “AWAKEN; NOW”

 

GreenMageThe stranger extended his hand to his side. A green magic circle formed and slid over him, activating the armor of Kamen Rider Mage. His armor looked nearly identical to the first Mage, only colored green instead of orange.

 

The Green Mage armed his claw-shaped first weapon and charged at Austin.

 

The teen dove aside and slid his Flame Ring onto his left hand. He placed his hand over his buckler. “AWAKEN; NOW”

 

A red magic circle slid over him and activated the armor of Kamen Rider Wizard.

 

The Green Mage sprang forward and kicked Wizard’s gut. The impact bashed Wizard through the wall, and he crashed outside. The Rider tumbled several meters before pushing himself to his feet.

 

He hits way too hard…the Rider thought. I have to keep my distance. 

 

Through the corner of his eye, Wizard saw Kane step into the yard. The boy stared ahead aimlessly, with the same blank expression as the Green Mage.

 

“Kane?” Wizard asked. “Not you too…” The Rider looked into the house towards Rahvin. “He’s just a kid!”

 

Kane placed his right hand over his buckler. “DRIVER ON”

 

He shifted the Driver and placed his left hand over the buckler. “AWAKEN; NOW”

 

BlueMageA blue magic circle slid over Kane and activated the armor of Kamen Rider Mage. He looked identical to the Green Mage, but colored blue.

 

The Blue Mage armed a fist weapon and charged to attack.

 

Kamen Rider Wizard armed his sword and parried the boy’s claw strikes. Wizard refused to fight against the boy. He couldn’t hurt an innocent — even one who tried to kill him.

 

“Kane,” Wizard said between blocks. “I don’t know you…But I know you’re not evil. If you suppressed your Phantom, you-”

 

The Green Mage lunged and clawed Wizard with a burst of spark. The impact whipped him off his feet. The Rider crashed and tumbled across the ground.

 

He rolled to his feet and slid his Flame Dragon Ring onto his left hand. He placed his hand over his buckler. “FLAME; DRAGON”

 

A red magic circle slid over him and activated his Flame Dragon form. He twirled his sword into a fighting position and charged towards the Green Mage.

 

But the Blue Mage tackled the Rider and clawed him with bursts of spark, hurling him off his feet.

 

The Rider rolled backward into a crouched position.

 

Rahvin stepped outside and thrust his hand forward. He summoned a magic circle, and chains lashed from the circle and whipped the Rider off his feet with bursts of spark.

 

“Without the Second Sabbath…Luna will die,” Rahvin said as he stepped closer to the Rider. “Not even your power can sustain her indefinitely…”

 

Wizard climbed to his feet. “You really think you can talk me into your plan?”

 

“I think that you have no choice, mage,” Rahvin said.

 

The villain placed his hand over his buckler. “CHAIN; NOW”

 

Chains wrapped around Wizard and dropped him to the ground. The impact knocked him from his armor with a burst of red light.

 

***

 

Maya and Kouishiro joined Tommy and Ashley in Ops. This time, they brought Jesse with them. They explained everything that happened.

 

“How’s Mindy?” Ashley asked.

 

“She’s still unconscious, but stable,” Maya said. “The doctors say she’ll be okay.”

 

Tommy sighed with relief and nodded. “So…do we think this Wiseman is a Forsaken?”

 

They heard giggling come from the door and looked to see Gremlin in his human form.

 

The villain smiled and waved mockingly. “He-”

 

Tommy bashed Gremlin with an invisible Kiryoku burst that pinned him to the wall.  

 

Gremlin simply laughed. “He-lo!”

 

“Gremlin…” Maya said.

 

“How the hell did you get in here?” Tommy asked.

 

“That’s no way to treat a friend,” Gremlin said.

 

“Tommy, he’s a Phantom,” Maya said.

 

“I figured,” Tommy said, not taking his eyes of the Phantom Demon. “I’ll ask again, how did you get in here?”

 

“The same way I found the Crimson Cells beneath the Hand’s fortress,” Gremlin said with pride. “I have a habit of getting into places where I don’t belong. Now…Do you want to know what the White Mage Wiseman has planned?”

 

***

 

Kane and the Green Mage dragged Miranda to a pillar on the southern edge of Angel Grove East.

 

She struggled against the chains that bound her. But their magical energy weakened her.

 

“Let me go!” she shouted.

 

Kane and the Green Mage said nothing. They tied her to the post and left her there.

 

She struggled to break free, but could not. She looked down and saw magical runes etched in the cement in front of her.

 

***

 

Rahvin chained Austin to a post north of Angel Grove East. The teen gazed ahead with a blank look of pain and loss.

 

The Forsaken noticed. “I’m surprised how docile you’re being…Have you decided to sacrifice yourself to save Luna?”

 

Austin stared at the villain at said nothing.

 

***

 

“Why is he trying to start another Sabbath?” Kouishiro asked. “To make more Phantoms?”

 

“Of course not…” Gremlin said as he paced around the room. “He has no interest in that…The Phantoms are just a bonus…”

 

***

 

“The true purpose of the Sabbath is to create a surge in magical energy,” Rahvin said as he looked upon the city. “The ceremony draws the magical energy from the sacrificial Gates. This Second Sabbath will draw enough energy to fill the Philosopher’s Stone with power.”

 

“You mean Luna,” Austin said.

 

Rahvin nodded. “You mages have far more power than the Phantoms. By sacrificing you, by using you as the human pillars for the Second Sabbath, she will be reborn. Fully. As the first human to become an immortal.”

 

***

 

Gremlin shrugged as he sat on the couch and placed his feet on the coffee table. “Of course, I’m only guessing at that last part…but I don’t think I’m far off.”

 

Maya shook her head. “That doesn’t make sense…Why turn someone he doesn’t even know into an immortal?”

 

“Why are you telling us this?” Ashley asked.

 

“The Sabbath should fail,” Gremlin said as he stood and started walking from Ops. “That’s all, I think.”

 

“Wait,” Kouishiro said.

 

Gremlin stopped and looked over his shoulder. “Maybe you should find Wiseman, instead of focusing on me? He’s set his pillars in a pattern, a magic circle. With that little Hand castle at the center.”

 

***

 

“It was quite the task, to find the sacrificial Gates,” Rahvin continued. “If I cover all of Angel Grove East with the circle, that should create more than enough Phantoms to release the magical energy I need.”

 

“I thought you just needed us…” Austin said.

 

“You mages are the pillars used to create the magic circle,” Rahvin said. “I told you that already. When that happens…all the Gates in Angel Grove East will turn into Phantoms…and those without magic will die.”

 

Austin narrowed his eyes. “No…I won’t let you do this. You need a sacrifice? Take me. Use me to save Luna.”

 

“Your power is not enough,” Rahvin said.  

 

The villain shifted his Driver and placed his hand over the buckler. “TELEPORT; NOW”

 

A white magic circle slid over Rahvin and teleported him away.

 

***

 

Kane strapped himself to a pillar on the east side of the city. The Green Mage strapped himself to a pillar on the western edge of the city.

 

They stood silently and waited.

 

***

 

Hunter stood with his arms across his chest and looked out upon the city. He felt something stir in the air. Something seemed…off.

 

Suddenly, a magic circle slid across the rooftop with a burst of white light as Rahvin appeared. He carried Luna, chained and unconscious, and dropped her to the rooftop.

 

“Crimson Thunder…” Rahvin said. “You’ve been looking for me.”

 

“You must be Wiseman,” Hunter said as he glanced at Luna. “Is this supposed to be some sort of…gift?”

 

“No…” Rahvin said. “Within you is the most powerful of the Phantom Demons. A key to the first Sabbath, and now to the second.”

 

Hunter knitted his brow. “What are you talking about?”

 

Rahvin said nothing. He shifted his Driver and placed his hand over his buckler. “AWAKEN; NOW”

 

A white circle slid over him and activated the armor of the White Mage. He shifted his Driver and placed his hand over his buckler. “ECLIPSE; NOW”

 

Shadow energy pulsed in the sky above and created an eclipse, which cast a purple hue across all of Angel Grove East.

 

Luna sat up and looked to the sky. “What…what are you doing?”

 

The eclipse pulsed with shadow energy.

 

On the streets below, the four mages convulsed with tendrils of shadow power. They transformed into their armor as snakes of amethyst energy thrashed their bodies. Kamen Rider Wizard, Kamen Rider Mage, Green Mage, Blue Mage — they convulsed as their energy surged. 

 

Their shadow energy pulsed into the runes around them, and the impact shattered the earth with cracks of crimson power that spread through the streets of Angel Grove East.

 

The tears ripped through city blocks, plazas, parks and suburbs. Citizens everywhere gasped with pain and collapsed as agony seared through their bodies and souls.

 

Light burst from Wizard and stabbed into the sky like a pillar. Similar light erupted from the other three mages and stabbed upward.

 

***

 

The alarms blared in Ops. Ashley pulled up a map of Angel Grove East. Four pillars surrounded the city in a circular pattern, with the Hand tower at the center.

 

“That Phantom was right…” Tommy said.

 

“See if you can reach Leo,” Maya said. “He may be the only one who can stop this.”

 

“Not the only one…” Kouishiro said as he started to run from Ops. “I’m going out there…”

 

***

 

Luna collapsed to all fours. A white magic circle formed on the rooftop beneath her.

 

Hunter staggered and collapsed to his knees. White light erupted from his body and stabbed upward.

 

Tendrils of shadow energy snaked from the streets across all of Angel Grove East. The energy pooled above the skyscraper and poured into Luna.

 

She screamed as the magical infusion surged through her body and soul.

 

“Good…” Rahvin said. “More…More!”

 

***

 

INTERLUDE: Trump Card

 

Ken skid his bike to a halt in Angel Grove East. All around him, the ground cracked with crimson light. People staggered outside and collapsed as their bodies convulsed with pain.

 

The rider hopped off his motorcycle and ran to their aide. But he knew he could do nothing. He understood nothing.

 

“What’s happening…” he whispered with frustration.

 

The rider looked towards the center of Angel Grove East and noticed a pillar of white light stab into the sky.

 

Ken hopped onto his motorcycle and sped towards the center of the city.

 

***

 

PART THREE: Center Stage

 

Magic energy filled Luna with power. Pain and fear overwhelmed her.

 

“It will be over soon…” Rahvin said. “My fellow Forsaken and I were made immortal. But you will be the first human to become immortal…”

 

“Stop!” a voice shouted form nearby. Leo ran to the rooftop, having fought his way through the Crimson Cells. He struggled to catch his breath. “Boy, that was a lot of stairs.”

 

“Archetype…” the White Mage said.

 

“I’ve come to stop your Second Sabbath…thing,” Leo said.

 

“If you stop me, Luna will die,” the White Mage said.

 

“No…I’ll save her too,” Leo said. “I made a promise to Austin…that I’d fight to save everyone.”

 

He connected his ring to his buckler. “Awaken.”

 

He twisted his ring, flipping open his buckler. “OPEN — LION; AWAKEN”

 

A magic circle slid over him and activated the armor of Kamen Rider Beast.

 

The Rider armed his Beast Saber and charged. The White Mage armed a strange, flute-like sword.

 

Beast swung a flurry of strikes the White Mage blocked with ease, with little movement.

 

The Rider chopped against the Mage’s sword and pressed hard, trying to push the Forsaken back.

 

But the White Mage knocked the blade aside and slashed Beast with a burst of spark, whipping him backward.

 

***

 

Blake knitted his brow as he watched Kamen Rider Beast battle the White Mage. Just as the Sabbath didn’t affect Beast, it didn’t affect the rangers either. They possessed the ability to channel — magick — and they didn’t possess the attunement to shadow energy necessary to become a Gate.

 

The Jonin, on the other hand, howled with agony. Creatures of shadow magick, the Sabbath tore at their twisted souls — if they even had souls.

 

Blake summoned enough strength to snap from his chains. He moved to his teammates and used lightning bursts to break their chains as well.

 

They stirred awake.

 

“Blake…?” Rachel asked.

 

“You can thank me later,” Blake said. “Maybe with that…you know…thing you do that-”

 

“Whoa, whoa,” Kou said. “Seriously? Now?”

 

“There’s no time, Kou!” Byakko shouted from the ranger’s pocket.

 

Nearby, the White Mage spun forward with a reverse sidekick that bashed Beast off his feet. The Rider crashed against the rooftop and rolled into a crouched stance.

 

Meanwhile, Blake and the others ran towards Hunter. But Hunter’s energy pillar expanded with a shockwave that hurled the rangers off their feet. 

 

On the streets below, citizens screamed with pain. Several dozen started to crack with lines of purple-tinted shadow energy. Their bodies and souls exploded, birthing Phantom Demons onto the mortal plane.

 

On the rooftop, Beast stayed in a crouched position as the White Mage charged. The villain swung his sword. But Beast parried and kicked towards the villain’s legs.

 

The White Mage hopped over the kick and swung upward, slashing the Rider with a burst of spark that whipped him backward.

 

Beast rolled to his feet.

 

The White Mage pressed forward with a flurry of slashes that tore the Rider’s armor with massive bursts of spark, dropping him to his knees.

 

The villain raised his blade to strike again. But he stopped when he heard deep, guttural breathing approach from behind.

 

The Forsaken turned to see Ken step onto the roof.

 

“You…” the White Mage said. “One of the false Riders Lanfear played with.”

 

Ken said nothing. Typically in full control of his Joker instincts, he let them loose. Still, he preferred to fight in his human guise.

 

The teen placed his buckler below his midsection, and the belt wrapped around his waist. He stepped into his transformation pose and faced the White Mage.

 

“Transform!” He snapped his buckler; the card slot flipped and emitted a field of blue energy. “TURN UP”

 

Ken ran through the field of blue energy and transformed into Kamen Rider Blade. The Rider armed his sword and slashed White Mage with a fierce volley of strikes that forced the villain several steps backward.

 

Beast sprang to his feet and joined the fight. He swung upward, slashing the White Mage with a burst of spark.

 

Beast looked to Blade. “Who are you again? Not that I mind, but this is kind of random.”

 

The White Mage stepped back and lifted his saber. “Not as random as you may think…”

 

The villain dashed between the two Riders and slashed them to the ground with bursts of spark.

 

Nearby, Kou, Blake, Rachel and Justin surrounded Hunter. The pillar of white light churned from the fallen ranger and poured into the sky.

 

“We have to stop that pillar…” Rachel said.

 

Your Kiryoku!” Byakko shouted from Kou’s pocket.

 

Kou nodded. “It couldn’t hurt…”

 

They placed their right fists against their left palms and summoned their Ki. The hurled invisible bolts of Kiryoku at the pillar, which shattered to pieces with a shockwave that knocked the rangers off their feet.

 

They crashed and skid across the rooftop.

 

Rachel climbed to her feet and smiled. “It worked…”

 

Justin knitted his brow and looked to Luna. “I’m not so sure…”

 

Luna continued to scream with pain as shadow energy flowed from the streets and poured into her body.

 

Hunter narrowed his eyes and armed his morpher. He transformed into his armor with a pulse of crimson light.

 

Nearby, dozens of Jonin leapt from the temple and landed on the rooftop.

 

“Kill them!” Crimson Thunder shouted. “Kill everyone!”

 

The Jonin pounced at the teens to attack.

 

The rangers armed their morphers. “Ninjetti change! Ha!”

 

Energy stormed around them as they morphed into their Ranger forms.

 

“Water Whip!” Whips of hydro energy extended from the Blue Ranger’s palms.

 

Dozens of Jonin leapt towards Hurricane Blue. The Blue Ranger swung the whips, thrashing through soldiers left and right with bursts of spark.

 

Hurricane Green leapt backward to avoid a wave of Jonin. While in midair, he poured jade energy through his sword.

 

“Super Sonic Slicing Wave!” He swung his sword, which fired a wave of hyper-sonic energy that ripped through the grunts with bursts of fire, destroying them completely.

 

The Green Ranger landed and swung his fist towards a grunt. “Sonic boom!”

 

His punch bashed a grunt with a sonic shockwave that hurled several Jonin off the rooftop.

 

Nearby, Hurricane Yellow armed his Lion Hammer and bashed aside every grunt that leapt his way.

 

Meanwhile, Crimson Thunder dashed towards Navy Thunder.

 

“Shadow Style! Shadow Clone Jutsu!”

 

Dozens of shadow clones split from Crimson Thunder and surged towards Navy Thunder. Crimson light tinted each shadow — exact copies of the Crimson Thunder Ranger.

 

The shades dashed back and forth to attack. Navy Thunder leapt backward, leapt backward again, and jumped once more to evade the shadows’ flying punches and kicks. They moved at near-blinding speeds with flurries of strikes. The Navy Thunder Ranger pushed his reflexes to the limit to avoid the attacks.

 

Navy Thunder twisted in midair to face three incoming clones.

 

“Lightning Blade!” His Kiryoku ignited to form two daggers of electrical energy that extended from his fists.

 

Navy Thunder twisted through the air and slashed three incoming clones. His blades ripped the shades in half, and they vanished with puffs of smoke.

 

The Navy Thunder Ranger landed against the side of the temple and pushed off to shoot back towards his brother. His lightning blades crackled with navy-tinted power. 

 

The Crimson Thunder Ranger raised his staff. “You’ve been practicing…”

 

Crimson Thunder’s remaining shadow clones shot towards Navy Thunder to attack.

 

Navy Thunder continued to shoot towards his brother. “Lightning Style! Blade Storm Jutsu!”

 

The Navy Thunder Ranger dashed back and forth through blurs of motion. He swung his blades through streaks of navy-tinted energy that slashed through shadow clones with bursts of lightning and smoke.

 

Navy Thunder landed several feet in front of his brother, crouched, and pounced. The Navy Thunder Ranger speared a Lightning Blade towards Crimson Thunder’s faceplate.

 

Crimson Thunder sidestepped and grabbed Navy Thunder’s wrist. The Crimson Thunder Ranger bashed a sidekick against Navy Thunder, and the blow hurled him backward.

 

The Navy Thunder Ranger twisted in midair, landed against the rooftop, and skid backward.

 

The Crimson Thunder Ranger placed his right fist against his left palm. “Shadow Style! Infinite Darkness!”

 

A whirling globe of darkness unwrapped from the Crimson Thunder Ranger and extended across the rooftop. The globe completely encased the rooftop in shadow.

 

Navy Thunder saw nothing but blackness.

 

A spark ignited across his chest. Something slashed across his back.

 

He unsheathed his staff. But a slash knocked the staff aside and cut the Navy Thunder Ranger across the chest with a burst of spark.   

 

Another strike slashed him to his knees.

 

“What’s the matter, brother?” Crimson Thunder asked from the shadows. “Feel like being back in that dark room?”

 

Navy Thunder extended a lightning blade from his fist and charged the weapon with power.

 

“Lightning Blade!” Navy Thunder shouted. “Lightning burst!”

 

He stabbed the blade through the rooftop with bursts of lighting that thrashed the rooftop and blasted the Crimson Thunder ranger off his feet.

 

Crimson Thunder crashed and skid backward, and the shadow dome dissipated.

 

Crimson Thunder rolled into a crouched stance and placed his right fist against his left palm.

 

“Shadow Style! Shadow Possession Jutsu!” The Crimson Thunder Ranger’s shadow extended and overlapped Navy Thunder’s shadow.

 

Crimson Thunder’s mind pierced through Navy Thunder’s. The Navy Thunder Ranger felt his brother control him.

 

Navy Thunder armed his staff and turned to face Hurricane Blue. He leaned forward and charged at the Blue Ranger.

 

“Rachel, get away! He’s controlling me!” Navy Thunder shouted.

 

The Navy Thunder Ranger dashed past Hurricane Blue while slashing her with a burst of spark. He turned and swung in an x-shaped pattern, slashing her backward.

 

***

 

The earth shook. Kouishiro ran to the column where the White Mage chained Kamen Rider Wizard. A pillar of white light shot from the Rider and stabbed into the sky.

 

Kouishiro scrambled to the Rider and untied him. Wizard slumped to the ground and fell from the rune, causing the pillar to die down.

 

But the ground ahead still cracked and ebbed with crimson energy.

 

“The Sabbath…” Wizard said. “What’s happening?”

 

“You need to get to the Hand’s tower,” Kouishiro said.

 

“Miranda and the others…”

 

“We’ll take care of them,” Kouishiro said. “You go…”

 

Wizard nodded and ran off.

 

***

 

The White Mage kicked Beast with enough force to hurl him backward. He smashed through the temple door and slid across the floor of the structure.

 

The White Mage stepped through the opening and stalked towards the fallen Rider.

 

From behind, Kamen Rider Blade opened his sword fan and pulled out three cards: The Five of Spades, Six of Spades, and Nine of Spades. He swiped the cards through his sword slit: “KICK; THUNDER; MACH.”

 

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

 

The kick bashed the White Mage with a thundering boom that hurled the villain backward.

 

Blade attached his Rouze Absorber to his left gauntlet. He slid the Queen of Spades into the absorber: “ABSORB QUEEN.” He swiped the King of Spades through the Absorber’s slot. “EVOLUTION KING”

 

Blade’s cards burst from his buckler and circled around him while glowing with golden light. Then, the cards shot towards him and splashed across his entire suit of armor from the legs up with bursts of light, transforming him into a powered-up mode of golden armor with blue trimming. With a final flash of golden light, Blade stood in his King Form.

 

Kamen Rider Beast rose to his feet. He slid his Hyper Ring onto his left hand and connected the ring to his buckler. “HYPER; AWAKEN”

 

A golden circle of magical energy formed behind Beast. The astral projection of Chimera surged through the circle and merged with Beast with a shattering of golden light.

 

He stood in his new, blue-and-gold armored Hyper Mode.

 

The strands on Beast’s forearms extended, and he snapped them like whips towards the White Mage. The villain slashed the whips aside with bursts of spark.

 

Kamen Rider Blade lifted his sword with both hands and charged towards the White Mage. Blade swung his massive sword wide. But Mage jumped backward to avoid the strike.

 

Outside, Crimson Thunder used his control over Navy Thunder to turn him against Hurricane Yellow and Hurricane Blue.

 

Hurricane Green dashed towards the Crimson Thunder Ranger.

 

“Slicing Sound Wave!”

 

The Green Ranger fired waves of sonic energy blades that blew towards Crimson Thunder like the wind. The blades sliced the Crimson Ranger with massive bursts of spark that knocked him off his feet and broke his concentration.

 

His invisible grip on Navy Thunder slackened, and the Ranger broke free from his older brother’s control.

 

Hurricane Green held his blade back and charged.

 

Crimson Thunder thrust his hand forward. “Shadow Strangle Jutsu!”

 

Shadow energy wrapped around the Green Ranger’s throat and snapped him into the air.

 

Suddenly, explosions sparked against Crimson Thunder and knocked him several steps backward.

 

The Crimson Thunder Ranger looked to see Kamen Rider Wizard step onto the rooftop with his blaster aimed forward.

 

“And who might you be?” Crimson Thunder asked.

 

“…Your final hope,” Wizard said as she slid the Infinity Ring onto his left hand.

 

He shifted his Driver and placed his hand over his buckler. “INFINITY: AWAKEN”

 

InfinityA white, dragon-shaped burst of energy shot upward from the Rider, and then dove into him with a splash of energy. A magic circle formed beneath his feet and slid upward, shimmering with shards of white and silver energy that surrounded the Rider like a cloud. The magic circle formed a shell of energy that encased the Rider like ice, and when the shell shattered, Wizard stood in his Infinity Form.

 

Crimson Thunder dashed at Wizard and slashed him with bursts of spark. The blows barely fazed the Rider. He roundkicked the Ranger and spun forward with a reverse sidekick that bashed Crimson Thunder several steps backward. 

 

The Ranger twirled his staff into a fighting stance and lunged to attack.

 

A dragon of light burst from Wizard’s buckler and formed an axe/sword hybrid called Axcalibur. The axe blade wrapped around the Rider’s hand.

 

Crimson Thunder chopped towards Wizard’s head. Wizard used his ax to block and slashed the Ranger aside with a burst of spark. The Rider pressed forward and slashed repeatedly, blade sparking on impact and forcing the Ranger back with each blow.

 

The Crimson Thunder Ranger leapt backward through the air to gain distance.

 

“Shadow bolt!” He hurled a bolt of crimson-tinted shadow that shot towards Wizard.

 

Kamen Rider Wizard swatted the bolt aside with a burst of spark.

 

Crimson Thunder landed just as a lightning bolt sparked against his back. He turned to see Navy Thunder charge towards him. 

 

The brothers clashed staffs with bursts of spark. They circled around each other and kicked and slashed, blocking most of the blows, although some landed with bursts of spark.

 

Crimson Thunder chopped Navy Thunder’s shoulder and drove him to the ground. The Crimson Thunder Ranger pressed his staff against the Navy Thunder Ranger’s shoulder to keep him down.

 

“Still the scared boy in the dark room…” Crimson Thunder said.

 

The Navy Thunder Ranger grabbed his brother’s staff. “I’m pretty sure that’s you, Hunter.”

 

Navy Thunder’s hands crackled with lightning. “Lightning Blade!” he shouted. “Lightning burst!”

 

Lightning blades extended from his fists. He pushed the staff aside and lunged forward while stabbing his brother’s chest. The impact exploded with a shockwave of navy-tinted lightning that hurled the opponents through the air.

 

Crimson Thunder crashed against the rooftop and skid backward, the impact knocking him from his armor with a burst of crimson light.

 

Navy Thunder tumbled aside, and his armor powered down with a flash of navy-tinted light.

 

Hunter narrowed his eyes and pushed himself to his feet. “Not bad, brother.” He staggered forward and clutched his chest. “But something tells me you don’t have what it takes to finish it.”

 

Blake glared at his brother and rose to his feet. “Why don’t you come here so we can find out.

 

“Wait…” Wizard said as he stepped between the brothers. A magic circle slid over him and activated his standard Flame form.

 

“Out of my way, Hogwarts,” Blake said.

 

“You don’t understand…” Wizard said. “There’s a Phantom Demon inside him.”

 

Hunter staggered and collapsed to his knees. “I have it under control…”

 

Wizard walked to Hunter, grabbed him by the wrist, and slid a ring onto his hand. “No, you don’t…”

 

The Rider placed his hand over his buckler. “ENTER; INNERWORLD”

 

Hunter’s ring flared with a golden portal. Wizard jump into the air and dove feet-first into the portal, which allowed him to enter Hunter’s Inner World — his subconscious.

 

***

 

Wizard landed in a mindscape of turmoil. Hunter managed to suppress the Phantom, to an extent, through willpower. But he needed more than willpower. He needed hope.

 

Kamen Rider Wizard saw no hope in the Ranger’s subconscious. Cracks of shadow energy had shattered nearly every memory.

 

The shattered memories clouded the mindscape like floating shards of glass.

 

Austin saw young Hunter in the Ikkazuchi Way courtyard, speaking to a girl named Keiko. He told her he didn’t have a heart. She placed a hand on his chest, smiled, and told him he did. She asked him to run away with her, and he refused.

 

Keiko ran off alone, and the Ikkazuchi found her and killed her. Hunter did nothing to stop them.

 

An even younger Hunter watched his mother and father, divorced, argue. She called her children worthless, just like their father.

 

The Green Dragon Ranger and Dark Warlords fought the Power Rangers outside. The Evil Dragon Ranger hurled an energy bolt that went wide and exploded against the building, killing Hunter’s mother. The same explosion gravely injured their father, who let the world believe he died too.

 

Austin watched Hunter’s father train him and his brother. The children clashed swords in the Ikkazuchi Way courtyard as their father shouted at them, calling them worthless.

 

“You call that fighting?” He grabbed them by their uniforms and tossed them to the ground. “Stop swinging your blades as you would your toys! No wonder your mother was so ashamed of you both.”

 

Blake screamed and pounced at his father. The child swung his blade, but Lee grabbed Blake by the wrist. Hunter moved to his brother’s defense and swung his blade at his father. Lee grabbed his eldest son by the wrist and tightened his grasp on both siblings. “Good. Anger…rage…these are your weapons.”

 

Lee pushed his sons to the ground. “That is all for today.”

 

Their father turned and walked away towards the Ikkazuchi dojo.

 

Blake curled up on the ground and narrowed his eyes. His body shook with anger as he tried to bury his sadness.

 

Hunter pulled himself to his feet and extended his hand towards Blake. “Come on, little brother. It’s okay…”

 

Blake looked up to his older brother standing above him. He wiped his tears away and took his brother’s hand.

 

“There,” Wizard said. He sensed something in that memory. Not hope. But something buried.

 

The Rider pounced through the dreamscape and flew through the memory. He tunneled through shards of broken memories and dreams, of despair, and approached his target.

 

Wizard needed a single, powerful memory. A memory of hope to purge the Phantom from the Ranger’s psyche. He felt that memory ahead.

 

But the massive Phantom Demon appeared. In the mindscape, Phantom Demons appeared as bestial monsters, and not humanoids. This Phantom Demon looked like a massive beetle, with a jawed maw and massive horn.

 

The beetle guarded the memory Wizard needed.

 

The beast lunged and stabbed its horn towards the Rider. But Wizard leapt over the creature.

 

“Dragon!” Wizard shouted. In the mindscape, Wizard could summon the Phantom Demon from within his own soul — a massive, winged dragon.

 

The dragon swooped through the mindscape, and Wizard landed on its back. They dove towards the beetle to attack.

 

The dragon used its claws to grab the beetle and hurl it aside. The creature flailed about but blasted shadow energy from its horn.

 

The blasts fired sporadically, and the dragon swooped through the mindscape to avoid the attack.

 

Wizard commanded the dragon to dive, and they slashed past the beetle with a burst of spark and entered the memory they needed.

 

Through cracks of bleeding shadow energy, Austin saw Hunter, barely three, stare into the crib of his younger brother. The boy looked at his brother and smiled. He smiled.

 

Hunter, already pained and scarred, even at such a young age, looked at his brother and felt emotions he could not comprehend. He felt hope for a family. Hope for love. Hope for friends and a future.

 

“Blake…” Wizard said. “You’re his hope.”

 

He needed to defeat the Phantom Demon here.

 

The Beetle Phantom shot through the memory and charged towards Wizard.

 

Wizard leapt from his dragon and aimed a flying kick towards the monster.

 

The Rider’s dragon opened its jaws and fired a stream of flame. The flame engulfed Wizard and turned him into a comet aimed towards the beetle.

 

The kick punctured through the Beetle Phantom with massive bursts of spark and flame.

 

The Phantom exploded with a burst of light that sealed the cracks of the mindscape.

 

***

 

Hunter’s ring flared with a golden portal. Kamen Rider Wizard jumped from the portal and landed on the rooftop.

 

The Rider looked to Blake. “He’s free…”

 

Hunter gasped for air and staggered to his feet. “Blake…”

 

“Hunter,” Blake said. “Are you really ‘free’ or do I need to kick your ass again?”

 

“Uh, guys?” Hurricane Yellow asked from the other side of the roof. The Yellow Ranger swung his Lion Hammer and bashed a Jonin from the building. “We’re not exactly done here.”

 

Hunter looked to his brother and nodded.

 

Blake did the same.

 

They armed their morphers.

 

Gorai…Ninjetti change! Ha!” Energy thundered around them as they morphed into their Ranger forms. Crimson Thunder appeared in his standard armor, no longer edged by the taint of a Phantom Demon.

 

The brothers stepped into their fighting stances.

 

“Power of Shadow…Crimson Thunder!”

 

“Power of Lightning…Navy Thunder!”

 

“Hidden Task Force!” they shouted together. “Thunder Rangers!”

 

The two Rangers surged forward through blurs of motion. They dashed back and forth across the rooftop while slashing through Jonin with bursts of spark.

 

They landed, placed their staffs together, and aimed at the temple. Together, they shouted: “Lightning Shadow!”

 

Their staffs fired a burst of shadow energy that crackled with electricity. The blast tore through the temple, which exploded with a massive shockwave that hurled the remaining Jonin from the rooftop.

 

The explosion blasted White Mage, Kamen Rider Blade, and Kamen Rider Beast across the roof. They tumbled aside and rolled to a stop.

 

White Mage climbed to his feet, as did Beast and Blade. The Rangers and Riders surrounded the villain.

 

“So you’re a Forsaken…” Navy Thunder said as he rested his staff over his shoulder. “You look like a tool.”

 

Hurricane Yellow shook his head. “People don’t say that anymore.”

 

“Don’t ruin my moment,” Navy Thunder said.

 

The White Mage lifted his blade. “Come…”

 

***

 

Angel Grove East ripped with shadow energy that brought the city to its knees.

 

Tommy and Ashley watched through the computer monitor in Ops, as Maya stood alongside them.

 

“I don’t understand…” Maya said. “Hunter and Austin are free from the pillars…that should have broken the circle.”

 

“It did,” Tommy said. “But something else is anchoring the circle now…”

 

“The question is, what?” Ashley asked.

 

***

 

The Rangers, Riders and White Mage clashed with a symphony of power that shook the entire building. Energy bursts and flashes of light sparked across the rooftop.

 

Wizard slashed towards White Mage, who blocked the blow with a burst of spark. Their blades locked, and Wizard pressed forward.

 

“Stop what you’re doing to Luna,” Wizard demanded. “Now…”

 

White Mage knocked the sword away and swung upward, slashing the Rider with a burst of spark and whipping him backward.

 

“There is only one way to stop what is happening to her, mage…” the Forsaken said.

 

***

 

Luna crawled across the rooftop. Pain surged through her body, along with white-hot power. She felt charged like never before. And she hated herself for it.

 

White Mage used her. She had no memory of her former life. She spent her days mostly unnoticed. A pawn. An unused prop. Worthless.

 

She knew Austin cared for her. And she cared for him. But he spent so much time fighting the Phantoms, leaving her alone.

 

Luna felt so alone, always. She wished she knew more about her former life. She wished she mattered, in a way other than becoming a Philosopher’s Stone — what did that even mean? Was she even human?

 

She felt connected to every Gate that burst on the city streets below. She felt their pain and anguish, their death, just before she felt their power.

 

She needed to end it. And she knew how.

 

The girl looked to one of the many fallen katana from the defeated Jonin.

 

She reached forward and grasped the blade with her shaking hands.

 

Luna closed her eyes, and a tear streamed down her cheek. It shouldn’t be too hard. She was, after all, already dead.

 

No…she told herself. She thought of Austin and smiled. I won’t let my last moments be filled with despair. Austin…you gave me a life. You filled the emptiness of my lost memories. My lost self. Even when you were gone, fighting, you were with me…Even when you were gone, you were my hope…now and forever.

 

She plunged the blade through her chest.

 

***

 

Luna flared with white light that washed across Angel Grove East, sealing the cracks of despair that formed along the streets. The light died down, and Luna collapsed onto the rooftop.

 

Wizard opened his eyes wide beneath his helmet. “Luna…”

 

The White Mage slashed him aside with a burst of spark. “No…You’ve ruined everything…”

 

The White Mage ran to Luna and lifted her in his arms. “Luna…you were to be my immortal…”

 

Wizard rose to his feet and aimed his sword at the villain. “Put her down…”

 

“Very well…” the White Mage said as he set her aside and turned to face the Rider. “But her death is your doing…”

 

The White Mage thrust his hand and formed a magic circle. White hot flame poured from the circle and blasted Wizard from the rooftop with massive bursts of spark.

 

The Rider crashed into a neighboring building and rolled across an empty office.

 

On the roof, the Rangers sprang to attack.

 

“Lightning bolt!”

 

“Water darts!”

 

The White Mage slashed the attacks aside and formed a magic circle. The runes launched a flurry of white fire bolts that blasted Navy Thunder and Hurricane Blue with bursts of spark.

 

“Slashing sound-”

 

The White Mage leapt upward and landed while chopping Hurricane Green with enough force to smash him through the rooftop. The impact blasted him through several floors of the skyscraper before he crashed onto a floor.

 

Kamen Rider Blade, Crimson Thunder and Navy Thunder lunged to attack. But the White Mage swung his blade through a streak of white light that slashed them backward with bursts of spark.

 

The White Mage thrust his hand towards the rooftop, and a white circle expanded to cover the building. “EXPLOSION; NOW”

 

The top of the skyscraper exploded with bursts of flame. The upper portion of the building toppled and collapsed into chunks of fiery debris, but not before the White Mage leapt to a neighboring building. 

 

Kamen Rider Beast, Kamen Rider Wizard and Kamen Rider Blade followed.

 

Kamen Rider Wizard armed his Infinity Ring. “INFINITY; AWAKEN”

 

He shifted into Infinity Form and armed Axcalibur.

 

The three Riders charged to attack. Wizard and Blade swung their blades, and the villain parried each strike.

 

Beast connected his ring to his blaster. “HYPER; MAGNUM STRIKE”

 

The Rider triggered a wave of energy shaped like Chimera, which blasted the White Mage with massive bursts of spark that dropped him to his knees.

 

Blade charged and swung upward, slashing the White Mage with a burst of spark that whipped him backward.

 

Wizard leapt forward and slashed the White Mage while in midair. The blow slammed the Forsaken back to the rooftop.

 

Slowly, the villain climbed to his feet.

 

Kamen Rider Blade charged and tackled the White Mage from the rooftop. Locked together, they plummeted towards the ground below, while Blade bashed his fists and elbows against the villain.

 

They crashed against the street with a shockwave that shook the surrounding area, shattering windows.

 

Kamen Rider Blade climbed to his feet, as did the White Mage.

 

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 the White Mage. The Rider 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 slashed the White Mage with a massive shockwave that blasted through the street. 

 

Kamen Rider Blade collapsed and leaned on his sword for support.

 

The White Mage remained standing, smoke singing from his armor.

 

Blade breathed heavily and felt his heart pound in his chest. The power of the Undead flooded through his veins. But that power became something…more.

 

Golden light poured from his armor and burnt his soul. He tilted his head back and screamed, and a column of golden energy erupted from the Rider.

 

The energy blast stabbed into the skies with flashes of thunder and lightning that shook the Earth.

 

The Rider’s armor powered down with a flash of golden light, and he collapsed. Blood — red blood — dripped down his forehead. He no longer felt the instincts of Joker. He felt…human.

 

The White Mage laughed. “Good…it appears Lanfear was right about the Undead.”

 

Kamen Rider Wizard and Kamen Rider Beast landed on the street, as did the Rangers.

 

The White Mage lowered his sword. “Our fight is over. The Second Seal is broken.”

 

Kamen Rider Beast looked to Wizard. “…Did I miss something?”

 

“For a human to turn into a true immortal for the first time…that is what breaks the Second Seal,” the White Mage said. He powered down his armor with a flash of white light. “Blade’s powers have pushed themselves beyond their limits. He is no longer Undead. He is a true immortal now…”

 

Ken knitted his brow and climbed to his feet. “What…?”

 

Lanfear and I both discovered the secret of the Second Seal,” Rahvin said. “She believed the secret rested with the Undead, creatures of the Mogralord, and humanity’s two failed attempts at making an immortal: The Joker and the Human Undead. I thought her a fool…It appears I was wrong.”

 

The Forsaken looked to the skies. “When the Joker became the last remaining Undead, his powers spike, and he came close to reaching true immortality. Close enough to crack the Seal, and the crumbling pieces became the Dark Roaches.”

 

The villain looked back to Ken. “When you became an Undead, the peak in Joker subsided, and the cracking stopped. And now…now that you have surpassed the limits of the Undead and become a true immortal, the Second Seal is broken.”

 

Ken shook his head. “If Zayden’s the last Undead…”

 

“Insignificant, now,” Rahvin said. “It never mattered whether he was the last Undead standing. What mattered was that being the last Undead drove him closer to true immortality. Drove him closer to a connection with the Second Seal. A Seal that no longer exists.”

 

Navy Thunder rolled his hands into fists. “Is story time over? Because I’m not sure why we’re standing here instead of kicking this guy’s ass.”

 

Rahvin looked to Wizard. “It appears you were insignificant, mage.”

 

The Forsaken shifted his Driver and placed his hand over his buckler. “TELEPORT; NOW”

 

The White Mage teleported away with a flash of white light.

 

Ken dropped to his knees and looked down at his hands. “An immortal…” he whispered.

 

***

 

EPILOGUE: Forsaken

 

Moridin sat on a silver chair on one of Angel Grove’s rooftops and waited. He took a sip from a goblet of wine and smiled.

 

A flash of white light appeared as Rahvin stepped onto the roof.

 

Moridin…” he said.

 

Rahvin,” Moridin said. “It would seem you’ve done nothing but waste your time with this whole wizard and mage nonsense. How unfortunate for you…”

 

“Spare me your false sympathies,” Rahvin said.

 

“Very well,” Moridin said. “I can only assume you’ve come here because you’ve decided to play nice with your brothers and sisters. To stop playing with your toy rings and belts.”

 

“I craft weapons, Moridin,” Rahvin said. “I always have.”

 

Moridin’s face grew stern. “And in doing so you’ve crafted weapons that can kill us. Tell me, do you still feel the sting of the Hyper Magnum in your chest?”

 

Rahvin placed his hand on his chest but said nothing. He did feel the pain.

 

“The weapons we craft can kill us,” Moridin said. “And in your foolishness, you’ve created four Riders, four weapons, with the power to stop us. Not to mention Beast…your oldest creation, not seen since before the dawning of time itself.”

 

“Are you afraid, Moridin?” Rahvin asked.

 

“Afraid? Yes,” Moridin said. “Fear is not a cowardly emotion. Fear is caution. Fear is wisdom. Fear is courage.”

 

“Why did you call me here?” Rahvin asked.

 

Moridin straightened his shirt. “To bring you back into the fold, brother. I have found the secret to Third and Fourth Seals. But there are three more. Work with me…to free the Dark One.”

 

Rahvin said nothing. He summoned a portal and stepped through, leaving Moridin alone on the roof.

 

***

 

Miranda decided she needed time to herself after the Second Sabbath nearly killed her.

 

Austin and the others never learned the name of the stranger who became the Green Mage. He wanted nothing to do with them, and stormed off.

 

Later that week, Kouishiro sat with Mindy and Kane in the back of the antique shop. Kane still possessed the powers of Kamen Rider Mage, but looked normal.

 

He even laughed at one of Kouishiro’s lame jokes. Maya couldn’t help but smile as she watched. She smiled fondly, and longingly…seeing Mindy and Kane together made her miss her own brother, Simon.

 

Maya and Kouishiro decided they would take Kane and Mindy under their roof. Adopt them. Maya grew up in the foster system and didn’t want to see two innocent children roam from home to home. Also, Kane now required special attention because of his new power.

 

“Cute, isn’t it?” Leo asked as he stepped behind Maya with a bag slung over his shoulder. “I don’t mean that in a creepy way, I swear.”

 

Maya smiled and shook her head. “I know…but saying that didn’t exactly help.”

 

Leo shrugged. “What can I say? I’m socially awkward.”

 

Maya noticed his bag. “Where do you think you’re going?”

 

“To fight Phantoms,” Leo said as if the answer was obvious. “I figure Austin could use some space with-”

 

“No,” Maya said as she took his bag and set it on the floor. “Right now, he needs his friends.”

 

“You just told me, like, two hours ago to give him some time,” Leo said.

 

“For now,” Maya said. “But that doesn’t mean he won’t need us. You can’t just leave…”

 

“Okay, okay,” Leo said. “I’ll stay.”

 

Kouishiro, Kane and Mindy quieted as Austin walked into the room. He looked solemn, but determined.

 

He looked to Leo. “You want to fight Phantoms?”

 

Leo shrugged. “I kind of need to if I want to live.”

 

Austin nodded. “Good…then let’s go.”

 

“Austin, wait,” Maya said.

 

“Don’t worry…” Austin said. “This isn’t about…lashing out with grief or anything like that. Luna wouldn’t want me to sit around and sulk. She believed in me. She called me her hope…It’s time to spread that hope to others. It’s something this city needs.”

 

***

 

Ken sat on his motorcycle in the courtyard of the Hayate Way. He was about to leave when Tommy approached him.

 

“You don’t have to take off so soon…” Tommy said.

 

“I need to get back to my friends,” Ken said. Tommy and Ashley confirmed Rahvin’s story; he no longer possessed the Joker instincts that endangered Zayden.

 

“I understand…” Tommy said. “But we should talk about what happened.”

 

Ken shook his head. “I don’t think I want that…”

 

“Look…” Tommy said. “I understand what you’re going through. But what-”

 

“You don’t understand,” Ken said. “Not really…After everything that happened? Hunter? Luna? And what I know about Simon…”

 

Ken shook his head. “I don’t trust Dr. Cranston or INET. But I don’t think I trust you either. You’re both messing with things you don’t understand.”

 

“Ken…”

 

“It’s okay…” Ken said. “I’m not swearing you as my mortal enemy or anything like that. I’m just…I don’t want anything to do with you.”

 

Tommy sighed. “Then what will you do?”

 

“What I always have,” Ken said. “Protect the people I care about…and anyone else that I can.”

 

He slid on his helmet and rode off.

 

***

 

Kou, Rachel and Justin gathered in the dojo along with Teddy and the Samurai team. Now that the Rangers had a brief reprieve from their conflicts, Kou wanted to give Byakko a long overdue reunion.

 

Teddy arced an eyebrow as he held Kou’s sphere-shaped morpher. “So you’re in a ball now?”

 

“Teddy!” Byakko shouted. “That’s no way to speak to an old friend.”

 

Teddy smiled and handed the morpher back to Kou. “It’s good you have him back.”

 

“I’m glad someone thinks so,” Kou said.

 

“Kou!” Byakko said. “I can still hear you both!”

 

Blake entered the dojo in a hurry. “Hey, have you guys seen Hunter?”

 

“No… Rachel said. “I thought he was with you.”

 

“Well, clearly he’s not, or I wouldn’t be looking for him,” Blake said.

 

Rachel arced an eyebrow.

 

Blake sighed. “Sorry, okay? I’m just…worried.”

 

“Maybe he just needs some time,” Kou said.

 

Blake shook his head. “Last time ‘we needed some time’ we ended up taking over the Ikkazuchi Way. Look how well that turned out.”

 

***

 

Hunter walked aimlessly down a desert road with his bag slung over his shoulder. He kept his head down and felt the weight of his guilt on his shoulders.

 

He knew the Hand corrupted him, as did the Phantom Demon that possessed him. He knew the Phantom influenced his every thought and action.

 

But he, in his right mind, took the first step. He took over the Ikkazuchi Way in Japan. He led the Ikkazuchi to attack the Hand. He carried the weight of those consequences. 

 

Wizard said Hunter was free.

 

Free from the Phantom.

 

But not free from himself.

 

***

 

The hooded leader of the Snakeroot Clan walked through the woods at night. Demon possessed, his eyes shifted solid black beneath his hood.

 

He stopped near a clearing, where he met two suited men, also possessed by demons. The men worked for Wolfram & Hart, the same law firm Azmodai formerly called home. 

 

One of the men scowled. “You stupid little shit…We didn’t send you to infiltrate the Snakeroot Clan for this…”

 

“Watch your tongue,” the Snakeroot leader said.

 

The man grabbed the leader by the cloak. “Remember who you’re talking to. I’m the only demon to go toe-to-toe with Azmodai and survive.”

 

“And lose your original host body in the process…” the leader said. “You were foolish to challenge his standing.”

 

“But I survived,” the man said. “And now, I want him dead. To do that, I need my army.”

 

“I’m afraid the army was never meant to be yours,” the leader said.

 

The Dark Man stepped from the shadows. “Gentlemen…” he said. “I’m afraid the playing field has become quite too crowded.”

 

Blades buzzed through the air and sliced the two suited men to pieces. They collapsed, and the demon smoke surged from their bodies to escape. But flames ignited the smoke, which burnt the demons from existence. 

 

The Marauders Shadow Blade, Red Python and Hell Blade stepped alongside their master.

 

The leader of the Snakeroot clan kneeled. “Master…” he said. “I failed to give you control of the Phantoms…”

 

“You did…” the Dark Man said. “But you’ve forced the Rangers even further apart. You’ve caused chaos and distraction. And you’ve given me control of the Hand. For now…that will have to do.”

 

To be continued…Chapter 49