Part 12: To Tomorrow
Before humans had fire to huddle around, before there were words in their mouths, there were the brothers.
They both loved humanity, but in very different ways. Darkness wanted them to remain the same, to remain his. Light wanted them to become greater, brighter.
They hated each other. They fought. Darkness won, for Light's power was no longer all his. He had shared it to his brother's children, to one day mature and let them grow.
This is the Seed of Agito. It has matured. On that boat, Light's last remnant appeared to give the final push to a few nearly-evolved humans. Among them, Kaoru Kino and, as he was originally known, Sawaki Tetsuya. Others, Sawaki Yukina and Ashihara Ryou, reached maturity on their own. Some are flawed or incomplete, but they all contain the essence of Light. And now they gather, to re-enact that battle, to bring everything full-circle whether they know it or not.
Is this what you wanted me to witness?
These are the thoughts of Sawaki Tetsuya, once Tsugami Shouichi.
Tsugami Shouichi, once Sawaki Tetsuya, fights alongside two other Agito against the Overlord—Darkness—and his strongest creations, the El Lords of the Wind and the Ground. Their countenance is beautiful and terrible, perfect angelic warriors in the mould of a hawk and a lion.
Shouichi's Agito form has evolved to a similar state of shining perfection, but against both of them even he is outmatched, while the Overlord himself keeps the other two Agito from intervening.
They cannot win. They will be killed, and the Overlord will continue his cull of humanity's potential.
These are the observations of Sawaki Tetsuya.
"—not true!" Shouichi yelled, shoving the El aside and turning for the doorway where Tetsuya stood.
"You…" Tetsuya stared in confusion. Through my connection to the Overlord? To think an Agito has evolved to this level…
"I won't let something like that happen." Shouichi passed his hands over his belt, summoning the form's twin blades and blocking the next swing of the Ground El's sword, pushing it back—but two of the shafts of pure light loosed from the Wind El's bow dug into him at the same moment, drawing a gasp and a stumble. The Ground El pressed back in and he retreated, keeping his guard up.
Ryou and Kino were having it even worse, meanwhile, being thrown around by waves of invisible force every time they tried to get close to the Overlord.
"It's useless. Your resistance only drags this out."
"Don't tell me what to do, asshole…" Ryou sprang back in, being repulsed again.
"This is getting us nowhere," Kino said, holding him back from making another try. "But with Tsugami's new power, maybe he can do something. Try and get one of the Lords away from him."
"Huh? But this—"
"Leave the Overlord to me." Kino squared off against his former master, darting in the way as Ryou ran off to where Shouichi was fighting. "You will not pass me."
"I am bored of you." The Overlord clenched a fist and Kino was slammed into the ground as if by a great weight.
He rose, blood dripping through the interlocking plates of his Agito form's carapace. "I mean what I said."
Ryou tackled the Wind El from behind, dragging it sideways and throwing off its aim, its next shot missing Shouichi.
"Ryou! Thanks!" Now with his attention undivided, Shouichi turned one blade to deflect the Ground El's strike, swiping the other low across its stomach and driving it away with an ugly mark across its stone-like skin. Silent but for the Agito's steady breath they duelled, three swords dancing in the low light, both of Shouichi's finally finding their mark and carving another, X-shaped, gouge in the Lord.
Ryou wasn't doing as well, his tentacles shot out of the air, his claws turned aside with ease, and when he went in for a bite, he found himself staring right at the glimmering point of a notched arrow, ducking backwards just in time for it to scrape along his chest instead of impaling him entirely. He collapsed onto his back and it stamped a foot down onto him, holding him in place while it aimed another arrow at point-blank range, targeting his throat. He thrashed and roared, trying to pull away, but its strength seemed insurmountable.
Then Kino came diving over, shoving it off him; the arrow burned a hole into the ground two inches to Ryou's left, the heat searing him just from proximity. He stood next to Kino, both grabbing the bow as it was levelled at them and forcing it up to leave the Lord's torso exposed, then both swivelling and planting a standing kick into its side, knocking it to the ground.
Which was when another burst of the Overlord's power took them through the wall like bowling pins. "Do you think you can ignore me?"
Ryou sat up, still groggy, unable to locate the Lords or the others. Then, a hissing sound—a point of burning heat suddenly uncomfortably close—"Look out!"—and silence.
Then Kaoru Kino, having jumped in the path of the gleaming arrow of light, collapsed in front of him, a two-inch hole seared all the way through his chest.
"Hey…hey!" Ryou pulled him off the ground as his Agito form fell away. "What the hell was that, huh? The hell is this?"
"My…penance," Kino whispered, his life clearly already fading.
"Don't say that! Shit…" Ryou let him fall, pounding the ground in directionless fury. "What is that? I haven't paid you back yet…you stupid…"
"Kino!" Shouichi backhanded the Ground El aside, charging outside towards where Dr. Kino's body now lay. "You can't…I only just…you!" He aimed himself directly at the Overlord, who turned to regard him dispassionately.
"And you…" The Overlord's hand gave a wave, hurling Shouichi back into the warehouse's outside wall. "…I have had…" Now a flick downwards, sending Shouichi down into the ground; behind them Gills' roar echoed through the air as both El charged the enraged proto-Agito.
"…quite enough of!" the Overlord hissed, now simply clenching his fist and letting pressure hit Shouichi from all sides, finally dropping him as he reverted to human form, Ryou doing the same as dodging the hail of arrows put him directly into the path of a devastating double-handed swing of the Ground El's sword.
"I am glad that, since you've already transgressed by evolving like this, you've at least done so fully. I cannot bring myself to harm my children—that's why I created the Lords for the culling." He signalled for the El to deliver the finishing blows to the pair. "But you are so far gone I no longer recognise you as mine."
"That's fine. We were never yours to begin with."
He whirled, his eyes narrowing, trying to locate the source of the woman's voice. There.
Four figures striding up the embankment. One discarding a long coat. One loosening a white scarf. One straightening a soft cap. And one with the most idiotic, unfitting smile.
"You did great to hold on so long!" Godai said, holding out a thumbs-up. "Now…let us help, okay? It's what we're here for."
"You're such a kind person…Shouichi," Yukina said, addressing her brother. "But I don't want you to keep going through this. You're not suited to fighting."
"Neither were you, before," he answered, sitting back and catching his breath. She gave a sad smile and nodded.
"The aberrations again…" The Overlord appeared…vexed. "I appreciate you bringing the final Agito to me, but there is no need for you to involve yourselves. This is nothing to do with you."
"That doesn't matter!" Hongo declared, thrusting an accusing finger at the Overlord. "As long as there are people like you casting a shadow over mankind, we will be there!"
"And as long as we exist, you don't stand a chance," Ichimonji followed up.
"More playing at nobility…"
"All right…" Yukina glanced left and right before locking her gaze on the Overlord, four belts materialising at the group's waists. "Let's go!"
Hongo stepped to the head of the other three, throwing his arm across his body in the first stage of his pose. "RIDER…"
"—TRANSFORM!" they called at once, multicoloured bursts of light illuminating the battlefield and leaving four gleaming armoured forms standing before the onlookers.
Silently, without any fuss, Godai forced more golden power through the Amadam, shifting to the black 'Amazing Mighty' Kuuga once again.
Yukina, meanwhile, took a deep breath and raised her head towards the sun, beginning to swell into the burning, deep-red Agito of rage. "It's true, brother…I wasn't suited to this before. But I can't find my way back to being that person. I'm sorry. But what I can do…is accept who I am now, and move forward!" The outer layer of the overly-bulky frame shattered, revealing gleaming silver beneath.
That's…the final evolution I just… Shouichi realised.
"You showed me the way," she said. "You're a peaceful person, so the middle form was hard for you. But you're so relaxed the final one was no problem. I was the reverse. I could get mad just fine, but actually clearing my mind took me this long…"
"Are you done?" The Overlord summoned the El to his side, directing them forwards.
Likewise, the rest of the quartet advanced a step to be level with Hongo.
"If this is really what you want to be," Ichimonji said to their two younger allies, "make it known now." And indeed they did, for the line of speech went unbroken.
"Kamen Rider #1!"
"Kamen Rider #2!"
"Kamen Rider Kuuga!"
"Kamen Rider Agito!"
Hongo gave an approving nod. "Like the lady said—let's go!" Giving sounds of assent, the four Riders charged into battle.
Yukina met the El of Ground mid-leap, dragging it to the ground and rolling over to throw it back with her full body's weight and keep her forward momentum going. The Wind El sent a glimmering arrow her way, only for Hongo to kick it off-course; as it took aim against him, Ichimonji jumped in from the side, grappling its arms while Hongo darted in and snatched the bow from its grasp, breaking it over his knee.
With the Lords both engaged, Godai stepped through the melee, heading straight for the Overlord. "Hello again."
"Ah…the fool among fools."
"You know it."
The Overlord extended a finger. "But it's not you I'm interested. It's you…return to me…El of the Flame." His finger curled slightly, and Godai felt a sudden heat within. A voice he'd hoped never to hear again.
"N-No…" He clamped his hands to his head, falling to one knee, spontaneous flames erupting around him. "I won'tKu—I WON'TGa—" The ground began to break around him, spikes twisting their way out of his armour, horns warping and stretching, trying to split in two.
"Ku—Ga—Go-Ra-N-Da-Be-Ga-Ba-Ze—" He realised he was the one speaking, while the Overlord smiled down at him. "You…"
"The Grongi were my children as much as the humans are. They all carried a fraction of the flame of my greatest servant, just as humans have become infected by my brother's fragments. The stronger you become, the closer you come to being the El of the Flame again. Now. Return to me, and—"
"I WON'T—!" There came a sound of splintering metal as Godai rammed a fist into the side of his helmet, cracking it, both coming away bloody. "Last time…I almost became the end of the world." The fire and the chanting receded, his own rasping breath filling his mind. "I'll never use that form again."
"That…was not possible," the Overlord stated. "A single human cannot be stronger than the ultimate darkness."
Godai pushed on his raised knee with his good hand to rise. "Last time, I beat it just by fighting for one smile…just for his. I had time to think about it since. I know what it means if I lose to it. So this time it's for everyone's in the world." He chuckled. "You really think there's any way you can beat that?"
The Overlord shook himself out of his daze, holding his hand out palm-up and slowly curling his fingers inwards, shoving the light away—or rather, drawing the darkness in. "I have, perhaps, an idea."
There came a hiss from back towards the river as the Ground El's sword swung through the air. Yukina made an easy dodge back out of the way, making a brief gesture to summon a weapon from her belt. Unlike Shouichi's twin blades, her version of the form produced a sleek, crimson-tipped spear, rune-covered pennants flowing out from near the end.
The El struck again and she shifted her grip to the base, letting the full length of the shaft block the sword and trap it against the ground. Riding the exhilaration of her new power, she stepped back and let it come at her again, turning away and flipping the spear over to her back to let it parry the next strike behind her. Then she spun back around, shoving both weapons off to the side and leaving the El's body unguarded. She swung a leg up and hooked near the end of her outstretched spear, kicking it back into close quarters while the sword was still out of range and driving into a two-handed thrust with the full weight of her body behind it, piercing right through the Lord's chest and out the other side.
It gave an agonised roar, fingers twitching as it reached for its wound, the Lords' death-halo forming over its head, about to overload and explode.
Yukina reached out and closed her fingers around the halo, crushing it and letting the built-up energy bounce harmlessly off her armoured gauntlet. "You're no angel." Without the usual energy to explode, it simply crumbled into pieces like a shattered stone sculpture, and planting the spear in the centre of the pile she turned her attention to the Overlord.
He was now directing the accumulated darkness at Godai, dragging him back and forth and jabbing into his armour from all sides. "This is the force that ended my brother. You cannot survive it, without using—"
"I won't…" Godai mumbled, lurching back and forth as the jagged clouds bit into him. An especially forceful tendril stabbed straight through his belt and upwards into the flesh beneath. "I c-can—"
Light flooded the area, the shadows banished as Yukina stepped up to catch him as he fell, gently setting him down. "You did well."
"I stopped him as long as I could…"
"It's okay." She straightened up, drawing in a deep breath. "I'll finish this."
As light and darkness came face to face, the final Lord was still coming under assault. Unarmed, the El of Wind was much less dangerous, and lashing out at both of the Double Riders at once divided its attention. One arm was twisted around into a painful lock, the other pulled into being fully-extended and broken by a devastating fist to the back of the joint. Hongo turned his hold into a full shoulder-throw, dumping it in front of them as they lined up to synchronise their movements.
They spun through the air, descending with a "RIDER DOUBLE KICK!" and levelling half the warehouse the previous battle had taken place in with the body of the Lord launched airborne, blasting itself apart as it went.
"I am…unsure of what to make of today," the Overlord admitted, pacing sideways in lockstep with Yukina, both of them reaching the top of the embankment at once. "Just how far can you go?"
The observing 'Tetsuya' felt his breath catch. Yes, that's it…I don't think even you can kill him, but…you can show him.
Her hands weaved through the air as she dropped into a readied crouch, a line of shimmering Agito emblems forming in the air and tracing a path between them. "There's no limit. That's the point. Agito's evolution is never-ending. Which means now so is humanity's. Even someone like me, starting from zero, can grow without limit." Her back foot dug into the earth behind her, armour shining with renewed brilliance. "And you, who can't see that…have become smaller than the smallest of your creations."
"Ridiculous—" And yet there she was, proving her words by existing. "I reject you, Agito!" He flung out his accumulated darkness again, tearing at the mid-air projections she'd created.
"And when did we ask for your approval?!" She released all her built-up tension in an instant, flying at him like a bullet released.
The searing silver glow and the onrushing darkness collided, swirling and mixing together, coils of stray energy arcing off and washing over the landscape all around, then drawing back together and shrinking out of sight, Yukina touching down and skidding to a stop at the end of the now-empty rise.
"Is it done?" Hongo asked, at the head of all the others as they gathered towards her, everyone powering down.
"I don't know." She looked up at the grey skies. "I don't feel like I killed him, but…he's 'gone'. It's like a weight just got lifted." Ryou and Shouichi both concurred. "We won't be called anymore."
Hikawa, meanwhile, seemed to be in shock. "Tsugami…was Agito…and this woman…was also Agito…"
"Uh, yeah," Shouichi said, giving an embarrassed look and patting Yukina's shoulder. "This is my sister. But I'm the Agito you've been meeting all this time. Sorry I didn't tell you! I was scared of people knowing."
"Tsugami…was Agito…" Hikawa mumbled again, his face a mixture of confusion and blush.
"Wasn't Agito your big crush?" Ozawa teased, nudging him in the ribs. "Well, they say never meet your heroes."
Ichijou joined Ozawa in watching with amusement as Shouichi pursued Hikawa around, explaining past incidents while the flustered cop spun in little circles babbling to himself.
"Think they'll work something out?" Ichijou asked.
Ozawa gave an earnest shrug. "I'm not sure Hikawa even wanted Agito to have a human form. What he's into is anyone's best guess." Towards the end of this, though, Ichijou had already turned away as Godai stumbled up and collapsed onto his shoulder.
Ichijou held him close, their foreheads pressed together. "You did great."
"You never used to be this huggy in public…"
"You just fought a creator deity, I could care less."
"Heh…problem, though." He addressed this more to Hongo, calling up the Amadam again and displaying the deep cracks running through it. "It's worse than what Daguva did to it. I don't think I'll be transforming for a while. Maybe a long while."
"It's all right," Hongo said. "You've done more than enough for us, Godai. By the way…has anyone seen my partner?"
Ichimonji leaned heavily against the remnants of the warehouse's inside wall, vision blurring, pain wracking his body. Not yet, damn it…not yet! He felt his arm twitch, some mechanical servo in the joint glitching, and smacked it with his other hand, forcing it back to normal movement. There's still so much to do… It took almost half a minute to recover this time. I wish I could trust Yuki to take a look at it without telling Takeshi, but that's unlikely. Pushing it all out of his mind for now, he headed back to join the others.
"Thanks for everything!" Yukina knocked fists with Godai. "You know, Shouichi and I came a long way, but I think that final form of yours might be even stronger than ours…"
"Well, maybe," Godai said, trying not to sound too arrogant and almost succeeding. "Yours is real fast, though…but, uh…" He looked off to the side. "That wasn't my final form."
"You're kidding! Goddamn, what is Kuuga?"
"A damn pain," Ichijou said, noting Godai's contented expression as he watched her chase off after her brother. "What?"
"She found her smile. By protecting his."
"I think you made the right call, then. That there is a Rider."
'Tetsuya' sat out on the roof of his house, watching the sun break through the clouds.
"This is what you wanted." The Overlord's voice was lacking something. Less captivating. He wasn't giving a command; he was holding a conversation. The steps behind shortened their rhythm a little, indicating a stumble. "That Agito would evolve to this level…"
"Not just Agito. All of them," Tetsuya reminded him. "The…Agito grown out of the shell of the woman I loved…was not the first human to strike you."
"That is true. They are stronger than I imagined."
"That's all they've been trying to tell you." Tetsuya turned, setting his drink down and approaching the Overlord, whose image was shadowed and flickering. "What now?"
"I have spent too much of myself…friend." The Overlord stepped past him, to the edge of the roof. "It seems this world will grow without my guidance. I will have to remove my presence from it, for now." He widened his senses for a moment, taking the world in. "Perhaps I will return eventually. Perhaps I will find a new world to try again."
"You believe in them?"
"They have given me no choice. But…the ultimate test of their growth will not be me. It might be another species' turn to inherit the Earth soon, if they continue to meddle with the Stone. Well." He gave a sigh. "That is their story, not mine. I am leaving this world for now, friend…including the part of me that gave you life again."
"I am prepared for that," said the man who could barely remember being Tsugami Shouichi, his voice cracking a little. As the two of them began to fade, he gave the sunlit city, teeming with life and promise, a final look.
Again, you surprise me. You accept this so calmly. Is this, again...that thing you call 'nobility'?
Or could it be...even if they failed...this is what you planned to show me, from the start?
"Yup!" Shouichi rubbed his hands together. "If you lot won't appreciate my vegetables, the rest of the world will!"
Ryou shook his head. "'At last, my genius will be recognised!' The mad scientist of healthy eating, right here."
"Where'd, uh, your sister go?" Hikawa asked, jogging to catch up.
Shouichi's smile froze. "Well, you know. Like she said. She can't go back to who she used to be. So she's moving forward…so we can live in peace, y'know."
"Staying still doesn't suit me," Ryou said, tugging his jacket on. "But I wouldn't want to hang around that weird justice crowd either."
"So where are you headed?"
"A guy died today so I could keep living. I'm gonna try and make some use of myself, make sure it was worth it." He found his discarded vehicle, righting it and checking for damage. "Maybe I'll drop by and see if you can finally cook worth a damn someday."
Across the river, the three remaining Riders reconvened. "Always work to do, right?" Yukina asked of her seniors.
"Always," Hongo confirmed. "I'll go through our current threats later. For now, we should introduce you to the others."
"Oh, that'll be easy," Ichimonji joked. "I'm not even sure if Keisuke knows where he is half the time."
"We haven't acquired a new fulltime comrade in twelve years. It's a worthy enough occasion. In any case, kid, and my dear Ichimonji Hayato, let's be off."
"Uh…one thing," Yukina said, raising her hand.
"I don't really, uh, own a bike. Or know how to ride one. I can do cars?"
"…re-ordering of priorities."
Odin held up his signature card, preparing to leave this timezone. His thumb rubbed idly over the symbol scratched into the back that had accompanied its upgrade, allowing him to freely traverse the timestream rather than simply wind back the clock.
The following year I can't interfere in, if I don't want to I undo my own past.
Perhaps I can offer a little assistance, though, and the two of us can reach my goal together, as long as he never finds out.
Well. We shall see.
"Time Vent," purred the Visor's voice, and he was gone, a path of gold in his wake.
And that is that for the Agito arc! We shall see many of these people again, but for now: Next chapter, as you might expect, Ryuki begins.