Exercises in Futility III
The sound of motorcycles grew closer. His hand trembled as he reached for the shotgun holstered at his side, tearing it from its leather bindings, loading in the shells, and lifting his head at last, forehead damp with sweat, blood on his face despite the helmet he wore. He caught sight of them in the distance, five of them weaving in and out of the crowd of monsters, red, pink, blue, yellow, green, their armour so familiar, only the colour of their gloves, their boots, their scarves any different.
In his hands, Taki hefted up the shotgun.
"Come on, you bastards," he murmured.
The first of them broke through the crowd, pulling his motorcycle up on its back wheel, trailing red scarf a mockery of Hongo's. There was no time to think. He pulled the trigger, both shells slamming hard into the armoured man's chest, throwing him from the bike as it swerved out of control. At the last minute, Taki dived to the left, rolling in the dirt, loading in another two shells, aware that soon he would run out of ammo.
The monstrous crowd jeered at him, the armoured rider rolling in the dirt, pulling himself up as another broke through the ranks, scattering his fellow monstrosities, spinning the back wheel of the bike in a figure eight, and pivoting pointing a single finger in Taki's direction, his blue scarf limp over his shoulders.
In answer, he lifted up the shotgun again.
Shocker Riders, he thought. They were different this time, contrasting colours to differentiate one another, but the principal was the same. Where they had failed before, they were always willing to try again, and there were countless men with less character, less morals than Hongo Takeshi who were willing to trade away their souls for the sake of raw power alone; heavy gloves and the weighty armour, a glimpse of the ghastly mask that covered their faces; smooth, curved metal and bulging red lamp-like eyes.
Shocker Riders, he thought again with contempt. How strange that they should look so much like Hongo and Ichimonji and yet stand for something so very different. Upon these men, such a mask gave them the likenesses of monsters; some hideous car crash of metal and flesh wrapped up in the design aesthetics of men who admired in insects everything of their uniformity and militaristic intent, yet cared nothing of the beauty of their song.
Yet beneath the reinforced breastplate, he knew the ghost of a human heart still beat.
He cocked the shotgun as the first of them charged forward at impossible speed, a flash of blue and green, a trailing scarf. The shotgun discharged with lethal intent, both rounds slamming into his opponent's chest. It did nothing.
When first he had caught a glimpse of them, the weight of responsibility for ending their evil schemes had fallen solely on Hongo's shoulders. That was different now; he could make a difference, now—
Blood welled in his mouth, his head thrown back as the blue Shocker Rider pulled his fist back and struck him again. He fumbled, unable to keep a grasp of the shotgun, staggering backwards as the weapon slipped from his grasp.
Keep fighting, he directed his thoughts to Hongo. Even if I should fall, he thought, keep fighting. He tried to turn, and this time, the green Rider was under his defences, striking him in the chest, knocking the breath from him as he staggered backwards, his ears ringing as the pink Rider lifted her leg and kicked him in the face. Somewhere, beneath the sharp resonance of his tinnitus, he heard the rattle of an engine. In agony, he looked up, seeing another motorcycle, the one with the yellow scarf, the same as those first Shocker Riders had worn, as the driver tried to escape the violent and erratic swerving of Kuroi's TriCyclone.
A laugh escaped his lips, even as the other four surrounded him. There was blood on his lips, his face was swollen, bruises waiting to form, but he was not defeated. He tightened his fists, the sound of leather creaking as he dug his fingers into his palms.
"Dai Setsudan!" came a sudden shrill cry from his right.
An arc of blood spurted up from the blue Rider's shoulder as Amazon emerged from behind him, shaking the gore from his glove as his enemy's head slipped from his shoulders, and the body toppled, shuddering to the ground.
"Yamamoto!" Taki cried with delight.
"Stronger Electro Kick!" came another cry as Jo Shigeru kicked the legs out from under the red Rider, and brought his fist down, smashing the helmet, and sending his opponent likewise down into the dirt.
The yellow Rider continued to swerve but it was no match for the TriCyclone, the weight of the car bearing down upon it, smashing into it and sending its driver spiralling off amongst the dust as it screeched to a stop.
"Jo! Kuroi!" Taki called out in jubilation. "Jin! Kazami!"
The green and pink Shocker Riders lifted their fists, standing back to back as they found themselves suddenly outnumbered, the odds against them.
A sudden shadow passed over them, and with a gasp, Taki leapt back as a massive metal fist slammed downwards, crushing them into paste beneath its weight. Aghast, Taki Kazuya lifted his head, looking up and finding him confronted by the shape of a colossal, impassive robot, its yellow eyes shimmering with light, its blue and silver frame glistening in the last light of sunset.
Standing upon the impossible machine's shoulder was a young in a costume of red and blue, a silver bracelet upon his right wrist, the approximation of a deadly black spider sketched upon his chest.
"I thought we could use some company," Kazami called out from the TriCyclone, "so I called in a favour from an old friend."
The figure in the strange uniform offered them a curt salute, and Kazuya realised he had heard of this man, he had seen the reports from Mamiya in Interpol's Secret Intelligence Division, and Mister Oblique from the United Kingdom Xenobiology Division. They said that with the technology this man possessed, this great machine an inheritance from Planet Spider, 400 years in the past, Japan might be able to compose its own agency, its own monster defence force against organisations like Shocker and the Badan Empire.
"Friends, I'd like to introduce you to my ally, Takuya," Kazami continued, his words cutting through Taki's thoughts. "Though I get the feeling some of you might know him by a different name."
Taki swallowed hard.
"Spider-Man," he said, and then laughed, a smile upon his lips. "Spider-Man has joined the fight!"
Yamashiro Takuya nodded, and the TriCyclone's engine revved once more.
"Now let's put an end to this once and for all!" Kuroi declared.
The shotgun beat out a rhythm, two dents at her feet as Sumire swiftly lifted the edge of her blade to deflect the wicked edge of the bladed weapon mounted upon the other's arm, jumping back in time to avoid a swift kick from her opponent.
"You!" her opponent cried out, fury resounding through his very being. "It is you, the one from 1986! The one who tried to stop me!"
In a heartbeat, he thrust forward with the blade again. 1986, she thought, that was still two years in the future, how could this man possibly claim to have fought her in the future? A grim look settled upon her face. Unless, of course, he too was a traveller, another opportunist slipping back and forth in the wake of Oma Zi-o's bleak future.
Time distortion, she thought with panic, lifting the blade again, then twisting turning before he could reload the shotgun and striking his hand, knocking the weapon from his grasp, exciting a grunt of anger from behind his mask.
It had to be time distortion, she thought again, the same thing that had brought down the Time Mazine, the same thing that had made them think that Spade was present here upon this battlefield—and as if to hammer this point home, she felt a sudden spasm of pain, the flickering of recollection stirring within her, and there were memories in her head from moments when she was not herself, a fresh-faced boy, the shadow of this figure before her, the sound of a violin playing mournfully somewhere in the distance.
"This time, I'll finish you off for good!" the villain crowed. "This time—"
A clawed hand shoved her aside and abruptly seized him by the throat, lifting him from the ground, his feet kicking against the air, a throttled, choking sound echoing about his brass helmet.
"Go," Mikage said, his bestial visage once more assumed. "Find the Great Leader, put a stop to this."
He turned to look back at the dangling villain before him, his animal face reflected in the dull metal, glowering back at him.
"Help Mursame. All of you. Put things right once and for all."
"Go!" the other roared throwing Apollo Geist backwards through the air and down towards the dirt.
There was a shadow, a thunderous hammering upon the ground, the shape of something huge, something Sumire first mistook for another Time Mazine, and then there came the roar of a car engine once more.
"He's right," Geiz said, placing a hand upon her elbow.
"Let's wrap this for good," Tsukuyomi agreed.
Sumire turned to look at him, bemused slightly. She laughed, then shook her head.
"I can't get used to it," she said, pointing first at Geiz, then at Tsukuyomi. "Geiz and Geiz."
"Airhead," the other girl growled, yanking her back, as, in the distance, Apollo Geist rose up, squaring up to Mikage.
Sumire spared one last look for the shape of the fierce Tiger-Roid, the fur of his back still blackened from the earlier explosion, and then turned towards her friends, towards the black pyramid, and the sound of engines, and the shadow of the giant machine.
'K-K-Kuuga!' the belt chimed, its sonorous mechanical voice.
Once, Kadoya Tsukasa would have been unsettled by the machine's announcement of its every intention, its response to every action he took, every card he slid into the mechanism, stirring its workings into order, summoning the armours of men he now considered his friends, his comrades. Now, however, since reuniting with his sister, since the long shadow cast over them by Tsukikage Nobuhiko, he did not concern himself with such things; all that mattered was using the power gifted him to the best of his abilities, all that mattered was standing against Shocker, in whatever form it took.
He smashed his fist forward, his Ride Booker held in his right hand, light shimmering as it took the form of Kuuga's Titan Sword, the lustre of his armour fading from bright red to dull purple, as the shape that had been Kurayami Taishi staggered back from the impact of his fist.
"Betrayal," the thing that had once been human warbled, lunging forward. "I have been betrayed!"
Kadoya rolled his head, sighing with disinterest.
"Wrong, you've been defeated."
Deftly, he stepped to one side, and the shambling form of Badan's ruler stumbled forward into Yuuki Jouji's naked fist, an uppercut that slammed into the weeping, pulsating sores of the shuddering creature.
Kurayami Taishi cried out, stumbled back against the wall, fleshy tendrils at his waist, viscous fluid seeping from the puckered mouths that decorated its raw, sore flesh.
"You fools," he gurgled, "this isn't even my final form."
From within the flesh, metal pushed forward from within, a belt of sort bursting through from where it had dwelt in its guts, cold metal slick with blood. It reached down with trembling claws, its hideous body quivering—then came the shattering sound of brick and stone caving in, sunlight and shadow pouring in through the hole, the lenses of red eyes flashing in a black helm, the whir of a turbine, the howl of the wind.
There was a single moment, Yuuki stepping gracefully back, one hand in the pocket of his jacket, Kadoya's eyes widening behind his borrowed mask, and the armoured shape of Hongo Takeshi was past them, his fist smashing into Kurayami Taishi's chest as what was left of the man groped at the belt, and gasped out a single, pained phrase.
"J power… henshin."
Silence, the cold of the vacuum; there was no sound, no resistance, his silver boots kicked against the metal of the ruined satellite, propelling him forward, his fist pulled back and pushing forward, the force behind it colliding with the squat, blue creature in the rusted armour, sending it spiralling out into the dark, wordlessly screaming its unheard scream, destined to float for ever or be dragged in by the orbit of the dim blue-green planet behind them.
In all his time as a Kamen Rider, Oki Kazuya had never seen foes such as these, creatures that seemed half-monster, half-machine, a passing likeness to moles in their appearance, their weapons varied and distinct. Using the force of his movement, he latched hold of a single, silver spire from the base of the satellite, and spun around, executing a silent Super Whirlwind Kick in zero gravity, the naked sunlight glistening upon the gauntlets of his Radar Hands, the shape of the mole creature before him imploding, its body folding inwards.
They had known about Badan's time-space satellites since before Yuuki had gone undercover, had known that they were being used to enhance the energy of the obsidian pyramid, just as they had known that someone had to deal with them. As the only Rider whose body had been built to withstand the rigours of space travel, it was obvious that such a duty would fall to Oki, Kamen Rider Super-1, and though he had known that there would be opposition from Badan's forces, he just hadn't expected these new enemies, these mole-things with their clawed hands and sharpened blades.
Soundlessly, the Radar Hand gauntlets flashed with light, a display on his wrist illuminated suddenly with new information regarding his foes, readings that identified time-particles clinging to the swollen blue flesh of the creatures, something that suggested to him that they were not naturally aligned to Badan's goals, but time travellers of a sort drawn to any sort of disturbance in the flow and continuity of the cosmos.
It didn't matter, he thought, spinning once more, kicking and punching the last of them away from the damaged satellite, spending them spiralling away as he had the others before him; all that mattered was cutting Badan's power source and ensuring that whatever the odds were on Earth, where his comrades faced the main forces of the Empire, they would at least be in their favour.
Face paint adorned them, red sashes about the black leotards they wore, a group of them preventing access further into the pyramid where Geiz could hear the sound of a terrible battle being waged. Without thinking twice, she swung her ax, the flat of its edge smashing into the nearest woman's face, sending her staggering backwards with a shriek of pain. She did not even spare a glance back over her shoulder, instead racing forward, a wall exploding before her as the huge armoured figure they had seen earlier was properly backwards through it.
"Zakkuri Cutting!" she cried out, hefting the ax up once again, sending an arc of violent energy out from the edge of the weapon, propelling it forward until its exploded against the shambling shape of the thing that came through the doorway after the armoured Rider.
Behind her, she heard Sumire, Tsukuyomi, and the heavy footsteps of Murasame Ryo as he came to a halt alongside them; ahead of her, she saw the shape of the thing, its flesh blistering, swelling, plates of armour forcing their way from beneath the shambolic, shuddering mass of its being, gore stained armour of silver and dark red, instinctively recognisable.
"That's—" Sumire gasped.
"ZX!" Murasame answered.
Geiz did not slow, the ax raised above her head. Turning, as swollen, bulbous eyes burst forth from within, the creature turned, lashing out, rotting flesh falling away from its body to reveal a silver skeletal form of glistening armour, the body swelling, growing, doubling in size even as it knocked its would-be opponent back.
Skidding to a stop, Tsukuyomi raised his blaster and fired, several bolts of energy burning away the flesh of the creature's chest, revealing the cold, spattered armour beneath. Still, it grew, tripling in size now.
"J power," he murmured, his eyes widening behind his mask as he remembered their confrontation with the Another Rider in the school corridor.
Behind the growing shape of the creature, Tsukuyomi saw two other figures, a stern looking man, one sleeve of his jacket pinned against his shoulder, and another, more familiar armour.
"Kuuga?" he cried out in confusion, remembering the dull fade of the Kuuga RideWatch's colours.
The moment he said it aloud, the armour shimmered out of existence, revealing the angular magenta design of Decade.
"Tsukasa!" Sumire cried out, rushing past Tsukuyomi, wielding her blade, the Zikan Girade, as she lashed out against the creature, and was pushed back against the wall despite her efforts.
"Watch yourself!" Hongo said, ducking underneath the creature's defences, slamming his fist into the creature's guts. "Don't underestimate our enemy!"
If Sumire heard him, she paid no attention.
"Tsukasa!" she called out again. "Tsukasa, it's me, Sumire!"
Decade ignored her, his attention focused solely on the creature as it grew further, towering over all of them now.
"Get back!" Tsukuyomi cried, firing another useless bolt of energy.
"Fools!" cried the creature, its voice low and sonorous. "There is no defeating Badan!"
Again, it grew.
"Rider Kick!" Murasame cried out as he sailed overhead, his feet slamming into the monster's chest.
Effortlessly, the thing that had been Kurayami Taishi seized hold of him, holding him up by his legs, staring at from behind the swollen eyes that had erupted from its face.
"Murasame," it growled. "Now you will witness the true power of the ZX armour!"
Still, it grew.
He lifted his wrist at the sudden incessant chiming, pushing two fingers against the slim shape of the communicator bound to his wrist, a gyro, Yukki had told him it was called, though where the other man had acquired such a device was unknown to him.
"This is Kazuya, go ahead," he growled, the army of Badan fleeing before him, the crumbling obsidian pyramid ahead, stones toppling down into the sand.
'This is the other Kazuya,' came the playful voice through the gyro. 'I'm back on board the Ark. All of Badan's satellites are out of commission.'
"That's good news. Things are heating up down here too." He paused, a sudden thought crossing his mind. "Is Hiden's android up there with you?"
There was a moment's pause on the other end.
'Greetings, Taki Kazuya. My employer sends his thanks for your hard work.'
Hiden Korenosuke, Taki thought. He had once met both Hiden and his robot, Izu 0.1, a crude prototype for what was claimed would one day be an entire line of companions, androids capable of performing even the most arduous of tasks. He didn't care for it, that was the kind of thing that he had fought against alongside Hongo and Ichimonji, the kind of thing that Shocker had been famous for; the kind of thing they came up with on Academia Island. Yet wasn't Hiden a graduate of the university there, he asked himself, and then with a shake of the head, realised that it did not matter.
In the skies above, distant light flared, the fading, forgotten luminance of Badan's defeated satellites.
"Thank your boss for accommodating us," Kazuya growled, "and tell him we'll take it from here."
'I will pass on your wishes,' Izu 0.1 replied.
He smiled to himself.
"And keep Oki out of trouble too."
Without waiting for a reply, he lowered the gyro, turning to glance at Kuroi and Kazami at his side.
"Now let's finish this."
Yet no sooner had he spoken these words than something huge burst out of the pyramid, raining down bricks and ruins upon the fleeing Badan forces. It was huge, human in likeness, yet drenched in gore, blood and viscera dripping from its glistening armour.
"That's—" Kuroi murmured, but he didn't need to say it, he didn't need to say what it was that stood before them, that towered over them; they all saw it.
It was a Kamen Rider.
Apollo Geist faltered beneath the violence of the bestial onslaught, Tiger-Roid's claws tearing open his armour, raining down blow after blow. Beneath his mask, he felt blood in his mouth, his heart hammering in his chest as he desperately tried to defend himself against Mikage, who, even wounded, was still an impossible foe.
This was not how he had expected the culmination of Badan's stratagems to unfold, he reflected distantly, as if his life was not on the line. To think that he had traversed time and space, to think that he had wooed the Fangire Queene several years in the future, before being summoned back, and now he was locked in a life and death struggle with a turncoat like Mikage.
The recollection of those events flashed across his mind, moments that had not happened for anyone here, but that for him were now history; the manner in which he had stolen the power of the Fangire Queene, the fury of her butler, Kurosawa, as he had accepted the armour of his felled monarch, and tried to subdue Apollo Geist, only to likewise fall—and then, right at the last moment, the girl in her mirror armour, mimicking that which he had appropriated, restoring it to its rightful owner.
He bristled with anger and resentment, lashing out at Mikage as he did, knocking the tiger creature backwards in the dirt, the thinning crowds around them, the shadow of something vast on the horizon. To have been defeated in such a humiliating manner wounded him with greater pain than any physical defeat, and now he found that child was here also, oblivious as to what would transpire for her, his rash actions possibly inspiring the movements that would lead to that defeat two years in the future.
Fury welled within him, he drove forward with the Geist Cutter, only to be rebuffed by a swift swipe of Tiger-Roid's claws. This beast-man, this hideous creature that clung only faintly to his humanity, they had made him too strong, entrusted him with too much power! Even with the power of the Fangire court at his disposal, he was still, unthinkably, being forced back by the sheer, brute force of this creature they had made.
"I will not be beaten by the likes of you!" he spat, readying his Geist Cutter again.
A low laugh escaped Mikage's ugly mouth.
"It's too late, you've already lost."
Beneath his heavy helm, Apollo Geist's lips twisted into a reply, and then, abruptly he felt it, the pain radiating outwards from the centre of his chest. His eyes grew wide, as before him, chuckling in a low, threatening tone, Mikage brought up his right paw, the claws extended, blood running down the wicked curve of their shape.
He turned his gaze downward, and saw the slow spread of blood on his uniform, the pain growing, his legs trembling, and eyes widening.
"N-No," he stammered, "n-not possible. I-I have the power of the Fangire Queene."
Cruelty flashed across Mikage's bestial features.
"You forget there are others who oppose the Fangire, others whose powers are equal."
Apollo Geist shook his head with disbelief, as Mikage folded his arms across his chest.
"Badan didn't make me. This power was mine all along," he snorted, and then, with a laugh, by way of mock introduction, added, "Mikage Eisuke, Weretiger Legendorga, at your service."
Behind the mask, Apollo Geist's eyes grew impossibly wide, the pain in his chest exploding, his lips moving as he struggled to deny the truth of the matter. Without pause, Mikage closed in for the kill.
"There's no time!" Taki said, reaching out and seizing hold of Hongo's arm, the pyramid crumbling around them. "Quickly!"
Hongo turned, looking across at his friend from behind the unfamiliar mask, the new armour granted him by the use of Yuuki Jouji's cassette technology, and Taki felt a sense of dissonance between them, a horrible fear that Hongo had gone somewhere far beyond anywhere he himself could imagine.
He looked beyond where Hongo stood, and found himself staring at Yuuki and Murasame and Ichimonji, and a handful of Riders in armour he did not recognise, armour he had never seen before.
"Ah! It's Mr FBI!" one of them cried out, pointing towards him.
A girl's voice, he thought, a child's voice. He ignored her, focusing instead on Hongo.
"We have to go!" he insisted. "Yamashiro is here. We can end this!"
Around them, the pyramid continued to collapse.
"He's right, it's not safe here," one of the new Riders said, pushing past the girl, light catching the magenta in his armour.
From his belt, he pulled free a playing card, pulling open the buckle and sliding it into a slot in the side as he turned to face Murasame.
"This might tickle," he warned.
'F-F-Final Form Ride,' came the chattering machine voice at his waist.
Above them, the massive form of what had once been Kurayami Taishi broke free, staggering forwards, finding Spider-Man's colossal machine, Leopardon standing in its way.
Reaching out, the new Rider seized hold of Murasame and seemingly opened up his chest, his armour folding outwards, his form shifting, transmuting, taking on the likeness of a slender, shuddering creature, something halfway between a dragon and a beetle, its horns glistening with red radiance, jaws open in a cry of rage, emerald eyes shining bright.
"Murasame?" Taki shouted, staggering back with surprise.
"He'll be fine," the girl at his side said. "Don't worry, we've seen this trick before."
'Final Attack Ride! ZX!' the belt called out as the other Rider slid a new card into his belt, turning and gesturing towards Hongo.
The dragon that had been Murasame reared up, howling violently, surging forwards. Hongo paused, looking at the other with distrust, and then turned, leaping up and jumping upon the back of his transformed colleague, the eleventh Kamen Rider, his body transmogrified once by Badan, and now again by whatever strange technology it was that Kadoya Tsuaka wielded.
"Sumire, the Time Mazine," another of the new Riders said, reaching out and taking the girl by the arm.
A further deafening roar escaped the creature, and it lunged forward, Hongo Takeshi in his swollen armour standing atop it. The gathered Riders followed behind, new and old alike, as behind them, the black pyramid collapsed inward at last, and ahead of them Leopardon and the massive form of Kurayami Taishi wrestled before the setting sun.
There were many stories in the days that followed about what happened next, Taki Kazuya would later reflect. In the newspapers and on television, there was much talk from spineless men in power about the danger of so many armoured individuals seemingly running rampant in Japan; a new structure was needed, they would say, initiating discussions with some aged agency in Ibaraki Prefecture that Taki had never heard of.
Yet before all that, he was one man, covered in grime and dirt, standing amidst friends watching as the massive shape of Leopardon struggled against the Kamen Rider-like shape Kurayami Taishi had adopted; watching as a second giant reared up out of the woodland, piloted by three of the newer Riders he did not known, as Hongo Takeshi rode in on a dragon-creature that had once been the young Murasame Ryo.
He reached for his belt, loading in two cartridges into his brass knuckles, yet what few creatures had once been loyal to Badan had now fled in the wake of the clash of titans above them. They would be chasing them down for years to come, he thought, with unhappiness. Carefully, he followed the fight, the first of the giants struggling against the shape of the engorged creature Kurayami Taishi had become, rotting flesh and glistening armour, tongues of spirit energy blistering about it; he watched as the dragon-thing curled in the air, jaws wide open in a howl, and he watched at last as Hongo—dressed in the weighty armour afforded him by the addition of Yuuki's cassette technology—leapt from the creature's back, the fan within his belt stirring in a frenzy.
Looking back on this moment, Taki Kazuya would remember thinking he had seen everything possible the world could offer in that moment; looking back, he would realise how very wrong he was.
Kadoya tore another card from his belt buckle, tossing it away, the wind howling as he stood upon Leopardon's shoulder, Yamashiro dwelling within the robot's cockpit driving it on in their battle against Kurayami Taishi. Ahead of them, the shape of Hongo Takeshi leapt into the air, the shimmering form of the beast that had been Murasame Ryo warping and twisting once more, the second stage of his final form.
The wind howled, pushing back against the form of Hongo as he extended his right foot, his boot aimed at the chest of the howling titan, the familiar armour, the swollen flesh; above him, Murasame completed his final, bodily transformation, the lithe dragon form now replaced by a huge shimmering shuriken. Unable to slow his descent, Hongo reached up and snatched the form of the human weapon and used his momentum to turn in the air, pulling back and throwing the shuriken forward, where, propelled ahead of him, with a sickened crack it tore through Kurayami Taishi's breastplate, embedding itself in the flesh beneath,
The giant cried out in confusion and pain, turning the swollen bug eyes of its mask downwards to see the shuriken lodged in its chest, its hands reaching down to claw at the weapon.
A volley of fire exploded from the newer of the giant robots, the one piloted by the child, whilst Leopardon, in turn, fired a rocket from its right arm, and Hongo leant into the howl of the wind once more, driving forward feet first, his lungs filled with air as he let out a cry that was as much a declaration of intent as it was the name of the final move in the ugly confrontation that had cost them all so, so very much.
With all his force, his foot slammed into the shuriken, channelling impossible energy through it, driving the point of the transformed Murasame Ryo deep within, shredding Kurayami Taishi's insides.
Effortlessly, Hongo pirouetted backwards in the air, lithe despite the great weight of his power armour. The titan cried out once more, low and forlorn this time, clutching at the shuriken, tearing it free in a great arc of gore, tossing it aside as it transmuted once more into Murasame, the eleventh Rider landing unsteadily in the blood hand on Leopardon.
The titan stumbled, staggering backwards, J power exuding from its essence as it dropped to its knees, the wound in its chest weeping a river of blood.
"Banzai," it gurgled again, voice tremulous and hurt. "Badan banzai!"
There was a moment, a heartbeat, and then, with a deafening roar, the shape of their eternal foe exploded in a pillar of blistering flame.
Above them, the sun fell below the horizon, each of them now dispensing with their armour, Taki Kazuya, Kadoya Tsukasa, and Yamashiro Takuya standing alongside the eleven Riders, each of them looking in confusion as the girl in the black and silver armour was bundled back into her Time Mazine by her comrades.
Looking down from his vantage point on a cliff above them, the Timejacker, Spade, felt an overwhelming sense of disgust at the sight. Such heroics, he thought with contempt, such nonsense. At his side, the white robbed figure stood motionless, face hidden beneath the heavy weight of his cowl.
"These are the men you believe will oppose us?" Darom asked, his voice rich with disgust and disdain.
Despite having so recently witnessed the last moments of the Badan Empire, he seemed contemptuous, as if he somehow viewed the gathering of such men to be unworthy foes, insects who could not hope to oppose such ambitions as he held for the future.
"The very same," Spade replied, glancing over at the hooded figure, trying not to let the other's dismissive manner get to him.
Searching for a distraction, he pushed back his own cloak, patting his trowsers in search of his packet of death sticks.
"You think you can take them?" he asked, trying to keep his tone casual, trying not to let on what he knew of the future.
Beneath his hood, Darom snorted.
"Such men are insignificant compared to the power that Gorgom represents. They shall not oppose us long."
Spade tried to look reassured.
"That's good to hear." He turned and looked down again, watching as the form of the Time Mazine launched into the velvet night above, carrying Zi-o, Geiz, and Tsukuyomi to their next locale in pursuit of him, 1999 if they were following his trail right, leaving just enough clues to manipulate the hapless travellers into thinking they were truly second-guessing one as brilliant as he was.
Idiots, he thought. They were no different from Darom and his cult, little more than pawns to be moved around the board.
"You have nothing to fear. I shall personally see to it that these men do not interfere with our plans," Darom proclaimed.
For a moment longer, they stood together on the cliff edge, and then, with a twirl of his robes, the priest turned and left, arrogant and haughty to the last, his pride blinding him to what was truly going on.
"I can count on you, right?" Spade called after him.
Darom paused, but did not look back.
"You have my word. And in return—"
"Right, right. In return, I won't get in your way when the time comes, whoever you chuse to pick as your Creation King, or whatever."
"Then we have an understanding," Darom remarked. "Goodbye, child. We shall not meet again."
Spade watched him go. Even though, below, the various Kamen Riders of that era and their allies were celebrating their victory, he could not prevent a smile from touching his lips.
"Trust me, Darom," he murmured softly, "when I remake the world, there won't be enough of Gorgom to fill a sewer, let alone your grand cathedral."
At his back, came laughter and joy. Meanwhile, the darkness of the night spread long and wide over the Earth.