It slumbered, in darkness it dreamt. For moments, years, decades, centuries, it had not moved, silent and poignant, the ivory bones of its frame stilled by the endless torpor of its deathlike rest. For an æon, it had rested, abandoned by its former mistress as she too had slipped into the velveteen dark of her own dreamless slumber, and yet now, there came the first whispers of awakening, its aged frame stirring in the silence beyond Yodonheim, beyond Mithgarth.
Upon the brittle bones, the flesh had long since returned to stardust, yet now, as the shape of it stirred its way once more into existence, so too was its form transmuted, topaz and amethyst sprouted in clusters of crystalline delight upon its bones, its shape, its existence reimagined from myth for a new era.
Stirring in darkness, it turned its head, a mane of stone, engraved with forgotten alphabets, and in the silence of the night between realms, did it open its jaw and bray once more in recollection of its calling.
She dug the heels of her boots into the dirt, grinding the gravel beneath her feet into dust, as she slowly lifted up the weight of her glistening sword, its hilt inlaid with gems, its blade seemingly crafted from crystal, its tip blossoming into a flourish of light, an arc of illumination that seemed bright even in the chill, spectral light.
Barely, he was able to deflect it, the dark steel of his Grudge Dent taking the brunt of the attack, the light dispersing about him, repelled by the force of his dread aura. Had he still the muscles for it in the corrosion of his face, he would have laughed. To think, after all this time, here they were once more.
"I see you woke up after all," he called out, his taunts echoing through the valley, the worn cliffs overshadowing them, the gravel pits down below them.
Across from him, she said nothing, her expression firm, the absence of her right eye now covered by a patch of dark material.
Again, he barred his steel teeth in a rictus smirk, his mandibles chittering with anticipation. This was the way it was meant to be, he told himself, the way it had been, and whatever differences there were that had overtaken them since the rebirth of the universe, since the Earth had been riven, and the over-heaven and the whole world burnt, this final confrontation was their destiny, the very twilight of the gods.
"What's the matter, friend vakr?" he continued, the weight of his double-edged sword in his grasp, the reflection of the other warped within the blackest of metals. "Didn't you once mix blood with my father in the olden days? Aren't you enjoying this little family reunion?"
He laughed bitterly, cruelly, watching the woman's careful steps, waiting for the next strike of her blade. The first time he had escaped into the ether, when Surtr's flames had washed away all, and the old gods had fallen, it had been into the emptiness at the end of time, his presence drawn towards the endless deserts of those spaces where all creatures must go when their forms and names have been lost yet the spirit rages on.
Through endless millennia he had reshaped himself, the spirit yearning to find its way back, until, at the very last, he had made his connexion with the man who had summoned him back into being, the man who had given him his new hideous form, shorn away the fur of his previous frame in favour of his new likeness, metal and chitin, bone and steel.
Back within the reborn world, its sway now in the grasp of men, he had been given a new name by his contract holder—and yet to the woman who now stood before him, it was clear that he would only be known by the old names, and by the old names alone.
"Vánagandr," she announced, her lips twitching in displeasure, as if the mere mention of his title caused her unhappiness, "I am no friend of yours."
He caught sight of something behind her, another figure in a uniform of tainted emerald, the number '5' emblazoned on the chest, and in the split second that he was distracted, fearing an attack from a second combatant, his true opponent was upon him, moving so swiftly that he lost track over of her, his head snapping up in surprise as she flashed into existence above him, the Kiramai Sword descending down towards his head.
With a gasp of surprise, the Imajin, Désast, managed to lift his blade just in time to see the dark metal rebuffed as an arc of blinding illumination turned the blade away, slicing down his face and tearing open his carapace.
He howled in agony and surprise, staggering backwards in the gravel, blood spurting from his chest, bringing his clawed hand up to inspect the wound in his face, probing about and finding the detritus of his ruined eye.
Shuddering with rage and pain, he picked at the remnants, tearing the gooey mass out of the socket and shaking his hand free in disgust, blood seeping down his face, staining its teeth.
Across from him, the woman smirked with contempt.
"There," she said, her tone infuriating, "that makes us a bit more even."
His mouth twitched with dislike, blood oozing out of the hole in his face.
"No, it just makes me furious."
Twisting, he brought his arm up, flames of ruinous spirit energy lashing out from the edge of his sword with blistering heat, carving a channel in the stone and stone before him, petrifying all in its path, forcing the woman to leap back out of the way, the curve of its trajectory catching the hem of her cloak and obliterating it, barely missing her sword arm.
He glimpsed movement to his right again, sensing the presence of the old Bale-Worker's servant, a flash of emerald and amethyst armour and a volley of blistering blue energy bolts each spattering the ground before him.
Too easy, he thought, with a smirk, and then too late realised the distraction, bringing his sword up in a failed attempt to defend himself as his age-old foe was on him once more, the crystal of her blade lashing out again, sparks igniting from its impact against his armour.
With a grunt of pain, he snatched wildly with his clawed hand, seizing hold of her uniform and pulling her close to him before she could extricate herself. He brought the Grudge Dent up again in a wicked arc, flames of violet fire ignited once more, burning the air between them as he let her slip from his grasp, the discharged energy exploding against her pale flesh.
She cried out in pain, thrown backwards, barely standing, her uniform torn to shreds, her breath ragged, her gaze hateful. Upon her shoulders, the eyes of her twin ravens glistened with pained reverence, their forms diminished by the force of the blast, the energy they had attempted to absorb in order to save their mistress.
He laughed cruelly, turning the sword in his grasp with a flourish.
"Really, Wanderer, in the old days you would never have called on your familiars like that to save you. To say I'm a little disappointed would only be half of the truth."
Movement again, he thought, catching sight of the woman's girl servant in the periphery of his one remaining eye. His mandibles quivered with excitement, letting her get in close—and then with cruel contempt, snatching from his back a second sword, tearing through the crystal and metal of the girl's armour, sending her staggering off balance with a yelp of pain.
He watched as she stumbled, his own reflection warped and caught in the emerald reflection of her helm. He could kill her, he thought, she was, after all, just a human, but it would be far better to oblige her to witness the death of her mistress first.
Turning, ignoring the pain in his face, knowing that soon the flesh would regrow, he sneered at the other, her grim expression, her tattered uniform, steam curdling from the beaks of her raven epaulettes, the spirits of Huginn and Muninn struggling to digest the blast they caught in service of their owner.
"I'm impressed though," he said, sauntering forward, both swords held firmly in his grasp, "no one has taken the weight of my Calamity Strike up close before and still had a body to boast of such."
The short-sword, a thin, curved wakizashi captured her reflection in its dark surface. A cruel laugh escaped him.
"How much things have changed between us, Evenhigh, and much they have stayed the same. I must say, it will be a delight to kill you all over again."
His clawed feet left the ground, a cloud of dust and gravel exploding with the ferocity of his movement as he brought down his two swords, Grudge Dent and Grudge Cutter, in a succession of brutal hammer-falls that struck the blade of her sword again, and again, and again.
Staggering back, the woman in her burnt and ragged uniform, the old god in her new guise, struggled as he rained down blow after blow, her sole eye full of concern, her expression full of alarm.
Again, he brought up the larger of the two swords, blistering energy engulfing the weapon, and with a cry of delight lashed out in a final, decisive blow.
A crack of thunder resounded through the valley, a flash of lightning and an explosion of energy. Sneering with delight, he lowered his weapons, watching the smoke dissipate with his lonely, silver eye, adrenaline rushing through him as his heart hammered in his chest, anticipation of the sight of his opponent's crumpled, defeated figure.
The acrid smoke of his attack cleared, and something in his chest stirred, anticipation denied, anger rising up within him once more.
Standing between him and the fallen shape of his age-old foe was a figure in a trailing cloak and black uniform, his head an engorged, scuffed white ball decorated with stitches and faintly human eyes, holding up a weighty metal baseball bat, its shape burnt and blackened from the force of his Calamity Strike.
The eyes narrowed as he met Désast's gaze.
"Hey, some of us poor slumps are trying to keep a low profile, you know, and here's you twos just shaking up the planet an' duking it out. Cut it out, why doncha?"
Rage swelled in the other's face, his blood pumping, his teeth chattering.
"Who are you?" he demanded, his voice low, trembling with fury.
The other figure shrugged playfully.
"What, you don't know? I'm just a guy." He swung the bat around, pulling it back behind his head, digging his heels in the dirt and sand. "But I'm also just a guy who used to be a part of Yodonheim, and I figure I owes this lady a couple of favours, so nows I'm telling ya to cut it out."
Anger turned to amusement.
"Or what?" he sneered.
A shot thudded into the dirt, a burst of rippling, blue energy. He glanced over his shoulder to see the shape of the other, the girl servant, her blaster pointed directly at his back.
"Or we'll make you."
Voices echoed, distant at first, and then growing louder and louder still, until at last words were audible, sound into shape, a boy and a girl conversing, and dimly, it realised that they were drawing near, that the world it inhabited, and the world they inhabited were converging.
Fear stirred within it, sudden anxiety that, in its present form, its essence only just awakened, its new body untested, there would be no way for it to protect itself should they mean it harm—no way to return once more from the brink of the abyss. So, rather than move, rather than demonstrate that it was aware, it remained silent, it listened, and the closer they came, the more it began to understand that perhaps it was not in danger, perhaps these would be the people who at last would guide it anew towards its destiny, towards its once and former mistress.
"Weak!" he shouted, swinging his bat, knocking back the first blade.
Still the other continued to lash out, both blades, charged now with a cruel, violet aura, slicing through the air as his threw his arms wildly, trying to land a hit in his rage.
"Ya missed!" Yakyu Kamen called, batting back the second blade.
Again, the first blade descended. He side-stepped, ducking under Désast's defence, bringing his bat up in a swing that smashed against the side of the Imajin's skull, rattling teeth loose, spilling blood down across his chin, sending him staggering backwards, biting down so hard that he almost chewed through his own tongue.
"Strike three, yer out!"
He stumbled, turning away from the other's assault, only to cry out in pain and alarm, a volley of blasts blackening his carapace, chitin and metal falling away in chunks as his body shuddered and trembled, his grasp on both swords suddenly tenuous, his ability to focus lost, the shape of Sena #5 suddenly close by, kicking out with her right leg, sending him staggering back again the other way.
How had this happened, Désast asked himself. Had he been complacent in ignoring the servant girl, had he been foolish for thinking that his ever-booming foe might not have gathered around her allies as once she had before, as once she had when she stood before him on the precipice of the world's first collapse, the twilight of the old gods.
"In your love of battle, you misjudged me," he heard her cold voice calling to him, her presence opposite him, fierce with contempt and righteous fury. "Like Loki before you, like Emperor Yodon, you thought you could turn away from me, thought me of so little importance that I was not worth your time; a woman whose songs might not be heard, a shield to hide behind, to justify your actions, to herald your coming. More fool you. You should have killed me when you had the chance."
Her feet dug in amidst the stone and dirt.
"Because now I am awake once more, I will never go back into the dark."
He pulled himself up, desperately righting himself, steading himself, his muscles taut, spirit energy burning within him even as his heart raced, as the blood poured from his mouth, his wounds, flame burgeoning at the end of each of his blades as he poured all his hate, all his spite, all his loathing into a final attack.
With one eye, he turned his face towards her, Yodonna standing firm in her ruined uniform, the glistening sword lifted over her head, turning the blade in a circle.
His body trembled, the words coming slowly.
Her gaze met his, the two of them locked together, blue light burning at the tip of her sword.
With a final surge of strength, he threw his arms forwards, launching forward all the energy and spite he could amass, twin arcs of dark energy speeding towards her.
His assumed form dissolved, insect armour rotting away into flecks of decay, the silver fur of his true, hideous wolf-like form revealed beneath.
Yodonna's blade burnt bright with light, a burning arrow of illumination shot forth, carving through the weight of his final attack, tearing it apart, dwarfing him as it bore down upon him.
"Dynamic!" he heard her voice call.
There was silence then; for the briefest moment, there was silence. Brilliant light washed over him, the last of his armour dissipating, revealing completely his ugly, true essence, the wolf at the end of the world, the devourer, the fen-dweller, the hateful and ancient Fenrisúlfr; the wolf that, once before, had ended the world.
Collapsing onto hands and knees, the bones lengthening, the face twisting, all likeness of his human-like form was lost, forgotten in the pyre of light as muscles swelled up, blood pooling beneath open wounds, fur stained with grime and filth.
The monster that had been Désast, the Werewolf Imajin, threw back its head and howled with fury at the lonely skies above.
"Juuuuru," she said his name, drawing it out longer than needs be in her frustration. "Juuru, you said this wouldn't take long."
Surprised that his name was being called, Atsuta Juuru looked up in surprise, a sharp pain running through his neck, the reminder he needed that perhaps he had been crouched over his sketchpad maybe a little too long.
Before him, Kakihara Mizuka stood with her arms folded and a scowl on her face, waiting for him to finish with his current bout of inspiration. He smiled weakly at her, still trying to adjust to the gentleness, the calmness of his new life. Although a week had passed since they had finally defeated Emperor Yodon, and although his connexion with the king of Crystalia was just as strong as ever, still he dreamt of that other throne, that other figure in obsidian and gold, cruel and unyielding.
The night before last, he had awoken sweating, an urgent sense of insparkleration consuming him, and, in feverish excitement, he had found himself sketching what he first saw in his mind's eye as a chunk of crystal, etched with the features of a mask of sort, golden arches in the helm giving the shape of it the suggestion of myriad eyes.
Yet it was not a crystal, he realised that much upon completion, though he wasn't sure how he knew, and though he recognised the mask as being similarly cast in gold and black like that of the man on the throne in his dreams, it was not the same.
It felt, almost, as that silent, seated figure was impelling him to the draw the strange device onto the page, as if the power of his imagination was enough to compliment the solemn figure's own dreams.
Falling back asleep after his feverish sketching, Juuru had been surprised to awaken the next morning with his page empty, the heavy weight of his illustration now actualised into a physical object on his bedside table.
Turning it in his hand that morning, he had thought it more like a watch lacking a strap than a gemstone, and now, as he sat upon a park bench in Ueno, Kakihara looking on with frustration, the watch at his side seemed to glow with terrible radiance, the image of the huge crystalline horse he had etched on the page likewise seeming to shimmer and burn bright.
"Juuru!" Kakihara prompted. "We're going to be late! You don't want to be late, do you? Because I know I don't want to be! I hate missing the beginning of a movie!"
His eyes widened, as if he was somehow coming around from a trance.
"Ah!" he proclaimed, standing up. "That's right! The movie!"
The pad in his lap almost slipped out of his hands. With a jolt, he tightened his grip on the paper, his attention turning once more to the page, as, with a start, he realised it was blank, his illustration suddenly lost, absent, the white paper radiant with a sort of afterglow, a hazy light.
He turned towards the bench, just in time to see the watch dissipate into light and fade away as he stood there, momentarily stunned by the absence.
Catching sight of the device as it shimmered out of existence, Kakihara gave a small start, seizing hold of his arm.
"Juuru!" she proclaimed. "What happened?"
"I'm not sure."
On both the bench and the page, there was no longer any sign of the time he had spent before his sketchbook. Thus, unable to guess what had happened, he simply shrugged and smiled.
"Oh well, I guess they've gone to where they're most needed!"
He reached out and grabbed her hand, pulling her along as she yelped in surprise.
"Juuru!" she called again.
"Come on!" he said with a laugh, pulling her along behind him. "You don't want to miss the beginning of the movie, right?"
The shape of the wolf grew before them, swelling up to twice its size, four times its size, turning its head with an ungodly howl as Sena #5 skipped backwards out of reach, taking the occasion to fire off a further blast of energy from her Kiramai Shot as she fell into line with Yodonna and the strange shape of Yakyu Kamen.
"Hey, no one said nothing about fighting a giant wolf!" he protested, his strangely human eyes turning to look at Yodonna.
"The wolf's true form," the Emperor's once aide said with contempt, holding onto Sena's Kiramai Sword tight with both hands, her expression unwavering.
Yakyu Kamen rolled his eyes.
"I knew I should have stayed away, not got involved with youse guys."
"Mistress," Sena murmured, doubt in her voice. "Mistress, this could be dangerous."
Yodonna thrust out her sword, her face set with determination.
"This has always been dangerous," she answered firmly, "yet now we finish once and for all; what began in the old world, finishes now in this one."
As if in response to her force of will, the sound of hooves hammering amongst the clouds resounded from behind them, heavy and swift, charging across the lonely heavens. Sena turned, gasping in surprise, and yet the moment she saw it, she understood, remembering standing within that crowded train carriage once more, the young boy earnestly meeting her firm gaze.
"But if she's in danger, I'll do what I can to help, friend or foe, so just leave it to me."
Beneath her mask, a smile touched her lips, her heart welling with pride in her friend, with love for those she cared for.
In the heavens above them, the massive shape of a huge eight-legged horse, its essence framed in amethyst and topaz, glistening silver and immaculate white, reared up in majesty, inexplicable and ancient, born anew for the future.
Tossing its mane of stone back and away, shaking loose pebbles and rocks, the giant horse cried out in a deep and sonorous voice, announcing to a world that might have forgotten it the nature of its true identity.
Yodonna's eyes grew wide with surprise.
"I-I thought I lost you," she murmured, suddenly overcome with emotion.
The giant crystalline horse tossed its mane about once more again.
"What once was lost is now whole again! Come, mistress, let us end this unhappy cycle!"
A glistening gem tumbled out of the sky, a shooting star that arced above them and thudded into the dirt at Yodonna's feet, crystal and metal, the shape of Atsuta Juuru's dreams manifest. Reaching down, she scooping it up, looking at the face on the device, remembering the armour that had once been her, its likeness previously stolen as she had slumbered, and suddenly knowing what must come next.
With a nod, she lifted her head.
"Yes," she agreed, "once and for all, let us put an end to this."
From the swollen wolf's mouth came another howl, its mouth of bloodied, silver teeth wide, its remaining eye mad with fury and rage.
Yodonna pushed down upon the watch, and then, crossing her arms, slammed it down into the curve of burnt mud transformed into glass and crystal, fashioned into the device bound to her wrist, gem and metal sinking into glass and circuitry.
"Yodon change!" she announced, flames of spirit energy igniting about her very being.
At her side, Hayami Sena threw her arms wide, pointing her fingers to the heavens, before twisting her waist, and throwing one arm over her head.
"The dashing lightning! Kiramai Green!"
To her left, Yakyu Kamen swung his battered baseball bat over his shoulder, turning his massive head in an circle, lifting it up with pride and stamping his right foot forward on the ground in a cloud of dust and dirt.
"Homerun!" he bellowed out. "Yakyu Kamen!"
Amour of glistening gold and burning crimson enfolded her form, wings of light spreading out from her shoulders as she donned the ancient likeness of the burning phoenix, risen once more from the ashes, incapable of true death.
The fire about her burnt higher and brighter, the spirit energy of Yakyu Kamen and Hayami Sena pouring into her, strengthening her, the camaraderie, the presence of true friends, of loved ones only making her stronger.
"Mighty thuler!" she called out, her voice resonant, echoing throughout the valley, her presence glowing with blinding, golden radiance, "Kamen Rider Odin."
Behind them, the huge shape of Sleipnir leapt forwards, galloping down towards its half-sibling, the infamous wolf.
Adorned in her armour of old, Yodonna leapt from the ground, landing on the beast's back, turning the Kirami Sword in an arc once more.
"Eternal Chaos! Kiramai Dynamic Final!"
The heavens filled with brilliant illumination, the crack of deafening thunder resounding once more, the swing of Thor's mighty hammer lighting the heavens, and the shape of the aged wolf dissolved amidst the brilliant blaze of her final attack, its shape dissipating, its form coming undone, wild head tossing in protest, a forlorn howl as it tried to reckon with its new fate, with the way that the world had suddenly be changed around it.
Blood and filth ignited and burnt away in the light, fur withering, flesh blistering, and at last, everything that it was, everything that had made up the aged wolf, the unruly Imajin, was swept away into nothingness, less than grains of sand in the radiance of the oldest force in the universe.
Then, at last, there was silence once more, the radiance dimming, the frost of winter peeling back slowly to reveal the first touch of spring, Yodonna stood upon the back of her giant charge, turning slowly to her face her comrades, sunlight warming the crimson and gold of her armour.
Tearing her helmet off and tossing it aside, Sena #5 looked up at her mistress in adoration.
"Y-You did it," she stammered with excitement, with joy. "You changed the fate of the world."
Fading in the sunlight, the brilliant armour dissipated too, leaving Yodonna alone atop her horse, her uniform ragged and torn, the Kiramai Sword still held tightly in her gloved grasp. She looked down at the other girl, tears in her eyes, an unexpected yet genuine smile upon her lips.
"Oh," she asked, "is this where I'm supposed to laugh?"
Over her shoulder, the sun continued to climb ever upwards into the blue sky above.