Chapter 1: Hajime
Destroy everything [ that stands in the way of love ]
Connect everything [ until nothing is lonely ]
[ not even us ]
Hajime stared up at the summer-clear sky through the leafy forest canopy. It was good light, which could bring out the richness in every earthy tone around, or would sparkle off the edges of waves—
But even though he’d dragged himself outside for the sake of it, he knew he wouldn’t be able to use it properly. How long had it been since he’d taken any good photographs? Every restless night rolled into another uneasy day, mounting up into weeks of being unable to focus a lens properly, mind circling around the dreadful feeling of thorny plates shifting under human skin.
Better to let time run together than to sleep and wake and find himself, somehow, expecting Kenzaki to be next to him. Maybe it was a dream he could never remember, of two people crammed safe and warm into a narrow bed. Maybe they ate together in the dream, too. He’d given up on proper meals a while ago, sick of realising he’d filled two bowls for no reason.
The rattle of a grasshopper nearby drew Hajime’s attention. He started searching for it in the grass, then the trees—finding the lean thing at last perched on a fern. He crouched and fumbled the lens cap off his camera, trying to find a good angle to capture her among the feathery leaves. From this way she was standing proud from the plant, but the busy background overpowered her, and from this way, her drab colours tried to melt her into the plant, but her shape was too awkward to find a rhyme with, and, and…
Her noise joined every forest call and chirp bouncing around his hollow chest.
He was lonely.
This whole summer, he’d been desperately lonely. Alone was fine, he could manage alone into eternity, but lonely was—
Go and live among the humans, Hajime.
—there was no way he could risk going back to see Amane when it felt like he could at any moment split open, teeth-first, to tear up the infuriating peace of the world. He missed Kenzaki, aching endlessly around the empty space just for the sake of everyone and everything else in the world, and what did it matter to any of them? What did they know about it? On they went, clueless and happy and miserable and violent creatures all of them, and here he was, capable of destroying all of it at a single slip, and yet at the same time too useless to hit the shutter on his camera and create a picture, a single crystal of the infinite time he would wretchedly wade through and at the end he would—
Hajime bit down on his anger until it crumbled inside him. At least if he stayed like this, too pathetic to get out of the forest, he wouldn’t go and find Kenzaki.
He shifted again, taking another attempt at a better angle on the grasshopper though the camera lens. If he was lucky, something would come along to eat her.
Chapter 2: Good Intentions
Normally Tsukasa didn’t go for anything too oily, but the miso mackerel here was... heavenly , that was really the only word for it. It was warm and welcoming, like an invitation into someone else's home, and he found himself smiling at the gentle taste. He often came to this world purely for the food. Well, it certainly wasn’t for the company.
“Hey, waiter.” He gave a lazy wave. “More of that. I’ve got a long journey coming up.”
“Ri~ight away,” came the reply from behind him, a lean arm reaching down towards his finished plate—and freezing as Tsukasa grabbed it by the wrist halfway into his pocket.
“Your manners haven’t improved, Kaito.” He dragged the flimsily-disguised thief down into the seat next to him, scanning the room for the real waiter.
Daiki spread himself over the table to stay in Tsukasa’s field of vision, a gleam of pride in his eye. “You recognised my voice...isn’t that romantic?”
“Spicy...but I know even you believe in love, deep down.”
Tsukasa turned his full attention to his interdimensional stalker, who was now arched so far back across the table he was in danger of sliding off the other side. “Is there a point here? You’d better not just be here to proposition me.”
“I can do that anytime.” Daiki sat up with unnerving speed, perching gargoyle-like on the bench. “But no, I need your help with something. Remember Kamen Rider Blade?”
“The one that beat the hell out of me, or the one I left hanging?”
“First one. Kenzaki Kazuma. Tragic figure, isn’t he? Living forever alone, never to meet his dearest friends again…star-crossed lovers, torn apart…making a monster of himself, defying fate for all humanity…”
“I’m just saying , it’s so sad—but so romantic! Going so far for someone...”
“Chalice, right?” Tsukasa’s fingers drummed on the table. “They were the ones with, uh...the Undead, the Joker, the stone...yeah, I get the gist. What about ‘em?”
“They were reunited. Just for a while, but it happened. Right when I first dropped in on that whole Zi-O thing.”
Tsukasa frowned. “Don’t remind me. Dumbass kid went and got all the worlds separated, after all the work I did combining ‘em.”
“The point is,” Daiki said, leaning ever closer and forcing Tsukasa to duck back ever farther, “it happened once. It can happen again. You of all people know the value of a happy ending, right?”
Tsukasa grabbed both shoulders and shoved him into a sensible seating position. “This is stupid. More importantly, does your Driver have a silent mode or something?”
“With Invisible we might be able to get out of here. I don’t have any money.”
“Well, don’t look at me,” Daiki said, lowering his voice to add, “Hey, let’s just hop to another world.”
Tsukasa dipped to a whisper. “I’m kinda scared to try. The, uh...the server is…”
A powerful, clear voice cut through their murmurs from behind. “Grandmother said this: Those who cannot appreciate the value of good food, cannot be trusted. And there is no food in this world finer than Hiyori’s.”
“Great…” Tsukasa took a deep breath, standing up and jabbing a finger into the sous-chef’s rock-hard chest. “Looks like the only way out of here is through this one. Let’s do this.”
Tsukasa began the slow process of extricating himself from Daiki on one side and the garbage pile on the other, one limb at a time, as the steady clop of geta sandals receded back into the restaurant. He finally shoved Daiki off onto the concrete, sitting up and hissing as he felt at his bruises.
“Hell of a dining spot,” came the weak voice from below.
“I mean, he’s— ah —not wrong,” Tsukasa said, slowly easing himself to his feet. “You won’t find better food in any world I’ve been to.” After a moment’s consideration, he offered a hand to help Daiki up. “I’ll do your stupid thing.”
“Blade and Chalice. Let’s go save them.”
“I knew i~t!” Daiki flashed a wide grin. “You do believe in love.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” Tsukasa pushed him back to arm’s length. “If I say no, you’re just gonna try on your own, and then I’ll have to come clean up the apocalyptic mess you’ve made. That’s all.”
“That’s all! ”
Chapter 3: Going Through the Motions
Rain smashed down in sheets on the road. Hayato wrestled the violent wind to stay in control of Cyclone. Nobody with sense should have been out riding in a typhoon, but through the storm, he had heard it—the skipped heartbeat of a bucking motorcycle, tyres rushing over water and mud, and a dull, terminal impact.
There, off a bend in the road. The flash of a red seat on a fallen motorcycle, and next to it, the motionless form of a young man. Hayato carefully came to a stop next to the scene and practically jumped off Cyclone to kneel beside him.
“Hey! Can you hear me?” The man was unresponsive, but Hayato could hear his shallow breathing. His pulse was... faint, and far too fast. Hayato looked him over for wounds, and saw something oozing through the jeans now torn at the knees—something bright, acid-green—
The young man slowly opened his eyes.
“No hospital,” he whispered. “Please. I’ll heal.”
There was no confusion or shock to be found in those eyes—just weary resignation, and pain long beyond the endurance of a human body. Those were the eyes of a Rider.
Hayato nodded, shrugged off his jacket, and held it up to try and shield them both from the rain.
At a restaurant two streets over from a garage, silvery steam curled up from two bowls of soba. Hayato watched the man sitting across the table staring listlessly into his meal. Tall, pretty, with striking, wide cheekbones—if not for those haunted eyes, Kenzaki could have been a wonderful model.
"Come on now," Hayato said as he snapped his chopsticks apart, "You'll feel better for getting it down you."
Kenzaki continued to stare as Hayato started eating.
Kenzaki jerked with sudden awareness. “I—sorry, Mr Ichimonji, I didn’t mean—thank you for the meal.” He picked up his own sticks and began to pick the thin noodles from the broth, one by one.
“Not got much of an appetite?”
Kenzaki shook his head.
“Me neither,” said Hayato, with a mouth full of noodles. The soup had been made with sugar; the fried tofu took a long time to chew; the scallions floated on the top.
"Now, tell me,” he said as he neared the end of the bowl, “What on earth was so important that you needed to be out in that storm for it?"
The lad slowly finished chewing a noodle and avoided Hayato’s eyes. "I was just... moving on to the next place.”
“And it couldn’t have waited a couple of hours?”
“Well, the typhoon seemed like a good chance to go without being noticed.”
“Not on tyres that worn, it wasn’t.”
Kenzaki bowed his head sharply. “I’m sorry! Thank you for helping me. I’ll replace your scarf—”
“Don’t worry about it.” Said scarf was currently wrapped tight around Kenzaki’s knee, the blood mercifully only appearing as a dark patch on the the red fabric. “Just promise me you won’t neglect your bike’s maintenance again. I can see she’s been by your side for a long time. You usually take good care of her, don’t you?”
“It’s just the past few months, they’ve been—” Kenzaki shook his head. “I don’t know how to say it. It hasn’t felt real, somehow.”
“Mm, I know that feeling.” Hayato nodded and leaned back in his seat. “Sometimes I feel as though I remember battles that never happened. You haven’t been eating or sleeping well, I take it.”
“No, I—don’t need to.”
“Yes, you do.” Hayato leaned forward, and made eye contact with Kenzaki. “Maybe you can keep going for a good while without it, but you need to eat, and you need to rest. Even if you can’t enjoy it, you have to keep going through the motions of being human. Because when you let it drop, you get disconnected from humanity, and then you get in the habit of resenting people. And that’s a dangerous path for a Rider to go down.”
Kenzaki rested his chopsticks on their crumpled wrapper. “I—I should know that. I’m sorry. I’m bad at following my own advice.”
“Well, it’s hard to work up the will when you’re on your own. So I’m sticking with you until your bike’s fixed and you’re feeling better.”
He looked stunned by that. He started to protest, but Hayato cut him off. “Besides which, going by past experience, Riders meeting is a sign of trouble ahead. It’s better to be able to watch each other’s backs.”
To which point Kenzaki could only nod, looking somewhat relieved. “I’ll do my best, Mr Ichimonji.”
“It’s Hayato. Start by eating up.”
There was no steam rising from Kenzaki’s bowl any more. Hayato watched him lift it to his lips, grimace slightly, and down the broth like medicine.
Chapter 4: Entering and Breaking
The Aurora Curtain faded, leaving Tsukasa and Daiki on a grassy clifftop overlooking the sea. It was an overcast afternoon, a cold wind bringing the first few drops of rain.
There was no doubt that this was Blade’s world. Over the years, Tsukasa had got a pretty good sense for these things, but this one was more obvious than most. Something heavy hung over it. Something immense and patient. Waiting. A wrench had been thrown in the gears of oblivion, but they were still perfectly functional, poised for the right hand to set them in motion again.
Daiki, who either sensed none of this or gave no sign of it, kicked some loose dirt off the cliff. “So! Any ideas?”
“Any—” Tsukasa rounded on him. “This was your plan. I assumed it involved, y’know, a plan.”
Daiki hopped back a step, teetering deliberately on the precipice. “When have I ever had one of those?”
Tsukasa rolled his eyes, reaching back into a smaller Aurora Curtain to produce an umbrella. “ Fine , I’ll hold your hand through it. Get out that future book thing you stole from a Woz. Write us a happy ending.”
Daiki’s smile froze. “So about that.”
Tsukasa’s head tilted slightly.
“You remember Kamen Rider W’s library…”
“And I was trying to steal some, uh…”
Tsukasa’s jaw tightened.
“And, well, long story short, a plastic velociraptor ate it.”
Tsukasa blinked again, then threw the umbrella in Daiki’s face, toppling him backwards into empty space and—a moment of midair flailing later—standing over him as he clung to the cliff-edge by his fingertips.
“So,” said Tsukasa, expression even, hands in his pockets, “I gotta endure months of imagining you laughing your ass off every time something falls off a shelf onto my head, or jumps out to trip me up, or whatever the hell, but the moment it’d actually be useful …”
Daiki chuckled. “It’s been too long since I got a real rise out of you.”
Tsukasa sighed, hauling him back to safety by the shoulders and dumping him face-first on the ground. “Idiot.”
“Love you too.” Daiki sprung gymnastically to his feet, brandishing a triumphant finger. “Not to worry, though. I thought of something.”
“Am I gonna like it?”
“What do you think?”
Tachibana shook himself awake. He’d been staring at the same screen so long he’d started nodding off. How long, exactly? The last piece of solid work he’d done was...was...the sky had been brighter, at least.
He kicked himself away from the desk, chair wheeling back into the middle of the too-spacious office. The lights were off, but the computer screens were bright enough to hurt his head already. He should—
A rhythmic beeping cut across his scattered thoughts. Was that...the proximity alarm? Fewer and fewer people who were supposed to be here were coming lately. Who would break in?
He approached the monitor again, bringing up the CCTV feed. Flicking through angles, he found the culprit—the glass door to the main courtyard was shattered. The glass had fallen inwards, so yes, something was inside.
He shuddered. No-one else worked this late. In the whole complex, it was just him and...whatever this was. He took a deep breath, cycling through more cameras. The path seemed clear between here and the safe where the Garren Buckle was locked up, when it wasn’t needed for some experiment.
He probably wouldn’t need it.
It was something.
As Tachibana ran, trying to balance speed and quiet, his mind tried to conjure some narrative about the BOARD lab complex suddenly seeming emptier or more oppressive or something, but it wasn’t true. What he was feeling now was barely more than a heightened version of how he always felt when it got this late.
He avoided turning on any lights he hadn’t left on earlier, extremely self-conscious of the sound each breath and footstep made. This next hallway took him dangerously close to that main courtyard, but two more turns and then…
A metallic clang rang out from behind him, just around a corner, and he almost jumped clear to the ceiling, letting out a startled cry. With the knowledge that whatever had broken in was both close and knew where he was, urgency overtook his mind and he bolted.
One turn—he passed out of the lit corridor—two turns—something dark moved in his peripheral vision as he rounded the corner—the door, the door to where the safe was, where his—
Something caught his shoulder and dragged him to a halt. He spun with what he hoped was more conviction than fear, and...
Found himself staring into the blazing red eyes of Kamen Rider Blade.
"... Kenzaki?" He whispered, mouth dry.
There was no answer but the tightening of the hand on his shoulder. He tore away until he was backed up to the wall, scrambling for words. “Why, Kenzaki? Why are you sneaking around like thi—"
Blade held up a hand, seeming exasperated. He reached down to detach—now that wasn’t Blade’s belt. And when the suit faded away, the mean beneath was certainly not Kenzaki Kazuma.
It was dark in here, so not many details could be made out, but he was very tall—mostly leg. Dressed expensively, but sloppily. And somehow, even beyond this confusing situation, he had an air of untrustworthiness to him.
He put the unfamiliar belt away. “A certain someone thought that’d be a good way to get your attention. I’d apologise, but it worked.”
“Kadoya Tsukasa. A Kamen Rider who’s passing through. Mr Tachibana, right? I want to talk to you about killing God.”