Kamen Rider Calliope
Myth 1, Part 4
The sunlight pulled itself up over the windowsill once again, but this time instead of finding an empty bed to spread out on, it fell right onto Kaname’s face. She moaned from the indignity and rolled over, and moaned again from the bubbling pain in her ribs. It had just started to settle down from when she had to reach over and subdue her alarm clock. She had lain there for a few minutes after, wondering if she had actually managed to crack or break something; but what would she even tell a doctor? Pretty much anything besides the truth, actually, it wasn’t a hard thing to lie about.
But covering with a lie would mean having to face the truth of whatever the hell happened to her last night. She had, for a brief time, become a Kamen Rider and fought off a grotesque, one-eyed monster that had trapped her and a strange girl in some bizarre alternate dimension. Last night Kaname may have entertained notions that being a Kamen Rider would be a suitable alternative to going to university. However, a good night’s rest and settled-in bruising had woken her up far more sober this morning. She really had almost died performing an incredibly risky tactic against a foe she could have used her superpowers to get her and that girl the hell away from. But no, as soon as that mask was on, a little mortal peril didn’t sound like such a raw deal when she got to be a ~*~hero~*~.
Beans to that. She didn’t regret her actions in protecting the girl, but Kaname was not cut out for the Rider life. The only factor that was putting a damper on her resolve right now was still strapped around her waist. Try has she might, she couldn’t actually find a way to remove the belt. Strangely enough it actually disappeared into some sort of pocket-dimension space when she wasn’t actively thinking about it; but as soon as she realized it wasn’t there, out it came, materializing onto her waist again. So that was something that needed to be dealt with.
And so, as much as she would like, staying home today was not an option. Kaname pulled herself out of bed and took care while dressing, choosing something baggy to hide the belt in case it decided to pop out, which it did just as she was considering this. The pain in her side was significant, but nothing that she couldn’t carefully hide from her mother in the short time she had be downstairs. Kaname was grateful that her mom seemed to have dialed back the enthusiasm from the previous day, not even asking follow-up questions to anything that might have occurred last night. Kaname tried to keep the conversation safe and civil while hurrying as much as she could without drawing suspicion. Today was definitely not the day for that big “I’m quitting school after 24 hours” conversation.
Between getting out the house later and taking longer on her ride to the campus on account of her injury, Kaname was legitimately tardy to her first class. This was of very little importance to her, as she was mainly searching the campus in hopes of running into the girl from yesterday. She had no luck while walking around people-watching, and her only other idea was to hang around at the place where they had first collided. She realized there was no logical basis for her to be there, but all of Kaname’s interactions with this girl felt politely distanced from logic thus far. Her hunch didn’t work out; she did, however, run into Yasuda Hikaru.
The meek-mannered boy was skittering down one side of the hallway when Kaname caught sight of him. As he passed by, she waved him down.
“Oy, Yasuda. Doing alright?”
One look at his face told her that he was not, in fact, doing alright. He was generally unkempt, with dark bags under his eyes that were strongly contrasted against his pale, waxy skin. He still managed a weak, manners-conscious smile.
“Yeah, no problem. I just had a rough night of sleep. I have a big test coming up for my engineering course.”
“Sounds tough. Good luck on that. Hey, have you seen, uh… Well I don’t actually know her name, but she’s like this really well-dressed pretty girl with big blue eyes? Kinda high-class personality and speech?”
Hikaru shook his head. “Sorry, that’s not very specific. Yuon has a lot of girls who come from rich backgrounds. Why?”
“Ah, forget it. I just needed to return something. Sorry to bother.”
Hikaru’s good nature managed to shine through his sickly pall as he gently waved off Kaname’s apology. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll feel a lot better once this test is over anyhow. If you feel the need for a study session this week, just send me a message.”
“Thanks.” Kaname let him walk off without letting herself think about how this might be the last time she would see him. He definitely wasn’t a friend, but he was more than a stranger, and he didn’t seem like a bad dude (she couldn’t really imagine him having the chutzpah to be any kind of “bad dude” anyway). But at least she would leave knowing that the school was filled with egghead kids who wanted and deserved to be there.
Kaname was still having no luck finding the girl. It was unbelievable how much they had gone through together already while literally knowing nothing about each other. Kaname’s only class that day was already over, so she couldn’t even pretend to have somewhere to be while stalking around the halls of various buildings. Her stomach got the better of her and she bought some lunch from the cafeteria, eating it in a location with maximal foot-traffic viewing. The only person she recognized was the sanitation worker from yesterday, who she exchanged friendly head-bows with.
Maybe the girl hadn’t even come to school today at all; some students had schedules that gave them days without classes. But wouldn’t she have realized that Kaname still had the belt? Or was she just going to pop out of nowhere again, claiming she had another “vision”? Honestly that would be pretty convenient right about now. However, luck (or fate?) finally showed up for Kaname when she caught sight of long hair and impeccable posture at the end of a hallway she was passing by.
The girl was engaged in conversation with a couple other important-looking men in suits, so Kaname kept her distance until her target excused herself from the group. And even though the girl had had her back to the spot where Kaname had been loitering, she approached Kaname as if she had somehow known she was being waited for.
“Hello! How are you feeling today? Are you suffering any adverse symptoms from the engagement last night?”
Once again, the earnest smile that could goad flowers to bloom early dissolved Kaname’s eagerness to complain about her throbbing side. “Naw, honestly it all felt like a crazy dream. Except for one thing that stuck with me.” She lifted up her jacket a bit to reveal the belt that had just popped into existence.
“Oh dear. I apologize for that, I was so flustered by everything that I neglected to mention it.”
“Well, here it is, you can have it back. As soon as you show me how to remove it from my person.”
The girl made a bit of a bow and glanced up at her with gently remorseful eyes, and Kaname already knew what was coming. “I would like to oblige you immediately, but there is a meeting I must attend to. Would you mind waiting for me at the ACRC clubroom?”
“The Ancient Cultures Research Club. It’s located in the geography prep room on the fourth floor of the natural sciences building. Our club president should be expecting you. He might be able to help you, at least until I return.”
Kaname stopped herself from sighing as another step was added to this ordeal. “Alright. So your president knows how to get the belt off?”
“That’s quite unlikely. If anyone would know, it’s Archimedes. You can try asking them.”
“Archimedes? Is that like… a stage name? Do you have a foreigner in your club?”
“Sorry, I really don’t have time to explain right now. Please don’t worry, I won’t be too long!” The girl was already turning to go to her next appointment.
“Yeah, alright. Oh hey, hold up. I know this is a bit informal, but I’m Shizu Kaname (though I have a feeling you somehow already knew that). What’s your name?”
With the grace that emerges from a lifetime of closely-critiqued practice, the girl turned to her and gave her a formal bow of greeting. “I’m very sorry for not introducing myself earlier. I’m Ichiryuu Kokonoka. I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance, Shizu Kaname.”
“Ah. Uh, yeah, the pleasure’s mine,” Kaname replied, wracking her brain for the one time she might have listened to her elementary-school teachers about basic manners. “Wait. Ichiryuu, like the Ichiryuu temple?”
“Yes. My father is the current head of the temple and our family has been in charge of it since its inception. He’s also on the board of directors for Yuon University. You may have seen me talking with him just a minute ago. He’s asked me to attend another meeting with him and an important donor to both this school and our temple.”
“Oh. Wow. Whoops, I won’t keep you then, sorry.” Kaname knew even though Kokonoka had somewhere to be, her perfection of social graces wouldn’t allow her to do the reasonable thing and cut off the interaction. “I’ll see you at the clubroom then.”
Kokonoka gave her a gracious (and perhaps a grateful) smile and confirmed her intentions before hurrying off.
Kaname had no idea how long Kokonoka would be in the meeting with her father and other People of Extreme Distinction and Importance, or what such meetings would even entail her to be doing. Someone like Kaname simply couldn’t imagine it; maybe they just all sat around and played with massive stacks of money and said business words at each other. It was probably all really vague, like “is the project finally complete?” “No, they have yet to act upon it.” “If it comes to it, we can ask that person to step in.”
TV dramas were a helpful educator for Kaname about the ways and means of wealthy people.
Kaname was contemplating all of this as she made her way to the fourth floor of the natural sciences building because she was unsure of how long she wanted to stay in the presence of new people without the support of another slightly-less-new person. But hey, she wasn’t there to make friends; two acquaintances in two days was already pushing the meager limits of her social graces. She could be all-business here; she had a belt to remove.
Kaname swung the door open and stopped to take in the scene. Whatever a geography prep room was supposed to look like, this was likely not it. Any flat surface was distressingly convexed by layers of maps, reports, journals, and various other paper detritus. Balanced precariously atop the apexes were plaster busts and statues of famous people throughout the histories of various countries, as well as paintings, postcards, and even a few puppets and action figures. What impressed Kaname the most was the imposing presence of multiple marble columns that stood floor to ceiling in the room; they didn’t seem to have any structural purpose, but were very effective sight-blockers. Thus she thought at first that the room was empty, and entered to investigate. It turns out the pillars were less marble and more foam and plaster, which was much lighter than Kaname had anticipated when she began touching it; a simple tap was all it took to make one tilt on its unsteady base.
Kaname was too late to grab the pillar before it came toppling down, smacking into another one and beginning the much-anticipated domino effect. Before she could move to halt the unfolding chaos, however, another person’s voice arrested her.
“Oy, what do you think you’re doing!”
A hand reached out and caught the third pillar before it repeated the fall of its companions. A tall, lanky boy with thick-rimmed glasses and a head of frizzy black hair pushed his way through a narrow canyon of research materials that concealed one corner of the room, where he had been completely hidden amongst the academia.
“Be careful with the pillars, they were made shoddily enough to begin with. Barely lasted through the culture fest they were made for. Anyway, I assume you’re the black-cat girl.”
Kaname was caught off-guard at the nickname and unsure of whether or not to be offended. However, the boy’s pointed finger indicating her jacket cleared things up.
“Oh. Right.” Kaname turned herself around so they could both better see the stylised cat silhouette that decorated the back of her jacket, with the words BLACK CAT stitched into the corner. The jacket had been an important inheritance from her father; he hadn’t worn it much, as it had been a bit too small on him, but it was a bit too large on Kaname, and that was just right. If anyone had to give a description of her for identification purposes, “that mean-looking girl in the black-cat jacket” would work well.
“So I guess you’re Archimedes or whatever? The president of the club?”
The boy squinted at her and adjusted his glasses in a way that somehow irritatingly loud; Kaname had to guess he was able to do it in such a way that the “clack” sound punctuated his snarky responses. “I am indeed the president of the Ancient Cultures Research Club. However I have no idea why you would confuse me for a renowned scientist who’s been dead for thousands of years. Did Ichiryuu-san tell you something strange?”
“When doesn’t she? She said I could find someone named Archimedes here, who could help me out with a, um, wardrobe malfunction.”
Kaname wished she had phrased that better as soon as the words were out of her mouth, and avoided the inquisitive glare the boy leveled at her.
“You’re still not making sense. But you’re strange enough to catch Ichiryuu-san’s interest, I can’t deny that. So what area of history is your expertise? Roman? Egyptian? Sumatran? Or maybe you’re a Basque girl? You simply can’t deny the heady allure of the Basque…”
The boy was acting so nerdy Kaname had to physically distance herself by a couple of backward steps. “Uh, exactly none of whatever you said. Are you some kind of history otaku?”
The boy looked highly offended, but not for the reason Kaname was expecting. “Are you NOT? What could possibly be more fascinating than the complexities of a culture that shaped everything we experience to this very day? Our art, our buildings, our government system, literature, agriculture, academics, philosophy, our very modes of thought and action are products of people and their cultures from hundreds, even thousands of years ago! How can such a breathtaking concept not consume your dreams every single day and night? What else could possibly be more captivating in this waking life??”
Kaname’s mind was currently captivated by an exit plan from this room, in case the raving history fanboy closed the distance between them and she had to bring one of the fake pillars down on him to make her escape. However, she was very glad to see he seemed to gain some level of self-awareness.
“Ahem. Anyway, I guess the only question that’s worth asking right now is, if you’re not interested in ancient cultures, why exactly have you come to the Ancient Cultures Research Club?”
“Listen, I really wish I had a more reasonable answer for you, but I’m sorta just here cuz Ichiryuu-san told me I could get the help I needed here. But if this Archimedes person isn’t in, I guess I shouldn’t keep you from… whatever it is you do here.”
The boy crossed his arms and frowned pensively. “Before she left for her meetings, Ichiryuu-san told me a black-cat girl would be arriving here to seek answers that our club could provide. I presumed it was someone who had a report due in a history class, or perhaps a writer stuck on a plot point for their historical fiction. But you have proven the meaning of her words very obscure.”
“Yeah, that’s been a trend I’ve been noticing. I also don’t understand how she knew I’d be coming to ask her about… things before I even found her, but whatever. I’m out.”
Kaname turned and attempted to out, but the doorway she was outing through was full of a person trying to in.
“Shizu-san, you found the clubroom! I’m glad. And it seems you’ve met Odakyuu-sempai as well.”
Kaname stepped aside to let Kokonoka into the clubroom. “Well, if he’s not Archimedes, I guess I have. But it seems like we’re the only ones here now, so I’m not really seeing much meaning in me sticking around…” Kaname gave her a shrug and started past her out the doorway.
“My apologies, Shizu-san. I didn’t have time to explain before, but Archimedes is now present.”
“Once again, I really don’t get what you’re talking about…” Kaname’s head swivelled about, following the polite indication of Kokonoka’s hand behind her shoulder. All she saw was Odakyuu… but definitely not the same Odakyuu she had been talking to seconds earlier.
The boy was now leaning against one of the foam pillars, in a way that the flimsy prop should never have been able to support without toppling over, as it had from Kaname’s light push. This stance made it seem like his body had become nearly weightless and slightly ethereal. She wasn’t sure if it was a trick of her eyes or the light, but she could see whisps of blue flame dancing about Odakyuu’s form. They skipped over the ends of his curly hair and slithered around his body in waves, making it look like he was wearing a toga or some similar long, flowing garment. His glasses were completely opaque with the light of the azure flames, which put the gaze of a spirit in front of the eyes of their human host.
The needle on Kaname’s internal weirdness meter took a moment to catch up to what had just happened. All she could manage after a couple seconds was a weak “holy crap” and a blank look at Kokonoka for some kind of explanation. However, in keeping with how helpful she had generally been with everything they had witnessed up to this point, she gave Kaname a gentle, complacent shrug.
“As I said, I would like to introduce you to Archimedes. They share a body with their host, Odakyuu-sempai, and emerge when they deem the time appropriate.”
“So, you’re the new Rider girl, I presume.” Odakyuu’s voice boomed out at her, filled with far more authority and self-confidence than the host boy presented on his own. At the same time, the voice sounded as if came from somewhere far away, like it was rising up from the bottom of a deep well. “Your name? Shizu Kaname was it?”
“Uhh… Yeah. That’s me. So, seeing as how you’re straight-up some sort of ghost, are you the actual Archimedes dude from ancient Greece or whatever?”
Archimedes gave her a condescending bark of a laugh. “I have shared my form with people from many different cultures and ages in our world’s timeline. It is quite likely that I once inhabited the body of my namesake; however, he remained but a human, and I am much more than that.”
“So I see. So are you just haunting poor Odakyuu-sempai right now?”
“I’m afraid I don’t have much of a choice in who my essence latches onto in any given era. I was fortunate that Kokonoka found me quickly with her gift.”
“Her gift, huh?” This revelation barely phased Kaname; in fact, she had been starting to suspect something of the sort.
“Yes, the daughter of the Ichiryuu clan was born with the gift of foresight, which indicates her bloodline being connected with that of the great Oracles of Delphi back in ancient Greece. Her power has been indispensable in finding the person who could wear the new belt.”
“The new belt. You mean this goddamn thing?” Kaname yanked her jacket up to reveal the contraption that remained strapped to her waist. “Cool, glad you found me. Now it’s time to tell me how to get it off.”
“Off? Why would you want to remove it when you were chosen as the new Kamen Rider?”
“What the hell are you talking about? I used it ONCE to save me and Ichiryuu-san from getting pulverized by some world-warping monster-asshole! One time! I’m not a Kamen Rider and I’m sure as hell not volunteering to be one!”
“It’s a bit too late for that, girl. Surely you understand why you aren’t able to remove the belt?”
“Are you really telling me you’re not able to take it off?”
Archimedes gave her an infuriatingly callous shrug. “It lies beyond my powers. Once the belt has found a compatible soul, it remains connected until such time that their destinies are fulfilled.”
“Yeah, okay, whatever. And what destiny is this, exactly?”
“According to the Gaia Record, the Calliope Belt appeared once Kamen Rider Atlas was killed by Kronos, throwing the prophecy into chaos. Calliope is a replacement, of sorts, a second chance for good to triumph over Kronos and the Ektroma that serve him.”
“So is that what attacked us last night? An Ektroplasma?”
“Correct. That Ektroma was created very recently, so you were fortunate, in a way. You managed to triumph over a fraction of its potential strength.”
“Fortunate, are you kidding me? I almost got gored trying to kill that thing!”
“Yes, fortunate. Your battle instincts are sharp, and further merit your delegation as the new Kamen Rider. However, you were rash in trying to fight an Ektroma without using the belt’s full capabilities. And now that it’s returned to its host, it will soon have enough strength to create a new physical form.”
Oh right, now Kaname recalled that part of the conversation from the night before. “Great. So to finish it for real do you have to find the host and kill that?”
“That is not an advisable course of action, unless you wish to become a murderer. The hosts are the victims we are trying to save from their influence.”
Kaname’s skin prickled. “So the hosts are humans then. Well that sucks. How does that happen?”
“Ektroma are monsters born of negative emotions that are siphoned from a human’s psyche. And the tools that concentrate and distill those emotions into a pure form are called Wonderpens. No one can say for sure how they appear, but they invariably find their way into the hands of hosts they can feed upon. The more the victim uses the Wonderpen, the more it can manipulate their minds until it extracts all it needs to create an Ektroma. Truly a horrible device.”
“Sounds like. Say, uh… What exactly do these Wonderpens look like?”
“I’m not sure if they’ve always appeared in the same form,” Kokonoka answered her, “but the Wonderpens of our era tend to look like regular writing utensils. Perhaps a bit garish or ornate, but nothing that would strike a human as being otherworldly.”
“Huh. That’s… interesting.”
Arichmedes clacked their glasses in the exact same annoying manner that their host did. “Regardless, once the Ektroma are released, they go on to wreak havoc and bolster the expansion of Pandora’s Box, an alternate dimension that wears away at the reality you live in. All of this is beneficial for Kronos and his dangerous schemes. The Kamen Rider is the only one who can put a stop to all this. That is you, Kaname.”
Hearing this supercilious spirit speak her name directly reminded Kaname of how angry she was. “Oh no, don’t be starting that up again. I don’t care even if I have this stupid belt glued to me, I am not agreeing to be a Kamen Rider. I didn’t sign up to risk my life for whatever crazy destiny you’re talking about. I’m not a freakin’ hero! I’m barely even an adult. Atlas was both those things and look what that got him. I’m not… I’m not buying into that. I can’t do it. So just drop it.”
Kaname’s emotions were getting too heavy to keep launching at Archimedes, who had finally fallen silent, arms crossed, listening to her outburst. The moment of silence that filled the space where her harsh words had been was even worse to listen to, so she made her exit.
Kaname rubbed hard at her eyes before turning around to face the foosteps that had followed her out into the hallway. Her blurred vision refocused on a very concerned Kokonoka.
“Shizu-san. I just wanted to profusely apologize for my role in all this today. Please don’t misunderstand my intentions; I truly thought that Archimedes would be able to remove the belt from you.”
Kaname avoided her gaze by looking out the window. “It’s alright. I don’t blame you for that. Hell, I don’t even really blame Archimedes, although they’re kind of an asshole about it.”
“I am far from blameless. I saw you in my vision and brought the belt to you, as I believed I was supposed to, and now you are shackled with a fate you don’t wish for. It’s too cruel. I really, truly am sorry for this.”
Kokonoka now looked closer to crying than Kaname, and it made Kaname more uncomfortable than before. “Don’t say that. Look, that fate’s a bunch of bunk. Shit happens, and I’ll deal with it. If nothing else, I’m glad you gave me the belt so I could save you from the Ektroma. That was worth it.”
The radiant smile that Kaname had bestowed upon her for that comment more than doubled that worth in her mind. Still definitely uncomfortable though, perhaps for different reasons.
“Anyway, I need to get going. I need to meet a friend for some studying.”
“Of course. I will see you tomorrow then.”
“Yeah, I guess so. See ya.” Kaname hurried off down the hall. See her tomorrow, huh? Did that mean they were officially friends now? Was that what qualified as being friends? What were the specific parameters nowadays? What edition of the friendship handbook were people supposed to be using? Kaname had a lot of feelings but no ideas. But, if she did indeed have one friend, she also had another, and she picked up her pace, very worried she might have put that other friend in a whole lot of danger.
~~ Next Time, in Part 5~~
Kaname rushes to find Yasuda and take the suspicious pen back, but the mild-mannered boy is proving to have a hidden nasty streak in him. Will Kaname be able to stare down this asshole in sheep’s clothing and confiscate the wicked writing utensil before her problems get worse? Something’s got an eye on her… a big eye.
Tune in next Sunday, February 11th, 9:00a.m. EST!