Kamen Rider Calliope
Myth 1, Part 6
It still had that hideous, bulbous eye, despite how hard Calliope’s foot had impacted it last time they crossed paths. In fact, the hulking creature looked like it had gotten a bit of an upgrade since last time; it had developed even more chitinous armor plates along its body, which bristled with spikes of their own. She wondered if the horn above its eye had gotten even larger. But maybe that’s what happens when you fatten an Ektroma up with a load of crappy human emotions. At first Kaname was worried it was coming straight for her; then that fear gave way to the much worse realization that it wasn’t. There were closer targets, a couple of students who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and now couldn’t not be, thanks to the reality-warping effects of Pandora’s Box.
Kaname just then realized that her hand was grasping at the belt on her waist. She fervently reminded herself that she was NOT a hero, and then pushed herself forward with all her might to make it to the students before the monster could. I was like trying to run underwater, but Kaname found that the chaos had a current; depending on where she moved, she would suddenly find less resistance and be able to progress unhindered. This was purely through instinct, without the time to find reasons or patterns, but fortunately Kaname’s instincts had won her most of her battles, including the last round with this freak.
Kaname took a dive as the monster swiped at the students, which sent them tumbling through the warped air. She shoved its arm away to avoid a follow-up attack, and tried to throw a punch at the eye again. Her fist connected, but with the fluctuating resistance around her she couldn’t put enough power behind it. The monster vocalized what could be interpreted as a sickening laugh, and brought its arm swinging back at her. Even though Kaname was anticipating it, her hindered reflexes couldn’t keep her safe. She assumed the Ektroma had gotten stronger, but she suspected the lack of the suit was also what made this swat of its arm feel like a hearty application of a battering ram to her shoulder. She expected to go flying from the blow, but the effects of Pandora’s Box kept her rooted in place, conveniently lined up for the next strike. She could tell the monster was toying with her, and yet she expected her bones to snap each time she took a hit. Kaname could see that the students weren’t even able to get away while the Ektroma was pounding on her; one of the them wasn’t moving at all on the ground, and the other was trying to pull him away to little effect.
She may have made a fatal mistake. But she wasn’t even sure if she could fix it now, to reach down to her belt and activate it without letting her guard down. A direct hit would likely be the end of her. She wasn’t even sure she could beat the thing at this point as a Kamen Rider. The Ektroma swung both its arms wide, and Kaname was already pushing herself backwards to avoid what was coming. She raised her own arms to block as the monster slammed its horned head down on her, driving her into the ground. It raised itself up, but Kaname couldn’t move anymore. She wasn’t sure if she was dying yet, but this was the closest she had ever come to feeling like it. Satisfied with its work, the Ektroma stepped over her to finish off the other students. Kaname willed herself to move, but her body denied her. She just needed to stop that thing. Somebody had to.
Thankfully, this time, that somebody wasn’t her. Kaname saw tendrils of water lash out from somewhere beyond her skyward vision, and heard the responding howl of the monster that they had targeted. A figure stepped into view that, for a moment, Kaname believed to be another monster; it was covered head-to-toe in the same kind of smooth, lustrous plating the Ektroma was, and it sported rows of thin, brittle spines to both decorate and threaten. However, the being’s form was decidedly more human, rather than a monstrous approximation of one like the Ektroma. If the newcomer had been sporting a belt, Kaname might have believed them to be another Kamen Rider, perhaps one that was sort of… ocean-themed? Their overall appearance reminded her of a barnacle or sea urchin.
The Ektroma responded to the attack by turning to the new opponent and putting its head down, readying a charge. With a wave of their hand, the water-weilder sent a swirling jet of high-pressure foam towards the Ektroma, bursting up just under its head and sending the monster sprawling. Before it could recover, the attacker followed up with a few more well-placed watery lashes. The Ektroma howled miserably and decided to retreat, which the victor allowed it to do. Kaname tried to speak, but her lungs were still struggling to get air from the Ektroma’s last attack. Her savior looked her way, their face lacking any identifiable features under a mask of barnacles, and didn’t acknowledge her any further. As they turned and walked away, Kaname felt the space around her stabilize. The adrenaline was also wearing off, meaning everything was starting to hurt even more than it had just a few moments ago.
Kaname’s vision was blurry again, but Pandora’s Box had nothing to do with it this time. She heard her name in her ears, and felt herself being pulled from the ground and brought somewhere else. When her senses had realigned themselves she saw she was in a medical office, on a bed close to a couple other students she recognized from the quad. There were several other people in the room, but the only ones paying attention to her were a moderately concerned Odakyuu-sempai and an even-more-concerned Kokonoka.
“Are you feeling any better, Shizu-san? Are you still in a lot of pain? The nurse said that nothing was broken.”
“Ugh.” Kaname managed to succinctly summarize her feelings about everything that was happening right now.
Odakyuu clacked his glasses. “They said you’ll be able to walk out of here, though don’t expect it to be pleasant. You’re shocking resilient, Shizu, for a human in general. The Greek Hoplite soldiers might even be an apt comparison for your physical capabilities.”
“Shizu-san, I’m so, so sorry we didn’t arrive earlier.” Despite her throbbing everything, Kaname did take notice of how much less “aristocratic” Kokonoka’s speech had become now that she was distressed. “My vision came too late and I felt the need to retrieve Odakyuu-sempai to stand a chance of rescuing you.”
“S’alright. I appreciate it. I still can’t believe I’m not people putty in a me-shaped mold back out on the quad though. Guess I am pretty tough, but being tough really crappin’ hurts.” Kaname looked over at the two other students, who were difficult to see while they were surrounded by nurses and concerned friends. “What about those two?”
“Both injured, but not enough to require hospitalization, luckily. So what exactly happened out there?” Odakyuu was staring intently at Kaname, who was suddenly unsure of how much she was supposed to tell him.
Kaname looked to Kokonoka for guidance. Her confidante appeared to be distracted by something; just when she was about to speak, her gaze was drawn up and away, to somewhere beyond the room they were in or perhaps even further than that. It lasted only a moment, and her usual composure returned.
“Sempai, why don’t we first ensure Shizu-san has some privacy. It’s getting a bit crowded in the office, and I’m sure pressure isn’t what she needs right now.”
Before either of them could reply, Kokonoka stepped back and swung the curtains shut around the bed Kaname was in, closing in her and Odakyuu. As if on cue, Odakyuu twitched a bit and fell forward, as if he had just fainted. Kaname started forward to catch him and then hoped he could catch himself because her body was not about that right now. Fortunately Archimedes had a mind to grab the bedframe before Odakyuu’s head was smashed into it, and once they had righted themselves, Kaname found herself once again staring into the obscuring blue flames that indicated Odakyuu had left the building.
“I will echo Shoki’s bewilderment at the resilience of your slender frame. Despite my many reincarnations it’s rare I meet a human as obstinately vigorous as yourself.”
“Gee, thanks for the weird-ass compliment. So it looks like you get to spy on Odakyuu’s life but not the other way around? Heck, it seems like he doesn’t even know you exist.”
“Manifesting myself requires energy, most of it his, so I reserve my appearances for when I am most needed. But it is true he currently isn’t aware of the situation he and I share. Kokonoka and I thought it for the best, until circumstances deem it untenable.”
“Woo, more problematic deception, love it. Anyway, what do you think you’re so needed for at this particular time?”
“Why didn’t you use the belt?”
“Please refer to our previous conversation, decision still in full effect.”
“So that pride of yours is worth dying for after all?”
Kaname couldn’t quite muster up enough snark for that one. She retreated into sullenness and avoided the spirit’s pupil-less stare.
“You know full well that Kamen Rider’s power would have helped you win that fight. Or at least, prevented a great deal of those injuries. I know I am lacking in several factors when it comes to comprehending human agendas and motivations, but I am truly at a loss this time. You lack not strength, nor will, nor bravery to put yourself in harm’s way.”
“Why do you hesitate to use Calliope’s power to secure victory?”
“I said you’re wrong. I do lack at least one of those things.” Kaname had curled herself up into as tight a ball as she could manage, despite her wounds crying out in protest.
“I was scared.”
“Well, that’s understandable. The effects of Pandora’s Box and the threat posed by the Ektroma are forces that one can’t expect humans to be prepared to deal with.”
“Not during the fight. I was scared before that. Ever since I almost got killed fighting the Ektroma the first time, in the park… when I was Calliope.” Kaname’s knees were drawn tight against her, and she pushed her eyes against them so hard she started to see stars break out in the sanctuary of darkness. Her voice might have been muffled by her legs, but her confession was not meant to be loud.
“I felt like I was invincible when I was using the belt. But I woke up and realized how reckless I was. This isn’t a schoolyard fight. That thing’s trying to kill people. If… If one of those things managed to kill the last Kamen Rider, how in the hell am I supposed to fight it? He was a hero. I’m not. I told you that.”
Archimedes had no immediately reply to that, and so silence descended. Kaname focused on keeping the sounds of her despair hidden within the background noises that came from beyond the curtain. She wasn’t sure if the ancient spectre understood the awkwardness of long pauses in conversation, but nevertheless they seemed to take their time choosing their next words.
“A hero is not chosen by strength, but by their will to act. To use what power they have to do what they can, regardless of the outcome. That belt does not make you a hero. It makes you a Kamen Rider. Remember that.”
Kaname lifted her head; her vision was blurry again. She wiped it clean. “Not really sure I follow.”
“Kaname. What do you think would have happened to those other two students, had you not interposed yourself?”
That was the first time Kaname had considered the possibility, and she found the prospects unpleasant. “I mean… I couldn’t not. They aren’t even involved any of this…”
“You were prepared to defend them, even in an unwinnable situation. Do my words make more sense now?”
Kaname struggled to avoid admitting so. “I don’t know…”
“Had a hero not been present, they likely would have died. That is the reality of our situation, Kaname, as it has always been. Heroes will fail, heroes will give up, and heroes will sometimes be killed. But if heroes do not confront the evil, there is nothing standing in its path to the powerless. Do not fool yourself into thinking that role is worth the glory or the power. Those who do steer themselves to tragic ends.”
Kaname felt the presence of some context behind those words that she did not know. “…I’m glad I was able to save those students.”
To Kaname’s surprise, Archimedes managed a smile that looked almost natural with Odakyuu’s mouth. “As are we all.”
Kaname sighed and reached down to touch the belt. “Alright. We’ll do it your way. If it’s what I need to save Yasuda and put that monster on ice. And to make sure no one else gets hurt.”
Archimedes gave an approving nod. “To triumph over an Ektroma that has absorbed such a large amount of Fable Ink, you will need to harness the full capabilities of the Kamen Rider system. There is still greater power you can draw out.”
“What? Like what? How?”
“I am unable to answer that. The only one who knows is you; the power of a Rider is based on instinct.”
Kaname groaned as she saw the flames around Odakyuu’s head start to fade. “Listen, I dunno who makes these things, but it wouldn’t kill them to include a manual!”
An hour and a half later, Kaname was up and walking with only a few bandages and cold compresses to deal with her wounds. If she had been honest about how much pain she was actually in she likely would have been referred to a clinic, but once again, she said that she had had worse. Although she was seriously starting to wonder if she was even lying to herself about that.
“Oh, hey, Ichiryuu-san,” Kaname addressed her friend walking beside her, “do you happen to know if there’s any other Kamen Riders hanging around this area?”
Kokonoka gave her a surprised look. “I would think not. I consider it a minor miracle that the Calliope belt appeared, so I can’t imagine there would be another. Why do you ask?”
“Well, someone saved me from the Ektroma shortly before you and Odakyuu got there. They looked slightly like a Kamen Rider, I guess, with weird armor on. Although I guess they might have looked more like an Ektroma? I can’t really say.”
Kokonoka looked concerned, but had nothing to add after a few moments of thought. “We could ask Archimedes about it. I’m afraid I’m at a loss, and if there is indeed another fighter in this conflict it would be important to know about them.”
“Yeah, I mean, don’t worry about it too much.” Kaname wasn’t exactly sure why it wasn’t a thing to worry about, but for some reason she didn’t like the idea of spilling everything to Archimedes when they themselves were so conservative in giving out vital information. “I get the feeling that whoever they are, they don’t want to get too involved. Next time I’ll be ready for ‘em.”
“Alright. I’ll leave it to you then.”
Kaname basked in a smile she hadn’t gotten to experience for the last couple days, that she just now realized she had missed seeing. “So Odakyuu really doesn’t know about how he’s getting used as a meat puppet on the regular?”
“When I first met Archimedes, they convinced me it would be for the best, in the long run. It would seem as though Odakyuu-sempai has adapted to the situation in his own way…”
There was likely only so much adapting one could do when involved in a situation they had no understanding of or control over. “Well, good old Arc said I had to draw out the full potential of my suit to stand a chance at beating the Ektroma. Got any ideas about that?”
Kokonoka only giggled at Kaname’s question, and Kaname felt instantly foolish without knowing why. “Wait, what?”
“Ah, I’m sorry. I like your nickname for Archimedes.”
“Oh. I mean, Archimedes is kind of a mouthful. Arc just seems more natural. Do you think they’d enjoy being called that?”
“I have a feeling not.”
“Cool. Arc it is.”
The pair had reached the parking lot at the edge of the school, where sodaigomi was slouching heavily, a chromatic chariot awaiting its driver.
“Ah, sorry, I neglected to answer your question. I’m afraid I have little concept of how Calliope works, but I assure you that you have the full support of both Odakyuu-sempai and myself. In fact, it may be worth having a conversation with Odakyuu-sempai tomorrow.”
“Why’s that?” Kaname’s statement was intended to question said worth of having any conversation with the supercilious Odakyuu, but she knew Kokonoka would rise above her snarkiness.
“The Ektroma resembles a monster from an ancient myth we were once studying. I believe it was called a cyclops.”
Now that she mentioned it, Kaname made the connection; she had seen those kinds of monsters in games before, but they were a lot easier to kill. She had been too busy focusing on not getting impaled by this one to consider how its shape and single eye would classify it as such.
“So Odakyuu’s an expert on killing non-existent, but sort of actually-existent mythical creatures?”
“I couldn’t say. All I know is that his understanding of ancient cultures can be considered encyclopedic. And it wouldn’t hurt for you to bond with him a bit more.”
Kaname didn’t think she could necessarily say that for sure either, but a course of action was a course of action. And overall Kaname didn’t necessarily dislike Odakyuu; he just was more difficult to like than most people. Or maybe he was unfair to say; Kaname had to admit her own lack of trying probably accounted for most of this perception. In any case, he was harder to like than Kokonoka, which was also unfair to say, because Kaname found her very easy to like.
“Alright. I’ll talk with him tomorrow. It’s too bad we couldn’t find Yasuda again, but here’s hoping he won’t keel over before tomorrow. He’s got more exams to study for so I seriously doubt it.”
“Yes. Oh, and, ah… Shizu-san.” Kokonoka added before Kaname could start up her engine. “Do you particularly mind that Archim… Arc just calls you Kaname?”
“Oh. Uh, I mean, I guess not. I don’t consider them a friend by any means, but I understand being some kind of immortal spirit guide leaves you lacking in some specific cultural knowledge.”
“Ah, yes. Well, if that’s the case… I suppose it wouldn’t… but perhaps…”
Kaname was perplexed by her friend’s sudden loss of words, when she was usually so erudite. “I mean, I dunno. Does it bother you? I know he calls you K… uh, by your first name.”
“Ah, yes. It’s fine for me. For the same reasons you mentioned. I was just thinking… If that’s the case… Would you particularly mind if I called you Kaname too?”
Kaname had to look away quickly to hide the red of her face with the intense rays of the setting sun. “Yeah! No, like, go for it. You do you.” Whatever the hell that was supposed to mean.
“Great! To be honest, I’ve always wanted a friend I could be on a first-name basis with.”
“Do you not? You must have a ton of friends who’d be willing to call you that, with how popular you are.”
Kokonoka laughed, a bit nervously. “Oh no. I don’t think any of my classmates would be willing to cross that boundary. In many social contexts I’m required to keep a level of formality, even between people I consider my friends. We may have been allowed more freedom when we were children, but as I now represent my father and the Ichiryuu Temple, we must always keep our public image in consideration.”
Kaname had never once before thought of that as something that needed to be considered. She wanted to protest at how ridiculous that was, but she was more embarrassed that once again, she had needed something explained to her that she assumed based on how the world worked for her personally.
“Wow. That sucks, I guess… Or not. Sorry…”
Kokonoka gave her a smile that desired no apology. “It’s really not that bad. I’m very used to it by now, and it’s not like we feel more distant just because of that. But in any case… I always thought it would be nice, to be able to have that with someone.”
“Oh, yeah, totally. I mean… yeah. Please go ahead and call me Kaname.”
“Wonderful. Please call me Kokonoka then.”
Kaname gave her word to try and do so from now on. They parted ways with only a few more friendly words, leaving Kaname with a whole bunch of thoughts jammed up in her brain. For once, the pain her body was in proved to be a welcome distraction.
~~ Next Time, in Part 7~~
Third time’s the charm, if that’s any consolation for Kaname. She won round one, lost round two and now is prepping for the final tiebreaker between the walking emotional golem and herself, not a hero but still a Kamen Rider for now. Does her persnickety upperclassman hold the secret to her victory? If only he would just get to the point…
Tune in next Sunday, February 25th, 9:00a.m. EST!