Kamen Rider Zero
CH 1: Start From Count Zero
“Argh…come on…” a young male black panther-morph struggled with the door’s control panel, pressing a finger to the top portion. “Just…just open up already!” He tapped his finger against the panel several more times, but producing no progress. He let out a low growl of irritation, flicking his tail in annoyance as he tapped the panel several more times. He reached up with his other hand to fix the collar of his bright green shirt, the makeshift uniform of the shop he was trying to enter. A young snow leopard-morph in a similar uniform chuckled at his antics in amusement, swishing her tail happily and flicking her ears once.
“Come on then,” she teased him lightly, “let’s try to open up on opening time.” The panther let out a low growl, pressing on the panel a little more aggressively. The leopard laughed, placing her paw on his shoulder. “Do you need some help there?” The panther blinked in confusion and turned to her.
“Y-yes!” he replied in an irritated tone, “I asked you several times already!” The leopard laughed again, stepping back.
“I know,” she chimed, “it’s just funny to ask.” She chuckled again as he turned to face the panel again, mumbling something under his breath. “Boy, to think we used to tease our folks about being hopelessly lost when it came to technology, but it seems like you’re in the same situation they’ve been in.”
“Shut up,” he snapped back, trying hard to suppress a smile creeping up his muzzle. He pressed the panel another time, still not making progress. The leopard laughed.
“Alright, alright, I’ve got it,” she laughed as the panther moved aside to allow her access. She placed her finger in the center of the panel, waiting for a few seconds. She removed her finger, and a soft click was heard, signaling that the door had opened. She turned her head to him, a smug expression across her features. “See? It’s not that hard.”
“Tch, well this would’ve been faster if you’d just told me how,” he replied, the smile he had been trying to hold back escaping and spreading across his muzzle. The leopard smiled back.
“Hey, if I do everything for you then you’ll never learn,” she said to him as she opened the door and walked through, with the panther following close behind. As she walked over to a nearby desk, she placed a single finger on her lip. “Hmmm, I hope you can manage working today. I mean, we are in a tech shop after all, and it seems techy stuff doesn’t seem to be your strong point… Hmmm…” She smiled as she flicked her eyes towards the other feline.
“Yeah, right,” he replied, eyes half-lidded, “I should be worried about working on stuff I’ve been working on for quite a while because I was unable to figure out how to operate some newly installed tech. I’m glad to know how much faith you have in me, Erika.” The leopard laughed, pointing a finger at him.
“Hey, no need to get smart with me, Arata,” Erika said as she activated the various computers of the shop, “Don’t forget who gave you this job.” Arata laughed as well, swishing his tail behind him as he got to activating the computers as well. The two of them worked at a computer / tech shop in Jinsoku City. While there weren’t very many of these shops around, customer activity tended to be on the mediocre side of things. They didn’t mind this, however, as the two of them generally enjoyed simply spending their time there. Erika was the owner of the spry shop, and Arata was her most trusted (as well as her only) hired employee. The two of them got along well, being that the two of them were close friends.
“So are you sure you can handle yourself today?” Erika said teasingly, “There could be some new programs that you’ll have to install.” Arata chuffed.
“I wouldn’t have a problem with them if you’d just friggin tell me how to work them!” he replied ecstatically, a wide grin spread across his muzzle. Erika laughed.
“I keep telling you! You’re not gonna learn if I show you how to do everything.” Just as Arata opened his mouth to respond, the shop’s door opened up, allowing a husky-morph and a weasel-morph to walk through.
“Hey guys,” the husky greeted them, taking a seat nearby.
“Hey Dave, hey Vince,” Erika greeted back, waving to each of them.
“So like I was saying,” the husky said to the weasel, “if you go down the left corridor, the guard‘ll be there waiting for you. He’ll have the armor set you’ve been trying to get.”
“I tried going down there,” the weasel replied, “but there was some fog in the way.”
“I know. It’s because he’s a boss.” The weasel nodded in understanding, smacking himself lightly in the head.
“What game‘re you guys talking about this time Dave?” Arata asked curiously, looking up from the monitor.
“Darker Souls,” Dave replied, turning back to the weasel and continuing to give him advice. Arata shrugged, and got back to work. Anytime the pair got to talking about a game he didn’t play, the panther tended to tune them out for the while. It wasn’t because he wasn’t a gamer, as he had his own share of games he’s invested time on, but if it was something he wasn’t in to, he was practically out of the conversation.
“So down slash…alright,” the weasel replied, slumping in his seat and relaxing. At that, the room went silent, everyone’s conversations practically ending at once. A moment of silence set in, and the panther paused in his work, his ears flattening against his head. Noticing this, Erika looked up form her monitor.
“That ringing bugging you again?” she asked him tenderly. Arata nodded, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yeah, figured. Don’t worry, I was in the middle of looking up some songs to play anyways.” She clicked several times on her mouse, and the room was suddenly filled with smooth music. The panther’s ears raised form his head, and he let out a sigh of relief. He nodded to her in thanks as he returned his attention to the screen.
“I keep forgetting that you have that,” Dave commented, tilting his head slightly, “Hey Vince, do you remember what he called it?”
“I dunno,” the weasel replied in a bored and tired tone, “something with a ‘t’ I think?”
“Tinnitus,” Arata informed them, getting back to work on his computer, “and I think it’s gotten louder lately.” Erika cringed slightly.
“There is a cure for that thing, right?” Arata nodded.
“I’m gonna find the time to get the treatment.” He pressed several more keys on the keyboard before moving on to the computer beside him. “For now I gotta get my life straightened out.” The group nodded in understanding.
“Man, that must really suck though,” Dave commented, “How’d you even get that anyways?” Arata’s hands froze, and he bit his lip slightly. Another moment of silence passed between the group, only being filled by the music playing throughout the small shop. All eyes fell upon the panther, making him look up from the screen.
“What’s wrong?” Vince asked, “Do you now know how you got it?”
“I…I know…” Arata replied, lowering his head slowly, “it…it’s just…” He twiddled his thumbs, keeping his eyes on the screen.
“Just what?” Dave asked curiously, “Something wrong?” Arata didn’t reply for a moment. After a while, he let out a sigh, and looked up from the screen.
“I got it from…Day Zero…” Once more, the room fell to silence. It was Arata who broke it. “There was a lot of…gunfire…around my area that day…so…I’m fairly sure that’s how…” No one else even made a sound, once again leaving the music to be the only thing filling the silence.
“OoooooooohhhhKAY,” Erika spoke up, clapping her paws together, “how ‘bout we move on to a different subject huh?” She turned to Arata, and he turned to her. “How’s your kabuto been doing? Wh-what was his name again?”
“It…it was Souji,” Arata replied, shaking his head and snapping back into reality, “and he’s been fine. Complacent as usual.” He smiled and turned back towards the screen, getting back to work. “I actually managed to give him his own little habitat. Well, little isn’t how I’d describe it anymore, considering I extended his tank a whole bunch.” He looked back towards the group, a happy smile across his muzzle again. “I fixed it up so that it seems almost like a real forest.”
“Dude, that is cool,” Dave commented enthusiastically, “How big is it?”
“That’s what she said,” Vince muttered under his breath, earning a dirty look from Erika from her desk.
“I got it big enough to fill up half of the room,” Arata told them, swapping over to the next computer, “I’m worried though, cuz I’m sure I picked up some unexpected guests somewhere within all of those branches and dirt.”
“I’m sure he’s still lonely there though,” Erika sighed, continuing to work on her computer, “With no other little beetles for him to socialize with, the poor guy must be so empty inside.” Dave chuckled.
“Hey, you could always pay him a visit,” he teased, a sly grin across his muzzle. Erika’s hands stopped, and Arata and Vince shot each other troubled looks. Erika raised a brow, glancing in his direction. “I’m sure lil’ Souji wouldn’t mind the company of a fellow bug to talk with.”
“Uhuh….” Erika began, slowly moving away from her computer and inching towards the husky, “what else do you think we’d do Dave?” Arata and Vince chuckled from where they sat, the husky-morph completely oblivious to what was about to happen.
“Well see, first you’d sidle up to him,” Dave went on, unaware of Erika’s approach, “and then you’d get all nice n’ comfy…”
“Uhuh,” Erika nodded, walking innocently up to him, “and we’d get to dinner, right?” Dave chuffed, nodding. “I see… Hey uh, could you maybe get up from that seat please? I gotta move it to my desk.” Arata and Vince snickered, trying to contain themselves. Dave shrugged, paying no mind to this, and stood from his seat.
“Yeah, and then the two of you would gaze into the moonlight, and you would—” Suddenly, Erika’s paws shot forward, and then Dave was face down on the floor, his leg held up by the leopard-morph. At that, Arata and Vince broke into laughter.
“One thing you haven’t learned about me Dave,” Erika began, letting go of his leg and standing over him, “I don’t flip people off. I flip them over.” At that, the entire group laughed, including Dave.
Two well dressed wolf-morphs silently made their way towards a steel door. The two canines were walking down a dark railroad tunnel, the sounds of their footsteps echoing throughout the area. The male of the pair had a briefcase in his paws, and the female’s paws were clasped neatly behind her back. The pair walked up to the door, knocking in a rhythmic pattern. Footsteps from behind the door were heard, and soon stopped near it.
“Does the willow weep?” a deep voice asked. The male smiled, and leaned in slightly.
“It shrieks through the night,” the wolf answered. At that, several heavy clicks sounded from the other side before it slid open, a large Doberman-morph moving aside to allow them entrance. The wolves bowed politely as they walked past the fellow canine, and entered into a long hallway. Not wasting any time, the two wolves started their way down the hall.
“He seems to be an easy customer,” the female began, “but are you sure he will want to buy your Memories? After all br—”
“Ah-ah-AH!” the male silenced her, holding up a single finger, “When we’re working, we must use our code names.” The female sighed in irritation.
“Fine Crosshair,” she chuffed, “Are you absolutely sure that he will want to buy these new models? No one has seen them before, so he might think that you are simply scamming him.”
“And that is why I have a plan,” he replied, holding the same finger up higher, “You do not need to be concerned with my business skills, Stopwatch, for I know what I am doing.” He chuckled slightly, and Stopwatch rolled her eyes.
“Such a child, it amazes me sometimes,” she turned to him, “and I do not understand why you do not simply allow me to use my Memory to convince people. It would make things much easier.” Crosshair laughed.
“Because it is extremely unprofessional,” he explained, “and besides, who would want to deal with someone with a Dopant standing next to them?”
“Smart people,” Stopwatch snapped, “But it wouldn’t matter becau—”
“ShHH!” Crosshair cut her off, making a gesture with his free paw, “It’s almost time to start.” The two wolves made it to the end of the hall, reaching another steel door. Two guards saw their approach, and they opened up the doors for them. Behind the doors was a casually dressed jackal-morph, wearing a simple set of jeans and a hoodie. He looked up as they approached, and gestured for them to take a seat.
“Hello fine sir,” Crosshair greeted him as he sat down, “shall we get to business then?”
“Well I didn’t call you in for tea,” the jackal retorted, sitting up straight, “Go on then, show me the goods.” Smiling, the male wolf leaned in, placing the suitcase atop the table, and opened it up, revealing the variety of Memories to him. The jackal looked at them briefly before reeling back. “The hell is this? I asked you for MEMORIES didn’t I?!” Crosshair smiled again, leaning back in his seat and folding his paws together in his lap.
“Oh, but good sir, these are Gaia Memories, I assure you.” The jackal shot him a look of suspicion, his lip curling up to reveal his sharp teeth. “What you are looking at are our newly designed models, exclusive to me and my organization. I’m sure you’ve heard of us? The Earth’s Tree?” The jackal narrowed his eyes at him.
“Never heard of em.”
“Oh,” the wolf frowned, “well, that will soon change. Soon, The Earth’s Tree will be known as the quintessential group to buy your Gaia Memory fix.” He leaned in again, his muzzle spreading with a grin. “And you can help us you know. All we need you to do is show the world what these Memories can do.” The jackal’s eyes remained narrowed at him.
“What makes your Memories so special anyways?” he snapped at him, “They just look like the shit Amnesia uses, just all colored in kindergarten colors.” Crosshair chuffed.
“I can assure you, these Memories far surpass those of Amnesia,” he patted the suitcase, “They don’t even come close to these. These Memories grant you power far beyond anything you can imagine.” He leaned in again, his torso practically hovering over the table top. “Even Amnesia’s troops, what with their…what was it called…Maximum Drives? They will be useless against you, as long as you have these.” He pushed the suitcase slightly closer to the jackal. “You will be invincible, and so will these Memories, for they have been designed to be indestructible. Nothing will break them, not even if you are defeated. There is no fear of that of course, being as powerful as you are…” The jackal placed a paw to his chin, thinking for a moment.
“I’m still not convinced.” Hearing this, Stopwatch chuckled, soon silenced by a hand gesture from Crosshair.
“Then let’s have a deal,” he began, “You see, I already have two others that are considering buying some of these themselves. They are two very important customers, so of course, I accepted their proposals. Now, since you are so conflicted about whether or not you should buy one, how about instead, I allow you…a quick demo…if you would?” The jackal raised a brow.
Crosshair smiled. “Those two gentlemen I mentioned before will be going on a…a demonstration…some time today. If you accept, you will accompany these two during their demonstration, and spread the word of how great these new Memories are.”
The jackal’s brows remained raised, but he remained skeptical. “What exactly do you mean by…demonstration?”
“Oh, you know,” Crosshair chimed, “destroying buildings, attacking people, etc, etc.” The jackal smiled.
“…Alright,” he said with a grin, “I’ll give it a shot. I’ll see for myself just how ‘great’ these things are.”
With a satisfied smile, the wolf slid the case closer to the other canine. “Then take your pick…” He leaned in, looking through the various Memories. Eventually, he picked one out, and clicked the button at the front.
>>< BULLET!!! ><<
“Ahhh, yes,” said Crosshair, “a personal favorite of mine. Very nice choice good sir.” The jackal nodded.
“Alright, it’s a deal then.” He stood up, and offered him a paw. A shark like grin spread across the wolf’s muzzle as he stood and shook the offered paw.
“A deal it is…”
“See ya guys!” Erika waved as the two non-uniformed males exited the shop. She let out a sigh as she returned back into the shop. Turning towards Arata, she blinked in surprise. “You know, you can leave if you want. We’ve already hit the slow period of the day.” The panther shook his head.
“It’s fine. I don’t really have much to do today anyways.” Erika shrugged, moving closer to her friend.
“So…hey…” she began gently, “you…doin’ better with…you know…dealing with that day?” He nodded in response, continuing to work on his computer, closing various programs that had been opened up by the customers.
“It’s been getting easier, but I still have some…bad days…” Erika rubbed his shoulder gently.
“Yeah, I get what you mean. I sometimes have those days too.” He turned to her, and she patted his shoulder. “Tell ya what.” She held up a paw, raising her pinky. “From here on out, let’s promise each other that we’ll get over that day eventually. Then we’ll be able to deal with hearing about it if it ever comes up again.”
Arata smiled warmly at her, curling his own pinky around hers. “It’s a promise.” Erika’s smile widened, and they shook their paws.
“Until then, I’m gonna find a way to finally bring an end to Dopants,” she chimed happily, earning a chuckle from the other feline, “what?”
“It-it’s nothing really,” Arata replied, a smile spread across his muzzle, “it’s just, sometimes that pride of yours can really blind you.”
“I’m serious,” she laughed, taking a step back, “I’m gonna find the weakness Memories have. Watch me.” Arata chuffed, turning back towards the monitor.
“You amaze me sometimes Erika, you know that?” She smiled, flattening her ears against her head, “One of these days, that pride of yours is gonna get you into hot water.” Erika chuffed, shaking her head.
“You know, you’re lucky that we’re talking about a sensitive subject right now,” she teased, “otherwise I’d be flipping you over right—” Her sentence was cut short as a loud, shrill siren wailed out throughout the streets. The feline’s smiles quickly faded as they realized what was going on. Erika quickly ran over to the doors, setting them into lock down mode while Arata moved over to the lights, shutting all of them down. With the doors locked, Erika quickly dashed over to a switch on the wall. She flipped it, causing metal bars and shades to slide down over the windows of the shop.
“In my office! Now!” Erika shouted, guiding Arata to the small room and shutting the door behind her.
“AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The sound of maniacal laughter was drowned out by the even louder sound of bullets being fired. Rapid succession, single fire, cannon shots, sounds of several different guns were echoing throughout the barren streets. Banging, popping, cracking, clinking, all sounds coming from and caused by one individual.
This one was a sort of metalized being. It wore a tactical vest around its torso, and its head was encased in a metal coating, with what appeared to be a bullet hole in the center. The rest of it was practically draped with bullets. Its shoulder guards were made of bullets, its battle skirt was made of bullets and gun barrels, and it even wore a necklace made of bullets. A heavy machine gun was branded to its left arm, and a large, double barreled shot gun was branded to its right. Both of its gun arms were loaded with clips and extra bullets, signaling that the Dopant would not be running out of ammo any time soon.
“That guy was RIGHT!” it cackled out, continuing to bombard various buildings with bullets and bullet holes from its gun arms, “this feels aMAzing! I can FEEL the power flowing through my VEINS!!!” The Dopant aimed at one of the sirens, annihilating it and silencing its alarm. It continued to laugh maniacally as it proudly marched down the street, littering the floor with used bullets.
Suddenly, the sound of a copter filled the air. The Dopant looked up, catching sight of a black armored helicopter. The back doors opened up, allowing its armored troopers to drop down around it. Once they were on the ground, they unslung their magnums from their belts and aimed them at it.
“DOPANT CONFIRMED AS A NEW TYPE. UNABLE TO IDENTIFY. TAKE DOWN ON SIGHT.” Without a word of warning, the troopers opened fire on the gun heavy Dopant. Sparks flew as the bullets collided with its incredibly sturdy body, causing it to stagger back several steps. It found stable footing and stood there, its body only shifting slightly as their guns fired upon it. Eventually, the firing ceased, and the Dopant remained standing.
“…HahahahaHAHAHAHAHA!!!” it cackled, throwing its arms up in the air, “I didn’t even feel a THING! This is INCREDIBLE!!!” It aimed its guns at the troopers, who quickly jumped out of the way as it blasted its own guns at them.
“Change to heavy fire!” the leader spoke through their radio system, “the armor on this one is thicker, so we need to—GACK!!!” He was cut off as his torso was met with an immeasurable amount of slashes. He fell back and onto the ground, clutching his chest as a new figure came into view, one covered in sharp blades around its torso and body, while carrying two others in its hands. The other troopers changed targets, firing at the creature near their commander. However, it was fast, whipping its arms forward and slashing wildly at their bullets, littering the floor with half cut bullets.
“Another Dopant! Repeat! Another Dopant!” the commander yelled out as he scrambled back, firing at the new individual regardless of its ability to defend itself. The other troopers backed into each other, dividing themselves to either fight the original Dopant, or the other.
“RETREAT FOR NOW. REPEAT, RETREAT FOR NOW. SECOND DOPANT IS UNIDENTIFIABLE. REPEAT, UNIDENTIFIABLE.” Taking formation, the troops began to back off, firing uselessly against the oppressors. One of the troopers stepped back further, and stepped in a puddle of water. He paid no mind to this, that is, until the water began to rise up to his knees. Before he could question, the water engulfed the entire team, twisting them around and tossing them aside like ragdolls. They crashed into the ground, their team scattered everywhere, and their formation broken. Soon, the whirlpool of water solidified into another creature, this one having translucent blue skin, and bright yellow eyes.
“Third Dopant!” the leader screamed as he scrambled to his feet, “Repeat, third Dopant!” All of the other members scrambled to their feet, trying their best to get into a formation as they hastily retreated, desperately shooting their guns at the three monstrosities.
“I didn’t need your back up ya know,” the bullet one snapped, “I was doing fine before you two showed up.”
“Do not forget why you are here, Bullet,” the edged one snapped back, pointing a blade at him, “we are simply displaying the power of The Earth’s Tree, and I would appreciate it if you could acknowledge that.”
“Whatever,” Bullet sighed, pushing him aside, “as long as I get to do this,” he thrust his arm out, firing a cannon blast at one of the troopers and sending them flying. He cackled maniacally, “then I’m fine with whatever the hell you people need from me.” He started for the fleeing troopers, only to be stopped by a watery hand on his shoulder. Turning to look, he met the eyes of the Water Dopant.
“Good,” he began, “because it is time you came along for the job Crosshair mentioned.” Before he could object, he tugged Bullet by the shoulder and dragged him away, leaving Edge with the troopers. He sighed boredly, scraping his blades against each other.
“Well then Amnesia,” he hissed, “I shall now introduce you to the fruit of The Earth’s Tree.” At that, he dashed forward, leaving behind a storm of slashes in his wake.
Erika’s paw was clasped over her muzzle as she watched her small screen in horror, seeing Amnesia’s troopers rendered practically helpless against these terrifying new outlaws. Arata was in a similar state, finding himself completely speechless, eyes wide and jaw gaping open.
“S-so,” the reporter spoke over the live feed, her voice trembling though trying to remain calm, “s-some info just came into our studio, informing us on the…th-the situation.” The sound of rustling paper was heard. “Th-the group claims to have come from an organization…th-that goes by the name of…The Earth’s Tree.” The reporter cleared her throat, trying to maintain her posture. “N-not much else has been discovered, as the info seems to have come…directly from the attackers… From what we’ve been told by authorities, these Dopants do not seem to show up on any records, so these may very well be new Dopants…” This time, a gulp. “H-hopefully, Amnesia will be able to pull through. O-our hearts go out to you. Our lives are in the hands of fate now…”
“This…this can’t be happening…” Erika spoke shakily, trembling from where she was crouched, “why can’t they handle these guys! Wh-what’s going on?!”
“I…I don’t know…” Arata replied, mouth still agape, “I don’t…I don’t…” Erika turned to him, absolutely stricken with fear.
“A…Arata…” she began, having difficulty continuing, “you…you don’t think that…that…” Her lip quivered, unable to finish her thought. Arata swallowed, his throat having dried up.
“They’ll…they’ll get em for sure…” he tried to reassure her, “they…they’re gonna find a way…”
“Hold on,” the reporter’s voice sounded out, bringing the felines’ attention back to the screen, “it-it seems two of the Dopants have broken off to form a second group. They seem to be headed off to another direction.” The live feed showed the Bullet Dopant and the Water Dopant walking away, the latter of the two dragging the first along with him. “We’re not sure exactly what they have in mind, but they appear to have a clear objective here.”
Erika gasped, once again covering her muzzle with a paw. She gripped Arata’s shoulder tightly with her other paw. “Arata,” she began desperately, “that’s our street they’re walking down… That means that—”
“D-don’t be stupid Erika,” he cut her off, turning to her, “they’re not after us. There’s no reason to believe that.”
“No-no-no-no-no-no-no,” she shook her head, the terror gone from her eyes, only to be replaced by complete panic, “you don’t understand. Th-there’s something here, a-and I think they’re after it.”
“What are you talking about Erika?!” Arata turned to fully face her, “What’s going on? Why would you think there’s something here for them?!”
“Arata,” she said firmly, a serious expression crossing her face, “I told you before that I’d find a way to get rid of all Dopants, didn’t I?” Arata went speechless, only managing a nod. Erika didn’t say anything else for a moment, her eyes looking from the screen, to the door, then back to the panther-morph. “…Arata?”
“…Yeah?” She didn’t say anything again, constantly looking from the door to him, then to the door, and back to him again.
“Stay here, there’s something I need to do.” At that, she stood up, making her way for the door. Stunned by her actions, it took a moment before Arata quickly got up and reached out with his arm, grabbing on to hers and stopping her in her tracks. She whipped her head around, glaring at him in frustration.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” he demanded, locking their gazes together with a concerned look, “Are you crazy?! If you go out there, then you could get seriously hurt, or WORSE.” Breaking away from his eyes, Erika twisted her arm out of his grasp and bolted for the door, quickly unlocking it and making for the exit of the building. The panther-morph ran after her, managing to catch up to her and catch her again. He turned her towards him, grasping her by the shoulders. “No! You’re NOT going out there. I already lost an aunt, and a newborn cousin. I will NOT lose you too!” Erika caught her breath, finding herself unable to reply after his grim reminder. The two of them stared into each other’s eyes, unable to come up with anything else to say.
Erika eventually tore her gaze away from him, looking off to the side. She bared her teeth, growling lowly in irritation. After a moment, she turned back to him. “Fine then,” she began, gently pushing his arms away from her body, “if you’re so insistent on this, then you’re coming with me.” Before Arata could even register what she had said, she grabbed him by the arm, dragging him along as she quickly unlocked the door before swinging it open, pulling him along as she made a mad dash for the outside. Erika screeched to a stop as her eyes caught sight of a dark, metal figure.
“Move!” Erika yelled out, pushing Arata forward as she broke into a run for the other direction, the sound of bullets hitting their ears as the Dopant tried to shoot at them. She turned a sharp corner, dragging Arata along as she slunk around dark passages and narrow alleyways. They soon reached a bunker that led under ground, hidden from view of the outside world. “Come on!” she shouted out, letting go of Arata’s arm and kneeling down to unlock the steel door sealing it, “we don’t have a lot of time.”
As she knelt down, she suddenly winced in pain. Arata looked at her, and his eyes widened in fear. “Erika!” He quickly moved to her side, kneeling down to her level and looking down at her leg.
It was bleeding.
Erika sucked in air through her teeth, keeping her focus on the locked door as she finally managed to unlock it. She bared her teeth as she wrenched the door open. “I’m fine, just get inside first!” Deciding not to object, the panther hopped through and made it inside, turning back to help her in as she closed the door behind her. Erika winced again as more pain shot up her leg. Arata quickly but gently set her down.
“Keep pressure on that wound,” he instructed her, feeling around for a light switch and flicking it on, “don’t remove your hands before I say so.” As she did so, he knelt down and extended his leg, drawing out a single claw and cutting at one of the legs of his pants. Once he felt the cut was large enough, he tore at the pants, tearing off a long piece of fabric. He then moved closer to Erika’s injured leg, having her point out the wound before finally having her remove her hands. Once they were off, he immediately wrapped the cloth around the wound, tying it tightly before applying direct pressure onto the area of the wound.
“Arata…” Erika trembled, tears beginning to roll down her face as she watched him.
“You’re gonna be alright,” he promised her, keeping his eyes focused on her wound, “We’re gonna make it through this… You’re going to make it…”
“It’s not that…” she said grimly, causing him to look up to her, “I’m…sorry for…bringing you into this…” Arata caught his breath, confusion spreading across his face.
“What. Are. You. Talking about Erika?” his ears flattened against his head, “You still haven’t told me why we’re here. What is going on Erika? Please tell me!” Erika’s own ears flattened against her head.
“I’ve…been keeping a secret from you guys…” she explained, “…Come on, help me up. I need to show you myself.”
“I’m not doing that,” Arata shook his head, “There has to be pressure on this wound. Just keep pressing on it and I’ll find whatever it is you’re hiding.”
“No,” this time it was Erika who shook her head, “I need to do this. Just tighten this thing up, then help me up.” Arata let out an irritated growl, but let go anyways, albeit rather reluctantly. He tightened up the wrapping and tied it into a knot, causing her to wince slightly. Once he was sure it was secure, Arata stood up and helped her up as well, the leopard hooking her arm around his neck. Now up and about, she hobbled him down the corridor, leading him to the left, and down a small set of stairs. They reached a room, and she opened the door up. What was behind the door left Arata speechless.
It was a small room, but had a lot of stuff inside. Off to the side was a large patch of soil, presumably dug up from underneath the building. The dirt itself was bunched up in rows, giving off the impression of being raked or tilled. Growing out of the patch were various plants and weeds. Tables aligned with the wall opposite of the dirt patch, littered with various unfinished or otherwise scrapped pieces of strange tech. Different tools and blueprints were there amongst the mess as well. Finally, off to the back of the room, opposite of the door, was a lighted desk, with the top part being made of glass, and the portion underneath illuminating the area with a florescent light. Other notes and papers were scattered around the desk itself. Atop the desk was a set of flasks, beakers and test tubes, each one harboring a different colored liquid from the other. Other various chemical equipment was spread around it as well, some showing evidence of recent use. However, what caught Arata’s attention the most was what was at the center. In the middle of the table, there was a glass box, harboring its own dirt. What grew out of it, though, made Arata’s heart nearly stop.
Arata stared at the room in complete shock, his muzzle hanging open as he tried to figure out what it was he wanted to say. Erika’s head hung low, staring down at the ground. “I was…going to tell you eventually,” she said to him, “but…I wanted to wait for the right moment…” Arata finally turned to her.
“E…Erika,” he said with difficulty, “don’t tell me that…that you’re…that this…”
“Yes Arata,” she nodded, avoiding eye contact with him, “this…is my Gaia garden…” Again, Arata’s mouth hung agape. His eyes began to tear up, and a lump formed in his throat. “B-but it’s not what you think!” she said suddenly, turning back to him, “I’m not part of the black market or anything.”
“Like I said before,” she cut him off, “I’m going to find a way to get rid of Dopants for good.” She turned towards the desk. “So I’ve been studying Memories myself, using my own set of Memories.” She turned back to the panther-morph, her ears flat against her head, “I’m getting close to the answer, Arata, and I think that’s why those Dopants are on their way here. That…Earth’s Tree or whatever must’ve found out about my garden. Either they don’t want anymore competition, or they might already know about what I’m trying to do.” She unhooked her arm from his neck, almost falling over in the process if not for the quick reflexes of her friend. Once she stood straight again, she grasped both of his shoulders in her paws. “Arata, I need you to help me.” She looked down at her injured leg, then back to him, “I can’t fight those things out there, but…you can…”
Arata gave her a look of confusion and distress. “What…what do you mean?”
Erika’s eyes bore into his as she gave him a serious look. “Arata, I…really don’t want to have to do this to you. I really care about you, and I never wanted to put you in any danger but…we’re out of options here.” She suddenly gestured for him to support her again, and he hooked her arm around his neck once more. She guided him over to the tables of scrapped and disassembled tech. Once she was close enough, she dug out a red device from beneath the mess. Arata caught his breath in shock as he realized what it was. “I believe…you already know what this is…right.”
Arata nodded slowly, staring at the device. “But…how…”
“During a past Dopant attack,” she explained, “one of the Amnesia members had their Lost Drivers get messed up to a point that it got totaled. I found out that they never got to cleaning it up, so it was never re-claimed by them. I eventually found the thing, and scooped it up for myself. I tinkered with it a bit, and I eventually got it back to full functionality.” She smiled nervously. “Heh, I-I guess you could say that it…it really is a Lost Driver…huh?” Arata’s expression did not change, him being too far into shock to register her humor. The snow leopard’s nervous smile faded. “S-sorry, just…felt like trying to lighten up the mood, ya know?” She shook her head, her serious demeanor returning to her. She handed him the device. “Hold on to this, I need to get something else.” Still dumbfounded, Arata took the device from her paw, and helped her as she guided them over to the lighted desk. She reached into the glass box, pulling out a light blue Memory. She turned to him.
“This…is my pride and joy,” she told him, holding up the Memory for him to see, “I’ve been working on this one the most, and now it’s a purified Memory.” Arata realized that she was right, as the Memory did not hold the ribs that a Dopant Memory had. Instead, it appeared more like the ones Amnesia used, though different in its color. Erika looked into his eyes again, locking their gazes together. “Arata, I’m about to ask you something that will decide the course of our life from here on out.” The panther gulped nervously.
“…What is it?” Erika held their gaze together for a moment longer, not saying anything for a moment.
“For the sake of both of us, will you use this, along with the Lost Driver, to fight against the Dopants?” Arata’s heart all but stopped. He tried to tear his gaze away from hers, but found that he couldn’t. “Arata…I can’t fight those things the way I am now, not in this condition.” She planted a paw on his shoulder, gripping it tightly. “Arata, you know I wouldn’t do this to you otherwise, but we don’t have much of a choice at this point.” Her eyes began to water, her serious expression melting away to a look of desperation and despair. “Arata, I’m begging you… I don’t want to die…not here…not now…please…” At that, she buried her head into his chest, and allowed her tears to spill from her eyes. “Arata…” she sobbed, “I’m so sorry…”
Arata didn’t say anything for a while, as he still couldn’t figure out what he wanted to say. So instead, he simply allowed her to cry into him, gently patting her back as she wept. His ears lowered down, and his tail hung limply from his body. She was right; there really wasn’t any other option left. He was the only one that could do this. He looked at the Driver in his paw, angling it this way and that as it was illuminated in the florescent light of the desk. He let out a sigh, and turned back to Erika, who had eventually settled down, containing herself to a silent cry. “…Erika?”
She looked up, her eyes reddened and watery. They held their gazes together for a moment, before Arata finally made a slow nod. He looked down at his waist, and slapped the device on, causing a silvery belt to snake around his midsection. Erika gasped, and looked back up to him. “…Arata?”
He closed his eyes, trying his best to keep a calm demeanor. His eyes opened, and they looked at each other once more. “I’ll do it. We’re friends after all. And plus, I’m sure you’d do the same for me.” Erika chocked, eyes watering again as a sad smile crossed her muzzle.
“Thank you Arata… Thank you so much…” She leaned in closer, hugging him tightly. She released him, and looked into his eyes once more. “I’ll make it up to you one day, I swear.” Arata smiled weakly at her, his mind still numb to the situation. “Listen…this isn’t an ideal place to transform. I…haven’t gotten around to…testing this thing yet…” Her grip tightened on his shoulder. “You’ll…have to transform…out there…” Arata didn’t say anything, only managing a nod. Erika chocked again, her body beginning to tremble. “Please…be safe… I could never forgive myself if you got hurt because of what I’ve done…” She began to break down again, just barely managing to get a hold of herself. “Please…”
Arata’s paw went to hers, rubbing it reassuringly. “I will… Don’t worry…” Erika nodded.
“I…I don’t think I need to tell you this,” she continued, “but…I’m sure that the cameras are still monitoring them. So…”
“I know,” he replied, “stay away from the cameras. We don’t need the press to know about…what we have…” Erika nodded grimly.
“…Set me down over there,” she told him, gesturing to an area with her muzzle, “then…well…you know…” Arata nodded, helping her over to where she had indicated. He gently set her down, checking to make sure the wound was still tightly sealed. With that out of the way, she handed Arata the Memory. As he reached out to take it, Erika grasped his paw in both of hers, planting the Memory into his paw. She held him there for a moment, looking into his eyes. “Seriously…be safe out there…” They stared at each other for a moment, and Arata nodded.
“Don’t worry,” he said reassuringly, “I’ll make it back… Promise…” At that, she let go of his paw, and he started for the door.
“W-wait!” Erika shouted suddenly, halting the panther in his tracks. He turned to her, a look of concern still spread across his face. She smiled gently at him. “Give ‘em hell.”
Arata smiled, nodding firmly. “You got it.” Turning away one final time, Arata dashed out of the room, leaving the injured leopard-morph to herself. She stared down at her lap, tears spilling out of her eyes once more.
“Thank you Arata… Thank you…”
“Tch, why are we even here?” Bullet chuffed, shooting a random wall in irritation, “I could be doing so much right now. Instead we’re here lollygagging around, and for what?!” Water’s eyes rolled as they continued to walk down the narrow alleyways.
“Just be quiet and behave,” he scolded, “You were given a job, so just shut up and do it.” Bullet growled out, thrusting his machine gun arm out and showering another wall with a cloud of bullets.
“At LEAST tell me what we’re looking for,” he sighed, looking up and watching the armored copter monitor the two of them from up above.
Water let out his own sigh of irritation. “My boss informed me that there seems to be a Gaia Garden somewhere around here.” He turned a corner, looking this way and that. “That is what we are trying to find.” He turned back to Bullet, glaring at him. “Now shut up, and do as you’re told.” The metal Dopant chuffed, aiming at another wall and shooting it with his shot gun arm.
“Whatever. As long as I get to rampage. Speaking of…” He thrust his arms towards the copter before firing multiple shots at the craft, several bullets hitting it before it flew back in a hasty retreat. The Dopant laughed before aiming at the buildings and walls and continuing to shower them in bullets. Water shook his head.
“Just come on,” he grumbled, taking him by one of the barrels sticking out of his torso and pulling him along, prompting a complaint from the gun-crazed maniac. “Do your part and search as well. I don’t need to be monitoring you like a child, so don’t continue to act like one, otherwise I’ll have to reso—” He cut himself off as he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He whipped his head around and caught sight of a panther-morph, one of the felines Bullet had shot at not long ago. He spun the other Dopant around to face his way, pointing at him. “After him!” The panther broke into a run as Bullet hastily raised his arm up, still confused to the situation. Water growled in anger, batting Bullet over the head as he ran after the male, dragging the other Dopant along.
He knows something, he thought to himself, otherwise he wouldn’t have come out of shelter… “We capture him alive,” Water instructed Bullet as they ran, “at least until we find out if he has anything to do with that Garden…”
Arata looked back, making sure the Dopants were still in pursuit. Once he was sure, he turned another corner, then another, and another. Looking up overhead, he watched the sky become progressively more difficult to see. He smirked and looked ahead. He knew these streets well, and now he was putting that knowledge to good use. He looked behind himself again, seeing the Dopants scramble around as they tried to catch sight of him again. Arata clicked his tongue in annoyance before purposefully slowing his pace enough for them to notice him again.
It won’t be long, he thought to himself, I’m almost there. Just a couple more blocks. He turned another corner before reaching an enclosed area, where many of the buildings blocked out most of the sky, and the ground was otherwise clear of any benches or debris. To the opposite side of where he had came from was a bigger opening, one that was a little more wide compared to the alleyways they had just been running, and was where most of the area’s light came from. He reached the end of the arena-like enclosure and slid to a stop, turning around to finally face the Dopants. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one up close… His paw clenched into a fist, tightening his grip around the Memory. At least this time, I’m not running away… He smirked, slotting in the Memory into the Driver. Never again.
The Dopants ran into the area, stopping several meters in front of him. Bullet aimed his shot gun arm at the panther and Water slowly approached. He looked down at his waist, noticing the Driver.
“The hell?!” Bullet exclaimed, taking notice of the Driver as well, “Is he part of Amnesia?”
“No,” Water shook his head, glaring at Arata, “I’ve studied each member, and he is not one of them.” Arata smirked.
“You’re right; I’m not one of them,” he hovered his left paw over the Driver. Bullet raised his machine gun arm up, preparing to shoot the panther before Water raised his arm outwards, indicating for him to hold.
“Then who are you?” Water questioned, “and why do you have that Driver?” He took a threatening step forward. “Answer correctly, and we might let you off easy.”
“While you’re at it,” Bullet added, “tell us where that Garden of yours is.”
“Sorry, but I don’t know anything about Gardens,” he rested his paw against the top portion of his Driver, “but I know what bad guys look like when I see one, which is why I won’t let you leave!” He shot his left paw out, shifting the device into a slanted position and triggering a confirming sound from the Memory.
>>< FREEZE!!! ><<
Suddenly, a blizzard swept around the panther morph, forcing him to shield himself with his right arm by raising it over his face. Deciding he’d waited long enough, Bullet attempted to shoot at the panther with his guns. However, the strong winds and snow around the area made it difficult to keep aim, and he ended up shooting around the feline.
Arata cringed as he struggled against the howling winds, his arm being kept in place by the sheer force of them. His eyes closed, and he felt his body began to shift and change. His breaths began to feel chilled, and his body lost its warmth, replaced by the same chilly feeling of his breath. He felt his muzzle begin to melt away, and he lost sensation in his mouth and tail. He then felt what seemed like a cloak envelop his body, wrapping around him in the direction of the winds. Despite his eyes being closed, he began to see what appeared to be his now armored arms. As his vision took on a greenish hue, he realized that he no longer had eyelids. He felt his body become slightly heavier as his armor solidified around him.
He struggled against the winds, his new cloak still wrapped around his arm and body. He grimaced as he tried to fight against it. His breaths became labored, filling his lungs with chilly air. He growled as he fought harder, suddenly feeling newfound strength flow through his body. “Hah!” With this new strength, he whipped his arm outwards, cancelling out the wind and flicking the cloak away from his body, causing it to flow behind him as the winds finally died out. With the blizzard gone and the cloak out of the way, the Dopants were able to see Arata’s new form.
His body was covered in pure white armor, with streaks of light blue running along the sides of his shoulder pads. Underneath the armor was a sleek blue under-suit to cover the rest of him. His helmet, void of his muzzle, was white as well, with a streak of blue running along the bottom of it. A large crest adorned the front of it, stopping at his bright green eyes. Flowing behind him was the cloak that now acted very much like a cape. And of course, strapped around his waist, was the Driver from before, the bottom portion now glowing blue.
The Dopants stared at him in shock, having difficulty figuring out what had just happened.
“What…what was that?!” Bullet exclaimed, “That’s not a Dopant, and that’s definitely not one of Amnesia’s troopers!” Arata looked at himself, taking in his new form. He clutched at his head as information about the Memory poured into his head at once, telling him what he could do and how to fight. He let out a sigh as the info finally stopped, and he removed his hand from his head.
“Not too sure myself,” he told the two Dopants, his voice now sounding as though he were talking through water, “I’m new to this as well. But you know what? That’s fine.” He flicked his arm out, flicking his cloak away again and prompting another current of wind to flow around them once more. “You guys can help me test it out!”
“BULLSHIT!” Bullet roared out before thrusting his arms out, firing at him without restraint. Arata quickly grabbed up his cape with his left, wrapping it around his body. He staggered back several steps as the bullets barraged his form, causing sparks to fly everywhere. Bullet drew back in shock, ceasing in his firing. “That thing’s bullet proof?!”
“Hah!” Arata cried out as he flicked his cloak away from his body, charging forward and straight for the metallic Dopant. Quickly closing the space in between them, he led with a firm jab from his right to the Dopant’s head, followed by another jab from his left. The Dopant stumbled back, surprised by his sudden speed and strength. Before Arata could deliver another blow, he was knocked away by a firm kick to his side. He fell off to the side, rolling away several meters as he tried to find his footing. Looking up from where he was, he saw Water stalking towards him. He got back up to his feet before charging forward, launching a forward punch with his right. However, the Dopant liquefied, causing Arata’s arm to phase straight through him. Before he could react, the Dopant overcame him, trapping him in a watery prison before re-solidifying behind him, restraining his arms.
“Shoot him now!” Water yelled out, keeping Arata restrained as he struggled against him. Bullet, recovered from the earlier blows, thrust his machine gun arm out and fired at the armored male. He cried out in pain as the bullets pelted his body, causing more sparks to fly in every direction. Bullet stopped shooting, stepping forward in disbelief.
“Don’t tell me that he’s bullet proof too!” He aimed his shotgun arm at him, firing a shot. However, Arata anticipated this, adjusting his footing to quickly turn around, causing Water to take the blow instead. He cried out as the blast impacted him, causing his grip to loosen on Arata. Freeing himself, he back-kicked the Dopant away from him, sending him to tumble into the metallic Dopant. Twirling completely around, Arata charged forward before jumping into the air, kicking his leg out to deliver a strong spin kick at both of their heads. While Water was quick enough to evade, Bullet wasn’t so lucky, and was met with a heavy blow to the head, knocking him out.
Water rolled away from them as Arata landed on the ground. The two of them locked gazes, beginning to circle around each other. It was just the two of them now. Closing up the space, Arata led with a round house kick from his right, his leg beginning to flow with an icy wind. Water leaned away from the kick, countering with a jab from his right. Arata parried by swinging his leg back, knocking Water’s arm away before following up with a jump kick from his left. The attack connected, delivering a heavy blow to Water’s head. Arata didn’t let up, following through with the spin before back kicking him in the head with his right and knocking him back. Water took several steps back, his head beginning to become incased with a thin layer of ice.
“HaAH!” Arata turned on his heels to deliver yet another roundhouse kick from his right, knocking Water back several more steps. Head spinning, the Dopant backed off. However, Arata quickly closed the space between them. Water tensed his body in an attempt to liquefy, but remained solid due to ice forming around, and even inside his body. Arata delivered a hard punch to Water’s chest, freezing his body even more and making him stumble and fall backwards. He stopped near Bullet, and he took hold of his shoulders, shaking him awake.
“Wake up and fight!” he yelled out, causing Bullet to stir. Water pulled him up to his feet and pushed him towards the armored fighter. Still in a dazed state, Bullet hastily brought up his right arm. Using his left, Arata parried the barrel away from him before grabbing onto it with his right and pulling him closer, delivering kick after kick to the Dopant’s midsection from his right, causing his body to become encrusted with ice as well.
After delivering the final kick, Arata threw Bullet’s arm upwards before lunging forward and launching a hard front jab to his chest with his right, his arm swirling with a mini blizzard. Bullet flew back and crashed into Water, confusing and disorienting the both of them. Using this opportunity, Arata flicked his cloak away from him before removing his Memory from his Driver. He slotted it in to a compartment at the side of his belt.
>>< FREEZE: MAXIMUM DRIVE!!! ><<
Arata flicked his arms out to his sides as a blizzard swept through the area again. His eyes glowed briefly before his body dispersed into a cloud of snow, swirling around with the blizzard. The Dopants staggered around in confusion, unable to move from their spot as their bodies began to freeze over. Soon enough, the two of them became blocks of ice, trapping them where they stood. Arata re-formed high above them, and he thrust his right leg forward as the winds propelled him forward.
“Frozen BREAKER!” He slapped the pad on the compartment of his belt, prompting a confirming sound from his Memory. His velocity picked up, and his leg began to glow brightly. “HAAAAAAA!!!!!!” His foot connected with the Dopants, and they shattered into a million pieces, making their bodies combust and explode into a bright neon cloud. Arata landed a few meters away from them, his cloak wrapping around his knelt form as he stood back up. He turned around in time to see their original bodies collapse to the ground unconscious. Soon afterwards, their Memories followed, clattering to the ground uselessly. Arata’s head tilted after a moment, noticing that they weren’t destroyed as well.
I guess I’m not that strong yet, he thought to himself, panting slightly and filling his lungs with chilled air again, This was my first time after all so…wait a minute… He stepped closer and knelt down. He picked up one of the Memories, inspecting it carefully. He caught his breath, realizing that these Memories lacked the ribbed design of normal Dopant Memories. He clenched the Memory tightly, but even his newfound strength could not break it. He chuffed in disgust, picking up the other Memory and looking at the two unconscious males. Suddenly, he heard the copter from before fly overhead, which was soon followed by the sounds of footsteps. Must be Amnesia. He looked down at the bodies again, shrugging. Well, might as well give em what they want.
“CLOSING IN ON AREA. PREPARE TO MOVE IN.” Amnesia troopers, more bountiful in number, carefully advanced towards the alleyway, guns all up in preparation. The copter’s camera kept an eye on the area, zooming in from a safe distance. “WAIT FOR THE SIGNAL… DO NOT ADVANCE UNTIL—” The voice over the intercom stopped as Arata stepped out into view, holding the two knocked out males in either hand. The Amnesia troopers looked to each other in confusion, unsure of what action to take. Arata tossed them onto the ground, followed by their Memories. However, as soon as he did so, his Driver came into view of the troopers, making them raise their guns up again.
“Sir!” their commander yelled out, “How do you have that in your possession?!” Arata stepped back once, suddenly intimidated by the group. He raised his hands up instinctively, backing away slowly. The troops began to close in. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to undo your transformation, and come with us quietly!” Arata growled under his breath.
Dammit, not now! Erika still needs help! He continued to back up, and they continued to close in. Arata glanced up at the copter, realizing that he was on camera. He clicked his tongue. Tch, guess I gotta do this… His hand quickly went to his side, sliding his Memory out, then immediately back in.
>>< FREEZE: MAXIMUM DRIVE!!! ><<
“FIRE!” the commander yelled out, causing all of the troopers to pull their triggers. Their reactions proved to be too late, as Arata’s body once again dispersed into a cloud of snow that was swept up by a strong wind, flowing away from the troopers and back towards Erika’s hideout. The commander let out a sigh of frustration, placing his finger on the pad at the side of his head. “This is 1 reporting to base,” he spoke as his troopers closed in on the unconscious bodies, taking their Memories and cuffing them, “Possible downed Dopants, but an unknown threat has come about. He has our equipment… Repeat, he has our equipment… Over and out.”