/January 21, 1999/
/Katsuragi Expedition Camp, Wilkes Land, East Antarctica/
Dr. Shiro Katsuragi watched calmly as the giant conveyor dumped more ice and snow from the dig site. Resisting the urge to open his parka and let his dark hair run free, the head of the expedition glanced at the prefabricated domes at the camp site. These drab, hipped-up 'tents' are starting to wear thin. Hopefully not for much longer though; today was the day that they would finally break through to the anomaly. I hope it actually is as warm down there as our measurements are suggesting. Even though they were in the midst of summer, Antarctica was still Antarctica.
"Enjoying the scenery?"
Katsuragi turned, eyeing the approach of one of the Expedition's multiple liaisons with the Human Instrumentality Committee. It was a UN grant, after all, that funded this whole enterprise, and it came with various strings attached. "Another day of drilling, same as always."
The clean-shaven man chuckled, readjusting the thermal mask around his face. Despite the thick goggles over his blue eyes, Katsuragi could still see the calculating ambition within them. "Repetition, yet at a deeper and deeper level with each passing day. Soon, there will be nothing left to dig through."
"One can only hope, Ikari-san."
Gendo Ikari shrugged.
"Is your new wife...adjusting well?"
"Yui and I were both in agreement about this endeavor." It was somewhat of an open secret that Ikari's position here with the Expedition was a result of some political maneuvering by individuals with close ties to the Instrumentality Committee, ostensibly to have someone who could directly relay the Expedition's progress to them (Katsuragi didn't much care; Gendo did his job as diligently as anyone else would). "It will only make the honeymoon more...enjoyable."
Ah. Honeymoons. Conjugal bliss. If only. He still pondered whether or not his daughter should come; even if repairing the relationship with his wife was nigh-impossible, he wanted to at least make an attempt with his dear Misato.
There was a sudden rush of air from the great tunnel; steam and mist rushed outward as pressure equalized, and the conveyor belt chugged to a halt. The dull roar of the drill - a consistent source of background noise over the preceding weeks - began to fade.
Katsuragi couldn't help but grin. "At last."
A team was quickly assembled; Shiro Katsuragi and Gendo Ikari were among the dozen personnel descending deep underground, walking past steps that had been carved out of the ice. Synthetic guardrails had been implanted along the walls, allowing for easier transit. Deeper and deeper they went, eventually reaching the gargantuation drilling machine that had finally broken through. The visors on their insulated hazard suits began to fog up; a sign of humidity and temperature. We'll finally see what in the world is the source of these readings.
The reached the partition between the tunnel and a great expanse, stepping beyond-
-into a realm that was decidedly other; a distinct heaviness settling on them. Exotic flora and tropical vegetation occupied their vision, something that had been decidedly unexpected. The subterranean paradise spanned a great distance, even further underground; the cavern was shaped like a great valley, spanning for hundreds of miles across.
And at the center...was an impossibility.
"Oh my God..." muttered Dr. Katsuragi, his eyes wide with shock and wonder.
Floating - not hovering, not levitating, for there was no sign of thrust or exhaust, it was just floating there! - above the valley was an immense sphere, colored a sterling white.
"...well, I believe we've found our anomaly," dryly said Gendo.
/Far in the Future/
(The great beast stepped forward, facing the three-eyed Giant.)
(Soul warred with soul, and his howl seemed to pierce everything.)
(He heard a remorseful sigh, as their burning radiance filled the ravenous void...and then he was rocketing away at unbelievable speed, spinning uncontrollably.)
(After what seemed like forever, there was a sudden stop, and a horrific collision. And then there was nothing.)
"Wake up Guardian!"
Shinji Ikari opened his eyes, feeling a strange sensation roil through him. What? He slowly looked down at his hands, clenching his fists. He was still in his Plug Suit...wait, were those armored bits along his arms-?
A robotic drone suddenly descended into his field of vision, comprised of two four-pointed stars conjoined to a gunmetal orb. The orb possessed an electronic eye, gleaming a cheerful blue. The gray metal of the stars swirled with seeming excitement. "Oh, how exciting! It's so good to finally meet you!" The drone possessed a synthetic voice, obviously female, and rather...bubbly.
"Meet me? But...what are you?"
"I'm a Ghost! Your Ghost, to be exact!"
Shinji blinked. He briefly looked down at his hands, then back at his 'Ghost'.
Given his general state of confusion and bewilderment, it was rather logical that Shinji's mind would harp on the 'ghost' part. "...then...that means I'm dead?!"
The Ghost seemed to pause. "...well, you were dead. For a long time. A really long time."
"...I was dead?!"
"...I can tell that you're going to need some time to get used to this whole Guardian thing."
Vague memories filtered through his scattered mind, of another situation, another time...where he had been told to do something, with no explanation, no understanding. The faint sense of familiarity bothered him, like a tiny pebble you could never get out of your shoe. "Can you at least explain to me what happened?!"
"No time to explain. We need to go."
Shinji looked around, finally noting his current surroundings; he was in a ravine of some sorts, the sides covered with slick snow. His Entry Plug had apparently crashed here (wherever here was), and with horrific force: its entire form was crumpled and twisted. The most shocking part was the fact that there were weeds growing over it. How...how long was I...
Had he truly been dead?
Had he just...been left here...?
A distant growl could be heard, above and beyond the ravine. A decidedly alien, yet hostile sound. "We're not safe here. We're in Fallen territory, and the House that rules this area is...unpleasant." His Ghost suddenly began to spin. "Hold still." In a flash of light, she was gone.
The feminine voice sounded out within his head. 'I'm still here. We need to get you a weapon, or a vehicle...anything to help us get back to the City.'
Shinji didn't scream. He wanted to, but he was simply too overwhelmed to do so.
'I know you want answers, and I know you'll see a lot of things you won't understand. But unless we get out of here, you won't live long enough to learn what's happened since you died, or why you're here.'
He really had nothing to say.
So he defaulted to following orders. He took off in a run, sprinting out of the ravine and into the open air. Far in the distance, he could see great spires and pylons, tall and grand, yet rusty and dilapidated. A strange wall of sorts surrounded these spires: worn with the rust of age, yet curiously...incomplete, bearing gaps and exposed beams. As if whoever had been building it had just stopped before finishing it. Stretching away was a vast highway, shattered and broken, bearing the corpses of vehicles.
The entire scene screamed desperation. "What the-?"
'That's the Cosmodrome. Keep running for the Wall. Even if it is dominated by the House of Bardiel, it's better than being a sitting duck out in the open.'
Shinji kept running. It was after about fifty seconds of nonstop sprinting that he realized that his lungs weren't burning, that his muscles weren't cramping. How am I doing this?! He kept running. As he neared an entryway through the Wall - a small door, for personnel use - he heard the growl from before, now strident and sharp. Impulsively, he turned around, looking at where he had come from.
He couldn't make out the exact features of the four figures standing atop the ravine, but he could tell they were humanoid. Of greater distinction was a gooey blue orb - easily the size of a horse - that floated above them, connected by four meaty tendrils. The fleshy orb let loose a strange trill, and the four humanoids - all of them covered in blue goo - roared with rage.
'Bardielim. If you get caught, you'll end up like those poor souls. Go!'
Shinji didn't need to be told twice. He ran through the door, entering the confines of the Wall.
Elsewhere within the Cosmodrome, amidst aged human structures littered with scavenged equipment and rusted vehicles, another Guardian quietly punched a Bardielim in the face.
Yes, it was possible to do this, especially when one's fist sparked with electricity. The blue goo on the corrupted corpse went inert, and the body fell to the ground, revealing human bones and rotten flesh. "Stupid beasts," murmured the Guardian, her voice oddly muffled by her helmet. The VISIGOTH Type 1 armor covering her form - forged with few angles, to reduce gripping points; her curved helmet bearing a uniquely-thin vertical visor - was colored in various shades of crimson, quite apropos for the rusty environment around her. "You almost done?"
"Patience," chirped a coyly feminine voice.
"I have been patient. How long does it take to transmat a single stalk of spinmetal?"
"When it's bound up in an engine block and centuries-old electronics? Longer than normal."
"Can't you just break down the engine block too?"
"I'm sure the Vanguard Quartermaster would just love to receive a load of impure spinmetal aaaaaand done." The Guardian's Ghost - clad in a Pale Dawn Shell, colored a soft shade of pink - floated away from the old car, its eye no longer emitting streams of blue light. "That makes our seventh stalk today."
"Then let's move on and see if we can find another, before the Fallen patrols swing back through-"
"Well hello there," purred her Ghost, abruptly looking southward. "...we've got ourselves a fresh fish."
"...seriously?" The Guardian's tone was that of annoyance, rather than concern or panic. "Does it feel like they're holding their own?"
"Well, judging by the telemetry I'm picking up from their Ghost...they've been a Guardian for all of ten minutes."
"And they only have a knife."
"Aaaand they're about to run into the squad of Bardielim we snuck past earlier."
"...scheiße," snarled the red Guardian. "Looks like our plans for the day are shot." She withdrew her hand cannon from its holster - a weathered Hoss Mk. 51, its orange barrel bearing four prominent ridges - and took off running. A well-worn sash - the Mark of the Watcher, adorned with a prominent geometric pattern - fluttered in the wind as she ran; meanwhile, her Ghost disappeared into her body in a brief flash of light.
'Just accept that you like being the hero, and you'll be a lot less grumpy!'
Can it Mari! Just give me an idea of what I'm gonna be up against.
'Love you too, Princess.'
Shinji's breath kept getting hitched in his throat, yet he never felt the need to breathe. Some distant corner of his mind thought it might have been an old fear talking, or a quiet dread at how he was in over his head yet again.
He hadn't paid much attention to his Ghost's explanation about the knife that was strapped to the side of his hip. Something about how she had 'transmatted portions of unmarred metal' from his Entry Plug, with a dash of 'spinmetal', whatever that was. All he knew was that it was a knife, rather heavy for what looked like a mere dagger...but it was a knife nonetheless.
(The hand that was not his own clenched tightly, plunging the knife into the scales of the great wyrms.)
Dashing desperately through dim halls and large offices, cautiously avoiding mounds of blue fungi, his paranoia is probably what saved him: for when a goo-covered humanoid dropped from above, he stepped back (old reflexes, battle after battle beating the ability to survive into him) and stabbed. The dense blade pierced the skull of the Bardielim, his grip hand surging with a brief shimmer; like a puppet with its strings cut, the possessed body collapsed.
'Not bad! That was surprisingly nimble.'
Shinji didn't respond to the apparent compliment. He kept moving forward, if only to get away, because even though he was confused and lost and afraid, the thought of dying again was even worse, if only because he thought the unflinchingly perky voice in his head would be disappointed and let down.
'Oh, that's so sweet of you. You'll get a different perspective on life and death before long!'
Shinji didn't quite know what to make of that-
Projectiles suddenly shot at him from below, shattering the rusted walkway he stood on. Yelping, Shinji fell, landing roughly in the dusty floors of the large hangar. The ambient sunlight coming through the windows and unfinished roof provided enough light to see; one of those fleshy orbs from before was there, connected to seven humanoids bearing scrap for armor and contaminated rifles.
Shinji gulped, backing up against the wall. Can...can you make me a gun?
'Sorry. Not enough materials, not enough time.'
It sucked even more when the orb began to speak, its gooey surface rippling with each word. "...thief..." The voice was deep, throaty, yet faint as a whisper. "Give...back...your Light...!" Another meaty tendril emerged from the sphere, moving toward his face-
A bullet from above tore through the tendril, eliciting a harsh shriek from the creature. The orb glistened with a field of orange octagons, and its seven husks turned their weapons upward.
Numbly, Shinji looked up, hearing a rapidly-approaching scream.
What he saw was something akin to a comet made of lightning.
The screaming warrior slammed into the gooey orb, fists sparking with light.
Force bled through the orange energy field, and lightning arched through the Bardielim, from the orb through the tendrils to its husks. Flesh cooked, and the orb burst like a rotting watermelon.
'...well, I'm not going to complain.'
His unexpected savior stepped off of the Bardielim's deflating corpse, her body flickering with sparks that vaporized the trace bits of goo on her armor. Another Ghost - this one colored pink - materialized beside her head. "Honestly Princess, not your best work. Your scream could have been a bit better, and you've gotten much more hangtime before-"
"Mari, just materialize my Sparrow."
"On it!" chirped the pink Ghost, moving away from the charred corpses; its eye emitted a stream of blue light, slowly manifesting a mesh of light in the shape of...a vehicle of some sorts.
The woman - Shinji idly noted that she was a little bit taller than him - turned again, her head tilting as though measuring him. "So. Where's your Ghost?"
Before he could answer, his Ghost materialized in the open. "Hi! Thanks for the save!"
"You picked an awfully inconvenient time to go Guardian-searching."
"I...might have gotten a little excited."
The woman snorted. "Clearly. That commotion is going to get the Fallen's attention." In the distance, an odd klaxon sounded, muffled by the immense structures of the Cosmodrome, and yet everywhere. "So we need to go." She strode away, each step sounding like a stomp, and began rearranging some of the fallen rubble and debris.
Shinji idly noted the massive revolver latched onto the back of her waist, and wondered what in the world he had gotten himself into.
His Ghost seemed to blink. "Oh. I see where this is going."
"What do you mean?"
In a flash, his Ghost was once more within his head. 'I think I'll hide in here for now.'
Bewildered by this sudden change of events, Shinji slowly edged towards the pink Ghost, sheathing his knife. Although the prospect of talking to another human being was...welcome, he supposed...the pink Ghost seemed more approachable. And that was quite the sad commentary on his current state of affairs, he privately mused. "Um..." He recalled the name that the woman had used. "Mari, right?"
"Yup," chirped the pink Ghost. "You got a name, new fish?"
"Cool, don't care, you're still a new fish until you merit a nickname. But hey, that probably won't be too long from now! What have you done since waking up?" She spoke, even as she kept materializing the strange vehicle.
"MARI!" yelled the woman, who was almost done rearranging a pile of rocks and rusty metal into a makeshift ramp. "Your slowness is really starting to get old! Hurry up with the Sparrow!"
"Well excuuuuuse me, Princess! You know our connection with the Orbital Grid has been spotty ever since the House of Ramiel destroyed that comms relay last week!"
"Less talking, more transmatting!"
"If I had a tongue, I'd be giving you a raspberry now."
Finally, the process was complete, and the grid-like mesh of light disappeared; in its place was a floating one-seat vehicle, looking like a red and blue arrowhead that was split down the middle. "One S-30C Phoenix, made to order!"
The woman ignored her Ghost's chatter, pointing at the 'Sparrow'. Or 'Phoenix'; Shinji wasn't quite sure which bird it was supposed to be. "Get on," she ordered.
"...okay?" Shinji warily sat on the Sparrow's seat. The pink Ghost hovered into his hands, somehow nestling between his fingers. "So...what now?"
"You are going to hang on tight." The crimson-colored woman sat in front of him, reaching for the handlebars. "I am going to be driving like mad."
Shinji blinked, looking at the makeshift ramp. Then he noted that it led towards a rather large window pane that led outside. "...oh."
The screams of Shinji and Mari - frightened and excited - accompanied the rain of glass as the woman's Sparrow soared into the open air.
Shinji gripped the torso of the woman tightly, thankful for the fact that his Ghost had resurrected him with a helmet of some sort; otherwise, he would have been suffering some severe turbulence due to the crazy speed of the Sparrow, weaving in and around the structures and towers of the Cosmodrome.
The Fallen only added to his fright; dozens - nay, hundreds - of goo-covered humanoids opened fire from afar, connected to more of those fleshy orbs. Projectiles and shrapnel soared overhead, barely missing them; or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the woman was barely dodging them, juking and swerving at precisely the right time. All the while, he noted wrecked military vehicles such as transport jets and armored tanks, ruined and ravaged by time and scavengers. Far in the distance, he saw a gap in the Wall that surrounded the spaceport, beyond which sat a vast plain with snowy steppes.
Unfortunately, something even bigger was in their way; thundering out of an old hangar was a six-legged tank, bearing a massive cannon on its bank. Its bulbous head was covered by the largest orb of blue flesh he had seen thus far, its surface pricked with bony spikes.
"Ooh, a Bardielus with a Walker!" exclaimed Mari.
The woman Guardian muttered something that Shinji couldn't quite make out. The cannon on the back of the 'Walker' began to charge, its barrel emitting a fierce red light. Yet they were still zooming towards it. "Uh..."
"Hold on tight!" yelled the woman.
Shinji did so, and he still nearly fell off when the woman yanked on the handlebars, prompting her Sparrow to slow down and do an impromptu wheelie. Her feet then jerked against the foot pedals, and the vehicle did a brief jump into the air-
The explosive shell smashed into the ground beneath them, and Shinji winced at the burst of heat and fire that washed over them. Both his and the woman's bodies briefly flickered from the release of energy; meanwhile, the force of the explosion propelled them even higher, and soon they were over twenty meters in the air.
"Woohoo! Punch it!" yelled the pink Ghost that was nestled between him and the woman's back.
Armored feet pushed into the pedals, and the Sparrow's engine propelled them forward, leaving a trail of neon exhaust. They sailed over the possessed Walker, landing on the other side and zooming for the gap in the Wall.
Despite the angered roars and projectiles that still fired in their direction, they made it out of the Cosmodrome without a single scratch.
Shinji couldn't help but look behind them, marveling at how many of those...'Fallen'...from this 'House of Bardiel' had scaled the Wall. "We...we made it?"
"Not yet," answered the woman, still pushing her Sparrow for all its worth. "We kicked up the hornet's nest there; they'll be sending out Skiffs to run patrols soon enough, and we'll be dead meat if we get caught in the open."
"Eh, you've faced worse," said Mari.
"Not the point!" retorted the woman.
Shinji simply rested his head against her back, hoping that this craziness would soon come to an end.
The voice of his Ghost rang through his head. 'Well, we made it at least.'
'In my experience, you'll be as foolhardy as her before long.'
...oh. Great. Instead of thinking about his current circumstances, Shinji simply observed the scenery as it zoomed past, blankly watching the rolling hills. It was simpler and easier to just be, for now.
After what seemed like minutes, Mari spoke up. "Okay Princess, signal fidelity is strong enough to get in contact with your jumpship."
"Good." The woman curved her Sparrow down a hill, parking beneath a particularly high ridge. "Bring it here."
"Already done! ETA in two minutes."
The woman sighed, roughly prying Shinji's hands off of her torso. "Well, now that my day is pretty much done, we might as well get some introductions out of the way."
"...okay." Shinji quietly got off of the Sparrow, resisting the urge to yelp when it began to dematerialize seconds later. He took in the form his rescuer - clad in armor colored red, she stood so surely - and said, "Um...thanks."
The pink Ghost tittered, floating above the woman's head. "Aw, he's so well-mannered! I think I'll call you puppy-kun."
"Ignore her, she's an idiot," said the woman, scanning the steppes around them. "So...what's your name?"
"Oh. Uh...Shinji. Shinji Ikari."
The woman paused. "...hmm. I see." Sighing, she slowly took off her curved helmet, and a mane of red hair seemed to flow out. As she turned around, he saw that her hair wasn't real, it was fake because it connected to skin made of metal, and inhuman eyes looked straight at him, and her voice still sounded off because it wasn't coming from an actual throat-! "Name's Asuka-2, and-"
Shinji began to scream.
The glowing blue eyes of the synthetic person seemed surprised. "What, never seen an Exo before-?"
Shinji kept screaming.
Her lips that weren't lips tightened, her face of red and white metal fixed into a perpetual frown. "Seriously kid, stop screaming!"
Shinji screamed even more.
Finally, the Exo groaned, her mouth parts glowing yellow with each audible noise she made. "Oh, verdammt." In the blink of an eye, her foot lashed out, smashing into his face.
And then all was dark.
Asuka-2 grumbled as the new Guardian crumpled to the ground, impulsively curling up as he fell. "Geez."
Mari looked at the unconscious boy. "Hmm. Definitely too loud to be a puppy-kun...let's go with billy-kun instead!"
"You ever heard a goat scream before?"
"...well, he's definitely got a pair of lungs on him." Reaching down, she undid the seals on his crappy helmet, slowly prying it off. "You think his Ghost would have at least transmatted a helmet with better materials."
A flash of light blinked above Shinji, and a Ghost with a gray shell looked crossly at her. "I was kind of in a hurry."
"Yeah yeah." She looked at the face of Shinji Ikari: young, with short brown hair, still bearing traces of baby fat...probably sixteen years old, no more than seventeen. "So...this is him."
"...never thought the 'Invincible Ikari' would look so damn scrawny." Old flashes of memory filtered through; some lacking context, others still too clear. "Never thought he'd be such a wimp, either."
"Now now, not all Guardians are instant adepts at first," gently admonished his Ghost.
Mari seemed to wink with acknowledgement. "Don't I know it! It took my Guardian, like, three centuries to become serviceable."
Asuka-2 swatted Mari with the back of her hand. Ignoring the demented laughter of her Ghost, she gazed at the sky - deep and blue, with traces of wispy clouds; a fair picture that concealed the Darkness beyond - and sighed. I have a feeling that the Vanguard are gonna be very interested in you.
On that day in 1999, we discovered something underneath Antarctica: a great white sphere, with wonders and technology beyond our understanding.
There were many names given to this extraterrestrial marvel: the First Angel, Lightbringer, ADAM...but ultimately?
We called it...the Traveler.
And its discovery changed us forever.
Awoken from its slumber, the Traveler bestowed its gifts upon mankind, seeding its Light throughout the Solar System. In less than two decades, Mercury, Venus, and Mars were garden worlds, hosts of burgeoning cities. We were on the crux of a Golden Age.
However, there were some who sought to use the Light for their own ends. A great Cataclysm occurred on Earth; vast swathes of humanity abandoned our homeworld, fleeing for the other planets. Those who remained behind banded together; armed with the Light, they ended the Cataclysm.
However, the Cataclysm drew the attention of the Traveler's ancient enemy, one that had hunted it for eons...a great Darkness, swarming, surrounding us from all sides.
The Cataclysm divided humanity...but the Collapse nearly ended us.
Were it not for the Traveler's sacrifice, all would have been lost.
But perhaps...what once was lost...may one day be found again.
Gospel of a New Genesis
"Ask yourself: what did your ancestors face in the Cataclysm, that they constructed the Exos to defend themselves?"
Built during the terror of the Cataclysm, Exos are self-aware war machines so advanced that nothing short of a Ghost can understand their inner functions. They remain ciphers, even to themselves: their origins and purpose lost to time. Whoever built the Exos fashioned them in humanity's image, gifting them with diversity of mind and body. Many of the City's Exo citizens live and work alongside their organic brethren. But others fight again, re-forged in the Light of the Traveler to serve as Guardians.
Author's Note: So. Just finished Mobile Fighter Evangelion. Had a couple of ideas that wanted to come out and play.
Although there will be an overarching narrative, the nature of Destiny will allow for a more free-form story (which is good for my time schedule these days).
As is the nature of AU stories, this crossover will feature many elements from both Neon Genesis Evangelion and Destiny...but as some of you have already gathered, don't take canon for granted.
See you soon, and please review!