Sokila was in a chair, shivering mightily.

"...the Reaper..."

Her arms were wrapped tightly around her knees.

"...it was REALLY scary..."

She looked plaintively at him.

"You'll protect me, right?"

The faint haze of blue began to brighten-

xxxx

/Saturday: June 27, 2015/

Kaworu Nagisa slowly sat up, gazing at the clock; even though he didn't need to do so in order to know the local time - four hours, thirty-two minutes, and twenty seconds past midnight - he went through the motions regardless. He lightly scanned over his three roommates - Toji below, snoring heavily; Kensuke on the top bunk opposite, making the occasional snappy motions with his arms amidst whatever dream held his fancy; Shinji Ikari on the bottom bunk opposite, utterly out cold from exhaustion - before lightly hopping out of his bed, landing on the carpeted floor with a mere whisper of sound.

With practiced ease, the ashen-haired boy - still in his sleepwear of gray pajama pants and a plain T-shirt - walked barefoot through the halls of the Izanagi Dorms. Few would be up at this hour of the morning; that suited him just fine.

With all the nonchalance of a teenager uncaring for the opinions of others, Nagisa walked along the sidewalks and grassy courtyards leading to the Junior High branch's gymnasium. The interior arena was split into four quadrants of equal size, each one respectively dedicated to gymnastics, basketball, tennis, and martial arts; along the perimeter of the gymnasium were various chambers and rooms dedicated to smaller, more niche sports. Thus did he find himself in the room utilized by the Boxing Club, replete with a ring, various training dummies, free weights, and punching bags.

Normally, access was prohibited to students outside of normal hours, and even the staff needed a key to enter the building...but, alas, such trifles were superfluous to him.

Thus, Kaworu found himself in front of one punching bag - colored a vibrant red, filled with sand, hanging from the ceiling by a thick cord and bound from too much movement by an elastic strap affixed to the floor - quietly clenching his right hand into a fist.

Patience.

Such...a limiting word. A virtue for many.

Yet an excess of patience could be considered apathy by some.

And if there was one thing he wasn't...it was apathetic.

Kaworu Nagisa punched once. Twice. Three times. With a slow rhythm, he transitioned from one-two's to combinations of hooks, jabs, straights, and crosses, battering the bag senselessly.

Despite his light movements, the force in his fists was great, and precise; a minor expression of what he was capable of...and yet, a mirror of the restrictions that bound him.

Hence the need for patience.

Patience.

Patience.

Patience.

Patience.

PATIENCE.

PATIENCE.

A right straight actually punctured the bag, causing it to burst at the seams; red eyes stared dispassionately at the grains of sand as they sprinkled onto the ground. "How unfortunate," he murmured.

A world of cardboard, of glass, of utter fragility...and yet, still robust enough to constrain the passage of all fates, of destiny itself.

How vexing, that it was only through avenues like this that he could find release. Others were far too...aggressive, at this stage. "You must wait," he whispered to himself. "Only at the pinnacle, can the truth be unveiled..." But oh, how difficult it was proving to be!

But his will was strong. He could wait. He would wait.

And so he left the Boxing Club, knowing that there would be an unpleasant surprise awaiting the first person to walk into the room that day...but he couldn't muster the effort to even fake caring.

With hands in his pockets, Kaworu Nagisa quietly began the short ten-minute stroll back to the Izanagi Dorms, humming Ode to Joy to himself out of nothing more than habit.

xxxx

/Class 2-A, Junior High Branch, Hakone Academy/

As classes ended after the short Saturday schedule, Shinji Ikari found himself in a melancholy mood, unable to shake off his introspective funk from the other day. He knew that there a number of things to do - he still had two missions left in his monthly quota, he had studying to do, the Track Club was meeting that afternoon, there was PILATE's question to consider, and he felt like getting back to reading Hamlet - but his head just wasn't in it today.

Even Kensuke's offers to hang out had been rebuffed, because he honestly didn't think he'd be good company.

Perhaps it was no mere coincidence, then, that he found himself outside the Faculty Office. Looking inside, there was Fuyutsuki-sensei, working studiously at his desk.

"Ah, hello Ikari-kun." Shinji blinked; in no time at all, he had apparently moved beside sensei's desk. "You seemed rather distracted during fourth period today. How are you doing?"

"...well..."

"A lot going on, I take it? I heard from Hyuga-san that you and Ayanami-kun had to leave abruptly yesterday. Did everything go...well, I suppose?"

Shinji grimaced. The mission had 'technically' been completed; he had saved Niijima-san...but the aftermath with the sight of two dead people, and Ayanami's own cryptic reasons for fighting...they still weighed on him.

"I suppose that face says enough. I may not have any legal capacity to inquire about the exact circumstances of your 'job'...but I can certainly recommend that you seek help if you need it. After all, NERV does offer those services, as far as I'm aware."

"...does Ayanami use those?"

The older man huffed with dissatisfaction. "In all honesty, her demeanor is a sign that she hasn't. I wish she would."

And yet Ayanami soldiered on regardless...so, shouldn't he?

Fuyutsuki-sensei seemed to sense his inner tension, judging by how his gaze focused on him. "...you know, your mother was also reluctant to seek help."

Shinji blinked, as his attention was instantly grabbed. "Huh?"

"It was in 1995 when she began attending Osaka University on a fast-track program. To say she was consumed by her studies would be putting things mildly." The man chuckled, a nostalgic smile coming to his face. "I can still remember her first paper submission. It was on...certain hypothetical scenarios regarding the interaction of cognitions and spiritual manifolds. A bit advanced, but her pedigree demanded nothing less. Then, one day, as she was leaving class, she walked right into a door frame. It rang out like a thunderclap."

Shinji impulsively sputtered at the mental image.

"As it turns out, she was running off of two hours of sleep and far too many cups of coffee. The poor thing was running herself ragged, and not even two months into her academic career." The man smiled wistfully. "It took quite a bit of convincing on my part...but she finally managed to slow down and stick to a set schedule. If you're finding yourself overwhelmed by everything that's happening to you...then if nothing else, write down what you need to do, leave yourself some free time, and stick to it."

"...okay." That sounded doable. That sounded reasonable. "...how was she? As your student, I mean?"

"Like a woman possessed: always reading, always researching. Every single time I asked, she would speak about how there was something missing. I never quite knew what she meant, because I honestly don't believe she knew herself. That side of herself never went away...even after Second Impact, or after she had you."

He blinked confusedly. "After she had me?"

The older man grinned, reaching into his desk drawer. "I had a feeling you would eventually come back after our last conservation, so I made copies of certain photos in anticipation." He handed him a laminated copy; it featured a young woman with short brown hair, going down to her neck in the back; she was lying in a hospital cot, looking rather tired; in her right arm was a young infant, swaddled in blue sheets. Her left hand was extended forward, two fingers held up in a peace sign; the cheeky grin on her face matched the tone of the autographed text in the corner of the photo: Baby Get! - Yui "Your father was the one who took the photo. She sent me a copy to brag about her 'achievement,' as she called it."

The utter sentimentality present in the image was almost overwhelming. "This...this is..."

"Even in spite of the passions which consumed her, Yui-kun still remembered to live life. Don't forget to live yours either." The man frowned, a somber and melancholy expression floating across his face. "I wonder...though, I suppose that's only speculation now, isn't it...?"

"...do...do you know what happened...?"

(He went to bed one night, tucked in by his mother; she kissed him gently on the temple, before turning away. The next morning, she was gone. No one knew where; not his father, not her colleagues or friends...no one. Investigations turned up nothing. But he was too young to know such things; all he knew, was that one day, his mother had vanished from the face of the earth. Within a year, his father would send him away.)

Fuyutsuki shook his head. "I honestly wish I knew...experience provides many things, but clairvoyance isn't one of them, I'm afraid."

"Of c-course...I'm sorry..."

"Don't be. It's only natural for a child to want to know more about their mother." The man turned back in his chair, looking at his lesson plan for the upcoming week. "Think about what I've said, Ikari-kun. And please...do be careful, okay?"

"...I will. Thank you, sensei."

xxxx

After speaking with Fuyutsuki-sensei, Shinji had decided to head to the school library in order to formulate a schedule in relative quiet. It was rather large, with rows of bookshelves spanning two whole floors; great, grandiose windows in the center of the room revealed the school courtyards and the High School branch beyond them. Some students were milling around, reading or doing school work in relative solitude; quite frankly, Shinji felt that this would be the perfect place to finally get some structure back into his life.

(He also decided to check out a Japanese-to-English dictionary/thesaurus combo, because he had a feeling he'd be needing it when going back to Hamlet.)

Grabbing one of his notepads and his phone, he cross-referenced the class schedules and extracurricular time allotments, and began jotting down a...very rough outline.

Sunday: Missions from morning until afternoon; free time afterwards?
Monday: Classes; Literature Club after school; study in the evening?
Tuesday: Classes; Track Club after school; study in the evening?
Wednesday: Classes; free time after school?
Thursday: Classes; Literature Club after school; study in the evening?
Friday: Classes; Track Club after school; free time in the evening?
Saturday: Classes; missions in the afternoon; free time afterwards?

...school sure takes a lot of time.

Yet it was something normal in the cascading craziness that his life had become. It hadn't even been a a full month since he had arrived in Tokyo-3...

"You've been rather quiet."

Shinji jolted with surprise, looking up at the source of the voice; sitting on the opposite side of the table was none other than Principal Keel Lorenz, reading from a rather aged booklet titled The Republic, by someone named Plato. "P-Principal Lorenz? Wha...what are you doing here?"

"The library is one of the few places I'm able to relax. With all the duties attached to the Academy's administration, I'm rarely off the campus as is; the library serves as a nice change of pace from my office." He turned a page. "I also try to help students discover hard-to-find books, but they tend to turn down my help."

Memories of their 'deal' came to mind. "...really?"

"But of course. Most of the books in this library are from my personal collection, after all." His visor-clad gaze stared directly in his direction. "You were thinking quite heavily when making that list of yours: the hour is late."

Blinking, Shinji turned towards the large window, blanching at the sight of the early evening sky, already dimming from the sun's descent below the horizon. Where'd all the time go?!

"You seem to have a lot on your mind," idly commented Lorenz, turning another page of his booklet.

"...I do, actually," he shyly admitted.

"Well, I suppose we can discuss other matters, then." The elderly man glanced back at him with an expectant expression. "So: what exactly have students been saying about me?"

"...what have people said about you?" Shinji tried thinking about what he had witnessed and heard from other students since he had last spoken to Principal Lorenz over a week ago. "Well..." He honestly hadn't been trying that hard, given how busy...well, everything had been. "...I think the most I've heard people talk about is your visor." Because to be fair, it was easily the man's most distinctive feature.

"Ah, this thing?" Keel Lorenz gestured to the sides of his head, where bulky red clasps held his visor in place. "It is a fancy piece of equipment isn't it? I don't exactly fault children for having fanciful imaginations. However, it is the way it is for a reason."

"...it is?"

"To quote a certain literary maxim: show, don't tell." As he spoke, he raised his hands, fiddling with a few hidden knobs and switches along the clasps; then, with the whine of cybernetic servos, the visor actually extended outward and he removed it and oh gods the principal didn't have any EYES! "There's a reason it's rather hefty," he continued, sounding remarkably nonchalant for someone who had no eyes because WHAT.

"...uh..." It was unnerving, seeing a mesh of metal, circuits, and electronic junctions in the head where the eyes would normally be. He knew it was rude to stare, but he still stared because WHAT. "...how...?"

"A rather rare and fast-acting form of ocular cancer," he remarked. "Standard forms of treatment wouldn't have been able to help in time. Given the advances in autonomic computing and cybernetic augmentation that were occurring over a decade ago, I decided the most efficient course of action would simply be to remove my eyes entirely. The implants in my face interface with the optic nerve, translating the information from the visor." Then, just like that, he put the visual device back into place, sliding and locking down with a subtle electronic hiss. The red line briefly flickered, signalling that it was once more active. "As you can probably gather, a less conspicuous visor isn't an option."

"...I...see...um...no offense...?" The awkwardness kept rising. Why was it rising?!

Fortunately, the older man didn't seem to mind. "I've seen far too much to let such trifles get under my skin." His head tilted down, gazing at the schedule he had apparent spent the last couple of hours working on (seriously, how?). "Trying to introduce a little order into your life?"

"...yes."

"An understandable question. One that a lot of people want an answer to. But in my experience, there are as many answers to that question as there are people...and some who don't seem to care for order at all." He gazed around the library, a stoic expression on his face. "This Academy is but one small effort on my part to provide that order, I suppose." Shinji was quiet, letting the man continue. "I wonder what answer you'll come to, I wonder?"

"...I don't know. I'm...I'm going to try to stick with this schedule."

"Schedules are important," mused the principal. "So...am I correct in assuming that beyond a brief conversation about my visor, there hasn't been much else?"

"No sir."

"I see. And why do you think they aren't? After all, as the principal of this school, I could make life either very easy...or very difficult. One would think it rational to care about my opinions, wouldn't you agree?"

"...um..." Shinji tried to honestly think of how many times the principal had come to mind since their last meeting. It hadn't been much...and he had an actual deal with the man. There was just too much life going on. "If I had to give any answer...it's because they just have too much going on. And since you're not really around like the teachers are...at least, that's my guess?"

"Out of sight, out of mind, is it? A reasonable explanation. And given my general appearance and demeanor, I'm sure that only allows their imaginations to run wild." He quietly tapped his fingers along the table, lips tight as he thought things over. "I wonder...a thought for another time, I suppose. I'm sure you have more important things to do than hang out with a fossil like me."

I actually do, he thought, but didn't dare vocalize. "It's not a problem, sir. Thank you for taking time to talk to me."

"I do have one particular question I'd like you to ponder. It's unrelated to our arrangement, and I don't require an answer. Merely consider it...food for thought."

He was privately grateful, because he didn't need more questions on top of what the MAGI were giving him. "Okay, sir."

His fingers brushed over the cover of The Republic. "Do people, in general, prefer justice or injustice? Not in an ideal sense, as to what man should prefer...but what they actually do prefer, with their actions."

...huh?

The older man smiled, apparently amused by his expression. Even though it was small, it didn't fit his face, as though he was someone unused to the action. "As I said, it's just food for thought. Abstract questions like these can be especially helpful for determining what we truly value." The elderly principal slowly stood up, his knee joints audibly creaking from the movement. "I hope your schedule pays dividends. Have a good evening, Ikari-kun." And then he walked away, leaving Shinji by himself.

xxxx

By the time Shinji returned to the Izanagi Dorms, Suzuhara and Kensuke were already out. Only Kaworu was still awake. "Hello, Shinji-kun. How was your day?" he said, looking over his shoulder from his work desk.

"...a little tiring." He had stopped by a small antique shop at the edge of the Academy grounds to get some picture frames, because he was had a schedule to keep to, now! No more letting things slip by, no more letting life overwhelm him! If he had to deal with everything...then he was going to try and stop feeling helpless.

His Other grinned.

"Remember thy oath..."

He held his hand out.

"...to take a stand."

Even if it felt kind of weird.

Nagisa smiled cryptically, an odd expression showing in his crimson eyes. "But you've always come across as someone with energy to spare."

"...I have?"

The enigmatic boy chuckled, before turning back to his homework. "A figment of my imagination, perhaps...though I confess to not being very imaginative."

Shinji didn't quite know what to say to that, and just chalked it up to Kaworu being Kaworu. He instead took the time to put the two photos of his mother - the first one featuring her as a child with Fuyutsuki-sensei, Naoko Akagi, and Wakaba Isshiki; the second just handed to him that afternoon - into the two frames, setting them at the back left corner of his desk. Satisfied, he then tried to get some studying. Key word being 'tried.'

It turned out better than yesterday, though. That counted for something, right?

xxxx

/Outskirts of Tokyo-1, the Metaverse/

Misato Katsuragi, perched upon a nearby ridgeline - blasted of vegetation, reflecting how dead the place was in the minds of the Japanese people as a whole - stared down upon the target of her investigation. After spending the past week poring over ambient data scans from the Ocular Drones centered at Tokyo-3, and narrowing down possible locations...she had finally found her quarry. Meisei University, Ōme campus. Abandoned since Second Impact. Much like practically all of the Old Tokyo Metropolitan Area. Ambient Archetype activity has been showing different trends relative to their standard baselines over the past year in this region...all centered around this place. The changes had been subtle, and easy to miss...but it was nigh-impossible, short of a cognitive void, to minimize the effects of cognition upon the Metaverse. That only clued her in to the reality that someone had gone to a lot of trouble to try and hide this place. And that would be running afoul of the government restrictions on activity within the Tokyo-1 Dead Zone, Metaverse or otherwise...illegal activity, jackpot! She hadn't really seen any unauthorized activity - no Shadows or people as of this point - but she needed at least some visual observation to provide a pretext. Just something that I can use to authorize a full team and an actual warrant...hmm? She squinted, pulling up a pair of binoculars; she had seen movement. What do we have...?

There: at one of the campus buildings, a middle-aged man walked out, hands in his pockets. He gazed up at the red and black sky, as if thinking about something. Misato focused the binoculars, trying to see if she could identify the man. Who are you...? He then looked about, staring in her direction...no. Wait. Staring at her. Oh shit. He calmly reached up to an earpiece, saying something. Welp, time to leave! She rose to her feet, turning around and HOLY SHIT SOMEONE HAD SNUCK UP ON HER. "PERSONA!" With instinct born from years of practice, Tokoyo immediately manifested in a burst of blue fire, twin swords crossed in preparation for an attack.

The interloper - a girl in a black uniform with a concealing helmet and visor, proportions of a teenager? - raised a double-headed axe, swinging down with surprising speed for something so large.

Tokoyo slashed.

Right before swords met axe, the silver gemstone embedded into the latter flashed; in the next instant, the axe dissolved through the swords, carving through Tokoyo with immense violence. As her Persona dispersed, Misato gasped with sudden pain, her body freezing up from the sheer shock. The hell-?!

The girl dropped the axe, withdrawing a large shield from her back; without hesitation, the stranger rushed forward, bringing the shield up-!

Misato couldn't even manage a single curse before the blunt object bashed her in the face.

xxxx

From afar, Shiro Tokita watched quietly as the vague blur collapsed at Mana Kirishima's feet. "Does our intruder have any identifying markings?"

"...they're wearing the uniform of an A.T. Agent."

Tokita huffed with displeasure. "...unfortunate."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Bring her inside. We might as well get some use out of her." Now I'm going to have to run damage control.

What a way to end the week.

xxxx

END OF 6/27/2015