*Disclaimer: I own nothing of Gainax, Khara, Condé Nast, or Universal Studios.*

Prologue - The Living Shadow of Tokyo-3

She cannot believe what she's gotten herself into.

It was that line of thinking that went through her head as she kept running through the dimly-lit streets of a little-known section of the Tokyo-3 metropolitan area.

It should've been like any other evening as she returned home from work: lock her apartment door, change into something comfy, make herself a little dinner, try and decide between either channel surfing the TV or resuming her reading of the book she was on, and then off to dreamland. Yet on today of all days, she chose to be the good Samaritan when she spotted a trio of punks harassing another passenger on her train.

Normally, the young woman in question shied away from confrontation. For some reason, she ignored her instincts and tried to step in. Yet in choosing to intervene, she only made herself their new target, so when the train pulled to the next stop, she bolted immediately, not caring that it wasn't her regular stop, the punks in pursuit. She didn't dare look back, and only kept her focus on staying far ahead of them as much as possible.

Whymewhymewhymewhyme~?! she thought fearfully as she quickly turned a corner. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a wrong turn, leading into a dead-end alley dimly lit by a single street lamp that flickered. Even worse for her was the lack of fire escapes on either side of the buildings making the alley up. Feeling trapped, the young, short-haired brunette could only bemoan her circumstances as she heard the rapidly-approaching footsteps behind her. Reluctantly, she turned around, finding herself backed against the wall of the dead end as the three punks slowed down and approached her, all with smug looks on their faces.

The shortest of the three, probably the youngest, wore a purple hooded sweatshirt with the right sleeve torn off, had his hair gelled up and dyed into a spiked mohawk, and wore piercings on his nose. The tallest of the trio was bald with a striped, ripped t-shirt and jeans, and wore one black, fingerless glove with metal knuckle studs on his right hand. The middle one had a big pompadour hairstyle, a leather jacket, and a soul patch. Each of them were now brandishing a weapon of their choice, with the short one wielding a homemade tonfa; the middle one a switchblade knife; and the tall cueball a long, steel chain.

"C-come on, guys, can't we just talk?" the young woman asked, worry in her voice.

"No can do, chicky," the middle punk scoffed as he fiddled with his knife. "You interrupted our 'fun time'. Now you gotta make up for it, right, guys?"

The other two chuckled in agreement, further pushing the young woman into a panic, more so when they inched ever closer.

"P-please, I'll give you all the money I've got, just leave me alone!" the young woman pleaded desperately. "I just want to go home and get some sleep! Is it too much to ask?!"

The three punks eyed one another briefly before turning their attention back to their target. "Tell ya what," the middle punk began, "how 'bout we save you the trouble and just put you to sleep right here an' now?" The three of them got closer and closer from there, and the young woman was about to let out one hell of a scream...

Suddenly, a new sound caught their attention. It was the sound of laughter-a haunting, sinister, almost-maniacal laughter, that echoed throughout the alley. The cocky grins fell from the punks' faces as they turned to face the direction of the laughing. The only problem was, they couldn't pinpoint exactly which direction it was coming from.

[Suggested track: "Earth Run", Lee Ritenour, album of the same name.]

"Th' hell was that?!" the short punk asked warily.

"Who's there?! Where are you?!" the middle punk barked.

There was no answer, only the laughter that continued to reverberate against the alley's walls. The young woman grew wide-eyed as she continued to watch, unsure of what was going to happen next. The punks continued to stand on guard, eyeing every direction in the alley, the laughter continuing to keep them on edge.

"C'mon already! Come out an' face us!" the cueball shouted.

In that instant, the laughter stopped, and the voice spoke in a foreboding rasp.

"Extortion. Theft. Intimidation," the voice listed off. "All acts committed by you, or the gang you're a part of...Junichi Hirata."

The middle punk's eyes widened with shock over the voice revealing his name.

"Who said that?!" Junichi demanded.

"Junichi!" the shorter punk said. "Who's sayin' that?! Who's there?!"

"Shaddup!" Junichi barked back. "Just shaddup! I'm tryin' to think~!"

"Quite the path you've chosen for yourself, Junichi..." the voice said grimly. "A path that leads only...to oblivion..."

"J-Junichi, I don' like this," the cueball said worriedly, sweat starting to appear on his brow as he gripped his chain tightly.

"He's right, let's beat it already!" the short punk concurred.

"Quiet! Both of you!" Junichi barked again.

"You three thought you could get away with all that, didn't you...?" the voice said. "You all thought...that I wouldn't know..."

Junichi gritted his teeth and, desperate, pulled the pistol tucked into his waistband, clicked the safety off, and started firing throughout the alley. The sound of the gunshots going off caused the young woman to shriek as she covered her ears and closed her eyes. Eventually, Junichi ran out of ammo, evidenced by the clicking of the pistol; the only things he managed to hit were a few windows, which shattered immediately. Just when he thought he'd won, the laughter returned, wiping the cocky smirk that briefly adorned his face. The laughter then stopped abruptly, leaving them in the silent darkness for what seemed like an eternity. Suddenly, Junichi heard a slight footstep and turned, only to briefly see what looked like a patch of the darkness in the alley move. He didn't have a chance to react, as that patch of darkness socked him in the jaw, sending him tumbling to the ground, to the shock of his two comrades and the young woman. Junichi quickly got back up and into a fighting stance, now jumpy from the sudden blow.

"You've led quite a life of petty crime, Junichi," the voice said. "You and your 'friends' here. And now, it's going to end. When I'm finished with you, you'll be begging to be taken in by the police..."

"The hell I will!" Junichi replied defiantly, only to be met with a blow to his stomach and another couple of unseen punches to his face and side, sending him reeling against a dumpster.

"Oh, but you will, Junichi..." the voice warned, as the punk in question began feeling like something was gripping his shirt collar. "And if you don't...I will be around..." To the further shock of the others present, something threw Junichi into the air and slammed him into a couple of garbage cans. "You won't see me, but I'll be there-in every dark corner, every empty room...As much a constant as the dusk that signals each day's end..."

Junichi, staggering as he got up, his face now bloody, tried to show he wasn't impressed. "I'm not scared of you!" he shouted. "You sonova-I'll freaking gut~!"

Before he could finish his threat, more unseen blows struck Junichi, who couldn't guard against them in time. The whole time, the young woman and the other two punks thought they could see a strange mist with each blow that hit Junichi, who was backed into a corner of the alley.

"I've already summoned the police to this location, Junichi," the voice stated grimly as their blows continued to pummel Junichi. "When they arrive...you and your cohorts will surrender yourselves to them. You will do it, or I will leave you in no shape to resist them..."

Unable to take any more, Junichi caved. "All right! All right! You win! I surrender! I give up! Ohgodohgodohgod...!"

With that, one more blow knocked Junichi out cold. The voice laughed briefly, and the other two punks, horrified by what they'd just seen, turned to flee, only to be met with a couple of blows to the backs of their heads, which soon sent them into unconsciousness as they fell to the ground.

The young woman was in utter disbelief over what she'd just witnessed. It was as if the very darkness of the alley had saved her life. Her surprise increased when she witnessed a figure emerge from the darkness, with a startling form.

[Suggested track: "The Bridge", The Shadow OST, beginning at 1:20.]

The figure standing before her looked very much the spitting image of one of Japan's most legendary warrior archetypes: the ninja. He was clad in a sleek, black as night gi, with a blood-red waist sash, bracers and leg wraps. On his head was a silvery, dragon-like head piece, and the lower half of his face was covered by a blood-red half-mask, leaving only a piercing set of eyes and a vaguely aquiline nose exposed. The figure then began to approach her, and to her further astonishment, the figure's form seemed to change before her eyes. Where once stood a ninja was now a man in an ebon suit, with a pair of black dress gloves, a grey collared shirt and a red tie. Again the lower half of his face was covered, this time by a blood-red scarf. The young woman tensed up as he got closer, and when the gap between them was met, he offered her his hand. Unsure at first, the young woman took his hand and he helped her back up. As she rose to her feet, the young woman noticed a peculiar-looking ring on the man's right ring finger. The man led her out of the alley, but before he himself exited its confines, he looked down at the unconscious three punks, and noted that the short one had a can of spray paint in his sweatshirt's pocket. The man took it out, and upon examination learned it was a green, glow-in-the-dark variety. Deciding to leave a message, he quickly sprayed a couple of sentences on the leftmost wall of the alley. The young woman observed him, and gaped when she saw what he'd written:

犯罪の雑草は苦い実を結びます。 犯罪は割に合わない。*

When he finished, the man laid the can next to the punk he'd taken it from and walked back to the young woman. The moment he did, a Toyota-model taxi cab pulled alongside them. The man opened the right-side rear passenger door and bade the young woman enter. Nodding, the woman got in and sat herself down in the back seat, and was followed by the man, who closed the door.

"Drive," the man said. "The scenic route."

"Got it, boss-man," the driver replied, revealing herself to be a young woman as well. The cab was soon on its way; moments later, a police squad car arrived, and the two officers got out to look over the three punks.

While on the road, the rescued young woman finally spoke up to her rescuer. "Th-thank you," she said. "I-if you need directions to my place, I-"

"1st Lt. Maya Ibuki," the man began. "Born November 7, 1991. Graduate of Kyushu University with a degree in computer science, at the top of your class. Joined up with NERV as a computer technician one year ago, and in addition currently serves as chief deputy to head of NERV's Technical Division-1, Dr. Ritsuko Akagi."

Maya's eyes widened a bit in surprise. "That-that's all true. How-?"

"I saved your life today," the man said as he turned to face her, "and now it belongs to me."

Hearing this stunned Maya. "It...does? Why-?"

"You will become one of my operatives," the man instructed, showing little emotion. "Like many who call this city home, and the few living abroad..."

Maya swallowed a bit nervously. "I'm sure I can...fit it into my schedule, maybe..."

The man's eyes narrowed. "You cannot tell anyone else about this. NO ONE must know..."

As if to emphasize that point, the driver swerved the cab as it made a corner, startling Maya.

The man then pointed to the driver in question, who tipped her newsboy's cap with a slight grin. "Tomoe here will provide further instruction in my network's means of communication, should I have need for your aid. When you hear an operative of mine say 'the lights are on', you will reply with 'but nobody's home'. It will ensure that you know of your mutual connection. Is that understood?"

Maya nodded slowly. "'The lights are on...but nobody's home'," she repeated carefully.

Nodding in affirmation, the man then handed Maya a ring similar to his. "This will also serve to identify a fellow operative," he clarified. "Only they have rings like these." Taking it with slight hesitation, Maya slipped the ring onto her finger, bewildered by how perfectly it fit.

"Can I ask you something?" she asked warily. "How did you know I was in trouble? About my background? How-?"

The man laughed softly, though it unnerved Maya, before he turned to face her again. "Shadō wa shitte imasu, Ibuki-chan," he said, before laughing again.

Before long, the cab had arrived at Maya's apartment building, and the weary computer tech exited the vehicle, briskly making her way to the building's lobby. The cab soon continued on, towards the man's own destination.

"You sure about this one, boss-man?" Tomoe asked. "Seems like she's not cut out for this sort of thing."

"I believe in her," the man replied. "For our purposes, she will be essential, if we are to succeed in stopping the catastrophe to come."

Tomoe shrugged as she kept driving. "Whatever works for ya," she said, just as she reached the man's destination. "I'll be keepin' my ear to the ground. See ya."

The man nodded as he got out of the cab. "Till then..." he said as Tomoe and her cab departed. The man then walked into the alley behind him, disappearing into the darkness. The one who emerged from the other end of the alley, however, wasn't the ebon-garbed figure. Instead, it was a 15-year-old boy with dark blue eyes and chestnut brown hair, wearing a white, short-sleeved button-up shirt, dark slacks, and white sneakers. The boy walked another block until he arrived at the apartment building he called home, a place located fairly distant from the city center of Tokyo-3. Once there, he entered the lobby and proceeded to call the elevator up. Once he reached the floor he was looking for, he walked till he arrived at apartment 11-A-2. A quick swipe of his card, and the door opened.

"I'm home," he said quietly to himself, not wanting to disturb the other occupants.

End of Prologue.

*Translation: "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay."