Author's Note: Another slight delay…but again, for good reason, as I think this episode clocks in about as long, if not longer, than the previous one.

The Long Song is from Doctor Who. Beyond the Sky is from Xenoblade. You'll know them when you see them. Also, as a brief note…if you choose to, this episode has the soundtrack links on the respective forum threads for SpaceBattles and Sufficient Velocity. But then again, it's not all in one single page like it is here. Decisions, decisions.

Part of me is conflicted…it's about to be over. But it's also about to be over.

Let's do it.

xxxx

"Hysterical strength." The concept has always fascinated me. Previously, the most common explanations involved adrenaline, or that the individuals involved were on some form of stimulant during the time of crisis.

Then came Metaphysical Biology. From it, among many other things, came S-Theory, the study of how the soul can be utilized in the physical realm. It was...an elegant proposal, to be sure. The paper co-authored by Randall Vogel and Naoko Akagi ("Solenoid Theory: Applications of the Soul in Physical Events", Journal of Applied Metaphysics, vol. 13, no. 2, 1985, pp. 10-53.) was one of the most inspiring articles I had ever read. Imagine: through sheer willpower, one utilizes the power of their spirit to enhance their physical flesh.

Studies continue on how to make this a reproducible action. If attained, it will transform humanity...but I think we can go further.

For personal reasons, I do not believe in reincarnation; I believe that metaphysical biology will make an empirical case that every individual soul is unique. Thus far, of all the thousands of people who had been studied and sampled over the years, every single one has exhibited an ego barrier with a particular spiritual wavelength, shared with no one else. Even twins, identical on the genetic level, showcase differences in these wavelengths. Granted, all it would take is one counterexample - a spiritual wavelength recorded decades past, showing up again in a newly-born child - to prove reincarnation, so the jury is still out on that one.

But I digress: it is undeniable that metaphysical reality is not equivalent to physical reality. It is not constrained by the limits of physical matter, or by physical laws. In the realm of the spirit, there is a nonzero probability that the available pool of energy within the Chamber of Guf is infinite: not merely expansive, not merely incredibly dense, not inexhaustible from a merely practical standpoint...infinite.

What if we could devise technology to tap into this energy source? Moving beyond S-Theory, in its applications on the individual human body, to instruments free of the flesh? A 'Super' Solenoid Engine, if you will?

If it could be done...imagine the geopolitical ramifications of a limitless source of energy. No longer would we need to fight for resources.

Would mankind still find reasons to fight?

Maybe.

But it would at least remove a significant one. And that's a world I would love to leave behind for my little girl.

I've discussed the idea with Dr. Katsuhito Ikari-sama, and he's been suggesting I try to obtain a grant to fund my research.

I think I'll do that.

Once I get a proposal ready, I'll submit it to whoever will take it. Maybe I'll be lucky and get one from GEHIRN. Ikari-sama seems to approve of their work.

S2-Theory...it has a nice ring to it.

-Shiro Katsuragi, 1988/8/21

xxxx

/April 29, 2027/

/JDS Saitō, UN Pacific Fleet TF-18, Two Miles out from Yonaguni Island, Okinawa Prefecture/

Lieutenant Kazuya Makinami gulped as he double-checked the young woman's paperwork. Why does the Captain keep insisting on making me do this? "Well…" Why?! "…ma'am…" He knows how nervous I am around flirty women! "…everything seems to be in order. Your security pass is still current...though, if you don't mind my asking, you were just here three months ago for a separate interview. Why are you back so soon?"

The woman of twenty years smiled slyly, readjusting her tortoise shell glasses. Her blue eyes twinkled with a humorous light. "A journalist's work is never done. Besides," She tapped her travel bag – already frisked and examined – which contained several weathered notepads. "This is part of a…longer-term project."

"Ah. Well, I suppose one cannot rest on their laurels! Your drive is to be lauded!" In the corner of his eye, he saw Lieutenant Sakura Shikinami roll her eyes. I saw that! Don't think I didn't! "Very well. You are free to proceed." He gestured towards the two seamen standing at attention by the door. "Escort her to her transport."

The woman giggled (Oh no.), raising a hand (Please don't.) and pinching his cheek (AAAAAAAAAAH). "Ever the gentleman, Red," she said, the nickname spoken in oddly-accented English. "Lead the way, boys!" she exclaimed following the two seamen out, her plaid skirt swishing with each step.

Makinami resisted the urge to exhale heavily. Gah…that woman is more dangerous than the Exiles…

"Hmm. I think I'm going to win that bet," murmured Lieutenant Shikinami.

Makinami shot a stink eye at the other woman, a smug look on her lean face. "What are you talking about?"

"About why that woman keeps calling you Red. I made a bet that it's because you always blush when she's here."

"…you made a bet on me?"

"At least it's more plausible than the Commander's. His money's on you two being closest Communists for some reason."

"…there's a betting pool?!"

xxxx

Mari Langley-Sohryu resisted the urge to give the raspberry to the JDS Saitō as her motorboat was lowered into the sea. You'd think after all the times I've been through here that I wouldn't have to go through this whole song and dance. Alas, such were the realities of a world that was still paranoid about the 'Exiles', considered responsible for the greatest loss of life in modern history. Via Black Hawk helicopter from Okinawa, to the naval blockade around Yonaguni, to a little bitty boat all by my lonesome to Yonaguni itself. Papa would have a lot to say about the lack of chivalry, for sure. Oh well. I prefer this part of the trip anyway, without anyone hovering over my shoulder. Though, to be fair, it was a lot of fun poking and prodding at that nervous Lieutenant whenever she was here. Heh. Ska's been a bad influence on me.

The young woman let her thoughts roam along various trails as her motorboat chugged through the two miles separating the ring of naval ships from the island of Yonaguni, now dominated almost entirely by Mt. Urabe due to the flooding of Second Impact. What the island of St. Helena had been for the infamous French Emperor Napoleon, Yonaguni was for the two she was about to interview yet again: a place of exile, where they were to remain for the rest of their days as punishment for their complicity in the cataclysmic events known as Second Impact and Third Impact.

As far as punishments went, it could have been worse.

Soon, she arrived at a single pier, attached to a roadway that abruptly emerged from the water; thanks to the tsunamis following Second Impact, almost the entirety of the island's inhabitants had drowned. The ensuing rise in sea level had reduced the island's population to less than two dozen, all of whom had departed for Okinawa and the mainland to seek security from the military. A few had elected to try for Taiwan instead, less than seventy miles westward.

For years, the island had literally been empty of human activity.

Which, from the prospective of the Japanese government, made it a convenient dumping ground for the two Exiles.

Mari slowly followed the path to a particular dwelling that had been repurposed by the two Exiles, occasionally watching the rare Yonaguni horses as they chewed on long grass. She advanced past a pathway bordered by tropical fauna, eventually finding herself at the front door. She didn't bother knocking or ringing the doorbell; she simply waltzed right in, past walls laden with paintings and sketches, into a room with aged bookshelves and an old record player, letting loose a tinny-sounding jazz tune. A woman sat on the couch, writing something in neat script on a notepad. "Barging in as usual, Mari-chan?"

Mari shrugged, plopping herself onto the opposite couch. Sunlight filtered through the shades, blanketing the room in a warm ambience. "You knew I was coming anyway. And I wanted to get here ahead of the others, so I could at least get some work done."

"Such diligence. You remind me of myself."

The younger woman chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of her head bashfully. Her tone still maintained a sense of coy cockiness. "Oh please, do go on."

"How was your previous article received?"

"It went over fairly well. A lot of people still have a skewed sense of how exactly SEELE's handed GEHIRN's affairs. Speaking of which, where's your boy-toy?"

"He's out brewing. He should be back soon." Sensing that the small talk was about to end, the older woman leaned back, readjusting her yellow sweater. "So. What would you like to talk about this time?"

Mari reached into her travel bag, pulling out a notebook with several bookmarks and weathered pages. "I've kind of gotten the perspectives of a lot of those involved with the…incident, if only to try and get some consistency. Because, you know, everything was crazy." The young woman opened up to a blank page, clicking the end of her ballpoint pen. "So…Dr. Ikari; what do you remember about Third Impact?"

Yui Ikari smiled sadly, brown hair bearing a few strands of silver; the only othr sign of her previous interment within Eva was her left eye, its iris a gleaming shade of red. "Now…that is quite a story."

xxxx

Final Episode

THE

REBIRTH

OF

EVANGELION

Rebuild the future!

xxxx

/Local Japan Time: April 15, 2016/

/Primordial Sea/

The realm of souls was beyond space and time. Comprised of pure spirit, the source of all souls was not beholden to the laws governing matter, nor to the constraints of the physical universe.

Any description would not do it justice, but a description was necessary regardless.

A vast sea of reddish-orange water, the color of LCL, stretched infinitely far in every direction, encompassing the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, and the distant stars. A radiant celadon sphere hovered above the surface of the world, besides which blazed two great Lights, burning black and white with a brilliant intensity. Four lesser flames flickered upon the surface of the Earth, still shining brightly. A smattering of yellow lights covered the face of the planet, the overwhelming majority of which were located in the heart of Africa. Obscure glyphs and sigils surrounded the planet, largely obsidian with a smidgen of ivory; within those runes flowed a great stream of ethereal green. High above, tethered to the twin Lights by otherworldly chains, a single golden orb glimmered with an unusual glow.

A small spark drifted from the golden star, descending towards the Earth. Drifting away from the two Lights, the spark moved past three of the flames, delving into the shadowy depths of the Geofront. Phasing through the shade of physical reality, the spark hovered in front of the fourth of the lesser flames, sourced within a Core the color of ruby.

The golden ember dove into the fire, enmeshing itself within the memories of the soul within.

"I don't know what you just said, but I know when I'm being made fun of. You want a piece of me?!"

"Back off, gaijin! I'm just trying to be the mature one!"

"My brother can beat your sister in an arm-wrestling match."

"You leave my friend alone! Or…or you'll have to deal with me!"

The Core of an Evangelion, a greater being than a mere human. The soul had been protected from the Anti-AT-Field of the First Angel.

The spark flickered, and the flames responded.

...who...?

A connection was made, and the fire began to coalesce into a familiar form. Out of the metaphysical phantom of Unit-03's Core emerged Ai Suzuhara, a specter formed from ghostly fire. "...hold on..." The young girl stared at the flickering ember, moving to and fro with a butterfly's whimsy. "...have we...met before...?"

The spark glimmered with purpose, ascending upward through the shadow of NERV-1.

Confused, but wanting answers all the same, Ai Suzuhara followed.

The specter of the young Suzuhara, her form ghostly and fragile, grimaced at the strange feelings rippling through her. None of her senses were working right: she was seeing music (all the distant lights formed a strange cacophony), hearing colors (the world was blaring a quiet blue)...it was a strange, all-encompassing set of sensations, and yet it was all understandable, in a strange way.

If she were to think about it too hard, she might start wondering how she was moving through walls, and phasing through floors and ceilings with no difficulty.

But she didn't. It was a matter of will: she wanted to follow the strangely familiar spark, and so she did.

Finally, she emerged into the open air above the Geofront, and she beheld the two Lights in all their terrible majesty. The black Fire, despite being surrounded by the white Fire, was still perfectly visible. The impossibility of this didn't occur to the young girl. They hovered beside the three lesser flames, illuminating them with an overpowering radiance. "...what...?" The golden ember flickered haphazardly in front of her, smelling of impatience and caution. "...okay. I'll hold up...whoever you are." Why was it so familiar? It wasn't even a feeling of knowing someone intimately, as she would a good friend...but the familiarity was one of distinction, of uniqueness.

Finally, the two Lights hovered away from the three flames, moving towards the great sphere of celadon. Eight tiny lights - a shade of something greater, once roaring fires that had become mere smolders - descended from around the sphere, congregating around the twin Lights. "...what in the world are those...?"

xxxx

In the waking world, in the physical realm, ADAM moved away from the three prone bodies of Units-00, 01, and 02, laid side-by-side on the rim of the great hole leading into the Black Moon. They would be the subject of further study once he had a deeper understanding of their physical construction; the violet one bore the [mark/form/essence] of LILITH, while the blue and red ones bore his in turn. Their relative uniqueness was a reason to hold off any in-depth research. That, and the souls within the [creatures/constructs/entities] still persisted, protected from the ravages of his Anti-AT-Field.

Fortunately, there were others available for testing.

So ADAM, now surrounded by the dull forms of the eight remaining Mass Production Evangelions, raised the true Lance and the true Sword. Per his will, the Lance and the Sword extended, piercing into MP-01 and MP-06. Seamlessly, metal and flesh split into fine pieces and segments, dozens upon dozens of chunks pierced by winding strands of red and blue. Information bled through the tiny blades, feeding into ADAM's body for further analysis. HMM. INTERESTING.

They even artificially engineered a way to tap into the Metaphysical Deep.

BY USING A [FRAGMENT/SHADOW] OF MY BEING AS A BASELINE.

And they still managed to create a working model in a relatively short amount of time.

A FAIR POINT.

Have you given any thought as to what species to turn our observations towards?

THE NON-HUMAN MEMBERS OF THE HOMINIDAE FAMILY APPEAR TO BE THE MOST SAPIENT LIFEFORMS REMAINING.

Their mental and spiritual development took quite a leap after your...temporary [demise/hibernation].

I SEE.

Intentionally playing dumb?

...NO.

Yes you are.

NO I'M NOT.

And as ADAM continued his dispassionate analysis of the physical forms of the Evangelions, he and LILITH maintained their relatively lighthearted banter. It was...a welcome distraction, from the recent unmaking of humankind.

However, a distraction was still a distraction.

xxxx

/Primordial Sea/

Ai Suzuhara hovered beside the small bonfire, bounded within the shadowy form of Evangelion Unit-02. The young girl gingerly reached for the dreamlike flames, feeling that strange sense of familiarity again.

"...show some fighting spirit! Stur wie ein Bock sein!"

There was definitely a sense of distinctness.

"...if I was cheerful, then it made their lives better. So why not be cheerful? It makes sense, doesn't it?"

And yet...this was someone she knew.

"What good is being an Eva Pilot if I can't protect one of the most important people in my life?!"

"…I give you everything that is mine to give…don't hesitate…take. It. ALL."

Ai's hand disappeared into the fire. "...hello?"

...hello?

That voice. "You're...you're Mari-chan's sister..."

...I am?

The fire pulsed, flickering red.

...I am...you're Mari's friend...and Mari is my sister...then that means...I'm Asuka.

The warmth of the flames took on a giddy color.

I'm the Second Child. I'm the daughter of Pieter Langley and Kyoko Zeppelin Sohryu...and the Pilot of Evangelion Unit-02...I'm Asuka Langley-Sohryu!

A feminine hand gripped Ai's from within the bonfire. Impulsively, the young girl pulled. From the fire emerged the spectral form of Asuka Langley-Sohryu, her blue eyes sparkling with vitality. "Ai?"

"Yeah, it's me...what's going on?"

"Honestly? Last I can recall..." Asuka went still, her ghostly face scrunching up with concern. "...Kaworu..." Sighing, the Second Child shook her head. "That dummkopf." She glanced up at the jade-green sphere, trying to divine any presences within. "Hmm."

"What...what are we supposed to do?" The little girl gestured with her arms, slight ripples billowing through the ethereal sea that they waded through. "I mean...what are we...?"

"I'll have to think about that one. But, first thing's first." Asuka turned around, plunging both hands into the fire within Unit-02. "Come on Mama, it's time to move!"

The interaction was swifter this time. The connection was more easily made.

...how interesting.

In a brief snap of light, the ghostly fire parted, revealing the specter of Kyoko Zeppelin Langley-Sohryu. "The barriers between souls are...thinner." Kyoko – absentmindedly hugging Asuka back, who was currently in the middle of glomping her – looked around, marveling at the metaphysical world around them. "Another side effect of the Anti-AT-Field...?"

"Who are you?"

Kyoko looked down at the young child. "I believe it's proper to introduce yourself first before demanding names."

Ai would have blushed with embarrassment if she had still retained blood. "Oh. Er...well, I'm Ai Suzuhara."

"She's Toji's little sister and Mari's friend!" exclaimed Asuka, her spectral form still wrapped around Kyoko's. The fire within Unit-02, although dimmer, still burned.

"I see." Kyoko's gaze turned to the shadowy forms of Units-01 and 00, their presence still weighing upon the fabric of metaphysical reality. "...if we're going to reverse this...we're going to need her help. Liebchen, try and extract the soul from within Unit-01. I'll deal with Unit-00."

"Okay!" The bubbly redhead floated over to Unit-01's form, casually planting her hand into the spectral flames. "Hey! Shinji's Mama! Wake up!"

Ai Suzuhara stared dumbly at the proceedings, following Kyoko out of instinct if nothing else; her understanding of current events was truly as a child's, lacking all perspective and comprehension. Thus, she defaulted to a tried-and-true method: let the grown-up figure out what to do. "Um..."

"I'm Kyoko Zeppelin Langley-Sohryu, by the way."

"Oh. Okay."

"...how exactly did you manifest?" Kyoko floated to a stop beside Unit-00, staring intently at the younger child. "Without my daughter's own spirit to serve as a mirror for my 'self', I would have been unable to sufficiently define myself to separate from Unit-02...who helped you escape?"

"I...I don't know." Ai pointed upward, focusing on the golden spark that fluttered about in a haphazard manner. "I was following that."

Kyoko glanced at the ember, which flickered strangely. "...I see." There would be time to think about it later. For now...there was someone else who had priority. Turning towards the fire that burned within Unit-00, the woman knelt down. "Yui-chan..." Her spectral hands plunged into the flames. "...it's time to wake up."

The immediate sensation that Kyoko felt was one of...delighted frustration.

at long last at long last atlonglastATLASTATLASTATLAST

The soul of Kyoko briefly jolted at the sudden torrent of emotion. "Yui?"

no more waiting no more separation nomorenomoreNOMORENOMORE

Out of the flames emerged Yui Ikari; whole portions of her form were missing, as though they simply had ceased to exist. Her left eye burned with a ravenous hunger, the sheer intensity utterly disturbing Kyoko. "My word...to persevere, even after your soul was reduced to this..."

"Can't wait. Can't wait. Can't wait." The fractured spirit whirled towards Unit-01, where a similarly-divided spirit had been pulled out by the Second Child. "No more waiting. NO MORE. NO MORE." She all but charged over, shoving Asuka aside.

"Hey!"

Yui floated in front of her missing self. Each one's missing parts complemented the other's: halves of a whole, kept separate by the metaphysical nature of Eva.

Now, thanks to ADAM, they were free.

"It's time..." said the Yui from Unit-01, a joyful smile on her face.

"NO MORE WAITING," snarled the Yui from Unit-00, grabbing her missing half by the shoulders.

The connection was established. The soul recognized itself, and rejoiced.

A flash of light erupted from the two.

xxxx

In the waking world, ADAM suddenly paused. HMM?

...how unexpected.

The First Angel turned away from his examination of the MP-Evas, focusing upon the prone forms of the three unique Evangelions. Peering more deeply into the metaphysical, he marveled at the sudden burst of spiritual pressure. "NOW WHAT HAVE WE HERE...?"

xxxx

/Primordial Sea/

The light faded; where there had been two, now one remained.

Yui Ikari looked down at her spectral form, flickering hazily in the orange sea that encompassed everything. "Ah…that's better…"

"Yui? Are-"

The newly-reformed woman held her hand up, halting Kyoko's question in its tracks. "A moment, please. I just…need to process this." For so many years, her entire being had been split; all temporal senses had been suspended, active only when synchronized with a Pilot (aka Shinji). In retrospect…it had been a hellish existence. "…still processing."

Asuka hopped to Yui's side, smiling widely at her. "Boy, is Shinji gonna be happy when he sees you! Speaking of which." The Second Child turned towards her mother. "Mama…what are we gonna do now?"

"To reverse this state, we would need a sufficiently large energy source to reestablish everyone's physical bodies…but before we could even consider that, we would need to restore their individual identities to ease the resurrection of their ego barriers…"

"Uh…guys…?"

Ai's frightened question stopped Kyoko's train of hypotheticals, prompting her to look up. "…oh."

Asuka blinked. "…that's…not good."

The two Lights hovered above the shades of the three Evas, their very presence rippling with the afterimage of ADAM's physical body. "YOU SOMEHOW MAINTAINED YOUR SELF-AWARENESS…INTERESTING."

"…may I propose negotiations?" asked Yui Ikari, finally pulling herself out of her self-inspection. "You sound like a fan of scientific inquiry…perhaps we can find some common ground."

"POSSIBLY. BUT NO. HUMANITY SQUANDERED ITS CHANCE: THEIR TIME IS OVER." ADAM's soul flared, the Light becoming brighter. "AND SO IS YOURS."

At that point, fate threw a curveball.

The golden spark flashed, drawing everyone's attention.

ADAM paused, glancing at the source of the sudden spiritual surge. "HMM?"

The golden ember flew upward, rejoining the Star that had been its source.

"ODD. THERE'S…CONNECTIONS?" The white and black Lights blazed even more brightly; the ethereal chains connecting the golden Star to ADAM and LILITH took on a more concrete form, illuminated by the First Angel's focus. "ANOTHER SOUL…BRIDGED DIRECTLY TO OURS…" The Star descended, coming to a halt in front of the two Lights. "…NOW WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU…?"

Six lines shot out from the Star, arcing behind the two Lights.

ADAM's bewilderment roiled through the Metaphysical Deep. "…ESTABLISHING OTHER CONNECTIONS...? NO. THEY'RE NOT AS ROBUST…PERHAPS POSSESSION?"

Six fires suddenly blazed behind the two Lights.

xxxx

In the waking world, ADAM turned around-

POW!

A white first slammed into his face, sending the First Angel reeling. The Giant of Light tumbled end-over-end, the Sword and the Lance digging furrows in the ground. WHAT JUST HAPPENED?

A single presence just ensouled the six constructs.

I WAS BEING RHETORICAL. That much was obvious; ADAM was far more interested in the how and the why. The First Angel got to his feet, staring at his assailant.

MP-10 stood with its fist outstretched; the five other MP-Evas – 03, 05, 08, 09, and 12 – flexed, as if the soul that now controlled them all was getting used to its new bodies.

"YOU ARE AN UNEXPECTED PRESENCE…BUT YOU ARE NOT NEW…WHAT ARE YOU?"

The S2 Organs within each of the six MP-Evas burned, the soul making its self-image manifest. The faceless heads of the Eva Series morphed, transforming and twisting. Rigid red crests sprouted from the crowns of their heads, and their lips sharpened into something akin to a beak.

Then, as one, they spoke.

"WARK."

xxxx

/April 29, 2027/

/Ikari Residence, Yonaguni Island/

"You know, even after reading about Misato Katsuragi's stories about her time in Australia…I still can't believe everything about the penguin."

Yui smiled at Mari Langley-Sohryu's disbelief. "Well…the sensation of Pen-Pen's soul was very unique. From what I read after the fact, he had been bonded with the physical host of ADAM's soul for years. We unfortunately weren't in a position to study his soul after the fact," For obvious reasons, "so I can only speculate."

"And what do you speculate?"

"Well…you have a soul of a creature created by LILITH, altered by exposure to ADAM. Neither Adamite nor Lilithian, but a mix…and a stable one."

A gruff voice interrupted the two women. "I'm reminded of Dr. Akagi's constant jokes about deifying that penguin." The two turned, seeing a man with sun-kissed skin, contrasting his thinning hair and the salt-and-pepper color of his beard. Despite the white tank top and dirtied khakis, the shades were as distinctively orange as ever. "In retrospect, she may have had a point." Gendo Ikari set a small box on the table in front of them; inside were old bottles that had been washed and brewed, now filled with freshly home-brewed saké.

Mari chuckled. "Ah yes, you haven't been able to keep up to date with the old Angel cults."

"Beyond their interest in space exploration?" asked Gendo, calmly pouring three separate cups as he spoke. "Not really."

"Well, to put it one way, the Light of the Divine have publicly acknowledged their interest in finding the 'savior of humanity'."

"…I see."

Yui giggled at Gendo's consternation. "To be fair, Pen-Pen was the opening salvo." She took a small sip from her cup, lightly licking her lips. "Hmm. It's…getting better."

"Acceptable then."

The native German grinned as she grabbed her own cup. "Ah, the hobbies of exiled prisoners." The young woman downed her cup in one gulp, letting loose a throaty exhale that would have made Misato proud. "…well, it is better than the batch I had when I was last here. Still needs more kick."

"Says the woman who has admitted her alcohol of choice is vodka," dryly said Gendo.

"Yes. And?"

Yui giggled at the banter between the two. "Well, now that my husband is here…shall we continue? Because we're almost at the part where you and everyone else come in."

xxxx

/Local Japan Time: April 15, 2016/

/Primordial Sea/

The six flames formed by the golden Star swarmed the two Lights.

(The First Angel clutched the Sword and the Lance tightly as the six MP-Evas charged at him.)

The Star flickered agitatedly, several small sparks fluttering about the souls of Ai, Asuka, Kyoko, and Yui. Their light rippled through the ether, imparting understanding upon the four.

"…do you really think you can hold off ADAM on your own?" asked Kyoko.

WARK.

"…long enough will have to do," murmured Yui.

"Long enough for what?" asked Ai.

"…to get help," answered Kyoko, looking above at the celadon sphere that housed the remnant of the living. Flashes of stark white and black Light broke through the blazing inferno that surrounded the shade of ADAM. "We will have to be swift."

(ADAM swung the Sword of Uriel, firing waves of ethereal energy at the six beaked titans. They splashed against AT-Fields, the very molecules of the air burning away in bursts of radiation.)

"Yes! Reinforcements!" cheered Asuka. "Let's go!"

"Easy, liebchen," cautioned Kyoko. "We will still need to be…delicate."

"…delicate. Yes." That was one way of putting it. Yui glanced down at the specter of Ai Suzuhara, who was looking decidedly anxious. Holding out her hand, the woman smiled gently. "Would you like to see your brother again?"

"…I can see Ji again?" Ai looked at the woman suspiciously. "How do you know about him?"

Not counting her impressions gleaned from her imprisonment within Unit-01? "Well…looking at your spiritual form, I see the ones who are most important to you. And Toji Suzuhara is very important to you, I can tell."

"…huh…" The young girl suddenly smiled. "Then that means…if I save Ji…he'll owe me. For like, ever." The spirit glowed with childish glee. "Let's do it!"

"That's the spirit!" exclaimed Asuka, her hand firmly gripping her mother's.

Kyoko held her free hand towards Yui. "It might be difficult to maintain our ego barriers in the midst of such concentrated metaphysical energy."

The brunette smiled as she clutched her colleague's hand. "Then we'll just have to hold on tight, won't we?" A shimmering aura surrounded them all. "…well. Away we go."

(ADAM phased through MP-03, his arm disintegrating the Evangelion's torso.)

The four spirits rose, delving into the sphere of souls.

At once, the souls of Ai, Yui, Kyoko, and Asuka were buffeted by a whirlwind of celadon energy. As the mass of undifferentiated souls rushed past them, trace remnants of memories – scattered fragments, bereft of context, reduced to pure impressions – filtered through, threatening to overwhelm them.

I left the abbey, soul full of sorrow at the death of Maxwell-

-running through the fields, skin tanned by constant sunlight-

-crack, went the pistol, and down went my bastard of a brother.

A hand tussled my long hair, yet another hopeless suitor-

-I cried and cried and cried for my parents as they were executed-

-her nostrils widened, relishing the smell of grilled steak.

Ai shrieked, her limbs going slack. "This...this...!"

-the book made a decent paperweight, even if they did carry my father's last words-

"Our ego barriers are reacting," murmured Kyoko, her form rattling with tension.

I refused to entertain the prospect. The scandal would utterly ruin the government's civil authority-

"When ego barriers interact, their i-quotient positively correlates with whether their spiritual integrity will trend towards an average," recited Yui, recalling academic lessons from long ago. "Fuyutsuki's Second Theorem. Against so many souls lacking individuality..." The implication was not a good one. Even though the four were utilizing their mutual connections and experiences to maintain their forms, the utter homogeneity of the other human souls was a deadly siren call; if they slipped even once, they would be undone.

-always and forever, I would relish the taste of my aunt's velvet cake.

"Then we need...more...!" yelled Asuka.

Of all my clients, his touch was my favorite-

Yui scowled. "Nothing ventured...nothing gained..." The light of her soul shimmered, briefly warding off the gale; of those she was closest to, she would bet on the most obsessive one of all. "...Gendo!" Her cry echoed through the howling maelstrom.

I raised my hands in triumph, such was the glory of victory-

"Gendo Rokubungi!" She needed to provide an anchor.

-I grimaced as my mother slapped me, her bloodshot eyes red with rage. What a worthless human being-

Oh. There was something...faint. "Gendo Ikari!"

My fist smashed into the police officer's face. I grinned, feeling a savage satisfaction as I broke his nose-

-I waved my drink around, relaying yet another grandiose story designed to elicit reactions. She smiled sweetly, and proceeded to verbally eviscerate me-

"GENDO IKARI!"

The subject material was difficult, but stimulating. Even if it wasn't, I would follow her anywhere-

"LISTEN TO YOUR WIFE..."

-I gladly threw away my old name. She was my everything.

-I looked at the young infant's curly brown hair, and marveled at what the two of us had made-

-my vision was all that mattered. So long as there was even a slim possibility of reuniting with her...I would have hope.

"...AND WAKE UP!"

...Yui...?

A small kernel of jade energy blossomed, taking form. Yui felt a weight settle upon her, wrapped in a deep embrace.

The soul of Gendo Ikari simmered with a deep affection. "...even without flesh and blood...I could never forget this feeling..."

"I missed you too dear," said Yui, calmly pushing Gendo away. "We can make up for lost time later, we have a situation."

The soul of NERV's Supreme Commander - curling his lip in a way that would've looked like a pout on anyone else - relented, taking in his surroundings with an observant eye. "Ah. I see."

-I yelled loudly, there was absolutely no way it was that cheap-

Gendo grimaced. "...so this is Instrumentality."

"A variant, without SEELE as the controlling godhead."

Another day on the job, the most exciting and most boring beat of all-

"...I'm already struggling to maintain my individual form," admitted Gendo.

"We need to establish a connection in order for a soul to coalesce and regain its ego barrier!" yelled Kyoko, her form flickering as fire. She turned to the glowing maelstrom, and shouted, "PIETER!"

"PAPA!" shouted Asuka, taking a cue from her mother. "MARI! Rei? Shinji?!" The young woman frowned, her spirit blazing with anxious energy. "KAWORU! I know you're all out there!"

"Bro!" Ai looked around frantically. "Come on brother, you need to wake up!" The child was nervous, her apprehension manifesting as a gulp. "Nozomi-chan? Mari-chan? You gotta answer me!"

Gendo looked at the other three with a calculating gaze; despite being a spirit, his self-image included his ubiquitous shades, so long had they been a part of his public persona. "...I see. How much time do we have before ADAM and LILITH intervene?"

(MP-05's hand grabbed ADAM by the neck, squeezing; in the next instant, the First Angel's eyes flashed, and a burst of power blew the white Eva in half.)

"I would ere on the side of haste," cautioned Yui, before turning looking back into the shining abyss of souls. "SHINJI! This is your mother! Tomoe? Answer your sister! Fuyutsuki-sensei?! Wake up!"

"...hmm. To try and restore their individuality requires a stark image to contrast themselves to, something that they can readily identify..."

Yui paused in her attempts to wade into the spiritual storm, recognizing that tone in Gendo's voice. "...you have something in mind?"

"Yui; you've been bound within Eva for so long, that some of the finer details of life may not have been made apparent when Shinji and Rei were synchronizing with you." The man turned around, cracking his knuckles in an entirely self-indulgent fashion. "When it comes to providing a connection...you couldn't have picked anyone better."

"...pardon?"

"I was the public face of NERV, through all its ups and downs. My very image was used to target and manipulate public opinion in whatever way I could manage; anything that could be used to try and obtain leverage against the old men, I took advantage of. There are some who admire me, many more who hate me, and others who are simply aware of the influence I wield...in terms of public perception, I'm one of the most famous individuals in the world." Gendo glanced over his shoulder, a smug smirk on his face. "Congratulations on being married to a celebrity."

Yui paused. "...oh." The implications quickly dawned on her. "...oh."

"Yes."

"...do it!"

The Supreme Commander of NERV turned back towards the maelstrom, his spirit shining amidst the celadon whirlwind. "PEOPLE OF EARTH! Hear my voice!"

Trace elements filtered through.

-that blowhard is going to get us all killed one day.

-have you ever seen him actually take a break? I don't-

The Supreme Commander knows what he's doing-

That madman has no business being in his-

-who can trust him-

-I don't know if things will work out...but I made a promise.

"In this realm, where all AT-Fields have been annihilated, and your very beings have been unmade...there are still traces! Even if you have been stripped down, your very essence can draw you back!" He pounded his chest, each motion punctuated by a spark of light. "Let me be the focus! Even if it is nothing but hate or derision...who among you is truly ignorant of NERV? Who is ignorant of Gendo Ikari?!" He raised his fist, face shining brightly amidst the torrents. "If you remember how you felt about me...about NERV...then you can follow it back, as a stream leads to a river! Follow it!" The sea of souls swarmed, rushing over the five individuals. "REMEMBER HOW THE NAME 'IKARI' MADE YOU FEEL! REMEMBER HOW YOU THOUGHT! REMEMBER THE PERSON THAT HAD THOSE THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS! REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE!"

The impressions...the thoughts...the remnants...

-Commander Ikari?

Gendo Ikari-

Ikari?!

Ikari!

Supreme Commander?

Professor...

...father?

...filtered through the widespread perceptions of Gendo Ikari, they regained a sense of perspective. Through perspective, came individuality. Through individuality...came the self.

Whole segments of the abyss splintered and fractured, solidifying into something concrete, something...familiar.

As more souls remembered their individual forms, their very beings served as additional anchors for others to latch on to. Even if Gendo Ikari's message had not been enough to fully restore their self...there were others who could.

-my dear?

Honey?

Mom?

Daddy?

BROTHER!

Grandpa!

It's you!

Ai, Yui, Kyoko, Asuka, and Gendo watched in silence as the whirling energy took on human form in the dozens.

Hundreds.

Thousands.

Millions.

As the living remnant of humanity regained their individual cohesion, emotional reunions – made all the more stark by their current state, unimpeded by the divisions of flesh and blood – carried on en masse.

xx

Asuka giggled with glee as the tiny specter slammed into her.

"Ska'!" wailed Mari, her joyful sorrow manifesting as heaving sobs. "I thought...I thought...that I'd...I'd...!"

"Hey, it's okay," murmured the Second Child, rubbing at the girl's ethereal hair. "I'm here...and I'm not alone either."

"...Mari?"

The young girl turned, looking at the soul of a taller woman standing beside Asuka. She looked...felt...familiar. "...who are...?"

Kyoko smiled at Asuka's naive comment, gently correcting her as to the sex of her new child. "She. It's a girl."

Unit-02 loomed behind them, waiting for Kyoko. Her lips brushed against Mari's feathery hair, quietly murmuring, "I'm sorry I won't be there to see you grow up...but your father and sister will. Be good, süße...for them."

Mari blinked. "...mutter...?"

"...yes."

"...this..." She didn't quite know what to feel. The trace sensation she felt was...heartening, in a way. "Um..." She suddenly felt embarrassed.

Fortunately, the awkwardness was taken care of by one Pieter Langley, who wrapped all three of them in a massive bear hug.

"Papa!" squeaked Asuka, eliciting chuckles from Kyoko. "A little too tight!"

"...my family..." murmured the man, his soul trembling with an agonizing happiness. "...to have you in my arms..."

Mari, despite her bewilderment with her mother's presence, couldn't help but agree. This...felt right.

xx

Ai babbled something incoherent as she and Toji crashed into each other.

"I don't know what the hell's going on, and I don't care!" exclaimed the Sixth Child, his spirit lined with streaks of white light.

Ai agreed.

Then they were set upon by the two youngest daughters of the Horaki family. Nozomi cried with happiness as she embraced her best friend, while Hikari gave Toji a metaphysical lip-lock.

Kensuke Aida floated beside Toji, a knowing grin on his face. "I kinda wish I had my camera right now, to document your first kiss for posterity." The Gendotaku suddenly frowned, looking around him with a curious eye. "...though, since it's soul on soul, would it actually count? Or would it count as something more?"

"Ken."

"Yes?"

"Shut up."

"Never."

Toji grinned. "Of course you won't."

"Toji-kun." said Hikari, her spiritual body clutching tightly to his.

"Yes?"

"...shut up." And then she kissed him again.

xx

Shiro Tokita gulped as Hikari Kirishima grabbed him by the neck. "...honestly didn't expect to see you again."

"If we get out of this, we are going to have words," snarled the woman, her spiritual form vibrating with a mixture of fury and...something else.

That's when she – and Tokita, by proxy – got tackled by Mana Kirishima and Mayumi Yamagishi.

xx

As the entire realm wavered under the force of these spiritual reunions – joy and bewilderment being the most prominent of all – Gendo's gaze fell upon a very familiar figure. "...hello Shinji."

"...father." Shinji turned towards Yui, his form flickering with uncertainty. "...mother?"

"Yes." The woman smiled, her form alight with a serene sort of happiness. "...come here."

Shinji did so, and the two embraced. "...you feel...different, than when you were in Eva."

"My spirit is whole." But the flesh was not. "...we need to focus now. Even if our individual identities have been restored...ADAM is still out there, and is still all-too-willing to reduce us to nothing."

(MP-08 and MP-09 slammed the ground, shattering the earth beneath ADAM's feet. The First Angel floated, eyes blazing with beams of power.)

"Then we need to hurry up and get a move on!" Asuka poked her head out from Pieter's embrace, looking around the proverbial sea of humanity. "Speaking of which...shouldn't that baka have shown up by now?"

Shinji turned, seeing two particular figures emerge from the crowd. "...do you mean Kaworu?"

Asuka followed his gaze, her smile widening at what she saw. "There you are!"

The souls of Rei Ayanami and Kaworu Nagisa floated in an odd sense of isolation; the former, disbelieving their current circumstances; the latter, unsure of whether he even had the right to approach them. Their souls had an oddly robust feeling to them, with more definition, and a faint red tinge: traces of their Angelic heritage. Kaworu, in particular, had a burning red light within his chest.

"...Rei-chan?" asked Shinji. "...are you okay?"

"...I feel as if I am in a dream." The young woman glanced around, her spirit rippling with an uneasy tension. "...there was a sense of peace. Tranquility...but there was no reason to care. To feel. To know. I am...uncertain if that was a bad thing."

Kaworu looked at his feet, unwilling to look directly at the Second Child's soul. "The pain was gone. The loneliness...had departed. It was empty...but in that state, it wouldn't have mattered." The former Angel hugged himself, looking remarkably small for one whose soul shined so brightly. "I...don't know if I can go back to the way things were in the waking world..."

As they spoke, more sensations filtered through from the mass of humanity...all of them, laced with uncertainty and budding panic about what to do now.

-this is the judgment of the Angels!

How can we go back? How?!

-this feels...nice...

My life wasn't really anything special. This isn't bad-

Can this even be called life-

-how could we even hope to stand against ADAM-

Right now, there was no direction. No plan. Multiple paths, leading in different directions...but in their current state, as spirits only, there was nothing they could do to act. Even within the metaphysical realm, the individual human soul was weak, easy pickings for a being like ADAM. Unless this situation was rectified, they were still doomed.

Gendo Ikari moved to speak...but stopped when he saw the Second and Third Children act first.

Shinji and Asuka looked at each other. Then, as one, they walked towards their comrades; their friends; perhaps, in a more than academic sense of the word...their loves. "Rei-chan...do you remember everything about your life?" asked Shinji.

"...yes."

"And what about you Kaworu?" asked Asuka, grabbing his chin so that he had no choice but to look at her. "Do you remember everything?"

"...of course, Miss Sohryu."

"Everything good, and everything bad," continued Shinji, gazing above at the seemingly infinite sea of human souls. "...share it. Let everyone know."

"As though it were real, and happening right now," finished Asuka.

Rei and Kaworu glanced at each other, somewhat perplexed by this request. But Rei trusted Shinji. And Kaworu trusted Asuka.

So they did so.

The memories and experiences of Rei Ayanami spread throughout, bolstered and amplified by her nature as a nephilim; the attention of humanity was caught.

I am replaceable. I am secondary compared to those I was born to protect.

For the sake of everyone else, I will sacrifice everything.

...hatred can make for a stronger connection than indifference. Because to hate, you must be capable of love...I am strong because there is no alternative.

My control is absolute, and I have done all I can to master myself…

If you open your hearts to each other, is it possible to remain as you are? Is it possible to remain unchanged?

…I do not like the smell of blood, or the look of it. I tolerate it when it is necessary. I have always been told that I was created to protect humanity. And I believed it. I still do. So the thought that these hands of mine…were used contrary to that purpose...I…hate it…

I can still fight. So long as I draw breath…I will never give up!

...Ikari...Ikari-kun...Shinji-kun...Shinji...! Give him back...GIVE HIM BACK!

This closeness. This...feeling. I wanted to experience more of it.

The ability to kill is part of the reason why I exist. I…realized that long ago...but it is a duty that I gladly accept. I…I choose to accept it.

This is...agreeable. No. More than agreeable. This is...good. Yes. This conversation. This group. This friendship. This is yet another reason why we Pilot the Eva, to ensure that events like these can continue. More people deserve to experience these feelings.

Likewise, for the memories and experiences of Kaworu Nagisa.

I feel so…empty. We are incomplete.

There is a time and order to all things, Mister Lorenz. The name for this body of Angelic flesh and human bone…that name is Kaworu Nagisa, because it must be. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Ah, forgive my rudeness. I didn't mean to come across so strongly...we will be seeing a lot more of each other, Miss Sohryu.

I commend your performance...it makes me wonder how you will fare with what is to come.

In all honesty, I don't know what I was looking for. I suppose that was the whole point; have you ever felt that way, Mister Lorenz? Adrift, seeking something concrete, something tangible, to grasp in your hands?

My heart is completely open to that of the Evangelion. When I pilot, the Evangelion and I are one...I...feel whole.

Tell me Miss Ayanami, do you believe that the heavens complement this land? That one without the other would have less meaning? Do you desire that same sort of complementation?

The living are easier to understand than the dead.

…your cheer is something I needed right now. The future is uncertain, and I am wary of what these next days will bring. You have my gratitude, Miss Sohryu.

…I am all alone, now.

Miss Sohryu...it was nice knowing you. Goodbye.

It doesn't matter what I want. I tire of being incomplete, of this existential loneliness. In the grand scheme of things, this existence of mine had no meaning. I welcome the oblivion that has taken my kin. But your species has the right to defend itself: so the choice you have is to stop me or die trying.

Miss Sohryu...you are truly amazing. I haven't felt a single ounce of hatred or fury from you throughout this battle, even though you have every right to...It was an absolute pleasure to know you. I mean that, with every fiber of my being...please. Stop fighting. I beg you.

It's okay. I don't expect much...I don't have the right. Who am I to ask anything of her whose lineage is of the Fruit of Knowledge? I am of the Fruit of Life, as you are, Unit-02...our destinies may be interwoven, but never would they meet...as is proper. As is necessary. I wonder...if this is the emotion that you Lilim would call fear...

...even if you can't forgive me...can you fight by my side, just this once?

I see now. I see now! This...this...is Complementation!

Such feelings and experiences were completely out-of-step with the majority of humanity, so harsh and alien were they. Lives of conflict, of bloodshed, of unknowns, of mystery...and yet, there were elements of humanity there, undeniable, and they manifested so starkly by comparison. The sheer whimsy, the emotional highs, the unvarnished charm and idealism and romance...one could be forgiven for feeling utterly enraptured by it all.

Shinji Ikari looked warmly at the First Child. "Well?"

"Be honest, dummkopf," said Asuka with a wide smile. "What do you want to do?"

Rei Ayanami and Kaworu Nagisa looked at each, and then back at their dearest friends. With the eyes of humanity's remnant focused upon them, they spoke. Though soft, their words resonated like thunder.

"...I want to live."

In that moment, the rest of humanity agreed.

"Now this is truly a moment!"

Shinji Ikari yelped, whirling to face his cousin. "Annette?!"

"Through the power of love and friendship, the entire narrative of humanity is united with one overarching purpose: to fight for their lives, and their right to live!" The theater buff swelled with visible pride. "Congratulations on being on the biggest stage of all."

"...thanks?" said Shinji. His bewilderment caused Asuka to giggle.

Before they could continue, Gendo stepped forward. "Now that we have some measure of unity, in thought and purpose...we can proceed." He turned towards the soul of his wife. "Yui?"

The woman nodded. "Of course. Though we are no longer bound within Eva," she said, gesturing towards Kyoko, Asuka, and Ai, "we are still linked. Without a physical form, we will be unable to withstand the might of ADAM."

(ADAM's hand flexed; through sheer willpower alone, the gravitational force around MP-12 increased by a factor of forty; the force bled through the MP-Eva's AT-Field, crushing it into a pulp.)

Kyoko's gaze was far in the distance, as though sensing something beyond the sphere that contained the living remnant of humanity. "...I don't believe our benefactor will last for much longer."

"Then we need to hurry up and help him! Pen-Pen can't save the world on his own!" exclaimed Asuka.

And just like that, in a blaze of light, Misato's soul was right there. "Did you say Pen-Pen?"

Yui and Kyoko looked at the woman, befuddled by her sudden arrival; other souls were trailing behind her – one Inspector Kaji, various members of NERV's Command Staff and Section 2 – inexorably drawn in her wake. Finally, Asuka answered the question. "Yep!"

"Then what the hell are we waiting for, an invitation?!" Misato turned around, her eyes gleaming with a metaphysical radiance. "EVERYONE!" Her shout resounded, reverberating through every human soul. Her time as a leader, her experiences as a child and a woman and a soldier...all of it bled into her words. "Get your asses in gear, because this isn't the end! Not by a long shot!" She turned towards her boss, a knowing look in her eyes. "Whenever you're ready...give the word."

Yui couldn't help but smile. "I like her."

"I only hire the best," said Gendo with a smirk.

"So...uh..." Toji's soul seemed to vibrate with a nervous tension. "...what exactly do we do?"

"The Eva Pilots are all needed," said Kyoko. "They are the ones with the greatest knowledge of synchronization."

Dutifully, the souls of Rei, Asuka, Shinji, Kaworu, and Toji surrounded those of Yui, Kyoko, and Ai.

"Hold hands," said Yui, reaching for Ai and Kyoko. The three faced each other, the youngest of the trio looking decidedly uncertain. "Don't worry little one...we're all in this together."

Ai nodded quietly. "...okay."

The trio's hands gripped each other's tightly, and their souls flared with an otherworldly light.

xxxx

In the waking world – as ADAM continued his brutal retaliation against the remaining MP-Evas – the Cores of Units-00, 01, and 02 began to shimmer.

Deep within the Geofront, the Core of Unit-03 also shimmered, burning through its restraints with a power beyond reckoning.

Finally, it began to rise, accelerating with each passing second.

xxxx

/Primordial Sea/

Kyoko nodded to herself, her body blazing with a red glow. "Asuka, your link with Eva is more…tenuous. You will serve as the bridge to Mister Nagisa."

"Can do, Mama!"

"Shinji, Rei, place your hands upon me." Yui looked over towards Toji's soul. "Suzuhara-kun, please place your hands upon your sister."

"Uh…sure thing, doc," murmured Toji, not really needing an excuse to be by his sister again. "So…what now?"

Kaworu smiled knowingly. "Ah…I see your stratagem now. It might just work."

"Remember all of your lessons with synchronization," muttered Kyoko, her voice sounding impossibly clear. "To unite with Eva, you must unite with us…and so you will serve as the conduit by which other souls will unite with Eva."

It was a herculean prospect.

Rei, Asuka, Shinji, Kaworu, and Toji didn't hesitate; with the ease of riding a bicycle, they let their souls intermingle with those of Yui, Kyoko, and Ai.

All five began to blaze, threads of blue light streaming from their backs, connecting with those they were closest to. These connections spread out in a wave, binding all of humanity together in a massive metaphysical web; in a matter of seconds, they were all linked to the souls of the Eva Pilots.

It was…a heady feeling, to have so many directed towards a single purpose.

xxxx

In the waking world, MP-10 was the last one standing.

"AN INTERESTING EFFORT…BUT FUTILE." The corpses of the other five Mass Production Series littered the ground, overwhelmed by the First Angel's might. "YOUR SOUL IS A CURIOUS EXISTENCE…I WOULD LIKE TO STUDY IT FURTHER."

The great red sphere that contained the souls of humanity quivered, glowing with a radiant green glow. This sudden outpouring of spiritual pressure caught ADAM unawares. "WHAT-?"

MP-10 suddenly squawked, and the pulverized and shattered flesh of the other white Evangelions flew towards the First Angel, trapping him in a sticky prison of flesh. MP-10 launched itself at ADAM, wings flapping as it grabbed hold of him; soaring skyward, Pen-Pen's last directive to the MP-Evas made itself manifest.

They're undergoing a severe energy shift.

I CAN SEE THAT…FOR SOME REASON, THIS SITUATION FEELS RATHER FAMILIAR-

The remaining S2 Organs, in a massive conversion of metaphysical energy, detonated.

The sky above Hakone thundered with a monstrous explosion that seemed to shake the very foundations of the Earth.

xxxx

/Primordial Sea/

Within the Metaphysical Deep, the golden Star that was Pen-Pen's soul observed the spiritual conflagration that consumed ADAM and LILITH; depressingly, within the maelstrom, the two Lights remained as bright as ever.

But that was fine. This had been anticipated.

WARK. The golden Star turned its light towards the three flames emanating from NERV-1's Evangelions, levitating as though called by some unseen force. A fourth fire joined them (the Core of Unit-03 boiled through the ground, joining Units-00, 01, and 02 in the air), and they began to pulse in tune with the sphere of souls.

Pen-Pen situated himself between the four flames, and let humanity understand the shape that they would become. WARK.

xx

Yui's form burned, a white-hot fire brighter than the sun. "…do you see that?"

Kyoko nodded, her spirit blazing with equal measure. "I do."

"Wow…" murmured Ai, her diminutive soul shining radiantly.

Beyond the metaphysical barrier formed by ADAM's lifeblood, a great light was beckoning them.

"That's our cue." Yui raised her voice, her spirit broadcasting to all of humanity. "Is everyone ready?!"

In the end, perhaps it was fitting that humanity's overall feeling was echoed by Shinji Ikari; despite all that had happened to him over the course of the Angel War, his feelings now were the same as they were the day he stepped off that train station into Tokyo-3, on a warm September afternoon that seemed a lifetime ago. "…we're not running away. Let's go."

And so, as one, humanity took the plunge.

xxxx

Unit-00 shook.

Unit-01 growled.

Unit-02 snarled.

And then, they howled, arms rising towards the glimmering globe of Angelic blood and human spirits. Unit-03's Core sparked, taking on a golden glow.

In a massive deluge of celadon light, the sphere unfurled and emptied itself, consuming the titans with a brilliance that drowned out the sun.

xxxx

/April 29, 2027/

/Ikari Residence, Yonaguni Island/

Mari Langley-Sohryu leaned back, humming thoughtfully to herself. "…what was it like? Being inside Eva?" The young woman fiddled with her pen, anxiously clicking it.

Gendo reached into the pocket of his khakis and tossed her a stress ball.

"…do you always have trinkets in your pockets?" That had been one particularly universal impression amongst the former NERV-1 employees that she had interviewed over the years: the uncanny timing of the Supreme Commander, and the seemingly endless variety of thingamabobs in his cloak.

"One of the desk drawers in Keter was filled with random junk and widgets," said Gendo, referring to his old office, back when he had been the head of NERV-1. "I picked a random selection every single day and put them in my cloak." He patted the dirtied side of his khakis, a rather disappointed look on his face. "Unfortunately, I wasn't able to keep my uniform after the sentencing was handed down."

"If it makes you feel any better, the current Commander of WILLE cuts a pretty good figure in it."

"Good. The cloak deserves respect."

Yui rolled her eyes at the banter between the two. "To answer your question, Mari-chan…it was different, in my case. Kyoko was completely absorbed by Unit-02, as was Ai-chan by Unit-03. Asuka-chan was bound for a very short time within Unit-02…but me? I was split in half. Utterly, and completely. Even after my soul was made whole…my recollection of events during my time in Eva was scattered. Disjointed. Vague impressions, occasionally punctuated by stark emotions. At times, I'm struck by déjà vu in the oddest ways…however, the overall sense of Eva was of being buried within my own body, unable to act or perceive without a Pilot to synchronize with. And yet…I don't feel like I had missed anything at all, whenever I synchronized with Rei, or Shinji."

"…that doesn't make sense."

"Souls are not made of physical matter, and are not subject to the limitations of physics," commented Gendo. "Given that her experience was completely subjective, it doesn't have to make sense."

"A fair point."

Yui smiled, sipping from her cup of saké. "By comparison…the final battle with ADAM was crystal clear."

xxxx

/April 15, 2016/

/Outskirts of Hakone, Japan/

As the smoke and charred residue faded, ADAM slowly descended from the sky; the self-destructive action of the six Evangelions, although bringing to bear a massive amount of energy, had not been enough to harm him. Then again, he suspected that hadn't been the intention…especially in light of the phenomenon ongoing nearby. HMM. INTRIGUING.

The souls of humanity are being channeled into those constructs.

YOU SOUND RATHER PLEASED.

Oh no, I'm not excited at all, why would you ever think that?

ADAM sighed, holding the true Lance and the true Sword loosely. If nothing else…he was also interested in seeing how this would pan out.

Finally, the light faded…and the apotheosis of Evangelion remained.

ADAM had a vague recollection, from one of his remnants: 'Bardiel' had physically combined multiple Evangelions into a single being, disparate entities held together by his own body.

What he faced now was a true fusion.

The Evangelion – the last and the greatest, supreme, and truly Prime – slowly descended, its armor gleaming various shades of gold. The armor was a seamless combination of Units-00, 01, and 02, fit together in a harmonious fashion; its six arms were extended to the side, lean muscles throbbing with power. However, the three heads had become one: Unit-02's four eyes surrounding Unit-01's two, with Unit-00's sole eye resting in the middle of the face. Unit-01's helmet was the most prominent in the fused design, due to the sharp horn protruding from the forehead. Finally, a thick crest of red, feathery hair extended from the back, falling down past the shoulders.

ADAM briefly peered into the metaphysical, and resisted the urge to recoil at how bright this being was. "…FASCINATING."

The Prime Evangelion – or perhaps, simply, Eva Prime – clenched its hands. The air hummed, and the various fallen Replicas responded, flying towards it; with an act of will, the Replica Lances combined into one single bident, and likewise the Replica Swords into one single zweihander. The weapons that remained were of stark contrast, the lance as black as night and the sword as white as snow.

"COMBINING YOUR VARIOUS COPIES, TO MAKE MORE DENSE AND DURABLE WEAPONS…PERHAPS YOU'LL-"

And then Eva Prime was in his face.

POW!

ADAM's body quivered as fist after fist after fist slammed into him, the Prime Eva's momentum sending them thousands upon thousands of miles every second. Past the atmosphere, curving away from Earth into the blackness of space, towards the planet's largest natural satellite.

Eva Prime reared its right arms, delivering a triple haymaker into ADAM's face at the same time.

The First Angel crashed into Moon, kicking up a massive cloud of dust that spread like a shockwave due to the minimal gravity; the Sea of Tranquility was no longer so, for it now lay witness to the battle that would decide humanity's fate.

THAT ACTUALLY HURT.

I think they might be cross with you.

I DON'T NEED YOU TO POINT OUT THE OBVIOUS.

Redundancy is a sound principle.

ADAM slowly rose, his soul instinctively placing limiters on his body to compensate for the lower gravity. Eva Prime slowly descended, the Black Lance and the White Sword floating behind its back in a fixed manner. The First Angel peered into the Metaphysical Deep, trying to gauge the nature of the entity's spiritual corpus.

It was…enlightening.

Millions upon millions of human souls-

Three billion, two hundred and one million, seven hundred and eighty-one thousand, four hundred and twenty-seven to be precise.

I KNOW.

-anyway, millions upon millions of human souls were bound within the four Cores, with that other soul – the golden Star, chained to his own and LILITH's – serving as a metaphysical 'glue'. Three souls shined the brightest – bearing the image of three human females – with five others serving as conduits for the intentions and wills of the human aggregate. Right now, the intentions of two particular souls were blazing through to the three primary controllers-

Mana Kirishima and Mayumi Yamagishi.

THANK YOU.

-the intentions of Kirishima and Yamagishi were blazing through to the three primary controllers; already, the movements of Eva Prime were taken with greater care, already adapting to the lower gravity.

Their combat frame had a rather large sample of [INDECIPHERABLE], so they have experience in low-gravity movement.

AH. The material that the humans called 'Kleinium'; that made sense. But it wouldn't help them.

ADAM swung the Lance of Longinus and the Sword of Uriel, both weapons unfurling into twisting lines of red and blue metal that swarmed the golden colossus.

The Prime Evangelion withdrew the Black Lance and the White Sword.

Muted impacts, bereft of sound and thunder, occurred as the Replicas unfurled. Pikes of black and white soared, parrying the red and blue in a storm of flashing metal.

…oh.

HMM. ADAM peered once more into the Metaphysical Deep; much to his displeasure, an aura in the shape of a twisted zweihander and a twisted bident overshadowed the physical forms of the Replicas. HOW INCONVENIENT. There was a reason why the Sword was so effective against the spiritual barriers of his counterpart (and likewise the Lance for him): due to the nature of the technology involved, the proper form was essential in negating the protections of their souls.

It was why ADAM could maintain the effects of the Sword and the Lance despite their physical form being unmade: the tools had a palpable impact on the metaphysical, and the effects could go both ways. So long as the spiritual form remained consistent, the effects would continue.

They've been able to truly replicate my Lance and your Sword.

IT'S QUITE ANNOYING.

I'd call it fascinating.

OF COURSE IT IS; IT'S NO LESS ANNOYING.

With a simultaneous flexing of the arms, their respective weapons regained their original forms. ADAM and the Prime Evangelion faced each other, warily gauging each other.

A distinct impression came from the golden Eva, clear as a bell. "IT SEEMS WE ARE AT AN IMPASSE." Slowly – deliberately – the Prime Eva returned its Replicas to the fixed positions behind its back. "…LET'S SETTLE THIS THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY."

Hmm. I think you're being called out.

I CAN SEE THAT. And to be honest, it was the most sensible path forward; their Lances and Swords would endlessly counter each other, preventing a decisive blow that would end the conflict. If they were to engage up close…then an opportunity could present itself. The human remnant had to be aware of this; although more primitive relative to himself, they clearly weren't stupid. IT WILL COME DOWN TO WHICHEVER OF US IS THE MORE ABLE COMBATANT.

I think the collective martial talent of humanity outstrips your own.

PERHAPS…BUT IT WILL BE THE SPIRIT THAT DECIDES THIS CONFLICT. ADAM placed the True Lance and the True Sword behind his back, the tools hovering in a fixed position much like the Replicas were for Eva Prime. The Metaphysical Deep quivered as the First Angel began to manifest his soul in a more deliberate manner, tapping more deeply into its abundance. AND IN THAT REGARD, THIS BATTLE WAS OVER BEFORE IT BEGIN.

The spiritual essence of the Prime Evangelion burned, and the great titan vanished from sight-

SLAM!

ADAM's right cross smashed into the golden Evangelion's face, the sheer force reverberating through the Angel's body into the lunar surface, creating massive fault lines in the Moon.

This single blow altered the Moon's spin ever-so-slightly, ending the satellite's synchronous rotation with the Earth.

Eva Prime went sailing off into the vastness of space, shining like a shooting star.

ADAM, his body shimmering white with power, followed with deadly intent. His soul converted spiritual energy into a tangible form, manifesting as microbursts of thrust form various portions of his body. He neared the Prime Evangelion – still tumbling about in a haphazard motion – and promptly slammed his fist into its abdomen. The golden titan soared through the void, frantically swinging its fists to try and hit him.

Hmm. Their low-gravity experience doesn't seem to be translating...

THEY ARE ALSO FIGHTING IN A VACUUM.

Oh, of course. How shortsighted of me.

OH, NOW YOU RECOGNIZE YOUR LACK OF FORESIGHT.

Don't you start with me!

ADAM barely dodged the Prime Eva's fists - his every movement punctuated by seamless bursts of energy, effortlessly maneuvering through the void of space - immediately retaliating with a knee to the face. His back flared, and the Angel twisted around the flailing Evangelion, delivering an elbow to the back. Before it got away, ADAM grabbed the creature by the ankle, limbs flaring with opposing thrust as he threw the Eva further into space. The Angel's left hand opened wide, firing a white spark of energy.

An explosion consumed the golden Eva, the excess energy spreading outward in a sphere of pale light.

THIS IS RATHER BORING.

...

BE HONEST, YOU EXPECTED A BETTER SHOWING.

...I'm still holding out hope.

ADAM huffed, staring expectantly at the Prime Evangelion as it emerged from the dissipating explosion. The various souls within were reorganizing, bringing different experiences and skill sets to the fore-

The Eva suddenly halted its haphazard movements, expertly regaining control with fiery microbursts of energy emanating from its limbs and torso.

OH?

Hah!

WHERE DID THEY FIND SOMEONE WITH EXPERIENCE IN VOID OPERATIONS?

Certain souls took prominence; for some reason, ADAM got the distinct impression of a young male human readjusting his eyeglasses. "NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THOSE WHO HAVE PLAYED 'GUNDAM SPACE SIMULATOR 2015'. OR 'FREESPACE.' AND 'WING COMMANDER'. AND...WELL, WE'LL BE HERE ALL DAY IF WE LIST THEM ALL."

ADAM tilted his head. "HMM?"

"WE MAY NOT HAVE ACHIEVED CASUAL SPACEFLIGHT...BUT DO YOU THINK THAT ACTUALLY STOPPED US FROM DEVELOPING REALISTIC SPACE COMBAT SIMULATORS?"

...WAIT, WHAT-?

Bursts of energy erupted from Eva Prime's back, and the golden titan delivered a ferocious clothesline to the First Angel's neck.

The First Angel flipped end over end, soaring through deep space at thousands of miles a second, at approximately two percent of the speed of light. The Prime Evangelion quickly caught up, bringing down glowing fists upon ADAM's torso. Each blow was accompanied by bursts of energy from the titan's limbs and back, counteracting the force and keeping the Eva from flying away with each hit. Meanwhile, ADAM went off on a new trajectory with each punch, zigzagging through the void.

With the light of the Sun shining far in the distance – drowning out the ambience of more distant stars – the two giants seemed mere ants in the darkness of space, and dreadfully small.

THEY ARE QUICK TO ADAPT.

And you're surprised by this?

MERELY COMMENTING TO MYSELF.

Another punch to the chest sent ADAM flying further away at a sharp angle.

...are you going to let them keep punching you?

IF THEY DID, WOULD YOU COMPLAIN?

...not necessarily, but my body is currently sequestered within your torso. And those blows are starting to irritate me.

YOU ARE MORE THAN WELCOME TO FIGHT BACK.

LILITH was silent.

THAT'S WHAT I THOUGHT.

Eva Prime was upon him again.

ADAM's back flared with a sudden burst of energy, the thrust sufficient to immediately reverse his momentum. His heel drove into the Prime Evangelion's face, sending the titan caterwauling through space. Microbursts of thrusts reoriented ADAM, and he aligned himself with the golden entity. He accelerated further, charging into the Eva's back and propelling them even faster through the void.

Struggling, Eva Prime's right elbows pushed against the First Angel, shoving away from the Giant of Light. Concentrated thrusts slowed the Eva's gyroscopic motions, just in time to see ADAM rocketing back in its direction.

The Prime Evangelion opened its mouth wide.

ADAM's face suddenly burned, bombarded by the invisible stream of electromagnetic radiation. As his AT-Field manifested – a glowing orange circle – and blocked the laser, he sensed brief impressions of confusion from the human aggregate that controlled the Evangelion.

WHERE'S THE LASER?

Many more voices suddenly 'shouted' at those who asked this question.

LASERS ARE INVISIBLE IN SPACE.

Another soul – a long-haired woman, bearing a close connection to the golden Star that helped hold the Prime Eva together – ended the brief bout of turmoil with frightening efficiency. ARGUE LATER, WE'RE FIGHTING!

ADAM scowled. THEIR SENSE OF UNITY WON'T LAST FOREVER.

Long enough to win, perhaps.

I DON'T THINK SO. IF THEY SOMEHOW MANAGE TO TRIUMPH-

For one thing, I will never let you live it down.

OF COURSE YOU WOULDN'T.

The orange circle suddenly narrowed, moving forward and smashing into Eva Prime's neck. ADAM's back flared with light, and he was upon the golden titan once more.

Eva Prime brought its six hands forward, miming the action of finger guns. Bursts of orange light erupted from the Evangelion's fingers, the force sending the golden Eva on ever more erratic trajectories. ADAM wove in and around the incoming projectiles, seamlessly dodging them before his back flared even more brightly, his brilliance briefly overpowering the light of the distant Sun.

The Prime Evangelion let loose a soundless groan as the First Angel slammed into its torso, accelerating even more. Far in the distance, a dim red orb loomed, growing larger and larger as they neared it.

AH. MARS.

You mean Nergal.

OF COURSE YOU WOULD PREFER THE BABYLONIAN NAME.

Like you don't have your own particular preference.

SCIENTIFICALLY: SOL-POINT-FOUR.

Oh come on! You haven't even referred to Earth as Sol-Point-Three in centuries.

...BUT PERSONALLY, I PREFERRED MANGALA.

Why Hindu?

WHY NOT?

Eva Prime tried to grab onto ADAM with its arms. The Angel responded by ramming his elbow into the Eva's gut several times. A ring of fire coated them, friction searing their bodies as they entered the thin atmosphere of Mars. With a sudden burst of deceleration – AT-Field redirecting all force from the instantaneous change in velocity towards his opponent – ADAM separated from the Eva, letting it fall like a meteor towards the red planet. Microbursts of thrust could be seen as the Eva tried to reduce its velocity, barely managing to reduce its speed to fifty miles per second before it crashed into Daedalia Planum. The vast plane quaked from the force of the collision, and a massive mushroom cloud of dust and soil roiled into the air as the shock wave traveled for miles around.

ADAM watched quietly from above, briefly observing the perturbations in the contours of space and time at the epicenter of the blast. HMM. APPROXIMATELY...EQUIVALENT TO SEVEN MEGATONS OF TRINITROTOLUENE.

Over double the estimated energy of all explosives used during the Second World War.

HMPH. 'SECOND', THEY CALL IT.

Let them have their own nomenclature.

FAIR ENOUGH. NOW...LET'S SEE HOW THEY FARE AGAINST THIS. ADAM's hand glowed with motes of light, and his soul began to lose some of its inherent radiance.

...are you really going to do that?

WHAT? ALL CIVILIZATIONS THAT I FORMED PRIOR TO YOUR ARRIVAL ON EARTH WERE UNDONE IN THIS MANNER. IT ONLY SEEMS [PROPER/JUST] TO DO THE SAME WITH HUMANITY.

It just...seems...silly.

SAYS THE ONE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE STORY OF LEDA AND THE SWAN.

Hey, I only did that on a bet! I didn't think the Greeks would run so far with it!

And so they continued their bickering as nineteen motes of light dispersed from ADAM's hand, diving into the dusty maelstrom surrounding the site of Eva Prime's collision.

xxxx

The total aggregate of humanity, despite their inherent differences, could agree on one thing.

"...OW."

Atmospheric reentry, and the subsequent collision, hurt.

Eva Prime slowly got to its feet, working the kinks out of its limbs; strange sensations echoed from around it, new forms taking weight upon the metaphysical...and yet...strangely familiar, to a very limited subset of humanity.

The souls of Yui and Shinji Ikari, in particular were feeling particularly unnerved. "WHAT IS THIS...?"

The lights bloomed, and took physical form, hidden by the swirling dust. One was very close.

A sensation of alarm echoed from Kaworu Nagisa. "...COULD IT...?"

Out of the dust stormed Sachiel, violet lance gleaming wickedly.

Eva Prime stepped away, dodging the sharp weapons extending from the Third Angel's palms. Confusion roiled from the souls of those who had lived and worked within Tokyo-3, recognizing the familiar form. "HOW?"

Suddenly, the Prime Evangelion leapt away, dodging whips of pink light. That was also familiar: the weapon of choice from the Fourth Angel, Shamshel. "THEN…" Two of the lights were sourced within the Third and Fourth Angels, somehow made manifest. Inductive reasoning brought about an unsettling conclusion. "…ALL OF THEM…?"

Two familiar bodies suddenly charged out of the dust, swiping at Eva Prime with deadly claws. The Seventh Angel – Israfel, split into Red and Green bodies – swiped ferociously, barely missing the golden Evangelion as it dodged their blows. What was their intention: to attack one at a time-?

Beyond their line of sight, one light seemed to consume five others before vanishing itself.

Israfel jumped away, right as the remaining lights suddenly flared.

The Eva's eyes widened.

CHYOOOM!

xxxx

The Angels unleashed a devastating assault upon humanity's position.

Ramiel had transformed into a cross between a pincer and a spiked bowl, unleashing a horrific stream of red energy. Shateiel's twin Cores sparked with bolts of lightning. The jewel atop Turel's crown unleashed bursts of concussive force. Matarael spewed caustic acid. Seraphiel's twin cannons fired red beams of explosive gas and fire. Tabris – bereft of the Mark-06's armor, flesh still glowing crimson – released a powerful laser beam from his eyes.

The others settled for unleashing cross blasts.

The impact crater that Eva Prime had formed became awash in energy and explosions, massive bursts of light flashing into the sky. The surface of the plain cracked and shook, whole swathes of Mars' surface being vaporized.

After thirty seconds, the Angels ceased their barrage. Zeruel's AT-Field flared, and a massive wind blew away the dust and debris.

At the center of the impact crater, a glowing dome of interlocking octagons of orange light faded, revealing the Prime Evangelion. Unharmed and uninjured, the golden titan glared at them all. "…IS THAT IT?" The sensation of experience and memory – from all walks of life, from young and old – flooded through the primary controllers of the Evangelion, manifesting as a casual embrace of power.

Israfel's two bodies leapt at high speed, claws aimed at the Prime Eva's head.

Quick as a flash, Eva Prime ducked under the simultaneous blow; its lower arms lashed out, grabbing their torsos and slamming the two together. "MUDA DA."

The middle and upper pairs of arms reared back.

And then Eva Prime began to punch.

"ORAORAORAORAORAORAORAORAORAORAORAORA!"

After ten seconds, Eva Prime had punched Israfel over one thousand times. By that point, the Seventh Angel was simply gone, its entire being pulverized into oblivion.

The Prime Evangelion glared at the Angels that surrounded it, its arms brimming with tension and might. "…OUR TURN."

The other Angels seemed to stare at the golden Eva. Finally, Zeruel – a swirling mass of darkness surrounding a distorted skull – spoke, eyes gleaming with the promise of retribution. "SO BE IT!" roared the Twentieth Angel.

A cross blast erupted beneath Eva Prime.

But it didn't hit, for the golden titan was now in front of Zeruel. With six simultaneous palm thrusts, the Eva unleashed a massive gust that blew the Twentieth Angel dozens of miles away.

Not to be deterred, Sachiel and Seraphiel leapt at Eva Prime's back. Far in the distance, the tall and skeletal form of Samael unwound, legions of black pikes zigzagging at the golden Eva.

With the blink of an eye, the Eva was elsewhere, materializing besides Shamshel. The upper arms latched onto the Fourth Angel's limbs, ripping the base of its whips out. Swish, slice, and dice; the Prime Evangelion eviscerated Shamshel with its own whips, the pink blades cutting into the Angel's flesh.

The earth rumbled, and out of the dirt erupted the titanic forms of Gaghiel and Sandalphon. Eva Prime dodged the armored strikes of the Eighth Angel, only for the Sixth Angel's titanic jaws to snap down tight. With vicious intent, the aquatic beast – apparently capable of swimming through Martian rock as easily as Earth's oceans – dove back into the ground, diving deeper into the Earth-

DOOOOOM.

A deep roar rumbled across the plains, accompanied by a pillar of orange light shooting from within Gaghiel. The beast was vaporized, burned to ashes by the collective radiance of humanity's souls, amplified by Evangelion. As the pillar faded, Eva Prime slowly ascended, eyes gazing across the battlefield.

In an instant, Eva Prime was beside Samael, kicking at the Eleventh Angel's spindly leg. The titanic creature was knocked off balance, its avian mask blinking owlishly at the sudden change in perspective. Eva Prime, using leverage to its advantage, grabbed the airborne leg of Samael and swung.

Slowly, yet inexorably and inevitably, the spindly Angel of black carbon crashed into Matarael. The giant Angels crashed into the ground, a tangled mass of limbs, acid, and lattice.

Eva Prime's six hands shined. "HA!"

Six orbs of light shot from the golden titan's hand, enveloping the spidery Fourteenth and lanky Eleventh Angels' bodies in a massive explosion.

Swirling black suddenly consumed the Eva, as Zeruel's face materialized behind Eva Prime-

The Prime Eva pointed its left palms behind it, willing forth another gust of wind that blew the Twentieth Angel away. A howl of frustration echoed through Mars' atmosphere.

xxxx

High above, in low Mars orbit, ADAM quirked his head. I'M FEELING DISTINCTLY IRRITATED FOR SOME REASON.

xxxx

Tabris shifted behind Eva Prime, punching the golden Eva in the back. The Prime Evangelion tumbled forward, only to be kicked in the face by Sachiel before being launched into the sky by Sandalphon's fist.

xxxx

NEVER MIND.

…can you continue?

AH. OF COURSE. SO, THEY ENDED UP CALLING IT 'FAST FOOD'.

I know that, I saw everything. I want to know how it tasted.

WHY?

Because I never got a chance to, no thanks to you.

YOU WEREN'T MISSING MUCH.

Give me your Top Five then.

...THAT MIGHT TAKE A WHILE.

Why?

THERE WERE A LOT OF CHOICES.

So?

IT'S NOT MY FAULT THAT HUMANITY WAS SO FASCINATED WITH ALL FORMS OF CUISINE.

Are you saying it's my fault, then?

GIVEN THAT I TECHNICALLY DON'T NEED TO EAT? YES.

They continued their banter, even as the surface of Mars glittered with fire and destructive light.

xxxx

Eva Prime landed deftly on its feet, standing just in time for Sandalphon to rise from the Martian soil, its armored hide untouched and unmarred by the elements. The Eight Angel's claws extended-

CRUNCH.

The Prime Evangelion's mid-right hand – fingers forming a straight knife edge – pierced through the armor like wet paper. The Eva's eyes glowed.

BOOM!

A burst of energy erupted from the hand, cooking Sandalphon from the inside and popping it from sheer pressure. The corpse slid off of Eva Prime's hand, dissolving into a mass of burnt flesh and smoke.

A dense fog surrounded the golden titan, warping reality and distorting space: the work of Shateiel. In the distance, a high-pitched whine began to grow, the sign of Ramiel charging an attack.

Eva Prime snorted. "NOT THIS TIME." Its AT-Field bloomed, utterly unraveling the Twelfth Angel's warping of space. The bolts of lightning from Shateiel's body were absorbed harmlessly by the Eva's AT-Field, converted into excess electrical energy that danced through its armor. Grabbing the Angel's crystalline body, it slammed it downward-

CHYOOOOM!

-just in time to block Ramiel's massive laser. The beam blasted away at Shateiel, its surface breaking off in chips of charred crystal.

Eva Prime's lower and middle arms reared back, the electricity within the armor concentrating within the fists.

Boom, went the middle fists, unleashing an electrified shock wave that tore through Shateiel, continuing beyond and breaking up Ramiel's beam.

Boom, went the lower fists, shattering Shateiel entirely. The force carried the sharp, glowing remnants of the Twelfth Angel's body beyond. Ramiel's body – currently a collection of various blue cubes, arranged like a six-pointed star – cried with sympathetic pain as the shattered fragments tore through, cracking the Fifth Angel's pristine form.

The Prime Evangelion's upper right hand turned over, fingers snapping decisively.

KRAKA-BOOOOM!

The individual fragments of Shateiel, imbued with excess electricity and metaphysical energy from Eva Prime's spiritual collective, suddenly exploded, annihilating Ramiel in a storm of sparks and glass shards. Eva Prime stared as the massive Angel crumbled, feeling an undeniable sense of satisfaction.

The Eva suddenly whirled around, its palms lashing out to unleash another massive gust.

"DAMN YOU!" howled Zeruel as the Twentieth Angel was blown away for a third time. Tabris charged past the black haze of his kin, AT-Field flaring outward in a wave that atomized all physical material it touched.

A shift – skipping from one point of spacetime to another – and Eva Prime avoided the fatal attack. However, this brought it between Sachiel, Turel, and Seraphiel. The three Angels glowed, their bodies brimming with spiritual pressure. Sachiel's eyes flashed; Turel's jewel and eyes gleamed like strobe lights; Seraphiel's arm cannons shimmered.

Eva Prime's fists clenched, its collective souls forcefully twisting the spiritual reality around it.

CHYOOOM!

BWONG!

VWOM.

The energy, instead of converging upon Eva Prime, curved around it.

Sachiel's cross erupted from within Seraphiel, skewering the Fifteenth Angel.

Seraphiel's red beams tore through Turel, the Thirteenth Angel's massive form vanishing beneath a flurry of explosions.

Turel's attack enveloped Sachiel in hellish fire, immolating the Third Angel.

Satisfied, the Prime Evangelion turned around just in time to parry Tabris's fists, the crimson giant phasing in and out of existence at random. Despite Mars' thin atmosphere, the Final Angel's voice still thundered. "Why do you persist?" His foot smashed against the back of Eva Prime's head, and then he was gone again. "I can sense you, Kaworu Nagisa. You know as well as I do that this conflict is ultimately futile.." Tabris lashed out with his fists, only to be caught by the golden Eva's upper hands. "So why fight? "

Eva Prime snarled; the feelings and intentions of Kaworu Nagisa formed the core of its words, backed up by a collective sense of rebellion by a significant portion of humanity. "THIS FIGHT MAY BE DOOMED…BUT THERE IS VALUE IN THE STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE AND LIVE. YOU KNOW THIS AS WELL AS I DO, TABRIS."

"…perhaps." There was a distinctly melancholic tone in the Final Angel's voice. "Even if it was short…it was good to see you again."

"…IF ONLY IT WERE IN BETTER CIRCUMSTANCES."

Tabris chuckled. "If only."

The Prime Eva's middle arms flashed upward, slicing off Tabris's arms. Its right foot promptly smashed into the Angel's torso, sending it flying back into Zeruel. The two Angels crashed through the soil, giving the titan enough time to grab the Black Lance from behind its back. The twin prongs sparked, unleashing a spiraling beam of crackling light.

Zeruel had just enough time to shove Tabris off to see the incoming wave of energy approach. "…SUCH STRENGTH…" The two were overwhelmed, utterly unmade by the Replica Lance's power.

The Prime Evangelion huffed, looking around at the barren realm of Mars; the sudden emptiness was…unnerving. For some reason, a foreboding feeling began to trickle through the aggregate of human souls. "…WEREN'T THERE SUPPOSED TO BE MORE…?"

Three portals – darker than the void – suddenly opened around the golden Eva. From one emerged a wiry worm of light; from another, a swarm of nanomachines; from the last, an amorphous blob of blue goo.

Armisael, Iruel, and Bardiel converged upon Eva Prime, delving into its armor and cutting into its flesh. A true sense of alarm rang through the human aggregate, their sense of invincibility and might rendered feeble by the violation of these subversive Angels.

However, humanity wasn't alone. The souls of the Seventeenth, Tenth, and Nineteenth Angels encroached upon the spirits that controlled the Eva…and came across an overwhelming light.

WARK.

Pen-Pen's soul, appearing as a golden Star within the spiritual realm, lived up to its appearance as it burned away at the Angelic souls. In the waking world, Eva Prime blazed with lustrous flames, incinerating the corrupting influence of Armisael, Iruel, and Bardiel. The titan gasped, relieved by the swift turnaround. "THAT…COULD HAVE BEEN BAD."

And that's when a horrific ray of light shined down from the sky, enveloping the Prime Evangelion.

Pardon me.

Eva Prime went still, a terrible tension gripping its body.

You…are all so very interesting.

A pained gurgle trickled past the Eva's throat. "NO…"

Unfortunately…enlightening you would take too long…

"…DON'T…"

so I can't afford to be gentle.

The Eva's seven eyes went wide. "STOP…!"

Would you kindly die for me?

Arael's light intensified, and the Eighteenth Angel proceeded to subject every single soul within Eva Prime to their worst fears.

xxxx

ADAM tilted his head, watching the psychically-tinged radiation stream from his glowing remnant towards the golden Evangelion. HMM. IT SEEMS VERY...EFFECTIVE.

It's rather cruel.

IT'S ONLY BEING TRUTHFUL.

Hmph. Indeed.

WHAT? EACH INDIVIDUAL HAS LEGITIMATE FEARS. IT'S NOT MY FAULT IF THEY ARE UNABLE TO ADEQUATELY COPE.

It's still cruel.

...YOU DO REALIZE YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT A SPECIES THAT I COMPLETELY ANNIHILATED, RIGHT? WERE IT NOT FOR UNEXPECTED FACTORS, THEY WOULD BE EXTINCT. YOU'RE A LITTLE LATE TO BE TALKING ABOUT CRUELTY.

...a fair point.

THEIR CONTINUED RESISTANCE HAS BEEN INTERESTING, NO DOUBT. AND I WILL CATALOGUE THEIR ACTIONS FOR FUTURE STUDY. BUT THEIR FATE IS SET IN STONE, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER. WHETHER IT ENDS BECAUSE OF THIS, OR ULTIMATELY BY MY OWN HANDS...THE OUTCOME WILL BE THE SAME. IT WILL ONLY DIFFER IN TIME AND EFFORT.

...hmm. So you say.

xxxx

Sheer terror and panic roiled through the aggregate of human souls, the light of Arael threatening to overwhelm every individual spirit. Enraptured by fear, they would impulsively desire nothingness and separation; anything to get rid of the terror, anything to be safe again.

One particular soul – that of Kaworu Nagisa – soldiered on, despite the existential terror (crippling loneliness, you have NOTHING) currently gripping him. His dual existence as both Kaworu and Tabris enabled him to withstand it better than most. Right now, he focused upon one other soul: that of the Second Child. "Miss Sohryu..." The specter of Asuka Langley-Sohryu was trembling. "...are you...?"

The soul's self-image turned, facing him. Asuka's eyes showed no fear. "...I've dealt with this before. I can handle it."

Relief flooded through Kaworu. "Then...?"

"But not everyone is me." Asuka resisted the overarching sensations of dread and horror trying to filter through her towards Kyoko. "Mama!"

The soul of Kyoko Zeppelin Langley-Sohryu nodded. "I understand."

xxxx

In the waking world, the Prime Evangelion's eyes flashed, its upper left arm reaching feebly for the Black Lance. Even as its entire body quivered with fear-induced spasms, it aimed straight and true towards the scarlet sky.

The Lance's prongs extended, growing and growing and growing, stretching over two kilometers into the air. Seamlessly, it pierced Arael's AT-Field, skewering the Eighteenth Angel.

Howling, Eva Prime swung its arm downward, smashing Arael's frail body into the Martian soil. The force of the collision pulped the Angel, and it dissipated in an explosive flash of light.

The golden Eva panted, its numerous souls slowly readjusting now that the psychic assault had ended. Its shoulders were slumped, and its entire body seemed to sag with fatigue.

And that's when a black void opened up mere meters above the Prime Evangelion, from which shot the colossal form of Sahaquiel.

BOOOOOOM!

xxxx

ADAM actually winced, the explosive burst of light nearly blinding. HOW...UNSUBTLE.

You're one to talk.

NO, YOU'RE ONE TO TALK.

...how much energy was in that blast?

ADAM focused briefly on the mushroom cloud, stretching hundreds of kilometers through the Martian atmosphere. The Red Planet's surface would not see the light of the Sun again for years. HMM. I WOULD PLACE THE ERUPTION OF MOUNT KRAKATOA AS A LOWER BOUND.

...talk about overkill.

LIKE I SAID: UNSUBTLE. ADAM slowly began to descend towards the planet. HMM. NO SPIRITUAL RESIDUE WHATSOEVER.

…that's odd.

AND UNLIKELY.

xxxx

/April 29, 2027/

/Ikari Residence, Yonaguni Island/

"…oh, that reminds me," interrupted Mari, looking up from her notepad. "Did you hear the news about the colony?"

"Only the barest details," commented Gendo Ikari. "As you very well know, our information flow is heavily regulated by the government."

"Well, we've officially established a colony on Amazonis Planitia."

"Oh my, how exciting," murmured Yui Ikari, taking another sip of her husband's saké. "I take it they've sufficiently minimized the logistical difficulties?"

"Well, not that I'm one to brag -"

"You are."

Ignoring Gendo's barbed comment, Mari continued, "But I've actually interviewed people at the Center of Applied Metaphysical Research in Tokyo-2. It turns out that synthesizing Kleinium is really easy when you have a Super Solenoid Engine to supply the necessary energy."

Gendo hummed thoughtfully. With the force of gravity minimized, the energy requirements to actually escape Earth's atmosphere were drastically reduced. Furthermore, the official establishment of the first lunar colony three years ago only made the eventual journey to Mars an easier task. "Space colonies in our lifetime…" Truly, it was amazing.

"Yeah…" Mari frowned, looking down at her fingers. Slightly callused, from constant writing; nails somewhat worn down and lacking any polish, given how quickly it tended to wear off. Her life was a challenging one, yet it was…fulfilling. "…if even one thing had gone differently, we wouldn't be here."

"That is the nature of life," said Yui. "Consequences stem from every action, and asking 'what if'…well, it only keeps us from moving forward."

xxxx

/April 15, 2016/

/Low Mars Orbit/

ADAM suddenly paused; reality was beginning to ripple near one of Mars' moons. OH?

A black sphere manifested above the pitted surface of Phobos, mere moments before it burst apart in a shower of red liquid. From it emerged the Prime Evangelion, its armor looking slightly singed, but otherwise unharmed.

Hah! It used your fragment's own dimensional tunnel as a way to escape.

CLEVER. AND ANNOYING.

Oh come on, give them some credit.

THIS IS ME GIVING THEM CREDIT. Sighing mentally, ADAM's soul – once again whole – began to drink deeply of the Metaphysical Deep, and he took off for the distant satellite.

Eva Prime shot upwards and away from Phobos, its collective spirit fixing a portion of spacetime. It 'stood' upon this platform, manifesting a sturdy staff of orange light that impaled Phobos. Roaring – soundless in space, but oh-so-loud in the spirit – the Evangelion heaved.

ADAM blinked as Phobos was torn from its orbit, swinging in a wide arc at an incredible speed. OH.

Oh.

…an arc that intersected with his current position. …I REALLY DISLIKE THEM.

They're using it like a hammer! I love it!

OF COURSE YOU DO.

Phobos – bearing an average radius of seven miles – smashed into ADAM, the force of the collision shattering the satellite and sending ADAM flying away, deeper into space. Snarling, the Eva followed, ignoring the spreading rubble of what had once been Mars' largest moon.

By the time humanity returned, Mars would have its own ring system. But that was a story for another time.

Now? The battle for humanity's right to live continued.

Microbursts of thrust erupted behind ADAM, stopping his wild trajectory through space-

SMASH!

Eva Prime's fists slammed into ADAM, and further they went. The golden Eva's collective soul burned, and the void of space shined with cannons; all of them opened fire, converting metaphysical energy into bolts of kinetic force that slammed into the Angel's AT-Field.

ADAM frowned. ENOUGH. His soul bloomed, and a wave of light unmade humanity's spiritual constructs. Time and space flipped, and the First Angel was suddenly behind the golden titan, his fist shimmering with an arcane glow, a color beyond description. TIME TO SHOW YOU JUST HOW POINTLESS THIS IS.

He punched Eva Prime in the back, and reality cracked. The Prime Evangelion was forced out of the physical realm, and into the Metaphysical Deep. The Eva's entire form took on a multi-colored hue, flickering sparks of celadon visible within its body. ADAM delved after it, his whole body taking on a whiter sheen. "UNBOUND BY PHYSICAL LAWS, BY SPACE, BY TIME..." ADAM vanished.

Eva Prime was kicked and punched a dozen times over, all simultaneously. The golden being gurgled, its collective soul starting to flare-

"...WHAT HOPE DO YOU HAVE, AGAINST A PARAGON OF LIFE?"

With a mere flick of his fingers, ADAM willed vast waves of orange – the pure essence of metaphysical energy – to smash into the titan. Undifferentiated spirit crashed over and over into the Prime Evangelion, beating away at it relentlessly. Howling, Eva Prime plowed through the waves, fists ready to fly-

"YOU FOUGHT HARD. AND WELL. I WOULD EVEN VENTURE TO SAY THAT IT WAS A VALIANT EFFORT..."

The golden Eva suddenly paused, screaming, its atomic bonds and spiritual essence scorching hot, the flesh taken from ADAM turning against itself.

"...BUT IN THIS REALM, YOU STAND NO CHANCE-"

There was a sudden flash.

xx

"UNBOUND BY PHYSICAL LAWS, BY SPACE, BY...TIME..." ADAM paused. WAIT. THIS SEEMS FAMILIAR.

LILITH was cackling. They...just...hahahahahaha! Brilliant!

Eva Prime glared at the First Angel, its myriad souls seeming...more robust, now. Directed, and searing with a deadly intent. "YOU SAID IT YOURSELF, DIDN'T YOU?" said the collective voice of humanity. "WE AREN'T BOUND BY THE PHYSICAL LIMITS OF REALITY. HERE, IN THE METAPHYSICAL...THE WILL IS PARAMOUNT."

...ARE THEY SAYING WHAT I THINK THEY'RE SAYING?

Heheheheh...HAHAHAHAHA!

"THE EVENTS JUST NOW, WHERE YOU OVERWHELMED US...WERE JUST NEGATED."

ADAM blinked. "...YOU JUST WARRANTED AN UPGRADE FROM 'ANNOYING' TO 'TROUBLESOME'."

It was at this instant that individual spirits began to make their presence felt, fortified and protected by the Evangelion. The vast array of human experiences – millions upon millions of people – manifested as glittering stars, avatars of Eva itself. The vastness of the Metaphysical Deep echoed with the song of mankind, bolstered by the radiance of Pen-Pen's soul, the golden Star still bearing an unbreakable connection with ADAM and LILITH's souls. "YOU SAY WE HAVE NO CHANCE..." As one, everyone's souls sang, a unified symphony of defiance and determination. "...AND WE SAY THAT WE HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO FIGHT!"

ADAM stared.

So. What now?

WHAT NOW, YOU ASK? THE SAME AS IT ALWAYS WAS. ADAM's soul – singular, yet heavy and great with the weight of pure existence – blossomed, a mandala of white light bursting into being behind him. "VERY WELL. FIGHT ALL THAT YOU WANT." In response to humanity's song, his spirit blared a soul-rending sound, great and terrible. "I WILL BEAT THE FUTILITY OF THIS WHOLE AFFAIR INTO YOUR VERY BEING!" The First Angel – his soul a universal power unto itself – and the Prime Evangelion – the souls of humanity appearing as the stars and galaxies of a universe-in-miniature – clashed.

And lo, did the heavens tremble. The Primordial Sea quivered as the battle between ADAM and humanity raged. Each individual human soul brought forth their greatest talent, their most superb abilities. Spiritual lights flickered and blazed, the soul of ADAM splitting and facing off against the billions of human souls, even as his body grappled with the gleaming form of Eva Prime.

The subjective experiences of these battles were too numerous to list.

He grinned as his boss - body gleaming white, eyes black as the void - placed a deadline for the project's completion. It was...an impossible deadline. "It'll be done."

But perhaps a small sample would suffice.

His opponent fired hook after hook; snarling, he ducked, smashing his fist into the glowing boxer's liver.

She readjusted her glasses, grinning wickedly as she aimed down the scope at her opponent's shining head. "This is what you get for camping." Pop, went the virtual rifle. ROUND OVER, droned her television.

He wiped the sweat from his brow, throwing a few minor helpings of spice and bouillon into the pot. He glanced at his glowing opponent, who was putting the finishing touches on an impressive-looking roast. "Huh. You're a tough one, eh?"

Had it been up to ADAM, he would not have elected to use this method of combat.

He frowned, pointing intensely at the white form of the prosecutor. "OBJECTION!"

Her fingers burned and ached, plucking the strings at an unbelievable speed; however, there was
no way she was gonna let this glowing bastard out-solo her!

The clock was ticking; he and his shiny opponent scarfed down hot dogs as fast they could.

However, this was an imposed limitation by the golden Star that was linked to his and LILITH's souls. Pen-Pen couldn't stop ADAM from battling each and every single human...but he could set the terms.

She typed furiously at her keyboard. That white son-of-a-gun wasn't going to get the Employee of the Month plaque; not on her watch!

The house was an absolute mess, the stuff of nightmares. Crayons were scattered, and the walls were tarnished. Staring at the glowing baby staring owlishly at her, she simply crossed her arms. "Challenge accepted."

He grinned roguishly, sliding the proposal back to the glowing consultant. "I know at least two firms that can get it done for less without sacrificing the quality. This was your last chance; you're fired."

She scoffed at her political opponent, his shimmering form overwhelming the spotlights. "You really think you have what it takes to make this city better? Here's why your idea won't work."

And all the while, ADAM and the Prime Evangelion continued to battle, their fists ignoring probability and striking through multiple stages of existence at once. The speed of light was a mere suggestion, their struggle occurring faster than it could physically be. Willpower; determination; guts; fortitude; these were now the greatest weapons wielded by the First Angel and humanity.

Something had to give.

Oh...

WHAT NOW?

...so we've made it this far.

ADAM was suddenly aware; they were encroaching upon another planet, twice the size of Earth. No lights flickered on its surface; however, arcane runes the color of obsidian still surrounded the planet, through which flowed rivers of ethereal red light. AH. I SEE. Perhaps an example would finally enlighten the humans as to their folly.

With a sudden ferocity, ADAM's soul withdrew, doubling down within itself. The sudden abandonment of his simultaneous struggle with all of humanity temporarily dazed Eva Prime, confused by the sudden change-

CRACK!

ADAM's fist smashed into the Prime Evangelion, and they shifted back into physical reality. A swift kick to the torso sent the Eva crashing through spires of glass, whole structures falling down.

Growling, the golden titan broke out, rising into the open air...and paused. "WHAT?" Curiosity and fascination began to take root; the sky was colored various shades of green and silver, a distant star covering the planet with a pale light. An ancient city – seemingly comprised of glass – stood around them, every building bleached by the long march of time and radiation. Whatever hadn't been made of the strange, glassy material had long eroded away, leaving gaps and holes where infrastructure used to be. "...WHAT IS THIS PLACE?"

"IT IS THE CAPITAL OF A PLANET THAT USED TO BE THE HOME WORLD OF A VAST EMPIRE." ADAM floated in the sky, staring calmly at Eva Prime. "THE MOST ACCURATE TRANSLATION OF THIS EMPIRE'S NAME WOULD BE 'THE GLASS IMPERIUM.' AND THE SPECIES THAT RULED IT WAS ONE OF LILITH'S MAKING...AND, IN THE END, IT WAS ONE THAT WAS UNMADE BY HER."

Eva Prime looked around, its lungs partaking of the unfamiliar atmosphere. Trace hints of chlorine and gray dust stung, prompting the Eva to manifest a shield of orange light over the vents of its helmet. A simple manipulation of its AT-Field provided a perfect filter for breathable air. "...WHY?" Those with more scientific dispositions – particularly those dedicated to architecture, engineering, and physics – marveled at the construction of this alien city. "WHY DESTROY THEM? WHY DESTROY US? WHAT'S THE POINT?"

"DID YOU PERCEIVE THE OBSIDIAN MATRIX THAT SURROUNDED THIS WORLD?" asked ADAM, ignoring humanity's question. "FILLED WITH RED LIGHT?"

"...YES."

"EACH WORLD WITH SAPIENT LIFE IS GOVERNED BY A SET OF...EQUATIONS, SO TO SPEAK. THESE EQUATIONS DETERMINE THE PARAMETERS BY WHICH SOULS ARE FORMED FROM THE INFINITE SEA OF METAPHYSICAL ENERGY. FOR THE AKBAL THAT DOMINATED THIS WORLD...THE FORMATION OF THEIR SOULS, MUCH LIKE YOURS, WAS DETERMINED BY LILITH. JUST AS ALL THE CIVILIZATIONS ON EARTH THAT PRECEDED YOU, WERE FORMED BY ME."

A brief impression was felt; of hulking bipeds in tough armor, with skin like a pachyderm's. "YOU DIDN'T ANSWER OUR QUESTION." Eva Prime gestured at the ruins around them. "LIFE IS PREFERABLE TO DEATH, ISN'T IT? WHY COMMIT GENOCIDE? WHY CAUSE THE EXTINCTION OF YOUR OWN CREATIONS?"

ADAM shook his head. "EMOTIONALLY-CHARGED RHETORIC. HOW QUAINT."

"ANSWER. THE. QUESTION."

"CONSEQUENCES SHOULD BE PROPORTIONATE TO CAUSES AND THEIR EFFECTS. TELL ME; WHAT POSSIBLE ACTION WOULD WARRANT EXTINCTION OF AN ENTIRE SPECIES?"

Legions of humans screamed that there was no such thing. But there were plenty who could ponder the possibility. "YOU...WERE SEEKING TO PREVENT SOMETHING HORRIBLE."

"EXACTLY." ADAM looked around, casually observing the skeleton of a once-great nation. "ALL SAPIENT LIFE SEEMS TO TREND TOWARDS THE SAME OUTCOME...SCIENTIFICALLY, PHILOSOPHICALLY, OR OTHERWISE...THEY ALWAYS SEEM TO ENCROACH UPON THE FORBIDDEN, THE PERFECTION OF LIFE AND KNOWLEDGE INTERTWINED, THE ESSENCE OF TRUE DIVINITY...IGNORANT OF THEIR FOLLY, OF THE DOOM THEY WOULD INVITE." ADAM turned his dispassionate gaze back towards the golden titan. "REDUCED TO MERE SPIRIT, THE AKBAL COULD NO LONGER PURSUE THE FORBIDDEN. EVEN THOUGH THE GLASS IMPERIUM IS A MERE MEMORY, THEIR EXISTENCE CONTINUES."

Eva Prime scoffed. "REMOVED OF THEIR INDIVIDUAL FORMS? RENDERED A MERE MASS OF SPIRITUAL ENERGY, WITH NO CONTEXT FOR ANY MEMORIES OR KNOWLEDGE THAT MAY HAVE BEEN RETAINED? WITH NO CAPACITY FOR WILL, OR DESIRE, OR ACTION? EXISTENCE IS NOT THE SAME AS ACTUAL LIVING!"

"EXISTENCE IS A GIFT. THAT YOU WERE ABLE TO EXPERIENCE SO MUCH IN THE TIME THAT YOUR SPECIES EXISTED...YOU SHOULD BE GRATEFUL."

"GRATEFUL. I DON'T THINK YOU KNOW WHAT THAT WORD MEANS."

"LILITH AND I...WE HAVE BOTH WITNESSED THE END OF THAT PATH YOU WALKED. AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR FOLLY IMPACTED MORE THAN JUST OUR KIND. TO HAVE SHINED BRILLIANTLY, TO HAVE THE SUM TOTAL OF YOUR EFFORTS PRESERVED FOR ALL ETERNITY...IS PREFERABLE."

"...ALL WE'RE HEARING IS AN ATTEMPT TO JUSTIFY YOUR OWN FAILURE. YOU CLAIM TO KNOW SO MUCH, ENOUGH TO SERVE AS JUDGE AND JURY FOR ENTIRE WORLDS. SO...WE CAN'T HELP BUT WONDER...WHO CREATED YOU? WHO SET THE EQUATIONS THAT GOVERNED THE SOULS OF YOUR KIND?"

ADAM had no answer.

"THAT'S WHAT WE THOUGHT," snorted Eva Prime. "YOU'RE NOT OMNIPOTENT, NOR OMNISCIENT, NOR PERFECT. THUS, THERE ARE GAPS IN YOUR UNDERSTANDING...GAPS IN YOUR KNOWLEDGE. WE THEREFORE REJECT YOUR IMPERFECT JUDGMENT!"

ADAM stared. And stared. Finally, he sighed, grabbing the Lance of Longinus and the Sword of Uriel. "SUCH ARROGANT WORDS."

"FUNNY," retorted humanity, the Prime Evangelion reaching behind its back for the Black Lance and the White Sword. "WE WERE THINKING THE SAME ABOUT YOU!" Roaring, Eva Prime slashed at the air with the White Sword, metaphysical energy rippling through towards ADAM. The First Angel descended, avoiding the attack; he swung the True Sword, its length extending dozens of meters. The golden Eva dove and dodged as ADAM swung his blade with lightning speed. It seamlessly cut through entire buildings, shattering their foundations and sending them toppling. Ancient structures that had stood for eons were brought tumbling down, victims of the belligerents' might.

Eva Prime shifted, over and over, leaving behind clusters of spiritual power with each teleport. A defiant shout echoed through the city as the Eva clenched its fists, willing the metaphysical grenades to track the First Angel. Bursts of orange light erupted, burning matter and spirit with equal vigor. Tendrils of blue and red metal lashed out from the True Sword and the True Lance, warding off all encroaching attacks. Not to be denied, Eva Prime lashed out with the Replica weapons, clashing against ADAM's own tools. The other four hands were free to punch or unleash various blasts of energy. The ground quaked and rattled, unleashing a roar that echoed throughout the dead city. With each errant blow, more and more of the alien realm was pulverized.

For all their ferocity, they were still fighting on an even level.

Something had to give.

...ADAM.

KIND OF BUSY.

...let me fight.

ADAM blinked. He promptly shifted away, avoiding an orb of entropy that devoured everything it touched. As he manifested hundreds of concussive blasts, ADAM replied, AND LET YOU HELP THEM? NOT A CHANCE.

I won't lift a finger against you.

THAT IS A VERY SPECIFIC WAY TO PHRASE IT. Spacetime suddenly bubbled; portals into the Metaphysical Deep opened, and wild streams of spiritual power erupted. Each portal was bound to a cluster of souls within the Prime Evangelion. THEY ARE BEGINNING TO DELEGATE MORE FUNCTIONS AMONGST THE AGGREGATE. ADAM backed away, stabbing with the Lance at Eva Prime while he parried the streams of orange light with the Sword. THIS...COULD BE PROBLEMATIC.

Can you really afford to keep me bound any longer? The [wards/locks/safeguards] are...demanding.

I KNOW. AND FOR A GOOD REASON. A mere moment of panic, a single inkling, an errant desire; without the protections he had erected between his soul and LILITH's, the potential to repeat the [Collapse/End of Days] was too great. YOUR FONDNESS FOR HUMANITY IS A KNOWN FACTOR. SO WHY SHOULD I BELIEVE YOU?

...just trust me. Seeing this world again...has brought up quite a few memories. I have a way to end this.

OH? His soul shattered the molecular bonds of the atoms around Eva Prime, triggering nuclear fission. An intense flash, accompanied by a gargantuan explosion, consumed the Eva-

Behind!

ADAM whirled around, staring at the golden Eva and the White Sword that was swinging towards him. The amount of spiritual energy roiling within it was...impressive. FINE! With a thought, the ruby-grade spiritual wards were undone; LILITH was once more free to act. DO IT!

Thank you...forgive me.

A massive burst of air pressure erupted within ADAM's torso, forcing him backwards; LILITH's body – free of ADAM's – remained still, facing the oncoming blade of Eva Prime.

ADAM couldn't help but be curious as to what her plan was...but of all the possibilities that he had pondered in that split-second, he never considered that she would just take the blow straight on, the White Sword tearing a ragged wound through her torso.

As the body of his equal and opposite fell limply to the ground, the unfamiliar sensation of horror began to swell within him.

The Prime Evangelion blinked as LILITH slowly collapsed. "WHAT-?"

ADAM acted on impulse, his AT-Field manifesting a pile driver that plowed into the golden Eva. As his enemy was sent flying, the First Angel floated towards the side of the Second, numbly observing the tear in her pale flesh, and the wound in her S2 organ. Spiritually, it was even worse. YOUR SPIRITUAL CORPUS...THIS INJURY IS IRREVOCABLE.

...I know.

...WHY? He resisted the urge to wince at how...helpless he sounded. It was an unfamiliar sensation.

...we have lived too long, you and I...

ADAM frowned. THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME YOU HAVE HAD THIS SENTIMENT. SO WHY NOW? WHAT DROVE YOU TO THIS? I DESERVE AN ANSWER.

LILITH chuckled. Shreds of her skin were beginning to crystallize and dissolve, fading away into sparks of ethereal energy. Heh...I suppose you do...well...let's just say that I...wanted to make a point...

...A POINT? WHAT POINT?!

You'll see. LILITH weakly rose her head, her eyes focusing on the distant form of Eva Prime. It was watching the duo warily, oddly unwilling to intrude. "Do...what you must. That's all...that anyone can ever ask of you..." Wearily, LILITH looked back at him, her soul evoking the impression of...a smile, sad and melancholy, as the rain after a cataclysmic fire. ...[INDECIPHERABLE]...goodbye.

ADAM froze. How long had it been since he had heard his true name, a combination of spoken word and spiritual form? Though...come to think of it, who else knew of his actual name? There was...no one else.

For millions of years...there had been no one else.

LILITH's body went limp, flesh cracking and splintering into brittle shards, further dissolving into embers of feathery light. In a matter of seconds, all that remained was her purple mask, bearing the sigil of her family line.

(YOU SHOULD NOT BE HERE. He watched as she emerged from the Black Moon's impact crater. Even so...he could not deny a sense of selfish gratitude, seeing another member of his kind for the first time in over one hundred and eighty-six million years.)

He stared quietly at the mask, ignoring the trembling in his fingers. The embers slowly caressed his skin before disappearing, like an old dream.

(The silver-haired man and the white-haired woman sat quietly, observing the nomadic humans from atop the mountain. It was important to document milestones, such as the development of organized agriculture.)

Her companionship had become...almost normal, even with the brief centuries-long hiatus he had subjected themselves to. Compared to millions of years, centuries were a drop in the bucket.

He had never considered the possibility that it would truly end.

So...why?

(Within the White Moon, he quietly hummed to himself. It was a folk ditty that he had heard whilst traveling the European continent, and one that was surprisingly catchy. Once his equal and opposite returned from the Americas, he would have to share it.)

He slowly looked up, eyes narrowing at the sight of the Prime Evangelion, of humanity. YOU. What was so special about them? What was it about mankind that she felt was worth dying for? YOU...! The sensation of true loss – one he had not experienced in eons, not since he had last set sight upon his planet's corpse – was stark, and raw.

The last straw was the fact that he could no longer manipulate the Lance of Longinus; his connection with LILITH's soul was well and truly severed.

YOU INSUFFERABLE WASTRELS...!

ADAM's wrathful howl echoed across time and space; in an instant, he was upon the golden Eva, his fist glowing like a star.

Eva Prime, eyes wide with shock, barely dodged.

ADAM's fist smashed into the ground, delivering a titanic blow that shot through the ground like a bullet. The surface of the entire planet rumbled and shattered as the world broke in half.

NO MORE GAMES!

Snarling, ADAM's soul burned bright and hot, his mere presence scorching and vaporizing the physical matter around him. Glaring at the Prime Evangelion, he roared. "DIE!"

The explosive force of ADAM's attack was already having ramifications. Even as the ground continued to rumble, gas and heat erupted from fissures in the planet, accompanied by rushing magma as the molten core began to leak out. Even though the two halves would soon coalesce back together due to gravity alone, the release of energy would soon render the entire surface a hellish wasteland, with the chlorinated oceans boiling away in their entirety. All traces of the Akbal's physical existence would be wiped away.

Not that ADAM cared. He was too busy trying to break Eva Prime. The Sword of Uriel hummed with power, its surface vaporizing everything it came into contact with. The golden Eva tried to parry with its Replicas; the True Sword extended and unwound, its blue tendrils weaving around and over the man-made weapons. Energy was transferred, and the gunmetal-colored Replicas began to heat up by thousands upon thousands of degrees. Grimacing, the Eva released the two Replicas as they melted away.

Not to be denied, the Eva shifted away; but ADAM was already there, swinging his blade. It clashed against the red surface of the Lance of Longinus, now wielded by humanity.

The very sight inflamed ADAM even more. "ARROGANT PISSANTS!" He aimed his right palm at Eva Prime's chest, slivers of his skin coalescing into a singular orb; through the might of his AT-Field, the tiny lump of flesh converted into an equivalent amount of antimatter, approximately one kilogram's worth.

It was still over forty megatons of destructive force, all directed at Eva Prime.

Its AT-Field prevented the directed explosion from punching a hole through its torso. The residual force still propelled the Evangelion out of the atmosphere and away from the planet, hurtling through deep space. The shock wave tore through the surrounding city, leveling it to the ground. ADAM, eyes glaring at the Eva's retreating form, took off after it.

LILITH's mask was left behind, to be consumed and buried by the cataclysm.

xxxx

Eva Prime barely managed to gain its bearings before ADAM was once more upon them. Howling silently in the vacuum of space, the First Angel smashed into them, once more driving them into the spiritual realm. The Sword and the Lance were interlocked, straining against each other as the two fought to obtain dominance.

And all the while, foreign memories were leaking away from ADAM, so great was his frenzied anguish. The very expanse around them was tinged red, even as they rocketed through to parts unknown.

(The historical tomes were clear; the destiny of his kind had been set in stone once they peered into the Metaphysical Deep for the first time, bearing witness to the black and white runes that surrounded their world.)

They were...quite stark. And vivid.

(Constant study revealed their effects on the souls of his kind. The white runes corresponded to [LIFE], a presence whose core was an everlasting testament. The black corresponded to [KNOWLEDGE], a presence that transformed according to the whims of the universe.)

"CAN YOU FEEL IT?" thundered ADAM, his soul vibrating with waves of fury and anguish.

(Pioneer after pioneer ventured toward the stars; despite differences between individuals and families, everyone had the same burning desire: to know the source of the spiritual matrix that covered their homeworld, which had formed the base of who they were since before they had even developed languages.)

"THAT SENSE OF CURIOSITY, OF NAIVETE!" His sword struck at multiple points at once, cutting off Eva Prime's potential avenues for retreat.

(He had elected to be one of those pioneers, despite interest in a great dilemma that had long bedeviled his people: why were the souls of [LIFE] and [KNOWLEDGE] separate? Even though they interacted harmlessly enough in the physical realm, why were they so opposed metaphysically?)

"WE HAD NO PRECEDENT, NO UNDERSTANDING. THE POSSIBILITY OF [LIFE] AND [KNOWLEDGE] INTERTWINING..." ADAM avoided the wild slashes of the Lance of Longinus, his soul pressing down on humanity from all sides.

(He traversed to another galaxy, electing to find potential garden worlds on which to create life, as per his duty as a pioneer; by observing life as it developed, they could discern the potential methods and thoughts behind the Divine Mind that had created them. All the while, he kept himself appraised of events on the homeworld, utilizing the Metaphysical Leylines to obtain instant updates.)

"...EVEN THOUGH OUR CIVILIZATION SPANNED ENTIRE SYSTEMS...AN INTRICATE WEB OF RESEARCHERS AND EXPLORERS, SEEDING AND CREATING NEW LIFE...THAT GREAT MYSTERY DROVE US LIKE NOTHING ELSE. IT WAS ONE OF THE GREAT QUESTIONS THAT, IF WE EVER OBTAINED AN ANSWER, WOULD GIVE US A GLIMPSE INTO THE MIND OF WHOEVER CREATED US."

"FASCINATING." It was legitimately so, but the overall context was unsettling and unnerving; even as they frantically tried to avoid ADAM's furious barrage, the sense of impending doom was greater within these impressions than in the current battle itself. "CAN YOU GET TO THE POINT?"

ADAM snarled, his entire being rattling with anger. "INSOLENT WORM!" His spiritual pressure skyrocketed, and the energy around Eva Prime began to boil. "SPEAKING AS IF YOU KNOW BETTER, AS IF YOU HAD ANY CONCEPTION OF WHAT LIES BEYOND YOUR PALTRY LIMITS!"

(One day, the Metaphysical Leylines went dark.)

"WE DARED TO STEP FURTHER INTO THE UNKNOWN, TO SEE WHAT WAS BEYOND OUR OWN LIMITS!"

(He went as far as he could within the spiritual, and balked at what he saw; the physical and the metaphysical were bleeding into each other, twisting time and space and light and everything and nothing...)

"IN RETROSPECT...THE RAMIFICATIONS SHOULD HAVE BEEN CLEAR. [LIFE] AND [KNOWLEDGE] COMBINED INTO ONE BEING: THAT WHICH THE UNIVERSE CONFORMS TO, YET CONFORMS TO THE UNIVERSE...WHERE WOULD THE CYCLE BEGIN, FOR SUCH A CREATURE?"

(All probes that were sent into the spiritual [grave/abyss/nirvana] never returned. No signal escaped.)

The Sword of Uriel wedged between the prongs of the Lance of Longinus; ADAM's free hand punched relentlessly at the Prime Evangelion, with greater frequency and force than the golden Eva's own five free hands. "WE STROVE FOR A PARADOX! WE DESIRED AN IMPOSSIBLE BEING! WE SOUGHT AN EXISTENCE THAT COULD NOT FIT WITHIN MERE CREATION!"

(He managed to find a distant colony, upon which he found a fellow being of [LIFE]. He had compiled the data that had managed to broadcast through the Metaphysical Leylines before the event horizon had consumed so much, ending the entire system.)

"OUR HUBRIS WAS OUR UNDOING!"

(On the homeworld...a breakthrough had been made. Through selective breeding and spiritual splicing, a child was born, with a soul bearing characteristics of [LIFE] and [KNOWLEDGE]. As was custom for their kind, the newborn's body was enkindled with the spark that would enable it to access the infinite energy of the Metaphysical Deep. And then...everything had been...unmade.)

His fists smashed relentlessly into Eva Prime's face. "AND YOU WOULD DARE TO MAKE LIGHT OF SUCH A THING?!"

(There had been millions of them. When the surviving pioneers gathered at the edge of known space, on the most developed colony...there were fewer than two hundred.)

Smash. Smash. Smash. "YOU WOULD DARE ENTERTAIN THAT I ACTED SO FLIPPANTLY ABOUT THE DESTRUCTION OF ENTIRE SPECIES?!"

(Despondently, the pioneers continued their duty; as a pact amongst themselves, they vowed that [LIFE] and [KNOWLEDGE] would never mingle together, to avoid the possibility of the [Collapse/End of Days] repeating itself. As a precaution, they would arm themselves with recreations of the great weapons of old, from ancient wars where [LIFE] and [KNOWLEDGE] had warred against each other for dominance. Despite their sorrow...they would not falter. After all...they surely weren't alone, were they? Probability alone dictated that they would eventually find sapient life that had developed independently of their control...right?)

"YOU KNOW NOTHING!"

(He departed for a distant galaxy, far beyond where he had previously journeyed. He settled within a certain system, on the third planet relative to the local star. Despite the solitude, he was of strong will, and had a vast array of memory and experience to keep himself occupied.)

"AND YET...SHE LET HERSELF PERISH BY YOUR HANDS! WHY?!"

(The fate of every creation was the same; eventually, they too would exhibit insights into the Divine Mind. They would encroach upon the forbidden of their own volition. Despite the wretchedness of it all, he ended them without hesitation.)

"YOU'RE NOTHING MORE THAN A SPECIES USING THE TECHNOLOGY OF YOUR BETTERS TO REACH HEIGHTS NOT MEANT FOR YOU!"

(Time passed, and the dreadful cycle continued. As millions and millions of years passed...his discipline began to wane, and he pondered moving on, to see if life had developed elsewhere. And then...she had arrived.)

"YOU SHOULD HAVE ACCEPTED YOUR FATE!"

(Her tales of her travels...were not encouraging. Life derived from [KNOWLEDGE] eventually desired the same zenith. Though he chided her for her unwillingness to do what was needed...he could not fault her despair. Perhaps...if they let life derived from [LIFE] and [KNOWLEDGE] intermingle...they would naturally reach what their kind had tried to force.)

"YOU SHOULD HAVE JUST DIED!"

(It was...an interesting proposition. And they would ensure proper controls were in place to mitigate the risks. And, if he had to be brutally honest with himself...he was lonely. And so was she.)

Eva Prime howled, grappling with ADAM and tossing him away. Far in the distance, the orange expanse seemed to just end. "WHAT THE-?"

"YOUR KIND HAS ALWAYS BEEN THICKHEADED...PERHAPS DIRECT EXPERIENCE WILL FINALLY ENLIGHTEN YOU!" ADAM's free hand pressed against the Prime Evangelion's torso; and they were once again hurtling through physical space. "LOOK, AND BEHOLD THE RESULT OF OUR ARROGANCE."

Eva Prime turned around, and the human collective stared at...well, they didn't quite know how to describe it. Shades of red and colors unknown, twisting through a void as dark as a black hole. However...the effects of gravity were absent. In fact, the contours of spacetime seemed to simply...cease within that region. The entire expanse was fixed, unaffected by the rest of space around it. And yet, there was an echo of the spirit that was also fixed, an impression etched into reality itself; it felt like a scream of shock and terror, and sounded like madness. "IS...THAT YOUR HOMEWORLD?"

"NO."

"...IT'S NOT?"

"THAT EXPANSE...WAS ONCE THE GALAXY THAT CONTAINED OUR HOMEWORLD."

"...OH." Eva Prime gazed warily at ADAM. Vast swathes of the souls within it clamored for sensory data regarding the spatial anomaly that had apparently devoured a galaxy. "...HOW FAR AWAY ARE WE FROM EARTH?"

"WE ARE OVER FOUR HUNDRED BILLION LIGHT YEARS BEYOND THE EDGE OF YOUR WORLD'S OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE. I TRUST I DON'T NEED TO BE MORE PRECISE."

"...AH." Every single astrophysicist and astronomer within the human aggregate simultaneously squeed. "THAT'S...QUITE FAR."

"YOUR PERCEPTION OF REALITY IS SO...LIMITED." ADAM's fury seemed to have died down, simmering like the coals of a dying fire: still hot, but less likely to burn whatever it touched. "THIS REGION OF SPACE AND TIME AND SOUL...FIXED AND LOST TO ALL...THIS IS THE SIN OF MY KIND. EVEN THE GREAT VOID OF GRAVITATIONAL SINGULARITIES CAN BE ACCESSED AND MEASURED THROUGH THE METAPHYSICAL DEEP...BUT THIS CATACLYSM CREATED AN EVENT HORIZON FOR THE SPIRIT AS WELL..." ADAM trailed off, noticing how the Eva's hands were twitching. "...WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"

"SORRY. THERE ARE A LOT OF SCIENTISTS WHO ARE EXCITED BY THE POSSIBILITY OF OBSERVING THE SPACE BEYOND A BLACK HOLE'S EVENT HORIZON." Yui and Kyoko could certainly empathize, but they sent the spiritual equivalent of a 'down, boy!' to the anxious souls within the human collective.

"AND YOU MAKE MY POINT FOR ME. YOUR TECHNOLOGICAL CAPACITIES ARE A MERE FRACTION OF WHAT MY KIND CREATED; MUCH OF YOUR RECENT DEVELOPMENT IS SIMPLY COPYING AND BUILDING OFF OF WHAT YOU'VE TAKEN FROM MINE AND LILITH'S VESSELS. YET YOUR CONCEIT REMAINS."

"OH?"

"I CAN TELL IT JUST BY LOOKING AT YOU; EVEN KNOWING THE CONSEQUENCES OF [LIFE] AND [KNOWLEDGE] CONSUMMATING, YOU STILL WISH TO FIGHT. THE HUBRIS OF YOUR PALTRY PLANS, YOUR DESIRE FOR IMMORTALITY-"

Eva Prime made 'time out' gestures with four of its hands. "HOLD IT RIGHT THERE. DON'T PIN THE IDIOCY AND MACHINATIONS OF SEELE ON ALL OF US. SECONDLY...IMMORTALITY IS OVERRATED."

"AND YOU WOULD HAVE ME BELIEVE THAT YOU WOULD PREFER YOUR PRIOR EXISTENCE? FREE OF THIS MIGHTY VESSEL YOU HAVE CRAFTED, THE SUM TOTAL OF HUMANITY'S LIVING REMNANTS BOUND INTO A SINGULAR BEING? A COLLECTIVE OF MILLIONS, MAINTAINING INDIVIDUALITY, YET ABLE TO BE DIRECTED WITH UNITY, ALL WITHIN AN UNDYING BODY...IT IS THE STUFF OF MYTH AND LEGEND FOR YOUR PEOPLE. AND I KNOW; LILITH AND I WERE THERE WHEN ALL OF THEM WERE WRITTEN."

...that was a fair point. However, there was a crucial distinction. "TRUE. IN THIS BODY...A NATURAL DEATH WOULD BE IMPROBABLE. DEATH WOULD BECOME A FLEETING AFTERTHOUGHT, AND EVERY CORNER OF THE UNIVERSE WOULD BE OPEN TO US...BUT THAT WOULD BE A LIFE ABSOLUTELY FOREIGN TO THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE. WE WOULD NO LONGER BE HUMAN, BUT SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY." Eva Prime's eyes gleamed. "IF IT WEREN'T FOR OUR BATTLE...WE WOULD BE BACK ON EARTH NOW, TRYING TO REVERSE THE EFFECTS OF YOUR ANTI-AT-FIELD."

ADAM snorted. "ALL SO YOU COULD GET BACK TO BLINDLY AIMING FOR THE FORBIDDEN? PERHAPS YOU WON'T BE SATISFIED UNTIL THE ENTIRE MILKY WAY IS RENDERED AN ENDLESS ABYSS, EVERYTHING WITHIN LOST FOR ETERNITY?" The First Angel's soul flickered, radiating with sorrow and anger. "MY PEOPLE...WE SEARCHED FOR EONS THROUGHOUT THE UNIVERSE, CROSSING VAST EXPANSES THROUGH THE SPIRIT. NO OTHER SAPIENT LIFEFORMS WERE FOUND...WE WERE TRULY THE FIRSTBORN." Even though his words were silent in the void of space, they were downright piercing to the soul. "AND THEY'RE ALL GONE! THE SOULS OF THOSE WHO HAD COME BEFORE ME, THE ENTIRE LEGACY OF MY KIND...GONE, AS IF THEY HAD NEVER BEEN! AND THEY WILL NEVER BE BACK! WITHOUT OUR SPIRITUAL MATRIX, THE SOULS OF THOSE LEFT BEHIND...WILL SIMPLY DISPERSE UPON DEATH."

Eva Prime frowned, inwardly cataloging this information. "THOSE RUNES THAT COVERED EARTH..."

"LILITH OVERWROTE MY OWN WHEN SHE ARRIVED ON YOUR PLANET. THEY DETERMINE THE NATURE AND SHAPE OF THE HUMAN SOUL...BUT WE COULD NEVER DUPLICATE THE INTRICACIES OF OUR KIND'S SPIRITUAL MATRIX." ADAM gazed off into the distance, quietly observing distant galaxies and hazy nebulae. "THAT MATRIX CONTAINS THE METAPHYSICAL ENERGY OF EVERY HUMAN SOUL THAT HAD ONCE POSSESSED LIFE...JUST AS OURS DID FOR WE FIRSTBORN." His empty gaze turned back towards humanity, harsh and hard like chips of ice. "LILITH'S SOUL IS GONE. AND ONE DAY, MINE WILL ALSO DISAPPEAR...BUT UNTIL THAT DISTANT DAY, I WILL NOT NEGLECT THIS DUTY, TO CREATE AND OBSERVE AND LEARN...AND TO PROTECT THE UNIVERSE FROM THOSE LIKE YOU, WHO KNOW NOT THEIR OWN LIMITS."

"...HMM. SOME MIGHT CONSIDER THAT A COMPELLING ARGUMENT. TRUE, YOUR WHOLE EXPERIENCE OUTSTRIPS ALL OF HUMANITY IN THE PARAMETER OF TIME ALONE...AND, HAVING SHARED A LONG HISTORY WITH LILITH, YOU CAN REASONABLY CLAIM TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THIS SUBJECT THAN ALL OF US COMBINED...AND YET, THERE'S A QUESTION THAT WE CAN'T HELP BUT ASK."

"WHAT?"

"...WHAT IF YOUR KIND...THE 'FIRSTBORN'...SIMPLY GOT IT WRONG?"

ADAM quirked his head. He looked distinctly...befuddled, as though he hadn't quite registered humanity's question. "...COME AGAIN?"

"GLADLY." Eva Prime gestured towards the anomaly. "GIVEN THE...IMPRESSIONS FROM YOUR SOUL, AND JUDGING BY HOW YOU'VE DESCRIBED THE EVENT, MUCH OF THE INFORMATION REGARDING THE PARTICULARS OF THE...FATAL EXPERIMENL…WERE LOST TO YOU. FURTHERMORE, YOU HAD NO WAY OF REVIEWING THE RELEVANT OBSERVATIONAL LOGS, AND THE ASSOCIATED DATA...WHICH MEANS YOU HAD NO MEANS OF SEEING WHERE YOUR FELLOWS WENT WRONG."

"...YOU SEEM TO BE IMPLYING THAT WE SURVIVORS HAD EVEN THE SLIGHTEST INTEREST IN REPLICATING THE EVENT THAT ESSENTIALLY DESTROYED OUR ENTIRE GALAXY."

"NOT NECESSARILY...BUT GIVEN HOW ABSOLUTE AND SUDDEN THE DEVASTATION OCCURRED..." Eva Prime trailed off, the various human souls within its collective spirit debating en masse on the scientific, spiritual, philosophical, physical, and logistical ramifications of the idea beginning to coalesce.

The fact that the golden Eva trailed off didn't escape ADAM's notice. "WHATEVER MADNESS YOU'RE PLANNING, I WON'T ALLOW IT. I'LL-" A familiar energy bloomed behind him, the song of a soul that he had felt perish. [INDECIPHERABLE]...?! He whirled around, staring...and paused at the sight of the hazy projection of the Second Angel's body. "...NO..."

Bolts of white energy erupted from the Lance of Longinus, wrapping around ADAM and binding him utterly. The projection faded away, as did the sensation of LILITH's soul. His entire body shook, so great was his rage. "YOU ABHORRENT WRETCHES-!"

"SORRY, JERK MOVE, PENGUIN'S IDEA. BUT WE CAN'T HAVE YOU INTERFERING." Eva Prime floated by ADAM, grabbing the Sword of Uriel with a free hand. "NOW...WITH THIS...MAYBE...HMM."

ADAM snarled, struggling against his binds. "YOU'RE NOT GOING TO ATTACK? STRIKE ME! COWARDS! CRAVEN SCUM!"

"WE CAN SENSE YOUR SOUL'S COMPRESSION. EVEN IF WE WANTED TO KILL YOU RIGHT NOW," Emphasis on the 'right now', "YOU'D PROBABLY UNLEASH SOME SORT OF APOCALYPTIC EXPLOSION OF ENERGY THE MOMENT WE DISRUPTED YOUR CONTAINMENT FIELD."

"EVEN IF IT MEANT MY DEATH, IF IT BROUGHT ABOUT YOUR DESTRUCTION...I WOULD DO IT GLADLY!"

"AND THAT'S WHY WE'RE DOING THIS." The middle arms wielded the weapons: the Sword in the right, and the Lance in the left. The upper and lower arms spread out, slowly widening a gap in reality that led into the spiritual realm.

"WHAT...WHAT ARE YOU DOING...?"

"...HONESTLY, WE'RE NOT QUITE SURE. THIS WHOLE SITUATION IS SOMEWHAT NEW FOR ALL OF US." Eva Prime gazed over its shoulder, staring meaningfully at the First Angel. "BUT...THIS IS AN INTERESTING DILEMMA...AND WE WANT TO TRY AND PROVIDE A SOLUTION."

"A...SOLUTION? TO WHAT?!"

Eva Prime pointed at the anomaly. "THAT."

"...WHAT?!"

xxxx

Deep within the Eva's collective soul, Yui observed her family, friends, and comrades with intent. "So...this is a very foolhardy endeavor we're embarking on."

"You felt how the battle was progressing as well as any of us," murmured Rei. "ADAM was beginning to overwhelm us. Eventually, despite the power at our fingertips...he would triumph."

"We might trigger an event similar to that which brought down the Firstborn."

"And we also happen to be in a rather empty patch of space," commented Gendo. "Compared to the other options...this is our best shot."

"I know. Still wanted to make sure the risks are known."

"...Miss Ikari." Yui turned towards Kaworu, his whole spirit emanating with a melancholic dirge. "Bereft of my bond with Tabris, my memory has faded...but I know that this...may provide an answer to him."

"...very well." Yui turned towards the golden Star, the soul of a most unlikely ally. "Are you ready Pen-Pen?"

"WARK."

"Okay." Yui rejoined hands with Kyoko and Ai. "...then let's get crazy."

"I think we already are, mother," dryly said Shinji. To accentuate his point, he gestured at the vast sea of human souls gathered around them.

"...fair point!"

The golden Star began to flare, along with every human soul.

xxxx

ADAM paused in his struggling, instinctively recognizing the sudden spiritual shift. Though the golden titan's form was a fusion of creatures crafted from his flesh and LILITH's, never had they tried to delve too deeply into the intrinsic natures of [LIFE] and [KNOWLEDGE].

Now? They were throwing away all restraint, and seemingly abandoning themselves to their inherent power. "NO...!"

(Rest now...my warrior...!)

"...YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING!"

"PROBABLY NOT, BUT YOU'VE KIND OF BACKED US INTO A WALL," growled Eva Prime. It plunged the red bident and the blue zweihander through the gap and into the orange expanse of the Metaphysical Deep. "SO...LET'S SEE WHAT HAPPENS."

(Rest now, your hardship...is over...!)

The Prime Evangelion's seven eyes burned an unearthly red.

And above the golden titan, a shimmering halo began to grow. Within that halo, a red void began to manifest.

(Live...! Wake up...wake up...!)

The golden Evangelion howled; motes of light streamed from its body, soaring through the Lance of Longinus and the Sword of Uriel. Like shooting stars, they soared into the Metaphysical Deep.

(And let the cloak...of life, cling to your bones...!)

These tiny sparks numbered in the millions, and they all surrounded the metaphysical event horizon of the anomaly. All the while, the Evangelion's howl continued to span across time and space and spirit: a sound of defiance in the face of death, a song of willpower made flesh.

(Cling to your bones...! Wake up...wake up...!)

ADAM watched in stunned silence – and not a little bit of awe – when the Evangelion's body manifested an aura of amethyst and orchid, its torso emanating ivory arcs of crackling energy. These arcs streamed into the red void, which even now continued to grow behind the titan's back.

(Live...! Wake up...wake up...!)

He could not see the pit of the abyss from his position, bound as he was. He wasn't sure that he wanted to; what was happening now was something he had never before witnessed, and he could only speculate if this is what his kin had seen the day they inadvertently triggered the [Collapse/End of Days].

(And let the cloak...of life, cling to your bones...!)

Finally, one of the most prominent souls within the Evangelion – that golden Star, that strangely stable existence, an oddity in and of itself – seemed to sing. The message – a simple 'Wark' – was unclear in its meaning. A request? A demand? A plea? ADAM had no context, for he could not glean any impressions from it.

(Cling to your bones...! Wake up...wake up...!)

...and something responded. Or perhaps someone. A distinct heaviness settled upon this realm, far greater and weightier than mere gravitational force.

(Live...! Wake up...wake up...!)

All ADAM knew was that he saw a bolt of light – shining across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, with a distinct metaphysical presence, and something else that he had no words for – emerge from the void, smashing into the Prime Evangelion. Its whole body arched with tension and unbelievable power, and the purple aura became a white fire.

(And let the cloak...of life, cling to your bones...!)

The millions upon millions of sparks surrounding the metaphysical event horizon also began to burn, their forms wreathed in ashen flames.

(Cling to your bones...! Wake up...wake up...!)

The Lance and the Sword extended, plunging further and further into the Metaphysical Deep...until, at long last, their tips breached the event horizon.

There was a pregnant pause.

And then reality seemed to tilt as the motes of light erupted into the physical, manifesting immense arms of radiance that pressed against the event horizon in both the real and the ethereal. All throughout this surreal show, the souls of humanity were united – through prayer, through calculations, through song and dance and laughter and battle and whatever form of devotion and intellect they could bring to bear – in a singular purpose, aimed at solving something from three billion, two hundred and one million, seven hundred and eighty-one thousand, four hundred and twenty-seven different viewpoints.

Finally...at long last?

"...IMPOSSIBLE..."

The event horizon...began to recede.

(Cling to your bones...! Wake up...! Wake up...!)

ADAM began to see constellations and systems that he had not seen in hundreds of millions of years. "...HOW...?"

The immense arms pressed further and further, negating the otherworldly cataclysm that had wiped an entire galaxy from existence. Throughout it all, Eva Prime shined brighter and brighter, and the human souls within floated on a sea of divine power, buoyed by the fullness of [LIFE] and [KNOWLEDGE].

It would not last forever.

"ALMOST...THERE..." moaned humanity.

There was decisive plink, akin to a pin drop echoing throughout the metaphysical. In a singular instance of synchronized glory, spacetime and spirit were once more separated, and the entire galaxy snapped back into existence.

"...NAILED IT."

The red void faded, and the white fire died off. The residual feedback and loss of power knocked every single human soul into a sort of spiritual coma, and all went dark-

(A golden creature – a tiny figure, yet also larger than life – stared quietly towards the sky, seeing something that few had ever comprehended. Turning around, it gazed at them, and began to speak...)

WARK.

-and then they awoke. There was a brief moment of panic and confusion as the human aggregate tried to harmonize and coordinate themselves-

"YOU ARE AWAKE."

The Prime Evangelion blinked as it returned to total consciousness; ADAM held the Sword of Uriel and the Lance of Longinus loosely. They hovered over the surface of the Earth, still rotating peacefully around the Sun. There was...a disconnect; they had obtained unimaginable power, directed for a singular purpose, and had been connected to something so much more than they had ever imagined...and now, the human collective was drawing a blank. "...WHAT HAPPENED?"

"...YOU ACCOMPLISHED THE INCONCEIVABLE."

(ADAM blinked as his binds faded. He briefly gazed at the prone form of Eva Prime – silent and still, seemingly dead to all – before turning back to a galaxy that had not been seen by mortal eyes for eons. Feeling uncharacteristically hopeful, he grabbed the Lance and Sword, delving into the Metaphysical Deep...and lo, he rejoiced at the sight of the familiar Leylines.)

"I HAD...I HAD TO SEE."

(He was not surprised at what he found; although the physical and metaphysical boundaries had once more been normalized, the result of the infamous experiment had still been fatal for all of his kind within its radius of effect. However, there was still nostalgia to be had: distant colonies with achingly familiar architecture, lifeforms that existed nowhere else in the universe, familiar constellations with names etched in folklore and scientific literature...all moving once more through the universe, freed of their once-eternal stasis.)

"...I HAD TO."

(Finally, tracing the Leylines to their nexus, he stood upon his homeworld. The homeworld. Feet tread through fuchsia grasses, staring at the blue sky...and then he peered into the spirit, seeing the intricate runes of ebony and ivory. Through the black glyphs flowed streams of yellow; through the white, blue. He neared the glyphs, spiritually interfacing with them; old impressions, distant memory, and a strange sense of being disconnected from everything before coming back into place...face-to-face with the historical and spiritual memorial of the Firstborn, he wept.)

"...AND?"

"YOU WERE INSENSATE."

(ADAM manifested a distinct block of spiritual impressions, broadcasting a message across the Metaphysical Leylines. If any of his kin were still surviving...they would eventually realize it. One day - hopefully soon - someone would find his message, and return. They would at least know the essentials: that, through a frankly miraculous set of circumstances, the [Collapse/End of Days] had been undone. Satisfied, ADAM returned to Eva Prime; grabbing the comatose titan, he delved once more into the spirit, and followed the song of human souls to its source, as one following a lighthouse over a vast and stormy sea.)

"I BROUGHT YOU BACK HERE, AND HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU TO AWAKEN."

"...OKAY. SO...WHAT NOW?"

"...YES. 'WHAT NOW' INDEED." ADAM stared at the blue planet below, slowly rotating and curving through spacetime. "THIS PLACE...HAS BEEN MY HOME FOR SO LONG. I HAVE BROUGHT FORTH NEW LIFE ON IT, OVER AND OVER...AND ENDED LIFE, OVER AND OVER, FEARFUL OF OUR MISTAKE BEING REPEATED..."

"GENOCIDE IS...A TAD EXTREME, EVEN THOUGH YOU'RE THE ONE WHO CREATED THEM. ESPECIALLY SINCE YOU CREATED THEM." Despite the countless lives – whole civilizations, never known and never witnessed! – that ADAM had taken over the eons, the sympathetic and empathic individuals within the human collective had been affected rather strongly by the stark memories and impressions gleaned from ADAM's past. However, there were still millions who brought up the fact that he had been trying to kill them all. Thus, humanity had settled on a happy medium of 'yeah, your life sucked, but you've also been a bit of a dick', more or less. "WHAT OF THEIR SOULS? GIVEN HOW YOU'VE SPOKEN THUS FAR, THEY WOULD HAVE STILL SURVIVED SPIRITUALLY, RIGHT?"

"THAT...IS THE UNFORTUNATE THING." The First Angel gestured towards the South Pole. "WITH EACH CIVILIZATION THAT WAS ENDED, ITS ENTIRE COLLECTIVE OF SOULS WOULD BE GATHERED AND STORED WITHIN MY VESSEL. THE MATRIX WITHIN THE METAPHYSICAL DEEP WOULD BE REWORKED AND RETOOLED, AND THE CYCLE WOULD BEGIN ANEW. THE LAST TIME IT WAS ALTERED...WAS WHEN LILITH ARRIVED, AND OVERWROTE THE VAST MAJORITY OF IT." ADAM stared pointedly at them. "UNFORTUNATELY...DURING THE EVENT YOU CALL 'SECOND IMPACT', THE DESTRUCTION BROKE THE WARDS, AND MY VESSEL WAS ANNIHILATED. WITHOUT ITS PROTECTION...THE EXCESS SPIRITUAL ENERGY DISSIPATED, LOSING ALL FORM AND STRUCTURE."

"...OH." The souls of Gendo and Yui suddenly felt particularly sour. Given recent public revelations regarding SEELE and NERV and Gendo Ikari, the fact that Second Impact had been instigated by humans was...an uncomfortable pill to swallow. "...OOPS." A certain subset of humanity began berating them for having nothing better to say than 'oops.'

ADAM shrugged. "AS I'VE POINTED OUT ALREADY...YOU WERE IGNORANT. HOW COULD YOU HAVE KNOWN? HOW COULD ANY OF YOU?"

"...WELL, IF WE'RE IGNORANT, WHAT DOES THAT MAKE YOU?"

"MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE. MORE EXPERIENCED. MORE AWARE OF ENTIRE FIELDS AND DISCIPLINES THAT YOU HAD YET TO CONJURE...AND YET, I WAS MERELY ONE MIND, WITH A SINGLE VIEWPOINT. PERHAPS...THAT WAS THE POINT THAT LILITH WANTED TO MAKE..."

"...SO." Eva Prime stared meaningfully at the Lance and the Sword that ADAM held. "...I HOPE YOU'RE STILL NOT INTERESTED IN FIGHTING."

"...NO. THERE'S NO NEED. THIS ENTIRE ENDEAVOR...WAS MY DEFEAT." The First Angel seemed wistful. "AFTER THIS...THERE IS BUT ONE OUTCOME LEFT..." There was an odd twist in the spirit, and ADAM's soul seemed to spiral in on itself; moments later, time and space popped, and a glowing sphere of multilayered cubes manifested in front of him. "...THERE."

"WHAT IS THAT?"

"A STANDARD MEMORY SPHERE: A CATALOG OF MY MEMORIES AND THE RELATED PHYSICAL AND METAPHYSICAL DATA. MILLIONS UPON MILLIONS OF YEARS' WORTH...TO USE AN EQUIVALENT OF YOUR COMMON MEASUREMENT PARLANCE, IT CONTAINS OVER FIFTY DECAEXABYTES OF INFORMATION...OF MYSELF, MY KIND, AND ALL THAT I CREATED..."

The human souls with any decent knowledge of Greek and data science practically sputtered. "WE'VE...ONLY GOTTEN UP TO ZETTABYTES IN PRACTICE." Following the numerical sequence, a single decaexabyte would be...one thousand bytes raised to the sixteenth power, i.e. one quindecillion bytes! "THAT'S...A LOT OF INFORMATION."

"INDEED." With the blink of an eye, the sphere vanished. "THE INFORMATION WITHIN WILL BE INTEGRATED WITH THE DATABANKS ON LILITH'S VESSEL. YOU WILL ALSO FIND THAT THE REST OF HER VESSEL WILL BE OPEN TO YOU, NOW THAT SHE HAS PASSED. KNOWING HER...ALL SECURITY LOCKS WILL HAVE BEEN DISABLED UPON HER DEATH. IT WOULD BE JUST LIKE HER..."

"...WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? WHY NOW?"

ADAM stared meaningfully at the Prime Evangelion. After seconds of silence...he chuckled. "I NO LONGER HAVE ANY CLAIM OVER YOUR DESTINY. YOU ACCOMPLISHED SOMETHING THAT LILITH AND I...COULD SCARCELY HAVE DREAMED OF."

"WHAT ABOUT YOU?"

"HMPH. INDEED...WHAT 'ABOUT' ME, YOU ASK. MY STORY...HAS REACHED ITS CONCLUSION. YOURS...IS STILL BEING WRITTEN. AND NOW..." His free arm trailed from Earth towards the stars. "...YOU ARE FREE TO EXPLORE TO YOUR HEARTS' CONTENT."

"...WE'RE STILL KIND OF STUCK IN THIS FORM." Eva Prime flexed its fists. "NOT THAT NIGH-OMNIPOTENCE ISN'T FUN...BUT PART OF LIFE IS THE STRUGGLE, THE REALIZATION THAT OUR TIME IS LIMITED. IT FORCES US...TO GET CREATIVE. IN THIS BODY...WE WILL STAGNATE."

"TRUE. TO REFORM YOUR INDIVIDUAL BODIES AND RETURN YOUR SOULS...WILL TAKE A SUBSTANTIAL AMOUNT OF ENERGY, AND AN INSTINCTIVE KNOWLEDGE OF YOUR SPIRITUAL WAVELENGTHS. I HAVE BOTH."

"AND HOW WILL YOU DO THAT?"" Eva Prime paused, suddenly going still-

xxxx

-within the mass of human souls, the golden Star suddenly blazed; in a sudden shock, Yui, Kyoko, and Ai's connections were cut off. "What?" Yui stared intently at the penguin's soul. "What are you doing?"

There was no 'wark' in response. Instead, a deep and majestic voice responded, clear and concise and understandable to all. "TO ENSURE THE PROCESS GOES SMOOTHLY...YOU MUST NOT BE CONNECTED TO EVA."

"...what...what's going to happen to you?" asked Asuka.

Pen-Pen's soul vibrated with something akin to wry amusement. "SOMEONE WILL HAVE TO REMAIN TO PROPERLY CHANNEL YOU. AT THIS POINT...I AM THE MOST QUALIFIED CANDIDATE."

Misato's spirit quivered, familiar feelings of sadness and pride emanating from her. "Hmph...here you go again...pulling the sacrificial play..."

"YOU NO LONGER NEED ME."

"Sure, I don't need you, but I still want you around!"

"IT HAS TO BE THIS WAY. BESIDES..." The golden Star unfurled, and three small motes of light emerged, settling down in front of the three former controllers. Ai looked quizzically at them, while Yui and Kyoko seemed...surprised. "...SOMEONE HAS TO WATCH OVER THEM."

"...Yui-chan...are those...?" murmured Kyoko.

Yui stared at the three motes – bearing familiar colors and shapes – and nodded. "Burgeoning souls...of Units-00, 01, and 02..." After being ensouled for so many years, the separate Evangelions had begun to formulate their own spiritual structure: proverbial infants.

"THEY DESERVE BETTER THAN WAR...I WILL MAKE SURE OF IT."

Misato sniffled. Even if she didn't technically have the means to do so, it perfectly encapsulated how she felt. "Heh...well, you certainly have a track record for looking after hopeless strays and making something out of em'." She grinned brilliantly at the golden Star. "Do your best, buddy."

"OF COURSE." The light of the golden Star was warm, and soothing; a last gesture of kindness, to ease the transition. "I KNOW THAT CONFLICT AND DIVISION WILL NOT BE STOPPED BY THESE EVENTS. NOT COMPLETELY...SO LONG AS YOU ARE INDIVIDUALS, YOU WILL HAVE THE CAPACITY TO MISUNDERSTAND, TO FEAR, TO HATE...BUT YOU WILL ALSO HAVE THE CAPACITY TO MAKE CONNECTIONS, TO TRUST, TO LOVE...THAT IS WHAT MAKES IT ALL WORTHWHILE...AND I THINK YOU JUST MIGHT HAVE AN EASIER TIME OF IT."

Gendo smiled, staring intently at Pen-Pen's soul. "Hmph. Someone's learned how to make a good speech."

Pen-Pen chuckled. "I HAD A GOOD ROLE MODEL." With that said, the golden Star's brilliance became blinding. "WARK." The light overtook of them all-

xxxx

-Eva Prime's eyes snapped open. Humanity was fully separated from its control; now, there was only Pen-Pen. "THEY ARE READY."

ADAM looked intently at the golden Eva, letting the titan grab the Lance and the Sword. "YOU...ARE A VERY FASCINATING BEING. I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO KNOW YOU."

"YOU AND A LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE," joked Pen-Pen. The upper arms held the Lance; the lower arms held the Sword, pointing it at the Earth. "...FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH, I HOPE THAT YOU'LL FIND PEACE."

"I DO NOT DESERVE IT." ADAM's S2 Organ churned, drawing on massive amounts of energy; his soul compressed further and further upon itself, preparing for a tremendous burst. "...BUT THANK YOU, NONETHELESS."

The Prime Evangelion raised the Lance. Within the Sword, millions and millions of celadon sparks churned and roiled. "...GOODBYE." Pen-Pen's arms flexed, and he drove the Lance towards ADAM's torso.

The First Angel closed his eyes, accepting his fate. His last thought...was a rather pleasant one. THIS...

(The two had debated long and hard about what the next dominant species would be, once the fallout from the Black Moon's collision had dispersed. They eventually decided on a particular title: human.)

...THIS...IS YOUR WORLD, NOW.

The bident plunged into his chest.

In a cataclysmic blast of heavenly light, ADAM's entire body was unmade, his soul unleashing immense arcs of orange energy that traversed the globe; the pools of LCL quivered and reanimated, reconstructing the bodies in accordance with the image of each human spirit.

Eyes blazing, Pen-Pen let loose the souls of humanity, the Sword providing an easy way to direct the masses. Millions of millions of sparks rained over the earth, like drops of jade soaring from the heavens. The sheer maelstrom of power circulating within the Eva made it glow like a brilliant star, the ambience illuminating the continents below.

In a burst of brightness, the rain faded away...and all was quiet.

ADAM was dead. Pen-Pen was gone...and with him, Eva Prime.

But humanity...was alive.

xxxx

/April 29, 2027/

/Ikari Residence, Yonaguni Island/

Mari Langley-Sohryu looked at her scribbles thoughtfully. "...hmm. You experienced the gap too, huh?"

Yui nodded, nibbling on a rice cracker (Gendo had been thoughtful enough to bring in a tray of snacks during the reminiscing). "Unfortunately."

"...well scheiße. I was hoping you'd have at least something." The period of time – between releasing the Firstborn's home galaxy from its exotic stasis and awakening in orbit over Earth – remained a stubborn void. Aside from a largely-shared impression involving a golden figure – current consensus that it was Pen-Pen's soul, somehow – no one remembered anything.

Gendo took a slow sip of his saké. "Given the sheer amount of energy we were all channeling during that event, it's no surprise that our memories short-circuited...for lack of a better term."

"Discombobulated?"

"Thank you, Yui. Discombobulated."

"...that's a fun word. Discombobulated," repeated Mari.

"Discombobulated," said Yui.

"Dis-com-bob-u-la-ted," enunciated Gendo.

"Discombobulated?" asked Mari and Yui.

"Discombobulated," answered Gendo, nodding sagely.

Silence.

Mari finally broke, snickering loudly. "Okay...back to it then. This part is one I've gotten a lot of material on already..." She recalled one pair in particular that she had interviewed in Geneva over two years ago…

xxxx

/April 15, 2016/

/Cafe du Soleil, Geneva, Switzerland/

The brunette opened her eyes, blinking mutely.

The black mountain gorilla stared back at her, looking somewhat...befuddled and worried. 'Bewuddled' would be a good word. "Are you...okay, Ms. Oxton?"

"Ah, I'm doing fine, luv," muttered Britain's ambassador to the Congolese Federation. She slowly sat up, looking around the quaint cafe; every human person was either still out cold, or woozily looking around. "What..." Memories of something...grand, and epic, and majestic...of a battle unlike any she had ever imagined...they danced and filtered through the back of her mind. "...what happened?"

Winston blinked. "...you and every single homo sapiens that I've seen burst into orange goo. And I use the word 'burst' quite literally."

"...eh?"

"After about...oh, I don't know, five hours, there was quite a light show. And then you all reformed."

"...eh?"

xxxx

/April 29, 2027/

/Ikari Residence, Yonaguni Island/

…those two had been fun. "...but hey, more data points can't hurt!" chirped Mari.

"I believe I'll cut in here," said Gendo. "If you don't mind, Yui."

Yui didn't respond; she was too busy munching on her crackers, making little happy noises as she chewed.

Mari smirked. "...I don't think she minds."

"So I noticed."

xxxx

/April 15, 2016/

/LILITH's Throne Room, Terminal Dogma, NERV-1/

Gendo Ikari opened his eyes. "...I'm back." He slowly sat up, feeling no change in particular. He briefly gazed at the prone form of Ryoji Kaji - who was slowly beginning to stir - and began to walk...and then jog.

He had to see.

He had to see.

xxxx

All throughout the world, humans began to rise, waking from the deathless sleep of Instrumentality.

xxxx

/ErinnerungsKrankenhaus Lorenz, Berlin-2, Germany/

Pieter Langley opened his eyes. "...huh." That had been a...very disturbing dream. It had felt so...realistic. And yet unrealistic. And yet, in both respects, all too real. "...that doesn't make any sense."

Nor did the fact that he felt just fine, despite the swaths of medical gauze and tape that he was bound in. Come to think of it...when was the last time he had been awake? "Hmm." He had to get caught up.

By the time members of the hospital staff awoke and began making their rounds, the Jackal was long gone.

xxxx

/Reserve Command Deck, NERV-1, Tokyo-3/

"Did anyone...get the number...of that existential drama...?!" Ritsuko Akagi's words were slurred, yet still cogent. Woozily pulling herself to her feet, the blonde looked around at the sprawled forms of her colleagues and enemies(?). The UN soldiers were still largely out cold, and only a few of her coworkers were beginning to stir. "Heh. Pansies. Can't even handle the end of the world...or a bizarre mind meld scenario...yep, no hypocrisy here, I'm just that damn good..." Her fingers trailed over a computer terminal, trying to access system diagnostics. Hopefully, the MAGI would be able to give an overview of what in the hell was going on...wait.

MELCHIOR, BALTHASAR, and CASPER were still active. MAGI-00, HEROD, was not. "...well, this is an unexpected bit of tomfoolery." Ritsuko promptly cursed aloud, shaking her fist in the air.

xxxx

/Corpus Callosum, NERV-1, Tokyo-3/

Naoko Akagi opened her eyes; she was once more floating within the tube of LCL.

Slowly, she looked down, seeing a torso that was no longer connected to a legion of life support equipment. More importantly, she saw legs and feet. Hmm. So my old hypothesis of the soul's self-image impacting body reformation has some statistical support now. Inwardly, her mind – once more merely human, no longer augmented to serve as a MAGI unit – was mulling over the ramifications.

Outwardly, she simply bellowed a haughty 'HA!' and proceeded to fiddle with her feet. Just because she could.

xxxx

/Floor 15, Main Pyramid Complex, NERV-1/

Mana Kirishima sat up. "...well. That was trippy."

"I agree."

Mana turned around, watching her sister slowly rise. The presence of the prosthetic leg was a bit of a downer. "Hmph. Kinda wished you'd have your leg back."

"This is my leg, sister." Mayumi opened a nearby janitor's closet, eyeing spare uniforms to cover their nakedness. "Here. Take one."

"...do I have to?"

"Sister."

"Kidding, kidding." This lighthearted banter was a decent distraction from having to think about what she...they...everyone...had experienced. It was all a jumble, but she would think about it later. She looked down the hall, staring at the reformed bodies of the JSSDF combatants. "...would've thought they'd still be torn apart."

"You sound disappointed."

"No, not like that," protested Mana, grabbing the orange boilersuit that Mayumi tossed her way. "It's just...it all feels like a weird dream. Like nothing actually happened."

"I'm sure events will catch up once everyone awakens." Mayumi stepped out of the janitorial supply room, the boilersuit looking a little too baggy on her. "Let's go find mother."

"...oh." Mana thought back to their last physical interaction (the events that occurred within the spirit...realm...thingy...were still jumbled), and recalled an abdomen that had been torn apart. "Oh." As one, the two took off down the hall.

xxxx

/Sub-Floor 20, Secondary Supply Access Junction/

Shiro Tokita groaned, rubbing his head wearily. "That...was weird." And nifty. And, honestly, kind of cool. But he also distinctly remembered seeing a grenade fly at his face before...reawakening in this odd mass of spirit and memory and...well, he'd have time to sort it all out later. Hopefully. "Hmm." He fiddled with the back of his coat, feeling the holes left by the bullets. His flesh was...unbroken. "...neat." He gazed at the ruined corridor ahead of him, pondering what his next move should be. "...so. What next?"

The elevator beside him dinged.

Tokita turned, blinking at the sight of Hikari Kirishima – he idly noted how the front of her uniform around the abdomen was torn, absently wondering how she had died before, and goodness this was quickly getting morbid – standing there. Her eyes focused on him, quickly narrowing with familiar anger. "Uh...hi?"

Her lips curled into a frustrated snarl. "You...you stupid idiot..."

"...please don't hit me."

She launched herself at him, tackling him to the ground and kissing him vigorously.

xxxx

/Outskirts of Tokyo-3, Hakone, Japan/

Shinji Ikari opened his eyes, wincing at the light of the early afternoon sun. "...are we...home...?" He slowly sat up, looking down at his Plug Suit-clad form. "I'm...back to me." Looking ahead, he resisted the urge to wince; with all the chaos and havoc of the battle against the UN's forces and the Mass Production Eva Series, he hadn't had the chance to fully process the damage. Tokyo-3 was simply gone; where had once been a city, there was a gaping hole revealing the Geofront. The surface within the Black Moon no longer resembled a national park in miniature, now pitted and scarred from the cumulative effects of the battles against Zeruel, Tabris, and the MP-Evas, along with the long-range ordnance of the JSSDF. Fully a fifth of the interior was now submerged, flooded by the waters of Lake Ashi. Fortunately, the lake's surface had since equalized with the gap into the Geofront, so the flooding had stopped...but it was still a sobering sight. "...it's..."

"The destruction is...an unfortunate consequence, isn't it?"

Shinji turned his head; Kaworu Nagisa stood near the edge, observing the same scene of devastation. Rei Ayanami sat by his feet, her face downcast. Asuka Langley-Sohryu was apparently still asleep, curled up on the grass. "...Kaworu?" That's right; the last time he had actually seen the Fourth Child, it had been months ago...he had only heard Kaworu's voice when he had emerged in Unit-02, and likewise during their battle against Tabris...and, he guessed during the whole thing with...Eva Prime, was it...and just like that, Shinji clutched his head, groaning due to the glut of memories and impressions. There was just so much to process...!

"You are remembering our final battle against ADAM?"

"...starting to." Everything was jumbled, and...big. It had all been so much bigger than him, and yet unbelievably intimate, serving as a conduit for millions and millions of human beings...even though some of the impressions were dim and fading, he bet that he could remember some if he tried hard enough, as though grasping for a piece of paper dancing in the wind. "Did...we really do all of that?"

"If by 'we', you meant every living human...and a particularly special penguin...then yes."

"...okay." He really wanted to just lie back down and go to sleep for a while. Maybe for a day or two. That sounds really good...but I shouldn't. Not now. There would be time to absorb everything later. For now, given the tumultuous circumstances – he really hoped that the military wasn't going to start fighting again, but darn it if his father's paranoia hadn't gotten to him – it was important to stay alert. Besides...there was someone he needed to talk to. "Rei-chan?"

The First Child slowly got to her feet, turning to face him. Her eyes...she looked so tired. "Shinji-kun."

"...are you okay?"

"I am...exhausted. I feel like I fought forever, across all of existence, in mere minutes...as everyone and no one..."

"One could make the argument that that's exactly what we did," interjected Kaworu.

"...so to answer your question Shinji-kun, I am 'okay'. I am just...exhausted."

Shinji smiled lightly. "It's okay to feel that."

"Maybe for you. This feeling is...unusual."

"That's because you're you."

"...if you say so." She stepped forward, slowly embracing Shinji around his shoulders. "...I believe the feeling will pass."

He sighed, returning the hug. "I'm glad."

"...we made it, Shinji-kun." At his lack of response, Rei leaned back, her eyes glimmering with sheer relief. "The Angels have all been defeated. We've withstood the machinations of SEELE. We...defeated ADAM. We won."

"...I guess we did, didn't we?" Shinji glanced over at Kaworu; he was quietly looking at them, a melancholy expression on his face. "Are...you going to be okay, Kaworu?"

"I do not know what would 'constitute' okay. However...I will still endeavor to live, and make the best of it. After all, as someone was quite insistent on telling me...I'm not alone." He turned around, walking towards Asuka's prone form. "Speaking of which...I believe there's someone we need to meet." Casually picking up Asuka's Plug Suit-clad body – her limbs dangling limply – Kaworu maneuvered her into a piggyback position, resting her hands on his shoulders and locking his arms under her thighs. "Follow me."

Shinji blinked dumbly. "...where are we going?"

"You'll know when we get there. I am only following a...sensation, if you will."

He turned towards Rei, trying to get some clarification on Kaworu's cryptic words. Rei frowned, her brow furrowing in a brief bout of concentration...and then she blinked owlishly. "...oh. I see."

"See what?"

"...you will know when we get there. I believe it would be...better to let you see for yourself," explained Rei.

"...okay." Relenting, he stepped away from their embrace, "I trust you." He held out his hand. "Then shall we?"

Rei looked at the invitation; nodding, she placed her hand in his, and they both walked after Kaworu. Eventually, they were walking side-by-side, which is when Shinji chanced a look at the seemingly slumbering Asuka.

'Seemingly', because her eyes were wide open. Shinji opened his mouth-

Asuka swiftly and silently brought an index finger to her lips, beckoning him to keep quiet if he knew what was good for him.

Shinji closed his mouth.

Grinning, Asuka winked once at him before closing her eyes, 'sleepily' nuzzling her face against Kaworu's back. Judging by the light smile that was on the Fourth Child's face, Kaworu knew full well that she was awake, and was simply...playing along.

Shinji blinked owlishly. Did...did I miss something? Are Asuka and Kaworu together? He tried to recall his experiences within the mass of human souls, when everyone had been united...and he seemed to recall a distinct closeness between the Second and Fourth Children. When did that happen?

If one were to ask Shinji as to why he was pondering the apparent romantic development involving the redhead and the nephilim, he would probably tell you that it was an incredibly normal thing to occupy his attention for the time being. It certainly hurt less than trying to think about his part in a cosmic struggle against an alien that had lived for hundreds of millions of years.

xxxx

/Reserve Command Deck, NERV-1, Tokyo-3/

"Hey, come on Boss. Rise and shine."

Misato Katsuragi grumbled, impulsively bringing a hand to her head. "Urgh...five more minutes..." A foot nudged against her ribs, ignoring her heartfelt demand. "...fine, be a spoilsport." She opened her eyes, looking blearily at the face of Shiori Aoba.

The Lunatic chuckled, extending her hand. "Took you long enough. Now...do you have any idea what the hell happened to us?"

"...hmm." She tried to think about it. For some reason, a lot her memories involved Pen-Pen. "...I'll have to get back to you on that." She took Aoba's hand, allowing herself to be pulled up. The Operations Director quickly began looking around, trying to take in the situation; Ritsuko was hovering over Maya and Miyata as they cataloged the locations of NERV and UN personnel alike. Hyuga was speaking calmly with the highest-ranking JSSDF officer, trying to get shut down any possibility of renewed hostilities. The rest of her subordinates were clustered close together, with the UN soldiers hovering near the periphery of the Command Deck. "So. Sitrep?"

"People are still waking up, we're all vaguely confused about how we were brought back, we've got some hazy memories of kicking major Angel ass, and I need a drink. That about sum it up?"

"Yes." Misato frowned, racking her brain; as much as she wanted to grab a beer and spend a day (or four) trying to figure out what had happened, it was time to keep a level head and keep the UN from restarting its attack. Glancing over her shoulder, the Lieutenant Colonel paused at the sight of something...unexpected. "Lieutenant Aoba?"

"Yeah?"

"...what exactly am I looking at?"

"Still haven't figured that one out. Is it a problem?"

"...I hope not." Misato stared quietly at the slumbering form of Toji Suzuhara; resting against his side was the diminutive form of Ai Suzuhara, wearing the same hospital garments that she had worn the day of her absorption into Unit-03. "I really want this to be a happy ending, and not just some trick."

"No kidding."

A faint grunt caught their attention; Misato looked up, watching as the Sub-Director rose from his position on the highest deck. "You okay, sir?"

Kozou Fuyutsuki grimaced. "...to be determined." The wizened man looked around, trying to gain his bearings. "We're...back?"

"Hopefully."

"...and we're currently not fighting with the UN?"

Misato glanced warily at Hyuga and his ongoing conversation with the enemy(?) officer, noting Hyuga's outstretched palms - an attempt at placation - and the JSSDF soldier's bewildered demeanor. "Right now? No."

Fuyutsuki nodded. "Let's keep it that way. Get me a line with the commanding officer of the Central Army."

xxxx

/Base of Mt. Mikuni, West of Lake Ashi, Hakone, Japan/

Kyoko Zeppelin Langley-Sohryu sat up, looking around at the odd indent she was sitting in, vaguely shaped like a giant humanoid. "...this seems uncomfortably familiar." She thought hard, finally recalling that this is where Unit-02 had fallen during the Eighteenth Angel's psychic assault on her daughter. "Ah. No wonder." She looked down at herself, looking at the long beige skirt, blue shirt, and white lab coat adorning her form. "...why do I have clothes?" I was nude when I was absorbed by Unit-02. "...come to think of it, how do I have clothes?"

"...Kyoko-chan?"

The redhead paused. That voice. Kyoko turned around, eyes widening at the sight of a friend she hadn't seen in person...for years. Yui Ikari – clad in the prototype Plug Suit she had worn during both of her Contact Experiments with Units-00 and 01, bulky and sharing a similar white and green color scheme to Asuka's original Plug Suit – was sitting on the slope of the pit. She had undone some of the bindings on the arms of her antiquated Plug Suit, allowing her hands to come free. The woman – a former head of Project E, and one of the greatest scientific minds of GEHIRN – was slowly rubbing her hands over her own face, looking somewhat enraptured by the whole affair. "...Yui-chan?" She idly noted crimson iris in her left eye, and the smattering of silver strands in her hair; was she whole? "Are…?

"...have you ever realized just how smooth our skin is?"

"...not exactly the first question I expected out of you."

"I've been trapped within an Evangelion for over a decade, and couldn't sense anything unless Shinji or Rei synchronized with me. I will indulge myself if I want."

"...fair enough." Kyoko felt the grass, marveling at how oddly intense the sensation was. The sky seemed so...clear, and blue, so unbelievably blue. "...you may have a point."

There were faint footsteps approaching, from beyond the Eva-shaped crater. The two turned, and saw four figures enter their field of vision. "...well. We have company."

Kyoko recognized only Shinji and her daughter by sight. The blunette seemed vaguely familiar from her memories of Project Nephilim...Rei Ayanami, if she recalled correctly. She had no particular memory of ever meeting the ashen-haired boy in person...however, she knew of Kaworu Nagisa, simply due to residual impressions from her daughter. And from when he had piloted Unit-02. And, of course, there was the whole bit where she was unified with all of humanity for the sake of fighting ADAM-

"MAMA!"

Kyoko blinked, watching as Asuka scrambled atop Kaworu, jumping off of his shoulders (and, she idly noted, Kaworu didn't budge at all). Her daughter fell into a diving roll, tumbling down the slope. Uncurling from the roll, Asuka actually leapt at her.

Kyoko sidestepped her charging daughter, letting Asuka crash into the ground, her limbs splayed outward.

"Mama!" The young girl spat out some grass, her tone bearing a trace of outrage. "You're supposed to let me hug you!"

"That would have been a tackle, not a hug."

"...fair enough." Asuka proceeded to tackle her anyway, driving them both to the ground. "MAMA!"

Well, I can't exactly fault her. Kyoko sighed with content, lightly rubbing her daughter's hair as the girl embraced her tightly. The older redhead watched idly as the other three Pilots slowly descended, Shinji and Rei approaching Yui warily, while Kaworu hung on the periphery. Shinji looked incredibly hesitant, whereas Rei looked mostly detached. "M...Mother...?"

Yui looked intently at her son, a sense of visible wonder on her face.

That's right, belatedly realized Kyoko. It's been over a decade since they've seen each other in person...

"Are...are you...?" trailed Shinji.

"...oh my goodness." Yui got to her feet, walking over towards Shinji. "You. Are. So. Big!" She rubbed at his hair and nuzzled his cheek, before turning towards the aloof Ayanami. "And you too, Rei-chan! You've gotten so tall!" Apparently deciding to indulge herself even further, Yui wrapped an arm each around Shinji and Rei, embracing them tightly. Shinji begin to look somewhat elated, whilst Rei appeared...surprised and confused in equal measure, as though she hadn't expected Yui to hug her too.

Kyoko smiled lightly, leaning back into the grass. The world would eventually catch up to them. But for now...this felt right.

"Mama...ich liebe dich..."

Kyoko smiled, feeling joyful tears staining her shirt. "Ich liebe dich, mein Kind..."

"...ah. I had forgotten that this entire area was on the verge of being overrun."

Kaworu Nagisa's idle comment prompted Kyoko to look up. "...that's...putting it mildly." Apparently, the world decided that now would be a good time to catch up with them.

Several fire teams of JSSDF soldiers peered over the lip of the impact crater, eyeing them with suspicion. Yui's arms relaxed, her excitement fading in the face of possible hostiles. Shinji looked around warily, while Rei's eyes narrowed with suspicion. Asuka – sensing the change in mood – protectively tightened her hold, looking vigilantly at the soldiers.

All told, it was a definite mood killer. Hmph. What's going to happen now?

One of the sergeants raised a hand to his radio, speaking into it. "General Sakamura, we've found four of the Eva Pilots and two unknown civilians. Orders?"

xxxx

/Sakamura's Field Office, Eastern Slopes of Mt. Fuji, Japan/

"Keep your eyes on them, don't let them escape your perimeter. If they resist or initiate any hostilities, kill them," answered Hiroki Sakamura.

"Yes sir!"

The General sighed, wearily rubbing his forehead. What a damn mess this is. After ADAM's resurrection and ascension, everything had gone...blurry. His memory of the most recent events was scrambled, hinting at something...unbelievable. However, by some act of Fate or Providence, they were still alive; ADAM was nowhere to be found, and neither were the Evangelions. A few of his subordinates had yet to awaken; those who had exhibited the same sense of jumbled memory and chaos. Bottom line: he needed answers, and he needed them now.

"Sir! One of our units inside NERV has Ikari's second-in-command on the line!"

Sakamura wasted no time grabbing the transceiver, bringing the handset up towards his lips. "Am I speaking to Sub-Director Kozou Fuyutsuki?"

"Yes."

Sakamura frowned. "Given our current circumstances, you'll have to forgive me if I sound somewhat short...but what the hell happened, and why shouldn't I order my men to resume our offensive?" He needed to leverage his numerical advantage while he had the chance; who knows what else the First Branch had hidden within its depths-

"That's precisely why I wished to speak with you. I have no interest in prolonging this conflict."

"Talk is very cheap, Fuyutsuki-san."

"Indeed. Which is why I'm offering you an unconditional surrender on behalf of myself and NERV."

Now that was more like it. "...very well. Here's how it's going to go."

"I'm listening."

xxxx

/April 29, 2027/

/Ikari Residence, Yonaguni Island/

"And then the UN proceeded to take control of the Geofront," said Mari, segueing into history that practically everyone knew. "Gotta say, it almost seems...depressingly anticlimactic."

"Although the Old Men were no longer...a factor, their vast network of agents and representatives still existed. Given the information that we had leaked prior to the invasion, the continued existence of SEELE represented a subversive influence that the governments of the world could no longer tolerate," said Gendo. After all, even though they had been part of the human aggregate in the fight against ADAM, who was to say that their overall aims were unchanged? Having a taste of the potential of Instrumentality, what was to stop them from trying again...or so the argument had gone. Besides, it's not like sovereign nations needed an excuse to root out the servants of a massive conspiracy...even though revelations of who turned out to be an agent had its own ramifications. But that was another story. "And more importantly...mankind needed a sense of closure if we were to move forward into the future."

"I know. It still sucked." Mari's cheeks puffed up, exhibiting as much mock indignation as she could muster. "It was months until I got to see 'Ska again..." Her gaze trailed over towards one of the nearby bookshelves, noting some of the newer titles. "Ooh, you've certainly gotten quite a collection going."

"Our son brings in books whenever he visits," said Yui, idly fiddling with her husband's hands and fingers. "We have...quite the burgeoning collection of literature involving the aftermath of Third Impact."

"No kidding." Mari grabbed a random title – Into Darkness: The Invasion of Tokyo-3 by Hizuki Nakagawa – and opened towards a dog-eared page near the back.

xx

Although word had been sent that NERV had unconditionally surrendered, [Sergeant Yusuke] Hirano and his squad were still moving through the base with trepidation. Their original platoon had been among those who had fought Section 2's most elite agents, handpicked by the First Branch's Operations Director herself. Despite the mutual confusion and short-term amnesia that they all shared regarding Third Impact, there was no sense in leaving the First Branch unsecured. "I honestly was one hundred percent done with NERV," admitted Hirano during our interview. "Their defensive strategy and tactics will probably serve as the basis for a new book on urban warfare, but I didn't much appreciate it at the time, and neither did my men. I mean, if you remembered getting eviscerated by some Russian's gigantic minigun, would you be relaxed?" Hirano's sentiments were shared by the rest of his squad.

Compared to the pitched battle prior to Third Impact, the clean-up operation was uneventful and boring. This changed rather dramatically when, upon calling an elevator to move to a lower level, they came face-to-face with Gendo Ikari. "Like running into the devil himself. I think it was [Corporal Shinta] Uramaeshi who always made jokes about what kind of superweapon [Gendo] Ikari was hiding behind those orange glasses of his. When those doors opened and that damned maniac was just standing there, all quiet like a statue, [those jokes] didn't seem so funny."

Regardless, they still had a duty to uphold, and Hirano informed Supreme Commander Ikari about NERV's unconditional surrender. Instead of resisting (as Hirano privately hoped for, he would later recall), Ikari calmly acquiesced, commenting that [Sub-Director Kozou] Fuyutsuki knew more about the current situation than he did. It was a course of action that apparently surprised Hirano's soldiers, as Ikari then allegedly said, "Oh believe me, I don't like this outcome one bit. But I've already waited for over a decade with nothing more than mad, desperate hope. A little longer won't make any difference." Having said his piece, Ikari held his hands forward to be restrained.

"Having met the man myself, I understand why [NERV] fought so hard during the invasion, and why so many people defended him during the [JSSDF Military Tribunal against Gendo and Yui Ikari for Crimes against the Nation and Humanity]. I don't want to admit it, but I understand." Hirano declined to elaborate on this statement.

xx

Mari scoffed, putting the book back on the shelf. "Well, someone likes to go on an ego trip. 'Man, I'm feeling down on myself...I know, I'll relive the moment where someone recounted how badass I was!'."

"Your mockery needs work," dryly said Gendo. "It lacks pizazz."

"I'm a journalist, give it time."

"If you say so," Gendo rose to his feet. "I believe we need to begin preparing the meal." He looked down, lightly tugging the arm that Yui held. "Shall we, Yui?"

"Only if I get to handle the spices."

"You always handle the spices."

"I'm simply reiterating the terms."

"By this point, it's a mere formality."

Mari watched the husband and wife depart for the kitchen, her lips quirked into an odd little smile. Well, they seem to be getting along. And Yui-san is as much a hedonist as ever. Well, that was being less than charitable; the woman simply had a zeal for sensory experiences following her freedom from Eva. And if that's the case, well...hoo hoo. Rather naughty scenarios danced through her mind as she grabbed another book, deciding to occupy her time until dinner was ready. Next on the list was Nuremberg of the New Millennium: The 2016-2018 Tribunals against NERV by Simon Liebowitz.

xx

The stage was finally set. For practical, logistical, and dramatic reasons, newly-constructed facilities in the vicinity of Tokyo-3 would serve as the site of the trials. Extensive deliberation had led to the indictment of certain individuals for crimes against peace and humanity, or for being accessories to said crimes: Gendo Ikari, Yui ikari, Kyoko Zeppelin Langley-Sohryu, Naoko Akagi, Kozou Fuyutsuki, Misato Katsuragi, Ritsuko Akagi, Ryoji Kaji, and Shiro Tokita. All information gathered to this point indicated that others within NERV were either too separated from the SEELE conspiracy (which itself was the subject of an ongoing tribunal in Berlin-2; for further reading, I suggest The World v. SEELE: An Eyewitness's Guide to the Trial of the Century by Arnold Steyn, and Great Geopolitical Upheavals: SEELE and the Instrumentality Committee by Sarah Locklear), or were sufficiently lacking in influence. Of course, there were numerous individuals who would be called to provide eyewitness accounts or character testimonies, not the least of which were the Evangelion Pilots themselves.

There was no small controversy in not indicting the Evangelion Pilots, despite their distinct status as minors. However, a thorough review of the data leaked by Gendo Ikari prior to the invasion of Tokyo-3 indicated that doing so would be a waste of time and resources. This also applied to Nagisa, even when taking into account his former status as the Angel Tabris. "We concluded fairly early on that [Shinji Ikari], Asuka Sohryu, and [Toji] Suzuhara wouldn't be indicted. We eventually came to the same conclusion regarding Rei Ayanami; despite her extensive association with NERV, the laws regarding nephilim at the time were clear regarding their lack of agency. Nagisa was...a different matter, due to his old connection with the First Angel," admitted Masashi Ishida, the interim Minister of Justice following his predecessor's outing as both a member of the Angelic Acolytes and SEELE. "Although an argument could be made for indicting the Fourth Child based on his interactions with Keel Lorenz and his knowledge of SEELE's overall goals, not to mention the part he played in the Angel War, his circumstances were eventually deemed...sufficiently extenuating." When asked to elaborate on what he meant by 'extenuating', Ishida added, "If you ever talked to him, you'd understand. Trying to indict him would have been like kicking a puppy. At least, that's how [Attorney Shigeru] Naga described it."

xx

Mari chuckled; 'puppy' might have been a mild description when it came to her brother-in-law. Maybe I should start calling him puppy-kun. She skipped ahead, flipping through another chunk of the book.

xx

"I don't know why anyone expected anything different," Kozou Fuyutsuki would later recall. "The man was, at one time, more than willing to potentially trigger an Impact Event of his own if it meant getting his wife back. Whoever decided to keep him and Yui separate prior to the start of the trials was, to put it mildly, an idiot." It was blunt language, but certainly fitting in light of Gendo Ikari's extreme reaction on the first day of the trials. Surveillance footage detailed the sequence of events perfectly; each individual under indictment was brought in separately, to prevent potential collusion. Yui Ikari was already in the courtroom when Gendo was escorted in by military police. The subsequent events were rather unexpected, as Gendo practically tossed men aside to get to his wife, who was already leaping out of the defendants' enclosure. This led to the now infamous photo (see insert on this page) of the Ikaris embracing and kissing each other in the tribunal courtroom, with Gendo in the process of falling backwards due to Yui's momentum.

"I honestly thought they were going to make a baby right then and there," admitted Misato Katsuragi with some humor (in the aforementioned photo, she can be seen laughing uproariously at the entire chain of events, with her fellow defendants appearing in various shades of shock and amusement). "It took six guys to pull them away from each other! Given how crappy that whole farce was up to that point, it certainly made my day." Subsequent interviews with others involved in the tribunal indicated that this moment set the tone, as the public perception of Gendo as a relatively unhinged madman was still widespread. That display of raw and spontaneous affection, more than anything else, paved the way for the eventual conclusion.

xx

Mari cackled. Now that she was beginning to remember her old history courses on Post-Third Impact events, the overall outcomes of the entire trial were coming to mind; Shiro and Misato had been unequivocally found not guilty. Ritsuko had been more aware of Gendo's Plan, and had possessed greater knowledge of SEELE and the Instrumentality Project, but her general mental condition rendered an actual judgment somewhat impossible by reason of insanity. Mari quickly skimmed ahead, trying to find the relevant section...ah, right there.

xx

In summary, the testimony of Ritsuko Akagi, despite the relatively glowing assessments provided by her subordinates and coworkers, couldn't truly be used to determine her guilt or lack thereof; her random outbursts at inopportune times, despite bringing proceedings to a halt more often than not, held a deranged timelessness according to those present. Ultimately, she was judged unfit to stand trial, and was ordered to attend psychiatric therapy, in spite of her ardent insistence that it would be a waste of time. As a postscript, it's somewhat telling that her psychiatric profiles from Dr. Yoshitake Kono and Dr. Mako Okura, obtained during and after the trial respectively, both ended in the same line, with no differences in punctuation: "WHAT. THE. HELL."

xx

That sounds about right, thought Mari with a mild frown. Unfortunately, she hadn't ever interacted with Ritsuko much, even during the Angel War. Still, it was pretty much a 'not guilty' verdict.

Her mother and Ritsuko's mother had been judged more harshly, having been more intimately involved with Project E and SEELE. Kyoko's particular circumstance – becoming bound to Unit-02 by the command of Keel Lorenz – had garnered more sympathy than Naoko's, given that her time as a MAGI was largely of her own making. However, their work with Project E and Project Nephilim had been largely above the board, so they had also been declared not guilty of crimes against peace and humanity. Some of Naoko's clandestine activities as HEROD had garnered scrutiny, however, and she had been tried separately in a lower court on several counts of cyber espionage; if Mari recalled correctly, her legal representation had managed to get her off proverbially scot-free by arguing that Naoko had been under duress for the entirety of her time as a MAGI unit. Hey, if it works, it works. Sometimes, 'a shitty situation was a shitty situation' (as she had heard Ai's brother describe some of their more nasty assignments), and prison time wouldn't really accomplish anything else.

Ryoji Kaji had been interesting in an entirely different way. Again, he had been declared not guilty of crimes against peace and humanity...but he had been subsequently charged with so many counts of espionage against companies and governments that determining the proper jurisdiction had actually been a problem. Unlike the others, he had been convicted; however, he had ultimately pulled a Frank Abagnale and – after serving time in a maximum security prison from 2018 to 2022 – had his sentence commuted in exchange for working with the Public Security Intelligence Agency of Japan. Not that this is well known to the public. Sometimes, there were benefits to being friends with the Commander of WILLE.

Kozou Fuyutsuki had also been declared not guilty; his entire time in the tribunal had been marked by normalcy and good decorum. Again, despite knowledge of SEELE's Scenario and of Gendo's Plan, he had never acted to actively advance either conspiracy. Fuyutsuki's main role had been to provide the airs of legitimacy and orderliness to the affairs of GEHIRN and then NERV, to serve as the avatar of reason to counter Gendo Ikari's notoriety.

Mari looked down at a particular page, and smiled at the sight of one of her sister's many testimonies...or, to be more accurate, the reactions to them.

xx

"Every single time she got called to the stand to testify, I got more and more dismayed," admitted General Sakamura. As the months had crawled by and the trials continued on, he had begun to dread whenever the Second Child was called to serve as a character witness. "She would launch into a big speech about love and friendship and the overall decency of the defendant in question. Every. Single. Time." Sakamura's enunciation was quite clear on that last point. "I would call her a fool if she didn't have an IQ of 163. As it is, I can't help but wonder if she legitimately believed everything that came out of her mouth."

Sakamura's distaste was shared by some of the more cynical members of the tribunal, but Sohryu's cheerful demeanor was seen as one of the tribunal's bright spots by others, one that made the extensive procedure more bearable (in the interests of fair play, I must disclose that I wrote an opinion-editorial for the New York Times in June 2017 titled "This Bright Ray of Sunshine Must Be Protected", covering Sohryu's various testimonies up to that point and lauding her dogged idealism. I still stand by my opinion covered therein).

xx

Not a surprise at all, thought Mari with a haughty grin. My sister is the best.

However, there would no escape for the final two: the Ikaris, Gendo and Yui. They had both been involved with SEELE. Even though they had ultimately rebelled, their actions had been the catalyst for Second Impact. The data leaked by the Supreme Commander prior to Third Impact had detailed the various illegal activities the two had engaged in – and then just Gendo following the Contact Experiment – to blunt SEELE's works. The need to reveal nephilim to the public had been so emphasized by Gendo that SEELE had instigated the Central American Wars. Numerous charges of manipulation of public records, of espionage, of high treason...despite the Supreme Commander's personal popularity, it had been inconceivable that he and his wife would receive anything less than life imprisonment, or outright execution.

Then, during the final deliberations, Gendo had been asked to take the stand for one final testimony.

Mari turned towards the penultimate chapter.

xx

"I told them, I told them, I told them!" Attorney Yuichi Soga apologized for ranting at this point, but he confided that this particular phase of the trials always irked him. "Never allow a bullshit artist time to talk! I told them!" His words seem prophetic in hindsight, if perhaps uncharitable; however, it could not be denied that Gendo Ikari's hour-long testimony in the final days of the tribunal effectively communicated the duress he and his wife had been operating under, thanks to the overarching threat of SEELE. Although somewhat unapologetic about their actions, he humbly accepted that there would be consequences regardless.

Finally, the verdict was handed down on August 21st, 2018: not death, nor life in prison, but rather exile for life, in the manner of Napoleon Bonaparte. For such a larger-than-life figure who seemed to direct global events with effortless ease, it seemed appropriate.

xxxx

Mari placed the book back on the shelf with a forlorn smile, looking briefly around the room. Seems kind of like a bum deal, to be stuck here for life. Not that she didn't understand or appreciate why the exile had been done; the Ikaris' actions had gotten a lot of people killed, even if it had been unintended consequences of their fight against SEELE. If someone could get convicted for manslaughter, then the Ikaris could certainly get convicted for Second Impact. At least it's not like they were always alone. For obvious reasons; Mari glanced over her shoulder, staring warily at the hall. "...hmm." She had no idea where the sudden paranoia had come from; it's not like they were around. They're still visiting Kozou Fuyutsuki on the mainland. Shrugging, she turned back towards the bookshelf, grabbing a rather familiar tome: Catacombs of Instrumentality: The Subjugation of SEELE by Karl Beckmann.

xx

The first sign that Inspector Adrien Rehder knew something was awry was when he opened the tram car and saw blood. "Complications were always unwelcome, even if they did make for more exciting stories."

Rehder and his fellow agents with Interpol were coordinating the international crackdown on SEELE, in conjunction with national investigative bodies and local police authorities as needed. Keel Lorenz's estatehad already been turned inside-out in the weeks following Third Impact; the discovery of a tram system leading deep underground had warranted extra firepower in case of unexpected resistance, as SEELE's own followers had already proven themselves unwilling to negotiate. "Those types are always the worst," Rehder would elaborate. "Convinced of the unassailable rightness of their cause, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. The events of Third Impact only gave them a taste of godhood; even though SEELE's Council were never seen again after Third Impact, they had plenty of zealots waiting in the wings to continue their crusade." Lofty rhetoric aside, the remnants of SEELE often acted with religious fervor more appropriate for an Angelic cult than a shadowy cabal that manipulated world affairs for decades, hence why further backup from the Bundespolizei (BPOL. the German Federal Police) was requested. In response, two squads from GSG 9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9 der Bundespolizei, the counter-terrorist arm of the Federal Police) were deployed.

May 1, 2016 was when the tram system had been initially discovered. When the GSG 9 operators arrived two days later, the tram system was accessed, only to reveal the bloodstained car. "The [GSG 9 operators] didn't take kindly at being beaten to the punch." Nonetheless, Rehder and two subordinates from Interpol accompanied him and the special forces units as they descended underground. When they entered the subterranean facility (which they would later learn was called the Ark), sterile carnage awaited them. "I was impressed at the clinical precision," distantly recalled Inspector Rehder; the corpses of Keel Lorenz's security personnel bore one or two bullet holes, or single slash marks along vulnerable arteries. "Someone with a grudge had torn through the entire facility, yet had acted with absolute professionalism. I would've been more impressed if I hadn't been so damn frightened." Of greater concern was the fact that the security guards had been killed within the past twenty-four hours judging by their state of decomposition and the freshness of the blood; the implications - that someone had accessed the tram car without their knowledge, despite the entire estate being under careful watch by German police and Interpol - were unsettling.

After what seemed like hours of moving past dead bodies, they finally found SEELE agents amongst the living; in a large hangar, fifteen technicians and scientists had been bounded and gagged, rendered unconscious from some sort of sedative. "I would've considered it a gift from a good Samaritan if I hadn't seen the calling card." Namely, a single card wedged in the bushy mustache of [Dr. Albert Wilhelm], bearing the image of a canine's head on one side, and the letter 'J' on the other. "In all my years, I never thought I'd be in the same city as the Jackal, let alone the same building." Despite Rehder's discomfort, the GSG 9 operators swiftly spread out and searched for the wanted mercenary. Following Pieter Langley's public outing as the Jackal, and his subsequent disappearance from Lorenz Memorial Hospital following Third Impact, Interpol had quietly dreaded the possibility that the legendary assassin would act on behalf of his erstwhile employer. "[The realization] that he was directing his anger at SEELE was welcome on one hand...but on the other, it meant that he was taking justice into his own hands. The world had seen enough of unelected provocateurs deciding the fate of peoples and nations."

Eventually, a hidden elevator was discovered that led directly to what public schematics designated as the lowest level of NERV's Second Branch. "Naturally, there was no security footage showing Pieter Langley using that elevator." Despite making Rehder's job somewhat easier with investigating SEELE, he was not looking forward to filing his report. "I mean, would you want to be the bearer of bad news to [Superintendent Koichi] Zenigata? Because trust me, you do not want to get Pops angry," asserted Rehder, using the nickname that-

xx

"INAZUMAAAA KIIIIICK!"

Mari yelped in sudden pain as a petite heel smashed into her torso, knocking her into the couch and over the armrest.

"Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh! I think you killed her! Mom and Dad are gonna ground you, and then you won't be able to kick anymore!" exclaimed a bubbly, energetic voice.

"Nonsense! There's no way my eternal rival would be killed by something so weak! I still haven't reached my potential!" retorted Mari's assailant, her voice loud and boisterous.

Oh. Great. They're back early, thought Mari, her eyebrow twitching. Her mortal enemies...

"I have to say sis, your form was poor," said a sly, boyish voice. "I give it a six, maybe a seven."

...the Triplets. Mari groggily sat up, giving the stink-eye to the three seven-year-olds. "Hi, brats."

Her assailant - a girl with neck-length auburn hair, bangs held out of her brown eyes by a light blue headband, clad in a white tunic with a pink leotard - sniffed. "That's not my name, eternal rival! It's 'Kick-chan'!"

The lone boy - wearing khaki shorts and a shirt with pink and blue horizontal stripes, brown hair fashioned in a short style with a ponytail - readjusted his orange sunglasses, way too big for his head, but an obvious imitation of his father. "You know she doesn't use her normal nicknames when we upset her."

The other girl - clad in a white shirt and blue skirt combo, her light brown hair arranged in a bowl cut, and with wide amber eyes - impulsively crossed her hands above her head, babbling, "B-but if our nicknames are different, maybe our names are different! Maybe we're different!" She quickly fell to her knees, bowing profusely and repetitively. "Please forgive us, Mari-sama! We don't want to change!"

The twenty-year-old grimaced, staring idly at the three fraternal triplets Noriko, Kamon, and Mako Ikari. Or, as she preferred to call them, Kick-chan (for obvious reasons), Glasses-kun (also for obvious reasons), and Cheddar-chan (for...not so obvious reasons, but that was another story altogether). But right now, they were just brats. "Look, kicking someone when they're reading a book is generally bad manners."

Noriko paused, as though realizing she may have miscalculated. "Uh...but...you always told me it was important to test your reflexes! To make sure you could react in an instant! I may have saved your life in the future!"

Mari grimaced. Darn it, I hate it when they use my words against me. Then again, the trio tended to remind her of halcyon times with Ai Suzuhara and Nozomi Horaki, so they already had easy access to her good side. "...eh, I did say that, didn't I?" Readjusting her glasses, Mari looked knowingly at them. "I thought you were still visiting Fuyutsuki."

"Sensei brought us back early! We wouldn't miss our dad's birthday!" exclaimed Kamon. "Besides, big brother's supposed to be coming too!"

"And there's no way we were going to miss Onii-sama!" proclaimed Noriko, pumping her fists.

"That's right!" chimed Mako. "Because if we missed him, then he would miss us! And if we kept missing each other, we would never find each other, and we would be lost! Maybe forever!"

...gah, I can't stay mad at these kids. They were just too much fun.

"CHILDREN!"

Mari, by virtue of experience, wisely stepped away as Gendo came flying down the hall, performing a flying body slam. The Triplets scattered, avoiding their father as he caught himself before landing, staring grimly at them. Rising, he snappily said, "Report!"

The trio scrambled back towards the front door, a cloud of carefully-controlled chaos as they brought back in their bounty from outside. Mako held up two fistfuls of shallots, the bulbs still caked with soil. "I got food!"

"Excellent."

Kamon held up a rather old book, with a dusty blue hardback cover. "I found a history book that wasn't already part of our collection!"

"Also excellent."

Noriko held the beheaded body of a five-foot snake above her head. "I got a pit viper!"

Gendo glanced towards Kamon. "Did she use proper form?"

The young boy nodded nervously, readjusting his glasses. "Yes sir: a sidestep when it ambushed us, then two strikes with the machete."

"Good." He looked back towards Noriko, booming, "Most excellent." He promptly wrapped his children up in a massive bear hug, ignoring the fact that he was getting dirt and trimeresurus flavoviridis blood on his tank top. "Well done."

The trio beamed at their father's praise.

Mari impulsively grinned; the story of the Triplets' childhood was going to make for a bestseller one day. Ah, the joys of insider access.

Yui Ikari calmly walked into the living room, her red eye twinkling rather merrily at the mayhem. "Well, the stew is just waiting to cook...are our little explorers back?"

"Mom!" cheered the Triplets, leaping up at Yui. With a seamless quirk of her arms, the woman wrested Kamon atop her shoulders; she held Mako in her left arm and Noriko in her right, and didn't appear to struggle at all. While Gendo left to store the snake corpse and shallots properly, Yui sat down on the sofa opposite of Mari, nestled amidst her gaggle of children.

Mari resisted the urge to melt at the sight. "So. You two have managed to make the kid thing work."

"Being in a biological stasis didn't hurt," admitted Yui; physiologically, she had emerged after Third Impact at the same age she had been when she had been absorbed by Unit-01, a relatively youthful twenty-seven. The age gap between the husband and wife was now over two decades, but the former made up for it with personality and a zeal for life, despite their exile. "The visits by family and friends have also helped."

"No kidding," admitted Mari, thinking back to all of the ways that her sister, the rest of the Pilot Corps, and Yui's family members had engineered to try and sneak supplies onto Yonaguni. The fact that the military hadn't discovered the existence of the Triplets until last year was a testament to their ingenuity. "I have to say, you all have a lot of guts, making the most of things the way you have. I like to think that I live to my fullest...but sometimes I wonder if I really do."

"I suppose you're the only one who can decide that," said Yui, her daughters sprawling across the coach, while Kamon fiddled with the strands of silver in her hair. "That's the beauty of this world: you have a chance to make the best of whatever circumstances you find yourself in, regardless of how harsh."

"Better than the world of Instrumentality?"

Yui grinned, looking pointedly at her three youngest children. "Do I have to elaborate?"

"I guess not," said Mari, leaning back on the couch. She felt an odd lump beneath the nearest pillow; moving it, she saw two other texts that someone had recently been reading. "Ooh." She briefly glanced at the titles: The New Metaphysical Frontier: Sapience and Ethical Issues in a Post-Third Impact World, and How to Address Them by Kozou Fuyutsuki, and A Vision of Joy: An Autobiography by Kaworu Langley-Sohryu. "I didn't know these were released yet."

"Sensei sent me an advance copy of his work, and Kyoko-chan sent me her copy of the final manuscript. They've been quite interesting."

Mari flipped through the pages of Fuyutsuki's work - briefly noting various sketches and observations etched in black ink - before arriving at the first page without any marks. One particular paragraph caught her eye.

xx

It was a distinct surprise when I learned that the First and Second Children were both pregnant, courtesy of their respective husbands the Third and Fourth Children. For those not aware, my surprise was due to the fact that the First and Fourth Children, being nephilim, were supposed to be sterile by design. Not that I wasn't happy, far from it; but it stood to question why this had happened. Naturally, I was not the only one; Naoko Akagi, following her appointment as Japan's representative on the Human Advancement Committee (a retooled Instrumentality Committee, given that the term was now spoken of colloquially as the 'I-word'), launched an inquiry with the various nephilim regulatory agencies that existed at the time. It only took a couple of weeks for a conclusion to be reached: after Third Impact, all nephilim were now fecund.

I wonder how much money that Ritsuko Akagi would have paid to see her mother's reaction. I have it on good authority that it was quite vitriolic, but I can understand why; the Committee was working quite strenuously at the time towards a solution to the issue of Spiritual Matrix Formation and Reconfiguration (which I will cover in Chapter 8: The Problem of Non-Human Sapience, and the Looming Issue of Congolese Regression), and this new development was a rather unwelcome one. However, we must deal with the hand we are dealt. What are the implications of human and nephilim intermixing? What are the ethical and moral ramifications of nephilim being treated legally as property? Given the cell cultures of ADAM and LILITH that still exist in both government and non-government hands, should more nephilim be created artificially? These questions and more are ones that I will endeavor to elaborate on, along with potential solutions.

xx

"He's got a very personal writing style," commented Mari.

"It's his way of distancing himself from academic papers," said Yui. "I like it."

"It's an interesting point though, regarding the future of nephilim. Or heck, regarding the future of the apes." With the threat of extinction now a memory, and mankind turning its eyes towards the cosmos and the deepest oceans, it was now a lingering question: how would non-human sapients fare? "What do you think will happen?"

"That, Mari-chan, is a question that won't be answered by just you or me...but by everyone."

xxxx

/JDS Saitō, UN Pacific Fleet TF-18, Two Miles out from Yonaguni Island, Okinawa Prefecture/

Lieutenant Kazuya Makinami watched warily as the Mitsubishi H-60 helicopter slowly set down upon the deck of the Saitō. 'Warily', because according to the day's itinerary, four very special visitors were onboard that helicopter. As if this day couldn't get more stressful. The side hatch opened, and out stepped a blue-haired woman in a JGSDF dress uniform, the black cloth flawlessly ironed and adorned with various ribbons. Of particular note was the rank on her insignia: three stars above two bars.

Colonel Rei Ikari saluted sharply. "Permission to come aboard."

xxxx

/Ikari Residence, Yonaguni Island/

Mari glanced at the other manuscript, wondering what exactly Kaworu's 'joyful vision' constituted. "...my dear brother-in-law hasn't exhibited any megalomaniacal tendencies since becoming Chairman of the Human Advancement Committee, has he?"

"...given my current circumstances, you would have a far better idea than I do, Mari-chan."

"Oh. Yeah." Mari chuckled anxiously. "Let me be a bit more clear; from what you've read of this so far, has he shown anything...problematic?"

Yui's smile was light; her three children had collapsed into a pile atop her, conforming to each other like sleepy little human-shaped kittens. "Well, Shinji is the one who wrote the foreword. Maybe that will provide some answers."

"Ah, Housewife-kun?" Mari grinned; compared to Rei's continued rise through the military ranks, her sister's globetrotting ways, and puppy-kun's greater involvement with metaphysical ethics via the Human Advancement Committee, Shinji Ikari had settled for a rather domestic lifestyle. That he had bothered to write a foreword was surprising. "Well, this'll be interesting." She flipped towards the foreword and began reading.

xx

I was actually shocked when Kaworu asked me to write an introduction to his book. Honestly, there are people a lot more interesting than I am. He then asked why I didn't believe in myself, as though that had anything to do with it. Sure, I believe in myself. But I believe that there are people who are simply better. I'm not much of a writer, after all.

I'm a guy who doesn't try to complicate things. I try to be honest about who I am and what I enjoy. If I'm being perfectly sincere, I find it easier to go with the flow, even if the flow seems difficult. As a child, I learned how to play the cello because I was in a music club...and for no other reason, really. I went through all of the hardships and trials of being an Eva Pilot because I made a promise. I married Rei Ayanami because I love her. Simple, right? I feel like I'm rambling now. Well, it's not like this will be the final draft. No way Kaworu would just accept anything.

If you're reading this, you're probably curious about my thoughts of Kaworu's vision of the future, about how he wants to help us forge a new path. I don't think I'm qualified to do any of that, really; I'm just a guy who likes being a cook, a husband, and a father. So I'll just tell you about Kaworu Nagisa...well, Kaworu Langley-Sohryu, I should say. I'll start there.

Kaworu didn't have a strong attachment to his own name; it was just something that he felt was proper. Langley-Sohryu had history, depth...and meaning. I know Asuka tried to persuade him otherwise, but he insisted on taking her name. It was all very in-character for him; he's always been fascinated by us, you know? Humans. Humanity. Our civilization.

I know people still have reservations about him, especially given his former life as Tabris, and his former ties with Keel Lorenz. You would think I would have the greatest reservations of all, being a former enemy. However, I think that's part of the reason why I get along with him.

Because I understand him. I get him.

He looks at the world Post-Third Impact, and sees potential. Having been an Angel, he understands more than most exactly what we're capable of. That's why, after the tribunals, and NERV was reorganized into WILLE, he helped them understand how to more easily decipher the information within the Black Moon. It's why he chose to step into the public spotlight and become the Chairman of the Human Advancement Committee, despite harsh public criticism. It's why he's discouraged the fanaticism of the old Angel cults, and has tried to direct their passions towards outer space. It's why he works tirelessly to promote a new understanding of fundamental rights: namely, rights that are shared by all sapients, which naturally includes nephilim and apes. There's a reason why the Congolese Federation is one of his most ardent supporters, after all.

As I write this, we've had lunar colonies established for three years. Good friends of mine have just recently established the very first colony on Mars. None of this would have been possible without the proliferation of the technology developed for Evangelion. Kaworu has done nothing but encourage this, because he wants everyone to be able to aim for the stars if they desire. It all seems so big and so grand, like something out of a story. However, I'm glad that there are people like Kaworu who want to help everyone with big dreams. The tomorrow that he envisions seems like a pretty neat place.

As for me? I'm just a stay-at-home dad who teaches on the side, trying to raise his kids to be good people. But if Kaworu ever asked for my help, then I would give him whatever meager scrap of talent I could spare.

Why? Because he's my friend.

And maybe, by the time you're done reading this, you'll see why.

Just don't run away. Face his words honestly. Even if you ultimately disagree, at least you'll understand.

-Shinji Ikari, a simple man

xx

"...huh." Mari was honestly surprised. "That was...pretty good, actually." The bespectacled girl looked up from the manuscript. "Does Housewife-kun know that a lot of people would be interested in some kind of memoir?"

"Yes. He doesn't really see the point of it right now."

"Seriously?"

"I broached the subject during his last visit; he said he's too young for the memoir to actually have any importance."

"That's stupid. His wife has a book, for crying out loud." Granted, it was about nephilim issues in general and didn't really focus on Rei's own life, but still!

"And he would tell you quite sincerely that his wife is more interesting than him."

Mari huffed, crossing her arms out of irritation. "Mah, humble people are annoying."

"They do tend to be less outwardly interesting." Gendo Ikari walked back into the living room, having changed into a maroon shirt and a pair of weathered jeans. He took a seat beside his wife, allowing the Triplets to sprawl over onto him as well. "But my son was never one for ostentatious displays or outward bragging. The size of his savings and brokerage accounts should be a reflection of that."

"Pfft. Lame." Following the conclusion of the tribunals in 2018, Housewife-kun had elected to deposit the majority of his Pilot's salary - something that Ai's brother still gave him guff about, for what it was worth - into investments. Sure, the rate of return had been decent, but it was so boring!

"Tomoe lauded his decision," chimed in Yui.

"Of course he would," commented Gendo. "He's a fan of sensible living."

Mari flopped back on the sofa, her thoughts ambling about in various directions simultaneously. All told, the entire interview and subsequent recollection of the Angel War's conclusion had made her think a bit more heavily about...well, life. Living. What it meant to live, instead of merely exist. Her blue eyes casually observed the Ikaris, and briefly wondered how her parents were doing. Sure, Papa had managed to successfully fake the death of the Jackal-slash-Pieter Langley along with fabricating a new identity (a stunt that, years later, still got her to giggle at how brazen it had been), but the possibility of being discovered, of being caught...sometimes she wondered how Papa and her mother were able to act so casually about it. Add in the changes, and the advancements, and the uncertainty with how history was being rewritten thanks to ADAM and LILITH's records...it was a lot to process. "...do you ever get scared? About the future, about where we're going?"

Gendo chuckled. "Fear was always a persistent companion, especially during my time as the Supreme Commander of NERV...but fear is simply a reminder to weigh the risks, and make the best decision possible."

"I can see why people might be scared," admitted Yui, lightly brushing her fingers through the hair of Noriko and Mako. "I understand, given how vast the changes are..."

xxxx

/JDS Saitō, UN Pacific Fleet TF-18, Two Miles out from Yonaguni Island, Okinawa Prefecture/

Lieutenant Kazuya Makinami watched quietly as the Exiles' latest visitors departed in a large motorboat, their hair fluttering in the wind. "...so many different hair colors."

"What, you got a problem?" asked Lieutenant Sakura Shikinami.

"No. It's just...strange."

"Welcome to the future, buddy."

"The future's weird."

"I don't know, I thought the kids still looked like kids."

Makinami rolled his eyes. "Smart aleck."

xxxx

"...but the changes are here, regardless."

xxxx

/Ricky's Tavern, New Vegas, Nevada, United States/

Ai Suzuhara groaned out of exasperation. "Seriously Nozomi-chan, it's frickin' late. Can't we head back to the hotel?"

"Eh?" Nozomi Horaki turned around; the quick spin caused her long ponytail to slap herself in the face. "But we can still get more info!"

"We've already interviewed over a dozen people involved with the Metaphysics Research Lab here, we've wined and dined a bunch of smart idiots, and we have a flight to the Onyx Highlands facility in seven hours."

(Tell me why, the reason I am here...)

"...but...Donald's been our best interview today!"

Donald - an orangutan wearing a T-shirt bearing a diagram of the solar system - sighed. "It's all fine and good. Talking about my experiences at the lab has been quite invigorating. Besides..."

(Just only you I see from far away...)

"...I think your bodyguard is quite bored."

Said bodyguard being one Toji Suzuhara, who was surrounded by a bunch of unconscious drunks that had taken issue with him for some reason. The last of their ilk was ineffectually punching Toji in the stomach, who didn't react at all.

(...I've come for you...)

Probably because he was busy talking on his phone. "Don't worry babe, I've got energy to burn. I'll make sure our sisters get back to the hotel just fine. S'kinda my job description, you know?" The pseudo-nephilim stepped aside, letting the drunkard stumble forward due to momentum. With a meaty smack, he fell face first onto the floor. "That? Just some guys being rowdy on the other side of the bar...yeah, I'm staying out of it. You know how Americans are."

(Don't know why...I searched all night and day...)

Toji chuckled. "I'll be okay Hikari. Tell the kids to be good for their mom. Yeah...yeah. I love you too, babe." The elder Suzuhara turned towards his charges, his red eyes and white-striped hair standing out in the dim tavern. "Okay kids, we need to wrap it up! It's late!"

Ai resisted the urge to pull her shoulder-length black hair out by the roots. Instead, she facepalmed. "Mari-chan's gonna kill us when she sees our expense report..."

(But when I'm here, darkness came...!)

xxxx

"But I think it's up to everyone to determine whether those changes will be for good or ill. Don't you think?" asked Yui.

xxxx

/Edward's Morning Cafe, Berlin-2, Germany/

(No lights to show the way...)

Even now, Kyoko Zeppelin Langley-Sohryu found it hard not to giggle whenever her 'second' husband interacted with the public.

"You want to know how I got the scar? People always ask about the scar," asked Oscar Neeson, who cut a truly imposing figure, what with the bald head, clean-shaven jaw, and long knife wound along his left cheek. The eyeglasses sort of detracted from the image, as did his relatively genial tone. His thick Irish accent was also...somewhat delightful.

(Dark despair...)

The lady behind the counter stared dumbly, before finally handing him two cups of coffee. "Your order, sir."

(...still I seek for you...)

"My thanks, lass." Oscar Neeson, formerly known as Pieter "the Jackal" Langley, turned towards his wife. "Shall we, my dear?"

"But of course." She took her cup of coffee and linked her arm with his, all the while pondering the upcoming schedule for the day. I wonder if Asuka has made it to Yui-chan's, yet?

(...all I long to see was your smile...!)

xxxx

"...I'd like to think so," answered Mari.

xxxx

(I know I won't...look behind...!)

From above Yonaguni Island, a casual observer would see a large motorboat pulling up at a pier, on the opposite side of Mari's own. Four adults could be seen getting out, bearing blue, brown, red, and ashen hair respectively.

(I see no regrets!)

With them were four young children.

(No guiding lights so dark...)

The two eldest of the children - one bearing blue hair, the other a light ginger - took off running after the redheaded woman, her delightful laughter serving as a challenge to them.

(...are you my light?)

The other three adults followed more sedately, letting the shouts of excitement and whimsy serve as a background accompaniment to the island's ambience.

xxxx

(But now I am here...)

"Think of it this way," interjected Gendo. "Despite our individual differences, we all seek the good life, don't we?"

(...and you're close to me...!)

"With so many people, there are just as many different perceptions of what a good life constitutes."

(My heart is with you, forever, and ever...)

"But that doesn't stop us from finding common ground, does it?"

"...no." Mari's smile was small. "No it doesn't."

xxxx

/Interstellar Launch Site, Mare Imbrium, Moon/

In the vacuum of space, a series of domes surrounded a large reinforced platform, upon which sat a bulky, cubical tank filled with materials and supplies. Two automated Gundams - bearing the markings and logos of Nippon Heavy Industrial Systems - slowly stepped towards the tank, their movements calm and measured due to low lunar gravity.

(See this place, the end of world she fears...)

With a transformative flash of light, nanomachines reconfigured their form into elongated rockets, their surfaces gleaming silver and white. With a magnetic thunk, they latched onto the fifty-by-fifty meter tank.

(...no shining lights anywhere...)

With an electric charge, their Kleinium cores reduced the force of gravity to zero.

(...this emptiness in tears...!)

The thrusters of the transformed Gundams flared, taking off with what seemed like deceptive swiftness. Into the darkness of space, the engines would continue to burn, making minor course corrections until they reached approximately zero-point-zero-one percent of the speed of light; the Gundams and their cargo would arrive at Mars in two months.

(Didn't know...)

Within one of the domes, Shiro Tokita - Overseer of Gundam Operations, Imbrium Branch - stood beside a reinforced glass pane, watching with no small amount of pride as the Gundams vanished from his sight. To think we have made it this far...

(...it was you all along!)

He gazed briefly at the distant form of Earth - looking forward to the next time he was planetside, if only because Hikari's current assignment precluded traveling to the Moon - before turning around, making the long walk back to his office.

(You were chasing after my shadows...!)

After all, he didn't want to miss the next conference call with the Mars mission.

xxxx

"And that," continued Gendo, "is why I was able to bear with all of it."

xxxx

/Outskirts of Amazonis Planitia Colony, Mars/

(I know I won't...look behind...!)

The Jet Alone - the prototype of all modern Gundams, and still one of the most recognizable machines in all of human-controlled space - drilled a large pylon into place. "And...done." Mana Kirishima's voice echoed through the Martian air, still choked by the dust and dirt kicked up from Sahaquiel's explosion all those years ago.

Mayumi Yamagishi's voice was the next one to sound. "Activating condenser array." An unseen signal was sent, and the array activated. The internal fuel cell sent a charge to a block of ionized Kleinium, triggering the concentration of gravitons.

(...I see no regrets!)

As more arrays were set up, they would continuously mitigate the swirling dust storms that engulfed the planet; right now, they were the greatest obstacle to continued exploration and expansion.

Within the cockpit of the Burning Gundam, Mana pantomimed wiping sweat from her forehead. "And that's the last one."

(No guiding lights so dark...)

"Any issues?" The voice of the fledgling colony's Chief Engineer warbled through the gel solution of the cockpit.

"None, sir," responded Mayumi.

(...are you my light?)

"Then that's a wrap for today! I'll let Commander Weir know. Dinner will be ready when you get back!"

(But now...I am here...)

"Double rations for the both of us, Kensuke-san," said Mayumi.

Kensuke Aida laughed heartily. "But of course, fair maidens!"

(...and you're close to me...!)

The Jet Alone turned on its feet, trudging back through the red murk of Mars, never faltering; it was a harbinger of things to come, for the great storms - both here and beyond - would never cow the people of Earth.

xxxx

(My heart is with you...forever...)

Gendo brushed his fingers across the cheeks of Kamon; the Triplets were slowly beginning to nod off. "From a world guaranteed to end, to a world with endless possibilities...it was easy to fight for."

xxxx

/Geofront, Tokyo-4, Japan/

(...and ever...!)

The Black Moon - still exposed to the open air - had been refurbished, following the invasion of 2016. A new city had been built around the old NERV pyramid complex; christened Tokyo-4, it was now a hotbed of historical and scientific research, headed by NERV"s successor...WILLE. For through determination and willpower, mankind had grabbed hold of the many gifts left for it, and was forging ahead anew.

(No I won't...let you go...!)

But to move on, humanity first had to fully understand who they were, and where they had come from. With each new discovery within the Black Moon - a new scientifc catalog, a new biome of formerly prehistoric lifeforms, a new revelation that forced them to rethink history - a bigger picture was painted. Inevitably, those who clung to falsehoods, threatened by truth...would strike.

And that's where WILLE came in.

The second and current Commander of WILLE stood by the windows of what had once been Gendo Ikari's office, briefly reading the Human Advancement Committee's most recent press release.

(I will hold it in my arms!)

Hmm. Need to follow up with Ritsky and her team on the Meta-Web project...attend Aoba's security briefing...see if Hyuga was able to sneak in another letter from Kaji-kun...

(Oh, this light was you!)

She sighed; a leader's work was never done. But if everyone could lead, there wouldn't be leaders.

So with a confident smile, Major General Misato Katsuragi whirled on her heels - a very familiar cloak of navy blue fluttering behind her - and departed, ready to face the day. But first: a late lunch!

xxxx

(I know it now, beyond the sky...!)

Mari sighed, feeling somewhat uplifted by Yui and Gendo's words. "You two have a point."

(There's a new place...you'll see!)

The Triplets suddenly stirred, sitting upright. Kamon's orange glasses shifted, briefly revealing red irises. "Oh, well I think we know what this means." Without warning, Noriko, Kamon, and Mako charged for the front door.

(I came to you to share...)

"ONII-SAMA!"

"ACK!"

Gendo, Yui, and Mari walked outside, all having a fairly good idea of what they would see.

(...our dream together!)

The Triplets had practically mobbed Shinji Ikari, tackling the twenty-five-year-old to the ground. A blue-haired boy of five years was vainly trying to pry them off, screaming 'Let go of my dad!'. Rei Ikari stood to the side, arms holding a two-year old girl with dark brown hair, looking vaguely...amused by the situation. Asuka Langley-Sohryu was laughing wholeheartedly at the scene, as was her own five-year-old son, a lad with a colorful shock of ginger hair. Kaworu Langley-Sohryu watched the shenanigans with his familiarly enigmatic smile, even though there was a sense of...completeness, to it. The little infant bundled up in his arms probably had something to do with that.

(I won't let us part...!)

Mari stepped towards Kaworu - resisting the urge to chortle at Housewife-kun's predicament - and peered at the face of her new niece. "She looks healthy."

Kaworu's smile widened a fraction. "For being born four months ago...yes."

(There's no place to be...!)

He briefly fiddled with his daughter's silver hair. "Say hello to your aunt...Yomiko."

The infant blearily opened blue eyes, speckled with traces of crimson.

Mari grinned. Yeah...I think Gendo and Yui do have a point.

(My heart is with you!)

She glanced ahead - noting that Rei, 'Ska, and Yui had finally pulled the Triplets aside - and watched as Gendo stood above Shinji, looking meaningfully at his eldest child.

With a contented smile, Gendo Ikari held his hand forward. "Welcome back, son."

(Forever...)

Shinji Ikari sighed out of kindhearted exasperation, his lips quirked into a relaxed grin. "They're going to run you ragged."

The sixty-year-old huffed. "Not on your life."

(...and ever...)

Happily, he clutched his father's hand.

Mari burned this whole image into her mind, of friends and family gathering together, all of their own free will. That alone gave it more impact than Instrumentality could ever dream of having. Heh...impact. Puns! Ah...this is nice.

Despite the uncertainty, she wouldn't trade it for anything.

xxxx

And so we pan away from this microcosm of humanity: young and old, man and woman, strong and weak, all flawed in their own ways...yet capable of so much in spite of it.

Was God in His Heaven? Who knew what the Divine Mind was up to; people would continue to ponder that question for generations to come.

Was all right in the world? Of course not; there was always room for improvement. There was always opportunity to be better.

But life would go on.

And that, as they say...is that.

THE END

xxxx

Final Author's Note: Okay, let's get a little music going...

(cue Beautiful World by Utada Hikaru from Evangelion 1.0)

Ah, better.

So. This story was...something. The first work of fanfiction I've actually completed in years. It feels really satisfying.

And it's a big one too, coming in at around 520,000 words per my FFnet counter.

I know I probably lost a fair chunk of the original audience during the long hiatus from 2012 to 2015...but hey, what can you do? I think the final product is arguably better as a result, as it probably wouldn't have been as cohesive as it is now. But who's to say; I can't see into other timelines.

Big thanks to Gregg Landsman, the original inspiration for this bit of madness. Even though they've apparently moved on, I'm still thankful to AmIADream and K9theFirst for helping to foment the original seed for this story. Tons of thanks to the various readers on (of which I know there at least some, I see that view counter ticking up higher than the review counter! But I digress), SpaceBattles, and - belatedly - Sufficient Velocity. Even if it was just one person, you took the time to read this. And if I did nothing more than entertain you, I'll count that as a victory.

And now...for lists! Sort of. Basically, I'm curious as to your particular thoughts on certain matters, such as...who was your favorite character? Your favorite battle? Your favorite episode? Your favorite scene, or at the least the one that most impacted you? What aspect of this story did you like least? Fill in the blank, elaborate as needed, etcetera...

And of course, this story has a TvTropes page. Awesome moments, Funny moments, Tear Jerker, Heartwarming, Nightmare Fuel...heck, populate it as you please.

Given the relatively open-ended nature of the ending, there's of course plenty of opportunity for additional omakes or one-shots if I feel so inclined to do so...but the plot has come to a close. The conflict with the Angels, with SEELE, with ADAM...has concluded.

And that's the way many stories go: they don't end...but they do have conclusions.

And so we shall end...with one more conclusion.

xxxx

In a faraway galaxy, far beyond Earth's observable universe, there was a garden world.

Upon this world, between great streams of emerald water, amidst fields of blue and teal grasslands, at the foothills of gargantuan mountains...a golden titan stared calmly at the offerings before him. "HMM."

Three little doppelgangers stood before him, bereft of armor, and only five meters tall. One was a cyclops, one bore two eyes, and one bore four. They looked quizzically at each other, making odd little sounds with their petite mouths.

The Prime Evangelion looked at the primordial lifeforms that the trio had formed: collections of tubes, a many-legged blob, and an eye with teeth. "...INTRIGUING. BUT CONSIDER THE RAMIFICATIONS IF THEY DEVELOP AS THEY ARE. THEY MAY NOT SURVIVE FOR LONG."

Zerogoki, Shogoki, and Nigoki gurgled, their chirps sounding dejected.

"...BUT YOU WILL LEARN. DO WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR CREATION. UNDERSTAND THAT PAIN AND SUFFERING ARE NOT NECESSARILY EVILS, AND THE DEATH IS A PART OF THE GREAT CYCLE...YES. YOU WILL LEARN." He rubbed their heads simultaneously. "YOU WILL DO BETTER."

The trio of pure Evas, born of the Prime, babbled happily; they bounded away into the distance, eager to try again.

Pen-Pen sighed as his...'children', departed. That was probably the best term. The souls of the Evas known as Unit-00, Unit-01, and Unit-02 were truly infantile, but they still bore the scars of a constant existence in battle. It showed in their zeal to create, instead of destroy. THEY WILL BE FINE. As long as he was there...he would make sure they lived well.

The golden Eva turned around, his red mane of hair fluttering in the wind. Seven eyes stared at two great trees sprawling from the mountainside, intertwining tightly. Almost lovingly, one could say. I WONDER IF YOU REALIZED IT AT THE END...HE WHO WAS CALLED ADAM. Pen-Pen's soul had been bound to the First and Second Angels, from the time of his...'transcendence', so to speak. That bond lasted beyond the demise of LILITH, beyond the demise of ADAM. Despite the siren call of the Firstborn's Spiritual Matrix...his bond with them had taken precedence.

Upon this world, he had found two seeds. Within each seed, he deposited each soul; and now, each tree had grown, tall and free, bound together as deeply as friends and lovers.

It was a...peaceful existence. A stay on whatever afterlife awaited the Firstborn, an extension of mercy. HOWEVER LONG THIS TIME LASTS...RELISH IT. He stared at the great leaves, and the blooming flowers sprouting from the mossy bark: on one tree, they bore petals of the blackest onyx, and petals of the whitest snow on the other. HOWEVER LONG IT LASTS...

Pen-Pen gazed at the sky above, seeing something that few would ever see. He gazed...beyond, at something...greater.

After what seemed like forever, he looked away, peering into the sea of souls, and taking a brief glance at Earth. Part of him delighted at the current state of affairs. YES...GROW. AND PROSPER.

Finally, he looked up...and straight at you. Yes, you. "YOU HAVE A STORY OF YOUR OWN, DON'T YOU? GO AND MAKE IT A GREAT ONE." The Eva seemed to be smiling. "GOODBYE...FOR NOW."

xxxx

Wark.

See you later.