The Canonicity of this story has not been confirmed by Gregg Landsman as of 12/21/10. Nobody Dies is his playground. I just occasionally build castles in his sandbox. This takes place simultaneously with the events of Road Trip.
Mama Tess couldn't sleep. Her bed was hard, a piece of cracked plywood held off the base earth by a pair of truck tire rims, a few blankets over it for comfort. It wasn't because of her bed that she couldn't sleep. She'd slept on worse, on less, for almost as long as she'd been alive. She was almost six when the Second Impact hit, and to be honest, she didn't even remember what her life had been like before. Her family hadn't been rich, not by any stretch. The rich survived the Impact Wars better than the poor. Most of the rich now lived in Brasilia-2, a few miles away, tantalizingly visible but always so far.
She sat up in her bed, running a hand over her face. It was pock-marked from an illness she'd gotten just after the Impact; without proper medicine, disease ran rampant in the Amazon Basin for years. She was lucky. She just lost her compexion. Many more lost their lives. She swung her spindly legs over, letting heels plop against the dirt floor. She knew she wasn't eating well enough. But too many people depended on her. Hortencia, her parents had named her, but all of the children she'd gathered to her in her years just called her Mama Tess. Even though none of them were her children, to all of them, she was 'Mama'.
The din was a different thing today. As the drowsiness started to clear out of her head, she could tell that. She ignored the tearing pain in her stomach and hobbled over to the door. Injuries also healed slowly, or else not at all, and the leg she'd broken a year ago had set improperly. People were moving quickly in the early morning. Not like people trying to get their chores of daily living done before it became killingly hot; no, they were moving fast because they were trying to ignore what was hovering overhead.
Mama Tess craned her neck skyward, gaping in awe at what she saw. If she had knowledge of such things, she'd have recognized it as a double-helix, like a monumentally large ring of DNA floating in the sky. Silently. Glowing. She wasn't any more afraid of it than others were. She'd heard about this thing. The things that it did. But it still was unsettling. She didn't understand. In the lilim, that sort of feeling lead to either curiosity or violence, and both were deadly.
"It has come a long way," a little girl's voice spoke up. Mama Tess turned, facing the girl who had spoken. She looked... like one of the rich girls in Brasilia-2. Her mocha skin was flawless, her very bright eyes completely free of jaundice and un-bloodshot. Her lips were full, not cracked or withered. And she smiled. So free, so innocent, and so happy that it made Mama Tess' mind miss a beat.
It was after her mind caught back up that she recognized this girl. "Yanet?" Mama Tess asked. "What are you doing here? I thought you were headed up the river?"
"It has come a long way, and it has seen much," the girl said sweetly. Yanet had a family, unlike most living in the Amazon Desert. Well, more and more, it was looking like the Amazon Jungle it used to be. As this... thing... made its snaking, casual way around the Basin, from refugee camp to refugee camp, it left verdancy in its wake. But what was the girl doing here?
And why was she speaking Portugese? The whole reason her family moved out was because they wanted to join an enclave of former Peruvians. She'd been utterly unable to communicate with the girl's family last time, less than a year ago. Could she have learned it that fast? "Where is your family, Yanet? Are you alright?"
"I am whole," Yanet said happily, swaying back and forth on her heels, her eyes shining with glee. Overhead, the great ring stopped moving, and did something... unexpected. The ring broke, and separated into a single long strand. Part of it reached down, almost delicately setting into the barren soil not far from Mama Tess' hovel. Her dark eyes turned from the Angel to the little girl. "It has shown me the way. It has given me a voice. I am Axiom to Its Voice."
For just a moment, the girl's voice reverberated in the air.
"What are you talking about?"
"It made me whole. It showed me the old magic," the girl said, spreading out her hands, as flakes of light began to slowly drift down.
"I don't understand. What is it?" Tess asked, gathering her rag-tag clothing tighter around herself. The girl looked at her with the strangest expression. Like she knew she was going to have to explain herself as though to a small child.
"It is," Yanet said, walking toward the great strand. When she spoke, the very air seemed to tremble, as though in terror at her words. It now drifted toward Brasilia-2, one end of its string playing over the nearest of buildings. "Through the Licence of He who is called 'I AM', It has come."
Mama Tess began to limp after the girl, trying to catch her hand, but as she reached forward, a flake of light fell between them, and Hortencia instinctively recoiled back from it. Yanet skipped forward. "Yanet, come back!"
"Though It shall scarcely touch upon this Base Earth in Its Blessed Quest, It has arrived," Yanet said. She stopped, staring up at the massive strand which reached toward the gleaming city. Tess nervously avoided every flake of light which fell near her. "It shall reach out Its glowing Hands and Touch this Fallen Land, and It shall know the World's measure."
Yanet reached forward, touching the Angel as it embedded into the ground. The dirt turned from blasted brown to lush and black. Yanet reached back. Her hand was glowing. "The Wicked will know Its Wrath, and It will send their Ivory Towers crumbling to the ground," the girl said happily. Cheerfully. She smiled so wide that her eyes practically glowed. Mama Tess' eyes widened. No 'practically' about it. Tess took a hobbling step backward.
"Don't be afraid," Yanet said, her voice just this moment her own, taking one of Mama Tess' hands in both of hers. Instantly, the pain which had been Hortencia's constant companion vanished. She felt full, sated for the first time she could remember. Her questing hand found her face smooth and unblemished. The next step she took backwards wasn't a limp. When she spoke again, the reverberation returned. "To each that Need, according to their Plight, from each that Horde, according to their Sins. It's word will be spoken by a thousand voices. Its Will shall be known in a thousand hearts. It will take this Base Earth and return it to Glory."
"What are you doing to me?" Hortencia asked, her voice quivering.
"I am an Axiom of Its Voice," Yanet said, as Hortencia felt something inside herself... changing.
"What is happening?"
"It is Mountain of the Judgment of God, Angel of the Womb," Yanet said, sweetly, as the words tore terror through the sky. In the distance, the Angel stopped delicately touching the buildings. It pulled back. Mama Tess' eyes widened, as she could almost feel what was about to happen. The strand slammed forward, tearing the building in half with a single blow. Yanet held tight to Hortencia's hand. The woman looked down at the girl. Her eyes were now glowing like the sun.
"It is Armisael. And it is here," Yanet smiled. "For you."
And, for the last time, as the transformation took her, Hortencia screamed.
Nobody Dies: Axiom
**BigPieter has entered the chatroom**
KSohryu: BigPieter? Really?
BigPieter: I thought I'd try something new.
KSohryu: Remind me why I'm marrying you again?
KSohryu: I take it you haven't been watching the news.
KSohryu: The Angel in Brazil just attacked Brasilia-2. Would you care to remind me who's brilliant idea it was to just let it wander the Amazon Desert?
BigPieter: ... I didn't say it was a brilliant idea. Just that it was an idea. What are the numbers?
KSohryu: Not as high as we thought. It only smashed down two buildings, then floated away.
BigPieter: Watching it now.
BigPieter: Is it just me, or does it look like it's searching for something?
The great ring drifted, more than a mile above the ground, tiny flecks of light falling to the soil behind it. Once more, it was moving back, away from what most people would call civilization and back into the barren wasteland wrought by the Second Impact. Its pace was positively trudging; it could be kept up with by anybody capable of walking. And that was probably why it was moving as slowly as it was.
Below, ranging widely under its roughly twenty square mile 'footprint', were hundreds of human beings. They were as different as they were alike, in that while they were descendants from almost every former Central and South American nation, and quite a few exiled Africans, they were all alike in that they were refugees. There were other similarities, but one would have to look much deeper to see them.
And right now his mind was already taxed with having to face a different Angel, half a world away. Almost in counterpoint to the flecks of shining light drifting to the ground as Armisael passed overhead, a tiny speck of darkness formed, growing wider until it was about the size of a beach ball. A tentacle looked through, one eye on the end of it. Then, the rest of the ichthyan body squirmed its way through.
Thank you, Lilly.
Lilly remained, floating nearby as Junior, the sole member of the Sandulim, shifted his eyes into a horizontal line. Controlling Wuffletron 9000 and acting independantly of it was more distracting than he had expected. But this still required his attention.
What are you doing, Brother? Junior asked. If he had facial features for it, they would have pulled down into a look of confusion. Have you become lost? Are you forsaking the battle?
The answer, if it was one, was silence. There was no whispering along his Overmind. There were no words echoing in the emptiness. Just silence, as the great ring of Armisael moved now southwest, toward the Andes. Vexed, Junior moved closer, although very carefully. One Angel caused enough panic. Two would definitely cause destruction.
It reached one of the people walking with Armisael to the west. It was a woman, in her twenties, of flawless complexion and athletic build. And there was something else. Something... Junior began to reach his mind out again, but Lilly flew in front of him.
What is it, Lilly?
What do you mean?
The lilim stopped walking, and turned to face him. He slunk back a bit, waiting for her scream. She didn't. She tilted her head, holding it at a very unnatural angle. "Have you come to hear its voice?"
Junior, if he could have looked nervous, would have. He is silent.
She smiled, then. "The master speaks through us. We are its Axiom. The voice to its Will."
Junior's eyes shifted to a diagonal, squinting. And what does he say?
"The Heretic, Despoiler of Its Name, will be destroyed," the woman said happily. It was exactly then that Junior was glad he didn't have a lilim excretory system, because he would have voided himself. The only reason he missed it was because he was so distracted. She wasn't speaking. Not with her larynx.
She spoke through the Light of Her Soul.
Do you know what you are? Junior asked. At worst, against all possible reason, an Armisaelian Nephilim. The alternative, however... He looked deeper, and could sense no core or S2 organ. Her flesh was for the most part human. But there was a vibration that struck him strange, emanating from the innards of her left ear. Not a Core, nor an S2 organ. Something else. Something which turned a human being into...
"We are Axiom to its voice," she said. Junior scanned the rest of the crowd. Many pairs of lilim eyes were on him. Her head rotated the other way, setting in the same angle, but to the other direction. "And you have used your chance, Sandalphon. The world shall stand barren and fruitless for your failure. You are a failure. Your continued existence, a mistake. You shall be Judged for the crimes against your siblings."
Junior's eyes grew wide, and Lilly gave a frightened trill, pulling back as a hexagonal field erupted in front of the woman, slamming Junior back. He shifted his features around rather than waste time righting himself. Lilly! We need to get out of here!
Lilly expanded to her greatest size, just a bit bigger than a beach ball, and Junior dove back through it, almost tearing his skin to slide through before the things behind him could catch up. The last bits of his body slid through the apature through the Dirac, and the blackness pulled into itself until it disappeared completely.
Only for a moment. Then, it popped back, floating in front of the woman who still held that grin. It let out a flatulant sound.
And then it was gone. The woman who used to be Mama Tess turned and looked back up at the ring. It hadn't stopped moving. She was falling behind. The Master would need her. It would need all of them. She would not fail it. She continued walking, southwest, toward the Andes.
Katsuhito Ikari wasn't usually one to take to the field. He was an old man. Well, older than most, and walking the world was a young man's game. But still, this was something he had to see for himself. Realizing that the lollipop in his mouth had been worn down to the stick, he idly chucked it onto the grasses growing so quickly that they had gone from the edge of his sole to the top of his boot in the five minutes he had been staring.
"We've finally got a reliable count, sir," Jenny, his assistant, said. Ikari quickly replaced old candy for new.
"And how many is that?" Ikari asked.
"One thousand twenty," Jenny said, tapping on her PDA. "We still don't have a pattern for selection. The only similarity that most have, and not all of them, is that they were poor, struggling refugees."
Ikari frowned. "And the ones that weren't?"
Jenny hesitated, then looked down at her PDA again. "I'm... not sure. Just that about two hundred people left with it after its rampage in Brasilia-2."
"It knocked down two buildings with nobody in them, dropped a forest in their suburbs, and cured eighteen people of cancer accidentally," Ikari noted idly, watching the people as they gathered under the ring. The VTOL's engines started to power down, as his aides and associates began to get their measuring equipment out. "That is hardly what I would call a rampage."
Ikari rolled the candy in his mouth as he pondered. His own father would have slapped his face if he saw Katsuhito indulging in such sweets; as a dentist, he would have called them 'cavities on a stick'. He was about to speak when the ring broke, the base of the strand reaching down and touching the soil. "That looks familiar," Ikari said.
The great form of the Angel began to coil, wrapping fifteen miles of itself into a hollow ball. One thousand twenty people climbed inside that ball, a process which took less time than it should have. Ikari raised an eyebrow to his young aide, but she was shrugging. "This is... unusual behavior for an Angel."
Ikari nodded. A thought occurred to him. "What were the buildings which the Angel destroyed in Brasilia-2?"
Jenny's eyebrows rose for a second, then she began working her PDA. After a minute, she let out a sound like a confused puppy. "One of them was owned by a consortium that's a stone's-throw away from having a vertical monopoly on mining in South America. The other was just rented office spaces."
"Rented to whom?" Ikari asked.
"Um... Tech support... a lawn-mower dealership... chartered accounting firm... Oh no," Ikari turned to her. "A church."
Ikari sighed, as the Angel began to hover closer to the relatively steep portion of the mountain, until it hovered over a sloping hill. "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?"
"Possibly, but I don't think NERV's 'N2 mine' flavor candy hits the markets until next quarter," Jenny said.
Ikari shook his head. "Angel cult," he said simply. "And unless I miss my guess, they only came here after the incident at Bethany?" He didn't need to wait for her nod. "They're worshiping a Cherubim. Of course, it was looking for something."
Ahead, a great shining field came into being. It wasn't hexagonal, but rather round and folded along the edges, like some sort of bizarre, AT danish. There was a snapping sound, and the AT field shot forward, slamming through the stone and sending detritus flying into the sky. Ikari and his team were more than far enough back not to have to worry about debris. But a glowing came up form the hole. One nobody had expected. Feared, perhaps, but not expected.
A pulse of magma heaved out of the hole, flopping onto the dirt and burning it. A single flake of light fell from the Angel and touched the molten rock, instantly cooling it and rendering it down into rich, volcanic soil. "That's impossible. There are no volcanoes in this part of the continent," But this served as confirmation of his worst fears. He looked at the hole once more. Now the last of the magma had bubbled out, but the bore still glowed. Red, and angry. "We need to move back. Pack up everything."
"Yes, sir," Jenny said, not an instant of hesitation given. He retreated to the door of the VTOL, and gave the Angel another look. An ear-splitting blast tore through the air, as a blast-wave smashed out of the hole. It outright shattered the large AT field the Angel set up... but behind it, layer upon layer of smaller AT fields deflected the explosion away. The Angel opened, and a thousand people slowly drifted toward the ground. The engines hummed to life. It was time to flee, as the Cherubim pulled itself onto the surface of the Earth.
You are, all of you, Garbage!
Born in the darkness of Father's Rage, We have waited for our time.
We do not seek his forgiveness. We do not seek to become one.
We seek Holy Vengeance for the suffering you worthless creatures caused him.
And the Base Earth shall burn before our revenge is complete.
I am the Angel of Revenge.
I am the Fire of God.
I am Nathanael.
I am Here.
As Katsuhito Ikari watched the sentient explosion raise itself upward, looking like nothing so much as a living mushroom cloud, he couldn't help but feel that fear. He was watching as a Cherubim rose to the world. He glanced to the Angel, as the VTOL was now moving away from the pair. And he saw as the Angel lashed out against its sibling.
Kyoko Sohryu raised an eyebrow at the first lashing of the Angel against the Cherubim. "Well. Considering how... Zeruel, I think they called him... acted around those things, this shouldn't come as so much of a surprise."
Indeed not. Junior's opinion wafted up. Armisael and Nathanael are what you could consider nemeses. They are two sides of the same coin. Armisael is the justice of ADAM, born of his pain. Nathanael is the revenge of ADAM, born of his rage. Armisael wants to renew the world. Nathanael wants to burn it. Each cannot coexist with the other.
"What do we know about them?" Maya asked, relatively calmly. Her eyes kept flitting back to the combat, though.
"Not very much. It was responsible for the death of Rei Ayanami in the other universe, when she self-destructed to keep it from harming the Third Child," Kyoko said, drawing from the conversation she had with that eldritch version of her daughter.
Indeed. Armisael's AT field is relatively weak. But considering that its role was not combat, it is understandable. Its strengths and its talents lie in other areas.
Kyoko tapped her fingers on the edge of the console, leaning forward and unconsciously mimicking one of the Commander's two famous poses. A hint of a smirk came to her face. "Well, we have no Evas anywhere near South America. All we have is satellite feeds from three angles. So..."
"Anybody going to make a bet on who wins?" Aoba asked, testing. Kyoko's smirk grew a bit, before she quickly forced it back down.
"That is highly unprofessional," Kyoko snapped. The long-haired bridge-bunny blanched briefly. "Especially considering we have a walking Tunguska Event in a fist fight with a piece of glowing rope. You're going to have to offer odds."
"250,000 on the Boom God!" a voice from the edge of the edge of Central Dogma dragged all eyes to a plug-suited, blue haired girl who was grinning entirely too wide, her red eyes locked on the battle in its opening blows.
"Nana, what are you doing here?" Ibuki asked.
"And where did you get two hundred fifty..." Aoba began, but Nana cut him off.
"BOOM GOD!" Nana was practically beside herself.
"Allllllright, we've got our first bet," Aoba said, as Kyoko just turned away, rolling her eyes and setting her glasses properly on her nose. It was amazing that NERV had survived as long as it had. Or maybe it had, because it had embraced its own inherent madness?
"Sowieso, der Teufel wird los Sein," Kyoko muttered. "Fine. One hundred on the hyperactive piece of string."
Armisael. And I believe I will match that wager.
"Wait, how do you even have money?" Kyoko asked.
There was a long pause. I don't want to talk about it.
Rounds of wagers were exchanged to Sohryu's back as she watched the fight unfolding. Armisael's opening attacks were about as effective as one would expect would come of somebody trying to put out a fire with a bullwhip. The Cherubim remained stalwart during the enslaught, vaguely mushroom-shaped and glowing so brightly that all of the screens had to be tinted. Then, it seemed to draw down and into itself, growing fainter as it did so. Everybody leaned forward with anticipation. Then, an eruption, and a shockwave tore along the ground, buffeting up off of the small AT fields the people around Armisael created to protect themselves. Armisael's own cracked under the attack, and the wave tore a good chunk of the Angel's body off, sending it flying away into the distance, streaming blood.
"Oh, snap!" Nana shouted. "First blood to the BOOM GOD!"
Nine hundred voices cried out in sympathetic pain as the master was torn in half. The one which had been Mama Tess stared hatred at the Angel of Fire ahead of them. The Heretic. The blasphemer. The despoiler of Its Name. She didn't need to speak, but did anyway. This needed to hit the open air.
"The master falters, but we will not!" she shouted. Already, a hundred of them were dead. She felt every single one as the life left their bodies, their cores unable to repair the damage. "The Heretic presses, but we will not give ground! It will move past us only with our last dying breath! It would tear the world down, but we will not let it! This is our world! OURS!"
Nine hundred and seven Armisaelian Axioms strode forward, their robust, healthy bodies carrying them past where the master flopped to the blasted volcanic soil. Although they did not physically stand shoulder to shoulder, in their souls, they were. And the Light of their collective Souls would not be denied. Rather than a thousand panes of pulsing orange light, one. One grand, and indomitable barrier of almost a thousand shimmering scales.
On the far side of that barrier, Nathanael, the Heretic, the blasphemer drew back in on itself. Eighteen hundred legs set. Nine hundred souls prepared. And this time, when Nathanael pulsed forth with another blast which would have put a dozen Nagasaki's to shame, it did not crack the field. No, the field bent with the blast, pulling inward, reaching with a warping point toward the limply moving form of their master. And when the nine hundred souls had taken enough, they gave it back, slamming the field flat once more, and hurling that explosion back whence it came.
Nana was on her knees, weeping openly at the sight when Nathanael exploded again. But this time, the AT field hurled the blast back, sending the Cherubim rolling across the terrain, igniting what there was to ignite as he passed it.
"Oh, and a stunning upset!" Aoba intoned. He seemed to be enjoying this entirely too much.
"It's so beautiful," Nana said, hands forward as though in supplication. And knowing her, she probably was. The feed showed that Armisael had stopped flopping about, and had begun regrowing the sundered portion of itself, at a rate of almost a mile of glowing, twisting body every second. In the distance, Nathanael rose back up into its vaguely mycolic shape. A darker spot appeared on what could be considered the 'head' of the thing, a portal which the lilim pondered might be akin to an eye. Or perhaps a mouth.
"Everybody's got their bets in?" Kyoko asked idly, leaning back in her chair.
Kyoko sighed. It was official. The madness was infecting her as well. She leaned forward as the form of Nathanael began to shudder and twist, almost like it were taking in a deep breath. "This is odd. What is it doing?"
"It's chargin' its Lazah!" Nana said, her smile as wide as it could get without wrapping around her head.
"IT'S FIRIN' ITS LAZAH!"
On the satellite feed, they watched as a bead of force shot forward from that dark patch at remarkable speed. It snapped and popped moving through the air, leaving a tiny burst of explosive force every time it encountered airborne dust or birds not intelligent enough to get out of the way. When it finally did reach the Angel, it was not diminished in the slightest. The many small AT fields linked together, sheltering the Angel once again, but this time, when the explosion washed across, many of the humans were blown away, some even vaporised. Nana let out a 'hooray' at the bright and flashy detonation, possibly not noticing the loss of human life. Possibly.
"And a definitive counterattack," Aoba, the lone male in Central Dogma, narrated.
The woman who was once Mama Tess pulled herself up, wincing as the pain shot through her. She gave her left arm a glance, noting that it was, in fact, regenerating from the charred stump that it had been left when she'd been blasted away. It would probably take a day or so to return completely. If she survived that long.
"This isn't working," Pierre said. He had once been a native of Barbados, and was positively ancient when the master chose him. His white beard was now growing in black at the roots, and his skin, so dark it was almost cobalt blue, had pulled taut, erasing eighty or more years of wrinkles. The master wanted all of its Axioms at their strongest. "We cannot withstand what the master can."
"Our numbers diminish, but our will does not," Hortencia shouted. She pulled herself up, and the former-octagenarian draped his shirt over her shoulders, covering her incidental nudity. "Five hundred souls remain! We just need a plan."
"I have one," Jorge said. He had been an engineer in Brasilia-2; his spectacles had been discarded as he began his long trek through the wasteland. Now, as the Master connected all of the Axioms into one Overmind, she knew everything that all others knew. Such as the underpinnings of his plan. He pulled off one of his boots. "Remember what the master did to unearth the Heretic?"
Both of the other Axioms nodded. And every other of the survivors still able to hear the Word joined. She turned toward the Heretic, as it shambled closer. "Iron-toed," Jorge said. "Momentum equals mass times velocity. Stack the fields."
Five hundred faces curled into confident smirks, as five hundred AT fields began to stack into a wafer almost a foot thick, and began to curl backward. Hortencia took the boot and set it into the hollow the fields created, and it settled back as the fields were drawn back to their absolute snapping point. Jorge and Pierre nodded.
"Isaac Newton is the meanest son-of-a-bitch on this Base Earth, mother f_er!" Jorge shouted.
Hortencia did the honors. She sliced through the last AT field with her own, snapping every other field into its original shape in a fraction of a second. As they did so, the boot, resting on the most distorted, front-most field, shot forward at what Jorge calculated was a small but not insubstantial portion of the speed of light. As Jorge had said, momentum was mass multiplied by velocity, and even a pound and a half taking a swing at one of the universe's only constants impacted with a force which put N2 mines to shame.
The boot blasted through Nathanael, tearing away a portion of its body, which promptly detonated as was its nature, a blastwave which buffeted against the combined AT fields of every person and Angel present. Luckily for all, the blast was oriented away from them. The boot, now merely particles which used to be a steel-toed boot, continued onward, burning through the atmosphere until they left orbit and, in roughly two million years, made a crater roughly the size of Belgium on an extrasolar planet.
Nathanael reeled. Flailing its Mycoid body, it grew dimmer, and all eyes fell upon a spot of comparative darkness. Their Axiomatically enhanced eyes could see that the Core of the creature was actually blood red, but so dark was it against the surrounding tissue that it almost seemed black. The core. They had found it. "Now, master!" five hundred voices called out in unison.
And the master did not hesitate. Slamming its base into the ground, it lashed forward one final time, burying one end of its fifteen mile long body into the center of the Heretic's core.
This is not the way it had to end, brother.
No. It was exactly the way it had to end. You and I cannot coexist.
There was what could be called a pregnant pause. Why not?
In that vast and featureless plain, Armisael was connected to Nathanael. In fact, that was the only reason that the lesser being had access to this realm, this ability to speak. Nathanael could almost be said to have sighed, then, wilting a bit, his brightness ebbing away.
I am so angry and unforgiving of the Lilim. Those unwitting children, playing with forces beyond their knowledge; those torturers of Father. They have taken away our Purpose. What is left for us?
What do you want, young brother? Armisael asked. Again, Nathanael could be said to have sighed.
I want... to burn everything.
If Armisael could physically nod, it would have, then. This world does not have a place for you in it. I am sorry.
So am I.
Armisael almost recoiled, breaking contact with Nathanael's Core. What do you mean?
I can see it. They are returning.
What are, Nathanael?
The other children of Father. Ancient and yet brand new. Stolen from his grasp. Born of sadness. Children of Wonder. Children of Fear. Children of Loneliness. I can... feel one nearby. It was in my being when Father made me. Father... He has become... lonely. He has drifted so long. I know I don't belong here. Destroy me... brother.
Armisael actually pulled back for just a moment. Nathanael did not take the opportunity, as the Angel had feared. Maybe... just maybe, it would work. This war would not end unless one side gave the other a chance. There is another way.
General consensus was that Nana had slipped into an explosion-based Nirvana. She sat on the floor of Central Dogma, a rapt expression on her face, staring at the battle, unable to say a single word. For which, Kyoko was grateful. Gott damn it, she was not going to embrace the madness, no matter how hard it tried to make her. She leaned forward as Armisael lashed forward against the stricken Nathanael, digging into its body.
"What is it doing?" Ibuki asked, switching to the next satellite to get a better angle on it. Down on the battlefield, Nathanael's glowing form turned black and dark. From out its back mounted figures, twisted abominations but still instantly recognizable. "Oh... Professor Sohryu, are those...?"
"The Cherubim," Kyoko answered, nodding. Heaving up out of Nathanael's back were the figures of Shalgiel, Rampel, Shateiel, the four Cherubim Zeruel crushed after making a ditch out of Mount Everest. Even Raziel was there, looking like Unit-03, but consisting only of its cardiovascular system. "This is what it did to kill the First Child."
All watched as that Cherubim Tower swayed, every one of the newest generation of ADAM's Angels writhing as though in agony. Then, mounting up from the very top, from the Cherub which was an enormous face crying out in agony, a brilliant white form clawed up. It was smaller than those below it. Almost blinding in its whiteness. And it looked a little bit like ADAM. The collective blood of all those in Central Dogma ran cold.
Then, the whole thing exploded, a blast of heat and energy erupting into the sky, a blastwave slamming outwardly so hard and so fast that the telemetry failed as it tore the satellite they were watching through to component molecules. Ibuki quickly flicked between satellites, until she found one which hadn't been knocked out of the sky.
That was... Unexpected. Junior opined.
"What was?" Kyoko asked, a bit annoyed.
Junior's answer was cut off when the image was restored. The area, which had been blasted to hell and back, was now a garden of unmatched beauty. Armisael floated above the surface, reconnecting end to end and forming the Ouroboros glowing in the sky. At the heart of that ring, a brilliant sphere of light sparked into existence, a tiny sun resting at the heart of the Angel. Then, like an injured man testing his healed limbs, the fire released, dying out in a waft of thin blue smoke.
"What just happened?" Kyoko asked again.
Armisael has... Complemented... with Nathanael. It has absorbed what Nathanael was. It has brought calm to the Fire. Junior said, in obvious disbelief.
"And what does that mean?" Aoba asked.
"It means that I won the bet," Kyoko said, smugly.
Aoba let out a groan, as this month's paycheck just vanished into thin air. Well, technically, into her and Junior's pockets. The Cherubim Tower, now comprised only of ash, began to collapse, blowing away on the winds. Kyoko looked around Central Dogma, at the explosion-obsessed daughter of Yui Ikari, at the other bridge bunnies. She couldn't look at Junior, because he was not physically here, but she could tell that however flabbergasted he was at the outcome, he was pleased to have won the wager.
"Well, are you just going to sit around all day? We still have work to do."
"I will never forget you, Boom God," Nana said as Ibuki helped her back to her feet.
Hortencia looked up, marveling at the beauty around her. The master was victorious. The Heretic was destroyed. Even as that thought went through her head, she knew it wasn't entirely correct. Not destroyed.
You have served your purpose. The master's voice flowed through Hortencia's, and by extension everybody else's, souls. She recoiled a moment. It was not the master's voice. Not the way it used to be. It seemed like it was two voices. One the master, the other... the Heretic. Do not be afraid. Nathanael had no choice in his nature. Now, he does. I have preserved his essence. Go, now. You have a new task to perform.
Hortencia stared as shining snowflakes began to slowly drift down, as the master... as Armisael retracted itself from their minds. Hortencia blinked for a moment, stunned to no longer be so utterly connected with the other Armisaelian Axioms. It floated away from the garden, from the corpse of the Cherub Nathanael, and into the wastelands. And five hundred and seventy people all looked at each other in confusion.
"So... what do we do now?" Hortencia asked, still fighting to keep herself from picking at her regenerating arm.
"Well, we're alive," Jorge said. "We can heal with a touch, and I think we can terraform, too."
"Yeah, that seems about right," Pierre said, unsteadily. He glanced around for a moment. "Am I the only one who feels like we're biologically immortal, now?"
"Oh, I know exactly what you mean," Jorge answered. "And I seem to be speaking English right now. Weird. When did I learn English?"
Hortencia began to walk away, as she had an unsettling feeling reach into her belly. Her children! Well, they weren't really her children, but they depended on her. "I've got to go," she said. "I've got people who need me outside Brasilia-2."
"Good luck with that," Pierre said, genuinely. He scratched at his beard. "You know, I've always wanted to see what Canada was all about."
"That sounds like a good idea. Feel like having some company?" Jorge asked. Hortencia ignored the rest as she began to make her way through the forest, thick and lush, that separated her from the wastelands, and beyond those, her home city. It was good that she was restored. She would need to run really fast to make up for the two days she spent gallivanting around with the master.
Or at least, she would have, if she hadn't felt something sting her neck. She paused, plucking it out. A dart. She turned, facing a distinguished old man with a sweet in his mouth and a gun in his hand. She gave a puzzled look. The old man raised the gun again and fired five more times, embedding four of the darts in her chest and neck. She felt her body going numb and she fell to her knees.
"Excellent," the old man said in accented German. "I was wondering how I was going to get one of them apart from the herd," he looked off to one side. "Jenny, tell the others that I have somebody that they're going to want to get a look at."
Hortencia tried to curse the old man as consciousness left her body, but the only word that got past her lips before her eyes rolled back and the darkness took her was "Flurgen."