Fear

Bode A Returning

Shin Seiki Evangelion was created by Hideki Anno, and is owned by Gainax.

Mythos elements were created by H. P. Lovecraft and owned by Arkham Publishing. Byatis was created by Robert Bloch. Ithaqua and Cthugha created by August Derleth. Summanus, Mnomquah and Cthylla created by Brian Lumley. Ythogtha was created by Lin Carter. Mordiggian created by Clarke Ashton Smith. Cyäegha was created by Eddy C. Burtin.

Use of the characters and situations therein are not intended as any challenge of their copyrights.

"Twice now, we have had attacks by Old Ones from the Dreamlands," said Misato. "After the first, we had all people who were comatose, but still technically alive, euthanized."

Asuka gasped. "You can't mean that."

"It is horrible, and I feel very badly about it," Misato continued. "But I had to have it done. I gave the order myself."

Asuka looked down, and shuddered.

"The second time," continued Misato, "the Old One inhabited the body of an EVA, and destroyed its Pilot." She glanced over at Shinji. "I'm sorry, Shinji. They found nothing in the plug."

"It's all right." His voice was mechanical. "Toji would have preferred to die, rather than help an Old One."

"Your father fears that more attacks from the Dreamlands are possible," Misato said. "Because of this, he has ordered that you three cross into the Dreamlands, and learn more about them."

"And just how exactly are we supposed to do that?" Asuka scowled.

"I have no idea," admitted Misato. "But this is your mission, and you must find a way to accomplish it."

Fear

Twelve: Bode A Returning

They stood on a staircase.

Asuka blinked. "Where are we?"

"No idea." Shinji shrugged, and looked around. "Stone stairs, stone walls and ceiling..."

"It is notably cool," said Rei.

"Yeah." He glanced down at himself, saw that he wore his school uniform. Rei and Asuka wore theirs as well, he noted. "So. Stairs. Up or down?"

"Up!" Asuka grinned. "Always up!"

They climbed the stairs.

"I wonder where they go?" mused Shinji.

Rei answered, "They go up."

"Thanks, Wonder Girl." Asuka's voice dripped sarcasm. "I think what your hubby is meaning to ask is, where will they end?"

"At the top."

"Oh, you are just a bundle of—"

"There is light ahead."

Asuka closed her mouth, and looked up. Torchlight flickered on the ceiling ahead of them. They reached the top of the stairs, and gazed out at the room beyond.

It was a massive circular room, ten meters at least high and three times that across. Another doorway stood on the other side of the room.

"Okay. We're at the top." Asuka glanced around. "Now what?"

"Well," said Shinji, "we can either go through that door over there, or turn around and go back."

"What are you, stupid?" Asuka glanced around the room angrily. "Why is this room here? Who put the torches up?"

"Does it matter?" Shinji shrugged.

"Of course it does! We're here to explore, and find out what's going on."

"You think we'll find it here?"

"This is the Dreamlands, right?"

"No!"

The voice echoed around the room. Shinji felt the hairs on his arms rise; he knew the voice.

Asuka also recognized it.

"Nigoki?"

Three forms appeared, shimmering in the torchlight. Not as huge as in the real world, the EVA still stood over three meters tall. Shogoki stepped forward.

Shogoki spoke to him. "No person may enter the Dreamworld without a test." Her voice was surprisingly mellow, despite its volume and low pitch. Her mouth did not open as she spoke. "You may submit to the test, or you may turn back, and return to the real world."

Shinji swallowed. "And if we fail the test?"

"You may try again, another night."

"Okay." He stepped towards her. "Test me."

"What do you seek?"

"We..." He shrugged. "We came to stop Old Ones from—"

"No." She waved a hand. "What do you seek? Not now, but always."

He swallowed again; his mouth was dry. He glanced over his shoulder at the girls. "Do...Do they need to hear?"

"No."

He beckoned her downwards, and she knelt next to him. She had no ears, unless they were under the helmet, but he leaned in to where they might be, and whispered, "I want to be...I want acceptance. I want to feel like I'm not worthless."

"Will you find this in the Dreamlands?"

"I...I don't know."

She stood, and stepped back.

"Did I pass?"

"Dreamer Asuka." Nigoki's voice boomed out. "What do you seek?"

"To be the best!" She jerked a thumb towards her chest. "To prove to everyone that I am the greatest!"

He stepped forward, his speed blinding, and backhanded her across the face. She was knocked backward, sliding up against the wall. He leaped forwards, pinning her to the ground.

"Do not lie to me, girl! I know you better than either of those children."

"I—" She gasped, pain and fear mixed in her eyes. "I can't say it!"

"Then you shall turn back, and go back to the waking world, while the other two go on."

"No!" She cried out. "I don't want to be left alone!"

He slapped her face, gently. "Good girl." He stood up, and stepped back. Asuka gingerly rose, rubbing her face.

Zerogoki stepped forward, and pointed wordlessly at Rei.

"You wish to know what I want?"

He nodded, silent.

"Freedom. Freedom from fear and from pain." Her eyes were steady.

Zerogoki nodded, then stepped over to Shinji. One massive hand reached around, fingers grasping his hair, and tilted his head up roughly. Shinji gasped in pain, and stared up at the EVA.

Zerogoki leaned closer to him, and said, "FREEDOM!"

"I don't understand." He winced at the pain. Zerogoki shoved him backwards, and he stumbled, to be caught by Rei before he could fall.

"It takes courage to admit your needs," said Shogoki. She stepped aside, and indicated the far door. "You will need courage, in the lands beyond. They are wild and untamed, filled with monsters and Humans. It is just as dangerous in the Dreamlands as anywhere else. Do you accept the danger?"

"Yes." He did not hesitate.

"Yes." Rei stood straight and tall, staring at Zerogoki.

"Yes." Asuka stepped forwards, and stood with the other two Pilots.

"Then proceed, down the seven hundred steps to the Enchanted Wood."

Asuka sat on the last step, and rubbed her leg. "Seven hundred. I can feel every one."

"We lack the time for you to feel sorry for yourself."

"Shut up, Wonder Girl!"

"Speaking of time." Shinji glanced up. "I don't seem to have my watch."

"So?"

"So, does anyone know how long we've been here?"

Neither girl made any comment. Shinji nodded.

"I thought not." He sighed. "Our time in here is limited, but we don't know how limited, or how much time has passed."

"In that event," said Rei, "It does not seem that it would make any sense to concern ourselves with time."

"That was my point, really." Shinji nodded. "Asuka. Let us know when you're ready to proceed."

"I spend more time playing sports than both of you two put together," grumbled Asuka. "Why do my legs hurt more?"

"Perhaps they are supporting a greater mass than ours?"

"Are you saying I'm fat, Wonder Girl?"

"I did not say so." Rei paused, then added, "It is you that is complaining of sore legs."

"That's it!" Asuka jumped to her feet, and raised her fists. "I'm gonna smack you so goddamn hard that you're gonna feel it for days!"

"You appear to be recovered enough to walk again." She turned to Shinji. "Pilot Sohryu is ready to continue."

Shinji turned away from them, so that Asuka would not see his smirk and pummel him. "Let's go. We've got a path, so we might as well follow it."

The path led to a village. Shinji glanced around with a sense of wonder.

"I've been here before."

Small houses crowded the narrow streets. Everywhere he looked, there were cats. Sitting on windowsills, standing on barrels, perched on fences. Staring at him.

Asuka nodded. "I remember. We first met here."

They wandered through the streets and roads of the village. The houses were of a wide variety of constructions, mostly old. When Shinji glanced up to the sky above, he could see two moons.

"Where to now?"

Asuka glanced around nervously. "This place is creepy. No people here at all."

"There is one other Human here."

"Who said that?" Asuka whirled. "There's no-one—"

"Down here."

All three of the Pilots looked down. Seated nearby was a large ginger tabby.

"The cat?"

The tabby grinned. "That would be me." He stood up, on his back legs, and bowed.

"You—" Shinji shook his head, and bowed back to the cat. "Pleased to meet you."

"What other person?" Asuka bowed, then asked, "Who is this other Human?"

The cat glanced towards her. "All Humans come through here, when they enter the Dreamlands. Most move on, and do not return, but one has been waiting here for five years."

"Who?"

"Wait, Asuka." Shinji raised his hand. "First, may I ask where we are?"

"Ulthar, the first town in the Dreamlands." The cat stretched out a paw, indicating the village. "Where no person may harm a cat. We come here, when we dream."

"So you're a cat back in the real world, but here..."

"Here, I am...well, an Ambassador of sorts." He grinned again. "I greet newcomers to the Dreamlands, and help them out if they need it."

"Well, we could use the help." Shinji grinned back; instinctively, he found he liked this cat. "Who is this other person?"

"She will meet only with you, Ikari Shinji." The cat frowned. "She was most insistent on that; she has held to the belief that you will eventually come here, and has waited for you."

"Who?"

The cat indicated a nearby house. "She is within, waiting for you. She has waited thirty years in that house, venturing out only infrequently."

"I thought you said five years."

"Time passes differently in the Dreamlands," said the cat. "Plus, she has occasionally left, though she always returns. The last time she returned was five years ago, and she has been here since."

"Thirty years, waiting for you, eh?" Asuka smirked. "Better not make her wait any longer."

Shinji nodded, and mutely entered the house.

"Great." Asuka sighed, and kicked at the road. "We're in a big rush, we don't even know how big a rush, and he goes off to chat with some old woman."

"Old?" The cat grinned again. "No-one ages in the Dreamlands. That woman is as young and as beautiful today as she was when she came here."

Asuka glanced over at Rei. "For a girl to wait thirty years to meet him...she must really be attached to him."

"That seems obvious."

Sensing a rare opportunity to needle the blue-haired girl, Asuka pressed her advantage home. "Aren't you worried, Wonder Girl?"

"No."

"No?" She smirked. "Some girl he hasn't met, young and beautiful, who's waited so long to meet him, and doesn't want to meet his fiancee? What if he elopes with her? Aren't you worried that you will lose him?"

"You should be more concerned than I."

"I don't think so." She scoffed. "You're welcome to the moron, as far as I'm concerned. Why should I worry?"

Rei glanced back over at the redhead. "I already know who she is."

The house was dark, though not pitch black. He glanced around, and his gaze fell on a figure sitting at the table in the corner. He could see nothing of her in the darkness.

"There is a candle by the door, and matches." Her voice was familiar, but he couldn't place it. He groped around, until his fingers fell on a candlestick. A few seconds later, he found the matches, and lit the candle. Light spilled out, illuminating the room, the table, and the woman.

He gasped.

The woman had the familiar angular face and tousled mop of hair, though her eyes were blue and her hair a mousy brown. She stood from the table, and walked towards him.

"Mom?"

She smiled. "You look well."

He threw himself in her arms, hugging her fiercely. "I thought you were dead!"

"I am."

He stepped back, and looked up in surprise.

"My body is dead. My spirit exists only here, in the Dreamlands." She smiled down sadly. "But fear not. I am happy here."

"Wait." Shinji shook his head. "The cat said you'd been here thirty years. But you drowned only nine years ago...nearly ten years, now."

"Time does not pass the same in the Dreamlands as it does on Earth."

"Yes, he mentioned that, as well."

She frowned slightly. "But it does pass. And you have a mission. You will have seven nights here to complete it."

"What happens after seven nights?"

"You will wake up tomorrow."

Shinji considered this. "So you're saying that after seven nights here...we wake up, and it's tomorrow on Earth. So we could come back again."

"You could, but now that you have properly entered the Dreamlands, there is no controlling where you would come back."

"Oh."

"Or even that your companions would appear with you. So you three must complete your quest within seven days, or it will become much more difficult for you. But I have faith in you, Son." She smiled again. "And in your companions."

Shinji stepped back out into the moonlight. Asuka jumped to her feet.

"Well? Who was it?"

He pointed to the east. "We go that way. Six days, maybe five if we hurry."

"Who was it?"

Shinji shook his head mutely. "We don't have time—"

"You were in there for nearly three hours." Asuka scowled. "And now you tell me we don't have time?"

"We don't," said Shinji. He shook his head again. "We go to the east, and we must hurry."

"And then?"

He smiled bleakly. "And then...we do what we do. Fight and kill the Old One Mnomquah."

"That will be difficult," said Rei, "without our EVA."

"We'll have to manage." He turned to the cat. "Thank you."

The cat nodded gravely. "It was my pleasure."

"May I ask your name?"

"I am called Tiger Akagi."

"...Akagi?" Asuka blinked.

"Yes. You might tell Ritsuko, when you return to the waking world, that I miss her."

"Doctor Akagi is your owner?"

"Please." The cat's voice dripped disdain. "Dogs have owners. Cats have staff."

"Old villages, candles and lanterns, swords and armour." Asuka batted a tree limb out of her way; the path was not wide, and the forest crowded in on both sides. "You'd think we could get some horses."

"Have you seen any?"

"Shut up, Wonder Girl."

Rei turned towards the redhead. "I think it would be best if you ceased to refer to me by that nickname. I do not appreciate it."

"That's the point!"

"For my own part, I do not care. But your use of the nickname bothers Pilot Ikari."

Asuka stopped, and stared at her. "So you'll put up with any insult, unless it bothers him?"

"Words do not concern me; only actions." She glanced towards Shinji. "But I can see that it concerns him, that we do not work well together."

"You haven't been holding back with your own barbs."

Rei blinked, clearly surprised. "You are correct; my own behaviour has not set a good example." She turned to Shinji. "I apologize."

"Why are you apologizing to him?" Asuka jerked a thumb at her chest. "I'm the one you've been insulting!"

"Wait!" Shinji raised his voice above the argument. "Look, up ahead."

The two girls stopped, and looked ahead.

The path opened up, near a sheer stone cliff. Shinji hurried up to the wall, and planted a hand on it.

"This wall is far too smooth for me to climb." He glanced to the sides. "And the forest crowds right up to it; I cannot see any easy way past it."

"Great." Asuka sighed, and sat down on a nearby mossy rock. "Stopped by a wall."

"I could climb it," offered Rei.

"Maybe so, since you're the smallest of us." Shinji glanced up. "But we have no rope, and I don't see anything up there you could attach one to anyway. So we'd still be stuck." He frowned. "She said there'd be a guidepost."

"That woman, back in Ulthar?" Asuka frowned. "You still haven't told us who she was."

"There's no signposts, no caern, no gate...I wonder what she meant."

"It's not like we can double back and ask." The redhead sighed. "Three days gone already, and I doubt we're making good time." She absently kicked the boulder with her heels.

Then stopped.

"Shinji..." She jumped up, and turned to look at the boulder. "Could this be the guidepost?"

"Maybe." He walked up to it, and laid a hand on it. "There's something carved into it...under the moss."

He ripped at the moss, exposing the bare rock. A symbol came into view, a rather lopsided five-pointed star with an eye in the center.

"The Lesser Sign," said Rei.

"What do we do with it?" Asuka leaned over. "Maybe some kind of...ritual?"

"A passage through the mountains..." He glanced back at the wall. "What if the passage goes literally right through the mountain?"

He threw his weight against the boulder, and it shifted.

"Good thinking!" Asuka put her shoulder to the rock. "Come on, Wond—" She gritted her teeth. "Rei."

With all three of them pushing, the boulder slowly slid away, revealing a stone-walled well. A ladder descended down into darkness.

"Anyone got a flashlight?"

Rei spoke up. "Once we are down below, we may find a light source."

"I dunno about you, Rei, but I'd rather not go feet first into the darkness." Asuka cast about, and grabbed a tree limb. "How about a torch?"

"We could spend all day trying to figure out how to light it." Rei glanced over at Shinji. "Do you have matches, or a lighter?"

Shinji shook his head. "No. I can't start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, either." He dug into his satchel. "Rations, water, that's it."

"Flint." Rei kicked at the ground, and a small chunk of rock flipped over. "This looks like flint. Can you not use it to start a fire?"

"Only if you have some metal..." Shinji blinked, and stuck his hand in his pocket. "I've got a coin. My lucky hundred-yen coin." He pulled it out, and flipped it. "I've always kept it on hand for emergencies."

"This is as close to an emergency as I've seen yet." Asuka grinned. "Well, it's your coin; you get to light the torch."

The torch landed on the stone floor, but did not go out. Shinji followed it, releasing the rusty metal ladder once his feet hit the ground. He wiped his hands on his pants, and picked up the torch.

"Okay, we got a stone passage." He touched a wall. "It's kind of damp, and definitely dirty, but it goes straight towards the mountains. I think that this is the way we have to go."

He shivered; the air down here was quite chill. The stone walls were well-fitted, but quite close together. He wasn't overly claustrophobic, but he wished there was more room.

"Look out below."

He glanced up, then stepped out of the way as Asuka dropped down beside him. She held an unlit torch, which she lit from his. "Rei's coming, let's get out of the way." They both moved some distance from the well. A third torch, also lit, dropped to the stone floor, and then Rei climbed down. She picked it up, then joined the other two.

"Might interest you to know, Rei, that Shinji here got a pretty good look up my skirt while I was climbing down." Asuka smacked Shinji across the back of the head. "The pervert."

"I doubt that he saw anything worth noting."

Asuka scowled, but decided against any further argument on this course. "I'll go first." She turned and marched down the passage.

Shinji shrugged, then turned to Rei. "I didn't see a thing."

"Did I not say that?"

"How long have we been walking?"

"How should I know, Shinji? No watches, remember?" Asuka sighed, and added, "Sorry. My legs are starting to hurt again, so I figure it's been at least four hours."

"We have four days left, and we do not know how far this tunnel goes, nor how far from the other end the Pool of Tears would be." Rei paused, then added, "My legs are also sore. But I think we should keep moving."

"Why can't we rest?"

Shinji spoke up again. "If we stop to rest, we may fall asleep. If we fall asleep, our torches may go out, leaving us to travel in the dark. or they may consume all of our oxygen, leaving us to suffocate. We keep going."

"I hate it when you're right," muttered Asuka. She pressed a hand against the cold stone wall. "Dunno if I'd want to sleep in here anyway. It's like a tomb or something."

"There is light ahead."

Asuka glanced back at Rei. "I don't see any light."

"It is very faint." Rei pointed down the tunnel. "Approximately a kilometer and a half that way."

Asuka turned back the way they had been travelling. "Are you sure? I can't see a goddamn—wait. I can see it now." She set down her torch, walked some distance towards the light. "Yeah. It's the sunset."

"Can't be." Shinji shook his head. "We're walking east."

"But if it's the sunrise, then we've been here a lot longer than I thought." Asuka broke into a run. "Come on!"

They ran down the tunnel...and stopped.

It was not the sun at all, but lamplight. Dozens of lamps, illuminating a large stone chamber. The passage continued on the other side of the chamber, and a few side-passages, even more narrow, led off the sides.

In the center of the chamber was a massive table, carved of the living stone. And stretched out on the table was a half-butchered human being. Knives were laid out around the corpse.

"Everyone, grab a lantern and a knife." Shinji dropped his torch and walked up to the table. He did his best to ignore the corpse, but his eyes were drawn to the face. It stared up at him from a ruined face, almost accusingly. "Let's hurry, before the dinner guests arrive."

"Shinji." Rei turned towards him, and held something up.

It was a plug suit. The number 04 was visible on the chest.

"Oh, no...Toji." He turned back to the corpse. "How did he...?"

"He must have been brought here by the Old One."

Shinji shivered, and collapsed next to the table. "I'm sorry, Toji..."

"Shinji. We need to go."

"I..."

"We can mourn him later. But we gotta go now!" Asuka's voice had a thread of fear to it now. "If we don't get movin', we're gonna be mourning ourselves next!"

"Someone is coming."

Shinji stood, and turned towards the passage.

"Come on. We have an Old One to kill."

At long last, the passage opened up into a valley. Shinji blinked in the light, and looked around.

Stunted trees grew throughout the valley, except in the center. There, thirteen tall stones stood around a pool.

"Is that it? The Pool of Tears?"

"One way to find out." Asuka set down her lantern, and started down the slope.

"Wait!" Shinji ran up to her, and put a hand on her shoulder. "We should rest before we go down there."

"Forget it." Asuka shook her head. "It's right there, and as soon as we kill Mnomquah, we can go home, right?"

"No." He shook his head. "Killing Mnomquah is secondary. Our primary job is to destroy the Pool of Tears."

"How do we do that?"

"I don't know!" He scowled. "I haven't got the foggiest clue! Do you?"

"We knock down one of the stones."

They both turned to face Rei.

"One of the stones?" Shinji looked puzzled.

"How do you know this, Wonder Girl? I mean—" Asuka bit her lip.

"The stones act as a focus for the Flow." Rei closed her eyes. "I can feel it, rushing into the Pool." She opened her eyes again. "Remove even one stone, we break the Flow, and it would require hundreds of years for the Pool to recover."

Asuka glanced over at Shinji. "Your girlfriend is creepy."

"Comes in handy, sometimes, doesn't it?" Shinji grinned. "Okay, Asuka. Your way makes more sense. We just go knock over one stone."

They rushed down the slope.

"These suckers are huge." Asuka walked up to one of the standing stones. It stood four meters tall, and obviously weighed many tonnes. "I'm not sure we can do this now."

"Rei." Shinji glanced over to the albino girl. "Can you affect the Flow without an EVA?"

"I think that I can, in this place." She closed her eyes, then opened them again. "The Old One is nearby."

"Oh, shit. Hurry!"

Rei raised her hands before her, and frowned in concentration. The nearest standing stone began to vibrate.

"It's working!" Asuka sounded excited. "Way to go, Wonder—"

Her voice was cut off by a sudden, gasping cough. Shinji turned, to see the redheaded girl staring down at the massive claw penetrating from her chest. She looked up, an expression of surprise on her face.

"Asuka..." Shinji stumbled forward a step. She reached up towards him, then collapsed.

Mnomquah rose up from the pool behind her. A massive lizardlike form, a crown of tentacles springing from his head and empty eyesockets staring down at the two remaining children. He lifted Asuka over his head, then tossed her limp body aside contemptuously.

There was no thought in Shinji's head except vengeance. He grabbed a nearby rock, and charged the creature, bellowing his rage. Mnomquah casually slapped him, and he flew backward to slam into one of the monoliths. The impact knocked the breath from him, and he struggled to rise.

Mnomquah stepped forwards again, the empty lidless sockets focused on Rei. To any other observer, she would have seemed cool and collected, but Shinji could see the terror behind the mask. She raised her hand, and waved it towards the monolith.

It shattered into a thousand pieces. Mnomquah roared in rage, stepped fowards again, and swung a massive fist straight down on Rei.

"No!" Shinji pushed himself to his feet. The effort made him cough, and he saw flecks of blood flying from his lips. "Fucking bastard!" He closed his eyes.

The Flow. Rei could tap it...maybe I can—

There was nothing. He opened his eyes again, looked up at the approaching Old One. He stared up at the creature, resignation setting in.

"Fine. Go ahead." He smirked. "She already destroyed the monolith. You're trapped here now."

The claws descended, and he cried out in pain as they carved into his torso. The pain lasted only a few seconds before the darkness took him.

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