Terror And Pain
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.
Azathoth spoke of loneliness.
IT IS NOT LONELINESS AS YOU KNOW OF IT. WE ARE LONELY FOR THE SOLE REASON THAT WE ARE WITHOUT PEERS.
Odd. He'd thought himself a world expert on loneliness, but he was still an amateur. The pain he'd felt, the emotions he'd battled, or just surrendered to, seemed pale and weak next to those of Azathoth. Sometimes, it was illuminating to discover just how insignificant you really were.
IMAGINE HOW THAT FEELING MUST BE TO ONE SUCH AS I.
He'd faced off with Cthugha, and had felt helpless before a creature of such stupendous power. But Azathoth was far more powerful than Cthugha. He still didn't really understand what was keeping him alive. Why didn't Azathoth snuff him out, the way he himself had snuffed out many an Old One?
I HAVE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO.
Sixteen: Terror And Pain
Misato stared at Rei in disbelief.
"Doctor Akagi has been dead for at least a month. This is not theory; I have seen her body. I've examined the wound. She is quite dead, and therefore would have some difficulty making a telephone call."
"Nonetheless, I received a telephone call from a woman calling herself Doctor Akagi, whose voice matched the one I knew, and who had certain facts about myself that only Doctor Akagi could have known." Rei stood her ground. "And she told me that you have a procedure available to recover Pilot Ikari."
"Unless Ritsuko grew a spare heart while no-one was looking, that message could not be from her!"
"This is largely regardless of our purpose in being here. You have a means to recover Pilot Ikari."
"I believe we covered that, Rei." Misato crossed her arms. "We cannot risk losing another Pilot."
Asuka spoke up again. "I think it's our decision if we want to risk it."
"Wrong." Misato shook her head. "Legally, Asuka, I am currently your guardian. Plus, I am in direct line of command above both of you."
"You are not my legal guardian," observed Rei quietly.
"I'm still your superior officer!"
"Commander Ikari outranks you." Rei turned. "I shall inform him that you are interfering with the rescue operation."
Rei turned back. "Yes, Captain Katsuragi?"
She was obviously fuming. "You're quite willing to blackmail me to get your way, aren't you?"
"Yes." Rei nodded. "I feel a strong attachment to Pilot Ikari."
Misato chuckled. "After this, he'd better not claim that you still hate him." She turned to Maya. "Prepare Zerogoki to intercept that carrier wave."
"No." Gendo Ikari walked into the room. Everyone snapped to attention, save Misato.
"All due respect, sir." Her voice held very little respect. "The safety of the Pilots is my first and only concern."
"I do not object to the mission." Gendo sat down at the table, and Fuyutsuki took up position at his right side. "Rei will not undertake this mission. Pilot Sohryu will be sent instead."
Rei's face froze. Misato had lived with the girl long enough by now to recognize her iron control over her emotions. But she directed her arguments to the head of NERV.
"Sir, I believe that Zerogoki is the best unit to be sent on this mission. Nigoki has a greater combat capability, due to being a full production unit instead of a prototype. Asuka's sync rate has improved to within a few points of Rei's, and the greater capability of Nigoki more than offsets the difference between the two."
"You are not privy to all the information, Captain. Ready Evangelion Unit Two and Pilot Sohryu for the rescue operation. Pilot Ayanami will remain on standby during the operation, in the event that an Old One attacks while we are vulnerable."
She scowled, but she had her orders. "Zerogoki will be brought to one hundred percent charge before the rescue operation begins. Pilot Ayanami, I want you in your plug suit and seated in the plug from the start of the operation until its completion." She glanced over at Maya. "What sort of time frame are we looking at?"
"The peaks last for thirty minutes at most."
"So if neither returns within thirty minutes, neither can for three days?"
"That is correct."
She turned back to Asuka. "Pilot Sohryu. You will have thirty minutes to make pickup, and if you fail in that time, you will be trapped for at least three days. Do you understand?"
"What are you, stupid?" Asuka jerked a thumb over at Maya. "I was standing right here when she told you!"
"Do. You. Understand?"
She swallowed. "Yes, ma'am."
Misato turned to Rei. "With any luck, you will be out of Zerogoki after thirty minutes. But you may be in there as long as three days. Can you handle that?"
"We have six hours to prepare."
"We'll need them. Let's move like we have a purpose, people!"
AT LONG LAST, YOUR FRIENDS COME TO RESCUE YOU.
Asuka and Rei? It would have to be them. No-one else could come.
IT IS ONE OF THOSE ONLY. AND HER CHOICE OF TACTICS IS UNWISE.
Asuka turned as Rei approached, and gave the albino girl a thumbs-up. "Don't worry, Rei. I'll bring him back for you."
She nodded. "I thank you."
She stepped a little closer, and spoke quietly. "I know you want to go after him yourself. For the same reason that I do. And personally, I think you'd be the better choice for this mission."
"I have a higher sync ratio." Rei nodded. "For this mission, that would be an advantage."
"More importantly," said Asuka, "he'd want to come back with you."
She sealed her plugsuit, hit the compression tab. And glanced back up at Rei.
"See you in half an hour."
Rei nodded. "Good luck."
There was a blinding flash of light overhead, and he found himself back in the court. The mad beings around him scuttled away, moving as far from him as they could. Did they fear him?
Above, the winged form of an Evangelion, without armour, burst into being, and slammed into the ground. It spread its wings, and raised a Lance on high, pointing it at Azathoth.
DO NOT THINK THAT THE CHILD CAN BRING YOU FROM THIS PLACE. I BROUGHT YOU HERE, AND WITHOUT MY WILL, YOU CANNOT ESCAPE.
He didn't care. He ran to the Evangelion.
I WILL DESTROY THAT ONE BEFORE I LET YOU—
Azathoth paused, as though in disbelief, as a second Evangelion materialized on the far side of the court. It too was unarmoured, but the Lance in its hands, split like a crowbill, advertised its identity as clearly as its red armour would normally have done.
"Shinji!" Asuka's voice rang from Nigoki's mouth. "Get to Shogoki!"
He hadn't stopped running.
Nigoki strode forward, swinging the Lance and slamming it into Azathoth. The weapon passed straight through the creature, leaving no apparent damage. Less than a second later, the Lance dissolved.
"I can't hold this thing for very long, Shinji!"
He was already running as fast as he could. What more could he do?
Azathoth lashed out with a blast of the Flow, sending Nigoki flying across the court.
He needed Shogoki; he needed to reach her, to be safe, to escape. In desperation, he called out to her.
And she responded, taking a slow step towards him. He concentrated, as best he could while fleeing for his life, and she broke into a shambling run. She reached down, and grasped him in her hand.
And once again, they were One.
IT SHALL NOT BE ALLOWED!
"You have no say in this." It was not his voice, and it was not hers. It was Theirs. They raised a hand, and the Flow streamed along Their body, to leap across and sear Azathoth. Nigoki broke away from the battle, spread his wings and leaped into the sky.
Joyfully, They followed, back to the land of the living.
But Azathoth was not to be denied. He followed them, a boiling mass of hatred, rage and insanity.
We cannot lead him back to our realm, My Dreamer. We must lose him.
Confuse the Path.
It took but a touch of the Flow, and Azathoth veered off on a random tangent. But even so thwarted, he was not yet done with them.
FOOL. NONE MAY LEAVE THIS REALM WITHOUT MY CONSENT. YOU SHALL PAY THE PRICE FOR YOUR AFFRONTERY. A NIGHTMARE LIVES IN THE RED-HAIRED DREAMER; IT SHALL COME TO THE FRONT. THE CHILD SHE LIVES WITHIN SHALL BECOME YOUR EXECUTIONER.
"Biometrics on EVA-01's pilots have returned!"
"He's back." Maya turned from her monitor. "He's just reformed in the plug. Like magic!"
"I've got a bad harmonic on EVA-02, Captain." Aoba was chewing his lower lip. "Something grimy is happening in that plug."
The monitor switched to the plug cam on EVA-02. Asuka was writhing in the plug, screaming in agony.
"Das Biest des Dunklen Hügels! Das große grüne Auge! Sein Zorn soll die Welt schütteln!"
Nigoki tore itself free from its moorings.
"Misato!" Shinji's voice was panicked. "You need to get Nigoki out of the cages! Launch him now!"
Misato turned to Hyuuga. "Launch tube status?"
He mashed buttons, then turned back. "Route to Geofront clear by visual inspection."
The catapults arced, and Nigoki was fired up the tube to the surface. Misato turned back to Shinji. "Can you stop her?"
"I think so." His expression was grim. "Shogoki and I are ready to try, at least."
"Activate A20 induction."
"It is not needed." Shinji's voice was calm. "Shogoki and I are one."
"Route to Geofront confirmed clear by visual inspection. EVA-02 is still out of sync."
"Captain!" Maya turned in horror. "I'm getting a high-energy reading from EVA-02."
"It appears to be the same sort that we witnessed just before EVA-04 went rogue."
Silence reigned on the command deck for a long moment. Then Aoba broke it.
"I've got signs of mental contamination along EVA-02's command pathways. Looks bad, Captain."
"Eject the plug."
"Plug is away. Umbilicus ejected, and EVA-02 is on internal—Oh, hell."
"Just like EVA-04. Internal power is not dropping."
Misato ground her teeth. "Redesignate EVA-02 as an Old One. Begin startup sequence on Unit Zero. Inform Pilot Ayanami to stand by for immediate launch."
"Status of Pilot Sohryu?"
"I've got biofeedback, but..." Maya shook her head. "Ma'am, her EEG is flatline. EVA Unit Two is still—wait." She leaned forward. "EVA Unit Two is stable, but the mental patterns are fully active, as though it was still plugged."
She turned and looked at the monitor. And she knew what had to be done.
It was no longer Their Brother. He was gone, his Dreamer was gone, and only the Old One remained.
Even as They strode towards it, it was changing. The armour cracked and fell away. The head and wings withered, and the chest split open to reveal a massive eye.
Cyäegha. The Beast of Dunkelhügel.
We will stop him.
Already, Cyäegha had raised a Barrier. They stepped into it, and eroded it. They swung a massive fist, catching the Beast directly in the eye.
It howled, but the pain would be minor; the Beast could not be harmed by regular matter. They stepped back, and formed the Lance.
Do not hesistate, my Sleeper. The red-haired one is gone from this body.
But our Brother may yet remain. If there is any way to save him—
There is not. And he would not wish us to try.
They swung the Lance, bringing it down on the Old One's shoulders.
And it dissolved, returning to the Flow. In shock, they staggered back, then were blasted back into the far side of the dome.
"Power readings are right the hell off the scale." Maya was fiddling with the controls. "I can't dial back the gates far enough to even get a guess."
Misato stared at the crumpled body of EVA-01. "Status of Unit One?"
"Systems are still online. Positive EEG from the Pilot. But they're not getting up."
"I can see that!" Misato bit her lip. "Sorry, Hyuuga." She turned to Maya again. "Full rocket barrage. Try to buy her some time."
"That will be completely ineffective."
Misato turned, and scowled as Gendo entered the command deck. "I am aware of that, sir. But I'm hoping at least to delay the Old One."
"It will not even accomplish that." He sat down behind his desk, hands steepled in front of him. "Status of Zerogoki?"
Misato blinked; it was the first time he'd used the Evangelion's name as a name, instead of merely designation. "Fully charged, and currently starting A20 Nerve Induction."
"Patch me through to the Pilot."
"Proceed to Terminal Dogma, and bring one of the Elder Signs."
Misato scowled. "Elder Signs? What the hell—"
Gendo glared at her. "You do not need to know, Captain."
The massive doors swung open slowly, the huge cams rotating and drawing them back. Rei waited until they had opened enough to admit Zerogoki, then strode forward.
Beyond was the writhing beast of her nightmares.
Shub-Niggurath. Father of the Evangelions, and most powerful of the terrestrial Old Ones. Of all the Elder Gods, only two were more powerful, and they were bound far from Earth.
Shub-Niggurath was bound here, below the Geofront. She had suspected it, for he appeared in her dreams. The five posts around him formed his bonds. And she had been instructed to remove one of them.
She lifted it from the ground, and Shub-Niggurath raged. She could feel his hatred pressing against her mind.
ALL OF YOU WILL BE DESTROYED
"There was no doubt in my mind," said Rei. "But even with only four posts, you cannot yet escape."
YOU HASTEN THE TIME OF MY RENEWAL
"Time is running out for all of us." She stepped back, the physical Elder Sign cradled in her hands. "I have seen it in my dreams. I know the future. I know what will become of us."
AND YET STILL YOU STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE
"That is all we can do." She turned away, and walked away from the squalling nightmare.
She knew that her death lay behind her.
"Unit Zero has reached the Geofront."
"The Old One is approaching command level. Unit One is active again."
"I'm reading a high-level energy event!"
"Brace for impact!" Misato grabbed the rail and clung to it for dear life as a massive tremor wracked the command deck.
"The Old One is still moving! It's approaching—Shit. The bulkheads that we put up after Shogoki busted in here. The Old One is peeling them off."
"Those bulkheads are too strong for even an Evangelion to damage!"
"Captain, it's not using brute strength. It's just...walking through them. They're melting like rice paper."
"Status of Unit Zero?"
"Approaching this level. The Old One is right outside!"
Another tremor rocked the command deck, and the Old One smashed its way into the chamber. Screams echoed around Misato, as the technicians broke and ran.
She could not blame them. Not everyone had her advantage. She stood her ground, even took a step forward, staring at the massive orb in the chest of the former Unit Two.
The Old One raised a hand, reaching for her.
And was intercepted by a blue armoured fist.
Zerogoki grabbed the Old One, and she could hear the crunch as the Beast's arms were crushed in his grip. He picked it up, and tossed him back through the opening. He turned back, his one eye focussing on Misato. With Rei's voice, he asked, "Are you injured, Captain?"
"No. Thanks, you two."
Zerogoki turned away, and stalked towards the Old One. In his other hand, he held a copper disc, five meters in diameter, and inscribed with a pentagram. He threw it, like a discus, and it connected with the Old One.
It screamed. Bluish light played around it where the disc touched it, and Zerogoki ran forward, grasping it and dragging it from the command deck.
She shook off the stun. Her Brother and his Dreamer were engaged in battle, and her own Dreamer, Shinji, was still dizzied by the massive blast of energy they had absorbed. But he remained within the Dream, if apart from her. They had fought in this manner before, and could do so again.
But she felt a touch of loneliness.
Slowly, she stood, and marched towards Cyäegha. His form continued to mutate, resembling her Brother Nigoki less and less by the minute. He was weakened by the Elder Sign, but would continue to fight.
Will it not slay him outright?
I have no knowledge of the Elder Sign, Dreamer Shinji. We should take gratitude that it is harming him at all.
She summoned the Lance, and strode forward.
I can see this one's past. Trapped beneath the dark hill, in Germany, and worshipped by mad cultists. Including the father of the fire-haired Dreamer.
Then he was channeled through Asuka?
She raised an arm, and brought the Flow to her hand, creating a torrent of energies that blasted outward and tore into Cyäegha's body.
Yes. Azathoth's parting gift to her.
The energies seared Cyäegha, burning off arms, legs and wings. She raised the Lance over the incapacitated Old One, and hesitated.
We cannot save her, my Dreamer. And she is no longer within this body.
He seized control, and brought the Lance down, slicing through the monstrosity.
The medtechs were running, the gurney practically bouncing between them. They wheeled it into the sickbay, and hastily transferred the patient to a hospital bed.
"Get her wired up," barked Misato. "EEG first, then worry about the rest if we need to."
"She needs to be intubated," yelled a doctor. "If we don't do that, she could die."
"If her EEG is flat," said Misato, "we will have to kill her anyway."
The doctor stared at her in disbelief, then turned to his aides. "EEG, stat. Hurry, and we might still be able to save this kid. Eric, start intubation just as soon as the electrodes are in place."
The doctor turned to face Misato. "Your job is to direct battles. Mine is to save lives. I keep my ass off your command deck."
Misato bit her lip, then nodded and stepped back.
"We have EEG activity. Delta and Theta."
"Oh, thank God," sighed Misato.
"Yeah." The doctor turned back to the interns. "Intubate. IV. Then get a thermal wrap on her."
Shinji stared through the windows as the doctors feverishly worked on Asuka's comatose body.
"She came to rescue me." He shuddered. "She risked everything, lost everything, because she came to rescue me."
"Either of us would have done so," said Rei. "Your father elected to send her instead of me."
"He would not say. I can only assume that Zerogoki—"
"No." He shook his head. "Why would she save me?"
Rei hesitated, before answering. "Both of us were willing to do so. Your life and well-being have value to me." She laid a hand on his shoulder. "I can only assume that you had value to her as well."
"It's been almost a week." Misato sighed, and swirled the ice in her glass. "She's breathing on her own. But if it weren't for the EEG, I'd swear she was a vegetable."
"Her mind snapped," said Shinji. "She faced off with her own personal nightmare, and she couldn't handle it."
"Thank you for your professional opinion, Doctor Ikari." Misato drained her highball.
"You are not correct," said Rei. "Her mind is completely gone."
Misato frowned. "You mean the EEG—"
"EEG does not detect thoughts. It only detects brain activity."
"Isn't that the same thing?" asked Shinji.
Rei shook her head. "You should know that her thoughts may not be her own."