Fear

Stars Burning Brightly

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.

"'I am nobody's slave.'" Asuka's arms were wrapped tight around her body. "That's what he said."

She sat in the briefing room, still in her plugsuit. Her hair was dry; for whatever reason, LCL did not cling to hair or skin, but shed off almost instantly. Shinji and Rei also wore their plugsuits, and Misato and Ritsuko had come directly from the command deck.

Shinji sighed. "I tried telling you this, Asuka. I've been trying to tell you for the last two weeks. You're not the master; you're the partner. Not even that, really; you and he are two halves of one being." He tapped her forehead. "You have to understand it here." He tapped her chest. "And here."

"I know that." She shuddered. "Nigoki's made that clear enough."

Shinji shook his head. "You know it, but you don't really accept it."

"She is starting to."

He looked over at Rei. "How do you know?"

"When she called him Nigoki," said Rei. "It was no longer just a designation. It was a name."

Fear

Nine: Stars Burning Brightly

"Do you need to sleep with her tonight?"

Shinji looked over at Rei. He had been sitting on the balcony, looking up at the stars, when she approached.

"I know you prefer to have me in the same room as you." He looked down at his feet. "Tell the truth, I kind of like it myself."

Rei took a step back. "Please...I..." She looked away, hands clasped before her. "I do not require it."

"I didn't say that." He winced. "I...I need to know if what happened today will affect her dreams."

"We have the A20 clips still. You can see her dreams from anywhere in the apartment."

"They only work some of the time." He sighed. "Some times, they don't work, and then I need to be there, to find out what the dream was about." He looked up at her. "Her nightmares have been getting worse."

"I have seen this."

"But there's something about her that I haven't figured out yet." He made a fist. "Something that's...tied into...her problems with piloting."

"She has a superiority complex, and is unwilling to admit it."

"On the surface, yes. But underneath..." He sighed. "She wears a mask. Like you do. Like I do."

"As Commander Ikari and Captain Katsuragi do."

"Yeah..." He sighed. "I got behind her mask once before. I need to do it again." He stood, and turned to Rei. "I'm sorry, but I do need to spend tonight in her room."

"I understand. Duty takes precedence over personal wishes."

"I would rather spend it with you." He reached out, and caressed her face.

She batted his hand away, her eyes wide with fright. She staggered back a step, tripping over the doorframe, then paused, her breath coming in ragged gasps.

Shinji winced, and looked down.

"I'm sorry."

He looked up again; she'd taken the words right from his mouth. She looked across at him, the pain and fear still evident in her eyes.

Then the mask slipped back on again.

"I shall keep your impulses in mind, and remain outside of arms' reach."

She turned, and stalked back into the living room.

Behind his desk, Gendo stared at Rei across folded hands.

"You have become rather close to my son."

"I had assumed that that was your intent." Rei looked down at the floor. "After all, you appointed him a future life-partner to me."

"I did not intend for you to make any assumptions." He lowered his hands to the desktop. "You are to obey my orders, and remember your duties." He stood up. "If it is not covered by your orders, you do not react to any situation!" His voice had risen to a shout.

Rei continued to stare downward; she feared that she knew what was about to happen.

"Well?" Gendo shouted. "What do you have to say for yourself?"

She looked up, uncommon fire in her eyes. "I need answer only to myself!"

The office was silent for long seconds. Finally, Gendo adjusted his glasses, and quietly said, "Well. I see that you have again forgotten your place." He unbuckled his belt, pulled it free. "I shall have to re-educate you."

The office was soundproof. She knew this from prior instances. No sound could reach anyone outside once the door was sealed. She knew this all too well.

She screamed anyway.

Shinji sat bolt upright.

"Was is?" Asuka looked around blearily, to see Shinji leaving her room at high speed. He tore open the door to his room, and ran in. Asuka sat up, and looked through the open doors.

Rei was convulsing, her hands held over her head. The screams were not of fear, but of pain.

"What the hell is going on?"

"I don't know!" He reached down, and touched Rei's arm.

She swung at him. Her fist caught him a glacing blow across the face, and he fell backwards, twisting, his head slamming into the wall.

"Shinji!" She ran towards him, but hesitated; he'd struck his head. If she moved him...

He moaned, and picked himself up. His face was...torn. A chunk of his lip had been pierced through by a tooth, and hung at an odd angle. His hair, where his head had struck the wall, was matted, as though he'd bled into it.

And still Rei screamed.

"Damn..." He winced, and fingered his lip. "I keep forgetting."

"What do we do?" Asuka looked around the room, and her eyes settled on a pillow. She grabbed it, and smacked Rei across the face with it.

The girl stopped screaming, her eyes wide open.

Asuka dropped the pillow, and smirked. "Figured that'd wake you up."

Rei sat up slowly, still shaking, then looked over at Shinji. "Your face..."

"Yeah." He pushed the torn skin back into place, waited until he could feel the dull burning sensation as it started to knit. "This'll take all day to heal."

"I...I apologize."

"It's all right. You were a bit...distraught."

"No kidding." Asuka shook her head. Rei glanced over at her.

"I thank you for waking me, Asuka. Please leave my room before I am reminded how you did so." Her voice was chill.

Asuka snorted. "No need to shower me with gratitude, Wonder Girl." She turned, stalked back into her room, and slammed the door.

Then closed it again, more gently.

"Figures." Shinji released his lip; it stayed in place. "I figure that Asuka'd be the one with nightmares, and instead, you bring down the house." He sighed, and looked down. "I don't know who I'm kidding. I'm not doing a very good job at training you two. I'm..." He shrugged. "I'm fumbling around in the dark, hoping I don't screw up too badly."

"That is all that any of us could do." He looked up; Rei's face was composed, but not frozen. "At least you have had some success; nothing else so far has worked."

"What was it about?" Shinji fingered the scalp wound. "I remember that I saw the nightmare, but..." He shrugged. "But then I got woken up by you screaming, and had my head slammed into the wall."

She paused, a long and uncomfortable time. "I think that if you do not remember, it would be best not to remind you."

He considered this, then asked, "In your opinion, would my knowing help me in my training you?"

She paused again, then said, "Your father felt it necessary to discipline me earlier today." The mask slipped on. "I have acted in error."

He shivered.

She lay back down, pulling the sheet over herself. "You should return to Asuka's room. The night is not yet over."

As usual, Rei was the first up.

Shinji sat down, and she wordlessly placed a cup of coffee before him. He smiled his thanks, and sipped.

"Shinji."

He glanced up. "Yeah?"

"I apologize for last night."

"You already did." He touched his lip. "And it's almost healed."

"You, too?" Asuka had wandered in, still somewhat bleary. "You mean you heal really quick, too?"

"Yeah. Remember two weeks ago, when Toji attacked me?" Shinji stood, and pulled up his shirt. There was not a mark on his stomach, even though he'd been badly cut. "All healed."

"All three of us heal quickly." Rei poured a second cup of coffee, and set it in front of Asuka. "I do not know why."

Shinji frowned. "What do the three of us have in common?"

"We all pilot EVA," offered Asuka. Shinji shook his head.

"No. I healed quickly before I even saw EVA."

"If I recall correctly, both you and Asuka are without mothers. I do not remember my mother." Rei glanced between the two of them. "However since other people have lost parents without gaining the ability to heal at an accelerated rate, I doubt that this is significant."

"You lost your mother, Shinji?" Asuka tilted her head.

"Yeah. She drowned." He sipped his coffee, more to steel himself than any other reason. "She went crazy, when I was five years old. Fought her way past guards, and threw herself into the ocean to drown." He looked down. "I still have nightmares about it."

Asuka stared at him, eyes wide in shock. "All Mutti wanted was to get to the ocean. When they restrained her, she went mad. She fought so hard to get to the ocean, and they had to lock her up. And..." She swallowed. "She...killed herself, because she couldn't get to the ocean." She shook her head. "That's...maybe that's the link. Something to do with the ocean."

Both turned to look at Rei. The albino girl raised an eyebrow.

"I told you already. I do not remember my mother."

"What's the earliest thing you remember?" Shinji leaned closer to her. "As far back as you recall?"

"Waking up in a hospital." She shuddered, a most un-Rei-like reaction. "Your father leaned over me, told me he'd be taking care of me." She looked down. "I was seven years old."

Shinji glanced over to Asuka. "How old were you?"

"I was nine when she started going crazy. She killed herself just last year." Tears were welling in Asuka's eyes. "But my healing was...I've always had it." She shook her head. "We're all so fucked up. All neglected by our parents, all..." She looked down again. "All freaks."

"Then I suggest," said Rei, "that we 'freaks' look out for each other."

"Good morning." Misato looked quite unpleasant, still half asleep. Not that this was unusual. She staggered to the table, and collapsed into her chair. "Everyone's still here?"

"I must leave for school." Rei wordlessly set a coffee, a beer, and a bowl of soup before Misato, then turned and left.

"Uh?" Misato shrugged, and popped open the beer. "What's crawled up her butt?"

"She had a rough night." Shinji grabbed his bookbag, stood, and headed for the door.

"I musta slept through the screaming..." Misato shrugged, and glanced over at Asuka. "How about you? After yesterday, I would've expected you to have a bad dream or two..."

"Slept like a baby." She stood, grabbed her bag, and waved. "Bye!"

Misato watched the redhead turn the corner, then scowled. "Christ! Now they've gotten her doing it, too!"

Rei glanced towards the door; Asuka had not yet emerged. "Shinji...when I apologized this morning..."

"I already said-"

She touched his lips with a finger. "I was not apologizing for injuring you."

He paused, then nodded. "You were afraid."

"Yes." She looked down. "I do not want to...be afraid of you. I am not afraid of you. I am afraid that I may hurt you." She looked back up at him, the mask set aside. "Please remember that I do not want to hurt you."

His cell phone rang. He winced, and said, "Sorry."

Her phone rang before he could get his out. He stared at the number on the display, then accepted the call.

"Pilot Ikari. All three of us are on our way."

Rei looked down at her phone, then clicked the cancel button. "We should wait for Asuka."

"Yes." He smiled. "We'll slow down for her."

"We picked this up on long-range thermal imaging." Ritsuko clicked the remote, and the screen behind her sprang to life. A ball of fire, twisting in obscene directions, writhed on the viewer behind her. She carefully did not look. "Commander Ikari has identified this as the Old One Cthugha."

"I was unable to sense its presence."

"Cthugha is listed third in power among the Old Ones," said Ritsuko. "I'm not surprised that you couldn't pick him up, Rei; his power levels are far beyond anything you can imagine."

"What does he want?" Shinji stepped forward. "Does that book of my Dad's tell us what he's after?"

"No." Ritsuko shook her head. "Commander Ikari has stated that Cthugha's motives will be completely incomprehensible to us."

"He's in orbit, right?" Asuka stared at the image. "How are we gonna fight him way up there?"

"He's in orbit, but around the sun. Roughly at the orbit of Saturn."

There was a long pause, then Shinji swallowed, and said, "So...how big is he?"

"Roughly five times the diameter of Jupiter."

The pause was even longer this time. Rei finally broke it.

"When do we deploy?"

"Are you crazy?" Asuka exploded. "That...thing...is so goddamn huge, it won't even notice an EVA!"

"We were called in. Therefore, someone here has formulated a plan to deal with Cthugha."

"What? Feed us to it first, and hope it's happy?"

"Quiet!" Misato's voice cut through the argument. The two subsided, and Misato turned to Ritsuko. "Do you have a plan?"

"Actually, yes." Ritsuko smiled. "Cthugha has servitors on Earth. We have detected three of them converging on Tokyo-3. He cannot make contact with Terminal Dogma unless one of these servitors reaches there, and he only has two hours left before he's locked away again. So we need stop only the servitors."

"Okay!" Asuka raised a fist. "I'm good at beating down servitors!"

"Excellent." Ritsuko looked from her, to Shinji, to Rei. "We lost track of the servitors, due to the interference of the volcanic mountains. So we've placed sonar units and radar sets around the city, and will be vectoring you to intercept as we detect them. Suit up, and prepare to deploy."

"Zerogoki, in position."

"Shogoki, in position." Shinji hefted the battle rifle; he hoped it would prove more effective against this "servitor" thing than it did against an Old One.

"Nigoki, ready to kick ass!"

"Still no contact, maintain your positions."

"Hey, Wonder Girl. Wanna make this interesting?"

"We are strapped into giant warbeasts, armed with the latest of high-tech weaponry, about to do battle with the servitors of a giant intelligent sun, with the fate of humanity on the line. In what way could it be more interesting?"

"Five thousand yen says I get two of them."

"I accept the wager."

"Hey, Shinji. You want in on this?"

He clicked the commboard. "All I have is a hundred yen."

"Boring!"

"Contact!"

"Where?"

"Sector twelve. Rei, that's your area. Your vector south one-seventy, ten miles for intercept."

"I am engaging."

"Contact! Asuka, your vector for intercept is north twenty, twelve miles."

"Great! I can finish off Rei's when I'm done with mine!"

"Unit one, hold position, we have no third contact yet."

"Cannon fire is ineffective."

"It's protoplasmic; the cannon shells are going right through them without exploding!"

"We're sending up incinerator units."

"Make it quick!"

"Contact! No, wait..."

"What?"

"I had a sensor ghost."

"Shinji!"

He jumped, and turned, to see an explosion in the distance.

"What the Christ was that?"

"Unit Zero has employed an active energy attack against the target. EVA-00 is silent, but the target is destroyed."

"Contact!"

"Where away?"

"I can't lock it down—"

"Switch to UV."

"Nothing. It's not registering on UV or on IR."

"Try J-band radar."

"Nothing! Wait, I got a visual—Unit One, move!"

He did not hesitate, but broke his unit into a run. He had no direction to run, no idea where the threat was coming from—

"It's shifting—Oh, God!"

A wall of protoplasm rose up before Shogoki, and he couldn't stop in time. It washed over him like a wave, and he screamed.

"Incinerator isn't working!" Asuka discarded the flamer, and grabbed a gyroc rifle. The creature was an oozing pile of formless tissue, but it rose up, as high as her EVA, and began shifting to a humanoid form. She fired a gyroc into it, but watched in horror as it simply formed a hole in its body, allowing the projectile to sail through without touching it.

"Nothing is working!"

"Asuka, calm down. Your sync rate is dropping rapidly!"

You need to Dream

"I can't do it." Asuka's head dropped. "I can't."

You can

"I can't!" She smashed her fist down on the console. "I'm in charge of my own actions!"

I can help you

The creature shambled towards her, and grabbed the EVA. She screamed in pain, the touch of the monster burning like acid.

Give yourself to me

"No!"

It is the only way you will live

"I can't!" She sobbed, from pain and fear. "I can't surrender!"

It is not surrender, but acceptance

The pain grew worse; she saw the armour on her arm fall away, melted like tissue paper in rain. She screamed.

"Oh, God it hurts! Please, Nigoki!"

But he was silent.

"Nigoki! Please! I'll surrender! I'll do anything—"

Anything?

His eyes opened, and he stared down at the Shoggoth. A lesser servitor, fit only for destruction. Ages ago, they brought down their Masters, but the Old Ones were far more dangerous than the Masters of the Shoggoth.

His free arm traced the path of the Elder Sign. The Flow gathered, and he blasted the Shoggoth. The creature staggered backward, and he smiled.

You are fierce, my Dreamer, but I will give you power. Together, we are one, and we are unstoppable!

He formed the Lance, its dual heads glimmering with the Flow.

I have the power, and you have the purpose. And our purpose is to defend your kind.

He leaped forward, and swung the Lance. The Shoggoth exploded, the energies of its body released to the Flow. He knelt in the midst of the blast, feeling the energies repairing his body and armour.

Never fear me, Dreamer. He rose, banishing the Lance, as the last moments of power drained from his armour. Never fear me, for we are one at last.

FEAR ME, MORTAL.

Shinji opened his eyes, to find himself floating in a brilliant mass of light.

Shogoki!

DO NOT CALL FOR THAT CHILD. SHE IS NOT HERE. ONLY YOU ARE HERE.

"Are...are you Cthugha?"

I HAVE BEEN GIVEN THAT NAME BY THOSE TOO PRIMITIVE TO UNDERSTAND MY TRUE NAME. IT WILL SUFFICE FOR YOUR PUNY MIND.

"Did I get the servitor?"

THE SHOGGOTH? NO. EVEN NOW, IT INHABITS THE BODY OF THE CHILD, TAKING IT TOWARDS ITS FATHER.

"I have to stop it!"

WHY?

"Because you'll kill everyone on earth if I don't!"

DOES THAT MATTER?

Before him images of Rei and Asuka appeared.

THESE TWO APPEAR IN YOUR MIND MORE THAN ANY OTHER. WHY?

"Well..."

YOU FEEL AN ATTACHMENT TO THEM.

"I do."

I SEE THAT YOU CONSIDER THE TWO UNIQUE. TO ME, YOUR ENTIRE SPECIES ARE AS INTERCHANGEABLE AS ANY OTHER BACTERIA.

The images of Rei and Asuka shifted. Rei's hair became red-gold, her eyes blue. Asuka's hair paled, to the same faded blue as Rei's normal tint, and her eyes turned the red of albinism. Even their plugsuits changed, Asuka's to the white and black of the Test Unit, Rei's to the red of the production model.

CAN YOU TRULY STATE THAT THESE TWO ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE?

"Yes!"

STRANGE. I WILL CONSIDER THIS, ONCE I HAVE CLEANSED THE PLANET.

He was back in the plug. The controls were dark.

"Shinji! What the hell are you doing?"

He stabbed at the commboard, but nothing happened.

"You're bringing that thing right in!" Misato's voice was sounding panicked. "Why won't you answer?"

Shogoki!

I am here, Dreamer, but the Shoggoth has interrupted your link to the armour. Without it, you cannot control us.

Can I Dream?

You can, but there is no point. I cannot reach the Flow. The Shoggoth inhibits me.

What about the Brothers?

One is imprisoned in his armour, the other sleeps.

Can either reach the Flow?

Zerogoki can. But his Dreamer sleeps.

He closed his eyes.

The lights came on in her plug. Rei lifted her head from the console, and watched in amazement as the battery timer began climbing upwards.

"Rei! Can you hear me?"

"I can hear you, Captain." She ran through the activation sequence. "I am outside the Dream."

"You've got power again, somehow."

"I cannot fight, but I can move."

"Umbilical! Reconnect Unit Two!"

"I understand."

Zerogoki moved sluggishly under her direction, but she moved to an umbilical storage, and pulled out the cable. She staggered to Nigoki, and attached the umbilical.

Nigoki came back to life, as though a switch were thrown. He threw back his head, and roared.

Battle. A second time, in so short a span. It was good to be alive!

He formed the Lance. His Sister was coated by the Shoggoth, directed by its foul powers towards its goal. But it had made one error: While controlling Shogoki, it cut off its access to the Flow.

He leaped towards his Sister, altering the Lance as he flew. It split, segmenting into nine long tendils. He swung, and the tendrils wrapped around his Sister, burning the Shoggoth. It screamed, burned, and fell away. Shogoki collapsed as it died, her armour's power expended, and Nigoki stood alone on the battlefield, victorious. He raised his hands to the air, and roared again to the heavens.

"Technically, you could not have defeated the second Shoggoth without my assistance. Therefore, the wager is void."

"Pay up, Wonder Girl!" Asuka jerked a thumb towards her chest. "I killed two of them, so I win! No points for an assist!"

Shinji sat, head in his hands.

"Wagers are illegal between minors, in any event. Therefore, I am not legally required to pay you."

"Are you willing to be known as a welcher?"

"I have been called worse."

"Quiet!" Shinji jumped to his feet. The girls stopped arguing, and turned to face him.

"Don't you understand?" He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Any of it. Those things are going to keep coming, and if Cthugha wasn't the most powerful...if there's one already on Earth that's even a tenth as powerful..."

"Shinji—"

"We don't matter to them!" He stared at Asuka. "They view us as insignificant. If they even notice us at all!" He sat back down. "We won today, but eventually, they're going to win. Because there's only three of us, and there's a lot more of them, and they're more powerful."

Rei sat down next to him. "Shinji. We will win."

"How can you say that?" He looked up at her. "How can you know?"

"I cannot know." She looked away. "But we have no choice but to believe it, or we have already lost."

"Good night, Asuka."

"See you tomorrow, Shinji." She waved him off. "I'm betting that with what you went through today, it'll be Rei comforting you after a nightmare!"

She closed the door before he had a chance to retort. Chuckling, she sat down on the futon, and stripped off her clothes.

Then paused. She looked down at her arms, clenched her hands into fists, and smiled.

"Freedom..."

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