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Rei-Bane: Chapter 15: Fourth Summer / Lilith's Return / The Light
Over a year and a half passed, and, for the Haibane of Glie, everything, and nothing, changed.
Rei reached over and turned off her alarm clock with a sigh. She sat up and looked out the window. The brilliant summer sunshine in the courtyard did nothing to improve her mood.
'I do not like waking up alone anymore,' she thought as she stood and gathered her things for her morning routine. 'But Ikari is needed at the Factory.'
It was a Thursday morning and, as such, Ikari had spent the previous night at the Factory, just as he always had since soon after being released from the Glie jail. Occasionally Rei would join him there, but this morning she had had to rise early to cook breakfast for the Little Feathers, so she had stayed at Old Home for the night.
Her expression brightened as she stepped under the warm water of the shower and thought about her day, and when she would see her beloved again.
Soon thereafter, cleaned and dressed, she hurried over to the South Wing and her cherished young charges.
Late that morning Rei headed out of Old Home to run some errands. She did not like leaving the Little Feathers, but the Housemother was getting too old and infirm to go in her stead.
'She told me she wants to retire soon,' Rei recalled. 'The children will not like that, but I suppose it cannot be helped… I hope we can find a new Housemother of her caliber.'
Rei sighed again. 'So much has changed.'
The changes had started the previous year with Midori and Dai both 'Leaving the Nest' within two months of each other in the spring. The effect on the Factory Haibane had been striking, with most of them immediately turning to the seemingly older Ikari for guidance. The tribulations that he had once felt worked against anyone seeking out his help had instead drawn the others to him, just as Midori had foreseen. They seemed to feel that if he had been able to surmount those terrible difficulties then helping them with even their deepest worries would be a simple matter for him.
Rei smiled as she thought of this. 'It is true, though,' she concluded with some pride. 'He has grown in wisdom these three years... Rakka even once compared his position at the Factory with Blessed Feather Reki's at Old Home.'
Rei knew that it would be virtually impossible to earn higher praise from her friend than that.
As she passed the wind turbines, the chiming of the bells from the clock in the East Tower of Old Home reminded Rei that some of the other changes had not been as welcome as those in her lover.
'Hearing them always makes me think of Kana,' she thought with some sadness.
It had been almost a year now since the Sunday afternoon when Kana had come running into the courtyard shouting, "I've done it! I've finally done it!"
"Done what?" she had been asked.
"The clock works! Now every day it will ring at noon too!"
Two weeks later, apparently satisfied with her efforts, she was gone.
'She stayed just long enough to reach her goal.'
What had happened next had not surprised anyone. One month to the day later, Hikari had followed her friend.
"Just like Nemu," Rakka had observed. "Hikari stayed to support Kana like Nemu stayed to support Reki."
Rei stopped as she came to the bridge over the stream.
'The boundary of my world,' she thought as she looked at it. 'Not anymore,' she then added with a small smile and headed across.
The ban on her traveling to Glie finally had been lifted soon after Midori had left.
"The last time I spoke with her she asked me to allow you back into the town," the Communicator had told Rei after summoning her to the Temple to tell her of her renewed freedom. "In this case I find it difficult to deny the parting request of a Blessed Feather."
'In the end Midori was a good friend to us both.'
As she had some children's books to return, Rei's first destination in Glie was the Library.
"Well, look who's here!" Sumika exclaimed as Rei came through the door. "It's good to see you!"
"It is good to see you again, as well."
Sumika waddled out from behind the front desk, the advanced state of her pregnancy obvious, to give Rei a hug.
"How are you feeling?" Rei asked as she returned it.
"I'm getting to the point where I just want it to be over already. My friends tell me that means the baby will come soon."
"Do you have everything ready at home?"
"Well, we had most of the stuff left over from when I had my first, so this time's been a lot easier."
"The Library will not be the same while you are on leave."
"Eh, they survived the first time. They'll make do again."
Rei smiled. "I am glad to see you in such good spirits."
"And I'm just glad to see you!" Sumika responded as she took the books Rei handed to her. "You didn't come all the way into town just to return these, did you?"
Rei shook her head. "No, I have other errands to run, and then I am…"
"Meeting up with your hubby?" Sumika interrupted with a sly grin.
Rei blushed, just as she did every time Sumika referred to Ikari this way.
"It really is too bad they won't let Haibane marry," Sumika said as she put the books down on the front desk. "You two are such a cute couple."
"Ikari has never expressed any desire to wed to me."
"Do you doubt he would if he could?"
Rei again smiled. "No. And if he asked me, I would say 'yes' in an instant."
"I guess you'll just have to make do with knowing that's how you both feel."
"Yes, it would appear so."
"I forget, just how did you find out that Haibane can't get married?"
"The Communicator summoned us to the Temple when he learned of our relationship to tell us that, among other things."
"Oh, that's right. I remember you telling me now… I wonder how he found out about the two of you. Do you think Rakka might've told him?"
"That I do not know, but the Renmei clearly have their ways of learning what they want to know… Sometimes I feel as if I am being watched."
"Does that bother you?"
Rei shook her head. "No. They are there to protect and guide us. I have learned to have great respect for them, especially the Communicator. He is caring and wise."
As they talked Sumika had noticed how often Rei's gaze was falling on her swelling belly. "Do you wish you could have children?" she then asked.
Rei nodded shyly, as if it was a great confession. "N-Nothing would make me happier than to give Ikari a child of our own."
"Maybe you'll be able to do that in the next place the two of you go."
"That would be… wonderful."
After further chatting with Sumika, Rei left the Library and, heeding her rumbling stomach, headed over to Seika's pub.
"Hello, Rei!" the proprietor called out to her with a wide grin as she came through the door. Several of the elderly 'regulars' sitting at the bar also waved to her.
Rei shyly gave them a small wave in return as she sat down at a table. The pub, of all places, had become a gathering place for the Haibane from both Old Home and the Abandoned Factory. This was particularly true during the long winters, when its cozy warmth and rich foods became added attractions. As a social center, the pub had served to connect the two Haibane communities and the townspeople more closely than before.
'I wonder if that is what the Communicator hoped would happen,' Rei speculated as she fondly recalled some of the gatherings.
Her musings were interrupted as Seika came out of the kitchen. "Hey!" the younger Haibane said as she came over to Rei's table. "You look a little sad," she added as she sat down. "What's on your mind?"
"I am not unhappy, just thoughtful," Rei replied. "For some reason I am reminiscing a great deal today."
"Dwelling on the past does no one any good!" Seika declared as she stood back up. "So, what can I get for you today, dear customer?"
"I will have my usual."
"Oh, that's so boring! Do you really just want a salad and a glass of water?"
"What would you suggest instead?"
"Well, if you want something that brings back memories, how about some Haibane Stew?"
Rei smiled. Hikari's vegetable stew recipe had proved to be very popular since she had given it to the pub.
"No, I think it is a bit warm for that today."
In the end Rei had settled on the salad and a fresh-pressed glass of cider. As she ate she watched Sumika go about her duties and thought about how the younger Haibane had changed. Though she was still slender, she was no longer skinny, and had grown almost as tall as Rei, with her wavy hair cascading down her back.
'She has also matured a great deal... though I sometimes worry that she still flirts too much with the young men in town.'
Rei chuckled to herself. 'It probably helps bring in business for the pub.'
Her lunch finished, Rei handed a page from her notebook to the pub's owner and bid everyone a good day before setting out on her next errand.
Just a short walk away, she went to the bakery where Hikari had worked and purchased some treats for the Little Feathers' afternoon snack. The bakers could always be counted on to give Haibanes a discount, and Rei was very careful with her spending, such as it was.
Seika often joked that the Renmei made a tidy profit on Rei's frugality.
From the bakery Rei headed to the Main Square, where looking up at the clock tower once again made her think of Kana.
Across from the tower she went to the flower shop where Hana had been working since joining the senior Haibane of Old Home at the start of the previous summer.
'The job she always wanted,' Rei remembered with amusement.
"Hi, Rei!" Hana said as her sister came through the door. "I've got the flowers you wanted for the South Wing all ready."
"Welcome!" Ikari called out as the door to the music shop opened. "Oh, Rei! You're here earlier than I expected."
"I got done with my tasks more quickly than anticipated," the blue-haired young woman answered.
"But I won't be able to leave with you this early."
"I'm sure if you ask, they will let you go."
"I really shouldn't. It's been busy today."
Her expression changed to something of a pout. "Please? For me?"
"I promise I'll make it worth your while," she said with a small smile.
"Okay… Give me a minute," Ikari answered and went into the shop's back room.
He emerged shortly thereafter with a grin on his face. "You were right! They said it's okay for me to quit early today."
Together they headed out of the shop and towards Old Home.
A short while later, Rei came into the music shop carrying a large bundle of flowers.
"Rei?" asked the woman behind the counter. "Where's Ikari?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing," she answered, obviously puzzled.
"But he left here with you."
"But I have only just arrived."
"That's odd… You don't have a twin sister, do you?"
"This is extremely serious," Reki's superior told her. "Somehow this 'Lilith' has managed to breech the barriers protecting Gehinnom itself."
"And here I thought we were rid of her. She had seemed inactive for so long."
"I guess now we know what she's been up to."
"Indeed," Reki answered and then vanished, only to once again appear in the sky high above the ruins of Tokyo-3. Summoning her sword she immediately headed straight for the gigantic form of Lilith towering over her.
'Rei once told me that a strike to an organ near her heart would kill her… I can see no other way of stopping her… so that is what I must do.'
Moments later, however, she smashed into Lilith's AT-field with a force that would have pulverized a mortal with a corporeal body.
'It seems she anticipated my arrival this time.'
Reki again phased out of existence and tried to rematerialize within the invisible barrier, only to find it still blocked her.
'I should have guessed,' she concluded as she reappeared at Lilith's eye level. Looking around her, she saw that she had attracted the attention of the mass production series Evangelions, one of which was now flying towards her, its massive hand reaching out to seize her.
'Not so fast,' she thought as she dodged it and swung her sword at her enemy's wrist to no avail.
'Damn… They have these shields too!'
Seeing her attack had been thwarted, Reki vanished.
"Rei? Are you alright?" Ikari asked upon seeing his companion come to a stop with her eyes closed as they neared the top of the hill leading out of town.
Seconds later Lilith opened her eyes. "I'm sorry. I was lost in thought for a moment." She smiled. 'That should be the last I see of that pesky Guardian. She couldn't do anything against the AT-fields, and she knows she can't do anything against me here either.'
She then linked her arm with one of Ikari's. "I have an idea. Let's go sit under one of the wind turbines for a while in the sunshine."
"I thought you wanted to go straight back to Old Home."
"A girl can change her mind, can't she?"
Bemused, Ikari shook his head. "I don't know what's gotten into you today, but okay."
"I have failed," Reki told her supervisor upon her return. "Lilith and her protectors now seem to have the same sort of impenetrable barrier protecting themselves as Rei has."
"Then what do you think we should do?"
"Given that a mere Guardian like me can do nothing against Lilith and her host, we should petition a Malach to intercede."
The supervisor chuckled. "I do not think the situation is that desperate yet. As usual, you need to consider whether your more subtle powers can be of use."
"I could appear before Ikari and Lilith to warn her off, and then block his memory of the event."
"Appearing in Glie would be almost as drastic as summoning a Malach. You might be seen by others, for example."
Reki nodded. "Very well, then. I know what to do."
Confused, Rei stepped out of the music shop and back into the street.
'The shop owner must be mistaken… There is no one else in Glie who looks anything even remotely like I do… But she has seen me many times now over the years… How, then, could she be so wrong?'
At that moment, several disjointed fragments of old memories suddenly coalesced into clarity in her mind.
Rei's eyes went wide. "Lilith…"
She immediately dropped everything she had been carrying and ran towards Old Home.
"Altering her memory was risky."
"All I did was fill in a few small blanks for her," said Reki. "Most of the pertinent memories were already freed by her using her 'angelic' powers. I have just allowed her to make some sense of them."
"What do you think she will do?"
"She will find them… If necessary, I will guide her."
"Isn't this nice?" Lilith asked as she lay back on the grass.
"You know I like coming out here with you," Ikari answered and stretched out next to her.
She looked over at him with a faux twinkle in her eye. "Let's make this time special."
"Make love to me."
"What? Here?" Ikari asked in surprise as he sat back up.
"But people could see us!"
"We would not have to get undressed."
"I don't know, Rei… It would be feel too strange. Why don't we just go home to our bed instead?"
Lilith sighed. "I just wanted to try something new. I thought it would be fun."
Ikari chuckled and again shook his head. "What is up with you today? You're acting almost like a different person."
Lilith smiled. "I just feel happy. I've waited a long time to be here like this with you."
"What do you mean? We come up here all the time."
"I just meant I have wanted to make love here for a while."
Ikari was crestfallen. "Sorry, I didn't know it meant so much to you."
Lilith quickly stood. "I know! If you're worried about being out in the open, we can go into the Woods and do it there!"
"The Woods?" Ikari asked in worried surprise.
"Yes! That way we can still make love outdoors and have some privacy at the same time."
"I still don't know," Ikari answered as he stood.
"Don't be shy," Lilith said as she took him by the hand. "No one will be able to see us."
Ikari smiled. "Okay. Just as long as we don't' go too far into the Woods."
Rei stopped as she reached the top of the hill on the road out of Glie and searched into the distance. 'I do not see them. Where could they be? Have they already reached Old Home?'
Something in her mind told her that, in the end, they had not gone there. 'Where then?'
She gasped. "The Woods?" she asked herself fearfully and then once again took off as fast as her legs would carry her.
'I wonder why I am not feeling any fatigue… I am not used to running distances such as this.'
If she had been able to see her own glowing eyes she would have known the answer.
"Mmmm," Lilith purred as she pulled Ikari into an embrace and then kissed him with seeming hunger. "Do you like this?"
"You know I do."
"Yes, I can tell," she responded as she pressed herself against him.
"Is this really something you've wanted to do?"
"Well, to tell the truth, now that we are here in the Woods, instead of up on the hill, there is somewhere in particular I would like to go to make love."
Lilith took Ikari's hand and started to pull him deeper into the forest. "The Temple. On the plinth."
Shocked, he gently pulled his hand away. "Rei, I don' think that's a good idea. That's way too far into the Woods for us to go!"
"Have you ever felt any ill effects from going to the Temple?"
"No, but I still don't think we should go there. What if we get lost?"
"The forest is not so big that we could get lost for long." She took his hand again. "Come, my love."
At that moment they heard a voice in the distance.
"What was that?" Ikari asked.
"Just ignore it!" Lilith said pointedly. "It has nothing to do with us."
"But it sounded like someone calling my name!" he said as he once more pulled his hand free.
"That's just your imagination, love. Who would be out here looking for us?"
Again they heard the voice.
"I'm going to see who that is," Ikari said.
"Don't!" Lilith said sharply, causing Ikari to turn around in alarm.
'There's something not right about this,' he concluded. 'Rei is acting really weird.'
He immediately sprinted the short distance to the edge of the trees, only to be stunned by who he saw a few yards away.
"Rei? But how?"
"Ikari!" she cried and started towards him.
"Stay back!" Lilith said sharply as she suddenly appeared and stepped in front of Ikari. "He's mine now!"
"Rei?" Ikari asked, as he looked first to Lilith and then to Rei. "H-How?"
"She is an imposter," Lilith said. "She's probably been sent here to Glie to test us in some way."
"Don't listen to her, my love!" Rei implored. "She is an Angel! She is your enemy!"
"Enemy?" Ikari asked, becoming ever more confused.
"We need to get away from her," Lilith said as she linked one of her arms to Ikari's. "Come with me," she added and tried to pull him back into the trees.
"Would the real me try to pull you into the Woods?" Rei asked.
Ikari gasped and pulled away from Lilith's clutches. "No… Rei never goes near the Woods unless someone's Day of Flight has come. Because of Rakka's warnings, she's afraid of them."
"Come to me, love," Rei urged.
Slowly Ikari inched away from Lilith and towards Rei.
"No!" Lilith shouted and suddenly appeared between Ikari and Rei. "I will not let her have you."
"H-How did you do that?" Ikari asked.
"It is as I said," Rei answered him. "She is an Angel. Her powers are vast."
Lilith turned to Rei with a snarl. "I've had enough of you!" she shouted as she flung a hand out towards Rei.
Rei's arms came up to shield her head as an invisible beam struck her AT-field, sending sparks everywhere. As the beam subsided Rei staggered and fell to her knees.
"So, you were able to block that one?" Lilith asked snidely. "You're stronger than I thought, but you're no match for me, dear daughter."
Leaving Ikari for a moment she walked over to Rei. "And this is how you treat me after all I've done for you?"
"What have you done for me?" Rei asked as she struggled to her feet.
"Why, I freed you from the world your beloved Commander had made for you… And then I brought you here and let you live your happy little life with your little boy toy." She smiled predatorily. "But all good things must come to an end, and, for you, this is it."
Lilith pulled her arm back to deliver her coup de grace, only to have Ikari grab it just as she began to fire the intended energy bolt.
Ikari was thrown back several meters, where he landed, unmoving, in a heap.
"What have you done?" Rei yelled as she ran to him.
"He… He got in the way," Lilith said nervously. "You fools! T-This could be the end of everything!"
"Help him!" Rei pleaded.
"There is nothing I can do for him here," Lilith admitted and then disappeared.
"My love, my love, wake up!" Rei pleaded as she cradled Ikari's head in her lap.
Clearly in great pain, Ikari slowly opened his eyes. "Rei?"
"Yes, I am here."
Ikari grimaced as he tried, and failed, to rise.
"Stay still, love," Rei said as she tried to keep her growing panic from creeping into her voice.
"He is dying, isn't he?" came a voice from behind her.
Rei turned her head to see a woman with long dark hair coming out of the Woods.
"Do I know you?" Rei asked the somehow familiar stranger as she came up to her.
The woman leaned forward and placed the palm of her hand on Rei's brow.
"R-Reki," Rei whispered. "You are Reki."
"I wish I could say it was good to see you again, Rei," the Guardian said as she knelt down beside Ikari.
"Can you heal him?" Rei asked anxiously.
Reki placed her hand on Ikari's forehead and closed her eyes. "No," she answered after a moment. "The damage to his spirit body is too great… There is no way I can heal him here."
"Then what can we do?" Rei asked as Reki easily and gently lifted Ikari into her arms.
"Take hold of my arm."
Rei did as she was instructed as Reki looked around.
"No one here to see us," Reki whispered. "Here goes."
The trio vanished.
"The Temple?" Rei asked as they rematerialized deep in the Woods.
"Yes," Reki answered. "There is only one way to save him and humanity now."
"What are you going to do?" Rei asked as Reki laid Ikari on the podium.
Reki turned to her, the sadness on her face evident. "I have to take him back with me."
"What do you mean?"
"See for yourself," Reki answered as pointed to Ikari's halo.
Rei's shock deepened as she saw Ikari's halo fade and then brighten.
"The only way for a Haibane to leave Glie is through this portal. That is why Lilith tried to draw him here."
Reki nodded. "It is premature, but, for Ikari, the Day of Flight has come."
Reki placed her hand over Ikari's heart and then raised it, palm up, to the sky. "In the name of our Father," she murmured.
Immediately a bright shaft of light sprang from the plinth, shooting straight up into the clouds.
"No!" Rei cried. "There must be some other way! Do not take him from me!"
"If there was some other way, I would use it."
"Can you bring him back?"
Reki shook her head. "This is a one way trip."
The light brightened and several smaller shafts broke away from it and began to spin around it.
To Reki's surprise Ikari suddenly opened his eyes and lifted his head.
"Yes, my love?" Rei asked as she came up to the edge of the podium.
"The time has come for you to leave Glie."
"Are you coming with me?"
Rei looked to Reki, who shook her head. "Your time for Flying has not yet come."
"But... we belong together," Ikari managed. "We love each other."
At that moment Reki closed her eyes and turned her head as if she were listening to a faint sound.
Seconds later she opened her eyes with a smile. "Permission has been granted. If you want to, you may go with him."
Without hesitation, Rei lept onto the plinth.
The light's intensity grew so sharply even Reki had to shield her face.
And then both the light and they were gone.
And that's THE END.
Okay, so this wasn't the last chapter. Once again I didn't get as far as I wanted with a chapter. So Chapter 16 will be the last. Honest. No, really.
Besides, given how slowly I've been writing of late, I thought a relatively short chapter with a cliffhanger/mystery ending would be best. Otherwise this chapter might have taken until Xmas.
Of course, the devious part of me really does want to end things right here. After all, where Haibane go on their Day of Flight is unknown.
Some may feel that I skipped too far ahead with this chapter and left out a lot of detail as a result. I sort of feel that way too, but I decided that, in the end, these details would have amounted to filler and, given how long I've already been working onRei-Bane, I really don't want to spend an extra six months on it.
Hopefully real life will allow me more time to finish things up than I've had lately.
Malach is one of the terms used in the Hebrew Bible for an angel. Remember that Reki said she herself is not an angel.
Of course Lilith wanted to get Shinji to the ruined temple the whole time. But where did she want to take him?