Summary of Things-That-Happened-Last-Chapter: Shinji and the Gang helped Cho and Nyoko move into the apartment next to Rei's. Kaoru begins to understand how Angels are 'born' as Cain creates the Fifteenth before his eyes. Shinji tries to use music to tame the red headed beast but she smashes his cello instead. The Keeper undergoes its first field test with Unit 00 and Unit 02 standing guard, and with Unit 01 in the freezer. Gendo is still scheming, and Arael and Unit 04 have appeared in the skies above Tokyo - 3...

Ender presents:

The Mark of Cain

Chapter Four: Pain of the Hidden

Disclaimer: Eva is not mine. If it were I would have made more than one movie. ^_^

"Hmmm... This one gets points for innovation at least..."

"What do you mean by that?"

"It appears to be trying to bore us to death... Quite a refreshing new strategy if I might say so."

From her place on the bridge Misato Katsuragi turned narrowed eyes towards her erstwhile 'partner'. "That kind of attitude is going to get us killed _Major_. We _never_ underestimate the Angels."

To the purple haired woman's annoyance, Ryouji Kaji merely grinned at her. "I doubt making an off-hand remark makes us in any way less prepared for the Angel, Katsuragi."

_We're in a crisis situation here and the fool's making snide comments?_ "Well it's not helping either Ryouji!"

The unshaven man gestured towards the immobile enemy on screen. "You have a better idea perhaps?"

Without bothering to answer, NERV's operations director turned towards the bridge crew. "Status update?"

"Still no change," Hyuuga replied. "Target still hovering just outside our defense envelope."

"No movement whatsoever?"

"None that we can detect." This time it was Shigeru who responded. "It's maintaining constant distance."

Maya piped in at that point. "I'm still getting some funny readings from its Blue Pattern... Almost like there's a shadow of some sort... I can't quite figure it out."

From behind her, Ritsuko leaned over and eyed the readouts. "Hmmm... Strange. I don't think it indicates an energy build-up though..."

"So it's not getting ready to destroy us from above?" Misato asked.

The blond doctor shook her head. "No way to tell as of yet. We don't have any instruments that will tell us what this Angel is capable of... It seems inert according to all the readings."

Misato was about to make a comment when Kaji spoke up. "Maybe it's looking for a nice, comfy place to land eh, Katsuragi?"

The female Major gave the man a suspicious look before nodding in turn. "Whatever it is, we have to get the pilots ready."

Kaji stroked his unshaven chin as he nodded. Then he turned to the nervous looking man beside him. "Denbe? Any ideas?"

The creator of the Jet Alone, now the Keeper Task Force's Chief Engineer, almost flinched at the sound of his name. Denbe Terajima jerked his wide eyes away from the screen for the first time since the Angel had appeared. The appearance of the creature seemed to have magnified the man's already nervous nature. "Uhm, yes well... The Keeper isn't any more suited to long distance combat than the Evas, but it was constructed to be able to handle any of their standard weapons, so if you happened to have a spare..."

Misato nodded and turned to Hyuuga. "Send up a pair of positron rifles for Unit 02 and the Keeper." While the Lieutenant was complying the purple haired woman paused, then added as if as an after thought. "And send up the prototype sniper rifle to Rei."

As the necessary commands were entered into the computer, the men and women of both NERV and the KTF turned their gazes back to the creature floating docilely above their home.

Maya was the first to break the silence. "Well, at least the Evas are already deployed... It's really quite a stroke of luck..."

"Luck?" Kaji's voice had an odd catch to it that Misato barely caught. Glancing at him askance she saw that all traces of humor had gone from his handsome features.

"What's wrong Kaji?"

The former spy shook his head. A sardonic smile returned to his features, but not before Misato saw him glance meaningfully upward towards the command tower.

"Let's just say that I don't believe that luck is a _lady_ tonight..."

----

Twenty feet above them, Dr. Umeko Takahashi was getting her first look at the enemy.

"So that's an Angel," she said, her voice betraying none of the anxiety she felt. It was one thing to view an Angel on videotape, with the sure knowledge that it had in fact already been defeated. It was quite another seeing it appear, and not knowing if the bravery of the Children would once more be enough to save the day.

"Yes," Professor Fuyutsuki answered. "It would seem that your pilots will be tested far sooner than we had hoped."

Ume merely nodded, but inside she was struggling to control her emotions. She had never been suited for command... She'd never been able to help but grow close to her subordinates. Cho, Nyoko and even Kensuke... children who would be forced into harms way for the sake of the world, children she herself had brought into the struggle. If anything should happen to them... She ran a hand through her tightly curled brown hair, a nervous habit she acquired in College and had never quite been able to shake.

"They are more than ready," she asserted, with a confidence she hardly felt. "They will prove equal to the task."

This time it was not Fuyutsuki who replied. "Indeed. I expect no less."

Seated before her and the Professor, Gendo Ikari had treated the arrival of the monstrous Angel with about the same amount of interest that an ordinary man would expend watching paint dry. Hands clasped before him, eyes unerringly focused on the screen, the Commander of NERV looked almost as inhuman as the creatures he battled.

"It goes without saying however, that I find it extremely distasteful that it is the children who are forced to confront the danger directly, while we sit here and watch," Ume said, watching as the pilots received their instructions.

"It is useless to rail against reality Doctor," Ume could almost hear the smirk in the Commander's voice. "One uses the tools at hand."

"Tools are they ?" the woman was finding it hard to keep her voice neutral. "A fascinating description of men and women ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the world."

This time she actually heard Ikari's snort. "You need not be so melodramatic. Do you truly believe that their youth assures such grand purity in their motives? Regardless, you have little to worry about... The safest place on Earth in the event of an Angel attack is inside the entry plug of an Evangelion."

Ume said nothing as she returned her eyes to the screen. The large monitor showed scenes from outside the Geofront, the positions of the Evas and the Keeper, the latest readings on the Angel. One corner of the screen however, showed a scene from within the geofront. Immersed in liquid in one of the cages NERV used as storage space for the Evangelions, Unit 01 stood frozen in cryostasis, it's menacing visage looking for all intents and purposes like a demon from hell...

"Funny," Ume whispered under her breath as she looked down upon Commander Ikari. "I would have thought that you a better liar than that..."

----

"An... Angel?"

"Yes Shinji-kun, an Angel has appeared," Misato's image repeated the words slowly, as if talking to a child. Shinji knew that she was growing frustrated over his seeming lack of interest. "The Commander has given us orders not to release Unit 01 but I want you to be ready to go just in case he changes his mind ok?"

_I don't care, I don't care anymore,_ What did he matter anyway? Nothing he ever did turned out right Every time he took the initiative at something, tried to change things for the better, things just ended up worse than before.

_The twang of broken strings. The sound of splintering wood_

No! He didn't want to think about that!

_The force of the impact. The sound of splintering wood_

Why had she done it? How could she have done it?

His cello...

It was the one thing that he could actually use to create instead of destroy, the only thing that enabled him to express his joy and happiness instead of his sorrow...

Not that it mattered... not now. He doubted if he would have anything to be happy about anytime soon...

But he had been so sure... So sure she'd _like_ it... So foolishly sure...

"Shinji? Shinji!" The boy could hear the worry in his guardians voice. How long had he retreated into the darkness of his mind? With an effort he sought to straighten his posture, to look Misato in the eyes and give her a brave smile... All he managed to do was raise his head a little, so that he was actually looking in the direction of the screen instead of his chest.

"Shinji you have to hold it together! This is no time for an attack of depression!"

As if one could turn it on and off at whim. As if he wanted to feel this way.

_The wetness of tears streaming down his face. The sound of splintering wood_

"I'll be ready Misato," he coughed out. "I'll be ready..."

----

"Oh man oh man ohmanohman -!"

"Ken relax," Cho sighed in exasperation. "You going into cardiac arrest is about the last thing we need right now ok?"

"Aw c'mon Cho!" Kensuke replied, eagerness seeming to drip from his pores. "You can't tell me you're not excited Our first real battle! Against a real Angel!"

"You don't say?" the young Kaji replied dryly. "And here I thought it was a large, white, mistletoe." The scarred boy remained in a crouched position within the bubble of the Keeper's 'Soul' module. Following the lead of its main pilot, the Keeper mecha itself had assumed a similar position next to a weapons rack. "Just follow the procedure ok? We've done this a hundred times in the simulator so it should be a piece of cake."

"Of course! I could do a sensory sweep in my sleep!" Kensuke turned to his console and was about to begin typing in commands when his eyes brushed the on-screen image of the Angel once more. "Will you just look at that thing ? It's freakin' huge! It's like that episode of Gundam where - "

"Er... Ken-kun?" This time the voice was female and came from Kensuke's right side. The boy turned to see Nyoko Aihara smiling warmly at him.

"Yes, Nyoko-chan?"

"Ken-kun," Nyoko began, her voice double coated in honey. "Correct me if I'm wrong but I seem to recall that I have a higher rank than you don't I?"

The boy blinked. "Um yeah, that's right but I don't - "

"Kensuke Aida! Report!"

At the shouted command, Kensuke's military instincts took over, and he found himself snapping a smart salute at a suddenly stern looking Nyoko. The handicapped girls eyes narrowed as she continued.

"You are hereby _ordered_ to cease all unnecessary chatter and commence an _immediate_ sensory sweep of the area, followed by all other functions specified in procedure 2.3 of the manual. Is that clear soldier?"

The freckled boy gulped. "Er yes ma'am, I mean yes, sir I mean- "

"_And_ if I hear one more 'oh man' or one more anime reference out of you I will _personally_ make sure that after today the closest you ever come to anything military will be a ten year old recruitment poster _got that_?!?"

With an 'eep' the bespectacled boy turned swiftly back to his console and allowed his fingers to fly above the keyboard. One by one, the Keepers sensors came on line, and a steady stream of data began to march across the monitors of all three pilots. A moment later a three dimensional tactical map of the area popped up on the main screen, superimposed over the external view.

"Sweep completed, commencing uplink to NERV Command Central." Kensuke announced, in a voice actually approaching calm.

Cho chuckled. "That's more like it,"

Kensuke managed to nod sagely before suddenly breaking out into a wide grin. "This is sooo COOL!"

Nyoko sighed. "You're hopeless... Internal systems check out. Weapons systems brought to stand-by."

Chojiro Kaji grinned. "Then we're ready to go." With that he stretched out his right hand, switching his attention back and forth from the external viewport and a wire frame model of the mecha at a lower corner. The pilots felt the slight shift as the Keeper mimicked Cho's movements, and as he closed his hands around an imaginary object, the mecha in turn seized a positron rifle and withdrew it from the rack.

As the Keeper stood up, the face of Major Ryouji Kaji popped open on the screen. "Good work guys, we're sending you new coordinates now. Move to sector JJ-76 and take a position that will allow you some cover in the event that this Angel has a long distance weapon. We'll give you further orders when as soon as we discover what this thing is made of..."

As he spoke, a red arrow appeared on the main screens grid map. After taking a cursory look, Chojiro began to 'walk', slowly maneuvering the mecha onto a larger avenue before breaking into a swifter trot. Nyoko's eyes were focused on her data readings, while one hand seemed to be clutching something in the pocket of her flash suit. The girl performed her duties smoothly, but her face betrayed a growing nervousness that she struggled to hide from the others...

Kensuke though was oblivious to anything but his forthcoming 'baptism of fire'. "So what's the strategy Major?" He asked, eyes shining brightly behind his lenses. "Do we mow it down with some long distance PP or CE firepower? Get airlifted into space with a SAL Craft? Perform an IACM with a MPK on a PIAPT? Or maybe we could -"

"Easy soldier, easy," Kaji replied, after recovering enough to respond to Kensuke's barrage of acronyms. "The tentative plan so far is to see if Rei can hit it with the new prototype energy rifle that NERV R and D developed. You're going to be deployed near Unit 00 so that you can provide cover if the Angel decides it wants to get 'intimate'..."

Kensuke nodded enthusiastically. "Don't worry sir! If it gets within range we'll blast it out of the sky!" The freckled boy paused a moment as he realized a name was missing from the battle plan. "But Major... What's Asuka going to be doing?"

At that the older man let out a sigh and glanced towards something that lay beyond his on-screen image. As Kensuke listened in the silence he could make out the noise of a heated argument going on in the background...

"Let's just say," Kaji began, with a wry smile, "that Unit 02's role is currently being... negotiated."

----

"Damnit Asuka! Stop fooling around and get to your position!"

"Nein! You can't be serious... Wait in reserve while Wondergirl takes point?" The red head only barely kept herself from spitting into the LCL. Did they think so little of her prowess now? Placing her beneath that damned doll... She wouldn't stand for it! "Put Mr. Kaji on the channel He knows my true worth!"

Misato's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Kaji is busy doing his job... which is more than can be said of you. For the last time move to the assigned position!"

"I'd rather DIE!"

"Will you put aside your ego for just one moment?!? This operation requires a high degree of accuracy, and right now Rei has the higher synch ratio..."

"That's a fluke and you know it!" Asuka screamed in reply. "I'm ten times the pilot that blue haired bitch is!"

Misato was almost livid with anger. "If you were, then I wouldn't have any problems getting you to follow the orders of a superior officer! This isn't a game Asuka there is no way I'm risking human lives because you felt you had to _prove_ something! Rei is taking point and that decision is _not_ open for discussion."

_Rei... They think even Rei is better than me..._ The redhead clenched her eyes shut in frustration. This couldn't be happening! She was the best! Asuka Langley Sohryu had _always_ been the best! But now... She shook her head violently, as if doing so she could rid herself of such unworthy thoughts. She'd show them... She'd show them who was a better pilot! She would show them she was better than Rei, better even than...

_The churning heat of her anger. The sound of splintering wood_

No damnit, she didn't want to think of that! He had it coming! It wasn't her fault!

_His face etched with unbearable hurt. The sound of splintering wood._

She was still better than him! Even if it was a mistake it wasn't but even if! it didn't make her worse than him! It didn't! She was Asuka Langley Sohryu! She wasn't... She wasn't a...

_The heavy feeling of guilt. The sound of splintering wood_

With an almost feral growl, the Second Child brought Unit 02 to life. Immediately the red Eva began running through the streets... Away from her assigned position.

"Asuka?" Misato's shocked voice was music to Asuka's ears. She thought she could order Asuka Langley Sohryu around did she? "What in the hell are you doing? Get back into position!"

The red head didn't bother to acknowledge her superior... At least not with words. Her Eva though began to run even faster through the empty streets of Tokyo-3, steadily picking up speed as she neared her destination.

"Damnit, Asuka answer... " the Major broke off and her eyes grew wide as she seemed to finally realize where the red Eva was headed. "Oh shit - Rei! Rei get out of the way!"

Asuka turned the corner in time to see the blue Eva react to Misato's warning. It was moving slowly however, and Asuka had the advantage of momentum. For a moment the Second Child was sorely tempted to crash into the cyclopean mechanoid, to beat it to the ground, to prove once and for all who was better at operating these big, dumb tools... But she wasn't stupid enough to pick a fight during an Angel attack. Besides, why bother, when she could show her superiority by turning her wrath on the angel instead?

"One side Wonderdoll!" The redhead shouted as she rushed past Unit 00 and brought her Eva to a skidding stop beside the weapon rack containing the NERV prototype rifle. Though it had never been announced to the Children, she knew that all the Evas had already been outfitted with the necessary components to enable them to use such a rifle effectively. No one could make an adjustment to Unit 02 and expect her not to notice. Anyway, from what she remembered from the reports on the Fifth Angel, all it took was to pull the trigger once the computer gave the signal... If _he_ could do it, then so could she.

With a swift motion, Asuka removed the rifle from the rack and hefted it in her Eva's hands, before turning to the aghast image of Misato. "I'm ready for my orders now Major," the Second Child said in a sweet tone of voice.

The purple haired woman was speechless for the first few moments, jaw agape and eyes wide at the actions the red head had undertaken. Finally though, the Major recovered from her shock and the image on the screen began to tremble in near apoplectic fury. Misato raised a shaking finger at the monitor...

"You... You... I can't believe you're doing this! Are you out of your mind?"

Asuka twitched. Against her will, the girl found her guardian's words echoing in her head, spawning more accusations with each reverberation. Crazy. Abnormal. Insane. Out of her mind.

No! She wouldn't think these things!

"How _dare_ you call me that! You're just saying that because you're on _his_ side!" She spat out her reply with a vehemence that even surprised herself. "You don't care whether _Shinji_ follows orders.... You don't punish him when _he_ breaks the rules! As long as he defeats the Angels you're happy... Why should _I_ be treated any different?"

"You're twisting the truth Asuka, and you know it!" Misato exploded. "And this is neither the time nor place for discussion so just- "

"Let her do as she pleases Major."

"Wha -?" Asuka couldn't see who the voice came from, but she recognized its emotionless tone and weight of authority. The Commander had spoken. The Commander had spoken... on _her_ behalf. It was all she could do to keep her jaw from dropping in surprise.

Misato seemed to be just as amazed. The Major had already turned and was looking upward at someone off screen, presumably towards the Command Tower. "But sir, I- "

"The primary goal of the Evas, Major," Ikari continued, "is to defeat the Angels. That is all that matters. If Pilot Sohryu can destroy the enemy, I care not how many 'rules' she breaks."

"Commander you can't be- "

"I thought you believed in obedience to one's superior officer Major?"

As Misato stuttered a reluctant affirmative, Asuka found herself beaming with joy. At last! Someone who believed in her... Someone who'd at least give her a chance! Someone who wasn't on _his_ side... It hardly registered on the girl how strange it was for the Commander to take a hand in affairs, or to display faith in anyone other than himself. What mattered was that she had been given an opportunity to show them, once and for all, what Asuka Langley Sohryu was made of.

_You can do it Asuka! You must!_

"You won't be sorry sir... This Angel is as good as dead."

----

In space, two entities hovered just above the Earth's atmosphere. The larger of the two remained mostly inert, seemingly content to float placidly within the void. The other however, currently situated between two of the spiny protrusions along the first's 'back', was beginning to stir. Slowly, the entity which was equal parts Evangelion Unit 04 and Kaoru Nagisa began to make its way up along the crystalline body of the Fifteenth Angel, until it achieved a clear view of the blue sphere shining below them.

_A field with a copse of trees... The sound of dishes rattling in the sink...A lilim dressed in a blue uniform..._

Kaoru/Eva could not make sense of the images that had been intruding with greater clarity upon its senses. From its vantage point high above the ground, all that should have been visible to Kaoru/Eva were the natural features of the Earth itself. At so great a distance, none of the structures the lilim had erected as testimony to their arrogance, much less the lilim themselves, should have been accessible to him, even united as he was with the heightened perception of Unit 04. And yet... the part of the Entity that was Kaoru realized that it was receiving sensations that a lilim on the ground would see, or hear, or feel. If it concentrated, the entity realized that it could even pinpoint exactly where the impression had been received, that the house he had seen was at that particular dot, the field was in that specific point. The part of the entity that could still question wondered at this phenomenon, and decided it bore further investigation.

_The sterile walls of a shelter... Rubber encasing my feet... Father's hand holding mine..._

The entity discovered that every image was preceded by a pull on its mind, a summoning which plunged it down for but a moment among the consciousness' of the lilim. Somehow, the other entity, what Kaoru Nagisa would have named the Fifteenth, was dancing among the minds of the lilim, running ghostly fingers along the sanctuaries of their minds. Occasionally, it would draw the consciousness of Kaoru/Eva along with it, resulting in the flood of alien sensations. Each scan was more direct, each probe more in depth.... It was looking for something.

_locked the house before... Rachel? Rachel where are you?...pray I don't fail, Lord please don't make me fail..._

The sensations were different now, no longer merely surface level sense impressions, but the actual thoughts of the lilim, thoughts occasionally intertwined with intense emotion. Most of these the entity vaguely recognized as anxiety and fear... Lilim's facing the prospect of their mortality.

_Sheist! I can't shoot it if it stays there! C'mon already Baka-Angel! Come down here and fight like a man!_

The entity paused. These last impressions were different... Not only were they charged with an intense anger rather than fear, but the thoughts themselves seemed... amplified? As if there was something that was magnifying the emotions of the lilim, or that made it more susceptible to the touch of the Fifteenth. An image flashed into the mind of the entity... White flesh encased in red, form of the Father suffused by the spirit of... a mother? For once both parts of the entity knew instantly what it was. An Evangelion.

Suddenly Kaoru/Eva felt a surge of energy from below. The Fifteenth had begun to gather itself, recalling the energy it had scattered among the countless lilim beneath them. Kaoru/Eva felt the force within the other build up...

_Get down here! I won't let you beat me!_

...Growing greater and greater...

_I'm tired of getting beaten! I won't lose to Rei, to Shinji, to anyone, ever again!_

...Until it reached a crescendo which echoed like music...

_Do you hear me !?! Come and fight Angel !!!_

... Like a song which reverberated across the walls of the universe...

_KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS_

And then, bringing with it the consciousness of the Angel/Evangelion, the energy flashed downwards.

----

Kilometers below, the world heard Asuka scream.

----

"What the - ? The enemy has a particle beam weapon?" Misato asked, as Unit 02 began to writhe within the beam of light that had swallowed it whole.

"No," Shigeru replied, "no thermal emissions detected!"

"Then what _is_ that beam?" Before anyone could answer that question, Maya broke in.

"Abnormal reading in Asuka's psycho-graph! Mental contamination immanent!"

"It's attacking across the ego borderline," Ritsuko added. "The Angels understand our psychology that well?"

Further observations were cut off by a shrill scream coming from the Second Child, followed by a sustained burst of energy as the Sniper rifle fired an effort to reach the Angel, an effort rendered futile as the blast splashed harmlessly against an AT Field.

"It's not working! It's too far out!"

"But we're at maximum power output!"

"Damnit," Kaji reached across Maya and keyed open the line to the Keeper. "Cho get her out of there!"

Without a word, the six armed Mecha began a loping run towards the red Evangelion. As it turned a corner and spied its target it charged ... Only to be hurled away by a hexagonal distortion that appeared the moment it reached the pillar of light.

"What the fuck -?" came Cho's pained voice as the mecha tried to pick itself up from where it had rebounded a kilometer away. "What in the world was that?"

Misato gripped Hyuuga's chair as she leaned over his console. "That's what I'd like to know Hyuuga!"

"It's some kind of energy oscillation using invisible wavelength... it's similar to an AT Field."

Kaji looked up at the screen with his jaw clenched in frustration. "It's trapped her in there..."

----

_HALLELUIAH HALLELUIAH HALLELUIAH_

----

Within the entryplug, the girl clutched desperately at her head, trying to shield herself, shield her mind...

STRANGLED

The feeling of suffocation, of ghostly hands closing on your throat, your weak spot, your vulnerability. Where every word of praise, every level of expectation fills the air around you until there's so much pressure that you can't move, you can't think, you can't even breathe...

(Is this what it means to be a lilim? This self destructive drive for illusionary status?)

----

"It's not working!" Nyoko shouted as Cho continued to punch and claw at the field that was keeping the Keeper away from Asuka. "The field isn't weakening at all!"

"Then help me!"

Nyoko nodded, then turned to a pale Kensuke. "Ken, take charge of monitoring the field." Without waiting for a reply the handicapped girl inserted her arms into the two metallic casts next to her seat. Instantly the mecha's second pair of arms came to life. Cho backed away and took a deep breath before nodding swiftly.

"Let's do this."

With that the two older pilots began swinging their arms in a series of powerful blows that impacted harmlessly against the AT Field.

"More power! Kensuke, give us more power!"

"Maximizing power output to arm-pairs 1 and 2... Now!"

With a surge of power and the whir of servomotors, the mecha redoubled its efforts. The two pairs of arms became nothing but blurs ramming repeatedly against the AT Field with fists of steel and titanium. Nyoko hoped that if they breached the field, they'd have enough time to stop before they pummeled Asuka into a pulp.

It proved to be a moot point. "No go!" Kensuke announced. "The field hasn't even weakened!"

Nyoko ceased her punching, her arms already beginning to ache with the strain of their sudden and intense exercise. _How are we supposed to break that thing?_

As if in answer to her thoughts Cho swore, "Damnit all! We can't breach a field this strong. Where in the hells is Rei?"

----

_...FOR THE LORD GOD OMNIPOTENT REIGNETH..._

----

She pulled on the trigger, again and again, oblivious to the hollow sound which was it's only result. She had to kill it... Had to kill it...

HATRED

The darkness that swells within you at the sight of those who dare to be different from you, who dare to disagree with you... and yet who beat you all the same. The need that drives you to pull them down beneath you so that no one else would receive praise other than you... The praise that would grow into the love that you have longed to have for so very long...

(Hatred can be caused by love? Are they one and the same? Such intense emotions... How do the Lilim survive them?)

----

"Not an option."

"What?" Major Katsuragi's voice sounded unusually loud to Rei's ears. She could see that her superior was nearing a breaking point more than anxiety over Sohryu, the Major was not used to the Commander countermanding her orders, something he had already done twice within the last hour. The woman had been in the process of ordering Rei to neutralize the AT Field surrounding Unit 02 to enable a rescue operation, but Commander Ikari had vetoed the idea.

"That field manifests the Angel's ability to infiltrate the pilots mind. It would be unwise to risk contact with a second Evangelion."

"But sir- "

"The decision has been made Major," At that moment the Commander's image appeared on Rei's monitor. "Rei, you will retreat to area L-3 and maintain position. Do you understand?"

If Rei had been asked her opinion, she would have agreed with Major Katsuragi. But her opinion was no longer required... The Commander had given his orders, and she would not question them. For Rei Ayanami had one thing that was lacking from the Major, and most of NERV in fact Faith in Gendo Ikari.

Sohryu's anguished scream echoed once more through the open channel.

"Do you understand Rei?"

"... Yes, Commander."

With that the albino turned aside Unit 00 and moved to her new position, as per the Commander's orders. But she kept the channel to Unit 02 open, and etched every sound into her memory. Faith has its limits... No one could order her to forget.

----

_...THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD IS BECOME THE KINGDOM OF OUR LORD..._

----

She crashed into a building, one hand grasping her head. Her body arched in pain as she shrieked, over and over, for it to stop, for it to end...

MENSTRUATION

Blood seeping down your legs, uncontrollable, unpredictable. A constant reminder of what you are and where your limits lie, of the fact that there will always be things that happen to you that you did not choose for yourself. Things that can come from within or without, and can take away your happiness before you even attain it...

(The body limits, the body constrains... This much I know. And yet why should it cause such pain, such resistance? Is it not given for the lilim to be limited? Is that not what makes them lilim?)

----

A frightened boy reached for the controls of Evangelion Unit 01.

_Help her... I've got to help her..._

Shinji had listened as his father had vetoed every plan Misato proposed to defeat the Angel. He was glad that he wasn't on the bridge to see his Father sneering as he casually weighed the pros and cons of saving Asuka's life... He'd shut off the monitor as soon as the red Eva had begun to writhe beneath the Angel's mental attack, but that hadn't kept him from hearing the rising panic on the bridge... nor the tortured voice of Asuka. A voice he had heard so often, raised in anger at him over some insignificant detail, hissing in scorn over his failure yet again to live up to her standards. He remembered how her voice had changed the day she had found out he had surpassed her synch ratio. That was the great irony of the situation... The worse he did, the lower he was in the eyes of the Second Child... And the better he did, the worse he was in the eyes of the Second Child. But for all that he couldn't stop caring about what she thought... She was his co pilot, his teammate, his friend...

_The twang of broken strings. The sound of splintering wood_

And yet... What could he do? Every time he tried to do something, he just ended up making things worse. He didn't want Asuka to hurt, to suffer. But she... She hurt him so _much_... He'd do anything to make it stop. But every time he tried...

_The wetness of tears streaming down his face. The sound of splintering wood_

What could he do? He wanted to make all the hurting stop... But what could he do? He just made things worse, always worse... Maybe if he didn't do anything no one would hurt anymore... If he just did nothing...

_The silence that follows the destruction of hope. The sound of splintering wood_

Nothing...

Slowly Shinji's hands returned to his lap as he tried to block out the agony of his friend...

----

_...AND HE SHALL REIGN FOREVER AND EVER..._

----

Where were they? Where was everybody? She couldn't take much more of this! Her hands trembled as she raised them to her head. Why didn't they help her? Kaji... Misato... _Shinji_...

SHAME

Failure, disappointment, humiliation... Others have such a hold over you. You are what they say you are, deserve only what they give you, they who you believe have no right to judge you. Yet there is one judge you can never escape, the one who is inside you, who watches the you-that-longs-so- much-for-praise...The judge that is filled with revulsion with your every move, who is with you when you cry, when you run, when you shatter music beneath your heel... The judge whom you can never escape, whom you can never please...

(Such conflict... Such discord... Are the lilim not united even within themselves? Must they bring about so much pain upon their very own selves?)

----

"Do it!" Kaji shouted.

At his command four rifles spat fire into the air as their rounds sped one after the other towards the light that surrounded Asuka's Evangelion. Again and again they fired, until enough smoke had emerged to cloud two blocks of city, until hollow clicks announced empty magazines... And still, as the smoke cleared, the light remained... Shining down on an increasingly immobile Unit 02.

"Sir!" Kensuke's shout came over the comm line. "It's not working!"

"Readings suggest no weakening of the field," Nyoko reported as the Keeper lowered the weapons it held in four of its arms. "No AT Field disruption detected."

Seated in front of Kaji, Maya nodded. "Confirmed, no visible weakening observed."

Kaji shook his head. "What is it going to take to breach that thing?"

Beside him, Misato crossed her arms and stared angrily at the satellite image of their foe. "And even if we get Asuka out of there, it's only delaying the inevitable. We still don't have any way of reaching that Angel!"

In the silence following her statement, ragged breathing could be heard from Unit 02, punctuated by the sharp gasps of restrained sobbing. Kaji clenched his fist uselessly at his side as he listened to Asuka slowly crumble beneath the mental onslaught. She of all people, deserved no further pain in her life... She's been deprived of family and of childhood, of any semblance of true affection. And what does she get for her troubles? She gets to be in the frontline of a battle with the only enemy who can give her pain that surpasses even that which she has experienced in the past. When he had learned in Germany of the horror and sorrow the girl had kept locked away, he had vowed to do everything in his power to keep her from suffering again...

And now, when he had the power to stop her suffering, he couldn't bring himself to deviate from the plan.

This wasn't supposed to be happening... It wasn't supposed to take this long. He had gone over the reports carefully, he thought he'd known how NERV would act. NERV _did_ have a weapon capable of destroying a target in orbit... he'd seen the damn thing with his own eyes. Technically it didn't exist, and thus Kaji couldn't very well suggest that they use it, but obviously the Commander knew about it. Even if the man needed clearance from SEELE to even touch the thing, Kaji had been so sure that despite the consequences, the Commander would take the opportunity to...

Then suddenly, Asuka screamed.

"No! Don't make me remember that! I wanted to forgot those things! Don't uncover them I don't want those terrible memories anymore stop this please stop it now!"

"Doctor!" Maya shouted towards Ritsuko, "Asuka's psychograph just hit critical!"

"Get her out of there!" Ritsuko replied. "Her mind is going to be permanently damaged!"

"No go! The entryplug isn't responding to our commands!"

"Damnit!" Kaji and the others turned their eyes back to the screen as the sound of Cho's shout echoed through the bridge. They watched as the Keepers primary limbs came back to life as its right hand reached over to the left and clutched it tightly. Kaji's eyes widened as he realized what his younger brother was attempting to do.

"Cho! Don't!"

"Ryouji, every second we waste-"

"Damnit Cho," the former spy growled through gritted teeth, "you are not to take any action that I have not authorized! That's an order!"

There was a slight pause from the other side as Kaji's brother wrestled with his self control. Around the elder Kaji the others were too distracted by the situation to pay too much attention to what exactly the former spy had prevented Cho from doing... or at least that's what Kaji hoped.

Finally the Keeper released its left hand and returned to a ready stance. "Any other brilliant orders big brother?" Cho growled angrily. "Maybe dig a nice big grave? She's dead if this keeps up and you know it!"

Kaji turned away, his jaws grinding together in frustration. He couldn't use it now, he shouldn't need to use it now... The unshaven man craned his neck towards the command tower. What in the world was Ikari think-

It was at that point that he caught the look on Ikari's face. The man was looking directly at him, yellow tinted shades tipped downwards just enough that Kaji could get a clear view of the man's eyes. Those cold orbs held more than detached calculation this time... They were sparkling, almost questioning. As their gazes locked, Ikari raised an eyebrow ever so slightly before he spoke.

"The boy is right Major Kaji. Do you perhaps have any suggestions? Some... alternative means of destroying the Angel? We are open to suggestions..."

It was then that Gendo Ikari smiled.

_He knows... Damn the bastard! He knows I've seen the Lance! He wants me to be the scapegoat..._

Instantly everything fell into place why Ikari had countermanded Misato's orders, why he had let Asuka take the point position, why he had shot down every other suggestion that had been thrown his way...

_He _does_ intend to use the Lance He just wants me to be the one to take the fall!_

"Well, Major?"

The spy was sorely tempted to go with Cho's solution, or to merely shrug his shoulders and ignore the bait, anything to throw a wrench into Ikari's well ordered plan. But every second brought Asuka closer to the edge of sanity, and Ikari had made sure there was no other way. Silently, he let out a vehement curse against the man seated so calmly above him, but when their gazes met once more, he had already made his decision.

"Cho," he began, without taking his eyes off Ikari, "proceed to sector HJ- 03 and board the lift. You're about to take a little trip..."

----

_...KING OF KINGS ..._

----

Arms clutched tightly about her knees, head buried beneath her limp red hair, the quiet broken only by the occasional choked sob, the girl awaited her death. The pain, the defilement was no less than before... But the struggle was over. There was nothing left within her that could put up a fight. The final locks were broken, the demons of her soul loosed... There was nothing left to do but pray for it to end, one way or another...

DOUBLE SUICIDE

You were happy once, happy running across the corridor to the room that you hated. You hated it but things would be different now, you were a pilot, you were chosen, you were special, and now Mommy would look at you instead of that stupid doll and you could be together again and happy and you open the door and what is that hanging from the...

You were never happy again...

(Such pain... Suffering... Emotions... Cannot...Remain...)

----

"Recall your men Major!" Fuyutsuki shouted, "Access to Terminal Dogma is strictly prohibited!"

Gendo Ikari watched as the spy shook his head. "No help for it Professor we aren't going to make a dent in that thing without the Lance."

"Wha -? How do you..." With a visible effort the Sub-Commander brought himself back under control. The old man turned to the Lieutenants. "No one is to open any of the barriers without the Commander's orders."

Ume snorted. "Give it a rest Kozou," the doctor stated as she laid a hand on his arm. "Nothing else has worked, what have we got to lose by following Kaji's suggestion? Besides, the actions of the Keeper mecha are outside your jurisdiction."

Fuyutsuki let out a long breath. "You don't understand Ume, you can't just use the Lance of Longhinus!"

Ikari decided it was time to speak. "There is nothing we can do Fuyutsuki."

"Ikari?" His compatriot gave him a startled glance then leaned in close to the Commander's ear. "Are you insane?" he hissed, "The old men will not stand for this!"

The Commander merely smiled. "We cannot turn time backwards," he replied in a low voice, "but we can spur its course ahead." Then Ikari raised his voice enough so that he would be heard across the chamber. "The Major has already made his decision. We would only be working at cross purposes if we hindered them now... you would proceed with the operation with or without our sanction would you not Major?"

The spy looked upward and gave the Commander a smile empty of mirth. "Oh definitely, Commander. I take full responsibility for this action."

Ikari nodded in reply. It appeared the spy thought he knew the game he was playing and had decided to go along. Good. There is no time that one is as vulnerable as when one believes he has figured everything out...

"Release the barriers," Ikari intoned. "Open access to terminal dogma."

----

_... FOREVER AND EVER HALLELUIAH..._

----

The lift clanked into place as the Keeper re-emerged unto the surface.

"What the hell is this thing?" Kensuke asked as he scanned the readings he was getting from the 'lance' they held in their hands. "All I'm getting are 601 errors... And how are we supposed to get close enough to the Angel to use this?"

"What bothers me," Nyoko replied, "Was that giant crucified _thing_ we pried the Lance out of. Was that an Angel? What was an Angel doing in NERV HQ?"

Cho's voice cut across their musings. "Less talk, more action. Kensuke, get me a visual on that orbital bastard."

"But Cho how are we going to- "

"Now Kensuke!"

Gulping, the teen aged boy complied, his fingers dancing across the controls until a magnified image appeared on the screen., just as Major Kaji's face appeared.

"Good," the elder Kaji said. "Now Cho I want you to-"

"You've given enough orders for the day big brother," growled the scar faced boy. "I know what I'm doing."

With that Cho pulled back his hand, ignoring the surprised cries as the Lance assumed a different shape, then threw it upward with all his strength.

The Lance sped towards space, shedding clouds in its wake...

----

_...AND LORD OF LORDS..._

----

Kaoru/Eva reeled as it disengaged its mind from that of the lilim's. It had been unprepared for the sheer chaotic intensity that comprised the essence of the female whose mind Cain had allowed it to enter. The discord had steadily grown until the final surge of jagged memory had sent the entity reeling away, cutting the connection that joined it to the life form below. The other entity continued the onslaught, eager to dissect the being of the child of Lilith, but Kaoru/Eva could no longer summon enough strength to bear witness...

It was then that Kaoru/Eva began to feel a disturbance from below it. The disturbance took the form of a call, a pull, which seemed to come from the Earth beneath it. Steadily, the pull began to increase in intensity, and Kaoru/Eva found itself responding, propelling itself through force of will past the glowing body of the Fifteenth, until it was floating in the void between the other and the Earth. Still, the pull grew stronger... The entity focused its attention towards the source and found itself staring at a six-armed mechanoid, carrying with it what seemed to be a...

Suddenly the mechanoid pulled back and threw, sending its weapon streaking towards the Fifteenth. Time seemed to slow even as the entity realized that the weapon was accelerating faster than should have been possible, as it realized that the weapon would bypass it on the way to the other. Acting instinctively, with a speed borne from the fusion of lilim, angel and evangelion, the entity threw its left arm outwards and up catching the object just as it was passing its position...

Pain engulfed Kaoru/Eva as its body made contact with the weapon, a pain that cut across body and soul. The entity felt its form warping where the object had touched it, felt its substance being sucked into the weapon as if into a black hole. Everything, body, identity, consciousness was being pulled into the weapon, bypassing all barriers, all distinction... And then, after an instant that had felt like an eternity, it was gone, flying past the entity at a slightly altered angle, passing without hindrance through the AT Field to strike a glancing blow at the edge of the pristine form of the Fifteenth.

Before Kaoru/Eva could even recover from the initial contact, agony erupted in its mind once more. This time, the agony was not its own, but the pain that poured forth from Cain across the mental bond they shared. The form of the Fifteenth began to twist and contort, its sleek lines growing gnarled and warped as it sought to keep from collapsing into itself. Kaoru/Eva found its mind being battered by the force of Cain's pain and rage, summoning a like response from its own consciousness, until it was impossible to tell where one's mind ended and the other's began. The Fifteenth Angel, host of Cain, expanded and contracted, wound into itself while ejecting globs of matter, before finally assuming a bulbous form roughly the shape of a grasping fist.

And then, with a mental roar that threatened to sunder the heavens, the two entities began to descend towards the Earth...

----

_... FOREVER AND EVER HALLELUIAH..._

----

"It _what_?" Commander Ikari barked, shooting to his feet.

Below him, Shigeru Aoba shrank back from the Commander's unexpected show of emotion, but managed to stutter out an answer.

"It... it missed sir... The Angel is still alive. The weapon seemed to have been deflected somehow. There's a lot of interference in the area and I can barely make it out but while it definitely hit the Angel, it was only a glancing blow. The Angel does seem to have assumed a new form from what I can make out..."

"Was it the AT Field?" Misato asked.

"Can't really tell but I think the Lance managed to neutralize the field... I'd need to do a thorough analysis of the data to be sure. The attack did get it to shut off that beam it was turning on Asuka."

"What's Asuka's condition?"

"I can't get a clear reading," Maya answered, "but whatever that thing did to her, it was bad. I'm going to need some time to determine what exactly is wrong with her..."

"Time we do not have!" Ritsuko interjected. "Readings show the Angel has begun to descend towards Tokyo 3."

"What's its status? Velocity, area of impact?" Kaji asked from beside the purple haired Major.

It was Maya who answered. "At the current rate of acceleration, it should impact on downtown Tokyo-3 in twenty minutes."

Misato rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Is it trying to use itself as a bomb, like the Tenth?"

The unshaven man beside her shook his head ruefully. "We don't know but we don't really have much of a choice but to treat it as such neh? Although this one seems even more massive than that one..."

The woman reluctantly nodded. "We'll want to catch it at a higher level this time, anything to decrease the force of impact."

Kaji nodded and turned to Ritsuko. "Is it possible to pinpoint where exactly this lump is going to land?"

The blond doctor typed in a set of commands then nodded. "Yes, the trajectory seems pretty straightforward this time... It should land in quadrant LH-97, practically centered upon the site of the Nippan Exchange Building."

"That buildings a good 100 floors high right?"

"Yes but what has that to do with- "

"Can you raise the building to the surface again?"

"What?!?"

Beside the spy, Misato grinned. "I get it... We can have the Evas use the building as a platform so they meet the Angel at a higher level. They'll have an easier time using their AT Fields to catch it if they cut into the time it has to gain momentum."

Kaji nodded. "But we'll need Unit 01 to do this... The last operation required three Evas. The Keeper can strike the final blow as long as an Eva catches and opens the field, but Rei can't do both of those at once."

With that Major Katsuragi turned to the Command Tower. "Commander Ikari, requesting permission to reactivate Unit 01."

For an instant the elder Ikari almost seemed to tremble with suppressed fury, but the moment quickly passed. Readjusting his glasses, the man took his seat once more. "Permission granted. Proceed."

Misato whirled back towards the others. "Eva Unit 01, launch!"

----

"Now Shinji, remember how you stopped the Tenth Angel?" Misato said as Unit01 emerged upon the surface. "This is more or less the same thing, except that you'll be raised atop a tower to meet it at a higher point so that- "

The boy didn't even look at the screen. "It doesn't matter Misato."

"Huh?"

"I can't do this."

Misato blinked. "What what are you talking about Shinji? We've got ten minutes left before that thing makes a pancake out of our city! You can do this Shinji!"

If anything, the boy's voice grew even softer. "I can't..."

"Shinji snap out of it! You can! You have to!"

"I can't!" the Third Child shouted at last. "Can't you understand? I'll just make things worse!"

"Shinji," Misato whispered, a pained expression on her face. "Shinji don't do this now we need you- "

"What's going on Shinji?" a voice interrupted. Kensuke's. The boy looked up to see the forms of Unit 00 and the Keeper closing in on his position.

"Jeez Shinji...I know there were times when you didn't follow orders, and everything still worked out," Shinji's friend continued, "but I don't think this is one of those times. We can't beat this thing without you Ikari!"

"Kensuke... I..." Shinji began in a broken voice, but then fell silent as he turned away from the monitor. No matter what they said, he just couldn't bring himself to believe that he could do anything. If he believed then he'd hope and if he hoped... The image of Asuka forced its way into his mind and the Third Child choked back a sob.

"Ikari-kun."

Blinking back tears, Shinji looked up to see the face of Rei Ayanami gazing down at him. For a moment they just stared at each other, and then Ayanami gave the slightest shake of her head.

"I do not understand."

Shinji looked away. "Nobody does..."

The girl continued as if she hadn't heard his words. "You wish to help Sohryu. You have been ordered to help Sohryu. I am unable to observe a conflict."

The boy shut his eyes tightly. "It... It's not that simple Ayanami... You don't understand..."

"That is what I said."

"We don't have time for this." This time, it was Kaji's face that appeared on the screen, tired eyes boring straight into Shinji's. "Listen to me Shinji, for all the talent and determination in this building, in this country, in this entire world, there are only six people who have a say today in whether the world lives or dies. Like it or not Shinji, you are one of them... You can _do_ something. And what you choose to do or not to do will affect us all."

Each word seemed to increase the pressure on the boy, and he slumped wearily into his seat. "I don't want to choose for everybody," he whispered, "I don't know what to do Mr. Kaji..."

"You will eventually Shinji," the man replied gently, "the moment you stop thinking and start acting."

"Twelve minutes to projected impact Major," came Maya's voice from the background.

Kaji nodded. "No more words everyone, you know what to do."

"After what this thing did to Asuka, I don't think you need any further incentive," Misato added. "Give it your best shot you guys! Send this Angel down to Hell!"

With that Unit 00 and the Keeper began to run towards the building, Unit 01 following reluctantly behind them...

----

"Six minutes to projected impact with tower Major Katsuragi," Hyuuga announced. "The Evas have reached their positions."

The purple haired woman nodded. "Ok, do it. Raise the building."

At her command the Nippan Exchange building began to rise slowly from the shelter of the Geofront, emerging from the surface and ascending to meet the enemy, humanities defenders resting on its rooftop. Misato glanced once more at Shinji's face on the monitor. The boy looked tormented, torn between his desires and the responsibility thrust upon his shoulders. Something had happened this morning, most probably involving Asuka, and it had crippled the Third Child. The Major cursed Asuka's timing... Then felt a feeling of shame wash over her as she realized that Asuka was more than paying the price. She resisted the urge to check up on the Second Child... Time enough for that after they had taken out her assailant.

On screen the Nippan Exchange ground to a stop as it reached its full height of 132 stories, just as the incoming Angel became visible to the naked eye, steadily growing larger as it approached the Keeper and the Evas.

"Building has been raised," Hyuuga said. "Impact in 3 minutes."

Misato looked at Kaji, who nodded and gave her a smile. "We've come out of worse situations Katsuragi."

The woman smiled in return but didn't answer. Instead she faced the monitors once more. "Prepare to extend AT Fields!"

"Wait a second," Maya began. "That strangeness in the blue pattern has returned, it's almost as if there's something else..."

Suddenly a blur of movement emerged from the Angel, a white object that hurtled unerringly towards the Evas.

"What the- "

"Oh my God!" Maya shouted as she whirled on Misato, "MAGI confirms two Blue Patterns! It's another Angel!"

"That's impossible!" the Commander snapped, his eyes boring down at the startled female Lieutenant. "Re-check those readings!"

The woman merely shook her head. "It's plain as day sir... two distinct Blue Patterns, not even duplicates like the Seventh!"

Misato turned to the monitor just in time to see the second Angel about to crash into the oblivious and unmoving form of Unit 01.

"Shinji! Get back!"

Before the boy could respond to her scream the shock of two large objects coming together rocked the screen. When the dust settled however, Misato was surprised to find Unit 01 standing there unscathed. The second Angel was no where to be found... And neither was...

"Kensuke!" Shinji screamed. Unit 01 was leaning over the edge of the building and looking down. "Nyoko! Cho!"

Misato felt herself breathe in sharply as she saw the two intertwined forms of the Keeper and the Angel falling swiftly towards the ground. She turned to look at Kaji but he was already issuing orders.

"Nyoko can you hear me? Hit the boosters when I give you the signal!"

"We can't," came the girls ragged response. "It's clinging- "

"Major!" Shigeru called out to Misato. "Impact is immanent!"

On the screen, the bloated form of the first Angel was less that a kilometer from the rooftop, and closing fast.

"Shinji, Rei, deploy AT Fields now!"

A shimmering red distortion erupted from Unit 00 as it raised its hands to meet the threat. Unit 01 however, remained at the edge of the rooftop.

"Shinji!"

----

"Cho!" Nyoko screamed. "Break free!"

"I'm trying!" The other replied as he moved his arms against the suddenly tight restraints. After they had tackled the Angel, it seemed to have wound itself around them somehow, curtailing all movement, or deployment of the boosters. Cho couldn't even get a mental image of how they were entwined... All he could see from the monitor was a fleshy whiteness and a flash of red...

Red! The core!

With strength born of desperation Cho reared back his head, and brought it crashing down against the edge of the Angel's core. Instantly the things grip loosened enough for the Keeper's arms to gain leverage.

"Push!" He shouted to Nyoko as they used four of the Keepers arms to push mightily against the expanse of white matter disengaging the mecha finally from its prison.

"We're clear!" Kensuke crowed from his position. "Do it now Nyoko!"

"362-Boosters engage!" Nyoko cried, issuing a voice command as the mecha plummeted past the tenth floor of the building. Instantly twin gouts of fire shot forth from the Keepers back and the pilots found themselves battling g-forces as the robot suddenly reversed its downward descent. In so doing however, the mecha crashed into the building, sending shock waves through the tower, before Nyoko could regain enough control to bring the Keeper down to a rough but upright landing.

The three pilots exchanged deep breaths as the mecha picked itself up more than a hundred floors below where it had begun.

"That was close," Kensuke breathed.

"Too close," agreed Nyoko in a shaky voice, a trembling hand reaching into her suits pocket and coming out with a death grip on a Catholic rosary. "I thought this first Angel might be our last."

"All right." Cho said as he brought the Keeper into a battle stance. "Where's the bastard? I hadn't been planning on taking the express elevator..."

The face of Cho's older brother appeared on the monitor. "Forget about that one first, Rei's in trouble back on top. She can't keep the bigger Angel back for long."

"But what about Shinji?"

"Just get back up there." Kaji replied.

The three pilots exchanged a long look. "Fine," Cho agreed, "Point us to the nearest weapons depot... We need to replace the ones we..."

"Cho!" Kensuke interrupted. "Something's coming our way and fast!"

"It's the Angel!" Kaji shouted. "Get back!"

Without waiting for further instruction Cho bunched his legs beneath him and leapt to his right, just as a blur of white smashed into the building directly behind where they had stood.

"We're sending up a set of weapons at a depot to your right side. Arm yourselves." Kaji ordered, just as the sound of a metallic panel sliding into place heralded the arrival of their weapons. "Nyoko, reroute control of the secondary arms to Kensuke while you prepare the shield for use. Looks like we'll have to deal with this one before we can kill it's 'mother'."

"Acknowledged sir," Nyoko replied as she began typing at her console. Cho grunted as he and Kensuke armed themselves with a variety of long distance weapons: a rocket launcher and three pallet blasters.

"Woo-hoo!" Kensuke whooped. "That Angel's in for it now... we're packing four times the fire power an ordinary Eva uses."

A commotion from the debris of the buildings first floor returned their attention to the task at hand. Arising from the wreckage was a shambling, humanoid form. The Angel was covered with a pasty white 'skin' that looked more like muscle tissue, combined with what looked like assorted metal parts, except for the central crimson core. Its face was a hideous mask of glee, rows of huge teeth over a protruding jaw, malformed horn jutting out from its cranium as it gazed at the Keeper with glowing red eyes.

"Man, he's an ugly looking one isn't he?" Cho whistled.

"Yeah," Kensuke agreed. "But there's something familiar about-"

"Time for this later children," Kaji interrupted. "Remember we can't spend too much time on this one."

"He's as good as toast Major," Kensuke grinned. "Give the order Cho!"

Cho nodded. "Fry him!"

With that, four fingers depressed their respective triggers and a barrage of firepower flew towards the white Angel, riddling its body and sending it flying further back into the building.

"That was easy," Kensuke said as they waited for the smoke to clear. "Guess these things are over rated..."

"Guess again," Nyoko replied as she pointed towards the screen. As the smoke had drifted away, the Angel had returned to view. The three pilots watched in sick fascination as one by one it repaired the damage to its body, white matter filling its wounds, regrowing severed limbs.

"O-kay that's it," Cho said as he dropped his guns and drew two prog knives from the rack. "We do this the old fashioned way." With that the Keeper broke into a run towards its foe. The Angel reacted slowly, sending a heavy handed backhand that Cho easily ducked. "Perfect," the boy grinned as he took advantage of the opening to thrust both his knives straight into the Angels core... only to have them deflected at the last moment by a familiar red distortion.

"An AT Field?" Nyoko asked. "But why is it only over the core?"

Before anyone could answer however, all three were thrown back as the Angel landed a punch against the Keeper's torso. Cho reeled back as the Angel's other fist sped towards him bit Nyoko blocked it with a focused projection of the Keepers force field. Nyoko stopped the next few blows but more and more began to sneak past her defenses, one kick causing a great deal of damage to the mecha's right hip.

"Put some distance between us Cho!" Nyoko ordered through gritted teeth, "The force shield isn't designed to deflect melee attacks..."

In response the Keeper leapt back a good distance, placing the better part of a block between it and the Angel.

"Ok, brother," Cho began. "How do we kill this thing? I mean we can't get to the core because -"

"Cho look out!"

"Wha- ?" was all that the scarred boy could get out before the cockpit was rocked violently backwards. On the consoles of his two fellow pilots, alarms were going haywire. As for Cho, he felt the restraints connecting him to the Keeper tighten significantly, jerking his head backwards. He struggled to keep upright as a force seemed to push him back. All Cho could see within the screen of his wrap around headset was the late afternoon sky.

"What's gong on? I can't move my head enough to see anything!"

"Kensuke," he heard Nyoko say, "reroute to Cho the visual feed from NERV."

A second later Cho was looking at the Keeper from the vantage point of a NERV camera. What he saw was the mecha arched painfully backward, with the Angels two hands wrapped around the Keeper's neck... hands attached to arms which had stretched to cover an entire city block in less than two seconds.

"We're in trouble..."

----

"Shinji!"

The boy was huddled in his seat, hands covering his ears as the sound of an AT Field colliding with an immense object resounded across the sky.

"Shinji you have to get up!"

Slowly the boy brought his face up to look at the monitor, only to find the Angel practically right on top of him. It was a hideous blob of white matter, nothing at all like the Angel he had seen on the monitors a half hour ago. The Angel that had hurt Asuka...

All that stood between the Angel and Shinji was the light blue form of Unit 00. Rei had lifted her arms toward the sky and, together with her outstretched AT Field, was pushing desperately against the massive form of the Angel. Steadily however, she was losing ground, her Eva's feet digging deeper and deeper into the floor, forming twin furrows in the material of the rooftop.

_Ayanami..._

"Shinji, Rei can't keep this up for much longer! You've got to help her!"

"I... I..."

_The twang of broken strings. The sound of splintering wood_

The Third Child's arms fell to his side, his hands opening and closing impotently.

"I can't..." he whispered, "Misato... I can't..."

"Shinji! What's wrong with you? Rei needs you!"

"I can't!" he boy shouted. "I can't do anything! Stop depending on me!"

"Shinji!"

A ragged voice answered before he could respond. "I... Can handle this, Major."

Shinji looked up once more to the screen. Unit00 had redoubled its efforts, straining with every ounce of power in its frame, it's cyclopean eye seeming to shine with a hungry light. At first, it seemed like the Evangelion was making headway, the Angel being forced backwards, slowly but steadily. It was then that Rei turned her hands inward, and began to claw away at the center of the AT Field, to allow it to reach the Angel's core.

"Rei you can't do that!" Misato called out in a panicked voice. "You can't project a field and neutralize a part of it at the same time!"

"There... is... no... other... option..."

"Rei it's not going to work!"

Instead of addressing the major, Rei's face appeared on Shinji's screen. "Ikari-kun," the albino said, calmly, despite the beads of sweat upon her brow. "You will not die. I will protect you."

With that Unit 00 pulled the center of the distortion open...

And the entire AT Field disappeared. Shinji felt the rooftop collapse beneath him as the Angel completed its descent...

----

In the Keeper's cockpit alarms were blaring out their warnings. Nyoko quickly scanned the instruments on her console... Things did not look good.

"It... It's ripping the neck myomers apart!" Kensuke reported. "Get it off us!"

"It's no use," Cho growled, as he struggled to release the Angel's hold on the Keepers throat. "It's too strong for just me!"

"I'm on it!" Nyoko called out, pushing her arms into the control casts for the secondary limbs. Concentrating on the screen, the girl brought the Keepers second arms up and clutched at the Angels extended limbs, joining Cho in trying to break the Angel's iron grip. The girl strained against the simulated resistance with all her strength and the tide of the battle began to turn. Slowly, the Angel's hold began to loosen and the four arms began to push it away...

Then the Angel shifted tactics. Instead of holding the mecha's neck it latched on to the Keeper's arms instead. Suddenly the Keeper jerked forward as the Angel's arms began to retract toward its body, pulling the Keeper along with them.

"Watch out!" Nyoko shouted, "We're going to- "

The rest of her words were drowned out as the Keeper was brought crashing against the white Angel, sending both figures tumbling to the ground. The pair of giant shapes rolled along the ground, locked in a struggle for leverage, before finally the Angel emerged on top, pinning the mecha to the ground with its knees while battering at its fallen foe.

"Cho!" Kensuke called out. "Do something!"

Cho let out a rebel yell as he brought the Keeper's arms upward once more, catching a white fist in each of its own. Several damage indicators flashed into the red as Cho pushed the Keeper's systems to the limit.

Then the Angel turned its head directly toward the Keeper's cockpit, its demonic face seemingly leering at the three pilots as it let out an unholy roar. Nyoko remembered just in time that she couldn't cover her ears while her arms were in the control casts, and she felt the insides of her head being knocked around by the force of the cry, all thoughts extinguished save for one...

_It hates us... Whatever it is, it hates us..._

"Ken, shoot it!" Cho shouted over the din, "Use the weapons in the tertiary arms!"

As seconds passed without a reply Nyoko turned in her seat towards their youngest co-pilot. The bespectacled boy was staring up at the Angel's monstrous face with a look of absolute horror, his body rigid with fear.

"Ken!" she called out, "Ken snap out of it!"

"What's wrong with Ken?" Cho asked urgently.

"He's- " Nyoko began to answer, before she caught a flash of light from the screen. The handicapped girl looked up. The Angel's eyes had begun to fill with a malevolent energy... It had a beam weapon! Nyoko said a silent prayer as she activated the control casts once more.

"Oh, no you don't!" the girl cried out as she locked her two hands together and brought them both arcing upward towards the Angel's face. The blow knocked the creature's head away, just in time to send the Angel's energy blast away from the mecha and into one of the Eva's 'refueling' stations, causing it to explode with tremendous force that once more sent both combatants flying. As Nyoko felt the Keeper climb unsteadily back onto its feet she could already see the silhouette of the Angel, looking even more demonic with the flames from the explosion as its back drop, as it once more approached the Keeper, seemingly unscathed.

_What's it going to take to kill that thing?_ she managed to think before the sound of the Nippan Exchange building being ground to dust diverted her attention...

----

"No..." Misato whispered as the Angel impacted with the tower, hardly slowed by the structure as it sped towards the ground. Rei's gambit had failed. She hadn't been able to neutralize only a part of the AT Field but instead had ceased projecting it entirely, eliminating the one thing that had kept the Angel at bay. Now without the AT Field acting as an obstacle, the Angel continued its delayed descent towards the Earth, destroying the tower on its way down. If this Angel was anything like the Tenth, the ensuing explosion would wipe both Tokyo 3 and the geofront from existence.

Misato scanned the stricken eyes of her companions, and knew they felt the same feeling of defiant resignation that she herself did. They had done their best... that was all God or man could ask of them. She felt her hand reaching for Kaji's, regretting that so much need be left unsaid...

The Angel streaked past the tenth floor of the building, seconds from impacting upon the Earth's crust

- and was stopped dead by an AT Field.

"Wha -?" The purple haired woman blurted out. "Where'd that come from?"

"It's Unit 01!" Maya replied.

Suddenly an image of Shinji crackled to life on the main screen. The Third Child was sweating profusely, teeth gritted in determination.

"Don't... think..." they heard him mutter through gritted teeth, as if reciting a mantra. "Don't think... just... act...

"Shinji!"

"Misato!" he called out. "Rei can cut an opening in the field as long as I project it, but she can't hold it open and attack at the same time. We need someone else!"

Misato turned to Kaji, but the man had already opened the channel to the Keeper. The image of an equally grim Nyoko popped up on the screen next to Shinji's.

"We can't! The other Angel has us pinned down over here! It's all we can do to keep it away from Shinji and Rei!"

Misato cursed as part of the screen changed to display the Keeper locked in a struggle with the humanoid Angel. That left them with only one option. With a swift movement she keyed open the line to Unit 02.

"Asuka!"

----

Somewhere in the shadows of her mind, the girl heard someone call her name. She didn't respond. She couldn't even if she wanted to. The present had been devoured by the past. Her attention was elsewhere, her mind fixed upon long hidden memories that played again and again upon the screen of her consciousness. The demons of her soul were non-too easily pushed aside once freed from their captivity. She wondered if she'd ever bury them again...

"Asuka!"

_Darling Asuka... Eat up you don't want to look like that girl in the window do you?_

_Mama! I'm Asuka! Not that doll! Me! Me!_

"You have to get up!"

_I have to be the best so Mama will look at me again!_

_I did it! I'm a pilot! Mama, oh mama..._

_... Ma ma?... What are you doing ... up... there..._

"If you don't we're all going to die!"

_Come die with me Asuka..._

_Die... Die..._

"I want... to die..." the girl whispered, and clutched her knees closer to her chest, waiting for the demons to lead her to her Mother.

"It's no use! She's lost it," she hears the woman's voice saying. She seems so far away... "Try to get Rei to back up the Keeper instead..."

"Asuka!"

That voice. It was no longer the woman's... It belonged to another, one just as familiar...

"Asuka! Answer me!"

An image formed in her head. A boy, her own age. Weak eyes. Gentle eyes. A rare smile that so often turned into a frown...

_Him._

"Asuka!"

Shinji.

_The twang of broken strings. The sound of splintering wood_

The girl whimpered. Not all of the things she wished to forget had happened in the distant past...

Shinji...

"Asuka, I can't hold out much longer..."

The voice broke up in a cloud of static, then returned, the boy seemingly in a great deal of pain.

"Asuka! Please! We need you!"

Need... her?

But she was useless...

"I need you! Hurry up!"

Shinji... needed her?

Invincible Shinji... needed her?

Couldn't do something... which she could do?

"Come on! You can't let it get away from you after what it did to you!"

Who did what?

Had something happened to her?

_My mind..._

Shinji's voice again. "It's right here Asuka! The Angel... We can get it!"

Angel? The Angel...

_... being eaten away..._

Slowly her head came up. "It's... here?"

"Asuka! You're back!" she heard the boy say, but she remained oblivious to the emotions in his voice. She was remembering something... and all else was being pushed aside by the emotions that were rising to accompany it.

"The Angel... It's here?" she said, her voice nothing but a harsh whisper.

"Yes, yes it's here. Ayanami and I have it pinned down but we can't kill it without you..."

Kill... the Angel... The hate began to bubble to the surface, raising bile in her throat...

"It's here..."

"Asuka?"

Kill... the Angel... She raised her eyes to the screen. Slowly, Unit 02 began to rise, its four eyes scanning the horizon... It didn't have to search for long.

_It's defiling my mind!_

Kill the Angel! There it was, held up by the AT Field... And there, oh so close, was it's red, beating, heart...

_Make it stop!_

KILL!

Asuka screamed her rage and raced towards her hated foe, Unit 02's eyes radiating her hatred.

----

"Unit 02 has gone berserk!" Hyuuga shouted as the red Evangelion sped towards the Angel at an astronomical rate. "Readings are going off the scale!"

"Rei!" Misato called out. "Do it now!"

On screen, the bridge crew watched as Unit 00 deftly pulled open a gash in the AT Field as Unit 01 concentrated on keeping it up. The section had barely been opened before Asuka reached the Angel and plunged her knife into its core with all the strength the Eva possessed. It cracked in a matter of seconds...

For an instant, Misato felt a heavy presence, alien and yet very familiar, wash over her as beams of light began to spew out of the jagged wounds in the Angel's core...

----

_~RETURN~_

The command came to Kaoru/Eva almost as soon as the rage had vanished... The rage that had swallowed it's capacity for thought and free choice, that had engaged it in battle with the six armed shell of an Evangelion... a mechanoid. The rage was gone now, completely absent, replaced with the Presence that it had grown to recognize as Cain.

_~RETURN~_ the voice repeated, but it's strength seemed to be fading along with Cain's presence. _~RETURN TO THE VOID~_

_Master,_ Kaoru/Eva replied, _I do not know how..._

There was a silence, and then Kaoru/Eva felt the touch of Cain along its mind, felt his Presence suffice itself like water enfolding a pebble. Kaoru/Eva felt itself move, felt itself rise into the air, yet it knew this was the work of the Other. Portals in its mind were opened, and Kaoru/Eva felt the power leak out of itself, and saw the gateway to the void form beneath its feet.

_~YOU DO NOW~_

And with that the entity disappeared into the Dirac Sea.

----

"Gods," Misato whispered to her companion. "They look terrible..."

Save for one, they were all gathered together around the powered down form of Unit 02 when Misato and Kaji stepped down from the transport. Two Eva Pilots and Three Keeper Pilots, all worn down by the day's ordeals, going over them in their own private thoughts. Misato looked around and read the weariness in their movements, weariness and something more, something specific to each one. Kensuke was lying on a stretcher with a hand covering his face, occasionally hyperventilating before Nyoko could calm him down. The handicapped girl herself had an expression that alternated between concern and relief, her head bowed seemingly in prayer when she was not attending to Kensuke. Rei was standing to one side, which was not in itself unusual, but she had her head cocked at a strange angle, almost as if she was listening for something.

The two remaining boys, Cho and Shinji. were closer to Unit 02. The older boy had his hand on the Third Child's shoulder and seemed to be telling him something. Cho finished talking and pushed Shinji gently forward with his hand.

"Go on," she heard the scarred boy say as she and Kaji came closer. "What's the worst she could do?"

Misato heard Shinji mumble something indecipherable before he hesitantly ducked beneath the quarantine tape and move closer to the red Evangelion. The Major realized she should technically stop such action but she merely watched as he headed for the red haired girl. Meanwhile she heard Kaji call out a greeting to his brother.

"Cho, are you- " was all that she heard him get out before the sound of a fist hitting flesh snapped her attention back to the brothers.

The elder Kaji was lying on the debris strewn floor, one hand rubbing his unshaven chin where Cho's punch had connected. The scarred boy was standing over his brother, clenched fists trembling at his side, looking for all the world like he was about to pounce on the older man. Swiftly Misato imposed herself between the two, pushing the younger Kaji away.

"What the hell has gotten into you?" she fumed at him. "Haven't enough people been hurt today?"

"Butt out Misato," Cho growled. "There would have been a lot less of that if not for Ryouji."

The woman refused to give ground. "He did the best he could Cho! What are you blaming him for?"

The boy seemed about to say something, then changed his mind in mid sentence. "You... You don't know what you're talking about Major," he responded angrily. "You don't know what's really going on here, so how would you know who was doing his job?"

Before she could reply to that Kaji lay a hand on her shoulder. He had picked himself up during the argument and now stood behind her, with a totally inappropriate smile on his face. "Don't worry about it Katsuragi," the spy said. "We're all a bit hot tempered when we're young and ignorant."

Cho's reply was immediate. "Don't patronize me damnit!" he shouted, pointing angrily at his brother. "You know very well what you did today!"

At that the elder Kaji fell silent, and he turned his face towards the figures of Shinji and Asuka.

"More than you know," Kaji replied sadly, "More than you will ever know..."

----

He approached gingerly, careful not to disturb her. He didn't know why he was keeping so quiet... He'd disturb her anyway the moment he spoke. Maybe he just wanted to postpone it for as long as possible. The scars from the morning still hurt, and they would be a long time healing.

_The twang of broken strings. The sound of splintering wood_

Be that as it may, Cho had been right. Things like this had a way of putting a proper perspective on events. 'Whatever she did,' the scarred boy had began. 'She's gone through something worse just now. And she needs someone to remind her she has friends. Whether or not she chooses to make use of them is up to her however.' When Shinji had said he couldn't do anything about it the older boy had merely grinned and pushed him forward.

"You're right." He had said. "Assuming all you do is stand over here."

So here he was, standing right behind her but still silent, at a loss of what to say or do. _It doesn't sound as if she is crying or anything,_ the Third Child thought to himself. _She probably doesn't need me..._ As he was about to turn away however, the girl's shoulders jerked violently upwards. The movement stopped, but came again as Shinji watched, after a few seconds. Was the Second Child... crying?

"Asuka..." the boy whispered and took a tentative step closer. "Are you ok?"

Her shoulders stopped moving, and for a moment her entire body tensed up. Shinji retreated backwards, sure that she was going to leap up and hit him for asking such an inane question. 'Are you ok?' what kind of an idiot asks that after something like this?

To his surprise however most of the tension evaporated as soon as it arrived. Slowly the Second Child stood up, taking deep breaths as she did so, before finally speaking. The way she spoke however... It was as if she wasn't even aware that he was standing there, as if her words were directed to herself rather than to anyone else, in a tone of voice that was dead to emotion.

"Dirty... Feel so dirty... But I got him. That's what matters isn't it? That I got him?" she whispered woodenly. She turned around then and gazed towards Shinji with eyes that looked straight through him without seeing him. "It doesn't matter that no one helped me... I didn't need their help. Never need anyone's help... But I was so... I needed..."

The Second Child began breathing more rapidly then, and she brought herself under control only after visible effort. Shinji took another step closer but the girl remained outwardly oblivious.

"I won... Didn't I? Then why aren't I happy? I... I deserve to be happy don't I? Please..." Asuka continued, her voice cracking towards the end as she struggled to hold back tears. Even if she wasn't listening to him, Shinji knew that he had to say something...

"You... got him Asuka," Shinji replied weakly. "He's gone. You won."

At first it seemed that she still hadn't heard him. But then her head shot up sharply and Shinji found himself staring at her tear streaked face. The girl blinked as her eyes focused on him, then she turned away again. When she faced Shinji once more it was as if she had drawn a cracked mask over her features, trying to put on her normal, confident expression. All she succeeded in doing was lifting her chin an inch and putting on the shadow of a smile...

"You... think so?" she began quietly. Then as if realizing that she now had an audience she shook herself and tried to use a more forceful tone of voice. "Damn right I did! And more than that - I didn't need you or...or wonder girl, or Kensuke's new friends to save me!" she crowed - or at least she tried to. It came out more desperate than confident. "All I needed was myself ... Me, Asuka... I showed them all... didn't I Shinji?"

Shinji resisted the urge to correct her. There was no way any of them could have defeated those two Angels by themselves Shinji shuddered to think about what would have happened had the Keeper not been there to draw away the second Angel. But despite her words, Shinji felt Asuka knew that as well. Behind the forced confidence was an urgent need for reassurance, behind the pride was a girl who could collapse if not propped up by affirmation. Such insight into others may be rare to Shinji, but he was wise enough to heed it when it came.

"Yes you did Asuka," the boy said as he nodded his assent. "You did good today..."

Those two sentences has a visible effect on his friend. Her eyes brightened, and her posture straightened... A bit of the falsity vanished from her expression and her banter gained a more natural tone. "Good?" the redhead asked. "I was great today Shinji! I'm always great! And don't you forget it Baka-Shinji!"

With that the girl gave her long red hair a flounce before walking past Shinji without a backward glance. Before she had moved away completely however, the Third Child heard a soft voice call his name.

"Shinji?"

There was a pause. Then...

"I'm... sorry..."

And with that she was gone.

----

"This was not in the scenario was it?"

"Neither mine, nor theirs. We have entered uncharted territory."

"I don't like the sound of that."

"Neither do I Professor... Neither do I."

----



_...AND HE SHALL REIGN FOREVER AND EVER..._

_HALLELLUIAH_

-------------

Authors notes: Well, there you have it. I did promise another ending for the Fifteenth didn't I? I hope it wasn't too obvious that I did this chapter disjointedly and in varying states of mind... It was hard for me to do, especially the scenes with Kaoru/Eva and within Asuka's mind.

Another problem I encountered was the fact that with the addition of the three top tier Keeper Task Force officers (Ume, Kaji and Denbe), I have a _really_ crowded bridge. The result is that I can't have everyone giving reactions, so aside from Misato and Kaji, the others received less screen time. (Ritsuko and Ume in particular... And Denbe has approximately two lines in this whole chapter ;p Then again he was probably cowering in a corner @_@) This will probably remain a problem, but I won't be doing a lot of character development in the Bridge during a battle anyway... Denbe and Ritsu can have their monologues some other time :)

I hope I was able to use the Halleluiah Chorus effectively as well... I just could not write this chapter with the right feel if the Chorus wasn't alluded to within... I hope I'm not delusional when I say that I think it worked out fairly well. Likewise I hope my 'battle' scenes were ok... I'm not used to writing for mecha that are in motion yet.

I also hope that the effects of the cello smashing incident last chapter were felt and dealt with adequately in this one. Many thanks to Daniel Snyder for bringing the incident into more of an emphasis in my eyes, and while its effects will still be felt for a while, the evens of this chapter will enable both of the children to start recovering... With outside help of course.

This chapter might raise a lot of plot related questions... First, the 'pillar of light' acting like an AT Field. Well, Hyuuga does say it resembles an AT Field in the readings so I felt it would make sense... Besides I needed to find a way to keep Asuka there despite the presence of the Keeper (who would be more than capable of ripping her away from there otherwise.)

Second, as to what exactly Cho was planning to do before Kaji stopped him, and why he seemed to know something about the Lance, that will be elaborated later on... (Much later on actually if memory serves me...)

Third, as to why Asuka was acting 'normal' in the end, this is because of the massive confidence boost I'm assuming she'd get from a. killing an Angel and b. An Angel that had caused her so much pain. This is not to say that she isn't affected by the mental beating she took, but in this scenario she keeps her pride, and that's the crutch that will allow her to seem 'normal'. This also explains her magnanimous apology to Shinji at the end... She's recovered a little bit of esteem from this and she can afford to be 'nice'.

All in all I think that worked out ok, but as usual tell me what worked and what didn't work for y'all. Once again and with feeling, much thankings for this you guys! ^_^

This is really the end of the first 'arc'. Up till now I've been sticking fairly closely to the Eva timeline, but as Gendo and Fuyu imply at the end, we are now entering uncharted territory. Throw your Dead Sea Scrolls out the window ladies and gentlemen... It only gets more fun from here on out ^_^

Thanks once more to Daniel, Myssa and Taryn, my able pre-readers, as well as the entire EFML.

-Ender