Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion, or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything belonging to Marvel Comics or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.

Chapter 1: The Volcano

There were times that Asuka Langley-Sohryu thought that the world was jam-packed with idiots determined to make her look as foolish as possible. That certain things happened for the express reason of ruining her efforts to show the world what she was capable of, of proving to everyone just how great she truly was. With her present mission becoming a prime example of this.

It had seemed simple enough at first; an embryonic Angel had been detected in the depths of Mount Asuma, an active volcano. Realizing that they had been presented with the chance to obtain a living Angel for study, Captain Misato Katsuragi had, with the approval of Commander Ikari and the Human Instrumentality Committee, decided to take to the offence and go after the Angel. They were to capture it alive if possible, and if need be, destroy it. And when this mission had been at that stage, Asuka had been utterly thrilled with it and had quickly volunteered to be the designated pilot for it.

Asuka had known going into this situation that this mission would be dangerous. She would be diving into the depths of an active volcano, to depths where the unmanned probe that had been used to ferret out the Angel had imploded from the sheer pressure of the magma. She would be alone and with little in the way of defense and weaponry should the situation turn sour on her. But she didn't care. She loved the idea of NERV getting off their collective butts and taking the fight to the Angels, instead of simply waiting around for the Angels to attack them. After all, anybody with half a brain knew that the best defense was a good offense. Better to take the Angels out when they were vulnerable than to give them the chance to grow into their full power.

But there was a more personal reason for her pleasure in this turn of events. For the truth was that Asuka had been longing for the chance to go on a solo mission. To finally prove herself as the Great Asuka Langley-Sohryu that she knew she was, that she needed to be, to the entire world. To earn the attention, the respect, the adulation that she had labored so many years of her life to earn. And so she had been quick to volunteer for this mission, to be the primary pilot and capture the Angel with her own hands.

Of course, if I'd known what they had planned for me and my poor Unit 02, I'd have stuck Shinji with the job! Asuka fumed as they approached zero hour for this mission. Painfully aware of how utterly ridiculous she looked in the heat-resistant plug suit Ritsuko Akagi had designed for her. While it seemed to be working well enough right now, the accursed suit did its job by expanding to the size where it made the fiery German look like a cherry with arms and legs. This suit is so stupid! And this awful D-Type suit…!

When Ritsuko had shown the protective suit Unit 02 was equipped with for this mission, the Head Scientist had made a point that it had been designed to protect an Evangelion from even the harshest environments, not to look good. And while Asuka couldn't be certain how effective its protective capabilities would be, she certainly couldn't disagree with Ritsuko in that it hadn't been designed with looking fashionable in mind. The white armored suit was looked like an overgrown, overstuffed diver's fat suit that made her mighty Eva look completely ridiculous.

I swear, if it weren't for that Gott-damned doll Rei volunteering to pilot Unit 02 if I didn't go along with this, I'd have told all those idiots off right then and there! Asuka fumed as she dangled above the precipice with the electromagnetic cage she would be using for the actual capture in hand. Waiting as the NERV team used the laser bore to drill a hole large enough to allow Unit 02 to descend into the depths of the Earth. Then she glared over at the lip of the volcanic crevice, where the hideous, outdated monster known as Unit 01 was perched and at the ready. That…and I'll finally have a chance to win against the Angels without you getting in my way!

Heaving a deep breath, Asuka glanced about at the activity taking place at NERV's temporary base, where Misato and the rest of the team were working, making the final preparations for her descent. Hoping to take her mind off the humiliation inherent to her situation, the German asked, "Hey, has anybody seen Kaji? Is he here yet?"

"No, and he isn't going to be here," Misato declared in a coarse manner. "God's gift doesn't have any business getting in the way of an official operation!"

"What – not going to be here?!" Asuka whined in disbelief. One of the few bright spots to the miserable mission disappearing like a twinkle in the night. "But I wanted him to see me in my greatest triumph yet!"

"He'll just have to watch the videos when we make our report later," Ritsuko remarked as she continued to work.

But that's just not the same! Asuka groaned inwardly, sinking back in her seat, thinking of the perfect specimen of a man that had been her guardian while she had lived in Germany, the man she had idolized and desired for such a very long time. The man she had hoped to impress with her skills, to prove herself as being more than just a little girl. Oh…could this get any worse…?

"Huh?" came a familiar voice over the intercom. Looking about at one of the holographic display windows being projected within Unit 02's Entry Plug, Asuka saw the pale, scrawny figure of a boy that was Shinji Ikari narrow his eyes in confusion. "What…are those jets?"

Making a noise of confusion, Asuka followed the gaze of Unit 01. True to Shinji's words, a series of jets were presently circling overhead, much like vultures waiting for something to expire so they could feed on the carcass. "Yeah! But - what are they doing here?"

"It's the UN and the Air Force," Ritsuko announced. Looking over towards the NERV encampment, Asuka saw the faux-blonde with her back turned to Unit 02, still working away on whatever it was she was doing. "Don't worry about them. They won't be interfering with us."

"They're on standby," seconded Maya Ibuki, who was working alongside of Ritsuko with her back turned as well.

"Huh?" Asuka frowned, glancing from the NERV crew to the jets and back again. "But – wait. If they're not gonna help us, then what are they doing here?"

"They're here to clean up the mess," Ritsuko replied enigmatically, still not bothering to look at Asuka.

"It's a precaution," Maya seconded. "In case we fail."

Getting a bad feeling at this, Asuka hesitated before asking, "Uh…what's that supposed to mean?"

"It's means that they'll use N2 depth charges to destroy the Angel," Ritsuko announced in a matter-of-fact fashion. "And us, as well."

At this statement, what little remaining satisfaction Asuka felt at being the primary pilot for this mission burnt up like a twig in the depths of this accursed volcano. "What?! You mean they're gonna kill us all?!"

"If we fail, then yes," Ritsuko confirmed, sounding as if she were talking about the results of a routine synch test instead of the possibility of dying a horrible, agonizing death.

"What kind of verruckt dummkopfs are these idiots?!" Asuka demanded, utterly incredulous at just how stupid these people were. "You mean they're seriously planning on dumping an N2 down the middle of a volcano in one of the most volcanically active places on the planet?! Don't you know what that will do?!"

"I imagine it will cause a severe disturbance in the tectonic plates. Most likely resulting in a massive earthquake, possible volcanic eruptions. This entire section of Japan could be destroyed," Ritsuko admitted, still using that same bland tone of voice. "So yes, I know what it will do. As does the UN and the Committee. But they deem that to be preferable to triggering a Third Impact."

Asuka knew that the doctor had a valid point in this. But that did not stop the German groaning, "Good Gott, this job sucks!"

"What kind of jerk would order something like that?" Shinji demanded, showing more heat in that moment than Asuka tended to hear from him in a week.

"Commander Ikari," Ritsuko intoned in that same voice.

What?! That rat bastard?! Asuka fumed in disbelief. Of all the…If he weren't for the Commander of NERV, I'd…!

Even as Asuka was really getting going, she was cut off by a strange noise from somewhere beneath her. "The laser operation complete," Ritsuko reported a moment later. "We've bored a passage for Unit 02."

"All readings normal for the D-Type equipment. The electromagnetic cage checks out," Maya stated. "Looks like we're as ready as we're ever gonna be."

"Understood," Misato stated, all business as the preperations were completed. "What about you, Asuka? Are you ready?"

At this question, the German forgot about all the annoyances she had endured thus far that day. She pushed aside the hateful plug suit she wore and the awful D-Type equipment to the side, along with the stupidity displayed by the UN and the military, as well as the arrogance of Commander Ikari. She even shoved aside the fact that her crush wouldn't be there to see her triumph in person. At that moment, all that mattered was that she was on a mission. That she would finally have a chance to prove herself as the strong, independent woman that she knew herself to be, that she had to be. That she had the opportunity to outshine Shinji, the pathetic little boy that had somehow managed to outshine her in both her previous engagements against the Angels, that was the talk of so many people and the clear favorite of everybody on the base.

She had the chance to be the Great Asuka Langley-Sohryu. And compared to that, everything else was a secondary concern. Even her own life. And so she replied in a brisk, enthusiastic voice, "Ready when you are!"

"Very well," Misato nodded. "Begin the operation!"

"Roger," Maya responded. "Lowering Unit 02 now."

An instant later, the rumble of machinery was heard, followed by a shudder that translated though the crane supporting Unit 02 down in the Entry Plug itself. An instant later, Asuka began her descent into the depths of the volcano.

"Aw, man!" Asuka groaned as she grew closer to the fiery pit below. "Are you sure this suit is working right? It already feels like an oven in here!"

"Sorry, Asuka. But the suit is at optimum capacity, and the coolant levels are at maximum," Misato informed her with a quick look of sympathy. "Let's just get this thing over and done with as quickly as we can, okay?"

Groaning somewhat as she thought about how hot things would get when she actually reached the Angel, Asuka sighed and decided to distract herself a bit. "Hey, Shinji!" she called out, glancing up at Unit 01 above. "Check this out!" The 3rd Child made a quizzical noise in his throat as the fiery redhead raised Unit 02's right leg forward and the left leg back as far as they would go. "A perfect scissors dive!"

Shinji's only response to this was a tired, unimpressed sigh. Like he was more bored and annoyed than anything else.

Honestly! What is with that little baka?! What does it take to get him to sit up and take notice?! Asuka demanded inwardly, now more annoyed than ever. Doesn't he appreciate how hard it is to be graceful and elegant in this stupid suit?!

Pausing to wonder why she even bothered with that pathetic scrap of a housebroken male, Asuka was brought back to the moment when the screens of her Entry Plug were filled with molten red. Alright. I don't have time to bother with the baka now. Besides, he'll definitely be impressed when I pull this mission off! Pausing just long enough to imagine the Great 3rd Child giving her the credit she deserved when she succeeded in capturing a live Angel, Asuka got down to business. "Current depth: 170. Rate of descent: 20. No problems detected," she rattled off, determined to be as cool, calm, and professional as was possible in this molten nightmare. "Visibility is at zero. I'm switching to CT monitor."

With that, Asuka activated the special monitor which took sensory readouts from sonar and composited them into visual data. An instant later, what was once solid red turned into a more textured red. Prompting the German to groan report, "Even with this, I can barely see anything!"

"Depth is 400...450...500…550…" Maya intoned, constantly reporting on Asuka's current depth. Not that the German needed her to tell her that she was getting deeper; the ever-increasing heat and the ominous creaking coming from the D-Type equipment as it contended with the mounting pressure were all the proof she needed of that. "1050. Sir, we're over the maximum safety depth."

We're what?! Are you kidding me?! Asuka screeched inwardly, her eyes widening with horrified surprise. We haven't even reached the Angel and this stupid, ugly, useless tin can has already hit its limits?! Of all the -!

"Sir! Depth is 1300," Maya's voice sounded, interrupting Asuka's mental tirade. "Unit 02 has reached the estimated target level."

Huh?! I have?! Asuka started, looking about in surprise at CT monitors. Seeing nothing to indicate the presence of the Angelic chrysalis. But…where is the damn thing?!

As Asuka continued to scan her surroundings, searching for any sign of her target, Misato asked, "Asuka, do you see anything?"

"I'm not detecting anything!" Asuka reported, carefully scanning her surroundings one more time to be certain. "The Angel's not here!"

An uneasy beat of silence past before Misato asked, "Ritsuko, any ideas?"

"It must be the lava currents," Ritsuko decided after a moment's thought. "They must be faster than we thought."

"The velocity of the target sure doesn't match our predictions," remarked Makoto Hyuga, one of the bridge technicians. "So what do we do now?"

"We hurry and recalculate. Pin down where the damned thing really is," Misato sternly ordered. "Asuka, we're continuing the operation."

"Roger!" Asuka returned. Trying to keep her smile in place and not think about the way the D-Type equipment continued to creak and groan like a tin can about to be crushed.

"Captain, are you sure about this?" Makoto wondered nervously. "The D-Type armor can't take much more."

"I'm aware of that, Lieutenant," Misato returned in a no-nonsense manner. "Descend further."

C'mon, where are you? Asuka wondered as she scanned her surroundings even as the crumpling sounds worsened. Searching for anything to indicate the presence of her elusive target. You might as well come out already, bastard! I'm not giving up! Not after coming this far!

A hideous cracking sound froze Asuka in place, her eyes widening with fear. "Sir! A crack has occurred in the second coolant pipe!" Maya reported, her voice rife with tension. "The depth is 1480; we've exceeded the maximum allowed depth!"

"But we still haven't made contact with the target!" Misato immediately countered. "Keep going!" A beat later, she asked in a more concerned voice, "How's it going, Asuka?"

"Nice and toasty!" Asuka reported with a mix of sarcasm and bravado. "All I want to do is finish this up and take a shower!"

"I've got a better idea. I happened to notice a sweet hot spring nearby when I first came up here," Misato informed her with a smile in her voice. "We'll head over there once this is over. Just hang in there a little while longer."

Ooh, a natural hot spring, huh? Asuka thought, her spirits brightening somewhat. I've heard about those…I wonder if they're as good as they -?

A sudden sharp cracking sound cut Asuka's thought off, followed quickly by a massive crack appearing in the transparent dome of the D-Type armor. While the German was hissing in shock, another cracking sound was heard. "Sir, Unit 02 has lost its progressive knife!" Maya reported in an increasingly fearful manner. Looking about, Asuka's mouth fell open when she the Lieutenant was correct. Before her very eyes, her only weapon was falling into the depths of the molten inferno. "Maximum allowed depth, plus 200!"

"Captain Katsuragi, please! You have to stop this!" Makoto desperately pleaded of her. "This isn't another unmanned probe! There's a human being in that thing!"

"I will run this operation as I see fit," Misato tersely answered without hesitation. "Continue to descend."

On one level, Asuka couldn't help but be a little afraid at these words. The D-Type armor was already slowly imploding, and likely wouldn't be able to take much more before collapsing entirely. In which case both Unit 02 and it's pilot would be roasted alive in seconds. Even if she began her ascent now, there was no guarantee that the equipment would hold up long enough to get out of the volcano.

But at the same time, Asuka knew she couldn't afford to retreat. Retreat would mean another failure tarnishing her record, another humiliating defeat. It would mean handing over the operation to the military, letting them kill the Angel, possibly destroying much of Japan in the process. And on a more personal level, it would mean people talking behind her back about her ignominious failure, commenting about how it had been such an obvious mistake to trust her with such an important mission. And that it would be that much more unlikely they would trust her with a solo mission again.

It would mean always being overshadowed by an untrained boy that had been given his position solely because his father was the Commander of NERV. That all her years of training and hard work to be the best, to acknowledged and praised by the entire world would have been for nothing. And in Asuka's mind, that was a fate even more frightening than death.

"I agree with Misato!" Asuka announced, allowing no fear to show in her words. "I can keep going!"

Nothing was said to this, and ultimately, Asuka decided nothing needed to be said. Though in a way, she wished someone would say something, if only to fill the silence with something other than the creaks and groans of her slowly failing armor. Dammit, where are you?! she thought as she scanned her surroundings, searching for any sign of her target. I'm not quitting, you hear me?! I'm not coming out of this damn volcano until -!

"Sir!" Maya suddenly spoke up. "Unit 02 had reached the corrected target depth."

These words like a spur to her determination, Asuka redoubled her efforts, her eyes narrowed as she practically willed the Angel to show its miserable self. C'mon already! This stupid tin suit's not gonna last forever here! the German thought headedly. Where the hell – huh?! Wait! Swiveling her gaze towards a particularly large patch darkness on the CT monitor. Is – is that -?!

Urging her Eva to turn about, Asuka was soon able to get a better view of the object of her attention. And when she did, she grinned in relief. "Wait! There it is!" she cried out exuberantly as she identified the large, dark, oval-shaped cocoon that was her objective. "I see it!"

"Confirmed!" Makoto cried out, relief warring with tension. "Target sighted!"

"Prepare for capture!" Misato ordered, her excitement clear in her voice. At this, Asuka readied the electromagnetic cage. The device looked like a high-tech tuning fork with a fork at both ends, and both forks bent at a ninety degree angle. With the press of the button, the main section of the device expanded so as to be able to fit the chrysalis in the center.

"Asuka, listen to me! Because of the convection currents, you'll only have one chance to make contact with the target," Ritsuko informed her.

"Understood! Leave everything to me!" Asuka grinned, her triumph so close that she could almost taste it. She listened to the techies chatter about relative velocities and such, but that didn't matter to her. All that mattered was that Asuka was going to prove to everyone just how great she really was. Even better than the Invincible Baka Shinji.

The Third already got two kills, all on us his own! Asuka thought, a hint of envy in her mind as she spared a moment to think of the boy who now sat within Unit 01, perched at the lip of the volcano's mouth. Then she gave a quick snort. Well, let's see him top capturing a live Angel, and in the heart of a volcano, for that matter!

Already picturing the praise and recognition that would be hers with the successful completion of this mission, Asuka was barely able to snap herself back to reality in time to see the cocoon draw into critical position. Floating over the embryonic Angel, she reached out with the electromagnetic cage and activated it. Instantly, beams of light spread out from both ends of the device, creating an electromagnetic force box around the embryo.

"Electromagnetic cage deployed!" Asuka announced, triumph aand relief rushing through her in equal amounts. "Target captured! No problems here!"

"Nice work, Asuka," Misato commented amid various sighs of relief from the rest of the NERV staff.

"The operation has been completed!" Asuka reported in a triumphant voice. "I'm beginning my ascent!"

"Roger!" Misato returned, the tension draining from her voice. "Bring her up!"

As the machinery went to work, raising Asuka up from the depths of perdition, she sat back in the Plug Suit, a wearied sigh escaping her lips. The mission wasn't over just yet, the German was aware of that. It wouldn't be over until she was out of the volcano with her prize. And she had learned the hard way that assuming you were victorious prematurely was a huge error in her first battle in Japan. But even so, the worst seemed to be over, leaving her with little to do but sit back, relax, and picture herself kicking back in a hot spring, basking in the praise of others. And perhaps even an envious look from Shinji along the way.

As the machinery slowly lifted Unit 02 and its captured burden up through the molten lava, the subject of her thoughts appeared before her via holographic display. "Asuka?" Shinji timidly asked, his blue eyes filled with worry. "Are you okay?"

"Of course I am, Shinji!" Asuka replied in a superior tone. Refused to show any signs of weakness now, determined to come off as the superior pilot she knew herself to be. That she had worked so long and hard to become. "All you have to fear is fear itself, after all! And this was a piece of cake!"

Shinji save a shy smile before disappearing. Leaving her in the privacy of her Entry Plug. Allowing her to groan miserably as she continued to swelter in her special plug suit. I feel like a boiled egg, and I even look like one, too! she thought, shifting about uncomfortably in the LCL of the Entry Plug. The first thing I'm doing when I get out of here is taking a nice, long, cold shower! Listening to idly to the muted conversation of Misato and the others, the German sighed. At least it won't be much longer now. All I have to do is wait for them to pull me out, and –

The sudden blaring of an alarm cut through Asuka's thoughts as effortlessly as a knife through butter. "Huh?! What the -?!" she blurted out, hurriedly scanning her readouts and monitors for whatever had tripped the alarm. Only to blanche with horror when a strange, groaning noise echoed through the molten magma, prompting her to look out at the cocoon. At which point her blood went ice cold.

Still held within the electromagnetic cage, the chrysalis she had gone to such lengths to capture was swelling within the energy cage. "What the hell?!" Asuka cried, the images of her triumph melting away as the Angel continued to grow within its cocoon. "It's going crazy!"

"No! It's starting to hatch!" Ritsuko shouted, her words driving home Asuka's predicament. "It's reached its adult state much faster than we predicted!"

"Cage status?!" Misato demanded. "Can we still contain this thing?!"

"Not a chance!" Makoto fearfully reported. "There's no way the cage can handle this!"

Dammit! No! Asuka thought hatefully as she watched firsthand Makoto's words being proven correct. The energy walls were already buckling as the Angel tore free of its cocoon, revealing its true form as it thrashed about, trying to free itself. I was so close! Just a bit longer, and -!

"Abort the capture!" Misato ordered, her voice tense with fear. "Jettison the cage!"

"Dammit!" Asuka hissed as she complied, releasing the now-useless hunk of junk that had thoroughly failed in its task. As the cage fell into the depths of the volcano, little more than slag, the volatile 2nd Child glared hatefully at the creature that had taken her moment of triumph and utterly ruined it. The newborn 8th Angel looked like a bizarre cross between a crawdad and a manta ray. Two tentacle-like arms stretched out from what Asuka assumed to be its head, ending in five-fingered hands. The fingers were lined with spikes, and two stubby antennae emerged from the things head.

You just had to go and screw everything up for me, didn't you?! Asuka thought as she glared pure hatred at the monster. My big chance to prove myself solo, and you're doing everything you can to ruin it! Does Gott hate me, is that it?!

"Unit 02! Prepare for combat! We have to destroy that Angel!" Misato ordered. "Take that thing down, Asuka!"

"You got!" Asuka grinned, readying herself as the Angel approached, determined to at least salvage a win against the Angels from this disaster. Preparing for combat, she reached for her only weapon…only to blanch in horror when her Eva grabbed at nothing. "Arrgh! I forgot! The prog knife's gone!"

Looking up from where her prog knife had once been, Asuka was just in time to see the Angel draw in closer. She had no idea what it's combat capabilities were, but it was obvious that the molten magma was of no threat to it. Whereas her D-Type equipment had already been badly compromised by the depth pressure, to the point where it wouldn't take much for the Angel to puncture the damaged armor, leaving Unit 02 and its pilot at the mercy of molten liquid they were in.

Just one chance! Asuka thought as the Angel closed in. "Releasing holster!" she called out even as she pressed one of the buttons. An instant later, the belt that was essentially a load of ballast for her to help assist in her dive fell away from the armored Eva. With its release, the crane was able to pull her up that much faster. Just fast enough to pull her out of the path of the attacking Angel, allowing it to sweep just below her.

"Damn, it's fast!" Asuka snarled as the Angel disappeared from her CT monitors, lost amid all the red showing before her. "I've lost it again! I can't see a thing! And I'm stuck in this goddamned sweat suit, and I'm way too hot! This sucks!"

"Asuka!" Misato's voice cut in, still calm and collected despite everything. "We're sending you Unit 01's prog knife! Be ready for it!"

"Right!" Asuka replied, practically choking on the word. On the notion that she would once again be reliant on a total wimp to win her battle. Then she saw that the Angel was coming after her again, and the impulse for survival overrode her ego. "Shinji! Drop it now! Hurry!"

Damn, I knew this was too easy! Shinji thought sourly as he pressed the controls that opened up Unit 01's left shoulder pylon, revealing its progressive knife. Why did she have to treat this whole thing like it was just a walk in the park?!

Taking hold of the knife, Shinji frowned as he looked down into the depths where he knew Asuka to be. She had been so quick, so happy to volunteer for this mission, insisting at every turn that it would be simplicity itself. With only the aspects of that she felt demeaning or embarrassing making her consider backing down, not the fact that they were looking at a complete disaster waiting to happen.

I don't care how much training you've had! There's nothing easy about this stupid war! Shinji declared inwardly before rearing back with the knife. "Asuka! Here it comes!" he called out before throwing the knife into the molten lava.

"Asuka, hang on!" Maya announced. "Forty seconds until knife arrival!"

"Forty seconds?!" Asuka shrilled in disbelief. "What do you mean, forty seconds! I can't – ahhh!"

Oh, great, here it comes… Shinji frowned woefully, already knowing what was about to happen. In both of Asuka's prior missions, he had seen her go into a situation filled with confidence and determination, acting like everything would be a walk in the park. But the instant things started to go badly, she immediately fell apart, started screaming and yelling and making things worse for herself. You dumb rookie, you do that now and all that'll happen is you getting killed!

Narrowing his eyes, watching the displays that showed his progressive knife falling towards the rising Unit 02, Shinji frowned and thought, You keep going on about how great you are. Well, now's the time to prove it!

"Mein Gott! Get away from me!"

Asuka had just been in the midst of telling Maya and the rest of the NERV crew that she couldn't afford to wait forty seconds for the blasted prog knife to arrive when she caught sight of the Angel again. The monstrous creature was making a direct beeline for her. "Oh, no! Go away!"

Unsurprisingly, the Angel was undeterred by Asuka's frantic screams. The crane was already drawing her up as quickly as it could, and there was no way that Unit 02 could hope to evade the Angel's charge in the cumbersome D-Type equipment. Leaving the German to urge the crimson Eva to desperately reach up for a knife that was still seconds away. "Hurry up already!" she shrieked as the knife finally came into view. "Fall FASTER!"

Cursing Shinji for his anemic throw that was taking forever to get to her, Asuka stretched out as far as she could. Moments later, the knife finally came within reach, falling into the clawed grasp of the D-Type armor. "Got it!" Asuka cried out, already switching the knife on...just as the Angel reached out with one of it's tentacle-arms. Crying out in fear and desperation, the German blocked the striking arm, sparks flying from the collision.

Unfortunately, the Angel had two arms. And with the one knife parried, it lashed out with its second arm and grabbed hold of Unit 02's left leg. "What the hell?!" Asuka demanded as she tried to fight off her attacker, the progressive knife showing no sign of being effective. For while she was able to keep the one arm at bay, there was no sign that the ultrasonic blade was doing any damage.

But that's not possible! Asuka thought feverishly. The prog knife should be able to cut through anything! What in the -?! The German was cut off before she could complete this thought when the Angel drew in closer, showing her that there was another portion of its anatomy that she had not seen before.

It had a mouth. A large, round mouth that it was even now opening, revealing dozens of long, spike-like teeth. Crying out in shock at this, Asuka was powerless to stop the Angel as it wrapped its mouth around the faceplate of the exo-suit.

"Impossible!" Ritsuko cried out incredulously. "How can it open its mouth in molten lava?!"

"What is that thing made of?" Maya wondered in a much calmer voice.

Asuka didn't care about the hows or whys in this matter, except for the matter of how she was going to kill the Angel and get out of this alive. Unfortunately, she had no idea as to the answer to these questions. Her attacker continued to chew on the helmet, a sound that was punctuated by the shriek of tearing metal. "Left leg armor destroyed!" Maya announced even as Asuka cried in pain, her left leg feeling as if it was on fire. Her synchronization with Unit 02 allowing her to feel a measure of its pain as its exposed left leg was subjected to the molten magma.

"The heat shields – they're failing!" Asuka cried out as the pain grew worse, her armor continuing to break down. Pain spurring her on, she did the only thing she could think of doing; she drove her prog knife down upon the top of the Angel's head, and hope that it managed to strike a weak point. "Damn you!" she cried out desperately as she lashed out with her knife over and over again. All the while the Angel wrapped its arms about Unit 02, slowly crushing the D-Type armor in its merciless grasp. "Just die already, dammit!"

"What's going on, Rits?!" Misato demanded heatedly. "The prog knife isn't making a dent in that thing!"

"I – the heat must've swollen that thing's molecular structure!" Ritsuko frantically explained. "The knife's vibration won't work! It's like an ordinary kitchen knife against this thing!"

"Then how do we stop it?!" Makoto demanded.

That's what I want to know! Asuka thought, anger giving way to fear and despair. If she didn't find a way to defeat this monster, then she would die in the middle of this infernal pit, without a single thing to show for it. Not one damn thing to make her life worthwhile. Nothing to make her worth remembering in the eyes of anyone.

Her stomach twisting in horror at this thought, Asuka was snapped back when Shinji's voice cut through her terror. "Think physics!"

Think physics – of course! Asuka thought, suddenly flashing back to a time before, when she and Shinji had been at the NERV swimming pool, where the 3rd Child had been studying a basic physics problem revolving around…

"Thermal expansion!" Asuka cried out in realization. The Angel was impervious to the prog knife because it's molecular structure was swollen as a result of the heat, so contracting it should allow the German to get good effect with the prog knife.

And Asuka knew just how to make that happen.

With a savage growl, Asuka cut through one of the tubes pumping coolant through the D-Type armor. Taking hold of the severed hose with her free hand, she rammed it into the Angel's mouth even as it continued to gnaw on Unit 02's helmet. "Transfer all the external coolant pressure to Cable Three! Now!"

At Asuka's command, coolant surged out of the hose and into the Angel. Moments later, sounds that she could only interpret as cries of pain issued from the hateful beast. Realizing that she would never have a better chance than now, she once again began stabbing at the monster's hide with the prog knife. Roaring with frenzied rage, she brought the knife down over and over again, unable to see what she was striking, or even able to think about ferreting out a vulnerability. All she could do was strike again and again and again, hoping that she struck some sort of weakness.

For the first time that day, luck was with Asuka. As she struck once again with knife, she felt something give beneath it, followed by the Angel convulsing. It's teeth tightened about her helmet, crushing down upon it, even as its arms flailed about…just before the monster fell limp. The newborn Angel's life cut short as it slowly fell away, it's body already breaking apart.

Did…did I do…? Asuka thought, only to freeze at a harsh tearing sound, followed by the noise of metal crumpling. Oh, no…the coolant! Without the coolant, I -!

An instant later, Asuka's horrified realization became reality. Without the coolant to help stabilize the D-Type equipment and buffer it against the external pressure, the diving armor was now imploding. With the already-cracked transparency being the first to give way to the pressure.

"NO!" Asuka heard someone shriek as the diving suit imploded, lava slamming uncontrollably into Unit 02. Utterly overwhelmed by the heat and the shock of feeling the molten lava through her synchronization and the cooling system failing, turning the inside of the Entry Plug into a boiler, with its lone occupant already being cooked alive. An instant later, Asuka fell into darkness, unknowing if the person who had screamed was Misato, Shinji…or herself.

"Asuka's life signs are all red-lining!" Makoto reported, accusing the Captain with his gaze. "The shock of the heat and the implosion is killing her!"

"The support cables and coolant hoses have been compromised!" Maya frantically added. "We're losing Unit 02!"

No! Misato thought fearfully, her heart clenching at the fear that she had finally done it. That she had made a decision that had wound up killing one of the children under her command. As she looked at the fiery pit she had sent Asuka into, she caught sight of a familiar purple figure leaping into the molten lava. Shinji! He's -!

An instant later, Misato cut herself off. Shinji was anchored by Unit 01's power cable, and if he got to Unit 02 in time, he could stop it and Asuka from being lost in the depths. If he can do that, we can reel them both in, and -!

An alarm cut through Misato's thoughts, prompting her to look up at the monitors displaying Asuka's vitals. Her features falling in horror when she saw the German's cardiac monitor flatline.

"Asuka!" Misato screamed, her eyes wide with horror. "NOOOOOO!"

"Huh…?" Asuka moaned weakly as she gazed down into the fiery depths.

Something was wrong, she knew that much. Asuka felt exhaustion, she felt heat, even confusion, but no pain. Nothing about her surroundings looked as they should. She couldn't feel anything against her body; not LCL, not the interior of her prized Unit 02, not even that disgusting plug suit.

"Well, what do we have here?" came a voice, a voice unlike any she had heard before. A voice that purred in a dangerous manner. "Greetings, girl." A tongue of flame whipped past the girl, curling about like a perverse eye. "Asuka, isn't it? Asuka Langely-Sohryu?"

"Wha…who's there?" Asuka wondered absently. "Who…how do you know me? Where am I…my Eva?" Glancing about fearfully, the German saw no sign of her mighty Unit 02. "Where's my Eva?"

"I know all about you, Asuka," the voice lowly chuckled. "As for where you are…it's not where you belong. And yet somehow…you are here."

"Where's…here?" Asuka wondered as she looked about the interior of the volcano. "How did I…what's going on…?"

"What's going on…is that you are dying, Asuka," the voice assured her in a serious manner. "You are literally being boiled to death by the heat of the volcano. Already, your heart has failed you."

"What…?" Asuka got out, blinking as the memory of those moments came to her. Then she sighed in weary defeat as she stared at the lava below. "Aw, no…not like this…"

"Death comes for all mortals, Asuka. Sooner or later, it comes…in one form or another," the voice replied with an air of amusement. "However, I could save your life."

"S-save me?" Asuka asked as she continued to look about into the pool of lava below. "You can do that…?"

"Of course I can. In fact, I can make you even stronger than you have ever been before in your life," the voice told her as more flames rose up around her. "For a price, of course."

Asuka was lucid enough to narrow her eyes at this qualifier. "Oh, really…?" she asked as snippily as her current level of strength would. "And what's the catch?" she asked sarcastically as she continued to watch the lava swirl about below. Almost as if something was…moving within it. "You get my soul, or…some other horror movie crap like that…?"

"The trading of souls is not my purpose, Asuka," the voice informed her. "What I'm proposing is an…exchange of favors." More flames shot up to surround Asuka, as strange moaning sounds reached her ears. "You see, I do not dwell in this abysmal realm by choice."

"Hmph. Can't say I…blame you for that…" Asuka remarked as she narrowed her eyes at the swirling pool of fire below.

"I wish to be free of this place, Asuka," the voice continued. "Therefore, I shall save your life, and in exchange…you will take me with you when you return to your world. Allow me to ride alongside of you."

"Bring you with me, huh…?" Asuka frowned. "And what happens then? What do you have…in mind, then…?"

"Another exchange of favors," the voice explained, warming up to the subject. "Long, I have been trapped here, unable to do that which I desire most. Unable to fulfill my purpose. The reason for my existence."

Something was definitely moving in the lava. Asuka was sure of it now. She narrowed her eyes, seeing…lots of things below her, moving about like tiny dots in the magma. "And what purpose…is that?"

"Vengeance," the voice replied with an intensity Asuka could not have imagined. "Vengeance upon those who prey upon the innocent. Vengeance upon the guilty, and remain unpunished. Vengeance upon those who live to shed innocent blood, spilling it without hesitation, all for their own forms of satisfaction."

"So, you're…what? Some kind of judge?" Asuka asked.

The voice laughed hollowly, causing a chill in Asuka's bones, despite the immense heat. "Not a judge. More like…a bounty hunter. And you…you can enable me to fulfill that purpose, Asuka. You, of all the mortals I have ever seen, you are the most worthy of me. You, a child of your country's most prodigious breeding efforts and bloodlines. You, whose training makes you a formidable warrior in your own right. You, with access to one of the mightiest weapons ever forged by humanity. You, and you alone, are worthy of me…for you are the greatest of your generation."

Issuing a mild snort, Asuka replied, "Well, of course…I am!" Heaving a deep sigh, feeling a bit better at having receiving some of the praise she had worked so long to obtain. "And if I help you…what do I get?"

"Simple. Allow me to ride alongside of you, and I will pay you…rent, of sorts," the voice replied smugly. "Rent in the form of various favors, and opportunities. But most of all, I shall give you…power. Power beyond your wildest dreams. Power to slay your own enemies. Power that will make everyone see you for who you are…the greatest of them all."

"Then…let's see if I've got this straight," Asuka replied, feeling weaker now. She could actually feel death closing in on her. "I say no, and I die, right here and now. I say yes, and we go stomp your enemies and mine, with me getting all the credit. Is that about right?"

"Yes," the voice concurred. "In fact…that is exactly how it is."

Asuka just shook her head at this. "Not much of a choice," she remarked nastily. "Alright, fine…you…you win." Then she scowled at the fiery pit below and asked, "Just…tell me something; who…the hell are you…anyway…?!"

"Ah, forgive me. It was rude of me, not to introduce myself sooner," the voice replied smugly. "You may call me…Zarathos."

Nodding, Asuka growled, "Okay…Zarathos. Fine. You say you can…make me live? Help me…show up everybody else on the planet?" Sucking in a deep breath as she thought of all the years she had been working, training herself to do just that. Of all the frustrations and setbacks she had suffered in trying to make these goals a reality. "Then fine! Show me…this power of yours! Come on! Show it to me!"

Zarathos laughed mightily, his voice echoing all around Asuka. "With pleasure!" At this, the lava below her billowed up into an eruption, rising up to engulf her. As she screamed in horror, the lava changed shape, looking like a massive, human skull. Blazing straight towards her, the skull opened its monstrous mouth wide, shrieking in triumph and delight, even as Asuka brought her arms up to shield her, screaming, screaming…

"AAAAAAHHHHH!" Asuka screamed, shooting up in her seat.

"Asuka!" came Shinji's voice, rife with relief. "Asuka, are you alright?! Asuka?!"

"Huh?! W-what the -?!" Asuka sputtered out as she looked wildly about. She was back in Unit 02, in her overstuffed plug suit. The oppressive heat of the volcano was still with her, but it was nowhere near as bad as it had been. And most importantly, the Entry Plug was no longer filled with red. "But – wait – how -?!" she demanded before realizing that Unit 02 was being drawn up from the volcano, suspended by its severed coolant lines. Before she could ask how this was possible, she saw a familiar horned figure just above her, holding onto the cables as it was being hauled up by its power cable. "Shinji?!"

"You…you scared us, Asuka!" Shinji grinned, his image appearing before her, showing the tears that were spilling from his eyes. "I – we thought you – that you'd…!"

As Shinji trailed off, the meaning of his incomplete sentence perfectly clearly, a holographic display featuring Misato. "You sure gave us a scare, Asuka," she admitted, relieved and exhausted. "Your readings flat-lined for a few seconds there! We thought we'd lost you!"

Lost me? Asuka struggled, frowning momentarily, thinking of the hideous dream she had just had. Then…I really was dying?! And – all the rest of it – did that -?!

Asuka considered this for a moment…before smiling dismissively and discarding that notion like the utter nonsense that it was. With a shrug and a cocky grin, she replied, "Oh, c'mon, Misato! You honestly think that I'd let myself get killed that easily? Puh-lease!"

Sighing, Shinji continued to smile. "Well…I'm just glad you're alright now."

"So am I," Misato quickly seconded. "So, Asuka, after we get you checked out, are you up for a cold shower and a trip to that hot spring I told you about?"

"Oh, you know I am! Bring it on!" Asuka grinned before she cut the signal, and sighed deeply as she sat back in the Entry Plug…and frowned somewhat. The images, the nightmarish visions she had had…they were still there. They had faded, becoming dulled as she relaxed…but they were still there. And still felt horribly real.

Could that have… Asuka wondered momentarily before scowling. No way! Some nasty monster called Zarathos, saving my life so he can do whatever he wants and make me look good and everything?! That's just ridiculous! Totally crazy! Taking a deep breath, feeling grateful to be alive, Asuka put aside the visions, declaring them mere hallucinations brought on by the heat. After all…what else could it have been?

Asuka smiled at this, and looked forward to her trip to the hot spring…trying to forget the fact that the boy she had been trying to outdo, the housebroken little wimp who did whatever was asked of him, was the one who had given her the key to victory. And had quite likely saved her life. Again.

"Wow, Asuka! You're skin is so smooth!" Misato cooed playfully as she rubbed the 2nd Child's shoulders. The sun was setting on the horizon, and the two of them, along with Shinji and PenPen, were relaxing at the promised hot spring, allowing the waters to soak away the tension of the day.

"H-hey! Watch it!" Asuka countered, even as she heard a splash from the boys' side. "Hey, baka! You better not be peeping at us, you little pervert!"

While Shinji was busy passing out, coloring the water red with his bleeding nose, Asuka managed to get a short distance from the older woman, sighing as she eased herself more deeply in the waters of the spring. It's not like I really owe him, she thought, trying to bury the humiliation she felt at once again being reliant on him to save the day. It's not like he could have ever thought of that thermal expansion thing if I hadn't taught it to him. And if I hadn't stopped the Angel, then he'd be dead! The JSSDF would have bombed him right out of existence, with everyone else! So we're even…right?

Sighing as her attempts at rationalization left her high and dry, Asuka turned to look at the purple-haired woman. Noting the massive scar beneath her breast, the German frowned. "By the way, Misato…how'd you get…?"

"Oh, this?" Misato replied, indicating the scar with her hand. Frowning somewhat sadly, she replied, "That's…a long story, Asuka." As the German girl looked at the purple-haired woman, saw the passing of painful memories in her eyes, she smiled and changed subjects. "I can't tell you how I glad I was when Rits told me about your plug suit malfunctioning. I guess all the heat must've fried the monitors."

"Yeah, that 'heat-resistant' plug suit sure didn't have much resistance to it!" Asuka sniped, silently hoping that she never saw the horrid thing again.

"Are you sure you're okay, Asuka?" Misato asked, concern in her eyes. "You did get kind of cooked down there."

"Relax, already! Besides, that volcano is nowhere near as hot as I am!" Asuka smiled, showing everything her young body had to offer as if she were showing off for Kaji.

As Asuka chuckled, trying to forget about the fear she had felt when she had been confronted by death, a voice tickled at the back of her mind. How very true, the voice whispered, laughing just beneath the German's thoughts, echoing her own mirth in a colder, darker way. Nor is it nearly as 'hot' as you soon will be…

Author's Notes: And Asuka's origin as a Superwoman of Eva is concluded! Please, read and review. And please, check out my other stories as well!

Now, as readers of my other two SOE stories will know, I try to be just a bit vague about exactly who the lady in question is becoming. However, I did drop some pretty big clues in this one, so I'm sure you'll be able to figure it out. Oh, and Tobi the Good Boy, if you're reading? Asuka is most definitely not becoming Phoenix!

In writing this story, I have been told time and time again that I am not handling Asuka the way I should be. And I make no bones about the fact that I have little use for abusive characters, whether their abusiveness is verbal, physical, or some combination of the above or something else entirely. Still, with this complete overhaul, I hope I have managed to correct these problems.

Until next time!


"Arrggghh!" came Asuka's frustrated voice. "What is the matter with this stupid thing?!"

Frowning as she looked away from the Evas as they were being loaded into their transport planes, Ritsuko focused on the source of the commotion. "What's going on?" she asked as she made her way over to Asuka, who was presently surrounded by Shinji, Misato, and half of the NERV people present. "Is something the matter?"

Turning to look at the approaching doctor, Asuka scowled and snorted, "Yes, something's the matter! I can't get this awful plug suit of yours to deflate!"

Raising an eyebrow at this, Ritsuko studied the heat-resistant plug suit she had created for this mission, a suit that was currently inflated and left Asuka looking like a walking cherry, before glancing over at her friend. "She's right, Rits. The controls are jammed," Misato confirmed with a rueful look. "We've tried everything, and so far, nothing!"

"We can't even get her out of it," Shinji chimed in. "None of the controls work at all."

Noting the sounds of confirmation this got from the rest of the people there, Ritsuko nodded. "I see. We must've exceeded the suit's maximum tolerance. Some of the internal circuitry must've been damaged by the heat." When Asuka responded to this with a sarcastic glare of 'duh', the doctor smiled. "Fortunately, I anticipated that we might have this problem. And so I brought something that'll get you out of that suit, quick and easy."

"Yeah? And what's that?" Asuka demanded impatiently.

"This," Ritsuko smiled as she reached into her coat pocket...and drew from it a long, pointy needle. As Asuka's face fell in shock, the doctor took the needle, and with a single swift motion, jabbed it into the plug suit.

The result was instantaneous. The balloon-like suit popped exactly like a balloon, resulting in a whooshing of air and pelting of stretched out plastic. When it was done, the suit was little more than a tattered mass of plastic draped over Asuka's body. Barely enough for modesty, something that Asuka was plainly aware of as her cheeks burned a frightening red.

"Aaaaaahhhh!" Asuka shrilled, hurriedly wrapping her arms about herself so as to cover her partly exposed body as best as she could. "Are you out of your mind?!"

"Well, you're the one who wanted out of the suit," Ritsuko pointed out. "Besides, it's not like you were hurt."

Plumes of steam erupting from Asuka's ears, she yanked the needle from Ritsuko's hand. Grabbing the doctor by the hip, the German spun her about, growling, "Yeah, but will you be able to say the same?!"

An instant later, Asuka jabbed the needle squarely between Ritsuko's buttocks. A grimace of pain appeared on the doctor's face, just before she was sent flying up into the air, screaming and trailing smoke as she became little more than a twinkle in the sky.

As everyone stood there, staring in amazement as Ritsuko disappeared from view, Misato made a face. "You want to know what the sad thing is?" she remarked wryly. "That was probably a better banging than she's ever gotten out of Gendo."